Friday, October 30, 2015

Excerpt from "The Tract of Blood"

An excerpt here follows from the forthcoming JSH Book Club novel The Tract of Blood. It's a sequel to The Moleskin Checklist, in which Jack has become a compulsive gambler and golf club hustler in an Arizona resort town. Jack is traumatized by the theft of his precious "Tract of Blood" notebook. Sappy and his mysterious new exotic mail-order girlfriend aid Jack's quest to get it back, whether he wants their help or not. The book is part of my return to the long-form novel, which I've not assayed since my first opus, 714.

Like The Moleskin Checklist, the sequel is atypical JSH fare: it's full of sex, violence, grossness, and bad, bad, talk. You were warned.

We were led through a pitch black corridor into a room. As we were hurriedly pushed in, I heard the colossal scraping sound of an immense metal door sliding open, then shut behind us, followed by the clanking sounds of it being locked.

"Sit tight," one of them said. "Someone will be here in the morning to deal with you."

Immediately we felt insects crawling all over us. Flies. The room stank like death. Probably a good thing we couldn't see what was causing the stink.

And then Jack fired up his lighter. Thanks, Jack, I really didn't want to know.

We were in some kind of steel chamber painted in corroding off-white latex, with bloodstains all over the floor and walls. This must have been the place they slaughtered the livestock.

"I shoulda quit you baby, long time ago," mumbled Jack, "and went on to Mexico."


""Killing Floor". Howlin' Wolf. 1964."


"Okay, these flies are disgusting and they're driving me insane!" exclaimed Alhena.

The flies were desperate. They'd already just about exhausted the filth potential of the decaying blood, and we were the fresh meat. I swept my hand over my nose, as flies kept crawling into it. I looked over at Alhena. She was so covered in them. She'd wave a hand and they'd disperse for half a second before landing right back on her. Some stayed clinging to her the whole time. Reminded me of the cows on the farm growing up, and the futility of their tails trying to flip the flies away.

There was a moment of darkness as Jack's lighter got too hot in his hands, then he relit it. His face was covered in flies too. Alhena was having fits.

I knew what I had to do.

"Don't look, kids."

Resolutely I strode to the far corner of the room, pulled my pants down, and opened the floodgates on the diarrhea that was longing to breathe.

"SAPPY!" cried Alhena in disbelief.

"Awwww, no, Sappy! No!" said Jack weakly. "Aw, Jesus."

Like a Sumo wrestler, I walked forward while squatting, making sure I spread my mess across the floor's length along one wall.

"What the fuck, Sappy? Like it didn't already stink enough in here," said Jack. He kept staring at me, though, and kept the lighter held up, which I found kinda uncomfortable. Alhena just stood quietly and began to nod knowingly.

"There," I said, wiping my ass with a grocery receipt from my pocket. "Now stand back, watch and learn."

Within ten seconds, every fly in the room had left us and was completely preoccupied with my power-dump.

Jack chuckled. That weird, high-pitched nervous laugh of his.

"Shall we start the staff meeting now?" I said. "First order of business on the agenda, getting the fuck out of here."

Jack kept looking up at the ceiling like he was sure an exit was that way. Alhena was examining the hinges of the door. "Bring that light over here," she barked, and Jack meekly complied.

"These are small hinges for such a heavy door," she mused. "but we know the door has a huge sliding bolt on the other side. No good."

"What's Flimsy's number?" I asked, pulling out my phone. Jack told me. The phone struggled hard to get a signal, but ultimately it failed. Jack and Alhena tried too. Fail.

"I wonder how many animals have died a horrible violent death right here where we're standing," said Jack.

"Hundreds of thousands," Alhena proclaimed, as if she knew it for a firsthand fact.

"Their ghosts are probably lingering right here."

"There's no such thing as ghosts," she said. "Animals don't have souls anyway."

"But... in the casino you mentioned evil spirits."

"Spirits are not ghosts," she replied, looking at Jack as if he were a child. "There are spirits out there, but they are not the souls of dead humans. They were created before mankind."

"Hey," I interrupted, "When you bitches get done with this metaphysical argument, I have a plan."

"Your plans always suck," moaned Jack, as he let go of the lighter button again. Our phones were now illuminating the room a little bit anyway.

"Yeah, but they work, don't they? Let's give Alhena all our phones," I said, handing her mine. "Now, I'll get on Jack's shoulders, and Alhena can climb up to get on mine."


"To see if we can get a better call signal."

Jack sighed as he handed over his phone. It took several minutes and several tries, but eventually we succeeded in creating a human totem pole. Although it wavered and swayed like a palm tree in a hurricane.

"Straighten up! Straighten up!" yelled Alhena.

"I'm not really built for this," yelled Jack back. "And Sappy? You didn't wipe your ass good enough."

"All I had was a Whole Foods receipt," I said, "whaddaya want? I'm risking getting cancer of the ass here from all the chemical shit they put in those receipts."

"I think their receipts are BPA-free now, actually," said Alhena. She's sharp, boy, I tell ya.

"I'm not getting a signal," she said. "Move over that way."

"What way?"

"Any way."

"What are you going to say if you do get through to 911?" asked Jack.

"I'm calling Flimsy, not 911," she yelled. "The last thing we need right now are cops involved in this." I love her.

She tried Jack's phone first because it had Flimsy's number programmed in. I watched her face, dimly illuminated by the phone.

"Not getting a signal," she murmured.

Then she had to do some juggling to enter Flimsy's number on her own phone while still holding Jack's up to see the number. She twisted her body around on my shoulders, watching for a signal.

"We're in!" she exclaimed, like a computer hacker in some movie. "It's weak, but I have a connection."

I could hear the ring of the phone as we all waited. No answer. No voicemail. She dialed again.

I heard a muffled "hello?"

"*Flimsy!* This is Alhena; you just met us at the casino? Girl, we need your help big time. These weirdos locked us in a meat locker in Freberg's meat packing plant. Yeah. I'm serious. Do you know where that is? Okay. Yeah. Well, the front glass door is smashed in, so just be careful entering. Yeah. It's a long story. Okay, when you get in, you go right, then turn left down a long corridor, there's a giant wall-size mural of a happy pig in a chef's outfit holding a cleaver. I know, right? Anyway, go down that corridor and make a right. It's a big metal door with a bar that slides to hold the door shut. Okay. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. Okay. See you soon."

It was perfect timing for her call to end, because that's when Jack's legs gave out. The human totem pole came tumbling down. I landed hard on my hands and knees, and somehow Alhena landed right on her feet, like a cat.

"Sorry," mumbled Jack. Alhena responded with something in her own language that probably translated to "dumbass."

So we sat on the filthy floor, against the wall farthest from my diarrhea, waiting to be rescued. We talked and talked, about movies, music, politics, golf, wrestling, video games, and how hard it is to find a good Philly cheesesteak in Arizona. We'd gone just about stir-crazy by the time we heard Flimsy at the door, an hour and a half later.

"Oh. My. God." hissed Flimsy, recoiling from the smell. I guess we'd gotten used to it. We explained the whole thing to Flimsy, who provided us with something we didn't know: the Freberg meat packing plant hadn't been in businesss for over a decade.

"That blood in there is not a decade old," said Jack, "and obviously, neither are the flies."

"Most likely human," said Alhena, "and our blood would have been next to spill in the morning."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Flinging Soup in the Face of Darkness

Only a month after the advent of the first in the RV & OI series, now comes the second installment: Flinging Soup in the Face of Darkness is now available. Like all the RV & OI books, it's print-edition only, each copy primitively handmade, and obtainable only by ordering direct from JSH Book Club.

As I've explained elsewhere, it's difficult to give a plot rundown for the RV & OI novellas, because they're more about texture than story arc. It would be a little like reading a Seinfeld plot summary, i.e. "George thinks about buying a hat. Elaine is convinced she's allergic to water. Kramer invents edible socks."

I will say that whereas Water Towers Look Like Martians tends to focus on RV & OI's street-busking performances (and all the angst that comes with trying to do it in a small town), Flinging Soup in the Face of Darkness tends to delve more into the recording process of their low-budget albums, and the desperation of sending out to the world a beacon, a signal, a cry for help via the random dissemination of cassette tapes whose inscrutable message is practically unlistenable for nine tenths of the general public.

The real RV & OI (yes, these books are based on a true story) are well known for their made-up-on-the-spot primitive contributions to the noble tradition of "Creeps Music", and are often seen to this day loitering around the state of Kentucky reading Gold Key comics, drinking household cleaning products, and serenading local pizza joints for free food. All RV&OI recordings are done on the world's crummiest handheld tape recorder, and their cassette-only albums are "released" in short homemade runs and usually left at bus stops, phone booths, and public restrooms. It is in that spirit that I've chosen to make these paperbacks by hand, making each copy an unique, if crudely fashioned, objet d'art.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Excerpt from "Water Towers Look Like Martians"

As the summer sun beat down, OI sat in the grass and pounded the stolen plastic mail crate as if his life depended on it. He played with a savage frenzy that did not pause to consider melody, meter, or timekeeping. Possession of the mail crate was a Federal offense, but the power of rock and roll would not, could not, be denied. For drumsticks, he used the cardboard cores from rolls of fax paper, and upon his head rested a tamborine that he would bash for percussion at random moments. Sometimes he would miss and bash himself in the face. But how rock and roll is *that*?

RV was jumping up and down on the campus sidewalk and flailing at an electric guitar with such zeal it didn't even matter that it was missing two strings and not plugged into an amp. With much pomp and theatrics, he brought the cover of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" (but with numerous lines changed to reflect various private in-jokes about people they had gone to high school with) to a halt.

"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you! WE LOVE YOU! GOODNIGHT!"


There was, in truth, no audience, and it was, in fact, midday.

"Good show," OI said as he got up and turned the tape recorder off. "I think that Gordon Lightfoot medley we did is a keeper. How much money did we make?"

"Let me see," said RV, reaching into his hat on the ground. "looks like..... eighty-seven cents."

"What should we do now?"

"Let's get a Sprite."

RV had an encyclopedic knowledge of every source for soda and snacks in a fifty mile radius, and he knew that the closest source at this moment was the EKU Coliseum. He also kept exhaustive files on every public restroom in central Kentucky, and planned eventually to write a book (called You Are Never Far From A Bathroom) listing and reviewing them all, with an additional appendix in the back detailing sneaky places where you could safely go if you couldn't get to the nearest public restroom in time.

But at the Coliseum, The little orange light on the Sprite button was on, indicating it was out of Sprite. OI stared at the remaining options, trying to decide between a Coke and a Canada Dry Ginger Ale, as RV laid down his guitar and slumped to the floor, head in hands, suddenly deeply depressed.

"C'mon, big guy," said OI as he dropped coins into the machine. "There'll be other Sprites."

"My life has no meaning."


"The emptiness of the Sprite section of the Coke machine is a metaphor for the barrenness of my heart in old age, with the orange light symbolizing the dim flame of now-painful memories of lost childhood joys."


"Do you understand what I mean?"

"Yep. Totally." OI's Coke loudly plunked into the bottom of the machine. "Errrrm...... what's a metaphor?"

The sound of the crackle and hiss of a campus cop's walkie-talkie was heard down the hall, accompanying some authoritative footsteps.

"Let's go," whispered OI, grabbing his precious mail crate.

"Cops can suck my LEG!" yelled RV rebelliously after they got outside, then looked around to make there wasn't one nearby.

"Should we find another machine with Sprite?" asked OI.

"Nah. Forget it. I hate Sprite anyway."

"But you drink it all the time."

"Suffering builds character."

"So what now?"

"I think," said RV slowly, moving his head jerkily but purposefully, as if it were a dowsing rod detecting something, "I want beer."

Though RV kept no files on the matter, it was a fact that in Richmond you are never far from a beer. Richmond is a very alcoholic town, which comes in handy if you are an alcoholic, or an alcoholic's apprentice. Everyone drinks here. The young. The old. Bikers. Businessmen. Campus cops. Why this is so, nobody seems to know. There is a military installation nearby that is said to be one of the two largest storage places for nerve gas, enough to kill a third of the country, or at least Kentucky. The nerve gas canisters are all very old and very leaky. Sometimes orange clouds come wafting out of the base and birds fall from the sky, but the Army says people are just being hysterical and it was just an ordinary run-of-the-mill harmless orange cloud and who cares about birds anyhow? Others say the Roswell UFO pieces and alien bodies are stored here. All of this is certainly enough to make people want to stay drunk all the time.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Water Towers Look Like Martians

On March 31, I'm releasing the first of four ultra-lowbrow RV&OI mini-novels projected for this year, entitled Water Towers Look Like Martians. But before that, I suppose I ought to explain to the uninitiated who the heck RV&OI are.

Like many of the people whose move in my blurry circles, RV&OI are "secretly famous", toiling in obscurity. They're two manchildren from Richmond, KY whose street-busking antics are notorious nationwide, but especially in Lexington, which seems to have been their epicenter of operations in the 1990s. To explain the RV&OI story is a multi-tentacled task that many chroniclers have tried their hand at and failed, so I won't even try, I'll just give you the gist in bold strokes:

RV&OI is actually short for Retrovirus & Opportunistic Infection, as the guy with the hat is nicknamed "Retrovirus" and the guy with the glasses calls himself "Opportunistic Infection." They have produced tens of thousands of cassette-only albums since the 1970s, almost all given away, left at bus stops, planted in public restrooms, and even tossed in the open windows of parked cars. Dissemination at all costs, profits be damned.

Very few copies exist of each album, though the material often overlaps, and numerous different re-recordings of their many recurring "standards" exist. All are recorded with the most primitive equipment ("a cheap walkman with a microphone the size of children's aspirin", according to one tape's liner notes) and instruments. Out-of-tune unplugged electric guitars are the norm, but banjos, pianos, cardboard boxes, plastic mail crates, and aluminum pots and pans have all made appearances in the mix.

RV&OI's hillbilly-dadaist material is almost always conceived spontaneously. Retrovirus once said in an interview in an early-90's Lexington zine: "We walk around and look at stuff. We spout about whatever pops into our heads at that moment. We record it all. We pick out the best ones and put them out. Then we pick out the worst ones and put them out too." Since they've been plying their art for decades, they've managed to capture a lot of local history along the way. Many places immortalized in their songs no longer exist and for some reason, we feel a little bit better knowing that RV&OI stood in these places and jabbered squeaky noises into a boombox there for posterity.

Examples of their oeuvre include "Big Pile of Tires", which is a heartwarming ode to, well, a big pile of tires they found behind a gas station. There's "Mollusk Man", which sounds like a cross between Captain Beefheart and Hasil Adkins, in which only about every tenth word is intelligible. "Dracula Needs A Microscope" is a bizarre acoustic stream-of-consciousness rant which is either a genius comment on bloodborne pathogens or, more likely, is just pure stupid surrealism. "Searching for Pepsi (pt.2)" is an audio-verite recording of the boys making a purchase from a soda machine, complete with the clinking of change and the clunking of cans coming out.

In the 90s, I helped distribute some of their albums on my primitive Creeps Records label, and much later drew semi-fictionalized versions of their exploits for a Louisiana-based comic book company called Moist Doorknob Comics. The mini-comics published by Moist Doorknob have been distributed in the same fashion as the RV&OI tapes - left laying around randomly around the nation in the vain fleeting hope that some bored soul will pick one up, thumb through it, and wonder.

And now, I continue to keep, in my miniscule way, my promise to RV&OI to attempt to help them reach the worldwide fame they deserve but have sorely been screwed out of. (Beavis & Butthead was without a doubt directly influenced by RV&OI, to the point of ripping them off completely.) The RV&OI novellas will, upon full release of the four, be ultimately repackaged in a box set, possibly with a USB stick containing their music.

The books will, in keeping with RV&OI's aesthetic of deliberate shoddiness, be released in print format only (for the time being), each copy individually handmade by me and only obtainable by ordering direct from the JSH Book Club, not Amazon and not any brick and mortar store. (However, in another homage to the boys, I may leave a few at random places around Florida.)

Above: an RV&OI mini-comic found on a condom dispenser in a Shell gas station in Dickson, TN. Below: an RV&OI mini-comic found in the seat pocket of an American Airlines jet.

"Yes, yes," I hear you cry, "but what about this book?" Well, I can't really give you plot details because they're so tender and small and fragile that to speak of them would be to doom them. The RV&OI novels are textural works rather than plot-driven, and the less spoken of them the better. In fact, I'll go ahead and issue a consumer warning that the RV&OI novels are strictly for die-hard JSH Book Club fans only. They're not for the average reader, and future historians may well take aggressive measures to hold them in literary isolation from the rest of my body of work. Get yours now while there's still time!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Transmissions from Agent J

Another JSH Book Club wildcard to be released sometime this year: Transmissions from Agent J!

It's a book which takes excerpts from my dream journals and presents them as straight cut-up fiction (?), in a manner reminiscent of what William S. Burroughs did with his dream book, My Education. However, I'm finding that explaining the context of some of these dreams to the reader in passing is necessary, to the extent that the book is also shaping up to be the closest thing to an autobiography you might ever get out of me.

I put the question mark after "fiction" because it's something of a conundrum: these dreams really occurred, so does that make the book non-fiction since I'm merely reporting the facts as they happened inside my skull? But since the events in the dreams are, of course, imaginary (depending on your interpretations of quantum physics, morphic resonance, and Jungian consciousness), would fiction not to be an apt way to describe them? It depends on where you're standing, I suppose.

Since the book relays both the private bric-a-brac of my subconscious dream life and personal details of my waking life, you might even find yourself mentioned within its pages, dear reader. (To keep some of the juicy gossip contained in the tome semi-curtailed, I'm thinking that it'll be released in print form only, no e-book, unless I change my mind between now and then.)

The ultimate Jeffrey Scott Holland book, no compromises. Pre-order your copy today!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Excerpt from "The Invisible Ranch"

Coming soon from the JSH Book Club: The Invisible Ranch, a pulp-fiction novel of western adventure and intrigue set in 1870s Arizona!

Henry Rohaugh is a sort of industrial saboteur of the pre-industrial age, and when he's hired by a scheming dairy company to put their competition (a new brand of milk that claims to impart magic Native American spirit powers to those who drink it) out of business, everyone involved starts to realize they're in for a wilder ride than anticipated.

A rough first-draft excerpt is offered here:

It didn't take long for the man to plummet to the ground from the roof of the hotel; it was only four stories tall. The crowd gathered below didn't make a sound, and no one looked away from the awful sight. Well, a couple of women looked away for a second, then darted their eyes back, not wanting to miss the big finish.

It was anticlimactic. He landed flat on his back and his head bounced once against the pavement. It didn't make a dramatic sound. Not the sickening thud you would expect, nor a soul-stirring splat. It was more like the sound of someone punching a pillow. Maybe it was all the heavy winter overcoats the man was incongruously wearing in this summer heat. The audience on the street quickly disassembled, now that the show was over. The man had been raving like a lunatic while dancing along the edge of the hotel's roof. Everyone was already murmuring about suicide, but he didn't jump. He simply wasn't a good dancer and he fell off.

No one seemed to know who he was or why he was on the roof. No one much cared either, it seemed.

Henry Rohaugh sucked on a cigarette across the street, outside the offices of Merriman Dairies. It was a beautiful day in Phoenix and he knew he should be in a good mood, but he was uneasy. Not about the dead man, but about this interview he was about to undergo for a new job offer.

Rohaugh was a professional criminal for hire. He was quietly known among certain circles as the best of the best; a man who could penetrate anyplace and get any dirty job done. It wasn't nice work and it wasn't pretty. Had his life taken a different direction, he could have been a top-notch detective or even worked for the Secret Service. But he took the hand he'd been dealt, and had been sweeping all the chips to his end of the table ever since.

Why a milk company would be interested in enlisting his services, he had no idea. He tossed the remainder of the cigarette down and marched up the stairs to find out.

"Good to see you, Henry," said a stubby bespectacled cigar-chomping man waiting to shake his hand at the top of the staircase. "I'm James Cox, President of Merriman Dairies. Come right this way."

Henry was led into a small, cramped, very dimly lit office. Eight men, some sitting, some standing, were silhouetted in the dark by the light of the lone unshuttered window.

"You boys playing Spin The Bottle in here?" Henry wisecracked. Some of the men chuckled and some of them didn't.

"This is my associate, Melvin Ridgway", said Cox, pointing to a nervous-looking obese man standing by the desk.

"Melvin!" exclaimed Henry, "How the hell are ya, buddy? I ain't seen you since we was at the carnival in Prescott!"

Henry began to hug Mr. Ridgway profusely, to everyone's confusion, especially Mr. Ridgway's.

"Have we... met?"

"Lord God, Melvin, we painted the town red that night, don't you remember? We went bobbin' for apples and I pulled your head out of the water when you dunked down drunk and didn't come back up."

"You have me confused with someone else, Sir," he replied meekly, trying to disengage from Henry's hug.

"Must be my mistake, then," said Henry. "Sorry, fat boy."

Henry suddenly turned to another man. "And who might you be?"

"You can call me Ned."

Henry gave him a vigorous two-handed handshake that enveloped his entire arm, like those a politician would give.

"Ned," he said, "you got a real weak handshake for a milkman. Ain't you built up no muscles squeezin' them teats?"

"Mister Henry.... I'm on the business side of things," Ned replied with a condescending sneer. "I've never actually milked a cow in my life. I leave that to the farmers."

"Oh-ho!, laughed Henry. "One o' them unmarried marriage counselors."

Henry whirled to the next man. "What's yore name, podner?"

"Let's skip the introductions, shall we, Mr. Rohaugh?" sighed Cox, weary of this routine. "All you need to know is that the men you see here before you all have an interest in the continued success of Merriman Dairies. And we're wondering if you're the right man for the job."

"Whut is the job, ezackly?"

"You've heard of Lucky Milk, I take it?"

"Nope." In fact, Henry did know of Lucky Milk; everyone in this part of Arizona did.

"They're a new upstart dairy farm that's just sprung up from nowhere outside of town. In just three months they've become the only milk anyone wants. They're lining up around the block to buy it! I've never seen anything like it. It doesn't make sense."

"So," said Henry, pacing in circles around the room, "you want me to steal some of their cows so's you can git in on the action."

"No, even if we did that, we can't compete. People think Lucky Milk is better, and even if we offered the exact same milk in our own bottles, no one would try it. They're presenting this milk with the preposterous idea that the milk has magic powers transferred to it by a sacred Indian spell, or some such mumbo-jumbo. But everyone has fallen for it. The gullible public seriously thinks the milk is making them happier, healthier and luckier!"

Henry glanced out the window as he paced. The dead man's body had been hauled off, and an old woman with a bucket and a brush had been sent to scrub the blood off the sidewalk. She seemed to be doing little more than spreading it around and making a mess.

"I guess that feller didn't drink none, huh?" said Henry.

"This damned Lucky Milk is all anyone's talking about," said Ned. "I simply can't believe you've never heard of it."

Henry sat down behind Cox's desk and plunked his dirty cowboy boots right up on the blotter.

"Mister Ned," said Henry, mocking Ned's voice, "I'm on the whisky side of things. I've never drunk milk in my life."

"What we need from you," interjected Cox, "is for you to put that farm out of business, permanently."

"You mean like one o' them there tragic unexpected fires that wipes out all the buildin's on the property, and helps cover up the fact that ever'body in the place was stabbed to death?"

"Well," cringed Cox, "spare us the details..."

"It's gonna cost ya, hoss", said Henry as he leaned back and twirled one of his six-guns around his finger. I don't know if you boys can afford me."

"Hey, that thing's not loaded, is it?" someone said.

"Course not, fool. There ain't nothin' more dangerous than a loaded - "


The pistol went off and shattered part of the chandelier. Everyone went scrambling for cover. Henry leaped up from the desk, grabbed a broom that was leaning against the wall and got in amongst the frantic bustling group of men in the small room with it, recklessly sweeping broken glass to and fro.

"Hold on, pards! I'ma clean this up! You're lucky I know a glass man in Tucson who can fix that all up fer ya! I'll pay fer the damages - outta the money you give me, natcherly."

"Mr. Rohaugh," said Cox sternly. "I think this concludes the interview. I'm sorry, but..."

Cox had reached for the ashtray on his desk where his cigar had been parked. The cigar was gone. He looked back at Henry to see he suddenly had it in his hand, taking a long draw off it.

"In all seriousness, now, Mr. Cox," said Henry, whose voice was suddenly low and eloquent instead of the high-pitched wheezing hillbilly voice he'd been affecting, "a man such as yourself should be able to afford a better cigar than this. Remind me, when all this is over, to give you a tutorial on the finer points of selecting a cigar."

He tossed the cigar in the wastebasket and pulled out a pocket watch.

"Melvin and Evelyn's tenth anniversary," he read from its inscription.

"How the hell did you get that??" cried Melvin, patting his vest.

"The same way I got this," said Henry, producing a silk handkerchief upon which a woman had left, as a souvenir, a kiss-print with her lip makeup.

Melvin grabbed both items from Henry and started a volley of cursing in his direction.

"The monogram on that handkerchief doesn't match your wife's initials," intoned Henry quietly, "and I'm willing to bet your wife doesn't wear that kind of makeup."

Melvin got quiet and sat back down.

"You there," said Henry, motioning to one of the men, "I believe this is yours." He pulled a billfold from his coat pocket and hurled it at him with some force. "And you, Ned, are missing some cufflinks, I think."

Ned checked his right cuff and looked back at Henry, astounded. Henry tossed the cufflinks to him, but he failed to catch either of them and so went scrambling on his hands and knees for them.

Cox was stunned, but not nearly as stunned as when Henry took out a stack of money, neatly bound in the middle by a bank's paper band.

"If this is the money you were intending to give me, I hope you understand this is only a down payment. You're going to need nine more of these."

"How did you do that??"

"You were all looking right at me when I did it," said Henry. "But your eyes were on my muddy feet on your desk and not my hand. You shouldn't keep money in your desk drawer like that, it's the first place the janitor looks when you lock up at night."

Cox just stared at him in shock.

"Which," Henry continued, "you'll have trouble doing without this."

He handed Cox his office key.

"Mr. Rohaugh," Cox mumbled slowly as he looked down forlornly at the key in his hand, "you've got the job."