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From Inside the Flap
Never mind my name; I promised the name- under-the-title (a vain and pompous little current day auteur) that I wouldn’t tell. But I’ll give you enough clues in passing that you’ll get it before we’re through. Let’s just say I was the rough and ready Hemingway of my time. Well, Odd’s Plut and her Nails, maybe not Hemingway, but at least something resembling a delicious combination of a higher-plane Nora Roberts and a Robert B. Parker with a better vocabulary…, that is, if they did cheap, two-penny novels. That said, will it ’freak you out’, as you say in your own quaint dialect, ’devil your pleasantries’ too much, if I reveal to you that I’ve been dead for over 200 years? Right. Your storyteller, your narrator, cold stone dead as a mackerel…bones ground and blown to dust, actually…but that’s another story, and one that’s never been told. Here’s the thing-I’m the only bumfiddle who can actually tell this tale, this delightful little penny dreadful called FOUL. That’s because our protagonist, one Brando Mahr, came back from the mental dead zone in 1980 by reading penny novels scribbled two centuries before-mostly by moi! Yea and verily, my friends. Yes, myself-the great, tattered bard! Allow me to take a bow, and that accomplished, I’ll retreat ass-over-teakettle (swiftly but not humbly) into the background as a sort of translator, here for you whenever the going gets a little patchy. You see, Brando’s returned to the 20th century, but he thinks like somebody just off the streets of London in the mid-1700s. So, with no further pleasantries, let us begin in the middle of his troubles.
As our story opens, it is August, 1984. Brando Mahr hadn’t actually ever intended to gather the acquaintanceship of the famous football hero Ripper Brown, as he might have said in that quaint, cobbled-together English of his. That he had met Ripper at all-or Mister Doomsday, as the great footballer had been dubbed in his glory days of yore-was the result of a bit of well-meaning dirty work on the part of Brando’s old studio pal Keith Lagosi.
It was a hot August in the summer of 1984. Lying with his back on the stained and dirty floor of an interrogation room next to Los Angeles Police Lieutenant Baker’s scuffed black work shoes, Brando found himself bearing Keith plenty of ill will.
Wish you were here, pal Lagosi, his overworked brain thought, that we might discuss the unpredictable mushroom manifestations of your foolish pipe dreams. As I’ve said, Brando talks like that because, after years in a coma, he re-taught himself English-unfortunately, by reading my fantastico 18th century picaresques.
Brando stayed down on one elbow on the floor and felt the painful fires flicker through every joint in his body. He swallowed the thin trickle of blood from the inside of his torn cheek.
"Oh, yeah. Quite a mess, you’re in," Baker commented, looking down at him while he took a laconic drag from one of those unfiltered Camels that he counted on as part of his drably anachronistic persona. Baker seemed to think he was Sergeant Friday of Dragnet. "How the hell did you think you were going to get away with it?" he asked in his quietly menacing way.
Brando knew Baker meant the murder of Ripper’s wife, and that it was time to answer.
"Considering that, in your mind, I am the guilty party," he said, "it is a fair but complex question, and I require a moment to cognize."
Mulling over the situation seemed to deaden his physical pain, and after a few moments Brando was able to drag his reluctant frame semi-erect. He tottered for a moment and then sagged into the nearest chair.
And there, while Lieutenant Baker smoked and watched him, he tried to sort out his thoughts and recollect the scattered fragments of his recent past.
The morning the Ripper mess had begun, the sun was shining down on Lotusland, and Brando had been thinking he was a bona fide Hollywood eater, that is, a chap of substance and possibilities. He was relatively unrecognized in show biz, but he felt he had excellent prospects. There would always be his uncertain health, but on that day he’d convinced himself he was sputtering forward. Think positive thoughts, he told himself. Passible, Peppy, Perceptive, Perfect, Pleasing. His old learning techniques danced along at the back of his awareness. Ordinary humans don’t usually think this way-in alphabetical order-but Brando, as you will see, is far from ordinary, and beggars can not be choosers.
Here now, take a moment to look back: Here is what happened to him to make him the way he was: Once upon a time, at the precise wrong moment for his well being, Brando had been too close to the massive concussive force of a large artillery shell. It had left him catatonic, dumb as a stone for a number of years. After that duration, and against all odds, he had revived-only to find himself aphasiac and prey to epileptic seizures. Aphasia, of course, is a mental disconnect; it is knowing what a thing is even while your brain can’t remember the word for it.
After a time, Brando had managed to gather enough of wit about him to sneak out of the Veterans Hospital on Wilshire in West Los Angeles, and then, after bumming around a bit in Santa Monica with the street people, to get a minimum wage job carting books back to the stacks in the UCLA library. It was there, deep in the bowels of bookville, that he re-taught himself words… and, incidentally, learned to think and speak in London street slang that hasn’t been heard in ordinary conversation in nearly 200 years. As for the epilepsy, well, you know what that is.
Even in this, Brando is no ordinary garden variety tomato of an epileptic. Like some of the rarer strains, strange and deceptive delusions-visions, even-sometimes precede his seizures. He has given these visionary delusions the name Zeemans, because they seem to come from some unknown "z" dimension, perhaps like a rain of frogs from a clear blue sky. While not unpleasant, unless he recognizes the Zeemans for what they are, and is able to interrupt them, they invariably led to a fairly predictable series of mental and physical interruptions that can easily kill him.
Before he’d met Ripper Brown, Brando hadn’t had the beginnings of a Zeeman in weeks, and he was infused with boundless enthusiasm. Captain Padrow had warned him this sort of euphoria generally came before a fall. Padrow? She was a practicing U.S. Army psychologist with multiple professional degrees and a career to protect. He saw her as a deep and fuddering yawn-bearer who scribbled papers and nodded with great authority at meetings of her peers. He’d also had her in bed, so their relationship was, if nothing else, complicated.
Don’t get too accustomed to life, Brando, she’d warned, you’re not going to be here that long. Brando shrugged her off, figuring her comments were the army version of tough love. Even if she was right, what did it matter? There was today to be enjoyed, and maybe tomorrow. It was what he had, so it had to be enough.
The day he met the Ripper, he was some years down the road from his bumbling early revival in the bowels of the library. Progress had been made, and he was stumbling along in a career of sorts in show biz, where people mostly couldn’t tell who did and who didn’t have their wits about them. On this particular sunny day, he was outfitted tres chic militaire in an old army shirt and a pair of fatigues so threadbare they’d gone beatnik. Ronald Reagan was running for his 2nd term against Walter Mondale, Cats was big on Broadway, and Brando was heading north, out of town, to get as far away as he could from the swarm and blather of the Summer Olympics He was scooting Fifi, his rumbly little brown Fiat Spyder, along in fifth, the gear that real sports car aficionados hardly ever employ in L.A. due to freeway clog. Brando and Fifi were on their way to meet his old pal Lagosi, soon to be known as master of treachery.
Brando was in what he might call the Joyful Judy mode, with absolutely no intention to bother any lord of the highway or geek of the road. He’d flipped Fifi’s new tan ragtop down, her mag wheels were dutifully gleaming, his seat was cranked back nearly like a shrink’s couch and his sun-bleached moustachios and receding hairline were flaring in the wind. He didn’t much mind about the hairline. English lords and barristers wore wigs, and the brutish Germans just shaved it all off, bald as cue balls and convinced they were utterly, fiendishly sexy.
"Therefore, why bother, I?" He shouted to the wind.
Fifi was round and sleek like a dark and rangy little ocelot. He’d heard rumors that Spyders weren’t to be boated into the States anymore, but he’d picked his up on a brief filming assignment in Europe. When he wanted to bring it back to the States, his only other friend on the planet besides Keith, semi-gangster Charlie Manganetti, had gray-listed it into California for him. That was back in the fat times when Brando was a middle-ranking somebody at the studio, and Caesar had been almost entirely given unto before the lean years set in…meaning Fifi was nearly paid for before he got canned.
He was zooming north out of the San Fernando Valley, climbing the five-mile upgrade the locals call ’The Grapevine,’ when a spot of trouble inadvertently scuttered across his path like a dark tarantula.
He was in the far left fast lane cruising at seventy-something when a lime-green Porsche Targa closed in on Fifi’s backside. No road hog or, as he would say, no dog in a doublet, Brando hit the right blinker and started to cut over into the next lane.
Unfortunately, the Targa was too impatient for the circumstance. The fellow started right at the same time Brando was making his cut-only two material objects cannot occupy the same space and time without some form of mechanical bending.
Brando had moved in front of le banana verte. No big deal, but the green banana had to consider tapping his brakes, a major insult.
The Targa eased up a bit and the black front bumper moved within bare inches of Fifi’s rear end. And then the Porsche crossed behind and its driver gunned it to Fifi’s left.
Brando sensed a flash of pilot’s steel-rim sunglasses and a carrot-colored pate, and the speed felon yelled over at him, "Learn to drive, you asshole!"
"You-you-Ichabod!" Brando yelled back, giving him the Western One-Finger. That would teach the offender, Brando thought; Ichabod, son of Phinehas in the Bible, a name which throughout history had been used to describe a person without honor.
The name-calling may have been lost in time beyond recall, but the significance of Brando’s emphatic hand gesture was not lost on the driver of the green banana. He pulled close enough to Brando’s side to shave Fifi’s fender. Brando figured they were going to enjoy a West Coast verbal exchange, or maybe banana-man would surface a pistola and pop him in the cranium, and that might just be a blessing in disguise.
"I ought to run you off the road and beat the crap out of you, you stupid schmuck!" banana-man yelled.
Ahh, no pistol popping! Verbals it was!. Brando grinned, overjoyed to use a small part of his large but incredibly antiquated vocabulary of ridicule and abuse.
"Not manifesting overall cleverness today, are we?" he shouted back over the roaring wind. "Who writes your dialogue-Prince Myshkin?" He was, of course, referring to the idiot in Dostoevski’s novel of the same name. Maybe not on the current New York best seller list, but it was the only thing that burbled to mind.
"You stupid prick!" Banana-man replied.
"Cod-licking dribble-dick! " Brando yelled with a victorious note to his voice.
"Talk English, you idiot!"
"My English is more English than your English!" Brando shouted back. "You mundungus buffle-headed bumfiddle! You’re an affront to good taste everywhere!"
With that, Brando had to swerve as his foe carried out a mad bomber attempt to buzz off Fifi’s left fender. Brando braked, and carrot-top carried over across his lane into the parallel on his right.
"You’re dicked in the knob, dildo ding-boy!" Brando shouted, meaning his foe was a crazy, womanish knave of the lowest cut. Banana-man jerked his wheel left to force the Spyder off the road. Brando was prepared to swerve out of the way; but, due to wicked fortune, he hit the brakes at a sandy smear and Fifi’s back end went goosey.
In what Brando would call a milli-tick, a forest of chrome bumpers and dung-brown Southland hills whipped by with a wondrous tilt-a-world sweep as Fifi la Fiat and her owner did a violent 360. The little roadster skidded out onto the center divide, still doing well over 60 in the dusty, loose gravel.
Brando saw flying dry tumbleweed suspended stop-frame in the air for a moment before they burst through it. Fifi was heading for a steep down-slope that led into a boulder-choked barranca. Brando tapped his brakes and waited until the last moment to correct, and played the bite of the rubber in a controlled slide the shape of a shallow "C". They narrowly missed the barranca and ended up back in the far left lane on the freeway, still caroming along in the right direction.
"Get a life, you sorry mother-fucker!" came the green banana’s distant cry..
Carrot-top was receding into the distance. He had floored his pedal to the metal, as the pseudo truck-talkers all said, this being that loquacious epoch when America was suffering the CB radio virus, and he was speeding away. Brando was left behind, shaking and furious in a wake of his rival’s sooty effluvium. In ten seconds Carrot-top was just a chartreuse bug, and in twenty he was a disappearing dot on the horizon.
However, this being the Southern California Southland where one’s reality easily meanders off the yogurt truck, in another minute, Brando passed him. The driver of the green Porsche had been jerked over by a Black Maria, a little copper-gimcrack smirking behind her dark glasses, her taunting femininity plumping out a starched tan CHP uniform as she handed Carrot-top the unpleasantly numbered slip. Banana-boy glared a pair of degans-that is, dagger-eyes-as Brando raised his finger-salute high, yelled God Save The Queen’s Britches! and roared on past.
He shifted into fourth and then downshifted into third and second, Fifi’s engine rapping off wonderfully as la Spyder and her master dove across the many lanes and into the designated turn-off for the shooting range.
He and Fifi zoomed from the freeway through a dust-blown off-ramp leading to a cement and gravel operation, where the tight little imp of a car negotiated a swift left on an unpaved road. They cut back under deep shadows between the tall cement trunks of the freeway. Fifi slid through a series of turns and Brando gunned her into third, dodging and weaving around the bigger potholes.
He fairly rocketed Fifi along, eager to meet his pal Keith, for the devious Lagosi had lured him to this location with a gunnysack lumpy with unregistered widow’s guns that he wanted to trade for cold, hard cash.
Blood Moon Publishing is an imprint of Double Dragon Publishing