• Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    by Craig Terlson

    A collection of short stories where the humour runs dark and the slipstream bubbles up.

     

    ...imagine if Raymond Carver called up George Saunders and Joe Lansdale, and they all went drinking with Neil Gaiman.

  • Correction Line
    Correction Line
    by Craig Terlson

    “… it's clear that Terlson is way ahead of the curve in terms of crafting an engaging premise that reaches for elevated territory and reinvents enduring archetypes of action and suspense.”  J. Schoenfelder


    "Sometimes brutal, often demanding and always complex, this novel will repay the reader who likes their assumptions challenged and is happy to walk away from a book with minor questions unanswered but the big ones definitely dealt with! It’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy Hammet and/or Philip K Dick and who like their fiction very noir indeed."   Kay Sexton

     

    "I love a novel that you can't put down, and this is one of them."  L. Cihlar

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Saturday
Aug292015

Sneak peek of next Luke Fischer book.

Those who read this blog (or twitter) know that I have been working on a follow up to Surf City Acid Drop (somewhat spoiler alert...

 

 

also featuring Luke Fischer.)

 

This novel begins in Upper Michigan, also known as the U.P. (Upper Penisula). I thought it might be fun to just give a taste of the opening. So here it is. The working title is: Manistique.

 


Manistique. Now there was a damn exotic sounding name. A town with a name like that should be hugging the coast of southern France, soaked in syurpy sun, string bikinis, guys in berets and striped shirts, Vespas on the street, street musicians in black chinos, and gulls just happy to be circling in the wine-soaked air above Manistique. 

Problem was, it was pissing rain, and I was in northern Michigan. 

A beat-up Ford half-ton sped by me, sending up a spray that my wipers couldn’t keep up with, and causing me to do a half fish-tail and almost roll my borrowed clunker into the weed clogged ditch. The half-ton sounded nothing at all like a Vespa.

I’d first heard the name of the place from a heavily sedated and recently gut shot man. I thought he’d made it up – figured the drugs in the IV drip had kicked in and sent him to some faraway land where the temperature was always perfect, and the woman always bought the first round.

“You just rest there, buddy. They said the bullet missed anything really important. You will be slurping that Pozole you love so much in no —“

“Manistique.”

“Yeah, you said that already.”

“Go there. She said she would…” he swallowed hard and mumbled something that I couldn’t make out.

“Franko. It doesn’t matter what she said.” I put my hand on his shoulder. The clear liquid dripped down the hose and into his veins. “She’s not going anywhere anymore.”

The machines beep beeped and nurses shuffled through the hallway. One walked in, checked Franko’s pulse, peeked at his dressing, gave me a “are you still here” look, and walked out. She looked about 40 going on 75, and not a nice 75 either. She traded off with the other one, a slim brunette with a razor crisp uniform and a shape that elicited a small smile from my wounded friend whenever she entered the room.

I shook my head out of the fog of that hospital room. The rain picked up. I flipped the switch on the defrost fan and tried to fight the real fog that grew on my windshield from the inside. The wipers did their best to fight the torrent outside. I’d already passed two roadside motels, just wanting to make it to the town with the weird French name. The pair of low slung buildings looked like they were run by close cousins of Norman Bates, or his mother, or both. Far off lights shimmered orange and yellow through, the rain, and the pair of cracks, one ran the height, the other the breadth of my windshield. The glow grew like a broken sun making me squint to find my side of the road. Dammit Franko, if you weren’t three inches from singing in the eternal chorus, I wouldn’t have ever said yes to this – especially since I didn’t understand what I was doing. Not that that had ever stopped me.

I pulled into the lot with the tall yard light that had been blotting out my vision. The motel had the same shape as the others, but I was struck by the purple curtains with the tiny white flowers. Maybe somebody actually took care of this place. Or the serial killer had a thing for floral patterns. Either way, I was done with the slick winding road. 

The owner was an older lady, five foot nothing and on the sloped side of sixty. She wore a dress not that different from the curtains. She took my fifty bucks cash for the room and let me know about the coffee and danishes she would put out in the morning.

“Any place around here I could get a beer.”

She wrinkled her nose.

“Everything’s going to be closed. I was off to bed myself when I saw your headlights.”

She gave me a hard once over. Maybe considering kicking me back on the rain soaked road, and keeping the money. I stopped trusting little old ladies when one lifted my wallet in PV right after I gave her directions to the market.

“So nothing then? Convenience store?”

“There’s a gas station about a mile up. Or…” she looked at the doorway behind her, “I’ve got a fifth of scotch that I’d be willing to share. For the right company.”

I grabbed the key off the counter and thanked her while I banged the door behind me. Little old ladies. Damn.

 

###

 

The coffee in the morning could have doubled as an engine cleaner, and the danishes were freshly made sometime this spring. I had fallen asleep watching a Yul Brynner western and sipping on a warm PBR that I forgot I had bought at the last gas up. I threw the danish out the window, trying not to break a window in the motel, and peeled out of the lot.  

Franko had got well enough to put a few more sentences together for me. He told me that he found out the woman he was looking for wasn’t from Santa Fe, or anywhere in the southwest. She came from a whole different part of the country.

“What does it matter where she’s from? We both saw her get shot – about thirty seconds before you took one, and I had to haul our asses out of there.”

Franko coughed and winced.

“He wanted more.”

“Who, the husband? More what?” 

I felt Franko’s forehead. It was heating up like a broken rad. I pushed the red button. A different nurse came this time, redhead, to match the button. She was no nonsense, but gave me a brief smile.

“I’m sorry, Mr.?”

“Fischer.”

“Mr. Fischer, you will have to leave now.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

Franko’s eyes went glassy.

She pushed the button herself this time, and waved me out of the room. Dammit anyway, Franko. If he died before I figured this whole deal out, I was going to be supremely pissed.

 

Tuesday
Aug252015

Surf City Acid Drop - Twenty-One

 

Next morning, Harold picked up the tab for the room, and I bought breakfast at the Donut Shack. We grabbed some of their rocket fuel coffee for the road, horrible stuff, but they must have had a scientist in the back room figuring out how much caffeine he could cram into a cup of coffee. Two hours later, the edge of Colorado Springs appeared in all its picture postcard beauty. No wonder so many rich people ended up living here, the city was a living breathing coffee table book. Huge white clouds hung over Pikes Peak, which jutted into the tidy-bowl blue sky. There was a sign for Garden of the Gods, well, yeah, no shit. 

“So I’m guessing you’re headed north. Greyhound?” Mostly asked.

“What are the chances I can hitch a ride from one of the locals?”

“Slim to none.”

“This home for you?”

“One of them. I got a little shack in the North End. I go there between jobs. I like to stare at the mountains and read mysteries.”

“Thought you loved the westerns? But I gotta say, Harold, I didn’t take you for a reader.”

“Well I’m fulla surprises, numb-nuts. I love anything where the guy don’t take shit from no one.”

“You should write a book, Harold.”

“I’ll leave that to queers like you.”

“Why do you keep thinking I swim that way?”

“You mean you don’t?”

“Straighter than that road we came up on.”

“No shit. Well, you sure could have fooled me.”

Harold turned the Ford into the bus depot. A line filed into a bus bound for Denver.

“Missoula. That’s what they said? Strothers and that woman you mentioned?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“One last thing.” I held the car door open. “Those real Lizard?”

“Rattlesnake.”

I closed the door on Mostly Harold, aka Snake Boots, and turned into the depot. I hoped I had enough scratch to get a bus north. I was seriously short on cash after paying to get out of PV and then Tijuana. I needed to find another source of income, otherwise I’d end up pulling a shift at the Piggly Wiggly just to score some ride money. I considered calling Benno down in PV. He obviously knew people in New Mex. – like the guy I gave the package to in Albuquerque. Maybe there was a piece of work I could do up here. I pondered this in front of the vending machine, trying to gauge if I could spare the extra change for a Snickers bar. For one thing, I knew Benno would be hard to reach. I had a number for his place, but he didn’t pick up much, I’d tried in the past. He didn’t owe me anything, he’d already been overly generous getting this far. Though, I had pulled his ass out of that scrape with the mid-westerners. And that wasn’t the first time I’d swung a pool cue for Benno. 

I always stayed on the edge of Benno’s activities. I never asked much, took a package here, dragged someone out of his place or gave them a rap when they got unruly. It didn’t matter to me which side of the law Benno was on, and I knew it wasn’t the strictly law abiding one, he’d helped me out of my share of scrapes. He was like my very own fedora wearing angel.

I decided the Snickers bar was worth it – the sugar rush would straighten out the maze of thinking, line it up and pop out a clear answer. At least that was the theory I laid out for myself.

It turned out that I didn’t need to torture myself with all the mental gymnastics. Walking out of the men’s can, brushing some unseen dirt off his lapels and straightening the brim of his pale yellow fedora, was my answer.

“What the fuck, Benno?”

“Good to see you too, Luke. Let’s get a drink.”

***

Over beers from a local brewery and shrimp chips, which were Benno’s choice, I told him what I'd been up to since I sprinted out of PV like I was competing in the hundred.

"Did the policia come and talk to you?" I asked.

"Yes."

“I guess it makes sense that Mexico’s finest would end up at your door. A lot of people have seen us together.”

“I have had many conversations with them.” Benno waved at the bartender for another round of hops and salt. “Some more pressured than others.”

“How did this one rate?”

“About medium. Someone was boosting their pay cheque to find out the whereabouts of a certain tall Americano with a love of Pacificos.”

“Why do they figure we are all Americanos? I hate that.”

“Probably as much as the Mexican people hate being lumped into one class when they travel north of the border.”

Benno fanned himself with his fedora. The place was a long walk from the depot, but Benno said it was the right place to talk. I didn’t know what he meant by that. It was a dark hole of a joint, light fought to break through the lone, dirty window above the thick door.

“Why are they so convinced I had something to do with Leon’s death?”

“It’s a good question. You could consider that many people have also seen you with him, giving him money, and on occasion you were annoyed with him.”

“Leon could be a pain in the ass. A lot of junkies are like that.”

“True.” 

Our beers arrived along with another wooden basket of the shrimp chips – the salty buggers made you want to eat a line of them, and then wash them down with a case a beer, followed by more of the same.

“Still,” Benno continued, “I believe they wanted to find you for other reasons besides the demise of our friend Leon.”

“How do you mean?”

“As I said, someone was slipping a little extra into their pay pouches, and they seemed to think you were the prize that would get them even more pesos.”

“Let’s back it up. You still haven’t told me how you ended up in that bus depot. There is no way you would know I’d be there. And who do you figure is bribing them? And them being the policia.”

“The man you gave my package to, Arkin – did you talk to him?”

“Hello, goodbye, here’s a present from Benno. He bought me a beer. Arkin?”

“He’s a good guy to have on your side.”

“What’s he have to do with anything? C’mon Benno, you haven’t given me shit. Why were you in the depot?”

“We shouldn’t stay here too long.”

“Yeah, I’ve got big plans. I might take in the local opera, after I shuffle aimlessly through the city park. What the fuck is going on, Benno?”

“I take it you got dropped off.”

“You know Mostly Harold?”

“Hmm, not by that name. But I know who you mean, and that the two of you might knock against each other. Luke, PV is really a small town, people talk about a lot of things. When they run out of local things to talk about, which is quite fast, conversations drift up to what has happened in other places.”

“Riddle me this, Batman."

"You said that he mentioned Missoula?"

"Yeah, he did. Cut to it, Benno.”

“We’ll have to continue this later.”

His eyes went to the door. I turned to see two sets of lizard, correction, one rattlesnake, one ostrich, stride in.

“Let’s go.” Harold waved his hand at us.

“Thought you were going to catch up on your reading – look at some mountains?”

“Up.”

Harold grabbed the back of my shirt and hoisted me up. He kicked the chair over.

“That’ll be enough of that shit.” The bartender, a guy damn near as thick as he was tall, reached below the bar.

“If that is anything other than a dishrag you were going for, I’d stop right about there.” Harold’s partner pointed a glock at the bartender’s chest.

I recognized him and his bird boots from the Esperanzo, when he and Harold did dance routines on my head.

“Thought you had some girlfriend troubles? Lloyd is it?” I asked.

Lloyd nodded at Harold, who responded with a cuff to my head.

“You too, fancy pants.”

Benno put his Fedora back on and reached inside his jacket.

“Uh-huh. Hands in front.”

“I need to settle gentlemen. Small business doesn’t thrive if they don’t get paid.”

“Fuck ‘em.”

The bartender worked a spot on the bar and mumbled something none of us could make out. They pushed us out into the street, Lloyd kept his aim on the bartender as he backed out. Harold shoved us into the back of the Ford. He gunned it and peeled down the street. 

We whipped through the city, Harold ducked down side streets, then a couple of alleys, and onto a busy downtown stretch. Lloyd flipped on the stereo and jammed in a tape. Strains of bossa nova bounced through the car as we wound through downtown.

“So what’s the deal, Harold? You dropped me off because you were wondering who I might run into? Strothers give you a call and disturb your quiet time with L’Amour?”

“Who’s that?” Lloyd asked. “Was she the redhead?”

Harold gave a grunt and swung off the main drag.

“You lost? Thought this was your stomping grounds?” I asked from the back.

“Shut-up wise ass.” 

Lloyd muttered something to Harold.

“I know where it is,” Harold barked back.

“You got a secret little clubhouse you’re taking us to – or is it a love nest?”

“Easy,” Benno said.

Lloyd took a swing at me across the seat. I pulled back and dodged the punch.

“Shit. Let’s pull over and just do it here. Leave these assholes on the sidewalk to bleed out.”

“We’re not doing it here,” Harold said.

“This is bullshit,” Lloyd said.

“What? You figure we just take them over by the laundromat and pop ‘em? No one’s going notice that. This ain’t Dodge City, or even New York. This is an actual law abiding town. My town.”

“I don’t give a fuck what they notice. Stupid-ass town full or pretentious rich dicks.”

“Hey lovers, tell you what, just drop us off and we can walk the rest of the way.”

Another swing from Lloyd, and this time I pulled back, waited until he was fully extended and then grabbed his wrist and wrenched it. He winced at the crack, his mouth made an oh, which is when I popped him hard in the face. Then another fast rap as I broke his nose.

“Shit.” 

Harold swerved. I was already half over the seat, three more rabbit punches at Lloyd’s head. He winked out, blood streaming from his nose. The Ford screeched, clipped the mirror of a parked sedan. Harold tried to hit me with his non-driving hand. I rode the seat like a boogie board hitting a crest. The glock poked out of the unconscious passenger’s coat, but I couldn’t reach it.

“Benno, a hand?”

“You seem to be doing fine.”

Harold had spun down a street that pulled him out of heavy traffic. He connected a punch on the side of my head that showed me an early Colorado night sky. I shook it off – damn impressed that he could keep the Ford on the road while sparring with me. Harold swung, a clip below my eye. I returned with a smack to his head that I know he felt. The Ford bounced off the curb, took another side mirror off, this time a sporty little Mazda.

“Benno?”

There was a soft click as my friend racked the slide on his .9mm. He pressed it just above Harold’s collar and into the dip of his thick neck.

“This could be messy,” Benno spoke like he was reciting a recipe.

“You put me down and there’s no telling where this Ford will end up.” Harold gunned it and ripped down the quiet suburban street.

“No, but we both know where you will end up.” Benno gave a nudge with the barrel. “Slow it down.”

The speedometer climbed over sixty. Harold had some cohones, I gave him that.

“Well, it’s your choice. Going to be hell cleaning that dashboard.”

Something in Benno’s voice sent a cold spike down my neck. Something that told me he’d been in this situation before, and that time he’d pulled the trigger. And he was about to pull it now.

Harold heard it, too. He lifted his foot and the Ford began to slow.

“Easy.”

He brought it down to a cruise and then a crawl.

“Over there, pull it up behind the van.”

Harold eased the Ford against the curb.

“Put it in park, keep it running, and get out.”

“What? Here? There’s nothing but suburban moms and their snotty kids.”

“Play nice. Get out,” Benno repeated.

Harold got out of the Ford just as his partner came back to the party.

“Ow, fuck. You broke my nose.”

Benno pivoted his aim onto the other guy.

“Let’s not make it worse. Go join your buddy.”

“Son-of-a-bitch, Harold.” He held his hand to his nose, the bleeding had just about stopped. “I told you we should have ended it.”

I scooched over the seat and took the wheel. Benno got out of the back and sat in the passenger side. I watched the pair of hoods grow small in the rear view. Lloyd was still complaining. Harold cuffed him one. They looked like a couple of overgrown kids waiting for the bus and arguing over whose mom was the toughest.

 

###

Next time in Surf City Acid Drop:

“Okay, Benno. Lay it out.”

“You don’t believe in good luck and coincidences my fine fishing friend?”

“Too many cities and way too many bus depots for you and I to end up in the same one.”

“The cosmic forces. They always bring certain energies together.” Benno smiled.

 

Sunday
Aug232015

Surf City Acid Drop - Twenty


 

Lizard Boots knew his way around the area. With all the turns down side roads, back roads, and almost no roads, I’d lost track of direction. Finally we popped out in front of the split road that I knew headed back to Santa Fe or into the mountains. He took the turn and pointed the Ford toward Angel Fire, a ski resort thirty miles west.

“Thought you were headed back to the city?” I asked.

“Had enough of those adobe huts for a while. Hippy jerkwads never heard of steel?”

“So you’re going to the resort? You don’t strike me as a skier.”

“How about I dump you on the side of the road and you can go play with the reindeer?”

“I think they are Elk.”

“Same difference. And it’s May, so there ain’t no snow dumb-ass. And just why the hell are you in my car anyway? I should have put one in you right after I dropped that other skinny prick.”

“I’m more charming. How’s the nut sac?”

“Yeah, that’s another thing you son-of-a—“

A herd of twenty or so Elk ran down the hill and charged across the road. Due to the snaky roads, we were only going about thirty miles an hour. We slowed to a stop and waited as the huge beasts crossed the highway.

“Look like reindeer to me.”

“You’re right, that one in front has a shiny nose,” I said.

“Huh?”

The herd passed and we picked up speed again. Lizard Boots pushed it around the corners. This time of year the roads were fairly bone-dry, still, it felt a bit treacherous taking the curves at that speed. I half-expected the Ford to swerve off the road and I’d end up with a pine tree in my ass. A few miles past Angel Fire the road started to straighten.

“So you want to drop me off in Montana?”

“Look. It’s a good thing that I finished my job back there. And that you weren’t the extra bit that I’d throw in for free. You caught me in a good mood – even if you did try to kick my balls in.”

“Try?”

“I’m going to see a guy about some work in Colorado Springs. That’s where me and you end our little friendship.”

“You going to tell me who hired you to follow Enricho. Was it the same one who told you to give me the wake-up call in the Esperanza? You and your other boot wearing friend?” 

“That was you? I thought you looked familiar. We were just told your room number and to throw a scare into you. What a shit-hole. Who’d stay in a place like that?”

“Told by who?”

Lizard Boots clammed up again. The vista opened around us, it looked like a whole different state after we had left the mountain roads. Another small herd of Elk were scattered across the plain. A mist had dropped down, sliding the landscape into a dreamy soft focus. I fought sleep, and did a couple of head bobs – reminding myself that if I nodded off, my driver might just push me out the door. And I was pretty sure he wouldn't slow the car to do it.

We drove into Cimmaron.

“Like the old movie,” I said.

“No, numb-nuts. That was in Okie. This is the old west one, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, they all were here.”

“You’re about the last guy I’d pick for a historian.”

“Nothing wrong with a good western. L’Amour is king.”

“He wrote about here? So it’s all fiction?”

“It’s not fict— shit’s sake. I'm tired of talking to you. I’m stopping to eat.”

Lizard Boots pulled into a road side diner that advertised Daily Eg specials and Reel Beef burgers. I wondered who was their head speller, and more importantly, how often had relatives of those Elk we passed made it into the grinder?

The coffee was strong, dark and probably only a couple of days old. It helped fight the serious case of exhaustion that had hit me. I was scared off the Reel Beef, and ordered a chicken salad sandwich. Lizard Boots got the Bear Breakfast — two slabs of bacon that might have come off a bear and three greasy eggs with a side of flapjacks.

“Breakfast for supper. Best damn thing. So why are you trying to find this guy anyway?” He asked between mouthfuls.

“Why should I tell you? You’re not so fast and easy with the information.”

Lizard Boots cut into the flapjacks. I watched him chew and think.

“You were right. The guy’s name is Strothers. Fancy fast pants Enricho and his buddy lifted some expensive jewels from him. Or some pricy thing.”

“Stones,” I said.

“Come again?”

“I think they were some sort of rare stone. You ask me, it’d be a hard thing to get rid of. But maybe worth a lot of money to the right person.”

“Who would want a bunch of rocks?” Lizard Boots crammed a piece of bacon in his mouth. “Makes more sense if they were jewels.”

“You didn’t even know what you were looking for? Strothers didn’t tell you?”

“Nah. Just told to track down these two guys. He gave me the low-down on Enricho. I got the idea Strothers even set up the gallery robberies. Something went sour, like it usually does.”

“There were more robberies than the Taos one?” I asked.

“That’s why I went to Santa Fe. Missed the skinny little shit there, but I knew where he was supposed to go next. Anyway, it was all to get to the other guy. Strothers didn’t call him that… what did you say his name was?”

“Jules.”

“You said they were stones.”

“No, the guy’s name is Jules. U-L-E-S. That’s who I’m looking for.”

“So Strothers hired you too? That seems a bit, y’know, unethical,” Lizard Boots said.

“It was his sister.”

“Strothers has a sister?”

“No, Jules does. The guys a bit of a wayward waif — she had him on a tight purse string, and it sounds like he wanted some distance. She got worried and wanted him brought in.”

“Doesn’t barely sound like the same guy. We were told that he was a wiley son-of-a-bitch, and to do whatever was necessary to get the stuff back. I guess that’s the rocks you keep mentioning.”

"How were you supposed to get the stuff back if you didn't know what the stuff was?"

Lizard Boots shrugged. 

"It would all work out. Usually does."

“So did necessary include shooting Jules?”

“Strothers didn’t care if I put him in the hospital, but I guess wasn’t supposed to kill him. Just get the stuff he stole.”

“And Enricho was expendable?”

Lizard Boots shrugged again.

"Whatever."

“You said we. Who was the we?” I pressed.

“My partner down in PV. After we banged your head around, Lloyd scooted out of town. Something about a girlfriend who he was either looking for or running from. I forget which.”

“You gonna tell me why you banged my head around?”

“Money was right.”

I considered this.

“What’s your name, anyway?” I asked.

“Mostly Harold.”

“Mostly?”

“I use it more than the other ones. Fischer your real name?”

“How’d you find that out?”

“Some of us are better detectives that others,” Harold said.

“Not a detective. Never claimed to be.”

“Now why would you say that? You ashamed of what you do?”

“It’s all too Sam Spade, stepping out of dark alleys under cover of night bullshit for me. I’m like you, if the money is right, I’ll find someone.”

“I’m thinking you work damn cheap. And looks to me you haven’t found shit.” Harold pointed a sticky fork at me.

“What name did Strothers give for the other guy?”

“He just said Ramirez. Figured that was all I needed.”

“That was the other other guy, Paulo Ramirez. I think he’s taken off for parts unknown.”

“You’re confusing the fuck out of me. No wonder you don’t think you’re a detective.”

“So you’re saying Strothers didn’t want you to follow Jules to Montana?”

Harold gave me a look.

“I said Montana?”

“Your balls must be connected to your brain stem.”

“Easy asshole.” Harold threatened me with his fork again.

“How’d Strothers find out that’s where he was headed? You said they found out he had a connection. Start with who’s the ‘they’.”

“I’m guessing the woman told him about Montana. She seemed to know a lot about the whole deal.”

“What woman?”

Harold sopped up the last of the eggs, shoved the last of the flapjacks in his maw and chewed on them for about a week. When he was done he drained the rest of the coffee and signalled for more.

“If you’re not going after him, what do you care what I know?” I asked.

Mostly Harold sighed, followed by a wet bear burp.

“I never knew her name. She was there when me and Lloyd got asked to do it. Decent looking, nice rack, set of legs that went all the way to Acapulco.”

“Pretty certain Strothers doesn't played that side.”

“Yeah, I figured as much. But they weren’t like that – it was all business, I could see that. She’d be a scary one in bed anyway.”

“You don’t like long legs?” I asked.

“Depends what they’re attached to. Hers were the ones that’d wrap around and squeeze you like a constrictor until your head popped off.”

“Nice image.”

“Trust me. I’ve known woman like this.” He downed the dregs of his coffee. “No taste in drinks either. Who puts that many limes in a drink?”

“Brunette?”

“Yeah, you know her?” Harold asked.

“She sounded like one I knew,” I said.

“Which side d’you play for?”

“Getting kinda personal Harold. And relax, you’re not my type.”

Harold gave me a look like he was picturing my body laid out neat at the bottom of the hill right next to Enricho.

“I gotta take a piss. Breakfast’s on you. Who the hell orders chicken salad... you think you're Jack Nicholson? I’ll meet you in the car, jackoff.”

 

### 

 

It was a good thing I didn’t have a mouthful of dry chicken salad when Mostly Harold dropped the bombshell on Cynth and Strothers. As we left Cimarron, and then drove the forty miles to the interstate, I rolled around this new info in my head. If Harold knew I was stewing he didn’t let on. 

The Ford rode the highway like the Queen Mary, but took more gas. We stopped in Raton to fill up. Harold pointed at a divey motel that sat across the road wedged in between a Dairy Queen and a liquor store.

“So here’s the thing twinkle-toes. I’m as beat as I get – and I don’t feel like driving the two more hours to the Springs. I could have you drive, but I don’t trust your ass. Especially if I nod off.”

“We gonna share a bed?”

“Only if you want it cut off in the night.”

“Kinda kinky Mostly Harold.”

“What? Why are you calling me that? And just, shit… get in the car and shut the fuck up. How about that?”

We slept in the dank room in our twin floral beds – or Harold slept, and I listened to his ceiling shaking snores for half the night. More than Harold’s caveman breathing, it was the spinning of my brain that kept me up. 

In one way, it didn’t make any sense that Cynth worked with Strothers. But it wasn’t so unlikely they knew each other. PV wasn’t that big, and a lot of ex-pats seemed to find each other. Maybe that is how Jules knew about the existence of the rocks, through his sister. But why didn’t she tell me about Strothers, especially if she was in on hiring Harold and his partner to go find her brother? She had mentioned hiring others. My washing machine brain couldn't put it together – still, something smelled higher than a fish taco left too long on the counter.

And, damn, Leon. How did he fit into any of this? The question was not if I was getting screwed, it was more like how long had it been happening? I finally nodded off to the gentle sound of the freight train in the bed across from me.

***

Next time in Surf City Acid Drop:

Next morning, Mostly Harold picked up the tab for the room, and I bought breakfast at the Donut Shack. We grabbed some of their rocket fuel coffee for the road, it was horrible stuff, but they must have had a scientist in the back room figuring out how much caffeine he could cram into a cup of coffee. Two hours later, the edge of Colorado Springs appeared in all its picture postcard beauty. 

Thursday
Aug202015

Research Part 2 - Another Craig, the Marines, Skinning Moose, and Eating Grasshoppers.

To cut to it, I met an older guy in a bar and we talked about Marines, streets of Detroit, and eating grasshoppers in Cambodia. Just another Thursday night.

I'd decided to find one last bar to sit and observe in - well, have a beer and eat wings really. So I went into a place called W___ Pub... who knows, I don't want to advertise here, besides there was stuff I am supposed to keep on the QT. And I don't mean that in a snide way.

So I'm sipping my local brew, in a place full of locals (always a bit of an odd feeling) - mostly 30somethings it seems, maybe a couple of seniors. The beer is damn fine, some sort of local spicy brew (I've been told there is coriander in it... go figure.) And in walks this guy, who saddles up to me, and the bartender asks is he wants a 7 and Water. It strikes me that this was my father's drink, though any rye would do. He is grizzled, missing a few front teeth, but looking sharp in his clothes and his dark blue baseball cap with stitching that reads Marines, and more that says "Recon" on the side. I figure the hat looks pretty new and this guy is pretty old (I find out later he is 69, though he could easily be ten years older than that.)

I didn't want to be the bothersome tourist (or worse yet, the writer tourist). So I gave him some space and drank my beer.

"You ever work for the Forestry Dept?"

That was his opener. Turns out I was a dead ringer for a friend who use to work in Forestry, and he hadn't seen him in years. I said nope, and then we drank some more. Eventually I asked him if he grew up in Manistique - partly to be friendly, but yeah, I came here to research and I wanted to know about the place. He'd been there since '72 - came from Dee-troit. His wife and kids, brought them along too. Pretty hairy times out there, he could tell me about (but I didn't think he was going to.) Kids moved on, one lives near by, one got killed (it happens, he told me), the wife had enough of him and let out a number of years back. He now owned the hotel up the street. I'd driven by, it was in pretty rough shape.

So I am sitting there taking this all in - realizing that I am being let into someone's life. I want to treat it with respect, my curiosity of course is on fire to learn more about him, and those hairy times - so it is a balancing act. He begins to tell me more stories. First about Manistique, and how it was booming when he got here in the 70's. Lots of jobs, fishery was happening, lumber - now all you could get was minimum wage, so half the town left.

He was a hunter and a fisher - deer, moose, salmon, and his favorite: perch. Some big mothers. He laughed and asked again if I was sure I didn't know him. I looked so familiar. (I think I have that sort of face.) I asked what kind of people were youpers (he was a self-professed one now that he left Dee-troit all those years ago.) 

Digression: I knew the term, travelling here before, the Upper Peninsula, the U.P., hence: youpies, or youpers.

He said they were just good people - 99.9 percent of them he trusted. Trusted them enough that if he handed over his gun to one of them right now (he made the motion), he would be okay with that. At that point, i realized my new friend was packing. And he told me this is a quiet town - not like Dee-troit.

I asked why there was a Sheriff, and State Police? And he corrected me, and local police too! Made it pretty quiet. What kind of crime is around here? Oh, just piddlly shit. Break and enter? Yeah, or ripping up someone's flower bed.

No organized crime then, I said.

Hah! No, I'd know about that. People would just start disappearing. Back in Dee-troit, hell they had that there. I got in some situations. Got shot a couple times, right in the wrist here. A helluva lot quieter here.

Somewhere in this conversation, he introduced himself as, Craig. I said, Craig. He thought I'd misheard and said again. I'd say, yeah, that's my name too. No shit, he said. I guess we won't forget each other's name then.

Also in the conversation, he had mentioned he was a Marine, and also did some time with the National Guard - he was a reservist in Manistique. And he had a great time with those guys. Sure, he had tasks, but when they weren't working... parteee! I admit, I grinned when he gave a broad toothless smile. And also want to say, the guy wasn't a drunk. He'd been nursing a tall 7 and water all through the conversation (while I'd finished my pint and was considering another.)

He had alluded to maybe being overseas, but he let it slip by real fast. I repeated, so you were a Marine from '65-'71? That was Vietnam. His eyes' lit up. Oh yeah, it was. So were you overseas? We landed in Vietnam, but no one knew we were there. We were observing the Ho Chi Ming trail - just observing. I was a radio man. Studying them, any structures, or movements, that sort of shit. But this is on the QT, no one knew we were there. No records of us being there.

Were you in a plane? A helicopter?

We came in on a helicopter, and repelled down ropes into the jungle. We were there for days, eating crickets and grasshoppers. You couldn't cook anything. Light a fire, no way. So still, I got no problems eating grasshoppers. With those guys in the National Guard, they'd find a grasshopper, and I'd say give it over. Pull off it's legs and pop it in - they all went, ewww, but no big deal for me.

At this point in the convo, well, let's just say I didn't have much to say.

We drifted away from the VietNam talk and he asked where I was from. I said Canada. Where? Winnipeg. No recollection in his eyes - out west somewhere then? He said he did a lot of hunting up in Canada. Moose. And then told me of shooting moose up by Sault St. Marie, and then bringing them back in his half-ton.

He went outside for a Marlboro, and I finished my beer and wings. He introduced me to the bartender as another Craig. I shook his hand and told him it was a real pleasure (it was). I went out into the dark Michigan night, and the other Craig finished his 7 and water, and most likely wandered down the street to his hotel. He said he had a bunch of real dummies staying there right now.

And that is some real research - or better, just talking and getting to know another human. Cheers, Craig.

Shown above: Manistique at sunset - lighthouse on Lake Michigan.

 

Thursday
Aug202015

So what does writer's research look like anyway?

On a road trip researching my next novel (a follow up to Surf City Acid Drop). Now, I am sure everyone does this differently, but I wanted to give a window into what my researching looks like. Mostly, I am just trying to get a feel, or vibe, from the area. I've been down here (Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the U.P.), but I wanted to refresh my memory.

There are scenes in this novel that take place in bars and diners (no surprise), so whenever I am in one of these, I bring along a small notebook, and scribble down somethings in between bites of sandwich, or sips of beer/coffee/soda.

Here are a few notes from yesterday's visit to Ben's - a small, but seemingly popular diner, where I doubt the decor has changed since they opened in the 50's. Though, as you will see they might have reupholstered a chair or two.

A long u-shaped counter that waitresses dip into, serving the cowboy and baseball hat wearing clientele. Big metal grill and dome, half-dome lamps dangle off the ceiling attached with cheap chains. The booths are standard diner issue, the Formica is freshly scrubbed, the booths have a newish coat of periwinkle blue paint. A row of hooks down a skinny hallway for the regulars to hang their coats.

A dozen chrome and black vinyl stools - looking quite new - wrap around the counter.

The place is not pretentious retro-chic - they are just keeping up the place, neat, tidy, cared for. The laminated menus have a third of the items stroked out in heavy marker (no longer available I guess) They blew the budget on the stools, no money left for new menus.

The word "Gourmet" next to burgers look out of place. A square Fanta machine with 4 different choices stands next to huge metal milk dispenser that wouldn't look out of place in a factory cafeteria. A TV hangs soundless over the grill showing games shows.

Mixed with the half-domes are a trio of chandeliers, 6 fat bulbs pretend to be candles, one of the three fixtures is burnt out.

A lone "45" record dangles on a string from a chandelier, and swings in the breeze when someone opens the door. The record is not a look they are going for - it's just the one record (maybe the cook's favorite?) Was it a look that they tried, and gave up on, just never taking the single down?

The atmosphere is friendly, a slower pace, most people know each other, the diner part of their daily routine. A candy machine contains a last layer of rainbow coloured disks - the last time someone bought candy, the 45 was probably still playable.

When I write this, I am never sure if I will use any of it - but I am looking for that interesting detail that brings something fresh. For me it was that lone record dangling from a string.

Off to walk along Lake Michigan... bringing my notebook.

Oh, and I did manage to sneak a shot of that record... for the record.