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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.

Florida Man novel, Mike Baron

MORE FLORIDA MEN

I don’t chose my stories. My stories choose me. Every day, a new Florida Man story.

FLORIDA MAN REMOVES NINE FOOT ALLIGATOR FROM POOL

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA FLORIDA MAN SEXUALLY ASSAULTS’ STUFFED OLAF DOLL AT TARGET

Day after day, Florida Man after Florida Man. Florida Women too. It seemed ideal material for a comic so I started writing. By the time I finished the five scripts I had a detailed novel outline. Getting an independent comic off the ground is an iffy proposition. If I were an artist, I would have drawn it myself. But I’m not. And artists don’t work for free. Fortunately, the talented Todd Mulrooney agreed to throw in with me.

I wrote the novel and sent it to Wolfpack publisher Mike Bray. Wolfpack specializes in Westerns, thrillers and crime stories, and Florida Man is comedy. Mike said he’d take a look, he might know someone. After he read it, twice, he said he wanted to publish it himself. So there it is. That’s Todd’s art on the cover.

By now, you are all weary of the blurb:

Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Krystal’s in jail for getting naked at a Waffle House and licking the manager. With his best friend, Floyd, Gary sets out to sell his prized Barry Bonds rookie card to raise the five hundred needed for bail. But things get out of hand.

I had inadvertently joined an informal group of Florida Men whose fascination with that state’s more outre behavior and denizens is something more than a hobby. I hooked up via Florida Men with James Aylott, a former tabloid photographer turned novelist whose novel The Beach House touches on much of the same material. But while Florida Man follows the exploits of one hapless hero, Tales From the Beach House tells the intertwined stories of the denizens of a seedy Delray condominium. It is as packed with intrigue, heartache, and betrayal as a Shakespeare comedy, but is often funny. James uses real headlines to kick off each chapter:

FLORIDA MAN MISTAKES DEAD WOMAN FOR APRIL FOOL’S MANNEQUIN

FLORIDA MAN CAUGHT IN SEX ACT WITH PET CHIHUAHUA

FLORIDA MAN KILLED TESTING BULLET PROOF VEST

James read my book and posted, “Crammed with hysteric high-octane toxic masculinity, and without a hat tip to any sense of modern political correctness the novel “Florida Man” has to be one the must read books of the year! This amazing novel is pure-concentrate Florida fiction and will certainly be inducted to this genres future Pantheon of greats. Gary Duba, the book’s central character has to be a solid contended the Mick Dundee of our times and should be immediately signed up for a new marketing campaign by the Florida tourism board. This truly was an astonishingly good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who isn’t easily offended who is looking for a fun and action packed read. This book has raised the creative bar in the genre of Florida fiction and it will be hard to beat by the many writers who tread that path. I am just glad my next book will be set in Missouri as Florida Man has set a new standard that will be hard to better.”

I thought I’d pretty much covered the territory in that one book, but my publisher feels otherwise. I am planning a sequel. There is no dearth of material. Just go to www.floridaman.com, which sedulously tries to keep track. You can find our books on Amazon.

Bike Trail by Mike Baron

BIKE TRAIL

Fort Collins has excellent bike paths. I frequently ride the Spring Creek Trail which winds through the heart of Fort Collins. I always count the horses. People keep horses here like other people keep dogs. The trail takes me past the CSU Veterinary School. I can usually count on two there. The trail winds past the little free library box outside the fire station at Prospect and Taft. I always take a book, and usually pick one up. The last book I picked up was Beyond Fear by Joel Kramer, who set out to cross New Guinea in 1993 with a friend, using nothing but an inflatable kayak for transportation. It was an incredible journey.

Many people struggle with their bikes. When you ride a bike, your leg must fully extend to the bottom of the cycle, the knee locked. People grunt and strain, standing on their pedals, and their legs never fully extend. I use medieval toe traps, The modern way is special bike shoes that lock into the pedals and are easy to remove. It is astonishing how many people do not observe the most basic rule of the road: stick to the right.

As the trail approaches Spring Canyon, more horses appear, big gorgeous bays on a shaded pocket ranch west of Taft. Just past Spring Canyon heading south is a pocket ranch which can yield up to three horses. The other day I circled back toward it and found its front, hidden behind a fence on a dead end road.

The Cathy Fromme Prairie is a wide open space in the shadow of the foothills with nothing but a bike path. Signs advise you to be snake awake. New signs have appeared, limiting electric bicycles to fifteen miles an hour. The trail cuts under Taft and then under Shields, near the Apple Wood neighborhood. Now we’re talking. This is horse country. I counted nine horses. The trail cuts under the railroad and I’m back in Fort Collins with rushing traffic and blowing trash.

I have enclosed two images. One is a painting of Kender MacGowan with his beloved horse, whom he had to put down. Val Mayerik is the artist. The second is the lagoon I pass on my bike ride.

Why My Grade Should Be Raised by Mike Baron

WHY MY GRADE SHOULD BE RAISED

1. There must be a mistake somewhere.

2. At no time during the exam did I recieve an official warning; therefore, relying upon the college, I merely maintained my grade. Surely this should been a satisfactory grade.

3. I know many members of the class who do not work as hard as I do and who got a better grade. I am reconized among my classmates as a good student. Just ask any one of them.

4. I was not well at the time of the exam.

5. This mark ruined my prospect of getting a scholarship.

6. This mark grieved my parents whose pride I am.

7. This is the only course in which I received a poor grade.

8. It is not a higher mark which I seek. I care notning for marks. I think marks are wicked and I disapprove of them. However, this pernicious system of which I am the victim requires marks for achieveing success, and therefore, I seek a higher grade.

9. Several people around me copied from my paper during the exam, yet they received higher marks than I. Surely, this is not fair.

10. I live far away frm the college and I feel this extra travel should have been considered when you gave me my grade.

11. I have studied this subject from the broad philosophical viewpoint and, trherefore, I was unable to answer your technicl catch-questions.

12. The questions are ambigous and therefore my answers should be graded according to the reasonable interpretations that I made of your questions.

13. The exam was unfair and unfairly distributed over the subject.

14. I have to work after school and at nights. Therefore, I should be given a break.

15. The reason I did not do better is because I am very honest. I do not wish to say anything against any of the other members of the class.

16. My mind always goes blank during an exam.

17. I would have done much better if I had taken the other exam you gave to the student next to me.

18. Conditions in the room were not conducive to concentration.

The Northwest Passage, by Mike Baron

THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE

Like many modern communities, Fort Collins has built some excellent bike trails. I can ride from my house all the way downtown, up Spring Creek Trail, which follows the creek, through Roland Moore Park, past the little free library box behind the firehouse, to Spring Canyon Park, then back through the Cathy Fromme Prairie. I always count horses as I ride. People keep horses in Fort Collins like dogs. You can walk to several horse properties from my house, and no one would call my neighborhood rural.

The other day I counted fifteen horses. Perhaps ten per cent of this trail is on public streets, none of which are crowded.

Fort Collins recently completed a new trail on the east side that goes south through Loveland and ostensibly hooks up with the North Trail coming up the West Side, so that in theory, I could complete the loop with very little time spent on actual streets. The grail shoots through prairies adjacent to upscale neighborhoods with beautiful houses and corrals. A sub trail, which I have yet to take, goes down to Boyd Lake and follows the waterfront until it spits you out at the north end of Loveland.

I headed west on the concrete trail as it cut between pastures in which horses grazed. It passes a prairie dog town where curious prairie dogs pop up out of their holes and whisper enticingly, “Do you want the bubonic plague? Kiss me!”

The trail wound past a trailer park. Most of these trails wind past trailer parks at one point or another. I think they’re easy to wind past. It went under Highway 287, came out by the Loveland Walmart and promised to connect with the North Trail via dogleg. I rode and I rode. I rode through freshly minted neighborhoods backed up against open space and the railroad line. But I could not find the Northwest Passage. I rode home the same way. I counted ten horses. I went online and looked at the Loveland bike trails and there it was, a tiny little portion of red dots, not the solid red line that indicates finished trail. It’s there. I just have to portage my bike.

The Art of the Insult, by Mike Baron

THE ART OF THE INSULT

The perfect squelch. The withering put-down. The witty slander that leaves folks gasping in disbelief and delight. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce: “Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.” Winston Churchill: “Unless the right honourable gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” Dorothy Parker: “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.” Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

High school, for me, was an unending search for the withering put-down. Like Eric Harris, I had no use for humanity and it had no use for me. Unlike Eric, I lacked that black toxin which caused him to mow down a dozen classmates before turning the gun on himself. I used to memorize what I considered witty put-downs. Many young men go through a phase where alienation causes them to judge harshly. Most of them grow out of it.

However, Facebook breaths new life into this adolescent movement. There’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in people. They say things on Facebook they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face. You actually have to struggle to keep a thread on track without degenerating into I posted that Lady Gaga had killed it at the Superbowl, and within twenty posts it had degenerated into “Fuck you!” No! Fuck YOU!”

Serial insulters are witherers. Wither the witherer? The latest rage seems to be fabricating faux nineteenth century insults without the wit. “Hoofwanking bunglecunt” has a certain cachet, as does “twatwaffle” But it has no meaning. Oh insult, where is thy sting?

They will never replace the classics. “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!”

My friends, I have five rules for arguing on Facebook. 1: No sarcasm. 2: No personal attacks. 3: Be brief. 4: Keep your sense of humor. 5: Know when to quit.

Those Ads by Mike Baron

THOSE ADS

You click on an article. As you begin to read, an ad slithers in like the red tide, slowly, inexorably blocking the content. There is no way to delete the ad for about ten seconds, as the advertiser has paid big bucks to hold you hostage. You delete that ad. Another appears, creeping down from the top like some lethal fog. You wait patiently for the little ‘X’ to appear to get rid of that one. You delete it. As you read the article, another ad pops up, this one all singing! All dancing! You forgot to turn off the sound. And so on.

I understand that web content providers need to monetize their investment, but thus far, these ads have had the opposite effect. If I note the advertiser, it’s only to shun them. This is one reason I miss print media and the demise of the magazine. Magazine ads are not intrusive. They don’t block content. You can take them or leave them. Moreover, there is great satisfaction in holding the magazine in your hands and looking at the pictures. It’s not the same on the internet.

Then, when you close out the ad, a fucking survey appears wanting to know why. My only avenue of protest is to note that business and shun them.

Changing technology and culture has resulted in the demise of the monthly all-purpose motorcycle magazine. Cycle World and Motorcyclist have gone quarterly with predictable results. Where once they featured road tests and new models, they now feature artsy-fartsy photo spreads. Close-ups of concrete. Race paddocks. Articles on the Miracle of Titanium. When new bikes appear, they are often electric. Whoever invents a device to replicate the sound of gasoline engines will make a fortune.

Only part of the blame goes to shifting tech. We now have a risk-adverse generation that views motorcycles—and even cars!–as potentially lethal objects to be avoided at all costs.

Jazz by Mike Baron

JAZZ

I was Music Editor of the Boston Phoenix back in the day. It was my job to go out night after night, talk to musicians, and listen to their bands. One night Les McCann was playing. Most people know his brilliant breakout hit, “Compared To What,” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. Eddie wasn’t with Les that night. At the end of the first set, he introduced his side players. “On drums, Wilson Smith! On bass, Todd Jones! And on guitar, #!@$Q@##$ Q#%#ESFAD.” The guitarist was Polish.

During the break, I talked to Les. “How do you spell your guitarist’s name?” I asked.

“Well isn’t that interesting,” Les said. “I have three side players and you only want to know the white guy’s name.”

I looked at my notes. “On drums, Wilson Smith. On bass, Todd Jones.”

Les blanched a little bit. After that, he could not have been kinder. https://www.google.com/search?q=les+mccann+compared+to+what&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS751US751&oq=les+mccann+com&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.4284j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Neil Hansen

NEIL HANSEN

I became aware of Neil Hansen, aka “Spyder,” aka “Bannen,” when he began drawing Whisper for First Comics. Neil had a unique, dynamic style and I wanted to work with him. When he became available for Badger, I was thrilled. His Badgers, including “Kruisin’ With the King,” are among my favorites. When I wrote Punisher for Marvel, Neil did several issues and yearbooks. His work is instantly identifiable, like that of Steranko or Norm Breyfogle.

Neil visited me at my home in Madison and sat house while I was at a con. “As long as you’re here,” I said, “please draw a story.” The resulting eight-pager, “Hair of the Dog,” will finally see print in Ozzy Longoria’s horror anthology Gods and Monsters. You can find Ozzy on Facebook. Neil penciled, inked, and lettered. He created his own Epic series, Untamed. It is worth checking out for the jaw-dropping art.

I have hounded Neil over the years about drawing more comics, but as time passed, he drew less and less and the last time I asked him he said, “I’m sorry, Mike. I sat down to draw and it just wouldn’t come.” His last work was a series of Badger covers that appeared from IDW about ten years ago.

In the meantime, he worked as a caretaker for an old motel in Canada.

These days, Neil makes his living trading in domain names. He makes a good living.