Retarted?! Jesus Christ, what kind of bullshit was that?
I didn't know what made me angrier: the fact that it was a cheap shot at harmless seniors and their families; that it was the kind of put-down only a moron would use; or that it'd been slapped up there by the kind of moron who didn't even have enough sense to check his goddamn spelling. That must've been what was bothering her, and now I was bothered, too. Suddenly I was livid. The tips of my fingers quivered and curled, and I started counting backward from ten in my head--ten . . . nine . . . eight--but I wasn't quite sure what would happen when I reached one: would I cool down or blast off? I looked over at Thrash. He had that expression on his face again.
"It's disgraceful. There's no respect for anything anymore," she sighed, wearily this time. "And because it's kids, nobody will lift a finger to do a thing about it. That's why I've always told you to mind your manners, keep your nose clean, and be careful, because kids today-- Are you listening to me, Genie?"
Six . . . five . . . four. Yeah, I was listening. I'd heard the "be careful" speech a million times, and was as receptive now as all the others. Three . . . two . . . one. "Fucking monkey fuckers!"
"Genie!" she snapped. "You'd better wise up, young man. They won't tolerate that filth of yours in junior high."
I didn't give a shit if they would or wouldn't. Whether I skipped another grade or was left back again, there was one thing I could count on as far as other people were concerned, although I couldn't remember what it was at the moment because I was too busy trying to compose myself--you know, act like a gentleman, watch my mouth in front of a lady and shit. "Sorry," I grumbled, but didn't mean it.
She looked at me sternly, the bluish blobs on her brown eyes filling with light. I thought she was gonna let me have it and got ready to swallow the next load of crap she dished my way. But she only flashed me this scheming, sideways smile, leaned forward, and reached for her purse.
Suddenly I didn't feel angry anymore; I felt excited. This was how it usually happened for Marlowe--Philip Marlowe, the most badass private detective the world had ever seen. He'd go to the mansion of some wheezy old geezer propped up in a wheelchair, or the wood-walled study of some crabby battle-ax, everything always smelling of eucalyptus and sandalwood, and after a couple of stiff drinks and a few minutes of chitchat, he'd walk out with a new client, a case to solve, and a substantial advance in his pocket.
But I wasn't getting my hopes up just yet. Thing was, I'd only been on one case before, and I'd taken that up on my own initiative. I'd never had a real client, never been paid for my efforts, so as far as my status as a detective went, I guess you could say I was still an amateur.
Maybe that was about to change. After all, she's the one who'd dumped a wheelbarrow of yellowed and musty detective books on me in fifth grade--all the Marlowes and Sherlock Holmeses and a Sam Spade one, too--and I'd been through each of them dozens of times since then. They'd been my grandfather's books, but I hadn't started reading them because I'd gotten all sissy and sentimental about the relics of a man I'd never met, or because I'd been duped into thinking that reading was fundamental like the commercial said. Nah, I'd read them for a simpler reason: because she'd stood over me and forced me to. She'd had to watch me at the time and said that being out of school (which I was then) was no excuse for letting my brain go to rot. She'd sit me down at the kitchen table, pour me a glass of milk, stack a few cookies on a napkin, stand behind me or pull up a chair, and read along, line by line, page after page, annoying the crap out of me, cracking the whip and mushing me onward like a Husky into an avalanche, until she trusted that I'd read them on my own. That didn't take long, because it turned out the books were good, really good, and they taught you everything you needed to know about crime, detection, the world, and more--the exact opposite of what I would've been learning in school. Besides, back then I didn't have a damn thing else to do, so why not save myself more headaches and make the old lady happy? The Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew she gave me all bit the big one, but I didn't see the point of throwing that in her face when we talked about what I'd read, which we always did, because more than anything else, that's what she said books were for.
Excerpted from Huge by James Fuerst Copyright © 2009 by James Fuerst. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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