Thirteen or fourteen years ago I wrote a novel, Invisible Branches. It’s the story of a pregnant bookie in Hot Springs who decides to break away from her horrific boss. He’s a pretty nasty dude who owns a bunch of strip joints and runs numbers.
I based this dangerous villain on a local man named Burly Webb. Burly owned or ran a lot of local late night clubs in the 80s and 90s. Because so many folks were, ripped off, cheated, robbed and savagely beaten in his parking lots, Burly had a pretty terrible reputation.
But for some strange reason, Burly and I became friends. He helped me out a couple of times and never asked anything in return. People under estimated him, and thought he was just a stupid violent guy. It’s true, he was uneducated but he was anything but stupid. He was however a very dangerous and violent man. Even my own brother, who was a professional smuggler, didn’t like the fact that I was friends with Burly Webb.
In the novel, the character Hurley, only had one leg. He lost his foot and half a leg when he stepped in a bear trap in the woods. It was a pretty gruesome scene.
Before the book came out, I told Burly I’d written a story and he was the bad guy. He thought that was just great and bought ten or twenty copies to keep at the bar. I doubt he ever read Invisible Branches but he loved knowing he’d been immortalized. People told him how horrible and monstrous his character was in the book and that just made him laugh.
Then something freaky happened. Six months after the book was published Burly was out in the woods cutting down a tree. The chain saw slipped and he cut off his own leg, exactly where his character lost his.
The real Burly recovered, he got around on crutches after that. he still thought it was funny as Hell that he’d done virtually the same thing in the book. He never got mad at me but our friendship wasn’t quite the same. I think made him a little nervous. and who can blame him?
Burly died a few years ago. The character Hurley died too in a pretty nasty way. I think about this strange coincidence sometimes and it reminds me how much power the written word holds. Humans are the only animals on the planet who have the ability to write things down, so when we do, we need to be careful and get it right.