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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT TEN

It was another beautiful day in northern Minnesota: baby-blue sky, white puffs of clouds, not a breath of wind and temps in the mid-seventies. The lake was flat and glassy—the kind of day you wanted to bottle and save, not waste on a cheesy deal like this. But everybody knows that a P.I. must be steadfast and finish what he starts. A case must be seen through to its rightful conclusion for the good of all.

I pulled into the roadside rest as Burton wheeled the Crown Vic up the hill towards Billy Talbot’s castle made from heartbreak. My gut was jumping and I sensed something haywire, like the proverbial monkey wrench dropping into the gears. I tried to reassure myself. I’d spoken to Talbot and he had seemed confident and positive. I dropped the windows down and soaked up the lake air, trying to clear my head, shake the doubt and fear. Then the shortwave crackled: “Here we are, Brownie,” Tormoen said in his powerful baritone. “We’re going in.”

“Break a leg,” I said.

All that was left to do was wait. I kept an eye on the road. My neck was in knots. Thirty minutes went by and then time stood still.

I thought something terrible was probably going down, but I also knew how windy Tormoen could get when enjoying a role. I could almost feel sorry for Rose, with the big Norwegian hounding her in his cop voice about forged signatures on credit card applications and the dire consequences this type of behavior can lead to.

Yessiree, Mr. Tom Higgins, Assistant Director of the State Bureau of Fraud and Financial Crimes, could be a hard and unforgiving man. Relentlessly, he could hammer away at you, holding possible punishments over your head like the blade of a guillotine. But Torm could also bring out his soothing good-cop voice to reassure Rose that her husband had only her best interests at heart. Hadn’t Billy firmly refused to press charges as long as no further credit lines were opened? Surely only the most foolish and churlish among us would refuse an offer such as this. The presence of one in such a high position of authority as Mr. Higgins spoke volumes on both the severity and sensitivity of this situation.

Despite my anxieties, the boys eventually came down the hill and turned toward Duluth. I gave them a few minutes start and followed, joining them down the road at a predetermined wayside.

I climbed into the huge backseat of the Crown Vic. Burton had a grin like a lemon wedge. Tormoen’s chest was puffed out, his face flushed. They were sharing a joint and laughing at the memory of Rose’s deer-in-the-headlights look after being told she could go to jail for ten years. How the tears running down her suddenly pale cheeks and the shudders in her torso were indeed a sad sight.

“I was the Barrymore of Bullshit,” Tormoen said proudly. “Olivier would’ve given me a standing ovation. I had the wench writhing in agony and begging for mercy.”

“A gifted performance indeed,” Burton said, blowing out smoke and grinning like a leprechaun.

Later that night when I walked into my apartment carrying a slight celebratory buzz, I couldn’t shake a vague sense of uneasiness, possibly from a residue of unfamiliar scents picked up at a primitive level. Simply put, I had the feeling that someone had been there while I was gone. Because we all have atavistic instincts buried beneath the many layers of complacency civilization has piled upon us, I took the feeling seriously.

I searched through the place but found nothing obvious missing. Told myself I was just paranoid. Could have been Mrs. Swanson from upstairs checking to see if I was building a meth lab. But something still nagged at me. I went around the front of the house and knocked on the Swanson’s door. It was a little late and I was a little tipsy but Mrs. Swanson smiled knowingly and told me that two workers had come that afternoon to install new water meters.

There was my answer. I was in too good a mood to question it.

A couple days after the performance, I was at the office, staring out the window at the seagulls circling manically in the hovering exhaust of a nearby Burger King. The phone rang. It was Billy Talbot, informing me that he and Rose had begun marriage and financial counseling sessions and that Dick Sacowski was on his way to Duluth with a sizeable bonus for me. After I cradled the receiver, I couldn’t help but smile with satisfaction at a job well done.

Sacowski arrived an hour later with Billy’s check for fifteen grand. My career as a private investigator was off and running on all cylinders. And if the business suffered a seasonal slowdown (summer had quietly turned to fall), I had more than enough money to get through the winter. And in the downtime between gigs, I would certainly be entertaining many at the Savannah with the colorful tale of my first case.

During the early days of autumn, I savored my recent success and basked in the beauty of an Indian summer. Then one mild and starry night my joy became somewhat tempered as I emerged from a late-night session at the Savannah to discover that someone had sideswiped my trusty Subaru, damaging the front end and passenger side. Liquored as I was, I shrugged it off and assured myself that this was just another opportunity for profit. I would bring the car to my friend Jack Running for repair and old Jack would kickback some of the insurance money my way. Things were still coming up roses.

But everything changed in late October, just before Halloween.

I remember the day as damp and foggy, pea soup rolling in off the lake. I was at the Savannah Club for happy hour, elbows on the bar and eyes on the television, two beers already down. It was a slow day at the club; the evening news was droning on. They were showing footage of a wrecked car at the bottom of a ravine along the north shore of Lake Superior. The ground glistened with dead, wet leaves and the hazy air was popping with blue and reds from the lightbars of law-enforcement vehicles.

It took me a while before I realized what I was looking at.

A red Ford Focus all crushed to shit.

The footage had been shot the previous night. It was foggy and wet but it sure looked like Rose Talbot’s vehicle. My ears began to burn and ring. The room swayed; I thought I was going to puke. I sucked in a breath of beer-scented air, stood up and listened to the reporter’s words.

Young woman killed in late-night crash… signs of impact with another vehicle… possible hit and run… airbags failed to activate… no witnesses have come forth… investigation continues…

Then the tube blinked and a commercial for Ryan Ford of Two Harbors came on the screen. Stunned, I walked out of the bar—not saying anything to anybody—and drove home in a brain fog that matched the soup in the air. I stumbled into my apartment and flopped down face-first on the bed, passed out for three hours and woke up in the dark, my brain racing in circles like an Indy car on a short track.

 

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