Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Romeo by Tim Baker

In the summer of 1964 I was 11 years old.

As far as 11-year-olds went I was an average kid. I did fine in school, I had lots of friends. I loved sports and G.I. Joe. I hated vegetables and my younger sister.

Statistically I fell into the category that seemed prevalent in my part of town, another child from a broken home being raised by a single mother on welfare.

We lived in a quiet area with no violence, the sort of place where you could leave your doors unlocked all of the time. Everybody was friends with everybody else.

There was one interloper though.

Nobody knew his real name, everyone called him Romeo, for his tendency to “roam” the streets of the neighborhood constantly with no apparent destination. For that matter he had no known point of origin either, but every day, regardless of the weather, he would walk by my house between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.

He stood about 5’-3” and was slightly underweight. The permanent smile attached to his pumpkin shaped face gave him the look of a harmless gnome. As for his age, I had him pegged for somewhere between 60 and 125. His wardrobe was as constant as his schedule. Long brown woolen overcoat that was much older than I was, a tattered black knit watch cap, flannel shirt and tan work pants that hadn’t seen a washing machine since the Great Depression and worn brown work boots with soles as thin as paper.

As he walked he continually worked his hands as though he was trying to wash them and he talked to himself in a non-stop stream of nonsensical gibberish. His voice was only slightly more masculine than Mickey Mouse.

During that summer I had a friend named Al who lived three quarters of a mile from my house. Since it was summer vacation I would get out of bed at the first sign of light in the morning, eat my Cap’n Crunch while watching Captain Kangaroo, grab my baseball glove and rush to Al’s house in order to begin the day’s adventures.

After the first week of vacation I noticed that Romeo and I had the same schedule, he would be walking by my house just as I was leaving to go to Al’s. At first I shied away from him, sometimes running all the way to Al’s in order to avoid him. After all there were rumors rampant in the neighborhood that he was everything from an escaped mental patient to a crazed war veteran who was nearly blown to smithereens by a hand grenade, and everything imaginable in between.

During the third week of vacation I was on my way out of the front yard heading to Al’s and sure enough Romeo was just passing the front yard. Doing my best to avoid him I hooked my baseball glove over the handle of my Louisville Slugger and put the bat on my shoulder as I began running. Unfortunately the glove slipped off the handle of the bat and landed right between my feet causing me to go ass over tea kettle into the street directly in the path of a Ford station wagon.

I was so distracted and it happened so fast that I don’t know what I was aware of first, the vision of a white wall tire rapidly approaching my head, or the grip of a meaty hand on the back of my tee-shirt pulling me out of harms way. The one thing I was sure of was that despite the screeching tire and the thick white smoke pluming behind it, the car was not going to stop in time to avoid crushing my head the way a size 10 work boot would crush a spider.

When I recovered from the initial shock I turned to look at my savior, Romeo. He mumbled something incomprehensible and smiled at me before setting me down and continuing on his way.

For the rest of the summer Romeo and I walked to Al’s house together every day. His smile was ever present and he spoke continuously, although I never did understand a word he said. At times I would say things to him and he would look at me and smile before a string of jumbled words flowed from his mouth. I never knew if he was responding to what I had said or if it was just a continuation of what he had been uttering before I interrupted him.

It didn’t matter, we were friends. There was no clear cut communication between us, but I saw it in his eyes. For the rest of the summer I endured the taunts from all the kids in the neighborhood for associating with a known loonie, because he was my friend.

Shortly before school started that September my Mom got a job two towns away and we had to move. It was our first real house she said, one that we could call our own. I didn’t know what that meant; I thought the house we were renting was our own.

I never saw Romeo again.

Over the years I often wondered what happened to him. A few years ago I decided to research my old friend.

It wasn’t easy but what I found was that Romeo’s real name was Sol Weismann. After being liberated from a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 he was brought to the U.S. and spent the rest of his life in a series of institutions for the mentally ill, one of which was just a mile or two from where I lived that summer.

He died in 1976 at the age of 67 leaving no known family.

I have often tried to imagine the horrors that he witnessed and the pain that he suffered for most of his life, all that the hands of people to whom he had done no wrong. Yet his smile was as constant as the stars in the night sky. Those memories helped to forge my outlook on life. I resist the urge to judge people, or to criticize that which I don’t know. I never refuse the friendship of another for any reason. But perhaps the thing that I try to remember the most is that no matter how hopeless life may seem, how insurmountable my problems may be, they are insignificant compared to some.Romeo saved my life in the summer of 1964 and he continues to save it to this day.

The Demon II by Tim Baker

The Demon by Tim Baker

The darkness was complete, relieved only by intermittent flashes of white brilliance followed by thunder claps that would silence a freight train. The rain threatened to tear the skin from my bones.
I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t imagine an agony worse than my own heart exploding from a combination of terror and exhaustion.
I stumbled through an eternal void until my head struck my own tombstone.
Rolling onto my back I confronted the demon that pursued me.
There was no silver bullet to save me and no wooden stake to drive through its heart.
I was my only weapon and I had nothing left to fight with.
The voice came through the black void and drowned out the thunder.
“It’s time.”
I tried to resist the bony fingers that gripped my shoulder. I screamed an incomprehensible protest.
The skeletal vise tightened as I tried to retreat into the tombstone behind me.
“Resistance will only cause more suffering,” the voice from beyond the grave said.
Thunder roared as the rain pelted me.
Somewhere in the distance voices cried for mercy as the demon reached for other souls.
I heard mine the loudest.
The demon thrust a sword into my hand. Against my wishes, my fingers curled around the beautifully carved handle.
Lightning ricocheted off the gleaming razor-sharp edge, mesmerizing me and draining my will to fight, surely something so perfectly crafted would not harm me.
Acting on its own volition my hand raised the lustrous blade over my throbbing chest.
The demon’s laugh pierced my ears and reverberated through my skull.
“Gaze on the beauty that will carve a piece of your soul for me,” it cried with perverse delight.
A scream died in my throat, my depleted body strained to summon whatever strength was left.
The blade moved closer to my chest. With every inch my will to fight lessened and the demon’s screams of pleasure soared.
Summoning the last of my strength, I looked into the eyes of the demon.
“It is pointless,” the demon roared over the thunder. “You are unable to fight me. You will be mine.”
I stared defiantly into his icy black eyes. The longer I locked eyes with him the more strength I found.
The knife stopped its journey and hovered above my chest, a small victory that gave me the will to continue the battle.
I forced the blade higher, my strength increased and I regained the ability to speak.
“I will not surrender,” I told the demon.
The demon grew quiet. The rain stopped. The lightning and the thunder seemed to move away.
I could feel the demon’s fear. I had only to release the handle of the sword and I would be free.
“Do not let go,” the demon begged weakly.
“You will not take me tonight,” I said.
I released my grip on the blade as the sun broke through the clouds. The sword vanished.
The demon retreated with the darkness.
I stood and raised my face to the warmth of the sun. I was fearless. I had the energy of ten men.
The demon was gone. I had beaten him off and survived the ordeal. I was free.
It has been a long time since I defeated the demon but I did not kill him. He still lurks in the shadows of my spirit waiting for my weakness to open the door.
Every day the battle begins anew and every day I call upon myself to fight.
And every victory is easier than the one before.

The Demon by Tim Baker

The Demon by Tim Baker

The darkness was complete, relieved only by intermittent flashes of white brilliance followed by thunder claps that would silence a freight train. The rain threatened to tear the skin from my bones.
I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t imagine an agony worse than my own heart exploding from a combination of terror and exhaustion.
Perhaps in an attempt to satisfy my desire for death my foot found an immovable object hurtling me through an eternal void until my head struck the tombstone of somebody whom I had never met.
Rolling onto my back I decided to face the demon that pursued me.
There was no silver bullet to save me and no wooden stake to drive through its heart.
I was my only weapon and I had nothing left to fight with.
The voice came through the black void and drowned out the thunder.
“It’s time.”
Part of me tried to fight the bony fingers that gripped my shoulder.
I heard myself scream an incomprehensible protest.
The skeletal vise tightened on my shoulder as I tried to retreat into the tombstone behind me.
“It’s time,” the voice from beyond the grave said.
Thunder roared as the rain pelted me.
Somewhere in the distance voices cried for mercy as the demon reached for other souls.
Mine was the loudest.
Somehow my arm came up to shield my face from the bright light emanating from the demon’s fingertips.
“It’s time,” my mother said. “Come on, it’s time to wake up.”

Water Hazard by Tim Baker

"When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water."Benjamin Franklin

Water Hazard
By Tim Baker

The motor home glided along Route 40 toward the Ocala National Forest effortlessly pushing the warm night air aside. In its wake it left a turbulent mixture of dead love bugs and diesel fumes.

From his perch in the driver’s seat, 76-year-old Herb Thomas watched the black carpet of Florida highway roll up to and pass beneath his wheels like the mat of a gigantic treadmill. The moonless night and unlit back country road prevented him from seeing more than a hundred feet ahead. His headlights preceded him through the solid wall of night.

Theresa stretched her arms over her head and yawned from the passenger seat. Taking his eyes from the road briefly he looked over at his wife.

“Did you have a nice nap?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” she offered. “How long was I out?”

“Only about a half hour,” he told her.

“Where are we?”

“Coming up to the St. John’s River, we’ve still got an hour and a half to go.”

The inside of the RV was quiet with the exception of oldies soundtrack coming from the satellite radio receiver. Herb gently guided the vehicle around a slight bend in the road. As he rounded the curve he spotted a set of headlights in his side view mirror. Either the vehicle had been riding very close to his rear end or it had come up quickly because he hadn’t seen a car in the last thirty minutes.

Up ahead he noticed the flashing red drawbridge light and saw the gate arm was down. Lifting his foot from the gas pedal he let the RV coast to a stop. The two halves of the draw bridge extended skyward like two skyscrapers tilted slightly towards one another.

The Searchers sang about “Love Potion Number Nine” as Herb waited for the bridge to lower.

In his peripheral vision Herb noticed the glow of headlights come to a rest behind him. A few seconds later as he watched a tugboat pull a barge along the river, he was startled by a quiet tep on his window.

A well-dressed man in his mid-thirties stood on the street holding a road map in his hand and used the universal sign for Herb to roll his window down. Herb did so and politely asked the man if he needed help.

“Yes sir,” the man said in a gentle southern drawl. “I seem to have gotten myself good and lost.”

The man held up the road map and stepped closer to the RV as Herb put the shifter in park and climbed down to offer assistance.

“Where’re you headed?” Herb asked stepping up for a look at the map, only to see that it was a map of Minnesota. Herb got an immediate sense that something was wrong but as he looked up he found himself looking into the barrel of a semi-automatic pistol.

His first thought was that this man didn’t look like the type to be carrying a gun. He was well dressed with neat black hair and handsome brown eyes. The only flaw in his face was the familiar scar of cleft palette surgery on his upper lip.

“Just get on back in the motor home sir,” he told Herb in a polite tone that was totally contradictory to the gun in his hand.

Herb stumbled up the step into the vehicle as Theresa sang the final fade out chorus with The Searchers. The man nudged Herb with the gun and told him to climb over the seat and sit on the floor next to his wife. Then he leaned back and signaled to the vehicle behind them. Herb heard a car door open and close. A second man trotted up behind the first. Herb could not see him due to his position on the floor.

“All right then, Donny,” the first man said, “it’s all up to you now.”

“You got it, Mitch,” Donny replied.

Theresa looked over in confusion.

“Herb, what’s going on?” she asked with a slight tremor of fear in her voice.

Herb raised a calming hand to her and said to Donny, “What is it you want from us?”

Donny climbed into the driver’s seat and smiled at Herb. The smile was one that contained not a shred of humor. It was the smile of a scorpion about to sting an unsuspecting beetle.

“Y’all just sit there and be quiet,” he told them.

Theresa gripped Herbs upper arm and began whimpering softly.

Donny settled himself into the seat and put the shift lever back into drive. Herb saw a .45 Colt pistol tucked into the waistband of his tattered blue jeans. Thick mud was caked on his battered work boots. There was a cigarette tucked behind his right ear, partially covered by his greasy brown hair. A tattoo of a spider perched in its web covered most of the right side of his neck.

After a few minutes the drawbridge lowered and the RV was moving west again. Several miles later on a dark and desolate stretch of road Donny eased the RV onto the grass shoulder.

“Awright folks, let’s go on back into the living room and get cozy, shall we?” Donny said in mock politeness as he withdrew the gun and pointed to the back of the RV.

Herb held Theresa by the hand and led her to the living area. Her hand trembled uncontrollably in his.

“Sit your asses down there on the floor,” Donny ordered.

Herb helped Theresa to the floor and sat beside her, his eyes glared at Donny. His mind went back to a time when he was a 20 year-old marine, full of piss and vinegar. That marine would have taken this redneck apart piece by piece. Now his body would not allow it. The voice of his platoon sergeant, a huge Texan named Roy Anderson, came back to him.

“We’re all gonna die, just make sure that when you’re time comes you die like a marine.”

Herb put his arm around his crying wife’s shoulders and told her it was ok. Then he looked at Donny and sat up as straight as he could, taking a deep breath.

“Get it over with you coward,” Herb said defiantly.

Confusion grew in Donny’s eyes as he looked at Herb. Herb could tell that Donny lacked the intelligence to know that he had just been insulted by a man who knew he was about to die. After a few seconds of unproductive consideration Donny shrugged, pointed the gun and fired two shots in quick succession.

He looked at the two bodies lying on the floor, the old man’s arm still around his wife’s shoulders, and shrugged again.

“I guess you really don’t know when to shut up, old man,” he muttered as he turned and left the RV.

Outside Mitch was standing by the rear of the vehicle waiting with a gas can and a rag. He handed the gas can to Donny and then he went to the gas filler spout and stuffed the rag into the opening. Donny spread gas around the perimeter of the RV and dumped the last of it on the rag hanging out of the gas tank fill spout. He heaved the gas can into the woods and walked back to the showroom-clean white pickup truck. He took the cigarette from behind his ear and handed it to Mitch, who lit it, took a long drag and flicked it at the RV as he blew out a long cloud of smoke.

The mammoth vehicle was instantly surrounded by a ring of fire. The two men climbed into the truck and backed away. Mitch turned the wheel and they headed east on Route 40. Donny turned in his seat to see the show and Mitch watched in the rear view mirror.

The explosion was tremendous. It shook the ground and filled the night sky with an orange glow as flames shot fifty feet into the air. Pieces of the RV flew off in silent trajectories through the night, creating a 100-foot wide debris field.

As the furor subsided the flames continued to devour the skeletal remains of the $300,000 Country Coach.

Donny picked up the pack of Marlboros from the dashboard and withdrew two. One he put behind his ear, the other he handed to Mitch.

The spotless white truck rolled silently away from the inferno and towards the black horizon.


Justin DiPrete pressed himself against the concrete block wall and tried to calm himself down. The wall radiated the heat that it had taken from the hot Florida sun during the day, warming his back while the crisp night air kept his face cool. The temperature differential gave him a slight nauseous feeling. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, he tried to slow down his racing heart and stop his legs from shaking. To his right Russell peeked around the corner of the building, which wasn’t even a building yet. It was the bare bones of what would be a building someday. Right now it was only a two and a half story concrete block shell with no roof. The soft sandy ground around it was a dusty mine field of construction debris. Justin wished he was somewhere else, anywhere else.

Russell brought his head back from around the corner and turned to Justin.

“It’s cool, let’s go,” he whispered.

Without a sound Russell was gone. Justin took another deep breath and trotted after him. They made their way to a dumpster and crouched behind it. Russell crept to the corner and peered around.

“Be all clear, let’s do it,” he said softly as he stood and sprinted away.

Justin followed him and they reached the car together where they both sat with their backs against the flawless silver paint. It was a nice new Lexus and it had been parked there all day. Russell told Justin if the car was still there that night they were going back for a smash and grab.

Justin often tried to figure out why he let Russell talk him into these things. Russell didn’t seem to care if they got caught or not, as if he was wanted to ruin his future. Justin, on the other hand, was terrified of being caught and having a police record that could ruin his chances of going to college. Several times he had tried to say no, but Russell would always manage to persuade him into going along. Maybe it was a loyalty thing. Russell was the first friend Justin had made when he came to Florida three years ago and for all intents and purposes remained his only friend. When Russell started going through his delinquent phase Justin figured it wouldn’t last long. Now it was looking as though Russell enjoyed it too much and had no intention of stopping. Justin truly believed that his friend would get arrested before they graduated high school the following year. The dilemma that he faced was whether to follow him and throw his life away or go his own way and lose a friend.

Russell stood and looked into the car.

“Look like a nice stereo,” he whispered to Justin. “Lemme have your sweatshirt.”

Justin pulled his hooded Florida Marlins sweatshirt over his head and handed it to Russell. Russell found a piece of concrete block on the ground and wrapped the sweatshirt around it.

Justin looked at the dark outline of the trailer that acted as the construction office 20 feet away and prayed that there was nobody inside that would be alerted by a loud noise. Even though there were no lights on or other signs of life he still worried that someone was there.

There was a large sign standing in front of the trailer. Justin had seen it many times in the light of day and despite the darkness he could still make out the rendering of a golf course with a cluster of condominium buildings around it. So far 12 of the buildings had been started and they all sat in various stages of completion. According to the sign there would eventually be 51 buildings and a community center with a pool house. Not to mention tennis courts and a bicycle path. Huge green letters boasted that the “Stillwater Resort” would be “Another Golf Community by The Hall & White Development Corp.” As he was reading about the amenities that would be offered for bargain prices starting in the low 400’s his thoughts were interrupted by a loud pop followed by the sound of thousands of pieces of broken glass falling to the ground and into the car.

Both boys froze in place, neither of them so much as taking a breath. They waited for the sound of an alarm like sprinters poised for the starters gun. After three agonizingly long seconds they let out their breath and went about business.

Russell opened the car door and slid into the driver’s seat where he used the concrete block to smash the dome light. Justin scooted over and squatted by the open door. Russell handed him a black vinyl case full of compact discs. Then he passed out a wrist watch and a wallet. As Justin put his sweatshirt back on and stuffed the pilfered items into the belly-pocket, Russell went to work on the stereo.

Russell struggled with the stereo while Justin waited impatiently, a visceral fear spreading through his body like wildfire. Something was wrong, he was sure of it.

“Almost,” Russell grunted.

Justin looked into the vehicle and realized that something wasn’t making sense. There was a faint wash of light spreading through the interior of the car. As he watched, the light grew until Russell’s face was bathed in bright light. His fear escalated to panic.

The sound of an engine came over the night air towards them. Two bright white orbs of light approached them on the road 100 feet away.

Frozen in terror, the two boys looked at the headlights and then at each other.

Finally Russell hissed “Shit, time to de-ass.”

With no further communication they sprang from their positions and bolted back the way they came. Russell was about two strides in front of Justin when they reached the dumpster. Without slowing down or looking back they ran until they reached a dried up retention pond. They followed the muddy edge where the water used to be until they reached a path that eventually brought them to A1A.

From the shoulder of the road they scanned the highway in the direction of the construction site entrance. Seeing nothing to indicate that they had been spotted, they darted across the road and ran through the parking lot of a burned out restaurant. They continued running until the parking lot ended and they were on the beach.

With adrenaline still coursing through their systems they ran for nearly half a mile. When they finally ran out of steam they walked up a set of wooden stairs and stood under a small gazebo looking for signs of pursuit. They were at the intersection of State Road 100 and A1A in Flagler Beach and all looked quiet. Across the street, on the roof of a restaurant called Donnegan’s, a band played and Justin could hear people having a good time. A large tattooed biker staggered down the stairs, leaving his friends behind to carry on the festivities. He called parting shots to them as he headed for his motorcycle at the back of the parking lot.

After waiting for two large tanker trucks to roll by Justin and Russell walked as calmly as they could across the street and fell in about three steps behind the biker. Passing under a street light Justin took out the wallet from the car and opened it. There was a decent amount of cash in it, which he pocketed and tossed the wallet aside.

“Yo,” someone yelled behind them. Both boys froze and looked at each other in terror. Justin felt sweat break out on his forehead almost immediately.

“Shit,” he thought to himself, “we’re fucked.”

“Yo, Bam-Bam,” the voice yelled again.

The biker turned around and looked at Justin.

“You call me?” he asked in a drunken slur.

“What? No, it wasn’t me,” Justin stammered.

The biker looked past them and they turned around to see another biker, just as large and just as tattooed as Bam-Bam, walking down the stairs.

“You might need these,” the second biker called, holding up a key ring.

Bam-Bam tapped at his pockets, finding no keys he said “Hey thanks Todd.”

Todd tossed the keys to Bam-Bam, who dropped them. As he bent to pick them up Justin and Russell scooted around him and exited the parking lot without looking back. A minute later they had disappeared into the neighboring trailer park.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Living the Dream - ch 1-4

“…dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.”

Living the Dream
By Tim Baker
Copyright 2008


The whole thing started with a dream.

Kurt hadn’t seen her in almost thirty years.

Her name was Vicky something. They had met at a Doobie Brothers concert in Boston sometime in the late seventies. Kurt and his buddy Phil were hanging outside the Music Hall smoking a bone when these two chicks walked by. Kurt made eye contact with the cute blonde who smiled a cute little smile that was mostly innocent with just the right touch of naughty. Hoping to work his way into those tight designer jeans, he offered up his joint to her. She gave a quick look to her friend as if to say ‘What do you think?’ and her friend gave her a look that said ‘Yeah, why not’, so they got stoned together and traded their respective tickets to a scalper on the sidewalk for four together. The vibes were good during the concert and Kurt thought he had himself a sure thing. Afterward he tried to convince the girls to go back to Phil’s place and keep the night going, but this Vicky chick was playing hard to get.

Refusing to accept any answer but yes, and not paying any attention to Phil’s incessant whining about forgetting them, Kurt followed the girls to their car and tried to sweet talk them into keeping the night alive. Vicky said no with a fair degree of finality as she opened the car door, so Kurt went for broke. He grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her into his grasp and planted a lip lock on her that he was sure would change her mind. Unfortunately, it only cemented her stance and she let Kurt know by driving her knee square into his balls. Suddenly there was no air to breathe, little blue lights were dancing before his eyes and he found himself on the ground holding his groin. To emphasize her point, Vicky delivered a solid kick to his ribs causing the blue lights to triple in size and the air supply to decrease to less than zero.

Then she screamed.

Phil scrambled over and tried to help Kurt to his feet and out of harm’s way when one of the cops patrolling the parking lot pulled up and asked what the trouble was. Kurt wheezed and croaked that there was no problem; he had slipped and fell. It looked as if the cop was going to buy it and split until Vicky told the cop that he didn’t fall, she had kicked him in self defense because he was trying to rape her.

Despite the agony in his crotch and the lack of air in his lungs, Kurt heard that one word louder than thunder…Rape??? Did she say rape? Was she serious? He was only trying to show her what a good time she could have.

He never got a chance to explain himself though because as soon as the cop heard “rape” he was out of his car and on top of Kurt with amazing speed. The next thing Kurt knew he was back on the ground, facedown in the gravel parking lot with a two-hundred-pound cop on top of him, driving a knee into his back and handcuffing him.

That was a week after his eighteenth birthday, making him of legal age, and because Vicky was only sixteen it did not bode well for Kurt. Six months in the joint and two years of probation for aggravated assault and attempted rape. Kurt could trace almost all of his problems in life back to that night. Even thirty years later it seemed that he was still paying the price. He had never been able to get a decent job because nobody wanted to hire a high school dropout with a record; he didn’t get a break then and he still couldn’t get one.

Life sucks.

As for the dream, he was strolling along on a dock somewhere, minding his business and getting stoned under a beautiful, sun-filled, blue sky. For the first time in his life he had no problems; everything was cool. Standing in front of a gorgeous blue boat, mentally calculating the value of the shit he was going to steal from it, Vicky pulled up alongside him on a motorcycle, still looking as cute as she had back in the seventies. She smiled that innocent little smile at him and he felt the anger growing inside him like a weed. At the same time, he also felt his Johnson swelling against his jeans. He figured she was probably still a virgin, the bitch. After a brief exchange of hellos, she told him there was something hidden under the dock that he might be interested in. Even though he didn’t trust her, he found himself under water checking it out. Surprisingly it was worth the effort because she led him to a pile of gold bars. Loading the gold bars into a box, he told Vicky it was about time she paid him back for ruining his life. Flashing that smile again, she told him it was not her that ruined his life, it was him. Then she mumbled something about wanting to get back at her husband and this was the best way she could think of. Kurt didn’t give a rat’s ass what that meant, he just kept loading the gold into the box and hoping she didn’t change her mind and call the cops and have him arrested again.

When he woke up he could still feel the anger of seeing that little tease after so many years. That, combined with the disappointment of not having found a pile of gold, really gave him a shitty attitude to start the day with—not that he needed any help.

He scuffled to the bathroom and drained his bladder, then stood at the rust-stained sink and splashed some water on his face. Through the filth on the mirror he looked into bloodshot eyes and vaguely recalled a time when they were a bright hazel color. He ran his wet hands through his greasy, shoulder-length black hair and hawked a loogie into the sink. A plastic cup containing his bridge sat next to the faucet. A disagreement with a baseball when he was in high school had robbed him of one of his front teeth and also his interest in sports. So now he was faced with a daily dilemma; wear the bridge and have a full set of teeth or not wear it and avoid the discomfort of the friggin’ thing. Today he decided to go toothless. Still feeling the effects of the twelve pack he had consumed the night before, he decided not to shave the two day stubble that covered his bony face. Fuck the world; he was going to be scary-looking today.

By the time he had finished his standard breakfast of coffee and half a joint the dream was fading away to the far back corner of his consciousness, but the ever-present shitty attitude was hanging around.

Outside, the October morning was chilly despite the bright sunshine. Kurt got into his truck and turned the key while simultaneously stomping the gas pedal unmercifully. The engine cranked for several seconds before it reluctantly started. He let it warm up for a few minutes while he coaxed the radio into working by pounding on the dashboard a few times. After the proper persuasion, the radio came alive and Kurt was greeted by the familiar voice of Ray Davies singing about “Victoria”. It was one of those songs that didn’t get the air time it deserved and Kurt was psyched to hear it, until he remembered the dream about Vicky.

“Wow, now that’s some fucked up shit,” he said to himself.

In all the years he had loved this song he had never associated it with Vicky, and now that he did, it took away some of the fondness he had for a good song. That pissed him off.

“She even ruins good songs, man. Fucking bitch,” he said to the empty cab of his truck.

Driving along listening to the song and remembering the dream did nothing to improve his mood. In fact, it only made him remember how much he had wanted to hurt that little cock tease while he sat in his cell at the A.C.I. in Cranston. The minimum security adult correctional institution was a place that gave him lots of time to think of ways to get back at her. Between that and trying to avoid a six foot nigger named Bobo, who wanted Kurt to be his girlfriend, Kurt did not come away from his time with a good mindset. A couple of years after he got out he saw her picture in the wedding announcements of the Providence Journal, marrying some preppy college boy who worked for an investment firm. He never knew too much about her, but he did remember that she was the preppy type and the fact that she married some college boy (probably a rich one) didn’t surprise him. Now, thirty years later, she was probably living the high life while he was still struggling to keep beer in the fridge and gas in his pickup.

As the final notes of “Victoria” faded away Kurt tried to relax and drive the shitty memories of Vicky and Bobo from his mind. After a brief silence, the opening power chords of the Doobie Brothers classic “China Grove” filled the small cab.

Kurt looked wide-eyed at the radio.

“No fucking way!” he said with a mixture of amazement and anger. “That’s fucking bizarre!”

Vivid memories of the Doobie Brothers concert and the taste of the gravel in the parking lot came back in a flood, followed closely by thoughts of the dream about Vicky and the gold bars.

Man, a pile of gold bars would certainly go a long way toward unfucking his life.

In his mind’s eye he visualized his new and improved life; new house somewhere where nobody knew him or cared about his past; a nice new truck with a decent stereo system. Maybe even a boat. He could do whatever the fuck he wanted and nobody could say shit about it.

Unfortunately, reality caught up with him and he realized none of that was going to happen and he was destined to live a miserable life with nothing to show for it—which brought the anger roaring back.

“That bitch, she fuckin’ owes me big time,” he told his truck. “If I ever see her or her rich husband, I swear I’m gonna get what’s coming to me.”

A thought that would be more prophetic than Kurt would ever think possible.

Ordinarily, he didn’t like to go to work too stoned, but this morning was different. Since his tension level was close to the red line he really needed to take the edge off, so he fired up the second half of his breakfast joint. He spent the rest of his ride toking away, getting himself mentally ready for another day of working his balls off for nothing. If he went to work with all that tension he would probably end up beating the piss out of his boss. Not that the little prick didn’t deserve it, but that was beside the point.

As he deposited his roach in the ashtray and rolled the window down to disperse the smoke that lingered in the cab, his thoughts once again turned back to a box full of gold bars and how easily it would cure his problems. How nice would it be to go to work one day and say “Take this job and shove it”? How nice would it be to have a truck that started up every time he turned the key and wasn’t ready to go tits up? How nice would it be to live in a nice house instead of a rat-hole apartment in a lousy neighborhood in south Providence? And how nice would it be to have money, lots of money?

Fifteen bucks an hour working for a little Italian cock-smoker who thought he was the man and breaking his balls all day as a plumber’s assistant was not going to change any of that in the near future. He needed a big break. Anything—a winning lottery ticket, a good pick at the dog track or even getting rear-ended by some rich doctor driving a Jaguar. Anything that would get him onto Easy Street He was damn sure that while he was busting ass and getting nowhere fast, Vicky was probably driving a BMW to her friggin’ aerobics class, keeping herself in shape for Banker Boy.

She probably gave it up for him the first time he flashed his American Express gold card. Just like a broad. They’re all a bunch of gold digging whores. There was no doubt in Kurt’s mind that if he’d been born a girl he’d be living large now, too. It’s easy for a broad—just flash a smile and your tits at the first rich guy you meet and the next thing you know, you’re picking china patterns for the guest house or some such bullshit.

His theory of finishing the joint to calm him down was partially correct. He was a little mellower, but he was still mentally pissing and moaning about his life when he pulled into the parking lot of Water Works Plumbing, only to be greeted by a tirade of cursing and insults from Gino, his boss. After eight years Kurt was pretty much immuned to it. It was the same crap every day.

“Don’t you own a fucking alarm clock? Tomorrow I’m not waiting for you, you skinny bastard! I have a business to run, you lazy son of a bitch! How would you like it if I was late with your paycheck, asshole?”

And so forth and so on…the exact quotes would vary, but the general message was always the same. Gino was a prick who thought he was better than Kurt. Gino acted like Kurt should be kissing his ass just because Gino had given him a job. In fact, every time Kurt missed a day of work or screwed up on the job Gino would remind him he had given Kurt a job when nobody else would even look at him. Kurt was really tired of hearing it. He knew the only thing separating him from Gino was money. Gino’s daddy had left him the business when he died and he acted like he was some big deal. Hell, if Kurt had gotten a few breaks like that in life things would be different. Maybe Gino would be working for him instead of the way it was now and Kurt would be dishing out the shit instead of constantly taking it. Kurt knew the only difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots” was the breaks you got, and Kurt had gotten breaks, but they were all bad.

If he had said it once he had said it a thousand times, ‘Life is like a shit sandwich; the more bread you have, the less shit you have to eat.’

He just needed that one big break.

Gino’s ranting continued even while they were in the company truck driving to the day’s job. Kurt tuned him out. Mercifully, Gino finally changed the subject and told Kurt they would be working in Elmcrest Estates today, so Kurt had better try to act like a professional.

Elmcrest Estates meant money. Huge houses, expensive cars, boats, the whole nine yards. Kurt suppressed the urge to say that it was difficult to act professional when you’re changing a toilet, to give Gino one less reason to continue flapping his gums. Thank God it was fucking Friday and Kurt would be on vacation next week. His job may have sucked out loud, but he did have a week’s paid vacation every year and every year he did the same thing with it. He would be leaving first thing Monday morning for Daytona Beach, Florida for Biketoberfest. Even though he didn’t own a motorcycle, or even like them, he went down every year to visit his friend Stew. Stew didn’t own a motorcycle either, but the two of them took advantage of the fact that there was always an abundance of hot broads in leather at the event. It was good hunting.

Elmcrest Estates was all winding roads and trees with a house thrown in every mile or so. The houses sat back on sprawling lawns that looked like expensive carpet. There was no litter on the street, no graffiti on the stone walls that lined the road and no oil-stained driveways.

“Here we are,” Gino announced as he turned into a driveway that wound its way up to a huge grey mansion with white trim.

Two stone pillars and a wrought iron gate protected the driveway of the house. Although the gate stood open, it still made a distinct impression on Kurt…if we don’t like you we can keep you out.

A large, oval-shaped plaque declared the home was occupied by someone named Ferguson.

“Rich assholes,” Kurt mumbled.

“Knock that shit off,” Gino ordered. “Those rich assholes are customers and they pay your salary, or are you just too stupid to understand that?”

“Whatever you say,” Kurt muttered as he climbed out of the truck.

They entered the house through the garage, which was bigger than Kurt’s entire apartment. It was also cleaner. There was a white Mercedes in the driveway and a small sports car of some sort covered by a red tarp in the garage.

A smallish woman in her late sixties with dark-red hair led them through a laundry room and into the kitchen where they were to install a new dishwasher because the current one, while in perfect working order, was just too loud. So Kurt and Gino would be installing a dishwasher that cost more than his truck was worth so she could watch Oprah and not have to hear the dishes being washed.

Rich assholes Kurt thought.

Shortly after they started working Kurt asked the red haired woman if he could use the bathroom, which drew a glare from Gino. Gino got all sorts of pissed off when Kurt would use a customer’s bathroom.

“We’re here to work not use the bathroom,” he would say.

Naturally, Kurt would do it all of the time just to get the little prick all worked up. Besides, it gave him a chance to scope out the house for potential “gifts”. One time he had picked up a gold pocket watch in the bathroom of a house and sold for seventy-five bucks. That was a good score. He had also helped himself to other goodies like rings, cash, an iPod and even a checkbook. The checkbook was probably his best score. Even though they were in a woman’s name he went to the mall and bought some new sneakers, some nice clothes at the Gap and some workout equipment by telling any of the cashiers who bothered to question him that it was his wife’s checkbook and she was in the mall somewhere shopping. The spree ended when a clerk in a music store called the manager over for a conference. They looked at the check and looked at Kurt and then whispered to each other. Kurt waited for a couple of minutes before he got a bad feeling and left the store in a hurry, leaving the checkbook and his pile of CDs and DVDs on the counter. Not a bad day though; he ended up with about six hundred bucks worth of stuff.

The red-haired woman was very polite and directed him to the bathroom. Kurt headed off through the kitchen and dining room and turned into a hallway. It was about twenty feet long with two doors on each side. The wall spaces between the doors were decorated with several expensively framed photographs. He was moving slowly, sizing up the frames and trying to figure out how he could get a couple of the more expensive ones out of the house when he saw something that made his heart skip a beat.

It was the wedding picture of what looked like the younger of two sons that grabbed his attention, made his mouth go instantly dry and his stomach clench up in a knot.

Staring out from the picture was a bride and groom in their mid twenties. The bride stood on the left of her husband, cradled in his arms with her left hand placed lovingly on the lapel of his tuxedo. Her hair was shorter than it had been at the Doobie Brothers concert, but the smile was identical. She looked a lot better than he remembered. She looked really fucking good, as he expected. The pictures on the wall chronicled the life of a very well-off family. Husband, wife and two sons, all looking like they were members of the country club, the yacht club and whatever other clubs rich people belonged to.

His feet felt anchored to the plush pile carpet of the hall. The effects of the pot were making it difficult to make sense of this whole morning.

The dream.

The songs on the radio.

And now this…

Too fucking weird.

“That’s Jimmy, my youngest.” The red haired lady scared the crap out of him. “And that’s his wife Vicky and their two sons, Jimmy Jr. and Derek. Jimmy works for an investment firm in Florida and Jimmy Jr. goes to the University of Florida. Derek is a junior in high school.”

The red haired lady started babbling about the family of Jimmy, but Kurt didn’t hear any of it. The wheels in his mind had already started turning (albeit slowly). He didn’t know exactly how—but he was sure that somewhere in all this weirdness was a way for him to cash in and get his big break from the very person who had caused him so much grief to begin with.


Danny Putnam sat on the upper deck of Sandfleas enjoying his breakfast in the bright Florida sunshine.

The gentle warm breeze made it a very pleasant morning to eat outdoors. Throw in the sounds and smells of the Atlantic Ocean a mere nine iron away and it was hard to imagine a nicer place to be. Hollywood couldn’t create a more picturesque scene.

It was not unusual to find Danny there on a Saturday morning; he had been a regular almost from the day he had moved to St. Augustine. Sandfleas was one of his favorite places. It wasn’t popular with the tourists mainly because of its low key appearance, so patrons got to enjoy its picturesque setting without competing with the snow birds and the vacationers for a seat.

Jessee, the waitress who had been serving Danny every Saturday morning since she began working at Sandfleas two years ago, brought Danny a fresh cup of coffee. He hadn’t asked for it, she just knew.

“Thanks Jess,” he said as she put the cup down in front of him.

“You’re welcome, sweetie,” she replied with a wink and a smile.

She had been calling him sweetie for as long as he could remember and to the best of his knowledge she didn’t refer to anyone else by that particular nickname. It took Danny a while to catch on to the fact that she was attracted to him, and once he did he had entertained the thought of asking her out, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. It wasn’t time yet.

As he enjoyed his fresh cup of coffee and the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean a car pulled into the small gravel parking lot directly below him. The windows were down and the stereo was loud. Loud enough for Danny to hear David Lee Roth belting out a Van Halen classic about beautiful girls.

“All the bills are paid, I got it made in the shade and all I need is a woman.” Roth sang.

Danny looked over his coffee cup and out to the ocean. David Lee’s words echoed in his mind…all the bills are paid, I got it made in the shade and all I need is a woman.

If the song had not been written nearly thirty years ago Danny would have sworn it had been written about him. With virtually no financial concerns and a life that most people envied, the only thing missing was someone to share it with. Danny knew that he had been procrastinating far too long and that eventually he would have to get back on the proverbial horse. It had been over five years and by all rights he should have moved on.

Should have.

His preoccupation with finding another woman was even invading his dreams.

For the past three nights Danny had had the same dream; a dream that was simultaneously disturbing and encouraging. So far this morning he had successfully avoided thinking about it. Now, thanks to David Lee, the dream had invaded his sanctuary and it wasn’t going to be dismissed.

It started in a biker bar. It was dark and loud and smoky. The music was not heard as much as felt. It reverberated through Danny’s entire body. The ceiling seemed to be low enough to touch and was covered with passports, presumably of past patrons. Every exposed piece of wood in the place—columns, doors, window sills and especially the bar—was scarred with names and dates and phone numbers of the clientele. There was a woman standing at the jukebox wearing a very short leather skirt while a man on his knees behind her was running his tongue up her inner thigh. There was a group of men playing poker at a nearby table with a huge stack of money in the pot. A large man spoke to Danny in what sounded like German and despite his efforts to tell the man that he did not understand him, the man kept right on talking. He seemed to want Danny to accompany him to the men’s room. Seated in front of a pinball machine just to the right of the door was a man wearing a bright orange tee-shirt that read “I Work Here”. There was a female bartender at the end of the bar with her back to Danny. From behind, Danny thought she looked familiar, but he could not see her face, at least not until it occurred to him to look at her reflection in the mirror mounted to the wall behind the bar. As he looked at her reflection she caught his glance and smiled. It was Donna. In a dreamlike panic Danny’s brain urged him to do something. This was his chance to save her. He had failed to be there for her the first time. Before he could call out to her she moved away toward a customer at the far end of the bar. Danny looked at the man she was moving toward and fear gripped his heart. The homemade tattoo of the cross on the middle finger of his right hand hit Danny like a runaway train and his pulse quickened. Sweat beaded up on his forehead and his stomach clenched painfully. It was Joey French. But it couldn’t be Joey French; Joey French was serving a life sentence for the murder of Donna and two others in a Jacksonville nightclub. French looked at Danny and winked as he withdrew a large handgun from his pocket, which he pointed at Donna. “You’re late again, Danny boy,” he whispered. Danny tried to scream a warning to Donna, but panic robbed him of the ability to remember how. The roar of the gun was deafening. Danny looked around the room. The woman was still standing at the jukebox receiving a tongue massage and the German guy was still trying to solicit people to go to the restroom with him and the man in the orange tee-shirt still sat in front of the pinball machine. Everyone in the bar was acting as though nothing had happened. Joey French was gone. Donna was gone and there was now a man wearing a tuxedo tending bar. Danny punched the jukebox and smashed the plastic dome covering the records. As if on cue a record dropped onto the turntable. It was Richie Valens singing “Oh Donna”. Danny felt the trickle of blood on his hand; he looked down and saw that he had a “V” shaped wound on the back of his left hand. He ignored it and tried to figure out what had happened to Donna. A hand gripped his elbow and he turned to see a woman he did not recognize. She was a very attractive blonde and she smiled a smile that comforted Danny somehow. The smile told Danny he could trust her. She said it was time to leave and then guided him through a short hallway behind the bar. At the end of the hallway there was a ladder. Each rung of the ladder had a woman’s name scrawled on it in large black letters in the handwriting of a fourth grader and there was a bra stapled next to each name. At the top of the ladder there was a hatch in the ceiling. They climbed a ladder and exited onto a beach. As they walked along the beach the woman talked about pigs and street signs. She was carrying a shovel with a bright, red handle. As they walked along there was reggae music coming from somewhere, but he couldn’t figure out where. She then stopped walking and leaned on the shovel. Danny wanted to go back and look for Donna, but he knew he needed to hear what this woman had to say first. She told him they should have taken passports from the bar because they were going to need them. As he listened to her he watched a man in full golf attire emerge from the ocean and wade to shore. He had a golf bag across his shoulder, but there were no golf clubs in it. When he reached the shore he took a map from his pocket, consulted it and headed off toward a pier. The woman told Danny they needed to follow the man and the dream ended when they came to the pier and watched a burning boat sail off toward the distant horizon.

Each time Danny had the dream he would wake with conflicting emotions. There was a deep sense of loss for losing Donna again, but at the same time a feeling of hopefulness that centered around the blonde stranger. Somehow she instilled in him a feeling that everything would be alright.

Danny didn’t believe dreams were prophetic or that they held any psychic substance, he just figured it was the subconscious mind getting a little exercise before the conscious mind woke up. That was what he thought after the first night anyway. After the second night he called it a coincidence. After last night—the third in a row—he wasn’t sure what to think. He had never had the same dream more than once, let alone three times, and on consecutive nights no less. It forced him to wonder if he needed professional help; at the very least to see if there was cause for concern.

Maybe he would, but not today. Today there was a different kind of mental health to be addressed. A nice walk on the beach would help him clear his mind. He finished the last of his coffee, left enough money on the table to cover his bill and the tip and navigated his way through the restaurant and out to A1A.

Strolling along A1A his mind began replaying the dream, despite his efforts to keep it at bay. It was like trying to not think about a white rhinoceros—it couldn’t be done.

While his mind was running a loop of the dream, his body continued walking as if on autopilot, except he had walked past the beach access road. In order to get to the beach now he would have to back track almost a half mile. Instead, he opted to continue on in this direction and head for the dive shop where he could discuss the dream with Carol. There seemed to be no limit as to the depths of Carol’s knowledge and Danny felt certain she would have something constructive to offer.

Although he headed for the shop, he felt no need to hurry so he maintained his casual pace.

Eventually he found himself at a cross street and had to wait while a minivan carrying a family of tourists consulted a map before turning onto A1A. While he waited he glanced at the street sign over his head and saw that someone had pasted a bumper sticker from a local biker bar across it, covering the name of the street. The caption read “I went Hog Wild at The Boar’s Nest” and had a picture of a hog wearing a motorcycle helmet and goggles.

The driver of the minivan made a decision and turned left onto A1A and Danny stepped off the curb. Halfway across the street it occurred to him what he had just seen. He went back to the corner to confirm it and sure enough it was a pig on a street sign.

The blonde woman in the dream had been talking about pigs and street signs. Danny shook his head and tried to convince himself that his imagination was getting the best of him. Obviously some beer-fueled tourist had decided to decorate the sign, and now Danny was reading something into nothing. Unfortunately, his curiosity was overriding his logic. It was probably nothing, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to forget about it if he didn’t investigate.

He turned onto the street.

It was a quiet dead end street slightly more than a quarter of a mile long lined with small vacation homes, most of which were probably rentals. Aside from a few teenaged kids on skateboards about halfway down, Danny saw no signs of life. All in all it looked like a very quiet, unremarkable street.

He felt stupid, but his curiosity trumped the feeling of stupidity, and he walked on.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary. As he suspected, several of the houses had “For Rent” signs planted in the front lawn. American flags flapped quietly in the gentle ocean breeze. In the driveway of one house a man was playing basketball with his young son. They looked up as Danny passed and said hello. Danny wished them a good morning and continued on his way. Two doors down a man fired up a motorcycle and pulled out of his driveway into the street. He gave Danny a nod of acknowledgement as he rode by. He was wearing a tee shirt from The Boar’s Nest bar. Danny wondered if he was the man who had applied the bumper sticker to the street sign.

The closer he got to the end of the street the more foolish he felt. Even though he had been intrigued by the coincidences, he told himself it had been ridiculous to pay attention to any of it in the first place.

Until he saw the last house on the right.

It was a peach-colored, stucco house with very few design features to distinguish it from any other house on the street. What did attract Danny’s attention was the row of holes dug in the lawn along the front edge of the lawn. The holes were about twelve inches in diameter and about twelve inches deep. Standing upright in the last hole was a shovel with a bright red handle. Danny’s mouth went dry and he couldn’t take his eyes off the shovel.

There was no sign of activity in the yard, but the dirt piled up behind each hole was dark and moist, indicating the holes had been dug very recently. There was a yellow Mustang with a black convertible top parked in the driveway in front of an open garage door.

He kept walking until he reached the end of the road. A sand dune covered with tall sea grass separated the street from the beach. Danny followed a path through the knee-high grass to the beach. He stalled at the edge of the beach and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible. He positioned himself so it would appear as though he was a tourist gazing out at the ocean and still allow him to keep one eye on the house at the same time.

Several minutes passed and he decided enough was enough.

What did he expect to happen?

It was time to move along. He turned and headed back up the street.

As he approached the house again, a woman pulling a small gardening cart was making her way from the garage to the row of holes. The cart was loaded with plants of some sort. The woman looked to be in her mid to late twenties. She had a pretty face, a slim athletic body and shoulder-length dark-brown hair. Danny had no recollection of having ever seen her before. He also made note of the fact that she in no way resembled the attractive blonde in the dream.

Case closed; it was just a collection of coincidences.

As he passed the woman he said “good morning” and smiled politely.

The woman returned the courtesy and resumed her gardening.

Danny made his way back out to A1A and continued on to the shop, still trying to convince himself that the whole thing was nothing more than psychological smoke and mirrors.

When he arrived at the shop he opened the door and saw Carol loading a rack with wet suits from a large box. Robbie was not in sight.

“Hey,” he said in greeting. “Where’s Robbie?”

Carol and Rob were Danny’s partners. Danny and Rob had met on a dive trip to Bermuda seventeen years ago and had been fast friends ever since. Rob and Carol were married three years later, with Danny as best man and the three of them were practically inseparable.

“He’s out back working on the compressor,” Carol replied. “You know how he is--even if something isn’t broken he feels the need to fix it.”

“He’s a good man,” Danny said. “That’s why I keep him around.”

He laughed as he walked over and extended his closed fist, which Carol touched with her own.

“Everything okay this morning?” he asked.

“No problems yet,” Carol replied, “but the day is young. What brings you in here on a Saturday morning? Let me guess—you knew I wanted to go out to the country and visit my horse so you transformed yourself into a compassionate human being.” She laughed but Danny knew she was only partially joking.

“No, I have no compassion for you at all,” Danny joked. “I was just out walking the streets and I figured I’d come in and see if you guys needed anything.”

“That’s a load of crap,” Carol said with a snicker, “but thanks for thinking of us—we’re fine.”

Danny stood there pretending to look at a rack of tee shirts while Carol put a maroon wet suit on a hanger and placed it on the rack. In his peripheral vision he saw her glancing at him from time to time.

“Now, do you want to tell me the real reason you’re here?” Carol asked.

He paused briefly, debating whether he should divulge his secret to her, kind of like that last second of hesitation before diving into the deep end.

Finally he said, “Let me ask you a question. What do you think about dreams?”

After filling Carol in on the strange series of events, beginning with the dreams and ending with the gardener, she thought about it for a minute before speaking.

“Well I think there’s no such thing as coincidence. I also think you have to move on and stop blaming yourself for what happened to Donna.”

“I don’t blame myself for it,” Danny responded weakly.

“Maybe you don’t blame yourself in the traditional sense, but you certainly haven’t forgiven yourself for not being home when she called.”

“Well admit it, if I had been there when she called I would have picked her up before French got there and she’d still be alive,” Danny argued.

“And you were supposed to know that? How?” Carol asked.

Danny looked defeated, as he did every time Carol won this same debate. “I know, I know. But you know what? Knowing that doesn’t help a whole lot.”

“Well, it’s like I keep telling you, you can either carry that stone around your neck for the rest of your life and be miserable or you can move forward and be happy. It’s up to you.”

“I’m not miserable,” Danny retorted.

“Right,” Carol said in a patronizing tone. “Have you read that book I gave you?”

Carol had given Danny a book about the Zen philosophy of happiness, which was supposed to teach him how to deal with life’s problems and remain happy.

“Not yet,” he admitted sheepishly.

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

“I’ll look at it tonight.”

Since Carol didn’t respond, Danny knew she was telling him that she knew he was full of it. She had emptied the box of wet suits and moved toward the counter, pushing the box in front of her with her foot.

Danny decided to get on with his day.

“Thanks for the talk. I’ll catch you later,” he said as he headed for the door.

“Anytime. I’ll send you a bill.”

Danny opened the door and stepped out into the warm sunshine.


Jimmy Ferguson woke up in a confused panic.

His mind dangled in the limbo between dream state and reality. It seemed as though he had just closed his eyes, he couldn’t have been asleep long enough to dream. He hoped it was a dream, for if it wasn’t, that would mean Vicky had really confronted him about Leslie.

According to the clock on the nightstand it was two-fifty-something—either three, six or eight. Without his glasses he couldn’t really be sure.

Next to him Vicky let out a small, muffled snore and turned over in her sleep. The TV played the endless loop of the DVD menu, which told him Vicky had been watching a movie in bed and fallen asleep before it had ended. It was the same thing she did just about every night. Everything seemed normal enough. Slowly the panic subsided and he became convinced that it had indeed been a dream.

Gently rolling the blanket aside, he got out of bed and made his way toward the bathroom, which ended up being a painful ordeal after he kicked the nightstand as well as the settee at the foot of the bed. Once he had emptied his bladder he stood at the sink and splashed some cool water on his face. Lit only by the twilight coming through the window, his reflection in the mirror looked unfamiliar to him. The face he was looking at had changed with time, but by and large it was the same one he had been looking at his entire life; it was the person he had become that he didn’t recognize.

Once upon a time he was not only an honest business man, but a devoted husband as well. The man looking back at him from the mirror was neither of those things.

Honest business man had been accurate for about the first three years of his career, until he got his first taste of “found” money.

It happened quite accidentally.

While taking care of the paperwork of an account belonging to a client who had died, he inadvertently diverted funds from another account into the account of the deceased. It was six months before he realized he had done it. Since the deceased client had no beneficiaries, nobody had ever checked the account. In order to see if it could be done again he made a few similar deposits as experiments and discovered it actually worked. The practice became a habit which then morphed into an obsession and before he realized it he had accumulated a sizeable amount of money by systematically siphoning money from unsuspecting clients into his new account (which he called his “deadman’s” account). Disguising the borrowed funds as ‘fees’ kept the inquiries to a minimum and on the rare occasion when somebody made too much noise he would simply refund the fee. When the balance grew to a point that may have attracted the wrong sort of attention he transferred it to a bank in the Caymans to avoid detection. He had also cashed in on any client who died by creating all sorts of ‘fees’ for handling the account of the deceased, which went right into his deadman’s account. Periodically he would make cash withdrawals from the account and invest in companies he had inside tracks on. This was all being done under the name of a man who had been dead for years. He had the whole process down to a science and had himself a nice little stash that was going to insure him of a happy retirement.

So much for ‘honest business man’.

Devoted husband had turned into a myth years ago as well, beginning with his slowly dwindling physical attraction to Vicky and ending with his torrid affair with Leslie. In between were some minor indiscretions as well. Hookers at conventions, a brief encounter with the single mother next door and a one night stand with an old flame from high school he ran into while on a business trip back to Rhode Island. In the beginning he tried to rationalize his behavior by blaming Vicky, trying to believe she had become distant and withdrawn, but he was having difficulty pulling that one over on himself anymore. He knew if Vicky was distant it was he who had pushed her away. The whole process took so long that by the time he had admitted it to himself it was too late to go back. Pilots refer to it as the point of no return—when it is easier to continue on toward your destination than it is to turn back toward your point of origin.

Jimmy was past that point and now he was having dreams about it.

Tonight’s dream began with Jimmy and Leslie having dinner in a restaurant. The waiter stood on a stool at the table taking their order, but he couldn’t write because his right arm was in a cast. A large sword was hanging from his left hip. He tells Jimmy that his dessert will be there as soon as his girlfriend returns. (The word girlfriend is pronounced with disgusted exaggeration.) Jimmy looks across the table and is shocked to see Vicky sitting in the seat where Leslie had been. He tries to speak, but it is as if he has forgotten how. His mind scrambles to figure out what to say or do next. Vicky looks up from the map she is reading and asks him “How long did you think you could get away with it?” Then she casually takes a sip from her umbrella drink. Across the room Leslie waves to him from the bow of a boat. Looking back at Vicky, who is still enjoying her drink, he tells himself there is no way she could possibly know about Leslie. He has been painstakingly careful in his efforts to keep the affair hidden from her. Vicky follows Jimmy’s gaze to Leslie, turns back and smiles at him. She puts her drink down and tells Jimmy she expected more from him. Jimmy closes his eyes and tries to wish himself away. When he opens them and looks at Vicky she is playing chess with a man Jimmy does not recognize. She moves her queen and declares checkmate, then looks at Jimmy and says, “You should know the queen is the most powerful piece on the board.” She then throws the queen at Jimmy. Jimmy falls to the floor to avoid being hit in the face and the queen bounces harmlessly off his leg. Suddenly the waiter raises his sword and swings it at Vicky, only it isn’t Vicky anymore, it’s Leslie again. The sword slices her head off with little effort. The waiter winks at Jimmy and tells him to forget the whole thing as he casually puts the sword back on his belt and swims away without another word, trying desperately to keep his cast above water.

Jimmy was certain the dream was the result of a guilty conscience. He was no longer proud of his behavior and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to convince himself that he was doing nothing wrong. At first he viewed his various indiscretions as a badge of his manhood and he had no trouble putting the blame on Vicky, but he couldn’t do that anymore because he knew he had to accept most, if not all, of the responsibility. His mother had always told him “it takes two to tango.”

Looking at the shadowy reflection in the mirror it struck him how much he had changed physically. The thick red hair that had once adorned his head was disappearing rapidly, and what was left was slowly turning gray. His pale blue eyes looked tired, his once handsome face was sagging, and the athletic build of his youth now showed the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

Jimmy got back into bed carefully so as not to wake Vicky. Sleep came reluctantly and he woke up to see the sun coming through the window across the room, stretching its way toward the bed. He reached for his glasses on the nightstand and looked at the clock.

8:17 a.m.

Vicky was already up and out for her morning run on the beach. If he hurried he could shower, dress and be gone before she returned, which was usually around ten.

Halfway to the bathroom it dawned on him what he had just thought. He was trying to avoid his wife. As he showered he thought about the transformation his life had undergone. At one time Vicky was the love of his life. He used to live for the time they spent together. Even after the boys were born and life became a constant race to nowhere, he still adored her. Somewhere along the line those feelings had disappeared. Not overnight, but slowly, the way the light gradually fades from a summer night sky. The sun goes down, but the transition from day to night is so gradual that you are never fully prepared for it.

All of a sudden you just can’t see.

Meeting Leslie had been the final nail in the coffin, that much was certain. He knew the day she started working for the firm nearly two years ago that he wanted her. It was not based on love or caring or even affection, but born out of pure primitive lust. It was sexual desire, plain and simple. Perhaps there was some truth to the whole “mid-life crisis” thing and Leslie was just a way for him to boost his sagging ego.

The affair began the way one would expect, with off-hand remarks and subtle innuendo leading to full-fledged flirting leading to the inevitable working late leading to a sexual encounter in the elevator afterward. So far they had managed to keep their affair hidden, but Jimmy wondered how long that would last. There were several close calls in the office because Jimmy had trouble keeping his hands to himself and more than once they had to make excuses when somebody from work saw them together in a restaurant or bar. One time an intern walked into Jimmy’s office unannounced and caught them in a clinch. Jimmy made sure the intern was released shortly thereafter. It was possible that he had told someone else what he had seen, but Jimmy couldn’t worry about that. Office gossip came with the territory and hopefully any rumors the kid had started went with him back to Kansas or wherever the hell he was from.

After showering and dressing Jimmy climbed into his BMW and backed out of the driveway. He made his way out of the comfortable, gated community where he and Vicky lived, passing mothers pushing baby strollers, young couples bicycling together and kids playing their kid games. At the guard shack he gave a wave to Eddy the guard as he pulled onto A1A and headed south.

Twenty minutes later he turned onto Leslie’s street. It was after 9:30 now and the Florida sun was warming the morning up nicely. As he approached her house (a house purchased by Jimmy’s firm ostensibly as a retreat for company executives) he saw her kneeling in the yard doing some gardening. The sight of her on her hands and knees sent a jolt of testosterone through his body. He glanced in his rear view mirror before turning into the driveway just to be sure that he would not be seen. The garage was open and Leslie’s Mustang (also compliments of Sullivan Investments) was in the driveway, leaving the garage empty for him. On Saturday mornings Leslie knew to leave the garage door open so he could pull in and close it behind him. He was probably being overly cautious, but he did not want to get bagged by doing something as stupid as leaving his car in the driveway for anyone and everyone to see.

He turned off the ignition and reached into the glove box for the garage door opener, which he left there in order to prevent Vicky from finding it. Once the door was on its way down he returned the clicker to its hiding place and got out of the car.

He entered the house and headed straight for the bedroom, undressing as he went. By the time he was naked, Leslie was right behind him stripping off her clothes. A minute later they were attacking each other like teenagers after the prom.

Afterward they sat on the lanai in their robes, drinking mimosas while watching the surf pound away at the beach.

Out of nowhere Jimmy announced “I think she knows.”

Leslie took a sip of her mimosa and gazed at him over the top of the glass. “What does that mean?”

“What do you mean ‘what does that mean’?” Jimmy answered with a little more venom than he had intended. “It means I think she knows. Which part of that do you need explained?”

“That isn’t what I meant. I meant, what does that mean for us?”

“I don’t know. I’m not even sure if it’s true. I just have a funny feeling, that’s all.” Jimmy didn’t bother telling her about the dream. “All I know is that I can’t afford a divorce. There’s too much at stake. If she has proof of an affair she could clean me out, even if her lawyer is a complete moron.”

“What proof could she possibly have?”

“Who knows, but I just have this impending feeling of disaster.”

“Do you think we should lay low for a while?”

Jimmy looked at her and tried not to see her as the sexual dynamo she was.

“I think it’s time we thought about calling it quits.”

Just the thought of it was frustrating; he swore that he felt his balls shrivel in protest.

Leslie put down her mimosa and knee-walked over to him. She put her elbows on his knees and cradled her chin in her hands. “Why don’t we wait a little while and try to figure out what, if anything, she knows.”

He looked down at her, half expecting her to flutter her eyelashes and make a pouty face.

“Yeah,” he sighed after a minute of deliberation, “I guess that makes sense.”

She smiled at him.

“That’s my boy,” she said as she undid his robe and bowed her head toward his groin.

Two minutes later he was no longer concerned about what Vicky knew.


Vicky sat on the pier gazing into the surf.

She had completed the first half of her six-mile jog on the beach and was enjoying the peaceful surroundings of the ocean for a few minutes before starting the return trip.

This was her quiet time. When she was running, the sound of her breathing and the rhythm of her heart hypnotized her into a relaxed state she could not achieve anywhere else. Regardless of the pounding waves, the screaming children and the roaring motorcycles on A1A, Vicky came to the ocean for solitude. Even though she had no formal training in the art of meditation, she was certain she was doing just that every time she came here. She could clear her mind and look at herself from the outside, as if she were looking at another person. That way it didn’t hurt as much to see a woman who had traded twenty-five years of her life for a failed marriage.

The fact that so many marriages ended in divorce was no consolation to her. She had hoped hers would be different, but it was destined to become another statistic. Sadly, she no longer had any desire to save it—only to get away from it.

The dissolution had happened so gradually that it was only visible when viewed from the perspective of time gone by. She never really noticed the signs as they were happening, but when she looked back on it now she wondered how she could have missed them.

There was a steady decline in conversation, and many of the conversations they did have ended in arguments. Where they had once spent a great deal of time together, they now seemed to look for ways to be apart. Sex had been reduced to a chore that was part of the marital code and finally to something they used to do. She could count on one hand the number of times they had had sex in the last six months and she didn’t even miss it. It was hard to miss something you never truly enjoyed.

At first she believed it was all just a result of having been together for over twenty years; that they had simply grown apart. There may have been a trace amount of truth in that, but it was not the sole reason; there were outside influences at work. She didn’t have to be Colombo to know that Jimmy had been having an affair. The signs were subtle at first and it took her a while to put them together, but once she did it was obvious. Jimmy began working late almost every night, eventually claiming he had to work on Saturdays. He would spend much of his free time on the boat without her. He was going away on more weekend seminars that started on Thursday and ended on Monday. Taken individually they really weren’t conclusive, and she probably wouldn’t have given them any credence had it not been for the night Jimmy slipped during one of their rare conversations and called her Leslie. That was enough to make Vicky pay much closer attention.

Once she started looking for them the signs became more apparent. A lipstick-smeared cigarette butt in the ashtray of his car and an extra garage door opener in the glove compartment. Not to mention the smell of strange perfume on his clothes.

When she noticed a charge for flowers on the Visa statement—flowers she had not received—she contacted the florist to find out where the bouquet had been delivered and made note of the address for future reference.

One evening she was sitting on the sofa reading while Jimmy was in the shower. His cell phone was on the coffee table in front of her and it began ringing. Thinking it was her phone she reached for it and, as she usually did, checked the display for the caller ID. It said Leslie with a local phone number. She replaced the phone on the table and made a note of the number. The next day she did a reverse lookup on the internet to get the address, which matched the delivery address of the flowers. She drove by the house and noticed a distinctive yellow Mustang in the driveway—one she had seen several times in the lot at Jimmy’s office.

It may not have been concrete evidence, but it was enough for her. Her marriage was over; the only thing missing was the formality of a divorce.

The gentle breeze that was stirring on A1A was a fairly strong wind on the beach. She stood and faced the wind. Removing the tie that secured her pony tail, she allowed the wind to blow her long blonde hair off of her face and then she retied it. She stretched her arms over her head and bent her long frame at the hips to keep her back loose.

An elderly couple approached, holding hands. Their affection for each other was plainly visible. They weren’t speaking to each other, but there was a look in their eyes that told Vicky they each knew what the other was thinking, and they were content with that. It was the sort of relationship Vicky had always wanted. Unfortunately, she knew that type of relationship would never happen with Jimmy and her. Regardless of the fact that they had grown apart over the course of their marriage, Jimmy had never been the type of man who understood that there was a fundamental difference between love and sex.

Vicky had her left foot on the pier and was leaning forward to stretch her right hamstring when the couple drew near. They all looked at each other and smiled.

“Good morning,” Vicky said.

The man said a polite “Good Morning” and the woman said, “It would be if I had a figure like yours!” which drew a good-spirited chuckle from her partner.

Vicky smiled shyly and said, “Thank you. That was very sweet of you.”

It was something that happened to her on a regular basis. Women of all ages and sizes commented on her long, athletic frame and her actress-like beauty. It seemed the older she got the more she heard it. Even now she was modest about it and felt somewhat embarrassed when it happened.

When she turned back to continue her stretching, a young boy was standing next to her. He was carrying a pail with some beach sand and ocean water in it. He flashed a wide smile that was shy a couple of teeth. He looked to be about seven years old. Freckles adorned most of his face and his strawberry blonde hair protruded from his head at every conceivable angle. Vicky was taken by his cuteness and she smiled at him warmly.

“Well hello there,” she said.

“Look what I found!” he exclaimed proudly, holding up a starfish.

“That’s beautiful!” Vicky told him. “Where did you find that?”

“Down there on the sand,” the boy replied, pointing at the surf. “It’s a starfish!”

“I think you’re right,” Vicky said. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to put him in the water ‘cause that’s where he lives,” the boy told her matter of factly. “My mom says it’s wrong to keep him because every one of Gods creatures needs to live in the place that makes him happy.”

Vicky smiled at him and said “I think your mom is probably right.”

“Yeah,” he agreed with a nod. “She’s always right; that’s why she’s a mom.” And with that the boy scampered to the shore where he emptied the contents of his pail into the waves.

He turned, waved to Vicky and yelled something she could not hear before running off to his mother’s blanket.

Vicky smiled, returned the wave and turned away from the pier to start her return trip. Instead of jogging, she opted for a leisurely stroll for the journey home.

The sun was climbing in the sky and the temperature was keeping pace. The wind coming off the water was a welcome addition. She walked at a pace quick enough to keep her heart rate up but slow enough to enjoy the setting.

As her mind cleared itself of distractions, she was once again looking at her life as if it were that of another person.

Vicky had never really felt the way she thought a married woman should feel, but lately it was worse. She spent more time alone than with Jimmy and any time they did spend together was usually spent in awkward silence. Even simple exchanges about mundane topics such as the weather were strained, which left little hope at all for discussing something as big as the state of their marriage.

Vicky refused to remain in a failed marriage. She had never been so unrealistic as to think Jimmy and she would last forever. Part of her was surprised they had lasted this long, which she credited mostly to the children. Now she was faced with the reality of having to take the next step—initiating the divorce process. After spending her last wedding anniversary alone while Jimmy was away at a seminar, she had decided she would file for divorce before their next one, but going through with it was not as easy as she had thought it would be. It seemed that the courage and the opportunity never appeared at the same time.

Then the dreams started. She didn’t pay attention to them at first. Who pays attention to dreams? Vicky had never heard a plausible explanation for what causes dreams, or if they had any significance, so she had trouble taking them seriously. After the fifth consecutive night she decided it was time to start paying attention. Perhaps somebody or something was trying to tell her something.

There were some minor differences from night to night, but for the most part it happened like this: She and Jimmy would be arguing while doing the laundry. As quickly as Vicky could put the clothes in the washer, Jimmy would take them out, telling her she didn’t need to wash his clothes because he would be buying new ones soon. Before she could respond, a man would approach wearing an eye patch and start screaming at Jimmy about selling him the wrong woman. There was something oddly familiar about the man, but she couldn’t place him. Nevertheless his presence made Vicky nervous. The two men consulted a book and then directed their attention to the kitchen table, whispering about it being “all her fault”. Vicky looked around and saw a woman sitting at the table cutting up a magazine and placing the cut up strips of paper into a wine bottle. Vicky did not recognize the woman and had no idea what reason she could possibly have for being there. She looked at the woman and asked why she was there. Without looking up from the magazine the woman told Vicky she would find out soon enough. Suddenly Vicky found herself sitting on a lifeguards chair while Jimmy and Eye Patch wrestled for possession of a life jacket and the strange woman dug a hole in the sand. There was a man sitting next to her and although Vicky did not recognize him, he made her feel comfortable. He said to Vicky, “Come on, let’s get out of here and let them fight it out amongst themselves.” Climbing down off the chair onto the warm sand, they left Jimmy, Eye Patch and the strange woman behind. She asked him where they were going and the only thing he said to her was “wherever we want.” As they walked away Vicky thought she heard Jimmy say something about being betrayed, but she didn’t really care anymore. She walked off with the man and they didn’t look back.

Vicky was snapped out of her reverie when a wave rolled up and drenched her feet. She had wandered into the surf without realizing it and now both of her running shoes were soaked right through. She headed up the beach to the seawall and climbed the steps to a covered gazebo. Sitting on a bench in the gazebo, she began to take off her shoes and socks. Behind her, a motorcycle pulled off the road and a couple dismounted and stretched as though they had been riding for a while. The woman was rooting through a saddlebag on the back of the bike as the man was saying to her, “I think we passed it, we have to turn around.”

“We didn’t pass it yet, trust me,” the woman said without looking up from the saddlebag.

The man took off his sunglasses and looked up and down the road before saying, “I don’t think we were supposed to go this far. I have a good sense of direction and I think we passed it.”

“Yeah, you’re a regular Christopher-fucking-Columbus,” his partner said to him as she pulled a pack of cigarettes from the saddlebag.

“Well, I’m gonna find out right now,” he told her as he headed toward Vicky. The woman followed him lighting a cigarette.

Vicky looked up and smiled as they sat on the other bench.

“Excuse me,” the man said. “Do you live around here?”

He looked slightly older than Vicky with a clean-shaven head and a short moustache and goatee. Under his black leather vest he wore a tee shirt that proclaimed “Yankees Suck”.

“Yes, not far,” Vicky told him.

“We’re looking for a restaurant called Sandfleas. Do you know where it is?” he asked her.

“Yes, it’s just up the road about a mile or two on the left,” Vicky told him.

“You see, Brewski,” the woman said as she exhaled smoke through her nose. “I told you we didn’t pass it.”

She was younger than him with short sandy-blonde hair.

“I’m just saying, is all,” she finished.

Brewski looked at her and rolled his eyes then turned back to Vicky and thanked her for the directions. “Stop in this afternoon and we’ll buy you a drink,” he told her.

“Oh, thank you,” Vicky said with a smile, “but I don’t drink.”

“That’s okay. Then you can buy us a beer!” he said with a loud burst of laughter. Turning to his partner he said, “Let’s go Didi. If we’re late Ralphy’s gonna be pissed.”

“Fuck Ralphy,” the woman said as she made adjustments to her leather chaps. “I’ll strap him in his friggin’ wheelchair and push him in the ocean.”

“Yeah, well if you’re gonna do that, don’t do it till after he pays us.”

Vicky excused herself and descended the steps to the beach as the couple debated the pros and cons of pissing off Ralphy. As Vicky reached the beach and continued her walk she heard the motorcycle woman say “Oh will you please shut your friggin’ pie hole!”

Vicky smiled and headed toward home.