Me and Mortimer. “Death in the Saddle,” Chapter Two.

If you’re like me and got kids, you know that proper schoolin’ takes up a good part of their lives. I got a teenage daughter who’s just graduated into high school and she sez she wants to major in journalism after she’s finished with school. I told her she’d be better off if she’d go in for bein’ a doctor. She’d make much more money, bein’ a doctor than a journalist, but, no! She’s as stubborn as her mother. A journalist is what my daughter’s gonna be, and that’s it!

Her teacher keeps givin’ her a bunch of homework assignments. Sez they’re good practice assignments to help her become a better journalist, but I think she’s as wacky as a dodo bird tryin’ a backwards flip!

Back in the days when I went to school we had no homework—or if our teacher was stupid enough to try and force homework on us, I just wouldn’t do it. After school was fer other, more important things, like playin’ ball, or meet the gang at the local pool hall, not homework!

Anyway, as I was sayin’, the teacher keeps givin’ my daughter all these journalist practice assignments, and so I finally caved in and promised to help her become a good journalist, so this mornin’ I brought some paper and a pencil with me to show my daughter what good journalism is like.

I pour myself my first cup of coffee for the day, read only the headlines in the newspaper so I can sooner get down to writin’ and show my daughter what good journalism is.

So now I’m sitting here at my desk, thinkin’ hard about what would make a good western story. I’m bein’ as quiet as possible and not disturb Mort. So far, he’s in a pretty good mood, and I don’t want him to get angry again and stomp out of here, like he did last week. I write …

Like balls of weightless cotton, the fog drifted down the mountains, covering the Pecos Valley in a thick mist as if it were trying to hide the terrible black secret hidden__

“Nah! That’s no good!” I crumple up the paper and throw it into the garbage and try again.

The sharp crack of three rapid gunshots echoed across the sparse cactus growth of the parched, choking valley floor, shattering the stillness of the growing purple shadows of impending night. At the first crack of the rifle shot, jack rabbits leaped to attention, their ears perked, frozen in fear—

“Eh, even worse!” I try once more.

The full moon hung low over the horizon, like an outrider’s beacon, guiding the lone rider, pushing his horse to the limit, ever westward through the tangled sage—”

“Aw, this just ain’t workin’!” I said out loud, I throw down my pencil and lean back in my chair. I’m gettin’ nowhere—looks like writin’ is harder than I thought!

“What are you trying to write anyway?” I guess I shouldn’ta spoke out loud ‘cause it attracted Mortimer’s curiosity. He stopped rummaging through the old tobacco can full of saved nuts and bolts and looked at me.

“My daughter’s got this western pulp fiction literature assignment for school and I said I’d help her. Sez she might be a journalist some day.”

“Did she ask for your help?”

“Well, nah! You know how kids are. Too independent. Think they know more than their parents, but I thought I’d just show her up by writin’ a good story.”

“So, your daughter is interested in becoming a journalist?”

“She talks all the time about it. I told her that if she’d go ahead with her plans to be a journalist, she’d be as poor as a crop sharer on a flood plain, but you know how kids are. Never listen to their parents.”

“Many journalists make excellent careers out of writing. Good journalism is important to our society. It keeps us accurately informed about world events.”

“You mean, mis-informed! What this country needs is some good old fashioned teachers like we usta have, and some morals like we usta have!”

“Your daughter’s school assignment is to write a western pulp fiction story? That doesn’t sound much like a journalism assignment.”

“Well—that’s not what her teacher wants her to write about. Her teacher wants her to write a research paper on early life of—get this: ‘Early Northern Inuit Life Before Whiteman came.’ How about that fer a stupid title and subject? Hah! In my time they was called Eskimos, not Inuit. And what kinda life did they have anyway—they had no history before we came and gave them guns so that they could hunt better and build wooden houses instead of them igloo things.”

“But, that’s a real journalism assignment—I mean, what the teacher gave your daughter.”

“Yeah, that’s what you and that stupid teacher say. I told my daughter that, if she really wants to get ahead in this world, she better learn how to write good western fiction! I grew up on dime wester pulp fiction, so I know. They’s the backbone of our society!”

“Well, I guess she’s your daughter—” Mortimer just shrugs and turns back to his can of nuts and bolts. I make another attempt to write an opening paragraph.

Vultures circle over the dying cowboy’s horse—”

“Shouldn’t you be filing that backlog of files on your desk instead of working on your personal stuff?”

Mort’s comment makes me see red! That man just ain’t got no sense of good literature! I open my mouth to yell at him, “What’s more important: filin’ some stupid files that someone’s gonna want pulled again later anyway, or teachin’ a child about literature?” But I keep quiet ‘cause it’s almost lunch time … what the heck, why let Mortimer ruin my day? I decided, instead, to go plug in the coffee pot and, while I’m waitin’ for the pot to start boilin,’ I sort through some files.

So far, today’s been a peaceful day workin’ here with Mort, but with his attitude, I don’t know how long that can last!

 

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