Monday, August 27, 2007

Risky Ventures, Music Man

Risky was a man who sang for his supper and he liked it that way. He was born with the knack to make music and he wandered through the southeast playing it for anyone that cared to listen. He’d stay awhile in some jerkwater little town, play at some juke joint and move on before his welcome was worn out. Truth be told, he was always gone sooner than he ever had to be.

Everyone liked Risky and his music. He made enough on tips to live, he never had to stand drinks and the girls always came around. He wrote his own songs and always seemed to be able to come up with the right piece of music for the occasion at hand. He was the kind of guy men liked and women adored, flinty eyed barkeeps and cynical waitresses would come around after a few minutes of visiting with Risky and be old pals after an evening. Everyone in that part of the country knew him, liked him and had a Risky story to tell.

It was a pretty free and easy life for a young man. He didn’t call anyplace home and didn’t want to. After a month or two in one town he’d catch a bus or a slow freight and head someplace else and if the yard bull caught him he’d just spin him a tune. He’d settle in some flophouse or cheap motel and live out of his beat up old knapsack. A lot of women that fancied him would fix him meals or set him up with some clothes and sometimes share their bed but they knew it was only going to be a little time before Risky heard the siren’s call of the road.

Risky wasn’t his real name, it was Herb Kenwith, but he had called himself Risky ever since he’d left home. The name was kind of a personal joke to Risky but he thought the name was appropriate even though he’d never had anything but good luck on his travels.

He’d had his chances to settle down. Any number of doe eyed girls with rich Daddies had offered Risky a life of ease and contentment but the soul of a wanderer still roiled in him and he always moved on. He left a trail of broken hearts behind him and a song to help them mend and he knew by spring or the next time Van Halen played their county’s fair they’d have forgotten Risky Ventures.

One gal he dallied with, name of Shemar, hadn’t forgotten Risky. Her Daddy was a wealthy record executive in Hollywood but she was working as a waitress in a roadhouse in Mississippi because they had issues. The issues didn’t keep her from telling her Pop about promising young musical talents provided there was a finder’s honorarium and a royalty attached.

Her Daddy’s executive assistant caught up with Risky outside of Tupelo and got old Risky drunk enough to record a demo tape at their facilities in Memphis. When Risky sobered up they were propping him up to an old ribbon microphone and studio musicians were rehearsing their tracks.

Risky sang his heart out and while he did men in suits stood behind the glass and listened. They nodded and made suggestions to the mixer that he ignored and Risky sang on. He sang about years of traveling, about the loneliness he knew and about the brand new hope he felt everyday he saw the sunrise or came to a bend in the road. More and more men in suits gathered behind the mixers console and stared at him through the glass. When Risky finished the men applauded and a pretty little assistant brought him an ice cold beer.

Risky wasn’t on top of the world but he was pretty darn close. He hung around Memphis and was making a pretty fair rep for himself as a song smith while the men in suits finished the demo album. He spent their money and his freely and every day asked to hear the recording. The men in suits always pushed him off, tomorrow they said always tomorrow.

Risky finally had enough of that and demanded to hear what they had done with his songs. With much ceremony they ushered him into a studio and played it for him then they started discussing the video.

Risky was horrified. His songs about the road and regret, loneliness and longing were now sanitized, perfectly harmonized and totally dehumanized. It would be a hit they said, Risky believed them, they wouldn't have those jobs if they didn't know what they were doing. Risky drank a glass of Champagne with the suited men and wished them luck with their venture. He left the studio and walked into the night, their venture would not be Risky's venture.

He would go back on the road; that was where he was happiest. He left the things he’d acquired in his hotel room and stuck his thumb out. He would go north this time, try a new venue, see a different part of the world. His luck held out, he got a ride in no time.

The man who picked him up was headed back to his home in Chicago. He had the same first and middle name as the famous cowboy actor, John Wayne and a last name that Risky didn’t quite get, but sounded something like Gracy. He used the stage name Pogo when he played a clown at kids’ parties and liked to paint portraits of other clowns as a hobby. The authorities later found young men he picked up hitch hiking buried in the crawl space under his house. Risky’s luck had just changed.

His album debuted at number 9 on the Billboard Country chart, but Risky wasn't around to see it...

Roscoe, The sensible sniper

Any other military trained marksman might have just taken out everyone and anyone they encountered when they went over the edge but not Roscoe. From his vantage point high above the city he saw an embarrassment of riches so he could afford to be selective. He could see far and wide through his high-powered rifle’s scope and in the target rich environment he lived in he had the will to use it.

At first he just took out people talking loudly on their cell phones in restaurants and sidewalk cafes and the initial reaction was positive.

After the shock and terror of death coming from out of the blue wore off, even the aggrieved relatives of the deceased agreed that the city was a better place minus these folks Roscoe snuffed. People began enjoying their meals in peace and quiet again and as civility returned to dinning Roscoe turned his attention to graffiti by picking off a few of the youthful scamps with spray cans. After word got around that urban blight was under control the media types began complaining about the loss of diversity caused by the snuffing out of these budding young artistic talents. A plump, fresh 30-06 round, finding its way into their press conferences, had a calming effect on the debate and offered a counter point to their mewling.

Youths in baggy clothes carrying huge noisy radios when they should have been in school were next to get the Roscoe treatment, then government workers away from their desk during business hours. People who tried to save a few bucks by parking in residential areas instead of valet parking sometimes found a few grains of lead in a lung. The under-worked, overpaid yet incompetent employees of the escrow industry kept their heads down or risked seeing their brains on the pavement. Rude telephone operators at the utilities left their desks at their peril. The guy who invented the telephone answering menu where you have to listen for numbers related to your inquiry died slowly and painfully as did the man who invented those impossible to open and equally impossible to pour without spilling, containers of half and half.

Once a month Roscoe held something he called Freeway Decimation Day. On that day, he would shoot every tenth person that drove by. He didn’t try to kill everyone, he was just making a point: some got wounds, others just shattered windshields, although a single person in a SUV on a cell phone usually rated a headshot. Traffic moved a whole lot faster as people sought out alternate routes and re-considered the necessity of individual trips. The trip planning made driving more efficient so gas was saved; people were happier, it was a big hit.

The city became more convivial and people started to enjoy their newly considerate world. This attitude affected even the police, who despite having a superb ballistics department which enabled them to triangulate Roscoe’s location from bullet trajectories, several eyewitnesses and the license plate number of Roscoe’s car, didn’t really follow up the investigation beyond asking a few people if they’d seen anything suspicious. They universally answered in the negative.

Officially he became known as the town’s “Mad Sniper”; unofficially he was the “Preemptive Samaritan”, or “The Etiquette Enforcer” intercepting and eliminating people that might otherwise make your life a miserable, living hell.

The town folks conspired to help him with his good work and keep his identity secret from the authorities but of course it leaked out and Roscoe became something of a celebrity. Soon everybody knew about him and what he was doing but the fiction that his identity was secret was maintained, not just to thwart the authorities, but also to keep Roscoe from killing those around him for being in the know.

Some people, of course, had to walk close to the edge and run the chance of spoiling a good thing. They’d slap him on the back and wish him good hunting for no apparent reason or thank him for the good work he was doing then make some comment about aiming to please. Fortunately Roscoe was deaf to sarcasm and never became the wiser, he just gave them a thousand-mile stare with his cold dead psychotic eyes, which anyone with an ounce of survival instinct dreaded. Sometimes during his darkest moments, late at night when the lambs stopped screaming, Roscoe would wonder what they knew and thrash around in his bed until dawn. It took a lot of effort to be Roscoe and it took it’s a toll. It was beginning to catch up with him.

It started when he missed a fellow using a leaf blower at eight am on a Sunday morning. Next one person driving the speed limit in the number one lane got away with it and they told somebody and then they told somebody and the floodgates opened. People sensed he had lost his touch and began filling out their deposit slips at the ATM, sneaking into express lines with more than the specified number of items or playing rap music loudly when there were humans present. Pretty soon the cell phones were back and people were talking foreign languages you didn’t understand in front of you while changing their baby’s diapers on a counter where people consumed fast food. In short it was as bad as it ever was.

Roscoe tried to keep up but the sheer volume of work just overwhelmed him. He began missing with such frequency that the rude and inconsiderate came to regard him as no more of a threat than finding a black widow in your shoe or a rattlesnake in your mailbox.

The good people of the town were as worried about Roscoe as much as they missed the happy times. They did what they could to brighten his day like having fresh buckets of chicken delivered to his snipers lair by particularly dim delivery boys. The police dropped off a case of fresh ammo and a new can of Brasso. The other sociopaths in town suggested interesting and creative things he might do or make with his victims, reasoning he needed a hobby, but Roscoe was a sniper and rarely got to take his work home with him. The Scouts and Campfire Girls surreptitiously hung targets on the backs of people deserving his attention but nothing seemed to work, Roscoe had lost it. Civility continued to erode.

One day after he’d emptied a magazine trying to take out someone who didn’t know you can take a right on a red light a frustrated but enlightened citizen took matters into his own hands. The driver may have been wondering what all the honking behind him was about but the last thing to pass through his mind was a 7.62 NATO round in a full metal jacket delivered courtesy of one of Roscoe’s neighbors. First by ones and twos then by dozens and scores they took up arms and began to sort things out in their little town.

At first Roscoe didn’t know what to make of it and even considered taking out a couple of the competing gun men but he saw they were doing good work and relaxed. There were plenty of targets out there and Roscoe was a sensible sniper.