“You’re awfully quiet this morning, Steve,” Dud said to his buddy, the cowboy with the haystack mustache.

“No sleep,” Steve mumbled, his chin propped on his hands. The other members of the Mule Barn truck stop’s world dilemma think tank smelled an issue and were instantly alert. You can’t save the world if you don’t have an issue.

“You guys watching too much late night TV out in the bunkhouse?” Doc asked.

“I wish we had,” Steve said. “It’s just that dadgummed Three-Chord Cortez.”

Three-Chord was known far and wide for his exuberant incompetence with a guitar. Steve’s boss hires Three-Chord and some others to help on special occasions.

“His guitar playing is terrible,” Steve explained, taking a sip of coffee, “but now it’s worse … way worse!”

“How could anything be worse than Three-Chord Cortez’s guitar playing?” Dud said.

Steve looked up.

“He’s singing now!”

There was a deadly hush as the members of the supreme court of darn-near everything took that in.

“Not good?” Doc asked, quietly.

“Not good? Oh dear Aunt Sadie’s chrome corset!” Steve replied. “It’s like … dragging a milk can along on pavement. It’s like removing a guy’s appendix without anesthetic. It’s like …”

“We get the picture,” Dud said.

“The worst of it is … I mean the worst … is that he doesn’t know any songs. Not a one. I mean … none. All he knows is one phrase of one song and he sings it over and over and over and he thinks he’s the Sons of the Pioneers. He tells us this phrase is a sure-fire way to get women interested in you. You serenade them from the front lawn and the lovely lady immediately invites you in for coffee and snickerdoodles.”

“So what’s the phrase?” asked Dewey.

Steve looked from one to the other. “I’ll give it to you just the way he gave it to us.”

“You don’t know what lonesome is, ‘til you start herdin’ co-o-o-o-o-o-ows!”

Steve took that last note up into a coyote howl and people were holding their ears and trying to quiet crying children.

“See what I mean?” Steve said. Nods all around.

Doc drew himself up. “I think the girls ask Three-Chord in just to keep the neighbors from calling the dog pound.”

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