The Pulp Tarot

“I stayed up all night playing poker with tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.”
― Steven Wright

Box Cover from Todd Alcott’s Pulp Tarot

I guess it started when I was in college. A friend of mine, a woman I had more than a little crush on, offered to do a Tarot card reading for me. Now I am not what you would call a mystical person, I don’t believe in any supernatural power of a Tarot deck (or much of anything else, really) but I have an open mind. I don’t remember any of what she said… but I do remember enjoying the reading, enjoying it a lot.

So over the many (too many) intervening decades I always had a soft spot for the Tarot cards. As I learned more about the world I came to realize that there can be power in the cards that have nothing to do with supernatural influence. There is wisdom in mythical archetypes… and a set of cards can be a tool to help draw truth out from the subconscious fog.

And then I stumbled across a book at the library – The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin. It opened me up to the idea of using a Tarot deck to generate ideas for stories or other fiction. I bought a Rider-Smith-Waite traditional deck and found that it worked surprisingly well.

In the meantime, I discovered an artist, Todd Alcott – that did work I really enjoyed. His most common work are fake pulp book covers based on music. I haven’t bought anything yet – mostly because I like all of it and can’t decide. Take a look at his Etsy Store – there is some great stuff there.

Then I discovered that he had a Kickstarter and had done a Tarot deck in his personal style – The Pulp Tarot. I wanted one, wanted it bad – but I was too late – all the copies were sold.

Card Zero from Todd Alcott’s Pulp Tarot

Then, not too long ago, I was monitoring Todd Alcott’s Instagram Page and discovered he had a second printing of his Tarot deck out. I ordered it immediately.

My deck came in the mail today. It’s pretty damn cool. It’s like having seventy-eight little paintings in a cool box.

I can see myself collecting Tarot decks – I hope not… but maybe….

What I learned this week, January, 9, 2021

Margaret McDermott Bridge

The arches of a second Calatrava designed bridge rise in the river bottoms. Margaret McDermott Bridge, Dallas, Texas

After all these years, the bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the Trinity River here in Dallas is being fixed and will open at the end of the year. I’m happy about this – but what an incompetent shitshow it has been. For 125 million dollars you should be able to put in a hell of a bike bridge.

Bicycle Drag Races
Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge
Dallas, Texas

Strava Heatmap

As I’ve mentioned before, now that I’ve switched to Strava to track my bike rides, I am fascinated with the Strava Heatmap. If you don’t know – the Heatmap is where Strava collects information from everyone using its service and presents the runners, bikers, watersports, and/or skiers aggregate routes on a map.  Here’s the heatmap (running and biking) of the area around my house. The bright yellow horizontal line is the bike trail behind my house. Across the street is the oval where people run the track next to Apollo middle school (this disappears if you click on Biking alone). To the Northwest, along Plano Street up to Arapaho, then diagonally along the creek to Collins, is a new bike trail the city just finished. There are only a few folks using it now – and there is only a thin purple line on the heat map. I intend to ride it with my Strava as much as I can and want to see how the line becomes brighter over time.

The Heatmap is international and I like looking for odd or surprising things.

For example, can you guess what This Odd Shape represents. I was able to, even though I’ve never been there.


I love discovering new words. Here is one, Acedia – that, unfortunately, is very useful right now.


Decluttering Is Hard—But There’s One 2-Minute Way to Make it Easier

One of my goals for the year is to up my decluttering game. I need all the help I can get.

The 7 types of rest that every person needs

Really Great Writing Prompts

I found this collection of writing prompts from Poets & Writers Magazine. They are more sophisticated than the usual ones. There are three weekly (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) but their archive goes way back. Cool.

Writing in my Moleskine Journal outside the Mojo Lounge, Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans

If you like visual writing prompts, take a look at this collection of links to museum art collections. Be careful, though – this can be a rabbit hole waste of time.



Here’s a collection (from of Pulp magazine, books, all sorts of stuff. Again, beware, it can be a rabbit hole. Also, rather spectacularly politically incorrect (which can be a good thing, IMHO).

Pulp Cover

Gratuitous Pulp Paperback Cover

Dance Mashups

I have found that watching these YouTube videos of dance mashups – uptempo songs with bits of dance from movies or filmed folks – makes the time on my exercise bike go by quickly (that and POV videos of people riding in beautiful places). I have a big TV right in front of my spin bike. It’s embarrassing when someone catches me watching these – but what the hell.

Here’s some examples:

Safety Dance? I actually liked this song back in the 80’s. Yeesh! Still, the remix has a good beat.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 23 – The Call of Cthulhu By H. P. Lovecraft

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 23 – The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft
Read it online here:
The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

—-H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

I have written about H. P. Lovecraft before – I wrote about how I first read him here… and I wrote about a great really bad movie I saw decades ago based on the Cthulhu Mythos.

Today I guess I’ll mention a sort of silly story. I was in the Garland, Texas library a few years ago, perusing the fiction aisles. The fiction, as is the usual convention was arranged by author. At the end of each case was the start and end of the author’s names… such as Smith-Thompson, or Adams-Baker. In the C section it had Clark-Cthulhu. That caught me off guard. I didn’t know that Cthulhu had written any popular fiction. I checked the stacks and there was a collection of short stories set in the Cthulhu Mythos written by a variety of authors and the person that cataloged the book mistakenly thought that Cthulhu himself, the great evil one, born on the planet Vhoorl in the 23rd nebula from Nug and Yeb had actually penned the tome himself.

I really wanted that little plastic sign and considered prying it off myself when nobody was looking. Unfortunately, I am too honest for that. When I moved to Richardson I stopped going to the Garland library on a regular basis and the last time I visited the fiction section had been reorganized and the sign was gone.

You have to take my word for it. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

H. P. Lovecraft:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
—-from Supernatural Horror in Literature

H.P. Lovecraft

Short Story Day Twenty Four – Red Nails

24 Red Nails (Conan the Barbarian)
Robert E Howard

This is day Twenty-four of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.


Nearly four years ago, WEIRD TALES published a story called “The Phoenix on the Sword,” built around a barbarian adventurer named Conan, who had become king of a country by sheer force of valor and brute strength. The author of that story was Robert E. Howard, who was already a favorite with the readers of this magazine for his stories of Solomon Kane, the dour English Puritan and redresser of wrongs. The stories about Conan were speedily acclaimed by our readers, and the barbarian’s weird adventures became immensely popular. The story presented herewith is one of the most powerful and eery weird tales yet written about Conan. We commend this story to you, for we know you will enjoy it through and through.
—-From Weird Tales, 1936

A dozen years ago, in February of 2001, I had just finished up a solo camping trip to Big Bend way out in far west Texas. I had a long drive back to the Metroplex, one I had made before. This time, however, I had picked a different route back, one that was slightly longer than usual.

Instead of going north to Interstate 20 and taking it back, I caught 67 through San Angelo and on to Brownwood, then north to the little hamlet of Cross Plains. Once I made it to that small town, I followed a little map that I had scribbled to a tiny house on the west side of town. I stopped, looked at the nondescript wood frame dwelling for a minute, then went back to my car and drove the rest of the way home.

I had wanted to see that house because of the person that lived in it in the 1930s – it was the childhood home, and the place he committed suicide, of Robert E Howard. Even though it looked exactly like a million other old farmhouses all across the Great Plains – I wanted to see this one… to see it, and nothing more.

Like anyone that has been a voracious reader for almost half a century now, I have read my fair share of pulp. Mostly devoured in the form of cheap paperback reprints, I was familiar with Conan, and with Robert E Howard… along with the other writers of depression-era fantastic, gothic, and strange tales – plus their imitators that have continued the tradition still.

But the specific incident that lead me to my stop in Cross Plains had occurred on a cult movie night at the Dallas Museum of Art. I had seen that they were showing a film I had never seen before – The Whole Wide World – an elegiac story of Robert E Howard (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) and his relationship with a girl named Novalyne Price (Renée Zellweger, in one of her first roles).

It was an amazing film and one that almost nobody had seen. It was so representative of the writing life, the desire for creativity and expression, the sad doomed love story, and the insane dreamer pounding out madness for pennies a word. Even the evocation of rural Texas in the depression felt true and fascinating. The representative from the distribution company came out and thanked everyone for seeing it – he said, “We are so proud of this movie and want as many folks as possible to see the film.” Now it’s more available… you should take a look.

I found out that it was based on a memoir by Novalene Price – called One Who Walked Alone – which hadn’t sold many copies. I ordered it from Amazon and (though it really wasn’t particularly well-written) enjoyed it thoroughly.

So here’s a pulp novella from Robert E Howard, Red Nails. Don’t think of Arnold and his movie when you read it… think of the doomed crazy boy hammering away in the back of that little farm house in that little town in Texas… fighting back his demons the only way he can – with a typewriter.

“Five dead dogs!” exclaimed Techotl, his flaming eyes reflecting a ghastly exultation. “Five slain! Five crimson nails for the black pillar! The gods of blood be thanked!”

He lifted quivering hands on high, and then, with the face of a fiend, he spat on the corpses and stamped on their faces, dancing in his ghoulish glee. His recent allies eyed him in amazement, and Conan asked, in the Aquilonian tongue: “Who is this madman?”

Valeria shrugged her shoulders.

“He says his name’s Techotl. From his babblings I gather that his people live at one end of this crazy city, and these others at the other end. Maybe we’d better go with him. He seems friendly, and it’s easy to see that the other clan isn’t.”

—-Red Nails, by Robert E Howard

Short Story Day Fourteen – Beyond the Door

14. Beyond the Door
Philip K Dick

This is day Fourteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

Though he never had any real financial success during his life, Philip K Dick was unquestionably one of the most unique, imaginative, and influential Science Fiction writers of all time. He has had at least ten films adapted from his work: Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. Most of his prodigious output could only find a printed home in low-paying magazines.

Some of his early fiction ended up in the public domain – and that’s where we find today’s little piece of pulp, Beyond the Door.

I’m not sure if the simple little lurid tale can be considered good… the characters are pretty cardboard, the action predictable, no real theme… but it’s a fun read anyway. It’s not a real good example of Philip K. Dick’s best work – his unique warped take on the slippery and ephemeral nature of reality and the inevitabilty of paranoia in modern life influenced a whole generation of modern and postmodern writers. I’ve always though of him as a readable Pynchon – as a Gateway drug into the world of fantastic paranoid literature and film.

In the weeks that followed after Doris left, Larry and the cuckoo clock
got along even worse than before. For one thing, the cuckoo stayed
inside most of the time, sometimes even at twelve o’clock when he should
have been busiest. And if he did come out at all he usually spoke only
once or twice, never the correct number of times. And there was a
sullen, uncooperative note in his voice, a jarring sound that made Larry
uneasy and a little angry.

But he kept the clock wound, because the house was very still and quiet
and it got on his nerves not to hear someone running around, talking and
dropping things. And even the whirring of a clock sounded good to him.

—- Beyond the Door, Philip K Dick

What I learned this week, September, 29, 2011

Russell Blake – On Editing

The ease with which the self-publishing platforms now enable aspiring writers to upload their work is mind-boggling. The only thing standing between you and being on Amazon are a few mouse clicks. Gone is virtually the entire delivery system that defined the traditional publishing business for generations. Trees don’t need to be sawed down, trucks don’t need to go to and from warehouses filled with freshly printed books, stores don’t need to occupy valuable space that could house another Starbucks or fast food joint. It’s a brave new world we’re writing in; the old rules are dead and the sky’s the limit.

(read the whole thing)

I have this continuing fascination with Food Trucks. One of the interesting aspects is the battle with City Hall and the struggle for permitting and permission. You would think that you could drive where you wanted and sell sandwiches. Nope.

Even when the city likes something, it sets up barriers. And charges fees.

Dallas City Hall Likes Food Trucks

Why does the Good Life End?

by Victor David Hansen

Redistribution of wealth rather than emphasis on its creation is surely a symptom of aging societies.

What Should I Do with the Cables, CDs, and Accessories that Come with My Gadgets?

Great Ideas, from Lifehacker

My camera is fixed! If you need repairs or other work on your digital cameras – I highly recommend Archinal Camera Repair. It is located in an old storefront in old Downtown Richardson.

It isn’t cheap – repairing complex electronics and delicate mechanical devices never is – but they do good work and are pleasant to deal with.

Archinal Camera Repair on Beltline Road in Downtown Richardson

from The Telegraph
  • Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
  • The Long Goodby by Raymond Chandler
  • Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
  • Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell

Do you remember this song from “Kill Bill”? It was originally done by Cher, and was written by Sonny Bono.

What I learned this week – July 29, 2011

Pulp Cover

Gratuitous Pulp Paperback Cover

Kurt Vonnegut

Eight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

— Vonnegut, Kurt, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

But I’m not complaining! You know why? Because the cardinal rule of dealing with negativity is: Don’t complain about negativity.

—Nathan Bradford, How to Deal With Negativity

It’s a shame my children are grown, because now, I finally have an instructional video on how to properly read them a fairy tale. Actually, if they had had the Internet when my kids were little (we had dialup…) I could have simply played this to them. Mounted an iPad on their crib (oops… no Flash… – mounted an Android Tablet on their crib) and let them watch to their heart’s desire.

Pretty good, huh. Still, though, I think it needs more cowbell.

Pulp Cover

Gratuitous Pulp Paperback Cover

The best-laid schemes

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
—-To a Mouse, Robert Burns




I had great plans for the weekend. I even wrote them down – a two page list in one of my Staples Bagasse Composition Books I carry with me always. Two pages! Who the hell am I kidding?

Well, of the projects I wanted to complete, I finished… hmmm… let me count… none.

On Sunday, around noon or so, I was trying to decide whether to go to the library and write (I have a certain table at the Richardson Library I like to work at – the library is open from two to six, which is a nice constrained four hour writing time – it’s shocking how fast the time flies) or to go for a bicycle ride. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and ride my bike to the library.


My favorite table at the Richardson Library.

I made my preparations – packing my Alphasmart Neo (don’t want to ride my bike with my laptop), pens, notebooks, water bottles, clean shirt, towel, and such and sundry stuffins. I put my backpack on and went out into the blast furnace of the garage to get my bike. The front tire was flat.

I stood out in the sun behind the house, found the telltale little white spot where the thorn had penetrated, took everything apart (nasty little thorn, really), patched the tube, put it together, and pumped everything back up.

Maybe a half an hour. I was drenched in sweat.

I had calculated that I would be able to get to the library in the awful heat by moving quickly. The time I spent fixing the tire was too much, though. I rode about a mile and decided it was too risky. The temperature, the sun beating down, the still air… it was all going toxic. By the time I made it home I was beginning to get a little dizzy.

I am too old and way too out of shape for this. All I wanted to do was veg out in a dark cave of conditioned air. The bit of overheated exertion wore me to the bone. At that point I wasn’t even up to driving to the library. I rested a bit, went to eat with the family, and at sunset walked down to Lee’s last softball game. Once the sun is down, it’s a lot more bearable. I think the solar radiation beating down is worse than the superheated air.

I’ve complained about the heat already. And it wasn’t even bad back then, not like now. It’s always hot here in the summer, of course, but this is getting ridiculous. It wears everyone out – it is so hard to get anything done.

Deadlier than the Male

Deadlier than the Male

The only thing I accomplished was to read another bit of Pulp Fiction I had queued up. This one was Deadlier than the Male, by James Gunn. No, this isn’t James Gunn, the science fiction professor that teaches at my alma mater (yes, I took a class from him, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). This James Gunn seems to have not written another novel. Nobody seems to know anything about him. The book was made into a film in 1947 called Born to Kill – which I’ll try to find.

Born to Kill

Born to Kill

It’s an odd, crazy book. I wouldn’t say it was a good book, but it was something. The language is simple, but arresting. The first line – ”Helen Brent had the best-looking legs at the inquest,” pretty much sets the scene. Most noir pulps have a small number of characters, but in this one, every chapter introduces somebody new. They keep arriving faster than they are killed off… until near the end. With each fresh character the story splits until the plot is like a big twisted knot of desperation and evil, stretching from Fresno to Frisco. I had a bit of trouble keeping track of who was who, and a few of the participants seem to simply disappear from the book once their utility wears thin, but the book was short and the story tumbled forward picking up flotsam and jetsam from the sewer of human malice until it all crashed down into the last few pages.

Since I wasn’t up for anything useful I was able to get through the book in one day. Now, I have some more pulp noir stuff in my reading list, but I need to find something different, maybe even something a little uplifting. After reading this one… I feel sort of dirty.


Sunday Snippet – Pickpocket

I have to be careful with what I’m reading. It influences what I write. I distort what comes out of my pen by what goes in my eyes.

Lately, I’ve been reading too much lurid pulp fiction.

Whip Hand

Whip Hand

W. Franklin Sanders is a pen name for Charles Willeford… Ebook Here. Whip Hand was also published under the title, Deliver me from Dallas. In this heat… I know the feeling.

I needed something to take to our writing group, so I punched up a writing prompt generator and what came up was: Nonchalantly she reached into the other woman’s handbag and whipped out her purse.

Using this prompt, I wrote out a quick four pages…. this is what I came up with, Raw First Draft.


The book she had read was nothing more than a pamphlet, printed long ago in blue mimeograph ink on office paper and crudely stapled into a small, rough book form. Loralee remembered the smell of fresh mimeo from grade school. The pamphlet paper was brittle, the blue fading, and crisscrossed with yellowed cellophane tape repairs but it was all still readable.

Loralee had bought the pamphlet at a strange little bookstore she had stumbled into while on a trip to a business conference in New Orleans.

Her boss had called and set up a meeting on the second day of the conference in a private hotel room. It seemed a little odd to Loralee, but she figured there was a new program to launch or some reorganization she had to help smooth over.

Instead she was laid off.

“Well,” her boss said, “At least you have two more days in New Orleans to enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about the meetings; and your hotel is paid for.” Her face seemed to creak as she forced out a frightening smile.

Thanks a lot.

Loralee spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel bar, hitting it hard, charging the tab to her room. But when the meetings finished and she saw her coworkers returning to the lobby, gathered into conversational clots like old spilled blood, she couldn’t stand it and staggered back up to her room. As soon as she entered, she had to tumble into the bathroom and barely had the time to stick her head into the toilet before she heaved and puked up what seemed like a lot more than she had drank that afternoon – which was a lot. She continued to convulse even after she was empty until her diaphragm ached.

Finally spent, she tumbled onto the sagging hotel bed and fell into an uneasy sleep full of terrifying dreams.

When she awoke she saw a half-light splayed across the sheer curtains of the room. The digital clock had six fifteen glowing in red numbers. Loralee didn’t know if it was AM or PM and curled on the bed, staring at the curtains until she was sure that it was getting lighter, rather than darker. Six AM it was.

Hungover, wearing sunglasses despite the overcast sky, Loralee stumbled the uneven brick and cracked concrete of the French Quarter looking for… she didn’t really know. As she walked she chanted, “Laid Off – Let Go – Laid Off – Let Go” over and over like a Mantra. Almost everything was closed this early in the morning, street sweepers pushed filthy piles of cups, bottles, and beads down the middle of the street. Each block seemed to have an unconscious person still snoozing up against a building or beside a stoop. The smell of last night’s old beer and piss hovered over the still air like a filthy umbrella.

Finally she spotted the open door of the old bookstore. It actually opened out into an alley, with the entrance barely visible around the corner from the sidewalk. The alley had a rusty streetsign – the letters were faded, but it was barely legible, “Rue Deday.”  A red neon light glowed PEN – the “O” was burned out. Without knowing why, Loralee turned the corner and went in.

The stacks smelt like old mold. Loralee thought that most used bookstores were musty like that – but this was one step beyond. Maybe it was just New Orleans, maybe the French Quarter, maybe the ghost of Katrina. There was a lot of evil old water around.

The books were not marked, no prices. Loralee wanted to stick it to her company so she asked the ancient, bent proprietor, “What’s the most expensive shit you got.”

He did not flinch – simply peered over his thick glasses at her with eyes that were surprisingly bright and clear for someone of his age – otherwise he looked to have one foot in the grave. “Well, dear, we have a drawer of very expensive shit right here.” He pulled a massive key chain off a nail by the register and removed a padlock from a small metal filing cabinet.

The cabinet was full of old manila folders, each marked across the front with a scrawled red marker. The marker showed various prices – all over one hundred dollars each. The folders contained various bits of paper: single yellowing crumpled sheets, folded maps, handwritten notes.

Only one folder had anything that was thicker that a few sheets. That one had a folded and stapled booklet with the label, “How to be a Pickpocket, Guaranteed!

The price on the pamphlet was one hundred and twenty five dollars – which seemed really steep, but Loralee still had her company credit card. Somehow, her boss had neglected to confiscate it in her “exit interview.” She knew it would be deactivated any minute and wanted to waste anything still left in the account.

“I’ll take this one,” she said to the old man. “Here charge this card,” she said as she extended her company card for the last time.

Back home she fell into a languid life of half-hearted job searching. She ventured out to a big warehouse store and bought a case of frozen fried chicken dinners and several of ice cream. She would send out enough letters and resumes, apply online when she could, enough to keep an unemployment check coming, but her heart wasn’t in it.

One thing that did interest her was the old pamphlet she had stuck her company with back in New Orleans. For something so short it was surprisingly complex. She kept noticing something new every time she picked it up.

Different paragraphs were written in different styles, all jumbled together. Some were in a modern, hip, joking style, talking about “Stealing for Dummies,” and such. Others were in an arcane style, full of old-fashioned spellings and extinct phrases. The text seemed to be one third cold, dry instruction, one third psychology lessons on how a mark thinks and what he will and won’t notice, and one third strange incantations designed, as the pamphlet said, “To reste the spirit and calme the blood.

She read and re-read the thing. When she would put it down to try and watch TV or to get something to eat, she would feel it growing in her mind until her hands would actually quiver and itch for the feel of its aged paper between her fingers.

Some of the pages contained simple exercises meant to improve dexterity and quickness. She set up some little stations around her apartment. Everything was laid out exactly as the pamphlet called for, bits of cloth, small metal weights (she used some old hexagonal steel nuts she pried off the bottom of her coffee table), and shapes folded from shirt cardboard as diagrammed in the pamphlet.

Loralee would practice over and over again. First she would mumble the words prescribed on the pages; she felt an odd urge to try and get all of it exactly right – no matter how silly it seemed. Then she would go through the motions of snatching the metal nuts from whatever cradle they were hidden in. At first she would make her move while looking directly at the setup, but – as the instructions dictated – after a while she would work with her head turned, and then, finally behind her back. She was amazed to find that, with enough practice, she could snatch the prize without even touching the cloth or cardboard. She felt she could almost see her goal in sort of a glowing mist inside her head, see it clearly, even though it was behind her back.

After three months of preparation and practice, she decided she was ready.

There was a Starbucks near her apartments and as she entered she immediately picked out a matronly woman in a faded print dress at the end of the queue of customers looking confused at the lighted menu overhead. Loralee sidled into line directly behind her as the woman began to ask questions of the barista, “But I don’t understand… are you telling me the Venti is bigger than the Tall?” Loralee muttered one of the incantations under her breath. This steadied her nerves as she leaned over, pretending to look into the case of pastries.

Nonchalantly Loralee reached into the other woman’s handbag and whipped out her purse.

She then calmly pulled the money out, leaving a single five and the change so the woman could pay for her coffee. Without taking her eyes from the pastries she then replaced the purse, sighed quietly, turned and walked out. She could hear the woman going on behind her, “Oh, tell me again, what’s the difference between a latte and an espresso?”

It became easier and easier as her marks became larger and larger. Loralee began to frequent spots – casinos, expensive nightclubs, the racetrack, where customers would be carrying a lot of cash and might be drinking a little. She made enough money to begin buying expensive clothes. That enabled her to sidle her way into parties and receptions of the highest levels of society, where she could accumulate jewels and watches in addition to the mounds of cash she was quickly developing. Luckily, the pamphlet had advice on fencing those goods, and on the methods to safety and surreptitiously convert her ill-gotten gains into diamonds and gold coins – portable efficient receptacles of growing wealth.

She didn’t pay any taxes and couldn’t trust any bank, of course, so she bought a heavy safe and disguised it as a pedestal for her new wide-screen television.

She began to travel. She went to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Palm Springs… anywhere that the marks might congregate with the cash.

She even returned to New Orleans to push her way through the huge dense drunken crowds at Mardi Gras. That was almost too easy. She could reach out and grab whatever she wanted without even thinking about it. For old time’s sake she returned to the street where she first saw the old book store, but it was gone. She moved along the alley running her hands over the rough brick, but there wasn’t even any evidence of where the door used to be.

Loralee decided she must have been mistaken about which street it had been off of. Even the street sign was missing, so she must have been lost.

After a year of work, her safe was bulging with gold and diamonds, three dresser drawers were stuffed full of hundred dollar bills. Loralee began taking it a little easier. She felt her skills begin to slip. Once, for the first time, a mark turned and shouted at her. She dropped the man’s wallet and fled. She decided to stop, at least for a while. She had enough to last, possibly for the rest of her life.

She liked to treat herself to a nice dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant around the corner. She received the best food and the best service, the waiters like her generous, cash tips. This night she stayed a little longer than usual, sipping on a particularly nice brandy after dinner; thinking about a European trip. It would be her first non-working trip to the old country, and she smiled, mentally planning it.

When she returned home and pressed her key into the lock, her door swung open freely. With a rising tide of fear choking her throat, she quickly pushed on inside. The apartment was a shambles. Everything was tossed about – not a stick was undisturbed. Her television sprawled face down on the floor. Looking at the stand, she saw the bulging cloth covering and knew the safe was open. Pulling the cover aside, she verified what she already feared. It was empty.

She dashed into her bedroom where the dresser drawers were tossed on to her bed, cash all gone. In a rising panic she rushed about the place looking in corners and hiding spots. Everything of value had been found and stolen. Even her old pamphlet on how to be a pickpocket was stolen. She realized she was doomed, there was no way to get this back without her instructions.

Finally, standing in the center of the room, fighting back panic and tears, she noticed something new. On her dining table was an old, dirty, and worn manila file folder. She approached the folder and saw, scrawled across the front, “One Hundred Seventeen Dollars,” in red marker. Shaking, she opened the folder. Inside was a single, torn, worn piece of paper covered with faded typing. At the top it said, “How to be a Burglar, Guraranteed!

The Sound of his Horn – by Sarban

The lurid cover art from The Sound of his Horn by Saban

The lurid cover art from The Sound of his Horn by Saban

I finished Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck and wanted something light and easy to read – so I looked through my collection of pulp ebooks and came up with Sarban’s The Sound of his Horn. This was an odd bit of fiction that I had found recommended here and there across the interwebs.

It’s an interesting amalgam – told as a story-within-a-story… it has time-travel science-fiction aspects, alternate history, a possibly unreliable narrator (one of my favorite literary devices), themes akin to a reverse Island of Dr. Moreau, a bit of an unlikely love story, while at the heart it is a “Most Dangerous Game” tale on steroids.

What’s odd about the book is that it is told in a slightly archaic, literary style (I had to use the dictionary quite a bit as I read) but the story is full of lurid, shocking elements that would be at home in the most modern trashy paperback. In the story, the protagonist finds himself thrown a hundred years into a future where the Germans have won World War II. A Teutonic lord rules a massive forested estate where his decadent guests hunt half-naked women costumed as deer or birds. They are captured alive by the hunt and served as after-dinner entertainment trussed up and delivered under giant silver serving-domes.

See what I mean. And that is not the worst of it, by any means.

I really don’t know if I’ve read anything as strangely sophisticated and sleazy at the same time.

In summary – it’s a short novel and more than entertaining enough. It’s well worth reading – if that’s the sort of thing you want. It’ll stretch your mind more than a bit. You can get an ebook copy here or here.

The author, who chose the pen name of Sarban, was John William Wall, a British Diplomat for over thirty years and a published writer for about two. Other than The Sound of his Horn he has a couple collections of fantasy short stories (some ebooks here). He must have been an interesting man, a combination of a sharp mind and a sordid imagination.