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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here. For all T.K. O’Neill ebooks and paperbacks, shop here.

“There you go, Dory. Have at it.”

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

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

     “And packing their noses.”

     “That too.”

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

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

     That’s all I get out before she jumps at me like a sea bird snaring a dead shrimp, slams her lips against mind and begins probing deeply with her velvety tongue.

     I don’t fight back when she puts her hand between my legs and feels the merchandise. In fact I encourage it by demonstrating my growth as a human being, an upstanding citizen to be sure. But just as she crawls on top of me and replaces her hand with her hot, throbbing crotch, a rush of paranoia rips through me like a blast of heat lightning. 

     Fuck if I don’t push her off me and climb out of the van onto the shoulder. I mean, that’s all I need, getting popped by some bible-belt cop for public fornication. These backwater cops have a way of taking other people’s sins so personally. I’ve got enough coke in the van to keep the discos on Clearwater Beach going for a year or more, and I tell you, that suddenly becomes more than enough for me to handle.

     Dory stares at me flabbergasted. She brushes down her dress, which is hiked up and revealing some of the prettiest thigh I’ve ever seen. It’s enough to make you want to cry. “I’m sorry,” I say. “We’re just too close to the road here. The drugs and all… you know what I mean. I just can’t relax.”

     She climbs out and grabs my shoulders, starts kissing me again and putting her hand back where I like it. I put my hands on her arms and slowly push her away. “Maybe we can find a better place down the way,” I say. “We can’t stay here.”

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

     Somewhere there’s a place for us.

     Now I’m bobbing with anxiety, and searching the distance for a road that might lead to some privacy. There has to be a road somewhere. I’ve read a lot of stories in the papers about dead bodies being found on lonely Florida roads. Shit like that must happen all the time down here. I continue rolling along, so lost inside my head that I forget about my speed. My eyes are scanning the distance so much that I overlook what’s right in front of me. I know VW vans don’t go very fast, so it’s not something you usually worry about.

     Then my ears pick up a horrible sound.

     A siren, closing fast.  

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

Behind the leather-covered bar is a bartender, a few beer signs and a lot of bottles. Dory and I have a couple beers and get to talking. Then we get to laughing about things and teasing each other. Things seem to be going well, you know how it is. Once in a while she puts her hand on my arm, real friendly and warm. I buy her a pack of Chesterfields, which she tells me are her “favorite.” But they don’t have them everyplace, so then she has to smoke Winstons. 

     I get the change and realize I’m down to my last five bucks. I have no idea how I’m going to get more. A pang hits my gut. But hey, a fool and his money are soon parted they say, and I’ve just proved it. 

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

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

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

     “Cheer up, sweetie, things’ll work out,” she says, turning on the sunshine. “How about I drive? Never driven one of those hippie vans before.”

     “No, I’m all right,” I look in her eyes, still trying to get a read. “I can drive if I can do anything. Problem is I’m just not sure where I should drive to.”

     “Don’t you have people?” she says, eyes wide and bright. “Didn’t you say you were from Clearwater? Why aren’t you going there?”

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

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

     “Then where? You don’t know either, do you? You’re broke, just like me. You and I were thrown together by the hands of fate. Can’t you see it? There’s meaning in that. You know, what are the odds? Two people find each other in the middle of Nowhere, Florida, and get along famously like you and I do. What are the odds?”

     “You are a dreamer, Keith Elton.”

     “But I’m not the only one.”

     She gives me an appropriate smirk as I order us up two gin and tonics. Now at least we can enjoy our last few moments together. My five bucks turns to one and I leave it for the bartender, who’s done a great job of pretending he wasn’t listening to us. We finish the drinks in a hurry and walk outside into the bright sun and it’s the best I’ve felt for days. I take a deep breath and a premonition that doom is waiting around the corner smacks me and I don’t even care. I have some food in the van and a million dollars’ worth of dope, why should I care? 

     Then I think, What the hell, why not have a snort? Why not enjoy a little of the bounty that’s been dropped into my lap by the gods? I can sneak back there and grab a little without Dory even knowing what I’m doing. And she seems to be the type of girl that might enjoy a little toot herself, like a lot of people these days.

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

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

     “I’ve got a little something in the back that you might enjoy. At least I will. It’ll only take me a minute. Nothing to worry about, I have to get something out of the back.”

     “I wasn’t worried,” she says, “just afraid I was getting dumped.”

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

     “Are you shitting me? There’s blow in this van? Jesus, I don’t know.”

     “You ever tried it before?”

     She looks around nervously, fidgeting in the sheepskin-covered seat. “Oh yeah, I’ve tried it before. That stuff got my boyfriend killed. This is just too unreal. I run into a dreamboat and he’s into coke, too. I mean, that’s heavy—scares me a little.”

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

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

     I smile and feel the adrenaline crawling up my spine.

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

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

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

    “I think I can handle it,” I say, as I crawl on my knees to where the duffel is lying. I loosen the drawstring, reach down until I feel the plastic wrap, pull a brick to the surface and squeeze the contents between my sweating fingers. There’s a catch in my throat. I swallow hard and glance at Dory, who’s staring out the window and twirling her hair with her middle finger. I turn my back to her and make a small incision in the wrapping. My fingers tremble; my mouth is dry and my heart pounds. Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice is screaming, but I don’t want to listen. All I crave is that feeling, that buzz. Now I have enough dope to make it last. This girl and me, together. Life is a party, my wife and son a fading memory. I scoop a small pile of powder onto the mirror and pulsate at the sight. Shining, glittering rocks fall apart and sparkle in the sunlight. I carefully shove the brick back in the duffel and stuff some clothes over it.  I crawl up and set the mirror down on the countertop behind Dory’s seat.

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

CHAPTER 8

I’m questioning my decision as I throw my stuff into the van. But then I catch sight of Dory standing by the motel office holding an old brown suitcase. She’s wearing a light blue, loose-fitting cotton dress the breeze is pushing against her bra-less nipples, and I quickly shrug off my anxiety as something obviously not related to this lovely moment.

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

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

     “Roll ’em easy, cowboy,” she says, then gets in and sits down and crosses her long, bare legs. The dress slides high up on her buttermilk thighs and all I can do is sigh. She lights up a cigarette and rolls down the window as I swing away from the motel onto the cracked asphalt. 

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

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

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

     Then it finally hits me. I have a million dollars worth of cocaine in the back of the van and I’ve brought a stranger into the mix. Suddenly, my dick shrinks and the skin on my nuts tightens up and, man, do I need a drink. And here it is coming up on noon. Who could blame a person in my situation for stopping to relax his jangled nerves?

     We don’t utter a word until we get to Crystal River, a small village soon to be overrun with development. Dory spots a corner store and asks if I can stop so she can grab a pack of smokes. I suggest we should wait until we find a bar somewhere and then go in and have a beer and a smoke, a little something to take the edge off. And in the meantime there’s a pack of Kools in the glove compartment. 

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

     “No way. Where’d you hear that one?”

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

     “I don’t know… not too many.”

     She studies me as I nervously take the pack from the glove compartment and light one up with the dashboard lighter. I smoke about half and then flip it out the window with a snap of my finger.

      “Do you know if Marlboros have saltpeter in them?” I ask, my voice a hoarse whisper.

     “Sure they do. Why do you think the Marlboro Man is always alone?”

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

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

     I’m turning into electrified Jello when I finally spot the all important tavern sign. Sandpiper Lounge. Faded, blue concrete box with a big air conditioner sticking out a side window. “Shall we?” I say like the fly to the spider and point at the fine establishment. “Come on, I’ll buy you a beer.”

     “Why not,” she says.

     I park the van. We get out. The air is hot. We go in the bar.

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

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

     Now I’m having the thought that the wise thing to do is to get out from under while I still can. But something in me doesn’t want her slipping away quite yet. I pay the bill. Which leaves me only one wrinkled twenty in my wallet. Elton Kirby’s wallet.

     Keith Elton’s wallet. 

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

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

     “Sure, no problem. Where you need to go?”

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

     “Sounds good. Where you headed after that?” I give her my soulful look.

     “I don’t really know for sure. Might even come back here to the motel. Old lady who owns the place has been letting me crash in one of the rooms in exchange for some cleaning. Guess she got sick of cleaning the lousy little rooms after a million years in a row.”

     “For sure. That must be it. So what’s wrong with your car?”

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

     “Isn’t that an expensive job?”

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

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

     Now you’re probably thinking it’s crazy to invite a stranger into my vehicle—or should I say Bagley’s vehicle—given what else is in there at the moment, as well as what just happened on the beach. And you’d probably be right. But it seems I just can’t resist a pretty face. The possibility of mystery and adventure in Dory’s melancholy baby blues prove too strong an attractant.

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

     “I think you’re sweet. And I really appreciate this.”

(End of Chapter 7)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

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

     Now I’m having the thought that the wise thing to do is to get out from under while I still can. But something in me doesn’t want her slipping away quite yet. I pay the bill. Which leaves me only one wrinkled twenty in my wallet. Elton Kirby’s wallet.

     Keith Elton’s wallet. 

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

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

     “Sure, no problem. Where you need to go?”

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

     “Sounds good. Where you headed after that?” I give her my soulful look.

     “I don’t really know for sure. Might even come back here to the motel. Old lady who owns the place has been letting me crash in one of the rooms in exchange for some cleaning. Guess she got sick of cleaning the lousy little rooms after a million years in a row.”

     “For sure. That must be it. So what’s wrong with your car?”

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

     “Isn’t that an expensive job?”

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

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

     Now you’re probably thinking it’s crazy to invite a stranger into my vehicle—or should I say Bagley’s vehicle—given what else is in there at the moment, as well as what just happened on the beach. And you’d probably be right. But it seems I just can’t resist a pretty face. The possibility of mystery and adventure in Dory’s melancholy baby blues prove too strong an attractant.

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

     “I think you’re sweet. And I really appreciate this.”

(End of Chapter 7)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

I walk over to the diner and everything is eerily the same as the night before, same waitress and the same thin-faced blonde sitting at the far end of the counter. This time I change the scene and sit down with only one faded blue-green stool between the blond and me. I smile at her nicely, and much to my surprise, she gives me a Mona Lisa smile in return. She’s a true country beauty. Shoulder-length blond hair, milky complexion, blue eyes, and a certain kind of softness about her. Daylight has pushed the haunted look out to the edge of her face, revealed only by a slight pinching of the skin. She’s wearing a yellow sleeveless blouse that buttons up the front, faded blue jeans and open sandals with a low heel. Nice rounded rear end. She’s drinking coffee and smoking a Winston, the flattened pack lying next to her white coffee cup and saucer.  

     The waitress comes and pours coffee in my cup and in a couple of minutes, I order. I can’t help but notice two things. One, the girl isn’t eating anything. Two, she keeps looking over at me, the worried look back on her face. I drink some of the coffee and get the urge for a cigarette. More coffee, coupled with the smell of the smoke from the girl’s cig, makes the craving grow stronger. I search my pockets, fidget on the stool for a moment then turn to the blond. 

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

     The sweet young thing gets up off her stool, moves next to me and hands me the nearly empty pack of Winston’s. I pick it up and slide one out.

     “Thanks a lot,” I say, smiling at her.

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

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

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

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

     “And where is that?”

     “Minnesota.”

     “You’ve got kind eyes,” she says. She looks down at her coffee cup, turning it in the saucer with her long fingers. “For someone with eyes like that I can eat breakfast.” She glances over at the waitress, who’s standing with her hand on her hip by the order window. “Mary Ellen, fix me up a steak and eggs with a tall OJ and a side of grits, would you please.”

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

     “Yeah, they’re good for you. I used to eat’em with sugar when I was a kid. So whattaya doin’ in Florida, Mr. Kind Eyes?”

     “I live down in Clearwater.”

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

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

     “You must’ve made a lot of money.”

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

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

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

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

     I shake it lightly.

    “So, what’s your name and where’re you from?” I ask, looking in her eyes and finding myself being drawn in.

     “Dory Lanigan. And I’m from Tennessee by way of Las Vegas.”

     “Now that’s a tough one. So you were born in Vegas?”

     “No, just outside of Knoxville.”

     “Oh, so you moved to Vegas. What brings you to Florida, then?”

     “I had a lot of bad trouble in Vegas,” she says, turning solemn. “My boyfriend was murdered. And my dog, too.”

     “What? You’re kidding me, right?” She shakes her head to the negative. “No? Jesus. Who did all that?”

     “People I’d rather not talk about. Some of my boyfriend’s business associates. I found both bodies in the trunk of my car. Jimmy and Sammy. Sammy was the dog. Couldn’t stay in Vegas after that, so I bought a junker and took off driving as far as my money would take me.”

     “No shit? What did you do with the bodies?”

     “I called the cops and everything, and they came out and hauled the bodies away. That was a couple months ago. After that, I just had to get out of there, y’know? I knew the cops wouldn’t protect me. I knew they knew who did it, but they wanted me to help them. Talk about my boyfriend’s business and shit—and I wasn’t going to say anything, so I ran.  Just couldn’t handle it. Had to get outta Dodge.”

     “They killed your boyfriend and your dog? Jesus.”

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

     “Yeah. I mean—I don’t know.”

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

I walk over to the diner and everything is eerily the same as the night before, same waitress and the same thin-faced blonde sitting at the far end of the counter. This time I change the scene and sit down with only one faded blue-green stool between the blond and me. I smile at her nicely, and much to my surprise, she gives me a Mona Lisa smile in return. She’s a true country beauty. Shoulder-length blond hair, milky complexion, blue eyes, and a certain kind of softness about her. Daylight has pushed the haunted look out to the edge of her face, revealed only by a slight pinching of the skin. She’s wearing a yellow sleeveless blouse that buttons up the front, faded blue jeans and open sandals with a low heel. Nice rounded rear end. She’s drinking coffee and smoking a Winston, the flattened pack lying next to her white coffee cup and saucer.  

     The waitress comes and pours coffee in my cup and in a couple of minutes, I order. I can’t help but notice two things. One, the girl isn’t eating anything. Two, she keeps looking over at me, the worried look back on her face. I drink some of the coffee and get the urge for a cigarette. More coffee, coupled with the smell of the smoke from the girl’s cig, makes the craving grow stronger. I search my pockets, fidget on the stool for a moment then turn to the blond. 

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

     The sweet young thing gets up off her stool, moves next to me and hands me the nearly empty pack of Winston’s. I pick it up and slide one out.

     “Thanks a lot,” I say, smiling at her.

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

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

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

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

     “And where is that?”

     “Minnesota.”

     “You’ve got kind eyes,” she says. She looks down at her coffee cup, turning it in the saucer with her long fingers. “For someone with eyes like that I can eat breakfast.” She glances over at the waitress, who’s standing with her hand on her hip by the order window. “Mary Ellen, fix me up a steak and eggs with a tall OJ and a side of grits, would you please.”

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

     “Yeah, they’re good for you. I used to eat’em with sugar when I was a kid. So whattaya doin’ in Florida, Mr. Kind Eyes?”

     “I live down in Clearwater.”

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

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

     “You must’ve made a lot of money.”

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

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

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

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

     I shake it lightly.

    “So, what’s your name and where’re you from?” I ask, looking in her eyes and finding myself being drawn in.

     “Dory Lanigan. And I’m from Tennessee by way of Las Vegas.”

     “Now that’s a tough one. So you were born in Vegas?”

     “No, just outside of Knoxville.”

     “Oh, so you moved to Vegas. What brings you to Florida, then?”

     “I had a lot of bad trouble in Vegas,” she says, turning solemn. “My boyfriend was murdered. And my dog, too.”

     “What? You’re kidding me, right?” She shakes her head to the negative. “No? Jesus. Who did all that?”

     “People I’d rather not talk about. Some of my boyfriend’s business associates. I found both bodies in the trunk of my car. Jimmy and Sammy. Sammy was the dog. Couldn’t stay in Vegas after that, so I bought a junker and took off driving as far as my money would take me.”

     “No shit? What did you do with the bodies?”

     “I called the cops and everything, and they came out and hauled the bodies away. That was a couple months ago. After that, I just had to get out of there, y’know? I knew the cops wouldn’t protect me. I knew they knew who did it, but they wanted me to help them. Talk about my boyfriend’s business and shit—and I wasn’t going to say anything, so I ran.  Just couldn’t handle it. Had to get outta Dodge.”

     “They killed your boyfriend and your dog? Jesus.”

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

     “Yeah. I mean—I don’t know.”

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

CHAPTER 7

Now the weak VW heater is going full blast and my teeth are chattering along with the windshield wipers. A road sign tells me Otter Creek is six miles ahead.

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

     Along with the clothes, there’s a wallet in Bagley’s duffel. A wallet stuffed with identification for one Elton Kirby: Colorado driver’s license, library card from Littleton, social security card, and three credit cards (Chevron, Texaco, Montgomery Ward). I surmise that either Bagley found these, or possibly had them made. It’s the type of scam Dan was famous for. I can see it all now, after murdering Schmidt and me, Dan would have had to disappear and become someone else. 

     People along the pipeline know of Bagley and Schmidt but they don’t know me from Jimmy Buffet. I can easily become Elton Kirby. The license photo is badly blurred and the height, weight and hair color are close enough. I might have a problem with the blue eyes, though.

     I get myself nice and dry, stash the forty-five kilos in various places in the van and get back on the road. On the outskirts of Yankeetown, I spot a small motel, with a diner a few yards away.

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

     The light is dim in Elly’s Café and the paint is faded green, like pea soup. There is one plump waitress in a brown uniform. Her face is furrowed and she’s wearing a hairnet. In the kitchen, I presume, is a cook. Only other person in here is a good-looking blonde girl wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt. She’s sitting at the end of the counter drinking coffee and looking nervously out at the road, occasionally biting a fingernail. 

     If I wasn’t so tired I might be interested in her. She’s pretty, with cloudy blue eyes and a sculpted nose and chin, but she looks a little haunted. I take a seat in the middle of the counter and grab a menu from behind the napkin dispenser. Right away I see what I want.

     When the waitress plops the chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy in front of me, I temporarily lose interest in the girl. I wolf down the chow and barely have enough strength to limp back to my room. Once inside, I double lock the doors and flip on the tube. The room smells of mildew and pine-scented cleaner. I pull back the green chenille bedspread and collapse onto the crisp white sheets. At least they’re clean. The TV picture is black and white with some streaks of color on the edges of the screen, what passes for color TV at the Friendly Haven Motel. I find a rerun of Starsky and Hutch, where Huggy Bear goes undercover as a pimp, and let the drone put me to sleep.

     I dream that I’m running in slow motion through a field of tall grass. It’s like one of those television commercials where the man and the woman are approaching each other, arms extended. You see the anticipation on their faces as they get nearer, each stride carrying them closer to true love and intense joy. 

     But my dream is a little different.

     I see my wife Carole gleefully bounding toward me in that pretty little flowery sundress she wore at our Las Vegas wedding. As she gets closer, I’m trying to see into her eyes. But the harder I try to focus, the more the face blurs. Then when we’re nearly together, I extend my welcoming arms and it’s not Carole’s face at all, but that of some unknown teenager with buckteeth and a pimply chin. I stop running and stare at her and she changes into old Mrs. Olson and all of a sudden I’m four years old and sitting on the little hill by the swing set in the backyard of my childhood home. It’s a bright sunny day but it feels cold. My mother is hanging up wash. Some part of my brain is telling me I’ve been through this before, as Mrs. Olson stands on her back porch calling to me: “Keith, Keith honey… do you want to come in and play? There’s quite a wind out today. Come in and have something warm. I’ve baked some of those ginger cookies you like.”  I look over to ask my mother if I can go but she is no longer there.

     Mrs. Olson and I walk up the flight of brown stairs, holding hands. At the top of the stairs I stop and look back for a second and wish it were warmer out. Then I go inside and see Mr. Olson sitting at the white kitchen table in his white strap undershirt, reading the morning paper. It’s dark in there but still he’s reading. Mrs. Olson takes my hand and we walk toward the bedroom and I feel a strange excitement.

     The scene changes again and now I’m in the dinghy from the Larson E, floating helplessly in the middle of the ocean. I’m dying of thirst, the sun is beating down on me and I’m alone, no food or fresh water. I rub my hand across my chest and feel a warm liquid. I look at my hand and it’s covered with blood. 

     My heart is bleeding.

     I’ve got a fuckin’ bleeding heart. 

     My eyes jerk open and I sit up straight in the tiny motel bed. Gray light of dawn is creeping in above the curtains. I try to crawl out of the bed but my body is leaden. I fall back down and sink into a deep dreamless sleep that’s like smoking good hash and lying in the sun with the radio on.

     The green plastic clock on the veneer bed table reads ten after ten when I finally put my feet to the worn, green carpet. I rub my eyes and the severity of my situation plunges down on me like a bucket of blood. 

     Dread and Fear push me into the shower and kick me in the ass when I get out. I dress and become resplendent in Bagley’s khaki shorts and blue polo, tan L.L. Bean boat shoes filling out the picture. I feel like a model in a catalog.

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

CHAPTER 6

The van is where I left it, no other cars around. But still I’m nervous. Once the VW is running, I feel a little better. Slowly, I chug out to the highway, thinking about bolting. The headlights cut through the blackness and raindrops flash in the beams. Little silver stars float around in my vision like fireflies. Tires splash as I turn onto the access road. It’s like I’m watching the whole scene from a distance and somebody else is driving.

     Now the driver cuts the lights and bounces down the dirt road that’s turning slippery and muddy. Sometimes it’s hard to see the road so he has to drive slowly. Has to flip the lights on a couple times for an instant, just to make out the direction. It seems brighter the closer we get to the water. We spot the lantern light and park. It’s about a fifty-yard walk through the dunes and I’m thinking about gators and snakes the whole way. I step out onto the beach and see Bagley’s standing there cradling the Browning twelve-gauge, a weird look in his eye.

     I ignore him and walk over to the pack, squat down, heft it and stand up, but not without some pain and effort. My bad leg is back to being bad. I look over at Dan and he’s glaring at me, mouth all twisted up. But behind the glare, he seems weak and shaky.

     “You coming along, Dan? You’re not still hung up on my little joke are you? Just manly hijinks, right? Think of it as payback for jumping on my wife that time. Remember? I thought you deserved a little payback for that. And for a half dozen other fuckin’ things I could name, come to think of it. Turnabout is fair play, they say. And we’re old buddies, right? You said it, man. Can’t hold a grudge, can we?  It’s you and me against the world now.”

     His lip curls upward into a sneer and his eyebrows tighten.

     “You coming?” I ask again, starting to walk with the pack on my shoulders.

     “Heh, heh. Shit, you joker… you had me going, you prick. Jesus… ha-ha… goddamn…  I-I-I’ll stay here and gather up the lanterns and things.  We can’t afford to leave anything around that might identify us.”

     “Yeah, I s’pose.”

     I trudge back through the wiry underbrush. Sharp spines sting my shins and sand clings to my shoes like cement. The pack digs into my shoulders. I get to the van, slide open the door and throw in the pack. On the return, I follow my path. When I get to the beach, all the lanterns and the fire are out and Bagley is nowhere to be seen. I peer down at the water; thinking maybe he’s gone to get rid of the dinghy. I take a few steps in that direction and hear something moving in the brush behind me. I turn in time to see Bagley running at me, the Browning held high above his head like a war club. 

     I freeze for a second, then charge. He swings the butt of the gun at my head but I duck under and throw a cross-body block. My hip slams into his middle and he tumbles back in the sand, losing his grip on the gun. He wriggles out from underneath me and crawls across the clinging sand, straining for the Browning. I struggle to my feet and jump on him, coming down with both knees on his back. I throw two hard punches to the back of his head and jump off, grab the shotgun by the barrel and sail it down the beach like a hammer thrower at the Killer Olympics.

     Bagley just lies there muttering and rubbing his head.

     “You fuckin’ asshole, Bagley. I really should kill you. You’re so fuckin’ pathetic you deserve to die.” I spit at him and slump back toward the brush. 

     Now he’s crawling after me, whining, pleading: “Don’t leave me here, Keith. You need me. Schmidt needed me—but he would never admit it. I showed him though, didn’t I? I outlasted him. I won. Keith… Keith…” eyes begging like a whipped dog. “It’s just you and I now. We can live the good life like we used to dream about. Think about it.  You can have half… I’m sorry.  Please help me. Please understand.”

     I start to walk away and my foot hits something in the sand. I look down and see my wooden club from earlier. From before all this commotion came and ruined my nice quiet beach. Before this lying greedhead came in and tried to fuck me over one more goddamn time.

     I watch Bagley get to his feet. I watch as he jerks an opened Swiss Army knife from his trouser pocket and lunges at me. Dodging the thrust of the knife, I dive to the sand and grab the hunk of wood. I come up swinging.

     I dodge another clumsy knife thrust then bash his forearm with a downward swing. The knife falls to the sand; he grabs his arm, falls to his knees and howls like a scalded cat.  Breaks down crying again, a pleading, pitiful sound. 

     Horrified, I bash his head until his face resembles a rotting melon. The rain pours down. It seems a bit like old times. I’m back on the merry-go-round and it’s still spinning. 

     Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye.

     His head is pulp as I drag the body down the beach and put it into the dinghy. I pull his funeral boat out into the ocean until the water is chest high then loosen one of the air valves. The boat hisses softly at me as the burial at sea floats southward. I cross myself. And I’m not even Catholic.

     But I’m thinking that now I might need religion. 

     Instead, I have cocaine—way too much of it—and miles to go before I sleep.

     The amazing thing is; I believe I can get away with all my crimes. The sailboat is gone. If ever found it will more than likely be written off as another pirate attack, merely a statistic. The eventual beaching of Bagley’s bloated body will only confirm these suspicions. 

     I find it difficult to accept—but it seems like I’m home free. That is if you consider being alone in a vehicle with enough cocaine to get you murdered and robbed or sent to jail for the rest of your life, home free.

     In this type of situation, one can become dehumanized. What you become is a reaction, an instinct. Running just to keep from dying. Eating just to keep from shaking. Sleeping because you can’t do anything else. Killing, because it’s your best choice.

     And so, I get back on the road, feeling a vast spiritual hole within me. I’m growing very tired of my continuous spiritual dilemma. Just doesn’t relate to my reality anymore. Too much of the same old metaphysical crap: Jesus or Buddha or Gita or what-the-fuck-have-you. Stuff can be such a pain in the ass. Seems like there should be something else to believe in that I haven’t gotten around to yet. But in the meantime, before I figure out what that is; I will place Chance as the executor of my fate. Pure random selection. From now on, like a spider with a web, I will take what comes along and thank the Fates for whatever it might be. Isn’t that truly The Way?

(End of Chapter 6)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

     He looks down at the sand and takes on a more humble tone: “There was trouble from the beginning—as soon as we landed in Jamaica. First thing we noticed was the narcs—they were everywhere. Dressed in three-piece suits and hanging with the businessmen. Wearing shorts and sailing. Drinking in the bars with the tourists… All the hotels were booked up because there were so many narcs on the island. Uncle Sam is spending big bucks to winter these guys. I should’ve become a narc.”

     “Get on with the fuckin’ story,” I say, as the rain lessens a little. His eyes get wider as I shake the gun barrel in his face. “We haven’t got all night, Dan,” I back up and sit down at the edge of the light, resting the shotgun on my lap.

     “You need to calm down, Keith. How about we continue this discussion while we’re driving out of here? Come on, you and I are old friends. God, man, we go all the way back to high school. I’m not going to screw you around.”

     “Right here will be fine, thank you. I’ve grown quite fond of this place. Been waiting here so long it’s beginning to seem like home, especially now that I don’t have a home anymore.” I lift the twelve-gauge with one hand and point it at his chest. “You can talk now.”

     “Well, all right,” he says and exhales an exaggerated sigh of exasperation. “Our connection never showed up. We waited two days for him to show but he never did. We called his house and his wife answered and she starts crying as soon as she hears my voice. Turns out our man got popped about a week before he was supposed to leave to meet us. I guess we were lucky the feds got to him before he led them to us. And that’s why we were late getting out of port.”

     “No shit. What’d you do then?”

     “Schmidt started hustling. Talking to the natives and working the streets until he found somebody who could handle our requests.”

     “You did this in spite of all the narcs around?”

     “I was against it, believe me. I was ready to turn around and come back to Florida and see what we could find. But Schmidty wouldn’t have any of that. And sure enough, to my great surprise, he comes around with two Rastas in tow—cow shit in the dreadlocks and the whole bit—stunk like pigs. But these guys had some of the highest quality blow I’ve ever seen, at incredible prices.”

     “I thought Rastas were into weed.”

     “These guys had weed, too, but it was nothing special. Ordinary brown buds. Didn’t even smell that good. That’s why we did the coke. The price was so good we were able to get a lot more than we initially intended. They probably ripped off the dope from someone else—the reason for the good price. They had to be the ones that set us up.”

     “The guys who sold it to you were the ones who tried to rip you off?”

     “They weren’t the same guys, Keith, but they were Rasta punks. And it just makes sense they were connected to the other two. How else would they know about us?”

     “You’d think guys with that much money would have better weapons than just one double barrel shotgun. You’d think those dudes would have Uzis and AK-47’s, shit like that.”

     “So maybe our pirates were just lucky, at the right place at the right time. Could be… hard to say. Maybe they patrol the area looking for lonely sailors, I don’t know. All I know is they attacked us and we fought them off and Schmidt is dead. Now can we get out of here?”

     “I don’t think so. You need to hear my little theory. I don’t believe there were any pirates. I—”

     “What? You’re shitting me, right? Or are you the one trying to rip me off?” He rises slowly and I level the shotgun at his gut.

     “Just sit the fuck down and listen, Daniel, before this thing goes off. What I believe is that you were the only one who shot at anybody on that boat. I think you got greedy and tried to blow Schmidt away while he was at the steering wheel. That explains the two holes and the blood by the wheel. Then you shot him again and he fell down on the deck. You thought it would be easy to throw a wounded man in the drink, but Schmidty fought you, scratched at your face as you tried to send him to the sharks. He got his hand on a Beck’s bottle and broke it on your head and stabbed you around the neck a few times. That explains the broken beer bottle on the boat and the weird little wounds on your neck. So then you struggled free and finished him off. That’s what I think. I still haven’t figured out what the dent in the hull was caused by, but I will. Just give me time.”

     “You’ve really looned out this time, Keith. All that acid has come back to haunt you I’m afraid. Because that’s one of the biggest hallucinations I’ve ever heard. Come on, let’s act like men and stop this fantasy nonsense. That was a good fable—at least until the part about the dent. The dent in the boat proves my story is true. Now can we go?”

     He’s grinning now—that condescending grin that I hate so much. I point the shotgun up at the black sky and squeeze the trigger. He jerks backward at the sound of the blast.

     “Shit, man, you’re nuts,” he says. His voice is a whine. “Ease off, Keith, c’mon, man.”

     “Sit the fuck down, asshole. I’m going to do you a favor.”

     He sits down, shivering a little, a look of disbelief on his face. 

     “I’m going to save you from yourself, Bagley. Save you from a rude comeuppance in your old age. Prevent you from having to discover the awful truth about yourself after it’s too goddamn late.” 

     He cocks his head up at me. A sniveling sneer feathers across his lips.

     I keep after him: “I get the distinct impression you think you can do anything you want—without paying the price. Karma means nothing to you. Maybe nothing means anything to you. All you care about is the gold, come whatever or whomever you have to shit on. So fuck you. I almost feel bad that I’m going to save you from growing old and realizing what a greedy, slimy piece of shit you are. But the fact is, I’m not at all sure about karma, myself. I can’t be sure that you’ll suffer enough to compensate for your trespasses. So I’m going to end it all for you, right here, right now.”

     I put the stock of the gun to my shoulder and point the barrel at his head. He puts his hands in front of his face and rolls up in a ball.

     “Don’t shoot. Cut it out. Please, Keith, this is nuts.” 

     I move closer to his fetal-positioned body. He’s crying now: “Come on, Keith. You can’t be serious. You’ll never be able to sell all that coke without my help.” Tears roll down his face and it smells like he shit himself.

     I tighten the pressure on the trigger. 

     “I’m gonna throw that garbage into the fuckin’ ocean,” I shout. “Get some sharks wired so they can take out a few more tourists.”

     “You’re insane. Please, give me a break. I—”

     I squeeze the trigger.

     CLICK. 

     The metallic sound seems to echo through the rain. 

     I turn and throw the shotgun to the sand, suppressing a chuckle. “I’ll go get the van now,” I say, and head up the beach, leaving shit boy and his backpack behind.

     He is stammering something at me as he sits up in the sand in his soiled khaki L.L. Bean deck pants. The rain drowns out the words as I chug along. About fifty yards down the beach a grin spreads over my face. It turns into a nervous laugh.

(End of Chapter 5)

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