Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine's Blues from Texas and the Great Beyond

It’s not even a tone, more like a pulsing; a spot on the dial where one moment there is a faint sound and the next there isn’t, then there is, then there isn’t. It could almost be Morse code; something, nothing, something, nothing, di, di, da. I bend down closer to the dashboard speaker and try to focus on it. Gradually it becomes a voice, then I realize it’s a woman’s voice, but still far too faint for me to understand anything she’s saying. But she’s saying something and for me. It’s a human voice, and even if I have no idea what she’s saying, I can hear the sympathy and warmth in it.

Stevens taps on my shoulder. I look up. “You shouldn’t do that,” he says. “You may need to start driving any second now.”

So I sit up and put my hands back on the steering wheel. The minutes pass and slowly it gets louder until I can start making out her words."Because we’re all just trying to get back home. Isn’t that all that any of us are doing? Trying to get home."

And hearing her say that, I’m thinking to myself, well, I can’t speak for the fellow next to me, darlin, but it’s all I’m trying to do, I’m just trying to get home.

"Home, it’s a word we say all the time, but do we ever really think what it means? Home isn’t just a place we go to eat and sleep. It’s really the place where we come from and where we will all ultimately return. That means it’s not really an actual physical place. It’s really a spiritual place, because it is where ultimately our body and soul go to reunite with the rest of the universe. Your little gray home on the Wabash is simply a temporal representation of that great final reunion with the Sun!"

"Oh, man,” I say.

"What is that?” demands Stevens sharply, his voice teetering on the edge of disgust.

"Some lady on the radio,” I say. I’m about to add, she sounds like a sweetheart, but I don’t. I’m not going to share that with Stevens.

"Sweetheart? Are you nuts? That spook? That’s Rose Dawn, the clairvoyant.”

"The what?”

"She has a program on that Mexican station. Goddamn spook, she talks to the Great Beyond and gives answers to listeners’ questions. Rose Dawn. She’s a crazy bitch. The woman is disgusting.”

"We need to have faith that it’ll all work out. We’re all, each of us, just pieces in a grand celestial mosaic."

"Turn that shit off,” shouts Stevens.

"Fuck you,” I say. “It’s my radio.”

"It’s not your radio. This is a stolen car.”

"Yeah, well, I stole it, so shut up and if you don’t like it, then get out!”

"We’re all of us broken, so it doesn’t matter. Find your strength in knowing that!"

"I hate that crap!” fumes Stevens. “All that Celestial Hey Diddle Diddle! She’s the worst.”

"We’re all imperfect and that makes us perfect. We’re all damaged and that makes us strong."

"Unity of opposites, you’d think the crazy bitch invented it,” sneers Stevens.

"Well, I’d rather listen to her than that phony goat gland doctor,” I say.

"Hey, don’t you go disparaging Doctor Brinkley. He’s doing a marvelous service for mankind.”

"What? Transplanting goat scrotums?”

"That’s a legitimate business, but, more importantly, he makes folks understand that their Number One Priority isn’t over the rainbow, it’s right between their legs.”

"Shut up, I’m listening!”

"I’m hearing you out there, your voice calling from the other side. I’m listening, please speak to me. Do you have a message?"

"Yeah,” I laugh. “Get me the hell out of here!”

"Did you say you want to get out? Then be free!"

That instant, the marshmallow fog vanishes and, with a giant bump, we land on an asphalt roadway, right in the path of a blue Plymouth, coming at us from the opposite direction. We both swerve to keep from hitting each other. He hits his horn and lets it blast for at least ten seconds as he heads past us. Up ahead, I see a road sign that says Tupelo ten miles.

(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil,  available on Kindle)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

1930s Desperados in Love and Death

"Five minutes,” says Clyde grandly, like it’s the Pledge of Allegiance. “Five whole minutes!”

Then I hear a muffled sobbing sound. Bonnie must be getting all emotional.

"What is it, Sis?”

"Oh, Daddy,” she squeaks, “what about if when we die, you go to heaven and I don’t? What’ll happen to us?” She starts to cry.

"Oh, Sis,” says Clyde. And I know that they’re in each other’s arms again.

"Oh, Daddy!”


"At least we gonna get to go down together. Isn’t that what we always said we wanted, Sis?”

"I know, but, what if…” Before she can finish, Clyde cuts her off.

"Reckon we’re just gonna have to explain to old Saint Peter that we’re a package deal. I’m sure we can get him to understand that.”

"Oh, Daddy, I love you! Don’t worry, I ain’t sceered.”

"All right!”

"Bonnie may not be scared, but I am. I’m so scared I’m shaking like a leaf. So this is how it ends. Shit. Maybe if I had my twelve-string in my hands, I could pick out a song that would buck me up a little for when that light gets turned off. Why’d I leave it behind in that car? Why, because I knew I was about to die in a hail of goddamn gunfire and I didn’t want it getting all shot up. I wanted someone else to have it to play songs on even if it was one of Frank Hamer’s boys.
(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil," available on Kindle)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Albert Speer, Hiding from Hitler in the Ruhr

Speer suddenly remembered an incident from ten years earlier when Hitler’s takeover of the government was still not entirely complete. Speer’s organization had been given offices in a building whose occupants were at variance with their orders to immediately vacate. When they didn’t move fast enough, someone sent in stormtroopers. Speer remembered coming in to look over his new office and finding a large bloodstain on the oriental rug on the floor. ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it immediately,’ they told him. Sure enough, the next time he went in, the blood-stained carpet was replaced by another. The incident was never mentioned and he hadn’t given it any thought until now.

But then it’s easy to have no conscience when all you’re is an acceptor, someone who does what he’s told and leaves it at that.

That night, sitting around the campfire, Speer decided to try to get Manni Loerber to talk.

“I have a question,” he said. “Do you mind telling me what all that stuff is you keep talking about at the factories, which always seems to compel everyone to throw away all caution? What does it all mean?”

Manni grinned. “It doesn’t mean anything, Herr Reichsminister. Look, let’s just keep this simple. You do your job, I’ll do mine. All right?”

Speer tried another tack. “You know, I saw you and your brothers perform many times back in the old days,” he said. “You seemed like such a fun bunch.”

Manni sat silently reflecting on it for a while, the light from the fire dancing on his face. “Yeah, well, it was a long time ago,” he said, like they were talking about someone he’d never met.

Then von Poser spoke up. “If I remember, Herr Manni, didn’t your brother Ziggy go into the Navy? He became a U-Boat captain, sank a lot of enemy ships. I don’t recall hearing of his death. Is he still alive?“

“I wouldn’t know colonel, we haven’t talked since before the war.”

“And your brother Franzi? What about him? Didn’t he join the SS? Wasn’t he doing some kind of research?”

A tiny spark of humor showed in his eyes, causing the curtains of his reserve to part just the slightest. “Yes, he’s one of the Reichsfuhrer’s seers.”


“Alchemist, actually. That was his training. But mostly they use him for horoscopes.”

Von Poser laughed. “Heinrich Himmler uses alchemists? That is too funny, Herr Manni.”

“You might not think it was funny if you were an alchemist having your talents squandered making horoscopes for people who have no future.”

“I can see your point,” chuckled von Poser. Everybody feared and hated Himmler and the thought of him shivering in front of an astrologer seemed particularly rich.

“What about your brother Sebastian?” asked von Poser. “He disappeared, didn’t he? For all the gossip the afternoon papers used to print about you boys, when he vanished no one said anything. Some people thought it might have been something, political.”

Manni shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine, Colonel. Father refused to talk about it.”

“And you, Herr Manni, what have you been doing all these years?”

“Oh? This and that.”

“Meaning precisely?”

“Meaning precisely, don’t ask.” But he said it without rancor.

“And now you’re part of a three-man campaign to save the Ruhr.”

“That’s right, and if you ask any more questions, it’ll be a two-man campaign in about thirty seconds.”

At around ten, they got back on the road heading to Nuremburg, but a couple hours into it, it began raining so heavily that they finally gave up. They found an abandoned farmhouse on the side of a hill overlooking Detmold and went to sleep there. When they awoke, shortly after dawn, it had stopped raining and the heavy gray cloud cover opened up to blue skies and swarms of enemy fighters. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere today,” declared von Poser. They found some dry wood and got a fire going. They made coffee, sliced some bread and opened their last remaining cans.

“What have we got?” asked Manni.

“Fish, potatoes, and gooseberries,” answered Speer.

“Sounds perfect,” said Manni.

“Colonel von Poser tells me that today is your birthday. Allow me to offer you many happy returns of the day.”

“Thank you,” said Speer, a little uncomfortably. They’d been traveling for a week and this was the first time the young man had directed anything personal towards either of them.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “In honor of the occasion, I shall teach you the single most important skill I know, one that will definitely guarantee your success in the postwar world.” But then he waved his finger at Speer. “But you must promise never to ask any more stupid questions.”

Speer stared at him, stunned, feeling a mixture of curiosity and fear. He hoped this would not have to involve making a pact with the devil. As it was he was already trying to weasel out of an existing one.
A chapter from Germania (Simon & Schuster, 2008) that didn't make the final edits. Kindle download available here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Deep Ellum Icon: Honest Joe's Pawn Shop

Here is an original sign (there were hundreds) from Honest Joe's Pawn Shop, for decades a Deep Ellum institution. Here is how I used it in "Friend of the Devil," as a pawn shop in Del Rio:

The tower bell starts ringing, bong, bong, bong, and that’s when I see, a block and a half up the street, a big sign for Honest Joe’s Pawn Shop, which I don’t remember being there before. Bong, bong, bong. So I wrap my arm tight around my guitar case and start running toward it. The whole way up, there’s folks standing there saying, Hey Slim, Hi Slim, Where you running to, Slim? And to each of them I give a nice, friendly how you all, because as anyone in the business will tell you, fans are money in the bank. bell is still ringing when I force myself to stop and catch my breath for a second before going in, because nothing good ever happens to anyone who comes too fast into a pawnshop. Honest Joe’s is really just a hole in the wall; less an emporium than a vestibule with a couple glass display cases filled with trays of watches, rings, and pocketknives.
Honest Joe is a little bald gnome of a man with green eyeshades, who sits perched on a swiveling metal high chair. He looks up from his racing form and swivels to face me. “Whattaya need?” he drawls.
I set my guitar case on the counter and open it. He tries not to look impressed, but he is. “That’s a Martin, innit?” he asks. I nod.
“I need a gun,” I tell him. 
(Excerpt from "Friend of the Devil," available on Kindle)