"Skiers" by Dorothy Thompson

1. A Mime Is A Terrible Thing

"You got time for a beer?" Alex needed to get back to the house. There wasn't much daylight left and Lora was expecting him home soon. He opened his mouth but the words eluded him. A few beers sounded damn good. He hadn't stepped into a tavern since he got laid off from the factory three months ago. He had a fifty dollar bill in his pocket, his pay for the five hours he helped Ralph brick up a chimney on Pine Avenue. Lora had all ready earmarked the money for groceries. If he came home with forty dollars and beer on his breath, what could she say?

"I'll buy," Ralph added.

"I couldn't, Ralph. You've done enough for me with these side jobs."

"Ain't no problem. I ain't up to drinking alone. Lora won't begrudge you a few beers, will she? You earned it."

Hell yeah she would.

"Well, it's up to you."

"And I say let's get drunk."

That settled it. If Lora wanted to complain he stayed out late and came home reeking of booze, to hell with her. He was with her uncle, after all. And if it wasn't for Ralph's generosity, bringing Alex along on jobs he could have completed by himself, Alex and Lora would be sitting at the kitchen table right now wondering how to stretch his two hundred and fifty dollar unemployment check and not starve or end up on the street. During the short ride in Ralph's battered Dodge work truck they must have passed ten taverns before Ralph pulled into the narrow parking lot of a narrow cinder block building. The front of the building was just large enough to accommodate a door and a plate glass window lettered with the name TOMBSTONE BAR AND GRILLE.

The bar was flanked by a strip mall on one side and a gravestone dealer, Holy Cross Monuments, on the other. Virgin tombstones, available in rose, gray and ebony, were aligned like used cars on the healthy grass. Across Burnham Avenue Holy Cross Cemetery stretched across a few dozen acres like a golf course, except, here, all the holes were filled in and there was no one in green slacks and plaid hats wandering about. Alex could think of cheerier places to drink.

First thing he noticed walking into the bar, there were no women present. Seven men sat at the bar, surfing varying waves of drunkenness. The skinny and unshaven bartender, Oswald, leaned over the mahogany talking quietly to a red-haired man sitting alone at the bend in the bar. Next to the cash register was a bumper sticker reading MASTURBATION – IT'S CHEAPER THAN DATING. The tavern itself boasted a western motif. Various cowboy style implements hung from the paneled walls. Two trail worn saddles hung above the jukebox.

There was a cowboy hat, lasso, pair of shit-kickers complete with spurs, an acoustic guitar sans strings. The place was narrow enough to bust your head against the wall should you tip over backward on your stool. Alex spotted a couple contours in the wall about knee level where a few of the more thick-headed patrons had fallen. Tombstone's clientele maintained a steady level of controlled deterioration. Protruding guts, distended livers, discolored eyes reflected in the mirror behind the liquor bottles, broken blood vessels. They kept an empty stool between each other.

Ralph steered Alex to the empty stools near the jukebox. "Whatcha drinking? They got Old Style on draft."

"Miller High Life."

Ralph was taken aback. "Miller? Jesus. My niece marry a poof? Only Mexicans and women drink that piss."

Oswald approached, grinning at Ralph's bit of wit. Seeing Oswald, it was obvious to Alex why he might prefer masturbation over dating. Oswald possessed an over bite of Simpsonian proportions which his carefully cultivated mustache only accentuated. He had a physique like a pregnant hatrack.

"What can I get you fellas?"

"Old Style draft and a bottle of High Life if you still sell those."

"High Life? Yeah we keep a few in reserve for the occasional Mexican and woman."

He winked and grinned a yap full of dentures. "You might have to blow the dust off it."

Oswald fetched the beer, immediately getting sucked into a conversation with an old man clutching today's sport's page. Ralph and Alex drank from their beers. After a few awkward moments of silence, Ralph peeled a dollar from the top of his roll and said "how bout putting a couple songs in the juke. Some Bob Seger or something". Alex took his time at the jukebox. Keeping with the western atmosphere, the likes of Alan Jackson, Tobey Keith, and Kenny Chesney dominated the juke. He settled on two George Thoroughgood songs and "House of the Rising Sun".

Ralph didn't comment on his choices. He glanced around the bar at the expressionless faces reflected in the mirror like knots in a plank of wood.

"If I had the extra money," he said, "we could've gone to a titty flop. Something more lively."

"This is cool," Alex said without enthusiasm. He sipped his High Life which tasted as though it'd been sitting on the shelf since the last time the Cubbies won the World Series.

The door swung open and a man entered the bar. His presence sucked the sound from the room. Even George Thoroughgood on the juke lowered his voice. The man wore a black derby hat, black slacks held up with black suspenders, shiny black shoes, and a black and white vertically striped long sleeve shirt. A yellow carnation, safety pinned to his shirt at a jaunty angle, seemed to survey the room like a periscope. His face was smeared with white greasepaint.

"What the hell?"

Ralph glanced up from his beer and followed Alex's gaze to the door.

"What the hell?"

Oswald dropped the gamey dishrag he'd been using to wipe down the bar for the past six months into the sink.

"Oh shit," he muttered.

Nearest the door, a heavy set guy wearing a Cubs' cap set down his Budweiser and acknowledged the stranger. "What happened to you, buddy? Circus train leave you behind?"

Nervous giggles. There's something wrong here, Alex thought. The mime grinned, his blackened lips stretching taut across his yellow teeth. He shrugged his shoulders.

"Jesus Christ," the Cubs fan said turning away from the mime. "Hey, Oswald. You might want to call Mountain View. We got another looney on our hands."

Oswald: "Joe, get away from that mime."

The mime's eyes burned into Joe's skull. His smile widened. The mime took exaggerated steps toward Joe. His eyes swept across his audience. One gloved hand crept into his pocket. He brought a finger to his lips in a hushing motion. He withdrew a small mallet of the sort used to bust walnuts.

Joe glanced back at the mime, then back to the patrons, jutting a thumb over his shoulders. Get a load of this guy.

The mime lifted the Cubs hat off Joe's head and brought the mallet down in a vicious arc. The impact sounded like a ceramic bowl shattered against pavement. Joe stiffened, his eyes bugging out comically as though he'd just witnessed the Cubbies' closer give up a two run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to lose the game.

The mime placed the ball cap back on his head, obscuring his eyes. Joe slumped forward spilling his Budweiser across his Chicago Tribune. The mime turned to his audience. He held the mallet matted with mousy brown hair. He took two steps backward and disappeared out the door.  

2. Going Through The Motions  

Everyone spoke at once.

"Is he dead?"

"What the hell was that about?"

"Where'd that Frenchmen come from?"

The men slowly descended from their bar stools like monkeys easing down from their tree top berths after the jungle cat has passed. Eric Burdon came alive on the jukebox. Alex took a cringing gulp of his skunky beer. Oswald approached the fallen Cubs' fan. "You ok, Joe?"

Alex didn't think Joe was ok by any stretch of the imagination. Even if he survived the conk on the head, he'd still be a Cubs' fan. Seeping blood purpled the cap up to mid C. No, it wasn't looking good for Joe. Ninety eight years without winning a World Series and a cracked skull to boot.


Oswald pulled the cap away revealing the depression in Joe's head. Blood trickled from the impacted area doubling its alcohol content as it pooled together with the spilt Budweiser.

Oswald's face reddened and twisted. He balled the cap in his fist and threw it across the bar as though he were a natural born White Sox fan. "Fucking mimes," he seethed. "Ever since they opened that goddam Marcel Marceaux School For Kinetic Expression in the strip mall I've been having to deal with these silly no-talking bastards."

"I hate mimes." This coming from a red-haired man sitting four stools down from Alex. "Who the fuck they think they are, coming into our bar and bustin up our friend?"

"Right on, Kelly," Oswald said. He brought up a Louisville slugger, the handle thick with duct tape, from behind the bar. He bounced the bat's barrel against the mahogany, making Alex's beer jump. "I say we take the fight to them. We'll see how well they pantomime their funeral eulogies." Several of the patrons echoed Oswald's sentiments. Alex glanced at Ralph. Their expressions of unease mirrored each other.

"I hate it for Joe and all," Alex whispered, "but I'm thinking this ain't our fight."

Ralph nodded. "We'll go along with them til we get outside. Then we're duck around back, hop in the truck and get the hell outta Dodge." And then Oswald was standing before them, the bat poised like a microphone.

Oswald's T-shirt read MY DAD CAN BEAT UP YOUR MOM. Alex wondered how he could have missed it before. This guy was a walking billboard for someone else's wit.

"You boys with us?"

"Uhm, sure, Oswald."

"Yeah, we're with you."

Oswald's eyes narrowed. "We can't let these tulip pushers get away with this shit."

"Of course not, Oswald."

"They're namby pamby terrorists, you know. They don't even do background checks at that school. They just get these guys off the street no questions asked. They're a goddam risk to our national security and a threat to our god given right to drink a beer unperturbed."

"Hell yeah!"

Oswald grabbed a fifth of Jack Daniels from its perch alongside a platoon of liquor bottles. He took a slug and passed the bottle to Ralph. "If shit goes down out there. Get close enough and brain him with this."

"No problem, Oswald."

"All right fellas. You saw what that nancy boy did to Boozin Joe. He won't ever get to see the Cubbies win the World Series, now."

A man wearing Liberty overalls and a blue and yellow flannel shirt adjusted his White Sox cap. "Oswald, we ain't ever gonna get to see the Cubbies win it all, either."

"That may be, Taylor. But it won't be because some cock ass clown hit us over the head with a tiny mallet."

The patrons slurred their general agreement. Oswald launched himself over the bar.

"Ok, guys, let me get through here," Oswald said. He negotiated his way to the door, stepping on toes, pushing aside the sardine packed congregation of the grape. "Grab anything that might make a good weapon."

Alex and Ralph exchanged raised eyebrows.

"You got a gun in your truck?" Alex asked.

Ralph shook his head. "I'm ex-con. Can't get one registered."

"Shit. I knew I should had you take me home."

"Belly-aching ain't gonna help us now. We get out that door, we make a bee-line for the truck. Hit whatever's in the way. Mime or drunk."

"Sounds good to me."

Ralph took another slug of the whiskey. He spun the cap back on the bottle relegating the JD back to weapon status. Alex lifted the old timey guitar off the wall. It wasn't very heavy and Alex didn't have much hope of it being at all adequate in a fight. Even with a mime. Oswald opened the door and took a step back, his baseball bat raised. Nothing happened. Oswald peeked out the door.

"Jesus H. Christ," he said. "It's like a goddam gay pride parade." The line of muttering drunks began to file out the door. Ralph and Alex followed until the entire cadre of drunks were vomited onto the glass strewn sidewalk. Alex found Oswald's description lacking. It wasn't a parade; it was an invasion.

Four mimes near the Exxon gas station on the other side of Holy Cross Monuments pulled themselves along an imaginary rope toward the nine men gathered outside the Tombstone Bar and Grille. The burgundy, gray and ebony slabs of unblemished granite glistened in the sun's failing light. Atop three gravestones, mimes perched like circus crows.

The mime who assisted Joe to that place where the Cubbies always clinched the pennant, stood on the curb across the street from the bar. His arms crossed his meager chest in an exaggerated pose of defiance. Flanking him was the biggest goddam mime Alex had ever seen. He stood at least 6'5 and weighed a good 280 lbs. The uber mime went shirtless. Black suspenders segmented his muscular torso. He held a massive twelve pound sledge hammer in his hands.

Oswald brought the bat to his shoulder. "The queer with the yellow tulip is mine. You guys take care of the others."

Kelly said "I'm going after the rope pullers. Who's with me?"

The men mumbled their assent but no one made a move.

"Guess that leaves us with Supermime," Alex muttered.

"Hell with that. I reckon this is where we take our leave. I ain't got no beef with these guys. Let's get you home."

Oswald faced Ralph. "I never thought I'd live to see the day Ralph Yarborough ran chickenshit from a bunch of goddam mimes."

"There's a man dead in my bar who's kids will never get to go with him to Wrigley Field and see Corey Patterson strike out with runners in scoring position. And it's not your fight?"

"Not when they got a sledge hammer and we got a couple wobbly bar stools and a guitar."

"You ever get hit with a guitar? I have and I'm here to tell you they hurt like hell."

Alex, not feeling very comfortable with being used as a lynchpin for Ralph's cowardice, nonetheless took this opportunity to edge along the corner of the tavern toward Ralph's Dodge. Seeing the vehicles sitting at odd angles, Alex realized immediately every tire had been slashed.


Movement caught his attention. Shadows elongated.


Two mimes broke cover from behind a beige Chevy pick-up. Alex pegged these two as apprentices given their blotchy make-up and splotches of greasepaint lending their black Kangol hats an inverse Dalmation cast.

"Ralph... we got mimes."

Ralph turned his attention to his truck and the mimes responsible for the three hundred and fifty dollars worth of tire damage. "Sumbitch!"

At that moment, the four mimes pulling themselves along the imaginary rope and the three mimes haunting Holy Cross Monuments rendezvoused and mounted their attack, charging silently, like ninja ballerinas.

Oswald raised his bat above his head. "This one's for Boozin Joe Bubala!

No better man ever lifted a bottle!"

The bar patrons closed ranks offering up their own hoarse battle cries. The two apprentice mimes warily approached Ralph and Alex. Ralph, the participant of more bar fights than he'd care to admit, instinctively took four steps to Alex's left, out of reach of the guitar's swinging arc.

The apprentice mimes brandished matching Swiss Army knives which they held out like dogshit on a stick. The shorter of the duo mincing toward Alex must have been feeling cocky. He had a corkscrew pulled out. The mime rushed head-on. Nothing fancy. Alex planted his right foot and swung the guitar by the neck. The guitar's body connected with the mime's head, sending his Kangol hat flying. Alex felt the impact all the way up his arm. Surprisingly, the guitar remained intact.

The apprentice mime took three wobbling steps in three different directions. Alex helped along gravity by bringing the guitar down on the part centering the mime's slicked down hair.

Ralph found his JD bottle more serviceable as a liquor container than a weapon. His opponent wasn't fucking around, forsaking the corkscrew for the blade. Twice Ralph swung and twice the mime danced out of the way. Ralph swung again and the bottle neck slipped from his fingers. The bottle shattered on the asphalt at the mime's feet. The mime's blue eyes shimmered in the anonymous, glacial expanse of his face. He lifted his foot, dripping whiskey, and brought his hand to his mouth to stifle a silent laugh. Alex came up behind him and busted him across the back of the neck. The guitar splintered, the body sheering away from the fret board. The mime's blue eyes shuttered open in surprise. The blow pushed him forward two steps into Ralph's oncoming fist. The punch pulped the mime's nose. The sudden glut of blood created a clown of the mime.

The mime dropped like a sack of mortar mix. Ralph shook and flexed his hand as John Wayne had taught him to do in countless westerns. He looked at the greasepaint smudged across his knuckles in disgust and wiped it on his jeans.

In front of the Tombstone Bar and Grille, the mimes and drunks clashed. The dull thud and pops of kicks and punches was punctuated with the occasional baseball thwack of Oswald's bat connecting with cranium. Though not always a mime's skull. Oswald was a free swinger in the Sammy Sosian sense, swinging with all his might at anything even close to his strike zone. The participants of the battle appeared only as flashes of white face and sagging flesh riddled with broken capillaries. Denim and black polyester. Bar stools and imaginary swords.

"Fuck the truck. I'd just as soon walk home," Alex said.

Ralph was just about to agree when he lost consciousness.

3.. Blood and Greasepaint

  The uber mime who referred to himself as Bip during the rare instances he felt compelled to speak surveyed the suburban battlefield. He hefted the sledge hammer to shoulder and flexed his biceps, his triceps, every group of muscles in turn, admiring the freakish vascularity provided by legal mail order steroids.

Bip turned his attention away from the finely tuned vehicle of expression that was his body, glanced down at his aide, Bartman with that stupid yellow carnation poking out of his shirt, and returned his gaze to the rumble. He spotted Etienne taking a bar stool across the face and rag dolling to the ground. From his vantage, Bip couldn't tell if Etienne was feigning grievous bodily injury or receiving it.

In Jacque's case, there was no doubt. That uncultured jackass of a bartender clocked Jacques in the side of the head hard enough to dislodge the mime's eye, a globular shooting star that could have been mistaken for phlegm from Bip's distance had its trajectory not been accompanied by screams of "my eyeball! My eyeball!". Bip had never heard Jacques speak before. Not vocally, anyway.

Bip took a long stride forward. Bartman shadowed him. Bip gracefully danced three steps sideways. Bartman parroted his moves.

Bip said "leave the bartender to me".

Bartman gave the thumb's up, deftly bringing his dexterous fingers around into an OK sign.

The uber mime leaned forward executing a flawless "walking against the wind" pantomime. Bartman followed suit with a decent "strolling through a brisk gale".

Oswald noticed their advance immediately.

"Shit," he muttered. He'd been hoping when the time came to go head to grease-painted head with the uber mime, he'd have a few more alcoholics backing him up. As it was, only Kelly, Wally and Harvey remained conscious.

And things weren't looking good for Wally. One mime pinned him by the throat to the cement and another mime jumped up and down on his solar plexus as though Wally were a human trampoline.

Oswald had personally laid out four mimes with his clobbering stick. He was pretty sure he might have connected with a few other heads as well. The uber mime and that sneaky little bastard with the tiny nut hammer were halfway across the street, slowed by what could only be a wind tunnel descending upon Burnham Avenue.

"Kelly, Harvey," Oswald hissed. "Get back in the bar. Retreat, goddammit."

Oswald faded back to the tavern's entrance and almost stumbled over a mime hunched down in the doorway gathering his teeth from the bloody gruel originating from his face.

A fleeting wave of pity stayed Oswald's bat. Rather, he mercifully kicked the mime in the ribs. The mime rolled over and offered his impression of a whipped dog. Unimpressed with theatrics of the clothed variety, Oswald measured him out one more kick to the yap before entering the bar. Kelly followed close on his heels. Harvey stopped to dilly dally with the mime stomping hell out of Wally, so, unfortunately, Harvey got locked out of the bar.

Movement at the end of the bar startled Oswald. More nancy boy mimes? No.

The two nancy boy pacifists. Ralph and the Miller High Life kid. Ralph looked like he'd taken a beating. Blood seeped from a laceration at the back of his head. The kid attended to the wound with a dirty bar rag. A small pickaxe, the sort favored by gold prospectors back in the day, laid on the bar within easy reach of the kid.

It would have been asking too much, Alex knew, to have noticed the damn thing before he had to face a horde of angry mimes.

"Hey, kid, Ralph gonna be all right?"

"It's Alex. And I don't think he's gonna be all right by a longshot. He took a tire iron to the back of the head."

Ralph lolled his head in Oswald's direction. "Barkeep, a Miller High Life if you will."

His eyes didn't focus on Oswald's face or anything else for that matter. The right pupil looked about twice the size of his left. But that might have been Oswald's inebriated condition talking. A few beers, some shots of Cuervo and his sense of perspective was the first player to go on the injured reserve.

"Sure, Ralph, here you go." Rather than rummage for another dusty bottle of High Life that Ralph happened to despise anyway, Oswald cracked open a Schlitz and handed it to him. Ralph drank it without mention. This further cemented Oswald's belief that Ralph would either die or have a bad headache when all was said and done.

Alex rubbed a hand across his mouth, eyes moving but seeing nothing except images of mimes and tombstones projected against the movie screen of his mind. "Oswald, gimme the phone. We need an ambulance."

Oswald patted down his pockets. "I must've dropped my cell out there."

"Well that's convenient. The bar don't have a phone?"

"Nah, too many sweethearts calling their men here. Bad for business."

Alex wondered what sort of sweethearts the sorry collection of humanity

that'd been lining the mahogany called their own. "You're shitting me."

"If I had a phone don't you think I'd be calling the National fucking Guard by now? Where's your phone?"

"Don't have one. Can't afford it."

"What about his?"

"In the truck."

For want of something better to do, Kelly took a step toward Boozin Joe Bubala and pressed two fingers against the side of his cold neck.

"Still dead?" Oswald asked.

"Yeah, I reckon he is," Kelly allowed.

Oswald laid his blood slick bat on the mahogany. His finger ran along a superficial crack in the barrel, a result from connecting with a thick head that may or may not have belonged to a mime. Shit. No perspective. This was why Oswald tried to avoid basketball games and rumbles with mimes. Tanked jump shots and accidental bats to the heads of fellow friends and alcoholics. Bad noise all around.

Kelly righted an upended stool and sat toward the middle of the bar in his accustomed place. Oswald poured a triple Canadian Mist and waved away his money.

Ralph tried to drink his beer. Along with the shot to the skull, one of those goddam mimes must have gouged a hole in his lip as well. Three fourths of every swig ended up in his lap.

Alex turned away from Ralph drinking his beer like a simpleton. "What the fuck's going on here, Oswald? You got some goddam explaining to do." Oswald rubbed his swollen belly. "What d'you mean?"

"What do I mean? I mean I wanna why my uncle-in-law takes me here for a couple drinks and ends up with a busted head. I wanna know what's up with those crazy ass mimes running around. That's what I mean."

"Oh, the mimes." Oswald mechanically cracked a Coors and took a swig. "Well, it kinda began innocently enough. I made up a few bumper stickers that said MIMES SUCK COCK QUIETLY and put them all over their cars. You ever notice most mimes drive Volvos?"

"That mime came in here and killed Joe cause you put bumper stickers on their rides?"

"Hell no. That would be petty. Them clown bastards figured me for the culprit quick. Mimes are a lot of things, but they ain't stupid. They retaliated the following labor day weekend. That's when we usually have our big Labor Day Tombstone Grille Out and barbecue the hell out of some ribs. Well, those drama queens pick the same weekend to give some sorta free circle jerk performance right next to us. You know how hard it is to enjoy some fine barbecue when you got a dozen painted up jackasses twenty feet away pretending like they're all caught in glass cages?"

Alex opened his mouth to prod Oswald for further information when a hammer blow against the door halted conversation. Even Ralph turned his attention toward the front. Kelly grabbed his Canadian Mist and shifted another ten feet away from the door.

Another blow shuddered the door, expanding the wood like gristly steak. Bartman's face appeared through the window. The neon Budweiser sign gave his features a garish red hue. His mouth pulled back into a black, dog-lipped smile. He began placing his hands against the glass, moving his palms carefully against the window. He stopped just below the beer sign, withdrew the tiny hammer that had knocked Boozin Joe Bubala out of playoff contention, and struck the glass. Spider web cracks spun away from the point of impact.

Kelly pushed himself away from the bar and wobbled toward the darkened rear of the tavern. "Gotta piss," he said.

Oswald inhaled through his cigarette. "Credit where credit's due; those mimes are persistent fuckers."

The thunder of the eighteen pound sledge meeting inch and a half thick wood resounded through Ralph's swollen mind, fueling the constant pressure threatening to splinter his cranium. Thoughts formed only to instantly implode. Instinctually, he knew he was in trouble. Fight or flight and a pervading lethargy balanced on a fulcrum of agony. He opened his eyes and the pain grew blades. He brought a tentative hand to the back of his head feeling the fissure of scalp beneath the lukewarm bar rag.

"I rung it out first," Alex muttered.

The words held no meaning for Ralph. His own words oozed out like sap from a cleaved trunk. "How's the chimney looking?"

"Oh shit," Oswald said. "He's Harry Carey after eight Budweisers and seven innings of losing baseball."

Alex ignored the remark. He scooped up the pickaxe and held it under his arm as he grabbed Ralph's bicep.

Another blow of the sledgehammer knocked a six inch gap in the door. Bartman continued to beat on the window with his hammer opening a hole the size of a fist.

Ralph stumbled off the bar stool and collided with the wall. He glanced toward the door. The uber mime pressed his face against the opening he had knocked through the door. Bip winked. Ralph launched his bottle of Schlitz, solidly plunking Boozin Joe Bubala's corpse. Bip allowed a brief to escape his lips followed by Bartman's keening laugh. Seeing Ralph bounce the beer bottle off Joe's shoulder, spraying cheap beer all over the place goaded Oswald into action. As the kid led his potato-headed uncle-in-law toward whatever safety he hoped to find among the empty bottles and bags of crushed cans stacked in the rear of the tavern, Oswald grabbed a fifth of Wild Turkey from among its confederates. He twisted off the pour spout with his teeth. A wick... His eyes settled on the Wrigley Field calendar. June's photograph offered a vista of the friendly confine's (friendly to the opposing team's line-up, that is) outfield, ivy-covered brick, and bleachers packed with perennially disappointed humanity. Oswald ripped June off the calendar and rolled it into a small telescope and jammed it into the bottle neck.

Bartman's next rap shattered the front window sending jagged shards cascading inside. The mime brushed glass away from the bottom of the window frame. His eyes locked with those of the bartender. Bartman pointed at the beer-slinging bastard with one hand. He brought up his other hand and distended his tongue mimicking a hangman's noose pulling taut. And then he heaved himself, carefully, avoiding the busted glass.

Oswald flicked open his Zippo and lit the Molotov cocktail's wick. He reared back and threw the bottle like a Kerry Wood fastball. The bottle burst against the wall directly above the mime's head, the fiery contents dousing his head and torso.

Bartman pitched forward landing against Boozin Joe Bubala, knocking the corpse to the floor. He almost lost his footing on the shifting glass. Pin-wheeling his arms, he managed to right himself. He stood there a moment, hesitant to move without Bip to back his play. Blue flame licked off his derby hat, down his striped shirt. The wood paneling caught fire rapidly. The flames roiled; the heavy smoke sucked out of the open window. Oswald advanced on the mime, bat cocked back. The mime's reaction was strangely subdued. More put out than alarmed. He brought his arms out and shook his hands like a child threatened to get squirted with a water hose. Flame encompassed his gloved hands. His jaw dropped. He looked searchingly into Oswald's face as the conflagration devoured the front wall of the Tombstone Bar and Grille, driving Bip away from the door.

"Any last words?" Oswald asked.

His face beginning to blister, his yellow flower wilting, Bartman tilted his head to the right, quizzically, perhaps, though who really knows what goes through the mind of a mime.

"I didn't think so."

Oswald swung down in an abbreviated arch, connecting with the mime's neck.

A strangled gargle tore loose from Bartman's lips. He brought his hands up to his throat, his touch searing the skin. He slipped backward on the glass, feet shooting up from under him like a vaudevillian slipping on a banana peel and the flames engulfed him.

As Oswald dispatched, Alex looked for the back door he knew had to be somewhere behind the precariously piled returnable bottles and other bar room detritus.

"Where you reckon's the back door?" Alex asked.

Ralph didn't quite understand the question but decided to try nodding.

"Hold this," Alex said, placing the pickaxe in Ralph's hand. "Don't lose this. Understand?"

Ralph nodded some more.

Alex began pitching boxes behind him, the bottles clanging, some breaking. Oswald rushed to the back of the bar to join them. On his way he knocked on the bathroom door. "Kelly, let's go."

"I ain't going no where."

"The bar's on fire. C'mon."

Kelly opened the door slightly and poked his head out. The front half of the tavern was an inferno. Liquor bottles shattered in the heat.

"Those fuckin mimes torched our bar?"
"Yeah, Kelly, those goddam mimes."

Oswald and Kelly joined Alex in tossing cases away from the backdoor.

Ralph stood against the ice machine, smiling haphazardly and occasionally getting pelted with discarded Miller 24 pack boxes. The fire roared at their back like a jungle cat, licking at their heads with tongues of flame. The heat seared their lungs, the smoke clogged their throats and burned their eyes. The last of the boxes dropped away. Oswald grabbed the door knob and cracked the door open a foot. Alex made a move for the back alley but hesitated. "Ralph?" As Ralph stumbled forward, Kelly brushed past Alex and stepped into the clear evening air. The eighteen pound sledge hammer caught Kelly along the jaw, emptying his head of teeth. The lower half of his face shunted awry, and the force of sledge crushed his top three vertebrae. Kelly dropped to the gravel, silently like a mime sucking cock.

Bip stepped into the doorway and kicked the door open knocking crates of empty bottles onto Oswald. The uber mime squinted his eyes, able to see very little in the tavern's smokey innards.

Kelly flopped and shuddered at his feet like a hooked fish. He focused his attention momentarily on the death throes and considered whether or not he should deliver the coup de grace. Bip looked toward the door just in time to catch sight of the swooping pickaxe. The rusty tip disappeared into his chest and Bip wondered, only for an instant, when did he receive his last tetanus shot.

Alex took a step back and wrenched the pickaxe from Bip's sternum. The sledge, matted with hair and blood, slipped from his fingers and bounced off Kelly's head before settling on the ground. The uber mime groaned, taking three stumbling steps into the alley.

Bip brought a hand up to his wound, painting his fingers with dark blood. His freakish vascularity assisted the blood flow. Alex raised the pickaxe for the death blow, but Oswald body checked him out of the way.

"This mime is mine," Oswald said. Bip dropped to a knee. The blood poured from him at an alarming rate. I'm gonna die here, he thought. Arguably the greatest pantomime expressionist of my generation and I'm gonna die behind a beer and shot dive. How is that fair?

Oswald stood over him, bat cocked, legs apart in a fair approximation of a batter's stance. "Heh, heh... any last words?"

"Yeah, fuck you."

"Oh." For some reason, Oswald wasn't expecting that.

Oswald swung. Bip closed his eyes and thought of Paris. The bat's barrel connected just behind the mime's ear, knocking Bip into that white curtained Bistro in the sky where the Cubbies always win and mime's are treated like royalty.

The Tombstone Bar and Grille continued to burn. About two blocks away, the distance Oswald, Alex and Ralph were able to sprint before hitting the wall of their physical limitations. They stood there, hands on their knees, trying to breath as the flames lit the night sky. Ashes and charred flakes floated around them like confetti.

"My fuckin head's killin me," Ralph groaned.

Alex shook his head. "That could have been me. Getting hit with that mallet instead of Kelly." Oswald shrugged. "Hell with Kelly. He never tipped. Not even on Christmas."

"Why, Oswald? Why?"

"Cause he's a cheap bastard." "No, the mimes. Why? What's so important that they'd kill even at the sacrifice of their own lives?"

"There's no why," Oswald scoffed. "Mimes and drunks will never coexist peacefully. We're like oil and water, man. There's always gonna be somebody starting some shit. That's just the way it is. The way it'll always be." Oswald slapped Alex on the shoulder.

"Sorry about your uncle-in-law's brain damage, kid. Just remember there'll always be three kinds of people in this world, heh heh, those who can count and those who can't."

And with that piece of endlessly regurgitated humor, Oswald walked away,

following the sidewalk, occasionally illuminated by the street lights

Karl Koweski -- He's like a combo Steinbeck character, out of Of Mice And Men. As George he writes with a great cleverness to set up the reader for the Lenny in the background that might show up to crush your bunnies. Over the top, yet literary. Shocking yet entertaining. (Of course, that's all crap. The real story is much simpler: "I'm a 32 year old displaced Chicagoan, now living on top of a mountain in Alabama for reasons that involve a woman. I was the lead singer/banjo player of the now defunct country/punk/disco band The Screaming Shits. Now I just work in a machine shop and write articles for porno mags," says the man himself. Check out some of Karl's other (non porno mag) stuff at zygoteinmycoffee.com. And buy his poetry chapbook Diminishing Returns at Amazon, or wherever you can find it.