While their last venture was hardly crowned with success, James Lessor and Skip Moore, (and their white box truck) are back. When Reverend Preston Cashdollar and his traveling tent revival come to town, James and Skip reinvent themselvesas holy rollers.
But these two aren’t seeking salvation; they’re seeking the Almighty dollar. After all, Cashdollar’s prosperity gospel draws thousands of people with open minds–and open wallets. With a few modifications to the truck, Less or Moore Catering is ready to roll, and the entrepreneurs are born again, intent on making a mint by selling meager meals to the hungry masses.
Cashdollar may preach about seeing the light, but his organization has a dark side of greed, corruption, and murder. What in the name of all that is holy have James and Skip gotten themselves into-and This meals-on-wheels venture is more like hell on wheels.
As James and Skip seek the truth, they’ll learn that the stuff dreams are made of may be their worst nightmare. They’ll either need to keep the faith, or run like the devil.
About the Author
Don Bruns is an award-winning novelist, songwriter, musician and advertising executive, who lives in South Florida. He is also the author of Stuff to Spy For, Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, Stuff To Die For, Bahama Burnout, St. Barts Breakdown, South Beach Shakedown, Barbados Heat and Jamaica Blue.
Read an Excerpt
Stuff Dreams are Made of
By Don Bruns
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2008 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
I was fifteen years old when I found out my Uncle Buzz's name was really Clarence. Not that it mattered that much. Despite the name Clarence, Buzz was a very cool uncle, ten years older than I was, and on my fifteenth birthday he picked me up in his 1987 Mustang convertible and promised to take me places I'd only dreamed about and show me things I'd never seen.
Dad had left home four years before, and my mother had pretty much washed her hands of any serious parental control, tending to be bitter about her lot in life and distant in her relationship with me. I waved to Mom and my little sister as we pulled out of the driveway, and Buzz burned rubber at the end of the street.
Leaving Carol City for the weekend was enough of a treat, the urban blight of that depressed area leaving real stains on my outlook on life, but Buzz had promised the excitement of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and maybe a trip down the Keys as an added bonus, and I was on a true emotional high.
I still remember the hot Florida sun washing over us as he cruised down I-95 and the sweet bite of Coke and Jack as we pulled from the silver flask he'd brought for this special occasion. Jack was my new best friend and my head was in the clouds.
"Gonna be a weekend to remember, Skip. Honest to God, a weekend to remember."
We met with God that night, sitting on dew-damp grass on a slight rise watching a full-scale tent revival with a black preacher, gold Bible in hand, regaling his flock with stories loosely borrowed from the Bible. About three hundred parishioners swayed and chanted with the preacher and when they sang it was as if the sky had opened and the Lord had unleashed all of his unruly angels to shout his praises.
"People get worked up for a lot of reasons, Skip," Buzz sipped his Jack and Coke, watching the proceeding with the eye of a skeptic. "I used to get worked up because of my name. Imagine. Upset about a little thing like that."
"Buzz? What's wrong with your name?"
He passed the flask to me. "That's not my name, Skip. It's Clarence."
I smiled. There was no room to laugh. With the name Eugene haunting me for fifteen years, I knew the stigma.
"Clarence. Both of our moms had a sense of humor."
Buzz laughed. "That show down there, those people when they get worked up could accomplish anything tonight. Do you believe that?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Right now, Skip. They could move a mountain. No, they could. They could go from here and raise a million dollars in the next hour. They could heal the sick and raise the dead. Raise the dead, nephew. They could do it. But when this show is over they go back to their miserable existence. They return to their drab, humble shacks, their cheating spouses, their screaming litter of kids, and their sham of a life. When it's over, the only thing to look forward to is the next revival."
I thought about that. I wasn't quite sure why we were there, except he was fulfilling his promise. He was taking me places I'd never been.
"So what's the point, Buzz?"
"It's gonna be a weekend of revivals, Skip. The only thing we have in this world is looking forward to the next revival."
He put a twenty in the collection box when the pretty little black girl stopped by our resting spot. Then, as we stood up and walked away from the thundering voice of the gospel choir, he offered me a cigar. We puffed away in the steamy night and in my foggy state of mind, the booze and the thick smoke swirling in my head, I realized Buzz may be onto something. Life was a constant search for the next adventure. My uncle was right.
But he was wrong about the capabilities of the faithful. If that crowd could have raised the dead, seventeen-year-old Cabrina Washington would be alive today. As it is, she's in a grave, and the last adventure she had was the tent revival near Miami.CHAPTER 2
"Think of it as an adventure, Skip." James was into his selling mode. "Come on pal, it won't interfere with work and we'll make some good money. Tell me you couldn't use a little extra scratch!"
The truth was, I could. And James had outfitted the truck with two gas grills, a small refrigerator, and a stove. He could cook, I'd sell and collect the money, and it would all happen after our regular working hours. The one-ton box truck was a regular kitchen of the road. He'd cut a window out of the side, where we could let the air and light in, and he'd cut a hole in the top to vent the greasy smoke. He'd fixed up a makeshift counter next to the small grill at the rear of the vehicle so I could sell the food and hand it down to the lines of hungry Christians. Adding an aluminum step-up to the rear of the truck so customers could "rise" to the occasion was the final modification. It wasn't perfect. I would have to lean down to give the masses their meals, but it was doable. I stalled, taking a swallow of beer and gazing down the row of apartments with their postage-stamp concrete porches.
"Skip! Amigo! You know I can make this happen."
I put my hand up, silencing him for a moment. "The last time you told me this truck would make us some money, we got ourselves in a world of shit and you almost got beaten to death!" There had been an international incident that we didn't bring up very often.
"This is strictly selling food, Skip. No more terrorists or international plots." The last idea he'd had, we'd both been in life-threatening situations. "We start at six p.m. and work until about eleven. There are supposed to be fifteen hundred to two thousand people at this tent revival every night. My God, we could make a fortune." He tapped his cigarette, dropping ashes on the stained cement. Wine, beer, and some stains I can't explain.
James was convinced we'd both be worth a fortune by the time we reached thirty. I had my doubts. As small children growing up, we had dreams. By the time we were seniors in high school, James had decided he would study culinary arts and I would major in business and we could open up the greatest restaurant on South Beach. It didn't happen.
College loans, personal debt, family problems, and two dead-end jobs later we were struggling. James was a short-order cook at Cap'n Crab, a fast food restaurant, and I was selling home security systems in a community where no one had anything to secure. Carol City does not appear on the Miami Chamber of Commerce list of must-see places. It's a secondhand city, urban and poor. We've got a couple of old run-down malls, one decent restaurant, and a handful of old stucco gas stations, which have been converted into nondenominational churches with names like Church of the Lamb, or Salvation Congregation. There's Hallelujah Station (a converted grocery store) and a strange building a couple blocks from our apartment with a faded sign outside that simply says "Welcome Sinners." James and I have often said that that's the one we'd pick if we were to pick any of them.
But the revival was in a tent, at a fairgrounds outside of Miami, and this wasn't Salvation Congregation. Nope. This was the reverend Preston Cashdollar who headed up the largest church in the Miami area and boasted a congregation of fifteen thousand members, growing every Sunday. I swear to you, that's his name, Cashdollar. And to have fifteen thousand members in your congregation? I couldn't even fathom that.
"What do you say, pard? I'm figuring we lay in a supply of ground beef, brats, corn on the cob, and potatoes and we're good to go. There's a chance we could take home two or three thousand a night, Skip."
"Two thousand dollars a night? How do you figure?"
"Jeez, you're the business guy. We get two hundred customers a night, sell 'em a meal for ten bucks and —"
"You're gonna sell a hamburger, corn, and potato salad for ten bucks? My God, James, those people won't have anything left for the collection plate."
"Listen, Daron Styles says that —"
"Daron Styles? Why would you quote that reprobate?"
"All right, he wasn't the most trustworthy kid in our class, but he's done this revival meeting. He says it's a license to steal."
"Daron Styles 'did' this revival meeting? What does that mean?"
"He had a booth. Sold religious stuff like small Bibles, pictures, silver crosses, statues and stuff. He says the followers come with money to spend. I believe he did quite well."
"Styles is sleezy. Is that the kind of person we're going to be working with?"
"He's not with the meeting anymore. He's working in South Beach, but Skip, who the hell cares? Listen, pard, we're in the middle of a campground. These people have been dancing and singing and whatever they do at these revivals and they are hungry, Skip, with nowhere else to go. Ten bucks a meal covers our gas, our time, and our supplies. We can make some good money, pal. Come on, would I steer you wrong?"
He paused, waiting for me to jump at the chance. If this was such a good idea, why had Daron Styles left? And would James steer me wrong? Of course. No question. He'd steered me all over the place since grade school. "James, there has to be a tariff. They're not going to let us just make that kind of money off of their congregation without some sort of fee."
James smiled. His charming smile worked on a lot of people, but we went back much too long for it to have any effect on me. "Skip, Skip. I can't pull anything on you. You're my amigo."
"Can it. How much?"
"Five hundred a day."
"That's why we're going, son. For Jesus."
"And if we don't make five hundred dollars a day?"
"Well," he studied me as if to gauge my reaction to his next charming statement, "we still have to pay. It's up-front money."
"Oh, well let me get my wallet out. I've got three days worth of five hundred dollars right here. No problem." I probably had nine bucks if I was lucky.
His charm went out the window. "Look, damn it. We can make twenty-five hundred a night off this thing. I've met with one of Reverend Cashdollar's business guys, Thomas LeRoy, and he assured me we could do at least that well."
"Thomas LeRoy. He handles Cashdollar's business affairs. His title is," James pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his jeans and opened it up, "Deacon Thomas LeRoy, Division Head of Financial Affairs."
"Jeez, James. The whole thing sounds suspect." And then another thought hit me. "And how many other food vendors are there at five hundred bucks a pop?"
"I don't know. I'm thinking maybe two or three."
"And where did you think we were going to come up with that kind of cash?"
"I've already got it. We just have to pay her back."
"Brook. She took five hundred out of her savings account."
"I've got to hand it to you, James. You've gone out with her, what, six times? And you've already floated a five hundred dollar loan."
"Charm, Skip. Obviously something you need to cultivate."
I studied the hot midday sun, the cracked and pitted concrete porch that we sat on in our cheap, faded, plastic lawn chairs. I scratched at the label on my cheap off-brand beer and considered the fact that I didn't have any idea better than my roommate's.
"Three nights, bro. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. We come back here after each dinner shift, and Sunday after the big finale, we pack it in. Comin' home with some real cash."
"And all we have to do is pay one night at a time?"
"Pay as you pray, brother."
"And you trust this Thomas LeRoy? Division head of whatever?"
"As much as you can trust anyone. He's a very professional businessman. Suit, tie, very organized, and he's got this personal organizer with him. I'm talking to him, he's keeping notes on this thing. I was impressed. We're going to have to get one of those things eventually. A personal organizer. Pretty cool." He swallowed the rest of his beer and stood up, his tall lanky frame towering over me.
"James, you've already got a personal organizer. And sometimes I get a little tired of being it."
He didn't smile.
"And I'm not sure Styles is a good reference."
"Like him or not, Daron Styles did the show and said it's a good way to make a nice chunk of change. Skip, a lot of life is just looking for the next adventure. Look at this as our next adventure."
I'd heard it before. From Uncle Buzz. "You don't see Styles doing it again, do you?"
"He had a run-in with a couple of the other vendors."
It didn't surprise me at all. Daron Styles was always having a run-in with somebody or something.
"That was it? He had a run-in with somebody?"
James was quiet for a moment. "Look, it doesn't matter. Somebody was killed the weekend he worked at the revival. And maybe Styles was implicated. I don't have all the information, but it was a one-time thing. No biggy."
"Somebody was killed, and it's no biggy? Killed on the campground?"
"Come on, Skip. It had nothing to do with us."
James was full of bullshit. He could say that now, but when I got involved with him, everything had to do with us. "And Styles?"
"Never arrested, never convicted as far as I know."
"Who was killed?" He was stalling.
"I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"But you did."
"Damn it, pard. It's not important."
"Who was killed?" I could hold out as long as he could.
"Are you in or are you out?"
I thought about it for a minute. Sixty seconds can be a long time when you're under pressure. Finally I nodded. James already knew my answer. And I hated that. "All right."
He raised his empty beer bottle, toasting the venture. "We're gonna make some serious jack, Skip."
"Who was killed?"
"May have been an accidental death, amigo."
"A vendor. A food vendor. Okay? You happy?"
I just shook my head. Why was I always letting him drag me into these things?
I remembered my last revival. I remembered meeting the attractive seventeen-year-old black girl as she walked up to Buzz, basket in hand.
"The Lord took a few loaves of bread and a few fish, multiplied them and fed five thousand. Will you help in the Lord's work?" she had said.
Buzz reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty. In the few times I'd actually been inside a church, I'd never seen anyone give more than a five dollar bill.
"See how far this will go."
"Thank you," the girl smiled bashfully.
"I'm Buzz and this is Skip. I was just telling my nephew about the power of your revival meetings."
Her face lit up as she took the bill and put her hand on his. "I'm Cabrina. Cabrina Washington. The Lord will bless you for this."
The next day we heard it on the radio, driving Buzz's Mustang down A1A to the Keys. Cabrina Washington was found strangled to death in a grove of pine trees about one hundred yards from a group of camper/trailers inside the campgrounds. To my knowledge they never found the murderer.
"You'll be surprised at how powerful these revivals can be." James smiled, and took a drag from his cigarette.
"No, I won't be surprised at all." I popped the cap on another beer and prayed that this would be much less eventful than the last revival I'd attended eleven years ago.CHAPTER 3
The truck was James's. He'd bought it with a twelve-thousand-dollar inheritance from an aunt he didn't even know. In the last month I'd made a few more security system sales than usual so I chipped in to help buy the kitchen appliances. The stove and two small grills worked off propane gas, the refrigerator off of a generator. As I said, James cut out a window in the side of the truck, hinging the cut-out metal so we could breathe fresh air and see daylight. Then he'd cut a hole in the top of the vehicle, and we ran stove pipe to vent the grills. The aluminum step-up folded down when we parked, and our hungry patrons could step up to the makeshift counter, where I would hand them their plates. It wasn't pretty, but it was functional. Everything was used and cheap, including my cast iron skillet, and I figured the worst that could happen would be that everything would break down and we'd be out $500. It turns out worse things can happen.
Excerpted from Stuff Dreams are Made of by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2008 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Best friends Skip and James are packing up the 'ol white box truck and setting out to find their fortune. James has found the perfect scheme to make lots of money. He's outfitted the truck with a small kitchen and the two sweet, but somewhat bumbling, companions will sell food at Reverend Preston Cashdollar's traveling tent revival. The revival will be in town for three nights and with up to 2,000 people attending each night, James assures Skip that they can't miss, ".we could make a fortune." Skip agrees to participate and soon the two have set up their truck at Cashdollar's revival. When the meeting ends, swarms of customers push their way to the truck to purchase overpriced hamburgers and brats. The business is a huge success and after the first night's rush is over, the friends head over to another vendor's truck for a friendly game of poker. Life seems to have turned around for Skip and James until they start asking questions. First, Skip is curious if the rumor that Cabrina Washington, a 17-year-old murder victim, was really the girlfriend of the good reverend. Then there is the mysterious death of a fellow vendor, the death of a US senator and the shooting of a popular conservative radio host - all of whom had some connection to Cashdollar. The questions are asked during after-hours poker games to the full-timers (vendors who travel with Cashdollar and appear to be at his beck and call). Not long afterwards, the boys' luck changes. Their earnings are stolen, they return to their truck to find all four tires slashed, and they receive a threatening note. Instead of running, Skip and James dig in their heels and search for clues. Stuff Dreams Are Made Of is a fun romp into the world of "holy rollers" who preach salvation through the Almighty Dollar. The writing is crisp, the pace of the story brisk, and the personalities of Skip and James well-developed. For those who like lots of twists and turns in their 'whodunit' novels, this story delivers several, including FBI taps, betrayals, and the lengths people will go to make money. Although some of the escapades stretch the imagination a bit (can these people really be that slow?), the reader is likely to develop a fondness for the main characters. Will they get to the bottom of Cashdollar's empire and solve the murders? More importantly, will Skip and James escape with their lives? Quill says: A bit improbable but a lot of fun to read.