Odious Oats was an obnoxious little kid, mouthy and rude, safe in the shelter of his young age, knowing that no adult would dare to spank his ass.
He had absorbed this knowledge from his father, master of the arrogant stroll through the neighbourhood on a fine summer morning. A large mug of foul instant coffee held imperiously upright in hand, strutting through the neighbourhood offering insulting comments to all. Not a popular man.
Odious bullied and loud-mouthed his way through the junior years of his schooling without any severe ass-kickings. In part this was due to Oats Sr.’s hold over the school principal thanks to a shared wild weekend in Toronto, sharing which included many illicit pleasures with exotic women. OK, they were whores, but that was exotic for small-town suburban men in those days.
Pleasures could prove an embarrassment to the principal. Oats Sr. didn’t give a damn who knew. His wife had come out admitting her love for a large eastern European women capable of breaking a horse. So he held the hammer, and the principal could read the script. Odious made the honour roll and graduated up to high school.
The first year of high school opened Odious’ eyes wide, his powers narrowed. Big strong guys from the local farms. Way older guys who wouldn’t take kindly to Odious’ mouth, who drove around in muscle cars with adoring girls kissing and hugging them. And the girls? Well… girls seemed to hold Odious in ridicule. For what he couldn’t guess.
Odious was lost. He would have asked his dad how to deal with those assholes, but Oats Sr. was temporarily detained in the local slammer on minor charges. Charges allegedly involved public drunkenness, threats and nudity including waving his private parts whilst screaming obscenities at his neighbours.
With Oats the elder serving ten months in the county jail, Odious decided that he needed a new method of gaining some respect. He took up shoplifting. Flashing a seemingly endless supply of stolen candy, gum, and smokes, Odious discovered the power of bribery. His peers lightened up a bit on tormenting him.
His new hobby progressed smoothly until the day when he was confronted by a clerk while attempting to leave Stedmans, pockets bulging with candy. He might have made a clean getaway were it not for the skin mag peeking out from under his shirt. Reluctant to submit to the spotty-faced teen, Odious persuaded him that it was a bad idea to block his exit by slashing the clerk’s arm with a knife he’d boosted on his previous “shopping” trip to that same store. He’d converted it to a switchblade using instructions from a previously lifted copy of True Crime.
Sentenced as a young offender to one year in reform school for theft and aggravated assault with a weapon, Odious began the next stage of his education. His first lesson was in man love, taught by his new roommate Bubba, a repeat offender whose next sentence would be served in a real prison. Poor Bubba was due to “age-out” and would face prison as an adult next time around. And nobody doubted that there would be a next time around for Bubba, least of all Bubba.
Odious learned a great deal in reform school. On the sports field, he learned how to swing a baseball bat effectively: break the arm first and then go for the kneecap. In art class, he learned the art of forgery. Chemistry taught him how to brew alcohol from fruit using the toilet bowl as a vessel. The only downside was the vast quantities of Imodium required to prevent the need to actually use the toilet for the purposes it was designed to serve.
History taught him about Bonnie and Clyde. In his fantasies they would take on the biggest heists to date, they would make history of their own. Forget about Bonnie- she was a slut- it would be Odious and his man-crush Clyde.
While Odious was furthering his education, his mother ran off with Olga- a large, strapping, diesel dyke she’d met at the new sex shop in town. Olga caught her eye in the back room when they were inspecting the newest shipment of disciplinary gadgets. It was love at first sight.
Odious spent far more than the year he was sentenced to in reform school because of continuous infractions that he seemed incapable of not committing. He was confused; they knew that even the most simple arithmetic was beyond him, so how did they expect him to understand what infractions were? Fractions were for guys with weak spines and pocket protectors stuffed with leaky pens so what’s an infraction?
Odious was liberated with the help of his new man-crush Zeke. Due for release at the same time, they kept a low profile and hatched a plan to get rich. Zeke knew a perfect score: a bank in his hometown with minimum security.
‘Hell,’ Zeke told him, ‘there aren’t even any bars on the windows.’
Released from reform school, Zeke hot-wired the director’s car in the staff parking lot. They drove it into town and syphoned gas from the hearse behind the funeral home, a lesson they’d learned from gangster movies: always have a full tank of gas in the getaway car. They weren’t no dummies, Odious and Zeke, no sir! They were already master thieves in their own minds.
Realizing that they needed to “tool up” for the heist, they drove to the local ballpark, broke into the equipment locker and selected two of the finest aluminum bats and two masks. Odious took the umpire’s mask, Zeke the catcher’s mask- choices well suited to their sexual proclivities.
The next order of business was food. They were hungry and it was a long drive to Zeke’s hometown. A quick dine and dash at the local PiggyWiggy solved that. Bellies full of pork and fries, they drove through the night blasting All AC/DC All The Time radio to get into the proper mood for mayhem.
The heist was another example of the failure of our education system: Odious was a poor reader, Zeke was entirely illiterate. Bursting into the bank they smashed the glass counter with baseball bats to get the lone teller’s attention. Zeke had the better stroke, a perfect home run swing. Zeke yelled loudly in his best James Cagney gangster voice: “Hand over the cash or die!”
“Th-th-there is no cash,” the terrified teller squeaked.
“What the fuck you mean there ain’t no cash?” screams Odious.
“Guys, this is a Sperm Bank!!”
Oats Sr.’s stay as a guest of the county did not go well. His 10-month sentence was extended to two years thanks to his inability to control his mouth. His insults and sarcasm did not affect his captors in the same manner it had done to his suburban neighbours.
He did, however, prove useful to the guards. The exercise room was woefully equipped, and those of pugilistic leanings found Oats’ torso to be a fine substitute for a heavy bag. His head made a fine speed bag replica. Between exercise sessions, they concocted many a fine infraction to ensure extended future workouts.
Long days in traction gave Oats time to consider his future. Having lost his job when he was convicted, he struggled for ideas that could provide him with financial stability.
His only visitor was a neighbour upon whom he had repeatedly spewed poisonous vitriol, informed Oats Sr. (with a vicious smile) that his wife had run off with Olga and his dog had run away after destroying the remaining furniture and soiling the house. Badly.
“And, oh ya, I almost forgot”, he drawled, “the bank has repossessed your house!”
The future looked very bleak indeed for Oats. He’d briefly considered politics until he learned that his criminal convictions prevented him from serving in public office.
Oats’ eureka moment came to him on a Sunday. In traction yet again, he was lying on his back, unable to change the channel on the 14-inch b&w television.
Preaching! It was perfect. Oats could play the role of the reformed sinner. It would certainly require some discipline of the tongue. No more foul-mouthed rants.
Oats felt up to the job. And there would be no simple mainstream congregation for him- such congregations were thinning as rapidly as the preacher’s take (all of it for Oats!) from the collection plate.
No siree! His religion would be of the fire and brimstone brand, complete with Bible-thumping, snake charming, and speaking in tongues- he could be forgiven if a few choice words of the vulgar type came out. Maybe even arsenic drinking for the full effect.
Oats had a plan already prepared for the ‘arsenic’: a mixture of black coffee, tincture of iodine for odour, and some fine whisky. He might as well get a buzz on: the suckers would think it was the arsenic effect. Miraculously cured by the power of the Lord speaking through his servant Oats!
It shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with an ailing rattlesnake past its best-by date with its poison gland removed.
The future for Oats looked very bright indeed!
Odious naturally placed all of the blame for the humiliation of the failed bank job on Zeke. He severed their relationship immediately and sealed the deal with a savage beating on Zeke.
Knowing that he needed to keep a very low profile and slip away fast, Odious took the first city bus that passed by.
The bus dropped Odious off at the edge of town. From there he hiked down the road to an overlit truck stop, an unlikely oasis of neon in the deserted darkness beyond. Big rigs diesel idling bass throb country twang heartbreak whine in the air, hookers strolling the pavement.
Odious headed for the exit ramp to the highway and waited, hoping to thumb a ride. A powerful rumble of approaching rig, flash paint job and an extra long trailer pulls up. The brakes sighed. The passenger window wound down releasing a familiar refrain “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA! the YMCA!…” The driver, Lance, is clad from head-to-toe in tight black leather and Cuban heeled boots.
“Hop in sweet buns, let’s roll!!”
Lance explained how the trailer opened and was transformed into a carnival sideshow with four different booths- “Each of them is rigged to take the suckers’ money!” He was hauling to a small town fair in Ontario. Lance was, in fact, looking for a carny to run the crown & anchor, and might Odious be interested in the position?
Odious suddenly saw his future, well for a few weeks at least, as far forward as he was capable of seeing. He saw piles of cash flying on cartoon wings from the suckers’ pockets into his. A 60-40 split on the take: 60% to Lance as the owner/manager.
They shook hands and sealed the deal. A bright future indeed!
Long endless highway nights. Odious got a crash course in crown and anchor, and carnival history from Lance as he shifted gears through the night.
“First thing is to forget all that mechanical ‘hidden’ foot brake to stop the crown and anchor wheel. Ancient history- the rubes figured it out years ago. Big pissed-off farm boys who figured the dealer was a little too lucky. Leaned over the counter, grabbed the carney by his tacky printed disco shirt and looked down at his foot on a lever. Bounced the carney’s head off the board a few times, imprinted a new, tribal tattoo pattern from the pegs into the back of his skull.
“Times have changed: This is the digital era! Hidden microelectronics and a magnet built into the axle, can’t be seen. Signal by Wi-Fi from two touch-sensitive panels, one taped to each leg under your jeans. You set suit or crown, anchor, the program slows and stops the wheel in a very natural-appearing fashion. Tap up an occasional winner, just to keep ‘em coming ‘We have a winner!’. Mostly we have losers!
“The code is easy; I’ll show you when we set up. Keep up the bullshit, talk to them, flatter the girls, tell the rube he’s lucky to have her. They’ll never notice a few finger taps on your leg as you key in the code.
“All cash, too! My job is to oversee your wheel and the other three games I own. The losing bets are swept into a trough that funnels into a locked steel box. I empty the boxes and make sure that you have a float, spell you for food and drinks etc. Security is easy- a push of the panic button under the counter will bring some very nasty carnies to deal with any bumpkins who may decide to rearrange your face after their pockets are emptied.”
They rolled into the fairgrounds of their destination early in the morning. Spent the day setting up the attractions, learning and practising the code, intros to the other carnies. Lance provided a bunk in the sleeping quarters built into the trailer. “Unless you want to spend some time in my bunk in the tractor, sweet thing!”
The next day was the first day of the six-day fair. The cash flow started slowly but by the Friday, as Odious got the rhythm and patter down the cash piled up. Odious had more money at the end of the week than he had ever had in his whole, admittedly short, career. Visions of empire flashed through his mind.
After the fair closed down the carnies hit the nearest tavern for the obligatory drunken fights with the local thugs. Lance, of course, was targeted for ridicule due to his outlandish leather gear. He barked an insult right back at the biggest tough guy in the room who jumped over a table to get his meat-grinder paws on Lance. The crowd was stunned to see Lance put the tough guy on his ass, seemingly without effort. Lance was a martial arts expert.
The fight was on, chairs flying, broken heads and limbs. It was spectacular!
Odious had found his groove. Carnival life was his university of upper learning. He earned his degree from some of the best scam artists he had ever met, and he was stashing a lot of cash. Odious was finally a model student.
Late night, after the rubes had gone home broke, they had the usual get together: bottles and reefers passed around, trailer food, music from a boom box, chatter about the day, crazy stories and laughter. Odious suddenly feels an overpowering attraction to Tiny Tina of the sideshow attraction ‘Tiny Tina and Tall Tony.’
“You’re really cute, for a midget.”
Tall Tony stepped up.
“That’s little person, asshole.”
Tall Tony followed with a left-right jab combo. Tall Tony, advertised as just shy of four feet tall, was actually 3 feet 4 inches, so his perfect straight-ahead jabs unfortunately lined up with Odious’ balls.
Attraction to Tina ends. Just another lesson towards his degree.
The weeks and the towns rolled into the golden Ontario autumn. The fall fair circuit in Ontario provided future bragging rights about having travelled the world. Yep, Odious had been to Paris, Brussels, Stratford, Scotland, Zurich, London and more.
The fair season ended a huge success. Lance, impressed with Odious’ earning performance, agreed to a 50/50 split for the next season. Odious left with a bag full of cash, confident that sunny skies and success were his.
His plan was to hit the big city for the winter with his stake to support him, and find ‘work’. Hopefully a good fat easy score of cash.
Lance’s home for winter was in the opposite direction. Odious solved transport by stealing a car. He drove it to a casino outside the city, parked it and then took the ‘gambling granny’ bus back to the nursing home. Rode passenger with a happy granny who’d won a few bucks, chatting her up the whole ride. He left her at the home with a big smile on her face, a kiss on the cheek and a purse emptied of cash.
Odious hopped on a bus heading into the dazzling lights of the big city.
Odious had never been to a large city before and found the first weeks daunting. Overwhelmed by the sheer size, the crowds, and the noise. And the cops- they were everywhere, bristling with weapons and technology, preening in their authority, racing around with sirens blaring.
Mrs Lucia’s, an east end boarding house, took care of his lodging and two meals a day. They were the first home cooked meals Odious had since high school. Days he spent walking, learning his way around, getting a feel for the street.
He was shocked by grifters trying to scam him. And the mouth on some of the hookers on the street was unbelievable. Odious had always been quick with the insult, sharp-tongued and mean. Plus Oats the elder, his vocabulary teacher, was a master of cursing. But these women? Wow. He had actually been in fear of a woman for the first time in his life. Well, he thought it was a woman… very well built, but her makeup didn’t quite hide a 5 o’clock shadow and her voice seemed a bit deep.
Evenings he spent in a local bar that featured country music. No gangsta types in there and the beer was cheap enough. It was easy for Odious to charm the regulars with his carney stories and hints of past glories.
One night Micky walked into the bar. They had served time together in reform school. He was a large tough, formidable farm boy back then. Reform school had toughened him and scarred his body. He had thick, hairy forearms capable of throwing a hay bale through the side of a barn. Not a man to insult or bullshit.
Odious bought him a beer, they sat down and caught up on old times, what’cha bin’ doin, where ya bin since release from reform?
“I ran into Zeke a few months ago,” Mickey said, “he’s just out of the hospital, kinda beat up. You might wanna keep an eye open for Zeke, he wasn’t too happy when your name came up.
He told me about the big heist that went bad. Almost pissed my pants laughing at that story. So what’s up next, Oats? ya gonna stick up the food bank?”
Oats Sr. had completed his adult education and was now a Master of Theology. He had the degree to prove it: a graduate of the American University of Metaphysics. It was a lovely specimen printed on a very impressive stock with the golden seal of the registrar (the signature was not quite decipherable) and a bargain at $50 from bogusdegrees.com.
His first bible miraculously came to him from the Gideons. God put it in his hand at a no-tell motel and told him to take it. Oats, hearing no admonishments from the Lord, knew that he was meant to be there with his very young escort. He did argue with her a bit about it being God’s will but ended up having to pay her anyway. Another wayward soul, a perfect subject for salvation, and slightly on the trashy side too- just the way he liked them.
The actual school that he attended was Evangelist Television. A few utility bills lifted from a mailbox got him a library card at the local library where, anonymously and conveniently, he studied religious tax laws
From television, he learned much about presentation: wardrobe, hairstyle, theatrical vocalizing, even back- up singers! He memorized lines, slogans, parables -all the hard-ass good stuff guaranteed to get the desired results.
But he also learned the most divine subject of religious studies: Seed Faith and Tax Law Applied. Tax-free exemptions for any registered church, parsonage, and more! A church could be the back room of a pub if all the parishioners agree it’s a church of worship. Perfect!
Pure gold. A good education always pays off.
Oats was now formally known as the Reverend Otis Oats. ‘Otis’ sounded righteous and it might give him cred with southern folk.
He started off small, a guest preacher on the rural Bible Belt circuit in his province. He sharpened his skills weekly. The churches were a bit conservative at first but Otis found his groove and they responded well. He dropped hints about ‘seed donation’- donate cash and you will be rewarded for the hardships you suffer now. Repeat endlessly, have more faith, your cancer will heal, money will pour back your way. The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways, and Otis was the conduit to understanding how best to interpret divine methods.
He had a professional makeover; hair, hands manicured, off the rack suits that were almost respectable. His performance was recorded on a cheap digital camera with a live feed to his new website. The web version had back up singers and a great B3 organ soundtrack sampled (lifted) from gospel recordings.
The number of web hits increased weekly and Otis knew he had a winning formula. The Reverend Otis Oats was trusted to deliver the true word. No need for snakes, no tents, not even a brick-and-mortar building. His tax-free parsonage was the finest available hotel on the circuit. Live performance demand rose in proportion to the generously rewarded local clergy.
The next several years went very well indeed for Otis. Until a very unwelcome face from the past confronted him after a particularly rousing sermon at one of the most lucrative churches on the circuit. His confronter was employed as a guard at the prison where Oats had served as a heavy bag substitute, and Oats had taken the mother’s pension for two months running.
Hospitalized, recovering, once again in traction, Oats was served for income tax evasion. A grunt from under the face bandages sufficed as an affirmative answer when asked if he was Oats. The summons server tucked the papers under Oats’ chest cast, and then he was gone.
Long dreary winter in the foreign land of the big city wore Odious down. Hustlers and pimps, vicious youths not even shaving yet but with a straight razor at the ready, flashing enormous handguns under baggy hooded jackets. Further downtown the shiny lives of the rich with glossy trophy wives and smug sneers that said you don’t belong.
Whatever became of rock and roll? Talk not sing bad poetry repetitive canned licks mindless rhythm boom thump streetcar clangs brakes scream cops howl past fire engines dreadful noises in the deserted night. It was all too much.
After an afternoon and evening drinking draught at his local, he thought a nice big tattoo on his back might cheer him up, and the carney people were sure to love it! Alas, even that didn’t end well. “Eagle? I thought you said beagle…”
Odious made a decision. He loved the carney life, but he would spend winters in a foreign place, somewhere warm like Mexico. He couldn’t understand the language here in the city, how hard could it be to learn Mexican?
With a month to go before the carney season began, he contacted Lance and made arrangements to meet him a few weeks early and help with repairs and upgrades. Life already looked better.
An afternoon, beers in the pub, Hank Williams on the juke, Micky told him of a sure score. Micky’s current squeeze was a bingo addict and she told him about the guaranteed high stakes winner every week, last game of the night worth a minimum 10 grand! They would wait in the shadows of the parking lot, the bimbo would call Micky and describe the winner. Easy-peasy, they wear disguises and threaten some old broad who’d likely piss her pants and hand over the cash. Three-way split, ok? Ok.
Night of the heist, Odious plays it smart, slips out the back door after telling Mrs Lucia thanks for the great meal, think I’ll take a snooze. Walking quietly down the alley.
From the shadows a vicious snarl: “Hello, Oats”
Turns around brief glimpse- Zeke! – evil face, a blur of motion then nothing but darkness.
It was a perfectly executed home run swing with a 36 ounce Louisville Slugger- none of that beer league aluminum bat nonsense for Zeke now, this was the big league! The bat hit Odious’ head with a resounding crack, a sound that Zeke would forever treasure. He took off down the alley yelling “Grand slam!”
Odious was identified by fingerprints as dental records were out of the question. Among numerous fake id’s and stolen credit cards in his wallet, a lottery ticket was found. It subsequently turned out to be the winning number worth $14.3 million. Odious had not signed it.
Copyright 2017 David Ritchie