Nick Ray lives in a world where everything is for sale. University Ph.D.s, pig fetuses, bomb shelters, and vending-machine-dispensed live bait, to name just a few. But for the first time in a long time, Nick Ray finally has something to sell.
Determined to be covert about an affair he's having with a woman already spoken for (by another woman), Nick buys the cheapest computer he can find at a local pawn shop, only to discover that the hard drive contains the names and addresses of dozens of members of the Witness Protection Program.
Partnering with a hulking Russian gangster with the world's worst fashion sense and a disbarred lawyer who drinks rocket fuel, Nick decides to take advantage of his unique discovery. Yet despite the impressive credentials of this entrepreneurial dream team, Nick soon learns that having something to sell can end up simply making you a valuable commodity to someone else wanting to make a big score ...
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About the Author
Rob Roberge is a novelist, screenwriter, and director, and plays in a rock 'n' roll band. His short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including the Literary Review. He lives in California.
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More Than They Could Chew
Exile on Main Street
"That's one of the tragedies of this life -- that the men who
are most in the need of a beating up are always enormous."
-- Preston Sturges, The Palm Beach Story
Nick Ray will let you down, is the way my ex-wife Cheryl puts it. Nick Ray is not without his charms, she'd tell you, but he's a sucker bet. In a fixed race, he'd find a way to finish second. Ask me, she'd say, and I'll tell you about a loser.
I am Nick Ray and I was once, and not so long ago, viewed by myself and others around me, as a young man with potential. No one would have picked this. No one, I'm betting, would've picked me as the desk clerk at a rat hole like the Lincoln Hotel, a place full of people with too much past and too little future.
Even Cheryl, who, for a number of years, made it her life's business to be disappointed by me, wouldn't have guessed I would end up at the Lincoln, but that's where I am.
The Lincoln Hotel sits on the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and Broadway. There is, as the sign announces, a bath in every room. The sign was painted the last time the hotel was totally renovated, I'm guessing sometime during the Eisenhower administration, since the lettering on the sign is in the same style as the lettering and graphics from the first wave of television commercials.
The plop-plop-fizz-fizz guy. Steve Allen holding a box of Post Toasties, telling you he'll be right back. Drive-ins. That lettering.
You're watching a rerun of Kraft Mystery Theater and Fred MacMurray just paused in front of a hotel and lit a cigarette. He looks around to see if Richard Widmark put a tail on him. He exits the shot, the building all that's left of the scene. That's this building. It might as well be in black-and-white.
The building cannot be torn down, it received historical status from the state of California a couple of years ago. It can, however, be wrestled, foot on throat, from Mrs. Carlisle, and it will be in a few months. The state of California's like those cops in Penn Station at three in the morning. They're rapping on the seats. They're exercising their authority.
Move along. Doesn't matter where you go but you can't stay here.
This has added a jittery quality to normal day-to-day life at the Lincoln. It's made Hank Crow, the other desk clerk, angry as hell. Hank's an old-time socialist who looks like Ossie Davis and there are stories he has to tell you. He's locked arms with Paul Robeson and Woody Guthrie, he's had Emma Goldman's tongue deep down his throat, and she only took it out long enough to harmonize about the circle being unbroken. Hank Crow did his part -- he walked the picket line while the Weavers tapped their feet, plucked their revolutionary banjos and sang and this was all back when the country was young enough for something like hope. Just ask him, and Hank will tell you these things.
Listen to Hank Crow and learn this and learn it well: if he had a hammer, he'd hammer in the morning and if he had a monkey wrench, he'd show those bastards downtown, and if he had a pipe bomb and a thirty-ought six, he'd say good-bye to this world in style and take a few of the screwheads with him.
Hank's still angry enough to care and I end up feeling vaguely guilty that I've never had that passion about much of anything in my life. I have lived thirty-three years and I have only learned what I don't want to do with the rest of my days. I've never had much of a plan -- I came out west because the weather was nice, I came to Long Beach because it was the cheapest beach city in Southern California, and I took the job at the Lincoln because I got free rent and I didn't have to do much of anything at all.
Me and Hank work the desk on the first floor and we sit behind bulletproof yellowing Plexiglas and we have one of those push-pull drawers you used to see at drive-thru banks to handle monetary transactions. Our desk is huge and pink and it has three buttons near your left leg. The one on the left buzzes people in. The one on the right is wired to the cops. The one in the middle doesn't do anything. I press it sometimes when I'm bored.
On the first floor is the lobby, which was probably nice once, with the metal ceiling that once had impressively hammered designs that now looks like a world of broken knuckles behind forty years of quick slap paint jobs.
The Lincoln was built in 1921, when Long Beach was the pride of the golden coast. Three years earlier, on what had been the land where Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton shot two-reelers, they'd struck oil and Long Beach had its greatest real estate boom. The town flourished, the old Pike Amusement Center ran for miles on the beach. The Old Pike was the pride of the West with the centerpiece being the Cyclone Racer, the biggest and fastest wooden roller coaster on the coast, a coaster that danced and hairpinned its biggest curve a hundred feet out into the water.
In 1933, an earthquake rocked downtown hard and ugly and there wasn't much left standing. The city rebuilt the tourist center of the Pike, which had started its steady decline into navy-port sleaziness. The city council put up breakwaters that stopped the waves so the navy could have a safe harbor for the marine yards flourishing in the war-machine money. The city found out waves were important -- the lack of motion killed sea life and coughed and hacked the garbage onto the shoreline ...More Than They Could Chew
A Novel. Copyright © by Rob Roberge. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Long Beach, California Nick Ray works the first floor desk of the historic but not preserved Lincoln Hotel. On the graveyard shift, Nick seeks a way to communicate with his lover Tara without her lover knowing as he enjoys the sex but does not want a beating from her lesbian lover. To hide the affair, Nick buys a dinosaur age used computer. --- The relic turns out to be a former government machine in which the hard drive was not properly sanitized. It contains an interesting database that is apparently current: the names and present residences of whistle-blowers concealed by the government's witness-protection program. Seeing a chance to make a bundle by selling the information to mobsters seeking revenge or examples or to the recipient, Nick enlists two partners, Russian thug Sergei and disbarred lawyer Maggot Arm Joe. They beta test his new employment scheme with astonishing ease and success. However, the euphoric trio soon finds MORE THAN THEY COULD CHEW when someone will kill to possess the database. --- This is a zany thriller starring the ultimate loser who as his ex wife says would still find a way to come in second in a rigged race of one. Nick is the center of this madcap mania as he keeps the story line together though in a spiraling out of control way; yet he and the solid support cast make a strong case for genetic engineering of the next generation. Though the climax seems to gentle for such a wild dark yarn, readers will gladly bunker down appreciating the humorous look at anything has a price in the United Sales of America.--- Harriet Klausner