Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

When Little Aleppo Takes You By The Hand

In 1904, Harper T. Harper bought a stake in a rubber plantation in something called the Congo Free State; the trade was mostly European, but Harper knew people, and he spoke perfect French. He was as civilized as an American could ever be, and he got in on a good deal: business boomed, and soon he had bought out his first partner, and then he had his other partner murdered, and Harper T. Harper was the third-biggest rubber supplier in the country. He made most of his money in hands, though.

The Congo Free State, as you may have guessed, was not particularly free; it was administered by King Leopold of Belgium, and the king was strict. Fail to meet the rubber quota? Hand chopped off. Rebel against Belgian rule? Hand chopped off. King Leopold was so concerned about these rebels, in fact, that he put a bounty on them. Straight cash for rebel hands.

One afternoon–it might have been a Tuesday–Harper was in a barroom drinking gin; there was a ceiling fan that did not move the air. He was doing his accounts when he noticed that the price of hands had risen higher than the price of rubber. By the next morning, he had purchased machetes and hired a team of men. Harper wrote letters to the king in perfect French about the drastic increase in rebel activity, and advised a higher bounty. And that perhaps he start paying for feet, as well.

You can only lie to a king and chop people’s hands off for so long; Harper T. Harper got away with it for just 16 years, and then he fled the Congo Free State in a first-class cabin on a steamer up the Congo, having diversified his interests with plantations in the Amazon and cemented his position with a contract to supply rubber to Ford. When he got back to America, magazines wrote about him. Harper liked it when magazines wrote about him.

He was a big man with a head like the moon, round and shiny, with a humped hawk’s nose and thick, crude lips. Harper was not a fop, not like that asshole Huntington; in fact, he was always frayed and half-unwound: tie crooked and loose, hole in his pants, shirt undone, and mud on his shoes from the last time it rained. Nor was he a show-off or a collector like Hearst. What kind of asshole needs a castle? he thought. Harper made do with a ten-bedroom Roman villa-style home he had built in the Segovian Hills.

What Harper T. Harper liked was putting his name on things. It was a grand name, after all. Why have two names when you could have one perfect one, repeated twice? Bilateral nominative symmetry! he would thunder at whomever he was lecturing. The Congolese used to call him Kifo; they told him it meant “Father.”

Harper T. Harper, father to the natives: he liked that a lot, and so when he came home to Little Aleppo after making his fortune, he set to it. He built the zoo (Harper Zoo) and a college (Harper College) and a library (Harper Library), and he commissioned a statue for the middle of the Verdance along the main path through the park, the Thoroughfare: a giant hand, beckoning and outstretched in friendship and charity.

And high atop Pulaski Peak–tallest of the seven Segovian Hills–was the Harper Observatory, which was his pride and joy. It was beautiful, and a gift to the neighborhood, to science itself, and best of all he hadn’t had to pay for it. New Deal money bought the steel and the brick, and the 100-inch telescope that was for a short time the largest in the country. According to Keynesian thinking, there comes a point in an economic crisis when a government has to pay people to dig holes, and then pay other people to fill them in again. The Harper Observatory was a big hole on top of a mountain.

Harper T. Harper was not a Keynesian. He believed the government that governs best is the government that let him do whatever the fuck he wanted. Harper also didn’t like paying taxes. Bribes were one thing, but taxes were theft. None of his principles stopped him from taking FDR’s money; in fact, a great deal of the pleasure he derived from taking the money was knowing that it came from FDR. Harper hated the bastard. Harvard asshole, he thought. (Harper went to Yale.)

So to remind himself of the victory he’d scored over that pompous cripple, Harper had his observatory built as an exact replica of the White House, but bigger. The telescope poked out through a hemispheric outbubbling above the Truman Balcony, right in the center of the roof where the snipers stand on the real thing. In the West Wing was the gift shop, and the East Wing was for the offices and conference rooms. The main building was for the telescope, and the exhibits.

The summit of Pulaski Peak was shaped like a diamond with rounded edges, and had been flattened to make a park encompassing around ten acres; walking the perimeter took fifteen minutes. The Observatory was at the west side, overlooking Little Aleppo, and there was a broad lawn that had overgrown wildly, and lines of planted trees flanking walkways. By the drop-off on the east, there was a crescent-shaped stand of trees with bumpy and gnarled trunks. Each had a double-helix of branches staffed with waxy leaves the size of child’s hand. Each leaf had 13 points that captured the dew in the mornings.

“Those trees shouldn’t be up here,” Officer Romeo Rodriguez said to Penny Arrabbiata.

“Neither should an observatory or a ghost cop, but here we are, kid,” Penny said.

“Do we have a bulldozer?”


“Can we get one?”


Romeo Rodriguez did not know specifically why he needed a bulldozer, but he figured a bulldozer was in general a good thing to have if you were trying to defend a position.

Harper T. Harper had built (with FDR’s money) the Observatory with love and care, bordering on obsession: the two-lane road up from the valley had been carved and re-carved, and the plot of land graded and leveled, and the lawn drawn to his exact specifications. He had even chosen the trees that lined the paths personally, and the ones that he had planted in a crescent on the east side of the park. But he hadn’t actually bought the land. Forgetful, arrogant, whatever you want to call it: it was an oversight.

Six years ago, someone noticed.

The buyer is still anonymous, hidden behind at least seven layers of shell corporations snaking through four countries. When the Town Fathers realized what had happened, they pretended they hadn’t noticed; when Little Aleppo realized what had happened, they protested in front of Town Hall until the Town Fathers pretended that they hadn’t pretended not to notice. The buyer retained the law firm of Holly, Wood, and Vine. The Town Fathers did, too. Perhaps predictably, the case went slowly until the anonymous buyer doubled his retainer, and then things sped up. The land under the Harper Observatory, the court found, belonged to the anonymous buyer, and he or she could do whatever he or she pleased with that land. The buyer had found a loophole.

Little Aleppians didn’t care much for loopholes; they knew their history, and their architecture. A loophole is a slit in a castle’s wall, narrow at the outside but wide on the inside, that allows an archer a free field of fire and protects him from retaliation. A loophole is how those in charge kill those who aren’t.

Every child in Little Aleppo had been dragged up to Harper Observatory on a field trip, and every teenager had taken acid there, and everyone in their twenties had gone there on a date, and everyone older than that had taken the drive up the mountain to sit on a bench with a pint of banana schnapps and wonder where it had all gone so wrong.  There are rules, and then there are laws, and then there’s what’s right. Harper Observatory belonged to Little Aleppo.

“Everything changes, and nothing lasts. Do you believe that, cats and kittens? Or is it that nothing changes, and everything lasts? Who you got your money on? It’s a horse race! I tell ya, I still don’t know. If you do, then give ol’ Frankie Nickels a call here at the KHAY–Hey!–studios.

“We all going through changes, right now, you and me. Some of ’em intentional, others up to time and gravity. Getting slower. Forgetting. Weirder than you used to be, that’s for sure. But what’s fit to last?

“Ask me? It’s your story. Now, you know that no one’s asking me nothing, but still: story, cats and kittens.

“Check me out: your whole body recycles itself once every seven years. Cells die off, replaced by new ones. Synapses pared and regenerated, skin sloughed. Bones worn and rebuilt anew and white and chalky. All new, nothing of the old, once every seven years.

“So you tell me: you the same person you was eight years ago? Or are you just a story you been telling yourself? What’s to stop you telling a new story? Keeping the good bits, mind you. All them good books you read. That thing your daddy said to you that time. Even the heartbreak, yes even the heartbreak.

“Maybe especially the heartbreak.

“You’re gonna change, and your world’s gonna change. Try to hold on and you’ll go flying.

“But you can fight for what’s yours, and what was given to you. And you can fight for what’s been promised to you. Hell, you can fight for whatever you want, but you can’t lie to yourself and you can’t lie to ol’ Frankie Nickels: you only got so much fight in you.

“You gonna change or you gonna last?

Frankie Nickels’ voice crackled out of boom boxes duct taped to food carts by the Verdance, and murmured from clock radios in bedrooms up and down the Main Drag, only to fall silent with a slap for nine minutes, and then begin murmuring again. The sun was as hungover as the neighborhood; the sky was the color of last week’s black eye.

Romy Schott didn’t need her alarm; she hadn’t slept. She had cried herself to sleep a few times, but dreamed she was awake and still crying, so she cried herself awake. Once during the night she had gotten out of bed to lay on the floor and cry, but the closet door looked scary as hell from that angle–that half-inch space between the door and the carpeting–so she went back to bed to cry there. It had been four days, sixteen hours, and two minutes since she broke up with Julio Montez.

She loved him. Oh, God, she loved him so much. Romy wanted to run off with him, to the Grand Canyon or a motel or somewhere they were by themselves and they could be alone together. And naked. Naked would be good, but Jesus he didn’t look back at her the way she looked at him, she thought.  All Romy wanted was for Julio to think she was perfect. To be mesmerized. Was that so much to ask?

She was worth it, she figured. She was smart, and funny, and when she looked in the mirror she was not completely displeased. She wasn’t one of those hot bitches–Romy hated the hot bitches, everybody hated the hot bitches–but she had a thin waist, and she was almost over her embarrassment about her tits’ existence. (For years, she had hunched over and tugged her shirts away from her chest, angered at her body cutting her out of the decision-making process.)

And Julio–that motherfucker–he didn’t appreciate her. Distracted. Working. Hanging out, hanging out, hanging out. All 17-year-old boys did was hang out, Romy thought. Or working out. Morons, all of them, especially Julio but she liked his chest–the working out wasn’t the problem–and she liked to put her hand up when he was on top of her, just raise her hand and hold it steady as his pectoral brushed her palm up and down, up and down. Her other hand would be on his hip; she could feel the muscles in his ass tensing and releasing, tensing and releasing, and she started crying again but did not get on the floor because the closet was scary.

Four days, fifteen hours, and fifty-seven minutes since Romy broke up with Julio Montez. One hour and three minutes until school started. Is there no end to teenage fuckery, she thought. She wanted acclaim, critical and otherwise, and a house in the Segovian Hills, photographers bothering her and chasing her sports car down the Main Drag; she wanted sex and she wanted a closet full of clothes someone with a silly accent made just for her. Scandal, ooh, scaaaaandal. How very grown-up to have a scandal, to be scandalous, Romy wanted to be scandalous and have all the hot bitches whisper behind her, and maybe the Man Booker prize and an Oscar and a pool–definitely a pool–and she just wanted everyone to know who she was, she didn’t think it was too much to ask. She was worth it. Romy also wanted to watch the Mister Hamburger show.

Is there no end to this teenage fuckery?

PONK PONK PONK on the front door of the First Church of the Iterated Christ, Julio Montez whomped on the heavy oak. Classes at Paul Bunyan High (Go Blue Oxen!) started in thirty-two minutes, and he was in a hurry. The door opened and the Reverend Arcade Jones filled the space, all 6’5” of him, but because of the knee injury he received playing college football he spread his legs wide when he stood. Julio went through the five-hole, and zipped to the confessional booth in the left wing of the church’s transept.

Arcade Jones was impressed.

“Wiry little sucker.”

He walked back to the confessional, where Julio had already entered the penitent’s side, and then he squeezed himself into the other half of the booth.

“You all right, son?”

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned.”

“Julio, this isn’t a Catholic church.”

“I know.”

“St. Mary’s is the Catholic church. You want confession, go there.”

“Father Linehan’s not there any more. There’s a new guy, Father Santiago. I don’t like him.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Too strict. He assigns too many prayers. Tell him you had lustful thoughts and it’s three hours of novenas.”

Confessional booths have a window in between the chambers; it is usually latticed or screened to provide anonymity, but the Reverend Arcade Jones had yanked the whole thing off with his bare hands some time ago, so there was an open and uneven hole in the wall separating Arcade from Julio.

“If you have something to confess, then I’ll hear it, but I don’t know if it’s going to count.”

“I don’t…I don’t know if I have anything really to confess?” Julio’s voice rose at the end of the sentence. Teenagers do that: it means they want to stop talking and have you do it for them.

“But you have something to say,” the Reverend said.

“Romy dumped me.”

The Reverend Arcade Jones did not speak; he considered his words; he did not want to say the wrong thing. And so he said this:

“You drink coffee?”



“I like a lot of milk and sugar.”

“Me, too. You want some coffee?”


“You gonna have to help me out of this thing first.”

“You wedged in?”

“Little bit.”

Julio left his side of the booth. He was tall and skinny which gave him good leverage when he grabbed the Reverend’s forearm with both of his hands and leeeeeeeaned back and POP Arcade Jones was free of the confessional and brushing off his ketchup-red suit. Julio went and sat in a pew halfway back along the left while the Reverend went into the offices.

He came back with two coffee mugs, one that said “Nebraska State Fair ’93” and one that said “Harper Observatory: Where The Stars Live.”

“Lotta milk, lotta sugar.”


“I’m a much better listener when I can breathe.”

“I don’t think they made those things with people your size in mind.”

“They didn’t make a lot of this world with people my size in mind,” Arcade said.

They sipped their coffee; the Reverend watched Julio out of the corner of his eye, and when the teenager smiled at his mug, then the Reverend did, too.

“Sweet enough?”

“My mom drinks it black. I don’t know how people do that.”

“Black is beautiful, baby.”

Julio laughed.

“So. What did you do?”

“Me? I didn’t do anything.”

The Reverend Arcade Jones, all 6’5″ and 300 pounds of him in his ketchup-red suit, swiveled around on the pew until he was facing Julio Montez straight on.

“Are you gonna lie to a preacher in a church, young man?”

“I didn’t!”

“You a boy or girl?”


“Are you a boy, or are you a girl?”

“I’m a boy.”

“And how old are you?”


“Right. You’re a 17-year-old boy. You did something stupid.”

The bell on top of the First Church of the Infinite Christ is ten feet in diameter, and it is named the Calling Judge: it struck 8 o’clock WHONGG and the whole building shimmied, an undulating wave of wood and brick and steel and glass starting at the belfry and ending in the basement where the alcoholics met. It was not a jarring vibration, though; it felt like the church had briefly sat on a washing machine.

“I didn’t know that a three-month anniversary was a thing.”

“Oh, Lord.”

The Reverend Arcade Jones leaned back in the pew, took an enormous breath, blew it out.

“Ohhh, Lord.”

A skinny white guy in a grey suit stepped into the church from the office door. He had a Fu Manchu mustache and a skull ring on his finger.

“Deacon Blue, this young man’s name is Julio Montez, and he forgot his three-month anniversary.”

Deacon Blue looked at Julio and shook his head, sadly and slowly. Then he backed into the office while keeping his eyes on Julio.

“You scared Deacon Blue.”

“I didn’t mean to!”

The Reverend laughed and put his hand on Julio’s shoulder.

“I’m just playing with you. Now. You forgot your three-month anniversary. Lemme ask you: did your girlfriend…Ronny?”


“Romy. Did Romy let you know that this occasion was meaningful and important to her?”

“I guess, kinda.”

“How so?”

“She broke up with me when I forgot our two-month anniversary.”

The Reverend Arcade Jones sipped his coffee and tilted his massive head; he looked at Jesus. The church’s crucifix was halfway up the north wall in front of the apse, and it had been installed in consultation with a magician so that–when you saw it from the pews–it looked like it was floating. Someone had put red, white, and blue sweatbands on Jesus’ forearms.

Safety and danger, all in the Christ. Compassion and the noose, the saintly and benighted, and all the lonely people. Rome was the Christ, and so too Mecca, and Mt. Fuji and Sedona and Lincoln, Nebraska. The offense, the defense, the special teams, coaches, fans, ushers, beer vendors, cops, they all come together to make up the Christ; each separately is the Christ. This is infinicy. The Christ has no beginning and no end; nothing is bigger than the Christ

Except maybe the stupidity of a teenager, the Reverend thought.

“I will help you on one condition.”


“If you come back here in a month saying that she broke up with you because you forgot your four-month anniversary, then I’m gonna throw you outta here.”

Julio snorted out a little laugh.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Throw. I mean that word. I will pick you up over my head and hurl you onto Rose Street.”

“I got it.”

“I have thrown Mexican teenagers before, Julio. No problem with it whatsoever.”

“Okay, okay. I will learn from my mistakes.”

“You say that now. Let’s see what you say when you’re in midair,” Arcade Jones said with a smile.

Julio looked down at his watch, and then up at the Reverend in panic.

“I’m gonna be late for school.”

“‘I’ll call and tell them you were helping me.”

“Oh. Okay. I don’t want you to lie.”

“It won’t be a lie. We’re gonna talk, and then you gonna get up on a ladder and get those damn sweatbands off Jesus.”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks.”

“What I’m here for.”

“Reverend Jones?”

“Mr. Montez?”

“Can I keep the sweatbands?”

“You can keep the sweatbands.”

It was quiet in the First Church of the Infinite Christ, and the lights were not turned on, so the only illumination came in from the windows; it was dark outside, so it was darker inside, and in the shadow of the Christ two men tried to figure out women.

“I don’t want to talk about men.”

“Tirry, you have nothing to talk about.”

“I’m fine!”

Tiresias Richardson was fine, but she was also drunk. So was Big-Dicked Sheila, and so was everyone else in the Morning Tavern, or at least getting there. It was ten after eight in the morning, which was midnight for the nocturnal: the loudest and sleaziest and most perfect the night–or whatever–would get. The room was the correct amount of drunk, right in the pipe between sober and belligerent, and there was a jukebox in the corner blasting out your favorite songs. Quarters lined up on the pool table, and the conversation pinwheeled up and down the el-shaped bar; Tiresias and Sheila sat at the end.

The Morning Tavern was on Widow Street on the Upside of town, but only geographically. It was opened in 1962 to serve the stevedores and mongers at the Salt Wharf, thirsty men whose day was over at six a.m. Doors open at dawn and close at four, or whenever the bartender loses her patience. It was a joint: nautical themed bullshit on the walls, and a barely-cleaned bathroom with a coke dealer in it.

Immediately, the clientele diversified: the whores from 8th Avenue, and insomniacs, and drunks on their way to an early-morning meeting that would only order vodka. Teachers headed to class, and dancers coming from parties. Writers, too many writers. You could always tell who was blocked; no one would sit near them. Disillusioned post-docs, and failed ballerinas. The poet-priests of the Hecubaean Intrigue.

And Horror Hosts and hairdressers.

Tiresias had signed off at 3 o’clock. She had been showing a movie called Count Bicuspid, the Vampire Dentist, which was about alien sharks. It was bad even for KSOS’ late movie standards: several scenes were shots of the director sitting in an office chair explaining what would have happened in the scene had he had the money to film it.

Tiresias was jangled and keyed up after a show; she felt like the rolled-up hundred God was doing lines with, and she also felt like a drink. Well, first she felt like getting out of the damn dress and back into human clothing. Then a drink. Okay, maybe a drink while getting out of the dress. Thank the Lord for Sheila, who helped her out of her black spandex-and-kevlar nemesis, and into some white wine.

By the time Tiresias put her sweats on, the two of them had killed two bottles and the sun was coming up.

“Just one,” Tiresias said.

“Just one,” Sheila said, too, and so they went to the Morning Tavern at dawn for one drink.

At ten after eight, they had each had four.

“We should get some coke,” Tiresias said.

“No, we shouldn’t,” Sheila replied.

“WE MUST!” they yelled at each other, and started laughing. They had had this conversation before.

“I admire our resolve. AHHHhahaha!”

“A truth individually recognized is a truth universally acknowledged.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Sounded good, though, right?”

Tiresias put her fist on her outstretched palm; Sheila did the same. Rock, paper, scissor, SHOOT. Sheila went with paper. Tiresias threw scissors.

“This is, like, the third time in a row.”

“You want some money?”

“It’s not about the money; it’s about my luck,” Sheila said as she slid off her bar stool and headed toward the bathroom.

It was bar coke, drippy and farty and thick in your throat; Sheila did a line in the stall, rolled-up ten and her license and the metal toilet paper dispenser SHNICK SHNICK SHNACK–she flushed as she sniffed–and then she palmed the stamp-sized bag as she walked back into the bar. Tiresias was already off her stool and walking towards her. A handshake, sort of, and Tiresias was in the same stall and FNORF the cobwebs and sloppy drunken sappiness was gone, she was tight and lean and moving forward; she was sanctified and delighted.

And back at the bar.

“I don’t want to talk about men.”

“Tirry, you have nothing to talk about.”

“I’m fine!”

“You’re not a secret lesbian?”

“I’m not a secret lesbian. If I were a lesbian, I wouldn’t be a secret one. I’d be a lesbian lesbian.”

“You would.”

“Loud and proud. The show. Please? Can we talk about the show?”

“We booked the Springy Sisters.”

Tiresias had switched from white wine to gin and tonics, and the glass stopped halfway to her mouth.

“Who the fuck are the Springy Sisters?”

“It’s a jumping act.”

Sheila had the first two fingers of her fist sticking out, and they bounced up and down on the bar.

“Like this. Jumping.”

The Frenchython was KSOS’ annual charity drive: 24 hours straight of begging, and Tiresias–Draculette, actually–had been conscripted into hosting. Unlike New Year’s marathon, there were no bets taken on a train wreck; Little Aleppo was cynical, but not cruel, and wouldn’t think of betting on a charity even. It was for the kids. A lack of betting doesn’t mean a lack of rooting, though, and locals were usually sub rosa hopeful for a tremendous disaster.

There had been many. In 1979, Frightening Hal rolled into a ball around hour eight and stayed there for the rest of the broadcast, whimpering softly and pissing himself. The Mummy Mommy head-faked her way past the cameraman and ran out of the studio halfway through one show in the 90’s. More recently, Kartoom the Imperious got so drunk he confessed to killing several drifters on Route 77; he was arrested on-air, and the rest of the show was hosted by one of the cops.

In Little Aleppo’s defense: a quick look at the books will reveal that the worse the debacle, the greater the amount raised.

“Jumping is not an act, sweetie.”

“It is the way they do it. And it’s nine minutes.”

“Nine minutes of jumping? We put that on the air and people will be jumping out of their windows! AAAAAhahaha!”

“It’s nine minutes.”

Tiresias Richardson’s first memory is The Mikado. Her parents loved Gilbert & Sullivan, and they took her when she was seven. That was it. The costumes, and the lights; beautiful women singing and then everyone claps for them, everyone in the building CLAPS! just because you did your job, and Tiresias was very quiet for the rest of evening after the show, and then the next morning she announced that she wanted to be an actress and never shut up again.

She had done scene study and classes and taken any part offered, and read Stanislavski and Meisner and Hagen; the constant critique of a life lived out loud, and audition after audition. New head shots. That was the problem. New head shots will solve everything. Audition after audition, and though she was too smart to say that she had suffered for her art out loud, she had. Tiresias Richardson was an artist. She had integrity.

She also had 24 hours to fill.

“Book the Springy Sisters.”

“You’re gonna love them.”


“No, they’re shit.”

“But they’re nine minutes,” Tiresias said, and raised her drink.

“But they’re nine minutes,” Sheila said. She clinked her glass against Tiresias’, and then pointed across the room with her chin. “That guy’s checking you out.”

“Which one?”

“Tall one.”

Tiresias took a long sip from her gin & tonic.

“You need to wear your glasses, sweetie.”

“What? Is he a mess?”

“He is the coat rack.”

Sheila turtled her neck forward and squinted, then closed one eye and then the other.

“Oh, yeah.”

“Glasses, sweetie.”

Sheila hopped down from the stool, and put a hand in the air and the other on her hip like a bathing beauty painted on the nose of a B-17. She was on her tiptoes and her calf muscles stood out in the shape of upside-down hearts; there were many large bracelets on her wrist, and they click-clacked against each other.

“Who needs to see when you look this good?”


Sheila’s hand came off her hip and sat, palm up, in front of Tiresias.


“Don’t you harrumph me.”

“Call the harrumph police.”

“Out of line,” Tiresias said as she handed Sheila the coke.

Sheila went to the bathroom, came back; Tiresias went to the bathroom, came back. Both of them needed another drink; the answers to everything were surely at the bottom of the next drink. Just one more, they said with a smile. Several hours later, the bartender lost her patience and the both of them–along with the rest of the barroom–were deposited onto the sidewalk on Widow Street.

Three thousand feet above them, on the summit of Pulaski Peak, a ghost and a scientist looked at a bulldozer. The ghost was tall, and he was wearing a police uniform; the scientist was short, and she was wearing a lab coat and a well-worn pair of boots that could not be bitten through by a rattlesnake.

“That was quick,” Officer Romeo Rodriguez said.

“For a righteous cause, need will be answered,” Penny Arrabbiata answered. “Besides, Precarious owed me a favor.”

They looked at the bulldozer some more.

“Is it stolen?”

“I deliberately didn’t ask, Officer.”

They looked at the bulldozer a little more.

Romeo Rodriguez did not know much about bulldozers. He did know that you turned one on with a key, and not two bare wires twisted together and dangling out of the busted-out dashboard.

“Because it looks like it’s been hot-wired.”

“That might be a feature, Officer. I simply don’t know enough about bulldozers to have an opinion.”

Officer Rodriguez closed his eyes and rubbed his temples with his fingertips. He was a ghost cop returned to the site of his murder to serve as the spirit of justice: fine, okay, he could adjust. A dramatic and possibly doomed stand atop a mountain? Sure, why not? But stealing bulldozers seemed like bullshit to him. It belonged to someone; a guy needed this thing. Whats the point in being right if it takes being an asshole, Romeo thought?

“We will give this back and pay for the repairs.”

“When we’re done with it, right?”

There was only one road up the mountain: Skyway Drive, which was two lanes of switchbacks and cut-throughs; several sections had squeezed-in shoulders where the rock pinched in on both sides. The other three slopes had no roads, and were impassable even to four-wheel or tracked vehicles. Eliminating Skyway Drive as an access point was, in Officer Rodriguez’ estimation, about 80% of the battle.

“Oh, yeah: when we’re done with it.”

“Sure,” Penny said. “You know how to drive it?”

“I’ll figure it out. Not like I can kill myself doing it.”

She smiled at him.

“You’re my favorite ghost so far,” Penny said, and turned away towards the Observatory.

“So far? How many do you know?” Romeo said, but she pretended not to hear as she walked away.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, but possession plus a bulldozer is surely a more favorable fraction. Romeo Rodriguez climbed into the seat of the ‘dozer and stared blankly at the controls for a good long while, and then he stalled it, and stalled it some more; after a half-hour, he had the machine figured out and he headed toward Skyway Drive, which is the only road that leads down from Harper Observatory to Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.


  1. This particular piece rather reminds me of ‘Don Camillo meets Hell’s Angels’, by Giovanni Guareschi.


    • “Safety and danger, all in the Christ. Compassion and the noose, the saintly and benighted, and all the lonely people. Rome was the Christ, and so too Mecca, and Mt. Fuji and Sedona and Lincoln, Nebraska. The offense, the defense, the special teams, coaches, fans, ushers, beer vendors, cops, they all come together to make up the Christ; each separately is the Christ. This is infinicy. The Christ has no beginning and no end; nothing is bigger than the Christ..”

      That made me TINGLE.

  2. Mean, Green, Devil Eating Machine

    February 10, 2017 at 3:36 pm – my, a leppo!

  3. Luther Von Baconson

    February 10, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    tommy amici just a-givin’ her on the git-twanger

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