In my last column, I teased y’all about my personal history with Chuck Box, author of the Joe Pickett novels. My editor elbowed my ribs and allowed as how I shouldn’t leave CSD readers hanging like that, so here we go.
It's no secret that Box likes to populate his novels with characters named after folks he knows in real life. That’s how I found myself transformed into Rodney “Mandan” Miller in his first book, Open Season.
Without going into too much detail, one of the main plot drivers in Open Season is a little mustelid that had long been thought extinct until one showed up in Joe Pickett’s woodpile.
This little critter, the Miller’s Weasel, took its name from a surveyor with the Lewis & Clark expedition, Rodney “Mandan” Miller, who stepped into a burrow and broke his leg.
As I recall, Mandan died in agony out in the Big Empty, a thousand miles from his cherished fleshpots in St. Louis. The Miller’s Weasel went extinct – or so everyone thought – until he turned up in Pickett’s woodpile and helped launch an exemplary Western literary career.
Chuck signed a first edition of Open Season for me, and inscribed it “To Rodney “Mandan” Miller…” followed by some flowery prose about the second-worst football player on the planet or something like that. I don’t have the book anymore, so I can’t quote the exact inscription. And that brings us to the rest of the story.
I cherished that book, because it's the closest I ever got to being famous. I hauled it around with me through two marriages and across several states. I’d wave it around during parties and exclaim, “Y’all are drinkin’ with a celebrity tonight!”
I lost the book during our move from Corpus Christi to deeper into the Confederacy. We were choosing which books to keep and which to donate to the used book store, and Open Season found its way into the wrong pile. I blame the going-away party the night before and all those Everclear frappe’s.
Unpacking in the hills of northern Georgia, my heart sank as I realized that, just like my namesake, Open Season hadn’t survived the trip.
A couple years later, I heard a rumor around the ol’ campfire that Chuck was pissed off at me, madder’n a boiled badger.
Apparently, Chuck was doing book signing in Dallas or Denver or somewhere, and a guy with a Texas drawl asked to have his copy of Open Season signed. Tex said something like, “You already signed it to this guy, can you sign it to me?” Chuck saw his original inscription to me and immediately removed me from his Christmas card list.
Years later, the sagebrush telegraph was abuzz with a rumor that Chuck abruptly terminated an interview when he was asked about his feud with Mandan. I should have paid a lot closer attention when I was packing for the move.
While we’re cordial to one another now on the rare occasions that we bump into each other, Chuck and I have never sat down over a beer to set the record straight. He knows I still love him, but I also think there’s a certain symmetrical irony in how things stand now. It's almost literary.
And, in the back of my mind, I have this nightmare scenario where I say something to piss him off even worse. If that happened, I might find Rodney “Mandan” Miller resurrected in the next Joe Pickett novel as a three hundred-year old zombie ghoul who time-travels here to kidnap Marie Osmond.
My next death would be staked to the ground in that rough country around Hole-In-The Wall, with my flesh being slowly consumed by buzzards trained by Nate Romanowski, who is really, really good at revenge.