Thursday, November 7, 2019

Don Travis: Dooper and Dangle – Part 1 of 2 Parts

Don Travis: Dooper and Dangle – Part 1 of 2 Parts: dontravis.com blog post #361     Courtesy of Prexels The posting this week is my adaptation of Mark Wildyr’s original story publis...

Dooper and Dangle – Part 1 of 2 Parts


dontravis.com blog post #361
  
Courtesy of Prexels
The posting this week is my adaptation of Mark Wildyr’s original story published several years ago in a STARbooks anthology called Homo Thugs. Yes, Mr. Wildyr gave me permission to fiddle with his writing. Hope you enjoy it.

*****


Adapted from a Story by Mark Wildyr

I seen Dooper down at the old railroad roundhouse this morning. He ain’t been around much since Mayor Dude declared war on graffiti. I don’t mind Slick Feathers bashing tagbanger gangs or toys or even throw-up guys, so long as he leaves me alone. I’m a piece artist, and I ain’t in no gang. Hell, I’m my own gang. I live for the art, man. The art! I got skill. Damned near half that big mural on the concrete arroyo Mayor Dude promoted a few years back as a place for paint artists is my work. Earned me some fame; local papers run flicks of my stuff.
But that ain’t the point. Art’s what I do; who I am. I’m Up! I’m All City! Go anywhere in Albuquerque and you’ll see my tag. Even if Mayor Dude gets out a army of uptight volunteers to scrub ever neighborhood ever frigging week, you’ll catch my work if you look for it. Dangle’s my sign, but I do it wildstyle so nobody who don’t read graffiti’s got a clue. The handle comes from the way I write with lots of drips. Not the wack, accidental dribbles a toy makes, but bold drips I draw on purpose.
Dooper’s a black kid my own age, but he hangs with a crowd that calls themselves the Highsiders. APD calls them gangsters, but really they’s just dudes that like to sling paint. Might be into boosting their spray cans, but who don’t? Dooper’s a fair writer, hisself, but he ain’t as good as me. His real handle’s Sooper Dooper, but it got shortened to Dooper real quick ‘cause he ain’t as fly as he claims. Before Slick Feathers got reelected Mayor Dude by declaring war on graffiti, I used to trip over Dooper’s raggedy ass all the time. We battled more’n once in hard get-up duels with some of the crews acting like judges. Coupla times they screwed up and said his work was better, but mostly they done it right and give me the burn. Got so intense there was some bad blood. We scrapped once, and I give him a mouse, but it looked more like a purple prune on his chocolate skin. Fucker split my lip and wrenched my arm so I couldn’t bomb for a week. I didn’t mind that so much, but it put me wrong with the Highsiders, and some of them dudes is dangerous. Had to watch my back after that.
This morning, he was hitting up a piece on a inside wall of the roundhouse. The big abandoned railroad engine turnaround is a cool place for taggers. Dooper’s mural was pretty wild, if you go for old fashioned bubble letters and 3-D styles. Me, I like blockbuster with a little computer mixed in. I do fades and clouds and fly colors when I bomb. Still, old Dooper had technique, sort of.
He slunk out the door when I showed up, so I examined his piece real hard ‘cause a couple of colors caught my eye. Like I said, the Highsiders usually racked their paint, but Dooper sure as shit didn’t steal Icy Grape and Jungle Green ‘cause Krylon don’t make them no more. Blended them, likely. Done a good job, too.
I may be all about art, but a guy’s got other needs, too… know what I mean? I ain’t no fag, but Dooper’s long legs and bubble butt sorta get to me. I can’t just come out and tell him that, so I laid a piece back-to-back with the work he done a few minutes ago. Right in the middle I painted a picture message he couldn’t miss. Wasn’t pornographic or nothing… at least not to nobody but another tagger. Just so there wasn’t no mistake about it, I signed my tag, drips and all!
I’d come out of there peddling my bike funny, my prick riding high and getting in the way. Maybe I’d look up Juanito before heading home. I got in this young Mexican’s pants a couple of years back, and him and me still get together ever few weeks. First time I seen him, I thought he was a girl… or a boy. But he was a small, whip-thin, full-growed man that just looked like a pretty girl.
Sorta felt sorry for Juanito. His culture’s got all that machismo bullshit, but that don’t mean his buddies don’t get to him, they just mess him up some after they do. He come over a year back beat up so bad I asked why he didn’t call the cops. He just grinned the best he could through split lips and told me he got the whole gang… all eight of them.
Guess I’m a rainbow sort of guy. Handsomest, buffest, manliest dude I ever seen was a Indian. Met him five years back when I was barely eighteen. Showed up one night when me’n some guys was setting around a campfire down by the yards swigging beer and swapping lies. Just walked out of the night and plopped his ass down beside us. When the beer played out, we pooled our change and AmerInd—that’s what I called him ‘cause that’s how them anthropologists, or whatever they is, labeled his people—donated his last quarter. Before the night was out, everbody flaked out and headed home or to his spider-hole except me’n him. I hung around because I was in love; he probably stayed put because he didn’t have nowhere to go.
When AmerInd got drunk enough, I talked him out of his britches, but he was was a mean drunk. I never seen him again, likely went back to wherever he come from. He wasn’t no New Mexico tribesman. Come from Montana or Wyoming or Oklahoma where they grow them big, tall, good-looking Plains Indians.
And now, I was hankering after old Dooper. Brown, red, black. Not bad for a white boy. Course, I hadn’t landed the black guy yet, but I wanted him, and that’s what counted.


I got me the sweetest setup in the State of New Mexico. A year back, I found this old, abandoned adobe sitting right in the middle of a fallow field in the South Valley and squatted in the dark for a couple of weeks before I fixed up the shack and moved in permanently. Now I had a safe place to stow my piecebook and plan out my patterns without nobody bothering me or looking over my shoulder to bite my work before I hit it up someplace.
I slept like a baby that night after seeing Dooper, dreaming about how he was gonna react when he spotted his my piece beside his on the roundhouse wall. Woke up bright and early, found enough scraps to make a breakfast, and then washed up in the old bathtub. I decided against shaving; hell, my beard was only three days old.
When I wheeled into the roundhouse that morning, Dooper was already there, looking up at my piece with balled fists planted on his hips. That butt I admired was sorta trembling, and I don’t think it was from getting hot over my art; hot under the collar maybe. Some glass crunched beneath my boots, and he whirled like he was ready to get it on. I tried to make it casual.
“Lo, Dooper. Wha’ cha doing?”
“Reading your filthy work,” he snarled, white teeth gleaming. “You’re a motherfucker, Dangle! A motherfucking motherfucker!”
“You know what they call that? Redundancy. I remember that from—”
“Screw you’n your fancy words! What you mean putting that up there like that?”
I’m an artist and all that, but I never seen so many shades of black. One minute he was standing there, a black man with sort of a mahogany hue, and then he went shoe-polish black. Finally, he aped one a them East Indians that look like they dusted themselves with soot. He wasn’t taking this too good.
Don’t know what woulda happened if we didn’t hear tires scrunching on rocks right then. Cops and Mayor Dude’s men make the rounds now and then in a losing battle to keep bums outa the old roundhouse. I still had my bike in my hands, so I hightailed it out a far door. I don’t know what the hell Dooper done, but I didn’t really give a rat’s ass, neither.

*****

Well, well, well. Competitors. Perhaps in more ways than one. If you can put up with all the tagger talk, tune in next week to see what happens between the two.

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Misfit, Part 2 of 2 Parts


dontravis.com blog post #359
  
The Dreamcatcher-Courtesy of Free Stock
Ready for the rest of it? We left Part 1 with John seeming to agree to do anything in order to pass his class. Did he really mean anything? And why is it so important for him to graduate. That answer seems obvious. To build himself a future. But maybe there’s a deeper answer to that question. Read on

*****
THE MISFIT

John submitted to me with his eyes closed. He was fantasy made flesh. Dark, smooth almost hairless flesh. In the grip of raging, selfish, lust, I failed to consider the significance of his eyes remaining closed throughout the entire wonderful experience.
When it was over, he reached for his clothing and asked in a subdued voice, “Do I pass now?”
“John, you have to do the work; I can’t fake a grade. But what I can do is make certain you are able to do the work. We’ll spend as much time as it takes.”
His eyes bored into my soul for a moment. “But you promise I’ll pass?”
“You give me the time and effort, and that’s a promise. You’ll pass.”
I insisted on driving him home, hoping for time to strengthen our budding relationship. We headed south out of town after stopping at a drive‑in for burgers and fries. As a winter wind swirled dust and leaves ahead of us on the lonely road, I learned John Running’s story.
His father was a northern Plains Indian; his mom, one of the southeastern woodland tribes with a little bit of the local blood. When John’s father died, she came to the woman who had raised her. When the mother died, the old woman John called Grandma took him in hand and raised him.
“Then my grandma crossed over last year,” he explained. “They let me stay in her house, but since I don’t have the blood, they treat me like an outsider,” he explained, laughing harshly. “Outsider at school, on the rez... everywhere. Guess I don’t fit anywhere”
He paused a moment before speaking again. “She’s the one I made the promise to. You know, to stay in school and graduate. I promised her.” His quiet determination made me realize how seriously he took a promise to a dead woman.
I dropped him off in the middle of a dirt road in front of the tribal headquarters and drove home understanding that when I had detained the boy in class, he missed his ride and slept in a ditch or an alley somewhere. I also concluded that John Running probably wasn’t gay, although he was capable of performing with a man.
                              

I discerned no difference in John in class on Monday, although there was a marked difference in me. I could hardly wait for the last class of the day when he graced my computer lab for fifty minutes. On Friday, I suggested a session at the house Saturday and immediately became impatient of the hours. Like a love-smitten adolescent, my heart skipped a beat as I opened the door to admit him. John Running, normally as graceful as a proud stag, entered my house awkwardly.
I moved behind him and placed my hands on his thighs; he did not stop me, but he swallowed nervously. I pulled his shirt over his head and slid my hands down that long torso. He turned to face me and I was lost again, especially since he seemed to participate—to share—in our lovemaking today. I studied his deep, naked chest and wondered if he'd ever had a girl.
Today was different, more wonderful… if that was even possible. John went wild, his dark eyes staring into mine as he thrashed above me feeding his own need. But they closed again, when I satisfied my own desires.
It was late by the time John caught up on the week’s work. He gave a silent nod when I suggested he stay the night. I shaved and brushed my teeth while he showered, trying to control my rising passion as I caught ghostly glimpses of him behind the glass of the shower stall. I took his place under the water while he dried himself and used a fresh toothbrush I had in reserve.
That night was one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences. I’d unleashed something in the boy… youth… man. He wore me out and came back for more. Greedy for him, I matched his pace.


We got up the next morning to find a front had moved in dumping at least three inches of snow on the ground. A brisk wind turned it into a blizzard.
John was withdrawn as we went about cleaning up and eating a breakfast of bacon and eggs and biscuits. He avoided my glance and studied his plate as he ate. He was having regrets this morning. Probably accepting repressed gay longings successfully hidden all this time. That was good. The boy needed to understand who he was.
I watched as he sat at the computer and worked on next week’s lessons, pleased at how quickly he picked up on things. The computer could be this kid’s way out of his dreary life, and I told him so.
After lunch, I did some work of my own. When I went back into the living room, he was holding a jigger of Scotch. He stared at me defiantly as he tossed it down his throat. He turned to the portable bar and poured another before capping the bottle and returning to the PC.
An hour later, I checked first on the worsening weather and then on my misfit. Pleased at his progress, I placed my hands on his shoulders. He went rigid as I ran my hands down his torso. He stood, and I sensed that now he was simply bowing to the inevitable, but it made no difference. He was too beautiful, too virile, too desirable for me to stop. I led him into the bedroom and satisfied my need… his too. Although he was passive throughout.
As we lay silent and spent, I sought to ease the moment. “Your girls must go wild over you, John.”
“Yeah, my girls,” he mumbled, and I knew there hadn’t been any.
He rose from the bed and strode to the bathroom in that panther’s stride I so admired. I heard him shower, but was too spent to stir. When he came out, I stumbled in and turned on the water. John was wearing me out.
God, he was beautiful! He was wonderful! Magnificent! When he finished high school, I’d see he got some advanced training. Hell, I would even quit my job and go with him. They needed teachers everywhere.
When I was finally clean and dry again, I dressed and went into the den. He was gone. His books were on the table, but he wasn’t around. As I searched the house, my eye fell on the portable bar. He’d taken the bottle of Scotch. I ran to the window. The snow fell in huge wet chunks too big to be called flakes. I threw on clothes and raced outside. His tracks were almost covered by fresh snow. He’d gone east. I fought the car out of the garage and plowed through drifted snow for miles before accepting the futility of my search.


They found him in a small culvert south of town two days later. The bottle that had given him a false sense of warmth until his vital functions surrendered to the elements was empty. I managed to make it to the end of the school year before resigning and moving farther west. I found a school at the edge of an Indian reservation and taught a few classes over the summer. Gradually, the dusky young men restored a sense of balance to my life, although they could do nothing to expunge the guilt of driving a beautiful young man to his death by demanding too much, too fast.
Nonetheless, I found my next misfit... not at the school… but in front of a small trading post just outside of the reservation. And he was drawn to me like debris to the vortex of a whirlwind.
THE END


*****

So tragic. Young John was willing to do things against his nature to keep a promise to his dead grandmother. Or is that oversimplification? John had no problem participating. In fact, Mr. Mason had the impression he enjoyed their second encounter. Whether John reacted to doing something against his nature or was simply fighting what he was coming to understand was his nature, he chose the wrong way out.

What about Mr. Mason? Was he callous and uncaring? I’m not sure that’s the case. He truly mourned John, barely hanging onto his teaching position until the term was completed. Then he moved elsewhere… and found another misfit? Does that necessarily mean he chose the new boy as a sexual target? Maybe he’s learned something from his encounter with John and is truly driven to help misfits. What do you think?

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Misfit, Part 1 of 2 Parts


dontravis.com blog post #359
  
The Dreamcatcher-Courtesy of Free Stock
This week, my story comes in two parts. I confess to some trepidation in posting this story, as it involves “meeting yourself unexpectedly,” so to speak. And when a young man discovers things about himself, he doesn’t always accept them gracefully if they conflict with the way he believes things ought to be. Let’s see how John Running handles them.

*****
THE MISFIT

The enraged youth stood motionless, absolutely rigid. Yet his body pulsed with fury. Legs planted, knees flexed, fists clenched, he made me consider the possibility this might become physical. Like most teachers, I often take on misfits as projects, but John Running had me stumped; I was ready to throw in the towel. Working with problem students had already cost me my marriage, no use letting this one pop a blood vessel.
I stared at the angry youth with no clear idea of what initiated this blowup. His failure to complete some homework had earned him an ass chewing, but when you broke the rules you expected to pay the consequences. John had taken it manfully but when I threatened to flunk him, he totally wigged out.
I wasn’t even certain why John Running kept hanging on. Two years older than most seniors in this southwestern high school, statistically he should have bailed a year ago. The kid was bright, but woefully lacking in the basics. His record showed a staggering number of schools he had attended in three different states. It was a miracle he’d only been held back two years.
Maybe it was because the kid was a Native American that I couldn’t connect with him. John looked like an exotic, athletic jock but he wasn’t. Despite his wiry runner’s build and his long swimmer’s torso, he didn’t participate in sports. While most high school kids were cautiously approaching the threshold of real manhood, John had already swaggered through—at least physically.
Unfortunately, physical maturity didn’t always translate into emotional and mental stability. The kid had a problem. He resented authority. No, he distrusted authority; not like a typical teenage rebel, but with a deep‑seated jaundice usually found in disillusioned men with midlife crises.
He should have been the most popular kid at school, at least with the girls. Handsome as an Irish devil, as my mother used to say. Carrying a hundred seventy pounds on a six‑foot frame, he had midnight black hair with highlights like glittering stars. Unblemished skin had never known acne. Muscled, hairless arms. A broad forehead, deep‑set eyes bigger than they ought to be, and lashes any girl would die for crowned a thin aquiline nose, wide mouth, and firm chin. “Fucking beautiful!” as one girl in the hall expressed it. Yet the other kids shied away, put off by a cold, callous attitude. Now the snapping black eyes leveled a gaze designed to intimidate me.
“Shoulda known you’d let me down too, motherfucker!” The boy’s voice came from deep in his throat.
“Don’t use language like that in my classroom, John. Clean it up or get out. But if you leave, you won’t pass. If you don’t pass, you won’t graduate.”
The youth swept his workbook to the floor and glared as if daring me to do something about it before stalking out of the room on long legs. I fought the urge to go drag the stubborn young man back. The kid had an affinity for the machines. Computers were his ticket to the future, but he habitually came to class unprepared. I’d worked with him all semester, allowing him extra time, tutoring him, feeling that he was making progress. Then this.
“Mr. Mason?” The voice was half‑apologetic, half‑hostile. “Sorry, I lost it. But you didn’t give me a chance to explain.”
“No excuses, John. You had an assignment and an obligation to complete it. I understand an occasional missed deadline, but it’s a way of life with you.”
The boy flushed but held onto his temper. “Sorry. Can I make it up?”
“Sit down and do it now, and I’ll accept it.”
“But, I’ll—”
“That’s it, John. It’s the only break you’ll get. I’ll be here for another hour or so. Do what you can in that time.”
Sullen again, John Running retrieved his book from the floor and took a seat at a PC, his face a dusky, frozen mask. I watched for a moment, struck by the power of the boy’s overwhelming masculine grace.


A somewhat grungy John dressed in the same clothes as yesterday was already at work in the lab when I arrived the next morning. That was out of character for him. So far as I could tell, he only had two outfits, but he rotated them and showed up scrubbed clean each day. By the time I stopped by his station, he’d washed up in the boy’s restroom. From his expression, he was expecting some grief; I tried to put him at ease.
“Just wanted to say yesterday’s behind us, John. You keep on working like you did today, and you’ll make it. You ought to come in early more often.” He gave me a funny look, nodded acknowledgement, and left.
Over the remainder of the week my misfit reverted to form. Friday, when John failed to turn in his assignment at the end of class, I detained him again.
“I couldn’t get to a machine,” he said before I spoke.
“Why didn’t you come in early?” I demanded. “You’ve done it before.”
“I couldn’t get a ride, Mr. Mason. I tried! I really did.”
“If you can’t get a ride, then walk, John. I’m not going to put up with this much longer.”
“But you don’t understand—”
“No, you don’t understand. Hand in the assignment Monday morning before eight o’clock or no grade. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” he replied sullenly. “Can I do it now?” he asked, leveling that dark gaze at me.
“I’m not staying late tonight. Look, I’ve got some work around the house tomorrow. Come over and you can use my machine.”


John showed up around mid-morning on Saturday and cast such intense glances around my modest little house that I wondered about his home. It wasn’t until then that I realized he probably lived on the reservation twenty miles to the south. Damn, that meant access to a computer was a real problem for the boy.
Finished with mowing the yard, I showered and shaved and pulled on a pair of denim cutoffs and a T‑shirt. I took a final glance in the mirror and wondered how I looked to that kid working on my computer. At twenty‑seven I wasn’t much older than he was. I was considered good looking, but my fair hair, tanned Caucasian skin, and green eyes paled in comparison to his dark, brooding looks.
John was ready for a break when I checked on him. We settled on the back patio to talk and nurse a couple of cokes. I learned that he did indeed live on the reservation and was dependent on others to get into town. My attitude mellowed a little.
I was strangely lonely when he left that afternoon. This kid was getting under my skin. As I watched him stride down the pavement, yearnings that I worked hard to keep in check bubbled to the surface only to be forced back into the dark part of my psyche once again. When he left that day, he’d only partially finished his assignment and promised to return again tomorrow.


I’d given up on John by the time he finally arrived Sunday afternoon looking disheveled again, not dirty but not totally clean either. He trailed the odor of alcohol behind him. “You been drinking, John?”
“Beer or two.” The words were slightly slurred. His look held an element of danger, so I backed off.
As I cleaned up around the house, I could see the boy was having trouble with his coordination. It was possible he was drunk. After ten minutes, his fumbling got to him. He became verbal and abusive. I lunged for him when he shoved the keyboard off the computer table. Bent on mayhem, he drew back his fist. I seized him from behind in a bear hug and swung him bodily away from the computer. Arms pinned; he struggled furiously. He was amazingly strong, but I had wrestled in college and was able to hold on until he collapsed, taking us to the floor in a heap.
“Leggo, dammit! Let me go, you fucking ape!” he cried, going limp. I lay atop him, aware that my hidden impulses were becoming ascendant. In spite of myself, I stirred. Suddenly, he twisted around so that we faced one another. His eyes were wild and out of focus.
“Calm down, John,” I said in an even voice as I lay atop him, my excitement becoming evident.
His dark eyes searched my face. “M-Mr. Mason, is there any way I can pass your class? Anything I can… do? I’ve gotta pass the course.”
I made a mistake then; I met his gaze and saw visions of mystic shamans and impish Irish devils. “John, I can help you. Make sure you pass. You’ll have to do the work, but I can make a machine available to you. Mine... here. You can stay overnight if it gets too late and you miss your ride. But....” My voice dried up. What I was thinking was monstrous, an abuse of my authority as a teacher.
He closed his eyes. “I understand.”

*****

John says he understands, but does he? Intellectually, yes. But does he really comprehend the type of life Mr. Mason intends to show him? Tune in next week to find the answer.

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mouse – A Short Story


dontravis.com blog post #357

Courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net
Back to storytelling this week after an interesting poem last week. Probably more meaningful to me than to most readers since I was a subtle subject of the work.

This week’s short story was inspired by… nothing. I just sat down and dreamed up a rat and a mouse. Voila, a short story resulted.

*****
MOUSE  

          I’m here to tell you, life as Rat Flanagan’s younger brother ain’t easy. Especially, when his moniker earns you the nickname of Mouse. I’m actually Ralph; he’s Finn, but when he went tough guy and got slapped with “Rat,” “Mouse” just came along automatically.
          My brother’s the leader of a local street gang, not by dint of leadership, but by being the meanest, nastiest guy in the neighborhood. The same way he got his nickname, come to think of it. But he’s always been good to me. Looked out for me, you might say. Took me under his wing.
          Until lately. You see, there’s this chick I met down at the college library where I’m struggling through my sophomore year. Roseanna’s her name. Blonde, blue-eyed, and stacked. Smart too. I made the mistake of bringing her around to meet some of the guys, and Rat went gaga over her.
          “She’s too much woman for you,” he said to me after I came home later that same day.
          “Naw. She’s exactly the right amount of woman,” I countered as a worrying flutter began in my stomach.
          He waved a scrap of paper in my face. “We’ll see.”
          “How’d you get her number?”
          “How else, Rose gave it to me.”
          “No way. And her name’s Roseanna.”
          “She’s a rose to me,” he said before turning and walking away.
          The flutter in my gut became a cramp.

          
          My next date with Roseanna wasn’t reassuring.
          “Course, I gave it to him,” she said as she concentrated on buffing the nails on her right hand. We were sitting in my ’98 Cougar in front of the college library.
          “Why?”
          “Why not? He’s your brother. If your mama asked for my number, I’d give it to her, wouldn’t I?”
          “My mom’s interest isn’t Rat’s interest.”
          “I don’t like that name. I like Finn better.”
          “You don’t have a problem calling me Mouse.”
          “Ralph’s such a plain name. Besides—” She tweaked my nose. “—Mouse is such a cute name.”
          The rest of the date did not go well. She seemed to enjoy her malt at the SUB and dancing at the Disco, a nearby college hangout, but I spent the evening fighting an increasingly rebellious gut.

        
          Things came to a head when she told me she couldn’t go out Friday night because “Finn” had asked her to a movie.
          “I thought we were going together,” I said.
          “Nothing official,” she answered, admiring her glittering scarlet fingernails. It looked like a professional job to me, and she couldn’t afford a manicure like that.
          “Nice nails,” I opened my gambit.
          She beamed. “You think so? I think it’s ultra!”
          I went from subtle to blunt. “How much did it cost?”
          Roseanna gave me her sweetest smile. “Have no idea. Finn paid for it. Wanted me to look nice for our Friday night date.”
          I went from blunt to self-destructive. “You can’t date two brothers.”
          “No law against it.”
          “My law. You gotta choose.”
          “You sure you wanna say that?”
          “I’m sure.”
          She tossed her head, sending blond hair spraying in all directions. “Well, Mouse, Seems to me a rat’s superior to a mouse, so what do you think.”
          “So you like the tough guy thing?”
          “I like macho, sweetie. And Finn’s got it in spades.”
          I left and retreated to my figurative corner.


          No way was I gonna give up Roseanna without a fight. And fight with Rat was something I’d never done, had no idea how to do it. So I sulked through their Friday night date and through the weekend. By Monday, I’d figured out how to proceed. I waited about a block away from the shack on an otherwise vacant lot that served as the Rodent’s headquarters—Rodents… get it? Rat, Mouse—until Neal came along. Neal, alias Pudge, was more or less Rat’s second in command, although there wasn’t really a command structure.
          “Hey, guy,” I joined Pudge on the sidewalk as he made his way toward the Rat’s Nest, which was our shack. Rat carried the theme all the way through, I’ll say that for him. “Sorry about the other day.”
          Pudge lumbered to a halt. “Sorry about what?”
          “Sorry my brother dissed you in front of the others like he did.” Rat had noted that Pudge was packing on the pounds.
          “Aw, that’s just Rat being Rat.”
          “If you say so. Just sayin….”


          I caught up with Billy—gang name “Goat”—as we broke up that afternoon. He was a skinny tough with a sharp chin.
          “Sorry about my brother dissing you today.” Rat had said in the club house just a few minutes earlier that a real goat would have chin whiskers. Goat probably couldn’t raise whiskers anywhere.
          “Dissing me?”
          “You know about the whiskers.”
          “He didn’t mean nothing. You know how he is.”
          “Yeah, I know. Puts us all down.”

          There were six of us in the club, and by the end of the week, I’d talked to all of them except for Gene, who went by the name of Randy. And if you want to know what I think, he was “randy” for Rat. He idolized my brother, and a couple of times I thought Randy’s britches got fuller when he was gazing adoringly at Rat. Wouldn’t surprise me if my bro wasn’t letting Randy have his way once in a while, but that’s not my business. Course it would make things simpler if Rat paid more attention to Randy and less to Roseanna.
          Things were a little tense around the house, especially when Rat went on a second date with my girl. We didn’t talk to one another so much that Mom asked what was the matter? We both brushed it off.


          I made my move at our Monday meeting. We hung around together every day, but on Monday, Rat insisted we have a “meeting” to plan the week’s mischief. Since he’d gotten so wrapped up in Roseanna, he wasn’t doing so much planning, which fit right into my plan.
          “I got something to say,” I announced after Rat finished spouting a lot of nothing.
          He gave me the fish-eye. “And what’s that?”
          “Things aren’t going too good lately, Rat. Not since you got so pussy-whipped.”
          Rat turned red in the face. “What the hell you talking about?”
          “If you’re gonna spend so much time with your chick, somebody else oughta lead the club.”
          “Somebody like you, for instance?”
          “Well… yeah. Me or Pudge. We both got ideas of how to make things better.”
          “Like what?”
          “Well, we all oughta have one of them telephones you carry around with you. Those cell phones. And the club oughta pay for them. And what kinda name is ‘Rodents’ for a club?”
          “You got a better one? And how’s the club gonna pay for six cell phones?”
          “You’re making my point for me,” I said. “You used to come up with ways for us to turn a few coins, but not no more. Now I got a few ideas that’ll keep us in beer for a while.”
          He raised an eyebrow. “Like?”
          “Like if I tell you, you’ll claim it was your idea. Like you always do. You diss us all, Rat, and we’re tired of it. It’s time for a change.”
          “And that change is you, huh?”
          I shrugged. “Why not? At least I got some leadership qualities besides beating everybody into line. And we’re sick of that, Finn.”
          “So what are you gonna do about it?”
          “We’re gonna have a meeting and choose a new leader, that’s what.”
          “You’n who else, little brother?”
          I got up off the crate I was sitting on and planted my feet. “Who’s with me?”
          Everybody got up and came over to stand behind me except for Randy. Rat looked shocked but he didn’t put up a fuss.
          “From now on, we’re the Hustlers, and I’m the leader. I got a sign we’re gonna put over the door that says so. And that’s what we’re gonna do, hustle our asses and make some money. Old man Maloney’s got a yard full of junk he says we can cart off and sell. It’s got lots of metal in it, and I know where to take it. That oughta get us our telephones. Then I’ll figure out how to pay for the service. What do you say to that?”


           Finn didn’t have much to say, which surprised me. And he wasn’t Rat anymore, which meant I could become Ralph. When I caught up with Roseanna in the library, she already knew something was happening.
          “Rat isn’t Rat anymore,” she said.
          “Nope. He’s Finn. And I’m Ralph, and I don’t care how plain you think that name is. It’s me, you hear?”
          “Sure, Mo… uh, Ralph.”
          “No more Finn. Make up your mind about which brother you want.”
          “That’s easy. I want you.”
          There’s something to be said for being tough… up to a point.

*****

Brains over brawn, they say. Worked for Ralph. Wish I could get it to work for me. Hope you enjoyed the story.

The advance buy link for The Voxlightner Scandal follows:  http://www.dsppublications.com/books/upcoming-releases-c

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See you next week.

Don



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