Two-Gun Bob: “Der finstere Barbar”

german reh

I haven’t held an actual copy in my hands as yet, but have been told that the new collection of Robert E. Howard stories from Festa is indeed out and about in the world — offered for sale on Amazon, German-style.

Cool cover. Dark.

Black, even — like the stories by the Texas author that lie within.

Of course, this news might not normally make the cut for Up and Down These Mean Streets — there have been many collections of the fiction of Robert E. Howard in Germany for decades now — but this is the one that includes my “The Dark Barbarian,” title essay from the 1984 book of the same name.

They popped me the reprint fee early last year (received on Howard’s birthday, as it turned out), and I’ve been waiting patiently to see the book hit print. And here it is.

“Der finstere Barbar.” Has a ring to it, you know?

And the late great Robert E. Howard remains The Dark Barbarian That Towers Over All.

(Unless, of course, you prefer lightweight nonsensical fare, in which case other books by other authors might suit your tastes better. Nothing wrong, at all, with P.G. Wodehouse, but he wasn’t much with barbarism tearing at the walls of civilization.)

If you want litcrit on REH, The Dark Barbarian still towers over all, thirty years later. A classic — the guys at Festa knew that, and I’m glad they didn’t embarrass me with some pretty brightly-colored un-Howardian cover. They asked for “The Dark Barbarian,” and it seems they knew what they wanted, all the way through.

Posted in News, REH | Tagged , , |

Rediscovered: More on Roadhouse Benny

hollywood revue

My Jack Benny Research Team never sleeps!

Not much, anyway.

Remember the post I did back in 2012 about hearing the mention of Benny’s name in the movie Roadhouse Nights, based — and I use the word based very, very loosely — on the Hammett novel Red Harvest?

If not, go back and check out that post for the background.

Now, here’s the news: the website Tralfaz presents evidence that puts Benny on radio by 1929, which would make the reference in Roadhouse Nights more explicable.

I still stick — on a gut level — with the idea that the possible Chi-town connection between Ben Hecht and Benny may best account for the reference/in-joke.

More info as it surfaces, if ever. . . .

Posted in Dash, Film, News | Tagged , , , , |

Rediscovered: A Willeford Blurb — For Haefele?!?


Image above — Haefele’s Heretics rolling into Lovecraft Town on a convoy of Shermans. Locked and loaded.

Yep, every time I pick up the new trade paperback of John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos all I can think of is how this thick tome is like some kind of little tank, engine rumbling, and a quote from Charles Willeford jumps instantly to mind.

In case you don’t know, Willeford was a tank platoon commander with the 10th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army. Participated in the capture of Trier. One of the longest nights of his life, he said, was “the night I spent in a tank turret in Bergdorf, Luxembourg, during the Battle of the Bulge.” Once he ordered his Sherman to plow into an encircled village, loaded on twenty-three stranded GIs and then got the hell out of Dodge without losing one passenger.

I cover that part of his life in the chapter “Tank Command” in my book Willeford, and that’s where you’ll find him detailing what tanks can’t do — and what tanks can. Tanks, he wrote with some authority,

can knock out machine guns, cut down opposing infantry, make with a non-persistent screening smoke, give excellent covering fire, and create havoc in a small town. They also raise fear in opposing forces, and have been known to use crushing power on men who couldn’t run faster than twenty-four miles per hour.

I notice that the townsfolk of “elite” Lovecraft fandom, based on initial social media reaction, are so inbred they don’t even know a little panic would serve them well, much less that they might want to start jumping into ditches.

Nope, these guys are standing around pontificating that it would have been nicer if Haefele had taken a “more objective approach” to the subject — which is to say that Haefele should be agreeing with all the misinformation about August Derleth that has been circulating for decades, and that these poor saps have accepted as truthful.

Hey, villagers! — you’re wrong. Haefele is the objective historian and you’ve bought into propaganda. A new review by Thomas Krabacher — Professor Tom Krabacher — on the Amazon page for the revised trade paperback explains the scenario quite well.

And one guy seems to have decided that he prefers — for scholarly purposes — the original hardcover edition of Haefele’s book, after I mentioned that I persuaded Haefele to drop a lot of the mock-academic apparatus (page numbers for quotes in the text, etc) from the new paperback.

The new edition has An Index. Enough said. You want to do serious research, an index gives you excellent covering fire.

But may I add that the hardcover publisher didn’t even bother to input the last two or three rounds of proofing we did for that edition. (In a way I can’t blame him — he wasn’t geared up for how much work a book like this involves. Still, really irritating.) And that this new one has much tougher MLA strictures on the cites in back (not something I care about, but the new publisher insisted).

Apparently this guy would prefer having an errata list for the hardback — instead of realizing that the new one is completely redone, improved, polished, from the style to the cites. Jeez, the new info on how Frank Belknap Long influenced “The Whisperer in Darkness” is worth twenty bucks, if you’re a true devotee of H.P. Lovecraft.

(By the way, I noticed surfing around on the serious scholar’s site that he has some posts up done in collaboration with Randy Everts — I wonder if he knows that the first day the Derleth Papers were made public in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin archives that I went in with Everts and Scott Connors to scope out the holdings? That was circa 1975 or 76, so I’ve been involved in this sphere for a long time. I did mention that research plunge to Connors at a party last month, and he didn’t remember that I was there — so I don’t think I’d hire Scott to write my biography. He is supposed to be writing a bio of Clark Ashton Smith, but I’m not holding my breath on that one, either.)

Now, I can see how someone who popped around $60 for the hardback might not want to lay out another $20 or so, just on general economic principles. But I’m pretty sure you can just keep the hardback, which isn’t going to be in print forever, and sell it for even bigger bucks later — at the moment on Amazon the price for the hardback has jumped from the $60 range to over $90. Get the new edition and sell the original on eBay someday for mucho pazoors. The fans who are eager to disprove Haefele’s research will need the hardcover to search for quotes they can quibble and grouse over, and they’ll get to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Meanwhile, I wonder if we could say that Haefele’s book is a bestseller? On Amazon, it sometimes hovers in the 100,000s but sudden sales drop it down into the 10,000s — highest sales rank I noticed was 27,749. Out of all the books in all the world, I think that’s pretty hot for a volume of litcrit/lit history. (I thought to check today, and found that my book Willeford had a sales rank of 1,429,047 — and that title has been out of print for over four years, and the publisher Dennis McMillan has quit the book game and is roaming America getting his cars and vintage neckwear stolen. Man, I have to feel sorry for books that are still in print that have a worse sales rank than Willeford.)

I do think the Look Inside feature on Amazon could have been a lot better — they don’t even include the full Contents pages. Probably the best plug for the book would have been to sample a complete chapter, such as the one — just classic — on the Black Magic Quote. You get a much better look inside on The Cimmerian Press site, if you’re still thinking about it.

That little tank is guaranteed to create havoc, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

“But, but. . . it’s not objective. . . .”

It’s a tank, inbred village idiot. Put on your running shoes.

Posted in DMac, Lit, News, Willeford | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Frisco Beat: Lit Street = Mean Street

It’s around the twenty-sixth anniversary of the literary streets being named, and last night Jack London Street in San Francisco witnessed flying lead and sudden death — seems like the sort of thing I should at least mention here on Up and Down These Mean Streets.

Don’t know how many other killings may have occurred on the various lit streets, but this is the first to come to my attention.

Police vs. the criminal element — read about it here, and keep your nose clean.

Posted in Frisco, News | Tagged , |

891 Post: And More on 895 Post

How about another 891 Post post?

Eighteen people hauled out for the walk on September 21, including Warren Harris of Midget Bandit Week fame (so naturally I had to do lots of extra coverage of Edwin Ware) and a guy named John Fox, who just popped me a note to say that the four-plus hours “was a long time on my feet for an old man” — but John seemed to enjoy himself. He’s even planning to read some Continental Op tales now.

John rolled down from the Tri-Cities in Washington state after seeing the write-up in the New York Times — specifically the mention of 891 Post Street. He had a connection to that address, so when we got to the apartment building of Sam Spade, I pulled him in as a Guest Lecturer:

“From fall 1935 to summer 1937,” John told us, “I lived with my uncle, Raymond B. Powers and his wife. I have found no record of the address in anything I have, but I’m  almost certain from looking at the buildings that it was 839 Post.

“We had an apartment on the east side of the building facing the street but also a window at the rear facing a very small courtyard.  I think it was the second or perhaps third floor. I was in the 4th & 5th grades at Redding School.”

Same block as 891 Post, 79 years ago — but here’s the cool part:

“Ray’s office on the corner at 895 Post St. was the Chamberlin Metal Weather Strip Co. and had a small storeroom and shop in back with a side door on Hyde. I’m not sure how long it was there, but by 1939 or 40 when the exposition was on, he had moved to Russian Hill and the office moved to 119 S. 9th.  It closed shortly after Pearl Harbor as there was no more metal and we moved back to Portland (I was then living with them again).”

So that business space in 891 Post — that has been some kind of laundry the entire time I’ve been doing The Dashiell Hammett Tour — used to front a weather stripping shop. John mentioned that during that period he can’t recall any mention whatsoever of Hammett once being a resident of the building.

How would they have known Hammett once lived in the building, anyway?

Still, some living history along for the walk — got to love it.

And any fan of the fiction will appreciate the reality of “895 Post” as a street address. Back in 2011 I went nuts with a discovery found in the Op story “Death and Company,” which specifically uses 895 Post.

(Inspired by Warren Harris’ sleuthing out of an I.D. on The Midget Bandit, John even has made some tentative moves to uncover the real life model for “the Joel Cairo character, based on a 1920 forger in Pasco, WA” — Pasco, one of the Tri-Cities:

(“I visited the small Franklin County Historical Museum in Pasco this week, discussed it with a volunteer there and gave her a copy of the statement by Hammett which mentioned this very briefly. She is referring it to their archivist to look into. I have no idea what resources they have to trace this.

(“This might be another ‘claim to fame’ for what was then a little railroad town of a couple  thousand and now a fast growing city of 65,000.”

(Yeah, it would be swell if the model for Cairo could be uncovered, too.)

Posted in Dash, Frisco, Tour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Tour: Sunday October 19

tour and jeopardy

In the image above, the tour stops to gander the plaque marking 811 Geary Street, notable — per the plaque, and it is just true — as the building where Fritz Leiber wrote his novel Our Lady of Darkness.

One of the sideline sites usually included on the four hour version of The Dashiell Hammett Tour.

If you’ve got four hours, four hours and 25 minutes or so to spare, this month the tour will be offered on Sunday October 19 — if you can’t make that one, the next walk offered will be on Sunday November 9.

All you have to do is show up by noon. No reservations. Just be there, ready to walk.

Bring $20 per person. Comfortable shoes recommended. And it is as simple as that.

The Fritz stop, by the way, is where I talk about how I was once a question on Jeopardy! And that brought out the info from the guy in the dark blue shirt, standing in the front right of the photo, that he was once a two-day champ on that venerable game show.

One degree of separation from Alex Trebek. Two degrees of separation from Jesse Ventura. . . .

Posted in Frisco, Lit, Tour | Tagged , , , , |

Rediscovered: It’s Alive! It’s Alive!!! — and Just in Time for Halloween

Haefele revamp

The fully revised,  expanded trade paperback edition of John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos went live on Amazon yesterday — with the look inside the first thirty or so pages to come in the next few weeks, and the cover flipping from front to back, and all the other cool tricks you expect from Amazon.

Plus the price — at least for the moment — is only $17.99 for a solid tank of a book that comes in at over 500 pages.

If you were thinking about nabbing one before, when I first blurbed the original hardback printing (but understandably hesistated at the $60 price tag), now’s your chance. Get it for some apt seasonal reading for Halloween, or toss it on a Christmasy wish list.

Great book — as I’ve said before, the most interesting litcrit on Lovecraft I have read in many years. Plus a history of Arkham House, and the Lovecraft Circle writing for Weird Tales magazine — Haefele even does a bit on Frank Belknap Long that makes me re-evaluate my previous very low estimate of Young Belknapius.

For this edition I get the Dedication Page all to myself, not just for proofreading the text something like five million times, but for nudging Haefele into dropping much of the academic apparatus he had in the hardback version — page numbers for quotes in the text and all that needless crap — and getting on with it. You’ve got the best book on the subject ever done, you want the public to read it, not just a few profs and a couple of hardcore Lovecraftians.

I liked the original edition, but this new one just sinks it. Whoa.

And by the way, this edition is the first book from Leo Grin’s The Cimmerian Press. If you remember Leo’s outstanding work with his magazine The Cimmerian, you know you’re in for quality.  Leo took a few years off in there. But he’s back.

Posted in Lit, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Tour: Sunday September 21


don17Image above — gesticulating next to the plaque marking the Sam Spade apartment building in 891 Post Street.

And if you want to gumshoe the mean streets on The Dashiell Hammett Tour this month, your chance to do so occurs on Sunday September 21.

Starts at noon, near the “L” sculpture.

$20 each.

Lasts 4 hours, maybe even 4 hours and 20 minutes, depending on how many questions get tossed about.

No reservations. If you want to go, be there by noon with the loot and plenty of rosin for your footwear.

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Hammett: In the Aftermath of Midget Bandit Week

Last Sunday, just as we wrapped up a full week of posts for Midget Bandit Week — seven days, every day — Michael Fitzgerald over at the Stockton Record added a post of his own.

What the hell, let’s make like The Beatles and consider it eight days a week, with Michael’s post as much a part of the “official” Midget Bandit Week as anything else. He was the guy who ransacked Stockton years ago, looking for any trace of The Midget Bandit, and has as much interest in the subject as anybody. You should check out his post — especially intriguing because he quotes one particular line of Wilmer Cook’s dialog from The Maltese Falcon and then ties it back into the life (and death) of Edwin “Midget” Ware, who served as the model for Wilmer. Trust me, it’s worth a look.

Plus, as far as I know, it is the only acknowledgement so far in the wider media of the existence of Midget Bandit Week — I think the good old New York Times missed a bet on this one. It was news — in the right circles, BIG news.

For example, our frequent Guest Blogger Terry Zobeck — King of the Pure Texts — sent in a note: “Just checked into the Mean Streets for the first time in a week or two and was fascinated with the investigation into Edwin Ware. What a superb job of research. The most concrete evidence of Hammett’s Pinkerton’s work to date. I’ve recently read comments that actually cast doubt on whether he really did work for Pinkerton’s.” Yeah, that’s one of the reasons the find was so monumental — since actual physical records of Hammett’s work for Pinkerton’s seem to have vanished (I’ve heard a warehouse fire immolated the files of that era), it ties him into a particular case he claimed familiarity with — and one from the San Francisco period, even better.

Of course, there is solid circumstantial evidence that he worked with Pinkerton’s — an interview with his wife can’t be discounted — but some people will not accept anything short of writing on a piece of paper or an account in a newspaper. Or a mug shot.

I also got an email from Sue Montgomery, who lives in Seattle: “What a super week-long feature! Kudos to Warren Harris for all his great sleuthing of Edwin Ware. I truly enjoyed learning about the Pacific Northwest connection in re: Ware, too. The gas station at Eastlake and Fairview is long gone but I’ll likely never drive through that stretch of streets again without thinking of The Midget Bandit.”

Sue adds: “The other cool thing for me is that he bought the farm in the Walla Walla State Pen. Not only my home town but my grandparents’ house was on the same street as the Pen — North 13th — about 2 or 3 blocks south, where the freeway now runs. When I was a little kid my dad would drive us up the street to the Pen because directly across the street from the Pen entrance — I have no idea why — there was a peacock farm. You could drive in and look at the peacocks in their cages along the little road. They’d get all perky and spread their tails for us. I don’t imagine any other prison facility ever had a peacock farm across the street. That was back in the 1950s, so, of course, that’s gone now too.”

Talk about imagery — caged peacocks making a mockery of caged prisoners!

Or maybe nobody thought about it that way in those days. . . . I guess sometimes a peacock farm outside prison gates could just be a peacock farm outside prison gates. No irony intended.

“The other fall-out of MBW,” Sue mentions, “was that I re-watched my 1931 Maltese Falcon to see Dwight Frye. That movie is a dog for certain. I’d like to reach into the screen to slap the smirk off ‘Ricardo Cortez’s’ face. There’s woefully little screen-time for Dwight.”

Before I did up the post mentioning Dwight, I did a fast-forward through the 1931, too. Yeah, Ricardo as Sam Spade is hard to take — impossible, really — but Dwight is solid. I’d forgotten that he has so little to do.

In the 1941 Bogie version, the film follows the novel quite closely, with Wilmer appearing from time to time, scene after scene, but in the 1931 the young gunsel just shows up for the waiting-in-the-apartment sequence — but the weight given to Wilmer’s presence suggests that the literary character Hammett had drawn grabbed the public’s imagination, enough so that the filmmakers realized they needed to do something with the role.

For all they did with it, they may as well have left the character of Wilmer out completely. But in retrospect the fact that they included Wilmer speaks to the power the character modeled on The Midget Bandit already exerted. In 1931, they completely screwed over the ending of the novel — but they cast Dwight Frye to sell Wilmer in that short compass. Dwight clearly is the best actor at work when he’s onscreen.

A last thought, for this round: Warren Harris narrated how the cops in Fresno tricked Edwin Ware into coming out of his rooms so that they nabbed him without a shot fired, with the suggestion that the ruse made Midget look kind of dumb. I’m not saying that Ware was some kind of rocket scientist when clearly he was not, but that sort of ploy is a time-honored tactic in law enforcement. They caught Ware with it in 1921, and with much the same routine in 2011 grabbed Whitey Bulger after he had been on the lam for sixteen years — twelve of those years on the Feds’ Most Wanted List, second only to Osama bin Laden.

The expectation was that Bulger would go down, guns blazing. If he hadn’t been tricked, would Edwin Ware have filled both hands with hardware in 1921 and made those roscoes bark?

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Death Lit: Treasure Coast by Tom Kakonis


Today’s the day — official release date for the first new novel by Tom Kakonis to hit print in many years. I believe it also serves as the launch date for the first thirty or so titles from Brash Books, a tidal wave kind of like the hurricane that threatens the cast of the new Kakonis.

Our pal J. Kingston Pierce over at The Rap Sheet just did a detailed article for Kirkus Reviews on this press — with the interviews that rounded up the background info for Kirkus  showing up on Rap. If you’re curious about the birth of a new crime fiction publisher, there you go. They seem eager, and with a barrage of thirty books to announce their arrival, I think they’re ready.

I’m wildly prejudiced in favor of Kakonis, so decided to hand the reviewing duties off to occasional Guest Blogger Joseph Hirsch, who doesn’t have anything against Kakonis, either. I guess if I scrounged around I could find someone who doesn’t like his writing, but then they wouldn’t make a good fit with the excellent hardboiled content you expect here in Up and Down These Mean Streets.

Joe, by the way, is working away at his own contributions to the field — every time I turn around he’s got another book out, with Kentucky Bestiary the latest — at least I think it’s the latest.

And now, Joe Hirsch on the new Kakonis, Treasure Coast:

Jacques Cousteau once said, “I am not an expert at anything,” and while I certainly don’t style myself an authority of crime fiction, I have read enough in my day to note some very basic rules, one of which should already be as obvious to hardboiled connoisseurs as Sturgeon’s Law is to readers of Science Fiction. The best crime writing (whether you like Chester Himes, Jim Thompson, George V. Higgins, or Elmore Leonard) is usually spare, terse, and deceptively simple in stylistic terms.

Like all rules, though, there are exceptions, and the glaring one in this instance is Tom Kakonis, a man who has been absent for too long, a writer whom Don Herron dubbed the heir apparent to the late Charles Willeford, a man who Publisher’s Weekly glowingly compared to another late, great genre practitioner, Elmore Leonard. Kakonis is a complex wordsmith whose literary powers (and philosophical digressions) far exceed what pulp fans are accustomed to reading.

His latest book is Treasure Coast, and much like his magnum opus, Criss Cross, it is great. In broad outlines, the book is about a down-at-heel cardsharp, a pair of grifters, a couple of ex-cons, a kid who can’t pay the vig on an outstanding debt, and a sexpot who has hitched her wagon to man who is fat, stupid, and rich beyond dreams of avarice.

That brief summary doesn’t do the fine details justice, though. It doesn’t give the reader the full sense of Kakonis’s dark, rich sense of humor, or his near-expressionistic descriptive powers that verge on the Lovecraftian in their density. The reader has to experience the book for themselves to see what I’m talking about. Consider, however, a choice excerpt, in which the aforementioned sexpot gives her sugar daddy a rubdown:

Lonnie laid the smoldering rope in an ashtray and, at her direction, removed his shirt and stretched himself out flat (or as flat as the parabolic arc of tummy allowed for) across the sofa, face buried in a cushion. Gently, expertly, she massaged his manifold distresses away, starting at the neck and working slowly, tantalizingly slow, down the lardy back, like a master pastry chef artfully kneading dough, now and then brushing her fingertips, as if by accident, over the gorge between his flaccid mounds of buttocks

Kakonis doesn’t so much do noir, as he does a kind of Grand Guignol nightmarish carnival, only with convicts in lieu of conventional circus freaks. On the subject of convicts, I should mention that the twosome featured in this book are some of the most sharply realized baddies I’ve encountered this side of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; and since Dick and Perry were actually real men, we can’t give Capote credit for creating his heavies ex nihilo the same way Kakonis creates his.

I remember reading Criss Cross years ago, and wondering then, as now, how Kakonis knew these bad men, these terminal hard case felons, inside and out. The writer William Styron, a great patron of the ex-convict turned writer Edward Bunker, was fond of saying that imagination could allow a man who hadn’t been to war to write of combat, but that a man needed to have spent time in prison to really be able to write about prison convincingly.

I knew upon reading Criss Cross (and was reminded upon reading Treasure Coast) that this Kakonis guy had to have spent time in prison, either serving a bid, or perhaps working in some kind of correctional officer capacity. His cons are just too real. Consider this terse exchange between two thugs, sizing one-another up and making small talk:

“So what’s your real one?”


“Fuck’re we talkin’ about here? Yeah, your name?”

Already Hector was regretting the shared confidence. A little sheepishly he said, “Jesus Morales,” the given name delivered in precise Spanish pronunciation.

“That Hay-soose’ spelled like the Bible Jesus?”


“So why you people say it funny?”

“That’s how we do.”

“Don’t seem right, callin’ yourself Jesus.”

“Why’s that?”

“Ain’t like you is exactly holy.”

“So? Lotta names come from them Bible dudes. Y’got your Matt, Mark, Luke, John,” he enumerated, ticking off the Gospels on the fingers of a hand, warming to the topic, “an’ none a the guys I ever seen wearin’ them tags walkin’ on water either.”

Folks, you can’t make this kind of stuff up, or at least not without receiving a post-doctoral degree from the School of Hard Knocks. A little internet sleuthing confirmed my hunch, as well as Stryon’s assertion, that a man’s imagination can only carry him so far into the terra incognita of the dark underbelly of America’s prisons. Kakonis has, by his own admission, worked “a stint as a teacher at Stateville Prison, Joliet, Illinois” and it shows in the writing. The verisimilitude of the language is unquestionable, on a par with vintage George Pelecanos or Richard Price.

Unlike Price or Pelecanos, however (both of whom I admire), Kakonis is not just kinetic and believable. He is deeply philosophical. Without giving away too much of the plot, the fact that one character perhaps believes she can communicate with the dead adds an eerie, otherworldly quality of dread which is absent from all but the bravest genre-bending forays, like William Hjortsberg’s masterpiece Heart of an Angel.

I’ve said enough already. Let me just close by saying the bottom line is that Treasure Coast is a page turner, but you don’t just find yourself turning the pages. You savor the language, the  mordant, unpleasant insights into human nature, fate, chance…the whole damn ball of wax.

It has been too long since we have had a new offering from Tom Kakonis. Treasure Coast is a wonderful return to form, as good as, or perhaps better than Criss Cross, which I consider to be the best crime novel since Willeford wrote Sideswipe.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many young lions out there, and great burgeoning talents in the field of hardboiled crime writing. Jed Ayres, and his southern-fried bloodbath Peckerwood, spring readily to mind. But with age comes experience, and a veteran can’t be beaten. Now that Elmore Leonard has passed through the pearly gates, Kakonis is, to my mind, the only real master left standing, aside from maybe James Ellroy. I knew as much back when I read Criss Cross all those years ago, and Treasure Coast only confirms it. Read it. You’re in for a hurricane, both figuratively and literally.

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