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This way and that way—go this way and that.

That bit of an old German children’s song cycling in Frank Ford’s head seemed to be a comment on the flow of his thoughts. In the aftermath of his brother’s funeral, he was bouncing between sad, happy and relieved—and then back again. And to top it off, he had mud on his pants.

“Goddamnit,” he said, brushing impatiently at the dark clumps ringing the cuff of his only pair of dress pants. Most guys would have relegated these sharply creased grays to painter’s pants long ago, but not Frank Ford. To him these trou seemed more than suitable for his brother’s goddamn funeral.

Frank’s temper was not improving as the remaining splotches resisted his vigorous rubbing. Thinking about the funeral service wasn’t helping his head either.

Frank gave up his grooming efforts with a grunt, lifted his legs into the front seat of his rusty blue Pontiac station wagon and slammed the simulated wood-paneled door. He normally had Fridays off at the bar but today was the second time this month Betty called him in because Douglas “Sack” Sackberger pulled one of his infamous disappearing acts. If you could call holing up inside a bottle at his lowlife-welfare-cheater-girlfriend’s dump, disappearing. Frank wondered why Betty didn’t fire the sorry bastard. Maybe they were related, Sack and Betty. He’d heard that.

“Goddamn families,” Frank said as he turned the key, the angry profanity fading into the empty street like a warning. The starter responded with a tired whine.

It’s not like Ray was a brother anyone should mourn.

The whining and buzzing, ground to a halt.

Frank cranked down the window and yelled, “Fuck,” into the damp, gray air. Christ, the way it went down was so typical of Ray, his body lying there with ID in the pocket of his jeans so we could all know who it was. Know what happened to him, what somebody did to him. Make his big brother feel morally obligated to do “the right thing.” Whatever the hell that was.

Why couldn’t the dirt bag have just gone away?

You know how at funerals people always say they’re going to miss the dead person? This ceremony was no different. But Frank knew they were all liars. Except Mom, of course, she always loved Ray no matter what he pulled. “Ray-Ray’s had a hard time of it,” she’d say, explaining why she gave her younger son money or forgiveness. Money Frank always knew would be spent at a bar or a drug house— and forgiveness surely to be taken advantage of by the receiver. Mom babied Ray and took his side most of the time, which never failed to piss Frank off, but now it was left to him to comfort her.

Forgotten, that’s how he wanted to remember Ray. But the lasting image of his grief stricken mother bent over in the church pew and the rising bile in Frank’s craw, foretold a different future. He didn’t know how to answer when she asked why. Why Frankie? Why did little Ray-Ray have to die like this? 

Frank gazed out at the cloudy sky and the small, well-kept houses in the blue-collar neighborhood surrounding his mother’s apartment building and felt the sourness growing. Maybe he should tell her about that time last fall. The time he saved her little darling from an ass kicking. Tell her about driving downtown one night and seeing this gray-haired guy in a dark suit pounding his fists on some turd in a worn-out fatigue shirt. Tell her he got a look at the smaller guy and realized it was Ray. Then maybe he should tell her that his first thought was—Good, he’s probably getting what he deserves. But Ray was Frank’s little brother and Frank had to stand up for him for that goddamn reason and that reason alone, so Frank jerked the car to a halt right there on the main drag—double parking on goddamn Superior Street for Christ sake—honked the horn and waved to his wacko brother. And when the gray-haired guy glanced over, Ray took the opportunity to scramble away and jump in the front seat of Frank’s big station wagon. Then Mom’s sweet little boy Ray-Ray gave the natty dresser the finger and hocked a gob of spit at him as Frank drove off. When Frank asked him what it was all about, Ray said he was fucking the guy’s wife, which Frank thought was a crock because any woman married to the dapper dude was not going to play around with snotty, greasy, Ray Ford. More likely Ray was sniffing around the guy’s teenage daughter, trying to get her high or something.

Frank twisted the key in the ignition again and this time the Pontiac V8 fired up, sending clouds of oily exhaust into the air. He pulled away from the curb and pointed the wagon in the direction of Jimmy Carl’s Gentlemen’s Club. Nikki was out there doing her waitress thing, the master’s degree candidate working in a strip club for her sociology thesis. Girl was the only joy Frank had left in life. Kept him from thinking about his ex-wife and her asshole new husband or the way the country was going lately, everything costing so much these days. Sweet little Nikki made him feel alive, feel something good inside again. Her company and a couple stiff bumps would get him through the afternoon, but tonight at the Metropole was another thing altogether.

(To be continued)

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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

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CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT TWO

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 month’s 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.

(To be continued)

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“AUTHOR T.K. O’NEILL RECEIVES NATIONAL RECOGNITION FROM NIEA”

“Noir writer switches gears with hard-boiled Lake Superior detective novel”

“The National Indie Excellence® Awards recognized Jackpine Savages by author T.K. O’Neill as a finalist in the category of crime fiction finalist in this year’s competition.”

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 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.

(To be continued)

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He watched the doors on the monster pickup open, saw two big goons step out. Exhaust drifted in the headlight beams, refracting the light and bending it, but Frank’s vision was clear. The acid was like a spotlight shining right to the core of these two assholes. See the tension in their muscles, the way they’re bent and twisted and walking crooked. The driver was the bigger of the two, offensive-lineman size with oily blonde hair falling over his ears. Bad haircut gave him an inbred look, the goon probably raised on abuse. But a nice brown suede jacket, double extra-large, maybe even triple or four X. Other guy was a tad smaller but still bigger than Frank. Look at him hovering back a step or two, not really into it. Watching the big guy and following his lead.

Take out the body and the head will follow. Or was it the other way around?

“You boys lost?” Frank said, feeling the smile taking over his lips as the adrenaline flowed like a river in spring, shaking his muscles awake. “The boat whores are across that little bridge up there.” Pointing up at the Interstate Bridge.

The bigger guy scowled, Frank thinking of an angry steer. Frank almost laughed; dude wasn’t very enthusiastic. Autry’d probably promised him ludes in exchange for an easy stomping job but now the situation looked a bit different than advertised. Frank could see every muscle twitch and the movement of every thought in their thick heads as the two guys exchanged glances before going back to the monster truck.

Is that all, boys? All you got? Leaving before we get to dance?

Frank got his answer when they reached into the truck and their hands came out gripping baseball bats, the new kind, made from aluminum instead of wood, the light from the pole lamps glinting off the shiny metal. Frank could see the doubt on the smaller guy, the man still hanging back, but the big bastard must have wanted his dope because he was coming on, moving in, gripping the bat like an axe, empty-headed meanness written on his white and blotchy face.

Having played football in high school—a running back—Frank knew these ham-huffing mongoloid lineman types were usually top heavy and often had a hard time stopping or changing direction. And the storm trooper mofo coming at him now looked to have fallen off his training regimen some time ago. If Frank could get him moving, get him off balance—he’d have a chance. Second dude would probably split in a hurry should the big guy fall. Problem though was Frank’s left knee, torn ACL when one of those giant lineman types fell on it in the Central game, senior year. Never had surgery and the damn thing never really healed right. So he knew he had maybe five minutes of fast movement, ten at the very outside, before his knee or his wind gave out.

Fuck.

(To be continued)

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Lowering his hands to his sides, he yelled, “Goddamnit”, across the water, and as the sound died away in the breeze, he got a little nervous. Anticipating a lightning strike or the scolding of a heavenly voice, religious conditioning was wrinkling his mind like a cold wind.

He was still waiting for relief when a flash of light caught his eye. Then the rumble of an engine on the road coming in caught his ears. Frank knew right away what was going down, he was tuned in. Getting the cosmic wake-up call, it seemed, he went to the station wagon, pulled open the tailgate and grabbed the tire iron and the length of tire chain he kept back there wrapped in rags to keep from rattling. You tended bar in a dive you needed weapons in your car because you never knew when some squid you eighty-sixed was outside waiting for you in the dark and harboring ill intent.

Someone like Ray-Ray.

Fuck.

Frank stood there waiting, anticipating; tire chain in his left hand tire iron in his right, the Stones blowing hard and heavy out the window of the station wagon.

You can’t always get what you want…

Squinting into the searing headlight beams of a big white pickup truck rumbling out of the blackness, Frank was thinking, But sometimes, man, you get what you need. Peace and love had turned to violence and hatred—and it felt pretty damn good.

Time to exorcise some demons.

Truck coming at him was a beast with two dark spotlights mounted on a bar across the roof, a grill of steel bars on the front bumper and red-hued exhaust trailing behind it like a vapor trail. Frank watched the big truck swing across the road and stop, effectively blocking any avenue of escape.

And that was just fine with Frank. His internal force was all the way live now and ready to get it on.

With his senses peaking, Frank locked onto the car radio and the Eagles wailing “One of These Nights.” He felt a smile coming on as the wack hit him full frontal. Christ, he wanted to hit the high notes with Henley and Frey, but he never could sing and this wasn’t the time for it.

(To be continued)

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On Garfield Avenue heading toward the docks, not knowing how he got here, Frank was cruising past Goldfine’s By the Bridge, a discount appliance and furniture store, feeling like something was pushing him along. He angled off Garfield onto Port Terminal Road, wound the Pontiac underneath the Interstate Bridge and looped around past the terminal building. He parked near the water and left the engine running, the radio on, the window down and the headlights off. He got out and went to the spot. Stood right on it. He could still see it there in his mind, the police outline. Shit, see him there, fucking Ray, Frank’s goddamn little brother, the kid’s bloody, swollen face with no peace showing on it. May he rest in peace. That’s what they always say, isn’t it? Was Ray peaceful now? Christ, who knew? Could be more religious hypnosis, they’re always sending it out. What about the living? Don’t we get peace? Comfort in the Lord?

Frank couldn’t find it. Didn’t know where to look so he stared across the dark waters of St. Louis Bay toward the old Arrowhead Bridge way down there in the distance, the long arc of ancient wood and steel stretching across the sky from Minnesota to Wisconsin, a lone set of headlights moving slowly across it now on the way to Zenith, Bay City bars closed for the night.

Cops’ theory was that Ray jumped off the Arrowhead Bridge and the body floated down here, couple of miles or so to the east, took it a week or two to make the journey. So maybe the cops were right. But it didn’t seem like Ray’s style. Goddamn kid was resilient, always seemed to bounce back. He could take it as well as he dished it out. Ray had taken a few beatings in his time and the hell of it was he always came back stronger. Some bouncer knocked him around; Ray would lift weights for a while and come back at the guy. Usually got whipped again but had fucked up a couple over-sized creampuff bouncers in his day. And it seemed a long way for a body to float to get all the way down here to the port terminal but what did Frank know? He was just a goddamn bartender. Maybe it all just finally caught up to Ray. Frank had seen it before, some hard guy spends a few years on the booze and the pills and then one night decides to pick a fight with a green-behind-the-ears kid who proceeds to kick the shit out of him. Next time you see the guy he’s staring down at his shoes and acting apologetic and nervous. Got a permanent cowed look on his face like all the guys he fucked over in the past are trailing behind him in a pack shouting threats and obscenities.

So maybe that’s the way it was with Ray. Little brother was never a tough guy but he did have way more than the average load of bad karma. Ray ripped people off on deals, stole money off bar tops, kicked old drunks, borrowed money and never paid it back—Christ, he died owing Frank more money than Frank wanted to remember. And that was from way damn back, Ray having burned that bridge eons ago.

And that, in a nutshell, as they say, was why damn near everyone who knew Ray was less than saddened by his passing. But not mom or Frank’s sister, Anne. No, those two had, at some point, made a choice not to know how Ray lived. At least that’s how they always acted. And there were also some grieving aunts and uncles at the funeral who knew Ray when he was a kid and hadn’t seen him much since then.

And all of them were living in a fantasy world.

Ray was a shit.

So why the hell couldn’t Frank let it go? He was trying, man. Here he was, standing in the dampness on the edge of the bay and lifting his hands to the stars, waiting for the pain to go away, giving it a pathway. Frank repeating Let it go, let it go, to himself and waiting for the bad shit to magically fly out of his body and leave him happy ever after.

But no.

(To be continued)

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Ebook and paperback now available at all online bookstores for $2.99/$15.95!

 

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This way and that way—go this way and that.

That bit of an old German children’s song cycling in Frank Ford’s head seemed to be a comment on the flow of his thoughts. In the aftermath of his brother’s funeral, he was bouncing between sad, happy and relieved—and then back again. And to top it off, he had mud on his pants.

“Goddamnit,” he said, brushing impatiently at the dark clumps ringing the cuff of his only pair of dress pants. Most guys would have relegated these sharply creased grays to painter’s pants long ago, but not Frank Ford. To him these trou seemed more than suitable for his brother’s goddamn funeral.

Frank’s temper was not improving as the remaining splotches resisted his vigorous rubbing. Thinking about the funeral service wasn’t helping his head either.

Frank gave up his grooming efforts with a grunt, lifted his legs into the front seat of his rusty blue Pontiac station wagon and slammed the simulated wood-paneled door. He normally had Fridays off at the bar but today was the second time this month Betty called him in because Douglas “Sack” Sackberger pulled one of his infamous disappearing acts. If you could call holing up inside a bottle at his lowlife-welfare-cheater-girlfriend’s dump, disappearing. Frank wondered why Betty didn’t fire the sorry bastard. Maybe they were related, Sack and Betty. He’d heard that.

“Goddamn families,” Frank said as he turned the key, the angry profanity fading into the empty street like a warning. The starter responded with a tired whine.

It’s not like Ray was a brother anyone should mourn.

The whining and buzzing, ground to a halt.

Frank cranked down the window and yelled, “Fuck,” into the damp, gray air. Christ, the way it went down was so typical of Ray, his body lying there with ID in the pocket of his jeans so we could all know who it was. Know what happened to him, what somebody did to him. Make his big brother feel morally obligated to do “the right thing.” Whatever the hell that was.

Why couldn’t the dirt bag have just gone away?

You know how at funerals people always say they’re going to miss the dead person? This ceremony was no different. But Frank knew they were all liars. Except Mom, of course, she always loved Ray no matter what he pulled. “Ray-Ray’s had a hard time of it,” she’d say, explaining why she gave her younger son money or forgiveness. Money Frank always knew would be spent at a bar or a drug house— and forgiveness surely to be taken advantage of by the receiver. Mom babied Ray and took his side most of the time, which never failed to piss Frank off, but now it was left to him to comfort her.

Forgotten, that’s how he wanted to remember Ray. But the lasting image of his grief stricken mother bent over in the church pew and the rising bile in Frank’s craw, foretold a different future. He didn’t know how to answer when she asked why. Why Frankie? Why did little Ray-Ray have to die like this? 

Frank gazed out at the cloudy sky and the small, well-kept houses in the blue-collar neighborhood surrounding his mother’s apartment building and felt the sourness growing. Maybe he should tell her about that time last fall. The time he saved her little darling from an ass kicking. Tell her about driving downtown one night and seeing this gray-haired guy in a dark suit pounding his fists on some turd in a worn-out fatigue shirt. Tell her he got a look at the smaller guy and realized it was Ray. Then maybe he should tell her that his first thought was—Good, he’s probably getting what he deserves. But Ray was Frank’s little brother and Frank had to stand up for him for that goddamn reason and that reason alone, so Frank jerked the car to a halt right there on the main drag—double parking on goddamn Superior Street for Christ sake—honked the horn and waved to his wacko brother. And when the gray-haired guy glanced over, Ray took the opportunity to scramble away and jump in the front seat of Frank’s big station wagon. Then Mom’s sweet little boy Ray-Ray gave the natty dresser the finger and hocked a gob of spit at him as Frank drove off. When Frank asked him what it was all about, Ray said he was fucking the guy’s wife, which Frank thought was a crock because any woman married to the dapper dude was not going to play around with snotty, greasy, Ray Ford. More likely Ray was sniffing around the guy’s teenage daughter, trying to get her high or something.

Frank twisted the key in the ignition again and this time the Pontiac V-8 fired up, sending clouds of oily exhaust into the air. He pulled away from the curb and pointed the wagon in the direction of Jimmy Carl’s Gentlemen’s Club. Nikki was out there doing her waitress thing, the master’s degree candidate working in a strip club for her sociology thesis. Girl was the only joy Frank had left in life. Kept him from thinking about his ex-wife and her asshole new husband or the way the country was going lately, everything costing so much these days. Sweet little Nikki made him feel alive, feel something good inside again. Her company and a couple stiff bumps would get him through the afternoon, but tonight at the Metropole was another thing altogether.

(to be continued)

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