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Blue photo road heavier snow

ebook only 99 cents – through December 31!

“(Northwoods Pulp Reloaded) Three intensely told stories capped off with a visceral crime novella, this is a seemingly easy escape read, but the writing is smart and deeper than expected, from high-stakes morality parables to and illicit adventures that quickly get out of hand. 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

“Hole in the World” 

It’s nice and warm inside the Caddy but Roy is a little bit antsy. The guy on the radio is finishing up the weather report. Big storm, he says, maximum late winter blizzard. Like we can’t already see that.

“This is payback for the mild El Nino winter,” Roy says. “We better hope it’s melting by the lake.” He shuts off the radio. “This is getting bad. Almost need a four-wheel drive. At least reservation four-wheel drive.”

“What the hell is reservation four-wheel drive?”

“A big old rear-wheel drive American sled with a few hundred pounds of junk in the trunk. Old wheels, rocks, sandbags—anything with weight. You get some decent snow tires you can go almost anywhere in one of those boats. We’ll probably plow snow in some places with this beast, but we’ll make it.”

Now I’m nervous. This weather and all, out here in the middle of nowhere—I’m not used to this. It’s like nothing cares about nothing up here. No one or nothing around—forever. I’m just not used to it. Walking inside a nice clean bank in the morning before it opens—that’s more my speed. Pushing a gun barrel against the pasty neck of some guy in a suit—I can handle that. But this shit— Christ—you could die out here.

We roll by the spot of the accident, plowing snow here and there like Roy said we would. You can feel the car bog down. I’m sweating over the decision to come up here in a stolen car. Proves why you shouldn’t drink and take drugs. 

Another mile or so closer to the lake and Roy says it looks like it’s going to be better up ahead. 

“How can you tell that, man?” I say. Snow is blowing directly in our faces and the windows are fogged. In a Cadillac, you’d expect better. I can barely see the road, let alone four miles ahead.

I hear it first, kind of a VAROOM, then look behind us and see the derelict Charger roaring out of the dull gray nothingness. Now he’s trying to pass us on the left and the Charger is throwing out a cloud of gray-white mist, only the mist has weight and you can hear it hitting the side of the Eldor like ice cubes. You can feel it pushing us toward the ditch. My heart’s beating fast and I’m thinking about the gun and then they’re by us, disappearing again into the blizzard, the raw growl of the Charger’s exhaust fading quickly.

Fuck, Roy says.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

“We almost got sucked right off the road,” Roy says. “You get caught in the wrong windrow, you’re gone—see you when it melts, dude. Ditch devils drag you right in. Ah, but not to worry. We are home free now, Don, my man.” 

A little later he says, “Why don’t you roll a joint, man? The shit’s in my pocket.”  He lets off the gas, lifts his ass of the seat and digs his hand into his tight black jeans. “Grab the wheel, will you?” he says, digging further into his pocket. 

I grab the wheel and look through the smeary windshield at the oncoming blur. 

Then I see it.

“HIT THE FUCKIN’ BRAKES, GODDAMN IT, ROY! I holler, my hands death-gripping the steering wheel. 

Slow motion now, coming right at us. 

No—we’re coming at it. 

It’s not moving.

It’s stopped.

“BRAKES, MAN, BRAKES!”

Sliding, sliding, sliding, antilock brakes chattering, Roy on the wheel now, trying to steer out of it. 

No room. 

THUMP.

Big collision. T-bone job

Pain. Neck and back.

What the fuck? Where are those crazy fucks?  Why the hell did they stop in the middle of the road? Why didn’t the goddamn airbags work? Goddamn General Motors.

Roy has a strange, haunted look about him and his face is vibrating, turning feral. “It’s the name game, Donny,” he says. He grins oddly. “Get ready to play….”

“You all right, man? You hit your head or something? I—”

Roy jerks open the door and jumps outside. One of the Indian punks is coming out from behind the Charger. He’s charging. Roy stands his ground and throws a short right cross and the sonofabitch crumbles face first in the snow.

I’m reaching down for the Glock when a long-barreled pistol with a drunken Indian in a greasy blue parka on the other end of it pokes through the open driver’s door. I straighten back up and squint into the swollen red eyes. His breathing is heavy and fast. “Just sit there, asshole,” he slurs, steadying the gun at my face. “Don’t move.”

In the middle of the road now the one in the blue soldier coat is holding a deer rifle on Roy. And the guy Roy drilled is returning the favor by punching Roy in the back of the head and kicking him in the ass as they slog toward me in the knee-deep snow. Steam billows from the Caddy’s fractured radiator and the sick-sweet smell of antifreeze hangs in my nose. 

And out of the blue, Roy starts singing that “Name Game” song, using my name. He’s giving it the “Donny, Donnys, the banana fanas, the fee fi fos”—the whole nine yards. Then he starts up with Roy and goes through it all again. 

This is pissing our rifleman off. He’s grinding his teeth. His gaze jumps around at me and Roy, the two vehicles, and the great cloud of driving snow. The feathers in his hair shake in the wind and ice forms on his thick black eyebrows. 

The other guy is still slapping Roy from behind. He’s rasping, “Cap him. Cap the fucker. Cap the asshole. That’ll shut him up.” 

As this goes on the one holding the gun on me— Christ does the motherfucker stink—tells me to open the glove compartment and push the trunk button.

Roy is still singing.

In the rearview mirror I see the war-painted one lifting up the trunk lid. He looks at the one holding the rifle and yells, “Take him out in the woods and shut the smart-ass city boy up.” 

The asshole with the rifle motions for Roy to move.

The bizarre threesome heads off towards the woods. 

Passing by my window, Roy stops and looks in at me. “What’s in a name, Donny?” he says, face strangely calm. “It’s only a label. Just a surface to be lifted and thrown away when you choose, eh, paisano?  Just play the name game, Donny my boy.” 

Dude pokes him in the back with the rifle and Roy starts up the song again as they lead him toward the woods. Roy’s singing all kinds of crazy names now and it’s like nothing I ever heard before. 

Warpaint goes searching through the trunk. First thing he comes out with is Roy’s satchel. He brings it around to the side of the car to show his buddy, who’s still holding the pistol on me. I see their eyes light up when Warpaint unzips that fuckin’ bag.

Warpaint’s voice is thick with emotion: “Look at this, Leon. Told you they were drug dealers or something—car like this—shit—I told you.” He sets the satchel on the roof of the Cad and goes back to the trunk. I hear a war whoop. Found the money sack. My guard takes a look back to see what all the commotion is about and I jab my hand under the seat, feel the cold plastic. Guy I bought the Glock from said you couldn’t knock anybody out hitting him with a plastic gun. I showed him I didn’t need it for hitting. Broke his jaw with a straight right hand. He was an asshole.

Indian with the long-barreled pistol never knew what hit him. I put two in his chest so fast he only has time to fall down. Then I roll out the door into the thick snow and come up with the pistol ready, looking for Warpaint. I see him off and running towards the Charger with my money sack clutched under his arm like the Christmas turkey. I steady the gun with both hands, squeeze away and put three hunks of lead in his back, about halfway up. He jerks and falls forward and the bag flies up in the air, bills scattering everywhere, flapping and flying in the wind. 

I’m scrambling around frantically grabbing bills and stuffing them back in the sack when I hear the other two coming out of the woods. They’re shouting and arguing. I run over and crouch behind the dented Charger.     

I hear one of the dudes yell, “Did you hit him, you fucker?”  

“Don’t call me fucker, you little asshole,” shouts the other. “Of course I got him. Even though you let him break away, I still got him. I never miss.”

“Don’t know how he did it. Slipped out of my hands like he fuckin’ wasn’t there. And then I couldn’t see for a second. Fuckin’ weird. And if you hit him like you say, why isn’t he on the ground somewhere?”

Then they stop dead in their tracks as they come upon the two bodies and the occasional snowbound Treasury note. I jump up and cut loose. Hit the one with the rifle and he goes down screaming and writhing, starts crawling toward the ditch. He doesn’t make it; bullets travel faster than flesh. The other prick is moving fast down the road now and I do the same—in the opposite direction. 

It’s the name game. 

(To be continued)

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Blue photo snowy road 3

ebook only 99 cents – through December 31!

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

“Hole in the World” 

“The fire’s going, folks,” I hear Roy say and I turn to see him standing in the doorway of the den smiling peacefully at the both of us.

I can also see the fear in Ginny and the panic starting to rise. 

“Ginny?” I say, “Why don’t you get us all some brandy or something nice like that? Roy and I need to talk over our plans. The snow is really starting to pile up out there. Look at it come down…. ” 

“Must be over a foot on the ground already,” Roy says.

“What would you boys like?” Ginny inquires, always the proper hostess.

“I’ll have what you’re having, Ginny,” I say, looking in her eyes for something that isn’t there.

Ginny gets up and walks to the kitchen.

“Roy,” I say, “we need to get the fuck out of here as soon as we finish the drinks. Guy that owns this place got busted, Ginny’s new husband. The local cops got to be onto it by now. Do you feel like someone’s watching us? I do. They gotta be watching this house. Maybe the storm’ll keep ’em away. You think we can make it out of here?”      

He ignores my paranoia and tries to smooth things out: “It’s pretty much all downhill from here to the lake, podner. We’ll just have to see what it’s like. Sometimes it stays warm enough down there to keep the snow from sticking. Melts when it hits the blacktop.” He nods and scratches at his chin. “I can at least get us back to lovely Evergreen Point.”

“Fuck that. I have to get back to Superior to pick up my car.”

“So we will then,” he says. He squints at me. “Through rain and sleet and snow, always go with Injun Joe.”

I shake my head and smile weakly and try to figure him out.

Ginny comes out of the kitchen with the drinks and brings them to a table near the mammoth hearth and the hissing, popping fire. The huge living room sports big leather chairs, two couches and an antique looking rocker I bet Ginny picked out from a catalog.  Roy and I sit down on a darkly luxurious couch adjacent to the table with the drinks and stare at the blaze. Ginny takes her drink to one of the leather chairs, crosses her legs and sort of sinks into herself like she’s trying to close out the world.

That first brandy burns a bit going down—Moser never bought top-shelf booze in his life—but I feel so warm afterward that I let Ginny talk me into one more.

About halfway through the second one—which is bigger than the first—I start remembering how it used to be with Ginny, Stu and me when we first teamed up. Then I look at her there staring at the fire and acting helpless and I start to think it could be like the old days again, this time without Stuart. That thought leads me into another brandy. And before you know it, I’m feeling all that old pain again, just when I thought it was gone.

Then Roy pulls a joint out of his pocket and holds it up. “Anybody mind if I smoke?”

We suck that baby down and we calm down some and Roy takes up Ginny’s offer to go for a tour of the place. I get up and walk over to the picture window overlooking the road. It’s a lot darker outside than it should be. The snow flies by in sheets. Man, sweet Virginia—how I can ever forget her?

She and Roy come back down the stairs and walk silently back to the fire. Roy goes to poke at a dangling log and Ginny turns to me.

“Ginny,” I say, thick voiced, “Why don’t you come with us?  You and I can have a life away from all this trouble. We can make a new start somewhere: new names, new clothes, new haircuts.”  Why did I say that? Damn. I wasn’t going to start that shit.

Ginny turns away from the fire and looks into my eyes and for a second I think she’s going to say yes. I can hear the emotion caught in her throat: “Roy, you know I’ll always love you,” she says. Tears float at the edges of her sweet brown eyes. “You know I remember how it was before—before it happened… before you….” 

Then her face glazes over and I know I’ve lost her yet again.  She goes on with the stabbing: “But you and I both know that it can never be like that again. We’ve been through all this before. It’s impossible, Donny; you know that. I’m going to stay with Stu.”

“You’ll stay with that piece of shit until you’re both back inside for Christ sake. Spend the rest of your time sending love letters. What the fuck is the hold he’s got on you, Virginia?”

“Stuart and I are married, Donny. And I intend to honor the marriage vows, if it’s the only decent thing I ever do in my miserable life.”

“Probably be the last thing, honey.” I couldn’t ask her about the kiss. I knew. She can’t help herself. I look over at Roy who’s still stirring the fire and ask him if he’ll go warm the car while I say my final good byes. He looks at me knowingly, grabs his jacket and leaves, politely saying thank you and nice meeting you. 

Roy shuts the door behind him and Ginny brings me down a set of stairs to the unfinished basement where she rummages around inside a large food freezer and fishes out a seafood box with 278,000 dollars inside. She counts out a hundred and ten thousand for Stu’s bail and sets it aside on the workbench, putting the rest in a plastic garbage bag and wrapping it up nice and tight for me. I ask her for a paper grocery sack, saying I can recycle it later for luggage replacement. She doesn’t smile at my weak attempt at levity, just pulls open a workbench drawer and brings out a packet of casino receipts and a wallet full of fake IDs. She hands them to me. 

So call me Rick Tomasy. New name, new game.  A few dollars short but still on the outside. One just has to see the possibilities, the positive light, Roy might say. But first I have to check the freezer real good to see if there’s any more cash my old sweetheart may have forgotten. Part of me wants to grab her hair and twist a little—just until she yelps a bit—to see if there are any stashes left around she might have conveniently overlooked. But I can’t do that—not to Ginny. Unless maybe if I picture her sucking Stu’s dick and laughing at me because she knows it wouldn’t do me any good.

And that’s why I’m going to leave, clean. Say goodbye to Ginny and walk right up the basement stairs. Grab my jacket and bang—I’m out the door. Yeah, I’ll prove how easy it is, believe me. Because if I stay, I might kill her, I swear to God.

(To be continued)

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Blue photo road winter

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

“Hole in the World” 

Right then I know I’m lucky to have Roy along. He takes his foot off the gas and doesn’t even think about hitting the brake pedal. We aren’t going very fast, probably forty, forty-five, but how he finds that shoulder without going off and rolling us over, is beyond me.

I look out and see a big blue Dodge Charger with a white racing stripe down the middle, blowing out of the cloud. They hit the brakes when they see us but it’s too late. The front bumper of the Charger bangs into the back of the small Chevrolet it’s passing and both vehicles go sliding by us in slow motion, spinning in circles. 

I’m struck dumb.

But miraculously, the cars stay on the road and fail to hit anything, except when they finally come to rest, front bumper against front bumper, headlights almost touching. 

Then I see four young Indian men come bursting out of the Charger. One’s wearing a frontier era U.S. Cavalry coat and another one’s got feathers in his braids and what looks to me like war paint on his face. The other two are generic in jeans and parkas. All four of them stagger toward Roy and I in the Cadillac instead of going to the car they hit.

I push open the door and amble out to survey the scene, squinting against the stinging snow. Out of the tan Chevy that’s kissing bumpers with the Charger pops an angry, older Indian guy. Heavyset, hair in a ponytail, with a little gray on the sides. He starts coming toward us, too. There’s a woman still inside the car, looking concerned. The dude in the cavalry coat gets up in my face and glares at me with bloodshot eyes. His long black braids reach down to the gold epaulets on his shoulders. “We don’t need you here,” he sneers. “You better leave.” Vaporizing alcohol rides by on a gust.

“We’re just here to see if everyone is all right and to offer ourselves as witnesses,” I say, glaring back.

Now the older guy is approaching, checking out these young hotshots, and the foursome is coming at me with what seems like ill intent when Roy steps out of the Cad and shows himself. They all stop dead. I figure seeing me with an Indian has thrown them off, drunk as they are. 

Roy doesn’t say a word, just looks at the two cars kissing and chuckles dryly. The older guy starts demanding to know who is the driver of the Charger and did he have insurance. The four young bucks kind of cower and grumble to themselves but then they start cooperating with the old guy. Roy and I trudge back to the Eldor and go spinning off, shaking our heads and feeling strange—or at least I am.

 

You couldn’t miss it, really. Not very far down County 13, standing there all shiny and new in the middle of a big clearing, is a two-story log house of considerable size with big windows all over it. Fire number 3397.

Roy hits the brakes and we slide past the driveway. He backs up and we turn in. There aren’t any tracks there ahead of us. It’s 12:30 Sunday afternoon and the oldies station is playing “The Name Game.”

Ginny, Ginny, bo Binny banana fana fo Finny… 

And then there she is, like sweet berry pie, staring out at me from the huge picture window on the main floor. Cute little red cheeks like I remember them, only now without the tears. But she doesn’t look happy. Her arms are folded tight across her chest and her eyes have that frantic, helpless look I remember so well. 

I think for a second I should leave Roy in the car but I say to hell with that and invite him inside. Fuck the Moser’s. If they’d been answering their telephone instead of using that goddamn answering machine, it wouldn’t have to be like this. Roy is my compadre now. We’ve been through some shit together. He doesn’t have to know about the banks and all that shit, but he is going to come in and warm up—maybe have a drink if he wants—while I pick up the cabbage. Or is it lettuce?

Ginny has the front door open before I even touch the fancy brass knocker. She gives me a hug that smells of brandy and nerves. “Jesus, Donny, honey,” she says, “Am I glad you finally got here. Everything is falling apart, Donny. They got Stu…. they—”

“Settle down Virginia,” I say to her in the deep baritone that used to calm her down. But this time it’s not working on either of us. “You can tell me inside,” I say. “I want you to meet my good friend Roy. He’s been kind enough to drive me up here.” Roy nods politely.  “Roy, this is Ginny Burns.” She raises her eyebrows at me. “I’m sorry, Ginny Moser, now. I forgot for a minute.”

“Hello, nice to meet you,” Roy says. “Hope you don’t mind if I come in and dry off a while. We witnessed a little traffic mishap down the road and I got a little wet standing out in the weather.”

“Of course,” Ginny says, bucking up a little. “Maybe one of you can get a fire going. A fire does cheer you up on a day like this.”

“Injun make fire,” Roy says, “White folks talk important business, organize things.”

I smile and she stares at him as we go into a huge living room with picture windows on two sides and dark natural woodwork everywhere. I stand there gaping. There’s a thick, dark-stained wood staircase leading upstairs. The house has an open ceiling plan, and on the second floor, a railed catwalk offers a view of the giant stone fireplace. There is a big skylight in the high ceiling. All I can see through it is snow coming down.

Roy is bending over the hearth when Ginny puts her arm in mine and leads me into a den at a back corner of the house: padded, green wicker chairs in a glassed-in room overlooking the forest. The painted eyes of a fake deer stare back at us from the puffy white yard. Before we even sit down Ginny puts her arms around my neck and pulls my mouth down to hers. Her tongue works against mine and stirs up old feelings. I push her away gently. Salty kisses again.

She starts sobbing. “They got Stu, Donny. The cops got Stu in jail in Nebraska. Stopped him for speeding and they found the money and guns in the trunk. What are we going to do, Donny?  What are we going to do?”

“Hang on now, hang on. What was he doing in Nebraska? And why was the stupid cocksucker speeding?”

My gut is on fire.

“He was visiting his brother. Jamie was helping him wash some of the money and working on some of the guns. Fitting silencers and stuff. Stu and Jamie are going to team up now that you’re retiring.”

“I told you that sonofabitch Jamie was trouble. He’s a fuckin’ alcoholic, for one thing. He smokes crack, for another. He’s got no discipline at all. I told fuckin’ Stuart that I wanted all my money up here waiting for me. I told him goddamn Jamie would bring us down. I fuckin’—”

“He wants me to go down there and bail him out.” She’s still whimpering. “All I’ve got is cash. But it’s all clean.”

“You bail him out with cash, they’ll pop you for sure.”

“I talked to a lawyer in Indianapolis Stu told me to call.  He said as long as the money is clean there’s nothing they can do to me. They might hold me for a night and try and sweat me, but they won’t be able to keep me there. The man also gave me the number of a shyster in Omaha, name of Burton, who I can call if they lock me up.”

“How much cash you got here at the house, Ginny?” My stomach is doing flip-flops now and out in the yard the snow is coming down harder and harder. The wind howls and whines against the windows.

Jesus Christ, my goddamn money isn’t here. 

“Goddamn it, Ginny, I want my cut. Is this some scam of yours? You and Stu? Fuck. You know, I really need to get far away from the both of you.” I look at her and she’s the poster girl of pathos. “Okay then, Gin, tell me how much you got here?”

“Almost three hundred K, I think.” She dabs her eyes with a Kleenex. “I’ll need a hundred and ten for Stu’s bond. They set it at a million one.”

“Stu finally broke the million mark, eh— one of his lifelong goals. But Christ, Virginia, three hundred grand is not even close to what I got coming. You sure this isn’t some sort of scam? You ply me with tears and kisses, knowing how easy it is for you? Thinking I’m going to believe anything comes out of your pretty little mouth?”

She laughs bitterly and blows her nose and goes over to a bookshelf in the corner. There are no books in it. She takes a newspaper off the top shelf and brings it to me. 

Duluth News Tribune, March 14: HOVLAND MAN ARRESTED IN NEBRASKA ON FIREARMS VIOLATIONS—1.6 MILLION IN TRUNK—POSSIBLE “OVERCOAT” BANK ROBBER, SAYS FBI.

The shit had really hit the fan.

(To be continued)

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Bluestone photo snow 2

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

“Hole in the World” 

I wake up the next morning face down on the pillow; a feeling in my chest like my daddy has left me again. My head pounds like a mule kicks. My throat is dry as the desert but my gut is okay. I got a rock solid gut. When I look out the bedroom window, I see the Caddy is gone. Now I’ve got killer heartburn. 

The first thing I think of is my weapon so I lurch into the living room and grab for the paper sack. I lift it up and the weight is there.  I reach inside the bag, my fingertips feel the smooth plastic pistol, and I relax. 

He was just a car thief, I think to myself. He’s going to sell that sled up on the rez and I’ll never see him again. Then I hear tires crunching up slowly on the gravel outside and get a rush of paranoia thinking Roy dropped a dime on me and it’s the cops rolling in. I whip out the Glock and jack one into the ready position.  I run over and sneak a peek out the window above the big old-fashioned sink. There is Roy getting out of the Cad with a couple white Styrofoam cups and a white bakery bag. I stick the gun back in the sack and set it on the counter next to the sink.

“Coffee,” he says a few seconds later, holding out the Styrofoam cups and grinning through the door. “I really needed some coffee, man. Picked up some cinnamon and caramel rolls, too. They’re some of the best in the world. Baked up fresh everyday at the Tofte Cafe.”

“They open all ready?”

“Already?  It’s nine-thirty, Mr. Dead-to-the-World.”

“No shit, I thought it was just first light.”

First thing I do after those rolls and all that coffee, is take one hell of a good dump. Then I jump in the tiny little tin shower stall and wash away the drug sweat. After, I’m walking out of the can with a towel wrapped around me and there’s Roy with my fucking gun in his hand, and he’s pointing it right at me. 

Bastard was just waiting for the right moment, I’m thinking.

“Nice piece,” Roy says, turning and swinging the Glock toward the lake, which we can both see through the front window. “I used to shoot a forty-five in the service. Couldn’t hit the side of a barn with that hog. Bet I could do better with this little number.”

“What the fuck are you doing with my fuckin’ property in your hand, Roy? You oughtta know better than to pull shit like that. In the joint, a man could get a shank in the spine for taking that kind of liberty.”

“Well, this ain’t the joint, Mr. Heavy Dude. You see, up here in the North Woods, if you see a man’s bag sitting in a puddle of water by the sink, you take it out of the water for him. And if the bottom of the bag is all wet and a gun falls through onto the counter, you pick it up and dry it off and give it back to the guy.” He sets the Glock down on the table and grins, looking up at me like a contented crow.

“Sonofabitch. You are a surprising man, Roy. You just keep me guessing, don’t you?  You doing this shit on purpose? Trying to flip me out? First the drugs and then the driving—and then the fuckin’ stories about shapeshifters for the Christ sake. What the fuck is that all about? Then you take off—and then you come sneaking back. What the fuck is the deal, man? I’m getting too goddamn old for this shit. I just came up here to get what’s coming to me, not to get run through the goddamn wringer.” 

I pick up the gun and feel better again.

“I’m going to roll a joint,” Roy says, seemingly indifferent to my rant. “And speaking about what you got coming, how about me?  Where’s the thousand beans for the skin-boy chauffeur. I haven’t seen the color of your money yet.”

“Yeah, Roy, you’re right. I owe you. I guess I did flip out, didn’t I?  I’m getting too goddamn old for this shit.” I go into the bedroom and fish my wallet out of my pants. My clothes are in a pile on the bed: jeans, polo shirt, sweater and the wool socks I bought in Superior. I feel like an asshole for going off on Roy like that so I take eleven crisp Ben Franklins from my wallet with the intention of giving them all to Roy. I figure an extra C-note is a good way to apologize. 

He won’t take the extra Benjamin, he says, unless I deduct it from the two grand he has coming at the end of the road. I’m thinking I never met a man this honest. Except myself, of course. And that’s a joke. 

I call Ginny from the pay phone outside the motel office but it’s the same old answering machine bullshit. It’s an ugly day; the air’s real damp and chilly. Big watery snowflakes are flying by and the wind is blowing hard off the lake. I shiver and zip up my leather jacket, wishing that I had something a little more suited to the weather than my jeans and Nike sneakers. I have the Moser’s address in my pocket and I figure Roy can find the place for me long before I ever get through on the phone so I hop inside the idling black beauty and motion for wagons ho. 

Roy waits until we get out of sight of the office before he floors the sonofabitch and shoots gravel all over the place. Then he slaps his thighs and hoots like a stoked-up owl. He can feel the spirits stirring today, he says. Gitchee Gummi is kicking up something special. What I feel is my gut stirring. I’m queasy and that’s strange, because I got a rock solid gut.

Out on the highway, the flakes are thicker and there are more of them. The stuff is blowing straight across the road in front of us and white is building up on the shoulders but melting when it hits the blacktop. Hundreds of pine trees do the rope-a-dope with the wind as Roy says, “This will be sticking to the roads the farther we go away from the lake. Up on top of the hill I bet it’s already piling up. With the lake open and the wind whipping off it, the air temperature will probably stay above freezing down here and the snow will be watery. Where is this place we have to go, anyway?” He pushes down the accelerator and we proceed at too fast a clip.

I pull out the piece of notepad and look at it, even though it’s already tattooed on my brain. “It’s Hovland, Minnesota. Fire number 3397, County Road 13 off of state highway 1. That sounds simple enough, don’t you think?”

“Look in the glove compartment and see if there’s a Minnesota map,” Roy says.

“Well, Jesus, Roy, I thought you knew the rivers and roads and spirits and all that shit like they were your old pals?”

“I don’t know every fuckin’ little road around here,” Roy shoots back, scratching his nose. “The forest service is building ‘em so fast, they don’t even know where they all are.”

There is no map in the glove box.

“This ain’t no hippie’s geodesic dome in the fuckin’ forest primeval were looking for, Roy. We’re talking a $300,000 dollar home here. Only a year old. Worth half a mil anywhere else. The Mosers paid cash for it. Do you—”

“They did what? Paid cash—three hundred grand? Up here? This is the forest primeval, man. I bet we could ask anyone lives around here where that place is—and not only could they tell us exactly how to get there, but they would also tell us the same story you just did, only with greater detail and embellishment. Place like that in the middle of nowhere is going to stand out, you know? Paying out cash like that up in this neck of the woods is nuts. On top of that you say they’re pulling off dope deals?  Might as well put up a sign on the roof says Felonies R Us. These people have either got boulders for balls or rocks for brains.”

“A little bit of both, I’m afraid. And there’s no dope there, only money. I was lying. The hash has already been sold and I’m just here to collect my share of the profits. But don’t worry, man, you’ll still get your two grand. Now let’s find the fuckin’ house, if it’s so goddamn easy.”

Roy just shakes his head, sniffs a couple of times and drives on. After a few minutes we come to a sign that tells us Hovland is five miles ahead. Roy then tells me that a Hovland mailing address means nothing, just the nearest post office, and he’s not about to ask anyone in town because they’d take one look at him and know for sure that those rich people in the big house are up to no good, because Indians are going there, man.

A couple miles later there’s another sign: Highway 1, four miles.

About a mile or so up Number One, the snow is getting thick.  Already a few inches on the road and it’s coming down so heavy and wet and windblown, it’s really hard to see anything. Roy says the Caddy handles nice in the snow. He’s cool and relaxed. We got the heater on and the radio is playing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgeraldand I’m kind of digging it, except my gut is still nagging me. We come to the base of a long upgrade and you can see up ahead that the snow is even thicker yet. Roy says he thinks the Cad has traction control, because we aren’t having any problems.

Up at the crest of the hill the trees are farther from the road. We got about thirty yards of clearing on each side of us. The country is a little flatter here and the snow is at our backs and visibility is a little better. It’s a good thing, too, because out of the gray-white snow cloud come headlights—four headlights. Two of them, in our goddamn driving lane, and heading right at us.

(To be continued)

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“Hole in the World” 

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience, and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

Roy has the Eldor doing fine. There’s a radar detector so he’s always pushing the road. Thing corners like a big cat. Holds the pavement without too much sway. 

Now Roy is flying up this steep grade leading to a blind turn and we hit the turn and pop around the bend and there’s Lake Superior, big and awesome, right on top of us, moonlight all over her like a wedding dress. I get the surest feeling we’re going over the edge of the hundred-foot cliff on my right and I grab for the armrest on the door as the Caddy digs into the turn.

Roy snickers. “These cliffs do that to people,” he says. “You’re not the only one.” Then he weaves us through the upcoming S-turn one-handed, about twenty mph beyond safe, me holding on tight all the while.

We speed northward, chased by the mocking moon, through two bright tunnels and a tiny settlement called Castle Danger. We stop to take a piss by the water’s edge just outside of a touristy looking town name of Beaver Bay. I know it was Beaver Bay because Roy starts up about how he chased a lot of beaver around this area. I, like a dummy, ask him if beaver is good to eat, you know, because I always wondered what trappers did with the rest of the beaver after they skinned off the pelt.

Roy laughs and bobs his head, covering his mouth with his hand—merriment at my expense. “I try to eat all the beaver I catch, don’t you, Don?” he says. “I mean, I love eating pussy, don’t you, paisano? You don’t eat your woman’s pussy I can steal her from you, man. With me, you see, munching carpet is a passion. In the heat of the summer—Christ—I fuckin’ dream about opening up a Cunnilingus Center for Women. They would come in there and lay that thing down on the table and pay me to gobble it. I’d die a rich and happy man.”

“If your face doesn’t fall off from diving diseased muff.”

“Women love that shit, Don, I’m telling you. I had a girl friend once was a dyke. I mean, you know, she went both ways. Man, we had a couple of nice three-ways with some of her friends. She was the one perfected my technique—showed me a few tricks. And now I am the master.”

“You were in three-ways? You lucky asshole. Only time I ever had a chance at a three-way, the bitches wouldn’t let me in the goddamn room. Locked the door on me. I’d never have eaten either one of their pussies, though, I can tell you that right now. So, ah—was that the same girlfriend whose house we just visited, back there in Superior?”

“Nah, Jane was a while ago, in another town. I was down in Minneapolis then, hanging with the militants.”

“I’m sure that was a tough one to give up. All that hair pie I mean. Be like a fat man in a bakery.”

“I got sick of those dykes being around all the time, to tell you the truth. There was this butch one, she was a stripper—called herself G.I. June—was always wanting to bang me up the ass with her strap-on. One night I’m lying on the couch in my underwear, watching the tube and nodding off on some ludes, y’know, when I see her coming out of the bathroom with this big rubber dick bouncing in front of her and she’s carrying a big jar of hand cream. Woke my ass up in a hurry, I’ll can tell you that much. I moved out the next day.”

“No shit,” I say. Then: “JESUS MAN, WATCH OUT!”

Roy slams on the brakes and swerves into the oncoming lane to avoid a deer. Empty beer cans clank in the backseat and the tires screech and my stomach jumps into my throat. 

After my heartbeat comes back down to tolerable, I notice on the beautifully glowing dashboard clock that it’s 3:45 a.m. Now the booze and the pills are like a heavy throbbing weight behind my eyes, my gut is leaden and a touch of paranoia is creeping in. The question I begin to ask is: Do I—we—drive up to the Moser’s at this time of night and start this thing off on the wrong foot for sure, or find some place to crash for a few hours and get after it in the morning when I can see straight.

I pose the questions to my guide and well-paid chauffeur, and much to my surprise, he answers by pointing to the glowing light of a small motel up ahead. He, however, recommends some cabins a little ways farther along, where we can park the car out of sight from the bulk of traffic. 

I vote for the second alternative. And that is how we choose the Evergreen Point Resort and Motel. Roy turns off the highway at the Evergreen Point sign and a green arrow points the way. It’s a bumpy little road that crosses over some railroad tracks as it winds downward to the lake and then to a brushy point with a gravel shoreline that stretches out into the bay about a hundred yards. A few small, green, old-time cabins stand among the pines and birch trees. Up ahead in a cul-de-sac sits a newer but definitely not new, building, OFFICE glowing above the door in orange neon.

I get out of the Eldor by the office and stretch. A small paper sign on a bulletin board informs me that I am to choose a room from the available keys on the board and then place the fee in one of the provided envelopes and drop it down into the slot on the door of the manager’s office.

I choose cabin number four, the farthest from the office.

Roy parks behind the unit. I grab the rest of the beer from the trunk while Roy unlocks the door on our little cottage. It’s a little musty and damp but the scent of cleanser and Lysol and ammonia from countless washings keep everything on the pleasant side. I put the beer in the faded copper-colored fridge and sit down on the brown hide-a-bed couch. Roy is pacing around, stretching and growling. “I’m a little strung out, I confess,” he says, working his jawbone. “If I’m going to sleep tonight I’m going to have to reach into the ol’ bag of tricks. Maybe I should just stay up all night. Maybe we should’ve driven straight through, it’s not that much farther.”

“I told you, man,” I say, “I’m not sure what’s there waiting for me. At least in the morning I can get a look at it beforehand. And if you don’t sleep you won’t be in any shape to guide me. That would mean you’re not earning your pay. I’m afraid I’d have to dock you.”

“Fuck you, dock me. I could drive these roads blindfolded and drunk in a snowstorm. I could stay up for three nights running and still be better then all of these assholes around here. But you are right, boss; I should sleep. I’m getting too old for all-nighters on drugs. My god, the toll it takes.”

“Just make sure you take your vitamins, Roy, and you’ll be all right. You seem like the resilient type.”

“I’ll drink to that. Vitamin S it is then.”

Roy reaches in his jacket pocket and brings out four red capsules and lays them on the red, Formica table. Vitamin S. Seconal. Some of the worst shit there is. I take one; he takes two. We leave the other one on the table for the mice. We sit there drinking beer for a time, waiting for the slumber to overtake us. I look over at him every so often, and there’s this glowing ring around him, sometimes blue, sometimes red. He talks about living up in this country as a kid: how his father disappeared before he was old enough to remember much about him. Some said the old boy was a shapeshifter, he says. And others said that he was just shiftless. In that paternal respect, Roy and I share an unspoken bond.

The shapeshifter business kicks off a whole weird bunch of stories. Stories about weird shit that I don’t believe for a minute. But I get nervous inside anyway and stumble into the bedroom just to escape.

(To be continued)

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