Posts Tagged ‘Northwoods Pulp Reloaded’


Coming up on Oakley, Kansas, Frank Ford’s head was scrambled eggs.

     The black dex got him here nicely, fourteen hours of positive thoughts pointing straight ahead to the future like a bunch of little arrows. But now the arrows were falling to the pavement like pieces of an imploding building, and Frank was lost.

     Not lost on the highway—he had his trusty Michelin Road Atlas to prevent that—but lost inside his head. The horror show of his recent past was kicking in like a garish neon sign on a dark, empty street and an ice pick of fear was growing in his solar plexus.

     He’d left home confident that he’d covered his tracks. The cops hadn’t given him so much as a sniff. But he’d killed two women and shot the ear off another guy and sometimes stuff like that comes back to haunt you.

     You just never know.

     And the self-immolating burn of guilt for killing two murderous, psychopathic sisters?

     It shouldn’t be there.   

     But it was, kind of.

     Sometimes you think you’ve put certain things behind you, gotten past them, but then one day they come sneaking back up your brain stem and resume the grinding.

     Back in Minnesota he had all his rationalizations in place. Wanting to believe that if he just kept moving, the recriminations would never catch up. But now it seemed he was getting as fearful as an old woman. Maybe just like his mother. He was walking on eggs in his mind as if one wrong thought would bring on the Hater. But hell, the accusing voice had already been in there for a while and Frank was starting to get accustomed to the internal accusations and self-condemnation.

     Currently the Hater was insisting that Frank deserved to burn in hell.

     Or some other form of Christian-themed punishment.

     Frank knew he just needed to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; it was that simple.

     He’d always considered himself an outlaw. You know, a few illegal drugs, a little cheating on the taxes, maybe a couple lies to the girlfriend or the occasional hot item purchased from some hangdown at the Metropole.

     But a killer?

     He hadn’t planned on it, but he most certainly was guilty of murder, no matter how justified. And the cops had a nasty habit of overlooking justifications when it came to homicide.

     So he had the ice pick in the gut and a hot wire in his brain shooting sparks and making him squirm behind the steering wheel of his 1971 Ford station wagon. He was thinking maybe if he pulled over for a while and shut his eyes—if he was lucky, catch a few Zs—he might get back to that walk-and-don’t-look-back state of mind that had carried him so smoothly across the plains.

     If he could just get back to the same old Frank Ford, things would be all right.

     Thinking about it, he knew it would never happen. The old Frank Ford was history, gone Johnson.

     He fired up a Marlboro with the car lighter. Yeah, he was smoking again, his nerves and the monotony of long-distance driving conspiring to make him buy a pack at the first place he saw after crossing into Iowa early this morning. But this latest butt tasted like burning rope, and was adding a pulsing pain behind the eyes to his already existing symptoms of disarray.

     He stubbed out the cig in the ashtray and glanced at the approaching road sign.

     Oakley  3.

     Highway 83  3. 

     Highway 83 was a north-south road that would take him to the Texas panhandle and I-40, somewhere west of Oklahoma City, and from there it was a straight shot to LA. But he knew he’d struggle just to make it to Garden City, Kansas, only forty miles to the south, if he didn’t stop for a while.

     The fuel situation was also troubling. Some of the gas stations were already closed and it was only seven o’clock in the evening, Central Time. The good fellows from OPEC were putting the squeeze on America’s oil supply. The petroleum titans from the Middle East conspiring to enlighten America as to who was running the gas-and-oil show.

     And it seemed to be working. Big companies like Amoco, Shell and Texaco were unable to provide enough fuel to keep all their stations open. And those that did have gas were plagued by long lines, purchase limits and surly drivers—one of whom, Frank was rapidly becoming. So he made a quick decision—or something made it for him—and he wheeled the Ford wagon onto the Oakley exit.

     He tried to make himself relax.

     At least enough to give the impression that he was relatively normal, which, of course, was the furthest thing from the truth.

     Oakley was a Norman Rockwell painting. And like most small towns Frank had visited, there was a supermarket on the main drag.

     He swung into the parking lot of Bob’s Ideal Market and steered the wagon into a slot. There was plenty of room. He got out of the car, surprised how stiff he was, and went into the store. There he grabbed a large Styrofoam cup of coffee and two pieces of fried chicken and some deep-fried potato quarters from the deli, the scent of the greasy treats too tantalizing to resist.

     Getting back to the car, his stomach now a little queasy from road coffee, cigarettes and no food, he put the potatoes in his cooler for later and grabbed a chicken thigh.

     He sipped the coffee and took a bite of the greasy chicken and gazed out the car window at the comings and goings of the locals. Then for no apparent reason the anxiety started up again and he didn’t feel like moving quite yet so he reached into the back seat and grabbed the little going-away-gift box that hippie boy Keith Waverly had given him back in Zenith.

     He lifted out the two dog-eared paperbacks.

     One was an old Raymond Chandler novel, The Little Sister, which Frank suspected was Waverly’s off-handed comment on the adventures in Frank’s recent past. The other one, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, was a famous book Frank knew about but had never read, and was probably Waverly’s comment on Frank’s current situation.

     And immediate future, Frank was thinking as he put the Chandler novel back in the box and turned back the wrinkled cover of the late Jack Kerouac’s claim to fame.

     He looked at the copyright.


     Twenty years ago.

     He started to read.

     Once he adjusted to the scattershot prose it seemed to sync with his discordant mind and bring on some form of calm. Got him feeling like he was sitting placidly in a giant eggcup. A strange image, for sure, but that’s exactly what he felt like, that’s what came to him.

     He read for an hour straight, looking up only occasionally to glance at the old pickups and dusty sedans going by on Main Street, USA.

     Story so far was about a bunch of people under the age of thirty traveling across the country on the cheap, doing a lot of drinking and drugs. And sex, if they could get it.

     Basically turning dissipation into a religion.

     The Beat Generation. Predecessors to the hippies.

     Story took place in 1947. Thirty years ago…. 



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Late November—1977

Lying on his stomach at the fence line of an Arizona ranch just inside the Mexican border, Frank Ford finds it hard to believe that only six months ago he was in northern Minnesota trying to stop two psychotic sisters from killing a douchebag pharmaceutical heir.

But it’s true.

Now the sky above him is a tapestry of stars and his three companions are up in the cosmos with them, each of the three men having consumed a number of peyote buttons before leaving Tempe.

Frank, being the driver, abstained. At the moment, though, he’s not sure whether that was a good decision or a bad one. He’s wired tight and the other three are loose goosey, so what the hell.

The four men are on a mission to rescue the younger brother of rising rock star Evelyn Raines, with whom Frank has a confusing and undefined relationship. It seems that Javier Raines was caught smuggling marijuana and Mexican citizens across the border—something he’s been doing for several years, according to his sister. The kicker here being that it wasn’t an official government law enforcement agency that snagged him, but a vigilante group doing unauthorized work along the border.

Unauthorized work that often includes torture, the rumors say.

Just a weird situation all around, Frank thinks, as he watches Ted Webb—the provider of the peyote buttons—crawl underneath the barbed wire, the butt of a .45 caliber Colt semi-auto sticking out the waistband of his faded jeans.

Being the most mobile of the four, Ted volunteered to sneak up to the barn, only outbuilding on the property, to see if Javier is actually in there. And, if so, come up with a plan for extracting him.

Squeezing the stock of a cut down twelve-gauge, Frank watches in the weak glow of the lone dusk-to-dawn yard light as Ted scoots across the dirt towards the barn. Yard dog is no longer a problem, yellow-haired mutt collapsed in a heap near the front gate, after consuming a hefty serving of Henry Ruiz’s Doggy Downer Delight.

Henry Ruiz, along with Frank’s roommate in Tempe, Bill Cross, round out the rest of the not-so-fearsome foursome.

Henry is stretched out on Frank’s left, looking at the front door of the one-story ranch house through the night-vision scope of an M-16 carbine, his souvenir from Vietnam. On Henry’s left, Bill Cross cradles a .22 caliber semi-auto plinking rifle, his eyes flitting around the yard like tumbleweeds in a windstorm.

Henry and Ted are ‘Nam vets. Bill served in Korea. Frank’s damaged knee kept him out of the military. Failed his draft physical.

Not that he’d have wanted to join even if his knee was perfect, he thinks, then tenses as he sees Ted coming back fast, crouching low.

Ted scurries to the fence line and squats down in front of Henry. “There’s two guys in there,” he says. “Both of ‘em naked and bloody and tied to posts in the ground.”

“They conscious?” Henry asks.

“Maybe, couldn’t tell for sure,” Ted says in a hoarse whisper. “I didn’t go in all the way. Didn’t want them shouting or something. They might’ve been aware of me, I’m not sure. Neither one of them looked in good enough shape to walk back to the car, though, I can tell you that much.”

“Well, no mission ever goes the way you plan it, we’ll just have to improvise,” Henry says. “Brings to mind an old Mexican saying: ‘Trust in God but keep one hand on your pistola.’ So I guess that’s what we’ll do.”

Henry slithers under the barbed wire and stands up. Raising the M-16 to the ready position, he trains the carbine at the front door of the house and walks sideways toward the barn.

Frank and Bill follow Henry’s lead.

Frank’s bum knee is stiff and sore from the walk in and he can’t help wondering how the hell things came down to this…


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Pulpy, crime, the mid-70’s, Minnesota to Arizona, misadventures abound.

It’s 1977 and Frank Ford is running from his life and for his life. 

Following the suspicious suicide of his brother Ray and Frank’s own role in the death of twin sisters clearly culpable in Ray’s demise, he hits the road for the promised land, California–with a dog-eared paperback copy of Kerouac’s On the Road as his roadmap. True to its protagonist’s journey, Frank makes a stop in Denver to look up an old friend–in his case high school buddy and former Arizona Amateur Tennis Champion, Larry Richards, now a divorce attorney allegedly raking in the cash, hand over fist. 

Larry’s seemingly successful life was anything but, and Frank gets caught up in Larry’s fraying web of deals and deceit, leading him farther away from California and closer to the same muck he left behind in Minnesota.

Enter the captivating and gifted songwriter Evelyn Raines, lead singer of Evie and the Desert Flowers. The righteous Bill Cross, new roommate, fellow bartender at DJ’s and former Arizona Gold Gloves light heavyweight champion. Clayton Cook and Bryce Parker–entitled, corrupt and twisted. Arturo Reynolds, Denver gangster. Javier Raines, Evie’s faithful brother and manager. A cast of characters that seems to conspire to keep Frank from his Kerouac dream.

Sequel to Dive Bartender: Sibling Rivalry

by T.K. O’Neill  

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel ready for the eighties…

(End of Chapter 10)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

     I see her eyes widen and her body go rigid. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Money, Sex and Drugs form the new Godhead. 

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

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

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

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

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

(End of Chapter 9)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Wow, a whole $12.73.

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

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

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

     Guy didn’t know how right he was.

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

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

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

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

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

     Marvin smirks at me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Evidently not smart enough.

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

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

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

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

     “Christ, let’s just go.”

     “Si, mi amoret.

     My throat seizes up.

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

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

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story.


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

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

     But I need her and she knows it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story.

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

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

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

     No such luck. 

     She climbs in—breathless—beside me.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

     What the hell is this younger generation coming to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Fuck, I’m honey now.

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

(End of Chapter 8)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here.

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

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

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

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

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

     “Take it out of the wallet, please.”

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

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


     Dory shoots me a sideways glance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     But no Billy Bob and Bubba.

     “No, I’m an American.”

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

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

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

     “Only been here for three months, officer.”

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

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

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

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

     My buddy.

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

(To be continued)

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“My Ship Comes In” is the fourth story, a novella, in T.K. O’Neill’s Northwoods Pulp Reloaded collection of three short crime stories and this longer story. Ebook available here. For all T.K. O’Neill ebooks and paperbacks, shop here.

“There you go, Dory. Have at it.”

     “How am I supposed to do this? Where’s the hundred dollar bill?”

     “Cute. You’ll just have to scoop some up with the knife or—. Say, ah, why don’t you come around here so nobody can see from the road? We’ll be two tourists stretching our legs.”

     “And packing their noses.”

     “That too.”

     She comes around. I put the mirror on the carpet and we lift little piles of powder to our noses with the knife blade. With this much coke, I’m thinking not snorting it would be like going to Studio 54 without a dick. Just plain sacrilege, man.

     So now we’re sitting next to each other, our feet dangling out the side door of the van like two fuckin’ hillbillies. We’re saying nothing and staring at the greenery. My lips and gums are numb and my brain is exploding like a bottle rocket in a fireplace. We stay silent for a long moment, long enough for me to try and think up something to say and not succeed, several times. Finally I turn to her, my nerves jumping: “So, what do you thi—”

     That’s all I get out before she jumps at me like a sea bird snaring a dead shrimp, slams her lips against mind and begins probing deeply with her velvety tongue.

     I don’t fight back when she puts her hand between my legs and feels the merchandise. In fact I encourage it by demonstrating my growth as a human being, an upstanding citizen to be sure. But just as she crawls on top of me and replaces her hand with her hot, throbbing crotch, a rush of paranoia rips through me like a blast of heat lightning. 

     Fuck if I don’t push her off me and climb out of the van onto the shoulder. I mean, that’s all I need, getting popped by some bible-belt cop for public fornication. These backwater cops have a way of taking other people’s sins so personally. I’ve got enough coke in the van to keep the discos on Clearwater Beach going for a year or more, and I tell you, that suddenly becomes more than enough for me to handle.

     Dory stares at me flabbergasted. She brushes down her dress, which is hiked up and revealing some of the prettiest thigh I’ve ever seen. It’s enough to make you want to cry. “I’m sorry,” I say. “We’re just too close to the road here. The drugs and all… you know what I mean. I just can’t relax.”

     She climbs out and grabs my shoulders, starts kissing me again and putting her hand back where I like it. I put my hands on her arms and slowly push her away. “Maybe we can find a better place down the way,” I say. “We can’t stay here.”

     The back of my neck is burning as I slide the VW’s door closed and walk around to the driver’s door. Dory climbs in the other side and looks over at me, throws her head back and laughs. I’m not quite sure what to think of the laugh; seems like a hint of mania riding its edge. I start the engine and pull out. My blood is boiling and I’m worried that the moment has passed. Hot beads of sweat plaster my forehead as I shift into fourth gear and put the gas pedal to the floor. I’m thinking I have to find someplace in a hurry or everything will to turn to shit. Cinderella will turn ugly and have to run home. 

     Somewhere there’s a place for us.

     Now I’m bobbing with anxiety, and searching the distance for a road that might lead to some privacy. There has to be a road somewhere. I’ve read a lot of stories in the papers about dead bodies being found on lonely Florida roads. Shit like that must happen all the time down here. I continue rolling along, so lost inside my head that I forget about my speed. My eyes are scanning the distance so much that I overlook what’s right in front of me. I know VW vans don’t go very fast, so it’s not something you usually worry about.

     Then my ears pick up a horrible sound.

     A siren, closing fast.  

(To be continued)

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