Frank Gatling

     One day Bill Broadax was down in a basin watering his horse when Death crawled out of the water.

     Broadax near shit.

     "Hey're you Death?"

     "You got it."

     "Hey man, you ain't even wet 'r' nothin."

     "Little trick o' mine."


     ——Broadax' face comes over all crafty.

     "Say man, you ain't here fer me are y'?"

     Death only smiled.

     "L-listen. I got an idea. I've got this here chessboard in my saddlebags---hows 'bout me 'n' you playin' a little game of chess? If I win I get a new lease on life. Whattya say. You a gamblin' man aincha?"

     Death snickered and rustled his black mantle.

     "Too Bergmanesque. Use your imagination."

     Broadax thought a minute.

     "Say, Blood" (for he had adopted some of the idiom of his pal Jaybo). "How 'bout some prairie dog ropin'?"

     "Hot damn," said Death with a little jump of joy. "I've never tried that. Sounds like a groove."

     "It is, ace buddy, it is."

     So Broadax said he'd lend Death a lariat and pulled him onto the back of his horse.

     "Goddam, your hands are cold, Buck."

     "Shut up and drive."

     "Alright, alright."

     So Broadax coaxed his mount into a mild canter across the sandy turf until they came to what he knew to be a prairie dog village.

     "Here's where the little varmints are," Broadax skittering excitedly down off the horse while Death cursed and struggled and got the hem of his robe caught on the saddlehorn. He was beginning to remember that he hated horses, and was wondering why he had agreed to such a match. And that was before he saw Broadax begin to whisk his lariat through the falling dusk as if it were a live thing.

     "Shlda stuck t' chess with this redneck," he muttered under his breath.

     Broadax explained the rules, which were simple. The contestants took up positions near an observed coyote hole and waited for one of the loveable little Disney creatures to pop his head up outa the earth, then let fly with the lariats. SO, both quickness and accuracy were important. First one to score three was the winner.

     Death was but a clumsy player and soon was black with rage as Broadax had temporarily imprisoned two of the little howlers while he, Death, had roped nothing but a stone on the hard New Mexico earth. The look of joyful absorption of this idiot's face was getting him down, Hell, the bastard wasn't even scared.

     Well, it wasn't long before Broadax let out a Texas whoop (he hailed from Laredo) and went bouncing over to untie the third wildly chattering prairie dog from his lightning lariat.

     "Shee-ut!" he cried exuberantly.

     "Alright, don't crow about it," said Death crossly. I shld've known better than to let you name your own event."

     Broadax grinned a good-natured trailhand's grin, this time slippin' on a glove to shake Death's hand.

     "No hard feelings, ace buddy?"

     "What's the use?" said Death glumly.

     "Need a lift back to the waterin' hole? I'm goin' that way."

     "That's okay, I've got some business over by the old railroad."

     And without further ceremony, he turned his black-cretonned form to a northwest point and ambled away.

     "Aw shit," said Broadax, turning his mount, He was feeling triumphant after his victory. "Cain't nobody outrope ole Bill." He looked again to see where his late adversary was headed but the Dark Prince had vanished. Broadax felt an uncommonly cold wind drifting over the plain and reached for his poncho.


     Lady Nasturtium preened and licked her lips with the rich greed of blossoming megalomania. Her mouth rippled crimsonly outward in an effort to suggest pleasantness, and her purpled eyelids quarter-mooned into an attitude of enlightened surprise. Aware (thanks to her husband's media consultants) that television was the medium that most flattered her, she pivoted her wispy figure and selected gestures calculated to ease her with a graceful intimacy into the living rooms of that drooling, many-striped, constantly-polled and percentiled monster, that subliminally victimized test rat, that half-willing dupe of official hocus-pocus, that subject of mass stimulus and response experiments, that idolator of perfected mediocrity: The Puerile Public.

     Lady N. peached another reddened smile for the craning cameras. She was so so very pleased not to be a member of her own teeming audience.


     In the area around Las Cruces, in the caves, faults, gulches, hills, and flats, was assembled (in the sense that iron-fillings assemble on a magnet) a badlanded badasserie, an uprooted, inroaded, imploded banditry, territorial refugees from the outreaches of coastal-metropolitan Unistasis (one station, unadvisable and inhospitable to all). This jeep-torn, barbed-wire society with the motorcycle gods, painted sunsets, goats, burros, and ponies was cross-stitched with barricades and breastworks stretching out across the land like long surgical scars, the logos of the possessed imposed on the time-gouged integument of the terrain, pocked and littered as it was by husks of helicopters, gutted automobiles, overturned busses, jettisoned flatbeds, and miscellaneous debris and wastage. This landscape had come to be increasingly scarred as it had come to be gradually peopled by the wretched and swaggering human flotsam (o ye scum!) who are perennially convicted by the moral imbecility of an atrophying civilization. There were artists and artisans, smugglers and ganglords, disillusioned scholars, crazed veterans of foreign skirmishes, prostitutes, mysterious foreigners, and, it is rumored, discarnate presences of murdered landsmen of the area who can sometimes just be made out at twilight, pointing at their wounds and looking like motion picture figures projected into midair.


     One of the Kashubians, Jiri, is chopping a huge rope of kielbasa into a ten gallon pot of lentils, red potatoes, tomatoes, radishes, and carrots, his chopping-board scarred from the lashings of many years when warmth and eating were the only luxuries, He saves an eight-inch, wang-shaped chunk of the kielbasa to play a little joke on his cousin Krzysztof who is not only gullible but given to bursts of high excitement.

     "Hey Krzysztof," unbuttoning the fly of trousers tailored long ago in Danzig. "You think I ought to see a doctor about this?" Bringing the red-speckled sausage-wang into the air.

     "Oh my God!" screams Krzysztof jumping up from his copy of Krauts Say the Dumbest Things, eight-syllabled, heavily-consonanted supplications rushing in quick uvular explosions from the moist air-pockets of his mouth. "Oh my God, Jiri, your dick it is deceased! Hrooszczqat Drinn!"

     With a little shriek of dismay, Jiri lets the sausage drop into the dust.