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Blue photo road heavier snow

ebook only 99 cents – through December 31!

“(Northwoods Pulp Reloaded) Three intensely told stories capped off with a visceral crime novella, this is a seemingly easy escape read, but the writing is smart and deeper than expected, from high-stakes morality parables to and illicit adventures that quickly get out of hand. For any reader who has ever pointed their fortunes north and let their moral compass waver, or loves reading about well-crafted antiheroes, O’Neill’s collection is an intense but entertaining dive into another world.” – SPR review

“Hole in the World” 

It’s nice and warm inside the Caddy but Roy is a little bit antsy. The guy on the radio is finishing up the weather report. Big storm, he says, maximum late winter blizzard. Like we can’t already see that.

“This is payback for the mild El Nino winter,” Roy says. “We better hope it’s melting by the lake.” He shuts off the radio. “This is getting bad. Almost need a four-wheel drive. At least reservation four-wheel drive.”

“What the hell is reservation four-wheel drive?”

“A big old rear-wheel drive American sled with a few hundred pounds of junk in the trunk. Old wheels, rocks, sandbags—anything with weight. You get some decent snow tires you can go almost anywhere in one of those boats. We’ll probably plow snow in some places with this beast, but we’ll make it.”

Now I’m nervous. This weather and all, out here in the middle of nowhere—I’m not used to this. It’s like nothing cares about nothing up here. No one or nothing around—forever. I’m just not used to it. Walking inside a nice clean bank in the morning before it opens—that’s more my speed. Pushing a gun barrel against the pasty neck of some guy in a suit—I can handle that. But this shit— Christ—you could die out here.

We roll by the spot of the accident, plowing snow here and there like Roy said we would. You can feel the car bog down. I’m sweating over the decision to come up here in a stolen car. Proves why you shouldn’t drink and take drugs. 

Another mile or so closer to the lake and Roy says it looks like it’s going to be better up ahead. 

“How can you tell that, man?” I say. Snow is blowing directly in our faces and the windows are fogged. In a Cadillac, you’d expect better. I can barely see the road, let alone four miles ahead.

I hear it first, kind of a VAROOM, then look behind us and see the derelict Charger roaring out of the dull gray nothingness. Now he’s trying to pass us on the left and the Charger is throwing out a cloud of gray-white mist, only the mist has weight and you can hear it hitting the side of the Eldor like ice cubes. You can feel it pushing us toward the ditch. My heart’s beating fast and I’m thinking about the gun and then they’re by us, disappearing again into the blizzard, the raw growl of the Charger’s exhaust fading quickly.

Fuck, Roy says.

I breathe a sigh of relief.

“We almost got sucked right off the road,” Roy says. “You get caught in the wrong windrow, you’re gone—see you when it melts, dude. Ditch devils drag you right in. Ah, but not to worry. We are home free now, Don, my man.” 

A little later he says, “Why don’t you roll a joint, man? The shit’s in my pocket.”  He lets off the gas, lifts his ass of the seat and digs his hand into his tight black jeans. “Grab the wheel, will you?” he says, digging further into his pocket. 

I grab the wheel and look through the smeary windshield at the oncoming blur. 

Then I see it.

“HIT THE FUCKIN’ BRAKES, GODDAMN IT, ROY! I holler, my hands death-gripping the steering wheel. 

Slow motion now, coming right at us. 

No—we’re coming at it. 

It’s not moving.

It’s stopped.

“BRAKES, MAN, BRAKES!”

Sliding, sliding, sliding, antilock brakes chattering, Roy on the wheel now, trying to steer out of it. 

No room. 

THUMP.

Big collision. T-bone job

Pain. Neck and back.

What the fuck? Where are those crazy fucks?  Why the hell did they stop in the middle of the road? Why didn’t the goddamn airbags work? Goddamn General Motors.

Roy has a strange, haunted look about him and his face is vibrating, turning feral. “It’s the name game, Donny,” he says. He grins oddly. “Get ready to play….”

“You all right, man? You hit your head or something? I—”

Roy jerks open the door and jumps outside. One of the Indian punks is coming out from behind the Charger. He’s charging. Roy stands his ground and throws a short right cross and the sonofabitch crumbles face first in the snow.

I’m reaching down for the Glock when a long-barreled pistol with a drunken Indian in a greasy blue parka on the other end of it pokes through the open driver’s door. I straighten back up and squint into the swollen red eyes. His breathing is heavy and fast. “Just sit there, asshole,” he slurs, steadying the gun at my face. “Don’t move.”

In the middle of the road now the one in the blue soldier coat is holding a deer rifle on Roy. And the guy Roy drilled is returning the favor by punching Roy in the back of the head and kicking him in the ass as they slog toward me in the knee-deep snow. Steam billows from the Caddy’s fractured radiator and the sick-sweet smell of antifreeze hangs in my nose. 

And out of the blue, Roy starts singing that “Name Game” song, using my name. He’s giving it the “Donny, Donnys, the banana fanas, the fee fi fos”—the whole nine yards. Then he starts up with Roy and goes through it all again. 

This is pissing our rifleman off. He’s grinding his teeth. His gaze jumps around at me and Roy, the two vehicles, and the great cloud of driving snow. The feathers in his hair shake in the wind and ice forms on his thick black eyebrows. 

The other guy is still slapping Roy from behind. He’s rasping, “Cap him. Cap the fucker. Cap the asshole. That’ll shut him up.” 

As this goes on the one holding the gun on me— Christ does the motherfucker stink—tells me to open the glove compartment and push the trunk button.

Roy is still singing.

In the rearview mirror I see the war-painted one lifting up the trunk lid. He looks at the one holding the rifle and yells, “Take him out in the woods and shut the smart-ass city boy up.” 

The asshole with the rifle motions for Roy to move.

The bizarre threesome heads off towards the woods. 

Passing by my window, Roy stops and looks in at me. “What’s in a name, Donny?” he says, face strangely calm. “It’s only a label. Just a surface to be lifted and thrown away when you choose, eh, paisano?  Just play the name game, Donny my boy.” 

Dude pokes him in the back with the rifle and Roy starts up the song again as they lead him toward the woods. Roy’s singing all kinds of crazy names now and it’s like nothing I ever heard before. 

Warpaint goes searching through the trunk. First thing he comes out with is Roy’s satchel. He brings it around to the side of the car to show his buddy, who’s still holding the pistol on me. I see their eyes light up when Warpaint unzips that fuckin’ bag.

Warpaint’s voice is thick with emotion: “Look at this, Leon. Told you they were drug dealers or something—car like this—shit—I told you.” He sets the satchel on the roof of the Cad and goes back to the trunk. I hear a war whoop. Found the money sack. My guard takes a look back to see what all the commotion is about and I jab my hand under the seat, feel the cold plastic. Guy I bought the Glock from said you couldn’t knock anybody out hitting him with a plastic gun. I showed him I didn’t need it for hitting. Broke his jaw with a straight right hand. He was an asshole.

Indian with the long-barreled pistol never knew what hit him. I put two in his chest so fast he only has time to fall down. Then I roll out the door into the thick snow and come up with the pistol ready, looking for Warpaint. I see him off and running towards the Charger with my money sack clutched under his arm like the Christmas turkey. I steady the gun with both hands, squeeze away and put three hunks of lead in his back, about halfway up. He jerks and falls forward and the bag flies up in the air, bills scattering everywhere, flapping and flying in the wind. 

I’m scrambling around frantically grabbing bills and stuffing them back in the sack when I hear the other two coming out of the woods. They’re shouting and arguing. I run over and crouch behind the dented Charger.     

I hear one of the dudes yell, “Did you hit him, you fucker?”  

“Don’t call me fucker, you little asshole,” shouts the other. “Of course I got him. Even though you let him break away, I still got him. I never miss.”

“Don’t know how he did it. Slipped out of my hands like he fuckin’ wasn’t there. And then I couldn’t see for a second. Fuckin’ weird. And if you hit him like you say, why isn’t he on the ground somewhere?”

Then they stop dead in their tracks as they come upon the two bodies and the occasional snowbound Treasury note. I jump up and cut loose. Hit the one with the rifle and he goes down screaming and writhing, starts crawling toward the ditch. He doesn’t make it; bullets travel faster than flesh. The other prick is moving fast down the road now and I do the same—in the opposite direction. 

It’s the name game. 

(To be continued)

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Blue photo snowy road 3

ebook only 99 cents – through December 31!

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

“Hole in the World” 

“The fire’s going, folks,” I hear Roy say and I turn to see him standing in the doorway of the den smiling peacefully at the both of us.

I can also see the fear in Ginny and the panic starting to rise. 

“Ginny?” I say, “Why don’t you get us all some brandy or something nice like that? Roy and I need to talk over our plans. The snow is really starting to pile up out there. Look at it come down…. ” 

“Must be over a foot on the ground already,” Roy says.

“What would you boys like?” Ginny inquires, always the proper hostess.

“I’ll have what you’re having, Ginny,” I say, looking in her eyes for something that isn’t there.

Ginny gets up and walks to the kitchen.

“Roy,” I say, “we need to get the fuck out of here as soon as we finish the drinks. Guy that owns this place got busted, Ginny’s new husband. The local cops got to be onto it by now. Do you feel like someone’s watching us? I do. They gotta be watching this house. Maybe the storm’ll keep ’em away. You think we can make it out of here?”      

He ignores my paranoia and tries to smooth things out: “It’s pretty much all downhill from here to the lake, podner. We’ll just have to see what it’s like. Sometimes it stays warm enough down there to keep the snow from sticking. Melts when it hits the blacktop.” He nods and scratches at his chin. “I can at least get us back to lovely Evergreen Point.”

“Fuck that. I have to get back to Superior to pick up my car.”

“So we will then,” he says. He squints at me. “Through rain and sleet and snow, always go with Injun Joe.”

I shake my head and smile weakly and try to figure him out.

Ginny comes out of the kitchen with the drinks and brings them to a table near the mammoth hearth and the hissing, popping fire. The huge living room sports big leather chairs, two couches and an antique looking rocker I bet Ginny picked out from a catalog.  Roy and I sit down on a darkly luxurious couch adjacent to the table with the drinks and stare at the blaze. Ginny takes her drink to one of the leather chairs, crosses her legs and sort of sinks into herself like she’s trying to close out the world.

That first brandy burns a bit going down—Moser never bought top-shelf booze in his life—but I feel so warm afterward that I let Ginny talk me into one more.

About halfway through the second one—which is bigger than the first—I start remembering how it used to be with Ginny, Stu and me when we first teamed up. Then I look at her there staring at the fire and acting helpless and I start to think it could be like the old days again, this time without Stuart. That thought leads me into another brandy. And before you know it, I’m feeling all that old pain again, just when I thought it was gone.

Then Roy pulls a joint out of his pocket and holds it up. “Anybody mind if I smoke?”

We suck that baby down and we calm down some and Roy takes up Ginny’s offer to go for a tour of the place. I get up and walk over to the picture window overlooking the road. It’s a lot darker outside than it should be. The snow flies by in sheets. Man, sweet Virginia—how I can ever forget her?

She and Roy come back down the stairs and walk silently back to the fire. Roy goes to poke at a dangling log and Ginny turns to me.

“Ginny,” I say, thick voiced, “Why don’t you come with us?  You and I can have a life away from all this trouble. We can make a new start somewhere: new names, new clothes, new haircuts.”  Why did I say that? Damn. I wasn’t going to start that shit.

Ginny turns away from the fire and looks into my eyes and for a second I think she’s going to say yes. I can hear the emotion caught in her throat: “Roy, you know I’ll always love you,” she says. Tears float at the edges of her sweet brown eyes. “You know I remember how it was before—before it happened… before you….” 

Then her face glazes over and I know I’ve lost her yet again.  She goes on with the stabbing: “But you and I both know that it can never be like that again. We’ve been through all this before. It’s impossible, Donny; you know that. I’m going to stay with Stu.”

“You’ll stay with that piece of shit until you’re both back inside for Christ sake. Spend the rest of your time sending love letters. What the fuck is the hold he’s got on you, Virginia?”

“Stuart and I are married, Donny. And I intend to honor the marriage vows, if it’s the only decent thing I ever do in my miserable life.”

“Probably be the last thing, honey.” I couldn’t ask her about the kiss. I knew. She can’t help herself. I look over at Roy who’s still stirring the fire and ask him if he’ll go warm the car while I say my final good byes. He looks at me knowingly, grabs his jacket and leaves, politely saying thank you and nice meeting you. 

Roy shuts the door behind him and Ginny brings me down a set of stairs to the unfinished basement where she rummages around inside a large food freezer and fishes out a seafood box with 278,000 dollars inside. She counts out a hundred and ten thousand for Stu’s bail and sets it aside on the workbench, putting the rest in a plastic garbage bag and wrapping it up nice and tight for me. I ask her for a paper grocery sack, saying I can recycle it later for luggage replacement. She doesn’t smile at my weak attempt at levity, just pulls open a workbench drawer and brings out a packet of casino receipts and a wallet full of fake IDs. She hands them to me. 

So call me Rick Tomasy. New name, new game.  A few dollars short but still on the outside. One just has to see the possibilities, the positive light, Roy might say. But first I have to check the freezer real good to see if there’s any more cash my old sweetheart may have forgotten. Part of me wants to grab her hair and twist a little—just until she yelps a bit—to see if there are any stashes left around she might have conveniently overlooked. But I can’t do that—not to Ginny. Unless maybe if I picture her sucking Stu’s dick and laughing at me because she knows it wouldn’t do me any good.

And that’s why I’m going to leave, clean. Say goodbye to Ginny and walk right up the basement stairs. Grab my jacket and bang—I’m out the door. Yeah, I’ll prove how easy it is, believe me. Because if I stay, I might kill her, I swear to God.

(To be continued)

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Blue photo road winter

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

“Hole in the World” 

Right then I know I’m lucky to have Roy along. He takes his foot off the gas and doesn’t even think about hitting the brake pedal. We aren’t going very fast, probably forty, forty-five, but how he finds that shoulder without going off and rolling us over, is beyond me.

I look out and see a big blue Dodge Charger with a white racing stripe down the middle, blowing out of the cloud. They hit the brakes when they see us but it’s too late. The front bumper of the Charger bangs into the back of the small Chevrolet it’s passing and both vehicles go sliding by us in slow motion, spinning in circles. 

I’m struck dumb.

But miraculously, the cars stay on the road and fail to hit anything, except when they finally come to rest, front bumper against front bumper, headlights almost touching. 

Then I see four young Indian men come bursting out of the Charger. One’s wearing a frontier era U.S. Cavalry coat and another one’s got feathers in his braids and what looks to me like war paint on his face. The other two are generic in jeans and parkas. All four of them stagger toward Roy and I in the Cadillac instead of going to the car they hit.

I push open the door and amble out to survey the scene, squinting against the stinging snow. Out of the tan Chevy that’s kissing bumpers with the Charger pops an angry, older Indian guy. Heavyset, hair in a ponytail, with a little gray on the sides. He starts coming toward us, too. There’s a woman still inside the car, looking concerned. The dude in the cavalry coat gets up in my face and glares at me with bloodshot eyes. His long black braids reach down to the gold epaulets on his shoulders. “We don’t need you here,” he sneers. “You better leave.” Vaporizing alcohol rides by on a gust.

“We’re just here to see if everyone is all right and to offer ourselves as witnesses,” I say, glaring back.

Now the older guy is approaching, checking out these young hotshots, and the foursome is coming at me with what seems like ill intent when Roy steps out of the Cad and shows himself. They all stop dead. I figure seeing me with an Indian has thrown them off, drunk as they are. 

Roy doesn’t say a word, just looks at the two cars kissing and chuckles dryly. The older guy starts demanding to know who is the driver of the Charger and did he have insurance. The four young bucks kind of cower and grumble to themselves but then they start cooperating with the old guy. Roy and I trudge back to the Eldor and go spinning off, shaking our heads and feeling strange—or at least I am.

 

You couldn’t miss it, really. Not very far down County 13, standing there all shiny and new in the middle of a big clearing, is a two-story log house of considerable size with big windows all over it. Fire number 3397.

Roy hits the brakes and we slide past the driveway. He backs up and we turn in. There aren’t any tracks there ahead of us. It’s 12:30 Sunday afternoon and the oldies station is playing “The Name Game.”

Ginny, Ginny, bo Binny banana fana fo Finny… 

And then there she is, like sweet berry pie, staring out at me from the huge picture window on the main floor. Cute little red cheeks like I remember them, only now without the tears. But she doesn’t look happy. Her arms are folded tight across her chest and her eyes have that frantic, helpless look I remember so well. 

I think for a second I should leave Roy in the car but I say to hell with that and invite him inside. Fuck the Moser’s. If they’d been answering their telephone instead of using that goddamn answering machine, it wouldn’t have to be like this. Roy is my compadre now. We’ve been through some shit together. He doesn’t have to know about the banks and all that shit, but he is going to come in and warm up—maybe have a drink if he wants—while I pick up the cabbage. Or is it lettuce?

Ginny has the front door open before I even touch the fancy brass knocker. She gives me a hug that smells of brandy and nerves. “Jesus, Donny, honey,” she says, “Am I glad you finally got here. Everything is falling apart, Donny. They got Stu…. they—”

“Settle down Virginia,” I say to her in the deep baritone that used to calm her down. But this time it’s not working on either of us. “You can tell me inside,” I say. “I want you to meet my good friend Roy. He’s been kind enough to drive me up here.” Roy nods politely.  “Roy, this is Ginny Burns.” She raises her eyebrows at me. “I’m sorry, Ginny Moser, now. I forgot for a minute.”

“Hello, nice to meet you,” Roy says. “Hope you don’t mind if I come in and dry off a while. We witnessed a little traffic mishap down the road and I got a little wet standing out in the weather.”

“Of course,” Ginny says, bucking up a little. “Maybe one of you can get a fire going. A fire does cheer you up on a day like this.”

“Injun make fire,” Roy says, “White folks talk important business, organize things.”

I smile and she stares at him as we go into a huge living room with picture windows on two sides and dark natural woodwork everywhere. I stand there gaping. There’s a thick, dark-stained wood staircase leading upstairs. The house has an open ceiling plan, and on the second floor, a railed catwalk offers a view of the giant stone fireplace. There is a big skylight in the high ceiling. All I can see through it is snow coming down.

Roy is bending over the hearth when Ginny puts her arm in mine and leads me into a den at a back corner of the house: padded, green wicker chairs in a glassed-in room overlooking the forest. The painted eyes of a fake deer stare back at us from the puffy white yard. Before we even sit down Ginny puts her arms around my neck and pulls my mouth down to hers. Her tongue works against mine and stirs up old feelings. I push her away gently. Salty kisses again.

She starts sobbing. “They got Stu, Donny. The cops got Stu in jail in Nebraska. Stopped him for speeding and they found the money and guns in the trunk. What are we going to do, Donny?  What are we going to do?”

“Hang on now, hang on. What was he doing in Nebraska? And why was the stupid cocksucker speeding?”

My gut is on fire.

“He was visiting his brother. Jamie was helping him wash some of the money and working on some of the guns. Fitting silencers and stuff. Stu and Jamie are going to team up now that you’re retiring.”

“I told you that sonofabitch Jamie was trouble. He’s a fuckin’ alcoholic, for one thing. He smokes crack, for another. He’s got no discipline at all. I told fuckin’ Stuart that I wanted all my money up here waiting for me. I told him goddamn Jamie would bring us down. I fuckin’—”

“He wants me to go down there and bail him out.” She’s still whimpering. “All I’ve got is cash. But it’s all clean.”

“You bail him out with cash, they’ll pop you for sure.”

“I talked to a lawyer in Indianapolis Stu told me to call.  He said as long as the money is clean there’s nothing they can do to me. They might hold me for a night and try and sweat me, but they won’t be able to keep me there. The man also gave me the number of a shyster in Omaha, name of Burton, who I can call if they lock me up.”

“How much cash you got here at the house, Ginny?” My stomach is doing flip-flops now and out in the yard the snow is coming down harder and harder. The wind howls and whines against the windows.

Jesus Christ, my goddamn money isn’t here. 

“Goddamn it, Ginny, I want my cut. Is this some scam of yours? You and Stu? Fuck. You know, I really need to get far away from the both of you.” I look at her and she’s the poster girl of pathos. “Okay then, Gin, tell me how much you got here?”

“Almost three hundred K, I think.” She dabs her eyes with a Kleenex. “I’ll need a hundred and ten for Stu’s bond. They set it at a million one.”

“Stu finally broke the million mark, eh— one of his lifelong goals. But Christ, Virginia, three hundred grand is not even close to what I got coming. You sure this isn’t some sort of scam? You ply me with tears and kisses, knowing how easy it is for you? Thinking I’m going to believe anything comes out of your pretty little mouth?”

She laughs bitterly and blows her nose and goes over to a bookshelf in the corner. There are no books in it. She takes a newspaper off the top shelf and brings it to me. 

Duluth News Tribune, March 14: HOVLAND MAN ARRESTED IN NEBRASKA ON FIREARMS VIOLATIONS—1.6 MILLION IN TRUNK—POSSIBLE “OVERCOAT” BANK ROBBER, SAYS FBI.

The shit had really hit the fan.

(To be continued)

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Bluestone photo snow 2

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

“Hole in the World” 

I wake up the next morning face down on the pillow; a feeling in my chest like my daddy has left me again. My head pounds like a mule kicks. My throat is dry as the desert but my gut is okay. I got a rock solid gut. When I look out the bedroom window, I see the Caddy is gone. Now I’ve got killer heartburn. 

The first thing I think of is my weapon so I lurch into the living room and grab for the paper sack. I lift it up and the weight is there.  I reach inside the bag, my fingertips feel the smooth plastic pistol, and I relax. 

He was just a car thief, I think to myself. He’s going to sell that sled up on the rez and I’ll never see him again. Then I hear tires crunching up slowly on the gravel outside and get a rush of paranoia thinking Roy dropped a dime on me and it’s the cops rolling in. I whip out the Glock and jack one into the ready position.  I run over and sneak a peek out the window above the big old-fashioned sink. There is Roy getting out of the Cad with a couple white Styrofoam cups and a white bakery bag. I stick the gun back in the sack and set it on the counter next to the sink.

“Coffee,” he says a few seconds later, holding out the Styrofoam cups and grinning through the door. “I really needed some coffee, man. Picked up some cinnamon and caramel rolls, too. They’re some of the best in the world. Baked up fresh everyday at the Tofte Cafe.”

“They open all ready?”

“Already?  It’s nine-thirty, Mr. Dead-to-the-World.”

“No shit, I thought it was just first light.”

First thing I do after those rolls and all that coffee, is take one hell of a good dump. Then I jump in the tiny little tin shower stall and wash away the drug sweat. After, I’m walking out of the can with a towel wrapped around me and there’s Roy with my fucking gun in his hand, and he’s pointing it right at me. 

Bastard was just waiting for the right moment, I’m thinking.

“Nice piece,” Roy says, turning and swinging the Glock toward the lake, which we can both see through the front window. “I used to shoot a forty-five in the service. Couldn’t hit the side of a barn with that hog. Bet I could do better with this little number.”

“What the fuck are you doing with my fuckin’ property in your hand, Roy? You oughtta know better than to pull shit like that. In the joint, a man could get a shank in the spine for taking that kind of liberty.”

“Well, this ain’t the joint, Mr. Heavy Dude. You see, up here in the North Woods, if you see a man’s bag sitting in a puddle of water by the sink, you take it out of the water for him. And if the bottom of the bag is all wet and a gun falls through onto the counter, you pick it up and dry it off and give it back to the guy.” He sets the Glock down on the table and grins, looking up at me like a contented crow.

“Sonofabitch. You are a surprising man, Roy. You just keep me guessing, don’t you?  You doing this shit on purpose? Trying to flip me out? First the drugs and then the driving—and then the fuckin’ stories about shapeshifters for the Christ sake. What the fuck is that all about? Then you take off—and then you come sneaking back. What the fuck is the deal, man? I’m getting too goddamn old for this shit. I just came up here to get what’s coming to me, not to get run through the goddamn wringer.” 

I pick up the gun and feel better again.

“I’m going to roll a joint,” Roy says, seemingly indifferent to my rant. “And speaking about what you got coming, how about me?  Where’s the thousand beans for the skin-boy chauffeur. I haven’t seen the color of your money yet.”

“Yeah, Roy, you’re right. I owe you. I guess I did flip out, didn’t I?  I’m getting too goddamn old for this shit.” I go into the bedroom and fish my wallet out of my pants. My clothes are in a pile on the bed: jeans, polo shirt, sweater and the wool socks I bought in Superior. I feel like an asshole for going off on Roy like that so I take eleven crisp Ben Franklins from my wallet with the intention of giving them all to Roy. I figure an extra C-note is a good way to apologize. 

He won’t take the extra Benjamin, he says, unless I deduct it from the two grand he has coming at the end of the road. I’m thinking I never met a man this honest. Except myself, of course. And that’s a joke. 

I call Ginny from the pay phone outside the motel office but it’s the same old answering machine bullshit. It’s an ugly day; the air’s real damp and chilly. Big watery snowflakes are flying by and the wind is blowing hard off the lake. I shiver and zip up my leather jacket, wishing that I had something a little more suited to the weather than my jeans and Nike sneakers. I have the Moser’s address in my pocket and I figure Roy can find the place for me long before I ever get through on the phone so I hop inside the idling black beauty and motion for wagons ho. 

Roy waits until we get out of sight of the office before he floors the sonofabitch and shoots gravel all over the place. Then he slaps his thighs and hoots like a stoked-up owl. He can feel the spirits stirring today, he says. Gitchee Gummi is kicking up something special. What I feel is my gut stirring. I’m queasy and that’s strange, because I got a rock solid gut.

Out on the highway, the flakes are thicker and there are more of them. The stuff is blowing straight across the road in front of us and white is building up on the shoulders but melting when it hits the blacktop. Hundreds of pine trees do the rope-a-dope with the wind as Roy says, “This will be sticking to the roads the farther we go away from the lake. Up on top of the hill I bet it’s already piling up. With the lake open and the wind whipping off it, the air temperature will probably stay above freezing down here and the snow will be watery. Where is this place we have to go, anyway?” He pushes down the accelerator and we proceed at too fast a clip.

I pull out the piece of notepad and look at it, even though it’s already tattooed on my brain. “It’s Hovland, Minnesota. Fire number 3397, County Road 13 off of state highway 1. That sounds simple enough, don’t you think?”

“Look in the glove compartment and see if there’s a Minnesota map,” Roy says.

“Well, Jesus, Roy, I thought you knew the rivers and roads and spirits and all that shit like they were your old pals?”

“I don’t know every fuckin’ little road around here,” Roy shoots back, scratching his nose. “The forest service is building ‘em so fast, they don’t even know where they all are.”

There is no map in the glove box.

“This ain’t no hippie’s geodesic dome in the fuckin’ forest primeval were looking for, Roy. We’re talking a $300,000 dollar home here. Only a year old. Worth half a mil anywhere else. The Mosers paid cash for it. Do you—”

“They did what? Paid cash—three hundred grand? Up here? This is the forest primeval, man. I bet we could ask anyone lives around here where that place is—and not only could they tell us exactly how to get there, but they would also tell us the same story you just did, only with greater detail and embellishment. Place like that in the middle of nowhere is going to stand out, you know? Paying out cash like that up in this neck of the woods is nuts. On top of that you say they’re pulling off dope deals?  Might as well put up a sign on the roof says Felonies R Us. These people have either got boulders for balls or rocks for brains.”

“A little bit of both, I’m afraid. And there’s no dope there, only money. I was lying. The hash has already been sold and I’m just here to collect my share of the profits. But don’t worry, man, you’ll still get your two grand. Now let’s find the fuckin’ house, if it’s so goddamn easy.”

Roy just shakes his head, sniffs a couple of times and drives on. After a few minutes we come to a sign that tells us Hovland is five miles ahead. Roy then tells me that a Hovland mailing address means nothing, just the nearest post office, and he’s not about to ask anyone in town because they’d take one look at him and know for sure that those rich people in the big house are up to no good, because Indians are going there, man.

A couple miles later there’s another sign: Highway 1, four miles.

About a mile or so up Number One, the snow is getting thick.  Already a few inches on the road and it’s coming down so heavy and wet and windblown, it’s really hard to see anything. Roy says the Caddy handles nice in the snow. He’s cool and relaxed. We got the heater on and the radio is playing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgeraldand I’m kind of digging it, except my gut is still nagging me. We come to the base of a long upgrade and you can see up ahead that the snow is even thicker yet. Roy says he thinks the Cad has traction control, because we aren’t having any problems.

Up at the crest of the hill the trees are farther from the road. We got about thirty yards of clearing on each side of us. The country is a little flatter here and the snow is at our backs and visibility is a little better. It’s a good thing, too, because out of the gray-white snow cloud come headlights—four headlights. Two of them, in our goddamn driving lane, and heading right at us.

(To be continued)

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“Hole in the World” 

“Capturing the raw energy, resilience, and murky lawlessness of a bitter wilderness, Northwoods Pulp Reloaded by T.K. O’Neill is a stirring and wild collection.” – SPR review

Roy has the Eldor doing fine. There’s a radar detector so he’s always pushing the road. Thing corners like a big cat. Holds the pavement without too much sway. 

Now Roy is flying up this steep grade leading to a blind turn and we hit the turn and pop around the bend and there’s Lake Superior, big and awesome, right on top of us, moonlight all over her like a wedding dress. I get the surest feeling we’re going over the edge of the hundred-foot cliff on my right and I grab for the armrest on the door as the Caddy digs into the turn.

Roy snickers. “These cliffs do that to people,” he says. “You’re not the only one.” Then he weaves us through the upcoming S-turn one-handed, about twenty mph beyond safe, me holding on tight all the while.

We speed northward, chased by the mocking moon, through two bright tunnels and a tiny settlement called Castle Danger. We stop to take a piss by the water’s edge just outside of a touristy looking town name of Beaver Bay. I know it was Beaver Bay because Roy starts up about how he chased a lot of beaver around this area. I, like a dummy, ask him if beaver is good to eat, you know, because I always wondered what trappers did with the rest of the beaver after they skinned off the pelt.

Roy laughs and bobs his head, covering his mouth with his hand—merriment at my expense. “I try to eat all the beaver I catch, don’t you, Don?” he says. “I mean, I love eating pussy, don’t you, paisano? You don’t eat your woman’s pussy I can steal her from you, man. With me, you see, munching carpet is a passion. In the heat of the summer—Christ—I fuckin’ dream about opening up a Cunnilingus Center for Women. They would come in there and lay that thing down on the table and pay me to gobble it. I’d die a rich and happy man.”

“If your face doesn’t fall off from diving diseased muff.”

“Women love that shit, Don, I’m telling you. I had a girl friend once was a dyke. I mean, you know, she went both ways. Man, we had a couple of nice three-ways with some of her friends. She was the one perfected my technique—showed me a few tricks. And now I am the master.”

“You were in three-ways? You lucky asshole. Only time I ever had a chance at a three-way, the bitches wouldn’t let me in the goddamn room. Locked the door on me. I’d never have eaten either one of their pussies, though, I can tell you that right now. So, ah—was that the same girlfriend whose house we just visited, back there in Superior?”

“Nah, Jane was a while ago, in another town. I was down in Minneapolis then, hanging with the militants.”

“I’m sure that was a tough one to give up. All that hair pie I mean. Be like a fat man in a bakery.”

“I got sick of those dykes being around all the time, to tell you the truth. There was this butch one, she was a stripper—called herself G.I. June—was always wanting to bang me up the ass with her strap-on. One night I’m lying on the couch in my underwear, watching the tube and nodding off on some ludes, y’know, when I see her coming out of the bathroom with this big rubber dick bouncing in front of her and she’s carrying a big jar of hand cream. Woke my ass up in a hurry, I’ll can tell you that much. I moved out the next day.”

“No shit,” I say. Then: “JESUS MAN, WATCH OUT!”

Roy slams on the brakes and swerves into the oncoming lane to avoid a deer. Empty beer cans clank in the backseat and the tires screech and my stomach jumps into my throat. 

After my heartbeat comes back down to tolerable, I notice on the beautifully glowing dashboard clock that it’s 3:45 a.m. Now the booze and the pills are like a heavy throbbing weight behind my eyes, my gut is leaden and a touch of paranoia is creeping in. The question I begin to ask is: Do I—we—drive up to the Moser’s at this time of night and start this thing off on the wrong foot for sure, or find some place to crash for a few hours and get after it in the morning when I can see straight.

I pose the questions to my guide and well-paid chauffeur, and much to my surprise, he answers by pointing to the glowing light of a small motel up ahead. He, however, recommends some cabins a little ways farther along, where we can park the car out of sight from the bulk of traffic. 

I vote for the second alternative. And that is how we choose the Evergreen Point Resort and Motel. Roy turns off the highway at the Evergreen Point sign and a green arrow points the way. It’s a bumpy little road that crosses over some railroad tracks as it winds downward to the lake and then to a brushy point with a gravel shoreline that stretches out into the bay about a hundred yards. A few small, green, old-time cabins stand among the pines and birch trees. Up ahead in a cul-de-sac sits a newer but definitely not new, building, OFFICE glowing above the door in orange neon.

I get out of the Eldor by the office and stretch. A small paper sign on a bulletin board informs me that I am to choose a room from the available keys on the board and then place the fee in one of the provided envelopes and drop it down into the slot on the door of the manager’s office.

I choose cabin number four, the farthest from the office.

Roy parks behind the unit. I grab the rest of the beer from the trunk while Roy unlocks the door on our little cottage. It’s a little musty and damp but the scent of cleanser and Lysol and ammonia from countless washings keep everything on the pleasant side. I put the beer in the faded copper-colored fridge and sit down on the brown hide-a-bed couch. Roy is pacing around, stretching and growling. “I’m a little strung out, I confess,” he says, working his jawbone. “If I’m going to sleep tonight I’m going to have to reach into the ol’ bag of tricks. Maybe I should just stay up all night. Maybe we should’ve driven straight through, it’s not that much farther.”

“I told you, man,” I say, “I’m not sure what’s there waiting for me. At least in the morning I can get a look at it beforehand. And if you don’t sleep you won’t be in any shape to guide me. That would mean you’re not earning your pay. I’m afraid I’d have to dock you.”

“Fuck you, dock me. I could drive these roads blindfolded and drunk in a snowstorm. I could stay up for three nights running and still be better then all of these assholes around here. But you are right, boss; I should sleep. I’m getting too old for all-nighters on drugs. My god, the toll it takes.”

“Just make sure you take your vitamins, Roy, and you’ll be all right. You seem like the resilient type.”

“I’ll drink to that. Vitamin S it is then.”

Roy reaches in his jacket pocket and brings out four red capsules and lays them on the red, Formica table. Vitamin S. Seconal. Some of the worst shit there is. I take one; he takes two. We leave the other one on the table for the mice. We sit there drinking beer for a time, waiting for the slumber to overtake us. I look over at him every so often, and there’s this glowing ring around him, sometimes blue, sometimes red. He talks about living up in this country as a kid: how his father disappeared before he was old enough to remember much about him. Some said the old boy was a shapeshifter, he says. And others said that he was just shiftless. In that paternal respect, Roy and I share an unspoken bond.

The shapeshifter business kicks off a whole weird bunch of stories. Stories about weird shit that I don’t believe for a minute. But I get nervous inside anyway and stumble into the bedroom just to escape.

(To be continued)

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The John A. Blatnik Bridge (R) is seen through the fog crossing from Duluth, Minnesota over to Superior, Wisconsin, United States, May 28, 2015. Shortly after taking office in 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker traveled to this hardscrabble port city t

“Hole in the World” 

“For any reader who has ever pointed their fortunes north and let their moral compass waver, or loves reading about well-crafted antiheroes, O’Neill’s collection is an intense but entertaining dive into another world.” – SPR review

I turn around and face the sidewalk, folding my arms across my chest. I rock back on my heels a bit. By George, we’re having some fun now. I stand there waiting and all I get for entertainment is this young college guy across the street in the doorway of the flophouse Lexington Hotel, dry-humping and tongue kissing this old hag of a barfly. I’m getting ready to yell at them and condemn their public indecency when I hear an engine start up behind me. 

Roy is backing out of a parking space now. Has his arm out the window waving me on. I run up to the black Cadillac Eldorado and jump inside to plush, charcoal-gray leather seats. Roy is snorting and laughing and looking at me proudly. Am I supposed to praise him? I don’t know; I never had kids.

“Jesus, man, this is unobtrusive?” I strain for politeness. “This is stealth?  We’ll be riding down the highway to the Grey Rock Hotel in this goddamn pimp car.”

“Calmly, please, calmly. Let’s think this out, Donny. This car is black. It is night. It is dark, or you could say black, at night. We will fit right in.”

“It’s a goddamn almost new Caddy. Perhaps a bit ostentatious for an—a—Native American—don’t you think?  I mean, no offense meant, but it doesn’t seem like your people are exactly burning up the place around here. With financial success, I mean.”

“Again my son, I shall say to you: The car is black. The night is black. The crow is black. Bear shit is black. We will be fine as long as I stay the speed limits. There are a lot of rich assholes from Chicago up that way, staying at the condos. This car will fit right in, like I said, no problem. Cops up the shore are usually too busy busting teen-age girls and coercing blowjobs from them in exchange for leniency, to be checking out any hot list from Souptown. As long as you got the money, honey, I got the ride. Besides, I’ve always wanted to drive a car with the fabulous Northstar System. Whatever the fuck that is. Look at the dash on this thing.”

“Cockpit City. Now I really need a drink.” 

He drives me back to the rooming house. I grab a few necessities and we’re on the way. Before we leave town we stop at a liquor store and pick up a few supplies.

 

We are about halfway across this big bridge, the John C. Blatnik Bridge it says on a green sign, when I start to feel pretty good. I stare out at the lights on the hillside of approaching Duluth, Minnesota. It isn’t bad to look at, at one a.m. All the drugs and stuff swirling around inside me seem to have found some common ground. 

Look, I’m not recommending drugs. In fact, I hate all that pharmacy shit: pills and capsules. It’s all poison. If any kids are reading this, I’ll tell you right now: Stay away from drugs. Nuff said.

But this is going to be one of those nights; I can feel it. The Great American Night: A fine automobile, a lunatic for a companion, a damn near full moon and the unknown lying just ahead. 

The ride is a dandy: fantastic stereo, the most comfortable seats I’ve ever been in, and it moves like a dream. I look over at Roy and he’s almost glowing, chewing Juicy Fruit, popping the radio from station to station in search of the perfect song and smoking a rum-soaked crook. The air system in the Caddy is good: sucks out that smoke real nice. 

We cruise through Duluth and hook up with the Scenic North Shore Drive. Up above it there’s a nice four-laner but Roy says the winding two-lane scenic route is the way to go. The moon is putting a big glow on the inky waters of Gitchee Gummi. Roy told me that was what the Indians called Lake Superior. I ask him what it means, and he says he doesn’t know, which seems weird to me. All he knows, he says, is that the lake has a power and a spirit all its own. Beautiful but cold. Alluring but frigid.

Like a thirty-year-old virgin, I say, and he looks at me funny.

We glide along the winding road drinking cans of Bud from the two twelve-packs in the back seat. They are getting warm fast so I have Roy pull over while I throw one twelver in the trunk. When I get back in, Roy hands me the weed and I roll a bunch of joints. 

We smoke some. We aren’t saying much. We cruise by houses with friendly looking lights inside. We roll by a few taverns and a store and cross a small bridge at the French River. And then it is just blackness and we are fitting right in. 

Roy says we’re almost to “Kaniffy River,” about three times.

I’m thinking that’s a funny name for a river, until we come to this fishing village name of Knife River. 

I look at him funny.

A glowing, neon “Smoked Fish” sign is our welcome. There is a closed general store, a used car lot and not much else. The river is wide and dark and running heavy. I open the window as we pass over and I can hear the water moving down below; a fresh smell rising up.

Then we’re rolling into the moon-glow darkness again and I’m yearning for something. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s up here ahead on this road. Sign says, Two Harbors.

Christ, I’m getting squirrelly. I got green money waiting for me. After I lock that shit in the trunk, then I can be a poet. Right now I can feel all warm and fuzzy because I got a 9mm Glock pistol in a grocery sack in the back seat. The Glock is a smooth item: efficient and deadly and uncaring. Elegant and brutish. Shit, it’s probably the sons and daughters of Nazis making these guns. That’s why they shoot so damn good. 

That’s right, I said I had the gun in a grocery sack. The sack is my luggage, my favorite brand: the good old, brown paper grocery bag.  If one piece gets lost or damaged, you can easily find a matching replacement.  Keeps the loggers in business, too. That must be something they do up here in Minnesota; sure is a lot of trees. And it gets dark in those trees when a cloud covers the moon and you’re driving along this snake of a highway.

(To be continued)

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Blog photo 34 needs cropping

“Hole in the World” 

He comes out back and I’m taking a piss by the dumpster. You spend a lot of time pissing by dumpsters in my style of life. “Roy, my friend,” I say, shaking it off and sticking it back in my pants. “I need your expert help. And I’m willing to pay for it.”

“Seriously folks?” he cracks. “My fellow American, you have my ear.”

“Roy, buddy, oh mystical guide to the hole in the day, I’m going to tell you something. No, never mind, I’m not. Changed my mind on that one. I do need a car, though. A car that no one’s going to notice—Mr. Workaday’s car. I really need to get out of this town, man. I’ve got some really pressing business just a few hours away from here and the fuckers aren’t answering their goddamn phone. And I need to get up there right away before—ah—in case something’s wrong.  Can you do something for me, pal?”

“Why don’t you just rent a car, Don?  There’s plenty available, even up this far north. Ain’t the fuckin’ Arctic Circle, y’know.”

“I don’t have any credit cards, my friend. Mastercard and Visa run the world, partner, and if you ain’t playing their game, you ain’t renting no fuckin’ car.”

“Man of the world like yourself, Don, you don’t carry any plastic?”

“Don’t act so goddamn surprised. How many cards you got?”

“I had a bunch a few years back when I was working at the casino, but I’m afraid the accounts have all been temporarily severed from my possession. I guess they expect you to pay the money back.”

“Yeah, ain’t it a pisser—banks and their gall.”

Roy pulls in a deep breath and stares up at the almost full moon. I watch a rat scamper underneath a shiny blue Chevrolet and down the way a car horn bends its searing note to the intoxicated neon night. 

And then Roy says, “Shit, man, I left my bag inside with Trudy and Ava. Those whores’ll rob me blind.” 

He takes off for the door.

Being a thinker, I jog across the parking lot and down to the street corner just in time to meet the Stolten sisters hot-footing it toward the taxi stand. By the time Roy catches up, all sweaty and excited, his bag is safely in my hands and the girls are safely rolling away in the Yellow Cab. They were more than happy to give me the bag after I told them Roy had a gun. I figured it was the best way to deal with a potentially dangerous and otherwise unwisely encountered situation. I mean, Roy’s jaw muscles were working like locusts in a wheat field and his eyes were glowing like the high beams on a semi at four in the morning. Discretion was the better part of valor here, man; know what I’m saying?

Roy eyes me suspiciously, as if to say, who the fuck do you think you are, then he grabs the bag and shrugs. He shakes his head and laughs softly. “All right, you win,” he says. “We’ll go get a car now, Mr. Ex-con. I guess I owe you now, huh? Anyway, that’s what you think, eh?” He smiles some more, eyes bleeding red, and then goes into some kind of weird Indian dance routine which I think is just for my benefit. After he finishes dancing, he starts singing: “Okay Joe, we gotta go, me-o my-o,” rattling it off with a hip–hop beat. Fucking indigenous rap artist.

I just suck up some air and hold it in, praying for good fortune. Anything is better than waiting. I’m getting eaten up, by this waiting. I just have to get to the Moser’s.

Now we are heading somewhere on main street, Tower Avenue. My guy is walking fast, leaning forward, his arms swinging back and forth against the sides of his red-and-black checkered lumberjack coat.

“What the hell, Roy,” I say. What fuckin’ hole in the world are you taking me to now?”

“We’re going to Roy’s own personal used car lot, man. It’s right down the block. Just you wait and see.”

We cross the railroad tracks and come to this huge gray warehouse. Looks like it used to be one of those discount retail outlets that sprung up all over the place in the seventies. Now it houses two bars—Starland and The Classic. A parking lot almost a block long and a half a block wide runs along the south side. Tonight the lot is full of cars, some of them way back in the dark where the pavement turns to gravel. 

I’m thinking that Roy sure knows what he’s doing but then we don’t stop at the dark parking lot, we keep on walking. 

Here we go again.

“Hey man,” I say, lingering behind. “This lot looks perfect to me. We can just wait out here until some drunk stumbles out to his car and then we cold-cock him and take his keys—’nuff said.”

“That’s not the way I work anymore, Don. Stealth is the key word for the wizened ones, my son. Besides, you haven’t told me the story yet. What it is you’re so hot-pants antsy about that you can’t spend any time with the fine women I find for us?”

“Excuse me? Stealth is cutting a hole in your girlfriend’s fuckin’ floor?  Flooring the getaway car down the alley is stealth?  You’re fuckin’ crazy, man. A fuckin’ lunatic. I should take a goddamn taxi up to Hovland.”

“Hovland? You’re going up the Shore? Why didn’t you say so?  I was born up in Grand Marais. Actually Grand Portage, at the reservation there. And that’s close to Hovland. Yeah man, I lived up there until eighth grade. Then I had to leave because I shot a kid in the ear.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, that is correct. Indian boy shoots white boy in ear with deadly arrow. Me and some other kids—they were all white—I’m the only skin there—were fooling around with this homemade bow one afternoon. Our arrow was just a stick with a nail in it. We were all shooting the thing, you know, but it’s me who fires off the seventy-five yard shot that hits little Jimmy Nelson square in the ear. Leave it to the skin boy to fuck something up.”

“All’s right with the world then, I guess. But rein it in, man; I never said I needed a driver, just a car. I think I can find my way there by myself. I took a course in map reading—in prison.  Always trying to better myself, you know.”

“Man, there’s shit up there that only someone like me knows about. Roads and people and rivers. The highway runs right along the North shore of Lake Superior. There’s heavy magic along that road. You need me. If your shit is bad, things can happen to you up there.” He takes a toothpick out of his jacket pocket, sticks it in the corner of his mouth and starts grinding away. 

“What do you mean, if my shit is bad?”

“If your spirit is struggling with the rest of you, or if you are weakened by a disease of the spirit.”

“Sounds like a lot of happy horseshit. And somehow, you don’t seem so spiritual—in the pharmaceuticals department—if you know what I mean.”

“Shit, man, I’m on a first-name basis with every evil spirit on the North Shore. We’re all old friends. They don’t even bother with me anymore because they already fucked me over in every way possible.” He pauses for effect. “Now don’t try and kid me, Don. I know you got some kind of big dope deal going down or something like that. I ain’t seen hash like that chunk of yours—not for a long time around here. Me no drive, then much sorry—no car for you, Johnny.”

“Okay Roy, whatever you say. I ain’t got time to argue with a nut case. You truly are a magical mystical motherfucker. And you guessed right. It is a dope score. Hashish coming in over the pole. How did you guess? But here’s my plan: I’ll give you a grand now for the car and two grand when we get back here. Provided there’s no more fuckin’ around.”

“You got a deal, Al Caponi. What type of vehicle do you prefer?  Two door? Four door? Sport utility? Minivan?”

“How about something—shall we say, unobtrusive? Low profile?”

“General Motors unobtrusive, Ford unobtrusive or imported unobtrusive? Just don’t ask for Chrysler. I don’t do Chrysler. A man has to have his values intact.” He turns his head slowly from side to side, scoping out the parking lot. “Tell you what, Don. You watch my back and I’ll go get us a real nice vehicle. Something your mother would be proud of. Got my handy dandy all-purpose used car converter right here in my bag of tricks.”

He sticks his hand down inside the satchel and digs around at the bottom, squinting in the dim light. Out comes a six-inch diameter metal ring with about five pounds worth of car keys strung around it. He shakes it like a shaman’s rattle. The sound is like “Tambourine Man” as done by Judas Priest. “I used to work repo for a car dealer over in Duluth,” he says, smiling, proud of himself. He holds out the keys. “These were my severance pay.” Then he sniffs a bunch of times, rapid fire, and disappears into the dark end of the lot. 

(To be continued)

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Tom photo recropped

https://www.amazon.com/T.K.-ONeill/e/B09HPBWMJF

https://bluestonesblog.com/reviews/

In the spirit of true pulp… an utter joy… downright good reading.”

“… immensely entertaining…”

“… great hard-boiled writing…”

“Ray Bradbury said zest and gusto are among the most important elements to a writer’s makeup. (O’Neill)… may never have read this advice, but he writes like he has. His work sparkles with gusto…”

“(O’Neill) writes his tales from the dark side well.  His dialogue, in particular, sparks with life, and… the clever by-play between characters drives the plot and develops the characters expertly.”

“Another of (O’Neill’s) strengths is his action scenes—and there are a lot of them, as you’d expect with violent and unpredictable characters. His pacing is immaculate, and he handily transitions between introspection, slow scenes and pulse-pounding action.”

“(O’Neill) followed his loves and his hates into a book that holds your attention and enters your psyche.  It presents a coherent, if nasty, picture of the human condition and the world we live in.”

“Frankly, a lot of writers don’t get as far as (O’Neill) did… having something to say and saying it with a little zest and gusto.”

“This collection of short stories is like a peepshow curtain pulled back. You don’t want to look, but you can’t help it. And, when you do, your disgust is tempered by an amazement that makes you want to look – just a little bit more. There are few heroes— at least not the kind who get the girl, the house or win the lottery.”

…. a lean style that he uses well to establish the outlines of his characters early in the stories. Over the course of a few pages he artfully fills in those sketches, refusing to “stay inside the lines.” His laconic descriptions of failed schemes and skewered lives result in wonderfully entertaining tales about the perils and pratfalls of a menagerie of people that can’t help but make you feel better about yourself.”

“These tales are full of people who live their lives to the fullest, in a bizarre way – and examining where, exactly, they end up can be disturbing. Their dreams, often, are the things that make up nightmares for “normal” people. But his characters are the real McCoy…”

From SHOTS Magazine, UK, reviewed by author Russell James:   “Four tales of the coldest North American states… crammed with hard men, hard language, snow and speed.  The backgrounds are good – low bars, cheap diners, empty motels, lonesome shacks – and the characters are tough and quick with their firearms…  These are punch and shoot ’em stories, make it up as you go along; tough and for all we know, authentic … (O’Neill) can write…”

From judge’s comments at Minnesota Book Awards: “…vulgar, violent, venomous.”

From Canadian Chapters.Indigo review: “A beautiful scene in the wilderness—hiding some grisly secrets… mystery writer (T.K. O’Neill) combines the traditional hard-boiled style of James Cain to create a harrowing story of devil worship, death, lawlessness and crime…”

From SHOTS Magazine, Great Britain, reviewed by Mike Stotter, Editor:   “….His writing is dark and twisted, like his characters.

From Reader Weekly:   “…a part of O’Neill’s talent… a character that no one likes but everyone wishes well.”

“You won’t come away with a warm feeling for the Sunshine State… if anything, you’ll realize how the suffocating heat of the humid Southland seems to encourage slithering snakes and festering parasites.”

“(T.K. O’Neill) throws worlds of hurt at his ne’er-do-well characters… in the spirit of Raymond Chandler… his writing process builds on trouble… the underside of the American Dream… a perfect example of noir…”

From The Corresponder (Minnesota State University):  “(O’Neill) is a writer who isn’t afraid to take chances with his story. There are no good guys or bad guys here. (O’Neill) lets his characters run wild and take the reader on a fast paced ride. Feels like classic crime noir with the insanity of a mental ward tossed in for good measure.”

“…his prose soars fast and high and reflects a keen eye for character, plot and setting, and follows the most convoluted stream of events with ease.”

“(O’Neill’s) talented writing is not for the fainthearted of rough talk and experience.  He gives keen insight to the exterior and interior world of a lost man.”

“While the language and environment are in rough-hewn speak, (O’Neill’s) writing has an underlying elegance and his characterization a developed depth.  There is some playful surface dry humor weaving in and out of a tough world context.  Expressed through the series and in this book is a substantially perceptive sense of humanity and lost humanity.”

“While on a wholly different track, and in a style all his own, there are darkened shades reminiscent of David Lindsey, James Lee Burke and John D. McDonald in the Keith Waverly series.”

 

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Blog photo 35

“Hole in the World” 

And he is just about right. We drive into a rundown section of town—tiny, sagging houses all jammed together—until we come to a boarded up little number on a corner lot. Roy turns in the alley and jerks the big boat into the two mud ruts that serve as a driveway for the brown-shingled garage standing next to the dark little corner house. 

Once we’re under the sagging roof, Roy pulls down the squeaky, crooked, overhead door and slides a rock over the strap at the bottom. Strips of streetlight peer in through the sides. Roy takes the plates off the Lincoln with a Swiss army knife and we are soon out of there. He tells me the house is empty, used to belong to his uncle, but the city condemned it on some trumped up deal about the plumbing and the electricity.

We walk about a block and a half while Roy goes on joyfully about his sawing a hole in the floor of his girl’s kitchen so he can drop down into the pharmacy below. How sweet it was, he says.  Had it all planned for months, he says. Knew the perfect spot to cut and everything, he says.  

Then we come to a little parking lot at the rear of a bar and he tosses the now folded-up plates into a dumpster. I see a red and white Leinenkugel’s Beer sign above the back entrance of the building and we stroll in. 

I find out later it’s called The Downtown Bar, but to me it’s just another piss-and-puke joint with an asshole for a bartender and bigger assholes for clientele. 

Roy and I take a booth in the back by the men’s room. I notice he is still carting around his satchel full of burglar tools and pharmaceuticals. I know right then that I’m slipping. Too many things on my mind.  Just trying to get out of this town and I run into this crazy motherfucker. But, you know, I’m thinking this dude’s kind of fun. I kind of like the guy. And he has all those drugs. I’m starting to feel like Jack Kerouac now.

I go up to the bar and order a shot of Jack Daniels and a tap beer for myself, and a Bacardi Coke for Roy. The bartender is a skinny guy in a long sleeved maroon shirt made from petroleum products. His black hair is greased back flat on his head and he’s watching some talk show on the tube: an Indian and a Black and a Hispanic dude having a panel discussion about race problems. The barman is fixing our drinks when he turns to his two cronies down the bar and says: “Them people just ain’t as smart as white people, and that’s a fact. They just don’t have the same mental capacity.”

The bald guy and the fat guy nod their agreement and I’m thinking that these three white guys’ IQs added together wouldn’t equal a perfect score in bowling, if you catch my drift.

I get back to our table and find two Percocets and a Brown + Clear lying there on the table waiting for me. My personal version of the Green Bay Speedball, Roy says. This is not my usual modus operandi. But I’m thinking Kerouac, so I knock the pills down the hatch with the soapy tasting tap beer.

By the time the Perc is gnarling and twisting in my stomach and the speed is crawling up my spine, we’re on our way down the street to meet some “fine ladies”.  No car, you understand—we are walking. There are all these bars in this town, and they’re all so close to each other. It’s not a big town either. Just a bar town, I guess. Easy to find some action, Roy says. Now I can’t remember what I was worrying about anymore. Everything is going to be all right, I’m thinking.

So we’re walking down the street, kicking at the trash on the sidewalks—seems like there are flattened plastic cups everywhere—when Ray grabs my arm and pulls me into another sleazy bar. 

My tastes run towards the clean, well-lit drinking establishments at this point in my life, like the lounges at Holiday Inns—shit like that—but I’ve spent my share of time in places like Marlene’s: Music on the weekends, drugs all the time, good jukebox, nice looking chicks, drugs all the time.

So here I am, all fucked up—don’t know if I’m coming or going—and sometimes I think Roy is walking us right into a police sting operation of some sort. Then the Percs weave through and he suddenly becomes this magical spirit who’s showing off to impress me. Showing me how to find the Hole-in-the-Day and other indispensable lessons for a life on the road. Stuff you need to know to be free.

Time goes by. And I’m trying to have some fun, I swear to god.  But I just can’t get into it. These two chicks that Roy is hot on are sisters; I thought they were Indians at first. Turns out they’re Italian Jews, name of Stolten. Goes to show you never can tell. I get kind of interested in the older one (Ava) for a bit, but after about thirty minutes her drugs kick in and she goes from being stupid to moronic to imbecilic in an instant and I feel kind of sick. Kerouac must of been in more interesting bars than this. Pretty soon I can’t take it any longer; shit is building up. I tell Roy to meet me outside—without the women. 

(To be continued)

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“Hole in the World” 

We hang a U-turn in the middle of the block then head back south for a few blocks and make a right. I figure he’s going to his dealer’s place when we turn into the alley behind a forties-era strip mall: three shingled, seen-better-days two-story buildings adjoining a brick drugstore on the corner.

Roy parks the ratty Continental in the alley and I sit watching while he gets out and grabs a greasy canvas bag from the trunk then proceeds to climb up the drugstore wall. The corners of the building are built with the bricks protruding about an inch and a half on every other row, and old Roy just scurries right up that convenient little ladder like a monkey to a banana stash.  When he gets to the little flat area behind the second floor apartment, he disappears from my sight.

Now I’m freaking out. I should leave right away. It seems this guy is burglarizing the place while I sit waiting in the getaway car. Me with priors and almost a million bucks waiting for me up in God’s country. No way I should jeopardize that. I mean, I’m not running scared; I just have to get the hell out of this car. I go behind a dumpster where I can still see everything and take a piss. Roy doesn’t come out right away so I sit down at the base of an old oak tree and fire up a Kool. At least from here I can run if the cops come. The ground is wet but I plant my ass on one of the tree roots and stay dry. The ground has a pleasant musty smell until the wind swirls and I whiff the dumpster. 

Must be a half an hour before that crazy fucking Indian comes sweating back down the bricks and hops into his car. I can see him inside there behind the wheel, bathed in blue light, his head jerking all around. I know he’s thinking, Where the fuck is that guy, asshole out dropping a dime on me?

I time it so just as he backs out into the alley, I grab the door handle and rip it open. Only trouble is Roy sees the door fly open and floors it and damn near jerks my arm out of the socket. A couple of yards down the alley he realizes it’s me and starts laughing his ass off. I run up and get in and he floors it again like a fucking idiot and we go swerving and tire spinning down the dusty trail. I’m sure by then that every house for a square block has dialed 911.

None too pleased, I say, “What the fuck were you doing back there, Roy, buddy? If it was anything illegal I suppose I should say what did we do back there, because as long as I’m in this car with you, I’m an accessory. And that means I get to know what the fuck it was you were doing.”

“Oh, nothing much, man. No sweat, not to worry,” Roy says. He’s barely under control, lips sticking to his teeth. “Just something I been thinking about for a long time.”

“Whose apartment was that you just illegally entered?”       

“That was my girlfriend’s apartment.” 

“What’s the matter, lose your keys or something?”

“Yeah, I did, a long time ago. I should’ve said my ex-girl friend.  We just broke up. Just this minute. Only she doesn’t know it yet. I don’t think she’ll want me anymore now that I’ve ruined her kitchen floor.”

“Ah, man, what did you do, trash the place ’cause she’s balling someone else or some shit?” I’m imagining all sorts of weird shit he might have pulled.

“No, man.  I wouldn’t trash a woman’s place. I mean—for screwing somebody else. Nah, not me, it wasn’t like that.”

“What the fuck did you do then? I think I have a right to know. And one thing you need to know is that I got priors. That’s what you need to know. And if I need to get out of this car to keep from getting popped, I expect you to tell me.”

“I’m sorry, man,” he says. His eyes are sparkling, burning in the dashboard light. “Back at Mama’s I was thinking you might have done some hard time. I don’t want to get your ass in a sling, man, so maybe you’re right. Maybe we should ditch this car. Take off the plates and—”

“It’s still got registration numbers.”

“Yes, it does. But I never changed the title. Bought it from a skin off the rez—up by Bemidji—and they’ll never find that fucker. They come looking; he’ll just disappear into the woods. Probably stole the thing anyway. The plates, though, are mine—off an old Pontiac I had.”

“You still haven’t told me what you did back there in that apartment, Roy. You’re a tricky one, aren’t you?”

“And you’re a persistent one, Mr. I-Got-Priors. I was going to tell you, man. But you need to know one thing: I was an MP in the service and I fucked up a lot of tough guys when I was in. Some of ’em thought they were real fuckin’ bad, too—before they decided to mess with me, that is. So don’t think you can horn in on my action, here. I—”

“Listen, Roy, goddamnit. You brought me along on this, man. And now you got me wrong. This ain’t no strong arm. I got plenty action of my own that I’d like to get to without having to spend time in some jerkwater jail, that’s all.”

“Okay, Donny boy, then take a look in that bag back there and see if there’s anything you recognize. Besides the burglar tools, I mean.”

“Ha, ha, very funny. You’re a funny guy, Roy. So come on, tell me, funny guy, what did you do back there in your girlfriend’s apartment?” I snatch the greasy bag from the back seat and it’s so heavy I wrench my back a little. When I look inside I have the answer to my question: I’m not sure how he did it, but the fifty or sixty bottles of colorful pills lying in the duffel tell me that the crazy sonofabitch hit the drugstore, hard.

“Jesus fuckin’ Jenny,” I say, “you got thousands of bucks worth of pills here. You got your Percocet, your Valium, your Dilaudid, Xanax… some generic morphine, five and fifteen milligram… looks like some Brown + Clears at the bottom here. Codeine… Percodan… Jesus Christ, man, I’d say you hit the mother lode.” I take a nice deep breath and let it out real slow. “So now that I’ve praised your work, can you let me get real far away from you?”

“Relax, relax, my man. There’s no problem here. We’ll be rid of this car and inside a bar in ten minutes, I promise you.”

(To be continued)

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