Who are my favorite characters? Well, I guess it depends on how you define favorite. If I create a character, I hope the version I describe on paper matches the one in my head. If it does, I’m happy. If it doesn’t, if my characters turn out to be flat, one-dimensional, and boring creations, I’m doing something wrong, and that character goes into the dumper. RIP, loser.
I won’t (can’t, really) pick favorites, but I’ve included an exchange between two characters I happen to like a lot. Mostly because they were fun to write, I suppose.
This partial scene comes from DEADLY CAMPAIGN , where the protagonist/narrator Channing Hayes and his mentor/sidekick Artie Worsham (an aging stand-up comic) are paying a visit to Jimmy Fugano, one of Artie’s past acquaintances. They’re trying to get some information, and Channing will learn a few things about his mentor in the process. (In case you’re reading along with the book, I changed a few less-than-wholesome words.)
“Sure. I could.” Artie opened his car door. “But you’ll find out soon enough.”
He got out, slammed his door, and trotted across the narrow street to Fugano’s house. I scrambled from the car and jogged after him. Without looking back, Artie hit the lock button on his keychain and the Caddy gave a little honk.
I caught up to him on the porch. Two faux-ceramic planters flanked the front door. Whatever had been planted in them was now desiccated, like plant mummies. Or maybe Fugano had taken a short cut and planted dried flowers.
A dingy straw mat lay on the ground, except instead of the word “Welcome,” it read “Go Away.”
All in all, charming.
Artie smacked the big brass doorknocker—in the shape of a cow—against the door. Four times in rapid succession. Then he stepped back and took a deep breath. “Might as well get some fresh air now, while you can.”
I took a deep breath in case Artie was being literal and not metaphoric.
The door swung open and a short, skinny guy, at least as old as Artie, glowered at us for a second. Then his eyeballs fixed on Artie and his entire face changed. “Holy effing spit on the floor. Artie Effing Worsham.”
Like I said, charming.
“The eff you doing here?” Fugano’s right cheek twitched. “For some action? After all these years?”
“How about we come in?” Artie said, already pushing through the door. Artie wasn’t much bigger than Fugano, but he seemed to throw a bigger shadow.
“Sure, sure,” Fugano said, retreating. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Hayes,” Artie said. “And this is Jimmy the Raisin.”
“Nice to meet you.” It didn’t take a detective to see where he’d gotten his nickname. His face had a million creases in it. Wrinkles radiated from his mouth. Wrinkled forehead, wrinkled cheeks, wrinkles around the eyes. Even his nose had wrinkles. If someone had come up with a nickname other than Raisin, he would have been laughed out of town.
“You look the same as you did twenty years ago,” Artie said. “Too bad.”
“You always were a ball-buster,” Fugano said. “For the record, you look older. A lot older.”
“Got a place to sit?” Artie said.
“In here.” Fugano stepped aside to reveal the room behind him. TV monitors and computers lined the walls, at least eight of each. All were turned on, all were tuned to different channels and websites. The place reminded me of a cross between a Best Buy showroom and the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. A single chair, a swivel recliner, sat in the middle of the room—the Captain’s console.
The weird thing was Artie didn’t seem nonplussed in the least.
On the other hand, I was plenty “plussed.” What the hell was going on?
“Let me get a couple chairs. I’ll be right back.” Fugano disappeared down the hallway toward the back of the house, which was pretty dark. The room we were in would have been dark too, except for the three thousand watts of light emanating from the video screens.
“What is all this?” I asked.
“Control center. Jimmy’s a bookie,” Artie said, matter-of-factly. “A two-bit, piece-of-spit, good-for-nothing punk, slimy low-down skunk.”
Shel Silverstein, Artie wasn’t. “And how do you know him?”
“We used to do business together.”
“What kind of business?”