Sunday, January 23, 2011

Introducing Grover McQuiston: The Root

From my novel, ROOTED:

Someone was saying, “Get up, boy,” but it didn’t make any sense. Then someone shoved him on the shoulder. Slade flapped his hand for this someone to go away. Then he was shoved even harder.

Slade snarled, “Piss off,” and curled up tighter on his cot.

“What did you just say to me?”

Slade groaned. This person was really irritating the crap out of him.

The voice commanded, “Get up,” but Slade ignored it. Then something hard landed on Slade’s shoulder, sending shockwaves of excruciating pain shooting through his withered body. Slade emitted a high-pitched squeal and scrambled to face his abuser.

“You!” Slade accused. “You’re that asswipe with the gun!” He pressed himself against the wall and held his injured shoulder close.

“And now I have a broom handle,” Grover countered, “so I’d watch your mouth.”

Slade grew indignant. With effort, he managed to pull himself to his feet. When he felt he was as steady as he was going to be, Slade puffed out his wasted chest and said, “Go fuck yourself, you goddamned geriatric goat-grinder!”

Then he hocked up a large glopping glob and spit. It landed on Grover’s tie.

Grover’s arm shot out, snatched the nose ring from Slade’s nose, and slung it to the floor, causing Slade to scream “Motherfuck!” as his hands flew to his outraged nose.

Instantly, the broom handle struck Slade’s abdomen. He said, “Ooowmph” as his breath was knocked from his body. Slade doubled over and was immediately struck again across his hunched back. This blow sent Slade to the floor and into the fetal position.

“I don’t much care for your language,” Grover declared, striking the curled-up punk rocker across his bottom repeatedly.

Slade shook with pain and shock as he begged, “Stop, stop, oh please stop!”

Grover stood over the begging boy, with the hard handle poised to strike again. “Do I make myself clear?”

Slade nodded his tear-stained face. “Yes, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.”

Grover looked at him closely and demanded, “Yes, what?”

Slade panicked. He wasn’t sure of the answer for this. Then a word from his past occurred to him, long unused and forgotten. “Yes…sir?” he asked uncertainly.

Grover lowered the broom handle. “That’s better.” He stepped back and said, “Now stand up here and stop acting childish.”

In disbelief, Slade mouthed the word “childish,” but did as he was told. When he stood, he noticed the black bars and the concrete floor. He was in jail. Nothing new there. But how did he get there? His hand strayed to his head and felt the enormous goose egg. The old man had hit him with a gun, but there was more. He tried to think but was confronted with that endless darkness that kept so much of the past from him.

Then he realized the old man was staring at him, and this made him nervous. Slade looked away, studied the empty hallway beyond the bars, took in the surprisingly clean toilet and sink. But there’s not a whole lot to look at in jail and so Slade finally blurted out, “What?”

The old man didn’t speak at first. Finally he asked, “Who are you?”

Slade was surprised at the question. “Is this a trick? Are you going to beat my a - me if I answer wrong?” Slade glanced again at the broom handle. Why didn’t the old man just put it down?

“Answer the question.”

The way Grover looked at him made Slade feel nauseas. “I gotta sit down, man.” Slade dropped onto the cot, wincing as his bruised buttocks touched the mattress. He groaned. “What do you want?”

“Are you who you claim to be?”

“Claim to be?” Slade’s head shot up defiantly. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Grover slammed the broom handle down on the bed next to Slade, causing Slade to jump. He blurted, “I’m the Roaming Mortician, man. I’ve got a band, you know, MORTIFIED.”

Grover shook his head. “Not all that garbage. Is what you said yesterday evening true? What you told Miss Eleanor?”

Yesterday evening? Shit, what the fuck had he said? His mind drew a total blank and his face revealed as much.

Exasperated, Grover finally asked, “Are you Matthew’s son?”

A window of light began to cut through the thick haze in his head. It had to do with the letter, that stupid motherfucking letter that caused him to coke up and tear up Pouncy’s, ruining his chances of ever playing there again. And he could forget ever getting MORTIFIED back together. So much for proving to Donny and to everyone else that he was clean, changed, that he was off the junk and that he still had what it took.

Everything was completely and totally fucked up. And now he was in jail being abused by some redneck Nazi with a broom.

But at least he remembered now, at least he knew why he was there. So he said, “I’m here for my godda - my inheritance.”

Grover looked away. “It’s true then. Matthew is dead?”

“Yeah.” Slade shrugged. “So?”

“You ever work with him?” Grover asked quietly, watching Slade closely.

“How the fu- how do you think I got the name Roaming Mortician?” Suddenly Slade was back in Pittsburgh, in the basement of the funeral home, with the bodies, and he smelled death.

After a thoughtful moment, Grover said, “Get up. You’re coming with me.”

Slade crossed his arms. “I’m not going anywhere with you. You’re fu- you’re insane.” The hard look that seized upon Grover’s face made Slade uneasy, but he added, “I’ve got a letter from a lawyer that says I got something coming. I’m here to get it.”

“A letter?” Grover asked skeptically. “Where is it?”

“I don’t remem…” Slade thought for a second and then frowned. “It should be in my car. It says for me to see some guy named McCrap or something.”


A light went off in Slade’s head. “Yeah, McQuiston. That guy’s got my money.”

“Well, come on then. We don’t have all day.”

“What are you talking about?”

Grover answered with a straight face, “I’m that McQuiston guy.”

Slade couldn’t help it. He said, “Oh shit.” Grover lifted the broom handle.

Slade’s hands flew up instinctively before his face. “It just slipped out, man.”

Grover kept the broom handle ready to strike. “If you want that inheritance you best come with me. Understand?”

Slade knew he didn’t have a choice. “You promise not to beat my ass?”

Grover just stared at him.

Slade rolled his eyes. “All right, let’s go.”

Inside the truck, Grover pulled a long wrench out from under his seat and laid it next to him. He gave Slade a stern look and warned, “Mind your manners, boy.”


Click for full excerpt from ROOTED.

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