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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.

CHAPTER 10

Barry is excited by the prospects. At least, what I could cryptically explain over the phone. He agrees to drive down and pick me up. I spend the night in a parking lot in Dory’s old Chevy. He picks me up at noon the following day in front of the entrance to Palm Gardens.  

     Everything goes well until the third day I’m in Orlando. That’s when I run across a story in the Orlando Sentinel about a van, registered to one Daniel Victor Bagley from Colorado, that’s been found on the beach near Homosassa Springs, with a severely injured young woman inside. A woman in possession of a gun that authorities suspect was used in the shooting death of Levi County Deputy Sheriff, John Teller. Fingerprint evidence yet to return from the state lab. Head trauma has evidently given Dory Lanigan amnesia, as she claims no knowledge or memory of anything from the previous two weeks. 

     I’m glad that the poor girl is alive, although why, I’m not sure. But I’m even gladder that she can’t remember anything. If, in fact, that is true. Could be a fabrication.

     I cross myself, a new habit I’m picking up.

     I spend the next two days destroying the newspapers and turning off TV news to keep Barry from putting two and two together. Taking Barry out would be tough. After that, things go by pretty smoothly, the only hitch coming after I’ve socked away my first hundred grand. 

     Giddy with greed, Barry and I start partying and don’t stop for forty-eight hours. Sunday morning, depression and loneliness hit me so bad that I’m suicidal. Wishing I could cry but unable to, I almost call Carole and ask her to join me. A voice in my head never stops harping that it’s a big mistake and for some reason I listen.

     I wait out the pain and vow to stop doing cocaine. It’s a rotten, horrible drug—and far too expensive. Now that I have money, I have to learn to manage my funds wisely. It’s just not good business to consume your own product.

     Sixteen days go by and I have nearly three hundred thousand dollars and some new clothes packed inside an Italian leather suitcase. I also have a deep-seated need to get far away from Florida. Go someplace unobtrusive and not too crowded.

     I bid Barry adieu and board a flight at the Orlando airport.  Destination: my new life. A few hours later we touch down and I realize that it’s Halloween night, October 31, 1979—two months until the new decade arrives.

     I take a cab from the airport into downtown Madison, Wisconsin and get a room at a Best Western on State Street. I have steak, shrimp and vodka gimlets in the dining room and then go back up to my room for a shower. 

     By the time I towel off, dress and look out the window at the street, it’s full of revelers. Revelers in costume. 

     There’s somebody dressed as a stovepipe. There are two “Wild and Crazy Guys” ala Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd of Saturday Night Live. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman… they’re all there, along with just about every other creature one can imagine. State Street is filled with party animals and I believe I’ll fit right in. 

     I go into the bathroom and admire my new costume in the steamy mirror. 

     The short cropped, dyed blonde hair looks good; my clean-shaven face the same. The gray Armani suit looks fantastic with the white, silk shirt and the two hundred-dollar tie. The Cuban cigar, the silver-rimmed, tinted eyeglasses and the Rolex watch complete the picture quite nicely.

I feel ready for the eighties…

(End of Chapter 10)

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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.

     It isn’t long before we come to signs offering beach access. I wave and point and Dory obediently turns down the narrow shell road. After a short distance, we roll out of the mangroves and discover a beautiful little bay. There’s a good wind from the northwest, and off in the distance, whitecaps roll. But inside the long and narrow bay there is a gentle lapping of soft, blue-green water. Three cars are parked on the side of the road.

     We continue along the access road, moving parallel to the water. I can’t stop thinking they’ve already found the dead cop and it’s only a matter of time before they start looking for a white VW bus with two gun-crazy drug addicts inside. This will be enough to send every firearm-owning redneck in the area into a feeding frenzy—and who can blame them?

     On the southernmost spot on the bay I see a long point stretching out into the water. I can see only one car, out near the tip of the point. I drive on past the car and then around the point and now we are alone on the road as it jogs along a jagged and uninhabited shoreline. About a block down the vegetation begins to take over and the road narrows, encroached by gnarled creeping vines and spiky foliage. The surf is roaring in my ears and I can’t think straight. Then the road straightens out for a hundred yards and I zip around the VW, make her ride my bumper for a while. We bounce along while I check her out in the rearview. Looks to me like she’s getting uptight, constantly flipping her hair back with her free hand and gripping the wheel tightly with the other. The van is bouncing and bucking because she won’t shift out of second gear. I’m thinking maybe she’s in need of another blast of coke before the roof falls in on her castle of sand. 

     Then I see an opportunity up ahead: a small, offshoot trail going down toward the sand. I veer onto it and Dory follows, the VW’s headlights bouncing behind me like the eyes of an insane clown. I get to the beach and come to a stop. The wind howls and whines through the open window. White-capped waves slam against the shore. The sound is fierce, like Neptune himself is roaring his frustration with the state of the world. 

     I pull out a cigarette—a Kool—punch in the lighter on the cheesy maroon dashboard of the Chevy and watch her in the mirror. She has a cigarette going, too. She’s puffing on it and looking around nervously. Then I watch her climb out the driver’s door and come around to the front of the van, turning her eyes toward me as I put the lighter back in its hole. I swing my right arm onto the seat back and look at her, smiling my best fake smile. She waves at me then turns her eyes to the ocean and stretches her arms up to the sky.

     I’m still facing her, and still smiling, when I slip the shifter into reverse with my left hand and floor the gas pedal. 

     I see her eyes widen and her body go rigid. 

     The rear bumper of the Chev hits her at the knees, her body jackknifes and her head smashes violently down on the trunk lid. There’s one hell of a thunk and she goes limp like a rag doll, her last gasps and gurgles signaling the end of another wasted life. I shift into drive and pull forward until she rolls off onto the sand. I get out and drag her body to the side door of the VW. 

     Sometime soon, somebody will discover an abandoned hippie van with links to three dead people: Schmidt, Bagley and now Dory. Traces of drugs and semen and god knows what all will be found among the carpet fibers of this four-wheeled wagon of sin. SATANISTS INVADE FLORIDA! might be the headline in the Baptist Weekly.

     I stick poor Dory inside Bagley’s sleeping bag and clean out the van. I leave behind Bagley’s wallet and Elton Kirby’s wallet, keep Keith Waverly’s wallet. I stuff all forty-five kilos of coke and some clothes into Bagley’s two military duffels and throw them in the trunk of the Chevy. 

     Just before I drive away I remember to go back and close the curtains on the van and say my farewells and regrets to Dory.

     I mean, what was I supposed to do?  I really had to kill her. I could never have become partners with the heinous likes of her. And I couldn’t accept the responsibility of loosing Dory on an unsuspecting world, with her in possession of massive quantities of cocaine and a loaded handgun. So I see it as a public service. Born to serve—that’s me.

     Dan Bagley and Dory, I figure, were like two peas in the pod, except Bagley had the good fortune to be born into wealth while Dory had to learn to lie and cheat out of necessity. 

     Now I’m beginning to see a new path. The seventies are fast approaching a horrible end and I can see an inkling of the new way, the new sensibility. It is time to be done with spiritual angst and uncertainty. Now the time is right for worshipping a new god, the god the successful people are already bowing and scraping to. Money. Some refer to it as Mammon—covetousness dressed up as enterprise. With cash as your guide, there is no guilt or agonizing soul searching. No wailing or gnashing of teeth. Unless the stock market crashes. One simply accumulates—always going forward—come hell or federal investigation. After accumulating, you consume. Then discard. It’s as easy as one, two, three.

     Feeling the giddy rush of my new spirituality, I anoint my new Holy Trinity.

     Money, Sex and Drugs form the new Godhead. 

     These are things that you can feel and experience, not pie in the sky and self-denial. This time around I will not get caught short. I’ll be riding high on the crest and running the shoot, hanging five on a golden surfboard.  

     First thing, though, I have to get back to St. Pete without getting caught by the cops. Then I need some cash, a new mode of transportation and an outlet large enough to handle mucho kilos of Peruvian Marching Powder. Talk about your millstones. 

     If I think about it too much my head starts to spin. I have no choice but to take it one step at a time. I decide to wait on the beach for a while. In a couple hours it will be dark. 

     After five minutes of vacant staring at the pounding surf, my stomach is flopping so bad I have to leave. I cannot look at the VW as I drive away. I continue down the frontage road until it winds its way back to Highway 19, where I turn right and head south through Homossa Springs until I hit State Highway 98. There, I turn east, roll through Brooksville and then all the way to the freeway. It’s a soft evening with no wind. Sun is sinking, red as blood.

     As the roadside lights start popping on, the sky turns gray and then black and I’m swallowed up in the swarm of traffic. Just another white-trash night for the guy in the maroon Chevy. I’m strangely relaxed; emotion seems to have left me for the time being, and the drive is surreal, like I’m floating on air and the only sound is the hiss of the tires.

(End of Chapter 9)

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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.

     Marv’s Chevron has two repair stalls, one of which contains a faded tan ‘69 Chevy Impala with a small dent on the driver’s door. To the left of the service area there’s an office painted dull yellow with greasy finger smears on the walls and a cloudy window facing the road.

     I go into the office. Dory lingers behind. The metal desktop is littered with dirty scraps of paper, nuts, bolts, pens and assorted pieces of individually wrapped candy. A turned-over hubcap in the middle of the desk is piled high with cigarette and cigar butts. A dark green wastebasket, half full of candy wrappers, cigarette packs and empty tins of Copenhagen, sits next to a tarnished spittoon with vile-looking stains congealing on the edges. A wooden, wheeled chair behind the desk contains a grizzled old man I assume is the station owner because it says Marv on a small patch above the left breast pocket of his work shirt. He’s scanning the repair bill.

     I say hello and sit down at the side of the desk on a chromium-framed kitchen chair with a cracked red plastic seat. I’m praying Marv won’t call in the number on the credit card I’m handing him. He squints at the card and then at me and puts the card on the desk.

     I lean over and try to decipher the scribbles on the invoice: Timing chain, timing gear, shop supplies and labor. The easiest thing to read is the total: $277. 34.

     The mechanic is standing outside the office door in smeared gray coveralls and an oily, black skullcap, trying his damnedest to explain to Dory—in a mostly incomprehensible mix of Scandinavian-flavored, Southern-white-trash English—what he has done to the Chevy. She’s slightly inside the office door and staring up at his grease-smeared stubble, acting like she understands.

     Marv starts rummaging around in the side drawer, looking for something. My prayers are answered when he happily lifts out his credit card imprinter and a clean receipt. “I gotta charge you fifteen bucks extra for using the credit card,” he says, voice like a file dragged across a hunk of plastic. “Costs me money every time I get one of these goddamn things. S’posed to be ten percent, but I’m cuttin’ ya some slack on a count of the two a ya make such a fine couple.”

     Wow, a whole $12.73.

     “Thanks,” I say, growing ever more restless and uneasy, cold sweat beginning to trickle down the back of my neck. “I know how it is—the big oil companies are always screwing you over.”

     His eyes narrow and he tilts his head sideways. Then he shrugs and launches a brown stream in the direction of the spittoon. The goober hits the edge with a slippery clank and drips down into the soup. Marv seems pleased. He writes up the charges on the credit card slip and slides the knob across the plastic. He grins and pushes everything over to me, along with a cracked and greasy ballpoint pen.

     “There you go, Elton,” he says. “You’re all set.”

     Guy didn’t know how right he was.

     “Now we’ve got plenty of time to enjoy the sights before it gets dark, honey,” Dory says from the doorway as my nose starts to run.

     I sniff in the run-off and sign the slip and Marv slides over a set of keys on a ring with a small, yellow rectangular card fastened to it. I take the keys and hand them to Dory but she holds her hands up and shakes her head to the negative.

     “You drive the Chevy, honey,” she says, “So you can test out how it’s running.” Looking at me with those big wide eyes. “I’ll follow you in the van. Maybe we can find a motel on the beach somewhere.”

     “I’m sure these guys fixed it quite well, Dory. I’m sure it’s fine. I’ll drive the van and follow you.”

     “Oh come on—Elton. Please let me drive the camper. Please, please… can I please?”

     Marvin smirks at me.

     The mechanic says, “She be a runnin’ real goo-ed. Y’all’ll see.”

     I give up any thoughts of resistance and squeeze the Chevy keys in my palm. I watch Dory wiggle and giggle out of the office. I follow closely behind her, thanking Marvin and trying not to stimulate any more conversation. It feels like the devil is in my chest. 

     Dory heads for the VW and I walk alongside her, smiling. We get to the bus and she climbs in the driver’s side like there’s no question about it. She’s got me and I know it. I can’t throw a big fuss at the gas station and besides that she still has the gun in her purse.

     Now the coke is wearing off and my stomach is making like a jumping frog. My head feels like a doormat at a wedding party and I know there’s only one way to play it. I hold the door open and slide my hand around her waist, bring my head in close to her ear and whisper: “I think we need to recharge, Dory. We need to find someplace to dump this bus and then we can get high. You and me got a lot of living to do. I sure want to get to know you better.” I put my hand behind her head and gently pull her to me. I kiss her full on the mouth and let my tongue explore. 

     The muscles in her neck tighten up and she pulls away from me. 

     “What’s the matter?” I ask, struggling to keep from ripping her head off.

     “Nothing,” she says, “Let’s just get moving.”

     “And where is it that you think we’re going? You can’t drive this thing out in public for very long, any more than I can.”

     “We go to the first beach road and leave it there like it’s for camping,” she says, an edge in her voice and her eyes. “We throw the shit in my car and go to a motel. Take care of business and then go our separate ways.” She smiles like an angel. “I want half the shit.”

     I feel the karmic ass-kick. “Are you fuckin’ kidding me? You pull that idea out of your ass?”

     She blinks and her eyes glaze over and her face tightens up. A new Dory emerges: “I saved your Yankee ass already today, don’t forget that, whatever your name is. And don’t be callin’ me dumb. You smart-ass boys think yer so goddamn clever. Well, you listen here—I’m the one saved yer ass this time, pretty boy—and now we’re partners. It’s the law of the road. And I’ll sure as hell go somewhere and party with you if that’s what you want. But if it ain’t, I’m still gonna get my share of the dope. So you decide, man, you’re the fuckin’ smart one.”

     Evidently not smart enough.

     “Hey, no problem,” I say. “I’ll just tell my Colombian financiers that I met a beautiful woman and decided to give her half of their dope. I’m sure they’ll be real amenable to that, hopeless romantics that they are. Then they can send somebody after you for payment. No fuckin’ sweat, right? They’ll just cut your pretty little head off and put it in a box next to mine.” 

     She blinks a few times, acting like she doesn’t hear me. 

     “Listen, Dory,” I say, feeling the panic growing in my gut. “We’ll have to discuss this later. Right now we need to get our asses out of here. I’ll follow you. But keep two things in mind: One, the Chevy is faster than the Volkswagen so I can always catch you. And two, the cops will be looking for the van, and not me in a Chevy. That of course means that if they see us, you will go to jail and I will drive away. What I’m trying to get across here is that we better get off the road real soon and do this thing real fast or we’ll both be real fucked. Comprende?”

     “Oooh, I love it when you talk forceful like that.”

     “Christ, let’s just go.”

     “Si, mi amoret.

     My throat seizes up.

     Leaving Marv’s, heading down the road, I have no idea what direction I should take or what to do next. Basically, I have become Dory’s lap dog.  It’s the only thing I can do, and I’m wondering if this girl really thinks I could fuck her after she pulled this power trip. 

     She doesn’t really know what she’s getting into, does she?

(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.

CHAPTER 9

“There it is,” she’s saying, and it seems like her voice is miles away. “There. There! Stop, there it is. What’s the matter with you, you’re going by it?”

     I snap back from my trip down the tunnel of despair and slowly pull over to the side of the road. I look carefully in the rearview mirror and swing a u-turn. A moment later I’m pulling into an old, dirty white service station that looks to be left over from the early days of Florida. We park on the side of the building by a pile of rusted springs and mufflers and various other rusted parts. Dory grabs her purse and jumps out of the van. I stay inside in a daze, thinking I’d take off down the highway if I didn’t need her car. 

     But I need her and she knows it.

     Five eternal minutes go by before she comes prancing back around the corner of the building like she’s playing run around the Maypole. She’s fuckin’ skipping for Christ sake. And again looking to all the world like the damaged, frightened little buttercup I discovered at the café. Deeply now, I wish I had known when to keep my mouth shut. 

     Running off at the mouth, whether an attempt at friendly conversation or nervous spewing, can get you in trouble. Trouble of any kind can be caused by something you say. The wrong words to the wrong person at the wrong time and BANG—you won’t know what hit you.

     She comes up to the window and I can’t help but stare at the soft skin below her neck leading to those luscious breasts. The sunshine on her hair and the glint in her pale blue eyes almost make me forget how fucked up everything is. For a brief moment I start to believe that I might actually get out of this unscathed. 

     Dory comes in real close and presses her hips against the door. She looks into my eyes and smiles broadly, and for the first time, I get a look at her teeth. 

     Poor girl has what we Northerners call “hillbilly teeth.” Decaying, discolored and uneven, they resemble Keith Richards’ mouth in the early days of the Rolling Stones. Most likely the result of a one hundred percent sugar diet. And being too busy running away from her father to brush. I hate to be superficial, but it’s not a pleasant sight, ruins the picture.

     “Keith, darlin’, ” she says in kind of a drawl, “if you’ll come on in and bring along that Chevron Card and the rest of the wallet, we can pay the bill and get out of Dodge.”

     “I don’t even know if these cards are any good. And you better start calling me Elton. I don’t know why the cards are in here or what they’re for. For all I know, they’re on the Arrest Immediately list. Could be hot as sun-baked asphalt.”

     “Ya think these boys have all the fancy equipment to check on things like that? Shit, these dudes can barely turn on the radio without help. All they can do is fix cars and jerk off. You need to stop worrying. After I practically had to get down on my knees to get them to accept a credit card, we have to use it. I told them you were my fiancé from Colorado, come here to rescue me.”

     I’m feeling pretty much defeated now. “It’s a Chevron station, so I guess they have to take it.” My words come out low and soft.

     “I don’t know about that, but I ‘magine these boys do what they please around here. Ain’t a heck of a lot of competition. This is the only station for miles.”

     “In two years it’ll be a strip mall.”

     She crinkles her eyes at me and pulls on the door handle. I climb reluctantly out of the VW and Dory takes my hand in hers. My instinct is to pull it back but instead I swallow hard and keep walking along. What the hell…

(To be continued)

See all T.K. O’Neill’s books here: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B09HPBWMJF

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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.

Dory comes up to the driver’s window of the cruiser and hands the card to the cop. “I found it, honey,” she says, leaning in until her tits are damn near falling into the guy’s face.

     I see his eyes lock onto the luscious mounds. Then he looks distractedly up at her face and then over at me. And then back to the card. He stares blankly at it for a second before glancing at Dory’s chest again, and then back at me. I’m smiling sheepishly when I see Dory’s hand dart into her purse like a cobra going for an egg. And I stare, transfixed, as her pale, slender fingers pop out of the red bag and sunlight flashes off the nickel-plated barrel of a small handgun. Then quick as a flash she sticks it in the cop’s reddening face and squeezes the trigger. I duck out of the way as brains and blood explode onto the cheap brown vinyl seats.

     “FUCK,” I yell, as the sound of the blast drifts away on the breeze. I jump out of the cop car onto the yellow, sun-baked dirt, thinking she’s gonna hit me next. Instead, she reaches into the cruiser and plucks the registration card off the dead man’s thigh. I scramble to my feet, run back to the VW and jump in, hoping that Dory is lingering behind to admire her work.

     No such luck. 

     She climbs in—breathless—beside me.

     “I had to do it,” she says, matter-of fact. “The fuckin’ pig was going to bust us. Now let’s get the hell out of here so we can screw. I’m dying to see you naked.”

     Jesus.

     “What the hell is wrong with you, you crazy bitch? You killed a fuckin’ cop. We’ll fuckin’ hang for this. Worse than that. I—”

     “Did the pig call in your plates?” She’s acting like nothing much happened,

     “No. He never had time. He was too busy making fun of my name.”

     “Yeah, your name. We’ll talk about that later. Now I think you should admit that I saved you—and you and I both know from what. When I was looking around for the registration card I found a brick of cocaine inside one of the cabinets. I think the penalty here in Florida for that much coke is more than it is for murder, so I definitely did you a favor.”

     There’s a horrible vomit taste in my mouth and my heart is dead. I’ve gone beyond sadness to eternal despair. I’m looking out from inside of a damp, dark cave and all I can see is the desert.

     “Just one less pig around to hassle people, dude,” she says. “Lighten up.”

     What the hell is this younger generation coming to?

     “Yeah, I guess. Maybe you’re right. But a car went by when we were stopped. And they saw this van pulled over by a cop that is now blown all over the front seat of his cruiser. We have to get out of this van and into something else. And without any money, that might be a bit difficult to pull off. If we’re lucky, we’ve got a few hours before they put it all together. Got any more bright ideas?”

     “It’s only a few miles to where my car is. If it’s fixed, we take that. No problem. Dump this thing somewhere and be gone like the wind.”

     “And how are we going to pay for the repairs to your car, offer to trade some coke?”

     “Probably could, with these rednecks. Everybody digs coke, don’t they?  I was going to offer them something else if it came down to that but now I think we should just use one of those credit cards in your wallet. Or should I say Elton Kirby’s wallet? And, ah, Keith?  It says Dan Bagley on the registration card. That you?”

     “No, that’s my brother. I’m Keith Bagley.” I give her a hard stare. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Dory, if you found the registration form, why did you have to kill the bastard? I think he was just going to give me a speeding ticket for fuck sake.”

     “I can’t afford to take any chances. I already have two felony drug charges on my record and I can’t take another rap of any kind. But everything is going to be all right, honey. We’ll get in my car and ride off into the sunset and the Honeymoon Hotel.”

     Fuck, I’m honey now.

     The muscles in my chest tighten up and my soul cries out for release.

(End of Chapter 8)

See all T.K. O’Neill’s books here: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B09HPBWMJF

ebook only $2.99 – through the summer!

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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 stare in the rearview mirror with disbelief as the white Chevy with the cherry on top comes up fast behind me. Everything turns to black and a sick feeling fills me up. I tell myself that I’m okay—it’s only a speeding bust, but then I remember the cocaine mirror lying on the floor in back, uncovered, and look frantically around for something to throw over it. “Dory,” I say, my head throbbing, “carefully reach in the glove compartment and get a map or something to throw over that mirror in back. We’re getting pulled over, so try not to show any movement, if you can manage it.”

     Her shoulders rise up and her skin gets a few shades lighter but she manages to slide out the Florida road map and skillfully work it between the shifter and the bucket seat to drop it on top of the mirror. As I come to a halt, I look back at the cop and out of the corner of my eye see an edge of the mirror sticking out under the map. But it will have to do; the cop is out of his cruiser and striding toward us now.

     He’s a big man, about six-four, with a small gut hanging over his belt. He’s a local—Levy County Sheriff’s Department, it says on the driver’s door of the cruiser—but has the aviator shades, trooper hat and jackboots that all the heat down here seem to wear. This one has an arrogant swagger like maybe he played football in college and misses the opportunity to hit people.

     “Driver’s license and registration please, sir.”

     I reach above the visor for Bagley’s alternative wallet.

     “Take it out of the wallet, please.”

    He holds a clipboard with one hand while studying us. I hand him the license. He puts it on the clipboard and stares into my eyes. 

     “Are you aware that the speed limit is fifty on this road, Mr. Kirby?”

     “Yes.”

     Dory shoots me a sideways glance.

     “You were traveling over seventy. Got your registration handy?”

     I start to feel the panic. “It’s not my van, officer. It belongs to a friend of mine down in St. Pete. He let me use it for a little sightseeing and camping trip, and I don’t know where the registration is.”

     The cop frowns. “Please step back into the patrol car with me, Mr. Kirby.”

     I get out of the van and start to walk back along the highway toward the cruiser.

     “Please step to the shoulder, sir,” the cop says with authority.   “Move around to the other side of the van.”

     I turn and go back around the front of the bus. “Dory, look for that registration card, will you please?” I say, passing by the passenger window. “I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.”

     The cop is lumbering along behind me and I sense him peering in the windows of the van. But he doesn’t linger and I’m able to calm down enough to stop shaking. I get into the cruiser and the cop slides behind the wheel. My shoulders feel like they’re up against my ears. Cop leans back against the seat and the scent of garlic and onions and cheap after-shave hit me like a toxic cloud. He lifts his shades and peers down at the license.

     “What kind of name is Elton, boy? Some kind of limey moniker, like that fruit Elton John? You a limey, son? They got all kinds of funny names over there in the U.K.”

     But no Billy Bob and Bubba.

     “No, I’m an American.”

     “And where in America do you reside then, Elton?”

     “In St. Pete. That’s where I’m headed.”

     “You need to get your driver’s license changed then, this one here’s from Colorado. You need a Florida resident license.”

     “Only been here for three months, officer.”

     “Then yer only sixty days overdue, boy. But I ’magine you and the missus have plenty of things to keep ya busy.” He winks at me.

     “Uh…well… ah, yeah. And here she comes now—the wife. She must have found the registration papers.”

     Dory is walking toward us; red purse slung over her left shoulder and a white card in her right hand.

     “Sure is a pretty one,” the cop drawls. “You are a lucky guy—even with a name like Elton.” He laughs, winks again.

     My buddy.

     “Yes I am, Officer. I surely am. Sometimes I don’t realize how lucky.”

(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. 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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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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