Words by Mike Baron

WORDS

Story is a dynamic narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many elements contribute to successful story including characterization (William Faulkner,) lively dialogue (George V. Higgins,) an exciting concept (Michael Crichton,) mood (Shirley Jackson,) or a wild plot (Randy Wayne White.) You construct them all with words. How many words? However many you need to achieve the effect. Can you use too many words? You sure can, but words are the building blocks of story. Whenever I see that asinine challenge, what’s the scariest story you can tell in six words, I want to shake the challenger by the collar. You can’t build a house with six bricks.

Some authors are drunk on words. Anthony Burgess, Michael Chabon, and Marlon James come to mind. Some authors parcel their words like Ebeneezer Scrooge. Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. However you do it, the goal is the same: to grab the reader by the throat and drag him into the narrative to the exclusion of all else. You want to write a book that makes the reader resent anything that interrupts his reading.

Badger Novel, Mike Baron

The Badger novel is about ninety per cent finished, but other projects have taken my attention. What could possibly be more important that the Badger novel? Bringing home the bacon! And yes, I’ve seen the video with the coyote and the badger! Everybody and my sister sent it to me.

BADGER THREE “Adiosky”

“Quit what?” Ham replied.

“Take this job and shove it!”

Mavis leveled a finger. “He born for better things than shoveling shit!”

“See here, old chap! If you don’t want to shovel shit, why didn’t you just say so? I have plenty of other work for you. We need to repair that old storage shed. And when we’re done with that, I’d like you to plant mint in the garden. I hear it deters rabbits.”

Mavis wagged that finger.

“Badger work for you long enough. Where his IRA? Where his pension plan?”

Ham spread his hands. “I pay him a hundred thousand dollars a year, same as you. I provide room and board. Surely you have the wherewithal to fund your own IRA.”

“Not point! This man great martial artist! We open school.”

“See here, old chap! You’ve been with me since the beginning! Do you want more money? What if I were to give you a fancy title? Director of Security! I’ll give you an office.”

“Boss, I just feel my potential is wasted shoveling shit. I haven’t fought a demon in years. I wouldn’t know how to fight one now. The demons never come around anymore. I’ve always dreamed of opening my own studio.”

Badger raised his hands. “Go. Go with my blessing. But before you go, would you be so kind as to recommend a replacement? Someone who can do what you do.”

Badger thought long and hard. “Wombat.”

“What, that berserker from Australia? Is that a good idea?”

Mavis seized Badger by the arm. “Is best idea.”

“Do you have contact info?”

“Wire Wombat, Canberra,” Mavis said.

“He’s on Facebook,” Badger said.

“I’ll try that. Very well. Will you be in touch?”

“Of course,” Badger said. “I just want to try something new. If any demons show up, give me a holler.”

Ham collapsed in his chair, which squeaked and groaned. “Fine.”

“You’re not mad?”

“I’m a little disappointed. I should have been more attentive. I thought you liked shoveling shit!”

Mavis seized the Vietnamese vase from its plinth.

“Wait a minute,” Ham said.

“This is my vase. I only let you borrow because you wanted to study, remember? You no study.”

Ham turned to Badger exasperated. “She speaks perfect English when she wants, doesn’t she?”

“You want demon, I crack vase over skull! Then you see demon!”

“I was hoping to see the demon without violence.”

Mavis snorted in disgust. “We also taking dogs.”

“Fine! Take them.”

“Dog missing. Did you eat?”

Ham looked up, startled. “What? What dog? No! I don’t eat dogs!”

“Then why you name him Waffles?”

Ham stood and waved his arms. “Go! Go with my blessing, curse you!”

Mavis grabbed Badger’s hand and yanked him out of the office. “I already pack. I get car. You get dogs.”

Badger sat on the flagstone floor of the entryway and sucked his thumb. Mavis knelt before him and took his head in her hands. “Norbert. Norbert. I’m sorry I mentioned Waffles. You have to be a man now, for the sake of the dogs.”

Badger looked at her with fearful eyes, then looked away.

Mavis cupped her hands and howled like a wolf. Badger sprang into a fighting stance, like Travis Bickle.

“Where are the wolves?”

Mavis gestured broadly. “They’re out there. But right now, I need you to get all the dogs together. We’re leaving.”

As a result of severe childhood abuse at the hands of his stepfather, Norbert Sykes had issues. The American Psychiatric Association, which flitted from trend to trend like a butterfly, had recently decided that multiple personality disorder did not exist. They now characterized what used to be known as MPD into four types.

Dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization disorder, derealization disorder, and dissociative amnesia disorder. Badger’s therapist, Daisy Fields, who also served as Ham’s secretary, tried to keep up. But it was impossible to keep up. She had diagnosed Badger with five separate personalities: Gastineau Grover DePaul, a tough inner-city black, Emily, a six year old girl, Max Swell, a gay architect, Leroy, a dog, and Pierre, a mass murderer. Daisy had done her best, but until Badger met Mavis, he was all over the place.

Since Mavis had come into his life, he was calmer and more focused. She possessed an intuitive understanding of psychosis from dealing with animals all her life. She was born in Vietnam. They met at a martial arts tournament.

“Dogs!” she snapped.

“Right!” Badger said, stepping out the main entrance onto the broad front stoop. Inserting two fingers, he whistled. Barks and howls emanated from every corner. Five dogs lined up in a row, wagging their tails. Synchronized. Bob was a black border collie/golden retriever mix. Mack was a female pug/Boston terrier mix. Freddy was a collie/dingo mix. Ermagerd was a female snickerdoodle. Otis was some kind of hound.

“Dogs, you’re wondering why I called you here. We’re moving to a new home. No dog left behind. The food will be the same. Has anyone seen Leroy?”

They all started barking at once.

Mavis pulled up in a 1990 GMC Suburban pulling a trailer. They stuck their suitcases in the trailer. The dogs piled in. Badger got the shotgun seat.

“Is this everything?”

“No. We come back.”

“Where we going?”

“I rent farmhouse from Old MacDonald. I save foal last winter. He like me.”

Badger remembered a cold, windy night, staying up with Mavis in the drafty barn, Mavis’ arms up to her elbows inside the mare, gently easing the foal into its new life. Old MacDonald had called it a miracle. There were two houses on his property, the modest ranch style in which he and his wife of fifty years lived, and the old double decker that had belonged to his parents. The senior MacDonalds had lived there until they passed, several years ago. They were buried on the property, as were their parents.

Before they could leave, Daisy Fields ran out the front door. A shapely blond in her mid-thirties, she wore creased tan Banana Republic slacks, a vintage flapper blouse, and glasses.

“Stop! Stop! Where are you going?”

Mavis stood on the driver’s seat through the sun roof, pointing down the road. “We move to 221 Baker Street, five miles that way. You join us for dinner tonight, Hoity Toity. Pick you up at s.x”

“What? Why?”

Badger stood on the shotgun seat. “I want to open my own kung fu school.”

Mavis put her arm around his shoulders. “He tired of shoveling shit!”

“Oh no! Oh no! You can’t go! You’re the reason I’m here.”

“Nonsense,” Mavis said. “Ham relies on you. You do real work! Accounting. Administrative. He needs you more than Badger.”

Daisy looked like she was about to cry. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Don’t worry about it!” Badger said. “We’ll pick you up at six!”

“Can you at least leave me a dog?”

Badger lowered himself and turned to face the dogs. “Boys, who wants to stay here with Daisy? I need a volunteer.”

Otis leaped out the window, ran up the stairs, and licked Daisy as she crouched to hug him.

“Miss Fields, I need you!” Ham called through the open window.

Mavis started the engine. “Back later, pick you up at six.”

Daisy watched them drive down the perfect black asphalt and exit through the stone gate onto Brotherhood Lane.

Too late, she called out, “Wait! Wait! That can’t be your address! Sherlock Holmes lives there!”

Sludge, Mike Baron

SLUDGE

Kim and I set out to see Batman at the Carmike, which lies across the railroad tracks behind Karate West. The city’s revising Mason Street with new rails and a commercial bus line and the whole city has been a clusterfuck since May when they started the Repairs. Every year, the same streets, the same repairs, and the construction crews don’t communicate with one another so it sometimes seems as if the city has become a giant rat maze, at least for drivers.

We were on foot. We crossed the tracks and saw that the City has blocked off the pedestrian bridge over the ditch. “Come on,” Kim said, leading the way by climbing between the plastic yellow ribbons strung across each end. Plastic yellow ribbons that said, DO NOT CROSS. It was about 96 out, which caused the black ink on the yellow plastic ribbons to turn into crankcase engine oil. Mere seconds after climbing through the final strand I noticed the heavy gray sludge on my arm and legs. Likewise Kim.

We spent some time in the men’s room cleaning up.

The movie was good.

On the way back we steered around the fateful bridge and as we neared the sidewalk a well upholstered city employee with a yellow hard hat and coveralls on approached us with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Uh-huh. I saw you boys go across that bridge. Now you know why we put those ribbons up.”

Florida Man, Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN

I don’t choose my stories, my stories choose me. I knew “Trail of the Loathesome Swine” was a great title, but it took me thirty years to find the story. It’s about a feral hog that eats a boy’s sister, and his pursuit of vengeance. It’s a funny story. The writer’s first duty is to entertain.

Day after day my feed was filled with Florida Man stories. There’s a compilation site: floridaman.com. Thousands of stories. After being socked in the face with my thousandth, I realized that the Muse was asking me to put them into a hysterical narrative. Thus was born Florida Man. It instantly became my best selling title under my own name. The Western I wrote, Killer’s Train, is the best selling. Go figure. There’s a huge audience for Westerns, so I’m doing another under the same pen name, A.W. Hart.

My publisher asked me for a Florida Man sequel. At first I thought there was nothing more to say. Then I went to that website. Man, was I wrong. There’s enough Florida Man material to fill a dozen books. So here I am toiling away on Florida Man 2, and the problem isn’t enough material, but too much! The latest stories involve frozen iguanas dropping from trees and bonking people in the head. And then this gem:

Florida Man Fills Car with Frozen Iguanas, They Warm Up, Come Back to Life, Cause Accident .

And under the headline: Sorry, this post has been removed by the moderators of r/news. Moderators remove posts from feeds for a variety of reasons, including keeping communities safe, civil, and true to their purpose.

God bless our moderators, ever vigilant lest we harm ourselves!

My latest Florida Man review was posted yesterday:

Five out of 5 stars. Mike Baron captured the essence of Florida in this book. So many blunders in pursuit of doing the right thing sometimes befall even the best of men. The references to. Small town Florida life are perfectly portrayed without becoming overdone and the antics of the wildlife is also dead on. A great escape.

Please check out my coffee spewing novel at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07X118GT4?pf_rd_p=ab873d20-a0ca-439b-ac45-cd78f07a84d8&pf_rd_r=MCYPFZZHHRECA65S11RK

The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Whenever I’m about to start a story, whether on my own or at the request of others, I work up an outline that covers most of the plot. But it’s not just a road map, it’s an advertisement for the story. I make that outline fun to read. When you outline your story, always do so with the intention of showing it to others, even if you never do. The goal of the outline is to excite interest. Once someone finishes the outline, they should say, “Holy moly! Now I want to read the book!” I am currently writing a Western called The Curse of The Black Rose. It’s about ninja nuns. No kidding. It’s not my idea. Here is the outline:

Rancher Cobb Hansen brings in Chaco, a wounded, dehydrated Indian boy to the mission at Santo Tomas where the nuns nurse him. Chaco escaped from General Alcala Nebres, a rogue Castilian forced to flee Spain due to his participation in a plot to overthrow King Alfonso. Nebres sailed to Mexico where he claimed an ancient land grant in Hidalgo Province, while rebel forces seek to depose President Diaz, who gave him a land grant in exchange for his support. Before rebels forced him north, Nebres plundered an ancient Mayan temple, claiming it belonged to him.

Nebres has moved north into Chihuahua, but even there, the revolution nips at his heels. He travels with is own priest and gives confession daily. Determined to carve out his own kingdom, Nebres looks across the Rio Grande at Texas. Chaco says Nebres enslaves and tortures Indians and Mexicans alike.

Mother Mercy dispatches Catalina, Sister Sofia, and Sister Caroline Harp to check it out, and if what Chaco says is true, to kill Nebres and free the slaves. Cobb Hendricks’ ranch is in flames, Hendricks barely alive to describe the attack. Nebres stole his cattle and drove them across the river.

In Mexico, a rebel patrol “escorts” them to Pancho Villa, who recently escaped prison and is deeply troubled by his actions. He seeks absolution but nuns can’t hear confession. Catalina questions him on Nebres, with whom Villa has been feuding. Nebres claims a mandate from God and from Mayan deity Itzamna to create his own land. Villa is determined to drive him out of Mexico. He chews coca leaves constantly, and plans to cultivate the plant.

The nuns accompany Villa on his raid against Nebres’ men, who have taken over the tiny town of Sagrado Corazon, killing the men, abusing the women, and taking their prized Miura fighting bulls. The nuns join the fight, astonishing both sides who have never seen fighting nuns. A captured lieutenant reveals that Nebres has staked out a vast territory in New Mexico and declared himself an independent nation. Itzama has made Nebres invincible, attracting embittered Spanish/American war veterans. Rough Riders.

Catalina learned strategy and history from Aguiles and his sons. Disguised as Apache, Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline head north, onto Apache land. Surrounded, they reveal themselves and demand unarmed combat. The Apache are astonished. Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline kick butt, astonishing the Apache who adopt the three nuns into the tribe and agree to help the Sisters. Nebres’ men raped and murdered an Apache woman and killed her child. The Apaches catch up with the raiders. Catalina recognizes one from Elan’s description. Surrounded by Apache, the braggart challenges one of them to fight him hand to hand. Wearing warpaint, Catalina mutilates him, puts him on a horse and sends him back to Nebres with a message. Vengeance is coming.

From the Guadalupe Mountains, the sisters view Nebres’ through telescopes. He has taken over the San Cristobal Mission and put his troops to work building corrals and robbing trains. The mortally wounded priest curses Nebres. “God will send an angel disguised as a devil. She will take your soul.”

New Mexico is barely four months a state when a platoon from Fort Diggs arrives to ascertain whether the rumors are true. Nebres’ men slaughter the soldiers and send the captain away beaten and naked, tied backwards on his horse.

Nebres has heard about the mysterious convent and its warrior nuns. His man barely made it back before dying, but not before he delivered Lina’s message. Father Armando assures him that he is a good man and that those who resist him are evil. The mission has its own well and four hundred men. Ring Lardner interviews the general for the New York Herald, sees Nebres fight a bull.

Catalina sees no need to fight an army. All they need do is cut off the head. A night attack at the east gate allows Catalina, Sofia, and Caroline to enter the compound, disguised as Apache from the west. Sofia and Caroline run off with two hundred horses, leading Nebres’ men straight into an Apache ambush. But the Apache are outnumbered and melt into the landscape after killing a dozen of Nebres’ warriors. The troops return to the mission where Nebres celebrates his “great victory,” posing for Lardner’s camera, dictating his legend.

Nebres promises Lardner the most exciting bull fight he has ever seen on the morrow, his men bringing in prostitutes from nearby Bennett. Sofia and Caroline Harp return in the dark.

At noon, Nebres prepares for his “moment of destiny,” prays to the Holy Virgin, puts on his matador gear and walks into the arena before hundreds of his men and grandees from surrounding ranches. But when the chute is opened, it is not the bull that emerges, but Sister Catalina in her fighting gear, her face painted.

Progress, Mike Baron

Progress is a double-edged sword. The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away. I have been a devotee of newsstands ever since visiting a fully-stocked magazine store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I love magazines. I have subscribed to countless over the years including National Geo, Vanity Fair, Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Road&Track, American Spectator, and Downbeat.

When I moved to Colorado, there were two outstanding magazine outlets. The News Cafe in Loveland, and Al’s News in Fort Collins. They had hundreds, if not thousands of magazines on display and copious paperbacks. I could spend hours in them just looking through the various magazines. The music sections alone were stuffed with periodicals. Rolling Stone. Spin. Downbeat. Under the Radar. Living Blues. There were two or three different model car magazines.

We are undergoing a paradigm shift that is killing the printed periodical. Most of it is the internet. Why shlep downtown when you can dial up whatever your heart fancies on your phone? Well here’s one reason. In a magazine, you can flip past the ads by turning the page. Also, the ads were more thoughtful, designed to engage, and contained exciting graphics. On the internet, the ads are shrieking monsters that appear designed to piss people off. They cover content, often for long minutes with no way to get rid of them. Finally, reluctantly, a tiny, nay, an INFINITESIMAL ‘X’ appears in the far northwest corner of the screen, as far from the ad as possible. When you move your cursor over the X, it runs to another part of the screen. I make a point of not noticing who the advertiser is because I’m not interested. Or if I do take note, it’s to avoid their product or service.

I understand advertisers need to monetize the internet, but there has to be a better way.

Also, I think we have a generation that doesn’t read. Raised on video games and electronic media, they have no interest in books. Certainly not in books without pictures.

Coffee News closed down a couple years ago. Al’s News closed down last year. The only place you can find magazines is Barnes & Noble, which is hanging on by its fingernails, or the supermarket which grudgingly shows a few popular titles.

We also have a risk-adverse population. Motorcycle sales are down. There used to be five or six monthly general interest motorcycle magazines. All that remains are Cycle World and Motorcyclist, both of whom have gone quarterly. They are waving the white flag. There aren’t enough new models to cover, so they feature artsy-fartsy photo spreads of cracked asphalt or dirt bikes in the distance. They feature articles about “Titanium–the Miracle Metal!”

Road&Track is still monthly, but instead of three or four complete road tests each issue, we’re likely to get one, plus endless artsty-fartsy photo spreads of ancient tires, racetracks at dusk, and ruminations on the future of the electric car. Road&Track’s last issue got woke and started railing against the internal combustion engine. They never discuss the source of the electricity powering their Teslas and Leafs, which is, of course, coal-burning powerplants.

Horror by Mike Baron

We all love horror entertainment. But we don’t all love the same type of horror. For me, true horror is an evocation of the unknown, a cold finger on the spine that suggests malignant forces just out of range that can be revealed via ritual or stupidity, devastating all that is good and safe. The Exorcist is among the greatest horror movies because it does this so effectively, using traditions and superstitions that have been around as long as mankind. It has the weight of the church behind it, whether or not we’re Catholic.

Never saw Exorcist II. It doesn’t have a good reputation. But Exorcist III, ah, Exorcist III, written and directed by William Peter Blatty, is on a par with the first. Don’t believe me just watch. The Japanese excel at cinematic horror. Even the American version of The Ring resonates. The Changeling (1980) will raise hackles, not for any danger to the protagonist (George C. Scott,) but in its ability to evoke supernatural fear.

We love such entertainment because it satisfies an atavistic yearning to believe in something greater than ourselves, even if it’s terrible. And when the lights go up or you finish the book, you’re back safe and warm in your familiar world. Lovecraft resonates because he so effectively delineated another world lurking beyond the veil. Lovecraft’s descriptions are necessarily vague. We can’t really understand the worlds he describes, it’s enough that we believe. Stephen King has touched the spine many times, no better than in The Shining. Michael McDowell does it in The Elementals. William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. And of course Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. This yearning to believe is as old as man, as old as ancient cave drawings of Quezacoatl.

The most effective horror is supernatural. Torture porn has its fans, but precious few horror movies that don’t rely on the supernatural truly resonate. Silence of the Lambs comes to mind. Movies like Don’t Breath, Saw, or Hostel are not supernatural horror, they are sadistic psychological thrillers.

I’ve written three horror novels. Publishers Weekly gave Banshees, about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead, a starred review. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61475-394-0

Skorpio is about a ghost who only appears under a blazing sun. Domain is a haunted house story set in Los Angeles.

Best Crocodile Movie

BEST CROCODILE MOVIE

Monstrous animal movies have been a staple since King Kong. Monstrous animal movies come in many flavors, from atomic mutants (Them, The Deadly Mantis,) to natural but terrifying creatures (Night of the Grizzly.) Jaws put a Saturn booster beneath the terrifying animal genre, begetting dozens of shark movies, many of which are drivel, such as the Jaws sequels, but also including small pleasures such as The Shallows or Deep Blue Sea. Who can forget Samuel L. Jackson’s rousing speech, followed immediately by his demise?

Every deadly animal has its masterpiece. For snakes, it’s Anaconda. Don’t believe the reviews. See it for yourselves. It’s a movie you can watch over and over again. For bears, it’s The Edge, which is not purely a dangerous animal movie, but contains the best human versus grizzly battles. Piranha speaks for itself. If it’s wolves you crave, watch The Grey.

For saurians, Rogue stands above all others. This small masterpiece is mesmerizing from the first frame and compares favorably with Alien. Set in Australia’s Northwest territories, it concerns a monstrous salt water crocodile which traps a group of tourists on a sand bar as the tide rises. Starring Michael Vartan as an American journalist, and Rahda Mitchell as a tour boat operator, Rogue grabs you by the throat and never lets go. The character actor who puts a fly in Vartan’s coffee when he arrives at his remote destination brilliantly personifies the unctuous but treacherous toady.

You don’t see the whole croc until the harrowing ending. I don’t know if this is CGI or what, but it’s brilliantly done, and the croc is the size of a moving van. If you love Jaws and want to see a movie of its caliber, watch Rogue.

Unfortunate Son, Chapter 1, Mike Baron

FIRST CHAPTER FROM UNFORTUNATE SON, THE NEW BIKER NOVEL

CHAPTER ONE “Surprise!”

Josh looked at his father Duane, sitting on his sofa with Josh’s dog Fig in his lap. The same Duane who’d abandoned Josh at a truck stop when Josh was fifteen, from whom he had not heard in two decades.

“What you doing here, Duane?”

Duane looked up with a con man’s grin, deep parenthesis framing his mouth, several day’s stubble clinging to his chin, lank gray hair unkempt. “Is that any way to greet your own father?”

Duane eased Fig off his lap, stood, and walked to Josh with his arms open. “C’mere, boy. How the hell you doin’?”

Josh endured the awkward embrace until Duane stepped back. Duane smelled of graphite, body odor, cigarettes. He’d found an old ashtray in the kitchen, set it on the coffee table in the living room and smoked several butts. He wore dirty blue jeans and a Dolphin’s T with the sleeves cut off to show his ropy, muscular, tatted arms.

“What are you doing here, Duane?”

Duane went into the kitchen, Fig at his heels, opened the refrigerator, took out two cans of Capital Lager and tossed one to Josh, who caught it one-handed.

“Been hearing a lot about you. I’m proud of you, boy. Proud the way you turned out. You’re a man now. Solvin’ crimes, killin’ bad guys.”

“You had nothing to do with it. You’re as sentimental as a catfish. What do you want?”

Duane popped the can and guzzled, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Why would you think that? Maybe I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”

Josh snapped his fingers. Fig trotted over and sat next to him, looking up. “Because you’re a con man. You haven’t worked a real job in your life. The whole time I was with you, all you did was scam people. The old dropped wallet trick. Shoplifting. All those women you took advantage of.”

Duane looked pained. “Maybe I’ve changed, you ever think of that? You changed. You were a rake hell. They called you Chainsaw because of that one thing, and now you’re a born-again Christian, ain’t that right? You’re on a mission from God.”

“What do you want, Duane?”

Duane flopped onto the sofa and put his feet on the coffee table. “I just want to stay here for a few days. I love your dog. I won’t be any trouble.”

“How’d you get in?”

“Climbed the fence and used the doggy door.”

The anxiety Josh had experienced when he saw the Camaro in his front yard blossomed into a full-bore suck hole in the middle of his chest, summoning unwanted childhood memories. Walking in on Duane fucking some girl. Watching Duane dip into her purse while she slept. Fleeing in the middle of the night because Duane had committed some felony. The road rage. Duane waving his gun and trying to run another car off the road.

One night in November he did run another car off the road. It was a station wagon full of kids who’d dared to pass while flipping them the bird. Duane floored his 350 cubic inch Camaro and gave chase. The car’s body was shot anyway. He couldn’t afford a shiny new car, or even a shiny car, but he always found a way to get that Camaro with the big engine. Josh remembered the car was pale yellow with rust spots, the hood was brown, and the driver’s door was primer gray.

“YO MOTHERFUCKER!” Duane bellowed into the wind, which whipped his words away. Those kids couldn’t hear shit, the way they were blasting Beastie Boys. They never saw Duane coming. He cut the lights, zoomed up on their left, slammed the wheel to the right and stuck with it, big, fifteen-inch wheels and tires, ramming the wagon into the ditch where it rolled over once before coming to a stop.

Josh watched the whole thing through his window, mouth open, hanging on to the grip with both hands. Heart in mouth. What the fuck. He was ten years old.

“That’ll teach ‘em,” Duane said, heading on down the highway.

They crashed in seedy apartments, trailers and tract houses with Duane’s friends, all the same creepy crowd, grifters, drifters, penny ante thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers, too smart to work. Everyone had an angle and a rap. Everyone had a way to beat the system. Most had food stamps and disability. Some had pit bulls. Josh always wondered, why the pit bulls?

Josh slept on a lumpy sofa in the living room, or in a closet if Duane and his buddies got too loud snorting coke and drinking Fleischmann’s vodka. They’d toss back valium to ease the descent.

Josh remembered waiting in a ‘69 Camaro with the engine running while Duane ran into a pharmacy “to get some cold medicine.” Minutes later, Duane erupted from the front door clutching a paper bag, slid behind the wheel and floored it. They fishtailed out of town. Josh saw the butt of a pistol protruding from Duane’s pants.

Josh popped his beer and sat in a chair facing Duane. “Who’s after you?”

Duane drained his can and belched, putting his whole torso into it. Duane was proud of his belch. “What makes you say that?”

“’Cuz I know you, Duane. You’re only in it for number one. You never cared about anything in your life except getting yourself over. I still don’t know who my mother is.”

“I think her name was Karen Pratt. Haven’t seen her since she dumped your little bundle of joy on my doorstep.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t put me up for adoption. Or dump me in the woods like you did that dog. Remember McKeesport? I wanted to go to school but you couldn’t get your shit together? So I went down and registered myself and they asked me for my birthday. I didn’t know what my birthday was. It was April first, so that’s my birthday now.”

Again, that pained look. “Son, you gotta give me a chance. I’m not the same person I was.”

Josh stared. Duane looked away. He leaned forward to scratch Fig’s ears. “Your dog likes me. They say dogs are excellent judges of character.”

“Not that dog.”

“Hey, I could eat a baby’s butt through a park bench. Whatcha got to eat around here?”

Josh seethed. He didn’t want this. He’d trained himself not to think about his father.

“Come on. We’ll go get a burger.”

Duane clapped. “Now you’re talkin’.”

Outside, Josh eyed the ‘97 Camaro. It was faded dark blue with rust spots and twin tailpipes.

“That there’s an SS with the 330 HP LT4 small block engine from the Corvette. That there’s special.”

“Anyone lookin’ for you?”

“Well let’s get some grub and I’ll tell you about that.”

“Do me a favor. Lose the pistol.”

Duane drew the pistol, looked at it, leaned into the Camaro and stuck it deep in the seat cushions.

They got in Josh’s 300 and headed east toward Madison. Duane pulled a pack of Marlboros from his pants. “Mind if I smoke?”
Josh lowered all the windows. What was the point? Duane was going to do what Duane was going to do. He’d always been that way. They drove to the Laurel Tavern on Monroe Street, a family-friendly pub that had been there for forty years. The interior was dark and boisterous with families catching an early dinner before heading home to Netflix and video games, or couples just starting the night. They took a booth. The twenty-something waitress had long purple hair on one side of her skull, nothing on the other, and a unicorn tat on her arm. Duane stared like a hungry dog. They ordered burgers. Josh got a beer, Duane went for two shots of Canadian Club and a Miller chaser.

“You should try some of the local brews,” Josh said looking around. “You don’t have to drink Miller.”

“By the time I get to that beer, I won’t give a shit. Ja see that cooze? You got a girlfriend?”

“Had one, but she died.”

“No shit. That happened to me. A couple times.” He pulled out a cig and lit it one-handed with a kitchen match. A stout man with wife and two kids at an adjacent table looked over.

“No smoking in here.”

Duane did a double-take, stabbed the cig out on the bottom of his shoe and dropped the butt.

“Who’s after you, Duane?”

Duane looked around. Con-wise, just like his son. Josh, a licensed private investigator, had never looked at Duane’s record. He didn’t want to know.

“Y’know who Ryan Gehrke is?”

“Sure. The Miami wide receiver who took a knee.”

Duane stabbed a nicotine-stained finger at Josh. “You know why he took a knee?”

“Racism or some shit.”

Duane showed yellow teeth. “He was protesting systemic racism in the justice, and in the cops. I gotta tell ya, I think he’s right on the money with the cops. They’re all rotten. Some of ‘em are killers. That cop in Cinci. They were in a Wal-Mart when that seventeen-year-old kid picked up an air rifle in the gun department. Two cops run in screaming and shot ‘em. They didn’t tell him to drop the gun or put up his hands. None of that shit. Bang bang. Very sorry. They both walked. Pigs said they had reasonable concern for their safety.”

“Did Ryan shoot them?”

Duane shook his head like he was talking to a dummy. “Noooo, it’s just one of the issues we discussed.”

“You and Ryan?”

The waitress came, plopping down drinks and burgers. Josh put ketchup on his burger. Duane tossed down the shot. He tossed down the next shot and looked around for the waitress.

Josh gripped his burger. “Whoa there, pardner. You don’t want to go blotto just yet.”

Duane finished his burger in six bites. He had coyote jaws. He chugged the Miller. He belched long and loud, causing heads to turn. Distaste. Disgust. Duane.

“So where were you talking to Ryan?” Josh said.

Duane pushed the dishes aside and leaned on his elbows. “At his crib in Miami. Man, you should see it. He’s got this fuckin’ estate in the same neighborhood as Desmond Pow, right on the beach. Pool, cabana, hot and cold running babes, the best champagne, all the cocaine you can snort, celebrities, you know who I saw?”

“What the fuck were you doing there?”

Duane spread his hands, nonplussed. “Where do you think he got his cocaine?”

Serial Killer Man

SERIAL KILLER MAN

I first met Serial Killer Man at Rocky Mountain Comic Con several years ago. An unprepossessing fellow, he approached my table with a portfolio which he laid out. Hideous, childish, pencil and crayon scrawls of skulls, demonic figures and symbols.

“Charles Manson sent me this.”

Everybody has a hobby. Serial Killer Man’s hobby was corresponding with serial killers, exchanging artwork, sometimes visiting them and getting photographs. He had a clown drawn by John Wayne Gacy. I think he had pictures of himself posing with Gacy. It was a while ago and I can’t remember. I, too, was obsessed with serial killers. Many writers are. We seek to understand the nature of evil so we can write about it. I read and I read until I could read no more. I read Ann Rule and Jack Olsen. I read Aphrodite Jones and Stephen G. Michaud. Serial killers captured the public imagination and are everywhere. Countless television programs and movies. Luther, Mind Hunter, Dexter, The Fall, Hannibal, Alienest, The Prodigal Son. The serial killer is the perfect modern day bogeyman, embodying our darkest fears. An evil force who chooses strangers.

It’s only natural for normal people to muse about the nature of evil, and wonder what would compel someone to systematically track down and murder strangers. As long as you don’t dwell on it. As Nietzsche said, “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Think about all the ladies who have corresponded with infamous killers, visited them in prison, and even married them.

I saw Serial Killer Man again last week at the Rocky Mountain Con. He’s a regular. This time he had pictures of himself posing with one of the so-called Tool Box Killers in a California prison. SKM is unprepossessing and harmless. He also loves comics. He has an extensive collection of original art. Only it’s not from comics. I’ll probably see him again next year.