..................................FAR OUT, MAN!
................NOW THE MEANIE IS A BOOK
....................Click here for the audiobook.

........Here's where to buy the paperback and kindle editions worldwide:

.....................United Kingdom....... Spain
....................Canada .......................Brazil
....................Germany ....................Japan
....................France ........................Italy

Friday, February 1, 2013



Roger hit pay dirt a few weeks later. One day – around the first of the month - the Blue Meanie struck out with great purpose, his flip-flops smacking sharply on the sidewalk. Roger followed him all the way to the Venice Circle – an American version of the British roundabout – where the Post Office was located.

The old Post Office was a WPA project from the Roosevelt/Depression era and it was a marvel of brass and polished wood with fabulous murals decorating the walls, limned by artists who were trying to feed their families, just like everybody else.

The murals held no beauty for Roger that day. His attention was fixed on the Blue Meanie, who had opened a piece of mail and was staring at its contents, his normally angry expression jumping from one emotion to the next.

“I watched him through the glass doors,” Roger said. “He got like all excited. Tore the letter open. Read it like one word at a time – I could see his lips moving. And, shit, Al, I thought he was gonna blow a gasket right then and there. He got so red in the mush he looked like a fuckin’ stop light. Then he stuck the letter in his pocket and dumped the envelope in the trash. He charged out of there like a goddamned Brahma bull. I practically had to do a back flip into the bushes, or he would’ve spotted me.”

Roger grinned a rueful grin. “And if he had caught me and accused my ass of lurkin’ on him, it wouldn’t have been a lie. Fuck me, man. I’d never be able to come home again.”

I put out a hand. “But you got the envelope, right?”

“Bingo!” Roger said, handing it over.

It was addressed in a feminine hand to Mr. Kenneth Johnson, General Delivery, Venice, Ca. It was from a Mrs. Ruth Twomey of Norwalk, Ca. There was no zip code –they were just being phased in those days and weren’t required.

“So that’s who the Blue Meanie is,” I said. “Kenneth Johnson.”

Roger shrugged. “Does it help?”

“Don’t know,” I said. “But keep lurkin’ on him, okay?”

“Good thing I’m a short shit,” Roger said. “He’d of spotted me by now. Talk about fuckin’ paranoid, man. I saw him swat a poor damned butterfly once because it was too close to him. Guess he thought it had a butterfly machinegun.”

Roger made motions of shooting a very teeny machine gun and making firing noises in a high-pitched voice. “Do, do, do.” Then in a falsetto, “Die, lurkin’ bustterfly, die!”

The next bit of intelligence came from Jack Lishman.

Jack was in his senior year at UCLA and worked part time as an inspector at a toilet factory. The factory was just up the hill in Westchester, a couple of miles or so from LAX. Lishman hailed from Seattle, and like everybody with any kind of IQ in the state of Washington in those days, he’d labored at the Boeing Aircraft plant. But then the Vietnam war intervened and Jack spent the next three years off Vietnam aboard an aircraft carrier. There, he became a confirmed pacifist and so no way was he going to return to work for the war mongers at Boeing. He cashed in his meager savings, bought a 1937 Cadillac hearse and headed for LA. He enrolled in college, but for a time despaired of finding a non-war related job. The toilet factory, which carried the American Standard Brand, not only fit the bill, but was a sure-fire conversation stopper when anybody asked Jack what he did for a living.

Our Jack
Jack was a small guy – shorter even than Roger - but he was wiry and agile as hell. Like an early day Jackie Chan, he could run up the side of a building, grab the roof edge and swing himself up. He wore his hair and beard long and his face was thin – almost ascetic. Jack was also possessed of a little guy’s hot temper. Pity the big bad boy who screwed with my man, Jack. In the end, the guy might beat Lishman -  possibly pound him into insensibility. But it would never be into submission. Jack would fight and claw until his last breath. In short, as Roger decreed during one late night of booze and cannabis reflection, “Lishman is not to be fucked with.”

Well, what Jack did at that point required a great deal of what was to become part of the Lishman legend.

His old hearse was giving him trouble again and he had to take the bus to UCLA – about seven miles across town in Westwood Village. The bus stop was right outside of our apartments and as it happened the same bus that went to UCLA also serviced the West Los Angeles Veterans Center. One day, right after Jack climbed on the bus, he saw the Blue Meanie coming. Jack quickly ducked out of sight and watched as the Blue Meanie mounted the steps, plunked money into the coin box and lumbered down the aisle, belching and farting a mixture of sewer gas and Red Mountain fumes.

Jack hid behind one of his textbooks when the behemoth passed by to take a seat in the back. Jack cringed through many miles of torturous stops. Any minute, now, he thought he’d be discovered and accused of being a lurker.

“I almost hopped off a couple of times,” Jack confessed. “But if he spotted me, hell, I’d have to move because he’d be waiting for me at home.”

To his surprise, the Blue Meanie exited the bus at the VA center. “I don’t know what got into me, Al,” Jack said, “but without thinking I followed him off. Then I tailed him – staying way, way back, believe you, me. And finally, I saw him enter a door marked ‘hospital admissions.’ Obviously he’s getting some sort of treatment there.”

“No shit,” Roger said. “Somebody ought to call those guys and tell them to give him stronger drugs.”

“Screw the Blue Meanie,” Jack said. “We’re the ones who need the stronger drugs just to put up with him.”

It was my turn to get into the game. In recent months I’d written several favorable feature stories about the VA Center for the Outlook. Local VA officials, usually under fire from several different directions during the Vietnam era (as they are today), were ecstatic. They deluged their bosses in D.C. with many, many copies of those newspaper clippings, proving that they were worthy of their budget – and more. Never mind that my articles were about Vietnam veterans struggling to recover from terrible wounds, as well as the incredible doctors and nurses who assisted them; and I only peripherally mentioned the officials. A brief appearance of their names apparently earned big points in Washington. It’s been said – and I have no reason to doubt the statement - that a VA bureaucrat can suck up a worthy person’s credit faster than a back alley whore can get a John off.

Bottom line: when I called the VA administration and asked about Ken Johnson – aka the Blue Meanie – nobody gave a second thought about filling me in. I’m a spook’s kid – the son of a CIA agent – and so I took particular pleasure as they rifled through his files and spilled the beans. But what I heard gave me pause. Mr. Johnson, it seemed, was a veteran of the Korean War. My father – a WWII submarine sailor – had been called up for that war, but then had been recruited by the CIA. The point being, I knew quite a bit about the conflict that America never won. The battles were brutal and bloody and accomplished very little. When Red China entered the war on the side of the North Koreans, Americans died like Yankee Doodle flies as tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers poured over the landscape.

Eventually, only a few men – men like Ken Johnson – stood in their way. Mr. Johnson, I learned, won a chest full of medals for bravery on some nameless hill. He saved the lives of many men, plus held the hill, fighting the enemy hand-to-hand until help finally arrived. Among his many injuries was a head wound from grenade shrapnel. A metal plate covered that area now, but there was nothing anyone could do about the mental harm Mr. Johnson had suffered.

He wasn’t mentally ill enough, according to the VA, for permanent hospitalization. Medication, they said, helped him control his anger and not unreasonable fear that there were folks who wanted to kill him.

One doctor said, “It’s a rage against the world. And considering what he went through, the paranoia is perfectly understandable. But if he takes his pills, he’s okay. The problem is, Mr. Johnson doesn’t like to take his medication because they interfere with his drinking. Which he says helps him forget the anguish and pain he experienced during the battle.”

I felt like shit. I told Roger and Jack, “Here I’ve been making fun of this guy and he’s a goddamned war hero.”

Jack said, “That hasn’t stopped him from scaring and beating the hell out of perfectly innocent people.”

Roger said, “Fuck him, he’s not only a nut, but a big fuckin’ nut.”

Jack gave me a penetrating look. “What are you going to do about it, Allan?”

Roger grinned. He said, “He’ll probably fuckin’ quit. Al’s too sensitive for this job, man.”

“What would you do, Rog?” I asked.

Roger shrugged. “Shoot him,” he said. “And blame it on the upstairs junkie.”

At that time, we had an upstairs junkie and a downstairs junkie and differentiated between the two by using their locations as part of their aliases. The upstairs junkie, who was into smack, was the more violent of the two and tended to fire his gun at the sky in the middle of the night. The downstairs junkie was a red freak and didn’t do much of anything except stare out his dirty window at the dead weeds in the alley.

Jack said, “Are you really going to quit, Al? If that’s your intention, give me a heads up so I can find another place to crash.”

I shook my head. “Hang loose,” I said. “I’ll think of something.”

What can I say? When you are twenty five you tend think things will turn out okay just because you are young, reasonably intelligent, and decent looking. You know, you  still have that wide-eyed look that all young things - be they animal, reptile, or insect – possess in order to keep their parents from murdering them. When folks grow older, their eyes narrow and they became more vulnerable because they know for sure nobody is going to give them a break. At that point, even successful people have this innate sense that at any moment life is going to fuck them over. And who can say they are wrong?

Well, I would have, back in Venice, 1968.

Read on.
*     *     *

There was no golden moment. No bolt from the blue. No muse whispering in my ear in the middle of the night. Instead, several more weeks went by and if anything, the Blue Meanie problem only got worse.

Mrs. Williams, the old woman who lived next door to the upstairs junkie, was terrorized one day when she came home and the Blue Meanie charged out of his apartment, roaring at her. She scampered up the stairs, nearly falling when he ripped away part of the railing.The upstairs junkie came running out waving his gun and fired a few shots at the Blue Meanie. But they went astray, pinging harmlessly off into the alley. The Blue Meanie hurled a hunk of railing at him and Mr. Upstairs Junkie went scampering back inside.

*     *     *

I talked to some cop contacts at the Venice police department, but they demurred. Sounded like a personal problem to them. Unless the Blue Meanie actually hurt someone badly, then maybe they’d come.

“But that’s no guarantee, Cole,” the sergeant told me. “The guy’s nuts. We’ll hold him. His doctors and a public defender will get him out in a day or two. But if we argue too hard, we’ll get shit for fucking with a Korean War veteran. In the meantime, you can’t touch his place even if he hasn’t paid the rent. Under the law, even a nut’s home is his fucking castle.”

Mr. Cohen tried to be understanding, but as the days ticked by with no improved apartments so he and his business partners could hike the rents and make enough money to meet their mortgage payments, his voice became tighter and tighter until he started sounding like he was sucking helium.

Then early one Monday morning – I worked a Tuesday through Saturday shift at the paper – while I was sweeping down the front walk, I swept my way to the corner of Ocean and Washington. And I saw the Blue Meanie standing next to the bus sign. He was alone, of course. Who would have the nerve to wait there with him?

There was no moment of decision on my part. Hell, if I had thought about what I ought to do next, I would have run like hell in the opposite direction.

But some spark leaped up, steadying me, pointing me toward an unknown purpose. Gulping, I dropped the push broom and walked straight toward the Blue Meanie.

The closer I came the bigger he loomed. Taller and wider and stronger than I had ever imagined. His bearded face was enormous and as I approached he lifted his head and gave me the full benefit of the madness boiling in his deep-set eyes.

As soon as he fixed me with that permanent glare – which looked like the gates of hell – I knew I didn’t dare back off. I had a mad vision of turning and fleeing and the Blue Meanie snatching out a huge hand to grab me in mid-flight and throw me to the ground. To be crushed under his flip-flop shod feet.


How ignominious. Here Lies Allan Cole - Mashed To Death By Shower Shoes.

So I kept going, moving carefully, as if approaching a tiger, but with as much outward confidence as I could muster. I didn’t know what I was going to say or do, I only knew that the closer I got, the more apparent his gigantic size became. An unseen force craned my head back as I neared him and in a few seconds his bulk blocked out the light of the noonday sun. Shit, this guy was King Kong come back to life.

I had the wild thought that with one fist he could smash me through the sidewalk, turning my bones into jelly, my flesh into pulp.

Instinctively, I stuck out my hand, crazily thinking that the prospect of shaking hands might keep his brain too occupied to engage the remainder of his body in the actual killing of yours truly.

At that point my own brain went blank and I struggled to think of his name. I mean, I couldn’t just say, “Mr. Blue Meanie, sir…”

Shit, what in hell was his name?

Strangely, he raised his own hand, not to hit, but to take mine. And as we clasped hands, I remembered, and said, “Mr. Johnson, I’m Allan Cole. The new manager of the apartments.”

My hand was like a child’s in his immense paw, swallowing mine like a big-mouth bass swallows a tadpole. At first his grip bore down as if crush my bones. But then he left off as I continued speaking, and my hand felt bruised, but still intact.

I said, “The owner, Mr. Cohen, has probably sent you a letter introducing me, but I wanted to speak to you personally, just like I’ve talked to all the other tenants.”

The mad fires in his eyes abated somewhat and his grip relaxed more. But hard suspicion remained as we shook. I thought, Oh, my God, if he really squeezes he’ll crush my hand and I won’t be able to type and I’ll be fired by those asshole Funks who own the newspaper and my family will starve to death, oh, shit, oh, dear.

And then I thought, if I died here now my wife would very likely name our unborn son, Timothy. And by all the saints above I knew I had to live, if only to rescue my son from that cheese-eating name.

Abruptly, the Blue Meanie released my hand.

I didn’t know what to do with it, so I stuffed the thing into my pocket, glad that it had escaped unscathed. His eyes followed the hand and I hastily withdrew it, thinking he might be wondering if I had a weapon in that pocket. Meanwhile, my Irish heritage was cutting in and I was talking as fast as I could. Instinctively I knew that even the briefest of silences would most likely end in my demise.

At that moment he started to growl, “Have you been lur-“

I jumped in before he could get the accusation out. An accusation he would then have to defend. Somehow, I thought, if he didn’t say it… say that I was lurkin’ on him… he won’t be stuck with it. I didn’t have the faintest idea what I was going to say, so I blurted out whatever came to mind as fast as I could.

“Mr. Cohen’s very concerned about your credit rating, Mr. Johnson,” I babbled. “He knows what a hero you were in the war and he doesn’t want to embarrass you.”

The Blue Meanie’s eyes narrowed. His fist raised up. I was sure I was going to die. I couldn’t run – I was too close to escape. Even a glancing blow of that mighty fist would cripple me for life.

I couldn’t hit Mr. Meanie first. I was a good puncher – my grandfather had been a champion boxer and I’d taken boxing lessons in the States and had lettered in judo at Kubasaki High School in Okinawa. (Go, Dragons!) But the Blue Meanie was so damned big it took your breath away and surely he would absorb the best punch I could deliver. I was five eleven and at 25 weighed 165 exercised pounds. But that was nothing against the Goliath who was the Blue Meanie. I mean, his elephantine right leg was bigger than me and surely weighed nearly as much.

In retrospect, it's possible I’m exaggerating. But I don’t think so. I remember this immense man towering over me, his crazy eyes dancing, dancing… his personal jury still out while I babbled away:

“Yessir, Mr. Johnson, sir,” I said – so relieved that I’d remembered his name that I almost swallowed my tongue. But I got it out, saying “We’re all worried about your credit rating. Now, I know… and Mr. Cohen knows… that your rent has been just a tiny, little bit late recently.” I made with narrowed fingers, showing a small space – so insignificant, that surely the landlord wasn’t worried about it.

I went on, making it up as fast as I could: “Well, you know how people are. They don’t always understand that other folks might have problems too. And, well, one of Mr. Cohen’s business partners – a real cranky guy… you wouldn’t like him - took things a different way. And he isn’t listening to Mr. Cohen. He’s being a real bad person about your rent. And he… well, he wants to go to court and… and… (now I was really winging it)… and sue you, and ruin your good name and your… you know… your credit rating…”

The Blue Meanie only stared at me. I had no idea if what I was saying made any sense. It certainly made no sense to me. He just stared, fist half-raised as I rushed on, fearing that when I stopped he’d strike me down.

“…But Mr. Cohen is a veteran, himself, and he wants to give you a chance. He knows how brave you were. He told me about the Bronze Star and stuff.”

Mr. Cohen had never said such a thing and I strongly doubted that he’d been in the military. But I was doing the best with what little I had. The Blue Meanie was a frozen giant, now. Ready to strike… or?

“He hasn’t called your sister in Norwalk, yet,” I said, improvising some more. “Mr. Cohen appreciates how proud you are and he wouldn’t want to be the cause of a family fuss.”

There came the rumble of a big, out of tune engine and just then the VA bus pulled into view.

Desperately, I blurted out the rest. “Mr. Cohen really wants to protect your credit rating. I mean, he’s worried about you getting a… a… security clearance someday, if you ever need one.”

In those days, a security clearance was the ultimate ticket to a good job at one of the war factories. It was also a matter of pride to guys who had served in the military. But in this case, the Blue Meanie’s only reaction was a fierce glare.

Then bus pulled up, the doors hissed open and he started toward it.

I raised my voice, saying, “Mr. Cohen said if you just leave, he won’t let his partners pursue you in court. All the past rent will be forgiven. Your credit rating will be unblemished.”

He looked back at me for a moment. I raised a hand, Scouts honor.

“One hundred percent pure,” I said, feeling a little giddy. And what the hell did that mean?

The Blue Meanie didn’t change expressions. He turned and clambered onto the bus. The door whooshed shut and the bus rumbled away, farting clouds of black smog into the fresh ocean air.

I was relieved, to say the least. I had survived my encounter with the Blue Meanie. As far I knew I’d been the only person in the complex to speak to him. Well, maybe some of his victims had begged and pleaded while he punched them out, but I’d engaged him in an actual conversation. Okay, it wasn’t a real conversation. I’d done all the talking and he hadn’t said a word. Even so, he’d stood there without protest while I ran my Irish blarney on his huge behind.

And I’d survived.

Roger laughed when I reported my encounter. Offering a toke off his joint, he said, “Shit, Al. He’s gonna kill you. He’s probably brooding right now in his pad. Drinking wine, stomping roaches and dreaming about how he’s going to pop off your head and shit in your neck.”

“I won’t go easily,” I vowed, sucking hard on the doobie. “He can snap my head off, but I intend to wriggle my neck as hard as I can while he’s shitting.”

Okay, I was exaggerating. I was more than a little uneasy. Thinking maybe I had gone too far and the Blue Meanie would be laying for me even now, ready to leap out, shouting, “Lurker. Fuckin’ lurker.” And lay into me, like a gorilla on speed.

I waited and waited and although the Blue Meanie didn’t come I never felt comfortable. In my heart of hearts I just knew that any second now, he was going to show up and pound me into the ground like a nail.

Then one day, while I was trying to figure out how to get the termites out of the cable spool, Roger came to report that the Blue Meanie was no more. That I’d been saved. (See: A Place Called Pepperland.) 

He showed me the wreck that was the Meanie’s abandoned apartment. The big Lazy-Boy chair was mashed so low to the ground from his weight that the stuffing touched the floor. The filthy mattress was sort of a moving gray with specks from living things I didn’t want to think about. The refrigerator was standing open and the smell nearly knocked me out from ten feet. I was sure I saw large crawly things inside and turned away, stifling my gag reflex.

Roger gave a half-hearted giggle. “Pretty bad, man,” he said. “Poor fucker was sick.”

“Think he’s really gone?” I asked.

It was an effort to speak. I didn’t want to breathe through my nose and smell this mess. Now I was seeing pools of what looked to be dried blood on the floor and my mind and stomach were mutinying on me. My gag reflex was working overtime.

“Yeah, I think so,” Rog said. He looked queasy. His features were pale.

“Let’s talk outside,” he said, his voice kind of croaky, holding things back.

I gratefully exited the apartment, sucking in a nice ocean breeze fresh off the Pacific to steady my stomach. I turned to Roger, who looked like he was about to upchuck in the bushes, but somehow he choked it back.

“Can we keep him out?” I asked, breathing hard, trying desperately to clear my lungs and mind.

“I’ve got a fumigator buddy,” Roger said. “I can put a gas bomb in there that’ll fuckin’ stop Godzilla.”

“But what if he breaks in?” I said. “I don’t want him to get hurt.”

“I’ll fix it,” Rog said. “I’ll nail the damned windows and doors shut. Make some skull-and-cross-bones signs and paper the place with them.”

So that was our plan. I don’t know if the Blue Meanie ever returned. Roger not only nailed the doors and windows shut, but he did the same to the recently vacated apartment of the Marines. Since it adjoined the Blue Meanie’s place he correctly assumed that he had to hit both pads at once to debug them. He did a very thorough job.

We sealed the apartments for two weeks. Every day or so, Roger would toss a gas bomb into each unit, then nail them shut again. Mr. Cohen only objected once to the expense of keeping the apartments off the market.

I said, “Mr. Cohen, if you want to come out here and look at the things crawling out into the alley to escape the gas, be my guest.”

He not only paid, but sent me a bonus for getting rid of the Blue Meanie – a hundred and fifty dollars. I gave Roger fifty, Jack fifty and kept fifty for myself. We got some decent booze and some pot and some munchies and had a celebration.

After a time, Jack said: “I don’t feel right about this. He was a sick old man. A fucking war hero, with a plate in his head. And we drove him out.”

I said, “I see your point, Jack. And I feel pretty bad about it, too. Hell, I feel like I snuck up on him and played CIA games with what was left of his mind. Like I was my dad, or something.”

Roger raised one butt cheek and farted. “Fuck him, man,” he said. “He was the fuckin’ Blue Meanie. He was fuckin’ with Pepperland.”

We all laughed. And we drank wine and smoked dope and thought about things this way and that, according to our personalities. But we worried for a very long time – would the Blue Meanie come back to kill us all?

Late in the night there’d be a loud bump, a distant pounding, and I’d think – Is the Blue Meanie here? Is he going to smash down the door, kill Tasha, our big German Shepherd, with a single blow of his mighty hand? Then charge up the stairs with an ax, or something, and slaughter us all in our beds?

The Blue Meanie might have departed in the flesh, but his ghost remained to haunt us all for a very long time.


COMING MARCH 15-17: THE SECOND ANNUAL EMPIRE DAY Celebration! Fan Fiction Invited. Kilgour Jokes, New Recipes From The Emp, Commando Tips From Sten. Plus Prizes Galore! Click Here For Details

During the Vietnam war, GIs who managed to survive their tour of duty were flown home in chartered airliners, which they called “Freedom Birds.” This is the story of three young men – from  wildly different backgrounds – who meet on such a plane and make a pact to spend three days together in San Francisco. Their goal: to spend every cent of  their mustering out money in a party of  a lifetime. And they’ll get more than they bargained for: because when they land, it is July 1967 – in a time that would come to be known as “The Summer Of Love.” A place and time where each young man will have to confront the ghosts who followed them home from the jungles of Vietnam and contemplate a future none of them had imagined. 


The entire 8-novel landmark science fiction series is now being presented in three three giant omnibus editions from Orbit Books.  The First - BATTLECRY - features the first three books in the series: Sten #1; Sten #2 -The Wolf Worlds; and Sten #3, The Court Of A Thousand Suns. Next: JUGGERNAUT, which features Sten #4, Fleet Of The Damned; Sten #5, Revenge Of The Damned; and Sten #6, The Return Of The Emperor. Finally, there's DEATHMATCH, which contains Sten #6, Vortex; and Sten #7, End Of Empire. Click on the highlighted titles to buy the books. Plus, if you are a resident of The United Kingdom, you can download Kindle versions of the Omnibus editions. Which is one clot of a deal!
Here's the Kindle link for BATTLECRY
Here's the Kindle link for JUGGERNAUT
Here's the Kindle link for DEATHMATCH



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



Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself. Here's where to buy the book. 


Diaspar Magazine - the best SF magazine in South America - is publishing the first novel in the Sten series in four 
episodes. Part One and Part Two appeared in back-to-back issues. And now Part Three has hit the virtual book stands.  Stay tuned, for the grand conclusion. Meanwhile, here are the links to the first three parts. Remember, it's free!

No comments:

Post a Comment