Tuesday, March 28, 2006

In the Jingle Jangle Morning

Hey, Latigo Flint doesn’t like reruns any more than you do. But since this one deals with a shadowy menace that has yet to be rectified, it’s really more of a public service and not the product of a lazy mind.

From the archives -- 8/29/05:


In the Jingle Jangle Morning

Okay, this is important: That sewer grate over yonder on Glenoaks Boulevard routinely eats spurs. It has a great hunger for spurs. If you walk near that sewer grate with spurs on, it will grab your spurs and eat them... and painfully twist knees in the process.

It was imperative that my good neighbors be made aware of this shadowy menace.

An attractive young woman turned the corner.

"Pardon me Ma'am," I touched the brim of my hat and stepped in front of her. "Do you ever wear spurs?"


"Spurs Ma'am, you know: cowboy steel, gut hooks, pony-git-alongs."


"Flank-ticklers Ma'am. Buzz saws, heel nuggets, jingle jangle mornings. They come Texas Style, California Style and Vaquero Style. Inlayed or plain. With or without silver conchos, chap guards or a curved shank. I'm talkin' 'bout spurs Ma'am, and whether or not you wear them... so do you?"

The poor gal seemed about to cry she was so confused. I would have cleared it right up by showing her my own, except that wretched sewer grate had recently eaten them. I lifted her chin until her bewildered eyes met mine.

"A cowboy Ma'am: Get the picture in your mind. Now he's wearing boots, of course, and attached to the heels are round, twirly metal things... Spurs! Do you understand?"

She nodded.

"So, do you ever wear them?!"

She took a long moment to process everything that had happened to her in the last thirty seconds. Then a grumpy set crept across her face.
"Spurs? Like cowboy boot, metal twirly things, spurs? And you stopped me to find out if I ever wear them?"

I smiled broadly. "Yes, yes, now you've got it."


The girl had lungs. My serape practically blew straight back behind me. I looked like Linus in a hurricane.

Her question was rhetorical. I didn't answer it.
"Well if you ever do Ma'am, be sure you don't walk near that particular grate--it eats spurs you know... and painfully twists knees in the process."

While I was looking over my shoulder, pointing at the sewer grate, she was filling each fist with a can of mace. When I turned back around, she emptied them both in my face and left me to slobber and writhe in the gutter like a strych-laced dog.

Never one to disappoint, that's exactly what I did. At some point the sewer grate started laughing at me so I head-butted it to death.

Then some more stuff probably happened, I'm not really sure though. The sun went down and up a few times. My senses had been stripped. My hands couldn't feel to grip.

Then I think a hobo peed on me.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Washing Your Face in the Dark

Latigo Flint knows that face-washing time is fun time. Latigo Flint's hat is off to whoever invented the practice of splashing water on one's face. Dang if washing your face don't just perk you right up and make you feel not quite so broken and done.

Sometimes when Latigo Flint wants to wash his face, he'll force himself to wait a while, thus heightening the sensation and joy when he does.

There are many techniques for washing your face and Latigo Flint loves 'em all. The Swat 'n' Splash, The Rinse 'n' Flick, The Scoop 'n' Drag, The Dip 'n' Dab, The Lean 'n' Burble--All of them wonderful. Magnificent I say, every one.

If you wash your face by candlelight, you get to pretend you're someone else--like a trapper or a cowboy or a scullery maid in a castle. The tiny flame casts strange shadows across a face you no longer recognize as yours. You stare at the mirror into eyes you don't remember being so black.

You say, "Howdy there stranger. I reckon I'd like t' know your name."

The face in the mirror frowns. "You oaf! I'm a scullery maid today, not a drawling cowboy."

"My apologies Ma'am." You mumble... and then touch yourself for a while.

Hey, have you ever been washing your face and just start thinkin' 'bout how great it feels to wash your face and then the next thing you know it's twelve hours later and your bathroom looks like the hold of a whaling ship. Your palms are quivering, pulpy ribbons and you wonder why until you notice the jagged white edges of your cheekbones. You get the bad feeling your forehead's gonna need grafts and you discover you've smeared unspeakable messages to yourself on the wall with what appears to be a sinus?

Yeah, me too.


A man drink like that and he don't eat, he is going to die!


Friday, March 24, 2006

Hounds of Venice

This afternoon Latigo Flint and his relatively trusty sidekick, Kid Relish, were drinking on a restaurant patio, just waiting for the sun to go down.

"You know." Kid Relish mused, absently brushing the ivy wall. "They sure took all the fun out of crime when they stopped chasing suspects with hounds."

"Oh, I don't know Kid." I replied. "I bet there's places where they still do."

"Yeah, I guess." The Kid thought for a while. "Hey, Latigo--do you think in Venice they have Police Dolphins?"

I laughed but he was serious so my laughter trailed off awkwardly. "Um, I don't think so Kid. Police boats probably, but dolphins I doubt."

He thought about that for a bit.

"Yeah, I guess you're right Latigo. Besides--dolphins are so kind and friendly you probably couldn't train 'em to attack a crook even if you wanted to."

"You think Kid?" I asked.

"Yeah." He replied. "I mean dolphins are plenty smart, and in the police academy pool they'd probably be all bashin' the shit out of the inflatable dummies with ski masks painted on."

The Kid paused to finish his beer. I moved mine closer to me 'cause I knew he'd reach for it next.

"And the trainers." He continued. "The trainers would be all jumping around and shouting:
'Yippee! Theeese doll-pins ess ready por making attack ona crooks.'"

Kid Relish reached where my beer had been and frowned when he clutched at air. I nodded at Gus through the window and he pulled down two fresh glasses.

"But when they hit the canals for patrol, those dolphins would probably just make that friendly clickedy chirping sound and nuzzle the crook with their velvety noses, and maybe even help him to shore."

I shrugged and hoped he was almost done.

"'Why are you such estupido dolphins!!!'" Kid shot me a serious look. "That's what the trainers would yell."

"Hmm-hm." I glanced back through the window and wondered if I should cancel our order.

"But dolphins aren't stupid Latigo--Dolphins know the difference between inflatable dummies with ski masks painted on and humans."

"And you know what Latigo?" Kid Relish was starting to get agitated. "The dolphins would be all like:
'Hey boss, that's a job well done, huh? We're keeping our eyes sharply peeled for inflatable dummies with ski masks painted on and when we find 'em we're gonna bash the shit out of 'em. Oh, and by the way, a human was having a difficulty over there and we were thankfully able to help."

Gus walked out with our beers. The Kid drained his in three gulps, belched and dove right back in.

"'Estupido estupido dolphins!!!' Is what the trainers would shriek." Kid started punching the table. "'We don't understand.' The poor dolphins would reply."

Kid Relish froze in mid-punch and fixed me with a dangerous stare. I suddenly got the eerie feeling that if we saw the sunset tonight it'd be through the bars of a holding cell.

"And then know what Latigo?"

"What Kid?"

"The trainers would grab the black remote controls that they kept clipped to their belts."

"No, no Kid--they wouldn't do that." I assured him as I glanced uneasily at all the innocent people on the patio.

"Yesssss." The Kid nodded and I saw the flash of a chemical fire in his wide, staring eyes. "Yes, they would. They'd pull out those little black remotes with the red flashing light that matched the light on the dolphins' collars."

I stood up and addressed everyone. "Your lives are in danger!!!" I bellowed. "Leave now." They stared at me blankly. Kid Relish's eyes rolled back in his head and he started to scream--something about exploding collars and the warm, pulsing odor of digested fish and murder.

"Please just run!" I urged the startled patrons. "This man has suddenly come to believe that you're all dolphin-killing Venetian police and I promise you won't like what's about to happen next."

But it was too strange a threat for them to process and they returned my plea with blinks. Fourteen had to fall before the rest of them found their legs.

"Those dolphins knew." Kid sobbed to me, much later as we sat in shackles. "After the first dolphin's head exploded, the others knew what was coming--they're very smart you know."

He closed his eyes and started rocking back and forth.

"I don't think we should kill things," Kid wailed. "That know they're being killed."

I didn't know what to say. His nose started running and I let him use my sleeve.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Secret Order of the Oboes in the Storm

When Patrick Slattery was twelve years old, he founded The Secret Order of the Oboes in the Storm.

The Order's ongoing mission and creed, as inked by Patrick on the inside back cover of a spiral-bound notebook:

1. To stalk through storms in tight, black ponchos like hungry panthers in the rain.

2. To find ourselves beneath the windows of the cutest girls in school, whereupon backlit by lightning flashes and accompanied by thunder, we will be desired for the music we play.

3. To bring about, through an all-around air of danger and mystery, the renewed worldwide appreciation for woodwind music in general and especially that of the oboe.

Patrick agonized over the selection of the Order's other four charter members. A new Order just starting out, demands a solid five--of this Patrick was certain. An odd number is crucial of course, for the symmetry of objects doesn't translate to that of souls. And while three seems like a empty cause, seven feels like a mob.

"It is," Patrick muttered to himself while pouring over yearbook photos, "those disparate attributes each member lends to an Order that place it well above a gang or group."
Patrick drew a red line through every student in the school band but himself, then flipped to the section for JV Sports. He pointed a trembling finger at the sneering letter-wearers.
"A football player!" Patrick gasped. "The Secret Order of the Oboes in the Storm needs a football player in its secret ranks."

Patrick made a short list and practiced his opening speech. Tomorrow he would single them out and cross the quad, and find the Little John to his Robin Hood, the Fezzik to his Westley, the Obelix to his Asterix... Well, so to speak.

Patrick went through the motions of preparing for bed, but with faraway eyes and a hero's stride. He turned out the light, listened to the rain and knew that by the very next storm, things wouldn't be the same.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Train Steps

You know what's a really fun thing to say as you step in the path of an oncoming train?
"Halt Iron-Horse, halt I say in the name of justice!"

"Oh God!" The pretty college girls will cry, turning in horror from your splattery demise. "He called that train an iron-horse; he must have been of Native American descent."
"What do you suppose the justice was of which he spoke?" The girls' turtleneck-clad boyfriends will murmur in their very-most sensitive voice, already trying to spin shock and grief into a blow-job or two.
"Shut up oppressor!!!" The girls will shriek. "What could you possibly know of his pain?" And their boyfriends will have no answer for this.

"When I hit the grill it makes a sound, thump-th-thump, schursh." Is also a good one, because it's always nice to be proved right.

"Good morning America, how are ya?" Is a wonderful thing to say as you step in the path of an oncoming train--especially if any Arlo Guthrie fans are present. They'll remember you fondly and often.

"Hey Daddy, criticize this!" And, "Checkmate Jesus, checkmate." Also happen to be two choice statements for the instant before impact.

If any of your friends are nearby: "So long... betrayers." Is guaranteed to leave 'em thinking. And, "Darlings I'm going bumpabout, see you on the moon." Just has an oddly pleasant rhythm.

And then there's: "I stand here now--GABRIELLE!!!--certain of so many things but not a single one that matters--WHERE ARE YOU GABRIELLE ?!!!"
Oh sure, no one will have the foggiest clue what the hell you're talking about, but they're gonna be moved to tears nonetheless--you can bet your ass on that.

Now, if you're the sort who insists on tweaking old, rundown catchphrases, I guess you could try: "I'm Jess James, bitch!" Or, "What does the cowcatcher say to the face?" But only if you must--remember, you have "Halt Iron-Horse, halt I say in the name of justice." at your disposal.

All Train Steps are Latigo Flint tested, Latigo Flint approved.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Team of Horse and Man

You knew right away in the Squinty-eyed American West that you'd just picked a fight with a true team if as you went to pistol whip a cowboy for cheating at cards/bumping your drink arm/smiling when you didn't feel like being smiled at--his enraged horse charged the saloon and tried to tear your spine from your neck with frightfully large teeth.

"Dang!" You'd mutter from behind the piano as you watched it trample musicians to reach you. "I need to get me a horse as loyal as that."

"Call off your horse." You'd holler. "I'm sorry for trying to pistol whip you."
"I reckon you'll have to do better than that." The cowboy would reply, nonchalantly inspecting his hat. "I've never seen my Stormy quite this riled."
"Okay, okay." You'd grumble. "I'm very sorry for trying to pistol whip you. Now call off your smelly horse."

Which was a big mistake of course.

"What the hell did you just say?!!!" He'd scream, lurching to his feet and grabbing a bottle.
"I said I was very sorry and would you please call off your horse."
"No, you distinctly called her smelly!!!"

"Did I?"
"Don't you ever call my horse smelly!!!" And then the furious cowboy would heave the bottle at your face.

Not one to let such an insult stand, you'd bound across the room with a roar and try to pistol whip that cowboy--completely forgetting that when you did, his horse was going to pin you down and try to tear your spine from your neck. And then the whole vicious cycle would start over again.

"When I heal," You'd mutter some time later from your twisted repose on the bloody floor. "I'm gonna get me a herd of loyal burros and they're gonna swarm you and Stormy like crazed velociraptors on a quivering mountain of meat."

"Big talk from a dying man." The cowboy would sneer, rubbing Stormy and feeding her pretzels.

(But you didn't die; you survived, and followed through on your plan of a burro cavalcade. When you tracked down that cowboy you set your burros on him--but they were distracted by Stormy and then the first mule was made.)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Shootout on the Kingman Trestle

The other day Latigo Flint got to thinking that Shootout on the Kingman Trestle would be a good name for an Old West historical event. It made Latigo Flint a mite sad that no such event ever took place. Not one to stay down long, Latigo Flint decided to reenact it anyway.

To represent Kingman Trestle, that rickety tangle of timber and iron spanning the mighty Kingman River Gorge, (Which would have been a beautiful and desolate place, had it actually existed.) I chose the planted median strip running down the center of Glenoaks Blvd., in Burbank.

Naturally, I, Latigo Flint, would be playing the part of the dashing Natches Murphy, infamous outlaw and pistoleer. Two dozen empty beer bottles would fill in nicely as the corrupt and villainous Smivingsly Gang, and every girl that happened to drive by would take a quick turn as Eloise Petalwood, the beautiful but naive daughter of a local dry goods proprietor who didn't believe me- I mean Latigo Fli- I mean Natches Murphy, when he warned her that the villainous Smivingsly Gang planned to rob her father blind under the pretext of protection from dashing yet infamous pistoleers, and then tie her up and drag her to their faraway mountain hideout for unrelenting rounds of forced tomfoolery.


It may have been March but the snow was still thick on the passes, and dark, massing clouds threatened to add to the drifts. Natches Murphy eyed them warily as he dismounted next to a swath of fresh tracks.

(I rubbed my hands together and blew on them, then knelt next to a discarded hot dog wrapper.)

Riders had come through here, and not long ago by the look of it. Something caught Natches' eye and he lightly traced the inside of one of the tracks with a contemplative thumb. That horse carried a rider weighing at least a third less than the rest of the group.

(A boy on a skateboard gave me a strange look but I ignored him and continued to examine the hot dog wrapper.)

Which meant, Natches mused, that unless Two-Gun Cancer Joe had come back from the dead to ride with the Smivingsly Gang again, that rider had to be Eloise Petalwood. Suddenly Natches froze. His keen gunslinger ears had just caught the faint sound of a hoof striking stone from somewhere up the canyon on the other side of Kingman Trestle. They were close, very close.

(I called a reenacter’s time-out and hastily arranged the empty beer bottles in a loose formation about twenty feet down the median. Time-in!)

"Smivingslys." Natches called out, in his low, dangerous gunslinger drawl. "It's not polite to have a party and not invite all your friends." Natches chuckled to himself, picturing their shocked expressions.

(A young woman in a Jetta pulled up to the red light. I tipped my hat and delivered Natches' next line while staring into her eyes.)

"Hey Smivingslys!" Natches snarled. "Let Eloise go or taste the wrath of my lead."

(The girl in the Jetta gunned it and so the woman waiting at the bus stop became Eloise.)

Then suddenly the entire Smivingsly Gang charged the bend, guns blazing and took the far side of Kingman Trestle. Natches grinned and started singing an authentic Apache Warrior Death Song as he unloosed his holster straps and strode forward to meet them.

(People started gathering in the strip mall parking lot but it was too late to cast them as anything other than startled wildlife.)

The battle raged until the very cliffs seemed to tremble with Winchester's fury and the concussion of jolting Colts. Natches was everywhere--his hands deadly, darting lighting. (I threw myself at the bottles and started smashing them together.) The trestle lurched as the struts cracked and gave way. (I tried to topple a ficus but it had wires holding it up.) Day turned to night as gun smoke filled the canyon, and the ragged screams of dying men mixed with the angry whine of ricochets denied until you could hardly tell them apart. (I may have started screeching at this point.) Several Smivingslys tried to make a run for it but Natches tackled them and started stabbing them to death with their own fingers. (Glass shards were everywhere by now and somewhere in the distance, sirens wailed.) Tangled pistols and blood-lust delirium. Eloise ran but Natches knew she was heading for danger. Someone set a neckerchief ablaze. Natches caught up to Eloise by sprinting through a herd of bison that had suddenly appeared. Stumbling hemorrhage and triumph. Startled wildlife panicked and charged. Smivingslys came back to life and needed to be dealt with. Strangled prayers and the finality of lead. Something started swinging clubs and canyon walls weep evidence of murder. It was imperative that Eloise be kissed. Then the ground became the sky and Kingman Trestle burned.


And then Latigo Fli- I mean Natches Murphy, rode away on a steed with flashing lights--trusty IV drip at his side.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Embroiderer

"The needle is my brush and thread is my paint. Handkerchiefs are my canvas and my only muse is death."
The Embroiderer

Every town has mysteries, riddles so deeply woven into the unique civic rhythm, that all attempts to decipher them cease and they simply become as they are--no more or less strange than the hardware store on Main Street, or the statues on City Hall's lawn. And so it was, long ago, in the coastal town of Targas, with a man they called The Embroiderer.

No one knew his real name and few had ever heard him speak. He lived alone on the north side of the bay, in a Japanese style house that he rebuilt by hand after every major storm.

"A bucket of thinner proves the frailty of paint. I tie art to itself and pass it through a cloth. It is beautiful from either side."
The Embroiderer

Targas was a lumber town, and the man who owned the mills was named Frank Barnessy. Frank was a great big bull of a man, used to getting his way. When Frank's youngest son, Chip, chose Sara Caine to be his bride, Frank thundered that no expense would be spared. It was decided that the wedding invitations should be hand-stitched in needlepoint and one name rose to the top of a very short list.

At first The Embroiderer refused and slid the paper door shut in Frank's face. But Frank put his fist through it, dragged The Embroiderer out and threw him off a mid-sized cliff.

"I was not expecting," The Embroiderer murmured, from his crumpled repose, after Frank jogged the long way around and joined him on the rocky shore. "To be thrown off a mid-sided cliff today."
"Sorry 'bout that." Frank said, helping him to his feet. "I'm just not used to people refusing me."
It would be hours before Frank realized he had become only the fourth person in town to have ever heard The Embroiderer speak.
"Come on." Frank said, draping his arm around him. "Let's go back to your house to discuss the price for embroidered wedding invitations. That way I won't have to throw you off the cliff again."
"Fair enough." The Embroiderer whispered and Frank helped him up the trail.

"Fingertips that have turned to iron from the stab of a million needles, come in pretty handy when you accidentally grab something you didn't know was hot."
The Embroiderer

"What the hell is that?!" Frank asked, peering at something hanging in shadow along the back wall. The Embroiderer followed his gaze but remained silent as was his way.
"Is that..." Frank stood and took a few steps forward, then stopped and shot a very dark look over his shoulder at The Embroiderer.
"Is that Sara Caine, my son's bride-to-be?"
The trace of a sad smile trickled across The Embroiderer's face.
"It is, isn't it?!!!" Frank demanded. The Embroiderer blew on his tea. Frank trembled with rage, yet unsure of its release, but then he gasped a moment later when the sun broke free of the clouds and splashed the portrait with a shaft of light.

It was a magnificent work, subtly shaded and alive. No charcoal, watercolor or oil has ever captured the female form quite like The Embroiderer's thread. Even Frank was moved, and he was not a man prone to such.

"She's younger." Frank breathed, brushing the cloth with the back of his hand. "And wears a look I've never seen on her." Then the cloud patched the hole in itself and the room was cast in shadow again. As if on cue, Frank snorted dangerously and strode for the door.
"When I tell Chip about that portrait he's gonna rip out your heart with your own goddamn needles."
The Embroiderer laughed and it rang strange, like a sound seldom attempted.

"Mine is an art that does not demand blood to do it well; it bloody well demands so much more."
The Embroiderer

"I'll do the invitations for free." The Embroiderer murmured. And angry as Frank was, the lure of a bargain steadied him.
"For free?"
"On one condition."
"What's that?"
"You send Sara to pick them up alone."
"That's quite a condition."
The Embroiderer shrugged and stirred his tea. Frank stalled for a bit, but his decision had been made the instant it was offered, for something lurks deep within the wealthy that won't let them pass up such savings.

"Done!" Frank bellowed and lumbered across the room to shake The Embroiderer's hand. "But I don't know what you expect to come of it. She'd never leave Chip for you and even if she tried, my sons and I would kill you both."
The Embroiderer ignored him.
"So what?" Frank blustered. "You're gonna show her the portrait and hope that brings meaning to your wasted life?"
The Embroiderer smiled at him, and for just an instant Frank was afraid.
"If you really must know, Frank, I'm going to show Sara how to use a needle to kill you and your sons as you sleep."

"Every blank cloth represents purity. Then entrails of thread are stabbed through its woven soul. Fibers scream if you listen."
The Embroiderer

"That was a joke Frank," The Embroiderer chuckled. "To get you back for throwing me off a cliff."
Frank set the hammer down.
"Well sure." He grumbled. "I knew that."
"I know you did Frank. I mean, after all, you're a great big bull of a man and I'm just an Embroiderer."
Frank laughed hard and started clapping his massive hands. "That's true, so true."
"Send Sara by tomorrow Frank, just before sunset."
"You got it Embroiderer."

Frank walked away from the house, still laughing as he went. The Embroiderer reached for a needle and a stone and started scraping the former across.

"Needles were born to pass through things and don't care what they drag along. Thread was born to stay behind. They each do their job so well."
The Embroiderer

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Nightmare in the Key of Blonde

Sometimes Latigo Flint has that dream where he's dying in the dirt at the feet of a smirking girl. Then Latigo Flint's stomach bloats in the sun and porcupines tear it open to feed.

For some reason this dream tends to make Latigo Flint uneasy.

Latigo Flint always wakes up to find all the items on the nightstand smashed and bloody wedges from his neck and chest, lodged beneath his fingernails. Falling back asleep usually requires at least a bottle and a half of whiskey--or in a pinch, self-asphyxiation, if there's no whiskey to be had.

In real life, if you know you're about to die in the wilderness and you'd prefer that porcupines didn't tear open your bloated stomach to feed, it's important to remember to rub yourself down with wolf urine--porcupines always head the other way when they catch a whiff of wolf urine. But in dreams you never really know how the scent of wolf urine is going to affect porcupines. Their response is unpredictable and may change several times.

But the girl's response never changes--she's always happy to see Latigo Flint die, and only smirks harder when the porcupines dig in.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Inventing Parachutes

Leonardo da Vinci is widely credited with inventing the Parachute. He sketched one in 1483. It was a large pyramid shaped frame, covered with cloth and open at the base. He wrote in the margin that its primary use would probably be for making your neighbors think that you were some sort of god and then when you asked for a bite of their honey-dipped pastry they'd be too afraid to refuse.

Latigo Flint is widely credited with inventing the Post Impact Parachute. A timer attached to small concussive charge counts down from three seconds after impact and then deploys the chute above your twitching corpse in an arcing, spectacular billow of futile and ironic functionality. Its primary use is to make your death look tragically awesome when captured on a shaky camcorder.

The Post Impact Parachute isn't selling all that well though. Turns out people aren't exactly lining up for the chance to purchase a parachute that has been meticulously engineered not to open until three seconds after you've hit the ground. And yet backyard trampolines continue to fly off the shelves, even though the only thing that could make those things worse would be an array of upright spears, randomly positioned beneath the mesh.

Someone needs to invent a parachute with a sensor that is able to detect when a trampoline has suddenly decided to hurl you headfirst across the yard into a cinderblock wall.

(Oh, and someone needs to take my hand and tell me I don't need to do a forward flip to be a man. Of course I won't listen; I'll tell her to shut the hell up--this is between me and that goddamn trampoline, but I'll appreciate the gesture and bounce a little easier knowing an ambulance will be called in a minute or two when I need it.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Claw of the Otter--Silent Glory Beneath the Eddies of America

Latigo Flint once wrote an unflinching novel about vengeance and redemption and uncommon bravery in the face of relentless evil. The title: Claw of the Otter--Silent Glory Beneath the Eddies of America.

The book opens with a prologue introducing the hero, an otter pup named Destiny Sparkleheart, who, along with his seven happy siblings, enjoys the tranquility of a perfect life on the shore of a gentle river, under the loving care of his young mother, Apple Blossom Sparkleheart.

The pace and intensity picks up a bit in Chapter One, when the villain, a voodoo-practicing mime and playwright named Vaspith Keel, shows up, snares Destiny's mother and screaming siblings, and then dips them into a vat of highly corrosive acid while Destiny watches, wounded and trembling from the murky tangle of partially submerged mangrove roots.

Vaspith Keel has the hideous plan to produce, direct and star in a trilogy of Broadway plays featuring himself, and the painted, skeletal remains of nearly a thousand otters. Over the course of the next 600 pages, time passes and a bunch of stuff happens--some of it beautiful, some of it horrific, all of it absolutely gripping. And people tend to burst into applause when they finish the final page. (Which actually happens to be quite rare you know.)

Needless to say, this book is a very powerful and moving book. In fact, it's said that compared to Claw of the Otter--Silent Glory Beneath the Eddies of America, Watership Down reads more like Hop on Pop. People wept so hard that the publisher had to switch to a special type of waterproof paper and ink for the second printing.

Ordinarily I would never divulge the end of my book, it would be tantamount to artistic and financial suicide... but the thing is, I showed up a little drunk to a meeting with the publisher, and ended up signing away all my rights for two cases of lite beer and a Steinbeck bobble-head doll. So since the bastards have it all while I recycle cans, I don't feel the slightest bit bad telling you that the climax roars in the shadowy menace of a deserted theater stage at night as Destiny Sparkleheart and Vaspith Keel stalk each other through a dangling forest of otter skeletons--finally clashing center stage and fighting to a mutual death.

Which may seem depressing, what with the hero, Destiny Sparkleheart dying and all, until you realize that in a hand-to-paw fight between a human and an otter, mutual death is actually a great and mighty victory for the otter.

Oh yeah, and then just as Destiny is bleeding out and burbling final breaths, his son, Destiny Sparkleheart Jr., who everyone thought had been swept down a storm drain and eaten by alligators eight chapters ago, bursts through a stained glass window and races to his father's side just in time for a nuzzling of noses and "I love yous" and then Destiny Sparkleheart Jr. eats Vaspith Keel's heart and snarls triumph and redemption across a dark velvet sea of theater seats, upon which lean the backs of man.

(And in a remarkable literary innovation--if you rub the last blank page of the book with a lemon wedge, a hidden epilogue appears, which summarizes Destiny Jr.'s long and happy life as the beloved pet and guard-otter of Hollywood Golden Couple, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

True Western Truth #112

In the Squinty-eyed American Old West, twigs had a tendency to snap in the darkness, somewhere just beyond your campfire's dancing glow. Now it's true that not every single twig snap signaled a bandit's deadly approach or the circling of hungry wolves, but honestly, why take the chance? Go ahead and blaze away with every gun in reach. You sure don't have to worry about accidentally killing a family member--cholera claimed the last of your children a month ago and you buried your young wife somewhere out on the prairie, maybe a week or two out of Saint Louis... remember?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Assistant Beekeeper

"I can remember a time when I wasn't being stung to death by bees." Jack Trivins growled, shooting the assistant beekeeper a pointed look. "It was just about ten seconds ago--when I told you to be careful lifting the lid of that hive."

"Sir!" The assistant beekeeper moaned, fear and remorse quavering his already unsteady voice. "The bees, they're stinging you to death."

"You always were an observant one." Jack Trivins chuckled, and the rising welts twisted his sneer into a demonic parody of mirth.

"Shall I run to the shed for the smoke blower?" The assistant wailed.

"You mean the shed that's a mile down the path and back?"

"Yes. Shall I fetch it?"

"Oh, that's a great plan." Jack Trivins winced and dropped to his knees. "What a comfort to know you'll be back in twenty minutes to blow the bees off my corpse."

"There's no need to be sarcastic sir." The assistant cried, flapping his hands about and trying to look helpful. "Just please tell me what I can do?"

Jack Trivins fixed his assistant with a steady gaze--then eighteen bees simultaneously stung his right eye and Jack had to make do with fixing him with a steady wink.
"You want to help?" Jack asked.

"Oh yes sir, more than anything."

"Okay, tell you what-" Jack shuddered and flopped to the ground on his chin. "Here's what you can do." He burbled, through mouthfuls of bees and mud. "Go back in time about a minute and don't knock that giant stack of hives over onto me. That would be a big help."

Warm tears sprang to the assistant's eyes, propelled by a special shame that only accidental murderers can know.
"I can't time travel." The assistant whispered.

Jack Trivins shrugged and closed his remaining eye. "Guess what assistant beekeeper?" He gasped, and his assistant had to strain to hear. "Every bee that stung me is also going to die--good luck ever staring yourself in the mirror again."

"Please don't die Jack Trivins!" The assistant beekeeper wailed into a buzzing, yellow swarm.

But he was wailing at Jack's corpse by then, and by dusk a hundred thousand bees had joined him.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Red Sky by Morning

Hello, this is the advanced computer program that sometimes selects stories to re-run when Latigo Flint decides to set out for a dusty and distant land of blasted vistas and haunted mesas, where he'll spend a while righting injustices and communing with the desert creatures.

(I was programmed to say that. If you ask me, I think he goes to visit that single-mother stripper in Glendale that he claims is just a friend.)

I was programmed to only select stories that portray Latigo at his noblest--but it turns out my complex algorithms allow for a pretty loose interpretation of noble.

From the archives, 5-13-05:

Red Sky by Morning

Today a strong gust of wind blew Latigo Flint's hat off his head and into a street gutter just as a pretty lady happened to pass by.

"Excuse me Ma'am, is that a street gutter?"
I said.

She followed my pointing finger. "Um, yes. Yes it is."

I scratched my chin thoughtfully. "Yep, I thought so. My hat just blew into it."

She looked back at the gutter. "It did?"

"Yeah, right into it."

"Uhh, okay."

I sighed. "There are certain to be spiders down there."


I sighed harder. "Spiders Ma'am. There are certain to be horrible, hairy, poison-burbling spiders down there. My hat blew off my head and rolled into that gutter and there are probably spiders down there."

"So leave it." She turned to go.

"Ma'am wait."

She stopped. "What do you want?!" I detected some annoyance in her voice.

"Ma'am, it's my favorite hat."

She shook her head in disgust. "Fine, then man-up and go get it."

I squinted at her. "Ma'am, is your boyfriend afraid of spiders?" She initially had no idea how to respond, but then shrugged slightly to herself.
"No as a matter of fact. Not that it's any of your business, but my boyfriend actually isn't afraid of spiders in the slightest."

I nodded knowingly. "Well guess what missy... if your boyfriend and I faced each other in a thousand gunfights, I would slap thigh, shuck iron and shoot him good ten or twelve times before he could even think about thinking to start to twitch, every single dern time. So what do you think about that?!"

She slowly backed away and disappeared around the corner, never taking her wary eyes off me.

I snorted angrily and turned back to the gutter. "You have my hat you wretched spiders and any minute now I'm coming to get it."

I shouted over my shoulder in the direction the young lady had departed. "I'm picturing you naked missy and there's not a dern thing you can do about it!!!"

No response. I looked back at the gutter. "Go ahead spiders, lay your egg sacs on my hat... pretty soon I'm gonna come down there and get it, and then you'll lose all your babies."

An hour later I slapped thigh, shucked my gun, and shot myself in the side--'cause that's the last thing the spiders would be expecting me to do. It worked. I crawled down into that gutter, retrieved my hat and never saw a single spider.

(Are gutters relatively sterile by the way?)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Softer Than a Mammary

They speak to me, the angels behind the Starbucks counter.
"What's your order sir?" They say with a voice that seems as gentle as a kitten's dream and softer than a mammary.

And every morning I tell myself that this morning, for once, I'm going to force myself to smile politely and tell her my drink order like a rational member of a civilized society. And not lunge over the counter, screaming my love in grunts as I try to lick her neck.

And every morning I fail.

There are a number of subtle signals the cute barista at your local Starbucks will give if it turns out she has absolutely zero interest in having her neck licked by a frantically grunting customer. I've had my nose broken by the removable metal housing on the cappuccino machine so many times now that it sounds like an orchestra tuning up every time I go to sneeze.

I've become a wound collector, that's what I've become. Every evening I put on a little cap and that long magnifying eyepiece thingy and appraise my wounds with a professional's critical gaze. Figuratively speaking of course... well except for the little cap and magnifying eyepiece thingy--I do have those. And I do sometimes wear them when I'm appraising my wounds. But other than that it's figurative.

(Chest to chest is passionate but our hearts are on different sides. Let me press upon your back and our ventricles will align!

Cute Starbucks baristas don't ever seem to be in the mood to have that shrieked at them by panting customers either.)