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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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“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.

     “W-w-what do you mean, Keith?” he says with a grimace.

     “I was out to the boat, Dan; I saw the damage. I only saw two holes in the boat and they looked like shotgun slug holes. And, it also looks like they went out through the front of the cabin, which means they had to be from pretty close range. Those guys weren’t very good shots, I guess.”

     “They were kids—teenagers—they had a double-barreled shotgun. They shot at Schmidty while he was at the wheel and when he ran down to get our guns and I had to fend them off. My god—they rammed us—and two of them were trying to get on board. Fuckin’ Jamaicans. I was fighting them off and they were scratching at me trying to climb on board. Then Schmidt comes back up with the twelve-gauge and blows one of the pricks away. Puts a hole right in the asshole’s goddamn chest. The other guy goes scrambling into the water and Schmidt could have killed him, too—but he held back.  He was standing there watching, letting the nigger escape, when a third one pops up from nowhere and lets go with both barrels. One of the slugs catches Schmidty in the chest and he goes down. He’s on the deck and he grabs the flare gun and shoots. Must have hit the gas tank or something on their scow because the whole thing went up. It was gorgeous.”

     “That’s heavy, man. Schmidt went down fighting….”

     “He saved our bacon.”

     ”At least your bacon. But your wounds don’t look very deep. What kind of knives did those guys have?”

     “Christ, I don’t know. Everything happened too fast.”

     “You gonna be okay?”

     “I’m feeling weak. I need to rest.”

     “I thought you said the pirates came back again, at night.”

     “I m-m-meant they planned to come back at night. That is the usual modus operandi on the high seas. Th-Th-That’s what they would’ve done, I meant, if Steve hadn’t toasted them. I was shaken up from the ordeal. Waited all night for more of them to come along—but no one did. I ran without the lights until dawn and when the sun came up, there was nobody around. And, luckily, for us—no Coast Guard or narc boats. Now don’t you think it’s time to get a move on?  You need to focus.”

     “I thought you needed to rest. So tell me what happened to Steve after he shot the flare?”

     “He died a few hours later. I watched him die. There was nothing I could do to stop the bleeding.”

     “How did you know he was dead?”

     “You can tell, Keith, when you see it firsthand.” A hint of superiority in his voice now: “He had no heartbeat and there was blood all over him. He wasn’t breathing. Pr-Pr-Pretty good signs that the p-p-poor bastard was dead. And what’s with all the questions? Y-y-you’re not letting y-your imagination run away with you, are you?”

     “Fuck you. What happened to Steve’s body?”

     “I had to bury him at sea.”

     “I’m sure you said some words.”

     “I did.”

     “I won’t ask what they were. I don’t know if I could take it. One thing, though, the only blood I saw on deck was by the helm, underneath the wheel.”

     “We ran through a hard rain. Like now—tis the season.”

     “There was also blood by the rail, near the tiller—I wonder why that didn’t wash off.”

     “Tiller, that’s a good nautical word. You’re picking up on this sailing stuff, Keith—someday we can go for a sail, you and I. But don’t you think we should get along down the road—as in highway?”

     “Yeah, I suppose. But first I have to get something.”

     I go back to the dinghy and come back with the Browning cradled in my arms. Bagley is sitting in the sand, tension creasing his forehead.

     “You brought the twelve-gauge along?” he says, a confused look crossing his face. “Good thought—but I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring it in the van. Just one more thing for a cop to spot if we get stopped for anything.”

     “You’re probably right, Dan, but I’m not bringing it to the van. It’s for use here, right now.” I push off the safety and point the big black barrel at Bagley’s reddening face. He begins to resemble a jack-o-lantern, yellow glow and all. “First, Dan, we are going to sit here together and continue our little chat, like the old buddies that we are.”

     “Very funny. Now cut the shit and let’s get the fuck out of here.”

     “Not before you answer some questions. And believe me, I’m serious. If I’m smirking, it’s because it’s funny to see you there on the ground—with a loaded shotgun in your face—and you’re still giving orders like a fat little general in some third-world shithole. I guess you really can’t help yourself. But, first and foremost, I want one thing understood.  If I’m going to assist you in the odious task of cocaine distribution—well, uh—let’s just say that I won’t do it if I don’t feel comfortable. And right now, I don’t feel comfortable.”

     “If you’re too scared, Keith, drive me out to the road and you can walk away. Nobody has to know that you were ever here. I’ll send you some scratch when I get back to civilization. Just help me get to the road, please.”

     “I’m afraid that won’t work for me, Daniel—for many reasons. Not the least of which is that I don’t trust you. Don’t trust you now and never have. I mean, for Christ sake, Dan, I haven’t forgotten what a rip-off you are. Nobody I know ever trusted you. Whether it was with their girl or their money or anything. I don’t know how it is you manage to use everyone to the max like you do, all the while prancing around like some kind of fuckin’ diva, but the real funny thing is that I always stood up for you, believe it or not. I’m probably the only guy in the world ever had anything good to say about you at all. And what did that get me? A load of horseshit. Did you forget we’ve done business together before, buddy? I know what an asshole you can be, remember? I’ve taken the brunt of your condescension and your arrogance. Arrogance and ignorance—your two strong points. I guess I’m the ultimate sucker.” 

     “Are you serious? That’s what you’re so upset about? If I promise to be a nice guy will you point that shotgun away?”

     “Shut the fuck up and listen to me. Something seems terribly wrong here. I don’t believe your shit. Bile is rising up. My gut won’t accept the scene you’ve painted.”

     “I think you’ve finally gone off the deep end, Keith. Better give me the shotgun before somebody gets hurt.”

     “I went off the deep end a long time ago, Dan. That’s why I wouldn’t hesitate to pull this trigger and end your nasty little life. I’m sick of being shoved around by people like you.”

     “People like me? You mean someone who’s made something of his life?”

     “That must be it. Must be my frustration over a lack of status in mainstream society. But we’re straying from the heart of matters. I need to know more about this alleged pirate attack. I remember you telling Steve back in Key West that this deal was going to be your people all the way. You had some guy from Colorado, a high roller from Aspen or something, coming in to run things. I do remember you saying that. So how did the infallible Bagley go so terribly wrong, I want to 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 5

Obvious signs of a struggle on the Larson E: bloodstains on the deck, along with broken bottles and empty shotgun shells. But somehow, the destruction doesn’t live up to Bagley’s story. The boat isn’t riddled with bullet holes like I expected. I only see two holes, and they’re directly to the right of the steering wheel, about head high. Two large clean holes and that’s it.

     Down below, several live shotgun slugs and two shotguns lay on the bed of the larger stateroom. The bed my wife and I slept in not too long ago. The green Hawaiian shirt Steve Schmidt was wearing when we first arrived in the Keys hangs from a hook on the wall. 

     Tears well up behind my eyes and I fight them back down. I jam three slugs in the Browning semi-auto and set it back down on the bed. I suck in deep breath after deep breath and go back topside. Shakily, I push the button; tear off the seat cushions and stare, fascinated, as the panel slides back. A thin metal door above the “Emergency” tank is easily unlatched and lifted up to reveal a green North Face backpack lying high and dry on a mesh tray fastened to the sides of the tank. I crouch down and grab the two aluminum rods on the pack and lift. A hundred pounds comes up as easy as squeezing a pimple. Adrenaline works wonders. I throw the pack on the deck and stare at it, my heart ripping like a marching band at the homecoming parade. At my feet is a quarter million worth of coke, wholesale. By the time the last line has been snorted, smoked, or injected, well over a million dollars will have been generated.

     Lordy mama, my ship has come in. 

     Then my body starts doing the convulsion boogie and a wave of outright terror washes through me. I jump back to my feet and go down below deck, grab the shotgun, push off the safety and touch off a load by the side of the bed. Water rushes in and my ears ring. I go back topside, a three-alarm fire in my head. I heft the pack and start down the ladder towards the dark sea. My foot slips on a wet rung and I go crashing down, landing on my shoulder in the raft. The thing damn near tips over but somehow doesn’t. I pull off the pack and laugh hysterically before climbing back up the ladder. I lock the rudder with the improvised loop of rope and start the engine. Before pulling the anchor, I retrieve the Browning and throw it in the dinghy. There’s already two inches of water in the cabin.

     The engine murmurs softly. I pull up the anchor, put the boat in gear and quickly go down the ladder and flop into the raft on my stomach. I untie, and the Larson E glides slowly into the darkness.

     The grin is still on my face as I come ashore but I quickly turn grim at the prospect of facing Bagley. He catches sight of the pack on my back and can’t suppress a smile of his own and I hate him for it. Me, who was balls out crazy a minute ago, laughing like a fool—and I hate him for just smiling. These are strange times indeed.

     There is a little bee buzzing around inside my head now telling me something is not quite right. I can’t shake the feeling. There’s more to this situation than meets the eye or the ear, but I don’t know exactly what. Considering that I’m dealing with Dan Bagley, why should that come as a surprise?

     I throw the pack down at Bagley’s feet. “There’s your guilt powder, Dan. You happy now?” I look up and down the beach and see nothing but darkness. Driving rain the only sound. “I suppose we should get going,” I say, staring hard at Bagley as he struggles to his feet. Now I’m almost positive those marks on his face are scratches. Metallic sounding words begin to tumble out of my mouth: “Those look like scratches on your face, Dan? Were those woman pirates?”

(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 I think I hear a splash over the water and a weakly shouted, “Keith!” I stand there frozen in the warm rain. The bow light is out now and the sea is dark. If Schmidt were on board there would be something more than a muffled shout; that much I know. 

     Was it drowned out by the waves and wind and rain? I’m hoping they’re just being cautious. My gut churns at the possibility Bagley and Schmidt doubted my reliability. Then another sound, like a brief cry of pain, reaches my ears. A shaky flashlight beam points down at the water then goes dark.

     Five eternal minutes go by, the only sounds the hammering of the rain and the pounding of my heart. I don’t move. Squinting through the dim light, I can see the dinghy coming ashore, landing rope dangling in the water. The bow lifts as it hits the beach and a stooped figure struggles out. Slowly, it makes its way towards the lantern light. 

     Looks like Bagley. And just like the Larson E, he’s listing to one side. I see dark splotches on his torn safari shirt. Schmidt is nowhere to be seen. 

     I drop the club and start running down the soggy sand.

     “Keith,” Bagley says with a weak voice, “Where are you, Keith? Can’t you see I need help?”

     “I’m coming, Dan. What the hell’s going on? Where the fuck is Steve?” 

     I get to him and discover that the blotches on his shirt appear to be blood. He’s got a red bandana tied around his right bicep.

     “Steve’s dead. We were attacked by fuckin’ pirates. Schmidty got shot. He’s dead, Keith. Those bastards killed him. I got lucky or I’d be dead too. It was terrible. I’m just so goddamn lucky. They were trying to board us when Schmidty shot a flare into their fuel tank. I guess he saved my life—and now he’s gone.”

     I stop dead in my tracks. Blackness descends over me like a tight-fitting skullcap. My knees buckle. “He was a good man,” I say, struggling for composure. 

     I help Dan to my camping spot. We sit down on the sand and the rain lightens. He has blood on his face and hands and what appears to be shallow stab wounds around his neck and right shoulder. And he’s pale, like maybe he’s lost a lot of blood.

     “Jesus, Dan, I can’t believe this is happening. Schmidt is fuckin’ dead. This is awful, man. What the hell should we do? You’re not looking so good. I think we need to get out of here.”

     “I’ll make it,” Bagley says, His voice is weak but resolved. “I’ve got too much money and too much time involved in this to give up now. Schmidty would want us to keep going, Keith. You’ve got to hold it together. If we can just get this job done, I think everything will turn out all right.”

     Now I’m shaking, the last drops of precious adrenaline ripping through me like a hundred and ten volts of pure lightning.

     “We’ve got to move fast, Keith. You have to get the van. I don’t think I can walk that far. I’m feeling a little light-headed. You’re going to have to save me, for a change. After all those times I bailed you out, now its time for you to pay me back.”

     Bailed me out? What the fuck is he talking about?

     “What about the ganja?”

     “There isn’t any pot, Keith. Just coke, a hundred pounds of pure Colombian cocaine. It’s inside the fuel tank. There’s a special little door underneath the seats at the stern. You have to push a button on the console and the piece will slide back. First turn the ignition key to the right—clockwise—then push the black button on the outside of the steering console. I think there’s enough juice left in the battery. If not, you’ll have to grab a crowbar from the tool kit and—“

     “Just a goddamn minute. You told me this was a pot deal—mari-ju-wana—not fuckin’ coke. Every time I touch cocaine, something bad happens. And believe me I’ve got enough trouble as it is without adding more. Steve is dead, man. Can’t you see? It’s happening already. Hundred pounds of coke can get you executed in this state. This is insane. I should turn around and walk the fuck out of here, leave you for the cops. I do not want to mess with cocaine.”

     “T-t-take the damn cross off your shoulders, Keith, and get s-s-smart.” Bagley’s chronic nervous stutter makes an appearance. “Pot is for hippies; it’s old w-w-world, now. The profits are less and the loads are larger—it’s all yesterday’s papers. You can cut this blow and keep cutting it, and you’ll still be able to sell it for top buck. The p-p-profit margins are astronomical. You can put a hundred pounds in a backpack, and y-you can’t say that about w-w-weed.” He sits down on the sand, elbows resting on his knees, chin on his clasped hands. “Now go and get our nest egg so we can get out of here b-b-b-before I goddamn bleed to d-d-death.”

     “You seem to be doing all right, man. At least you’ve regained your gift for being an asshole.”

     “What do you mean by that? And what are you waiting for? I haven’t got much energy left.”

     I stare at him. 

     “Oh, I see…” he says. “So th-th-that’s the way you’re going to play it.  W-w-well then, ah-ah… I’ll tell you what, I’ll ah, ah, in-increase your share of the load—n-now that Schmidt is gone we can—”

     “I want half,” I say, looking him straight in the eye.

     “W-w-w-well, I w-was thinking a third—of Steve’s share—but I guess half would be f-fair, if you insist.”

     “You misunderstand, Mr. Bagley. I want half of the whole thing. The game has suddenly changed, you see. I never signed on for cocaine—and especially not death. And I think those added problems warrant extra compensation.”

     “Huh, huh,” he clucks like a hen, “You’re not serious.”

     I turn away and walk down to the dinghy. Grab the rope and start to swing the bow around when a realization—no, more a question—comes to mind: If Dan and I leave in the van and Steve is no longer around, who is going to sail the boat around the horn? Yes, sir, that’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. I pull the dinghy up farther on the beach then walk back to where Bagley sits glumly, staring at me. In the yellow glow of the smoldering fire, the marks on his face look like scratches. He’s dabbing at them with a wet cloth, the water jug at his feet. 

     He looks up at me, annoyed.

     “What about the boat, Dan? We can’t just leave it here, can we?”

     “You’ll have to sink it.”

     “How am I supposed to do that?”

     “It’s already taking water from where they rammed us.”

     “They were close enough to ram you—and you’re still alive?”

     “Schmidt cut loose on them with the twelve-gauge and they backed off and waited until dark.”

     “All right, so what should I do?”

     “Go out to the boat and put the coke in the dinghy. Then start the engine, lock the rudder into a southwesterly direction, throw her in gear and get off.”

     “How do I lock the rudder?  Is there a switch or something?”

     “There’s a loop of rope that holds it in place. You’ll see how it works.”

     “Will she sink fast enough?”

     “Blow a hole in it with the shotgun. Just make sure it’s below the water line. There’s a few slugs left. They’re on the bed in the master stateroom. And you better take a lantern.”

     “I don’t know about touching off a shotgun. Somebody around here hears it, they might call the cops.”

     “Close the cabin door. In this rain, no one will hear anything. Or better yet, just pull the drain plugs. But that will take you some time and the shotgun won’t. Yeah, blow some holes—that way it’ll look like pirates if anyone finds the boat.”

     “Yeah,” I say, and turn, like a zombie, toward my task.

(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 4

Two days later, I’m still alone on this desolate strip of beach waiting for something I’m not even sure is going to happen. But I have no other place to go and ninety-three bucks won’t get me very far in any direction. Looks like I’m stuck with sticking it out.

     The adrenaline high that kept me going has washed out and left in its place rising anxiety and a longing for something I can’t identify. Also a nagging suspicion that I’ve really fucked things up this time. I know I can’t wait on this beach forever; food and patience are nearly depleted. In the back of my head, a hyena mocks my every thought.

     After much soul searching I decide to leave by noon tomorrow, boat or no boat. After this much time has gone by, I can’t be sure of what or who might show up—if anybody. 

     Will a flotilla of coastguardsmen fresh from drug interception training be hitting the beach like the second assault on Normandy? Or will Bagley and Schmidt float in all big-timey, acting like it’s no big deal to get stood up on a lonely beach for two days by a couple of assholes. 

     Just because they’re the big-time smugglers and I’m the lousy pick-up guy doesn’t mean I haven’t run a few risks. If only they knew.

     I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gotten up and said to myself I’m leaving, only to sit back down, light a cigarette and wait some more. Stare out at something in the vast distance and wait. The waves just keep breaking slowly and rhythmically against the shore and the sound has become an annoyance. No longer relaxing, it grates on me like a constantly nagging voice: Sucker, sucker, sucker…. 

     You get to a point in a situation like this where you run out of things to think about and your mind starts covering the same old territory, over and over like a broken record. Round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows.  

     And if you stare long enough at nothing, something might finally appear. If it’s far enough away, an object can take the shape of many things. Sheer wishful thinking, if you’re tired enough, hungry enough or scared enough, might make you see something that isn’t there. Whether you’re sitting in a deer stand or a duck blind or against a bank of sand, it’s conceivable that a stump could seem to be a deer, a pigeon might look like a duck and a large piece of debris on the horizon could become a boat. 

     There’s a dark speck on the horizon now that brings this theory to mind. How long has it been there? Could it actually be them, after all this time?

     Adrenaline again begins its bubbling drive through my bloodstream and I stand up to stare out at the dark speck. Then the waves and the wind start to change. Begin to sound like an orchestra. An orchestra playing something exhilarating and uplifting like a Sousa march or a hymn, maybe. Not a solemn, weepy song, but a strong and warlike hymn like “Onward Christian Soldiers” or “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

     The object is closer now—and most definitely a sailboat. Possibly approaching my little home away from home. Clouds are rolling in and a damp breeze is kicking up from the North. As I stand here squinting out at the sailboat, the sun disappears and the blue and yellow sky slowly fills in with gray and black. 

     Now the boat seems to have stopped its shoreward progress. 

     I build up the sand around the signal flag, throw some wood on the fire and fetch the binoculars. 

     Not enough light to be sure, but indeed, the object looks to me like the Larson E. But something is off; she doesn’t look quite right going through the water. But then what do I know about sailing? What does a northern boy like me know about sailboats? Still, I swear it looks as though the sail is down and the bow is listing. I start to think about it and my paranoia alarm goes off like the dive signal on a submarine. I’m sure it’s the narco squad driving the boat, trying to clean up the loose ends of another failed smuggling attempt. 

     Or could it be that Schmidt and Bagley are drunk and trying to fuck with my head?

     I squeeze the field glasses tighter and search for any signs of life. One of them should be on deck, scanning the shoreline. But the deck is empty. There’s nobody out there.

     Some long lost instinct tells me something’s wrong and I drop the glasses in the sand and look nervously around for some kind of weapon. My eyes lock onto an axe handle’s length of wood lying in my pile of scraps. I pick it up and run the smooth, worn surface through my hands. It’s a little thicker than an axe handle and a little hard to grip, but it will have to do, should a situation arise. Primitive man using primitive tools.

     The boat keeps moving slowly in my direction and the sky keeps fading to black. It’s raining now, big drops coming straight down. I let it pour down on me, pointing my face to the heavens. Then a tiny bow light on the boat breaks through the curtain of darkness, glowing both red and yellow, like the glass cover is broken. Then a beam, like a flashlight, sweeps the boat’s interior and goes dark.

     I pick up the driftwood and walk back into the dunes, watching silently as the bow light moves ever so slowly toward shore. I hear the murmur of the diesel engine for a moment and then it’s gone, swallowed up by the rain. Then I hear something moving behind me in the brush. I hold up my club and yell, “Who’s there?”

     Nobody, answers the rain.

(To be continued)

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