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CHAPTER 3, EXCERPT 6

Things were beginning to slow down a little, the swells upon the asphalt ocean ebbing slightly, when a blinding light hit him from the left. Then a loud snarling roar kicked up a fresh rush of fear as a giant white sand crab burst out from behind the north side of the Goldfine’s building, its four huge eyes shooting out laser beams and blinding him.

Frank’s foot instinctively jabbed at the brake pedal but the crab was coming in broadside, ram course. Frank jammed the gas and jerked the wheel hard right and all he could see was glaring brightness as the crab slammed into the backdoor of the wagon with a hard, loud thump and a grating crunch, snapping Frank’s head into the side window.

Now the wagon was dead in the water and it was time for the baseball-bat-wielding orc to come out for the coup de grace.

But no, the giant crab was backing off.

Fuck—making another run.

Frank covered his head with his arms and curled into a fetal ball across the front seat as the monster smashed into the driver’s door and kept grinding away, pushing the ’69 Pontiac wagon all the way to the curb. Roaring there, huge industrial bumper breaking glass and crunching metal, exhaust clouds and the smoke of burnt rubber filling the air, the crab was trying its best to flatten Frank’s old car and him with it.

And then one more back up.

And one more charge.

Frank gripped the armrest on the passenger door and took the blow, felt the wagon rock back and forth, heard stuff hitting the pavement.

He rode it out.

The crab eyes were backing off again. The guy had to be coming now. Soften you up with the truck and then move in to finish the job.

Frank readied himself, lifting the tire iron from where it had fallen between the seat and the door. But the monster truck spun around and roared back in the direction of the port terminal and orc number one.

Truck must belong to the big one, Frank thought, watching the taillights disappear under the bridge. And those two could be coming back for me real soon. He pulled down the handle on the passenger door and pushed but it would only move about six inches before crying out in protest and pushing back, wagon’s frame obviously bent. Frank shifted around, put his feet against the door and shoved with his legs until it popped open with an angry metallic snap.

He got out and examined the Pontiac. Was a bit wrinkled. But also flush against the curb. Nice parking job. He gazed back in the direction of the port terminal but could only see shadows. Then he noticed a small glowing orb seemingly levitating in the air, a block back on this side of Garfield Avenue. Squinting and concentrating, he determined it was a sign from a restaurant, the Black Cow. Surely closed at this time of night. Struggling to think straight, Frank was reminded that there was only one road coming down here and only one going out, unless you wanted to cross the bridge to Bay City. He’d have to walk several miles along a stretch of closed businesses, darkened railroad tracks and lonely grain terminals, to get home. No safe havens. No shining oasis. Only darkness. Loneliness. Industrial stench.

And giant crabs, orcs and who knew what the hell else.

Christ.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, EXCERPT 5

Staring down the road through the swirling dust cloud, the truck’s exhaust rumble fading away into the night, Frank was alive with muscle spasms, pounding heartbeats, chills and hot flashes. Breathing deeply and concentrating on slowing his pulse, he returned to the fallen giant, the creature still out of it but breathing, at least. Frank set the chain on the pavement out of the orc’s reach, kept the tire iron in his right hand and went through the creature’s pockets with his left, ready to pop the thing if it so much as twitched.

Wisconsin driver’s license: Lewis Timbers, Ashland, Wisconsin. Really ugly photo. Not much to work with. “Shiver me timbers, matey,” Frank said out loud. “Found yourself in uncharted waters tonight, eh?”

Frank tossed the wallet away, picked up the tire chain and returned to the station wagon. He threw his weapons on the front seat and got behind the wheel. Morrison and The Doors were pushing out the bluesy slink of “Cars Hiss by my Window,” as he slapped the wagon in gear and hit the gas.

Adrenaline was still kicking up the LSD as he drove out, but he felt a hint of a letdown and started wondering again. Should he go home? The question brought on a dark grayness and images of prison cells. Hello Walls. Should he go to Nikki’s place and try to wake her? No, that wasn’t going to work, middle of the night with a head full of acid not the best time for making a positive impression. Hadn’t Nikki warned him to stay out of trouble?

Lot of good it did.

Then paranoia crept in with the starlight and he was alone on the moon. Middle of outer space, man, no one around. No way home. Mind floating away on a shooting star. Body quivering with cold.

He squeezed the steering wheel and bit his cheek.

Struggling with his vision, he kept driving. Seconds later he was sensing something different, something not right, as he stared out at Goldfine’s by the Bridge, a single spotlight on the wall shining down on the empty parking lot.

But, hell, Frank, you’re tripping. What do you expect, order, familiarity and sanity? Jesus Christ, man, you’ve done this shit before. Ten years ago the last time, sure, but you know what to expect. You’re a cosmic fucking cowboy, ride the goddamn roller coaster, boy. Yell if you have to but ride it out.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, EXCERPT 4

Hoping the cretin had no stamina and less resolve, Frank began a hopping, circling approach, like a rooster in a cockfight. He bounced from one foot to the other, moving to his right and waving the chain from side to side with his left hand while his right hand gripped the tire iron. Searching the big orc’s eyes, he saw nothing much in there. This was a job to this guy and he didn’t care much for working. Frustration was creeping in around the edges. Also a snippet of bewilderment as Frank continued his rooster dance, taunting the cretin with shouts of “C’mon, chickenshit, let’s get it on.” But then Frank saw something else in those flat, dull eyes, a little spark, a momentary flash of determination; the big guy maybe thinking he could end it fast and be home in time for his bedtime cheeseburger.

The beast charged, swinging the bat at Frank’s head. Frank ducked, felt wind fly past his skull and backpedaled left. Shuffling his feet for balance, he attacked, slashing the chain down across the creature’s huge forearms. He saw pain and anger ripple the spongy jowls and the creature’s eyes turned black. The mouth on the red balloon face was open and sucking air as the orc charged again, bat held high above the head.

Frank feinted left and jumped to the right. The monster’s feet, tiny things compared to the rest of him, tried to stop and change direction but seemed to stick to the pavement. But, shit, the thing managed to dance out of it and now was charging again, bat up high. Frank set his feet, faked a throw of the tire iron and watched the big head jerk, saw the oversized body struggling to stop itself, the muscles fighting each other. Frank dropped down, flattened out and whipped his legs at the monster’s ankles. There was a loud hard smack as bone hit bone and Frank watched the tower tip, saw it come crashing down with a thud and a grunt and sounds like a cow giving birth. Still gripping the tire iron, Frank jumped to his feet, darted in behind the giant and crowned him King of Garfield Avenue with a shot to the back of the skull, a dull doink that brought to mind a snow shovel hitting a frozen jack-o-lantern.

With the big one out of commission, Frank turned to face number two, the dude’s feet like they were stuck in mud, his eyes unsure, the man thinking about it, wondering. Frank grinned, felt the crazies rolling in. “The Force is with me, man,” Frank hollered. “The Force is with me, asshole. You wanna piece of it?” Then he reached down and plucked the chain from the pavement, twirled the tire iron and restarted the bouncing, circling dance, feeling a wide, crazy grin spreading across his face. He watched the guy’s hands squeeze the bat tighter. He saw questions burning through the prick’s head. “Come on, douchebag,” Frank said, loosing a gob of spit on the pavement, “let’s get to it before the cops show up.”

His face twisting like Silly Putty, the smaller orc cocked the bat back and threw it. The metal stick helicoptered toward Frank’s head in slow motion, label up. Frank ducked, and the bat whirred over his head and hit the pavement, bouncing and rolling with a clanking sound. Frank straightened himself and prepared for the charge, but the smaller orc turned around and beat feet for the white truck, jumped behind the wheel and roared away spewing dirt and rocks.

Watching the huge truck disappear, Frank thought he heard a metallic voice inside the cab say, “Ten-four, good buddy,” but it was probably his imagination. Hard to say what was what anymore. He tried to get the tag number but there was too much dust.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, EXCERPT 3

He watched the doors on the monster pickup open, saw two big goons step out. Exhaust drifted in the headlight beams, refracting the light and bending it, but Frank’s vision was clear. The acid was like a spotlight shining right to the core of these two assholes. See the tension in their muscles, the way they’re bent and twisted and walking crooked. The driver was the bigger of the two, offensive-lineman size with oily blonde hair falling over his ears. Bad haircut gave him an inbred look, the goon probably raised on abuse. But a nice brown suede jacket, double extra-large, maybe even triple or four X. Other guy was a tad smaller but still bigger than Frank. Look at him hovering back a step or two, not really into it. Watching the big guy and following his lead.

Take out the body and the head will follow. Or was it the other way around?

“You boys lost?” Frank said, feeling the smile taking over his lips as the adrenaline flowed like a river in spring, shaking his muscles awake. “The boat whores are across that little bridge up there.” Pointing up at the Interstate Bridge.

The bigger guy scowled, Frank thinking of an angry steer. Frank almost laughed; dude wasn’t very enthusiastic. Autry’d probably promised him ludes in exchange for an easy stomping job but now the situation looked a bit different than advertised. Frank could see every muscle twitch and the movement of every thought in their thick heads as the two guys exchanged glances before going back to the monster truck.

Is that all, boys? All you got? Leaving before we get to dance?

Frank got his answer when they reached into the truck and their hands came out gripping baseball bats, the new kind, made from aluminum instead of wood, the light from the pole lamps glinting off the shiny metal. Frank could see the doubt on the smaller guy, the man still hanging back, but the big bastard must have wanted his dope because he was coming on, moving in, gripping the bat like an axe, empty-headed meanness written on his white and blotchy face.

Having played football in high school—a running back—Frank knew these ham-huffing mongoloid lineman types were usually top heavy and often had a hard time stopping or changing direction. And the storm trooper mofo coming at him now looked to have fallen off his training regimen some time ago. If Frank could get him moving, get him off balance—he’d have a chance. Second dude would probably split in a hurry should the big guy fall. Problem though was Frank’s left knee, torn ACL when one of those giant lineman types fell on it in the Central game, senior year. Never had surgery and the damn thing never really healed right. So he knew he had maybe five minutes of fast movement, ten at the very outside, before his knee or his wind gave out.

Fuck.

(To be continued)

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Chapter 2, Excerpt 5

Frank brought the sweating green bottle down to Waverly, the guy, judging by his droopy eyelids, carrying a good buzz already. “What you up to tonight, Keith?” Frank said.

“Just checked my cab in. Gonna head across the bridge to Bay Town, go home and sleep, I guess.”

“Slow night?”

“Not too bad. But I wanted to get out of there before the bars closed. Al always sticks me with the ninety-cent runs from the Kozy, which are a real pain. I’ve had drunks puke in the cab—piss—nobody’s shit in there yet but how long can it be? And it’s always the fuckin’ Kozy crowd. Thought I’d skate out early and save myself the anguish.”

“I hear that, man. But say, ah, by any chance do you have anything on you might help loosen the bonds of reality for your friendly local bartender?” Frank was weary of the grief and the turmoil and ready for some of Waverly’s old-time peace and love vibe.

“Got a few hits of green pyramid, man. Give you a nice ride.”

“Sounds like something I could get into. Any chance you can stay till close, fix me up after the place empties out?”

“Got a few more Heinekens in that cooler?”

“Enough.”

“Can I yell, It’s hotel-motel time, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here?”

“Free of charge, Keith. Warm up those vocal cords.”

Then the time seemed to stand still and before Frank had a chance to lock the front door a fresh pack of thirsty customers crowded in. It was one-forty on the bar clock before he got the place cleared out. Waverly was still there at the bar smiling, Jenny seemed content cleaning up the tables with a tall double brandy-water waiting for her on top of the bar, and Judy and Mr. Pills looked pleased to be allowed to stay after hours. In with the in-crowd, as it were. But it wasn’t long before Judy and Pills finished their drinks and Frank unlocked the front door and let them out, Frank thinking that Judy was a changed woman. This new version was a little more controlled, less frayed around the edges—and she didn’t seem to give three shits about Frank or his brother Ray—her former husband, for fuck sake. She had not said one goddamn thing to Frank about Ray-Ray’s passing. No Sorry for your loss. No How’s your mother taking it? No nothing. So maybe she was the same self-serving twat as always, just better at disguising it.

Once the room was picked up and the glasses all washed, Frank let Jenny the waitress go home. Waverly had a fresh Heineken in front of him and it looked so good Frank got one from the cooler for himself. After knocking down a bracing shot of Bushmill’s, Frank went to see his old friend. “What ya got for me tonight, man? Green pyramid you say?”

“Yeah,” Waverly said, reaching in his tan corduroy Marlboro Man jacket and coming out with a baggie containing a little sheet of what appeared to be green plastic. He laid the baggie on the bar, wiping the spot with his jacket sleeve first. Frank took a closer look and saw a square of tiny, connected, pyramid-shaped units.

“Shit pretty strong?” Frank said. “I’ve been hearing about this stuff.”

“Shit’s all over town, man. You just wanna stay awake, all you need’s a little chip. Whole one’ll take you to the edge of the ozone.”

Frank picked up the sheet and carefully tore four pyramids from the corner, put them on his tongue and washed them down with a big swig of Heineken.

Waverly raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Got a big night planned, man?”

“Just need to fly away from my pain and woe, Keith,” he said, rolling his eyes. “See if there’s any wisdom to be found in the cosmos tonight.”

Waverly, still grinning, reached into his jacket again, brought out a bomber of a joint. “You might need this, man. Get to flying too high, have yourself a couple tokes. Jamaican ganja, man. Shit will pull you right down to earth and get your feet back on the ground. And, ah—good luck with your search for wisdom. As for me, I think I’m gonna head across the bridge and catch some Z’s, last-call rush ought to be over by now.”

Frank took the joint and put in the pocket of his white shirt.

(To be continued)

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Chapter 2, Excerpt 4

Standing in front of the lovebirds, Frank was trying to make eye contact with Judy but she wasn’t playing. Kept her gaze on Pillsbury or the martinis. Frank watched Pills reach inside his charcoal sport coat and bring out a long rectangular wallet, lift out a twenty from a thick stack and put it on the bar top.

Pillsbury said, Keep the change,” looking at Frank with what Frank thought was condescension.

Frank had the urge to tell the prick to shove the money up his ass, maybe lecture the asshole about bringing a wallet full of bills to a sleazy dive like the Metropole. “On the house,” he said, pushing the twenty back at Pillsbury.

Mr. Pills looked at him with a question in his eyes but it only lasted a second. “Thank you,” he said. “You treat first-time customers nicely here.”

“Not usually,” Frank said. “But it’s the least I can do for my ex-sister-in-law.” He nodded to Judy and started backing away, watching the skin around Pillsbury’s eyes crinkle and Judy make a half-assed attempt at a polite smile, her eyes still not revealing anything. Frank watched them take the drinks to a booth against the back wall. Couldn’t help wondering what their deal was, thinking it must be Ricky’s money and her tits and ass. Not that hard to figure. Frank shook his head and turned to look at the clock. It was quarter after twelve, forty-five minutes and he could throw the bums out of here.

A big guy with a ponytail moved into the slot vacated by the Pills. Frank got him a PBR and went back to work, getting the sitting patrons squared away. By twelve forty-five he was toweling off beer glasses and wondering what he was going to do after close, all wired up now, when he saw Keith Waverly leaning across the bar down by the television set. Waverly was a local boy known for his quality weed and other confections from the psychedelic era, and always seemed to be close to action of some sort. Just the kind of shit Frank thought he needed. Anxious to close up, Frank took inventory of his help. Moran was on the patron’s side of the bar in a booth, chatting up some drunken tart. Jenny was gathering glasses from the tables. Frank went down the line to Waverly. “Mr. Waverly,” he said.

“Hey, Frank,” Waverly said. “How’s it going, man?”

“Let’s see,” Frank said, “went to my brother’s funeral today—so that was nice. Got called to work because Sack didn’t show—and that was even more wonderful. And now here I am having a hell of a good time hanging with Zenith’s Illuminati.” He let his gaze slide around the barroom. “So you could say that I’m fuckin’ fantastic.”

“I heard about Ray, Frank. That’s a bummer, man. You doin’ okay?”

“Peachy. What can I get you, Keith?”

“How about a Heineken.”

“Coming right up.” Going to the cooler feeling a headache coming on and the pain in his bum knee getting worse, Frank squinted through the smoke clouds and the glow of beer signs, “Hello Walls” blasting out of the jukebox for the thousandth goddamn time tonight. And at that moment he realized how sick he was of this place and this scene and his brother’s guttersnipe life and all the loose ends that seemed to be demanding he tie them together whether he wanted to or not.

Fuck.

(To be continued)

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Chapter 1, Excerpt 4

Then out of the corner of his eye Frank saw Nikki go behind the bar. He watched Autry turn his head and blow her a kiss. Frank shot the alligator-skinned prick a sideways glance then moved around Doughboy’s bulk to wedge in between the two lowlifes. “Must be something big going on if you two guys are out of bed this early, Artie,” Frank said. “It’s still light out,” He made a fist with his right hand and set it on top of the bar close to Autry’s left hand.

Autry narrowed his eyes. “Your brother’s funeral, Ford,” he said. “Ain’t that reason enough for two old friends of his to have a drink together—in his memory?”

“Don’t remember seeing either of you two at the service, Artie.”

“Nah,” Doughboy Loy said. “We didn’t think it was a good idea to show up, given our past enterprises with Ray, and all.” He was talking slow and getting slower. His eyes were red, but not like he’d shed tears.

Frank said, “Look, you guys, I appreciate your sympathy, if that’s what it is—but what I’m really interested in is some answers. Like how and why did Ray end up floating in the bay all beaten to shit? And who the fuck, did it, man? You know, just simple questions.”

“Man, Frank, I don’t know,” Doughboy said. “You know how Ray got when he was fucked up. Must of been a dozen guys around town wanted to kick his ass. Somebody could’ve caught up to him, you know? Don’t necessarily mean it had anything to do with Ray jumping—but he could have been depressed or something. You take a beating and you might start hating yourself afterwards, right? You seen those billboards they got around town about untreated depression, how it’s a time bomb and all that?”

“You and I both know Ray didn’t commit suicide, Maynard,” Frank said. “He was too chicken shit, too much of a survivor for that. Thought too highly of himself in some twisted way. So maybe it was you guys did it to him, eh?  Say for example you wanted him to pull some tunnel-rat job for you so you could get something to put in your arm and Ray-Ray said no and you two were jonesing so bad you wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Frank turned to the wiry, wasted Autry. “Maybe Artie here flipped out and started beating on the little dick. Knocked him unconscious and he wouldn’t wake up right away so you guys freaked and threw him off the Arrowhead Bridge.”

Frank looked at Doughboy, wanted to squeeze those puffy cheeks until they bled, see what came out of his saggy mouth after that. Instead he turned back to Autry. “Maybe I should pound your scrawny buzzard beak into the bar a few times, Artie, see what your story is then. I really think I might enjoy that.” Frank put his right hand on his lowball glass, turned it slowly and stared at Autry.

“Aw, come on, Frank, this is bullshit,” Doughboy said. “We didn’t do anything to Ray. At least I didn’t.” He glanced at Autry. “And Artie liked Ray. And we like you too, Frank.”

Ford glowered and leaned his elbows on the bar, stared down into his empty glass. After a moment he glanced up at Nikki across the bar and her eyes were on him. “Another, please, Nik,” he said, holding up his glass. She came and took it, flashing a look of concern, woman always finding a way to comment, it seemed. Frank straightened up and looked Autry in the eyes. “If you didn’t do it, Artie, who in hell did?  I have this funny feeling that you know more than Doughboy says you do.”

Autry said, “I know Ray was getting squirrelier by the minute, Frank, that’s what I know.”

Doughboy piped in, “I was his brother I’d have a long talk with that nurse chick Ray was banging. She was mixing him up some really weird cocktails—if you catch my drift.”

Frank said, “Who in hell you talking about, Maynard? Not Judy Bruton, his ex-wife?”

Loy got a smirk on his puffy lips. “It is, Frank, I swear to God. I forgot they were married back in the good old days. Three months, wasn’t it?”

“So he was hanging with that bitch again,” Frank said, watching Nikki pour his whiskey. “That chick is evil, man. Used to steal from old people at the nursing home she worked at, to support her habit. Just your kind of babe, guys. But I heard she got busted, so how in hell can she still be a nurse?”

“She was never arrested. Just fired a couple times. They could never prove anything, I guess.” Doughboy said.  “Now they say she’s gonna marry a pharmacist. Guy with his own drugstore chain. Imagine that, would you? How lucky can you get?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Autry snarled. “They’re not married yet, so let’s not jinx it.”

Frank’s interest perked up. “So where is sweet Judy sleeping these days, boys? Her former brother-in-law might like to reminisce with her about old times.”

“She works out at a big white house on London Road,’ Doughboy said, drawing an angry stare from Autry. “She’s nursing her boyfriend’s mother. Old bag’s got this big mansion on the lake. She lives on the second floor and Mr. Pills is on the third floor. Quite a pad, they say. I think Judy’s been doing a lot of nursing on the pharmacy dude’s dick as kind of a side project.”

Frank said, “Mr. Pills? That’s the guy’s name? Really?”

“Actually it’s Pillsbury,” Doughboy said, a stupid grin wrinkling his fat red lips. “Me and Artie just call him Mr. Pills ‘cause that’s what he is, really, you think about it.”

Frank said, “How can a guy like that—with all that money—how can he not know she’s going to steal him blind?”

“He probably doesn’t care,” Autry said. “Man’s a fuckin’ geek. Judy’s got him so strung out on her pussy he’d do anything for her. She’s probably got him spiking Demerol by now. Wouldn’t be surprised. But I ain’t saying any more. That would be gossip. And I was never one for gossip. Doughboy is also going to change the subject if he’s as smart as he thinks he is.”

“Y’know, Artie,” Frank said. “I think maybe we should go outside and introduce your balls to the toe of my boot.” Frank leaned his muscular, six-foot-two frame in close to Autry. “Your lack of concern is pissing me off, man. I need to get a line on Judy for personal reasons and you think you’re going to cut me off?  What kind of shit is that?  Be real nice if one time in your life you weren’t an asshole, y’know.”

“Fuck you, Ford. What more do you want?  Big white house on London Road… guy name of Pillsbury… figure it out for yourself for fuck sake.”

Frank clenched his jaw and was just about to grab Autry when he heard Nikki’s soothing voice coming from what seemed a very long way off. “Jimmy bought you another drink, Frank. He said he doesn’t want any trouble in the bar. He’ll fire me, Frank, if you start anything.”

Frank wanted to tell her not to worry; her parents would pay her bills if it came down to that—and for that matter, it was about time she got out of this sleazy environment—but he kept his mouth shut.

Then “Afternoon Delight” burst from the sound system and a brunette with extra large eyes hit the stage down front jiggling inside a frilly red bustier.

With his bloodshot eyes trained on the new dancer, Doughboy Loy said, “Your buddy Danny Moran is remodeling the first floor of that same house, Frank. Maybe he needs some extra guys.”

Which got Doughboy another eye dart from Autry, Artie’s face getting redder and tighter as he glowered at Loy.

(To be continued)

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