Artist: Tony Millionaire

Your Death,
My Christmas Present

Phooey and Oopsy Go on the Lam

By Leonard Eels

Phooey MacDuff and Oopsy Ottenway were at the track. Not playing, just kibitzing. A former track veterinarian they knew, Shots Chamomile, recently forcibly retired after a string of unfortunate instances, was explaining that the one sure way to tell if a pony is ready for a gallop is to visit the paddock before the race. The pony that takes the biggest dump will win.

"Applesauce," Phooey said. Phooey rarely said phooey and had no idea why it was his nickname. Phooey looked like a cub scout who never grew up but grew out a lot. He had a sweet round face atop a soft round body that his bottom of the barrel clothes always seemed to button crooked around. He wore his trousers up under his armpits and ties the length of a man's hand. He bit his fingernails almost clean off and never got his shoes shined for fear they'd fall apart if the boy used too much elbow grease with the brush.

Oopsy shrugged shoulders small and delicate as a pigeon's. Oopsy was a petite, dark, once-handsome fellow who'd unenjoyed a brief career as a jockey a long time ago. He was so accident prone a fellow didn't want to stand closer than three feet to him. The loss of his former good looks was attributable to all the dings, lumps and missing parts his clumsiness had caused him over the years. He wasn't allowed to operate a motor vehicle or heavy machinery in six states. As a jockey he got hung up in so many gates and unintentionally fouled so many riders the commission finally banned him on the grounds of being a danger to himself and everyone else.

"Thumb always on the scale," Phooey was saying to Shots. "Who know bettern you? You wanna weigh a nag's patooie be my guest. As well throw yer dough away on the hounds. The track as big a crap shoot as..."

"A crap shoot?" Elihu Ockbarr suggested airily, sailing by in a silk summer suit, brown and white spectators and a brand new straw panama. "How you boys doing? Winning, losing or just drawing breath?"

He didn't wait for the answer. He was making a beeline for the paddock.

"Guy rubs me the wrong way," Oopsy muttered.

"Not what I heard," Shots said.

There are degenerate gamblers and professional gamblers. Ockbarr was a degenerate professional gambler. He won and lost more rake in a season than Phooey and Oopsy would in their entire lives. He was a snappy dresser and a loose spender and could be a real ladies man if he liked ladies. Much as he enjoyed gambling it was the jockeys that attracted him to the track. He crowded Oopsy for a while in Oopsy's day. The commission periodically threatened to ban him too, but he had degenerate friends in high and low places.

The sixth race was on. Phooey and Oopsy stood at the rail. Each had placed an imaginary bet in his head. When it was over, Phooey asked, "Who was you on?"

Oopsy ripped up imaginary tickets and threw them over his shoulder.

"Me too," Phooey said. "Feel like a sammich?"

Fixx's Inn was a favorite for its cheap beers and free steam table lunches. The place was crowded with losers, hovering like clouds of flies around the two or three winners on the day. Oopsy and Phooey found the steam tables completely cleaned out. The only food in the joint was the pickled eggs in jars behind the bar, and they weren't free.

Hissy Fixx wiped the bar in front of them with a rag that was wetter and dirtier than the bar. Phooey and Oopsy reached into their trousers up to their elbows and fished up a pitiful pile of coins. Hissy, dainty for a big guy, slid most of them into his palm. He fetched a dirty little glass, dipped it into a bucket of foamless beer, and slopped it in front of Phooey. Then he reached around under the bar, found a paper cup, and filled that for Oopsy.

"Well," Phooey said, raising his glass.

Oopsy raised his paper cup. It slipped from the two and a half fingers of that hand and fell to the peanut shells on the floor. Phooey jumped back to keep the beer off his shoes, as though they were Florsheims instead of cardboard and paste. Hissy waddled over without a sound, slid more coins off the bar, and filled another paper cup. Oopsy reached for it.

"Leave it there why don't ya," Phooey said. "Bring him a straw."

The beer was warm and sour and made them glum.

"I tell ya I can't go on scratchin and peckin like this much longer," Phooey said. "Thinkin about lightin out for the hills."

"What hills?" Oopsy said.

"Aw we gotta make some kinda score soon I tell ya," Phooey said. "This ain't no kinda life."

Elihu Ockbarr swanned in trailing a jockey, a thin-faced lad from somewhere South o' the Border. He had a name no one could remember or pronounce so they called him Nobody. Everyone in the bar turned. Ockbarr always made an impression. Nobody flinched at all the attention and seemed to shrink even smaller.

"Somebody oughta do that bird a mischief," Oopsy muttered.

Phooey made question marks with his eyebushes.

"Know how much he carryin right this minute?" Oopsy growled. "Heck that silly hat alone hock for moren we scratch up in a week."

Phooey studied Oopsy's dark, narrow scowl. A little guy a big guy could crush between his thumb and forefinger, Oopsy nursed a lot of little guy's anger and resentment.

"You ain't sayin?" Phooey said.

"Why not?" Oopsy said. "Ain't he axin for it? Parading around like the King a Siam, lobster and champagne every night, rest of us don't got two brown linkums to clink together. Think he is anyway?"

It was the most Phooey had ever heard Oopsy say at one time. That's how he knew he was serious.

"Listen to you," Phooey said. "What, we take him out back, ramsack his pockets, leave him there in his undershorts and garters? I never even roll a drunk on a train, let alone a guy I knew. And you. Stab yourself or shoot yourself or conk yourself out. We may not be level but we ain't like that."

"Could do it," Oopsy muttered. But his tone said he knew Phooey was probably right. They fell into another dark study.

"Where's the action boys?" Elihu Ockbarr cheered. He'd deposited Nobody in a booth at the back where he could monopolize his attention and come to the bar to fetch drinks.

"In your billfold?" Phooey said.

"Yes, but that's a private party," Ockbarr grinned. Hissy waddled over. "Two boilermakers," Ockbarr told him. He glanced down at the empty glass and paper cup. "And a refill for my steamed colleagues."

"Mighty white," Phooey nodded.

Ockbarr turned and studied Oopsy closely.

"Didn't you have two ears last time we met?"

A few months earlier, Oopsy had come into some scratch and treated himself to a hot towel and shave. The barber was working on him when the chair suddenly dropped six inches and the razor sliced clean through an ear.

Hissy set them up. Ockbarr reached inside his silk jacket and slid out a calf's leather billfold groaning with bills. He fingerwalked through them for a long moment before making his selection and handing it to Hissy. Oopsy stared at Ockbarr's rings.

"Don't stand on ceremony," Ockbarr said, waving the rings. "Happy days."

"For some," Oopsy muttered.

Hissy returned and handed Ockbarr a small sheaf of bills. Ockbarr chose one and dropped it on the bar by Oopsy's elbow. Then he glanced obliquely at Oopsy and Phooey. He picked the bill up, waved Hissy back and handed it to him.

"Boys." He carried the boilermakers toward to the booth.

"You see that?" Phooey scowled. "Like we'd be that low. And that purse. He stuff one more bill in it bust its stitches."

"With me now?" Oopsy muttered.

Phooey gnawed a thumbnail. "Where we fence them rings? Where we spend the boodle? He got friends all down the line, on both sides a the line. They got steak jernts on the moon yet? Cuz that's how far we'd have to go."

"Know a hardcase ain't a friend of his," Oopsy said. "The imam."

Phooey groaned. Of all the crooked, dirty business people in the city, Imam Smabley was the worst and most dangerous. The local leadership of the Nation of Islam normally didn't allow lady imams, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. She made various members of her grotesquely extended family vice imams and junior imams, and among them they ran an evil empire that spread from her apartment, which she never left, into every profit center in the city.

"How you know her?" Phooey asked Oopsy.

"My mom do a few job a woik for her back in the day."

"What's her beef with Ockbarr?"

Oopsy shrugged his pigeon shoulders. "What we care?"

"But where we come in?" Phooey asked.

Oopsy scratched behind where he didn't have an ear. "Lez go find out."

Elihu Ockbarr came back to the bar as they walked out. He looked down at the three sad lincolns they'd left on the bar as Hissy's tip, and grinned and shook his fine head. He raised his eyes to all the losers in the joint and shook his head some more. Even when he was on his longest losing streak he was never a loser like these mooks were losers. They started life at the bottom of the barrel and were still over the barrel to this day. He himself was born with a silver spoon up his patoot and one clutched in each pink little fist. Trained in degenerate behavior at the finest schools, he'd only just graduated when his father died mad as a titmouse from tertiary syphilis and it was revealed he'd given away most of the estate to highly questionable charities. Elihu was tossed out into the wide world with a small grubstake and a playboy's looks and a blithe attitude toward money, life, and everyone around him. No one ever forgot that he'd fallen from a very high place. He slid like an eel through the murky headwaters of human society where no straight lines separated the righteous from the degenerate, the judge from the criminal.

Ockbarr was friends with them all. The only enemy he'd made recently was the Imam Smabley. Some time ago he'd picked up a pretty, dark-eyed lad and carried him around everywhere, showering him with steaks and stickpins. Then, as always, he got bored and threw him over. The lad took it very poorly and jammed a diamond stickpin into his own carotid. It was touch and go for a week.

The boy was a nephew of the imam's. The imam's standing among the crooked business people in the city required that she reach out to Ockbarr and suggest he make appropriate restitution. His fortunes happened to be at one of their periodic low ebbs, so he high-handed her, saying that he was very sorry for the lad but not responsible for him. He sent flowers to the sick room and forgot all about the boy. He was fairly confident the imam wouldn't lash out. They shared too many friends in high and low places. She wouldn't start a war over an idiot nephew, even if he was a junior imam.

Ockbarr smiled lickerishly at Nobody as he ferried their second boilermakers to the booth.

Nobody gazed at them warily.

"Gotta call my girl," he grumbled.

"Sure, liebchen," Ockbarr said. "Chust vet your vistle virst."

Nobody didn't know why Ockbarr was talking to him that way, but he was pretty sure he didn't like Ockbarr talking to him that way.

The city's vilest killers, gangsters, drug lords, thieves, pimps, aldermen, lawyers and cops lounged all over the living room of Imam Smabley's apartment. Phooey felt the blood rush to his cardboard shoes.

Imam Smabley herself lounged on a vast, canopied bed in the next room. She was a giant, dressed entirely in Muslim gear that showed only her cold hard killer's eyes. Oopsy dropped to his knees and knocked his forehead on the floor.

"Salami linkum," he intoned to the floor.

"Uh huh," the imam replied behind her veil. "Who the infidel?"

Oopsy made introductions.

"Think I remember you," the imam said to him. "You the kid always fallin down. Figured you for the retard bin. Ma stayin outta trouble?"

"Guess so," Oopsy said. "Been dead a few years."

"Sorry for yer loss. Whym I lookin at you?"

"We got a beef with Elihu Ockbarr. So do you."

Above her veil, the imam's cold eyes narrowed.

"How you know?"

Oopsy shrugged.

"Let's say you right," the imam said. "What I need you for?"

"Cover. You swat him, we take the heat."

"Why swat him if nobody know?"

"Keep the peace," Oopsy said. "Bidness as usual."

"Day I need ragamuttons like you ta worry bout my bidness the day I go out a bidness," the imam rumbled.

"Forgive, you allahness. Just sayin. One hand watch the other back and they both stay clean."

The imam shifted her great bulk on the bed and studied them.

"Look at ya. Who bleeb you an Tubby do it?"

"Anyone you tell to, yer highlowness."

The imam liked the sound of that.

"Ya know if we do dis you two never show yer ugly pans in this town again."

Oopsy nodded. "Could use a change a air."

The imam studied them some more. The only sound was the knocking of Phooey's molars.

"All right," the imam said. "I give it a consider." She waved a huge hand. "Praise Allah."

Phooey breathed again. They turned to go.

"Wait." The imam studied Oopsy closely. "Turn yer head. Other way. What you do, fall on a butcher?"

She exploded in a laugh so hearty it blew out her veil like a window shade in a hurricane. Phooey stared into her wide open mouth, like the maw of Moloch. He got a real bad feeling.

At the El Rocco the same conglomeration of sociopaths Phooey and Oopsy had seen at the imam's looked up and wiped their chins with their steak and lobster bibs as Elihu Ockbarr sailed in with Nobody. Nobody wobbled half-drunk in the new suit and tie and shoes and cufflinks Ockbarr had bought him for the occasion. On the bandstand the Spunk Melman Orchestra, which was really more of a Combo than an Orchestra but the El Rocco was the sort of swank joint where everybody put up a front, stopped what they were playing and started up "You Were Only a Drop in the Bucket of My Tears," a big hit for Dagmar Earl the He/She Nightingale a few years previously, and sort of Ockbarr's theme song. Spunk Melman looked over his shoulder as he fanned his baton and smiled unctuously at Elihu under his eyelash-thin mustache and Elihu shot him a wink back. Alphonse swept Ockbarr and Nobody to Ockbarr's favorite table, tucked in an alcove, and pulled the curtain. Around the room the cracking of lobsters' backs and thunderous masticating of steaks resumed.

Ockbarr sipped bubbly through a dazzling smile. Nobody moped woozily.

"How long you gonna play out that string, honeychile?" Ockbarr asked.


"Like it'd be torture to have a swell time. You really got a girl? Is she nice? Sure she is. But is she as much fun as me?"

The waiter brought a platter of oysters. Nobody watched Elihu slurp a couple.

"Try one," Elihu said. "Bolsters the fortitude."

Nobody choked one down. Then he got a bad look. He staggered out of his chair, fought briefly with the curtains, and made a dash. Ockbarr sent the waiter to look after him. He wasn't the type to find holding a date's forehead while he upchucked romantic. He took the opportunity to check his billfold. It was fat with cash. Unfortunately, it was mostly small bills. He'd blown a lot on Nobody's outfit, plus buying himself a handsome new tie tack. He calculated he had just enough left to pay for dinner. He didn't think Rocco would let him cuff this one. He was already running a tab. Rocco didn't lean heavily. He knew Ockbarr had friends who could lean back. He just wanted cash every second or third meal as a gesture of good faith.

Squirts Quartermain parted the curtain. Ockbarr hastily slipped his billfold back in his jacket.

"Ellie," Squirts saluted him. Ockbarr hated it when people called him that. Sounded too much like Nellie. Squirts was commissioner of the Pork Authority. Ockbarr had never been interested enough to ask him just which varieties of swinish behavior that covered. "How's tricks?"

"Ain't turned any yet today," Ockbarr replied with a smooth smile. "But hope springs."

"Boy was lookin a little green around the gills," Squirts said.

"Good steak will put him right as rain again," Ockbarr opined.

"Don't mean to stick my beak in," Squirts said. "Just that I'm heading to the track tomorrow and wondered if you got any tips."

"Sure," Ockbarr said. "Don't go to the track. It's a crap shoot."

Squirts haw hawed. It was his signature laugh. Too loud, too enthusiastic, and simultaneously butt-kissing. He didn't make commissioner on his looks.

"Hey, speakin a craps," he said, "mayor's gettin up a game tonight if you interested." Elihu's ears perked up. "Rumpus room at police headquarters, start around midnight. All high rollers."

"Might be able to stop by. How high's the mayor rolling lately?"

"Oh about yea." Squirts bent over to hold a flat palm close to the floor. "Like King Minus. Nuttin he touch turn to gold. Was keepin that cheap ho Ammonia by his side for luck but all that rubbed off on him was her make-up so he kicked her to the curb."

Ockbarr winced. That was the mayor's wife Squirts was talking about. It didn't seem quite right, even if the mayor was a bent and shallow machine hack like Snot Underwasser. And even if Lady Ammonia Underwasser really had been a cheap ho before, and for a brief period after, the wedding.

A thought strayed across Squirts' brow and left a look of concern behind it. "By the way, El, some a the imam's dogs might be there. That thing between you and her worked out, right?"

"What thing?" Elihu replied nonchalantly.

The waiter parted the curtain and let Nobody in. He actually looked a little better and more sober than when he left.

"Cheer up, Flacco," Ockbarr said. "We're going to go jiggle some ivory. Maybe we'll both get lucky."

"Como?" Nobody said.

The rumpus room of the police building was in the back, with a door on an alley. Two gigantic cops were the doormen.

"Halt who goes here?" one of them barked as Elihu and Nobody approached.

"Evening boys," Elihu said. "Got a date with hizzonner."

"Yeah?" the other cop snarled. "What the passwoid?"

Between dessert and espressos Elihu had left Nobody in the alcove and buttonholed Rocco. He explained that he wasn't skipping on the meal, but needed some extra readies to continue the evening's entertainment. Rocco agreed to hold his rings, his new tie tack, his cufflinks and wristwatch for a wad of bills. Let him keep the panama because he saw he was on a date.

"Let's see," Elihu said, fingering the bills. "Is it Hamilton?"

"Pshaw," the second cop said.

"Sorry. I meant Jackson."

"Away with youse," the first cop said.

"Now see here, gents," Elihu said.

The second cop cut him off with a wave of a giant hand. "Tax us not with your importoonies. You shall not pass without you give us the woid."

Elihu sighed. "I remember now." He peeled a fifty. "Unconditional Surrender."

"That's the spirit," the first cop said as the Grant vanished in his mitt. The other held open the door.

In the rumpus room everyone was on their knees around the shooting gallery. They were all there, all the shovers and takers, the mayor and his aldermen, the bankers and legbreakers, the socialites and celebrities, the top-drawer she-sluts and he-whores. Piles of kale on the floor at everyone's knees. They tossed it down and raked it in, their eyes and faces shiny, shouting blandishments or curses at the dice. Ockbarr did a quick scan and saw no one from the imam's crew.

Nobody stood against a wall with a gaggle of lackeys, bodyguards, henchmen and whores. At the track he saw degenerate gamblers every day but he didn't have to be so close to them. He despised gamblers, he hated the track, he hated horses. He really wanted to be a pop singer. Had promised his family and girl back home. There were people in this room who could help him with that. Ockbarr was pals with them all. Disgusted as he was, Nobody decided to stay.

Phooey hated being out at four in the morning. The only people you ran into on the streets at that hour were people you never wanted to run into.

"How I let you talk me into this?" he complained to Oopsy as they cooled their heels in shadow not far from the two giant coppers guarding the rumpus room door.

"Think you should shut up a little," Oopsy muttered. Now that this thing was really happening he was strung tighter than a piano.

A pair of the imam's hardcases glided out of the gloom. One was a giant, like a mountain in a hoodlum's pinstriped suit. The other was as small as Oopsy but looked hard and sharp as a switchblade. When they got right up on him Phooey saw that they were dames.

"Golly, what you been doin since you sank the Titanic?" he asked the big one.

They made introductions. The big one was Sweet Pertater and the sharp one Elbows Kelsoe.

Elbows stuck a smoke in her thin lips and patted herself down for a match.

Oopsy fished a book out of a pocket and went to light it for her.

"Why they call you Elbows?" he asked.

"Why they call you Oopsy?" she fired back.

Oopsy fumbled the match and burned one of his fingers that still had feeling.

"Oh," she said.

Phooey was jiggling and shuffling his cracked shoes.

"Wish he come out already," he complained. "Why he gotta make us wait all night?"

"Wish we could flush him," Oopsy said.

Elbows looked thoughtful inside a cloud of tobacco and turned to Sweet Pertater. "He know your mug?"

In the rumpus room Nobody had come away from the wall and stood behind Elihu. Ockbarr had a nice little mound of bills at his knees. He had not touched the dice all night, just ran with or against whoever was rolling. It looked to Nobody like he'd doubled his stash. Nobody yawned and stretched. He was bored, he was sleepy, his eyes ached from the smoke, his ears hurt from the constant shouting, he had a race tomorrow afternoon. It didn't feel like Ockbarr was going to introduce him to anyone tonight who could help him be a pop star. He could walk out the door now and Ockbarr wouldn't even notice.

As he reached the door it opened, almost knocking him on his keester, and a humongous lady with the face of a bulldog carved in granite lumbered in.

As focused as he was on the dice, Ockbarr's peripheral instincts struck an alarm. He looked up and saw Nobody at the door, which was filled with Sweet Pertater. His heart raced and sank at the same time.

He pretended not to see Sweet Pertater, which wasn't easy. He nodded at Nobody to come back. Meanwhile, smiling casually, he said to those around him, "Hoo I'm bushed. It for me," and casually began to make a neat wad of his earnings, hoping no one saw his fingers shaking. He stood up as Nobody approached, wearing his perpetual frown. Ockbar stood so Nobody was between him and the giantess, who had lumbered two steps into the room. He rolled the bills into a knot and thrust it down low at Nobody. Nobody scowled at him.

"Hold this for me," Ockbarr said. "Take a cab to my place. I'll see you there."

He flashed him a shiny but jittery smile and gave him a little pat on one fine cheekbone.

Sweet Pertater didn't even notice Nobody slipping out the door. She was staring at Ockbarr. He patted down his hair, straightened his tie, called toodles to the crowd on the floor, who didn't respond, and strolled casually toward the door, giving Sweet Pertater a friendly nod as he approached her. She nodded her head boulder back at him.

When he made it past her and into the hallway he breathed a sigh of relief so deep he almost wet his silk undershorts. His luck was still holding. If he hurried he could catch up with Nobody. His heart suddenly leaped for joy. The night was still young. Or if not young, still up for a gallop.

The air in the alley stank of garbage but it was cooler and fresher than inside. Nobody hitched his trousers, stepped between the two big cops, and tried to look relaxed as he headed for the street.

In the shadows Elbows whispered, "That him?"

Oopsy and Phooey shook their heads.

Elihu Ockbarr hurried out. Elbows shoved Phooey and Oopsy into the open. Ockbarr scarcely noticed them. He was looking down the alley for Nobody.

Oopsy called to him, "He come this way."

Ockbarr looked confused. The street and taxis were the other way.

"Takin a pit stop," Oopsy said.

Ockbarr stepped toward them. Oopsy tried to put on the sort of face tough guys had been showing him all his life.

Ockbarr narrowed his eyes at him.

"You all right, dear boy? You're trembling like a leaf in a storm."

Oopsy stabbed out his shaky, lopsided hands and grabbed Ockbarr's silk lapels. Ockbarr was so startled he just went limp and let Oopsy drag him into the shadows, where Elbows was waiting.

It was so dark Ockbarr never knew what hit him. Elbows kept it pretty quiet and worked him over in the methodical way of a professional who liked the job. When she was done she made sure Ockbarr fell into the open, where the cops could see him. Then she shoved Phooey and Oopsy at him.

Phooey looked away, chewing his thumb. Oopsy knelt and started riffling through Ockbarr's clothes. The cops just stood and watched. Couple of mooks rolling a fancy pants was none of their nevermind. Oopsy's ramsacking of Ockbarr's pockets took on a frantic tenor. He ripped one pocket clean out of the trousers. He yanked Ockbarr's spectators off, shook them, then rolled off his socks.

"Cmon," Phooey moaned.

Oopsy stood, breathing heavily. "Nuttin," he said. He looked up the empty alley. "Musta stashed it on the jockey."

"Git his rings."

"Ain't wearin any," Oopsy said. "Nuttin."

Elbows hissed from the shadows. "Deed done. Git."

"Got nuttin," Oopsy complained at her.

"That's rough. Git."

Phooey grabbed Oopsy's elbow and dragged him up the alley. The cops yawned and rocked on their heels.

Everyone in the paddock next day had something to say to Ockbarr about how bad he looked, mostly wisecracks of the walk in front of a trolley? variety.

"Ain't here," Shots Chamomile told him. "Didn't show up for his race. Ain't slept in his cot. Flewed the coop you ask me. You know how they are."

"Oh," Ockbarr sighed through his wired jaw, "I used to think so."

Farmer Brown dropped Phooey and Oopsy at a crossroad where one unmarked two-lane country blacktop lay prostrate across another. Brown field of some kind of withered plants to one side, dead-looking trees to the other. Some kind of large bird making a harsh racket.

"Where the heck," Phooey said.

"Like I know," Oopsy snapped.

Phooey looked around and shivered. He'd spent his life in the city. The country spooked him. All that air and sky. All those plants and animals. No brick, no concrete. Nowhere to mooch a drink or filch a cheap cigar. It was inhuman.

Some kind of farm vehicle appeared up one of the lanes. A truck hauling a manure loader or hog carrier or something. Like they'd know. It was big and loud and muddy and grinding metal parts.

Oopsy stuck out his one good thumb. The truck bounced and creaked, coming a lot quicker than it looked like it could. Oopsy kept hooking his thumb at it. Phooey chewed on his.

The big bird abruptly exploded out of the dead trees, cranking wide black wings. Phooey and Oopsy stared, their mouths hanging open, as it flew straight into the truck and smashed its head on the windshield. They could hear the farmer in there give a startled shout. He jerked the wheel and the truck picked up speed and bounced onto the shoulder where they stood. The truck bore down on them with its big muddy grill and the bird stuck on its windscreen and the terrified-looking farmer behind it flailing at the wheel.

At the very last split second the truck screeched back onto the blacktop and roared past them. It went on skittering down the road until it vanished.

Phooey and Oopsy stood there like statues, Oopsy's thumb still out, their clothes flapping in the truck's passing wind.

"The heck?" Phooey said.

Oopsy shrugged. "Maybe our luck changin."

Phooey let his head fall back and gazed up at the cloudless empty blue sky.

"What?" Oopsy scowled.

"Lookin for the safe," Phooey said.

This is the first episode in the monthly serial Phooey and Oopsy.

NEXT MONTH: Phooey and Oopsy go to Nuttinburg in "B Girl in a Pig's Eye."

Published May 18th, 2016

Leonard Eels is the fiction-writing pseudonym of a nonfiction writer who likes to keep his egos altered.