Monday, June 30, 2008

All's Fair (Conclusion)

Jeff joined his companion and watched an ominous scene unfolding. A tall, powerfully-built man in an expensive suit – he might have been a professional football player – had moved from the far end of the bar and taken the stool on Susan’s left. He was trying to horn in on the conversation, and after a quick glance at him, Susan turned her back on the interloper and leaned closer toward Alice. The man-mountain, miffed at being ignored, began pawing Susan’s arm.

Up to this point, Jeff’s feet had felt as if they’d been inserted into deep sea diving boots. They now shed their weight and took wing (perhaps not unlike those of Cupid’s old colleague, Mercury), as Jeff sprinted toward the bar, Cupid shambling along behind him.

“Hello, Susan, Alice!” he said, in as cheerful a voice as he could summon up. “Are you two girls ready for dinner?”

Susan spun around, and although there was surprise in her face, there was an expression of relief, as well. The bear in the business suit, whose hooded eyes gave evidence of his having downed one too many, scowled and said, “Just a minute, Junior. I was here first.”

Jeff crossed his arms and glared at him. “The ladies are with me, Shorty. Now, why don’t you go back to the wallflower section of the bar where you belong before I put your lights out?”

Cupid tugged violently at Jeff’s sleeve. “Jeff! Go easy on the film noir dialogue, will you?”

The man rose from his bar stool; he looked like a revival tent going up. “Put my lights out, eh? Not if I flick your switch, first, buddy.”

Suddenly, Jeff began fantasizing about being a baseball that had been pitched down the middle of the strike zone, colliding with the sweet spot of a bat swung by a league-leading home run hitter. Now he was soaring in a tremendous arc toward the left field stands. The outfielders below were running at top speed toward the wall, but they gradually slowed to a trot and finally stopped altogether, shielding their eyes from the sun and watching his flight. The crowd was cheering, but their voices were growing fainter as he rose into the clouds.

The law of gravity eventually reasserted itself, and he felt himself begin a rapid descent. The clouds were now dissipating, replaced by a red-rimmed darkness, and the clamor of the fans in the bleachers became the semi-hushed babble of well-meaning strangers at an accident scene. “Give him air! Get some ice! Should we call an ambulance?” He blinked a couple of times, and as his vision cleared he saw Susan’s face. She was cradling him in her lap and patting the bloody corner of his mouth with a wet napkin. Memory came flooding back, and he lurched to a sitting position. Cupid was squatting at the other end of his prostrate form, rotating his hat in his hands, his face a mask of worry. Jeff extended his arm, leveled an accusatory finger and growled, “This is your doing!” Susan and Alice exchanged nervous glances, wondering why Jeff was scolding a 1950’s cardboard cutout of the Texaco Man.

“Jeff! Thank goodness you’re alive! Oh, and by the way, my boy, I think I may have neglected to tell you that no one else can see or hear me but you, so you might want to hold off on expressing any editorial opinions.” He beamed at Jeff. “You did well. I hate to sound melodramatic, but I believe I can say that my work here is done. Over to you, Jeff!”

Susan’s arms gently restored Jeff to a reclining position. “You’d better lie quiet for awhile; I think you still may be a little dizzy.”

The shame of being floored by one punch made it hard for Jeff to meet her gaze. “I’m sorry for making such a spectacle of myself, Susan. I was just trying to stop that guy from annoying you.”

“How? By breaking his knuckles with your face?”

Jeff’s ears burned at that remark, but when he looked up at her, he noticed that Susan’s eyes were misty and her chin was trembling. He smiled at her with the half of his face that still felt intact. “What happened to the bruiser? I guess it must have taken a couple of pretty big bouncers to throw him out?”

Alice, who was kneeling next to Susan and keeping her supplied with ice cubes, pushed aside the strands of long blond hair that were constantly falling over her eyes and spoke up: “Well, it took a couple of big guys to carry him out. After I let him have it, that is.”

Perplexed, Jeff asked, “What did you do? Were you carrying a sawed-off shotgun under your trench coat?”

“No, I’ve been taking a women’s defense course at the community college, and I gave him a roundhouse kick to the chin. But since he was so tall, my foot couldn’t reach that far, so it kind of met his face half way, if you know what I mean.”

Jeff started to laugh, but that triggered a spasm of pain, and he grimaced.

Susan was smoothing his hair with long, cool fingers. “Jeff, we ought to get you some medical attention.”

Faced with the prospect of being separated from Susan, even for a little while, at what he took to be a critical juncture of their relationship, he climbed to his feet, ignoring her protests. He swayed slightly, and worked his chin with his hand. “No loose teeth, and my jaw doesn’t seem to be broken. How about we have dinner?”

Susan asked, “Do you think you’ll be able to eat?”

“Well, they might have to put my steak in a blender, but, yeah, I’ll be ok. Alice, will you join us?”

Alice gave the two a speculative look and smiled slyly. “No, I guess I’ll be running along; I need to practice my footwork. See you tomorrow.”

Susan offered Jeff a steadying arm, and they started to walk toward the hostess’ station to get a table, when Jeff paused and looked around in confusion.

“Where is…?”

Susan was still worried that Jeff had not altogether collected his wits, and asked in a low voice, “Where is what, Jeff?”

“I don’t know. That’s funny. For a minute, there, I thought I had lost something…or someone.”


Three months later, Susan and Jeff were married. At the reception, they poked around among the gifts and found one present that baffled them completely, and would continue to be a lifelong mystery. A white box, which lacked a card or any other means of identifying the giver, was decorated with cupids and hearts, and turned out to contain an enormous antique silver cigarette lighter, on which was engraved the following:

Amor vincit Omnia
(Or Omnia vincit Amor; I always forget which way it goes)
May your love never depreciate
And Jeff – Keep your left up
Best wishes,
C.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

All's Fair (Second of Three Parts)

Five minutes of walking and talking along the busy sidewalks had at least convinced Jeff to give his sanity the benefit of the doubt (not so the many other pedestrians, who gave him a wide berth, as he appeared to be chatting in a very animated fashion with himself; unfortunately, Cupid had neglected to disclose that he was invisible to all but his new client).

“You see…er…Cupid…I’ve been working either with Susan, or in her general vicinity, for several years, now, so I couldn’t help but notice that she’s got a lot of good qualities. For example, she’s attractive…”

“Check”, said Cupid.

“She’s highly intelligent…”

“Check.”

“She’s extremely competent and efficient in her work…”

“Well, I suppose those qualities would be important to an accountant, even to one in love - so, check.”

“And I’m not such a bad catch; at least I don’t think so. I’m in good physical condition, I exercise regularly, eat right. I’m well-read, I like movies and music, I’ve got an excellent reputation as an accountant, and I’m told that I’m good looking. In fact,” he added sheepishly, “Barbara always said that it was my wavy black hair and blue eyes that first attracted her. But for some reason, I’m intimidated by Susan.”

Cupid nodded his head sagely. “Jeff, I think the real reason you’re reluctant to ask Susan out is your fear of rejection. When Barbara walked out on you, the hurt settled down deep - possibly deeper than you realize. That’s why you’ve thrown yourself into your work for the last few years, avoiding any kind of emotional commitment. It might interest you to know that Susan’s more or less in the same boat.”

Jeff came to an abrupt halt and looked at Cupid earnestly. “Really? You mean somebody dumped her, too?”

“Yes, and for pretty much the same reasons. She was working hard to establish herself in her profession, and her fiancé became frustrated at having to make appointments in between audits to take her out to dinner or the movies, so they ultimately grew apart and wound up breaking off their engagement. It was all reasonably amicable on the surface, but I assure you, she cried herself to sleep more than once. Eventually her ex-boyfriend married someone else, and she’s had nothing but her work ever since. Let’s continue walking, shall we?” Cupid took Jeff by the elbow and guided him across the street.

“It’s like this, Jeff: you and Susan are two box turtles. You plod along, going about your daily lives, but at the first sign of something out of the ordinary – particularly something as out of the ordinary as the possibility of love - you pull your heads into your shells. Now, a shell is a very tough and protective shelter – but there’s only room for one.”

The two walked along in silence for a few moments. Finally, Jeff said, “You do seem to know a lot about Susan and me.”

Cupid chuckled softly. “My boy, I should say that I do. You see, in the old days it was much different. People would actually call on me - thousands of them, constantly. I had so many requests that I didn’t have time to look into the specifics of each case. In fact, there were many people I spliced who had no business being in the same room with each other for five minutes, let alone under the same roof for a lifetime. But now that I’m semi-retired, I’ve got plenty of time to look things over carefully. And I’ve tried to modernize. With the advent of scientific disciplines such as psychology, biology, genetics, and so forth, I have far more in the way of research materials to draw upon. Ah! Here we are.”

Jeff, somewhat surprised to learn that their walk had an actual destination, was genuinely aware of his surroundings for the first time since he and Cupid had commenced their stroll. They were standing in front of O’Dougherty’s Pub.

“Why have we stopped here?”

Cupid laid a hand on Jeff’s shoulder and grinned. “Because this is where we run our quarry to ground; Susan’s inside.”

Jeff and Cupid entered the restaurant and stood in the dim, spacious vestibule. O’Dougherty’s followed the trend set by several popular chains of adopting a décor best described as American Marketing Panorama. The place was filled with old gas station signs, photos of vintage automobiles, movie posters from the golden age of Hollywood and colorful, stamped-tin advertisements for extinct brands of soda pop and cigars. Two-thirds of the public area was set aside for dining, with high-backed wooden booths and free-standing tables. The other third of the establishment consisted of a long mahogany bar, with a series of mirrors running the length of the wall. Jeff and Cupid were the only occupants of the entryway at the moment, and Jeff was craning his neck, trying to locate Susan.

He spotted her almost instantly. Susan was perched on a stool, chatting with Alice Malvern from their firm’s human resources department. She was nursing a glass of white wine, delicately sliding the glass back and forth on the bar – a simple act, ordinarily of no earthly interest or consequence, yet one so far removed from Jeff’s recollection of Susan in her office environment that he found it enchanting.

“Ok, how does this work? You don’t really shoot her with an arrow, do you?”

Cupid winked at Jeff and said, “No, my boy! One must keep up with the times, after all.” He proceeded to slip a semi-automatic pistol from under his jacket, pulled the slide back to chamber a round, and was taking aim when Jeff grabbed his wrist with both hands and turned the gun toward the ceiling.

“You maniac!”, Jeff screamed.

There was a brief scuffle as Jeff and Cupid struggled over the pistol, Cupid trying vainly to explain his action.

“Jeff! It’s not what you’re thinking! I’m not going to hurt her! Let go! Let…GO!”

Cupid finally succeeded in wrenching his gun from Jeff’s grasp, and stayed him with a hand against his chest. Gasping, he attempted to calm the young man down. “Do you mean to tell me…that after all we’ve had to say to each other… you actually believe I would hurt the woman you love? These are not the kind of bullets…that you obviously seem to think they are. This device…is just an updated version of the old love darts…far greater accuracy…and much easier on the arm. Have you ever had to reach over your shoulder…and pull arrows out of a quiver for countless hours? Let me tell you a few hard facts…about repetitive motion syndrome…”

“Sit down a minute”, Jeff said, pointing to a bench. “You look like you’re having a stroke. And put that gun away, will you?”

Cupid shrugged, sat down, pulled his jacket open, and replaced the pistol in a brown leather shoulder holster. Jeff glimpsed the holster long enough to see that it was stamped with a design: two intertwined hearts. He rolled his eyes, ran his hand through his hair and sat down next to Cupid.

“Look, I still don’t know whether I’m crazy or not, but one thing I do know, crazy or sane: I want Susan to love me because of the kind of guy I am, not because she’s been helped along with an assist from you and your arsenal. No offense.”

Cupid had gotten his wind back, and now spoke with quiet intensity. “Jeff, that’s a commendable attitude, but all I’m doing is helping you to cut a few corners, especially since you’re having trouble getting out of the starting gate. Based on my detailed study of your respective psychological make-ups, and my thorough knowledge of your backgrounds, the statistical likelihood of you and Susan being happy together – if and when you two have an opportunity to hit it off in the first place, mind you - is something like 99.7%. Here, I’ve got the calculations in my pocket, somewhere…”

Jeff placed a hand on Cupid’s arm. “Skip it. I believe you truly mean well, and this might not make much sense to you, but I want to experience the whole messy process – corners and all.”

Cupid stood up, put his hands in his pockets and stared into the restaurant. A moment later, a bemused expression stole over his face. “Well, you’ve got a sharp corner to turn right now, seems to me. Look.”

All's Fair (An Original Short Story - First of Three Parts)

Jeff Barnes watched the hands on the wall clock with the nervous intensity of an explosives expert defusing a time bomb. Three minutes till five. She’d be walking out of her office across the way any time now. The window of opportunity would be open for only a few seconds, so he’d have to act fast. “Tonight”, he said to himself, “I am definitely going to ask her out.”

There! The jangle of the hanger on the hook behind her door; she was putting her coat on. There was an assortment of snapping and zipping noises while she packed things away in her purse and briefcase, and her office was thrown into deep shadow as she turned the lights out. She emerged, walking briskly toward the door leading from their suite into the hall. Jeff, sitting ramrod straight behind his desk, and wearing the aching smile he had been practicing for hours, mustered his courage, felt it break ranks and retreat in complete disorder, and yelled…”Good night!” She nodded at him and whisked into the hallway. Jeff heard her high heels clicking on the hard floor toward the elevators, and then, silence. Once again, the window of opportunity had slipped its catch and come crashing down on his fingers.

Jeff groaned, crossed his arms on his desk and put his head down. What was it about this girl that robbed him of confidence, glued his tongue to his palate, and made him feel like some wriggly thing in a bait shop? Susan Botts, for crying out loud! What kind of name was “Botts”, anyway? It sounded like a tropical disease. And although she was a pretty young woman – tall, slender, with big brown eyes and long dark brown hair pulled back (rather severely, in Jeff’s opinion) in a bun – you could see a dozen just like her on the subway every morning. It must be propinquity that had led to his infatuation, he reasoned.

Jeff and Susan had started at the accounting firm of Smith, Lord & Wise on the same day, three years ago. Although he specialized in auditing international banks, and she was a corporate tax expert, they had worked together on several projects, and now that they had offices in the same suite, they ran into each other everyday. But it was as if they were fish in separate aquariums, occasionally observing one another through the glass of their respective tanks - if so inclined, and Susan didn’t particularly appear to be.

“No guts, no glory, Mr. Barnes.”

These words emanated, not from Jeff’s troubled mind, but from the larynx of a stranger seated on the credenza behind him. Startled nearly out of his skin, Jeff leaped from his chair – or would have, had his legs not been parked beneath the desk. Brought sharply back to his seat, Jeff massaged his knees, waiting for the crescendo of pain to reach its coda and then fade away. He turned to look at the source of the comment, his eyes goggling in amazement. There, slouching leisurely, was a portly man of medium height who appeared to be about seventy years old. He was clad in a brown and beige plaid sports coat, khaki slacks, a white shirt and a red bow tie, and had bright blue eyes, a florid complexion, and a prominent nose; a few wisps of white hair poked out from under a dark green wool fedora.

“How...how…?”

The trespasser – or phantom, Jeff really wasn’t sure - affected a dramatic pose, as he recited, in a rich baritone, “’How now brown cow, grazing on the green, green grass.’ Is that the phrase you’re looking for?”

“Who…who…?”

The man flashed a wide smile. “Well, Jeff, we proceed from elocution exercises to bird calls! You’re certainly a fellow of many talents. That sounds remarkably like the barn owl, or Tyto alba, although I think the first hoot is supposed to be more staccato.”

Before attempting speech again, Jeff tried to pinpoint the precise moment at which he had lost his mind. Even the excessive passion he had conceived for Susan didn’t seem sufficiently traumatic to have provoked a complete nervous breakdown, let alone a hallucinatory state. Oh, God! Was it a brain tumor?

The stranger shook his head slowly. “No, Jeff, you’re not seeing things. I’m genuine, all right. Permit me to introduce myself.” He bowed and doffed his hat. “I’m Cupid.”

Jeff failed to find this announcement reassuring. “Listen, mister, I don’t know how you got in here or what it is you want, but…what are you doing?”

The man was vigorously patting down his jacket. The slap of his hand on one of the side pockets produced the noise of crackling cellophane; he grinned and extracted a pack of cigarettes. Fishing a gasper from the pack, he stuck the cigarette in his mouth and asked, “Do you have a light?”

“No, I don’t, and besides, this is a smoke-free building; but more to the point, you don’t seriously expect me to believe that you’re Cupid, do you? That’s just an ancient Roman myth, like Jupiter and Mercury and all those other gods.”

The man sighed. “Well, I’ll just have to do this the hard way.” He closed his eyes and furrowed his brow, his face turning from pink to mauve. A few seconds later, the end of his cigarette began to glow. He took a long draw, exhaled a cloud of smoke in the direction of the low ceiling, and then coughed violently. Recovering his breath, he spluttered, “I really should give these things up.” Jeff simply gaped at him, feeling his sanity slipping away like a greased rope.

“Now, about the gods, my friend. We’re not myths. We were simply pensioned off a couple of thousand years ago. But me? I like to stay busy, keep a hand in.”

Against his better judgment, Jeff was lured by curiosity into conversing with this odd bird. “But Cupid has always been depicted as a kind of cherub; you know, a chubby infant with wings. You look more like…well…a used car salesman who’s retired to Ft. Lauderdale.”

For the first time, the man demonstrated something bordering on annoyance. “None of us are getting any younger, and that includes you. You’re 32 years old and haven’t had a ‘meaningful relationship’, to put it in the current parlance, since you got out of graduate school, and that didn’t last but six months because you got so tied up in your work that your girlfriend – Barbara, wasn’t that her name? - grew tired of being ignored and took up with a rock musician – a friend, or rather an ex-friend, of yours named Marvin Fineburg who now goes under the amusing, if bizarre, stage name, ‘Johnny Freakhead.’”

Astonished by the man’s possession of this bit of intelligence, Jeff practically shouted, “How did you know that?”

“I know a lot of things about you, Jeff, and about Susan Botts, too. I think I can help you. Here, take my hand in friendship. Maybe your tactile sense will prove to you that I’m real.”

Jeff rose from his chair – slowly, this time, mindful of his knees – and grasped his visitor’s outstretched hand. He felt something resembling an electrical charge run up his arm. He pulled his hand free and glared at the man. “What was that? Some kind of spiritual energy?”

The man roared with laughter and exposed his palm, revealing a joy buzzer. “As you may recall, Cupid’s known for being a prankster, too.”

Jeff took a step toward the intruder with the firm idea in mind of grabbing him by his gaudy lapels and dragging him down to the security desk. The man backed up, and held his hands before him in an effort to placate his new acquaintance. “Now, now, Jeff. Take it easy. Why don’t we go for a walk? Really, you’ve got nothing to lose by simply listening to what I have to say. Even if I’m not who I claim to be, what could possibly go wrong?”

The silence of the office was broken by what sounded like the patter of rain; Jeff felt cold water running down his neck and face. “What could possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing, your cigarette smoke has set off the sprinkler system. Let’s get out of here!”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Happy Feet

This week, we feature feet that are not only happy, but ecstatic. I linked this once at Tim's, but it's always worth another look, especially since it's quite possibly the best swing dancing routine in cinema history (from the 1941 movie Hellzapoppin').

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Come November, It'll Be Time for the Waterloo Boogaloo

The man is a photoshopper's dream.

Assortment

1) Obama picks up an important endorsement. Expressions of support also forthcoming from Pan, Loki and Quetzalcoatl.

2) Citizens besieged by armed criminals call for…more gun control? I think some of you folks in Memphis are having a little trouble grasping this whole cause-and-effect thing.

3) On the other hand, the Supreme Court overturns the D.C. gun ban (citizens of Memphis, take note). Be sure to read the kindly suggestion from a liberal highlighted in Confederate Yankee’s post.

4) Who needs border control? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From the Shelves of the Paco Library


To the extent he is remembered at all, these days, John Masters is probably best known as a popular novelist (his Bhowani Junction was made into a movie in 1956, starring Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger).

But he was also an officer in the British Indian Army, and his memoir, Bugles and a Tiger, is a fascinating look at his service on the Northwest Frontier between the world wars, as well as an act of homage to his beloved Gurkha troops.

As you might expect, one of the book’s aspects that most strongly appeals to me is the gold mine of hugely amusing anecdotes, of which the following two incidents are characteristic examples:

“He was the colonel of an Indian battalion, and after a celebration…his officers had been aroused in the early hours by cries of agony from his room. His second-in-command and dearest friend rushed to his room, along with others, and found him in bed, white but now calm, his forehead beaded with sweat. He had even forgotten his numerous affectations and said simply, ‘Pete, you’ll have to send for the doctor. Take over command. I’m paralyzed from the waist down’.

He sobbed a little. His officers went away, silent in the face of his affliction, to fetch the doctor. The doctor came and pulled back the bedclothes. He bowed his head for a moment while his face changed from its soothing professional calm to the rich, suffused purple of suppression – he was only a captain. Then he pointed down. George had both feet in one leg of his pajamas.”

* * *

“A Gurkha rifleman escaped from a Japanese prison in south Burma and walked six hundred miles alone through the jungles to freedom. The journey took him five months, but he never asked the way and he never lost the way. For one thing he could not speak Burmese, and for another he regarded all Burmese as traitors. He used a map, and when he reached India he showed it to the Intelligence officers, who wanted to know all about his odyssey. Marked in pencil were all the turns he had taken, all the roads and trail forks he had passed, all the rivers he had crossed. It had served him well, that map. The intelligence officers did not find it so useful. It was a street map of London.”

Bugles and a Tiger is a first-rate historical page-turner.

(Editor’s note: The photo is of an old Philco radio cabinet from, I believe, the 1940’s that I bought at a neighbor’s yard sale for 15 bucks. I refinished it and with the help of Mrs. Paco made shelves for it, so that it now has a second life as one of my favorite bookcases)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin - RIP

To mark George's passing, I thought it would be interesting to link to this delicious rant against environmentalism (language advisory - as if you didn't know).

WWBD?



Barack Obama, making a campaign stop in a small town in Michigan, decided to have some waffles at the local IHOP. Warned by his handlers not to be standoffish to the press – he had created a minor flap during the primaries by saying to a persistent reporter over breakfast, “Can I just eat my waffle?”, which utterance came dangerously close to being successfully touted by his opponents as the real theme of his campaign – he made a determined effort to convey openness and conviviality.

A talking head from the local NBC affiliate was perched on the stool next to Obama at the counter. A lovely blue-eyed blonde who had majored in “Communications” at the community college (having flunked out of beautician’s school), she practically gushed with enthusiasm. “Senator Obama”, she cooed, “you’ve been called the first potential ‘female president’. How do you plan to put your feminine side to best use?”

Obama simpered and was preparing an answer – momentarily staring at his waffle, as if looking to it for guidance – when his view was filled by a large hand holding a stainless-steel flask. The flask was upended, pouring a stream of bourbon over Obama’s waffle. The senator looked up in indignation and surprise to see a vaguely familiar figure sitting next to him – a big man in a trench coat and a fedora. The man stuck a gasper in his mouth, lit it, then tossed the lighted match in the pool of bourbon in which Obama’s waffle was now floating. His breakfast flickered under a bright blue flame, like an edible Bunsen burner.

“I figured that a beta male like you would prefer crêpes suzette”, the big man said. He turned to the waitress. “Here’s a ten spot, baby. Buy yourself a fire extinguisher.” He slipped off the stool, strode to the door, and walked out into the cool morning air.

The young reporter gaped at Obama. “Senator, that man looked just like Bob Mitchum! What was that all about?”

Obama grimaced irritably. “Can I just drink my mango nectar?”

A Detective Paco Rerun (Void Where Prohibited By Law - Canada, For Example)

(I put this up in the comment section at Tim's place a year or so ago. On the outside chance that I've picked up a couple of new readers since then, I'm posting it here).

“But Paco, don’t you understand? You stole my Johnson!”

Heads turned. Eyebrows arched. Lips curled up at the edges in lewd smiles. I grabbed him by the elbow and marched him to a far corner of Java Jim’s Coffee Shop and shoved him into a chair at a table by the condiment cart.

“Listen, you idiot! If you want to shout out in a public place that I lifted your wallet or strangled your cat or shoved your grandmother down the cellar stairs, feel free to exercise your larynx to your heart’s content. But don’t go around saying that I stole a Johnson!”

He gave me a puzzled look, but shook it off and got down to cases. “Paco, this wasn’t a Johnson, it was my Johnson: a first edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, published in 1755, which had belonged to Edmund Burke and included the latter’s marginal notes. It cost me a small fortune.”

I shoved my fedora back on my head and stared at this loopy specimen: Paul Smollet, Professor of English Literature at State College. An unprepossessing guy in his early thirties, medium height, dark but thinning hair, wire-rim glasses. He wasn’t a bad sort. Just nuts.

“Let me get this straight, Doc. I repossessed your car – a brand new Lexus – because you were three months behind on the payments, and you’re worried about a two-hundred year old dictionary that hasn’t even got a lot of our most useful modern words, like ‘computer’ and ‘molecule’ . . . and Johnson?”

“Paco, I don’t blame you for repossessing the car; you were just doing what the bank hired you to do. In fact, the main reason I had trouble making the car payments is because I had to shell out so much money for the books. But the two-volume dictionary was in the trunk; I planned on taking the thing from my office to my house after class yesterday and I had a couple of stops to make so I thought it would be safer there. But you towed the car away from the campus before I had a chance to remove it. You’ve got to help me get it back!”

“That shouldn’t be too tough. Let’s just go down to the dealership, pop the trunk and retrieve it.” Like a lot of things, it turned out to be slightly more difficult than I expected.

We drove down to Lorenzo’s Lexus Sales and Service and parked in front of the showroom, then walked through to the credit manager’s office. When I asked about the car in question, and outlined the problem, Jack Fink, the manager, squirmed in his chair and acquired a distinctly anxious expression.

“Well, yeah, we’ve got it around back, or rather, what’s left of it.”

That sounded bad. We went around to the lot, the professor practically breaking into a canter in his panic.

The credit manager finally came shuffling up to us. “Where is it?”, I asked.

“Right there.”

“Where?”

He went over and gingerly laid a hand on it.

The thing looked like a dumpster that had been chosen for an overnight stay by a bum who liked to smoke in bed. It was a blackened, twisted wreck, and there was not even a prayer that anything in the trunk could have survived. The professor let out a little bleat like a new-born calf who’d lost his mother.

“What happened, Jack?”

“Beats me. The thing was towed in yesterday afternoon, and blew up around dinner time. The cops have been here and checked out what’s left.”

I turned to the Professor. “Ok, Doc, it looks like somebody had it in for you; they put a time bomb in your car and set it to go off right about the time you’d be leaving the campus. Let’s go somewhere we can talk.”

I drove him back to my office, waved him through the door, sat him down and poured him a shot of bourbon. He swallowed it, coughed violently, then settled down.

“You got any enemies, Doc?”

He mulled it over. “No, not really . . . well . . . no, it’s nothing.”

“Spill it, Doc. Let me be the judge.”

“Well, I’m on the selection committee for the library, the chairman, actually, and I’ve been at loggerheads with the head of the Islamic Studies Department, Sheik ibn Bakir. He wanted the college to order 50 copies of Anthony Lowenstein’s new book, and I vetoed the decision because of the book’s extremely poor research quality , then he wanted to order a couple of hundred copies of The Arab Peace Initiative, which is little more than a propaganda leaflet put out by the Saudi government, and I nixed that, too. You see, the college is on a pretty tight budget, so we have to be fairly selective. He did get kind of hot about it.”

I figured where there’s smoke, there’s likely to be a Muslim radical, these days, so I decided to pay the Sheik a visit. At first, I thought to send Sheila in, undercover, posing as a student. “Won’t work”, the professor said. “He never meets directly with female students; always fobs them off on his teacher’s aids. Besides, he’s a randy old goat, from what I hear, and has some pretty primitive notions about, er, courtship.” Sheila drew herself up to her full 5’7” and declared, “If he tried that stuff with me, he’d wind up with a stiletto-heel schlong kebab.” I filed that information away, along with a mental note to buy Sheila some flat-heeled shoes for her birthday. “Ok, I’ll tackle him head-on.”

Well, it wasn’t quite head-on. I wanted to reconnoiter the ground, first, so I broke into Bakir’s office late that night, or as I like to put it, I entered without his prior approval. I flashed the beam from the pen light around his domain. He was obviously a collector of posters, most of them featuring guys in white pajamas and ski masks. There were also a couple of pictures of some dyspeptic, four-eyed mullahs with whom I was unfamiliar. The books on his shelf were curious: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Dhimmitude for Dummies ; One Hundred and One Ways to Prepare Hummus; several Korans. I pulled a particularly bulky-looking Koran off the shelf, and a sheaf of loose-leaf notebook paper fell out. I examined the papers closely under my flashlight, and saw, to my consternation, a list of airlines, routes, timetables, a detailed schematic of the regional power grid, and a recipe for anthrax milkshakes. Suddenly, everything had come into focus – primarily because the Sheik had just turned on the overhead light.

He stood there, swathed in white robes, a green turban on his head, and a Smith & Wesson .357 caliber revolver in his hand.

“Good evening, professor. I’m with facilities management and there’ve been some complaints about the temperature control on this floor. Is it hot in here, or is it just me?”

He gave me a wicked smile. “Oh, I imagine it’s just you, my friend, but no need to worry. You’ll be cold enough soon.”

I feigned fear and dropped to my knees. His smile was positively malicious, now. “That’s right, dog of an unbeliever! Submit before the will of Allah! Perhaps He will accept your – how do you call it – your ‘death-bed conversion’”.

Putting my faith in Moe instead of Mohammed, I grasped the edge of the carpet and gave it a tremendous yank. The sheik did a back-flip, and his gun went off, plugging a picture of Saddam Hussein right between the eyes. Congratulating him on his marksmanship, I retrieved the gun, rolled him up in the carpet, fastened it with duct tape and called the FBI.

All the commotion attracted a crowd in front of the building, including Professor Smollet, who had been working late. “Great news, Paco! My Johnson wasn’t in the trunk of my car after all! It was still lying in my office under Fanny Hill!”

The FBI guy gave him a funny look. “Don’t ask”, I said.

Monday, June 23, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

McCain gets an extremely unusual endorsement.

Are You a Connoisseur of Tequila?

Captain Heinrichs and I suspect not.

Pick a Card

Villainous Company has the best take on Obama’s attempt to play the race card (also, by the way, she has one of the most enticing banners in blogdom – woof!).

The charge of fear-mongering is, of course, nothing more than an attempt to put McCain and the Republicans on the defensive, and to frame the election contest in such a way as to characterize perfectly legitimate criticism of Obama’s experience, personal and political associations, ideology and ostentatious flip-flops as the tool of closet racism.

Here, from VC, is a portion of what he said:

"They’re going to try to make me into a scary guy,” he said last week. “They’re even trying to make Michelle into a scary person. Right?" And so that drumbeat – 'we’re not sure if he’s patriotic or not; we’re not sure if he is too black.'
"I don’t know, before I wasn’t black enough," said Obama. "'Now he might be too black. We don’t know whether he’s going to socialize – well, who knows what.'"

Now, if he were to phrase it this way – say, after a dose of sodium pentathol - he might have a point about the fear-mongering, but it would be purely academic since the fear would be perfectly justified anyway:

“They’re going to try to make me a scary guy because I want to have talks with Tehran without preconditions. They’re even trying to make Michelle into a scary person just because, up until the moment I became a serious presidential candidate, she thought America was a lost cause. Right? And so that drumbeat – ‘we’re not sure if he’s patriotic or not, just because he was previously associated both personally and professionally with a couple of unrepentant terrorists; we’re not sure if he is too much like Jimmy Carter’. I don’t know, before I wasn’t enough like Jimmy Carter, now I might be too much like him. ‘We don’t know whether he’s going to socialize or not – or will his sweetheart deals with crooks like Tony Rezko convince him that socializing everything will dry up all the gravy?’ Well, you won’t really know until you elect me, will you? And yeah, I guess that is kind of scary.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Just Tryin' To Be Helpful

Senator Obama has created quite a flap by adopting a logo that looks suspiciously like the seal of the President of the United States.



I believe he could defuse the criticism by employing something that is not only less arrogant (and possibly even illegal), but that more accurately reflects his campaign's raison d'etre:


"I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs - and change!"

Truth or Consequences – Australian Edition

Good morning. Or rather. “G’day”, as you “blokes” and “sheilas” say. By popular demand, we carried our Mendacimeter to Australia, where Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard agreed to take the Truth or Consequences challenge. Following is the transcript of our interview.

Paco: We’re here in the studio, graciously loaned to us by ABC (faint noise of angry ABC technicians and executives banging on the sound- and shatter-proof glass with, respectively, hammers and golf clubs) – Thanks, fellas! We’ll be out in a little while! Sammy, is that padlock secure? Ok – and we have as our guests Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I’m delighted you both could join us today.

Rudd: Our pleasure.

Gillard: Thenk U, Mr. Payco.

Paco: Now, I’ll just power up the Mendacimeter – There! – and we’ll get going. Mr. Prime Minister, let me begin by asking you a few questions. Much has been made of your claim to have lived in a car for a while when you were a boy. Can you enlighten us on that subject? Did you really have to live in a car?

Rudd: Yes…

Whizzz-BEEP!, Whizzz-BEEP!

Rudd: Well, just for a while…

B-r-r-u-p!, B-R-R-U-U-P-P!, B-R-R-R-U-U-U-P-P!

Rudd: Alright, what happened was this. I sat in the car for an hour…

Beee-dooo! Beee-dooo! Beee-dooo!

Rudd: …for a half-hour, while my mother went into a McWombats and ordered some bandicoot burgers and chips.

Paco: Hmm. M’yes. Let’s move on to politics. Do you believe that the national apology to the aboriginals was the right thing to do?

Rudd: I most certainly do.

Paco: So, grandstanding politics didn’t play any part in your decision?

Rudd: Not at all.

CLANG!CLANG!CLANG!CLANG!

Rudd: Er, is it getting hot in here or is it just me?

Paco: No, no! It’s not just you. I notice that Ms. Gillard, there, seems to be “glowing”, as well! Now, Mr. Prime Minister, what one thing, in your opinion, enabled your party to beat the Liberals in the last election?

Rudd: I would say it was my comprehensive and detailed plan for change.

B-O-O-M!

(The Mendacimeter blew up, scattering pieces all over the room; I noticed with horror that Mr. Rudd had a shard of plastic sticking in his ear)

Paco: Sammy! Call an ambulance! Mr. Rudd has been injured!

Rudd: No, no; not to worry. (He plucked the sharp piece of plastic from his ear; at the business end was a large glob of earwax). Lucky for me I hadn’t eaten yet!

Paco: That’s a great relief, Mr. Prime Minister! One more question: do you plan on continuing the centrist platform you ran on during the election?

Rudd: Oh, absolutely.

(The shattered remains of the Mendacimeter began rattling in all parts of the room; a lone tweeter emitted a feeble but distinct, “Tweeeeeee!”)

Paco: W-e-l-l! It looks like the Mendacimeter is down but not out! Madame Deputy Prime Minister, let me ask you a question. Your hair is a striking red, but I’ve never encountered that hue in nature. Is that your natural hair color?

(Staring in wide-eyed terror at the remains of the Mendacimeter, obviously impressed by its durability as well as by its accuracy, Ms. Gillard simply pointed at her throat, opened her mouth, and emitted a dry, rasping noise, not unlike Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein. The Mendacimeter, however, broken and scattered though it was, was not about to permit Ms. Gillard to plead a sudden attack of laryngitis. Her inarticulate gargle was drowned out by a sound like a mosquito whining into a megaphone).

Tweeeeee!

How to Post a Link

A commenter has asked how to post a link. Well, let's say I wanted to link to a popular news and politics blog such as Hot Air. When I put the link in my post, instead of the web address, you'll see a highlighted word or sentence, for example: Check this out. Click on it and you're taken to the web site I linked to. What this actually looks like in code is:

<"a href=http://hotair.com/>Check this out<"/a>

Note: the quotation marks are just so that you can see the code for the purposes of this example; you don't actually type them in when you're linking.

All you have to do is copy the web address and plug it into the formula (plus use a word or sentence that appears in lieu of the actual url, such as "Check this out", or "Look at this idiot", etc).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gaffe-A-Minute

Currency Lad has a great rundown on Obama's pratfalls this week.

It Falleth As the Gentle Rain From Heaven

Mercy in an unexpected place; a beautiful story from WWII via Maggie's Farm.

Blog Shopping

1) Are We Lumberjacks – What do you get when you combine sprightly writing with outstanding photo shop work? One of the best satirical blogs going, that’s what (I mean, how are you gonna top this?)

2) The Paragraph Farmer – Fine writing, deep thinking, thoughtful linking.

3) The Scribbler’s Pen – The word “eclectic” is much overused these days (just check out the HGTV cable channel if you don’t believe me), but in this case, it’s richly deserved: conservative politics, interesting video links, off-beat top-ten lists, this is a fun blog that I visit frequently.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ah! So My Problem Is An Enlarged Parahippocampal Gyrus

The seat of sarcasm discovered.

Holler Like It's 1968!

I was standing in the shade of the small oak tree outside of our office building today, having a smoke for the road, when, at 4:45 pm, my attention was attracted to a band of hooligans on the corner. They carried signs identifying themselves as members of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society - Lord! Is that still around?), and were trying to block the street. Counting the butt cheeks and dividing by two - if you catch my drift - I estimated that there were 30 protesters. A handful of policemen were attempting to usher them onto the sidewalk, and showed remarkable restraint under severe provocation. I was amused by the antics of the apparent ringleader of this group of misfits - a scrawny specimen with shaggy black hair and an Assyrian beard - because I noticed that the vociferousness and vulgarity of his taunts varied in inverse proportion to his propinquity to the physical presence of the policemen. In any event, they ultimately moved on, but I missed the best part. An acquaintance of mine, who had watched the spectacle from his window, told me later that the crowd grew disorderly again, and that the police beat the crap out of a couple of the more obnoxious scofflaws. I am sorry to have missed that part, but I do rather hope that it was the Assyrian who got his clock cleaned.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Friday Happy Feet

Count Basie and his orchestra perform their signature theme, "One O'Clock Jump" (from 1943).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From the Shelves of the Paco Library


Arthur Train (brief bio here) was a New York lawyer and assistant district attorney whose legal career spanned the turn of the last century. He wrote several non-fiction works pertaining to crime and the law, but it is his fiction that caught my eye, perhaps ten years ago, when I picked up a book entitled By Advice of Counsel for fifty cents off the sales rack at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library. I was completely unfamiliar with the author and had picked up the volume on a purely speculative basis (I’ve encountered quite a number of interesting writers that way).

It was in this manner that I was introduced to Mr. Ephraim Tutt, Esq., the supreme achievement of Train’s inventive imagination. A yankee lawyer, from the great state of Maine, Mr. Tutt settles in New York where he employs his solid common sense, a passionate commitment to fair play, and his vast knowledge of the law (with a particular expertise in those areas of malleability known as “loopholes”) to successfully defend a long string of clients who have been sorely put upon by various bullies, misers, con artists, avaricious stepmothers, and overly-ambitious district attorneys. When we meet him, he is a man of advanced age who is easily identifiable by his lanky frame, his old-fashioned stove-pipe hat, his “congress shoes”, and a preference for toxic stogies. The stories are not only gems of humor, but mini-seminars in law and courtroom procedure.

The Tutt stories were originally published in magazines, and eventually collected into a series of books. Train wrote a “biography” of Mr. Tutt, also, and was greatly amused (and occasionally inconvenienced) when it turned out that many readers actually considered Mr. Tutt to be a real person: the fictional character was barraged with letters seeking legal advice, and was even asked to tea by elderly women hoping to retain him to handle their estates (or possibly to sound him out on the subject of matrimony).

Very few of these stories are now in print, although I saw a couple of reissues on Amazon. By dint of diligently plowing through the inventory of various used-book shops, I have acquired half a dozen or so of the short-story collections – an enterprise I heartily recommend to anyone who values well-plotted comic tales populated with highly original characters.

Correction: Mr. Tutt is from Vermont, not Maine.

Correction

The Press Association Covering Obama was contacted today by David Plouffe, Barack Obama's presidential campaign manager, who asserted that Richard Danzig - the Obama insider who recently created a flap by citing Winnie the Pooh as a foreign policy influence - is not slated to become National Security Adviser in an Obama administration, but, rather, National Story-time Adviser. "We're sorry for any confusion", Mr. Plouffe said. "Just to completely set the record straight, I'd like to announce that Senator Obama's choice for National Security Adviser is Mr. I.V. Dzhugashvili, a distinguished foreign policy expert from Georgia." Mr. Plouffe's office later provided a file photograph.

Truth or Consequences

Paco Enterprises recently completed the design and construction of a revolutionary new polygraph machine – the Mendacimeter – which not only measures changes in the heartbeat, body temperature and breathing patterns of the subject, but also analyzes visual input, including such things as posture, facial expressions, eye-blinking and other forms of body language. Senator Obama kindly consented to an interview with me, and professed his willingness to do so under the gimlet eye of the Mandacimeter. The transcript of our interview appears below.

Paco: Senator Obama, I want to thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule to meet with me today.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Obama: Wha…? Wait a minute; I haven’t even said anything yet.

Paco: I know, Senator, but you are sitting there looking presidential. Now, let’s get down to business. How do you square your early associations with radicals such as the black nationalist, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and ex-Weather Underground bomber William Ayers with your pitch to the American people that you are uniquely suited to heal and unify our nation?

Obama: Well, Reverend Wright isn’t a radical…

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Obama: I mean, he wasn’t, a radical when I first…

B-E-E-P! B-E-E-P! B-E-E-P!

Obama: That is to say, I didn’t know he was a radical…

Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!

Paco: All-righty; maybe we ought to move on to something else, for the time being. A number of your supporters have been photographed in their offices, sitting under the famous picture of Ché Guevara. Are you troubled by the fact that people of the extreme left seem to be attracted to your campaign?

Obama (pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, and mopping his brow): Er…well…heh…I guess that they’re not really Marxists

B-e-e-e-e-e-e-p!

Obama: Well, I’m the person running for President, and I’m certainly not a Marxist…

AH-OOOOOO-GA! AH-OOOOOO-GA!

Obama: Ok, ok; maybe I’m what the Europeans would call a sort of social democrat…

WAW-WAW-WAW!

Obama: Listen, how about if you turn that thing off?

Paco: I think that’s all we have time for today, anyway, Senator. This has been a very revealing interview. Thanks again for dropping by, and good luck with your campaign.

Obama: I don’t need luck; I’ve got the truth on my side.

CLANG!CLANG!CLANG!CLANG!CLANG!

*Slam!*

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In Related News, The Three Little Pigs to Take Over the Department of Housing and Urban Development

Clausewitz, shmauswitz. Winnie the Pooh is the man.

Blog Shopping (An Occasional Feature)

Some of the blogs I visit frequently for news, instruction and entertainment.

1) Roger's Rules - For deep thought liberally laced with wit (ignore the bow tie…unless, of course, that kind of thing appeals to you, in which case, forget I mentioned it).

2) LIBERTAS - A conservative insider’s view of everything Hollywood: film-making, movie reviews, cinema history, celebrity idiocy (and, occasionally, celebrity wisdom).

3) Maggie's Farm - Original essays, theological discussions, wonderful photography, great links and a cameo appearance, every once in a while, by one of Theo’s girls (talk about eclectic!)

We’ll Bring a Gun

(The scene: Obama’s campaign headquarters in Washington; a meeting with his advisors).

“Well, shall we get started? Right. Now, as you all know, I made the decision, which I announced in Philadelphia, to combat Republican dirty tricks by using overwhelming force. As you’ll recall, I said, ‘If they bring a knife, we’ll bring a gun.’ Is there anybody here who thinks that the circulation of the rumor about there being a tape showing my wife denouncing whitey does not constitute pulling a knife?”

A timid hand floated uncertainly into the air, like a party balloon that had lost most of its helium. A young staffer coughed nervously, and ventured to speak. “Sir, that wasn’t really a Republican knife; the rumor was started by Larry Johnson, a Hillary supporter, and most Republicans – including conservative bloggers – voiced skepticism about the story from the beginning.”

Campaign manager David Plouffe (demonstrating the steely-eyed look of indomitable will that he had cultivated since childhood, to compensate for having been born with the kind of name that usually invites ridicule on the playground) frowned at the young staffer.

“Withers…isn’t that the name?”

Young Withers retreated as far as he could into his chair without actually hiding under the cushion. “Y-y-yes, sir.”

“Withers, who would now benefit from this rumor?”

“Well, sir, since Mrs. Clinton’s out of the race ( a distant flash of lightning, and the far-away rumble of thunder), I suppose the Republicans would.”

“Then it’s a Republican knife, isn’t it, Withers?”

“But, sir, the knife’s been planted, so to speak.”

Plouffe didn’t get to the top of the monkey bars on the playground by bandying words with his opponents. He signaled to two Nation of Islam bodyguards, who had been standing silently by the door. “Gentleman, kindly take Mr. Withers down to the garage…to the bus.”

Young Withers’ face turned ashen as the burly guards each grabbed an arm and lifted him from his chair; he screamed, in a voice choked with fear. “No! N-o-o-o! Not under the bus! Please don’t throw me under the bus!!!”

The guards carried Withers away, his feet churning the air furiously, as if he were desperately trying to maintain a lead in the Tour de France; his pleas faded away into incoherent gibbering.

Plouffe turned to Obama. “You were saying, sir?”

“Er, yes. Yes. I said that we now need to bring out the guns. Let’s have a look at them, Torelli.”

A stocky, bald man with a pug nose, clad in a baggy suit – a sign of his ascent from the humble ranks of his brother-stevedores to a middling position in the longshoremen’s union - walked over to the table carrying a box; he upturned it, and the contents clattered onto the table. The inventory was quickly taken: (1) an antique flintlock musket of the kind favored by Pathan tribesmen in the first Anglo-Afghan War; (2) a 16th century arquebus; (3) a tin-pistol; and (4) a one-gallon, super-soaker squirt gun (sans water tank).

“Wow!”, Obama said, innocently marveling at the weaponry. “This is pretty formidable!” He picked up the tin pistol, plugged an ear against the anticipated report with one index finger, pulled the trigger with the other index finger, and stared, open-mouthed, when a little flag popped out of the barrel, displaying the word, “Bang!”.

Plouffe scowled at the arsenal. “This is it? This is all we’ve got?”

Torelli nervously ran his finger around the inside of his shirt collar. “Yeh, boss. But yez have to remember: we Democrats been pushin’ gun control for years.”

Plouffe pounded the table with his fist. “We sure have, but for John Q. Public, not for us!” The room grew so silent, you could hear a pin drop – or rather, the rusty trigger of the musket, which is what happened when Plouffe picked the gun up and the trigger fell off, hitting the table with a hollow *clink!*

The campaign manager sighed. “Senator”, he said. “I regret to say that we may be forced to take the high road.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

WWBD?


Remember - Before making an important decision, or taking critical action, ask yourself: What Would Bob Do?

Senator Obama, appearing at a rally in Philadelphia, attempted to prepare his followers for an ugly campaign. Quoting Sean Connery’s character in The Untouchables, he said, “If they bring a knife, we bring a gun.”

The crowd gasped as Bob Mitchum strode across the stage. He pulled a long, cardboard tube from the recesses of his trench coat, smacked Obama across the nose with it, and emptied a rolled-up parchment from the tube, laying it out on the podium.

“Read it”, Mitchum ordered, smiling around his cigarette, and staring with hooded, merciless eyes at the Democratic presidential candidate.

Obama, pinching his nose and holding his head back, asked timorously, “What is it?”

“The Bill of Rights. Take a gander at the second amendment, the one you and your crowd have been trampling for years. Just what kind of ‘gun’ are your pals going to bring?”

Mitchum suddenly extracted a .45 cal. pistol from his shoulder holster, shot out the lights, and vanished under the cover of darkness.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jimmy Carter's Worst Nightmare


No, it's not the killer rabbit. Jimmy Carter's worst nightmare is that he ultimately will be viewed by even the MSM as so completely irrelevant that his comings and goings, his public displays of fatuity, his visceral anti-Americanism will be utterly unworthy of note or comment. He lives in mortal dread of having to resume his place in the lowing herd, and I am convinced that if, in order to keep his name in the news, he had to walk from one end of Death Valley to the other, dressed in a raccoon coat and playing the national anthem on a ukulele, he'd do it gladly (hell, he'd do it round trip).

His silence and obscurity represent a consummation devoutly to be wished. The sooner the better.

Happy Father's Day!

More About Australian Fauna

Professor TimT sends a link to his excellent blog in which he discusses even stranger fauna than those of which I was aware (although, I have to admit, I feel just the slightest tug at my leg).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Company You Keep

Tizona links to the discovery of another Obamoron, Judge James Burge of Ohio. Note the two posters on the wall behind hizzoner's desk. One is a picture of a fanatical left-wing revolutionary considered by many to be the great hope of Marxism. The other is a picture of Che Guevara.

Happy Flag Day!


June 14th is Flag Day in the United States, so get out there and unfurl Old Glory.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Salute to Australia

Tim Blair is my blogfather, and I’m proud to claim him as such. He created a unique cyber-community where Australians and Americans could find areas of mutual interest, and his comment section was the most fun place in the blogosphere (and still is, of course; he has moved here). Because I got my start in blogging through the indulgence and encouragement of Tim, I feel an obligation to continue building bridges of goodwill with my Australian friends.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of the Australian political system is rather limited. If you were to tell me that the Prime Minister is chosen by putting the chiefs of the major parties in a cock-fighting pit and having them pummel each other with stuffed platypuses until only one was left standing, I’d be reluctant to venture the opinion that you were pulling my leg. But there are definitely things about Australia that I think I’ve got a handle on and that are worthy of admiration.

Cricket
I had always been under the impression that cricket was played by men dressed like male nurses employed by an asylum for the criminally insane, and that the matches went on for days, with occasional breaks for tea and cucumber sandwiches. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the game is actually played by beautiful women in bikinis, like this lovely young corn-fed girl:


I certainly hope that the matches go on for days!

Diggers
Steadfast in friendship, implacable in opposition, these are the kind of “blokes” that you want to have beside you when you're in a tough spot:


Fauna
How can you not love a country where, in creating the animals, God let his sense of humor run wild. Behold, the bandicoot!


Let’s face it: every right-thinking American (that’s you and me) would gladly pick Australia as his or her adopted home. So, hat’s off to our friends “down under”!

Serendipity!


Joy! I got to the office this morning and discovered that a big power outage in Washington had knocked out several blocks, including the one where my building is located. After waiting around outside for a half hour, we were told we could go home (you're welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer!) I mowed the lawn, took some photos inside and outside of the secret Paco Command Center (one of which appears above), started a new book, and took a nap. Haw! I snap my fingers in the face of Friday the 13th!

Coming attractions:

1) More book and author recommendations (I hope to make it a regular Thursday feature);

2) Another original short story that I've entered in a couple of contests. A love story, it's what, in earlier times, might have been called "something for the ladies"; yet there is sufficient mayhem to perhaps hold the attention of you brutish menfolk. Needless to say, it's a comic tale.

3) Cool links, political snark and a new music video every Friday for you hep cats and kittens.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Limits of Government

Ed Driscoll has some good links to articles dealing with the intellectual bankruptcy of the ideal of Eat-Your-Peas government (but remember, folks: just as a bankrupt company can (a) get protection from its creditors and (b) continue to operate, an ideology can continue in vogue and do massive amounts of damage, long after it has been revealed to be an illogical and fraudulent construct).

Friday Happy Feet

Glenn Miller and his orchestra supply the music, the Nicholas brothers take care of the footwork in "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (speaking of trains, as a rider of the Orange Line on the Washington Metro, I regret to say that the service the last two weeks has fallen to the level of AmTrak, than which there are few things in the way of public transportation more abysmal).

From the Shelves of the Paco Library


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known, of course, for his Sherlock Holmes stories, but he also authored some fascinating historical fiction, including two novels of medieval knighthood - The White Company and Sir Nigel - and a series of short-stories that are actually my favorite of all his works, featuring Brigadier Etienne Gerard, a commander of Hussars in Napoleon’s army. These tales are shot through with a marvelous sense of humor – sometimes uproarious – that may surprise readers whose acquaintance with Conan Doyle’s work is limited to the Holmes and Watson stories. Brigadier Gerard is a gallant, courageous and loyal officer who is also extraordinarily vain and, while frequently exposed to the perils of war, is never in danger of being accused of possessing a towering intellect. The stories combine a thoroughgoing knowledge of the Napoleonic wars with the author’s highly inventive imagination of realistic incidents, the whole topped off with the hero’s admixture of sterling virtues and comical flaws - all against the backdrop of the perpetual state of bafflement which existed between the French soldier and his English counterpart in their usually desultory and frequently futile attempts to understand one another’s alien ways, across a cultural chasm far wider than the mere physical barrier of the English Channel. The yarns are filled with secret missions, serendipitous captures, impossible escapes and hilarious misadventures (the scene in one of the stories in which Gerard escapes from an English prison and accidentally gets caught up in a foxhunt is practically Wodehousian in its zaniness).

The stories are currently available from Barnes & Noble, as well as from other booksellers, if you care to take the plunge.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Assortment

1)How badly does Obama suck? Let me count the ways.

2)Protestors fear the use of a secret weapon at the Democratic national convention. Many people think it's, er, BS. They obviously haven't heard of Precision Accelerated Crap Ordnance.

3)Hugo Chavez considers adding another Castroite screwdriver to his commie tool box.

Grand-Theft, Durango (Conclusion)

Hours later, over coffee in the office of Steve Briggs, a senior investigator for the sheriff’s department, we learned the whole story.

“He’s made a full confession”, Briggs said. “The guy’s name is Brad Parmenter. He’s a grad student in climatology and a member of an environmental guerilla group, The Movement of the 31st of March.”

“What’s the significance of that date?”, I asked.

“It’s Al Gore’s birthday. Anyway, Brad and his compadres were stealing SUV’s and luxury cars and bashing them into scrap with sledge hammers as a protest against anthropogenic global warming.” I gave a derisory snort. “I know, I know”, Briggs held up a placating hand. “But bear in mind, the guy’s a ‘C’ student.”

“What’s the tie-in with ‘Greens for Obama’?”

Briggs smiled. “Ah! That’s an interesting wrinkle. It’s a cover for the guerilla group. They figure Obama’s their best chance for carrying out their radical environmental schemes, so when they stole the cars, they drained the gas tanks before pulverizing the vehicles, and sold it through an informal distribution network to raise funds for the campaign. The distribution network and the end-purchasers, incidentally, include a number of mid- and high-level Democratic Party functionaries.”

I nodded my head in bemused understanding. “I suppose that when Obama’s people hear about this, they’ll…”

“Throw the Greens under the Durango?”, Briggs interjected. “They already have. I just got off the phone with one of the National Campaign’s attorneys, and there’ll be a press release tomorrow morning.”

One thing continued to puzzle me. “If part of the scheme involved siphoning off the gasoline in the stolen vehicles, why would Parmenter have stolen Wronwright’s Durango? It was nearly empty.”

Briggs shrugged. “Like I said: he’s a ‘C’ student. I guess after he had stolen it, he found out too late that he was going to have to put gas in the tank. But the thing was so spanking new, he probably believed that the symbolic value of smashing it was worth the money out of pocket.”

Wronwright’s interest in the criminal’s background and motives was extremely limited. “Mr. Briggs, it’s getting kind of late, so if you’ll just give me the keys to my Durango, I’ll be on my way.”

Briggs shook his head apologetically. “Sorry, Mr. Wronwright, it’s evidence, for the time being. We ought to be able to let you have it in a day or two.”

Wronwright uttered what sounded like a death rattle, and I believe he would have rent his raiment, had the thought occurred to him. At that precise moment, a pretty young deputy popped her head in the office.

“I’m sorry for interrupting, Mr. Briggs, but that man you brought in for grand theft-auto asked for a six-pack of Yoo Hoo. Which interrogation room is he in?”

I am convinced that only the quick-thinking Sheila’s draping of a sympathetic arm around his shoulders, and the pressing of his trembling hand under her soft, but firm one, prevented Wronwright from committing a massacre on the spot.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Grand-Theft, Durango (Part III)

US 1 was, for many years, the main highway linking the eastern United States, running north/south from Maine, near the Canadian border, to the tip of Florida. For long-distance automotive travel, it was supplanted by I-95 decades ago, and has since become something of a run-down main thoroughfare for towns both large and small, lined with shoddy strip malls, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and carpet outlets that are forever having “going out of business” sales (I solemnly vow to buy a carpet from the first such store that advertises, “Now Celebrating 20 Years of Going Out Of Business”). We choked along the stretch of US1 running through Stafford County for hours, stopping to take a gander through the dusty and often broken windows of abandoned filling stations, garages and even a boarded-up motel. Our venture had been a long-shot, and hadn’t paid off, so we decided to call it a day and return to the city. Too late to avoid the rush-hour traffic, however, which clogged not only US 1 but the roads leading away to the west where we might have picked up I-95 (which would also have been extremely slow at this time of day; as they say, a bad case of six of one, half a dozen of the other).

We were… not cruising, exactly, more like crawling along, when we pulled to a stop at yet another red light. Sheila’s eyelids had been drooping from fatigue and boredom, when suddenly they shot up like window shades that had been yanked too hard (I half-expected them to go flappita-flappita-flappita!). “Look!” She pointed out of her window.

A hundred yards ahead, a gleaming red Durango was trying to pull onto US 1 from the tiny parking lot of a dilapidated, free-standing one-story building. As we got closer, the driver finally managed to bull his way into traffic, ten car-lengths in front of us. The building, we noted, had a banner hanging over the front door – “Greens For Obama”. Traffic stopped again, and Wronwright started hollering. “Let me out! I’ll go pull that guy from behind the wheel!” Before I could stop him, he had clambered out of the open window and sprinted up to the driver’s side of the Durango. He began beating on the window and shouting, but the driver had locked the door and was doing his best to ignore him. Wronwright came running back.

“Paco, you’ve got to do something!”

“Wronwright, if he’s got the door locked, all I can do is shoot the tires out.”

He blanched. “No! Don’t do that! They’re brand new!”

“Then get back in the car, and I’ll call the sheriff’s department.”

I pulled out my cell phone, called the sheriff’s office, and got hold of a deputy. He told me that they had somebody close to our location and that the officer would intercept the thief shortly.

About ten minutes later, as we continued inching down the road like a caterpillar with sore feet, I noticed a car pull off of a side street into traffic behind us, ten car-lengths back. It was a van from the sheriff’s department, and the officer driving hit his flashers and turned on the siren. I got on the phone again and confirmed that this was the officer who had been detailed to apprehend the Durango-napper. But nobody could move out of the way: construction work on the shoulder gave motorists nowhere to go, except straight ahead.

Thus began what was surely the strangest pursuit in my experience: two cars – mine and the sheriff’s department's – separated by ten vehicles, chasing a stolen car, ten car-lengths ahead of my little squad, all of us lurching ahead a few yards, then halting for minutes at a time . Wronwright was beside himself.

“What kind of car chase is this? Why doesn’t the deputy get out and do something?”

I decided to ask that very question. When our wave of traffic was cut off by another red light, I got out of my car, jogged back to the sheriff’s van, identified myself, and asked what he planned to do about the situation. He was a gawky young fellow with pimples and a pencil neck who gave every appearance of wanting to do his duty, but being at a loss as to what to do.

“Well, sir, you see, I’m actually with animal control. I just happened to be in the neighborhood and the dispatcher told me to intercept a red Dodge Durango that had been stolen. But I’m not armed, and I’m supposed to wait for backup.”

“Don’t worry, kid. I’m your backup.” I flashed my PI identification, and opened my jacket, exposing to his view and obvious admiration Shiny Sal, my Ruger Police Service-Six .38 caliber revolver. “If he sees your uniform and my gun, he may give himself up.”

I ran forward to the Durango, took out Sal, and tapped lightly on the driver’s window with the barrel. The driver was now desperately looking in all directions for some kind of escape route, but there was none. A moment later, the deputy approached the car; bereft of the sterner regalia of office – to wit, a pistol – the animal control officer manfully brandished a pair of snake tongs. He told the thief to get out of the car slowly and to put ten fingers on the hood. Wronwright had gotten out of my car again and had stomped up to the scene. He was rolling his sleeves up.

“Just give me five minutes with this chump, just five minutes!”

The thief, seeing that the jig was up, opened the car door. He didn’t so much step out of the vehicle as balloon out of it, like a rubber raft on which somebody had pulled the inflation chord. He was an enormous young man, probably six feet four, broad-shouldered, hands like catcher’s mitts. Wronwright began buttoning up his shirtsleeves. “Well, I wouldn’t want to jeopardize the case by hurting the guy. Maybe I’d better let the law handle this.”

(To be continued...)

Grand-Theft, Durango (Part II)

After a surprisingly short search, we discovered that someone driving a red Durango had bought gasoline at a 7-11 less than a half-mile from the Marriott hotel. The clerk on duty said a guy in his early twenties, “a big fella”, casually dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, had stopped in about 3:30 am. “Odd thing was”, the clerk said, “he only bought three gallons. Seemed in a hurry, too.” He also recollected that the vehicle had Ohio tags.

I conferred with Wronwright. “The Durango only gets, what, 15 miles to the gallon on the highway?”

“Yeah, that’s about right.”

“So, the guy was planning on driving it maybe 45 miles, tops; probably a little less.”

We stopped by Wronwright’s hotel and went into the bar for a drink – Wronwright solemnly, if somewhat reluctantly, promising not to ask for Yoo Hoo – and we were discussing our next move, when the local news came on the television mounted over the bar. A car was being hauled out of a ditch, and the reporter was describing some kind of accident.

“Say, barkeep, turn that up, will you?”

The bartender complied, and we learned that a motorist had been driven off the road on I-95 and seriously injured by someone who had cut her off at an exit. Someone in a red Durango.

Wronwright was thinking along the same lines as I was. “Did you get the exit number?”

“Yeah. That’s down in Stafford County. Come on!”

We returned to my office, and I broke out the relevant road maps. Most of the vehicles that had been stolen and vandalized had been found west of I-95, within a radius of five miles from the first vandalized car, off of secondary roads (or even the occasional dirt road) in fields or burned-off sections of forest that were making way for new construction; it was still a pretty big area to whittle down. I notified the Stafford County sheriff’s department of my suspicions, and they promised to look into the matter – probably, if ever, sometime after the next election.

“Wronwright, I’ve got an idea. Whoever’s stealing these vehicles isn’t going to leave them out in the open for any length of time, at least, not until they’re ready to abandon them – or what’s left of them. And whoever made off with Dorothy isn’t likely to keep her in his own garage. Now, along US 1 in Stafford County, there are quite a number of old, abandoned mechanics’ shops and filling stations, and there’s just a chance that the thief is hiding your car out in one of them. It’s not much to go on, but you didn’t spring for Lojack, so we’ve got to hope we get lucky with the trial and error method. What do you say? You want to take a ride?”

Wronwright was game, and Sheila insisted on coming along, so we dropped by Five Guys Burgers and Fries, stoked up on aorta cement, and headed down US 1.

(To be continued...)

From the Confidential Files of Detective Paco: Grand-Theft, Durango (Part I)



A grateful and curvaceous client had invited me to her apartment for a drink, so I showed up promptly at the time agreed, and she met me at the door, wearing nothing but a short terry-cloth robe and a wicked smile. I walked across the threshold, already cherishing what looked to be a once-in-a-lifetime afternoon, when I was startled nearly out of my skin by machinegun fire. I grabbed my client and dove to the floor, but a sharp pain in my head told me that I’d been hit. After an indeterminate time of darkness alternating with blurred images, I opened my eyes and discovered…that I was lying in my own bed in my own apartment, my head was hanging slightly off the side being poked by the sharp corner of the night table, and a woodpecker was hammering away on the windowsill. The curvaceous client? Just a part of the dream that didn’t require any external stimulus. I figured that this had to be the biggest let-down of the day, so I was practically whistling a happy tune when I got to the office.

Opening the door, I saw Sheila sitting at her desk, and a man on the opposite side with his back to me. They were bathed in the soft morning light of a slightly overcast day; the effect was somewhat like a painting by Vermeer. On closer inspection I noticed that they were hunched over a chess board.

“So, who’s winning?”, I piped up.

“Shhhh!” The man’s sibilation was so loud and agitated that it put me in mind of feeding time in the Komodo dragon pen at the zoo.

I looked down at him and saw my old friend and sometime partner, Wronwright. Sheila had taken the black pieces, and Wronwright the white. Interestingly, I saw a large pile of white chessmen gathered in a heap by Sheila’s side of the board. Wronwright hadn’t gone down without a fight, though; one captive black pawn stood forlornly by his elbow. The outlook was bleak, however; Wronwright’s lonely king appeared to be in full flight, resembling a Methodist missionary fleeing from a mob of cannibal-island agnostics.

“Sheila, I didn’t know you knew how to play chess.”

She moved her bishop. “Checkmate!” She smiled at Wronwright, who replied by pursing his lips and turning red.

“I didn’t know how to play, until Wronwright taught me this morning.”

I smiled and lit a cigarette. “Well, as they say, those who can’t do…”

Wronwright shot out of his chair, snapping into a vertical position like a human switchblade. “I’m not at the top of my game, right now, Paco! I’ve got a lot on my mind. They’ve taken Dorothy!”

I pushed my hat back and sat on the corner of the desk – whereupon Wronwright’s queen, captive but still defiant, poked me in a sensitive spot with her crown. I stood up again.

“This sounds serious, Wron. Dorothy, huh? But, wait a minute; I thought your wife’s name was…”

“No, no, no! Not my wife. My Dodge Durango, with the 5.7-liter hemi-engine and the Inferno Red paint job and the DVD player and “ – he stifled a sob – “the Ohio State Buckeyes license plate! She’s gone!”

This was more serious than Wronwright suspected – and not just because he had named his Durango “Dorothy” instead of the customary “Betsy.” Since he had just blown into town on a business trip, he couldn’t be expected to know that SUV’s had been disappearing all over the city – not as the result of normal auto thefts, with the vehicles being quickly spirited out of the country to South America, but by a sinister gang of vandals, who were stealing cars and trucks, driving them out into the country, and smashing them to pieces with sledge hammers; apparently the work of some extremist environmental group. When I broke the news to Wronwright about the ominous possibility, he collapsed in his chair. “Dorothy!”, he moaned.

I saw what was needed. “Sheila, why don’t you fetch our friend, here, a glass of bourbon from the liquor cabinet.”

Wronwright made a feeble motion with his hand. “No…too early in the day…Don’t you have a bottle of Yoo Hoo?”

Sheila silenced the exasperated words that I was about to utter with a look of melting sympathy, and said, “I’ll be back in a flash, Wron. Just sit tight.”

So, while we waited for Sheila to get back from the store with – Gawd a’mighty! – a bottle of Yoo Hoo, Wronwright filled me in. He had driven into town to take care of some matters relating to a tax case he was handling, and was staying at a Marriott just outside of the city. He had gone out to eat dinner about 6:30 the previous evening, then he returned to the hotel, watched television for a while (reruns of Doctor Who), turned in around 11:30, and almost instantly fell asleep. When he got up this morning, the Durango – which had been parked right outside of his first-floor room – was gone. Wronwright called the police, but the cop who showed up to talk to him hadn’t been very hopeful; that’s why he had come to me.

I was stumped momentarily. Whoever had nabbed the Durango had stolen a march on us of maybe as much as ten hours. Then a thought hit me.

“Wronwright, how were you fixed for gas, last night, when you returned to the hotel?”

“I was flying on the fumes. I had intended to fill up the tank after dinner, but I overshot the Exxon station on the way back to the hotel, so I figured I’d just stop by there this morning before I left for home.”

It wasn’t much, but it was a start. Whoever stole the Durango had to buy gasoline, and pronto, so it might make sense to check with the filling stations and the convenience stores in the immediate vicinity of Wronwright’s hotel and see if anyone remembered it (after all, a Durango painted Inferno Red must have burned itself into somebody’s retina).

I told Wronwright about my first step, and the iron went into his soul; all he needed was a little hope. Sheila walked in about then. “Wronwright, I couldn’t find Yoo Hoo; the closest thing to it was a small carton of Hershey’s chocolate milk. Is that ok?”

He smiled grimly as we prepared to go. “Put it on ice, baby! We’ll celebrate with it when I get Dorothy back!” Carried away by his new-found optimism – and, no doubt, by his feeling, whenever in my company, of co-starring in an old Warner Bros. detective movie – he gave Sheila a peck on the cheek. I silenced the angry words she was about to utter with my own look of melting sympathy, and followed Wronwright out the door. The milk carton just missed us as we turned the corner under the exit sign to the stairwell, smashing harmlessly against the door of Dr. Pontoon, Podiatrist.


(To be continued...)

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Gospels (Updated for Today’s Modern Political Sensibilities)

Then Obama was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.

The tempter approached and said to him, "If you are Obama the Messiah, command that these stones become loaves of bread."

He said in reply, "It is written: 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.'"

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and 'with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'"

Obama answered him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'"

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me."

At this, Obama said to him, "Get thee hence…Wait a minute…All the kingdoms of the world?”

“All of them.”

“Not just the United States?”

“No, not just the United States.”

“Two terms?”

“As many as you like.”

And Obama smiled, and bumped fists with Satan. “Dude, where do I sign?”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A New Hatchling



Congratulations to friend and commenter Penguin, and to Mrs. Penguin, on the birth of their first child, a healthy baby boy. Well done!

Lions and Tigers and...Armenians? Oh, My!

So, what are you scared of?

Original Short Story (Conclusion)

Button Man - Conclusion

Lipinsky arrived at 8 o’clock, the assistant DA about a quarter-hour later. A tall, reedy fellow who had an air about him of wanting very much to be someplace else, the assistant DA affected a nonchalance which was substantially undermined by a series of unhappy accidents, beginning with the adhesion of his toupee to his hat when he offered the latter to the hat-check girl, progressing through a succession of collisions with tables and waiters as he peered into the dim light made even dimmer by his dark glasses, and culminating in the receipt of a stray champagne cork in his ear before finally being deposited at his destination by the maître d’. After securely ensconcing himself in a comfortable chair, however, he entertained high hopes that the evening would pass without further incident.

Meanwhile, Tiny moved along the fringes of the crowd, eventually sidling over to the bar where he surreptitiously upended the shot glasses of distracted customers. A stern look from the bartender sent him on his way, but overall, this seemed like a pleasant enough job. From time to time he’d walk over to where Lipinsky and his new friend were dining, concealed in an alcove formed by two pillars and a small forest of tree ferns, and he would loom for a while, as per instruction. He cheerfully watched the stage and tapped his foot to the percussive rhythm of the piano player, who was pounding out a series of boogie-woogie numbers to the accompaniment of a drummer and a bull fiddle plucker, and he gazed upon the dance floor, awash in a violent sea of agitated jitterbugs.

Around 10 o’clock – shortly after the public highlight of the evening, when a couple of enthusiastic, but not particularly skilled, lindy hoppers had executed an over-the-hip maneuver, sending the female half of the team flying into a waiter who was carrying an ice sculpture of the Chrysler building - Tiny took another peek behind the greenery. Lipinsky and the assistant DA had finished their steak dinners, and the waiter had brought the dessert cart. Tiny licked his lips as his brother-in-law’s guest selected a large slice of coconut cake. He hadn’t had anything to eat since he had wolfed down a small snack in the early afternoon, and two hamburgers and a piece of apple pie were practically half-rations for a man of Tiny’s heft.

A few moments later, he heard a curious noise, a sort of strangled cough. He took a gander at the table, and was astonished to see the assistant DA standing up, frantically beating his chest with one hand and pointing to his throat with the other. Lipinsky was rushing to the aid of the man, who was obviously choking. Tiny pushed through the ferns and said to Lipinsky, “What’ll we do, Dave? You want I should find a doctor?”

“No! We can’t afford to draw any attention to this guy. Just start pounding on him!”

So, Tiny and Lipinsky went to work behind the cover of the foliage, desperately trying to dislodge whatever it was that had gotten stuck in the man’s windpipe. They punched him in the chest and slapped him on the back. Tiny even picked him up and held him by his ankles, like a human divining rod. After a few minutes, though, the Assistant DA went completely limp, and Tiny laid him out on the floor. Ross had now stumbled on the scene, and leaned down to check the man’s pulse.

“He’s dead, Mr. Lipinsky.” Lipinsky’s face drained of the little color it normally possessed, as he contemplated the catastrophe that had just occurred – the mob’s one chance at getting an inside man at the DA’s office had come unstuck in a freak accident.

Lipinsky wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and said, “Ok, Tiny, pick him up. Take him around to the front door like he’s drunk and you’re throwing him out. Then we’ll get him in my car and figure out what to do with him.”

Tiny hoisted the body; but when the dead man’s sternum collided with Tiny’s beefy shoulder, something shot out of the corpse’s mouth, hitting the dessert plate with a Ping! , then bouncing into an empty coffee cup. Tiny heard the noise and turned to see what it was. Lipinsky had witnessed the entire flight of the mysterious object, and reached into the coffee cup with a thumb and index finger, extracting a silver button. He frowned at it in perplexity then looked up at his brother-in-law, eyeballing Tiny’s vest. Tiny, meanwhile, was staring with unfeigned horror at the button. Lipinsky took two slow steps toward Tiny and extended his arm, touching the button lightly to the place whence it had broken ranks with its identical fellows earlier in the evening. Lipinsky’s complexion suddenly did a quick march through the color spectrum, changing from its natural pasty white to pink, and then to crimson, before finally settling on magenta. His lips moved, but only a little mewing noise emerged. Tiny turned to Ross and stammered, “Uh, thanks for the job Mr. Ross, but I think I might wanna find somethin’ else. I’ll be seein’ ya!”

Tiny dashed toward the entrance, not recollecting his cargo until he drew level with the hat check booth. He tossed the corpse on the counter, which elicited a scream from the hat check girl, and then plunged through the front door, skidding to a stop just long enough to ask the doorman a question.

“Say, Eddie! Is Ted Lyman still bookin’ wrestlers in Miami?”

The startled doorman said, “Yeah, I think so. But wait!” He shouted after Tiny, who had started to leg it again. “I thought you had the arthritis?”

“Everything’s jake!”, Tiny yelled over his shoulder. “Change a’ climate’ll fix me right up!”

With that, the gaudy figure of Tiny Weismann receded into the night, like a fortune teller’s tent blown away in a high wind.