Nobody Move

by Denis Johnson

Hardcover, 196 pages, Farrar Straus & Giroux, List Price: $23 | purchase

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Nobody Move
Author
Denis Johnson

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Book Summary

In Bakersfield, California, an assortment of unscrupulous characters engages in a cat-and-mouse game over a multimillion-dollar claim.

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Excerpt: Nobody Move

Nobody Move

A Novel


Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2009 Denis Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-22290-1

Chapter One

JIMMY LUNTZ had never been to war, but this was the sensation, he was sure of that-eighteen guys in a room, Rob, the director, sending them out-eighteen guys shoulder to shoulder, moving out on the orders of their leader to do what they've been training day and night to do. Waiting silently in darkness behind the heavy curtain while on the other side of it the MC tells a stale joke, and then-"THE ALHAMBRA CALIFORNIA BEACHCOMBER CHORDSMEN!"-and they were smiling at hot lights, doing their two numbers.

Luntz was one of four leads. On "Firefly" he thought they did pretty well. Their vowels matched, they went easy on the consonants, and Luntz knew he, at least, was lit up and smiling, with plenty of body language. On "If We Can't Be the Same Old Sweethearts" they caught the wave. Uniformity, resonance, expression of pathos, everything Rob had ever asked for. They'd never done it so well. Right face, down the steps, and into the convention center's basement, where once again they arranged themselves in ranks, this time to pose for souvenir pictures.

"Even if we come in twentieth out of twenty," Rob told them afterward, while they were changing out of their gear, the white tuxedos and checkered vests and checkered bow ties, "we're really coming in twentieth out of a hundred, right? Because remember, guys, one hundred outfits tried to get to this competition, and only twenty made it all the way here to Bakersfield. Don't forget that. We're out of a hundred, not twenty. Remember that, okay?" You got a bit of an impression Rob didn't think they'd done too well.

Almost noon. Luntz didn't bother changing into street clothes. He grabbed his gym bag, promised to meet the others back at the Best Value Inn, and hurried upstairs still wearing the getup. He felt the itch to make a bet. Felt lucky. He had a Santa Anita sheet folded up in the pocket of his blinding white tux. They started running at twelve-thirty. Find a pay phone and give somebody a jingle.

On his way out through the lobby he saw they'd already posted the judgments. The Alhambra Chordsmen ranked seventeenth out of twenty. But, come on, that was really seventeenth out of a hundred, right?

All right-fine. They'd tanked. But Luntz still had that lucky feeling. A shave, a haircut, a tuxedo. He was practically Monte Carlo.

He headed out through the big glass doors, and there's old Gambol standing just outside the entrance. Checking the comings and goings. A tall, sad man in expensive slacks and shoes, camel-hair sports coat, one of those white straw hats that senior-citizen golfers wear. A very large head.

"So hey," Gambol said, "you are in a barbershop chorus."

"What are you doing here?"

"I came here to see you."

"No, but really."

"Really. Believe it."

"All the way to Bakersfield?"

That lucky feeling. It had let him down before.

"I'm parked over here," Gambol said.

Gambol was driving a copper-colored Cadillac Brougham with soft white leather seats. "There's a button on the side of the seat," he said, "to adjust it how you want."

"People will be missing me," Luntz said. "I've got a ride back down to LA. It's all arranged."

"Call somebody."

"Good, sure-just find a pay phone, and I'll hop out."

Gambol handed him a cell phone. "Nobody's hopping anywhere."

Luntz patted his pockets, found his notebook, spread it on his knee, punched buttons with his thumb. He got Rob's voice mail and said, "Hey, I'm all set. I got a lift, a lift back down to Alhambra." He thought a second. "This is Jimmy." What else? "Luntz." What else? Nothing. "Good deal. I'll see you Tuesday. Practice is Tuesday, right? Yeah. Tuesday."

He handed back the phone, and Gambol put it in the pocket of his fancy Italian sports coat.

Luntz said, "Okay if I smoke?"

"Sure. In your car. But not in my car."

* * *

Gambol drove with one hand on the wheel and one long arm reaching into the back seat, going through Luntz's gym bag. "What's this?"

"Protection."

"From what? Grizzly bears?" He reached across Luntz's lap and shoved it in the glove compartment. "That is one big gun."

Luntz opened the compartment.

"Shut that thing, goddamn it."

Luntz shut it.

"You want protection? Pay your debts. That's the best protection."

"I agree completely," Luntz said, "and can I tell you about an uncle of mine? I have an appointment to see him this afternoon."

"A rich uncle."

(Continues...)