After suddenly finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, a young couple strives to put their lives back together in an uncertain world.
Johnny Boxer is about to cross the line. He is broke, a hundred miles from home, and living on the edge of right and wrong. With a paper gun stuﬀed into the waistband of his pants, he walks into a small-town Dairy Queen and changes the course of his life forever.
With forty-six dollars crammed in his pockets, Johnny races to his car, where his new wife, Heather, nervously waits. Unfortunately, Johnny does not feel the relief he had anticipated. Now it seems he has more worries than ever before. With the police and the media hot in pursuit, the two young criminals have no choice but to face their reality. But when two reporters show up at their door and oﬀer big bucks for their story, Johnny and Heather decide this could be a chance to get their lives back.
Paper Gun is a poignant tale of life, love, and desperation as two young souls learn that, through their own actions, they really do have the power to change their destinies.
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|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.34(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Robert Redbone
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Robert Redbone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Plan
Today is not just another day in the young life of Johnny Boxer. Today, he is about to cross the line. This morning, Johnny is not thinking ahead to the future consequences of his actions. He is too distracted by his current life pain, caused primarily by his financial state. Johnny is broke. Not just no-money-right-now broke, with the expectation of going to an ATM later or needing to find some place to eat where they take credit cards. He is so broke that, in his mind, stealing or robbing has become more of a survival choice than a moral one. Stack that on top of a couple of hard days with little sleep, and you can start to understand Johnny's state of mind as he stands next to the magazine rack in this little gas station-slash-bait shop. The store is located not far off the highway in the town of Folsom near a lake, about a third of the way between Reno, Nevada and home for Johnny, San Jose, California.
On this day, Johnny is feeling particularly worn out by his short life. Youth is the one thing that has kept him going, and that is fading as his twenties slip away. Two hundred miles from home is not that far, if you're not broke. All he needs is enough money to make it home. There, he's got a little money and some buddies he can count on for help in a pinch. If Johnny can just get home today, tomorrow he can resume his crummy job, which constitutes a major portion of his crummy life. The crummy life that Heather keeps telling him is better than a lot of other people's whenever he starts going negative on her. She is right, of course. In a few days, this trip will be a good story that, if told in the right way, will have some laughs in it for Johnny and his buddies at the body shop. Even the worst of it won't seem that bad a week from now.
True as that may be, Johnny is a long way from laughter right now. He has a tired, hungry girl waiting for him six blocks from here, in an old car that is about out of gas, and a plan to get some money. Maybe not the greatest plan, but it's his plan and it is moving forward.
Johnny checks over his shoulder again and glances up at the mirror; he is ready to make his move. As the clerk rings up the next customer, Johnny slips out the door. He can feel the clerk's eyes on his back as the door brushes by him, but no one is yelling "Hey, you, stop!" or grabbing at his arm. Outside, every step away from the door brings his breathing a little closer to normal. Johnny is not an experienced thief; he is already feeling the guilt creeping in on him. He forces himself to ignore it; there is no time for that right now. He has stolen a page he tore out of a magazine and small roll of tape, both of which he tucked inside his shirt.
Johnny walks quickly around the back of the building and crouches down behind a large Dumpster. He removes the tape first and sets it on a box he prepared earlier to use as a table. Next, he takes out the picture, glancing behind himself nervously to make sure there is no one around. He then carefully unfolds the picture and flattens it onto the makeshift table. Finally, he takes out a small pocketknife and begins to work, cutting around the edges of the picture.
He is amazed by how lifelike and three-dimensional the picture looks. His confidence in his plan begins to grow. The picture is of a gun, full-size 45 caliber automatic hand gun; he had torn it out of a hunting magazine. Now he needs to cut it out nice and neat. As he nervously tries to focus on the task at hand, Johnny notices the price on the roll of transparent tape he has stolen, which is lying next to the picture on the box. He thinks, Two dollars and seventy-nine cents? That seems like a lot to pay for such a small roll of tape.
Not that he can remember ever needing to buy a roll of tape like this, but it still seems like a lot of money. Somehow he feels less guilty stealing something that seems so overpriced. After he cuts out the picture, he places it on a piece of cardboard and cuts the cardboard to fit. He tapes the picture to the cardboard backings, and it's finished. It looks good, he tells himself as he puts the barrel of the makeshift gun in the waistband of his pants, behind the belt buckle. Taking one more satisfied look down at the gun, he closes his jacket.
With his work finished, Johnny starts across the street toward an old-fashioned Dairy Queen drive-in. It looks like it was built in the sixties. This is just the kind of place Johnny was looking for. As he walks closer to the order window, the smell of food cooking distracts him for a moment, as it reminds him how hungry he is. This stops him for a few seconds standing on the sidewalk in front of the Dairy Queen. He could walk away, but he doesn't. It's just before ten o'clock in the morning, and the workers are busy just getting the place open. Johnny looks up and down the street. There is no one else around, and the bus should be here any minute. It's go time!
Johnny gets refocused and walks straight and purposefully to the window with his head down. A smiling, chubby, fresh-faced girl greets him with a friendly "Good morning." Johnny thinks that she is cute in her nice white shirt and paper hat. Then, with teenage eagerness, she says, "The food is going to take a few minutes; we are just getting open, but I can take your order."
Johnny raises his head. He has a bandanna on his face, like a robber in a cowboy movie, and a ball cap pulled down low over his eyes. He looks at the girl as hard as he can with just his eyes showing and says, "Give me the money."
Because he is an inexperienced robber and speaking through the bandanna, his tone evidently is not as convincing as he needs it to be. The girl just stands there, her eyes open wide, not sure what is going on. Johnny composes himself and steps back enough to open his coat, showing her the picture of the gun. It is stuck down in his pants with half the gun showing, like a gangster's. Then he put his hand on the gun picture as if he's about to pull it out.
Again this time quicker and louder, hoping that she gets the concept, Johnny insists, "Give me the money, now!"
She is scared now and wants to turn around to see if someone in the back can help her. Seeing her eyes dart back and forth, Johnny orders her, "Don't turn around. Just give me the damn money now!"
Suddenly, the girl gets control of herself. Quickly, she opens the cash drawer under the counter and starts grabbing at the money. She puts the cash on the counter and pushes the bills mixed with change over to him. Johnny scoops up the money as she pushes it and jams it into his coat pockets as quickly as he can. In just a few seconds, he's got all the money packed into his pockets, except for a few coins that fall on the ground. Now the girl gets his attention again. She is making those I'm-going-to-start-crying sounds that girls make.
Johnny steps forward with his face right in the window. He looks straight into the girl's eyes and, not even knowing why he is doing it, starts speaking to her in a calm, almost loving tone. A little in shock, she can only see his piercing blue eyes and hear his pleasing voice. He says, "Sweetheart, don't be worried. You did real good. Now, you close those pretty eyes and count to thirty with me, nice and slow. When you open your eyes, I'll be gone and you can go in the back with your friends, okay?" She nods her head in agreement, and Johnny says, "Okay, that's good."
She closes her eyes, and Johnny starts counting. It's as though she is being hypnotized as she starts counting with him. They count together slowly: one, two, three, four, five. Then she is counting on her own and Johnny is gone.
The timing is just right. Johnny can hear the bus coming as he turns and starts walking to the bus stop, which is a couple hundred feet away. He is fighting the urge to run. He can hear a commotion coming from the Dairy Queen behind him, but he does not turn to look. The sounds behind him are being drowned out by the noise of the bus as it comes to a stop; his face is inches from the door as the driver opens it. The bus driver looks down at him, sizing him up, and Johnny hesitates for a moment before he steps up into the bus. Johnny's mind is racing. Did I pull down the bandanna? Is my coat open? He touches his face and stomach, just to be sure.
As Johnny steps onto the bus, there is a fare box with a sign that reads, "Local Fare $2.00." Nervous and unfamiliar with what is in his coat pocket, he comes up with a handful of change. The driver says, "Two dollars," in that tone people use when they are really tired of saying the same thing over and over: loud enough to be heard very clearly, in the hope they won't have to repeat it yet another time. Johnny manages to drop two dollars into the box and heads for a seat.
The bus starts moving as Johnny walks toward the back. There are only a few people on the bus. Displaying standard bus etiquette, they pretend to take little notice of him. He takes a seat about halfway to the back on the street side, not wanting to be seen from the Dairy Queen. As Johnny sits down, the bus slowly roars forward up the street. He has done it; now he just needs to get back to the car. The driver takes notice out of the side window of the bus as he passes the Dairy Queen. He sees that something is going on: the employees are out in front looking back and forth, but the bus is moving and his eyes need to go back to the road. Johnny is trying to stay calm, even as the driver keeps checking him out in the mirror. Before the bus gets two blocks away, the passengers can hear a police siren in the distance. They still pretend to take little notice.
The next stop is four blocks up; Johnny knows this because he has walked it three times in the last two hours. He had been watching the buses go by, one every thirty minutes. All the other buses were right on schedule, and so is this one. Heather is waiting for him in the car, two blocks over from the next bus stop.
The siren quickly gets closer and louder; Johnny does not look up as the others start to show interest in the sound. Half a block from the next bus stop, Johnny stands up and heads for the door. The driver looking at him in the mirror says loudly, "Please stay seated until the bus has stopped."
Alerted by the driver, the other passengers now look up at Johnny as he takes a seat closer to the front. Everyone knows he just got on. They wonder why he is getting off so soon. The bus comes to a stop just as the cop car goes by with lights flashing and sirens screaming, which takes everyone's attention off Johnny for the moment as he steps off the bus. He knows the passengers and the driver are realizing that there is some connection between him and the siren, even though they don't have enough information to put it all together yet. In fact, when they are asked later, the driver and passengers will all remember a good-looking young man, almost six feet tall, with a lean build and light brown hair.
Johnny stands there on the corner, waiting for the bus to get out of sight. As he waits, the sound of the police siren fades and stops. He visualizes the cops walking up to the Dairy Queen and the sight of the frantic employees trying to explain to him what happened. What Johnny doesn't know is that his paper gun fell to the ground as he was putting the money in his pockets. The cook found it and is now showing it to the cops.
Then, realizing the bus is out of sight, he darts across the street. Unable to control himself any longer, he runs the two blocks to the car. As he approaches the car, he sees Heather looking a little dazed, not fully awake, staring at him through the passenger window. The plan was for Heather to drive and Johnny was going to lie down in the backseat, because the police would not be looking for a woman driving alone. Now Johnny just wants to get out of here. He goes to the driver's door; it's locked, so he knocks lightly on the window as he looks around to see if anyone is watching. It takes Heather a moment to get it together enough to unlock the door. As Johnny gets in, Heather, half awake, asks, "What took you so long?"
Johnny responds with an impatient look. She asks anyway. "Did you do it?"
Johnny answers, "Yes, I did it. Just give me the keys, okay?"
Heather starts looking in her pockets and around the seat for the keys. Johnny is all wound up; every second of delay is torturing him. "The keys, the keys," he says through clenched teeth. Finally, from somewhere under her coat, she comes up with the keys and gives them to Johnny.
As the car starts, Johnny is finally able to exhale. He revs up the engine of the old Mustang and takes off. There is now a much-needed time of silence between them as they pull away. Both need a few moments to regroup; this is not a time for a fight.
When they have gone a few blocks, Johnny blurts out, almost as if he is saying it so he can hear it rather than for Heather, "I got the money. Now we can get some gas and get on the highway." Still looking straight ahead, he finishes with, "So let's stay focused, okay?"
With that, he gives Heather a glance. Heather, her voice sounding concerned, even though it's a little forced, says, "I just wanted to know that you were all right. I was getting worried waiting for you. I heard the siren, and I didn't want to open my eyes." Heather can be a little self-centered, but she does try to compensate for it when it comes to Johnny.
As they drive, Johnny takes off the bandanna and his coat. He throws the bandanna into the backseat. He is about to do the same with the coat when Heather reaches for it. She takes the coat from him and half folds it in her lap. Then he rolls down the window with the intention of throwing out the paper gun, but when he reaches for the gun, it's not there. He looks and feels around, but he can't find it. He doesn't want Heather to know he lost it, so he rolls the window back up and says nothing.
After a few moments of holding the coat, Heather reaches back to get the bandanna and begins neatly folding them both. Johnny tells her to just leave it, but he is not surprised when she continues as if she hadn't heard him.
As Heather straightens the coat, she mutters, "I'm just fixing things. And you didn't have to throw that thing out the window. You know that's not nice."
Johnny wisely has no reply. Even though he hadn't thrown anything out, he had no desire to fight or explain his actions. It would be just too much right now. All Johnny wants to do is to put time and space between him and this town. They both see a gas station coming up just before the freeway entrance. Johnny lets out a grateful "Good" as they pull in and up to the pump. He had never run so long on empty with this car before now, so he feels a great relief as he stops next to the pump.
After turning off the car, he reaches into the pockets of the coat that is now folded next to him on the seat. He grabs the bills and pulls them out. As he does, some of the change falls out onto the seat and the floor of the car. Heather gives him a look, but nothing is said. Without a word, he gets out. As he walks toward the store, he counts and straightens out the bills. Two tens, three fives, and eleven ones—forty-six bucks. Well, it's enough to get us home, goes through his mind as he enters the store. He walks around the store picking up a bottle of water for Heather, two muffins, and a cup of coffee for him. At the counter, he asks the clerk for twenty dollars in gas on pump number four. It all comes to twenty-eight dollars and forty-two cents.
When Johnny gets back to the car, he sets the muffins and drinks on the driver's seat, knowing that Heather will arrange them the way she wants. As he pumps the gas, he can see Heather counting the change she has gathered. Johnny finishes pumping the gas and gets into the car, ready to leave. Heather looks over at him and asks, "Did you see a restroom in there?"
Johnny wants to get out of town, but he knows that she has been waiting a long time, and it hasn't been easy for her either. Heather also knows that Johnny will not refuse her request because Johnny never refuses a request for a rest stop. She knows Johnny believes it is very rude to ask someone to wait when this is the request. Once, Johnny told her about how his father would make the family suffer on long trips, refusing to stop unless he needed gas.
After a moment, Johnny smiles and says, "I didn't see one inside, but they must have one." Then he pulls the car over in front of the store and parks. Heather smiles back at him, and things almost seem normal as she gets out of the car.
Excerpted from Paper Gun by Robert Redbone Copyright © 2011 by Robert Redbone. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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