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Friday, July 30, 2010


"Tell them about the bats, Joe," Al Godfrey said.

"The rats?" Joe said. "You mean the rats on Willard, or King Rat?"

Joe was at the far end of Godfrey's table at Dear John's, one of the best know, unknown watering holes in Hollywood. Technically, it wasn't really in Hollywood, but Culver City, just down the street from MGM (Now Sony) Studios. And Joe wasn't really called Joe, but I don't remember his real name, so Joe it is.

He turned to me and Chris. "Both gigs were pretty miserable. Willard because Ernie Borgnine kept getting drunk and falling on them, or stepping on them, and King Rat because it was a jungle shoot and the little fuckers kept dying on us in the heat."

"No, no, not rats!" Godfrey said. "Bats! Bats! Tell them about the bats!"

"Oh, yeah, bats," Joe said. Although he was only in his late 40's, or early 50's, Joe's hearing was less than it should be thanks to all the prop guns he'd fired in his career. Joe's main specialty was weird animals - he'd wrangled, rats, roaches, snakes and, apparently, bats. But he had a sideline as a gun wrangler for when the spooky critter business was slow.

He frowned at Godfrey. "What bats are you talking about, Al?"

Our producer/mentor was not the most patient man, except when it came to crew members and other working stiffs. He said, "The ones we used on Mission Impossible. You remember, Joe."

Joe's face lit up. "How could I fucking forget?" he said. He turned to us. "There was this scene where the IM team wants to terrorize this bad guy couple. They're both in bed, fooling around as much as you could fool around in television in those days. Anyway, the deal was that at just the right moment, a mess of bats was supposed to explode out of nowhere and freak them out."

Godfrey, who got his start on the Mission Impossible TV series, added, "Joe was the bat wrangler for the episode. Which turned out to be a real pain in the ass for Joe, and a double pain for us."

Chris and I had just landed a gig at MGM and Godfrey, who knew everybody worth knowing at all the studios in town, was having a little luncheon get together to introduce us to the really important people at the studio. No, not the stars, or the directors, or the producers. But the people who did the actual work: lighting, sound, Foley artists, costumes and makeup, prop masters, set designers, art directors, stunt men and women, and so on. The ones they call the Below The Line Talent, because their credits come last on the Roll.

For me and my partner, it was like auditing a university class, but with scotch and soda privileges. Of course, that was Godfrey's intent. We hung on every word as those battle-scarred veterans of The Biz regaled us with their favorite anecdotes.

It was Joe's turn now, and he was saying: "The main thing about handling bats, is that to control them, you have to keep them cold. Put them in temporary hibernation. I've got little wooden stands with pegs poking out like branches. I call them bat trees. So, I put the bat trees in the cage and start lowering the temperature. Pretty soon the little fuckers get sleepy, hang off the pegs and take little bat snoozes. Then, when you want them to wake up and fly around you just heat them a little. Turn on a space heater, or a heat lamp, and they snap to."

"Pure-dee amazing," Chris said. "Bat trees, huh?"

Joe shrugged. "Every critter has his ways. My brother works with big cats sometimes and he says that for tigers, you have to treat them like a dog. Pick up a stick and say 'No!' real firm like." He downed half a shot, swilled some beer, and added, "And if that don't work, the trick is keep some raw chickens on ice. Toss them a whole chicken and get the hell out of the way."

"That's great about the tigers, Joe," Godfrey said. "But we were talking about bats."

"Yeah, the bats on Mission Impossible," Joe said. He wet his throat again with a shot and some beer, then continued. "So, anyway, while they're setting up the bedroom scene I show up with the bats - all asleep, hanging off the pegs like they're supposed to. I put them over in a quiet corner and go see the director to get the timing of the gag straight. The actors come in and they're all set for bed. Their characters are rich, so he's like in silk PJ's, and the girl's in a sexy nightie.

"But what we didn't know was that some apprentice had moved one of the light stands right over the bat tree. He'd shut the lights off, but they were still hot, you know? Meantime, the director calls for action and the couple climbs into bed and does some light weight smooching. Then there's supposed to be a little talk-talk to further the plot. Back to smooching. Then cue the bats. But, they're still kissing and cuddling when all of a sudden -

"Wham! The bats wake up and fly right at the bed, screaming their little heads off because they're scared. And the actors freak out, especially the girl when one of them gets hung up in her hair. And they're running like hell all over the set, waving their arms, making the bats more scared.

"It would have kept going like that but I got a net and shooed them out of the set. But then they fly up into the the sound stage's cat walks, which are..." he raised a hand over his head... "thirty, forty feet high... so there's no way I can get them down and freeze 'em again. At least, not right away."

Godfrey broke in. "That meant we had to shut down production," he said. "We're talking several thousand dollars an hour here, with the whole crew standing around with nothing to do but scratch their asses."

"Until I get us some more bats," Joe said. "Luckily I had some at the ranch. So, I hustle back, freeze up another batch, and drive like hell to the set. Get everything ready and they do the scene no problem. Except all the sound had to be dubbed later because the bats in the rafters squeaked their little heads off. And it took me days to round them all up and put them back." He leaned closer. "I use crickets," he said. "That's the trick. Bats love crickets. Get them at a bait shop."

A guy on my side said, "Well, bats can be bad, but bears are a whole lot worse. They are not only way the hell bigger, but crankier than shit."

Godfrey said, "Oh, you mean when you were working on Old Yeller, right, George?"

George, who was a set man, said, "Yeah, Old Yeller. I was just a kid. An apprentice. And we were doing the cabin interior and shit. Me and my team also helped put up a big fence around the whole thing - it was about an acre, or so, with the cabin in the middle. The fence was maybe ten feet high. The director wanted to keep the actual animals who lived in the forest out and our animals in."

"You mean like the bear?" I said.

George laughed. "You don't know the half of it, son," he said. He paused while the waitress brought another round, then said, "First I see of the bear is this big old station wagon driving up. And it's real low on the springs, like it's carrying a lot of weight.

"Well, in the back we could see why. Because there was a cage thing back there, with this huge fucking bear, all muzzled and wrapped up in chains. And I mean they were big, thick chains." George made a large circle with two hands to show how big. "And you're thinking, with chains that thick the bear must be pretty damned mean."

He paused to get a drink, then said, "Well, sir, even with the station wagon's gate shut you could see this bear was not in a good mood. No way in hell, was he happy. And you couldn't blame him, because when the bear wrangler opened the gate it was so damned hot in there that the heat just came rushing out like a fucking Santa Ana wind. And a damned smelly wind, too. The bear had shit himself and he didn't look too happy about that either.

"So, the guy prods the bear out with a long pole, with an iron hook on the end. Like you'd use on an elephant, or something. And he says to the director, 'You get everything set and I'll just get him loose from these chains so he can stretch a little. He's been kind of cooped up three-four hours.'

"Now we're all looking at that bear and he is giving us the look back. And he's growling and shaking his head and rattling his chains, and trying to bite the muzzle. And we're getting kind of antsy, you know?"

Chris and I allowed that we would have felt the same.

"And the director's none too happy either. He says, 'You're sure that bear's okay? I mean, he looks pretty mad.'"

The bear wrangler says no worries, he's got his pole and his hook and if the bear gives us any shit, he'll scare him tame with that.

Then he looks around the place, frowning... suddenly acting cautious... like he was expecting cops, or something... and he says, 'You don't have an SPCA guy around, do you?'

"With animals, you're supposed to have a Humane Agency person on duty to make sure they are treated right. But in a Disney movie, the budget's the number one thing. And you have to pay the SPCA inspector wages, which the cheap-ass bosses at Disney think is a waste of their good money."

A woman broke in. Joanie, one of the MGM prop people. "Yeah, my dad worked on Disney's Perry The Squirrel back in the 50's. And you know that bit where Perry is hiding in a log and a fox is trying to get him?"

Chris and I both remembered it well from our childhood Saturday matinee days.

"Well, my dad told us the fox was pretty hard to control with a squirrel just sitting there in this little old log," Joanie said. "He gobbled up six or seven of the poor little things before the director got the shot he wanted. And, no. There wasn't any SPCA person there either."

George nodded. "Same with us. I mean, this was an animal show. Old Yeller's a dog. The main character after the boy. And they're on a farm, so there's other animals. But we almost never had an SPCA guy around. And on that particular day, when we were looking at that poor bear, we were all thinking, maybe we'd have all been a lot better off if there was.

"The director's looking worried, but he's got to do the scene. Time is money and at Disney money is God. So, he tells the bear wrangler that we'd all back off, while he got the bear out of the chains. So he wouldn't feel crowded, or anything. And maybe give the poor thing something to eat and drink, before we got to work.

"So, we back off. And the guy starts unlocking the chains and the bear's getting really pissed, now. The guy pokes him with the pole to make him behave. Then he gets all the chains off, and the muzzle off, and goes to the station wagon to get out some water and whatever, and that bear's head is going back and forth... You know how they look with those long necks... Almost like a big, furry snake, but with a huge head.

"And he spots us and he growls and the bear wrangler turns around and pokes him hard with the pole. This just makes him madder and he forgets us and goes for the guy. Well, quick as a bunny, the bear wrangler jumps into the station wagon and slams the door in the bear's face.

"The bear bangs on the car a bit, then remembers us and turns around to look. And from the way he was acting he was thinking everything was our fault. We keep backing off, then if that damned bear doesn't get up on its hind legs and fucking roar."

George shuddered at the memory. "Jesus, was that a roar! But then director shouts, 'Run!' Like we needed to be told. So, we all take off, the bear roaring and coming after us. But just ahead of us was that big fucking fence we had worked so hard to put up. And right then ten feet looked like fifty feet. But we kept running. And the bear kept running.

"I'm one of the last guys to reach the fence." He paused to lubricate his throat, then said, "Anyway, I hit that fence and the bear's right on me. And I'm climbing like nobody's business. I get just near the top. But then I feel that damned bear grab my shoe.

"And he's pulling me down. But, luckily, I kick the shoe loose and fall over the other side. And damned if he didn't eat my shoe while I watched."

George paused and took a long thirsty swallow of beer. Put a hand on his chest. "Thought my heart was going to come right through," he said. Shook his head, then said, "Took the rest of the damned day to get that bear under control and back in that wagon. Next day, another guy showed up with a different bear. And he wasn't chained. Or mad, or anything. And in the end, we got her done."

Chris and I sat back, looking at George in amazement. Then the others got back into the act trying to top one another with Hollywood stories.

Later, as we were leaving Dear John's, we had to wait a few minutes for a big garbage truck that was blocking our car.

Godfrey said, "You know, when you've been in the business as long as I have, you don't look at anything the same way. Even small things."

"For instance?" I asked. Which, of course, is what he wanted me to do. We didn't mind. It was not only fun to be Godfrey's straight man, but rewarding.

He nodded at the garbage truck, where two men were muscling stinking, overflowing bins to the lift gate. "Like garbage," he said. "You don't even look at garbage the same way."

"What about garbage?" Chris asked dutifully.

Godfrey said, "When I took over production at Vega$ - the Bobby Urich show - the first thing I did was to send for a budget so I could get a feel of what was what. I'm looking at it item by item. And see that this thingamabob cost of hundreds of dollars, and I'm looking at another, and it's hundreds of dollars more. And so on and so forth, down the line. Hundreds of dollars here. Hundreds of dollars there.

"And then I come to an item listed as 'Garbage.' And the cost is ten thousand dollars."

Chris and I were both jolted. "Ten thousand dollars for fucking garbage?" Chris said.

Godfrey grinned. "My reaction exactly. I looked to see what the garbage was for. And find that there's this scene where Urich is looking for clues to a heist at the casino. Turns out somebody tossed it into a garbage bin. So, he hightails it to the spot, but the garbage truck has already hauled it away. He follows it. We have some fun garbage truck-chasing gags. Then he has to crawl into the bin and search through the garbage for the vital clue."

"Okay, so that's what the garbage was for," I said. "Then what?"

"Well, I call in the prop master and ask him how come he's charging me fucking ten thousand dollars for fucking garbage. And he just gives me this look like I'm the one who has lost his marbles.

"And he says, 'But, Al. It costs money for good garbage. Don't you know that?'"



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, July 23, 2010


"There Is Nothing In The World So Demoralizing As Money."
Sophocles - 496-406 B.C.

Our agent was on the phone. I won't tell you his name, but Chris had dubbed him "The Weasel," which was an apt description: he was a little guy, a not uncommon trait of the Ten Percenters' breed, with a skinny, pointed face, needle teeth and quick, nervous mannerisms.

If you want a hint on who he was, we named the slimy villain who killed the Eternal Emperor's favorite joy girl in Sten #3 - The Court Of A Thousand Suns - after him. (see additional links below)

Anyway, let's just call him "The Weasel" and be done with it.

So, The Weasel was on the speaker phone and he was saying, "I've been talking to Tony and Nancy Lawrence about their new series, which is just the hottest thing in town... there's so much buzz... I mean REAL buzz, guys... and everybody's talking about it, and it stars Judd Scott, that Star Trek guy, and he plays this-"

"For God's sake," Chris barked. "Spit it out, man. When's the fucking meeting?"

You may think that Chris was being rude and impatient - which he was - but you have to forgive him. The Weasel talked a mile a minute, and had this shrill Clearsil voice that got to my partner like fingernails digging into his skull. It so irritated him that I had assumed the role of being the Designated Weasel Talker. But I was making us an afternoon Scotch, so this time around Chris had grabbed the phone.

The speaker phone went into pause mode, then The Weasel squeaked: "I set it up for Wednesday at 2 p.m. But first-"

At this point I cut in, picking up the receiver - chopping off The Weasel's speaker voice before Chris stabbed it with his boot knife - and motioned for my partner to take over the drink-making chores.

"Hi, Allan here," I said. "Chris had to... uh... go use the John. What's up?"

He explained again about Tony (Anthony) and Nancy Lawrence, the couple who had created a new Sci-Fi Tv series called The Phoenix. The appointment was indeed Wednesday at two, but they wanted us to show up early so we could see the pilot before we made the pitch.

"Couldn't we get a peek at the script first," I asked, "so we know what the show is about before we start figuring out stories? I mean, we've only got two days and less than zip to go on."

"Oh, no, that's just not possible, Allan," The Weasel said. Then, lowering his voice as if surrounded by Russian spies, "They are really keeping the show's details under wraps. And the pilot is 'Eyes only,' so it's really a big deal that they're letting you two see it. I had to give them my word you wouldn't tell a soul."

I suppressed a laugh. An Agent's Word is right up there with Military Intelligence, or Business Ethics, as an oxymoron of the first order. (As it turned out, the show had a pretty thorough Bible readily available to all, but The Weasel either didn't know, or... well, he was The Weasel, right? Explains everything.)

"Can you at least tell me enough so we can rough out some ideas?" I pressed. I mean, this was ridiculous. But we needed the money, so I made nice.

The Weasel thought a minute, then started rattling on. I pictured him jumping up and down beside his desk like a Poodle in heat while he yapped, "Well, it's about this Ancient Astronaut... played brilliantly by Judson Earney Scott... who was just so fabulous in Star Trek that the town still isn't over it... and you know ABC just has to be totally behind Tony and Nancy or they wouldn't have been able to get such a big star as-"

Losing it, I broke in: "Yo, yo! Just tell me the premise, for fuck-"

Chris waved at me. "Temper, temper," he admonished. with a big shit-eating grin pasted on his face.

I took a breath. Then, "Sorry. I'm having a bad day. Okay... What's the story?"

Eventually he got it out. There's this Ancient Astronaut, see, who crashed-landed his space ship hundreds of years ago in Peru, but has been in deep sleep ever since. An archaeologist and his team find the guy, revive him, and it turns out he has these incredible powers that he's supposed to put to use for the benefit of mankind. But he's forgotten his purpose and...

"... He wears this golden medallion," The Weasel squeaked. "Tony showed me the prop and it is just amazing. Just like the real thing." (How could it be LIKE the real thing, when the thing itself wasn't real? These were deep questions in the La-La Land of our youth.)

I let him babble on a bit more to make up for using the Eff word, but when I could take it no more, I said, "Okay, I think I've got it. Good job on getting us the pitch. Tell them we'll be there with our medallions on."

When I hung up, Chris asked, "Medallions? What medallions?"

"It's an Ancient Astronaut show," I said. "The guy's got a medallion with the usual incredible powers and hidden secrets."

Chris groaned. "What a load of newage."

Newage, pronounced like sewage, was Chris' term for New Age crystal gazers and incense sniffers.

"You were just complaining a few minutes ago about the state of your bank balance," I said.

"I know, I know," he said. "I should look upon this as a good thing."

"It's got Judson Earney Scott for a star," I said.

Chris brightened. "That's not bad," he said.

"And, I think, E.G. Marshall," I added.

Chris brightened further, saying, "E.G. Marshall? No shit? How bad could it be?"

Hide and watch, babe. Hide and watch.

Okay, so Wednesday rolls around and we show up an hour early like we were supposed to. We meet Tony and his wife, Nancy, and learn that Tony will be taking the meeting solo because Nancy is busy on some production stuff. But first - Ta Da - we were getting the special treat of actually viewing the pilot.

They put us in a cramped little room next to Tony's office. It was equipped with a television and a Betamax. (Film pros preferred the Betamax because the image and sound were so much better. Even so, VHS won the videotape wars. Riddle me that.)

We clicked the clickity and sat back to watch. And watched. And... Geesh! All I can say is, thank God we were alone. Because it was awful. Truly awful. The dialogue sucked. The story sucked. The special effects sucked. In fact, there was not one thing that we saw or heard that did not suck. It sucked so badly that Gravity could vanish from the Planet Earth and everything would still remain sucked to the surface.

Chris groaned and moaned in his Sergeant Major's stage whisper and I had to plant an elbow firmly in his ribs to shut him the hell up. I mean, there was just a thin wall separating us from the producer.

Finally, I turned the volume up for cover, because I could barely control my own reactions. I wanted badly to speed the video up to shorten our time in Pilot Purgatory, but we were surrounded by the Phoenix staff and there was no escape.

Finally... mercifully... it was over.

Chris said, "Holy shit, Cole. What are we gonna do?"

"Only thing we can do," I replied. (Wednesdays were my turn in the responsibility barrel.) "We need the money. So, let's put our race faces on and make the best of it."

"Rots of Rucking Fuck," Chris said. But I detected a shade of acquiescence, which boded well.

Feeling like a prisoner entreating his jailer, I cracked open the door and signaled the secretary that we were done. We waited in the outer office for a few minutes and then were escorted into what I can only call Tony and Nancy's Crystal Palace.

The room was white, white, white. But with lots of gold trim, crystal knick knacks, faux Native American artwork, a Buddha or three, and uncomfortable furnishings. I think there was even a crystal chandelier hanging over the meeting "space," but maybe my memory is playing me false. If there was no crystal chandelier, then there should have been one.

Tony was a polite man and very sincere. In fact, Sincerity was the first thing I noticed about the Lawrences. That, and a certain puzzled look about the eyes, as if they were perpetually wondering how they came to find themselves in this place. You know the type.

We started our pitch.

And in short order every single one of our story ideas was shot down.

Politely. Sincerely. But shot down just the same.

This was not something Chris and I were accustomed to. We prided ourselves on the fact that every meeting we'd ever had with a person who had the authority to say, Yes, or No, that we invariably got a Yes.

Also, did I mention that we needed the money?

Chris gave me a look - Come on, Cole! Clutch hitting was one of my talents and if ever we, and our debtors, needed a hit, it was now.

My mind raced. In the Purgatory Office where we'd watched the pilot, I'd noted the books on the shelves. Except for a dictionary and a couple of other reference works, the library consisted entirely of Newage books. Books about Crystals. And Mantras. And Crop Circles. Ancient Yoga Positions. UFOs. Bigfoot, Yeti and Lock Ness Monster Sightings. Atlantis ad finitum. The complete works (gag me with a mind-bent spork) of Erich von Daniken. A couple of books about people talking to dolphins and shit. And, oh, yeah - the dolphins talking back.

Wait up!


What could we do with Dolphins?

This all took place in a flash, you understand. If you pitch products for a living - be they stories or main frames - you know what I mean.

I said, "We have one other story, Tony. But, more of a story in progress, I'd guess you'd call it."

Chris brightened. Of course we didn't have another story - in progress or otherwise. But this was a ploy that had worked before. (See Magnum P.I.: The Ugliest Dog In Hawaii) He leaned closer to watch for any point where he could dive in and help.

Tony also brightened. He nodded, "Stories in the rough... Right out of the subconscious.... Sometimes they're the best."

I said, "Now, with all the powers our guy has, I'm sure he can uh... communicate with... uh... dolphins, right?"

Tony got excited at that. "Talking to dolphins? Damn right, he can."

"Well, in the story we were kicking around, our hero meets a dolphin."

"Good, good," Tony says.

Chris sweetens the kitty: "...And he's no ordinary dolphin."

Tony nods vigorously. He's getting hot. "No ordinary dolphin! Yeah, yeah!"

I say, "In fact he's..." I toss about for some word, any word, and grab for... "He's Sophocles the dolphin!"

Tony claps his hands. "Sophocles the dolphin! Damn! I love it! I fucking love it. Perfect! Perfect!"

Chris nearly breaks up...Turns away just in time... Sophocles? Makes no sense whatsoever. And I know that, but Tony obviously doesn't, so I plunge onward. Grabbing for anything I can about dolphins and potential dolphin problems.

I say, "And where this dolphin is, there are some greedy fishermen...uh... Tuna fisherman."

"Tuna fishermen! Yeah! Yeah!" Tony goes.

There's a spark and I think, Gill nets. Gill nets. What was that about Gill nets?

And I say, "And the fishermen... they... refuse to use nets that are safe for dolphins!"

Tony sits up straight. He's incensed. "The bastards!"

I continue... "And our dolphin..."

"Sophocles the dolphin," Tony reminds me...

"Yeah, Sophocles the dolphin. Wisdom of the ages. He's caught in one of those nets. Along with... along with... Tons and tons of tuna."

"Shit!" Tony says.

Now I'm really getting into it. "And they take all the tuna, along with Sophocles the dolphin to a big canning factory. And he's dumped in with all the fish. And our hero learns what's going on and he's... and he's... trying desperately to get there in time. But, then... then..."

Tony jumps in. "I've got it!" he cries. "What if our guy is too... too late? And the dolphin is... you know....canned..."

I'm so swept up in my own bullshit that I forget that it IS bullshit and I say, quivering with indignation, "You can't kill Flipper!"

Dead silence.

I look at Chris. Chris looks at me. What the fuck, over?

But Tony sees the wisdom (ha) of my objection. Calmer now, I proceed and spin the rest of the tale. The day is saved. Tearful (I wonder, Do dolphins weep?) farewell, blah, blah. Fade Out. The End.

Then Tony says the magic words, "Who's your agent, boys?"

And just like that, we've got our sale. Chalk another one up for Bunch & Cole. Tony says that they are really under the gun, so he wants us to please jump on it right away.

And we head home, a song in our hearts, visions of dollar signs dancing in our heads.

Back at our office, we congratulate ourselves, suck up a couple of Scotches. Get out the typewriters, fire them up. Ready to type.

After Fade In there is a long and terrible silence.

"This is really awful, Cole," Chris finally says.

"I know, I know," I groan.

"Sophocles the fucking dolphin?"

"I know, I know," I say again.

"It's got fucking nothing to do with fuck all."

"I know, I know. It just jumped into my... you know... head."

"Shit," Chris says. "We sold the son of a bitch. Now we've got to write it."

"I know, I know," I say.

Chris bottom-lines it: "We're fucked!"

"What can I say? We needed the money!"

"Fucking money," Chris says.

If money had been a living, physical presence in the room, he'd have shot it.

The phone rang. Depressed as all hell, and stifling a sigh, I hit the speaker button.

It was Himself - Anthony Lawrence.

"Guys," Tony said, "have you two started writing yet?"

"Absolutely," I said, lying like a warehouse full of rugs. "We just wrote Fade In and the first scene, and we're raring to go."

"Aw, Jesus," Chris said.

Thankfully, Tony didn't hear him, because then he said, "Well, guys, I really need to ask you a huge favor."

"Whatever we can do," I said. Trying to sound like Tony and Nancy - you, know. Sincere.

"It's like this. I told you guys you had a sale. I told you to go write. Ethically, and even legally, that's a contract."

I agreed that it was. Chris raised his eyebrows. What's going on? I shrugged. Beats me.

"Well, it's like this, guys," Tony went on. "A few minutes ago I got a call from the network. And they cancelled our show. I mean, it hasn't even been on the air yet, and they cancelled it. With no warning. Can you believe that?"

After seeing the pilot, I could not only believe it, but wondered who among the VIPs at the Anything But Class (ABC) Network had the IQ to see the disaster in the making. Somebody should make that boy CEO. But, Hollywood being Hollywood, he'd probably end up a janitor's assistant.

But what I said was, "The assholes!" I put in as much indignation as I could muster.

Tony said. "Nancy and I are in shock. Total shock."

"I can imagine," I said, doing my best to appear sympathetic.

"Anyway, the favor I wanted to ask is that - even though I gave you a go ahead - could you find it in your hearts to let us off the hook?"

"You mean, not write the episode?" I said. I tried to sound forlorn. All Artus Interruptus. But in reality I felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

"Yes, guys. That's what I mean," Lawrence said. "I would consider it a personal favor if you'd agree to that. My wife and I have our own money in this. We took out a second mortgage on our house."

I looked at Chris, whose thumb shot up in the air. Fuck yes!

I said, "Sure, Tony. After all, it's Us against Them, right?"

He gobbled many, many thanks, never forget you guys, etc., etc. Then got off the phone. Chris, meanwhile, had poured us two shots of the good stuff - Metaxa, direct from Athens.

Chris raised his shot glass. "A toast," he said.

"I love toasts," I replied.

"May The Phoenix never rise again."

"Here, here," I said.

We downed our shots. Poured a couple more and then got gloriously, uproariously...


(Some links: The Phoenix;Judson Scott; Phoenix Pilot Episode; Court Of A Thousand Suns E-Book; Court Of A Thousand Suns Audiobook.



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, July 16, 2010


The Voice On The Phone sounded like somebody talking from the bottom of a gravel pit.

"Cristomunchen?" It was saying. "Cristomunchen?"

At least that's approximately what I could make out. The only semi-certain part was that the speaker appeared to be asking some sort of question.

"I'm sorry," I said. "There seems to be bad connection. Who is this, please?"

The voice replied, "Lix."

"Lix?" I inquired. "Lix who?"

I was getting impatient, but I didn't hang up because I could hear odd things going on in the background. Were those loudspeakers? Airport loudspeakers? Was I speaking to a troubled soul afflicted with a bad case of the mushmouth who was stuck at an airport?

The voice said, "Fookin' Shite! Cristomunchen! Cristomunchen!"

Okay, now I was getting some hints. "Fookin'" was probably "fuckin'." And "Shite" - with the long i (eye) - was the way they said "shit" in the British Isles.

"Are you English, by any chance?" I asked.

This was greeted by a long string of what I took to be curses against me, my parentage, my ancestors, and so on infin-obscenity-itum.

I hung up.

"Who was that?" Chris asked, looking up from his typewriter.

"Beats the shit out of me," I said. "Or, maybe I should say, beats the shite out of me, 'cause that's the way the guy talked."

Chris frowned, puzzled. The phone rang again, but this time he picked it up. He identified himself, listened a second, then his face lit up.

"Kilgour, you fuck!" he said. "Where the hell are you?"

He listened, then looked up. "It's Alex," he informed me. "He's at Kennedy Airport."

Well, now things were starting to make a modicum of sense. The Alex (not Lix) that Chris was speaking of was none other than Alex Kilgour, model for Sten's sidekick of the same name. The garbled words also made sense - Kilgour was Scots and although I had never met him, I had every reason to believe that the dialect Chris put into his mouth in the Sten books was dead on accurate. "Cristomunchen?" was probably him asking for "Chris Bunch?"

Knowing who Alex was, I also forgave him for cussing me out when I inquired if he was English. With Irish roots that went back to the Battle Of The Boyne and beyond, I knew well how any member of the Celt tribes would feel if similarly accused. Bar brawls - nay, even wars - had been fought for less.

Meanwhile, I was big-earing Chris' side of the conversation. "You're in trouble? What kind of trouble? Come on, Alex, a 'wee spot of bother' isn't a fucking answer. Okay, okay, not on the phone. I get it. Sure you can crash with me... When?"

Chris looked up. "He wants us to pick him up at LAX. His flight will be in about four o'clock."

I shrugged. Fine by me. They chatted on for a few more minutes - what was incomprehensible Kilgour dialect to me was plain as day to Chris. Go figure.

I don't remember what script we were working on, but it was going smoothly, and a trip to the airport, and a drink or three at one of the airport bars, sounded like a nice way to wrap the day. Airports were fun in those days: No security barriers, you got to keep your shoes on, and you could meet friends as they disembarked from the plane and whisk them into any number of friendly bars for jolts of jetlag medicine all around.

Besides, I could rationalize the jaunt as research. Kilgour's character figured large in the third book of the Sten series - The Court Of A Thousand Suns - as he would in all that would follow. We were in the process of pounding out Court between script assignments, and if I was going to help Chris write Kilgour properly, it'd be nice to finally look the guy over.

Chris and Alex had met a few years before - just in time to include him as a character in the final draft of Sten #1. Vacationing in Scotland, Bunch visited the famous castle at Edinburgh. There he encountered this short, squat, heavily muscled little Scotsman who was head of castle security. A discussion of soldiers and soldiery, as well as weapons, both ancient and modern, started in the castle and then continued on to a boozy pub crawl.

They became fast friends when Alex learned that Chris was a Vietnam War era commando and Chris learned that Alex was an active duty SAS kiddie. (The Strategic Air Service is Britain's elite commando force, considered among the best in the world.) Alex had recently returned to light duties whilst recovering from having a chunk of his bicep shot off by some *&@#$* WOG in Oman.

When Chris returned home he told me about Alex and voila - Kilgour became the short, squat, immensely powerful heavy-worlder sidekick of our hero.

I spotted Alex immediately when he exited the plane. There was no mistaking the muscular figure with the big, round, cheery face. He had a duffle over one shoulder and when he saw Chris, the face lit up even more.

They greeted one another with bear hugs, and heavy slaps on the back, with Alex saying, "Aye, Chris, yer fookin' fooker," and Chris similarly replying, but without the accent.

Chris turned to introduce me, but Alex waved him down. He offered his hand, almost shyly. "Y' mus' be wee Chris' mate, Allan," he said as we shook.

Well, hell, I was charmed and we were friends by the time the shake ended.

We took a few days off, introducing Kilgour to the joys of Bob Burns (bonnie steaks, but the wee lassies'r wearin' bloody Campbell kilts); the ear-pounding fun of trying out most of Big Dave's arsenal of some three hundred guns, including black powder and a beautiful little Enfield rifle that Alex said was just like the one he'd trained on; and long nights drinking and talking around Chris' prize coffee table, which was a thick piece of glass mounted on a chromed Triumph engine. (Chris' first major purchase when he returned home from Vietnam was a Triumph motorcycle, now retired, that he'd lusted after all those months in the jungle.)

Alex regaled us with tales of his misdeeds in the SAS, and told fabulously long shaggy dog stories, two of which ended up in Court Of A Thousand Suns: the clottin' Romans at Hadrian's wall joke, and the one about the peg-legged pirate with the eye patch and the hook.

In the meantime, Chris pumped Alex about his "wee spot of bother." Kilgour admitted that he wasn't really on vacation and that the visit had been totally unplanned. Several flights, beginning in Cairo, continuing to Munich, and then an intended return to London - and finally home - had been interrupted.

A mysterious something had caused him to grab a Munich-to-New York flight instead. And then, searching around for some place he could... well... hide out... he'd given Chris a ring, hoping he'd find a welcoming friend with a spare bed.

"Who's he hiding from?" I asked Chris when we had a moment sans Alex.

"He won't say," Chris replied. "But he asked if I had a spare 9mm or .45 he could tuck under his pillow."

"What did you say?" I asked.

"Fuck yes," Chris said. "I always sleep with a .45 under my pillow, so why should I deny a friend?"

"Any idea who might be after him?" I asked.

Chris shook his head. "Only thing I could get out of him was that he was on SAS business. I gather that the business was in the Middle East. And he did something that has some very bad people mad at him. Anyway, I get the idea that the whole thing ought to blow over pretty soon, then he can go home."

Chris and I thought about recent incidents in the Middle East, trying to maybe attach one of them to Alex. But, as always, there were so many nasty things going on, it was impossible to narrow things down. (Every newspaper I ever worked at had the words "Mideast Violence," and "Mideast War" already in type and ready to go in any size and font imaginable.)

A producer friend called. "Hey, Cole," he said, "Bunch gave me a shout the other day about showing your Scots friend how we make movies."

"Sure, as long as we can skip the boring parts," I replied.

Hollywood is a lot like combat: hours upon hours of nothing happening, interspersed with a couple of minutes of blinding, activity. The only difference is that in combat you shoot people with guns (or at them, anyway) and in Hollywood, with cameras.

"Got just the thing," the producer said. "My buddy, Timmy Burton, is going to blow some shit up right after the lunch break. How's that sound?"

I said it sounded perfect. The "Timmy Burton" he was referring to was Tim Burton, the not yet famous director-to-be of things like "Beetlejuice," several "Batman" flicks , "Corpse Bride" and any number of other zillion dollar grossing productions. (People in Hollywood love to add the letter "y" after names, to indicate that they are best buds - even if they've never met. James Garner, becomes "Jimmy" Garner. Harrison Ford becomes "Harry" Ford. Tom Cruise, "Tommy" Cruise, and so on. I've never known anyone to have the hutzpah to call Meyrl Streep, "Merley," but, you just hide and watch for the subsequent explosion.)

At the guardshack we just had to introduce our Scotsman to Scotty, the world-renowned gate guard. They hit it off famously and in no time were having an incomprehensible conversation, peppered with "Ayes" and "bloody hells."

The shoot was set for New York Street - one of the many false-fronted studio neighborhoods. They also had Chicago Street, Boston Street, among others. There was an Old West section, with saloons and general stores, with hitching rails out front. There was Paris and London, naturally. And any number of idealized Spielberg-styled All-American neighborhoods.

Alex's head was on a swivel as he craned this way and that to see all the strange sights. As we passed odd-looking vehicles, costumed actors and stunt people, there were lots of "Would'ja look at fookin'" thats, and "what in bloody hells," as we made our way through a rather typical day at MCA/Universal.

Before we got to New York street we just had to stop at a big cage on rollers, where an orangutan was taking his ease.

"Is tha' Clint's wee ape?" Alex wanted to know, meaning the simian co-star of Clint Eastwood's movie, "Any Which Way But Loose." (In Hollywood for less than a week and already Alex was on a first-name bases with the stars. At least he didn't call him "Clinty.")

Then he added, "Aye, that wa' a grand film, i' twas. Excellent fisticuffs."

"No, that's from the TV show, BJ And The Bear," I told him, indicating the big ape. "It's sort of a rip off of was Any Which Way."

"Oh, aye, we have tha' program in Scotland, too," Alex observed. "Me and the lads in the boozer turn off the sound and make rude suggestions to all the girls with the big knockers."

He indicated the orangutan, who was busy ignoring us while digging for fleas. "Is that the same one from the telly?"

The orangutan made kissy faces at us and farted.

"Gotta be," Chris said. "Looks like a fucking star to me." He wrinkled his nose. "Smells like one, too."

Leaving the car at the orangutan's domicile, we strolled on to New York Street where we found a big crowd gathered at the corner. Some were crewmembers, dressed in jeans and t-shirts, others were extras, or stunt people in citified dress clothes - skirts and blouses for the women, a mixture of suits and sports jackets for the men.

A big camera was set up on the corner. A double wall of sandbags protected the camera, as well a small knot of crewmembers. Hunched over it was the cameraman and behind him a young guy I took to be the director, Tim Burton. A young woman - his assistant no doubt - was at his elbow.

She spotted us, waved, and hurried over. "I'm Janice," she said, offering a small hand. "You must be the visitors we were expecting."

"How'd you know?" Chris asked, shaking the hand. "Do we have CIVILIANS tattooed on our foreheads, or something?"

The girl didn't crack a smile - obviously a recent graduate of film school, a tribe noted for having no sense of humor whatsoever.

"You're just the only people here I didn't recognize," she said. Then, all business: "There's no room behind any of the sandbags, so you'd better get over by the pharmacy." She was pointing to a false storefront with a PHARMACY sign over it.

"Keep perfectly still while you're there," she instructed. "And for God's sake, don't wander around."

Chris snapped his bootheels together and saluted. "Yes m'am," he said.

The young lady gave him a look that said, you'd better not be trouble, then hurried back to her post by the director.

As we moved to the place we'd been told to go, Alex said, "Ya' don't want'a be fookin' with that wee lass, Chris. She's got that killer's look in her eye."

We had barely reached the safety of the pharmacy doorway, when the director, Tim Burton, said something to Janice, and she keyed a mike and her voice boomed out from some hidden speaker: "This is the real thing, people. Get ready... and stay safe..."

Then Burton's hand came down and he called out, "Action!"

Immediately the extras started strolling along the pre-arranged paths, a few cars moved past, and then we saw an odd little figure rise up from behind a mailbox and run across the street.

The guy was skinnier than anyone I'd ever seen. Even so, the checkered suit he wore was several sizes too small and the cuffs stopped some inches above his shoes, displaying crazily colored socks.

He ran to the entrance of a store with a big display window, and a PET STORE sign above it. Then he went inside and Burton made motions for everyone to keep rolling... keep rolling...

Extras doubled back into camera range, sweeping off hats, or putting hats on, and making other minor costume adjustments so that unless you looked real close you'd think they were different people from the first group.

Then the Pet Store door banged open and the odd little man came running out and suddenly everybody was running like hell, or ducking down, and then the little man dived behind some sandbags I hadn't noticed before and there was a huge Boom! and the glass blew out of the pet store, followed by lots of smoke.

Beat, beat, then pigeons flew out of the store and up into the sky...

Tim Burton shouted, "Cut!"

And everybody rose from wherever they were hiding and Janice shouted,"Half an hour!" and people got busy doing all the things movie people do in between setups.

The little man hurried over to Burton. He looked worried, but Burton patted him on the back and murmured reassurance.

Alex suddenly gave a start. "Well, I'll be a bleedin' Campbell," he said. "I kin tha' lad. He's fookin' Pee-wee Herman, is who he is."

Chris and I hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about. Pee-wee Goddamned who?

Alex was exasperated. "I don't bloody know if it's his reg'lar name," he said. "But me n' my boy - young Alex - saw him on the telly at home. Right funny, he is."

Neither of us knew who the hell he was talking about, but later our cultural gaps were filled in when the movie we had seen being filmed, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, was released and everybody was talking about the comic genius, Paul Reubens.

Unpleasant things happened to Mr. Reubens later on, as they do to almost everyone who achieves fame. But he survived, is doing well again, and if he's reading this now, I'd like him to know that he impressed the clot out of one, Alex Kilgour, and that was no mean feat.

Later in the day, we made our way to our old stomping grounds - The Burbank Studios - where a buddy was directing a television episode.

By now, Alex was reaching the stage where the stars no longer shone so brightly in his eyes. He'd seen a Hollywood explosion. Got a close up look at a star - two if you count the orangutan. Visited Grauman's Chinese Theater, where he goggled at Marilyn Monroe's hand prints, and matched his foot alongside John Wayne's mark.

Despite his short stature, wee Alex had large feet and after measuring his against The Duke's he winked and said, "Ya kin what they say about a lad wi' big feet?"

His walk was jaunty and he had a look of a worldly man who's seen it all when we approched the site of the shoot. It was Dixie Street - a facade of Old South buildings set around an ornate fountain with some Civil War hero on a horse, and a large Courthouse, complete with Grecian columns.

Our buddy stepped away from his cameraman to greet us, fussed over Alex and made him feel important, then got back to work setting up the shot.

There was a cry of "Quiet on the Set! Camera! Speed! Sound! Action!"

And then a fabulous old Dodge Charger tooled up to the courthouse. Red in color. Engine throbbing with barely-suppressed power. A big Confederate flag on its roof.

Rather than opening the doors of the car, two beefy young men shinnied through the windows.

They paused to help an incredibly beautiful young woman slide out to join them. She was wearing a shirt tied up to show a yard of bare flesh, a narrow waist and flaring hips. And she wore denim shorts so tight and cut so high that they were potentially lethal to any male suffering from high blood pressure.

She darted between the young men and started up the steps with them, her whole body demonstrating new meaning to the term, poetry in motion.

It reminded me of the Jack Lemmon line in "Some Like It Hot" when he watched Marilyn Monroe ankle away from him. "You know, they're a whole other sex!"

Alex drank in the scene, transfixed.

But then I saw that his eyes weren't on the girl, as much as they were the red Dodge Charger.

And with great reverence, he breathed "It's fookin' General Lee!"

(For more about The Dukes Of Hazard, Daisy Duke and The General Lee, see the entry at



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.    

Friday, July 9, 2010


It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. (Raymond Chandler - The Red Wind)

"I'm melting, I'm melting," Chris screeched in his worst Wicked Witch Of The West imitation.

I'm not saying his voice could crack glass, but I did nearly drop the bottle of J&B that I was fetching to freshen our drinks. I was carrying an ice bucket in one sweaty hand and the Scotch in the other and hot as it was, my first instinct was to save the ice. At the last minute reason ruled, and I clutched the booze to my breast and let the ice crash to the floor.

"Last of the ice?" Chris mourned as we both watched the cubes melt on the floor.

"The very last," I said.

A hot gust of wind blew in through the patio door and every speck instantly evaporated. He fished car keys from his pocket and rose from the typewriter.

"I'll get a couple bags from the liquor store," he said.

"Wait up," I said. "I'll come with you."

It was January, and the Santa Ana season was upon us so fiercely that I almost wished we were back at Code Red. It may have been a hell hole - thanks to our ex-boss, Irwin (The Towering Toupee) Allen, but at least it was an air conditioned hell hole. My apartment - and our joint office - wasn't blessed with Mr. Carrier's miraculous invention and we were suffering badly.

The apartment was at 15th and Wilshire in Santa Monica, meaning it was about fifteen blocks from the beach. However, developers being greedy sots, all the buildings from about Lincoln Boulevard east were facing North or south. That way they could crowd more units into long narrow lots and any sea breeze that made its way through the gauntlet of stuccoed cement was immediately declared a fugitive and banished to the nearest alley.

On the other hand, they did nothing to shield us from the full force of the Santa Ana winds, which blew out of Death Valley to bake our very bones.

What was worse, we were stuck about half way through The Wolf Worlds, the much-overdue second novel in the Sten series. We'd managed to get the first half done while working for The Towering Toupee, but he'd so depressed us that we'd written what we considered junk, and so had to do it all over again.

At the liquor store we got the ice, a fresh bottle of Scotch for emergencies, and just as we were about to pay up, Chris said, "Better get some Famous Producer's Eye Shit and Breath Spray."

Our old mentor, Al Godfrey, always carried Visene and breath spray in his glove compartment. "If you get called to a meeting after a boozy lunch," he said, "all you have to do is squeeze some Famous Producer's Eye Shit in your peepers, give your tongue a good spray of Famous Producer's Breath Spray, and no one will be the wiser."

It was a good idea, so I added the items to our stash, paid the man, and headed back to our typewriters and Sten.

"I hate this shit," Chris said. "It isn't that I have Writer's Block, you have to have something in your head to block for that to happen. It's just that my fucking brain is so crispy-crittered that I can barely remember my name."

"Hey, consider yourself lucky," I said. "I forgot mine long ago."

"I just can't think in this heat," Chris said. "Actually, it's not the heat so much - I had no trouble writing in Vietnam - but the damned wind. It bores a hole right through your brain."

As if on cue, a hot gust rocked the BMW as we turned onto my street. We parked, braced ourselves against the wind as we reached the stairs, then ran up them. When I opened the door, it slammed out of my hand and banged against the wall. I got it closed, then headed for the fridge to store the ice and make us another drink.

The phone rang.

"Fuck 'em," Chris said. "I need that drink. Let the answering service get it."

But we'd almost lost a ten grand gig once for failure to answer phones, so I turned the ice and scotch over to Chris and fielded the receiver.

A cool and lovely voice with a British accent spoke into my ear: "Is that you, Allan? Darlene here. Peter would like to have you and Chris join him for a late lunch, if you can make it."

She was speaking of Peter Thompson, head of production for MCA/Universal Studios, one of the Guys With The Big Telephones who inhabited the Black Tower, and our self-appointed mentor.

I made frantic motions for Chris to nix the drinks, meanwhile saying, "We'd be pleased to Darlene. Where would he like to meet?"

Chris' eyebrows rose. Meet? Shook his head. No fucking way. I nodded vigorously. Fucking way.

Darlene told me and I repeated it aloud, to make certain Chris was up to speed. "Two p.m. The Commissary? No problem. Tell Peter we're looking forward to seeing him again."

When I hung up, Chris said, "Peter, as in Peter who robbed us of a third of our story money on Quincy? The guy who greenmailed us onto the lot to work for fucking Glen Larson on that piece of shit, Galactica 1980?"

"The very same," I said.

"I just wanted to make sure," Chris said. Then, "Shit, it'll be good to see the old thief after all this time. And maybe he's got a little money for us."

So, we made quick use of the Famous Producer's Eye Shit and Breath Spray and headed over the hill to the San Fernando Valley where the actual Hollywood lives. The heat was coming off the freeway in visible waves and hot gusts buffeted the car as we reached the top of the hill. Then it was down, down, down into the blazing hot Valley.

One good thing: The wind had driven the smog away so you could see all the way to Mount Baldy, where just a thin, tantalizing coat of white snow graced the rounded, Charley-Brown-like summit.

Two shakes later we were rolling up to the guard shack at MCA Universal, to be greeted by a strange scene. A dozen or more people were swarming around the shack in some confusion. Everybody was waving their hands and talking excitedly.

Just beyond was an even larger crowd, composed mostly of pretty office girls, their summer dresses whipped by wind, making them lean over to press their dresses to their knees to maintain a modicum of modesty. The array of decollete this phenomena produced was stunning.

Pulled over to one side was a new Cadillac convertible. It was empty and the driver's door hung open.

"Curiouser and couriouser," Chris murmured as we slowed almost to a stop, then crept up to the shack.

One of the guards recognized us and waved us on - pointing to an empty parking spot near the gate. The favored parking was granted, no doubt, by our winning personalities. Of course, every holiday we used to stop by the guard shacks at all the lots and hand out boozy presents to the hard-working people who kept the peace.

"Where's Scotty?" Chris wondered as he pulled into the parking spot.

The most famous gate guard in Hollywood, Scotty would normally be at his post this time of day. He was a gentleman of the old school, courteous to a fault, efficient, but firm when the occasion called for it.

As we got out we heard someone call, "Bunch and Cole! Over here!"

We turned to see Dolly Brown, our old secretary from Galactica 1980 days. She hugged us, then stepped back to say, "Can you believe what just happened?"

We replied with a chorus of "What happened? Who? Where? What the hell?"

She pointed at the abandoned caddie and said it belonged to a producer, whose name I won't reveal, but who was a well-known asshole about town.

"I saw the whole thing," she said. "Or, at least the important parts. I was on my way back from lunch when I heard shouting, and looked over to see Mr. (Asshole) sitting in his car, screaming at Scotty because he wouldn't let him in.

"Scotty said, just as nice as always, that he couldn't let him enter because he didn't work here anymore and, besides, he didn't have an appointment with anybody on the lot."

"The guy cursed a blue streak, calling Scotty every kind of name you could think of. Then he got out of his car and I think he was about to hit poor Scotty."

"No, shit," Chris said, bristling.

Scotty was a slender man, in his late 50's and Mr. Asshole Producer was a big son-of-a-bitch in his mid-thirties. He had a reputation for pushing people around.

"Well, just then," Dolly went on, eyes sparkling with excitement, "guess who drove up?"

"We give up," I said. "Who?"

"James Garner, is who," she said, with a nod of great satisfaction. "And he saw what was going on
and heard the guy screaming and threatening Scotty. So he got out of his car, went over to Mr. (Asshole), stepped between him and Scotty and so, then, when Mr. (Asshole) started to swing on Mr. Garner, why he... just...

"... just grabbed him by the collar..." She demonstrated, grasping the air. "...And gave him such a sock..." She gave the air a roundhouse blow that would have made Mohammad Ali hesitate. "I mean, a really good sock! And Mr. (Asshole) started to fall, but Mr. Garner held him up, then helped sit down on a chair in the guardshack."

Dolly laughed. "He hit him in the nose, so it was pretty bloody," she said. "Scotty was nice enough to take him over to the infirmary to put some ice on it."

"My hero," I said. "Let's hear it for Jim Garner."

"He's everybody's hero," Dolly said, hand sweeping to take in the crowd of secretaries. "They were all on the way to lunch and saw the whole thing along with me. Everybody cheered."

"What did Garner do?" Chris asked.

Another one of those delightfully earthy Dolly laughs. "He flashed us a grin right out of The Rockford Files, gave a little bow, then got into his car and drove away."

"Damn, too bad we missed it," Chris said. We'd had dealings with Mr. (Asshole) and so it would have been a special treat to witness his comeuppance.

Dolly got between us, grabbed both our arms and tugged. "Well, here's something you won't want to miss," she said, pulling us along toward the Jaws Pond, which was between us and the commissary. This was where "Bruce The Shark" of Jaw's fame held forth, recreating the terror of Mr. Spielberg's movie for countless tourists.

When we reached the pond's edge we stood there and gaped. The whole damn thing was empty - just some smelly puddles and some kind of complicated-looking mechanical contraption and tracks that once bore Bruce.

"What the hell?" Chris said. "Somebody kidnapped Bruce."

"Oh, he's just being refurbished while they clean the pond," Dolly said. "But that's not why I got you here." She pointed to the far end of the pond. "Look."

And there we saw a big, black stretch limo dangling from the end of a crane. Water was pouring from the windows as the crane groaned and cranked the limo from the pit. It looked like some kind of huge black fish, exhausted from a long, losing fight with a fisherman.

"Somebody must have been really drunk," I said.

"Yeah," Chris agreed. "Zigged when he ought to have zagged."

He turned to Dolly. "Okay, who did it? Anybody we know? We want all the dirty details."

"Nobody knows for sure," Dolly said. "But get this... That's the second limo. There were two at the bottom of the pond. They already got the other one out.

"And guess what? The studio has been leasing them both for over a year, and didn't even know they'd gone missing."

"Somebody's head's gonna roll," Chris predicted.

"Oh, that's for certain," Dolly said with the kind of relish that office workers reserve for members of the boss class getting trapped in the deep end of the shit channel.

"It's all over the office pool," she went on. "And guess who's first in line? None other than your old buddy, Peter Thompson."

"Aw, Jesus Christ," I said. "We were just on our way to have lunch with him."

Dolly shook her head. "Not today, you're not," she said. "On my way to lunch I ran into Darlene, Peter's secretary. She said he'd been called into a big meeting with Lew Wasserman and the guys. When you get to the Commissary, I'll bet you have a message waiting calling off lunch."

I heard the roar of an engine and turned to see the crane haul the limo out the last few feet, swing around, and start to set it on the ground.

"All that for a couple of missing limos?" I wondered. "Seems kind of extreme. The Studio's got a whole fleet of them."

"Oh, it's not just the limos," Dolly said. "Everybody figures a couple of ticked off Teamsters drove them into the pond. Morale is horrible all over the lot and they blame Peter for that. He ordered all kinds of cutbacks during the Writer's strike. Everybody from the studio landscapers to the record company engineers ended up on the unemployment line. And he really cut into the drivers. Ordering all sorts of new rules that they just hate."

"You fuck with the bull," Chris observed, "you get the horns."

We said our goodbyes to Dolly, then made our way to the Commissary, where, as predicted, there was a message waiting from Darlene. I called and she made all sorts of effusive apologies and said she'd reschedule when things calmed down.

After I hung up, Chris said, "Screw this shit, let's hit Bob Burns for a drunken lunch."

So that's what we did. Climbed into the BMW and headed back over the hill to our favorite restaurant.

Sten readers know Bob Burns well. In the series, it's a Mantis Section safe house known as much for its thick steaks and strong drinks as its top-level security. Well, it was a real place in Santa Monica at the foot of Wilshire Boulevard, across from Palisades Park which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

I'd first encountered Bob Burns in my newspaper days. It was a favorite watering hole for city officials, RAND Corp. scientists with the occasional star thrown in. I'd interviewed any number of people there, including our old friend from Galactica 1980 and Code Red, Lorne Greene, who'd hit the Pop Charts with an album of Western songs.

One of the owners of Bob Burns - Bonnie - had attended school at the American University in Beirut and since I hailed from that part of the world as well, we became good friends. Whenever I entered Bob Burns she'd call out, "Baksheesh! Baksheesh!" Which was the universal beggar's cry for alms throughout the Middle East.

The lunch rush was over when Chris and I entered and Bonnie and I traded hugs and "Baksheees," before being led to a large booth at the back of the restaurant. It was a cool, dark place, with pleasant background music and the odors wafting from the kitchen were incredible.

We had a stiff Scotch each, dug into our steak sandwiches, and before long we were back to the subject of Sten. But this time, instead of hitting roadblocks, we were brimming with ideas. And just itching to get back to our typewriters and churn out a blizzard of Wolf World pages.

Then Reason crept in.

"Soon as we get outside," Chris said, "we're gonna get jumped by the the fucking Santa Ana winds. And every fucking thought in my teeny little head will dry up, just like that all that ice you dropped this morning."

I sighed agreement. The prospects did not look good. The end of Book Two of the Sten series seemed to stretch out forever.

Then Chris said, "Shit!" He said it the way he used the word when an idea of incredible brilliance struck him.

"What, shit?" I demanded. "Who, Where and How, shit?"

"We do it right god-damned here," he said, thumping the table. "I mean, when we're sitting here, with all the air conditioning and pretty waitresses bringing us tall, cold glasses of Scotch and water we can think of Sten ideas like nobody's business."

I nodded. "So? We can't live at Bob Burns. Eventually, we have to go home."

"Maybe we can rent the booth," Chris said.

"Holy shit, is right!" I said.

You can imagine just how much I dreaded the thought of once again braving the oven-like heat of my apartment, because the idea made total sense.

I called Bonnie over to the table, and pitched it to her. And instead of giving me a look like, these guys are crazy, she said, "Why the hell not. We've even got electrical outlets under the booth for your typewriters."

And so, that's what we did for the next three weeks. Every day we hauled our IBMs down to Bob Burns when it opened, plugged in our typewriters, and pounded out pages, breaking only for lunch.

The waitresses kept the drinks coming and the patrons, once they got used to the idea, treated us like we were just part of the atmosphere. Bob Burns. A place where you could get thick steaks, strong drink, and watch real live writers at work.

So, here's to The Wolf Worlds, gentle readers.

And here's to Bobbie Burns.

And to hell with the Santa Ana winds.



The MisAdventures began humbly enough - with about 2,000 readers. When it rose to over 50,000 I started listening to those of you who urged me to collect the stories into a book. Starting at the beginning, I went back and rewrote the essays, adding new detail and events as they came to mind. This book is the result of that effort.  However, I'm mindful of the fact, Gentle Reader, that you also enjoy having these little offerings posted every Friday to put a smile on your face for the weekend. So I'll continue running them until it reaches the final Fade Out.  Meanwhile, it would please the heart of this ink-stained wretch - as well as tickle whatever that hard black thing is in my banker's chest - if you bought the book. It will make a great gift, don't you think. And if you'd like a personally autographed copy you can get it directly through my (ahem) Merchant's Link at Click here. Buy the book and I will sign it and ship it to you. Break a leg!


Two new companion editions to the international best-selling Sten series. In the first, learn the Emperor's most closely held  cooking secrets. In the other, Sten unleashes his shaggy-dog joke cracking sidekick, Alex Kilgour. Both available as trade paperbacks or in all major e-book flavors. Click here to tickle your funny bone or sizzle your palate.