And the worst is what he got. When Hoss mounted the steps of the Hang-Nail Saloon, gargantuan Flat-Faced Floyd thrust open the swinging doors and spat a smoldering stream of Old Dead Man Tobacco juice on Hoss’s new snakeskin/alligator/salamander boots, scorching them beyond repair.
“Git him, Bandwidth!” Hoss whispered out of the side of his mouth.
The trusty Clydesdale snorted ominously and swung his twenty-foot, mace-tipped tail over Hoss’s head and whacked Flat-Faced Floyd plumb over to Boots-Up Hill, where he lies to this day.
“Good boy, Bandy,” grunted Hoss, proceeding on into the saloon to buy everyone a drink.
Poor Fleece. It was such a beautifully potential character. Kill the consumptive kitty, “Papa”, but I appeal to you to allow One-Eyed Jake and Fleece to lend themselves to other incarnations. It was horribly indulgent but would you believe that there was some restraint. Had I the room, I would have explained that Fleece was actually “Fleas” a nickname he had picked up after frequenting some cat houses in Spain. But I didn’t do that…I didn’t. Poor Fleece needed that — like a hole in the head.
Okay, NOW, they have been “subjected to the worst excesses of Ernest Punningway.”
(I think you enjoyed my “HACKing” absence …snicker, snicker.)
Hoss Shaman rode into Io late one Tuesday afternoon. No one knew where he came from, but he wasn’t easy to miss. His jangling, chip-filled saddlebags were audible for miles. His trusty Clydesdale, Bandwidth, stood 19 hands at the withers, and Hoss could nearly meet him eye to eye. His holsters, packed with soldering guns, drill bits and mechanical pencils sat comfortably on his ample hips. A slipstick jutted out of his back pocket. His fingers twitched, ready to code. Through his bandoliers were threaded silver CD-ROMs, little shikuren poised to slice and dice.
He was ready for the worst.
Just then the phone rang. Fleece answered it, nodding gravely in response to what he was hearing from the other end.
Afterwards, Fleece turned to Papa Jack-Jake. “That was Comely Bank Publishing. It seems my being an animal is in breach of ©copyright – I’ve ratted on the agreement. I’m not allowed to be Fleece™ any more.” Was that a tear in his eye?
“What’ll you do?” Jack-Jake asked.
“Become a woman. I fancy the name ‘Flounce™’,” she added.
“Great – will you marry me?”
“And they all lived happily ever after?”
“Hey – that’s a GREAT opening line for the book!”
“The Great War and I was fighting to save my leg!” Papa dictated to Fleece, “I got a sweet tabby knocked-up in Italy and –ACK!”
They were in Houston but Fleece knew consumption when he heard it. His Ma lost her third life to The Big C.
“Just a hair ball –“ Defeated, Papa tucked a pink-stained rag in his Panama.
“Those pussies! ’Phlemingway!’ they mocked me.”
“Put it in the book –.”
“But I know ‘For whom the bell tolls.’—“
Fleece hesitated — then crossed out “The Old Man and The C”.
“Are you Mia Faraday?”
Mia gulped. Should she deny it? No. Not with that badge of his staring her in the face.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“You know your family has been looking for you for almost seven years now. They were ready to have you declared legally dead. Why’d you run away?”
“My credit card was maxed out, and I just couldn’t stop shopping.”
“But you haven’t spent any money since. That’s why it took so long to find you. You have no credit cards, driver’s license, checking account.”
“I just wanted to start over, and I almost made it.”
Next day One-Eyed Jake woke and scratched his belly. “A man can stand just so much kibble and cream, then he’s gotta move on.”
“You’re right,” said Fleece.
“I’m shore glad that picture of your ma dropped outta your pocket back in Miami. And I’m double glad I just nicked your ears instead of blowing my own son full of holes!”
“Me, too, Papa. Let’s go up to Houston and rent a hotel room. I think I can write a few best-sellers like Hemingway, then we can get us an estate, too.”
“Sounds like a winner, son. Let’s get going!”
It wasn’t just a literary legend. There were scores of six-toed kitties wandering Papa Hemmingway’s estate in The Keys.
The cats slept or roamed among the broken tiles with kitty food scattered liberally and bowls of water and CREAM!
Fleece and One-eyed Jake scampered across the courtyard after catching a ride on a fruit truck from the wharf.
“Paradise,” Fleece snickered. “Look at all the kibble.”
“Manna,” smiled One-eyed, “and them cats is too fat to care.”
“Sure beats Miami,” Jake squinted, wriggling his nose. “It’s not the heat — it’s the humidity.”
The Pack settled in for an infest.
One-Eyed Jake froze after what had just happened. A man had been shot, right before his eyes. Talk about a wakeup call.
The winnings at the casino wouldn’t be worth it, if he wouldn’t escape alive. Quickly, Jake high-tailed it out of there, calling a cab. But where to go?
He thought a fresh start would be good. So, he was dropped off at the local animal shelter to volunteer. They had him look at some newly arriving cats.
Jake froze. One cat had FOUR eyes! Jake slowly backed out of the shelter. Life was weird enough as it was.
I scrambled behind the nearest pillar, hoping I’d be completely hidden.
“Jack, now come on. You wouldn’t shoot an unarmed man,” I said silkily.
“You got arms, Fleece,” said One-Eyed Jack. “I see you, I shoot you.”
Working quickly, I unhooked my prosthetic left arm and let it drop to the floor.
“OK, I’m unarmed,” I said, kicking the arm to the center of the room.
“Aaaah!” One-Eyed Jack yelled. “What in tarnation?”
“Tar nation indeed, Mister Jack,” I said, whipping from behind the pillar, my .44 drawn and cocked. “You just landed yourself in a whole mess of sticky.”