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A merge-matic homage to Erin Grady and Rachel Lee
by Laura T. Luke
Echoes of Conard County
Jess hydroplaned down the highway with the grace of a water bug skating across a pond. The sky flushed rain into the toilet that was her life. She should never have gotten out of bed.
Jess had planned a day of pampering. She strolled into the salon and dutifully scrubbed herself raw with the sand and Icy Hot mixture to ensure her tan would be even. She pranced into the giant shower stall basking in the knowledge her doughy white skin would be sprayed a golden brown. Instead, Jess could pass for the love child of George Hamilton and an Oompa Loompa. Yep, she was hot all right. Her shrieks blared through the salon like a car alarm until the owner asked her to leave.
When Jess entered the parking lot she found that her car alarm was actually screeching. She peered through the smashed window into the hole that once housed her stereo. There was only one response to a day like this…Ben and Jerry’s.
The other shoppers felt the anger radiating from Jess and graciously let her go ahead in line. Her freakish orange skin and the fact that she had her face buried in the Chunky Monkey like a toddler with a bowl of spaghetti probably influenced the shoppers to part like the Red Sea.
Oblivious to the thick chunk of dark chocolate stuck to her chin, Jess stumbled towards her Hyundai, yes Hyundai. Breaking suction long enough to fumble for her keys, Jess felt her purse vibrate. “Oh please let that be my phone,” she mumbled. “I’m over my battery allowance for the month as it is.” The shrill tones of the “William Tell Overture” assured her that the evening might not be a total waste.
Jess checked the caller ID to make sure it wasn’t the office before she answered. Her claim of being home sick was fast becoming a reality. The screen flashed a number with an unfamiliar area code. Just in case, Jess coughed weakly into the phone, her voice cracking as she whispered “Hello.” A stern masculine voice announced “This is Sheriff Nate DeGrate calling from Conard County School District. Your sister Jori didn’t pick up your niece from school and you are the only other emergency contact. When can we expect you to arrive to pick up your niece?”
“Ummm,” Jess muttered, still not sure if it was a joke. “Listen Ma’am,” Sheriff DeGrate continued. “We take responsibilities seriously here and if you do not come to pick up this little girl, she’ll be carted off to Hannah and Hugo’s ranch for troubled children, the H-E double L. Do you understand me?”
“Yes Sir,” Jess replied automatically. While her sister Jori rebelled against their father, the Private, Jess catered to his every whim. Jess shuddered at her memories of the Private and stopped to write down directions. To fortify herself for the upcoming drive, she wheeled her battered Hyundai, yes still Hyundai, to the Starbucks drive-thru and bashed the rest of the glass out of the window to grab her blended Mocha Frappuccino. Jess reveled in the icy Mocha flowing through her veins as the caffeine and sugar rush hit. Ahhh. Sheer pleasure and no batteries needed.
Ready to take on the world, or at least a Podunk corner of it, Jess slid onto the expressway slicker than snot on a brass doorknob. The rain attacked her like a renegade fire hose but she made sure the lid to the Frappuccino was on tight as she sloshed down the small country roads.
Suddenly, her vision blurred worse than the night she’d downed five margaritas and serenaded the bar with “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo.” The road jiggled like thighs in a Richard Simmons video. One minute the sky was a tin bucket pouring down on her and the next the sun blazed and birds sang on a zippety doodah day.
Jess gawked at the freakishly blue sky. Checking her rearview mirror for the missing dingy sweat sock-colored sky, Jess saw her luck hadn’t changed. Flashing red and blue lights broadcast her “super fun” day was not over. She veered onto the shoulder next to grass the bright green of moldy bread.
Fumbling in her glove box, Jess found her registration along with her emergency stash of condoms. Shoving the plastic packets quickly back into the glove box, Jess forced a bright smile and spoke loudly over the crinkly noises. “Can I help you officer?” she asked. She thought she must be dreaming when she looked into the fudge eyes of a Native American Adonis. His skin was the exact color she’d been hoping for in the tanning booth. Jess blurted, “Your skin is the perfect shade of toast. Where did you get it?” Stunned, the Adam Beach on steroids shook his gorgeous mane of Sharpie black hair. “I’m Deputy Gabriel Ironrod, ma’am. Sheriff DeGrate sent me to accompany you to his office.” Thinking she’d follow this guy just about anywhere, Jess squeaked, “Just lead the way.” As he strode virilely to his Bronco, Jess took note of his height (about 6’4”), his shoulders (wider than the door to her shower, wouldn’t that be fun?) and his buns (round like a ladybug and harder than the Hope diamond).
As she followed Deputy Ironrod, Jess scoped out the town. Mayberry had nothing on this place. Barney Fife had morphed into a stud who was as glossy, brown and irresistible as a hot Krispy Kreme. Everyone smiled with perfect teeth and waved well-manicured hands as she passed. There must be a good dentist and excellent salon here. Deputy Ironrod breached the door to the office with a flourish and waved her inside. She could definitely get used to this.
A receiving line of “Mr. Romance Stripper” finalists greeted her inside. There was the G.I. Joe, B. J. Puma; Phantom of the Opera, Doolin Dalton; wealthy ranch owner, Owen Land; the Indian, Deputy Elijah Pariah; football star, Al D’way; and Deputy Doright, Bubba Beauregard. The introductions left Jess drooling, incoherent and near hyperventilation. If Brad Pitt walked through the door looking like he did in “Legends of the Fall” or “Troy” then her lobotomy would be complete. Her throbbing hormones drummed so loudly Jess was sure the men would soon be performing to the sound. She could almost hear the ripping of Velcro. Why would Jori ever leave this paradise?
Saloon doors leading to the back room swung open and an older man with a buff body strutted into the room followed by a man and woman straight out of an ad for 1-800-COUPLES. Finally, Jess spied her niece Kaylin dancing through the door. “Kaylin,” she shouted and ran to hug the little girl. The girl latched onto her and clung tighter than Pamela Anderson’s swimsuit. “Aunt Jess! I’m so glad you came,” she exclaimed. “They call me KayBob here in Conard County. Mrs. DeGrate fed me homemade cookies while I waited for you. I knew you’d come faster than the runs once you heard Momma was missing.”
The rich rancher, Owen Land, drawled in a bass that thumped her heart, “We just found Jori. She eloped with the foreman at my Double D ranch. The happy couple should be here any moment.” Right on cue, Jori swept into the room wearing a wedding gown that would put Star Jones to shame. Glowing brighter than all the neon in Vegas, Jori pulled her husband over to meet Jess. “This is Boss Hunk. I met him last week and after we hog-tied those cattle rustlers, we knew it was true love. Oh Jess, you’re gonna love it here! Look at me. No zits or cellulite. Not a hair out of place.” Jori whispered, “The sex is amazing! I came so hard I passed out and hit my head on the bed the first time. Good thing it didn’t leave a mark.”
Jess looked down to examine her Tang stained hands and gasped. Her skin shone the color of Ritz crackers, the perfect tan. “But, I can’t stay. I have to go to work tomorrow.”
Jori smiled beatifically as a hippie handing out flowers. “No one leaves Conard County. Not single anyway. Stay here until you find true love. Don’t worry. It won’t take more than a month. B. J. has lots of Vietnam veteran, I mean Persian Gulf veteran friends up on the mountain. Sheriff DeGrate has three more daughters to hitch up but tall, dark, brooding strangers flock to this place like ducks on a June bug.” A slight tremor shook Jori’s hands as she admitted, “There is one downside…no Starbucks.”
Feeling Tasered by the thought of no mochas, Jess puddled to the floor like chocolate in a hot car. Everything around her began to sparkle like the windows at Tiffany’s. Reaching out to stop her fall, Jess wrapped her fingers around something cold and slippery, her Frappuccino. Some things a girl just can’t live without. Jess stopped for batteries on her way home.
An homage to Elizabeth Lowell's Only series as written by Nana Massie
Carson "City" Moron was a man so manly that he was frequently mistaken for a myth. Testosterone flowed so copiously in City that his mustache could enticingly tickle a saloon girl's thighs in her second story boudoir while City was still downstairs at the bar. And he was so skilled in gunfighting, gold prospecting, and horsemanship that he was the greatest gunfighter, gold prospector and horsemanship-er that anyone had ever seen, with the exception of his seven brothers, who had appeared in seven other novels in which they had each been labeled the greatest gunfighters, gold prospectors, and horsemanship-ers that anyone had ever seen. The Moron boys were not jealous. Whichever of them was the protagonist at the time could be the greatest. The non-protagonists would be compensated by wives who baked for them. Jealous, no. Misogynist, yes.
City sat at a table in the Drink 'Till You Vomit Saloon with two other men and one woman. The men were both, coincidentally, members of the same extremely prolific family, the Spankers, with whom the Morons had a showdown in every book whose title began with the word "Only." The woman in the red dress was clearly a saloon girl, a prostitute, or easy at the very least, because everybody was always exactly what their clothing suggested that they were.
Every hair on City's body prickled as he stared at the girl in the red dress. The girl in the red dress stared back, because when every hair on City's masculinely hirsute body prickled, his shirt stood a good four feet out from his torso. This did not, however, break her rhythm as she dealt the cards for a cutthroat game of Go Fish. The ante on the table was a six million year old treasure map, written in ancient Viking runes and marking the location of an old Norse gold mine somewhere in the Poconos. Other people said it was a fake, but City knew better.
"Got any jacks?" the girl in the red dress asked City in a husky tone. Sure, he thought. Whenever I go to bed alone, you tease. Angrily he told her to go fish. She was cheating. He knew it. He knew it because his hand had seven cards in it, and they were all threes.
"Ante up," said one of the Spankers.
The girl bit her lip nervously. Slut, thought City. "I don't have any money left," she said. "I guess… I'm gonna bet myself. You know, I'm really good at laundry, and I give a mean backrub, and did I mention I can read ancient Viking runes on treasure maps?"
City immediately translated this to mean "If you win this game, I will have sex with you." Typical female! "Deal," he said quickly. "Oh, looky here. I guess I wi-"
Both of the Spanker brothers drew on City, as did the bartender, the piano player, a drunken hobo, and three horses. Before anybody in the saloon could blink, City had killed the men, put down the horses, and skedaddled out of the bar leaving enough money to cover his tab but not a particularly generous tip. The people in the saloon were abnormally slow blinkers.
The girl had run away with the map. City hopped on his giant inexhaustible stallion, Metaphorical Penis, and took off after her.
He caught up with her in a conveniently isolated cave, where she sat innocently drafting her autobiography, The Virgin who Dressed Like a Saloon Girl.
"Hello there," he said.
"You!" she gasped in shock.
"That's right," he said. "Now give me back the diary and pull up your skirt."
"But…" she stammered. "I'm a virgin!"
"And I'm the 38th president of the United States," said City. "Get comfortable while I tie Metaphorical Penis up outside."
"What's a penis?" she asked.
"Don't be coy with me," said City.
City didn't trust her, because she was a woman. Once, back east, a woman had treacherously refused to have sex with him before marriage. Finally, in a hormonal haze, he had given in and told her he'd take her back west as his bride. Stunningly, she had declined.
"Look," she'd said. "I don't know a damn thing about gold prospecting except that it sounds pretty uncomfortable. I don't like snakes. I don't like horses. I don't want to have my children in a part of the country where my baby and I have a fifty-fifty shot of dying in the process. It's just not going to work."
City had been flabbergasted by her selfishness. If she had ever truly loved him, she would have been willing to give up everything she'd ever known and probably a good thirty years off her life expectancy to go wandering in treacherous mountains looking for Viking gold. To ask him to give up his dream for her, of course, was totally unreasonable.
Women, he decided, wanted only money and comfort from a man and used their bodies to get them. He spent the next ten years validating this opinion by restricting his female acquaintanceship to prostitutes who were – surprise, surprise! – always willing to exchange their bodies for money or comfort. Women!
City tore open the girl's blouse. Copious porcelain bosoms spilled out into his hands.
"Um, did I mention that I was a virgin?" the girl asked.
"Yeah, yeah," said City, distractedly trying to figure out how porcelain could spill. He hiked her skirt up around her waist. Creamy white thighs stretched endlessly up to her anachronistic panties. Perhaps the cream came from the porcelain?
"You know, a virgin in the sense that I've never had sex?" the girl said, a little more urgently.
"Yes, I got it." City pulled off the panties. "You're a vir-" Whoops. "Um, you were a virgin."
"Yeah," said the girl. "Whoops."
"Well, don't blame me!" yelled City. "You're the one who wore the red dress!"
"By the way," said the girl. "I'm called Eve."
"Aren't you all," said City.
After a brief and inside-joke laden side trip to visit his seven brothers and their seven perfect spouses, City and Eve continued in their search for the Viking gold, tracked by an implacable and inexhaustible supply of Spankers. City seethed inwardly. Of all the underhanded and wily sexual tricks a woman had ever played on him, deliberately maintaining her virginity for twenty-three years to force him to marry her had to take the cake. Just as his seven brothers had before him, City hated women. And just as they had, he had decided that his seven brothers' seven spouses were exceptions to the rule. It had not yet occurred to City that he should possibly re-examine his rule.
They crossed three hundred miles of desert with two canteens of water. They climbed vertical mountains on horseback. They rode twelve hours a day and were still horny at the end of it. Nobody ever needed sunscreen.
"There it is," Eve said. "The sign for the mine." She pointed to a blinking neon arrow that said "LOST VIKING MINE" on it. Although City would never admit it, he was glad she had come along to read the map. He had already mistaken three Indian casinos for the mine.
Just then, a flurry of shots erupted from around the stone cliffs. The Spankers and their lackeys of ambiguous ethnicity had caught up to them at last. City and Eve dove for cover in opposite directions. City opened fire, taking out the lackeys, who could die in peace having fulfilled their literary function of raising the body count without forcing poor old Mrs. Spanker to crank out an additional twenty-seven children. But then he was out of bullets.
"City!" cried Eve, brandishing a gun. Bullets spattered the rocks around her as she dashed across the open space to reach him. Although City had killed twenty-seven lackeys from a bad firing position with the sun in his eyes, not a single enemy managed to even clip Eve in a non-vital limb. That was how you knew they were enemies.
"Thanks," City said, snatching the gun and rapidly taking out the remaining Spankers.
He turned to her in the sudden quiet. "You saved my life," he said, amazed.
"Nah," said Eve. "It just seemed like the best way to get a clear shot at you."
No woman had ever been so honest with City. He was deeply touched. "Marry me, Eve," he said. "And not just because you might be pregnant. Because I love you."
"And because I own the mine?" asked Eve.
"That, too," said City.
"Okay," said Eve. "But we're getting a prenup."
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