Blackheart Bart was furious! His bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados were nowhere to be seen and, as if that wasn’t enough, the saloon was all out of diet Fresca.
“Dang it!” Blackheart Bart exclaimed, “Where in the blazes are they?!”
Mort Short, his cohort, tried to reassure him. “Probably back at the Fresca factory.” he replied.
“Doggone it, you knucklehead!” Blackheart Bart roared, “I was talking about our bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados! We’ll need them to help us fight off the lawless vigilante posse that I heard was being assembled to hunt us down!”
“I know,” Mort replied, “What a bummer!”
“So where are they?” Blackheart Bart demanded.
“I just heard they’re being assembled to hunt us down.”
“Not the vigilante posse, you idiot!” snapped Blackheart Bart, “Our bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados!”
“Oh, um, well,” Mort stammered, “I suppose they should be showing up soon. Anytime now I would think, in fact.”
“They were supposed to be here at noon, and it’s almost twelve-thirty now!” Blackheart Bart fumed. He looked suspiciously at Mort. “Are you sure, absolutely sure, that you sent them the message exactly as I worded it?”
Though an outlaw and a desperado himself, Mort Short’s feelings were hurt. “Sure I’m sure!” he affirmed in an assertive yet whiney nasal tone, “‘Twelve o’clock noon at the saloon’.”
“That’s the message all right.” Blackheart Bart admitted. He was puzzled. Sure his bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados were a bunch of cheating, lying, shiftless, thieving, no-good sneaks and cut-throats, but they were always very punctual. It was one of the things he appreciated most about them.
Mort Short was still a bit miffed. “I may be a sniveling, back-stabbing rat-faced little weasel who’s no better than a snake in the grass,” he proclaimed, “but I do have my pride!”
“Okay! Okay!” said Blackheart Bart, “Make like a sheriff and give it a rest!”
But Mort Short wasn’t one to give up when he could run, and neither was his mouth. “I wrote the message down right here!” he continued, pulling out an official-looking piece of paper, “‘Twelve o’clock noon at the saloon’. See? Right there!”
And with that final pronouncement he waved the telegraph office paper right under Blackheart Bart’s nose. Which perhaps he shouldn’t have.
“Wait just a dang minute!” Blackheart Bart said suddenly. His eye had caught sight of something that didn’t seem quite right. Snatching the paper from Mort Short’s grasp, he examined it more closely.
“Doggone it!” he finally exploded, “You spelt it wrong, you dang chucklehead!”
“Huh?” asked Mort.
“You spelt it wrong! No wonder they’re not here!”
“Twelve o’clock noon at the salon! That’s what you wrote! At the salon!”
“What’s a salon?” Mort asked.
Blackheart Bart thought quickly. “It must be that new-fangled place that just opened up down the street. They call it the ‘Bouquet Corral’.”
“I thought that was some kind of tropical reef in the Carribbean.”
“Dang it, Mort! There you go again with your sloppy spelling!”
“Well then,” said Mort, anxious to change the subject, “I reckon we’d better just mosey on over there directly.”
“Mosey, hell!” Blackheart Bart retorted, “We’ll damn well skedaddle all the way, and I just hope to God that we’re not too late!”
“Jeepers!” said Mort.
In the meantime, a large group of heavily-armed vigilantes were closing in on their quarry. They were led by a colorful old mountain-man tracker named Chris Lee Adams. Chris Lee Adams was quite a character in his own right, and had lived an extraordinary life. As a young man he had gone to the mountains to find himself, but then he got lost. He was discovered ten years later by Japanese tourists on holiday, who returned him to the pick-up window at Fort Toogo. But he had difficulty adjusting to modern nineteenth-century life, and while on a shopping expedition to Mallsville he got lost again. Another ten years would pass before he was found, this time by teenage valley girls who, on a dare, returned him to the mountains once more and told him to “like, get lost”. This he promptly did, but fortunately he was taken in by a family of Care Bears who raised him as their own, teaching him vital hunting and tracking skills, as well as modern interpretative dance. Those were the happiest years of his life, and he might never have left that wilderness paradise if he hadn’t gotten sick and tired of all that porridge. But leave he finally did, in the middle of hibernation season when it’s difficult to get a date anyway, and he returned to civilization to become a much sought-after grizzled old mountain-man tracker and dance instructor.
At the moment he was sniffing the ground on all fours, with his backside raised high in the air. He took a handful of dirt and poured it into one of his ears, then rolled over onto his back.
“Does he have to do all that?” asked Janus Theanus, sponsor of the expedition. He was aptly named.
“His methods may seem unconventional, but they’re effective,” answered Hunter Bounty. He would later go on to invent the paper towel.
“He was taught these tricks by the bears themselves,” added Yappy Pappy Sappy, “I also hear he once spent a lost weekend with some wild and crazy dogs.”
“So what’s he doing now?” Janus Theanus wondered.
“He wants you to rub his tummy,” Hunter Bounty explained.
“I’m not going to rub his tummy!”
“Oh come on,” said Yappy Pappy Sappy, “What harm could it do?”
“That’s right,” agreed Hunter Bounty, “Besides, he might get mean if you don’t.”
“This is ridiculous!” complained Janus Theanus.
Suddenly Chris Lee Adams sat straight up and began dragging his buttocks along the ground. It was a special canine technique he had learned from those wild and crazy Wisenheimer dogs, and resembled the sight of a dog with an itch it couldn’t quite reach pulling itself across the carpet.
“Yup,” he said, “They’re close by. I can feel it.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” urged Janus Theanus, “Let’s go!”
“Not until you rub my tummy!” Chris Lee Adams stubbornly insisted.
Janus Theanus rolled his eyes heavenward. “Oh, for crying out loud!” he cried out loud.
When Blackheart Bart and Mort Short arrived at the “Bouquet Corral” it was almost one o’clock. They were greeted at the door by a wiry old geezer dressed in an apron and wearing a French beret. He looked them up and down with a critical eye.
“May I help you ‘gentlemen’?” he enquired.
“You’d better just hope so, bub!” Blackheart Bart warned him, “I’m Blackheart Bart, this is Mort Short, and we’re here looking for our bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados!”
“I see,” said the old man, “Do you have an appointment?”
“No, I don’t have no dang appointment!” Blackheart Bart bellowed.
“Well, there’s no reason to get snippy about it, sir. We do accept walk-ins.”
“Say,” Mort Short interjected, “haven’t I seen you around somewhere before?”
“Probably down at the ‘Rusty Spoon’,” the old man replied, “I used to be the cook there. Name’s Vittles.”
“That’s right!” Mort Short agreed, “Now I remember you. Your tuna casserole is out of this world!”
Vittles blushed. “Gee thanks,” he said, “It’s always nice to be appreciated.”
“So what are you doing here?” Mort inquired, “Is this your place?”
“Sure is!” Vittles acknowledged proudly, “The only full-service hair salon within a thousand miles! When fashion-consciousness finally makes it’s way west I’ll be ready!”
“On the cutting edge, I guess,” Mort observed wryly.
“That’s right!” Vittles continued, “You’d be surprised at how much good grooming and proper personal hygiene can add to your overall quality of life. Sometimes a stylish haircut and the right color-coordinated outfit is just what you need to give you that small but decisive edge in a free-for-all shootout or gun-fighting showdown.”
“Dang it!” thundered Blackheart Bart, “Just answer my doggone question! Have you seen my bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados or not?!”
Vittles blinked twice, then scratched himself where the sun don’t shine. “I ain’t seen no one all morning,” he replied, “but I was busy giving the sheriff a rinse and a perm. But my assistants may have seen them. Trevor! Leonardo! Raphael!”
The three assistants appeared from another room.
“Yes, boss?” answered the one named Trevor.
“This here is Blackheart Bart and his cohort Mort Short,” Vittles explained, “They’re looking for their bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados. Any of you boys seen ’em?”
The three assistants exchanged glances back and forth.
“No sir,” said Trevor.
“Me neither,” added Leonardo.
“I suppose not,” agreed Raphael.
But there was something strange in the demeanor of the three assistants, as if they were holding back on some kind of inside joke.
“Say,” said Mort quizzically, “haven’t I seen you fellas around somewhere before?”
Suddenly the dam burst, and the trio broke out into unabashed laughter.
“You guys!” exclaimed Mort, suddenly realizing the true identity of the three.
“Zeke? Scully? Rattler?” asked Blackheart Bart incredulously, “Is it really you?”
“That’s right, boss,” said Zeke, aka Trevor.
Blackheart Bart was dumbfounded. It was indeed his bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados, only all clean and gussied-up, like Sunday morning church-going folk.
“Vittles here gave us complete makeovers,” explained Scully, also known as Leonardo, “and he’s offered to take on all three of us as assistants.”
“And if everything works out, we’ll each get our own franchise!” added Rattler, aka Raphael.
“But you’re outlaws!” Blackheart Bart was quick to point out, “And desperados!”
“That may be,” answered Zeke, “but the main reason we became outlaws is because we weren’t good for anything else.”
“That’s right,” agreed Scully, “and the reason we were so desperate in the first place was because we couldn’t do a thing with our hair. But now that’s all changed!”
“I see,” said Blackheart Bart, “And you, Rattler?”
“From this day forward I will no longer steal locks, I will style them!” Rattler vowed solemnly. He had always been the poet of the group.
Blackheart Bart knew he was running out of options.
“Didn’t Mort tell you a big posse was after us?” he asked in desperation.
“No,” Zeke replied, “not a posse.”
Blackheart Bart pulled out the telegraph office paper and looked it over once again. “Dang it, Mort!” he yelled, “You and your sloppy spelling!”
“Oops,” said Mort.
An uncomfortable silence followed.
“Well,” Blackheart Bart finally said, in a fatalistic manner, “I’ve never been one to get in the way of a man bettering himself. I guess me and Mort will just have to live out the rest of our lives as hunted fugitives, always on the run, never having any peace of mind, and always looking back over our shoulders.”
“Oh well,” said Scully, philosopher of the gang, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
“Perhaps not,” proposed Vittles, “There may be a better way…”
Back at the vigilante camp, Janus Theanus had finally relented and agreed to scratch Chris Lee Adams’ tummy. Unfortunately, when he did so he located himself in just such a position that when he hit the mountain-man’s abdominal “sweet spot” the resulting involuntary kick of Chris Lee Adams’ foot found it’s way directly to Janus Theanus’ family jewels. Later, when the swelling had subsided to the size of a grapefruit, the posse was once again back on track, and it wasn’t long before they found themselves outside the front entrance of the “Bouquet Corral”.
“Yup,” stated Chris Lee Adams, “that’s where the trail leads, alright. Right in there.”
Janus Theanus pounded on the door. “We know you’re in there, Blackheart Bart!” he shouted, “Come up with your hands out!” This was his first posse, so he was a little bit nervous and somewhat clumsy.
An old man in a French beret stuck his head out the door. “May I help you gentlemen?” he asked.
“Name’s Janus Theanus and me and my lawless vigilante posse are here looking for Blackheart Bart and his bad-guy gang of outlaws and desperados!”
“Do you have an appointment?” Vittles queried.
Hunter Bounty was the first to respond. “No sir, we don’t,” he replied, “but I’ve got a coupon good for a free rinse with every perm.”
“Certainly, sir,” said Vittles, “that’s been our most popular special all week long.”
“Look here!” growled Janus Theanus threateningly, “Are you going to cooperate, or do we have to blast our way in?”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Vittles, prudently moving out of the way.
The posse burst on through the door with guns drawn and hammers cocked. Once inside, however, all they saw was an old lady and her daughter being attended to by three dandified city-slicker hair stylists. The old lady was just about the ugliest woman any of them had ever seen, although her daughter was kind of attractive in a rat-faced weasel type of way.
“The trail leads over there!” said Chris Lee Adams, pointing to a rear window.
“Of course,” declared Yappy Pappy Sappy, “the old back window ploy!”
“Come on men,” exhorted Janus Theanus, “Let’s get after them!”
“Does this mean I don’t get my free rinse and perm?” asked Hunter Bounty.
Janus Theanus looked at him coldly. “What do you think?”
“Oh, fiddlesticks!” Hunter Bounty replied.
Janus Theanus and his lawless vigilante posse continued to follow the “trail” of Blackheart Bart for the next three and a half years. Unbeknownst to them, what they were really following was the scent of Blackheart Bart and Mort Short’s bad-guy cowboy outfits, which Vittles had Pony Expressmailed all the way out to Death Valley for dry cleaning. During this time, Chris Lee Adams was the first one to utter the now-famous phrase: “I’m really dragging ass today!”
Vittles, through hard work and mental illness, turned the “Bouquet Corral” into the most popular and successful full-service hair salon within a thousand miles. His full name, as it turned out, was Vittles Sassoon, and he was none other than the great-granddaddy of you-know-who.
As for Blackheart Bart and Mort Short they of course rode off into the sunset. Unfortunately, however, they were blinded by the glare of the sun, which caused them to fall into the Grand Canyon.
But that, pardners, is a “hole” ‘nuther story.