The Winner of the 1997 First Annual Imitate Keeler Competition:

The Case of the Windswept Fairgrounds

by Dan Stumpf

Young Marshall "Gunless" MacLuhan stared down a street flanked with those saloons, stables, Chinese laundries, and Christian Science Reading Rooms that pop up like prairie dogs in cow-towns from the cattle-choked plains to the beef-hungry rail-heads, watching the approaching black-stockinged figure of "Dusty" Babbooncrotch, transvestite gunfighter, thinking that it still challenged his grasp of Reality to see this raucous Gomorra of the prairie in the heart of Chicago.

"Interesting thought," he reflected, "And unless yon high-heeled messenger of death belies his reputation, it will be my last. Still, I wonder what became of Jacqueline? Did that novel, on which depended the consummation of our dreams, reach the desk of a publisher intelligent enough to gamble on an unknown, brilliant young authoress? Will Jacqueline Collins become two household words? But what matter, if I lie buried in the faux Boot Hill of this outré theme park, due to the machinations of Uncle Venal MacTightlee, who built this mock cow-town in the Loop?"

Shots rang out. MacLuhan winced, expecting any nanosecond to feel the gender-confused gunman's bullets. Then the would-be killer's skirted form crumpled into the dust, and, carrying the redoubtable rifle which made his fortune, up strode dead-eye marksman and companion of the campfire, Frances Buckley, whose encounter with drunken hide-hunters had earned him a grim sobriquet.

"Old 'Skinless Frank'!" the Marshall ejaculated, "And not a moment premature! How came you here, partner of the Platte?"

"We-ell," the trail-trodden trapper grinned, "Durned if it ain't the durndest story ye ever heered in all yer durned life, durn it. I wuz layin' low in thuh Recovery Center fer Colorful Dialect-Talkers, when I happens on a book by a gal name o' Collins, printed by Doddering Press--."

"The firm established by my Aunt Dotty!" MacLuhan blurted, "Devoted to distributing unknown works of quality to the culturally-depraved, owing to a misprint in her Will, which bequeathed to Uncle Venal the means to build this charade of the town where I was a Lawman!"

"Yessir," his friend of the flatlands affirmed, "An' ye kin pitcher muh supprize when I reads this piece o' work, what'll bring lots o' litterary prizes to the gal whut writ it, an' I finds plumb in thuh middle, thuh missin' page from Dotty's will, printed up as part o' the story. An', printed in the margins, notes from thet MacTightlee varmint a-sayin' he wuz gonna lure ye back East an' do ye in afore ennybody found thet page."

"Not surprising," MacLuhan retorted, "remembering Uncle Venal's well-publicized habit of writing in margins and using the backs of otherwise relevant documents. This thrift, and his motto 'Work Cheaper, Not Smarter' were subjects of a tabloid article by that Impie Princeps, whom you rescued years ago, and sent East with Greely. But how came that vanished page to appear in a book written by my fiancee and, by a remarkable coincidence, published by the firm established by that self-same testament?"

"We-ell," said his chum of the chuck-wagon, "On t'other side o' thet page, theer's some love-letter, writ by a guy name o' MacLuhan, to his girl, a-sayin' he's gonner stay at hiz uncle's Theme Park a spell."

"My letter!" MacLuhan discharged, "Written on what I took for scrap paper in Uncle's office, months ago! It must have mixed with the galleys of Jackie's novel! But how could such a gaffe escape the Printer's attention?"

"We-ell," his buddy of the badlands went on, "Seems the printer ain't none other'n Wordless Williams, th' illiterate forger you calaboosed las' year, an' then guv one o' them letters o' recommendation to make a honest start once he got out, which happened quick on account o' thet statute yer Uncle got passed, parolin' felons born on Febyewary 29--like ol' Wordless an' Dusty--iffen they had jobs lined up, since account of their birthdays they's really jes' kids!"



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