Rambler Wagon

A desert horizon, a trickle of water, a love story.

Read my very short story Rambler Wagon, along with some other great fiction and poetry in the free Kindle edition of the Evening Street Review.

Don’t have a Kindle? You can download a .pdf or ebook version here.

A Mooging

Drumsticks can take a beating, drummers not so much

Moogus the drummer is a recurring character in all the Rolly Waters mysteries. He’s a longtime musical partner and personal foil to the main protagonist, guitar-playing detective Rolly Waters. In the first novel of the series, Black’s Beach Shuffle, Moogus gets mugged after a gig. As is so often true of first novels, you write what you know and it’s true in this case. My band’s drummer was once mugged after a gig.

It happened a lot like it’s written in the book. We were performing at Patrick’s Pub downtown in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. There was a restaurant next door to Patrick’s called The Crab Shack (or something like that. It’s long gone now). We’d finished the gig and were packing up for the night. I was walking to pick up my van so I could bring it back to load out the equipment. As I walked by the Crab Shack, a waiter stood in the door. He looked over at me and asked, “Hey, are you in the band?”

I answered yes and waited for the praise or criticism that almost invariably follows that question. In this case, however, there was something else on the waiter’s mind.

“There’s a guy in here,” he said. “He says he’s with the band. Somebody beat him up.”

I followed the waiter into the restaurant and sure enough, there was our drummer, sitting in a chair with his head tilted back, holding a bloodied towel to his nose. Two waitresses were helping him out. One of them had brought a glass of water along with a couple of aspirin. He told us what had happened. This is where my fictional mugging diverges from the real story.

In the novel I had Moogus get mugged by a professional thug, who mistakes the drummer for his intended victim, Rolly. In some ways it’s Moogus’ fault. He’s been working hard to make time with Rolly’s date the whole night, leading to his misidentification by the assailant.

In real life, our drummer was mugged by two teenagers. It might have been some kind of gang initiation. Or just for kicks. At any rate, they used the old trick of having one guy crouch down behind you while the other one pushes you from in front so you fall over the other guy. Once our drummer was on the ground they punched and kicked him a few times and then ran off. I don’t think they even took any money. They were lying in wait on a dark sidewalk. It was a thrill mugging. It was entirely random.

At some point the paramedics arrived and had a look at our drummer. They wanted to take him to the hospital. I assured him that I’d notify the owners at Patrick’s of what had happened and ask them to store his drums overnight. The medics put him in the ambulance and I returned to the club, packed up and went home for the night.

The injuries ended up not being too serious and he was back playing with us the next week. The sad thing is I don’t even remember the guy’s name. He was a sub who filled in for our regular drummer for a couple of weeks. I wonder if he ever played at Patrick’s again.

The other true bit I used in the story is that the back entrance (the band entrance) to Patrick’s did smell like rotting crab all the time because the trash bins for the restaurant were back there too. Ah, the glamorous life of the rock musician.

Next Saturday

My first contribution to writing a book happened years ago, when I was five years old. It was a temper tantrum on my part that helped write the end of the book, but hey, I’m still taking credit.

As I noted in an earlier post, my father shot the photographs for 3 children’s books that came out in Random House’s Beginner Books series in the 1960s. The second of these books was Do You Know What I’m Going to do Next Saturday? written by Dr. Seuss’s first wife, Helen Palmer.

I appear on the first page and the last as the kid the protagonist is bragging to about all the things he’s going to do next Saturday. On the first page I appear attentive and interested in his story while on the last page it seems that his story has gone on too long and put me to sleep. I like to take credit for that ending.

On the day of the shoot, which took place in our back yard, my younger brother was toodled off to his bedroom for a nap and I was brought downstairs to take part in the photo shoot. For whatever reasons, I found it a great injustice to be separated from my brother and didn’t want to be there. I had a temper tantrum. My parents managed to settle me down just long enough to do the photo shoot. But I had one last passive aggressive card to play. I’d show them. I played the whole scene as if I were desperately tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open, to show them I also needed a nap. My father continued to take photographs, undeterred by my attempts to undermine the whole operation.

Me, on the left. Page 1 – looking attentive. Last page – clearly exhausted

Which is why, at the end of the book, you see me with my head hanging down, clearly unable to go any longer without sleep. This gave Ms. Palmer the idea for a perfect ending to the story, a photo which indicates how long the protagonist’s story has gone on. As I’ve learned from writing my own books, inspiration often arrives from unexpected places.

You can still find used editions of the book online. It was not a big seller in its day, but it was selected as one of the best children’s books of 1963 by the New York Times. During the Internet era, an urban myth circulated that claimed it was a banned Dr. Seuss book. A video reading of the book is below (the chef with the awesome mustache is George Pernicano, who founded a chain of Italian restaurants in San Diego in the 1960s and became a minority owner of the Chargers football team).

If you check out the credits at the end of the book, you may notice the main character in the book was played by a kid named Rawli Davis. Did he inspire the naming of the protagonist in the Rolly Waters mystery series? I don’t think so, but it’s possible the name was buried somewhere in my subconscious. My official back story is that Rolly is short for Roland, which is short for Sir Roland, hero of the 11th century poem The Song of Roland, which Rolly’s mother happened to be reading at the time he was born. His father hated the name and started calling him Rolly early on.


Here’s another song of mine I used in my first book, Black’s Beach Shuffle. In the books, of course, I give Rolly Waters the songwriting credit. One of the songs he sings in BBS is called Hercules.

There was a man named Hercules
He had the kind of muscled he could do just what he pleased
But even he was not exempt
He had to clean the stables where a thousand cattle slept

I don’t recall exactly how I started writing the lyrics for this one. It’s basically a rewrite of the Greek mythology of Hercules in abridged form. The first verse references one of the Twelve Labours of Hercules, the quest to cleanse the Augean Stables. I used it to show how even the most heroic men have to deal with a lot of crap :-). The second half of the verse then turns it around and makes it personal by comparing the singer’s personal travails to Hercules’ labours. It’s not biographic per se, but more of a songwriting conceit, a framework I wanted to use for the lyrical structure. I’ve always admired Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi and the deft turn she makes in the last verse where all her societal concerns turn to thoughts on her own failings. This is not BYT, lyrically or musically, but that song might have inspired my thinking.

Here’s the version recorded by my band Bad Dog circa 1992. The lyrics are listed below.

There was a man called Hercules.
He had the kind of muscle he could do just what he pleased.
But even he was not exempt.
He had to clean the stable where a thousand cattle slept.
Now I may not be quite that tough
But I can move a mountain if I have reason enough
I will not faint, I will not fade
And will I take a shovel to this mess that I have made.

Have a little faith in me.
I need the strength of Hercules
Have a little faith in me.
I am not like Hercules.

There was man named Hercules.
He killed his wife and family, then he fell down on his knees.
For he could not believe his eyes,
He thought they were his enemies and wearing a disguise
So I may bite, and I may bark,
But when you look at me that way I fall into the dark.
I try to speak. I try to stand,
But all the things I try to be keep falling from my hands.

Have a little faith in me.
I need the strength of Hercules
Have a little faith in me.
I am not like Hercules.

There was man named Hercules.
He saved a silent princess from a monster in the sea.
But he was not paid back in kind,
And he had to live forever with that woman on his mind.
And then there’s me, and then there’s you.
If I were a stronger man I’d know just what to do.
I’ll never know the price you paid
To have me come and rescue you and change the plans you’d made.

November Crime & Thriller Highlights

Some new mysteries and thrillers you might want to read this month.

Chimera Island. For more than a century, the tiny atoll has been the subject of legend and rumors. Mysterious sightings. Strange deaths. Unexplained disappearances. A transport plane sent to Chimera to evacuate frightened scientists from a climate research station on the island disappears, along with a Chinese spy ship prowling nearby waters. The U.S. Coast Guard sends its most secret team to investigate, Deployable Specialized Force-P—the P is said to stand for phenomenon. DSF-Papa, led by Lieutenant Commander Douglas Munro Gates, discovers there is more to the legend of Chimera Island than rumors and folklore. The climate research station is wrecked. Strange creatures skulk through the jungle overgrowth. And reality may not be as it seems. Worse, someone – or something – is determined to stop the Coasties from discovering the truth about the island. With evacuation impossible, DSF-Papa must discover the secret of Chimera Island or become part of its legend.

Available at Amazon

Rick Cahill is finally living a settled, happy life. His fiancée, Leah Landingham, is pregnant with their first child and he is doing PI work that pays well and keeps him out of danger. Then a doctor gives him the bad news about the headaches he’s been suffering—CTE, the pro football disease that leads to senility and early death—a secret he keeps from Leah and his best friend Moira MacFarlane.

When Moira asks him to monitor her son, Luke—who’s broken a restraining order to stay away from his girl-friend—a simple surveillance explodes into greed, deceit, and murder. Luke goes missing, and Rick’s dogged determination compels him to follow clues that lead to the exploration of high finance and DNA cancer research.

Ultimately, Rick is forced to battle sadistic killers as he tries to find Luke and stay alive long enough to see the birth of his child.

Available at Amazon | Indiebound | Bookshop

Perilous Gambit Book Cover

A murder will put a damper on a romantic Las Vegas Wedding.

Jackie ran off to Las Vegas to perform in a high-class drag revue. His sister, Rachel, is nervous about introducing her drag queen brother to her fiancé, NYPD homicide detective Jason Dickson while they are in Vegas to get married. When the star of the drag show is murdered, Jackie steps up to be the star – and also becomes the prime suspect. The local cops are fixated on Jackie, who turns to Jason and his partner, Mike Stoneman, for help.

When the drag queen’s murder links together with a high-profile political blackmail scheme and a Vegas organized crime boss . . . a relaxing week in Sin City is out the window.

So much for a stress-free wedding.

Available at Amazon