Suggested Audio Jukebox ♬
 Ennio Morricone “Fistful of Dollars Suite”
 Ennio Morricone “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”
 David Rose & His Orchestra “The Stripper”
They call me the Brutal Word Wrangler and I’m something of a legend in these parts. Few have ever crossed me and lived to tell the tale but today I have decided it is my time to do the storytelling. For the past thirty years I have been travelling solo and my journey has taken me to some pretty extraordinary places. During that time, I have had adventures that would turn your hair white, more close shaves than a bearded auntie, and slain more villains than you’ve likely had hot dinners. Bad ass I believe is the term, although I’m not one to blow my own trumpet. That’s just what they say and all I can do is to live up to expectations as best as possible. You see, if there’s one thing I have learned in my time wrangling, it is that the world is brimming with evil and, while one man can certainly make a difference, it’s a 365 day a year task keeping the streets safe. That is why I recently recruited myself a deputy.
They call him Bonus Brain and he has been by my side now for the past few months. While not quite as smart as I, his extra smarts sure come in handy from time and he has gotten me out of a fair few fixes since he’s been on the payroll. The problem is that this little fella has been known to suffer from what is known as small brain syndrome. Granted, pound-for-pound he is just as intelligent as me, but he’s a quarter of the size of the muscle inside my cranium and, therefore, better in a supporting role. Besides, laziness has been a constant issue as, while I’m out there taking blows for humanity and getting my ass kicked by all manner of undesirables for the sake of humanity, he can usually be found reclining in front of the television catching up on re-runs of Melrose Place and chowing down on junk food. Every now and then he will chip in with a useful tidbit of information of ingenious escape plan but, the remainder of the time, he lounges about muttering under his breath that the pay is lousy and he is woefully underappreciated.
You’ll get to now his idiosyncrasies as our story unfurls and, I’m sure you’ll all agree, he’s a cantankerous little cortex and should count himself damn lucky he hasn’t been relieved of his duties by now for constantly upsetting the status quo. However, love him or hate him, and I regularly swing towards the latter, good help is hard to find and I’d be six-feet under by now if he hadn’t tagged along. I try not to tell him that as it would only go to his head and ego is something he has no shortage of already. So I keep him sweet, offer credit where its due, and turn a blind eye to his constant insolence. The tale I’m about to tell is 100% true and will take us to many different locales. As a self-professed wrangler, I am known for my knack of taking the jobs nobody else wants, and giving each my absolute all. By the time we’re done, you’ll know my name and hopefully, one day, this is the story you’ll tell your grandchildren. But, for now, I guess we should commence our pilgrimage.
Okay, so this particular expedition started in the Wild West and, as you’ll all be aware, this is a place where a man’s reputation tends to precede him. I’ve lost track of all the bounties on my head and everywhere I look there’s another hired gun looking to bag themselves a reward for being the one to take down the Brutal Word Wrangler and the bragging rights that come with it. Bonus Brain would need to be on his toes for this mission, thus, I bought him the Complete Bonanza Box Set to help familiarize himself with the dangers that lie ahead. Needless to say, he bitched about it as anything less would be out of character but I think he got the general gist of it. You see, gunslinging isn’t something he will be required to engage in as I’m the one with the six-shooter here and fairly handy I am with it too. Instead, he will need to be the brains of the operation, leaving me free to supply the brawn. Teamwork is the key and, should we pool our resources effectively, then this will all be over by supper time and we can begin preparations for the next leg of our journey. By all accounts, this should be a gentle introduction but things have a tendency of getting rough around here and I am under no illusions about the task at hand.
So about that task then. Well, our first port of call will be Beany County and, in particular, the notorious town of Croaksville. The clue is in the title here as Croaksville has become known for its exceedingly high crime rate and the population changes more than Phil Spector’s hairstyle. It’s a lawless town and, over the past month alone, seven sheriffs have perished, leaving nobody willing to step up and keep any rogues in check. One such villain is the decidedly mean-spirited One Eyed Ern and he has been particularly unruly since the last lawman bit the dust. Indeed, rumor has it, that it was Ern that put him in his shallow grave and, for no other good reason than that he wished to try out his new Colt Peacemaker. Worse still, it has been suggested that Ern has been causing a commotion in the local saloon, abusing the can-can dancers and cheating at poker. Anybody who dares to challenges him are promptly put to task and the Croaksville townspeople have had just about as much of his treachery as they can take.
The way I see it, One Eyed Ern has two choices. I’m not here to turn him in as there ain’t no law enforcement to hand him over to so, should I spot nothing untoward during my stay here, then I will simply let him go about his business unperturbed. Hearsay can be a wretched thing and it isn’t my job to judge a man on what may or may not have happened out of my jurisdiction. That said, if Ern decides to place even a single pinkie out of line and sees fit to get up in my grill, then I will think nothing of digging him a shallow grave. I wouldn’t say I’m the fastest draw in the West as, from what I hear, Quick Draw McGraw holds that title and I’m more than happy to keep as low a profile as possible. But I have my mean streak and, should he really step out of line, then I carry a Crimson Quill in my holster just in case. One strike with this and they’ll be calling him No Eye Ern and I have never met a man yet who can clear up at Texas Hold ‘Em without the necessary peepers.
Anyhoots, I’m jabbering on here and, for every second I spend chewing the fat with you fine people, Ern’s chip stack is getting bigger. Besides, I’m rather partial to can-can dancers and, it the word on the ranch is to be believed, then Patricia “Pins” Palumbo is on in around fifteen minutes. She’s the burlesque dancer that men travel far and wide to see and is ambidextrous to boot. Indeed, it has been rumored that she can scratch her own ass dimple with her big toe and that is something I have no intention of missing. Of course, pleasure will play a poor second fiddle to business as I am nothing if not focused. However, I’ve taught Bonus Brain how to operate a camera and, if he holds up his end of the deal, then I know the perfect way to unwind after all my daily exertions. Please don’t think me lude, a gunslinger without a clear head is little more than a dead man walking and there’s shit all else do to in the Croaksville after last orders at the saloon. Y’all ready for some good old-fashioned yee haw action Grueheads? Then prepare yourselves for true grit.
Sundown is fast approaching and my first impressions of Croaksville are that it is something of a ghost town. The streets are empty and that just suits me fine as welcome parties are usually a distinct negative and I’m content with remaining ambiguous, for the time being at least. I tie my trusty steed up in the paddock and check on the status of Bonus Brain to make sure he is primed for come what may. It’s all quiet on the Western Front but he has never been much of a conversationalist so I take that as a yes. There is three weeks growth on my chin which, while ordinarily long enough for most men to grow some fairly hefty lamb chops, provides just enough fuzzy gristle for the Brutal Word Wrangler to strike a match with. What can I say, puberty comes to us all but, in my case, it scarpered soon afterwards. That’s not to say that my balls didn’t drop a notch and my baritone is just as gruff as the next man, but I’ve never been what you would call an advocate for all over body hair. On the plus side, my back isn’t hairy and my buttocks resemble two hard-boiled eggs so I gladly take the rough with the smooth. As long as I have the means to light my Cuban cigar, I’m like a pig in swill and, after a few failed attempts, I’m ready to take my first drag of white ash.
Cigars are my weakness, well that and malt whiskey. However, tonight I shall be keeping track of my intake and retain a clear train of thought as one too many has been known to make this particular gunslinger trigger-happy. Not that I cock said trigger without valid cause mind, unappreciative glares are water off this duck’s back, and my shooter remains fastened at all times. Should trouble brew then my eyes shall squint, knuckles crack, and no fistful of dollars will appease my fury. But, to the good people of Croaksville, I’m just another weary traveller looking to take the weight off his feet after a hard day at the cattle ranch. Indeed, as I enter O’Malley’s Saloon, barely a solitary soul registers my arrival. That’s fine with me as there’s only two people here I’m staking out. One is overspilling from a corset and can touch her painted toes without compromising her posture one iota and, the other, would look far less becoming in a petticoat.
Curiously there is no sign of either, not yet at least. I lay my Stetson at the bar, pull up a stool and nod for further refreshments while I leisurely take in my surroundings. It isn’t long before a couple of giggling burlesque girls clock my attendance and shuffle into my vicinity but I respectfully rebuff their advances as they look like prime candidates for carrying the dreaded clap and I can’t possibly be expected to focus if I’m scratching like a flea-bitten mutt. Glancing across the bar, I catch the glare of one particularly cocky looking young buck and it looks like my reputation has preceded me. Clearly he fancies his chances of claiming the $50 price on my head but Ern is his in his mid-thirties and this whippersnapper barely looks a day over sixteen so my beef isn’t with him. However, I can’t risk him blowing my cover so it is time for a polite warning to nip this in the bud.
“I’d drink my milk if I were you boy”
I return my attention to the base of my tumbler, knowing full well that any ideas above his station have been swiftly and decisively dismantled but regrettably this brief encounter has not gone unnoticed as I can now discern a couple of fishwives whispering in hushed tones amongst themselves. Time is now of the essence as my entire mission is perilously close to becoming compromised and it’s still five minutes until those unmistakable Pins take to the stage. Dagnabbit, the last thing I need is a full-blown bar brawl before her lustrous 34″ legs reach twelve o’clock. It gets damn lonely in the sun-bleached desert and I’m pretty much all out of mind bullets currently. Mercifully, the mumbling subsides after a few moments and this provides me with the opportunity to scope the saloon out further. Come on Ern, I know you’re here. Damn it, I could smell your nasty bullock piss cologne before the doors even stopped swinging.
Well tease my balls with a French Tickler and call me Susan, it looks like I may have just hit pay dirt. Charlatans at six o’clock, potential hired gun at three and, sitting at the stroke of nine, is none other than the elusive One Eyed Ern. He looks like he is engaged in a round of Texas Hold ‘Em as expected and my vantage reveals that, true to form, he ain’t playing fair. Currently he’s holding onto a pair of red Queens and, while not a bad hand to have in your possession before the flop, the goons providing him with winks and gestures from the crowd are evidently in cahoots and turning the tide in his favor. He isn’t aware of my attentions as yet so I bide my time and watch how the rest of the hand plays out.
Just as I thought. His chip stack has now tripled in size and not because the river was kind either. Okay, so I have ascertained that he is as shady as sin, but that’s not quite enough reason just yet for me to fit him up for his coffin. I think it is high time I introduce myself to One Eyed Ern and crank things up a notch or two. This cretin has been a thorn in the town’s side for too long and I hate to see good folk taken advantage of. I’m looking for one more solitary reason to ventilate this punk and, should he provide that reason, then things are about to get decidedly ugly in O’Malleys. After holding my empty glass up to the bartender and receiving my refill, I promptly spill the contents directly into his lap.
“My apologies sir. How dreadfully clumsy of me”
“Boy, I ain’t interested in your sorries. What you gonna do to make things right?”
“Here, let me order you another”
“I’ve got a better idea”
“Pray tell my good man”
“Get on your fucking knees”
“I said…GET ON YOUR FUCKING KNEES YOU MANGY MUTT”
“Then I want you to lick up every last drop from my balls”
“And if I refuse to honor your request?”
“Well then, that will be mighty unfortunate. You see, I don’t take kindly to the word no”
“How about no thank you?”
“How about you stop flapping those lips before I put a bullet between them!”
“Well that’s not very gentlemanly conduct now is it?”
I figured that would do it. Ern is now out of his seat and securely within the perimeter of my personal space.
“Does this look like the face of a gentleman to you boy?”
There are so many potential responses to that poser. You see, judging by his lopsided phizog and wonky teeth that resemble a grand piano recently dropped from a fast-moving freight train, I’m positively spoiled for choice. However, from the edge of my peripheral vision, I can spot two of his goons in close proximity and their trigger fingers appear decidedly itchy. I’m not looking to start a full-scale riot here, Ern is who I came for and his associates don’t particularly interest me if I’m honest. While backing down isn’t an option, I think playing it cool is the thinking man’s choice.
“I can’t see your face to be honest. I’m too busy choking back the vomit from your chronic halitosis”
Call that cool? Curse you brazen side. Thankfully, Ern isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and his shamefully limited vocabulary doesn’t stretch to medical conditions.
“I don’t know what you just said but it sounds like you’ve got yourself a death wish. I think it’s time we take a walk outside and settle this”
Timing has never been my strong point as, no sooner has Ern laid down the gauntlet, than the master of ceremonies pipes up.
“Okay ladies and germs. It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. I bring you…the one…the only…the most flexible piece of ass this side of the Grand Canyon…Patricia “Pins” Palumbo and her scarlet harlots”
I wonder if he would mind if I took a rain check.
“Gimme fifteen minutes and I’m all yours Ernie. Don’t mind if I call you by your birth name do you?”
“Tell you what. As I’m feeling generous, I’ll give you fifteen seconds. Then, if your butt ain’t outside ready to draw, I’ll cut out your tongue and use it to lick my boots with. How’s that?”
“Ten seconds you say?”
Jesus, get this man an abacus someone please. Looks like the show will have to wait as he’s heading for the door and patience appears to be one virtue he was never gifted with.
You’re going to have to wait Pins. With a bit of luck, this will be over in no time and I can be back in O’Malley’s for the encore. However, I am the Brutal Word Wrangler and therefore must prioritize business over pleasure.
“I’m all yours Ern. So how do we decide this then? Rock, paper, scissors? I have to warn you, I’m a pretty mean opponent”
“I’ve got a better idea. We each take ten steps. Then you go for your gun, I shoot you between the eyes, and leave your stinking corpse for the vultures to finish”
“I think I get it. Ten steps”
“The last ten you’ll ever be taking”
Judging by his earlier attempt at numeracy, I’m guessing ten equates to eight in Ern’s book as, judging by his poker performance, fair play isn’t his strongest suit.
“Can I make one last request before we start?”
“Some final words if you would be so kind. Looks like I’ve met my match so it seems only right that you grant me this dying wish”
“Well now, that sounds like acceptable terms”
“Don’t mention it. But don’t make ’em sniveling as bleeding hearts don’t interest me none”
“I promise they’ll be poignant”
“You know. Emotionally charged and memorable”
“Whatever. Ain’t gonna change anything. Knock yourself out”
“I was thinking perhaps a poem might be called for”
“You a sissy boy?”
“No actually, I go by the name of the Brutal Word Wrangler if you must know. You heard of me Ern?”
Talk about a game changer. Clearly the name is familiar to him as every last drop of blood just drained from his face and suddenly Ern isn’t looking quite so confident. He knows full well that he has picked a fight with the wrong guy, the alabaster flags waving behind the off-whites of both his eyes attest to this. Too late sonny boy, you’ve incurred the wrath now and, with God as my witness, there will be bloodshed. I’ll make it quick and painless, one solitary sharpened bullet will suffice and I shall fire it with accuracy as I rid this town of this petulant pest and restore order once more.
“Did you just say Brutal Word Wrangler?”
“The one and only. What’s wrong Ern? You’re not looking so hot”
I can see his shaking digits caressing the top of his holster, already he seems consigned to his pre-ordained termination. The Wrangler is no wayward shooter and, what William Tell could do with an apple, a pomegranate is all this gunslinger needs. A wasted youth playing Duck Hunt is looking far from spendthrift now. Of course, there’s still the small matter of Ern not playing by the rules and, if anything, knowing who he is up against, makes him even more likely to punch the clock. Fuck it, if he’s not going to play fair, then I guess I’m within my rights not playing by the rules either.
“So about this poem then”
“Erm…yeah…make it quick”
Okay then Bonus Brain, this is where you come in. Gonna be needing that camera after all buddy. Moreover, a little help with the rhyming wouldn’t go amiss. He may be a royal pain in the ass, but he knows how to string together a catchy tune.
“Thanks Ern. I like to call this one The Quick and The Dead. I think you’ll get a kick from it”
The Quick and The Dead
I’m no simple Pale Rider
neither crude desperado
as it just so happens
I can back up bravado
Never looking for trouble
But it just seems to find me
and I leave a dense trail
of dead bodies behind me
Not a fighter per se
friendly blighter by day
but your very worst nightmare
as the sun bleeds away
It won’t take us too long
Just a solitary bullet
and the Brutal Word Wrangler
is the name that runs through it
I’ll take my ten steps
then when the bell sounds
one of us slingers
will be hitting the ground
In the interest of fairness
I’ll provide you a clue
as the vulture’s next chow down
is consisting of you
Nothing personal son
you just happen to bug me
I can deal with the bad
but not your brand of ugly
So prepare for the taste
of the Wrangler’s lead
and I’ll make it real quick
as I make you real dead
“Don’t mention it”
“Guess we should get this over with then”
I almost feel a little sorry for Ern. Almost. As we take up our position back-to-back, I can sense his burgeoning dread. If this battle was to be won in the mind, then it’s Wrangler 1 One Eyed Ern 0 already. However, I won’t be taking anything for granted as that’s a sure-fire way to get yourself killed in the Wild West.
“You all set Ern?”
“Let’s do this”
Never have those three words lacked so much conviction. Credit where it’s due, he’s not backing out and commences or count as the both the small and long hand on the town clock makes its final ascent towards twelve.
Now this is my sole dilemma. Evidently, we won’t be reaching ten but how soon before he reveals his true colors? I could turn and shoot now but feel obliged to ride it out a little longer.
What the hell happened to six? Fuck it, time to put this head to bed. As I swing round 180 degrees to face my adversary, Ern is indeed having the precise same idea. Now Bonus Brain! Time to earn your keep.
One flash of the Polaroid is enough to blind Ern momentarily and, while he produces his firearm at the very same moment as I, his wayward shot hits the beer barrel to my left, while mine reaches the intended target with pinpoint accuracy. I’ve always wondered what the inside of a man’s skull-cap would look like and, thanks to One Eyed Ern, can now strike that off my bucket list. His goons look stunned as he slumps to the dust, brain matter spilling from his single exit wound. Just as I thought, they shuffle back inside nervously and think better of following their illustrious leader into a shallow grave. Guess I owe Bonus Brain that drink now. Moreover, I have some Pins to slobber over.
Dagnabbit. My luck seems to have run out as the curtain has already dropped and the raucous applause suggests that it was quite a show too. Talk about bittersweet. On one hand, I have proved to the good folk of Croaskville, and in no uncertain terms, that I am the Brutal Word Wrangler and the hero they’ve been crying out for since the last lawman bit the dust. On the other, looks like I’ll be back to the lingerie catalogs after all.
I take my seat at the bar and order one more drink for the road. Then, slightly dejected but still feeling like the shit for providing the second most popular performer of the night, I head back outside to saddle up.
“Excuse me Mr. Wrangler sir”
That sounds suspiciously like a female voice in my rearview mirror. Could it be? The elusive Pins must have caught the performance through the saloon window. Looks like I’m quids in after all.
“Yes little lady. How can I assist you?”
“I saw what you did back there and have to say that it made the gusset of my bloomers moist”
“All in a day’s work madam”
“You don’t have to be heading off quite yet do you? You got five minutes to play?”
Play it cool Wrangler. Don’t turn around.
“For you my dear, I’ve got six-and-a-half”
“Then step inside my office and let’s get good and sweaty”
“I thought you’d never ask”
I spin around in much the same manner as I had previously, although this time with the intention of firing off some altogether creamier rounds. However, the sight of 250 lbs of chafing whale blubber is a far cry from what I was expecting. It’s Mabel, the town organ grinder and, aside from the fact that I would likely disappear into one of her neck creases, she has more hair on her top lip than I’m comfortable with.
“Am I everything you hoped for?”
The way I see it, I’ve got two choices right now. Either I step into Mabel’s office as requested, grin and bear it or I run for the hills with my tail between my legs and never look back.
“One more thing. I like to be on top”
That settles it. The hills it is.
“Be there in a jiffy love. First I have to… erm… return some videotapes”
In the history of hasty exits, this one ranks right up there with Ripley’s four-wheeled getaway after the initial skirmish in Aliens and, just like the ill-fated Drake, Mabel will have to be content with eating my evac dust. From here to the stable is around thirty yards and I plan to be back in the saddle way before high noon. Regrettably, while beating her there isn’t an issue, some bastard is in the process of stealing my horse. To add insult to injury, said thief is none other than Patricia “Pins” Palumbo herself. Bitch must’ve snuck out the back entrance while I was entering a tryst with the hell walrus. Bonus Brain is keeping up his end of the deal and snapping away merrily as per the terms of our agreement. However, while she is every bit as flexible as I had heard, there’s little arousing about dozens of photos of her riding off into the sunset with her middle finger in full salute.
“Looks like it’s just you and me now Mr. Wrangler. Tell you what, I’ll sit on your face if you tell me you love me”
Time for Plan B and pronto. With my only conceivable way out of this mess currently in full gallop, I survey my surroundings for a 12-gage shotgun to blow my brains out with. However, what I spot is something far more agreeable. Unless I am mistaken, it appears to be an intergalactic escape pod. It’s astonishing what you find lying around in the Wild West. While I had no intention to vacate the entire planet, beggars can’t be choosers at times like these so I strap myself in, press a few random buttons on the control panel, and wave adieu to Croaksville as I prepare for imminent launch. Looks like Ern’s isn’t the only bullet I’ll be dodging tonight.
As I hurtle through the Earth’s atmosphere and deep into outer space, nobody is on hand to hear me scream. Sometimes you have to count your blessings and it appears as though another is approaching as we speak. A giant vessel, floating through the ocean of emptiness, just what the doctor ordered. This should be ideal for regrouping and I could really do with the respite right now. Better yet, the blast doors are opening to accommodate my wayward craft. Hold up. Nostromo, where have I heard that name before? Never mind, I’m sure it’ll come to me.
Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013