Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Eight Slices with Jeff Strand....Seven Slices with Jeff Strand

At last, and I truly mean that, another blog post.  The original idea for the whole pie thing  was because I wanted the chance to interview writers who pump work out that I enjoy.  Then I'd ask eight questions and I'd call it "Eight Slices with..."  Sometimes my genius is mind-bottling.  (Yes, that was intentional.)

Funny thing is, writers have deadlines and schtuff.  So, doing something steady about that idea has been more of an issue than I'd have imagined.  So at long last, I present my first Eight Slices....


Okay, Seven..."Seven Slices with Jeff Strand."  No pie should ever be cut into seven pieces. I'm too OCD for that.  I'd sent eight questions, and Jeff was kind enough to answer seven.  Let's just leave it at I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.  Hence:  "Seven Slices with Jeff Strand." 

Jeff is the author of a trillion novels, short stories, novellas and whatever the hell else you can write.  Pretty much all of it is awesome.  My daughter's favorite book is The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever, and Pressure is one of mine.  Seriously, it's fantastic. We focused on his novel Wolf Hunt 2.

Without further ado....

1 – Since we’re focusing mostly on Wolf Hunt 2, what about this world and characters motivated you to return to them?  Do you think there are any inherent advantages in the writing process to doing a sequel?  Any disadvantages?

Jeff Strand - About halfway through Wolf Hunt I said, "Wow, I'm really having fun with these characters! I should return to them!" My original plan was to have George and Lou fight different monsters each time (Mummy Hunt, Vampire Hunt, etc.) but I decided to go with a more direct continuation of the first story. The advantages and disadvantages of a sequel are actually the same thing: readers go in with specific expectations. It can be a disadvantage because the reader has already peeked into your bag of tricks, but it can be a huge advantage because you can use those expectations against them! Hahahahaha!

2 – Surprise!  It’s about werewolves.  When you write about a genre trope such as this, how do you keep it fresh?  Is there any comfort with what’s gone before, or, for you, is there a desire to go against the established grain?

JS -With Wolf Hunt, I tried to reinvent the rules about how werewolves work. Ivan can change form whenever he wants, and he can also change part of his body (an arm, for example) if he's so inclined. Things like the full moon, etc. are irrelevant. On the flip side, I'm working on a vampire novel now that plays completely by the traditional monster rules, but in a different kind of story. I think both methods are equally valid.

3 – The ending appears to set up another book in the series.  Is that the intent?  Please tell me it is, or else I’ve wasted a question.  What more in this arena do you want to explore?

JS - Yes, there will definitely be a Wolf Hunt 3. I think that going beyond three books in this series would be pushing it, so it's my duty to make sure that the third and final book is the funniest, most action-packed, and most insane one of the trilogy. Without blabbing any of the plot, I can say that this one is a "siege" book instead of a "chase" book.

4 – The book has some laugh-out-loud moments and lines.  You’ve often written with a humorous tilt to your work.  When writing horror, is it more important for you to go for the scare or the laugh? What would be your ideal balance between humor and horror?

JS - It varies by book. With something like Wolf Hunt, it's more important to go for the scare. With something like, say, A Bad Day For Voodoo, it's more important to go for the laugh. I try to mix things up. There's no "ideal" balance for me except that if I'm under deadline to write a more serious book, I'll be in the mood to write a really goofy comedy, and I'm under deadline to write a really goofy comedy, I'll be in the mood to write a more serious book.

5 – You’ve been anointed lifetime emcee for the Stoker Awards.  I think they have to skip them if you get sick or something.  What has that meant to your career?  How do prepare for such a gig?  Do you ever want to point out that your books are probably better than anything nominated that year?  Who did you want to punch most?

JS - I don't think it's actually meant anything for my career. Feedback is overwhelmingly positive, but in general, people don't care that much about who emcees an awards banquet--they just care who won! Aside from the occasional ad-lib, all of the jokes are written out ahead of time. I don't leave anything open to just winging it. Even in years when I'm emceeing as a nominee, I do not reference my own books, because to do so would be tactless and uncouth. I never wanted to punch anybody, though there was one instance where I did kind of want to tell one presenter to go f**k him or herself. (I didn't, because: tactless and uncouth.)

6 – Writing geek time:  When you’re preparing to write a new novel, what is your process?  Outline or no?  Do you know the ending, the pov or theme, or just wing it?  Is there anything you wish you could do better as a writer?

JS - I only outline if I am contractually obligated to do so. Otherwise, I like to know a few key moments along the way, and have at least a vague sense of the ending. That's in the overall arc; on a day to day basis, I do usually write out a series of bullet points listing what's going to happen over the next few pages. I don't think I'm a master of "place." You know writers where the setting is its own character? Not in my books...

7 – You have a new book that just came out.  Pimp the shit out of it here!  What else is on the horizon for Jeff Strand?

JS - "Just came out" would be more accurate if I had completed these interview questions in a timely manner...but my most recent title is The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever, a wacky comedy from Sourcebooks that you can still find in the Teen Fiction section of your local bookstore. Up next is a more "serious" (though still with plenty of humor) novel called Blister. If you're reading this by June 15th, 2016, the hardcover limited edition is still available for pre-order from Sinister Grin Press. If you're not...well, there's always the second-hand market, and there'll be an e-book and paperback edition, so you can still read it!  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Dad - Originally written 1/30/09

Dad passed today.  This is from seven years ago, but I don't want to write any more today.

Today, my father turns 67, near as I can figure. Happy birthday, Dad, and thanks.

My father and I are about as different as two people can be. I'm not really sure we're from the same gene pool, and I think the milkman used to leave extra butter, but that's beside the point. He thinks Rush Limbaugh is a flaming liberal, and if I were any more left-wing, I'd be gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Dad pulled himself up from a childhood of poverty and became a financially successful man. I came from a world of relative privledge and now stuggle to make ends meet sometimes.

But I respect no man, like I do my dad. Especially now that I'm a father myself. The "this is how it is, and I know you don't believe me, but I went through the same stuff, too" speeches were true.

Dad left a leg in Vietnam, but never once complained about it. In fact, he called it the best thing that ever happened to him, because it forced the government to pay for his education - vocational school. He bowled, played volleyball and occasionally would play one-on-one with me in the driveway. The one-on-one ended when his prosthesis slipped off and he hit his chin on the wooden leg that remained standing, knocking him out. I so still took it to the hole. I learned that from him, too.

When I was three, I'd steal his leg and make him hop after me. I'd run outside with it, and I believe that's when I became known to the neighborhood as Goddamn Sam.

He used to be a Marine. He became a Marine because when it was time for him to get drafted, the Army, Navy and Air Force sent him recruitment materials. Since the Marines didn't, he joined them.

Stupid jokes are his thing. Puns mostly...elaborate puns. Like half hour stories that end with the punch line of "Pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes." He apparently has a lot of free time to put these together.

He spent something like eighteen hours in a rice patty, his entire unit dead except for one other survivor. The Viet Cong sat in the jungle, arms aimed the rice patty, but unwilling to move in because of a tank that was behind his vehicle. The tank was disabled, but Dad thinks the enemy didn't know that. He'd been shot in his left arm so it was useless. In his right hand, he spent hours removing the pin from his grenade, determined to take as many out as he could if they came to finish him off. Once he'd removed the pin, he kept his hand on the safety, waiting for hours. If he'd have dozed off, I most likely wouldn't be here.

Enduring all this, he never displayed any signs of PTSD, not that I'd ever seen. He thinks psychology is for pussies. I need therapy if there's pulp in my orange juice.

He's a math genius. He can give square roots off the top of his head. Until I got to college, I thought I'd never be as smart as my dad. I'm not smart like my dad, but I'm as smart as him. And he deserves a lot of credit for that.

I disagree with a lot of things my father did in his life. I think he would, too. But then again, I ain't too happy with a bunch of shit I've pulled. Even with that, he's the finest human being I've ever known. For a Marine to endure the sensitive pansy I could be, and to do with understanding and guidance, it speaks of a far deeper person than one sees on the surface.

I've seen him cry twice: At my brother's funeral, and once after a temper tantrum when I told him I hated him. Sure I was a stupid kid, but to this day, I feel terrible for that.

Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Tossing Butch, Saving Theodore

So, my other blog was so dusty, it gave me an asthma attack, and that leads to this.

My novel, THE NINES, is out now and has been for a few weeks.  Problem is, I'm not a millionaire yet, so something's gone horribly wrong.  Like I haven't lured you, the reading public, into my Money Run lair.

But, as I write a lot about drug dealers (and I mean A LOT!) I know how to handle this.  I'm offering you a tease here.  Below is my story Tossing Butch, Saving Theodore from my collection AMERICAN GOMORRAH.  This is set in the same world as my novel, THE NINES.

It's like a warped Christmas gift for you all.

It’s called The Money Run for a reason:  cash flows like water down the Mississippi in spring.  This excess leads to a great deal of discretionary income which can, in turn, lead to some very interesting options for the entertainment dollar.

                   -Excerpt from The Money Run:  American Gomorrah
                   By James Pfizer

          “I l-l-love you, Butch.”
          “Oh, for Chrissakes! Cease and desist with that crap.”  Butch stripped off the cum-slicked latex glove, tossing it into the cornfields rolling past.
          “I won’t l-l-lie about my feelings.”  Big Guy slowed the van when he located a clearing on the shoulder.  He pulled up his jeans.  “I love you.  I love your tiny hands, I love your little butt, I love your big heart…”
          “Enough!  I’m not asking you to lie.  Just…just keep that stuff to your damn self.”
          As usual, the hurt-puppy-dog look clouded Big Guy’s face.  “But Sister Dazy says…”
          “Screw Dazy – keep away from her.  You shouldn’t seek guidance from some whore we liberated from a truck stop.” Butch rolled up the window and opened the glove box for some lotion.  “Concentrate on what we’re working toward, okay?  Now go get situated for your nap.  We need you to throw fire tonight - this is the big time.”
          Big Guy, or whichever personality dominated now, nodded and opened the Dodge’s door.  The van creaked back into its mostly normal position, the driver’s side still a hint lower because he drove so often.  Butch heard the scraping of the back door latch.  Moments later, the large man returned with some customized equipment.  He rigged in place the elongated pedals and special seat which Butch himself had designed as an undergrad. 
          “You should listen to Dazy more,” Big Guy said as he removed Butch from the passenger seat, cradling him like a huge infant.  “She’s more than a habit and a great rack.”
          “I’d rather look at her than endure her nonsense.”  Butch squirmed like a four-year-old in church.  “Now put me down so I can relieve myself.”
          Big Guy’s eyes narrowed.  He wagged his immense finger in Butch’s face.  “You took some more, didn’t you?  You’re going to shit yourself to death…”
          “Yes, Mother,” Butch said.  “But I’m only making it easier for you.  If I get below a hundred, it’ll increase our odds exponentially.  You want to go to Australia, don’t you?”
          The giant sighed.  “No.  But I’ll go anywhere for you.”
“Thanks.” And Butch wanted to go to Australia to compete in the international championships.  It was as close to an athletic achievement as anything he would ever claim.  “Now, will you let me go before I mess my pants?”
          Big Guy released a “tsk,” but set Butch on the shoulder.  “That’s going to be some obituary:  ‘Competitor drowns in own f-f-feces.’”
          Butch barely heard the comment.  Butt cheeks clenched, he ran to the van for toilet paper then into the corn stalks.  His diminutive legs churned like childproof scissors hooked to a 457 motor.  Conducting his business, he fished in his sweat’s pocket, removing a blister pack of X-lax.  He popped two – chocolate flavored, of course – before weaving his way through the corn back to the van.
          “What’s up, Squirt?” Sister Dazy asked.  Now awake but still fully nude, she sat on the running board sucking a lollipop between gulps of tequila.  Butch stiffened immediately as Big Guy’s assessment of her rack was dead on.
          “My spirits.”
          “Is that what we’re calling it today?”  She attempted no subtlety while eyeing his crotch.  “Does that have something to do with its ghost-like appearance?”
          Butch flipped her the bird.  “It might be little, but I can hurt you with it.  Kind of would put a new twist on ‘pushing up daisies.’”
          “In your dreams, Butch.”
          “Every night.”  He cackled when Dazy responded with
her own obscene gesture.  “Enough pleasantries.  You going to ride like that?  I’d appreciate it - make up for some of the headaches you cause me.”
          As she rose, reaching inside for her habit, the large man lumbered around the front of the van.  A cigarette now hung from his mouth and he’d rolled his tee-shirt sleeves, exposing upper arms that belonged on a Greek sculpture.  Ponytail undone, his hair blew in the scalding wind like that of a hero on a romance-novel cover.
          Butch leaned to Dazy, whispering:  “Big Guy’s vacated the premises.  I think he’s slid into Theodore again.”
          Dazy slipped into her modified habit.  She’d hemmed the bottom so it ended just below her backside, and the neckline plunged deep enough it risked exposing her navel.
          “You sure look pretty this evening, Sister Dazy,” the giant said as he bent for the bottle on the running board.
          “Thank you…Theodore.”  She said the name with trepidation, unsure if Butch had pinned the right personality.
          “Welcome, ma’am.”  Theodore slugged back a large draw and winked.  “You’re looking mighty pretty there, too, Butchy.  Pretty enough to kiss.”
          “Stop it,” Butch said.  “Everybody ready?”
          “Don’t you want to kiss Theodore?” Dazy asked through a smug smile.
          “Just one, Butchy?”
          “Both of you knock it off.  Let’s get going.”
          Dazy erupted in laughter.  Butch loathed her laugh, especially when it mocked him.  The red head placed her hands over her bosom to limit the jiggling.  “Maybe just a quick hand job then?  You know, just to tide him over till the contest.  You want one for the road, Theodore?”
          “Does Butch shit in the cornfields?”  The giant eyed Butch with an expectant look.  Snorts escaped from Dazy.
          Glaring at the sister, Butch stepped from the large man.  He felt the familiar sting - ridicule from a normal-sized person who felt their height proved superiority to Butch in every way.  “What?  Again?  My arm’s hamburger here.”
          “What do you mean again?”  Theodore kneaded his readily-apparent erection.  “I could really use one here, buddy.”
          Butch clapped a hand over his mouth, quickly removing it.  He hoped the giant would ignore the gesture, as the Theodore personality displayed extreme jealousy toward Big Guy.  With the competition but a few hours away, Butch couldn’t risk upsetting any of the former football center’s personalities.  If the giant started moping, he’d be as useless as a punctured condom.
“Tell you what.  You lobby Sister Dazy into pleasuring me I’ll in turn assist you.  Hell, I’ll even take one from that messed-up hand.  Probably more fun with all that friction.”
Theodore turned to the nun, his expectant expression still evident.  She put her left hand behind her back.
          “Sorry, Sweetie.  Looks like you’re going without today,” she said between snorts.  “But I’ll give you one if you want.”
          Butch and Theodore moaned a chorus of disappointment. 
“That’s okay,” Theodore said.  “It’s awfully nice of you, ma’am, but it’s just not the same.”  Dazy’s laugh trailed off.  Though the large man consistently denied the nun’s advances, Butch saw how the rejection always stung.  Guilt ate at him, seeing the disappointment they both displayed.
“Fine,” Butch said.  “Now can we get moving?”  His two companions sulked away like kids denied dessert.

#        #        #
          The July night enveloped the plains, swallowing endless rows of corn.  A quilt of clouds trapped the heat from the day.  Turning down another two-lane road, this one paved, Butch began questioning if the navigation system’s voice possessed any clue as to where the fuck she was going.  Again, he checked his watch, worried they might not reach the venue in time for registration.
          He spat into his lucky cup, the one with the faded MIT logo.  “Lucky” was a relative term.  There wasn’t much luck involved when he used to slip roofies into the cups of some female undergrads.  He lowered the Brahms enough to hear Dazy.
          “You’re going to die, you know that?”  She tossed the empty tequila bottle but forgot the window wasn’t rolled down.  The impact created a ding like a web from an especially small spider.
          “You think?  In news to you, you’re going to expire someday, too.”
          “No, I mean soon – like maybe tonight – if you don’t get some water in you.”
          “I can drink when I’m dead.  I’m three pounds too heavy.”
          Dazy gazed back, one drunken eye closed.  “For somebody supposed to be so all smart, you say some of the stupidest shit I ever heard.”
          Butch allowed a small chuckle.  “You know what I meant.”
          “You’re never off this bad, Squirt.  Why you sweating things so much?”
          “I’m worried about him.  He’s been loony lately, you know?  More erratic than usual.”  Butch worked the saliva in his dry mouth and spat out the little he’d mustered. 
          “He’ll be fine, but you need to calm down.  He feeds off you. If you’re uptight, he’s uptight.”
          “But this is a big chance for us tonight – a sanctioned event and all. Plus, figuring in the appearance fee and bets, we could walk away with maybe six figures.” 
          Dazy blew the fiery hair from her face, her alcohol-infused breath filling the van.  “Sanctioned?  I thought this shit was illegal?”
          “Then who sanctioned it, smart ass?”
          Butch inhaled a long breath.  He’d explained everything several times before, but Dazy’s drunkenness conveniently erased her memory on an almost daily basis.  “The international body sanctioned it, it’s just not publicized.  And since it’s under the cloak of The Money Run, nobody that doesn’t need to know ever does.”
          Dazy picked up the discarded bottle, checking for any liquid she might have missed.  Finding nothing, she again tossed the bottle, leaving yet another ding. “I love The Money Run,” she said before slumping, instantly snoring in loud, disturbing bursts.
          Butch loved The Money Run, too.  After his and Theodore’s - back then the giant had possessed but the one personality - embarrassing dismissal from the university, the pair drifted.  Butch wouldn’t join the ranks of corporate America, unwilling to allow any schmuck with a stock certificate to possibly profit from his genius.  And his reputation among academics had been destroyed upon the exposure of Theodore’s scheme.  It seemed regent and chancellor-types frowned on a grad student completing research papers for any male who’d blow the center of the football team.  Who knew?  But Theodore was the first person to ever call Butch “friend,” and Butch felt that warranted getting his friend what pleasure he could.
Hitchhiking along I-80 two summers later, a truck driver named Duck had picked them up.  Duck introduced Butch, Theodore and Theodore’s then-emerging personalities to The Money Run.  It seemed there’s another America, one of back roads and gentlemen’s agreements, although one would be hard pressed to find any gentlemen there.  These roads served as a conduit for all sorts of underground happenings from prostitution to bootlegging to, yes, dwarf tossing.  Duck had bankrolled their first tournament, a first-place finish thanks to Theodore’s long-snap style, and Butch caught the bug.  Flying through the air, sucking wind in an attempt to gain a few more inches, Butch finally understood the thrill of competition.  He felt closer to Theodore than ever.  They’d been Money Run residents ever since.
          After several turns and one of Butch’s visits to the corn, Dazy stirred with a belch, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.  “He loves you, you know?” she said, half unconscious.  “All of him do.”
          Butch opened the cooler separating the captain’s chairs and tossed her a bottle of water.  “Don’t you find it interesting that he has approximately four billion personalities, yet each of them is gay?” he asked.  “And why are you always bringing this up?  Doesn’t your church disapprove of homosexuality?”
          “I’m not exactly in church’s good graces, either.”  She downed half the water in one drink, then smacked her lips, trying to resuscitate her tongue.  “But what I find odd is I love all his personalities, while I can’t bring myself to like your one in the least.”
          “You know, for a nun, you’re one mean bitch.”
          “And for a little person, you sure got a big fucking mouth.”
          Butch stretched his mouth, exposing his tonsils and rolling his tongue.  Dazy conceded to laughter as the midget hammed it up.
          “So, what do you have against me, Sister?”  Butch asked.  “And, oh, can I think of answers to that question that’d register a smile upon my face.”
          The nun reached into the cooler, removing a beer.  She popped the cap by banging it against the armrest.  “I don’t like how you treat him.  He loves you deeply and you don’t return it.”
          “Shouldn’t the fact that I’m straight figure somewhere into this equation?  Must I repress my natural biological leanings in favor of his happiness?”
          “Then why do you encourage him?  Your right arm looks like Popeye’s on steroids.”
          Butch started answering several times, struggling for proper words.  Finally, he said:  “I just try to keep him well-maintained.  A jockey or an Indy driver is nothing without their horse or car.  I’m nothing without him.  I do what I can to keep him happy.”
          “And that, Squirt, is what I have against you.”  She drained a long swig off the bottle, wiping her mouth with her forearm.  “He’s in serious trouble and you encourage this crap.  He needs an exorcism to rid him of all those demons living…”
          “For Chrissakes, Dazy…”
          Dazy jabbed the bottle at his face.  A large glob of foam spilled into Butch’s lap.  “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain with me!”
          “…he’s not possessed, he’s sick.  I’ve taken him to dozens of shrinks and we got a bag of pharmaceuticals to rival a psych ward…”
          “Would you two shut the hell up?”  The voice came from the back of the van, effeminate and lisping.  Butch and Dazy exchanged a look, their eyes opened in exaggerated surprise.  “Rico needs some sleep.  And when Rico’s done, some help from the little guy wouldn’t hurt Rico’s feelings, either.”
          “Oh no,” Dazy whispered.
          “Not now,” answered Butch.
          The cornfield opened into a vast clearing.  Dwarfed by the gravel parking lot, a cinder-block building stood like an outpost on a foreign planet.  The navigation system informed them they’d arrived at their destination.  Snoring again resonated from the folding bed in back.
          “Not Rico,” Dazy said.  “That flamer couldn’t throw you two feet with those limp wrists.  We have no chance.”
          Butch pulled the van over at the edge of the cornfield, far from the building.  Several familiar vans sat parked outside, the rides of the usual competitors.  Various semis and flatbeds littered the rest of the lot.  Butch cut the engine.
          “Toss me my toilet paper, please.”

#        #        #

          The corn rustled as Butch squatted.  He pinched his cheeks and strained his ears, but the sound of drying stalks scraping against each other grew louder.  Butch felt the sensation of something watching him, and remembered the legends he’d heard.  Allegedly, any number of creatures thrived in the darker corners of The Money Run.  Butch waited for the rustling to resume, but heard only the breath rushing from him in short, panicky bursts.
          Tentatively, he stretched, extending for the toilet paper on the ground.  He struggled with balance as he scanned the crops for any unwelcome beasts.  Just as he’d begun to relax, whatever lurked broke loose, rushing at him.  Butch reached for his sweats, but it was too late.
          “Up to the same ol’ tricks, eh Butch?  I hope everything comes out all right.”
          A lump rose in Butch’s throat at the sound of the familiar, high-pitched voice.  He pulled up the sweats and turned to find Lefty Gonzalez snickering.  Lefty competed as The One-Armed Bandit, often bragging that his missing arm made him not only lighter, but more aerodynamic.  Apparently he’d lost it in a tragic vending machine incident.
          “I thought I saw your van,” Lefty said. The pentagram tattoo on his forehead danced when he spoke. “Parked on the far side of the lot like that, I figured I’d find you out here.  You know laxatives are a banned substance, right, Butch?”
          “What do you want, Lefty?”
          The man giggled, holding his belly with his remaining arm.  “What could I possibly want, Butch?  Maybe the fifty G you owe from Santa Fe?  Perhaps the twenty you lost outside of St. Paul.”
          Butch glared, opening and clenching his tiny hands.  He thought of strangling the pompous ass.                 
          “All-in-all, you’re into me for over a hundred fifty big ones now.  I can’t let that slide any more, even if I wanted to.  Every punk along The Money Run would peg me for a pushover, and we can’t have that, can we?”
          “You know I don’t have that kind of scratch.”
          Lefty smiled, confirming he knew.  “Now I’m a reasonable peace-loving guy.  I think we can work something out, don’t you?”
          Butch closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.  In his experience, the phrase “we can work something out,” usually resulted in him figuratively taking something large and uncomfortable directly up the anal cavity.  “What are you proposing, Lefty?”
          “I see it that you have three options.  One:  win tonight and make enough from the back room to cover what you owe.”
          That sounded reasonable as it was a facsimile of Butch’s plan all along.
          “Two:  in the unfortunate, but highly likely event that you lose, I’m leaving here with your partner.”
          “Theodore?”  The idea of killing Lefty seemed more plausible the longer the little bastard kept talking.
          “Whatever name the psycho’s going by now.  I could whip him into shape and never lose again.”  Lefty’s grin punctuated the implied insult.  “Oh, and the whore, too.”
          “Sister Dazy?  Have you been taking that little mind of yours out and playing with it again?”
          “I have some fine plans for her, too.”
          Butch considered offering Dazy up just to wipe away the debt, but figured he’d better see how things played out. 
          “Butch, dear?”  The call originated from the parking lot, Rico searching for him.  “You didn’t really poop yourself to death, did you?”
          “What’s option three?” Butch asked.  When he turned from Rico’s lisp-inflected voice, he found himself alone.  He spun, his head jerking in furtive motions, but he refrained from calling out, not wishing Rico to hear.
          “Butch?  Do I have to come in all that messy corn to find you?”
          “I’m coming already,” Butch yelled.  “Can’t a guy get a little privacy?”  He picked up the toilet paper, scanning the stalks a final time.  Finding nothing, he pulled down his sweats to finish.

#        #        #

          His knees knocked still as he emerged from the cornfield.  Butch found the van locked, but rocking.  Its shoddy springs creaked like rusty hinges, and the closed windows barely muffled the yowling and howling inside.  Screaming like a schoolgirl who’d found a spider in her hair, Rico cried for help.
          Butch knelt for the spare in the hide-a-key-compartment and murmured, “Of course she is, because I’ve got time for this today.”
          He slid open the side door, finding Sister Dazy straddling Rico’s shirtless chest.  She’d bound his hands with Rosary beads and rode the giant like a champion broncobuster.  Struggling beneath her, Rico dug his stocking feet into the red velvet of the folding bed, bucking.
          “The power of Christ compels your ass,” Dazy said.  She flung a dose from a plastic water bottle at him.
          “Get her off, Butch,” Rico cried in hysteria.  “She’s scaring me.”
          Butch crawled into the van.  “C’mon Dazy.  Let him be.”
          “E Pluribus Unum.”  Dazy swung her head in a frenzy, the red hair forming a ball of hellfire.  She’d worked herself into a state that existed on its own plane.  “Et-gay out-tay, evil-Day.”  Dousing the shrieking Rico with more water, she held her head up.  Her eyes had rolled back into her skull.
          “Dazy!”  Butch lunged, catching her in the ribs and knocking her into the paneled van wall.  He heard the air escape her on impact.
          Gazing through glassy eyes, Dazy threw the half-full bottle at his head, missing badly.  “You dick!”  Sobs wracked her frame.  “I have to help him, Butch.  Can’t you see?  That’s why I’ve been sent.”
          Dazy often spoke of being “sent,” presumably by her order to save souls and pray for those along The Money Run.  Butch and Theodore had met her outside a truck stop in Alabama.  She drank a Coors and was offering twenty-dollar blowjobs to truckers stopping in for the lunch rush.  Then she saw Theodore.
          “You’re lost, aren’t you?” she’d asked.  Blocking the doorway, she placed her beer can in Theodore’s massive chest.  Butch simply gazed at her legs which seemed to begin at her neck and curved in all the right spots.  “I’m right, you’re lost?”
          The giant shook his head, confused.
          “You’re him - the one I’ve been sent for.”
          Butch should have stopped it right there, but the horny little devil inside him had seized his tongue.  He watched in stunned silence as Dazy collected her duffle and the remaining twelve pack, and strutted toward the van.  She claimed the passenger seat, where they found her still after they’d finished lunch.
          Over the months, Butch had come to believe that she may have been a nun at one time, at least educated in religious studies to an extent.  Their conversations, when lucidity teased her, provided some intellectual sparring that he’d missed.  He’d enjoyed them enough to dismiss her parasitic tendencies and quit questioning why she’d chosen them.  But as her frustration with saving Theodore increased, so did the drinking.  Her condition had deteriorated to where Butch seriously considered leaving her on the side of the road like she had so many empty six packs.  Great rack be damned.
          And now, with Rico scrambling out of the van, probably wrecked for the competition, Butch regretted not acting sooner.
          “Squirt, he needs help,” Dazy said.  “The Money Run is for people like you and me, not him.  He’s helpless.”
          “He’s his own man.  He could leave whenever he wanted.”
          “Bullshit.  He’ll never leave without you.”  Dazy wiped the snot bubble from her face.  “At least admit he needs help.  Admit he’s not healthy.”
          Butch stifled a laugh.  Dazy calling somebody unhealthy was like him telling short jokes.  “You’re right, Dazy, but I don’t know too many people who are.”
          “But he’s my calling, Butch.  Promise me you’ll help save him.” 
          “I’m doing everything I can…”  He couldn’t finish his sentence.  Dazy’s tongue had shot down his throat.  Butch had enjoyed his share of hookers, some mighty freaky ones, too.  But this was the first time he’d ever been kissed. 
          Dazy pulled away.  “Promise me, Butch.  He needs both of us.”  She seemed as rational as he could remember her ever being.
          “We get through tonight…”
          “Butch?”  Another tear joined the stream down her face.
          Butch wiped it away with his thumb.  “Okay, Dazy.  I promise.”

#        #        #

          Inside, the tavern seemed too impossibly massive to be housed by the cinderblock structure.  No interior walls cluttered the space, and with the modern-art sculpture of tables and chairs stacked in one corner, the room appeared downright cavernous.  The bar, an exquisite marble and cherry monument that outclassed its surroundings, ran the length of the east wall.  In the center of the floor stood a makeshift pit filled with dirty foam bricks.  The approach to the pit had been a bowling lane in its previous life.
          “Please welcome our final competitor in the first round.”  The announcement blared over the PA system.  “Weighing in at one-hundred four pounds of airborne fun, Professor Buuuuuuutch!”  Butch’s music blasted – the theme from “Rocky” – and the crowd, sufficiently inebriated, welcomed him with the adoring applause.
          His stomach tumbled as he wove through the crowd toward the approach.  There, the giant chewed his fingernails, unable to return Butch’s gaze.  His jeans were rolled up to simulate Capri pants and he’d tied his tee-shirt into a knot, exposing his navel.
          Situated in the front row of the standing crowd, Lefty blew Butch a kiss while offering Dazy a beer.  The leader board, a large easel with slats screwed into it to hold name placards, showed Lefty comfortably in the lead.  His first throw was ten feet, nine inches.  Butch cursed to himself.  Anything over nine and a half feet usually meant victory.
          Walking across the faux-hardwood approach, he waved his arms, accepting the drunken revelry.  He took inventory of possible escape routes as he neared Rico.  Despite knowing he had little chance with Rico throwing, Butch still had overextended himself with bets.  He figured ‘what’s more debt,’ and knew the wagers were his only chance to clear himself of his burden to Lefty.  He needed to make the money through the back room.
          As he drew closer to Rico, he noticed tears streaming down the giant’s face.  Butch slipped into the harness, feeling as if he were being strapped to the electric chair. 
          “What’s the issue, Rico?”
          “Sister Dazy’s really losing it, isn’t she?”
          If he could’ve reached, Butch would have slapped the giant upside the head.  “Dazy’s fretting over you, you’re concerned about Dazy.  It’s my ass on the line here right now.  Can somebody worry about me?”
          Rico burst into tears.  He grabbed the handles on the harness, ran up the approach and threw Butch underhanded into the pit.  Boos cascaded down from the crowd as Butch swam his way up through the foam bricks to find he’d been thrown less than three feet.  He turned, watching Rico run through the crowd and out the front door.

#        #        #

          Butch found the giant kneeling by the van, vomiting.  “Rico?  You okay?  Are you sick or just nervous?”
          The large man wiped his mouth.  “I’m not Rico.”
          “Theodore?”  Butch’s head felt light with adrenaline and a rush of hope.
          “Yeah.”  Theodore hung his head.  He stood, untying his shirt.  “I’m Theodore.”
          Butch ran through the vomit to hug his partner.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.  We still have a chance here, buddy.”
          “Butch, we need to talk.”
          “Sure we do, but can this wait until after the competition?” 
          “I’m afraid if I don’t say what I have to now, I’ll never get up the courage to do it again.”
          Butch opened his mouth to tell Theodore that two-hundred thousand was at risk, but remembered his promise to Dazy.  Reluctantly, he sat on the running board, motioning for his friend to proceed.
          “We’re friends, right, Butch?”  Theodore paused, waiting for some acknowledgment.  Butch nodded in the affirmative.  “Probably not ever going to be more than that though, huh?”
          Butch gritted his teeth.  The tavern door called his name, and if he was missing something inside to rehash this again… “I’m flattered, truly.  But I can’t be something I’m not.”
          A laugh escaped Theodore.  “That makes one of us.”  The giant knelt, putting a hand on Butch’s shoulder.  “I’ve got a confession, and I don’t think you’ll be none too happy with me.  But remember, I love you – always have and always will.  Please don’t leave me.  Get as mad as you want, but please don’t leave.”
          Stomach churning, Butch licked his lips in anticipation.  Thoughts of the competition faded as he sensed the gravity Theodore was trying to attach to his words.  Butch hadn’t been this nervous since the hearing before the ethics committee in college.  Theodore’s voice sounded odd, like so many other people’s had before they left him behind, unwilling to deal with an egomaniacal midget any more.  Butch nodded for the giant to continue.
          “There’s no Rico.”
          Twisting his face in confusion, Butch glared at Theodore.  “You mean there’s no Rico now?”
          “Not now, not ever.  There’s no Rico.  There’s no Big Guy.  There’s no Siegfried or any of the others.”  A tear escaped.  “I’ve made them all up.”
          “Huh?  You couldn’t make that up.  I would’ve…”
          “You’re not so God-awful smart after all, are you?  For Chrissakes, Butch.  I’m gay.  It’s pretty much an unwritten law that I had to at least minor in Theater.”  Using his sleeve, Theodore wiped away another emerging tear.  “I was pretty good at it, huh?”
          Butch knew he should be enraged, but couldn’t focus on any anger.  An eerie sense of relief filled him.  “Why would you do this?  You know how many sleepless nights I’ve endured worrying about you?”
          “I’m sorry.  But I knew you were using me.  I rationalized it would only be fair to use you a little, too.”
“The hand jobs, Butchy.”  Theodore stood, turning his back to the van.  “The more you fixated on the competitions, the less you cared about me.  So I was going to at least get a hand job out of it.  Switch personalities, get another.  But now Dazy’s so fucked up, it’s not about us anymore.”
          The rage inside finally bubbled to the surface.  He’d been played by Theodore, like everybody else had played him his entire life.  But Theodore was supposed to be different.  Before Butch could release his anger, he heard the screams. 
          Emerging from the stadium lighting, Dazy was running for the van.  She held one of her shoes, the heel broken, resulting in an uneven gait.  “Butch!” she yelled.  “I’m going to fucking kill you.”  She threw the broken shoe, clipping the midget in the head.
          “What now?” he grabbed his temple where the shoe had struck.  Drawing back his hand, he saw blood.
          “You bet me!  You’re going to give me and him to that scummy Lefty son-of-a-bitch, aren’t you?”
          Butch looked to Theodore, seeing the open-jawed shock.  “Hold on a second.  That’s simply not true.”
          “Don’t lie to me, Squirt.  Lefty told me himself, right before I brained him with my heel.”
          “What’s she talking about, Butch?”
          Releasing a loud sigh, Butch rubbed his eyes, trying to head off the emerging stress headache.  The blood stung his eyes, causing them to water.  He explained about the debt, and Lefty’s options.  His spiel placated the others, but the tension still hung thick in the heat.
          “You really hit Lefty?” Butch asked.
          “Hell yeah.  Bad enough to have those stubbly little fingers all over my ass, but to have him say those things was too much.”  Dazy opened the van, removing a beer.  “Started quite the brouhaha, too.  It’s like a bar fight in a bad western in there.  We could probably drive off right now without anybody noticing.”
          Butch thought that a viable option.  He started walking to the driver’s side.
          “No,” Theodore said.  “We’ve done a lot of things, but Butch and I have never quit.  We’ll see this through.”
          “Shit,” Butch whispered.  But then the light went on.  He strutted over and took the beer from Dazy.  He looked at Theodore who returned a slight nod.  “Sister, I think you and my friend here have some things to work out.  He’s agreed to be saved, haven’t you Theodore?”
          “What?” the giant paused.  Butch glared at him, nodding at the van. 
          “Theodore and I have had a talk about sins and retribution and the value of confession.  I think he’s ready to realize he owes somebody here something.”
Theodore ran his finger through his hair and rubbed his temples like he had a headache.  “Yeah,” He paused again.  “Help me, Sister Dazy.  Free me of these demons.”
          The smile on Dazy’s face glowed brighter than the stadium lights.  Theodore reached for her scarred hand, leading her to the van.

#        #        #

          Seated at the bar, Butch checked his watch again, as if it made a difference.  The chaos of the fight a distant memory, Butch scratched away the label of the beer he dared not drink – his weight being of concern.  Only one more competitor’s turn stood between him and forfeit if Theodore didn’t sweep in, saving him.
          “What’s up, Squirt?”  Dazy glowed, and the taint of jealousy teased Butch.  She claimed the stool next to him, ordering an iced tea.
          “How are you feeling?”
          “Satisfied.”  Like her face didn’t illustrate that.  “My work here is done.”
          “I’m out, Squirt.  Your friend is saved.  No thanks necessary.”
          A strange sensation rose inside him.  He realized why he had never left her beside the road before.  “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
          “Not real sure.”  Her face contorted into an expression of disgust as she sipped off the tea.  It looked like she’d eaten a dead skunk raw off the pavement. “But I’m sure somewhere along The Money Run there’s a demand for a nun who can suck dick like me.”
          Butch searched for words, but they hid from him.  Dazy bent and kissed him on the forehead.
          “Thanks, Squirt.  I’m sure we’ll meet again down the line.”  She downed the rest of the tea, looking like she might throw up.  “You take care of our friend.  He’s special.”
          Before a reply presented itself, the nun, great rack perfect legs and all, disappeared in the crowd. 
          The theme from “Rocky” blasted again from the sound system.  For a moment, Butch thought he might shit himself, and part of him wished he would.  Shedding the weight wouldn’t hurt.
          Focusing only on the floor, Butch worked his way through the crowd.  Insults rained down, referencing the first throw.  When he reached the ex-bowling alley lane, he saw Theodore.  His shirt in tatters, hickeys dappled his neck. 
          “Are you okay?”  Butch asked. 
          “Not so much.  Let’s just get this over, okay?”
          Again, Butch slipped into the harness.  It stank of sweat and felt heavier than before.
          “You mad at me?” Theodore asked.
          “Fuck yes.”  Butch spat on the floor, a stupid attempt to shed any last weight he could.  “But we’re like brothers.  I can be mad and know we’ll always be together.”
          “Don’t say that.  It makes everything between us sound kinky.”
          Butch guffawed.  “Listen to yourself.  You pulled that scheme to get multiple hand jobs from a midget, and you’re worried about sounding kinky?”  He lay down on the approach.
          “When you put it like that, it sounds dirty.”  Butch closed his eyes, feeling the giant’s hands grasp his waist.  “I kind of like it.”
          Butch laughed.   He felt the moist lips of Theodore upon his forehead.  “I love you, Butchy.”
          The snap felt right.  Butch opened his eyes, finding himself sailing past Lefty’s leader flag.  As he flew through the smoke-choked air, the epiphany exploded in his mind.

          I love you, Theodore.