The Word by Charles Alverson
Publisher: Tinderboxed Press (April 16, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
From ex-con to messiah in five easy lessons…
After Joe Dixon leaves Folsom Prison, he vows never to go back. Although willing to go straight if necessary, an old prison mentor tips Joe off to the perfect con: the word of God. With what little money he has, Joe opens a ramshackle whitewashed storefront called The Word, but soon after someone breaks in and steals the Bible.
To make matters worse, Joe’s cash is running out, an unfriendly local copper has taken an unwanted interest in his operation and his probation officer is breathing down his neck. With no followers, The Word’s future looks bleak…until a mysterious benefactor pays the rent and Joe suddenly finds himself surrounded by waifs and strays.
With a new Bible in hand and a strange but loyal flock of followers frequently visiting The Word, Joe discovers that his shady mentor’s scheme is working — if not exactly how he expected.
Late that afternoon, Joe, increasingly fed up with the Holy Bible, was reduced to mopping the floor when he spotted Manny across the street. This was nothing new, but there was something disconnected about his actions. Instead of his usual brisk clearance of the sidewalk, he bumbled about like a blind man, brushing things off the tables and sending them crashing to the sidewalk.
After the third or fourth crash, Joe threw down the mop. He arrived at Barney’s just in time to save a mock Tiffany lamp from certain destruction. ‘What the hell’s going on, Manny? What’s happening?’
‘Go away,’ Manny said, without looking at him. His voice was strangled. ‘Nothing’s wrong. Just leave me alone.’ His hand flew out, sending a stack of Derby ware dinner plates skittering into the street, breaking as they slid. His hands over his face, Manny stood like a symbol of despair.
‘Manny,’ Joe said. After a long pause, Manny lowered his hands and turned his face toward Joe. Up until that moment, Manny had seemed ageless, but now he looked like a very old man. His furrowed skin was the color of a dead thing; his eyes were holes in his face.
‘Joe,’ he said in a choked voice. ‘He’s dying. The boy is dying.’
‘Manny,’ Joe repeated, grabbing him by the shoulders. ‘Let’s get the hell out of this mess.’ Overcoming the old man’s feeble resistance, Joe steered him to the entrance of the darkened shop and into the narrow corridor between overflowing stock.
‘My stock—’ Manny protested.
‘Don’t worry about your stuff,’ Joe said. ‘You’ve already broken most of it. Just sit down.’ He shoved Manny into an overstuffed armchair on one side of the constricted aisle and sat down in its twin across the way. Their knees nearly touched. Over their heads, a stuffed fish hovered on piano wire, and other unidentifiable bargains lurked in the high-ceilinged gloom.
‘Tell me,’ Joe said. ‘Who’s dying?’
Manny struggled to get the words out. Finally he said: ‘My grandson—Little Manny. In Indianapolis. They rang. He was hit by a car. Right now—they’re operating—’ His words faded out.
‘You’re sure? He’s really dying?’
‘Arthur—my son,’ Manny choked. ‘He wouldn’t tell me. We’ve never—he was a good boy, but wild. He left. But, Manny—he was named after me—’
‘No kidding?’ Joe said and wished he hadn’t.
‘I think Arthur only wanted to make sure he would get the money, but—a grandson—’
‘So why don’t you go there? Grab a plane. You could be in Indianapolis in a few hours. What are you waiting for?’
Manny raised his eyes. In the near-darkness Joe could see that he was crying. ‘I couldn’t, Joe. He might die while…. I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t. Not possibly. I’ll just wait here. Arthur will ring. I’ll just wait.’
‘Is there anybody I can get for you? A relative?’
‘Nobody,’ Manny said. ‘My sister died last year. She was a bitch.’
‘That’s useful information,’ Joe said. ‘What about your rabbi? Isn’t there a synagogue across Carver City Boulevard? I could—’ Joe started to get up.
‘No!’ Manny grabbed Joe’s hands and pushed him back into his chair. ‘He wouldn’t. I know Rabbi Littman wouldn’t come.’
‘Why not?’ Joe demanded. ‘That’s what rabbis are for.’
‘Two years ago,’ Manny said, still gripping Joe’s hands, ‘I sold Littman a Georgian rectory table.’ Even in the gloom, there was something shifty about his expression. ‘A very nice piece.’
Manny looked down toward his knees. ‘It turned out to have been made in Sherman Oaks. In 1955.’
‘Oh,’ Joe said.
‘But by a real master, Joe,’ Manny said, life coming back into his voice. ‘You never saw such joins, such peg work, such beautiful aging. Such worm holes. A real artist.’
‘So what?’ Joe said. ‘The rabbi won’t hold that against you at a time like this—when you need him.’
‘You don’t know Rabbi Littman,’ Manny said. ‘Very conservative. He pronounced anathema on me.’
‘I’m not that sure, but basically it means: Never darken my door again. Something biblical like that.’
‘You didn’t give him back his money?’
‘I wish I had, Joe,’ Manny said mournfully. ‘I couldn’t. Bargain Barn policy. It was a beautiful table. And more than 40 years old, if not actually Georgian.’
‘Okay, okay,’ Joe said. ‘I see your point. What’s 150 years? But isn’t there anyone else?’
‘No one,’ Manny said. Joe relaxed and sat there in the semi-dark with Manny gripping his hands. Outside in the street, lights were coming on, and Joe could hear the crunch of car wheels running over the dinner plates in the gutter. Across the street, The Word sat looking very empty.
Excerpt from The Word by Charles Alverson
Reprinted by permission of the author and publisher.
“An intriguing premise and surprising results!” – Terry Jones, co-creator of Monty Python
“The Word is a big, funny, cinematic novel folded neatly into a small space…” – Bill Powell, former Sunday Telegraph staff writer
“The Word is a great read…the writing is a beguiling cocktail of influences, including Raymond Chandler, Damon Runyon, Nathaniel West and Paulo Coelho.” – Christopher Roper
About the Author
Charles Alverson’s writing career has spanned over five decades. Originally from Los Angeles, Alverson served as an Army Paratrooper before receiving his M.A. in Journalism from Columbia University. He has written for numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and HELP! Magazine. Alverson has written ten novels, two children’s books, and helped co-write the screenplays for Terry Gilliam’s cult films Jabberwocky and Brazil.
Alverson currently lives in Serbia, where he has resided with his wife since 1994.
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