Posts Tagged ‘Northwoods Pulp – “The Devil You Say”’


(Published in 1999)

Now here I am, at the highway that will lead me to hell, a.k.a. Superior, Wisconsin. There’s an ungodly roar coming off the lake and the stuff coming out of the sky has the texture of bird shit.  Maybe I should hitchhike, I’m thinking. There’s been someone through here, I can tell… drifted over ruts in the road. They’d probably try and take me to a hospital or something… I think my face is bleeding.  I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Or one stump in front of another, come some sunny day if the creeks don’t rise.  Roy is due any minute….

You ever hear the sound of a crow on a mild spring day and think to yourself what a nice sound that is?  How things seem more right with the world if there’s a crow up in a tree, cawing down at you?  That’s the feeling I’m getting from that big black raven son-of-a-bitch up in that tree across the road.  He’s about fifty yards down and making the sweetest sound. It’s not a nice day, but the wall-of- pines provide some protection from the wind. He’s perched up there ruffling his feathers and flexing his wings.

All of a sudden I’m thinking I should take my jacket off and go after that crow. It’s all of a sudden so nice and warm. But that can’t be right. I don’t know what I’m thinking about, I guess.  Maybe the crow can explain all this….

When I get near the tree, the crow takes off and spreads his shining wings and flies down another twenty-five yards or so and perches on top of a mailbox. I go after it again. Maybe I can throw salt on its tail, there’s so much lying on the ground up here.

A mailbox?

A driveway?

Down the drive, around the bend, there’s a house. A big, warm house on a cliff overlooking the lake with a light on above the door.

I’m so thankful when I knock on the storm door. I’m saved.  A little porthole in the door opens up, and I see the face of my savior, a decent looking broad about forty.

She takes one look at me, and starts screaming her lungs out. I can hear her yelling, “Call the sheriff, Steve,” behind the thick door.  Then I hear a crow making a sound remarkably like the yuppie bitch’s yelling.  I see the bird perched on a cedar railing alongside a stone stairway that leads down to the shore of raging Lake Superior.

I pick up a rock from out of the little decorator’s row that runs around the front of the house, and peg it at the crow. Not even close. I walk over and he flies off towards the lake.

Down at the shore there’s a dock with a big boat covered by a blue tarp. Looks like a Boston Whaler with a high windshield and a small flying bridge, two big, black, shiny Mercs on the back. She’s lifted out of the water, but I think she’ll probably go. Even got some downriggers if I feel like trolling. Someone’s been using it this year already; everything is clean. I know boats. Worked on a fishing boat once, just outside of New Orleans. I was nineteen.

Water splashes on my feet as I check her out. The prop looks okay; nice electric winch set-up keeping her dry.  I push the green button on the control box on the cedar post and Lucky Lady settles down nicely, like a kiddy ride at the fair. I have to admire this guy’s set-up: protected little cove, nice little cliff-side abode and truly first class permanent dockage.

Once she’s in the water and rocking, I unzip the blue boat cover and jump inside to the controls.  Sure enough the key is there.  I give it a turn.




I rip off the cover and fling it aside and dash to the stern in a frantic search for the battery. I find it; the positive cable is unhooked. I put the clamp on the post, but it’s loose as a whore’s snatch.

My fingers don’t work any more; they are hunks of dead wood.  There has got to be a wrench or pliers somewhere… just calm down.


Slow down.


I see a little gray plastic box with CRAFTSMAN stamped on top.

Somehow, I manage to tighten down that clamp. Somehow, the engine fires up. Oh what a beautiful sound, exhaust spitting against the water. Somehow, I unhook the moorings.

Motoring slowly, I can feel the power of the lake building in my chest.  Up ahead of me is some angry water.  God how I don’t want to leave the safe harbor.  God….

There is no God.  Eight-foot waves crash against the jagged rocks, roaring like the angry ghosts of a thousand drowned souls.

Fear, Daddy, fear.

God help me now.

There is no God.

I push the throttle down and tug at the dark green rain suit that I found under the seat. If only there had been some dry clothes or maybe a blanket. I keep it a little below half throttle and just aim at the center of the breakers. Straight on into the wind. First big one we hit, there’s a heavy crunch and we rock. I’m thinking we’re in trouble, but we hang tight. I just aim it like a torpedo and hold on tight and up the throttle just a bit. Words cannot describe the bouncing, pounding, gut wrenching, bile tasting kick of Gitchi Gummi.  What does the name mean, Roy?  Bad Fucking Lake?  Lake that never gives up its dead?  Like the song says, you know.

I’m going to beat this lake. Must’ve been at it about an eternity already….

The water seems calmer now. Maybe I’m in heaven.  But no, it is calmer. I’m coming to something. The water is brown, muddy over here. Waves are only rollers now. I can throttle up a little more.

When I first spot land, I feel like Christopher Columbus or one of them guys must’ve felt. So what if it’s an ugly, red clay shore line with a raging snowstorm going on and everything frozen but my gut, which burns like hell.  It’s fucking land, beautiful, marvelous land.  I love land, don’t you?

Two hundred yards from shore, the engines gasp and spit. They kick back in for another fifty yards and then quit for good.  The boat coasts forward for a moment, then slowly turns and begins drifting back. Drifting ever faster, inexorably returning to the middle of the raging, rocking death ride.

I can see huge black serpents coiling and rolling in the dark water.

I’m drifing back to that lonely, indifferent place….

I crank and crank on the starter, but she won’t go; the gas gauge is stuck on the big E.

As the shoreline slowly fades from view, there’s a rock in my gut.  For an instant, I’m ready to jump. Grab a life jacket and jump. But I never could swim much. And the water looks so cold. I’m sick of cold. What is it anyway?  This cold?  This wet?  This lake?

Somewhere the sun is shining, but mighty Casey has struck out.

And now it’s too late.

I just need some sleep.  All those drugs… Ginny… goddamn Stu…


It’s starting to get going again out here; the black snakes are licking at the sides of the boat. Best thing to do is curl in the cabin and get some heavy rest. Just lay down and dream a little… maybe, come first light, my daddy will be there waiting….

The end

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(Published in 1999)

The Indian never knew what hit him. I put two in his chest so fast that he only had time to fall down. Then I roll out the door and come up around to the back of the Cad. Warpaint is 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 some lead in his back, about halfway up. He jerks and falls forward and the bag flies up in the air, bills scattering everywhere, flapping in the wind.

I’m in the ditch, frantically stuffing bills back in the sack when I hear the other two coming out of the woods, shouting and arguing. I run over and crouch behind the derelict Charger.

“Did you hit him, fucker?” shouts one voice.

“Don’t call me fucker, you little asshole,” yells the other.  “Of course I got him. Even though you were the one let him get away.”

“He slipped out of my hands like he wasn’t there anymore. And then I couldn’t see for a second.  Fucking weird. If you hit him, why isn’t he on the ground in there?”

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. I hit the one with the rifle and he goes down screaming and writhing; crawling and dragging himself toward the ditch. He doesn’t make it; bullets travel faster than flesh. The other prick is moving fast down the road. I do the same, in the opposite direction.

It’s the name game.

A little later, I notice how cold I am. Terrible cold. Terrible wet.  Teeth chattering. Heavy duty shivers. Toes stinging.

Got to keep moving and thumping. My eyes sting so bad I can’t look into the wind anymore so I have to walk backwards. It’s hard to breath there’s so much snow in the air.  Where’s Roy? No one drives by. I know this is a good thing—given the carnage on the road behind me—but still I crave for the sight of headlights or maybe someone on a snowmobile. Those things must be all over up here….

I don’t have a clue how long I’ve been out here. I am crawling on my hands and knees, now, head bent down to the ground in the slushy, heavy snow. My knees sting terribly and my toes are numb. Am thankful for the wool socks I bought at Holiday station.  Sometimes I try and stand up, but the weight of it all pushes me back down. The only money left is what I could stuff in my jacket and pants, the bag long since jettisoned.  I think the cash keeps me warmer, but it seems so heavy. I realize I can’t go any farther without a rest, so I sit down and wrap myself up in a ball on the side of the road, my back turned to the wind.  I’m so sleepy… maybe if I close my eyes for a while….  Where’s Roy?

I jerk back awake to a fierce growling that’s coming from another world.  But then it’s the same world and there’s a great big wolf standing about six feet in front of me. Blood and bits of blue cloth are stuck to the sides of his toothy snout. A beautiful creature, coat full and gray, almost white.

“Go away or I’ll kill you,” I say weakly, reaching for the pistol.  Something in the animals posture makes me stop.  He growls some more, showing his impressive teeth.

“FUCK YOUUUUUGHHH!!!!”  I scream, fear stoking the last bits of adrenaline I have left.

Seems like it almost laughs at me, then trots on by. Up the side of the road and gone into the forest.

Something gets me up and moving and it isn’t too long before I’m walking downhill and I can actually see a few yards ahead through the blow.  I’m getting near the lake, on the final downgrade.  I’m feeling giddy, home free, almost warm.  But there’s ice on the legs of my jeans and my ears are on fire and I haven’t felt my feet in a while, now.

The closer I get to the lake, the number I become. I keep on moving. No sign of an automobile anywhere. I’m walking upright now, my hands over my face, pinching and twisting the flesh in an attempt to get the blood flowing.  The road is just as impassible down here, but the snow is slushier and the pelting from the black sky is wetter. Every inch of me is soaked, except under the leather jacket. It’s funny, because I’m getting hot underneath there.  My thin leather gloves have soaked through long ago. I’m praying to whatever god or spirit or deity that might listen. And what about Roy? He’ll probably be right along, in the Cadillac, all warm and dry, some good tunes pumping out of the radio; not that fucking “Name Game” shit.  Shiver, Shiver, bo pivver, banana pana fo fivver… ah, Jesus.  I regret the day I ever met that crazy fucker.  He’ll be the death of me yet.  Ha Ha.  You like that?  Be the death of me yet.  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.

(To be continued)

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(Published in 1999)

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, like we can’t already see that. Maximum late winter blizzard, payback for the exceptionally mild, El Nino winter.

“We better hope it’s melting by the lake,” Roy says softly, shutting off the radio. “This is 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 about a few hundred pounds of junk in the trunk. Old wheels, rocks, sandbags… anything with weight. You get some decent snow tires— maybe posi-traction—you can go almost anywhere in one of those boats. We’re going to be plowing snow in some places with this beast. But we’ll make it.”

I’ll tell you right now, I’m nervous. This weather and all, out here in the middle of nowhere… it’s like nothing cares about nothing up here. And there’s no one or nothing around forever… I’m 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… 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.

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

Then VAROOM, the derelict Charger comes roaring out of the dull gray nothingness behind us and starts to pass on the left.  It’s 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. Then they’re by us, disappearing again into the blizzard, the raw growl of their exhaust fading quickly.

Roy says Fuck and I breath a sigh of relief.

“We almost got sucked right off the road,” he says.  “You get caught in the wrong windrow, you’re gone—see you when it’s dry.  The ditch devils drag you right in. Ah, but not to worry. We are home free now, Don my man, I tell you.”

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

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

Then I see it.

“HIT THE FUCKING BRAKES GODDAMN IT MAN!!! I scream, hands frozen on the wheel.

Slow motion, coming right at us.

No—we’re coming at it.

It’s not moving. It’s stopped.


Sliding, sliding, sliding, antilock brakes chattering, Roy trying to steer out of it.

No room.

Big collision.

Pain. Neck and back.

What the fuck?  Where are those crazy cocksuckers?  What the fuck they stop in the middle of the road for? Why didn’t the goddamn air bags work? Fucking 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, grinning oddly.  “Get ready to play….”

“You all right, man?  Did 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, charging.

Roy throws a short right cross and the son of a bitch crumbles face first in the snow.

I’m reaching down for the Glock, when a .22 caliber, long-barrel pistol with a drunken Indian in a greasy blue parka on the other end 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, the one in the blue soldier coat is holding a deer rifle on Roy. 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 shin-deep snow. Steam billows from the Caddy’s fractured radiator and the sick-sweet smell of anti-freeze hangs in my nose.

Out of the blue, fucking Roy starts singing:  “Donny, Donny, bo Ponny, banana pana fo Fonny,” and so on.  Then he starts up with Roy. “Roy, Roy, bo Poy, banana fana fo Foy,” etc.

This is pissing our rifleman off.  He’s grinding his teeth, his gaze darting around to me, 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 slapping Roy from behind and rasping, “Cap him. Cap the fucker. Cap the asshole. That’ll shut him up.”

While this is going on, the one holding the gun on me reaches into the glove compartment and pushes the trunk button. Christ, does he stink.

Roy is still singing, doing Lana Lana bo Pana.

At the back of the Cad, the war-painted one lifts up the trunk lid 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, and the bizarre threesome head off towards the woods.

“What’s in a name, Donny?” Roy stops and says, looking at me, 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.”

He starts up the song again as they lead him to the woods, singing all kinds of crazy names like nothing I ever heard before.

Warpaint goes searching through the trunk. First thing he comes out with is Roy’s satchel, and he brings it around to the side of the car to show his buddy who’s holding the pistol on me. Their eyes light up when he unzips that motherfucker. Warpaint’s voice is thick with emotion: “Look at this, Lonnie.  I told you they were drug dealers or something—car like this… heh… I told you.”  He sets the satchel on the roof of the Cad and goes back to the trunk. He lets out a war whoop. Found my money sack. The guy with the pistol takes a look back to see what all the commotion is about and I reach under the seat and feel the cold plastic. Guy I bought the piece from said you couldn’t knock anybody out by hitting him over the head with a plastic gun. I showed him I didn’t need it for hitting—I broke his jaw with a straight right hand, because he was an asshole.

(To be continued)

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(Published in 1999)

“The fire’s going, folks,” Roy says, leaning against the doorjamb and smiling peacefully at the both of us.

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

“Ginny?  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.  Boy look at it come down out there…. ”

“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.

“A Coke for me, if there’s one available,” Roy says.

Ginny gets up and walks to the kitchen.

“Roy,” I say, “we got to get the fuck out of here as soon as we finish these drinks. The guy that owns this place got busted. The local cops got to be onto it all by now. Do you feel like someone’s watching us?  I’m sure they’re watching the house. Maybe this storm’ll keep’em away… do 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.  After that we’ll just have to see what it’s like.  Sometimes it’s 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 get us at least back to lovely Evergreen Point.”

“Fuck that. I got to get back to my car in Superior.”

“We will then, he says, squinting.  “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 we all go in by the hissing, popping fire. There’s a couple big leather chairs, two couches and an antique looking rocker that I bet Ginny picked out from a catalog.  We sit down and stare at the blaze.

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 staring at the fire and acting helpless. I start thinking it could be like the old days again, this time without Stuart. It’s that thought that leads me into having another brandy, and before you know it, I’m feeling all that pain again, when I thought it was gone.

Roy pulls a joint out of his pocket and holds it up between two fingers.  “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, I’m thinking.  The snow flies by in sheets. Sweet Virginia, how I could 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 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. 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.”  Tears float at the edges of her sweet eyes.  “You know I remember how it was before—before what happened… before you….”

Then her face glazes over and I know I’ve lost her yet again.  “But you and I both know that we can never be like that again.”  She goes on with the stabbing: “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. What the fuck is the hold he’s got on you?”

“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.”

“It’ll 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, ask him if he can go warm the car while I say my final goodbyes. He looks at me knowingly, grabs his jacket and leaves, politely saying Thank you and Nice meeting you.

Ginny brings me down a set of stairs to the unfinished basement, 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; I could recycle it later, for luggage replacement, I say.  She doesn’t smile. From a workbench drawer, she brings out a packet of casino receipts and a wallet full of IDs.  She hands them over.

Just 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 that 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’s any stashes left around that 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, ’cause she knows it wouldn’t do me any good.

That’s why I’m going to leave clean. Say, goodbye Ginny, and walk right up the basement stairs. Grab my jacket and bang—I’m out the door.  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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(Published in 1999)

You couldn’t miss it, really. Not very far down County #13, right close to the road and 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. The oldies station plays “The Name Game.”

     Ginny, Ginny, bo Pinny banana pana fo Finny, fee fi mo Minny…  Ginny. 

And the 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.

She doesn’t look happy to see me. 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, that I should leave Roy in the car, but I say to hell with that and invite him inside instead.  Fuck the Moser’s. If they’d been answering their telephone instead of using that fucking 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, 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 door open before I even touch the fancy brass knocker. She gives me a hug that smells of brandy and nerves.

“Jesus Donny, honey. Am I glad you finally got here. Everything is falling apart, Donny, they got Stu….  They—”

“Settle down Virginia,” I say to her in that deep baritone that used to calm her down. This time it’s not working on either of us. “You can tell me inside.  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,” Roy says. “I 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 there 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.”

We go up a small set of carpeted steps into a huge living room with picture windows on two sides and dark, natural woodwork everywhere. I stand there gaping: A thick, dark-stained, wood staircase leads upstairs.  It’s an open ceiling plan, and the second floor has a railed catwalk that offers a view of the giant stone fireplace. There is a big skylight in the high ceiling. All I can see 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. We sit down in 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, so I push her away.  Salty kisses again, mama.

She starts sobbing. “They got Stu, Donny.  The cops got Stu in jail, in Nebraska.  They 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 here, hang on. What was he doing in Nebraska? Why did the stupid cocksucker have to be speeding?” My gut is on fire.

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

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

“He wants me to go down 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’re going to pop you, too.”

“I talked to a lawyer back in Indianapolis who Stu told me to call.  He said that 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. I got the name of a shyster in Omaha, name of Burton, I can call if they lock me up.”

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

My fucking money isn’t here.

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

“Almost three hundred grand, 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… one of his lifelong goals.  But Jesus fucking Christ, Virginia, three hundred grand is not even close to what I got coming.  Are you sure this isn’t some sort of scam? You come playing 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 inside. She takes a strip of newspaper off the top shelf and brings it to me.


The shit really had hit the fan.

(To be continued)

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(Published in 1999)

About a mile or so up Number one, the snow is getting thick.  Already a few inches on the road and now it’s coming down so heavy and wet and windblown that it’s really hard to see. 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 Fitzgerald.”  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, about thirty yards of clearing on each side.  The country flattens out a little. 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 right in our goddamn lane and heading right for us.

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

A big, blue, Dodge Charger with a white racing strip down the middle comes blowing by. 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 in slow motion, turning circles.

I’m struck dumb.

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

Four young Indians 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, 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. Then out of the tan Chevy pops an angry, older Indian guy: heavyset, hair in a ponytail with a little gray on the sides. He starts coming toward us too. His wife is still inside the car and looking concerned.

The dude in the cavalry coat 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.

The older guy is stopping by me now, checking out these young hotshots. They’re coming at me with what seems like ill intent when Roy steps out from behind me and shows himself. They all stop dead.  I figure that seeing me with an Indian has thrown them off course, 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 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.

(To be continued)

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(Published in 1999)

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. The wind is blowing hard, coming in off the lake. I shiver and zip up my leather jacket. I wish 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.  I figure Roy can find the place for me 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 got out of sight of the motel before he floors the son of a bitch 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 for everyone.

I can feel my gut stirring. I’m queasy and that’s strange, because I got a rock solid gut.

Back out at the highway, the flakes are thicker and there are more of them. The stuff is blowing straight across the road in front of us. 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.

Roy says, “This will be sticking to the roads the farther we go from the lake. Up on top of the hill, I bet it’s already piling up. The lake being open and the wind whipping off it, keeps the air temperature above freezing down here. The snow stays watery.  Where is this place we have to go, anyway?” He pushes down the accelerator, and we rocket northward.

“It says here, 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, like they were your old pals or some shit?”

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

There is no map in the car.

“This ain’t no fucking hippie’s geodesic dome in the fucking forest primeval were looking for, Roy. We’re talking a $200,000 dollar home, here. Only a year old. The fuckers paid cash for it. Do you—”

“They did what?  Paid cash—two hundred grand?  Up here?  This is the forest primeval, man. I bet we could ask anyone for miles where that place is—and not only could they tell us exactly how to get there, but they would 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, just a little bit. But 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 saying Felonies R Us.  These people have either got boulders for balls or rocks for brains.”

“A little bit of both, I’m afraid, Roy. There’s no dope there.  Only money. I lied. The hash has already been sold and I’m just here to collect my share of the profits.  You’ll still get your two grand, so don’t worry. Now let’s find the fucking house, if it’s so fucking easy.”

Roy just shakes his head, sniffs a couple of times, and drives on.  After a few miles we come to a sign: Hovland—5.  Roy then tells me that a Hovland mailing address means nothing, just the closest 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—Indians are going there.

A couple miles later, there’s another sign. Minnesota Highway #1 is coming up in four miles.

(To be continued)

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(Published in 1999)

I wake up the next morning, face down in the pillow; a feeling in my chest like my daddy has just 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 that the Caddy is gone.  Suddenly, 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 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. 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 piece and jack one into the ready position.  I run over to the wall 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 couple seconds later, grinning through the door.  “I really needed some coffee. I got these 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.  Afterwards, I’m walking out of the can with a towel wrapped around me, and there’s Roy with my fucking gun in his fucking hand, and he’s pointing it right at me.

The 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.  I bet I could do better with this little number.”

“What the fuck are you doing with my fucking property in your hand, Roy?  You ought to know better that to pull shit like that. In the joint, a man could get a shank in the spine for something like that.”

“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 it down on the table and smiles, looking up at me like a contented crow.

“Son of a bitch….  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 after that the fucking stories about shape shifters 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 here?  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.”

When I pick up the gun, I feet better again.

“I’m going to roll a joint,” Roy says, 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 flipped out, didn’t I?  I’m getting too goddamn old for this fucking 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 like that, so I take eleven crisp Ben Franklins from my wallet with the intention of giving them all to Roy. I figured an extra C-note was a good way to apologize.

He wouldn’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 that I never met a man this honest. Except myself of course.
(To be continued)

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(Published in 1999)

After my heartbeat comes back down to tolerable, I notice on the beautifully glowing dashboard clock that it’s 3:45 a.m. 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 erstwhile guide and well-paid chauffeur, and much to my surprise, he answers by pointing to the glowing light of a small motel right up ahead. He, however, recommends some cabins a little ways further 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; 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, motel, OFFICE glowing above the door in orange neon.

I get out of the car by the office and stretch. A small paper sign on a bulletin board informs us that we are to choose a room from the available keys on the board 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.

We take cabin number four, the farthest from the office.

Roy parks behind a barren hedge at the back of the unit. I grab the rest of the beer from the trunk. 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, Coppertone 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 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 in the morning. 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 the rest 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 shape shifter, he says. Others said he was just shiftless. In that paternal respect, Roy and I share an unspoken bond.

The shape shifter 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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(Published in 1999)

So I wait about five minutes, and all I get for entertainment is this young college guy across the street standing in the doorway of the flophouse Lexington Hotel, dry-humping and tongue-kissing this old hag of a bar fly.  I’m getting ready to yell at those fuckers and condemn their public indecency when I hear an engine start up behind me.

Roy is backing out of a parking space.  He has his arm out the window waving me on. I run up to the black Cadillac Eldorado and jump in the 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.

“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 fucks from Chicago up that way, staying at the condos.  This car will fit right in, like I said, no problem. The 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 work on this thing.”

“Cockpit City. I really need a drink.”

He drives me back to the rooming house, so I can 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 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 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 there’s any kids reading this, I’ll tell you right now: Stay away from drugs. ‘Nuff said.

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.

(To be continued)

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