It was turning out to be a slow day in my used bookstore - until these three shady-looking characters came in.
The old guy in the suit was the first through the door, followed by a knuckle-dragger wearing a trench coat and fedora. The last guy in was dressed like a hippie, complete with beard and rose-colored beatnik sunglasses.
The old guy started talking while his companions wandered toward the shelves.
"Nice place you got here." He said, extending his doughy hand to me. "My name's Pat."
I paused and looked him over - something about those narrow eyes made me distrust him, but not enough to justify withholding a handshake.
"Hi Pat. Thanks - I've been working hard on it."
"So how's business? I unnerstan' you're new around here?"
"Yessss, " I drawled, looking over his shoulder at the ape in the trench coat. He had a copy of "Origin of the Species" open in his meaty hands and was making wisecracks as the hippy snickered. He had his hat drawn low so I couldn't see his face.
"I've been here a month now, " I said as I returned my attention to the suit, "and business is looking good. Buying and selling used textbooks and other books to the local school has turned out to be a good niche for me."
"Uh huh. Glad to hear that," he said. "I'm always glad when business is good." Something about that made me nervous.
"So, uh, Pat, what can I do for you?"
"Well, me and my friends here," he waved vaguely at the hippy who had just dropped "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" by Copernicus onto the 'Fiction' shelf, "we wanna help you out."
"Help me out how?"
I tensed as he reached inside his suit jacket - but he only pulled out a sheaf of brightly colored stickers.
"We're gonna help you out by lettin' you put these stickers on alla your so-called 'science' books." He handed me a page of stickers.
I took at look at the stickers - all of them were bright orange with huge black letters. They all had the same message:
THE THINGS YOU READ IN THIS BOOK AREN'T NECESSARILY TRUE. "I can't do that!" I exclaim, "These are science books! Of course they're 'true'."
"Are you sayin' that none of your books have any mistakes in 'em? Have you actually read every one of 'em?"
"Well not every one but…"
"Then you're not qualified to say if they're true or not are you?"
"Nonsense - of course I'm qualified. I work with professors from the university to ensure that all the books I sell meet the highest standards of accuracy. And I keep up with the textbook trade." I was getting ticked. "I know what I'm doing, and I have expert advice."
"Experts," he snorted. "Those guys don't know nothin."
"Now just a …" I start to exclaim, but this Pat guy cuts me off with a cold sneer.
"You lissen here you punk. If you don't play 'nice' and let us help you out, sumthin bad might happen to your store."
"Some… something… bad..?" I stammer.
"Yea, like…" He turned and waved at the big guy in the coat, who promptly gave a demonstration of the worst fake trip I'd ever seen, falling into a bookshelf with a loud CRASH that knocked the whole thing over.
"One of your customers just might have an accident - causing all sorts of damage and leaving you open for a law suit."
I gape at the damage, and start easing away from this crazy geezer.
"Or maybe something might just, I dunno, break all by itself." He said pointing at the hippy was staring hard at the cash register in concentration. The drawer promptly shot out of the register and smashed right through the plate glass window in the front of the store, bringing the whole thing down in pieces.
But Pat was too busy enjoying the show and had stopped paying attention to me. I finally had the chance to grab the shotgun that I kept handy behind the counter. I'd never thought I'd really have to use it! A bookstore isn't like a stop and shop, but I'm the cautious type.
I pump the shotgun to get their attention, but it doesn't seem to bother them much.
"You bastards," I say, "you really are assholes. You just freeze while I call the cops. I'll blow your heads off if you move."
"Hey, now, no call for that friend. And don't bother to make that call - it won't do any good." But I'm not listening, I hit the speed dial for 911 and set the phone on the counter top. I know I don't need to say anything - the cops will trace it and send someone. "We was just leaving anyway."
The hippy and the big guy start walking toward the door and I move to cover them. "Don't move assholes!" Neither of them stop - instead they rush the door. I hesitate - what am I going to do? Shoot them in the back? I can't do it. And then they're gone…
Frustrated, I swing to aim right at the suit's forehead.
"Are they crazy?" I shout. "Is that what that is? They just walk out of here with no care of me killing 'em?"
"They kinda make their own rules" Pat said blandly.
This was such a crazy statement that all I could do is gawp at him. "Say what? Who are they? Who are you?"
"The big guy?" Pat grinned, "He's the brains of this outfit. He's a lot smarter than he looks."
I snorted, thinking that couldn't be very hard. "And what - the skinny guy's the muscle?"
"Well, kinda. He can control a pet poltergeist - a real mean one. But the big guy does plenty of muscle work too. Sometimes if a mark begs for mercy, the skinny guy will step in and keep his dad from beating him too hard."
"Wait, they're related?" It was like Koko the ape had given birth to John Lennon. "And who are you? Uncle Fester?"
"I'm the bag man. I do their talking and collect 'insurance' for 'em too."
A protection racket - great.
By now a siren announced the arrival of the police - and I'm gratified to see the neighborhood cop jog through the door first. It saved explaining who the bad guy is since I'm the one with the gun.
"Greg!" I say in relief, "I'm so glad you're here! This guy and his friends have been trying to shake me down!"
But Officer Duffy ignores me, as do two other cops who come in to check things out. Duffy surveys the damage to my store and his eyes finally rest on Pat. "Someday you're going to get yourself killed Mr. Robertson."
I flinch - Greg knows this guy?
"Now get out of here before I charge you with vagrancy or something." For a geezer, he's surprisingly fast, and he makes tracks out the door.
"What the hell are you doing?" I yell. "They trashed my place! Look at that window, it'll cost me thousands to replace!"
Duffy looks it over, and then sighs. "Just claim it on your insurance - call it an 'act of God'."
Later I'm finally convinced that there really is nothing I can do. The whole town seems scared of these bozos!
After I've swept up the glass, boarded up the window and replaced the books on the shelves, I finally notice that the geezer had left his sheaf of stickers on my counter top. I pick them up and read one again:
THE THINGS YOU READ IN THIS BOOK AREN'T NECESSARILY TRUE."Huh" I chuckle to myself, "I know what I can do with these." I start walking toward the 'Religion' section of my bookstore, grinning for the first time since this whole mess started.
God Starts Extortion Scheme
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.
Copyright (c) 2005 by Mark B. (aka Calladus) Permission to copy as long as full credit is given. If posted online a link must be made to this page. All other rights reserved.