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Two girlfriends, a Buick, & a flamingo - chapter eight

Buick returns in the final part of Jim Gabour's story from Blue Moons, Texas. (Start from the beginning of the story here)

Jim Gabour
21 April 2013

Austin, Texas, was an idyllic oasis of sanity in the colonic cowboy cosmos when Buick first stepped onto the Guadalupe Street Drag.  It had only taken him sixteen rides, four days and two minor fistfights to make his way from Blue Moons to the state capital.

His last lift was in a smoking, springless Chevy truck.  A makeshift flatbed and a rusted-out metal soft drink box had been crudely bolted onto its back some decades earlier.  Since the cab already held the driver, his wife and two kids, Buick rode in back, on top of the metal box.  It was hard but cool on his butt, and the lid flexed with the bumps in the road.  Inside was a hundred pounds of ice and four hundred pounds of assorted steer parts, all headed to a VFW barbecue across Town Lake in south Austin.  The cattleman and family were friendly and accommodating to the raggedy, beat-up-looking boy with the nice boots.  Gave him a greasy paper bag full of homemade beef jerky to help him along to his next meal.

He did well with ordinary folk.

Within an hour of his deposit on the streets of Austin, Buick was befriended by a tall, dark-haired woman and her less-impressive-though-still-friendly husband. The Bells, Marcy & Rob, were expatriates from Louisiana.  They were new in town, too, freshly separated from their routine lives as postal workers in Baton Rouge.

In the flower-child era, there was a peak of migration by young people moving from the repressive strictures of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to liberal, freeform Austin, Texas.  They just aimed the U-Haul west onto I-10, ate a few sprouts and sunflower seeds, and seven hours later, they were there, in new lives. During the sixties, the Interstate to the east ended just beyond the city called “Red Stick”, while engineers tried to figure out how to get it across the swamps.  New Orleans, on the waterlogged eastern side of those same swamps, was in no hurry to connect.  It was never in a hurry to do anything.

So the Bells went west, to Texas.  It was said to be dry there.  Marcy and Rob and their full-grown, drooling St Bernard had been living out of the back of their van until they found a place to water the dog, park the van, and install the trailer full of furniture it pulled.  That very morning they had given away all their hard cash for a damage deposit and first & last month’s rent on a low-ceilinged five-room apartment behind a South Lamar Street print shop.  They needed an extra set of hands to unload, and a service station attendant had directed them to the Drag to find help among the many street people who hung out there day and night.

The Bells found the unlikely figure of Buick Baskin sitting quietly between a mesquite furniture-maker’s stall and a dumpster full of expired cat food.  Mr Kerouac was greedily munching down on his second can of Kitty’s Delight Super Supper #6.  Kidney & Liver.  Eat before 3/60.  Little aging never hurt a good #6.  Jack happily offered a Fisherman’s Special Dinner #3 (Whitefish & Haddock) to the Bells’ hungry dog.  Marcy & Rob Bell offered the traveler two days of room and board.  Maybe even a few bucks if the work took longer, and if they had the cash.

Buick was quick to accept.  He had spent his nights on the road sleeping under parked cars.  The promise of a roof, and maybe even a bed if they unpacked quickly enough, was irresistible.  He thanked the Bells, telling them that the work would allow him the little bit of time he needed to get used to the town.  Two days would do Buick just fine.

Similar gestures of kindness were repeated often through Buick’s first years of residence.  It turned out that he and his host of portable companions were usually quite capable of taking care of themselves, and at times were unsurpassingly inventive when it came to survival.  Official sorts of people felt moved to extraordinary acts to protect the boy, in spite of his obvious self-reliance. Buick was apparently special, in some recognizable way.  He credited a week living in Following the Equator with Mark Twain for the affable lost traveler look that later seemed to endear him to bureaucrats.

His track record in the first twelve months was admirable.  An University of Texas assistant registrar allowed him entrance to the school with the meagerest of transcripts.  The elderly comptroller found loopholes giving Buick access to school loans.  The secretary at the Dean of Men’s office typed and signed the freshman Buick Baskin’s student paperwork without notifying the Blue Moons draft board of Buick’s exact address.  An editor at the off-campus humor magazine Ranger decided that Buick might, in fact, actually be Procol Harum, and let the green-eyed stranger earn money writing record reviews.  They all wanted to take care of him.

He moved out of the Bell residence and into a tiny rental house on 49th Street four years -- and forty-eight postcards to his Mom -- later than his initial two-day estimate, having acquired dozens upon dozens of friends.  And the same number of pages in a case dossier at University Hospital’s Anxiety Clinic. Thereby allowing a grateful nation to officially relieve him of the burden of service in its armed forces and award him a designation treasured by many during the conflict in southeast Asia:  Buick’s newly-issued draft card read “4F”.

Getting a military deferment and a two-room house didn’t really improve his state of mind.  Buick hadn’t known there was a war on.  And he had been both repelled and attracted by the shack when he first saw it.  Dollar-crazed developers building a vast parking lot had cleared out all the east-side structures on the single block that was 49th street.  A small enclave of Texican families, backyard gardens in place for thirty years, were evicted from their rented homes to make space for a four-screen surround-sound movie house.  The houses were razed, the lot paved, and the cinema went belly-up in a quick eight-month sequence.  Buick’s house, the sole occupant of the west side of the street, had escaped the grid of empty yellow lines. Unfortunately, 49th street itself had disappeared.  Leaving the Baskin residence isolated and hard to find.  Just as its reclusive denizen wished.

But Buick was left with the results of his neighborhood being paved.  The black surface of the lot magnified Texas heat by a factor of ten.  An atmosphere that was already oppressive leaped up to two-step onto the dance floor that was his uninsulated abode moments after the morning sun cleared the thin mesquite trees.   The thermal boogie did not relent until two hours after sunset, when the bubbling asphalt finally began to cool and harden again.  On more than one occasion, Buick’s shoes had been pulled from his feet by the sticky surface as he walked home after 10pm.  But at least he was living on his own.  Most of the time.  Quite a few people entered his life and, consciously or unconsciously, tried to make a place for themselves.

Like Ruby and Jules.

Ruby & Jules Watt had two mean German Shepherds and a closet full of latex. As a life mission, they creatively used a remoted 35mm still camera to capture their frequent moments of orgasm, from a variety of unique and anatomically difficult positions. Post-ejaculatory Jules took the exposed negatives into his well-equipped darkroom for a quick transfer onto large 8x12 sheets of glossy paper.  He would emerge from the darkened room smiling, a stack of dried prints in his hands, and pass the stack to a waiting Ruby.  His willing wife would then pull out one of the many ornate picture scrapbooks, which they stocked in advance for just such occasions, and place the photos one-by-one into separate, well-ordered plastic pages.  Jules often bragged about having a noon quickie ready for viewing by the cocktail hour.  They left volumes of recent conjugation strategically arranged on the coffee- and end-tables of their living room for guests’ easy perusal.

Ruby said she felt completed and safe once they had documented and catalogued their sexual activity for posterity.  The hygienic storage and second-hand sharing of their sex was a priority to her.  She was, after all, second in command of the University of Texas Library.

Ruby had hired Buick, and later Marcy, as part-time workers.  Not out of prurient interest.  She hired them first, and only invited them over to her home after she decided she liked them.  She and Jules never pushed their interests on anyone.  But they were not adverse to leaving unsuspecting first-time guests waiting on their couch while they went to fetch drinks.  The couch was strategically surrounded by two dozen hard-bound volumes of selected sexual activity.  Ruby and Jules would dawdle over bringing out the hors d’oeuvres until they heard the requisite “Whoops!” that marked their guests’ first accidental opening of one of their picture books.  Then they would enter, smiling and handing out drinks to red-faced visitors, all the while giving the background for their recently-discovered little hobby.

Jules and Ruby never had sex with either Marcy or Buick.  Marcy especially, was too shy about such matters.  

One New Year’s Eve, though, they actively pumped tequila sunrises and primo marijuana into a group of revelers that included Buick, and then from behind a one-way mirror prepared to take covert pictures of their friends’ sexual liaisons.  Buick had fallen asleep before the good part, and was seen in the resultant photos as the fully-clothed snoring backdrop to any number of tantric poses.  His medication from the Clinic had shaken hands with Señor Jose Cuervo and called for an immediate siesta.  The Watts wrote Mr Baskin off after that particular incident -- they had hoped for an appearance of the Marquis de Sade, and they got Rip Van Winkle.

Buick had already found his life mate.  He found her right at the start, but then she drove him off -- at least in his revisionist memory -- replacing him with an ancient-looking not-quite-a-preacher. Unsurpassingly inventive in imagination, Buick Baskin had an equal portion of stubbornness.  No woman was interesting to him unless she could register favorably on the Diana scale. He was not very skilled on the make.  Consequently, he carried the majority of his lady friends in his head.

Things didn’t change much for Buick and his Psychic Tour Bus passengers over the next few years in their roles as psychological performance artists.  If anything, public tolerance of the more overt aspects of the Baskin visitors -- found by many observers to be entertaining -- had only caused them to intensify.  John L Stephens --19th century explorer of the Maya ruins of the Yucatan peninsula and Buick Roadmaster Baskin’s most intense resident since the Kerouac siege of some years before -- was well-known in Buick’s North Austin neighborhood, but he was a special favorite with the Piggly Wiggly checkout cashiers and the Hispanic food artists of the North Lamar Gourmet Hamburger staff.

The Gourmet girls knew who was who.  Buick Baskin was a shy, sweet young man who always had a number three Hickory Smoke Burger with extra cheese and no onion.  He paid for his food, never counted his change or made eye contact with any other patron, and always ate in the same corner window booth.

But a meal for JL was much more involved.

48. INT. COUNTER OF 24-HOUR DINER  --  DAY

CONSUELA HUACHINANGA, long-time fry cook of Gourmet Hamburgers, looks up from behind her counter at 6:30am to see the approach of JL STEPHENS, archaeologist and bon vivant.

JL STEPHENS

(vigorously shaking the fry cook’s hand)

You ladies are all looking quite lovely and fresh this morning, and for that I do thank you.  The appetites are whetted in the presence of such loveliness, even when other conditions are quite insalubrious.

HUACHINANGA

You looking good youselves, Señor JL.  What for you can I get this mornings?

STEPHENS

I can only go on your studied recommendation of course, Doña Consuela, but I do admire your finesse on the number seven South-of-the-Border Burger, with extra chilies and onion and refritos negros.  That, with a side of fries and a chilled can of Tecate, con limon, por favor.

HUACHINANGA

¡Que milagro!  Me, I got no ideas how a norteño can be eating such a things for breakfasts, but you want it, you gots it.  You take you regular stool.  She waiting for you.  You going to be telling us the good stories today?  You know how we liking the good stories.

STEPHENS

(seating himself at the counter)

Muchas gracias, and of course, I will be glad to relate to you the opening of the thirty-six mounds of Ticul.  Here, I will make you a diagram of the village with Sweet-and-Low.  The pink and blue chemical packets will suggest the setting sun reflected in the eyes of the beauteous women of your gracious homeland.  Women such as yourself, Doña Consuela.

HUACHINANGA

(blushing)

This man he too romantics for his own good.  Niña!  A Tecate, on the house for the Señor!

(she leans toward Stephens)

You sure you wouldn’t rather have the blueberries waffle, Señor JL?

CUT TO:

The resulting arrangements of condiments and silverware were protected by waitresses and countermen, through several shift changes, as works of art. JL happily lived the life of archaeologist-in-residence for North Austin’s fast-food and supermarket industries for almost eighteen months.  However, even Stephens did finally collide with forces not so appreciative of his scholarship.

That spring, after a year and a half as Buick’s primary motivator, the scientist-explorer was compelled to quickly begin a previously unplanned expedition away from his 49th street digs.  An observant confederate from the Piggly Wiggly express checkout counter had quietly informed Mr Stephens that federales had been seen hanging around his house with papers delineating the need for his temporary incarceration.  JL had been labeled as a person of perhaps declining mental hygiene, seeing as how he had earlier that day disrobed in a biology lab and spoken Ukrainian poetry rather forcefully. Rather than slice into a thoroughly deceased frog.

This incident occurred only days after undergraduate Buick Roadmaster Baskin had registered for his seventh year in pursuit of an elusive Bachelor’s Degree, the not-so-young student listing his major on University scholarship forms as “Twentieth Century Anthropomorphic Metaphor”.  Mr Baskin, a documented Black Hole in the universe of student loans,  had not seen a counselor in nine semesters.  With his latest anatomical exposition, the university and public health authorities now thought him in possible need of renewed effort by their various counseling sources.

Mr Stephens put his fate in the hands of his friends.  With quick wilderness outfitting by the ever-resourceful Marcy Bell, JL had been persuaded to head into the untenanted wilds of a creek bed hidden away in a bend of Barton Creek, up near where Bee Cave Road comes out of the hills.  He was to be temporarily sequestered at a new dig site with only her now-senile St Bernard for company.  The large and aged dog was also an exile.  Marcy’s abusive, thrice-estranged husband had on the night before come to her house drunk, demanding what he perceived as his marital rights. Woozle, as he was known to admirers, had repelled the intruder, vehemently closing his wobbly teeth on the aforementioned Mr Bell’s caudal region.  Marcy was proud of her protector. The geriatric canine had happily lost an upper lateral incisor in the process of causing severe incidental bruising of the Bell testicles.  And rather unfortunately also precipitating a call to the cops.

For his transgression the canine was instantly subject to two weeks’ involuntary housing in the Travis County puppy slammer. With a possibility of more serious gaseous consequences to come.  The dog wisely took it on the lam, disappearing before the arrival of Animal Control officers.  Mrs Bell informed attending authorities that this was definitely a bite-and-run incident, and that she had personally seen the offender loping across the Lamar Bridge toward the bars of Sixth Street, where the accused was known to have friends in the home security industry.  Marcy’s shortly-to-be-ex husband had promised legal action as soon as he was physically able to sit in front of a lawyer’s desk.  She loudly, and in front of a considerable number of witnesses, wished his buttocks and bollix a rather gruesome litany of lengthy miseries.

After the departures of cops and ex, and the fortuitous late arrival of a frenzied and somewhat unhinged JL Stephens, Marcy removed the sleepy Woozle from his underhouse hiding spot and calmly began provisioning the Barton Creek expedition with camping equipment and enough food for a week.

“Setting us up quite well, you are, dear Miz  Bell ,” said Stephens, “enough grub to take myself and party directly into the rainforest.  A proper show of self-sufficient independence from the locals, who will hopefully lead us to the hidden treasures of their lands.  Wu-Zul and I are, of course, most interested in the temple of Ah Muzen Cab, and possibly some of the products that particular deity so proudly blessed.  Ah, Yucateca honey, the true nectar of the gods.”

JL Stephens then began to deliver a complexly structured speech before the Royal Geographical Society, whose sole attending member was an elderly Woozle.  The St Bernard was not truly able to appreciate the content of the lecture, but he did enjoy Stephens’ hand gestures.

Marcy accepted Buick’s sudden British accent as she had accepted many others over the years.  But she heard his frequent references to the Mayan beekeeping deity Ah Muzen Cab as yet another sign of her friend’s latent anthropological genius.  After all, he and Woozle would be sequestered close by Austin’s little-traveled Bee Caves Road.

Bees.  Bees again, I heard him say it.

These people carry some kind of message, Marcy speculated as she jammed three cans of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-o’s and a sack of Big-Doggee-Bonz into a knapsack.

Buick is always doing this, but it’s right.  It’s a good thing, not bad.  He’s a holy man.

Bee Caves Road, he knows the future again.

The connection was strained, however, because though Marcy had driven the Road, she wondered about the existence of both Cave and Bee.  The twisting two lanes of concrete were hemmed in for miles by newly-spawned electronics executives’ hillside pools and palaces, but all the while stayed within visual range of the sparkling bed of Barton Creek.

A cave and bees would certainly be handy, she thought.

Speculation aside, the practical Marcy then transported her two expeditionary friends to the crest of a hill overlooking their new place of residence.  She pulled the car onto the rocky shoulder of the road, got out and started pacing back and forth, staring intently into the scrub brush.  Mr Stephens and his companion Woozle used the time to split a large bone-shaped biscuit in anticipation of their upcoming travails, while the Yucatan veteran continued his dissertation on the Maya characters that would phonetically sound the name “Wu-Zul”.

After some few minutes, Marcy said “a-HA!” and yelled at the travelers to come to her.  Stephens made his final point to a congratulatory round of ear-scratching by his colleague and, thus encouraged in his scholarship, used a green ball-point pen to inscribe the last of the Yucateca characters on his palm for future reference.  Wu-Zul and Stephens then dismounted the vehicle. By the time they reached her, Marcy was holding back some low, thorn-bearing bushes, revealing a barely visible dirt path that headed with many a wiggle toward a distant bend in the hills.

“The creek’s down there.  Beautiful, clean, drinkable water.  And fish.  Catch some.  Eat them.  Fishing gear’s in the side pocket. Swiss army knife.  Tent. Matches inside the plastic box.  Berries.  Herbs all over.  Edible cactus. Yucca. Prickly pear.  Very tasty. Maybe even wild bees and honey.  You’ll be fine. Look around for caves.  Look out for snakes,” she instructed.  “I’ll come to visit on Sunday, after I find out whether they’re still looking for you, and I’ll bring more food.”

She kissed first JL Stephens then Wu-Zul on their respective foreheads, wiping an errant bit of doggy fur from her lips after the generous gesture of affection.

“Quite good of you, old girl,” intoned the Etonish Stephens.

“Ahh-wook,” drooled elderly Wu-Zul, the Maya dog succinct, though as always a tad cryptic, in his opinion of British education.

They descended the path.  Hung their small tarp right next to Barton Creek, where they could hear continuous dreamy conversation between the energetic stream and the boulders sleeping in its bed.  Even from the hills directly above, Marcy’s olive drab canvas was invisible, strung to tree branches by its four corners, just above sitting head-height.  After constructing a circle of stones for cooking and other idolatry, JL Stephens and the fearless but forgetful Wu-Zul felt the initial phase of their mission completed.  Whatever that mission was.  They had time to eat and sleep and contemplate their next excavation, to mull over the history of the mammals who had preceded them to the site.  Marcy wasn’t due back for a few days. They ate Italian and cylindrical.  They slept, JL until midnight.  The explorer woke to see Wu-Zul still soundly adoze with his front paws protectively encircling their one remaining uneaten can of Spaghetti-o’s.

Buick crept from his sleeping mat, taking care not to disturb the snoring dog.

Beethoven’s Symphony No 32 (“The Croaker”), orchestrated for Seventeen-Year Locust and Bird-Voiced Tree Frog, covered the sound of his movement. The leaves and sand underfoot made an even, soft carpet that edged with a chill tickle into the space between his toes.

He emerged from under the shadow of the tarp and into the silver flow of moon.

Buick Baskin raised his face to the night sky, eyes closed.  Felt cool shimmering light caress his face.  He had done the right thing. He’d listened to Marcy and she’d sent him here.

A soothing cascade -- the moon’s much more melodic translation of what a blatant sun was trying to say about the pettiness of human affairs -- stripped the weight from his heart.  He suddenly wanted everything off again, nothing between himself and the consolation of the night.  He tore his favorite House of Pancakes t-shirt and broke his only pants’ zipper in his rush to get shed of them, then left the clothing where it fell.  Walked out into the water.  None of this had anything whatsoever to do with the Ukraine or biology lab.

Poetry, maybe.  There was some lunar rhyming going on, after all.

The moon said it was alright.  She was round and glowing and 278,857 miles away, but she knew it was alright and told Buick so. He could be naked and wet.  The sweet virgin huntress took responsibility, signed off on Buick’s damp dance card. It was alright.  

Hell, it was better than alright.

This reasonable acceptance of unreasonable activity is probably what philologists and psychiatrists and somnambulists and El Paso cartoonists have in mind when they look across their darkly-painted waiting rooms and say loudly:

“Now that there’s what we call a lunatic.”

Sure, blame it on the moon.  Buick Roadmaster Baskin walked further into the water, naked as the day he was born.  And just as damned goofy.

Other than a slight aftertaste of leftover British anthropologist, he was alone. True, there was the rhythmic pulmonary rasp of a large slumbering canine. The second, highly emotional movement of the Ludwig 32 had drawn the Brru-uuu-ddupps of some multiple hundreds of crouched amphibian woodwinds, and the whistling of an impressive cicada septendecim string section.  Of course Buick’s damaged hearing did not pick up some of the more delicate of the insect flourishes, but in the refined ongoing patterns of creek bed night music he found an internal harmony.

Buick  was alone, and he for the moment forgot everything other than what was him and his world.  The sobering, relentless pressure of bloodied education had accomplished something worthwhile.  Whether the Biology Department knew it or not, they had dissected Buick Baskin and made him whole.  At least for the moment.

He again clicked through the disconnected sequence of connected events that had been his life since his arrival in Austin.  His resumption of an education.  His scrabble for a living.  His attempts at filling the hole Diana had opened in his life.

Now there’s a catalog of blunders, Buick Baskin thought.

His soul began to loosen, stretch out the kinks of tight confinement, pop the tight joints free.  He sighed so deeply that when he exhaled he could see his breath emerge, even in the warm night air, and hover in a cloud above the chill water of the creek. Two fireflies tried to console the personal serving of translucent fog, the moist suspended molecules of lost chance and broken heart, flashing firefly Moon Morse to Buick.  Then the mist evaporated and the two organic bits of light departed, feeling their job done, the harmony of the waterbed maintained.

The second sigh was infinitely lighter, almost invisible.  Buick was feeling the calming effects of the continuing moonlight.  The touch of Luna.  He could talk to this woman.  

He was not embarrassed to let her hear him talk to himself.

Catalog.  Blunders.  Blinders.

Ironic.  Me, of all people, feeling alone.  Always with so many people around, and yet the whole search never never working when I try to weed them out. When I try to find that one other person, the any other person who will fit.

Not many Dianas out there.  No Flatrocks.  No relief.

Except maybe the good hearts.  Buff and Marcy.  Some of the Family like Ruby and Jules and Huachinanga.  Never a real lover. No.

I wonder:  

Was this the scene of my life?  

What if all the matches were too damp to light?  Did it happen here anyway? The real must be:  

Where are my fingerprints?  Where was I on the night in question? Elsewhere? Is this all the pulp of my current mindsqueeze? Can I trust you to exist?

There is the fear that touching another is no longer in the realm of possible movement.

They ask: Shall we calm him?  Silver shaft behind the eye.  The I.  Spectral grail disappearing.  Mist.  Finding myself only in the loss of my third I.  Is that the solution?  The noble conjunction with another human that will make it all whole?

I can get sex.  I know that.  Sooner or later I’ll do it.  Right now it’s nothing. Nothing there for me. Let other people have sex.  Me, I’ll hear about it later. See the pictures.  That’ll be fine.  I’ll know what to do when the time comes.

Same thing for love.  Not now.  I got close once, with Miz Flatrock, I think, but I can wait for that, too.  I know I can.

The survival method is to look at the whole thing rationally.  At least that is what I have been told.

Though he did not consciously realize it, Buick was triumphantly engaging in that best aspect of lunacy -- direct conversation with the moon -- and finding the lunatic in him to be a very sane person indeed.  His hand gestures were much like those he had observed throughout the progress of his final medieval history class.  The student Baskin had admired his professor’s use of the Invading Asian Hordes’ hacking and stabbing movements to emphasize points that should go into his students’ class notes. Hopefully, the sky’s night orb was aware of the system.  A pop quiz was a possibility.

The only problem is -- and there is always an only problem -- is that I consider only myself rational.  The rest belongs to chaos. So when something outside me contests my system of orientation -- self-established and self-maintained logic -- and then demands an immediate solution to the contest -- somebody wins and somebody loses -- I immediately react by erecting walls of impenetrable sensual dimensions.  I can see hear smell feel or say nothing else.  This gives me time to accept, reject, or compromise the new material. My time frame tends to be a little different than most people I meet, though.  For me even the smallest consideration merits care.  The doctors never realized that.  My pauses drove them wild.  They had allotted me forty minutes of therapeutic their-question-and-my-answer, and my answers had best come quickly.  No indecision or thought.  They never considered that the stop in conversation should be viewed favorably.  That many things they asked remain life-long considerations with me.

Buick held only a few of these, really.  These life-long considerations.  The most important he kept to himself:  he was content to spend the rest of his life looking for a replacement for Diana.  Remained so.

He wore the badge.  Literally.  To remind him of both the origins of his discontent and of his resolution to track down happiness, Buick had on his arrival in Austin commissioned circular representations of two blue moons, superimposed with the Roman goddess Diana the Huntress’ scarlet bow and arrow, to be tattooed onto his right shoulder.  He was initially pleased with the cryptic result.  However, after several disparaging remarks about the meaning of the design (“Geronimo’s eyeballs ain’t blue, Injun lover,” remarked one particularly obtuse urban cowboy), Buick returned to the skin artist to have the words “Blue Moons” added beneath the original.  Though now more literal, the bow, moon and message still aroused speculation when it was bared to the sight of strangers.

His shoulder’s blue fleshmoons were damp when Buick awoke a few days later.  His tattoo itched, like it was a nose someone had been talking about. Sunday morning had brought a heavier-than-usual dew to the remote campsite.  It also brought several hundred naked people riding inner tubes and two National Guard helicopter gunships.  Neither JL Stephens nor the intrepid Wu-Zul was prepared.

Marcy had promised to return before noon that day with more provisions and word on the fugitives’ legal status.  But by 9am the first of the nude tubers had already swooshed through the shallow rapids directly in front of the sunning campers, who were likewise in their natural state.  It seems Marcy hadn’t been camping at Barton Creek in some time.

Unbeknownst to Mrs Bell, a Sunday tradition had taken hold in the last year among the looser and more flagrant tribes of Austin. The Sunday morning float down three twisting miles of fast-moving Creek from Ben White Boulevard all the way into Zilker Park was sun-drenched and open to the vast blue Texas sky, running through the rocky bottom of unpopulated gullies.  A perfect spot and occasion for the shedding of clothes and inhibitions.  Get dropped off and disrobe at one end, float down a gorgeous unspoiled waterway, and roar over a small fall into the Park’s larger pond, there to be picked up by friends and reclothed before the regular Sunday crowds arrived. If she’d known about it, Marcy would have gone herself.

She hadn’t known.

Or prepared Buick for the possibility.

Wu-Zul had attempted to jump into the water and attack the first group that passed, trying to protect his unclad and underdefended partner. Unfortunately, his sight not being on a par with his loyalty, he sank his few remaining teeth into a water-softened pine log and was unable to remove the woody leg-substitute from his mouth.  This was probably all for the better, for the hordes of waving and laughing bodies continued to pass unabated and unbitten.

As he watched, JL was sure he was not seeing what he was seeing.  He realized now that the leafy greens he had gleaned for his dinner the night before must have contained some potent Maya hallucinogen.  Stephens was sure that a blood sacrifice was in order, and fully expected a high priest to emerge from the bushes at any moment and demand his pounding heart for a god much more ferocious than the friendly patron of beekeepers Ah Muzen Cab.  He wondered if his Swiss army knife would suffice for such ritual.  Wu-Zul would, of course, act as his second.  If the dog could ever get the log out of his mouth.

I must have inadvertently stumbled into the sacred maze.  Ah, Satun Sat!  If only my illustrator were here!  Hate to be embarrassed like this, caught without my proper kit by savages and outlaw mestizos, he thought.

Let it not be said that JL Stephens let the side down, even under such primitive conditions.  I’ll offer my chest bravely and go out like a man.

Stephens was sure of his position in the deepest of uncharted jungles, and knew he lacked the most rudimentary disemboweling device.  He was, therefore, all the more startled when a pair of camouflage-painted gunships packed with National Guard weekend troops in full uniform were suddenly whomp whomp whomping overhead.

Unlike Marcy, the Guardsmen had discovered the buff Sunday tubers months earlier, and had made it a regular part of their own weekly maneuvers to divert to the creek and spend a few moments hovering over the most promising of unclad women floating below.  The choppers were following just such a group of waterborne females, dropping very low, just above the treetops, as they rounded the bend to Buick’s campsite and brought further bedlam into his once-quiet haven.

Helicopter prop wash devastated everything at the bottom of the gully.  The tarp flew up the hill immediately.  The expedition’s morning campfire, just renewed to take off the chill of the morning, broke into pieces and followed the tarp, carrying flaming logs and smoldering coals into the dry underbrush. JL and Wu-Zul were blinded by smoke and dust.  The explorers tried to stumble toward the safety of the water, only to find it was now filled with shrieking women.

Bloody hell!  What was in those leaves? thought JL, still certain that none of this was happening.

It was.

Marcy arrived at the top of the hill with the third wave of fire trucks, just as the police were putting the blanket-wrapped and handcuffed JL Stephens into the meshed back of a paddy wagon.  No Woozle in sight.

Her throat dried up in fear.  “What has happened here?” was all that she could squeak out as the vehicle took off, siren squealing. Lights flashing.

“Fire bug,” said the first officer to hear.  “Some damn lunatic arsonist down by the creek stark naked and raving mad.  Set the whole valley on fire. National Guard chopper called it in.  Lucky they were up there, watching out. Keeping this town safe from that sort of criminals.  Had the folks from the pound out here, too, looking for the craze-o’s pet.  He told them he had some sort of giant Mexican wolf, and he didn’t want it to get hurt.  Fire must have driven the animal off, though.  Didn’t find a thing.  Guy probably made it up. Say, didn’t I see you at that domestic dogbite call a few days ago?”  the patrolman said, turning to continue conversation with the comely young woman.  Nothing.  He continued pivoting on his heel until he had made a full circle.  The woman had gone.

“Shit,” said the disappointed law enforcement official.  New divorcees were usually an easy score for a guy in uniform.

Who's getting rich from COVID-19?

Boris Johnson's government stands accused of 'COVID cronyism', after handing out staggering sums of money to controversial private firms to fight COVID-19. Often the terms of these deals are kept secret, with no value-for-money checks or penalties for repeated failures which cost lives. And many major contracts have gone directly to key Tory donors and allies – without competition.

As COVID rates across the country surge, how can we hold our leaders accountable? Meet the lawyers, journalists and politicians leading the charge in our free live discussion on Thursday 1 October at 5pm UK time.

Hear from:

Peter Geoghegan Investigations editor, openDemocracy, and author of 'Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics'

Jolyon Maugham Barrister and founder of the Good Law Project.

Layla Moran Liberal Democrat MP (TBC)

Chair: Mary Fitzgerald Editor-in-chief of openDemocracy

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