The most controversial love story ever written…
Risk of Ruin by Arnold Snyder
Author’s Note: Bart Black, the hero in Risk of Ruin, is an outlaw biker, professional gambler, sometime tattoo artist—not your normal leading man. It’s a challenge to get the reader to relate to a character like this, but that’s why I write. It’s boring for a writer to make his protagonist tall, dark, handsome, brave, clean, and reverent. And it’s phony. Real people aren’t like that. Everyone has a dark side, a crazy side, a mean side, a violent side, a stupid side, a spiritual side. Bart’s not always a nice guy or even a very sociable guy a lot of the time. He’s a scooter tramp with an attitude, angry at the world and his lot in life, who becomes obsessed with an underage girl who’s working at a strip club using a fake ID.
Risk of Ruin is a love story. It just has a bit more violence and desperation and far less typical characters than most love stories. There’s a critical plot development that some readers may consider sacrilegious. Profanity is a normal part of the day-to-day conversation of the characters, and their relationship involves explicit sensuality. Bart’s bad news. Stacy’s trouble. He’s a gambler. She’s a dancer. She likes bad boys. He likes bad girls. People like them weren’t ever supposed to fall in love.
Risk of Ruin is a romance unlike any you’ve ever read. It’s dark, funny, gritty, scary, irreverent, and exhilarating.
But it’s not for everyone. Read the excerpt below, then decide if you want to read more.
Excerpted from Risk of Ruin
©2012 Arnold Snyder
Shortly after crossing the California/Nevada state line, in room 26 of the Starlight Motel on the outskirts of Reno, Bart started to get a handle on just how crazy Stacy was. After lugging their stuff up to the room, he plopped down onto one of the beds and Stacy sat down on the wooden straight-backed chair in front of the small desk.
“I’ve got to call Clance,” he said. “He’ll probably want me over at his place right away. Do you want to come?”
“Why’d you get two beds?” she asked. “I thought you said you wanted to sleep with me.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to sleep with you. I said I wanted to fuck you. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to fuck you.”
“Yes you are,” she said. “You’re a man. When it comes to sex, men adhere to hedonistic utilitarianism.”
“You wanna run that by me again?”
“Henry Sidgwick,” she said. “He was a nineteenth century English philosopher. He wrote The Methods of Ethics. Eighteen-seventy-four.”
“You sure it wasn’t the B-Fifty-Two’s? I Know What Boys Like, nineteen-eighty-four?”
“That wasn’t the B-Fifty-Two’s,” she said. “That was the Waitresses. They probably read Sidgwick.”
“Philosophy major?” he said.
“No, chemistry. But I’ve read a lot of philosophy on my own.”
The quilted bedspread he was lying on had cigarette burns along one side. He touched one of the indented black holes; it felt like hard plastic.
“How old did you say you were?” he asked.
“You don’t look nineteen. You’re a smart girl. What the hell were you doing working in a strip joint?”
“I needed the money.”
“For school? I always thought that was a joke. Every stripper says she’s putting herself through college, when most of them are just putting themselves through a kilo of coke.”
“I needed the money to get out of the Bay Area,” she said.
“Where were you going to school?”
“That’s not cheap.”
“I’m on a full scholarship.”
“Are you going back?”
“Not right away. Can I touch your beard?”
“It looks so soft.” She reached her hand up slowly, giving him ample time to move or protest, but he didn’t.
When her hand was inches from his face, he closed his eyes, then felt a light brush of her fingertips.
“Ooh,” she said. “I wish I could grow a beard.”
He opened his eyes and felt his face break into a smile. Who was this girl and why the hell was she with him? “What are you running from?” he said.
She thought for a moment then said, “Stupid people.”
“Then you’re going to love Reno, the armpit of the Southwest. It’s known for the incredible intelligence of the derelicts and hustlers who compose the majority of the population here.”
“Comprise,” she corrected him. “And I wasn’t running to Reno; I was running to you.”
How long could this go on? “I don’t know what kind of fantasies you’ve built up, Stacy, but it ain’t me, babe. If you hang out with me for any length of time, I’m sure I’ll disappoint you on as massive a level as anyone else ever has.” He got up from the mattress and noticed that the worn carpet had blackened cigarette burns that looked similar to those on the bedspread.
“I’ve got to call Clance,” he said, flipping his cell phone open.
“Look, Bart,” she said. “I’m not going to beat around the bush. There’s a reason I’m here and a reason you’re here, but you don’t know it yet.”
He closed his phone before making the call and propped a pillow against the headboard. He sat back down. “That sounds like beating around the bush to me. Are you trying to tell me something? Because I know why I’m here. I’m here for thirty bucks an hour. Why are you here?”
“What if I told you I was God?”
Was this the weirdness Zoey had warned him about? He thought immediately of Persephone. Jesus, he could pick ’em. “I’m hungry,” he said. “I say we hit the buffet at Circus Circus before we head over to Clance’s. Unless, of course, you’d like to rustle up some loaves and fishes.”
“I don’t do miracles,” she said.
“Damn, I must be psychic! I knew you were going to say that!”
“I know you don’t believe me, but do me a favor and don’t tell other people.”
“You mean I can’t tell Clance I’m dating the Savior?”
“We’re not dating. And I don’t like that name.”
“How about ‘Yahweh’?”
“You can call me that if I can call you ‘Midge’.”
A chill ran through him. “Are you going to tell me where you got that from?”
The atmosphere had quickly become brittle.
“Just call me Stacy.”
“You know, Stacy, I thought I liked you. Now I’m not so sure.” He felt like she’d hit him below the belt. What else did she know about him? “Are you going to tell me where you got that?”
She just looked at him.
“Why’d you call me that?”
“You were hurting my feelings, Bart. You weren’t taking me seriously.”
He smirked. “Okay, I’ll take you seriously,” he said. “What’s it like being God?”
“You just want to make fun of me.”
“Hey, they mocked Jesus too. So tell me what it’s like.”
“Are you on acid right now?”
She screwed up her face. “No,” she said.
“I had that trip once. I was sixteen. Took some acid with Clance. Scared the fuckin’ shit out of me. Thought I was God. Everything I saw was my own creation. Nothing was real. It was like a movie and I knew what was going to happen next and it just kept happening. But I couldn’t do miracles—not because I was trying and failing—I was too scared shitless to try.”
“I can do miracles,” she said.
“No, you can’t. Lots of people have had that trip. The tragedies are the nut cases who jump out of windows to prove it. Don’t go playing in traffic, girl. Why don’t you try and make that ashtray float? You do that and I’ll fall down on my knees and worship your ass.”
“I’m not here to entertain you with magic tricks. I’m here for a reason and you have to help me. I need an apostle, Bart.”
“An apostle? Does it pay more than thirty fuckin’ bucks an hour? Tell me where you learned my nickname. And cut the God bullshit.”
“I’m hungry,” she said. “Let’s go eat. We’ll talk later.”
“Well, until I see that ashtray doing loop-de-loops, I don’t wanna hear any more God crap. And you are going to tell me where you heard my nickname or you can get your own fuckin’ room and get the fuck outta my life. I don’t need some punk-ass brat getting’ in my face with Midge, Midge, Midge, Midge, Midge. I ever hear that word come out of your yap again, you’ll need a fuckin’ miracle to get your teeth back in your mouth. Is that understood, Savior?”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, “I didn’t mean—”
“Can it!” he cut her off. “You’re on thin fuckin’ ice.”
She put her hand on his arm very lightly. “I know you’d never hurt me,” she said.
He fixed his eyes on hers and knew she did know that. But he said, “You don’t know shit, Stacy. God, my ass. Get your fuckin’ coat on.”
He left Clance a text message from the Circus Circus buffet. Clance texted back that he’d call him in the a.m.
As he and Stacy were eating, he kept thinking of Brenda, a Berkeley street girl the local punks all said was schizophrenic. She was crazy, that was certain, and the word on the street was that Brenda believed she was God. Often talking to herself, rarely acknowledging anyone else, even if they tried to talk to her. One day she came into the comic book store when Bart was there just hanging with Clance. She sat down on the floor and took a pair of scissors out of a large cloth bag she was carrying and started cutting small squares of material from the loose cotton dress she was wearing.
“Brenda, you can’t stay here,” Clance said.
Without looking up, she poked the scissors into her dress, just above the hem, and twisted them to increase the size of the hole. “I made you say that,” she responded.
“You gotta leave the store, Brenda.”
“You’re just saying what I want you to say,” she said, cutting a neat square in her dress that was filled with cutout squares.
This was just a few months after Bart had taken his I-am-God acid trip and it struck him that Brenda was on the same trip, but without the help of acid. He took a step toward her and said, “C’mon, Brenda, I’ll walk you outside.”
She looked up at him with alarm and pointed her scissors at him, jabbing them in his direction, essentially telling him to keep his distance.
Brenda had been around the avenue for years and he’d never heard about her being dangerous to anyone. But he took the threat seriously. If she really thought he was some figment of her imagination, she might stab him. Clance said, “Leave her be,” and she ended up sitting there for twenty minutes or so, then got up and walked back outside.
Now Bart was wondering if Stacy was schizo. She wasn’t exactly Brenda. She didn’t walk around babbling to herself. She apparently was able to hold a job, at least in a strip club. But if she really thought she was God, she could be dangerous.
After gorging themselves at the buffet and with the night free, he decided to give Stacy a cook’s tour of the Reno casinos. When they walked into the Eldorado, she slipped her hand inside his arm and they walked like that from casino to casino. He felt proud to have her on his arm. Damn, she looked good. When they stopped to look at a game, she would put her arm around him and lean on him lightly, just enough to let him know she wanted to be closer to him than an acquaintance, closer than a friend. He loved the smell of her hair, the warmth of her body. He stopped caring if she was crazy. She was his girl. It was pushing midnight when they got back to the motel room, and there were those beds. Suddenly, he wished he was alone.
“Which bed do you want?” he said.