Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The following is a draft of Chapter 14 of my post-oil novel AMERICAN CRUDE. Comments have been disabled. If you wish to comment, please go to TheKunstlerCast at and join the discussion.


--Innocent Byproduct


Misty and I stood outside together, watching them load the stretcher onboard the ambulance with a semi-conscious Catherine strapped to it. Misty started to whimper so I knelt down and consoled the poor creature.

“Don’t worry, girl. She’ll be back,” I said. She licked my face.

Hugging the dog to my side, I looked up from her to behold Doctor Tuxedo also enter the ambulance. And then a hot anger arose in me as I briefly imagined him sitting beside Catherine, holding her hand for the entire ride. As I dwelled on that infuriating image I found myself involuntarily clutching Misty with an additional zeal.

The loading doors closed and the ambulance started slowly rumbling over the gravel toward the open barnyard gate. With the dog still in my arms, Misty’s sad eyes followed the departing vehicle. She whimpered again then barked. At last she suddenly exploded with a surprising burst of energy and bolted right out of my arms, chasing the vehicle down the gravel toward the front of the house.

“Misty! Come back!” I shouted. I stood there in jaw-dropped shock, angry with myself for not taking her back inside the tack room sooner. I allowed myself to envision the horrifying possibility of the ambulance wheels crushing the frantic animal. That led me to imagine Catherine’s inconsolable sobbings as she blamed me for killing her beloved dead husband’s dog, and then of course she would never want to see me again.

I started running in an absolute panic down the unlit driveway, following the dog and the retreating taillights of the ambulance. I had no fucking clue as to the layout of the place, and the fact that it was one o’clock in the morning and the entire estate had almost zero nighttime illumination didn’t help matters.

“Misty! Come home!”

I made it to the front of the house where I could now see that the front yard was “relatively” small with the house sporting “only” a 100-foot set-back from the tree-lined street. So it was not the huge sprawling millionaire’s country estate I envisioned it to be (at least not judging by the front yard). The ambulance made it to the shadowy, tree-flanked mouth of the driveway, slowed down while its brake lights brightly lit up, and started coasting into position to make a right-hand turn. I could both see and hear Misty barking madly in the darkness at the wheels of the ambulance, the white portions of her fur dully reflecting the pale moonlight, and her fluffy speckled tail flagellating non-stop.

I knew this would be my only chance to call out to her, and that as soon as the ambulance executed that right-hand turn, Misty would follow it all the way to the hospital -- if she didn’t get killed along the way.

I then recalled Iraq from over twenty years earlier. And I recalled Captain Warren’s voice. He had a low voice, but not flat and boring. Instead it was a rich and resonating voice with much nuance to it. He didn’t need to shout to get someone’s attention because the commanding texture of his voice did all the work that mere decibels could never accomplish. I recalled my first verbal reprimand from him at our Desert Shield encampment during my first week under his command. I was walking across the compound that afternoon with a pronounced leisureliness to my stride on my way to the PX. He spotted me from about ten yards away off to one side. He called out to me with an overt sharpness in his tone: “Soldier.” But he didn’t shout it because he didn’t have to. I froze at the sound of his voice and turned to him at full attention, still ten yards away.

“Yes, SIR!” I replied loudly, and I knew that more than a few heads out in the yard were now turning to gawk (perhaps with delight) at what they suspected might prove to be a full dressing down.

“Next time you walk across this encampment,” Captain Warren said, “you walk like you have a purpose in life, soldier.”

“Yes, SIR, Cap’n, sir!” And that very day marked the beginning of my lifelong habit of “very straight and very tall.”

I stood in the moonlit gravel driveway in front of Catherine’s dark and silent house, took a deep breath, and imagined the exact pitch, tone, and infliction of how Captain Warren might have addressed his family dog.

“Misty! Stop!”

The dog froze -- including her tail -- and snapped her now silent head around at me. The ambulance entered the initial execution of its slow right-hand turn, pivoting onto Maple Street. The frozen Misty whipped her head back to the now-turning ambulance, but then in uncertainty she looked back at me again, and I could see the animal trying to work through the inner conflict of either obeying me or running after Catherine. I also knew she wouldn’t remain in that indecision for more than a few seconds, so she needed me either to issue another command or just leave her alone as she chased Catherine.

“Misty!” I continued in my mimicry of Captain Warren’s voice, and the wavering animal once again struck a pose of still-as-a-statue attention toward me. “Heel, girl, heel!”

Misty didn’t even hesitate. She instantly bolted toward me in a straight line with all the ferocity of a charging bull.

“Good girl!” I said in encouragement as she streaked forth. By the time she reached me, the ambulance was now rumbling down Maple Street. The tail-wagging Misty avidly circled my legs, brushing herself firmly against them before assuming a very formal and even regal-looking seated position beside my right foot.

“Good girl,” I said again and patted her head. Still sitting, tail still wagging, she let off one very sharp bark in reply and licked my hand.

“Come, girl, come,” I said and started walking back to the tack room. She shadowed me the entire way.

As we traveled that gravel driveway back to the barnyard again, I imagined the strong and healthy Colonel Warren of just a few years earlier walking proudly across the beautiful grounds of this lovely estate. And I imagined his faithful and obedient dog Misty trotting dutifully at his side. Walk like you have a purpose in life, soldier! Surely he was a man with a purpose.

I quickened my stride, very straight and very tall, wondering if he could see me from wherever he now was. If he could, I quietly hoped he approved of the way I now walked across the property that was once his, with the dog that was once his, and thinking in earnest about the wife that was once his.

-------------------End of Chapter 14--------------------