I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Five things few people know about me, #1

I've been "tagged" by Eric James Stone on his blog (www.ericjamesstone.com) and now have to write five things that few people know about me. I normally don't do stuff like this--it strikes me as sort of a chain letter--but I'll play along. These aren't going to be five short, funny things about me, though. These are genuine secrets, or near secrets, things I normally have to trust a person pretty well before revealing. So, it will probably take more than one blog entry. I know, I know, I just started a list of 10 Reasons to move to Hillsborough, and now I'm starting a list of 5 Things Few People Know About Me. I promise that both lists will come to fruition soon.

My first secret involves the most premeditated act of cruelty I've ever committed. I've probably done crueler things than this, but usually they've been casual cruelties, even accidental cruelties, or cruelties that simply spring up from the circumstances of the moment. But, there was one instance where I just decided I was going to really cause somebody a little psychic pain and wound up getting results better than I even dreamed of. So here goes:

Five Thing Few People Know About Me #1: That Guy We Killed

There was this guy in college I'll call Bravo who a lot of people hated. Bravo had been in the army and had this mini-Rambo thing going on. It wasn't so much a macho act as it was an exaggerated sense of his own competence in everything. He honestly believed he was the best at anything he set down to do. If you played chess with him, he would warn you up front he was an unbeatable chess player. If you played cards, he'd tell you he never lost at cards. He was, in fact, fairly mediocre at just about everything... his bravado was unwarranted and really got on people's nerves (although it probably would have gotten on our nerves even worse if it had been warranted).

On the second to last day of the semester, right before Christmas break, there were only a few people left on campus, those of us unlucky enough to have exams scheduled for the last day. We few stragglers were playing cards. We started talking about Bravo and everyone agreed he was really annoying. We thought it would be cool to get him into a poker game and take all of his money, especially since he liked to talk about how much money his dad had. One flaw to this plan was that we didn't have any money of our own to gamble. The second was, we really didn't know that much about cheating at cards. So, I proposed a second plan to take his money... a plan that involved murder.

One of the people in on the plan was a guy I'll call Cowboy. Cowboy also had a mini-Rambo thing going on. He carried a Rambo knife (you may remember these... they were a foot long and had a hollow hilt filled with survival items like matches and fishing line), dressed in fatigues, and always had a fake handgrenade clipped to his belt. (All things that would get you kicked off a campus these days, I'm sure.)

Cowboy went to Bravo on that second to last day of the semester and confessed a terrible secret: He was in bad trouble with a drug dealer. He owed the guy $500, and the dealer told him if he left town for Christmas without paying, he'd track down Cowboy at home and do something bad to him or his family. Could Bravo loan him the dough? And, would Bravo come with him to the deal that night, to serve as his bodyguard? After all, Bravo had combat training, and was the only one Cowboy could trust with this important mission. Bravo, of course, stepped up to the job.

That night, just before midnight, Cowboy and I meet Bravo at the checkpoint. Bravo is in full combat mode. He's wearing fatigues and has camo-make-up smeared all over his face. He's carrying nun-chucks. And, he says, he might need them... because his Dad would only loan him $50. Cowboy says that, between Bravo's $50 and what I've chipped in, he hopes he has enough to buy some time from the dealer.

We drive out into the country, up mountain back roads until we come to this darkened church. We sit in the parking lot and wait. Soon, a big black car pulls up in the lot above us and flashes its light.

Cowboy tells us to sit tight. Don't make a move unless he yells for us. He goes back to the car and starts talking through the open passenger-side window. We have our windows down, but can barely hear what they're saying. Then, the dealer starts shouting. Apparently, he's not happy with the partial payment. Suddenly, a hand pops out the window, holding a pistol to Cowboy's gut.

Before Bravo can react, Cowboy springs into action, knocking the gun aside and grabbing his rambo knife. He plunges the knife into the open window and a scream cuts through the night air. Then, he jumps back and pulls the fake grenade from his belt and throws it into the car. The driver of the car bolts out and dives to the ground as Cowboy runs back to our car. He jumps behind the wheel and tosses a bloody knife into Bravo's lap.

"I stabbed him in the heart!" he yelps. "I killed him!"

By now, the driver of the car has realized that the grenade is a dud. Cowboy peels off down the back country road as the driver gets back into the black car and goes into pursuit. For a lot of the chase, we seem like we lost him. Then, he catches up. Cowboy drives even crazier down the mountain road, gaining distance, until, nearing a gas station closed for the night, he flips off his headlights and skids to a halt behind the dumpster. Twenty seconds later, the black car flies past.

We head back to campus. I repeatedly tell Bravo, "We can't tell anyone. Cowboy killed that guy. We have to keep this a secret. If anyone finds out, he'll go to prison." Bravo swears he'll never tell.

We drop Bravo back off at his dorm and go back to Cowboy's room, where we meet the "dealers." The whole thing, duh, was a set up. We had choreographed the car chase to the last curve... though, it turns out that the dealer driver almost blew it at the start by spinning his car 180 and nearly putting it into a ditch, which would have been tragic, since it was my dad's car. But, he recovered, and the chase ended as scripted. The combat scene had been close to flawless. It was very convincing when my friend Greg (name not changed, I have his longstanding permission to tell this story) pulled the 99 cent toy pistol. It was Hollywood flawless when Cowboy stuck a fake knife into the car and grabbed the real knife sitting in the cup of stage blood in Greg's lap. We took Bravo's fifty bucks and went and had dinner at an all night diner. We had money left over to divy up. Fifty bucks could actually by something in 1983. All in all, we were feeling pretty good.

We got back to the dorms still laughing, and in the middle of the night, the phone rang. It was Bravo. He was crying. He'd gotten back to his dorm... and he'd lost his keys. His RA had to let him into his room. Bravo was freaked out because he had blood all over his clothes.

I felt really, really lousy at that moment. We'd had a lot of fun, but Bravo was a wreck. The right thing to do would have been to tell him the truth.

I told him to try to get some sleep and reminded him not to tell anyone.

The story doesn't end there. The whole scam actually lasted several weeks past the Christmas break. We discovered, on returning from break, that Bravo had told his girlfriend and at least one other person about the murder. We dragged on the whole murder story for a long time, feeding them little clues here and there about the vast drug ring on campus, as well as the undercover cops, and honestly, it's still really hard for me to believe they bought it, yet they did. Bravo continued to look haunted, his friend seemed excited about being privy to this amazing adventure going on around him, and only the girlfriend showed the occasional sign of suspicion.

The final humiliation came when the scam was revealed. It was a Friday afternoon and Bravo had gone home to see his folks. We were sitting in the lounge, getting ready to feed his girlfriend a little more elaboration on the drug ring and undercover cops, when I confessed. I just came out and explained the whole scenario. I was sick of the lies. And, it turned out, I was also just plain sick. There was a flu outbreak. An hour later, I realized I had a fever. I wound up spending the weekend in the campus health center, along with a crowd of other vomiting sickos. By Monday, I was feeling a little stronger.

Then, Bravo burst in. His girlfriend had called him with the truth. "Maxey!" he yelled. "I know what you've done! I went to the cops and they're on their way right now to arrest you for contortion!"

The whole sick ward grew quiet.

I sighed. "First of all," I explained, "contortion would be me sticking my foot behind my head. The word you want is extortion. And, I'm not guilty of extortion, I'm guilty of fraud!"

Bravo just sagged. His one opportunity to put a little fear into me, and he'd blown his lines. He left in defeat. The cops, as I expected, never arrived.

Twenty-five years out, I can tell this story, and it's a funny story with a funny puchline. And, twenty-five years out, I can still find myself standing at that dorm hall phone, listening to Bravo absolutely freaking out about the blood on his clothes, knowing I was responsible for that freak out, and knowing that I possessed the one piece of information that would have calmed him down, or at least changed his fear and panic into anger. It's even possible if we'd all gone over and yelled "gotcha" that night, he would have been laughing about it the next morning.

The sense of warm satisfaction I had when I hung up that phone still gives me the occasional sleepless night.

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