day without OD Esse is always a good day. So it wasn't the best
day when he showed up at my doorstep with a stranger in tow. "Phil! Long time no see! Wait until you hear about..."
"Whatever it is, I don't want any. Scams, pyramid schemes,
protection money, you name it--I don't want anything to do with it." "How does $8.8 billion in unmarked currency sound?" "It sounds like half of the spam emails I got this morning," I said. "You haven't even let me introduce my friend." "A friend of yours is probably an enemy of mine..." "Phil, you've got to quit living your life on the straight and narrow, or you'll never see new horizons..." "I suppose you'd prefer the crooked and barred..." OD said to his companion: "Don't worry, Zoltan, he's always like this at first." "Okay, let me guess. Your friend has a notarized map to King Solomon's mine."
"Mines are a waste of time. Zoltan here, better known as the
Ravine Runner, has figured out the most lucrative mystery of 2007." Zoltan finally spoke: "I know where the missing Iraqi currency is." "What? The 3 tons of missing cash? I suppose it's stored with the WMD's," I said. "Even I know they never existed," said Zoltan. "My faith in you grows by leaps and bounds" I said.
OD said, "Phil, we're talking Arabian Nights style adventure here.
Babes in Burkas. Mystery, intrigue." "It sounds like the old movie channel to me," I said.
"Please listen to my proposal, Mr. Steen. I know you think OD
Esse is certifiably insane, and I'm not one to argue. But
consider this. What do you think happened to the money
when it hit Iraq?" "I think the first person to come in contact with it stole it," I said. "That is correct. And where in Iraq would you hide such a treasure?" "I'm no Iraq scholar, but I'd say--outside of Iraq..." "Right again. And where could you hide such a fortune with no one paying special notice?" "I've no idea," I said.
OD piped up, "And that's Zoltan's genius... If you are in with us
on this, it's even shares. We need to put together a string to
pull this one off. " "This sounds illegal."
"The money is already off the books, possibly stolen several times.
It's finders keepers at this point," said OD. " I think this operation will require peculiar talents. That's why we thought of you." "Like what? I'm not a safe cracker or an explosives expert..." "No, you are a banjo player, and apparently one that OD trusts." "I wouldn't say the same for him, " I pointed out. "Which is only sensible, " said Zoltan. "If you join us, you can expect to clear one billion dollars."
Of course, one billion dollars is a lot of banjos. And it had
been weeks since I'd participated in some fruitcake adventure, so in
the end I joined their merry band. Once in the group, I learned
that Zoltan's profound intuition as to the location of the Iraqi
Billions was Las Vegas. "Las Vegas? Why not Iran, or Cairo?" "Where better than Las Vegas to bring in huge amounts of undocumented cash, with no one noticing?" he argued.
His plan, if you could call it that, was to get some
of us in as a casino band, so as to be able to keep an eye out for
anyone waving large clumps of Dinars. "Well, if
it's a band you want, we must have my friend Vladivostock Bahclava,
who's well known as a bitar player..." OD said, "Isn't that the guy that turns into a fox at night?" "Don't we all?" asked Zoltan?
"Maybe figuratively," said OD, "But this guy goes the whole way, bushy
tail and all... It would make it hard to play in a band at
night..." "Yes, but this is Las Vegas we're
talking," I argued. "It could be the best part of the act...
Besides, as a werefox he could probably do some valuable scouting
in the night time..." Zoltan was skeptical.
"The more guys we cut in, the smaller the shares... You know the
old saying, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking
real money..." But in the end he conceded a bitar playing werefox
would be a useful addition to our band.
assembled our forces and started driving to Las Vegas in an old school
bus which Zoltan had bought for cheap, since many vital components were
missing. Our route led us onto small empty roads traveling
through the desert in the moonlit night. Zoltan, who insisted on doing all the
driving, was beginning to get irritated at the werefox's
whimpering to escape the bus. "Hey, did you see
that sign?" he called to us abruptly. I'd caught a glimpse
of the weathered sign as we went past. "Yes," I
said, "It said we are not going by a secret base called Area 59, so we
should not exit or stop on pain of death..." "These Nevada locals and their sense of humor," said OD. The bus began to shake. "We seem to have some trouble with the front end," said Zoltan. "I hope we don't have to stop and irritate the locals," said OD.
"Hey, what's the funny light moving across the sky?" asked Zoltan?"
"Oh well, the ride has gotten smoother." "Dang, here we go again," I said.
Felines of Sheldorf 3 seem to have a knack for abducting me, where ever
I go. As we entered the space ship, OD, always a man of action,
suggested we try to hijack this ship, fly it up to the mother ship, and
sacrifice our lives to save the world from alien domination. I
told him it wasn't necessary, as this was just a ship full of bored
pussy cats that always abducted me by mistake. This time,
however, they were not surprised to see me. Snickersnack, a
leader of this juvenile Feline band, greeted me as we stepped off
the bus into the cargo hold of their space ship.
"We have been following your noble exploits on the uweb, and have
interrupted your journey to offer you aid and advice," said
Snickersnack. "Besides, we have a bet resting on
the outcome with the Bladderbeasts of Orion, so we have a personal
interest in this," said Vorpal. "We think it very
noble of you to take these efforts to return this money to the American
taxpayers. That's over 30 dollars per person, and I'm sure they
can use it." "Uh, we're not returning any money..." said Zoltan.
Nudging him sharply, OD cut in. "To the Americans. It was
the Iraqi oil money, so of course we'll return it to the Iraqi
citizens." It's a good thing aliens can't read human expressions,
or they would have thought OD had something in his eye, the way he was
winking at us... "Besides our sizable bet on your
successful outcome, we wanted you to know that the fate of your world
also hinges upon your actions. Used properly, that money could,
as you say, grease a lot of palms in Bagdad, instead of just enriching
the few who grabbed it and ran." "I didn't know palm trees needed greasing," said OD.
"Your lack of intelligence does, of course concern us, as we foolishly
bet on your success in this mission," said Snickersnack. "None
the less, we'll try to give you some help on accomplishing our mutual
goal. The Araby Casino is where your quarry is located...
Suddenly the spacecraft gave a lurch and started shaking, and the lighting shifted to a weird blue. "Something must be wrong with the front end," said Vorpal. The ride became smoother. "There, it's fixed," said Vorpal.
"That's what you think," I said. "I think you've just been
abducted, speaking from my own not inconsiderable experience..." A large shimmery hand appeared above us in the cargo deck, which reached down and petted the Felines. "Is it a Bladderbeast?" I asked. A calm majestic voice filled our heads soundlessly. We
are the Galactic Overlords. We come to offer you advice. This
journey, which you are about to embark upon, is not just for the fate
of your second class planet, but for the entire universe. This
would not concern us, being multidimensional energy beings, except that
we have placed a bet on the outcome with the Stellar Diamond Minds of the
Spiral nebula, and WE DON"T LIKE LOSING.
talk about upping the ante... Still, when the fate of the
universe is in the balance, a human's gotta do what a human's gotta do.
We'll steal that money, I thought. Even if it means returning it to the Iraqi people. Just
listening to the Galactic Overlords inside my head was a real treat, at
least till they sort of yelled at us at the end about the "losing" bit.
The Araby Casino was out on the edge of the Strip, out where you
actually parked your own car, nowhere near where this photo was
taken... We were to be the warm up band for some jugglers known as the
Frying Sushi Brothers. It was hard to believe that truckloads of
money would end up in a dive like this, but then we had been given a
hot tip, which was better than nothing.
Things went reasonably well in our first performance. Once
the audience discerned that no one in the band was likely to remove
their clothing, nor would they desire that outcome, we were pretty much
ignored in favor of the cheap food and drinks offered to them to
inspire their gambling frenzy. The set ended just as the moon rose,
so technically Bahclahva did remove his clothes, but he turned into a
werefox so fast no one saw much of anything, but a tail streaking out
The rest of us sat in the back of the
audience for the Frying Sushi Brothers act. Theoretically we were
watching for rich Iraqis, but actually we all watched the juggling.
The Sushi Brothers started with the ingredients for Sushi, like
raw fish of various sorts, and juggled them. Then they added some
knives, and started chopping as they juggled. Then one of them
balanced a flaming wok on his head while the others tossed the pieces
in. It could be argued that cooked Sushi is a contradiction in
terms, but then this was Show Biz, and the schtick worked.
After the jugglers were done, we headed out to the casino floor to look
for treasure. It appeared to be mostly flowing into the slot
machines. The choices were to drink, walk around and look, or to
gamble. Most of us tried a bit of all three, but ended up the evening
back in our rooms, thinking the Sheldorf cats could be barking up the
Early the next morning (that's
noon, Musician Standard Time), we met at the food area to discuss our
lack of results. "If the treasure is really
here, it's probably in one of those high tech safes with laser beams
and all," said OD. "I checked the surrounding
desert, and only found a packrat," said Bahclahva. "Not bad," he
said, although no one asked... "I wish we could
contact the Galactic Overlords," I said. "I think they probably
know exactly where we should look." Zoltan then
showed his leadership ability. "If we're going to go whining to
the Galactic Overlords about every little detail in this operation, I'm
out of here. Give me human intuition any day! Wasn't it my
hunch that said we'd find the money in Vegas? We just have to
work at it."
We decided to do a floor by
floor search of the casino. We figured that knocking on doors
would invite a visit from the security staff, but that we could
probably walk up and down the halls without getting in trouble.
So after spending a couple hours wandering by enough doors to
allow Bugs Bunny to escape from both the Tasmanian Devil and Yosemite
Sam (while Verdi provided the music), we met again and figured out that
the top 3 floors were untouchable by the likes of us, so that was
probably where the money was. So the plan was for one of us suave
debonair types to romance a rich gambling heiress and have her take
them to the upper floors, where no doubt the Iraqi treasure would
miraculously appear. It wasn't much of a plan, but it had possibilities, and it was a plan...
Being monogamous and married meant that I was excluded from duty
in this area. This left OD, Zoltan, and Bahclahva.
Bahclahva, admittedly a fox, did have the problem that
after moon rise he resembled a fur coat more than a hunk of burning
love, so he was excused. OD, the intrepid explorer, and Zoltan,
the dashing adventurer poet, both fancied themselves as ladies' men, so
on the second night in Vegas we set them both to the task, and awaited
surreptitiously in the wings for the results.
The attempt by OD and Zoltan to insinuate themselves into the richer
strata of the fair sex was too painful to relate here in detail.
I guess as self inflated adventurers and moody poets go, they did
reasonably well. The hotel security did not throw them off the
premises, just warned them never to be seen there associating with any
guest again. I guess they needed our band services to help make
the jugglers look good. We discussed it during a band break...
"I really thought the sugar heiress was going for me," said OD.
"Then she said she had to powder her nose, and disappeared.
I didn't even know women still powdered their noses..."
"I think the meaning has changed," said Zoltan. "But the result
is the same... I tried to discuss Heinrich Heine's poetry as used
in the fiction of Philip K Dick with a beautiful blonde. She just
slapped my face and left. I guess she doesn't like science
fiction..." "So," I said, "I guess we're back to plan B. What is plan B?" "Oh Galactic Overlords, give us a clue!" sang Bahclahva. "I know," said Zoltan. "Let's bribe a shoe shine. That always works."
The only problem with that idea was that most of us wore tennis shoes
or sandals, that don't usually need to be polished. But we convinced Zoltan, whose idea it was, to try it anyway. "You want your Birkenstocks polished?" said the hotel shoe shine.
"Well, really," said Zoltan, dropping a 20 dollar bill, "I'm
looking for information. Seen any Iraqis lately?" "Oh, Iraqis! You with Homeland Security?" he said, pocketing the money. "I just might be," said Zoltan, figuring an answer like that wouldn't get him in trouble in court.
"Yeah, I see some staying here at the hotel. Probably in one of
those penthouses. They looked like high rollers..." "You wouldn't know what room they're in?" said Zoltan, dropping another twenty.
"No, I wouldn't," he said, pocketing it. "I'm stuck here in this
shoe shine booth all day. I've never been above the first floor
in my life..." "Well, then, you could give me that last $20 back again," said Zoltan, a bit miffed. "What $20?" he said. "Did you want these Birks spit shined?" "No thanks. I'm beginning to think I'm better off trying to pump a one-armed bandit..."
We stayed around a few more days, but failure glared at us on all
sides. Even our music sucked. If the Iraqis were still in
the hotel, we never saw them, in spite of maintaining round the clock
surveillance on the entryway. By the weekend, our act was
canceled and replaced with a dancing penguin act. I got an email
later from the Frying Sushi Brothers, saying that although our music
sucked, at least we didn't run on during their act and steal the fish
they were chopping up like the penguins did...
Anyway, we packed up and headed for home. I worried a lot
about the fate of the universe, which apparently now was pointed
towards the cosmic sewer. But as I glanced at the
headlines in the newpaper racks at gas stations, the world seemed
to be headed that way anyway, without our help, so I felt better.
There were a couple unexplained large explosions alongside us as
we drove through the desert, which I attributed to those playful
Felines of Sheldorf IV. I knew those cats well enough that they
might shoot near us out of pique at losing their bet, but not take us
So we were nearly back
home when, without blue lights or anything, we found our vehicle in
some weird noiseless other-where. Your stupidity was astounding, said the Galactic Overlords. Why didn't you just bribe a desk clerk? Zoltan smacked his head. "Of course, bribe the desk clerk! Why didn't you suggest that to us in Vegas?" We
were busy with more important matters. Now, though, having lost
our bet, we are perturbed. Don't take it personally if we now
painfully entropize you all for our amusement. There was a clunky noise heard in this otherwise silent dimension. WAIT! said a louder voice in our heads than the Galactic Overlords. Sorry, gotta run, said the Galactic Overlords. NOT SO FAST, said the Stellar Diamond Mind, which had apparently just hijacked us to its own dimensional hiatus. WE DON"T LIKE SORE LOSERS. WE ALSO DON'T LIKE UPPITY OVERLORDS WHO WELSH ON THEIR DEBTS. There was an explosion of colors and smells, and suddenly we were back on the bus headed home. We
spent the rest of the drive trying to figure out what to say to our
friends and spouses about the whole thing. We decided to stick with,
"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." But if any disembodied voices start talking in italics in my head, I'm out of here...
Use this chart to find the next of the cartoons (first 47 entries) or the stories (starting with 1 A River Too Far 5 rows below week 8)