Monthly Archives: March 2020

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.