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Florida, 1979

Life’s a Beach and then You Die

PART FIVE

I’m shaking my head and wondering about my decision as I throw my stuff into the van. But when I catch sight of Dorie standing by the motel office in a light blue, loose-fitting cotton dress that the breeze is pushing against her bra-less nipples; I quickly shrug off my anxiety, as something obviously not related to this lovely moment.

My heart is beating like a tom-tom as I reach over and unlatch the door. She steps gracefully in and looks at me, her eyebrows raised, her lips tight together, smiling thinly.

“Come on,” I say.  “Let’s get down the road.”

“Let’s roll, cowboy.”

She steps in and crosses her long, bare legs. The dress slides high up on her buttermilk thighs. All I can do is sigh. She lights up a cigarette and rolls down the window as we swing away from the motel onto the cracked asphalt.

The road stretches out ahead, shining in the hot Florida sun. Tires slap on spider webs of tar. I’m trying to decide what tape to put in, to set the mood just right. Bagley’s tapes are limited, but I finally find one that seems to fit the moment: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.

I jam it in the player. The raunchy, rolling notes come bounding out of the speakers and I know instinctively that I’ve chosen the right tape. Yes Virginia, everybody must get stoned.

Dorie’s head bounces softly to the rhythm. It’s a pretty day. The sun is shining and a few large, cottony clouds float high in the searing blue sky.  Dylan sings on. The wind blows. She’s just like a woman.

It suddenly occurs to me that I have a million dollars worth of cocaine in the back of the van and I’ve taken a stranger into my midst. My dick shrinks and the skin on my nuts tightens up. Man, do I need a drink. And here it is coming up on noon. Who could blame a person in my situation for stopping to relax his jangled nerves? I mean, there’s this sexy chick that god has sent my way…

We don’t utter a word until we get to Crystal River, a small village soon to be overrun with development.  Dorie spots a corner grocery store and asks if I could stop so she can grab a pack of smokes.  I say why don’t we wait until we find a bar somewhere and go in and have a beer and a smoke, just a little something to take the edge off.  In the meantime, she can smoke one of the Kools that I’d found in the glove compartment.

She screws up her face and looks at me, eyes narrowing.  “You know they put saltpeter in those,” she says.  “Like they give to soldiers in the war.  You know, so they won’t get horny.”

“No way. Where’d you hear that one?”

“It’s true. How many of those do you smoke a day?”

“I don’t know… not too many.”

She studies me as I nervously light up a Kool with the dashboard lighter. I smoke about half of it before flipping it out the window with a snap of my finger.

“Did you hear if Marlboros have saltpeter in them?” I ask softly.

“Sure they do. Why do you think those guys in the commercials are always alone on the range?”

“I see what you mean. So what cigarette do you recommend?”

“For me right now—it would be any non-menthol I can get my hands on. Men shouldn’t smoke at all. They should save their energies for other things.”  She flashes a knowing glance then blinks nervously and stares out the window. “Oh, all right,” she says. “I’ll have one of those Kools. If I can still have one.”

(To be continued)

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Florida, 1979

Life’s a Beach and then You Die

PART FOUR

The waitress comes out the little doorway from the kitchen with a steaming plate and sets it down on the counter in front of Dorie Lanigan, who proceeds to tear into it like tomorrow is Judgment Day. Like cigarettes and coffee and sugar have been her staples for a while. Five minutes later, she wipes the thick white plate with the last hunk of toast, jams the soggy bread into her mouth and washes it down with orange juice and more coffee, making a slurping noise when she drinks.

I’m having the thought that the wise thing to do is to get out from under while I still can. But something in me doesn’t want her slipping away. I pay the bill and have only a wrinkled twenty left.

“Do you need any money, Dorie?” I ask, my ‘kind eyes’ looking into her baby blues to see what I can find.

“I can’t take your money, Keith, after you’ve been so nice to me.  But if you could give me a ride down the road a-ways, it would help me out a lot.  I’d feel safe with a man that has kind, smart eyes like yours.”

“Sure, I’ll give you a ride. Where do you need to go?”

“About ten miles south of here, to Crystal River.  My car is getting fixed at a gas station there.”

“No problem. Where you headed after that?” I give her my soulful look.

“I don’t really know for sure. Might even come back here to the motel.  They’ve been nice to me here.  Old lady that owns it has been letting me crash in one of the rooms in exchange for some cleaning.  I guess she got sick of cleaning those lousy little rooms for a million years in a row.”

“For sure. What’s wrong with your car?”

“I think they said the timing belt… timing gear… something like that.”

“Isn’t that an expensive job?”

Her blue eyes are drenched in pathos and vulnerability; her thin lips curl down at the edges.  “I don’t know,” she says. “They didn’t say. Seemed like nice boys, though.”

She’s an attractive girl and I’m feeling needy.  I can use some companionship. I’ve always been a sucker for a sad-eyed lady. There’s something real nice about Dorie.  Also something else. But I can’t quite figure out what. Sometimes she seems a little slow but that doesn’t exactly explain it. Drifty. Maybe that better describes her. Sometimes I get the feeling that we aren’t both walking on the same earth. But come to think of it, I get that feeling around most women.

“You can ride along with me as far as you want to go. I’ve got a Volkswagen bus; there’s plenty of room. Why don’t you get your stuff and meet me out front of the motel after breakfast. I’ve just got to get my stuff from the room. What do you think?”

“I think it’s sweet. I really appreciate it.”

(To be continued)

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Florida, 1979

Life’s a Beach and then You Die

 PART THREE

A true country beauty: shoulder-length blonde hair, milky complexion, blue eyes and a certain kind of softness about her. Daylight has pushed the haunted look out to the edge of her face, revealed only by a slight pinching of the skin. She’s wearing a yellow sleeveless blouse that buttons up the front, faded blue jeans and open sandals with a low heel. Nice rounded ass. She’s drinking coffee and smoking a Winston, the flattened pack lying next to her white coffee cup and saucer.

The waitress pours coffee in my cup and in a couple of minutes, I order. I can’t help but notice two things. One: the girl isn’t eating anything. Two: she keeps looking over at me, the worried look back on her face.

I drink some of the coffee and get the urge for a cigarette. More coffee, coupled with the smell of the smoke from the girl’s cig makes the craving grow stronger. I search my pockets, fidget on the stool for a moment then turn to the blond.

“Excuse me, miss,” I say politely. “Could I bum a cigarette from you?  I’m afraid I left mine in the room—and I’m dying for one.  Pathetic, eh?”  And then, as if someone else is doing the talking:  “I tell you what, I’ll buy you breakfast in exchange for a cigarette.”

The sweet young thing gets up off her stool, moves next to me and shakes a Winston out of the nearly empty pack.

I pick it up. “Thanks a lot.”  I smile.

“No problem,” she says, her pursed lips rising slightly on the corners.  “And you don’t have to buy me breakfast just for one cigarette.”

“No, really, I’d love to. I just saw that you weren’t eating and thought I’d offer. In case you ah… in case you needed something to eat or something.  Just trying to be friendly. I mean, I saw you in here last night and you didn’t seem to be eating then, either. So I thought, well… you might be broke or something.  God knows I’ve been in that situation myself, enough times. I didn’t mean to imply that—”

“Slow down, honey,” looking in my eyes and grinning narrowly,  “you don’t have to explain. You’re a nice guy, aren’t you?”

“I try to be—sometimes it’s hard.  But where I come from, that’s the way we try to treat people.”

“And where is that you’re from?”

“Minnesota.”

“You’ve got kind eyes,” she says, looking at her coffee cup and spinning it in the saucer with her long fingers.  “For someone with eyes like that I can eat breakfast.  Mary Ellen, fix me up a steak and eggs with a tall OJ and a side of grits.”

“You like those grits?” I ask, trying to grasp what it is about a soggy pile of white slop.

“Yeah.  Used to eat’em with sugar when I was a kid.  Whatya doin’ in Florida, Mr. Kind Eyes?”

“I live down in Clearwater.”

“No shit—excuse my French.  Whattaya do there?”

“Not much.  I used to be a tennis pro until I broke my leg.”

“You must have made a lot of money…”

“No, not really.  I was a teaching pro, not a guy like Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe.”

“You make a habit of buying breakfast for strange women, Mr. Kind Eyes?  What’s your name, anyway?”

“Keith, er, Elton. Keith Elton. No, I usually only buy breakfast for those I’ve slept with the night before.”

I get a wrinkled up nose and a slurp as she directs her attention back to the coffee cup.  “Well Keith Elton from Clearwater, by way of Minnesota, pleased to meet you.” She sets down the thick cup and holds out her slender hand, nails bitten down.

I shake it lightly.

“What is your name and where are you from?” I ask, finding myself drawn in.

“Dorie Lanigan. I’m from Tennessee, by way of Las Vegas.”

“Now that’s a tough one. I’ll have to figure that one out. You were born in Vegas?”

“No, Knoxville.”

“Oh, so you moved to Vegas after… ah hah.  So, what brings you to Florida?”

“A lot of bad trouble in Vegas,” she says, turning solemn.  “My boyfriend was murdered, and my dog too.”

“What?  You’re kidding me. Jesus!  Who, in the hell did that?”

“People I’d rather not talk about. Some of my boyfriend’s business associates.  I found the two bodies in the trunk of my car one day.  Couldn’t stay in Vegas anymore after that, so I took off driving as far as my money would take me.”

“Excuse me?  What did you do with the bodies?”

“I had already called the cops and everything. They came out and hauled’em away. Happened a couple months ago. I had to get out of there. I knew the cops wouldn’t protect me. They had no leads and I wasn’t going to say anything, so…  I couldn’t handle it.  Had to get outta Dodge.”

“Somebody killed your boyfriend and your dog? Fucking Christ.  Must have been some bad people.”

“My boyfriend was into some things…” She pauses, staring at the coffee cup.  “Yes, these were bad people.  How could anyone kill a nice sweet dog?” She puts her hands to her eyes and sobs briefly, then snaps to as if nothing happened.

“Yeah.  I mean, I don’t know.”

(To be continued)

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Florida, 1979

 Life’s a Beach and then You Die

PART TWO

I dream that I’m running in slow motion through a field of tall grass, like one of those television commercials where the man and the woman are moving towards each other, arms extended. You see the anticipation on their faces as they approach each other. Each stride carries them closer to true love and the intense joy they will soon feel.

My dream is a little different. Carole is gleefully bounding toward me in that pretty little flowery sundress that she wore when we got married. We get closer to each other and I’m trying to see into her eyes. The harder I try to focus, the more the face blurs. When we’re almost together, I put out my arms and it’s not Carole’s face at all, but that of some unknown teenager with buckteeth and a pimply chin. I stop and stare at her and she changes into old Mrs. Olson. Suddenly I’m four years old and sitting on the little hill by the swing set in the backyard of my parent’s home. It’s a bright sunny day but it feels cold. My mother is hanging up wash.  Some part of my brain tells me that 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 there 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 gone. Mrs. Olson and I walk up the flight of brown stairs holding hands. At the top of the stairs I stop and look back down for a second and wish it were warmer out. Then I go inside. Mr. Olson is sitting at the white kitchen table in his shoulder-strap undershirt, reading the 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 I’m in the dinghy from the Larson E, floating helplessly in the middle of the ocean and dying of thirst. The sun is beating down on me and I’m alone, with 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.

I’ve got a fucking 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, 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, kick me in the ass when I get out.  I dress, become resplendent in Bagley’s khaki shorts and blue polo.  Tan L.L. Bean boat shoes fill out the picture, like something from a catalog.

I walk over to the diner and everything is eerily the same as the night before, same waitress and the same thin-faced blonde sitting at the end of the counter.

I change the scene this time, sitting down with only one faded blue stool between the blond and me. I smile at her, nice. Much to my surprise, she smiles back.

(To be continued)

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Florida, 1979

Life’s a Beach and then You Die

PART ONE

In the type of situation I’m in, one can lose all humanity.  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 only choice.

I’m growing very tired of my continuous spiritual dilemma. It just doesn’t relate to my reality anymore. Too much of the same old metaphysical crap: Sky Pilot or Jesus or Buddha or Gita or what-the-fuck-have-you?  That 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.

In the meantime, before I figure out what that is, I 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 to me and thank the Fates for whatever it might be. Isn’t that truly The Way?

The amazing thing is; I believe I can get away with all my crimes.

The sailboat is gone. If it is 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 hard 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, robbed, or sent to jail for the rest of your life, home free.

The weak VW heater is going full blast and my teeth are chattering along with the windshield wipers. The sign says: Otter Creek—6.

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

While searching for clothes, I come across a wallet in Bagley’s duffel.  A wallet stuffed with identification for one Elton Kirby. There’s a Colorado driver’s license, library card from Littleton, Colorado, 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 cheesy scam Dan was famous for.  I can see it all now. After he murdered Schmidt and me, he would have had to disappear, 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.

I get nice and dry, stash the forty-five kilos in various places in the van, then get back on the road and keep on rolling. On the edge of Yankeetown, I find a small motel with a parking lot that you can’t see from the road. There’s a diner a few yards away.

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

The light is dim in Elly’s Café and the paint is faded green, like pea soup.  There is one plump waitress with a wrinkled face and 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 brown T-shirt, sitting at the end of the counter. She’s 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 a haunted look in her cloudy blue eyes and a sculpted nose and chin.

The waitress plops down chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy in front of me and I temporarily lose interest in the girl.

I wolf down the chow and barely have enough strength to limp back to the room.  Once inside, I double lock the doors and flip on the tube.  I pull back the green, chenille bedspread and plop down on 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. I find a rerun of Starsky and Hutch, where Huggy Bear goes undercover as a pimp, and let the drone put me to sleep.

(To be continued)

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