Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
By Kinky Friedman
Published by Simon & Schuster 
September 2002; 0-684-86488-6; 224 pages

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Meanwhile Back at the Ranch by Kinky FriedmanChapter One

Like a jaded, Jewish juggler in the cheap sideshow of life, one cold, gray afternoon I suddenly found myself with five balls in the air. Unfortunately, two of them were my own. Ah, but the other three! That's where the story really began. For the first time since God gave Gatorade to the Israelites, I had three potentially big cases all going for me at once. Many aspects of this investigative trinity were so daunting that I'd taken to referring to each case with a code name. Rambam, my half-Jewish, half-law-abiding P.I. pal, had provided the three investigations with their cryptic monikers. I was not wild about the three names he'd chosen, but at least they provided a handy way to converse clandestinely about these matters, thereby keeping the other Village Irregulars in total innocence.

"I'm just not sure," I said to the cat, "that Moe, Larry, and Curly are quite the correct nomenclature for matters of this import."

The cat, of course, said nothing. She contented herself with sitting precisely in the middle of the desk and looking at me with pity in her eyes. This did not surprise me. Cats, like many people, have almost no sense of humor. The last thing on the planet liable to entertain a cat would be the Three Stooges.

All I knew about the cases at this point was as follows: As regards to Moe, I was four steps behind a possible serial killer. As far as Larry went, I was tantalizingly close to locating a missing autistic child who only said the word "shnay." As far as Curly was concerned, I can say nothing at all except that the investigation was so big it made the Giant Rat of Sumatra look like Mickey Mouse.

 

For a few furious hours, I manned the phones, talking tersely to Rambam, New York Police Detective Sergeant Mort Cooperman, Detective Sergeant Buddy Fox, and various other concerned parties whose identities I feel morally obligated to protect at this time. I maintain two red telephones on my desk, both attached to the same line and both placed precisely equidistant from the cat. If I'd had a million red telephones, I felt, I'd still not be on top of things. Finally, I took a break. I lit my third Cuban cigar of the day and walked over to the window to watch the garbage trucks. It's a little funny and a little sad to see the things people throw away in their lives. Some of them won't even fit into a garbage truck.

The only sound within the loft emanated from my commercial-sized espresso machine, which appeared to be dangerously close to liftoff. The hissing, steaming, gurgling tones sounded very much like "Blowin' in the Wind" being performed by a drowning kazoo player. I myself, worn to a frazzle from attempting to conduct three investigations at once, felt like a man dying of syphilis at the turn of the century. The cat, as one might expect, was invariably in a mood that ran counter to my own. She practically frolicked along the windowsill in unbridled, John Denver-like joy.

"It's almost good to be alive," I said, paraphrasing my father.

The cat did not respond. She did not believe in paraphrasing anybody. If a cat can't quote things precisely, the cat nearly always prefers to remain silent. If people pursued this same feline wisdom there'd be a lot fewer misunderstandings, a lot fewer wars, and a lot fewer people ripping off Oscar Wilde at cocktail parties.

I drew a hot, bitter espresso from the giant, gleaming dildo that took up about a third of my little kitchen and wandered back over to the window and stood with the cat, watching some more garbage trucks. There were worldfuls of garbage trucks and worldfuls of cats and worldfuls of people like me wondering where the hell everybody went. As far as a financial pleasure for the Kinkster went, my previous three cases might've just as well ridden out on one of the garbage trucks. I'd managed to cajole the Village Irregulars into infiltrating Winnie Katz's lesbian domain in the loft above and wound up wearing a red wig. I'd tackled a cell of international terrorists and was just happy to finally have the severed finger removed from the freezer compartment of my refrigerator. I'd also attempted to locate McGovern, who'd disappeared off the coast of Hawaii while researching recipes for his cookbook, Eat, Drink, and Be Kinky. He was eventually found with a little help from one of Stephanie DuPont's four-legged friends, an intrepid young Maltese named Baby Savannah.

Even though there'd been no payoff and the cases all had mixed results, I nonetheless took a small measure of pride in the seminal role I'd performed in my recent work. Had I not been successful, I thought, the world might've been overrun with lesbians and terrorists and McGovern might've been still wandering around lost in a fog somewhere. There are those, of course, who might point out that that's a fairly accurate description of how things are these days anyway.

My past triumphs and defeats, however, were all smoke now, I thought, as I glanced at my dusty reflection in the windowpane. The puppethead, which currently resided atop the mantel of the fireplace, had watched it all go down and now seemed to be smiling at me with a little wooden smile on its face. It was, I noticed, almost precisely the same little wooden smile I was currently wearing myself. Like father, like son. It pays to have a sense of humor in this life. If you don't, Allah knows what will happen.

I was puffing rather pridefully on my cigar, thinking of how challenging and potentially profitable my three new cases might be, when the phones rang. It could well be a call regarding Moe, Larry, or Curly which would, no doubt, send me into another fugue of feverish activity. I rapidly finished feeding the cat a can of Flaked Tuna with Egg Bits in Sauce, goose-stepped over to the desk, and picked up the blower on the left.

"Start talkin'," I said.

"Kinky!" said a highly excited, out-of-breath-sounding female voice. "It's Cousin Nancy from Utopia!"

I puffed stoically on the cigar, settling back in my chair for what could be a long winter. I blew a patient plume of blue smoke upward toward Winnie Katz's lesbian dance class.

"Come in, Berlin," I said.

Chapter Two

No one in the history of the Western world has ever told Cousin Nancy that he was too busy to talk to her and lived not to talk to her. She is a very dedicated, ruthlessly persistent person who is not really my cousin, does really live in Utopia, and always gets what she wants. What she wanted at the moment, apparently, was to talk to me.

"I hope I haven't called at a bad time," she said.

"What would make you think that?" I said. I puffed patiently on the cigar, leaned further back in my chair, and waited for a wave of words to make a path for one Red Sea Pedestrian to walk toward freedom.

"I can call you at another time," she said, with a tone of disappointment bordering on brokenheartedness in her voice.

"No. Go on, Nancy," I said, starting to feel badly about my brusque behavior. "Is everything all right in Utopia?"

"That's what I was calling about," she said, like a child who'd been suddenly vindicated. "Some things are going on around here that're really upsetting me."

Some things were going on around here, I thought, that were really upsetting me. One of them was listening to Nancy not getting to the point while the three black helicopters that were Moe, Larry, and Curly were whirring around my head. But Nancy already had me in her tenacious grip, and to cradle the blower now would be unthinkable. Besides, she had a heart of gold. She wasn't my cousin, but she was my spiritual sister. And Utopia, if you didn't already know, was Utopia, Texas. Several years back, in what seemed like another lifetime, Nancy Parker and I had founded the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. Nancy was now the director of the ranch and her husband, Tony Simons, was the ranch manager. My role has been occasionally described as "Gandhi-like figure."

"Tell me what's upsetting you," I said.

"Animals seem to be disappearing in this area," she said.

I had a fond, lingering image of Cousin Nancy as a Robin Hood in overalls, along with my sister Marcie and several friends, the first time they swept into the pound in Kerrville liberating seven of the most soulful-looking dogs I'd ever seen in my life. They brought "the Magnificent Seven," as Nancy called them, to Dr. William Hoegemeyer's Animal Clinic for shots and neutering before taking them to the Rescue Ranch. Then Nancy and Marcie, feeling remorseful about leaving the rest of the dogs back at the pound, made a return trip and rescued the seventeen remaining animals literally from death's door. That was probably the day the Rescue Ranch truly came into being. It now was the residence of over seventy dogs, hundreds already having been adopted into caring homes.

"Did you hear me?" Nancy asked. "Animals are disappearing!"

"What kind of animals?"

"Two of our neighbor's goats."

"Maybe they were taken by local Hispanic craftsmen."

"Three dogs have disappeared in town."

"Has a Vietnamese family moved in lately?"

"Oh, I know it's supposed to be happening in lots of places, but it's never happened around here before. Have you ever listened late at night on the radio to Art Bell?"

"The crazy guy who lives in a trailer?"

"There's people who say you're a crazy guy who lives in a trailer."

"Only in the summertime. And I've got nothing against people who live in trailers. Jim Rockford lived in a trailer. The king of the gypsies lived in a trailer. Hold the weddin'! I remember hearing Art Bell's show a few times. He's always yapping about UFOs and satanic cults -- "

"That's him. People here follow him religiously."

"Well, maybe the animals got bored listening to Art Bell too much and they wandered away -- "

"This is a small town, Kinky, and everybody knows everybody. Something is going on, I'm telling you -- "

"Nancy, we can't save every animal on the planet. All we can do is try to open the gates of heaven a little bit wider -- "

"I know. You tell me that every time I get upset."

"That's because those gates are hard to open."

"We do have some good news," Nancy said, in that maddening way some women have of turning their emotions on a dime. "Domino got adopted!"

I remembered Domino well. He was a beautiful black and white spaniel who'd been brought in one night by a drunken asshole from San Marcos who told Nancy he was going to shoot him if we didn't take him. The man said the dog's name was Cujo and that he hated all men. Nancy named him Domino and soon discovered that the dog loved everybody -- man, woman, child, dog, and cat. The only person on the planet that Domino didn't like, apparently for very good reason, was the drunken asshole from San Marcos.

"Hurray for Domino!" I said.

"There's also a woman from Austin named Nancy Niland who's pledged the money to dig a well for us here at the Rescue Ranch."

"That'll cost a lot. Why is she doing it?"

"Maybe she wants to open the gates of heaven a little bit wider," said Nancy.

The Rescue Ranch, I reflected, survived on the kindness of strangers. That, and the love and hard work of Nancy and Tony.

"That's great," I said. "Look, Nancy, I've really got to bug out for the dugout now. I've got three big cases -- "

"One more thing," said Nancy. "I've got a good hunting story for you. Happened nearby in Vanderpool just last week."

"Really?" I said enthusiastically. "A hunting accident?"

"You can decide for yourself. Three hunters went deer hunting and they separated and in the evening only two came back."

"I like this story already."

"They searched that night and the next day and couldn't find the guy. Big guy in his forties. Took three guns with him. They finally found him right next to this big buck he'd killed. Apparently, he'd got so excited he had a heart attack and died and they found him in a state of rigor mortis in the sitting position."

"I love this story."

"You haven't heard the best part. Tony and I were sitting in the Lost Maples Cafe here in Utopia last week when they brought the guy right into the place, said they were looking for the justice of the peace. We're sitting there eating chicken fried steaks and they carry him right in the door dead as a doornail all dressed up in camouflage and still in the sitting position!"

"You're making this up."

"I swear to God. Talk about losin' your appetite!"

Cousin Nancy insisted upon putting Tony on the line to verify the story. After they'd hung up I felt better than I'd felt in a long time. There's nothing like a hunting accident to brighten up an otherwise gray afternoon.

"You see," I said to the cat. "God punished the hunter for killing the buck."

The cat, of course, said nothing. This was not terribly surprising either because the cat was sound asleep. She was dreaming, very possibly, of stalking the elusive wildebeest, perhaps on some great verdant plain in darkest Africa. Like most cats and most people she failed to see the humor, the irony, and the justice in hunting accidents.

Copyright 2002 Kinky Friedman
Reprinted with permission.

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Synopsis

It's a case of missing kid and missing kitty when Kinky Friedman, private dick extraordinaire and animal lover nonpareil, attempts to find a young, autistic New York boy and a three-legged Texas cat named Lucky, both of whom have disappeared.

Something is rotten in both the states of New York and Texas, and Kinky takes it upon himself to locate not one, but two of God's creatures who have gone astray. Dylan Weinberg is an eleven-year-old boy with a rare form of autism -- a pint-sized stock-market wizard who can only utter one word, "Shnay." He's on a multitude of medications, and one night his father wakes up to find Dylan perched over his bed like some preteen zombie, clutching a pair of scissors and cutting up the sheets. Since that evening, two weeks ago, Dylan has been missing, and the cops have no leads -- and apparently not much interest. That's why, in an absolute last-resort maneuver, the family has called in Kinky to the rescue.

And speaking of rescue, Kinky's second missing person -- make that missing pussy -- case comes courtesy of his Cousin Nancy (no relationship), who, along with Kinky, helped found the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch in Utopia, Texas. Lucky, the three-legged cat -- and unofficial mascot of the ranch -- is gone, the victim of an apparent kittynapping. Cousin Nancy is convinced the feline is either in the hands of some nasty, contentious neighbors or is being sacrificed by a satanic cult. No matter what, she wants Kinky to find Lucky before he becomes coyote chow.

It's an uneven dilemma for Kinky -- stay in town and concentrate on finding a sick, missing child (and concentrate, too, on Julia, said child's beautiful, long-legged sister), or hotfoot off to Texas, to help calm down the frantic Cousin Nancy who's this close to proclaiming Lucky's been abducted by aliens. Kinky puts his trust in his faithful companion, Village Irregular Steve Rambam, to help find the little boy while Kinky hightails it to Utopia, Texas, where Nancy provides him with two witnesses to the alleged crime -- a dim-sighted eighty-year-old lady named Josephine and a frisky canine named Mr. Magoo.

Back in New York, Rambam has no clue where Dylan might be, but he is becoming increasingly sure that Julia is the Jewish answer to his romantic prayers. Kinky warns him to put the wedding plans on hold and track down Hattie Mamajello, Dylan's former nanny, but it's too little too late when Hattie is pushed off a subway platform and killed. The confusion generated by these two disparate cases is enough to drive a dick to drink -- which Kinky is happy to do -- but he's still got a missing kid and a missing kitty on his cigar-stained hands to locate before (a) Rambam whisks Julia off to Vegas for a quickie wedding and (b) Cousin Nancy calls in the FBI, the CIA, and the Mossad to find her Lucky.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, aided and abetted by a few four-legged friends, the mystery of the purloined kitty continues to grow. Then it's back to the wilds of midtown Manhattan and the even wilder wilds of Schenectady, New York, where, in their search for the missing boy, Kinky and his two-legged cohort find themselves at an orphanage Dickens would be proud of.

True to Kinky's form, and informed with truth, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch is a wild and woolly (and furry) ride from a true original, and entertainment at its most outrageous.

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Author

Kinky FriedmanLong before he became a novelist, Kinky Friedman was writing and singing country songs. However, he wrote songs with what he calls a social message, something ludicrous for a country western band.  "Get Your Biscuits In the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed" and "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" were a couple of his more offensive famous hits. Kinky lives in a little green trailer somewhere in the hills of Texas. He has four dogs, one cat, one armadillo, and one Smith Corona typewriter. According to Mr. Friedman, he is the only free man on this train.

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