October 05, 2010

October 2010, Vol. 9, Issue 10

Welcome back. The October issue of Truckin' is upon us.

1. The Wait by Paul McGuire
Blake was so weighed down by the downers -- anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety meds, and anti-depressants -- that she was constantly fighting against the heaviness of what her shrinks prescribed her. She combated her sleepiness with sugar-free Red Bull, 5-Hour energy shots, and triple Espressos from Coffee Bean -- which only proved to be a costly way to stay awake. That's when she turned to me for help... More

2. Burial Detail by Martin Harris
The skull was cracked across the front ridge and titled backwards, away from the rest of the skeleton. The lower jaw was apparently still somewhere beneath the dirt, and you could see a couple of fillings shining there in back in the upper jaw. Further down was the breastplate and the sternum or whatever you call it, with pieces of red-checkered material stuck to it here and there... More

3. The Find, Part Two by Mark Verve
It was clear that I couldn't just walk into the bank and make a large cash deposit. Any amount over ten thousand must be reported. Making lots of deposits under ten thousand was also not realistic. It could attract the attention of local authorities and would definitely interest the IRS at tax time. I would deposit an odd two or three hundred every now and then to cover checks but that was it. Likewise putting it into a safe deposit box was not a realistic option. The sheer space the cash took up was too much... More

4. I Screwed Your Sister In High School by Johnny Hughes
Ronda had heard talk that Dewey was a lecher with the girls in small towns. She had lost her own husband, an evangelist, when they were teaching at a Christian summer camp in New Mexico. Her husband had been caught giving two teenage girls LSD and malt liquor. They were thrown out that night. Their marriage did not survive the long, painful bus trip back to Texas... More

5. Andy, Andy, and Dali by Wolynski
Dali planted himself firmly in front of me and said "Madmoiselle!" He launched into a very long, important and animated speech in French aimed directly at me. I was mesmerized. I examined the famous face and the mustache and the eyes boring into me, wondering when he would reach for some change. What was so important he had to tell me? I understood not a word, but enjoyed every minute, especially when he jabbed his fingers into the air... More

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...


From the Editor's Laptop:

The October issue marks the debut of one of my favorite scribes, Martin Harris, who shares a pulpy tale. Wolynski joined the Truckin' ranks last month and she returns with a story describing the events of a surreal Halloween in the 1970s. Everyone's favorite West Texas author, Johnny Hughes, is back with a witty piece of political-inspired fiction. Mark Verve contributes the second part of his epic series "The Find." And lastly, I whipped up something that may or may not appear in a future novel I'm writing about druggies living in the City of Angels.

The scribes at Truckin' write for the pure love of self-expression, which is a fancy way of saying that they write for free. I kindly ask for your assistance and help spread the good word about your favorite writers and your favorite stories. Good karma and many blessings will come your way for helping us out.

If anyone desires to being added to the mailing list, or any scribes (published or non-published) are interested writing for a future issue, then please contact us.

I can never thank the writers for taking a courageous leap of faith with me. That tremendous risk inspires me to no end. And thanks to you, the readers. The written word is slowly dying off, but you're keeping the spirit alive month after month with your unwavering support of Truckin'.

Be good,
McG

"That path is for your steps alone." - Robert Hunter

The Wait

By Paul McGuire © 2010

Waiting. My least favorite thing to do in the world, yet, I always get stuck in the longest lines no matter where I go. Grocery stores, 7/11, the drive-thru at In-N-Out...it doesn't matter. I always get delayed.

The bank? Always horrendous. My appearance at the end of the line guarantees that everyone in front of me will engage in complex transactions that takes a dozen signatures from eight different bank officials.

Airport security lines? I always get stuck behind the old Jewish lady from Florida who has never flown in her life before, at least, that's the impression she gives off as she walks through the metal detectors with a shitload of jewelry dangling from her wrinkled wrists and sun-scorched leathery neck, yet, she insists on not taking off any of her jewelery which is the primary reason the detector goes off.

Blake is one of those selfish friends without any concept of time who constantly takes advantage of your patience. She's always late. Always. It should not surprise me, because I'm always waiting for something. However, in the last few weeks, her tardiness has been pissing me off. "I'll be over in ten minutes..." is Blake's code for "I'll be over anytime between an hour to ten hours from now."

When I lived on the East Coast, people had their shit together and respected your time. If someone was running late, they usually had enough to sense to give you a warning call and apology. Out in LA? Everyone is late. If it's not the mind-numbing traffic, it's out of sheer laziness. Blake should know better because she's from the Boston area. However, living on the breezy West Coast for less than 24 months magnified her flakiness. She was always a space cadet in college, but the California sun warped her brain even more so. Although no longer a toker, you would have thunk she was the biggest stoner in the world because she was forgetting everything and always gave you a blank stare. It took her three seconds to respond -- to anything. She had a perpetual time delay which always complicated any important conversations. Surprisingly, she was not a pothead because her brain was marinated in so many other substances that weed did not affect her in the same way it does with you and me.

Blake ingested a plethora of daily medications and her weekly pharmacy bills were in the hundreds of dollar -- even with insurance. Her wealthy father, a prominent Boston attorney, picked up the tab and paid for all of the doctors. I have no idea if her different shrinks had any idea that they were all prescribing her different medications. Maybe they did and didn't care? She said that she was going to two different shrinks in the Valley, not to mention her decade-long strict Freudian shrink back in Waltham.

Blake's live-in boyfriend had a bad back and she had access to jars of Percosetts. She swiped a handful of Percs every time she visited me. The only reason we hung out these days was to solely trade drugs. She was looking to get up, while I was always looking to sink down and down and down.

I had access to Adderall and Ritalin thanks to a friend of mine at the radio station who gave me whatever I needed at cost. Addys and Rits were Blake's favorite poison, so I always kept a stockpile. She was so weighed down by the downers -- anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety meds, and anti-depressants -- that she was constantly fighting against the heaviness of what her shrinks prescribed her. She combated her sleepiness with sugar-free Red Bull, 5-Hour energy shots, and triple Espressos from Coffee Bean -- which only proved to be a costly way to stay awake. That's when she turned to me for help We usually swapped two Percs for every Adderral and three percs for every Ritalin. I could have done an easy swap, but Blake was clueless when it came to street prices on pharmaceuticals.

When Blake moved to Studio City, she drove into the city about once a month to swap pills. As her addiction grew deeper and deeper, the frequency of her drop ins increased steadily. For a while it was every other week, then once every ten days, then once a week -- where it had stay for around six months. But sometime around St. Patrick's Day, her habit worsened. She came over twice a week like clockwork on Mondays and Thursdays. By the end of the Spring, she had gotten really bad and bugged me all the time. When she fleeced her boyfriend's entire stash of Percs, she begged to pay me in cash instead of trade. That really bothered me because I didn't give a shit about money. I'm not a drug dealer and I wasn't dealing drugs to supplement my income. I was bartering with other pillpoppers in order to secure the buzz I was seeking. Once it became apparent that Blake wasn't living up to her end of the trade, I saw no point in bending over backwards to help enable her morbid addiction to Adderall and Ritalin.

Blake got hooked hard and her fiendish behavior freaked me out. I tried to cut her off but she flipped out. She begged me. She offered up cash and even made a pass at me, suggesting oral favors for free Addys. I wanted neither. It was very sad and pathetic. All I wanted were painkillers and not a lazy handjob. She stormed off in tears. Three days later, she showed up with two bottles of Vicodin. She convinced a doctor to give her script for painkillers, which she happily gave me in exchange for her fix.

Blake was too much to handle when she was jonesin'. She called at the worst hours and sent a barrage of text messages, even though she knew that we had a scheduled meeting the next night. And even after we finally completed a swap, she'd call within an hour or two and the cycle repeats itself as I'm bombarded with "When can I come over?" texts.

Blake crushes up pills and snorts them for a faster effect. She quickly transformed into an old fashioned speed freak, except the Adderall is like eating speed without any harsh side effects. You don't crash as hard as traditional speed, sort of like landing a plane on a huge football field of marshmallows. She gets extra chatty when she rips lines of Ritalin, which gives off a cocaine-like euphoric effect, except that it lasts much longer than blow. It provides a quick blastoff but you don't crash 15-20 minutes later then act like a total fiend until you get another line. Ritalin jacks you up for a few hours and you get a sustained coke-like effect which is great for party situations. I usually eat a couple when I have to be extra-social at an industry party -- it saves me trips to the bathroom every twenty minutes to rip more rails and with pills, I don't shit my brains out because the cholos cut the blow with baby laxatives.

Blake was the slowest junkie on the planet. You'd figure she'd be rushing over to get her shit, but she took forever to get out the door. I'd get twenty calls begging to come over, but after I agree, I wait up to half a day for her to arrive. If I go out to the store or something and I'm not home when she finally arrives, then she flips out. Last week, I caught her trying to break into my apartment when I got sick of waiting and drove to In-N-Out Burger to grab something to eat.

You couldn't win with Blake. She was the addict and an insane junkie, yet I seemed to be the one who was the slave to her addiction. That had to stop. I was prepared to finally cut her off. But in typical Blake fashion, she was late to her own intervention.


Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.

I Screwed Your Sister in High School: A Lubbock Fable

By Johnny Hughes © 2010

Billy Sue Bailey, well-known local Tea Party leader, and prominent member of one of Lubbock's founding families was standing at the checkout counter in the upscale grocery store, Market Street.

Dewey Huffknot was standing right behind her. "I screwed your sister in high school," he said loudly, "In the backyard of y'all's historic home."

The teenager at the cash register was a frozen statute, holding a can of Del Monte Sweet Corn in mid-air. Dewey's naturally buggy eyes and perpetual half-grin gave him a surprised, innocent expression. His perfect flat top, and short-sleeved shirt with a plain, black, clip-on, bow tie shouted out, "Square!"

"What did you say to me?" Billy Sue turned sharply, with a rattle of bracelets and ear rings.

"I've seen you around many years. I've always wanted to say that to you. We dated a while. Where is Wild Jenny? I heard she is in Santa Fe. I hear you on talk radio all the time. Me and Jenny didn't go together long but she wanted to screw in the backyard one summer night I'll never forget."

Billy Sue Bailey still occupied the family home, one of the historic knock-offs of Tara, the plantation in Gone With the Wind, that face Texas Tech on 19th Street. Dewey always, always thought of Wild Jenny when he drove by there.

Billy Sue almost ran for the parking lot, abandoning her groceries and the startled clerk. She stood by her Lexus in the 100 degree heat calling her lawyer on her cell phone. Billy Sue was known far and wide for the walkouts and demonstrations at the annual county and state Republican Conventions. Neo-Nazi blogger, Don May, a.k.a. Dr. Doom, was her ideal ideologue. She labeled most everyone socialists on a few talk radio call ins each week. She liked to point out correctly that she was farther to the right than everyone else, everyone. Of the talk show hosts, Chad loved her. Wade tolerated her. Jim and Jeff went to a hard break or a Zogby Poll. At 38, she was a striking, even beautiful, brunette with the figure of a college girl.

Billy Sue hadn't spoken to her New Age, hippie, socialist sister in seventeen years, even though Jenny came to Lubbock often. In Santa Fe, Jenny was a crystal healer and channeled a five-hundred-year-old Navajo woman named Velvet Hands who was a massage therapist. Billy Sue didn't doubt for a minute Dewey's backyard humping memory.

Dewey's life was crashing down before his eyes. For sixteen years, he had been the Life Skills teacher at the Tornado Christian Military Academy, funded almost entirely by the late Asa Sheridan, Dewey's best friend, mentor and Bacardi Rum and Diet Coca-Cola partner every single Sunday afternoon. Dewey told folks, and it was very true, that Barack Obama killed Asa Sheridan, and therefore the Academy, which needed killing.

In the early days, Asa wanted the students to wear uniforms to celebrate the combat experience he had in World War Two, which was a lie since he entered the Army two years after the war ended. Asa was thrown out for bed wetting, sleep walking, and an outrageous, false charge of public masturbation stemming from a technicolor world-class wet dream he had in the barracks. The Academy parents resisted uniforms and most tuition increases.

Dewey had a wife, Ariel, the first four years he taught at the Academy. With him gone every Sunday, she began an affair with the young man who drove an ice cream truck through the neighborhood playing, "Pop Goes the Weasel" over and over. When Ariel changed Dewey's pet name from Cuddles to Caliban, he should have known the jig was up. Ariel and the ice cream man moved to Longview, Texas and opened a wildly successful Chuckie Cheese franchise. Any time Dewey would see an ice cream truck or hear any of their songs, he'd cry.

The Academy students were a joke all over town because they all marched for one class period a day outside if the temperature were above 25 degrees and the wind was below 90 miles per hour. Kids tagged them the "Tornado Marchers." The Academy, for seventh to ninth graders, was down to 164 students even though they hosted the annual Easter egg hunt for "home skooled" students hoping to meet some other right-wing white folks avoiding the socialist, government-run schools and minorities. The did have five old non-operative M-1 rifles and some students developed drill team skills twirling them around. Dewey took them over to Asa's house for delivered pizza, and they got drunk and watched them left face and right face around the yard. Dewey didn't really like rum and coke and would never have ordered it in a bar. However, he had lied to Asa on that first afternoon and it became their personal tradition.

In the early days, Asa and Dewey watched football with the rum and cokes, but since Obama's election, Asa, 81 when Obama finally killed him, left the television tuned to Fox News 24 hours a day, even when he slept. When Bill O'Reilly was on, Asa would stand very close to the set, militarily erect, almost as if at attention, but more like a trance. Asa had ordered O'Reilly's book for all the Academy parents, whether they could read or not. When Obama was elected, Asa was the model of health, and had five million dollars he had inherited from his father's lumber yard chain. He promised each Sunday that the Academy would be taken care of by the mysterious and generous will he spoke of often as a sick, old man's con. About three quarters way down the rum bottle, he'd let it slip that Dewey would get "a nephew's share" in his will.

Actually, telemarketers in Las Vegas who had "proof" that Obama was a foreign-born Muslim and Manchurian Candidate Muslim plant beat Asa out of most of his fortune, and he gave the rest to Sarah Palin. He had a series of strokes starting with Obama's election and became most profane at cursing the TV. Dewey thought it was Alzheimer's. Asa was the maddest man he had ever seen. He was popping Lipitor and Atenol like popcorn. Fox News was helping him secure some eye-popping blood pressure numbers.

When Dewey got home that afternoon, Todd, a lawyer and his younger brother, called with a "deal." He had to stay away from Billy Sue, not mention their family and get counseling or she would file stalking charges for holding her up to public ridicule. Billie Sue had also told Ronda Eloyd, the principal of the Academy, who couldn't make payroll anyway. Dewey protested that he really did screw Billy Sue's sister and that he was just telling the truth.

As a sideline, Dewey spoke in small high school assemblies on Life Skills which was basically an anti-sex lecture. He'd started out with twenty small town high schools a year, but most didn't invite him to return. Dewey, with the same flat top he'd had in high school, would sit in the middle of the stage at a table with his yellowed, veteran index cards and warn the teenage girls that boys will tell any lie, do anything to touch certain spots. He'd talk about hands outside clothes, hands that would unfasten bras, hands and the dangers of drive-ins and parking. He'd tell of a boy driving a girl out in the country and saying, "If you are not here after what I am here after, you will be here after I am gone."

He'd say that every boy, every single boy, will go into that locker room and tell that you went all the way whether you did or not if you let him touch certain spots. If he feels of your breast, he tells. Boys hated him as a gender traitor. When Dewey repeated his signature phrase, certain spots, he'd drag the words out and pause as he made eye contact with the prettiest girls. More than one high school counselor noticed that Dewey liked to hug the girls and that he held the hugs with the chubby ones way too long. Dewey was steadily hitting up on the young chicks in those small towns, often in the oil fields south of Midland.

Ronda asked for and received Dewey's resignation and a small retirement party was held at the Academy for the faculty. Ronda had heard talk that Dewey was a lecher with the girls in small towns. She had lost her own husband, an evangelist, when they were teaching at a Christian summer camp in New Mexico. Her husband had been caught giving two teenage girls LSD and malt liquor. They were thrown out that night. Their marriage did not survive the long, painful bus trip back to Texas.

For Dewey Huffknot's retirement party, they had a white cake from a bakery, some Fritos and bean dip, and this fire-engine red punch they served at every occasion. Ronda said some of the expected things, then Dewey began to speak.

"This place was founded by Asa Sheridan who promised me long-range funding one thousand times. Hey, we're all turning a page, huh? It's honesty time. When I'd go give those anti-sex lectures in the little towns, it would make me horny. I nailed me twelve of those young Texas beauties but none were underage, nothing illegal. I'd wait. One girl worked at the Dairy Queen in Crane. I started courting her when she was only fifteen. Single roses and Hallmark cards. I would drive 100 miles out of my way to see her."

It was the summing up of his years of teaching, and he chose his favorite memories.

The room began to empty rapidly. Ronda's fists had balled up and she couldn't open them, just like on that dreaded last bus ride with her ex-husband.

Dewey's brother agreed that he would attend a therapy group. This was someday-Doctor Nina Hemply's on-going group, last labeled anger management. Everybody there had made some deal to go there to keep from criminal charges being filed against them. Nina started out going over the rules for the new members, although Dewey was the only new member. Confidentially. Free expression. Cooperation. Share your feelings. No seeing other members outside the group.

Calvin, an outrageous gay dude with so many piercing's he couldn't pass though airport security, had stabbed his roommate in a dispute over a floral arrangement. He chimed in, "Why is that Big Nurse? What if I want to see Mr. Wilson or Jose for a beer or something?"

Nina went into this carny pitch about being a Rogerian explorer helping them map their untapped inner feelings.

Mr. Wilson's son had attempted to have him declared incompetent in order to control the worthless oil rights on the old family farm. He had traded away the cotton farm and kept the mineral interest in order to invest in exploration and 3-D Seismic surveys that indicated there was no oil. Mr. Wilson said it was the greatest hot weather for a record cotton crop after record rains. The price of cotton had nearly doubled in a year, the highest in twenty years. His family wouldn't harvest a single boll. Not one boll because of his idiot son. Mr. Wilson had fired both barrels of a shot gun over his son's head in his front yard when he came out to get his Lubbock Avalanche Journal one morning.

Nina was a large, tall woman, not fat, more like a big, muscled man. She ran the group with an iron hand and a soft heart. She was very, very good at what she did although few of the clients knew that. She warned Mr. Wilson that "graduation" from the group was based on her report to the District Attorney's office. It depended on progress in "owning and authenticating and using your anger."

Ernest Watkins and his wife were locked in a bitter child-custody battle. Neither he nor his wife wanted their black-clad, heavily tattooed, nail-polish sniffing, expert shoplifter, twin girls. He was the maddest man there.

There was also a wife abuser, a man who was abused by his wife, a hard-shell Baptist church youth minister, a parolee, an ambulance driver, and a Catholic priest, all men.

When Nina asked Dewey to reveal the source of his anger and how his anger brought him to the group, he said he didn't hear about anger until after he got there. Then he told the story of Billie Sue at the supermarket, and his confession at his retirement party. The other guys roared with laughter. Nina saw this as as cohesion building and a critical stage in the group developmental process. She was curious about the sex part. She left for the bathroom.

While she was gone, Mr. Wilson invited them all over to his house that very evening to grill steaks outside, drink beer, shoot pool, and break Nina's rules. All but Jose Alvarado accepted. He was on parole and a member of a lesser-known, out of favor, prison gang.

"I can't be hanging out with all you outlaws," he said. "I'd end up back in jail."

That first night, Dewey brought his old index cards with the famous quotations, and jokes from old Reader's Digests. Calvin immediately asked him about his twelve sexual conquests in the little towns. Mr. Wilson echoed that question. They liked to talk about sex and the group bonded, just as the absent Nina intended. There was Dewey, just as he was supposed to be, just as he felt called to be, up before a group talking about sex, only now, he could tell the truth, finally.

They continued to meet each week at Wilson's house, and even took up a collection for a turquoise and silver necklace for Nina. She cried. Life-long friendships were developing. Mr. Wilson funded a used CD and book store for he and Dewey to own together. It became a hangout for the group members who often came for coffee in the mornings. Dewey Huffknot had another rich mentor and another job, for awhile.


Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.

Andy, Andy, and Dali

By Wolynski © 2010

It was Halloween 1974 and I was barely out of my teens.

The Madhouse Company was new to Manhattan. We were performing our "Wild Stunt Show," written by Ken Campbell, just round the corner from the Improv. We befriended the flamboyant owner, Budd Friedman, and many of the comics.

One day Budd approached us with an offer of a gig. Charles Jourdan shoes were throwing a huge promotional party and needed entertainment in between the sets of the Mercer (son of Duke) Ellington Orchestra. Budd suggested Andy Kaufman and us.

The Madhouse believed the show started as soon as you walked through the door. As part of the pre-show, I was The Laughing Machine. I stood in a booth built by a cast mate, Marcel Steiner, who had created stuff for circuses and carnivals and his work was exquisite. It had a big mouth on top, a window and slots for putting in money for different kinds of laughs: a sunny smile for a penny, a cackle for a nickel, The Candidate’s Vote Winner for a dime as I shook hands and heartily slapped on the shoulder, and the Madhouse Special for a quarter where I laughed so hard I fell out of the booth. That really started people laughing.

The booth was put in the foyer of the swank upper East Side townhouse Charles Jourdan had rented for the night, which he had decorated as a haunted mansion by a film crew. Get the people laughing as they come in.

We had never done parties, but the money was good. On the night, I stood in my beautiful booth and watched people arrive. The Rockefellers and Vanderbilts were announced, and sailed right past me, with their noses in the air, giving me a look of utter disgust as if they had smelled something bad. Nobody was in the least bit interested in the Laughing Machine. Just as I was thinking this was going to be a long evening, a lone figure materialized in front of me and said in a faint voice "Umm… what is this?"

It was Andy Warhol. I explained the different laughs and pointed to the slots. Warhol examined the booth and the menu very carefully - he recognized the genuine carnival art. Then he dug into his pocket and took out change and spread it out on the palm of his hand. Very gingerly he inserted a penny and I gave him a sunny smile. He went back to his change, found a nickel and I gave him a cackle. Now this usually got people laughing, but Warhol just stared at me. He searched for a dime, inserted it, and suddenly I was shaking his hand and slapping him heartily on the shoulder. He looked alarmed - Warhol did not like to be touched. I was quite convinced he wouldn’t move on to the Madhouse Special, but Warhol gamely pressed on. Very apprehensively he inserted a quarter and covered his cheeks with his hands. I laughed so hard I fell out of the booth and rolled around at his feet. Warhol eyed me with great curiosity, but no expression. After I was back in the booth, he thanked me and disappeared to mingle with the glitterati.

When it was time to do our show upstairs, nobody paid us any attention. Woody Allen stood by the stage with his back turned to us, deep in conversation with some rich socialites. Of course, these people didn’t need a show, because they were the show. We were totally superfluous. Andy Kaufman didn’t do any better -- nobody was interested. Andy was in the middle of his Elvis, when suddenly everyone rushed to the other side of the room. Andy looked up and saw people’s backs retreating. Salvador Dali had just made a grand entrance on the staircase, surrounded by four gorgeous women, each with a rose in her mouth. The guests trampled over Woody Allen and Andy Warhol to get to Dali. It’s as if God himself had arrived.

Dali didn’t stay long and as I saw him descend the staircase, I ran towards the little elevator to get to the laughing booth. If one icon of 20th century art partook, why not another? I arrived in my booth and Dali was only half way down the stairs, surrounded by adoring throngs, all wanting a piece of him. Finally he reached the bottom, saw my booth and made a beeline for me, dragging an expensively preserved middle-aged woman with him.

Dali planted himself firmly in front of me and said "Madmoiselle!" He launched into a very long, important and animated speech in French aimed directly at me. I was mesmerized. I examined the famous face and the moustache and the eyes boring into me, wondering when he would reach for some change. What was so important he had to tell me? I understood not a word, but enjoyed every minute, especially when he jabbed his fingers into the air. Suddenly he finished and said "Now pleeze translate to zis woman." He pointed at his companion and left. Damn, he thought I was a translator’s booth. It had a mouth on top, what else could it be? This made me laugh without money.

Everyone looked at me expectantly. What did the great master say?

"Damned if I know, but if anyone has a quarter, I’ll do the Madhouse Special."

Meanwhile, Budd Friedman had been working the party. He gathered up some society figures and told us and Andy Kaufman to get to the Improv. It was 4am when we got there, the place was closing, but Budd ordered it open for New York’s finest socialites. All the comics had gone home, so Budd ordered us and Andy to perform again. We protested as we had already bombed in front of these people.

"So you'll bomb again, now get the fuck on the stage."

So we all bombed again.


Wolynski is a photographer and former comic who lives in Las Vegas.

Burial Detail

By Martin Harris © 2010

I put this down now so I don’t forget later. Like I’m apt to do.

The man’s name was Carl P. Huffines. I don’t know what the P was for. I knew this man for about four or five weeks, maybe. Not more. I never last more than a month or two at anything, it seems like. Always starting over.

As I write this today I have no idea how it was I ended up with Huffines. I had been doing some temping down in the area -- carpentry, some construction -- and probably I was given the tip. Whatever it was, a plumber was a good thing to be that spring.

Carl P. Huffines. Always talking about how the devil was in the details, the devil was in the details. This he’d say to me practically every day, like it was a motto or something. More likely it was just for my benefit, he kept saying it. I don’t know.

Fact was, for most things, Carl usually knew what he was talking about. Generally speaking, I am no good with details, especially when it comes to names. People, roads, towns. Other stuff, too. Like that time with Carl when I’d left a shovel and a brand-new reciprocal saw behind at a job. Sometimes I don’t mind it so much. Having such a godawful memory for stuff, I mean. Mostly it’s a burden, though, and the reason why I usually end up working for brainiacs like Carl P. Huffines. Guys who, for whatever reason, can see stuff the rest of us are missing. The kind who’re always a step ahead, cutting corners, scheming up ways to make the most of a situation. Not to mention dock your pay for having lost an odd tool here or there. This Carl was like that. He’d been plumbing probably twenty years before I’d ever met up with him, running the business on his own for the last couple once his uncle had finally kicked. The one who’d been in Vietnam, as Carl was always saying.

“It’s the little things,” the man would start, as if you were one of them. Then he’d explain how this or that problem could’ve been prevented somewhere along the line had folks planned ahead a little more carefully. Or been a little more observant. How if the customer had just taken a moment or two to inspect the tile to see whether bad grouting was causing the leak, we’d be out of a job. Or how we should thank the builders for skimping on using copper and giving the mice and rats sagging, brittle plastic to gnaw on instead. Or how lucky it was for us that the legislature or the governor or whatever had forced all those low-flush toilets on everybody, especially in the older homes whose long runs to the building drain outfall were getting plugged up all the time . . . .

Yeah, Carl knew all about it.

Sometimes, though, stuff happens you just can’t plan for. Like that particular spring, what with all the storms flooding basements of homes that had been bone dry ever since the day their foundations had been laid. Big rains, scary damn winds. Like the whole world was starting to crack up or something.

Now what I’m telling about, this all happened a while back. Started out just another day. Carl and I left out in the van that morning on another of those Malibu Mud jobs. Or so Carl described them.

We’d dealt with at least a dozen of these during the time I was there, I’d venture. Some actor, or agent to actors, or agent to agents to actors would wake up and go to whip himself up a mug of decaf Orange Zinger or whatever the hell it is they drink. He’d open up his generally reliable CrystalClear or EauParfait or LavePure faucet on which he’d have fitted one of those attachment filter-jobs which according to Carl were a scam anyway and he’d find the tap already had kind of an Orange Zinger-type look to it. So then he’d go to the book and see that little box in the corner for Huffines Plumbing and ring ’em up.

I remember taking a couple of the calls. Talk about melodrama. You’d think these fruits were rehearsing for some horror flick the way they’d go on, like a little rust or mud in the water was a sign that unless they did something quick the zombies would come beat down the door. We’d come around and check it out and in just about every case we’d find that thanks to all the storms the water under the house had risen high enough to submerge the pipes, lifting years of rust and oxidation off and carrying that and whatever dirt or mud was around into whatever leaks there might have been. Usually meant replacing a connector here or there or maybe a joint if the state of things had gotten especially shoddy.

Of course, if you talked to the homeowners you’d think we were magicians or something. Plumbing one of life’s mysteries. People just don’t like to think about how the water or the power or the cable gets to them. Lot easier to let all that goes on underneath their houses remain a mystery.

Carl drove; Carl always drove. Later on I wrote down the address: 1432 West Cheshire Ave. I didn’t write down the Ave., but I think that’s what it was. (Seemed more like an avenue than a boulevard, don’t ask me why.) Over in a semi-ritzy section about three-quarters of a mile back from the coastline. Probably safe from the cliffs creeping inland for the next fifteen years or so, anyway. Has some highway or another running behind it with this large wooded area that shielded the traffic noise from the backs of the houses.

I remember Carl swinging the van into this long, circular drive which wound around behind the huge house. He parked it near the back entrance. Big old back yard, with a garden and a shed. Lot of green in the woods beyond it. A real handsome place.

“What the hell is El Niño, anyway?” I asked Carl as we got out of the van. Interrupting him, probably. Actually, it might have been on some other day I’d asked him that, but it seems like we might have been talking about it again that morning.

“El Niño,” he’d say, bending the N whereas I hadn’t bothered. “Means ‘The Big One.’”

“The Big One?”

“Well the word in Spanish is nine . . . like The Nine.”

“What, like the whole nine yards?”

“No, no . . .”

“To the nines? Like I’m dressed . . . ”

“No, no . . . it ain’t . . . .” He trailed off, shaking his head with that I’m-surrounded-by-morons look while he fished the spare key out from the little tray underneath the lamp beside the backdoor.

“If it don’t mean nothing but the Nine, then I can see how that would drive folks batty.”

Carl ignored me and unlocked the door. I followed him through with the box. Carl looked around a moment without saying anything, then turned to me and pointed, like I wouldn’t know to follow him anyway. I’m remembering this better than I thought I would. I remember trailing behind Carl shuffling across this deep-pile carpeting and through the nicely-furnished living room . . . .

I should probably include what Carl looked like. Just to have it. Squat sort of guy, I guess around one-eighty, one-ninety. He’d have been wearing the blue HP shirt with those gray-striped work pants, of course. The man was on the short side, around five-eight, I’d reckon. Bowling pin body. About fiftyish, though not too wrinkly. Head sort of egg-shaped, with a smallish forehead. Fat face. No glasses. Front teeth crooked, one sort of bent out in front of the other. Dark-colored eyes, say brown. Had a hair job, so a little too much jet in that black if you know what I mean. Get out in the wind and you’d think it was gonna take off on its own. That’ll do.

Carl reached the door to the basement and after some fumbling for the light we took it slow down the sort-of flimsy wooden staircase.

“What are you talking about . . . driving folks batty?” Carl asked as we descended.

“I mean like the hurricanes. They give names to . . . ”

“Oh, right, right, I see . . . yeah, I guess Hurricane Bob ain’t so scary-sounding as the evil El Niño . . . ”

“Like it’s got a name it’s got a face to it.”

“Yeah, well, I suppose.” He rubbed his eye hard with his palm. “Whatever it means it means money to me.”

We made it down to the bottom landing and could see already how the flooding had made a regular soup of things. I set the box down and opened it and we laid out the Holiday Inn towel there on the little square of concrete. Carl took a trial step and it seemed solid enough. I’d seen him lose a boot doing that, actually. Was one of those large, open-style basements, earthen floor, crawl space about four feet on one end and upwards to six or so at the other. Dark and pungent and full of that cold, creeping dampness you just can’t wait to get out of. I’d been in so many of them by that point they were all looking alike. Together we crept around towards the front part of the house, Carl feeling with a gloved hand along the side of the main line as we went.

He stopped suddenly.

“Here we go,” he said, running his finger along the fracture along the side of the pipe. Had a welled-up look to it, like a bloated scar.

It took I’d say about an hour and forty-five minutes to take care of it. A standard connector; we’d had several with us. Several trips up and down, shutting off the water, retrieving pieces and tools from the van, turning the water back on. Had gathered everything up and were about to head back up to the kitchen to see whether the surgery had been a success when I noticed on the other side of the staircase, around the water heater, this wide, grilled-over window that opened onto the back yard.

“Look at that thing,” I said to Carl, pointing. There was some sort of gilded-leaf pattern in the grating. Now I’m thinking maybe it triggered something for me.

“Sure, sure,” Carl nodded. “Here we go. Sink all your money into fancifying a window cover in back of the house that no one is ever gonna see anyway, rather than improving the rot of an excuse you had laid down to connect you to the city line. I’ll never figger . . . ”

I squat-walked over to the window, which was probably about eight feet across and a couple of feet high. I felt a draft coming in where the window wasn’t completely shut.

“ . . . it’s as though they compete with one another to see who can blow the most bread, that sort of ornamental crap. No point whatsoever . . . ”

His voice trailed off and I turned to see Carl kneeled down with his back to me and facing the underside of the staircase.

I edged over. I saw that he was shaking that hairpiece of his back and forth. I leaned over his shoulder, balancing myself with a hand on a crossbeam.

“Look!” he said, suddenly real quiet, like he was trying to catch his breath.

Which was understandable, considering the man was looking at a half-buried skeleton.

The skull was cracked across the front ridge and titled backwards, away from the rest of the skeleton. The lower jaw was apparently still somewhere beneath the dirt, and you could see a couple of fillings shining there in back in the upper jaw. Further down was the breastplate and the sternum or whatever you call it, with pieces of red-checkered material stuck to it here and there. Mingled with what looked like the bones of a forearm and, fully intact, one of the hands. Which with all the flesh rotted off it looked more like four super-long fingers growing out of the wrist bone. A platinum-band on what had to be the pointer. Besides the basin-shaped curve of the pelvis jutting up through the earth, the lower half of the skeleton remained hidden. If you can imagine somebody trying to float on his back, with just the top part of his body exposed while the rest remained immersed...

“Are you seeing what I'm seeing?” Carl stammered.

“I see it,” I answered.

We were silent for several minutes. Finally, Carl lifted himself up.

“Let us try and find ourselves a drink,” he suggested.

I nodded in agreement, and followed him back over to the landing, taking another gander at that design on the window grating as I did. We wiped our boots on the towel and walked up the stairs and into the living room. I took a seat at a glass table beside the kitchen while Carl stepped behind the counter and began going through the cabinets.

“Didja get a look at that material in there?” he asked.

“Material?”

“You know, the shirt.”

“Yeah.”

“Probably part-polyester.” Cabinet doors opening and closing. “Couldn’t be all poly because if it was it wouldn’t have worn away at all ...”

“What’re you talking about?”

Carl kept slamming cabinet doors, coming up empty.

“Poly don’t deteriorate, see. Not one iota. Whereas cotton, that’s biodegradable. If that shirt had been all poly, you could probably take it and wash it and wear it again.”

I watched Carl rub his chin.

“How long you think he’s been down there?” I asked.

“Aniseed?” Carl pouted, looking at a bottle he’d found. “It’ll have to do. What?”

I repeated my question.

“He? Oh, I’d say at least a year. Maybe longer.” He found two tall glasses and poured us each a couple of fingers’ worth of the liqueur. “Actually I was just thinking how this reminds me of something Charlie used to talk about...”

Charlie was Carl’s uncle, the one who’d been a Vietnam prisoner of war for I don’t know how long. Carl had gotten the business from this uncle, I believe. Actually, maybe Charlie wasn’t his uncle’s name. Could be I’m confusing the name with the Charlies, you know, what they called the Cong or whatever. Carl handed me a glass and took himself a wincing gulp.

“Charlie’d talk about how every now and then, a couple of times a month or something, he and the other P.O.W.’s would be put on what they called burial detail. They’d have them digging graves. Sometimes for the V.C. dead, sometimes for each other. And every now and then, just for grins, they’d have him dig a hole and then say it was for him.”

“Huh.”

“Anyway, from what Carl said they’d have him dig these long, narrow graves . . . not like what you set a coffin down in I mean just a couple of feet across, using these big, square shovels with long handles for it. Then they’d set the bodies down inside and cover ’em over with rocks before filling the hole.” He paused a moment, a satisfied look on his mug.

“Obviously, our friend downstairs wasn’t handled with such care, or he wouldn’t have washed up like he did.”

I sipped at the foul drink. As usual, Carl seemed to be enjoying the lecturing.

“What are we gonna do?” I asked.

“I been thinking about that.” I eyed Carl as he choked down what remained in his glass and poured himself another. “You saw that band, right?”

“Band. The ring?”

“Sure you did. That’s how come you knew it was a he.”

I nodded.

“Tell me this, then. What do you think that band means?”

I looked at Carl as he rotated the glass in his hand, swirling the liquid in the bottom of it.

“A wedding ring, I guess.”

“No, no.” Carl gulped, wiped his mouth, and tapped at his chest with a closed fist. “What I mean is, how is it that ring is still there, you think?”

“You got me.”

“Well, it’s obvious ain’t it? Whoever it was dealt him that crack wasn’t interested in the ring.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think?”

I shrugged. Carl exhaled.

“Could it be that Mr. Aniseed here knows something more about it?”

“Yeah?”

“Could be.”

I wet a finger and ran it around the edge of the glass, unsuccessfully trying to make it whine. Carl was pacing behind the counter. I wiped my finger off on my sleeve and thought about how to respond.

“Let’s say he did know something about it,” I said. “Why would he let us rummage around down there?”

“Yeah, that’s something I was wondering about.”

“Maybe it was down there when he moved in?”

“I suppose.” Carl belched loudly. “This stuff is poison.”

I had an idea.

“Then again,” I continued, pointing my finger at Carl. “If there was some way we could know for sure. I mean if we knew he’d done it...”

Carl put the bottle back in the cabinet. He reached over the counter and I handed him my glass. He had a strange expression on his face, like he was trying to keep back a laugh. He turned and opened the faucet and let it run for a minute or so.

“Looks like we got it,” he said, referring to the job. He rinsed out the glasses and put them away. Suddenly he pivoted around and leaning his big body against the counter finally said what I knew he’d be getting to eventually.

“You know, this thing . . . might be worth something to us if we could . . . ”

“If we could?”

“Find out for sure. Like you said.”

“You thinking about shaking him down?”

“Look at this place.” Carl held out a open hand. “Guy ain’t exactly hurting.”

I took a moment to admire the truth of Carl’s observation.

“Probably dropped a couple grand on that damn grillwork down there. I wonder what it’d be worth to him to keep us hushed?” he said.

“We’d have to be sure, though.”

“Damn sure.”

“We could look at that ring...see if it had an inscription or something.”

“There’s that.” Carl pulled at his fat cheeks.

“You know what else we could do...We could dig it out of there and see if there was a wallet or something. I mean if the guy left the ring he probably...”

And on like that. I think I mentioned before how thanks to my forgetfulness we didn’t have a shovel with us, though I was guessing there’d be one in that shed. I talked Carl into us breaking into it, convincing him that either way we were justified in doing so. If it wasn’t the guy’s doing, well it wouldn’t hurt none to go on and dig up what we’d found down there. And if it was, a broken lock on his shed would be the least of our new benefactor’s troubles.

Carl got the ice-ax from the van and with it made quick work of the lock. I forget the brand but I do know it was some knock-off of a Master, rectangular with the blue stripe at the bottom and everything. Sure enough, a grand green spade stood gleaming inside. Thing looked like it had hardly been used at all. Probably part of a set, like from Sears or something. We carried the stuff inside and back down into the basement.

First thing I did once we got down there was pull the band off the bony knuckle and examine it under the light from the window. Had some initials in it, I forget what. Carl said it didn’t jibe with whatever the owner’s name was, so we began digging.

I should say Carl began digging. I began watching.

According to Carl, the owner had mentioned he’d be out all day, so there wasn’t any particular rush to things. Still, I’ll admit to becoming a little antsy when Carl kept interrupting his progress with another speech about the composite of denim or the corrosive properties of zippers or whatever the hell else occurred to him as he carefully cut a couple of little trenches on either side of the skeleton.

It was interesting. Found steel tips but no boots. Some studs. No wallet, of course. Now it was Carl’s turn to be antsy.

“What a waste,” he said, shaking his head over the now fully-uncovered remains. To be honest, I don’t know if he was referring to the dead man or to all the work he’d done to dig him up.

“What now?” I asked.

Carl tossed the shovel to the side and sat on his heels, rocking slowly and looking at his handiwork.

“I don’t know,” he said to me over his shoulder. Probably the first time I’d ever heard him say it. He started to turn around.

“You got any ideas?”

I guess you could say I did.

That’s when I hit him, kind of lunged and got him right between the fat part of the neck and the shoulder with the ice-ax. He fell forward, his forehead smacking hard against the underside of the staircase. Only took a minute or two, I’d say.

I rolled him over against the wall and then went to work deepening those trenches he’d started. Took it much deeper than I had done before, and following Carl’s suggestion, I made a few trips back out into those woods and gathered a couple dozen medium-sized rocks to pile on top of the both of them before tossing in the ice-ax and filling in the hole.

Not that it matters, but several of the rocks I gathered were about the same in size as the one I’d used to fell the old guy with before, right in those very same woods. It had been a couple of years, at least. Came across him just sitting out there, high and happy. Offered me a pull or two off of his bottle. It’s been a hell of a while now, but I don’t think he’d had more than just a few bills on him.

Taking the ring had occurred to me, of course. I’d even gone so far as to yank the thing off. Had it in my pocket as I carried him down through the back yard and rolled him through that big basement window. I didn’t have shovel then, neither, so I must’ve used a rock or stick or something to dig the shallow grave.

I changed my mind about the ring, though. Had that inscription and I didn’t want to risk any trouble at a pawn shop over it. So I’d crammed it back onto his pointer.

Maybe Carl should’ve noticed that. Like I said, normally the man was a stickler for the little stuff. I’m not saying I know what he’d have made of it if he had noticed the band being on the pointer like it was. The man was sharp, though. He might’ve figured something.

I loaded everything back into the van. Remembered to put the key back in the little tray underneath the lamp. I washed the shovel real good and put it back in the shed. Found another Master in the van and put it on the doors, figuring that would look less strange than no lock at all. Drove the van up to Santa-something or other where I was able to park it in a parts lot. They must’ve recovered it by now, though it could have been those parts guys broke it down before they could.

Anyhow, like I said before, I put this all down now so I don’t forget later. Which I’m apt to do.

Because I got to have some way oaf keeping track of these things.

Martin Harris is a writer living in North Carolina. He is the author of Same Difference, a hard-boiled detective novel set in 1970s New York City. He also covers the world of poker both under his own name and as "Short-Stacked Shamus" for a variety of outlets, including his blog, Hard-Boiled Poker.

The Find, Part Two

By Mark Verve © 2010

Finding several million dollars is on the list of good problems to have. Drug money or not I could think of worse problems but it still was a problem. The main challenge is legitimizing some of the cash to make it more manageable in the governments eyes. I knew to avoid pretentious spending of the new found wealth. Years ago Steve Wynn's daughter was kidnapped in Las Vegas and held for ransom. Wynn got the money out of his casino and the exchange was made. One of the kidnappers then bought a European sports car for cash. They were arrested a few days later. I was not going to be making any large purchases. This needed to be handled on a low key basis.

The next day I went to the Walgreens pharmacy and paid full price for Lisa's meds. I had taken several of the hundreds with me. I gave two to the clerk and she looked surprised to see them. I had seen her around town with her girlfriend. Personally I prefer the lesbians that look like super models not Barney Rubble but I digress. She held one up to the light then the other squinting back and forth between the two. She said that she wasn't sure what to look for. Then an expression of an idea crossed her face and she opened the drawer next to the register. She took out the felt tipped security marker and stroked both bills. Satisfied she counted my change and I left. If nothing else I was reminded to check any bills I decide to spend. Don't need the Feds discovering my new stash because of a bad bill.

After thinking about it I decided not to tell Lisa about the money just yet. We weren't hurting financially so there was no immediate need to do so. After our parents' accident she and I inherited the house and a small stake. An annuity now covered most living expenses and a little more. She would benefit from the find after I converted it. That spared her the the worry I was sure she'd have over the situation. Lisa is an attractive woman with bipolar disorder. That combination had created endless relationship drama in her life including two failed marriages. She had been stable for some time now and seemed contented. No sense in disrupting things. She's worked at the local flower shop for several years. Her passion and talent for flower arranging were a welcomed discovery and I'm sure contribute to her health.

It was clear that I couldn't just walk into the bank and make a large cash deposit. Any amount over ten thousand must be reported. Making lots of deposits under ten thousand was also not realistic. It could attract the attention of local authorities and would definitely interest the IRS at tax time. I would deposit an odd two or three hundred every now and then to cover checks but that was it. Likewise putting it into a safe deposit box was not a realistic option. The sheer space the cash took up was too much. There had to be better ways to go about the conversion and I started researching it on the internet.

One answer was to buy gold coins. Larger cities have coin shops that sell all types of precious metals. Many of them will perform cash transactions with no I.D. required. I made a few calls and then made a road trip to Tucson, Phoenix, and Vegas. Over a week I visited six shops and converted cash into a total of six hundred one ounce gold coins. It was nerve racking traveling with that much cash but I was careful and there were no incidents. Coin shop owners are used to dealing in cash and no questions were ever asked. I made two visits to each shop spaced by at least a day. I did that route again several times in the next few weeks. Those purchases would cover about about half of the balance.

One day I decided to call Slick to see if he had any Bubba Kush available. I hadn't had the urge for a while but things were settling down now. The past four months had gone well and the process was almost over. It had been six months since I had talked to him although we were well acquainted in the past. His real name was John Every but since we were kids he was called Slick. I heard through the grapevine that he had come into a new connection and had quality on a regular basis. When I called him he gave me the usual superficial buddy buddy stuff that probably worked on some of his clientele. He said not to come over before two o'clock. Slick lived on the outskirts of town in one of those trailer parks where everyone had something to hide and nobody asked any questions. He'd survived for years supplying this corner of the desert.

The next morning I inventoried the remaining two bags before going to visit Slick. I found that all but nine hundred thousand had been converted. I felt good about the situation and was starting to relax. Half of it was now gold and the rest was in platinum bars and diamonds. All of it was located in safe deposit boxes in five different banks. I put Lisa on the contracts and amended my will. The diamonds had been tricky but I found what proved to be reliable sources in the downtown L.A. jewelry district. Knowing little about stones I had each lot independently appraised by two different vendors prior to purchase. I don't care for the politics of diamonds but the high concentration of value made them appealing. All three commodities could be sold quietly in the future through private parties on an as needed basis.

I had a late lunch and headed out to Slick's place after two. It was a twenty minute drive that I had done many times before. I parked in the empty dirt lot next to Slick's trailer. There was a dog chained to a motorcycle next door and it announced my arrival. It barked until Slick let me in and stopped as soon as the door closed. The room had an odor of bacon mixed with cigarette smoke. After some small talk he pointed me to a chair and asked how much I wanted. He went into the bedroom and I heard the rustling of plastic bags. I was anxious to leave as soon as possible. I noticed that Slick's trailer had not changed during the five years he'd lived there. The same furniture, pictures, and general clutter served as a familiar backdrop. His old style big screen TV was tuned to a baseball game and had that strange faded picture. He returned to the room and we made the transaction. As I was about to stand and leave the dog started barking. I looked out the window and a bolt of adrenaline shot through my spine.

A car had pulled into the lot and parked next to mine. It was a white 1970's Pontiac Trans Am. The driver got out and reached for a duffel bag from behind the front seat. He was Hispanic, mid twenties, and wearing a cowboy hat. Slick told me that it was OK and to be cool. I heard steps on the porch and Slick opened the door. I felt my anxiety level rising but told myself to relax. Could this car be the same one I passed immediately after I'd left the accident? As soon as the guy entered he shot a suspicious look in my direction. He pointed at my car and asked if it was mine saying he'd once owned the same model. He continued to stand even after Slick had pulled out a chair for him. I knew he was there to make a drop. Slick took the cue and they walked into the back room. I felt an overwhelming need to get out of there. I stood and told Slick I was leaving. The dog started barking again this time lunging and straining against the chain. As I was pulling out of the lot I saw the guy leaving the trailer. I headed back towards town but decided to take the longer route by making a right at the first intersection. I looked in my rear view and saw that the guy had joined me. I was almost sure he was not following me.

Click here to read Part 1 of The Find
.


Mark Verve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and writes for relaxation. He trades the stock markets for a living and plays poker for aggravation.