June 16, 2009

June 2009, Vol. 8, Issue 6

Welcome back to the birthday issue of Truckin' as we turn seven years old this month!

1. Pink Dragons by Paul McGuire
Charles was skeptical and accused me of being a CIA or DEA agent, not to mention the evil offspring of George Bush. There was a strong anti-American sentiment in New Zealand and Charles epitomized that angst. When I unfurled a wad of multi-colored Australian dollars, he abruptly ended his rant and asked me how much I needed... More

2. Holly of Houston: Google Me! by Johnny Hughes
Holly was a former board member of Houston's chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She had donated $140,000 to the Texas Strippers for PETA tour. Her frequent comments in Texas newspapers were strongly anti-gun... More

3. I'll Read Your Madness Later by May B. Yesno
The agent freezes; there on that glorious bed lay two figures. The face and name was banging a woman. The woman clawing gently on the back of the face and name, eyes silted in pleasure, yet aware enough to look at the agent coming through the doorway... More

4. The Collector by Milton T. Burton
He was questioned by two detectives from the Organized Crime Squad---one older, tall, thin and gray haired; the other younger, short, thickset and bald. Raymond Chandler said they always came paired that way. But the old man didn't read Chandler... More

5. Morrison's Lament By Michael Friedman
Society no longer values the divinity of the self, so I find myself amiss all of the technology, discontent, and terror and although it takes only a moment to imagine that I am free from the nastiness that the universe leaves on my lips with every gut-wrenching soul kiss... More

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

From the Editor's Laptop:

The June edition of Truckin' marks the seventh anniversary of this monthly rag. I'm honored to have a stellar cast of writers this month including veterans Johnny Huges, Milton T. Burton, and May B. Yesno. And Michael Friedman makes his debut with something inspired by the Lizard King.

Please spread the word about Truckin' and increase your karma tenfold! Tell your friends and family and co-workers about your favorite stories. The contributors write for free and you'll be doing me a huge favor by helping get their name out and about.

If anyone is interested in being added to the mailing list, or perhaps you are interested in writing for a future issue, then feel free to contact me.

Seven years. Hard to think that we're still alive and kicking despite the many instances when I wanted to pull the plug and give up forever. I have to sincerely thank the writers for sharing their blood work. Thanks for taking this leap of faith with me.

And a special thanks goes out to you, the reader, for your loyalty and support over the years.

Be good,

"Do one thing and do it the best you can." - Harry Snyder, founder of In-N-Out Burger

Pink Dragons

By Paul McGuire © 2009

There were four of us... at first.

I struggled to find a reliable connection in Sydney, aside from a few hustlers and trannie hookers hanging out around King's Cross. Every morning, I frequented a cafe near my flat where I ate a proper English breakfast with the finest organic ingredients that Australia had to offer. When I joked to the waitress about being out of smoke, she suggested that I contact her flatmate's brother to get sorted out. That's when I was introduced to Charles, a lanky Kiwi computer programmer.

Charles was skeptical and accused me of being a CIA or DEA agent, not to mention the evil offspring of George Bush. There was a strong anti-American sentiment in New Zealand and Charles epitomized that angst. When I unfurled a wad of multi-colored Australian dollars, he abruptly ended his rant and asked me how much I needed.

I bought a small chunk of hashish every few weeks. Each time that we met, we hung out a little and little longer. Initially, we met in non-suspicious locations, such as St. James Place or near Hyde Park. After a while, Charles agreed to meet me at his flat in Glebe, where we'd hang out and smoke on his roof and talk about politics. Sometimes we watched cricket on his TV and he explained to me the intricacies of the peculiar game. His real passion was rugby and he promised to take me to a proper match once the season started up.

Clayton, born and bred in London and later educated at Oxford, was a business reporter for the Financial Times and he also moonlighted for the BBC. Clayton lived in Sydney with his model girlfriend. Shelby, born in Wales, spent most of her teens and early 20s traveling the world as a model. Although in her late 20s, she was considered washed up in the modeling scene and landed a second career modeling in Asia. She had an agent in Hong Kong and frequently left Sydney for fashion shows, shoots, and assignments in Japan and Hong Kong.

I never figured out how Clayton and Charles knew each other. They never explained their common link. I met Clayton one afternoon when he stopped by Charles' flat for a pick up. Since we were both writers, Clayton and I instantly bonded. He and his girlfriend lived in a high rise overlooking Sydney Harbour and the famous Opera House. Supposedly, Russell Crowe owned the penthouse in the same building.

Clayton and Shelby threw dinner parties a couple of times a month, usually when her work and travel scheduled permitted such a gathering. He invited me and mentioned that if I showed up with liquor and he'd provide food and the rest of the party favors. They ordered in fantastic meals from Chinatown and a rotating group of a dozen or so guests from different walks of life were in attendance like a local record producer, a diplomat from Malaysia, and a couple of British ex-pats on an extended holiday in Australia.

After getting fired from my job at the newspaper, I got stuck ghost-writing the autobiography of a powerful Australian businessman. I spent two hours a day and four-days a week listening to him recant the vapid highlights of his life into my voice recorder and I went home each night and transcribed everything and struggled to piece together chapters. The old Aussie ran the largest hedge fund in the Pacific-Rim and took a major hit. Clayton told me that he lost billions (in U.S. dollars) gambling on credit default swaps. During the financial crisis, his book was put on hold for a few weeks while the old Aussie flew back-and-forth between Hong Kong, Frankfurt, and New York taking meetings and trying to stop his fund from hemorrhaging millions of dollars every day.

During the downtime, Clayton found me work writing dispatches for the BBC. I never realized how little I was getting paid at the Chronicle until I started freelancing for the Brits. Plus, they paid me in British Pounds which had a favorable conversion to Australian Dollars. My rent was subsidized by the book contract and I had spent most of my advance on paying off credit card debt before I left San Francisco. The extra cash from the BBC was welcomed. I spent my mornings writing and most of my afternoons sitting in pubs with Clayton and other business writers. When I wasn't drinking pints of Tooheys and discussing the impending collapse of the almighty U.S. dollar, I was sitting on Charles' roof discussing rugby strategy and smoking hash that was grown in the Peshwar region, somewhere along the imaginary border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"You know, mate, your President can throw us all into that prison in Cuba for supporting the evildoers," said Charles as he exhaled a plume of smoke and handed me the joint.

"Yeah," I agreed as I took a drag, "I'm the enemy for buying hashish supplied by narco-terrorists. And you're the worst of the bunch... the lowly middle-man."

"Well, at least I didn't have to hide the lump in my bum to smuggle it into the country."

During one of Clayton's dinner parties, Shelby pulled me aside and I followed her into their bedroom. A model friend of Shelby's finished up a shoot in Thailand and scored a packet of pink pills.

"Is that ya ba?" I asked.

Ya ba was meth in pill form. Bright pink pills to be exact. They were manufactured in illegal factories somewhere on the Burma border. Although the Golden Triangle was notoriously known for it's opium and heroin production, there was a growing demand for meth. Thailand was in the middle of an atrocious ya ba epidemic and the pink pills were in high demand in China, mostly to keep the low-wage factory workers jacked up while they churned out flimsy plastic pieces of shit that were generated into American toys and Swedish furniture.

Ya ba was Thai slang for "mad medicine" and it transformed whoever took it into a raving lunatic. As a few hippies I knew from Marin County used to tell me, "Speed kills." Somehow, Shelby's friend scored her a packet of pink pills. Shelby popped one pill and handed out a pink pill to myself, Clayton, and Charles. We all hung out until sunrise talking about what, I can't remember. The effects were similar to a weak-batch of ecstasy. In short, I was wired and stayed up for two days. I wrote a hundred pages of pure gibberish, but at the time, I thought it was Pulitzer Prize winning material.

We really only abused ya ba a couple of times a month during Clayton's dinner parties. When the batch ran out, we stopped for a couple of weeks until Shelby scored more. But that time, we started smoking ya ba. Chasing the pink dragon. The effects multiplied immensely. The high was shorter but more intense.

The first packet Shelby originally scored lasted us several months. And the latest packet? Consumed in a frantic weekend. We sat around hopelessly smoking ya ba during a tumultuous bender. We were up for 50 hours straight and watched CNN and BBC, convinced that every single reporter was an alien shapeshifter feeding English-speaking citizens around the globe propaganda and covering up an evil alien agenda that infiltrated the governments of Great Britain, Canada, America, and Australia.

When ya ba supplies dried up, Clayton, Shelby, and Charles decided to take a holiday up to Thailand to secure more product. By that point, my client was ready to finish his book, and I had to stay behind in Sydney against my will. Clayton, Charles, and Shelby found a reliable ya ba source in Bangkok and convinced me to blow off work in order to join them for a full moon party on Samui. I respectfully declined. As much as I enjoyed the ya ba, I wasn't as addicted as the rest of my friends. I also had a book to finish and a $20,000 paycheck waiting for me once I turned in the final draft. That decision to avoid Samui was a wise one for me.

I never saw Clayton or Shelby ever again. They got super strung out and couldn't escape the morbid grasps of meth addiction. Clayton got sacked from both jobs at the Financial Times and the BBC. With a position open at the BBC, I was hired as a full time reporter and I replaced Clayton. That was a bittersweet moment. My new boss had no idea that I knew Clayton, let alone did drugs with him.

"Meet your deadlines and we won't have any issues," said my new boss. "I had to sack the previous reporter because he was a bloody junkie. Another sad casualty of the Asian meth wars."

I heard a rumor from a fellow business writer at Bloomberg that Shelby and Clayton split. She moved to Hong Kong and became a high-end call girl, turning tricks with wealthy businessman in order to support her ya ba habit and whatever else she got addicted to during her lost time in Thailand. And Clayton? Not one word. He disappeared without a trace.

Charles returned to Sydney after a couple of weeks, but was utterly strung out. Although he continued to hook me up with hashish, he refused to sell me any ya ba, instead keeping it all to himself. We stopped hanging out on his roof and no longer had lengthy discussions about philosophy, politics, cricket, and rugby. He became a shut in and covered up all his windows because any inkling of light caused him intense migraines. It became harder for us to actually carry-on a conversation. His rambling rants became more incoherent and his paranoid accusations ruled his behavior. He was a functioning addict and some how kept his job while he continued to work from home. The rest of his time, he chased the pink dragon, while he repeatedly asked me to lift up my shirt to prove that I wasn't wearing a wire for the DEA.

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas. He currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.

Holly of Houston: Google Me!

By Johnny Hughes © 2009

"Hello, is this Gene Wilcox?" Holly Edwards had rehearsed this phone call in her head for forty years, especially this last year.

"Well, hello Holly," Gene said.

"Oh, you recognized my voice. That's so sweet."

"I have caller ID, but I would have recognized your voice for sure. I don't know why, but I've been thinking about you a whole lot lately," Gene lied. Like so many baby boomers, his memory of the 1960s was a bit fuzzy around the edges.

"I imagine you have searched me, googled me, and know all about Holly of Houston. Have you googled me? You should do an exact word search on IceRocket for Holly of Houston. That's my brand, my web site, and blog. Have you seen them?" She asked, a bit too smugly. Smug and having $90 million go together nicely.

"Nah, I'm not on the Internet. I hunt and fish. I am an outdoors man. Lately, I've been hunting feral hogs, sometimes from a helicopter with an assault rifle. They are good eating when Capt. Mike gets through with them."

Gene and Holly had lived together, and been leading campus radicals at Texas Tech from 1968 until 1972. He wrote for the Catalyst, the underground newspaper. They thought of themselves as incredibly noble back then. The Movement.

"We are on the same wave length. I have been spending all of my time outdoors since I got out of the stock market. I'm in my garden right now. I'm there every morning. Oh, Gene, I want to see you. I got out of the stock market when the Dow was 13,000. That is what I am kind of famous for. For twenty years, I was chained to a computer screen when the stock market was open. Now, I am outdoors. Like you. I am retired, really, but the world doesn't know that."

Holly was a former board member of Houston's chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She had donated $140,000 to the Texas Strippers for PETA tour. Her frequent comments in Texas newspapers were strongly anti-gun.

"I have this web mistress. She manages my web presence," she said. "She found out you were divorced, and that you still had Shy Tornado Hardware. I found you on the Internet, I wish you'd find me. Google me. I've been all over the financial newspapers and web sites as 'The Girl Who Got Out.' Google me, please. When the Dow was at 13,000, I sold all my stock and advised all my clients at Ralston to sell. Then I put it on my web site. Got millions of hits. That's what we are doing now, exploring making HollyofHouston.com a subscription web site. Any way, I'm over talking, as my last therapist would say. How do you spend your time?" Holly asked. Holly's fifteen minutes of fame were on minute fourteen.

"Your web mistress is a bit slow. I've been divorced fourteen years. I spend at least three days a week at the Lake Alan Henry Lodges. Have your web mistress look them up. There's a picture of me with an eight-pound, large mouth bass. Me 'n Mike and Jack Burk have been gearing up to enter bass tournaments where the big bucks are. Lake Alan Henry's the best bass lake in Texas now. You fish any? Or hunt?"

Gene was sure he knew the answer. Gene Wilcox had entered exactly one bass tournament at Lake Texoma. He slipped on the dock, and caused a hairline fracture in his elbow. He never actually made it on to the lake. The fish the Burks caught could best be examined with a strong magnifying glass.

"I'm seeking more outdoor and travel experiences. Come visit me. I'll put you up at the Galleria, charter a fishing boat, and we can go deep sea fishing. I want adventure. Remember, we were pretty wild. We'd do anything you want to do, if you'd come on down. I was a bit surprised that you were at the hardware store, but that is very neat, kind of comforting, following in your grandfather and father's footsteps. Ever since Sheila told me it was still open, I've been trying to remember that story about how it got its name."

Sheila, Holly of Houston's web mistress, favored tattoos of cartoon characters. She had twenty-seven. Her favorites were Dick Tracy, Superman, and Popeye. During the radical days, Gene had often vowed he would never work in the family hardware store, or stay in Lubbock, Texas.

"Somebody asks that ever day. Ever day! My granddaddy saw this skinny little tornado on the edge of Lubbock that was just sitting there in one spot. Isn't much of a story. I tried to sell the hardware store for five years, but now we are doing all right. You talking your Internet. My daddy was a pack rat with a whole big 'ol warehouse full of old junk. Odd shaped light bulbs, fixtures for these houses built in the forties. Arthur has all that old stuff up on the Internet and charges a bundle to pack and ship. We have a computer at the store. I was at the Galleria for a hardware convention. Folks said there were hassles over handguns. Do you have a concealed carry license? You need one. You come to the Lake Alan Henry Lodges. We'll put you up, and put up with you. You remember Arthur Yarnoff, don't you, the New York radical? He's been my store manager for six years now. He moved back here."

Gene was trying to sound casual, as a certain surprise, jealous anger rose inside him. When he had been totally focused on this spectacularly-breasted, braless sophomore that wrote for the Catalyst in 1972, he had forced Holly to agree to an "open relationship", where they could explore all the sexual, pre-AIDS benefits of the hippy movement, and still plan their marriage. In order to make Gene jealous, Holly had spent a miserable night in Ruidoso, New Mexico with Arthur Yarnoff, Gene's major radical competitor for slogan-spouting time at many a protest. In a slogan-filled time, they were full of slogans.

"The guy who looked like Trotsky? I would have never remembered him, until you brought it up," Holly lied. In an insane, jealous rage, Gene had moved all of his things out of their poster-laden, alley-pad apartment in record time. He smashed Holly's prized jewelry box. Gene had married the daughter of another local hardware store owner on the rebound.

Holly posted on Twitter, "I am on the telephone with the absolute love of my life for the first time in forty years!"

Her compulsive need to tell everyone about herself, and her inability to keep the normal secrets about herself were the precise reason that HollyofHouston.com had readers in almost every country in the world.

"Hell, 'ol New York Art, as he is called, is one of the best known fellers in Lubbock County. He's in Elks, Moose, Lions, Rotary. Art did a complete one-eighty from far left to far right. He put himself up for Republican Party Chairman, but this fat-ass, right-wing, talk-show fool brought up all that stuff about Art's radical past. Art was arrested three or four times falsely back then. He still looks a little like Trotsky, if you squint. Will you come visit the lake? We have a big party coming up next month. Come on down, it is beautiful, a great view of the Caprock. Wild flowers ever where. We party on this long porch every weekend." Gene said.

"I have a few loose ends to tie up here, " Holly lied. "Karl Ralston is a bit mad at me. He is the man that made my career. Kind of Dolly Parton and Porter Waggoner. We disagreed on me getting out of the market, and telling everyone so loudly. We are like family. He'll get over it. I was on Conan O'Brien, and several satellite radio shows. There are podcasts. Your lodge sounds like fun. I'll come there, and you come here. I have a big house in River Oaks."

Karl Ralston had filed a lawsuit against Holly for breach of contract, and a shopping list of other creative reasons. The very words, Holly of Houston, sent Ralston's blood pressure into orbit.

Each morning, Holly would draft some comment on the news of the day which Sheila would post on the Houston Chronicle web site. Holly had 1,276 "friends" and was often on the Most Popular list, but she would never catch Shondell. Sheila also put the comment in the Austin and Dallas newspapers, and on MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Holly's unpredictable, revealing, vulnerable, weekly YouTube videos were often so banal that folks watched several times thinking they didn't get it.

Sheila wanted to be a roller derby girl, but her multiple piercings would have caused a blood bath. She felt a strong sense of satisfaction in signing Holly up as "friends" on MySpace with women's roller derby groups all over America: Rat City Rollers, Rainy Day, Rocky Mountain, Gotham, the Derby Liberation Front, et al. Sheila was about the only true friend around, now that Holly was banned for life from the Ralston building, all offices, and all company functions.

Sheila spent a few hours each day asking strangers across the globe to be Holly of Houston's "friends" on many web sites. Sheila worked equally hard at her own Internet presence with the screen name "Funny Book." She had rotating avatars of close-up photos of her cartoon-character tattoos: Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Pluto, Mr. Magoo. Wiley E. Coyote, Bart Simpson, and more. Holly had gone with Sheila, and gotten a small dragon tattooed on her shoulder.

Holly of Houston had not said so to the millions that followed her, but she was not going to predict a stock market bottom. She was really out of the market for good. She wasn't coming back. She really didn't have much of anything to say, but millions were waiting to hear it.

"Next month at the Lodge, we are going to have Dennis Ross and the Axberg Brothers Band, real crazy East Texans, and a critter cook. Folks bring every kind of wild game out of their freezers. Mike and Jack marinade everything with lots of jalapeno pepper juice, and Captain Mike's secret marinade recipe. There's wild turkey, buffalo, venison, bobcat, doves, prairie dog, quail, squirrel, pheasant. You'd love pheasant hunting. We've had zebra, bear, and even possum. You want adventure? Try hunting feral hogs with an assault rifle from a helicopter. Homeland Security wants to get rid of them. Terrorists might infect them with anthrax."

Now Gene was making a little canned sales talk, because he had been inviting folks to the big party.

"I'd love that," Holly said. She had been very vocal in an Internet way about being a vegetarian. "If you ever wanted to come here, I'd charter you a jet. How far is this lake from the Lubbock airport? Hey, remember those two Tech students who died from eating jack rabbits? I don't know about you eating wild hogs."

The conversation was going her way. A reunion was her goal.

"It's an hour from Lubbock. You got the kind of money to be chartering a jet?" Gene was now reviewing all of Holly's unsubtle clues about her vast wealth.

"I am going to let money make money slowly now, and not watch it every minute. A lot of money is a blessing and a curse. I'll never really work again, or do anything I do not want to do," she said.

"That's the way I am. No worries. Plenty of money. I go to the hardware store for coffee of a morning, if I'm not at the Lodge. I spend more time sitting on the porch at the Lodge, staring at the Caprock, than anything else. We got a nice plantin' rain. The wild flowers are ever where. They have nearly ruined the view at night with those wind power turbine things. They make a row of little red lights all along the Cap. I hate them. They are ugly," Gene said. "The big ranchers have all the land, all the oil, all the cows, and now those things. Why do they need them?"

"I can imagine. I am a big champion of the environment." Holly said. Ralston had always advised it's Houston, oil-rich clients to invest in all forms of alternative energy. "Are you politically active at all? You really had a great social conscience."

"Nah, I didn't even vote. They are all fools. The guy that did win Republican Chairman just shouts on several radio stations every morning. Art goes on the radio and shouts and agrees with him. They both sound like the biggest fools, but that's Art's lookout. When I think back on the 1960s, it is like it happened to another guy. Remember when Arthur had Tech's first anti-war demonstration? He called all the radio and TV stations. They all came. He was the only protester. Had him this here sign that said, 'We are bringing the war home.' Remember that?" Gene asked.

Arthur Yarnoff had been the President, and only member, of the Students for a Democratic Society. He had also been President of the Young Socialists. The other seven members all had mental problems that later revealed themselves in comic ways.

"No. I don't remember that," Holly lied. "I am not into politics anymore either. I'm like you about the old days, but I do remember you. Us. Our romance. It was so good. I remember the good times." Holly had donated $100,000 to Hillary Clinton's campaign, and later $20,000 to Senator Obama. An Austin lobbying group had conned her out of $60,000 to oppose concealed-carry gun laws and guns on college campuses. "Being outdoors in West Texas sounds like where I am supposed to be. With you."

"The Burks bought 'em several houses in this ghost town, Justiceburg. They fixed them up for fishing cabins. The Lodge is a motel. This fellow caught a fifteen-pound bass, so folks are coming from several states. What's really weird is these here bird watchers. A whole bunch of them rented two of the Justiceburg cabins. They come there for the wild turkeys. They had binoculars and cameras the size of Volkswagens, and didn't even fish. There are a rainbow of ever kind of wild flower off the Cap. They photographed all these flowers. Yankees. Weirdos," Gene said.

His West Texas accent and slang were far more pronounced than Holly remembered. Holly was an avid, and learned bird watcher. She had funded an Audobon Society web site in Houston so that the devoted could post their bird sightings.

"You wouldn't think wild hog is good eating, but it is tender and doesn't have much fat when Capt. Mike serves it. I sure would like you to meet my best friends. They are weird, but everybody loves them. These tourist fishermen love our West Texas culture. We laugh mostly. Everything is funny. You probably don't get what I mean," Gene said.

"I do. I do exactly," Holly lied. "I need to get away. I really have not traveled the world much, but I might. I'll come to Lake Alan Henry, if you will go to Europe with me. O.K., I am getting ahead of myself. I was remembering that time we went to Santa Fe in your V.W. bus." Her therapist's warnings were ringing in her head. "If you can get me one of those cabins, I would just lay up. I ordered a good year's supply of books from Amazon. Remember, we would both read. Just sit quiet and read, together. I am really remembering things now."

"Yeah, I'm remembering too. What if you didn't like me or like it here? I guess you could just go, no harm done. You look at that picture of me with the eight-pound bass I caught. I wear the same size pants I did in high school and have all my hair." Gene didn't know he was lying about his waist by three inches. He did have seventy per cent of his hair. The bass weighed five pounds, and Jack Burk caught it. "I'll take you into Post and we can dance. I'm one of the best country and western dancers in several counties. You still dance? You remember when we got run out of that country joint because of looking like hippies?"

Now for the first time, Gene let go of the laugh Holly remembered.

"Can I dance? I've taken ballroom lessons for the last three years, since the boom from TV. My dance instructor, Rowdy, is one of my best friends. He won't eat anything green. He got out of the stock market the instant I said to. Are you really that good a dancer? We stuck to a basic two step back then."

"Hell, yes. You are coming here. Honestly, I was a little worried about all the big differences between us. Forty years. I am actually that good a dancer, or nearly. I'd be proud for you to meet all my friends. I really, really would."

Gene had broken his ankle when he stepped in a prairie dog hole while hunting quail. His fancy dancing days were not all the way over. He had a most creative limp.

"I remember Post because we used to go honky-tonkin'. Does it have an airport? I could charter a plane and bring Sheila to tend to shopping and things. You will know what I look like if you hit google images. I still weigh the same. O.K., I have been surgically enhanced just a tad." Holly had slowly gained, and rapidly lost 60 pounds, and had absolutely no chance of keeping it all off. She looked and felt beautiful. "We were always so truthful with each other."

"Yes, we were always truthful. Maybe that's what broke us up. It was all my fault. I was wrong," Gene said.

And that is all you have to say to a woman. She knows anything that comes up is your fault, and she wants to hear you say it.

In two weeks, Holly, who is fasting, and Sheila will arrive at the Post, Texas airport in a rented plane. A limo will be standing by. The limo and plane will be there all weekend. So will the driver and pilot. A commercial flight to Lubbock would have been easier, but Sheila's multiple piercings would not make it though any metal detector. Holly has already promised to loan both the plane and the limo to Jack Burk and John Claude Axberg. They are going to show Sheila around West Texas. What could possibly go wrong there?

Gene bought all new underwear, and had his teeth cleaned. He has given up dipping snuff. He bought Holly a light-weight, lady's .32 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver as a reunion gift. He is planning on filling her cabin with multi-colored wild flowers like he did the Motel 6 room in Santa Fe. Gene has bragged to most folks in Lubbock, Garza, and Lynn counties about his rich girlfriend. Gene had kept a lot of old pictures of Holly, and Gene and Holly from the 1960s. He went to Kinkos and had them blown up to put in her cabin.

Holly is not talking to the world on the Internet these days. She's thinking about Gene. I am pulling for them. Everybody in West Texas is invited to the big party at the Lake Alan Henry Lodges, except Arthur Yarnoff.

Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.

The Collector

By Milton T. Burton © 2009

He was questioned by two detectives from the Organized Crime Squad---one older, tall, thin and gray haired; the other younger, short, thickset and bald. Raymond Chandler said they always came paired that way. But the old man didn't read Chandler. In fact, he didn't read anything but Stockman Magazine and the local newspaper. A cattleman from deep East Texas, it was his first trip to New York---a visit to his only granddaughter who did something he didn't understand in the fashion industry. She knew he didn't grasp what she did and that he only feigned interest when she started chattering on about her job, as she was prone to do. But that didn't matter. What mattered was that he was her granddad and she loved him and was delighted to have him visit her.

She'd taken him to a fancy, upscale Italian restaurant for his first night in the Big Apple. It started out as a fine evening. He might be a country man, but he loved that Dago food and didn't mind to tell Mr. Anybody. Dago wine wasn't all that bad either. He was on his third glass and having the time of his life. Then the man in the cape battered his way through the side wall of the restaurant and strode their way, a move that got everybody's attention since the wall was double layer brick.

"When I first seen him, I thought he was coming for us," the old man told the detectives.

"But it was the folks at the table beside ours he had his eye on. There were five of them there, all men, all clustered around this rich looking older guy--"

"That was Don Orsini," the stumpy guy said.

"Who?" the old man asked.

"Vittorio Orsini," the slim detective said. "He is, or I guess I should say he was, the most powerful mob boss in Manhattan."

"One of them Mafia fellows, huh?" the old man asked.

"Right," said the slim man.

"Well, he sure looked the part," the old man said. "All that fine-barbered, wavy, silver hair. That hair made it right easy for that joker in the cape to tote his head away once he got done with him."

"How long did it take him to come through that wall?" the stumpy cop asked.

"About as long as it would take one of us to rip through one made out of a single layer of newspaper. He just knocked a hole in it and sorta brushed it aside."

"That's what the other witnesses said," the slim cop said with a nod.

The old man nodded with him. It was a meeting of the minds. They were in substantial agreement that the fellow in the cape was one unique hombre. "Have you ever had something like this happen before?" the old man asked.

The two detectives looked at each other for a couple of seconds. "We probably shouldn't tell you this," the slim cop said. "But, hell. . . It's going to in all the papers tomorrow because there's no way to keep it under wraps. Orsini was the fourth one this evening. All done within an hour of one another, all high-level mob figures. All done the same way. Same M.O. Four heads. He took 'em all."

"You don't say?" the old man said calmly.

The slim man blinked a few times in surprise. "That doesn't bother you?"

The old man shrugged. "I don't see no reason why it should.

The chunky guy laughed a rueful little laugh. "Damn! You are unflappable, aren't you?"

This earned him a cold smile. "Son, I was in the first wave ashore at Omaha Beach. I seen more of this kind of shit my first hour in France than you're gonna see in your whole lifetime here in this big city. So, no. It don't flap me none."

"What did he look like?" the slim man asked quickly. "I mean the guy in the cape."

"He was about six feet tall, graying hair, a bit of a paunch. I guess he was in his late fifties or early sixties. He was wearing Bermuda shorts, a college sweatshirt and that red cape. But I don't think it was a real cape. It looked more like a table cloth to me, something he'd just tied around his neck to look like a cape."

"Anything else?" the stumpy man asked.

"I'm pretty sure he was from Texas."

"That's news. What makes you say that?"

"Well, for one thing that was a University of Texas sweatshirt that he was wearing. Then there was his accent, the way he talked."

"You're pretty sure about that?"

"I don't think there's any doubt about it."

The old man went on to relate how the guy in the shorts and sweatshirt just walked over to Orsini's table as bold as could be and announced in a loud voice, "My name is Sue! How do you do?"

Orsini had looked at one of his capos and asked, "Who's this asshole?"

The man in the cape ignored the question. His face was happy, his eyes bright and gleeful. "That's a line from an old Johnny Cash song about a boy named Sue," he said. "You see, this guy's daddy named him Sue and then abandoned him, knowing he'd have to grow up tough with a name like that. That boy grew up tough, all right. And he searched for his daddy long and hard. When he finally found him, that's how he introduced himself. 'MY NAME IS SUE!'"

"What is this shit?" Orsini asked, looking around at his capos. "Can't a man eat in peace on his own turf any more?"

The intruder gave him a conspiratorial wink. The thugs sat transfixed, motionless. They weren't used to goofy-looking old dudes in capes and sweatshirts who just tooled right on up to their table and started babbling away about Johnny Cash.

The caped man continued. "After that, the boy and his daddy got into a big tussle, rolling around down on the floor gouging eyes and what-not. Later in the song there's a line about how pappy hacked off a piece of his ear. But I'm not after ears tonight. I came for your head."

The stumpy cop whistled softly. "So he just told him straight up what he was after?"

"Damn right he did."

"Go on," the slim cop urged.

"Well, they all just sat there staring at him for a few seconds, then one of the young ones stood up and started to reach under his coat. That's when the guy in the cape backhanded him. Killed him too. That backhand knocked that fool clean across the room. His head was plum lopsided on his neck, and what was left of his face looked like fresh hamburger. That's when the others come out with the guns. They must have shot that fellow a dozen times or so, but it didn't amount to nothing. I don't know where the bullets went. They didn't bounce off of him or anything like that. It was more like he absorbed 'em."

"Then what happened?" This from the thickset cop.

"Well, he just stood there grinning at them boys. They didn't grin back. I can promise you that. One of them was sharper than the rest, though."

"How so?" the slim cop asked.

"Well, he dropped his gun, made the sign of the cross and tore into the Hail Marys. I mean to tell you he went to praying lickety-split. To me, that meant that he'd figured out that the whole bunch of 'em was in way over their heads. And speaking of heads, that's when he done it."

Both cops were spellbound. "Yes?" they asked in unison.

The old man nodded. "Right. He grabbed that Don Whoever-He-Was by the hair, reached around to the back of his belt and come out with that big meat cleaver. Then he jerked his head down there on the table and WHACK!! One lick was all it took."

The spell was broken when a third cop stuck his head in the door. The slim cop went over and the two of them talked quietly for a few seconds. When he turned back his face was grim. "Two more," he said.

"Same guy?" his partner asked.

"Must be. Same description, same M.O., same kind of sweatshirt even. The first one was Maurice Combs, the black drug lord up in Harlem. The second was Oleg Orlovski, the head of the Russian mob. He got him at his daughter's birthday party."


The slim man nodded. "Helped himself to a big piece of the cake, too."

"That's what?" the stumpy cop asked. "Seven?"

"I think so."

"That's a lot of heads," the old man mused thoughtfully. "I wonder what he's planning to do with 'em."

The stumpy cop laughed. It was a stress-born laugh, the laugh of a man out of his element and trying to make light of it. "Maybe he collects the damn things," he said.

"Maybe he crawls into his coffin at dawn," the slim man muttered bitterly. "Maybe he's from Mars. Maybe, maybe maybe. The truth is that we're up against something we don't understand."

The old man laughed. "He ain't no vampire, if that's what you mean. I can promise you that. Wouldn't no Texas vampire be caught dead eating a Russian birthday cake."

The pair gaped at him. "Are you joking?" the stumpy man finally asked.

The old man shrugged and sighed. "I'd like to see my granddaughter, if you don't mind."

"In a minute," the tall one said. "She's fine. A little shaky, but not in hysterics like one might expect."

"I'm not surprised about that," the old man replied proudly. "The apples don't fall very far from the tree in our family."

They both stared at him across the table. The old dude seemed calm as ice. Happy, even. Maybe he'd had a few old memories rekindled this evening. Omaha Beach the tall cop thought and shuddered, devoutly grateful that he hadn't made that one. "We just need to ask you a couple more questions," he finally said.

"Fire away and let's be shed of it," the old man said.

The tall cop nodded. "The guy in the cape. We were told that you spoke with him."

"Damn right I did."

"Go on."

"It was just before he flew off. He was just standing there holding that fellow's head by the hair with it dripping blood on the floor and all. He turned to me and my granddaughter and gave us a kind of salute with his free hand and said 'See you folks later.' That's when I said what I did."

Both cops were leaning eagerly forward, transfixed by the old man's story. "Which was?" the tall one asked, the suspense almost palpable in the room.

"I asked, 'What's your hurry?'"

"Why that, of all things?" the stumpy cop asked, his voice a near whisper.

The old man shrugged. "Hell, I don't know. It's just what popped into my head."

"Did he respond in any way?"

"Yeah. He looked at me for a second, then he grinned real big and said 'There's a really bad-ass son-of-a-bitch after me, and I aim to get out of his way.' Then he just launched up through that damn ceiling like a rocket ship."

The third cop was back a the door. This time it was the stumpy man who spoke to him. "He hit Newark," he said as he returned to the table. "Two crime bosses. Same guy, same M.O. Only this time there was a cop on the scene. He shot him too, but it didn't have any more effect than it did when Orsini's button men did it. And he told the cop he was on his way to Washington."

The tall detective propped his elbows on the table and cradled his head in his hands.

"Where does it end?" he asked, his voice tinged with wonder.

The old man cackled. "End?" he asked. "Hell, it sounds to me like this old boy is just getting started. I do wonder about one thing, though."

"Yeah? What's that?" the stumpy cop asked.

"Do you reckon he might have been telling the truth about that bad-ass he claimed was after him?"

They regarded the old man for a few moments with horror, then the slim man spoke.

"God, I sure hope not!"

Milton T. Burton was born and raised in East Texas. He has been variously, a college history teacher, a political consultant, and a cattleman. He have published two crime novels with St. Martin's Press, NY titled "The Rogues' Game" and "The Sweet and The Dead."

I'll Read Your Madness Later

By May B. Yesno © 2009

Can you believe receiving an email such as that? Can you? Four days later, late into the evening I sit and review that statement. I have gas so bad I cannot breath. I dry heaved and couldn't rid myself of the gas.

I need to burp. Badly. Or goodly, as you will. "I'll read your madness later."

Well, and good, then, damn you. Read it later and choke.

But it did begin me thinking. One of the thinking bits was about the brain. Or, at least parts of the brain; namely the right and left sides. Only before the thinking about the brain came to mind a question came up in the thinking. I suppose I best start with...

One side of the brain is logical, I forget which one. And one side of the brain is creative, I suppose that'd be the other half - I wish I could keep them straight.

Then, there are all the people out in the world telling us that the two halves of the brain must speak to one another, which they do through tiny connections between the brain halves. That way all those creative things can be set down logically so those haves, can show the have not's - and the other way around. That makes us all happy. Buildings stay up, and art work gets protection. Done deal.

My mind, of course, came up with two questions. The first question was: If it is necessary for the two halves to talk to one another; why do we put folks that talk to themselves into padded rooms? I mean, isn't it logical if one half has a question for the other half, shouldn't it ask it.

And common courtesy, would after all, demand the question be answered. And isn't it creative to use language to both ask and answer questions, logical or not?

I picture it this way: Left side (for lack of a better name) thinks of a question but isn't sure of the answer, so he goes, "Knock, knock."

Right side (for lack of a better name), opens a small door in the hallways of the mind, and says; "Yes?"

"Right side," says Left side, "I have a question."

"Alright, ask it."

"Well, do you remember reading long years past about camels?"

"Well... ah..."

At the hesitation, the strong but mild voice of the Cortex (or is it the Cerebellum? Never mind, we'll use Cortex) echo's through the corridors of the hemi-sphere's: "Of course, she does!"

Which satisfies both halves, so Right side says: "Why, yes, I remember reading about Camels many long years ago. Why do you ask?"

"Well, if you remember, then you remember that they are said to spit." Left side states, asks.

"Yes. Camels spit. They spit at people they do not like. They spit at people they do like, when they're half pissed at them. Yes, they spit. And they're very accurate when they spit. (Thank you, Cortex.) Now why do you ask, Left side?"

"Well, it wasn't important, and it wasn't really trivial," Left side muses, "but I was wondering What would happen to people if Camels liked watermelon, but hated the seeds."

BANG! Right side slams the door in Left sides face, and Cortex mutters, "One should always wear safety sun glasses in the Desert."

Having gotten this far, I must say some of the gas is easing. I've burped a dozen small one's and still hope the BIG one comes soon. The other end has been fascinating the cat. Smelly though.

Anyhow, while I was thinking about that "madness" shtick laid upon me, I got to thinking about that NFL Player - HeHatesMe.

I was thinking that with all the name changes that character put on the legal system before they finally told him enough, all ready, that I'd hate to be that guy's IRS review agent. Really. Can you imagine trying to follow all the various names through all the different contracts in all the different names and banks, from all the different sources?

Picture it. IRS Agent standing over a full up desk, piled to over flowing near the big corner window. IRS Agent, veins budging, rigid, fists clenched, muttering between halves of his brain, glancing at the window and down fifty stories and back at the paper, and the Cortex's strong mild voice echo's down the corridors, "Not Yet. There has to be a way. Not yet. We're not the FBI."

You know? That's weird. I started writing about that IRS Agent and I burped the BIG one. Felt really good, the cat left though. Gone to bed, I think. The little ones from that end were too much.

Anyhow, thinking about expressing the IRS thing and then mentioning the FBI and all, caused one side the brain to Knock, Knock on a door of the other side. I not sure which was doing whom. Is that right? Whom? Well, never mind. We'll say Right side did the knocking this time, except Cortex is going to help all the time and Left side will get the straight skinny - just so he'll be ready when the FBI Agent needs him.

Yes. Well, the agent.

Good man? Yes. Good agent? Yes. Case Overloads? No., well, no more so than any other agent experiences. Good college, better than average grades, good family back ground. Has to be. Can't be an agent without all that. Average looking, average height... Average everything. Has to be. Can't be an agent without all that.

So, among the many cases, what's our man doing.

Chasing Dope. Chasing illegal dope. Chasing dealers of illegal dope. Out on the streets; talking, walking, watching, seeing. Looking for the big one. Screw the little, want the brains; take the cookers, want the distributors. Out on the streets; talking, walking, watching, seeing.

Then, one day, he comes on a name. And his life changes. It's a big one, of that it's certain. Nothing that will make him the director of the agency or anything, but big enough, by rumor, to make most anyone pay attention. And give up a life.

He obsesses. He goes into over time. Then gives free time. And finally, months later, he names a face. Face's a name. Need proof, need proof. Gotta have proof. More time, He's seen his man. And still more time. Nothing. No proof, no proof.

Paper. Follow the money. Follow the money. Years, now. Years have passed, this tract, that trace. Follow the man, follow the money, follow the paper.

Nothing. Smells, maybe's. No proof, no proof.

Lean on the guy. Let him taste the cuffs for suspicion. No warrant. Wipe the smile. Tell the street. Where is he? Where is he? Where is he?

Got him. In a hotel. Damn, that's a posh place. Go for it. Lean on him for suspicion. Show the desk the plain gold shield, lean on the clerk and manager, swing the weight, get the master key. Get the manager, take the key. We'll lean on this guy, he'll look over his shoulder, make the mistake.

The agent goes through the door into a room he could never, ever, afford and is aware of sex in the air, as 9mm out, cocked and ready, out in front, two handed grip, ready. Get the face and name, got him.

The agent freezes; there on that glorious bed lay two figures. The face and name was banging a woman. The woman clawing gently on the back of the face and name, eyes silted in pleasure, yet aware enough to look at the agent coming through the doorway.

Aware enough, through the pleasure, to press hands to the back of the face and name, stopping him in mid-stroke, they both look over the face and names right shoulder. The woman speaks.

"Hello, Husband. What took you so long? It's been five years, now. Face and name and I want to be together. I want a divorce, and I'm going to take half of everything you have."

Well, my gas is gone now. I'm feeling better. I wonder what that Agent decides to do. I mean, all those halves talking inside his head and that loaded, cocked and ready gun.

Think he'll get an email saying: "I'll read your madness later?"

May B. Yesno is a writer from Fresno, CA.

Morrison's Lament

By Michael Friedman © 2009

I sit here alone watching the movie The Doors wondering where my inner Jim Morrison has gone. I use to talk with him so much. We would frequently share stories of excess and divine intervention while trying to figure out exactly who I wanted to be. The '60s icon walked the fine line of my soul and he fell close to my natural instincts when it came to figuring out why we do the things we do. I find I miss him desperately these days.

The ghost of Morrison on the television screen reminds me of how I desperately want to stand up and scream to the world that I am a drunken buffoon who is high on the universe, but all I can do is remember distant visions of what it was like to get lost in the desert. I think this is the time to repent, but ironically I find myself regretting less and less these days. The song says that we can't get much higher and yet I still find myself yearning for what I know I ultimately can't have.

As I peer through the illusion of my existence, I find myself jonesing for another taste of divinity. I've burnt the candle on both ends and I am once again forced to find my place in this monochromatic world of subtle delusion. Society no longer values the divinity of the self, so I find myself amiss all of the technology, discontent, and terror and although it takes only a moment to imagine that I am free from the nastiness that the universe leaves on my lips with every gut-wrenching soul kiss, in all honesty, the taste on my the tip of my tongue never really disappears.

I am the lizard king and I can do anything, so long as you remind me of who I am and what I have seen in the many journeys of my soul. I constantly find myself asking how many people know that I'm alive and yet I have no answer for the shaman that asks why I shed a tear every time I think of the world's pain.

In this life, I have learned that if you kiss the snake, you will come to understand your place in the divine comedy. Just as long as you are willing to make the sacrifice that comes with showing the world you have mad genius. A dharma superstar has to willingly let his or her words drip drops of psychedelic madness on empty canvasses while the God in them pisses freely into the cosmic fountain of youth that lays on the distant shore of life's transcendent psychosis. Remember kid, out here, we is stoned, immaculate.

It is time to fall off of the cliff again and take the journey to the forefront of my mind so that we can taste the succulent juices of Gaya's insanity. There is danger on the edge of town, so that's where I'm headed first. I'm rolling like a soldier on Ecstasy, conflicted by my life's mission and thoughts of the nirvana that lies in the unknown.

Where is the God of rock and cock when I need him? It's time to once again slip off into the sunset as I slowly slit my wrists and watch with a smile on my face as I begin to bleed my divinity onto the floor. I start to drown in life's cosmic juices as I try swimming my way free from the belly of the beast. I try desperately to hold my breath as I continue to sink deeper into my madness when my limbs fail to move to life's rhythm, but I fail miserably.

Even though I know that we manifest this experience, I feel as though I can't control any of what is happening to me and as a result, I frequently find myself reveling in my inability to do the thing my soul needs in order to sustain itself during my trip through this lifetime. I just can't seem to figure out why I choose to repeat this mania over and over again. Some say I have a disease and that I'm slightly deranged. I don't think they are far from the truth considering we live in a universe of impossibilities that seem to happen all of the time. It's time to find a way to get back to the middle path.

The streets are up even when you are down. Isn't that the truth brother. I've been tossed out and spit up so many times that I can't remember the last time I wasn't bitch-slapped into this destiny. Here we all sit, wondering whether we are who we are or whether we are simply playing a role in someone else's fantasy, so let's sneak away from this place and try to find our innocence once again. We will quickly fall into our roles as modern nomads, psychedelic dreamers who steal away in the moonlight.

If you love me two times, I promise I'll do my best not to strike out on my third swing for the cosmic fences. I'm not saying I give up by any means, but I have to admit that it is a lot harder to put it down than it is to pick it up. I frequently find myself struggling with my inconsistencies on a daily basis, so you'll have to give me time to find out which way is up if I have any hope of finding the yellow brick road of my subconscious.

Please forgive me my daydreams as I continue to spew nonsensical tidings of a life that seems to escape me on a regular basis. Is everybody in? That's the million dollar question and I'm still searching for an answer. I'm sure as hell here and I have once again woken up to my soul's angst. It's time to do something rash before I split open and melt. I had better slay my inner demons before I burn another hole in the very essence of my being.

It's time to wake up motherfuckers as we trip the light fantastic yet again and this time, make sure to remember to bring your sunglasses because it's bright on the other side and the sun shines 24-7. I've finally realized that there is nowhere left to run inside my head and I have accepted that I no longer need to try and set the world's record for being the fastest mentally challenged sentimentalist alive.

I don't want much my friend, just enough of a taste to give me my fix. Please Mr. Bodhisattva sir, may I have another? Inject me with your hedonistic opiates and purify me with your narcotic love because I need some dirty justice and I need it now. Just jam it in my veins and let me feel the rush of the inner mind's eye as it fills with visions of paradise on Earth and memories of momentary bliss. I'll willingly admit that I'm a metaphysical junkie, but the way I see it, if you have to be hooked on something, why not be hooked on destiny?

Michael Friedman in a writer from Las Vegas, NV