SONS OF JACKALS
The title Muhammad burst from the cover in three-dimensional letters like a Cecil B. DeMille production. A lean, mean fighting machine in a white suit, wrap-around shades, beard and turban with a scantily-clad houri clinging to one leg, cigarette dangling from his lip, side-kicking a Hassidic Jew with skullcap and prophylactics two feet off the ground.
“It’s meant to be satiric,” Polly Furst said. “I’m Jewish myself.”
“Do you go to temple?” Josh Pratt asked. They sat outside at a round metal table adjacent to the sidewalk at the Laurel Tavern, a family-friendly pub on Monroe Street in Madison, WI. It was early May and the temperature was in the mid-sixties. Josh’s dog Fig sat at his feet. He flipped through the comic book.
“No. I come from a long line of secular Jews.”
“Man, I love comics. Used to read them in prison. This is good art.”
“Where do people pick this up?”
“From my website or at conventions. Capital City and Westfield have it. I asked Diamond and never heard back. I think it was too hot for them.”
“Have you received any death threats?”
“Too many to count. I told the police and they said there was nothing they could do. FBI, same thing. It’s like they have no interest in protecting me. I had to shut down my Twitter account and block about a hundred people on Facebook.”
“Did you report them to the administrator?”
“No. I guess I should have, huh.”
“Cops don’t protect people,” Josh said. “They come along after you’ve been stabbed and try to figure out who did it.”
“I have a bunch of shows coming up. I’m not going to be intimidated into hiding! I contacted Executive Security and they suggested you.”
“Huh,” Josh said. He’d finished their seminar last December and hadn’t taken any security jobs, although he’d been involved in the Cretaceous murders. “Anything local?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, has anyone phoned you or approached you in person?”
“No. I keep my phone number private but now I’m beginning to worry.”
“Where do you live?”
“I rent an apartment at Alhambra on the South Beltline.”
“I get two-fifty a day plus expenses.”
Polly goggled. She was a skinny thing with pale skin, a poof of curly red hair and a Roman nose. She wore a Tank Girl T-shirt over her flat chest and wire-rimmed glasses. She looked like a goonie bird. She snuffled, pulled a used tissue from her backpack and ran it under her nose.
“Allergies. My cash flow isn’t so great as you can imagine, but I have a terrific collection of original art I’ve collected over the years. My grandfather bunked with Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin in World War II. I suppose I could put some of my pieces up for auction.”
“I’m sympathetic to your case, Polly, but I don’t work for free.”
“I know that. People think that because I’m a starving comic book artist that I should do jobs for the publicity.”
“You make a living at this?” Josh said.
“Sort of. I got lucky last year when Vertigo tapped me to do a three issue run of Fables. Then I did a fill-in issue of Wonder Woman so I have a little money in the bank. I may have to sell my Mauldins and Addams drawings.”
The waitress came with three hamburgers. Josh set one on the ground for Fig. By the time Josh straightened up it was gone. Polly wolfed hers down looking around furtively as if some green was about to make a citizen’s arrest. She brought out two amber plastic bottles from her backpack, opened them and downed two pills.
“Do you have a concealed carry permit?” Josh said.
Polly stared at him like he was a bug. “Don’t be absurd! No one should have a gun except the police.”
“I’d like to take a look at your place and if you don’t mind, I’d like to see your original art.”
“Do you know anything about comics?” Polly said.
“I like The Badger. I think I have a few floating around.”
“Everybody loves The Badger,” Polly said. “I never wanted to do superheroes.”
Josh hefted Muhammad. “What’s this?”
“It’s a satire.”
“I don’t think Muslims do satire. Tell me something. With everything that’s happening in the world, with terrorists flowing over the southern border like a land rush, what made you think this was a good idea?”
“I’m an artist. I can’t think about what’s politically correct and I can’t let prejudice affect what I consider art or it’s the death of art. Every day we hear another ukase from some idiot that this or that should be off-limits.” Polly spoke in a faux low voice. “’There are many proper subjects for humor. Islam is not among them.’ Fuck that! Even Schindler’s List has a few laughs.”
Josh liked her. He’d always hated bullies.
“Now they say you can’t write Luke Cage unless you’re a black man. And you can’t play a movie Indian unless you’re Indian. There’s a reason they’re called actors. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been forbidden to write Tarzan because he never went to Africa. Alexander Dumas could not have written The Three Musketeers because he was a black man. They’re calling for the death of the imagination.”
“I hear you.”
“Did you ever see The Year of Living Dangerously? Linda Hunt, this little midget woman won an Oscar for portraying a Vietnamese man. What do we do now? Take away her Oscar ‘cause she’s not Vietnamese?”
“Never saw it.” Josh hadn’t seen many movies and most of those that he had seen he saw in prison. Inmates voted on what they wanted to see so Josh had intimate knowledge of Hell Up In Harlem, Superfly, Buck Town, Easy Rider, Hell’s Angels On Wheels, and Wild Angels. The tiny gay contingent never could summon the votes for The Bird Cage.
“Sorry for the rant. Seems like I gotta justify everything I do these days.”
“Not to me.”
“So what do you think?” she said, fixing her green eyes on him.
“About protecting me!”
“Let’s take a look at that original art. I might do it for the art.”
“Great!” Polly said. When the check came she snatched it. “I’ve got this.”
Minutes later the waitress returned perplexed. “Ma’am, your credit card didn’t go through.”
“We got notice from your bank that it’s been canceled.”
“That’s impossible,” Polly said.
It’s started Josh thought as he reached for his wallet