Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A Visit From The Goon Squad

 Listening to ADHD, Kendrick Lamar

I've decided to write a book about how to write the perfect story, how to develop a great plot and move it along with brilliant characters who propel the narrative with their perspicacious dialog. Once my book sells seven billion copies, everyone will be a famous writer and the market will be flooded with everyone in the world having published their story.

Ted Talk, hell! I'm looking to get booked for a speaker's slot at the next writers' conference. $150 will get you a seat to hear me explain what I wrote in my write-a-perfect-story book, which, if you read the book (and of course you have), says you'll have a slot to speak at next year's conference, to talk about how to write a perfect story.

Frankly, I start with a premise then focus on my characters so they can tell my story through their voices. It's not that simple--for all 193k words of my novel, I probably have just as much written in backstory, character sketches, words that will never see the light of day. Chapters that I wrote then scrapped. 

Several months ago, I shifted my focus from "Resistance Twitter" (more on that in a moment) to "Writers Twitter" and started getting all these "perfect story" and "perfect plot" questions on my TL. Folks who want to sell books but can't figure out how to write something to sell. 

Don't write to sell, write to tell. 

My hands are open wide with that awful Ted Talk headset wrapping my my thinning hair into some goofy boof of wings and crazy wispy flips.

"Resistance Twitter" is dead to me. Yeah, we would be better off if Hillary had won in 2016 and Biden is much, much better than Trump, but it's all words. The people we elected aren't getting it done. 2022 is in three days and the clock is ticking. If nothing gets done by the midterms, Democrats get trounced and we're on a quick ride to facism.

End the filibuster NOW. Pass voting rights NOW. Put people to work with green energy infrastucture NOW. 

NOW, here's a bit more Pwerball, something I just workshopped:

The tub filled with silence as the group blissfully soaked, stoned and reluctant to speak more to their future plans.

“Where we goin from here?” Billy snapped the tab of a beer and took a deep swallow.

Emma rose, her pendulous breasts raining drops into the pool. “It’s only Monday night. We have until Thursday to get to West Virginia.”

 “Thursday? We were gonna stop them on the way! And now we’re waiting until they get to Bugleboy’s place?” Gooch stared Emma down, his hands outraised. “Someone hand me a beer? Please?” Shaking, he insisted on the delivery of a beverage. “This is bullshit, we should be stopping these motherfuckers before they go another mile.”

Billy pleaded with Gooch, handing him a beer. “Bro, chill. I agree with everybody else. We should wait, come up with a flawless plan and not go cowboy on this. Especially if we’re gonna get your sister back.”

“Fuck that, you heard what Leo said, that stopping the skinheads was more important than getting my sister.”

“I never said that. I said stopping the skinheads should be our main objective. We stand a much better chance of getting Kris if we neutralize the Colonel and his boys first.” Stolid, Leo didn’t reflect Gooch’s urgency. “You know I love your sister. I probably understand her better than any of you. Rescuing her safely is my primary concern. We need to be strategic about this.”

Gooch twisted from where he soaked. “Yeah, but we’re making this a one-shot deal. We should execute a well-thought out plan, but if that fails? Get a second stab at it.”

“Are you fuckin crazy? If we fail first, we’ll all be dead! There won’t be a second stab, as you so aptly called it.” Sage jumped out of the pool and wrapped herself in a plush towel. “The cops will be involved at that point, tryna figure out what the fuck happened. And we’ll be dead. Fuck you.”

The rest followed Sage out of the tub, gathering up clothes and silently walking back to their campsites in sloppy wet shoes, everyone too tired to talk anymore.

With Leo’s truck leading the way, the caravan was back on the road by seven, the gang gung-ho to get out of the desert. In the back of Casey Jones, passengers drank coffee and chatted about where they might be headed next, maps splayed over a table, the first joint of the day being passed. As the group argued over the merits of this place or that, Emma pushed the button on the intercom. “You’re the globetrotter, sistah. Where do you think we should stop for the night?”

“I think we need to stop in Branson,” Ra-Ra’s voice snapped back. “Not in Branson, exactly. That place will be thick with hicks this time a year. But about thirty miles out? It’s gorgeous, ya’ll gonna think yer back in Colorado.”

With humidity like a sopping blanket and the constant whine of cicadas, no one thought it was like Colorado. And although the campground was empty when they pulled in at three, it quickly filled up around five, every spot occupied and blaring their own kind of noise. By eight, the crew was tired, reclined uncomfortably in their camp chairs and impatient for Gooch and Sage to finish grilling beef, vegetables, and tofu.

“I never got the screaming eagle and flag stuff on your bus.” Emma slurped a sliver of roasted, red bell pepper into her mouth. “What’s up with that?”

“Brah.” Ra-Ra pushed her plate to her knees and spent a minute to chew her tofu and greens. “When I used to tour in my vee-dub bus? All psychedelic, cool paint job? Used to get pulled over constantly, for the stupidest shit, too. Cops sayin I got a tail light out when I know they just busted it themselves. Show em I’m right but then they’re sayin that they might as well investigate some other shit since they have me pulled over.” Nods went around, all of them familiar with having been pulled over for merely being freaks. Ra-Ra’s nods were the most expressive. “With my eagle and American flag and mountains and whatnot on this beast? Cops just fuckin smile and salute when I drive by. Ain’t never been pulled over. This ride ain’t never been tainted by pork.”

“So, this is what I’m thinkin.” Sage swayed, massively stoned and seemingly prone to letting random ideas bolt out the gates of her mind. “If we get pulled over? We’re a church group, former homosexuals on our way to meet another Jesus group like us. Some revival thing, a convention for born-again gay folk.”

Gooch looked to the other men and, not recognizing any indication of what they might be thinking, punted a flub. “So, pretend we’re religious ex-homos?”

Billy and Leo looked at each other, shrugged. “Story sounds plausible to me,” Leo grinned. “Beats tellin cops we’re freaks chasing down skinheads, holding the most powerful drug ever.”

Flames licked at everyone’s toes as the group sat with what Leo had implied. Emma poked a branch into the logs that they’d brought from the R&D office’s porch. “You keep talking about how Powerball is a weapon, Leo. You don’t explain how it works, though.”

Billy laughed as he combed his fingers through thick, shoulder-length hair. “Been wonderin the same damn thing, brah. After no guns, you tell us we got Powerball. How’s that sposed to work? So what if it’s the most powerful drug ever?”

Ra-Ra rose and pointed fingers around—blam, blam, blam, blam. “It is the most powerful drug ever. And I done pretty much everything. Ain’t never experienced anything like I did on that shit. But we’re gonna get the skinheads how with it?”

“From what Emma and Sage tell me, there’s four guards we need to overtake.” Leo also stood, raised his beer to the apex above him. “We get them stoned on Powerball.”

Sage stood as well, pointed to the cigarette between Indian Leo’s fingers. “You wanna roll me one a those? Please? Cuz I’ll smoke it and then I’ll tell you, we’re on the same page with that plan.”

Leo broke out a paper, filled it with tobacco, then rolled it home, handing it off to Sage. “We roll a Powerball joint, let em smoke it, and those guards will be neutralized in minutes.”

Taking a puff off her rollie, Sage held the smoke for a while, then exhaled with a burst of coughed smoke. “They’ll smoke Powerball because we say so?”

“They’re skinheads. Squirt glue in a bag and they’ll huff it.” Shuffling over to a camp table, Gooch scraped his plate clean then placed it in a wash bin.

Ra-Ra gathered up everyone’s plates and joined Gooch. “We still got another couple a days before we got to be where we need to be.”

“If we ain’t figured it by then, we’re fucked,” Billy snarled.

“We’ll get em, one way or another,” Ra-Ra reassured. “Karma, pure and simple.”

Emma spat into the fire and tipped her head back in disdain. “Karma? You wanna talk about karma? What goes around comes around? Because it’s bullshit, sister, there’s no such thing. There’s no cosmic force that determines retribution, so wipe that silly-assed concept from your mind because it’s nothing but a fucking fairy tale.”

“I thought you believed in karma, we’ve talked about this before.” With her hands twirling by her side, Ra-Ra howled with exasperation. “You’re your mom’s daughter! Or, at least until now. What happened?”

Sage snickered. “Powerball. Powerball changes everything.”

Ra-Ra nodded, grabbed Sage’s hand. “Everyone says that. Powerball changes everything. No one’s sure what that fuckin means.”

“And was Powerball karma? Or chaos?” Stepping back and taking to prowling around their fire, Emma’s fuse was short and sputtering. “Look at Hitler. He ended up in a fancy fucking bunker where he killed his squeeze then put a bullet in his own head. Like, the place was stocked—wine, gourmet food, nice furniture—and his so-called retribution, for doing mass murder on the scale of millions? Got to do what thousands of poor sad motherfuckers do every fuckin day. Offed himself with Eva, got a last lay before blowing his brains out. Boom. One bullet to the brain and then, nothing. How does karma apply there? Because that’s one fucked up balance sheet if you ask me. And it’s not like Hitler was having a real hard time of it up to that point. Until everything went to shit for him? He was livin it up.”

“But he gets returned as something lower. I dunno,” Ra-Ra pleaded, pacing around the fire, counter to Emma. “Like, maybe he comes back as a fly.”

“How does that compare to what even one person endured for one day in a Nazi concentration camp? Hitler comes back as a fly? Does he know he’s a fly? Because if he doesn’t know, I don’t see the point. It’s not like he’s buzzing into someone’s face screaming, “Kill me! I’m Hitler fly!” and hoping he’ll get swatted. Really, flies don’t think anything, not even a reincarnated Hitler fly. Flies just follow whatever programming requires making more flies. It’s not like Hitler fly whines, ‘This sucks. Eating shit and fucking other flies. I used to be the chancellor of Germany!’”

Sage turned away from Emma to light the rollie that had gone cold, her wind-block hand trembling. “I’ve seen karma in action, man. Experienced it. Felt the sting of the Goddess’s hand on my backside. It’s real, it works. I’ve known people who messed up their karma and then had to deal with the shit they brought on themselves.”

“Works for everybody looking for a spiritual stamp of approval. Give a bum a quarter, win the Powerball. Whatever dude.” Emma’s words untethered, she turned away and withdrew even further, unable to reel back the sting of her barb. 

Ra-Ra doused the fire, sending gray clouds billowing over her RV. “We’re in West Virginia day-after tomorrow. I’m tired. Me n Leo do all the drivin. Puttin my good karma to bed, freaks.”

Next morning, with the Widespread Panic that accompanied everyone’s coffee, Gooch offered up squares of lime-green blotter paper stamped with fat, yellow lightning bolts. “Let’s trip. We’re at each other’s throats and we still haven’t figured out how to rescue my sister. Maybe if we clear the cobwebs out, we’ll be in a better space.”

About forty-five minutes after dosing, the group was either cackling hilariously or staring dead-faced out the window, Gooch jibed over the intercom, “You could join us, y’know? I still got like, five hits of this.”

“I’m good, bro, dosed when I was drivin yesterday. Got us to Branson and that clusterfuck, but I don’t know the roads leading into West Virginia. I need to be tip-top, dawg.”



Chapter Thirty-Six

Randal’s theories did not mollify the DEA agents. “Bunny? The president of the Bandaleeros, this town’s mayor?” With Randal backed against the sheer stone walls of the jail’s office, Lattimore stared deeply into his eyes, drew up his fists like a boxer, then turned away and shook his head. “What makes you think he’s in on Powerball?”

Delgado leaned into Randal, switching from sweet and seductive to badass. “Despite all our intel about Byrne, Cappuci, and Yamaguchi? You’re saying your mayor is our primary suspect? For the manufacture and distribution of Powerball?”

“Positive.” Randal took a deep breath and bit his lip. “But look, there’s somethin even bigger going on. I know you’re DEA but you gotta do somethin. Now. The guy I’m rentin my land to? The Colonel? I think he’s about to do somethin really bad. He has all these skinheads and…”

“You’re sure?” Lattimore turned and pounded the desk with his fist.

“Absolutely. The Colonel and his skinheads are gonna be doin somethin terrible.”

“Not him, shit for brains!” Snatching Randal back up in his beefy hands, Lattimore once again slammed the cop into the office’s stone walls. “I meant about the mayor. You’re positive?”

Randal squirmed and drooled, his eyes bouncing back and forth. “Yeah. Bunny! You need to look at him! Those hippies are low-level morons. If you want to lop off the snake’s head, the mayor’s where ya need to be lookin.”

 “Fuck!” Lattimore dropped Randal so he could punch his hand to show how wrong he’d been. “The mayor! Where’s he growing it? Or getting it? What do you know?”

Freed from Lattimore’s grip, Randal nevertheless floundered for an answer he couldn’t articulate. “I know. I just gotta figure some things out so we can bust him for this Powerball yer lookin for. But I’m tellin you, the Colonel and his skinheads really need to be stopped!”

“And we intend to,” Delgado smirked, dragging well-manicured nails down Lattimore’s pressed sleeve, then dropped her voice to whisper, “Get a few new agents in here. Because some asshole fucked up what we’ve been investigating.”  Then smiling to Randal, “Yeah, we’re gonna stop this Bunny dude, bust his ass hard.”

“No. I mean the Colonel and the skinheads! They have to be stopped! I think… based on information I’ve… They have guns and explosives and they kidnapped Christmas Yamaguchi! Kidnapping is a federal crime, right? A felony?”

“What does he have to do with Powerball?” Lattimore snatched up Randal again and raged at the little martinet. “First the mayor and now you’re bringin up this Colonel person, you little weasel dick. Who the fuck is the Colonel?”

“If you let me go, I’ll tell you!” Randal pleaded, his eyes wide and imploring. 

Lattimore released Randal. “Tell us what you know about drugs in this town.”

“Summa these hippie faggots grow weed up in these mountains but ya can’t catch em. I’m not sayin we don’t have a drug problem in this town. We do. But they’re a sneaky bunch and I got bigger fish to fry. And that’s what I think you feds need to really look into. Much bigger than your so-called Powerball drug.”

“What? Meth? Coke? Heroin? Ecstasy?” Delgado appeared cool and disinterested. “Maybe you forgot we’re looking for Powerball?” Pointing a long, slender index finger at Randal, Delgado hissed, “You stay in here. I need to talk to Agent Lattimore,” then closed the office door firmly after the two stepped out to where the jail cells were located.

Lunch debris littered the floor of Cosmic Charlie’s cell as the filthy hippie drunk appeared to slumber on the thin pad of his metal cot. Lattimore chucked a dismissive chin at the bum then mumbled, “The intel we have is solid. Officer Ossifer is an idiot, doesn’t know jack shit. Bunny? And who the fuck is this Colonel guy he’s talking about?”

“If we have to start interviewing people in this shithole town, our cover’s blown. And we don’t even know where to start with the mayor. And now this other guy? Colonel Sanders or whatever the fuck?”

“Are we giving up on the leads we have? Do you trust this numb nuts?” Lattimore nodded to the office door. “We’re spinning our wheels. We need to get back on track with our objective and let that guy write traffic tickets.”

 “Yeah, I don’t trust that idiot’s information.” Delgado gently squeaked the soles of her expensive running shoes on the jail’s concrete floor, her long, brown legs idly stirring from beneath the cuffs of her white shorts. “But we need him to get us to Gooch, Flynn, and Leo then make a buy. Unfortunately, Oh-Cypher is probably our best bet to get us there.”

In his cell, Cosmic Charlie lifted an eyelid and slurped back a little drool as he took in the vision and scent of the stunning Latina not fifteen feet from him.

“Agreed. Let’s pretend to deputize him as a DEA agent, let him stroke our badges again.” Lattimore opened the door to the office and gestured for Delgado to enter.

There, Randal had his boots back up on the desk. 

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