James and Skip aren't upwardly mobile, but they're about to get literally mobile when James spends a surprise inheritance on a white box truck. An investment in the future, he surmises, as these two are starting a businesssolely devoted to hauling other people's stuff.
But the fledgling business takes a shocking turn when James and Skip unload the contents of their first moving job and find some unexpected cargoa bloody human finger.
James and Skip must scramble to stay one step ahead of the perpetrators of the gruesome crime in this witty, gritty mystery about big dreams, big ideasand big trouble.
Instead of chasing the American dream, James and Skip will be running for their lives.
About the Author
Don Bruns is an award-winning novelist, songwriter, musician and advertising executive. He is the author of Jamaica Blue, Barbados Heat and South Beach Shakedown, a music murder mystery series featuring entertainment journalist Mick Sever. Bruns' South Beach Shakedown was recently awarded the Best Books 2006 award in the mystery/suspense/thriller category. Bruns divides his time between Ohio and South Florida.
Read an Excerpt
Stuff to Die for
By Don Bruns
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2007 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
Believe me, when James first suggested we start a hauling business, I would have said no way in hell if I'd known we'd be hauling a human body part. And then to be accused of kidnapping and murder? But I've only got myself to blame. I've known from the start that James Lessor could get into more trouble than any ten people. I just keep forgetting that he's always dragging me in with him.
I met James in the third grade. Even then it was never Jim or Jimmy. His name was James, he'd tell everyone. "James, like in the King James Bible." And if a third grader could be arrogant, James was arrogant. And ambitious. I met him in Mrs. Waggoner's class when he bilked me out of fifty cents on the stone playground by offering to be my best friend for the school year. Fifty cents for the year seemed like a good bargain, and having someone who knew the ropes like James as my best friend seemed like a no-brainer. Then I found out that twenty-five other kids paid the same price for the same privilege.
I don't know where those twenty-five kids are today, but James and I are best friends. And he's still scheming, working on the next get-rich-quick idea. When we were fourteen years old, he borrowed his dad's video camera and we went to the movie theater in Miami Lakes, over by the Pep Boys auto parts store. It was a hot, sticky South Florida day and James had on this trench coat that was three sizes too big. I tagged along and we must have looked like quite a pair, James with a bulky video camera hidden under his coat, and me with a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. We bought tickets to Barbed Wire with Pamela Anderson, and as soon as the previews were over, James pulled out the camera.
"We're gonna sell copies to everyone in school, Skip. A hundred kids buy the movie at five bucks a crack, we make —"
"Five hundred dollars, James."
"Yeah. Five hundred bucks." He got a big grin on his face.
We crouched in our last row seats and he flicked on the camera. That's when the hand grabbed his arm and the manager of the theater yanked him from his chair.
The police officer in the lobby gave us a warning, and we were banned from the theater for life. The manager quit his job the next week and within ten days we were back watching movies — minus the trench coat and camera.
He talked me into at least ten other business ventures between the third grade and now, but none of them panned out, and half of them got us into trouble. And none of them involved terrorism, mutilation, subversive government plots, or torture. Until now.
So why is James Lessor still my best friend? Because I admire him. He's got the — what do the Jews call it? Chutzpa? He's got the balls to go out and make things happen, and for some reason that appeals to me. Probably because I'm not a self-starter. I need a James Lessor, and he needs a Skip Moore to rein him in now and then. Obviously, I should rein him in a lot more than I do.
I have to admit I got fired up about some of his ideas, and I probably wouldn't have gone to college if he hadn't decided we needed to be restaurateurs. You see, James is a marvelous cook. I don't know what sparked his interest, but about the seventh grade he was whipping up inventive omelets with apples and cheddar cheese or mushrooms and salsa, and then he graduated to seafood dishes like imperial crab and deviled oysters. He loves screwing around in the kitchen, and being his best friend and someone who enjoys the process of eating, I am a beneficiary of his sizable talent.
"We're best of friends. Have been since either of us can remember, so I know you as well as you know yourself. Am I right?" Lessor was in his sales mode. He should have been the one selling security systems. I wasn't making any headway at it, and he was always selling some dream or scheme and convincing me we should try something new. With his sculpted face, wavy hair, and crooked smile, James could convince just about anyone of anything. As I said, it was James who convinced me to go with him to Samuel and Davidson University in North Miami.
I'm constantly reminded of how it started six years ago. It was a hot, sweaty night and we were sitting in his rusted out, formerly red Chevy pick up truck behind Gas and Grocery, two thirds of the way through a six-pack of lukewarm Budweiser.
"It's like he's still with me, Skip. He's over my shoulder telling me to quit fucking around and get serious about life."
"Don't all parents tell their kids that?"
He flicked the ashes of his cigarette out the busted window that never rolled up and popped open his last can. You could always smell the pines that grew in a clustered grove beside the small concrete block building that was Gas and Grocery.
"I don't have any other father to compare him to. And now I don't have him."
My dad left our family when I was twelve. James's dad had left this world just six months shy of our high school graduation. That'd be six years ago.
He leaned his head back and let half the liquid gurgle down his throat, belching loudly. "Christ, I wish I could talk to him. Find out where he fucked up. I never really wanted to talk to him before, you know? He was just my old man. I was embarrassed for how it ended, but now —"
He let it hang.
His old man. Oscar Lessor. Tried to start one hundred different businesses, and the last effort landed him in jail.
"All those schemes, all those businesses he started. He never amounted to shit." He stared through the windshield, focusing on something in the dark.
"The mechanic shop, the vending route, home dry cleaning, Amway — I don't even remember half of them. He was a loser, Skip."
At the end the old man had picked the wrong business. He'd partnered with a friend in selling shares in Miami property, only the friend never told Oscar that there were more shares than property. When shareholders came to collect, the friend was long gone and Oscar Lessor did five years in prison. Five years. When he got out, he was a broken man.
"Hey, man. Look at the businesses you've tried to start. You're not a loser. And he wasn't a loser. He just never got where he wanted to be."
"You know what he told me a couple of weeks before he died? The doctor had told him that the cancer was going to get him before the end of the year, and he'd pretty much accepted it. I brought him a cup of coffee, and he reached out and took my hand. Didn't have much strength, his hand was shaking, but he squeezed mine and he said 'I never drove a Cadillac.' "
"Yeah. I never told anyone that. Sounds really stupid. But that's what he wanted. I think my old man thought if he drove a Cadillac, it was his way of saying that he'd made it. He'd finally arrived."
"And your point is?"
"I'm not going to fuck up my life. I'm going to make it long before it's my time to go. My old man is still hanging around, telling me to get my act together, and he's right. I'm not going to be the loser he was."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I'm not going to die before I drive that Cadillac. What we've talked about. We'll get the student loans and go to school. You take the business courses, I'll do the culinary thing, and when we get out we'll start our own restaurant, right on South Beach. We'll be the hottest spot in town."
Seventeen and eighteen, right out of high school, I suppose that sounded like a chance to hit the big time. My mom was just happy that I'd decided to go to college. Sam and Dave U. — 2300 kids — smaller than our high school. It was nicknamed Sam and Dave U in honor of the two sixties singers who had the hit "Soul Man," but there wasn't a lot of soul at Sam and Dave U. And no one seemed to know who the real Samuel and Davidson might have been. They'd used Miami's standard for building complexes: rows of pale stucco buildings with orange tile roofs and palm trees that sprouted more dead brown branches than live green ones. The faculty lacked soul and the students lacked soul. The institution was structured like a trade school, with a minimum of fine arts or anything else for that matter. Talk about a minimum campus. We should have figured it out from the brochure the university sent out.
CAMPUS ACTIVITIES. MANY GROUPS PLAN OFF-CAMPUS TRIPS TO CULTURAL AND ENTERTAINMENT VENUES.
That was it. Off campus.
And four years later, after almost being tossed out two or three times for minor and major infractions of campus rules (organizing a wet T-shirt contest in front of the Student Union for one), we found that the placement office was not up to the task of finding high-paying, steady jobs for two students who barely squeaked by with a 1.9 and 2.1 grade point average. With student loans in the tens of thousands, the dream of owning our own restaurant was a distant memory.
"Skip, think about it." James was selling harder than usual. "Working as a line cook at Cap'n Crab isn't what I envisioned after four years of Sam and Dave. And you?" He waved his hands in the air, the look of total exasperation on his face. "Dude, you've got a head for business and you're selling some goddamned security system to home owners who don't have anything to secure. Our dreams, man. What happened? We were supposed to own our own business!"
"I remember. It's just going to take a little longer than we planned."
I knew it wasn't what he wanted to hear.
"Look at this crappy apartment, Skip. Jesus, our dorm room was bigger than this."
I took a deep breath. When the breeze was just right you could smell the thick, cloying, greasy smell of fried food from the Denny's about a block away.
"Shit. I don't have the time, bro. You know what I think?"
I shook my head. Long ago, maybe in fourth grade, I'd given up trying to tell what James was thinking.
"I think someone should take this city and just flush it down the fucking toilet."
I smiled. "De Niro, Taxi Driver."
"Hey, very good."
James had spent far too many nights watching classic movies, but he always had some great quotes. I'd watched most of them with him but his unbelievable memory captured the best lines. I had trouble remembering the plots. James was a riot at parties.
"So, as I was saying, security systems. How many have you sold in the past six months? Three? Four?"
"And you're coming off salary, right? Now it's commission?"
"I've got some stuff in the works."
"Bullshit. And me? I come home every night smelling like fucking fish. I can't get the stink out of my clothes, my hair —" He paused. "This isn't what I had in mind, Skip."
"It's temporary, James. We'll get some of the loans paid off, move down to Miami and —"
"Yeah. And one or two years stretches into five and six years. It's going to start happening now, bro. It's time to break out. Skip Moore and James Lessor, entrepreneurs. Moore and Lessor, or Lessor and Moore. Have truck, will haul."
I put down the magazine, the one with Jamie-Lynn DiScala on the cover. Tony Soprano's little girl was all grown up in a miniscule bikini and a come hither look on her face. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Come to the door, my man. I want you to see our future."
I should have avoided the door. I should have turned my back, bolted out the rear of the apartment, and never talked to my best friend again. But, of course, that didn't happen.
If it had, there would be no reason for this book, and Jackie Fuentes would probably be sleeping with the fishes. Literally. But I went to the door to see what the future held. You always want the future to look bright — rosy and beckoning. You just never expect the future to be a Chevy one-ton box truck.CHAPTER 2
Emily got us the first job. James had business cards printed with my cell phone number. I guess he thought we'd just pass them out and everyone would call.
Have Truck Will Haul. 555-4628
It was supposed to be that simple. It almost was.
"Furniture, clothes, machinery, junk, whatever somebody wants hauled, we can do it. You're the salesman, Skip. When they call, close the deal."
I'll be honest. The first thing I thought about was hauling illegal merchandise. When you grow up in South Florida you don't read about waving palm trees and white sandy beaches. The people up north read about that. You read about drugs, contraband, stolen goods, and hijacked commodities. You hear about shady characters, organized crime, and boats, planes, and trucks that make unannounced rendezvous at strange hours in the morning. Bales of marijuana floating on a black ocean and Colombian drug lords who import their form of terror into the United States through Florida. And you think about Cuban refugees who are escaping a life that must be hell. But, what the hell, it was another James Lessor scheme and since I'd bought into all of them before, there wasn't much to lose. Or so I thought.
James had bought the used truck for $12,000, an inheritance from an aunt who lived in California.
"I met her once." He sucked on his cigarette, letting the ash grow an inch before he flicked it off. "I must have left some impression, or else she just doled out $12,000 to everyone in the family."
"James, you should have paid off some of your student loans. They're going to hang over our heads for half of our lives."
We were sprawled on cheap plastic lawn chairs on what passed as our apartment patio. It was a slab of cracked and pitted concrete, stained with a lot of beer, wine, and black smudge marks from ground-out cigarette butts. Some of those stains had actually been there when we moved in.
James took a slow swallow of beer from the brown bottle and gazed over the top of his sunglasses at the two girls three apartments down. Dressed in shorts and halter tops, they worked over a charcoal grill, trying to fan the briquettes into hot coals. "Skip, it's that old adage about giving someone fish, or giving them a fishing pole. Give 'em a fish, they eat one meal. Give 'em a pole, they can catch fish the rest of their lives. If I put the money toward the loan, I wouldn't have any money left. But," he held up his index finger for dramatic effect, "but if I buy a truck, then I can use the profits from our little business venture to pay off the entire loan and at the same time build a business empire."
"I'm not thinking one truck here. Think Ryder. Think U-Haul, Penske. Think big, Skip. People are more mobile than ever, and they have more stuff than ever. Stuff, buddy. Stuff. They need trucks to haul that stuff." He stood up, stretched his six-foot, lanky frame, pulled his baggy green shorts up around his bare waist, and walked barefoot down to the girls' patio. I could see him showing them how to get maximum heat without stinking up the meat with charcoal lighter. Four years of culinary college had paid off. He could pick up girls by dispensing barbecue advice. The phone chirped. I checked the number. Emily.
"Em. How goes it?"
"Whatcha doin' for dinner? Want to grab a pizza?"
I looked down toward the girls' patio. James was laughing, drinking one of their green labels, and they seemed to be amused at something he'd said. "Sure. I think my roommate has plans."
"Oh, so I'm runner up?"
"No. Just an observation. Sure, let's get a pizza. I want to run a business idea by you."
Her, indeed. Emily's dad owns a construction business in Carol City. Carol City Construction. He's built some of the most palatial homes in the Miami area, and runs a very successful company. When Em graduated from the University of Miami with a computer engineering degree, she was offered about a zillion jobs, with salaries approaching $150,000. But she went to work for Dad and figured out how to make the main guy in her life another gazillion dollars. If anyone knew good business, she did. "You."
"What about Jaystone?"
"I'm not quitting. Jaystone Security is still paying the bills."
Excerpted from Stuff to Die for by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2007 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this book, a real page turner
20-something friends James and Skip are starting a moving company, but in their first load of stuff, they find a severed finger with their high school class ring on it. It took me a while to get into the book because there is more language and drinking than I normally like, but I was soon hooked by the characters and intriguing story.