Billy shoots the sheriff in the J Bar J

WILLIAM DONALDSON'S w e e k
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The Independent Online
On returning from America last week, I was able at last to help the hard-pressed Mr Rod Ellis, of North Street, Clapham, with 101 Things Streetwise People Do.

A streetwise journalist, instructed by the Independent's news desk to follow up a story in Miami - but aware that in this fashion-conscious city teenagers on roller-skates are likely to mug visitors for their Air Jordans - pursues his scoop with a tyre-iron up his sleeve. Within minutes he is mugged by a garagiste, who steals his tyre-iron.

Alternatively, the streetwise journalist, not caring to bruise all the way to Miami for a scoop, but keen that the Independent's news desk should think he's there, goes underground in London, having first devised a telephone answering code with Honest John - his supplier of Prozac - so that Honest John will be able to reach him but the Independent's news desk won't. Unfortunately, the code is so simple the Independent's news desk cracks it immediately, catches the journalist at home and calls him a horse.

Meanwhile, there's more bad news, I'm afraid, from Colorado's ski resorts. While Al Kiburas, chief of police in Breckenridge, continues to search Daily Mail readers internally for drugs, the sheriff of Fairplay, which is a few miles down the road, has been shot in the J Bar J by a mountain man on stilts called Billy Burkehart.

Billy Burkehart always wore stilts as part of his criminal modus operandi. He attached animal paws to the ends of the stilts, hoping thus to persuade the sheriff that, since there were only animal tracks at the scene of his various burglaries, they must have been carried out by delinquent raccoons.

The sheriff wasn't deceived and challenged Billy Burkehart to a shoot-out in the J Bar J. Billy Burkehart walked in on stilts and shot the sheriff, but, because he had shot himself in the leg while practising for the shoot-out, he fell headfirst off his stilts into a party of Fionas and Malcolms.

You don't expect accidents of this nature apres-ski if you read the Daily Mail. You expect on-piste to be flattened while queueing for the ski-lift by a fat, hurtling girl from Hendon, but you don't apres-ski expect a mountain man on stilts to shoot the Sheriff and fall on top of you.

Nor should you infer from this that, having returned to London last week, I then went back to Colorado on the instructions of the Independent's news desk. Far from it. Just like you, I have learnt about Billy Burkehart and the sheriff of Fairplay by reading this column, and the details have surprised me as much as they must have surprised you.

Let me explain. Because I had been persuaded last week that the Independent's news desk would be interested in the Princess of Wales's personal arrangements in Colorado, I filed the wrong story. The Independent's news desk hadn't given two stuffs for thePrincess of Wales's personal arrangements but had wanted me to discover whether the Miami Dolphins were Super Bowl contenders. I should fly back to America, they said, and cover the Dolphins' play-off game against the San Diego Chargers.

Frankly, I didn't fancy it. While I'd been faffing around in Colorado on the wrong story, work had been piling up in London (Mr Rod Ellis, of North Street, Clapham, is becoming increasingly impatient, as is Mr David Liddiement, the BBC's gifted head of entertainment, who wants to know whether Rachel Garley has agreed yet to wear a blonde wig to play Frankie Fraser's friend, the lovely Marilyn, in El Independo, my satirical soap for BBC2), and in any case, and with all due respect to the Independent's news desk, someone as expert in American football as I am could easily cover a game from London which was taking place in San Diego.

Resisting the temptation to write a piece about rugger (specifically, and because I could as easily not go to the West Country as not go to San Diego, asking why, when Will Carling is getting fatter every day and Jeremy Guscott has lost a yard of pace, the England selectors don't play both our most talented players - the little lad Catt from Bath and the little lad Hull from Bristol), I told the Independent's news desk that I was returning to America, but, instead, went underground in London - first devising a telephone answering code with Honest John in case I should need a new supply of Prozac. Then, and three days before the game took place, I wrote a piece in which I argued that the Dolphins, in spite of their acquisition of a running game in the shape of Bernie Parmalee, would in the event be narrowly beaten by the Chargers.

Parmalee was promising, I said, but the Chargers' defence was the third most successful in the NFL against the rush and any threat from Parmalee would be snuffed out early. More seriously, Dan Marino would be let down by a defence which all season had missed important tackles - a fatal habit against a running-back as capable as Natrone Means of coming up with decisive plays in the fourth quarter.

Nor was I silly enough to file this from London. Since the Independent's news desk assumed I was in America, I faxed my copy to Neil the Shirt in Colorado and told him to fax it to the Independent.

Imagine my surprise when my telephone rang with the appropriate code and, expecting Honest John, I answered it. It wasn't Honest John, but the Independent's news desk.

"That's the easiest code to crack yet devised,'' they said. "And what's all this about a mountain man called Billy Burkehart shooting the sheriff of Fairplay in the J Bar J?''

"It's news to me,'' I said. "Neil the Shirt must have filed his story instead of mine. He thinks that what happens to Daily Mail readers in American ski resorts is of interest to the Independent.''

"And so it is,'' they said. "We'll be running his column instead of yours.''

That's the bad news. The good news is that I've come up with another entry for 101 Things Streetwise People Do. Honest John, who's on the run, has been confounded by his own nose for a story. He's scooped himself to the Daily Star, selling then the details of his escape from Pentonville. Only later did it hit him that he couldn't collect the fee without revealing his whereabouts - which is what he's done. That's pretty streetwise, I think you'll agree.

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