Archive for the ‘BURNT’ Category


In BURNT on January 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm


The bottle travels around the circle.  No one takes as big a pull as they would like, though their throats are dry and the whiskey tastes very good.  This is a rough bunch and they don’t know one another at all, having each found this fire by the railroad tracks separately.  The builder of the fire is unknown as is the owner of the bottle.

“Shall I tell you the story of how the Coyote tricked the wind?”

The tension around the fire doesn’t allow for a nod or a grunt of agreement so Arango just proceeds.

“Coyote was wandering in the desert and he came to a great lake.  Now Coyote was lazy and didn’t want walk around the lake, so he said to the Water, ‘Water, why don’t you move aside so that I can cross?'”‘

As he speaks, Arango studies his new compadres.  Their rough hands tell him that they were laborers once.  They are dirty.  The kind of dirty that means sleeping without much between you and the dirt.

They share something else as well.  A lack of desperation.  These are men who have faced desperate times and despaired.  But those times are behind them.  They are beyond despair now.  They live with it.  In it.

Just like him.

“So this is how we got the Santana winds, which still blow hot when the Wind is angry.  And this is how Coyote came to die of thirst at the bottom of a lake.”

Arango upends the bottle.  It’s empty.  He’s drained it.

Without a word, the men fall upon him and begin to beat him to death.

The Story So Far


In BURNT on January 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm


The Cinegrill is the place to be in Hollywood on a Friday night.  It’s splashy and it’s pricey.  Lotus is treating herself.  She’s even booked a suite in the adjacent Roosevelt Hotel.

She can afford it.  And she deserves it.  Over the last two years, she has distinguished herself.  She honored her promise to Lady and oversaw the final months of shooting Richard’s epic film “The Builders” then cut the film herself.  When no studio wanted it, she distributed the film on her own, working out deals with theater owners and opening the film in every major city in the country.

The other venture that Richard’s death left unfinished was the Golden State Hotel.  It’s completion was tricky, involving a near blizzard of paper and an ocean of greased palms.  She learned the names of the players in Los Angeles and just how much their cooperation cost.  The Golden opened on time and under budget.  This earned her the grudging respect of the all-male Board of Directors, and promotion to President of Lawrence Enterprises from Lady Richard herself.

She sips her martini, sinking into a padded leather chair at the best private table.  Her eyes dance over the cinema décor of the place, following the murals on the walls of Hollywood stars, Keystone Cops, cowboys and Indians and damsels in distress.  She’s part of that history now.

For the first time in a long time, her mind turns to Sister Aimee.  She wonders if Sister might not have had a second act, it she hadn’t passed so suddenly.  Sister had written a script for a film, “The Clay In The Potter’s Hands”.  Paramount shot some screen tests.

Lotus wonders where that script is.  She wonders if she should option it.  Second acts are important.

Pretty people surround her.  The women in their chiffon evening dresses with their shoulders bared.   The men with their wide lapels and top-pleat trousers.  Her own dress is a Christian Dior original.  She admires how the flared skirt spreads over her crossed legs.  She takes another sip of her martini.

The band is back from break.  The maestro, in his perfect tuxedo, conducts from the dance floor.  He is clearly a passionate and accomplished man.

Another well-dressed man steps to his side and, to Lotus’ horror, SLAPS the conductor.  And he continues to slap the man, his hands weaving through the maestro’s still-conducting arms.  The madness escalates!   A third man appears, slapping the second.  And then a fourth!  It’s a cacophony of swinging arms!  The band plays on!

She doesn’t know what to make of it.  Is it revolution?

A cigarette girl appears, handing the men matching megaphones.   They turn as one, revealing it was all a gag, that they are just a bunch of bouncers and heavies.  They belt out operatic lyrics with thick New York accents.

The crowd roars but soon forgets it.  It’s clearly a regular feature and they treat it as such.  Disposable entertainment.

Having spent a year cutting Richard’s film, she knows his philosophy well.  It’s mostly crap but he got one thing right.  People’s natures do not change.

She quietly finishes her martini, realizing it is her last.  Her last drink, her last nightclub, her last attempt at being a part of the crowd.

The Story So Far


In BURNT on January 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm


Detective Blackford studies the case file on Phoebe James.  He’s amazed.  The Saratoga police actually gave a shit about this one.  They got fingerprints off the girl’s necklace, some silver Indian thing.  They matched them to their man and even found the murder weapon on him.

It takes him a few minutes to place the killer — it’s Jessup, the undercover hippie cop.  Real name:  John Mackey.  They used to yuck it up about that show back at the Academy.  He shuffles the photo to the side of his desk, studies the arresting officer’s notes.  Looks like Mackey’s been playing a different role in real life, some sort of guru, calls himself the “Magic Man”, got a little following.  Must have been fun.  Now he’s going to prison for a long time.

He reaches for the phone.  Then he remembers he doesn’t know how to reach Jay.  “Well,” he thinks, “he’ll be relieved when he hears the news.”


My father watches Walker’s body sink below the canoe.  He pulls the kid’s corpse closer and grabs some rope.  “You alive?”

I’m basically dead.  Even hopped up on adrenaline, I can barely grunt.

“You’re next, son. ”  He methodically ties heavy rocks to the corpse.  He takes his time.  He’s always been proud of his knotting.  “It’s not because of the trouble you brought here.  These bodies will be underwater for a long time.  Marks is cleaning up the rest.  It’s because of my plans for the future.  You wouldn’t be comfortable there.”

The kid slides into the lake.  His army-issue boots are the last thing under.  Lucas starts work on my legs.

“Your friend down there, Walker, he was nuts.  But he’s just part of the natural progression of things.  That’s what the prophets of your era don’t understand.  They don’t realize that a movement based on complete freedom can only lead to one of two outcomes.  Either crime or commerce.  I choose the latter.”

I struggle but he holds me until the strength passes out of me again.  He resumes securing the heavy weights to my body and I resume watching.

“A successful prophet knows that you have to keep raising the bar.  Jesus understood this.  Escalation!  Water to wine, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead — building the miracles one after another until the big finale, his own resurrection.  Cheating death!  That is success, son.”

This sudden passion gives me the spark to speak.  “What is Blue Light?”

His eyes flash and he swings an oar.  An explosion of pain and I’m in the water.

I hear a scream and see someone on a bluff high above the lake.  It’s Josey, staring down.  Her mouth is a circle.  I sink.

The Story So Far


In BURNT on January 18, 2011 at 8:37 pm


A riderless horse meets Sunday in the canyon, reins dragging through the dirt.  This is when she knows she’s about to see some dead cowboys.

There are a lot of them, mostly scattered among the rocks above the pass.  Vaqueros in their best clothes.  The horses wear the brands of Arango’s enemies.

Frank’s body lies draped over a bloody saddle near a narrow river.  Yanina sits in the dirt by his side.  She looks up when Sunday dismounts.  Her mouth starts moving and it doesn’t stop.  Scattered among the obscenities and the insults are some bits of information that Sunday needs, so she lets the whore rant.

It was an ambush.  It was Frank’s idea.  Frank fucked up.  Arango is injured.  He rode North.

Sunday considers Arango’s stubborn pride.   He won’t be coming back to Los Rios.   At least not alive.

Yanina spits on the dead man’s bloody face.  In a flash, a plan forms in Sunday’s head.  She knows where it comes from.  From Jeff Waring.  This is what he would do.  He would wrap the howling bitch in rope and place her in the shallow river.  He would place heavy stones on her chest one by one until she slowly drowned.

The whore is sputtering and spitting out lung-fulls of water, but still cursing as she drowns.  Crouching by the side of the river, Sunday remembers something else about the man who claimed to be her father for 17 years.  When all was said and done, Warring was a practical man.  If he were here, he would shoot Yanina in the head and be done with her.

Sunday pries Frank’s gun from his cold fingers and presses it against the whore’s forehead.

Suddenly, Sunday remembers the rest.  She lowers the gun.

“His blood doesn’t flow in me.”


Yanina sits by a warm fire.  She’s unbound, dressed in fresh clothes, warmed and full of food.

When she finishes her coffee, Sunday kicks her ass up and down the canyon then tosses her, whimpering, on her mule and points her towards the hills, where hopefully she won’t encounter any more foolish German men and can live out the rest of her life as the miserable shit that she is.

This Ends the Sixth Cycle of  BURNT

The Story So Far


In BURNT on January 12, 2011 at 8:35 pm


It’s just me and the kid in the cabin now, and he’s not getting up.  But I do and it hurts like nothing ever has.  Even more than the last, what, two? three? days of torture.

I reach the door before my legs stop working.  I can hear Walker’s braying voice on the other side.  “You have to witness the scene to really get it, to really understand these Gatherings.  I’m telling you, Hippie Land is a killing field.  It’s the happy hunting grounds.”

I inch the door open.  Walker is talking to two men.  One is my father.

“No one cares about these people.  The police sure don’t.  The police aren’t going to bother with an investigation if a couple of crazy hippies end up dead.  They’re out there in the middle of nowhere, they’re outside of society by choice. As far as family or friends go, they don’t know anything.  So nobody notices when someone drops all the way out.”

My father interrupts. “What is your point?”

“I’m trying to help you understand your son.  The temptation is too much.  If you’re crazy like that kid partner of mine, or you’re just mean like me, or if you got some shit to work out like your son — man, the opportunity is there!  Eventually, you are going take it.”

I can see the other man now.  It’s Marks.  He’s holding the reins of two horses.

“Now, in the scheme of things, Jay has killed a lot less than most.  Maybe two or three tops.  But, it doesn’t matter.  I can pin a truckload of bodies on him, starting with my partner in there.”

Lucas seems to be studying Walker’s shirt collar.  “What do you want?”

“I want in.”  Walker sounds hungry.  “I want to be part of Blue Light.”

My dad fishes something out of his pocket.  He stuffs the wad carefully into his right ear.  Marks pulls a shotgun from his saddle and hands it to him.  Lucas walks several studied paces backwards.  He raises the shotgun.  He takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out.

Walker screams “wait” and covers his face.  The blast takes off his fingers and most of his face.

Lucas hands the gun to Marks and walks towards me.  He opens the door and I stagger on my feet.

“When was the last time you were in a canoe, son?”

The Story So Far


In BURNT on January 10, 2011 at 8:32 pm


Lady Richard and Lotus stand on an empty sound-stage.  It is cold but still smells of human sweat.  A dull square of  sunlight marks a distant doorway.  Lotus flips switches and connects lines but all the lights have been struck.  The only thing that works is the “Filming In Progress” light.  It colors the two women red.

“Richard finished everything he started.  It was his nature.”  Lady Richard’s eyes scan the floor.  They must be near the spot where her husband dropped.  His heart officially stopped two hours later in the hospital, but she considers this the place of his death.  “He left two things undone.  The Golden State hotel is still under construction.  And then there is this.  This film.”  Lady opens her eyes.  “I have to finish them both.”

Lotus considers the immensity of these undertakings.  Lady knows as much about construction as she does about film-making.  She knows less than Lotus who knows nothing.  “What will you do when they are done?”

“Never think of him again.”

Lotus takes her hand.  “I’ll help.”

The Story So Far


In BURNT on January 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm


The old German man rides into town with his fat Mexican whore.  Arango greets him warmly, calls him Frank and speaks to him with respect.  The two men step into the ramshackle hacienda to confer in private.

Sunday offers Yanina a bowl of water and a clean cloth, but the woman only pushes them away.  She really is a hideous thing, with dirty hair in her face and swollen features — she’s a lump perched on two thick logs.  After a few minutes, she gets bored and stomps inside.  Sunday can hear a torrent of foul abuse in Spanish and some whining assurances in German.

Arango steps out, looking taller and younger.  He stares over Sunday’s shoulders at the horizon.  His eyes are filled with pride.  “Frank in an emissary.  The other ranchers want to meet.  They want to organize.  They want me to lead them.”

“The ranchers from beyond the hills?  Who cut your fences and steal your cattle?”

“They still fear me, even though my men are gone.  They respect me.”

A slap can be heard from inside.  The German cries out in pain.

Sunday shakes her head.  “You would trust a man like that?  Who lets a grotesque whore treat him that way?  He is no longer a man.  He has given up the right to be treated like one.  He cannot give respect when he has none for himself.”

Arango’s hand is a sudden blur.  Sunday holds her cheek.  Her eyes water but she will not cry out.  She stares at her father until he turns away.

Without another word, he saddles his horse and follows the bickering pair out of Los Rios.

The Story So Far


In BURNT on January 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm


It’s like a light bulb flickering in a dark room.  Flash, I’m conscious.  Flash, all is black.

A big man is there in the cabin with the kid.  They are both talking fast and I think they’re talking about me and then there is darkness.

The man is wearing heavy glasses now and reading something.  He looks at me and raises the book.  “Your father’s diary.  From a summer about thirty years ago.  Interesting reading…”  The kid is lying in the corner.  He’s looking at me too but his eyes are blank holes and it is dark again.

The man has pulled a chair closer to the wood stove.  He must be Walker.  The diary is cradled in his lap.  He’s studying some odd looking tools — corroded steel.  “He used these to get you out.  Out of your mother.”  He snorts a little, sort of in an amazed way, sort of admiring too.  “He wrote it all down here. All of it! Even the recipe of the little cocktail he gave your mother.  It’s not a confession, it’s like notes, notes on a procedure he’s proud of.  He induced your early birth, way out here where they were all alone, no help for miles.  I don’t think he did it for a kick.  I think he did it to see if he could pull it off.  He writes something…here it is, ‘to rise to the moment and master it.'”

I’m thinking how my mother is dead and how I deserve all this pain but Walker is laughing.  “I want to meet this guy!”

The Story So Far


In BURNT on December 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm


The kid’s passion never abates.  I struggle to detach.

His tools of torture so far have included a knife, a ragged rope, a tree sapling.  Also, a hot metal rod, a hot fork – he uses the wood stove to heat them up.

He talks while he works on me, and he talks fast.  The topics roll this way and that, mostly personal experiences, a lot of anger.  At some point, it all rolls around to his sister at which point the pain increases.  After two days, I’ve got the order of the ensuing monologue down.  Descriptions of her beauty, of her innocence.  There’s a story from their youth which usually involves a family pet but sometimes is about their summer trips to the Maine coast.  Then comes the corruption by guys like me.  This is an especially painful hour.  The pain drops for a bit as he loses himself in the narrative of his search.  Lots of aimless wandering, he was fresh out of the corps, he didn’t know where to look — he paints his reaction to specific scenes of depravity that he witnessed with the hippies and diggers.  His point is to illustrate how naive he was.  How ill-prepared he was.  It justifies his decision to hook up with Walker.  It underlines how far he’s come.

It has taken days to decipher his relationship to Walker.  My guess is that he’s a cult-deprogrammer of some sort.  The kid calls him a detective and a savior.  He finds the lost children of the wealthy and removes them from the happenings and the counter-culture.  He sticks them in a hotel room somewhere and starves them and yells at them for a couple weeks and delivers them to their parents, and dubs them “cured”.  But first he has to find them.  That’s where the kid comes in.

Now the bragging.  How he follows the hippies.  How he’s figured them out.  This is a light interlude, but I know the big pain is coming.  That’s when he finds his sister.  She’s dead.  She’s in a meadow with her throat slit and beat to hell.  I did it.  I’m a sick bastard.  I’m going to pay.

This is where I black out.  When I come to, he’s weeping and muttering about the Blue Light.

The Story So Far


In BURNT on December 27, 2010 at 8:10 pm


“Don’t you fear, little girl.  Your father knows these mountains.  Hell, he was born in ‘em.  Did he ever tell you that story?”

Josey feels uncomfortable on the old man’s lap.  She knows the arm around her shoulder is meant to comfort and assure, but it feels stiff and unnatural.  She’s glad Candace is here in the study – she’s glad she’s not alone with her grandfather.

“Hand me down that photograph over my desk.”  Candace passes him the faded photo of a one-room cabin standing alone in a deep valley.  “Oblaye H^tayetu Naghi, the Hopis called it, ‘The Valley Of The Evening Soul.’”

Her grandfather’s eyes fix on a distant memory.  ”It was a long time ago. I was a much younger man. About your father’s age. I spent an entire summer building that cabin with my own hands. It was hard work, and I was often lonely. When it was done, I was pretty proud. I brought my wife, your grandmother, to see it. Our first real home away from the city, away from the university, away from my work. A place where we could start, where we could build something. In fact, we were already expecting our first child. We were happy.”

A storm seems to gather and he pauses.  “That night, she went into labor. Six weeks premature. All the way out there. Miles from a doctor, miles from anywhere. All alone.”

“What did you do?”

“I possessed the moment.  I delivered the baby myself!  That baby was your father.”

Josey can’t help herself.  She crawls from his arms into Candace’s.  Lucas doesn’t seem to notice, still living in that distant moment.


The bartender of the Silverlode laughs.  “You’re the third guy to ask about the Lucas place this week.”

The big man takes off his black-rimmed glasses.  He polishes the lens on his new flannel shirt.  “That the truth?”

“Last Friday, Lucas’ son walks in here, wants to know the way to the ranch.  Then yesterday, some young kid is asking the same question.”

Walker stops polishing.  “Tell me about this kid.”

The Story So Far