Creation Myth

Peter Torbay

ELANDRE

2

ELANDRE PRODUCTIONS LLC USA • 2000

ELANDRE PRODUCTIONS, LTD. POB 854, APO AP 96555 Copyright © 1999 All rights reserved, including the right to reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Copyright in and to this work is held by the copyright proprietors. No part of this book may be reproduced or translated in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Designed by R. Marmaduke Set in Book Antiqua First Edition Published by Universal Publishers/uPUBLISH.com USA • 2 0 0 0 ISBN: 1-58112-752-9 www.upublish.com/books/torbay.htm

Creation Myth

Dedication

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The ancients asked these questions: Of the mystery of good and evil, the succession of life and death, the ways of things long forgotten. For they saw Life as a mere dust mote, in transit between the vast cosmos and the bitter earth below. So, to those caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, who look death in the face, smile, and leap.

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Prologue The Traveller sat up suddenly in the darkness. Something was wrong, some sound out of place. Wait. No, it was the absence of sound, the absence of some certain sound, something. Sure, there was that soapy-splash of the rivulet waterfall tracing down beside his bivouac, gentle patter of an earlier rain still dripping from the branches above onto his taut tent fly, and the distant muffled roar of the alpine river breaking the felt blackness of night. I t w a s s o m e t h i n g e l s e . Maybe it’s the wind , he thought, the wind blowing high up on the mountain, endlessly rustling the alder break, yo u could just hear it ghosting through the s n o w f i e l d s i f y o u r e a l l y l i s t e n e d . That was it, the wind has stopped... He rolled out of his bag, pushing the bugscreen aside, and propped up on one knee. The rain clouds had passed on, clearing the air, and cold stars burned down like blue flames, whole rotating galaxies of stars. Nostrils flared, he breathed in the crisp spring air, his senses electric, thrilling to the mountain’s inky dark, e t h e r e a l s i l e n c e . This is it, this is freedom! Now he had a secure lookout for a camp, a sweet waterfall for his drink, an old homesteader’s farm below to pilfer from. Maybe some sunny spring afternoon he’d catch a s t e e l h e a d d o w n o n t h e r i v e r , r e a l l y f e a s t . They’ll never find me here, never.
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The pale yellow glow in the sky behind the jagged mountain peaks told him it was nearly dawn. Still have time to sleep, he yawned, turning to lift the fly, ducking under. Then he heard it, a twig snapping. His head shot up and out, eyes wide open, just in time to be blinded by the hunter’s torch. “‘Son,” the glare reproached, “what’re you doing here on my land?” Holding a pump action rifle looped in the crook of his arm, a graybearded heavy-set man moved closer, standing next to the tent now, and for a moment played his flashlight inside. “Sir,” the traveller mumbled, standing frozen, “I’m looking out for myself, is all. Just camping out up here awhile...” Words failed him. He stood, shivering. The homesteader’s flashlight paused it’s sweep for a moment, “That’s a big duffel for a backpacker ‘be carrying,” then tipping his light toward the traveller’s food stash, “and looks like ‘twas you helping yourself to my root cellar, now wasn’t it?” Cold sweat dripped from his armpits, rolling ice water down his ribs, soaking his cotton longjohns. “Sir,” he stammered, “I was just passing through, sir, didn’t mean any harm,” then he bit his tongue. The homesteader lowered his Winchester, half-nodding, “‘Son, in ‘32 so many folks came through here, there wasn’t anything left to eat for any of us,” adding with a soft chuckle, “Maybe that’s why they call this here Lookout
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Mountain, see, ‘Look out for Flatlanders!’ Haha-ha-ha!” Still chuckling, the old man swung ‘round the way he’d come, playing the flashlight away from the traveller’s face, “You’re welcome to what you found, if you’ll help me with a chore or two down the place.” He felt the throbbing pressure in his head explode with relief, then the old man swung back again, “but after...after you’d better move on, you hear?” He silently assented with a quick nod, not even looking up. “Good,” the man ended, “we’re agreed. Break your camp, I’ll find you a place in the barn.” He rolled his gear up as quickly as he could m a n a g e , s t i l l s h a k i n g f r o m t h e c l o s e c a l l . What if he’d seen the stash! Teeth grinding, he checked the clasp on the duffel bag, his tortured mind t r i p p i n g , Strange, that much cash should feel so light! A just-dawning sun pierced the peach ‘n pearl clouds clinging low on the mountain face, the roosters down below crowing the fog up off the river bottom. The traveller shouldered up his rucksack and duffel, and clambered down the path toward the homestead below. Emerging from the alder break, and skirting clumps of blackberry bramble that dogged his path, he saw for the first time in broad daylight the far edge of the farm he’d been stealthily poaching from. The old man met him again, his wiry bluetick hound replacing the .22, a pair of work gloves in his gnarled hands. “I’ll put you down in the hay
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barn,” he repeated tonelessly, “you’ll be warm and dry, and...,” he paused and glared, “the Missus won’t have to know where I found you, understand?!” The traveller riveted the old man’s gaze as he nodded, then nervously began to toe the loam with his boot, head down, his hair coruscated with dew and drizzle, feeling that shiver building in his gut again. The old man led him into the clapboard gable- end structure, and as he had promised, the air inside was temperate. Old horse-drawn implements stacked in one corner, a pile of cedar bolts crowding the door, and the rear of the barn piled with an end-of-winter jumble of dry pea straw and alfalfa hay. “Up there...,” the homesteader pointed, “there’s a window. Roof don’t leak much. You don’t smoke?!” He shook his head. “Good!” the old man sized him up. “Here, you’ll want these,” handing him the gloves, “get settled. I’ll bring you some hot coffee and a roll.” He stood in the pale straw sunlight shafting down through the dusty loft window, then moving the duffel to his left arm, climbed up the ladder. Above, he found some old trunks full of ‘50’s-style clothes, dishes in a small hand-made cupboard, some rusted barrel hoops, ropes, tack, and, after re-arranging, enough space to roll out his gear. The barn door swung open and the old man called him down. “Here’s your joe,” he said, handing him a steaming cup of black coffee and a fresh Danish,
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“the Missus made these.” Then the homesteader fell silent, tinkering at his work bench while the traveller gulped down the hot liquid and savored the warm honey-butter sweetness of the cinnamon roll. He’d worked him hard all that morning, the old farmer did, bucking hay bales, splitting up kindling, cleaning out the stalls, laying down new straw. Even replaced a termite-infested roof post in the barn. At midday, the old man’s wife, a handsome woman with curly chestnut hair traced in gray, brought a pitcher of cold goat milk, slices of farmer’s cheese, crusty bread sliced thick, and for each man, a large warm slice of cinnamon-apple pie. The man stood at his bench, the traveller grabbed a straw bale, and they ate in silence. “You can leave your things here, strike out for work hereabouts,” the man said, “take the afternoon, see what you can find over ‘t Rockton, across the river, they might be boltcutting the clearcut about now.” He stood up and brushed the dust from his jeans. “Much appreciate it,” holding out his hand. The old man looked away until he’d let his hand drop, then repeated, “Soon as you’ve finished with the chores...,” he paused, “you’d best be moving on.” The traveller threw on a jacket in case he was out past sundown, and to carry a few things in, pencil, paper and a penknife, his wallet in the inside pocket. Then he strolled on down the
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drive to the road, and stuck out his thumb at the end of the fencerow. A middle-aged woman picked him up, farmer’s wife, and she cut right to it. “You staying up at the Paul’s place?” throwing him a sideglance as they ran the road on downriver in her Plymouth. “Well, sort of, he’s got some chores for me until I can find work,” he bantered, looking over at her. But she didn’t speak again until they reached Rockton. “I’ll let you off at Myrna’s, that’s where I turn off,” she suggested, pulling into the little corner store overlooking the river bridge. “You might could ask if there’s any work ‘be had around here, and they’re still looking for tree planter’s down in Woolsey.” He rolled out the door and then leaned back in the open window with a smile, “Thanks.” She waved at her hair, then added, “I’d watch yourself, the County Sheriff was up here today,” her eyes piercing, then fluttering, wanting to know and not wanting to. Then the woman drove off. His knees wobbled a bit, standing there in plain view, the locals coming and going from in the store, looking him over. Waves of paranoia bit his neck, crosshairs settling on the b a s e o f h i s s k u l l . Sheriff’s back up here again!? The afternoon sun was too bright, like a searchlight. The traveller ended up in the Rockton Tavern, hiding out more than anything, sharing a pool game and a few beers with a local Native Indian.
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“My cousin rents out his land to them hippies,” the man had laughed, “maybe you can find a place over to Illabot, get you one of them skinny women and make babies.” He laughed again, a dark Indian smile. It was a good idea. Find the hippies’ place, hang out, build his own shelter, and lay low off the beaten path until May. He kept talking about women with the Native, and soon they were both laughing loud at each other’s stories, you know, the ones you can’t help laughing about? The Indian bought him beers as they played, maybe to flirt with the gals at the bar and punch up his own songs on the juke. Said he’d been a trucker, now he just worked on diesel engines. The traveller boasted of his stint in Viet Nam, work as a machinist, a season spent commercial fishing. “Hey, man, you ever been in the service?” he asked, but the Native just jigged around the pool table like a gandydancer, studying the shots. He figured him a local roustabout, shorthauler, a parts-change mechanic, probably bummed around here his whole life. Later, pool table forgotten and talk about run out, the Indian looked at the traveller, speaking with a half-drunk voice from a dead-sober face, “You pretty well got things figured out, don’t you, man?” And the traveller allowed as he did. Then sitting there at the bar, the Native reached down and began to wrinkle up his pants
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legs, rolling them to his knees to expose gray, ashen wooden pegs. “Got these at Koto-ri,” he intoned, “holding off the Reds in the pullback to Hungnam. You know? Korea?” In so doing, he pretty much ended their talkstory. “C’mon,” the Native offered, “Give you a ride up that way. Walk over Marblehill bridge, there’s a boarding house ‘can stay at. Get you over to Illabot.” Yeah, give me something to do until it’s dark. So he climbed into the older man’s pickup and they motored off on upriver, the narrow headlights dusting the fading gray day with gold. Then barely half-mile before the Paul place, he had a change of heart, suddenly skittish of his new-found friend. W hat if someone recognizes me upriver!? He told the Native he wanted off, walking up a sideroad until he was sure the man had driven on. By the time he reached the Paul’s again, the light of their kerosene lamps and the pale moon rising over the mountains were all he had to guide by. The bluetick found him in the dark, snuffling at his hand, then trotted back toward the house, satisfied. The traveller followed, using his ears and feet to stay on the path. The old man came to the screen door and stood inside, expectantly. The traveller’d been rehearsing a cover story, “Think I found work down in Wool’ey,” he boasted, imitating the local Tarheel slang, then lied, “Get me a job on
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green chain,” figuring that with the sawmill line, he’d throw off the old man’s distrust. Instead the homesteader laughed, “On green chain!? Ha-hee! Best you be bundling up shingles, boy, might get you a shawyer job, there, someone cuts off his thumb,” and still laughing, turned away from the door. “Green chain..., good night, boy. Ha-ha-ha-ha.” The traveller stumbled his way to the barn, ears burning from the lie apprehended, his path just a lighter shade of pale blue alongside the dark moonlit garden. In the stillness, the river hissed and roared, and staring down like a specter, the rugged glacier-capped peaks stood silent sentinel high above him. Should I hang out here? The Sheriff’s back again, maybe they know I’m still around!? Once in the barn, he lit the kerosene lamp and climbed slowly up into the dark loft. He folded his shirt for a pillow and slipped quickly into his down bag, exhausted, his mind scrabbling an agitation of unending streams of thoughts, words and images, of this day, and of others long past, there under the steady glow of that kerosene lamp. Much later he dozed, tossing and turning in the cold drafts, dreams of friends and lovers haunting his sleep. Then, in the stillness of predawn, an owl hooted deep in the woods, sitting him bolt upright. “Huh?...,” he started up, sensation returning to his cramped limbs, and memory. He sat there in the dark loft, sweat-soaked, shivering. Alone.
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But not yet awake. There’s a place in halfsleep, that drowsy stage of eye-lidded semiconsciousness, when our dream-state overlays our normal reality, as though life’s common bounds have been pushed back in space and time, and ecce, our spirit soars weightless through brilliant skies, high over the mundane terrain of the life granted unto us. For just a little while the traveller meditated that way, his eyes smiling at the edge of sleep, free of care, his body swaying left and right like some slender reed, until a scurrying creature scrabbled past his hand and he awoke fully, dream fading. The hours before dawn can sure be an evil time, when our illusions obscure reality, and fears replace bravery. Now, a hopeful man can wipe his callused hand across his face, brush back his hair, and slap his knees down hard to propel himself up into his day. Whatever comes. But driven from sleep with nothing to hope for, the traveller felt moved only by dark stifling panic as he dressed. Packing up his gear, he slid from the loft and stood, impaled by cold fear, his only thought, the only plan his m i n d c o u l d f o r g e , I’ll hide the stash under the hay until I can come back for it! Working in silence, with fear’s strength girding his arms, he carved a path between the stacked bales until he’d reached the back wall. Wedging the duffel deep between the rows, he
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p a u s e d . There! All the evidence is hidden here! Even if they stop me, they can’t hold me. Even so, deep nameless fear took hold of him again. Go on! Get the hell out of here!! He eased out into the night. Frigid cold still gripped the air. The bluetick stayed curled up on the porch, head raised in the moonlight. The traveller made off down the drive, shuffling in the dark, then he began to trot, frost gripping his cuffs, his sleeves, his collar, as he reached the potholed pavement. Can make Marblehill by dawn, spend a time with those hippies at Illabot, grab the stash, then catch a ride to Everett. Hop a freight over the Cascades, an’ I’m gone! In a few minutes he’d reached where the river runs in up close to the roadway, the immense glacial rush of it filling his ears. Suddenly, around the bend up ahead, a pair of headlights shot through the river bottom mist. Can’t let them see me! The traveller stumbled over the steel guardrail, feeling out for the shoulder, just heavy-sloped rip-rap protecting the bank. Clambering down, the headlights nearing, his rucksack snagged a tree branch tangled in the rocks, and he mis-stepped, slamming down hard. Numb and shaken, he wobbled back upright then, as the headlights blazed in the darkness, blinding him. He stepped backward, dazed, but felt only void. His hand reached for the branch, and missed. With a last groan, the

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traveller pitched back into the deep eddies and fierce current of the bone-cold black water. The passing car hummed on out of sight as velvet night closed back in on windless silence, only the swirling river, rushing toward the sea, some first glimmers of yellow dawn softly rippling its surface.

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One - The Pencil Box
It’s funny now, looking through my old stuff, the stories I used to read outloud to my grandfolks, the sketches I had started, never finishing, scribbled with a stylized “Nick Paul” I thought might make me famous some day. Oh well. So it’s not too often that I reach down to the older keepsake cards from the past, some family portraits in silvertint and pale sepia, hand-penned letters, diaries, and that found journal. Yeah, there it was, down at the bottom of the pencil box my grandfather made for me, one day long ago, out in the hay barn…. Me, watching him split shakes from clear cedar heartwood bolts, culled from stumps left behind by them loggers working high upslope. Him, seeing nothing but the endless rhythm and timeless beat of his work.... He smiled at me, his hands curled and barked like alder roots, gripping a splitting blade forged from a car’s leaf-spring in one, a burl maul in the other. Whoosh, thunk, ping, whoosh thunk, ping…, Grampa worked effortlessly, splitting thin flat slabs of cedar to roof the barn, a loose pile of the red shakes building in the straw at his feet. I had picked one up, smelling the acrid pungency of the freed-up cedar oil, admiring the clear golden-red of flawlessly straight grain, like a
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fine toothed chocolate comb dragged through coral sand. “J.D.,” I said (he liked “J.D.”, his given name was Jesse DeRostiss and most people found a joke in that), “can you make me a carrying case, something to hold all my school papers in?” Me standing there dumb and gawky, a lanky towhead kid in green corduroy, just a fog’s whisper compared to his ruddy rolling thunder. “‘Son, whatever you’d like, I’ll show you how to make it,” he’d smiled, already shifting the burden back, teaching me even then about selfreliance. He stopped, drew out his rolling papers and shag, and rolled himself a cigarette, the paper catching for a moment in a drop of scarlet blood welling from the cedar splinter that’d found a chink in his callus. I watched his match flare, paper curl and ash to a red glow. He drew in the smoke, pale blue tendrils rising. “OK then, I need a box to fit my pencils and brushes and the pad of art paper Ma got me from the five-and-dime, you know, about this big...,” and I’d stretched out my arms so wide that J.D. almost leaned backward off his stump bolt laughing. But he helped me, then and there, stopping his work and choosing the tools carefully, letting me pick the shakes for my box. Then he planed them smooth, even, matching the edges, mitering the ends, cutting finger-joints by hand with an old Finn back-saw, and kerfing a spline groove so the gaps wouldn’t show.
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He leaned back, then lit another smoke, and instructed me how to melt the horsehide glue in the little beatup aluminum pot Granma’d thrown out, the caramel way it dripped off the brush, its warm aroma mingling with the smell of straw and cedar shavings. “Go on, don’t be shy, work that glue down deep in the joints, we’ll wipe it off later,” he’d said, and I’d made a pretty good mess of the job, but the sides went together close-fit. Then he took his ancient kerosene blowtorch and heated the joints, wiping the excess with a rag, sealing the edges tight as a drum. “This ‘ere’s rift cedar,” J.D. explained as he rubbed, “was more’n a thousand years old when the first settlers started breaking the swamp down in the Delta. So big, they had to clamber over the spreading roots of each huge tree. Men would chop springboards eight feet above the ground just to saw one clear through.” “Why look’ee here,” he pulled out a carrotslice he’d trimmed off the bolt, squaring it up for splitting. “These tree rings are maybe twenty to the inch, maybe more, and the stump this bolt ‘s cut from was near to thirty-five foot around,” he laughed, letting it sink in. “You’ve got a very old pencil box there Nicky m’boy. Why, it’s Christ’ly old! You take care of it, hear?” After the glue had re-set, part of a broken leather harness became hinges and strap, held on with shiny brads J.D. used to repair the furniture up in the house. Then he took down turpentine and linseed oil he kept on the high
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shelf, and we rubbed the box hard, inside and out, until the cedar had turned honey-brown and glossy warm all over. He smiled as he handed it to me without another word, and yeah, it still looks the same today, maybe darker with age at the bottom, although, like I say, I rarely dig down to this old journal. Anyways, there it is, the edges of its leather cover turned powdery from mildew and earwigs, the papers faded brown on the edges and cracking, the pen faded to a gray wash, but still legible. The journal J.D. had given me when I went off to college nearly a decade ago, perhaps knowing it was the last time I’d see him before he’d died of the palsy’s, still working on down by the creek when he stood up, I guess, and whirled around sudden. Granma’d found him scarcely breathing, and they drove near halfway down-valley before J.D. came to, made her drive him back home to get reading his glasses and rolling papers. By the time I heard, he was stable, in treatment. Then, he was just gone. You can see his gravestone out on the edge of the orchard, right there, plain in the winter when the grass is beat down.... I held the journal in my hands, and cracked it open to smell the pulp, like a sigh of old newspapers found in the attic. Then I rubbed at the leather until the powdery mold burnished off enough to read the letters J.D. scrawled across the face. ‘Lookout’s Journal ’. Nothing else, just that.
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So this could be the journal of some freewheeling beatnik from the days of Kerouac and Bruce, spending his summer on fire-lookout, all bongo’s and Dada. Or even one of those weirdbeard hippies, from endtime, when Tarheel loggers had stopped beating them up in the bars, and had let them work at the odd jobs, fire spotting and choker setting, tree planting and shingle packing, bolt cutting and, sure to, gangha running. The first few pages are more like a diary than a lookout’s log, devoid of notes a fire spotter’d make, lazy pen sketches of pinecones and spruce boughs and chipmunks that you’d have expected. As though the writer just daydreamed. I’d only glanced at the pages further on, feeling like a foreign film go-er, or a spring peeper listening to bullfrogs over on the next pond. Maybe that was good, holding onto this journal all these years, ‘til I’d become more mature, and non-judgmental. The way life will either break you or make you. Maybe my cedar pencil box was meant to hold only this one journal, to convey this account of a life long past, long before cell-phones and Wal-Mart. Here, I’ll read it for you. You be the judge.

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Two - Truth Hits Everyone
“To the guy who follows me,” the lookout’s journal begins, “you’ll find the marmots and the mice have chewed up most everything, and the roof frame will probably be in bad shape from the snow. Try and make the best of it. You’re on your own now. You’ll discover important truths, and then forget them! Hope you enjoy your stay, the view from here is fantastic, (when it is). Well then, good luck and hale to you.” It’s signed Jay Gouden, and left as the journal for the next fire season, yet devoid of any radio logs and the lightning triangulations that you’d expect to find. The hard-scrabbled handwriting that follows after is different. That sure figures, but the story it tells isn’t one of snow-clad mountains and forest fires at all. “Journal Null Point Zero” starts off the first page in big block letters drawn with the side of a pencil, and then stenciled all around like a fine Western saddle. The cramped lettering begin to uncrab after that, as though his memories became an unstoppable torrent, high on that remote mountaintop. The passages become fluid, cursive, harder to decipher. I’ll just use ‘Look’ for his name, so that my own words don’t get in the way, same as those Look writes about called him. Here’s his story, from the beginning, as best as I can interpret from his journal.

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- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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Down in Springfield, after Viet Nam, when he’d gotten back Stateside riding the big C141 into Hickam, then on into the Bay Area and once again bound over as a civilian, Look was thrashing around, homeless. Sure, he’d run on down to Puerto Vallarta with a surfing buddy, living on the beaches, riding perfect glassy breaks off Punta Mita, drunk and disorderly in the cantinas. That’d been all right, just decompression. Later, they drifted to Reno, playing blackjack, craps table, roulette, winning enough cash for him to spend the winter over in Loveland, Colorado. There, glissading over the long snowfields, and down the ivory breasts of snow bunnies he’d met and bedded, Look made up for the lost years. He stayed a ski-bum, meandering Loveland back to Big Bear on the SouthWest circuit, working as a roustabout for cash. Then back down to Vallarta, and all over again. Seasons went by. Years. Now it was springtime and easy livin’, the Illinois maples and pin oaks all pale green leaves, the crab apple and redbud exploding with blooms. Down in Springfield, because he didn’t have the scratch to keep on for West Virginia, to keep on for home. Look was broke. It was a nice time of year to just walk around and not think about much. Not think about his Pap, who’d taken him out on his eighteenth birthday, down to the enlistment hall over in the
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old Sommerstowne armory, and told him, “You’re grow’d now boy, it’s time you be out on your own. Now hear, you can be a bum, and a damn drifter, or you can stay here and die a coal miner, broke like me. Or ... you can be a man. These fellah’s here,” he had waved at the recruiters, “will make sure you become a man. Now go on, git!” Look had signed up Navy, put in for the Seals, then went on home, hugging his mother and his crying younger sister, holding tight, breathing in their sweet scent of womanhood. He nodded to his stern-faced old father, all coal dust and pipe tobacco, then walked off toward the bus stop. He’d never seen them alive again. Head-on crash. Thanksgiving truckload full of turkeys, dark road, rain. He remembered his C.O.’s sad face, his sorrowful voice. Then he stopped remembering. Going back there in his mind meant blackness, animal fear, madness. They’d made him a muscled brute, navigating zero-viz with only a compass and depth gauge, dragging rubber rafts up on the beach, slinging heavy ordinance. Learning to kill, and to fear. Always those dreams came back, metallic taste in his mouth, silent explosions in his ears, one gone near-deaf from the brownwater patrol boat’s machine gun firing off right past his face, leaving a thin white scar along his cheek bone. There were other scars too....
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A red-haired girl in a tie-dyed tank-top and tight green velvet pants walked by, smiling, “Hi !” His vision cleared, nightmare fading, but she was past him already, he only had time to hiphop, spinning backward, an overly boyish “Howdie!” that made her giggle in her hand. Look kept on walking, up one street, down the next, sleeping at night on a park bench, police conspiring to let him be, seeing his duffel bag. Searching, moving, in travel mode. One day he saw this guy sitting on the porch of an old house, dreadlocks long and tied back, goatee, a silver ring in his eyebrow. Yeah, an eyebrow ring! The guy smiled at him, nodding, “Hey, man.” So Look stopped on the sidewalk and asked if there was a room he could rent. Next thing you know, he was sitting in their living room, feeling at home. The guy’s name was Lou, and he invited Look to table, his old-lady Dianne passing him a serving plate for the shared bowl of steaming broccoli, potatoes and green beans, all smothered with shredded cheese. Down home folks. Dianne was quiet, and plain in every way, a foil for Lou. She said plain things, thought plain thoughts, acted like an ordinary small-town woman. But Lou must have fallen on his head as a kid, he was the complete opposite. Couldn’t stop talking, couldn’t stop moving, when he wasn’t pounding on his congas.
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Sometimes food’d be falling out his mouth he’d have so many ideas going at once, leaning forward at the dinner table, gesturing with his fork. Well, they all had big ideas in those days after Viet Nam, kind’a like an old pressure cooker blowing off its load of steam. Lou wasn’t like other guys Look had known from school days, not like a Navy buddy with a quick joke and a smoke. He was more like an older brother to him, always watching out, listening to late-night schemes, however wild, like they were as real as the sun coming up tomorrow. Lou laid down a soft bassline to Look’s blue notes, when he wasn’t slapping away on a salsa solo. Their whole house was scattered with conga’s of all sizes, djemba’s, an old rosewood marimba. He was always in a calypso mood, drumming sometimes be soothing, sometimes maniacal, always compelling. But Dianne kept after him, again and again, “Drumming doesn’t pay the rent, Lou!” So he drifted slow but sure to motorcycles and drug dealing, about the only other things a musician knows. “Did I mention he was a biker?” L o o k ’ s j o u r n a l goes on. Well, sort of a biker, he had this old Norton he’d found in a garage, left behind by some G.I. gone off to war. Sure beautiful, deep purple and chrome, Lou had rebuilt it himself, hard-tailed and fat-bob’d it, painted a Dead rose and scalloped flames on the tank.
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Not a ‘biker’ per se, he was too stringy, and so smart enough not to throw a hog out on the highway, or slam a beer glass into someone’s face in a bar. No, Lou was just your local dealer, MC’r, small change, a guy who could get by on the fringe of the action. And as the sometimes hurt look in Dianne’s eyes spoke, he had a damn good time doing it, too. Look, on the other hand, was a loner, a drifter, high school leaving him with more knowledge than he had needed, Navy Seals leaving him with more memories than he wanted, and his women usually just leaving him, period. So he had settled in with Lou and Dianne, each a balance for the other, and then spring had turned to summer, indoors to outdoors. Look found a good job in a local machine shop, at Hansvedder’s, over on the east side, rebuilding farm equipment parts, learning tool-making and tolerances to add to his skills with stockcar and diesel engines from back ‘coal country. Maybe work Daytona someday, who knows? And he’d found a girl of his own, a waitress from over at Saltie’s Tavern, that Frenchie Desautel’s place in Little Osage, you know, on down from the Spoon, up near Havana? Where the Peoria bikers and Macomb frat-rats hang out for a rockabilly house band and wild loose crowd, until Desautel closes at 2AM, and then his after-hours cardroom opens to a better
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clientele of professionals and politicians from the State capitol. Oh, Michelle is her name. It was a couple weeks before, Lou came up to him one Friday night after work, “Hey, Look, let’s go out to Saltie’s, there’s a guy I want you to meet, check him out for me, says he wants to deal. You’re hip to shit, tell me if he’s messin’ with me.” They climbed in Look’s ‘54 Ford shortbox, big 351 Windsor bored-out and stroked, a halfracing cam popping the glass-pack’d exhaust, and they cruised on out in the chill air and fog down along the Sangamon, heading towards Havana. He let the engine over-rev ‘til it burbled, tires humming on the rain-damp road. The “Saltie’s Roadhouse” sign glimmered out through the trees, a winking red “BAR” neon over the front door, and they pulled off onto the gravel. The night air had that bottomland rosin and earth smell, that always perked Look’s senses. An owl hooted as they walked to the door, and he paused to listen. “Jack! Hey, how’s it goin’!?” Lou shot up a leather-jacketed arm just inside the light. They strode into the smoky knotty-pine room, still mostly empty and quiet this early. Jacques Desautel looked up, mouthing a “Hey,” as he readied the till. A wavy-haired smoky-blond sheila, sweet face and big eyes, sauntered over with a friendly smile for Lou. They made small talk while she cast side-eyes at Look.
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“‘Coupla’ beers,” Lou said, turning to him, “Hey, you want something to eat?” He shook his head, acting boored. “This is Look,” Lou remembered to say. “A-a-a,” he lifted a finger up off the table. Then Lou went to use the head, and Look was sitting alone when the girl brought their beers back. Nobody else was around, ‘couple old flies happy at the bar, so she paused. Look asked her to sit down. She threw an eye in Jacques’s direction. He tossed back a “what?” eyebrow then a “whatever” shrug, and she set her tray down and pulled a chair over close. “How’s the band?” he opened, and at that she smiled like honey toast. He could smell her musk, and the subtle trace of her perfume. “You a friend of Lou’s?” she got straight to it. “Yeah, live in their house,” feeling his sack rise. He covered, “Worked here long?” opening his way out. “I’ve been here long enough to know Lou’s got an old lady, so he didn’t come out for the food, and that you’re not from around here.” She’d left it open then, unconcerned, gazing around unfocused, not like she was bored, but like there was time to relax. “Oh, my name’s Michelle,” she added after awhile, “or Shelley...Shell to my friends, ‘Hey, you!’ if you’re not,” she laughed softly, smiling at him. Look thought, most women he’d known were quick to size things up, and then quick to pass if
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there wasn’t any play. This girl wasn’t counting t i m e , s h e w a s j u s t , w e l l , o p e n . Southern Illinois? He warmed to her relaxed drawl, her smile, licking his lips as he leaned forward towards her. “So, you two get acquainted?” Lou came up on them then. Look lost his windup. Shelley’s lips firmed as she rose, but she smiled once again at him, holding the gaze with her lucent blue-green eyes. Then she walked off, “see you” flipped over her shoulder. “Think she likes you,” Lou laughed, draping his leather jacket on the chair, slouching in his seat, eyes on the door. “That’s good, Shelley’s all right,” speaking volumes. “She ask what we’re doing here?” “She didn’t say. Guess she knows you though?” “Yeah, I know her. She’s a sweetheart.” Look sipped on his beer, his mouth gone dry, “She’s a peach, all right, a real....” “Hey, here he comes!” Lou interrupted, and a blast of smoky cool air blew across the floor as the stranger burst in, large guy, dark curly hair, lip ‘tee, leather jacket, plaid shirt, black chino’s, cowboy boots. Glancing neither left or right, but clearly scoping the bar, the dude strode to their table and sat down. “Turner, you want a beer?” Lou offered, then seeing the guy’s eyes narrow, added in shorthand, “This is Look. He’s in our club,
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works as a machinist.” They shook hands, then Turner relaxed enough to elbow up onto the table. “Sure,” he clipped, tossing a pack of Luckie’s and a ‘Semper Fi’ USMC engraved Zippo in front of him, car keys with a braided-yarn chain, peace-symbol slug, blue-bead roach clip. Strange combination, war and anti-war, a net zero-sum. “So what’s happening?” Lou twirled a finger toward Jacques. Look took the opportunity to steal a glance at Michelle, keeping his view over and around the stranger. It wasn’t hard to feign indifference to Turner with someone like her easy on his eyes. Lou was getting down to details.... “Got two keys, seventy-five reds, two hundred white cross, and some sunshine L, but I need a down, and a week to line it up,” Lou whispered. Turner drew on his smoke a moment, looking bored, then started to speak when Michelle interrupted him. “So, what’s your name, honey?” the stranger leered, but you could see he wasn’t really interested. Look bristled that the stranger would jerk her around instead of joking her. Big City Lone Ranger. “Dong Yang Poon Tang,” Shelley straightfaced back, “isn’t that what you call all your Nam bar girls?” She pushed aside the tell-tale Zippo with their beers. Then to Lou, “It’s on your tab, want anything else?”

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Turner reached over and grabbed her wrist, “Hey, come’ere, that’s no way to talk to a war hero!” In a flash Look was in his face, seriously pissed off. He spit out something in Vietnamese and then Turner froze, backing down, glaring daggers at him. Lou covered, “Three shots of JD straight-up, uh, all right?” Smoothing things over. Turner took another pull off his smoke, gazing down somewhere south of Shelley’s neckline, then shrugged, “Yeah, OK, sure.” Already tripping on distant in-coming. She went back to the bar. Look watched as she spoke with Jacques, pointing with her chin. Lou was talking price and delivery to Turner. They’d found a deal, and the stranger held out his hand. Lou shook on it, then he got tripped up in this “soul bro’ ” routine Turner kept going on with, a bullshit JG move. Shelley came back, dropped off their shots, then as she walked behind Look, leaned close, whispering, “Thanks, maybe I’ll see you after Saltie’s closes?” H e p a n t o m i m e d , h a n d s t u r n i n g o u t , no problem. They drank the shots in silence, Lou waiting for some sign from Look the deal was a setup, and Turner now visibly uncomfortable with Lou’s new striker. Look’s mind was on something besides small-change.

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Then Turner stood up, and they following him outside. It had gotten fully dark now, and the peepers were chirping wildly in the bullrushes, a big full moon reflecting smokyorange on the misty river bottom. “Here’s your down,” Turner smirked as they got to his car, folding a wedge of fifties into Lou’s hand. Shit! A fuckin’ Trans-Am jockey, L o o k c u r s e d . “See you in a week, man. Think I’ll head down to N’Orleans awhile, get me some action, this place is nowhere,” Turner scoffed, then laughing, added, “Think you girls can handle this?” “Hey, it’s cool,” Lou shot back, “you’ll get your shit, man. Just make sure you got my bread, dig?” Turner got in the Trans-Am, rolled the window down a crack and tossed his Luckie at Lou’s feet with a closed-fist salute. Then he threw the car in gear and spun out of the parking lot, spitting gravel. “Let’s get out of here,” Lou muttered. Look saw that he was hopping mad. They climbed into his truck and drove off, running all the way back into town in a blur, not speaking, each lost in their own thoughts. Lou made some calls when they first got back, sitting cross-legged in the old-fashioned living room, all antique furniture and worn Persian carpets they’d scrounged at garage and yard
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sales, pawn shops and estate auctions. He looked like a black-leather pasha in an blues’y version of Ten Thousand Nights, talking there on the phone. Then he stood up. Dianne smiled, “Going out again?” but the hurt was in her eyes, hard waiting, playing the ‘little woman’. “Yeah, to Nobody’s,” Lou decided, “I’ll be right back,” and kissed her lightly on the lips. You could see the fondness they had for each other, but hey, life was tough, had to hardscrabble or die. “I’ll be back later,” he repeated to Look, “see you.” They listened to his Norton fire up, the drone of its engine fading into the distance. Dianne fixed some food and they ate quietly in the kitchen alcove, Look making jokes, not wanting to worry her. And still half-thinking about Shelley’s offer. ‘Nobody’ was another in Lou’s motorcycle club, their Kansas City meth connection, broad Slovak face, pale hair and thick torso, he imitated the Chicago South Side oil-crinkled black leather jacket look well. Narrow-legged dark jeans, nice leather shoes, Nobody had the brusque, powerful demeanor of a hard big-city hoodlum. His voice, though, was downstate, smooth drawl. That unnerved everyone he dealt with, just the way N’Orleans can get under your skin if you let it. There was ‘Sammy’, their money man, and ‘Will’, their hulking enforcer. Sammy short, dark, like someone’s little brother, quiet. Maybe
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that’s what attracted Lou to him, maybe it was that Sammy’s father ran a restaurant in town, so he had access to ready cash, never questioned, for financing deals. Will was, well, a Paul Bunyan farm boy just back from the war, and his six-foot six frame was solid muscle, Asian tattoos shoulder to wrist, hands like hams, not fat, strong. Will kept a woolly-beard, with these jet-black eyes crinkled at the edges, as though Nam burned three years of deep sorrow and rage onto an otherwise impassive mug. The kind of guy you’d naturally want as a buddy, his quietness an asset. Meth, money, muscle and Lou made their club tight. Named ‘Zapatas MC’, after Frank (Zappa), they rode fast chopped Norton’s and Triumph’s. Each wore a tattoed rose-andthunderbolt between their thumb and index finger, the same self-styled symbol painted on their tanks and stenciled on their leather jackets. “What’d Lou say about that dude you went to meet?” Dianne wondered. Look savored the hot brown rice and spicy peanut tofu she’d fixed for dinner. “I don’t know, he’s going after a bunch of stuff, the guy gave him a wad of cash for down, I was just along for the ride,” Look offered back, lying a little, “Dude’s like, he’s cool, says he’s a big mover.” Dianne sighed, “Well, I got a checkout cashier job at Krager Foods today, we’ll have pocket cash....”
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Look glanced surprised into her worried eyes, then pulled out his billfold, tucking two fifties into her hand, “Hey, it’s all right, you’ll be flush after this.” “I know,” Dianne started to slump, “I just ... worry.” She gave him a weak smile that touched him so much he leaned forward, kissing her softly on the lips without even thinking. “You don’t have to worry, you’ve got both of us,” he smiled, answering her unspoken fear, then they finished eating and washed the dishes to Dave Mason and after, listened to Cream turned down low, sharing a joint and then the time together in silence.

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Three - After the Dance
“Hey, I’ve got to check something out,” Look whispered at last. It was well after midnight, Dianne had dozed on his shoulder as the Moody Blues spun down. They parted. He propped up a pillow on the couch and helped her get comfortable. “I’ll be back in awhile,” he added, but she was already out again. The air was cool, stars dimmed by a full moon riding high in the sky, following in the windshield as he drove on back out into the country, window rolled down, woods dark and silent now, only the occasional headlights flashing by. This was the time he loved, these hours just before dawn, as the earth regenerated herself again, mixing up a new palette, spackling a new canvas, sunrise bringing fire to the colors of a new day. He took deep breaths of the heavy damp air, shaking off the lethargy of the joint they’d smoked, pumping himself up for Saltie’s. As his truck pulled into the parking lot, nearly empty of pickup’s and old bomber’s now, he saw off to one side a group of expensive heavy-metals parked together, Chryslers and Caddies. Look could see the glow of cigarettes in the dark, as they milled around, staring over at Saltie’s entrance. “A-a-a, think you’re gonna get busted!” he shouted to Jacques, as he threw open the front door. Then, drawing a blank, “say, where’s Michelle?”
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Jacques puzzled a second, “Oh, you mean my clientele!?” pausing to chuckle, then, “Shelley’s in back doing the night’s take.” Look made his way around through the kitchen, still warm with food-smells, pots soaking in the big sink, dishwashing machine steaming as it cooled. He made a wrong turn into the pantry and freezer, then glimpsed Shelley’s golden-brown hair through a crack in the door, and found his way to the office. “Hi,” he smiled. She looked up for a second, then went back to her 10-key entry. “Be done in a minute, go grab a beer if you want, Jack won’t mind. I’ve gotta get this into the safe,” she looked up once more, smiling warmly. He ended up on a bar stool pulled over by the jukebox, a cold tall-neck in one hand, flipping through the playlist , when the new clientele trundled in. Look glanced at his watch, then raised his bottle to the first pair of suits in the door, “A-a-a,....” They paused. Then, behind him, Jacques’s voice boomed out, “This is a friend of Shelley’s, come on in.” Five well-dressed men entered in a procession, each talking cards and spouting golf jokes, ignoring Look as they disappeared one by one behind the closing door to Jacques’s upstairs apartment. He went back to the office with his beer, first checking the kitchen ‘fridge, grabbing some baby-back ribs, the barbecued meat deliciously cold in his mouth.
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“Don’t mind me,” he laughed, and when she didn’t reply, asked, “All right if I sit over here?” She gave him an annoyed glance, “Whatever.” Time passed. Look eyed the pin-up poster girl on the wall, she eyed him back. The hand on the wall clock eked out a living reaching for the three. At last Michelle finished the accounting and ordering, got the cash put in the safe, and turned toward him. Look inhaled sharply. The looseness of her sheer blouse so full, her sweet short-skirted tan legs, hair haloed gold and smoke in the desk light. Even at three in the morning Shelley looked simply lovely. Fresh. He moved close to her, stroking her arm, and blurted out, “You look great!” The pin-up girl on the wall rolled up her eyes and shook her head at him, laughing, or seemed to be. What a line.... “Listen, Look, I’m not done yet,” she put him off, “wondered if you’d like to meet Jack, maybe help me a little,” adding, “Save it for later, OK?” “Sure! Hey, Shelley, umm, what’s the deal?” he raised an eyebrow, the room suddenly very close in on the two of them. He could feel the heat of her body through his t-shirt, and laughed to cover it. “Oh, Jack runs an after-hours cardgame,” she explained, “well, not really a gameroom, you can’t just saunter up there. It’s more like a
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gentleman’s club, a river-boat gambler kind’a thing, get it? You have to know someone to get invited.” “So it’s good old boys come out for pennyante in the boonies?” he mis-guessed on purpose to annoy her, “They’re pretty fancy for beers and peanuts.” “Yeah, right!” she pouted. “You know it’s not small-time, you’re not stupid,” then dulling the jab, “Lou wouldn’t have brought you in if you were.” They laughed and she took his hand, leading him up the narrow stairs, trenchered treads fashioned from plain wood planks, tilting offlevel with the drift of the old roadhouse itself. In the narrowness of the stairwell, following so closely behind her lovely ass, Look filled with a lust he’d almost forgotten. When they reached the top and Shelley turned towards him, he felt that heat radiating from her in the dark, telling him she’d felt the same way. They paused then, for a moment, Look bringing their clasped hands between them, circling her waist with his arm. Shelley pressed her stomach against his until he stiffened, then kissed him lightly, whispering, “Later....”

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Four - Slice of Life
Jacques stood in the bright light of a white paneled kitchen, peeling cold cuts from their packs, arraying bread, cheese, meat and pickles on a sandwich board. “ ‘Cheri, ” h e s p o k e t o M i c h e l l e , “ w o u l d y o u get some drinks in to the guys, you know what they like,” then he smiled at Look, “Welcome to my after-hours party! I’m Jacques, help me with these, would you?” Look took over sandwich making, and Shelley arrayed the liquor glasses and beer bottles on a tray. Jacques eased on into the other room. You could hear his voice booming above the murmur of the players, calling each by nickname, ever the showman. “Jack’s father was a French-born musician, Jean Mercier, played jazz clubs under the stagename Jonny Mercier down N’Orleans,” Shelley spoke softly over her shoulder to Look, mixing the drinks and popping tops off beers. “He never bothered to marry Jack’s mother, Marie Desautel, or to claim his son. So Jack grew up in the Quarter, then after his mother up and left them, just a kid, he followed his father to honky-tonks from Baton Rouge to Saint Louis. He always wanted a roadhouse of his own, somewhere settled-down, y’know?“ She smiled, “I’ll be right back.” Michelle shouldered the tray and pushed the door open, smoothly brusque. Look could hear the men’s voices pick up, joking loudly in her
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p r e s e n c e , c l e a r l y e n t i c e d . H e s m i l e d , Yeah, Jack has it made here.... Then he spread the sandwich plates on his hand and pushed through the swinging door. Jacques’s cardroom was nothing more, or less, than an elegant turn-of-the-century dining room, beautiful mahogany sideboard stacked with liquor bottles, the sandwiches laid out with condiments and hot sauces. A big round oak table sat in the center of the room covered with green felt, high curved-back chairs all plush with needle-point rode a Karistan carpet richly saturated in plush red, yellow and black. Opposite the sideboard, a faded red-velvet couch nestled against the alcove window, it’s rolled arms covered with tasseled silk. Classic dark oak endtables with ambered silk-shaded, brass-footed lamps framed the couch, and in the next room, another Persian, with large pointand-tucked leather arm chairs and cigar boxes on a low ebony coffee table, a tarnished old Victrola phonograph the only ornamentation. Above the polished wainscoting, Jacques had added a blood-red and chocolate-crush wall papering, like a classy whore house. Just sitting against the wall, Look felt himself totally immersed in Jacques’s illusion of a riverboat gambler life, watching the gray-haired men play under the shaded overhead light, listening to Jonny Mercier play on the scratchy Victrola. Shelley came over and sat on the couch, leaning against his side. He wrapped an arm over her toned shoulders, teasing her blouse
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open with his fingers, and she left her hand on his thigh, softly stroking. The effect was electric. The men played dealer-call, usually seven card stud, or straight, five card draw, never varying in their pace, only the snap of the cards, the chink of the chips, murmured bids and calls, chips raking in and their boisterous laughter as each hand finally played out. It was as though they’d succeeded in suspending time, suspending history even, caught in the gambler-glow illusion like moths to a flame. Occasionally a man would rise, stretch, fix himself a drink or eat a sandwich and sit out a hand. Or some of the players would ask Look to grab them a beer from the kitchen, then retreat to the smoking room with their cigars. Shelley dozed on Look’s shoulder, waking every so often to clean ashtrays, pick up empties, fix more sandwiches. Jacques’s eyes positively sparkled, an uninterrupted banter of words rolling across his lips, recounting this bar, that honky-tonk, those musicians, all the gamblers from a life of watching and listening to the legends of all time play the blues and peddle the pasteboards. You could feel the regard the men held for their host, sharing the moment as though they themselves had been there. Even when a late arrival showed up, Tony, one of their group, along with his tag-along “cousin from down Tulsa,” nobody broke the rhythm of the play or of Jacques’s raconteurage.
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Pale gray light filtering through the windows signaled that dawn was approaching. Look figured the game would break up. Instead Jacques went around loosening the outer curtains, drawing them in and pulling the inner shades down. The players took a pause, shaking off the lethargy of sitting for so long. Some, a walk outside in the cool summer morning. Shelley started arranging the room as Jacques announced, “Let’s all take a time out! I’m going to fix us some breakfast downstairs, while the kids clean up in here, then it’s Tony’s deal. It was his turn to bring the cards anyway’s.” The men headed down the narrow stairs into the empty tavern below. Tony set four packs of new card decks on the table, his cousin smiling strangely, there at the top of the stairs, like some stone dement’o. That same weird thousand-mile stare Look had seen on Nam war prisoners, vacant, lost between worlds. A cold shiver ran up his spine. “Help me get these, then we can sack out,” Shelley directed, “Grab those glasses and plates, will you?” Look drifted in a twilight of tired and tenseness, and they both moved together wordlessly, cleaning and vacuuming until the room was spotless again. Michelle walked over then, slipping her arm around his waist, and breathed softly, “Come on....” Down the hallway, past the stairs, was a small bathroom with an old iron tub, and next to it, a cozy bedroom with a comfortable old double
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bed. Shelley turned down the edge of the sheets. Look softly closed the door behind them, and quietly undressed in the dim light through the window curtains. He lay there between the soft brushed cotton, gazing longingly at Michelle as she reached behind her and dropped a sheer bra forward off her arms, her round breasts swinging free and upturned, nipples dark and rigid. Look felt himself getting taut, as she stepped out of her dark silk panties and turned towards him. The pale light from the window glanced across her tight ass, golden smooth, then played across the fluff between her wide-gapped legs. She lifted the covers and eased in next to him. “Hi,” she breathed, and he ran one hand along her flank, feeling the sheen of musk and sweat where the heat of their bodies joined. Wordless, their lips met, softly, then harder, his thumbs caressing her jujube nipples, her slender hand encircling his bone. Look rippled his fingers down along her thighs, probing higher, stroking her wet. Shelley sighed in his ear, and swung her leg up over him, easing down on his rigid vertex. They both moaned, unthinking, at the close fit. Then she began moving softly up and down, in and out, to some silent rhythm, her head alternately tilted back, eyes tightly closed, then looking down, auburn hair falling over eyes wide open, lips moist, nostrils flaring. Look held her slender waist and guided to her rhythm, reaching up to cup her breasts,
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licking them with his tongue as she moaned and moved faster. The room whirled, both so damn tired, levitating off the bed, then Shelley leaned close in and bit him on the earlobe, hard, stemming the rising flow threatening to flood over them. She lay down on his chest then, softly stroking his matted hair. He felt her gently contracting her inner muscles, smoothly milking him, and he lifted the damp hair away from her face with his free hand, kissing her face again and again. “Ummm!,” escaped him, then he kissed her hard, feeling that hiccup, that break in the urge that told him he could now last and last. “Shell, I...,” but she bit his ear again, this time harder, sharper. “Shut up,” she glowed, and pulled him over on top of her. They lay for a moment like that, face to face, Look deep inside her. Then he began to push with earnest intent, eyes wide open, Michelle, then Look, alternately moving, disengaging, turning a leg or a hip, sliding, repenetrating, probing, searching any position, lovers’ bonfire, timeless, wordless, both thrusting together, passing in and out and in again. Look felt Michelle tensing, her heels pinning his butt in. Then her wet clamped down hard, pulsing, her breath in an “O-o-o-o !” almost laughing, and he shot too, like an express train whistling long in the dark of night, coming hard, eyes rolled back, as they collapsed into unconsciousness, still interlocked.
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The sun rolled slowly up off the river bottom.

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Five - Done Deal
The day was mostly gone, warm red-gold flooding through the old float-glass windowpanes, illuminating with fire the tiny dust specks floating in the warm musky air of their bedroom. Shelley was lying awake, watching his face when Look revived, and he brushed her cheek with his little finger, caressing off the edge of her lips, kissing her lightly. The cotton sheets were all sticky and tangled around them. “Man!” he laughed, and Shelley joined him, both chuckling softly, still tingling. “I’ve never...,” then he let the words run out, and kissed her again. They dozed for awhile, then she whispered in his ear, “Let’s get up, it sounds too quiet.” Shelley crawled out, then he followed her into the bathroom. They drew a tub full of hot water, Look caressing her breasts from behind, kissing her neck and shoulders, his bone rising up between her legs. Shelley leaned her head back and kissed him, letting her fingernails crease his sack. “I’m too sore, love,” then eased herself gently into the tub, pulling him in with her. In their soapy play, relenting, she let his bone slide up inside her once more, feeling him spend himself, arching her back as he came, pulling him in deeper, moaning like the ocean in his ear. They dried off and dressed, then tossed the sheets in the hall closet and remade the bed.
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Shelley was drying her hair with a towel, and Look tried to make himself look inconspicuous when they walked back into the cardroom. The game was over, players gone. Jacques sat dejected, his buddy Lee shuffling the cards over and over, eyes staring mindlessly unfocused at the back door. “ H e y , w h e r e is e v e r y b o d y ? ! ” S h e l l e y a s k e d , and seeing Jacques’s face, added quickly, “What happened!” The tone in her voice said something was bad wrong. The two men wouldn’t speak, and Jacques waved them off. While they were in the kitchen, wolfing down left-over sandwiches washed down with orange juice from the ‘fridge, Shelly explained. “Jack runs a card room, you know, just an arcade amusement, a piece of river bottom history. Sure, he runs it because he loves it, the history, but he runs it because he needs to.” Look shook his head, “You mean he needs to gamble, or needs the gambling man’s society, all the wheeling and dealing?” “No,” she laughed, “Jack?! Ha-ha-ha! No, he n e e d s t h e money! Saltie’s is just a draw for the locals, a way for him to raise the cash, but the real money, hard money he can bank, is in that card room of his.” Then she added, “These men are all doctors and lawyers from over at the Capitol, Senators, sometimes. City Manager’s and Chief’s of Police play here, Look. They’ve got big money, steady
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money, money to burn. And something else too, protection.” He began to understand what she was saying, “You mean he runs this like a casino, he’s the bank? Where’s his end? In poker the odds are even.” Shelley smiled and ran her fingers through his hair, untangling the matted raven locks. “Jack and a few of his old-time buddies learned to play cards from the best. They lookie-lou’d like we did, learning the tricks, how you hold two chips in your hand to let your partner know you have a duex, how you tap your cards three times to let him know you have that third ace he needs to draw to. Maybe a riffed shuffle, and then deal that card right back off, like that. Pushes the odds gently in your favor, gives a psychological winner’s edge at the bluff and call. The same reason Jack talks about the old days. It’s all just illusion, mesmerization, lifting a few dollars from guys who’d love to be a part of his real life fantasy.” Look stared at the floor, he hadn’t even thought of that angle. Made him feel sad, feel sad for Shelley, too, the thought that ‘making it’ was more than hard work and a good show. No, y o u h a d t o p u s h t h e o d d s , y o u h a d t o make the odds keep going in your favor, ringmaster and pickpocket all rolled up in one. “Yeah, I get it...,” and then he trailed off, as they pushed back into the other room. They sat on the couch, in the gathering dusk, Jacques wordless in loss, Lee shuffling and
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flipping, shuffling and flipping the cards face up on the table. Shelley asked again, and then Jacques told the story, how Tony and his cousin had hit on a streak of luck, played their cards so well, they’d cleaned the other players out, had even cleaned out the house. Now Jacques was broke. The room got quiet, except for the soft snap of the cards. Then Lee sat up suddenly, holding the deck fanned out at an odd angle to the light. Jacques raised his head, energy wafting back in the room. “Ace!” Lee sputtered. An ace flew faceup on the table. “Ten!” and a ten of clubs landed astride the ace. “Queen,---five,---eight,” Lee called out the cards as he dealt, flipping them expertly faceup in a pile. Shelley and Look stood up, moving closer, and Jacques put his hands on Lee’s shoulders. “How did you know that, Lee?” he demanded. Lee’s big frame shook, half laughter and half sobbing, as he called out the deck, one card on the next, naming each before it fell, like some clairvoyant carney act. “How did you know that? ! ” J a c q u e s t h u n d e r e d . Lee held a single card up. “It was Tony’s turn to bring the cards, remember?” he started, “The house was ahead until he got here, right?” Jacques nodded. “Right along the edge, see that? There, see that little crescent?” They all crowded forward.

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Jacques took the card from Lee’s hand, holding it to the light. Look saw it too, pointing for Lee. There on the uniform shiny surface of the new playing card, just there, along one edge, just a sliver, just a fingernail of curved light against the flat ribbon sheen of the card’s edge. Tony’s cards were shaved! “He played us for marks,” Jacques shook his head. Lee objected, “No. Wasn’t Tony. He’s just a ringer. It’s that cousin of his, it must have been!” Then he spread out the cards for them, “See, six places on the long edge, four on the short edge.” Shelley objected, “There are thirteen faces!?” Lee explained, “They ignored the two, three, four. These cards are marked for high call.” Sure enough, there around the edge of each card, thin slice on the long side from five through the ten, and then across the top, jack, queen, king and ace. Why, even across the table, you could read every hand like a train schedule by that faint crescent glimmer. Look watched as Lee demonstrated for her, his sadness at Jacques gone bust tempered with sudden caution at those odd con’s words they’d used. His sixth-sense told him it was time to get out of there.

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Six - And She Was
“Come on,” Look put his arm around Shelley, “I’ll give you a ride home, you can get some clothes for work tonight.” As they walked toward the door, he noticed Jacques staring after her, and thought he saw a wince of regret behind his, “See you later, ‘cheri. ” T h e n t h e y w e r e i n t h e s t a i r w e l l , a l o n e , once again their world of two more real than the one they’d just left. Michelle was living out in Macomb, renting an apartment near the college with another girl her age. Maybe a thirty-minute drive, it passed like an hour as they talked, Michelle leaning on his shoulder, while he told her about the little Appalachian coal town he’d grown up in, high school track, mechanic’s shop, Viet Nam, parent’s car wreck, Stateside, drifting. “So what’s about you?” he asked after a time, “tell me about yourself.” She thought on it for awhile, absently rubbing her hand across his flat belly. The AM radio was turned down low, something John Mayall drifting down from WLS Chicago on the skip. Junebugs splattered on the windshield. “My parents named me Michelle Emmanuel Carole Augier, ha-ha-ha-ha,” she laughed. “They’re French citizens. My dad was a petroleum chemical engineer over in Algeria, then his company transferred him to that big oil refinery up at Joliet.
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Anyway, he decided to bring our family here and emigrate. Later on, he made the changeover from petroleum to agrichem, enzyme reactions, like that.... Helped Starley’s and A-D Interland start up their corn byproducts plants around Illinois. Made quite a career out of high-fructose corn syrup!” she parodied A-D’s monotone commercials with a giggle. “My Dad and I never talked much, he was a stern man,” Look countered, “I don’t really know much about him. He worked, drank...and yelled. Guess I should be glad he pushed me out of the nest, or I’d still be back there humping coal, slammin’ shooters, livin’ in a cold water trailer.” “But, come’on, Shelley, I told you about me, come’on,” he protested, “I want to know about you.” “Look, there’s not much to tell, honey,” she sighed. “You’re lucky you grew up back in the hills. Everyone knows what they know and what they don’t know. It was gruesome, the sixty’s, here in the MidWest, like worlds colliding. My Dad’s World-War-on-Autopilot generation, and all their stupid middle-class kids just wanting to make money and have some fun. Viet Nam m e s s e d u p a l o t o f t h o s e f a m i l i e s , b u t i t really m e s s e d u p o u r s . Y o u k n o w , ‘la guerre’ d’honor Indochine ?” Look nodded, understanding without translation. “I was the youngest,” Shelley went on, “and my brother and sister were both in high school.
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They grew up back in Aubagne, our family lived near Marseilles. I’m too young to remember. Anyway, when they came over to the States, Charles and Jeannette really tried to fit in. He was the big letterman, with all his wrestling and swimming medals. Jen the cute little cheerleader, Junior Miss, the drama and arts thing. So they were all too busy to pay attention to me, the baby, and I got to just do my own thing growing up. That’s about it.” “Oh, and my Dad was the best,” she added. In her mind’s eye she could remember taking his place within their family, being the mediator when he’d be off to Houston or Tobago or North Africa. And the waiting, ummm, she could still feel the waiting inside her, until he got back. Then she‘d be his little Shell again, the bright star in his universe. He’d burst in the front door, sweeping her and her mother up in a big bearhug, still smelling of fresh tar and the outdoors. She used to sit on his lap, and he’d fill her head with stories of far-away places, tropical climates, darker, ever more exotic cultures. She’d always whisper in his ear, “Will you take me with you next time, Papa?” Then came the tickles and the laughter. Michelle kept a 100-dinar piece she’d found once in his pockets, stashed in a carved ebony box he had brought back for her from Nigeria, the last time that he’d come home. Her lucky coin, her touchstone.

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“He was the greatest,” Shelley repeated, “I still really miss him.” Then she snuffled into Look’s ear and slid around in front of him with a tongued kiss, blocking his view for so long they were half off the pavement, beating down the corn with his mirror. “Whoa!” he laughed, slewing the pickup back onto the road, “let’s find a place to pull over!” She smiled mysteriously, fingers creeping up on his leg, “Don’t have to pull over, push your seat back.” He threw a wild smile at her, “Are you sure?” then scooted his bucket seat back as far as it would go. She lowered her honeyed lips onto his quivering bone. Later they stopped at a stream crossing and kissed awhile, necking, just holding on each other. He wondered why he’d suddenly got lucky, and Michelle remembered those last few times with her father. Some days those memories were better than others. For the Augier’s there was no question Charlie would be going off to Viet Nam. Still, Michelle hated the change that came over him, the mental shutdown. Maybe it was his pride, maybe he clung to Jeannette because Michelle was still a kid. Charles the varsity man becoming Chuck the squarehead, spending a lot of time in Jennie’s room at night, talking together. Out of the blue Jen brought home her boyfriend, a hippie, and Charlie went crazy. She couldn’t take his cruel teasing, and ran away
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from home. Then Charlie had shipped out. Michelle still kept his picture on her dresser, posed like rugby players with his infantry squad in a jungle clearing north of the DMZ. “Charlie died in Viet Nam,” Michelle exhaled suddenly. Look could feel her pulling away inside. “We got his medal and his papers, they never got him out. Mom kind’a went over the edge, Charles was her baby. Then my Dad called from North Africa and said he’d be working over in Iran, maybe gone a long time. I think he felt responsible too.” “Mom and I decided to move out to California. Jennie was living with her boyfriend on their farm in Guerneville then. Kind of felt g o o d t o b e g e t t i n g a w a y . O h G o d ! T h e days o n that damn Greyhound! When we made it to Healdsburg, Jeannette came and got us. She’d gotten more mature, heavier than I remembered her, smilelines crinkling her eyes. I knew she’d be OK about Charles and Papa and all that.” “Anyway, that’s where I met Jack,” Shelley ended, sitting up abruptly, “and we’ve gotta go! He won’t be there to open tonight, and you never want to disappoint your customers!” “Yikes, you’re right!” Look spun around in his seat, gunning the engine into gear, cruising again. “Tell me about him while we drive, OK? Bet that you two had a thing, didn’t you?” Michelle stared out the window now as the familiar sights of Macomb passed by, reliving in her mind how she’d first cast eyes on Jacques Desautel.
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First there was that boy at Jen’s hippie commune, Daniel was his name, believed the old nursery rhyme, that ‘life was but a dream’. So he slept as long and as often as he could. Boring to most, Michelle found him an incredibly attentive lover, and once she had her mother settled in Santa Rosa into a nice house of her own, she moved into Daniel’s hogan, and begun to explore her own need for pleasure. So they became a couple, a fixture about the commune, ‘Daniel and Michelle’. She began to learn tantric yoga and the mysticism of the Talmud, holistic healing and the limits of dream therapy. But mostly Daniel just explored lying around, distracted. With Michelle working weekends as a bar waitress and on weekday afternoons for a bookkeeper just to keep them in bread, they began to drift apart. “It was at a Blues Festival over in Golden Gate Park,” Michelle began again, “I was there with my... umm, friend. We got separated, so I was peering in the windows of an old closed-up bar on Geary Street, when Jack tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was the realtor who’d be showing him the place.” Their truck rolled up to the curb in front of her apartment and they went inside to get her things. “Hey, no kidding?” Look continued, amazed, “you just met by chance in San Francisco?!” “Sure! You dummy,” she smiled, popping him on the arm, “Life is all about chance, you
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know that.” Shelley kept on talking as she shucked off her jeans and shirt, slipping into her bar outfit. Look brushed his eyes along her supple legs, her nectarine breasts, revealed enticingly by the scant lacy camisole. “Jack was there buying old waterfront tavern furniture. We found his oak bar there, you know, with all the ceramic handle beer taps, big beveled mirror, beautiful scroll work. He was setting up Saltie’s, had already bought the land up over the bluff, then headed down to N’Orleans, and out to San Francisco looking for ideas. The upstairs is N’Orleans, did you notice that wallpaper? And downstairs is pure Monterey.” “He’s an amazing man, Jack. Took me out for tajin at a little Moroccan restaurant, went for a walk on the beach, then...,” skipping ahead, “we became lovers.” “Oh, jeez, look at the time!” she jumped up. They ran back to the truck and took off running. “No kidding?” Look quizzed, “You met by chance and now you’re his lover? ! ” M i c h e l l e searched his face, and then he chuckled, “Hey, it’s cool.” She laid her head on his shoulder again. Now they both knew the ‘who is?’ about each other’s past. “When I found out that Jack sees other women,” she finished, ”he said a relationship boxes him in, well, now we keep it just friends. Strictly business.”
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On the drive back Michelle napped, Look humming to a Procul Harum tape. When they got to Saltie’s, he reached across, gently squeezing her thigh as they pulled into the parking lot. Hard as it was to say good-bye, Shelley said she couldn’t work with him there. They kissed, groping, laughing. “You’d better get going, I’ll see you later,” she pushed away, turning back, “See you.” Look wheeled around in the parking lot and shot out onto the road, already reaching for second as he hit the pavement, the big V-8 winding up like the thoughts flowing in his mind, burbling and bright. “A-a-a, Lou! Dianne!” he shouted, bounding up the porch and into their house, “Anybody home?” Only the one light in the living room was on, and Lou’s scooter was gone from the garage. Maybe they went to hear the Amboy Dukes over at the Fairgrounds! H e g r a b b e d a c i d e r j u g f r o m t h e ‘fridge, and toasted the night before, and all their nights ahead. Then he was on out the door, off in his ‘54 Ford, looking to find that rock concert.

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Seven - Black Flies
“I’m up here!” I shouted down to Granma from the attic window. I’d heard her calling me in the back, up by the well. I guess she thought I’d gone for a walk way up in the woods, instead, I ended up sitting here in the attic, reading this journal. We have a little waterfall back up in there, in the dense cover of alder and doug-fir, interspersed with wild cherry volunteers sprouted up from song-bird droppings. Climb on back there, all hot and sweaty, then get over behind the shadow of the mountain where the air cools off even in muggy summer days. It’s all soft green light and bird calls under the leaf canopy, you can strip down and lay naked in the little rock pool below the falls, just tingling cold from the snow-melt coming down high above. Seems to me I used to do that a whole lot more. Wonder where the time goes? “Granma, be right down, I’m up in the attic!” I shouted again, clambering down the ladder into the living room by the wood stove, pencil box under my arm. “I was just reading that lookout’s journal.” Granma came in through the back screen door, smiling under a cloud of silver gray hair, all tucked back, a smock-style apron around her calico dress. “I made you a sour cherry pie, Nick, I know that’s your favorite, now help me
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set the plates. Steamed up some new potatoes and snap peas from the garden, and we have a beef roast from Coulter.” I laughed. Granma always called her livestock by name, like Bubber, and Cookie, and Alice. Grampa hated that, made it hard for him to kill the two-year-old steer each fall for their meat, that Granma would have crooned to and hand fed the year before. But Granma was a tough old country gal, I think she just liked to personalize everything in her life. So we’d be eating a little of ol’ Coulter tonight. Yumm! While I set out the plates in the tiny kitchen of their four-room farm house, Granma went back out on the porch and brought cold goat milk and butter from the swamp cooler. Grampa tried to get her to use a ‘fridge, but she thought the constant whir and gurgle a bother, appreciating the freezer he’d bought and put out in the milking shed a whole lot more. “Granma, you know, I never really read this journal before, it’s really an interesting story about the guy who wrote it. Who do you think he might have been?” I asked while we laid out the silverware. “Let’s see, milk, butter, biscuits, vege’s, roast, is that it?” and I smiled. “You’ve forgotten our pie for dessert!” Granma scolded, “I left it out on the porch to cool for later!” Then we sat down, she said grace, and we shared the quiet of the moment. Way back here on the Upper Skagit the traffic is all local, you could go hours without hearing anything besides the soft hiss of air flowing
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down the mountain through the alder breaks, and the gentle roar of the river itself, flowing fast and green-gray down below. Granma made small-talk with me while we relished the food, asking about my job as technical illustrator down in Kirkland, working f o r K e s t r e l D e v e l o p m e n t o n a Tacit Trinidad warbird program, ever since the second Star W a r s b u i l d u p f o l l o w i n g o n Desert Storm. A steady, creative job, long hours, but the salary barely gets me by, at least until Kestrel completes the TPDL development program. Then my options would go orbital. Beyond that though, it was ‘need to know’ stuff I couldn’t talk with Granma about anyway. Besides, she could relate to making scratch, so I summed it all up, “Ahh, it doesn’t pay enough.” “Still haven’t found that girl?” she hinted, and I shook my head no. Then I started to tell her about the journal, but thought better, v i s u a l i z i n g M i c h e l l e i n m y m i n d . Wonder if I’ll ever find a woman like her...? “Granma, are you OK up here?” I asked instead, “I worry about you, maybe we should lease this place out to someone, and you can come and live with me in Everett. You’ve been there, it’s clean, there’s lots of room.” But she’d have none of it. I’d bought the solid brick house from an old Skagit logger, he’d built it for him and his wife after he retired from the woods. Now she’d passed on, and he’d taken up with another. The
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old house had neat grounds, side street, grand trees, quiet. Sure, the 405 commute was a bitch, but you can’t have everything! “What about the livestock?” she’d always say, “What about Starbuck? Who would take care of him?” Starbuck was her Morgan pony, all strapping neck muscles and big heart, solid-built. Granma just loved Starbuck. He’d pull that little tagalong plow she used to till the pea and potato patches, turning the cobbly alluvium in one clean scour. With the chisel tooth harrow and the seed drill, he’d fly around like it was a damn buggy, shaking his mane and rearing his head. So I’d always start by explaining that we’d sell the stock and see that Starbuck had a good owner, but then she’d frown and wave her hand at her hair, changing the subject. That conversation died on the vine as it always did. So I asked her about Grampa again, what he’d said in his last days, why this journal was so important to him, almost his last wish that I have it. “I don’t know, ‘son,” she shook her head. “Mister seemed bound and determined that you have it, and no one other. Maybe it reminded J.D. of up here on the Skagit. He always wanted you to know how this place came to be founded here.” We cleared the dishes and went out on the front porch. The sun lay low over the garden, its rich golden glow highlighting Starbuck’s mane
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as he flicked his ears and stomped his legs at the summer’s black flies, gazing up at the sound of the screen door closing. “Well, the journal isn’t about the Skagit, least not yet,” I countered, “it’s about the Midwest, back after the war in Viet Nam. If you like, I’ll read it to you?” Granma nodded. I opened up the journal and began to speak, first telling her what’d come to pass before. How Look ended up down in Illinois after Viet Nam, how he’d met Lou and Dianne, and fallen for Michelle. How her boss Jacques had lost everything to a man from Tulsa in an odd, crooked card game. As I read, we watched the sun sink until Lookout Mountain’s shadow played across the hay barn roof, then on across the fields, over Starbuck, grazing head down. The dark swallows looped in cartwheels across the evening sky, chasing after black flies. We’d save that cherry pie for later....

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Eight - Second Coming
The town of Little Osage is no more than a hiccup of silos along the flat and featureless Illinois River countryside, if it’s even still there at all. Old-timers’ll tell you about the “great Bill Ashley, famous trapper and fur trader, what named this here landing ‘Osage’, on his way West to cut off the French fur expansion.” But what the hell do they know? It was Algonquin Confederation back then anyways. Did Ashley name the place after the Osage Sioux, living in aboriginal freedom and independence on the wide open plains, far beyond this narrow valley? Why pick here? Osage landing was scarcely used during the great river forts settlement era, except as a place to tie up and sleep. French riverboatmen might’ve taken to calling it ‘Litiere Osage’, just an overnight stop on the way up to Fort La Salle, back when Chicago was little more than s w a m p l a n d . D i d ‘ Litiere’ became ‘Little’? Maybe it was that fellow Joe Glenden, who laid out the road, stables and warehouse in ‘56, just before the Civil War. Glenden was a farrier and blacksmith, sold mules and fencing. Mules to break the ground up, and osage tree posts to keep the mules fenced in. Mason County Courthouse has one record, “Sold, to S. Davis. Twenty large fine young jennette, twelve broke gentle likely young jakes. J. Glenden, Seller.”
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Joe grew the trade into a thriving business as the droves of settlers moved up into Wisconsin Territory, over the Mississippi-Missouri Divide, the gold-rush in the Dakotas. A mega-flux of humanity passed by in those days, on out the Oregon Trail. You can still find furrows of their wagon trails along the old byways. Things changed so fast! By cruel irony, instead of an increasing demand, the War marched off South and West, sparing Lincoln’s home state, leaving Glenden with over a hundred rick’s of unsold fenceposts, and a stable full of unwanted old mules. Then, in the hard-drought summer of ‘67, lightning set the prairie grass around Little Osage ablaze, and his life’s work went up in a conflagration seen for thirty miles around. Fate dealt Joe a second hand, with the invention of hard-drawn steel wire during the War. Working at a freight handler’s after the loss of his own business, he was playing around with a twisted hank of the stuff, poking sharpcut wire ends into things, a burlap sack, a peck of apples, his horse..., and getting near kicked in the head, he quickly patented his discovery as the first “barbed wire”. From that simple improvement, Glenden made a second, grand fortune, as settlers took to closing up land in plots for livestock. Then he cashed in his chips, bought up choice acreage over to DeKalb County and moved away, his dream for Little Osage, why even the place itself, erased by the shifting Illinois River.
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You can still find his tombstone, if you know where to look. See? “Made a fortune on the Osage wood, but was on the wire that Fortune made good,” chiseled right there. Ol’ Joe Glenden. However Little Osage got her name, and then time erased it, wasn’t a hundred years later when Jacques Desautel thought to put up his place there, looking out across the Chatauquah Bend, sweetest spot you can imagine. It wasn’t his first choice though. When his father Jean died, leaving him with a little cash and the deed to a N’Orleans whorehouse down off Jane Alley, Jacques had used his estate to buy a trim clapboard at Golden Eagle landing, just on above Saint Louis. He tried to make a go of it there, his first glimmered concept for a riverboat gambling parlor. Jacques ended up learning his lessons instead. Golden Eagle was too close to nowhere, too near to the City, organized crime and its muscle. And in the end, too close by to the river itself. The Mississippi took his entire tavern and gaming house away one night in a spring flood, and that was the end of that. Even the land under the place just washed right away. Jacques was flat, busted broke. His wife Renee decided Jacques was a nogood, and so, packing their three darling girls in the DeSoto, she drove out of his life, just as his own mother had done. First across to Saint
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Louis, then, with money she’d gleaned skinning rich old men, Renee settled down in N’Orleans, buying back the whorehouse he had sold, where their blossoming daughters took up the red light trade, and were soon comfortably in demand. Jacques moved north up to Springfield, where the pickings were easier, slowly rebuilding his fortune out of an old leased retail store, then running a corner bar, selling term life insurance and a cosmetics pyramid scheme on the side. A prelude to the future. He’d learned about people, running those scams, what they expected, and what they dreamed. The man who brought him into Kozvic Cosmetics, at level five, showed Jacques how to flash the rubes, burning a $100 bill to light his cigar at the sales demonstrations, as eager farmers had lined up like dairy cows to part with their hard-earned seed money. A sight to see. Jacques found you can skin a man faster if you give him a part in your play. Why, you can always convince him later that if he just keeps o n s p e n d i n g , “ same as I did,” that one day he’ll be a rich as you’ve become. And imagine, he might even come back some day and thank you for it, all the while you’ve been banking a sizeable cut off his downline! So with great pu-pu’s and some cunning MLM, Jacques amassed his next venture stake. Collecting a storeroom of furniture, a pile of jazz and blues 78’s, with a whole poke of wild
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stories gleaned from his childhood in the Quarter, and his father’s anecdotes from the honky-tonk’s, he built up that riverboat gambler mystique, ‘til he even believed it himself! Then one spring day, tired of the dreary Illinois winter and flush for a change, Jacques took a drive with his buddy Lee on up by Dickson Mounds to hunt farmers’ fields for flint spear-points and arrowheads that the Algonquin Tribes had left by the gazillions, gleaming up out of the rain-washed earth. Standing there, looking down off the bluff at the silver strand of the Illinois River, set all about with dense stands of oak, hickory and hackmatack dusted in spring’s greenery, Jacques saw his dream as reality, in a vision as clear and as bright as the spring air. “ L e e , mon frère! ” h e s p u n a r o u n d , e y e s w i l d with the inner seeing of it. “We’ll build a place down there, before the river bridge, and call it DeSautel’s Tavern. After hours we’ll run a card room that’ll be a draw for fifty miles around..., Macomb..., Peoria..., Springfield! What do you say!?” Lee thought for awhile, hunkered down, gazing out at the fine day. Then he pushed back up, smiling, his hand out to Jacques. They shook on it right there, and next day deeded the land over, sealing the deal. Little Osage was on the map again.

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Nine - Angel of Mercy
“Things settled into a groove in the weeks after,” Look’s journal abbreviates the time. He didn’t see much of Lou and Dianne. Spent his hours after closing time at Saltie’s, upstairs with Michelle, rubbing bellies, dancing samba to the soft roll of Lionel Hampton on the Victrola, Freddie Hubbard, Thelonius Monk. Jacques had the best jazz collection north of N’Orleans and south of Chicago. Lots of first releases on vinyl come down from his father’s set. An entire white-painted inset bookshelf, just brown paper-lined discs indexed by artist, all packed tightly together. Jacques said he was taking off to get away from the whole scene while he ran down his options. Would they run the bar for him? So Saltie’s became their little lover’s nest, and they took non-stop advantage of it. “We had fun,” i s a l l L o o k s a y s . Look and Shelley were able to kept the tavern open, but burning the candle at both ends took its toll. Some days at the machine shop, Look ran the mill bit clear though a piece of metal in the jig, he’d be so damn tired. His work was really suffering, and finally he took some of his sick leave to recover. Then Lou suggested a trip to Allerton Park, just for summer’s sake. The four piled into his truck, and as they drove, passed around a bag of magic mushrooms.
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Lou bragged he was getting another deal going for that hardcase. The first one had gone off without a hitch, like a trial-run, Lou described it, a bigger deal this time, more than ten grand! But Turner seemed to be playing for time, like he needed a few weeks to get the down together, or firm up unloading the score. Look was flat punch-drunk and buzzed, not really giving a damn, and they were all pretty tired of Lou’s hustling. He interrupted him, “What was his name? Turner? Turner, Turner, bo-burner, banana, bana..., ha-ha-ha!” Even Lou couldn’t help laughing. Then the psylocibe really kicked in, and logic left them. By the time they reached the park, they were flying high, laughing hilariously. They ran off through the formal gardens into the trees, chasing the sunlight dappling the sandy trails and tangled hardwoods along Sangamon River. Then they fell, struck dumb, by the bronze statue of a fallen centaur, resting there in wisteria, deep in the forest. The leaves in the pin oak trees rustled a gentle burr to temper the soft melody of the tree crickets. The four of them lay by the statue, lost, silent in melancholy. Lou found his feet, pulling them up, and they escaped towards the meadows, turning circles around the towering granite monolith as old Sol shone down on the day. Collapsing in mirth and laughter, they lazed, tripping, Lou and Dianne, Look and Michelle, as the carousel of time went round and round. It was a day to find your
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bearings and count your friends, to regain your sense of place in the universe. That night, after dinner, Lou met them at Saltie’s. “So what have you been up to? Mostly Shelley I guess,” Lou grinned, reminding him, “She’s all right. Good people, isn’t she?” Look laughed, running his hand through his thick hair, “Yeah, she’s sure a sweetheart.” He motioned Lou outside. They stood there in the twilight, under the old flashing blue “BAR” sign, while Look described what went down, that night week’s ago up at Jacques’s card room. “Jeez, what’s he going to do?” Lou wondered, “how much was it?” wanting to know all the details. “Shelley says she thinks close to forty, but she didn’t say if that was the other players, just Jack and Lee, or all on Saltie’s,” Look shrugged, adding, “but, hey, don’t bring it up back in there, OK?” Lou shook his head, “Forty thousand, man. That’s a lot of bread! Did they ever find Tony?” Look described how he’d taken Jacques, with Lee and two other buddies riding in back, on out to Tony’s house in Athens that Sunday night, Shelley closing up at Saltie’s, unknowing. Lee quietly picked the lock, but no one was there. They’d found some of Tony’s old clothes, his pots and pans is all, and getting ready to search the attic, they saw his handwritten note:

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“Jack, no hard feelings man, OK? He wasn’t my cousin, he was my fuckin’ bookie. I owed him big, that’s all what he wanted for his payoff, just to sit in on your game. It was either that or my legs. Anyways, he skipped town. ” H e ’ d a d d e d l a m e l y , “ Sometimes the bear bites you?” Jacques went tightlipped with rage at that last dig, turning the note over and back. He found a gas can in the garage, and they drove off in silence, as exploding flames engulfed Tony’s house that hot summer night. I’m going to jail..., oh Lord, I’m going to jail!, echoed in Look’s mind, but there were never any questions, no arrests, nothing. Jacques told the other clientele, and they’d all agreed. Tony was a dead man. Lou said he had to get back home, irritated, and climbed on his Norton. She kicked into a throbbing purr. “See you,” then he goosed it more than usual. Shit, spooked him with that story, sorry, Dianne…. Look stood there, facing east, until the bike’s roar was lost in the stillness of the dark midnight. Deneb and Altair, the navigator’s stars, shone above the trees. Back inside, Shelley was talking to some local college boys from Macomb, flirting with them f o r t i p s . T h e h o u s e b a n d w a s p l a y i n g a Lynyrd Skynyrd tune, Sweet Home, Alabama, and everyone was stoked, out on the floor dancing wild, arms up, whoops and hollers. Look thought he’d never seen any woman as fine as Michelle, even in the bar light, she positively glowed.
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“Hey, babe,” he soothed, coming up close in beside her, nuzzling at her ear. “Listen, I just spooked Lou over this Chicago deal, I’m going back to the pad, be back later.” She turned over her shoulder and kissed him, like that first night, the memory leaving him positively pounding by the time he hit the door. Back at their house, he found Lou and Dianne in the kitchen eating dinner, but he could tell by her red eyes that something bad had happened. “A-a-a, what’s up? Mind if I grab a bite to eat?” Dianne waved him off. He’d never seen them like this, Lou so serious all of a sudden. With a plate in his one hand, a beer in the other, Look straddled a chair backwards, and waited. “Look,” Lou began, “Turner’s stalling, I don’t think he has the bread.” Look tried to assure him, but Lou went on, “and he wants me to deliver up to Chicago. Says he’s too tied up as middle-man to go down-state, but he says he’ll introduce us to his people.” Look ate in silence, pulling on his beer, “Seem’s like you have a problem then, huh?” Lou didn’t move, and the tension in the room grew palpable. Finally he broke it down, “Look, I’ve made the connections already, without a cash down, there’s no delivery, without delivery, there’s no deal! Have to go to Chicago with this, if I back out, well....” Dianne sobbed, holding up a hand to her nose, and ran upstairs. Look studied the floor.
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Lou focused straight at Look now, “Hey, sorry, this is a hell of a time for this, man. I’d never ask you if I had another way, but I need that down. Once my suppliers come through, then it’s on Turner, 100%.” Look’s mouth got dry. He put his plate down on the table. Jeez! Here he was, an easy-going blue-collar Viet Nam vet living with a cute local bar girl, and everyone he could call a friend was getting in deep kim-chee. “What about Sammy’s old man?” he offered, “he’s financed you before.” “Yeah, but no down from Turner means no deal, far as he’s concerned,” Lou countered, “the old days of a Sicilian handshake thing are history, you know, man?” He thought for awhile after Lou went u p s t a i r s , s t e r e o p l a y i n g G r a t e f u l D e a d ’ s Truckin’, “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me, Other times I can barely see.” He realized that he really didn’t know anyone in this town, not really, didn’t really know their lives. His was so easy, a steady job, nice truck, pretty girl. They’d all given him everything freely when he’d first arrived, even Jacques, twenty years older and a whole lifetime more mature, had accepted him into his scene. So it was done, the die was cast. Look pushed from his chair, downed his beer, and walked upstairs. Lou and Dianne were balling away under the covers when he passed by their door, but they’d grown like family, it was no big
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thing. Dianne was smiling, all dreamy, and Lou propped up on one elbow, grinnin’. Leaning inside the doorway, Look told them his decision, “Got you covered, man.” Things moved fast after that. Lou needed the down, but he also needed Look’s truck. There was no way to stash that kind of load on his Norton. Even if the Zapatas rode together, they’d be sitting ducks, downstate bikers up in Chi-town. Look talked Lou into going as his backup. “Hey man, if I’m in on this, I want my cut, not just a payback. I drive, and I’ll get my share out of Turner myself, dig?” Besides, it was his wheels. Sammy would stay and handle the money. Nobody wanted to go, but Lou told him to run the local action, hold off his connections ‘til they got back. Lou didn’t want him upstate, tipping off someone’s contacts he was dealing back into the City, starting a turf-war. Nobody wanted Will for his enforcer, besides, Will’s size would draw the Chicago heat like white on rice. So that was it, that was the arrangement. Look drew an advance, then gave his notice. The shop guys all looked at him like he was a fucking moron for quitting a good job just like that, here in a podunk town, in the depths of the post-war recession. “He must be on drugs,” one whispered. ‘Y e a h , m u s t ’ a g o t r e a l f u c k e d u p i n N a m , ”

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another agreed. “They always get first dib’s at good jobs anyways.” But either this deal would go down OK, and he’d want time to look for a little place in the country with Shelley, up in Fulton County, say, near the river and closer to a better job in Peoria, or ... better to quit than have some ‘straight’ asking questions after you. Lou and Look drove together over to the Krager Food market that night, and filled first one shopping cart then another with meat and staples. Dianne pretended to ring them up as they pushed through, the total only $12.83 for both carts. Then they ran like hell to the truck before the manager got wind. “I’d sure like a discount like that one,” a geezer behind them in line chuckled, so Dianne had to give him a free ride too, set him all cackling like an idiot. Back at the house that night, while Dianne grilled up Nebraska-fed steaks, fried onions and jo-jo’s, Lou showed Look his custom .357 Mag S&W pistol that he always kept hidden. Pach’d, port’d and satin-nickle’d, he polished it carefully, reloading the chamber with copperheads in place of wad-cutters. “We’re moving a big load, you might want to get you one of these,” Lou spoke matter-offactly. But Look had seen enough fire-fights in the War. If it went down that way, fur flying, then even a man-killer like that .357 wouldn’t save
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them. Only quick thinking and clear-headedness would. When Look thought he’d caught Shelley in a good mood, he told her about the deal. They’d been curled up like spoons in bed, caressing each other after a late night closing up. He’d whispered in her ear as he slowly stroked her thigh, “Umm, honey, going with Lou to Chicago on Monday, on his deal with Turner.” She took the news straight-faced, more passive than indignant, “Look, you’re not gonna get involved with them, are you? The Zapatas!? Ha-ha-ha-ha.” Then she stopped smiling and pulled her elbows in, pushing his hand away. He pressed his bone against her, but she kept her legs tight together. He tried to soothe her, “Baby, I got no choice, I said I’d back Lou’s play, now I’ve got to cover my end, and make sure we come out on top.” Shelley was pissed, mimicking him, “A-a-a! Come out on top of what?! Don’t bullshit me, Look, you’re just goin’ through the motions! This isn’t good-ol’-boy horse-trades, it’s d-r-u-g d-e-a-l-i-n-g! You’re gonna be going up against stone banger’s and Big City cops, as soon shoot you as look at you! They’ll know your face and then they’ll hunt you down!” She started clouding up, but fought the tears back, “Once you’re in, there is no ‘out’, honey. There’s no ‘on top’! Don’t go, OK?”

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He brushed her hair, kissing her ear, her neck. “Shell, come’on, I’m a big boy, I can handle this.” She wasn’t going for it. “Look, just lend Lou the money if you have to, but please, don’t get involved! They’re not your kind! They’re dealers, there’s a side you don’t know.” “I promise I won’t take any chances, ” he tried to calm her, “Listen, honey, it’s just this one time, I’ll make enough on this we can get a place of our own, you know? Besides, I’ve been in some bad shit in Nam and came out OK. You wanted our own place, right?” She relented, not wanting a fight, and pushed her ass back against him, until his bone slipped inside her. Her breasts grew turgid, nipples erect, fuzz standing up, her breath rough. She started cat-clawing his legs, and he pushed into her hard. Then he rolled her onto her stomach, and up on top, pulling her tight, pumping. Shelley curled her hips in, panting, moaning, really spin-cycle. Look came with a bang, breathlessly grunting, “I love you, I love you.” Afterward, she had withdrawn, letting him know. They started having little tiff’s downstairs, fighting over stupid shit right in front of the bar patrons. “Honey-moon’s over,” one of the regulars whispered to his mate, grinning.
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They were sleeping less, more irritable, doing a lot more yelling, a lot less making up. No fun at all. Finally she just sat up in bed, crossed her arms, and flat said it, “I’m going with you.” And that was that. Besides, no one’d notice two dudes cruising with a pretty girl, he figured. So he told Lou about it. “I don’t like it,” he protested, “if anyone should go, Dianne should!” It was a bluff. Look knew that Dianne would never agree to it, she c o u l d b a r e l y h a n d l e not k n o w i n g a l l t h e d e t a i l s as it was. Look smiled, “Shelley will be fine.” But deep down he wondered. She was, after all, just a small-town bar girl, one little fling to California, then her world gone safe within Jacques’s cozy little tavern. Lou saw the question in Look’s eyes, and patted him on the back, “OK, you don’t tell Dianne, and I’ll say yes to Shelley.” Then to reassure him, he added, “Shelley’s a lot tougher than you think, Look. I knew her before her parent’s breakup. She ran in a gang of outlaws after school, just a real hard little chic. Joliet’s no place to grow up, believe me. She learned a hell of a lot about street life before she settled down. Same as you ‘n me, Shelley’s just trying to find some solid ground, man.” They detailed their final plan, sipping one tallneck after another. Finally there wasn’t anything left to say. “Hey man, if you want out now, just say so, brother,” Lou stood up.
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Look shook his head and smiled, “No, it’s done. Let’s do it, man....”

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Ten - Cherry Pie
Granma was napping when I paused. I folded up the journal and just sat there in the cool darkness, looking out over the garden, across the pale blue moonlit tree tops, beyond to the jagged silhouette of Snow King Mountain, it’s glacier-crusted peak glowing like a black pearl. Listening to the dully somnolent roar of the river, my eyelids grew heavy. We were a long way from those mean streets. “N-Nick,” Granma stuttered, raising up, “are you done reading? Would you like that dessert now?” I laughed, “You’re right, it’s late, Granma, too late for reading. I’ll take a piece of that cherry pie though!” We both rose together and I instinctively took her arm. She smiled, patting my hand, “Nice to have you here,” appreciating another soul’s presence during the long night since Grampa’s passing. We sat together out on the porch swing, teasing the flakes off the pie crust, making the delicious sweet-sour taste last. I remembered back when I was little, when Mom and Dad were alive, they’d brought me up for a day, while J.D. worked up in some logging camp. Dad was mending things around the place, and Mom and Granma made a sour cherry pie. I’d helped pit the cherries, all glossy and ruby-red like lip-stick, and we’d carefully laced
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the top-crust on, then baked it in Granma’s cook stove. It came out a work of art, sugar glazed brown on a golden crust, candy-red sticky cherries showing through the lattice. Granma’d put the pie in the cooler on the back porch, then we’d gone into the garden, weeding pole beans, when we heard the clatter, a n d t h a t p e c u l i a r b a b y - d o l l row-rl o f a b l a c k b e a r sow. As fast as I could run, it wasn’t fast enough. She’d got into the pie good, scarfed-up a big gob of fresh butter, and spilled the goat milk on the grass! Poor Kerry, Grampa’s hound, chased her away. When he finally came loping back, even he hung his head, mourning for that cherry pie. “Remember ol’ Kerry?,” I smiled, and Granma’s eyes lit up recalling that special day. We both laughed at the memory, and it made the taste of her cherry pie all the sweeter this time. “Nicky,” Granma began, “I’m going in to rest now, and you should get some sleep too, it’s getting late.” I kind’a frowned, guess Granma didn’t care for me reading a journal too much, when there was farmwork to be done next day. I stayed out after she’d gone on inside, then lit the kerosene lamp and brought out the journal again, idling on the porchswing in the still dark, golden glow on velvet black, reading on.

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Eleven - Cheyenne Autumn
“It was late Friday, ” L o o k ’ s j o u r n a l d e s c r i b e s , “just days before our Chicago run. Michelle had asked before if we could drive up to Galesburg for her sister’s wedding.” With the cost of Sonoma County land skyrocketing, Jennie and her old man Bo left California far behind. Their commune decided to sell out and made a big profit, enough for Jen to help with down payments on her Mom’s place in Santa Rosa, a little white clapboard New England’y place, like you’d see up in Mendicino. Michelle helped too, it made the two sisters feel good, with their Mom settled in, knowing there was a home for them, if they ever needed one. Then Jeannette and Bo moved back to Illinois. She went back to school at Knox College, studying to be a nurse, while he worked as a hospital orderly. They were living in a rented farmhouse, a couple of set-aside garden acres, orchard and corral, the rest gone over to agribusiness. It was a real nice country place to hang out, gray weathered outbuildings set among century-old oak and ash trees. The kind of place you’d maybe throw a bluegrass potluck on weekends. So that’s exactly what they did. “Look, you’re gonna love this, they’ve got the nicest farm, the whole thing, wedding and reception, potluck and hoe-down, right on their place!” Shelley beamed, one part of her dream, a
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part she was too tough to admit in her own life, blossoming for Jen. “Sure, Shell, sounds like fun, maybe I can dig up some dirt on you and your old hippie boyfriend,” Look smiled, and they tussled on the couch, tickling. “Yeah, and maybe I’ll get to see some ol’ Look magic, you trying to pickup one of those horny single girls, you know, the ones with the push-up bras, and a g-string up their ass?!” Michelle was laughing out loud now, and their tickling turned to caressing, then got serious. He picked her up, legs wrapped around him, and carried her off to bed down the hall. The next morning they roused way before dawn, stretching and groaning in the dark. Michelle whipped up a tomato salad and a glazed lemon pound cake for Jen’s reception. Look threw Dr. P’s and a 6-pack of Bud in their cooler, poured in a bucket of crushed ice, and slid the wrapped salad and cake dishes in on top. “Ready?” he smiled, then a couple minutes later, “ready?” again. Shelley flew around the place getting dressed. When she finally stood by the door, with a ‘let’s go!’ smile, he couldn’t tear his eyes off her. Images of their first night flashed through his mind. Michelle stood there rose-blushed and dewy-creamed, sway-backed like a wild colleen, her tawny blonde hair tousled and loosely tiedback in a pony-tail, the red-gold tie-dyed summer t-top accenting her firm breasts,
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revealing her narrow flat waist, with a wraparound East-Indian sarong silhouetting the swelling curve of her hips, the shadowy gap between her slender legs. “You’d better throw on a shawl over that for later,” Look gulped huskily, unable to move. Then he turned back toward the kitchen, “I’ll go call Lou and tell him we’re heading over to Galesburg.” As the sun topped the trees, steaming off the heavy dew of late summer and sending the first whisps of puffy cumulus up into the sky, Look and Michelle purred down the Little Osage grade in his ‘54 Ford, heading northwest. They cruised the highway bridge over the Illinois River, then out through the rising bottomland, cuddling to hold onto last night’s mood. The drive wound on back roads between narrow fence-rows, horizons of emerald corn, red barns and silver silos, yellow “DeKalb” signs, old Burma-Shave plaques, their new day rising to meadowlark songs and the smell of new-mown hay. When they got to Jen and Bo’s place, the wide front yard was already full of cars, and billowing nimbus were graying up against the surrounding hills. “Guess we might get a little rain this afternoon,” Look motioned up with his hand, as he found a place to park out behind the abandoned machine shed. Shelley was ebullient, “No, not on Jennie’s wedding it won’t! Not today!”
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The house and barn were set back off of Sandburg Road, behind a large front yard, nestled in a hollow of rolling cropland. Low wooded hills surrounded the back of the place on two sides. Remember this? L o o k t h o u g h t s u d d e n l y t o himself, surprised at the momentary flash of deja vue. “Oh, Look, do you see all the people! All those colors!?” Shelley gushed, then throwing him a kiss over her shoulder, ran off toward the back yard. He could see the throng gathering around p l a n k t a b l e s , t o p p e d , n o , heaped with brightly laden bread baskets, salad bowls, meat platters, fruit trays, cheese boards, pie plates and wine b o t t l e s . Why I’ll be, L o o k m u s e d t o h i m s e l f , it’s just an awesome fine day! A host of humanity spread out on the big back yard, tantalizing aromas mingling with the ripe corn smell in the air. People in all shapes and sizes, faces from all ages floated loosely about, most dressed in the wild designs, textures and colors of that post-war era. Soft drums and flute music drifted on the ether, giving the place a real carnival atmosphere. Again, that sixth-sense feeling... A Gathering of the Tribes! “Jennie!” Shelley found her sister standing in the kitchen, and then they hugged, eyes squeezed tight shut, blinking, bright. Look walked up the steps, and she turned and put an arm around his waist. “This is my old man, Look.”
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Jen gave him a mysterious big sister smile, and a hug, then turned to her own. “And this is Bo, you remember him from back in Guerneville?” Bo stood close by Jennie, smiling like a monk, slender hands, Lennon glasses. Shelley blushed as they hugged, then Bo and Look shook hands. “Let’s go outside and see who’s here,” Shelley motioned, and they pushed their way out into the wandering pantheon, gesturing everyone together for their communal wedding celebration. “The pastor’s here,” someone Pony Express’d, and Bo and Jen ran off to find him. A squall came up just then, a wall of clouds and rain over the hills, and they all ran for the barn. Look and Michelle stood in back, mingling with the host of inpouring people. They held hands, laughing, until Jennie and Bo flew in, their bedraggled preacher in tow, and the barn door slammed closed behind them. The three of them stood there, soaking wet, but serious with intent, everyone in hushed silence. The rotund red-bearded fellow, a religious studies teacher at the college, began to read from The Velveteen Rabbit, a b o u t h o w , Life and time may leave you fuzzy and worn, but if your heart is right, you’ll still have love at the end . Something like that anyways. Then a gust of wind burst overhead, shuddering the barn timbers. Jennie punched out her arm, clamping the rattling double-door shut.
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“We wished you all here today,” Bo spoke up then, pausing, and Jen finished, “To share our happiness at being man and wife.” Everyone hooted in applause. The pastor spoke those magic words, and with a “Whee!” Jennie let go the latch, and the barn door flew open to blazing shafts of golden sunlight, the dark rain clouds parting as everyone flooded outside. As Look and Michelle reached the door, the sun was fully out, hot and strong. Jennie’s girlfriends clustered around her, shedding tears of joy, and Bo puffed his chest and shook hands with all the men, like the sun’s return was his design. The serving cloths were wiped down, food trays uncovered, and the whole crowd picnic’d and danced under the maples to the twang of the banjo and pluck of the flatpick guitar, all that fine sunny day. After they’d feasted, Look and Michelle left to walk up on the hills and enjoy the last of summer, just to be alone a little, you know, the calm before the storm? They wandered up a old dirt lane, breaking through the canopy of trees above the farm, then sitting there, stretched out in the sun, watched as charcoal’d gray thunderheads moved off in the distance, a marvelous bright rainbow glowing up off to the east. All around them lay a meadow of purpleblue flowers, as though the sky was reflected indigo off the earth itself.
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Look slid an arm around her slender waist, raising his eyebrow, “Well?” Shelley pushed him away with a laugh, “In your dreams!” and took off dancing across the meadow. They ran and ran together nearly to the trees, leaping to touch the sky, breathless in the sweet smells and crystal air, and collapsed at last on their backs, deep in the lavender bloom. His sense of deja vue was overwhelming now, past, present and future coexisting all at the same moment, two beings of one mind, starc r o s s e d l o v e r s , how do they say, ‘soul-mates’? As he leaned over for a kiss, she pushed him back, gasping. The hot sun had lifted a flock of those orange butterflies, you know, monarch’s? from out of the surrounding forest, where they’d rested through the rain squall. First one or ten, and then more, and more, hundreds, then tens of thousands o f t h e m f l u t t e r e d a n d d a n c e d l o w across the field toward them. “Look!” her hands tripped and fell in the air, tied on puppet strings, “Look!” They lay there spread-eagled, eyes wide open, bubbling out screams of joy. Just above their faces a living tapestry, thousands of bright fluttering orange wings, weaving through shimmering lavender petals, a clear robin-egg blue sky rainbow’d on cotton candy clouds, their entwined forms shining radiant under the spun-golden first-of-autumn sun. “Michelle, let’s get married, OK?” She pulled him over on top of her with a shy s m i l e , “ Bon, naturellement, ” a n d t h e n h i k i n g u p
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h e r s a r o n g , w h i s p e r e d i n h i s e a r , “ Enterrez l’os, big man.”

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Twelve - Mean Streets
As you head up I-55 near Joliet, you see it there, slowly rising up from the prairie, the black obelisk of Sears Tower. “An image of brutality and salubrity,” as LeCorbusier defines it. AKA Dearth Verdure. Then the forest starts to thin out, farmland fading to smaller and smaller patches, sneaking away on you, until the chips of greensward are just a garnish on an old serving plate of crumbling concrete and cracked asphalt, jumbled up with the dark graystones, peeling billboards, rows of factories, tangle of train yards, all pointing toward Chicago. Once it had roared as Hog Butcher to the World, The City of Big Shoulders. Look’s journal has a rap he had with his Nam buddy, a guy who grew up in the Windy City: “In New York City, Look, you could drop dead on the street and lay right there until noon next day, without anyone noticing. In Chicago, they’d ticket your body for littering, then the cops’d beat you to death a second time! Dude, the justice system polishes the “t” in, “on the take,” if your old man don’t know an alderman or a union boss he can slip payola to, you might as well kiss a job good-bye!” Y e a h , w h i t e haired, heavy-jowled, lard-ass’d Chicago. Now he was going to find out for himself, have a little look-see. The ‘54 purred, its bigblock leaned out and advanced at the high end, pure raw punch-power underfoot. Lou and Shelley just stared straight ahead, the bucket
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seats, pushed forward to hide their load, left them too cramped and numb. They’d lost the chit-chat now that the city was closing in on them, fading in the sunset’s long shadows. Look rolled down his window and cool air blew into the cab, swirling Shelley’s hair up, waking them from their stupor. “There it is, which way?” he asked, glancing across at Lou, idly turning the map in his hands. “We can take the Dan Ryan if we turn off here on I-80 and then hook up I-57,” Lou offered, “but it’s a nicer drive on the Stevenson, then we’re not running up through the South Side on a hot summer’s night.” He held up his thumb and forefinger, popping them like a gangland pistol just behind Shelley’s view. “Stevenson it is, who’s got the quarters for the toll?” he reminded, trying to lighten Lou’s image up. Shelley wearily held up the roll, “Got ‘em.” You could tell she was trying, but with a real disinterested attitude. This was so macho, it was hard for her to find a place to fit in, just being cool and making small talk. At dusk, Look pulled off near Romeoville for a pit stop. Lou hadn’t wanted to stop in Peoria, or there in Joliet, both prison towns, he didn’t want anyone he knew to spot him, to tag the license plate, maybe drop the dime. So they lounged around, a little ahead of schedule, used the head, stretching, staring. The girl inside the mini-mart smiled at Lou, she’d liked the eyebrow ring, and offered to fry up a fresh batch
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of chicken gizzards if they’d wait. So Look dropped the tailgate, and they chugged Dr. Pepper’s and wolfed the hot gizzards down, standing there under the cold mercury vapor glare of the parking lot lights. The kind of blue glare that makes people look just like ghouls, though when you’re on the town, relaxed or driving home from work, then you don’t notice it, your mind does a three-card monte. See if it don’t! But if you’re tired, and tense, or from out of town, then all those strange faces you spot around you in that cold mercury glow look just like walking dead. “Let’s get the hell out of here, this place gives me the creeps!” Look spoke, and they piled back into the familiar comfort of his rig. He punched u p s o u n d s , a h a r d - d r i v i n g Free For All f o r L o u , then some Van Morrison for Michelle, and they all relaxed a little. Their truck blasted on down the highway, the darkness of an evening sky lost in the interminable streetlight glare of the city, cars speeding past them now, in heavy traffic up near the Tri-State. Far to the north, Turner Gribble was climbing into his Trans-Am, his .38 Police Special clipped in a holster under his arm, a spare .22 auto tucked in his right sneaker. It’d be a classic bust, two stinkweed hicks jacked up against their bikes, Turner beating their heads down if a passerby came in view, then riffling through
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their stash, counting out the years in prison, guaranteed, as he read them their rights. Then he’d turn his back at just the right moment and let them escape, running back home on the bus to their mommy’s, or whatever hairy-legged hippie chic passed for a mommy. He laughed outloud at his own cleverness. It was a trick he’d learned as an MP in Viet Nam, just shaking people down for their stash, then letting them slip away. He’d refined it on Chicago’s Finest as a beat cop, though by then he was more prone to club his victims unconscious before he stole their stash. These country punks were all the same, just a sour stink on shit, flocking to him like moths to a flame, suckered by his first inept-looking buy on their own turf, then lured in by the heavy load he’d call up for. “ C a n y o u girls h a n d l e i t ? ” W o r k e d e v e r y t i m e . Some never made it, some never saw it coming, and some shot it out. Either way the result was the same. He’d have a stash to sell through his connections, and maybe an ‘abandoned car’ to buy at auction. Or else a good bust and clean shooting ruling on his record. So he was moving on up in the ranks. That is, until that savvy Pollak detective put two-and-two together, busting him off the force for not playing by the rules. Not that it stopped Turner Gribble. Bad stays bad. Tonight he’d get to Jackson Park early, find a spot where he wouldn’t be seen as those
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downstate punks rode by on their little puttputt’s, heading for the meet over at the University of Chicago. Hey, where else can three white guys hang out on Chicago’s South Side without attracting attention? Turner was off-duty as a security guard for Basques Armored, where he worked during the week, picking up cash bags around downtown in an armored truck. About as far up as his badcop record would let him go after that CPD thing. Sure, he couldn’t shake his past, but right now Turner didn’t give a fuck, he was jazzed to score. He popped a tab of meth, and washed it down with Blue Ribbon, then whipped his Trans-Am into a tight U-turn, heading for the Dan Ryan. Twenty blocks from Turner’s tacky two-story on Grenshaw Street, over by Pulaski and Cermak, Eddy ‘Tuo’ Maribino slid into his black New Yorker. His brother Jake was driving for him tonight. They called Jake ‘Mo’ on the street, for ‘Mostro’, his body built like a silverback gorilla. Probably why Momma stopped having kids. Tuo had the smarts, and Mo, well, he’d j u s t s e t h i s l i p s t i g h t , a n d prestissimo, b u l l d o z e right through an opponent. The local heavy’s. It was a respectable neighborhood, and you had to know someone, had to pay tribute to the Debolepesco clan, show respect if you wanted into the Inner West Side. Everything Cicero to Jackson was Debolepesco’s, from Hawthorne Race Track to University of Chicago.

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UofC was where Eddy and Jake were headed tonight, to collect the day’s numbers, and the bookie receipts, keeping an eye out for that dirtbag Trans-Am Jake had seen shaking down a Chevy Super Sport last month, a coupl’a dazed hayseeds with Indiana plates, over by Comiskey Park. Why, that fuckin’ piece-of-shit had even been tagged over at 31st and Cicero, dealing drugs right down by the Track! Hey, someone has to stop this guy , E d d y f r o w n e d , he’s trying to muscle in on our turf! Maybe something that Mo could use when Mr. D calls on him to repay that favor. It’d be up to Eddy, as the enforcer, to put that loser out of his misery. He figured the Trans-Am for some Sky Pilot, and he was right. An ex-MP’s sort of like a fighter jock too, dropping bad shit on people’s heads. Eddy just didn’t know Turner was once a Chicago cop. Look squeezed the bridge of his nose hard, his eyes reddened ‘til they hurt to blink, hands clammy moist. Long drives always left him feeling like shit. His lower spine ached where he’d been hit in a NVA fire-fight, his buddies screaming in the night as bullets sputtered and zinged through the bush all around him. He’d just missed being crippled, had to crawl back into the treeline, then elbow through the nighttime jungle, until his buddy Jorge, the TexMex, found him next morning and dragged him back to the landing. Then they’d waited, Look screaming in silent pain, waiting for the Huey, or a hail of AK-47
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bullets to find them first. He’d been lucky, that was all, lucky to get out alive. Look glanced across at Lou, and he grinned back. For a second that flash of truth passed between them, like a c o l d b l u e f l a m e . Luck of the draw. “You missed the Dan Ryan!” Lou shouted, then rechecked his map. “Don’t worry, turn off up ahead, the 25th Street exit, it’ll take you to Martin Luther King Drive, we can go south on that to Jackson Park...about thirty blocks,” he redirected. They swung onto the feeder, with a California-stop at the red light. Their truck almost sideswiped a big New Yorker gunning on down MLK. Heavy metal. “Jeezus! That was close!” Lou shouted, “Hope Turner’s still there waiting for us.” Turner didn’t have long to wait, but what he saw surprised the hell out of him. Those punks weren’t on their easy-rider’s! No! They were cruising in a sweet shortbox, all header’d, set up, detailed, and that fox’y pussy from the bar was riding with them! In an instant Turner’s plan was thrown awry, his pencil-dick throttling his pea-brain into s i l e n c e . Gonna get that bitch tonight, gonna make her beg for more! H e s m i r k e d t o h i m s e l f , p e a l i n g rubber, heads turning as he fought the fishtail into traffic, weaving up close in behind Look’s ‘54. “Hey, Lou,” Look nodded to the rearview, “your little friend is riding right behind us.”
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Shelley stared straight ahead. Lou checked the side mirror to see if any other car was riding on behind Turner’s, laughing at Look’s sarcasm. No one, OK. The meet’s going down. Turner flashed his lights, and then Look raised his hand up to the back window, flipping him off. “Let’s see how big a pussy that fuck really is.” Shelley glared at him in disbelief. Testosterone took over, his senses were singing, electric, acutely aware of every motion in their sphere, the light and shadow between buildings, the traffic weaving in and out. Look’s gesture had the desired effect. Turner s a w r e d . That punk’s gonna pay for this. I’m gonna fuck his bitch right in front of him, then cap him off for resisting! Or whatever passed for rage in that weevil-brain. The Trans-Am swerved across the double line, forcing a Bel-Air into a fire hydrant, already behind them. His window rolled down, he signaled Look with a fisted curse to follow him, then cut hard left across MLK, heading for Washington Park. Disappointed, he saw Look pull a powershift, slipping in behind him. They prowled the brownstones around UofC, searching for parking space, until they came up on a tee intersection, an old cathedral, midblock on their left, grimy convenience market across on the corner. Two spaces in front of the church, reserved parking.
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Turner whipped a U-turn, parking so fast it caught Look off-guard. He rolled to a smooth stop at the corner, and then, sensing danger, rubbed Shelley’s shoulder lightly with his right hand, giving Lou the crossed fingers hi-sign behind her. “Run in and get a couple of Dr. Pepper’s and a pack of Marlboro’s for me, OK?” Shelley pouted, then reading Look’s tight face, ducked her head down and slid out as Lou held the door open. It was time to get real. Lou slid back in, and they pulled out onto the main street in a wide-radius 360º, swinging in behind the Trans-Am. There was little traffic this time of night, late on a weekday. In the headlight’s glare, Look saw Turner reach in his glove compartment. His Luckie’s? Or a pistol? Then he got out, giving the fisted Black Panther salute, holding his elbow in front of his eyes. Look killed the headlights, but in their fading glow, he thought he saw the glint of steel as Turner turned sideways in front of them. Lou rolled down his window as Turner made the curb and walked over to the truck, leaning in. “Hey, you girls finally made it,” Turner macho’d, “What’ve you got for me?” “More like what’ve you got for me, mutherfucker,” Lou spat back, raising the hair on Look’s neck. “Where the fuck’s my money, what’s this shit, ‘no down’?” T u r n e r b a c k e d a w a y , Simmer down, let these punks sweat…and where’d that pussy go! ? H e l e a n e d back in, “It’s cool, it’s cool. I’ve got the bread.
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Why don’t we move over to my office and we’ll do this deal?” He backed away again, inviting, and raised his arms overhead, innocently stretching. That was all Eddy Maribino needed, passing by on the main street just then, looking right at Turner, then the Trans-Am, and the ‘54 from out of town. Cha-ching, the pinball wheels did their little jingle-jangle in his head. “Mo!” he cursed, “Pull in by that market!” Jake looked ahead, “Hey, Tuo, no space!” “I don’t give a fuck, pull over! Double-park!” The New Yorker glided to a stop behind the line of parked cars, invisible under the streetlights’ glare. Eddy grabbed his .45 from the tooled-leather glove compartment and drew out a custom semi-silencer, skillfully screwing down the barrel, cocking the action. It wouldn’t be truly silent, popping a distant backfire, but it threw off people’s sense where the sound came from. Confusion was an ally and that’s all he needed. Eddy pulled his dark overcoat open and reached through the slit in its side, taking up the gun in his right hand. He left the coat unbuttoned. It’d look like he was stopping for a pack of smokes, his hand in his pocket. He’d come back out, Jake would’ve backed up across the street, directly below the mark. He’d look both ways, confused, and nod toward Jake, then walk across the street and put two slugs in the head of that punk, the rest for the witnesses in the truck. Shouldn’t take more than seven,
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maybe eight seconds before he was back in his car, heading to Cicero. “Mo, wait until I go into the store, then back across the intersection, double-park where they can see you, like you’re trying to find a parking space, like you don’t want to block the intersection. Got it?” Jake nodded, he knew he had to do exactly what he was told on a hit. Eddy got out of the car, smoothing his overcoat on the bulge of the .45, then nodded to Jake, and walked brusquely across the sidewalk into the little corner store. Inside, Shelley dawdled by the till, stalling for time, pretending to search for money, trying t o t h i n k o f s o m e t h i n g e l s e s h e w a n t e d . That Turner dude gives me the creeps! she thought to herself. The West Indian store clerk was in no mood. “Will that be all?” he intoned again, then seeing the sharp suit hovering by the door, a paying customer! h e t u r n e d , “ C a n I h e l p y o u , s i r ? ” Eddy ignored him, ducking his face, adjusting his coat so it’d swing smoothly open without catching his arm as it raised up level. At the clerk’s question to him, Shelley glanced over in time to see the shifting coat folds reveal the blue glint of cold steel. God, it’s a bust! I’ve got to warn Look, it’s a setup! She threw some bills on the counter and grabbed up the bag of cokes and smokes, but she didn’t count on the clerk’s psychotic sense of order.

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“Miss, don’t you want your change back?” he stammered, surprised at her sudden change of pace. She glared coldly at him, screaming inside, then back at the door. It was closing, empty. The man with the gun was gone! S h e l l e y b o l t e d f o r t h e d o o r , m o a n i n g “ Oh no, oh no, oh no,” o u t l o u d . T h e c l e r k l i f t e d u p t h e counter and followed, already caught up in her panic. Outside, Turner closed back in on Lou’s window. Lou wanted to see the money, Turner wanted to see the stash, it was a Mexican standoff. He grabbed quick under his arm, snapping his .38 out into Lou’s face. “OK, ladies, this is a bust. You have the right to remain silent, if you can’t afford....” At that moment he caught the New Yorker backing out of the corner of his eye. Glancing left just enough to keep his eye on the punks, he lowered his gun muzzle toward Lou’s belly. They’ll keep, what’s this bullshit here? A dark-coated business man was stepping off the curb, raising his left hand as his driver w a v e d b a c k . Eh, probably some professor out on the town. Fuck ‘em! Look felt Lou tapping his elbow, and glanced down. The .357 was partially covered by Lou’s leather jacket. Look slipped his hand over the pistol grip. Turner pushed back inside the truck window again, shoving his .38 up against Lou’s eyebrow
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ring, hard, as he stared fiercely across into Look’s eyes. I’m gonna shove this up your ass, mutherfucker! Eddy covered the distance at a trot, zigging left toward the mark, sliding across the p a v e m e n t l i k e a d a r k s p e c t e r . Walter Payton, he thought, glowing at the grotesque hyperbole, feeling the smooth ripple of his leg muscles. He stopped on his magic spot, some forty feet from the mark, an easy shot for him, hard for the m a r k t o s w i n g u p t o a n d h o l d o n . Like Lou Alcindor, h e s m i l e d , s w i n g i n g h i s b i g o v e r c o a t open, raising the long gun barrel level with the mark’s liver. This time his jungle sense alerted Turner, or maybe it was that bitch running screaming out of the store. He flicked left again, saw out of the corner of his eye the big .45 coming up, stranger planted for the shot, and felt his own legs instinctively twist, turning his body on-line. But he’d been enjoying his little rap session with Lou and Look too much, and had let himself lean too far inside their truck. Turner’s .38 caught in the window frame, and his elbow barked on the door handle, raising him up on his toes in pain. Lou reached up and pushed the gun hard forward, down, fumbling his left hand for the .357. Shelley streaked across the street, screaming, “Look, it’s a bust!!” over and over.

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Turner was off balance, slipping backward, and Eddy’s first bullet sent him flying on his way with a muffled thump. Then there was a sharp Pow-w!, t h e i m p a c t o f it jerking Turner’s arm free of the truck door. Eddy’s second shot found his chest again, through the heart, splattering black blood on the sidewalk behind him. Turner jerked off a futile shot as he fell, then his head hit the sidewalk, cracking like a bowling ball. Lou howled, holding his groin, “My balls! My balls!! The fucker’s shot me in the balls!” Eddy had dropped to the ground. The mark’s wild shot nearly clipped him, the hot whine of the slug low over the New Yorker sending Jake to the floor mats, then jumping up out of the car. “Tuo! Tuo!! Tutto destra? Andiamo! C o m e o n , let’s get out of here!” Jake yelled. In the rear view mirror Look saw Eddy getting back up, closing in now, the second man at the corner curb coming on. It was getting dicey. Then Shelley grabbed him by the neck, choking him, screaming in his ear. He felt his door unlatch, shit!, l o s i n g h i s b a l a n c e . Look clutched the .357 as he fell to the pavement, the opening truck door knocking Shelley backward. He brought his right arm around, hitting on his elbow, hard. Pain shot up through his arm, and his fingers numbed, the .357 wobbling in his grip. Eddy homed in on Lou’s side of the truck.
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Pulling on his inner reserve, all his Navy Seals training, Look took a deep-drawn breath, then bit it off. Swinging his left hand out, he double-fisted the gun barrel toward Eddy’s feet under the truck. Lou was leaning back in the cab, yelling, blood everywhere. Eddy raised his gun, aiming at the back of Lou’s head in the window. Jake hovered, ready to help him out, or ready to run. Look was in that other place now, where time just stands still. He could feel his heartbeat slowing, his breath gone silent. The feet under the truck were planting for a kill shot, pianissimo. His grip steadied, trigger squeezing. The .357 kicked back hard with a sharp bark. The copperhead slug spun a hole right through Eddy’s ankles, splitting the bones like cord wood, kicking his legs hard out from under him, as he spun face down onto the concrete. In agony, Eddy ‘s shattered legs writhed like an upturned beetle, as he searched for the gunfire coming from under the truck. Again Look bit off a breath, his hands rock-steady. Eddy’s head tilted back, his eyes locking on Look’s, the heavy .45 coming up level. L o o k s q u e e z e d o f f h i s s h o t f i r s t . Ka-blaa-m! The bullet bored whitehot in between Eddy’s eye’s, ripping on down through his gullet, burning on into his guts. He never felt the pain. His forehead had exploded outward from the concussion, a frothing mass of bloody jello. The .45 slid from his nerveless hands and rattled down into the gutter.
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The store clerk crouched behind the parked cars across the way, watching it all in complete shock. Jake bellowed like a stuck bull as Look’s shot b r o u g h t E d d y d o w n , “ Basta!! Avete ucciso il m’fratello! Tuo! Tuo!!” Drawing his own .45, he pounded up the block, swinging left between the cars, onto the street. Shelley was sitting back up, the wind knocked out of her by the fall. She spotted Jake, “In front of you, Look, in the street!!” He arched backward, twisting, and that saved him. Jake’s .45 slug ripped past with a hot bee sting, neatly splitting Look’s earlobe, then whined off the pavement between Shelley’s hip and hand, spraying her flank with hot shrapnel. Look’s sights centered on Jake’s chest. The .357 thundered, but the angle was already changing. Jake dodged sideways, and the bullet caught him through his shoulder, piercing just below the collarbone, and slamming him back hard onto the car hood behind. Shelley grabbed for Look’s arm, helping him to stand, wobbling in a daze of adrenaline. “Get in the truck! I’ll drive!!” she pushed at him. Lou was groaning, slumped over against the window, his fists jammed into his bleeding crotch. Jake slid to the ground in disbelief, the shock of the .357 shattering the strings to his feet. He was hit! Look threw the gun onto the floor and dove in. Shelley slid in behind him.
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The store clerk uncurled and ran toward the store, to the phone, 911. Shelley whipped hard down on the wheel and punched it, tearing off the left tail light of Turner’s Trans-Am at the surging impact. She drove straight west, flat out, until the light changed up ahead. They idled there, Look coming out of his haze, Lou gone unconscious from the pain and loss of blood. “Are you OK?” Look asked, rubbing her thigh. “Me? I’m fine, take care of Lou!” she tensed, “which way should I go?” Far behind them the flash of blue strobe lights told them CPD had arrived on the scene. “Turn north, right, here!” Look pointed. Pulling his shirt off over his head, he rolled it into a tight ball, shoving it into Lou’s crotch to slow the flow of blood. “You remember that hospital we saw at the 25th Street exit, what was it? Mercy? Drive!!!” The ‘54 thundered north, heading for whatever salvation that Mercy Hospital might provide. Back at the scene, the store clerk was pointing, waving, the center of attention, but he was driving the cops nuts the way he composed his observations. “Oh, there was a young girl, and a dark man, who came into the store. I don’t think they were together, she grew very upset when she saw him.”
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“Yeah, what else did you see?” the officer growled. Across the street his partner had kicked the .38 out of Turner’s dead hands, then reached down for the silenced .45 near the other stiff. “Hey, Johnny boy, we got a hit here! The shooter fucked up and got himself kil’t.” “When I came out the door,” the clerk went on, “the dark man had shot that man lying on his back. He shot him three times I think. There was a truck the man was leaning into, maybe he shot them too?” “What do you see, Ricky, talk to me!” “Can’t figure it, John, the shooter’s caught one right between the eyes, no exit path. His shoes are bloody, must’a been a ricochet. He put two .45’s into this other guy, just can’t see how they done that to each other.” “What about it, sir,” the first cop glared at the clerk, “Something you wanna tell me? Do you have a gun? Did you see anyone else? What about the truck? Was someone in the truck? What happened to the girl?” “I was just going to tell you that,” the store clerk paused, savoring the interval, the expectant look on the cop’s face. “The girl ran over to the truck, another man got out of the dark car on the corner, a man fell out of the truck and shot the dark man, then the two men shot at each other in the street, then they got in the truck and the girl drove off.” “Hey, you better call in HQ quick, get the detectives here, Johnny,” the other cop was
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shouting back, “our victim here’s carrying a CPD shield. He’s that dumb-fuck Gribble, used to run shake-down’s, remember?” “Wh-h-a-a-t!!?? The officer was off-balance now, almost grabbing the clerk by his shirt. “Which two men, sir? Who shot who? Try to remember! Did he identify himself as an officer? What type of car was it!? Do you remember the vehicle license?” Then exasperated, he yelled to his partner, “Get over here, this raghead ain’t making no sense to me.” The clerk’s face mellowed, widening a goldfilled smile, ignoring the jab, “Oh, of course! I went to the University! I wrote both license numbers on a piece of paper after I called 911. And it was the man in the truck who shot both of the men in the car.” “Hey, John, we got blood in the street over here, another shooter,” Richard hollered, pumped up. “Tell me something I don’t know Ricky,” John yawped back, then pointing the way to the store clerk, “Let’s you and me talk inside, sir. I am very i n t e r e s t e d i n w h a t y o u h a v e t o t e l l m e . ” The West Indian almost skipped in delight. His convenience store was going to be in all the papers. Jake pealed into the driveway of their Cicero home, a big whitehouse kind of stone edifice, trim lawns, manicured trees like pinched poodles. Stumbling up the driveway, he d i s a p p e a r e d i n s i d e . Whew! That was too close! The
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fucking cops were almost on me before I got out of there. Poor Tuo really fucked up.... Gotta call Mr. Debolepesco and let him know. He felt a more like puking instead. The bleeding in his shoulder had slowed, his handkerchief, now a dark clotted red-brown. It was a clean exit wound, and he’d managed to stuff his sock into the bullet hole while he drove. It just hurt like hell was all. Mr. D’d have his doctor fix him up. He picked up the phone, wincing as he sat on the edge of his leather chair. “Hey, Louey, it’s me, Mo, I need to speak with Mr. D. No, let me talk to Mr. D! What? About a shoot, that’s what about! Yeah! Yeah! Tuo’s dead. Yeah, you heard me, the mark had a fuckin’ partner, shot Tuo in the head. Yeah! I was there, he hit me in the shoulder after I got off a round. .... NO! No, no witnesses, the cops can’t make me, the car was on a side street. I beat the heat out of there. .... What? Hey, I’m hit! Don’t hang up on me, I said I’m hit. The cops have Tuo, it’ll be in all the fuckin’ papers! .... That’s right! .... I’m OK, in the shoulder. Just bring me in, I need to see your doctor. Right, OK. Call me back, I’m at home.” Shelley peeled into the emergency entrance at Mercy Hospital. It was quiet out in the street, no one going in or out. The truck engine lud-lud’d in low idle as they hugged each other for the first time. “God! I was so scared when I saw that man had a gun! I thought sure it was a bust! What
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happened!? Who shot Lou, where’s Turner??” Shelley pleaded. “Never mind that now, we have to get Lou into a doctor,” Look cautioned, kissing her. “I’ve gotta get outta here, that clerk saw my face. Just killed a man, maybe another, I don’t even know who they were!” “Sorry, OK, let’s get him inside,” she hung her head a moment, “what are we going to tell them?” “Just say you were riding on his motorcycle and hit a pothole,” he thought quickly. “Say you two hit a pothole and then crashed into a lamppost. Lou went up over the fill cap, yeah, and ripped his crotch out.” “I can’t say that! They’ll never believe me!” “Yeah they will, just act like you’ve been in a wreck, that shouldn’t be too hard! I’ll say I picked you up and drove you over here. Then I’ll take off.” “Look! Stay with me! Stay with me, please!” “Sorry, babe, right now Lou needs help and I need to get the hell out of town. You stay here with Lou. I’ll call you from Saltie’s, OK?” She searched his eyes for a brief second, then swung into action, “OK, let’s get Lou inside.” The admitting clerk at Mercy Hospital was clearly surprised. Monday nights are slow nights after the weekend, and seeing a guy bluewhite as a sheet, crotch all bloody, wasn’t on the menu.

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“In here, bring him right in here,” she directed, calling out to an orderly something about a kit and ‘stat’. “Here, lay him down on this gurney, over here.” She helped them settle Lou on his back on the sheets. The orderly and an attending intern ran into the room and began to cut away at Lou’s Levi’s. Shelley looked, and then looked away. It was a mess. “What happened to him!” the attending stared first at Michelle, then at Look. “This looks like a gunshot!” Shelley swallowed hard, a desperate last plea in her eyes to Look, then riveted a glare at the intern. “No, that’s not what happened. We were riding his Norton and hit a pothole on the Dan Ryan. We veered onto the median, and were almost killed! Then we hit the divider pads, you know, the deflectors?” she lied, “my boyfriend slid over the handlebars, I think he caught himself on the gas cap.” “Are you all right, miss? And who’s he?” the intern pointed over towards Look. “He was driving right behind us, and was kind enough to stop and help us up off the pavement. He brought us here.” Then she turned with feigned gratitude to Look, “Thank y o u so much , sir, I don’t think we’d have made it without you.” “No problem,” he shrugged, but the mere mention of survival had the medics back to the business at hand. “I need some Ringer’s, let’s
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rig up a drip, one twenty Lido, need a typematch, get two units of O-neg up here now, stat!” the attending ordered, and the clerk and orderly moved off as the floor nurse took over, pulling the curtain around. “Are you all right, miss?” the intern repeated, noticing the blood oozing down Michelle’s shirt. She steered Shelley onto another gurney, motioning Look toward the waiting room. “You can wait in there if you like, it appears that he’ll be OK, he’s lost some blood.” “Ma’am, I’d like to do a checkup on you,” the intern requested, “and you’ll need to fill out some paperwork for the both of you. Oh, and sir?” she added wryly to Look with a smirk , “Your ear is bleeding.” Later, outside, after the medics had picked out the shrapnel and bandaged her side back up, Michelle and Look nuzzled each other in the cool night air ghosting down off the lake, and reached inside each other’s shirts to feel the warm caress of skin on skin. He smoothed her cheek, wiping away a thin silver thread of tears. “Don’t worry, everything will be OK. Long as I get on the road. It takes time for them to sort it all out. Maybe they’ll think Turner shot that guy. “Oh, Look! This is horrible,” Shelley slumped against him. “When will I see you again!?” “Don’t worry, babe, you just stay here and take care of Lou,” Look soothed, “I’ll call from Jack’s. We can work out how to get you two back downstate.”
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Then they parted. She walked away, gazing back. Look climbed into his rig with a wave, gunned the engine into a soft burble, shifting into reverse, and backed down the driveway, out onto the street. The echo of the truck’s engine faded off the crowded buildings close around Mercy Hospital, as his tail lights flickered red once, then were lost in the distance. M i c h e l l e w h i s p e r e d t o n o o n e a t a l l , “ Je vous aime…, I l o v e y o u , L o o k . ” T h e n s h o v i n g h e r hands into her pockets, she pushed back into the warmth of Mercy.

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Thirteen - Crow’s Nest
Look made it onto the Dan Ryan, headed south, chancing the bold move right past the crime scene. He saw pale blue lights still glinting at odd angles off the buildings as he roared by in the dark. The ‘54 surged under his touch, barrels hot, racing cam digging in, on its mark. He leaned back, fumbling for a smoke, then lit it with a sigh, heartbeat steadying, more regular. He took another long draw, and cracked a Dr. Pepper, downing half of it in one great gulp. That sobered him up quick. He began to plot, to calculate. Look switched feet, and probed around for the pistol, finding it jammed up against the gear shift boot. Then lifting it off the floor, he wrapped it up in his blood-soaked denim shirt. Slowing a moment, centered in the lanes, he tipped his seat forward and fished around behind him for their stash bag. The Dan Ryan was nearly empty this late at night. He cruised high above a sea of tenements, blue-collar workers, mostly black, mostly ghetto. Look stuffed the shirt-wrapped pistol into the big athletic bag, then pushed it back down between the buckets, covering the bloody seat with Lou’s leather jacket. OK, so if I’m stopped, just be cool, tell them you’re coming home from Wisconsin, late weekend in Madison. Co-ed’s, you know. Ha-ha-ha.

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But then his racing mind chewed and raveled at the edges of that weak alibi, and panic began to set in. What if they’ve tagged me? That clerk! Slowly the needle on the truck speedometer crept upward, 70..., 80..., 90. There was no one on the road now, and once he made the I-80 junction, he’d be out of Chicago, out of Cook County, gone. Lost in the train of lumbering long-haul rigs rumbling south. Ahead the highway sign, ‘E 84 <---> W 57’. Look slowed, swinging smoothly into the right lane. Almost out ‘a Dodge! H e p u n c h e d d o w n o n the gas pedal hard, carving a smooth arc onto I57 heading west for Joliet. The needle touched 110, the big V-8 engine far above a roar now, a flat hard gear-on-gear grinding whine. There was a belch, a lurch, a puff of smoke, the oil gauge pegging the zero. The red-hot exhaust pipe choked with blue smoke, and the smell of hot oil filled the cab as it splattered on the back window. Oh, damn, hell, cock sucker, muther-fucking shit! L o o k c u r s e d h i m s e l f , I blew a fucking engine seal! There was nothing to do now but look for an out. Pray for one. He got lucky. “Halsted Street Exit” up ahead. His truck was backfiring below 60 already, so Look shut the engine down, rolling in neutral. It was eerie, gliding like a magic carpet down the offramp, Aladdin in a city of dark fears and crumbling hopes. He made the intersection and, nobody around, blew the red light, coasting to a stop nearly a quartermile south on Halsted, almost to 100th.
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Trapped inside Chicago, deep in no-man’s land. Look laid his head down on the wheel, feeling the dashboard with his hand, talking to it, like a favorite hunting dog. “Sorry old man,” remembering when he’d first found the truck over in Decatur, bought it from a hog grower out in the east-side farmland. He’d stripped and rebuilt the ‘54, every night in front of their house, from a tired old hayrick into a rough-riding cherry turbo-charged beast. A beast that always did his bidding, as it carried him smoothly through the night, radio crooning, a silent friend. He took a Hopi blanket he’d stowed, spreading it out over Lou’s seat, neatening up the truck interior, putting things in order. “I’ll miss you, ol’ buddy,” he spoke again, then slinging Lou’s jacket over his shoulders, grabbed the athletic bag and stepped out into the muggy night. He’d been walking about a half-hour, making about two miles he guessed, maybe less, when he noticed the three black guys paralleling him, just behind his view. But as soon as he turned, they changed their angle, checking for traffic, skipping across the street toward him. He t e n s e d , t h e n c h i l l e d . Whatever comes. The first guy, the leader, was a tall dark, leanfaced go-tee. The other two were heavies, rounded heads, puffy wide arms, like they used to work out and now just settled for running in a gang.
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“Hey, man, where you goin’?” the tall one taunted. “Yo’ ain’t from around heah. What yo’ got that bag?” Look kept walking, his neck swelled, head out. He could kill the guy with one swift motion, but the other two would cut him down. That is, unless he could get to the gun. Get them high? “Hey, you guys got any weed? Sure make walking easier,” Look suggested. The tall one brightened, “Come on, man, over ‘ere, let’s light this splif.” He producing a double-tapered fat joint from his pocket. Whew, I’m on first base ! L o o k t h o u g h t , now take a defensive position. He picked the place, off the street but not out of view, lighted, not dark. Then wedging the stash bag firmly against a low concrete wall, tight behind his legs, he produced a pack of matches the store clerk had given Shelley. The tall black lit the splif, and sucked hard. The whole front end of it glowed like a coal, smell of cheap ragweed filling the air, “E’re, man,” he choked out, handing the joint over to Look. Look held it, rolling it slowly in his fingers, feeling for the rocks or hash that might kick him in the head. Nothing. Just stinkweed, cheap jumpin’-johnny. He drew on the joint, leaving his mouth open, sucking the smoke back into his nose, blowing it out without inhaling. Had to keep a clear head. The other two men took their turn.
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The effect wasn’t what Look had hoped for. In Nam, the weed was just kick-ass, even the b l a c k g u y s w o u l d g e t , w e l l , wasted’ s t h e w o r d . Like, immobile. Only juicer’s would get real wild, like they’d been sipping white lightning or something, do stupid shit. And most black guys aren’t juicer’s. Look could see from these guys’ eyes that they were about to do some stupid shit too, on him. The tall dark man took another hit, rolling the joint like a fine cigar, studying the smoke. His eyes glazing, he smiled and handed the joint to Look, imitating the Jamaican. “E’er you go, mon, dis da ire, eh?” Look reached for the joint, tensing against any grab for his bag. Then as the splif passed hands, just for a moment it fumbled, and fell. Instinctively, he tried to catch it, bending low. Just as fast, the tall black man hauled off and sucker-punched Look in the head. “E’er, mon,” he mocked for his two gang buddies, “Wa’? You don’ like me smoke, mon? You diss’in me mon?!” Then he knee’d Look on the bridge of the nose, sitting him down hard. The two big blacks moved in, grabbing Look’s arms, pinning him up outstretched against the wall. The tall leader pushed right into his face, switchblade flicking silver-white in his fist. His fake Jamaican was gone now, just hard South Side. “Should we split this mutherfucker now or have some fun?” he joked, kneeling carefully as he reached behind Look to grab at the bag, knife
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at the back of his knees. “Let’s cut his legs, haha-ha-ha!” he slowly slid the zipper open and reached his hand in. A shocked look came over his face, and he stood up, the bloody bundle in his hand. “What the fuck is this, mutherfucker,” he spit into Look’s eye. With the blade point to flip the cloth open, he exposed the .357, barrel sticking out straight at Look’s neck. “Oh fuck, man, he’s got a piece!” one of the big deputies shouted, panicking, “He’s a Mafia hitman!” “Shut the fuck up, man!” the tall dark spit at him. Then turning back to Look, in his face, “Give me the fuckin’ money, man!” Look’s vision had cleared now, he was h o l d i n g h i m s e l f l i m p o n p u r p o s e . Just another second . “I said, mutherfucker, give me the fuckin’ money, or I’ll cut your dick off!” Look whipped his head sharp forward, and at the same time, bounced his knee up hard. White hot light, bursting red pain. The tall black man staggered back, blood streaming red down his face, bent over, holding his crotch. Look fought to get his hands free, but the ham-hands were a lot stronger than he’d expected. Their grips held. Look jerked and tore with his legs, pinioned to the wall by the two thugs. “Oh man, I’m going to fuck you up, mutherfucker!” the tall dark began to windup, wiping the blood from his face. “I’m gonna cut your...”
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But he never finished the sentence. Look kicked hard with his right boot, twisting his hip to correct for the distance, stinging the knife out of the black man’s hand. Rebounding off the wall he whipped his boot heel down hard on the foot of the thug at his right. The man groaned, his grip easing. Look wrenched hard left, feeling his right hand coming free, his head swinging up under the punk on his left. Pivoting his whole weight off his pinned left hand, he w h i p p e d a r o u n d w i t h a h a r d r i g h t h o o k . Almost free! It didn’t work that way. The deputy on his left knew some moves, just let Look’s arm fall, then kicked his foot from under him as he twisted out of the way. Unbalanced suddenly, Look’s head sheared against the rough brick wall. He flailed out with his right hand, but he was going down. The deputy cooly back-dropped an elbow on his neck, sealing the deal. Look kissed concrete, his front tooth splintering up to the back of his throat, gagging him. They dragged him up again by the armpits, and pummeled his solar plexus with jackhammer fists. The leader loomed above him, waving the flickering knifeblade, his eyes bright red with blood lust. Oh, God! L o o k p r a y e d . Down Halsted from the north, a CPD patrol car squealed, its engine gunning, blue lights flashing, the sirens chirping a whoop-whoop in the night. The tall black dropped the gun into
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Look’s athletic bag, and grabbing the handles, took off at a dead run. The two deputies dropped Look, stomping him hard, then took off running too, down back alleys, over fences, gone. The gun, the stash, everything, gone. Twelve grand. Pouf! The officers in the car were both black, middle-aged, lean. They approached, gingerly observing, looking for weapons. The shotgun lifted him to his feet, brushing dirt and sand from the bleeding ooze of his face. “Boy?” he began, “What yo’ doin’ out here by yo’self this time of night? Mmmm, mmm, mmm.” Look started to speak, wobbling to stand up. “Don’t look at me, boy! I ax’d you a question!” Strangely soothing. Better the harsh bark of an ex-drill sergeant than the breath of a b e a r . H e y , three b e a r s ! “S-sir, yes sir!” Look spoke out, standing as straight as his broken body would let him. “You service, boy?” the cop queried. “Navy Seals, sir, Nam, out three years, sir.” “Well, yo’ better get in the patrol car then, and brush yo’self off. Got a vehicle ‘roun here, somethin’? That yo’ truck up the road?” As he limped to the patrol car, Look decided to take the chance. This was far South Side, a long ways from the trim graystones of whitecollar UofC. “What precinct you guy’s from?” he gasped. “Sixth District, 75th to 95th. We saw backfires up on the freeway, figured maybe take a drive
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down this way. That pickup truck be your’s then?” He got in the back of the sedan, in the warmth, his body melting into the afterglow of that violent night. Sixth District. Maybe hadn’t heard, hadn’t called in. “Yeah, that’s my rig, blew an oil seal, late weekend, up in Madison with my old lady. Heading back down to Uof I, I’m going there on the GI Bill, you know?” Look spun the story out, stringing them along. The two black cops didn’t answer, and didn’t care. They were stuck with a bleeding honkie in the middle of the night. A honkie with no wheels, and probably no money, judging from the scene. If he filed charges, there’d be nothing but paperwork to pay. Their patrol car glided to a stop by his truck, spotlight on. “Here, man, we’ll call in for a tow, you can ride to the impound lot, call a cab from there, that OK?” the cop driving offered him. The shotgun cop eyed Look, smelling the pot smoke, t h e b l o o d , s w e a t a n d f e a r . Stupid fuckin’ honkie! “What’s it gonna be, boy?” he repeated. Look stared across the street at his trusty ‘54. Best to just lock himself inside and simply wait for the tow. “Guess I’ll wait here until the tow comes, thanks.” Then he picked himself up, gingerly sliding on out, stumbling across the street empty handed. He fumbled for his keys, and let himself back into the cab. It was strangely aliensmelling inside, like when you clean fish, that kind of coppery scent, only sweeter.
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The cops lingered awhile, talking on their radio, laughing, until flashing lights of the tow truck flew overhead on the freeway. It pulled alongside his rig. Look glanced over, the cops had gone. The driver was a bullet-headed black man, older, gray, working man, a mechanic. Look felt more at home. They hooked the truck up, swung around, and headed for the impound. “Guess you ran into some trouble, son,” the man offered a kind word after a bit. “You can say that!” Look joked, groaning in pain as he tried not to laugh. Soon they were talking cars, old trucks, flatheads and slantsix’s, bored ten over’s and cam angles, Chevie’s and Cleveland’s, both laughing like it was summertime and easy livin’. The tow truck flashed on through the night, heading for the garage, the blown-out ‘54 tagging along behind. Look signed his truck over, and called up a cab. The tow truck driver hung around, offering him a hot cup of shop grind. Look traded him a smoke, and they sat in the silence of abandoned cars. The cab pulled up. Look reached over and shook the man’s hand, grateful for his kindness. “Take it easy, man.” The black man smiled, “You take care of yourself, son,” opening the door out for him. Inside the cab, Look leaned up on the seat divider, “Mercy Hospital, and quick!” The cabby glanced back at his bruised and bleeding face, and they roared off. He kept his eyes closed, feeling his nose for a break. Had to breath through his mouth, his
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jawbone aching where he’d been suckerpunched. Each breath sucked cool air over his fractured front tooth, like someone sticking a white hot needle into your nose. Over and over again. A Munsters line flashed in his head. “That’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into, Hermann! What’re we gonna do without a car!?” he lip-sync’d. “Say? What’s that?” the cabby asked. “Uh-h-h,” Look chuckled, “Nothing. Just wake me up when we get there, OK?” Next moment the cabby was shaking his arm, the glare of Mercy’s emergency entrance light bright in his face. He paid the driver and stumbled inside. There was no one around but the night clerk, and then she recognized him after a second with a shocked stare. “What happened to you!?” she shook her finger, “D’you crash your bike too?” smiling at their secret. Look started to explain, but his head hurt too much. Instead he slid down the wall and sat on the floor. The woman ambled around, clucking, “Get up off the tile, you’ll get blood on it! I’ve got a gurney for you to lie on and I’ll call the floor to take a look, see if you need x-rays. The attending can stitch you up.” Look zomed in and out of clear-headedness as they worked on his wounds. Finally the intern laid down the last suture, “That’s about it.” The
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nurse put some bandages on his face to cover the stitches. “You’ll have a ragged scar on that earlobe,” she chided him, “And your tooth is broken.” “Is my girlfriend still here?” Look asked, forgetting the tooth for a second, and his old alibi. “The couple you brought in earlier are upstairs in recovery,” she reminded him of their relationship. “Can I call up there?” Look pleaded. The nurse looked at him hard. Then her face softened a little, as she remembered their trauma. “Why don’t you sleep in the waiting room, I’ll turn down the lights. In the morning, you can call up there, see if she wants to come down. That young man isn’t going to be walking anytime soon.” Look slept the sleep of the dead, a dry metallic taste in his mouth, his stomach empty and aching. Like coming down on bad speed. But he slept. God’s healing sleep. It was like a dream within a dream, a portrait lens of bright fog, Michelle’s lovely face hovering there before him, her soft hands caressing his cheeks. Words flowed sweetly from her conch-shell pink lips, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying. Then the fog cleared, murmur of early morning emergency room began filtering in, and she was staring

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down at him, alarmed, “Look, are you all right!?” “Oh, hi,” he curled up, then sank back groaning, holding his sore belly and broken ribs. His nose felt strange, as her hand found the bandage, whiskery ripple of stitches. His face had swelled up like he’d been spider-bit, and his broken tooth hurt like hell. “Blew--engine, truck, robbed--gang,” he panted out in knifeedged pain, telegraphing, “All--gone...sorry.” “Oh babe!” Michelle wrapped her arms around him. They leaned together, unspeaking, two lovers alone in the world, his head resting on her arm as she softly stroked his hair. Not really on this earth, soaring high up above the clouds. They lay like that, together, as a dawning sun rose blood red out of Lake Michigan. It was going to storm.

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Fourteen - Fool’s Holiday
“A-a-a,” Look started in the door, searching for the sound of Dianne in the Springfield house. She was in the back yard, lying on a blanket in a ruffled bikini, under the warm yellow of early autumn sun, reading a book. She looked up as the screendoor opened, raisedeyebrow smile for Lou’s expected arrival fading, then brightening again at the sight of a friend. “Look!” she rose up. Then glancing down at her pale white skin, she blushed, wrapping her arms under her breasts to hide her soft belly. “Hi, Dianne!” he sprang down the wood stairs, covering the ground, hugging her. After a moment, he felt her arms sagging open, her body grown relaxed, and she was hugging him back hard. “Lou called me last night, I can’t believe it,” Dianne cried, stepping back, “I just can’t believe it! Is he gonna be OK? And what happened to your face!?” “Well,” Look tried to chuckle, “you two won’t be making it any time soon!” Then caught in the double-entendre, he shy’d, head dropping, “I’m sorry, I mean, he’s all right, but it’ll be awhile, before, uh, you know, you two, I mean, he can do the... umm....” His fumbled effort worked. Dianne began to laugh, and her natural cheerfulness carried them both into a second embrace, and a kiss. “Thanks, Look, I needed some humor right now.”
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They walked back into the house. Dianne threw a shirt over her bikini and made some hot tea, then sat by Look in the breakfast nook as they talked, running her fingertips across his bruised jawbone, the bristling stitches on his split nose. He recalled every moment for her, from hot gizzards to Greyhound bus ride back, detailing the events, and embellishing them with the perspective he’d gleaned from Shelley. She helped him dab a little drop of clove oil on his broken tooth, to cut the pain down. “Thanks for taking care of Lou,” Dianne leaned her head for a moment against his shoulder, “I’m sorry about your truck.” “ D i d h e t e l l y o u , u m m , a n y t h i n g a b o u t what went down after the deal last night?” “He said we’ve lost everything. Now we’re all broke. What are the odds of that!?” she tried to joke. “Hey, maybe I can get unemployment,” he joshed, wincing at the thought of begging his job back from old man Hansvedder. “I’ve still got my job at Krager, at least we’ll have food, and rent money,” Dianne offered, but you could see her uneasy smile. It was nearly autumn and soon harvest would be over. Then people burrow back into their dens, and the layoffs start. He took her hand, pirouetting her toward the living room. “Let’s go outside and have some have fun.” Then with an arm reassuringly around her waist, Look grabbed two tall-necks and a peyote button from the ‘fridge, and a fat
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joint from off the coffee table. They spent the rest of the afternoon in the shade of the front porch, hailing people that strolled by, chitchatting with neighbors, drinking, chewing, smoking a slow buzz on, like cicadas schirring in the summertime. It was late in the day as they sat there, the two of them, smiling dazed out at that magic-cloud gone-neon world which only peyote can induce. A young girl, like an elf with trails of color refracting behind her, called up to them from the sidewalk. “Do you know where the yellow house is?” the little girl shy’d, looking up through her whispy bangs. “Which yellow house, honey?” Dianne smiled. “The yellow house on the corner,” the girl hurried on, “My mom said I could get back home down this street if I turned at the yellow house.” “There’s a yellow house on the next block, and there’s one on the block after that, too!” Look spoke, confusing things more. “I don’t know which one....” The little girl was trembling, lost. Dianne shushed Look, eyes dilated, then smiled at the girl. “Don’t worry, honey, we’ll walk you home,” she offered, “won’t we Look. There, is that OK?” So the three of them walked off all together in the warm-cinnamon afternoon, each of them lost,
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each for their own reason. Wandering down street after street. “There it is!” the little girl pulled on Dianne’s arm, “There’s my house.” At last they were standing in front of a plain-looking greenshingled bungalow, a Nash Rambler parked in the drive. A woman met them at the door, graystreaked hair, rubenesque, paisley’d. “Mom,” the little elf enthused, “These nice people walked me home, I was lost.” Then she ran past her mother into the kitchen. “Won’t you two come in?” the woman held out her arm, “Thanks so much for helping my d a u g h t e r ! M y n a m e i s Él i s e . ” The living room was allspice and cardamom, you know, the way healthfood stores smell? Old books lined the far walls, and a reconditioned piano-organ graced the corner. An odd stuffed couch, throw rugs and tie-dye pillows. Oak stairs led to the alcove loft. J u d y C o l l i n s w a s s i n g i n g Where the Time Goes on the recordplayer, and Look and Dianne sat dreamily lost in their own personal worlds, now gone submediant with strange new colors, sounds and motion. “Let me make you some tea, like peppermint or chamomile?” the woman smiled, noticing the halcyon dark glitter of their eyes. Look and Dianne both giggled, too overcome for choices. But something in the woman’s manner was soothing, calm. They felt themselves re-centering, shimmering trails of
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colors becoming a rainbow blur, the cacophony of bright sounds more a symphony. “This is nice,” he offered, as they sipped their tea. Dianne agreed, “You have a nice home here.” “I’m a writer,” Él i s e r e v e a l e d , “ I ’ m s t u d y i n g aroma therapy, shiatsu massage. And sometimes I do tarot readings for people.” Then after a moment, she smiled at Look, “Would you like me to do your’s?” The little elf girl was nowhere to be seen, but he could hear her quietly giggling, somewhere far off. “Sure,” he replied offhand. After the last few days, anything new offered a small reed in the torrent. Él i s e r o s e a n d l i t a n i n c e n s e t a p e r , c h a n g i n g the music to Jagjit Singh on the tablas, in a morning raga. Then taking the tarot deck from an oaken box on the mantle, she knelt at the low table, cutting the cards, caressing them into Look’s hands. “Shuffle the cards carefully. Think of nothing,” she smiled impishly, then seriously, the corners of her mouth rising and falling with the tabla’s pulsing beat. The effect was eerily hypnotic in his hallucinatory state of mind. With a soft snap, Él i s e l a i d f i r s t o n e c a r d t h e n another in a small cross-shape pattern before Look, then four cards in file up the right side. She gazed at them, puzzled, then reached out to erase the pattern with her hand.
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Look exhaled, reading the confused expression of her face, “What’s wrong?” he wondered. “N-nothing,” she countered, “Must have dealt the cards wrong. Here, do it over.” Look shuffled them again, this time trying to clear his mind of all thought. Él i s e l a i d t h e c a r d s out. They were the same! “I can’t do this,” she stammered, “Something’s wrong.” Look insisted, “Hey, come on, you can’t leave me tripping on this! What is it?” Dianne leaned close, drawn in, wide-eyed. “ W h a t i s i t y o u s e e , Él i s e ? ” She studied their faces, then sat back on her heels. “The first card, here, is Now. The reason you were brought here, the Crux of your Life. That card’s The Fool. It means many things. Not in the sense you might think, it’s not about intelligence, or lack of it. More fresh, spontaneous, open to the flow.” “That’s Look!” Dianne enthused. The woman went on, almost in a semi-trance. “This second card, crossing, is The Tower. It means great change or upheaval. That’s not necessarily bad. It can mean growing as a Being, or....,” she added softly, “or, it can mean a total disruption to your life, even unwanted freedom.” His eyes widened. The lightning bolt striking the tower was the Zapatas’ own tattooed insignia!

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“I...,” he started, but his thoughts were still too peyote-scrambled to put ideas together. Dianne slipped her arm around him, watching. The raga’s tempo increased, the tablas a staccato drone. Él i s e c o n t i n u e d , “ T h e t h i r d c a r d , h e r e , c l o s e to you, is your Unconscious, your Root, if you will. The Magician is positive male energy, c r e a t i v e a w a r e n e s s . Y o u r F o r c e o f W i l l , ” Él i s e broke her trance, glancing up to his face, a warm mother’s smile in her eyes. “This card, on the left, is your past, The Lovers. The past you now have to let go of.” She cast sad eyes toward Dianne, “Is that you two?” Dianne smiled, an almost rueful hurt in the corners of her eyes, her voice just a whisper, “No...,” blushing at her innermost thoughts. Él i s e h u r r i e d o n . “The card above, here, is your goals, your purpose, it’s the Two of Cups,” she glanced to Look, chagrined, “it means a union, or a bonding with your Lover, or...,” she paused, “with Fate.” Look stared at his hands, noticing the twisted catskein of veins, the way the calluses sandpaper’d off to pale side skin, the soft whorls like sand dunes. His mind riveted on the image of Michelle that first night in the little bedroom, silhouetted in dawn’s pale light. Aphrodite. “The card to the right, well, that’s your Future, Three of Swords, it ...,” Él i s e s t o p p e d .
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“It means great heartbreak.” She increased her pace now, nervous and uncomfortable at being their medium. “These four cards are related elements, they’re your Influences, if you want to think of them that way. The one closest to you is who you are in your inner vision, The Hanged Man. It means...” then she smiled, finding a new interpretation, “it means letting go, accepting, going with the flow, with the Cosmos. Above that is the expectations of others, it’s The Chariot,” Él i s e ’ s v o i c e s t r e n g t h e n e d . “Others see you as victorious, self-asserting, powerful.” Dianne offered innocently, “Well, he is!” He stared at the cards, the last two glyphs clearly speaking their imagery. Él i s e p u t o u t h e r h a n d , r e s t i n g i t o n L o o k ’ s . Their gaze met and held as she spoke. “This one’s your hopes and fears, the influences on your final outcome. The Eight of Swords. You’ll face many tough struggles, great difficulty, confusion, imprisonment,” she breathed a big sigh. “The last one is your Fate. That card is The Judgment.” Then Dianne interrupted, “What does that mean, Judgment? Is Look going to be tried for something?!” glancing alarmed in his direction. Élise shook her head, “No, not that…. It’s the Judgment of Fate, the outcome of all Life’s struggle. Nobody knows how it will turn out, nobody can read the future, not even the Tarot.”
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T h e n s h e g i g g l e d au chanson. “The Future is Creation’s blessing, inventing Time so that everything wouldn’t happen all at once!” Look laughed, “That’s for sure!” smiling at her unintended meaning, his lucky escape from Chicago. Dianne insisted, “No! Élise, isn’t there a way for the cards to show what will happen?” Él i s e ’ s e y e s g l a z e d o v e r , s t a r i n g o u t l o s t i n thought. “Well...,” she spoke, with a conspiratorial smile on her face, “sometimes after a reading, I like to cheat a little and see what the next card says. You never know!” Underneath the table she crossed her fingers tight, praying, The Star, The Sun, The Ace of Pentangles! Look reached his hand across, turning over the next card. It lay skewed, a skeleton riding a horse. Death. Dianne cried most of the way back to their house, as much from the intensity of that strange afternoon, as the inevitable coming down from a magical rave. As afternoon wore on into evening, she felt better though, and went inside to heat up some food. Look sat outside alone. Everyone had gone back in their own houses now, and the sycamore trees rustled in the freshening north wind rolling down off the plains. It was the end of summer, and also the end of their dream, him and Michelle, for a place in the
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country all their own. Time of year to be resting content, harvest in, dog-tired. Instead, their band, Lou and Dianne, Look and Michelle, they only had each other, just the meager jobs at Krager’s and Saltie’s to survive on. It wasn’t gonna be easy. “After dinner, let’s ride out to Saltie’s, OK?” Look asked Dianne, coming in off the front porch. He sat there at the nook table, cleaning seeds and stems for one last joint, rolling it up in licorice papers as a treat. “I’ll call Nobody and tell him you’re in town, maybe they’ll want to meet us over there,” she smiled. Dianne walked into the hallway and called. “He said they’d maybe be out there later. He’s got his people in town over at his place. Said he’d tell Sammy and Will. Anyway, dinner’s ready.” They sat down together. Simple fresh succotash of corn and beans, dilled new potatoes, a couple of big left-over chicken d r u m s t i c k s , w a r m e d u p a n d s e r v e d a’ ratatouille. Dianne’s home cooking was incredible, and Look ate like a ravening animal. They did the dishes, listening to Stevie Nicks throb her heart out on the record player, then curled up on the davenport together, fading gloom of evening, floor lamp turned low, Santana playing on the radio. Look lit their last joint, and they passed it back and forth between them, savoring the dark warm ambiance of the silent old house. “Santana’s the best, huh?” Look sighed lazily.
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“Clapton’s better,” Dianne challenged, giggling. “You can samba to Santana, Dianne! Clapton’s all refrain, la-la, la-la, la. What about Jeff Beck?” “Nobody’s better than Jimi,” Dianne countered, laughing at Look’s mischaracterization. “Except Greg Allman,” he raised a hillbilly salute, “My man!,” with a whooping laugh. Dianne settled it, curling up a matchbook to shotgun the last of their smoke, “Ravi Shankar is beyond b e y o n d . . . . ” He couldn’t argue with that, he was too tired. “Let’s take a nap, then we’ll ride out to Saltie’s,” he sighed, ”I’m beat, didn’t sleep much last night.” He’d been lucky, the impound of his truck a cosmic break, now it was off the streets and so, yet unfound by the searching CPD. The police were waiting for that confirmation before going on the air with a bulletin, not fully trusting or understanding the store clerk. Besides, negative PR, a bad cop, an underworld hit. The captain ordered his detectives to talk to no one, especially no reporters, until they had the vehicles in impound and apprehended the shooters. Their other lead, the New Yorker, traced to out-of-state, some guy from Indiana. They had a background running. It’d take some time. Dianne snuggled in next to Look, spooning, an old red crocheted blanket drawn over them,
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nothing but the soft lamplight to break the gloom, just the low murmur of the radio and the silence. Their breathing became more regular, in syncopation, soft body heat radiating between them. They dozed then, sighing in and out softly, until the bar traffic outside began to pick up, and they woke. Look’s found his hands had unconsciously slid up to cover Dianne’s breasts, and she cupped them to her, “That feels nice, Look.” He slid back a bit, propping up on one elbow. Not wanting to pull away, he let his hand slide down her waist, onto the warm skin of her belly. “Do you like me Look?” Dianne whispered. The question caught him totally off guard. “Umm, sure! Come on Dianne, let’s go for a ride.” She smiled up at him then, dreamy, stretching her arms overhead. As her hands came down, she snagged Look’s neck, pulling him to her. They kissed softly, Dianne’s full lips wet and eager. Look pulled back, “Come on, let’s go.” Dianne laughed, “...OK.” Lou’s Norton took a bit to figure out, shifting and all. Dianne hugged against his back, telling him when to shift, how to lean, and so they did fine. Cruisin’. The Norton was a very nice bike. They both wore riding leathers and Levi’s, Dianne with her hair all tied back, Look his machinist’s hat turned backward. He liked the horse straddle of it, wide-leg plowing through
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heavy dense air, with an attractive warmhearted girl hugging his waist. He threw his weight into the turns, gripping the tank tight with his knees, head down, opening her up. There’s nothing like riding a wild horse. They pulled into Saltie’s, and for a weekday night, the crowd was pretty good, mostly locals, a few bikers down from Peoria. Pushing open the familiar oak door, his arm tight around Dianne, Look breezed into the room like he owned the place. Jacques was back to tending the bar, and a little surprised to see Look and Dianne together. “A-a-a, Jack,” Look shouted, arm up. All the heads in the place turned as they sat down at the bar. Jacques came around with two tall-neck’s, kissing Dianne and bear-hugging Look. “I’m sorry to hear about your trip up north, Michelle called down this afternoon,” he offered, kindness wrinkling the edge of his eyes, in kindred spirit. “Did she say how Lou was doing?” Dianne asked. “Yeah, she was laughing, it must hurt like hell, but he’s already clowning around about it.” “How’s Michelle?” Look asked. “She’s OK,” Jacques replied, “Says it’s boring, just waiting. Said she was going over to McCormick Place tomorrow for the tool-and-die

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convention, see if she can make a little money on the side.” Look’s eyebrows shot up, and he started to rise up of the bar stool, but he caught the ruse in Jacques’s sly smile, and popped a fist off his shoulder. “ Y e a h , right! ” T h e y a l l l a u g h e d , h a l f i n r e l i e f , half at Jacques’s joke, mostly at the feeling they were all home together, safe. “What happened to you!?” Jacques wondered, “Shelley said you lost your truck.” Look leaned in close over the noise of the jukebox, and retold the story once again for Jacques, filling in the details. A couple of the regular patrons tried to listen in, then moved away at Jacques’s scowl. “Well, sorry, man,” he slapped him on the arm, “and thanks, Dianne, for running the bar last couple days. Drinks are on the house, of course.” Jacques walked back around behind the bar, and served the people who’d been waiting. Look and Dianne toasted each other, looking around them for familiar faces, lazing. As Jacques walked by again, he offered, “Go on upstairs if you want later on, the ten o’clock news might have something.” So they had a few beers, talked with a few people they knew, then stood outside in the sparkling starlight and talked, sharing a smoke. Dianne threw an arm over his shoulder, reminding, “Look, it’s 9:45.” So they hey-ho’d
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toward Jacques, and he nodded toward the upstairs, shaking his head OK. “Take a few beers on up with you,” “Thanks! Hey?” Look asked, “if Lou’s crew shows up, tell ‘em we’ll be back down in awhile.” Walking up the stairwell in the semi-dark, even with the bar noise from downstairs, Look remembered that first time with Michelle, the memory stirring him. He turned to look back at Dianne, “Watch your step.” Her face was open, upturned, smiling, their hands loosely warm together. Look’s gaze lingered for a moment. At the top of the stairs, he paused to feel for the door knob, and Dianne pressed close in against him, laughing, loose, like a prom date. “Hi,” she breathed. Again, the memory. They grabbed a towel from the kitchen, and moved back into Jacques’s smoking room, pulling the TV-on-a-cart out from behind the Victrola where he kept it during the week. The Peoria news show was just starting, national, then Chicago highlights. Mostly local stuff came on afterward. Corn and soy prices. Dianne leaned against his shoulder as they sat together on the chaise, and reaching down, pulled her embroidered purse into her lap. She took out a vial. “Want one?” she smiled, holding up a red “barbie”. Look’s eyes went wide, then relaxed. “Naw, I’m OK,” he tried, but she persisted.
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“Just one, it takes the edge off, you’ll like it.” He had. Look had been sitting by the lodge fire one bitter cold night up at Winter Park, when he’d met Jeri and Julie, two sisters from Englewood, just got back from skiing, all glowing and giggling. Jeri was an austere, aloof brunette, taller than her naturally raven-haired younger sister, the fun one. Julie and Look were slamming tequila shooters in the bar, and the next thing he knew, she slipped him these green gel caps, some kind of tranquilizer. Jeri came on strong after that, Julie following her lead. They ended up at his A-frame, smoking Thai stick he’d bought in San Diego from a Nam buddy. The girls got loosey-goosey and wild, dancing topless. Look remembered the sloppy kissing and hot foreplay on his waterbed..., before he passed out. Next morning the girls were gone, and with it, his chance to score. So he knew the draw of downers, Lu’ud’s, angel dust, heroin. He’d seen what it did to people, tranq’d out in Saigon, dulling their senses, letting them do what they had to do to get off. All part of the Wheel of Life. “Sure, OK,” he finally agreed. Then they sat there, leaning on each other, blurring at the edges, listening to the grim economic news, sipping their beers. It was probably good Look took that red. When the news switched to C h i c a g o , t h e l e a d s t o r y w a s a b o u t him. Or rather, this guy who looked an awful lot like him.
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Right there on TV, his old driver’s license mug shot. Sure, the DOL picture was stiff and nondescript, and anyway, he’d grown a scruffy beard since then. Look chugged down his beer and turned up the volume as Dianne leaned forward to hear the report. “The Chicago Police Department today released this picture of their prime suspect, Michael Lewis Sumpter, wanted in connection with the investigation of a brutal double-murder at the University of Chicago campus Monday night, involving the execution-style killing of an off-duty security guard, Turner Gribble, and suspected underworld figure Eddy Maribino. The suspect and an unknown female passenger were identified by an eye-witness at the scene. Just this afternoon, the suspect’s abandoned vehicle was located near downtown in a City impound lot. The viewers are warned the suspect is still at large, and considered armed and extremely dangerous. This is Len O’Connell, Chicago.” Look and Dianne sat in stunned silence. A moment before they‘d been playfully flirting, and waiting for Michelle and Lou to get out of the hospital, ready to pick up the pieces of their lives. Now it all inverted. Razor wire fences closing in around them, suffocating. Dianne stared at Look, completely lost. “What’s going to happen to Lou!?” she hiccuped, “They’re going to find Lou, aren’t they Look!!?”
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“Naw, don’t worry...,” he paused, in a trance, then regaining the conversation, “Don’t worry Dianne, I made up a story about a motorcycle crash, and they didn’t ID Michelle. They don’t even know about Lou. The hospital people are cool.” Reassured, Dianne turned toward him, catching his face in her outstretched hands. “You can hide out at the house, I’ll keep working, we’ll have everything we need. Don’t worry, I owe you one, you remember?” Her lapis eyes were strange, first piercing like a hawk, then unseeing, glazed over. Doesn’t even know what she’s saying, L o o k thought. “No, Dianne, no, I can’t,” he breathed slowly, his hobbled brain working out the reason. “They have my address at the machine shop, only a matter of time before they make the connection. I can’t even go down to the bar right now!” Dianne wasn’t giving up, “You wait here, I’ll go and tell Jack. Maybe he’ll let you hide out here.” Then she leaned over, planting a full-on kiss, heading for the stairway. Look snapped off the TV, sitting there alone, lost in silence. Dead to the world. Then he stood up and pushed the cart back behind the Victrola. The one he and Shelley had played every night, rubbing bellies, listening to old jazz and blues. He cranked it again, and set the needle to scratching, the familiar sounds bringing those moments back like a heartbeat.
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Dianne came back upstairs, two beers in hand and a dish of boiled peanuts from the bar. “Jack says be sure and stay up here until closing. He’ll talk with you in a bit, Lee’s coming over now to tend the bar.” So they sat there together, two plague victims in a doctor’s waiting room, holding hands, eating peanuts, sipping their beers and listening to Muddy Waters play the blues. A half-hour later, Jacques bounded up the s t a i r s , “ Y o u ’ v e g o t s o m e t r o u b l e s , e h , mon frère? ” J a c q u e s s m i l e d , t r y i n g t o s e e m r e l a x e d . Look could read the tightness there though. It was in his connection to Saltie’s, to the card room, and to Michelle. He knew what Jacques was gonna say next. “Here, eat these,” Jacques held out two thick sandwiches, cold-cuts, like in the old card room days. “Look, I’m not going to bullshit you, you have to get out of State. Sooner or later they’ll get down here, someone at work, someone at the bar, you can’t take the chance of them finding you, taking you back up to Chicago. To prison.” “Listen Jack, I could turn myself in, tell them what happened,” Look pleaded weakly, “nobody knows about the drug deal, nobody knows about Lou. We could say we were heading home from Wisconsin, got off on the wrong exit, Shelley was going in the store to ask directions, and I got caught in the crossfire.” “Yeah, right Jack?” Dianne agreed, “It was self-defense, wouldn’t that work? They didn’t find a gun.”
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Jacques paused and thought for a moment, rubbing his forehead, “Maribino, Maribino, where have I heard that name before?” Then sitting down on the couch, shoulders slumped, he searched Look’s eyes. “You said you didn’t hear the first gunshot?” Look nodded. “ T h e n i t w a s n ’ t p o l i c e g u e s s i n g , i t was a hit! You were just in the way as witnesses. Maribino was investigated for off-track betting around in Cicero, figured he was some way related with the mob. People kept turning up dead. Word is he’s an enforcer.” “If I hide out, it should all blow over, right?” Look hoped, “I can move to Macomb and get a job over there or something.” “Sure, you could live with Michelle and work nights as a janitor! Use a fake ID!” Dianne shrugged, then, “Wouldn’t the police give up after awhile?” J a c q u e s s h o o k h i s h e a d . Kids! “No! The Maribino family is going to put out a hit on you for killing Eddy. Once lab ballistics makes Lou’s .357, and they type that bloody hole, it’ll be a real circle-jerk. The CPD never forgets anyone who shoots a cop, even if they were just in the middle.” “Come on Jack, you’re being a little melodramatic.” “Hey, they’ll keep on searching for you, you’re the missing link, and the Maribino’s will keep following their lead. Sooner or later that
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pistol’s gonna turn up, and they’ll piece the rest of the drug deal together.” “Well then what should I do?” Look shrugged. “You’ll just have to travel at night, get out of State. Get away,” Jacques summed up again. There wasn’t anything left to say. Look knew Jacques had grown up on the street in N’Orleans, and had lived a lot more of real life than he had, just a ‘50’s Howdie Dootie kid, dumb sum’bitch coal miner’s son. Even if he was only protecting his bar, his card room, his ex-girlfriend, Jacques was right, Look had to get away. So they sat there, planning, thinking of places to go, or relatives, friends who’d moved away, anything. It was way after midnight, and they’d narrowed it down to working the waterways, inland or marine. Migrant work, mining, nothing offered anonymity. You could always get a deckhand job, no questions asked, get paid cash. Jacques suggested N’Orleans, then rethought, “No, you have to know somebody, that means exposure. Use an alias.” “What about the NorthWest?” Dianne asked, “No one I know is from there, it rains all the time.” “Jeez, I don’t know....,” Look shook his head. “Look, maybe you should think about Alaska!?” Jacques interjected, “Their fishing makes the Gulf’s look like popcorn candy. Listen, if you work down on the Mississippi,
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you’ll just work a wage. You work the Gulf, you’ll just be making beer money. Up there you could maybe get on a highliner, hit the big haul, make it all back! Disappear up there, settle in, then bring Michelle up when you have a place. Start a new life.” Then the phone rang. Jacques rose to get it. Dianne leaned close, rubbing Look’s back, reassuring him. Jacques waved them over, cupping his hand over the phone. “Lou’s in jail! Michelle’s calling from a pay phone. Here,” he handed the phone to Look. ‘Michelle? Michelle!? Are you OK!?” “Hi, honey, I’m fine, just tired. Are you staying at Jack’s now?” Shelley’s voice sounded hollow. “Yeah, we’re OK, what happened to Lou!” Look waved at Jacques and Dianne, indicating that he’d try to verbalize Michelle’s conversation. “Oh Look, it’s terrible! I came down to the lobby to get something to eat and went out for some air. Then the police were outside, and had Lou handcuffed to a wheel chair, rolling him out the front door. It was awful, I couldn’t do a thing....” Shelley’s voice broke. “It’s OK, Shelley, you’re OK. The police came for Lou, you were in the lobby when it happened?” “I asked the desk nurse upstairs, they seemed real surprised I was still there. I think they called CPD again, so I left. I’m down at the Convention Center now,” she went on.
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“Good, so you’re at McCormick Place,OK,” Look continued, “What happened, how did they find out?” “Oh, God, I’m sorry Look. Lou asked me if I had a joint, and so I gave him one we’d brought with us, remember?” Shelley was sniffling now, “Told him it was for later, maybe over at the park or something, but I guess he couldn’t wait.” “ L o u g o t b u s t e d f o r pot! ? ” L o o k s h o u t e d , looking at Dianne, shaking his head he wasn’t sure. “The night nurse said they smelled the smoke, and went in the room. Lou’d rigged a soft drink cup and a straw into a hookah pipe and was trying to blow the smoke into a pillow case he’d soaked with his IV!!” Shelley was giggling, “He’s just crazy! I’m sorry.” Look slumped, holding the phone in disbelief, unable to repeat the story. Dianne grabbed it from his hand and spoke to Shelley, softly at first, then getting hysterical. This wasn’t the first time Lou’d strayed into deep water, now he’d be a repeat offender doing time up in Cook County. Dianne handed the phone back to Look, tears ruining her face. She looked older, dazed. The downers sure didn’t help. “Shelley, come home, we have to leave town, they’re gonna make the connection to me.” “I know,” she sighed, “but I’ve known Lou since forever, I can’t just leave him. Can you wire me bail money? I’m staying here.”
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“ W e d o n ’ t have a n y m o n e y ! W h e n w i l l I s e e you?!” “Don’t worry, love, I’m all yours,” Michelle soothed, “just call me, OK? Now let me talk to Jack.” Look motioned with his hand, and passed Jacques the phone. He put his arm around Dianne, holding onto her. She was a wreck. Jacques spoke in short bursts, like a captain, directing. Then he hung up, went in the kitchen and brought out three beers. “I told Shelley to stay up there until the bail was set and then call me. I’ll try to get Lou out if we can. I’ve got the last few weeks take from the bar. Don’t worry Dianne, we’ll get him out,” he soothed. “I’m going to take her home, Jack. Call you in the morning. I can run the bail money up to Michelle,” Look hoped, casting at straws. Jacques grabbed Look by the shoulders, shaking him hard, pushing right up into his face. “NO!! Look, you’re a good kid, but you’re b e i n g s t u p i d ! Y o u ’ l l d o murder, hard time! HARD TIME! N o w I ’ m t e l l i n g y o u , y o u g e t o n t h e r o a d tomorrow morning for Seattle, do you understand!? DO YOU UNDERSTAND!” Look hung his head, Jacques’s focused energy like a shotgun blast in his face, “I understand.” “Now take Dianne home and then pack. Pack tonight! ” J a c q u e s f i s h e d i n h i s p o c k e t , p r e s s i n g a wad of bills into Look’s hand. “Here, I grabbed this from the till when I heard the news, it’s $300 bucks, that’ll get you to Seattle. You go down to
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the docks, catch a boat up to Alaska, understand? Then you send for Michelle. Pay me back later. Got it?” Look shook his head faintly, “OK.” The Norton shook and vrro-om’d into life. He lifted Dianne on behind him, then waved curtly to Jacques standing by the door, like he had to his old man once long ago. Maybe the last time that he’d ever see him, ever see this place again. The bike spun, spitting gravel, then as they hit the asphalt, Look laid down low over the tank, speed shifting on up, twisting fast and hard, as they roared off into the night. Gone. Jacques went back inside. A blur of milky-way washed across an inkblack sky, Orion shining down high above. The Hunter. The house was still warm, lit with a honeyglow from the floor-lamp, the mingled smells of dinner still tingeing the still air. Home, L o o k t h o u g h t , and now it isn’t mine anymore. M a y b e h e d i d n ’ t n e e d t o g o , m a y b e he’d hide out here. “Look, don’t leave,” Dianne put her arm around him, anxiously reading his face, “I hate being alone.” “I don’t want to,” he smiled, soothing, trying to elevate her spirits. “Hey, let’s go to bed, we can talk about it in the morning. Maybe I can wait until Lou and Michelle get back.” Dianne smiled, relaxing, and slipped her arm through his. He helped her climb up the stairs,
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first checking to make sure their party mess was cleaned up, the lights were off, doors locked. Suddenly he wanted things to be neat and tidy. They both leaned together into Lou’s room, lurched, steadying, then Look helped her jacket off. Laughing, he pushed her on the bed and unsnapped her 501’s, peeling her out of her jeans. “There,” he smiled, wrapping her up in the quilt, her body unresisting, “Can you get some sleep? You’ll feel better in the morning.” She reached up. “Don’t go, Look, sleep with me,” Dianne pleaded, stroking the hair at his temples, crooning, “Just sleep next to me, that’s all, OK?” Look sat on the edge of the bed, deciding. Then he shucked his leathers, and slid into bed beside her. Dianne rolled on her side, cupping his hands to her breasts, the same way they’d been napping before. Good, nice. He could feel she was still awake, waiting. Then she took his hand and moved it down her flank, pulling it over her hip. He left it there, passive. Time passed, the heat of their bodies building between them. With a heavy sigh, Dianne rolled towards him, her legs parting, his hand falling down between, covering her damp panties. She kissed him, mouth open, tongue probing, sloppy. Look kissed her back gently, trying just to disengage, but her hand was down fumbling
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at his bone, her kisses grown more passionate, breathy. “Don’t you want me, Look?” she whispered. “Dianne, I,,,, Dianne,” he stammered. Then fatigue, all the beers and the downer took over. His bone fully erect, he tore her panties off. Dianne moaned in his ear, her legs scissoring wide open. He felt for her wet, pressing apart the soft petals with his thumb as she pulled him on top of her. The sensation was strange, her skin different to him, her smell. She was shorter than Shelley and moved different, more direct, already pushing, writhing, desperate to get off. Then his bone slipped in, and they fell into a fast broncobusting ride, her knees high up, holding him tight inside, rubbing hard. After a minute, he felt her give a little shudder, losing their rhythm with a gasped, “Oh!” Then he popped too, churning deep. Short and sweet. Dianne crooned up at him with big dewy eyes, smiling a dreamy smile, then her eyes glued shut as she rolled back into their spoon position. Look curled in behind her, the exhaustion of the last few nights like a lead suit, his arms and legs paralyzed with lethargy, head spinning. Dianne was sighing softly already, and a moment later, he was too. He woke to the sound of early morning traffic. Dianne still slept soundly. His face blushed, realizing he was in Lou’s bed, holding Lou’s girl. He gingerly levered over her, skipping out
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of bed, into the shower. A glass of orange juice and some toast unblurred his eyes, his headache disappearing with the hot coffee. Back upstairs, he shook Dianne gently with a s h e e p i s h s m i l e o n h i s f a c e , Maybe she won’t remember, jeez, I hope not! H e l e a n e d c l o s e r , shaking her again. “Dianne? Hey, wake up, I’ve got to be going.” His words trailed off as something plastic crunched underfoot. It was the vial she carried in her purse. Empty. “Dianne!” He shook her harder now. Her face was ashen, the lines emphasized on her sallow skin. Look leaned down and put his ear to her lips, but felt only uncertain warmth. He pushed Dianne onto her back, and pressed his ear against her sternum. Her breasts were cool and flaccid to his cheek, no whisper of breath, and only a pitter-patt of a heart beat, like scattered rain drops tailing off a summer shower. “Dianne!” He shook her shoulders hard, and then cupped her jaw up, puffing a breath of air into her lungs. They resisted. She was still alive! He slung her up off the bed, holding her limp body up with his arms, kicking her feet out in front of her. “Come’on, walk Dianne!, walk!” She crumpled into a ball on the floor. Look ran for the phone, but as he punched in 911, he remembered his own vulnerability. The operator came on, “911, state the nature of your emergency.”
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“Operator, my, umm, girlfriend is unconscious, she’s barely breathing, I don’t get a pulse!” He left out that one important detail. No sense bringing out the narc’s. The operator was smoothly efficient, and he had to lie again to get away. “Someone’s at the door, I have to go.” He hung up. It would only be a few minutes before police and ambulance converged on the house. Look ran to his room, stuffing winter clothes into his duffel, then he threw his old military jacket on, slid into his RedWing’s, looking around. He ran back into Lou’s room, and checked Dianne’s pulse. She was still alive.... He puffed another breath for her, massaging her shoulders, then ran downstairs with a trash bag to throw the ashtrays into it, rolling papers, the roachclips, everything. Back up the stairs, breathless, he checked her pulse again, she was still hanging on. No time to lose! He dumped their stash into the trash bag along with Lou’s works, then lifting her hips, slid a pillow under her, turning her head, in case she vomited. God, Hurry! He made the front steps, carrying his duffel, and walked briskly off down the street, looking back only once, unconsciously, back at the only home he’d ever known since he left his parent’s. In the distance, the warble of ambulance sirens. Look chic-caned down a sidestreet, picking his
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route, stopping at a gas station at the crossstreet to use the payphone. As he fished for a quarter, he tossed the trash bag into a dumpster. “Nobody?! Hey, this is Look! Yeah, hey, I need you to get over to Lou’s,” he pleaded, “Dianne’s taken an overdose, the ambulance is there, I’ve gotta get out of town. Can you go over?” There was a long silence. “Is Dianne alive?” “ Y e a h , s h e ’ s alive! Y o u n e e d t o h e l p h e r o u t , be there, you know. Lou’s in jail,” Look spoke nervously. “I umm, I, ahh, have people over, maybe, uhh, get Will to go take a ride over there,” the voice trailed off. “It’s Dianne, man! Lou!! You know I can’t go back there!” Look begged, but the line was dead. Like rats deserting a sinking ship, all of them, even Look. Nothing cuts to your heart deeper than leaving someone behind, or being left behind. The price that you pay when you cross the line, whether you meant to cross it or not. Look slung his duffel up, walking away down the main highway west out of town, his thumb s t u c k o u t , h u m m i n g a n e l e c t r i f i e d Midnight Rider, J i m i o n l e a d . No one driving by even noticed him. Just another Hump-Day, gotta get to work.

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Fifteen - Pandora’s Box
I wanted to keep reading the journal, but I couldn’t. It was way late, and the kerosene lamp had burned down so low I could barely find the screen door in the dark. Out there, the fields, the woods, the mountains blended together in one dense blackness. The moon had set, stars so close overhead you could drive the Milky Way like a ribboned highway. I found the chaise Granma kept in the living room, like a couch with only one arm, or a pallet with a big rolled edge, just big enough that I dropped straight off to sleep, clutching onto an old afghan for warmth, the wood stove pinging as it cooled. No sense stoking it, it’d be another warm day. I dreamt I had hitched across the Rockies, but then somehow Look and I had gotten twisted all together, and I was him, working my way north up the Sierras, heading on toward Seattle, but soaring here over the homestead too. When I stared out across the valley in my dream, far away I could see myself approaching! Then Granma was shaking me, scolding, “Nick! It’s near sunup and time to rise, get up!” She can be an ornery old gal. Guess the elders don’t sleep too well. When I got back down the mountainside, after a cobweb-clearing sunrise dip in our little waterfall pool just for end-of-summer childhood-recall’d, Granma was already
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working in the kitchen, softly humming to herself, the wire carrier on the counter filled with fresh barred-rock chicken eggs, and a widemouth gallon jar filled near to the brim with fresh, foaming goat milk. Yumm! If you’ve never tasted fresh farm eggs, or more especially, had a glass of fresh goat milk chilled in the creek, you haven’t lived. The brown-glazed sourdough crock-pot sat in the sink with a wet washcloth stretched over it, and in a large ceramic bowl, Granma was mixing starter, flour, eggs and milk with one of her big alder mixing spoons J.D. had carved for her. The kitchen walls were full of ‘em, folk art, the alder branches all twisted up and wirecurled out in the woods, banzai-fashion, then J.D. would harvest them a year later, strip the bark, and carve elaborate utensils with wildly curving handles. It was an Agfa moment. The pale morning light filtering through the single window’s curtain haloed her upper body as she stood at the farm-style sink, the old cast-iron water pump jutting out of the countertop like a trusted sentry, a steaming teapot clouding the air above their classic Monarch wood cook stove. “Nick,” she spoke, “I’m making waffles, your favorite, get a jar of apples from the pantry, OK?” I reveled in the brimming shelves that I’d stolen from as a kid. Preserves of every kind, each in season, cherry, plum, salmonberry,
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huckleberry, blackberry, apple, pear, blueberry, cranberry, crow. Pickle crocks stuffed with crunchy dills, sweet watermelon pickles, delicious minty kelps. Tall Mason jars packed with corn, peas, pole beans, tomatoes, baby carrots, and Granma’s blue-ribbon succotash, multi-colored with red peppers and flavored with cardamom. On the back wall were racks of dusty bottles. Dark velvety-tasting wild-berry wine. Over there, Grampa’s ‘brandy’ he’d mix from heavysyrup plum wine with TarHeel white-lightning, and in a crate, our pale-straw dandelion wine, with it’s uncanny hypnotic effect, reminiscent of a way-of-life far more subtly complex than the monotonous grind-for-the-buck today. I’d helped Granma one spring day year’s ago, we found a field so yellow with dandelions you couldn’t see the grass, the livestock not yet let loosed onto it. So we’d let ourselves through the wire, then picked and picked and picked a peck full. After, I plucked until my fingers were golden, dropping the dandelion petals into the crock of well water and white sugar. Granma smeared a piece of toast with the yeast, and covered the crock with a sheet, board and a brick to ferment. We boiled up a bunch of bottles, then filled them up, capped with balloons, and later on corked the flasks as the must cleared, adding a raisin for fizz. That dandelion wine was a kick in the pants! Man! Cool and sweet, like moon gold. I still look for that field when I come upvalley, but
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they must have plowed the dandelions under, I guess. Never seen it bloom again, not since J.D. died.

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Sixteen - Touch Down
The world outside the airplane window was streaked with low scudding clouds and shimmering steel gray waves of rain, broken only by the cold glint of winter sunlight on the wind swept ocean below, and the dark huddled masses of the outer islands. The plane was bucking like a Navajo pony. As the "fasten seatbelts" sign lit, Look pulled his seat upright, and watched the mountains of the main island loom out of the mist. A lovely dark-haired stewardess wobbled by, holding onto the overhead bins, not smiling. The plane bucked and lurched in the downdrafts, flaps extended. Look could make out individual combers on the sea far below. Then shredded cloud layers obscured his window. The cabin went dark, and the plane’s engines grew strangely silent as the captain throttled back for the approach glide, coming in steep and fast. The hapless passengers all stared blindly forward, feeling their way down through the buffeting storm outside. The plane sank lower, its wings flapping like some wounded goose, the endless seconds passing in near silence. Then the engines whined up in smooth roaring thrust. A glimpse of white-capped waves, jagged rocks close-up, blurred runway lights, stunted tree-shapes in the mist, the engines screaming now like banshees.
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A sudden wind gust lifted the wing, and the plane rolled and yawed. One wheel tangled with the ground, and they were thrown back and forth as the plane wavered from side to side. Just ahead of him a woman stood up abruptly, screaming high, like a rabbit in a snare. The pilot fought for control, hitting reverse-thrust just as the other wheel clawed down. "Shad’up, lady," a stocky burly-beard in red plaid bawled, pulling her back down into her seat, "For Rurik, that was a great landing!" Everyone laughed nervously, and the cabin lights came on, chiming. Look surveyed his new home as the plane rolled slowly to the gate. It was just September, and already it was snowing. Rurik Island was first sighted by Demetri Djanko, Albanian navigator to Russian sea explorer Captain Baranov, while passing to leeward of the place. He describes in his journal, “a faire mountaigne paeninsula largus ( l a r g e ) of esmeralde grene, much cloude covered and leaping about with sea lyfe, (it) juts into the sea ongeanes (against) the swopen ( s w e e p o f ) Aleutian (archipelago), and by cold, fevered waters ist suronder ( s u r r o u n d e d ).” No one knows the origin of the name itself. Sure, Captain Kotzebue had referred to it in his South Seas journals, but who was Rurik? Djanko detailed the expanse of the new land, naming all Rurik’s rugged mountain scapes, as Baranov explored her narrow fjords during the long midnite-sun summer months.

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But they failed to reach beyond the southerly shore. “As our vessel made no headsweg ongeanes (headway against) the fiers nort wyndes, and so passe desguiser ( p a s s a g e r e m a i n s h i d d e n ? ) , ( w e ) continue to Katchemak and Nilsheguk, where our Kaptain hopes to reprovision.” Baronov never returned, except as he passed far out to sea. So the place stayed a mystery, populated only by burly Aleut’s, living in halfburied bara-bara along the beach, dressed in their puffin-feather shirts, plying the dark waters in seal hide kayaks, as they bartered sea otter furs with seasonal Russian trading vessels. For which they received only iron bar, beads, bright red cloth, disease, and the Orthodox religion of the mad monks who remained ashore. Only later American whalers, studying the old Russian logs, rediscovered their reference to the place, and located a northern anchorage at Kamishak. They found not only the feverish waters and fierce north winds, but also the hidden truth. Djanko’s peninsula was, in fact, an island, a large one at that, separated from the Aleutian Range by a narrow strait, where passed by in summer uncountable hundreds of great whales on their annual migration to the Bering Sea. Hence the earnest slaughter began, and a great industry was born. Rurik became the preeminent whaling station of the frozen North Pacific, where a mariner might rely on ice-free

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harbor, strong drink, and the hot blood of the local island women. So it remains to this very day. The Rurik Island air terminal was smaller than a Greyhound bus station, the rush of escaping travelers overwhelming the tiny space, p a c k e d w i t h w e l c o m e r ’ s , w e l l -wishers and w e l l -drinkers fro m t h e u p s t a i r s b a r . L o o k s t o o d in the calm behind a pillar, waiting for his duffel on the slide, then picked up a cab driver and got a ride to town. T h e S e a -Straits crane, standing stark, alone, was the first sign of civilization in the dark wilderness of mountains and ocean, then a sea of boat masts, ablaze with sun-bright halogen lights. As they rounded Paroque Mountain, the tiny village of Rurik came into view, sitting there on a knoll behind the harbor, gray-white in snow like a herring gull, its pale lights winking off a looming ice-cloud overhead. The irregular winter horizon, featureless dull gray, served to isolate the spare fishing town in both space and time. "What's your name?" the cabby offered. "Look, I..., Lewis," he started off on his alias. "Where you workin' Lew?" "At the Star...the Star of Rurik," Look replied, "s‘what they told me in Seattle, anyway." The cabby smiled, "The Star’s right downtown," he nodded, "‘fact, it is downtown!"

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They talked a bit in the last stretch of road, cabby filling Look in on the town, ships, the fishing seasons. “Lew, city council rules everything here, it’s all a pay-off. Philipino’s rule cannery workers, and prostitution if you’re into that. The Japanese-owned canneries rule the waterfront, and the Seattle skippers rule the boats. The locals mostly scratch around.” “What about the cops?” Look needed to say. “Ahh, don’t worry about those cowboys, Lew,” the cabby laughed, “after the Sheriff quit, they hired a bunch of Barney Fife’s to pick up the drunks and break up fights, that’s about all. But,” he paused, turning, “be careful who your friends are, man. This town has no mercy and a very long memory, OK?” The first street brought them past the harbor and it’s bars, and swung them around in front of a huge beached ship, eerily lit and permanently part of the shoreline. "Welcome to Rurik, Lew," the cabby laughed, "that's fifteen-fifty.” He got his duffel and paid the guy an extra five for the briefing, then splashed across the street to the Cantina Tavern, and a chance to relax before reporting in. The Cantina was all warm paneling and curious faces, sounds of a bowling alley leading off the back. "I’ll take a six- p a c k o f B l u e , " h e a s k e d , " a n d a Coors draft," putting his duffel on the floor. The girl working at the bar eyed him warmly. Pony-tail, nice round tits, tight-ass leather skirt, good looking even with the hard lines on her face. She set a
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glass of beer in front of him. “We got Bud and Mickey’s on tap. You want Mickey’s?” “Sure, I’m easy.” He joked with a deckhand he met, like most people in Rurik, up from Seattle. The guy was just waiting for crab season. They talked about the fishing for awhile, then as he was about to leave, the bar phone rang. The girl spoke, smiling, and looked around, then she rang a ship’s bell hanging over the bar. A second later, Look was staring at another beer lined up next to his. "What's goin’ on?" he asked. "Harald Haugesund just called from Ballard," she threw back over her shoulder. "He bought a round for the house.” She gazed directly at him, smiling, "Welcome to Rurik...." Look’s new bar-mate elbowed him, winking, said her name was Karen, her old man gone out to Dutch Harbor crabbing. "I think she likes you," he chuckled, then he turned back to watch the bowling. Look tried to think of an opener, but the Star's crew blew in the room on break and Karen got busy. Driving cold sleet slammed into his face as he left the Cantina. The Star sat huge and looming over him, its great gray flanks dimpled and pitted with age, animated by the groans and thuds of heavy equipment within. A small door cut in her side at the waterline, and a tiny bulb illuminated the dark pathway between black-webbed crab pots. He yanked the door
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open and plunged into the warmth and light inside. The lobby was empty except for a native Aleut on the payphone. Reading Look’s face, he pointed off to the right. Look found himself in a cafeteria, really just picnic tables shoved against an old cargo door, strewn with styrofoam coffee cups and a ravaged pack of Lorna Doone's. No one else was around. The office was a mere hole in the wall, with a filing cabinet, a p u n c h -clock, a listing swivel-chair and a penscarred school desk cozied up to a worn-out blotter pad. Look set his duffel down, and thought about his last few days since Seattle. He’d have to add this to his new journal. Thank God I met that skipper in Ballard, the Anita B! The one who’d taken the time to feed him a bite to eat, to explain how it worked. Seattle fishing families, friend’s of friends, well, Look could wander Seattle’s docks forever, but he’d never find a crew job, and the boats can’t take hitchhikers. No insurance. “Get over to the cannery office,” the skipper had told him, “right on the downtown Seattle waterfront. They’ll fly you on up for six months, then take your chances for a deckhand job while you’re working.” Suddenly from the gangway, a burly b a l d -headed Pavorotti burst in, glancing at Look’s gear with all the amusement of a savvy bank guard spotting the long trenchcoat in July.
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"I'm the new engineer up from Seattle," Look blurted out, but the man ignored him. He swung into his captain's chair and stubbed out a cigarette, then launched into a shouting match with two of the crew who’d followed him in, a guy and a young girl. Look eyed the girl, she eyed him. The big man listened to the crewman as he yelled, then cut him off, “I don’t care what you do on your time off, or who you do it to, but balling her up there in the chain locker on-shift isn’t my idea of work. You’re both fired.” Then he thrust himself up, towering, and the two shrank back, turning, gone. "I'm Joe, the night boss," the man growled, holding out a gnarled ham for a hand. "What's your name?" "L-Lew," he sputtered, "Lewis Michael. Just got in." "Well, Lew, welcome to Rurik. We don't have anything for you right now. With the bad weather, plane seats out are booked through next week, and we got the former plant engineer to keep busy until then.” Look just stared blankly, not wanting to make the wrong move. Joe lit another smoke. Look guessed he was likely used to waiting for that dawning light of comprehension. "Well, uhh, what should I do?" Joe smiled a cunning smile, the ropes of blue smoke clinging to his hand like seaweed. "C'mon, Lew, leave your stuff here," he said,
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"and follow me. I think I know just the job for you." Their path wound down long metal corridors and up metal rung steps, the handrails shiny with age, working always towards the bow of the Star. At last they found themselves between two huge converted cargo bays, with great stacks of fish tubs framed against the bulkheads, and a giant sliding door open to the driving snow. "Lew," Joe yelled over the din, "we'll use you on shrimp-pick line until the other engineer ships out. You’re going to have to learn how to maintain these units. Just find a place and jump in...and here's some rubber gloves, you might want to use them." Then he turned and stomped off without a second glance. It was incredibly exhausting work, under the old flickering florescent lights, with the door blowing icy cold on his legs, the blur of tiny pink-and-gray sea creatures bringing tears to his eyes, and radio stations shouting in the recesses of his mind. “Anyone tells you they’ve worked shrimp line, well, you’re talking to one tough dude!” h i s j o u r n a l s a y s . After midnight, they all broke for lunch. His head whirled as he yanked off both the gloves and stared at his bleeding fish spine-speared purple-red thumbs. A quick cup of stale coffee and handful of Lorna Doones, a smoke and dry gloves, then they walked back and hit it again. "How long is the shift?" Look asked, picking with the one hand he could still feel.
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"‘Til they run out," his mate deadpanned, "another eight hours or so." Outside, snow turned to freezing rain beating the empty docks, ice’y willawa winds whipping hard off the surrounding snow- c a p p e d mountains, clanging the stays of boats' rigging in a mournful solo. On the horizon, a pale glint o f y e l l o w - g r a y s i g n a l e d f a r -off crab boats, st i l l cruising the banks for one last haul. Gonna be a long night.... It was just after dawn next day when the shrimp finally ran out. Look made his way up the main street towards the Star Motel, stopping under overhangs to avoid sudden downpours as a new storm lashed the town. The motel clerk gave him the key, then went back to her TV, crocheted couch and meal on a tray. He cracked a beer and lay down on the floor, his brain roaring with fatigue, then he tried calling Saltie’s on the phone. It’d be late afternoon, maybe she’d be setting up about now. It just rang and rang. Over the storm outside and snow on the TV, L o o k c o u l d h e a r a s i n g -song male voice in the next room, cut off by a deeper, more authoritative one, working its way to a fever pitch. The first became a whine, then the unmistakable sound of fist on flesh. A guttural command, then, "Donny..., Donne-e-e...," the first voice pleaded, "don't, Donne-e-e...." Furniture began rhythmically banging against the plaster wall.
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Look downed his beer and took a long, hot shower. When he’d gotten dried off, he could only hear quiet sobbing through the wall. The radio stations in his head began to crackle and fade to the rhythm of his heartbeat. Laying on the bed, he savored one last cigarette as the ceiling faded to black.

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Seventeen - Count the Time
Look tired of the microcosm world on the Star, working the rotating shifts, sleeping in a small cabin in the bow, with all the noise, the petty emotions, the thievery of a prison. One Friday evening he’d finished night shift two hours late, and wandered over to the Cantina. Karen was tending bar. Just the sight of her reminded him of Michelle, so after they’d joked a bit, flirting madly, he broke a five for change, and called from a payphone by the restrooms. First he tried calling Saltie’s, but nobody there answered. So he tried Shelley’s over in Macomb. It’d be 7AM Saturday morning by now, and she’d have had plenty of time to get back home. Her roommate answered, Cherise, a pale blond iceblue-eyed Wisconsin girl, mostly a party’er, in her senior year at Western. Phys Ed. She knew Look only as a shadow, in and out again, then gone. Michelle’s body guard and chauffeur. Michelle admitted she was wild about him, but Cherise didn’t really see why. “Cherise?” Look guessed, “Hi! It’s me, Look. Is Michelle there? Can I talk with her?” The phone was quiet for a moment, a lull from the satellite telephone relay way up here. “Look?, Hi! This is Cherise. How are you?” But her voice was modulated. “I’m fine! (‘Look? Are you...’) No, I’m...,” they both laughed, fighting the odd transmission
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delay. “I’m working up here in Alaska! (‘Look?’) What!? (‘You’re in Alaska!?’) Yeah! How ya’ doin’? How’s senior year goin’?” (‘Oh, wow, what’s it like!?’) Impatient, he repeated, ”Hey, Cherise? Michelle there? I’m at a payphone.” “Look, sorry, she doesn’t live here anymore,” Cherise’s enthusiasm suddenly faded out, then interpreting, “Michelle’s at Jack’s place now.” “Jack?!” Look felt a surge of heat flush his face, “You mean she’s staying over at his place!?” “Look, I’m sorry,” the tone in her voice said volumes, “You’ll have to ask Michelle. She just said she was going back to Little Osage to live with Jack.” There wasn’t anything more to say. He exhaled, “OK, see you, bye, Cherise.” “Sorry... bye, Look.” Karen smiled warmly and waved as he walked away from the phone, his stomach dropping out from under him like a fast elevator. He smiled back, but had to lower his face in pain. He’d already told Karen all about Saltie’s and Michelle, now she’d be sure to ask him if that’s who he’d been talking to. Then what? No sense sticking around this place anymore. Next day he moved out of the Star and into a vacant trailer he’d spotted, up a branchwater creek in the headland flats, where all the castout cannery workers lived, the one’s who’d
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finished their six-month hitch, and for whatever reason, ended up staying. Alaska was like that in the drifter days, backwater to the whole world. Sometimes you’d be so broke you couldn’t leave, and sometimes you’d stick around, thinking you liked the place, until you’d be so broke you couldn’t leave. Either way, you’d be stuck. It reminded Look of back home in the hill country, flat grassland intercut with alder and spruce woods, tilting up to mountain outcrops of black rock, his people all hard-working families, kept too poor by the avaricious mine owners to move on. The trailer wasn’t much, thirty by eight, oil stove’d little kitchen, couch and nook, standup bath and a bedroom. A squatter’s shack, but a palace compared to his metal-wall cell on the Star. He got ahold of a beat-up bent-frame old Toyoto pickup to get back and forth to work, finding out right away it made him a whole lot more valuable for other possibilities. Then he just up and quit the cannery one day, and started in welding and webbing up crab pots, over there at Dickson Metal Works, you know, out by the auto boneyard and metal dump? Just piecework in an unheated shed, but with dogged perseverance, Look was making some good money, rebuilding the nestegg he’d lost, and for Michelle’s plane ticket from Illinois. Some day.
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Now that Look was living in the flats, he was starting to make the acquaintance of some mighty amusing people. There was Kenny and JoAnne, out from the MidWest. Kenny a sandyhaired razorfaced dude, a meth’d out rapper like a lot of guys, a small-time deckhand. JoAnne an intelligent, warm-bodied, browneyed woman, who’d left to escape small town values. The “pin-heads” she called them. Only she found that hanging out with drifters meant hanging onto anyone she could. A whole slew of Kenny’s and JoAnne’s lived out there, ex-hippies some, some just poor white trash, names like Morning Star and Shadow Moon, mixed in with the Pat’s and Tom’s and Andy’s. Lean-faced guys scrapping for whatever the townie’s would let ‘em have, and their smoothfaced women trying to hold onto whatever sense of security they could get. All of them hunkered down in these scattered abandoned military barracks, left over from WWII, refurbished with scrap metal from the dump and Rurik’s goodwill hand-me-down. A hobo camp. But they knew how to party! Every weekend in the flats was a hoe-down, a sauna, potluck, an all night romp. Look knew in a flash Jenny’s wedding hadn’t been deja vue at all, but a premonition, foreshadowing these tranquil country weekends, there on the edge of the wilderness. Just a bunch of good folks getting together to let their hair down, playing hackysack or volleyball on Saturday afternoons, then
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they’d break while the gals threw some food together and the guys split up some kindling, until blue smoke from the banya stack announced it was Sauna Time! The Belle Rouche folks, as they called the place, had built a rude hogan up on stilts above the creek, its walls all rough board and batt, roof shingled with old corrugated tin, a halfdrum stove. Big enough for a good dozen people. After, say, fifteen minutes or so, the rocks would be hot enough to throw out steam, then everyone, both guys and gals, would strip down naked outside, quickly layering the benches along the walls, waiting breathlessly for the sweat to begin. Carl and Dan vied for the title sauna-master, both old bulls around town, they’d sit across from each other around the red-hot stove, dropping dipper after dipper of water on the smoking rocks, laughing loud pirate “Arr-r’s,” and daring everyone, “You want it hotter?!!” until the skin would near bubble right off your backside in the searing heat. One after another, the sauna’rs would stand up suddenly in the half-light, gasping in pain, raise the floor hatch and then plunge down, with an explosive “Aiyee-e-e!” into a deep icy pool dammed up from the creek below. Belle Rouche’s sauna was world-famous! At last, damp and steaming in the frigid air, Look would dress quickly, walking back to someone’s shack with whatever townie girl had her eye on him. There, they’d all laugh and chat,
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munch down on a big potluck buffet, and dial u p N P R ’ s Heart’s of Space f o r a m b i a n c e w h i l e they talked story late in the evening. First one couple then another would drift off, then he’d take his willing little sheila back to his place. Just local island girls out for a good time. Nice, they didn’t mean anything much. Sometimes he’d feel like calling up Salties’ just to see how Michelle was doing, but those times he did get through, it was Lee on the other end, and he’d say he didn’t know where they were. Weeks passed in hard work and easy dissolution, until the snow started sticking around for good, and then one sad weekend, the sauna burned down, just like that. The seasons had changed, people moved on. Life is layers of spiraling circles anyway’s, endlessly changing, and you can’t do nothin’ about it. Just go with the flow. Her name was Anne, and they met out on the street by chance, both walking up to the highschool for the hop. First they’d danced together, and with other people, then they just started talking, and wandering around. Afterward, Anne came over to where he stood and asked if he'd walk home with her. The snow had stopped as they wandered back downtown, and in the clear wintry air, the A l e u t i a n ’ s g l a c i e r- c a p p e d p e a k s s t r e t c h e d a w a y across the curve of the earth until they were lost below the horizon. “It was an unforgettable sight, and if you ever get up there you'd see what I mean,” L o o k ’ s j o u r n a l
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t e l l s . “There’s the bustling fishing port of the white man, ticky-tacked with steel and oil onto cold black rocks in an icy sea, and then..., why then there’s the other Rurik, the aboriginal one. An ethereal magical place of misty mountains and crackling aurora’s, sunspeared feather-downed spruce forests rising with the dawn from a cobalt blue sea.” Anne and Look talked about their past as they walked, and how they both left home, Anne as soon as she graduated Kent State, heading west to the coast, playing around Berkeley, Marin County, partying down in Laguna Beach. Then she’d headed up to Alaska for the chance at some real cash money. Look kept his story basic, just a hillbilly, Navy Seals, machinist’s mate, like that. Letting Anne bridge the gaps. She didn’t insist, but wanted to know about his handle. “How’d you get a nickname like Look?” He thought a second, recalling, “When I was a kid, my Mom was always picking up after me, so I could never find anything in my room. I’d yell, ‘Hey, Mom, where’s my baseball mitt?’ or something, you know, and she’d yell back, ‘Look for it!’ After awhile, she’d just say, ‘Look!’, ‘Look!’ over and over. Pretty soon my Dad was calling me back home, ‘Hey, Look!’ too. That’s how the other kids nicknamed me. Look.” He did a quick church-steeple, open-thedoors, see-all-the-people pantomime with his hands. Anne dropped her head, shaking it softly in laughter, dark curls bouncing with mirth. Then
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spotting their destination, she announced, "This is it." They were standing in front of an ordinary n a r r o w w o o d f r a m e c o m p a n y r o w -house, with a huge yellow and purple rutabaga painted across the face. Anne laughed at Look’s expression, "We call it the Turnip House. No one liked the color white, but ‘Rutabaga’ was too hard to say, ha-ha-ha-ha. So it was our compromise. C'mon in and meet everyone." As they entered, the living room was all dark, with a white bed sheet hanging on the far wall. A slide projector cast stunning panoramic pictures of Interior Alaska on the fabric. There on the couch, alarmed eyes turned toward Look’s, many hands reaching out on the coffee table, raking it clean. "Relax," Anne assured, "Look’s OK. We met by chance on the way to the high school." Everyone turned back to the show. Look and Anne sandwiched themselves together in an old chair, as slide after slide flashed out. The Brooks Range in red and gold. The Malaspina Glacier and its braided runoff streams. Mount McKinley in a rare view from the west face. Lake Becharof on a cool fall morning, mist rising into an autumn sunrise. It was incredible photography. Jason, the show host, had spent his winters in the canneries, then his summers traveling through the Interior, hitching on flights with bush pilots, rafting rivers, taking photos. Someday he’d work for National Geographic.
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A joint passed 'round, then a jug of wine, and after the slides ran out, they all zome’d together about their winter plans, until way after midnight. Outside the window, the Northern Lights shimmered neon green across a crystal sky, dancing sheets of fire lanced through by flashes of red and blue, like ghostly hands playing s o m e c o s m i c C e l t i c h a r p . You can see them! Anne took Look by the hand and led him up the stairs to the loft, to her pad in the corner, and there, kissing fiercely as they undressed, they made love until dawn put them to sleep at last. Anne moved into Look’s place out in Belle Rouche. At each day’s end, with the sun setting earlier and earlier, cold really digging in, she’d meet him at work, and they'd hang out at the Anchorage Bar, a sort of home away from home for the scruffy set, no pool table, no shuffle board, no darts. Instead, a bank of washing machines across one wall, a circular bar rail where guys could press close around the girl bartender, and the best damn patio in the world, facing SW over the harbor, out past the inner bays, on out to the broad, blue Pacific. Each setting sun on the far-off horizon beamed down on an eclectic mix of people from all around the world, sharing amazing odd adventures from distant realms, passing joints around, just sitting there and relaxing as crab season madness began in earnest.
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That's where they met Mik Penwold, eccentric of the best kind, a fiddle player, boat builder and like everyone else, afflicted with the crazy fishing disease. He'd gone out with old-timers who’d broken the industry open, made a bunch of money, then, love overcoming wisdom, had plowed it back into an old wood-planked s c h o o n e r h e ’ d n a m e d t h e Augenblik . Mik had stripped her to bare wood, refastened her planks and slapped in a rebuilt big-dog slow-ro diesel, with a huge bronze prop off some salvaged dragger, running the Augenblik a t a s m o o t h c l i p a r o u n d R u r i k . H e would sit there at the Anchorage, telling about the old wood schooners fishing waters around Rurik every summer, some earning their keep running crab pots through the winters, giving five strong men a living wage after nearly fifty years at sea. Jobs on these boats would only open up if there was an injury or a big fight, for fishing king crab was the peak, the top. The ultimate test of a man, the ultimate reward if he fought the sea and won. Or died trying. T h e r e ’ s a p i c t u r e o f o n e o f t h o s e o l d a f t -cabin Seattle schooners up in the Harbormaster's office, her topsides and rigging coated with thick frozen spray after a grueling February storm in the Bering Sea. Imagine you’re Neptune, flying over the surface of the sea on a shining thimble of steel. Now, remember, you have to wrestle with four hundred pound webbediron crab cages, dozens of them, hour after hour, day
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after day. Endlessly hauling, grappling, pushing, stacking and tying, while through all this, your thimble’s bucking and twisting like a Brahma bull with a burr in its blanket, caught on a storm-tossed sea. Sometimes the waves come up under you so fast it flat buckles your knees, and sometimes you fly up off a comber and your feet dance on air! Waves bigger than a house, sixty, seventy feet high. A Nantucket sleighride! Spewing your guts out, and swallowing a tub of salt water right back. It’s War! You fight it, you eat it, you sleep it! [Look’s journal] He unloaded those big crab boats, just in for a few hours, their linebacker-husky crews checking on their bond portfolios, playing with their hometown honey’s, sampling the best toot in town over to the SpinDrift Club each night. Then back out to sea again. For Look, unloading and butchering crab meant hard work, freezing cold, and long hours, but let him hear tales fresh off the dock. He talked to one stand-in, a lucky greenhorn on a single three-week run, he’d flown back home with eighteen thousand in cash! He’d seen these crabbers stuffing $100 bills into girls’ cleavage at the SpinDrift’s wet T-shirt contests, teasing them go topless, then $100 into their panties, begging them to strip. And they would! Buck naked!! It was mad money, crazy money, HUGE money! S o w h e n M i k a n n o u n c e d Augenblik w a s heading out to Dutch Harbor, saying their engineer had to go back to Seattle until next
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spring, that he’d sprung his back out, and then asked, “You want the engineer’s job, Lew?” well, there wasn’t anything else Look could say, except “Sure!” without another thought. Mik laid it out for him, “We’ll pick up our deckhands out west, they’ll know the local crab grounds. You get 12½% of the net, but you’re gonna have to work up on deck too, and cook. Agreed?” Look asked, “Seem’s like a lot more work to me.” Mik straight-faced him back, “Everyone works the same, eight up on deck, eight soak ‘em, eat with a four hour wheel watch, eight pick ‘em, maybe eight to move ‘em, four hours sleep, then over again.” He stretched back in his barstool, “You’ll have it easy, man! You get to cook, take care of the machinery, when you’re not up on deck. Think you can handle a whole winter of no sleep? We leave in the morning.” Look smiled, rubbing his hands, thinking of the fifty, sixty-thousand dollars he’d have to refinance his life again. “Let’s go!” So they shook on it. Look and Anne left the Anchorage Bar, driving out to Belle Rouche in silence, only the hiss of tires on the dark wet pavement, the quiet beauty of the alpine wilderness rushing by in the moonlight. “Anne,” he opened up at last, “I’ve gotta take that crew opening, you know that, right?” Anne stared straight ahead, knowing something entirely different. Her only comment,
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more of a curse, "You should look before you leap, Look. They lose a few of those old schooners each year. The seams open with the pounding, then the sea swallows them up." But it was too late, she knew that too. Mik and Look had shook on it, and she knew he was going to crab the Bering Sea with or without her blessing. That night they ate quietly, thoughts unspoken, sitting there in the half-light of the kerosene lamp, with only the soft drawl of country radio dusting the silence. They undressed and made love one last time, caressing, slowly, deeply. Anne held his face in both hands afterward, silently gazing at him, tears in her eyes. Then they spooned together, fingers interlaced. Anne whispered about Kirlian forces, the aura beings give off, astral rays pulsing from fingertips. “See, hold your fingers near mine, can you feel the push and pull of it, like two magnets?” Look said he could, like he was riding a cushion of starlight. “That’s why they call it ‘touch’,” Anne sighed. “See, it’s from the French, toucher, t o p e r c e i v e . D’you know when you caress your own child’s skin, it feels just like touching yourself?” Then she pulled Look’s arms tightly around her, crossing his hands over her belly. Later, in the quiet hours before dawn, as Anne slept softly, murmuring to herself, Look rose. He combed his hair back, chugged down a cup
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of cold coffee standing by the sink, and with his duffel already packed, breathed a warm kiss onto her neck. Then he let himself out the trailer door. The moon overhead was half-full, like a ivory and gun-metal blue goblet high in the sky, casting just enough light on the hillsides so Look could follow the deertrail cuneiforms footpathing a shortcut across the hills and over into town. His way led upward, across plateaus separating the higher hills, contouring around, bright lit and then shade, immense cold and vault quiet. Overhead a faint aurora borealis hissed in green shimmering curtains, like the o c e a n c a r e s s e s t h e s h o r e o n a w i n d l e s s n i g h t , in saecula saeculorum . He stood on the bluff above the dark rune of Rurik, breathing softly, hidden in the trees, Gandalf the Sentinel. Beyond the town lay the harbor, a dark paysage of flickering lights, in charcoal’d grays and crusted white. Everything was waiting, tensed with bated breath. It was all about to begin. Look smiled, ready to take that great leap of faith. Eight of Swords. On his way far out the Aleutians, to the ends of the earth, to test himself against the sea. First light filtered pale over the eastern sky.

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Eighteen - The Circle Game
The Thanksgiving pre-dawn was cold and crisp in Unalaska as Mik and Look made preparations for their outing. They loaded their shotguns into the little inflatable boat, swung it carefully out over the water, and lowered it g e n t l y d o w n t h e s i d e o f t h e Augenblik . The sun was breaking warmly on their faces from a perfect cerulean blue sky on that day, as they motored down Unalaska Bay. Look stayed in the bow with a paddle, ridging up and splitting the razor thin ice cake floating on the frozen sea, while Mik steered the little kicker, telling him about other trips to Hat Island, hunting on the abandoned rabbit farm. Snow-capped peaks ringing the tiny Aleutian town sprang out through the clear air like a crystal vision, and they plowed through a calm swell toward the tiny island. Their wake lay traced behind them like a slip of ice foam drawn on silvered porcelain. An eye-tearing cold wind moaned from across the Bering Sea, as though it had been alive forever, and only wanted to rest awhile in this great bay. It was the kind of perfect wintry day Nature reserves for only once a season. Then a dark nimbus cloud drifted lazily over, dusting their boat and their clothes with large clotted flakes of snow, softly at first, then a shower, until the hills, and then the harbor, and finally even the sea itself lost it’s form. Just Mik
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and Look and the boat drifting in a twilight patch of dark water. The inflatable crunched over shoals, and they ran up onto the low black gravel beach of Hat Island, pulling the boat up over into the brown ryegrass. “I’ll go cover this side,” Mik motioned, “you take the headlands, we’ll work our way back together, and hey,” he winked at Look, “don’t shoot me, OK? I’m the one with the red ears.” They marched off on their separate ways, Look taking his path straight up between collapsed, gray- green lichen-encrusted hutches, left behind when the farm had gone bust. He moved across a landscape of dark broken rock, pale gold grass sparkled with hoar frost, his path winding ever higher and higher toward the seaward cliffs at the far end of the island. He half-crouched as he walked, waiting to spot his first sign. Lots of warrens, lots of wellworn trails. But no rabbit. The sun had filled the sky by now, the supine dry grass smoking with cold fire in the false heat, and he thrilled himself standing up high on the edge of the great dropoff, alone on a pinnacle of rock two hundred feet above the sea. Look gazed out at at a wide circle of glimmering blue glacier-capped peaks, meditating on nothing, his mind an absolute blank. In the utter stillness of early afternoon, warm and calm as spring, he heard a soft thumping sound. Stepping slowing around a big boulder
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set against the cliff edge, he spotted a huge rabbit, an alpha male, stretched out full length on it’s side in the grass, his creamy-gray fur all fluffed up. The creature sensed his presence, and threw his head up over his belly to stare into Look’s eyes. Then he turned away slowly, almost stiffly, sweeping his own gaze out toward the pristine bay below them, the crown of glaciercapped peaks, that pale cornflower-blue sky reflecting off a lapis lazuli sea, all seamlessly bound together in space. The rabbit meditated, motionless. Look raised his gun to shoot, waiting for the creature to move, to run. It was a good day to be alive. He let out his breath and checked it, steady. The rabbit gazed back again, eye met eye, their spirits melding. Then in one pure motion, rolling erect and springing, the creature catapulted straight off the cliff face! Look’s shot blasted harmlessly at the duff. The rabbit flew upward toward the sun, arms outspread, then he fell in a graceful silver arc, his long ears flapping, still gliding, down, tiny, a mote, until he was one with the sea’s surging breakers, pounding the jagged dark rocks far below into a frozen spume.

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Nineteen - All Shine On
I finished reading Look’s story of Hat Island, and glanced up. Granma was crying softly to herself, staring out the windows at the gray day, made all the more miserable by cold slashing rainshowers. Indian summer was nearly over.... It’d been wonderful warm weather this summer, almost had vine-ripe tomatoes! Now we were headed into a Pacific Northwest winter, an endless numina of cold rain and saturated ground. Hey, I felt like crying too. “Granma, are you all right?” I sympathized with her, figuring it was the story’s sad ending. “Did that story of the rabbit make you cry?” “Oh, Nick, that was lovely!” she smiled at me, “No, I’m crying because my hangnail hurts so bad!” We’d been just sitting around, not much sense going outside, and besides, half of farming life is the bill paying, budget minding, market planning, some. Doing what the talk shows call “visualization.” See, just figuring how to stay alive. That’s the tradeoff. You tend to God’s creatures, He tends to the lilies of the field. You just have to make do for yourself. “Hold on, I’ll get the clippers.” Then I eased her socks off, trimmed around her purple-andpink corn’d toes as best as I could, and threw on some peroxide and Betadine. “Thank you Nicky,” she smiled, relaxing. “I’ll make up a pot of tea, maybe you could look
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over my orders this month, see if I might’ve missed anything.” A gust of wind rattled the walls, puffing a draft of smoke back out the woodstove. Then moments later, the roof pitter-pattered with pea hail showers, as the window panes started to fog over from the cold rain outside. I glanced at the order form, but Granma never missed anything. You could take her to the feed-and-seed and load the boat, she could still tell you within a fiver how much we’d owe. “Here we go,” she set down two cups and a plate of crumb cake. “Irish Breakfast, is that OK?” I didn’t know if she meant the cake or the tea, so I just smiled and poured our cups full, laughing as she dropped a sugarcube and dollop of goatmilk in her’s. “Cowboy tea, huh?” I guffawed, remembering my own childhood, how Grampa taught me that one. I saw his face, now J.D. was gone, so I got sad too. “You know Nick, the Tibetans always put some butter in their tea, and no one has ever figured why, but they use the butter so the oil layer will keep the tea from steaming off its own heat!” Granma’s a sharp old bird, I have no idea where she got that. We sipped the tea and ate our cake. “I’ve got to tend to Starbuck,” she announced. Guess sore feet got her thinking about the livestock, how their hooves start to split in the
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wet weather, and like I said, she loves old Starbuck. I’ll bet she’d let him spend the winter in the living room, you know, if he could fit through the front door. “OK, come with you,” I signed with my eyes. We slipped on our boots and slickers and went out. Where yesterday had been sweet tangerine, it was just cold and raw wet outside now, fields all beaten down and smattered with a carpet of sleet, the bright leaves torn off the trees, mountain tops hidden in mist and a carpet of early snow. We walked with our hands in our pockets, stopping by the haybarn to grab a halter, paring knife and our work gloves. Then we rounded up Starbuck, hiding under the cedars, and the goats came along too, figuring it was chow time. “Nick, put Starbuck in his stall and give him a can of chow with his oats, I’m going to milk the goats and then we’ll trim their hooves,” Granma suggested. So I helped Starbuck get settled down, damp and steaming, then threw a blanket over him and got him started on his feedbag. A happy camper. The goats were a different story. No one’s ever figured goats out. They can be just the sweetest, yet orneryest of creatures. You’d think they’d want to get bedded down! Instead they stepped on the milk pot, poked us with their horns, fought over the chow and bleated over their hooves as she tried to clip them.
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Granma persisted. We got them trimmed, and semi-quieted down in their pens, then sat on haybales and listened for the rain to let up. I’d been thinking about the apple waffles we’d had for breakfast a while back, and now the cold weather had me wanting waffles for dinner too. With hot raspberry syrup! “You know, Nick,” Granma began, “I never told you this, but that story of Look’s has me thinking back on J.D. Do you remember the last time you saw him?” “Sure Granma,” I replied, “I remember you said he got the whirls bad one day down by the creek, and then he had to go to the hospital.” “Promise you won’t tell anyone this, OK?” “Sure!? What’s going on Granma?” I looked up. Concern was in her eyes, but more than that. Her far-off gaze wasn’t entirely focused, as though she saw some ephemeral figure, was waiting for his approval. “What, Granma? Say it!” Her voice trembled, “I don’t know how to tell you all this, it’s a memory I know you cherish, but do you remember when J.D. passed on?” “Yeah, sure! He had a stroke, wasn’t that it?” “You know he passed suddenly, and I would have called you, the doctor kept saying he was improving, then he was gone. Besides, J.D. was so stubborn he’d have never let you see him like that.” “Like what?” I could see her in past-tense now.
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“Nick, J.D. had a brain tumor,” she began to gesture, “The doctor’s thought at first it was a stroke, and they wasted a lot of time waiting for him to get better. Wanted to put him in a nursing home to save me the trouble. I told them J.D. would never allow it, and besides,” she lowered her gaze, “I wouldn’t know what to do without him.” I could see how hard this was to relive, and reached over to put my arm around her. “You don’t have to explain how it happened, Granma. J.D.’s at peace now out in the orchard, here on our land. You got him back home to high country from down-valley, there in the flatlands, and that’s all that matters.” Granma sighed, “No, Nicky, honey it isn’t all right, because it’s not our land anymore!” She began to weep onto my shoulder, unable to stand the unburdening. “Now what does that mean, ‘not our land’? ‘Course it is!” I soothed, “How’d you figure this out?” “When I wouldn’t put him in a nursing home,” Granma went right on, “the doctors decided to send us to Seattle for scans, that’s when they found the tumor. Inoperable, they said, in the medulla, metastasizing. ‘Though I don’t know how they figured all that out.” “Who was the doctor, Granma?” “Oh, Dr. Skogland, he delivered your mother when I was younger. He’s always been our physician.” “You mean he was treating J.D. for cancer!?”
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“Oh, I must look a fright!” she interrupted. The rain had tapered off to a silent misting drizzle. “You look fine,” I laughed, “Let’s go up to the house, get some tea, then we’ll walk down, see J.D.” So we walked back, and finished the pot of tea, still lukewarm on the stove. I put a drop of butter in mine, to remind her that I’d been listening. It tasted good. “I should’ve never agreed with them,” she went on, as we walked down the fence row toward the orchard, arm in arm, a weak orb of sun trying to beat the steam off the hillsides. “They said maybe they should run more tests, Dr. Skogland, well, the other Group Care doctors did. You know, it used to be Valley General?” “They find anything? Didn’t you have MediCare?” “Well, they said he had a blood-vessel tangle, that’s what had caused the whirls, and they only found the cancer ‘cause is was there, near the tangle in the scan.” “Why didn’t they operate!?” “They did, they did....” I thought she’d cry then, I sure felt like it. My memories of J.D. were so robust and full of life I couldn’t imagine him brought down by ‘tangles’. Granma traced a finger over the rough-hewn limestone marker, while I read the inscription:

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_________________ | | | Jesse D. Paul 1917-1984 Beloved of Ettie | | |

| _________________ | | | 

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“That when the trouble started,” she began again, “trouble with the HMO.’ I raised an eyebrow. “Dr. Skogland said he wasn’t qualified from there on, that a team of specialists would take over.” “Granma, that’s how it’s done,” I tried to sooth her, “Your own doctor makes referrals to specialists.” She looked at me almost with distrust, like a horse when you accidentally lean them against a nail, that “us against them” generational thing, where the elders grow silent. Then she brightened, I think J.D. was speaking through her. “Group Care made us sign so many consent forms he got exhausted. Think that might have given him a real stroke, he kind of drifted around after,” she explained. “Then the Administrator said they wanted to try mixing radiation and some new experimental treatments that had high recovery and not much risk. Some kind of tiered-treatment ‘cocktail’.” “Hey, you know, ‘try anything’! Did it work?” “Nick, the doctors were just experimenting on J.D.!” she was bitter, “and they caught us in a trap. We signed the homestead away as one of our assets. Then when J.D. got worse, they said MediCare wasn’t going to cover x-treatments after all, and so wouldn’t cover the aftercare either.” “Did they threaten to stop treatment?” I was confused, Things like this just don’t happen to people!, picturing J.D.’s torture and pain
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through the radiation regimen, sapping his body of strength, and then the vomiting, and the body-wracking poison chem-o formulations they’d tested out on him. “I don’t know, maybe they meant the best, but to me they never seemed very concerned at all,” she lingered in doubt, “at least not as concerned as the Administrator was about garnishing all our assets afterwards. J.D. hung on for nearly seventeen weeks, the Group Care hospital bill just ran on and on, and Dr. Skogland said there was nothing he could do to help since the HMO took over the hospital.” “Granma,” I kind’a shook my head, “I’m sorry to hear that’s what happened to J.D. I just don’t know what to say. Didn’t you have any savings, or major medical insurance coverage, or anything?” “J.D. wanted me to hold the savings and only put the homestead up. See, Mr. Gudbranson down at Vergers Savings & Loan arranged for a mortgage,” she worked around my question, “we used our savings as collateral to get the paperwork through. He got us a very good rate.” “So you’re set then? Vergers paid off the doctor bills, and you can make payments on the place from the interest on your savings, right Granma?” “Oh dear, the money was going out so fast, and the new mortgage wasn’t worth very much, just this old house and the outbuildings. I wanted to call you, but you were back East in
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school. J.D. was so embarrassed about how feeble he looked, and being on a shoestring about the money and all.” “You mean you’re running out of money?!” “It’s worse than that,” she sighed, moving away from the grave site like she didn’t want J.D. to hear. “I should’ve never listened to the that Administrator, Dr. DiTomo. I said we didn’t know if we could pay for all of the medical costs, and then he suggested his broker at Straub, Hall and Groeste. Mr. Gudbranson said he did business with them too.” “So you were using your savings to anchor the mortgage, paying down bills from mortgage principal, and spending your social security retirement income to pay down the mortgage premiums? That’s good! What was the broker for?” “Dr. DiTomo said we could make more on our principal than we were paying out in interest, if we let the broker invest it for us. J.D. talked with him, then the broker came over and we signed an application. He seemed like a nice man, said his name was Ronald Roach. He invested our money in high-yielding bonds, I think he said. We were making over 15%, Nick! “ “Granma, those are junk bonds, they’re risky!” The sun was fading behind the storm again, only the mountain tops visible above the low hanging clouds, like islands in the sea. The wind was starting to pick up too. “Come on,
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let’s go inside, you can tell me about it while we walk.” “Mr. Roach was very polite. He explained about how the US Government had guaranteed real estate bonds that were being refinanced, and how the yield could exceed our mortgage interest and actually make us more money back again,” Granma filled the silence, as we shuffled through the fall leaves back up to the house. “He said that Straub, Hall and Groeste would carry the paper, it would always be liquid, we could always withdraw our money if we needed to.” “Granma, I don’t think that’s legal,” I scoffed. “If you’re buying a bond, you’re buying the paper, not some broker’s promissory note! Those re-fi’s were from Reagan’s Savings & Loan bailout, the price we paid for trickle-down economics. Rates as high as 30%, so you weren’t getting any kind’a deal from Roach.” Granma ignored my harsh jab. “One day Ronald, well, Mr. Roach called and said one of our bonds had ‘called’, and he was moving us into ‘better paper’, as he put it. After J.D. passed on, I found he had moved our holdings into Steffens and Durval County bonds, on a ‘bond restructing’, Mr. Gudbranson warned. When I asked Mr. Roach to sell, he never returned my calls. Nick, he’d promised the Government guaranteed the bonds and that our holdings would always be liquid!”

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“Granma! Are you saying Roach put you into defaulted bonds? How much exposure do you have?” “What Nicky?” “How much of your portfolio was in default?” She laughed, like I was the slow learner in the family. “Mr. Gudbranson told me Straub, Hall and Groeste had made an illegal restructuring, but I’m not real sure what that means exactly.” “Oh, jeez,” I hung my head. “How much!?” “Nick, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. W e h a d all o f t h e m o r t g a g e p r i n c i p a l i n v e s t e d with Straub, Hall and Groeste, and we were paying off the mortgage coupon and the medical bills with the bond yields and our social security,” she spilled it all out. “Steffens-Durval defaulted. We have nothing. I can’t pay off both the mortgage and the medical bills with what’s left of our savings. We’ll lose the homestead!” We’d reached the front porch, and for just a brief moment everything seemed as it should be. The stock were safe inside and the haybarn was full up. All that was left to get done was harvest the squash and the potatoes. As long as the weather held, we’d have time for that. On the face of things, life was good. The wind was whipping up the trees now, their bright fall leaves cascading off in sheets, leaving only oily black patterned traces of their branches against the darkening sky. We could hear the first hiss of rain in the trees up behind the well, and then the far hills were lost in gray, as solid showers slammed across the cold fields.
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I took Granma by the arm and we went inside, to hover by the fire and wait out the storm.

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Twenty - Talking Book
It didn’t take long for Mik to round up a crew and a first mate. Everyone was jumping ship, looking for elbow room. The Bering Sea season was already an acknowledged bust. Where the year before crabbers loaded up in a single trip, now they were scratching, hold’s half full. Quarter’s even. Every crab pot had once been packed tight with the gigantic scrabbling crustaceans. Now the crab were gone. Vanished. T h a t w o r k e d i n Augenblik’s favor. All they were out so far was the groceries and fuel from Rurik Island, weren’t in the hole like some of the big Seattle boats, their skippers reeling home from the bar, stone drunk. There’d be boats on the auction block after this season. The party was over. Alaska Fish & Game threw them a bone, with a new season out in Adak, half-way down the Aleutian chain to Russia, so far out there you had to pray to get back home. Mik and his first mate made the rounds of the crabbers, talking a joint venture. They’d go as a group, crab together, lay and pick their pots in rotation, and then split the receipts equally among all their boats when they got back to Dutch. It’d worked in Prince William during the slim herring seasons, not enough fish to feed everyone. The boat’s had drawn straws, and those that did go fish divided their catch receipts among the entire Cordova community.
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Everyone made it through the winter that year, communality in action. But the big Seattle boats told Mik to shove off. The fucking Bering Sea was their’s, and they’d fuckin’ fish it ‘til there wasn’t a fuckin’ kingcrab left on the fuckin’ grounds. Seattle crabbers are that way. Every other word ‘fuck’ this or ‘fuck’ that. Must be their fuckin’ school system. “Hey, you fuckin’ Alaskan’s go on out there. We’re fuckin’ staying in the fuckin’ Bering. Now get lost.” As November came to an end, a scraggly group of schooners, re-rigged draggers and seiners sailed out of Unalaska Bay onto the broad gray North Pacific. They headed west for a hundred leagues, traveling night and day past isolated cone-hat’d islands on the Chain, until the radio stations were all Russian and Japanese. No one had a clue where they were. It was radar and Loran back in those days, and Loran got pretty flaky out this far west. So they dead-reckoned. Look tended to the diesel main. She was in good shape despite her age, clacketing low and slow, but the high-speed four-jug auxiliary ran hot. Might be the keel cooler, might be injectors mis-firing, valve leaks? He kept an eye on the gauges and checked the alarms. If they lost the auxiliary, they’d lose the circulation pumps. Then the crab in the hold would die without the constantly circulating sea water.
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Mik stayed on the radio to the others, studying the charts, and then Korovin Volcano loomed above the horizon, dark over kelly lowlands. They followed the Cape on into a tangle of islands and inlets between Atka and Adak. It was a brave, and a foolhardy thing they were attempting to do, to fish unproved ground. Maybe if Mik hadn’t crabbed with old-timers before, pioneering new ground of their own, he wouldn’t have tried it. But this was his dream, bang on. They anchored up that night in a sheltered inlet on Kagalaska, Look staying up on deck for some air. The sun was setting southwesterly, illuminating the snowy flanks of Kanaga and Tanaga volcanoes, twin cones smoldering orange-blue. It was heaven, pure and simple. True wilderness. Probably no one had been here since Russian fur traders centuries before. Maybe a destroyer anchored during the WWII Aleutians Campaign, or a PBY landed to wait out the fog, then flew off again. That was it. Abyssal silence. “Cook up a lot of grub, Look,” Mik suggested, “We’re going to have to work around the clock to get the crab back to Dutch still alive…. Oh, and check that auxiliary again, OK?” “We’ll have left-over turkey tomorrow,” Look reminded, laughing to himself at the memory, earlier in the afternoon on the high seas, when the turkey, all brown and butterball, had shot from the oven as the boat took a big roller. No
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one had seen him pick it up, brush it off, and push it back into the stove. “OK, Glenn, Fred, listen. Chuck’ll run hydraulics,” Mik explained. “Want you to move the pots around, clear the pot launcher, and make sure we have extra line handy in case we hit a deep. Look, after dinner’s ready, you eat first, then grind bait and stuff the jars for tomorrow morning.” They all set to work, under the bright crab lights, getting the boat ready. Adak wouldn’t be like the Bering, that flat shelf of river silt extending out four hundred miles from shore, limitless uniform hundred fathoms. For Adak they’d have to rig on the fly, then add line if they hit a deep spot, so that the heavy steel traps wouldn’t pull the marker bouys under, and then four hundred fifty dollars ‘be lost just like that. Look finished up after they’d gone to sleep, hands covered with sticky gurry from the bait grinder. Since he’d been the only one left on deck, he killed the lights and enjoyed a jet-black sky, bright constellations wheeling, fiery diamonds, pale meteors arcing down, aurora shimmering cold green. Even the sea itself was a l i v e , t h e r e u n d e r t h e d a r k h u l l o f t h e Augenblik, in a microcosm of the universe overhead. He was seized with the stillness and eternal solitude of the place, and then with a sudden urge. Walking to the bullrail, he hung it out, letting the stream of piss splash away below. The ocean reacted with a phosphorescent glow,
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and so he concentrated on prolonging the water, until his whole being was coursing like a mountain stream, bubbling into the vastness of the sea, lit by the aurora overhead in the heavens, mirrored in the glowing dark waters below. The top of his head seemed to melt away, as winds from beyond time whistled across his windpipe, and set the dark spirits of ancient hunters and primal fishermen moaning in the vastness. Still it flowed, his life and warmth pouring from him, and Look felt a moment of transcendence, as though the fluorescent stream was his soul, and his body merely a lump of dark lava, cooling in the hissing rains of creation. For a whole week they fished hard, dragging the huge kingcrab out, some of their carapaces were two hands wide, outspread, legs dangling three feet to the deck! That’s what the old-timers meant when they called these kingcrabs. Look smiled easily to himself, each crab meant more money in his pocket, and there were thirty or forty of them in a single pot! Every night the boats in their group would anchor together in an inlet, and blare their favorite tunes across the water. “Chuck E’s in Love”, “Jammin’”, “Settin’ Me Up”, “Truth Hits Everybody” echoed over the shore, and finally, even over the radio. Out this far on the Aleutians, who gives a fuck about the FCC!? The boats started running a little radio station all their own, evenings. Look played Albert King’s Angel of Mercy, dedicating it to Anne and
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Michelle. Then after a few hour’s sleep, they were off again. By the start of the second week they were all totally exhausted, little or no sleep, eat on their feet, working day and night. Then dozing on anchor watch, Look felt, rather than heard, the engine alarm. Mik was shaking him. “Come on, the auxiliary’s way too hot, we’ve got to shut it down and pop the head,” he jabbered, frantic. There was thousands and thousands of dollars riding on that pump system just to keep the crab alive, let alone get them home. “I’ll start the main, we can run off the batteries.” Look groaned. They should’ve taken care of this back in Dutch Harbor. Mik knew that too. The main’s alternator was heavy duty, sure, and the batteries were huge to kick over the big diesel. But alternators weren’t made to draw full current for long. Besides, once the batteries ran down, they weren’t used to a deep-cycle, might not take a full charge back again. That’s the trouble with batteries. Never count on ‘em, never ever turn off an auxiliary if you got one! The rest of the crew slept on through as the main coughed back to life, used to sleeping right up until the first buoy hove into view. Mik and Look donned their overalls, earphones and dropped down into the engine room. It was tight, stinking and loud. The auxiliary was running hot and rough. Look cut the fuel, and
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after it died and cooled, they unbolted the head. Mik shouted an oath. One of the valve sets was burned, the cylinder off-colored gray-white. “Shit, Mik!” Look slumped his shoulders. “We’re fucked once the batteries run down.” “Maybe not....” Mik pulled the drill off the bench box and laid out the tools he’d need. “An old-timer showed me this once when I was a greenhorn during halibut season.” He drilled a hole in the piston head, tapped it, and ran a cap screw down over a drilled out tab piece. Then he gouged two short keys in the block, each side of the piston chamber. Look just watched and passed Mik the tools. “OK, now let’s see if this’ll work, give me a welding rod, strip the coating off for me,” Mik wiped his forehead. “We going to try to tie the piston up and restart on three cylinders. Jig it over with the bar.” Look pushed in on the ringgear with a prybar, slowly turning the engine until the piston was near top dead center. Mik cut the rod across the top of the cylinder, fit and set it doubled in the two grooves, and wired the tab and the welding rod tightly together. “Now what?” Look asked. “OK, now go ahead and drop the pan, unbolt the piston rod,” Mik directed, I’ll go check on the circulation pumps.” The batteries were getting lower, Look could see the lights flicker in the engine room as the a l t e r n a t o r t o o k u p t h e l o a d . It’ll be melting pretty soon now. He worked fast, draining the oil into a
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bucket, dropping the pan into the bilge in his hurry, cursing. Then he fought with the nuts, lying on his back on the oily diamond plate. It was done. “Got it Mik!” They rebolted the oil pan back on, torqued down the head, and dialed out the unused injector on the rack. A half-hour’d passed. “OK, shut down the circ pumps, let’s try to start the auxiliary and recharge the batteries,” Mik ordered. “What are you guys up to?” Glenn shouted down the ladder, waving to him as Look was passing. “We’re jury-rigging the auxiliary, a bad jug.” “Need any help?” “Naw, make some coffee and mix up some orange juice, OK?” “You got it.” Mik was wiping his hands clean, the head cover back on. “Go ahead and start it up.” Look hit the switch. The starter lugged, spitting, then the auxiliary lurched once, and settled into an uneven throb on three. Oil pressure held. They had power. “OK, switch the circuit back to the auxiliary, and restart the pumps. Let’s see how the crab are doing.” Mik climbed ahead up the ladder. The crew was up already, Glenn making their breakfast, Fred out grinding bait for the new day, Chuck poring over the charts, everything normal again.
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They’d been lucky. Despite the loss of a dozen pots in deep holes, they’d landed a lot of kingcrab. That afternoon Mik got on the radio, rounding the other boats up, readying their group to head back to Dutch. It’d be a story book fishing trip.

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Twenty One - In My Life
The long run back from Adak was more than just a weary blur in Look’s memory. They’d partied their last night in the inlet near Cape Yakak, facing Kanaga, all the boats in their group rafted together in the semi-sheltered bay, rocking to a slow swell coming in through the pass. Rum-’n-cokes, beers, joints, Marlboro packs mixed in with snack food scraps littering the table. The two girl cooks made the rounds of the boat pack, looking for a bunk mate or threesome, and Look had a chance to dance belly-to-belly with one, a skinny shag blonde in torn-off parachute pants and a dago-T top. Mik radioed back and forth early next morning and found a place to buy diesel, in case the Augenblik ran short, with no fuel for nearly four hundred miles. They’d tied up over at Adak, that bleak naval outpost, while Mik went off under escort to sign for the fuel. Two Navy guards stood in full parade gear, helmets and l o a d e d r i f l e s , a t t h e Augenblik’s bow and stern. Look tried joking with the guard at the stern while they topped off their fuel, recounting his time in the Seals and Viet Nam. But the guy was a just cheechako recruit, a BQ rat, and only wanted to get back inside. They ran steadily ENE, heading back for Dutch Harbor, far enough off shore not to have to constantly watch the radar, close enough to study the glacier-capped peaks, the steaming
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volcanoes, and the teeming wildlife that is the Aleutian Chain. At times, great swells rolled on through, driven by some distant storm far out on the Pacific, pitch-rolling Augenblik in the night like a drunken hobby horse. C h u c k , t h e m a t e , s t e e r e d h e r in behind Umnak Island after they reached Nikolski. They dropped the hook, jogging while Look made breakfast. Fred and Glenn were still sleeping from the wild wheel watch the night before, so the three of them dropped the Avon over the side, and went on ashore. Mik shot a nice caribou, a couple hundred pounds of fresh meat, he and Chuck butchered it up right there as best they could. Look nosed through an old collapsed bara-bara, finding a walrus ivory fish hook and some Russian trading beads in the frozen ground. Then in the distance they saw three people moving, riding something, snow-go’s, coming towards them. They were a party from the hunting camp, they said, come out from Nikolski. Mik had killed their caribou. Chuck pushed forward, protesting the single shot, but Mik understood what they meant. “Here!” he handed over a hindquarter, “I’d like you to have this.” The Natives’ attitude changed right there, and they doubled Mik, Chuck and Look back on their machines, running on into town. The village was just two rows of pastel-painted square shacks, sparse and snowpacked, facing the sea. People were walking around talking,
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women skinning caribou, kid’s running back and forth. They took Mik, Chuck and Look on the rounds of the houses, meeting elders, sipping tea, eating pilot bread and searching for a common language. Then one of the young guys spoke the magic words. A banya was going. “Come on!” he invited. They crouched in the outer area, just driftwood, a plastic tarp and a frozen mud floor, shucking their clothes. Inside they bent halfover, and crowded in, sitting on their heels. Mik and Look both laughed explosively, remembered the banya at Belle Rouche, and they chided the Native men to stoke the halfdrum stove higher. Chuck was uncomfortable in the close-packed space but set his teeth. Look asked one of the Native men what they found way out here to burn. “Pampers and paraffin,” he explained in monosyllables, and Mik roared even louder at that. “Well, stoke it up! Let’s get this cooking!” The young man went back outside, and began talking in to the other men in Aleut. The stove door creaked open outside there, then they heard a wet flop as he threw a petrol-soaked Pamper on the fire. The warm smell of mud and sweat changed to the stink of diesel, great gouts of vapor pouring from the cracks in the stove. One of the native men shouted, and Look tried to yell a warning, but it was too late. The outer door creaked open
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again, and with it, fresh air. The driftwood banya cover blew straight up into the air, then a sheet of golden-red flame flashed across the crouched pack of men, blowing them, and the pile of stacked driftwood, naked out across the snow. “Who-o-o!” Chuck ran off in a straight line, the hair on his head singed to a curl, skin bright red. Mik and Look rolled on the snow, trying to sooth the pain, then they turned and spotted the Natives standing there, laughing out loud. Chuck was running back, frozen wattles dangling, his legs gone white from the cold. Fred and Glenn never knew what they missed. Once they were on the Bering Sea side, exposed to sudden willowa blasts of bitter wind a n d d r i f t i n g i c e f l o e s , M i k t o o k Augenblik into Makushin Bay, right under the great volcano, and anchored for the night near an abandoned Aleut village. Look tossed over a prawn pot and sliced up the caribou liver for dinner, staring across the sheltered waters of the cove at the old driftwood huts through the galley porthole. The crew ate fresh venison until they couldn’t stand, and then slept the sleep of the dead. Next morning, their pot was full of five-inch white-spots, twenty pounds of them, and Look made a big Caesar salad, served up with omelets, sweet rolls and strips of tenderloin. “Eat hearty,” Mik exhorted, crumbs spilling out his mouth, “tonight we pull back into Dutch.”
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They made their entrance that afternoon, the sun clear and strong on the high mountain headlands protecting the bay entrance, and unloaded. It wasn’t a big haul, not even eighteen tons worth. Mik said Look’s share would be over seven grand, though they still had to net-out the costs of getting Augenblik b a c k to Rurik Island. After a little jostling, Mik moored her outboard of other crabbers at the Queen of Pacific p r o c e s s o r s h i p , a n d t h e y s h u t down the engines. It was home, sure, now they were back among familiar faces, bars and buddy’s. But Look was still a prisoner trapped on a floating steel factory. When he’d been out fishing in Adak, in t h e p r i s t i n e w i l d e r n e s s , t h e Augenblik f e l t l i k e she had wings. Now she was off the sea, in port, rafted out from the processing ship with the others, her engines dead, it felt like an oily, stinking, dirty rattrap with no way out. There was lots of work to do though. The auxiliary had cracked it’s head, and when they pulled the bad cylinder out, there was the dark line on the silvery metal jacket. So there was no juice, until Look ran a thick cord over to the boat next to them, stopping to say hello, and plugged into shore power. He lugged the a u x i l i a r y h e a d o v e r t o t h e Queen, a n d s e a r c h e d for her machinist, hoping for a regrind. The heavy seas had carried away their radio antenna. Look had to climb up the mast and work his way back down the forestay, hanging upside down with a co-ax in his hands, feet
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wrapped around the wire like a three-toed tree sloth, as he reattached the co-ax with nylon zipstrips. That’s when it happened. The processor ship’s crew was on break up in the galley, and everyone was staring out at this human trapeze artist, faces pressed to the portholes. Hands working in automatic rhythm, he amused himself by staring back at them, winking and saluting upside down. Then he saw her. Pulling himself on up, he wrapped over the wire, checking again. No way...it’s not possible! He slid down the forestay, burning on through his gloves, hitting the deck in a roll. He looked again. Their faces were all gone, break was over. Must’ve been his imagination. He threw his gloves down and plunged back into the cabin, slamming the hatch behind him. Damn! While he fixed dinner for the crew, his m i n d r a g e d , Tonight I’m gonna go party at the Elbow and just get fuckin’ blotto! Later he was lying in his bunk, just showered, waiting for the roast to finish. Sipping a can of Coor’s while he jotted passages from the Adak trip into his notebook. Outside it had gotten dark, a monotonous rain beat against the hull. Mik and the crew would be back any minute. There was the sound of footsteps coming down the gangway. A familiar face stuck his head in the cabin, a guy from the boat next door. “You got a visitor, man!”
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Look saw a slim form in raingear stepping on around the guy, as he backed away with a “see ya’,” and a big grin. A hood obscured the face, shadowing there under the pale overhead light, then he heard Michelle’s voice whisper a soft, “Hi!” Look sat up so fast he cracked his head on the bunk above him, his mouth open in disbelief. Shelley was peeling off her raingear, closing the door behind her, dressed only in sweats, then dressed in nothing at all. He swung his legs off the bunk and stood up, towel falling away, his bone gone fully erect. They closed the space, lips locking, breathlessly exploring each other, caressing, unbelieving. Look picked her up bodily, and they rolled into his bunk. They moved in practiced rhythm, drawn up tight, lips glued together, coarse breathed, his motion like a tom-tom, pushing deep inside. “God!” he exploded, then still hard, slowed his rhythm to her’s, caressing more gently now, moving their center back and forth, until he felt the heat rising, the glide of fluid, flushed tenseness, and her breath quickening. “Now, love, now!” she moaned, and once more he rode up high, fast and deep as they came, a great sob gasping together through their mashed lips. Then they lay curled together under the thin blanket, soaked in sweat, still unbelieving, kissing, talking and kissing again. “I thought I saw you this afternoon! It was driving me mad,
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why didn’t you come down to the boat?!” he asked. “I knew i t w a s y o u , b u t w e w e r e o n s h i f t , foreman would’ve had my ass if they caught me,” she laughed, teasing his thick beard. “Really, that was the worst wait of my life, honey, not knowing for sure.” “Shell...Shell,” Look kissed her whiskerburned cheek. “I’ve called you every chance I got! Where were you? I talked to Cherise, she said you were with Jack.” “I was,” Shelley admitted, “I made a mistake, that’s all,” she shrugged her shoulders. “That was then, this is now. Do you forgive me?” Then she was stroking his bone again, guiding him inside her. They moved more slowly this time, letting the urge rise, then fall, each time up a little higher, tensing up a little tighter, fingers clenched overhead, bridging, belly to belly, lips locked, grinding. The tidal wave crashed over them at last, a hot shudder rippling up their flanks, spawning an eerie convulsion that passed up through their bodies, like lightning flashing out into the ionosphere. They slept then, twined together like the paired scimitar blades under the gri-gri palm on Michelle’s lucky coin.

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Twenty Two - Pride and Joy
Mik, Chuck and the rest of the crew had worked their way from the LunaSea Bar to each boat in turn, sharing beers and smokes with the crews, talking about Adak’s catch and the upcoming Pribilof season. They all knew about Look’s visitor. Even so, as they ate the caribou roast buffet up in the galley, their voices boomed out with laughter, trying to draw Look and Michelle out so they could get an eyeful. Their patience was rewarded. Shelley smelled the meat and heard the laughter, and she shook Look back awake. “I’m famished, honey! Haven’t had anything but canned goods, white rice and frozen burger on the Queen, if you can call that food!” Look waved an arm in the air, exhausted, then dozed off again. Shelley lay on her right side, head propped up, covers drawn up over her ripe breasts, laughing at him. “I mean it Look! If you won’t get up, I’ll go in their myself! Like this!” That worked. Grumbling, he dragged on his sweats and socks. They padded into the galley. Everyone’s eyes lit up in merriment, then, after seeing Michelle, in amazement. A whistle escaped Chuck’s lips. “Jeez, Look, were you going to keep her all to yourself?” they joked, wide-eyed. Michelle blushed. Look half-smiled, looking for coffee and his smokes. “Yeah, yeah. Shelley, these are the guys, umm, that’s Mik, Chuck, Fred, Glenn.
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Guys, this is Michelle, my girl.” They all reached across the table, shaking her hand, murmuring hello’s, asking where she was from, making room for her to sit. “Look, grab a plate for Shelley!” Mik ordered, and Glenn jumped from the table, turning at the ‘fridge, “What can I get you?” Chuck and Fred were already making small talk with her. Look came back with a plate, cup and utensils, pushing the debris away, setting her a place. “OK, guys, let her eat,” he pleaded, and after, as the evening got later, and they all got to know each other a little, Mik slid a video into the tape player, Fred popped up some popcorn, and they sat around watching American Graffiti. Then the guys took off in pairs, heading on out to the bars, knowing that Look would want some time with Michelle before she slipped b a c k o n b o a r d t h e Queen, and they’d have to strike on back to sea. “That was nice, Look, I like the guys,” she yawned, “I have to get back though, honey, they want us back onboard, and my shift starts in a few hours.” “Ask your roomie to take your shift.” “I can’t Look, she’s working nights already.” “Here, give her this,” he slid a tab of dexadrine into her hand, “and tell her you’ll i n t r o d u c e h e r t o o n e o f t h e g u y s o n Augenblik .” Michelle laughed, tussling with him. “Forget it! I’m going back to the ship, can’t get any sleep here!”
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“Michelle! OK, listen. Come back early then, I’ll help you cook breakfast for the crew, maybe I can talk Mik into letting you work on the boat.” “And be your galley wench, eh?” But he knew she would. They nuzzled awhile in his bunk, then she had to get back. “Get your roomie to cover you for tomorrow. I’ll see you, get here early,” he reminded. Then she was off running across the slippery decks, clambering the rails in her rain gear under the harsh deck lights and hard black shadows, the diagonal slash of winter rainfall fading everything to gray. The next morning Look woke to the sweet smell of bacon frying. The guys were all back from the bar, sleeping in the bunks around him. Probably sleep until noon if Mik let them. Look pulled on his sweats, and walked up into the galley. Michelle looked just incredible. Her hair was longer than he’d recalled, lighter, and tied back, curling down her sweet curves. Soft plaid shirt, salt-faded jeans, pair of deck slippers. Like she’d been working on boats her whole life. He slipped behind her, cupping her pippin breasts with his rough hands, then slid them on down into her 501’s, fumbling at the panty elastic. Shelley wriggled off, then turned to slap him a kiss. After a bit, they smelled the toast burning, and spun back to cooking. Bacon, omelets, (burnt toast went out the porthole), so Look whipped up some Bisquik sweet rolls.
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That all set, Look hollered down that breakfast was ready, as Shelley sliced venison to go with the meal. Skillets full of julienne onions and silver-dollar sliced backstrap. Yumm. The crew trundled up, bleary eyed, nodding to Look and Shelley. Everyone ate in silence, wolfing the food, while Mik laid out the day. “Look, why don’t you, and Shelley if she’s not on shift, head over to the store and stock up on what we don’t have, the rest of us will be out in Back Bay re-rigging the pots we’re renting for the Pribilof’s.” “Chuck, take the guys and load the pickup with our extra line. We leave tomorrow morning. Look, when you get here, move the boat over to the fuel dock and gas up. We’ll haul these pots up to the grounds this trip,” Mik waved his arm to the back deck, “there’s a loading wharf in the Bay, we’ll load there and haul the rented pots up on our next trip. Any questions?” “I’ll need some money for filters, we’re down to the last ones,” Look reported. “I should change them out. I’ll go ahead and change the oil on the main before we move over to refuel. The auxiliary head is holding pressure OK now. Guess that steel epoxy putty works!” he l a u g h e d . “ T h e m a c h i n i s t o n t h e Queen reground the head, and we’re ready to roll.” Chuck, Fred and Glenn chimed in with their requests for beer, pop, candy and smokes for the next trip. That brought up the other question.
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“You guys, Michelle cooked breakfast, what do you think about her going as our cook for this Pribilof season,” Look asked with shrugged shoulders and an offhand manner, just in case they laughed at him. Fred piped up, “Sure!” and Glenn ribbed him, “You’d like that!” Chuck was circumspect, thinking about the crew’s interaction, how it’d affect their crew shares. “I don’t mind. Up to Mik, I guess,” he added. Mik cut it off. “Not this trip, Look. We’re just moving pots, and while we’re gone, Michelle s h o u l d t h i n k a b o u t w h e t h e r she wants to go.” Michelle smiled as they all padded off to get dressed, still hopeful she could change Mik’s mind, “I’m making a special meal for you guys tonight!” Then she and Look suited up in their raingear, and headed off to the store. When they got back, the crew was long gone, and they were alone on the boat again. Tired. Shelley helped him load groceries in the ‘fridge, and then she fixed themselves some lunch while Look went below and changed the filters and oil. After they ate, still time to refuel, they lazed in the wheelhouse as the afternoon sun warmed in through the ports. Look nuzzled Michelle, doubled up there in the heavy padded captain’s chair, as they stared out at the busy harbor before them. The hills around the town were shrouded in snow, setting off the dark gray timbers of Unalaska’s tiny huts against the powder.
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“So tell me, what’re Lou and Dianne up to?”

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Twenty Three - Delta Blues
Jacques groaned, rolling out of bed, shuffling slowly into the kitchen, past the mess in the dining room, the pile of bottles and ashtrays, used decks of cards, the chip rack. He’d called a couple of the clients over last night, lifting enough to pay for Lou’s bail, and for his responsibilities to Michelle. The first thing he’d do, when they got back in from Chicago, would be to drop Lou off, and then bring Michelle home. To Little Osage, where she belonged. He missed the old days, her animal eroticism, her common sense, her hard work. He envied Look, for having won her. He’d seen her spirit soar with him, both of them so free and spontaneous, alive. He wanted that too. Now Look was gone, Michelle would be his again. Like before. Only more. Jacques wiped his hands through his graying hair, pulling it back into a tight ponytail, and rubbed at the coarse bristle of beard he’d been growing. He looked like a hippie pawnbroker! Bon! The beard has to go once she comes home. T h e n the phone rang, as though Michelle had been reading his mind. “Jack, it’s me, Shell. Lou’s up on possession, with three prior’s. The Defender said he could get him easy time if he pleads guilty, but Lou says they have no evidence and wants to go not guilty. He wants out, can’t hack County. The
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judge set bail at twenty-five hundred, I think they want to cut him loose.” Michelle, Michelle, Jacques thought, picturing her standing there, desiring her more at a distance. “I’ll call my bondsman, they’ll get money up to you. Let me know when they’re ready to release, I’ll come up and get you both,” adding, “You can stay here, Michelle.” Priming the pump. Michelle knew that. She knew exactly what her options were, that Jacques would need her to rebuild his fortunes, recover the lost bail once Lou skipped. Look was gone, maybe forever. She’d better hit the ground running, it was time to pay the piper. “OK. See you, love....” She owed him that much, for picking her up that day in San Francisco. Shelley hung up, and walked back to her table at the Public Library. It was better than nothing while she waited for Lou to get released. At least there was a Chinese book collection, she could read and dream, her lurid fantasies more real than those of other girls her age, wandering through Marshall Fields in search of something new. Michelle had never been like that, wasn’t in her blood, that suburban shopping thing. So she lost herself in the stacks, half enjoying the few day’s solitude before she re-entered her former life, with Jacques’s demands and Saltie’s needs. That last time with Look had been almost maudlin. He’d been so beat down and abused,
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she’d felt so exhausted and used. They each had little to give, little to receive. Morning found them still asleep, leaning together, oblivious to the hospital staff. Then he’d run again. Later she took the Ell south to the Red Star Hotel near Chicago Circle. A slice of pizza, and cup of coffee with the late edition of the Sun Times, she spent the next two days in a limbo, hovering between the austere Public Library and her little Circle in the sun. Then Lou was out, and for a few hours they walked around, until he lost the shakes and roseyed up a bit. Jacques met them later that day downtown. Lou sat down at the counter of the hamburger joint across from the Art Institute, watching as Jacques and Michelle, hand in hand, crossed over the traffic. Just waiting until rush hour was over before they drove back, they’d left him there to go linger on fine art, such as it was. The dour waitress took his order, double chocolate malt, onion rings, double cheese with fries, smirking at his eyebrow ring. Let her smirk, L o u s h r u g g e d , i t h a d s a v e d h i s ass in the slammer, he’d held his own. It’s insane in there nowadays, but the eyebrow ring put the hardcases off. He shrugged, wolfing down the burger and mopping up a half bottle of ketchup with the fries and onion rings. Slurping on the malt, he limped to the phone, his crotch an agony of stitches, pads and tape. He dialed the house, but there was no answer. Then he called down to Krager’s. The manager said Dianne didn’t work there anymore.
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Oh shit! Now we’ve really got money problems! Lou swallowed his pride and called her folks, Thomas and Kathy Mably. Thomas was OK, but slow-speaking, a Lutheran minister, and Lou liked Kathy, but man, could she talk a blue streak! Preacher’s wife, you know. Dumb luck, he got Thomas. Dianne listened in the kitchen as her father went and answered the phone. She was eating on her own now, hair all stringy, lying in a blue cotton bathrobe, watching General Hospital with her mom. Still kind’a numb, doctor’s had said she might have permanent brain damage, and they were still running scans on her vitals for liver failure. It’d been close, he’d said, whoever called 911 and propped her up had saved her life. Look had, she knew that, and she loved him for it. Look so gentle and kind. Where had they gone that night? She couldn’t remember. Saltie’s, then what? Oh well.... Lou was trying to work around Thomas, but he wasn’t buying it. “Listen, mister, you just forget about Dianne! We trusted you, we took you into our home! See what you’ve done to her!? She almost died! Dianne doesn’t need losers like you in her life!” He hung up. Lou slammed the payphone down, cursing, then plugged another coin in the box. It rang and rang unanswered. He wandered back to his booth, staring the other patrons who’d heard him curse.
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Fuck them! What the fuck was that old man babbling about, ‘almost died’? He smoked a Marlboro, made one more call to Dianne’s, and then slugged down one cup of coffee after another, until the afternoon wore on and he was staring at an empty pack of smokes and a full bladder. Outside, Michelle and Jacques were walking down the sidewalk toward him. Jacques had his arm around her, pulling her tight against the chill. Yeah, I can see what he’s after, L o u s m i r k e d , s a d at that memory long ago, when he’d been young and Michelle younger, and they’d both toyed at the great mystery themselves, back the first time they’d met. Then he’d become more like her replacement brother. Jacques steered Michelle across Michigan and into the hamburger joint. It’d been a great afternoon, she was open and light-hearted, the fine art and literature her favorite pastime. Tres bien! She’s ripe for this, h e s m i l e d , w a r m i n g at the thought of a regular lover again, instead of just the occasional night out, the cat’s cradle game. Lou was waving, getting up, shuffling to the m e n ’ s r o o m . It must hurt like hell, his wound , Jacques winced, then turned to Shelley, “You want anything, ‘cheri, I ’ m g o n n a h a v e a c u p o f coffee, then we can hit the road.” Michelle looked up at him from the booth, smiling, her blue-green eyes sparkling. “No, I’m fine.” Jacques was wonderful, adept at three languages, the nuances of culture on the
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Continent as well as the Mississippi. He took small pleasures gratefully, knew hers as well, and how to provide. Her fears of before had dissolved at the Art Institute. They had a past, they were good lovers, and worked well together. A middle-aged man has all the advantages, and none of the disadvantages. He u n d e r s t o o d t h a t i n t u i t i v e l y . It’ll be easy to stay happy with Jacques, ….until Look gets free, she mused. Lou was tottering back as Jacques passed him on the way to the payphone. Michelle watched as he patted Lou on the shoulder, exchanging a few words, then Lou let himself down in the booth with a groan. “How’re you feeling, Lou?” she sympathized, “is your circulation getting better?” He looked away, trying to be dignified, then laughed explosively, head tilted back, “Fu-u-uck! It itches like hell!” They chuckled and she put her hand on his. “Really, you OK?” Lou smiled, “I wanted to thank you and Jack for bailing me. Don’t think I can go back though.” “You’ll pay him back. D’you call Dianne?” Lou’s face darkened, and he dropped his gaze. “Her mom says she took an overdose Tuesday night, and blames me. Her dad wouldn’t let me talk to her, then when I called again, her mom asked me to hold off. Guess she’s pretty messed up.” “She’s OK though, isn’t she?”
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“Yeah,” Lou reassured her, “Maybe a little light in the head for awhile is all.” Jacques came back then and sat. “So are you ready to roll, Lou?” he wondered, “Anything else you’d like now that you’re outside?” Lou stared him straight in the eye. “Yeah, I’d like to not have to go back. Thanks for bailing me.” Jacques shrugged his shoulders, “Up to you, but pay me back!” And that was it. They all knew Lou would skip. Anyone who’s been inside would never ask a friend to do the time just to save a buck or two. The long drive back was boring, the Interstate after Joliet just a straight shot to Springfield, with a little jink at Bloomington. Nothing but corn and soy. Lou took his prescription and slept, free and clear, alive again. Michelle cuddled up next to Jacques, safe, protected. Jacques just boomed along down the road, a whole man, the ruler of all he surveyed. They dropped Lou at his house. Will had moved in, cleaned up the place and taking care of things until someone got back. He helped Lou up the steps like a big brother, waving at Michelle as they drove away. The trip back to Little Osage went quicker. Michelle stretched out and slept the whole way there, her head on Jacques’s lap while he stroked her hair with his free hand. He woke Shelley in the parking lot, carried her across the threshold, and helped her up the steps,
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undressing in the dark upstairs bedroom where she’d first been with Look. Jacques was tender, taking his time, tracing his nails down the curve of her belly, nuzzling gently at her thighs. After awhile Michelle forgot, and began to moan, rocking her hips gently, holding his head down, then pulling him up and in with a sigh. Together they rode off into the sunset.

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Twenty Four - Ashes to Ashes
Michelle sat up suddenly. The wheelhouse was closing in on her, past and present all mixed up. Look was gazing expectantly, setting sun etching his raw- boned face in red-gold, highlighting his dark smiling eyes. “So what happened after you dropped Lou off?” Shelley gulped, “Hey, gotta get dinner going!” Look followed her, helping her peel the steak packs, quarter the potatoes, slice the vegetables. A blue plate special, rich gravy from the morning’s fry-up, the steaks broiled just right, potatoes boiled then mashed, broccoli steamed to perfection with cheese, ice cold 6-pack. Mik and the crew were late, they must have gone out to the bar on the way back. Look and Shelley laid back on the galley bench, half-watching the video. “Come’on, Shell,what happened to everyone?” “Lou came by a week later with Dianne,” she continued, skipping a stanza or two, “they dropped by Saltie’s in the afternoon. Said Dianne was entering drug-rehab, the district attorney told her he’d erase her record if she cleaned up. So it was their last night together before she checked in at the Hamilton clinic, you know, Springfield’s politician’s all go there to dry out?” Shelley shuddered, “Look, you know that you actually have to sign yourself in, to commit yourself, and they don’t have to release you! Isn’t that sick!?”
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“So what happened to her and Lou, are you telling me they’re straight now!? I don’t believe it!” “No, Lou’s still Lou!” Shelley laughed. “But Dianne met a St. Louis accountant in the clinic, an alcoholic. I guess they were truth-or-dare buddies at twelve-steps. She told me he gave her a fixed point of reference, and she gave him a shoulder to cry on. Anyway, they both got better, and then got married. Lou found out from her father, a couple of days later. They were in Tahoe on their honeymoon. She called me from St. Louis just three weeks ago. Guess she’s real happy now.” Look stared out the porthole, his jaw muscles churning, wondering if Dianne had remembered their night together, if their fling had started her down the road away from Lou. And he wondered too if she had told Michelle, if that’s why she went back to Jacques. “I know, babe, it’s hard when people change,” Shelley rubbed his shoulder with her hand. “Lou took it pretty hard, her not telling him. He gave everything to Jack for the bond, then took off for Oakland. Said he wanted to stretch his legs awhile.” “Lou?!” Look stared hard at her, “Gone?!” Shelley recounted, “We got the warrant for his arrest a couple of days after he split, then a postcard from out in Elko, you know, Nevada? A jack-a-lope, have you ever seen one of those cards? He said he was fine, and heading on into Truckee that night.” Shelley paused. “Hope he
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never made it to Oakland, though, that’s no place you’d want to try to start over in.” “So how’d you find me out here then?” Look puzzled, wondering if he’d ever run into Lou again. “Your weirdo note, don’t you remember it?” Shelley laughed, nuzzling at his neck, sliding her left hand inside his drawers, tickling just enough to get a rise, “Lou showed me.” Look blanked out, then suddenly laughed too. He’d forgotten the scribbled card he’d sent leaving Rurik, wanting at least someone from h o m e t o k n o w w h e r e h e w a s b o u n d f o r , “ Lou and Dianne. Alaska’s great! Heading out West on a crab boat as engineer cook. Say hi to Shelley for me,” s i g n i n g i t , a l i a s e d , “ I Am!” He rolled on his side on the narrow bench, clutching Michelle by the hips, drawing her roughly up against him, pressing hard against her. There’s a Dutch word for it, gemuss, y o u know, just wanting to eat someone up. He kissed her softly, “Can we start again where we left off?” She smiled, tears glistening her eyes, “ We never finished, babe, I couldn’t stop thinking about you, Look!” Then laughing, “but can we go to bed? I’m getting a cramp!” Like giggling school kids, they scribbled out a note to the crew, her cook job all but forgotten, then raced for his bunk. The sun dropped below the horizon into a blue-black dusk, and the lights of Unalaska
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village winked like Christmas tree lights against the pale gray snow. Back in Little Osage, it’s already past midnight, Shelley thought, waking when Mik and his crew came in, listening to them eat and joke, complementing her cooking. She smiled when she heard Mik sum it up, “Yeah, after this next trip, I’ll let her cook for us.” Then everyone was snoring in their bunks around her, and it was her shift on the Queen in a few hours anyway, so she slipped out, kissing Look, then ran back to the processor. She didn’t want to blow it by missing her shift and being AWOL too. But the tiny ship cabin was stuffy, her roommate was from San Diego and couldn’t stand the icy draft from the porthole. So the space became unbearably hot, the constant whir and clank of the ship’s bowels disturbing. Shelley meditated on Illinois, sleepless, recalling how she came to be up here in Alaska. Once Jacques had brought her home and she’d settled in, they had to get Saltie’s going again, had to get cash flow back, build up the bank, get the card room playing again before he lost all his clientele. So they sat together one night after dinner, going through Jacques’s insurance commissions and his cosmetics sales receipts, figuring out the most likely downline income he’d derive. It wasn’t enough. Jacques took the plunge. “Michelle, I don’t want you to have to go through what I did, and
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think you don’t either, selling insurance and cosmetics.” “Hey, we’re in this together,” she protested, “I’ll make this work, just tell me what I have to do!” “ N o , ‘cheri. No. I’ve got a better idea. I’ve been working on this since we got shaved. It’s a sales plan, for real estate. You know, things are growing now that the vets are all back and working. We could sell them a business plan for buying up defaulted real estate! It’s The American Dream!” Shelley had no idea what he was talking about, guessing, “Like, Simple Simon? Show me a dollar and you can smell my pie?” “Something like that,” Jacques smiled. In just weeks they had the fulfillment packages put together and some advertising going on the local radio stations. Jacques’s circuit went through down-State, evening meetings, pep rallies sort of, he got those narrow-minded farmers really thinking big. Made them into fishers of men. Word-of-mouth works wonders. Before long their meetings were packed with just about every businessman and farmer in the whole region, listening with bated breath to his well-heeled plan for growing rich in real estate, and wiping their foreheads as they google-eyed Michelle’s supple body. Jacques would open with a flourish, flashing c-notes, whirling Michelle on the stage before
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their gawking faces, then at the closer, he’d arch her back so they all got a good look at her pomegranate breasts. The Good Life, any fool could see, lay in real estate! Jacques had discovered the formula for success in the eighties. Money and sex. Real or imagined, hey, it didn’t matter. The seventies had been all disco, drugs and sex, the eighties would be about sex and money. You play, you pay. His Make a Million! real estate scam sold like hot cakes. It even impressed people it shouldn’t have impressed at all. His clientele at the Capitol began calling up, asking for a piece. So he thought about it for awhile, and took the logical step. For a share of the MaM action, he asked the Governor’s State Property Division Manager for a simple favor. You see, Jacques wanted him to grant a state-contract to build and run a vet rehab clinic. The concept was blood simple, and perfectly legal. He still held the lease on a corner store in Springfield, the one he’s been reborn from long ago. Jacques called Sammy and his father over one night, mid-week, and offered to sell it to them, explaining his scheme. They would buy up the place, then evict the tenants, now a convenience store. Jacques would get them a contract to rebuild the old store into a halfwayhouse, and lease it back to the State. But there’s more. His mother’s family physician, Doctor Kendall, was retired down in Baton Rouge. The
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white-haired old man had agreed to run the clinic. It was foolproof! What Jacques didn’t tell them was this. He’d get a consulting fee, sales commission and a big percentage of the net from the good doctor. Fair is fair. Jacques was well on his way to becoming filthy rich. Things went like clockwork. They always do when you know people with easy money in high places. The clinic was set to open at the New Year’s, after the remodeling was done. With the income from the real estate investment confidence scam, Jacques had a deal going that would put him on easy street. “Ahh, Michelle!” he crooned to her that night, a f t e r t h e p a p e r s h a d a l l b e e n s i g n e d . “ Bon cheance! We’re set now!” She wore the red silk kimono Jacques had given her, casually open, the gentle musk of her expensive perfume rustling the fabric. They lounged on the big settee in his upstairs smoking room, languidly sorting the documents, his arm over her shoulder, caressing her gumdrop nipples. Jacques brought out a bottle of ‘49 Rothchild’s, soda crackers and a little tin of B e l u g a o n a D e l f t d i s h . “ C h e e r s , ‘cheri!” Shelley downed a whole tumblerful. Then she unzipped his fly, licking him up hard with a shy pensive smile. Made him take her, legs akimbo, coughing up right there on the Karistan. But their celebration, like the sex, hadn’t lasted. It never does. With big money comes big management responsibilities, commitments, protecting what’s won. Michelle saw a side of
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Jacques she’d never noticed before, in the days of fighting their way up, satisfied just to have things go right. He was on the phone now all the time, planning every step, the next door to open up for him. Saltie’s seemed like a nostalgia trip, something tired, jaded, his father’s. Jacques was born again, a virile moneyed man, with a lovely fine young mistress. Their phone rang night and day. At first Shelley hadn’t minded, it wasn’t about the sex anyway. More about setting things right again, winning back her future. After awhile though, the hustle and aimlessness took its toll, and she began to enjoy the rich buzz of fine wines, the good doctor’s methadone, soft unfocused blur of assured success. Without even noticing, her life was slipping away, one cotton candy day after another. But not for long. She’d crashed out on the smoking room couch, in the middle of the day, when Will called up from Springfield, “Michelle, there was this guy down here asking about Look. Called him Michael Sumpter. Some kind of grease-ball in a suit, know what I mean? Sammy was here and heard his accent. He says the guy has to be from Chicago.” Shelley sat up fast, a cold sweat beading on her forehead. “What’d the guy want? What’d he say?”

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“Oh, some bullshit about insurance. Look’s auto insurance was about to lapse, wanted to make sure he kept his coverage with winter coming on. Real pushy dude, kept working the conversation around to where was Michael living now.” “Oh, God! What’d he look like?” “Like a goombah!” Will laughed again, “Don’t worry, we didn’t tell him anything. ‘Never heard o f h i m ’ , y o u k n o w , I f l i p p e d h i m o f f l i k e i n Easy Rider.” Jake Maribino wasn’t put off so easily. He was back on his feet now, had the license from Look’s truck through his connections downstate, it wasn’t too hard to nose around Springfield as an insurance agent, or a skip tracer, or as a what-have-you. Next stop the City Recorder’s office, then on to the landlord’s place. “Sir, Michael Sumpter had some money in an old savings account,” Jake introduced himself to the landlord and his wife. He was just running a trace, he said, trying to get the money back to Michael. “This address here was Michael’s last known residence, I’m sure he’d be grateful,” handing over the slip of paper, hinting there might be something in it for them. They looked at each other, and again at Jake’s card. It seemed legitimate, Northern Trusts Associates, Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. The guy was well-dressed. The landlord pleaded to his wife with his eyes, and she waved him forward with her hand, scolding.
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“OK, won’t you come in a minute, sir, I’ll get a copy of the original rental agreement. That used to be our own home before we retired, did you know that?” the man puttered in his desk, searching. Jake smiled like the Cheshire cat. It hadn’t been as much help as he thought, nothing really to go on. Some guy named Louis Balfour, and his ‘wife’ Dianne. No mention of a Michael. But he’d gotten their references, one of them Dianne’s parents, and after stopping at a bar to use the head and to call back to Debolepesco, Jake checked in the white pages, and took a ride over to the Mably house east of town. “Ahh, hello, ma’am, my name’s Jake Masterson, I’m with Northern Trusts?” he smiled wanly, trying to appear mealy mouthed despite his great bulk. Kathy Mably shied back from the screen as her husband Thomas pushed his way into the porch light. “Yes, sir, can I help you? What is this in regards to?” Then Jake came right to the point. Michael had money coming to him from a trust, and he hadn’t left a forwarding address when he’d left town. Jake talked to the current tenants, and they’d told him to try over here at Dianne’s, just trying to help out. “Our daughter isn’t here, she’d married now, moved out of state,” Thomas clipped dryly. “Sorry, sir,” then he turned away, reaching to close the door.
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Jake’s shoulders sagged. Just another dead end. He’d never nail this lead. Then he tried one last trick, greed. “Excuse me, sir, it’s important! You see, his uncle has left him a very large sum of money in trust. And, sir, I’m sure there’d be a gratuity for helping!” Thomas Mably stood reserved as any preacher would be, but inside he was all sulfur and brimstone. Dianne had told about Look, after she remembered it, what he’d done with her, to her that night. God! There was an awkward pregnancy to deal with now, and her new husband was sure to wonder if the birth seemed p r e m a t u r e . That whole miserable bunch, that skinnyass’d Lou and his Zapadda punks. Now this new boy, Michael! It was more than his self-righteousness could bear, To think that gypsy bastard has a windfall coming to him! J a k e ’ s o f f e r o f a t i p p u s h e d h i m over the edge. Thomas wasn’t some damn concierge! “You can find him out at Jacques Desaultel’s Tavern, off the Havana road, 136, northwest of here,” he trembled with rage, “That’s where he hangs out, with some bar girl who works there,” then he added, “and tell him for me I know what he did to my daughter!” Jake hummed a tune to himself as he drove out of Springfield, into the setting sun, bathed a l l i n r e d . A Taste of Honey, h e k a r a o k e ’ d , g i v i n g it a little Al Hirt belt on bass line, “a taste, so m u c h sweetah than wine!” Michelle was tending bar as the weekend crowd started to filter in. Jake walked up, and
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his sharp suit put her off when he asked for Jacques. A client? She said he’d have to wait, but he just smiled. Didn’t have anyplace he needed to go now! She was right, it was all just a matter of waiting…. Then he started asking about Michael, and S h e l l y m a d e t h e c o n n e c t i o n . Oh God! It’s Chicago all right.... Jake kept hanging around, and so she took off for her sister’s next morning, slipping quietly out of bed as Jacques slept. Jeannette and Bo took her in without any questions, and since they didn’t have a telephone way out there, nobody was the wiser. Ten days later, her ticket in hand, Michelle was on a plane leaving ORD, heading for the Aleutians.

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Twenty Five - Go For It
Augenblik left before dawn the next morning. L o o k j u m p e d o v e r t o t h e Queen t o t e l l S h e l l e y that Mik said she could have the cook job, but she was on shift.He ended up asking Nadine, her cabin-mate, if she’d tell Michelle for him. “Sure...,” she waved her hand, still half asleep, teasing Look with her saucey profile, “...see you.” Then they were off, heading across the Bering Sea, already whipped to a scudding chop by the fierce north wind. Mik was hoping for a lull in the weather before the real cold set in, so they could move the pots without danger. It took thirty hour’s run to reach Saint George Island, then drop their crabpots in a double string, unbaited, the doors tied open, along an arc just south of the island, semi-protected from any big floes drifting down from the Norton Sound pack ice. “We’ll just get the pots out there for now, then bait ‘em up on the next run, and pull ‘em once the season opens,” Mik explained to Look on the way. The rest of the crew already knew the drill, so it was an easy trip, more like shooting clay pigeons than hard work. But on the way back they got caught in a blow, wind gusting up over seventy knots. Mik took over the wheel as the crew wedged themselves tight into the galley benches as best they could, heads rolling back and forth in the wrenching swell, running off downwind. The
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boat fell from one huge wave to the next in a gut-churning rough ride. First it’s that devilish little roll, you know, the last clickity-clack on a roller-coaster? Then weightlessness, plunging down, bow burying into the next wave with a shock, steep following seas driving her down, deep, shuddering. Green water swallowed the bridge ports again and a g a i n a s Augenblik t r i e d t o r i s e u p . Other boats hadn’t been so lucky. They listened to the crackling VHS radio as the crabbers chattered back and forth. One said he’d been plowing through forty-foot waves with a full load of pots, heavy sea spray freezing on the pot webbing, making their boat wallow, topheavy, the crew out on deck beating ice off with baseball bats. There were other stories, worse. ‘Mayday, mayday, mayday...” came over the radio as the sun lightened the sky. Look and Chuck listened to the relay of directions back to the Coast Guard rescue, between bursts of static and the other boats squawking. “...we’re down at the stern, rolling seventy, and the...!” Then there was silence. Look’s mouth watered with a sharp metallic taste, vision blurring. Felt like he’d been gutpunched, that same vertigo and powerlessness. He pushed up off the bench, running for the back deck. Chuck saw him first, blocking his way, plastic bucket in hand. “Puke in here if you’re going to, you’re not going out on deck in this blow!” his stern face creased with compassion. They’d all been there,
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everyone has a point where they hurl. Some can’t take the slow roll of big ships, and some puke up on crab boat’s hobby horse. Old-time skippers, their sea legs no good on land, blow lunch when they tie back up at the dock! Look puked until his stomach turned inside out, kneeling there in the passageway between galley and backdeck, holding the bucket with his knees. After a bit Mik came back to see how he was, Chuck holding the helm. Glenn and Fred just sat there, eyes staring straight at the horizon, unseeing, zomed out. “Are you OK?” Mik offered, helping him stand up again. Then he popped off down the ladder into the engine room to check the roaring diesels. Coming back up, he caught a lurching roll, and tripped on the bucket. The acrid stink of vomit spun up into the galley, and Mik leaned against the bulkhead, his eyes blearing, roping out saliva as he gagged. Pots and pans were clanging around, bouncing along the deck, the galley table a mess of rolling coffee cups and tipped-over ashtrays. They braced there, the two of them, Look and Mik mopping up with towels, then wedged the hatch open enough to throw the mess out on deck. Up in the wheelhouse, Chuck whooped in glee, holding up his free hand rodeo style as Augenblik p i t c h e d a l o n g t h r o u g h t h e h e a v y s e a s . Mik ran them in behind Round Island, just a small green blip on the radar against a ragged tapestry of huge waves, but enough hard ground to hold on a hook and break up the
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swell. They spent a sleepless night, main rev’d low, jogging in place to keep the anchor from dragging, or worse, parting the line. At least the roller-coaster ride was over. Next morning the wind ratcheted down a notch, and then toward afternoon, Fred made the headlands on his watch, and an hour or so later they were out of the heavy swell, moving on into the calmer waters of Unalaska Bay. Man! Home has never looked so good..., Look thought, the rolling hills imprinting on his mind like a h o m i n g p i g e o n , ...home from the sea. A raft of boats were tangled up on the processors, with everyone coming in from the s t o r m . T h e y g o t Augenblik t i e d u p a s b e s t t h e y could at the loading wharf, then Look set off toward town. The gale wind whipped and tugged, throwing him offbalance as he walked bent over, sleety rain pelting him sideways. Shelley was just finishing her shift, sitting in the Queen’s big galley, drinking coffee with Nadine and avoiding eye contact with the horndogs prowling on the upper decks. Then Look was standing there, dripping in his raingear, and she ran to him. “You’re back! How’d it go? This storm is awful, isn’t it?” she chimed, hugging him tight. “Hey, baby,” was all Look could muster. They hopped a ride in the back of a passing pickup truck and rode out to the wharf. The crew had already straightened the mess up, battened everything down, then taken off for the bars, just Mik and Chuck left, playing cribbage
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when they walked in. Shelley went to fix dinner, fancy sauerbraten caribou, baby carrots she whittled off the ends of some Nantes she found in the cooler, rotecole, r e d c a b b a g e i n s w e e t - s o u r sauce, and boiled potatoes with caraway. “It’s Dutch,” she explained to Mik while the meat braised, “or German, I’m not sure which, but it’s good, you’ll like it.” Mik and Chuck started planning the next run. They’d take the rented pots up, bait them along with the pots they’d left soaking, then they’d hide behind Saint George until the season opened. That way they could start pulling crab right off the get go. Look and Michelle went out on the backdeck. The storm clouds had parted, the clear air rippling milky bands of sparkling stars, a thin crescent moon setting huge next to a bright evening star. Augenblik s q u a t t e d l o w o n t h e b l a c k water, or maybe it was just the ring of high jagged peaks around them. Look ran his hand up under her flannel shirt, caressing, feeling her nipples harden. Michelle let him. “Did Nadine tell you that Mik said you could go?” he breathed warm into her scalloped ear as they leaned on the tafrail, gazing out across the silent bay. “I already told my shift crew boss I’m leaving, when does Mik want me to move my stuff in?” Shelley wondered, “and where do I sleep?” she teased him. “I don’t know, let’s ask,” they headed back in.
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Then the food was ready, and they sat down together. Shelley uncovered the platters and their rich smells filled the galley. Mik got up all of a sudden and went to his cabin, returning w i t h a m a g n u m o f s a k é. “Traded for this with a Japanese buyer we tied up to during halibut. Was saving it for a special night, or Christmas, whichever came first,” he popped the cork. “Well, tonight’s a special night.” Chuck found some candles, and they turned off the auxiliary, killing all the lights, and lit the tapers. It was an eerie transformation. When the Augenblik was off the sea, tied up, with the generator throbbing the deck plates, she seemed less a boat and more a factory. Now in the dark and soft candlelight, her wood paneling snapped out in warm relief, and the gleam of the brass porthole over the sink l e n t a s p e c i a l f l a i r t o t h e a t m o s p h e r e . Augenblik was a beautiful boat, hand fitted by the best shipwrights at the end of the steam ship era, before the heyday of modern steel. M i k c a p t u r e d t h e m o m e n t , “ T o t h e Augenblik ! May she sail the seas for another fifty years.” Everyone raised their glasses. “And to Michelle for this great meal,” Look added with a nod in her direction.” “Here, here!” Chuck seconded. Then the alarms went off. “Grab a flashlight!” Mik ordered, his face grave. The overhead lights weren’t coming on.
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He flipped the switches again. Nothing. “We’ve got problems, let’s get down below!” he shouted, “Shelley, stay here.” Look and Chuck grabbed a flashlight of their own, as they ran into the galleyway and threw open the hatch to the engine room. In the harsh beam of the flashlight, all they could see was d a r k o i l y w a t e r . T h e Augenblik was sinking right at the dock! Mik pushed past down the ladder, then Chuck and Look followed. The main engine was near submerged. Odd boxes and oil cans washed slowly back and forth as they pushed their way through the bone-numbing seawater to the stern. Mik dove under, while Look and Chuck played their lights in the darkness, watching as he worked his hands around the shaft. He popped back up, sputtering. “It’s not the shaft-alley, can’t feel a leak in the stuffing box, let’s check the overboards, you’ll have to dive under to find them.” The ice’y water was chest deep against him as Look worked down one side and Chuck down the other, diving, probing with their hands, eyes burning from the diesel and lube oil floating on the bilgewater. Look found it first, the rush of turbulent water pushing against his hand at the through-hull. “I’ve got it, bring me some rags and a stick!” Mik waded over with a mop, Chuck plucked up some oil rags from the floating siwash.

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“Break off the mop handle!” Look shouted, and in the wild darkness, broken only by their flashlight beams, Mik, Chuck and Look fought to plug the hole. Then they stood there together, soaked to the bone and shivering with cold, laughing. “That was close!” Chuck bit off. Michelle was standing by the hatchway when they came up, and Look said straightoff what happened. “We lost a through-hull fitting, should’ve checked the engine room after we tied up, but w e w e r e a l l s i c k a s d o g s . A l m o s t l o s t Augenblik ! You go into town and find Fred and Glenn at the Elbow, tell them, round up a trash pump and get back out here, OK?” “Are you all right?” she asked, but they were already stripping down, digging for clean clothes, trying to get warm again. “Go on, Shelley! We’ve got to stay, pump her out with the gusher on the back deck.” “You want me to come back?” “No! Stay on the Queen. I ’ l l c o m e g e t y o u i n the morning,” Look strode quickly to her, steaming in his skivvies, his massive chest heaving, and threw an iron arm around her waist, tight, “Now go!” They worked all night at the manual gusher on deck, pumping out the hold. Fred and Glenn found a trash pump and got there just at dawn, and with two streams, they were sucking air by mid-morning. Mik and Look went below to
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assess the damage, and then they sat there glumly at the galley table, littered with their plates of half-eaten sauerbraten a n d c o l d rotecole, stubbed out cig’s and empty Dr. Pepper bottles. “We’re not going anywhere,” Mik summed it up. “The garboard is leaking, the through-hulls are all corroding off, I cracked the radiator hose fittings and tasted saltwater, I think the keel cooler got damaged at Round Island. They’re going to let us on the grid this afternoon at high tide, we’ll check that, and we can work tonight recaulking,” he coached, “Now let’s try and make this season opener, OK!?” Look broke the news to Shelley while the crew moved the boat around to town. “See if y o u c a n g e t y o u r j o b b a c k o n t h e Queen. We’re going to be stuck here for awhile. I don’t want you on the next trip, not until we see if Augenblik ’ s g o i n g t o m a k e i t . ” Michelle started to protest, but saw the steel in Look’s eyes, she knew he was backed against the wall. So she didn’t tell him about her Philipino crew boss, what he warned when she said she was quitting, about how the word gets around in a small town. Maybe she could find a job on another processor ship before then. “I’ve got to go, bye,” and they kissed gently, lingering, each knowing disaster, both not saying it. The crew worked all that day and all the next. Shelley dropped by every once in a while to tidy up and cook something, staying on shift schedule like she had her old job back, being
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their cheerleader. Fred and Glenn were the gofer’s, Mik and Chuck knew the boat repairs, and Look stripped down the engines. On the afternoon of the third day they floated Augenblik o f f t h e g r i d a t h i g h t i d e , a n d m o o r e d near the fuel dock. The season would open in sixteen hours, and they didn’t even have the pots loaded yet! Look ran the fuel hoses to the two tubes, filling the tanks in tandem to save time. Then they raced to the loading wharf in Back Bay, Chuck redlining her engine. He shouldn’t have.

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Twenty Six - Serve Somebody
They all felt it, the hard vibration, and Look was down the ladder in a shot as Chuck eased off. Mik was there right behind him, and they stood, each side of the shaft log, and watched in dismay as sea-water piped past the stuffing box into the bilge. A torrent. “Shit!” Look frowned, “Can we tighten it?” “No,” Mik advised, “I mean, we can, but that’s not the problem, we have to tie up and see.” Instead of a quick pace they idled to the wharf, and so it was already dark when they got there. Fred and Glenn fixed some hamburgers in the galley while Mik, Chuck and Look crowded around the reduction gear. Look laid a machinist’s scale against the propeller shaft, tale of the tape. It was clearly bowed. Then he popped the cover on the gearbox, shone a flashlight down into the cogged teeth. The gleam was obvious, they were mis-aligned, corners chipped and missing, and a dust of silvery powder suspended in the oil. “Shit, Mik, I’m sorry, man,” He was silent for a long time, Chuck and Look just stared at the trickling stuffing box, smoking their Marlboro’s. The main sat there, ticking as it cooled. “I’d say let’s go for it,” Mik exhaled, “but after the other night, I’m not so sure.” He started absent-mindedly wiping oil off his hands with a
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r a g . “ H e y , g u y s , Augenblik ’s all I got, we can’t be hauling clear out the Pribilof’s with running gear like this.” He gazed around at the dark walls for a moment, “I’m calling it. We’re shut down until I can get it rebuilt.” Chuck muttered an oath and marched off, dragging himself up the ladder. “What’s his big problem?” Look tried to make light of the setback. “Chuck’s the mate, he’s gotta stay here until we get this gear rebuilt,” Mik explained, “but you don’t. Go on, get your stuff, see if you can make the season on some other boat. I can pick you up for tanner crab or something. Tell Fred and Glenn.” That night he couldn’t find Michelle. Nadine said the crew chief had let her work again, “But it’s only until the new girl gets up here from Seattle, they already signed her out.” He knew that story. “ T e l l h e r t h e Augenblik i s t i e d u p , I ’ m l o o k i n g for another boat to fish the Pribilof’s.” Then he started making the rounds of the boats in the harbor. It’s tough pounding the docks. You got to jump right into someone’s galley, people you’ve probably never even met, interrupt their crew’s dinner, staring daggers at you, and the skipper bored, high or drunk. Then ask him for a job?! In Dutch it’s about as easy as it gets. There’s a lot of fights, burnout’s, dead drunks, drugs, pussy, all kinds of reasons to play musical
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chairs. You just have to find the open berth before the other guy does. Like dating. T h e n e x t d a y h e g o t l u c k y . W a l k i n g b y t h e Tor Avenger a s i t w a s b e i n g u n l o a d e d , h e h e a r d Queen’s crew shouting for assistance. The pumps had turned off, and the crab tank was filling back up with seawater, four guys up to their knees in ice’y brine and a mountain of scrabbling kingcrab around them. T h e r e w a s n o b o d y o n b o a r d t h e Avenger, o n e o f those big steel Marco’s from Seattle. Look slid down into the engine room, so clean you could eat off the deckplates, all new gear, expensive piping. He studied the valving for a minute, as the crew foreman yelled for him to hurry from up above. “Got it!” he hollered at last, figuring out the panel, then checked a valve position, pushed a button, and the pump kicked in again. Coming back up the ladder, he heard a scuffle on the deck, the foreman protesting, then a louder voice shouting, “Who the hell turned on the pumps!?” Look swallowed hard, pushing out the galleyway ondeck. “Someone must have left the valving wrong, you were flooding your crab tank with the workers still down in the hold,” he shrugged as he passed by the guy, a big barrel-chested scruffy Scandinavian. “GET OFF MY BOAT! ” t h e s k i p p e r s c r e a m e d . Both the crew boss and Look scrambled on over the railing, leaving the unloading crew standing down below, soaking wet.
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Jeez, what an asshole!” Look chuckled to the foreman, and then they were both laughing hard. “Harald Haugesund, he’s a real dickhead,” the guy explained. Then he climbed onboard to tend to his crew, calling back, “But he catches a lotta kingcrab!” Look thought about that for awhile, watching and waiting, but the skipper never came back on deck. So he climbed onboard again, waving to the crew he’d helped out, and pushed back into the wheelhouse. “What’dya want?” Haugesund scowled, drunk. “Wanted to apologize for a misunderstanding. See, I had to reset your valves and pumps to keep the crab tank dry so they could get your crab hold unloaded. Someone left the overboard open and turned off the pump,” Look shrugged. “‘s just trying to help out.” “Yeah, it’s the fugkin’ engineer,” Haugesund mumbled. Look’s ears perked up. “Fugk’rs no good anyway, fugk’n drunk.” Then he pushed past into his cabin, shutting the door. That was that. So Look spent the rest of the day jumping from one boat to the next, usually empty anyway, the crews in the bars while they unloaded, or waiting to be. Later on, he found Michelle in her cabin after shift, and they moved back up the cafeteria to sit and sip coffee and
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smoke cigarettes, exhausted from the nervewracking unknown rushing towards them. “D’you find a boat? Nadine told me,” Shelley asked him after awhile, not wanting to push. “Yeah, thought I did, but the guy brushed me off. I’ll try again tomorrow, otherwise, nothin’.” “I’ve got to find something tonight or tomorrow before the new girl gets here, did Nadine tell you?” “ Y e a h , i t ’ s O K , y o u c a n s t a y o n Augenblik i f they want you gone from here. Come on.” Then after walking around to the other processors, waiting while she talked with their crew chiefs, Look decided it was better that she stay back on the Queen. H i t c h i n g b a c k o u t a l o n e , h e f o u n d Augenblik c o l d a n d d a r k , e v e r y o n e i n town hustling like he’d been, just the bilge pump cycling on and off again. He walked out the back deck and leaned over the water, laughing down at his weird-rippled reflection staring back up at him. The mountains stood cold and serene, like the hillsides above his trailer in Rurik, and for a moment he thought of Anne, and felt ashamed. There really hadn’t been a reason to go, she’d been right after all. He’d just gotten messed up in the past, and the future, and forgotten the present, where he’d had everything he wanted, right there in Rurik. He wouldn’t make that same mistake again. In the morning Look met Michelle early up in the Queen’s c a f e t e r i a . T h e y g u l p e d d o w n a c u p o f
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joe, then parted with a kiss, just like morning commuters at the train station. His first stop was the Tor Avenger, w h e r e h e f o u n d t h e c r e w o u t o n deck, ready to get underway. “Is the skipper on board?” he shouted up. “Yeah, but you don’t want to go in there now,” one of the crew laughed, winking at the others. Look was desperate, so he took the chance. Just inside the galleyway, he heard ‘em yelling, Harald and some other guy, sound of a woman’s voice protesting. “Ah, excuse me,” he interrupted, “I’m the engineer from Augenblik , we’re down for the season and I was wondering if you needed a deckhand?” Harald and Arne, Tor’s engineer, stared back at Look, uncomprehending, both of them two sheets to the wind. They’d been arguing about the woman cook, whether she would go on this trip with Harald, or with Arne. The boat was brand new, so there was nothing for Arne to do except stay drunk and out of the crew’s way. The cook could keep him company. Harald was furious, the woman was his hire, and damn! She was going to stay in his cabin! But Arne was an Fjordlandt’s oldtimer, and not so easily put off. “Stick around a minute,” he waved to Look. This kid was the solution to his problem! “OK Arne, here’s a twenty, go get me another bottle at the LunaSea, and then you can have her.” He
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pushed the girl into his cabin, “Pack your shit and get out!” Arne was too drunk to see the ruse, shuffling off like the victor, making plans for his debauch. He’d grab a cab, send the bottle and car back for her, then they’d relax down in the bar with the other skippers. As soon as the door closed behind Arne, Harald ordered the girl to wait in his cabin. Then he smiled to Look, waving his hand invitingly toward the galley, “I’m sorry about that, it’s hard to find a good crew.” “Hey, no problem, man. Maybe I can catch you on the next trip?” Look tried to act nonchalant. “No, no! Hey,” Haugesund spread his arms wide, indicating with their outstretch the bright expanse of the vessel, “I was thinking of this t r i p . C a n y o u h a n d l e a b o a t this size?” he emphasized again. L o o k w a s f l u s t e r e d . T h e Tor Avenger w a s a top-dollar highliner, just one trip could mean a fortune! Oh, shit! What about that other engineer...? He went for it. “Sure, I can handle it. No problem!” he hoped. As long as there’s all the operating manuals! “Then let’s go! Where’s your gear?” Harald waited just until the cab came back with his AcquaVit, then cast off, Arne already forgotten. They slipped the lines and cruised out and around into the back bay, sidling up a l o n g s i d e Augenblik .
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“Mik, guys!” Look shouted as he bolted into t h e g a l l e y w a y . “ G o t a j o b ! O n t h e Tor Avenger!” They all looked up, red-eyed from lack of sleep. The new gears were still weeks away in delivery, and by now most of the other boats had left for the opener. They were stuck. Mik pushed up from his seat. “I’m going to go talk to your skipper a minute, see if he’ll run our pots for a share of the net.” Chuck and the other guys wanted to hear the story, and slapping him on the back, warned him to keep his head down. “Assholes and elbows…,” Chuck offered. “If you see Shelley, t e l l h e r s h e c a n c o o k o n Augenblik. She can have your bunk, if she needs a place to stay.” “Sorry guys,” Look shrugged, “We’re leaving right now, and Shelley’s looking for another processor job. She’s...uhh, we’re trying to pay down some big debts,” he subtly reminded them. Then he ran to pack his duffel, picking gear drying in the engine room, checking around. Mik came back in, and shook his “Glad for you, man, come back when this over, OK?” up his all hand. trip’s

As the Tor Avenger c h u r n e d o u t i n t o t h e o p e n sea, Look turned to stare back, searching. Augenblik w a s j u s t a t i n y c h i p o f w h i t e o n b l a c k now, and then the towering headlands obscured her from his view.

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Twenty Seven - Road to Nowhere
It was the Tor Avenger’ s l a s t t r i p m o v i n g p o t s , so Haugesund had Look out on deck for eight hours straight, grinding up the big frozen blocks of herring into chunks, stuffing plastic bait-jars full. It wasn’t hard work, and that way he had fresh air for the lumpy seas, so it didn’t bother him so much. Inside the Tor was another story. Susan, the cook, was sick of the booze, of being Haugesund’s hole-in-the-mattress. The crew were all squirrelly too, waiting their turn, teasing each other, and taunting Susan mercilessly. Harald just drove the boat and stayed drunk, that’s what he was good at. Look remained the outsider as the crew shifted into the round-the-clock work of crabfishing, always left out of the jokes, ignored by Haugesund. So he focused on his extra chores, checking the engine oil, the pumps and helping Susan to fix the meals. He could tell she needed an out. The seas cooperated, and they were able to fish nearly every opportunity, jogging near the pots if the waves got too rough. On deck, the crew toyed with Look, making fun of him as a first-timer, ignoring his stories about an Adak they’d never seen anyways. The first mate, Ralph Swartisen, a Bothell boy, especially disliked him. Maybe it was the way Look had sidled in between Susan and the crew, protecting her.
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One day on deck, the hold half full of crab, and the deck pitching back and forth as they danced the four-hundred pound pots onto the launcher, Ralph let the hydraulics go slack for just a moment, judging the angle, and the hook came loose, swinging wildly up, and then arcing down with the roll of the boat. Look never saw it coming. Something brute fierce slammed him above the ear, spinning him around. Ralph taunted with a “Hey, man, look out!” Look stumbled, blinded with the pain, and his path carried him right over the open hole of the crab hold. One leg plunged to his thigh in the ice’y seawater, then with supreme effort, he pushed back upright on the other, limping as he held his bleeding head and stumbled for the galleyway. Susan was calming, hermetic, helping him control his emotions while she nursed the laceration. “Just ignore them, get through this, and you’ll be fine.” “Why do you stay!?” he shuddered from all the adrenaline still coursing through his body. “Because Harald wants me to,” she shrugged. Then Look was back out on deck, strutting and smiling like nothing had happened, and the crew left him alone after that. Haugesund kept to his cabin, shouting orders from the loudspeaker, or from the wheelhouse doorway if he was really worked up. So one day rolled around to the next.
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The Pribilof kingcrab, if you’ve never seen ‘em, aren’t like any other kingcrab in the world. Sure, just as ugly, great big carapace like a tarantula, spiny arms sharp, dangling daddylong legs. Most king crab are dull maroon and creme colored, that’s the camouflage for where they live, six hundred feet down or more, a whole pod of them rolling in a great spiny ball along the continental shelf, the juveniles hiding inside for protection from the predating cod and halibut. So when you drop a garage-door sized trap in front of them, all smelly with fresh-chopped herring, like as not, that crab ball will just roll right on into it, stuffing the webbing so tight you have to tear ‘em out! That’s why Bering crabbing went bust. Too damn efficient. Bing, bam, boom, you had a load. Pribilof crab aren’t like that, they’re not nearly gregarious, don’t go running in packs like those out on the rich silt banks of the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta. Maybe the resident fur seal population on the islands keeps the crab’s solo, hiding out in the rocks with the other weird creatures found there . N o b o d y knows. The Pribilof’s are like nowhere else on the earth, L o o k ’ s j o u r n a l s a y s . Oh, and did I tell you? Pribilof king crab are a rich ultramarine blue, tinged with orange gold! Rich, blue and gold were key words in Look’s inner vocabulary as they raced to fill the hold. They ran the pots in succession, and while those
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s o a k e d , Tor r a n s o u t h t o f i n d t h e p o t s M i k h a d stashed. Look was at the launcher when the first one came onboard, only instead of being tied open, it was shut. Welded shut! The webbing was stuffed with plastic bags of garbage! So was the next one, and the next, each with a big square of cardboard wedged between the bags. “Seattle Rules,” in crayoned stick figures. Look spun to the others, open mouthed, but they all turned away. Damn, the Seattle boats were arrogant, but there was no use arguing about it. “Throw ‘em back, let’s get out of here,” Harald shouted from the loudspeaker. T h a t n i g h t L o o k c a l l e d Augenblik on the VHS, but even with the late night skip, he could only make out bits and pieces. “Chuck, that you?” “Augenblik ...kkrssccht...at wharf...ooeeoo…you at?” “Hey, you’re breaking up, man! Pass this a l o n g , a n y o n e . W e j u s t p u l l e d Augenblik ’s pots and they were stuffed with garbage and welded shut. Seattle boats. Thought you’d want to know, Mik, sorry.” Harald screamed at him for a full minute when he heard, bounding up out of the galley, “What the fugk a r e y o u s p r e a d i n g t h a t shit on the radio for!?” Harald was a real screamer all right, and even though the crew had accepted Look, or at least left him alone now, Harald hadn’t, taunting him more and more, ranking him about the engines,
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why this didn’t work, why that. Look knew everything was brand new, and Harald was just ranking because there was nothing else for him to do. Nothing except drive the boat and fuck with Susan’s head. Harald was on her night and day. They must have had a ying-yang thing, evil, sadomasochistic. One night at the helm, Look was on wheel watch, the auto-pilot taking them to their next way-point. Susan burst out of Harald’s cabin, screaming and drunk, in just her panties. Look backed to one side in shock. Her hair was all tangled, there were cigarette burns on her skin. Harald stood there at the cabin door, zipping up his pants, laughing, with his big geoduck hanging out. “What the fugk a r e y o u l o o k i n g a t , ” h e s l u r r e d , t h e n b a w l e d o u t t o S u s a n , “ g e t t h e fugk back in here!” She hesitated for an instant, and in that next second Harald lunged forward, grabbing her up crotch and shoulder. Then pushing out the wheelhouse door, he leaned far over the railing, holding Susan upside down, screaming, high above the churning black sea. Look ran to stop him, slapping a vise grip on Haugesund’s shoulder. Susan slipped down as they scuffled, until Harald held her only by her one ankle, flopping like a pale corpse on the gibbet. “Bring her back in!” Look screamed in his ear, and then Haugesund seemed to get it all of a sudden. He grabbed her other ankle, Look took
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her wrist. They dragged Susan back over the railing, stark naked, as the gale wind howled about them with evil laughter. Harald and Susan disappeared back into his cabin. Look caught a last plea from her eyes as the door closed. Not a ‘help me’, but a ‘don’t, don’t try’. He couldn’t stop though, and charged into the room. “Let her alone, she’s drunk!” he spat at him, and then, “you’re fucking drunk too. I’m on wheel watch tonight, she can sleep in my bunk!” That was the wrong thing to say. Neanderthal. Harald came up off his bunk like a shot, and just as fast, Look dropped him with a right-cross smack on the side of his jaw. Haugesund slumped down into the corner and then the alarms went off, nobody at the wheel. Now the crew was up. Susan was screaming, holding Harald’s head, hollering, “You killed him!” There are times in everyone’s life where your parent’s spirits are standing at your shoulder, yelling “Do something, even if it’s wrong!” They say apathy’s the eighth deadly sin, once you get to heaven, or hell, you find that out right quick. But sometimes there’s a greater wisdom in that phrase, “Fools rush in.” Susan had warned him with her eyes, but he hadn’t listened. At the second week’s ending, they finished the trip just as they’d started it. Look was the outsider again, confined to his job baiting jars, checking oil, pumps, staying out of everyone’s way. No one talked to him. He’d broken up their little game.
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When they got back in and tied up, Haugesund launched Look’s duffel bag in a great curving arc onto the dock, right in front of t h e h a p l e s s u n l o a d i n g c r e w . “ GET OFF MY BOAT!” he roared again, slamming the galleyway shut. Everyone stared off the other way. L o o k w e n t o v e r t o t h e Queen. N a d i n e t o l d h i m the bad news, “Michelle found a job in Anchorage.” Some kind of fresh-pak processing plant to fly herring roe to the Japanese, a big holiday delicacy. “She just flew out two day’s ago, sorry, Look. She said she’d call and leave her new address with Jack,” Nadine explained. “Said you could pick her up on your way back home after Pribilof season.” Look didn’t tell her about his disastrous trip on the Tor Avenger. He figured she’d know where t h e g u y s w e r e o n Augenblik, b u t N a d i n e s a i d s h e didn’t. Instead she asked with a wink and a come-on smile if maybe he needed a place to stay. He left the ship, and began jogging, duffel on his shoulder. A beatup old Datsun rolled by, couple of Native guys driving, and they gave h i m a r i d e o u t t o t h e b a y . Augenblik was gone! So they gave him a ride back in to Unalaska, and he ended up at the Elbow, too early, bending back a few beer’s, trying to get a handle on the day. He picked up his drink and moved around to the alcove, that’s when he saw Glenn.

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“Hey, man!” Look shouted, “what are you doin’ here? Saw you’d moved the boat, where you tied up?” Glenn was sitting with three other guys, and introduced them all around. They were another boat, Sea Quest, h e ’ d j u s t s i g n e d o n w i t h t h e m f o r tanner. “Mik, Chuck and Fred took off back to Rurik,” Glenn explained, “Remember that floating p r o c e s s o r , t h e Royal Viking ? ” L o o k s h o o k h i s head. “Well, they were heading to Rurik and then down to Seattle to refit her as a mid-water. M i k f i g u r e d Augenblik could run in the lee of the ship, slow enough, they’d be out of the swell, and could keep ahead of the leaks.” “You mean he’s not coming back here?” “Not after you called him on the radio! Maybe next spring they’ll run up to Togiak and try to find those crabpots on the way back. Said he c o u l d g e t Augenblik refitted faster and cheaper in Rurik,” Glenn finished. Then waving to the others, “We were just gonna go get some dinner at the LunaSea, wanna join us?” Look turned, “How long ago did they leave?” “Oh, I think they just left a little while ago, I helped them untie about three.” He was running faster now, east from the Elbow, through the sleepy town of Unalaska, dark shacks all shuttered against the cold. Look ran and ran, panting, his mind a blank, painless from the endorphins. As long as he kept running, and didn’t stop, he wouldn’t have to feel the pain.
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The shacks thinned out, and he was running still through an old barracks, fallen down, gray Quonsets. His mind kept yelling, seeing M i c h e l l e , Don’t go! They hadn’t even had a chance to say good-bye. The ground began to ramp up, in crusty snow, and he dug in, running straight up the hill until he had to stop, panting for breath, legs like lead. Then ahead of him, two hundred feet above, he saw a red fox start running away. Stop. Run. Teasing him. Look gave his mind to the steeplechase, feeling his legs ripple with strength, levitating him up the hill in full flight. The creature would stop, just a splash of orange-red against the blue-white, look back at him, then run ahead again. The snow was thick, wet, but his boots found enough grip to propel him higher. Then he was standing at the top, breathless, circled around by the horizon, sweat pouring down his face. The fox was gone, not even any tracks left in the snow. He strained, holding back his breath, staring into the distance, and there, leagues away, a gray shadow, the ship’s superstructure contrasting against the dark sea. Next to it, a microdot of white and black, Augenblik . Look shoved his hands deep down in his coveralls pockets, and fell backward into the snow, melting in. They’re gone, all gone, everyone I know. For the first time in his life, he felt absolutely totally alone. His heart- beat ludCreation Myth

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ludd’d, lud-ludd’d, slowing from the chase. And then...it just stopped. Everything grew calm. Is this all there is? He felt the earth fading away beneath him, circled sky closing in all around. Then his hand found an old joint that he’d carried ever since Adak, and with that one touch, all the memories, faces and the laughter. First a ripple, then a chuckle, a chortle, and a loud guffaw, he laughed up at the early evening sky, and felt his heart start beating again. The next day he made the rounds, but everyone’d heard of the fight on Tor and it was n e a r s e a s o n ’ s e n d . S o h e s t o p p e d b y Queen t o g e t his crew share. The cashier was genuinely c o n f u s e d . S h e ’ d h e a r d a b o u t Augenblik l e a v i n g , but he wasn’t on the Tor’s c r e w l i s t . L o o k t a l k e d to the dock super, and the crew foreman that he’d bailed out, everyone was sympathetic and tried to help, but Haugesund had stiffed him! “ Y o u c a n f i g h t Tor i n c i v i l c o u r t b a c k i n Anchorage, here’s the affidavit’s of all people you talked to,” the manager explained, “and here’s a plane ticket back, I’ll take it out of Tor’s receipts. Good luck, I’m sorry.” The next morning Look was on that plane. And as it circled once before heading toward the east, he wasn’t sure if he was just leaving, or had never really arrived.

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Twenty Eight - Dog Eat Dog
The Aleutian Air transport banked on final into Anchorage International as the winter sun was setting, throwing a burnished copper sheen on the downtown office buildings, and glinting bronze in Look’s dark eyes. He narrowed them, swallowing his sailor’s grin at ‘land-ho’, and stared down on the Turnagain Arm, a grim turmoil of cracked floes, dirty ice chunks, the tidelands an austere white-on-brown against the black water, cut through with rivulets like branching trees, rimmed in transparent ice. Little moved. The sun would stay at the horizon now, both today, and for the next few weeks. Endless dark and spit-cracking cold throw this northern dogshit town into a freezer-locker cabin-fever’d world of zombie’d office workers and stranded natives. Anchorage is a just strip mall on the rocks, a cold douche, as far from the real Alaska as New York is from ‘ol Nantucket, or Chicago from the Bayou, Seattle, the Blues. Look savored that last moment of sunlight as the plane rolled up to the terminal, and then the red’s and gold’s faded, the blue gray of night moving slowly up the mountainsides. His chances for a survivable winter in Unalaska were gone, along with the camaraderie, his girl, the easy living. All gone. He was a stranger in a strange land now, just another Lone Ranger in leather stepping off the plane. If only I can find Michelle !
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He strolled past the towering polar bear in the hallway, frozen in a perpetual snarl, its eyes glazed. Look grinned at the pathetic sight. Two round-faced black women eyed him, “What yo’ smilin’ at?” mistaking his grin for a leer. “Hey, just got out of prison,” he exaggerated, but not entirely untrue. That set their eyes rolling with warm laughter. A little nip of heat for a soul on ice. It’d have to last him. He knew no one, could trust no one, had no money to show. So his first hustle was the cabfare. “I’ll get a party together from inside the bar, if you’ll give me a lift downtown,” he offered, and the emaciated cab driver nodded, amused. Look dropped his duffel bag in the front of the cab and strode back into the terminal. In the bar, he grabbed up a half-empty drink off a table, and raising it high overhead, shouting, “Drinks at Leonardo’s!” A smattering of people raised their own glasses in partymode. Soon, with a little flirting and a jolly drug chanty, he had these two nerdy guys and an office girl rolling toward the door. “Where we goin’, honey?” she swooned, but her companions planted themselves in the back seat, her in between. Look was content to ride shotgun, duffel between his legs, asking if they’d like any Puna Bud, some Maui Wowie. The two guys whispered in their own little conversation, so Look smiled at the woman. Over-medicated, he thought, and a bit overripe, b u t
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she’d do, and she smiled back at him like she would d o ! The cab driver stared straight ahead, bored. These Anchorage winter’s night fares were a moveable feast, a rolling party, going from one bar to the next. People get in, chitchat for about three seconds, and then start drinking, smoking dope, doing-up, fucking in the back seat. Whatever. Nobody cares, it’s a fare. If they’re a rich oil worker down from the Slope, or a crab fisherman in from the Bering with a bankroll, a cabby would know where to get them drunk, get them coke’d up, even get them a high school hooker if they really wanted one. All fast talk and ‘party-hearty’. As long as the cabby gets his fare. The hack slid up to Leonardo’s, all twentyfoot ceiling’d disco dance floor of it, and the driver barely smiled when Look jumped out, waving, “See you guys inside!” The other fares were too confused, the two guys obviously horn-dogging the woman, her puffy-face wasted, waving her money around, them betting on a pussy cointoss after the party was over. “Here, my man,” they covered the entire fare and then some, wadding a roll of bills into the cabby’s hand, not wanting to wrangle, to spoil their odds. “Yeah,” the driver yawned, lazily picking up his mike, “Later.” Then he drawled out in a long sigh, “754 at Leo’s, dispatch, what’ve you got for me?”
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Look strode straight through the club, aching. The most available women in town, dressed to pluck, surrounded by a bunch of honky-tonk w a n k e r s m a k i n g s m a l l t a l k . Like women even care. Their eyes were all on him in an instant, heads turning, mouths pouting open, left hand’s pushing back their hair, signaling single. He bulled across the room and out the back exit, like a panther, wild, cutting across the forest clearing, exotic birds chattering excitedly. There’d be another time. Right now he had to find shelter, lose the duffel, lighten his hands. He circled back to the cab and jumped in, “4th Street.” It didn’t work out. The bars he dropped into, the R&R, the Frontier, were full of too-old sourdoughs, beached natives, low-riders. Nobody he recognized. Then at the Wharf an Eskimo girl came up to him and put her hand on his arm. “Hi,” she spoke softly. Long silky black hair, honey-warm brown eyes, behind that hard-chic makeup and attitude. It worked. They sat down together at the bar, sipping on Black Russians, laughing at the monkeys running back and forth behind the glass. Really, for Look, a ‘native’ bar was a lot better than a ‘town’y’ bar any day, all he really wanted was to relax and enjoy himself. They danced a few times, talking, and started to get close, but hey, she was from out Kuskokwim, staying here with village girlfriends at Holiday Inn, him with nowhere to
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take her, not wanting to ditch her after, just a kid. So he murmurred, “See you later.” Back outside the night was fiercely cold, and the sidewalk like frozen milk, irregular, biting through his boots. His leather jacket, even with a thick wool shirt turned at the collar, wasn’t going to keep him warm. He began a soft hustle, smiling low whistles and purrs to passing girls, and pretty soon he’d parlayed a cup of coffee here, a hamburger there. Girls are sweet and easy when you get right at it, as long as you don’t abuse the privilege. The last few hours after 4AM were the worst, all the bars closed, coffee shops shut up, nobody but drunks on the street. Look kept himself warm by walking up and down Fourth Avenue to the Palmer Hotel and back, hovering in the lobby until the night clerk asked him to leave, then back again to the Holiday Inn, hoping maybe he’d see that Kusko girl again. He spotted cab 754 instead, and jumped in the back. “Where to this time?” the cabby acknowledged him, from before at Leonardo’s. “Nowhere man, I’m just keeping warm,” Look volunteered, straight-forward, and the cabby looked back at him in the rear-view mirror for a long time. Then he offered lightly, “Well, your place or mine?” Look’s eyebrows shot up, and he barked out a quick laugh. He hadn’t heard that line, not from a man anyway, since the Lower 48.
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“Sorry, no,” he shook his head, rolling his shoulders over toward the door, back out. The cabby smiled too, “Hey, it’s OK, I was just checking you out. You need a place to stay?” So Look met Stephen Agram, cabdriver. “Madison Blue to my odd friends,” he added, laughing gayly. “Nice to meet you, M-madison, er, Sstephen,” Look replied, still shivering from the cold. Stephen was sort of an odd gay guy at that. As if he’d been a coal miner, say, or a logger in his previous life, then lived in the Tenderloin until he caught onto the odd new lingo, and lost sixty pounds. A man who happened to prefer other men, Stephen might could be your buddy at work. Just like that. So they talked awhile in the car, until he went off-shift and the morning traffic began to pick up. They drove out to his little bungalow, parkside, there in the old neighborhoods by the Arm. “Go ahead, key’s in the coffee can. There’s food in the ‘fridge, I’ll be back here after I turn in my cab.” He’d obviously lived the Alaskan bush e x p e r i e n c e a n d l e a r n e d mi case es su case. L o o k relaxed on the old corduroy couch, and covered himself with an ancient tattered quilt, warming by the gas heater. It was odd decor, mixture of cowboy nostalgia, hippie rainbow, conflicted,
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opposite. Set of antelope horns on the wall, sepia photo of an Indian chief, a 30-30 on the gun rack beside a player piano with a gaily crocheted doily on its bench. And a big nude female portrait just above it. Rubbing your face in the oddness of it. Look dozed awhile on the couch. Then the back door crunched open, creaking as the frost and snow cracked away under the sill, and he heard Stephen hanging up his coat in the mudroom. He walked in, rubbing his hands against the chill, smiling over at Look on the couch, “You get anything to eat? Freezer’s full, man!” Just for a second, Madison Blue and Springfield Lou began to chimera in Look’s memory. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but just for a moment, he was back in their old house, Lou was smiling, chattering away as he rolled up a joint, Dianne asking him if he wanted something to eat. He sighed hard, bleary-eyed. Then Stephen saw the long face, and cut it off fast, “Hey, man, everyone has a down day, and you need a rest. Maybe one day you’ll help me out of a jam, too.” There was some truth in that. So Look forgot for awhile, helping fix up a Flaming Spanish Omelet (as he called it), really a Denver with plenty of paprika, jalapeno and basil. They wolfed it down. Then the nausea of
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deep fatigue hit, even with the hot strong coffee, laced with cream and honey. Hmm..., no sugar, no booze, no cigarettes in this place. “Go ahead and crash, man,” Stephen pointed, “you can wash up later. I’m gonna go hit the sack..., wanna join me?” But he was only joking, and it was the last time he ever hit on him. Look napped in the quiet, window-shaded house, dreaming of his grandparent’s place up in Michigan, the big pond, the wooded knoll over on Brandywine Creek. He’d written to them once, after his parents and sister died in the crash, and they’d invited him to come live with them. But he hadn’t followed up on it. In his dream he was running like, no, floating, his legs not quite touching the ground, calling out for his grandmother. Sitting lonely, lost in a cranberry bog. Clouds parted, sun shining, purples, reds. Her voice sang to him, “I’m right here, Look.” Then his face relaxed, his hands uncurled, and he slept. When he woke, the kitchen light was still on, and he heard the refrigerator closing. “Get up! Get up!” Stephen motioned as he came around the corner. “What?!” Look resisted, drunk with sleep. “Come on, you’ll miss it!” Stephen was heading out the door in his woollies, his hair tied up in a net. Look struggled up and stood, pulling on his pants and jacket, “Hey, what the hell you doing
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Stephen!?” It was -18ºF on the window thermometer. Stephen was standing on the woodpile in the back yard, there alongside the tarpaper shack garage, waving, shouting, “Last chance!” Then for just a moment, his face blushed from cool frost to orange gold, highlighting the nylon stocking on his head, so he looked like some hip-hop rapper. “The sun! It’s the last time we’ll see it for days! It’s almost solstice! Hurry!!” Look ran up on the woodpile too, freezing-ass cold, whipping his arms, a hot splash of sun warm on his naked chest, both of them laughing aloud. Just for a moment. Then the sun sank down behind a jagged mountain peak, and pale daylight faded to twilight. In the space of a few hours, gone to a frigid coalbin dusk. They sat around afterward, talking. Stephen rolled a joint, and Look took the chance. Weirdness factor, you know, if their high got too gonzo, he’d be out of a place to stay. If not, he might have a new friend. As it turned out, Stephen was a supremely gifted host, subtly aware of all Look’s moods. He kept the conversation light and breezy, extending the high with more coffee and blues on his old Teac reel-to-reel, John Coltrane, Albert King, Miles Davis. Like at Jacques’s. Time stood still, his worries fading, and life adjusted, like an old pair of shoes, easy, comfortable. They told each other jokes from the road, the buzz of the weed slowly disappearing. Look slept again.
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The house was cold and quiet when he woke late in the evening, he’d finally slept a straight six hours for the first time in months he’d spent living on the boats. Stephen was on-shift, working through the night, and Look struggled with a desire to go out bar-hopping, or just back to sleep again. So he stretched, slid out a disc onto the turntable, CSNY’s Deja Vue, t h e n f l i p p e d t h r o u g h Stephen’s rock collection. Beggars Banquet, Rubber Soul, John Wesley Harding, Led Zeppelin IV, Electric Ladyland, Close to the Edge, Talking Book, Soft Parade, Eat a Peach . C l a s s i c . N o w a d a y s i t w a s a l l just post-disco retro. I can’t go for that, h e c h u c k l e d . He showered, changed his shirt, brushed his boots to get the leather glistening, polished a soft buff on his jacket, slicked back his dark hair, and went out. In that part of Anchorage’s neighborhoods, the bars were all back rooms on the motels, where singles could check each other out, if you want to be blunt about it. Look was still too exhausted to hit the clubs, so he drifted into a bar on the main drag. Christmas ornaments, couple of older folks, and a lovely blond bartender. Surprise! She smiled, asking what he’d have to drink. Look sized her up as she turned away, really lovely strong shoulders, nice profile, soft full breasts, like a mother, her flat belly says otherwise? And no ring on her hand. H e w a i t e d .
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After awhile she drifted back and offered to play at dice for drinks. “I’m Wendy. You from around here?” Look cupped the dice and shook her hand, smiling. He slammed the cup down on the bar. “Nope, just got into town last night. Out West crab fishing.” They rolled in silence twice more, feeling the vibe, then she speared the dice between her fingers, pursed her lips and blew hot as she looked into his eyes. She slammed the cup down, then pouted at the bad roll, laughing, “What’ll you have? The same?” For a moment he thought of Michelle, of her and Jacques, and the lonely agony of the night before. “No,” he smiled, “I’ll try something new.” They drove out through Spenard. Wendy had called up a girlfriend to take over the bar for her at midnight, offering to give Look a ride home. Two old-timers at the bar had glanced up at that, winking and smiling as Look agreed, cackling like demi-gods. The sourdough slapped him hard on the back, and the other codger sighed that he was glad romance was behind him. But not with much conviction. Then they were driving in her little car, in the warmth and closeness. Look reached over and slid his hand slowly up her leg while she drove, pushing up her jacket, gently unbuttoning her

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faded 501’s, and then eased his hand inside her french-cut panties. Wendy sighed. He withdrew, licked his fingers, and slid in again. She squirmed, leaning back as she drove, spreading her legs wide apart. Look probed in deeper, twitching his fingers, sliding in and out over the inner pleats, parting them as she moaned, licking her lips, gripping the steering wheel tight. She stopped him with her hand, voice hoarse and laughing, “I can’t drive,” but then let him go again, unable to stop. Look slickered his fingers in and out, sliding deep, softly over her nubbin, in and out again. Wendy let out a low whine as they slid up to the curb by her apartment, and in the darkness of her Subaru she reached for him, rippling across his hard six-pak stomach with her fingernails, stroking the taut bulge of his jeans, their lips locking, licking, tonguing. “Come on in,” she broke away. They hung onto each other, keying the door open on the run, tripping and falling on the living room rug in the dark as they undressed each other. Look tore off her jeans, scribbling his hands up her smooth legs to the wet of her lace panties, hot musk. She eased her hips up, and he shucked the panties down, breathing warm on her silky fur, licking her ruby petals as she pulled her knees up, moaning. She was gasping hard, whimpering that she couldn’t make love, “I don’t have any rubbers!”
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He laughed, “Hey, there’s lots of ways to make love,” then slipping his own jeans down, pulled up on top, bridging over her, and slid his stiff bone back and forth across her cleft until her nails dug into his arms. “See if you like this,” he whispered. Then sliding on down, he licked her breasts, her belly, cupping her wet with magic fingers, probing deep inside. Wendy arched her hips high, pushing his face tight against her, moaning loud. She was losing it fast. He could feel her shuddering, frantic. “Quick, do me, DO ME! Don’t come, please don’t come,” she heaved. He obliged, rising back up, slipping easily in, hot and wet, grinding his hips slowly on hers as she writhed and moaned in little yelps. At last she relaxed, all dewy with sweat, her skin goose-pimpled. Her hand reached down for his bone, stroking him. “Let me do you,” she whispered. Look rolled onto his side, helping her turn, then she began sucking up and down, tight, deep, scratching his sack with her nails. A real pro. His head snapped back, fireworks exploding. Afterward they talked in the dark. She was a single mom after all, had her kid at a friend’s for the night. Going to community college days, and working bars at night for tips. Welfare to bridge the food and housing. An old story. Look remembered a saying from Rurik, “time to fall in love,” but he didn’t feel that way.
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Didn’t feel right. He wasn’t in any position, she’d probably been in lots of positions, who could say? He decided this was their only night together. Look got hard again as they kissed, and cupped Wendy’s breasts gently, teasing the sweat down to her navel, circling, then stroked her wet, slipping around the pleats. She ummmed a big sigh, tugging on his bone, desperate for penetration, going all the way. “Hold on!” she gasped, and ran off toward the kitchen. He jumped up to grab a drink of water from the vanity off the hall, then settled back on the couch. She came in with two glasses, and a roll of saran wrap. “It’s the only thing I could find,” she giggled. They sipped the white wine, then she put on some Fleetwood Mac, lit a candle, and they started necking. She ran her hands over his ironmuscled body, wide flat slabs of his pec’s, his rippling belly, then slipped her hand softly down along his thighs, ripped like a speedskater’s, teasing him with her fingernails. “Here, help,” she breathed excitedly, holding up the plastic film to wrap his pulsing bone. Then she stood and stretched. Her breasts were marvelous full, big rosey aureoles, hips rounded and wide, her bush shining gossamer in the dim candle light. Wendy had just a lovely ripe body. Mick pulsed out a beat as she hula’d down onto his bone, sighing as it sank home, then ground her pubis hard until it rocked him off
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the socket. She was really digging in. Look relaxed and just went with it, feeling her getting fluid, hot, slipping faster, until he couldn’t hold still anymore. “Come here!” he growled, pulling her shining face down to his, sucking her lips, nibbling with his teeth, tonguing until they were stuck tight together. He rolled her gently down onto the carpet, and began riding high on top, stroking like a piston, long smooth ribbed moves. Wendy just cried outloud in pleasure, moaning louder, then she began grunting, vibrating. Look felt himself tense, engorge and explode, jetting hot pulsing lava. They spasmed and grew still. For a time, all he could feel were their hearts beating and the soft clip-clop of the hall clock. The candle burned down. They were a sticky mess. Wendy smiled up dreamily, “Let’s take a hot shower, OK?” They jumped upstairs in the needlespray, soaping each other up... and then, hey, went at it again. Wendy had dropped him off on the corner near Stephen’s house next morning, he didn’t want her to think he had a place of his own when it wasn’t. She gave him her number, but he could see that she was shielding herself. She had her kid, school schedules, and money to worry about. “Sure, hey, maybe I’ll see you at school!” he steered her off into her day, then turned as she drove away.
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Stephen was already home, making sourdough flapjacks, and laughed, “Oh, you’re back again,” like he was talking to a stray dog or something. “Yeah, hey, sorry. Look, I’ll find a place today,” he shrugged, but Stephen was holding the coffee pot and a plate of flapjacks with a “So, tell!?” look on his face. While they ate, Look told him about the bar, and some sketchy details, not wanting to cross any boundaries. Stephen had been there before, and just gave him a knowing smile, “So you got your rocks off, are you done with that for awhile?” After breakfast, they refilled their mugs, threw on their boots, and walked out to the old tarpaper garage. Inside, a dirt floor, blackened with motor oil, some gray pressboards nailed on the roughsawn studs, and a ceiling quilted from pieces of recycled sheetrock. “This’ll be yours if you want,” Stephen offered, “there’s a gas connection on the side, and electricity, just need to find you a heater at the dump, some old plastic for the dirt, carpeting over the plastic for a floor. That dirt’s a lot warmer than concrete!” Look smiled. Stephen had just offered him an Alaskan’s dream, a dry roof! Soon, he’d be back on his feet, just in time for spring herring season. They shook on it. When they got back inside Stephen called a friend of his, Don Urey, a ramneck cool-hand-luke living with his pregnant girlfriend in an old gravel-blasted Airstream
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trailer by the dump. Don salvaged everything he could carry off for their future homestead up in Tarkeepya, their back yard a warehouse of construction materials under old tarps. “Hey,” Don reached out to Stephen, shaking hands, then to Look, cool blue eyes like a huskie’s, checking him out. “Don Urey, pleased to meet you. Stephen says you’re going to fix up his garage, what do you need? I got probably everything here.” Then he’d run on, the cook’s tour, lifting tarps, pulling out boards and sheets and rolls of used carpet, “What about this one? It’s still in pretty good shape...” Don wouldn’t stop. In twenty minutes, they had Stephen’s suicidedoor Lincoln Continental stuffed. For the prize though, Don slapped Stephen on the back and they walked off aways, talking money. Stephen came over where Look was standing, “Don says he got a good heater in working condition, but he can buy a new one this spring when they go on sale, says he’ll let you have it for $125. It’s a hummer, a warehouse heater, it’d melt the snow in Barrow!” “Hey, only got a few bucks, man,” Look c o u n t e r e d , No work in Anchorage in the winter except as a handyman, and I’d need wheels and tools for that. “No problem, ” Stephen patted him on the back. “Don sells firewood, and needs to have cords split. He’ll cut you 25%, and I’ll front you the $125. Take that heater today. Come on!”
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L o o k h e s i t a t e d . H i s m i n d r a c e d , Set up this place, get me some cash, take off next spring to Rurik for the Togiak herring season, get ten grand and my Adak pay, fly back here, sue Tor. And try to find Michelle. Don and Stephen stood there, stock-still like work horses in the snow, their eyes glazing inside their own thoughts. Look spoke up. “Hey, OK, give me a wedge and a maul, I can split maybe three cords a day, easy. Let’s get that heater!” By that night, Look borrowing Stephen’s handtools, he had paneled the studs, weathersealed the garage door, rolled out a plastic ground sheet and a cigarette-burned red carpet from some lounge remodel. It only took the heater a minute to sweat all the frost off the walls, and even if the floor stayed frozen, it was his! Stephen had thrown a broken-down freezer into the bargain. They left it outside in the snow for him to keep groceries stashed, and he’d rigged a side-tap off the heater’s gas connection to run a plate burner stove. Done. Only it wasn’t. Don came by the next day, his beat-up International piled high with rounds for Look to split. Soon the yard between house and garage was stacked with cord wood, as he smoothly pounded out piles of easy-splitting spruce, and fought with wedges to get the gnarly-grained birch burst apart.
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The stacked splits grew, and with them, Look’s appetite. Stephen told him not to worry, he’d spot him for the food. After a week of deliveries, twenty cords, Look asked Don if he could get a draw on his share of the work. “Hey, don’t worry, man, I’ll settle with Stephen out of your share, no problem, mate!” But there was a p r o b l e m . E a c h t i m e h e a s k e d , Don shied off with, “Hey, gotta wait until I get paid.” Or, “Oh, sorry, I bought some building materials with that. Don’t worry, I’m keeping track of your share.” Stephen was spending more of his days away, had even asked Look to stay out in the house when he was gone. Then he returned after a long weekend up in Tarkeepya with a grifty-looking young couple, long-haired bushy-bearded guy and his granny-dressed sheila. Some people from his band, Rod and Tina. “Hey, I said they could stay in the garage, OK?” Look stared down at his callused hands. It was, after all, Stephen’s garage, and it was Don’s stuff, and then he realized he was being taken, and knew in a flash he couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Nothing, ‘cept hit the road in the dead of winter, down through Yukon and BC for a thousand miles, praying to the hitchhiker gods for a ride, -60ºF below at night. Dead in minutes by the trail. No thanks. Tough it out. He waited for his rage to subside. Be plenty of time for a showdown later, when it got warmer out, when he could afford to lose.
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So he let the couple stay in the garage. After all, Stephen had let him stay in his house too. When Don came by the next day, Look told him his back was too sore, that he was taking a day off. Don complained about missing his deliveries, and Look told him flat out he was through. Then he got right to it. “I want my pay. We have twenty cords delivered, another ten stacked here, fifteen’s my share of every cord, right? That’s way more than that heater and the materials you sold me. You owe me some bread.” There was a long silence. Look could see Don figuring the odds. “Yeah, you owe me for the heater, and those materials, and S t e p h e n ’ s b e e n f e e d i n g y o u , and y o u o w e m e f o r y o u r s h a r e o f the chainsaw, gas, the truck, plus what I gotta pay for logs, buckin’ em, I’d say you still owe me another two week’s work.” “WHA-A-T! ! ” L o o k b o i l e d , i n f i g h t i n g m o d e . But a fight meant jail time. If they traced him, it’d mean extradition for murder. Hard time. Flight now meant sure death, frozen on the endless highway. “Caught between a rock and a hard place,” h i s o l d Pap used to josh about life in the mines, buried alive. “OK, I’ll keep working until then, but I want to see your receipts, and I want a draw, then when we’re through, I want an accounting!” Look demanded. Don was smiling. He knew he’d already won. “I’ve kept track, man. I can’t give you a draw
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until you’ve repaid me first!” That was that. He’d have to take the reaming. A drifter’s life’s the same, whether it’s inside or outside of prison. Everyone’s got a past. And people take advantage. So he started taking off at night through back alleys in town when he gotten done with delivering cords, searching for anyone who might need their wood split, working late into the night under the backyard lights, only the thunk of the blade, the crunch of the snow, the whisper of his panting breath. Most people kept their door chained, pushing out the few bucks to him, sensing how close he stood to the edge of madness. Some nights when he’d finish, he’d call Saltie’s hoping to catch Jacques, to steal Michelle’s address, find her here in Anchorage. But it was always Sammy or Will that answered. They hadn’t heard, and sure, they’d send him some money. But they never did. After awhile Look stopped trying. He began to eat meals standing up. The couple who stayed with him were all right, but they were hungry too, and he didn’t want to be eating in front of them. A beer sure tasted good with that processed crap from the store, later it was fortified wine for the warmth. Then he started dumpster-diving behind restaurants. Walking by a store window, Look caught a glimpse of what he was becoming. Staring back was a gaunt, knotty-muscled knit-cap’d bum,
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always cold in his feet, hobbled gait, his leather jacket scuffed, torn. “ M a n , y o u l o o k old!” a y o u n g k i d j e e r e d o n e day, passing by him on his bike as Look was wandering around the neighborhood trying for work. There just wasn’t any outdoors labor in the dead of winter, and the auto garage’s all had their regular mechanics. One night diving, as much for warmth as for food, Look must‘ve chomped down on a ratgnawed scrap. Anyway, next day he stank like a swamp, rotten egg belches and stinky fish farts. It didn’t get any better. Don was driving them farther on the deliveries, and longer in between meals, only Dr. Pepper’s, Skippies Kracker’s and Slim Jim’s in the long hours of work, smoking Marlboros to kill the pain in his gut. At the end of the week, Don figured he’d gotten his profit out, took the maul and wedge with him, and left Look with just twenty dollars and some meager praise, “You’re a hard worker.” That was it. The couple seemed distant that night, like they resented that he wasn’t out working late, instead of cutting into their evening time, and the smell must’ve gotten to them in the warmth of that heated garage. Next afternoon, Stephen was out getting ready for work, and knocked on the garage door. Look had been sleeping lightly, the heater turned down so low that frost’d formed on the inside walls, dreaming of alien cities, chrome’d towers, rust and iridescent oil. Faceless golums,
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mercury vapor’d, bumped past him on the sidewalks as he wandered by, lost. “ J e e z , m a n , y o u l o o k l i k e shit! Aren’t you taking care of yourself? Don says you quit working for him!” Look kind of stared, weak-knee’d and yelloweyed, gazing at the snow, at the shadows of the trees in the pale sunlight, hearing a jetroar of chickadees over the somnolent rumble of Stephen’s rap. “I’m all right, man. work, you’ll get your trying to remember if Stephen back, or if he heater and the food. Don’t worry, I’ll find money,” Look dissembled, Don was to have paid still owed him for the

Stephen sensed that opening, and took it. “Listen, Rod and Tina say they can pay some rent for the garage by next week, so I’m gonna have to ask you to leave if you can’t.” Just like that. Look’s brain was melba toast, mensurating Bessel functions, the AM radio stations blaring in his head, spinning the dial, listening for clues how he should answer. Nothing came. He laughed, turning away to fall back on his mat, “OK, man.” Stephen closed the door, shaking his head, glad to be getting shut of this drifter for a paying tenant. The next day the house was locked, Rod and Tina’s gear rolled up and gone. Look woke alone, stone cold. They’d all gone off to
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Tarkeepya, for some wintertime festival, Iditarot or something. The gas was turned off, and the light switch didn’t work. Damn! L o o k h a d a m i g r a i n e , l i k e a s h i p i n a wild sea, and the shit’s, bad. The gas station too far to run, he steamed the snow with black water, squatting, feeling life’s heat leaving his body. What did I eat? What the fuck is it I’ve GOT? My damn stomach feels like I ate razorblades! The answers all ran swirling into a nursery rhyme within his fevered brain, as much found on the license plates of passing cars, as on the meaningless jumble of scribbled words in the notebooks that he carried. He dragged a pot to the center of the room, and set another metal plate on top of that. Then he lit a match, and began to burn his journal, tearing out the spiral-bound pages, staring at the creeping flames. He crouched, minutes passing on to minutes, cupping his hands before the heat, feeding his past life, one page at a time, into the fire. Then his head snapped back in shock, sure that just for a moment he’d seen himself from above, out of body, looking down on his own wretched form. Fresh air! He ran to the door and wrenched it open wide, sucking in bone-numbing cold, the glare of the feeble sun refracting diamond ice on black tree branches. He lurched over, knot in his
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guts, and vomited ropy bile, then stumbled back to feed the dying embers. But his frozen hands couldn’t grasp the notepages now, and a far deeper cold was sapping his mind. The fire faded and died, ashes curling up black. Look passed out on top of his bag in a coma of fevered dreams. He was lying in a flop house, fetid, a dim room of stinking mattresses. Strange men passed by in the darkness, staring at him hollow-eyed, with dark thoughts Look could hear, dark animal thoughts. Evil. His own pallet was sticky with disease, stained with blood and vomit, fungal. A young man thrashed nearby, wailing for his mother, then retched copious saliva onto Look’s feet. Warm saliva. Look pissed himself, unknowing. He was standing in a back alley, a dark narrow alley in a dark sea town, a town of old planks, black white-rotted wood, all slickened with fish gurry and clotted semen. He retched into the liquefied offal soaking his feet, and then began to run blindly, in a slow loping puppet dance of jerks and tears. Down twisted alleys, past crooked doors, over slanting rooftops, mumbling gibberish as he staggered on beneath a howling jabberwocky sky. Look sat up weakly, still in dream, clutching his churning, gurgling belly, swollen hot with gas, then vomited on the carpet. He passed out again, his head striking the frozen floor.
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He was running faster, sweating, desperate. Dark armies of faceless men stood on the street corners, laughing, grabbing as he stumbled by, “hey, baby, hey, what’cha got for me, want some of this, baby?” He felt the press of clawed hands dragging against him, the stink of their acetone’d breath as he passed. Roaring black night, rainy, cold, jagged lightning. Doors opening as he ran past, the w o m e n w h i m p e r i n g u n s e e n , “ What does he want, why does he sleep all alone?” D o o r w a y s b l o c k e d b y h u g e d a r k m e n , b u g l i n g f i e r c e l y , “ What the hell do you want, get the hell out of here, dog!” “Go on, get the hell out of here!” Look sat back up suddenly, terrifyingly awake, drenched in sweat, his ears roaring, guts empty, raw. Outside, a staggering bum threw a broken pallet board at a stray dog, rowling, “Go on, get lost!” Look tottered up, laughing insanely, and scrabbled low across the yard, madly jimmying at the windows, stealing on into Stephen’s house. In the dark kitchen, he grabbed a quart of OJ from the ‘fridge, downing it in one long gulp. That helped. He felt the sugar rush clearing his brain. I need food! But Stephen was a vegan, they all were, the whole Tarkeepya lot of them. Everything had to be ground, soaked and cooked slow. And those fucking sprouts!
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He grabbed a spoonful of peanut butter, and then another, swallowing, then choked. Gagghh! His neck bulged, eyes bugging out. Look ran back and forth, bumping onto walls, then shoved his mouth on the kitchen faucet, blasting d o w n b i g g u l p s , i c e c o l d . Whew! That was fucking close! H e b e g a n c h e w i n g h a n d f u l s o f r a w M u e s l i , and felt a little stronger. The house was still warm from the stove, so he did the one thing he’d dreamed of these past weeks. First, he put a pot of water on to boil for tea. Hot tea! Then he went back into Stephen’s room, rummaged around, and returned with thick wool socks and fresh drawers. He yanked his boots off, socks crackling, stiff with sweat and blood. Then his Levi’s. Fresh socks! Man, and fresh briefs! While the tea was brewing, Look nosed around. On the gun rack beside the piano rested a 30-30 and, in a sheath, a nice recurve bow and skin quiver. He poured himself a cup of hot s u g a r e d t e a , Ahhh!, then slid the floors in his new wool socks. The caffeine cleared his brain, enough to form a thought, a single warped idea. Think I’m gonna make a little withdrawal, heh-heh, yeah, just a little cash from the bank. And in that instant Look crossed over. No man is inherently evil. He learns from the ideas of peers and predecessors, or from his own random thoughts and images. Exploring potential survival strategies within his own personal cosmology. Learn or die.
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Sure, a man may become evil, when his personal world becomes all-imprisoned, just as men become evil when given unlimited freedom. LIVE<=>EVIL. That’s the Great Paradox. The Key is to find a balance, then keep that balance, on the head of a pin. Look had just lost his. After he warmed his belly with another cup of hot tea, feeling the heat run clear to his toes, he slipped his boots over the new wool socks, and began to riffle through Stephen’s old roll-top desk for cash. Then he found them. The car keys to Stephen’s white Lincoln. He was free! Just head on down to Seward, sleep in the car ‘til he found a berth, work his way back over to Rurik and f r o m t h e r e , t h e T o g i a k o p e n i n g o n Augenblik . He’d win back his due. Look’s hands were trembling as he took a sharp carving knife from the kitchen, then bundled a big jar of peanut butter, a sack of muesli, tea, sugar and salt in a grocery bag. He grabbed gloves and scarf from the mudroom, then hesitating, crossed to the far wall and lifted down the bow and quiver. He’d trekked the hills and hollers as a kid back in West Virginia, carrying a plain longbow, poaching gobblers with his Pap. Anything to get by.

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The feel of it in his hand was assuring, familiar, a classic Groves Magnum recurve. The seal-skin quiver held five cedar-spine turkeyfeathered arrows set with field points. A neckerkerchief at the bottom wrapped around some spare feathers, nocks, dental floss, a tube of Duco, and an oiled cloth with five new broadheads. The Lincoln sat by the curb, mounded up front and back where the snow had piled, but it was January powder, and Look had no trouble plowing through it with the big V-8. Then he stashed the bow and quiver under a blanket behind the car seat, and took off. An hour later, Look was flying around Turnagain Arm, surrounded by black woods, green spruce and deep white snow, nobody else on the wintry road. Feeling fine. He was warm for longer than the entire past winter, warm like the Yukon in summer, his feet wriggling inside the wool socks, as he gripped the gas pedal with his toes, radio blaring out the tunes. He sang along best he could, spooning out peanut butter from the jar, then a handful of muesli, already starting to feel a lot better. But it was clear his plan was foiled. So close! The gas tank was only 1/2-full when he left Anchorage, there wasn’t cash to fill it. His money gone, he’d never make it to Seward unless it was downhill from here. And it wasn’t. Ahead, a sign on the shoulder, “Hope - Right 5 m i l e s . ” What a thought! h e l a u g h e d t o h i m s e l f .
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Here I am, halfway to nowhere, don’t know nobody, got no money, a boosted car and packing, but hey, one thing I got is Hope! Or at least he soon would have. Look played the scenarios out in his mind. Seward was a crap shoot, better he just enjoy the day, and thrill to the close escape, go back, do his hardtime getting healthy. When Stephen finally kicked him out, take his chances hitchhiking back down there on his own. No sense waking to a patrolman’s flashlight, and shackles, in jail, doin’ time just for a fuckin’ joyride. So when the road branched off at Hope, he figured he’d just stretch his legs and then turn around, go on back. He didn’t expect to find the side road, a hidden valley, beautiful open space of aspen and tall spruce, cut through with berry bushes, a swift-running creek, and hills covered with golden dry grass, the crust of snow mostly blown off by the winds. The sun came out, higher now, warm, over the mountains. Look stopped the Lincoln and got out, shouting, once again back in the wilderness he felt such a part of. Alive with Hope. Nothing moved in a warm, windless day, the sun flickering pale shadows on the ground. Look wolfed frozen choke-cherries off the ground-hugging bushes, a delicious sorbet. Jackdaws cawed and flew overhead, looping high in the air. Turning to follow their flight, he caught a dark shape moving in among the aspen.
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A bear. A big black. His senses alive now, fed and free, Look felt that adrenaline surge he knew from the sea. The black bear was working slowly on uphill, snuffling crowberries, moving toward a rocky outcrop far above the car. He drew the recurve from behind the car seat, checked the quiver and broadheads, then put on his jacket. As he began the stalk, working under cover of scattered clumps of elderberry canes, his thoughts drifted back to Viet Nam, to the indigenous SE Asian tribes, how they fashion their poison arrow heads from a tree the Mentawai’s call "ariribuk ”. The heart of the tree is soft and pithy, scraped out with a bush machete to leave just bark and slippery-smooth inner shell. A roll of the thin veneer is cut in squares, size of your fingertip, then worked into arrow points. They use a razor-sharp iron blade fixed on a curved stick the length of your forearm to carve the broadheads, holding it against their leg while they push the blanks against the tool. First, a socket is carved down that fits the arrow spine, then, the delta tip of the arrowhead is edged to a thin line. Some spiral strips finish it, made to hold the deadly poison distilled from two kinds of tree sap and green chilis. And in South America, Yanomami Indians scrape the skin of poison tree frogs. For Look, 145gr Super Razors would have to do.
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He ran straight up through the dry grass, bent low, working an intercept path between alder brakes. Just before the ridge, they met. He had crouched under an alder, trying to sense the bear’s location in a tangle of brambles and tall grass. Then the boar scented him on the wind, and torn from its browsing, stood up tall on its hind legs, searching, scarcely fifty feet away. Look froze in the alder shade, arrow nocked u p , h e a r t p o u n d i n g , k n e e s s h a k i n g . Hey, to watch a bear is one thing, but to bowhunt close in, alone, a whole ‘nuther. The black was scanning, a big male in his prime, dark fur burnt by the sun to a dusky bronze-blond on the fluff of his ears and back ridge. Seven feet tall, easy. His big muzzle snuffled. Look raised up, his knuckles white, and drew the bow out and down. The bear spotted him, its red eyes enraged, territorial. W i t h a l o u d “ WOUF! ” t h e c r e a t u r e d r o p p e d and ran downhill toward him. He took only a f e w s e c o n d s t o r e a c h L o o k , t h e s o f t twang ’d release of the recurve lost in the bear’s roar. Look jumped aside as the great beast plunged past him, wounded, curled into a ball, tumbling down the slope. The bear’s body landed in a hollow just above the road, jammed against the trunk of an alder. He lay there, gurgling out his last breaths, the turkey-feathered arrow rising and falling, spotted with red blood, where it lodged in his chest. Look scrabbled back down the hill after the bear, and approached slowly, downwind.
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The creature moaned, shuddering. Look stepped forward, his bow raised, and put an arrow through the boar’s rib cage, straight into it’s heart. He shuddered, paws extending, and died. Look slumped to the ground and lit a cigarette, body flushing with heat. It was over. He’d prevailed. The next full hour passed in unconscious action. Look dressed the carcass, peeling the hide, spilling out the guts, cutting off head and feet. The boar had taken his arrow arc’ing in just above the collarbone, then down through its windpipe, heart, lungs. A fatal shot, and a lucky one, taken on the run. Out of respect for the bear’s spirit, same as an Aleut hunter taught him back in Rurik, Look buried the paws, and then the bear’s massive head, at the base of a gnarled old alder tree overlooking the golden valley. Then he rested, slicing up the heart, eating it raw. Tired as he was, and famished, the bloodwarm flesh of the bear poured straight into the sinew of his being. He felt wild strength, a warm cloak, covering him head to foot, like Popeye in those old cartoons. Each swallow of bear’s heart restored him, clearing his mind, flooding him with hope, strength and renewal. A rare gift. Hope. Always darkest before the dawn. Later than evening, just before dusk, he pulled back into the curb in front of Stephen’s house, the carcass of the bear already near freezing in the trunk, wrapped in it’s own skin. Leaving it there to firm, he took the liver inside
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the garage, and finding where Stephen had valved off the gas, turned the heater again. That night he ate slices of cooked liver, and dressed the bear for the freezer, totally oblivious to people passing on the sidewalk. They were no more than dark specters to him now. Look felt himself becoming as wild as the bear itself, already his plan of heading to Seward tempered with the desire to first right his position here in Anchorage, to stand for his due, tell Don he wanted his fair share. When Stephen and the couple returned late the next day, that’s exactly what he did. Stephen pounded on the door, disturbing Look’s rest, and he rose like a cougar, eyes smoking with wrath. He grabbed Stephen by his jacket, “Yeah, I got into your house and borrowed that bow and your car to go do some hunting.” Stephen paled visibly. Then Look turned to Rod and Tina, “If you want to stay in my garage, you’ll have to like meat, because I have a freezer full.” Then he lifted the lid to show his dark red cache, glazed with frost. Stephen vomited on the snow, and Tina held her hand up to her mouth, all of them swallowing hard. “Oh, and one more thing. I fixed up this garage, and I’m going to rent it. If you want to sublet space, you’ll pay that rent to me!” Stephen and the couple scurried into his house. After the lights came on and they’d all
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settled inside, he came storming back. “You crossed the line, man!” “No, Stephen, you did,” Look shot back. “You told me to help myself, and then you and Don damn sure to helped yourself to the sweat off my back!” They’d shouted down most of an hour, until a patrol car passed by, called in by the neighbors, and then they settled up. Look could stay until spring equinox, or until whenever in the early spring he felt like going. The rent he’d owe Stephen for the privilege would come out of the furnishings he’d bought from Don, and would leave behind in the garage. It was a good arrangement, a fair one. For a short time, they looked pleased with themselves for finding it. But then old fears came back, ‘what’s mine is mine’, and you could see that edge in their eyes, figuring they’d gotten the short end of the stick. Human nature. So they settled into an uneasy truce, the kind of silent armistice the gold prospectors and fur trappers must have formed in the decades before. Wait out the winter, rest, save your strength for survival. Outside the weather turned unsettled, frigid mass of arctic air pushing down across the North Slope for one last blast, the faint sun no warmer than a candle illuminating the thermometer. It was -40ºF below.
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Twenty Nine - Looking Thru You
Then one day it was just spring. Well, hey, the goat-footed balloon man wasn’t out whistling far and wee yet, but it sure felt like it was. Maybe because the snow clumped up, and the buds were swelling rosin, and early in the dawn, suddenly birds would warble out in song, then chirp back to silence, embarrassed. The bear meat was nearly gone, Look was back up to one eighty-five and feeling great. His hard-knotted muscles had fleshed out round and marbled, face no longer lean and hollow, with a beard of oily black coils instead of scraggly red. The young couple had gotten sick of the smell of cooked meat and moved back to Tarkeepya once the bitter cold softened. He thrashed around Anchorage, riding the bus, out along Northern Lights, Spenard, Tudor, talking with shop stewards, construction foremen, searching for work. Things were looking up. Lots of possibles, lots of call-menext-week’s. And so bit by bit, a little day labor here, an odd handyman job there, Look was scratching together a grub stake. And still hoping to find Michelle. One evening he walked down through the Park into that topless bar on 4th, you probably know the name. He’d stretched out at a table front-and-center, put a five-spot down, and was sipping on a draft. It was early, and the girls on stage were bored. Couple of business men on
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happy hour, construction crews blowing off, a few solos. And Lee! Sitting right there at the bar, looking back at him, staring through him at the blonde palamino outfit working out up on the stage. Look grabbed his beer and jumped up. “Lee!” he waved. Lee just leaned out on his stool, looking past, ignoring him for the girl. “Lee! It’s me, Look!” Lee swung his gaze in, focusing, and then they were bear-hugging, backslapping. “I don’t believe it! Look! How have you been doing?!” Lee beamed that big rebel smile of his. “Let me buy you a drink! What are you doing here in town? I didn’t recognize you with the beard! Jeez, you’ve really put on muscle!” Look set his drink down on the bar. “Been fishing out West, didn’t Michelle tell you that?” he explained, spreading his hands out. “Then we got separated. I flew back here to see if I could find her.” “Anchorage is a big place, man,” Lee shook h i s h e a d . R i g h t a w a y L o o k s a w i t . He knows where she is! But Lee didn’t say any more about it…. Lee didn’t say anymore about a lot of things. It wasn’t his idea to fly up to Anchorage to try and find Michelle in the first place, talk her into coming back. So he checked out the local bars and card room scene, started talking around, and pretty soon he was sitting in on some pretty interesting poker games. Alaskan’s just love to gamble, and they had money, cash money. Now
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if he could play it right, get Jacques up here, why, they could make a killing! But Lee didn’t have any choice in the matter. Michelle had left Jacques at an awkward time. His Make a Million! program went horizontal without her. The girls that he could find were either too brazen and baudy, or too shy and uncertain, country club whores or college girls. He’d never realized before how much Michelle figured in that equation. He had other problems too. With the sudden success of his venture, opening the rehab clinic, with all the fancy cars in the parking lot, and being in the spotlight all the time, well, Jacques was attracting lots of attention in the news media. The kind of news that Jake Maribino studied every night in his motel room at the ‘Havana Hilton’, as he described it to Mr. Debolepesco, laughing, when he’d call up to report back on his activities. “Mr. D., I’m sure the shooter is out of State now, but I’m trying to locate his ex-girlfriend, she just split one afternoon, didn’t show up for work. What? No sir, they don’t have a clue, I’ve been telling them I’m an insurance agent. Say? Oh, well, not much, no, ha, ha, ha. Not down here in the boonies.... I wanted to tell you, sir, there’s something big going on here. Yeah!” I’ll find out for myself first, you greedy old bastard. “No, not yet.... I will. OK, sir, I’ll let you know.”
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But Jake had other plans. He’d spread himself out around the town, the diner, feed and seed, his cover always as a soft-selling insurance agent, “OK, well maybe next time.” His shield was his massive frame, nobody wants to mess with someone who’s built like a gorilla. Just be nice. So he’d put out the word, asking around, and sure, there was a rumor some place down there used to run a high-stakes card game afterhours. He was close to something big, and he knew it. His brother’s killer, sure, but more, this was some kind of scam he could grab a piece of. A card room? Real estate? A drug clinic!? What was the deal here? They’d stonewalled him over at Saltie’s, that burly bartender too big to mess with, and Jacques like some Duke in his barony, staring right through him, didn’t know about any kind of games he might sit in on. Jacques had learned his lesson. Play his cards close to the chest, and focus on getting Michelle back. But he’d made one fatal error, so intent on himself, and on growing his new business up, on keeping his clientele, that he didn’t warn them about the stranger, he didn’t spread the word. In his own mind, he didn’t want to spook them with his paranoia. In reality, all he did was set himself up for the fall. If Jake knew one thing in life, it was how to squeeze information out of people. On the street as a kid down near Maxwell Street, he’d used to
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beat the truth out of drug runners, prostitutes, bookies, anyone who could lead him to money. After run-ins with the vice squad, and a timely intervention by Mr. D., Tuo taught him the civilized way, using a charade of false familiarity and veiled violence. ‘Good cop, bad cop’, the old-time lawmen used to call it, pre-Miranda. So Jake ran some license plates that he’d tagged outside Saltie’s one weekend, and came up red hot. These were big players! People he might lean on. He picked Bob Gautier, Springfield City Councilman and a Frenchman same as Jacques. Jake set up a business meet to talk about fleet insurance with Bob, hyping himself up as a discount broker for a big underwriter down in Minneapolis. He reminded him they’d met at Saltie’s when they hadn’t, and sidestepped Bob’s alert-sense by noticing the golf trophy by the window, and the fishing photo of that big striper bass on his desk. Jake moved in a slow spiral towards goodbuddyhood. “Yeah, Bob, we used to drive all day to get back up there to Boundary Waters. I’m telling you, walleye as long as your arm, and not a ranger around. True story! Up north there is nothing but big bush, big water, and the best pickerel fishing you’ll ever see!” Bob smiled. This guy was a real gregarious insurance salesman, sure, but not too sharp on the closing part, you know? He was intrigued. “So you play any golf up in Minnesota, Jake?”
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“Bob, I’ll tell you what. I was a canoe guide in high school, we used to take those doctors at Mayo up to Ely to spoonfish, get them out on portage, paddle them around for a week, catch a rack of muskellunge. And sure, they’d have me over to their houses after, drinks, party’s, then play the links ‘round Saint Paul. I’m telling you, those doctors love their golf!” Bob could believe it, Jake was built like a Paul Bunyan. He just couldn’t believe Mayo Clinic doctors would party with a hick canoe g u i d e . They’d probably let him carry their golf bags, h e l a u g h e d i n s i d e . But in gaining that false sense of superiority over Jake, he had let his guard down. You see, Bob loved to talk. They told bold angling stories, sitting there in his city office, laughing wildly at the lies. Then over to the pub where Bob always ate lunch, Jake beguiled him, asking what it must be like, being a City Councilman and all. Getting to make the big decisions. Bob shrugged it off. Hey, it wasn’t a big thing. T h e n h e c o n f i d e d , mano y mano , “ T h e y t e l l u s how to vote anyways, it’s all scripted out beforehand.” Jake feigned the surprise of a backwoodsman. “Naw! Naw, you mean it? Naw, you’re the man, Bob!” Bob switched the subject, uncomfortable with the whole truth, and asked Jake about being an insurance salesman. It was the break Jake had been waiting for.
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Wringing his hands, he moaned how insurance was getting old, the travel, all the paperwork. His older brother had just died, then his wife left him, there just didn’t seem to be any point anymore. All he really wanted to do was go bass fishing, and play poker. “Say, buddy,” Bob was sympathetic, “I’ll tell you what, we’ve got a card game a couple of fellows and I play over there at Saltie’s. I’ll give ‘em a call, see if they’d mind some fresh blood. I think we’re short this weekend anyways.” Jake smiled gratefully, hang-dog, “Hey, thanks Bob, let me take care of this tab!” Hook, line and sinker. And that’s how business gets done. Jake pushed into Saltie’s as Bob called to the others, “Hey, we’ve brought a fourth,” in the bridge lingo from his old Methodist days. Lee moved into the smoking room, slipping a Glock p i s t o l f r o m a S a b a ña c i g a r b o x o n t h e b o o k s h e l f into his waistband, then set a disc on the Victrola to cover his move. Every sense in his body was screaming. He could see Jacques felt the same way. This new guy was trouble. But it was Bob’s play. They watched Jake like a hawk, and he wasn’t any kind of card player anyway, just nickel and dime back there in Chicago. He played the horses, that was his game. So after awhile they all relaxed, and the play continued. To their surprise, Jake was an interesting guy for a salesman, with some raunchy hooker
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stories that got them all laughing, and then when they heard how much he knew about horse racing and making book, the others were taken in.... Look drifted backward in time, hoping for a slip on Lee’s part, “So what’s been going on in Little Osage?” Lee stared toward the stage, as a big-titted cerise circled the fire-pole in the light, grinding her way to the floor through the smoke. His gaze blurred, seeing the past in his mind, and began again. “We didn’t see Michelle after she left Saltie’s one day round Thanksgiving I guess, nobody was able to find her, Look,” he shook his head. “Jack’s running the place with Will and Sammy now, and he’s doing business with Sammy’s father, keeping busy.” “Lee!” Look cut in, “Michelle’s up here! She was out in Dutch Harbor working on a processor. We ran into each other there! Haven’t you seen her since then? She said she’d call Saltie’s when she got here!” Lee narrowed his eyes. The girl on the stage had swung around toward them now, pushing her plastic tits together and leaning forward, pouting her lips, guys reaching their money up. He couldn’t tell Look very much more, not without blowing their whole play. Jacques had set this up very carefully.... Jake shook everyone’s hand, thanking them profusely, and left at dawn. He was getting skinned by that pack of thieves anyway, and
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hadn’t gotten even a nod out of Jacques or his striker Lee. It was time to git, and he was tired. Back in his motel room he showered, slugged down a double-Chevas, and hit the rack. Later that day, Jake got back into his rented sedan, had the steak and eggs at the diner, and drove back over to Saltie’s. He drove through the parking lot, and walked up the steps to the second floor, knocking at the back door. The game had about finished up. Lee was in the kitchen, and he’d peeped through the curtain, then blocked the door with his foot. “Hey, Jake,” he wasn’t smiling, “what’s up?” “Let me talk with Jack.” “He’s busy.” “Then get him unbusy, or do you want me to come in there?” Jake set his jaw muscles knotting. Lee let his shirt drift open to show the Glock. Jake ignored it, holding his hands out. “Hey, I just wanted to thank him, maybe talk some business.” Jacques pushed past, opening the door, and the two of them confronted Jake on the landing. “I don’t need any insurance, Jake. Thank Bob for the invitation.” Jake frowned, staring through them. His wide face changed, “Oh, I think you do. I think you need some protection, big-time, and I need to find Sumpter.”

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Lee tensed at the name, but Jacques put a h a n d o n h i s s h o u l d e r . “ W h a t i s i t y o u really want?” Jake rolled the names off that he’d memorized. The City Councilmen, the State Senators, Commissioners, everyone that he’d tagged in front of Saltie’s. “Wonder what the State Gaming Board’d have to say about this place of your’s? Bet your clientele wouldn’t appreciate the exposure!” He studied his manicure, then rolled snake-eyes, “I told you, I want the kid....” Lee studied Look’s face in the dim light of the bar, the stripper was done dancing, now he had to make small-talk. He wondered what he could say to Look to convince him he should go back to Illinois. He hadn’t found Shelley, so they had no way to lure him back yet, and now Jacques was getting desperate. Jake was really starting to lean on him, his bar, his clinic. “Yeah, Michelle called and said she was waiting up here for you. Wasn’t much going on at Saltie’s and Jack was busy all the time, so I thought I’d fly up and check it out. Anchorage is a nice place.” Look would’ve argued the point, but right now he only had one thought on his mind, “Michelle, man, come’on, where the fuck is she!?” “Whoa, easy old hoss,” Lee held a hand up, “I didn’t say I’d found her, the place she gave was some motel off Seward Highway. She’s not there anymore.”
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“Her roommate said she was working at a fresh-pak fish processor, didn’t you get the name?” “Jeez, Look I don’t know, you’d have to ask Jack,” Lee kept him teased, “those seasonal processors come and go, don’t they?” Look sensed he was being played, and backed off. He’d find her, it was just a matter of waiting. If he didn’t find her in Anchorage by spring breakup, he’d fly back after Togiak and look up Jennie and Bo. But Lee really didn’t know. He’d been trying to get in touch with Shelley, to talk her back down, it had become almost an obsession now for Jacques. Just get her back, then lead her boyfriend to Chicago. “So what’re you up to these days, Lee?” Look changed the subject, “found any good card games?” He forced himself to swirl the drink around, puff on his smoke, look disinterested at the stage as the next exotic dancer waltzed out. “Yeah, actually, matter of fact, I have,” Lee boasted, glad the conversation was going his way. “Jack’s flying up here next weekend to sit in on a little high-stakes match I’ve put together.” Look riveted him with a stare, “Can I be in on it?” “Sorry pardner,” Lee shook his head, “strictly players. They don’t allow anyone else into the room, just stock the ‘fridge and lock the door.”

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But he wanted to tether Look’s halter, just in case. “Tell you what. What’re you doin’ next Monday night? The game’ll be over by then, and Jack and I‘ll take you out to the Palmer for dinner. What do you say? Like old times!” Look pushed off from the bar. This was as far as he was going to get. “How will I get in touch with you?” Lee wrote a phone number on a matchbook and handed it to him. “Just meet us there at 8PM,” Lee feigned disinterest, “We’ll have a celebration, hit the bars, go get some chicks, OK?” It was the toughest week he’d ever waited. Look spent the time at the Library, going through the phone book, calling around the processors, walking by the open doors. Fish processors don’t take calls to their line employees, and they don’t give out names. A new fresh-pak operation might not even be in the book yet. He couldn’t find Michelle. And Stephen was giving him shit, trying to push him out of the garage, get him out of his life for good. The place stunk in the rising temperature, Look only slept there anyways. He felt a sense of anticipation, something was about to change in his life. Monday afternoon, just after the maids had started their rounds, he snuck over to a motel, handed the girl a five for a towel, and used the shower in one of the rooms. Then he changed
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into new Levi’s, a blue-on-white chambray shirt he’d got at Sears, and a khaki Karhardt vest with a broken zipper from Good Will. Striding into the Palmer, he looked like a new man, an outdoors man, wavy black hair, curly black beard, the heft and bulk of a fisherman. People stared, in slender party dresses and padded-shoulder suits. He found Lee at the bar, and then coming down the steps from the lobby, Jacques and his young escort. “Hey, Michael, you’re looking good!” Jacques smiled as he introduced Jennifer, the party girl he was with. She was nice, a little too young for this, and nervous. “Pleased to meet you,” Look nodded. They moved to a table, and Jacques seated himself opposite Look, with Jennifer and Lee in between. Ever charming, ever the showman, he led them all through the ordering and the chitchat, like this was just some chance meeting among business associates. The dinner’s food and drinks passed by in a blur, overcooked and oversauced anyway to Look’s taste. Jennifer was leaning on Jacques’s words. Lee kept his cards close to his chest. Look’s anticipation was rising, unstoppable, he just had to talk about old times. “So hey, Jack, did that card game you’ve been talking about remind you of Saltie’s?” he began. Jennifer looked around, intrigued, “Saltie’s?”

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“Oh, we used to go to this tavern together, back home,” Look meandered. “Jack was pretty good at cards, there in the back room.” Jennifer’s smile shone on Jacques, “Really?” But Jacques got the hint. Give up Michelle, or he’d bring the conversation around to her anyway. “Yeah, Michael and his girlfriend used to tend bar there. Lee told me she was up here with you?” Jacques enjoyed the parry and thrust of this game. He liked Look, his style, it was too bad he was going to give him up. In a heart beat. The game he’d been invited up to here in Anchorage was much more than just a game of cards. A new kind of game, a con that only Jacques, with his raconteur style could pull off. And Look was going to be his mule. “Hey, Michael, Lee and I were going to party with Jennifer up in the room, you want to join us?” Look studied their faces, all of them smiling, artificial, each knowing that the other knew. “No, I’ve got to get going, thanks for dinner.” “Well come up to the room for a drink anyway, I got something for you, a package from back home,” Jacques winked. Look’s whole demeanor changed in an instant. Jacques had been teasing him! So maybe it was letters from Michelle, a check from Mik, Lou’s whereabouts!?

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The elevator ghosted them to the seventh floor, room 704, a decent hotel room as they go, two double beds, the bottles in a rack, clothes on the bed, unmade. Jacques and Jennifer had obviously been partying here already. He sure a c t e d l i k e i t , a l l f l u f f e d u p . Poor kid . “Here you go Michael,” handing him the package, hand on his shoulder. “Sure you won’t stay? Jennifer’s a fun girl?!” He knew that would move Look along. “No, thanks, got somewhere else,” he shy’d. “Nice to meet you.” Jennifer smiled back, and then Jacques walked him out into the hallway. Jacques came right to the point, all pretense gone. “Look, I’m trusting you here, I don’t know this town like you do, I don’t know where I stand.” Look’s eyebrows raised up in surprise. What a change! “What the hell’s goin’ on, Jack?” “Listen, Lee and I won a whole lot of money this weekend, but we still want to stick around awhile. Michelle is back at her sister’s waiting for you. Now I’ve wrapped the cash in this package, can you take it back to Saltie’s for me and meet us there next week?” “Why don’t you guys just fly back?” “Because Look, you don’t just roll into a place, take a bunch of high-stakes money, and blow town!? It’d look like a con! We want to play it awhile, maybe see if we can start up a Saltie’s here in Anchorage. You and Michelle get the tavern going, you two are good. Will and Sammy are holding on while I’m gone. Give the
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package to Sammy’s father, then have him call me. Enjoy yourselves, you two kids deserve a break!” Look beamed, wanting to hug him. This was more than he’d possibly hoped for. Michelle was found, and with her, better, their old life together at Saltie’s. Jacques inhaled slowly. Even with all of his years of conning people, it was hard to take down an honest kid. “Here, here’s $500, take a float plane to Cordova tomorrow, catch a jump to Skagway, hop the ferry down to Washington on it’s spring run back.” “Hop the ferry? What’d you mean?” “Hey! Have you forgotten? You’re a fugitive, Look, a felon. The statute never runs out on murder.” His shoulders sagged. All winter he’d avoided that label, distancing himself mentally from the shoot-out as an abstraction, a distant memory. Jacques was right, he’d have to keep his head down. “Jeez, I don’t know Jack, $500 isn’t much,” hoping he’d let him off the hook. “I don’t want you to get in any deeper, don’t worry! I checked it all out already.” “Yeah, but, ummm, what if I get stuck?” “Look, if you have to, break into the package, I’ve counted it twice. Just didn’t want you in too deep,” Jacques beamed munificently. “Remember, you owe me $800 now.” He slapped him on the shoulder.
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“I, ahh, don’t know what to say,” Look shied away, staring nervously left and right. “How about thanks? Now go on, find Michelle, OK?! Jeez!” Jacques laughed, not so much at his ploy, but because Look had absolutely no idea, and it flat hurt to watch. He had to laugh to keep from crying. Look never went back to Stephen’s. Instead, he stopped at a payphone and called Wendy up, then with the last of his own hardearned money, took her out on the town, out to Leonardo’s where all the rich pretty people hung out, and there whirled her around the mirrored dance floor, popped a cork or two, and spun out such clever tales from the frontier that she was laughing like a school girl again. The next morning, a big Twin-Otter flew out from Spenard Lake, heading east for Cordova with a single passenger inside, a traveler who never looked back.

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Thirty - Green Tea
The guy driving the Ford Bronco talked nonstop all the way south from Bellingham, once Look made the mistake of telling him he used to own a Ford pickup too. They’d met the last day on the Ferry, up on the sundeck. Said his name was Preston, and now he was babbling about this, his first trip to Alaska, a charter to Yakutat for a spring goat hunt. Look tried interrupting with his story about the caribou hunt on Umnak, but no sooner had Augenblik’s i n f l a t a b l e d r o p p e d i n t o t h e w a t e r , the guy cut him off, grousing about the crappy weather on Mount Logan, how he’d been socked in and SOL for his trophy. “It’s that damn lodge runs all those charters,” he bitched, “they should know spring is bad weather! I’ll tell you, I’m never going back up there again, no way!” He kept sniffing about the week spent sitting by the fire, before he’d beat it back to civilization. Never even got his feet wet. “And the real b i t c h , ” h e l a u g h e d , n o t i c i n g that Look didn’t care, “the rotten weather made me miss my connection in Juneau and I had to take the fuckin’ Ferry back on my comp time!” He just kept going on and on, complaining about all the bad breaks, as they coasted the grade down into the Skagit Valley. Look hollered to let him out at the Highway 20 offramp, ‘North Cascades Highway’ on the
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big sign overhead. He waved thanks at Preston, then walked off, duffel on his shoulder, past the farmer’s market, past the old potato coop warehouse, on out the cross-state highway heading east over the snowy Cascades. He smiled. The wintry Skagit weather seemed like a balmy spring day after Anchorage. It’d be easy going from here, over the mountains, east to Idaho where Route 20 splices into Route 2. There, rest in Sandpoint, head north from Bonner’s Ferry, walking across into Canada. The border there just a booth and a lonely Mountie anyway, one of his Adak buddies had said. Ride the Canadian-Pacific across the Northern Tier to Thunder Bay, then south to Duluth. He’d call Will from Minnesota, surprise him, and sure to, kind’a hoping Michelle didn’t have a lover. Maybe Will could get in touch with her at Jennie’s? Then just a day later, she’d be there waiting for him at the Springfield bus terminal, her arms open wide. They’d get her old apartment back in Macomb, with the pinewood floors and that sunroom kitchen nook. Settle down, she’d go on back to school, he’d get a job, nights as a janitor at Western. Then get married out at Jennie and Bo’s farm next August, maybe raise some kids. Turn the world off and drop out of sight. No one would ever know. He smiled, facing the upvalley traffic, thumb stuck out. He was trippin’, but it felt OK. Hope.
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A faded VW pickup rolled to a stop, a hippie guy and his girl, smiling. Look threw his duffel in the back with all the farm supplies, and climbed in front. The hippie said his name was Karl, the girl Sharon. Said they lived in a commune upvalley. Bunch of tofu-heads, but nice enough to pass the time with, they kind’a reminded him of Stephen and his band of Tarkeepya’s. The guy seemed straight, said he fought fires in the summer, working in the shingle mills down in Concrete during the winter. They were part of this farm collective, trying to build a family of people where they’d feel right about raising children of their own. The girl was sweet too, Look figured she’d be a real knockout in a party dress. Even in flannel and bib overalls, her curves showed. “Sharry,” Karl spoke, “see if we have anything to snack on up front here.” Look t h o u g h t o f M i c h e l l e , mon cheri, fighting off the ache. Sharon passed around some granola bars and pear juice, and they ate quietly as the VW chugged upvalley along the river. “Where you from?” she started the conversation. Karl smiled to show he was interested too. “Oh, I just came down from Skagway on the Malaspina , y o u k n o w , A l a s k a F e r r y , ” L o o k opened. “Lived up in Alaska the past winter.” They nodded. “I used to live in a collective, back in Illinois,” he added, then regretted it
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immediately. These weren’t his friends from Dutch Harbor, they were strangers. Now there’d be a trail for the police to follow. “What about you guys?” The pair smiled at him warmly. “We’re heading back to Marblehill to our acreage on Clarkston Road. Before we lived in Wauconda, over east,” Karl spoke. Sharon added, “Dry land farming, wheat and weeds,” with a wrinkle of her nose. Karl shrugged, like, whatever. “That’s where I’m going!” Look leaned forward, eager to make eyecontact, maybe get a lead on Idaho, getting up to Bonner’s Ferry. They stared straight ahead, noncommittal. Sharon smiled after awhile, “Well, be sure to stop in Tonasket at the co-op. It’s a long, long ways to Idaho and not many people on that stretch. Why not take the bus to Everett, and go across on Route 2?” Karl put a hand on her leg, disapproving. “Shar’, he knows what he’s doing.” That night Look broke bread with the group at their place in Marblehill, five couples and four children, a relaxed bunch of hippies, mostly outcasts from the old California ‘karmic’ circles, some. Some down from the North Plains and so already inured to hard work, farm kids who smoked pot and who believed in free love and the West Coast, more or less. He spent the night on the living room couch as everyone padded off to bed, the young kids
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begging to play a little longer, the parents thinking of tomorrow’s work yet to be done. They fed him breakfast, fresh-cut oatmeal, a slice of toasted sourdough, an apple, green tea. Good. Sharon told him about a boarding house back near town, where he could wait until the snow left the mountains. But Look was in rambling mode, his old memories of the Rockies still fresh in memory. So he walked back into town, in time to wave down a Muni Light service truck heading up toward the hydro dam. “Where you headed, son?” the driver asked dryly. “Headin’ over to Idaho on 20, on to Sandpoint,” as far as he wanted to say. Again, the same advise. “You’d do better takin’ the bus from Everett, then across that way on Route 2. You’ll never make it over the North Cascades. There’s five passes between here and there. Just a bunch of dry-landers, feeding their homefires or off to Arizona for the winter, maybe a Colville Indian might give you a ride, ‘bout it.” Then came the news on the radio, halfway there. “Z-krr-tch--road’s out--sst-s--plow’s buried--zzch-k-krr--avalanche (.....) rescue ssks-kkr...,” was all Look could make out. “Damn!” the guy punched the steering wheel. “Damn! Was going up Pasayten this weekend, cross-country ski’in with the kids. Won’t get through now.”
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Look blanked out for a second, “You mean, they, ummm, I mean, the road is....” The man finished for him, “Damn right! Road’s closed until April, once they dig that plow driver out.” Then realizing, he grinned sheepishly over at Look, “Guess you’ll want out now. Don’t get stuck up there in Numen, it’s a company town.” The truck pulled on away, crunching gravel. Look was alone in the middle of the snowy Cascades, so quiet that he could hear a snowmelt creek gurgling down across the draw, and willowa winds rustling the trees up at snowline. Luckily it was a warm day. He sat watching the river, the hydro guy had said they were spilling the dam, getting ready for spring runoff. The warm sun playing on the water’s surface was mesmerizing. Time out of mind. Then high above, the ‘bud-da, bud-da’ of a rescue helicopter, heading down valley, probably with that snowplow driver inside, half-frozen. After awhile, a lowboy ground on by, heading up the steep grade, bringing a front loader to clear the avalanche away. Activity picked up after that, and he grabbed a ride back to Marblehill with another hydro worker. “You can wait for a ride here at the Cafe, the best pie upvalley, that’s for sure,” he’d pointed. Look went on inside, shrugging off the locals’ stares, feeling like that rabbit up in Dutch. Trapped. Then with time heavy on his hands and no clear plan how to get farther on, he
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found Lee’s matchbook and made a phone call up to Jacques in Anchorage. “Hello.” That was all, just hello. “Yeah, hey, is Jack there? This is Look.” There was a long silence, a drawn sigh, deep, like someone barely whispering, just loud enough they wouldn’t have to repeat. “Look, this is Lee. Get clear of where you’re calling from and don’t call again.” Look stammered, “What’s going on? Come on, tell me! Is Michelle there? Did she come back up from Illinois? Where’s Jack?! Is he with her!!?” Lee gave him another number, “Call this phone, it’s a machine, just leave your number and then hang up. I’ll call you right back. Just let me get to another phone.” Then Lee hung up. Their whole conversation hadn’t lasted more than thirty seconds. He called and left the number of his payphone, then went back his booth, taking a coffee from the pot, waving his cup at the waitress to let her know. He waited. Fifteen minutes went by. Twenty. His nerves were raw. Then the phone rang and rang. It was Lee. “What’re you still doin’ in Washington!? You’re supposed to be on your way back to Illinois! What’s going on, Look!?” he demanded. Look morse-coded, “Skagway on that charterskip, Bellingham on the Ferry. On my way over to Idaho, avalanche closed the road. Now I’m here.”
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There was a murmur, Lee talking to someone. “OK, here’s the good news, you’re out of danger. Now here’s the bad new, Jack got busted by the FBI, he’s downtown in lockup.” Look’s eyes popped wide, “Jack!?” All the locals stared at him, so he lowered his voice. “What the hell happened, did they bust the cardroom!?” Another pause, Lee scarcely breathing, “OK, Look, I’ve got to tell you this, but I have to make it fast, might have this phone tapped too. Pay attention! Jack’s wasn’t up here just to get to know the locals. We were playing this guy who courier’s cash for the banks, out to the Aleutians and Bristol Bay, you know, to pay the boat crews for their fish deliveries.” “Yeah, I talked with one of those guys at the LunaSea in Dutch. What, did he play five kings?” Lee cut him off, dead serious. “Listen, I’m sorry we didn’t tell you, but we didn’t want to ruin your trip home. I’m sorry to lay this on you, but the money you got isn’t a cardgame’s. That money,” and here Lee swallowed, knowing how Look would react, “that was money we heisted from an airport hangar just before the flight, Jack kept the courier busy playing a sweet run of cards. It was a canvas bag full of cash for the bank down in Rurik. He was supposed to put it on the plane. Guess he forgot. Sorry, man.” Look leaned against the wall, staring over at his duffel sitting innocently in the booth, filled
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with all the stolen cash. “H-how much?” he stammered. “You don’t need to know that, you’re only carrying part of it. Just get to Will’s, and then let Sammy’s father know you’re back in town, understand?” “ W h a t ’ s g o i n g o n , L e e ! ? T e l l m e , how much ?!” There was a pause, what you’d call a cogent lull. “A hundred eighty-five thousand, man. We divided it three ways.” Then he repeated, “Get to Will’s!” “What about Michelle!?” It was too late, the line was dead. He wobbled back to his seat in shock. The way-young waitress stopped in front of his booth, grinning, hand on her hip, crackin’ gum. Her blithe attitude was too much for him to handle. “So, what’s your name, honey?” he teased, but she could see he wasn’t really interested. “Heather,” she smiled, being polite. “Heather, hmm. OK, get me a cheeseburger, Heather, some jo-jo’s and a Dr. Pepper. “ His gaze brushed down across her blouse, her skirt, her legs. “Will there be anything else,” she shy’d away. “Yeah,” he grabbed her by the wrist, “sit down and talk with me awhile.” Then he saw the change on her face, the fear behind her eyes. “Sir, I have work to do....” His hand relaxed and she slipped free.
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What the hell was I doing!? He wolfed the burger and fries, then paid the bill and left, fear balling his hands in his pockets, his emotions whipping back and forth between heaven and hell. It was after all, a lot of cash, whether skimmed off some dumb rubes or stolen, but a h u n d r e d e i g h t y - f i v e t h o u s a n d o u t o f half a million! He tried to estimate the bulk of that much cash, obviously not ten’s and twenty’s from the card game, more like fifty’s and hundred’s, probably marked, and still in the bank wrappers. A casual police stop would land him in maximum, doing hard time, a nickel to a dime, with a murder one extradition on top of that. “Listen Mister! You can wear this sideburn as long as you like, but this other one is mine, and you’d better just shave it off right now! Now get down and give me fifty...!” d r i f t e d i n t o L o o k ’ s m e m o r y . O l d hawdass divemaster from bootcamp, Warren Conner. That recollection brought a smile back. He was a Navy Seal, after all, trained to survive on his own wits, to meet and disable an enemy, even if that enemy was now his own mind. His first thought was to find cover, then he remembered the boarding house across the river. Look glanced left and right at the door of the cafe, and then jogged across the road. The sun was low in the sky, casting a golden glow on the hillsides around the town, dusted with late
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snowfall the night before. The old planked bowstring bridge led over to a gravel road that, if you followed it, went high into the North Cascades, then down to Stehekin on the eastern side, and the wide-open spaces of the Northern Mohave. His backdoor escape route. There, beyond the bridge and across the wide meadow, stood a sagging clapboard house at the edge of the treeline, like a sentinel between civilization and the wilderness. He smiled. He’d stay there until the highway cleared, and if things got dicey, he could head up the pass and lose himself in the outback. Look walked up the verandah and opened the front door, “A-a-a..., anyone here?” A voice ahead called out, “We’re back here, come on in!” The house was comfortably nineteenth century, once a logging crew camp from the days of one-log truck hauls, its wainscoted walls and hooked rugs, couches and chairs centered around an ancient mica-windowed wood stove. The floor itself was straight-grain doug-fir planking, grooved with age. In fact, the place reminded him of Lou’s neat little Springfield bungalow, with a hand-medown decor and a rundown feel. He felt right at home. “Hi!” he smiled, hand out to the man and wife working in their kitchen. The guy was spectacled, a lot like Michelle’s brother-in-law Bo. She was slight too, grayed-raven hair
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braided Indian style. The counter was spread with gallon jars of grains and nuts, and potatoes and carrots from the root cellar, fixings for a homecooked meal. “Hello, I’m Jim Harrigan and this here is Mary, we’re the caretakers of Altamira. The name means ‘mountain lookout’ in Spanish, just like this place.” “Pleased to meet’cha, my name’s Loo..., umm, Lew,” he replied, rekindling his old alias. “Lewis?” Mary smiled, “Nice name. Lewis and Clark explored the Pacific Northwest here a hundred years ago. Would you like some blackberry wine?” The three of them sat around the little kitchen table, staring out at the river bottom land, chatting while they sipped the rich purple berry wine. Jim said they’d been Foreign Service workers traveling through here on their Stateside vacations, then they’d returned one day to run the place. It was going on their seventh year now. They had a three-year old little girl, Kelly, out playing dolls in the cedarsplit fenced backyard, there under the hanging laundry. Look was lulled by their stories of working at the different international US Embassy’s and their annual leave trips to Buenos Aires, the Serengheti, Benares, Fiji. He’d forgotten his fears of the afternoon. Night was creeping slowly up the mountainsides, the deep cold returning, when Kelly ran into the kitchen, into her father’s arms, staring wide-eyed at Look.
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“My name’s Kelly,” she beamed, “I’m this many,” holding up three fingers on her little hand, checking to make sure. She focused on his duffel. “What’s in there?” she pointed, “are you a sailor?” Look smiled, but sweat was beginning to rime his armpits, and he gulped a quick, “I used to be in the Navy,” before Jim shushed her for being so nosey. “You run upstairs and play, honey, we’ll call you when dinner’s ready.” Kelly skipped away sideways, stopping just at the edge of the hallway and staring back at Look, her toy held straight out, “This is my dollie!” Then she disappeared. They all laughed. “So you’ve seen some of the world, then?” Mary tip-toed carefully around the topic, “will you be staying here long, Lew?” Look had to swallow, unable to say much of where he was from, and unable to say how long he might be staying. “Ahh, umm, did a tour in Nam. Spent some time drifting around in Mexico after, Vallarta, you know, bummin’ around the beaches? Reno-Tahoe. Skied Loveland, Big Bear. Just got to Washington this week, kind’a like the place, don’t know how long I’ll be staying,” he spun a story out, figuring that an old rehash was better than nothing, more comfortable. But forget the parts about Chicago and Alaska! “Mexico? Oh, we used to go down to Oaxaca!” Mary enthused. Jim smiled, nodding his head.
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“Stayed at an adobe panceon in Tehuantepec, up against the Sierra, on Mar Muerto. We’d go into Oaxaca for the Christmas celebrations,” she explained, gazing over her shoulder, “‘Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace comino al andar’. [Traveler, there is no road. You make your own way as you go.] Machado, do you know it?!” He responded in kind with a translation that M i c h e l l e h a d t a u g h t h i m . “ T h e w o r d travel i s from the French, travaill. I t m e a n s a p a i n f u l effort, or else an instrument of torture, ha-ha-haha.” They laughed together at the common bond. “‘Yo tango no dinero,’” L o o k g o t c a r r i e d a w a y , “‘pero como se yama, chica? Quanto ano’s?’ was all I ever needed.” [I don’t have any money, but what’s your name, baby? How old (are you)?] That’s about it.” Jim and Mary glanced at each other, their smiling expressions clouding over, disturbed by the earthy reference, Machado’s wisdom already forgotten. Then, the subject of money having been raised, Jim spoke about the room, “Lew, if you’re staying, we have a weekly rate, I’ll go and get the register.” With that their fragile camaraderie changed as it came, gone like a santana wind. Jim laid out the plates and silverware while Lew helped Mary make a Waldorf salad, talking about his past life as a machinist. She told him how they were starting a river rafting guide business for the summer, running down the
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white-water section of the upper river. “We’ve got some kayaks over on the Cascade, just down there under those tall poplars,” Jim offered, overhearing, “Maybe tomorrow we can take them out? Mary can pick us up after we run the rapids in Crete. They should be awesome with the dam spilling! Then it’s all flat river after that.” So Look had another opportunity to fit in, just for a moment, but his own life had nothing in common with lollipop sport kayaks. All he thought to say was, “Eskimos still use kayaks, you know?” That was so lame that Jim let it drop. Their delicious vegetarian buffet seated Look with the other house guests, Kenny and Cole, both brothers from Carolina, out here looking for Tarheel relatives on the Skagit. They talked about the Turnpike and the Blue Ridge, Winston-Salem and stock car racing. He just smiled, not wanting to reveal his background. After dinner, he excused himself and laid out his sleeping bag in the men’s common room upstairs. Searching for paper, Look found a journal one of the trekking guests had taken from the Sauk Mountain ranger station, and then left behind as a novelty. He borrowed a pencil from the desk in the corner, and began recounting his life in Illinois, then up in Alaska, eager to write down the adventures, and to remember those familiar faces, feel them close around him, Michelle closer still. It was a habit he’d started, and then
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dabbled at before he’d burned his notebook. Now he had the means and the moment to recreate it. After awhile Kenny and Cole trooped up and laid out their bags, then tried to strike up a conversation with him. He kept on writing while they lost interest, scribbling until the oil lamp ran low, and Kenny had to chide him, “Hey, Lew, get some sleep!” There’ll be lots of time to finish my story.

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Thirty One - The Heat is On
The call came in on the night shift, but Sheriff Tom McConnett had standing orders with his 911 staff, “Only emergencies, got it? Emergencies! Otherwise, don’t call the house.” So it wasn’t until after he’d had his 6AM coffee and jelly roll, joking with his two beat cops in the small sheriff’s office in Vernors, the Skagit County seat, that he noticed the message on his blotter, “Call State Office FBI, Olympia, immediately.” No subject, yesterday’s date and t i m e , l a t e n i g h t h o u r , a p h o n e n u m b e r . Shit! T o m thought. The number on Tom’s note rang up the desk of Investigator Sam Burton, a seasoned former detective who’d specialized in white-collar bank fraud and embezzlement, before working his way into the FBI on bank robbery. His colleagues relied on Sam for his intuitive ability to sniff out an inside job, to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, and pin-point the most likely path the stolen money had taken. After that, it was a simple matter of obtaining all the warrants, tax records, bank accounts and wire transfers, then to locate the money. Once found, the money always led back to the thief. Just took patience, the patience of a wolf spider, astride the victim’s path, hiding, waiting. Sooner or later a thief always returns to check his money. Then, bingo!
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They’d been lucky in the Anchorage case. First a cabbie’d overhead a conversation between two out-of-town card sharps, mentioning a murder and someone he knew. Then that girl at the escort service called and told them about two guys she’d been with, who’d divided up piles of big bills on their bed, laughing. Except one got away, and now there was a third. “Sheriff!” Sam started slowly, “Thank you for returning my call, how’s your morning going?” McConnett was sucked in, “Well sir, too late in winter to talk about the huntin’, and too early in the season to talk about the fishin’, so hey? What’ve you got for me?” chuckling to himself at the juxtiposed images. Surf ‘n Turf. “What I’ve got,” Sam was serious, “is a sheriff’s office that let eight hours go by before responding to an FBI wanted notice, a notice for bank robbery and interstate flight, right into your jurisdiction!” McConnett gulped hard, switching his plug of Red Man over a little too close to the hot coffee he’d just sipped, swallowing enough black bile to choke. He spewed coffee and tobacco juice back out across the desk as his chair tipped bolt upright with a bang. “Sir, I want to apologize,” he began, then lied, “I’ve told the girls to call me at home if anything comes in, day or night, but you can’t get a good 911 operator anymore, now can you?”
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“Sheriff, your girl said you weren’t to be called at home,” Sam deadpanned. McConnett winced at the caught lie, looking around for a wastebasket to kick. Sam got to it. “I’m faxing down a description we think might be a runner for the gang. Bank heist in Anchorage, Alaska. We have a suspect in lockup, didn’t get all the money, but we have enough evidence that we’re sure we caught the right guy.“ “Yes sir! Any description?” “Don’t have much to go on for the runner, headed south from Alaska last week, maybe trying for the MidWest we think, your’s is the first way over the mountains. We know he’s stayed off airplanes so far, FBI’s had the airports staked out. From a description, we think he’s one Michael Lewis Sumpter. Figure that he made it to Washington by now, somehow. Not sure if he’s passing through or laying low with the stolen cash. That’s about it. You pull in every out-of-state drifter for questioning, you understand me?” “Yes sir,” McConnett saluted the air, smirking. “Say, I don’t recollect you sayin’ how much the haul was? What’d they get away with?” “Sheriff, you just do your job, and find that burro. The amount is being kept confidential by the banks involved,” Burton covered, adding, “Oh, Sheriff, if Sumpter’s our man, he’s a
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fugitive on a Cook County warrant. Murder one, be careful.” Then he hung up. An inside job, I’ll just bet you, T o m s m i l e d a s h e reached for his hat, gun and radio, “Alton, we got a dragnet, bigtime. Let’s take a drive upvalley, talk with the taverns, see if we can set up a road block.” Two patrol cars left Vernors, heading upvalley toward Marblehill. One went striking on up ahead, the other stopping in Woolsey, making the rounds of the bars. A pincer movement, they’d work back together, somewhere in between, if their man was still in the Skagit, they’d have him trapped. Look woke up with a start. He’d way overslept. Kenny and Cole had left for town already, talking with shopkeepers and waitresses, asking after the Winton family, hoping to find their uncle, and so find a place to stay, maybe a job. Times were tough in Carolina. He checked his duffel, making sure the lock hadn’t been picked at, then trundled downstairs. Mary was sewing a quilt, “I saved your breakfast in the cooler, there’s milk and a sweetroll, heat up tea if you want to, or we have some instant coffee.” Like back home at Lou and Dianne’s. Kelly smiled at him, playing quietly with her dolls, so he did a puppet pantomime with his fingers, an imaginary Frankenstein, making her giggle. Mary smiled, “You have brothers and sisters?” but seeing the dark cloud descend over
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Look’s face, she changed the subject. “Jim’s down on the river building a rack for the kayaks, maybe you can trade work for room and board, he’s always open to barter.” So after he’d eaten, and slurped down some coffee to get energized, Look wandered down across the field, and through the braided sidestreams and river runnels choked with dried grass and brambles, until he reached the Cascade, wild sister to the once virile Skagit, made timid by all the dams. Jim shouted hello at him, his hair wrapped up in a bandanna, Chicano-style, down vest for the chill under the mountain’s shadow, gloves, jeans, water-moc’s. Marlboro Man meets Cesar Chavez. “A-a-a, Jim! See you got that rack started,” Look waved. “Susan said you might need a hand.” “Sure, you want to work? I can trade you room and board for a couple hour’s hard labor.” L o o k w i n c e d a t t h e m e m o r y , wasn’t that Don’s offer? But that was the past, and this was now. He could always walk away, it wasn’t bonenumbing cold here compared to Alaska. “OK, what have we got?” Jim described how he wanted to build a “sixpack,” as he called it, a two-by-three rack for all his kayaks, with a smooth loft for an inflatable raft. All set above the spring high water line, with a ridge pole roof so he could store paddles and jackets in the dry.
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“Aren’t you worried about thieves?” Look wondered, but Jim just shrugged. “If they want to walk all the way over here from the road, then drag the gear all the way back to the bridge landing, hey, how can I stop them?” They worked in the scant warmth of a latewinter sun clearing the peaks, cold breeze off the snowfields, the rosin and pepper smells of spring still just a hint in the air this far upvalley. It was smooth work, easy work. Look’s mind lulled, familiar framing, familiar tools, familiar river, trees, sun, sky. Appalachia. The time slipped away, and with it, all sense of urgency, all feeling of fear and flight. He could hole up here, live with Jim’s family after Kenny and Cole moved on, when April came around, he could roll on back to Illinois. Michelle was safe with Jennie, he was secure here. Nothing else mattered. So Look didn’t notice when Mary took Kelly in to the grocery store, talking with Vern Smith about the Sheriff being up in town, looking for a drifter, asking questions, and when she went to pick up the mail, listening to the ladies at the Post Office repeat the story, reading the new wanted poster on the wall. “Could be my husband!” one of the women cackled, and most admitted that for the description, you could be looking for just about every Tarheel in the county, the whole bearded, dark-hair burly lot of ‘em. Mary lost interest, she didn’t care for gossip.
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Look couldn’t have known when Kenny and Cole, as they were stopping in at the Rockton tavern to ask after their uncle, were interrogated by Deputy Alton Smith, made to tell their stories first separately and then together, and had to prove to the Deputy that there really were Winton’s in the phone book. “Sir, I’m sure once we find our uncle, he can vouch for us. You can call our Mom back in Carolina, she’ll be off work back there in a few hours.” Of course, Deputy Smith had no such intention. He was just sweating them to see what might pop out. “You seen anyone might answer this description?” “Well, yes sir, near ‘bout everyone we’ve talked to, and sure to, there was this fella...” Kenny began, and then Cole quickly finished, “ Y e a h , t h i s f e l l a c a m e t h r o u g h last week before the road closed, heading over the pass.” He gave Kenny their “don’t tell” highsign. But that was all it took. A little whisp from Kenny, a little puff from the waitress in Marblehill, and then the old man down in Lyround, who said he’d almost ran into two hippies stopping for a hitchhiker looked like that, the day the pass road closed. Pretty soon Sheriff McConnett and Deputy Smith were smelling smoke, big time. “Alton, now you keep this under your hat, don’t be telling the girls, or that FBI Investigator’ll be up here, movin’ in on our
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action. Let’s ratchet it up a notch, see what we can smoke out of the woods.” Then Sheriff McConnett got on the horn, calling up and down the valley, telling his people, “I’m pretty sure the fellah’s still up here above Crete, maybe we’ll cover the bridge and in Rockton, set up a roadblock tonight down here at Lyround, see what we catch.” “You’all might could call your friends and acquaintances,” he added, “maybe have a helicopter up this afternoon, kind’a see what we can see.” He’d left it at that, while they’d gone for lunch at Lyround Cafe. Both had a plate of jojo’s and a pattymelt, lot’s of mayo, Pepsi’s, chewing slowly as they oogle’d the young waitress, a single mother who’d just dropped out of high school. McConnett’s plan worked too, stirring up a bee’s nest, a carne atmosphere. “He said a roadblock, maybe a helicopter!” Soon neighbor was calling neighbor, and people remembered seeing Look up at Rockton, and along the road to Marblehill, in the cafe, around. The payphone began to ring, and Sheriff McConnett just smiled, “Alton, get that for me, will you?”

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Thirty Two - Eagle’s Roost
Look and Jim walked back to the house through the long grass and hillocks of river gravel, through the soggy pasture, still fallow from grazing last season, maybe this year set to potatoes or wheat. “Lew, thanks for your help, that’s a good day’s work!” Jim smiled, slapping him on the shoulder. Look turned, with a wan grin, like a plowhorse fed a compliment, “Thanks, sure!” but inside he felt warm and relaxed. This time he’d gotten his labor’s worth! But lost in their conversation and his thoughts, he hadn’t heard the faint whispered “bud-da bud-da” of the SCPD Bell Ranger, flying upvalley, low over the yellow-brown fields, skirting the dark green doug-firs and cedars as it followed the winding steel-gray river. The Ranger flew on through a valley narrowing between snow-capped hills, shrugged tight with low clouds and slowly rising mist, swirling like the slow circles of the bald eagles overwintered on the river. It wasn’t until they’d all sat down to dinner, and Look laughed at Kelley trying to eat her falafel without spilling, that Mary mentioned her trip to town, and all the excitement. She let it drop at that. Cole picked up the note, offhanded, mentioning a deputy who’d talked to
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him, some kind of manhunt. Their eyes began studying him in quick side-glances, the conversation turning toward Look and his plans. “Do you have family there in Sand Point? When do you think you might be heading over the mountains?” Look just smiled and shrugged, forcing himself with each movement to breath regular, to eat slowly and talk without stammer, even to blink at random intervals. Still, it’s impossible to act natural. “Have no idea when I’ll be going east, now that the pass is closed,” he lied. “Was gonna head on down to Colorado, maybe do some skiing, but that’s out now.” Then he filled them in on his bogus plans from the winters he’d spent in Loveland a few years back. That seemed to mollify them, or at least they didn’t want to seem too interested. Jim and Mary were the most relaxed, mature, balanced people that he’d ever known. They knew ‘justice’ was simply relative, depending more on circumstances in life than your actual motives. Cole seemed relaxed too, but Kenny, hmmm, Kenny looked like he was counting reward money in his head. L o o k ’ s h e a r t s t a g g e r e d , m i s s i n g a b e a t , Man, it’s all catching up with me at last! He shook off the victim mentality, when the going gets tough..., a n d a s t h e y s t o o d a r o u n d i n the kitchen, sipping plum brandy and wiping the dishes dry, Look cornered Jim, asking him, “Hey, if the weather’s nice, would you want to
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take that kayak trip we talked about down to Crete?” “Sure Lew, that’d be great! The dam’s spilling the Skagit right now, river would be an absolute gas! Mary can pick us up. Want to go tomorrow?!” Everyone turned to listen. Look flinched. Mary opinioned, “You could leave real early and follow on downriver as the sun rose, I could pick you two up in Lyround around lunchtime, after you run the rapids. We could pick up some supplies then, Jim.” Kenny and Cole chimed in. “Hey, you wanna make it a foursome, Lew? We’ve floated rivers back in Carolina, it’d be fun to try a kayak trip!” Look sighed, blackness tunneling at the back of his retinas. This wasn’t going the way he’d hoped.... “Tomorrow night’s the full moon, what about a night trip, you know, in the moonlight?” he tossed out, trying to throw the Winton boys off. “Lew, you’d have to be crazy to try it at night, with both rivers flooding,” Jim snorted, “the bank is full of downed sweepers, the water rips and boils. Man, you’d flip in a second in the rapids below the Crete bridge if you couldn’t see the water’s surface.” That had the desired effect, Kenny and Cole turned away, their sense of adventure fading. Look decided to send them packing. “Awww, I was just thinking about it is all, maybe when May gets here and it’s a little
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warmer out, we can try it,” he shrugged, willing his body language to look resigned, like he was giving up the whole idea. He excused himself that and went on upstairs. Look pulled out the journal he’d taken and began to write in earnest, scribbling by the kerosene light, flipping page after scrimshawed page as he described everything in, terse, crisp passages. Like Hemingway. Almost like he was writing his own epitaph. Kenny and Cole tripped up the stairs around ten o’clock, looking sheepish, sleepy. “Kelly said goodnight, she’s real disappointed you didn’t stick around after dinner,” Cole smiled. Then Kenny almost ripped it by asking, “So, what’re you writin’, Lew, your Crime Story?” “Knock it off you guys,” he joked like a high school buddy, trying to lull their suspicions, “I’m just kinda’ keeping a journal of places I might wanna come back to some day.” Then throwing them off still further, “D’you guys find your uncle today? D’you find any Winton’s up here?” The two shrugged their shoulders, admitting failure, and that put them in the mood to sleep. “Try not to stay up all night this time, OK, Lew?” Cole asked, then they got in their bags and were quickly sighing in deep sleep. Look kept on writing, ‘til nearly midnight, just finishing up as the kerosene lamp ran out. It’s all in there now, everything from Springfield to
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Unalaska to right here in Marblehill, the whole story of all my adventures. Carefully repacking his duffel bag, he donned his khaki coat and knit cap, and stole down the stairs. Then standing by the door, he turned to absorb the warm ambience of his Altamira hideout one last time. Look picked up the little rag doll that Kelly loved, holding it close in the dark, and whispered goodbye. Then he slipped quietly out the door.

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Thirty Three - Go With the Flow
The moon was high overhead as he made his way across the frost-crusted meadow, heading for the Cascade, for Jim’s little six-pack boat stowage house. There was only the crunch of his boots, the swish of fabric, his breath, slow and steady, and the cold blue-white wash of moonlight. All was dark, silent, asleep. Beneath that, beyond the trees, the hiss of the river, like a soft rain popping on high tension lines, growing in volume, in detail, until all he could hear was the voice of the river. That dark voice beckoned to him, steering him through the tangles of cedars stands and blackberry thickets, uneven piles of rounded boulders dragged down by the flood, until at last his feet crunched on cobbles, and he stood staring as the shimmering silver brocade of the Cascade. Cold dense air ghosted silently down from the glacier slopes overhead, fogging his breath, chilling his hands. He buttoned his jacket tighter, moving slowly downstream until the shadowy structure of Jim’s stowage house filtered in against the darker irregular shapes of trees. There were four kayaks, two one-man, and Look quickly slid one of those out from the rack. Its bow fell with a muffled ‘bonk ’ on the packed sand, somewhere in the black distance a h e i f e r b e l l o w e d o u t a m o u r n f u l ‘ hawhn, hawhn, hawhn’ i n r e p l y . H e r e a c h e d i n t h e l o f t a n d s l i d
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out a double-bladed paddle and a neoprene cockpit cover, lacing it around his waist as he stepped into the tiny craft. With the duffel stowed in the stern, and the safety lines tied fast around the cockpit, Look pushed himself out into the current. In a moment, the landing was lost behind. He paddled quickly out to midstream, away from the sweepers choking the shoreline, moving at the swift pace of the river. Its dull roaring sound was diminished now as he moved with the flow, only his breathing and the rippled splash of his paddle. The near-full moon ran along with him, with its Greciangoddess-on-leering skull intaglio, illuminating the silvery surface of the water. Sometimes his bow would crunch on gravel shoals, and the kayak would yaw suddenly, throwing him offbalance, but always his strength saved him with a swift paddle stroke. Soon the river widened, joined by the Skagit. The water became choppier, deeper, and the moon hid behind mountains crowding close in on the riverbank. Look moved to the other shore, back in the moonlight, hidden under the bank as he passed below the sleepy town of Marblehill. For awhile he was still, steaming from exertion and fear, letting the river carry him on downstream. No one saw him, and there‘d still be hours to drift downvalley, past the police blockades. Then he’d head off on backroads for Everett.
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Brilliant! h e s m i l e d t o h i m s e l f , r u b b i n g h i s hands against the wet and cold, and then the river jinked right, swirling in deep eddies up against the road. Huge stone rip-rap lined the bank, protecting, packed tight with broken branches, the alder and fir sweepers reaching out. He paddled harder, stoked with adrenaline, as the churning current pushed him nearer to the rocks. Jeez! Got... to... get... back... in midstream! H e s t r a i n e d o n h i s p a d d l e , r e g a i n i n g his course with a half-spin as the river straightened out, flattening back to black water. On the hills to his right Look saw a homestead cut out from the forest, the rough structures gloaming green-white like sea foam. Wonder who lives there? h e m u s e d , s e t t l i n g i n t o a monotony of navigating the braided stream channels, avoiding the rolling waters in the river bends, and the sweepers in between. The Skagit swept right, and slowly left again, then suddenly Look could see Rockton squarely before him. In a few minutes he’d be passing under the highway bridge, passing the roadblock! He’d forgotten in his panic the kayak’s popsicle color was a bright beacon under the moonlight, no way to disguise it now. The river narrowed, deepening in its approach. He saw the troopers standing there, the bubble-top lights on their police cruiser. He shipped his paddle and concentrated on balance without motion, feeling the intimate caress of
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the river, anticipating the swirl of the current, leaning low over the water. The kayak drifted sideways, close in on the bridge abutment. Look could hear them joking, the glow of their cigarettes and coarse talk. He bit his breath off, waiting for the glare and sweep of their searchlight, shouts and pointing, the hot stab of bullets through his chest. The kayak glided by, spinning backwards, and now he could see the cops’ silhouettes fading back into the shadows behind him. Made it! The roar of adrenaline in his ears set him to furious paddling, and he needed to. The river was flowing steeper now, churning and roiling up against its serpentine bends. He fought to clear from the fallen sweepers, trees undercut along the shore, to miss the wide gravel banks, creamy pale there in the dark. His arms were like oiled pistons, his paddle carving the s u r f a c e o f t h e w a t e r , a n d s u d d e n l y L o o k was the river, its motion, its flow. Miles passed by, only the moon smiling down, an occasional bat flitting by, chittering. The Skagit River skirts Crete, with only a few old log homes in the bottomland, the rest driven to high ground by the spring floods. Then it pushes up against the mountain, at the granite bottleneck, just above the rapids. Look felt the current increasing as the river narrowed. Then the moon veiled behind tall fir trees, finally lost behind the mountains themselves.

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Straining his eyes in the dark, he felt his way through the blackness like a blind man, hearing the echoes from the shore on each side, the hissing suck and gurgle of gravel. Except for the sudden scratches of sweepers on the kayak, he was able to keep safely midstream. Ahead, he heard the roar of the rapids, and saw the massive arch of the WPA river bridge, illuminated by the lights of the two patrol cars. This time he felt no panic, floating far below them, lost in the inky blackness, as much a part of the river as the silent hills shouldering up on the valley. Only the murmur of their voices, and the staccato squawk of the police radio, then he was past, pushing into even greater darkness as the river bent right into the dense forest below town. Only the rapids to go, then I’m home free! Look held his paddle loosely, balancing like a high wire, coasting, blind to the rocks and churning foam. The kayak bucked and swirled, scraping on boulders, but it was highwater, and spring runoff. Despite the bumps, nothing blocked his way, nothing threatened to capsize him except losing his own balance. Sweat poured off his face, his paddle slapping the water first left and right, kayak jinking, surging, diving into the black night. He summoned all his training, swimming at night, zero-visibility, finding that inner guide. Total faith in yourself, total faith! Then suddenly the bumping lessened, and went flat. He’d made it past the rapids! The
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trees thinned, the mountains moved back as the valley widened, and there, cresting the hill, there was the bright face of the moon again, smiling down. He’d made it! Now it was just a question of time when he’d get away. He was exhausted, and cramped with cold. The river bank beckoned, its silvery grass and sand flat, an easy landing. Look spun hard right, crossways to the stream, and dug his paddle in deep for shore. Maybe take a little rest for awhile. In an instant, the fierce underflow ripping on down the rapids caught his blade, jamming it tight under the boat. He was already leaning into the turn, but leaning the wrong way! The kayak tipped hard, shuddering, balanced on its sheer for a straining instant, then it flipped lightly over, upside down, pulling Look beneath the surface. The uncaring moon drifted back into shadow, as darkness closed in on the silently flowing river.

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Thirty Four - Miracle of Life
Frigid cold water rushed past his head, upside down in the stream, paddle fluttering like a banner in the current, lines uncoiling as in one motion he bailed out, choking, breathless. But something was wrong! The cockpit lines had tangled his leg beneath the other, slipping down, and knotted his ankles tightly together! He felt his head bumping along the gravel bottom, his paddle useless. With a terrific effort, Look curled upwards, and swinging his arms out in desperation, brought his face to the surface. A huge gasp and gulp of air, then he sank back down, the flooded kayak like an anchor, line cutting through his ankles, his paddle scraping and tearing along the bottom, the harsh swirl of current slamming him left and right. He held his arms wide, going with the flow. Something smooth flowed up his arm, across his palm, and he grabbed tight. A tree root! Stopped now in the flow, the sheer force of the river on the kayak hummed the tag lines, tightening around his ankles, tearing tendons and skin. Look fought black waves of panic, holding to the stanchion, straining against the hopeless unyielding force of the river. Hold on! h i s m i n d s c r e a m e d , Hold on! His eyes were open now, submerged in the flow, and he felt himself yielding. Overhead, through the rippling window of the water, the
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m o o n b e c k o n e d t o h i m , s o o t h i n g , “Give in, Look, let go...!” E v e r y t h i n g b e c a m e i l l u s i o n i n h i s mind, the heavy hand tearing at his feet lessening, the burning strain in his arm fading to a tug, the surging river now just a caress of warm rippling by his deaf ears. He remembered the wedding, the rainbow, the meadow, lying on his back, and all the butterflies. Overhead, black shapes flitted low across the water, and his silvery world grew darker as those fluttering shapes packed denser and denser into the corners of his vision. “Michelle!” his mouth opened with a last bubbled gasp, then total blackness. He was lying on a grassy bank. The kayak lay upside down beside him, the paddle still in an iron grip in his clawed left hand. Then memory returned. His body shuddered violently, his teeth chattering. The night was cold as death! He sat up in the darkness, vision clearing. The moon was still there, ghosting on through t h e c l o u d s . How in God’s name...?! Then a dark shadow moved away, and now he could see an orange-red glow, the smoky crackle of burning twigs. A fire! The dark shape moved towards him, and then he felt strong hands lifting him up, hobbling him over to the light. “You scared me, son,” the voice said, “Thought I’d landed a real skookum Tyee in my net there, sure to! Never figured it for a man like you!”
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Look felt the warmth within his eyes first, and then in his fingertips as he held them out to the tiny blaze. Glancing over, he saw the shape had a face, a broad-serious Indian one. “Take your shirt and pants off, and we’ll wring them out by the fire. Here, take a drink of my coffee, and I’ll get some driftwood to get you warmed up.” The Native moved off, and Look choked down big gulps of sweet cream coffee, feeling warmth flood through his nerve endings, and then the sharp bite of cold in his toes and fingertips. He shivered even more violently, dancing on one foot then the other, pulling his soaked jeans off, jacket, shirt. The old man returned. He worked in effortless motion, slowly feeding the fire, one stick on another. “I’m not sure how I got here,” Look trembled. “You were in the river over there, saw a shape coming down, and then my net was jerking,“ he said. “Found your hand fast on that tree root. You were tangled up in sweepers, had to work way on down, find the lines, fish you out.” “Thought you was a big chinook,” the old man repeated again. “You pulled me out?” Look stared unbelieving, sensation returning to his hands as he sat with his feet stretched out toward the heaped-up blaze.

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“You pulled yourself out. Just get warm now,” the Native soothed. “Take another drink of coffee.” They sat there in the dark, the setting moon behind pale clouds heralding the coming dawn. The old man racked Look’s clothes near the fire, steaming them dry. Except for the chill in the air, after an hour had passed he began to feel strong again, to feel sore and hungry. Neither spoke, staring at the dancing fires, the popping embers, shifting smoky plumes of blue gray. Above them the planets whirled in their tireless pantomime of a greater universe beyond. “Come on, get your stuff on and I’ll drive you home,” the man spoke slowly, “we’ll leave these other things here and you can come back for them later.” Look retrieved his duffel from the kayak, and followed the Indian to the road, trotting behind him like a hunting dog, eager just to be alive. As they drove off the man spoke, “Frank,” then glancing over, “Where you from?” Look warmed. “Oh, I’m Look. Thanks, Frank. Umm, I was just camping out in Marblehill is all, headin’ down to Woolsey on the river.” The old man nodded, smiling in his eyes, but straightfaced. “I’m heading on up past Rockton, have a place there, and a couch you can sleep on. Get you something to eat, then you can be back on your way.” Look shuddered, half with shivered cold as the truck’s heater warmed the cab, and half at the thought of the Sheriff’s roadblocks. The cold
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and hungry part of him won. He could always wait for another chance to get back downvalley. “Sure, that’s great, thanks.” A half-hour later they pulled off the highway at a sandblasted tin mobile home by the road. Plywood boat sitting on a rack, an oil tank, a fish smoker. Look could see in the first halflight of dawn that he was just below the homestead he’d seen from the river. The old buildings, the cleared fields, a horse grazing, stood out beyond the fence line behind the Indian’s place. Inside the man greased some pilot bread with Crisco, and heated up a pot of coffee. The place was spare, tidy. He lived alone. A carburetor was pieced out on an old newspaper, and Look took the chance to bring up engines, but the old man just waved it off. “Broken.” Then he tore off a stick of ruby red salmon jerky, and set it beside Look’s coffee, “Dog,” moving around in the back hallway as Look gobbled down biscuits, coffee and fish, the man returning with an Army blanket and a blueticked feather pillow. “Here, you get some sleep,” he turned toward the back room, “then you can be on your way.” The sun was well on its own way into a corn tassel spring day when Look awoke. The Native had turned down the oil stove, letting himself outside to tend to his smoker. Look had the feeling that time skipped a far different beat inside these walls, a slower, ancient pulse, like the one he’d heard back in the Aleutians,
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roaring in his temples. He rose and stretched, shaking out his clothes, holding their damp spots up to the warm stove. The fear and angst of last night had already faded from his mind, surreal. Outside, the old man was skinning salmon, sliding the Rapala between bone and fillet, racking the splits on a cedar pole. Look stood by the fence line, staring up at the homestead, but nothing moved, just the old horse grazing in the field. He idled awhile, watching the Indian, but there didn’t seem to be a need to talk, or any help he could offer. “You heading on now?” the man read his mind. “I--I’d like to thank you for saving my life,” Look started, not knowing what to say. “You were in my net is all,” he shrugged, “You must have other business here to finish.” He pondered on that awhile, but there seemed to be no insight, just the observation that he’d fouled the old man’s net, and had better get on with his life. Heading back in to get his duffel, Look spotted an Army cot folded against the trailer, and underneath it, a knapsack and a tent sack. He could make a run for Everett, or else settle around here, camping out in the woods, until the heat was off. “You be interested in parting with your knapsack and tent under there?” he asked the old man, as he stepped back out the trailer, hefting the duffel.
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The Indian kept slicing on the fillets, carefully separating meat from skin and bone. “Like to trade you for that gear,” Look repeated. “What have you got?” the man smiled up from his work, holding the blade out, red with salmon. “You could have that kayak,” Look offered. “Is it your’s?” the Native cut to the bone. Look stared holes in his boots. All he owned were his clothes and this duffel. All he carried was the bank money, wrapped and bagged, and what was left of the cash Jacques gave him to get back to Illinois. A fifty, a couple of ten’s, a five and a few one’s. If he gave the old man the cash, he might need it later for bus money, for food. And if he broke open the money bag, well, he might never get it closed again, he knew that. But if he snuck back that night and stole the old man’s gear, he’d be just a crawl-under-a-snake. “Here...,” he shrugged, “here’s twenty. I don’t have anything much, my clothes is all,” trying to find a way out of the hole he’d dug. The old man pulled the gear out from under the trailer, and they checked it for mildew and holes, but he’d kept it wrapped and dry, a perfect faded green, it’d blend right in these woods. “Here you are, son, even,” the Indian handed over the gear, along with two hard-smoked salmon fillets as long as his arm.
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Look gave him the two ten’s and they shook on it. Then he turned to go. “That kayak belongs to the folks up in Marblehill, the Harrigan’s place, AltaMira.” The old man was already back to his fish splitting. Walking back down the highway, there where the river cuts in hard against the road, Look settled into a long-jake stride. As he passed by the next drive, the one up to the homestead, he glanced quickly around, then beat a retreat into the woods, hiking up into the hills. He found a little waterfall and a lookout, where he’d watch and wait, until it was time for him to go. “There are places in the North where the sky is so wide, and nighttime winds sigh the spruce so soft, That you feel the ping of the fire’s dying embers deep within your heart, And bathe in the whispering bluegreen auroras, deep down within your soul. I must go back there someday….” In the rising heat of midday, a gaggle of snow geese took off from the river bar, forming a tight chevron above as they spiraled up through the air, mournfully honking farewell, heading north to the Arctic Sea. The cosmic wheel of death, birth and renewal was rolling around once again.

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Thirty Five - Not Fade Away
“G r a n m a ? ” I w o n d e r e d , “ D o y o u b e l i e v e i t ’ s really true, I mean, about Look nearly drowning, and then being saved like that?” “Life is full of strange truths, Nicky,” she laughed, “maybe it wasn’t his time to go.” Granma and I have always liked the harvest time. Lazy days of Indian summer. We worked bent over in the far field, near Grampa’s grave, breaking potatoes from the clodded earth where Starbuck had tilled them up. There’s just something vital about polishing flinty clay from these hard-apple russets, like burnishing nuggets of life itself. Even if you’re about to lose your homestead, you still have to dig your tater’s! “But I mean, it’s impossible, isn’t it, to have hung on like that with the dam’s spilling the river full?!” “Nick, if you’ll live long enough out in Creation, you see things you couldn’t possibly believe are true, if you were to read about them,” Granma chided me. “Then it’s true he stayed here, up above the farm?” I queried her, “Do you remember him?” We’d read Look’s last few journal entries the night before, where he’d described the hay barn, the garden, the waterfall so much like our own. “Dear, a lot of farmhands worked here over the years, I don’t remember anyone looked any different from t’others.”
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“Come on, Granma,” I pleaded, “Don’t you even remember the roadblock? Didn’t old man Wallace ever say anything to you?” The Wallace’s were the Skagit Indian family, had the place down by the road. He’d passed on a few years after Grampa. “Well, Nick, now that you mention it, I do remember J.D. talking with Mr. Wallace one spring when a young hand was staying in our loft. He said Mr. Wallace had helped the boy somehow.” “I knew it!” I shouted, standing there ringed about by fiery-red vine maples, as I threw my hands to the sky. “Granma, I think Look stayed in our haybarn. He might’ve left his things behind, and never came back!” I waved my arms about like a prosecuting attorney making his closing. “Granma listen, he might’ve gone back for Michelle and left his duffel bag stashed here! “Oh, Nicky,” Granma scolded, flipping potatoes into the burlap sack, “you always did have a wild imagination! Why would he leave his things behind!” “Granma! What if that’s why Grampa wanted me to have the journal, to look for that money!” The mention of ‘money’ stopped her in midspeech. I could see she was working the calculus, reliving a part of her past. “My goodness!” she exclaimed, eyes wide, “You know, I remember J.D. did say something to me once, see, after you last came up to visit? He was patting that journal he found, said he
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wanted you to have it! What was that phrase? Oh! He said, ‘funny money’!” We both took off running across the fields then, laughing at the prospect of it all, exhilarated at having finally solved that longlost riddle. The money was still hidden in the barn! I got to the door and threw it open. The air inside was dry and dusty with powdered straw and termite flour. We only used the place to store bedding for the stock in anymore. Granma caught up with me then, out of breath, laughing like I hadn’t seen her since before Mom and Dad died. “Nicky, it’ll take us a month of Sunday’s to clean out this place, the money could be anywhere!” she chuckled. We were both caught up in that fool’s gold bonanza spirit. So I headed up into the loft, asking Granma to fetch the journal and read it to me, while I searched through the old trunks. The part right at the end, on how Look was staying up here, right here in our barn! How he was thinking of stashing the duffel while he hid out over at Illabot! She brought the journal back, along with a pot of tea, and we sat there on the straw bales, rereading the passages while we rested. Then back up the ladder, pawing through everything, a handkerchief tied over my face for the dust and cobwebs. After an hour of it, I had to admit defeat. I’d opened all the trunks and shook out the old clothes, uncovered all the furniture and searched it inside and out.
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Nothing. “Granma, there’s nothing here, I’ve looked everywhere!” We sat reading the passages one more time, hoping for any clue, while I climbed up on Grampa’s work bench and searched the shelves. Something, anything! Nothing.... “Nick,” Granma wondered, “if you were staying in here in springtime, right before all the implements and tack were pulled out, with the straw pile near at it’s lowest for the year, where would you hide a duffel ?” I thought a second, then we both smiled. “At the back of the barn, under the bales!” So I threw the big doors open for air, then backed the tractor in with the cart. I tossed bale after bale on it, moving them into a big pile out in the autumn sun. Granma brought out some toasted rye bread, cheese and milk, and we rested in the warm air, feeling the prickle of dust mixed with sweat. The back barn wall was exposed for the first time. Again, nothing. “Granma,” I pleaded, “Try and remember back then, anything Grampa might have said about money! Maybe he put it in a safe deposit box at the bank?” “No, Nick, J.D. never did trust the banks, we kept all our cash, what little we had, up here in the house. Any paychecks he got went straight into a certificate account, the bank took those to
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pay his medical bills. I have the papers, there was no safe deposit box.” “Wasn’t there anything !?” “Well, your grandfather liked to collect coins, that’s for sure! He used to show me the silver dollars he’d buy from folks who’d kept them through the Great Depression. He would just cackle like a hen over those coins of his. For a time he used to drive down valley nearly every week to the coin dealers, why, I thought he’d sold them all.” I walked over to the far wall, pacing the perimeters. We’d pulled everything out, nothing left but the tool bench, the shelves, and the old basketball hoop on the wall near the door. “It’s got to be here!’ I puzzled, stepping backward to peer up into the dark rafters. Then my boot heel tripped on something and sent me stumbling onto the dirt floor. “Nicky!” Granma half-laughed, embarrassed now at our lotto-fever, “are you OK, honey? I stood up, brushing myself off, and kicked at the ground. “Yeah, just tripped.” The dirt caught my boot again, with a faint metallic ding. A rusted coffee can bottom bent up out of the dust. I kicked at it, then Granma stood right up, pointing her shaking hand. There, under the rusted tin, buried in the dirt, was a tightly rolled burlap bag, and more...the glint of silver! It was Grampa’s treasure!

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We worked for nearly an hour, shuffling our feet and digging, and found all together twohundred and twenty-one Folger’s coffee cans, buried upside down in the dirt, each set on a cedar shake foundation, so that you could walk right over them and not feel the difference! Most of the cans had between three to three hundred fifty Morgan silver dollars in them, mixed in with these beautifully etched Barber dimes. Nearly all were in fine condition, really turn of the century stuff! The kind of coins any farmer might have a few of stashed away, hidden back in the walls, down in the well, preparing for another Depression. Coins that Grampa could’ve quietly accumulated without anyone raising an eyebrow or even a second thought. Granma and I both counted, and then we tabulated the numbers and mint dates up. Grampa’d collected near $76,485, face, buried right there in the floor of our hay barn. We took them in to the coin dealer down in Vernors, uncovering one shiny bag on another, and man! He’d started to stutter, the sweat pouring off his face, and then made us a grand offer. So that weekend we visited dealers in Seattle, with a few bags at a time. Things went a lot calmer. We’d picked up a coin guide, then horse-traded one dealer against the other. They figured J.D. had amassed near two hundred thousand dollars worth of coins. It just had to have been Look’s stash!

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The dealers gave us $378,442 for all of them! Yeah, we added the checks up, that’s what the tally came to! “Should we turn this money in to the bank?” I asked as we drove back up I-5, heading for Vergers Savings & Loan’s mortgage office to pay off the farm. “You know, at least return that hundred eighty-five thousand they stole? Maybe there’s still a reward!? As long as we declare the rest of the money and pay taxes on it, we’re free and clear.” Granma studied me awhile, absentmindedly running her fingers along the hem of her sweater, like her touchstone on reality. Our car had topped the Stillaguamish River grade now, nothing but green countryside and sweet fall air tinged with cinnamon, from here clear on back to the homestead. She had a faraway look in her eyes, maybe remembering J.D., or maybe just trying to thank him in her own way. “Nick, Look went through Hell, you know that, don’t you? It was Heaven above brought him here to our place before he went his way, leaving that journal behind to remember him by. Guess he would’ve liked knowing he got away in peace, that they never found him,” she breathed out a sigh. “And you know, I don’t think the bank will miss that money much, do you!?”

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Epilogue The gathering late-summer squall swirled up dead leaves in the streets of Ukiah, rattling the screen door open, then closing it lightly on its rusted hinges with a soft “A-a-a....” Michelle glanced up from her sewing, rising, her mind replaying the sound, his name bubbling from her lips as she ran down the hallway. “Look!?...” But it was only the wind rising. “What, honey? Were you calling me?” her husband Bill shouted down from upstairs, getting their two kids ready for bed. “No, nothing, it’s nothing,” she answered, swaying her body against the yielding mesh of the screendoor, running her fingertips slowly across the weathered grain of the woodframe as she stared blankly out at the leaves swirling past. Je vous oubliera jamais.... A gust of wind swayed the live oak’s branches then, its shadow silhouetted by the rising full moon, etching a pearl-gold tracery on the hot tears glistening down Michelle’s face.

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Acknowledgements
BIBLIOGRAPHY-

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Douglas Newman, Green Mountain Lookout Log, archived by USFS, Darrington, WA, (reported by Rebekah Denn, Seattle PostIntelligencer, 1999). Arthur Marmaduke, D u r h a m T a l e s a n d E v e n t s . . . , (self-published), 1994 M a r g e r y W i l l i a m s B i a n c o , T h e V e l v e t e e n R a b b i t, Reprint 1996, Smithmark Publishing Charles Eduouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), T h e O e u v r e C o m p l e t e , 1996, Birkhausen Staff Joan Bunning, L e a r n i n g t h e T a r o t, ( p u b l i s h e d online): http://www.learntarot.com J e a n - P h i l l i p p e S o u l é, CASKE 2000, © 1997 (online) A n t o n i o M a c h a d o , I N e v e r W a n t e d F a m e , (in the translation by Robert Bly), 1979, Ally Press St Paul

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Special thanks to the Aleut and Eskimo who guided me. They’ve added nuance to a rather dry paysage. VIDEOGRAPHY Specific video titles (italicized) are copyrighted: The Munsters, KAYRO-VUE/UNIVERSAL

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DISCOGRAPHY Specific song titles and albums (italicized) are copyrighted: “Sweet Home Alabama”, Lynyrd Skynyrd, One More From the Road, 1976, UNI/MCA “Truckin’ ”, Grateful Dead, American Beauty, 1970, WEA/WARNER “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, Judy Collins, Who Knows Where the Time Goes, 1968, WEA/ELECTRA “Midnight Rider”, Allman Brothers, Eat A Peach, 1972, CAPRICORN “Chuck E’s in Love”, Rickie Lee Jones, Rickie Lee Jones, 1979, WEA/WARNER “Jammin’”, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Rotterdam, 1978, JPN “Settin’ Me Up”, Dire Straits, Dire Straits, 1978, WEA/WARNER “Truth Hits Everybody”, Police, Outlando D’Amour, 1978, PGD/A&M
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“Angel of Mercy”, Albert King New Orleans Heat, 1978, WEA/ATLANTIC “A Taste of Honey”, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass Whipped Cream & Other Delights , 1965, PGD/A&M Ted Nugent, Free For All, 1976, SONY/COLUMBIA CSN&Y, Deja Vu, 1970, WEA/ATLANTIC Rolling Stones, Beggar’s Banquet, 1968, PGD/ABKCO The Beatles, Rubber Soul, 1965, EMD/CAPITOL Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland, 1968, UNI/MCA Stevie Wonder, Talking Book, 1972, UNI/MOTOWN Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV , 1971, WEA/ATLANTIC Yes, Close to the Edge, (ReMaster) 1994, WEA/ATLANTIC Doors, Soft Parade, 1969, WEA/ELEKTRA Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding, 1967, SONY CINEMOGRAPHY Creation Myth

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Specific movie titles (italicized) are copyrighted: P e t e r F o n d a , E a s y R i d e r, 1969, COLUMBIA/TRISTAR G e o r g e L u c a s , American Grafitti , 1973, UNIVERSAL

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Disclaimer

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The persons, circumstances and events depicted in this novel are wholly fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, circumstances or events is entirely unintentional.

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ELANDRE PRODUCTIONS

Creation Myth

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