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Archive for the ‘Jackpine Savages – Chapter 1’ Category

Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT EIGHT

I rode the bumper of the Suburban in front of me, pushed down the turn signal and checked the rearview. Dan was hopelessly mired behind three other vehicles. I got on the squawk box and filled him in.

Minnesota State Highway 1, along which Rose was rapidly racing, flows north from Lake Superior to Ely, gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a destination where thousands of tourists arrive yearly to paddle around in pristine, uncrowded waters and be harassed and shot at by drunken local youths.

Soon Dan’s big truck was right behind me as we sped along between the pines. I got on the walkie-talkie and told him to turn around and head home, I’d pay him tomorrow.

It seemed I didn’t want to share Rose.

I watched in the mirror as Burton pulled off at a forest road and turned back toward the lake. I sped on, came to the crest of a hill and caught sight of the Focus about a mile ahead, approaching a bridge construction site, flagman standing in the road. I felt my heart drop into my gut. I hit the gas and watched with growing frustration as the flagman (actually an aging blond woman with leathery, sun-baked skin) waved Rose through.

I had to hit the brakes when the flag bearer spun her little orange sign on its axis, showing me the STOP. I was forced to wait as the traffic from the far side trickled across the bridge in the only open lane, my gut like the inside of a beehive.

Again I had blown it.

Five minutes later, after ten or fifteen vehicles had gone past, the chesty blond spun the sign to SLOW—CAUTION. I raced ahead recklessly but Rose was nowhere to be seen. I drove all the way to Ely, futilely searched up and down the town for the Rosemobile before turning around and making the long drive back to the lakeshore.

First bar I could find with a view of the lake, I ordered a double-vodka on the rocks and called Talbot, told him the sorry state of affairs. The edgy tone of his voice let me know he was losing his patience. But the words he spoke were again understanding and sympathetic, ending with: “Tomorrow is Friday. What say you have one more try at it?”

Of course I agreed. The money was too good to quit. As long as Billy wanted me on the job, I’d be there for him.

Later that night I was collapsed on my couch drinking from a cold bottle of Molson Canadian and watching the Twins getting pounded by the Yankees. The phone jangled on the end table. I picked it up. “Hello,” I said.

“That you, Carter?”

I recognized Dick Sacowski’s voice. “Yeah, Dick. What’s up?”

“That fucking cunt smacked Billy again tonight, man. This shit has got to stop, Carter. He’d just come home from fishing with me—he’s sitting in his chair looking out the window—when she comes up behind him and snakes his bag of pot out of his jacket pocket. He grabs at it and she slaps him in the goddamn head, says she’ll call the fucking sheriff if he raises a stink. That’s the second time she’s done that shit.”

“Not good, man,” I said. “Not good at all. I tell you what; I got an idea. A change of tactics.” Inspiration had come to me just a few minutes prior while watching a TV replay of a stand-up triple by Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. “I got a friend here in town that’s pretty good with video. I was thinking we could get inside Billy’s house and set up some hidden cameras and microphones and stuff. Then if she pulls anything, Billy will have his bargaining chip.”

“Great idea,” Sacowski said. “I’ll tell Billy. How long you gonna need inside?”

“I dunno, couple hours at least, more if possible. Can we get away with that?”

“I think so. Rose usually hits the Safe Harbor Bar in Beaver Bay on Fridays for happy hour. They run a special on them Long Island ice teas. Bitch can really throw’em down. Usually stays a while.”

“Great. Tell Billy that my assistant and I will be up there tomorrow around one. I’ll call him when I get close.”

“Gotcha. See you then.”

After the connection severed and the line buzzed in my ear, the first thing that came to me was a question: Why didn’t somebody think of the hidden-camera bit a long time ago? Just about anybody who ever saw a reality TV show could have come up with it. But what the hell, that’s what I was getting paid for, coming up with clever plans to trick the evildoers. The kind of shit we dicks do.

(To be continued)

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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT NINE

By six o’clock Friday afternoon, my electronics-wizard friend Tommy Basulio had tiny cameras and voice bugs set up in strategic areas of Talbot’s house: kitchen, living room, carport entrance and Billy’s bedroom. I stressed to Billy that if he was going to confront Rose or accuse her of anything, it was best done in one of these areas. I was feeling pretty good as Tommy and I left that fabulous house on the cliff. Besides being blown away by the view, I felt we had gone a long way toward solving my client’s dilemma. Billy Talbot must have felt the same, because he’d written out a nice large check and told me my services would no longer be needed, at least, until further notice.

I could have taken this as a rude dismissal but chose instead to look at it as an acknowledgement of a job completed satisfactorily.

I took it easy for the next few days and tried to enjoy the fruits of my unlikely success. But I couldn’t shake the lingering feeling that the job was unfinished. That there was something more I could do to help Billy.

And then one day I got the chance.

I was at my office researching possible forms of advertising, idleness having proved to be not as fun now as it had been at age thirty or forty. The only marketing plan I’d come up with was an ad in the yellow pages of the phone book. I was nearly finished with the Brown Investigations ad copy, having rejected What can Brown do for you? and Brown gets Down, in favor of the straightforward Brown gets it done.

My desk phone sounded.

It was Talbot, croaking in a weak, hoarse voice: “Brown? This is Billy Talbot. I need your help again. Things here are getting out of hand.”

Seemed to me they’d been out of hand for a long while. “What can I do to help, Billy?”

“Today I got three credit card bills for a total of thirty-seven thousand dollars. Cash advances at the maximum rate of interest the bloodsuckers can charge.” His voice trembled.

“Jesus fucking Christ—that’s a lot of scratch. Have you thought of communicating directly with the companies that issue the credit cards? Get Rose on some list or something?”

Suddenly there was strength in his voice: “You think I should start contacting every fucking banking conglomerate that might issue credit cards? Not to mention the retail outlets and other financial institutions and whoever the fuck else…”

“It’s not like I can pull her over and confiscate her wallet or anything, Billy. My hands are pretty much tied. I can’t mug her at the steps of the post office. You’d think the recent state of the economy would limit the number of offers out there.”

“Maybe you could do a better job of surveillance, Mr. Brown. She’s gotta be doing something with all the cash. And she’s also become more violent, as of late.”

“Are you getting it on tape?”

“I’m afraid Rose discovered the cameras and broke them. Took out the tapes and destroyed them, as well.”

“Are you shitting me? That’s some expensive equipment.”

“Tell me something I don’t know. I’ve already contacted Mr. Basilio and informed him. I called the number on the business card he left with me when the two of you were here.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Got any other bright ideas, Brown? Things are worse now than before you set out to help me.”

“All right, Billy, I get the hint. Do you want me to put a tail on her again? I can find another vehicle and bring a partner. I’m sure we can stay with her this time.”

“If that’s the best you can come up with, I suppose it will have to do. Excuse me if I don’t jump for joy.”

Dude and his sarcasm were beginning to get on my nerves, disabled or not. Then inspiration hit me and washed the annoyance away. All private eyes had their little group of assistants and confidantes. I just needed to gather my own gang of cohorts together for a bit of subterfuge.

“You know what, Billy?” I said. “You’re right. I was piss-poor at surveillance. But now I’ve got a plan that will solve all your problems with your wife. All you need to do is have her home and in the house at a prearranged time and date. I’ll have some friends of mine pay her a visit with a message she’ll find hard to deny.”

“My ravaged heart is fluttering with anticipation.”

“That’s a start. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

I clicked off, relieved to sever the connection with Talbot, who seemed to have the power to suck out my energy through the phone line.

It took ten minutes of deep breathing before I could call around about renting a Ford Crown Victoria, preferably in black. I settled for a maroon one. Found it in the West End at the rental agency that used to try harder. I figured it would suffice, maroon being one of the Minnesota state colors.  Rah, Rah for the old Maroon and Gold and all that.

With transportation taken care of, I began recruiting players for my upcoming theatrical production of  “Scare the Hell out of the Misbehaving Wife.” I delved deeply into a mixed bag of old associates—burnouts, recovering alcoholics, head cases and general refugees from the past. I already had Dan Burton and Tommy Basilio on board and needed one more willing participant.

The spinning wheel stopped at the image of Jeff Tormoen—local actor, radio DJ and barroom brawler with the size, authoritative voice and upright bearing needed for the role I had in mind.

Being somewhat “between gigs,” Torm was more than willing to jump on for the ride.

The next step was ordering phony badges and blank identification cards off the Internet. After that, I assembled the cast of characters for a morning photo shoot with Tommy Basilio. We spent the afternoon going over our roles. Three days later, the ID cards arrived in the mail. We were well rehearsed and ready.

On the morning previously arranged with Talbot, Dan Burton, clean-shaven and dressed in a cheap brown suit and brown wingtips, and Jeff Tormoen, similarly clad in a navy blue suit and scuffed black oxfords, motored up the North Shore in the big maroon Crown Vic. I followed close behind in the Subaru, staying in voice contact through the police-style radio system Tommy had installed in the Ford for the sake of realism.

(To be continued)

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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT SEVEN

A few minutes went by and I started wondering how long it took to smoke a cigarette these days. But you know how it is with chicks: they talk a lot. Ten minutes later, I got a jumpy feeling in my gut and headed for the door. Once outside, I looked slowly around and saw no one, only mist rising from the gravel. I walked toward my vehicle. The red Ford was nowhere to be seen.

Rose had beaten me again.

I had to swallow a lot of shit to tell Talbot of my latest error in judgment. He took it well, and just said, ”Try it again tomorrow,” while I struggled to reassure him that his wife didn’t know she was being shadowed.

I knew this was just bad luck. I’d find my P.I. chops real soon.

Back in Duluth, I went directly to my apartment, a nicely designed basement one-bedroom in the elegant East End home of an elderly retired couple. I grabbed a beer from the fridge and got on the telephone. I was going to need help with this case.

The next morning there were two of us heading up Highway 61. I was behind the wheel of the Subaru. Following closely behind in his GROAT (Grossly Oversized American Truck) was my old pal Dan Burton. We had attended college together (when we actually chose to attend) at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and partied together for a long time after that. Dan was now one year sober and unemployed, which made him perfectly suited to be my sidekick. Not only, was he grateful for the work, but now I wouldn’t have to buy him drinks, something that could have amounted to a small fortune in the past. About six-two and over two hundred pounds, Burton was handy to have around should trouble start up, something I had learned a few times over the years.

I set Burton and his truck in the wayside near Talbot’s driveway. I parked on the shoulder about a half-mile south of him in case Rosie decided to alter her previous pattern. Burton and I had in our possession Motorola Walkie-talkies with a seven-mile range, recently purchased at a local Best Buy with some of the retainer money.

Just as before, I passed the morning playing tourist mesmerized by the beauty of the lake. It wasn’t difficult on a sunny and cool day with a clean northwest wind wrinkling the surface of the steel-blue water. Dan would occasionally pop on the airwaves just to fight his boredom and I’d have to tell him to stay off until necessary. I think it was hard for him to take the situation seriously. After all, it was Carter Brown he was working for. That fact alone was strange enough to him, I was sure.

The world slowly turned to early afternoon.

I was thinking about food when the walkie-talkie crackled.

“She’s got the mail and she’s headed your way,” Dan said hoarsely.

I snapped up the binoculars and homed in on a blinding sunspot on the hood of the Focus. Little blue spots erupted in my vision. I scrunched down in the seat and turned my head toward the lake as Rose hissed by.

“Get after her, Dan,” I said into the little black and yellow box, “I’ll follow you.”

Seconds later the big gray pickup roared by, Dan waving like an idiot.

We followed Rose to Two Harbors where she drove up to the small, brick post office building. I parked a block away where I could still see her car. Dan drove down past the post office and parked facing me.

It wasn’t long before she came through the double glass doors and strutted down the steps, got in her vehicle and left the lot. I was guessing she was heading for Duluth to do some shopping, as she was wearing a green, short-sleeved cotton dress. Exactly why the dress made me think she was going shopping, I really don’t know.

She quickly proved me wrong by turning north on 61 and moving away at high speed.

Burton and I gave chase and again the strange caravan began weaving its way along the scenic North Shore Drive. I was a little worried Rose might recognize the Subaru so I stayed back as far as I could while still keeping her in sight. The fact that these small SUVs were nearly as prevalent up here as the black flies, worked in my favor.

Rose was passing everything on the road and making it difficult to keep up. At one point, I had to hurtle past an RV and a UPS delivery van in rapid succession and cut back into my lane at the last instant, narrowly avoiding a speeding semi while the little Subaru “boxer engine” roared like a sewing machine about to blow. Up ahead of me, Rose’s Focus was making a left on Highway 1 and shooting off into the forest primeval.

I gave chase.

(To be continued)

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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT SIX

Billy chuckled at my tale of woe. I felt my face warming and it wasn’t from the sun. My insides squirmed like leeches on a hot sidewalk.

“No problem, Carter,” Billy said. “My little Rose is a slippery one.”

“I don’t think she was hip to me, Billy,” I insisted. But I wasn’t so sure.

“You’ll just have to try again tomorrow, Carter,” he said dryly. “I think you should be there at ten tomorrow morning. I’m sure you’ll do better on your second day.”

The condescension iced my brain and made my temples throb.

The next day dawned like the kind of day the locals would say we’re famous for: gray and rainy skies with a wind off the lake keeping the coastal area in the low fifties. I drove up in the morning and had to put the car heater on—in August.

I sat in the wayside by Talbot’s road and listened to KUMD FM while the North Shore began to wake up. Nothing moved down the Talbot Road until after two in the afternoon. It was the same deal, the mail truck came and went and shortly thereafter the red Ford bounced down the hill and stopped at the mailbox.

This time she was dressed in a blue jeans and a blue flannel shirt with the first three buttons open. I caught her full frontal in the binocs and I thought she smiled at me, if only for a second.

I kept her in sight all the way to the municipal, where she pulled in to the same spot as the day before. I swung into my familiar space and threw the shifter in Park. I turned up the radio and the fan on the defogger. The college radio station faded and I punched the search button.

After half an hour of mind-numbing hackneyed classic rock from the likes of Styx and Rush and ELO, I was getting restless. This aspect of private eye work plain flat sucked.

I watched water droplets collect on my windshield. Again I pushed the search button on the radio. Pine trees bobbed and weaved on the hill across the road. A Canadian talk show came on the FM.

Is back bacon good for you?

I shut off the ignition and went in the bar.

It was a generic barroom, two-thirds full of guys in flannel or denim shirts and Carhartt overalls, the weather having evidently cut the day’s labors short. Rose was sitting in a high-backed chair at the brightly polished bar, a tall coke drink of some kind sweating on the counter between her and the bartender, a forty-something guy wearing an orange T-shirt with Ask Me For a Slow Screw printed across the front. He was leaning in close with his hands on the bar top.

He ignored me as I sat down.

I shuffled nervously and took a good look at Rose. She was cuter than I’d thought. Looked younger than her years, which I guessed to be mid-to-late thirties. She had a kind of athletic grace in her movements that more than compensated for her wide shoulders and hips. Old Billy must have been quite a stud back in the day to corral this sexy beast. But I was getting carried away. I was here to find out if she was having an affair, not entice her into one.

“Bartender, can I get a Budweiser please?”

The tender shot me a slightly annoyed glance, straightened up and sighed. He turned around and bent over, opened the cooler door and wearily dragged out a Bud. Without making eye contact, he twisted the top, set the bottle in front of me and continued down to the end of the bar where a wrinkled elderly couple was drinking Miller Lite and watching the wall-mounted television.

I put down a five, took a swallow of beer and snuck a look at Rose. She was smiling at me like a flower in the desert. Always a sucker for a pretty face, I felt like saying something to her. Instead I grabbed my beer and moved down to where I could catch the live poker action on the tube.

I saw Rose turn toward the front door as a blond wearing a blue denim jacket and jeans and sporting red lips and scary black fingernails sashayed in.

The pony-tailed blond sat next to Rose and the two women started talking excitedly, shutting the bartender out. I tried to listen but I had my weaker ear towards them and the TV was turned up high for the old couple. The bits and pieces of the conversation I could catch didn’t sound like much of anything. Nothing important or relevant to the case.

During a tense, quiet moment in the ESPN Texas Hold’em game, I heard Rose say: “God, I wish you could smoke in here. I can’t get used to not smoking in a bar.”

Another positive reaction to the statewide smoking ban.

The blond said, “Wanna go outside?”

Rose: “It’s shitty out.”

Blond: “Ain’t that bad.”

Rose: “All right then. You want a drink first?”

“I can wait.”

“A Bud Light for Gloria, Pete, on my tab.” Rose said. “We’re going out for a smoke.”

The two women both glanced at me at the same time. Quick, darting glances. Then they stood up and went outside. I took advantage of the opportunity and hit the men’s room. Came back out and got another Bud. Gloria’s Bud Light was still sweating on the bar top. I looked up at the TV. The poker game was in the final hand. High stakes. High tension. A bald guy wearing sunglasses eventually won. Had a full boat, queens over fives.

(To be continued)

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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT FIVE

Surveillance. Put on a tail and make it stay. A simple and basic act that all fictional private eyes from Race Williams to Patrick Kensey depended upon. If I had known the situation in advance, I might have brought in an assistant. That way we could change vehicles if Rose somehow got hip to the tail. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t need any help. Most women, the only thing they see in the rearview mirror is their hair and makeup.

It was nice in that wayside, even a little chilly at times with the lake breeze coming in the car window. I had the sky blue water on my right and the brilliant, sun-speckled green of the hillside on my left. After an hour or so of waiting, just as my client had predicted, the postal truck rolled to a stop across the road from me. A short, squat guy in blue Postal Service shorts got out and stuck a handful of mail in the unpainted metal box mounted on a post at the side of Talbot’s steep driveway. Fifteen minutes after the truck drove away, a small red car came bouncing down the asphalt and pulled up next to the mailbox. I’d been trying to imagine what Rose might look like, narrowing it down to either a burly bowling broad type in a red and black lumberjack shirt or a gum-chewing nymphet in hair curlers with the IQ of a snow hare.

As she exited the car, I could see she landed somewhere in between. I put the binoculars on her—an indispensable P.I. tool—and found her to be cute, but not beautiful, with short brown hair and a few freckles. Tall, wide in the shoulders and hips but with a nice little teacup tush inside cut-off jeans that showed off strong and nicely shaped, tan legs.

She pulled a stack of mail out of the box and jumped back in the Ford, jerked onto the highway and headed north towards Taconite Bay. I gave her a little head start and followed, feeling confident she’d never notice me, at least until we got into town, if in fact that was where we were headed.

According to Billy Talbot, who’d been quite talkative at brunch with a load of coffee running through him, Rose was the daughter of a former Rourke Mining executive. Rourke Mining being the company that had essentially built the town of Taconite Bay. This seemed to contradict Billy’s earlier “peasant stock” comment but with the kind and quantity of drugs he was taking I’m surprised he could even string a sentence together.

Gamely continuing, Billy sadly recalled how Rose’s father had resigned from Rourke and taken his family to Minneapolis, shortly after the asbestos-like taconite residue the company was routinely discharging into Lake Superior caused a huge environmental scare and forced the state to shut down the entire operation. Taconite Bay had gone from boom to bust in no time at all but was currently on a slight rebound, as Rourke was back in operation on a limited scale.

Our sweet Rose, whose marriage to Billy had been against her parents’ wishes, had defiantly stayed behind in the dying town. Now it seemed she was nurturing some regret. After the accident had left her man only half there, she had allegedly begun to communicate more frequently with mumsy and dadsy. And, Billy said, was growing more receptive to her parents’ familiar refrain: Leave your husband and return to civilization.

Billy was obviously hurt, confused and suspicious. It was hard for me not to hate this woman without even having met her.

I swung the Subaru onto the asphalt and got the red Ford in my sights, staying comfortably behind until she drew alongside the Rourke plant, a looming, rust-brown industrial monstrosity with the aura of a Third Reich munitions plant, lines of belching smokestacks on the roof pointing to the sky like anti-aircraft guns.

The warning light at the railroad crossing was flashing red. Rose came to a stop and I had no choice but to roll in behind her. An ore-filled train was crossing the highway and chugging up the incline to our left, throwing out dust that was undoubtedly toxic. Rose fussed with her hair in the rearview. I turned my head toward the plant and pulled my Guinness cap down over my eyes.

Staring up at the gargantuan Rourke building, I recalled fondly how, in the middle of the aforementioned taconite tailings fiasco, my first wife had freely and frequently expressed a strong desire to blow this hulking polluter of the last clean Great Lake to shreds. Recyclable shreds, of course. Ah, for the good old days and dreams of social activism. Talk like that today and you get a visit from the friendly folks at Homeland Security.

The train passed, the red light went off and Rose sped away. A half-mile ahead another stoplight stood at the turn to Taconite Bay. I saw the left turn signal on the Ford Focus start to blink. I kept my distance. Although it had been a while since I’d been here, I knew everything in the tiny town of Taconite Bay was either on or very close to the main drag.

I followed the path of the little red car into town and found it in the parking lot of the municipal liquor store and lounge. It was 3:45 by my dashboard clock. I debated going inside for happy hour, thought better of it and instead parked at the edge of the lot where I could see both the front door of the tavern and the Focus.

Forty minutes later, my mouth was dry as a cob as Rose spilled out of the muni and flounced back into her car. She was alone, no men following. That was good. At least for Billy. I started the Forester and watched her pull out and head back toward the highway.

She wasn’t screwing around this time; blowing through town at fifty miles an hour with her arm lolling out the window, thumb flicking at a cigarette. She flew through the intersection just as the light turned red, made a left and headed north.

I got stuck at the red light.

Just as I was contemplating running the light, having deduced that local law enforcement was scarce, a sheriff’s department SUV appeared in my rearview. He must not have seen Rose’s turn because he stopped behind me and we both waited like good citizens for the light to change color.

The copper turned right and I went left. I put the pedal down and ran up the shore for thirty minutes, vainly searching every driveway and side road for red-red Rosey.

No luck. No sign of the Ford. I’d lost my pigeon. Failure in my first day on the job. I wanted to hit a bar and get hammered. Instead I got out my cell phone to call Talbot and tell him the bad news.

Goddamn cell phones.

(To be continued)

Read Full Post »

Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT FOUR

The wind was coming hard out of the southeast as I eased my Subaru Forester onto scenic Highway 61, a winding, predominantly two-lane strip of asphalt that traces the northern shore of Lake Superior all the way to Canada. It was the kind of day a travel magazine might claim we’re famous for around here. The lake was emerald green and churning with thin whitecaps. Seagulls circled in the air-conditioned winds that held the coastal area at a pleasant seventy-four degrees while the inland sweated in the nineties. The type of day that attracted the tourists, the throngs who’d changed the region from the remote and isolated area it once was to the RV and SUV magnet of the present. The old motor lodges and commercial fishing shacks were pretty much gone, replaced by rustic-look condo developments, trophy homes and upscale lodges.

Sky Blue Waters Lodge, where I was to meet Talbot and Sacowski for brunch, was part of the “New North Shore.” Freshly milled log structure, flowery name and all. But I didn’t care. It’s not as if it was ever going to become like Florida up here, every inch of coastline filled with development. No, it was still winter half the year this far north and that simple fact was a time-proven natural ceiling on high-end growth. Or so it had always been.

Traffic was heavy through Two Harbors even at ten-thirty in the morning. Farther north, up past Crow Creek, a paved bike path meandered along parallel to the highway. Thing had fancy wrought-iron bridges that seemed to have yuppie bait written all over them. I was exceeding the speed limit because I didn’t want to be late for my first client, especially one who seemed to be generous with the filthy lucre. A private eye has to be punctual unless danger has somehow detained him. The only danger I sensed at this point was the pop-up camper directly in front of me dancing on the back-end of a Chevy pickup like a johnboat in a hurricane. The shock absorbers on the trailer were obviously shot, and the ones on the truck not much better. It brought to mind a past incident on this same highway. A horrific incident that occurred when just such a trailer broke loose from its moorings on one of the very same curves we were approaching. The wayward trailer then flew across into oncoming traffic, severing the heads of a young couple on a motorcycle.

Death by trailer was not the way I wanted to go out. Especially not when my fortunes seemed to be on the upswing. But I knew the Forester was a real safe vehicle because the ads on TV had told me so. Also a symbol of earth-friendly progressive thought and an adventurous spirit. Fortunately, I saw the Sky Blue Waters Lodge sign coming up on the right. I took a deep breath and flipped on the blinker, found myself wondering what a wealthy paraplegic eats for brunch. Told myself it was a stupid question and not worthy of one such as I. But that’s the way it is for me, the thoughts just come flying through, quality control non-existent.

Shortly I found out that a paraplegic—Billy Talbot anyway—eats scrambled eggs and a pile of bacon for brunch. Just like nearly everybody else in the nearly full restaurant. Myself, I had the eggs, American fries and coffee. I don’t usually drink coffee these days; stuff gets me too edgy, but I wanted to at least create the illusion of alertness.

We had a pleasant meal and Talbot agreed to my terms and fees, all of which I’d obtained from The Private Eye Handbook, a handy tome purchased on the Internet.

And now I’m going to be perfectly honest. I need to tell you that my Drake Career Institute Private Detective diploma was about as worthless as a paper shirt in a windstorm. As if you didn’t know. Maybe it could have been helpful if I had actually studied; but in fact, I had cribbed the answers to the final exam off the Internet. You can find anything on the Internet these days.

Leaving the restaurant, I was feeling pretty good. I had to thank Sacowski for lining me up with a sweet gig. Even sweeter when you consider it was the maiden voyage on my sea of cases, if you don’t mind a little purple prose.

Talbot had it all mapped out. Had me follow his van back to a wayside rest just down the highway from the entrance to his cliff-side home. I was to wait there until Rose Marie Talbot came bouncing out in her red Ford Focus. Then I was to follow her.

(To be continued)

Read Full Post »

Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

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nieaseal

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CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT THREE

I was excited for my first possible case. I wanted to look right, like a real private eye. I wished I had a cute-but-not-beautiful secretary/receptionist to greet my prospective clients.

I couldn’t decide if I should wait calmly inside the office or go to the door and show them in. Before I could make up my mind, my brand new frosted-glass door, recently installed by one of the many former-hippies-turned-carpenters in the area, slid open.

Sweat rolled from Sacowski’s back and shoulders like spring runoff on a North Shore stream as he swung the wheelchair around, faced me and wiped his palms on his jeans. The dude in the chair was grinning up at me, his eyes kind of floating off to the side. I was wondering what drugs they had to feed the guy just to keep him going. Must’ve been one hell of a cocktail.

“Dick, come on in, man, good to see you,” I said, smiling at both of them in turn, and gesturing towards the interior of the office, the former living room.

Dick Sacowski gasped for breath, tried to speak but started coughing. He put his fist to his mouth, doubled over and retched for thirty seconds.

“Richard smokes too much,” said the guy in the wheelchair, his voice unsteady and weak.

Dick gave out one last hack and smiled sheepishly.

“You going to be all right, Richie?” the guy in the wheelchair said. “Think you can get me to the desk?”

I heard the sarcasm in his voice but I didn’t think Sacowski noticed. Or he didn’t care. Or he was used to it. He just shook his head, laughed nervously and wheeled the chair across the scuffed hardwood floor to the front of my oak desk.

“Gentlemen,” I said, going around to my side of the desk and taking a seat in the wheeled, cloth-covered gray chair. “How can I be of service to you today?”

“Billy here’s got woman problems,” Sacowski said, finally regaining his wind.

Of course he’s got woman problems, the business end of his body is fucking paralyzed.

“We haven’t been formally introduced,” I said, getting up and going around the desk. I extended my hand as the dude twitched in the wheelchair. “Carter Brown.”

“Billy Talbot, Mr. Brown,” he said, his voice steadier and stronger now as he extended a slightly bent hand on the end of a wiry, thin arm.

I shook it. It was cold on a hot day. Surprisingly strong grip, though.

“Exactly what kind of woman problems are we talking here?” I said, going back to my chair.

Sacowski walked over to the open window and bent down to receive the breeze while Talbot straightened his torso as best he could. “It’s my wife, Mr. Brown,” Talbot said. “Since I’ve come into some money, she’s becoming—shall we say—a little difficult.”

“By difficult, you mean you think she’s having an affair and you want me to tail her?”

“I haven’t jumped to those conclusions yet. But there is some unexplained time—and some financial difficulties, as well. Ritchie tells me you’re perceptive when it comes to women.”

I tried to keep a straight face. “I’m sure my two ex-wives would agree,” I said. “But I’m still not clear on what it is you want me to do.”

“His wife is robbing him blind, Carter,” Sacowski interjected, pacing back and forth in front of the window. “She takes the mail and applies for all the credit card offers that come in, then maxes them out and sticks Billy with the tab. Any time he says something, she threatens to turn him in for smoking pot. Now and then he gets a slap on the back of the head.”

“This true, Billy?”

“My wife is from peasant stock, like most of us in this neck of the woods, Mr. Brown. Occasionally, she lets her frustrations get the best of her. I think if she is made to see the error of her ways, her behavior will change for the better.”

“I still don’t get it. Can’t you discuss this with her? Or have your mail routed to a post office box? Maybe a divorce? I mean, it’s not like I can stop her from driving to the post office.”

“He’s tried all that,” Sacowski said, depositing himself in the curved-back wooden chair next to Talbot. “She laughs at him. And if one of his friends says anything—well…what the fuck can we do about it?”

“Divorces are pretty cheap these days,” I offered.

“This one wouldn’t be, at least not at this point,” Talbot said, his face twisted and reddening. “No, divorce is out of the question at the moment. What I want is to get something on her. Adultery, or some violation of the law—anything to hold over her head that will help her, ah, toe the line.”

“I think I’m beginning to get the idea.” I was picturing a rough-hewn, Eastern European-type broad in a faded red babushka cuffing poor Billy with her paw-like hands. I didn’t like it. “So when do you want me to start?” I said, sensing my opportunity to be a real white knight of the streets.

“As soon as possible,” Billy said, attempting a smile that didn’t quite get there. “Tomorrow morning Ritchie and I will be in Two Harbors getting a part for my boat. Then we’ll be stopping at Sky Blue Waters Lodge for brunch. If you could meet us at say, eleven o’clock in the restaurant, I can fill you in on the particulars and put down a cash advance for any expenses you might incur in getting started.”

Talbot glanced over at Sacowski. Dick stood up. “That way you can see where she goes after the mail comes,” Dick said. “Damn near every fucking day one of those credit card offers comes in the mail, Cart. I’d follow her myself, if she didn’t know my car.”

“Or if your car was running, Ritchie,” Talbot said, with a crooked grin. Then his eyes darted impatiently and Dick grabbed the handles of the wheelchair.

“Yeah, okay,” I said as they moved toward the door. “But don’t you want to talk about my rates and stuff like that?”

“Charge what you need to, Mr. Brown,” Talbot said, not looking back. “Money is not a problem. As long as you’re successful, I’m sure the price will be right. Ritchie assures me that you’re an honorable man. Be sure to bring along any contracts you need signed.”

(To be continued)

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