Clovis is a character from C. S. Boyack‘s new novel, The Playground. (If I’m not mistaken, Clovis is on the short-list to receive a Nobel Peace Prize this year.) Here is an excerpt from The Playground which introduces him:
The tweaker rushed around the corner behind the bushes, tried to slam the gate shut, and yelled “Get him. Get him!”
Clovis rounded the same corner into the front yard, dropped his small duffel bag in the snow, and crouched for battle. A gangly mixture of bullmastiff and pit bull barked and wagged his tail. Druggie dog, but you’re no threat today. Maybe next year.
The front door slammed and the bolt clicked. Clovis kicked the door open and followed the tweaker inside. He grabbed the man by his collar, as the tweaker picked up a kitchen knife. The man spun and thrust the knife at Clovis’ face.
Clovis twisted and let the knife go past, grabbed the man’s upper arm and slammed the back of his head into the kitchen counter. The tweaker fell in an unconscious lump.
The filthy old house held one bedroom, and one bath. Cigarette butts decorated the carpet, and one greasy mattress sat directly on the bedroom floor. The table and chairs were mismatched, and one of the chairs sat in a broken heap in the corner. Alone. That’s good.
He retrieved his bag and went back inside. He used duct tape to secure the tweaker to one of the remaining chairs, before searching the kitchen.
In a gravelly voice he said, “Huh, coffee filters, batteries, drain cleaner, antifreeze. So what’s for dinner, Salvatore? You’ve been cooking something. Pipsqueaks like you can make a lot of money cooking.”
Salvatore was still unconscious. Clovis went through the cupboards, but only found empty plastic soda bottles, some second hand cookware, and a half box of Pop Tarts.
He cut open the mattress and found $87.28. He put it in his bag, along with an old .38 Special from underneath.
He found three bottles of Vicodin, all prescribed to different people, in the bathroom. A plastic bag in the back of the toilet held the meth, he left the glass pipe and added everything else to his bag.
He patted Salvatore down and found another three dollars along with a butterfly knife.
The smell of rotten eggs made his nose run and eyes water. He propped the door open and used a chair to break several windows in the back. He filled one of the empty soda bottles with water to revive Salvatore.
The dog entered and barked.
“Don’t be mad at me. I didn’t leave you out in the cold.” The dog barked and wagged his tail. “Water? Do you want this water?” He sniffed a foil roaster from the cupboard and said, “Doesn’t smell like meth. Even a dog shouldn’t drink from Salvatore’s toilet.” He filled the roaster and let the young dog drink.
The pup drank and lifted his head. He smacked his lips. Drool hung down and dripped into the roaster. The water developed a scum slick across the surface.
“That’s about perfect.” Clovis picked up the roaster full of slobber and threw it in Salvatore’s face.
Salvatore sputtered and shook. Drool dripped into his open mouth. He looked at Clovis; the greying hair pulled into a short pony tail, open pores along the poorly re-set nose, the huge chiseled jaw, thick brows, and protruding chin brought the chase back to the forefront. He pulled at the duct tape around his wrists and tried to jump from the chair, but was held fast. “What was that? It tastes like ass.”
“That’s the least of your worries right now. Little Phil wants his money. You hand over $8732.95, and I walk away and forget the whole thing.”
“I don’t know anyone named Little Phil. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
Clovis turned his cauliflower ear away from Salvatore and said, “Talk into my good one.”
“I don’t know anyone named Little Phil. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“I was kind of hoping you’d say that.” Clovis stood and carefully removed his denim jacket, placing it over the remaining chair. He wore a wife beater tee shirt underneath even in winter. Hair stuck out near the collar and tank straps. His arms were larger than Salvatore’s thighs. He grabbed Salvatore by the hair and wrenched his head to the side. “That looks like a new tattoo on your neck. A golden crown with the letters L and K. Looks like the Kings are lowering their standards.”
“They’re going to kill you when they find out what you’ve done to me.”
“The Kings have been trying to kill me for years. I must have deported hundreds of them by floating them down the bottom of the Mississippi. Now we have a pact. They stopped trying to kill me, and I stopped deporting them. Now let’s talk about Little Phil’s money.” He pointed a bratwurst sized finger at his own chest. “See, Phil has to pay me to collect, so the price goes up. You’re actually paying me for this visit.”
“I ain’t got no money, and I don’t know no Little Phil Shepherd.”
Clovis chuckled under his breath. “Then how did you know his last name?”
“You must’ve said it.”
“The teardrop by the eye is a nice touch. Did the Kings believe you, or not? You’ve never been in prison, I pulled your records.”
“I was in juvie.”
“Juvie, shit the Kings are going to love you. I’d better collect before they kill you. I was in real prison. Seems like the Marines want people who can bust heads, but they don’t appreciate it when you do. They put me in Leavenworth for five years and during my lowest hour, I never once considered joining a gang.”
“We protect each other.”
Clovis held his arms apart and looked around. “So where are they?”
Salvatore hung his head in silence.
“The simple part of this negotiation seems to be over. We need a little privacy for the rest.” Clovis pushed the foil roaster around Salvatore’s face and bent it over the top of his head so it would stay put. Then he pinched the foil around Salvatore’s nose so he couldn’t breathe. He went outside to cut a stick and spotted a well-loved dog bone. He took the bone back inside and eased the door shut. A fresh piece of tape made sure it stayed closed.
Salvatore bucked up and down in the chair and made a humming moan beneath the roaster. Clovis sat the bone on the table and slid his chair in front of the tweaker.
The dog jumped for the bone and Clovis pushed him away. “I’ll give it back in a minute.” Salvatore arched his back and strained against the tape.
Clovis rifled through his bag and found a cigarette. He lit it with an old Zippo lighter and took a drag. Salvatore stopped struggling and tried to knock the chair over.
Clovis rolled the cigarette between his fingers and sat it on the table. His wouldn’t be the first burn mark. He unfolded the roaster and Salvatore gasped for air. “I never used one of these before. I may have to start carrying one in my bag.”
“Alright, alright. There’s two hundred dollars underneath the carpet in the corner of the bedroom. You can have it, but it’s all I have.”
“Untie me and I’ll get it for you.”
Clovis picked up the roaster once more and grabbed Salvatore by the hair.
“When you look at the window, it’s the one to the left.”
Clovis went in the bedroom and peeled back the carpet. He came back and sat down. “There’s only a hundred bucks here. I’m not in the remodeling business, and I’m going to be pissed if I have to tear all the carpet out of this joint. I’ll have to add that to my bill.”
“Those kids down the street must have robbed me. That’s what it is.”
“Sure, because robbers always leave some behind. Where’s the rest.”
“That’s all I have, I swear.”
“I can’t tell if that stud in your ear is glass or a real stone.”
“Yeah, maybe Little Phil can sell it. Good idea.”
“I’d better take it to him. He can figure out whether it’s worth anything or not.”
“It is. It is. Probably settle my whole debt.”
Clovis took out Salvatore’s butterfly knife and sliced off his earlobe. He dropped the stud, lobe and all, into his bag.
Salvatore screamed. Blood gushed down his shoulder and ran down his arm.
“You sound like a little girl. It wouldn’t have to be this way if you paid your bills. I spotted some nice gold crowns in there while you were screaming.” He shuffled through his bag for his pliers. He cut a square of leather from Salvatore’s jacket to line the jaws. “Pliers don’t grab teeth very well, but a little square of leather holds on real tight. I should have been a dentist. I’ve been pulling teeth for years. Never been sued once.” He laughed at his own joke.
“No man, not the teeth. The stud is worth a lot of money. Take it to Little Phil, you’ll see.”
“Can’t risk it. If I take it in there and it’s just glass or something, it makes me look foolish. Now open up.”
Salvatore clamped his jaws tight and snapped his head from side to side.
“If you don’t hold still, we’re going to be here all day.” Clovis reached in his bag and pulled out a pair of fingerless leather gloves. He bounced them up and down across Salvatore’s lap. “Feel how heavy those are?”
Salvatore stared at Clovis with his eyes showing white around the iris. He kept his jaw shut tight.
Clovis held up a fist the size of a grapefruit. His protruding knuckles stuck out like mountain peaks. “I’ve done a lot of damage to these fists over the years. There isn’t always time to tape them up, you know? These gloves have a kind of lead dust sewn around the knuckles. It protects my arthritic old knuckles and gives me a little extra in my punch. You don’t want me to hurt my knuckles, do you?”
Salvatore jerked his head back and forth quickly.
“That’s mighty kind of you, because if you don’t open your mouth I’m going to use those gloves to break your jaw and open it for you. I don’t think either of us wants that now, do we?”
“Good.” He picked up his pliers and paused. “Unless…” He scratched under his armpit with the pliers then pointed at Salvatore’s crotch. “Unless you have other jewelry Little Phil can sell.”
“No, no, no.”
“I suppose not. You’d have to have something down there to hang it on.” He laughed at his own joke again. “Okay, open up. Don’t keep the doctor waiting.”
Salvatore barely opened his mouth. Clovis snatched the dog bone from the table and shoved it deep into Salvatore’s mouth. “The first time I performed an extraction, the son of a bitch bit me. I may not be the brightest star in the sky, but I learned. For all I know, you have Syphilis, AIDS, and hepatitis all rolled into one. I’m thinking of retiring soon, and there isn’t a good healthcare program for a man in my profession.”
He grabbed Salvatore by the hair and snapped his head back. “Oh, Sally, you haven’t been flossing. Well, then there’s the meth. Your teeth are a mess. The ones with the crowns are the best ones.” He clamped the pliers on the first one and wiggled them from side to side. “Hold real still. This one’s in there pretty tight.” He pulled forward on the pliers and backwards on Salvatore’s head at the same time.
Salvatore yelled and the tooth came out root and all. Blood squirted from the socket and ran down his chin in a thick clot. Bubbles formed in the blood from Salvatore’s screams.
Clovis dropped the tooth in his bag. “That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now one more and we’re all finished.” He grabbed the second crown with the pliers and applied pressure. The tooth crumbled and the crown bent.
“Sally, your teeth aren’t even strong enough for an extraction. Keep using crystal and you won’t have any left by next year.” He dropped the second crown in his bag and pulled out a tampon.
Salvatore breathed in short panting gasps as he watch Clovis tear open the package. He coughed and lurched forward to expel the blood he was choking on.
“Damnit, Sally. I’ve a good mind to send you my laundry bill. These are good jeans and I don’t want your diseased shit all over them.” He shoved the tampon where the incisors used to be and plucked the bone out with his pliers. “Bite down on that. Nothing stops the bleeding faster.”
He put the cigarette back in his mouth and took a drag, leaving it in his lips. He fished out the zippo, clamped his pliers down above the missing earlobe and burned the cut until it stopped bleeding.
Clovis picked up his tools and stuffed them in his bag. “Now bite down on that tampon for at least an hour. I don’t know much about the broken one, but you don’t want the other one to get a dry socket. Then you can spit it out and yell for help.” He put his denim jacket back on and paused.
“Almost forgot.” Clovis reached inside his jacket and took out his phone. “I got a Pinterest board. Something about a King biting down on a bloody tampon ought to be pretty popular.” He snapped a quick photo and walked outside, leaving the door open.