An Anniversary of Knives & Bill Qualls

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Bill Qualls asked me to tell one of the anniversary stories. You would think he would learn to avoid me, wouldn’t you?
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8 or 9 years ago, Bill was in a quandary: he wanted to buy his wife something fantastic for their wedding anniversary coming up on May 30th, just a few days away. As always, procrastination kept whispering in his ear, convincing him to sit on the couch. Fearing he would have to face his wife with a handful of rolled up aluminum foil with two meadow flowers tucked inside or a card hastily bought at Wal-Greens, he called me, knowing I would be able to devise something interesting.
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I met Bill over near the I-49 exchange in Springdale, as it was convenient to both of us. We stopped and ate at Denny’s on the corner there to power up before shopping. As neither one of us enjoys shopping, it seemed reasonable to eat so much that we could barely move. As we sat in the last booth, looking out the window at traffic, drinking our 6th cup of coffee, the waitress stopped and asked if we were going to the gun and knife show nearby at the Holiday Inn Convention Center.
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Bill looked at me as if Christmas had just been dropped in his lap. “Why yes, yes we are going straight there!” he replied to the server, giving me a glint-eyed look that made me concerned for my personal safety. Bill well knew my tumultuous relationship and history with gun and knife shows. Several times I had narrowly escaped the wrath of angry gun owners as they realized I was mocking them. A couple of years previous, Bill had dragged me to the A.G. Russell knife shop off the interstate in Rogers. Things went so badly that we both imagined we could hear the irate customers throwing knifes at us as we hastily exited through the fire door on the highway-side of the building.
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As the waitress walked away, I said, “Now Bill, we have to get your wife something. I don’t think she wants a knife or a gun.”
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“What is it going to hurt? Just a few minutes of harmless browsing and you can keep your mouth shut for five minutes, can’t you?” I looked behind me to see if he was still talking to me, as he darned well knew that there was indeed a high likelihood of something bad happening and of me being unable to keep my trap shut. When we were together, I imagined that a bail bondsman should be aware of our location at all times.
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We paid the bill and drove my car the short distance down 48th street to the convention center. There were hundreds of cars already parked there and people milling about. I assume they were excitedly bragging about their shiny guns or something, or desperately wanting to shoot someone; just typical gun stuff.
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Without missing a beat, Bill looked at me as we walked across the parking lot and simply said, “Don’t.” In that single word, he communicated an entire vocabulary of instructions. It didn’t bother me that he assumed I was going to cause trouble.
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Once inside, we ambled along the dozens of kiosks and displays inside the expansive building. At the second long table, I walked up and said, “Hey, I was told there would be a shooting. Do I need to register or something?” The serious man standing to the left gazed at me as if I had just urinated on his boot. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bill quickly step back, turn and walk away. “Have a good morning, sir, and I sincerely hope you get to shoot someone very soon” I told the serious man as I moved along, calculating that I might be that person getting shot if I lingered.
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I came up behind Bill at the 5th display. He was standing in a small group, watching the table in front of him. From over his shoulder I asked the gentleman standing there holding some sort of large rifle, “Can I buy that even if I’m nutso? I really need a gun. I got some people who need to get got.” I then slightly ducked behind Bill. Every single face turned to see who had spoken – and every one of them was now suddenly looking directly at Bill, whose face was rapidly becoming redder than Santa’s work pants. I could hear Bill try not to breathe. Without a word he turned and walked away from me again. I, of course, was laughing.
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“You’re going to get shot, X.” Bill told me this as he suppressed a laugh.
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“Nonsense,” I told him. “All the guns are required to be unloaded and these old geezers can’t see well enough to throw a knife.” (But he had accidentally given me an idea.)
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At the next display, I went around to the end that had another table sitting perpendicular to it as Bill stopped at the closer end to look at a pistol on display under glass.
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“Hey Bill,” I hollered across the table, loud enough for everyone to hear. As at least 10 people looked up, as I held a rifle toward my face, peering deeply into the barrel as I pointed it. “Is this the end that the gun powder goes in? I can’t see it.” I peered intently inside the barrel.
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Several men near the display immediately then looked down toward Bill, who suddenly lost interest in the display pistol. He made a sound not dissimilar to that of a dog having its tail stepped on unexpectedly. One of the 3 men at the table snatched the rifle from my hands and angrily barked, “You can’t touch this!” Without missing a beat, I shouted, “OK, M.C. Hammer, keep your billowing pants on.” Even though Bill had just been thinking of beating me, he couldn’t help himself and laughed out loud at the M.C. Hammer reference.
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“Have you got all the nonsense out of your system now? Can we be normal for a few minutes? I think my better half really would like a beautiful knife, even if she keeps it in the bedside table.” He seemed like he had convinced himself that any wife in her right mind would want a knife in her bedroom, so who was I to argue?
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We skipped about half of the displays as we neared one which had a larger than expected area. A plank wall was behind it, with about ten feet of space. There was a single knife stuck in it, about five feet from the floor. There was a staggering assortment of knives along the table. Surprisingly, there was several which looked iridescent and caught my eye. I told Bill that one of those looked like a good pick. Eyeing me suspiciously, Bill turned and looked. Even he looked like he agreed. The $425 price tag attached to a few of them, however, knocked the air out of him. The display owner told Bill he would knock $50 off for his anniversary if he bought one.
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Seeing that he was hesitating, I asked him, “How will that look? You found the perfect knife but now you’re too cheap to get your soulmate one? I’ll let her know that when you get her a $4 card from the store.” I smiled wickedly at Bill, who was now stuck, as he well knew I would rat him out to his wife on their anniversary if there was any comedy potential to be had.
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I walked over toward the plank wall and told Bill, “Throw one at me and see if you can stick it in the wall. They don’t look like they’d be much protection in the bedroom.” I always liked to touch and interact with the displays, which bugged Bill constantly.
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At this point, time slowed down in my mind, especially as I relive the moment. I’m not really sure how much time actually elapsed. All I know is that afterwards, all the missing time seemed to rush forward all at once.
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As I reached up to casually pull the knife free from the plank wall, I heard two ‘bzzzz’ sounds, felt the air separate around me, and heard two loud ‘thunks’ as two separate knives impaled themselves into the wood wall as my hand clasped around the knife already stuck in there. I froze, turning my head slowly back towards Bill and the owner of the knife display.
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The owner was just sweeping both arms down and I realized that he had just thrown not one, but two knives at me and that the wood plank wall was in fact specifically there for that purpose. Both of the knives were impaled in the wall, one below my left arm and the other above. Being realistic, the first thought other than fear was one speculating how much the knife thrower’s insurance premiums must be.
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Bill howled with laughter. “You should see the look on your face!” he shrieked at me. “You look like Casper.”
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I think I stood there at least 5 full seconds, my left hand around the knife in the wall, my eyes locked on the iridescent handles of the two knives which had been thrown at me. By then, the knife owner was laughing too, as Bill doubled over and used the edge of the table to steady himself as he laughed until tears came into his eyes.
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So that is how it came to be that Bill’s wife has two beautiful knives in her night table. Bill only paid $100 for both, after the knife owner listened to Bill explain just how long he had been waiting for me, his blabbermouth know-it-all friend, to get a lesson about silence and not touching things that don’t belong to him.
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PS: The owner gave me the knife I was trying to pull from the wall, as a reminder to remember my audience in every situation.

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