Speaking of home Amarillo is covered with a foot of snow and to make things interesting we also have 50 mph winds fueling a nice springtime blizzard, but as I type this I'm sitting beside my fireplace and enjoying the crackle. Jennifer was nervous about it at first but as the evening has progressed she seems to have relaxed.
The bad thing is I have acquired a stomach bug and unfortunately I've been giving the plumbing system here at the new abode a thorough testing.
Several of you, especially those who live outside the United States have told me they can't get my excerpt at Amazon to download. So I've decided to post a copy of the excerpt here for those interested in reading. There is a touch of strong language. Here is a link where you can leave a customer review if you are so inclined.
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award entry
by TRAVIS ERWIN
“A nymphomaniac is a women as obsessed with sex as the average man.”
We buried Jack Habershaw on a bright, sunny morning in April of 1997. That's when the trouble started. Not because the owner of the dealership died, but because his son took over.
Old man Habershaw was barely in the ground, the dirt not yet shoveled over his casket, when Jack Junior, we just called him Junior, slapped a hundred dollar bill on the table, pointed across the showroom, and said, “See that sweet little redhead over yonder? Even money says she's naked in my bed, ass in the air, before any of you gets so much as a kiss.”
The redhead's name was Nikki. She'd worked for the dealership for about a month and within the first week of her arrival, Rex and Dave had used up their best lines on the girl.
Tried and failed. So when Junior made his boast, they shot each other knowing looks and reached for their wallets.
I say girl because Nikki couldn't have been more than twenty-one, and at the time, I was the only salesman of the five employed at Habershaw Ford Lincoln and Mercury who hadn't already experienced his twentieth high-school reunion. Not that I wasn't close. Junior, the newly installed boss, was thirty-four, three years younger than me -- still too old for her.
“I'm in.” Rex laid a hundred on the table and grinned. His too white, too straight teeth gleamed, giving him the manufactured look of a third-rate televangelist. With his starched, white button up shirts and immaculate ties he dressed like one too.
“Count me in.” Dave threw down three twenty's. “I'm good for the other forty.” Dave dressed in button up shirts as well, but all of his came from either K-Mart or Wal-Mart, not the designer stores at the mall. And most of his ties were clip-ons so he looked more like a spit polished court defendant than a sharp-dressed salesman.
A bit more hesitant to throw in, J.J. clutched his money in his hand. “To win, you have to get her in bed, naked, and all I gotta get is a kiss?”
“Yep,” Junior grinned.
Frank still held onto his cash as well. “There has to be proof.”
“Oh, there'll be proof.” Junior leaned back and folded his arms across his chest with the smug satisfaction of a man who'd just cinched a sale.
Rex, Dave, J.J., and Frank all turned their eyes to me. Even Junior paused to look my direction.
Jamming both hands into the pockets of my Wranglers, I did my best to avoid making eye contact with any of them. Being in the spotlight tended to make me as nervous as a vegetarian in a butcher shop. And I didn't like the idea of their game. Not even a little bit. Besides, I never gambled.
Not that the guys saw the wager as much of a risk. Course I knew things about the new boss they didn't.
I'd been earning a wage from Old Man Habershaw since my sixteenth birthday. Originally, I hand-washed cars out on the lot and locked them up at the end of each day. Later, I ran parts for the service department. For the last seventeen years, I've sold Mustangs, Towncars, Cougars, and any other type of vehicle to ever roll off the Ford Motor Company assembly line. But don't hold that against me.
I know what the world thinks of car salesmen, but not all of us are scumbags. Sure, we're the working man's lawyer, the butt of many a bad joke, but I had earned a solid reputation in Red Dirt, Oklahoma.
Red Dirt is just a bit south of Oklahoma City, right on I-35 for those who've never had the pleasure. When I was a kid there was a fair amount of open field between us and the big city, but over time we became just another suburb. No different than Moore, Norman, or any of the others that circled the capital city.
Right across the Interstate from Habershaw Ford, sits Wramplemeir Dodge and Chrysler.
More than once Pete Wramplemeir offered me a job, but my loyalty was to Old Man Habershaw and the Ford Motor Company. My first job, my first truck, my first taste of love. All involved a Ford, and to a man like me, that means something.
For twenty years I'd gone to work every day, never using so much as a single sick day.
Right up until Junior inherited the business, I'd only had one boss my entire life. Therefore, I'd always known what to expect, but his arrival chunked a mighty damned big wrench into my gears. And all the trouble started with that first bet.
The guys kept watching me as I peeked out at the young girl across the showroom.
Nikki was pretty, with hair the color of polished copper, long, dark eyelashes, high, delicate cheekbones, and a pouty little mouth that almost always hinted of a smile. Yeah, she was far too pretty for any of us. Except maybe Rex, but even he'd failed to impress her thus far.
The guys had already chalked her up as a lost cause. Me, being a married man, I'd never said much more than hello to her, but I knew what the other fellas were thinking. None of them expected Junior to have her naked in his bed. Nor did they expect to get a kiss from her. They only tossed their money in the ring to give Junior a bit of incentive, an encouragement so he would make a fool of himself. But I knew far more about the new boss than they did.
“Count me out.” I walked away.
“Come on, Hank!” Junior called out. “Where's your sense of adventure? A little friendly wager is all we're talking about.”
I kept right on going and that was the last time Junior called me by my given name.
Hank Petty Zybeck. That's my name as it reads on my birth certificate. Hank, after the greatest country and western singer of all time. My dear departed daddy's description, not mine. Petty, for the king of all racecar drivers. Again, my daddy's opinion, but one I happen to share. And Zybeck, because I'm my father's son. Least that was my momma's claim to her dying day.
Who knows, it might even be true, but neither of my parents stood taller than five-nine, whereas I'm a good five inches better than six foot. My dad's hair was the color of axle grease and my momma's was a couple of shades darker if anything -- my hair has always been fender rust red.
But this story isn't about my questionable heritage, and it has been a long while since I went by Hank. Nowadays, most folks simply call me Captain.
Well, that happens to be where this story begins.
One day a week, I pull the evening shift. Noon to nine. Mr. Habershaw's funeral, and happened to fall on one of those days. Rather than go home for an hour I went to the lot even though my workday didn't start for another hour. Now I was wishing I had gone back home just to avoid Junior trying to drag me in on that bet. Knowing his past I shouldn't have been surprised Junior was gambling and conniving to get laid only an hour after his dad's funeral, but I suppose everyone has to deal with grief in their own way.
Walking away from the guys, I headed for my glass cubicle to do a bit of reading while the others watched for trolling buyers.
Old man Habershaw never called them customers. “Customers walk in, pick what they want off the shelf, and pay the sticker price without another thought. Car buyers expect a deal and a good salesman gives them just enough to make 'em think they won.”
At the bigger lots, those that belonged to corporations and conglomerations, they called the people who wandered in “ups,” and each salesman had to earn his spot in the rotation to approach said “ups.” That wasn't how we operated. We were a family owned lot, and therefore less rigid about whose turn it was. For the most part we salesmen got along okay, and if we didn't, the old man intervened and settled the dispute. But we were all curious to see how the son would run things.
For the last ten years I've led sales here at Habershaw Ford Lincoln and Mercury. Taking a seat in my glass fronted office, I hoped Junior took that into account and didn't take offense that I'd walked away from his wager.
I barely got my book cracked open before Rex Austin stuck his perfectly manicured head in. “I thought you said the new boss was younger than you?”
“He is.” I didn't bother to look up from the printed page.
I read two paragraphs about Black Bart before Rex interrupted again. “Sure as hell doesn't look it.”
Rex left when I didn't respond, but five minutes later, J.J. Reyna and Frank Barrett came in together. Frank stood there for a minute toying with the pearl snaps on his outdated western shirt. I had to give it to those snaps. Holding back Frank's beer gut was no easy chore and as much as he jacked with the things, always twisting and turning them with his sausage-like fingers, it was a wonder the buttons didn't fall off all together.
After a bit Frank said, “He sure is a brazen S.O.B.”
J.J. nodded his agreement.
I merely shrugged and refocused on my book as they stood there.
Dave Lees stepped in next. I tried to keep reading, but I could feel all three sets of eyes on me. Especially Dave's. Those black, beady suckers of his were hard to ignore, so I looked up and said, “What?”
With his pointed nose and perpetual five o'clock whiskers, Dave had always reminded me of a fox. Not a sly fox like you read about as a kid, but a chicken stealing, henhouse fox, destined to get shot some bright moonlit night.
Dave shifted from one foot to the next. “He's nothing like you described.”
The other two salesmen nodded their agreement.
Again, I merely shrugged. But I did close my book since they seemed determined to distract me.
“You told us yesterday that he was married.” Dave turned to the other two and yapped on. “Isn't that what he told us?”
“He is,” I said.
“Doesn't act like it,” J.J. said. “Been here half an hour and already he's sniffing around Nikki like a bloodhound in a prison yard. You'd think a married guy would be more careful.”
“That's Junior for you.”
The three men continued to stare. They expected me to say more, but I didn't have anything to add.
“Maybe he got a divorce,” Frank finally offered.
I shook my head. “Nope.”
Old Man Habershaw would have told me if that were the case. For whatever reason, he'd always kept me apprised of Junior's activities. At least the stuff he knew about. “None of y'all are divorced. That didn't keep you from betting right alongside him.”
“Shoot.” J.J. fiddled with the gold band on his left hand. “I know a sure thing when I see it. Look at him. He's not gonna get anywhere with Nikki. Not if Rex couldn't.”
Rex Austin was not only the snazziest dresser but also the unofficial stud of the lot. Early forties, with brown, sun-streaked hair and a dark golfer's tan. Athletic build. But his shiny appearance and salesman demeanor turned some people off. 'Course he bragged about lots of women, but he too, was married.
“We'll see,” I answered.
Problem was the guys were going on looks alone. Sure, Junior's hairline was retreating faster than the French Army. Sure, most airlines would reject the oversized bags beneath his eyes. Sure, he had to step on his tiptoes just to ride the rollercoaster at the fair. But stunted growth, thinning hair, and a tired, worn out body were merely symptoms of his lifestyle. A lifestyle he started at an age when the rest of us were still sneaking peeks at our fathers' Playboys.
Too many late nights. Too many coeds during his nine years at the University of Texas. Too many other men's wives to worry about. That summed up Junior.
I knew he could talk water into running uphill, something he'd inherited from his dad, only Old Man Habershaw talked people into buying cars, whereas Junior talked their daughters into the backseat. Daughters, mothers, wives. Way I remembered, Junior never had been too particular. I doubted that had changed.
Ten minutes before my start time, Junior plopped down in one of the two chairs in my office and crossed his legs. He toyed with the corner of the calender thumbtacked to the wall as he peeked ahead at the shot of next month's Caribbean beach scene. A bit of mud, probably from the cemetery, darkened the toe of his full-quill ostrich skin boots. “Is that what I pay you to do? Sit around and read?”
The smile on his face matched the joking tone in his voice so I said, “For what you pay me, it's a wonder I can afford to buy books.”
He laughed. “Hell, as my top salesman you ought to be able to buy the movies, and save yourself the trouble of reading.”
I liked that he knew I was top salesman, but something bothered me about how quick he'd taken to using the words “I” and “my” in describing the dealership. Far as I knew, he hadn't stepped foot in the place in nearly a decade. His dad had set him up with a used car dealership down by Dallas, so Junior did at least know the business. But mostly it bothered me that he was able to joke so easily when he'd buried his father earlier that morning.
“You still got that purty wife?”
I nodded. “Going on fourteen years.”
“Fourteen years.” The boss sucked air through his teeth. “Guess I was wrong about the two of you.” He reached across my desk and snatched the book I'd been reading. Black Bart and the Golden Age of Piracy. Junior laughed until tears rolled down his face. “What kind of grown man reads books about pirates?”
Like I said, this was 1997, long before Johnny Depp made the subject cool again so I simply shrugged and said, “I like Caribbean history.”
Junior tossed the book down. “Never cared for the subject myself. History that is. Why look backward when you can simply reach forward and take what you want?” He grabbed a handful of butterscotch candies off my desk and shoved them in his pocket.
Through the plexi-glassed divider that separated my cubicle office from the showroom floor, I watched him stroll away. It ticked me off that he'd swiped every bit of the candy I sat out for potential buyers, but he was the boss and it wasn't worth challenging him over a quarters worth of butterscotches.
Later that day, Junior dubbed me Captain Morgan. Probably because his only knowledge of the subject came from a rum bottle. The Morgan part only lasted a short time. After that most folks took to calling me Captain.
Too bad my name was only the beginning, and least troublesome, of the changes Junior brought on.
With Junior at the helm, that first day drug on longer than a soap opera storyline. Me, myself, I don't like none of those shows, but my wife Rachel kept track of those people as if they were family. And Betty Raintree, the woman who ran the finance and title clerk department always had a T.V. turned to Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns, or The Young and the Restless.
I should've realized Junior's arrival meant I was now part of a soap opera, but then again I've always had a habit of discovering things after it's too late.
Rex came to me first. “Go tell your buddy that write-up sheets are how we do business. I can't leave a buyer alone for fifteen minutes while he asks one stupid question after another. That couple from Anadarko walked right out while I was gone. I needed that sale.”
Later it was J.J. “You gotta tell him Sundays are no good around here. Mary will throw a fit if I start working Sundays too. Besides, she'll make me go to mass on Saturday nights and that's my night to hang out and drink beer at the Knight's Hall.”
Even Fiona, the newest accountant in the finance department stopped by my cubicle. She'd spoken to me a few times in the two months she'd been working at Habershaw Ford Lincoln and Mercury, but she was quiet as a brand spanking new four-cylinder, so I never heard much of what she said. Usually her moving lips were my only clue that she was even talking, but it didn't take Junior long to rile her up enough to make herself heard.
“Betty says you and the new boss are friends.”
Besides myself, Betty was the only person at the dealership who'd been around long enough to remember the days when the old man brought Junior down to the lot every Saturday.
I shook my head. “I sort of knew him when we were kids, but so did Betty.”
Fiona nodded. “Betty told me. She also said she didn't like him back then either. She said you're the one person who might could talk sense into him.”
That sounded just like something Betty would say, but the last thing I wanted was to become everyone's spokesman, so I said, “I doubt Junior cares much about my opinion.”
That's when Fiona's eyes filled with tears.
Now there is a pretty lengthy list of things that make me squirm. Neckties, the doily-filled insides of old ladies houses', trips to the mall with my wife -- but nothing makes me, or any other man for that matter, shudder like a distraught female on the verge of crying. Hell, I'd rather try to talk a crooked politician into a confessional booth, than attempt to convince an emotional woman everything was going to be all right. But, like an idiot, I said, “Everything will be okay. Junior will get the hang of things in a week or two.” I might've even reached out and patted Fiona's shoulder.
“I need this job,” she whispered.
“So do I.”
Fiona stared hard at me and then nodded. “But I won't sleep with him to keep it. Can you tell him that?” She turned and left without waiting to hear my answer.
Not that I had one.
I did try to talk to Junior, but holding his attention without a nice set of legs, or a pair of perky boobs was next to impossible. He nodded as I explained how his dad ran the dealership. He grinned when I told him it might be a good idea to leave the accountants alone. He slapped me on the back when I offered to help him anyway I could.
“You're all right, Captain. I don't care what your wife says about you.” Laughing, he guided me to the door of his office and then shut it behind me. Already, he'd taken down all the classic car posters his dad had on the walls. Said he was going to replace the vintage automobiles with fine art replicas.
Junior's theory was they didn't make cars the way they used to, and it was bad business to remind buyers of that fact. He claimed cheap Rembrandt knockoffs would show buyers who sat in his office that they were dealing with class.
By mid-afternoon of his first day Junior had called it good and gone home. The majority of my coworkers followed in the preceding hours. By six-thirty there were only a few of us left. At least one salesman and one person from accounting were required to hang out until eight each night during the week and we all stayed late on Saturdays since that was our busiest day.
A wheat farmer named Charlie Benton and his wife came in just before seven that evening. The Bentons traded in their old vehicles for new ones every two years, and for the last decade I'd been their salesman of choice. I showed him an F-250 pickup and her, a nice ivory Crown Vic.
I took a fair amount of pride in the fact I sold more cars, to more return customers, than any other salesman at the dealership, and a good percentage of those repeat buyers were senior citizens. Let me tell you, it ain't easy to bullshit somebody who's been around the block more than once.
Some sales are almost a given, especially to repeat buyers like the Bentons, so I merely highlighted the improvements Ford had made in the last couple of years. I pointed out the Crown Vic's new heated seats, since I imagined a skinny woman like Mrs. Benton could use a little added warmth back there. And to her husband, I explained about the added towing capacity on the newer pickups. Other than that, I kept quiet.
Old Man Habershaw taught me long ago that twice as many sales were lost by saying too much than from not saying enough.
The farmer and his wife knew I'd quote them a good price without tacking on hidden charges, and I knew no matter how good a deal I offered they would take a day or so to think over the purchase. But mentally, I'd already added up that commission.
I had big plans to surprise Rachel for our fourteenth anniversary, but the rates would go up unless I made the travel arrangements soon. A two-vehicle deal just might put me where I needed to be.
Waving to Mr. and Mrs. Benton, I waited until they pulled out of the lot before heading inside. As I climbed the three concrete steps, my mind drifted to white sand beaches, cold pina-coladas, and clear turquoise waters. For one brief second I could hear the rhythm of steel drums and taste salt in the air -- then I stepped into the heavily air-conditioned showroom. The rubber tinged aroma and new car smell ran smack dab over my imagination, but I was determined to see my travel plans become reality so I headed for my office.
Calculator in hand, I crouched over the desk and punched in the numbers bouncing around my brain. Rummaging through the drawers I pulled out stack after stack of travel brochures.
Truth is, I already knew every word printed on the glossy, cruise line pamphlets. Rachel would care about the onboard activities, but the islands themselves were the engine of my desire. The actual ships were merely the tires to roll me there, and it didn't matter to me if we sailed on Goodyears or Michelins. I only cared about where, how often, and how long the ship docked.
After a bit, I looked up from the stack of information to find Fiona standing outside the Plexiglas wall of my cubicle watching me. I smiled and waved.
Only then did she step inside. Taking off her reading glasses, she said, “Your wife called while you were out on that test drive. She wants you to call her.”
“Thanks.” I stuffed the brochures back in my desk.
“Going on a trip?”
Nodding, I said, “I'm gonna surprise my wife and book a cruise for our anniversary. I've loved pirates since I was a young boy. I must have read Treasure Island a thousand times, and I've wanted to visit the Caribbean ever since.”
“I'm sure it will be nice.” Fiona turned to leave.
“I talked to Junior for you.”
“I know. Thanks.” I caught the hint of a smile before she walked away.
Dialing my wife, I wondered how Fiona already knew I'd talked to Junior, and why she'd grinned that way, but as soon as Rachel answered I let those questions slip from my mind.
“Meet me at Rocco's when you get off,” she said.
I cringed. “Not Rocco's. Not tonight. I just wanna go home.”
Rachel snorted the way she always did when put out. “I'm not cooking, so if you want to eat … “
“This has been the day from hell. What with the funeral, and Junior,” I looked at my watch. “And it's already eight. How about I pick something up on the way --”
“Do you now how sick I am of fast food? Do you?”
I hated it when Rachel got like this. Nothing I said would make her happy.
“We've eaten fast food the last three nights,” she said. “Burgers, fried chicken, and that gawdawful burrito place. “One decent meal out wouldn't hurt us.”
Neither would you cooking one.
Of course I didn't say that. I knew better, but Rocco's was the highest joint in Red Dirt. And Rachel would order at least one bottle of wine. She claimed pasta didn't taste right unless you washed it down with wine. And apparently expensive wine, since it was nearly thirty bucks a pop.
“I'm trying to set some money aside.”
“Nobody likes a tight ass, Hank.”
Forty-five minutes later I was sitting at a table in Rocco's watching Rachel pour her second glass of merlot. I'd tried to order a Budweiser but Rachel insisted one bottle of wine was enough alcohol for the both of us. After thirteen and a half years of marriage you'd think she would have picked up on the fact I hated wine. Especially, red wine.
I grabbed a bread stick and sopped up some of the green oil crap they brought along with the merlot. It tasted pretty much just like you'd imagine green oil would taste, but those breadsticks were always so dang dry. I'm guessing Italians never heard of cream gravy. Or good quality light bulbs because it was always too damn dark inside Rocco's.
“Anything exciting happen at the hospital today?”
Rachel shook her head. “Same as always. People shit themselves, vomit in their bed, and then bitch at us when we're five minutes late with their pain meds.”
The waitress brought our meals. As usual, I'd ordered spaghetti and meatballs. Rachel had some kind of pasta covered in cream sauce and little bits of pink shrimp. You'd think the thing had an entire lobster tail for what it cost.
Winding the noodles around my fork, I said, “Junior asked about you.”
Rachel kept eating without saying a word.
“He wanted to know if I was still married to that pretty wife I used to have.”
She shook her head. “He should have asked you if you were still married to that fat woman who used to be pretty.”
“You're not fat and you are still pretty.”
“No better than you are at lying, I don't know how you sell any cars at all.” She poured herself another glass of wine.
But I wasn't lying. To me Rachel was just as beautiful as the day I'd married her. She still possessed those brilliant blue eyes, and smooth, flawless skin. Her blond hair had gotten a bit darker, but I still found it incredible that a woman like her had actually agreed to marry a guy like me. Sure, she'd put on a few pounds, but that bothered her far more than it ever had me.
“You remember the time he hit on you?” I asked. “Back when we were in high school?”
“He didn't really hit on me.” She stuffed a heaping forkful of shrimp covered pasta in her mouth and chewed for a while before saying. “What was he, fourteen or fifteen back then?”
“Of course if I'd have known he was going to be rich someday.” Then she laughed and took another swig of wine. “No, I don't care how much money he's got. If I remember right, he barely came up to my armpits. Has he gotten any taller?”
“Not much, but he's as bold as ever.”
“Maybe I should fix him up with my sister. She's pretty bold. You think they'd get along?”
Rachel's sister, Lila, had a mustache reminiscent of Tom Selleck's Magnum P.I. days. Her hair was thinning, her butt was wider than the trunk of a fifty-eight Studebaker, and her teeth were at least three different shades of yellow. On top of that, she had the personality of a junkyard Rottweiler with a bad case of hemorrhoids.
I thought of Nikki and the way Junior had sized up the pretty receptionist the moment he came in. “I don't think so. Something tells me your sister isn't his type.”
Rachel reached across the table and stabbed the last of my meatballs with her fork. “You're probably right. She doesn't like short men either.”
I could only shake my head when the waitress dropped off the bill. “I don't understand why this place is so high.”
“You pay for what you get.”
Standing, I said, “I got a bowl of spaghetti. And it cost me better than sixty bucks.”
“But you made me happy and you know what that means.” Rachel ran her hand down my back and squeezed my left butt cheek.
I wanted to say it means you drank too much wine, but I kept my mouth shut. I might not be the fastest car on the lot, but even I knew how to seize upon an opportunity when it presented itself. Besides, the money was already gone. No reason to let her fermented grape induced good mood go to waste.
Copyright © 2009 Travis Erwin. All Rights Reserved.
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.