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Ok It's Time for my...Annual *Pre-Burning Man Rant and Predictions!!
Ok It's Time for my . . . Annual Pre-Burning Man Rant and Predictions!!! After 22+ years of attendance, I have watched this festival go from what was described by Wired Magazine in 1997 as, "what the internet would be like if it was happening in reality" to 2020 where, "What? In reality, this festival is happening on the internet" ?!? What a serious head fuck . . . So strap in or strap on and get ready for disappointment . . . like virtually everything in this virtual world right now. Here goes this year's Virtual Rant! PREDICTIONS The Virtual Burn is going the be everything you think it could be . . . an underwhelming and depressing reminder that you are not going the real Burning Man this year. While it is still better than nothing, nothing is an extremely low bar. Get ready for a clusterfuck of 8 separately-produced interpretive video game dreamscapes, made by skilled teams of programmers eager to prove that their world-building technology will be able to make future financial investors a shitload of money. Burning Man 2021 is a 50/50 chance at best. 2022 is not looking that great either. Between The Org burning cash on side projects, the FEDs wanting to crack down hard and the Bureau of Land Management clearly pretty fucking stoked that they did not have to deal with the whole shitshow this year, it's going to be an uphill battle for the festival to return. Huge changes will need to be made. Those few gluttons for punishment who do decide to go to the playa this week will be treated to Burning Man without the Burning Man Experience. It will take all the hard work, organization and preparation for survival in the middle of a harsh desert environment for a week of Burning Man . . . just without the Burning Man. If there is one silver lining of the event not happening this year, it's the fact that I don't have to pack up my dust covered Burning Man bullshit from last year, drive 19 hours, then have to smuggle drugs inside my ass to make it past the BLM rangers just go camping in one of the most fucking miserable and inhospitable places on earth. Without Shirtcockers, Megaphones and Massive Thumping Soundsystems, it's just a bogus camping trip in bad weather with a shitload of cops. This year we will NOT be seeing the usual post-Burn MASSSIVE FLOOD of social media posts from Burners who lost their nice $60 water bottle/container somewhere on the playa, often accompanied by a story of why this particular water container was of importance because it has a strap on it, followed by a brief description of unique camps stickers on it and a photo of said missing water bottle/container. In fact, while we are starting to think about cutting costs -- How about lost and found stops giving a fuck about your overpriced water bottle. You lost it, Becky . . . let it go. You spent 20 times More Money on Cocaine for the week than the price of your fucking stoopid-Smart-Bottle-container. THE VIRTUAL BURN This year’s Virtual Burn brings about more questions than it does answers. How will Shirtcockers express their hatred of pants without a Burning Man? In a virtual world, they become no different than unsolicited dick pics. How will Artcar Owners be able to swing their metaphorical dicks around without their Artcars booming Deep House music to show the world their girth. Sure, you can build one in the Minecraft world for this years Burn . . .But lets face it: No one is gonna be like "Who did that 3D CAD drawing, I totally wanna fuck them!" What will all the Assholes with Megaphones do without Burners to heckle? Without handheld amplified audio devices and wide-open spaces, they become no different than Internet Trolls. How will Hippies on a Vision Quest be able find their spirit animal online? Without a guided shamanic ritual and Temple to burn, they become no different than someone playing Animal Crossing. If there is no moop or trash to clean up in a virtual Burning Man how can Moop-shamers be able to prove to campmates and others that they are better at "doing Burning Man " than everyone else? In a virtual world they become no different than a Sarah McLaughlin Green Peace commercial. How will Dooshbonnets and Dooshbags be able to gain followers on Instagram without the giant Robot Heart to climb? How can they show the world that they not only have braved the pool of Piranhas chomping for position for line, negotiated past the all-seeing and all-knowing doorgirl with a clipboard, proving that they have climbed both the social and physical ladder to reach the top of the Robot Heart, so that they may look down upon the lowly dancefloor with both spite and pity for the unwashed masses who where not able achieve such greatness. Without this accomplishment, they become no different than average Twitter users vying for Celebrity attention. How will Burning Man DJs be able to disappoint us with poorly executed timing and bullshit Michael Jackson remixes? Without huge Soundsystems to bang out the worst in modern electronic music, DJs just become . . . The SAME TERRIBLE DJs just now on Twitch! #playatech #Djstreaming #Djsofburningman Although each Virtual World must have been an amazing feat of programming in its scope and size, it kinda feels like a huge project that was done in a short amount of time. None of the Eight Worlds, in any way, reflect the typical Burning Man experience. However, there are a few non-official super realistic Burning Man simulators out there. By far the most realistic experience has to be the "Getting Out More This Year" Simulator. The player is welcomed to a rich and tangible 3D World of Chris's DopeAss 70s RV, which is camped way out on 4:30 and H, where your avatar can spend all day and all night doing fun things like Ketamine, or other colorful interactive game play such as snorting Ketamine, and even interact with the virtual Chris’s chat box and watch his avatar do Ketamine. Other game play options include doing Ketamine, talking about doing Ketamine and also doing Ketamine. The more days and nights spent doing Ketamine, the higher the score! If you want to experience what a typical Burner really does the whole week, than this one is for you!! Then we have: "Let's Go Party" . . . the online multi-player game where the objective is to get your group of more than 6 Burners to try and leave camp, and all go out to party together. I did not have much fun playing. I was never able to leave the front of camp. 14 hours of game play later, Brenda still needs to go back for chapstick and Ricky can’t find his bag of blow. Then once Brenda arrives ready, Kaleporia is cold and needs a scarf. Darkwad David is going back to get some blinky lights for the 3rd time. Now Timmy can't find his cigarettes . . . Fuck. “ManBun Boyfriend”. In this first person POV game, you (the ManBun) has little to no control within the game, with only a single "Ok, Sure" button to navigate within the world. The game play opens as the player is dragged out of bed at 6 AM by the onscreen girlfriend who takes you (the ManBun) on an treacherous journey of sunrise yoga classes, self help lectures, think and grow rich seminars, yoga, positive affirmation workshops, mindful guided mediations, yoga, healing arts ceremonies, wellness and well-being talks, yoga, vegan lifestyle in the new age conferences, yoga, mindful-and-wellness-group-chat and also yoga. Extra points if you can score a selfie in front of the Giant BELIEVE letters!! After 8 grueling hours of game play, it simply flashes a screen where girlfriend says "I'm Tired", and the “ManBun Boyfriend” simulator then restarts game play to opening sequence. “DJs Girlfriend”. This simulation offers a similar experience to “ManBun Boyfriend”. However, in this first person POV game, you (the DJs Girlfriend) is invited to Follow "Dj GlockTrigger" on a dubstep-and-monster-energy-drink-filled adventure as you (the DJs Girlfriend) is rushed from empty dancefloor to empty dancefloor, while picking up extra points if you can find him a "line of blow". After 12 hours of game play the screen flashes "Hey babe I'm gonna go drink with the boyies" and game play is reset. THE RANT I am not that great at finance. Obviously. I’ve been to Burning Man 22 times. That should tell you enough about my poor financial / life choices. But even this burnout Burner can do the math and see that the Burning Man Org is in financial trouble. Burning Man may need to sell out to save itself. It would not be the first time.. Burning Man "sold out" to the PsyTrance community in 1997. To help ticket sales, the Bay Area was flooded with seriously lame underproduced Rave flyers. Or maybe Dr. Dre can toss in a few million to keep The Org afloat once again. Or hey why don't we start tickling Elon Musk's balls again, and see if we can start choking on his shaft in return for some sweet corporate demon semen sponsorship. The Org has already gone pinky finger deep with him. Like when Tesla brought out a full-on Electric Car Expo. That's right, in 2007, at Burning Man, right at fucking Esplanade & 9:00, they had what can only be described as an “anonymous car dealership” from “the green future”, complete with lengthy-worded displays filled with lofty promises of clean energy, infused with subtle corporate propaganda. In the center of the exhibit sat a life-size solid black plastic model Tesla car. As well as someone on guard 24/7 to make sure no one tagged or fucked with the stoopid thing. I personally got chased out for drawing a dick in the DUST on the window! All I know is they should have burnt it down or blew it up by the end of the week, but that lame ass mother fucker was still there on Sunday when I journeyed back to draw a dick on it again -- this time with a PAINT PEN. After executing a perfect fat-sacked-choad-headed-donger on the hood, I was once again chased out by rangers, this time with pitchforks screaming bloody murder for my head!! Fuck you, Ranger Doug! You will never be able to prove that was Me!!! So Look, it's not the first time The Org spread its asscheeks for a little bit of corporate dick on the side. They also bent over back in 2013 and let Mark Fucking Zuckerberg bring a Giant Golden 'LIKE' sculpture out there. I just hope they did the right thing by the end of week and it was killed with fire. SO we know The Org is corporateBiCurious. Time to snuggle up, get out of the corporate cocksucking closet and cash in on the fact that this place sold out a long time ago. Start flirting with attractive corporate entities like Mark Z, the Google Boys, Elon, Tommy Boy from Myspace, or maybe even P-Diddy to toss in some cash to get this fucking party started again! Yo, Elon! How can we have Burning Man on Mars in 2050 as planned, if we can’t keep it going on Earth for the next 30 years? At this point, The Org can spread their legs in the backseat of that Tesla and change next years theme to Space-X. I could give a FUCK!!!!! As long as we can keep Old Naked Dudes On Bikes rolling free. Let some of these cocksucking limpdick corporations like Doritos -- who have already profited from using our Artcars and culture in a their fabricated commercials -- actually fucking pay us money and we will let them shoot a real commercial out there. Have fun pixelating the nipples out of the background actors. I COULD GIVE A FUCK as long as Shirtcockers have a natural habitat to dongslap and roam free. Let Brazzers.com build the Temple! I sincerely really don't care what they do . . . as long as Assholes with Megaphones have wide open spaces to heckle Burners in the Black Rock Desert like GOD intended. BACK TO BASICS : THE FESTIVAL WILL NEED TO RESEST Maybe The Org will stop fisting themselves in the burnhole with all the Cultural-Direction-Bullshit and get down to brass tax here. They have spent years trying to market the festival as a family-friendly-non-offensive-all-inclusive-experience for the suburban upperclass while still catering to the super elite. We need The Org to provide the DPW and Tickets . . . Not for Cultural Direction, or Large Scale Art Funding Circle Jerks, Abstract Charity Causes, International Involvement, or any of the Meaningless Feel-Good Propaganda tools they use to control the image of the festival! The number one focus from here on out needs to be the festival itself taking place once again in Black Rock City! This defacto-defunding of The Org is a blessing. Look, when it comes down to it, it's not about the lame fucking themes each year. It's about the Burners who come and contribute to the festival that makes it special. It’s not about overpriced art grants, or Rich-Dick Theme Camp placement priorities. It about the shitty unofficial un-themed camp at 7:00 and J blaring Discotrance music on a distorted soundsystem while giving away room temperature margaritas! I could give a fuck about all of the elaborate expensive blinking bullshit! Cuts cost! Make the Burning Man effigy from toothpicks for all I give a fuck. None of that shit really matters. The spirit of Burning Man is in the person giving away ice cream from a cooler out in deep playa on a hot afternoon. The soul of the festival is in Old Naked Dudes on a Bikes rolling free across the desert! The heart of the festival is the Nightmare Hippy Chick on Acid rolling around in the dust, screaming about her spirit vegetable. Believe me if The Org had its way, Burning Man would be nothing but Transformational Mediation Seminars, Yoga Classes, Ultra Overpriced Sculptures, and TED talks about how to get rich quick selling a new type of investment portfolio. I am perfectly happy with the crappy bars and half-assed theme camps that are there just to have a good time. We don't need The Org's unique brand of new age capital-elitism bullshit. They have clearly dropped the ball on the Cultural Direction for years, and the less they steer the ship, the better, cuz we have already washed up on the rocks. BULLSHIT CLICKBAIT “Top 10 Burning Man Pictures You Must See To Believe!” And once clicked, sure enough it’s nothing but a bunch of super basic-ass photos of some super-hot-Coachella-swinger-couple at sunset in front of the most gentrified “OMG I need to get a selfie in front that to show my followers on Instagram” artwork on the playa. You already know exactly where these fucksticks took the stoopid photo is front of, OF fucking course it's in front of the BELIEVE letters. It’s Basically the "live, laugh, love" of playa art. Really, I won't believe this ?! What I won't believe is that their relationship is going to last beyond next week . . . cuz there’s a 90% chance they are gonna join the wrong gangbang at the Orgy Dome and suddenly someone is not happy about the amount of buttfucking the other one received. Thanks Business Insider Magazine for exposing the public to the wild and crazy world that is Burning Man. Now every fucking Chad and Becky from Wall Street is trying to come here to get laid. "Bro if I was there I would bang so many Hot Chicks on top of those letters" . . . "OMG I LOVE those Letters!! We are SOOO going to Burning Man to meet our future husbands <3." How about 10 REAL photos you won’t believe? Too bad the cameras weren’t there to snap a picture of the guy who took a shower with a fat chick and midget porn star! It’s a shame no one from the Daily Mail UK was there to catch video of the guy who was tripping his nuts off and could not figure out how to unlock the door of the porta-potty -- escaping only by busting through the plastic roof and climbing out the top several hours later. Or how about that chick at the meditation camp that was able to summon a higher power of consciousness and transcended the spacetime continuum for a short/infinite amount of time! Where the fuck was BoredPanda.com to catch a photo of the person who was hit with a rubber dildo when it was carelessly thrown from the top of the Space Pirate ship into the Mayan Warrior crowd. Now That’s some real stuff that happens out there that I would be happy to clickbait on! THERE WILL BE SOME CHANGES MADE The Large Scale Art: Instead of funding massive installations that end up being resold to casinos on the Las Vegas strip, why not treat them like large Rich-Dick Theme Camps -- give the Installation Artists 200 DGS Tickets, and in return, these assholes will be happy to spend shitloads of money on blinky light towers or whatever, just so they can lock in those sweet sweet reserved tickets for themselves and their friends. The Tone: The Utopian Blinkylight Dreamscape has been cool for the past 16 years . . . Buuuut . . . it has gradually fallen out of touch with the world around us. For far too long, The Org has ignored camps or underfunded art that could be perceived as dark or controversial in any way, shape or form. Yet again, another example of their Cultural Direction Tactics to market Burning Man as a blinky-light-mickey-mouse-Epcot-Center for wealthy-business-insiders-and-celebrities featuring a safespace-family-oriented-wholesome-body-wellness-green-living-environment for social-media-influencer-photo-shoots. Burning Man has NEVER been a Safe place! In 1998, I witnessed a beheading by guillotine at the Opera Performance that was so realistic I spent the next 5 hours (still frying balls on acid!) convinced that Billy Graham was right about this place being a Satanic death cult that would bring about the end of the world. IT WAS DISTURBING! If the Barbie Death Camp incident at last years’ Burn taught us anything, it is that there clearly need to be risky and controversial works of art at the festival. We can't be having pussy-footed Australians throwing temper tantrums like little punk bitches CUZ they don't like the way someone put Barbie Dolls inside an oven! Why did that do-good-koala-humping-limpdick-ASS-licker think it was OK? Well . . .The Org has shoved the narrative that Burning Man is strictly "good vibes only" down our fucking throats so deep that we finally gagged from it. Why the fuck was that guy even there? Well, he clicked on the Business Insiders’ “Top Ten Burning Man Photos You Must See To BELIEVE” and thought it was gonna be nothing but butterfly sculptures and Instagram Models in front of giant letters. No Kids: Yep. Sorry Minecraft Burners, but you are gonna have to wait until you are 21 to come to this party! Renegotiating the insurance policy as an over-21 festival will save The Org millions and millions of dollars. Out of 80,000 people, less than .05% are under 21 . . .yet we have to check IDs at every fucking bar !? Every year the gate gets closed down and no one can filter in or out because someone asshole can't find their kid. This should be a HUGE red flag ! Law Enforcement uses the fact that minors are allowed at the event as justification to engage in predatory conduct such as undercover stings, camp raids and random tickets for unsuspecting bartenders who forget to check IDs. Also I am not comfortable with the legal grey area the Shirtcocking and Titbouncing in the presence of minors creates. And if it ever comes down to nudity versus allowing kids, I am sorry but we can't sacrifice the heart of this festival on account of the fact that you don't want to get a fucking babysitter for the week. Your kids could give a flying-donald-duck-fuck about Burning Man! You and I both know goddamn well that given the opportunity they would rather play video games for the week at grandma's house then have to listen to Mom and Dad fight at Burning Man all week about who got buttfucked by whom at the Orgy Dome. . . LEAVE THEM AT HOME!!!!!! So the rest of us can be free to fuck, drink, smoke and wave our goddamn dicks and clits around whereever we see fit!!! The Temple: In the early days of the David Best Temples, they were constructed from the leftover hollows of wooden dinosaur jigsaw puzzle pieces. It was low cost, recycled and pretty fucking cool! Last year’s Temple was overdesigned, structurally unsound, and made from rare rustic-oak hardwood and redwood trees imported from China. Let’s cut costs and just do what those guys from Belgium did in 2005. It's a Very Simple Plan. We get a shitload of old 2x4 boards and fucking Wing It! The Belgium Waffle House would have made a perfectly good Temple. Garbage Dumpsters: Yep, that's right. In the future we will have dumpsters at Burning Man! All the Survivalist and Moop-shaming Burners say it will destroy the festival. Guess what, Burn Nut? It's already common practice for larger theme camps to rent dumpsters that are emptied at the end of the week!! It's been going on for YEARS! So what? Theme Camps will now have to pay a dumpster fee and there will be strict rules around any public dumpsters. Believe me The Org will provide the minimum amount possible to accommodate the BLM. It won't be nearly enough dumpsters for everyone to just toss all their trash, recycling and extra bikes into. Don't worry, Radical Self-Reliant Survivalist Burnertypes, other people will still have to suffer packing up and dealing with their own trash on the ride home. Moop-shamers rejoice! You will definitely still be able to shame people for mooping and not cleaning up, if not even more so now. I don't see why we can't be Radically Self-Reliant by having dumpsters on site. We will still Leave No Trace, while leaving one less thing for surrounding communities to bitch about. Build the Wall !!! Ya fuck it! Build the Wall. So what? Honestly, it will be more aesthetically pleasing than that fucking orange fence. And if that is what the Feds want, that's cool with me -- as long as The Org gets to choose who does Security! Thank fucking god we are not doing Burning Man this year. With the world on fire all around us, it seems a bit tone-def to hold a giant rave utopia party! I, for one, will be enjoying the week indoors under air-conditioning and rolling around in the heaps of cash I am saving by not going. I’m not attending a single workshop to expand my consciousness, not giving a single gift to anyone, and not being radical or self-reliant in any way. Fuck your Virtual Burn. I am Zapper Jones. I will see you in the Dust again . . . Sometime Somewhere in the Future!
Reference Age: 17 Height: 5'3 (Though he'll hit his growth spurt this year and grow another foot or so)
Zanack Göron was originally born into a fairly wealthy merchant family in the Kingdom. Specifically, he was situated in Slagtown of House Blacksteel. His family was quite influential and was a participant in the prosperity of Slagtown. The Göron family traded in various luxury goods, and if you knew the right people, you could smuggle some illegal goods and drugs through the family. They also ran an underground gambling ring, though it was a bit of a risk whether or not you'd come out in one piece when you tried to cash out. With money and power making its rounds throughout the family business, Zanack grew incredibly greedy and restless. The Göron family grew wealthier and drew greater influence as time went on, and Zanack was soon to be the head of the family. But this wasn't enough, he wanted to make sure nothing could stand in his way. Seeing the power his family had and counting the numbers of hired guns they had under their wing, Zanack set his eyes upon controlling the entirety of Slagtown from behind the scenes. First, to take over the family, Zanack betrayed and shot the current don, his father, in his sleep. The consigliere? Who needed him, Zanack was his own man and could make his own decisions, so Zanack shot him in the same way. The previous underboss before Zanack took his position would be a problem, too, so he just got rid of him. In this way, Zanack did a bit of cleansing in the family. He took hold of his father's treasured firearm, the Göring, and secured his place as the Göron family's don. However, what young Zanack did not know was that he was but a fish in a pond. Overestimating his own power and worth, along with underestimating the wealth of not only the competitors in Slagtown, but also the source of their innovation, Zephros, Zanack's grip of control never even held any weight. The other businesses were eyeing the Göron family the same way Zanack was keeping tabs on the town, and Zanack had to do something to come out on top. So he took matters in his own hands and started sending hitmen, conducting shakedowns, and even attempting assassinations himself. He even had the talent to summon a gunner spirit to do his bidding. Unfortunately, Zanack and his "employees" stood no chance against his competitors who had people in the family spying and leaking information to them. His business took a plummet in profits, as his goods were stolen by pirates and his men started disappearing one by one. Zanack had lost, and he needed to get out - now. With what few funds he hadn't squandered away yet, he fled westward on his own, not knowing who to trust or what to do anymore. All he knew was that he'd take back Slagtown one day, and these rats would get what they'd deserve. Zanack made his way to House Greywater, a former business partner that imported many of the Göron family's "goods." Greywater would be a good start. Make a name for himself here, restart the family business, and eventually get connections to House Gaia. Perhaps some important figures here and there would love to hear the word that House Blacksteel and Slagtown were getting a little too close to Zephros and needed a friendly reminder as to where their allegiance laid. Didn't these two houses have some beef or something anyways? Zanack was actually getting a excited; forget Slagtown, what if he could make a dent in the whole Kingdom? But for now, Fandral would have to do as a start. Perhaps he'd open up his ears and his pockets with another smuggling business deal, oh yes, Fandral would loved to hear this one.
Zanack is a very crooked man. What his father taught him as a child shaped Zanack as he grew up, and clearly his father wasn't much of a good role model. He has a bit of a short temper, especially when someone interferes with some action or plan he's going through. On the flip side, he has a soft side for coin, as money is power, and power is exactly what Zanack needs more than anything else. Other than that, he's as ambitious as a kid his age could be, and he's kinda lost it a bit, too. He shot his own father, y'know. I wouldn't want to be in the same room as this trigger happy nutcase. He can't help but insult those around him,
Has a comb he frequently uses, ensuring his hair is always in pristine condition. He's also poked a few eyes out with it in the family's old gambling ring
Talks with a nasally voice. It's kind of annoying the way he's always sneering at others
His nickname comes from how people would constantly be subject to hearing his delusions of grandeur. His ambitions were all longshots that would likely never come true and were usually immediately dismissed. On the other hand, Zanack himself believes that it comes from his good long distance aim with his gun
His father killed his mother three years ago. His father lied to Zanack, telling him, "Your mother was the comare of the Göron family, 'course they'd be out to get her, the hell am I supposed to do if the brass don't want nothin' to do with those damned pirates?"
Actually pretty weak physically, and not really much of a talent in bending either. Overall, his father kinda carried him with money and that sick ass gun. He learned to invoke a spirit though, so I guess he's not a complete failure of a person
Began smoking and gambling at an early age. He has below average luck so he stuck to running the casinos instead of playing in them
Has a knack for kidnapping. It goes without saying that Zanack picked up lockpicking early in his life and is proficient at it
Sticks to earthbending and the teachings of Thelmos. Hard disagrees with anyone who differs to this
"OK, so we're breaking in an ancient old mansion that has 4 lethal threats within it... how do you usually break in?" "Simple! I fly in, break through the library, and steal as much as I can before they chase me down, ze?" "Are you stupid? It's almost like they're letting you do it. Hold on, I have something that should take care of them." It was sleeping gas, the same gas that was supposed to be used for a contract I had to rob the Golden Grin. The original function of this gas was to put the camera room guards to sleep, and my crew would sneak down to the vault, grab The Dentist's loot, and the money. "What else do they have?" "Fairies, devils, and goblins. Ze, I think that's what they have in there..." "Are they immune to gas?" "No..?" "Great, what else, you said there was a time stopping, knife throwing maid, twovampires, and a Chinese lady. That's what the sleeping gas is for, an odorless, colorless agent to make everyone in that mansion go nighty-night for at least 10 minutes. I'm still doubting if it'll work on vampires though..." Breaking into giant mansions and robbing vampires wasn't my gig, like at all. Smashing banks, casinos, and other various compounds were. Assuming Marisa's intelligence was right, I would need to bring sleeping gas to put 2/4 of the lethal threats to sleep. Along with nearly everyone else. To deal with the vampires... I was hesitant to put my brass knuckles on lethal mode or actually hurt someone as I've done it too much during my criminalcareer. I had my specialized handguns, but it was only a last resort. I also brought gas masks, blowtorch, C4, flashbangs, smoke bombs, and weak incendiaries as an emergency tool. Marisa wouldn't be the first woman that I can mentor into being a highly skilled burglar. So I taught her everything I knew. Bribing the right people, casing the place, getting favors done by insiders, intimidating civilians, knocking out guards, avoiding cameras, destroying evidence, stealing as much as possible, and escaping without having the cops on our ass. After hours of planning our burglary, a plan was finally executed. I would preemptively find a blind spot in the mansion and the drone would automatically fly, highlight anyone, and in general, keep tabs on everyone in it. I never used this drone before for my stealth jobs, but judging by contracts like Murky Station and Breakin' Feds, there should be a guard pattern. Of course, the chance for Plan B always exists, so if the vampires caught us, incendiaries and an implanted water cannon in my suit should do the trick, if the maid caught us, flashbangs and gas should be able to disable her, along with cable ties. If not, then maybe threatening to burn down the mansion would. Marisa told me the maid is still human. If the librarian caught us, I would exploit her asthma and use weakened pepper spray to trigger her asthma. All of those were dirty underhanded tactics to survive, but I've done much worse things in the past. Just ask the people that I cheated out of their life savings in Golden Grin, or the jewelsI) stole), or the banks that) I had robbed. Under the cover of night, with my drone inside the mansion highlighting everything, me and Marisa were on the roof, grappling onto the mansion and finding our entry point into the library. I waited to see if my drone marked anyone asleep after releasing the gas, and there it was, the maid fell asleep, the librarian, the Chinese lady, and the fairies and other useless security guards. "Ahh bollocks! The vampires aren't fucking sleeping. Bloody hell." "What do we do now? Ze?" "You have your mask?" "Ze." After getting on top of the library's tower, I found a skylight leading down to what seems to be a library. I tried lockpicking, but for whatever reason, I just couldn't get through. Using the blowtorch, I loosened the lock enough to be able to lockpick, but I had to be careful, if that thing fell onto the floor, Plan A will turn into B faster than my trigger finger when I found The Rat. Opening the skylight barrier, and having information from an insider that there are devils inside there, I prepared smoke bombs to cover our location. I padded my smoke bombs to reduce the bouncing sound that would inevitably be heard when I threw them down. Marisa was going to fly in with her broom, like all witches, but I was going to parachute down with the equipment. I wasn't going to risk adding extra weight until we successfully robbed the library, because I can't fly. Jumping in, masks on, nobody has woken up yet. Good, but I feel like that sleeping gas wasn't going to last for more than 10 minutes. So we were going to work with 7 minutes stealing books, and 3 minutes to GTFO. Dropping smoke bombs in strategic locations, me and Marisa were down in the library, next to the sleeping librarian. "Librarian's pretty hot. If I've gotta say. Hate robbing her. But I would rob her." "I rob her daily, ze!" I took out a timer and the loot bags and Marisa started shoving all the books she wanted into them. 1 minute, 40 seconds elapsed after we last set down the gas. 5:20 left to go, or so I originally thought... noticing movement from the maid, going over to our general location, I warned Marisa that we had only 30 seconds to go before Plan B arrived. This song played in my head and it gave me flashbacks to the Shacklethorne Auction. "Marisa... hurry up with those books, I sense movement to our location!" "That's all I need today! Let's do this tomorrow!" she shouted. OK, there was no way in Hell the maid or the vampires could not of heard that. Unless they were deaf or completely stupid, someone was fated to check that sound. "Patchouli... is everything alright in there?" Marisa, doing her best impression, tried lying, "Yes Sakuya. Everything is fine and dandy." "You sound weird, what's wrong?" "Oh goddammit!" I yelled, "I'm shutting down this operation!" "Wait, what operation?!!" Grabbing Marisa by the arm and the loot bags, I placed her on the broom, sat on it with the loot intact, burnt the parachute, threw smoke grenades at the voice's location, and we flew out of there as fast of possible. Granted we were probably going to get caught regardless, but leaving behind weak evidence of our burglary was much better than having to silence a witness, or two. Flying at high speed, I saw a bunch of knives getting thrown. I managed to catch and deflect a few of them, but Marisa was hit and lost control of her broom temporarily, I still held the loot, but experienced flying fast upside down. Now I feel like those poor bastards who are peer-pressured by their friends to try those giant roller coasters at some overpriced amusement park. Paying attention to the speed and direction of the knives being thrown, I returned fire with 2 flashbangs and used my brass knuckles to summon lightning and chain it through the knives, in hope of stunning the maid, or at catching her off guard. Flying over Marisa's house. I threw her the loot bags and made way to Alice's house. Told her that she's going to need way more practice to be a burglar that can terrorize an entire country. Truth be told, she was much better than Clover when I first taught her my skills, but unlike Clover, Marisa lacked discipline and deceptiveness. Punching my way throughout the Forest of Magic and snapping the neck of plants, I encountered the maid. She probably didn't know that there was a 2nd one, so she asked, "Excuse me Mister. Mister? Have you seen a witch flying quickly throughout the sky. I need to have a few words with her." Acting surprised and giving a false impression of shock. I replied, "No," and she let me go after that. I walked back to Alice's place without any more problems and saw that Alice was opening a portal to Makai. Hox,we'll see Mom again,won't we? Ali... I hope so...
Hopefully helpful 7 days to die remarks/hints part 2
Since apparently last week’s 7 days to die thread was appreciated I thought it would be alright if I made another one this week. Only this time I had a week to write down my thoughts (often while playing 7days myself) so it became quite a monster post, but I’ve marked things in these categories (in order) to make it easier to browse: Temperature management, Food & Drinks, Brass, Mining, Weapons, Locations and Base Building. Again if it comes off as backseat gaming or trying to guide the stream I apologize, but I’ll start at least with a big reveal this time. To the point that I had to research and verify it myself because I couldn’t quite believe it myself since the wiki is sometimes outdated and it’s quite different from the previous versions. Temperature management
Apparently you can’t die directly from hypothermia and heat strokes in this current patch! Those stages are literally not in the game anymore. Although this will probably change next patch so be careful in the far future. But for now the harshest debuffs you’ll get are “Sweltering” and “Freezing”. Both seem really bad when you get them with sweltering having that blinking sun icon and sometimes a “scary” orange border around the screen. While freezing makes your screen all icy. When in actuality hot and sweltering just make you more thirsty when recovering stamina and cold and freezing makes you more hungry when using stamina (aka burning more calories). These can ultimately be life threatening, but realistically at worst the effect is annoying. And even if you’re dehydrated or starving you’ll have plenty of time before you die since you lose only 1 health every 5 (irl) seconds. Hell you can even heal while dying of dehydration like you’re in a battle royale game with food and meds.
It might seem like some sort of bad prank, but I’ve tested it multiple times and asked around on the forums that verified it. And if someone can find something that contradicts this in config/buffs (under elemental debuffs) I would love to see it. But honestly imo to die from weather effects you have to actively try especially since the debuffs have no effect if you’re not using stamina like walking or sitting in a car.
Of course because there are literally no downsides to wearing clothes there’s no harm in looking into laundry baskets and nightstands for wardrobe upgrades. The duster and cowboy hat are especially effective. And to combat the cold you can also always drink coffee, it warms you up and makes sure that stamina regen isn’t a problem. Yucca Juice smoothies are also a possibility, but require more ingredients. And if you ask me why this icy drink gives you cold resistance as if cold is a virus and the yuuca juice smoothie a vaccine I don’t have an answer for you. Unfortunately there are no food or drinks that currently provide heat protection in this version with the exception of fortbites but they only last 2 real life minutes.
Food & Drinks
An easy way to upgrade your normal (clean) bottled water is to add yucca to it. It removes any chance at dysentery, fills up the water meter 50% better and all you need is 2 yucca fruit which are quite abundant and visible in the desert. Plus yucca juice stacks up to 15 instead of 10 and it’s so easy that anyone can do it no recipe or skill required.
Notable canned foods to save for Chef Matt: Chili, Salmon and Sham. Used to make Chili dogs, fish tacos and sham chowder respectively. Unfortunately tuna fish tacos aren’t allowed.
With the right skill book (Art of Mining 4) someone is able to make Blackstrap Coffee. Which will last twice as long at a marginal extra cost of 5 gunpowder.
Brass tacks and tax
Last week I was talking about radiators as a great source of brass. And this remains true, every single (not scrapped) radiator is the equivalent of 40 bullet casings and you don’t even need a wrench just a pickaxe will do. But if you’re brass desperate you can always convert your duke casino tokens into brass at the forge. A full stack of 20000 can give you 3333 bullet casings. And because duke tokens can be converted to brass it’s also highly inadvisable to buy brass at the traders.
That said, to buy solar cells and banks you need quite a bit of money. And just as importantl to buy these things is that you need levels in bartering. With bartering 4 you can find solar cells at the traders, but to buy a solar bank you actually need it maxed out at 5 and of course a bit of luck. And because of that it might not be a bad idea for someone with those levels of bartering to spend a day visiting all the known traders and discovering new ones.
If you have tools or weapons that you want to sell to make some quick money and a large abundance of repair tools consider fixing them up to make a larger amount of money. Since the state of the object partly determines its selling point.
So last week I should have explained better that underneath every single one of those resource rocks on the surface you are guaranteed to find a vein of that respective ore. And not a small one either, you can go for quite a long while before that particular vein runs out and you can even find other ores while mining down. The ores aren’t found exclusively under those rocks but it’s by far the easiest way to find them. Mining has never been easier, but aside from the rainbowy oil shale here are some pictures of what the other resource rocks look like:
If you do however think that you’ve mined out the vein try looking for this material: https://imgur.com/llpAppJ.jpg . It’s gravel and when underground more often than not means that there are ores nearby.
Coal is an awful source of fuel or at least it is in comparison to wood that more than doubles it burn time (50 seconds vs 20). Granted coal is less versatile than wood, but it’s not like wood is a rare resource. Coal on the other hand is vital for gunpowder.
Also if you use the auger and press the button to refuel (default R) while actively drilling something the annoying sound will stop. If you aren’t hitting anything with the drill and you press that button it will just refuel the auger. Unfortunately it doesn’t mute the auger permanently and you need to press it again when you start the auger.
If you work the forge and/or workbench often consider getting points in Advanced Engineering. Since at further levels you’ll decrease the cost of resources made from the forge with an additional bonus reducing the cost of making forged steel. Which can really add up since steel is quite draining.
The amount of irradiated zombies during the last blood moon showed that having the “Rad Remover” mod has become somewhat mandatory during that particular time. Green/Irradiated zombies regenerate their hitpoints quite rapidly and Rad Remover removes their regen factor for 90 seconds. Which is nice during chaotic times like the blood moon. They aren’t terribly hard to make, but you can only learn to make them through reader the proper schematic and not skill points.
Pump shotguns are a thing and a major upgrade from the double barreled shotgun. Being able to shoot way more shells successively and not even an annoyingly long reload. Can be quite expensive to make though and you need the proper schematic. Pump shotguns are also quite rare in the wild, but not absolutely impossible to find in loot or at a trader. As a luxury item breaching slugs are quite cool and if you don’t have lockpicking skills really fun to use against safes. But really everybody should treat yo selves to at least an iron pickaxe.
Just right above your item hotbar you can see a tiny ass line with probably a bit of blue. This blue is basically your xp meter and shows you how far along you are from leveling up.
Finding the right schematic is a great excuse to finally visit the skyscraper city in the south eastern part past the Buff Boys Oil Baron Fields. There is a lot of loot to be found in that city including a huge bookstore and knowledge is power. Plus lots of file cabinets which also contain skill books but also paper which is very useful for making shotgun shells.
Alternatively other fun places to visit are the football stadium and police station north east of the house in the snow biome. In the same biome there’s also the house on the ominous hill with a shotgun messiah store close by. At the same time there’s actually a hill cave just north west of the nearby trader (and the man made tunnel). It’s best to approach this cave from the south and is marked by a single tree that can be seen if you’re south of the road that runs below it. Of course it’s also always possible to go climb the mountains to the west of the base. Here is a map with arrows to these 3 locations: https://imgur.com/xQGI8uW
Unfortunately this isn’t the kind of cave where you can find mushrooms which is quite a rare ingredient for Chef Matt. Luckily there are 2 mushroom locations in relative close proximity of the house and each other. One is a (more elaborate) cave/bunker pretty much south of the house. The entrance is on top of a big hill. It’s essentially a hollowed out hill and it’s marked by a dead tree and a set of stairs going down into the hole. Here you can find mushrooms growing on the walls and ceiling and stuff: https://imgur.com/LYrc4FF.png
The other location is a house with mushrooms being grown in the basement just south east of that hill. This house is in somewhat of a valley so you could take the long way around and follow the road or just simply park your vehicle just north of the hills and make a tiny walk to the house. Or just power through the hills with your vehicle. Here is a map that hopefully makes it all clear on both locations: https://imgur.com/8fN9J7s.png
Potatoes also aren’t a very easy find, but there is a location nearby where you can find a small garden (for some reason in the snow) where there are a couple of potatoes planted. It’s not a huge amount, but with levels in Living off the Land it’s a good start to start the potato farm. Here is the garden and you can just punch the potato plants to harvest them: https://imgur.com/gn96sZz
Base building About basebuilding to survive the blood moon I don’t want to say anything really about design. Because I feel like the fun in building that stuff comes having your own base designs. So here are some general things and maybe one fun idea.
You can’t go wrong with multiple layers, in some ways it’s more of a test of endurance. Possibly with room in between to protect against explosions like the Demolisher zombies (shoot them in the c4).
Which is why I think Trevor had the right idea with a general repair man who has the resources to fix all kind of things. I recently stalemated a zombie horde smashing my vault door while repairing it with my nailgun.
Reinforcing concrete with steel can be quite draining on your supplies. So the most value blocks to steel up would be those next to the door since those will take the most collateral damage. That is after all only if you decide to make a bunker with a door which is partly personal preference as in: Knowing where the zombies will aim for vs. spreading out the damage. And if you do want a door at this point a vault door is essential. Which can be upgraded once placed two more times with steel and a repair tool.
Nothing wrong with making zombies go boom. Explosives aren’t terribly hard or expensive to make especially pipe bombs (hi fbi), but you do need to skill demolitions expert or the proper schematic. Pipe bombs, dynamite, grenades, contact grenades and of course rocket launchers. I would also say mines, but it’s real easy to forget where they are especially when hidden by grass. Speaking from quite a few unfortunate personal experiences here.
I personally like to place a lot of torches around the area I want to defend during the bloodmoon so that it’s easier to see stuff when it’s dark and not use power on spotlights or put the vehicles in dangerous positions. Sometimes low tech is best tech.
Arrow slits are still a thing and I think that the best one to make are the iron variety at a forge. Though they can be upgraded with more iron and then once more with concrete .Wooden ones can be made at a table saw (a new crafting station). They do still hinder shooting somewhat, but they also protect you and the base from cop spit which can be useful. Alternatively there are also iron poles (also from the forge) which limit your vision way less, but also provide a bit less protection. Useful block forms however aren’t my expertise because I mainly build stuff for their aesthetics.
Iron Spikes and barbed fence wire. I would never say no against wooden spikes, but at this point iron spikes should be what you’re aiming for. With each iron spike costing 4 forged iron and created through the workbench or upgraded from wooden spikes. And while barbed fence wire doesn’t do much damage it significantly slows down zombies to the point that it becomes quite easy to shoot them. Not incredibly durable though. Auto turrets can also be good, and I vastly prefer the shotgun turret since it doesn’t eat as much ammo as the submachine gun variant.
Electric fence posts are also quite fun to use and visually appealing, but quite fragile with zombies bumping into them so if possible try and protect them a bit. But they also lose durability when they shock zombies and especially humans. So when (not if) someone steps into the electric fence be prepared to repair them with electric parts.
Here’s a fun idea that I’ve never been able to do, but you might because of the large crew: Bum bait towers. Essentially small towers outside the main bunker of 3x3 and enough height plus possible extensions to make a jump possible. With the idea that one person will stand atop this tower to distract the zombie, give good firing lines s and when the tower is about the give in that person makes the jump to the main bunker (maybe with points in the skill parkour).Somewhat similar to the Bridge of Love of yonder past. Like I said it’s a test of endurance and every hit from a zombie, acid spit from a cop and c4 explosion that these towers take is one that the main bunker doesn’t.
Name: Smoke of the Doused Flame (Tabaxi's have unique af names) Personality: Survival first, allegiance second (Penguin from Gotham). Complete kiss ass while planting ideas of discord throughout the guild until they were capable of overthrowing predecessors. Squirrely, vigilant, Leader of the Silver Hand Guild: guild is well known for cheats, swindlers, assassins, pickpockets with a giant casino attraction. Basically a rogue's paradise, but their's a hierarchy with the idea of "honor amongst thieves" Physique: thin, classic rogue build. Gender neutral body type (want it to be indiscernible) eyepatch/scar over eye. missing fingers/ hand. (play with that as you will. Want them to be "unlucky" like a black cat) jeweled/gilded brass knuckles and a cane. Feel free to take artistic liberties :)
That reminds me of a story. After that last one, I thought you might all enjoy a short follow up. After Al, Chuck, Leo, returned to their other lives back in the world, they kept getting requests from various Agencies and Bureaus for more mine closure data, mostly focusing upon lines of documentation. The various Bureaus desired monographs, road guides, technical reports, and most importantly, detailed step-by-step “How To” manuals. My guys, now my fully credentialed doctored colleagues, were predictably reticent to write up “How To” manuals for something that was obviously not of their authorship nor inception. “Fuckin’-A, Rock,” Leo tells me in a phone call, “They want me to fuckin’ basically claim-jump you writing up mine closing procedures. What’s with these goatfuckers? They figured they paid you enough and are now trying to run a goddamned end around? Collective shitheels. No fucking way I’d even think of crossing, even accidently, the Motherfuckin’ Pro from Dover.” I replied that I had no idea, as after the initial contacts after the field season, I had heard precisely dick from any of the bureaus. Which is fine, as I’m busier than a one-armed paperhanger in a windstorm getting ready to shift the family some 12,700 kilometers east. I thanked Leo for the intel and told him not to worry, it’s just bureaucracy misfiring at its finest. “Fuckin’-A, Bubba,” replies Leo as he hangs up. It suddenly goes all dusty in my office. “I’ve trained that boy well,” I sniff and chuckle heartily. A short while later, Al wrote me that he’s been contacted by the Bureau/Agency and they are desirous that he lead a field trip with a gaggle of professors from various universities. They are also not all geologists, but Environmental Scientists, Hydrologists, something called an “Environmental Engineer,” and other forms of societal detritus. He tells me that they wanted him to lead a group of these characters out into the desert for a couple of weeks and show them the mine closure procedures which he developed. He was most adamant in assuring me that they contacted him, and that the terminology was also theirs. He was already otherwise engaged, so he naturally had to decline. However, he made it abundantly clear that he would never even entertain such a notion like the one they had posited. I wrote him back, as he was down in Patagonia doing something more or less interesting and/or exciting, thanking him for the information and wishing him well on his expedition. Since he was in the field, I also included a couple of the recipes we enjoyed back in the Nevada desert. He later tells me that the Gauchos he was working with down there have never heard of Pineapple Upside Down Cake and they absolutely were delighted by it. Come to find out, they also like potato juice and citrus drinks as well. “Good ol’ Dr. Good-deed. Aide to all men.” I pondered. I talked with Esme about all this and she was of the opinion that either they knew I was headed east or they wanted me to have some time off. I had been doing a lot of ad hoc work for both Agencies and Bureaus over the last few years. “Of course,” I replied, “Never ascribe to malice what can best be defined by governmental bureaucracy and officiousness.” So, time puttered on. We were holding weekly ‘GROJ (Get Rid Of Junk) sales’ on our weekends. Since everything electrical we possessed was 120 VAC, and the rest of the world, it seems, is 220 VAC, I had to part with all my antiquated electronics. My Fisher Studio-Standard stereo system, Akai reel-to-reel 16-track tape machines, EMI TG12345 MK IV recording console, and Harmon-Kardon turntables and amplifiers. It was painful. However, I rationalized, if I were to stick them in storage for a decade or two, I’d have re-paid for them via rental fees a couple or three times over. Plus, and all that sitting unused in a storage locker certainly wouldn’t be good for these vintage electronical gizmos. Still, it was a painful time to pack them into the back of someone else’s vehicle. I had to take all my firearms to my Brother-in-Law for safekeeping. Since he’s in Kentucky, he was both happy to accept and vowed to give them regular workouts. Even though he’s some form or another of mechanical engineer, I guess I could trust him. One day, the home phone rings. It’s Chuck and he’s livid. “Rock!” he hollers, “You know what those chapped bastards at the Bureau want from me? They want me to step in on your turf, and take a clan of idiot pseudo-geologists out in the field for a couple of weeks and train them in mine closing. Can you fucking believe that?” “Chuck,,” I say, “Whoa. Cool down. Leo and Al report the same, so it just looks like you were next on the list. So, going to take them up on their offer?” “Don’t make me laugh, Doc!” Chuck asks, “First: I’m busy. Second: I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to handle logistics, camping, explosives, and all that other bureaucratic horseshit you somehow put up with. Third: I really don’t want a midnight visit from you and your bag of tricks because I’ve pissed you off by taking credit for what’s rightfully yours.” “What is the fucking deal?” I ask Chuck, “I’m not like that at all. Everyone thinks I’m going go out and frag them because the Bureau asks them to do a job I did previously. Damn, I’m the most laid-back, gregarious, and even-tempered person on the planet; and I’ll mutilate the miserable manky motherfucker that says I’m not.” Chuck laughs nervously. “Hyperbole aside,” I continue, “It’s just that they know I’m headed out to the Middle East and don’t want to bother me right now; I suppose.” “Umm, Rock,” Chuck clears his thought, and gulps, “That’s not the reason they told me.” “Is that a fact?” I ask, “What did they give as a reason?” “Now, Rock, don’t take this wrong. This is Bureau-speak, not me,” Chuck wants to make the point vodka-clear, “But they felt you were the wrong person to lead this group of ‘scholars’. They were concerned with your…” Hesitation. “Spill it, Chuck,” I say. “Demeanor,” Chuck says, “Your conduct, your deportment, your behavior…” “I see someone got a Thesaurus for Christmas,” I said. “Rock, that’s them, not me,” Chuck continues, “They said you are too ‘wild and wooly’ to conduct this field expedition of ‘noted scholars’.” “Is that a fact?” I ask, rhetorically. “Just reporting to you what they told me, Bossman.” Chuck offers. “I appreciate it, Chuck. Thanks.” I reply, “Don’t sweat it. I’ll take it from here.” You could hear an audible expression of relief when we broke connection. After a couple of cocktails, I had simmered down a bit. Esme says that I need to call my Agency buddies and get the lowdown on the situation, as they’ll know what’s going on. For once, Esme is also very, very pissed off about the whole situation. Mama Bear’s claws were getting sharpened. “You are gone for months,” Es exclaims, “Train a bunch of greenhorns, exceed project requirements by over 200%, supply crucial scientific data on forensic activities, and take out a disaster they didn’t even know existed in that mine with the locker full of explosives!” “Yeah,” I reply, “Does seem a wee bit unappreciative.” “And then they pull this kind of shit!,” Es yells further, “Those ungrateful bastards. Fuck ‘em. Let them stew in their own futility. They call and you tell them to get stuffed. After all you did for them…” “Now, now, Dearest,” say, “Let me call Rack and Ruin. If anyone has the skinny on all this, they’ll have all the latest dope.” “Bastards!,” Es cries, “You damn near get killed several times over and this is their thanks?” “Yeah, I know, Darling,” I say, “Does seems a bit ungrateful and duplicitous.” Esme hands me the phone. “Phone. Call. Now.” She orders. Looks like I just got my marchin’ orders. “Yes, my love,” I reply. Even I know when I’m out-matched. RING RING RING Agent Rack answers and we go through the usual pleasantries… “What the flying fuck you mean ‘I’m too dangerous’?” I question Agent Rack. “Well, Doctor,” Rack tries to explain, “Your ‘cavalier’ attitude towards explosives. More of your ‘relationship’ with them. Not showing the proper deference…” “WHAT?,” I roar, “Ask anyone that has worked with me in the field! ‘Safety first, last, and foremost’. Just that I don’t fret and quail around explosives like a bunch of phonophobic, jumped-up, wet-pantied shuddering schoolgirls, when I have to demolish something, doesn’t mean I’m anything other than a goddamned consummate professional.” “Plus, Doctor, ” Rack continues, “It’s not the 1880’s any longer. A Stetson? A sidearm? A .454 Casull Magnum at that…” “You have got to be yanking my crank here, Rack.” I angrily reply, as I really hate it when someone calls me Doctor like that, “The hat keeps the sun off my head so I don’t get addled like those fuckers you’re talking with at the Bureau. The sidearm is for safety. Oh, yes; there’s that word again. It’s a fucking tool, just like my Estwing hammers or my galvanometer.” “Can’t kill anyone with a galvanometer,” Rack replies. “But I could with a hammer, myriad ways” I reply, “And give me five minutes, I’d figure out a way to ‘extract’ someone with a galvanometer...” “Doctor, do let me let you talk with Agent Ruin; I’m needed elsewhere,,” he tells me. Agent Ruin takes the phone. It’s the old Agency Two-Step. “Doctor is distraught,” he observes. “No, ‘Doctor’ is just plain damned mad.” I reply, “They contract me for a job that has never been attempted before and I complete it beyond their wildest expectations! This is my recompense?” “Well, Doctor,” Ruin continues, “I’m sure it’s strictly a business decision. It’s obviously nothing personal.” “It sure as fuck sounds personal,” I gripe back, as now I’ve gone from annoyed to genuinely pissed off, “I’m surprised they didn’t say something derogatory about my Hawaiian shirts.” “Oh, they did,” Agent Ruin lets slip. “Oh? OK, Fine. That’s is then,” I reply, “The joyfulness of this whole experience has left the building. Tell them to strike me from their fucking list. I’m done with them. I wash my hands of them. I’m off east anyways. Fuck that bunch of paper-pushing, deskbound, pencil-necked dickheads. Fuck them. Fuck them solid. Fuck them ‘till they bleed.” “Strong message to follow,” I add. “Doctor,” Agent Ruin reminds me, “Do I need to remind you that all our conversations are recorded?” “Oh, fuck no. I know that. So fucking what?” I growl, “Like I’m going to get tossed in Guantanamo for expressing a personal opinion? I can still do that in this fine country. Or has the First Amendment been repealed in my absence?” “Doctor, you’re obviously agitated,’ Ruin adds, “Perhaps we’ll talk again later when you’ve calmed down before you head to the Middle East.” “Yeah, about that,” I reply, “You shady characters can cross me off your fucking list as well. You’ve done nothing for me on this latest concern. Nothing! You couldn’t even give me the courtesy of a motherfucking heads-up. Guess that tells me all I need to know about the future of our relationship. Goodbye, Agent Ruin. Give Agent Rack my ‘Da Svidonya. I won’t be answering your calls any longer. “Doctor, I, um, wait…”Agent Ruin sputters. I continue: “And as long as I’m at it, tell that other Bureau to go hang as well. They want more data or shit from me, tell them to go find it elsewhere. And also tell them good luck with that. The three experts that exist in the world apart from me already told them to get bent. At least they possess loyalty and a dollop of comradeship. I’ll be shipping your phone and other items back via parcel post. Hasta la vista, Herr Ruin. Have a day.” CLICK-KER -FUCKING-SMASH! I hang up in the rudest way possible. “Clapped-out assholes,” I muse. “All those years of working together. All those years of building relationships around the world. It’s all kyboshed over a fucking Hawaiian shirt. I guess it was inevitable. Either I became too specialized or evolved myself out of being useful to them. Ah, well, their loss. Can’t be helped…” I take a healthy swig right from the prime vodka bottle. OK, several. “FUCKERS!” I scream at the wood-paneled ceiling, shaking my fist in vehement rage at the clouds coolly cruising by outside my window. Esme doesn’t come running. She doesn’t have to. She knows the score. I ship the Agency’s toys back to them with a terse note: “Thanks for all the nothing. Here’s your shit back. Dr. Rocknocker. PS: Get stuffed.” Not my best effort, I’ll agree. However, I was really pissed at that point. Now I have the time to devote solely to relocating my family and I overseas. Gad, there’s so much crap one must go through. What to sell, what goes in storage, what to trash, what to give away…the lists are endless. First to go are all my power tools. Fuckbuckets. It took me decades to amass that collection. I got a good price, sure, but now I’m more or less without a hobby. We decide to put all Esme’s lapidary equipment in storage. It’s too specialized to generate much interest, much less a decent price. Besides, they won’t rot in our absence. I can ship my fishing gear and golf clubs overseas. They’re American, but at least not 120 VAC. Our house goes on the market and we have to get it spiffed to within an inch of its life. Got to have that ‘curb appeal’. Good, let someone else do it, I’m busy. More unexpected expense. I give our house contractors out in New Mexico their marching orders. It’s going slow and will be a seasonal thing, but they guarantee me the house will be ready by next summer if they can source the slabs of Baraboo Quartzite I want. Splendid, that’s something I don’t have to follow up on every day. Then there’s our aquarium. 250 gallons of treated Houston water, loaded with native Texan fish and a couple of cranky Jack Dempseys. All the gear, filters, pumps, water polishers, heaters, treaters, all of it. Has to go. My ex-Utah Mormon drinking buddy down the road expresses interest. I basically let him have it gratis on the one condition he takes everything, fish included. He has to keep the fish alive and happy their entire lives. I’ve raised some from minnows and have grown attached to a couple of the gaspergou and a certain smallmouth bass with those big brown eyes… Digger, my stalwart mechanic, is going to purchase my truck. It’s a bittersweet parting, but at least I know it’ll have a great home. Digger is going to use it as both his personal truck and his company’s hot-shot vehicle for pick-up and delivery of everything from batteries to full drivetrains. I know the vehicle will be in good hands. Our Land Rover is up for grabs. Few are interested, though; buyer’s market. It’s a couple of years old and has lots of miles, due to Houston being so stupid-big. I order an extra-large bottle of AstroGlide as I know I’m going to be taking it up the ass on this one… Finally, our pets. Reluctantly, I’ve agreed to take the cat. It’s a stupid little feline that I figure we can just toss in a suitcase and drag it with us overseas. No, I guess we’ll get a cat-carrier and figure it out with the airlines. Then there’s Lady. 135 kilos of dopey puppy. She’s getting up in years, as well, especially for a giant breed. Luckily, overseas we’ll be living on a Western compound. So if we go through all the rigmarole of quarantine, getting her a ‘pet passport’, and shipping via a specialist service, Lady can bark at the tenets of pre-Islam (dogs really aren’t haram), and actually join us in our new home. This is going to cost a fortune, but I don’t care. She’s an integral part of the family, she is going to join us. I find a Pet Relocation Service and begin the masses of insane paperwork. It’s an ‘all-in’ service, basically door-to-door. But do not be deluded, they charge every micrometer of the way. Vaccinations, chipping (she already was fitted with an RFID chip), booking, boarding, securing vet services, obtaining health certificates, securing import permits, dealing with all issues related to customs clearance, interacting with foreign agents, supplying IATA approved crates, and obtaining Municipality tags registration for new arrivals. Gonna cost me a couple-three-four kilobucks. Worth every penny. Esme, the kids and I are working on beginning packing, tossing this, wrapping that, sentimentalizing over the other thing when we get a ring at the door. It’s a bonded courier. He has a package for me. It’s of the size that would contain about 6-months’ worth of Playboy magazines, and has no external address. I sign for the thing and walk back to the kitchen. “What you got there, Rock?” Es asks. “Not sure,” I reply, “But it came via bonded courier.” “Well, open it,” Es smiles. She loves surprises. I do so and it’s a series of articles, re-prints, and other information regarding Nevada, mine closures, and the Mine Closure Act. There’s also a number of newspaper and magazine clippings that had been photo-copied into a dozen-page document. All of them, write-ups and reviews from different newspapers, house organs, and journals citing my work with the guys out in the field. I open it further and there’s a personal note from Dr. Sam Muleshoe, and a certified check, made out in my name. Seems I was correct. After exhausting their leads with Al, Leo, and Chuck, they have spent near a month trying to find someone to take over the project. “To fill my shoes,” as Dr. Sam Muleshoe notes. They came up totally empty. “Told ya’ so.” I gloated. Esme smiles a wide schadenfreude-fueled smile. I look at the check. It’s plenty healthy, but not superhero strength. I show Es and she laughs out loud. “So,” Es whoops, “They think they can get back in your good graces by buying you off? Hah! Fat chance,” she says and regards the check, “Hell. They’re not even close.” I agree with Esme passionately. I write a quick, hand-scribbled note to Dr. Muleshoe, thanking him for the information. I give several options, some admittedly anatomically impossible, regarding what he can do with the check and the Bureau’s offer. I wrap it back up with duct-tape, call the courier service, and return it to Reno, COD. A couple of days later, I receive a phone call. Surprise, surprise, it’s from Reno. “Rock, it’s Reno!,” Es tells me. I shake my head “no!” slicing my hand through the air in the head-chop mime. “Tell him I’ve gone bush in darkest Outer Albania and you have no idea when I’ll be back,” I say. Esme looks a bit sheepish, as we can hear the phone remark: “I can hear you, you know.” “Fuckbuckets,” I think, “OK, hand me the rap-rod.” “Yeah?” I growl, very grizzly-like into the infernal communication device. “Hello, Rock. This is Sam Muleshoe,” the phone reports. “Damn,” I exclaim, “I guess you characters can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Which word fucking confused you?” “Rock, what’s the god damned deal?,” Sam asks innocently, “Why all the bloody hostility?” “Oh, double-fuck me!” I say metaphorically, “Don’t act like you don’t know. Try and snake the latest field mine closing job out from under me and try to snag my guys. Then, when that fails, give some sort of bullshit report to Rack and Ruin. You think I’m ‘too cavalier’, too “wild and wooly’, and think I’m some goddamned 19th-century throwback that loves horrible Hawaiian shirts…” “Doc?,” Sam asks, “Are you currently fucking drunk? What the actual fuck are you rabbeting on about?” “Sam, I’m stone-cold fucking sober,” I reply, “Yeah. I know, that’s a first. But listen here Scooter. You must have balls of brass trying to sweet-talk me into running another field course after all you did…” “Rock,” Sam pleads, “Please, believe me, I have no idea what you’re on about. Can we talk and maybe figure this thing out?” “No!,” I holler, “I’m done talking with the likes of your Bureau. Nothing you can do or say to rebuild the bridges they’ve burned with me.” “OK,” he says, “Doct…, err, Rock, buddy. Calm your tits. Give me the Reader’s Digest version. I’ll look into it, because I have absolutely no idea what this is all about. This really sounds serious, with fuck-up overtones. Trust me, I’m serious as the last cold can of beer on a field trip.” “Marvelous.” I say, “I guess I owe you that much. Professional courtesy. At least one of us has the grit to employ some.” So, I run through the tale of the travails of Al, Chuck, and Leo. Then my little difference of opinion with Agents Rack, Ruin, and the Agency. Plus my severing of ties with both that Agency out on the east coast and the Bureaus in the great American Southwest. “Doctor,” Sam says intently, “I know it’s going to be difficult, but I swear on a box of your finest cigars with a vodka chaser that I didn’t know anything about all this nor did it come from this office. Por favor señor, let me do some digging. I’ll be back in touch.” “Sam,” I say, thinking over the situation, “Yeah…I must apologize for my previous outbursts. I should have known you’re not behind this idiocy. Yeah, go do some fossicking. Let me know what you dig up. Again, sorry. I was a bit…animated.” “Rock,” Sam chuckles, “Do you think that I’d dare anger someone like you? You must think I’ve got a serious case of cranial lithification to cheese-off the Motherfucking Pro from Dover!” At this point, I knew that Sam was also only collateral damage; he too was caught in the crossfire. Ground zero for the original attacks lie elsewhere within the Bureau. Esme and I go back to preparing for our trip coming up in 2 months. But Jesus Q. Christwagons, there’s so much to do. Everything you own; it gets packed, stored, or trashed. It’s the decisions that get so tiring. Keep. Toss. Sell. Burn. Leave on someone’s doorstep. I propose to Es that we just do the basic necessities. Then we hire some firm to finish up for us. It’d be worth the cost since just think what we’d be saving on aspirin and Ace Bandages. Esme readily backs the idea that we should turn the job over to someone else. Plus in the interim, we can take a trip back home to Baja Canada so the kids could visit their grandparents, we visit our family, and all of us could cool out a bit before the big trip east. I need to drop by Big Ray’s Tap for a few hours/days anyways. Old commitments. We’d go the beginning of our last month here in the States, spend a couple of weeks visiting family at home, leave the kids with the grandparents to get spoiled rotten. Es and I would return to Houston to finalize everything. Then Es and I would fly from Houston to that damn sprawling annoyance of an airport on the big lake in Illinoise. The family would meet us there, handover the kids, and we’d all haul ass eastwards to the Middle East. I readily agreed. Anything has to be better than dealing with this crapola. Lady and the stupid cat would go to the pet schleppers a little early. Sure, it’d cost a few more dinars, but that’s one big headache sorted. So, late one afternoon, I’m sitting in my office, trying to figure out exactly what reference works I couldn’t live without. Compton’s? Save. Field Guide to Fungus? Toss. No, wait a minute. Could prove useful. That’s why this is taking forever. The phone rings. It’s Sam. “Hello, Sam,” I say, “What news?” “Goddamn it all to fucking hell and back,” Sam roars. “That’s a unique greeting,” I reply. “I finally drilled down to the bottom of all this horseshit.,” Sam replies, “And it’s a real bowl of fuck all the way south.” “I’m listening,” I say, “Actually, Sam, hold on. I need a drink. Moment.” I give Es the high sign, note it’s Sam on the phone, and that I’ll be in my office if she hears any screaming. I amp up my drink and return to my office, closing the door behind me. Lady is here, waiting to keep my feet warm. “OK Sam, your nickel,” I say, “What’s the scoop?” “Would you believe?,” he begins, “That all batshittery this came from accounting and bookkeeping?” “Well,” I reply, “I’ll have to admit that I’m not overly surprised.” “Yeah,” Sam continues, “I was off on holiday. My first two weeks off after 5 years. My very temporary replacement received a memo from the head of the Bureau that there was great interest in you leading a shortened version of your last trip to demonstrate to a bunch of different university PhDs in the care and feeding of abandoned mines. Seems the Bureau Chief was very impressed with what you and your team accomplished.” “OK,” I reply, “With you so far. So, where did things get wrapped around a tractor’s nuts?” “Right,” he replies, “Here’s where things first went off the rails. Whoever vetted the list of potential attendees sorted the list alphabetically, not by field of expertise. Of course, the obvious first choice would be for geologists; especially those with mining, field, and blasting experience.” “Ah,” I replied, “No wonder it was such a miscellaneous bunch of baloney-loaf whole-grain enviro-types that Al had mentioned.” “Yep,” Sam agreed, “But before anyone with any brains got sight of that list, some fucknuts in the Bureau’s University Liaison department sent out invitations.” “Invitations?” I asked, “To what?” “That’s just the thing,” Sam continued, “They sent out invites to a program that didn’t yet exist, run by someone who had yet to be contacted, much less secured.” “Oh, hey! That’s some good work you guys do down there.” I snort. “Indeed,” Sam agrees, “So once that hit the mail, we started getting back replies and acceptances.” “And there was no project, no leader, no logistics…?” I asked. “No shit,” Sam scoffs. “So, what did these idiots here do? Contact the attendees and explain the problem. Take a little flack, but get it sorted out then try again?” “Let me guess,” I said, “No?” “Nope,” Sam sighs, “By that time, it was in the works and in the hands of accountants.” “Oh, fuck,” I commiserated. “I feel your pain.” “Yeah,” Sam continues, “They see that you’re the hookin’ bull on the last one and they dig into your contract. They figure, ‘Whoa, he’s way too expensive, just look at these expense accounts’, so they do an end-around and contact your colleagues.” “Al, Chuck, and Leo. They’re damn good guys,” I said, “Fine field scientists, all. But I don’t think any of them have the moxie or experience yet to run a whole field course.” “These accounting shitheads never bothered to find out,” Sam groans, “It was all ‘bottom line’, so you got caught in the squeeze.” “OK,” I reply, “I see how that happened, but what about all the shit about me being a 19th-century throwback, that I’m unsafe, wear horrible Hawaiian shirts, and all that shit?” “Comedy of bloody errors,” Sam says, “Actually, the Bureau Chief likes your fashion sense; you should see some of his shirts. But your slime campaign was based on unreliable evidence, tall tales, folklore, and outright fabrications. It was easy to pimp someone with a personality like yours, it’s been said. Someone was trying desperately to cover his ass. However, we have identified the perpetrator.” “Next time I’m in Reno,” I said, “I’ll pay him a friendly little visit and arrange his transport to Neptune. One way. Y’know, it’d be easy for someone with a ‘personality like mine’.” “Ah, yeah. He won’t be here,” Sam says, “In fact, we don’t know where the hell he went. He was immediately sacked, as were a couple of the more boneheaded accountants.” “That’s redundant,” I smirk, “They really don’t want to talk with or see me anytime soon.” “Right, then Rock,” Sam says, “We green again?” “Yeah, Sam,” I reply, “Sure. Green as a New Saigon. But you’ve got to call Rack and Ruin for me. You have to let them know how this whole clusterfuck came to be. We had some words a while back.” “Oh, yeah,” Sam remembers, “I talked with them the other day. They said they’ll be in Houston in a couple of days.” “Cor! Just what I fucking need right now,” I lament. “Ah, it is what it is.” “OK, Rock. Now, back to reality. You interested?” Sam asks. “Send me a JD (job description) and the project particulars. The price of poker’s really going up this time, Sam. Stratospheric. Sorry, it’s all just business.” I relate. “Yeah…,” Sam sighs, “I figure we’ll really owe you if you can drag our ass out of the campfire on this one.” “You have no idea,” I chuckle. We exchange farewells and ring off. Now I have some talking to do with my significant other. Since we were all set to go back to Baja Canada, I could use those two weeks to go to Nevada, if necessary. I can be back in Houston with Es for the last two weeks before we’re slated to travel, and we can sort out the house. “This won’t be an easy sell,” I muse, before chatting with my darling, brilliant, and ever-so-forgiving partner. “I’ll need a drink first”, I declare. Esme notes that it would be nice to have a little spare cash with us when we move overseas. You could have dropped me with a Claymore. Es never fails to flummox me. So, provisional OK from the powers that be. Now all I have to do is wait on Sam’s prospectus. The next day, the doorbell rings. It’s Agents Rack and Ruin. One is holding a box of very expensive cigars, and one is holding a bottle of very expensive bourbon. I turn to Es and remark, “Look here, darlin’. Geeks bearing gifts.” “Hello, Doctor,” Rack says, bristling, “We need to talk. “ “Why?” I ask, “I do seem to recall that I’m no longer associated with you people any longer.” “Doctor,” Agent Ruin cocks his head contritely, bowing ever so slightly, “May we please have a moment of your time?” I look to Es. She shrugs her shoulders. Luckily I’m partial to Es’ opinion. I am also partial to good bourbon and cigars, especially when someone else is paying for them. So I shrug my shoulders as well and tell them to make entry. “My office, “ I say, “You know the way. Mind the boxes.” Once in my office, the Agents stack their offerings and go on in great detail, basically collaborating Sam’s story. I remain steadfast and stony as the Harney Peak Granite of Mr. Rushmore fame. I’m not giving anything away any longer. “Well, Doctor,” Agent Ruin finalizes, “That’s the story, warts and all.” “Yep, it is pretty warty,” I agree, “So?” “We would like to rekindle our relationship,” Agent Rack reports, “These are for starters.” He hands me the cigars and booze; plus another box. “Thanks,” I say, “But just because I accept your peace offerings, that doesn’t mean we’re going to turn back the clock.” “What are you suggesting?” Agent Ruin asks. “No more consulting,” I reply, “I want in. The ‘Full Monty’, as it were. If I’m going overseas and work for some twitchy Middle Eastern sandpit’s national oil company, I want perks, tabs, and my ass duly covered.” “Work two full-time jobs simultaneously?” Agent Rack asks. “However you want to structure it,” I say, “No more consulting. From here on out, you want me, you’re making me a full-fledged full-timer.” Agents Rack and Ruin look at each other, enquiringly. “Doctor,” Agent Rack replies, “We are prepared to offer you an ad hoc Agency appointment. You will be fully attached but you will be also doing your full-time job in the other country.” “I’m listening. Tell me more,” I ask, “What exactly are you offering?” “Full access to all pertinent information,” Agent Ruin continues, “Full entrée to appropriate facilities and, um, assets. Security for you and your family in case of, well, shall; we say, ‘difficulties’. Monthly minimum payment of [$$$] to any non-US bank of your choice. Extra duties would be duly compensated. Top clearances. An enhanced potential payment package, bonus possibilities, and full benefits for you.” “Full benefits for me and my family,” I say, “Or there’s the door. Non-negotiable” I point out. “Very well. That had been anticipated.” Agent Rack replies. “Gentlemen,” I say, “Let us shake on what I hope turns out to be a beautiful relationship.” We shake hands and I sign my life away. I’m really in it now, up to my neck. I have to learn to shut up more and just listen. “Now, gents,” I say, “In order to seal the deal, let us break out the drinking stuff you’ve brought along. We will also smoke together so that we will know there will be no lies or deceit between us.” “Also anticipated, Doctor,” both agents agree. My ‘new’ old colleagues prepare to leave a while later, after a cigar, and far too much of what was a full bottle of expensive gift booze. They always get you in the end. Contained within the other small box were my new Agency credentials, updated version satellite phone, secure codes, and a nifty new Swiss Army Knife, with a built-in cigar cutter. With renewed dedication and expectations all ‘round, Agents Rack and Ruin take their leave. They hope to be able to meet me and the family, remember, they are Uncles Rack and Ruin, overseas one day in the not too distant future. My information, further updated cards, registration, and all that official business guff will come to the specific Middle Eastern country’s US Embassy for me once we arrive and get settled. “Marvelous,” I muse. I receive an Email from Dr. Muleshoe explaining what we talked about and his hopes for my stickhandling a ‘quick’ 2-week field excursion for the approximately 15 Ph.D. types from around North America. Seems there’s a couple of Canadians and one Mexican professor that expressed desires to join. They had actually forwarded funds to be included in our number. Sam suggests I drive out in my truck and proceed as per the last trip. Get the trailer, fill it with noisemakers, and the Bureau would sort out transportation and lodging for the attendees. Seems some want to camp, like real geologists, and some want to lodge in hotels, like real non-geologists. I write Sam back: First item: this is a 2-week sojourn into the desert. It’s a field meeting, emphasis on the field, not a tour of Nevada’s many fine hotels, resorts, and casinos. Item two: I no longer possess my truck. The Bureau will provide me with the appropriate vehicular equivalent. No passengers, this will be the Camp Chief truck from the onset. Besides, I am the only one licensed to drive the vehicle when coupled to an explosives-laden trailer. Item three: I will be flown to and from Reno from Houston. No buses, trains, or automobiles. It’s business class or zilch. Item the fourth: the Bureau will source the necessary support logisticians to provide food, drink, and toilet paper for the 16 professionals while we are in the field. They will also need to provide cooks, dishwashers, camp tidiers, and the like as I don’t have time to deal with 15 potentially field-fresh, whiny waterhead PhDs. Item the fifth: The Bureau will provide for all pre- and post-trip handling of participants. They can handle hotel rooms for the early arrivers or late-stayers. They can manage arrivals, registration, signing of necessary documents, and assuring vaccination records are up to snuff, waivers are signed, etc. They will also handle the transportation of participants to/from and during the field project, when and where necessary. Item the sixth: I include a new version of my contract. Force Majeure, ‘Take or Pay’ clause. Door to door coverage. Plus my, ahem, augmented day rate. Absolutely non-negotiable. Item seven: I have final say over what is done in the field. I am in command, the boss, the head cheese, the head honcho, and I require absolute discipline, especially where explosives are concerned. “My way or the highway” will be the theme of the trip. Gain, non-negotiable. To be continued.
First published in Not Normal, Illinois: Peculiar Fictions from the Flyover, edited by Michael Martone (Quarry Books, 2009):
roman baker stood in the bright and crackling current of light that zipped around in patterned waves underneath the oval canopy entrance to the casino. He wasn't a gambler. The skittering brilliance didn't draw him in and he was already irritated with the piped-out carol music. A twenty, smoothly folded in his pocket, didn't itch him or burn his ass one bit. He had come to the casino because it was just a few days before Christmas and he didn't know how to celebrate. Maybe the electronic bell strum of slot machines would soothe him, or watching the cards spreading from the dealer's hands in arcs and waves. He took a step to the left, toward the cliffs of glass doors. As he opened his hand to push at the door's brass plate and enter, a white man of medium height and wearing a green leather coat pressed his car keys into Roman's palm. Without waiting for a claim ticket, without even looking at Roman beyond the moment it took to ascertain that he was brown and stood before the doors of an Indian casino, the man walked off and was swallowed into the jingling gloom. Roman waited before the doors, holding the keys. All of the valets were occupied. He held up the keys. A few seconds later, he put down his hand and clutched the keys in his fist. No one had seen this happen. Roman turned away from the doors, opened his hand, and saw that one shining key among the other keys belonged to a Jeep Cherokee. Immediately, he spotted the white Cherokee parked idling just beyond the lights of the canopy. An amused little voice in his head said go for it. He didn't think it out, just walked over to the car, got in, and drove away. You couldn't call this stealing, since the guy gave me the keys, Roman told himself, but we are on a slippery slope. He checked at the lighted gauge of the Cherokee, and saw that the tank was nearly empty. There was a Super stop, handy, just down the road. Roman drove up to the bank of pumps and inserted the Cherokee's hose into the gas tank. Eight dollars worth should do it, he thought, and then he wondered. Do what? In the store, he decided he should be methodical, buy something to eat or drink. Afterwards, he would know what to do. The complicated bar of coffee machines drew him, and he stepped up to the grooved aluminum counter, chose a tall white insulated cup, and placed it under a machine's hose labeled French Vanilla. He held the button until the cup was three quarters full, and let the nozzle keep drizzling sweet foam on top. Then he figured out which plastic travel lid matched his cup and pressed it on, over the froth. So as not to burn his hand, he fitted the cup into a little cardboard sleeve. He paid for everything out of his twenty, and walked outside. It was a warm winter night in the middle of a thaw. Bits of moisture hung glittering in the gas-smelling air. There was a very light dust of sparkling fresh snow sinking into the day's brown slush. "A white Christmas, huh?" said a woman's voice, just to the left. "Yes, it will be enchanting," Roman answered. He was the kind of person people spoke to in situations that could easily stay completely impersonal. His face was round, his nose pleasantly blunt, his eyes wide and friendly. His smile was genuine, he had been told. Yet women never stayed with him. Perhaps he was too comfortable, too nurturing, and reminded them of their mothers. Desperate mothers who wanted their children home before dark or wouldn't let them out of sight. Now, in addition to being motherly, plus the kind of person people spoke to on the streets or while pumping their gas, he was the type into whose comfortable palm strange white men trustingly pressed their car keys. And house keys, too, and other keys. Roman jingled the set before his eyes and then fit the correct car key into the lock. He got into the car and carefully set the cappuccino into the cup holder before he drove to the edge of the parking lot. There, he turned on the dome light and opened the glove compartment. He found the car's registration, folded in a clear plastic sleeve, and the proof of insurance, too, with numbers to call. The owner's name was Torvil J. Morson and his address was 2272 West 195th Street, in the closest suburb. Roman took another drink of the milky, sweet, deadly tasting cappuccino. Then he put the cup back into the holder and drove carefully out of the lot. The casino was prosperous because it was just far enough from the city to be considered a Destination Resort, and yet close enough so only an hour's quickly diminishing farmland, pine woods, and snowy fields stood between the reservation boundaries and the long stretch of little towns that had blended via strip malls and housing developments into the biggest population center in that part of the Midwest. Roman knew approximately how far he was from 195th street, and it took him exactly the 45 minutes he'd imagined to get there, find the house, and pull into the driveway, which he wouldn't have done unless he'd seen already that the windows were dark. The house was a small one story ranch style painted the same drab green as the jacket of the man who gave Roman the car keys. Roman got out of the car, walked up to the front door, used the key. Just like that, he entered. Once in, he shut the door behind him and wiped his feet on a rough little welcome mat. The house had its own friendly smell-- slightly stale smoke, cinnamon buns, wet dried sour wool. A powerful streetlight cast a silvery glow through the front picture window. As his eyes adjusted, Roman stepped onto grayish, wall-to-wall carpet, and padded silently across the living room. His heart slowed. The carpeting soothed him. He went straight across the room to the kitchen, divided off by only a counter, and opened the freezer section of the refrigerator. He'd heard that people often kept their jewelry and cash there in case of a burglary or fire. There was a coffee can in the freezer, but it only held ground coffee. A few other promising Tupperware containers held nothing but old stew, alas. Roman shut the insulated door and rubbed his hands together to strike the chill from his fingers. Then he walked down the hall. He stepped into a bedroom, turned on the light. Posters of pop stars, stuffed animals, pencil drawings and dried flowers were taped to the walls. A teenage girl's room. Nothing. He turned out the light and found the master bedroom, the one closest to the bathroom. He was just about to turn on the light when the sound of breathing, or the sense of it, anyway, in the room, stopped his hand. Then it didn't sound like breathing, but something else, sighing and watery. A fish tank, Roman thought. He listened a bit longer, then switched on the light and saw, on a table next to a window, a small plug-in fountain. The water coursed endlessly over an arrangement of smooth, black stones. Roman thought this must belong to the man's wife. He frowned at himself in the dressing room mirror, and adjusted the lapel of his jacket. The wife, or the teen, or another member of the family might return while he was standing in the lighted bedroom. Yet Roman had no prickles up his back, no darts of fear, no sense of apprehension. In fact, he felt as much at home as if he lived in this house himself. He was even tempted to lie down on the big queen-sized bed neatly made up with a purple quilt and pillows arranged upon pillows. Where had he read about this? Goldilocks! This bed looked comfortable. He thought of the three bears. There was a Mrs. Morson for sure, thought Roman. He pictured a bear meditating by the fountain. A meditator probably wasn't the type who would own gold and diamond jewelry, but he still had to check. There was not a safe on the closet floor, or even a velvety box on the top of the dresser or in the drawer that held underwear. No, there was only underwear, and it was decent, fresh cotton. What am I doing, thought Roman, with my hands in Mrs. Morson's underwear? He shut the drawer firmly and sat on the edge of the bed. I'm not going to find any cash, he decided. Mr. Morson has taken it to the casino. Treading down the hall and back across the soft carpet, he felt cheated. What had happened with the car keys was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Roman had never before done anything that was strictly criminal. But this break-in, where he hadn't had to actually break in, this was given to him. It was as though Mr. Morson had invited him to travel to his house and look for valuables. And nothing there! The house was very still now, the street outside utterly deserted, the neighboring houses dim and shut. Roman sat down on the couch, wishing that he had the rest of his cappuccino, but he'd left the cup in the car. There was a tremendous energy to the quiet, it seemed to him, a seething quality. He felt that he should do something bold, or important, with this piece of fate that he'd been handed. As he was thinking of what he might do, someone knocked on the door. Roman's first instinct was not to answer. But the expectant quality of the silence was too much for him. He went to the door and opened it. There stood a woman and a man, both in coats but wearing no scarves or hats. The woman held a wrapped gift. The man carried a crock-pot out of which there issued a faint and delicious, smoky, bean-soup scent. "Oh, thank god!" The woman stepped into the entryway, the man also, both exuding an air of conspiratorial excitement. "Very clever, keeping the lights off," said the man. "But isn't that his car?" "He gave me the keys and I just drove it here," Roman told him. The man gave a scratchy laugh that turned into a cough. "Where should I put this?" He lifted the Crock-Pot slightly. "In the kitchen?" said Roman. "Let's put his presents in there, too," said the woman. "You must work with T.J. Have we met?" "I'm Roman Baker." "You look like an Indian," said the woman. "People tell me that!" said Roman. "Okay, and I'm Willa and that's Buzz with the seven bean soup. It's his specialty. Just the countertop lights! No overhead!" "Right!" Buzz sounded gleeful. "Is Zola back yet? Did she get the cake?" "I think so," said Roman. His skull suddenly felt tight, his eyes scratchy and shifty in their sockets. "I feel bad," he mumbled. "I don't have a gift. Maybe I should go out for sodas or beer." "Oh, T.J. won't notice. T.J. will have a shit fit. I think we should all hide behind the counters and the couch. Will you get the door, Roman?" "Come on in," said Roman, as he opened the door. "Wipe your feet." Two young men and an older woman stood on the steps. One man carried a neatly foil covered bowl. The other held a large, pale, tissue-wrapped gift. "We brought Mom," one of the young men squealed, "she's drunk. She's such a hoot!" "I drank a strawberry wine cooler. I'm loaded," said the elderly lady in a prim and sober voice. "Let me in so I can ditch these two idiots. Does he suspect?" She eyed Roman with a flare of exasperation, her scarlet mouth down-twisted. "Not in the slightest," Roman told her. He helped her out of her coat while the two young men settled their things in the kitchen. "Very clever, all the lights out," the lady muttered, "Zola says he'll pee his pants." "That's pretty much what Willa says, too," Roman told the lady. Steering her toward the couch, he startled himself. A picture formed in his mind. It was himself. Crouched on the carpet. Out of control. Pissing his own pants and howling with surprised mirth. "They're sending me out for more strawberry wine coolers," he said. He patted the woman's hand. "You're an Indian," she said, severely and as if imparting information to him. "A big one," said Roman. The others in the kitchen were whooping with secretive anticipation. Roman touched the keys in his pocket, walked out the door. As he neared the white Cherokee two more people stepped into the driveway, asked him in low and enthralled voices if anybody else was there. "Go on in," Roman told them. "Willa and Buzz are organizing everybody." "Oh God!" said the woman. "I saw his car! I thought he'd got home already. Zola's following us. She'll be here any minute with the cake." Roman jumped into the car, backed down the driveway, and drove the opposite way down the street from the way he guessed Zola would arrive. Back on the turnoff to the highway, he thought, right or left? But it was inevitable. He headed toward the casino. The cappuccino was still warm and on the way there he finished it. He started to feel good. Yes, he had been given the Morson's keys, the keys to their life, and he'd visited that life. Enough. Nothing had happened after all. He hadn't taken anything except this car--for a drive. As he neared the vast casino parking lot he slowed and carefully reconnoitered, watching for extra security or flashing lights in case the Cherokee had been reported stolen. But all was bright and calm. Gamblers were walking to and fro, those who had self-parked. Others were waiting with their claim tickets on the swirl patterned carpet in the lobby underneath the lighted canopy. Roman eased the car into a marked space cautiously, far from the activity, and took his empty cappuccino cup with him before he locked the car's door. That was your little adventure, he told himself. Now what? But he knew what. He walked back to the casino entrance and walked through, into the icy bells and plucking, continual ring that did predictable and pleasurable things to his central nervous system. He breathed faster in excitement. Possibly, the sound depressed left brain action. He felt connected to an irrational and urgent universe of lucky chance. His fingers twitched. First things first. He scanned the seated players looking for the green leather jacket, which was all he remembered about Morson. He decided to make a sweep, starting at the far end of the casino, checking the men's room first. He went up each row and down each row, passed behind each glazed, ghostly player. It took so long that he thought of giving up and simply turning the keys in at the lost and found. But then, there was T.J. Morson, green jacket slung behind him, staring into the lighted tumble of little pirate cove symbols on his machine's curved torso. Roman tapped his shoulder and Morson waved him off, not to be bothered. Roman watched the man shove in three more quarters and hold his breath. Then sit back, dazed, rub his hand over his face. Roman touched his shoulder again. "Happy Birthday." "What?" Morson turned and focused on him. His face was clean-cut and perfectly square, a solid Norwegian jawline, pale eyes, hair already white and thin, a little tousled. He was falling into heaviness around the neck and then below, like Roman, it was pretty close to a lost cause. Roman dangled the keys. "You dropped these, I think?" Morson slapped the pockets of his pants. "For God sakes, thought I had it parked!" Roman gave him the keys and turned to go, but he couldn't, not quite. He took a last look at Mr. Morson and saw that something was very wrong with him. T.J. Morson was sitting there with his mouth open, staring at the car keys. Not moving. "Hey," Roman bent toward him, then waved his hand before the man's eyes, "you okay?" "No," said Mr. Morson. He shut his mouth and then slowly, like a very old man, stood and shrugged on his jacket. He dropped the keys, picked them up. Sat back down and stared once more at the machine. Slowly, from his pants pocket, he drew a bit of change. Held it out questioningly to Roman, who rummaged in his own pocket and exchanged what Mr. Morson offered for a quarter. Morson held it a moment, then played it. Nothing. "You okay?" Roman asked again. But Morson was staring vacantly before him. His mouth was open and his hands were shaking. "Not all right, not all right," he muttered. "Hey," said Roman, "come on. Get up. Let's go sit in the cafe. I'll buy you a coffee." "What I need is a drink." "Yeah, well, maybe." Roman helped steady Mr. Morson. They walked down the aisle of light and sound, along a short hallway, and into a small interior restaurant where the waitress gave them a booth for two and poured their coffee. "Cream. Lots of it. Thanks," Roman told her. She left the pot and a bowl of tiny plastic servings of flavored half-and-half. "Thank you," said T.J. Morson, staring at the brown pottery cup. "And thank you for returning my car keys." His voice was heavy as a pour of concrete. The syllables seemed to harden as they fell from his mouth. "Well," he looked up, scanned the country-themed room, "this is it." "What are you talking about?" asked Roman. Morson put his face in his hands and then slowly pushed his hands up his face and over his hair. "That was it," he said again. "Listen." Roman was beginning to feel alarmed. "It's your birthday. You should be heading home." He thought of all the excited people waiting in the living room of the Morson house, crouched behind the sofa and chairs and kitchen counters, the lights off. "Weren't you supposed to be home a while ago?" Mr. Morson looked at Roman, frowning now, momentarily distracted. "Who are you?" "I'm a friend of Buzz and Willa," Roman told him. "Look, I'm going to let you in on something that's going to cheer you up. You've got to go home now. I'm not supposed to say a thing about it, but they're planning a surprise party in your honor. Zola's got the cake. Even as we speak, they are in your house, waiting for you. They have presents." Telling this to Morson was surprisingly difficult. Roman felt the bleeding sensation of envy when he imagined stepping onto the warm, thick carpet. The blast of noise from friends. The bean soup. Beer. Cake. Mr. Morson said nothing. "You can't just leave them waiting there." Roman heard a note of accusing desperation in his voice. Morson shook his head, now, as though his misery was a fall of water washing over him. His brilliant white hair lifted in the staticky air. Roman felt like reaching over and patting it down, but he kept his hand curled around his coffee cup. "Fuck's sake, I can't go back there," said Morson wearily. "They don't know. Zola has no idea about this . . ." he waved his hand toward the casino through the glass doors of the restaurant. "I play when she's at work, when I'm supposed to be at work, except I don't have a job, see. That's over. She doesn't know I put a second mortgage on our house, a line of credit, then topped it. Cleaned out every one of our accounts." He stared fiercely, disconnectedly, at Roman. "There's nothing," he said. His mouth was suddenly and frighteningly sharklike, an impersonal black hungry v. A bubble of spit formed at either corner. "They'll take the house and then my car. They'll take her car. And Kayla . . . Oh god." Morson dropped his face into the bowl of his hands. Roman thought he might either break down and sob or leap up and rake his fingers down the wallpaper. Which would it be? He was feeling oddly disconnected. Maybe this was the way a shrink felt, listening to the woes of a client from behind a clear shield of therapeutic immunity. With a thick, jerky movement, T.J. Morson struck his hands together. "I don't even smoke," he said as though appealing to Roman, "I don't drink. But this ..." again he waved at the lights and bells outside the door. "I think, I know, I had the vision or whatever, that because it was my birthday I could turn it all around if I had just, say, a couple hundred. And I knew where to get it. So today after Zola went to work and Kayla was at school, I sneaked back to the house and I searched Kayla's room. She has this little passbook savings account with me as her co-signer. But where does she keep the passbook? So I dug through the stuff in her drawers, her closets. Can you imagine this?" Roman's mouth opened. Better than you know, he thought. But Morson went on quickly, "I found her secret things. They were under the bed, in this cigar box she had covered on top with a piece of paper. You wouldn't believe this knowing how sweet Kayla is, what a good girl. The box was labeled with a purple marker fuck with kayla and you die. Here she's a good little student, all As or Bs, never given anybody whatsoever any trouble in her life before. So this tough little message ... I mean . . ." Morson stopped and drank some coffee. "It got to you," said Roman. "Yeah," said Morson. "Anyway, I took the passbook. Withdrew two hundred and eighteen dollars worth of baby-sitting money." Roman nodded, poured another coffee for himself and stirred in three creamers. And yet, he thought. Here is a man for whom people will give a surprise party. Roman tapped the sugar packets, drank the rest of the coffee, put the money down on top of the check. "I have to get out of here," he said to Morson, who stared at him for a moment, then widened his eyes and broke the look off with a cunning little grin. T.J. Morson followed Roman out the door of the cafe. On the way past the banks of moving lights and bells and trilling knockers, he said, "C'mon. I hit, we'll split." Roman kept walking. Morson grabbed the sleeve of his jacket. "Please," he said. Roman started at the sight of him. Morson's eyes were rolled back so the whites showed. His lips were drawn away from his gums in a guilty snarl. Roman felt in his pocket, flipped out a quarter. Morson opened the hand that held the car keys. Roman took the keys and gave the quarter to Morson, who played it. The two men watched the rolling tabs of symbols spin over and over, whirling, clicking into place in a disparate row. "Okay, you satisfied?" said Roman. Morson wiped his hands slowly on his hips and then followed Roman out the doors, across the gleaming, wet parking lot, over to the Cherokee. Roman still had the keys. He opened the doors and got into the driver's side. Passive, concentrating on something invisible just before him, Morson got into the passenger's seat and shut his eyes. But suddenly, as Roman pulled out of the parking space onto the highway, Morson mumbled "thanks anyway," and opened his door to jump out. Roman managed to hook his hand in the collar of Morson's slippery jacket, and as he brought the car to a halt on the shoulder, he yanked the man back toward him with such surprising force that Morson's face smashed into the side of the steering wheel. There was an instant and surprising amount of blood. "Don't worry," said Morson, his nose behind his hands, "I get these things real bad." There was a girl's striped knit stocking cap in his door's side pocket. Morson grabbed it and put it to his face. Then he said, "look, I'll just go clean up." He jumped out the door with the cap on his face, and was gone. Roman pulled ahead about thirty feet into a blind driveway and shut off the engine. He found the lever next to the seat that dropped it backwards a few inches. He rested. A peaceful energy flowed through him. He nearly slept. Fifteen minutes, then half an hour passed. Traffic flowed by, snarled behind him, flowed again. A few people crossed before him at the far edge of an overflow lot. They swiftly entered their cars and drove away. Roman dozed another ten minutes and then he suddenly snapped to. He started the car and drove off. As he pulled back onto the highway a screeching ambulance barreled past. The casino was filled with Senior Citizens and Roman imagined a whole scenario--a big payout, an old man elated, then clutching at his heart. This fantasy gave him the idea, as he drove toward Morson's house, of something he could say to get Morson off the hook. It wasn't that he liked Morson, but his friends were so eager, so well-meaning. It wasn't right to disappoint them. Things were going to be so bad with Morson that there was no way to make them worse. Roman decided he would announce that Morson was dead. He'd use that same scenario--payout, heart attack--and then while the pandemonium of reaction occurred he'd simply disappear. When Morson finally did show up his being broke would not be quite as bad, at least, as being dead. Roman's lie would confuse the issue, muddy the waters, give Zola and the others a pause before they condemned. There seemed no harm in it as far as Roman could see, considering what Zola and Kayla were in for anyway. At least they would have the joy of having their worst fears reversed! Roman arrived at the house and parked in the driveway--still empty in order to fool Morson into thinking that the house was deserted. Yet all the lights were on. The little house was blazing. Roman walked up the steps and then tentatively eased the door open and poked his head around the side. He remembered to set his features in a look of tragic concern. He nearly jumped back out. All of the people he'd met before were standing or sitting at attention in the living room. They returned his look with identical stares. "We know already," said the terse old lady who'd been drinking strawberry wine coolers. "He had his I.D. right on him, phone number. Kyle took Zola to the emergency room. Zola just called two seconds ago." "Come on in," said Buzz. "Take a load off. I'll get you a beer. In fact," he said, "let's eat. It's some kind of custom that we all should eat together at a time like this." Roman sat down on one end of the couch, leaned back into a stiff pillow. He looked down at his knees, then accepted a bowl of bean soup when it appeared in his line of vision. The bowl was warm and pleasant in his hands. "They told Zola that he'd crossed the casino's main intersection, running. What is that, two lanes? Not so far, really." "Four lanes," said Roman. "Oh," said someone, "then." "Zola said he was not quite DOA," said Buss, "but next thing to it. There just wasn't a thing they could do." Now the others had bowls of soup, and bread, and were busily arranging themselves, patting napkins onto their knees, balancing coffee cups, offering butter around the group. "We shouldn't eat the cake." "I agree," said Willa. "We should have his cake at the funeral dinner." "Are you going to go?" She addressed Roman. He looked at her. "It can't be true!" Willa apologized. "I've never been much for denial. I go straight to acceptance. That's just me." "You don't need to think that far ahead," said Buzz. He touched Roman's arm. "In fact, don't think ahead at all." Buzz put down his bowl of soup and sank forward, elbows on his knees. He cupped his hands over his head and leaned over like someone about to be sick. He stayed that way, motionless. Willa put her hand on his back and patted him with slow, regular beats. She looked over at Roman. "Go on, eat your soup," she whispered. "It's okay." Roman placed a spoonful of the soup in his mouth. A moment passed before he realized that the taste was unusually good. Something gave depth to the taste. Roman looked at Buzz, still hunched over. His specialty, he remembered. Maybe Buzz simmered his beans with garlic, or wine, or some kind of herb. Maybe it was the sorrow, or the strangeness. Perhaps Buzz had added a few drops from a vial of Liquid Smoke. Then again a ham bone. Or the fact that these beans were all different types. Roman finished the bowl and put it down. "You want another?" said Willa. "It's good," Roman nodded. She got up to refill the bowl and Roman took over patting Buzz on the back, slow and regular, two or three pats to each of his sighing breaths. He kept feeling the wrench when he'd pulled Morson toward him, in the car, the way Morson had twisted, striking the bridge of his nose. There was the weight of Morson off balance, in his arms, the smell of his hair tonic, aftershave, and the smoke of the casino and the coffee on his breath. Now here he was eating Morson's bean soup with Morson's friends and no doubt in two or three days he would be tasting Morson's cake. Roman shut his eyes. His thoughts flickered. "I'll be right back." He set the beer down, got up, walked down the hall just like an old friend who knew the place. He opened the door to Kayla's room, walked in, shut the door behind him and knelt on the floor beside her bed. Reaching underneath, he groped for and found the box that he could see, once he turned on her little homework lamp, was indeed labeled fuck with kayla and you die. He handled it carefully. You shouldn't have fucked with Kayla. Psychic time bomb for the girl, though, wasn't it? Morson had replaced her little passbook. Roman flipped to the last page, then tore out a deposit slip. Same bank as his. Anyone could make a transfer, he supposed. He put the passbook back, lay the cigar box on the floor and snapped the sides flat. Then he slipped the box back underneath the bed. He walked back to the living room, passed behind an intense discussion of who should go now to the hospital, who was needed, what arrangements. In the kitchen, he paused at the sink for a drink of warmish, chemical-tasting suburb water. He set the keys to the Cherokee on the counter. Then he slipped out the back door.
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