I laid my hulking, combat model, Colt .45 Double Eagle on the counter at the check-in booth for TWA airlines.  The attendant eyed me with wary disdain as he examined the gun to make sure it was unloaded.  It's completely legal to carry firearms underneath any commercial airliner and there was nothing he could say about it, but I could tell he was against such things.  With a nod from the attendant I slammed the slide home and locked the gun back into the case.  I could smell the aroma of the 91-Seeds in the suitcase and I knew the airline attendant surely could, too.  But he was letting it slide, for whatever reason, and I quickly put the gun case in the suitcase, zipped it up and handed it to him to check under the plane.  I picked up my bags, noticing as I bent down that all eyes belonging to the people in line for my flight were on me.  Nobody wants to think of a highjacking when they're getting on a commercial jetliner and having a pre-stylish, 6'2", 220 lb., German hippie once described as Hitler's wet dream, packing that kind of advanced anti-personnel hardware, make an appearance in the check-in line sort of queers their attitude towards flying.  
   I'd need the firepower where I was going.  I knew every inch of those great prairies which were cleaved twain by the ruts of the old Santa Fe Trail, ribbons in the sod marking in miles the number of tears shed by those early settlers who'd tried, most in vain, to transverse the oceans of unsympathetic buffalo grass and big bluestem.  Even old uncle Billy Burroughs still carries his six shooter when he goes out for a Naked Lunch in Lawrence.  And all his enemies are either dead of old age or so barbecued by China White that they pose a threat to nobody save the poor lass who dumps their bedpans, which are generally full of blood and bile and small, inconsequential organs that are never supposed to leave the human body during life.  
   I was bound for Kansas, home to Dodge City, Wyatt Earp, Batt Masterson and more recently, Special Agent Orange.  I knew to come armed.  Special Agent Orange was an old travel partner from my pro rodeo days.  Best bullrider I ever saw.  He used to say, "the higher they fly, the cooler the breeze."  A stupid thing to say if you ask me.  
   Orange had a predisposition towards adrenaline and when that ran dry, white label tequila would do just fine.  
   Not that I was expecting trouble.  I was going on vacation.  
   As we circled the airfield over Kansas, I looked down over those miles of endless grass and felt a little charge.  I was home.  Home on the range.  We circled lower and lower.  I noticed that the native grass turning that familiar shade of bluish purple, signifying the end of another Kansas summer.  Then the plane hit an air pocket, dropped 300 feet and I was reminded that I was meeting Special Agent Orange later that night.  

FRIDAY, AUGUST 24th, 1994  
   It was late evening when Special Agent Orange drove into the ranch.  
   "What's this you're jabberin' about some damned mornin' glory seeds?" he swore as he climbed from his barely legal car and stuck out his hand.  "Hell fire, I don't know why a man would do anything with  mornin' glory seeds but burn the sonsabitches.  Damned weed drive a row-crop man clear outta business."  
   I shook Special Agent Orange's hand and noticed his sun-faded .44 revolver still hung from his left hip.  
   "I've found through my extensive FDA research that morning glory seeds are perhaps the most overlooked cure-all in medicinal history."  
   "You're eatin' them sonsabitches?"  
   "A hybrid really."  
   "Aye gawd.  I thought you learned after that damned nutmeg fi-asco down in South Beach ta knock off eatin' weeds.  Gawd damned nearly got me kilt.  Shit fire, even an old cow knows more'n ta eat a damned weed."  
   "It's what led me to discover the Muzzle Flash Theory." I said.  
   "The Muzzle Flash Theory?" Special Agent Orange retorted.  
   "I'll tell you about it on the road," I said, nodding towards the tiny bag lying near the front step.  "Let's get going."  
   I knew better than to go into detail over the crazed experiments with drugs and firearms I'd been performing in the black holes of the swamps south of New Orleans before we'd passed the point of no return.  

2 A.M.  

   "I thought you was on vacation," Special Agent Orange mumbled as he guided his cumbersome old Chevy over the rolling prairies through the black darkness.  
   "I am.  But I need to test this theory on pure subjects.  I can't trust my results from anyone in the Easy.  Those fuckers down there are so fouled by dope and red Voodoo I can't get an honest reading."  
   "Yur gonna git us shot," Special Agent Orange ensured as he reached back over the seat, completely turning away from the wheel.  The car swerved violently and we headed straight for a high cliff that dangled over the ditch far below.  
   "Jeeeeeeesus!" I cried as I dove for the wheel and righted the car, sending Special Agent Orange into the driver's side window sill head first with a whack.  
   "Gaaaawd dammit!  What in'the hell ya tryin' ta do?  Kill me!?" Special Agent Orange demanded as he handed me a Blackberry beer.  
   "What the hell was that?" I hollered, cracking the beer and slurping the purple foam on the rim.  
   "That gettin' in the back seat shit!"  
   "I was gettin' myself a frosty!"  
   "Ya 'bout got us both planted, ya dumb bastard!" I yelled, wrenching my Double Eagle free and aiming it at Special Agent Orange's temple.  
   "Man tries ta get a frosty and he's nice enough to get the other dumb sonofabitch one and what thanks does he git?  Knocked silly, that's what," Special Agent Orange said under his breath, oblivious to the .45.  
   I reholstered the Colt and we simultaneously drank our beers in one long drag.  Special Agent Orange started to turn for another, but I grabbed his arm.  
   "I'll get it," I said in disgust.  "You see about keepin' this rollin' felony on the road.  What flavor you havin'?"  
   "Believe I'll have me a Blackberry," Special Agent Orange said triumphantly, very happy to suddenly have room service in his flying death trap.  
   "Good.  That's all the flavors you got."  
   "I know."  
   "Now, here's the plan.   When we get to Council Grove, we're gonna go to that little bar they got."  
   "What's it called?" Orange said, tossing his empty can in my lap.  
   "Lucy's!  What the hell difference does it make what it's called?  It's the only bar in the damned town."  
   "That's what I thought.  I can't go inta Lucy's.  Had a little incident at the July 4th rodeo in '88, in case you don't recall."  
   I suddenly remembered the home-made bomb which Special Agent Orange had rolled across the dance floor in Lucy's.  
   He was on a stolen horse when he did it.  Thought it would aid in his getaway.  Probably would have if the bomb hadn't rolled under the pool table and caused it to flip over, sending pool balls all over the floor.  In the ensuing melee, the horse reared up, hit one of these fated glass spheres and took a wonderful dive over the bar, landing upside down and nearly killing Special Agent Orange who made one of the prettiest flying dismounts I'd ever seen.  
   "Hell, nobody knows who you were," I said, remembering the scene of furious, choking cowhands as they poured out onto the street, pistols over their heads, looking for a culprit.  
   "There was quite a slug ah smoke," Special Agent Orange said with a smirk.  
   I handed Special Agent Orange another Blackberry beer.  
   "What the hell made you strap that gas jug to that blastin' cap anyway?" I asked.  
   Special Agent Orange raised a brow and looked up through the windshield at the stars that filled the Kansas night  sky.  "Hell...I can't remember."  
   Special Agent Orange had no idea just how much the product petroleum was about to affect his life in that same little bar, once again.  


   We walked through the double shutters of the tiny bar and Special Agent Orange ordered two Blackberry beers.  Above the small bar was a sign which read, "Absolutely NO shootin' inside!"  
   "Say, Zebra, look at that," Agent Orange whispered to me as he handed me a Blackberry.  
   "On the back side of the bar, there in the oak."  
   "Ohh, hog's leg," I said, noticing a sawed-off shotgun.  
   "Not the scatter gun.  In the wood."  
   I looked more closely.  "I'll be damned," I said.  An inch deep in the wood was half the print of a horse shoe.  No doubt it had been made by the flailing front foot of the ill-fated pony that Agent Orange had ridden up over the bar in the explosion years ago.  
   The place had a jukebox, a flashy new pool table not more than a decade old, a checkered dance floor, a few very old, wooden chairs held together with bailing wire and luck and tables made by flipping wooden, utility spools onto one end.  
   Council Grove was originally a resting place along the old Santa Fe Trail.  National landmarks abound.  There's the famous Post Oak, the old jail, the boot store.  Legend has it the original owner of the boot store did an admirable trade until one day an Indian warrior came into town and commissioned the boot smith to build him a set of the boots he'd seen the cowboys wearing.  The boot smith did so and a few days later the warrior came back and killed him with a stone tomahawk for failing to mention that the new cowboy boots would afford less toe mobility than his moccasins.  But then again, it was Kansas.  
   A band of rowdy hands was milling about the bar.  In the back a herd of beasts that looked like crude crosses between women and  bison laughed at decibels that could mangle good steel and quaffed astonishing amounts of Blackberry beer.  
   "There's some good keepers," Special Agent Orange mumbled to nobody in particular.  
   Keepers is a term referring to cattle in feed lots to signify a steer that gains exceptionally well on little feed.  
   "Aye gawd," Agent Orange said, looking over my shoulder to the bar.  
   "What?" I said, fishing into my jeans pocket to make sure the morning glory seeds were still there.  
   "They got himbee beans."  
   "Himbee beans?"  
   "Rattler nuts."  
   Turning I saw a large, glass Mason jar filled to the top with a faint, yellowish water.  Inside were about fifty snake eggs.  The soft shelled eggs on the bottom had succumbed somewhat to the weight of those above them.  A sign on the jar read, "Himbee beans, $  .50."  
   "Bartender!  Give me and my companero a coupla them damned Himbee beans," Agent Orange barked.  
   The bartender reached in with a dirty hand and grabbed a wad of rattlesnake eggs.  Tossing a napkin in front of each of us, he dropped half the eggs on one and half on the other.  Agent Orange slapped down a dollar bill.  
   The stench of vinegar floated up to my hooping nostrils.  "I don't believe I'll be eatin' any of those," I said as Agent Orange looked at me expectantly.  
   "The hell you won't, I just paid good money fer them sonsabitches and yer gonna eat 'em."  
   "Bullshit," I corrected.  
   "Eat them damned eggs.  They're good for ya."  
   "When the hell did people start eatin' rattler abortions around here?"  
   "Things ain't go no simpler here since ya left, Pecos."  
   I forced the rancid smelling leather balls down.  
   "Those are awful!"  
   "Sure are, I jest thought I'd see if you liked 'em, since nobody else I knew did.  'Cludin' myself," Special Agent Orange chuckled as he brushed his into the bar gutter.  
   I turned and hollered to the cowhands.  
   "Everyone listen up!"  
   The hard gazes of sun and wind tested faces landed on me.  
   "There's a new elixir that has yet to be released by the FDA.  They're toutin' it as a miracle drug.  Cures everything from hoof-rot to stupidity.  Now I got a few of these little beauties on me and for a price, everyone here can try a couple.  Don't get any big ideas, though.  This ain't somethin' you can just run out and pick in a field.  These are specially developed herb seeds that are a result of years of botanical research at a special lab in New Orleans, Fort Defiance.  You may have heard of Fort Defiance.  It's known for its botanical research."  I could tell by the blank stares that nobody had heard of New Orleans.  
   Then a Bison Woman in the back piped up.  
   "I traveled overseas once.  Been to New Orleans.  Hot."  
   I squinted one eye shut and resisted the urge to shoot.  "Okay, listen," I continued.  "I'm gonna lay these out.  Everyone should take two or three according to body weight.  You ladies in the back can have all you want.  Just leave five bucks on the bar to help me pay for the refrigeration costs and we'll call it even."  
   "What thee hell's a f-da?" a bushy mustache asked from under a Stetson.  
   "That's an acronym.  Stands for Food and Drug Administration.  They're the ones always tellin' you ya can't poke your cattle full of those drugs that make 'em gain so damned well at the feed yards," I answered.  "This drug is their way of makin' it up to ya.  They sent me with a message that anyone who eats these can inject all the growth hormones they want into their cattle for one full year."  
   A group cheer went up.  
   "Sweet Jesus, gonna be some big steers agoin' on the trucks next year!" a grizzled old woman whooped.  
   "I also recommend you shoot some of those hormones into each other.  Just give yourselves the dosage you'd give an eleven-hundred pound steer.  Help you see farther.  That's especially good for you row-crop boys.  Keep your fields straighter.  Increase your yields.  Help you cowhands spot strays better, too. That medical advice and these here elixir seeds are on the house, courtesy of Special Agent Zebra."  
   For a moment nobody moved.  The only sound was the wind.  
   "Aye gawd, that's mighty neighborly of ya son," an old cowpoke in the back suddenly piped as he strode up, scooped up a handful of morning glory seeds and laid a five on the bar.  
   The rush was on and the seeds were gone in seconds.  Special Agent Orange and I decided to put the money back into the local economy and told the bartender to keep the Blackberry beers on the house until the cash ran out. I was sipping on a Blackberry and taking notes of the initial effects on the locals while Agent Orange shot a game of pool with one of the Bison Women who had taken a particular liking to the lad, commenting that scars were a big turn on for her.  
   As he strolled casually past, he leaned in and spoke.  "Aye gawd, Zebra, might need you to act as the barrel clown for me.î  
   Just as Special Agent Orange made his comic reference to a rodeo bullfighter, a cry split the dry air.  Everyone whirled as the deafening roar of an old Smith .44 burst a pitcher of Blackberry beer.  
   "Som'bitch gots a pizon lizard in it!" the terrified cowpoke screeched as he proceeded to put the remaining five rounds into the table and chairs of the diving occupants.  
   "Sweet Jeeeeeeeeeeesus, I see it too!" another cowpoke cried as he wrenched his dual six-shooters free and began to bark thunder and lightning everywhere.  
   "Gawd dammit, Zebra!" Special Agent Orange bellowed as the two of us dove behind the bar for cover.  "What in hell'd you give these sonsabitches?!"  
   "Nothing!" I cried.  "They're only morning glory seeds!  All they do is make people a little looser!  You know, more creative!"  
   A bullet whizzed off the ceiling and into the dishwater next to Special Agent Orange's head with a whining plunk.  
   "Ya fed 'em more of them weeds, didn't ya?" Orange said with frank disgust.  
   "I'm telling you, all they do is make people more creative," I replied defensively.  
   A shotgun blast smashed the sign reading, "Absolutely NO shooting inside," sprinkling us with a flash of debris.  
   "They git much more creative, we're all gonna wind up deader'n hell!" Special Agent Orange roared, as he pulled his Ruger out and checked to see that it was loaded.  
   A bottle of whiskey burst above our heads, sending glass at supersonic speeds in all directions.  The cool hum of a bullet died off in the distance.  
   "They're in the whiskey!  Them damned lizards is in the whiskey!" someone screamed.  
   Special Agent Orange's eyes flew wide.  "Stay low Zebra, the crazy sonsabitches think they's snakes in they whiskey!"  
   The liquor shelf above us whistled with flying lead as The Fear took a solid hold.  Bullets, glass and oak chips flew like snowflakes in a high Kansas blizzard.  
   The bartender, the only person besides Special Agent Orange who hadn't eaten any of the bad morning glory seeds, reached up and grabbed the phone.  
   Special Agent Orange held his .44 over the bar and began firing randomly.  
   "What in hell are you doin'?!" I yelled over the gunfire and screams.  "You're gonna kill someone!"  
   "I'm softenin' the room!" Special Agent Orange roared back.  "We're gonna have to make a run for it before one of them sonsabitches sees us as a damned legged snake!"  
   "We'll burn 'em out!" someone screeched from the other side of the bar.  I heard a heavy whump sound from the west side of the room followed closely by an orange flash.  
   "You can't kill 'em!  How will I record the effects of petroleum enriched morning glory seeds?!"  
   "What in hell do you mean, 'petroleum enriched'?!" Special Agent Orange snorted as he began to jam new shells into his hot .44.  
   "These seeds are chemically enhanced.  The initial dosage was a little strong.  I'll make note of it in my research and curb the mixture accordingly."  
   A bullet lodged into the beer keg behind me and sent purple foam high into the air.  
   "You soaked them fuckers in gasoline?!" Special Agent Orange shrieked, staring at me in disbelief.  
   "It was 92 octane.  It's not like I used the cheap stuff."  
   "Good gawd a-mighty!  Them sonsabitches 'll kill us fer sure!" Special Agent Orange yelled, waving his .44 over his head and rapid-firing over the bar.  
   "This is what I was telling you about," I screamed as I pulled my Colt and began firing over the bar.  "The same thing happened in The Gator Shack in Boutte!  This is the Muzzle Flash Theory!"  
   "Yes, officer, Lucy's bar!  We're taking heavy opposing fire!  Send the National Guard!  Come a runnin'!  The-"  
   A sound thump over the back of the head with my .45 didn't knock the bartender out like in the movies, but it did make him let go of the phone and cower in the corner of the bar.  
   "That's the first damned thing you've done right all day!" Special Agent Orange bellowed.  "Hell if we don't git kilt, we're gonna be in Leavenworth!"  
   "I've got a plan!" I yelled over the gunfire.  
   "Spit it out!" Special Agent Orange yelled back as I fired over the bar to cover his reload.  
   "I'll take you hostage!"  
   "You'll what?!"  
   "I'll take you hostage!"  
   "Shit cha already have!"  
   "I'm serious!  I've done this before!"  
   "Well you better be quick!  I'm runnin' outta rounds!" Agent Orange roared as he fired over the bar, his tremendous .44 bouncing and throwing flames with each trigger pull.  
   "Alright, on the count of three, stand up!" I screamed.  
   "WHAT?!" Agent Orange retorted.  "You eat some of them seeds?"  
   "Well of course I ate some of them!  What possible difference could that make?"  
   "Aye gawd you kin stand all you want, but I sure in the hell ain't a gonna-"  
   I wrenched Agent Orange to his feet and planted my Colt to his temple.  A deafening silence erupted.  The room was destroyed and the fire in the back was spreading, forcing the gas-crazed cowhands into one corner.  
   "Everyone freeeeze!" I commanded.  "Anyone moves, the wrangler gets it!"  
   All guns were trained on us.  I knew I didn't have much time.  Things were too unpredictable.  I had little research to go on with the petroleum enriched morning glory seeds and no way of telling when The Muzzle Flash phenomenon might erupt again.  
   "Aye gawd Zebra, I'm gonna git shot.  Sure as hell, just like I figured I'm gonna git shot," Agent Orange hissed.  
   "Shut up, you fool!" I whispered.  "I know exactly what Iím doing."  This of course was a lie.  
   "Now I'm Head Lizard see, and I'm takin' this miserable sombitch outta here with me!"  
   Nobody moved and I began to ease Special Agent Orange out from behind the bar.  His smoking .44 still hung in his hand.  
   "He cain't take all of us," a grizzled cowhand suddenly said from behind the flipped up pool table.  "Let's kill him."  
   I froze.  This was the loose cannon I'd feared.  
   "Zebra, I'm gonna shoot ya, and hang ya, and kill ya, and burn ya,-" I tightened my grip on Agent Orange's throat to shut him up.  
   "Oh yeah, you dirty sonofabitch?  Then you just go right ahead and shoot!"  Special Agent Orange's eyes flew wide.  I completely choked him off.  "I guess you didn't see my deputy standing over there!  Weeeeell, he's got the drop on ya, and we're goin' outta here, one way or another!  Now what'll it be?!"  
   The cowhands' bloodshot eyes swiveled left and froze as they saw the lone pitcher of Blackberry beer standing on the table, behind them.  
   "That's right you sonsabitches," I said.  "One move outta you and that lizard tears yer nuts off!"  
   I slowly backed Special Agent Orange out the swinging, double shutters and we bolted for the car.  
   "Gawd damned, miserable, mother lovin', no good, dirty sonofabitch," Special Agent Orange swore as he dove into the driver's seat and fired the old car.  
   "Kill that sonofabitch!" someone yelled from inside the bar.  A barrage of gunfire erupted and no doubt, my Blackberry deputy went to that big Beer Deputy prairie in the sky.  I crossed myself in his honor and then knocked out the passenger window with the butt of my Colt to cover our escape.  
   "What the fuck did ya knock out my winda for?" Agent Orange hollered as he tromped the gas pedal.  
   "What?  You expect me to roll it down and display a sign of weakness?" I demanded, staring into Special Agent Orange's furious eyes.  
   "I gaaaawd, if we git outta here, Iím gonna-"  
   "Go, go, go!" I screamed as the hallucinating gunfighters came pouring into the street.  I opened up and sent cowboys diving for cover.  
   Agent Orange punched the gas and we sailed backwards into the wide street.  Flames were beginning to puke out the window and front doors of Lucy's.  
   There was a tremendous explosion of steel from behind and the back window of the car shattered.  At first I thought somebody had shot the gas tank and blown us up.  Then I realized Special Agent Orange had backed into the oncoming Sheriff's car.  I was reeling and couldn't see straight, so I decided to simply shoot in every direction, putting several holes in the roof and one in the dash.  Steam rocketed from the smashed radiator on the patrol car and the Sheriff looked to be unconscious.  Attempting to change clips, I was flung head first into the back seat as Special Agent Orange jammed the car into Drive and we went flying up the street and off into the great pastures and darkness.  Two bullets rang off the back of the car and we were enveloped in darkness, the 100 m.p.h. wind roaring through the smashed window and holes in the roof.  
   "-cock suckin', miserable, stinkin', dirty, rotten, sonofabitch!" Special Agent Orange roared from the front seat.  
   "What?!" I screamed, wiping blood off my lip.  "Did you think this kind of research was easy?!"  
   "-dumb, stupid, shit suckin', red-assed, mother fuckin', gawd damned-"  
   "Oh, have a Blackberry," I said, stuffing a cold black can in his hand.  "Look at how much we learned tonight."  
   "What in hell, did we learn?" Special Agent Orange demanded.  
   "We learned that you're not very good at pool, that's one thing we learned!"  
   "Not very good at pool?!"  
   We roared past a herd of cattle whose eyes glowed back in amazement in our headlights.  
   "Hell, that ole' bison woman was making a mockery of you on that table.  A damned mockery.  I saved you $5 by not letting the game finish."  
   Special Agent Orange went for his Ruger, a move I had anticipated.  I ducked down behind the seat and he emptied the monster harmlessly out the broken rear window and into the night sky and fading asphalt.  
   "Oh that's it, have a temper tantrum. That's an intelligent way to act," I chided, handing Special Agent Orange another beer and climbing into the front seat.  
   "Nice night out, isn't it?" I asked after a moment.  
   "What in thee hell did you go and give them sonsabitches them damned gasoline beans for?"  
   "Research," I quipped, sizing the bullet hole in the dash with my finger.  
   "Bullshit!  You done that for your own damned amusement!"  
   "Aw hell, if I hadn't taken you along you'd just be home herdin' yer one damned ole' cow around in circles."  
   "I'm not just herdin' her around!  That's a new technique of strip grazing that will revolutionize grass management!"  
   "Damn it's breezy in here," I commented nonchalantly.  
   "Yeah, it's a new model, comes with ah break-away win-der in the back," Agent Orange commented with a smirk.  
   "Think that sheriff is dead?" I asked, spilling my beer as we flew past an old hangin' tree.  
   "Believe he was just restin'," Agent Orange chortled, nearly running off a bridge.  
   "Wheeeee!  Mind the paint!" I squalled as he corrected madly and the car drug along the rail, sending a tidal wave of sparks over the railing and into the creek far below.  
   "Aye gawd, Zebra, one thing about The Fear a man can sure count on!  She ain't never borin'!"  
   I looked over and to my horror found a six foot tall lizard grinning stupidly back at me from behind the wheel.  
   "Sweet Jesus!" I thought to myself, yanking my Colt free and rapid firing, only to hear the hammer falling on an empty clip.  I quickly hid the gun under my torn shirt.  No need to make this bastard mad, I figured.  Just ride it out. When the damned thing pulls over to piss, steal the car and leave the sorry reptilian savage standing in the great abyss of grass for the coyotes and cougars to dine on.  Ha, ha.  Ah yes, the cougars, I thought to myself, they would take care of that lizard all right.  
   Later that night, as I drove along, enjoying the cool night air, I thought about how nice it was to be home.  

Written by Special Agent Zebra, undercover  

Copyright, 1996, Jim Houck