All posts by annbaron

Killer Nuns, by Mike Baron

KILLER NUNS

I recently wrote my second Western under the psudonym, A.W. Hart. It’s called Killer’s Train. It instantly became my best selling novel. People are crazy for Westerns! This is from my second Western, also by A.W. Hart, called Curse of the Black Rose. It’s about a group of killer nuns on the Texas/Mexico border in the early twentieth century.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN “We Are Not Like Other Nuns”

It was dusk. The town held its breath as the six riders strolled their horses down Main Street, stropping in front of the hotel. Their leader, a tall man with a Mayan face, stood in his stirrups.

“OLA! I CLAIM THIS TERRITORY IN THE NAME OF GENERALLISIMO ALCALA NEBRES! YOU ARE HIS SUBJECTS ACCORDING TO THE LAND GRANT ISSUED BY KING FERDINAND VII. GENERAL NEBRES IS A FAIR AND JUST RULER. OBEY HIM IN ALL THINGS AND YOU WILL PROSPER. GIVE US THE BOY AND WE’LL LEAVE!”

A .44 caliber bullet punched him off his horse. The crack reverberated as the remaining soldiers gained control of their horses and turned around, running a gauntlet as they raced for the open plains. It was impossible to aim accurately from a galloping horse and they didn’t try. It was survival time. Delacroix had had enough. A second soldier fell from his saddle in front of the stables, his foot caught in the stirrup as the horse dragged him for a hundred feet before he slipped out. The four remaining soldiers high-tailed it amid a flurry of lead.

Catalina, crouched by an open window on the second floor of the Arlington, didn’t fire a shot. Fifteen minutes later, the mayor and his makeshift posse gathered on the hotel’s broad front porch as a dozen citizens stood in the street.

A thin man in a derby climbed the steps and faced Slemons. “Why did you do that? Now they’re just going to come back and burn this town to the ground!”

“What were we supposed to do, Shaffner? Let them have their way with us? How did that work out yesterday when they shot the sheriff and the bank manager?”

“It wasn’t the same bunch!” Shaffner whined.

“What does it matter? Who do you think is going to come and save us? Our rider hasn’t even reached Cruzado! And then it’ll take ’em another day to alert the commander at Fort Bliss. We don’t even know how many men they have. According to these sisters, General Nebres has over four hundred.”

“What sisters?” Shaffner demanded.

Catalina and Sofia stepped forward wearing their blue habits. Caroline was with the children.

“This town is under the protection of the Mission at Santo Tomas.”

Shaffner barked. “A bunch of nuns? A fat lot of good that’ll do.”

Catalina smiled. “We are not like other nuns.”

“Oh yeah? What? Don’t tell me you know how to shoot.”

Catalina turned to the mayor. “May I borrow your pistol?”

The mayor flipped it in his hand and gave it to her butt first. Catalina picked up an empty bottle and tossed it to Shaffner who caught it in both hands. “Toss that bottle in the air, Mr. Shaffner. As high as you can throw.”

Shaffner looked around, as if for support. All eyes were on him. He underhanded the bottle into the air and as it hovered at its apex, Catalina drew her pistol and shattered it. Shards plunked to the dirt.

A man in back said, “I never seen such a thing.”

Catalina immediately regretted her sin of pride.

Holy Father, please forgive me.

“We will stay with you until the danger has passed.”

“What if he brings his whole dang army?” someone called from the back.

“That won’t happen,” Catalina said. “He has declared the Hansen Ranch the center of his new empire. He murdered Mr. and Mrs. Hansen. Only his son Arnold survived, to bring us news of this atrocity.”

Arnold stood at the head of the stairs. “I saw him gut my folks with a sword. For nothing! I tried to kill him, but I missed. I didn’t miss this time. You can’t reason with these people. They are in this country illegally. They want what’s ours. We either fight ’em, or roll over and play dead.”

The arrival of twenty horse soldiers entering Delacroix from the north stopped all talk until the unit reached the hotel. A lieutenant wearing cavalry colors and a hat with a vertical front brim spoke, his horse putting him even with the people on the porch.

“Lieutenant Ted Buck, U.S. Cavalry. Who’s in charge here?”

“I’m Mayor Slemons. We lost our sheriff yesterday. Robbers killed him. We just run off six banditos from a General Nebres. You got our message?”

“Your man Miller hailed us yesterday. Lucky for you we were out on patrol. Looking for Naiche. Where can my men water their horses?”

“There’s a trough out front of the livery down at the end of the street.”

Buck dismounted, handing his reins to his second in command. “Take care of the horses. Set guards.”

“Yes sir.”

The lieutenant stepped up on the porch and shook Slemons’ hand. “I’m sorry we missed them. Looks like you did okay. Anybody hurt?”

“We killed two of the bastards,” Slemons said. “This here’s Arnold Hansen. Nebres killed his parents. Arnold shot one of the raiders. Phil Wyatt shot another. Four got away.”

Buck looked at the nuns. “What are these sisters doing here?”

Catalina stepped up. “We’re on our way back to the Mission at Santo Tomas. We rescued a mother and two babes. We are taking them to the mission.”

Buck looked her up and down. “Why’re you holding a pistol? I never saw a nun with a gun.”

“We are not like other nuns.” She returned the pistol the mayor.

Buck raised his eyebrows. “Sister, I urge you to return to your convent and leave the fighting to professionals. Take these children. I have not heard of this General Nebres until now. We will need to conduct surveillance to determine if he’s really brought four hundred soldiers into sovereign U.S. territory.”

“We saw them.”

“Where?”

“The Hansen Ranch, about fifty miles southwest of here.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Following the orders of our Mother Superior, we had gone into Mexico to learn what we could about Nebres. This all started when Cobb Hansen brought in an Indian boy who’d escaped from Nebres’ army.”

Buck made a disbelieving face. “Forgive me if I seem skeptical, but in my experience, nuns don’t involve themselves in military surveillance.”

“We are not like other nuns.”

“Clearly.”

Catalina turned to Sofia. “Get Sister Carolina and the others. We’re going to the mission.” She turned to Slemons. “Sir, could you lend us a horse? I promise we’ll return it.”

“Certainly, Sister. We have you to thank for your warning.”

She turned to Arnold. “I think you should come with us.”

“What for? My fight is here.”

“We would like you to tell our Mother Superior what you saw. We need all the information we can get on Nebres.”

Arnold made a face. He had teeth like a horse. “Why?”

“It may become necessary for us to intervene.”

“What?” Arnold squawked. “You’re a bunch of nuns!”

“We are not like other nuns.”

“Yeah, I heard that.”

Slemons put his hand on Arnold’s shoulder. “I think Arnold could do a lot more good here. We only got twenty soldiers and maybe a half dozen fighting men. What if they come back?”

“Sir, it’s possible we could stop Nebres’ depredations if we can talk to him.”

“How you gonna do that?”

“He’s Catholic. He travels with a priest. We will appeal to his better nature.”

Slemons pulled his head back. “Sister, men like that don’t got no better nature. Remember the Alamo.”

“We will reach out to the Cardinal in Dallas and ask him to intervene. He will threaten Nebres with excommunication. Even a murderous general fears the wrath of the Church.”

“Sister, we truly appreciate what you’ve done for us today. But it’s best for all for you to head on over to the Mission and leave the fightin’ to the men folk.”

Musicals by Mike Baron

MUSICALS


I love musicals. I credit musicals with my interest in music, because the songs must have audience appeal. That means chord changes, bridges, and hooks. When you think of the great musicals, you think of the songs. My Fair Lady: “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Carousel: “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over.” Singin’ in the Rain: “Good Morning.” Gigi: “Thank Heaven For Little Girls.” And the greatest musical of all, The Band Wagon: “That’s Entertainment.” Musicals peaked in the fifties and sixties. The nation was younger, more hopeful and more naive in those days, and musicals were for everybody.


Throughout the Great Depression, movie studios understood their primary job was to entertain. People didn’t go to the theater to be lectured or wallow in misery, although, God knows, there were plenty of movies that did that. Lost Weekend. The Grapes of Wrath. High Sierra.


Musicals have fallen out of favor, but never completely. In the seventies, we had Hair, God Spell, A Chorus Line, GiGi, Saturday Night Fever and Evita. In the eighties we had Little Shop of Horrors, The Best Little Whorehouse, Grease, Fame, and A Chorus Line. In the nineties we had The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Hugh Jackman’s Oklahoma. In fact, Hugh Jackman is a one-man musical revival, having starred in Les Mis and The Greatest Showman as well.


More recently, we have La La Land, The Greatest Showman, Mama Mia, and Pitch Perfect. The modern musical abandons the artifice of ordinary people bursting into song, putting the story in a musical context. A struggling band or singer. I miss the old days when ordinary people burst into song, but I’ll take what I can get. Britain produces some of the best. The Commitments. Hear My Song. Sing Street. If you haven’t seen these, I urge you to check them out. They will send you out of the home theater singing.

The Most Forgiving Medium by Mike Baron

THE MOST FORGIVING MEDIUM

Comics are the most forgiving medium. You can get away with things in comics that you couldn’t in any other medium. Just look at Superman. He first appeared in 1938 and it wasn’t until the advent of television that they tried to transfer him to another medium. The early Superman show with George Reeves was entertaining in its day, but no one watching actually believed a man could fly. It wasn’t until the advent of CGI and multi-million dollar budgets that film caught up with what comics could do with a little ink on paper.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Tick. Men of Mystery. In order for these to succeed, comics had to pave the way. These days, comics have conquered so much popular culture that you can pitch such ideas and be taken seriously. Producers know that comic book awareness is universal, even as comic book sales plummet. The medium invites parody. Trashman. Squirrel Girl. Punisher Vs. Archie. Anybody can string two words together and make a comic about it. And people will buy that comic. Because it’s a comic.

Serious comics that succeed are the exception. Watchmen. Maus. Biographical comics such as Bill Griffith’s Hidden Ink, or much of Fantagraphics’ product come to mind. Fantagraphics is that rare publisher that takes comics seriously, and by that I mean they see comics as a legitimate avenue for serious writing. There are tens of thousands of “serious” comics from major publishers that fail to entertain, because their goal is not to entertain, but to deliver a message. Nothing wrong with it, but the writer’s first duty is to entertain. If you create a lifeless block of lectures and talking heads, the reader will flip the pages until the end, and then toss it in a pile that includes gas station handouts and free weekly fliers.

Comics are the worst medium for horror because the most horrible rendering can’t match what the reader would imagine, had the picture been painted purely in prose, like the work of H.P. Lovecraft or Robert R. McCammon. Yet horror comics proliferate. Readers can’t get enough of them. The old EC horror comics usually ended with a gruesome comeuppance to the psycho protagonist. As far as evoking supernatural terror, fuggedaboudit.

What comics do best, even badly written comics, is create magic between the page and the eye. When you gaze on a full page rendering of an undiscovered city in the Amazon, and the picture draws you in so that you inhabit the environment, that’s magic.

Novels and cinema are the best medium for horror. A skilled novelist can create unforgettable moods, settings, and characters. Remember when you read The Shining? Movies control pacing, lighting, and especially sound. Remember The Exorcist? We love our Universal monsters, and stories about werewolves, vampires, and zombies will always be with us.

As for comics, the writer’s first duty is to entertain. If the reader succeeds, all other things are possible.

Weekend at Dude’s by Mike Baron

WEEKEND AT DUDE’S

Flew to Phoenix last week. Dude met me at the airport. We rode to his house on the farthest fringes of Phoenix at ninety miles per hour. Dude has two dogs. One is an old, fat German shepherd they found quivering in their front yard covered in mud. The dog was chipped. They contacted the owners who lived on the other side of the city. No response. Conclusion: the owners had abandoned the dog on purpose. The Rudes took her in and have been caring for her ever since, nursing her through a rattlesnake bite.

“If I didn’t have three thousand dollars right then, she would have died.”

We shot three short videos which I put up on my Facebook page. They may still be there. On Friday, a cop came to the door. I stepped outside to speak with him. He asked for my ID. He read me my Miranda rights. He burst out laughing. It was a friend of Dude’s who had agreed to this practical joke, and then took us on a ride along to the other side of the tracks. Dozens of pop-up tents crowding the sidewalk. People with no hope collapsed on the concrete waiting for the soup line to open. The officer explained services, and we talked to some of the homeless. One young man had been a star high school athlete, but fell into drugs, fathered a child, and just as he was getting clean, his mother died of cancer.

On Saturday, we went to the Biltmore Astoria, Frank Lloyd Wright’s astonishing hotel in Paradise Valley. Wright’s famous attention to detail was evident in the furniture, the ballroom, the carpet design, and the frescoes, which resembled ancient Egyptian and Mayan art. The food and service were first rate despite the fact we were dressed in rags.

Came back Sunday.

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.