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Them Ole Pandemic Apocalypse Blues

            Milquetoast Mel squinted through his homemade binoculars (bottles shoved down two paper towel rolls that were duct taped together) at the approaching plumes of smoke and grinned like a Rhodesian chipmunk.  They were right on schedule, just as Exacerbated Eddie had promised. 

            Quickly he shoved his makeshift binoculars into his backpack, nodded at Ferocious Fred and headed toward the souped-up Gremlin with the cow-catcher strapped to its grill, or, as he liked to call the old girl: The Death Mobile.  Ferocious Fred howled in pure joy, like an orangutan who had just learned that not only was Planet of the Apes real, but that he was cast as Dr. Zaius, and skipped toward his own vehicle of destruction: a moped emblazoned with skulls, flames and the infamous “AAA” sticker. 

            Slamming the driver side door open, Mel glanced to his left just in time to see The Irate Brothers, Ian and Izzy, hop aboard their refurbished Ice Cream truck where they had crossed out the words “Ice Cream” and spray painted “High Scream” because they were idiots.  Farther past, Mel caught a glimpse of Sulky Steve as he wrestled himself into a dune buggy which used to be called The Reaper but which now had no name because Steve was just a little too grown up for all that nonsense, thank you very much.

            The sound of their engines being viciously cranked echoed through the barren wastes like the clarion calls of several asthmatic predators about to weed out some very sick and old prey.  The hunt was on!

            “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Jimmy come over!”  Mel yelled into his walkie talkie, as The Death Mobile spat sand behind it and lurched forward like an octogenrian in the medicine aisle of your local supermarket.

            “Oh yeah,” Ferocious Fred yelled back over, “It’s time to tag ’em, bag ’em and wag ’em.”

            “What exactly does wag ’em mean?”  Mel shot back.

            “Nevermind,” Fred shot back.  “The espresso’s got me all hyped up.  No, how we gonna do this, Mel?”

            Mel squinted through the guano-infested windshield before answering.  “Looks like they’re still a few miles off.  We could pull the old damsel in distress again.”

            “Mel, this is Ian.  That’s a negatory.  Last time we pulled the old Damsel in Distress was with Resentful Ron and he got ran over.  Over.”

            “Copy that,” Mel responded. 

            “If I may be so bold,” Sulky Steve’s crisp yet effective British voice echoed over the air waves. 

            His request was met by several groans, one raspberry, and one cry of “Oh, for the love of God, not again!”

            Steve was indignant.  “Well, excuse me for being part of this collaboration.  I thought everyone in this establishment received a chance to express their ideas.  I didn’t realize I was riding with the Nazi Posse.”

            “Okay, Sulky Steve, “Mel answered.  “First, we are not an establishment or a collaboration.  We’re a gang.  We’ve been over this.”

            “Oh, right, “Steve said.  “We’re not a collaboration.  We’re a gang.  And these are not hoopties, these are our anger carriages.”

            “That’s right, “said Fred.  “We’re a dangerous gang of road pirates, out to rob the rich and…”

            “Okay, Ferocious Fred, we are definitely not road pirates.”  Mel cut in.  “I don’t even know how the term road pirates got into your mind, but get rid of it.  This is the pandemic apocalypse, fellas.  Let’s take this seriously.”

            Ian’s voice came rushing over the airwaves.  “Uh, fellas, I just caught an image over the radar that you’re not gonna like.  We got company.”

            Mel snatched the binoculars from his backpack and squinted through them.  There, coming up close was the delivery truck.  It was a semi truck surrounded by its escort: two Crown Victorias with tinted windows and the Oscar Mayer Weiner Mobile riding shotgun.  There was nothing else.

            Quickly, Mel grabbed the transmitter.  “Uh, Ian, maybe you’re seeing one of them mirages again like when you applied too much talcum powder to your….”

            “About two hundred feet west of the convoy,” came the reply.

            Milquetoast Mel shifted his gaze and, sure enough, there were triple plumes about two hundred feet from the convoy and closing fast.  It only took a moment for Mel to recognize the alternate raiding party.

            “Black Bart!”  He swore under his breath. “Looks like it’s Old Black Bart and his gang of showmen and hairdressers.  What’s our play?”

            Black Bart, formerly know as Bart Black, an illusionist turned ravager thanks to the pandemic, gathered together a band of desperate hairdressers and a kid who used to run the AV equipment at a supermarket’s headquarters, and promptly dubbed them Black Bart and The Revenge!  Truth was, however, that the group wasn’t overly fond of the moniker and preferred to be known as Tar Rodeo.  But Bart’s fantastically gaudy ego and penchant for biting sarcasm soon put an end to any dissension.

            Milquetoast Mel wiped the first glistening bead of sweat from his forehead.  “What’s the play, fellas?  How do we ditch these chumps and get the loot?”

            The airwaves fell silent while the boys contemplated their predicament.  Confused and powerless to move forward, the anger carriages slid to a stop, over looking the highway where the convoy would soon come rumbling though.  If they didn’t think of something fast, the prize loot would soon pass by and they’d be stuck messy and depressed for the fourth week in a row.

            “Now hold on a second,” said Ferocious Fred, “maybe this is all good.  Remember last week at the supermarket when them two old ladies were fighting over the last can of Dr. C’s Medicinal Beets?  Remember how, during the scrap, Izzy snuck in, grabbed the beets and hurried to the checkout before anyone was the wiser?”

            “You’re dang right I did!”  Irate Izzy crowed.

            Well,” continued Fred, “Maybe we let Black Bart and the boys either tear apart that convoy’s escort or they get torn apart.  Then we sweep in after to pick up the pieces.  And no one’s the wiser except us.”

            Mel smiled.  “Fred, you got a fine head for business there.  Someday you’ll make an middle level manager proud they hired you.”

            “Oh gosh,” Fred’s blush could be felt over the walkie talkies.

            So the gang hunkered down while the majestic dance of the ravager and ravaged played out before them.  Black Bart and The Revenge! crested the hill just as the Weiner Mobile passed mile marker 103.  The Crown Victorias must have spotted the predators as they moved to flank the semi on either side. 

            Immediately, Black Bart, the two hairdressers, Fanny and Hobart, as well as Maurice, the AV kid, fanned out and aimed at separate vulnerable spots in the convoy.  Maurice drove straight at the Weiner Mobile, which proved to be his undoing as the vehicle had recently been weaponized with The Phillie Phanatic’s hot dog cannon.  Soon, the AV kid’s vehicle was covered in hot dog shrapnel and enough ketchup and mustard to choke a yak.  He ended up in the ditch with a broken arm, two black eyes and a foot-long in his ear.       

            Fanny and Hobart fared just a tad bit better as they managed to ram the Crown Victorias head on, taking out the two escorts and themselves in the process.  Black Bart, however, was soon closing in on the semi and was preparing his own brand of justice, which he himself had invented and called The Illusionator 3000, consisting of a potato gun that shot out playing cards, endless scarfs, packets of itching powder and whoopie cushions.  One of the packets of itching powder had evidently found its mark as the semi began sporadically weaving in and out of its lane and onto the shoulder.  The driver of the Weiner Mobile spotted the developing tragedy a moment too late as the semi, surrounded by the incessant hooting of numerous false bladders being winded, drove off the shoulder and into the ditch. 

            Black Bart, perhaps lost in the moment and thrill of victory, forgot about the Weiner Mobile and hopped out of his Trans Am toward the spinning wheels of the overturned semi.  Before he had reached the vehicle, now festooned with three dozen playing cards and an endless string of scarves wrapped around eight of its tires, he was stopped dead in his tracks, impaled on a foot-long between the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. 

            Mel slammed down the push-to-talk button.  “Looks like the shows mostly over, fellas.  But how do we handle that Weiner Mobile?  That hot dog cannon is dynamite.” 

            Steve’s voice came crystalline over the airwaves.  “Follow my lead, gentlemen.  I’ve got a plan that’s just crazy enough, as they say, to work.”   

            Apparently his plan was slightly nuts as it consisted mainly of driving straight toward the Hot Dog Mobile, honking like a maniac and shouting, “Hey weiner, weiner, weiner!”

            The plan lasted all of twenty seconds before Steve’s dune buggy was coated with enough ketchup, mustard and dog parts to be labeled a federally declared disaster.  However, Steve’s brilliant but misguided sacrifice gave the remainder of the gang, or posse as they were apt to call themselves, the precious minutes they needed to surround the Weiner Mobile and antagonize it so severely that it was forced to run home and cry to its mama.

            Emblazoned with a thousand endorphins of victory, Milquetoast Mel, Ferocious Fred and the Irate Brothers leapt out of their vehicles, sidestepped the corpse of Black Bart and approached the back off the overturned semi.  

               Mel, after several misguided attempts, finally cranked open the trailer’s back door and slammed it away to reveal the precious cargo inside.  As the others craned to see, Mel gazed lovingly on row after row of generic, but probably still mostly soft, two-ply toilet paper, reflecting the yellows and oranges of a sun that was headed toward that distant horizon.

            Their raiding party was a success.  Yes, they had lost Steve, but he was pretty annoying anyway and had poor mastery of basic skills, like animal husbandry and accounting.  The posse high-fived each other and basked in the firm knowledge that they would wipe well tonight and every night for at least a couple months to come.  

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