And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats, None knew so well as I: For he who lives more lives than one More deaths than one must die.–Oscar Wilde
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART SIXTY-EIGHT: KINGDOM COME
“Survival at all costs. Any animal knows that,” said Count Justin Victor. “Yet some poor culls are so beat down that they ain’t even in the running at the day to day job of bare subsistence. They stumble like a blind man from one mishap to the next. They’re the ones you see trying to beat the crooked faro game–and, take it from me, they’re all crooked–or make a whore into a respectable Hausfrau. It seems as though they may be omnicompetent in one particular field, yet a total failure once they stray too far from what they know. Take, for instance, Jake Leaming. A whiz at counting cards and cheating at all manner of card games. He was known all over the United States and Mexico, too. He took so many gambling establishments for a ride that they had his mug shot posted in every manager’s office, ’til he couldn’t get no action anywhere. Do you think he’d find a new racket? No–he just went solo and got involved in “friendly games of cards” with some pretty rough characters. A few beatings later, you’d think he’d give up his spendthrift ways, go neck-deep into a sure thing, and bring off one big score so he could retire. Maybe invest in some California real estate. Always a sure thing, because they ain’t making any more. Well, you’d think wrong. Because for all his cleverness, he must have had a death wish or something. He was always travelling with that disguise kit of his, which he carried in a big keister, and when he was on the run he loved nothing better than to go to the carny down south, open up a mitt camp, and tweak the rubes.
“‘The lines in your hand tell me that you will suffer misfortune on a grand scale. Your wife will leave you and your dog will up and die–or maybe the other way around. But I have a magical Mojo Root charm that will help to protect you from all disaster. Only twenty dollars, and cheap at one-tenth the price.’ Haww….
“Worse than that, he was always indulging in monkey business with the Town Clowns. Playing them for suckers. And him a nance. He was playing with fire, kidding along some of those mean Southern Sheriffs with a foolproof line of palaver.
“‘The cards say that you are destined for a promotion and will father a brood of twelve healthy children.’ This, to some broke-down Sheriff’s Deputy making eight dollars a week, and glad of it.
“But say–get this! Soon enough he got tired of jerking the rubes around. I swear that at one time he was desperate for ooftish, so he does what every respectable fakeloo artist does and moves to a new city–in this case, New Orleans–and commences to start in on a sure-fire flim-flam. He stands on a street corner impersonating a blind Catholic priest and starts in to denouncing Mark Twain, the Godless Heathen. It was a brilliant bit of theatrical entertainment–worthy of Sam Clemens his own self. The Police dast not roust him. Tell me: what God-fearing officer of the law wants to be seen arresting a priest? And yet, for all his ‘blindness,’ he sure did have a pretty accurate reach whenever a bottle was passed around.
“Well, the Pinkertons developed a long-time beef with him. You really don’t want to get on their bad side. Don’t you know they’re practically an arm of the federal gummint? Don’t you know that they maintain whole drawers full of mug shots and fingerprint files? Don’t you think they keep tabs on every grifter from a shell game man on up? You can bet even odds that they had a complete write-up on our boy Jake Leaming, along with a list of all his aliases, including Jack Lemon, Jimmy Lennon, James Lyman, Jackie Limone, and more. He had some kind of fixation with the initials “J.L.” Hell, I don’t know if Jake Leaming was his real name or not. That’s the trouble with these geniuses–they tend to be sick in the head. Just chock full of conceited little quirks which make it practically impossible for them to pass for normal, God-fearing Americans. Those kinds of grifters are the ones the Pinkertons go after the hardest. Don’t ask me why, but they’re drilled in how to track down kooks and troublemakers. Maybe it’s something in the water. Go figure.
“Yes, old Jake Leaming must have had a real death wish. He drank to excess, which tends to make a man sloppy. He dressed like a dude–usually all in white, which made him stand out like a clapped-up dick in a nunnery. And unlike nearly any other grifter I ever knew, other than myself, he had a motor-mouth that wouldn’t stop running. Ask him what time it was, and before you know it, he’s telling you how a watch is made.
“Let me tell you how dumb this Leaming was. While he was down South, he was on his uppers, and was staying at a hotel that was a real dump. Wouldn’t you know it? He had to up and get caught in bed with a hotel bellboy, and the Hotel Dick barged in during the middle of it. Now, Leaming was no dummy–he offered the Hotel Sneak a substantial bribe to forget the whole thing, but for some reason that House Dick had a beef against all sunflowers and the whole cult of beauty and so he went and run him in. A powerful hate it must have been, for him to turn down a century note. The coppers and the Pinkertons all knew he had a reputation as a degenerate gambler as well as a mail fraudster. Well, they didn’t have the Mann Act back then, or they probably would have got him on that. But instead they called in the Elbow Squad, the case went to court, and they sent our Lavender Boy up the Salt River to my old stomping grounds–the Eastern State Penitentiary, where he could while away the hours making little ones out of big ones, or whatever it is they do there nowadays. A fella hears stories. I haven’t been keeping in touch with him lately. I sure hope he landed on his feet.”
YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN
CHICKEN LITTLE WAS RIGHT
FOR THE POOR, GEOGRAPHY MATTERS
THE BONZO DOO DAH DOG BAND
THE INTRO AND THE OUTRO
RIP THE GRIND GOAT
170,000 SEARCHABLE PHOTOS OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION
TWELVE THINGS ABOUT BEING A WOMAN THAT WOMEN WON’T TELL YOU
WORST ALBUM COVERS
AWKWARD CHRISTIAN MUSIC ALBUM COVERS
SHALL WE KILL EVERY CAT IN THE U.S.?
11* DEVIATIONS FROM THE PREPARED TEXT: A REVIEW OF OTHER MEDIA
CONTROVERSIES IN POPULAR CULTURE.
845. BUMPER STICKERS OF PEOPLE YOU SHOULD AVOID
My Car is Jealous of Your Shiny Car
My Other Spacecraft is the Starship Enterprise
Caution: Recombinant DNA on Board
Honk If You’re A Migrating Goose
This Machine Kills Fascists
I Sleep On a Kryptonite Pillow
Ask Me About My Particle Accelerator
L. Ron Hubbard Is My Co-Pilot
I Brake for Biological Mishaps
Caution: Nuclear Reactor on Board
People Say I’m Aggressive, But My Gun Says Otherwise
I Love My Dog Which Used to Be a Cat
Easy Does It But Man Could I Use a Drink
I Brake For Twisted Circus Dwarves
Ask Me About My Tarantula
Stop Senseless Violence–Bring Back Sensible Violence
My Son Is An Honor Student At The State Prison Farm
Christ Is Crucified and Yet You Laugh
I Love Absinthe
Why You No Be My Friend, Esse?
Methamphetamine Is My Co-Pilot
Jesus is Coming Back Soon and Then We’ll All Be Destroyed