I knew Larry first as a student (he was a student of Bob Woodley's as well), then as a co-founder then board member of The Woodley Press, where he now serves as chairperson of the Manuscript Selection Committee (and is another of the informal editors of my novel), and where he is currently editing one of the books we plan to publish this first year of this new millennium. He was the second writer, and first writer of short stories, published by the Woodley Press, his The Printer and Others Stories published in 1981. Again, I'll use the shortest story (but in this case the title story, which had been published in Inscape in 1976, then in The Kansas City Star later, and, after the book was published, adapted as a TV play by Washburn's KTWU (where it was just aired again recently, as it has been several times). So it got a lot of action 20 years ago. The book is also distinctive as the first book with cover, illustrations, graphics, and layout done by Martin J. Graham, who is still our graphics editor.
Like dull coins, the surviving leaves rustled and flashed in the autumn wind; the dark reds and browns of exposed earth contrasted sharply with the battered greens of the grass creeping over the edge of the gully. The dignified decay of the season was everywhere. The small stream that had carved the gully flowed restlessly between its steep sides, flinging leaves over smooth flat rocks, then becoming calm where the banks leveled off and the water opened up.Larry doesn't have the reputation as a reader that David Tangeman does, but he is well remembered for reading one of his own monologues, "Jack the Ripper" (which even I have read in public with some success, and which is also in The Printer). If you'd like to order his book directly from Larry ($3.50, plus $1.50 postage), he can be reached at <email@example.com>.
Kneeling where the cold water was slow, deep, and unhampered by rocks, a man was drinking vigorously, as gracefully as a roaming plains animal. His placid horse drank with him. The wind met them in the face, ruffling the horse's mane and the man's ragged hair and wrinkling the surface of the water.
A second horse and rider approached from behind, the noise of their arrival muffled by the stream, their smell lost in the still breeze. The newcomer was silent and cautious as he looked over the scene beneath him.
The pair at the stream finished drinking. The man stood erect from where he knelt and turned around, stretching luxuriously and very slowly upward as he did so. As he completed his turn and faced the new rider he reached the apex of his grasp. Almost before his features had time to register surprise, the newcomer shot him once through the chest. The riderless horse bolted downstream to a copse of trees made nearly transparent by autumn. The dead man fell backward into the stream with a puzzled look. Blood seeped out of his chest and soaked his shirt around the wound, in the shape of a broken and deeply colored leaf.
The killer dismounted and walked the thirty yards to the dead man's horse. His walk was slow and deliberate. He coaxed the horse near with low rumbling murmurs, captured it, and led it back to where his own horse was grazing. Once there, it stood unperturbed, occasionally ducking its head to tug at a mouthful of dry grass.
The puzzled eyes of the dead man stared at the sky.
The newcomer walked upstream toward the heart of the gully, showing no interest as he passed the body. By now a tiny stream of water was trickling over the dead man's chest, blending with the blood.
The killer walked through the mud and water the same way he walked over land, the same way he would walk through two feet of snow--deliberately, inevitably, with no apparent concern for his body or his surroundings.
He was looking for something in particular, and in a short time he had found it. Without a grunt of exertion, he picked up one of the flat, massive, non porous, and extraordinarily smooth rocks of the stream. It was the size and shape of a thin man's torso, its surface worn to a slightly convex shape by the flow of the water. With the same pace the man carried the rock out into the sun by the side of the stream. The wind worked quickly, drying the surface with its intermittent gusts.
Only then, during this respite, did the killer turn his attention to his victim. He slung his arm over his shoulders with the easy motion of an honest laborer and carried the corpse up to the dead man's horse. He laid the body across the saddle like a sack of grain, neither harshly nor gently, and secured it. The horse tried to nuzzle the body but could not reach it and continued to graze.
Pulling several articles out of his saddlebags, the man walked down to the dried stone. He took a sharpened stick of wax and a ruler from his pocket and set to work. Exactingly, using the ruler as a guide and measure, he drew a thick rectangular frame with the stick of wax, about one by two feet, within the limits of the smooth portion of the stone. At the top he began to print in large block letters.
There was something alien about the markings; they seemed very familiar, but subtly altered, strangely changed. As he went on, it became clear that he was indeed printing English, but backwards; the markings were the mirror image of English letters and words. It was easy to imagine this man turning and reversing the words in his mind before he transferred them to the rock. Translated, the large letter at the top read: "WANTED." Underneath that, after he paused to deliberate, the man wrote: "$25 Reward--Dead or Alive."
Now, he stopped and walked back to the horses. Grabbing the dead man by the hair, he pulled up his head and peered intently into the face. He turned the head one way, then another. When he was satisfied, he let it drop and walked back to the stone.
On the stone, under the words he had already printed, he drew a sure and skillful sketch of the dead man's face with the stick of wax. He hesitated and considered before he wrote again. While he paused and while he wrote there was an expression on his face approaching good humor. His sharpened wax lettered the name: "Jack Stephmann." Another pause. "Wanted for Bank Robbery and Murder." He was almost done.
He filled his hat with water from the stream and splashed it over the rock. He took a bottle from his saddlebags and sparingly poured black ink over the surface. The ink ran off where it met water but clung to the wax. Out of his hip pocket he pulled a large sheet of paper, yellow and dirty. Unfolding it, he pressed it evenly against the surface of the rock. He lifted carefully, revealing the wanted poster in clear English.
All that remained for the stranger was to mail the poster from the nearest town (leaving the horses staked at a safe distance) to the sheriff of another town a day's ride away; show up with the body a reasonable time after that; and collect the reward money from the state funds allocated to each lawman's office. Then off to another watering hole.
He rolled the rock back into the water and trudged up to the horses. Behind him the stream, already flushed clear of the twin stains of blood and ink, bubbled senselessly over and around the rock, eating away, ceaselessly, the surface.