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Ebook and paperback now available at all online bookstores for $2.99/$15.95!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck.

(To be continued)

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Ebook and paperback now available at all online bookstores for $2.99/$15.95!

 

Lowering his hands to his sides, he yelled, “Goddamnit”, across the water, and as the sound died away in the breeze, he got a little nervous. Anticipating a lightning strike or the scolding of a heavenly voice, religious conditioning was wrinkling his mind like a cold wind.

He was still waiting for relief when a flash of light caught his eye. Then the rumble of an engine on the road coming in caught his ears. Frank knew right away what was going down, he was tuned in. Getting the cosmic wake-up call, it seemed, he went to the station wagon, pulled open the tailgate and grabbed the tire iron and the length of tire chain he kept back there wrapped in rags to keep from rattling. You tended bar in a dive you needed weapons in your car because you never knew when some squid you eighty-sixed was outside waiting for you in the dark and harboring ill intent.

Someone like Ray-Ray.

Fuck.

Frank stood there waiting, anticipating; tire chain in his left hand tire iron in his right, the Stones blowing hard and heavy out the window of the station wagon.

You can’t always get what you want…

Squinting into the searing headlight beams of a big white pickup truck rumbling out of the blackness, Frank was thinking, But sometimes, man, you get what you need. Peace and love had turned to violence and hatred—and it felt pretty damn good.

Time to exorcise some demons.

Truck coming at him was a beast with two dark spotlights mounted on a bar across the roof, a grill of steel bars on the front bumper and red-hued exhaust trailing behind it like a vapor trail. Frank watched the big truck swing across the road and stop, effectively blocking any avenue of escape.

And that was just fine with Frank. His internal force was all the way live now and ready to get it on.

With his senses peaking, Frank locked onto the car radio and the Eagles wailing “One of These Nights.” He felt a smile coming on as the wack hit him full frontal. Christ, he wanted to hit the high notes with Henley and Frey, but he never could sing and this wasn’t the time for it.

(To be continued)

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Ebook and paperback now available at all online bookstores for $2.99/$15.95!

On Garfield Avenue heading toward the docks, not knowing how he got here, Frank was cruising past Goldfine’s By the Bridge, a discount appliance and furniture store, feeling like something was pushing him along. He angled off Garfield onto Port Terminal Road, wound the Pontiac underneath the Interstate Bridge and looped around past the terminal building. He parked near the water and left the engine running, the radio on, the window down and the headlights off. He got out and went to the spot. Stood right on it. He could still see it there in his mind, the police outline. Shit, see him there, fucking Ray, Frank’s goddamn little brother, the kid’s bloody, swollen face with no peace showing on it. May he rest in peace. That’s what they always say, isn’t it? Was Ray peaceful now? Christ, who knew? Could be more religious hypnosis, they’re always sending it out. What about the living? Don’t we get peace? Comfort in the Lord?

Frank couldn’t find it. Didn’t know where to look so he stared across the dark waters of St. Louis Bay toward the old Arrowhead Bridge way down there in the distance, the long arc of ancient wood and steel stretching across the sky from Minnesota to Wisconsin, a lone set of headlights moving slowly across it now on the way to Zenith, Bay City bars closed for the night.

Cops’ theory was that Ray jumped off the Arrowhead Bridge and the body floated down here, couple of miles or so to the east, took it a week or two to make the journey. So maybe the cops were right. But it didn’t seem like Ray’s style. Goddamn kid was resilient, always seemed to bounce back. He could take it as well as he dished it out. Ray had taken a few beatings in his time and the hell of it was he always came back stronger. Some bouncer knocked him around; Ray would lift weights for a while and come back at the guy. Usually got whipped again but had fucked up a couple over-sized creampuff bouncers in his day. And it seemed a long way for a body to float to get all the way down here to the port terminal but what did Frank know? He was just a goddamn bartender. Maybe it all just finally caught up to Ray. Frank had seen it before, some hard guy spends a few years on the booze and the pills and then one night decides to pick a fight with a green-behind-the-ears kid who proceeds to kick the shit out of him. Next time you see the guy he’s staring down at his shoes and acting apologetic and nervous. Got a permanent cowed look on his face like all the guys he fucked over in the past are trailing behind him in a pack shouting threats and obscenities.

So maybe that’s the way it was with Ray. Little brother was never a tough guy but he did have way more than the average load of bad karma. Ray ripped people off on deals, stole money off bar tops, kicked old drunks, borrowed money and never paid it back—Christ, he died owing Frank more money than Frank wanted to remember. And that was from way damn back, Ray having burned that bridge eons ago.

And that, in a nutshell, as they say, was why damn near everyone who knew Ray was less than saddened by his passing. But not mom or Frank’s sister, Anne. No, those two had, at some point, made a choice not to know how Ray lived. At least that’s how they always acted. And there were also some grieving aunts and uncles at the funeral who knew Ray when he was a kid and hadn’t seen him much since then.

And all of them were living in a fantasy world.

Ray was a shit.

So why the hell couldn’t Frank let it go? He was trying, man. Here he was, standing in the dampness on the edge of the bay and lifting his hands to the stars, waiting for the pain to go away, giving it a pathway. Frank repeating Let it go, let it go, to himself and waiting for the bad shit to magically fly out of his body and leave him happy ever after.

But no.

(To be continued)

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This way and that way—go this way and that.

That bit of an old German children’s song cycling in Frank Ford’s head seemed to be a comment on the flow of his thoughts. In the aftermath of his brother’s funeral, he was bouncing between sad, happy and relieved—and then back again. And to top it off, he had mud on his pants.

“Goddamnit,” he said, brushing impatiently at the dark clumps ringing the cuff of his only pair of dress pants. Most guys would have relegated these sharply creased grays to painter’s pants long ago, but not Frank Ford. To him these trou seemed more than suitable for his brother’s goddamn funeral.

Frank’s temper was not improving as the remaining splotches resisted his vigorous rubbing. Thinking about the funeral service wasn’t helping his head either.

Frank gave up his grooming efforts with a grunt, lifted his legs into the front seat of his rusty blue Pontiac station wagon and slammed the simulated wood-paneled door. He normally had Fridays off at the bar but today was the second time this month Betty called him in because Douglas “Sack” Sackberger pulled one of his infamous disappearing acts. If you could call holing up inside a bottle at his lowlife-welfare-cheater-girlfriend’s dump, disappearing. Frank wondered why Betty didn’t fire the sorry bastard. Maybe they were related, Sack and Betty. He’d heard that.

“Goddamn families,” Frank said as he turned the key, the angry profanity fading into the empty street like a warning. The starter responded with a tired whine.

It’s not like Ray was a brother anyone should mourn.

The whining and buzzing, ground to a halt.

Frank cranked down the window and yelled, “Fuck,” into the damp, gray air. Christ, the way it went down was so typical of Ray, his body lying there with ID in the pocket of his jeans so we could all know who it was. Know what happened to him, what somebody did to him. Make his big brother feel morally obligated to do “the right thing.” Whatever the hell that was.

Why couldn’t the dirt bag have just gone away?

You know how at funerals people always say they’re going to miss the dead person? This ceremony was no different. But Frank knew they were all liars. Except Mom, of course, she always loved Ray no matter what he pulled. “Ray-Ray’s had a hard time of it,” she’d say, explaining why she gave her younger son money or forgiveness. Money Frank always knew would be spent at a bar or a drug house— and forgiveness surely to be taken advantage of by the receiver. Mom babied Ray and took his side most of the time, which never failed to piss Frank off, but now it was left to him to comfort her.

Forgotten, that’s how he wanted to remember Ray. But the lasting image of his grief stricken mother bent over in the church pew and the rising bile in Frank’s craw, foretold a different future. He didn’t know how to answer when she asked why. Why Frankie? Why did little Ray-Ray have to die like this? 

Frank gazed out at the cloudy sky and the small, well-kept houses in the blue-collar neighborhood surrounding his mother’s apartment building and felt the sourness growing. Maybe he should tell her about that time last fall. The time he saved her little darling from an ass kicking. Tell her about driving downtown one night and seeing this gray-haired guy in a dark suit pounding his fists on some turd in a worn-out fatigue shirt. Tell her he got a look at the smaller guy and realized it was Ray. Then maybe he should tell her that his first thought was—Good, he’s probably getting what he deserves. But Ray was Frank’s little brother and Frank had to stand up for him for that goddamn reason and that reason alone, so Frank jerked the car to a halt right there on the main drag—double parking on goddamn Superior Street for Christ sake—honked the horn and waved to his wacko brother. And when the gray-haired guy glanced over, Ray took the opportunity to scramble away and jump in the front seat of Frank’s big station wagon. Then Mom’s sweet little boy Ray-Ray gave the natty dresser the finger and hocked a gob of spit at him as Frank drove off. When Frank asked him what it was all about, Ray said he was fucking the guy’s wife, which Frank thought was a crock because any woman married to the dapper dude was not going to play around with snotty, greasy, Ray Ford. More likely Ray was sniffing around the guy’s teenage daughter, trying to get her high or something.

Frank twisted the key in the ignition again and this time the Pontiac V-8 fired up, sending clouds of oily exhaust into the air. He pulled away from the curb and pointed the wagon in the direction of Jimmy Carl’s Gentlemen’s Club. Nikki was out there doing her waitress thing, the master’s degree candidate working in a strip club for her sociology thesis. Girl was the only joy Frank had left in life. Kept him from thinking about his ex-wife and her asshole new husband or the way the country was going lately, everything costing so much these days. Sweet little Nikki made him feel alive, feel something good inside again. Her company and a couple stiff bumps would get him through the afternoon, but tonight at the Metropole was another thing altogether.

(to be continued)

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Frank gave Autry what he hoped was a knowing smirk but feared looked more like an idiot’s grin. The two insects just stood there staring at him, looking confused, as he moved down the hill toward his car. Feeling bug eyes on his back, Frank stopped at the side of the station wagon, turned around and waved. “See you soon, boys,” he said, hoping it was loud enough to have an impact but not so loud as to make him seem nuts. But then again, maybe nuts was good.

Frank slid in behind the steering wheel and watched Loy and Autry get in the GTO and roll down the avenue, Frank in his mind writing Roach Motel in white paint on the faded trunk lid. Then he said the silent prayer for men with a failing battery and turned the key. This time it fired right up. A miracle. The prayer had worked. Had to be a bad battery cable or a crack in the distributor cap, thing always got tricky when it was damp outside, which was most of the time around here in April.

He began tuning the radio, looking for a station that didn’t play disco, settling on KQZS. He took a last look at the apartment building and could still see dim light behind the curtain of the top floor window.

Something up there was attracting the insects and the parasites. What or who the hell was it?

Judith Bruton?

Probably.

Had to be a scam going down.

Waiting there and trying to pull it together, on came the biggest psychedelic wave of the night and Frank was helpless. Letting it happen—no choice—he white-knuckled the steering wheel and watched the pavement undulate like a giant serpent.

Ride it out, man, ride it out.

His breath was coming in machine-gun bursts as that internal energy scratched its way toward the surface. His mind was weaving in and out of past fears and regrets. And then a strong desire for some kernel of wisdom and enlightenment lying just beyond his reach—something he could almost get to that kept spinning away at the last moment—hit him full on. This went on for some time—no clue how long—until finally he began to adjust and gain some measure of control. Pushing in the car lighter, he held it in waiting for the heat then pulled the joint from his jacket and put it to the glowing coil. After a big hit he slid the shifter arm into drive, Ray’s swollen, pulpy face back to front and center.

Ray-Ray dead on the ground… emergency people shooting out heavy vibes…

He rolled down the hill to Superior Street, lingering at the intersection to gaze up at the two canoe paddlers in beaver-fur hats on the Voyageur Motel sign. Their eyes seemed to follow him as he took a right on Superior Street and began driving slowly west through downtown, paranoid as all hell and wishing it wasn’t so bright. Last thing he needed was a cop taking an interest. But once he passed Mesaba Avenue and was cruising along below the big rock wall they call the Point of Rocks, the artificial light began to fade and the disguise of darkness returned.

At this time of night, in his condition, Frank knew he should go home. But the thought sent waves of claustrophobic anguish reverberating through him. His tiny one bedroom house in Central Hillside, resembling one of those syrup containers designed to look like a log cabin, could get lonely sometimes.

And filled with demons.

Hello walls.

 

(End of Chapter 2)

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Ebook now available at all online bookstores for $2.99; paperback available in mid-December for $15.95!

 

Then Frank felt that peculiar deep-seated energy pulsing and chugging higher, up to his knees and growing there, urging him on. Hatred and anger for the giant insects was fueling his fire. The image of Ray-Ray on the concrete—his swollen face like raw hamburger—was a garish neon sign flashing in his brain, insistent and burning. The ugly wounds and the blood and the gore seemed to be demanding revenge. And right over there, two of little brother’s known antagonists were strolling down the avenue like the world was all theirs.

Ray-Ray’s killers?

Remember what Oberst said?

Autry and Ray were arguing at the Paul Bunyan.

The insistent energy was all the way up to Frank’s gut now and making his heart race, the power flowing to his arms, his chest, his legs.

Just step out there and confront the two bugs, man. They’re coming to you.

The bugs were creeping toward Autry’s car; an old red GTO parked just a little ways down the avenue.

Time to rock ’n roll, Franko.

But wait. Let’s think about this.

Something was pulling on him, slowing him down. An anchor. Must be the weed, he thought. Shit makes you indecisive they say. But it was common knowledge that Autry often carried a gun. And the big cockroach could have a knife hidden somewhere under a flap of exoskeleton, more than likely did. Discretion was a big part of valor here.

And now take a look at that over there, a shadow, a dark spot, a vague image in the rear window of the top floor apartment. Someone looking down at the bugs, dim light from the interior outlining a female form.

Another insect?

The queen bee?

The mantis and the cockroach were nearly to the GTO now. Watching their unbalanced steps, the unsteady reeling, Frank stepped out from the darkness and crossed the avenue, trying to act like he was surprised to see them. He felt his chest puffing up. “Goddamn,” he said, hard staring at the bugs, “fancy meeting you two here. Some blind, brain-damaged girl giving out two-dollar blowjobs in the neighborhood or you guys find a cancer patient needed to sell his pain pills to buy food?”

Frank didn’t miss the apprehension. Doughboy Cockroach was looking for a cupboard to scurry under. But the mantis seemed to be growing taller, stretching, the wrinkled face glowing darkly and the eyes of stone lit with hatred.

“Well, well,” the mantis said. “If it ain’t Frankie fuckin’ Ford again. Ya lost, Frank, or you following us?”

“I wanted to follow dog shit I’d buy a dog, Artie, all due respect.”

The acid had Frank quivering inside. Gritting his teeth, he watched the mantis sneer, saw the wiry power there, watched the big thing straighten and lean its beak toward him. Frank smiled and pointed up at the dimly lit window. “You guys know who that is up there? Whoever it is, she’s watching us.”

The bugs turned to look and Frank edged back up the hill a bit, thinking caution was the right play. Then he saw the mantis go slack, watched him drop back to slouching, saw the face change.

“That’s just someone we met tonight likes to party,” the fat, pasty cockroach said.

And the mantis said, “How about you, Ford? Out searching for booze bottles in the garbage cans?”

“That’s it, Artie, you got me. But now if you’ll excuse me, I must take my leave. I need to find an exterminator.”

(To be continued)

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Frank glanced to his left as a car rumbled by shooting out cones of whiteness. He squinted down at the angry crowd changing postures and leaning ensemble toward the passing car. After the big Chevy passed by he made a fast left turn and hurried across Superior Street, quick stepping into the long narrow parking lot running between the Norshor Theater and the Hotel Zenith. Deep within the throes of LSD now he slinked past sleeping dinosaurs with names like Chevy, Dodge and Buick, then ducked into the darkness of the alley, thin blue beams streaming down from the back wall of the hotel to light his way. He picked up his pace along the cracked and broken asphalt but frequently became distracted by luminescent puddles swimming with strange wiggly things of unknown origin. An eternity later he reached the end of the alley and turned left at the avenue, heading uphill four blocks that seemed like four miles. By the time he got to Fourth Street the top of his head was lifting off and he was thinking he’d bitten off more than he could chew. But then something Waverly had said came back to him like wisdom from the ancients.

Get to flying too high, have yourself a couple tokes. Shit will pull you right down to earth.

Christ, did he even have any matches?

He dug with numb fingers through his pockets as he walked, finally feeling a flattened matchbook in his left-hand jacket pocket, second time through, Jimmy Carl’s Gentlemen’s Club on the sparkly green book, four bent matches inside. The matchbook sent Nikki’s pretty face into his head. Shit, he forgot to call her. Shaking his head, his mind spinning like a waterspout, he continued along.

A block and a half later he was standing in the alley across from the apartment building he’d seen Nurse Judy go into, amazed that some sort of homing instinct had brought him back to his Pontiac, the wagon looking dark and derelict over there in the spot where he’d left it. Pulling out the joint, Frank leaned against the side of a small house at the end of the alley and torched up.

First hit was like a blanket for his brain, warm and comforting. Second hit made him cough and he hacked there in the alley like a TB patient spewing lung tissue. Then everything began tapering off a bit, the brakes slowing the carousel, and shit was looking somewhat normal again. Strangely lit and fuzzy, but somewhat normal.

This acid hits you like swells on the ocean, pushing you and tossing you around and then smoothing out and turning calm and pleasurable.

Taking another hit of the weed he peered across the avenue at the apartment building and, Christ, he couldn’t believe it; goddamn Artie Autry and Doughboy Loy were strolling down the sidewalk over there. Frank stared at them and got tunnel vision, the wack coming back at him like a wave, a rush, a passing fancy in a wee-hours dream. Now the Doughboy was a giant cockroach—one of those fat greasy ones they call palmetto bugs in Florida—and Artie Autry was a goddamn praying mantis, leathery face pinched and evil, smoke coming out of his insect mouth like the insect brain was on fire. Smoke was billowing, floating, drifting. Frank could smell the tobacco stink. Doughboy Cockroach had it, too.

(To be continued)

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