Archive for April, 2022

“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.


Now the weak VW heater is going full blast and my teeth are chattering along with the windshield wipers. A road sign tells me Otter Creek is six miles ahead.

     Three miles later, I swing off the highway at a roadside rest area and crawl into the back of the van. I towel off and put on dry clothes: white jeans and a blue polo shirt (Bagley’s), and a blue windbreaker jacket (also Bagley’s). 

     Along with the clothes, there’s a wallet in Bagley’s duffel. A wallet stuffed with identification for one Elton Kirby: Colorado driver’s license, library card from Littleton, social security card, and three credit cards (Chevron, Texaco, Montgomery Ward). I surmise that either Bagley found these, or possibly had them made. It’s the type of scam Dan was famous for. I can see it all now, after murdering Schmidt and me, Dan would have had to disappear and become someone else. 

     People along the pipeline know of Bagley and Schmidt but they don’t know me from Jimmy Buffet. I can easily become Elton Kirby. The license photo is badly blurred and the height, weight and hair color are close enough. I might have a problem with the blue eyes, though.

     I get myself nice and dry, stash the forty-five kilos in various places in the van and get back on the road. On the outskirts of Yankeetown, I spot a small motel, with a diner a few yards away.

     Elton Kirby gets himself a room at the Friendly Haven Motel with color TV and refrigeration. After showering and smoking, he wanders over to the diner for a bite, his stomach growling.

     The light is dim in Elly’s Café and the paint is faded green, like pea soup. There is one plump waitress in a brown uniform. Her face is furrowed and she’s wearing a hairnet. In the kitchen, I presume, is a cook. Only other person in here is a good-looking blonde girl wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt. She’s sitting at the end of the counter drinking coffee and looking nervously out at the road, occasionally biting a fingernail. 

     If I wasn’t so tired I might be interested in her. She’s pretty, with cloudy blue eyes and a sculpted nose and chin, but she looks a little haunted. I take a seat in the middle of the counter and grab a menu from behind the napkin dispenser. Right away I see what I want.

     When the waitress plops the chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy in front of me, I temporarily lose interest in the girl. I wolf down the chow and barely have enough strength to limp back to my room. Once inside, I double lock the doors and flip on the tube. The room smells of mildew and pine-scented cleaner. I pull back the green chenille bedspread and collapse onto the crisp white sheets. At least they’re clean. The TV picture is black and white with some streaks of color on the edges of the screen, what passes for color TV at the Friendly Haven Motel. I find a rerun of Starsky and Hutch, where Huggy Bear goes undercover as a pimp, and let the drone put me to sleep.

     I dream that I’m running in slow motion through a field of tall grass. It’s like one of those television commercials where the man and the woman are approaching each other, arms extended. You see the anticipation on their faces as they get nearer, each stride carrying them closer to true love and intense joy. 

     But my dream is a little different.

     I see my wife Carole gleefully bounding toward me in that pretty little flowery sundress she wore at our Las Vegas wedding. As she gets closer, I’m trying to see into her eyes. But the harder I try to focus, the more the face blurs. Then when we’re nearly together, I extend my welcoming arms and it’s not Carole’s face at all, but that of some unknown teenager with buckteeth and a pimply chin. I stop running and stare at her and she changes into old Mrs. Olson and all of a sudden I’m four years old and sitting on the little hill by the swing set in the backyard of my childhood home. It’s a bright sunny day but it feels cold. My mother is hanging up wash. Some part of my brain is telling me I’ve been through this before, as Mrs. Olson stands on her back porch calling to me: “Keith, Keith honey… do you want to come in and play? There’s quite a wind out today. Come in and have something warm. I’ve baked some of those ginger cookies you like.”  I look over to ask my mother if I can go but she is no longer there.

     Mrs. Olson and I walk up the flight of brown stairs, holding hands. At the top of the stairs I stop and look back for a second and wish it were warmer out. Then I go inside and see Mr. Olson sitting at the white kitchen table in his white strap undershirt, reading the morning paper. It’s dark in there but still he’s reading. Mrs. Olson takes my hand and we walk toward the bedroom and I feel a strange excitement.

     The scene changes again and now I’m in the dinghy from the Larson E, floating helplessly in the middle of the ocean. I’m dying of thirst, the sun is beating down on me and I’m alone, no food or fresh water. I rub my hand across my chest and feel a warm liquid. I look at my hand and it’s covered with blood. 

     My heart is bleeding.

     I’ve got a fuckin’ bleeding heart. 

     My eyes jerk open and I sit up straight in the tiny motel bed. Gray light of dawn is creeping in above the curtains. I try to crawl out of the bed but my body is leaden. I fall back down and sink into a deep dreamless sleep that’s like smoking good hash and lying in the sun with the radio on.

     The green plastic clock on the veneer bed table reads ten after ten when I finally put my feet to the worn, green carpet. I rub my eyes and the severity of my situation plunges down on me like a bucket of blood. 

     Dread and Fear push me into the shower and kick me in the ass when I get out. I dress and become resplendent in Bagley’s khaki shorts and blue polo, tan L.L. Bean boat shoes filling out the picture. I feel like a model in a catalog.

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.


The van is where I left it, no other cars around. But still I’m nervous. Once the VW is running, I feel a little better. Slowly, I chug out to the highway, thinking about bolting. The headlights cut through the blackness and raindrops flash in the beams. Little silver stars float around in my vision like fireflies. Tires splash as I turn onto the access road. It’s like I’m watching the whole scene from a distance and somebody else is driving.

     Now the driver cuts the lights and bounces down the dirt road that’s turning slippery and muddy. Sometimes it’s hard to see the road so he has to drive slowly. Has to flip the lights on a couple times for an instant, just to make out the direction. It seems brighter the closer we get to the water. We spot the lantern light and park. It’s about a fifty-yard walk through the dunes and I’m thinking about gators and snakes the whole way. I step out onto the beach and see Bagley’s standing there cradling the Browning twelve-gauge, a weird look in his eye.

     I ignore him and walk over to the pack, squat down, heft it and stand up, but not without some pain and effort. My bad leg is back to being bad. I look over at Dan and he’s glaring at me, mouth all twisted up. But behind the glare, he seems weak and shaky.

     “You coming along, Dan? You’re not still hung up on my little joke are you? Just manly hijinks, right? Think of it as payback for jumping on my wife that time. Remember? I thought you deserved a little payback for that. And for a half dozen other fuckin’ things I could name, come to think of it. Turnabout is fair play, they say. And we’re old buddies, right? You said it, man. Can’t hold a grudge, can we?  It’s you and me against the world now.”

     His lip curls upward into a sneer and his eyebrows tighten.

     “You coming?” I ask again, starting to walk with the pack on my shoulders.

     “Heh, heh. Shit, you joker… you had me going, you prick. Jesus… ha-ha… goddamn…  I-I-I’ll stay here and gather up the lanterns and things.  We can’t afford to leave anything around that might identify us.”

     “Yeah, I s’pose.”

     I trudge back through the wiry underbrush. Sharp spines sting my shins and sand clings to my shoes like cement. The pack digs into my shoulders. I get to the van, slide open the door and throw in the pack. On the return, I follow my path. When I get to the beach, all the lanterns and the fire are out and Bagley is nowhere to be seen. I peer down at the water; thinking maybe he’s gone to get rid of the dinghy. I take a few steps in that direction and hear something moving in the brush behind me. I turn in time to see Bagley running at me, the Browning held high above his head like a war club. 

     I freeze for a second, then charge. He swings the butt of the gun at my head but I duck under and throw a cross-body block. My hip slams into his middle and he tumbles back in the sand, losing his grip on the gun. He wriggles out from underneath me and crawls across the clinging sand, straining for the Browning. I struggle to my feet and jump on him, coming down with both knees on his back. I throw two hard punches to the back of his head and jump off, grab the shotgun by the barrel and sail it down the beach like a hammer thrower at the Killer Olympics.

     Bagley just lies there muttering and rubbing his head.

     “You fuckin’ asshole, Bagley. I really should kill you. You’re so fuckin’ pathetic you deserve to die.” I spit at him and slump back toward the brush. 

     Now he’s crawling after me, whining, pleading: “Don’t leave me here, Keith. You need me. Schmidt needed me—but he would never admit it. I showed him though, didn’t I? I outlasted him. I won. Keith… Keith…” eyes begging like a whipped dog. “It’s just you and I now. We can live the good life like we used to dream about. Think about it.  You can have half… I’m sorry.  Please help me. Please understand.”

     I start to walk away and my foot hits something in the sand. I look down and see my wooden club from earlier. From before all this commotion came and ruined my nice quiet beach. Before this lying greedhead came in and tried to fuck me over one more goddamn time.

     I watch Bagley get to his feet. I watch as he jerks an opened Swiss Army knife from his trouser pocket and lunges at me. Dodging the thrust of the knife, I dive to the sand and grab the hunk of wood. I come up swinging.

     I dodge another clumsy knife thrust then bash his forearm with a downward swing. The knife falls to the sand; he grabs his arm, falls to his knees and howls like a scalded cat.  Breaks down crying again, a pleading, pitiful sound. 

     Horrified, I bash his head until his face resembles a rotting melon. The rain pours down. It seems a bit like old times. I’m back on the merry-go-round and it’s still spinning. 

     Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye.

     His head is pulp as I drag the body down the beach and put it into the dinghy. I pull his funeral boat out into the ocean until the water is chest high then loosen one of the air valves. The boat hisses softly at me as the burial at sea floats southward. I cross myself. And I’m not even Catholic.

     But I’m thinking that now I might need religion. 

     Instead, I have cocaine—way too much of it—and miles to go before I sleep.

     The amazing thing is; I believe I can get away with all my crimes. The sailboat is gone. If ever found it will more than likely be written off as another pirate attack, merely a statistic. The eventual beaching of Bagley’s bloated body will only confirm these suspicions. 

     I find it difficult to accept—but it seems like I’m home free. That is if you consider being alone in a vehicle with enough cocaine to get you murdered and robbed or sent to jail for the rest of your life, home free.

     In this type of situation, one can become dehumanized. What you become is a reaction, an instinct. Running just to keep from dying. Eating just to keep from shaking. Sleeping because you can’t do anything else. Killing, because it’s your best choice.

     And so, I get back on the road, feeling a vast spiritual hole within me. I’m growing very tired of my continuous spiritual dilemma. Just doesn’t relate to my reality anymore. Too much of the same old metaphysical crap: Jesus or Buddha or Gita or what-the-fuck-have-you. Stuff can be such a pain in the ass. Seems like there should be something else to believe in that I haven’t gotten around to yet. But in the meantime, before I figure out what that is; I will place Chance as the executor of my fate. Pure random selection. From now on, like a spider with a web, I will take what comes along and thank the Fates for whatever it might be. Isn’t that truly The Way?

(End of Chapter 6)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

     He looks down at the sand and takes on a more humble tone: “There was trouble from the beginning—as soon as we landed in Jamaica. First thing we noticed was the narcs—they were everywhere. Dressed in three-piece suits and hanging with the businessmen. Wearing shorts and sailing. Drinking in the bars with the tourists… All the hotels were booked up because there were so many narcs on the island. Uncle Sam is spending big bucks to winter these guys. I should’ve become a narc.”

     “Get on with the fuckin’ story,” I say, as the rain lessens a little. His eyes get wider as I shake the gun barrel in his face. “We haven’t got all night, Dan,” I back up and sit down at the edge of the light, resting the shotgun on my lap.

     “You need to calm down, Keith. How about we continue this discussion while we’re driving out of here? Come on, you and I are old friends. God, man, we go all the way back to high school. I’m not going to screw you around.”

     “Right here will be fine, thank you. I’ve grown quite fond of this place. Been waiting here so long it’s beginning to seem like home, especially now that I don’t have a home anymore.” I lift the twelve-gauge with one hand and point it at his chest. “You can talk now.”

     “Well, all right,” he says and exhales an exaggerated sigh of exasperation. “Our connection never showed up. We waited two days for him to show but he never did. We called his house and his wife answered and she starts crying as soon as she hears my voice. Turns out our man got popped about a week before he was supposed to leave to meet us. I guess we were lucky the feds got to him before he led them to us. And that’s why we were late getting out of port.”

     “No shit. What’d you do then?”

     “Schmidt started hustling. Talking to the natives and working the streets until he found somebody who could handle our requests.”

     “You did this in spite of all the narcs around?”

     “I was against it, believe me. I was ready to turn around and come back to Florida and see what we could find. But Schmidty wouldn’t have any of that. And sure enough, to my great surprise, he comes around with two Rastas in tow—cow shit in the dreadlocks and the whole bit—stunk like pigs. But these guys had some of the highest quality blow I’ve ever seen, at incredible prices.”

     “I thought Rastas were into weed.”

     “These guys had weed, too, but it was nothing special. Ordinary brown buds. Didn’t even smell that good. That’s why we did the coke. The price was so good we were able to get a lot more than we initially intended. They probably ripped off the dope from someone else—the reason for the good price. They had to be the ones that set us up.”

     “The guys who sold it to you were the ones who tried to rip you off?”

     “They weren’t the same guys, Keith, but they were Rasta punks. And it just makes sense they were connected to the other two. How else would they know about us?”

     “You’d think guys with that much money would have better weapons than just one double barrel shotgun. You’d think those dudes would have Uzis and AK-47’s, shit like that.”

     “So maybe our pirates were just lucky, at the right place at the right time. Could be… hard to say. Maybe they patrol the area looking for lonely sailors, I don’t know. All I know is they attacked us and we fought them off and Schmidt is dead. Now can we get out of here?”

     “I don’t think so. You need to hear my little theory. I don’t believe there were any pirates. I—”

     “What? You’re shitting me, right? Or are you the one trying to rip me off?” He rises slowly and I level the shotgun at his gut.

     “Just sit the fuck down and listen, Daniel, before this thing goes off. What I believe is that you were the only one who shot at anybody on that boat. I think you got greedy and tried to blow Schmidt away while he was at the steering wheel. That explains the two holes and the blood by the wheel. Then you shot him again and he fell down on the deck. You thought it would be easy to throw a wounded man in the drink, but Schmidty fought you, scratched at your face as you tried to send him to the sharks. He got his hand on a Beck’s bottle and broke it on your head and stabbed you around the neck a few times. That explains the broken beer bottle on the boat and the weird little wounds on your neck. So then you struggled free and finished him off. That’s what I think. I still haven’t figured out what the dent in the hull was caused by, but I will. Just give me time.”

     “You’ve really looned out this time, Keith. All that acid has come back to haunt you I’m afraid. Because that’s one of the biggest hallucinations I’ve ever heard. Come on, let’s act like men and stop this fantasy nonsense. That was a good fable—at least until the part about the dent. The dent in the boat proves my story is true. Now can we go?”

     He’s grinning now—that condescending grin that I hate so much. I point the shotgun up at the black sky and squeeze the trigger. He jerks backward at the sound of the blast.

     “Shit, man, you’re nuts,” he says. His voice is a whine. “Ease off, Keith, c’mon, man.”

     “Sit the fuck down, asshole. I’m going to do you a favor.”

     He sits down, shivering a little, a look of disbelief on his face. 

     “I’m going to save you from yourself, Bagley. Save you from a rude comeuppance in your old age. Prevent you from having to discover the awful truth about yourself after it’s too goddamn late.” 

     He cocks his head up at me. A sniveling sneer feathers across his lips.

     I keep after him: “I get the distinct impression you think you can do anything you want—without paying the price. Karma means nothing to you. Maybe nothing means anything to you. All you care about is the gold, come whatever or whomever you have to shit on. So fuck you. I almost feel bad that I’m going to save you from growing old and realizing what a greedy, slimy piece of shit you are. But the fact is, I’m not at all sure about karma, myself. I can’t be sure that you’ll suffer enough to compensate for your trespasses. So I’m going to end it all for you, right here, right now.”

     I put the stock of the gun to my shoulder and point the barrel at his head. He puts his hands in front of his face and rolls up in a ball.

     “Don’t shoot. Cut it out. Please, Keith, this is nuts.” 

     I move closer to his fetal-positioned body. He’s crying now: “Come on, Keith. You can’t be serious. You’ll never be able to sell all that coke without my help.” Tears roll down his face and it smells like he shit himself.

     I tighten the pressure on the trigger. 

     “I’m gonna throw that garbage into the fuckin’ ocean,” I shout. “Get some sharks wired so they can take out a few more tourists.”

     “You’re insane. Please, give me a break. I—”

     I squeeze the trigger.


     The metallic sound seems to echo through the rain. 

     I turn and throw the shotgun to the sand, suppressing a chuckle. “I’ll go get the van now,” I say, and head up the beach, leaving shit boy and his backpack behind.

     He is stammering something at me as he sits up in the sand in his soiled khaki L.L. Bean deck pants. The rain drowns out the words as I chug along. About fifty yards down the beach a grin spreads over my face. It turns into a nervous laugh.

(End of Chapter 5)

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