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The John A. Blatnik Bridge (R) is seen through the fog crossing from Duluth, Minnesota over to Superior, Wisconsin, United States, May 28, 2015. Shortly after taking office in 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker traveled to this hardscrabble port city t

“Hole in the World” 

“For any reader who has ever pointed their fortunes north and let their moral compass waver, or loves reading about well-crafted antiheroes, O’Neill’s collection is an intense but entertaining dive into another world.” – SPR review

I turn around and face the sidewalk, folding my arms across my chest. I rock back on my heels a bit. By George, we’re having some fun now. I stand there waiting and all I get for entertainment is this young college guy across the street in the doorway of the flophouse Lexington Hotel, dry-humping and tongue kissing this old hag of a barfly. I’m getting ready to yell at them and condemn their public indecency when I hear an engine start up behind me. 

Roy is backing out of a parking space now. Has his arm out the window waving me on. I run up to the black Cadillac Eldorado and jump inside to plush, charcoal-gray leather seats. Roy is snorting and laughing and looking at me proudly. Am I supposed to praise him? I don’t know; I never had kids.

“Jesus, man, this is unobtrusive?” I strain for politeness. “This is stealth?  We’ll be riding down the highway to the Grey Rock Hotel in this goddamn pimp car.”

“Calmly, please, calmly. Let’s think this out, Donny. This car is black. It is night. It is dark, or you could say black, at night. We will fit right in.”

“It’s a goddamn almost new Caddy. Perhaps a bit ostentatious for an—a—Native American—don’t you think?  I mean, no offense meant, but it doesn’t seem like your people are exactly burning up the place around here. With financial success, I mean.”

“Again my son, I shall say to you: The car is black. The night is black. The crow is black. Bear shit is black. We will be fine as long as I stay the speed limits. There are a lot of rich assholes from Chicago up that way, staying at the condos. This car will fit right in, like I said, no problem. Cops up the shore are usually too busy busting teen-age girls and coercing blowjobs from them in exchange for leniency, to be checking out any hot list from Souptown. As long as you got the money, honey, I got the ride. Besides, I’ve always wanted to drive a car with the fabulous Northstar System. Whatever the fuck that is. Look at the dash on this thing.”

“Cockpit City. Now I really need a drink.” 

He drives me back to the rooming house. I grab a few necessities and we’re on the way. Before we leave town we stop at a liquor store and pick up a few supplies.

 

We are about halfway across this big bridge, the John C. Blatnik Bridge it says on a green sign, when I start to feel pretty good. I stare out at the lights on the hillside of approaching Duluth, Minnesota. It isn’t bad to look at, at one a.m. All the drugs and stuff swirling around inside me seem to have found some common ground. 

Look, I’m not recommending drugs. In fact, I hate all that pharmacy shit: pills and capsules. It’s all poison. If any kids are reading this, I’ll tell you right now: Stay away from drugs. Nuff said.

But this is going to be one of those nights; I can feel it. The Great American Night: A fine automobile, a lunatic for a companion, a damn near full moon and the unknown lying just ahead. 

The ride is a dandy: fantastic stereo, the most comfortable seats I’ve ever been in, and it moves like a dream. I look over at Roy and he’s almost glowing, chewing Juicy Fruit, popping the radio from station to station in search of the perfect song and smoking a rum-soaked crook. The air system in the Caddy is good: sucks out that smoke real nice. 

We cruise through Duluth and hook up with the Scenic North Shore Drive. Up above it there’s a nice four-laner but Roy says the winding two-lane scenic route is the way to go. The moon is putting a big glow on the inky waters of Gitchee Gummi. Roy told me that was what the Indians called Lake Superior. I ask him what it means, and he says he doesn’t know, which seems weird to me. All he knows, he says, is that the lake has a power and a spirit all its own. Beautiful but cold. Alluring but frigid.

Like a thirty-year-old virgin, I say, and he looks at me funny.

We glide along the winding road drinking cans of Bud from the two twelve-packs in the back seat. They are getting warm fast so I have Roy pull over while I throw one twelver in the trunk. When I get back in, Roy hands me the weed and I roll a bunch of joints. 

We smoke some. We aren’t saying much. We cruise by houses with friendly looking lights inside. We roll by a few taverns and a store and cross a small bridge at the French River. And then it is just blackness and we are fitting right in. 

Roy says we’re almost to “Kaniffy River,” about three times.

I’m thinking that’s a funny name for a river, until we come to this fishing village name of Knife River. 

I look at him funny.

A glowing, neon “Smoked Fish” sign is our welcome. There is a closed general store, a used car lot and not much else. The river is wide and dark and running heavy. I open the window as we pass over and I can hear the water moving down below; a fresh smell rising up.

Then we’re rolling into the moon-glow darkness again and I’m yearning for something. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s up here ahead on this road. Sign says, Two Harbors.

Christ, I’m getting squirrelly. I got green money waiting for me. After I lock that shit in the trunk, then I can be a poet. Right now I can feel all warm and fuzzy because I got a 9mm Glock pistol in a grocery sack in the back seat. The Glock is a smooth item: efficient and deadly and uncaring. Elegant and brutish. Shit, it’s probably the sons and daughters of Nazis making these guns. That’s why they shoot so damn good. 

That’s right, I said I had the gun in a grocery sack. The sack is my luggage, my favorite brand: the good old, brown paper grocery bag.  If one piece gets lost or damaged, you can easily find a matching replacement.  Keeps the loggers in business, too. That must be something they do up here in Minnesota; sure is a lot of trees. And it gets dark in those trees when a cloud covers the moon and you’re driving along this snake of a highway.

(To be continued)

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Blog photo 34 needs cropping

“Hole in the World” 

He comes out back and I’m taking a piss by the dumpster. You spend a lot of time pissing by dumpsters in my style of life. “Roy, my friend,” I say, shaking it off and sticking it back in my pants. “I need your expert help. And I’m willing to pay for it.”

“Seriously folks?” he cracks. “My fellow American, you have my ear.”

“Roy, buddy, oh mystical guide to the hole in the day, I’m going to tell you something. No, never mind, I’m not. Changed my mind on that one. I do need a car, though. A car that no one’s going to notice—Mr. Workaday’s car. I really need to get out of this town, man. I’ve got some really pressing business just a few hours away from here and the fuckers aren’t answering their goddamn phone. And I need to get up there right away before—ah—in case something’s wrong.  Can you do something for me, pal?”

“Why don’t you just rent a car, Don?  There’s plenty available, even up this far north. Ain’t the fuckin’ Arctic Circle, y’know.”

“I don’t have any credit cards, my friend. Mastercard and Visa run the world, partner, and if you ain’t playing their game, you ain’t renting no fuckin’ car.”

“Man of the world like yourself, Don, you don’t carry any plastic?”

“Don’t act so goddamn surprised. How many cards you got?”

“I had a bunch a few years back when I was working at the casino, but I’m afraid the accounts have all been temporarily severed from my possession. I guess they expect you to pay the money back.”

“Yeah, ain’t it a pisser—banks and their gall.”

Roy pulls in a deep breath and stares up at the almost full moon. I watch a rat scamper underneath a shiny blue Chevrolet and down the way a car horn bends its searing note to the intoxicated neon night. 

And then Roy says, “Shit, man, I left my bag inside with Trudy and Ava. Those whores’ll rob me blind.” 

He takes off for the door.

Being a thinker, I jog across the parking lot and down to the street corner just in time to meet the Stolten sisters hot-footing it toward the taxi stand. By the time Roy catches up, all sweaty and excited, his bag is safely in my hands and the girls are safely rolling away in the Yellow Cab. They were more than happy to give me the bag after I told them Roy had a gun. I figured it was the best way to deal with a potentially dangerous and otherwise unwisely encountered situation. I mean, Roy’s jaw muscles were working like locusts in a wheat field and his eyes were glowing like the high beams on a semi at four in the morning. Discretion was the better part of valor here, man; know what I’m saying?

Roy eyes me suspiciously, as if to say, who the fuck do you think you are, then he grabs the bag and shrugs. He shakes his head and laughs softly. “All right, you win,” he says. “We’ll go get a car now, Mr. Ex-con. I guess I owe you now, huh? Anyway, that’s what you think, eh?” He smiles some more, eyes bleeding red, and then goes into some kind of weird Indian dance routine which I think is just for my benefit. After he finishes dancing, he starts singing: “Okay Joe, we gotta go, me-o my-o,” rattling it off with a hip–hop beat. Fucking indigenous rap artist.

I just suck up some air and hold it in, praying for good fortune. Anything is better than waiting. I’m getting eaten up, by this waiting. I just have to get to the Moser’s.

Now we are heading somewhere on main street, Tower Avenue. My guy is walking fast, leaning forward, his arms swinging back and forth against the sides of his red-and-black checkered lumberjack coat.

“What the hell, Roy,” I say. What fuckin’ hole in the world are you taking me to now?”

“We’re going to Roy’s own personal used car lot, man. It’s right down the block. Just you wait and see.”

We cross the railroad tracks and come to this huge gray warehouse. Looks like it used to be one of those discount retail outlets that sprung up all over the place in the seventies. Now it houses two bars—Starland and The Classic. A parking lot almost a block long and a half a block wide runs along the south side. Tonight the lot is full of cars, some of them way back in the dark where the pavement turns to gravel. 

I’m thinking that Roy sure knows what he’s doing but then we don’t stop at the dark parking lot, we keep on walking. 

Here we go again.

“Hey man,” I say, lingering behind. “This lot looks perfect to me. We can just wait out here until some drunk stumbles out to his car and then we cold-cock him and take his keys—’nuff said.”

“That’s not the way I work anymore, Don. Stealth is the key word for the wizened ones, my son. Besides, you haven’t told me the story yet. What it is you’re so hot-pants antsy about that you can’t spend any time with the fine women I find for us?”

“Excuse me? Stealth is cutting a hole in your girlfriend’s fuckin’ floor?  Flooring the getaway car down the alley is stealth?  You’re fuckin’ crazy, man. A fuckin’ lunatic. I should take a goddamn taxi up to Hovland.”

“Hovland? You’re going up the Shore? Why didn’t you say so?  I was born up in Grand Marais. Actually Grand Portage, at the reservation there. And that’s close to Hovland. Yeah man, I lived up there until eighth grade. Then I had to leave because I shot a kid in the ear.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, that is correct. Indian boy shoots white boy in ear with deadly arrow. Me and some other kids—they were all white—I’m the only skin there—were fooling around with this homemade bow one afternoon. Our arrow was just a stick with a nail in it. We were all shooting the thing, you know, but it’s me who fires off the seventy-five yard shot that hits little Jimmy Nelson square in the ear. Leave it to the skin boy to fuck something up.”

“All’s right with the world then, I guess. But rein it in, man; I never said I needed a driver, just a car. I think I can find my way there by myself. I took a course in map reading—in prison.  Always trying to better myself, you know.”

“Man, there’s shit up there that only someone like me knows about. Roads and people and rivers. The highway runs right along the North shore of Lake Superior. There’s heavy magic along that road. You need me. If your shit is bad, things can happen to you up there.” He takes a toothpick out of his jacket pocket, sticks it in the corner of his mouth and starts grinding away. 

“What do you mean, if my shit is bad?”

“If your spirit is struggling with the rest of you, or if you are weakened by a disease of the spirit.”

“Sounds like a lot of happy horseshit. And somehow, you don’t seem so spiritual—in the pharmaceuticals department—if you know what I mean.”

“Shit, man, I’m on a first-name basis with every evil spirit on the North Shore. We’re all old friends. They don’t even bother with me anymore because they already fucked me over in every way possible.” He pauses for effect. “Now don’t try and kid me, Don. I know you got some kind of big dope deal going down or something like that. I ain’t seen hash like that chunk of yours—not for a long time around here. Me no drive, then much sorry—no car for you, Johnny.”

“Okay Roy, whatever you say. I ain’t got time to argue with a nut case. You truly are a magical mystical motherfucker. And you guessed right. It is a dope score. Hashish coming in over the pole. How did you guess? But here’s my plan: I’ll give you a grand now for the car and two grand when we get back here. Provided there’s no more fuckin’ around.”

“You got a deal, Al Caponi. What type of vehicle do you prefer?  Two door? Four door? Sport utility? Minivan?”

“How about something—shall we say, unobtrusive? Low profile?”

“General Motors unobtrusive, Ford unobtrusive or imported unobtrusive? Just don’t ask for Chrysler. I don’t do Chrysler. A man has to have his values intact.” He turns his head slowly from side to side, scoping out the parking lot. “Tell you what, Don. You watch my back and I’ll go get us a real nice vehicle. Something your mother would be proud of. Got my handy dandy all-purpose used car converter right here in my bag of tricks.”

He sticks his hand down inside the satchel and digs around at the bottom, squinting in the dim light. Out comes a six-inch diameter metal ring with about five pounds worth of car keys strung around it. He shakes it like a shaman’s rattle. The sound is like “Tambourine Man” as done by Judas Priest. “I used to work repo for a car dealer over in Duluth,” he says, smiling, proud of himself. He holds out the keys. “These were my severance pay.” Then he sniffs a bunch of times, rapid fire, and disappears into the dark end of the lot. 

(To be continued)

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Tom photo recropped

https://www.amazon.com/T.K.-ONeill/e/B09HPBWMJF

https://bluestonesblog.com/reviews/

In the spirit of true pulp… an utter joy… downright good reading.”

“… immensely entertaining…”

“… great hard-boiled writing…”

“Ray Bradbury said zest and gusto are among the most important elements to a writer’s makeup. (O’Neill)… may never have read this advice, but he writes like he has. His work sparkles with gusto…”

“(O’Neill) writes his tales from the dark side well.  His dialogue, in particular, sparks with life, and… the clever by-play between characters drives the plot and develops the characters expertly.”

“Another of (O’Neill’s) strengths is his action scenes—and there are a lot of them, as you’d expect with violent and unpredictable characters. His pacing is immaculate, and he handily transitions between introspection, slow scenes and pulse-pounding action.”

“(O’Neill) followed his loves and his hates into a book that holds your attention and enters your psyche.  It presents a coherent, if nasty, picture of the human condition and the world we live in.”

“Frankly, a lot of writers don’t get as far as (O’Neill) did… having something to say and saying it with a little zest and gusto.”

“This collection of short stories is like a peepshow curtain pulled back. You don’t want to look, but you can’t help it. And, when you do, your disgust is tempered by an amazement that makes you want to look – just a little bit more. There are few heroes— at least not the kind who get the girl, the house or win the lottery.”

…. a lean style that he uses well to establish the outlines of his characters early in the stories. Over the course of a few pages he artfully fills in those sketches, refusing to “stay inside the lines.” His laconic descriptions of failed schemes and skewered lives result in wonderfully entertaining tales about the perils and pratfalls of a menagerie of people that can’t help but make you feel better about yourself.”

“These tales are full of people who live their lives to the fullest, in a bizarre way – and examining where, exactly, they end up can be disturbing. Their dreams, often, are the things that make up nightmares for “normal” people. But his characters are the real McCoy…”

From SHOTS Magazine, UK, reviewed by author Russell James:   “Four tales of the coldest North American states… crammed with hard men, hard language, snow and speed.  The backgrounds are good – low bars, cheap diners, empty motels, lonesome shacks – and the characters are tough and quick with their firearms…  These are punch and shoot ’em stories, make it up as you go along; tough and for all we know, authentic … (O’Neill) can write…”

From judge’s comments at Minnesota Book Awards: “…vulgar, violent, venomous.”

From Canadian Chapters.Indigo review: “A beautiful scene in the wilderness—hiding some grisly secrets… mystery writer (T.K. O’Neill) combines the traditional hard-boiled style of James Cain to create a harrowing story of devil worship, death, lawlessness and crime…”

From SHOTS Magazine, Great Britain, reviewed by Mike Stotter, Editor:   “….His writing is dark and twisted, like his characters.

From Reader Weekly:   “…a part of O’Neill’s talent… a character that no one likes but everyone wishes well.”

“You won’t come away with a warm feeling for the Sunshine State… if anything, you’ll realize how the suffocating heat of the humid Southland seems to encourage slithering snakes and festering parasites.”

“(T.K. O’Neill) throws worlds of hurt at his ne’er-do-well characters… in the spirit of Raymond Chandler… his writing process builds on trouble… the underside of the American Dream… a perfect example of noir…”

From The Corresponder (Minnesota State University):  “(O’Neill) is a writer who isn’t afraid to take chances with his story. There are no good guys or bad guys here. (O’Neill) lets his characters run wild and take the reader on a fast paced ride. Feels like classic crime noir with the insanity of a mental ward tossed in for good measure.”

“…his prose soars fast and high and reflects a keen eye for character, plot and setting, and follows the most convoluted stream of events with ease.”

“(O’Neill’s) talented writing is not for the fainthearted of rough talk and experience.  He gives keen insight to the exterior and interior world of a lost man.”

“While the language and environment are in rough-hewn speak, (O’Neill’s) writing has an underlying elegance and his characterization a developed depth.  There is some playful surface dry humor weaving in and out of a tough world context.  Expressed through the series and in this book is a substantially perceptive sense of humanity and lost humanity.”

“While on a wholly different track, and in a style all his own, there are darkened shades reminiscent of David Lindsey, James Lee Burke and John D. McDonald in the Keith Waverly series.”

 

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Blog photo 35

“Hole in the World” 

And he is just about right. We drive into a rundown section of town—tiny, sagging houses all jammed together—until we come to a boarded up little number on a corner lot. Roy turns in the alley and jerks the big boat into the two mud ruts that serve as a driveway for the brown-shingled garage standing next to the dark little corner house. 

Once we’re under the sagging roof, Roy pulls down the squeaky, crooked, overhead door and slides a rock over the strap at the bottom. Strips of streetlight peer in through the sides. Roy takes the plates off the Lincoln with a Swiss army knife and we are soon out of there. He tells me the house is empty, used to belong to his uncle, but the city condemned it on some trumped up deal about the plumbing and the electricity.

We walk about a block and a half while Roy goes on joyfully about his sawing a hole in the floor of his girl’s kitchen so he can drop down into the pharmacy below. How sweet it was, he says.  Had it all planned for months, he says. Knew the perfect spot to cut and everything, he says.  

Then we come to a little parking lot at the rear of a bar and he tosses the now folded-up plates into a dumpster. I see a red and white Leinenkugel’s Beer sign above the back entrance of the building and we stroll in. 

I find out later it’s called The Downtown Bar, but to me it’s just another piss-and-puke joint with an asshole for a bartender and bigger assholes for clientele. 

Roy and I take a booth in the back by the men’s room. I notice he is still carting around his satchel full of burglar tools and pharmaceuticals. I know right then that I’m slipping. Too many things on my mind.  Just trying to get out of this town and I run into this crazy motherfucker. But, you know, I’m thinking this dude’s kind of fun. I kind of like the guy. And he has all those drugs. I’m starting to feel like Jack Kerouac now.

I go up to the bar and order a shot of Jack Daniels and a tap beer for myself, and a Bacardi Coke for Roy. The bartender is a skinny guy in a long sleeved maroon shirt made from petroleum products. His black hair is greased back flat on his head and he’s watching some talk show on the tube: an Indian and a Black and a Hispanic dude having a panel discussion about race problems. The barman is fixing our drinks when he turns to his two cronies down the bar and says: “Them people just ain’t as smart as white people, and that’s a fact. They just don’t have the same mental capacity.”

The bald guy and the fat guy nod their agreement and I’m thinking that these three white guys’ IQs added together wouldn’t equal a perfect score in bowling, if you catch my drift.

I get back to our table and find two Percocets and a Brown + Clear lying there on the table waiting for me. My personal version of the Green Bay Speedball, Roy says. This is not my usual modus operandi. But I’m thinking Kerouac, so I knock the pills down the hatch with the soapy tasting tap beer.

By the time the Perc is gnarling and twisting in my stomach and the speed is crawling up my spine, we’re on our way down the street to meet some “fine ladies”.  No car, you understand—we are walking. There are all these bars in this town, and they’re all so close to each other. It’s not a big town either. Just a bar town, I guess. Easy to find some action, Roy says. Now I can’t remember what I was worrying about anymore. Everything is going to be all right, I’m thinking.

So we’re walking down the street, kicking at the trash on the sidewalks—seems like there are flattened plastic cups everywhere—when Ray grabs my arm and pulls me into another sleazy bar. 

My tastes run towards the clean, well-lit drinking establishments at this point in my life, like the lounges at Holiday Inns—shit like that—but I’ve spent my share of time in places like Marlene’s: Music on the weekends, drugs all the time, good jukebox, nice looking chicks, drugs all the time.

So here I am, all fucked up—don’t know if I’m coming or going—and sometimes I think Roy is walking us right into a police sting operation of some sort. Then the Percs weave through and he suddenly becomes this magical spirit who’s showing off to impress me. Showing me how to find the Hole-in-the-Day and other indispensable lessons for a life on the road. Stuff you need to know to be free.

Time goes by. And I’m trying to have some fun, I swear to god.  But I just can’t get into it. These two chicks that Roy is hot on are sisters; I thought they were Indians at first. Turns out they’re Italian Jews, name of Stolten. Goes to show you never can tell. I get kind of interested in the older one (Ava) for a bit, but after about thirty minutes her drugs kick in and she goes from being stupid to moronic to imbecilic in an instant and I feel kind of sick. Kerouac must of been in more interesting bars than this. Pretty soon I can’t take it any longer; shit is building up. I tell Roy to meet me outside—without the women. 

(To be continued)

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“Hole in the World” 

We hang a U-turn in the middle of the block then head back south for a few blocks and make a right. I figure he’s going to his dealer’s place when we turn into the alley behind a forties-era strip mall: three shingled, seen-better-days two-story buildings adjoining a brick drugstore on the corner.

Roy parks the ratty Continental in the alley and I sit watching while he gets out and grabs a greasy canvas bag from the trunk then proceeds to climb up the drugstore wall. The corners of the building are built with the bricks protruding about an inch and a half on every other row, and old Roy just scurries right up that convenient little ladder like a monkey to a banana stash.  When he gets to the little flat area behind the second floor apartment, he disappears from my sight.

Now I’m freaking out. I should leave right away. It seems this guy is burglarizing the place while I sit waiting in the getaway car. Me with priors and almost a million bucks waiting for me up in God’s country. No way I should jeopardize that. I mean, I’m not running scared; I just have to get the hell out of this car. I go behind a dumpster where I can still see everything and take a piss. Roy doesn’t come out right away so I sit down at the base of an old oak tree and fire up a Kool. At least from here I can run if the cops come. The ground is wet but I plant my ass on one of the tree roots and stay dry. The ground has a pleasant musty smell until the wind swirls and I whiff the dumpster. 

Must be a half an hour before that crazy fucking Indian comes sweating back down the bricks and hops into his car. I can see him inside there behind the wheel, bathed in blue light, his head jerking all around. I know he’s thinking, Where the fuck is that guy, asshole out dropping a dime on me?

I time it so just as he backs out into the alley, I grab the door handle and rip it open. Only trouble is Roy sees the door fly open and floors it and damn near jerks my arm out of the socket. A couple of yards down the alley he realizes it’s me and starts laughing his ass off. I run up and get in and he floors it again like a fucking idiot and we go swerving and tire spinning down the dusty trail. I’m sure by then that every house for a square block has dialed 911.

None too pleased, I say, “What the fuck were you doing back there, Roy, buddy? If it was anything illegal I suppose I should say what did we do back there, because as long as I’m in this car with you, I’m an accessory. And that means I get to know what the fuck it was you were doing.”

“Oh, nothing much, man. No sweat, not to worry,” Roy says. He’s barely under control, lips sticking to his teeth. “Just something I been thinking about for a long time.”

“Whose apartment was that you just illegally entered?”       

“That was my girlfriend’s apartment.” 

“What’s the matter, lose your keys or something?”

“Yeah, I did, a long time ago. I should’ve said my ex-girl friend.  We just broke up. Just this minute. Only she doesn’t know it yet. I don’t think she’ll want me anymore now that I’ve ruined her kitchen floor.”

“Ah, man, what did you do, trash the place ’cause she’s balling someone else or some shit?” I’m imagining all sorts of weird shit he might have pulled.

“No, man.  I wouldn’t trash a woman’s place. I mean—for screwing somebody else. Nah, not me, it wasn’t like that.”

“What the fuck did you do then? I think I have a right to know. And one thing you need to know is that I got priors. That’s what you need to know. And if I need to get out of this car to keep from getting popped, I expect you to tell me.”

“I’m sorry, man,” he says. His eyes are sparkling, burning in the dashboard light. “Back at Mama’s I was thinking you might have done some hard time. I don’t want to get your ass in a sling, man, so maybe you’re right. Maybe we should ditch this car. Take off the plates and—”

“It’s still got registration numbers.”

“Yes, it does. But I never changed the title. Bought it from a skin off the rez—up by Bemidji—and they’ll never find that fucker. They come looking; he’ll just disappear into the woods. Probably stole the thing anyway. The plates, though, are mine—off an old Pontiac I had.”

“You still haven’t told me what you did back there in that apartment, Roy. You’re a tricky one, aren’t you?”

“And you’re a persistent one, Mr. I-Got-Priors. I was going to tell you, man. But you need to know one thing: I was an MP in the service and I fucked up a lot of tough guys when I was in. Some of ’em thought they were real fuckin’ bad, too—before they decided to mess with me, that is. So don’t think you can horn in on my action, here. I—”

“Listen, Roy, goddamnit. You brought me along on this, man. And now you got me wrong. This ain’t no strong arm. I got plenty action of my own that I’d like to get to without having to spend time in some jerkwater jail, that’s all.”

“Okay, Donny boy, then take a look in that bag back there and see if there’s anything you recognize. Besides the burglar tools, I mean.”

“Ha, ha, very funny. You’re a funny guy, Roy. So come on, tell me, funny guy, what did you do back there in your girlfriend’s apartment?” I snatch the greasy bag from the back seat and it’s so heavy I wrench my back a little. When I look inside I have the answer to my question: I’m not sure how he did it, but the fifty or sixty bottles of colorful pills lying in the duffel tell me that the crazy sonofabitch hit the drugstore, hard.

“Jesus fuckin’ Jenny,” I say, “you got thousands of bucks worth of pills here. You got your Percocet, your Valium, your Dilaudid, Xanax… some generic morphine, five and fifteen milligram… looks like some Brown + Clears at the bottom here. Codeine… Percodan… Jesus Christ, man, I’d say you hit the mother lode.” I take a nice deep breath and let it out real slow. “So now that I’ve praised your work, can you let me get real far away from you?”

“Relax, relax, my man. There’s no problem here. We’ll be rid of this car and inside a bar in ten minutes, I promise you.”

(To be continued)

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Blog photo 31

 

“Hole in the World” 

Ma was never the same after Bill left. She took to the pills and the cheap booze, didn’t matter what kind.

So I’m sitting here watching the fishing show and trying to avoid looking at Mama. I mean, check out her white, fringy cowgirl boots, they’re too much. But after a while I’m getting a crick in the neck so I stretch and turn my head from side to side and come eyeball to eyeball with the Indian guy and he’s smiling at me. 

“You like fishing?” he asks me, saying it nice and friendly.

“I never caught one of them walleyes before, like that guy,” I say, gesturing up at another ‘nice fish’ being netted on the tube. “I haven’t fished in a long time. One of those fly-in trips to Canada would be a kick.”

“Shit, man,” the guy comes back. “You can catch fish like that right around here, if you know the right places. Too bad there’s not much going on now… maybe trout or salmon if you can get out on the big lake. It’ll be better in a few weeks.”

“Nah, I won’t be around that long. I’m just here waiting for my car to get fixed—over at Carlson’s. I’m not staying around. But that Lake Superior is something, though.”

Then we get to talking about fishing and sports and all that for a while and I kind of get to liking the Indian guy. Even Mama ain’t bad with time. She smiles too much and wears too much lipstick and makeup, but she’s all right. After a couple more shots and beers we order-up hamburgers and fries that Mama cooks up to a delicious result. I’m feeling so good and generous that I pay for the meal and order another round. Mama (by now she’s sipping pink wine from a champagne glass and insisting we call her Ethel) starts spinning yarns about her days as a stripper. Even brings out some yellowed old newspaper clippings with stories about her “dancing” at places called the Saratoga and the Classy Lumberjack and the Silver Slipper, under the moniker Ethyl Flame—sometimes Ethyl Fire. Her real name is Ethel Hawley, but what’s in a name?

So we carry on for a time, like good-natured drunks. At one point Mama is down at the other end of the bar waiting on a couple of guys in blue coveralls and the Indian guy asks me if I want to go outside and smoke a joint. He tells me it isn’t that great, just some homegrown, but it tastes good, and it’s the least he can do after I bought dinner. So I say yes, and after we finish our drinks he puts on his jacket that he’s been sitting on and we go out to the alley. 

After we finish the jay I pull a little chunk of black hash out of my pocket and inquire into the availability of a pipe and he says, “Yeah, I got one in my car but we better go inside and say goodbye to Mama first.” 

I say, “Fuck Mama.”

And he says, “I did once.” 

I laugh; he winks.

“I can’t stand anymore pink,” I say.

“Just a quick in and out,” he says. “I need a pack of smokes.”

I want a pack of Kools myself so I go back in. 

The place is overwhelming this time around. The walls look hideous and Mama’s scent hangs everywhere like a lethal, tobacco- smoke-laced nerve gas. My throat constricts and I can’t breathe. I swear the picture behind the bar of Mama Hawley in fringe pasties is doing the shimmy. Sweat breaks out on my forehead and I walk fast for the door. As soon as I get outside I’m all right. I smoke my last cigarette while I’m waiting and then Roy comes out with a pack of Kools he flips over to me. I say thanks and we go over to his beaten down old Lincoln and smoke the hash in a little pipe made out of a red stone he calls pipestone. He says it’s sacred to the Indians and leaves it at that. 

So we’re sitting there staring out at nothing and pretty soon he says, “We gotta go find us some pussy. You up for that, my friend? What was your name again?”

“Don Enrico. What’s yours?”

“Roy Hollinday. I already told you that.”

“I forgot.”

“How could you forget, man? I told you what it meant back in the bar. My original family name was Hole-In-The-Day. Remember now? I told you about the white school people changing it to Hollinday. And Roy was for Roy Rogers, because my mother had this alarm clock with Roy and his horse Trigger on the face. When the clock was working, they clicked back and forth like they were riding across the prairie. I told you all that.”

“Now I remember. Before I didn’t. Sometimes I got a lot of things on my mind.” An Indian named after Roy Rogers—I really should’ve remembered that. Sometimes I just ain’t listening, I guess.

Roy shrugs slightly and says, “No problem, Don. Whattaya say we sample the nightlife around here. It’s the only life in this town.”

“Yeah, I could do that,” I answer. Guy has a way about him.

We cruise down to the main drag in Roy’s rusty Continental, hang a right and head toward what Roy calls the North End: bars, massage parlors, an out-of-business hardware store, cab company and more bars. A few more bars and then an all-night cafe. 

Roy rubs his forehead and stares out at the gaudy neon as we bump across the railroad tracks. Out in front of the Cave Cabaret, I see a burly bouncer type punching on somebody. Then three chicks burst out of the darkness and dash arm-and-arm across the street in front of us. Roy hardly slows. “Dykes,” he says, and gives me a wicked grin. 

Next comes a flashing Girls Girls Girls sign and an old bum vomiting on the sidewalk. People and cars move by in a slow blur.  I’m feeling pretty vacant but starting to feel like something good is going to happen. The pressure begins to lift.

He seems so calm and sincere. 

(To be continued)

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BLog photo 1

“Hole in the World” 

EXCERPT TWO

I’m thinking maybe I should get some food in my belly, until I hit the pavement and catch a breath of this stink in the air, like Limburger cheese. A real god-awful stench hangs thick in the air in this dirty old town. 

The sound of the answering machine keeps echoing in my head as I walk. And the smell in the air is so bad that I go quickly to the yellow concrete box that is Mama’s Bar and Grill. I glance through the little parallelogram window on the red door for an instant and then push my way inside.

Pink. 

Except for the obligatory Green Bay Packers poster and a couple of beer signs, the whole place is pink. Top of the bar is mahogany or cherry wood—some nice stuff— with pink vinyl padding around the edges. Behind three rows of pink-lit liquor bottles is a mirror ringed in fluffy, padded, pink satin. The faded red walls have little pink dots and bows painted on them. A pink hue clings to the window trim, the pool table felt, and the vinyl tops of the chrome barstools. Sugar sweet, like cotton candy.  

I’m kind of overwhelmed at first, especially after I catch a gander of the aging, poof-haired broad with Howdy Doody cheeks and peroxide-silver hair standing behind the bar in a shiny white pantsuit with pink powder puff wristlets, her lips as big and red as her teeth are big and white.

I sit down and try not to look too fucking mind-blown. I order a shot of Wild Turkey and a Budweiser. The Bud comes in a can, the Turkey in a two ounce shot glass about three-quarters full. Mama’s perfume is strong and cheap. I whack down the shot and shove the tin can to my lips for a wash. Goddamn. Sonofabitch.

The fucking Mosers better answer their phone pretty goddamn soon.

A couple of stools to my left there’s an Indian guy wearing a wrinkled blue pinstriped dress shirt and jeans He’s got swarthy, lightly pockmarked skin, heavy lidded eyes and some kind of Coca-Cola drink sitting in front of him.. About five-ten and a middleweight, he’s checking out a fishing show on the wall tube behind the bar. His profile is exactly like the face on those old buffalo nickels, guy’s grandfather must’ve been the model. 

There’s a blonde, bearded guy in a flannel shirt on the TV hammering the walleyes on some Canadian lake. I always liked fishing; my old man used to take me fishing. In fact that’s the last time I ever saw the asshole—the time he took me fishing—years ago, when I was eleven. 

When you go after catfish in the summertime, you go at night.  Build a fire by the river, boil a pot of coffee and throw out setlines with bells fastened to the rods so you can hear the fish take the bait. My old man always used a glob of chicken livers on a big hook.

We bagged a couple of nice cats that night. I fell asleep by the fire on an old canvas chaise lounge. Then at first light I woke up and my daddy was gone and one of the rods was busted, the line broken. At the time I don’t remember what pissed me off the most: having to walk all the way home, breaking the rod, or losing ol’ Bill. Couldn’t say I’d miss the Saturday night slap arounds so I guess it was the rod, walking home a close second.

(To be continued)

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BLog photo 1

 

“Hole in the World” 

EXCERPT TWO

I’m thinking maybe I should get some food in my belly, until I hit the pavement and catch a breath of this stink in the air, like Limburger cheese. A real god-awful stench hangs thick in the air in this dirty old town. 

The sound of the answering machine keeps echoing in my head as I walk. And the smell in the air is so bad that I go quickly to the yellow concrete box that is Mama’s Bar and Grill. I glance through the little parallelogram window on the red door for an instant and then push my way inside.

Pink. 

Except for the obligatory Green Bay Packers poster and a couple of beer signs, the whole place is pink. Top of the bar is mahogany or cherry wood—some nice stuff— with pink vinyl padding around the edges. Behind three rows of pink-lit liquor bottles is a mirror ringed in fluffy, padded, pink satin. The faded red walls have little pink dots and bows painted on them. A pink hue clings to the window trim, the pool table felt, and the vinyl tops of the chrome barstools. Sugar sweet, like cotton candy.  

I’m kind of overwhelmed at first, especially after I catch a gander of the aging, poof-haired broad with Howdy Doody cheeks and peroxide-silver hair standing behind the bar in a shiny white pantsuit with pink powder puff wristlets, her lips as big and red as her teeth are big and white.

I sit down and try not to look too fucking mind-blown. I order a shot of Wild Turkey and a Budweiser. The Bud comes in a can, the Turkey in a two ounce shot glass about three-quarters full. Mama’s perfume is strong and cheap. I whack down the shot and shove the tin can to my lips for a wash. Goddamn. Sonofabitch.

The fucking Mosers better answer their phone pretty goddamn soon.

A couple of stools to my left there’s an Indian guy wearing a wrinkled blue pinstriped dress shirt and jeans He’s got swarthy, lightly pockmarked skin, heavy lidded eyes and some kind of Coca-Cola drink sitting in front of him.. About five-ten and a middleweight, he’s checking out a fishing show on the wall tube behind the bar. His profile is exactly like the face on those old buffalo nickels, guy’s grandfather must’ve been the model. 

There’s a blonde, bearded guy in a flannel shirt on the TV hammering the walleyes on some Canadian lake. I always liked fishing; my old man used to take me fishing. In fact that’s the last time I ever saw the asshole—the time he took me fishing—years ago, when I was eleven. 

When you go after catfish in the summertime, you go at night.  Build a fire by the river, boil a pot of coffee and throw out setlines with bells fastened to the rods so you can hear the fish take the bait. My old man always used a glob of chicken livers on a big hook.

We bagged a couple of nice cats that night. I fell asleep by the fire on an old canvas chaise lounge. Then at first light I woke up and my daddy was gone and one of the rods was busted, the line broken. At the time I don’t remember what pissed me off the most: having to walk all the way home, breaking the rod, or losing ol’ Bill. Couldn’t say I’d miss the Saturday night slap arounds so I guess it was the rod, walking home a close second.

(To be continued)

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Northwoods Pulp Reloaded 2021 Cover

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Friendly campfires and twinkling stars can conceal a vast darkness in the great northern forest. Some say it’s in the land itself. Others point to the people who live there. The raw and plaintive stories in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded allow for both possibilities, featuring three reloaded short stories (“Hole in the World,” “Snowmobile Stick-up,” “The Devil You Say”) and a new short novel (“My Ship Comes In”).

“Hole in the World” Accompanied by an Indian guide with special skills, a renegade member of the trench coat gang heads north for his share, his woman and his freedom.

“Snowmobile Stick-up” Outlaw snowmobilers heist a bank during a driving blizzard and discover pursuers other than the law.

“The Devil You Say” A down-on-his-luck reporter believes he’s found his ticket to the big time with his investigation of devil worship in a small, Wisconsin town.

“My Ship Comes In” Two dead men in his wake, a Minnesota man flees to every northerner’s preferred hideout: Florida. But temptation is everywhere in the Sunshine State and soon he finds himself waiting on a remote beach for a sailboat loaded with contraband. Complications ensue.

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Layout 1

ebook only $3.99

Friendly campfires and twinkling stars can conceal a vast darkness in the great northern forest. Some say it’s in the land itself. Others point to the people who live there. The raw and plaintive stories in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded allow for both possibilities, featuring three reloaded short stories (“Hole in the World,” “Snowmobile Stick-up,” “The Devil You Say”) and a new short novel (“My Ship Comes In”).

“Hole in the World” Accompanied by an Indian guide with special skills, a renegade member of the trench coat gang heads north for his share, his woman and his freedom.

“Snowmobile Stick-up” Outlaw snowmobilers heist a bank during a driving blizzard and discover pursuers other than the law.

“The Devil You Say” A down-on-his-luck reporter believes he’s found his ticket to the big time with his investigation of devil worship in a small, Wisconsin town.

“My Ship Comes In” Two dead men in his wake, a Minnesota man flees to every northerner’s preferred hideout: Florida. But temptation is everywhere in the Sunshine State and soon he finds himself waiting on a remote beach for a sailboat loaded with contraband. Complications ensue.

Amazon/Kindle: https://amzn.to/3AzETuy

Barnes and Noble Nook:  https://bit.ly/3u24Y2O

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