Aborted Novel: Kansas City Shuffle

valentine's day

by Andy Rausch

THE FOLLOWING IS A 3,000 WORD EXCERPT FROM A NOVEL I BEGAN IN 2011 AND QUICKLY ABORTED. ELEMENTS OF THIS WOULD LIVE ON IN OTHER WORKS, SUCH AS MY NOVELLA EAZY-PEEZY WHICH APPEARS IN RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER CRUELTIES AND THE FORTHCOMING NOVEL LAYLA’S SCORE. THIS IS BRIEF AND A LITTLE BIT ROUGH, BUT I AM POSTING IT HERE FOR POSTERITY.

ONE

The date was September 19, 1974, and Michael Russo had seen better days. But hell, he was doing better than a lot of fellas he’d known. Most of the guys he’d run with back in the Chicago days had been dead for decades.

Frank Nitti had shot himself in the head back in 1943.

Big Al Capone had died of a heart attack back in 1947.

And lots of other guys with less well-known names had bought the farm in a variety of ways over the years.

Sometimes Michael wondered if he was dead, too, and no one had bothered to tell him. Most days he felt like shit. His bones had become brittle, and his liver-spotted skin had become as thin as paper. He had a bad heart, and a memory that was almost as faulty. Nowadays he needed bifocals just to read the sports page. The doctors had him on enough pills to medicate an army, and his plumbing didn’t work so good. Maybe there were worse things than being sixty-nine-years old, but Michael didn’t know what in the hell those things might be.

Times were tough financially, as well. Back when he’d been a part of the Chicago Outfit, Michael could never have imagined the life of poverty he’d live as a senior citizen. Things had been all right once, but that was before his Beulah got cancer and died in the summer of 1961. Her extended stay at St. Luke’s had wiped them out financially. Then her funeral service, which was meager at best, put Michael in a financial hole he had never been able to dig himself out of.

He was sitting in his apartment, nursing a hangover and watching The Young and the Restless, when someone knocked on the door. Before he even got up to answer it, Michael knew it was trouble. At best it would be Mrs. Rodgers, his landlord; at worst it would be Blackie Cromwell’s goons here to collect the five hundred bucks he’d lost on the Browns game. (Michael had made the unfortunate mistake of betting on the local team. The Bengals won in a 33-7 rout.)

Either way it didn’t really matter. Be it Mrs. Rodgers or Blackie’s boys, Michael didn’t have the money to pay either one of them.

He opened the door, and as luck had it, it was Blackie’s boy, Greasy Dunleavy, and some other musclebound goon he’d never seen before. Greasy grinned as though he was genuinely happy to see Michael, every other tooth in his grin missing.

“Mike,” he said, putting out a beefy hand for him to shake.

Michael shook it, and ushered the men into his tiny apartment.

“Good to see you,” Greasy said.

Michael shrugged. “Wish I could say the same.”

Greasy laughed at this. He looked at Michael’s old basset hound looking dead on the couch.

“Who’s this guy?” he asked.

“His name is Arthur.”

“He do any tricks?”

“He’s alive.”

Greasy looked at Michael. “That’s a trick?”

“When you’re his age it is.”

Greasy chuckled at this.

Michael nodded at the other guy. “Never seen this one before. What happened to Big Jake?”

Greasy shook his head solemnly. “They got him in lock-up.”

“You don’t say.”

“Some guys are lucky, and some ain’t,” Greasy said. “And Big Jake ain’t.”

“What happened to ‘im?”

“He comes home one day,” Greasy said, “and catches his old lady in bed with another guy.”

“He kill him?”

“Big Jake shot the both of ’em. Unloaded his pistol on ’em, then reloaded and shot ’em another six times.”

“Shit deal.”

“Hell yeah, that’s a shit deal. I mean, what else can a guy do in that situation?”

“Yeah. That’s too bad.”

“Speaking of luck, you haven’t been too lucky yourself lately, Mike.”

Michael said nothing.

Greasy grinned. “You don’t bet on the Browns when they’re on the road. Hell, if I’m being honest, you don’t bet on the Browns under any circumstances.”

“What can I say? I like the Browns.”

“And how’s that working for you?”

“Not so good, I guess.” Michael grinned uneasily, knowing what was coming next.

Greasy reached into his pants pocket and fished out a pack of cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?”

Michael shook his head no.

Greasy offered up the pack. “You want one?”

Michael nodded, and took one of the Pall Malls. He put it to his lips, and Greasy lit it for him with a tacky gold Zippo with a naked woman on it.

Once Greasy had lit both of their cigarettes, he asked, “You got the money?”

“I don’t have it all.”

A grim expression washed over Greasy’s face. “How much you got?”

Michael shrugged. “None of it.”

“There’s not much I can do if you don’t have any of the money, Mike.”

Michael nodded, already knowing the score.

“You’re not much of a gambler, Mike. Why don’t you just hang it up before something happens to you that you’re not gonna be able to walk away from.”

Michael said nothing, taking a long drag from his cigarette.

“I like you, Mike. Tell you what: I’m gonna let you pick the hand.”

Michael could have killed them both without so much as batting an eye. Back in the old days, had someone threatened him with bodily harm, he’d have unloaded on them like Big Jake had unloaded on his old lady and her lover. But these were different times, and Michael couldn’t begrudge the guy; Greasy had a job to do, and this was no one’s fault but Michael’s.

“I’m right-handed,” Michael said. “So if it could be the left, I’d be much obliged.”

Greasy nodded. “You got a nice, solid drawer I can use?”

“Yeah.” Michael made his way into the tiny kitchen where the silverware drawer was. He opened it, and a variety of silverware, knives included, was visible. Greasy looked into the drawer and said, “You gonna stab me with one of those steak knives?”

Michael laughed. “This is my fault, not yours.” He began removing all the silverware from the drawer and sitting it on the cabinet top.

“Good man,” Greasy said. “If only a tenth of my clients were as understanding as you.”

Once the drawer was empty, Michael pushed his left hand into it, half-in, half-out.

He took one more drag from the Pall Mall.

“Sorry, buddy,” Greasy said just before he slammed the drawer shut on Michael’s hand, breaking just about every bone. Michael screamed loudly, but quickly stifled it.

“You’re a pretty tough old sonofabitch, you know that, Mike?”

TWO

Michael curled up in bed with his broken hand out, his right hand gripping the bottle of Early Times. His hand hurt like a sonofabitch. The pain was intense, and Michael fell asleep immediately, attempting to outrun it.

And, as usual, the nightmares were there, waiting. Michael knew they were nightmares, but he still hoped he might change their outcomes. Somewhere deep down in his mind he believed altering the dreams might make them go away once and for all. But somewhere even deeper in his mind, he knew that it was a rigged-game, and that changing the outcomes was impossible. These nightmares, which now came to him on a daily basis, were memories that were now set in stone.

Each night they awaited him in his slumber. His only hope of avoiding them was getting black-out drunk and passing out. He attempted this each night, but rarely succeeded.

And so the nightmares came.

Today was no different.

His nightmares were like a greatest hits reel from his days as a hitman. Each night the faces of those he’d killed or helped kill came to him, each of them desperate and pleading for the lives they’d never know. And as the nightmares became more and more intense, Michael would find himself pleading to the God who must be overseeing these dreams for the exact opposite—he would beg for his own death. But life was merciless, just as Michael himself had been in his heyday, and death would not come.

The first nightmare was always the same—it would be the one with the little girl.

Michael hadn’t murdered the girl, hadn’t even wanted to kidnap her, but it didn’t seem to matter to the God of his nightmares. Each and every night, without fail, she would visit him in his dreams, just as doe-eyed and innocent as she had been on the day of her death.

Michael opened his eyes to sunlight, and he knew at once where he was. He and two other men, Sharky Tambini and some other guy whose name Michael could no longer remember, were standing around the parked Model T. They were on a hillside about a mile from a small town called Westchester, Illinois, and they were about to rob a bank.

And each night in the dreams, every minute detail would be the same.

They would joke around and discuss the job they were about to pull.

“Why Westchester?” the man whose name Michael could not remember asked.

“Because Al says there’s money in there,” Michael said.

“The man’s got a nose for money,” Sharky said. “If he says there’s good money in there, you can bet your ass he’s right.”

Michael and Sharky would light their cigarettes at the same time each night. Michael was still smoking Luckies; he could never see what brand Sharky was smoking.

As they stand around shooting the shit, Michael the observer remembers Sharky, and remembers why he never liked him. Sharky, or “Shark” as he liked to be called, was an arrogant prick. He was the guy who had done everything you’ve done at least twice as many times, and always had to tell a story that would one-up yours. In short, Sharky was a liar. But then hell, most of the criminals Michael had known in his day were liars. But there had always been something different about Sharky, and the truth was that Michael had been itching to put a bullet in him since the day they’d met. Thing was, Al Capone liked Sharky, and if Al liked somebody, they were pretty much a fixture. Nobody went against Al—not ever.

In the nightmare, the three men were now driving through the countryside, heading toward Westchester. The man whose name Michael could not remember was driving the Model T, and Sharky was riding shotgun. They were yammering on about how Rogers Hornsby had just won baseball’s triple crown with a .403 average, 39 homers, and 143 ribbies. But this was of little interest to Michael, who just sat in the back with his mouth shut, thinking about the job they were about to pull.

The passage of time in his nightmares was of interest to Michael, because it made no sense. Every night it was the same, and every night the nightmares skipped scenes. For instance, the nightmare now took Michael directly from the ride through the countryside to the robbery itself.

The three men each had Tommy Guns. The bank was relatively empty. There was the manager, a meek little sonofabitch, a couple of cashiers, and a smattering of customers. Tonight, as always, the robbery went off without so much as a hitch. Michael threatened to murder the bank manager’s family, and the little bastard opened the vault, whimpering as he did so. Things didn’t get messy until they heard the far off sounds of a police siren. That’s when Sharky grabbed the little girl. A pretty little thing, she couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, with stringy blonde hair and big blue eyes.

And every night in his nightmare Michael heard Sharky make the same declaration—“I’m taking the girl!”

And then they were all three out the door and gone before the cops arrived.

Now the nightmare skipped directly to the Model T pulled over on the side of the road about twenty miles outside of town. Michael the observer knew what was going to happen, but Michael the active participant in the dream had not a clue; the whole thing happened so quickly he hadn’t had time to react. Sharky had the girl out on the side of the road, cutting her down with the sub-machine gun, killing her instantly.

“What the hell you do that for?” Michael cried out.

Sharky, unaffected, said, “She saw us. She got a good look at us. Besides, we don’t wanna go down for kidnapping. The little girl had to go.”

And every night Michael says the same thing: “No, you’ve gotta go.”

And before Sharky can react, Michael’s gunning him down with the Tommy, Sharky’s bloodied body falling on the side of the road right next to the little girl’s.

And even in his nightmare, Michael felt no remorse for killing Sharky. Sharky was a lowlife and he had it coming. But the sad truth was, even in the dreams, Michael had no real remorse for any of the people he murdered. For him, these dark dreams weren’t so much an indication of remorse as they were a longing for remorse he just wasn’t capable of feeling. He felt remorse for not being able to stop the little girl’s murder, and he felt remorse for not being able to stop his Beulah’s painful march through the valley of death. But the deaths he felt remorse for were few and far between. The loss of life was just part of the job. His victims’ faces, sometimes yearning for life and at other times contorted gruesomely in demonic expressions, may have scared the shit out of Michael, but he rarely felt remorse for them.

The second nightmare that came to Michael each night was February 14, 1929—the day that had since become dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. A rival, Bugs Moran, had tried to gun down Al Capone and his men while they were eating dinner in a downtown Chicago restaurant. They showered the building with more than a thousand bullets, but they had missed Capone completely. Then Al learned that Moran had put a $50,000 bounty on his head.

“Something’s got to be done about this asshole Moran,” Al said, trying his best not sound frightened. “I can’t have every looky loo with a gun in Chicago tryin’ ta put a bullet in my ass.”

“No,” Nitti said. “We can’t have that.”

“So the question is, how do we get that sonofabitch?” Al said.

To this, Michael answered, “I guess it depends on how many of his men you want dead.”

“All of them,” Al said calmly. “Every last motherfucking one of them. I want them all dead.”

And that was when Michael explained his plan. Al had just received information that Moran was to receive a large shipment of whiskey on Valentine’s Day. The tipster had also revealed that the shipment was to arrive at Moran’s headquarters on North Clark Street. This, Michael explained, would be the perfect time to get the drop on them.

“What?” Al asked. “We just drive by and shoot up the place?”

“No,” Michael said. “We go inside, line ’em up against the wall, and shoot every last one of the cocksuckers.”

“How do we get inside?” Nitti asked. “How do we get past the door?”

Michael grinned. “We dress up as policemen and we act like we’re raiding the place. Then we line ’em all up—you know, the way the cops do—and we gun ’em all down like the filthy vermin they are.”

Al nodded happily, looking at Nitti, and then back at Michael. “I love this kid.”

“So who do we get to do the shooting?” Nitti asked.

Al nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe we hire guns from out of town.”

“Nah, I know just the guys,” Michael said. “I’ll put together a team.”

“Are they trustworthy?” Nitti asked.

“As the day is long,” Michael said.

Nitti asked, “How many guns are you thinking?”

“Four, maybe five,” Michael said.

Al pointed at Michael. “Well, I want you there. You wait outside until after our cops have corralled Moran and his men. Then you step inside and everyone starts firing. We’ll have a good old fashioned mobster’s ball.”

Al and his men all laughed at this.

Michael then put together his team. First he selected John Scalise, his oldest friend. He trusted John and knew that John was a good triggerman. With the selection of Scalise came Scalise’s partner, Albert Anselmi. Michael had no love for Anselmi, but he trusted him and also knew that Scalise wouldn’t do the job without his partner. Next Michael selected “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, a tough bastard who worked for Al and had once been a professional boxer. The fourth gun Michael chose for the job was Joseph “Hop Toad” Giunta, a gunman he didn’t really know that well but was suggested by Al himself.

Each night the nightmare began with Michael and the other men standing around the corner from Moran’s hangout at 2122 North Clark Street. They wait there, watching for Moran to arrive. But Michael never sees Moran arrive because the nightmare skipped ahead again.

Now John Scalise and the other three uniformed assassins were inside, and Michael waited outside alone. He checked his pocket watch and finally decided enough time had passed. He made the corner and rushed into Moran’s headquarters, where his team had seven gangsters lined up against the wall. Michael looked them over. It was a virtual who’s who of the North Side Irish gang. Everyone was present—except Moran.

“Where the fuck is Moran?” Michael asked.

“He ain’t here,” said Moran enforcer Frank Gusenberg.

Michael looked at John Scalise. “I thought you said you saw Moran enter the building.”

Gusenberg chuckled.

John Scalise pointed at one of the men against the wall. “I thought that was him.”

“It ain’t,” Michael said grimly.

“So what do we do?” asked John Scalise.

Michael nodded. “Mow ’em down and let’s get out of here.”

And the gunfire began. The men lined up against the wall made ghastly faces as their bodies danced rhythmically under the hail of machine gun fire. They fell to the ground in bloody heaps, now nothing more than hunks of meat wearing tattered clothing.

One of the dead men stared up at Michael with what looked to be accusing eyes. Of course the man was dead, so his eyes weren’t really saying shit, but Michael saw them staring at him. Through him. Even now, as he slept, he felt a shiver run down his spine.

And the nightmare skipped ahead again.

Michael talking with Al and Nitti.

“The heat’s really on us for this St. Valentine’s Day Massacre thing,” Al said.

Nitti chimed in. “We can’t take any chances.”

“What do you mean?” Michael asked, already knowing the deal.

“Your men,” Al said.

“What about my men?”

Nitti looked at him solemnly. “They go down for the dirty nap.”

Michael searched for the words. “They—they won’t talk.”

“Everyone talks,” Nitti said. “Everyone.”

Al nodded. “It’s just a matter of circumstance.”

“Right,” Nitti said.

“If the circumstance is right,” Al said, “they’ll sing like fuckin’ canaries, and we can’t have that.”

“So what are you saying?” Michael asked.

“Everyone involved with the murders goes down for the count,” Al said. “Everyone but you. And you’re welcome for that, by the way.”

Michael tried to explain to Al that John Scalise was his closest friend, but Al wouldn’t hear of it.

“Friends,” Al said. “They come and go. You lose a friend today, maybe you’ll make a friend tomorrow. But that’s not what matters. You know what really matters, Michael?”

Michael said he did not.

“Loyalty,” Nitti said.

“Right,” Al said, nodding. “Loyalty is the most important thing in the world.”

And that was it.

The nightmare skipped ahead, and Michael saw a montage of scenes featuring him killing Anselmi, McGurn, and Giunta, and dumping their bodies in ditches.

The nightmare skipped again to a scene in which Michael held his Colt .45 to John Scalise’s forehead. Michael didn’t want to do this—inside his mind, he pushed back, rebelling, trying to find an alternative path for this nightmare—but Scalise’s fate was sealed.

Making matters worse, John Scalise, one of the proudest men Michael ever knew, dropped his pride and began begging for his life. “Please,” he says, “don’t kill me, Mike. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a family.”

And Michael squeezed the trigger, closing his eyes as he did it.

And voila, John Scalise was nothing more than a footnote in history.

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“The $10,000 John Wayne Magnum Opus”

zombie

by Andy Rausch

Edison Mayhew was sitting in a corner booth in Bob’s Pizza Palace, chatting up an actor over all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. He was paying for the meal, so he got to explain the project to the actor, Jimmy Donovan. Jimmy was hot shit at the moment as he had just appeared in the TV movie B-Lizzard, about giant reptiles who attacked and ate people during a snowstorm.

“This movie’s gonna be the fourth installment in my Titty Zombies series,” said Edison. “Have you seen the other three?”

“Well, I’ve seen one of them,” Jimmy said. “I think it was Titty Zombies 2.”

“Ah, yes; A Tale of Two Titties. That’s my favorite in the series,” said Edison. “Until now.”

“Why now?”

Edison smiled proudly. “Because this one’s gonna be my greatest film ever. My magnum opus.”

“What’s the budget?”

“We got $10,000.”

“What would my role be?”

“Your role would be Miles Macklemore, a private eye with a taste for broads.”

“So this is noir?”

“Not really, but it’s going to have some noir flavor to it.”

“And the film, it’s guaranteed distribution?”

“Yes, sir,” said Edison. “Bloody Mess Pictures made a fortune off the first three, and they’ve committed to putting out a fourth one.”

Jimmy nodded. “What would I get paid?”

“Two hundred and fifty dollars.”

“How many days?”

“We would shoot you out in two days.”

“And the role, is it a lead?”

Edison squirmed. “Not exactly. But here comes the reason you’re gonna wanna make this movie…”

“Okay.”

“You’ll be the second lead.”

“Who’s gonna be first?”

“I’m getting to that,” said Edison. “Rule number one of no-budget filmmaking is to either have a ‘name’ actor in the lead or to have something to exploit. Well, I’ve got both.”

“Who is it?”

“John Wayne.”

“John Wayne?” Jimmy didn’t understand. You’re gonna have to explain this to me, because first of all, John Wayne’s deader than disco. In fact, I think they both died at about the same time. Second, I’m pretty sure John Wayne was making more to appear in a picture back in the Seventies than your entire movie’s got for a budget.”

Edison laughed, pointing to his temple. “I’ve got all the bases covered.”

Jimmy just stared at him, cutting off a corner of pepperoni and anchovy pizza with his fork.

“My girlfriend, Bree, practices witchcraft,” Edison said. “She’s got a spell book that’s supposed to raise the dead and make them do your bidding. Well, we’re gonna use that spell to raise John Wayne and make him appear in our movie.”

“You’re crazy,” said Jimmy.

“Like a fox.”

“Okay, so why John Wayne?”

“Why not John Wayne?” Edison asked. “He’s my favorite actor. I’d love to be able to say I directed him in a movie. The man’s a friggin’ icon.”

“Will he be able to speak? I mean, he’s been dead for almost forty years.”

“We’re not sure yet.”

“Your girlfriend has never used this spell before?”

“No,” Edison said. “That kind of thing doesn’t come up every day.”

“He probably looks pretty rough these days.”

“Which will be just fine since it’s a zombie movie. So whaddaya think?”

“Well,” Jimmy said, “It would look good on my resume to have made a movie with John Wayne.”

Edison nodded. “Now you’re talking.”

At that point the waitress came over and asked if they needed anything.

“I’ll have orange juice,” Edison said.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have orange juice.”

Edison grinned. “Why don’t you go in the back and see if you can find some. After all, I’m a famous movie director, and you’re gonna want my business.”

The woman grimaced and walked off towards the kitchen.

“That was kind of a dick thing to do,” Jimmy said.

“Hey,” Edison said, “all the big directors do it. So are you on board?”

“It looks like I am. But I’d like to talk about my financial package.”

“How so?”

“I’m gonna need three hundred dollars to make the movie.”

Edison raised his hand and they shook on it.

Two weeks later, Edison, his buddy and producer Parker, and his girlfriend, Bree, were standing over John Wayne’s grave at the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Corona del Mar. There was a full moon out, which Bree said was a must for such an occasion. It was dark outside otherwise, and there was a cool breeze blowing. Bree had used sidewalk chalk to draw a humongous pink pentagram over the grave, as well as some words in a dead language around the grave.

“You think this’ll work?” asked Parker.

“I do,” said Bree. “I’ve used several other spells from this book and they all work.”

Bree opened the book and started reading from the dead language of Akkadian. “Cheepa, cheepa, burga, cheep,” she said. Edison and Parker repeated the words, and Bree continued. Finally, after about ten minutes of this, the wind picked up and it started to rain.

“What the fuck?” asked Edison.

“We’re upsetting the gods,” said Bree.

“Does that mean it’s working?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”

She read more Akkadian. “Beygo, teehum, daydo, bohah…”

After several minutes of this, she closed the book and stood silently. Suddenly the rain stopped.

“What is it?” asked Parker.

“The spell is complete,” she said.

“But I don’t see John Wayne,” said Edison.

Bree pointed down at the grave. “He’s reanimated, but he’s down there, in his coffin, unable to get out.”

“So now what?” asked Parker.

Edison shrugged. “We go to the car and get the shovels and we dig.”

And they did just that. Edison and Parker dug for two hours. Bree sat on a nearby grave and painted her fingernails and toes.

Chunk! came the sound from inside the grave.

“Hey, I’ve hit the coffin,” Edison said. “We’re almost there.”

Once they had the coffin fully excavated, they found great difficulty in getting it open inside the hole they had dug. But finally they did just that. When Edison opened the coffin, a wickedly rotten stench emerged. With the moon behind the clouds and the flashlight lying on the ground, they could barely see inside the box.

And then, suddenly, the reanimated corpse lunged out of its coffin and seized Parker, chewing on his face.

“Arrrgggghhhh!” screamed Parker.

The corpse was gnawing off Parker’s nose.

Edison backed away, watching his friend being eaten.

“Should we help him?” asked Bree.

“By ‘we’ you mean ‘me,’” remarked Edison, still watching the gruesome sight.

The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was grotesque, like something out of an Italian horror movie. He was missing an ear, his skull was exposed under rotten, leathery flesh, he smelled terrible, and there were tiny maggots falling out of his ear holes and empty eye sockets. And now what was left of his face was covered in Parker’s fresh blood.

“What do I do?” asked Edison nervously.

“You command him to stop eating Parker.”

“John Wayne,” Edison said. “Stop eating that man—now!”

And the reanimated corpse of John Wayne stopped feasting on Edison’s dead friend and producer. Through the power of command, Edison was able to subdue the corpse while he filled in the grave over Parker’s half-eaten body. Although Bree wasn’t fond of having maggots falling all over the back seat of her Honda Civic, the three of them drove back to Edison’s house in silence.

They were two days into shooting, and Edison and his two-man crew were filming on a hand-held digital camera inside an apartment in Silver Lake. The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was hitting his marks. Of course he couldn’t talk, but Edison filmed him staggering around and waving his arms just the same.

“Unnnnggghhhhh!” growled John Wayne.

It was a scene between John Wayne and Sarah Newsom, one of Edison’s regulars. Sarah was topless and in the middle of a lengthy monologue when John Wayne reached out and grabbed her head at both sides, twisting it hard. Her neck made a sickening crunching sound as he did this.

“Dammit, John Wayne!” Edison said.

But John Wayne didn’t give a damn. He was leaned forward and was chewing into the dead actress’s skull.

“John Wayne, stop that!” Edison said. John Wayne just looked up with a mouth full of brains, chewing. The bottom part of his jaw fell off as he did this, and a bunch of maggots fell out of his mouth into Sarah’s skull.

“Phil,” Edison said. “Can you please find a way to reattach John Wayne’s lower jaw?”

Phil, the film’s P.A., nervously walked towards John Wayne, still trying to feast on the dead Sarah with his bottom jaw missing. Phil turned his head, sizing up the damage. “I think I can reattach it with some putty,” Phil said. But just then, John Wayne reached out and grabbed Phil’s hand, pulling it to his face. He attempted to chew off Phil’s fingers, but got nowhere without his bottom jaw. Phil tried to pull his maggot-covered hand away, but John Wayne dropped Sarah’s body and grabbed Phil’s arm with both of his own, tearing it out of the socket.

Phil screamed in agony.

“Goddammit, John Wayne!” Edison said, turning to his crew. “This is why I don’t like using ‘name’ talent. They’re all primadonnas. If they’re not rewriting the dialogue on set, they’re eating the cast and crew!”

Edison sat down the camera and turned to go and grab a tuna fish sandwich from the craft service table. He exhaled heavily as he walked, now fully irritated. He heard more screams behind him, but he didn’t turn around. He was now second-guessing his decision to reanimate John Wayne. This was gonna be one hell of a long shoot. They were only two days in and already way behind schedule.

If you liked this story, it and many others are available in Andy Rausch’s short story collection Death Rattles, available in both physical and Kindle formats.

“The Dog and the Sparrow 2.0”

sparrow 2

by Andy Rausch (based on a story by the Brothers Grimm)

Kesey was an Australian Shepherd with a beautiful, shiny black coat. Everyone who saw her commented on her beauty. But her fur was the only aspect of Kesey’s life that was beautiful, for she had a very cruel owner who beat her and often forgot to feed her. (This was usually when he was drunk, which was a great deal of the time.) Because of this, the outline of Kesey’s ribs soon became visible through her fur.

Each day Kesey diligently chewed at the rope that bound her. Finally, after many days, she managed to chew through the thick cord and free herself. She quickly dug a hole under the wooden privacy fence which surrounded the yard, hoping her master would’t discover her digging. After several hours, the hole was big enough that she was able to squeeze through it and escape.

She walked along the street hungrily for some time. She stopped when she came to a dead bird in the street, and briefly considered eating it. Only moments later, a sparrow landed on the pavement before her and asked, “What’s the matter? You look sad.”

“I haven’t eaten in days,” Kesey replied. “I’m weak and my stomach hurts.”

“Well then, let’s correct this at once,” said the sparrow.

“How?”

“Follow me and I’ll feed you.”

So the hungry dog followed through the alleyways of the city. Finally they came to a dumpster behind a butcher shop. “Let me get you some meat,” said the sparrow, and off he flew, into the dumpster. He then returned a moment later with a large piece of steak. He dropped it at Kesey’s feet, and the ravenous canine quickly consumed it.

“I’m still hungry,” said Kesey, licking her lips.

“No problem,” said the sparrow. “I’ll get you another piece.”

The sparrow returned to the dumpster and retrieved a second piece of meat, this one larger than the first. The hungry dog quickly scarfed down the meat, barely taking time to chew.

The sparrow asked, “Are you satisfied now?”

To this Kesey replied, “I could use some bread to wash down the meat.”

“Then follow me and I will get you bread.”

The dog followed the sparrow through a labyrinth of alleys until at last they came to a dumpster behind a bakery.

“Wait here,” said the sparrow, and off he flew into the dumpster. A moment later he returned, dropping a loaf of bread at Kesey’s feet. The hungry dog devoured the bread, and was now quite satisfied.

“Thank you very much,” she said.

The two continued on as traveling partners, eventually going so far they exited the city. They followed the road several miles before Kesey finally stopped and said, “I’m very full from having eaten so much. I think I’ll take a nap.”

Kesey lay down in the road.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” warned the sparrow.

“Nonsense. I’ll just sleep for a short time and then we can proceed.”

Within seconds the dog was fast asleep.

After a while, an old Ford pickup truck came roaring down the road on the opposite side from where the dog was lying. The sparrow was alarmed at first, but relaxed once he realized Kesey should be safe. The man driving the pickup truck, however, did not share this sentiment. When he reached the sleeping dog, he went out of his way to swerve into the opposite lane and run it over. Kesey died without waking from her slumber.

“You son of a bitch!” cried the sparrow. “I’ll have my revenge!”

The driver heard the bird’s proclamation, but only spit a glob of chewing tobacco out his window in response.

Seeing the truck was hauling a load of furniture in its bed, the sparrow had an idea. The truck was missing its tailgate, and the furnishings were held in place by a single rope. “I’ll have my revenge!” cried the sparrow. But the man didn’t hear him this time, as he’d turned up the volume of his stereo, which now blared Led Zeppelin. So the sparrow went to work pecking at the rope, until finally it snapped. Immediately items of furniture began falling from the truck and breaking to pieces all over the road. But the man was oblivious to this, as he was listening to Robert Plant screaming “Whole Lotta Love.”

When the man finally noticed he had lost half his load, he stopped the pickup and hopped out to see if any of the fallen furniture could be salvaged. He quickly assessed it could not. While he was arriving at this conclusion, the sparrow started to peck at the old pickup’s front driver’s side tire, flattening it immediately.

When the man saw this, he screamed, “You filthy little bastard!”

He reached down to the road and picked up a broken chair leg, and came up swinging at the bird. The sparrow quickly moved, and the man accidentally broke the back window of his truck, causing him to become even angrier. The sparrow then flew around the vehicle, and the man gave chase, still swinging the chair leg like a madman. Finally the sparrow landed on the windshield, and the man brought down the piece of wood hard. But the sparrow moved, and the chair leg smashed through the windshield.

“Goddamn bird!” screamed the man.

“It’s not enough,” said the sparrow. “I’ll have my revenge!”

And the bird flew away down the road, leaving the man to walk back to the city alone. Several hours passed, and finally the man reached his old ramshackle house. When he arrived, his wife was there waiting for him.

“Where’s the truck?” she asked.

“It’s a long story.”

“Thank goodness you’re here.”

“Why is that?”

“Because a bird flew into the house,” she said. “Soon it was followed by hundreds of other birds, and they’re pecking on the walls and shitting all over the house!”

This angered the man. He grabbed a hammer from the shed and went running into the house like a crazy person, swinging at every bird he saw. But he struck none. Instead, he hit his own furniture, breaking it to kindling. The wife saw what the man was doing, and tried to stop him from swinging the hammer, but to no avail.

Finally the man grew tired and gave up.

“Look what you’ve done,” said the wife. “You’ve broken every piece of furniture we own!”

“Still not enough!” said the sparrow, fluttering around the man’s head. “Still not enough!”

But the man got lucky as the sparrow grew cocky, and he reached out and snatched the bird. Now holding him in his arms, he instructed his wife to retrieve his hunting rifle. The woman disappeared into the next room, finally returning with the weapon.

“What do I do now?” she asked.

“Shoot this goddamned bird!”

He expected the woman to know enough to shoot the bird from a side angle, but she did not, knowing nothing about guns. So she fired at the bird, but only grazed it. She did, however, manage to shoot her husband in the chest, killing him instantly.

“No!” she screamed, falling to her dead husband’s side.

“I told you,” said the sparrow, “I’d get my revenge.”

And off he flew through the open door, singing as he did.

“Sandwich Bitch”

bologna sandwich

by Andy Rausch

The day had been a piss-poor one so far, but at long last lunch break had come to the rescue, offering Donny Mead a brief reprieve from his monotonous factory work. The breaks were staggered so only a handful of workers would be away from their positions at any given moment. Because of this, the bright white, overly-sterile break room only contained a couple of occupants at present. Donny approached the old fridge, surveying it to ascertain whether or not the Break Room Bandit had left any messages posted there. Unfortunately, he had not.

The much-ballyhooed Break Room Bandit was some heretofore unknown employee who had repeatedly eaten another worker’s bologna sandwiches. This caused the rightful owner of the sandwiches to become angry and post an ignorant, misspelling-laden threat that he (you just know it was “he”) would beat the shit out of whomever was eating said sandwiches. This, in turn, caused the perpetrator to go right on eating them, leaving mocking missives on the refrigerator door. One such message read: “It’s me, the Break Room Bandit, and I have once again eaten your sandwich. But the thing is, I really, really hate bologna. So, with this in mind, could you please bring either ham-and-cheese loaf or pickle-loaf next time? (I’m really fond of the various loaves.) If you could do that, I would be forever in your debt. Thanks! Yours truly, the Break Room Bandit.”

Being mocked infuriated the other guy (Donny still didn’t know who the identities of either party), prompting him to write the ever-so-eloquent pronouncement “THIS MY SANDWICH BITCH” on the top of his wrapped sandwich each day. One might think the questionably-literate person scrawling these oh-so-clever declarations might get lucky one day and actually write something semi-intelligent. But no, this did not occur. Each and every day, without fail, the message was the same: “THIS MY SANDWICH BITCH.”

As Donny reached into the fridge, stretching his hand beyond the freshly-labeled sandwich, to retrieve his blueberry yogurt, it occurred to him that the person bringing the sandwiches should simply poison them. Of course. It was so simple. Why didn’t he just do that? Donny could produce no adequate answer for this question. It would, he believed, be the perfect crime. If the illiterate sandwich scrawler used the right poison, the Break Room Bandit would eat it and then scurry back to his home, dying there as poisoned cockroaches do. This was perfect. How could anyone possibly know the sandwich had originated at the factory? There was no way. Making this scenario even better, if the victim lived with another person, that person would be a suspect long before any coworkers. Since the killer and the victim probably didn’t know one another, no one could connect them. Maybe this wasn’t quite as clever as stabbing someone with an icicle, which was said to be the end-all be-all perfect murder, but it was still pretty damned good. In fact, this plan was so good that it bothered Donny to think of it going to waste.

Donny sat down with his plastic spoon, digging into the yogurt container, considering possible outcomes of such a poisoning. Then it occurred to him to poison the sandwich himself. He had no way of knowing who might eat it and die. It could really go either way—either the sandwich’s owner or this Break Room Bandit fella. Donny found he didn’t really care which of them died. This, he thought, would be a grand experiment. He’d always been intrigued by the idea of murdering someone. Here, with the person being completely random and unknown to him, it seemed perfect. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I will poison someone and see what happens.

That night when he finally got home, Donny couldn’t get to the Internet fast enough. His plan was to investigate different types of poisons and find something suitable for the task. He went to a search engine, stopping. He considered for a moment, trying to decide what he should type. Finally he submitted the words “types of ingested poison lethal.” The search produced a variety of websites, and he scanned them carefully. When he came to a listing of the top ten most lethal poisons, he knew he’d struck paydirt. Reading through the list, he passed on a couple of substances, either due to their killing someone too rapidly (when they would still be at work) or their being too difficult to obtain. Then he came to a listing for Strychnine. Donny didn’t know much about poisons, but he’d heard of Strychnine. Here he learned it was easy to obtain and that it was a common pesticide that could be purchased anywhere. The thought of the particularly gruesome death it brought about—every muscle in the victim’s body simultaneously spasming violently until they died of exhaustion—appealed to him greatly.

After completing his research, Donny scarfed down a bowl of beef-flavored ramen. Then, after he finished, he drove out to Walmart, where he purchased some generic blue after shave, a Star Wars t-shirt, a bag of Lemonheads candies, and a $12 bottle of Martin’s Gopher Bait, comprised almost entirely of Strychnine. This could work, he thought gleefully as he scanned the items through the self-check reader. He paid for the stuff, grabbed the bags, and made his way back out to his Honda Accord, wondering if the taste of Strychnine would be obvious when his mark bit into it.

The next day at work was hell, Donny waiting anxiously for lunch break. He was ready to do this. So when lunch time finally arrived, he made a beeline to the break room. He was the first one in, and he glanced around furtively. There was no sandwich-related correspondence posted on the fridge today. He pulled the door open, looked behind him one last time, and reached in and grabbed the sandwich. He took it to the closest table, holding it close to his body, then lying it down with its proclamation/threat facing down. A couple of gargantuan women meandered into the room, heading directly to a table in the corner. Donny could hear them gossiping about someone being a “dumb sonofabitch.” This was good. They were paying him no mind. Donny went to work opening the wrapped sandwich. Once the plastic was peeled back, exposing the food, Donny popped the lid off the yellow mug he’d been carrying. He tilted it over the sandwich, pouring the tiniest bit of gopher bait onto it. The substance puddled up there, resting atop the deli mustard. After looking around to make sure no one would see, he re-wrapped it.

Donny stood up and returned the sandwich, sitting it where he’d found it, its moronic “SANDWICH BITCH” warning on full display. He then reached back further and seized his yogurt. Strawberry today. He returned to his table, listening to the heavyset women carry on about various dumb sonsofbitches, as visions of dead coworkers danced in his head.

The wait for the following day felt like an eternity. When it finally came, all of Donny’s coworkers were talking about a dead coworker named Susan. Donny didn’t know any Susans, so it didn’t seem like any deal to him. No one possessed any details regarding the circumstances of her demise, so he had no way of knowing if she had died by bologna-and-Strychnine sandwich. He figured this was mere coincidence considering the unlikelihood that either party had been female. (Their posted correspondence displayed a type of macho one-upsmanship that was uniquely male.) At lunch, Donny was startled to see a freshly-wrapped and labeled sandwich in the fridge. Now certain that Susan’s death was unrelated to the Gopher Bait, Donny went about his workday just as he had a thousand times before.

It wasn’t until the following day he heard someone saying the police believed Susan might have been murdered. Poison, they said. But there was nothing beyond that, no details to speak of. Had Donny killed her? There was no way to be certain, but he now found it probable. After all, someone had eaten the sandwich. Who was to say it hadn’t been given to Susan, or even stolen by her?

At the end of his shift, Donny saw a flyer taped to the wall. It had a photograph of Susan, announcing her death. Looking at this, Donny recognized Susan as a curvy young woman of about twenty or so that he’d frequently gawked at from afar. She looked a lot like Taylor Swift, at least to him, only a dirtier, meth-using, trailer trash, tattooed version. Because of this, Donny had always thought of her affectionately as “White Trash Taylor Swift.” But now she was dead. Donny wondered what name might be appropriate for her now; “Deader-Than-Hell Taylor Swift”? “Worm Food Taylor Swift”? These thoughts made him smile, and then her proper nickname came to him: “Sandwich Bitch.” This seemed fitting given the circumstances. While she had (apparently) been neither the person who’d made the offending sandwich, nor the Lunch Room Bandit, their actions, inexplicably, had led to her demise. In considering this, Donny found that he didn’t feel one way or another about any of it, but thought he might miss staring at her passably-attractive features.

Several days passed before the local newspaper ran a front-page story explaining that police had concluded Susan had in fact been poisoned. The article made a vague reference to leads the cops were pursuing. Reading this, Donny grinned, feeling proud of what he’d done. This, he congratulated himself, was a perfect murder.

One day in the break room, Donny, eating his yogurt, overheard the two old cows from before, discussing their co-worker’s death. “They’re pretty sure it was her boyfriend,” said Cow Number One. “They got him in custody.”

Cow Number Two nodded, mulling it over. “They lived together?”

“Yeah, but they wasn’t married. That was part of it, the reason why Jesus saw fit to take her so young…because of the sin of her living with a man.”

“Maybe they weren’t having sex.”

“No,” said Cow Number Two. “They was.”

“How do you know?”

“Did you ever look at Susan? She looked…dirty, like the kind of girl that would have sex before marriage. Probably even butt sex.”

Listening to this, Donny nodded his head to the melody and cadence of their words. It was literally music to his ears. Not only had he gotten away with murder, but someone else was getting the blame.

Donny found a a level of enjoyment in having killed Sandwich Bitch that was unlike anything he’d experienced previously. This led to the inevitable question: should he do it again? He thought about this long and hard, giving it due consideration, but ultimately decided against it. While it was true that the two idiots trading barbs over the sandwiches were still engaging in this childish behavior, making it possible for him to repeat the act, it was dangerous. It was also selfish, the type of blood-drunken mistake killers made that led to their being captured.

Six weeks passed and Donny’s life had gotten back to normal. So much so that he no longer gave any thought to his having poisoned the girl. On this day, however, he was reminded of his actions by the most insignificant of things—a pack of Twinkies.

It was a Saturday afternoon and Donny was visiting the sky-rise where his Grammy June was spending her final days. Donny visited her every few weeks, but he hated going to the apartment building, overflowing with the elderly and disabled, seemingly passing time until their death. On first glance, it looked like any other apartment building. But this one was different. The first indication this was a death house was the shuffle board just inside the entrance, a sure sign of old people, which, in Donny’s hundred or so visits, he’d never seen a single person playing. Then there was the television area in the lobby, with a TV that seemed to air unlimited episodes of Judge Judy and Oprah. There was occasionally one or two residents situated there, watching Sean Hannity or the like, but sometimes there would be a single lonely old man sitting there, raptly watching the television, which no one had thought to switch on.

There was an elevator there, with a table beside it. There were religious tracts and stacks of coupons for a nearby pizza delivery joint sitting on it, and occasionally there would be one or two items of food. These random foodstuffs, which ranged from a can of green beans to a box of corn bread mix, were left by residents who had decided they didn’t want them. They were up for grabs, free to anyone. Maybe the person who inherited the green beans left behind a food item in its place. Donny wasn’t sure how it worked.

But today there was a pack of Twinkies. Donny made a mental note of them, not sure why they were important but nonetheless aware they were. He went up to the third floor and spent time with Grammy June, watching The People’s Court and discussing life events. (He did not share his murdering Sandwich Bitch with her, which, when left out of conversation, made his life seem awfully dull.) When their visit was over, he left, getting on the elevator once more. When he came to the bottom floor and stepped out, he saw that the Twinkies were gone. He still wasn’t sure why he was interested, but found himself thinking about them on his drive home.

Thinking of the Twinkies sitting there, waiting for some stranger to pick them up and carry them back to their apartment, made him reflect on Sandwich Bitch once more. This scenario, he saw, would provide him the opportunity to do it all over again, still going unnoticed. He smiled, feeling proud of himself for being smart enough to recognize this opportunity. Still driving, he saw a Mini-Mart on his right. He flipped on his turn signal, preparing to make a quick stop to buy Twinkies.

“Rachel in the Moonlight”

by Andy Rausch

His Rachel had been gone almost two years now, and James still couldn’t wrap his head around it. Every morning when he awoke, he turned, expecting to see her lying on the pillow next to him. And every morning was the same; the pillow was empty and the horrible reality would then set in. Rachel was gone, and he would never see her again.

But that wasn’t entirely the truth. He saw her everywhere. He saw her at the supermarket. He saw her driving by in cars. He saw her walking in the middle of large throngs of people on the sidewalk. But mostly he saw her in his dreams. There she would come to him as if she were still alive, and he would hold her hand and kiss her once more as though there was still a sunny tomorrow.

But there were no more sunny tomorrows in James’ life. Not anymore. Now there were only overcast and rainy days, a constant reminder of all he had lost. Not that he had to be reminded. Rachel was all he thought about. In fact, he probably thought about her more today than he had just following her death.

Every day, weather be damned, he went and visited Rachel’s grave, flowers in hand. And every day he cleared away the leaves and debris, the flowers from yesterday’s visit, and propped up the new bundle of orchids to honor her.

One day he was making his daily walk to the flower shop when a store selling adult movies caught his eye. He walked past it everyday, but he’d never paid it any mind. Despite his mourning, James still had the normal male urges. He didn’t own a computer and was interested in obtaining a couple of smut magazines to help satisfy his cravings. He walked inside, the bell over the door ringing as he did. He didn’t consider himself a prude, but he was still somewhat shocked by the plethora of dildos and outlandish sexual devices which lined the store. He looked around at them with more than a small bit of curiosity. He eyeballed the devices, amazed by how many there were.

That was when he noticed a sign which read: “CUSTOM SEX DOLLS MADE HERE,” with a smaller sign beneath that read “MADE TO HER EXACT SPECIFICATIONS.” Somewhere deep down inside this piqued his interest, although he didn’t know why.

James made his way up to the man behind the counter, and said awkwardly, “I was wondering about the custom-made sex dolls.”

The man’s face lit up. “Would you like to see some?”

James nodded.

The man led him through an open doorway in the back of the store. They walked through a hallway adorned with posters of adult movie stars, some of them autographed. James thought the floor felt sticky, but figured that was probably his imagination. The man led him to a big room filled with ultra-realistic sex dolls. These were not the simple inflatable women he had imagined. These dolls were beautiful. There was a doll made to look just like Marilyn Monroe; there was a Scarlett Johansson; a Sarah Palin; and so on. Most of the dolls just looked like normal, beautiful women.

“What are they made of?” James asked.

“Silicone.”

“Who makes them?”

The man said, “Kyle, but he’s not here today.”

“The dolls are made to the exact specifications of real women?”

The man nodded. “We got a very detailed questionnaire you have to fill out when you order one. It asks questions like areola size, pubic hair length, height of the woman, foot size, things like that.”

James asked, “Could a guy just give you some photographs of the woman he wanted the doll to resemble?”

“Oh, Kyle will want those, too. But you still gotta fill out the questionnaire.”

James stared at one of the dolls, unable to believe how realistic it looked. “The hair looks so real.”

“Yeah, they’ve got real human hair,” the man said, grinning. “Up top and down below, too.”

“How much does something like this cost?”

“It varies, but the average one costs about $6,000, give or take.”

“That’s pretty steep,” James said.

“But trust me, it’s worth it,” the man said. “It’s the next best thing to having the real woman. If you can’t have her, you’ll want this.”

James took out his wallet and requested a questionnaire.

Fourteen days passed before the big wooden box arrived at his house. James scooted it inside, into his living room. He knew what was in the box, but now felt overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions at the thought of opening it. So he just sat there in his favorite chair for some time, staring at the damned thing.

And he thought about Rachel. He remembered the way she felt in his arms. He remembered the way she smelled. He remembered the taste of her hair in his mouth.

He had to know.

He went to the utility room and got a hammer, bringing it back to open the crate. He went to work on the box, and its lid was off in a matter of minutes. He fished around amongst the packing peanuts, and located the doll. He brought it forward, sitting it in the upright position, packing peanuts falling all around it as he did.

He looked at the doll and found himself amazed by how realistic it looked. It was his Rachel, right here in front of him. She looked just like the real deal; so much so, in fact, that he didn’t move for several minutes. He just stared into the doll’s glassy blue eyes, and they seemed to stare back.

He considered kissing the doll’s lips, but decided against it. No, he would wait until the right time when the doll was ready.

James lifted up the naked doll and found it to be quite heavy. It had to weigh a hundred pounds or so. He carried it up the stairs to the bathroom. Once there, he washed its hair with Rachel’s shampoo. He then applied her favorite perfume and lotion to the doll, and the scents immediately brought her back to life in his mind. Wanting to make the experience as realistic as possible, he even put Rachel’s lip balm on the doll.

He then took the doll to his bedroom, where he dressed it in Rachel’s slinky red lingerie. He tried not to look at the doll’s body as he did this, wanting to keep the forthcoming act as special as possible. He put Rachel’s ankle bracelet and toe rings on the doll’s feet.

Tonight would be a big night. Tonight he would reunite with his Rachel for one last sexual encounter, giving her the proper send-off he had never been able to.

That night, James lit scented candles all around the dark room. He left the curtain cracked just a bit so the light of the moon could fall gently down on Rachel’s body. He lay down on the bed beside the doll, gently caressing its hair. He kissed at its temples and nibbled on its left ear. He stuck his tongue in the doll’s ear and moved it around. He caressed the doll’s neck, finally kissing at the doll’s mouth, the familiar taste of Rachel’s lip balm in his mouth. He stuck his tongue into the doll’s tight mouth, wagging it against its limp tongue, forcing it to come alive and wag back.

For the briefest of moments, James forgot where he was.

He forgot this was a doll.

This was his Rachel, here once more, and they were reunited. Once more they would share their love as they had so many times before.

He moved his hand along her back, kissing his way down her neck towards her big, full breasts. She tasted of lavender lotion. The smell of her perfume filled his nostrils, driving him crazy. He moved the top of the negligee with his nose, his mouth finding her nipples, playing with them, flicking at them. He cupped her breasts together with his hands, kissing between them, moving his tongue all around them. As he did so, he felt himself harden. He was throbbing; pulsing. His desire was consuming him, and he wanted to eat her up.

He moved his hand down between her legs and touched her sticky wetness with his fingers, caressing her clit. He thought he felt her buckle in his arms, and he pulled himself closer to her, his hand moving with ever-increasing speed. He thought he felt her climax on his fingers. Her back arched, and her head went back against the pillow.

James moved closer to her, softly taking his hand away from her wet pussy. He then took his own manhood in hand and stroked it, bringing it to maddening hardness. He made his way on top of her, kissing her lips as he did, and moved his cock around, softly searching for her wet pussy. He found it, rubbed at it gently, and entered her. He moaned as he did, and gently thrust himself deep inside her. He put his right hand behind her back to support her, moving himself in and out of her slowly as he did.

But he knew what she liked. She didn’t like this slow stuff. It made her crazy, made her want it faster and harder. She liked it when he pulled her hair. So he gently tugged at it, thrusting his cock harder and harder into her tight, wet pussy. He pulled her tight against him as he did, swearing he could feel her heartbeat against his chest. He pushed himself up on top of her, swiveled his hips slowly, rotating his cock inside her, and then pulled it back to its tip, finally plunging back inside once more.

The moonlight fell against the right half of her face.

She was beautiful. Looking at her blond hair lying across her full, pale breasts, staring at the wonders of her exquisite face, James grew hornier and hornier, overcome with passion and desire. He now fed off what he perceived to be her sexual energy, as well, and he pulled her close, pumping himself in and out of her as hard as he could. He held her legs up over his shoulders, and they swayed hard with each thrust.

He kissed her mouth again, moving his tongue against hers, pushing his cock into her harder and harder as he did. Finally he felt himself climbing, escalating, reaching towards an unreachable high, and he came hard, feeling their juices intermingling as he did. He pulled her up close to him, holding her tightly, and the two of them lay silently in the moonlight in the afterglow of good sex.

Interview with Omar Doom

omar doom image

 

by Andrew J. Rausch

Omar Doom is an actor, director, musician, and artist. After meeting Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker convinced him to shorten his birth name (“Omar Makhdomi”) to the shorter stage pseudonym. The Reservoir Dogs helmer also persuaded the young musician to consider acting. “Quentin told me I’d be great in movies,” Doom would later say in a press junket. “He really pushed me. I decided to go for it. I took his advice and I studied acting.” This would ultimately pay off for the would-be actor, who landed his first role in Tarantino’s Death Proof as Vanessa Ferlito’s love interest. Tarantino would later cast Doom a second time as Private First Class Omar Ulmer in Inglourious Basterds.

Tarantino and Doom remain good friends, and Tarantino often invites him to his home for movie marathons. One year Tarantino threw the actor a birthday party in which he screened cartoons and movies, including Hammerhead and The Mack.

When did you first meet Quentin Tarantino?

We met through mutual friends around 1998.

Were you a fan of his work prior to meeting him? Did he influence you as a filmmaker?

I was and have always been a huge fan of his work. I still watch his movies pretty regularly. Everything I’ve learned about making movies I learned from watching him work. You’ll be able to see what I come up with in the near future.

I understand that Quentin actually came up with your stage name, “Omar Doom.” Tel me about that.

When I was twenty-three, I was having lunch with Quentin at the restaurant Toi on Sunset in Hollywood. I was telling him that I was thinking of shortening my name from Omar Makhdoomi to Omar Makhdoom. He said, “Why not just be Omar Doom?” I had never thought of that, and at first I thought it was a little too ridiculous, but after a while I was convinced. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna do it.” And I’ve never regretted it.

What do you see as being Quentin’s biggest strengths in terms of directing?

People normally praise him for his writing, but I think he is also a phenomenal director. He has a very artistic way of blocking his scenes and framing his shots. As with everything he does, he shatters any rules or conventions. Also, he has very strong convictions. He was so adamant about doing real non-CGI high speed car chases in Death Proof that he built a supercharged camera truck that he sat in, driving over a hundred miles an hour to get those amazing shots.

What’s the most interesting conversation you’ve ever had with him?

That’s a hard one, because there are so many. I don’t know which is the best, but one that stands out in my mind was about his meeting Bob Dylan. Apparently Bob Dylan boxes and has his own boxing ring. And Quentin and Bob Dylan actually boxed. The thought of that happening just blows my mind.

How did you become involved with Death Proof?

I got ahold of the script and basically begged him to read for it. He may have already been planning to bring me into the fold, but I didn’t waste any time making sure it happened.

What were your thoughts on the script the first time you read it?

It was like reading any of his scripts for the first time. They’re always read in one sitting because they’re just impossible to put down. And the endings always make the hairs on my arms stick straight up and I get chills down my neck. But with Death Proof in particular, knowing that he names characters after his close friends, and then seeing that he’d named a character Omar was just an incredible thing. I was basically in the movie before I was in the movie.

What was that cast like to work with?

We were mostly all the same age on that set, so we hung out a lot. I made some lifelong friendships on that movie. That doesn’t usually happen on movie sets. But something about Quentin’s sets makes it really feel like everyone is part of a big family. There’s no set like a Tarantino set. Everyone knows that the next movie set experience you have after working on a Tarantino movie is gonna suck, no matter what the movie is. Quentin told me that himself. Except it turned out that he was all wrong because my next movie ended up being Inglourious Basterds. I remember asking Quentin, “Remember telling me my next job was gonna suck? You were wrong.”

I’ve heard that he screens movies for the cast and crew sometimes. Did he do this on the two movies you worked on, and if so, what were some of those films?

Usually they have something to do with whatever we’re shooting or the actors we’re working with. For example, during Death Proof we watched Used Cars with Kurt Russell. That was quite an experience. Kurt got a real kick out of that, just as we all did.

What was Kurt Russell like to work with?

He’s a very humble guy who, like the rest of us, really felt that working with Quentin is just really something special. He didn’t treat it like it was just one of the hundreds of movies he’s worked on. For me personally, as a big fan of his work, it was an absolute joy just to be around him.

You worked pretty closely with Eli Roth on that picture. What’s he like?

I worked on both Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds with Eli Roth, so we had already become friends. He’s a great guy. Before meeting him I saw Hostel with Quentin opening night in New York City, and I was just blown away. It’s such a fun movie. Eli and I have a lot of similar interests film-wise. We both love a lot of the same horror/Giallo films and he has introduced me to some great ones I had never seen. Eli and the rest of the Basterds all formed a brotherhood on that picture. We would all hang out on and off the set. It was a great time. Filming Basterds in Berlin is one of my fondest memories.

What are your thoughts on the final film Death Proof?

I love Death Proof. Quentin can pull off any genre, and it was a real treat to see his take on grindhouse horror/car chase films. I don’t think anyone could have done it better. People have very short attention spans, so they weren’t really ready for such a long double feature in theaters. But it’s become a cult favorite since then. I get recognized a lot for that movie even though my role wasn’t all that big.

How did you end up working on Inglourious Basterds?

I didn’t go through the same audition process as I did for Death Proof on Basterds. Quentin just called me two weeks before I got on the plane and gave me an enthusiastic and bloody description of what I’d be doing—that I would be scalping and slaughtering Nazis left and right with Brad Pitt. He finished by saying, “Basically I want you to come to Berlin and be a Basterd.” I just said, “Quentin, I’ve been preparing for this role my entire life.”

What was working with Brad Pitt like?

Brad Pitt is a great example of how actors should conduct themselves. He’s the chillest, most humble actor I’ve ever worked with. Some of the other big names showed up with a thick entourage of men in suits, while Brad just showed up with a six pack for the Basterds, saying, “You guys want a beer?” He was very encouraging to me during a lot of scenes with him, telling me that I had really come into my own throughout the film. It meant a lot to me. I hope I get to work with him again sometime.

Were you at all nervous going in to act in a big film like Basterds, where you’d be working alongside so many talented performers?

I actually wasn’t. Working on Basterds was a pure joy. I was excited to get up and go to the set every day. Even when I was working in front of three or four hundred people, it was nothing but fun. Something about the way that Quentin works makes acting for him easy and such a thrill.

You were quite good in that film. Do people come up to you and recognize you from Inglourious Basterds?

I do get recognized for Basterds more than anything else. People ask me to do the Italian hand gesture for a picture, or say the Dominic DiCocco line. Depending on how many drinks I’ve had, I just might do it. I’m more proud of the work I did on that film than on anything else in my life, so it’s nice to be recognized for it.

What was your favorite scene on that film, and why?

Busting through the door and killing Hitler and Gobbels with Eli would have to be my favorite day on set. When is someone ever going to have a chance to say they killed Hitler? In a Tarantino movie, no less! Well, I can now. I feel like I should make a business card that says “OMAR DOOM. I KILLED HITLER.”

“Snow White and the Seven Bastards”

snow white image

by Andy Rausch

As they sat together in Joe’s Tavern, Prince Charming couldn’t take his mind off Snow White’s past. It had been weighing on him a lot lately. Sure, she was beautiful, but he also felt she was white trash. She was beneath him. They were from different stations in life, and their differences were becoming ever more apparent. Despite her claims that she had never really slept around, Prince Charming was having a difficult time taking her at her word. She had drank her fair share of tequila tonight, and the other drunks, obviously men from her past, were talking to her as if they’d once been intimate. The worst offender was an inebriated cowboy in a camouflaged ball cap who kept making remarks about her breasts.

Being the gentleman that he was, Prince Charming defended her honor, but it became more and more difficult to do so as horny drunks continued swarming out of the woodwork to make lascivious remarks. She was his wife, goddammit. Why didn’t these men respect that? Even if they had slept with Snow White, why would they be so cruel as to rub it in his face now? And Snow White herself was no help here, either, because she was just drunk enough to flirt back with them.

Prince Charming drank from his gin and tonic and excused himself to the restroom. Inside, the urinals were nasty and overflowing, so he was forced to urinate in a stall. As he stood there pissing, he glanced down and noticed a sentence scrawled about two feet off the ground. It read: “Call Snow White for a good time.” Her cell phone number was written there. It was an outdated number as she’d just recently changed calling plans, but it was a number he recognized.

“Goddammit,” he muttered. The scrawling was down low to the ground, just at the height of a dwarf. Prince Charming’s mind started to race. She’d insisted that she’d never slept with any of the loathsome little sons of bitches, but this written statement seemed to tell a different tale. Jealous, Prince Charming could feel his face turning flush with embarrassment. He walked back to his table to find another redneck leaning over and flirting with his wife. When Prince Charming reached them, the man staggered away.

“Another friend of yours?” asked Prince Charming.

“Just a guy I used to know,” said Snow White, taking a drag from her cigarette. This was another sore spot with Prince Charming—he didn’t smoke and he absolutely loathed the stench of her Pall Malls.

He looked at her sternly. “It seems that you know quite a few men in here.”

She looked at him. Despite her exceeding level of inebriation, she caught the gist of his implication. “Is there something you want to say? If there is, don’t beat around the bush. Just say it.”

And so he did. “Are you sure you told me the truth when you said you’d only been with five men before me?”

She was visibly offended. “Of course it was true.”

Prince Charming said, “I’m not so sure.”

Anger flashed in her eyes now, and she stubbed out her cigarette into the ashtray. “Why is that?”

“You seem awfully chummy with more than a few men in here.”

“And?” she asked.

“And just how did you manage to convince the Woodsman to release you into the woods rather than kill you?”

“What are you asking?”

He just stared at her, unblinking. “Did you have sex with him?”

“No, he was atrocious.”

At this Prince Charming turned and looked at the other men at the bar in an exaggerated motion. “And these men aren’t?”

“Everyone’s got a past,” she said. “Even you.”

Prince Charming took another drink. “I’m not sure I believe you anymore.”

“What are you saying?”

“That you’re a liar.”

This infuriated Snow White. “How can you say that to me? Where do you get your nerve?”

He just looked at her. “Let me ask you another question.”

“Shoot.”

“Those dwarfs you lived with—are you sure you didn’t sleep with them?”

She threw her hands up, implying there was just no talking to Prince Charming. “Are we really going to have this conversation again?”

“Have we ever really had it?”

She glared at him, fire in her eyes. “And what does that mean?”

“It means we never really had the conversation, because you put an end to it. God forbid you should ever have to talk about something you don’t want to talk about.” Prince Charming took another drink. “You’re a spoiled rotten brat.”

Snow White lit another Pall Mall. “Where is all this coming from?”

“You’re so chummy with all the guys in this bar. Are you really going to try and tell me you’ve never been intimate with any of them?”

She looked at him, but said nothing.

Prince Charming said, “That’s what I thought.”

“What do you want from me?” she asked, fidgeting in her seat.

“I want you to be straight with me.”

“How so?”

He sneered at her. “I think you screwed those nasty little dwarfs.”

“You would think that,” she said, taking another drag from her cigarette.

“There’s a message written in the bathroom,” he said quietly.

She looked up. “What kind of message?”

“It says to call you for a good time.”

“And?” she asked.

“And it has your goddamn phone number on it! And it was written about two feet from the ground—right there at dwarf-level.”

She blew out smoke. “So what are you saying?”

“I want a divorce,” he said, pulling the ring from his finger. He dropped it into his drink. He started to stand, and she reached out to stop him. “Please don’t do this,” she pleaded. But it was to no avail. “I’ll be in touch, Snow White.”

He turned and walked out of the place, leaving her sitting there with her tequila and a half-smoked Pall Mall on a Budweiser ashtray. George Strait was singing on the jukebox, and even though he was her favorite singer, Snow White didn’t notice. She raised her cigarette with trembling hands, tears welling up inside her eyes now.

Prince Charming was the only thing she’d ever really wanted in life.

He was the only man she’d ever truly loved.

And now, as she sat there crying, her tears served as man-repellent, and no one came to her aid. There were no more comments about her breasts. Nothing.

She reached into her purse and caressed the chrome pistol with her fingers, making sure the loaded gun was still there.

Someone was going to pay for what had happened to her.

Someone.

She stood up, George Strait sounding muted in her ears, her balance just a little off. She drank the last of her tequila and turned for the door. She had tears streaming down her face like tiny snakes trying to make their way down to her neckline. Again, no one approached her, and no one spoke in her direction.

She walked out of the bar, surprised to find her Camaro still parked outside. Prince Charming must have walked home—as if home was where he was really headed. And for the briefest of moments, Snow White considered shooting her lover. But no, she knew what she had to do. She knew who had to pay.

She unlocked the door to the Camaro and turned the key in the ignition, Lorrie Morgan coming to life in the speakers. She put the car into drive and peeled out of the gravel parking lot, kicking up a massive cloud of dust behind her. Her hands still trembling, she lit another Pall Mall. She stomped on the gas now, and the car lurched forward towards its destination.

Six minutes later she was there, parked in front of the seven dwarfs’ trailer house. She turned off the ignition and stared at the house, contemplating what she was about to do. She reached into her bag and grabbed the .45, pulling it out. She climbed out of the Camaro and marched up the gravel driveway towards the trailer house. She then made her way up the stairs, flicking her half-spent cigarette out into the fenced-in yard. She raised her right hand, the hand clutching the gun, and banged on the front door. She could hear Megadeath blaring from inside the home.

No one came to the door, so she knocked again, harder this time.

Finally the wooden door opened and Doc peered out through the tattered screen door.

“Let me in, goddammit,” she said, the cold air chilling her bones.

Doc opened the door and let her inside. She raised the pistol as she entered.

Doc raised his arms to show her he didn’t want any trouble. She moved the pistol up to her left, seeing Dopey there snorting a line of crank from an aluminum TV dinner tray.

“What’s the problem?” Doc asked nervously.

She turned the pistol back towards Doc and squeezed the trigger, and Doc was no more. Dopey looked up. He started to run towards the back of the house, but Snow White caught him with a clean shot. The bedroom door to Snow White’s right opened and Grumpy peered out. “What the hell is going on out here?” he asked.

Snow White shot through the particle-board door, catching Grumpy at center mass, and he fell out of the way. She turned and kicked the door open, seeing Sneezy there naked and crouching doggie-style, where he had been waiting for Grumpy to return. She shot Sneezy, painting the blinds behind him with the contents of his head.

Snow White turned back towards the living room, where she saw Bashful standing there with a naked dwarf woman held out in front of him, his big hand-cannon aimed at her temple. “Shoot at me and this bitch gets it,” Bashful said.

“Who wrote my phone number in the bathroom down at the pub?” Snow White asked, trembling with anger. She did not lower the pistol.

“Goddamn Doc,” Bashful said. “I told him not to write that shit, but you know Doc…”

Snow White squeezed the trigger, firing off a round through the female dwarf’s chest and striking Bashful in the heart. They both fell over dead in a heap of flesh and bones. Snow White moved past their fallen bodies in search of the other two little bastards. She peered down the hall, and Sleepy peeked out through the doorway at the end of the hallway. Snow White fired two rounds, splintering the particle-board wall and catching Sleepy in the throat. She made her way down the hallway, past the row of stockpiled Pepsi twelve-packs line up against the wall. She stumbled, momentarily losing her footing, and she fell towards the floor.

She heard the gun cock behind her. She turned around and saw Happy standing there, his nine-millimeter pistol trained on her. She went for her gun, which she had dropped in the fall, and Happy fired a round through her left shoulder.

Unnnngggggg,” she blurted.

“Turn around and look at me,” said Happy.

She turned to her right, twisting a bit, and she looked him directly in his eyes. He had his pistol trained on her, and he was holding his cell phone up to his ear with his other hand. Before the 911 operator could respond, Snow White came up with the .45 and shot a round through Happy’s forehead. The diminutive gunman toppled back into the half-assed trailer house kitchen.

Snow White raised herself up from the ground, her shoulder hurting like all hell. She could hear the police sirens in the distance, getting closer and closer. She raised the .45 to her own temple and squeezed the trigger.

And Snow White was no more.

Interview with Matt Wagner

by Andrew J. Rausch

Pennsylvania-bred comic book writer and illustrator Matt Wagner started his career with a story that introduced the world to the assassin character Grendel. That character would ultimately become the stuff of legends, resulting in not just its own title but two Grendel/Batman crossovers. Perhaps best known for Mage, Wagner has also worked on many established characters, including the villain Two-Face for the graphic novel Faces. Wagner is also responsible for Trinity, a series combining the forces of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. In recent years he has been closely associated with Dynamite Entertainment’s Zorro, in which he reimagined the classic character from the old West.

This led to the Wagner-written crossover comic Django/Zorro, which served as an official sequel story to Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained. Speaking on the crossover, Tarantino told reporters, “I loved the idea. One of the things I liked so much, I grew up reading Western comics and entertainment in general, whether it was the Zorro comics, or the Disney show, or Zorro’s Fighting Legend. What I thought was such a great idea was taking the most famous fictional Mexican Western hero, and putting him together with one of the most famous black Western heroes.”

Were you a fan of the original film Django Unchained?

Oh, fuck yeah. I had a friend who’s a local reviewer take me to a press screening. He told me later, “I’ve got to take you to more of those.” Because all the critics sit there very seriously considering the film, and I was just laughing and howling and clapping. [Laughs.] I just enjoyed the hell out of it. I’m a fan of Quentin’s stuff in general.

How did you become involved with the Django/Zorro comic?

The whole project was put together by Nick Barrucci, the guy who runs Dyamite. He was a long-time friend of Reginald Hudlin, who was a producer on Quentin Tarantino’s film. They just kind of put this idea together, I think half-joking to begin with. Then things started to get more serious, and Nick contacted me and said, “We’re talking about doing this. Would you be interested in writing it?” I just thought, That’s never going to happen, but I said, “Sure.” If the opportunity comes up, I’d love to do it, but it’s not going to happen. So I completely forgot about it and then four or five months later, I got another very energized call from Nick. He says, “I sent Quentin all your Zorro stuff and he loves it. He wants you to come down next week to talk about this.” Even then I was like, really, no, it’s not going to happen. But then, yeah, it all came true. I was surprised, but they pulled it off.

What was meeting Quentin like?

Here again, I was like, “This could fall apart at any minute.” Quentin’s such a famous guy, and I’m sure there are about a million people demanding his time. Even when I pulled up to his house I was thinking, “Something’s gonna fall through.” [Laughs.] But no, he met me at the door. He pulled me in and took me and showed me his comics right away. He has a very unique and cool box where he keeps his comics. If we’re not the exact same age, Quentin and I are pretty close in age, so our cultural touch points are kind of similar. His is of course more movie oriented, and mine more comic oriented. But I know plenty of movies and he knows plenty of comics.

Did you guys talk a lot about other comics?

Yeah. He had just gotten back from this big San Diego con, and he had bought up a whole bunch of the oversized black-and-white magazines that Marvel used to publish in the seventies. That just thrilled the hell out of me, because I had loved those when I was young. Even though they didn’t have very strong subject matter in them, they felt more adult when I was buying them at twelve and thirteen-years-old. I guess because they weren’t racked with the other comics—they were racked at the magazine rack. So he had maybe fifty or a hundred of those, and we just pored through those and reminisced.

I read that Quentin was adamant that Zorro be the same Zorro you had already redefined at Dynamite.

When I went down there, I was thinking we’re gonna have to have a legacy Zorro, since Django occurs so much later than the Zorro adventures. But when we first started talking about it, he was adamant. “I want the old Zorro.” Considering Django’s relationship with King Shultz in the film, where he already had this openness towards having an older mentor-like character, it just fit like a glove. Then we had to talk about what had happened to Django since the film, because this took place about two years after the film. He told me Django’s wife was down in Philadelphia, and that he’d taken her there. He was very much a wanted man. It had taken them a long time to get out of the South. They had fought there way out of there, and Brunhilda was now working with the underground railroad. So he’s gone back to doing the only thing he knows how to do, which is bounty hunting. And he just keeps pushing farther and farther West, because there’s not as much institutionalized racism out there.

Did you get much direct input from Tarantino while working on the project?

Sure. We spent two days with the first go-around. I had already heard this from somebody else, but when Quentin first starts working with you, he likes to screen movies for you. So he had a whole litany of stuff he wanted us to watch in this very cool, very comfortable screening room. So we watched a couple of films, and we watched a couple of chapters of old Zorro serials. We’d kind of watch a little bit and then go up to his porch and chat, working out storyline stuff. So when I went there to meet him, I was down there for two days. It was a very open, very free-form kind of meeting. I didn’t know if I’d need to come back the second day. We didn’t even know if we’d get along. But he said, “No, no, no, you’ve got to come back tomorrow so we can keep working on this.” I went back to the hotel that night and I wrote the first six pages of the script to kick it off and get it started, so I could get direct feedback from him in regards to Django’s voice in particular. One thing he cautioned me about, he said, “Don’t try to write black dialect. Try to write more cowboy dialect.” Of course a few of Django’s enunciations are more black than cowboy, but that was a very cool and insightful bit of direction.

So then I came back and started to work on it, and maybe three months later I contacted him and said, “We need one more meeting. We’ve got the general outline, but now that I’m kind of blocking it out, I have a few more questions for you.” So I went back down for another afternoon, and we got everything accomplished that we wanted to do. He had very quick answers for each of my questions. And it was valuable, because there’s a scene in there that’s a flashback where Django remembers a little adventure with King. That scene was actually in Quentin’s first draft of Django Unchained. He still had it in handwritten form. But he’d cut the scene because he felt it was a little repetitive and that the film was already long enough. He brought this up because I felt we needed some sort of reminiscence about King, because he was such a powerful figure. With this being the first new Django adventure, I thought we needed to see King in some fashion. He had the scene already, and we found a place where it fit in nicely. He pretty much acted the entire scene out, telling me all of it. He kept telling me he was gonna get me his original handwritten script, but he never did because he got started on The Hateful Eight preproduction. And when you start working on a movie, boom, you just disappear into that hole. Since he had acted it all out for me, I just kind of wrote it from memory and just filled in the spots that needed filled myself. I was pretty happy with it. I felt that I hit King’s voice pretty well.

How much freedom did you have in crafting this story? Did you ever feel at all hamstrung, having to answer back to Quentin?

No, he was really open to everything. Again, he really loved my version of Zorro, so… When I went down the second time, the questions I had were very specific. I said, “In all your films, there’s some chunk of pop culture.” In Django you could argue that that’s not there, but it is. Mandingo fighting was a pop culture thing of its time. You could almost compare it to the S&M dungeon in Pulp Fiction. We were determined to examine racism not through black people, but through the local indigenous population. I said, “We need something the Indians do that signifies their despair. A dark, sort of subcultural thing.” So he very quickly came up with the idea of playing chicken with sticks of dynamite. That fit right in and certainly fit the bill for what we were going for. The other big thing was when I told him we needed a significant death of some kind. So I suggested we kill Bernardo, Zorro’s longtime servant and brother-in-arms. And he just thought that was a terrific idea.

What are some of the challenges you faced on this particular project?

The big challenge was that it wasn’t as neat a pairing as I had originally thought it would be. I had thought, yeah, that sounds neat. That sounds cool. But the two characters are very different ages, and they come from very different worlds. That’s always fun to meld, but one operates completely incognito and the other one doesn’t. So I found in writing it, I really couldn’t have the two of them fighting back to back, so to speak, until the grand finale. Otherwise you’ve got one guy in a mask and another guy not in a mask. The bad guys are gonna go, “We don’t know who that guy is, but go get the other guy who doesn’t have the mask on.” [Laughs.] They’re also very different in their approaches. Certainly in the heat of battle Zorro will kill somebody if he has to. But he’s not like Django who will just happily blow their head off. It was a really neat challenge trying to make those work, and I think I pulled it off.

What are some of the challenges to writing for someone else’s character as opposed to one you’ve created yourself?

Both of those are somebody else’s character. Over the years I’ve done a lot of that. I don’t know how familiar you are with the comics industry, but I’m sort of more known for my two indie characters, Grendel and Mage. Over the years I’ve had lots of opportunities to work with other characters for other comic companies. I’ve done lots of Batman for DC. I’ve done lots of stuff for Dynamite, like Zorro, The Green Hornet, The Shadow—all those old cool pulp characters. I’m currently working on the relaunch of the Will Eisner character the Spirit. I find it an interesting challenge to play with someone else’s toys like that. One difference is that with a character like Batman, you have a history of like seventy-five, eighty-five years. You’re kind of free to pick out the stuff you like and toss out the stuff you don’t. But with something like The Spirit or with Django, you’re suddenly working with a character that is closely identified with one particular voice and one particular author. So that’s a neat challenge also—to try and strike that author’s tone, and yet bring something of your own to the table, as well. Ever since the death of Ian Fleming, you’ve seen many officially-sanctioned other people writing James Bond books. And some of them are more successful than others in striking that tone.

What are some of the joys and challenges that came with writing about an older Don Diego character?

Once Quentin suggested that to me, it all sort of made sense. He also brought up another interesting factor in that Don Diego sort of puts on this foppish demeanor to deflect people from his true identity and adventures as Zorro. Quentin pointed out that after that many of years of living like that, wouldn’t he actually become that persona? Wouldn’t he actually be that kind of fussy older aristocrat? And I thought, yes, he absolutely would.

Quentin hints at the beginning of issue one about a possible future Django/Lone Ranger team-up. Is that something we might actually see?

They haven’t contacted me, so I don’t know. I don’t write The Lone Ranger. If they did that, I would think they would turn to one of the regular Lone Ranger authors. I don’t know. Maybe. I wouldn’t say no.

What kind of feedback did you get from Quentin once the comic was finished?

He loved it. I would say for the first half of production I heard from him pretty regularly. Then, again, he started Hateful Eight, and I didn’t hear from him until the end. I would assume with that he’s keeping watch over me with his character, and I’m sure that once he saw that I could handle it he was okay with it. He told me at the end he loved the way it turned out.

What elements of the Django/Zorro comic are you the most proud of?

Meshing these two characters that on my second thought of it didn’t seem to mesh as well as I initially thought they would. I’m certainly proud of having had the chance to work with Quentin. He’s really one of the most vital film directors working today. I’ve enjoyed his work for many, many years. Also, my son colored the book, which was pretty cool. I think it just turned out beautifully.

django cover.jpg

On Quentin Tarantino

I always loved film. Some of my earliest memories involve movies. I still remember watching Joe Camp’s Benji as a young lad. Then I got a little bit older and I started attending the drive-in with my parents to see movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Superman. These were memorable times because my father would have me cover myself with a coat and lie down on the floor in the backseat so he wouldn’t have to pay extra. I wasn’t a very discerning viewer back in those days. As a young man I loved everything I watched, from Salem’s Lot to lesser fare like Porky’s and Super Fuzz.

It wasn’t until October 14, 1994 that I began to see film more clearly. It was on that night—opening night—that I first saw Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. (I’ll admit it, I still hadn’t seen Reservoir Dogs at this point.) When that movie came blaring to life on the screen before me, complete with unbelievably cool music from Kool and the Gang and Dick Dale, my eyes were forced opened for the first time. It was then that I truly came to realize everything that cinema could actually be. This was the first time I really considered that there was a man called a director behind this thing, pulling the strings like a talented puppet master. This movie would forever change my life.

Some time later, I was in Seattle, Washington, trying to convince this really cute girl that she should go on a date with me. We went to a book store (as “friends”) and I stumbled across two books that would almost have as significant an impact on me as that film had. They were Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies by Jami Bernard and Jeff Dawson’s Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool. These were the first books on the subject of cinema I would ever possess. And that night when I went back to my hotel room alone and rejected by that cute girl, I didn’t feel lonely or sad at all. I had those magnificent books to keep me company. And as I read the two biographies of this man Quentin Tarantino, I started to see the path before me in a new light. I had always planned on being a writer, but I never knew what I would write about. But here in my hands were exactly the types of books I wanted to write. On that night I fell in love with film books and even more deeply in love with the works of Tarantino. That was when I came up with the idea that would eventually result in this book. What if I made a companion book to the films of Quentin Tarantino, rather than a biography? At that time there was no such book in existence, and it seemed like a brilliant idea.

It was then that I embarked upon a journey which would stretch out over the next twenty years. I began researching Tarantino and interviewing anyone who knew him that I could get close to. But somehow the book stalled for a good long time after the release of Jackie Brown. I actually had the opportunity to have a really great conversation with Tarantino at the QTIII festival in Austin, Texas, about the merits of the under-appreciated film Death Collector, as well as the copious deficiencies found in the laughable musical The Apple. I would later have a similarly good time with Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary, in which he detailed the even-longer theory he and Tarantino had conceived about Top Gun containing homosexual subtext.

But after that, the book started and stopped intermittently. My attentions were pulled towards number of other projects. (I published nearly thirty books during that span, none of which were the Tarantino book.) And each time a new (and equally wonderful) Tarantino offering was unleashed upon the movie-going public, I would vow to finally finish my book. But I never did. Then I read Dale Sherman’s terrific book Quentin Tarantino F.A.Q. and quickly realized he had crafted pretty much the same book I had always envisioned. So my dream of twenty years looked as though it were finally dead. Then, not long after the release of Tarantino’s eighth “official” film The Hateful Eight, I had a conversation with Bear Manor Media editor Ben Ohmart. It was in that discussion the book would find new life as a collection of original interviews on all things Tarantino.

And so, after two decades in the making, I present you with Big Kahuna Burgers, Hitmen, Killers & Heists: Conversations on Quentin Tarantino. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.