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10 Marvel Movie Heroes that Stan Lee DIDN’T Create

 

by: Miguel Cima

If you think Stan Lee is the most important name in comics – not so fast. First of all, there’s reason to question just how much credit he deserves for creating all those famous Marvel Comics superheroes (see Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko for that conversation). But more importantly, Lee stopped being a primary creative force for Marvel in just a few years after the initial superhero explosion in 1961. Plenty of huge characters came after Lee’s tenure – and some even came before. And yet audiences can’t help it. They think Marvel, they think Stan Lee. Who can blame them? The fact is that Stan Lee’s greatest talent has always been promoting Stan Lee. His personal branding skills and almost automatic tendency to shamelessly hog credit have crafted the iconic image of the daddy of all of Marvel. So now, let’s set the record straight. Besides the debate of who-really-created-what, there are a boatload of famous Marvel movie superheroes Lee had absolutely NOTHING to do with. Here’s ten just to get you started, putting a light on the creators that “Funky Flashman” left behind.

 

  1. Howard the Duck
  2. Trapped in a world he never made! Believe it or not, our feathered friend was the very first Marvel character to get his own feature film back in 1986. He has no superpowers, other than his mastery of Quak-Fu, and, yeah, he’s a talking duck from another dimension. This uber-weird character is in fact the brain child of writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Meyrik who were trying to infuse some metaphysical counter-culture in to the kinda-getting-square Marvel Universe. This happened in 1973, two years after Stan stopped writing comics.So Howard’s no feather in his cap.
  3. Blade
  4. I guess 1973 was a good year for post-Stan heroes at Marvel. Appearing in the horror line title Tomb of Dracula, the fearless vampire hunter was co-created by writer Marv Wolfman (yes, that’s his real name!) and artist Steve Gerber (who actually drew most of Howard the Duck’s initial comics run). It was a busy time to add characters of color in mainstream funnybooks, and while it would be 20 years before he got a serious solo title of his own, Blade made plenty of rounds in comics pages. Eventually, he becomes a huge franchise star, three movies deep, and no direct Lee influence whatsoever.
  5. Captain America
  6. What’s that you say? Stan Lee didn’t create good ol’ Cap? But he’s an original Avenger! Actually, he’s not, didn’t make it until his frozen, reanimated body was discovered by Iron Man, Giant Man, Thor and the Wasp in Avengers #4, dated 1963. In fact, Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby back in 1940, when teenaged Stan Lee was the office boy refilling inkpots and grabbing coffee and sandwiches for the adults in the room. And he only got that job because the publisher was his cousin’s husband! Sorry Stan, you had no hand in this box office blockbuster’s initial creation. Yeah, sure, he co-wrote a bunch of stories later on, but so did a million other guys.
  7. Wolverine
  8. Following along the diversity trend, somebody at Marvel figured 1974 was a good time to add a Canadian superhero to the lore. Writer Len Wein and artist John Romita Sr. introduced everybody’s favorite feral slasher as a supporting character in The Incredible Hulk #180 (cameo) and #181 (first full appearance). First on pencil duties was legendary Hulk artist Herb Trimpe. At the time, nobody had any idea how huge of an international star our animalistic Logan would become. Certainly not Stan Lee, who by this point was more of a front man for Marvel rather than any sort of creative force.
  9. The Punisher
  10. Close, but no cigar, Stan. The last issue of The Amazing Spider-Man that Mr. Lee is credited as writing is #110, which came out in 1972. A mere 18 months later, this armed-to-the-teeth vigilante would tangle with Marvel’s resident web-slinger, first as a villain, later becoming a sort of grey-area hero. While no one disputes that writer Gerry Conway created him and artist John Romita Sr. helped design him, Stan claims he helped come up with the character’s name as editor-in-chief at the time (Conway had first suggested the name “Assassin”). But then, Stan has made a lot of claims which are dubious. Just has to dip his beak anywhere he can! Anyway, artist Ross Andru was the first guy to fully render Punny in a full comic, more of a father than Lee!
  11. Ghost Rider
  12. A flaming skull-headed badass from hell on a motorcycle – what’s not to like? And it’s a good thing Stan had no part in this one. Writer Gary Friedrich would eventually take Marvel to court claiming full credit for the character’s creation back in 1972. Co-writer and Marvel editor Roy Thomas also said he helped come up with the demonic biker. And let’s not forget original artist Mike Ploog, who says the whole design was his idea. Well, there was an “amicablesettlement” in 2013, but for once, Stan was smart enough not to jump in and get involved somehow. This satanic roller is pure, 100% not-Lee.
  13. Deadpool
  14. And now we skip all the way up to the 1990’s. At this point, Stan isn’t really active in any major way at Marvel. He’s got an emeritus title and would soon be gearing up to actually sue his old comic company! But that’s another story. The Merc with a Mouth was in fact created by artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza, appearing in 1991’s New Mutants #98. So not every X-Man related character sprang from Stan’s loins (not by a long shot, actually). And besides Wolverine, it’s safe to say Deadpool is the most popular cinematic Marvel Mutant ever.
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy
  16. What’s that? An entire team from one of the hugest Marvel Cinematic Universe’s franchise series? And Stan Lee had nothing to do with their creation? Must be from the 90’s again. Except, nope, the GotG first appeared in 1969, right at the tail end of Lee’s tenure as a writer at the comic company. The guys who first conjured our space heroes were in fact writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan. The duo dropped these space heroes as a backup feature in issue #18 of Marvel Super-Heroes. Not only that, but the rotating members over the years came from a multitude of non-Lee minds. Drax is firmly a Jim Starlin 70’s creation, for example, while Rocket Raccoon is the brainchild of writer Bill Mantlo. But wait! Plant-person Groot was partially created by Stan Lee, right? In Tales to Astonish #13 (1960) along with Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber and Dick Ayers. But back then, he was just another alien invader. It wasn’t until 2006 when he was reimagined as a hero. OK, partial-partial-partial credit, Stan!
  17. Elektra
  18. Few people redefined comics the way artist/writer Frank Miller did on his run in Creating a pastiche of a scary dark New York City riddled with organized crime, Miller introduced an element of film noir and eventually, a mystical backstory on our gritty street-level blind fighter. In 1980, he introduced the assassin Elektra, who was not only a deadly ninja, but also in league with a demon called The Beast hell-bent on destroying the world. Along with later works like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Miller took comics far away from the colorful Stan Lee days of good guys and bad guys, and into a darker place, where people like Elektra were at once totally evil and totally redeemable. Lee could never write something so nuanced.
  19. Jessica Jones
  20. OK, OK, I’m cheating. This lovely ass-kicking heroine is technically on TV, but hey! We need some more feminine energy to round out the article! Like all but one of her The Defenders TV colleagues, Stan had nothing to do with creating Ms. Jones. In fact, she was created in 2001 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos as a sort of super-private eye. First appearing in Alias #1, she’s the only true millennial on this list, decades away from anytime that Stan Lee was making characters for comics (or really, for much of anyone). And she’s obviously a LOT more famous than say, Stripperella. Who? Just some superhero character that Stan Lee created, no reason you should know her.

Drug Run – Chapter Six: Trouble Road

 

Editor’s Note: For the first five chapters, scroll down to the bolded sentence at the end of Chapter Six

 

by Dr. Rocket with Ms. Gonzo

 

Last time, as you recall, rock singer Suze Benson, hired by two brothers to drive a van full of drugs from Texas to L.A., single-handedly foiled a break-in on the illicit cargo while parked overnight at a motel. Now the trio, driving in the van and a back-up car, set out for California in the morning light, never imagining the disruption was caused by Imants Hasselburger, the son of one of the most powerful and unscrupulous operatives in the FBI. Imants’ longtime obsessive craving to wed Suze meant the drug run was in serious danger. 
The trouble began almost immediately. Just a few miles out of town traffic slowed to a crawl, then stopped. Ahead of them, people were out of their cars, trying to see what was holding them up. Over a rise in the road, thick clouds of sooty black smoke were billowing into the Texas sky.

Billy and Rob had a brief discussion on the CB with truckers up ahead, who glumly informed them that an oil tanker had jackknifed and was in flames. There was no way around the mess just yet. Emergency vehicles, sirens wailing, tore past in the oncoming lane as Billy scanned his Texaco road map, feet again on the dashboard. The radio droned at low volume, and the air conditioner sighed cool air their way. It was already nearly ninety and getting warmer.

Eight cars back, Imants prayed for deliverance from the Devil. He was sure the Evil One was near, directing events. He felt a burst of fear, hoping Suze would fail to notice his father’s Monte Carlo. It took him a moment to remember she had never seen the vehicle, and there was nothing to worry about. His father, that was something to worry about.

The immediate problem was how to explain to his father on the phone about his taking the car. His father liked to rage, and didn’t like surprises. He was due to return to Texas in a few days from one of his business trips to Washington D.C.. Imants shook his head. If he couldn’t explain his actions to himself, trying to explain them to his irritable progenitor would be impossible. He shivered in befuddled mania. He had to slow down the caravaning vehicles, but how?

Imants’ father sat in the airline seat, reading the Washington Post but unable to concentrate on the story. He was grateful for the empty seat next to him as he folded the paper and put it down. His lips pursed in annoyance, he reviewed the options regarding his missing car and his troubled boy.

If Imants hadn’t returned with his car, he could go to the local and state police with an all-points bulletin. Deeply embarrassing, of course, but there would be more eyes looking than just the Dallas FBI agents. Even telling just his own people was humiliating enough. So that left doing nothing, or… perhaps a secret operation by his core group. Trusted allies to a man. But he hated owing favors. Hasselburger’s fingers closed into fists. He’d get to the bottom of this, and then…

Axel Hasselburger relaxed and sighed. Imants had snapped. It was that degenerate girl.

Far the west, Suze, behind the wheel of the traffic-immobilized van, also sighed. Stuck in a road jammed up, and driving a huge load of pot! She looked at Billy, who was still studying the map. She thought about asking Rob, stopped just behind them, to get the novel she was reading out of her suitcase in the trunk of his Olds. But it might draw attention. Probably a bad idea. She looked over at Billy again, and, feeling her gaze, he looked up and then at her. Slowly, he gave her a wicked grin.

“Yessss?” he drawled in his deep voice. His grin grew even bigger. “You know, you are the hottest woman I have ever seen nekkid.”

“You naughty young man.” She smiled briefly but made a dismissive gesture. But she started to tingle, reminded that he and Rob had indeed gotten quite an eyeful when they had charged out their door at the motel. Change the topic, quick. “Well, do you see a local road around this mess on the map?”

Billy started to explain but the CD crackled to life. “Wheatbread, you have a bogey approaching on foot. Driver’s side.”

A cop. Here’s where those acting classes come in handy. She lowered the window, and studied the approaching officer, who was walking down the center of road. About 50, hair white already around the ears, tired look. Brightening a little at the sight of her. I can do this, he’s just a man.

The patrolman nodded at her politely. “Morning, ma’am. Looks like another 20 minutes or so until we can clear a lane.” His eyes flicked over to Billy, and back to her.

“Is everyone ok?” She listened to herself critically.

“No, ma’am. Couple fatalities. Once traffic resumes, drive safe.” He gazed at her an extra moment, then moved on towards Rob’s Oldsmobile.

“Thanks, officer.” Despite her interior quaking, she felt a sudden surge of compassion. What were her problems, after all? Nothing, compared to some, nothing, nothing.

She rolled the window back up and looked over at Billy, who appeared perfectly calm. “Well that wasn’t too bad,” she said evenly. He raised his eyes high and puffed out his cheeks at her in pretend horror, and they both began laughing. She impulsively reached out to hold his hand, and they laughed harder for some time, nearly gasping as they whooped in relief, safe and sound and just a bit mad in the big white van.

There was no sign of the traffic moving again thirty minutes later, and Rob was becoming increasingly anxious. A detour would take them an hour over farm roads, and he wanted to avoid that. At least the clouds of black smoke were dissipating now, and that fact had to be a good sign. But he shook his head impatiently at how long it was taking.

Rob was aware that he was a bit jealous of Billy, riding with the luscious Suze whom Rob was hoping to seduce at some point during the drive. His decision to have her join them had literally been made at the last moment when he realized his first choice for the mission was not going to show.

Now that he’d driven behind her as she operated the van, he decided she was a solid driver. Maybe drove a bit too fast, though her instincts were probably correct. Most people were driving over 60 anyway. And she had apparently dealt with that patrolman well just now.

He didn’t think Billy was her type anyway, deep down, and he felt that two drivers were safest in the cargo van. Rob hated anyone driving his Olds, especially Billy. So a couple days on the road, and then L.A., the city of dreams and destiny. Who knew what would happen? He allowed himself a moment of pleasant fantasy, but it faded. What was that noise? That comin’ from the van?

It was. Billy and Suze were singing along with the radio, which was playing David Bowie’s hit “Fame.” They sang with the sped up and slowed down hook, with the lyrics and even with with the grooving guitar, cackling with laughter at intervals, not minding the delay a bit. Indeed, Suze was hugely enjoying herself.

Damn, she abruptly realized, I haven’t been this happy with a man since before… her mind pushed that thought away, and she and Billy, both familiar with the tune, sang along with words, “Is it any wonder, I’ll reject you first?” and then off again into gales of laughter.

Further back in the line of stopped vehicles, Imants felt determined to do something, anything. Slowly a course of action formed up. He reached into his father’s Gladstone bag, and felt around. There, that was it. The switchblade. He popped the blade out, opened the car door and walked casually up the line of cars on the dirt shoulder, sizing up the situation. The driver of the car behind the Olds had gotten out and was chatting with a couple other likewise disgruntled drivers who stood across the road. Imants ducked down and, with a knife, slashed several long parallel cuts in the rear tire, not deep enough to pop the tire, but fairly deep.

Rob only noticed Imants in the rear view mirror as he walked away, but didn’t have time to wonder what was going on. The CB had burst into life with Billy’s voice. “Hey, Rootin’ Tootin’, it’s lookin’ like we might be moving on here.”

“That’s a big ten-four, buddy.”

Suze sighed as the pickup truck in front of them started its engine. Why were the fun parts of life so damn short? I really like this kid, stealing a glance at Billy. I know what it is, I feel natural around him. Like I can just be myself. Doesn’t happen very often.

She watched for the traffic to start up, wondering about the nature of being natural. What exactly happened there, and more to the point, why was she getting hot for a boy years younger than her? Better be careful. I guess.

Billy gave a moderate whoop. “All right, cars are moving up ahead. We be back on track.” Suze nodded and decided to clear her mind of all the thoughts. Let’s get going, movin’ on. She put the van in drive and joined the slowly moving, many-segmented snake of traffic as it began to crawl. Behind the van, two men in separate cars also started them in motion, and with expressions on their faces that were remarkably similar in their grim determination.
To be continued in Chapter Seven: Blowout

 

And now, for the first time, all the previous chapters of Drug Run, One through Five, complete!

 

 

Chapter One: The Big Money

 

 

The capacity crowd at Wild Bill’s Saloon were wildly yet amiably drunk that late August night, and some had also gotten high out in the parking lot. All were on their feet. The sweaty young Texas hipsters knew that this was the final performance of Suze’s band, and many in the crowd were her loyal fans that had packed the dive full every Friday for the last three months. They shouted, driven into a frenzy that was electrifyingly tribal.

Suze, inspired, threw every last trick she had at the revelers. Her vocal chops were up, and she felt locked in with the band as they pounded out tune after tune in sequence, barely stopping between the songs. Suze grinned in triumph. They had never sounded better.

“You’ve got to shake your money maker,” she shouted, wagging her rump for emphasis. Most of the men and not a few of the women yowled for joy at her antics as she sang the old blues tune Elmore James had recorded back at the start of the 60’s. “Last tune, let’s give it everything we got,” Suze laughed. The guitar player grinned and responded with a scorching slide guitar riff, making the crowd roar yet again.

Suze and her band were indeed all over after tonight, and she was fleeing her home town of Garland to escape to California for multiple reasons. She belted out her vocals joyously, the band throbbing beneath her soaring voice like a pump. She danced and whirled in a trance, and fed off the music and crowd with gleeful abandon.

“More,” came the chant for an encore, and Suze was ready. “I just wanna say you are the best audience ever, no jive. I love every person here forever, and thanks for outrageous send off.” She paused, and the packed mass of bodies quieted. This was the end of an era.

“There is no doubt about what this encore should be…” Some guy in the back yelled drunkenly, and Suze laughed, along with the crowd, then brashly stood right at the edge of the stage. The drummer kicked in with a Motown fill, and she sang with her most gravelly tone:

“Money, who needs it?
Let me live a life free and easy
Put a toothbrush in my hand,
And call me a travelin’ woo-man!
I’m a road runner baby!”

Saul the sax player wailed the Junior Walker sax line as she teased the audience by leaning over to expose deep cleavage, then jumped back up and into the air, cavorting and prancing. Suze was especially aware of the hungry looks that Rob, the bass player, shot at her. She was momentarily startled by his intense expression, but after all, they had a special plan set up. She grinned at him and turned away back into the spotlight. Everything was just perfect. Just perfect.

“I don’t want no man
To tie me down
I gotta be free, baby
To roam around…”

Aware of her meaning, their shouting mouths roared anew, their arms reached out and up.

“All my life, I’ve been like this
If you love me it’s your own risk..”

Suze sang the verses with emphasis, knowing what was coming. She nodded at Rob.
“Thanks gang, I’ll never forget you. Hey, let’s give the drummer some!”

In response, Mack launched into a furious solo. The crowd ate it up as Suze faded back into the shadows off stage. Rob was ahead of her, quickly packing his Ampeg Fretless into a gig bag, unplugging and wheeling his Fender Bassman into the hall. Suze retrieved her travel purse and they were out the back door. This was The Getaway, her secret plan. Only her band was in on it.

“Quick,” she gasped, looking around the back alley. Nobody yet. Mack’s solo could be heard clearly. Rob unlocked his big ’67 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and loaded his amp and bass in the back seat. “Hurry Rob,” she husked as she jumped into the front. Her suitcase was already in the trunk, her apartment was cleared out and her guitar, and all her other stuff, was in storage. She was ready.

He eased in, smiled lopsidedly, and turned the key. The starter motor turned over, and dashboard lights came on along with the muffled engine. “Ready?” She nodded vigorously and he shifted into gear, taking off fast, his tires squealing just a bit. The brightly lit club faded into the distance.

She let out a big sigh and eased back in the seat. Then she whooped, “California, here I come.” They both laughed in relief.

She mopped her face with a tissue. “Thanks Rob. They’ll be talkin’ about that exit for years!”

Rob heaved a big sigh. “I’m gonna miss this band, damnit. But Suze, listen…”

“Aww. Me too. You guys were kickin’ it tonight! And you and Mack had that psychic rhythm stuff happening. What a way to go!”

“Thanks,” Rob said quietly. She noticed he was biting his lip.

“Oh, before I forget. Your pay for the gig. Wild Bill gave up the money in front for once.” She pulled out an envelope from her purse.

“Keep it.” She frowned at him. Ok, this is weird, a musician turning down money.

He turned, suddenly speaking so rapidly she had difficulty understanding him.

“Suze, something’s come up. I have an offer for ya.” His word were tumbling out over each other. What’s this? Something about driving, and money. Driving to L.A. Driving a van. Full of what? Pot? What was he saying to her?

Suze, now thinking he was joking, laughed. And she kept laughing as he was trying to speak, frustration pissing him off.

She bent over. “Right, a drug run instead of fly to L.A., so I mule a buncha shit west. Cool!” She giggled, and nodded. “Really.” More giggles and finally Rob growled oddly, and very loudly.

“Arrrgwahhh… Damn it Suze!” he barked. “There’s a lot, a lot of money in this for ya, if you’ll hear me out.”

She turned sideways to face him. “Van. Pot. Money.” She snorted in disbelief. “I have a plane to catch, y’all know that, and my mom and sis waiting for me. What the hayyull…” She drawled in her incredulity.

“Our gal driver has vanished. Can’t find her. We needed her, see. So it’s down to you. We need someone who doesn’t fit the profile cops look for.”

“Disappeared.”

“I figure she just chickened out. It’s a damn big load.”

“Drive to L.A. In a pot van?

“Yup, you still get to California, just a few days later is all…”

Suddenly she was close to anger. “No. No way! Too dangerous and scary.”

“A drive in a van. Billy will go along, and give you driving breaks. I’ll be pacing you in the Olds.” Billy, Rob’s brother, was a longtime fan of her music, and had a crush on Suze. Younger than her by a couple years, but devilishly cute. Bit of a hell raiser, though.

She pursed her lips. “Hmm. Say, where was he tonight?”

Rob frowned and ignored the question. He pushed his long rock star hair behind his ear with one hand as he drove. “Listen! Drive with us. It’s just pot. Get this: there’s fifteen thousand bucks in for you.”

Suze froze a second, then looked at him in amazement. He smiled back, and nodded with vigor.

“Got your attention now? Yup, fifteen K! Big payday! Get half now, other half when we get to LA.”

“Wow, fifteen… thousand?” Was Rob for real? His intensity said he was. She stared right ahead, rubbing her chin, then cleared her throat. A bit hoarsely, she said, “Ahhh, ummm, I don’t know. Really, I’m… afraid of jail.”

“Our boss, well, he has top attorneys. Now, nothin’ will happen, right, but if it does, you’d be bailed out and defended, and anyway, if we drive at the limit, nice and easy, it’s a piece of cake. So take the damn money. Here.”

He reached under his seat and abruptly pushed an envelope into her hands, much thicker than the one she had attempted to hand him. So very much thicker. She looked at him, then lifted the unsealed flap. It was packed with hundreds and twenties. She gasped, and stared at it in disbelief.

Money would change everything. Get a car. Get her own place, away from her lovable but bossy sister and mother. Make life bearable, and fun. Suze began to laugh quietly from someplace deep inside.

“All right… why not?” She riffed the bills with her thumb, her eyes narrowed. “Yeah. Why fuckin’ not?

Rob smiled grimly, with a certain satisfaction. He nodded slowly.

“We take the I-40. And we leave tonight.”

 

 

Chapter Two: The Spy
Suze slowly realized just how tightly she clutched the cash-stuffed envelope as she stared out the front window of Rob’s big Delta 88. She fought the urge to count the bills.

Come on, even if it’s not exactly seven thousand five, it’s more money than you ever had in your life. Plus another payment like it in L.A.!

“Whooo,” she sighed, the sound masked by the engine. Put the stuff away, now, let’s show some dignity.

She tucked the precious mass into her big purse and refocused on her now-former bassist and new boss, who hunched silently behind the wheel, his grim expression dimly visible by the glow of the dashboard. This is a switch, gonna be takin’ orders from ol’ Robbie. Gotta get used to that, I guess.

“Well, what’s next, chief?” She put just enough of a funny inflection in her voice to make Rob’s lips twist upwards a bit.

“Out to the farmhouse to get us the van, and Billy. We are pretty much ready, or should be, if my bro’s on it. He wanted to make the gig, but I told him he hadda finish packing the load.” Rob fell silent a moment, thinking about the music.

“By the way…”

“Yes?”

“You really sang great tonight.”

“Thanks.” I’m gonna miss the compliments, ain’t I.

“What a night. I didn’t think we could do better than that first set. Was I wrong. After the break we tore the roof off.”

“It’s called warming up.” She stopped. Remember, he’s the boss now. Gotta not forget.

“Maybe if you put a band together out in California…” he mumbled, and ground to a halt. How cute, he cares. She was hit by a sudden thought.

“Coffee!” Suze exclaimed. “If we’re drivin’ tonight, I gotta have coffee.”

Rob nodded and pulled into a brightly-lit 7-11. She realized where they were, and opened her mouth to stop him, but it was too late. She looked around the parking lot anxiously. Well maybe he’s not here, that last time was enough, Lord.

One of the main reasons Suze was determined to give up her band and leave Garland was an exceptionally strange and obnoxious former schoolmate named Imants Haselberger. He was obsessed with her, as well as what he called “fighting crime.”

In recent months he often hung out at this very convenience store at night, writing down the license plates of late evening patrons he thought were suspicious. What he did with the plate numbers, no one knew. Suze had run into him here a few weeks back, and it had been an awkward mess.

She’d known him from seventh grade on, and he had been emotionally fixated on her for most of that period. She dreaded seeing him at any time, but under the current circumstances it would be unbearable.

Because on top of everything else, Imants’ father was a high-ranking FBI man.

Imants was earnest but strange-looking, with very thin lips, a narrow face, ears that stuck out and bulging eyes, an appearance not unlike that of the pulp horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Due to his father’s rigid upbringing, he was aggressively ultra-conservative politically, and a religious zealot.

Suze had done everything possible to discourage Imants’ constant efforts to be around her, but somehow he often found and cornered her. His persistent ability to pop up in her life at random was uncanny.

As she poured her coffee at the self-service bar, a familiar sinking feeling came over Suze as Imants strode in and hurried down an aisle towards the rear of the store. How the hell does he always find me? She paid, hoping to get out before he noticed her, but Imants unerringly approached. She took a deep breath and tossed her blonde hair. One last time, she would try to be polite.

“Imants, what a surprise.”

He blinked at her, still in her low-cut stage dress from the gig. She knew he thought her music was the Devil’s work, and her provocative clothing an outrage. “Suze, I’m so glad to see you,” he finally blurted. “Your phone was shut off and when I went by your apartment they said you had moved.”

Suze, her smile perilously close to a grimace at the thought of Imants questioning her former landlord, spread her hands out palms up. This was going to require outright prevarication, she realized. “Yes, stayin’ with friends until my new place is ready.”

The young Asian clerk handed her the change with a wide grin for his buxom blonde customer. The clerk’s eyes flicked over to Imants, dismissed him, and snapped back to Suze. “Thank you, please come again,” he said, nodding vigorously.

Imants, averting his eyes in ongoing embarrassment from her stimulating décolletage, struggled to speak. “Friends. Ah, I see. May, uh, I have your friend’s number? I want to discuss the church picnic next Saturday. You haven’t been to church since your father died and I am worried…”

Suze hastily interrupted. “Imants, please understand. My personal spiritual beliefs are really none of your business. I believe God loves me whether I go to that church or not.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but your father…”

“My father is none of your business, either, bless his soul. I won’t… I don’t want to talk about him.”

Imants was numbed by this assertion. Suze had changed. Why? Maybe the shock of her father dying last year had triggered some madness. If Suze doesn’t go to church, she’ll be condemned to hell for all of eternity. I won’t let that happen. I owe it to her father. I do.

“Can we talk about this later? How do I reach you?”

“I, I don’t have the number with me. Maybe I’ll give you a call, been real busy. Hey, gotta go, see ya!” She walked rapidly out into the warm Texas night, trying to remember the last time she had called Imants. Five years, back when she felt sorry for him?

A couple of teenaged boys standing outside gawked at her as she walked quickly towards Rob’s Olds, grateful Imants hadn’t thrust some damn book at her. He was always trying to get Suze to read various tracts and texts including, memorably, a book by J. Edgar Hoover. Suze, who loved books, glanced at a few pages, cursed, and threw away the dog-eared paperback in disgust. “Masters of Deception,” bah. What she knew of the FBI, just from the recent news reports, horrified her.

Undeterred, Imants quickly followed her out the door and right up to Rob’s Olds. He stammered questions about where her friend lived and where she was going at the moment. Suze waved him off, miffed at his annoying creepiness, and hastily but firmly said “Goodnight, goodnight, see you soon,” opened the door to a blast of music, hopped in the front seat, and firmly closed it.

Imants’ bulging eyes stared at Suze, then over to Rob through the window for a moment. A wave of sadness mixed with anger overcame him, and he frowned at Rob, who was listening to a James Brown tune on the radio.

Rob noticed him, as he turned to face Suze. Frowning in turn, Rob stared back at the figure standing outside. Imants turned away, and his groan of despair was lost in the funky bass, blaring horns and thumping drums on Rob’s’ stereo.

Suze settled into her seat and exhaled sharply, shaking her head. Rob grunted, turning the music down. “Who the fuck was that? He looks familiar.”

She glanced over at him. No way I can explain Imants, and if I mention the FBI dad, Rob will bust a gut. Anyway, I’ll never see Imants again! That was an amazing thought, and she beamed, feeling liberated. “A final ghost of my old life.”

“Ghost, eh?”

‘Yessir.” Her voice shifted down a half octave. “Let’s blow this town, baby. Crank that music back up!”

Rob did so, his attempts to figure out the bass pattern forgotten, just in time for James Brown to yell “Hit me!” Rob nodded at her exuberant dance movement to the music, while seated. Somehow, he noticed, she managed to not spill the coffee in her hand as they motored out of the lot. “Poppa don’t take no mess,” sang The Godfather of Soul, and Suze sang along cheerily.

He slowly smiled. This might be the best run ever.

Imants watched from the brightly lit and buggy store entrance as the Olds drove off, his pale face now expressionless, brain racing. Carter, that guy was, Rob Carter. Played evil music in the group Suze sang in. Imants searched his memory. From the high school, right, Carter’s class was two years older. Dad in jail for tax evasion.

That long hair was a clue, some kind of hippie. Devil spawn driving away with Suze, his love.

A passenger jet roared overhead, and Imants shivered. Hate planes, hate flying. One of the teenagers at the edge of the 7-11 lot laughed loudly at something being said, then yelled “Hey Eee-monz, ain’tcha gonna write down that plate number?”

He stared blankly at the kid, and felt something shift in his soul.

Heart beating faster, he walked quickly back to his father’s new ’75 Chevy Monte Carlo sedan. Driving the car, specially modified by the Bureau, always made him feel larger than life.

As he got in he reached over and put his hand on his father’s classic dark leather Gladstone Bag on the passenger seat, and felt a strange surge of confidence. The bag, which had belonged originally to his father’s German father, somehow always gave him a mild jolt when he came in contact with it. He clenched his fist. I gotta do this, gotta save her.

He cranked the starter, shoved the automatic transmission into drive, and raced out of the lot, burning rubber down the road after the Oldsmobile. The teens stared in astonished silence.

Imants steered with one hand as he wiped the sweat from his forehead, still accelerating, his eyes searching the darkness ahead. There, those tail lights way up there. He jammed the gas pedal to the floor.

Enough was enough. Time to figure out exactly what that freak Rob Carter was up to with his, well yes, his future wife Suze Benson.

 

 

Chapter Three: The Drug Van
Rob drove fast on the flat straight road that led to his family farm. The road was usually deserted at night, and he gunned the ’67 Olds up to 80.

“Time for a recent oldie, from early this year, number one across the USA.” Suze grinned as the radio blasted out “Pick Up the Pieces” by the Average White Band. She finished her coffee with a gulp, dropped the cup on the floor mat, and nodded her head to the music vigorously.

“Love it!” she shouted, over the catchy horn riff. Rob, still distracted by his own thoughts, nevertheless smiled. But the smile faded as he looked into his rear view mirror, and he suddenly let up on the gas and turned the radio down. “Headlights back there, comin’ up fast,” he said flatly in response to her look. “Cops don’t ride out here much, but…” Rob stopped talking, and watched his mirror.

Imants’ mania eased as he saw how fast he was catching up to the Delta 88. The speedometer read 105, he realized with a jolt. He was going to blow this surveillance! He took his foot off the gas and hit the brakes. When he had slowed, he pulled over at a wide dirt turnaround and cut the Monte Carlo’s lights.

“Ha, kids going to drink beer and make out,” Rob grunted, refocusing on the pavement ahead and turning the song back up in time for Suze to sing along with the refrain. Another minute brought them to the dirt road turnoff that led to a dimly-lit farmhouse and various structures.

Rob’s parents had left town under unpleasant circumstances concerning a problem with the IRS. He and his younger brother Billy were staying on what was once their grandparents’ family farm ten miles out of Garland. Both of the Carter boys hated farming and they had sold the animals and equipment and let the property go wild, except for the barn and farmhouse which they indifferently maintained.

Lightning again flickered on the horizon as the Olds pulled into the barn. Suze, still singing softly to herself, immediately noticed the white, late model Dodge van which had been backed inside. Her paying ride to the coast. “Good lookin’ van, Rob.”

“’74 Tradesman. Only 20k on it. Heavy duty shocks, new radial tires. Drive ‘er slow.”

“My ex had a van like this, ‘cept older.” That creep. Suze shook her head, then gave him the thumbs up sign. “I’ll be jus’ fine.”

Rob’s brother Billy came out from behind it, blonde hair mussed, clad only in jeans and tennis shoes. Damn. He’s all grown up. “Hiya Suze!” he exclaimed, his handsome face beaming.

She and Rob got out of his Olds as she replied “Hiya Billy.” He came up to hug her. Damn kid smells good. Uh oh. She grinned when he kept hugging.

He had always been in awe of her, and she had often gently teased him. But that was when he was a teenager. Though he was a couple years younger than her, he was 21 now.

He finally let go and she looked around. The old barn smelled of faintly of hay, and something else. Must be the pot, she suddenly realized, with a tingle of excitement. Billy watched her approvingly. “Hope your last gig kicked ass. Would have been there if I coulda.”

“Aw, I know. Yeah, pretty good swan song. I’m proud of my boys, they went out with a bang.” She glanced at Rob, who was looking out the barn door at the distant lightning.

If possible, Billy’s grin was even bigger. “So you’re gonna be our new safety driver. Great call! Our other gal up and vanished on us.”

“I can understand why. She probably had too much time to think about it.”

Rob, expressionless, ignored the talk and went around in back of the van. He examined the interior through the opened doors. He called out, “So this is it, all finished here?”

“Yep, cases are loaded ‘n’ strapped in tight. We could slam on the brakes if we have to, that old load ain’t shiftin’.” Rob carefully closed the rear doors tight, locked them and walked back with a satisfied look.

Suze pointed to the Olds. “Rob could you pop the trunk, I gotta get my suitcase so’s I can change and shower before we go. Also phone the airport, cancel my flight.” She had intended to use the 7-11 pay phone, but a rapid escape from Imants had come first in her priorities.

Rob nodded. “Sure, go in the side door to the kitchen and there’s a hall bathroom. Fresh towel hanging on the rack.”

Billy chuckled. “Kinda fresh, anyway.”

The brothers watched the voluptuous Suze saunter towards the farmhouse, suitcase in hand. They were silent a few moments. “She keeps getting hotter,” Billy finally said quietly, and shook his hand as if it was on fire.

Rob grimaced, “Do not get distracted on this run. We fuck this up… oh man. Our lives are on the line, and mom’s depending on us now.”

“Don’t lecture me, bro.”

Suddenly Rob grinned. “Oh yeah?” Suze looked over her shoulder at the sound of laughter and scuffling to see the brothers wrestling. She watched a moment. The sillies. Well, boys will be boys.

Billy occupied her thoughts, as she walked into the house. His voice got deeper in the last year. Always this cute, little puppy-dog following me around. Hmmmm. When did the puppy turn into this hunky dude?

The kitchen was clean but smelled just a bit moldy. If there was air conditioning, it wasn’t on. Suze picked up the yellow wall phone and called the airport, but they weren’t answering at this late hour. Oh well, money gone. No biggie.

Next, she called her sister, glad it was earlier out in L.A. Sally picked up, and they exchanged greetings and small talk. After a few minutes of chatting about her band’s last gig and her sister’s baby, Suze told her not to pick her up at LAX, and not to expect her for at least a week because she was driving to Los Angeles with friends. Sally went silent, and Suze continued “Mom okay?”

Sally sounded peevish. “Yes, just worried about you as usual. Why the sudden change in plans?” She could hear her mother’s voice in the background, questioning.

“Oh, well, these are some old friends of mine. Rob is the bass player in my band. Just seemed like a good opportunity to see that part of the country. You know…”

A sigh of resignation. “You be careful and call once in awhile, so we don’t worry. Love you.” Suze could hear her mom saying “love you” in the background. A fleeting moment of regret for changing her plans, but then she thought about the money. All that money. Dad didn’t leave mom a lot. I can help her, too.

“Love you both, too. See you soon.”

Imants had motored past the Carter farm and turned around, parked a quarter mile down the road. He had been watching the house with a pair of powerful binoculars that he had found in his father’s Gladstone Bag. Suze was dimly visible as she strode to the farmhouse, stopped, looked back towards the barn, then walked on.

Impatient, and with a sick feeling in his guts, he hastily exited the car and scaled an old barbed wire fence, managing to bloody his hand, and set off across the weed-grown fields towards the dim lights. Wait. Farm dogs? He almost turned around at the thought, but forced himself on. Protect me, Lord. I must do your work here.

In the barn Rob and Billy were dusting themselves off. Rob’s face became thoughtful, and he frowned.

“Now listen here, twerp. I’m serious, be cool. And don’t say a damn thing about extra stuff.”

Billy gave him a phony grin. “Suze? She’s your friend. Why the fucking paranoia?”

“It’s being cautious. Best she only know what she needs to know, right? Better for her, safer for us. This ain’t a damn game, we can get killed in this business and our boss is one hard core scary bastard. Got it?” Billy was silent. “I said, you got it!?”

“If you’re so worried, then why even bring Suze in on this?”

“I’m only worried if you lose focus. Someone’s gotta be the adult around here, twerp.” Rob playfully smacked the back of Billy’s head, and Billy grabbed his arm. They wrestled around a moment again as Imants snuck past in the darkness. He looked back from the deep shadows for a moment at the shiny white van and the figures next to it. Then he moved on.

Suze had peeked into the living room. Most of the furniture was gone, with just a couch and a TV console. The nearly empty house echoed with her footsteps. A bit spooky. She walked back, puzzled.

The bathroom wasn’t nearly as bad, clean and with a nice fluffy bath mat to stand on, and she showered in good spirits. The cool water was invigorating, refreshing, a trigger for Suze who wailed into the echo, “well, since my baby left me, ba-dump, I found a new place to dwell, ba-dump, it’s down at the end of lonely street, at Heartbreak Hotel. I’ll be, I’ll be, I’ll be leavin’, Texas, baby, I’ll be leavin’ Texas, so I don’t die.”

Revived with water and song, she pulled back the shower curtain and stepped carefully out of the claw foot tub, looking at her five-foot-nine body in the full length mirror on the door. As always, just a bit over-critical.

Her lips pursed impishly. Still need to lose ten pounds. But men don’t seem to mind. Their eyes were always on the blonde hair and the boobs. So silly. Handy onstage. I’m not gonna worry about the weight, she decided. Here’s who I am, world. Here I come, L.A. She turned and shook her butt playfully at the mirror.

Imants, still worried about possible farm dogs, slowly crept to the brilliantly lit window, shade down but not all the way, window frame raised open a couple inches. He cautiously peered in, and what he saw seared his brain. For an insane eternity he drank in the forbidden visual, then reeled backward, and stumbled clumsily over a garden hose. Lust. Oh God. Naked. Sinner, I am. Never dreamed… Sweet Lord. Did she hear me? Back to the car. Back. Hurry.

Suze, oblivious to the world outside the bathroom, critically examined the bathroom’s sole towel, which hung on a towel rack and was just a bit damp. Right, Billy must have used it. Rubbing his pheromones all over her. At least they are cute pheromones. Well.

She dried off briskly and put her hair in a bun, then pulled some clothing from the suitcase and dressed. The shorts were a bit provocative, the silk top a bit flimsy for not wearing a bra. Nipples still standing up from the cool water. Damn, the boys will think I’m a tease. But, so warm, must be 85 still. Screw it. Maybe a bit of lipstick…

Indeed, the boys liked what they saw, but choked back their natural reactions in the gravity of the occasion. She got her purse from the Olds as Rob took her suitcase and put it back in the car’s trunk. Suze held the purse wonderingly. My purse has… all that money in it. All that money.

Rob walked back to her, waved in the drug van’s direction. He spoke quietly and urgently.

“You have a full tank, fluids are topped off. I’ll be behind ya. Billy and I will be on the CB. Should be no problems. Billy will navigate. Stay just a couple miles above the limit. Cops think it’s suspicious when you’re doing double nickel exactly. But at least you don’t look like a mule, not at all.” Rob grinned. “Those are music cases, and you are headed for a gig.”

Suze nodded. “I can dig it.”

“Good. If you get sleepy, Billy takes the wheel. Prolly get a motel in a couple hours before dawn.” He paused, walked to the van, opened the front door. “Ever use a CB radio?”

She nodded again. “Yeah.”

“All right. Billy will use it mostly when you’re drivin’.”

She climbed in behind the wheel, then looked around curiously. The back of the windowless van was piled high to the roof with tightly strapped instrument and equipment cases. They looked a bit scuffed up and had various stenciled letters and numbers, giving a strongly plausible music band look. But they were packed with dope, she realized. She felt a sudden shock at the thought of what she was driving.

Billy, carrying a small backpack, had hopped in the passenger door, slammed it firmly, and gave her a huge grin. She observed that he had put on a sleeveless tee shirt that didn’t do much to hide his physique. Hmm.

She sniffed. “That talcum powder?”

He smiled in admiration at her question. “Hey, pretty good detecting. Yup. Powder eats up that ol’ pot smell.”

“Well, that’s mighty smart of ya’ll.” She eyed the load. “Jesus, Billy… How much is there?”

Billy shrugged. “Uhmmm… lots.” Rob’s right. Better not tell her. About a lot of stuff.

Rob was examining the van tires one last time. He approached her window, which was rolled down. He looked at her critically. “You ok?”

She nodded. He leaned in to kiss her cheek. Suze acknowledged his kiss with raised eyebrows, but smiled. He walked away towards the farmhouse mumbling, “All right, all right, off we go.”

Suze started the drug-filled van, put the automatic transmission into Drive and very slowly motored out and across the rutted farmyard to the gravel driveway. They van swayed, and the cases in back creaked and strained. She adjusted her seat a bit closer to the wheel.

Behind them the lights in the house, then the barn winked off.

“Here’s to an easy run to LA,” Billy said resonantly in the darkness. He chuckled. That deep voice. When did it get so deep? Kinda startling here in the dark. Sexy, actually.

Rob’s headlights appeared in her side mirror as the Olds caught up on the long gravel driveway. She took a deep breath. Then she felt a big smile come over her. “Onwards and upwards, Billy!”

“Yes’m!”

The two vehicles reached the paved road, turned right. The tail lights dwindled into the distance, lightning yet again flashing at several points to the north.

Down the road, Imants, still recovering from the heady stolen sight of his beloved Suze nude, was further stunned to see her walk from the farm house with her suitcase, and then when the van and car moved out. Suspicious, so suspicious. He started his father’s modified Chevy up, his thin lips pressed together tightly, and began pursuit.

 

 

Chapter Four: Night Drive
“Ten-four, good buddy,” Billy drawled into the CB microphone, exaggerating his Texas accent in his deepest tone. He let go of the hand-held mike switch with a click, and turned towards her, dimly lit in the dashboard light. “With him comin’ along behind us, no cops on our ass, this will be a snap.”

Suze grinned, nodding her head. The brothers had wanted to try out the radios right away, and they had already chosen handles for their identities that suited their tastes. Rob was Rootin’ Tootin’ and Billy’s handle was Wheatbread, which cracked Suze up.

“Why Wheatbread?” she laughed. He looked over at her, and felt a rush of emotion combined with cautionary inhibition.

“Because I made some Swiss Cheese sandwiches before you got to the farm. Got us a cooler behind the seat. Want one?”

“Sure!” Suze suddenly realized she was not only famished, but thirsty. “Got anything to drink?”

“Some soda cans. Rob said no beer.”

“Damn…” He’s right. We got a ton of pot back there.

Billy quietly chuckled. “Truth is, I put some in anyway. Carlsberg Elephant.”

Suze laughed. “You rascal. And imported too!”

They listened to the Dallas radio as they drove through the darkness, munching and swigging their bottles. Billy punched the radio buttons, eliciting “…more scattered thunderstorms, locally heavy in some areas.” Billy grunted, peering up ahead, but the earlier lightning in the north and west had stopped. He took another bite of sandwich.

“Billy why’s this taste so good?”

“Veggies I guess, we had some good tomatoes and bell peppers in the garden.” They chatted on about how delicious home-grown veggies were, compared to store bought, moved on discussing the beer, the beer name, elephants in general, and how sad zoos were. They wound up laughing when the conversation shifted to music. The found they had a lot in common, especially regarding the Blues.

After they got through the Dallas metro area the van and Rob’s Delta 88 exited the interstate and headed west on 380 towards Decatur. The wind was picking up but the van was riding solidly because of the load in back. The chat wound down and Suze had a moment to think about her life, and feel thankful for her freedom.

Imants, sweating as he drove, reevaluated his situation as the miles wore on. His father had not given him permission to drive the souped up Monte Carlo. It was Father’s pride and joy, and he was mortally afraid of the consequences of something going wrong. It wasn’t too late to turn around. But it would mean defeat, bitter and final. Suze appeared to be under the spell of bad people. In that van up there. Evil men. Godless Evil.

He clenched his jaw, brain whirling, and reached into his father’s Gladstone Bag. For all his life, the bag had been his father’s sacred item, always in the FBI man’s possession. Perhaps he had left it for him to find! But even as the thought hit him, he knew it to be untrue. His hand hit something. He pulled it out.

A gun! Imants tossed it back into the bag hastily. This was the opposite of… of… Suze standing delightfully nude as he watched through that farmhouse window. He felt a powerful blast of desire. Suze, so beautiful, a Goddess… bedeviling dream come true. God had made her for him, had shown her to him.

He reached into the bag, pulled out the pistol again. Hefted it, eyes on the distant taillights in the blackness ahead. His member stiff, guts roiling. Jesus, help me. And what about Father? God forbid he should come home and find his car missing. FBI Sector Chief Hasselburger would whip him silly.

In distant Washington D.C., Axel Hasselburger looked at the six other men at the long table. “Make no mistake, this incorruptible bastard is one of the biggest threats we face. So we are unanimous?”

Nods, some enthusiastic, some faint. The man at the far end, in the shadows, spoke slowly. “Taking out a sitting U.S. Senator… does it get any more serious?”

Imants’ father looked up, and repressed several sharp retorts. “Yes,” was his only reply. His listeners found it chilling.

Somehow his questioner found the nerve to speak. “Of course, the Church Committee…” The man stopped, started again. “Will it be done…”

Hasselburger frowned and interrupted. “In a way so that no one will ever know. He won’t last next year. He’ll get a statue or memorial, and the message will be sent.”

Hasselburger began putting documents in his briefcase, signaling meeting’s end. He missed that Gladstone Bag tremendously, he realized again, as the men stood and left. It was in the Monte Carlo, safe in the garage. He thought about troubled, unpredictable Imants, and suddenly frowned. His instinct, so trusty over the years, was kicking in. Something. Something was wrong.

In Texas, aware of the importance and seriousness of their journey, Suze’s musing gave way to the current situation. She felt a surge of optimism, pleased and bemused to be at the wheel of a van loaded to the top with God’s special and wrongfully illegal plants. Her earlier fears had dissipated and Suze became exuberant. “Wooo, we are regular desperados like Cheech and Chong!”

Billy, riding shotgun casually with his feet on the dashboard, looked over at her. Suze had her window down to catch the breeze, and he admired her in the dim light. “If yer finished, gimme that empty.” He flipped both the glass bottles out his passenger window, and grinned. “Less of a bust. Let’s see if Rob starts hollerin’.”

He turned down the car radio, turned to face her, and chatted about music some more and then spoke of her band, which Rob had joined three months previously, at the start of Suze’s blazing run of summer gigs at the Last Chance Saloon. Billy had seen many of those crazy nights, and expressed his fondness in strong language.

“I liked Suze and the Bruisers, too,” he said, speaking of her first band.

She laughed, astonished. “You saw the Bruisers? We were too wild to last. But damn I loved those boys.”

She found herself telling Billy about her earlier experiences. Suze was living with her then-husband and performing at clubs for the first time, but when her dad died, she’d moved back into her family home to help her mom. And had never moved back in with her spouse. The marriage was a miserable experience she was relieved to be free of.

Suze’s sister worked as a nurse in Los Angeles, so a lot of the morbid details of her father’s funeral arrangements fell on Suze’s shoulders. It was eventually decided that her mom move in with her more stable and now-pregnant sister, so Suze had also had to help her mom dispose of a lifetime of stuff and sell the house. The mortgage had taken most of the profit. Suze’s voice tailed off, and she sighed.

Billy knew only a few bits of this, and was horrified by the larger tribulations of her life, of which he had known little. Troubles were a downer, he wanted to talk music to change the mood. “I’m just glad you kept your music going.”

“Only thing that kept me sane.”

“I hear that! Well. Rob and I used to sneak into The Ruby to see you. I was there the night the guitar player fell off the stage.”

Suze giggled loudly, sliding back into a state of amusement. “His last night.” She fell silent a moment as a spatter of rain hit the windshield. “Frank was so unpredictable, but when he was hot, he was the best player I ever had; he could make everyone in the room freekin’ wig out. He had those Mike Bloomfield blues chops down cold.”

“Yeah, I was there the night he stood on top of his Twin Reverb. That was like a fifteen minute solo, right? And he was doing those fills when you were singing…Turn on Your Love Light. So cool. Rockin’!”

Suze giggled again, closer to a guffaw. “Goddamn, I am amazed you saw that! It was a special night.” She looked over him with a look of mock rebuke. “How were you even there? A bit young for The Ruby then, weren’tcha?”

Billy was animated. “Yeah, but Rob knew the bouncer. He knows a lotta people. Anyway, I convinced him to take me, the hardass, and…”

The CB crackled into life. “Watch your speed there, Wheatbread. You’re a bit high.”

They looked at each other and burst into laughter. “His ears were burning! I love it,” Suze said. A sudden spatter of rain hit the windshield as she let up a bit on the pedal.

Billy pushed the handset switch. “Copy,” he said in a quiet tone, let up the switch, and chuckled loudly, “At least he didn’t see those bottles. Better not let him know we’re having fun.”

Hmm. Yes. And that was strong beer. She felt tingly, damn pheromones, huh. She looked over at him again. “Billy. What are ya’ll gonna do after this, in California?”

Billy shrugged in the darkness. “I’d like to try surfing for a day or two. Get shitfaced after this. Buy a cool car, maybe a Stingray! Drive it back to the farm, I dunno. We might have another run like this one in a couple weeks, then I could get my own place in town. Girls don’t like coming out to that ol’ farm; my last girlfriend thought the place was too funky.”

“Last girlfriend huh?” she teased. “What a ladies man!”

“Well, and she was a bit kinky. I didn’t understand lingerie until… and the fur handcuffs, man, and, well, that was just the start.”

Yikes. And I thought he was still a kid. She debated a neutral sounding question or something to tease him with, but he spoke first. “What about you? What are you gonna do when you get there?”

Right, what about me? “Now that I’m sorta rich… get a car, get a place with a view, visit with my mom and sister and my baby niece. I wanna start a new band, write some tunes.” Suddenly a great hunger to do this, and more, grabbed her. Those demo cassette tapes, gotta get ’em out to the right A&R guys!

“Well shee-it. We’re gonna miss ya in Garland. Why ya leaving’ us?”

“Oh God, too much to say. I just need a change.” No way am I going to talk about Imants, any more about the ex and all the rest now. The radio voices sang, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with – love the one you’re with. Yes, perhaps so. She looked over at Billy to find him looking at her. She felt a surge of, of what? Lust? She had been so shut down since the divorce…

A massive bolt of lightning lit the sky ahead, but there were still only a few drops on the windshield. They rode in silence for a few minutes, until another bright bolt from the sky illuminated the front interior of the drug-filled van, this time with a goodly boom of thunder. “Wow!” they both exclaimed in reaction to the blast.

Rob’s voice crackled again from the CB. “That was close. We better stop at the next motel. Looks pretty hairy up ahead.”

 
Chapter Five: The Break-in
The phone in his room was ringing, and he hurriedly unlocked the door and rushed in to answer it. He was sure who it was.

Axel Hasselburger had been staying in the Watergate Hotel on his FBI business trips to the capital since the elegant establishment had opened in the late 60’s. He saw no reason to change lodgings because of the infamous scandal that had toppled his hero, Richard M. Nixon.

The events that triggered Nixon’s resignation had all occurred in the adjoining office complex on the sixth floor, not in the hotel itself. Still, he sometimes felt deeply annoyed when hearing the name “Watergate.”

It was indeed who he thought, and the voice asked at once “How did it go?”

“Very well. The Senator won’t be around to retire. It may take a year or so, but that will go by quick.”

“Hmm. It will have to do. Did Mister Trouble ask any questions?”

“Several, and was dubious.”

“OK. He’s second guessing too often. Recommendations?”

Hasselburger didn’t pause. “Termination.”

“Noted.” There was a click.

He hung up and sat down on the bed, loosened his tie and kicked off his shoes. An image of Imants came to mind again. This time he acted on it and called the house in Dallas. His longtime maid Magnolia picked up, sounding sleepy.

“Magnolia.” Imants’ father seldom said hello.

“Yass, Mista Hasselburger.” Her voice changed pitch to the cautious deference she used with him.

“Check on Imants. If he’s asleep, don’t wake him.”

“Yessah.” She put the phone down, and in her absence he took off his socks, marveling briefly as usual how good it felt. But his mind snapped back to his train-wreck of a son. His mother had ruined him. Damn her.

On the phone he could Magnolia in the distance calling Imants’ name loudly. Clearly not asleep in his bed. He nodded slowly. His instinct was right again: something was wrong. He’d have to fly back tomorrow, early.

Imants had boldly pulled his father’s Monte Carlo into the motel lot and parked at the far end. Confused by what he had observed so far, and suspicious and jealous of Suze and the Carter brothers, he ground his teeth together.

This is abnormal behavior, he reflected yet again. Why is she doing this? It doesn’t make any sense. Imants felt the familiar burning, churning sensation of angry frustration. Why was Suze doing this to him?

He watched with a confused frown as Suze went into one room and the two men she was with went into the adjoining one. That van she’s driving. Gotta search that van. Better park further away. He fired up the overpowered engine.

Suze hadn’t realized how tired she was until she had shucked off her clothes and gotten between the sheets. But she couldn’t fall asleep at first. She turned over several times.

God, I’m horny. It’s been months. Those sweetly musky Billy smells from the farmhouse towel must have gotten to her. Or perhaps his proximity riding in the van. She thought about touching herself, but the squirming sensation faded, and she drifted off.

She was startled awake by a dream of her father, talking with her as they walked along one of their favorite paths at the old house. “It’s all so much clearer now,” he stated in his firm voice. “I was wrong about a good many things, but I love you, baby, and tried to raise you right. The Golden Rule, that’s the most important one.”

“Yes,” she said, nodding vigorously in agreement. Then it hit her, jolting her into a state of lucidity. “But Daddy, you’re dead.” She started to wake, but fought it, holding on, staring at his dear features. He held a finger aloft, semi-mockingly, a gesture she loved that he only did with her.

“Be careful, Suze. Be very careful.” He faded, still smiling. She awoke with moistened eyes.

Oh Daddy. Was that really you, or me missing you? She became aware of the sound of rain outside, and a metallic noise she couldn’t account for. The van was parked just outside the motel window. The van. She sat up abruptly.

Imants had been semi-tutored in various arts by his father’s visiting FBI co-workers, who found Imants amusing. Lock-picking was one of the skills he had learned, but he wasn’t an adept. Fumbling awkwardly with the picking tool in the steady rain, he had finally got the back of the van open. It’s just music cases. They are a band, going to play some town ahead.

But then Imants caught a faint whiff of an unusual odor. Drugs. He risked a glimmer from his flashlight. Just cases, but still… Drugs, definitely. I need to open one of these cases.

He stood on the bumper and reached into the few feet of free space beneath the van roof to pull on a smaller case, and managed to partially dislodge from it the rest. He hopped down, reached in and pulled harder. Thunder rumbled in the medium distance.

Suze leapt up, trying to find her clothes in the dark. Frustrated, she attempted to pull the bedspread off, but it was tucked extremely tightly. She peeled it back, yanking at it. Another clunking sound from outside. Some damn thief tryin’ to wreck my deal. Enraged, she grabbed a pillow, holding it in front of her nude body, and threw open the motel door.

Imants, confounded by the multiple straps holding the smaller case in place, failed to notice the door opening, the faint sound masked by the rain.

Suze bounded out and shouted “Hey you!” She whapped him in the head with the pillow as hard as possible and Imants froze, his back to her. Suze, infuriated by her lack of impact, yelled again and kicked him as hard as she could with her bare foot, right between his legs.

Emitting a loud, dismal groan, and keeping his face averted, Imants ran off, bent over and limping noticeably, as the light in the brothers’ motel room snapped on. Billy and Rob, the latter with a handgun, ran out cursing; they were stunned at the sight of Suze who stood naked in the rain, pillow in hand, next to their violated craft, as a dark figure shambled away hastily into the dim first light of dawn.

Rob recovered first, pocketing the pistol, looking around at the nearly empty parking lot. “Let’s go. Get dressed, we’ll lock up.”

Suze nodded, suddenly realizing she was both naked and wet from the rain, as well as in shock from the events, and she turned for her open door.

Billy watched, waited until her door closed, and then pointed to the van. “Look which case he was goin’ after.”

A half hour later they were seated at a breakfast cafe a few miles away. The three sat dazed over their waffles and sausages until Billy looked up and spoke quietly in a mock-dramatic movie announcer voice.

“One woman, alone, armed only with her wits and a fully loaded pillow… versus the most dangerous thief in the state of Texas…a vicious menace working under the cover of darkness.” Rob put his fingers to his lips, but struggled to hide his grin. Suze chuckled quietly, and looked around, but the few cafe patrons ignored them.

“Ya missed it, but I got in a kick to his tallywhacker that he’s still feeling.” The brothers nodded in near unison, impressed.

“Well, damn. You just earned your whole salary the first night,” Rob said slowly.

Billy nodded again. “No wonder he was runnin’ so funny. But Suze, how come you ain’t in Playboy Magazine yet?” He tilted his head with a mild leer.

“Oh ya’ll hush,” she said quietly, turning a bit pink in the cheeks. She finished her coffee, pushed back her plate and stood abruptly. “Gonna visit the ladies room.” This time they both watched her go.

Imants sat miserably in his father’s car a block away, watching the doors to the cafe and trying to sit comfortably despite his aching groin. He was numb both that Suze had kicked him in his most sensitive spot, and his growing belief that she had likely fallen in with drug dealers.

His mind grappled with the problem of what to do. He had managed to maintain the tail from the motel to the cafe, but now what? The rain had stopped, some part of his mind registered.

That his worst fears about her were coming true, he had no doubt. But, she needs to be rescued. If only I could speak to Suze, reason with her, show her she is off the true path. His thoughts, as they sometimes did when thinking about her, became chaotic and cloudy.

Imants pulled out the worn picture of his mother he kept in his wallet, the last one of them together, earmarked and worn. He preferred to remember her smiling with her arm around him, a small eight-year-old boy, not the mental picture of his mom leaving, tears streaking her face, her face lined with worry and care, somehow hideously bruised. No, I can’t lose Suze. I can’t.

He became electrifyingly aware of how confused and mixed up his feelings were about Suze.

They had met at the neighborhood church, where Imants had been praying for deliverance with tears streaming down his cheeks. He’d opened his eyes to see Suze standing in front of him, radiant at 13, blonde hair glowing in the light. “You okay?” she asked in concern. I am now. God has answered my prayer. I am to be saved.

Suze hadn’t really wanted to know Imants. She felt some obligation to him because he attended her church, but she instinctively knew he was creepy, and likely creepier than she could imagine. Later, Imants attended the local high school, a year behind her, and she had stood up against the near universal hazing directed at Imants, but it was a losing battle, and only seemed to make his obsession with her get worse.

Imants shook his mind free from his repetitive train of misery. He adjusted his pants again. He knew he had to do something, but had no idea what.

When Suze emerged from the shabby restroom, her hair was pinned up and she had put on a bit of makeup, her walk full of confidence. Damn right, I earned my pay. Something horrible happened, that guy she’d kicked… but still. If that’s the worst, this trip will be a blast, especially with Billy boy by my side. But that was a gun Rob had. She pushed the thought away. Onward.

Rob had paid the tab and the brothers stood outside in the sudden bright sunlight. She pushed open the heavy smudged glass door and joined them, smiling with good cheer. Billy grinned back brightly, adjusting items in his shoulder bag: newspapers, a Carlos Castaneda paperback book, bananas.

“All ready?” Rob asked. Her nod was firm and quick. He glanced at her, and then a line of dark clouds on the horizon to the north. He grunted. “I wanna get the hell out of Texas today.”

She nodded again. “Me too. Let’s hit the road, jack.”

Healthcare Enters War

by: Miguel Cima

Before he died, the late political pundit Tony Blankley said something on the radio I’ll never forget. Representing the “right” on NPR’s weekly talk show Left, Right and Center in 2010, he was sparring like he usually did against co-host Arianna Huffington. The subject was the red-hot political issue of Obamacare, which had yet to become law. Tempers flared as his colleague implored him to explain what it is that folks who can’t afford healthcare were supposed to do when they got sick. Rolling his signature Anglo-Yankee cadence to a boil, Blankley spat out his answer with seething disdain: “They’ll do what they used to do – they’ll die!”

This was a hell of thing to hear from this guy’s mouth. For those who don’t know, Mr. Blankley wasn’t some bomb-throwing blowhard in the mold of Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh. No, this man was Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, and later Newt Gingrich’s longtime Press Secretary. He was an adept wordsmith who helped shape the image of two of Modern Conservativism’s most impactful figures. Listening to his soothing and erudite discourse, there was no denying the man’s impeccable speaking skills and surgical precision in pontification.

Yet now, he had carelessly let the cat out of the bag. Losing his cool over an impending social program that promised health insurance to tens of millions of people, the dude freaked out and let his emotions expose the truth. Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act had nothing to do with socialism, federalism or any other high-and-mighty principle. Beneath it all, these people were pissed off that taxpayers were going to care for the weak. It wasn’t just a callous remark – this was the bedrock beneath their ideology. There was no “alternative plan” to address the problem, “market solutions” never existed. Such assurances were total smokescreens. Does that sound harsh? Let’s fast forward seven years.

On Thursday, (mostly) men were laughing in the Capitol Building. Giggling faces, proudly displaying giddy teeth, were broadcast worldwide like they were filming a silly toothpaste commercial. Passing by throngs of shaming protestors, this pack of hyenas kept yucking it up as they were herded into buses. Mobile guffaws bled from the convoy on the way to the White House, where the hilarity fest kicked into high gear once the snickering sociopaths met up with President Trump at the Rose Garden. This dignified national stage where dignitaries are welcomed and historic events take place was now a front lawn for a frat house. They had triumphantly passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and it was time to celebrate. For them, 24 million Americans losing their health insurance was cause for divine mirth.

  • But is that why these Joker knock-offs were strenuously smiling like the signature Batman villain? Well, if it wasn’t sentencing 7.5% of your fellow citizens to treatable illness, needless suffering and preventable death, maybe the gag was in some of the other side effects their amoral bill had tucked in there:
  •  * 11 million people facing slashes in Medicaid funding
  •  * Insurance companies can charge a lot more for preexisting conditions and the elderly
  •  * Denied care savings financing $1 trillion tax cut for top 1% earners
  •  * Huge tax breaks for Big Pharma, medical device makers, and even tanning salons
  •  * Planned Parenthood funding cut drastically
  • What, you’re not laughing yet? This is the funny stuff. This is what these clowns are rolling in the aisles over. For seven long years, the GOP had been lying to the American public about Obamacare. Death Panels weren’t real, job losses never happened, costs weren’t skyrocketing and the USA wasn’t about to become the USSR. But most of all, they lied about having an alternative plan. What they really had all along was a remedy for rich people who feel they should have a lot more wealth. As for the rest of us, too bad, just take Tony Blankley’s advice already and head for the cemetery.
  • But it wasn’t all fun and games for these lighthearted legislators. Plenty of them took the time to compound their jocularity with some scolding. Alabama Republican Mo Brooks slapped us peasants down with the sage advice that “people who live good lives” keeping “their bodies healthy” won’t suffer under the AHCA. That’s right – if you get sick, that’s on you. And now Big Government won’t be there to clean up after you anymore. Former congressman and deadbeat dad Joe Walsh kindly reminded us all that sick and dying babies aren’t America’s problem. In his response to Jimmy Kimmel’s touching personal revelation about his infant son’s condition, he shamelessly affirmed his destructive selfishness in a tweet. And good ol’ Idaho Republican Paul Labrador imparted his wisdom with the gem, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare.” Got that, you spoiled rotten citizens? Having no healthcare never leads to death! Get it through your thick skull. So, yeah, they can’t always be laughing. Cruelty is a needed balance lest these merry bunch lose their way and approach decency.
  • While conservative barbarism is at the heart of our 2017 healthcare woes, let’s not forget the chipper chimeras on the democratic side after the AHCA passed. Abandoning all dignity, the Blue caucus’ response was to sing Steam’s classic departure anthem Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye as a sort of spontaneous choir. What were they getting all musical about? The assumption that the GOP would lose seats over this vote. Instead of screaming bloody murder about the unbridled misery they just unleashed, they’re all excited about taking power back. Note to DEMS – try a relentless chorus of “SHAME!” next time. It’s sad that even Game of Thrones has stronger examples of leadership than these so-called liberals offered on such a terrible day.
  • Making these bad optics even uglier, both Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein – two of the party’s strongest leaders – dismissed Single Payer as a solution to the crisis in separate comments the very same week. As most of the First World has known for decades, the SP approach is really the only cure for our sick system. Don’t be surprised. Both of those ladies get serious campaign cash from the same vile lobbies that he GOP does. So, we have no real opposition. And while they might not be laughing yet, they’re already singing because they’ll be keeping their cush jobs.
  • Where does that leave us? Me, I’m not laughing or dancing, I’m crying. Tony Blankley has won, even five years after his own death. Behold the Congressional Abomination. The best of them can’t help but frame our communities’ coming desperation in terms of hopes for their own re-election. The worst of them openly paint the town blood-red, ecstatic over their harming of the sick and weak. Classical literature and traditional religion teaches us that this sort of behavior is a characteristic of evil. It’s the dragon sitting on its gold with a grin, ready to burn any starving citizen who touches so much as a nickel. Let us recognize these people for the monsters they truly are.

Album Review: Thirteen

 

by: Doc Jeffurious Higgason

Band: Thirteen

Album: Volume 1 EP

Label: Unsigned

Rating: 2.8/5.0

Those of you who were kids in the 80’s and 90’s might recall a channel on television they called the ‘MTV’.

For a full lesson on that I encourage you to check out the ‘Take Back MTV’ episode of Portlandia. However, for our purposes here, let’s talk about Saturday nights on MTV all those years ago.

Each week, host Riki Rachtman would take us through the latest and greatest in heavy metal and hard rock on ‘The Headbanger’s Ball’. We would save our greasy dollars and go see these bands, returning home minus a bit of hearing but nevertheless rocked for eternity. Some of us who spent their formative years staring at that show week after week eventually went on to form bands and spent years performing in dive bars, outdoor parties, band battles and everywhere in between.

However, we are now growing old and weary. Still, there are so many of these misbegotten, dispossessed children of Riki Rachtman still out there rocking nearly 3 decades later, drubbing the notion that the party can in fact go on forever, despite the fact that hairlines and knees do not.

Washington D.C. based ‘Thirteen’ is undoubtedly one of these bands. Drawing influences from iconic groups such as Alice In Chains, Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Thirteen is solidly based within the sphere of heavy guitar driven rock. The kind that can light up a tingle in your loins if you sit close enough to the speakers.

Thirteen strives to carrying on that hard rock tradition with the release of their debut EP modestly titled ‘Volume 1’.

I always like to talk about the first track. It’s the first impression that sets the tone for the rest of the thing. It’s the thing that allows me to decide whether I want to continue further, more times often than not I proceed but only with strong demurral. In this case, I wasn’t completely disappointed. ‘Nightingale’ fires forth with guitar squeelies ala Zakk Wylde and vocals that have a whisper of Ozzy. Thirteen noticeably wears their influences on their sleeves like a tight fitting leather arm band.

The only criticism would be that there is a dangerous area a band can run into being so influence-driven. It’s sort of like having a web page where everyone rips off the writing style of Hunter Thompson (yeah I know. But it’s an apt example, hang with me, there is a point). It’s amusing to see everyone else ape and mimic a particular style but in the end no new ground is discovered. It just continues to limp around and mumble nonsense about golf shoes. The material on this EP, while being new, can lean heavily upon things already done, not only by other bands but by Thirteen themselves on other songs throughout the EP. There are at least 3 out of the 10 tracks where the melody is so reminiscent of other songs contained within, I had to double check what I was listening to.

The first single, ‘The Siren’ was produced by, Rocco Guarino and in a short period of time beat its way to the top of the D.C. rock charts, landing squarely at the #1 slot. So, yeah, not too shabby for the first recorded release of an unsigned band. The song’s popularity was no doubt driven in part by its theme. Singing about a sexy chick, expressing masturbatory desires of touching her and her eventual acquiescence. Complete with a “face melting” solo, this possibly could qualify as the most rocking-est rock song of the last decade. Possibly. All Thirteen needs now is a duet with Lady Googaw, or whoever and their legacy is set. HAW!

One more definite highlight that caught my attention is the song ‘Romeo Kiss’. It’s catchy even!

“Feel out of control! Think I’ll start a fire! To burn this memory.”

How Shakespearean! *swoon* It has the drive and infectiousness of anything that came off of Stone Temple Pilots ‘Core’ album way back in 1991. Oddly enough as I type this I am reading that this collection of songs was actually recorded Scott Weiland’s Lavish Studios. Ooooh! Spooky.

Finally, let’s talk about the softer side of Thirteen. Any sane laudation to 90’s hard rock must contain a minimum of two power ballads, right? ‘Time’ is the one that I had to listen to over and over. Normally I hate power ballads, there is another one on the EP, but I hated this one less. The guitar work on this song is very good and worth a listen. The mood it invokes is one of bittersweet, acid washed nostalgia.

In summation, Thirteen, while extremely derivative in many areas is not without their charm. Any fan of late 90’s alternative hard rock would certainly enjoy ‘Volume 1’. Within the first few listens of them I decided to the give them a small chance. They proved that they are certainly chock-full of talent and talent that is something that must be recognized.

Also, you can’t argue with their fan base which is clearly very strong. I can predict with confidence that if there is any amount of fairness in the universe we will all be hearing more from Thirteen. Their website hints at the rapidly upcoming release of the band’s first full length release ‘Save Rock n Roll’ followed by a stint on the road in support of the album. For more on the band or to just keep up with their doings dial up their web page: www.thirteenband.com

Album Review: Brett Basil’s Exceed

 

by: Doc Jeffurious Higgason

Artist: Brett Basil

Album: Exceed

Label: Redlight Records

Rating 2.0/5.0

Here at the music desk the “powers that be” in all their… eh, hem, Gonzo wisdom have adopted the policy of what we in the biz call ‘open submission’. Basically asking bands to send us just… whatever. Which in my experience can certainly be a blessing.

However, the blessings are usually few and what normally occurs is a small pain in the back of the ass.

In this age of digital home studios and their availability (sadly) to every caliber of musician, independent recordings are being churned out like so much mystery meat. In fact, just like the meat, a lot of the music is slimy and gross.

As a musician myself I know that we are very capable of over embellishment and prone to “delusions of grandeur”. Yet I feel that instinct has multiplied itself in the digital world. Egos are out of control, the music is mediocre and quite frankly, it’s bothersome.

But why? Why do we suffer through the thick mucky mire of openly submitted music that reposes within the dregs of the modern music experience? Because there are the true cliched “diamonds” out there and when you find them it’s damned near the level of a spiritual orgasm. You want to catch them! It happens. That’s why, we spend the hours in here, listening. To find that next pure sound. To find the needle in the horse dung.

Brett Basil’s ‘Exceed’ is not that needle.

I received the poorly-written biographical info that told me the following:

“Multi-award winning composer, producer, vocalist and multi -instrumentalist Brett Basil has 30+ years in the music scene, and with no less than 3 new CD’S he has worked on out soon- Brett Basil has indeed established himself as a well versed musician, singer and songwriter throughout the US, Canada and the UK. With solo CD’S plus a stellar history of recording, writing and performing with many acts.”

Well geez, so much room for speculation, nothing too specific, just music industry lingo and make it as vague as possible. Sounds like important stuff, right? It went further to say:

“Brett has written for 2 other cds “{Tunnel Vision” by Boys’ Entrance, and, Juha-“Every Step Is A Migration”} this year as well as “E-X-C-E-E-D” , out on 12-4 2016 on Red Light Records and Produced by Jordan Egler.”

Wait. Boys Entrance? Juha? Jordan Elger? “N-O W-A-Y!” Names that obviously mean…something to someone and doesn’t “Red Light” mean stop? Also, the only real information I was able to truly clarify was that YES in fact there is a thing known as Brett Basil and a collection of songs called, ‘Exceed’. All the other stuff, maybe not so much. We are however in this new realm of alternative facts so, let’s dig in.

The first track ‘In The Raw’ I will admit is not too bad but, that is where it seems Brett’s uniqueness runs squarely into the wall. The rest of the “CD” is comprised of songs that while they have legitimate feeling and heart they are by and large particularly unimpressive. That becomes wildly obvious during the song ‘Heartbeat’. It was this song (the SECOND track) where I began to suspect that maybe Brett wasn’t the “well versed singer songwriter” he had been described as. I was a little pissed that I was lied to truthfully. The musical feel of this album is so redundant that it’s hard to distinguish one guitar intro from the next.

Another song that didn’t suck completely would be ‘Hard to Believe’, it has a spirit resting squarely in some 80’s sports movie training montage. The actual odor and flavor of the music contained in this album are rather dated. It’s not all negative. I will say that the music is very coherent. The ideas are obvious, but poorly fertilized. A listener certainly won’t spend much time trying to decipher the deep meaning of Basil’s lyrics. This can be easily noticed during ‘Get A Life’, one more that fits into the aesthetic of the soundtrack to a ‘Police Academy’ movie.

‘Exceed’ contains 11 tracks of… music. Not exactly something I would considered moving. I would highly recommend it if you are a fan of indie records (the cheap ones) from thirty years ago. Perhaps I would have been less harsh had the description not been so pretentious and high falutin.

Album Review: Matt Jaffe and the Distractions

 

by: Doc Jeffurious Higgason

Band: Matt Jaffe and the Distractions

Album: California’s Burning

Label: Elm City (ECI)

Rating: 3.8/5.0

Occasionally I will poke my head above the surface to see what is happening out among the littered wasteland of today’s rock music scene. Mostly, I retire back unimpressed. Everything is so derivative these days it’s hard to find an original sort of blend. Good bands use their influences in the essence of ordering one from Column ‘A’, maybe two from Column ‘B’. It feels like that progressively new musicians try to be all of one column or the other.

This trip to the surface I ran into ‘California’s Burning’, the latest from celebrated independent recording artists Matt Jaffe and the Distractions. Jaffe, a young singer/songwriter/band leader/sugary lil’ cutie pie, (MATT WHY WON’T YOU RETURN MY CALLS? DON’T RUN FROM YOUR FEELINGS!) is just barely 22-years-old and has already tucked quite a career under his belt. He was originally discovered by former Talking Head keyboardist Jerry Harrison while performing at an open-mic show. Harrison became a solid catalyst in moving the young Jaffe forward. It was at Harrison’s studio in Sausalito, California where Matt Jaffe, who was still in high school recorded his first set of demo recordings. Soon after Jaffe formed ‘The Distractions’ with Alex Newell, Sammie Fischer and Alex Coltharp. They recorded a 5 song EP, ‘Blast Off’ in 2015. A majority of the release was produced by Matt King Kaufman who co-produced the classic ‘The Modern Lovers’ with Jonathon Richman in 1976. So far the band has opened for some very notable bands and singers. With ‘California’s Burning’ Jaffe and the band is stretching it’s legs with it’s first full length outing.

The album starts with ‘Love Is A Drug’ which is straight up a phone call to a time where rock was full of good old fashioned flamboyance. The song runs through fevers of The Yardbirds and the Dead Kennedys’ guitar work after they got slow. Jaffe draws most influence from bands including The Replacements and Talking Heads. Throughout the album many eras of music are called to mind. The song ‘Fire On The Freeway’ for instance, calls to mind car racing scenes from all those cheesy movies on HBO after midnight back in the 1980s. ‘Hellhounds of Alcatraz’ is another track that conjures forth cinematic themes from that same decade. Think of supernatural dogs attacking tourists who are visiting “The Rock”. FUN!

I hear many bemoan the notion that most music today is cobbled together through digital means and the result is modern songs sounding like electronic farts, bleeps and whistles. Matt Jaffe and The Distraction is 100% organic, handmade music. A principle Jaffe insists upon carrying onto the stage which has made his band one of the most exciting live YOUNG bands to check out.

On the other side of the coin, the downside to ‘California’s Burning’ seems to be the endeavor feels a bit top heavy, with just a few of the songs carrying possible wide spreading potential and attention. The good songs all appear towards the beginning and proceed in a sort of descending manner. Not to say there are bad songs, I hear underdeveloped songs. Overall, a triumph of a release full of all the familar themes from rock music over the last 30 years, back when alternative music was still called “college rock” and that’s all there was. We look forward to hearing more out of Matt Jaffe and The Distractions and will be looking to catch them out on the road somewhere out there in that vast, littered wasteland.

EP Review: Jimmy Dudding

 

by: Joe Siess

Band: Jimmy Dudding

Album: The Masquerade

Label: No Label

Rating: 3.3/5.0

Jimmy Dudding strikes me as a man trapped in the wrong decade. The sequins and smoke might have faded away years ago, but Dudding keeps the spirit of the 80’s lit like a blazing kerosene lamp smothered in a thick fog.

He’s got this Electric Light Orchestra meets Prince meets a cheeky south Florida soft core smut peddler thing going on. The strange, occult, mildly suggestive undertones in Dudding’s featured music video, entitled Masquerade, make for an intriguing watch. It will either curl your toenails, or make you flutter with delight depending on how you take it.

Dudding’s music is high energy. That’s for sure. His style is unmistakably reminiscent of the 1980’s, however tracks on Dudding’s new EP entitled Masquerade, such as Lady Throgmorton and Dark Circus, are strikingly modern without abandoning the signature groove that characterizes his style and sound.

The Masquerade music video, available on Youtube, according to Dudding himself, is chock full of religious and political undertones, and is essentially a covert depiction of the perversions associated with what many refer to as the American Dream, but disguised as a kind of spiritual and cultural “machine” of sorts.

In my opinion, the video is the story of a paradise lost. The protagonist of the story, a young innocent girl, is cast into a warped, twisted, perverted society in which people distort their intentions and conceal their humanity behind masks. Sounds familiar.

Dudding writes that the story portrayed in the video is of the girl’s initiation into elite society, however the religious and cultural nuances create a multifaceted experience in which the meaning of the images and symbolism in the video can be interpreted in many ways.

When it’s all said and done, the masquerade is essentially a metaphor for all of our lives whether we know it or not. Specifically life in a society and culture that is inherently corrupt and depraved. While I was reviewing Dudding’s EP, I came across some of his other stuff on Youtube and was surprised.

A track called Over My Head struck a chord as it mixed the 80’s thing with a kind of rap, or slam poetry kind of vibe which I found to be rather nice. The fusion of sounds is lovely, and it for sure rears its head on the EP as well, especially on Dark Circus, which happens to be my favorite track on the album.

Jimmy Dudding is unique in his ability to effortlessly craft music from a variety of sources and at the same time avoid diluting his distinct style. He is weird and sometimes manic, but it all makes for a lovely effect. So if you are looking for a fresh sound with an old school vibe, then I would recommend giving Jimmy Dudding a solid listen.

I Didn’t Recognize My Best Friend After the War

 

by: Isaac McShane

I saw a meme today that really tore me up. The message it sent was upsetting, along with the sad truth that our media is littered with such crap, but what upset me most was who posted it and how destitute he’s become. When you are friends with combat vets you learn to moderate your feed to reduce the propaganda and negative rhetoric without leaving your friends list in the single digits. It’s impossible to filter all of it and the news in social media is often heart breaking.

My childhood best friend is an Iraqi war veteran. He’s proud of having served his country, and should be, despite coming back a changed human and not for the better. During our adolescence we adventured back and forth across the country without a care in the world and got into plenty of trouble along the way. After he came back things went from bad to worse and we were regular weekend warriors at the county jail, mostly for petty crimes like bar fights or smoking a joint on the beach. We partied hard. I knew things wouldn’t get better unless I made serious life changes. By the time I left the salt life I didn’t have much to my name and moved far away to a place I had no contacts and started over from the beginning. It took me ten years to clean by name up and there’s nothing more liberating than earning your own freedom.

My old running buddy spent that decade developing a terrible drug problem, along with an accelerated case of pathological lying, kleptomania, unchecked aggression along with other developmental dispositions.  He had a kid, went back to prison, his dad died, then his wife ODed and died. It was almost as if he was attracted to burning bridges, a bi product of being institutionalized on both ends of the spectrum.   I love him, I love his family, but he’s volatile and that breaks my heart. In his world that is ok. He is calloused to breaking the hearts of those who love him.

As petty as it is, I will remain friends with him but again I have unfollowed him, in the social media sense as well as my interest . When I saw the post, my immediate reaction, like most of the time, is to bang out a witty or semi-profound explanation of why I so strongly disagree with the post. And like most of the time I chose against it. Such a rebuttal is feudal.  He’s full of hate, ignorance, accustomed to friction, close minded and stubborn as a mule. Of his kind there are many.

Maybe he’ll read this one day and understand it better than a “public confrontation”, but the purpose of this story is because I don’t think I can explain my position to him, I have to try to explain it to anyone who reads this.

From what I gather about the country’s current political opinions, I would guess that if two people read this, fifty percent of them would either misinterpret or resent my position.  Before I describe the meme I will disclose that the humanitarian in me wants to save every human life, but the predominant realist in me wants those who work hard to get what they earn before those who take handouts for granted.

The meme was a picture of a dirty, scared, blonde haired, blue eyed little girl. Need I say more? Yes, I need to say more. it read “Please share this if you think America’s own homeless children should be taken care of before foreign refugees”. That’s the meme. Before you draw your own conclusions, I’d like to say that I get the underlying message. Like dogs and cats, it’s inhumane to breed and deal (inbred) purebreds when there are so many rescue dogs and cats in our own neighbors who desperately need shelter. If you can’t help yourself you can’t help others. We don’t have our shit together and we have to take care of our kids, America’s future, before we can use those resources on anything external. I get that.

If I were to have banged out a hasty response upon my immediate reaction, it would have said something like this: If a foreign refugee has spent their entire life honestly working hard  to come to America to seek sanctuary from a volatile environment, they will be lucky to make it through the application process. If they are fortunate enough to navigate their way through the dense bureaucratic red tape beforetheir approval and make their way to America, following the refugee assimilation program for the next six to ten years to demonstrate their commitment to becoming a contributing member to our society, I think they are a greater asset and are therefore just as important as someone born into their citizenship and having been dealt a shitty hand of cards with parents dead and in prison.

I feel strongly about that because I’ve been in his shoes and I’ve learned to open myself to understand other people’s perspectives. I’ve been in the dark and I’ve seen the light. Additionally, I lost all my rights, spent years feeling inferior to my fellow citizens, worked hard for a long time to restore my rights. Many of us our fortunate to be born into such a great place; we are born into freedom. That is a foreign concept to most of the world. The only thing greater than freedom is the act of freeing, known as liberation.

The only thing I have left for him is tough love. I hope his daughter isn’t influenced by him. He will never see anything but red, white and blue soaked in blood. I wish I never saw that meme. I wish he never posted that meme. I wish he never went to war. I wish We never went to war. I wish we didn’t repeat so many mistakes from the time we colonized this county and conquered its previous inhabitants.  I wish we maintained the original values of strength in numbers, all are welcome. My family has been here for ten generations but we came here as Irish refugees.

Flogging Molly Kicking Off Summer Tour

 

– A Gonzo Today Report

Flogging Molly kicked off their summer US tour today in Las Vegas. The seven piece Irish Punk band has been on the scene since 1997 and even earlier if you count their early days playing at Molly Malone’s.

On St Paddy’s Day they will be playing in Inglewood, CA at The Forum with special guests, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Mariachi El Bronx.

Flogging Molly hasn’t put out an album since Speed of Darkness in 2011. We here are hoping that this is a tour that could spark some brand new material from the Irish punkers.

If you haven’t seen Flogging Molly before with their mix of traditional Irish and punk rock this is your opportunity.

Follow this link to see when they are coming to a town near you.

Drug Run – Chapter Five: The Break-in

 

by Dr. Rocket with Ms. Gonzo

 

Last time, as you recall, Texas rock singer Suze Benson and two drug-running brothers completed the first leg of their drive to Los Angeles, never imagining that their product-filled van was about to be broken into by the obsessed son of an extremely unscrupulous and powerful FBI man.

 

The phone in his room was ringing, and he hurriedly unlocked the door and rushed in to answer it. He was sure who it was.

Axel Hasselburger had been staying in the Watergate Hotel on his FBI business trips to the capital since the elegant establishment had opened in the late 60’s. He saw no reason to change lodgings because of the infamous scandal that had toppled his hero, Richard M. Nixon. The events that triggered Nixon’s resignation had all occurred in the adjoining office complex on the sixth floor, not in the hotel itself. Still, he sometimes felt deeply annoyed when hearing the name “Watergate.”

It was indeed who he thought, and the voice asked at once “How did it go?”

“Very well. The Senator won’t be around to retire. It may take a year or so, but that will go by quick.”

“Hmm. It will have to do. Did Mister Trouble ask any questions?”

“Several, and was dubious.”

“OK. He’s second guessing too often. Recommendations?”

Hasselburger didn’t pause. “Termination.”

“Noted.” There was a click.

He hung up and sat down on the bed, loosened his tie and kicked off his shoes. An image of Imants came to mind again. This time he acted on it and called the house in Dallas. His longtime maid Magnolia picked up, sounding sleepy.

“Magnolia.” Imants’ father seldom said hello.

“Yass, Mista Hasselburger.” Her voice changed pitch to the cautious deference she used with him.

“Check on Imants. If he’s asleep, don’t wake him.”

“Yessah.” She put the phone down, and in her absence he took off his socks, marveling briefly as usual how good it felt. But his mind snapped back to his train-wreck of a son. His mother had ruined him. Damn her.

On the phone he could Magnolia in the distance calling Imants’ name loudly. Clearly not asleep in his bed. He nodded slowly. His instinct was right again: something was wrong. He’d have to fly back tomorrow, early.

Imants had boldly pulled his father’s Monte Carlo into the motel lot and parked at the far end. Confused by what he had observed so far, and suspicious and jealous of Suze and the Carter brothers, he ground his teeth together.

This is abnormal behavior, he reflected yet again. Why is she doing this? It doesn’t make any sense. Imants felt the familiar burning, churning sensation of angry frustration. Why was Suze doing this to him?

He watched with a confused frown as Suze went into one room and the two men she was with went into the adjoining one. That van she’s driving. Gotta search that van. Better park further away. He fired up the overpowered engine.

Suze hadn’t realized how tired she was until she had shucked off her clothes and gotten between the sheets. But she couldn’t fall asleep at first. She turned over several times.

God, I’m horny. It’s been months. Those sweetly musky Billy smells from the farmhouse towel must have gotten to her. Or perhaps his proximity riding in the van. She thought about touching herself, but the squirming sensation faded, and she drifted off.

She was startled awake by a dream of her father, talking with her as they walked along one of their favorite paths at the old house. “It’s all so much clearer now,” he stated in his firm voice. “I was wrong about a good many things, but I love you, baby, and tried to raise you right. The Golden Rule, that’s the most important one.”

“Yes,” she said, nodding vigorously in agreement. Then it hit her, jolting her into a state of lucidity. “But Daddy, you’re dead.” She started to wake, but fought it, holding on, staring at his dear features. He held a finger aloft, semi-mockingly, a gesture she loved that he only did with her.

“Be careful, Suze. Be very careful.” He faded, still smiling. She awoke with moistened eyes.

Oh Daddy. Was that really you, or me missing you? She became aware of the sound of rain outside, and a metallic noise she couldn’t account for. The van was parked just outside the motel window. The van. She sat up abruptly.

Imants had been semi-tutored in various arts by his father’s visiting FBI co-workers, who found Imants amusing. Lock-picking was one of the skills he had learned, but he wasn’t an adept. Fumbling awkwardly with the picking tool in the steady rain, he had finally got the back of the van open. It’s just music cases. They are a band, going to play some town ahead.

But then Imants caught a faint whiff of an unusual odor. Drugs. He risked a glimmer from his flashlight. Just cases, but still… Drugs, definitely. I need to open one of these cases.

He stood on the bumper and reached into the few feet of free space beneath the van roof to pull on a smaller case, and managed to partially dislodge from it the rest. He hopped down, reached in and pulled harder. Thunder rumbled in the medium distance.

Suze leapt up, trying to find her clothes in the dark. Frustrated, she attempted to pull the bedspread off, but it was tucked extremely tightly. She peeled it back, yanking at it. Another clunking sound from outside. Some damn thief tryin’ to wreck my deal. Enraged, she grabbed a pillow, holding it in front of her nude body, and threw open the motel door.

Imants, confounded by the multiple straps holding the smaller case in place, failed to notice the door opening, the faint sound masked by the rain.

Suze bounded out and shouted “Hey you!” She whapped him in the head with the pillow as hard as possible and Imants froze, his back to her. Suze, infuriated by her lack of impact, yelled again and kicked him as hard as she could with her bare foot, right between his legs.

Emitting a loud, dismal groan, and keeping his face averted, Imants ran off, bent over and limping noticeably, as the light in the brothers’ motel room snapped on. Billy and Rob, the latter with a handgun, ran out cursing; they were stunned at the sight of Suze who stood naked in the rain, pillow in hand, next to their violated craft, as a dark figure shambled away hastily into the dim first light of dawn.

Rob recovered first, pocketing the pistol, looking around at the nearly empty parking lot. “Let’s go. Get dressed, we’ll lock up.”

Suze nodded, suddenly realizing she was both naked and wet from the rain, as well as in shock from the events, and she turned for her open door.

Billy watched, waited until her door closed, and then pointed to the van. “Look which case he was goin’ after.”

A half hour later they were seated at a breakfast cafe a few miles away. The three sat dazed over their waffles and sausages until Billy looked up and spoke quietly in a mock-dramatic movie announcer voice.

“One woman, alone, armed only with her wits and a fully loaded pillow… versus the most dangerous thief in the state of Texas…a vicious menace working under the cover of darkness.” Rob put his fingers to his lips, but struggled to hide his grin. Suze chuckled quietly, and looked around, but the few cafe patrons ignored them.

“Ya missed it, but I got in a kick to his tallywhacker that he’s still feeling.” The brothers nodded in near unison, impressed.

“Well, damn. You just earned your whole salary the first night,” Rob said slowly.

Billy nodded again. “No wonder he was runnin’ so funny. But Suze, how come you ain’t in Playboy Magazine yet?” He tilted his head with a mild leer.

“Oh ya’ll hush,” she said quietly, turning a bit pink in the cheeks. She finished her coffee, pushed back her plate and stood abruptly. “Gonna visit the ladies room.” This time they both watched her go.

Imants sat miserably in his father’s car a block away, watching the doors to the cafe and trying to sit comfortably despite his aching groin. He was numb both that Suze had kicked him in his most sensitive spot, and his growing belief that she had likely fallen in with drug dealers.

His mind grappled with the problem of what to do. He had managed to maintain the tail from the motel to the cafe, but now what? The rain had stopped, some part of his mind registered.

That his worst fears about her were coming true, he had no doubt. But, she needs to be rescued. If only I could speak to Suze, reason with her, show her she is off the true path. His thoughts, as they sometimes did when thinking about her, became chaotic and cloudy.

Imants pulled out the worn picture of his mother he kept in his wallet, the last one of them together, earmarked and worn. He preferred to remember her smiling with her arm around him, a small eight-year-old boy, not the mental picture of his mom leaving, tears streaking her face, her face lined with worry and care, somehow hideously bruised. No, I can’t lose Suze. I can’t.

He became electrifyingly aware of how confused and mixed up his feelings were about Suze.

They had met at the neighborhood church, where Imants had been praying for deliverance with tears streaming down his cheeks. He’d opened his eyes to see Suze standing in front of him, radiant at 13, blonde hair glowing in the light. “You okay?” she asked in concern. I am now. God has answered my prayer. I am to be saved.

Suze hadn’t really wanted to know Imants. She felt some obligation to him because he attended her church, but she instinctively knew he was creepy, and likely creepier than she could imagine. Later, Imants attended the local high school, a year behind her, and she had stood up against the near universal hazing directed at Imants, but it was a losing battle, and only seemed to make his obsession with her get worse.

Imants shook his mind free from his repetitive train of misery. He adjusted his pants again. He knew he had to do something, but had no idea what.

When Suze emerged from the shabby restroom, her hair was pinned up and she had put on a bit of makeup, her walk full of confidence. Damn right, I earned my pay. Something horrible happened, that guy she’d kicked… but still.  If that’s the worst, this trip will be a blast, especially with Billy boy by my side. But that was a gun Rob had. She pushed the thought away. Onward.

Rob had paid the tab and the brothers stood outside in the sudden bright sunlight. She pushed open the heavy smudged glass door and joined them, smiling with good cheer. Billy grinned back brightly, adjusting items in his shoulder bag: newspapers, a Carlos Castaneda paperback book, bananas.

“All ready?” Rob asked. Her nod was firm and quick. He glanced at her, and then a line of dark clouds on the horizon to the north. He grunted. “I wanna get the hell out of Texas today.”

She nodded again. “Me too. Let’s hit the road, jack.”

 

To be continued in Chapter Six: Trouble Highway