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EXCERPT 11, FLY IN THE MILK

Johnny Beam looks back on the life that led him to this moment in Chapter 2 of Fly in the Milk, ebook available wherever ebooks are sold:

The rest of his Bay City memories consisted of dark mornings and cold nights spent with his mother in a small apartment in a brick building that smelled of cabbage and dust and pine-scented cleaner. One of his favorite things was dropping the table scraps down the second-floor incinerator chute after his mom had wrapped them in newspaper. He’d had a radio, a football and a basketball. He remembered bouncing the basketball behind the building on the cracked concrete in the cold, wet spring. No images of his father reached his consciousness.

Color entered his memories after he and his mama moved across the bridge into Minnesota. It had been summer and the little house with the small backyard had filled the two of them with joy and a feeling of freedom. Something new for his mama, this freedom thing. She instilled in him the need for it.

The circular dashboard clock on the Olds read a little before midnight. To kill some time, he decided to take a ride around the town and soak up some of the atmosphere. Lambert couldn’t think he was overanxious—you didn’t want that.

Bay City repelled and attracted him at the same time. It was a great place for chasing pussy and drinking on the cheap and that was about the extent of it. The trouble was that a black man was like a fly in a bottle of milk over here. It wasn’t hard for anyone to spot you, and when they did, they usually hated what they saw.

Not that Johnny never got around. He could handle himself and had the championship belt to prove it. Duking it out with some drunken fool wasn’t what worried him. It was the strange feeling he got in Bay City, a feeling of uneasiness coming from no identifiable source.

He toured the dark and decaying north end of town and took a little trip along the infamous John Avenue, aptly named, considering the number of brothels it had held over the years. He wondered if perhaps he’d somehow driven by his birth home without knowing it.

His mother had once been a whore.

The knowledge had hurt him at first. Burned him from the inside out like he’d swallowed hot charcoal. He’d only known her as a saint. She’d been a beautiful woman, that part was true. He’d seen the old photos. She’d carried herself tall and straight, and even when she’d gotten heavy in her later years she radiated a noble quality, like royalty.

Whatever she’d done in her past, Johnny didn’t hold a thing against her for it. And over time, he accepted it. He knew that folks sometimes had to do things to get by. Things that the straights and the self-righteous looked down upon. But Johnny had the utmost respect for his mother and everything she’d done for him. It hadn’t been easy for her around here; he knew that.  She’d heard the word “nigger” more times than she cared to, that was for sure.

One thing he deeply regretted was not being there the day she died. Poor woman dropped dead from a heart attack in church while he was living in Chicago. After coming back to Minnesota for the funeral, he’d wanted to stay. Didn’t need any more of Chi-town. One thing had led to another, and after some coaxing his wife Ruby said she’d give it a try, thinking anything would be an improvement over the old neighborhood and the way it was going downhill.

(To be continued)

T.K. O’Neill’s crime novel Fly in the Milk is available on ebook at online bookstores, including Barnes and Noble, ebookit, Google, iBookstore (Apple), Amazon, Sony Reader Store, Kobo (Borders) and Ingram Digital.

Fly in the Milk – $2.99 at https://amzn.to/2LbNJ8j

Dive Bartender: Sibling Rivalry – $2.99 ebook, $15.95 paperback at https://amzn.to/2Lp48GT

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 8

Jimmy was still in Tequila World. At least the parts of him that ached, throbbed or made him want to puke. His head was hazy but shit was coming back to him:

So he was sitting on that barstool last night rolling the ice cubes in his empty glass, waiting for another tequila sunrise from the bartender and wondering where he was going to sleep. Then the drink came and pretty soon he didn’t give a shit. Funny how the cactus juice makes your thinking change and it seems so natural, so right, at the time.

In the next scene he’s still at the bar, arguing with himself and looking at the remains of his money, a pathetic little pile in his hand. He’s wondering if he should get another drink or tip the bartender and crawl off somewhere to pass out. But before he can decide, Tequila World cues up a thrill ride in the form of a slightly drunk woman somewhere between thirty and forty Jimmy had an idea was a secretary from the Midwest, real estate or insurance. Soon she was on the barstool next to his, smiling at him and saying, “Can I buy you a drink?”

Well, Jimmy never had a problem with assertive women—even aggressive was all right if they were hot—and this one wasn’t half bad. And he did need a place to spend the night. So, as someone famous once said, exactly who, Jimmy couldn’t recall at the moment: “Buy your ticket, take the ride.”

Repeating that in his head he turned toward the lady and smiled as best he could, his face feeling rubbery. “You certainly may,” he said, looking in her eyes. Chick’s eyes were pale blue and glazed over, woman behind a wall of alcohol herself.

“You from Mexico, mister? I always wanted to meet a real Mexican.”

“I’m from anywhere you want me to be, darlin’. You can call me Julio.”

Then two more sunrises were sweating in front of him and she was smiling at him and everything was getting kind of warm and fuzzy. And maybe later there was a group sing-a-long with Jimmy leading the bar crowd through rousing renditions of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. And that’s pretty much all he could remember before waking up hung over in a hotel bed—six a.m. on the bedside clock—what’s-her-name (Linda?) passed out next to him, makeup smeared, matted hair sticking to the drool on the side of her mouth.

Horror show, dude.

Jimmy snuck out of the room without waking her and now was on the sidewalk, sun beating down on him, Jimmy thinking how nice it would be if things were different. If Sam Arndt hadn’t hired incompetents to mount the license plates on the van, Jimmy would be enjoying a spring vacation free of the millstone of his gambling debts, as was his initial intent. But instead of enjoyment, Jimmy’s mouth tasted like bird shit, he was battling heartburn, and trying to think away a headache. The reality of his situation was a gauntlet of fear and suffering where making it through to the other side guaranteed nothing.

Was a lot here he couldn’t control.

The money was gone for good. Same with the van.

These thoughts ignited little explosions in Jimmy’s gut, the acid riding up his esophagus to his pounding scull, the hot sun he’d longed for all winter now an instrument of torture. Dirty old sun.

Coming to a busy four-lane street Jimmy stopped and squinted in both directions, trying to recall the route he took last night. Tequila had gone down real easy and now he was paying the price. But not as dear a price as he’d pay if Sam caught up to him.

A voice in his head, this one coming from his good upbringing, was saying he should give Sam a call. There were no drugs found in the van so maybe the state of Texas would give the money back. Was it against the law to carry a million in cash in your vehicle? Jimmy didn’t know the answer to that but thought it must be illegal, the way they were making just about everything a crime these days. But as much as Jimmy wanted to believe in the possibility of a positive outcome, something rang hollow with the idea of the State of Texas returning money to suspected criminals. You didn’t hide your cash behind the wall paneling if you were legit. Didn’t take off running through the weeds if you worked for Goldman Sachs or Bain Capitol.

No, you didn’t.

Now a dissenting voice in Jimmy’s head, the most dominant voice in his recent history, was preaching avoidance, as usual. Telling him it was time to start fresh with a new identity. He was familiar with the process, having read his older brother’s copy of The Paper Trip (a guidebook to obtaining alternative identity) way back in 2012.

So he had the dueling voices thing going. Add to that he was a scruffy vagrant type on the tony beachfront boulevards of Corpus Christi, Texas, someone likely to draw the attention of the local bum dispersers. Made him wonder if strolling without a destination was a violation down here.

Shit, he just had to keep moving.

With sweat dripping into his eyes and the sour odor from his armpits mixing with the chick’s stale perfume to form a nauseating bouquet, Jimmy spied a bench on the boulevard and headed for it. There, in the shade of two large palms, he breathed deeply, trying to disperse the pounding in his head and the growing nausea and dizziness. Didn’t work. So he slid his cell phone out of his stained khakis—tar balls on the beach down here, you believe that?—and punched in Sam’s number. Jimmy hadn’t forgotten that Sam Arndt gave him a break, gave him a chance to work off his old gambling debts, and for that he believed he owed the man something. The least Jimmy could do was get Sam on the line and bitch about the license plates falling off, put the situation in its proper perspective.

Here was the refurbished and responsible Jimmy Ireno putting his best foot forward, getting in the habit, giving Sam a heads up. But a worm of memory was beginning to wiggle in his head, something about another dude, a more dangerous one, an Irishman, some kind of gangster. Jimmy recalled Sam pissing and moaning about a ruthless dude from St. Paul would slice off his nuts if anything happened to the cash.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 7

Sam Arndt’s gut was still churning when he got up to take a leak at four-thirty a.m. Stumbling back toward his king-size bed, he wondered what was causing this intestinal distress, but was too zonked to care. Save it until morning—the beauty of downers.

But the next morning, as any experienced tranq user knows, he would feel dumb and pissed off and just a tad slow. Then you drink the coffee and maybe your gut tightens up again and you have to go back for more Pepto. Then you read the paper and see where the Blues scored three times in forty-two seconds and you lost a shitload. But the thing really upsets you is that goddamn Jimmy Ireno hasn’t called from Texas like he was supposed to and now there’s a message on your phone from Bob Ryan, the “Associate” whose money you are responsible for: “Sam. What the fuck is going on? Answer your goddamn phone, goddamn it.”

So now Sam had a pressing need for more of those pills. And would have to call the fat chick in St. Paul gets them from some Mexican by the carload, see what she has in stock. And to make matters worse, he was getting hooked on the goddamn things. Sammy’s little helpers.

Help.

Sam was thinking he’d personally skewer Jimmy’s balls on a shish-ka-bob if the kid screwed this deal up. That is if he could keep his own gonads out of Bob Ryan’s Mulligan stew long enough to get his hands on the wop-cokehead-weasel-bastard-sonofabitch Ireno.

 

Dan Henning was feeling loose. Texas Highway Patrol could kiss his ass goodbye this time. See how often Theodor lunched with the governor after Henning was gone. Goddamn Cyn could be replaced too. Woman was turning their boy Danny into a sissy the way she smothered him. Always preaching the “Christian Way,” and that’s suppose to be good, but Danny was getting too—not sure what to call it—just something not right about him these days.

Henning was thinking maybe he should take Danny away for a while, put a little distance between the two of ’em and Cynthia. But man, sometimes it got hard to be around the boy. So maybe Danny was better off with his mother. She could teach him to live the nice clean life—no drinking, no swearing, no whoring.

Poor kid.

Henning swung the red Dodge Ram pickup onto his hardpan driveway and rolled through the trees surrounding the trailer. Coming into the yard he cut the wheel hard, hit the gas and sent the truck into a dust-throwing slide. He’d polished off the beaner’s shitty lime vodka on the way home and didn’t have to be back on the job for two days. Planned to request a personal leave of absence his first day back. Tell them it was a family-based decision, take that route: personal problems sir, that kind of thing, easy for everyone to relate to.

He got out of the truck. He stood and watched the sun peeking above the eastern hills. Soon it would be up bright and hot. Expecting some kind of scene from Cynthia, Henning lit a Marlboro to mask his booze breath and went inside to face her. But in the coolness of the trailer’s mint-green interior he sensed the emptiness. No Cyn to greet him. No smell of his breakfast cooking. No sound of his son playing. Just dust floating inside a sunbeam and the soft hum of the refrigerator. All the dishes were clean and put away. Nothing in the sink. Coffeemaker was empty.

Scratching his head, Henning looked out the window above the sink and saw nothing out there but dirt and trees. Now he had a hole in his gut and thoughts he couldn’t control were pushing in.

So where in hell were they? What was Cyn pulling this time? Goddamn woman was always messing with his plans. Someday maybe he’d show her the error of her ways.

Heart pounding faster in his chest, Henning turned away from the sink and went into the bedroom. Bed was made and Cyn’s dresser drawers were open. Wasn’t like her to leave them that way. He saw a piece of paper on top his blond dresser, small piece of notepaper held down by a can of Gillette shaving cream:

Dear Dan,

     Please don’t be alarmed. Danny is at Furillo’s Day Care. You can pick him up any time before six. I’m not sure how to tell you this, so I’ll just come out and say it.

     I’m going away for a while. Maybe forever. I just don’t know right now. Back when we were first married, I never could have imagined the loneliness and emptiness that I feel today. And everyday, truth be told. Something has been bothering me for quite some time now, and you don’t seem to know or even care. You have become a stranger to me. You come home from another world expecting me to be at your beck and call, and although I was raised to stand by my man, it seems to me it should go both ways. Instead, you seem to be standing farther away every day. My mind is so full of questions and confusion I don’t even know what it is I want anymore.

     Reading this, you’re probably fit to be tied, but please try to swallow your anger and understand my feelings. I’m not abandoning our son. I will call you tomorrow so we can talk. In the meantime, try and get to know your boy a little. It will do you both some good.

–Cynthia

“Jesus Christ, here we go,” Henning said out loud. He couldn’t say he’d seen this coming but Cynthia and her instability were always just a short and curly away from total lunacy. And now here it was.

Leaving him? Hell with that. He was leaving her. Just like her to bail at the same time he got rich, woman’s timing always piss-poor. Like the time he was facing suspension and she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and he had to beg Theodor into stalling the suspension long enough to keep the medical insurance viable. Yep, goddamn Cynthia was getting like an anchor he had to drag around, and who the hell needs that?

Henning returned to the kitchen and took the bottle of Johnnie Walker Red from the cupboard where Cynthia always stuck it, the woman not wanting it out in plain view in the light of day. Typical of the shit he had to put up with.

But hey, not anymore.

From now on it’d be JW blue label sitting out where everyone could see it. Nothing but the best, goddamnit. Little Danny would learn how real men carried themselves. Maybe they could take a trip down to Mexico, just the two of them, pick up an RV from one of the used-car bandits down there, travel around and let the kid see how real men live.

So there was a plan.

Let’s see what she has to say about that.

(To be continued)

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