Saturday, August 1, 2015

Savage Journey

Savage Journey

Copyright 2014 by Ben Begley

Based upon characters created by Hunter S. Thompson

Day One

We were just past Baker in the middle of the desert when our vacation began to fall apart. Of course, we couldn't know that then, but the first in a series of weird events was about to appear on our horizon.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. My name is Hank, and I am an insurance investigator. Oh, it's not as glamorous as it sounds, but it does have its moments. When I'm not investigating possible insurance fraud, I sell insurance. All kinds – life, home, health, auto – you name it, I've sold it, and if I haven't, I'll find it for you. I don't mean to brag, but I've been chosen Amalgamated Insurance's “Best Salesman” for my region for five straight years. It's something I'm pretty proud of, let me tell you, mister. Not that it's hard to sell insurance these days – everyone is so scared that some drug-crazed band of hippies is going to burst into their homes and kill them all with machetes, or some heroin-addicted kid back from Vietnam is going to stab them for their wallet, or a race riot is going to break out while they're trying to buy some southern friend chicken in a black neighborhood. The horror stories are everywhere, and most of them are real, believe you me. So while the world seemed to be going to heck in a hand basket, the insurance business had been booming, and 1971 was shaping up to be our best year yet.

In fact, that's part of the reason why I, my wife Madge, my pal Bob and his wife Betty were out there in that desert that day. As a reward for my winning “Best Salesman” for the fifth straight year (did I already mention that? Silly me!), Amalgamated was sending me and my wife on an all expenses-paid weekend to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, including tickets to see Debbie Reynolds and Harry James at the Desert Inn that night.

Bob had won second place in sales (a distant second, I might add, but don't tell him I said that, ha ha!). There wasn't really a prize for second place, other than a plaque, but since Bob and I were pals, and he was my partner in the investigation aspect of the job, the company generously included a second room for him and Betty, but they had to pay for their own food and tickets. Bob groused a little about that, but that's Bob for you.

It was a good thing the company had booked our rooms well in advance, because this was going to be a big weekend for Las Vegas. People were coming from all around the country for this Mint 400 off-road race they've had going there these last few years. We weren't particularly interested in that. We just wanted to see Debbie, maybe do a little gambling, some sightseeing – you know, touristy stuff. The wives wanted to do some shopping, of course. You know how the ladies are.

There was another facet to this trip, however - one that was going to make it sort of a “working vacation”, but I never shy away from an opportunity to make a sale. You see, in my capacity as an insurance investigator, I work pretty closely with our local law enforcement agencies. If I find evidence of a crime, I step aside and let the boys in blue take the wrongdoer away. Amalgamated also handles the life and health insurance for all the cops in the area (thanks to me - heh heh). I've become pretty close friends with several important lawmen in my area, especially “Big Bill” Fleem, the District Attorney of my home county of Buena Vista.

When Bill heard I was going to Vegas for the weekend, he asked me if I could do him a favor. Of course I would, I told him. Anything for my friends on the force - that's my attitude! He said that he had bookings for himself and the police chief of Pumpkin Center at the National District Attorneys' Association's Third National Institute on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. It was being held that same week in Las Vegas, shortly after the Mint 400. He said the police chief couldn't attend because he was embroiled in some kind of personal drama involving his son, who had been arrested for marijuana possession. As top cop for the county, it was Bill's job to oversee the investigation, so he was stuck too.
Bill explained that since the rooms were already paid for and it was too late to cancel, it would be a shameful waste of the tax-payers' money. Besides, as professional investigators, Bob and I could be his representatives at the convention and fill him in on any new information we could glean. I had some vacation days coming to me, and my bosses at Amalgamated were practically salivating at the prospect of their number one and two men getting to press the flesh with representatives of law enforcement agencies from all over the country.

As the cherry on top of this already sweet deal, “Big Bill” lent us a gorgeous, brand-new blue Ford Galaxy 500 that he had confiscated from some nefarious characters who had come here from Oklahoma (of all places) to broker a drug deal. So all in all, we were getting a nice five-day vacation in “Sin City” at little or no out-of-pocket expense to us.

We wanted to get started Friday evening, but one of my wealthier clients got himself into a little scrape when he struck and killed a pedestrian while tooling along Sunset Strip in his new Corvette Stingray, and I was up late dealing with that.

So bright and early on that fine spring Saturday we were on our way to Las Vegas. Bob almost had a fit when he saw the Oklahoma plates on the car. He said people would think we were Okies. I said, “What's wrong with that?” He responded by doing a goofy dance, all hunched over, knees and elbows pumping up and down and singing, “I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee...” It was kind of funny, if a little embarrassing. I guess that's how Bob thinks people from Oklahoma dance. I've known Bob since high school, and we served overseas together in the war. Other than boot camp in Georgia and our station in Japan, Bob's never been out of Southern California.

As I was saying, we had just passed through the little crossroads town of Baker on I-15 when I noticed something up ahead. It was a young man, and he was running for all he was worth towards town. It was pretty hot already, and as we drew closer you could see the kid was beet red in the face, his hair and shirt were soaked with sweat. He looked like he was running for his life. He kept looking back over his shoulder at the road behind him, like someone might be chasing him, but there was no other car in sight.

I started to pull off to the side of the road. Bob said, “Are you crazy? Stopping for a hitch-hiker these days? He could be some kind of fugitive from the Manson Family or something!” I told Bob to relax, that the kid obviously wasn't hitch-hiking. He looked like he needed help. Bob huffed and puffed but kept quiet.

When we pulled alongside the kid, he had stopped and was bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. He looked pretty startled when he caught sight of us, but calmed down when he saw a nice car with four average folks (except for Bob glowering in the back seat). I got out and asked him if he was okay.

He took another nervous look back down the road from where he'd come and shakily said, “Yeah, I guess so. I just had a close call with some real weirdos back there.”

I asked, “What happened? Do you need the police?”

No,” he said. “They didn't really DO anything to me. I just don't want to run into those guys again”.

He was still red in the face and perspiring heavily. I turned to the car and said, “Betty, why don't you give the kid some Coke?” Betty started digging into the big red ice chest that was sitting between her and Bob for a cool, tall bottle of America's favorite soft drink.

The kid practically jumped out of his skin. “Coke? No way! I don't do that!”, he hollered. He started to edge away from me until he saw the greenish bottle of dark brown liquid that Betty had just handed to me. Then he calmed down again and said, “Oh! Coca Cola! Ha ha! Yeah, sure, please! Sorry!”

I said, “Well of course - Coke. What did you think I meant?”

He said, “Oh, nothing. It's just those two guys I was telling you about were putting all kinds of weird things up their noses and acting crazy. They offered me some, but I don't do that kind of stuff.”

I said, “Why don't you sit here and tell us about it?” I had Madge scoot over behind the wheel and offered the kid her seat. He said he was hitch-hiking to Vegas. At this I couldn't help glancing over at Bob, and sure enough, he was giving me an “I told you so” look.

Getting a closer look at the kid, I was beginning to have some doubts myself. He was tall and muscular in a gawky kind of way, like someone who would be comfortable on either the football field or the basketball court. He had a perfectly round head, like a real-life Charlie Brown. Now that his color (or rather lack of it – he was the palest white boy I had ever seen) was returning to normal, I could see that he had a bunch of freckles under his round, deep-set eyes. The most remarkable thing about him, though, was his hair. It was sparse and stringy, long on the sides but short on top. At first I thought that he had cut it like that, but then I noticed that he was nearly bald on the top of his head. He couldn't have been but 19 or 20. Strange.

Actually, the strangest thing about him, and the one that gave me the most trouble, was his shirt. It had this terrible rendition of Mickey Mouse on it, flashing “peace” symbols with both hands, and – get this – with a gosh darned swastika on his chest! Mickey Mouse, for crying out loud! Can you believe that?

But for all that, he seemed like a decent kid. He was polite and mannerly as he sipped his Coke and told us about how he had gotten picked up by two degenerates who were driving a red convertible. When he said that, I remembered that earlier on the road we had been passed by a red convertible that must have been doing over a hundred. Even with our windows rolled up so we could enjoy that good old American air-conditioning, you could hear the most gosh awful racket coming from that car. It sounded like they somehow had two radios blaring away at top volume on two different stations. They flashed by so fast I couldn't get a good look at the occupants - just a brief glimpse of wild hair blowing in the wind and arms waving around. I know it sounds crazy, but one of the arms looked like it was swinging a fly swatter. Who tries to swat flies at a hundred miles an hour in a convertible? I don't know what this country is coming to.

I decided not to say anything about what I had seen. The other three hadn't seen it, and I didn't want to worry them - especially Bob. As he listened to the kid's story, his face was getting as red as the kid's had been. And he wouldn't stop staring at the kid's crazy shirt. I was afraid he was going to say something, and I thought that the poor kid had already been through enough.

The kid seemed better after a couple of Cokes and after getting his story off his chest. I offered to give him a ride into Baker, but he said he'd be alright walking. He said he had lost interest in going to Las Vegas if there were people like that going there. As he started to walk away, he spotted our rear license plate. His eyes lit up and he said, “Are you folks from Oklahoma, too?” I heard a sharp intake of breath from Bob's corner of the car.

I said, “No, that's just how the car came. Why, is that where you're from?”

Yeah, it sure is,” he said proudly pointing at his chest with his thumb, “Oklahoma City, O-KAY!” He said that he was just hitching around, seeing the country before he had to report for the draft. That made me feel alright about the young man, and I could practically feel Bob relaxing in his seat when he heard. I couldn't resist giving him a bit of fatherly advice, telling him that he might want to lose that shirt - that it could be considered offensive to those of us who had served in Dubya Dubya Two. Bob chimed in with “Damn straight”.

The kid clapped his hand self-consciously over the offending symbol and said, “Gosh! Did you fight Nazis?”

I said, “No, not really. Bob and I came late to the party. We were part of the occupation force in Japan after they surrendered. But the principle is the same.”

Oh, yeah,” he said. “I guess I just thought it was funny. You know, on account of Disney not liking Jews and all.”

This was news to me. Bob said, “So? Lots of people hate Jews. That doesn't make them Nazis.” The kid looked confused, but I shook my head to indicate he should ignore Bob, although he was starting to get on my nerves.

I said, “Well, I don't know about that, but think about what I said.” He said he would, and thanked us for our kindness. I handed him one of my business cards, telling him to call me if he needed anything. I figured it was a long shot, but any meeting is a chance for a sale, after all. He looked at my card, which said,

Henry Savage
Licensed Insurance Agent
Fraud Investigator
Amalgamated Insurance, Inc.
Life – Home- Auto
(800) GET-LIFE

When he looked back up, his eyes were as big as dinner plates, and he had gone a paler shade of white, if that were possible. I said, “What's wrong?”. He stammered, “Savage? Savage Henry?” I laughingly said, “Well, that's how they used to say it in the service, but yeah, that's me!”

He said, “Listen, those two guys I was telling you about? They said they were going to kill you!”

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I asked him what in the heck he was talking about. He said, “The one guy, the big guy, he said they were going to Vegas to 'croak' a scag baron – whatever that is - named 'Savage Henry'.”

My mind was reeling. It had to be some kind of crazy coincidence. I mean, in my line of work, I've made a few people mad when I uncovered their insurance flim-flams, but I seriously doubted anyone would kill me for it. Besides, why would they be looking for me in Las Vegas? I had never been there in my life. No one outside company headquarters and the District Attorney's office knew I was making this trip.

I decided it couldn't be serious, but I couldn't help asking if these characters had given their names. The kid said, “I'm not sure, but I think the foreign guy's name was Sam Owen.”

'Sam Owen' ?”, I repeated. “That's an awfully American-sounding name for a foreigner. Are you sure?”

That's what the other guy called him, but he didn't seem sure himself. He said, 'I think he's probably Sam Owen”. The skinny guy said he was some kind of doctor, and the big guy was his attorney, It was weird! Sir, I don't think you should go to Las Vegas!”

I tried to laugh it off, but I was rattled. “Oh, I'm sure it's just a coincidence. Crazy talk from a couple of hop heads!”

Well,” he said. “I hope you're right. But please be careful.”

I told him I would and thanked him for his concern. He went on his way toward Baker. I got back in the car and sat and pondered what I'd just heard.

Bob was all agitated again. He said, “We need to call the police and have these weirdos picked up!” I told him we didn't have enough to go on - that it had to be nothing anyway. After all, the kid hadn't mentioned the whole “Savage Henry” thing until after he saw my name on my card. Maybe his recent experience and running around in the desert sun with that bald head and no hat had done something funny to his brain.

Come on,” I said. “Let's forget all this and get on with our vacation! Let's have some fun!” I tried to sound as cheerful as I could as we drove off into the bright desert day, but it felt like an invisible cloud had gone over the sun.


We got to Las Vegas without further incident, and the sights of that crazy town were enough to drive any dark thoughts from my mind. Even in the bright sunshine, the lights on the casinos were something to see. I looked forward to the night to see what they really looked like.

We got to the Mint Hotel – the epicenter of the craziness that had descended upon the city for the race. I said a silent prayer of gratitude to Amalgamated for those reservations. A smartly-uniformed valet whisked our Galaxy off to park it while an equally spectacular bell hop took our luggage up to our room. Even with our reservations, what with all the hub-bub over the race, we had to stand in a long line to check in. There was some kind of hold-up because a guy at the front of the line seemed to be having an epileptic fit or something until he was led away by a large fellow.

I was surprised to see that they went right over to the table set up across the lobby for the members of the press to register for their passes. I couldn't imagine a couple of flamboyantly dressed peacocks like those two being reporters, but I guess they can't all be Edward R. Murrow. They were probably from the so-called “alternative press” or maybe one of those magazines advocating sex, drugs and rock and roll. Why those hippies would be interested in the fine American tradition of motor racing was beyond me. They probably just wanted to make fun of it all.

We got up to our rooms and freshened up and ordered some room service while we eagerly waited till it was time to leave to see Debbie. Bob kept whining about having to pay for his and Betty's room service food. I finally offered to order double on my tab. I figured Amalgamated wouldn't care considering all the new accounts Bob and I were sure to bring them from this trip.

When it was time, we waited out front while the valet brought the car around. He told us that we could have called down before we left the room so we wouldn't have to wait, but I didn't mind because I was too busy looking at all the lights of the city. Boy, I'd sure hate to have to pay their electric bill!

The valet told us how to get to the Desert Inn, and we arrived in short order. Madge thought she saw Liberace walking along the Strip, but I think it was just a fairy in a fur coat. We were treated like royalty. We got seats in the front row. The lights went down and Debbie came onstage wearing a silver Afro wig. Crazy! She launched into some Beatles' song from their drug days. I don't care for that kind of music myself, but Debbie and Harry James made it all so fun.

Shortly after the song started, there seemed to be some kind of commotion at the back of the auditorium. The doors banged opened while there was a lot of shouting and hysterical laughter, which faded out as the doors were quickly but quietly closed. Some people have no respect. If Debbie even noticed, she never missed a beat. What a professional!

The show was great. We hated to see it end, but we were getting hungry, so we made a bee-line back to the Mint and had a great dinner in the restaurant. Then back up to our rooms. I was exhausted, and soon fell asleep in the big bed while watching Walter Cronkite.

My slumber was interrupted by some kind of gosh awful din that seemed to coming from another floor. Someone was playing some psychedelic music at top volume. A woman's voice was yelling something that sounded like “feed your head!” over and over again. I looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was 5 o'clock in the morning! What sort of maniac plays music that loud at that time of night? And in a hotel - where decent people are trying to sleep! Even through the thick walls and floors the noise was unbearable. Suddenly the music stopped but was immediately followed by all kinds of screaming and howling and crashing. I was about to call down to the front desk and complain, but then the noises subsided. All was quiet, except for a dull roar that sounded like snow on a TV at top volume. Even that was eventually absorbed by the night sounds of the city, but I had a hard time getting back to sleep after that. So much for getting some rest on my vacation!

Day Two

I guess I did fall back asleep, but it seemed like only minutes later I was again awakened by some gosh awful roaring. I sat bolt upright in the bed and yelled, “Goddamit! They're at it again!” Light was streaming in the open curtains. My wife stuck her head in from the balcony and said, “What are you yelling about? You should come see this!”

I put my robe on and joined her on the balcony. Bob and Betty were out on their balcony next door. Then I saw the source of all the noise. The street below was full from curb to curb with row upon row of four-wheel-drive trucks and dune buggies and motorcycles, all gunning their engines as loudly as they could. Of course! I had heard there was going to be a parade of all the vehicles that were going to be in the Mint 400 before they headed out to the race course outside of town. They were quite a sight, I must say. I had to keep my hands over my ears for all the noise, though. Eventually, the smelly exhaust got to be too much, even up on the seventh floor where we were, so we went inside and closed the sliding doors.

I went in the bathroom to take a shower. The soap the hotel provided was this weird, translucent orange stuff. It smelled good, but boy, was it strange-looking. I stuck my head out and asked my wife what was up with the soap. She said, “Oh, it's called Neutrogena, and it's wonderful! I love it!” I wasn't so sure, but I used it. It was pretty good, I guess, but I felt like some kind of sissy European using anything other than good old white Ivory.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. The town seemed to have emptied out to watch the start of the race. I don't know what they expected to be able to see. You could see a cloud of dust rising up into the sky from the direction of the racecourse.

We all did some sightseeing, and later the wives did some shopping while Bob and I hung out in the casino, making a few contacts and even a couple of sales to nervous-looking tourists from the Midwest. We had a few drinks and did a little gambling. Actually, Bob did more than a little. He was starting to lose too much and was getting hot under the collar until I grabbed him and forced him to leave with me.

I stopped in the hotel gift shop to see if I could find some full-size bars of that soap my wife liked. The clerk sheepishly said they were all out, which was unusual, since - as she explained - the owner of the hotel also owned the soap company. She couldn't understand where it had all gone. I told her to send a message up to my room if they got some more in She promised to do so, but I never heard from her.

Days Three and Four

The next couple of days were pretty quiet. The race was over, but I have no idea who won. The company-sponsored portion of my vacation had come to an end, so we moved over to our new Buena Vista County District Attorney's Office-sponsored “digs” at the Flamingo in preparation for the conference. The cops were starting to trickle into town. In the lull between the race and the conference, we enjoyed ourselves as much as we could while making as many contacts and sales as possible. Unfortunately, it was getting harder and harder to keep Bob away from the slot machines. He was spending more time losing money than making sales.

There were a couple of odd notes to those days. On Monday I was making conversation with a Portuguese photographer at the bar at the Mint. He was about to leave town after covering the race. He looked a little frazzled. I thought he seemed like a man in need of insurance. When I gave him my card, he stared at it for a long time with a quizzical expression on his face.

Savage, Savage. Henry Savage,” he said. “Where have I heard that name before?” Suddenly it seemed to dawn on him, and he looked at me strangely. Then he just stood up and left without a word. He didn't even finish his drink. After the incident with the hitchhiker, this spooked me a little, but I decided to write off his unusual behavior to the stresses of his profession.

Another weird incident occurred shortly after we checked in at the Flamingo. From a room below us some idiot seemed to be arguing with someone on the phone. He bellowed that someone was kicking his door in, but I heard no sounds like that. There was same banging and clanging, however, and he was yelling about someone named Duke and Lucy. Just as quickly as it started, it seemed to be over, with one final bang. What is happening in this country?

I couldn't imagine any of the attendees of the conference acting like that, and cops seemed to be about the only people in the hotel that week. Bob and I were probably the least law enforcement-related people there, except maybe some reporters, but I think they were keeping them at another hotel. At least I hoped they were, especially if they were anything like those two weirdos we'd seen at the Mint. Ha! What was I worrying about? Those types wouldn't dare show their faces at a cop convention!

On Tuesday afternoon, I stopped one of the maids as I passed her in the hall. I asked her if the hotel had any of that Neutrogena soap. She seemed rather nervous, and just stared at me funny. I noticed she had an American-enough name on her badge – Alice - but maybe she didn't speak English. I pantomimed washing my hands. I said, “You know? Soap? Orange soap?”

She said, “Do you mean, 'one hand washes the other' ?”, in acceptable but Mexican-accented English.

I said, “Well, yeah, that's how it usually works.”

She sidled up uncomfortably close and whispered, “I fear nothing”. I told her that was nice, but all I wanted was some orange soap. She looked at me doubtfully and said, “Inspector Rock?” I said, “No, my name is Savage”. She turned without another word and started trundling her little supply cart as fast as her old legs would carry her, casting fearful glances over her shoulder at me until she rounded a corner and disappeared.

I walked slowly back to my room, trying to make sense of it all. Was it just this town, or was the whole world going crazy? All these little run-ins probably would have seemed like nothing before this week, but after that first day outside Baker, I had been feeling a little – well – fearful. A sense of foreboding had been following me ever since. Thank goodness tomorrow was the DA conference. I could lose myself in some good, old-fashioned American salesmanship, and then get the heck out of this loathsome town.

Day Five

The D.A. conference was held in the main ballroom of the Dunes Hotel. Boy, there were a lot of police types and their wives there. Bob and I were lucky to find some seats near the back. I won't bore you with the details of the conference. I was pretty bored myself, to tell you the truth. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have anything of value to report back to my friend “Big Bill” Fleem. I felt like I owed him that much for the free accommodations. Oh, well, maybe I could just grab some pamphlets and such from the many tables in the lobby.

I was having a hard time concentrating on the guest speaker's lecture, however, despite being nice and close to one of the many speakers spaced around the room. The source of my trouble were a couple of jackasses a couple of rows away who wouldn't stop whispering too loudly to one another. Finally one of them, a big Hispanic fellow in an expensive-looking pin-stripe suit, got up and made a big scene of trying to get out of the ballroom. He was yelling something about not belonging there, and I had to agree with him. Bob had to make things worse by loudly saying, “Good riddance.” The big guy stopped and looked around, trying to find who had spoken. Bob was glaring at him with his fists clenched against the sides of his legs. Thankfully, the Spic turned and made his way to the door. He was followed immediately by his bald-headed companion who said he was going to be sick. Bob muttered, “Yeah, you're sick, alright”, and I couldn't argue with him on that count.

After awhile Bob started getting fidgety. He said he had to use the restroom, but I knew where he was going. I couldn't stop him. I didn't want to make a disruption like those two other guys, so I let him go.

Finally after what seemed like hours the conference broke up. I wandered out to get a drink and look for Bob. No sooner had I gotten to the bar when I was accosted by a District Attorney from Georgia whom I had met earlier. He looked pretty shook up. I asked him if everything was alright. He said he needed insurance, and lots of it – which was funny, because he had resisted my charms when we had spoken earlier. He said he'd been talking to a couple of cops from Los Angeles, and the things they had told him that were going on there were something terrible. Tales of vampires and beheadings by giants. And that they were working their way to his neck of the woods, he claimed. I wanted to tell him that I was from Southern California, and I hadn't heard about anything that bad, but I didn't want to scotch a potential sale.

Before I could start making a pitch, he whipped out his check book and signed a blank check and thrust it into my hand. He said, “Here, just make me the most comprehensive policy you've got for me and my wife, and send it to me by express mail! And make sure it contains coverage for accidental dismemberment!” He then scurried off to goodness knows where while I just stared after him with my mouth open.

I found Bob at one of the slot machines (of course). He was in a worse mood than usual, having lost the last of his money. He and Betty had been arguing a lot the last couple of days about how much money he'd been losing. I told him of my windfall. I suggested we round up the gals and go out for one last night on the town to celebrate before heading home tomorrow. We hadn't been to the Circus Circus yet. I'd heard it was pretty wild.

On our way to the Circus Circus, we were sitting at a red light when a white Cadillac convertible pulled up on our left. The guy in the passenger seat was a fat Mexican wearing a yellow fish-net shirt. He was leaning over the side, which was streaked with vomit, and yelling that he wanted to sell us heroin. It was disgusting.

The ladies and I stared straight ahead - we didn't want to make eye contact. Bob, however, couldn't take his eyes off the maniac. When the guy said the word 'scag' I couldn't help but look over at him. There was something familiar about him. Of course! It was the Spic who made the ruckus at the conference earlier that day! I couldn't see much of the driver, other than his fingers drumming nervously on the steering wheel, a fishing hat, aviator sunglasses and a cigarette in one of those holders, like he was freaking FDR or something. I couldn't be sure, but I was willing to bet it was the bald-headed guy from earlier, too.

The light was taking forever to change, and the Spic was getting more and more out of control. He didn't look typically Hispanic. What with his long, wavy hair flying everywhere, he looked more exotic-like. I could see how someone might mistake him for, say, a...

SAMOAN!”, I shouted. It had all clicked in my head in a fraction of a second. “Not 'Sam Owen'! Samoan! The kid was right! It's them!” The car wasn't the right color, but what's to stop creeps like that from just stealing whatever car suited their fancies? Before the others could ask me what I was talking about, the light changed. I stomped on the gas and the big 500 shot forward. It was only a short ways to the Circus Circus. I felt if I could just get there, we'd be safe from these maniacs.

The driver of that white Caddy knew what he was about, though. He kept right alongside us. Suddenly Bob leaned across Betty and began hurling the foulest language at the guys in the Caddy. It was a good thing the 500 is a two-door, or he probably would have jumped right into that Caddy and started biting them. The Circus Circus was coming up fast. I started edging left, trying to force the Caddy to make way for us. Suddenly the driver jammed on his brakes and veered to the right in our wake, across three lanes and down a side street.

Now I was at the turn-off to the Circus Circus. I was going too fast for the turn. I hit the brakes while cranking the wheel hard to the left. We stalled, sitting diagonally across the middle of the intersection. Bob was yelling, “What the hell are you doing? We can't stop here!” Cars were honking, fists were waving, in the distance I could hear the wail of sirens. Even though we were the victims, I didn't feel like trying to explain the whole mess to anyone.

I got the Galaxy restarted, and as quickly but nonchalantly as I could I pulled into the parking area of the Circus Circus. The lights and sirens flashed on by. It was an ambulance! All that insanity had taken only a few seconds, and no cops had even noticed. Thousands of extra cops in town, and those two maniacs were careening around, terrorizing innocent tourists, Scot free.

We parked and sat for a few minutes. We were all pretty shaken up. Finally I said, “Come on, folks. Let's put this behind us and have something to eat.” But there wasn't much heart in it.

We ate in silence at the buffet. I reluctantly agreed to loan Bob 10 bucks and he hightailed it the machines. Betty went off in the direction of the bar. I guess she had managed to keep some money away from her husband. Madge and I wandered around the place.

Boy, that Circus Circus is really something else. It's just like a real circus inside, with high wire acts and carnival booths - the works! Bob turned up a little while later, looking (my) ten dollars poorer. He just followed us around with his head down, casting longing glances toward the gambling floor.

This one barker was trying to get us lay down a buck or two to have our image projected 200 feet tall over the Las Vegas skyline, but we weren't interested. We moved on. After a bit I realized Bob was no longer with us. Just then there was a commotion from the direction of the booth with the 200-foot projection.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing. There was Bob, grappling with the barker and another carny. He had grabbed the microphone and was screaming something into it. I rushed back there. There was a TV connected to a camera outside so you could see yourself looming over the city. Sure enough, there was a 200-foot-tall Bob, flanked by two even larger carnies, who were now being joined by a couple of uniformed security guards. Bob was shrieking, “Hey, you two chicken-shit motherfuckers in the white Caddy! Come back here! I'll kick your asses! I'll kill you. I'll fucking kill you!”

The two security guards and the carny managed to wrest the microphone away from Bob while the barker hit the switch to turn off the projection. It was quite a scene. They hauled Bob off to the security office. I sent Madge to look for Betty while I hustled after Bob.

The casino was ready to press charges against Bob, because not only had he not paid for the use of their projector, but he had bitten a carny on the arm. I showed them my identification badge from the conference, proving I was an official representative of the Buena Vista County District Attorney. I gave them a couple of bucks for the projection, and explained that Bob had been under a great deal of stress from our job as investigators – you know, dealing with the scummier elements of society.

Finally I got things smoothed over, and I fast-walked Bob out of there, collecting Madge and a now-inebriated Betty along the way. We got in the Galaxy, and I just started to drive. I didn't even care where I was going. I needed some time to calm down. Eventually we came across an all-night diner called the North Star. I suggested we get some coffee and pie to settle our nerves.

We entered the place. It was empty except for the waitress – who kind of looked like Jane Russell - behind the counter. She didn't even look at us. She was staring out the window with a vacant look on her face. She said, “We're closed.” I said, “But your sign says 'Open 24 Hours' “. As I was saying it, my eyes began to take in certain details. There were two barely-touched plates of hamburgers on the counter, along with a five dollar bill, and oddest of all, the receiver from the payphone was laying next to one of the plates. Something very strange had happened there.

Suddenly the waitress came to life. She came around the end of counter, fast, screaming, “I said 'We're CLOSED' !”. She was a big gal, and she looked ready to hurt someone. We hightailed it out of there. As we piled into the car, I saw her lock the doors and then she walked over and yanked the cord for the neon 'open' sign out of the wall. Then she disappeared into the back, shutting off the lights as she went.

Madge said, “Let's just go back to the hotel and try to get some sleep, so we can get out of this town.” I couldn't have agreed with her more. As I was pulling out into the street, Betty began to vomit copiously all over herself, the back of my seat and the floor. The smell was horrendous. I almost barfed myself. I opened all the windows, and tried to keep my head as close to the fresh air as I could while navigating toward the Flamingo. Bob didn't even look at his poor wife. I guess he was sulking because she had gotten drunk on money he could have been gambling with.

When we got back to the hotel, Madge helped the puke-covered Betty up to the rooms. I pressed two twenty dollar bills into the valet's hand and asked him to have the boys in the garage see if they could do something with the mess in the car. He didn't look too enthused especially when he got a whiff of the car, but you can't argue with a tip like that.

Bob hadn't said anything since we'd left the Circus Circus. As we shuffled toward the lobby, he said, “Say, Hank. Can you loan me another 10 bucks? I know my luck's got to change.”

I lost it. I laid into him - telling him things I'd been holding back for years. Things like how the only reason he was even number two at Amalgamated was because he had been riding on my coat tails ever since the service. Hell, the only reason he was even on this trip was because of his association with me. And now he had thrown away his money and was trying to do the same with mine.

Bob said, “Screw you, Hank! I'm sick of your 'holier than thou' attitude. You've been making me feel second-best ever since high school! Hell, you're lucky to be alive tonight! I tried to tell you to call the cops about those two degenerates when the kid first told us about them, but oh, no! Not the great Hank Savage! He can handle it! Well, you almost got us killed tonight!”

This was too much. I hauled off and punched him square in the nose. I felt something crunch under my fist, and blood squirted all over Bob's shirt. He staggered backwards, with his hands over his nose. He screamed, “Fuck you!”

I tried to apologize (even though it had felt good). I tried to calm him down, saying “Let's just try to get some rest, so we can get out of this damned city tomorrow!”

Bob yelled, “Fuck you! I'm not going anywhere with you! I can make my own way back home!”

I said, “Oh, yeah - with what money? And what about Betty?”

He said, “I don't give a shit. Take her with you. Hell, maybe I won't even go back. I think I'll stay here. I can make it in this town just fine without any help from the great Hank Savage.” With that he turned and stomped into the casino, bloody shrit and all. As soon as the doors swung shut, there was screaming and yelling from inside. I never saw him again after that.

I went back up to the room. Madge had cleaned Betty up and put her to bed on the couch in our suite. We were both exhausted and went to bed without a word.

Day Six

We got up late, and ordered breakfast in the room. I got a Bloody Mary for Betty. She needed a little hair of the dog that had bit her. She didn't ask about Bob, and I was glad.

After we packed, I called downstairs to have them bring the car around. When we got to the car, I edged up to it nervously. The guys had done a great job. The car was spotless, and they had perfumed it so it smelled like new again. After we got in, however, you could detect a faint odor of barf under the deodorant. Oh, well. I'm not sure Betty even noticed. I didn't know if she even remembered what she'd done. I hoped for her sake she didn't.

I cracked the windows and ran the air-conditioning – the ultimate American luxury. We drove slowly out of town, then picked up speed on the interstate. It felt good to see that awful city disappear into the haze of the desert sun in our rear-view mirror.

When we stopped at a traffic light in Baker, who should we see but the hitchhiking kid. He didn't look so good. I guess a week in Baker can do that to you. At least he had changed out of that awful shirt. He was just standing in the shade of one of the few trees, with barely enough energy to hold his thumb up. I tootled the horn. When he looked our way his face lit up when he recognized us. He scurried over.

Where you heading?”, I said.

West,” he said. “Actually, anywhere but here. I gotta find an induction center soon. I've been stuck here all week. I can't get a ride.”

Well, son,” I said, “Your luck just changed. Hop in!”

Madge stepped out to let the kid into the back, next to Betty. I saw his nose wrinkle up when he caught his first whiff of the faint smell of vomit, but he was too polite to say anything.

He said, “Where's your friend?”

It's...complicated,”I said, nodding toward Betty, hoping he'd take the hint.

He didn't. “Those guys didn't get him, did they?”, he asked with genuine alarm.

No! No,” I said. “Well, not exactly. It's a long story. I'll tell you about it sometime. Why don't we listen to some music?” I turned on the radio. “Okie from Muskogee” was playing.

We all laughed, even Betty, who seemed perkier since the kid had gotten in. I turned the music up and we sang along, as we drove west, back to civilization, or what was left of it.

The End

Friday, July 31, 2015

Writing Assignment

One day, while drunkenly Skype-ing with my friend Steve W., we gave each other three one-sentence story ideas. So far, I've done two of them. The first one is too filthy to release upon an unsuspecting populace. This was the second. The title is the sentence that Steve gave me to come up with a story for.

Sexual Tension Was Caused by the Robot
By Rimpy Rimpington

Clem and Lurleen met on the line at the Thunderbolt Automobile plant in Muskox, Oklahoma. Clem had worked there already for a few years. When he started, he was partnered with an older black man named Durrell. Clem had never really known a black person before, and at first he was a little nervous. But Durrell was a gracious gentleman of the old school, and he made Clem feel welcomed from day one.

Durrell's job was to screw in the dome light bulb as the cars came down the line, then Clem would snap in the plastic cover. After Clem got proficient at his task, Durell trained him to do the bulbs, as well. They would occasionally switch up to avoid monotony and “line hypnosis” - a common malady amongst production workers.

Clem worked with Durrell for a number of years, and they got along great. They didn't associate after hours, but Clem considered Durrell a good friend, and Durrell took on a sort of paternal role toward his young partner.

Then a bittersweet day came when Durrell became eligible for retirement on Thunderbolt's generous pension program. A party was held at lunch-time on Durrell's last day, with a big cake. Clem had to hold back a tear when he shook hands with Durrell at the end of his last shift.

Durrell said to him, “I don't know who they're going to find to replace me, but you'll be lead man on the team now, Clem. Remember everything I've taught you, and teach your new partner, too.”

Clem promised he would, but he couldn't help swallowing a lump of apprehension, wondering who his new co-worker would be.

The next day, standing uncertainly in his workstation, was a pretty young woman named Lurleen. She seemed friendly and eager to learn. Clem had never worked with a girl before, but he remembered his own experience with Durrell, and did his best to make her feel at home.

Lurleen was a quick study. Pretty soon she had learned both aspects of their work partnership, just like Clem had done with Durrell. She also had an outgoing personality, and a unique sartorial style, within the strict parameters of the factory dress code. About the only personal option one could manage was whether or not one wanted to wear some sort of bandanna under one's hard hat. Clem just wore his hat directly on this short hair, but Lurleen liked to wear a different bandanna every day. Different colors and patterns and designs. She must have had quite a collection of them.

Pretty soon, Lurleen and Clem were getting along famously. They started dating outside of work, and almost before he knew it, he found himself proposing, and Lurleen said yes without hesitation.

A few months later, they were married in the most lavish ceremony the town had ever seen. Practically the whole town and all their co-workers (the two groups were almost completely overlapping) was there. Durrell was there, too, and he smiled proudly at his protege.

They took their annual two week vacation, and spent most of it living large in Branson, Missouri. They then settled into a comfortable existence of work and connubial bliss.

Their happy arrangement was shattered a couple of years later when the factory announced that it was instituting some modernization measures. Seems the time-honored tradition of employing humans to build cars was now passe. In an effort to stay competitive, the company explained, they were going to be more automated. Now robots were going to do a lot of the repetitive tasks that people had been paid to do.

Of course, there was a big uproar. Strikes were threatened. Some workers walked off the job rather than face being replaced by machines. But you can't stop progress, and one day Clem and Lurleen showed up for work as they had done for years to find a weird machine standing in Lurleen's usual spot. It didn't look like any kind of robot that either of them had seen in movies. Instead it looked more like a giant arm bolted to the floor, with some weird attachments for fingers.

Their supervisor came along and explained that this new “robot” was going to do both their jobs – screw in the light bulbs and snap in the cover. Clem and Lurleen demanded to know what was going to become of them. The supe said that, regrettably, Lurleen was being laid off, but they needed Clem, being the more senior employee, to stay and learn how to maintain the robot.

They pleaded. They begged. They even yelled. But in the end, nothing could be done for it. Clem and Lurleen embraced. He promised everything would be okay. Lurleen took off her bandanna and handed it tearfully to Clem, then she went off to collect her severance check.

A technician came to teach Clem his new job. It didn't take long. Mostly he was responsible for keeping his new “partner” supplied with bulbs and covers. The machine was pretty self-contained and didn't need much from Clem, other than materials. Any maintenance and repair issues would be handled by the technicians from the Automaton Robot Company, who were very well-paid to do what they did. Better than Clem, certainly.

So, Clem tried to adjust as well as he could to his new routine. It was boring and lonesome, not having Lurleen to talk to. There wasn't anyone to talk to, for that matter. His workstation was too far from the next one, and the noise of the line prevented conversation over more than a few feet, what with having to wear earplugs. The conversations in the break room didn't offer much distraction, either. Rather than dwell on the disruptions caused in their lives by the changes, most folks preferred to stay quiet.

That night at home wasn't a lot of fun, either. Clem tried to assure Lurleen that she would find other work, but they both knew that was a pipe dream. Thunderbolt was the biggest employer in town, and all the other local businesses that served its employees were already turning away other laid-off workers. Lurleen cried and cried, and Clem couldn't seem to comfort her.

The next day, Lurleen stayed in bed while Clem got up and got ready for work. When he arrived, he was shocked to see that his new robotic co-worker was wearing a blonde wig and Lurleen's old hard hat on what might be considered its head, just behind the weird hand-like attachment. Someone had drawn lips in red lip stick on the machine just below the wig. His co-workers had thought that this attempt at humor might cheer him up. They were wrong. At first Clem was tempted to rip the items down, but he decided against it. He didn't want to hurt anyone's feeling. They meant well, he supposed.

After a moment of watching the robot going through its motions, Clem realized that from a certain angle, and if you kind of squinted, it did sort of look like a human, bending over at the waist as it leaned inside the passing car bodies to do its menial job.

Oh well, Clem thought, at least the hat and wig kind of made it seem a little more life-like. Then he had an idea. He pulled Lurleen's bandanna out of the pocket of his coveralls. He removed the hardhat from the wig, tied the bandanna around it and replaced the hat. That was a little better.

Later that day, a tech from the robot company came by to check on the machines. When he saw the unauthorized items on Clem's robot, he started to open his mouth to protest, but one look from Clem was enough to make him shut it again. He walked away, shaking his head.

As time went by, Clem got used to the tedium of his new position. In fact, it was a relief from his situation at home. Lurleen's severance pay had run out, and now she was collecting unemployment benefits from the state. It was a blow to her pride, and it wasn't great pay. Money was tighter on their reduced income. They had to let go of a few luxuries – like cable TV – that they had enjoyed previously.

Lurleen was moody. Their formerly healthy love life was suffering. More and more often, Lurleen just wasn't in the mood. Clem found himself stopping off at the local water hole on his way home for a few beers, more than he had done when he was single. Lurleen was angry at this extra expense, but Clem felt it was a necessary antidote for the privations he was suffering. They fought often now.

Things went on like this for months. Then one day, Clem was staring morosely at the robot as it went about its monotonous chores. He focused on that pretty bandanna peeking out from under the robot's hard hat. It was now a little dusty from not being changed everyday, but it was still Lurleen's. Maybe it was a combination of loneliness, sexual frustration and hangover, maybe it was line hypnosis, but suddenly Clem was overcome with emotion. He cried, “Oh, Lurleen! I miss you!” and flung himself upon the machine. He wrapped his arms around it and sobbed bitterly. The machine went about its business, completely unmindful of the distraught human clinging to it. No one could hear Clem's cries, and nor did anyone happen to be looking his way.

Except one.

Lurleen had gotten a call that morning from her cousin Darleen, who worked as the manager at the local Piggly Wiggly. Darleen told her they had an opening for a cashier, and could Lurleen start the next day?

Lurleen had rushed down to the factory to give Clem the good news, and take him out for lunch. And what did she find? Her husband making out with a robot dressed up to look like her!

She ran up behind Clem and smacked his hard hat off his head. A badly startled Clem turned around to find his wife glaring at him. With tear-stained eyes and a red face, he blurted out, “Lurleen! This isn't what it looks like!”

Lurleen screamed, “So this is why you seem so happy to go off to work each day! You pervert! You couldn't face your unemployed human wife, so you take up with this metal monstrosity! I hope you'll be very happy together!”

She then pulled off her wedding ring and hurled it at Clem. It sailed past him and landed inside the “elbow” of the inhuman marriage wrecker. Lurleen turned and stormed off. Clem tried to follow her, but the drama at his workstation had finally attracted the attention of his supervisor, who came over to demand an explanation.

Just then there was a horrendous screeching sound from the robot. The ring had apparently found its way into its deepest works. Smoke began to pour out of the machine, and it began to whirl about on its base, smashing car bodies and flinging light bulbs and plastic covers everywhere. The hard hat flew off and hit the supervisor in the head, knocking him unconscious. The wig and bandanna became entangled in the works of the line, which ground to a halt.

The whole line was shut down for a couple of days for repairs. Clem was fired, despite his protestations of innocence. The company had been willing to overlook the dressing up of the robot, but they drew the line at employees groping the machines in the course of their duties.

Lurleen moved out and roomed with Darleen. Clem couldn't find work anywhere, once his story got told around. He had to move out of the area, and eventually found work on a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico. He sends Durrell a birthday card every year, but doesn't include a a return address.

The robot was repaired, but oddly enough, the ring that caused the malfunction was never found. The lipstick was scrubbed off as best it could but, but a faint trace remained for the rest of its days, which were long indeed. Some of Clem's former co-workers swear that they can see a smile in that ghostly lipstick that wasn't there when they originally applied it. The less superstitious say it's just a result of the scrubbing, but the older workers just shake their heads and give that workstation a wide berth when they pass.

The end.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Rimpymobile is Dead! Long Live the Rimpycycle!

Beauty was in the eye of this beholder
A little while back I had to make the painful decision to scrap my beloved Rimpymobile. Her full name was Evalia Bergita Yonsei, or EB for short. She had a lot of problems, but she was a faithful steed. She got me and my daughters back and forth between San Francisco for all those mysterious errands (whose true nature is yet to be revealed).

Eventually, her problems became too many, and it was time to move on. I shall miss her. And I'll really miss her stickers. I've never outgrown my childhood love of stickers, so I had corporate-shilling ones for In 'n' Out Burger and Dutch Bros. Coffee (hey, they were free). I also had one from my local union for bus drivers.

If you embiggen the pic, you might be able to make out a tiny one above the exhaust pipe that says "Loud Pipes Save Lives". It's a motorcyclist thing. I saw a full-sized one on a biker's pickup truck, but I was only able to find a motorcycle-sized one. That's another thing I loved about my EB: her incredibly loud and powerful-sounding (in sound only) tail pipe. I used to love giving the engine a little extra gas when passing through an underpass and listening to the echo of the rumble.

One sticker I really regret losing is the "Papoon for President (Not Insane)" one sent to me by my old friend Good-Time Charlie. Sorry, Charlie.

Speaker of "stickers", one time I got stopped by a cop because I had let my registration tags lapse (yes, I know, what a monster, right?). I didn't know why he was stopping me, however. First he said that my loud tailpipe had attracted his attention. He thought I might be some young thug or something. Then he said there was a problem with my stickers. I was really confused. Had post-9/11 paranoia become so rampant that now the police could pull you over for objectionable bumper stickers? What could he have a problem with? Papoon? Unions? My boast about the life-saving attributes of noisy exhaust pipes which had drawn his interest in the first place? I rather dully said, "Stickers?", to which he clarified he meant my tags. I had never heard anyone call them "stickers" before, although that is definitely what they are. He let me off with a fix-it.

I had been thinking about buying a bike for commuting and general recreation. I used the proceeds from the car to acquire one:

If you're thinking that the proceeds from the sale of the car weren't much, you'd be right.
So far, the commuting has been only moderately successful. Under my then work schedule, I had to be there ungodly early most days, then have a split shift and finally get off ungodly late. Two round bike trips a day under those conditions just was not appetizing. My new schedule is a little more reasonable, so I'm hoping to be riding a lot more. As for recreation...yeah, naw.

But getting back to stickers: the one I regretted losing the most was my "Everyday Destruction Show Podcast" one. I wanted one for the new Rimpycycle, so I contacted those crazy guys from Austin asking if they had any more stickers. I even offered to pay for postage. They're such great guys, not only did they send one to me on their own dime, they included three more and this lovely autographed letter/picture:

You can bet that went on my wall
I reciprocated by, of course, putting one proudly on the Rimpycycle:

Probably the only bike in the Sacramento Valley so adorned well as sticking the others in strategic places:

The family car
A student newspaper machine at a high-student-traffic
shopping center (gotta keep that demographic in mind)
Outside the smoke shop
where I pick up my copies of
Savage Henry Independent Times.

There you go guys, hope that helps. Thanks heaps.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Get Rimpy to Australia


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sunday, September 28, 2014

This is not funny.

I decided to share it. WARNING: Graphic descriptions.

September 28, 2014

I take keyboard in hand today to get something off my chest that's been bothering me greatly for a couple of years now. I am unsure if I will actually share this with anyone; perhaps just writing it out will help. If I do share it, I apologize in advance. This is no joke, and it contains graphic descriptions of some horrible things – one in particular. You don't have to read it, but if you do, I hope it won't bother you as much as the original material bothered me.

In short, what traumatized me was a beheading video I saw on the internet. Why was I watching such a thing? I wonder sometimes myself.

It happened like this: I was just surfing around on the internet, and somehow came across an odd video of a man who just dropped dead in mid-sentence. He was some kind of Middle Eastern professor, holy man or politician. He was giving a speech or answering a question in a forum, and just stopped talking and slumped over. It was sad, but interesting. It got me curious, and I began clicking on similar videos suggested by YouTube. At first it was just old guys dropping dead on video, then there was one of a young woman who jumped off of a tall building. The shot was from above. You could see her hit the ground. That was it. No blood or gore.

So one thing led to another. I eventually came upon a site called “Best Gore” dot com (if memory serves – I don't care to look it up). It had pages upon pages of different categories of death and gore, in still pictures and video. The operator of this vile website had some high-falutin' pretensions about how seeing the real deal might help to engender some sensitivity toward our fellow humans in an increasingly jaded society, what with violent movies and videos games and blah blah blah. I didn't buy it.

Before I go on, perhaps I should explain why I was interested in such stuff. Perhaps I have a morbid curiosity, perhaps induced by my Scorpio birth sign, but it stood me well in a previous job. When I was trying to go to graduate school, I took a part-time job as a mortuary transportation driver. It was my job to pick up dead people and transport them to the local mortuaries. This job soon led to a full-time gig as a licensed funeral director (not an embalmer). As you might have guessed, grad school didn't work out.

So over the course of three to four years, I saw my fair share of death and gore. It never really bothered me much, except when watching the embalmers doing their thing, or especially when I had to assist the county medical examiner during autopsies (my county doesn't have a morgue – instead the local mortuaries take turns letting the ME use their embalming rooms for autopsies). Seeing the aftermath of violence upon the human body was not nearly as bad as watching one being cut and carved, even if I told myself that they couldn't feel anything. I almost passed out the first few times I watched such things.

Most of my business came from hospitals and nursing homes, but there were also crime scenes, traffic accidents and more than a few suicides. Suicides were the most disturbing, if not always as gruesome as say, a traffic accident, or a corpse in the stages of advanced decomposition. There was one suicide however, that really was pretty memorable. A young man had sat on a bench in his yard in a remote part of the county and blown his brains out with a high-powered rifle. I don't know if he stuck the gun in his mouth, or under his chin, but the top of his head was opened up like a Jiffy Pop container, and one of his eyeballs was bulging out of its socket from the force of the explosion. My assistant and I had to go about, guided by the flashlights of the squeamish sheriff’s deputies, and pick up all the parts of the man's brains and skull that were scattered about the yard.

So, you could say that I had a professional curiosity about most of the content of Best Gore. They had a section of torture videos, which I had absolutely no interest in watching. They also had at least one beheading video. That kind of got me curious. I wondered if I could handle it. I thought I was pretty tough, what with all the gore I had witnessed in my earlier job. As I came to find out, I'm not tough, and I couldn't handle it.

It may seem silly to say, but I've always had a particular horror of decapitation. I say it seems silly, because I should hope that most of us would be horrified by that. I mean, our heads hold our faces, and all the organs of our senses, with the exception of touch. It contains our brains, the seat of our reasoning and personality and all that makes us unique.

I remember once when I was young being creeped out by an episode of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” in which a modern version of the headless horseman was going about on a motorcycle lopping off people's heads. You never actually saw a head leave a neck, but it was well implied, especially a scene in which a man is horrified to watch his buddy lose his head. I couldn't imagine how anyone could witness such a thing and survive.

I was lucky that I never saw a severed head while I worked in the mortuary industry. One of the older embalmers, a very strange guy, showed me a photograph of himself when he was much younger, washing the hair of a woman's severed head in a sink. I don't know why he would want to keep something like that. I said he was strange.

So, I had never actually seen a severed head, much less a video of it happening. So I guess I sort of challenged myself to see how well I dealt with it. I was hoping that it would be a quick slice with a sword or axe, followed by oblivion for the victim. Stupid, stupid, stupid man. It was anything but.

What it was was some radical Islamic terrorists who executed a kidnapped white westerner, probably an American. I think the man's name was Terry. I've tried hard to forget the particulars. I also don't remember what country it took place in, or when exactly. I think it was maybe the '90s or the first decade of the 2000s.

Now I have to describe in as much detail as I can what I saw, because that is what replays in my head every day. There were four or five hooded terrorists lined up with this poor man kneeling on the floor in front of them with his hands and ankles tied. One of them, who was some kind of big wig in the terror business, read something from a prepared statement. I think he spoke in Arabic, not English. When he was done reading, he kicked the man over onto his side. One of the other ones grabbed the man under his chin and pulled up and back on his head. The leader took what appeared to be nothing more than a large kitchen knife – not a sword, or an axe, or even a machete – and proceeded to cut into the man's throat with a sawing motion.

Now, I have it on good authority that pulling back on the head is the wrong thing to do if you're trying to cut someone's throat. Pulling the head back causes the tendons in the neck to come forward of the trachea and veins, making it much more difficult to cut them cleanly. Now, I don't know if these monsters were just too stupid to know about this, or if they just didn't care how long and painful and terrifying for the victim this would be. My money is on the latter.

And the fucking knife didn't even seem like it was that sharp, which may have been intentional, as well. All I can say is that the terrorists seemed to have made a lot more work for themselves than they probably intended to. And the worst of it was that you could hear the victim screaming, even though his mouth was being held closed by a goon. After what seemed an eternity, the butcher finally cut into the guy's main arteries, and then an insane amount of blood began to flow out. The really awful part was that even though his vocal chords and trachea or larynx or whatever must have been severed, it seemed like he was still screaming. It might have been the terrorists screaming with blood-lust, but that sound has been the most persistently troubling memory of the whole thing. I wondered if such a thing was possible. I'm sure death followed with the loss of all that blood, but I guess you might retain consciousness and even some muscle control until your spinal cord is severed. I don't know. I'm not a doctor, and I haven't cared to research it.

Finally the cutter was getting close to the man's spinal column, and his head was almost completely off. This is where the butcher seemed to start running into trouble. It can't be easy to cut through someone's vertebrae with a dull and slippery knife. At this point the video seems to jump ahead to where the man's head is completely off. I wonder if the terrorists themselves edited it because they were afraid of looking incompetent, or if somewhere along the line between this video leaving the hands of the terrorists and arriving on a site like Best Gore someone else edited that part out for whatever reason.

The video ends with one or more of the terrorists holding up the man's head, and then placing it, with some difficulty, on top of his lifeless body, which was still laying on its side.

That's pretty much it, and I hope you're okay. I heard a strange music in my head, perhaps like Doc in Cannery Row heard when he found the drowned girl's body. I closed my computer and got up and went and sat on my bed next to my wife. I think it was a few days before I told her what I had seen. I spared her the gory details. She suggested I should write it out. I wish I hadn't waited this long, but this recent wave of radical Islamic beheadings in the news has made it more urgent to me.

I'm truly lucky that the worst thing I've ever seen was only a video. I've never had to witness a traumatizing event in real life, and I hope I never do. Maybe that website did succeed in its stated intention of making someone more sensitive. But I feel like part of me died inside that day, and the world has seemed a little diminished since then.

And please don't think I'm condemning Muslims, just people who cut off other peoples' heads.

Thursday, July 24, 2014