by Norsebard


Contact: norsebarddk@gmail.com





This slice-of-life dramedy with a few supernatural elements is to be categorized as an Uber. All characters are created by me, though some of them may remind you of someone.

The story contains some profanity. Readers who are easily offended by bad language may wish to read something other than this story.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.





Written: March 17 - April 26, 2023.

This is the seventeenth story about Wynne Donohue and Mandy Jalinski - all stories are available at the website of the Royal Academy of Bards.

As always, thank you very much for your help, Phineas Redux :)

Texas Stranger is (to a certain extent) an homage to the legendary Western-Uber Renegade written by the distinguished Xenaverse bard Cheyne - that story was among the magical few that sparked endless excitement and daydreaming among us junior bards. Check out Cheyne's stories at the Royal Academy of Bards and your preferred online bookstore - you won't regret it :D


As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D


Description: Even the coolest idea can turn bad if it's pushed through regardless of the consequences. Wynne 'The Last Original Cowpoke' Donohue learns that the hard way when she arranges a Wild West theme day in Goldsboro, Nevada, to celebrate the release of the horror-Western filmed there. As the colorful parade builds up to the world premiere of Cowpokes vs The Undead Vampyre Ghoul, things come to a head for Wynne who finds herself thrust into a situation so strange and dramatic that she's never experienced anything like it…





The people who would never expect that a potentially life-altering event could happen at a quarter past five in the afternoon of December 7th should probably stay far away from the general vicinity of Goldsboro, Nevada.

Wynne Donohue - the mid-fifty-something gal who had moved from her birth town of Shallow Pond, Texas, to a small trailer park eight miles south of Goldsboro to make a fresh start after a string of bad experiences - remained on the porch of her trailer with a slack-jawed, wide-eyed expression etched onto her face.

She wore most of her usual garb: faded blue-jeans, a red bandanna tucked into the left-rear pocket, a black, long-sleeved sweatshirt promoting the long-discontinued line of GM Goodwrench OEM parts and tools, and finally a denim vest that had originally been a single-layer jacket before she had cut off the sleeves to improve its coolness by a factor of at least three. Her decorated cowboy boots were safely stored away in her closet where they waited patiently underneath her proper denim jacket that had a lining of prime-quality wool - in short, The Last Original Cowpoke was nearly, but not 100%, present.

None of that was on Wynne's mind at that particular point in time. Her bright-blue eyes continued to stare in disbelief at the eight-by-ten-inch padded envelope the courier had given her. Turning it over, her eyes grew even wider as she read the return address.

The mail courier - whose purple-and-gold uniform identified him as an employee of Allied Parcel - remained on the sandy desert floor just beyond the porch. He scratched his neck at the parcel recipient's odd behavior, but soon shrugged and shuffled back to his van.

'Was that someone at the door, Wynne?' a female voice said from the small bathroom in the narrow corridor that connected the trailer's sleeping area from the kitchenette.

"Yuh. Yuh, it sure wus. One o' them there purple couriers from Allied, ya know. He done  brought me an envelope. Yuh. That he did…" Wynne said as she pulled the screen door back toward the trailer. She gave the padded envelope another disbelieving glance before she clicked the inner door shut and moved over to the kitchen counter.

She pushed a few things aside to have room for the envelope but made no move to open it - her face still bore the unreadable expression that had been there since the courier had handed her the package.

Down below, her black German Shepherd Blackie and Golden Retriever Goldie popped their doggy heads into the kitchenette to see what had caused their owner to break out in such a sudden, uncharacteristic silence. The dogs shared a brief look before they let out a Woof? and a Yap? respectively.

The noises seemed to activate Wynne's proverbial kick-starter; opening one of the drawers, she found a bread knife that she used to slice open the brown envelope. As she poured the contents out onto the counter, the envelope was revealed to contain a letter and a DVD in a standard-sized plastic case. She spent a few moments looking at the DVD's colorful cover before she picked up the letter that read,

'Dear Ms. Donohue.

In accordance with the contract signed by yourself and representatives of Padded Cell Productions and Distant Horizons Film Group in June of this year, this package contains a pre-release screener copy of the Padded Cell / Distant Horizons motion picture you participated in.

The sleeve art is not final and thus subject to change.

This pre-release screener copy may not be sold, loaned, leased for profit, streamed or otherwise made available to the public. Each pre-release screener copy has been issued with a digitally encoded watermark that will make it possible for Distant Horizons Film Group to trace the original recipient in case of an illicit resale.

John B. Carter,

Senior legal representative of the Distant Horizons Film Group.'

The bathroom door cracked open to reveal Wynne's significant other, the forty-nine-year-old Sheriff Mandy Jalinski of the Goldsboro Office of the MacLean County Sheriff's Department. Fresh out of the shower after spending a long, boring day at her work desk wading through old case files, she wrapped a bath towel around herself before she took a hairbrush to tame her post-shower dusty-blond haystack. She cast a puzzled glance at Wynne. "So… what's going on?"

"Aw, plenty o' things. Mah mooh-vie wus signed, sealed an' delivered," Wynne said and held up the colorful DVD box.

"Oh… I see. And there's a letter?" Mandy said, pointing the hairbrush at the piece of paper in Wynne's other hand.

The famous Cricket Symphony Orchestra of Goldsboro had time to play the first two movements of Beethoven's Ninth before Wynne let out a sigh and said: "Yuh."

Mandy chuckled and returned to brushing her hair. "Well, what does it say?"

"Lawwwwwr-die, I ain't got a dang-blasted clue, darlin'. A whole buncha haaah-falootin' words is whut it done says. That there John Bernard Cartah fellah done wrote it. The lawyah fellah, 'membah?  Anyhows, y'all need-a tell me whut it done says 'cos I ain't able ta make heads or tails or nuttin' outta it." Once Wynne had delivered her soliloquy in an annoyed tone of voice, she smacked the letter onto the tabletop with a loud Thump!

Nodding, Mandy went back into the small bathroom to put the brush on the shelf below the mirror. "Let me see," she said after she had stuck her bare feet into neon-green flip-flops and returned to the narrow hallway.

While Wynne studied the DVD's colorful sleeve art, Mandy's eyes zoomed across the lines of text a couple of times to understand the information. "All right. What it basically says is that this is a gift you've received for acting in it. It's for personal use only and they can trace it back to you if you sell it, upload it or whatever."

"Haw. Okeh. Figgahs. But can them folks trace me if I done throw it inta that there trash can?" Wynne said and pointed at the plastic bucket under the counter in their kitchenette. "Aw, I bettah do them dishes. They ain't goin' nowheah, so…" she continued as she turned on the faucet and began to scrub the plates she had used for an afternoon snack while she had waited for Mandy to come home from work.

Smiling, Mandy ran a hand up and down her partner's arm a couple of times before she shuffled into the sleeping area to get dressed. Her bath towel was soon replaced by a white long-sleeved shirt and a pair of comfortable cotton slacks in a dark shade of blue. 'Aren't you just a little curious to see how it turned out?' her disembodied voice said from just out of sight.

Wynne grabbed a tea towel and began wiping down the various dishes she had cleaned. "Naw, I sure ain't. I got one o' them there humongous bouldahs down in mah gut jus' thinkin' 'bout it. An' y'all know whut mah gut done tole me?  It done tole me not ta eat nuttin' if we do end up watchin' the darn thing 'cos I'mma-gonn' be upchuckin' all night an' then some."

"I agree that most Padded Cell movies aren't exactly award-winners, but who knows?  This might be the one exception to the rule," Mandy said as she came back into the kitchenette. Opening a cupboard, she began to put all the dry tumblers and plates back where they belonged. "Didn't it have a professional director?"

"Yuh. That Stephen Markham fellah. He wus okeh. But… we done been burned befo'."

Wynne and Mandy shared a long, knowing look - it was obvious they both had flashbacks to their earlier, horrible, experience with the part of the film industry that specialized in quick, cheap monster flicks and the like: a few months after their harrowing encounter with the space aliens that had landed in the desert, they had been approached by a representative from the Schlock Channel whose skills of persuasion left nothing to be desired. They had invested in the project but had lost every cent when it turned out to be one of the worst piles of smelly bull-dung anyone had ever witnessed.

Mandy scratched her eyebrow. "Yeah… okay. Never mind."

"Yuh. Exactly, darlin'. Still… filmin' them exteriah scenes wus kinda excitin' save fer when that there real monstah done showed up an' ruined ev'rybodda's day," Wynne said and hung the tea towel back on its nail. "An' them interiah scenes me an' Rogah Kennedy shot ovah in Hollywood wus… haw… they did gimme a good feelin' tho' I didden know whaddahell I wus doin' most o' the time."

Turning around, Wynne leaned her rear-end against the kitchen counter. The distant look in her eyes proved she revisited the unique experience of being involved in filming a movie - B-horror flick or not.

A grunt escaped her as she opened a kitchen cabinet to retrieve a can of Spam, bottles of ketchup and mustard, and a pack of instant mashed potatoes.


An hour later, a gloomy newscaster closed off the typically depressing evening news by saying '- join us at ten for the late edition where we'll have updates on the flash flooding, the train derailment, the volatile stock market and the localized outbreak of bird flu in the southern part of Wilmer County. Have a pleasant evening.'

"Lawwwwwwr-die…" Wynne said loudly as she reached for the remote. She muted the station's jingles, teasers, brief commercials, more teasers, more jingles, more commercials and finally a weather report that was 'Brought to you by the fine folks from Pellegrino Umbrellas. Pellegrino. We love it when it rains!'

She and Mandy shared the couch in the living area of the trailer. The low coffee table in front of them held a pair of empty tumblers, two greasy plates and a bowl with the last scraps of the instant mashed potatoes - cold mash was nobody's favorite dish.

Down on the floor in front of the TV, Blackie and Goldie snuggled up in their doggy-basket. They had far more important things on their mind than the news - cool water and tasty sticks of spiced beef jerky - so they couldn't care less about the trouble the Humans always seemed to get themselves into.

"Bird flu," Mandy said and let out a grunt. "I hope Mr. Fredericksen didn't choke too hard on his evening coffee when he heard that. That's all we need." Another grunt escaped her before she reached over to kiss Wynne on the temple. "Thank you for making supper, hon. I didn't know how hungry I was before I caught a whiff of the sizzling Spam."

"Aw, ya sure is welcome an' all, darlin'. Yuh, I betcha ya ain't had nuttin' but them sandwiches from Moira's all aftahnoon. Y'all want a beah or som'tin?"

"No, thank you. I'm fine."

"Yuh, sure ain't no lie!" Wynne said and offered her partner the cheesiest of grins. "I'mma-gonn' get me a Dubbel-Zerah… naw, scratch that. We ain't gonn' be doin' nuttin' tanight, so it gonn' be one o' them there Extra Strongs, yes Ma'am!"

Still grinning, Wynne got up from the couch and shuffled into the kitchenette. It didn't take long before she returned holding the familiar black and golden can of the H.E. Fenwyck Brewery Co.'s famous and award-winning Extra Strong.

Stopping in the doorway, she cracked it open with a Psssshhht! and took a brief swig just to make sure it was the real deal. Such a high-quality product demanded to be treated with respect, so she made a quick detour to the coaster-and-tankard cabinet in the corner of the living area to get an official Fenwyck pint glass large enough for the 16 fl.oz. can.

Mandy picked up the DVD cover once more to study the artwork. The sleeve was held in blacks, reds and browns and depicted the movie's lead characters - played by Wynne and the veteran TV-star Roger Kennedy - in full Western garb. The grim-faced characters stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their Colts drawn as if they were searching for something; the object of their search had been superimposed into the background of the artwork as a deep, black shadow that featured fiery eyes and a mouthful of blood-dripping fangs.

The somewhat overlong title Cowpokes vs The Undead Vampyre Ghoul took up a great deal of space in the top part of the sleeve and in fact covered some of the monster's head; Mandy let out another grunt as she recalled that the cover letter stated that the sleeve art was subject to change.

Looking up, she locked eyes with Wynne who seemed more pensive than usual. "Hon, I think we should give it a chance. You look fantastic on the cover. I'd really like to see you act."

"Yuh?  Y'all gotta promise ya ain't gonn' laugh at me."

"I'd never, ever laugh at you. I might groan at the rest, but laugh… never," Mandy said and got up from the couch. Their DVD player had soon been turned on after which the silver disk began loading accompanied by plenty of the usual noises of clicking, whirring and sawing.

"Why, I sure be happy ta hear that, darlin'," Wynne said as she sat down on the armrest of the couch. She opened her mouth to add another comment but found the Extra Strong too alluring - she poured the dark-golden beer into the pint glass and took a moderate sip instead. After wiping a small suds-mustache off her upper lip, she let out a long, deep sigh. "Yuh. Okeh, les'give it a chance, yuh?  I jus' hope I ain't gonn' be stinkin' up the joint."

Once the FBI Anti-Piracy warning and all the other regular introductory messages had been displayed, the movie's main menu was shown. Unlike the colorful sleeve art, the main screen was merely a solid dark-gray which was another indication of the fact that it was a pre-release screener copy. There were only three options - Chapter Select, Coming Attractions and Play Movie - so the task of choosing wasn't insurmountable.

Taking the remote, Mandy moved back to the couch; she patted the seat next to her to extend an invitation to Wynne to move one floor down. "I guess 'coming attractions' is a trailer show. Do you want to start with that, or…?" she said while she used the remote's buttons to highlight the feature she had mentioned.

"Naw. It be like at that there dentist, yuh?  Might as well geddit ovah an' done with. Ain't sure I am reddy fer it… but whaddahell," Wynne said as she slid down onto the seat of the couch. "Hit that there button, darlin'. Lessee where this he' mo-shun picture fits inta that there Westurhn lore. I mean, it ain't da first horrah Westurhn… even John Wayne done made a spooky 'un back in them really old Monogram days."

When Mandy hit play, Wynne readied herself to cover her eyes in shame if need be - the very first scene made her let out a puzzled grunt instead. "Haw… whaddinda-wohhhhh-rld… that be me!  Why, it sure is… haw, I don't get it. That wus one o' them scenes that wus filmed at the studio ovah yondah in Hollywood in one o' them there sound stages!  An' now I be walkin' in that there desuhrt… so them ha-uge green curtains an' carpets an' whutnots wus some o' them there spe-shul effects thingies!  Holy shittt… this whole thing y'all be seein' is faker than a dang-blasted three-dollah bill…"

"If it's any consolation, I think you look sexy, hon," Mandy said and broke out in a series of exaggerated winks.

"Yuh?  I sure be thankin' y'all, Sheriff Mandy… Lawrdie, if even da first scene is a fake, whutevah gonn' come next?"

Wynne's question was answered almost at once as the angle widened to a crane shot that saw her continue to walk across an open space. After a few seconds and an additional cut, she arrived at a corral where a couple of cowboys leaned against the wooden fence.

"Aw-yuh," Wynne exclaimed, "them two cowpokes there be da same stunt guys who done worked with me in that there campfire scene!  'Membah, the one that wus filmed right he' in li'l ol' Goldsborah?  Shoot, I plum fergot their names an' all… but they wus coo' fellas, awright."

'Howdy, boys,' Wynne's film character said. 'Fine mornin', ain't it?  Y'all reddy fer whut we need-a do taday?' -- The question was replied to with a grunt and a 'Sure iz,' while everyone present kept an eye a pack of horses running around inside the corral.

Wynne let out a "Whaddinda-wohhhhh-rld?!" that segued into a "Lawwwwwwwr-die!  Them fellas wus there but da hosses nevah wus!  That all be computer trickery or stock foot-itch or whutevah!  I don't bah-lieve it…" Reaching down, she grabbed a pillow to bury her face in in case it grew even faker.

Chuckling, Mandy reached over to give Wynne's back a couple of reassuring pats.


Cowpokes vs The Undead Vampyre Ghoul moved ahead in the typical pattern of fits and starts that plagued most films made by Padded Cell Productions: whenever the action sequences played out, it zipped along in fine form as it should considering how professional the stunt team had been. Whenever the action stopped and the talking heads took over - and there were a lot of talking heads as those scenes were cheap and quick to film - it went off the boil and lost its forward momentum.

Some of the scenes featuring supporting or walk-on characters didn't seem to fit at all; others were just there to pad the running time - at one point, the camera followed a townsperson walking along a typical Western street without doing anything whatsoever. That wouldn't have been bad in itself had it only lasted a few seconds, but it went on and on and on with no rhyme or reason.

The scene made Wynne scratch her neck. Just as she was about to add her two cents' worth to the oddity, she broke out in a: "Lookie, there's ol' Diegoh!" while she pointed frantically at the TV. "Lawwwwwr-die… don't he look durn good in that there black Caballero costume o' his?  Yessirree!"

Mandy swallowed the mouthful of Summer Dreamz Orange Squash she had only just taken onboard when Wynne had cried out. "You're right about that. He looks fantastic," she said and put the can back on the coaster she had placed on the coffee table to protect it from can-rings.

"Why, them movie folks oughtta brought 'im up forward like they done me. Jus' look at him, darlin'!  An' there in da backgr-… naw, they cut away. I reckon I done saw Roscoe an' Geoffrey Juniah in da background. They wus cowpokes as well."

The gals fell silent while the next few scenes played out - nothing noteworthy happened apart from more talking-heads talking. When evening fell in the movie, Wynne grabbed the pillow again as she knew what was about to happen.

A concerned grimace fell over her face as she watched the establishing shot of the night-time campfire. It was supposed to have been her original introduction before the additional filming had taken place; she and a couple of cowboys were about to suffer an attack from the undead Vampyre ghoul.

In the movie, the three desert desperados did normal, everyday cowboy things like warming their hands near the fire and checking their Colts. The first bandit said: 'It's been a helluva long day. I reckon I'll hit the sack.' A few beats went by before the second bandit added: 'Okay. I got the first watch.'

The real-world Wynne clenched her jaw as she waited for the line she had rehearsed time and time again before she had been thrust in front of the camera. When the line of dialogue finally came, she mouthed along to herself: "Y'all wan'some mo-ahhh coah-ffee?"

The bandits grunted and shook their head. Then one of them said, 'Did you hear that?'  They glanced into the desert surrounding them; then Wynne's character said 'Relax, fellas… wus nuttin' butta wind.'

Not two seconds later, the tall, frightening, undead Vampyre ghoul burst out of the mounting darkness. It let out a terrifying roar and sank its claws and fangs into the first of the three bandits - plenty of gross sound effects of bones breaking and flesh being torn followed.

Mandy jumped and let out an "Oh!" at the sight; Wynne cringed at the exaggerated effects on the soundtrack. As the music grew screechy and the editing turned fast and frantic to show how the surviving cowpokes responded to the monster attack, she cringed even harder and yanked the pillow up toward her face.

While the undead flying ghoul brought one of its victims back to its lair - in a sequence entirely concocted of horrible CGI - Wynne lowered the pillow and let out a grunt of surprise. "Haw… that campfire scene wussen all that bad, ack-chew-ly… Mercy Sakes, that wus even quite okeh, wussen it?"

"I think so. You fit right in… no wonder they decided to re-tool so much of it to boost your character," Mandy said and hooked her arm inside Wynne's. "Hon?"


"I still say you looked damned sexy in that costume!" The statement was followed by a quick, sloppy kiss on Wynne's cheek.

"Haw… why, I sure be thankin' y'all, darlin'!  Yuh… I be havin' anothah cuppel-a scenes comin' up latah on. Mebbe y'all could sweeten' 'em with yer lips?" Wynne said with a wink.


As the end credits began to roll after an hour and twenty-seven minutes' worth of cheap and colorful B-Western horror, Mandy was about to press Stop on the remote but she reconsidered when the movie's fetching main theme played over the scrolling lines of text.

"Lawwwwwwr-die… that wus it. Haw. Some of it wus okeh. Some of it wussen. Some of it wus crap of da haah'est ordah. Snakes Alive, all in all.. that wus… haw… okeh?  Som'tin like okeh, anyhows. I'mma-gonn' give it four outta ten stars… prolly," Wynne said and let out a sigh of relief - Cowpokes vs The Undead Vampyre Ghoul hadn't been quite as bad as she had feared.

Blackie and Goldie had long since given up on the monster movie and had relocated to their other, larger doggy-basket out in the narrow hallway; there, they had shared a stick of chicken jerky before they had snuggled down shoulder-by-shoulder.

Mandy hooked her arm inside her partner's and pulled her a little closer. "Yep. The credits are rolling. Here's my review-"

"Aw, shoot… he' it comes," Wynne mumbled.

"I didn't actually think the movie was super-awful, all things considered. Well, all right, the computer-generated monster was-"


"Let's call it poorly made."

"Yuh… I reckon we could," Wynne said with a nod - the she shook her head. "Naw, it wus crap. Plain ol' crap."

Chuckling, Mandy reached over to give Wynne a nudge with her elbow. "Well, that part was, but in all honesty, the rest wasn't too bad. All the regular Western scenes were actually well-made. And hon… you were great."

Wynne rubbed her nose, cheek and chin that were suddenly flooding with an odd shade of crimson. She let out a mumbled: "Awwwww-shucks…"

"No, seriously. You and Roger Kennedy were by far the best actors in it. He was his old, reliable self and you were just right for the part. You were born to play that desperado!"

Wynne squirmed a little in her seat as the main theme continued to play over the end credits. "Yuh?  Well, I guess that be neat o' y'all ta say. Much obliged, darlin'. Lawrdie, that there music ain't bad neithah, haw?  If them folks done sole that, they could make a bundle. I ain't too sure the mooh-vie evah gonn' make a dime, but… yuh. Much obliged fer them pos'tive comments o' yers."

"You're welcome," Mandy said and got up from the couch to do a little housecleaning like collecting the cans they had emptied and the dishes they had used for their supper.

Wynne remained on the couch and took the plastic DVD case to look at the colorful artwork. A grunt escaped her. "Haw, I still got a hard time bah-lievin' that there original star… shoot, whutshisname… that there Simon someboddah… haw…" - she scratched her neck several times while trying to get enough neurons to line up in an orderly row so she could ask them all at once.

"Don't ask me," Mandy said from her spot over by the TV.

"DeLane!  Yuh, 's right… anyhows, that he done threw such a hissy-fit that he plum walked away from the mooh-vie an' all. I mean, that sure wussen profes-shunnal. An' now he ain't in it whutsoevah. Not fer a second 'cos them editahs done cut 'im clean outtah them scenes he had alreddy done filmed befo' they got he'."

"You know how egotistical those movie stars can be, Wynne," Mandy said as she pulled the DVD from the player and turned off their equipment. "Because you had such a strong screen presence, they gave you more to do. That meant there was less for him, and he threw a world-class fit about it."

"Yuh, he sure did. Haw. Mah ears still be ringin' when I done think back ta that embarrassin' meetin' ovah yondah in da studio. Dad-gummit, that wus one of them all-time hissy-fits, that wus. A li'l diaper-kid in nursery school coudden ha' done a bettah job had them mooh-vie folks paid 'im in lollah-pops."

Getting up, Wynne held out the plastic case so Mandy could put the DVD into it. "Yuh… it wus bettah than ou'ah own mooh-vie back then, but… shoot… it ain't gonn' be one fer the ages. Naw. He' taday, fergotten tamorrah," she said as she glanced at the artwork again.

Shrugging, she threw it onto the couch for later. "Whutevah," she said and moved out into the kitchenette. 'Say, Sheriff Mandy… how 'bout we done made some coah-ffee an' nabbed usselves a cuppel-a buttah cookies or som'tin?  Mah sweet tooth needs feedin'…'



At just after ten the following morning, a matte-black lightning bolt raced north on the State Route. The Chevrolet Silverado Trail Boss Midnight Edition presented an impressive sight with its bronze bow-tie on the grille and the white lettering on the sides of the bed that proclaimed it to be Wynne's Truck. To match the legendary Intimidator paint scheme, a pale-gray stripe ran the entire length of the vehicle down at the rocker panel from the front of the fender to the rear bumper.

Inside the imposing truck, the Lansingburg-based Down-Home Ol' Country Shack - everyone's favorite country radio station - took care of the entertainment. At present, Clyde Bookman, jr. sang about his trouble with women and drinking in the old hit Wimmen & Boozin', Winnin' & Losin' that remained just as relevant as it had been decades earlier when Bookman had written it.

Blackie and Goldie shared the passenger-side seat with the German Shepherd sitting nearest the window as always so she could see where they were going. Goldie's head rested on the seat while the rest of her furry body was down in the footwell; the perennial scaredy-dog felt safe sitting between her owner and her fierce canine companion so she hadn't curled herself into a ball of golden fur yet.

The dogs shared a long, amused look before they glanced over at their owner who warbled along to the song at maximum volume.

Wynne Donohue wore her full Last Original Cowpoke garb: decorated cowboy boots, faded blue-jeans and a wool-lined denim jacket over a Skoal Bandit-green sweatshirt commemorating the legendary 'Handsome' Harry Gant and his streak of four NASCAR victories in a row in September 1991.

On top of it all - literally - she wore her beloved cowboy hat. The fashion statement had seen better days, but she would never part with it. She wore her high-quality sheepskin gloves as she gripped the steering wheel; her red bandanna had come along for the ride as well, but it was out of sight tucked into her left rear pocket as Cowpoke fashion dictated.

Clyde Bookman's song eventually faded out and was replaced by a weather report and a block of commercials. Wynne turned down the volume a couple of notches and turned to her dogs. "Haw!  That sure is one helluva fun song, yessirree!  Ol' Clyde nevah done reached that level o' greatness ag'in. Naw. An' I know 'cos I done bought a cuppel-a his albums an' all, 'membah?"

Woof? - Yap!

"Naw, ya prolly wudden. But anyhows, they wussen as good as that there song there. Y'all sittin' fine down there, Goldie?"


"Gladda hear it!"

Before the music could resume, Wynne's telephone started ringing down in her pocket. Not wanting to break any laws so soon after getting the mess with her moving violation cleared up, she activated the turning signal and drove over onto the verge at once. She let out a grunt at the sight of the caller-ID that said Moira MacKay. "Howdy, Moira!  Y'all got the one an' only Wynne Donnah-hew he'. Whut can I do fer y'all on this he' sweet Decembah mornin'?"

The fiery owner of the best and most popular Bar & Grill in all of MacLean County answered in her typical manner: short, sharp and to the point. 'We have a problem up on the roof of the B and B, Wynne.'

"Aw, shoot-"

'A section of the roofing plates has become dislodged. I don't know how the hell it managed to do so, but it did. I tried to yank it back in place, but I couldn't pull the damn thing far enough without risking my neck. I need your long arms.'

"Haw, sure, there, Moira. Tell ya whut, me an' them dawggies alreddy be on ou'ah way up ta Goldsborah. We gonn' be there in mebbe five minnits or so. Yuh?  It ain't like it gonn' rain any time soon…"

'Oh, you never know what'll happen around here, Wynne…'

"Lawrdie, ain't that the truth," Wynne said as she reached down to stroke Goldie's fur. "Yuh, okeh… we gonn' swing bah in a li'l while. I'mma-gonn' come inta the office first fer an update an' stock up on a li'l liquid nourishment fer the job."

'All right. Bye for now.'

"Bah-Bah, Moira," Wynne said and closed the call before she stuffed the telephone back into her pocket. "Haw. Yuh, Figgahs. Howindahell one o' them there big-ass roofin' sec-shuns can get dislodged is beyond me… sure hope it ain't no flyin' monstah who done be usin' mah attic as a nest for li'l crittahs or nuttin'."

As Wynne drove away from the verge, Goldie let out a drawn-out whimper and promptly rolled herself into a golden ball deep down in the footwell - Blackie let out a sound that could be interpreted as a doggy-sigh at her companion's predictable behavior.

"Les'have some music while we drive the last stretch o' the way," Wynne said and turned the volume back up on the advanced infotainment system. Soon, Patti MacGraw did her best to restore the previous good mood by singing her number-one hit from the summer of 1987, Gotta Love The Man.


A short fifteen minutes later, Wynne and the dogs climbed the staircase in the Bed & Breakfast she co-owned with Moira MacKay. She had never envisioned she would end up as part owner of such an establishment, but the highly valuable coin collection she had inherited from her aunt Martha Faye Donohue had at least made it possible - despite having the financial means required for such an endeavor, the decision had still been a difficult one for her to make.

The B&B consisted of three floors that each had twelve rooms. Wynne had read somewhere that themes were considered chic and hip in the major markets, so she had gone all-out decorating the first floor to her tastes - thus, every single room was an explosion in color celebrating all her NASCAR heroes: the room numbers reflected that fact by being 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 17, 18, 21, 24, 28 and 88.

She peeked into the hallway of the first floor as she went past it in case something needed her urgent attention, but everything was squeaky clean. Grinning, she, Blackie and Goldie continued further up.

The metal toolbox she carried over her left shoulder was square, cumbersome and heavy. Its broad leather strap gnawed into her denim jacket, but the cooler box over her right shoulder more than made up for the bother - or rather, the six-pack of H.E. Fenwyck Double-Zero non-alcoholic beers and the handful of Summer Dreamz soft drinks inside it did.

"C'mon, girls… we almost be up there, dontchaknow. Yuh, all y'all can't go da last bit o' da way 'cos dawggie-paws sure ain't fit ta climb one o' them there laddahs, nosirree, but y'all can chow on that there spicy jerky an' sip that there watah I done got for ya. Yuh?"

Woof!  - Yap!

"Lawrdie, I heah ya, girls!  Ain't nuttin' like food an' drink. Okeh, mah food an' drink be a li'l dif'rent, but anyhows. Yessir, he we be."

Coming to a halt at the top landing, Wynne swapped the items she carried for a large bundle of keys. A padlocked hatch to the attic had been built into the ceiling; it was out of reach even for her long arms, so she dragged over a stepladder and climbed up on it to get the job done. One of the keys soon took care of the padlock after which she lowered a metal ladder down close to the landing.

Blackie and Goldie shuffled to the side while letting out a few annoyed woofs and yaps at the burst of dust the action had unleashed. It only took Goldie a quarter of a second of looking up into the black hole in the ceiling to let out a whimper and hide behind her canine friend's broad back.

Wynne waved her hat to dispel some of the dust. Glancing upward, she craned her neck to see where exactly the dastardly roofing plate had tried to make a run for it, but she was unable to see anything from the landing. "Okeh, lemme get all y'all yer treats first, then I'mma-gonn' climb dat dere laddah," she said as she crouched down next to the cooler box.


Up in the attic, Wynne soon spotted the offending gap in the roof - it was hard to miss as it offered a perfect view of the deep-blue December sky above. Grunting from the excessive weight she had to carry on her shoulders, she pulled the leather strap of the heavy toolbox further up onto her shoulder and began navigating the obstacle course to get to the troublespot.

There were certain points that would be safe for her to put her boots, and a great deal that she needed to avoid unless she wanted to create a sun roof in one of the rooms below. Everything seemed to hold up even if the floorboards and crossbeams creaked and groaned a couple of times as she moved ahead.

"Now lissen he'!  If there be any flyin' or crawlin' or any othah kind o' nasty, blood-suckin' crittahs up he', y'all bettah take a hike 'cos the Last Ohh-ree-gee-nal Cowpoke be comin' thru'!  Yessir!" she said as she reached the gap in the roof.

When no answers of a spoken, hissed or telepathic kind came back to her, she put down the heavy toolbox, pulled it open and took a pair of thick work gloves. True to her luck, she fumbled incessantly trying to get the proper glove onto the proper hand.

"Lawrdie… why'dahell are them gloves always, always, always da wrong way 'round?  Haw, that be Wynne Donnah-hew in a dang-blasted nutshell right there, yessir," she mumbled as she stood up straight.

She began drawing a battle plan but soon came to the conclusion that she might as well forget any plans and just get on with the job. Since the main part would entail getting the errant roofing plate back into place, she poked her head out of the gap in the ceiling to see where it might have wandered off to.

"Haw!  Whadda view!  Lawrdie…" she said as she took in the fabulous view of the vast desert beyond the town limits that the unusual vantage point offered her. "If I done had mah binoculars up he', mebbe I could see all the way hoah-me!  Naw… prolly not 'cos I be lookin' west instead o' south… haw. Good job, there, Wynne. Great thinkin'. Now where da hell that there plate went?"

A brief craning of her neck proved that the errant roofing plate had moved itself a foot to the left of the spot where it should have been. In short, she needed to stretch her left arm out as far as it - and her denim jacket - would go to drag it back to its proper position.

"Howindahell the durn thing done got out dere, I ain't got no clue… but it sure is comin' back an' all," she mumbled as she pulled the coarse masonite back to the gap it had left behind.

Once it was safely in place, she gave it a thorough inspection in the hope of finding the proverbial smoking gun that had caused it to shift in the first place. No matter how hard she stared at it, she was unable to see any fatigue in general or stress-related fractures in particular - the plate had simply worked itself free of its constraints and had gone on a cross-roof adventure.

"Haw. Weird," she said as she rummaged around in the toolbox to find a battery-operated power drill; the drill bit was soon replaced by a screw that re-attached the rebellious section to the nearest crossbeams.

"A-yup. Job done!  It be Fenwyck time, yessirree!" she said before she began whistling the lively main theme of the B-Western she and Mandy had watched the night before.

Her whistling trailed off into nothing when it dawned on her that she had skipped a cog in the thought process - fixing the gap in the ceiling had effectively cut off the light. The attic was equipped with a couple of old-fashioned light bulbs, but not only was the switch way over by the hatch in the floor, the gap in the roof had provided so much natural light that she hadn't flicked the switch after she had crawled up the steep ladder.

"Okeh… I need-a get back ta that there light switch ta turn on them lights… yuh… okeh… but it gonn' be one helluva trek ovah dere if I ain't got them dang-blasted lights on!"  A few moments went by before Wynne yanked off her beloved cowboy hat and smacked it against her leg. A few grunts, groans and growls escaped her before she plonked the hat back onto her dark locks. "Awwwwww-shittt, why do them weird, weird things always happen ta me?  Mercy Sakes, somebodda hates mah guts!"

She let out a long, tormented sigh before she took off at a very slow pace so she wouldn't step on the wrong part and end up downstairs in a pile of rubble.

"Way ta go, Wynne Donnah-hew," she said in a mumble. "Dad-gummit, this gonn' end badly fer someboddah… an' that someboddah prolly gonn' be me!  I don't even got no beers up he' or nuttin'!  Them cans all be down in da coolah with them dawggies!  Lawwwwwwr-die!"


Her initial trek from the hatch to the gap in the roof had taken just shy of two minutes, but the return trip took three times as long. Fumbling along in the semi-darkness, she strained her hearing to hear any potentially lethal creaks and groans from the floorboards; she eventually found herself taking the extra-extra long route back to the hatch to literally be on the safe side.

It was inevitable that her rotten luck would strike at the worst moment: although her actions didn't actually cause the floor to collapse, she thumped her boot into an unsighted and unmovable item that she could have sworn came out of nowhere with the sole intent to trip her up.

Letting out a howl of pain and surprise, she flailed her arms to maintain her balance and stay erect. The wild gyrations not only made her hat fly off but yanked the metal toolbox off her shoulder. The heavy kit landed on the floorboards with an ear-shattering - and wood-shattering - crash that made dust trickle down from the rafters.

Downstairs, Goldie whimpered while Blackie let out a couple of thunderous barks to tell the critter responsible for the racket to stay far away or else there'd be plenty of gnawing going on pretty soon.

For Wynne, the bright-white flash of pain caused by the sneak attack took its sweet time to dissipate - plenty of grunting, groaning and growling was required before she was able to see her surroundings a little clearer. "Sombitch!" she croaked through a clenched jaw. "Whaddahell wus that?  Whutevah it wus, I'ma-gonn' throw that there miserable piece of dang-blasted cowflop offa that there roof!  Mah toes be rattlin' 'round in mah boot now!  An' wheredahell-a mah hat go?!  Awww, hate it when dat happens!"

After inching around the obstacle that had nearly caused her to take a nosedive worthy of one of the cliff-jumpers on the tropical islands, she hobbled over to the light switch near the hatch. It was soon flicked on which enabled her to locate her hat, the toolbox and the item she had slammed into.

"Haw… whazzat?  A footlockah?" she said as she hobbled back to the square item. Painted in olive-green and carrying a white star reminiscent of the one used by the US Army in World War II, the footlocker sported an old padlock that appeared as if it was on the verge of breaking in two.

She picked up her hat, slapped it against her thigh and finally plonked it onto her dark locks. The metal toolbox needed to wait as her attention was snared by the footlocker. Kneeling next to it, she reached for the lid to give it a little yank - even her slight touch made the rusty padlock break apart and fall off. "Yuh, this sure is an old footlockah… no wondah it nearly done wrecked me… this he' thing gotta weigh a dang-blasted ton!"

Wynne took full advantage of the lights being on by pulling the lid open. The contents were revealed to be several layers of very old clothes that had been neatly folded to be saved for later - unfortunately, Later had ultimately become Forgotten.

The clothes and the rest of the footlocker's contents carried the typical dry scent of near-ancient dust as well as a whiff of mold and decay. Wynne lifted the upper layers to check if there were any critters in there, but the worst that happened was that the moldy smell grew stronger.

Reaching under a brownish-white piece of cloth that hadn't been in good shape since the heady days of the turn of the last century, her fingers touched an item of more substance than the flimsy fabric. "Haw… that be some kind o' metal… yessirree… a grip… a trigger guard… lemme see whut this he' thing be," she said and swept aside the brownish-white cloth.

A "Haw!  Wouldya lookie there…" escaped her as she clapped eyes on a pair of badly corroded .45 Colt Single Action Army revolvers - better known as the legendary Colt Peacemaker, the Handgun That Won The West.

Taking the first of the old revolvers, she tried to manipulate the small button on the side of the gun's main frame to get the cartridge drum to release. No matter what she tried to push, pull or wiggle, everything about the firearm was so old and in such poor condition that it was unusable and most likely beyond salvage.

She let out a grunt and put the gun away. There was a chance the long-forgotten footlocker would hold another treasure further into its depth, so she rummaged through the old clothes for something a little more exciting - her middle finger soon found it for her. An "Owch!" escaped her as she yanked her hand back from whatever pointy object she had discovered.

Several layers of clothing needed to be folded back before she could clap eyes on the item that had nicked her finger: a traditional sheriff's badge as they had looked in the Old West. "Haw!  A tin star!  Why, it sure is… yessirree, a genuih-ne sheriff- naw… naw, it done says som'tin there on the rim… shoot, I can't… T… E… X… Lawwwwwwwwwwwwr-die, this he' bein' one o' them there Texas Rangahs badges!  I don't bah-lieve it… whaddahell wus a Rangah doin' he' in li'l ol' Goldsborah?  Haw, this is awesome an' all!  Why, I'mma-gonn' call Sheriff Mandy right away- naw. Naw, I ain't, I'mma-gonn' swing bah an' show her this he' beauty in person, yessirree!"

Getting back to her feet, she buffed the Ranger star on the seat of her jeans before she slid it into her pocket. The toolbox came next; she put the rusty Colts into it for the deputies to deal with.

Blackie and Goldie let out impatient woofs and yaps down on the upper landing, but their somber noises soon turned enthusiastic when their owner descended the steep, narrow ladder.

"Yuh, yuh, I be he', mah luv'ly dawggies," Wynne said out loud before she continued in a mumble: "Shoot, this he' laddah is durn steep… an' that durn heavy toolbox… I'mma-gonn' blow mah top if… one mo' ta go… haw, made it down in one piece!  Phew…"

Letting out a sigh of relief, she put down the toolbox before she made a beeline for the dogs to dish out a little doggy-loving - once that had been accomplished, she made a beeline for the cooler box to wet her whistle.


At the exact same time across Goldsboro's deserted Main Street, pandemonium reigned supreme inside the sheriff's office - the large van from the R-S-E Electrical Contractors that had been squeezed in between two of the official Dodge Durangos at the curb provided the first clue as to the nature of the disturbance.

Inside the office, no less than four electricians clad in dark-blue coveralls balanced atop tall ladders to install a brand new set of strip lights. The old ones had needed replacing for several years, but the Goldsboro Town Council had been reluctant to grant the Sheriff's Department the necessary budget to get the job done. The publication of the following year's fiscal details had shown that enough funding had finally been found, and thus, the men from the R-S-E
Electrical Contractors company were working hard repairing, upgrading or replacing the light fixtures that had been installed during the early years of the Ronald Reagan presidency.

Mandy had been forced to move away from her desk while the ladders were in place, so she had relocated to the middle of the office where she stood with her hands firmly ensconced on her hips. The grim look on her face proved it would be best for all concerned if she wasn't spoken to.

The ceiling's felt tiles that carried the light fixtures were old, flimsy and simply not designed to be worked on in such a severe manner. Dust and fragments of felt rained down everywhere which only worsened everyone's mood - rock bottom was reached when Mandy and her fellow long-suffering law enforcement officers had to pour out an entire pot of freshly made coffee due to the fact that the dark-brown liquid contained more felt-chips than coffee beans.

With the surprising announcement that enough money had been found to fix or change the strip lights, Mandy had pleaded with the Town Council to repair the cracked linoleum, the sticking front door or the passage to the holding cells that had been rusted shut for as long as she had worked in the Goldsboro office of the MacLean County Sheriff's Department. If such a large expenditure was out of the question, the very least that could be done was to replace the maps of the town and the surrounding territory as they were so out of date they were useless - unfortunately, her pleas had all fallen on deaf ears.

In a nebulous set-up remarkably similar to the one involving the near-lifetime contract with a Dodge dealer in Jarrod City to deliver the official vehicles, an unnamed individual of the Goldsboro Town Council just happened to know someone whose brother just happened to know someone else who just happened to own a company that specialized in installing and servicing strip lights - thus, the R-S-E Electrical Contractors had been handed the job, No Questions Asked.

Mandy let out a long sigh before she spun around and stomped over to the door to the restroom at the back of the office.

Deputy Barry Simms sat at the watch desk as usual. The late-twenty-something fellow had made the most of the situation by pulling an enormous crime-scene tarp over the desk and himself. After turning his smartphone's brightness up to the maximum to provide the light, he had created a cozy man-cave under the tarp where he slurped hot coffee, munched on a pink donut, worked on a sudoku puzzle and smoked one of his daily allocation of sixty to seventy home-rolled cigarettes.

Barry's complexion, eyes and fingernails had turned amber from the excessive amounts of nicotine he had ingested over the years, but he didn't really care much about the side-effects of his habit as he loved every last puff of it. His uniform was still in pristine condition so soon into his shift, but it wouldn't last. Less than an hour would go by before the black pants and shirt resembled the fallout zone of a runaway volcano.

Much to the annoyance of his co-workers, the tobacco he used was of the lowest possible grade - he was in regular contact with several of the country's largest manufacturers to buy bales of their waste products wholesale - and that fact was most evident in the foul-smelling smoke that polluted the office whenever he was present.

Barry let out a brief whoop as he managed to complete an Easy Sudoku Challenge in as little as sixteen minutes. The crime-scene tarp shuffled around a little as he put the puzzle magazine away to focus on his cigarette, the coffee, the donut and a Sally Swackhamer pulp novel: volume 45, 'The Grease-Gun Gang.'

Elsewhere in the office, the smallest of the three desks was occupied by the youngest member on the Goldsboro roster. The mid-twenty-something Junior Deputy Beatrice Reilly was hard at work using their advanced electronic typewriter to type up the various reports, incident logs and case files produced over the course of the past week.

Though the typewriter's three-inch-thick user's manual was a study in gibberish for most of the deputies, Beatrice had used the exact same model at the academy so she was able to make the reluctant thing do what it was supposed to. A growl escaped her as she glanced over at the men atop the tall ladders who continued to interrupt her.

The four electricians worked hard to install the strip lights, but their valiant efforts brought little gain as they seemed to fumble a great deal along the way. When one end of a tube had been clicked into place in the fixture, the other end poked out like a sore thumb and vice versa.

A great deal of hemming and hawing followed as the men tried to work out the correct procedure for installing the lights. It seemed to take half an eternity before one of the workers concluded they had brought the wrong strip lights for the fixtures - then they began debating if they should replace the fixtures or the actual light tubes.

Returning from the restroom, Mandy came to a stop at the exact same spot and put her hands on her hips in the exact same pose as before - it only took two seconds of watching the confusion before she regretted her decision to come back at all.

She rubbed her brow, pinched the bridge of her nose, scratched her eyebrows and ultimately buried her face in her hands for a couple of moments. "Gentlemen, how long will this take?  We're supposed to be working here," she said once she had calmed down enough to stop herself from swearing.

"Oh, maybe another hour or so, Sheriff," one of the workers said.

Mandy narrowed her eyes down into green slits. A grim mask fell over the rest of her face as she said: "You have twenty minutes," in a steely tone of voice that needed no interpretation.


"If you can't get it done in twenty minutes, you'll need to come back tomorrow. That's a hard deadline."

"We can't have this ready in twenty!"

"Twenty minutes or tomorrow. End of discussion!" Mandy said in a voice that not only grew in volume but dipped into a darker and far more dangerous register.

The four workers looked at each other. A moment later, they all shrugged and climbed down the ladders. One of them fumbled a step going down which meant that a screwdriver he'd stuffed into one of the pockets of his coverall fell out and went into freefall. The tool eventually slammed onto the sheriff's desk and sent several clerical items flying off the edge and onto the floor.

Mandy needed to jerk to the side to get out of the firing line of a jagged piece of plastic that broke off a ruler she'd had on the desk; growling, she glared at the offending missile as it came to a rest up against the farthest wall.

The sudden bang caused Beatrice to make a bad mess on the page she had been typing. Jumping to her feet, she drew a deep breath to let out a roared: "You incompetent clowns!  Get the hell out of here before we'll throw your sorry asses in the pen!  Now!"  To underscore her words, she put her hand on the holster of her service firearm.

The four electricians all felt the need to get as far away from the fiery fury as possible, so they swarmed out of the sheriff's office and into the van - they had forgotten their tools and the ladders, but none of them seemed to realize that fact as they sped off north on Main Street.

A faint snicker could be heard from somewhere underneath the crime-scene tarp that covered the watch desk. Sighing, Mandy strode over there and yanked it off her deputy to inform Barry that it was in his best interest to pipe down. Not two seconds later, a mushroom-cloud of near-toxic cigarette smoke billowed upward and created an impenetrable patch of foul-smelling fog inside the sheriff's office.

The stink and the fumes grew so bad that Mandy and Beatrice needed to vacate the premises in an almighty hurry. Outside, Beatrice fanned her face and wiped her stinging eyes several times. "Dammit, Barry… I'm going to kick your butt up one wall and down the other," she said in a croak.

Mandy was too busy coughing to reply verbally, but she nodded several times to show that she agreed with her deputy.

The fourth member of the MacLean County Sheriff's Department in Goldsboro, the late-thirty-something Senior Deputy Rodolfo Gonzalez, made a U-turn in one of the Durangos and soon slotted into the gap formed when the electricians had taken off. The suave Mexican-American with the slicked-back hair and the movie-star good looks remained behind the steering wheel for several long seconds while he stared at his coughing colleagues.

Chuckling, he stepped out of the SUV and moved onto the sidewalk. "So… are we holding a fire drill, Sheriff?  Or did you try to invent a new type of mace or pepper spray?"

Mandy was still hacking and coughing too hard to speak, so Beatrice took over: "None of the above. It's our dear colleague Barry," she said in a croak. "You can't go in yet. Not without a gas mask."

"Barry, Barry, Barry…" Rodolfo said and broke out in a cheesy grin. "Well, beyond that… I've done three tours of the town and there's nothing to report, Sheriff. Everything's quiet. I spoke to a few people here and there, but nobody had anything for me."

"Good… good. Long may it last," Mandy said before she blew her nose into a handkerchief to get the last of the stink out. "All right. Do you have any suggestions as to Deputy Simms' punishment?  It needs to be something that fits his crime against humanity."

Beatrice put her hand in the air. "Let's make him wash, polish and vacuum all the Durangos. Today. Out here on the street in full view of us so he can't cut any corners."

Rodolfo soon added his two cents' worth: "I second the motion of my esteemed colleague, Sheriff Jalinski!" he said while sporting a cheesy grin that could hardly fit on his face.

"Very well… a full wash-job it is," Mandy said and turned to look through the large panes of glass. When she locked eyes with Barry Simms, the young man's yellowish complexion paled into something generally described as flour-white.


On the opposite side of Main Street from where the smoky drama took place, Wynne, Blackie and Goldie exited Moira's Bar & Grill in high spirits; the dogs ran ahead to play Chase The Baddie with each other while Wynne took it easier and settled for strolling across the sidewalk en route for the sheriff's office. The dogs had enjoyed a couple of sticks of spiced jerky, she'd had her whistle wetted, and there had even been time to do a round of pool before her inevitable extended bathroom break.

Each member of the trio lost a step halfway there at the sight of Barry Simms being pushed out of the office wearing an apron and blue latex gloves while carrying a bucket of soapy water and a three-foot long scrubbing brush.

Blackie let out an amused Woof! at the humorous-looking scene; Goldie just shook her head.

"Lawwwwwwr-die… whaddahell ol' Barry done ta desuhrve that?  Mercy Sakes, 's gotta be som'tin majah…"

When she got closer, she was unable to stop chuckling at the level of whining that escaped Barry's lips as he dunked the scrubbing brush in the hot water and began to wash the large flanks of the four-wheel-drive vehicles. "Howdy, Barry!  Lookin' fine!  Haw, y'all done missed a spot right ovah yondah-"

The rest of the quip only came out as an "Oooooooh!" when she had to hustle to get away from the splash of water Barry sent in her direction - down below, Goldie whimpered and Blackie let out a huge bark to show the retaliation wasn't funny at all.

Wynne did in fact think it was funny, so she let out a constant stream of chuckles as she closed the distance to the office. The sticking door was soon dealt with, but a split second later, she wished she hadn't bothered. "Howdy, y'all!  Fine mornin'… ain't… it… aw, pee-U!  Whaddindahell's goin' on in he'?  Gawd-almighty… who done shoveled a dung heap in he'?"

Blackie and Goldie had already zipped past their owner's denim-clad legs on their way over to the blanket that had been laid out for them just inside the door; when their sensitive noses sent out urgent distress calls, they spun around and zipped out even faster than they had entered.

"Barry," -- "Barry," Rodolfo and Beatrice said at the exact same time.

Mandy had returned to her desk to finally get some work done, but the stink lingered on and forced her away from the paperwork. Getting up, she grabbed her Mountie hat and her uniform jacket. "I'll be on the radio if you need me," she said to her deputies.

"Yes, Sheriff," Beatrice said. Working with steely determination, she unplugged the electronic typewriter, put the wad of case files she had yet to do on top of it, picked everything up and strode over to the inner door to the crew room - two seconds later, the door was slammed shut behind her.

Rodolfo watched Mandy and Wynne leave the sheriff's office. He grimaced at the prospects of sitting at the watch desk that not only smelled bad, but was covered in ash, cigarette butts and crumbs from the pink donut and the other pastries his stink-producing colleague had consumed over the course of the morning. Sighing, he pulled out the hard chair and made himself comfortable.


Outside the office, Mandy zipped her uniform jacket and strode over to where Barry Simms continued to work on the first of the four Durangos. She sent him a dark glare that said he really shouldn't consider slacking off anytime soon.

Message delivered - and received, judging by the red blotches that spread over Barry's cheeks - she spun around and strode back to Wynne and their dogs. "Let's take a walk," she said as she slowed down just a fraction to give her grinning partner a chance to catch up.

"Yes Ma'am, Sheriff Mandy, Ma'am!" Wynne said and put a hand to the brim of her battered, sweat-stained cowboy hat in a facsimile of a salute. "Haw, deah ol' Barry sure done stepped innit this time, huh?  I don't even wanna know how he wus able ta make it stink that awful. Lawrdie."

With Blackie and Goldie forming the vanguard, they walked north on Main Street until they reached the first of the white benches the Goldsboro Town Council had put up in the hope they would attract tourists. Mandy continued to observe the street out of sheer habit; it was a waste of energy as the only vehicle in sight was a field tractor pulling a four-axled trailer heavily laden with huge bales of pressed hay.

"Okeh, Sheriff, I got a cuppel-a real fascinatin' items ta show ya," Wynne said and dug into her denim jacket's pocket. The first item she found was one of the corroded Colts; it was soon joined by its equally tarnished brother. "Lookie he'… dontcha reckon these he' fellas be a pair o' genuine Peacemakahs?"

"Where in the world did you find those, Wynne?" Mandy said and took the rusty firearm. Just like Wynne had done up in the attic, she tried to release the cartridge drum only to find that it had rusted shut or had become warped.

"Aw, mah foot done found it fer me. Yes Ma'am, I nearly done hadda wreck up in da attic. I needed ta saw at that there steerin' wheel a cuppel-a times befo' I done regained mah balance an' all. Them Wild West guh-ns wus in an old US Army footlockah along with a buncha ol', smelly clothes. I ain't got no clue who'indahell might ha' put 'em there 'cos that sure wussen the same era, yuh?"

Mandy let out a grunt as she studied the metal frames of the two revolvers. Decades worth of dust and grime had gathered on all surfaces making it impossible to see any kind of company or brand name. "Wynne, you know a thing or two about Westerns… do you happen to know if firearms were equipped with serial numbers back then?"

"Haw!  Serial numbahs?  Lawrdie, I dunno… mebbe… that sure ain't nuttin' I ever done thunk 'bout," Wynne said and pushed her hat back from her forehead. "But anyhows, there they wus. An' is. Y'all reckon Sam McCabe will be able ta restore 'em?"

"Honestly… I doubt it. They're too far gone," Mandy said and turned the other revolver over in her hand. It was in an even worse condition than the first one; general corrosion and the familiar green tint of verdigris had feasted on 95% of the frame leaving so little untouched metal behind that it would be a waste of time, energy and money to even consider refurbishing them.

"Yuh, okeh… but this he beauty sure ain't. Lookie he' what else wus in da lockah, Sheriff," Wynne continued as she held up the Texas Ranger badge. "How 'bout this he' gorgeous thing, haw?"

"Whoa… let me see," Mandy said as she took the tin star. She turned it over in every direction to get a close look at the craftsmanship and to see if the original carrier's name had been added to the rear side. No name seemed to be present, but it did have a four-digit serial number etched onto the flat surface on the rear. "This is amazing… tell you what, hon, if we contact the Rangers, I'll bet we can learn the identity of the individual who wore this back in the day."

"Haw!  That sure is an awesome ideah an' all!  I bettah do da tawkin', yuh?  Them Texas folks be speakin' mah lang-vitch!" Wynne said and reached over to give Mandy's shoulder a little push.

While Mandy studied the tin star once more, the field tractor pulling the hay wagon finally reached the white bench going at a mind-blowing twelve miles per hour. Geoffrey Wilburr, jr. - who was one of Wynne's fellow players in the Goldsboro Pool Association - took off his green-and-yellow John Deere ball cap and waved it high in the air as the tractor drove past the two women and the dogs. "Hiya, Wynne!" he cried as he rose from the saddle-like central seat.

"Howdy, Juniah!" Wynne cried back; she also mirrored the gesture of waving her hat. "Y'all bettah watch the road there!  See ya tanight for practice, yuh?"

"Sure thing!" Geoffrey Junior said before he sat down once more and concentrated on keeping the old tractor going straight.

Once the rumbling tractor had made it a few hundred yards south on Main Street, a veil of peace and quiet once again fell over the scene. Blackie or Goldie let out brief woofs or yaps now and then to show the world they were still there, but everything else seemed to have been put on mute.

"You know," Mandy suddenly said, making Wynne snap her attention back to her partner who continued to hold the tin star, "it might not be necessary to call the Rangers. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Miss Hayward up at the Town Museum would know something about it-"

"Haw!  Ya reckon?  Lawrdie, that would be a whole buncha fun!  Yes Ma'am… I sure do luv all them old Westuhrn things an' all. O' course, these he' ol' guh-ns sure ain't no mooh-vie props, nosirree. They be da real deal an' all."

Letting out an affirmative grunt, Mandy reached behind her to open one of the pouches on the back of her utility belt; she retrieved a pair of plastic cable ties that she wrapped around the Colts' trigger guards to tie them together. "They were instruments of death back in the day… well, I suppose they still are if someone uses them as a club to cold-cock an opponent. They'll never fire a round again. I doubt that even Miss Hayward would want these in her collection."

While Mandy spoke, Wynne took the Texas Ranger badge and held it so close to her eyes that her nose was fully buried in the badge's inside curvature. "Yuh, there sure be a serial numbah o' some kind there… but… naw… aw-shoot, it be too badly tarnished an' all ta read. Tell ya what, there, Sheriff Mandy… I'mma-gonn' mosey on up ta that there museum an' all while y'all go back ta work-"

"Wynne Donohue, are you really sending me back to that stink-hole?" Mandy said in a low, dark, dangerous, mock stern voice that made Blackie bark and Goldie break out in a whimper.

Wynne leaned her head back to release a strong guffaw. "Whah, Ah do apollah-gize, Sheriff Mandy!  Lawwwwwr-die, Ah dunno whaddahell wus wrong with me fer even suggestin' that!  Holy shittt, y'all got mah permi-shun ta slap me silly with a rubbah hose fer that one."

"Let's talk to Miss Hayward first. If it's a dead end, we can always go back to Plan R-for-Rubber hose," Mandy said and got up from the white bench.


A short distance further up Main Street, Wynne's telephone rang. Brenda Travers, their friendly neighbor from the trailer park, had helped Wynne install a special ringtone that suited her interests perfectly - thus, the characteristic dulcet tones of the legendary TV commentator Mike Joy could be heard welcoming the viewers back to the 1998 Daytona 500 after a commercial break.

A glance at the caller-ID revealed it was an unknown contact. Wynne let out a grunt but still tapped the display to make the connection just in case it was important. "Y'all reached the one and only Wynne Donnah-hew. Who's this, come on back?"

'Hello, Wynne, this is Abraham Rosenthal from the movie theater. I've just read an email-'

"Howdy, there, Abe. I don't reckon we ever done called each othah befo'. I be guessin' it be impahrtant an' all. So whazzup?"

'Well, an email from Padded Cell Productions and Distant Horizons Film Group landed in my in-box over night. The press release said that your Western will be released on DVD on December sixteenth… just in time for the big Christmas rush. Or so they hope.'

"Uh… yuh?  Them mooh-vie folks done sent me an' mah darlin' Sheriff Mandy a pre-screenah disk the othah-"

'I'm sorry… they sent you a what?'

"A pre-screenah DVD?"

'I think you mean a pre-release screener DVD.'

"Aw. Yuh. Prolly," Wynne said and scratched her neck. "But anyhows, me an' Sheriff Mandy done watched it las'night an' all. It wussen as horrible as I wus fearin' it would be, but it sure ain't evah gonn' win no Academy Awards, neithah. Haw, with y'all bein' in da bizz an' all, I be sure y'all know all 'bout them B-mooh-vies."

'Oh, I certainly do. I have a suggestion for you-'


'Yes. Since filming it was such a major event here in Goldsboro, wouldn't it be great fun if we bought the rights to show it in the movie theater?  Not for an extended run, obviously, but for one or two showings so everyone involved could get a chance to see it?'

Wynne's forward motion stopped from one step to the next. Her face froze solid in a combination of two expressions generally known as Deer In The Headlights and Staring Into The Abyss And Seeing The Emperor Of Hell Reaching Out For You.

She let out a croaked "Wha'…?" but was unable to go on.

Blackie and Goldie had already run ahead to beat their owners to the town museum, but they returned to Wynne's side when they discovered they had lost one half of their little troupe along the way. The dogs shared one of those long looks that proved they had understood something major had just happened. Shaking her head, Blackie sat down on the sidewalk; Goldie leaned against Wynne's legs and buried her face in her paws.

Mandy let out a chuckle and crouched down to dish out a little doggy-loving to get Goldie's mood back up from the proverbial basement it had plunged into.

'I'm thinking we could hold a grand premiere on Saturday evening and then have a Sunday matinee just like the classic Westerns of yesteryear. How do you feel about that suggestion, Wynne?'

"Uh… buh… Lawwwwwwr-die…"

'Is that a yes or a no?'

"Buh… that be a… buh… lissen… I ain't… haw… too sure… this prolly ain't gonn' be such a good ideah an' all, there, Abe," Wynne said as she rubbed her brow. "Aw-man, ta see mahself on that there gigantoh silvah screen… an' them spe-shul effects wussen too spe-shul, know whut I mean?  An' that there monstah thing… Lawrdie. It done looked like a crappy Halloween costume that someboddah made on da fly. An' I know it wussen 'cos them wardrobe folks wus supah profes-shunal an' all, but… it done looked crappy on camera."

'That's par for the course when it comes to these movies, Wynne. Most people understand that. I think it would be a fun idea, actually. I'd appreciate it if you gave it some thought and then got back to me later today. All right?'

"Uh… yuh. Okeh, Abe. I'mma-gonn' do that. Real nice tawkin' to ya an' all. Bah-bah," Wynne said and closed the connection. After shoving the telephone back into her pocket, she scratched her neck again and let out a "Lawwwwwwwr-die…" in an even stronger accent than usual.

Mandy chuckled at the sound and the look on her partner's face. "What was all that about, hon?"

Wynne chewed on her cheek a couple of times before she put one leg ahead of the other once more to resume walking toward the town museum. "Aw, it wus nuttin', really. Only Abe Rosenthal from the mooh-vie theatah. Yuh, sure wus. Them folks at Padded Cell done sent him an email 'bout mah Westurhn… an' ol' Abe suggested the theatah could buy them rights ta show it a-cuppel-a times fer a matinee an' stuff. Holy shittt, I ain't too sure-"

"You know what?" Mandy said and hooked her arm inside Wynne's in a very un-Sheriff-like pose as they moved along the sidewalk.


"I don't think that's a bad idea at all, actually."

"Really?  Ya reckon?"

"Yes. Think of all the locals who were in it apart from you. Maybe Diego, Rodolfo and all the others would like to relive their moment in the spotlight. All right, I doubt Brenda would want to see it… it would bring back all the horrors she experienced down at Silver Creek with the real bat creature… but she was so pretty before all the bad things happened."

"Haw, that sure ain't no lie, no Ma'am… she wus gorgeous. She really lit up da screen when we done watched it las'night. Wussen she playin' da Mayor's wife or some such stereotype?  Them details be gone from mah brain. Anyhows, I reckon y'all got a point there. Haw. I need-a use mah noggin ta think this ovah."

Wynne fell silent as they walked the final few yards to the main entrance of the building housing the Goldsboro Town Museum. A colorful cardboard sign sticky-taped onto the glass door informed potential guests to use the back door instead.

"Okeh, he' we be… an' it looks like we need-a go 'round da back," Wynne said and turned left to head down the alley next to the museum. Blackie opened her mouth to break out in a pre-emptive yawn at the dull, dry, stale nature of the displays inside, but Goldie responded with a happy, excited Yap! that proved how much she looked forward to the experience.


The Goldsboro Town Museum had initially opened its doors in the first week of January, 1900, to mark the end of the old century and celebrate the arrival of the new one. The grand opening had been marred by a protesting mob headed by the local elementary school's senior math professor who had insisted the new century didn't begin until the following year. Although the elderly gentleman had the support of nearly fifty co-protesters, the vast majority of the town's four-hundred citizens couldn't care less about such nonsense and jeered the stuffed shirts every chance they got.

The original two-story wooden structure had been built from the ground-up on the east side of Main Street not too far from what would eventually become Cathy Pearson's Tack & Saddle leathergoods store. In the first few years of the museum's existence, the main exhibition revolved around countless authentic items donated to the museum by the locals. Ranging from dented chamber pots to pristine gold pocket watches, they told a vivid tale of the earliest settlers who had been part of the Great Westward Drive.

The centerpiece of the first exhibitions had been the broken axle that had forced Josiah Goldsboro and his family to abandon their age-long trek to California and instead found the tiniest of towns in the middle of the Nevadan desert in 1881.

In late October of 1912 a devastating fire, deemed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion, consumed the entire wooden structure and thus wiped out most of Goldsboro's earliest history. Save for a few boxes of official records and personal collections that had been kept elsewhere for cataloguing, everything was lost to the greedy, roaring flames - it took nearly seven years before enough funding could be sourced to build a new, and far sturdier, brick building that had been in use ever since.

Wynne, Mandy and the dogs turned the rear corner of the building and strolled on to the back door at a leisurely pace - for a change, the stern and devoted Sheriff was in no hurry to return to the office and its grossly polluted air.

Unlike the smart main entrance that had recently undergone an upgrade to add a gift shop, the back entry was drab and far more utilitarian in nature. Another cardboard sign on the door read 'Don't bother to knock - just come in and say hello!'

Chuckling, Wynne opened the back door and let out a loud "Howdy, Tabitha!  Y'all in he' or whut?  Hope ya is 'cos we sure be comin' thru'!"

'I'm here, Wynne!  Hi!' Tabitha's disembodied voice said from somewhere beyond a tall stack of cardboard packing cases.

The rear door led to a storage room filled to the rafters with crates of all sizes and types. Familiar smells of cardboard, wood and old dust tickled the nostrils of the four individuals who entered the room. Faint music could be heard playing on a radio elsewhere in the building, and a floorboard creaked somewhere above indicating that the museum had a paying visitor.

The custodian of the town museum had sorted everything by age so the oldest, and therefore most valuable, items were closest to the floor to prevent any harm to come to them in case of earthquakes, catastrophic cave-ins or the main problem that had haunted Goldsboro nearly since the start: supernatural or otherworldly shenanigans. A sprinkler system installed in the ceiling should take care of another fire in case one broke out, but its effectiveness had fortunately yet to be tested.

Blackie yawned again as she ran around the storage room to find a spot to lie down in that wasn't covered in dust bunnies. A brief Woof… escaped her when she realized it was just as dusty everywhere she looked. Goldie was far more enthusiastic and zipped around the crates to find her Human friend.

'Well, hi there, Goldie!  You're looking fine today,' Tabitha was soon heard saying. Several happy yaps were uttered before the two appeared around the corner of a pile of crates.

In her mid-fifties, the dark-skinned lady of Caribbean origin had run the town museum for close to twenty years. The exhibitions had been in a sorry state of disarray borne of decades of neglect when she took over from the previous custodian, but by investing plenty of blood, sweat and tears into the project, she had been able to transform everything into the kind of spectacle required by the modern-day guests - the integrated gift shop was merely the latest example of her grand ideas.

Tabitha wore cotton slacks and an indoor vest that were both matched in a delicate shade of pure-white. The vest covered a golden-bronze designer shirt that featured sparkly rhinestones as buttons; the top-two had been left undone to flaunt a gold necklace that offered a striking contrast to her dark skin.

Reading glasses consisting of a platinum frame and square lenses were perched high on her nose, and her shoulder-length, nut-brown hair was kept in check by a barrette while she rummaged around in the storage room.

"Hello, Sheriff Jalinski. Hiya, Wynne," she said while flashing a broad grin and putting out her hand for the traditional greeting.

"Howdy, Tabitha. Y'all sure is lookin' fine on this he' day an' all," Wynne said and grabbed the hand offered her. While Mandy shook it as well, Wynne dug into a pocket to find the old badge. "Haw, we done got som'tin awesome ta show ya!  Wouldya lookie at this he' li'l piece o' tin. I done found it in an ol' lockah up in da attic o' da B-an'-B. Me an' Sheriff Mandy wus sorta hopin' y'all might be able ta tell us som'tin 'bout it… or som'tin."

"Oh, that's nice… the weight and texture feel genuine. Definitely late nineteenth century," Tabitha said and adjusted her glasses to take a better look at the item. "There's a four-digit number on the back. Did you guys check it out?"

"It be on that there ta-do list, but I ain't gotten around ta-doin' it yet. I only jus' found it mebbe an hou'ah ago."

Tabitha nodded before she fell silent to give the badge an even closer study.

"Miss Hayward," Mandy said, "we wondered if you recalled reading anything about Goldsboro having been visited by a Texas Ranger?  It seems curiously random. Logic suggests the Ranger was here to arrest someone. If the sheriff's office was asked to assist, there has to be some kind of paperwork concerning the event-" - Tabitha shook her head which made Mandy stop - "No?"

"I'm afraid not, Sheriff. For starters, they weren't exactly sticklers for keeping documentation at that time… and even if something did in fact exist, it would have been lost in the fire."

"Aw-durn," Wynne said and scratched her neck. "Shoot, looks like we done wound up drivin' inta one o' them there one-way streets aftah all, haw?  Dag-nabbit, I wus really hopin' we could-"

"Not so fast, Wynne," Tabitha said with a broad grin. She returned the tin star so she could have her hands free to stand akimbo. "I only answered the second part of the Sheriff's question. I do in fact recall reading about a Texas Ranger coming to town."

"Wa-hey!  Lawrdie, les'heah it, girl!"

Stepping to the side, Tabitha put out her arm to show Wynne and Mandy that they should go through the inner doorway and enter the brand new gift shop. "It's mentioned in one of the books we sell. It's yours for only twenty dollars… well, nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents, to be exact," she said with a grin.

The human trio and the two canines walked over to one of the four display tables that formed the backbone of the new gift shop. In addition to the tables, six glass display cases had been put in the corners and along the outer walls. Nearly seven feet tall, they each held dozens of fascinating items for sale ranging from replicas of ancient - or simply old - artifacts unearthed around Goldsboro to hand-drawn maps of MacLean County, the stretch of the desert known as Oswald Creek, the old mining settlement Silver Creek and the hilly area around Haddersfield Pass even further south.

Goldsboro's notorious slogan Where Magical Things Happen! could be found on items as varied as T-shirts, coffee mugs, onesies for toddlers, Ping-Pong bats, ball point pens, beer coasters and even umbrellas - though the latter would undoubtedly never experience a drop of rain in their entire lifetime.

Tabitha strolled over to the third of the four tables. One end of it was home to a wide selection of scientific books and encyclopedias while the other held several autobiographies, glossy photo books and travelogues, and even graphic novels depicting some of the outrageous, spooky and/or scary events that had been a constant companion in and around Goldsboro over the decades - the graphic novels were a hit overseas, and an entire set had just been shipped to Japan.

"Here we go," she said as she took one of the works of reference and began to flick through it. When the approach didn't help her find the section she was looking for, she moved to the index in the back of the book and ran a finger up and down the countless paragraphs of text. A moment later, she opened the book to page 159 and held it out so Wynne and Mandy could see what she meant.

"Lawwwwr-die!  Haw, that sure be one helluva crisp photo, yes Ma'am!" Wynne said as she took in the crystal clarity of the image. The photograph showed a lanky, fierce-looking and heavily armed man standing in front of an open casket that had been placed up against the wall of an undertaker's parlor. As was the norm back then, a dead body occupied the open casket so the world at large could see just how effective the long arm of the law had been. "An' that sure be one helluva dead outlaw… haw… lissen ta da cap-shun, Sheriff Mandy… August seventeenth, eighteen-eighty-nine… The veteran Texas Ranger Winston Drummond came ta town an' only needed half a day to put an end to Eugene 'Cactus' Smith's bloody reign of banditry."

"Was that picture taken on Main Street?" Mandy asked.

"Prolly. Hard ta say… can't recognize nuttin' in da background. None o' dem how-ses are still he'. Hey, Tabitha, when did that there undahtakah close down?"

The custodian took a quick peek at the photograph. "From what I know, it went out of business back in nineteen seventy-six when the last member of the family passed away. And yes, Sheriff, the photo was taken out on Main Street. The undertaker's parlor was torn down to give way to the medical center where Doctor Gibbs is now."

"Shoot," Wynne said and pushed her hat back from her brow, "if that ain't Goldsborah in a dang-blasted nutshell, I ain't sure whut would be… them undahtakahs done closed 'cos everybodda wus dead… Lawrdie."

Tabitha broke out in a cheesy grin. "Yes, that does seem to fit right in, doesn't it?"

"Yuh." Wynne fell quiet to study the photograph of the lanky lawman. Though a huge full beard was the norm among the important gentlemen of the period, such a large, overly fuzzy specimen as worn by the Texas Ranger - it covered the entire lower half of his face and reached halfway down his chest - was rare among lawmen. Beards of that size and density tended to draw lice and other infestations that were almost impossible to get rid of while travelling between towns. His lined face and stern gaze at the camera told a story of a hard, proud man who was willing to track down a fugitive from dawn to dusk for weeks or months until he got the results he had come for.

She moved the book closer to her nose to take in as many details as she could. By squinting, she could just about make out a silvery shape on Winston Drummond's chest. "An' I reckon that there Rangah be wearin' a star on his vest an' all. But might that be this he' star… or whut?"

"Well, that's a question I can't answer," Tabitha said with a shrug.

"Naw… 'course not. None of us wus there."

Mandy was about to open her mouth to add a little more to the conversation when the portable radio on her belt crackled to life. 'Base to Mobile Unit One. Base to Mobile Unit One. Sheriff, are you on this frequency?  Over,' Beatrice's voice said in the radio's typical tinny quality.

After offering Tabitha and Wynne a brief smile meant as a See you later, Mandy pulled the radio off the belt and left the gift shop through the front door. "Mobile Unit One receiving loud and clear, Deputy. What's the situation, over?" she said before closing the door behind her.

"Lawrdie," Wynne said as she looked at the sheriff speaking into the radio out on the sidewalk, "Them law folks sure ain't nevah get a minnit's rest. Yuh. An' speakin' o' which, I wondah whut done happened aftah that there ol' photo wus taken. Mebbe the outlaw's cronies came ta town an' plugged da Rangah?  On the othah hand, wudden them folks ha' written 'bout that in this he' book an' all?  Whut's its title, anyhows?"

Tabitha closed the book and held it out so Wynne could see the cover - the title was The Complete Pictorial History Of Goldsboro, Vol.1 - 1881 to 1899.  "It's primarily a photo book, Wynne. It's entirely possible there might have been a shootout that nobody had time to take a picture of. Don't forget how clumsy and slow the cameras were back then. And if the Ranger was ambushed at night, there would have been no chance to take any kind of photograph except with a magnesium flash, but that took an age to rig up."

"Yuh… makes sense. Aw, okeh… yuh," Wynne said and scratched her neck. Since doing so didn't bring any insight into the deal, she reached for her wallet instead. "Anyhows, I'mma-gonn' buy this he' book an' all. Mebbe som'tin else will pop inta mah mind 'bout it. Aw-yuh, I did find some clothes an' all in da lockah, but there wussen nuttin' fer y'all 'cos they wus all down ta da last thread, if ya catch mah drift."

Nodding, Tabitha took the twenty-dollar bill and held it up against the light just for fun. She winked at Wynne before she folded the bill and slipped it into a pocket. "That's the big problem with old clothes. We've been offered quite a lot over the years, but few are fit for display without some major work done to them… Dorothy has volunteered to mend everything for free, but then they're no longer authentic."

"Yuh, I heah ya. Anyhows, much obliged, Tabitha… I'mma-gonn' be in touch an' all. Bah-bah fer now," Wynne said and tipped her hat like any half-decent Cowpoke would. "C'mon, mah dawggies… we be gone," she continued as she patted her thigh and pointed at the main entrance.

Woofing and yapping, Blackie and Goldie followed their owner out onto Main Street where they began to play a version of the ancient game known as Catch My Tail.

Mandy had needed to go back to the sheriff's office which left Wynne with plenty of time to look through the photo book. The crisp black-and-white pictures delivered exactly what the title offered by depicting photographic memories of major events and everyday life in and around Goldsboro in the late 1800s. Important citizens and common cowboys, uppity schoolmarms and Madam Ruby's prostitutes, pious clergymen and brawny blacksmiths - all had lined up to get their picture taken for posterity.

A strong spark of inspiration soon developed deep inside her mind. She glanced up and down Main Street as if she was trying to create a mental painting of some kind. A few grunts escaped her as she held up the photo book to get a sense of the stark contrast between the old days and the present. The Texas Ranger star seemed to call out to her, and she retrieved it from her pocket to give it another close study in the sunlight.

"Haw… Lawrdie. I wondah… I wondah if… we… haw, girls, lissen he'!" she said and crouched down to be at eye-level with Blackie and Goldie - the dogs stopped playing and formed at their owner's spot on the sidewalk. "Okeh, ol' Abe done asked me if I reckoned it would be fun if that there mooh-vie I wus in wus showed ovah yondah at the theatah, yuh?  I didden reckon it would be… but well, mebbe it would… it'd still be cringy as all hell, but how 'bout we Cowpokes o' present-day Goldsborah done made a gold-rimmed Westurhn-themed weekend or som'tin outta the occa-shun?"

Blackie and Goldie shared a puzzled look; they let out pensive Woofs and Yaps? to show they had some difficulties following the idea as presented.

"Yuh!  Yuh, I be thinkin' covah'd wagons an' dawg an' pony shows an' hay on da ground an' pilgrims on buckboards an' bandits an' de-per-ties an' the whole kit an' caboodle!  Lawrdie, wudden that be fun?  Ask Tabitha fer a few tips an' ideahs an' all… an' mebbe ask Sam McCabe ta source some prop Winchestahs an' Peacemakahs an' all them there legendary guh-ns o' the Wild West!  Yuh?  Oooh, an' ask that nice Mizz Dorothy from that there Yarn Spinnahs sto'ah ta mebbe sew or rent a bunch o' genuine period getups fer them folks who wanna participate!  Yessirree, it be jus' like one o' them there wondahful ol' Westurhns… except it be happenin' he' in real life!  Haw, Wynne Donnah-hew, that be theeee dang-blasted best ideah y'all done had since… haw, evah!"

Blackie looked at Goldie and let out a bark that meant 'Did you get a word of that?' Goldie replied with a series of concerned yaps: 'No. But I'm worried about my dinner. You know how absentminded those Humans get when they're caught up in something.'

Standing up ramrod-straight, Wynne reached for her telephone at once to call Abraham Rosenthal and inform him of her decision; a grunt escaped her when she realized it would be faster just to walk up to the movie theater and speak to him in person. A broad grin exploded onto her face as she set off in a stride not unlike that of Sheriff Jalinski - Blackie and Goldie followed closely behind their owner while exchanging a long line of woofs and yaps that were equal measure puzzled and concerned.



The following day, December 8th, grew overcast as the hands of time went past midday and into the afternoon hours. A chilly breeze swept in from the vast and mostly flat desert terrain that surrounded Goldsboro, but unlike the summer months where such a show of nature's strength would create the feared Red Storm, the gusts of wind only bothered window panes, drain pipes and TV antennas.

Wynne soon reversed her matte-black Silverado into the alley adjacent to Moira's Bar & Grill. She let the last song run out on the Down-Home Ol' Country Shack - Bad Boys Love Sweet Angels by R.C. Lewis - before she shut off the infotainment system and turned to the woman sitting next to her. She let out a chuckle at the sight of the tightest blue-jeans ever known to Womankind. "Brendah… I got a-cuppel-a questions fer y'all. Okeh?  One, howindahell did ya even get inta them there pants?  An' two… howindahell 'r ya able ta breathe?!  'Cos, dang, girl… them jeans be tight!"

In the back, Blackie and Goldie agreed with their owner by letting out a few woofs and yaps.

The spirited Brenda Travers - one of Wynne and Mandy's neighbors in the trailer park - let out a husky chuckle. As always, the mid-thirty-something IT-developer looked amazing with a full head of fresh curls, classy ear rings, just the right amount of makeup and an elegant outfit that consisted of the aforementioned skinny jeans, a sandy tunic supported by a pale-brown belt and finally a baby-blue down jacket fit for a skiing trip to Aspen or a social call to the best eatery in all of MacLean County. "Oh, we gals can do anything. Sometimes, we just have to call on our inner Amazon to get it done."

"Yuh, sure ain't no lie… an' them jeans deffa-nete-ly be fittin' ya jus' fine an' all."

"And I have no problems breathing, thank you!" Brenda said and reached over to give Wynne a playful slap on the shoulder. "Come on, let's get something neat for lunch. Vaughn and I just signed a five-figure deal with the Urquart Microcircuitry Corporation up in Washington State to stress-test their firewalls-"

"Lawrdie, I ain't got no clue whaddindawohhhhh-rld y'all be tawkin' 'bout, Brendah. None. An' there ain't no point in tryin' ta explain, neithah, 'cos I ain't nevah gonn' figgah it out, anyhows."

Brenda offered her friend a smile before she said: "In short, I'm buying."

"Haw, much obliged!  Ain't nevah heard o' that there comp'ny, but I bet they be real important an' all," Wynne said as she opened the door to climb down. A moment later, she let the dogs out who promptly took off in a sprint to get to their doggy-cave underneath the pool table.

As Wynne and Brenda exited the alley and strolled onto the sidewalk, they let out identical noises of surprise at the sight of a large van from the R-S-E Electrical Contractors that had been parked at a weird angle in front of the sheriff's office across Main Street.

"Haw, I done thunk them electri-shuns wus done yestuhr'dy… guess they wussen," Wynne said and scratched her neck. She and Brenda shared a brief look before they both shrugged and moved onto the Bar & Grill. "Aw, ain't none o' ou'ah beeswax, anyhows. Let them de-per-ties deal with it… I be hearin' a Dubbel-Zerah callin' mah name, yes Ma'am."


Across the street, an unseen but certainly evil-minded force had caused a temporal loop worthy of a Star Trek episode to sweep over everything in the sheriff's office: the same four electricians as the day before balanced atop the same tall ladders working on getting the same strip lights installed.

Despite their best efforts with nail guns, hammers and other noisy tools, the results they achieved also fell into the same category as the day before - i.e. hardly any.

The men cussed, groaned and shed bucketloads of sweat as they applied their years of experience to get the strip lights installed. They glanced down at the grim-looking sheriff and her deputies at irregular intervals, but since everyone seemed to be in a foul mood, they concentrated on doing their job fast and efficiently so they could escape the Lair of The Dragon Women with their hides intact.

Mandy had been forced to move away from her work desk for the second day in a row; the thunderous look on her face as she stood in the middle of the office with her hands akimbo told all anyone needed to know.

Beatrice Reilly had run out of old case files to type up, so she had volunteered to clean up the crew room at the back of the office. Once she had assembled a few items she knew she would need in there, she donned a pair of headphones and made a beeline for the inner door so she didn't have to listen to the headache-inducing noises produced by the workers.

Barry Simms had called in sick so Rodolfo Gonzalez sat at the watch desk - the sparse musculature in Barry's back had been unable to cope with the strain of washing and vacuuming all four Durangos, so he couldn't even get out of bed. When Rodolfo had called him a faker, a big chicken and a weakling, Barry had hung up in a huff.

"Okay, that oughtta do it," the senior electrician - a burly fellow in his late thirties - said from atop the ladder he was perched on. "Sheriff, we're done. Wouldya mind flickin' the switch?"

Sighing, Mandy strode over to the nearest light switch. She locked eyes with Rodolfo to share a brief moment of prayer before she flicked it.

The first five seconds were blissful moments that neither heard, saw nor spoke any evil. The strip lights blinked a couple of times each as the fluorescent tubes came alive to cast a pale and somewhat artificial light upon the sheriff's office and the hard-working people in it.

Mandy had just enough time to hope that it wasn't too good to be true when the Curse Of Goldsboro struck - upon reaching the sixth second from the switch being flicked, all hell broke loose: a huge bang rattled the office hotly followed by showers of orange and yellow sparks that spewed out of the new fixtures. All power went off at once as the short-circuit spread its devious reach to the next tube that suffered the same fate as the first one.

All four electricians were affected, but the foreman caught the brunt of the sparks. Letting out an impressive shriek, he threw his arms in the air to protect his face. Unfortunately, this fast-moving gesture meant he was unable to maintain his balance atop the tall ladder. Not only did he tilt to the side, the ladder did as well until it had gone beyond the notorious point of no return and entered the final part of a ballistic flight path.

Howling in a perfect falsetto, the burly fellow hung on for dear life as the ladder keeled over and landed with a violent crash across the sheriff's desk. Though the desk itself was unharmed due to its sturdiness, most of the items Mandy kept on it were scattered to all four corners of the compass.

The ladder had less structural rigidity than the desk and snapped in two as it struck the obstacle - the abrupt halt sent the howling senior electrician on a collision course with the cracked linoleum floor. Through sheer luck, his boots hit first which enabled him to make a clumsy, four-point landing that would have embarrassed even a Floridian Waddlebird touching down somewhere in the Everglades.

Two somersaults closed the deal and left him sitting flat on his behind in the middle of the office floor. Shaking his head to get the dizzies out, he had a look that said 'I need to get out of this business!' etched onto his face.

A split second later, the door to the crew room was yanked open to reveal one of the Dragon Women. "That frickin' does it!" Beatrice roared at the top of her lungs. "You, you, you and you are hereby under arrest for disturbing the peace, subversive activities, suspicions of terrorism and whatever-the-flying-frick I can think of!  Line up against that wall and put your hands behind your backs!  Now!"

"Oh, will you calm down," the foreman said as he clambered to his feet and dusted off his hands. "Shit happens. Deal with it."

"Don't tell me to calm down!  Don't even open your frickin' mouth!"

For once, Mandy tended to agree with her fiery deputy, but the time for retribution would have to come later. A quick glance up and down Main Street proved that the power had gone out in most places - even the traffic lights at the intersection of Main and Second Street were off. "Half of Goldsboro has blacked out. I think the southern transformer substation has been fried," she said as she came back inside. A few beats went by before she added a laconic: "Again."

Rodolfo just glanced at the sheriff, the four workers and the red-faced Beatrice whose right hand continued to hover close to the holster of her firearm. A small chuckle escaped him as he inserted a bookmark into a Sally Swackhamer pulp paperback - volume 48, 'The Pershing Street Vampire' - to get ready for the inevitable tidal wave of calls from residents reporting the sudden loss of power.


Five minutes earlier over in Moira's Bar & Grill.

Wynne returned from the refrigerators carrying a six-pack of H.E. Fenwyck's famed Double-Zero non-alcoholic beer. Brenda had found a nice, undisturbed table just off the beaten path inside everyone's favorite eatery, and she had already prepared the cutlery, the napkins and the rest of the items they would need for their late lunch.

The table was decked out in a checkered tablecloth as they all were. The red-and-white squares were mostly stain-free, but an explorative mind would be able to find traces of the types of ketchup, mustard and hot sauce that were present on all tables in decorative reed baskets.

Wynne and Brenda had the table for themselves as Blackie and Goldie were cooped up in their cozy doggy-cave under the pool table - the short-order cook A.J. 'Slow' Lane had treated the dogs to bowls of fresh, cool water and a few sticks of spiced jerky to keep everyone happy.

The front door soon opened to reveal Eamonn and Esther O'Sullivan. It seemed the late-fifty-something Eamonn had been practicing his skills as a gentleman as he held the door open for his wife who was a few years older than he - he even took her by the hand as he guided her over to one of the tables.

The married couple had donned their Sunday finest though it was only Thursday: Eamonn wore dark-blue cotton pants, a white Western shirt and an old-fashioned blazer jacket. Once Esther took off an overcoat that she folded up and put over the backrest of a chair, a flowery dress came into view that featured a pleated skirt and a narrow belt around her waist. A brooch designed to resemble a daisy graced her lapel while a pair of golden ear rings flashed under the lights of the Bar & Grill.

"Howdy, friends!" Wynne said and waved her hat in the air. It was obvious that it was some kind of special occasion for the O'Sullivans, so she excused herself and walked over to the other table. "How 'r y'all doin'?  This looks official… I reckon ya ain't gettin' hitched 'cos ya alreddy be hubby an' wife, so… whazzup?" she said with a grin.

Esther returned the grin; she reached up to point at the golden ear rings. "It's my birthday, actually. Would you look at these gorgeous things?"

"Haw!" Wynne said and clapped her hands together in joy. "Well, happy birthday, Esthah!  Yuh, them ear rings sure be perdy an' all… yes, Ma'am!  Eamonn, ol' buddy, y'all musta broke the piggy bank ta afford them beauties, haw?"

The disability pensioner - he had lost much of the use of his right leg in an industrial accident years earlier - grinned as he took in the sight of the golden accessories and the warm smile on his wife's face. "Yeah, well… some things are just more important than money in the bank," he said as he reached over to give Esther's hand a little squeeze.

"Lawwwwwwr-die, truer words wus nevah spoken!  Tell ya whut, pardnahs… this he' birthday servin' be on da how-se, yuh?"

"Oh, you don't-"

"Yuh, we do. Jus' find som'tin' y'all really want an' me an' Slow Lane gonn' put it onda table. Okeh?  I be sittin' right ovah yondah with Brendah, so when y'all done thinkin', jus' come ovah an' we gonn' take it from there. Okeh?"

Esther and Eamonn shared a brief look before they both nodded and smiled at Wynne's suggestion.

"Deal's a deal, mah friends!  I be seein' all y'all in a li'l while, then," Wynne said and tipped her hat at the O'Sullivans before she shuffled back to her own table. Sitting down, she had soon pierced a hole in the plastic wrapping that protected the Double-Zeros. The first of the familiar silvery cans was quickly dug out and held toward Brenda. "Y'all want one o' these?"

"No thank you. I've ordered a glass of veggie juice."

Wynne let out a grunt before she cracked open the can with a Pssshhht! and took a moderate swig. "Don't tell me y'all goin' on some kinda diet or som'tin?  I mean, aintcha mornin' Yoda an' that there John Jetson there enuff ta stay in shape?  Veggie joo-ce… Lawrdie. Naw, gimme a beah an' I'mma-"

From one syllable to the next, a loud bang was heard from somewhere outside the bar and grill. The lights flickered a couple of times before they went out for good along with the cooking stoves, the range hoods, the video poker and keno machines and the refrigerators. "Aw-shoot… now whaddindahell?" Wynne said in a croak; her next swig had nearly gone down the wrong pipe from the surprise - golden drops dripped off her chin, but they were soon taken care of with a napkin.

Some joker among the barflies grabbed the opportunity to deliver an age-old joke that hadn't been funny for the better part of a decade: 'Oh, Gawd!  It's the zombie apocalypse!'

A deep, dark grunt escaped Wynne's throat as she craned her neck to try to identify which of the three men up at the counter was responsible for the joke - the one who continued to laugh at the joke seemed to be a good bet. He and his companions were unknown to her, so she surmised they were manual laborers who worked at the cattle ranches south of town.

"Y'all lissen he' an' lissen good, son!  We alreddy done had a zohm-bee apocalypse he' in Goldsborah, an' them nasty-ass crittahs sure wussen no laughin' mattah… nosirree!" she said in a loud, strong voice that made the joker pipe down.

Over by the pool table, Blackie poked her head out of the doggy-cave to see if she needed to come to her owner's rescue. Since the drama had already been and gone, she withdrew and left the Humans to deal with their own nonsense.

Brenda chuckled at her friend's uncharacteristic fire until it dawned on her that it might be true - her brow slowly gained a few furrows. "Uh… if you don't mind me asking… did you really… I mean…"

"Yuh. An' then some. That wus one helluva night, I be tellin' ya, Brendah. Good shittt almighty, us decent folks faced unspeak-abbel horrahs fer a while there. Evah done heard o' Rev'rend Raymond Light an' his congrega-shun o' ravin' lunatics?"

"Uhhhhhh… no. And I'm pretty sure I don't want to."

"Yuh. We bettah leave it there an' all. Wussen no perdy sight iz all I be sayin' ta that," Wynne said in a dark tone - then her face lit up when she caught sight of Slow Lane approaching their table carrying a tray that held a plate, a bowl of soup and a side dish with a pair of wheat rolls. "Haw, we be right ovah he', son! Dontcha be spillin' no drop o' that there soup there, ya hear?  Y'all got mah chili-dawg cooked in time?"

The mid-twenty-something A.J. 'Slow' Lane who had recently decided to grow a mustache to look older and cooler - beyond a row of fuzz on his upper lip, his success had been limited - put the plate and the soup bowl on the table before he wiped his hands on the semi-clean apron he had tied around his waste.

His unfortunate nickname stemmed from the fact he often had problems keeping up with the orders and the subsequent cooking panels, frying pans and sizzling French-fry baskets, but he was a kind soul who couldn't hurt a fly. "I sure did, Wynne. I even had time to roast the buns before the power went out. Howdy, Miss Travers… your veggie soup is hot and delicious as well. I'll be right down with your juice."

"Thanks, A.J.!" Brenda said with a smile.

"Lawrdie… veggie joo-ce an' veggie soup… I'm beginnin' ta undahstand how y'all can fit inta them oh-so-tight pants o' yers. Ya ain't eatin' nuttin'!"

Chuckling, Brenda dipped the spoon into the soup and began to eat it while it was hot; she kept a napkin ready at all times to catch the droplets that were bound to make a run for it.


The minutes ticked by without any signs of the power being restored. Wynne finished her chili-dog in fine style before she reached over the table to grab one of the free bags of toothpicks from the reed basket.

As she used the small tool to dig out a piece of dog that had refused to leave its new, comfy home, she glanced around the restaurant that was eerily dark and quiet. The absence of the constant whine that was usually created by the range hoods was the most noticeable element of the blackout. The other patrons seemed to take it in their stride - it was Goldsboro, after all - but she was more concerned about the valuable contents of the cold storage room out back.

Moira MacKay had tried to call the sheriff's office to hear what was going on, but the line had been busy for ten minutes straight. To cut to the chase, the fiery owner of everyone's favorite haunt had stomped over there to get the low-down on the event and a guesstimate on when the power would return.

'Slow' Lane leaned against the counter and munched on the free roasted peanuts while browsing the Internet on his telephone - there was nothing for him to do as the cooking panels, the microwave oven, the draft pumps and all the other equipment had lost power as well. The only thing within the scope of his responsibilities that continued to work was the gas ring that was hooked up to a two-hundred-pound gas cylinder under the counter. As chance would have it, nobody had ordered spring rolls, frankfurters or any of the other items that would go onto the frying pan.

"Okeh, this is gettin' kinda annoyin'," Wynne said before she drained her latest can of Double-Zero. "I really oughttah go ovah ta them de-per-ties an' ask Sheriff Mandy whaddahell went wrong this time… on the othah hand, them bevve-ritches in them re-fri-gy-ratahs be heatin' up bah the minnit, yuh?  Mebbe I oughtta come ta their rescue instead?"

Brenda let out a chuckle as she eyed the two cans Wynne had already emptied. After finishing her soup, she used the wheat roll to mop up the last of the tasty liquid. "Well, in any case, the soup was delightful. It's really too bad that A.J. loses his cool so easily when the going gets tough… he's actually a pretty decent cook."

"Yuh, I agree. That wussen no reddy-made soup y'all jus' had, neithah. Naw, he done made it hisself from da ground up. Lawrdie, when I look back a-cuppel-a years, ol' A.J. coudden even-" Before Wynne could go on, her telephone rang.

Expecting to hear from Mandy, she let out a puzzled grunt when the caller-ID said 'Abraham R.' "Y'all got the one an' only Wynne Donnah-hew, Abe. Whazzup?  Y'all got powah up there or whut?"

'We have plenty of power, Wynne. It's only the southern end of town that's affected.'

"Haw. Okeh. Figgahs."

'I've been in touch with Padded Cell Productions and Distant Horizons. They've agreed to strike up a contract giving us permission to show the movie twice. Saturday, December seventeenth at eight o'clock and Sunday, December eighteenth for an afternoon matinee at two.'

"Aw, that sure does sound fine an' all!" Wynne said and leaned back on the chair.

'Yes, but the legal representative I spoke to, a Mr. John Bernard Carter-'

"Haw, I sure ain't fergettin' that peacock in a hurry, nosirree…"

'- it was on the strict condition that the standard fee was paid and that it wouldn't cost Distant Horizons a dime beyond that. And if they did in fact need to spend unbudgeted money on the distribution, we would need to reimburse them.'

Wynne furrowed her brow as her brain tried to compute the foreign word - giving up, she leaned forward so she had room to scratch her neck. "Y'all need-a help me a li'l he', Abe… is that fer copyin' the mooh-vie an' sendin' them reels he' bah couriah, or whut?"

'Well, no… I'm afraid you're a couple of decades out of date.'

"Haw!  Yuh, whut else is new…"

'All movies are distributed electronically these days. You don't have to concern yourself with that. It'll go through our regular channels.'

"Uh… okeh," Wynne said and scratched her neck. "So… ya kinda lost me he', Abe. Reimburse 'em… whaddahell that means, anyhows?  Is that like sendin' 'em a buncha red roses an' a Thank Ya Muchly card or som'tin?"

'Not exactly, Wynne… the standard fee for the distribution of this kind of movie is eight thousand dollars-'

Wynne bolted upright so fast that both of the empty cans of Double-Zero toppled over and made a break for the edge of the table - only a swift reaction held them back from getting acquainted with the floor. "Holy shittt!  Y'all gotta be messin' with me, Abe!"

'I'm not. Movie distribution is big business… even for small films-'

"Lawwwwwr-die… I sure do hope I'mma-gonn' come back as a mooh-vie mogul in mah next life… them folks want eight grand fer two showin's of a crappy B-monstah flick?!"

Hearing that, Brenda's eyes grew wide; she had to shake her head at the sum.

'Wait, wait… you're-'

"Ain't no way we can get dat back even if we done sold a ticket ta everyboddah out he'… hell, even if we done sold two tickets ta everybodda!  Man!"

'Will you please hear me out, Wynne?'

Wynne shook her head a couple of times, but eventually let out a: "Yuh…"

'There's nothing to get worried about because there's nothing unusual about any of this, okay?  We've budgeted five special events such as this one over the course of the year, and it just so happens there's one left. Besides, it'll all even out whenever the next superhero movie premieres. This falls under the old chestnut swings and roundabouts, you know?'

Wynne's eyes narrowed down to hardly anything at all; across the table, Brenda's eyes were still wide - it would have created an odd sight for anyone else had they been able to see through the gloomy conditions inside the Bar & Grill.

"Uh… naw, I ain't got a clue wotcha tawkin' 'bout, Abe… but nevah mind. Is this he' deal a go, or whut?"

'It's a go, Wynne.'

"Lawrdie, I wish y'all had jus' done tole me that instead o' goin' off on some wild monkey chase," Wynne said as she rubbed her forehead. "Okeh, Abe… that means I can continue with mah own plans an' all. Thanks a bunch, pardnah. I be in touch latah. Bah-bah."

Once the telephone had been put back into the pocket it had come from, Wynne took a Double-Zero from the six-pack, cracked it open and chugged it down in nothing flat.

Chuckling, Brenda reached over to pat her friend's hand. "I can't remember the last time you said that much in such a short span of time, Wynne… good or bad news?"

"Good news, I reckon. Yuh, they wus good. But it be a li'l secret an' all so I can't tell y'all too much in da he' an' now," Wynne said with a wink.

Brenda returned the gesture though her wink was saucier. "Ooooh!  I love secrets… I can't wait to learn more."

"Uh… yuh."

At the same time, Esther and Eamonn O'Sullivan came over to stand next to the table. Esther put her hands in her coat pockets after tying a knot on the wide belt that held it together. "Wynne, I'm afraid we need to take a raincheck on your offer. I've invited my niece and her husband to dinner at six or so. You know how time flies… and Eamonn and I need to come up with an alternative to the pot roast so we can't wait here for the power to return."

"Haw… yuh, I sure hear ya, Esthah. I dunno whaddindahell done happened this he' time. Anyhows, mah offah stands fer whenevah y'all feel like it," Wynne said and got up from the chair. She shook hands with the O'Sullivans before they left the Bar & Grill.

"Aw-shoot, that wussen whut wus saposed ta happen on anyone's birthday!" Wynne said and threw her arms out wide. "Durn that there dang-blasted blackout. Why'dahell don't them electri-shans get it fixed?  Lawrdie, this he' deal iz gnawin' on mah good mood, I be tellin' ya."

A few moments went by before a matter that required her urgent attention nabbed all the proverbial headlines. "Aw… aw… aw!  Aw-shoot, now I gotta get rid o' them there beers befo' I can go anywheah… dad-gummit, it gonn' be one helluva adventure ta find that there toilet bowl when them lights ain't shinin' in da stalls!"

"I wish you the best of luck, girl," Brenda said and broke out in a cheesy grin.

"Why, I do 'preciate it an' all… yuh… aw, I bettah." Moving away from her spot at the table, Wynne needed to cross her legs to stem the tide - in turn, that forced her to crab sideways all the way over to the public restroom.


Sheriff Mandy Jalinski tried to steal a page from their supernatural opponents' playbook by directing an Evil Eye at the percolator. Her hope was to make it come alive without power, but despite her best efforts, the glare just seemed to bounce clean off the dead appliance.

Even with her tough demeanor, her rank within the MacLean County Sheriff's Department and her reputation as being a stickler for upholding the laws of the land, those who knew her would swear on a stack of Bibles that she was an easy-going woman 99% of the time - but in this particular instance, the final percentage point had reared its horrible head due to her strong craving for coffee and the fact there was nothing to be had.

Around her, the bustle in the office had grown to unbearable levels. Two of the electricians had hurried down to the southern transformer substation to see if there was anything they could do, but the remaining two made enough racket as they tried to clean up the mess they had made to drive even the most patient of souls to the brink of madness.

Beatrice had stormed out of the office the second she had been given permission to; there was plenty for her to do out on the street as a large group of locals had the sheriff's office under siege demanding an apology or at the very least an explanation for the blackout.

Over at the watch desk, Rodolfo's ball point pen raced across the incident sheet adding reams of updates; he had started with a regular pencil, but it had been worn down to the woodwork within the first ten calls. There was no time to sharpen it as the old Bakelite telephone rang off the hook with plenty of complaints from angry - and in some cases, furious - residents.

The senior deputy let the telephone ring a few times while he massaged his wrist. Though he had time to take a sip of a can of carbonated mineral water, the brief action constituted his entire afternoon break. "Dios mio… this reminds me of all the nonsense with the prank calls last summer… well, except that a few of those were actually funny," he said before he reached for the receiver to take the next call.

Mandy let out a dark "Mmmm," as she finally gave up trying to put the percolator under a spell. Returning to her desk, she sat down and slammed her arms across her chest. A grim look upon her face proved that nobody should even consider speaking to her, and if they still insisted on doing so, they shouldn't be surprised if they were barked at in return.

The fierce look never left her as she stared at the sorry remains of the plastic Cac O'Lantern Halloween figurine that Wynne had given her as a gift early on in their relationship. The odd name came from the fact it was shaped as a two-armed cactus that sported a manic pumpkin-face sitting crooked atop the central branch.

The plastic had shattered all around the base as a result of the hard impact with the linoleum floor - it could literally no longer stand on its own. Even worse, one of the arms had broken clean off while the other only hung on by the proverbial thread. The manic pumpkin-face looked as if its fate had made it wear a frown.

Its designers had never envisioned it as being anything more than a $3 study in kitsch, but it'd had a special place on Mandy's desk ever since Wynne had presented it to her on a typically fraught Halloween eve.

Fixing the Cac O'Lantern would require an entire tube of superglue, so Mandy grabbed a paper tissue and wrapped it around the broken figurine to protect it. Once it was safely under wraps, she pulled out one of the desk's drawers and placed the bundle next to a few office supplies she kept there.

Her sublime annoyance with the electricians and their clumsy methods in conducting their business came out as a series of grunts. The two men who had remained in the office to clean up the mess they had made were at least getting closer to finishing up - she hoped against hope that it would bring an end to their part of the infernal racket.

The Bakelite telephone continued to ring and Rodolfo continued to update the incident sheet. When all and sundry had offered their two cents' worth to the latest mess that everyone seemed to blame the deputies for, he massaged his wrist again and let out a deep sigh. "Sheriff, I'm not sure that you need to know, but the town's been cut into two perfect halves. The power's out from Derrike Iverson's bar and all the way down to the southern city limits. Those who live south of the line call us to moan and groan in my ear… and those who live north of that line call us to let us know they still have power… yes, really."

Mandy let out a brief "Very well," while she gave her senior deputy a long, glum look. Sighing, she got up once more and strode over to the large windows that offered a good view of the dark Main Street and the group of residents who were still out there protesting. Beatrice Reilly's repeated assurances that the blackout was caused by a simple accident and not an air raid by the black helicopters or any other kind of government cover-up seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Several long seconds went by before Mandy let out another sigh that sounded like it came from the bottom of her soul. "The real fun begins when the power is restored. Then every single automated burglar alarm in town will get confused and go active," she said over her shoulder.

"Oh. Yippie. Can't wait," Rodolfo said in a mumble; his moment of peace only lasted another two seconds before the old telephone rang once more.

Flashes of orange light and the roar of approaching engines reached Mandy's eyes and ears while Rodolfo spoke to the next caller. A moment later, no less than four service vehicles from NorPower raced south on Main Street: a crew bus, two huge vans that each pulled a flatbed trailer, and a truck equipped with an articulated crane just in case they needed to dig deep to get to the root of the problem.

"Finally," Mandy said and strode over to the wall behind her desk to grab her uniform jacket and her Mountie hat. "NorPower's here. I'll be down at the substation. Let me know the second the power comes back."

"Yes, Ma'am!"

Before Mandy exited the sheriff's office, she took one of the portable radios and checked it against the base unit on the watch desk by pressing the transmit key; the resulting squawk was loud and clear which meant the batteries were fully charged.


It only took a minute and a half for Mandy's Durango to reach the gravel road that led to the transformer substation located at the southern end of Goldsboro. Now decades-old and beginning to show signs of age-related weaknesses, the square, non-descript brick building formed the connection point where all the high-voltage cables from the various pylons met, and it was protected by two rows of fences and countless bright-red warning signs.

As Mandy parked on the side of the gravelly trail to be out of the way in case more workers would arrive later, two teams of the NorPower 'flying squad' service crew were already in the closing stages of erecting a pair of forty-foot-tall floodlights each equipped with enough LED panels to turn the dead of night into the brightest of days.

The tri-pod poles supporting the floodlights were integrated into the flatbed trailers and received their own power through thick cables that ran over to diesel generators installed in the back of the vans.

The brick building housing the substation remained dark and quiet, but the moment the floodlights were turned on, everything was lit up as if the sun had decided to swing by for tea and biscuits - or beer and pork rinds in case it chose to knock on Wynne Donohue's door.

Mandy jogged the rest of the way along the gravel road, but she soon came to a halt a safe distance from the ant-hill like activity so she wouldn't cause the blackout to last longer than necessary by disturbing the professionals.

The efficient crew unlocked both fences and stepped into the building itself within two minutes of arriving at the site. Characteristic sounds produced by radio chatter echoed through the secluded space at the southern tip of town; it seemed the problem had already been identified. A female voice reeled off a lengthy list of tools and spare parts that were required to begin repairing the panels that had been blown to smithereens.

A grunt escaped Mandy when she recognized the voice: it belonged to Chief Faye Morgan, the senior NorPower service technician who had worked on the transformer substation the last time it had imploded - back when Goldsboro was plagued by the eerie, red lightning bolts that had caused a parallel dimension to open up and bring all sorts of chaos and mayhem to the tormented town.

Mandy's own radio soon crackled to life with a 'Base to Mobile Unit One. Base to Mobile Unit One. Sheriff?'

"Sheriff Jalinski receiving. Over," Mandy said before she released the key.

'Still no power… and we have early signs of a possible riot on Main Street. Deputy Reilly has become involved in a shouting match with several residents, over.'

The sigh Mandy let out was another of those that came from the pits of her soul. Though she briefly looked toward the heavens for guidance, she decided to take matters into her own hands instead of waiting for divine intervention. "Very well. Take charge of the situation. Deputy Reilly will be on watch duty until I return. We cannot afford to get involved in further nonsense today. Over."

'Yes, Ma'am. Will do. Base out,' Rodolfo said before the transmission came to a close.

Mandy let out the umpteenth sigh of the past hour; it was One Of Those Days - and she still hadn't had any coffee. When a service technician clad in work boots, a bright-orange boilersuit, thick gloves and a white hard hat called out to her, she put the radio back on the belt and strode over to the individual.

The late-thirty-something service-crew chief Faye Morgan let out a "Well, if it isn't!  Look who's been promoted!  I guess I need to say 'Hello, Sheriff,' now, eh?", once she was close enough to catch the identity of the uniformed woman striding toward her.

Grinning, the chief stuffed her indispensable clipboard under her left arm and whipped off her right glove to shake Mandy's hand.

"Good afternoon, Chief," Mandy said as they shook hands. "Pleased to meet you again."

Faye let out a resounding guffaw at the comment. "Yeah, right!  I'm getting a flashback I didn't need and I'm sure you are too. So what in the world did you people do to our substation this time?  You've managed to fry three entire panels. Block Four-B hasn't seen this kind of destruction since… hell, since the last time I was here in town!"

"We had nothing to do with it this time, Chief," Mandy said and put her hands on her hips after the traditional greeting. "Have you spoken to the electricians from the R-S-E ?"

"Yeah. A couple of morons. I guess they and another couple of morons did something they shouldn't have when they tried to install strip lights. I mean, how the flip can anyone screw up installing strip lights?  That's so basic my grandmother could come back from the dead and do it!"

Mandy squinted in several directions just in case the Chief's words had given an eavesdropping supernatural entity a bright idea, but everything seemed quiet for the time being - it didn't appear that Goldsboro was about to be invaded by apparitions, ghouls or zombies that were octogenarian or older. "Well, they did. There was a loud bang and a thousand sparks… and then everything went black."

"No wonder!"

"Chief, can you give me an estimate of how long-"

"An hour at best. Maybe two if we discover any knock-on effects that we need to rectify. I'll be in touch ten minutes or so before we throw the really big switch."

A somber expression spread over Mandy's face. Not only would it require plenty of smooth talking on her part to explain a further two hour delay to the upset residents, it seemed she was destined to never get her much-needed afternoon coffee. "All right. Thank you, Chief. Just come over to the office whenever you're ready."

"Will do, Sheriff," Faye Morgan said before she stuck her hands into the thick gloves. A brief smile formed her parting salute before she turned around and headed back into the transformer substation to oversee the work.

Mandy remained at the site for a short while longer before she returned to the Durango and reversed out onto Main Street. A brief look at the crowd of irate people gathered in front of the sheriff's office almost made her head for home down south in the trailer park instead of returning to work, but her strong sense of duty eventually won the argument - turning the steering wheel to the left, she trickled back to the office and the angry mob waiting there.



To kill time, Wynne shuffled over to the large windows that offered a good view of Main Street. It was obvious for all concerned that the power had disappeared into a parallel dimension somewhere in the murky depths of time and space. When - or even if - it would return was a $64,000 question nobody could answer.

She couldn't recall the last time Moira's Bar & Grill had been that devoid of life during regular opening hours; the manual laborers had returned to their various employers after finishing their late lunches, and the casual guests who would typically come to Moira's to wet their whistles, play a little pool or get an afternoon snack before their real supper had all chosen to stay at home during the blackout.

The highly familiar sound of Pssshhhht! proved that she had just opened one of her beloved cans of H.E. Fenwyck Double-Zero. A wide yawn spread over her face the second she had taken the first swig.

Down below, Goldie had fallen asleep at her owner's feet. Even in a state of slumber, the scaredy-dog wore a happy smile on her face proving that she enjoyed the peace and quiet that had fallen over the tormented town. Blackie was far less happy. Boundlessly restless and not shy to let the world know, the German Shepherd treated the many tables and chairs in the restaurant as her private agility course: zipping along at a fair clip, she weaved her way through the many obstacles to hone her close-quarters chasing skills.

Wynne had tried to get old-fashioned games like dominos and yahtzee going just to keep things lively, but the traditional activities had been unable to hold anyone's interest for long. Most people had even turned off their telephones to save their batteries in case the situation would last into the evening or worse.

A moment later, Brenda joined Wynne at the windows. Though she didn't yawn, the sigh she let out was just as effective. "I've just called Vaughn. He's sitting in the dark as well."

"Yuh, we all be hooked up ta that there southern grid an' all. Mebbe we oughtta get some o' them there smart, newfangled sun panels up on ou'ah roofs?  O' course, they wudden be able ta do nuttin' when it be ovahcast like taday."

"I don't know. What I do know is that this… is… boring. Boring with a capital B."

"Yuh, sure ain't no lie, Brendah," Wynne said before she took a swig of the Double-Zero. "Haw, lookie there… mah darlin' Mandy jus' done showed up. Mebbe she been down ta see them there techni-shuns we done saw drivin' past befo'."

Brenda cast a brief and completely disinterested glance at the Durango across the street. As she cast her eyes over the scene, the sheriff jumped out of the SUV and strode over to the crowd. "Probably. Tell you what, Wynne… I need to do something. I think I'll go up to the Yarn Spinners and see if Dorothy Tyler has any power. Even if she doesn't, she's always good for a tall tale or two."

"Yuh, that she is. Say, are ya knittin' projects still goin' strong?"

"Oh, yes!  It's much more relaxing than I thought it would be. I've started to study the Norwegian over-over-under technique. I bought a how-to book written by the woman who invented it back in the early 'eighties… Inga-Sidsel Eliasson. Have you ever heard of her?"

"Uhhhh… naw, I sure ain't, Brendah," Wynne said with a grin before she took another swig of the beer.

"It's difficult to learn so it's a real buzz when I get it right."

Wynne fell silent for a few moments before she let out a chuckle. "I betcha it is. Haw… the ovah-ovah-undah technique… yuh, sure sounds like a barnburnah, awright."

"It is!  Anyway, do you wanna come along up to Dorothy's?"

"Much obliged fer da thought, Brendah, but naw. I reckon me an' them dawggies gonn' head ovah ta them de-per-ties to get the low-down on whaddahell this he' latest mess be all 'bout," Wynne said before she took another swig.

"No problem. Don't forget me if you decide to drive home!" Brenda said and nudged Wynne in the side with her elbow. Grinning, she grabbed her down jacket and left the Bar & Grill.

Out of sheer instinct, Wynne's eyes fell on her neighbor's rear - the glance had only lasted for a split second, but contact had certainly been established. "Haw, ain't no risk o' fergettin' them jeans, no Ma'am," she mumbled as she held the can of Double-Zero high to salute whichever deity had created the female form.


Three minutes later, Wynne, Blackie and Goldie ventured outside the Bar & Grill for the first time since the power outage had struck. Every last one of her pockets had been filled with cans of beer, soda and energy drinks so they wouldn't turn warm and nasty inside the dark refrigerators.

A mere seven lazy steps into her street-crossing journey, the angry tones hurled at the sheriff by the upset residents of Goldsboro were enough to make her come to a hard stop and glare at the offending citizens. Working autonomously from the rest of her mental processes, her right hand reached into the nearest pocket to retrieve whichever can it could wrap its fingers around.

The aggressive mood on Main Street made a dark mask fall over her face as she continued to send a hard-edged glare at the annoyed mob; her expression softened when she realized she had found the familiar dark-blue can of an H.E. Fenwyck Dark Lager - it was slowly becoming her second-favorite beer in their wide range of beverages. Cracking it open with a Psshhht! she resumed strolling across Main Street with the dogs close by.

As Wynne's boots crossed the yellow lines at the center of the street, she slowed down and let out a grunt. Blackie and Goldie continued at their regular pace for another few yards until they realized they had left one-third of their small group behind. Sharing a puzzled look, the dogs ran back to their owner's denim-clad legs.

The reason for Wynne's sudden reduction in forward motion could be found in the unmistakable shape of Beatrice Reilly who had stomped out of the sheriff's office with plenty of grim determination written all over her face.

The junior deputy - whom Wynne had dubbed Quick Draw for her jumpy nature - looked as if she was indeed on the verge of drawing her sidearm and arresting everyone who kept mouthing off at the ineffectiveness of local law enforcement. Within moments, the mood deteriorated even further and grew into something that could be described as outright hostility.

"Aw-shoot," Wynne mumbled as she took a swig of the Dark Lager. She scratched her neck and tried to make eye-contact with Mandy, but the sheriff was too busy smoothing the proverbial ruffled feathers to notice. "Haw. Ol' Quick Draw sure ain't lookin' too pleased with life… nosirree. Why, she looks 'bout reddy ta explode an' all. Aw, I bettah watch mah mouth, then."


"That be right, Blackie. Me an' Quick Draw done signed a truce o' sorts, but… lookin' at that there expres-shun o' hers, I ain't sure she wudden shoot first an' sort 'em out latah."


"A-yup, that sure ain't no lie. Y'all might say we be on da same side this he' time 'cos them townfolks there got it in fer mah darlin'… an' I ain't havin' none o' that bull-dung, neithah, thankyaverymuch. Yuh. Les'go take care o' bizzness."

Blackie let out a strong, cheerful Woof! at the news, but Goldie whimpered incessantly and dragged her golden paws all the way over to the hostile crowd. As soon as she heard a burst of anger spewing from one of the Humans, she spun around on a dime and took off in a fur-flying hurry to find a safe spot far away from the dangers.

In a lull in the shouting match, Wynne and Mandy managed to make eye-contact across the heads of the hostile crowd. A few non-verbal messages of support and love were sent by express courier from the Last Original Cowpoke to the beleaguered Sheriff of Goldsboro; the latter responded by creasing her lips in a tired smile.

"Let's get the facts straight, everybody," Mandy said in a loud and clear voice that proved she had just about had enough of the nonsense; she put her hands in the air in an attempt to create a dike that would stop the tidal wave of anger flowing toward her. "Yes, we may need to wait another two hours, but the NorPower service crew is already working flat-out to identify and repair the problems!"

An irate Trent Lowe, Wynne's former boss at the Chicky Kingz takeout parlor, stepped forward. "Platitudes simply won't cut it, Sheriff!  I had to throw an entire batch of fried chickens into the trash when my rotisserie ovens went out!  Don't you understand how much that'll set me back?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Lowe," Mandy said in a voice she tried to keep as civil as possible, "but it's the best we have to offer now. The MacLean County Sheriff's Department was not responsible for the blackout and cannot be held accountable for any-"

Someone cried 'Bullshit!' in a loud, clear voice - it seemed to get plenty of support from the people the person was standing next to.

Wynne was about to return the favor with an expletive of her own, but Blackie beat her to the punch by responding with one of her trademark thunderous barks.

Over on the sidewalk, Beatrice scowled even harder at the unruly crowd. She drew a deep breath and joined the conversation with a roared: "Hey, bigmouth!  Why don't you come out in the open and repeat that comment?  Or do you prefer to hide behind your momma's skirts?"

Wynne had to clamp a hand over her mouth to stop herself from breaking out in a snicker at Beatrice's comment. Two seconds later, her snickers turned into a growl when none other than Jay Daniel 'J.D.' Burdette moved to the front of the crowd.

The mid-twenty-something store manager of 'Friendly' Sam McCabe's gun shop - who wore his usual combo of army boots, camouflaged garb and a trucker hat - slammed his arms across his chest - the gesture covered the Honor Our Proud Nation slogan and logo that were printed on it. "I guess you forgot to duck at some point 'cos you sure are talkin' outta your ass, Deputy!" he said in such a harsh tone that his impressive facial hair fluttered from all the hot air he let out. "Don't tell us we can't be pissed off at this crap!  Didn't you learn about the Freedom of Speech in school?"

"Insulting an officer of the law is a finable offense, Mister Burdette!"

"Oh, yeah?  Why don't you roll up that fine and use it as a tampon!"

"That's enough!" Mandy barked at the top of her lungs. Clenching her fists, she climbed up onto the Durango's wide front bumper to gain a foot on everybody present. "This party is over!  You have thirty seconds to disperse!  Anyone still here after the deadline will be arrested and charged with civil disobedience and disturbing the peace!  Starting Now!  One!  Two!  Three!  Four!"

Special Deputy Blackie soon came to the sheriff's assistance by jumping into an aggressive stance and barking along to the count - her exclamations became louder and more threatening as the thirty seconds grew nearer.

Most of the crowd hurried back to their homes save for J.D. Burdette who stood his ground until Mandy reached a count of twenty-five - only then did he spin around on his heel and stomp away.

Mission accomplished, Blackie relaxed her stance and sat down on Main Street; the grin on her doggy-face proved she had enjoyed herself.

"Lawwwwwwwr-die, that foo' sure ain't got too much up in that there brain-box o' his," Wynne said before she drained the can of Dark Lager. After letting out a discreet burp, she stuffed the empty can into the pocket where she had found it. "C'mon, Blackie… les' mosey on ovah ta Sheriff Mandy. I betcha she gonn' be needin' a li'l support now."


"Yuh, 's whut I done said."


"Goldie's missin'?" Wynne said and came to another halt to look all over the deserted Main Street for the runaway Golden Retriever. "Why, she sure is. That li'l scaredy-dawg. Aw, she prolly didden get too far. I reckon she gonn' come back now them foo's ha' gone. Dontcha worry none 'bout that. Yuh?"


"Howdy, Sheriff Mandy!" Wynne said from a safe distance in case she was meant to have dispersed with the rest of the crowd. "Hoah-boy, them folks sure wus upset, haw?  Lawrdie. Howdy, Quick Draw. Y'all did good against that there J.D. fella."

"Thank you, Miss Donohue. Burdette's just an annoying, little piss ant," Beatrice growled before she spun around on her heel and stomped back inside the sheriff's office.

"Yuh, sure ain't no lie," Wynne said with a grin that soon faded as she moved over to Mandy. "So… whazzat I done heard 'bout needin' ta wait anothah two hou'ahs, haw?"

Mandy briefly sat down on the Durango's hood; she rubbed her face several times before she jumped off the front bumper and strode over to Wynne's spot on the street. "Looks that way. Chief Morgan's in charge over there. Remember her?"

"Haw, I sure do!  Darlin', yer face got a really unhealthy color an' all. I reckon y'all oughttah take a step back or som'tin. Ya know… let Rodolfoh an' Quick Draw deal with the crap fer a while."

"I wish I could… but I can't. Worse, I didn't get my afternoon coffee," Mandy said and broke out in a wide shrug.

"Lawrdie… that be some major dung right there, I agree. So… even Slow Lane coudden help ya with da coffee, or whut?"

Mandy narrowed her eyes. "Well, of course he couldn't. The power's out-"

"Yuh, but the gas ring sure ain't. That be runnin' on one o' them cylindahs, yuh?  Heat up some watah an' pour it ovah some ground beans inta Moira's old-fas-shunned coffee pot. Jus' like them ol'-school Cowpokes used ta do it out on them cattle drives, yuh?"

A mix of relief and annoyance with herself for not thinking about the easiest approach swept over Mandy's face. Without speaking a word, she got up on tip-toes and slapped a big, wet 'un onto Wynne's lips - then she strode across Main Street like a woman possessed.

Down below, Blackie let out an amused Woooooof! at the sight.

Wynne only had time to utter a "Lawwwwwwwwwr-die!" before a long line of snickers meant she had to forego the fine art of conversation. Instead of wasting her time out on the empty street, she strolled back to Moira's Bar & Grill to assist her coffee-deprived partner in seeking - and hopefully finding - the solace she deserved.


One hour and twenty-two minutes later, the long and brutally dull wait was finally over for the oft-tormented citizens of Goldsboro when Chief Morgan made good on her promise to get everything back to normal by throwing the 'really big switch.'

As the gift of electricity was once more granted upon the town's stores and homes, everybody let out sighs of relief. In Moira's Bar & Grill, the sighs were fewer; in their stead, cheerful hoots and hollers rang out at the prospects of getting warm food and cold beer instead of the other way around.

The entire row of barflies woke up and sat up straight on their bar stools to be first in line to have their beer mugs filled - the cooling systems in charge of keeping the temperature low in the barrels of draft soon began humming their delightful tune which meant they were doing their job once more.

Out back, Wynne and Moira kept the thermometer monitoring the cold storage room under close observation. The thick door had been sealed shut throughout the outage to make sure the fresh meat and other perishables wouldn't be affected, and it seemed their plan had paid off as the needle was still in the blue zone indicating that the room's ambient temperature was just above freezing.

"I think we dodged a bullet, Wynne," Moira said as she went over to one of the shelves to get a few items that A.J. 'Slow' Lane would need once the stoves had reached their operating window.

"Yuh, looks like it. I'mma-gonn' turn them video pokah an' keno machines back on now."

Moira took a medium-sized kitchen knife and began to prepare a few large potatoes that would end up as Hasselbalck, a variation of baked potatoes that had become a popular item on the menu as of late. She paused to say: "No, wait… it's more important to make sure the refrigerators are working."

"A-yup. Considah 'em checked. Yuh, an' the ice chest wus a mess last time I done looked so we prolly gonn' hafta mop up the watah befo' it done freezes everythin' into a gigantoh icicle. I got dat one."

"Thanks, Wynne," Moira said with a tired smile. "When you see A.J., tell him the potatoes are almost ready."

"Will do," Wynne said and moved into the narrow corridor that led to the fire exit at the far end. She went past Moira's office before she turned left into the utility room where she took a mop, a large bucket and a dustpan so she could deal with the glacial spring that had appeared in the ice chest.


Everyone's good mood seemed to have returned after the power had come back on. Moira's Bar & Grill slowly filled up with all the regulars who had decided to spend a few dollars on buying a hot meal instead of toiling away at their own stoves.

The refrigerators and the ice chest hummed merrily, and the video poker and keno machines ran through their demo programs that offered big payouts for small stakes - none of the patrons had been tempted yet, but several sent longing glances at the two entertainment machines so it probably wouldn't be long before they would part with their hard-earned dollars.

'Slow' Lane was back to working flat-out minding the pots, pans, cooking panels and French-fry baskets. He continued to make the odd mistake, but the barflies heckled him far less than in days' past. Everyone knew he had been assaulted by Goldsboro's Public Enemy Number 1, disgraced former sheriff Arthur 'Artie' Rains, at the big summer event out at Thunder Park Raceway which meant that all the old jokes about smacking some speed into him had become inappropriate.

Wynne had swapped her denim jacket for a white apron. She was in her element as she carried out waiting duties to share the load: every customer she served was greeted in her inimitable style with plenty of instances of Howdy, Whazzup and Sure Iz Lookin' Fine Tani'te! being uttered.

"Howdy, Diegoh!  Wotcha feel like eatin' tonight?" she said when she came to the table occupied by Diego Benitez, her neighbor from the trailer park. To avoid any confusion regarding the orders, she held a notepad and a pencil ready to jot everything down.

Although the slick-haired, large-mustachioed Mexican-American wore his regular pair of jeans, he had donned a blue, long-sleeved sweatshirt instead of one of the checkered flannel shirts he always used - it was an unusual look for him, but he made it work. "Hiya, Wynne… how's the meatloaf today?" he said while toying with his baseball cap that he had put on the table.

"Aw, I ain't got a clue, friend. But I reckon it be jus' as fine as always, yuh?  Y'all goin' fer that?  Spicy meatloaf an' mashed patahtas?"

"Yep. With fried onions and mushrooms on top of the mash… and a large draft."

"Sure thing, pardnah. Comin' right up!" Wynne said with a grin while she jotted down the information. She parted company with her friend by thumping him on the shoulder.

The unlikely pairing of Nancy Tranh Nguyen and Tucker Garfield shared the next table. Though they sat opposite each other, they held hands to literally stay in touch. To see Tucker wearing a big, old cheesy grin all over his kisser was still an eye-opener for Wynne - he had smiled twice a year at the most before the artist of Vietnamese descent had moved to Goldsboro and into his heart.

Always up for a little fun, Wynne pressed the notepad to her bosom and let out an "Awwwwwww-ain't dat cute!  Lawwwwr-die!" while she glanced at the lovebirds. "Howdy, Nancy. Tuckah. Whut 'r all y'all havin' tanight now the durn powah iz back?"

"Hello, Wynne," Nancy said. She concentrated on the menu to hide her blush, but her cheeks didn't care and still grew flushed. The slender artist wore a body-hugging dress and a short, open bolero jacket - both garments were in a very deep shade of brown that matched her hair exactly. "Oh, I think I'll have a glass of white wine and a shrimp salad. Hold the garlic and every other type of onion."

"Yes, Ma'am!  White wine an' them shrimps but no stinky onions fer y'all!" Wynne said and jotted down the order. "Tuckah?"

Goldsboro's only tow truck operator wore black jeans and a cotton shirt in an odd color that could best be described as a mix of pale-brown and canary-yellow. An elegant bolo tie graced his neck, but the overall suaveness was brought down a few notches by his wide suspenders and the fact that he hadn't bothered to shave or even comb his hair before his date. "A well-done T-bone and a buncha fries. And tell Slow Lane that when I say well-done, I mean well-done. Maybe he'll remember to fry the damn steak on both sides this time."

"Okeh. A Tee-Bee an' plenty o' frah's. An' a draft beer?"

Tucker briefly glanced up at the counter before his eyes returned to Wynne. "Yeah, but the good stuff. None of that watered-down horse-piss, ya hear?  And make it a pitcher."

Wynne snorted at Tucker's typical abrasiveness - it appeared that even the influence of love could only go so far. "Okeh, Tuckah. Comin' right up," she said before she moved onto the next table.

Before she made it there, the video poker machine over by the pool table let out the electronic trill that indicated that someone had won big. A loud cheer rose from that side of the Bar & Grill. When the lucky player let out a "Beers are on me, fellas!" the cheer was matched by all the barflies up at the counter.

Wynne chuckled at the enthusiastic response before she came to another stop. "Howdy, there, Vaughn!  Lawrdie, Brendah, them jeans o' yers 'r still so tight it be a dang-blasted wondah y'all can even sit. Yuh. I be guessin' y'all done called hoah-me again?  Or mebbe ol' Vaughn felt lonesome an' all an' wanted ta find his darlin'?  Eh?  Eh?" Wynne winked several times as she leaned down to give Brenda's husband a little poke on the shoulder.

While Brenda leaned her head back to laugh out loud, Vaughn Travers broke out in a blush that made him look even more like a novice monk who had accidentally gone into a harbor tavern frequented by salty sea-farin' men. "Something like that. Hi, Wynne," he said in a mumble.

Brenda continued to chuckle as she reached across the table to tickle the palm of her husband's hand. "We've rented a room for the night in your B and B, Wynne… with the day being so strange, we decided to end it on a positive note with a little role-playing adventure."

"Aw-haw?" Wynne said, sporting a cheesy grin. "Yuh, sure does sound mighty fine an' all. Whut numbah y'all get?"

"Number three. The honeymoon suite."

"Haw!  That be mah favorite suite fer a buncha reasons, yes Ma'am!  Yuh, we made sure we got that suite extra-spe-shul-"

"Did you and Mandy christen it after the grand opening?" Brenda said as she winked and poked her tongue out to create an unbeatable one-two combination.

"Why, Brendah, that be a tad personal!  An' we gals gotta think o' them male folks 'round he', yuh?  Them po'ah babies 'r so easily shocked an' all," Wynne said as she glanced over at Vaughn whose facial skin had in fact caught fire. "Yuh. Like I done said!  Anyhows, whut can I getcha ta help all y'all get in da mood, so ta speak?"

"Well," Brenda said, tickling her husband's hand again, "I'd like a meatless salad, please. Something light and crunchy. Vaughn needs to build up his stamina so he needs more substantial food. Isn't that right, darling?"

Wynne needed to chew on her cheek to stop herself from laughing at the mortified look on Vaughn's face. "Yuh, I heah ya, Brendah… okeh… how 'bout som'tin called a Beef Medallion with baked patahtahs in cream sauce?  That be an extra-large beef patty with a-cuppel-a slices o' bacon wrapped 'round it. Vaughn?"

"Yes, please…"

"Haw. Okeh," Wynne said and made a note of the orders. "An' wine?  Yuh?  When ya dinin' fine, y'all gotta be winin' fine. White fer da salad an' some red fer da Beef Medallion?  A small decanter o' each?"

Brenda reached over to put a hand on Wynne's arm to press the proverbial pause button. "Would you happen to know if they're organic?"

"Naw, but they wus hauled from the top-class Childress Vineyards ovah yondah in Lexin'ton, North Carolinah," Wynne said with a wide grin etched onto her face.

"Okay. Sounds like a perfect plan, Wynne," Brenda said and offered her friend a smile.

Wynne returned the smile. "Sure does, Brendah. Won't be long. Tawk ta y'all latah."

The next table down the line saw the teenagers Kevin Tobin and Richard 'Ritchie' Lee trying to act like cool, important men of the world to impress the low number of young women who were present in the Bar & Grill - and to hide the fact they were still minors.

Kevin did in fact possess plenty of youthful coolness with his neat hair, baggy jeans, sports hoodie and black shades that he insisted on wearing indoors, but the gangly, homely, acne-riddled Ritchie would be out-cooled by a geriatric donkey no matter how hard he tried. The only positive about his presence was the brand-new, pale-blue denim jacket he wore - it had been paid for by his day job as the local delivery boy for the Chicky Kingz takeout parlor.

"Howdy, fellas," Wynne said with a grin. "Say, pardnah, that sure is a nice jacket an' all. Lookin' fine, yessirree. Y'all look like ya be goin' up ta that there mooh-vie theatah aftahwurds… yuh?"

"That's right. We're gonna watch Fatal Mission Four," Kevin said - he tried to speak in a deep, manly voice but had a few difficulties hitting the right notes; Ritchie just nodded.

"Now, a title like that jus' makes me laff, yuh?  Fatal Mis-shun Fo'ah?  So I guess them first three mis-shuns wussen all that fatal aftah all, haw?  Jus' messin' with ya. So whut are all y'all havin' in da meantime?"

"A couple of double-decker cheeseburgers… right, Ritchie?" - Ritchie nodded - "Yeah. And some fries. A maxi-pack each. And a couple of beers." The latter part of the order was made in an under-his-breath, off-the-cuff manner that he hoped would be enough to make Wynne forget about their age.

"Okeh. Two-storey cheeseburgahs, a-buncha fries an' a-cuppel-a root beers. Wussen that wotcha said, Kev?" Wynne said, offering the young man a wink that showed she knew all the sneaky tricks, even those that weren't listed in How To Fool The Adults.

Kevin opened his mouth to counter the statement, but soon realized it was a lost cause. "Uh… yeah. Can we make 'em cherry Cokes instead?" he said in a sheepish tone; Ritchie nodded again.

"Haw, we sure can, there, Kev. Yessirree… a-cuppel-a Summer Dreamz Cherry Cokes comin' right up!" Wynne said before she went up to the counter to give 'Slow' Lane the stack of orders she had collected.


Half an hour later, the front door opened to reveal Grant Lafferty. The mature owner of Goldsboro's only beer and liquor store hobbled over to the nearest vacant table in his usual tenderfooted gait - once there, he bumped down onto a chair and let out a long, pained groan. He needed to spend nearly a minute regaining his breath before he leaned forward so he had room to take off his wool-lined sports blazer.

'The Grant-Master,' as Wynne called him, wore a set of Polyester clothes: pale-gray, high-waisted pants and a long-sleeved shirt in a checkered design that resembled an old-fashioned test pattern on TV. He had been unable to wear regular shoes for several years now, so his tender feet were stuck into a pair of tweed slippers. His square spectacles had moved a little too far down his nose, but he pushed them upward so no accidents would occur. Up top, his toupee had been pulled slightly askew when he took off his blazer; a quick and discreet adjustment took care of the faux pas.

"Howdy, Grant!  Them bunions botherin' ya?"

"Like someone stabbing me with a steak knife…" Grant said in a croak.

"Hate it when dat happens, yessir," Wynne said as she scratched her hair with the butt of the pencil. "But lissen, I jus' don't undahstand why y'all don't get 'em fixed?  I mean, how many years-"

Grant let out a sigh before he said: "I can't afford to keep the store closed while I convalesce. That's it, really."

"Yuh… okeh. I didden think o' that. Anyhows, whut can I getcha?"

Grant shuffled around on the chair to get a better angle of attack on the table. "Do you have any oxtail soup today?" he said as he moved in a slow, deliberate fashion - his careful gestures proved how painful his medical condition was.

"A-yup. We sure do."

"I'd like a bowl of that, please. Also a wheat roll or two. And if you could add some of those tasty meatballs I tried last time, I'd be grateful."

"Ox an' balls… you betcha, Grant. Nuttin' ta drink?"

"Yes… bottled mineral water, if you please. Thank you."

"Haw, yer welcome an' all. Lissen, I got som'tin I need-a tawk ta y'all 'bout once y'all done eatin'. It be that there Intahnet thing, yuh?  I'mma-gonn' need yer help findin' som'tin fer a li'l project I be cookin' up. Okeh?"

Grant smiled at the woman who was undoubtedly his best customer - even he had lost count of how many crates of H.E. Fenwyck beers she had bought in his store over the years. "Sure thing. Just say when. I don't mind being disturbed when I eat."

"Neat!  Much obliged, there, Grant-Mastah!  I ain't done waitin' on these he' tables, but I be gettin' a break befo' long. Then I'mma-gonn' come an' tawk," Wynne said and matched Grant's smile with one of her own.


Another fifteen minutes later, Wynne finally had time to sit down opposite Grant Lafferty who was busy slurping his oxtail soup and dunking a wheat roll into the thick broth. She had prepared a small piece of paper that she unfolded and smoothed down. "Okeh… 'membah I wus in that there Westuhrn them mooh-vie folks done filmed he' in Goldsborah an' down yondah in Silvah Creek?"

"Oh, sure. I'm not that senile yet," Grant said with a smile.

"Me an' Abe Rosenthal from that there mooh-vie theatah done cooked up a li'l deal with that there Padded Cell produc-shun comp'ny. The mooh-vie is out on DVD an' streamin' an' whutnot now, so me an Abe tawked ta 'em 'bout buyin' or rentin' them rights ta show it twice on da big screen an' all."

"Oh?  Sounds exciting."

"Yuh, kinda-sorta… excitin' an' scary as hell ta considah them friends an' acquaintances o' mine all showin' up ta watch me make a dang-blasted foo' o' mahself," Wynne said in a voice that trailed off.

She chewed on her lips for a moment before she continued: "But anyhows, then I thunk, Wynne Donnah-hew, woudden it be one awesome experience ta mebbe invite them stars ta li'l ol' Goldsborah fer da big premiere?  The answah is obvious, ain't it?  An' this is where y'all come in. I'mma-gonn' need yer help gettin' that there contact info fer them stars an' them stunt-folks. Or mebbe their agents or howdahell that bizzness works, anyhows. Rogah Kennedy, Simon DeLane an' Rob Steele… y'all prolly 'membah Rogah from the ol' days, an' Rob be a fabulous fella who done played da monstah. The DeLane fella wus some young hot-shot actah type from Hollywood who didden do much on da mooh-vie, but… ya know. It wudden be propah ta leave him out or nuttin'."

"Say, that's a nifty idea, Wynne," Grant said and put down his spoon after finishing his oxtail soup. His fingers were thoroughly wiped clean on a napkin before he reached into a pocket to get his telephone and a pair of reading glasses. A few taps and swipes later, he was online. "I'm ready. I need to know where to start?"

Wynne shook her head at the ease of Grant's actions. "Lawrdie… y'all jus' tap-tap-swipe an' y'all be done. Holy shittt, I always feel like I'mma-gonn' hafta break inta that there Intahnet with a sledgehammah whenevah I done try som'tin. Okeh, search fer Padded Cell Produc-shuns an' Distant Horizons Film Group. Mebbe them folks got an index or some such-"

"Hold it, Wynne… didn't you want to find the actors?  It would be a lot less work if we just searched for their agents or representatives."

"Yuh, mebbe it would, but… I ain't got no clue 'bout how ta reach any o' them folks."

"That's why they invented search engines," Grant said and entered the necessary keywords in the search field. Two seconds later, he looked up and offered his friend a broad smile. "Roger Kennedy is represented by the Boretz, Warfield and Britton Agency. Rob Steele doesn't have an agency as such, but he's listed on the website of the Association Of American Stunt Performers… and… what was the name of the third actor?"

"Simon DeLane. Capital Dee, li'l E, capital Ell… an' som'tin."

Grant entered the new info. A moment or two went by before he tapped and swiped a little more. "DeLane is with the Y-and-M Talent Management Agency, but I have a feeling he might be more difficult to reach. It says that unsolicited scripts, requests for appearances, et cetera, must be sent directly to the agency's public liaison."

"Aw, that don't mattah none, anyhows," Wynne said and waved her hand in dismissal. "He wus a spoiled brat. When he done heard them folks upped mah part, he turned inta a big cry-baby an' wudden stop moanin' 'bout it. Rogah wus completely dif'rent. Yuh, ol' Rog wus a coo' fella, that sure ain't no lie. Mebbe liked them drinks a li'l too much, but eh… I ain't fit fer judgin' othahs on that there subject. Naw. 'Membah the cop show Harvey's Beat from da eighties?  That wus his signature role."

"Yes, I do remember Harvey's Beat. I didn't really watch it, but everyone talked about it," Grant said and adjusted his reading glasses.

"Yuh… an' the stunt fella Rob Steele wus jus' a hoot on so many levels. Big as an oak, but a real friendly gah."

"So… do you want me to get in touch with them right now, or…?"

Wynne fell silent while she pondered the offer; she eventually shook her head. "Naw, I'mma-gonn' spend the evenin' writin' up a li'l som'tin fer 'em. Then I'mma-gonn' swing bah tamorrah so y'all can send it to 'em. Okeh?"

"Sure. I'd be happy to, Wynne."

"Much obliged, Grant-Mastah!" Wynne said with a grin. She reached across the table intending to slap her friend a high-five, but it didn't appear Grant knew how to do that so it ended up as a lame duck instead. "Things be lookin' up fer a change… Lawrd knows us Goldsborians 'r owed some good fortune. Mebbe this be it!  Haw, les'hope so. Yuh?  Tawk ta ya latah, pal!"


There was always something to do in any restaurant, so Wynne was kept busy over the next thirty minutes despite a gradual decrease in the number of guests ordering hot food. Some went home, some - like Kevin Tobin and Ritchie Lee - went up to the movie theater, and some settled for a cold beer and a newspaper in a quiet corner.

She whistled the catchy main theme of the B-Western as she moved around the tables adding clean cutlery, napkins and free packs of toothpicks. Several bottles of ketchup, mustard and hot sauce needed refilling, so that was the next item on her agenda. Here and there, a tablecloth had suffered colorful damage from soups, sauces or sodas, so she pulled them off and threw them into the washing machine at once so they would be pristine for the following day's customers.

A cheer broke out when someone won $20 on the keno machine. Wynne cheered along with the rest of the patrons, but the victory was short-lived as the unfortunate player had soon lost all his winnings plus an additional $15 on sets of numbers that produced nothing but duds.

Wynne eyed the pool table that had recently become available. A quick glance proved that nobody needed her assistance, so she moved over to the rack and found a rental cue that wasn't too warped or frayed. After chalking it, she set off playing a couple of practice rounds while Blackie and Goldie slept soundly in their doggy-cave underneath the table.


A while later, the front door opened to reveal Mandy Jalinski - the sheriff returned the empty tray that had been the home of no less than twelve sandwiches earlier in the evening. She briefly acknowledged Wynne's presence with a nod before she went up to the counter to drop off one thing and pick up another.

Equipped with a large glass of Club Soda Green Twist - carbonated mineral water, a healthy squirt of lime juice and a sprinkling of mint leaves - she moved over to the table nearest to her pool-playing partner. Her gray complexion and dull eyes told a grim tale that would have been a hard 'R' had it been a motion picture.

"Lawrdie… ya look awful," Wynne said and put the rental cue on the green felt. Moving over to her better half, she leaned down to offer her support by placing a small kiss on the gray lips. "Whadda day, haw?"

"Oh, that was pretty much average here in Goldsboro," Mandy said in a monotone.

"Yuh, ain't dat a fact. Ya really gonn' drink that mineral watah an' stuff?  Y'all need a beah, I can tell."

Mandy shook her head before she took a long swig of the sparkling drink. "I can't. My shift doesn't end until two A.M. Barry called in sick again."

Wynne smacked her palms onto her thighs. "Haw, that fakin' sombitch!  Ain't no way he really be sick. Mebbe I oughttah mosey on ovah ta his apartment an' read 'im da riot act… I will if y'all ask me ta."

"You better not," Mandy said and took another long swig of the Club Soda.

"Naw… wudden wanna make 'im cry." Smiling, Wynne reached out to caress Mandy's pale cheek and gently claw her scalp through the blond mop. "I know this sure ain't the right time ta even men-shun it, but 'r y'all certain it gonn' be a good ideah ta run fer Sheriff again next year?"

Mandy needed to hide a yawn with the back of her hand before she could reply: "Rodolfo is a good Senior Deputy but he isn't ready to take charge yet… and I don't want to see an outsider or anyone else sit in my chair. I worked my butt off to get where I am. I might not win the election, but I'm not giving up without a fight."

"I heah ya, darlin'. Mebbe wotshisname… Andrews someboddah… is gonna run again?"

"No, Todd and his wife left Brandford Ridge. Last time I spoke to Sheriff Tenney, he told me the Andrews' had moved to Southern California. Todd joined the State Police there."

"Haw… okeh. Weird. Well, I guess he wus ambi-shuss, awright," Wynne said and scratched her neck. "Lawrdie, mebbe we can poke ol' Barry Simms inta runnin' fer sheriff!  Wudden that be a sensa-shun?  He'd get two votes… his own an' one from his aunt Mildred!"

Mandy let out a dark chuckle before she emptied the glass of Club Soda and pushed the chair back. "Barry Simms, Sheriff of Goldsboro. Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse…"

"Yuh, I sure be full-a amazin' ideahs an' all!  Y'all leavin' alreddy?  Cantcha say a li'l longah, darlin'?  We hardly done saw each othah taday."

"No. I need to get back," Mandy said and placed a small kiss on Wynne's lips. "I'll see you tomorrow morning. Don't wait up for me. We both need our beauty sleep… okay?"

The look on Wynne's face proved she wasn't okay with it at all; it also proved she understood that on occasion, compromises needed to be made even in the most solid of relationships. "Okeh. I'mma-gonn' cook ya a five-star breakfast instead. Luv ya like ca-razeh, darlin'."

"Love you too, Wynne," Mandy said and kissed her partner's lips again. Getting up from the chair, she strode over to the Bar & Grill's front door where she offered Wynne a See you later-wave before she left to get back to work.


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