Slick McCool and the Mekong Mojo

Michael Panush

T.J. Wilcox was sitting on the front porch of his small riverside shack, built right on the banks of the might Mississippi, watching the sun go down when he heard the silence of the evening split the red hot roar of a motorcycle. Wilcox looked down the dirt road and saw the motorbike speeding towards him, a modified Harley with the handlebars elongated and the rider leaning back in his leather seat as he speeded towards the shack. Wilcox stood up to welcome him.

T.J. was a black man, still young, but he had a look in his eyes that did not match his years. He wore an old pair of dirty blue jeans, held up by a pair of suspenders over his dirty collared shirt. An old flat cap topped his head. He took it off and wiped sweat from his forehead as the motorcycle came to a bubbling stop and the rider hopped off.

The rider walked forward and stood in front of Wilcox. "You the dude I'm looking for?" he asked. He didn't wear a helmet, instead wearing a brown cowboy hat with a snakeskin band. He wore a fringed brown leather jacket, over a turquoise leisure suit. "Wilcox?" He wore his hair long, down to his shoulders, with long sideburns and moustache, and it reminded Wilcox of a picture he had seen of Wild Bill Hickock once.

"Yeah," T.J. agreed. "That's me. So, you're the man called—"

"Slick McCool," the rider said. "Traveling poet warrior mystic, a knight errant for the new generation, the final nail in the nation's coffin, and most of all, a truth seeker." He held out his hand and T.J., still sitting on the porch, shook it. "How can I help you, man?"

"I got a problem," T.J. muttered. "And it ain't a easy one. I heard you go around helping folks, and when I heard you was in New Orleans, I figured it might be worth it to leave a message for you. I hope you don't charge too much. I raise a few scraggly goats around this land, and they don't bring in much."

"Let's here your problem, man," Slick said. "Lay it on me."

Wilcox sighed. "All right. It started in 'Nam. I heard you was a veteran too, Slick."

"Where I got my name," Slick agreed. "So what happened there?"

"I was real short, walking the streets in Saigon before shipping out for the States." T.J. laughed. "Funny. Spent my whole damn tour wishing it was over and when it finally was, I didn't know what to do with myself. Figured on getting drunk, finding some Saigon Sally or something, and getting through the night quickly. So I was just walking around, when this old Mama-San grabs my arm, starts asking me if I want to buy something special. She drags me into an alley."

"You normally let old lady's drag you into alleys?" Slick asked, chuckling. "Nah, you're doing fine. Keep on talking, man."

T.J. nodded. "I didn't like it, and I was trying to pull away, but I didn't want to start no fights on my last day, you know. So she gets me in some alley, and opens up her raggedy coat, and pulls out this big old egg. I don't mean no egg that come out of a chicken, I mean one big, football-sized egg. And it was black, not black like tar or like it was dirty, but a glossy black, like obsidian. It was shining."

Slick McCool nodded. "I hear you, man. You bought it?"

"Damn right I bought it. I had a few bucks in my pocket, and the way I saw it, I had been trading enough shots with Charlie so that I deserved a souvenir. I bought it and smuggled it home. It weren't that weird. Some boys snuck their weapons home, others smuggled back dope, and I brought in an egg." Wilcox pointed to his house. "I brought it home, and soon as I turned on the faucet, it started cracking. The egg burst open, and this slimy snake-thing comes out, smelled like sulfur too. I put him in the bath tub and let him swim around. Named him Stinky, on account of his smell."

"What happened then?" Slick asked.

T.J. Wilcox sighed. "Well, I liked Stinky and he liked me. We got along fine. I never really had a dog, and these old goats that my family raised weren't good for nothing but a nip on the hand. But Stinky was nice. I fed him some scraps, and he got bigger and bigger. Had to take him out the bath tub and kept him in the river. He got real big after that. I put a chain around his neck, so that he didn't run off. One morning I find the chain chewed straight through, and Stinky's gone." Wilcox reached into his shirt and took up a folded newspaper. He pointed to a large article. "Then I read this is the morning paper, and I figure out what Stinky's been up to."

Slick took the newspaper and read the headline. "Mafia Prince loses Hand to Underwater Terror," he said. He scanned the article. "Jimmy Tessitura?" he asked. "Only son of old Don Tessitura?"

"He was on vacation from Philidelphia," Wilcox said, shaking his head. "I guess he tried his hand at fishing, but no catfish were biting. Lost his hand, and now he wants Stinky dead. I need you to help me find Stinky and get him out of here before he gets his poor self killed. Can you help me?"

"Sure, man," Slick said, without any hesitation. "I always wanted to tangle with some Mekong Mojo. Your pal Stinky? He's a Naga, big old river spirit in Indochina. He could cause all kinds of trouble, for everybody."

"Thanks, Slick." Wilcox pulled back his pants leg. "I'd go and save my pet myself, but well, I ain't the man I used to be." He had a metal rod where his left leg should have been, and he rapped his fist against it. "One of Charlie's rockets did that."

Gravely, Slick nodded. "I understand. I'm gonna go into your house, and do a little search of the area, see what I can find of Stinky. Then we'll ride out and get him." He walked up the porch and opened the door.

"How you gonna search the river from inside?" T.J. wondered.

Slick reached into his jacket and took out two large syringes, each one loaded with multi-colored liquid. "Put one of these into each tear duct. Zaps me good, and makes me one with the universe. You know, like a shaman, traveling great distances. But it's more than that. It's being everywhere at once." He smiled at T.J. "You probably don't want to watch it. I vomit a little when I do it. Go and start up your car instead." He stepped inside and closed the door.

T.J. stood up and shrugged. He limped over to his car, an old pick-up truck in front of his house, and pulled himself into the driver's seat. Nothing to do now but wait and hope he hadn't made a mistake by asking for Slick McCool's help.

Jimmy Tessitura lowered the pair of binoculars. He had to hold them with one hand, because the other had been replaced with a curved metal hook. He was kneeling down on a grassy hill, a ways away from Wilcox's shack. Behind Tessitura, a limousine and two tailing cars were parked, a dozen mafia soldiers standing around, smoking cigarettes and waiting.

"What's going on, Jimmy?" the man next to Tessitura asked. He was a broad-shouldered mobsman, with graying hair and a large paunch, and he wore pinstripes. He was the top killer in the Tessitura Family, and went by the name of Sal 'Slaughterhouse' Salemi.

"Some long-haired hippie mook drove up, chatted with the negro, and now he went inside. Looks like the negro's getting the car ready." Jimmy Tessitura smiled. He had a handsome face. "Okay, we'll tail them and see where they go. They're gonna find that big black snake for us, and then we step in."

Salemi nodded. "You sure about this, Jimmy?"

"Sure, I'm sure! I trust that old hick when he said he spied the darkie putting a monstrous snake in the water. He spilled his guts before we spilled them for him." Jimmy nodded. "And that darkie's gonna try and wrangle in his pet before we ice the lot of them."

"I didn't mean that," Slaughterhouse said. "I mean the long-haired man. I know him."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Goes by Slick McCool. Word is, he got in a scrape with the Hell Hogs Motorcycle Gang up in Kansas City. Wiped them out to a man. You sure you want to tangle with him, Jimmy?"

The son of Don Tessitura laughed harshly. "I don't give a damn if he's Christ Risen. If he's standing in the way of me getting revenge on that snake, he's going down." Jimmy held up the hook. "You know what's gonna happen to me if I don't get that damn monster's head mounted up above my fireplace? I'll be the laughingstock of the Families. Captain Hook, Jimmy the Hook, Mr. Hook, I can hear it already." He shook his head. "No, Slaughterhouse. We'll follow them to where they got the damn serpent holed up, and then we whack them all."

Slick McCool walked out of T.J.'s house, a single line of blood dripping from his right eye. He wiped it off quickly. McCool carried an old carton of milk in his hand. He shook the carton, letting the milk splash around inside. "We're gonna need this. It cool if I bring it along?"

"It's cool," T.J. agreed. "Why we need milk?"

"Nagas love it. Drive them crazy. Should bring Stinky right to us." Slick walked over to his motorcycle, tucking the milk carton into the pocket of his coat. "Otherwise we'd have to use on of your goats, and I wouldn't dig all the mess that would make."

"So you know where he is?" T.J. asked.

Slick smiled. "I know where everything is, man." He started the motorcycle. "Okay. I'll drive out first, you follow. You got it?"

"Yeah," T.J. agreed. "Yo, Slick," he shouted. "How you know so much about what Nagas like and don't like?"

"The monks taught me," Slick said, bringing the motorcycle to a roaring start. He sped off down the road, his fringed jacket flapping behind him. T.J. started the engine of his pick-up and stepped on the gas. He rode off of after Slick, his car bumping and rolling on the unpaved road. Slick kept ahead of him, not looking back as he drove onwards, not even looking to his sides, just staring blankly forward as his speed increased.

They drove along the unpaved road, Slick first and then T.J.. They drove away from the rolling green hills and entered the floodplains and then they were along the side of the river itself. The Mississippi flowed past, muddy and brown and endless, and Slick sped along until he suddenly stepped on the brakes and his bike slid forward, burning rubber and squealing like a wounded animal until it stopped. He hopped off and waited for T.J. to park.

The two men walked over to the side of the river, T.J. limping a bit after Slick. "Slick?" T.J. asked. "What exactly is a Naga anyway?"

"Depends on who you ask," Slick said. "Hindus, man, they don't dig on Naga that much. The Bhagvad Gita says they're just another kind of monster, competing with humans and the gods, making bets and deals and always acting like snakes. Buddhists see the Naga a bit better though. They say that when the Buddha was meditating, the old Naga comes out and shelters him from the rain, keeping him nice and dry." Slick took the carton of milk out and tossed it into the air. It landed with a plop in the water. "But the folks who live along the Mekong, the Thais, the Laotians and Cambodians, they thing the King of Serpents is an all right guy, a protector of the river. They give him offerings and throw festivals. I reckon they done worshipped the Naga, long before they ever heard of no Buddha, and way before they heard of Ho Chi Minh."

"How you know so much?" T.J. asked again. "You said monks taught you, or something?"

Slick nodded. He opened up his fringed jacket, and T.J.'s eyes widened when he saw a gun belt on Slick's waist, two pearl-handled revolvers in twin holsters. "I was in 'Nam too," he said. "But I went all the way. Project Pale Horse, Operation Phoenix, operating behind enemy lines, wasting whole villages, setting fire to the world. I loved my squad. We was a family. But eventually, comes a day some bonehead general sends us deep in country. Vietcong squad ambushes from the get-go. Everyone I fought with, bled with, killed with, died in a matter of seconds. I took a full AK clip to the chest and I'm down for the count." He drew one of his pistols and fanned out a pair of shots, splattering the floating milk carton. Milk splashed into the water.

"Whoa," T.J. whispered.

"Yeah," Slick agreed. "I thought I was done for, but these monks found me and nursed me back to health. They lived in some big monastery, built in these massive old ruins, and they came from all over Asia. They was Tibetan Monks from the Himalayas, Shaolin Monks from China, and from Japan as well. They taught me how to think, how to fight, and they left me alone in some field when they was done." Slick shook his head. "I don't know if I hallucinated the whole thing. It's all kind of a blur."

T.J. nodded. "Hell, man," he muttered. "Ain't everything these days?"

The two men looked at the surface of the muddy river, and waited. It didn't take long for something to happen. The water churned around the milk, sending ripples everywhere in the muddy brown. A black coil, wide as man's waist, briefly broke the water. T.J. gasped. "That's him," he said. "That's Stinky!"

"Call him out," Slick commanded. "Give him a shout, and he'll come to you."

Before T.J. could open his mouth, a trio of cars came tearing towards them. T.J. and Slick turned around, and saw a limousine slide to a stop, two tailing cars behind it. The limousine doors opened and half a dozen men in black pinstriped suits stepped out, bulges in their armpits and a criminal's harsh glare in their eye. The other cars unloaded their passengers, and a score of men stood before T.J. Wilcox and Slick McCool.

Jimmy Tessitura was instantly recognizable by his hooked hand. He pointed it at Slick. "You boys got the big snake down there?"

Wilcox stared at the Mafioso. "Yeah," he said. "What you gonna do about it?"

"Blow it apart." Jimmy waved his hook at them. "Now get the hell out of the way before I blow you apart too!"

"Just chill out, brother," Slick said. "Naga didn't mean to munch on your hand. He was just hungry. It wasn't personal."

"Shut your dirty mouth, flower child!" Jimmy hissed. He nodded to two of his men. "Jackie, Bruno. Go and break this hippie's neck and toss him in the river. We'll do the negro next."

Two broad-shouldered, bullet-headed thugs stepped forward, one holding a cut-down baseball bat, the other snapping open a switchblade as he walked forward. Slick wagged his finger at them. "You don't want to do that, friends," he said. "Don't go riling me up now." He grinned wildly.

"What the hell you doing?" Wilcox whispered. "We gotta get out of here!"

"Go on to your car then, man," Slick walked forward, his hands held high. "I'm gonna enjoy myself."

"Hang on, Jackie," Bruno said. "Let me get a crack at him." Bruno swung his baseball bat forward, a broad smile on his face. Slick held out one of his hands and neatly caught the bat. "What the hell?" Bruno asked, and Slick's palm shot out, cracking into Bruno's face and neatly breaking his nose. Bruno hissed in pain as he fell down, and Slick ran back to his motorcycle. Bruno ran after him, swinging the bat wildly and cursing with every blow.

Slick pulled aside of one of them canvas flaps and withdrew a wooden scabbard. He turned around and opened it, and the Louisiana Moon gleamed off of the polished steel of a long katana. Slick swung the sword into Bruno's face, slashing through his cheeks and the back of his skull, and sending the upper half of his head flying into the air. A massive spurt of blood shot out and Bruno's body stumbled forward before collapsing, the blood still spraying outwards. Slick set the scabbard back in the side of his motorbike and held up the katana with both hands.

Jackie stared at the corpse of his friend. "Jesus!" he whispered. "Y-you cut Bruno's f-face—"

"In half. Yeah…" Slick held up his katana. "Anyone else?"

Jimmy Tessitura snarled at Slick. "Rush the fool!" he shouted. "Kill him! Shove that pig-sticker up his but!"

Four more mobsters ran forward, brass knuckles on their fists, switchblades in their hands, all shouting out curses and threats as they charged. Slick calmly walked forward, and his katana lashed out as he walked through them, each blow lopping off a limb, slashing open a stomach, or driving deep into a chest. Slick's blade was lightning, and when he was finished, he cleaned it on the grass as the bodies slowly fell to the ground. A single spurt of blood landed on one lense of Slick's tinted glasses, and we wiped it away with his thumb.

There was a moment of silence, and then Jackie ran towards Slick's turned back, his switchblade poised. "You murderer!" he shouted. "Goddamn bastard butcher!"

Swiftly, Slick turned around, his katana swinging with him. Jackie's head leapt from his shoulders in a spurt of red, and the body kept stepping forward before landed on the grass. Slick turned back to the mobsmen, only to see that they had drawn out guns.

Countless automatic pistols, sawed-off shotguns, and even a pair of assault rifles were aimed at Slick McCool. Jimmy, holding a long-barreled revolver in his good hand, stood next to Slaughterhouse Salemi, who held a pump action shotgun. Slick sighed. "Ah, man," he muttered. "That ain't cool."

"Blast him!" Jimmy shouted, and the guns roared to life. Slick dived forward, bullets cutting into the grass and turf beside him, and splashing into the river at his back. He rolled over, using one hand to grab out a revolver and return fire. He shot wildly, trying to force the mafia goons back, but it wasn't working.

Then, the low rumble of T.J.'s pick-up sounded nearby. T.J. was in the driver seat, the pick-up speeding forward. T.J. held out his hand and leaned out of the driver's seat, bullets shattering the windows of his car. "Get in, Slick!" he shouted.

Slick grabbed his hand and got into the car. T.J. sent the pick-up speeding forward, flying past the gangsters as lead and curses filled the air. "Bring us around!" Slick shouted. "I ain't leaving my bike!"

"You crazy!" T.J. shouted.

"No doubt, man, but I ain't leaving my bike!" Slick slid his katana into his belt and drew out his second revolver, firing them both in tandem. One of his bullets cracked into a mobster's skull, killing him instantly. The gangsters stepped back, running for the cover of their parked cars.

The pick-up spun around, heading towards the bike. Slick kicked open the door and jumped over to his motorcycle. He pulled it up, slid on the seat, and slammed on the gas. "Follow me!" he shouted, zooming forward. T.J. followed, more bullets cracking into his car, and one grazing his shoulder.

T.J. winced. He hadn't be so close to gunfire and death since 'Nam, and it wasn't any easier. He shook his head, wishing that he had just let Stinky go, and had never asked for Slick McCool's help.

Some of the gangsters ran after the cars, firing in their direction. Jimmy held up his hand. "Stop shooting!" he shouted. "Stop wasting your ammo! They're out of our way and that's what matters!" He walked over to the bank as the guns fell silent and were swiftly reloaded. Jimmy looked at the pool of milk in the river, and saw a flash of something dark under the muddy surface. "He's down there," Jimmy whispered. He looked back. "Bring out the dynamite, Slaughterhouse! We're gonna blow him right out of the water!"

Slaughterhouse Salemi shouldered his shotgun and opened the trunk of one of the tailing cars. He took out a large bundle of dynamite and walked over to Jimmy, standing on the side of the river. "Just gonna toss them in until you hit something?" he asked.

Jimmy took one of the sticks of dynamite. "That's the idea," he said. He looked at the stick and then at his lighter, resting in his breast pocket, and at his hook hand. "Goddamn," he whispered. "Uh, Slaughterhouse? Could you give me a…give me a hand?"

"Sure, Jimmy," Slaughterhouse laughed, taking the lighter and flicking it on. Jimmy's face went red as he hurled the dynamite onto the surface of the river.

T.J. stepped on the breaks when he heard the loud explosion. His pick-up slid to a stop and he leaned forward and sighed. Another explosion sounded, taking him back to the jungle and the constant shelling once more. He shook the memories out of his head. In front of him, Slick brought his motorcycle to a stop. Slick hopped off and walked over to the car. He stared at T.J.

"What's going on, man?" he asked.

"They're trying to blast out Stinky," T.J. muttered. "Can't you hear it?"

Slick nodded as another explosion sounded. "Dynamite blasting, I bet," he said. "We got to get out of here though. I don't want no goombahs giving me cement overshoes and tossing me in the Mississippi. That ain't for me."

"But you was cutting through them like they was nothing!" T.J. cried. "You and that big old blade of yours!"

"Heh," Slick drew out the katana and spun it around. "I'm pretty quick with it, but I can't kill all those men on my lonesome, not when they're all packing." He stared at T.J.. "Does it matter much, what happens to the Naga? Why do you care so much about him anyway? Seems like someone just tossed the egg into your hands and ran off."

T.J. sighed. "Well, I figure it's about guilt."

"Guilt?" Slick asked, like he hadn't heard the word before. "What do you mean, man?"

"I did some bad things in 'Nam, and I don't know why exactly. Vietnamese people, they ain't done nothing to me, and there I was, gunning them down, forcing out of their homes, wasting them. It weren't right, and even I knew that. So when some old mama-san wanted me to have this egg, and raise it, I guess I felt like if I did it right, somehow, things would be better." He shook his head. "Stupid idea, I know."

"Yeah," Slick said. "No such as redemption for fellows like us. Not now, not ever." He smiled slowly. "But we gotta try."

"You sure got a funny way of trying," T.J. added.

"I think the monks knew that," Slick said. "They taught me as best they good, and let me loose so I could do some good in the world. And I guess helping you would do that." He walked over to the pick-up. "We gotta ride back there and save Stinky. Problem is, they'll cut us down soon as we come riding up."

Nervously, T.J. walked to the back of the pick-up. "Actually," he said. "I got something, might even the odds a mite. I didn't tell you about bringing it back, because its even less legal than the Naga egg." He pulled himself onto the back of his leg, his metal leg rubbing on the side. T.J. grabbed a bundle sitting in the front of the car. He unrolled the cloth and let it fall away, revealing a polished M60 Heavy Machine gun, a long belt of ammunition already attached.

"Groovy," Slick said, staring at the gun.

"You got a plan now, Slick?" T.J. asked.

Slick looked back at his motorcycle. "Yeah," he said. "I don't know if you're gonna like it, but it's the only chance we got to set things right."

"Come on, you big black snakey stinker!" Jimmy shouted, hurling another lit bundle of dynamite into the river. It exploded, sending up a large splash of muddy water. Jimmy was soaked, but he didn't mind. He held out his hand, and Slaughterhouse put another bundle of lit dynamite in his hands. Jimmy hurled it into the river. "You got to come up for air," he said. "Then I'll get you! Blow you to bits and take a piss on the pieces!"

"Boss?" one of the gangsters ran over to Jimmy. "Someone's coming. The pick-up the negro was driving, its coming back."

"What?" Jimmy stared down the road and saw the pick-up approaching. There was no sign of the motorcycle. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go on and gun him down! Ain't no one gonna care about another dead negro down south. And leave me alone!"

Slaughterhouse turned around and watched as the remaining gangsters left the cover of their cars and walked forward, guns drawn. The pick-up kept on going, though the gangsters had leveled their pistols at it. They waited until it drove into range, prepared to blast apart the driver and bring the car to a halt.

Then, a figure stood up on the back of the pick-up, his long hair and fringed jacket flowing as he propped up his motorcycle, which had also been resting on the back of the pick-up. He hopped onto the motorcycle and started the engine, and Slick McCool roared off of the back of the pick-up truck and landed on the dirt. He spun the motorcycle around and drove in front of the pick-up truck, straight at the massed gangsters. Slick stood up in the seat, a revolver in each hand.

"Yee-ha!" he shouted, firing his pistols one by one. The gangsters struggled to shoot back at him, but Slick spun his motorcycle out of the way, taking advantage of the bike's speed. Meanwhile, the pick-up truck roared forward and twisted to the side. The driver's door was kicked open by T.J.'s metal leg, and T.J. grabbed the M-60 sitting the passenger seat and opened fire.

The Tessitura gangsters were caught in the open, a perfect kill zone. The M-60 spat out lead, T.J. moving the weapon back and forth and catching all of the mobsters in the fire. The heavy bullets chewed them, splattering guts, blood, bones and brains into the grass. Some of the gangsters tried to run back for the cover of the cars, only to receive large caliber bullets in the back. Other ran for the riverside, but T.J. turned the M-60 around and caught them in the fire.

Slick McCool rode around the slaughter, his motorcycle speeding along the side of the river, straight at Jimmy Tessitura and Slaughterhouse Salemi. Tessitura's mouth fell open. He held a bundle of dynamite in his hands, and he shoved it Salemi's face. "Light this!" he shouted. "Light the fuse and deal with the long-haired prick!"

Salemi moved quickly. He clicked open the lighter and lit the fuse, then ran to the coming motorcycle, drawing out his pump-action shotgun. One of Slick's bullets crashed into his shoulder, but he didn't notice. Slaughterhouse fired, bursting the front tire on Slick's bike. The motorcycle spun out of control, and Slick struggled to break. The bike slid down to the ground, and Slick rolled off. He came to his feet and looked at Slaughterhouse. Neither of them said a word. The hit man pumped his shotgun, and Slick raced to level his pistols. They fired at the same times, Slick catching some lead in his leg and sinking down, his pistols clicking empty, while Slaughterhouse's shotgun fell from his bleeding hands.

"You're pretty fast," Slaughterhouse said.

"Not fast," Slick said. He stood up, wincing as blood trickled down his legs. He dropped his revolvers and drew his katana. "Slick."

Slaughterhouse grinned. He pulled a machete from his coat and ran forward, the blade held high. The two blades met, and the battle was on.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Tessitura ran towards the pick-up, now finishing off his men. "Hey, you damn negro!" Jimmy shouted. "Catch!" He rolled the bundle of dynamite forward, and it landed near the edge of the pick-up truck. It exploded, tossing the truck backwards and throwing T.J. from the vehicle. T.J. landed on the grass, wincing as he rolled to a stop. The pick-up truck was flipped upside down, the M-60 gone with it.

Jimmy looked back at his surviving men, about ten goombahs that were still on their feet. "Let's finish him!" Jimmy shouted, drawing out his pistol and walking forwards. He laughed at T.J.. "What you gonna pull out now, sambo, huh? Got another sixty somewhere?"

"Slick!" T.J. shouted, trying to pull himself up. His metal leg slipped in the mud and he fell back. Jimmy laughed even more.

He fired into the dirt at T.J.'s side. "Maybe I should make you dance!" he laughed. "Ain't never seen a crippled negro boogie before! Come on, show me some of that rhythm!"

Slick saw Jimmy moving towards T.J., but Slaughterhouse was in his way. Slick lashed out with a dazzling flurry of blows, but Slaughterhouse parried them all, forcing Slick back with heavy slashes and swipes. The machete bit into Slick's arm, and Slick winced in pain. Slaughterhouse Salemi forced Slick backwards, towards the river. One of Slicks' boots stepped into the water, and he knew this battle could go on much longer.

"Running out of land, are you?" Slaughterhouse asked, drawing back his machete. He slashed forward, and Slick saw his chance. Instead of trying to parry the blow or attack, Slick leapt backwards, splashing into the Mississippi river. Slaughterhouse fell forward, and landed in the water himself. Slick was up on his feet and running, the machete slashing past his head. He reached the shore and turned around, to see Slaughterhouse standing in the water. "You running, boy?" Slaughterhouse asked.

"No," Slick answered. "But you better start."

The water behind Slaughterhouse stirred. He turned around, and gasped. A long black band, a twisting coil the size of a man's waist and long enough to wrap around T.J.'s pick-up truck a dozen times, was visible in the muddy water. Slaughterhouse stared in horror as the Naga's head emerged. The great serpent had a single large horn, rising past its large dark eyes and curling to a point. It opened its mouth, revealing large curled fangs. Slaughterhouse Salemi started running for the shore. "Hell, no!" he shouted. "No!"

The Naga struck, stabbing its horn straight through Slaughterhouse's chest and lifting him up into the air. The Naga threw his twitching body off, and it flew through the air and smashed onto the hood of the Tessitura limousine. The Naga slithered onto the ground, moving towards T.J..

"Stinky!" T.J. cried. "Stinky, over here!"

Jimmy Tessitura fired at the Naga, and his soldiers joined in. "Kill it!" Jimmy shouted. "Goddamn stinking snake!" His revolver boomed, but Stinky moved too quickly. The great snake lashed out, sliding along the muddy bank and striking Tessitura's soldiers one by one.

The Naga's fangs bit into their chests, ripping out their guts or devouring large chunks of their body. Some of the gangsters ran from the Naga, and it slithered around them, catching two men in its great coils and crushing them to death in a second. It impaled another gangster on its horn, driving the pointed spike straight through his head. In seconds, Jimmy Tessitura stood alone, the Naga slithering towards him.

Tessitura held up his hook. "You took my hand, you slimy bastard!" he shouted. He lowered his revolver and tried to fire, but the Naga moved faster. It lashed forward, its fangs flashing and bit off Tessitura's other hand. Jimmy Tessitura screamed in rage as he sank to the ground, blood spewing from his wound. "Oh God. Not my other hand! Think of the names! No Hands Jimmy, Jimmy Two-Hooks," he whispered. "Kill me now."

"You got it," Slick said. He came to his feet and walked over to his fallen pistols. He picked them up, sliding a bullet into one, and shot Jimmy between the eyes.

T.J. Wilcox and Slick McCool stared at the slaughter, and Stinky the Naga in the middle of it. Stinky slithered over to T.J. who was pulling himself up to his feet. Slowly, T.J. reached out and patted Stinky's head. "Thanks, pal," he said. "Saved my damn life."

"You done right by him," Slick said, walking over to T.J.. "But now you're even."

"Reckon so," T.J. agreed. He touched his bleeding shoulder and looked at Slick's wounds. "You hurt bad?"

"Not really," Slick replied. "We'll go on back to your house and patch up after we say goodbye to Stinky."

"Say goodbye?" T.J. asked. "But we just rescued him! I ain't about to let him go and get into trouble again!"

"He won't. Stinky's all grown up now. Being chained up near some dock is not how a Naga should live man. He's got to go home." Slick walked over to the Naga and held out his hands. He patted Stinky's side and leaned forward, whispering into the Naga's ear. The snake's head bobbed and its long forked tongue flicked out. Slick stepped back. "Say goodbye, T.J.. He's got a long road ahead of him."

T.J. walked over to Stinky and patted his head. "Take care of yourself," he said. "And if you ever come back to visit, don't go eating people's hands."

Stinky licked T.J.'s face with his long tongue and turned around, slithering towards the bank and then slipping under the water. He swam away, his long body coiling back and forth as he swam down the river.

"Where's he going?" T.J. asked.

"I'm not sure. Some Cambodians, they think the whole Pacific Ocean is the homeland of the Naga. Believe they got cities and empires down there, just waiting for Stinky to come and join them. But maybe he'll go on back to Vietnam, take on his job of guarding a stream or river. That's what Mekong Mojo is for."

"Guess I gave something back to the country I took so much from," T.J. muttered.

"Guess so," Slick agreed. "You gonna sleep better tonight?"


"Me neither." Slick turned away from the river. "Come on. Let's head on back to your house." He walked over to his bike and pushed it back up, looking at the busted tire. "You got anything in your car could tie you to this? When the fuzz comes, I mean?"

"Not really," T.J. said. "Let's get moving."

The two men walked along the side of the Mississippi river, Slick pushing his motorcycle and T.J. limping alongside. Above them, the Louisiana moon loomed large, gleaming down on the muddy river.

-The End-