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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

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CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT FOUR

The wind was coming hard out of the southeast as I eased my Subaru Forester onto scenic Highway 61, a winding, predominantly two-lane strip of asphalt that traces the northern shore of Lake Superior all the way to Canada. It was the kind of day a travel magazine might claim we’re famous for around here. The lake was emerald green and churning with thin whitecaps. Seagulls circled in the air-conditioned winds that held the coastal area at a pleasant seventy-four degrees while the inland sweated in the nineties. The type of day that attracted the tourists, the throngs who’d changed the region from the remote and isolated area it once was to the RV and SUV magnet of the present. The old motor lodges and commercial fishing shacks were pretty much gone, replaced by rustic-look condo developments, trophy homes and upscale lodges.

Sky Blue Waters Lodge, where I was to meet Talbot and Sacowski for brunch, was part of the “New North Shore.” Freshly milled log structure, flowery name and all. But I didn’t care. It’s not as if it was ever going to become like Florida up here, every inch of coastline filled with development. No, it was still winter half the year this far north and that simple fact was a time-proven natural ceiling on high-end growth. Or so it had always been.

Traffic was heavy through Two Harbors even at ten-thirty in the morning. Farther north, up past Crow Creek, a paved bike path meandered along parallel to the highway. Thing had fancy wrought-iron bridges that seemed to have yuppie bait written all over them. I was exceeding the speed limit because I didn’t want to be late for my first client, especially one who seemed to be generous with the filthy lucre. A private eye has to be punctual unless danger has somehow detained him. The only danger I sensed at this point was the pop-up camper directly in front of me dancing on the back-end of a Chevy pickup like a johnboat in a hurricane. The shock absorbers on the trailer were obviously shot, and the ones on the truck not much better. It brought to mind a past incident on this same highway. A horrific incident that occurred when just such a trailer broke loose from its moorings on one of the very same curves we were approaching. The wayward trailer then flew across into oncoming traffic, severing the heads of a young couple on a motorcycle.

Death by trailer was not the way I wanted to go out. Especially not when my fortunes seemed to be on the upswing. But I knew the Forester was a real safe vehicle because the ads on TV had told me so. Also a symbol of earth-friendly progressive thought and an adventurous spirit. Fortunately, I saw the Sky Blue Waters Lodge sign coming up on the right. I took a deep breath and flipped on the blinker, found myself wondering what a wealthy paraplegic eats for brunch. Told myself it was a stupid question and not worthy of one such as I. But that’s the way it is for me, the thoughts just come flying through, quality control non-existent.

Shortly I found out that a paraplegic—Billy Talbot anyway—eats scrambled eggs and a pile of bacon for brunch. Just like nearly everybody else in the nearly full restaurant. Myself, I had the eggs, American fries and coffee. I don’t usually drink coffee these days; stuff gets me too edgy, but I wanted to at least create the illusion of alertness.

We had a pleasant meal and Talbot agreed to my terms and fees, all of which I’d obtained from The Private Eye Handbook, a handy tome purchased on the Internet.

And now I’m going to be perfectly honest. I need to tell you that my Drake Career Institute Private Detective diploma was about as worthless as a paper shirt in a windstorm. As if you didn’t know. Maybe it could have been helpful if I had actually studied; but in fact, I had cribbed the answers to the final exam off the Internet. You can find anything on the Internet these days.

(To be continued)

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EXCERPT 4, FLY IN THE MILK

Ever read a boxing scene so vivid that you can smell the sweat, see the desperation, feel the tension? Round one through eight from Fly in the Milk, ebook available wherever ebooks are sold:

February 1960, National Guard Armory, Zenith, Minnesota

Smoke hung thick in the air, stagnant and stinking in the yellow glare of the ring lights. The buzzing of the crowd matched the buzzing between Johnny Beam’s ears as he sank down onto the wooden stool and struggled to clear his head. His opponent had given him all he could handle for seven long rounds but the son of a bitch had paid a price.

The corner man squeezed a sponge and Johnny basked in sweet relief as the cool liquid slid through the tight curls of his black hair and down his bruised, swollen face. All around him, the crowd rumbled. He straightened himself and leaned back against the turnbuckle, stretched his throbbing arms along the ropes and squinted across the blue haze at the cut man working furiously on Al Sparks’ right eye.

The bastard looks like he’s beaten, Johnny thought. Look at him over there, blood dripping down on the canvas. But then, Christ, look at me… the only black men in the goddamn building and we’re both bleeding from the head. But that’s what the paying public wants to see, and you gotta do what you gotta do….

His body was heavy; blood in his mouth made him sick. Legs felt like liquid lead, worse than back in high school football when the rain had turned the pads to concrete. He didn’t feel much like getting off the stool again to face the left-handed Canuck and his goddamn right-hand leads. But the road to the big time went through Sparks, and the big time was where Johnny Beam wanted to go.

He was the light-heavyweight champion of Minnesota—had been for two years. He was proud of it, but it really wasn’t much of a title, and he knew it. Only way to a shot at some real money was by beating better talent. At least better than the punching bags he’d faced so far in his career.

He drank from a glass bottle covered with tape and swished the water around, spit bloody goo into the tin bucket between his legs and ran his tongue over the sore spots in his mouth while old Ernie Callahan applied Vaseline to his eyebrows and dabbed more styptic on the ever widening cut above his left eye.

The ringside bell clanged sharp and shrill.

Trying to focus his thoughts, Johnny stretched his lips around the mouth guard and stood up to answer the call.

Flashbulbs popped. The crowd howled.

Their roar is my engine, Johnny thought; I’ll make sure there’s more of Sparks’ blood to see than mine. If you got two Negroes in the ring, one of them should hit the canvas. That’s just the way it is…

The two well-muscled fighters came together in the center of the ring. A drunk yelled, “Kill the goddamn Canucky, Johnny,” and a cheer went up.

Sparks was desperate and went on the attack. He faked a right-hand jab and then launched a southpaw haymaker. Beam anticipated well, ducked under the punch, slid to his right, drove upward with his legs and unleashed a vicious right cross to Sparks’ cheekbone, eliciting an audible smack–leather against flesh.

The crowd exploded. Sparks stumbled, crashed into the ropes and grasped clumsily, gloved paws flailing for balance.

The cheers filled Johnny with energy. Just like the old days after busting off a long run or making a crunching tackle across the middle. He moved in for the kill, saw the blood and the look in Sparks’ eyes: dazed, struggling, fearful.

Beam’s jabs shot through and found their mark. Sparks retreated into the corner, struggling for breath and covering up, the cut spreading dark fluid down the side of his angular jaw.

His eyes are pleading with me, Johnny thought. Please don’t take me out. Not in front of all these goodamn white boys… let me stay on my feet like a man.

Johnny hesitated for a second then snapped off another jab, followed by a short, hard right to the mouth that rocked Sparks’ head and sent blood bursting into the smoky air, mixing with sweat in an artful pink mist that put a fever in the fans.

Beam stepped back and searched the Canadian’s eyes. Sparks’ right hand snapped out of its defensive position like a striking cobra, thumping Beam’s cheekbone. Seemingly revived, Sparks came on with purpose in his step and an all-or-nothing look on his bloody, battered face. He jabbed with the right hand, stinging Beam’s widening cut.

Johnny held his ground and they stood toe to toe. An explosion of punches fueled by desperation and anger juiced the screaming throng. Combination for combination, headshot for headshot and body blow for body blow. The crowd rose from the seats, howled for a knockout. The huge armory echoed as the referee stood with his hands on his hips, staring at Sparks.

Beam was tiring but his opponent was further gone.

Like he was lifting a boat anchor out of the mud, Sparks prepped for one more looping left hand, desperately hoping for the knockout punch. Johnny saw it coming and knifed inside. The roundhouse left bounced harmlessly off the back of his head. He came out of the crouch and snapped his own left into Sparks’ chin. Sparks staggered against the ropes and Beam swept in, launching a flurry of punches that were brought to a premature end by the dull sound of the bell.

End of round eight.

(To be continued)

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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In late January of 1978, with football season over and hopeful Christmas tree lights throughout the vast northern winter darkness switched off in defeat, full-time cabdriver, sometime card shark Keith Waverly witnesses the violent abduction of a local street hustler. Later, when the man is found with his head ventilated by bullet holes, Waverly is dragged into a world of high-rolling gamblers, crooked politicians, violence and really bad weather, with only his wits and his new girlfriend to pull him out.

CHAPTER 8 Acid Reflux

Excerpt 3

     This time I moved directly to the foot of the stage. Men grabbed and shouted at Princess Mary but she stayed just beyond their reach—thrusting and tantalizing—occasionally coming close enough to touch and then darting backward. The room rose to a fever pitch. The band hit the crescendo then crashed to a halt. Mary bent over at the waist with her back to the audience and pulled down those crimson panties. Shivers shot up and down my spine. The mob roared approval. Something in my head broke.

I was squeezed in between two guys in suits when the next song started up. Mary looked down at me, her body naked, face like a mask. She saw me but I couldn’t read her. Was it love? Disgust? Pain? Embarrassment? Now I was just one of the pack. I wanted so badly to taste her. Then she was close to me, leaning over slightly, saying something I couldn’t quite hear through the noise. I grabbed her ankle and squeezed it—softly at first. It was so warm and smooth. I couldn’t make myself look up. I stared down at the stage and squeezed a little harder. She tried to pull away. “No, Keith, don’t. Please stop.” She barked it at me. “You don’t know what you’re doing. Let go.”

Then a fifty-pound bee stung my right ear and a horse kicked my left kidney. Next thing I knew I was saying hello to everybody’s shoes. I tried to scramble away on my knees and a boot popped out of nowhere and collided with my ribs. Then another stung my mouth. I kissed the ground. Star showers everywhere, man, funny electric shocks in my neck. Then two guys pulled me off the floor and shuffled me away. I was spitting blood, not fighting back.

They dragged me across the room. One bouncer slapped me across the back of the head. I struggled free and made a dash for the door. No bum’s rush for this kid. I burst out the door and hit the sidewalk running and headed for the darkness. Shouts and laughter were soon behind me. I turned into a dark alley, walked down half a block, stopped and listened. It was quiet. Streetlights reflected off the puddles of rainwater. I walked another little bit and listened some more.

Still quiet.

(To be continued)

Dead Low Winter available on ebook at all online bookstores.

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