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Nice email yesterday:

Congratulations!

It is our great pleasure to inform you that you are a Finalist in the 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards. Your book truly embodies the excellence that this award was created to celebrate, and we salute you and your fine work.

The lists of winners and finalists will be highlighted on our website. Please go to www.indieexcellence.com to see your name and book cover among those of the other proud winners and finalists.

The entire team at the National Indie Excellence Awards sincerely hopes your participation in our contest will serve you well in creating the success your book deserves. You have our sincerest congratulations.

Warmly,

Ellen Reid

President & CEO

National Indie Excellence Awards

www.indieexcellence.com

ellen@indieexcellence.com

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T.K. O’Neill’s hardboiled Jackpine Savages now out on ebook and available at all major online bookstores at introductory price of $1.89. Coming out in paperback this fall:

CHAPTER ONE

I had wanted to be a private eye ever since I was a kid. Got the bug from watching detective shows on television. We had Mike Hammer and Michael Shayne, two trench-coat-wearing tough guys quick with the fists and the gunplay, and Peter Gunn, tough as railroad spikes but still cool, handsome and sophisticated.

These programs had a lot of things a kid could get behind. Hammer and Shayne never took guff from anyone and seemed to find a willing woman in every dive bar or lowball diner. Peter Gunn hung out in upscale nightclubs while the glamorous Julie London sang him torch songs. And he always looked like a million bucks at the end of a case. These guys’ world was exciting and dangerous and they had it all handled

In my teen years, I discovered the paperback detectives: Marlowe, Archer, Spade, Spenser and the rest. I was still hooked on the dream. But like it is for most of us, I suspect, the future turned out unlike anything I’d imagined in my youth.

Never did become the detective. Ended up getting married and divorced and married and divorced again. Went through a heavy drug thing in the late eighties and lost my longtime job at the county highway department. Drifted from there, with stints on the railroad, bartending, dealing blackjack at the Indian casinos and house painting.

And those were the legal jobs.

Everything changed when my wealthy uncle Carl died last year at the age of ninety-seven. The resulting inheritance—twenty-five grand in a lump sum and a guaranteed two-thou monthly for the next ten years—was truly manna from heaven. Carl was one of the precious few fortunates who’d purchased 3M Stock at twenty-five cents a share. His lifelong business was used cars (always drove a late-model Cadillac) but he’d made his big score in the stock market.

The money came as a pleasant shock, as Uncle Carl and I hadn’t communicated in any way since the late sixties. It was then, while arguing politics at a family reunion dinner, that Carl had icily offered his belief that Abby Hoffman and I were ruining the country. And I’d never even met Abby. But, although younger, I did have long curly black hair like his and had read his literary masterpiece, Steal this Book. I actually paid for it.

Upon learning of my windfall, I immediately assumed my uncle had acquired some wisdom before his death and finally accepted the truth in what I’d been saying back then, although, to be perfectly honest, I no longer remembered what it was.

I found out later that Uncle Carl was suffering from Alzheimer’s at the end.

With these incoming shekels from such an unexpected source, it seemed like the right time to pursue my dream of private eyedom. Then one winter morning, the path became clearer. It was a snowy Sunday and I was fantasizing about the future while browsing the morning paper. I opened the sports section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a card dropped from the fold and fluttered into my lap. I immediately felt the stars align, the planets jog into concurrence and Jupiter enter the seventh house. It truly was a message from above:

50 exciting careers to choose from!

Choose your CAREER DIPLOMA stamp, affix it to the postcard, and MAIL IT TODAY.

Sure enough, there it was in row four, column two, next to Psychology/Social Work DIPLOMA and directly above Interior Decorating DIPLOMA.

Private Investigator DIPLOMA.

Could the message be any clearer?

All I had to do was pop out my CAREER DIPLOMA stamp, paste it in the little box on the reply card and drop it in the nearest mailbox (no postage necessary). In a few short weeks the Drake Career Institute would have me on the way to a “brighter future.”

Sam Spade and Lew Archer would have nothing on me.

Now don’t misinterpret here, I held no illusions that being a private dick in Duluth, Minnesota would entail much besides spying on cheating spouses or tracking down deadbeats. That was all good with me. Creaky knees and a balky back made a lack of violent adventure a positive.

I mailed the card.

Six months later, after a June graduation from the Drake Career Institute for which there was no ceremony and no cap and gown, I put down the first and last months’ rent and a security deposit on a long, narrow one-bedroom apartment in Canal Park above a tony outdoor clothing shop.

My office.

I bought some used furniture: desk, chairs, file cabinet and a computer, splurged on a flat screen TV and started keeping regular hours like a genuine dick. My office was a block away from the Savannah Gentlemen’s Club and I took frequent advantage of this proximity, as they had a good lunch buffet. Which is, I suppose, like saying you buy Penthouse or Playboy for the articles.

The days rolled by.

As the vernal rapture of August came on I had yet to have a case. This wasn’t exactly surprising, considering that I hadn’t done any advertising. Except for my second ex-wife and a few close friends, the only people who knew I’d graduated from private eye school were fellow afternoon inebriates at the Savannah. I was beginning to get bored, thinking a few marriage cheaters or a landlord skip might be just the ticket for me.

Then one hot summer day I was standing in front of an open window in my office hoping to catch a breeze off Lake Superior, acutely aware that in a similar situation, Philip Marlowe would likely be drinking from the office bottle trying to ease the pain from losing the femme fatale on his last case. As I gazed out the window at the tourist traffic and contemplated happy hour at the Savannah Club—coming up in thirty minutes—I saw a brown Ford van pulling into the handicapped zone in front of my building, sun glaring off its smooth, polished roof.

I started to get annoyed. No way somebody driving that humongous vehicle could be handicapped. I wanted the space to be open for my own personal use, should the need arise in the course of the business day—or if I was tired.

I watched a man climb out of the passenger door of the van. The thick potbellied body and curly thinning gray hair were familiar, belonging to an old associate of mine name of Dick Sacowski. A resident of Taconite Bay, a small company town on the northern shore of Lake Superior, Dick was one of the few privileged souls who knew I was in the private eye business, as he’d been at the Savannah one afternoon when I’d been blabbing about my new occupation.

Sun glinted off the bald spot on top of Sacowski’s head as he slid open the side door of the van and leaned inside. A ramp with a wheelchair on it oozed out of the van and moved slowly down to ground level. Sacowski rolled the wheelchair off the ramp and again reached into the van. The ramp smoothly returned to the interior of the vehicle. Dick then wheeled the chair around to the driver’s door, opened it and helped a skinny loosely put together man with a slightly disoriented look slide out. Sacowski held him firmly under the arms and eased him down into the wheelchair.

Seeing them approaching my door brought to mind a story Dick had told me about a friend he occasionally did errands for, taking him to the doctor and the Ford dealership and other things. I recalled that it was a couple years back, during a blizzard, when the poor guy was T-boned by a Rourke Mining Company truck and sent catapulting off the highway into an unforgiving ancient pine tree, crushing the man’s lower spine. The resulting insurance settlement was allegedly gargantuan. Set the guy up in a fabulous cliff-side house overlooking Lake Superior equipped with all the fancy devices needed by a paraplegic, such as elevators and lifts and remote control everything. Including, according to Dick, a custom-made, specially equipped boat, which the man could operate with just his hands. Hardly a fair price for one’s spine but better than nothing, I suppose.

I craned my neck as Sacowski bumped the wheelchair onto the sidewalk and started toward the stairway leading up to my office. Dick’s large tanned biceps rippled out of a lemon yellow strap undershirt. He swung the chair around, opened the door, held it there with his work boot and started up backwards.

I heard the thumping and clumping on the wooden stairs and wondered if I should help. I quickly rationalized that the stairwell was too narrow for all of us together—and my back wasn’t right for lifting. Any guilt over this quickly faded away as I recalled Dick Sacowski handling one end of my first wife’s newly purchased upright piano—all by himself—as three of us struggled at the opposite end while attempting to traverse the front steps of my old apartment.

Dick was one sneaky-strong son of a bitch.

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 formerly 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.”

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 costal 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.

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.

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.

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.

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, un-crowded 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.

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 wing-tips, 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.

It was another beautiful day in northern Minnesota: baby-blue sky, white puffs of clouds, not a breath of wind and temps in the mid-seventies. The lake was flat and glassy—the kind of day you wanted to bottle and save, not waste on a cheesy deal like this. But everybody knows that a P.I. must be steadfast and finish what he starts. A case must be seen through to its rightful conclusion for the good of all.

I pulled into the roadside rest as Burton wheeled the Crown Vic up the hill towards Billy Talbot’s castle made from heartbreak. My gut was jumping and I sensed something haywire, like the proverbial monkey wrench dropping into the gears. I tried to reassure myself. I’d spoken to Talbot and he had seemed confident and positive. I dropped the windows down and soaked up the lake air, trying to clear my head, shake the doubt and fear. Then the shortwave crackled: “Here we are, Brownie,” Tormoen said in his powerful baritone. “We’re going in.”

“Break a leg,” I said.

All that was left to do was wait. I kept an eye on the road. My neck was in knots. Thirty minutes went by and then time stood still.

I thought something terrible was probably going down, but I also knew how windy Tormoen could get when enjoying a role. I could almost feel sorry for Rose, with the big Norwegian hounding her in his cop voice about forged signatures on credit card applications and the dire consequences this type of behavior can lead to.

Yessiree, Mr. Tom Higgins, Assistant Director of the State Bureau of Fraud and Financial Crimes, could be a hard and unforgiving man. Relentlessly, he could hammer away at you, holding possible punishments over your head like the blade of a guillotine. But Torm could also bring out his soothing good-cop voice to reassure Rose that her husband had only her best interests at heart. Hadn’t Billy firmly refused to press charges as long as no further credit lines were opened? Surely only the most foolish and churlish among us would refuse an offer such as this. The presence of one in such a high position of authority as Mr. Higgins spoke volumes on both the severity and sensitivity of this situation.

Despite my anxieties, the boys eventually came down the hill and turned toward Duluth. I gave them a few minutes start and followed, joining them down the road at a predetermined wayside.

I climbed into the huge backseat of the Crown Vic. Burton had a grin like a lemon wedge. Tormoen’s chest was puffed out, his face flushed. They were sharing a joint and laughing at the memory of Rose’s deer-in-the-headlights look after being told she could go to jail for ten years. How the tears running down her suddenly pale cheeks and the shudders in her torso were indeed a sad sight.

“I was the Barrymore of Bullshit,” Tormoen said proudly. “Olivier would’ve given me a standing ovation. I had the wench writhing in agony and begging for mercy.”

“A gifted performance indeed,” Burton said, blowing out smoke and grinning like a leprechaun.

Later that night when I walked into my apartment carrying a slight celebratory buzz, I couldn’t shake a vague sense of uneasiness, possibly from a residue of unfamiliar scents picked up at a primitive level. Simply put, I had the feeling that someone had been there while I was gone. Because we all have atavistic instincts buried beneath the many layers of complacency civilization has piled upon us, I took the feeling seriously.

I searched through the place but found nothing obvious missing. Told myself I was just paranoid. Could have been Mrs. Swanson from upstairs checking to see if I was building a meth lab. But something still nagged at me. I went around the front of the house and knocked on the Swanson’s door. It was a little late and I was a little tipsy but Mrs. Swanson smiled knowingly and told me that two workers had come that afternoon to install new water meters.

There was my answer. I was in too good a mood to question it.

A couple days after the performance, I was at the office, staring out the window at the seagulls circling manically in the hovering exhaust of a nearby Burger King. The phone rang. It was Billy Talbot, informing me that he and Rose had begun marriage and financial counseling sessions and that Dick Sacowski was on his way to Duluth with a sizeable bonus for me. After I cradled the receiver, I couldn’t help but smile with satisfaction at a job well done.

Sacowski arrived an hour later with Billy’s check for fifteen grand. My career as a private investigator was off and running on all cylinders. And if the business suffered a seasonal slowdown (summer had quietly turned to fall), I had more than enough money to get through the winter. And in the downtime between gigs, I would certainly be entertaining many at the Savannah with the colorful tale of my first case.

During the early days of autumn, I savored my recent success and basked in the beauty of an Indian summer. Then one mild and starry night my joy became somewhat tempered as I emerged from a late-night session at the Savannah to discover that someone had sideswiped my trusty Subaru, damaging the front end and passenger side. Liquored as I was, I shrugged it off and assured myself that this was just another opportunity for profit. I would bring the car to my friend Jack Running for repair and old Jack would kickback some of the insurance money my way. Things were still coming up roses.

But everything changed in late October, just before Halloween.

I remember the day as damp and foggy, pea soup rolling in off the lake. I was at the Savannah Club for happy hour, elbows on the bar and eyes on the television, two beers already down. It was a slow day at the club; the evening news was droning on. They were showing footage of a wrecked car at the bottom of a ravine along the north shore of Lake Superior. The ground glistened with dead, wet leaves and the hazy air was popping with blue and reds from the lightbars of law-enforcement vehicles.

It took me a while before I realized what I was looking at.

A red Ford Focus all crushed to shit.

The footage had been shot the previous night. It was foggy and wet but it sure looked like Rose Talbot’s vehicle. My ears began to burn and ring. The room swayed; I thought I was going to puke. I sucked in a breath of beer-scented air, stood up and listened to the reporter’s words.

Young woman killed in late-night crash… signs of impact with another vehicle… possible hit and run… airbags failed to activate… no witnesses have come forth… investigation continues…

Then the tube blinked and a commercial for Ryan Ford of Two Harbors came on the screen. Stunned, I walked out of the bar—not saying anything to anybody—and drove home in a brain fog that matched the soup in the air. I stumbled into my apartment and flopped down face-first on the bed, passed out for three hours and woke up in the dark, my brain racing in circles like an Indy car on a short track.

I didn’t sleep much that night and got up at dawn to wait for the morning paper. My suspicions were confirmed. An article on page one, Taconite Bay woman dies in hit-and-run, told the sad story of the tragic accident that caused the untimely death of Rose Marie Engwar Talbot, thirty-seven years of age.

Anger, confusion, guilt and fear cycled through me and put me off my feed. I showered and dressed and left for the office in the hope that something there would distract me from my thoughts. The carpenters were scheduled to finish work that morning on a small reception area, where, someday, hopefully, a good-hearted and pretty-in-a down-to-earth-way secretary would greet my perspective clients.

Moving slowly up the stairs to the office and wrestling with my emotions, I passed one of the carpenters coming down, power saw in hand. We nodded a greeting and continued on our separate ways. I could smell sawdust and new wood and wood stain. It was clean and responsible and good. All the things I wasn’t.

The crew was putting the finishing touches on my new addition. I’d spent a lot of time convincing the landlord of its necessity. I guess I just wore him down. And now, there it was in front of me, smooth and glistening like a new penny. I walked through to my desk, sat down on the wheeled chair and wondered if there wasn’t somebody I should call to say something about Rose. Billy Talbot for one. It seemed I should call but I couldn’t pick up the phone. All I could do was waffle. Sit there and vacillate. Not what a private eye is supposed to do. Something had been taken out of me and I couldn’t dodge the thought that this was just the beginning of my troubles.

My fears were validated an hour later when, as I sat numbly, gazing out the window at the thick gray clouds and unwillingly focusing on the churning in my gut, there was a knocking at my shiny new door.

With nobody there to greet them, the deputy sheriffs and the plainclothes cop just walked right on through.

They identified themselves as members of the Creek County Sheriff’s Department and the Duluth Police Department. Badges were waved but I was too dizzy to really see them. They informed me of my rights and that I was being charged with the murder of Rose Marie Engwar Talbot. As well as working as a private investigator without the proper license.

Lead fell into my feet and I stammered incoherently as they pulled my wrists behind my back, put the cuffs on and brought me down the steps to a waiting cruiser, engine running.

The ride up the lakeshore was a blur of feverish silence broken only by the barking of the police radio. I didn’t even have a lawyer. Every goddamn P.I. has a slick lawyer. I was shit. Toast. Cannon fodder. Life handed me lemons and fate had made lemonade out of my ass.

They brought me to the Creek County lockup and put me in an interrogation room, a narrow windowless space with puke-green paint on the walls. Reminded me of a detention room in an old high school.

I had no alibi for the night in question. I’d been at the Savannah Club but I couldn’t prove it. A new bartender was working that day and I had left after only a couple of beers. I couldn’t recall seeing anyone I knew by name. Surely the cops would check. Wouldn’t they?

Gradually, the shock of arrest began to fade. I started to get my dander up. Embers of anger and righteous indignation began to smolder within me. I hadn’t done this. What could they possibly have on me?

I found out in one hell of a hurry. About as long as it takes for the other shoe to drop.

They had traces of blue paint obtained from the rear bumper and driver’s side of the crushed Focus. They were going to test my Subaru. To go with the paint scrapings, they’d also found a vaguely threatening note in Rose’s purse, written on my business stationery. With a signature that looked enough like mine to make my intestines bleed.

The final straw on the camel was a video turned over to them by the deceased’s husband, showing two men in suits getting out of a Ford Crown Victoria in front of the Talbot residence, a vehicle rented in Duluth with a credit card issued to one Carter Brown.

To accompany the video of the Crown Vic and the boys getting in and out, they possessed a copy of perhaps Jeff Tormoen’s greatest performance, Dan Burton providing the supporting role. A performance the sheriff claimed was a crime in itself. But more importantly, a demonstration of my willingness to resort to “extreme means” to achieve a desired end.

I wanted to explain but knew it wouldn’t come out sounding right.

They also had my bank statements. They focused on what they called my recent “abnormally large” deposit. I thought I had them there. Why would I kill her if I’d already been paid?

They had an answer for that.

Billy Talbot told them I’d offered to “dispose of his wife” for five thousand dollars. After which, he allegedly became so terrified that he paid me fifteen K to lay off and forget I ever knew his sweet Rose. Talbot dutifully added that I was a loser who had failed on numerous occasions to do even basic surveillance successfully, and that I probably killed Rose to prove I was a man.

I figured it was all cop talk. But the fight went out of me when they said a witness had come forth claiming to have seen a small, blue SUV playing bumper cars with the red Ford Focus on the night in question.

When they got through, my inner Mike Hammer had become a quivering hunk of Fletch. Gelatinous and weak, I had all I could do to keep from ratting out Jeff and Dan, wanting desperately to believe that it would go easier on me if I did, but knowing all too well that it wouldn’t. I was being set up for a long fall with no net and I knew it.

I refused to speak and asked for a public defender.

They put me in a cell. The air smelled of stale sweat and old urine with an overlay of cheap pine cleaner. Time slowly ticked away.

The court appointed a public defender.

Sam Frederickson was about my age, with curly salt-and-pepper hair, thick glasses and chronic garlic breath. Close quarters with Sam was a little like being in a barn stall with a scampi-eating plow horse, snorting and all. But the guy had energy and enthusiasm and was a lot smarter than he looked.

I quickly discovered the courts didn’t allow Sam the same level of respect as I did. Murder One in Minnesota requires a grand jury indictment. Nobody except me seemed in a hurry to proceed. I was remanded back to a cell in the county lockup as the gales of November came knocking.

Gray cloudy day after gray cloudy day rolled by my tiny window. I began to lose hope. I was almost beginning to believe I had actually done the murder while in a fugue state or blackout, like in a bad TV show. I began to search for ways to end it all. My life seemed over, all because I’d wanted to be a private eye.

In the days approaching Thanksgiving, my despair became unbearable. An opportunity for relief appeared to me one dreary afternoon in the form of some loose plaster on the ceiling of my cell. I discovered the slightly discolored soft spot, probably the result of a small leak in the roof, while lying on the bed staring at the ceiling, lost in torment.

I stood up on the bed, pushed on the ceiling with my fingertips and a chunk of plaster fell easily into my hand. I could see a thick overhead support beam through the resultant hole. More than adequate to hang yourself from, I thought, feeling an immediate sense of release.

I removed my orange jailhouse jumpsuit and tied the torso around the beam. I stood on the edge of the bed and carefully knotted one of the legs around my throat.

As I stood on my toes, ready to step off into sweet oblivion, I remembered reading that you had an orgasm when you hung yourself. I also recalled that a few kids had died trying to get off that way, back in the days when it was a fad. Maybe it was still a fad. Look what happened to David Carradine.

As I jumped off the bed and felt the cloth tighten around my throat, I couldn’t help but wonder:

Would I be going—or coming?

Read the rest of Jackpine Savages–available at most online bookstores, including

http://www.ebookit.com/books/0000002959/Jackpine-Savages.html

(also available at ebookit.com as pdf for reading on MAC and PC)

                                                                                                                                                                                                     

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