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Archive for the ‘Fatally Flawed Excerpts’ Category

Florida, 1979

Life’s a Beach and then You Die

PART EIGHT

That’s all I can say before she jumps at me like a sea bird snaring a dead shrimp, slams her lips against mind and begins probing deeply with her velvety tongue. I don’t fight back when she puts her hand between my legs and feels the merchandise. In fact, I encourage it by demonstrating my growth as a human being, an upstanding citizen to be sure.

Just as she crawls on top of me and replaces her hand with her throbbing, hot crotch, a rush of paranoia rips through me like a blast of heat lightning.

Fuck if I don’t push her off me and climb out of the van. I mean, that’s all I need: to get caught by some god-fearing cop for public fornication.  These backwater cops have a way of taking everything so personally. I’ve got enough coke in the van to keep the discos on Clearwater Beach going for a year or more and—I tell you—that suddenly becomes enough for me to handle.

She looks at me, flabbergasted, brushing down her dress, which is hiked up and revealing some of the creamiest thigh I’ve seen in a long time. It’s enough to make you want to cry.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “We’re just too close to the road here. The drugs and all… you know what I mean. I just can’t relax.”

She gets out and grabs my shoulders, starts kissing me again, putting her hand back where I like it. I put my hands on her arms and slowly push her away.

“Maybe we can find a better place down the road. We can’t stay here.”

The back of my neck is burning as I slide the door closed and walk around to the driver’s door. She climbs in the other side, looks over at me, throws her head back and laughs. I’m not quite sure what to think of the laugh; seems like a hint of mania riding its edge. I start the engine and pull out. My blood is boiling and I’m worried that the moment has passed me by.  Hot beads of sweat plaster my forehead as I shift into fourth gear and put the gas pedal to the floor. I’m thinking I have to find someplace in a hurry or everything is going to turn to shit; Cinderella’s going to turn ugly and run home.

Somewhere there’s a place for us.

I’m bobbing with anxiety, searching the distance for a road that might lead to some privacy. There has to be a road, somewhere. I’m always reading in the papers about dead bodies being found on lonely Florida roads. Shit like that happens all the time.

I become so lost inside my head and its vainglorious struggles that I forget about my speed. My eyes are searching the distance so much that I forget what’s right in front of me. I mean I know VW vans don’t go very fast—so it’s not something you usually worry about.

The van is vibrating smoothly along when my ears pick up that horrible sound.

(To be continued)

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Florida, 1979

Life’s a Beach and then You Die

PART SEVEN

I shut off the engine, get out and walk around to the other side of the van, slide open the side door and get in. Dorie is craning her neck around, looking at me. I smile up at her. She turns back around, pushes her hair back behind her ear with a snap of her wrist, lights up a Chesterfield and watches the smoke disappear out the window.

“Could you hand me that mirror from off of that visor above your head, please, Dorie? And there’s a pocketknife in the glove compartment. I need that too.”

She slides the mirror off the visor and hands it to me. “You better watch out,” she says playfully. “When I do coke, I get kind of crazy.”  Then she reaches in the glove box and brings out the knife.

“I think I can handle it,” I say and crawl on my knees to where the duffel is laying. I loosen the drawstring.  I reach down until I feel the plastic wrap, pull a brick to the surface and squeeze the contents in my sweating fingers. There’s a catch in my throat. I swallow hard and glance around at Dorie, who’s staring out the window and twirling her hair with her middle finger.

I turn my back to her and make a small incision in the wrapping.  My fingers tremble; my mouth is dry; my heart pounds. Somewhere in the back of my mind someone is screaming but I don’t want to listen. All I crave is that feeling, that buzz. Now I have enough dope to make it last. This girl and me, together… Life is a party.

I scoop a small pile onto the mirror and pulsate at the sight. Shining, glittering, soft rocks fall apart and sparkle in the sunlight. I carefully shove the brick back in the duffel and stuff some clothes over it.  I crawl up and set the mirror down on the counter top behind Dorie’s seatback.

“There you go,” I say. “Just turn around and have at it.”

“How am I supposed to do this?  Where’s the hundred dollar bill?”

“Ha, ha. You’ll just have to scoop some up with the knife or—why don’t you come around here so nobody can see from the road. We’ll be two tourists stretching our legs.”

“And packing their noses.”

“That too.”

She comes around. We put the mirror on the carpet and lift little piles of powder to our noses with the knife blade. With this much coke, not snorting it would be like going to Studio 54 without a dick. Just plain sacrilege.

So we’re sitting next to each other, our feet dangling out the side of the bus, saying nothing and staring at the greenery. My lips and gums go numb and my brain is exploding like a bottle rocket in a fireplace. We are silent for a long moment, long enough for me to try and think up something to say and not succeed, several times. Finally, I turn to her nervously: “So, what do you thi—”

(To be continued)

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Florida, 1979

Life’s a Beach and then You Die

PART SIX

I’m turning into electrified Jello when I spot the all important tavern sign.

The Sandpiper Lounge: faded, blue box with a big air conditioner sticking out a side window.

“Shall we?” I say like the fly to the spider, “I’ll buy you a beer.” I point at the fine establishment.

“Why not,” she says.

I park. We get out. We go in.

Behind the leather-covered bar is a bartender, a few beer signs and a lot of bottles. We have a couple beers each and get to talking.  Then we get to laughing about things and teasing. You know how it is.  Once in a while she puts her hand on my arm, real friendly and warm.  I buy her a pack of Chesterfields (her “favorite” but they don’t have them everyplace, so then she has to smoke Winstons).

I get the change and realize I’m down to my last five bucks and have no idea how I’m going to get any more. A pang hits my gut.

“We’ve got to go,” I say, suddenly sober.

“You don’t look so good,” she says. “Is it me? You can leave me here if you want to.”

“No, it’s not you, Dorie, it’s me. I’m down to my last five bucks, but you’re welcome to share it with me.”

“Cheer up, sweetie, things’ll work out.  Hows about if I drive? Never driven one of those hippie vans before.”

“No, I’m all right.  I can drive, if I can do anything.  I’m just not sure where I should drive to.”

“Don’t you have people?  Didn’t you say you were from Clearwater? Why aren’t you going back there?”

“No place to go. Well, that’s not totally right. There are a couple of options.  Say listen, five bucks isn’t going to get us very far. What do you say we blow the rest on drinks and then hit the road and see what happens?”

“It’s your party, cowboy. I’m only going a mile down.”

“Then where? You don’t even know, do you? You’re broke, just like me, aren’t you? Can’t you see it? You and I have been thrown together by the Hands of Fate.  And I think there’s some meaning in that.  I mean, what are the odds, for Christ sake?  Two people find each other in the middle of Nowhere, Florida and get along famously like you and I do. What are the odds?”

“You are a dreamer, Keith Elton.”

“But I’m not the only one.”

I order us up two gin and tonics so at least we can enjoy our last few moments together in style. Five bucks turns to one and I leave it for the bartender. We finish the drinks in a hurry and walk outside into the bright sun and it’s the best I’ve felt for days. I take a deep breath and a premonition that doom is right around the corner hits me and I don’t even care. I have some food in the van and a million dollars worth of dope, why should I care?

Then I start thinking: what the hell, why not have a snort?  Why not enjoy a little of the bounty that’s been dropped into my lap by the powers that be?  I can sneak back there and grab a little without the girl even knowing what I’m doing. She seems to be the type of girl that might enjoy a little toot, though. Like a lot of people, these days…

I wrestle with the idea as we get back onto the highway. I’ve got a craving both for the drug and for the girl, or some twisted combination of the two. After five long minutes, with knots in my stomach and bees in my head, I pull off the road, unable to fight the urges any longer.

“What’s the matter?” Dorie asks nervously.

“I’ve got a little something in the back that you might enjoy. Well, at least I will. It’ll only take a minute. We’re out in plain sight of the highway, nothing to worry about. I have to get something out of the back.”

“I wasn’t worried about getting hurt,” she says. “I was afraid of getting dumped.”

“I wouldn’t do something like that. I wanted to have a little toot that’s all. Thought, maybe you might want to join me.  It’ll take the fuzz out of the booze high.”

“Are you kidding?  There’s blow in this bus?  Jesus, I don’t know.”

“You ever tried it before?”

She looks around nervously, fidgeting in the sheepskin-covered seat.

“Oh yeah, I’ve tried it before. That stuff got my boyfriend killed. This is just too unreal. I run into a dreamboat and he’s into coke, too.  I mean, that’s heavy… scares me a little.”

“Yeah, I guess. It is scary, I suppose. But there’s coke around everywhere these days, especially in this fucking state. It’s hardly rare. I’ve got a little bit. I just thought a toot would be a good idea, help to bring out the sunshine and ah—well, make it easier to drive. I’m kinda loaded.”

“Well honey, so am I. Just high enough to say yes, against my better judgment.”

I smile and feel the adrenaline crawling up my spine.

(To be continued)

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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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