Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chapter 17 Karaoke

By Gary O'Brien

Now I could sit here and write that nothing happened between myself and this gorgeous twenty-two year-old surfer girl who was overcome with lust after nearly losing her life in hurricane swell, half naked and so amped-out with emotion she bashed back the equivalent of four shots of rum without even stopping to twitch to show it stung.
I could write that, and expect you to believe it. And maybe you might. Maybe you might buy it for the sake of decorum. You might suggest that members of a marketing focus group at the publishing houses are listening, and they would rather we not get into the icky stuff, from the male point of view.
You’ve noticed these days; the sex in book stores is always from the female point of view? There’s always some two-dimensional, dumbass guy in a kilt with rock-hard abs and long flowing hair yada-yada. He’s always in the midst of some temper tantrum going on and on, about those in power who are hunting him down – and buddy, I don’t know why that is, only that you killed the friar, burned down a castle, and took a maul axe to six of the king’s rent collectors - and then in the midst of all his kvetching about all this oppression he's under, he just does the girl; does the hell out of her on an old wooden table, or up in the bell tower, or out in the barn while the king's men look high and low for our boy. And guess what? Hey Mikey, she likes it!
Hah, try that routine at a diversity conference these days!
But it’s all good, because, gals need to read that sort of thing every now and then, I suppose. They pour the bathwater, season it with rose petals, bring in some candles, and that special, little friend, the custom-made shower attachment. We men read something that actually excites our organs, a sex story told for the benefit of or from our point of view, and where are we? Right, we’re in that secret place with the door locked; dusty, musty, small; and someone is knocking on that door aren’t they, asking us what’s taking so long, and why the hell are we in there? And we’re not reading Highland Rogue or whatever, either, are we? What we’re reading has a caption, not a paragraph, because what we are reading is actually a photograph; something mommy really hates because the girl in the centerfold looks nothing like mommy. Who does she look like? She looks just like the girl in the tent with me at that moment.
So what happens next?
As my old catholic school priest Father Martin Coughlin, would say, I was in “the occasion of sin” "de okaaaaaaayshun of sin" so deeply now there were at least four thousand years of purgatorio already down on my account, compounding those years being clicked onto the meter for every second I didn’t give a shit, multiplied by some Catholic coefficient, created by bean-counting Angels and Saints, that I actually was getting off on the thought of it. Father Coughlin had a formula there somewhere that required a TI-30 calculator and a slide rule, but you could actually figure it out, how many years in Purgatory, at the gates of Hell, in the lowest rung of Hell, so on and so forth. And all sins were compounded like interest based on how many seconds, minutes and hours you remained, “in the occasion of sin” AKA getting dragged right along with the crowd and enjoying every minute of it.
She looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. She took the alcohol and the cotton, and began dabbing my scrapes with them. They stung hot at first so she blew on them, one after the other.
Her hurting me, ever so slightly, was seriously erotic. As we knelt in her tent she looked up at me with those soulful eyes; eyes red and teary, placed a hand to the side of my face, leaned in and kissed me, then kissed me again; with me taking and tasting just a bit more of her mouth this time, then once again.
She guided me back down onto her sleeping bag with her fingertips, and pulled my bathing suit down. She put a finger over her lips as if to say, “shhhhh, I don’t even want to hear it. Don’t you DARE!” My hands reached up for her. Her eyes rolled back and closed, her head rolled back, chin went up…
“Oh my God,” she said in surprise. “Oh my …God!” trembled a little.
We shifted stance. I could sense she knew what was coming and she wanted it.
I tried to ignore the languid arch of her back, the tan, mahogany runnel where the strong muscles connected to her spine. For another second or two, I shut out the image of the sparse dusting of blonde peach-fuzz, and sun freckles on her shoulders covered in strands of salty blonde hair, carelessly flung to one side revealing her neck muscles, her strong angular chin jutting proudly beneath that mouth, those eyes closed in sleepy concentration. I pretended for another second or two that I wasn’t excited by that tan-line above still-cool flesh, and the Navajo sand painting tattoo, all of it covered in a dusting of dried sea spray, all of it such an amazing offering..
I bent down kissing her back and neck, and whispered prayerfully into her ear but she looked back at me with her angry eyes as if to say: “That’s not what I am after and you know it!”
In the next instant we were making noises that surely could be heard at fifty paces, traversed the tent from one side to the other, and jammed ourselves into the rayon fabric of the wall and floor before letting go of it all. Sounds came up; bellowing like things of the forest gone mad. I had hunched and crunched so hard on the final go the hamstring on my left leg had seized up. I rolled out and flopped on the hard damp nylon floor and swore as I straightened the leg. She squished herself onto me then snuggled in close.
“Holy goddamn….shit!” she whispered.
I had gotten it right, apparently.
Like me, she was a connoisseur of fine swear words; religious icons said in conjunction with unseemly acts. Must be a recovering Catholic, I decided. The right thing in moments like these, I supposed. What else could you say? Blaspheming post sex had the effect of ejaculating the last of all those nasty thoughts like mini-exorcisms.
“Christ a fuckin’ mighty….that was good!” I added, to show her I approved and that I too could add eons to my damnation bar-tab without batting and eye.
“Houston, this is Tranquility Base; the Eagle has landed.”
“What?” she asked. The reference lost.
“Never mind,” I answered, and we drifted off to sleep.

When we woke the angle of the sun was low on the horizon. People in the neighboring tent gave me a sidelong glance as I peeked out then retreated. The list of sprained body parts included my left hamstring and my neck so I laid back down.
She poured a stinging rum and coke for each of us; warm heaven in a glass.
“Oh that’s good. The old body isn’t responding…plus all these damned sand-burns on my back.”
Trish handed me a little pill.
“Something like that. It’s a painkiller I use for a knee injury.”
“I got a little weed if you want some,” she added. All that seawater had actually scorched her voice, reminding me I had a date with a karaoke machine.
“I have to sing tonight. Can’t smoke anything before I sing, dear. Screws up the voice,” I said. “You want to come?”
“Karaoke contest. I sort of need the money. You should come and watch. It’ll be fun. I’ll sing to you. You’ll bring me luck.”
“Yeah, really. It’s the least I can do,” I said, brushing the wispy strands of blonde from her eyes. And they really were pretty, those eyes.
“I don’t know, having a guy sing to me. That’s soooo like we’re dating or something. Don’t take it wrong…”
“No need to explain,” I said with a smile. She had no idea how young and foolish she sounded. The intimacy of some old crooner singing to her was too much to stomach. Yet what we had just done….
“Oh look. Now I’ve made you all sad ‘n moopy. I’ve hurt your feelings.”
“No, no….It’s alright,” I said, pretending to be more “moopy” than I actually was. Christ, the word was moopy and she used it. Not only that, it worked in that context.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she whined. “Sure, hey, I’ll go…”
Then I let the cat out of the bag by pretending to actually cry.
“You’ve made me so moopy! All I want to do is stay here and moop!”
“Oh screw you, you bastard,” she said hitting me in the shoulder.
“Too late!”
“I can’t believe you.”

Yeah, the guilt. It came but I tried to ignore it.
In my defense I say I was in survival mode, the time when the three F’s are hammering your brain. Have you been through something like this? No? So pull the PC stick out of your ass and deal with it.
And there was more that I had to do to detract from the weight of my soul. Yes more. I rubbed my eyes and my temples. It had to be done quickly, before she looked.
While sweet, gorgeous, innocent little Trish was showering and brushing her teeth in the communal facilities, I did something horrible: I switched my Florida license plate for her Virginia plate on the back of her white Jeep Cherokee. Yes, for survival’s sake; for the sake of the progression of this story, so that I might escape to the latter reaches of this book before being incarcerated, I sprinted back to my campsite, used a Philips head screwdriver, removed the plate switched it with hers, and sprinted back to her tent. And I was reasonably sure she didn’t see me do it.
She wouldn’t know the first thing. That way, when the authorities asked her why she had given me her license plate, they would be greeted with genuine surprise. I wanted them to see the betrayal written in those blue eyes of hers. There would be no question that she hadn’t been the victim and not an accomplice. It struck me how good I was becoming at making such huge rationalizations.
The decision to take my van and not her car was risky. License plate or no, they were looking for that van. Dan had given me the signal. I should have packed my shit and moved on immediately. But I was dead in the water without more cash. I had $200 left, along with some bluefish and redfish filets. I would not complete my mission with the resources I had. The cooler went into the van, as did my notebook computer. I left my tent standing, though, satisfied there was no sign anyone was searching through the park just yet. I showered and changed.
Fortunately the bar was jam-packed. Cars, vans and trucks were everywhere. I only hoped the ruse worked and that the van was well hidden in plain sight.
Trish looked lovely. Although her voice had gone so horse at this point she could barely speak above a whisper. She was content with the plastic cup of beer I bought for her. She sat on a stool outside the bar on the deck and stared through the window as I made it to a table near the karaoke machine.
As I joined the line of hopefuls signing up, paying the $10 fee to enter the contest, I was amazed to see her actually spurning the advances of several good looking young men. She sat there and shook her head, like “no, no…not it. Go away.”
These guys would then look over at me as if realizing “Oh, there’s dad looking at her. No wonder.”
Dad. That’s who they thought I was.
The contest had rules. “Country or Southern Rock Only! No Repeat Songs! No Exceptions!”
Male and female winners would each receive $500 cash. There was a $250 runner up prize for both categories. A panel of five local judges included three professional singers from bands well known in the Carolinas, and a former Country music legend, all of whom I had never heard of.
Half the contestants would be eliminated on the first round, which would be winnowed down to ten, then five, then two. The remaining two would enter into a final round where the rules would be announced. This was very involved. I had never seen or heard of such a thing before. Apparently they had been at this for a number of years and knew what they were doing.
“NO EXCEPTIONS!” had the “this means you” ring to it obviously designed to keep everyone in line. Did they have dead cats or chickens they meant to fling at you if you broke into “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel? The way those rules were printed in red, they just might.
I took my place beside Trish with a karaoke songbook, desperately searching for songs by The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the like.
Trish watched me furiously leaf through the book and said with a laugh; “so, this is what you do in your spare time?”
“No. I’m a writer. I need money to get home again.”
“What about your credit cards. Certainly you have a few of those?”
“Everything’s maxed-out to hell. I’m screwed unless I win some money here.”
“Interesting,” she said with a smile.
“I mean, you don’t know any of these people. They’re all from around here or nearby and here you come, Mr. Florida, absolutely convinced you have a chance to win some of this money here. Like, no way in hell you can lose.”
“Yeah, I’m just a rebel, I guess. Always have been…”
“Well, you’re confident. Which is saying something. I couldn’t stand up in front of all these people,” she said, trailing off to a cough.
I stopped and stared at her. Was she being serious?
“I just watched you drop in on the biggest, nastiest, most bent-out-of-shape wave I think I have ever seen anyone attempt, and you’re saying you’d be terrified of what these people would say about your singing?”
“You got it. People scare me. This takes guts. I don’t know if you realize it or not, Gary, but these people are crazy. Some of them can be dangerous. And you’re talking about money involved here. I’d bet you there are a few of them here trying to win some make-it-home money too.”
I looked back down into the karaoke book.
“What makes a writer head off to North Carolina without enough money to get home to Florida again? What’s that about? It’s not a fight with you wife, either? C’mon, you can tell me. I went singing with you didn’t I? Did more ‘n that back in the tent.”
“Trish, honey, you don’t want to know. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
“Try me.”
“I’m a writer yes, but I’m also a guy with problems with the law and a task to accomplish. I have issues, you see.”
There was a long pause as she stared at me, obviously trying to judge whether or not I was being serious.
“Issues, huh? Well I have issues too. One of them is assholes who con me into going on dates then won’t come clean with me. You’ve got one more shot at it here, Mr. Man.”
“Nice, sweetheart but…”
“Listen, if you don’t tell me, I’m gonna act like I’m your niece and tell all these nice southern folks you raped me. How would you like THEM apples?”
I set my beer down beside hers, held her little hands in mine and did my best. I told her what I could. It took about five minutes. She laughed in smiled in all the right places. For some reason this whole thing turned her on.
“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it Gary?”
I looked down at the karaoke book and tried to focus. Damn, she was making it hard to find my center and I really needed to if I expected to have a chance in Hell at….
“I thought it might be something like that. Don’t worry, Gary. I’m not going to turn in the man who saved my life.”
I looked up at her and she was actually hurt by my earlier evasiveness. She was further wounded by the fact I thought she might turn me in. Her emotions ran hot and cold in a flash. Maybe she had bumped her head after all.
“I’m sorry, Trish. I didn’t mean anything by it. Trusting people has been difficult lately. Please forgive me.”
“You should try talking to your wife like that more often,” she said, sipping her beer. “Probably work out for you.”
“Let me ask you something. Why did you want to make it with me? Why did we do that back there?”
“Because I was …I really wanted to and whether you know it or not, you’re kind of…”
“Kind of what?”
“You mean, I really have to say it?”
“Say what?”
“It’s like this. Some girls like older men. I’m one of them I guess. I never made it with an older man, until now. I’ve been turned on by the thought of doing it. It was something I wanted to do and so I did it.”
“Well, how was it?”
“It was interesting, to say the least.”
“I don’t usually do it like that. I’m usually gentler.”
“As you guessed I wasn’t really into a tender moment thing either. “
“Oh boy and howdy…”
“Besides, we always have later, after you’re done singing to me,” she said. “Maybe that’ll be interesting too.”
“I promise, I’ll try not to fall in love with you, Gary. If that’s what you’re worried about,” she said grabbing me around the neck suddenly and kissing me on the cheek.
And she was crying. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with her.
“Don’t ask. Cause I don’t know either; just hug me,” she said.
I got through the first round easy enough, singing that old Eagles standard Take it Easy, which seemed to please everyone and surprise a few people at the same time. It took an hour to winnow out those members of the crowd who had been drinking all afternoon and were doing this on a dare.
The women got through their end of the contest rather quickly as about half were eliminated from not reading the rules. All of them wanted to sing the same Shenia Twain song Feel Like a Woman; and put up a huge stink when the judges wouldn’t go for it. The rules were clearly printed, no repeats in the first rounds. Apparently this was the only song the women knew and that happens at Karaoke sometimes; the singer knows and specializes in one and only one song, which they sing badly after drinking and coaxing.
Three were thrown out of the bar and the parking lot. A Dare County Sheriff’s Deputy had to restore order. Five contestants remained, most of whom seemed so shocked at the near riot, they obviously didn’t know whether or not they wanted to continue.
Contest judges decided to bring back the good feeling by deciding on a winner among the women as soon as possible. So quickly, five women became three, who battled it out admirably through three songs and all were awarded $250. The judges decided not to enter the final round with the female contestants, as “the rules were different.”
The contestants seemed thrilled all the same.
So, ten of us guys remained. We stood there in line waiting for a word from the bar manager and the sponsor. Both of whom wanted assurances that we all understood the judges’ decisions were final, it was a game after all, and there was no call for the sort of behavior displayed by “some of the gals.”
We all shook our heads to the affirmative.
During the next round I was selected to sing last, based on alphabetical order, which, I could deal with and besides it gave me a chance to check out the competition. I came to the sad conclusion that all of these guys could really sing so I had to make it damned good if I wanted to remain in contention.
Well I chose an old standard from my repatroire back from Internet days, called The River by Garth Brooks. This was about the same time I was longing for my karaoke queen to come back into my life, after I had booted her out of, then invited her back, then booted her out, then, of course booted her out for good following the phone call to our cell while we wandered the mall.
It had been a shameful affair. More than a one-niter, for sure.
But she had introduced me to that song and it was a sure fire winner with southerners. It was just obscure enough that they went “oh, yeah, I remember this. This was a kick ass song.”
Good ole Garth Brooks did it. And for some reason I found his phrasing pleasing and somewhat easy to mimic.
As I was singing, I thought about the woman; about telling her she should get on with her life and not wait for anyone, especially not me, or that boyfriend of hers who couldn’t commit. It was what the song said. You don’t sit along the shoreline and say you’re satisfied.
I was doing a damned good job with the song when they came in, the law dogs. I had been dead-on, concerning Ms. Guzman. She was very pretty. Two other agents were with her. They weren’t hiding the fact they were law, even Feds. They ambled up to a table where some tourists just left and sat, then ordered a pitcher of beer. They looked frustrated. One wore the blue parka with the big FBI letters on the back.
It had obviously been a long day for them. I heard one of them say to one of the patrons; “Hey even we need to grab a drink every now and then.”
Ms. Guzman took out an envelope and started leafing through it as she spoke with her fellow agents. It was my dossier. She never once looked up to the stage so, for the moment, I was hidden in plain sight. I finished the song, everyone applauded and the announcer said “Good job, Larry,” and I wiped my brow. Thankfully, I left my middle name with the judges and not my first.
Trish smiled at me as they announced I had made it into the final round.
Several sheriff’s vehicles pulled into the parking lot. You could see large fire trucks and Eastern Carolina utility vehicles amassing out on Route 12. Apparently our watering hole was turning into a command center of some kind. But for what?
The announcement made it clear.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Dare County has asked me to advise everyone that a hurricane warning is now in effect for eastern Carolina, due to Claudine. A midnight curfew goes into affect and we should expect a mandatory evacuation order for the Outer Banks sometime around dawn. Sorry to have to break it to you. Let’s give a hand for our last contestants, we should be able to make this final round before they chase us out of here. At least we’ll get this thing done.”
Well, dangerous Dan had indeed been dead on target. He said it was coming, and now, here was the proof.
As it grew darker outside you could even see that the wind had picked up considerably. I looked over to the television set just above the bar and sure enough, there was a Doppler radar picture of the thing like a giant, multicolored pinwheel cookie churning toward the shore. The sound had been turned down but you could see the weatherman there with his pointer, walking back and forth in front of the camera making a swooping motion with his arms. He did it once, then, once more for effect. You didn’t need to hear to know what he was saying.
“Yep, here she comes. You can see that eye-wall forming and whoosh, all this upper level air, whoosh, is going to steer her right into the coast. So, you folks out along the banks, you need to be the first ones taking cover, getting your supplies together and getting off the islands because, Claudine is a big, big girl. And she’s not happy.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Chapter 16 Waves

By Gary O'Brien

Cape Point Park Hatteras National Seashore 7 a.m. – I woke in my tent to find a cell-phone atop soft-back edition of Robert W. Service poetry. Best Tales of the Yukon
The note was stuck into the volume on Page 58, a verse in the poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” was circled.
It read:
“Were you ever out in the Great Alone
when the moon was awful clear?
And the icy mountains hemmed you in
with a silence you could almost hear?
With only the Howl of the timber Wolf
you camped there in the cold…”
A half-dead thing in a stark dead world
clean mad for the muck called gold.
While high overhead green, yellow and red
the Northern Lights swept in bars?
Then you’ve a hunch what that music meant
hunger and night and the stars.”

Dan’s note read:
Although you may not clearly remember it now, you asked me last night where my people come from, who I am, and why I decided to go into wildlife management. You’ll find the answer to all these questions in the poetry of Robert W. Service. I think of all people Gary, you can appreciate him.
Use this cell phone until the battery runs out then place it at the front desk in the guard house. I found it last night near the showers. I got to figure you need to call your wife by now…Haha!
All the Best. Keep a Weather Eye for the signal, buddy.
He was a gem, this man named after Dangerous Dan. I checked the neat cursive on that orange post-it note stationary. I imagined him walking the park while I slept in my tent then penning this in the dome light of his Bronco, just over the dunes, then walking back with a dog-eared copy of poetry he likely carried around with him in his car, to read in quiet moments throughout the day. That was nice of him, real nice.
He was a throwback to an earlier time when people were decent to each other. When folks appreciated the raw beauty of nature and weren’t afraid to get out into it from time to time. I gathered from the note his father had been a fan of Service’s poetry and named his son on a reflex. Although the Dan I knew was nothing like the man in the poem who gets shot for stealing the stranger’s “Lady Lou.”
I put the book down with a smile.
Gathering nerve I dialed Leslie’s work number first. She had to go back to work at some point, no matter what was going on in our lives. It took a few minutes to go through staffing and patch me through to her floor.
“Yeah, honey. It’s me.”
“Jesus, Gary. Where are you? What are you up to?”
“I’m in Hatteras. I’m on a cell phone again. Now I don’t know if this one is owned by a male or a female but please, honey. Don’t freak out on me again. I can’t take it.”
“I’m sorry, Gary. You know how much I hate what happened. It just, every time something like this happens I can’t help think that you’re still thinking about her, or about someone else. I didn’t mean all that stuff I said. I’m sorry.”
“That’s alright. God knows I deserve it. Listen, is this a bad time? Are you busy?”
“No, I just stepped into a patient’s room. The guy is totally gorked out. He doesn’t know what hit him. The family wants him on pain meds until it’s over. He’s a DNR.”
“Yeah, and dementia. It’s all up in his brain.”
“Geez,” I said, reflecting that I knew the feeling.
“How are the kids?”
“They’re fine. They’re down at Stacy’s. My Uncle Marty is watching them.”
“How much do they know?”
“Well I think Mariah has figured it out, but she hasn’t said anything to Katie or Nathan.”
I exhaled deeply.
“Well, what did you expect, Gary? This is serious. It sounds like you should have just stopped and thought for a moment, turned yourself in when you found the guy dead!”
“What are the major papers saying?”
“Not much beyond what the police are telling them. That something went wrong between you and this Naughten guy…”
“That’s not what happened at all and the police know it. It wasn’t like that.”
“This Naughten was like a national hero or something back home for his book, Gary. The FBI has an agent on it; she’s been calling daily. She spent Monday, all day, in our home waiting for you to call. She wants to talk to you.”
“What about Lyzanne?”
“She still has lawyers calling. They’re worried you’re really going to do something to her.”
I exhaled again deeply.
“I told them you’re not. Although I know you’re upset. You’ve got to start thinking clearly again, honey. You need help; serious psychological help.”
“I know, I know, Leslie. I’ll get some, I swear, as soon as all of this is over.”
“Right. That’s what you said the last time you went haywire. You said we would get some counseling and deal with all this…”
“I know honey. At the time I thought I could handle all of it. I guess I didn’t want someone messing with our marriage on top of everything else going on.”
The phone went dead for a second, or it seemed to. There were several clicks in succession. I checked it and the dial said Leslie and I were still connected.
“Honey?” she said.
“We’re getting some interruption on the line and I have to get back to work. Listen. Just think about what I said, alright? You can stop all this from happening, Gary. Just turn yourself in. They will understand.”
“There are some things I have to take care of first, Leslie.”
“Don’t go near you agent, Gary. Do you understand me? Don’t do it. You will bring this family down with you and I know you don’t want that. I know you’re upset, but you can’t …you have to start thinking right. You have to get the help you need, honey,” she said.
“I know. I know. I know,” I offered.
And with that she was gone. It was that moment I recalled where I had seen Claire Whitehall’s name. It was on an envelope stuffed inside Chris Naughten’s bloodstained leather jacket.
I dug both out of the van. The envelope had been sent to Naughten’s address on West 14th Street, New York City.

Dear Blue:
We’ve been trying to reach you for days, love. What gives? How is New York treating you?
I can’t imagine what on earth it is now that makes you want to punish these girls so. They dearly miss their daddy.
Roger sends his regards, of course. He moons about the house, day and night, looking for you. Won’t touch a thing in his bowl. It’s quite sad, actually.
…I don’t know what else to say, Blue.
We miss you. Call us. We’re here…
At the bottom of the page was a post-script, “our new number” followed by the digits. She hadn’t done the obvious, which was good; hadn’t just gone ahead and said it, “we’ve had to get an unlisted to do away with your creditors who won’t stop hounding us!” which would have been the American way. I liked that. It was elegant. It didn’t club you over the head. It was slipped under the door jam, as Dan would say.
By the time I got back to the tent the little phone was ringing. I thought it might be Leslie trying to call me back. It wasn’t but I was surprised to hear someone using my name.
“Mr. O’Brien?” It was a female voice. The accent was Miami. I said nothing.
“Mr. O’Brien, my name is Special Agent Aleka Guzman with the FBI. I know that’s you Mr. O’Brien, so you might as well answer.”
“Yes,” I offered hesitantly.
“I’m only going to say this once, Mr. O’Brien. You need to go and find the nearest law enforcement official you can locate, and you need to turn yourself over to that person. When that is done, call me back on this phone using dialback Do you understand?”
“How did you get this number?”
“How do you think?”
“You were monitoring my wife’s calls at work too, weren’t you?”
“Why, Mr. O’Brien, you think so? Now do as I say.”
“Well, I uh…. I don’t know about turning myself over to anyone right now, Ms. Guzman. I just don’t know. I’ve got something to take care of first.”
“Mr. O’Brien, you’re a writer, correct?”
“Not if you consult the Orlando PD, I’m not.”
“No matter, I want to read you something that was written by a member of the South African Consulate and was forwarded to me by the Director. I think you’ll appreciate it.”
“Wow, I am impressed. The FBI Director sent you an email.”
“…the South African people consider Mr. Naughten, and his observations during Apartheid, a part of their national heritage. Thousands of artists and thinkers became exiled from the land they loved rather than support a system they knew to be wrong. Many brave souls risked their lives leaving military posts. These exiles fled to Europe, America, Asia, Australia, to cities all over the earth where they could begin new lives, carrying heavy hearts for the land they dearly missed. In doing so these brave souls are equally responsible for dismantling, with retreating feet, a system of oppression they abhorred. There is a place for those courageous many now in a new nation that begs to call them home again. Mr. Naughten touched the lives of millions with his words. His is the voice of thousands who courageously chose not to participate in a system that was destroying his homeland. We urge the authorities of your great nation to find out precisely what happened to our countryman and ship him home thereafter.”
I said nothing here. She stopped reading. The woman was back on the line, now. Gone was the mechanical conduit of the South African consulate’s words.
“Mr. O’Brien, this is why I have been called to investigate the manner of Christopher M. Naughten’s death. We can’t send this man home until after we speak with you. I have a sworn duty, sir, to bring you in for questioning in regards to this. You have a duty as a citizen of this country to obey my directive and turn yourself over to authorities. The quicker we resolve this issue, the quicker these people have a sense of closure regarding their countryman. Do you understand me?”
“I have, I …I”
“Mr. O’Brien, I am not negotiating or arbitrating with you. This is not open for discussion. You WILL turn yourself over and you WILL do it, now. If you do not, and let me be absolutely clear here, I will hunt you down like a goddamn dog, and I will prosecute the remainder of you to the maximum allowable extent of the law, sir. Now we have several overworked law enforcement agencies already expending countless man-hours putting up with you and your juvenile bullshit, Mr. O’Brien. And quite frankly, we are tired of it. I have been sitting in a car for three days straight and I, for one, am REALLY over it. Do you hear me? Do you understand that you are seriously pissing off an FBI agent now? Do you know how badly I can fuck up your life, sir?”
“Ms. Guzman, while I sympathize with your situation, and while I enjoyed your personal perspective, I have things that remain unfinished. There are things I must do before you either kill me or lock me up…”
“Damn it Gary, don’t you do it!”
“…And as much as I sympathize with the South African government’s position…”
“Don’t you DARE hang up this phone, Gary!”
“…as well….I just really have to go now, so…bye!”
I had to, really. I was beginning to like her. I found myself too moved by her pitch to remain on the line a second longer. She had a nice voice that would likely get to me. Obviously after reviewing my insane profile or dossier or whatever they came to the conclusion that the only way to my cold, black heart was honesty, pure and simple.
Yes, the South African government had its position and I could relate, but I also had mine and it needed to be honored.
True, this was something I had overlooked. Chris was on ice somewhere. That part of it was nakedly ugly. He had family who wanted someone, a person, to mourn and bury, not some lump of tissue twelve to fifteen days rotten with daggers of ice sticking out of him. Well, apparently his words touched so many people now, he had a whole nation of mourners that wanted him back, proving the theory that they only love you after you’re dead.
Yes, they were all waiting for Gary, bell-tower freak-boy, to come in for questioning.
I envisioned him lying down in a blue icebox, frigid vapors wafting before his closed eyes. Ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly, the corners of his mouth turn up in devilish glee. Blue Naughten with a big smile on his purple lips; this bemused Chris-icle in stasis awaiting further examination following officialdom’s chat with me. Solid as processed cod, still exuding grace and nonchalance, still getting off on my misfortune.
Then I thought of Claire Whitehall and her girls, and their dog, was it? Yes, that would fit. Probably a big, smelly, black brute of a thing; all of them in some cavernously well-appointed ancestral home to clan Whitehall in England, quietly morning the loss of this man who had been husband and father.
I was being extremely childish with all this. Special Agent Guzman was correct. Was there something redeeming I could do to at least mitigate, partially, for all the pain I was causing? Well, I had Claire’s number here but if I called her was I only inflicting more suffering?
I tried to imagine what she had been through these last few months, and yet still, her note was filled with love and images of their lives together back in England. What a solid bar of iron this woman must be. I held the careful little note up to the sunshine and there they were. You could see them in the parchment: stains from dried tears. They had soaked through, leaving holes of light in the foundation of the paper allowing just a little more sunshine through the material. I imagined a moment of utter hell in that house, an argument between children that had gone on unsettled, resulting in slamming doors and little-girl tears. A big-headed dog looking up to Claire as she wrote with tears of her own pooling in her eyes.
I didn’t want to call her, but now I had to. I owed it to her.
It took some doing, making the connections to an international carrier, and I hoped the batteries had been properly charged but I managed to get through to the number. It was seven o’clock in the morning stateside making it late afternoon, early evening in London, or so I guessed.
The accent was what I expected all the way. She had obviously been waiting by the phone for some kind of word from the states about her husband’s body.
“Ms. Whitehall, you don’t know me, but my name is Gary O’Brien. I was with your former husband on the night he died.”
“Yes. I know who you are, Gary. I’ve heard of you,” she said.
“I want to say how sorry I am for your husband’s death. I didn’t kill him, Claire. I – I may have been responsible for, I don’t know putting him in a bad frame of mind, or maybe (and I was trying not to lie here) maybe we were partying a little bit too much, but Claire I swear to you I did not expect this to happen, nor did I want it to…”
“That doesn’t explain why you won’t talk to the police, Gary. Don’t you realize they can’t bring him home yet, and they’re saying that’s because his killer might be out there on the loose, that there might be more evidence they need for a conviction if they find the suspect? Do you realize what you’re doing by running…?”
“Claire, that’s just it. I didn’t kill him. It might look like…”
“Heavens sake, Gary. I KNOW you didn’t kill him…”
There was a long pause as she composed herself.
“Mr. O’Brien, my husband, my late husband, or my late former husband, depending on which lawyer, was not a well man. He was recently diagnosed with cancer throughout his lymphatic system. He also suffered a ruptured vertebrae years ago during army service. He was in constant pain. He was always taking something for it, and he was always mixing it with alcohol.”
I remained silent. She surprised me with a question.
“I’d be interested to know how you got this number, Gary?”
I admitted I found it in his jacket pocket. I hesitantly related how we had caroused at a downtown Orlando bar, fought with bouncers then fled; how I cut my arm escaping the police and how in a blind panic I covered the wound with his jacket that morning before calling 911 to let them know....
She actually snickered through tears at this, releasing a long sigh that held the hint of a smile.
“I’m sorry, but this has all been an emotional roller coaster. That bit’s actually quite funny. Christopher would have appreciated it. It’s also curious that he carried that letter with him.”
“How so?”
“It was sent to him over a month ago, which explains a cell phone call here on the night of his death.”
“He called you?”
“Attempted to call, but it was three o’clock in the morning here. I’m not sure he was condition to realize that now.”
“You have to know, Claire, after I got to know your husband, and I say that because at first I thought he might be working against me with my former agent, but after I got to know him, the real him, I would never have done anything to hurt him…I..”
“This is not the first time for this Gary. You need to rest easy here…”
“As I said before, Christopher was in a great deal of pain. He was depressed as well, since our divorce. He was taking something for that, and warned repeatedly not to mix it with anything, not even beer. But as you certainly discovered, Christopher is his own man and does not listen to anyone.”
“Well, what I wanted to say Claire, was there were some herbal supplements I had given him, bee pollen and so forth, that I take to, to….”
She actually laughed at this.
“Herbal supplements? Mr. O’Brien what I am trying to say to you is my husband had become an absolute drug fiend, of late. There’s not a substance left on earth that he has not snorted, ingested or otherwise jabbed into his veins. Some pitiful little diet pills? Is this what you’re worried about? You can’t be serious.”
“Well, uh, well….”
There was another long, yet comfortable pause. I hadn’t expected complete absolution and here she was offering it.
“Christopher would have delighted in your misery, Mr. O’Brien. You need to turn yourself in, this has gone on long enough.”
“I uh, don’t know what to say…”
“You think these silly diet pills you two had been popping actually incriminate you?”
“I uh,…”
“Oh this is too rich. Too rich. My husband, if I know him, has had an enormous joke on you Gary. As I said, this is not the first time. I’m not sure how clearly I must present the hint…”
“He’s overdosed before?”
“As I have been trying to impart to you, without divulging too much, you see.”
“Was it intentional, you think?”
“He left no note. We’ll never know, will we Gary. On some level, I assume it was, or has been coming for some time.”
“But, he seemed to be having so much fun earlier. It didn’t seem like that would have been the moment for that kind of thing. It just seems odd.”
“Welcome to the world of manic depression. The highs are incredibly high, and the lows are deeper and more painful than either of us can imagine. The lows can sweep in without warning, at any time. There were things he has been dealing with since writing his book, you see. Death threats and the like. He hasn’t been back to South Africa in more than a decade. Christopher is able to put a good face on many things, but there has been so much pain and sadness he has dealt with. So much pain.”
I exhaled deeply. I didn’t know what to say.
“Unpleasantness aside I would be interested to know everything about that evening. I think it might help me to know what he was going through. His state of mind, what he said. Was he at least planning to start writing again?”
“Oh magazines and newspapers are one thing, but he enjoyed writing so much. I mean really writing, Gary. Sitting there at his desk and just falling into the story. He adored it. It was the only time he truly was at peace; the only relief he ever got from it came from writing. He had several novels he was attempting to get published. They’re all here strewn about….”
“He mentioned that writing in England had been difficult; that, that there’s a stuffiness to society that was hard to deal with. But he didn’t dwell on that too much, only that he felt creatively challenged.”
“Oh, he’s a big fat baby, as a lot of writers are, and I suspect he was talking about my father.”
I said nothing.
“Chris and my father never really got on, but then, what son-in-law is accepted with open arms by the father immediately? Does your father-in-law like you Gary?”
“The man thinks I’m an ass.” I said it without hesitation. It was out of my mouth before I could think.
“Precisely. There’s always a process that takes years, Gary. Like a lot of writers, Chris wanted everything now, immediately! Then he got it, got everything he wanted; riches, fame and the lot. All of it fell into his lap, and that still wasn’t good enough for him. Honestly, I don’t know what it is with you writers. Nothing is ever damned good enough….”
“I wish I knew too.”
“What else did he say?”
“He mentioned his daughters and you. He…he said you all loved him very much and the reverse…”
“Well I seriously doubt he said this to a man, but I thank you, Gary…”
“No-no, he did. The way he put it was, well, he admitted that he was impossible to live with as a human being, and you, you had every right not to not want to put up with it anymore. He thought that true writers weren’t the sort of people who actually deserved normal lives.”
“Now you’re talking. That does sound like him. Although he had a tendency to blame forces outside of his control on things in his life that he could have changed easily. You can’t know everything, Gary, but there were choices he made that didn’t help. And when he stopped doing the one thing that seemed to calm his spirit, or when he found that for some reason he couldn’t do it anymore, or just not at that moment in his life, he turned to other means to..”
“We’re not talking about drugs anymore, are we?”
“No. No we’re not, Gary. And when a man makes those kind of choices over and over again, he begins to endanger his family. This is a slippery slope and a subject I’m not prepared to elaborate too much on. You understand, or at least you will have to.”
“No, no. I completely understand. I have to admit I have my own problems here.”
“You have a wife?”
“And daughters, and a son. We also have a dog.”
“Oh, he told you about Roger, then?” she said with a smile. For some reason this deeply touched her. I wasn’t going to take it away.
“He loved Roger,” I said.
“Not at first. Roger was my idea, of course, for when Christopher was away doing his research. Soon though….Well, sometimes I think that last day he was here was hardest on him and poor Roger,” she said and continued laughing through tears.
“What does your wife do?” she asked.
“She’s a nurse.”
“She takes care of you doesn’t she.”
“She does at that. She loves me deeply and I can’t see why.”
“You love her?”
“Absolutely, although we don’t always have it easy.”
“It never is. You take good care of anyway, then Gary. And do turn yourself in soon. There’s no need for this. Chris wouldn’t want a friend – and I say that because you two obviously became very good friends in a very short time – he wouldn’t want a friend to continue to suffer this way. Everything will be sorted out, Gary. I know the police can be made to see…”
“There is an issue outstanding I have with my agent that I have to address and I’m not so trusting that the police don’t want to jail me before I can get to her.”
“This Lyzanne Schnedz person who keeps calling here? Dreadful woman, really just bloody awful.”
“She keeps calling?”
“Well yes. She’s somehow inserted herself in a negotiation that has already been ongoing regarding Chris’s life story. We’ve already worked all of this out contractually with Metro before this happened with Chris, and apparently she’s arranged some other deal with a rival studio. To top everything off, I have lawyers calling here from both studios threatening to sue his estate. She’s a horrible human being. Where on earth did she come from?”
“What does she want?”
“I seriously think she means to blackmail me into accepting this deal she’s brokered rending her a percentage!”
“That sounds like something she would do. I have to admit…”

I walked to the public bathrooms and passed through a little crowd of surfers brushing their teeth. One of their comrades was in the john. They were talking about how shitty the waves were as I brushed my own teeth and rinsed. These men ranged in age from about 25 to 35. The group thinned out to two who continued waiting on their ‘bud’ who remained inside one of the stalls groaning in gastric crisis.
“Gonna make it, man?”
“Uhhhhhhhh. I don’t know. You guys go ahead.”
“How are the waves?” I asked one of them.
“Sucks right now. This swell’s s’posed to be here now. Got a buddy in Delray Florida who’s already rippin’ on it.”
“What’s it like here?” I asked.
“Two foot semi-chop. We’re right out back here between the point and the southwest end of the park. Been on it since 4:30.”
“Still nothing yet?”
“Not a thing.”
“Huh…” I said. And the look on my face must have betrayed puzzlement.
“Lemme guess. You surf too?”
“Yep. I’m from Florida, from the Melbourne area.”
“Excellent. Sebastian Inlet. I love that place. You come all the way up here for this?”
This would be the obvious: The hurricane churning in the Atlantic. The long lines of swell that would pump out from the storm in concentric, ever-expanding rings.
“Well to tell you the truth I just happened to be here when the hurricane came on-line. Would you believe I only brought my fishing stuff and I forgot to bring my board?”
“No way.”
“Well did you at least catch something?”
“Got a nice red yesterday and about twenty blues so far. Most of that is still on ice so at least I can eat for a while.”
“Well Tommy’s got the squirts and he doesn’t want to go back out. He might loan you his board, if you wanted to.”
“You serious?”
“Maybe for a bluefish or two?”
So I leaned toward the door of the john and asked; “How about it, Tommy?”
“Uggggg… as you can imagine buddy, the idea of bluefish ain’t sweetenin’ the deal any right now.”
“How about rum? Liter bottle. I’m buyin.”
“What kind of rum?’
“Mount Gay. Had some of it last night.”
“Mount …Gay?”
“No, it’s not like that. This is good rum. Distilled in Barbados since 1703. The best.”
“Alright, sure. What the hell.”
We set him up in his tent with my rum and a liter bottle of coke. I don’t know if rum is accepted by the American Medical Association as a cure for ‘the squirts’ but he didn’t seem to mind. He laid down and told me where his board was in the stack of boards strapped to their SUV. Tommy’s board was a nice white long-board by Hobie. I was in luck.
It took about twenty minutes to reach the beach walking the trails. The sand was getting hotter by the minute and I missed the hell out of my flip-flops. Don’t know why I didn’t take them. I could see the spot where Dan had parked his Bronco last night. That brought up thoughts of being on the run and I got a chill down my spine thinking about diligent Special Agent Aleka Guzman sitting in a car for three days with whatever taping and tapping gear she had at her disposal waiting for me to place a call to my wife at work or at home.
I got a mental picture of her, Greek-Hispanic woman in her mid thirties – you just knew she was hot from that voice - running through an airport in high heels, ready to hop a flight to North Carolina, perhaps phoning ahead to satellite offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, Fayetteville, or Columbia.
Just as surely authorities in Hyde and Dare counties had been phoned as well, letting them know that somewhere on the Outer Banks, the man wanted for Chris Naughten’s murder was stomping around, drawing free breaths in heaping helpings. And where was the fugitive? He was walking on a burning sand trail at Cape Point Park with a ten-foot Hobie surfboard under his arm, on the way to catch him some hurricane swell, that’s where.
We talked to cut the monotony. Ryan and Dale were my companions this fine morning. Ryan owned a brake repair in Perryville, Maryland. Dale and his brother Tommy, of the squirts, live in Baltimore managing their father’s plumbing-supply empire.
Dale had that curious Baltimore speech pattern than rounded off the hard consonants within the words, thereby changing Baltimore to “Bal’em-more” as in “’re sure to get laid in Bal’em-more an’ if ye can’t, muss be sum’in wrong w’it you.”
We discussed the hurricane and I repeated something Dan McGreary had said the night before; a funny line that came somewhere midway through the bottle.
Dan said the NWS could predict which hurricanes were going to be the most destructive ones and named them accordingly. And look at it, down through history the worst, most deadly storms of the female persuasion, sounded like prominent whores in Louisiana’s French Quarter: Isabel, Camille and so forth. And the less masculine the male name - ala Hugo, Mitch, Georges, and Andrew - the more likely it was to wash home and hearth away.
Hurricane Fred, for instance will likely give nothing more than a glancing blow, but beware Frederick; he has something to prove. He’ll leave you standing on the beach in your jock strap and nothing more.
So Claudine, now two hundred fifty miles south southwest of Bermuda and moving north northeast, with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles an hour, had all the earmarks of a classic bitch in the making. And as Dan said, there was a high-pressure system guiding her to shore.
That was the question, when would it turn? They always asked that; people got a little thrill when they talked about it, as if they had the inside track on all the information, like; “yeah, but when will it turn? That’s the question!” Just like they did at playoff time, when the underdog was going up against a dynasty, they said the same old line, “yeah, they’ve done well this year but against the number-one defense in the league? I mean, c’mon, right?” You didn’t have to know a damned thing about football, or hurricanes, just so long as you knew when to drop those respective lines into the pile of conversational gibber and you sounded like a damned genius; that was until Carolina walked all over the Jets in the playoffs. Or when the storm didn’t turn, but just kept on coming.
And these boys were saying the very words those they always said when predicting a hurricane “yeah but …when’s it gonna turn? That’s the question.”
True, the Coriolis force was shoving it north and west as it spun. It would hit the eastern boundary of that warm, Gulf Stream current and jog more northward, or turn, as they said. But then those “steering currents” that Dan spoke about, were tricky bastards. A high-pressure system would rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere counteracting the rotation of that storm like the offense and the defense colliding at the line of scrimmage. And the earth’s rotation forced it westward on through the Gulf Stream, all that hot water would feed it anew, it would gain strength and pick up speed, spinning faster, tightening up into a big ball of devastation, looking for release into those open field of the Atlantic to the north.
But if the high pressure held like secondary and forced to toward the sidelines, out of bounds, then, we were in for it, just as Dan said we were. We were all standing here with flags, cameras and clipboards in our hands about to get hit hard; no where to run, too late to get out of the way.
Continuing on with the campy sports metaphors, Cape Hatteras stuck out like a fighter’s glass chin, daring the storm and all comers; “Go ahead mother fucker! Take your best shot! Know what? I’ve been here for thousands of years, baby, and I’m going to go right on being here, in one form or another so, let’s see what you got!”
The Cape’s end of the bargain seemed to be temporary relief from all these insect-like humans and their little dwellings. “Whipe me clean! Whipe ‘em off me, please God!” it shouted. The waves and the surge would roll up over the dunes and under the homes, on over into the sound. New islands would be carved out of the strand of sand, new inlets and the Cape would go right on living and loving sunshine. It would be the humans, their cars, their homes, their lives that would suffer if they were stupid enough not to heed the warning and leave the island. They would be the ones who would pay the price in terror, dispossession, privation and even death if the storm proved bad enough.
And who knew? All that water out there, all those temperature variations, density gradients, salinity fluctuations, a patchwork of differently colored and textured water, each meandering stain with its own unique characteristics for retaining latent heat from the sun. It was all a gigantic craps table out there with all sorts of bumps in it. The storm could bounce this way and that just before it reached shore. It could gain wind speed but lose forward momentum and stall. How dry was the air above the ocean? How much water vapor would it slurp up into its dense mass as it approached? How much water would be dumped into the sound, water that needed to go somewhere since more of it flowed down from the mountains of western North Carolina than could be flushed through all those puny inlets along The Banks while a hurricane held sway? Where would the new inlets form? Would I be trapped on the road just as the worst of the surge breached it from both sides? Would my van be carried into the sound before I finished my mission, my book?
But, glass half-full, not half-empty, right now none of that was happening. Right now, all we had before us was a picture-perfect day. Warm breezes and warm water lapping the shore. Those big concentric hoops of wind-driven swell had already been set in motion. They were already sorting themselves out according to speed, wavelength and wave height so that when they hit, they would already be stacked and processed as though run through an industrial grader. Smaller waves, random, stupid directionless waves had been damped down, the larger orderly lines of a similar nature and a similar speed were reinforced and onward they moved like a deep humming tone from the planet herself.
I’ve seen hurricane swell more times than I can count; but only once previously have I actually been sitting on my board in the water when it started to roll in. It can be quite dangerous because, before you know it, you’re scratching for the horizon to get beyond massive walls of water before they move in and drown you. You have no other choice as they will break and hit you, one way or another. All you can control is how you meet that swell. You either have to be on shore or out past the breakers when they arrive. Once it starts coming in hard and fast, especially with a long board, chances you’ll make it out to ride them from start to finish, are about nil.
From what these guys were saying, the waves had already begun in Delray Florida, about eight-hundred miles south and slightly west of here. I pictured it in Delray; massive blue walls, head-high and rising. I thought of a similar scene in Sebastian Inlet, perhaps shoulder high and rising. In my mind’s eye, I backed away from the earth for a satellite view and tried to think of that arc of swell, already reaching Bermuda late yesterday evening, or so the fellows said, and they, referencing radio reports from NOAA. Well that meant any minute it would start right here. It made me more than a little nervous.
You can die here surfing. It happens from time to time. Forty-year-old surfer bites off a bit more than he can chew; paddles out on a huge day after spending half a week in the car to get here a victim of his own ego along with a dozen quarter-pounders with cheese. Never to be seen again. Not such an unbelievable story, that. Perfectly plausible; I should think on that long and hard gazing out into that swell, once we reached the beach. But I knew I wouldn’t. Once there, I’d go for it. I always do.
Ryan Obermeyer and Dale Coveney continued talking about the swell and how crappy it had been earlier, and why that was so. I didn’t want to educate them. Let them see for themselves I thought.
I asked Dale when he began surfing as there aren’t many waves in Bal’emore and he said; “Chrissss iss (Christ, it’s) been ages ago,” adding that their father Ed, had been one of the first vacationing businessmen to take advantage of the area around Rodanthe, before totally falling in love with the Banks.
Ed Coveney built a three-story beach rental in Rodanthe in 1973 and the family has been coming down during the summers ever since. Dale and Tommy grew up surfing and fishing these waters during the summer. Ed Coveney’s plumbing and supply business was so successful he branched out into beach rentals, and charter fishing. They bought a large Hatteras yacht and began working out of the Chesapeake Bay in 1980.
I agreed there’s nothing so distinctive on the water as a Hatteras fishing yacht; its profile, lines and so forth are inimitable. I asked him the name of that yacht and Dale spelled it for me, which I thought curious.
“Effeaux? Is that French for something?” I asked.
Ryan and Dale began to snicker.
“Gets ‘em every time,” he said, adding, “Yeah, it’s French for ‘Have Nice Day!’”
“My Dad’s got a great sense of humor. He has these parties aboard, all these rich guys and their wives; takes ‘em out in the Chesapeake and Dad would time it, how long it took for one of these ole’ biddies to come up on the bridge and ask, ‘Now, the name of the boat, is it French for something?’”
“Dad was a character back in those days. He would say ‘Now Mrs. So and So, don’t take offense to the name of the boat but it is French. It’s a message for the other boaters, it means, ‘Have a nice day!
“Before too long they’d come back up on the bridge, big ole’ smile on their face, like ‘I get it, like Eff-You! Right? Eff you! As in F-You!’ Dad would just smile. He’d play dumb until they said it out loud all the way, as in ‘Fuck You’ and Dad would say “…well excuse me Ma’mm but f- you too! It doesn’t mean that at all. They’d look shocked, blood draining away from their faces before he let ‘em off the hook!”
“Hah!” I said, and indeed, I liked it.
“He got another boat working out of Oregon Inlet before too long,” Dale went on.
“Lemme guess…”
“You got it, Effeaux II which also works on two levels, three when you get some Bible thumper on board, then you tell him it means “A-few,” as in ‘How many did you get Ed?’ “Oh I don’t know Walt, Effeaux or Effeaux II’ when what you were really telling the other guy, right there in front of the Lord Jesus was hey F-You Too, for askin’ or braggin’”
I admitted I really liked that name. I told Dale it would be the sort of name you’d find on the back of an eighty-foot monster yacht in Palm Beach or Miami. Some dentist or proctologist would own the boat. His rich buddies and their biddies would brag they were spending a couple of weeks aboard Effeaux over in the Bahamas.
The joke would work here too, only the way the yachting and cruising set would play it, would be to run the con on the hard-drinkingest widow aboard and keep the joke running for days. She’d bother everyone about the name; “well, I know my recollection of French is hazy, but I don’t seem to recall that being the phrase for have a nice day…”
No one would clue her in. Instead the boat owner would assure her this was dialect of French spoken only in the Bordeaux region; wine country lingo for “and the grapes will yield well today,” or some horseshit like this. She’d search her memory archives, scanning every bit of French lingo she heard on the one and only trip to the French wine country her late husband Bernerd (not Bernard, but Bernerd!) took her on; that summer Bernerd actually took his wife, rather than his mistress, the cosmetology student named Missy.
The cruise would be in Chub Harbor; a moment of downtime, maybe during after-dinner drinks and the captain would let the widow in on the joke in front of everyone, and everyone, right on down to the lowliest crewman would laugh. The woman would spend the remainder of the cruise locked in her stateroom with a death grip on the Beefeater bottle to get through the embarrassment; with the phrase “Eff – You!” burning a hole in her brains. They’d get back to Miami and she would tell no one about her humiliating moment aboard the “Eff-You,” but neither would she ever ask to be included on a cruise again, which had been the point of the exercise since she was an insufferable old bat and, being a rich and snotty bunch, no one knew a more graceful way to get rid of her. At parties people would laugh at her behind her back recalling the event.
“Jesus, man! It sounds like you know these people,” Ryan said.
“Sorry, it’s a habit of mine,” I said, admitting not only that I was a writer but that I had been a boat monkey during the 1983 America’s Cup yacht trials in Newport, Rhode Island. I had the pleasure of working for a member of the New York Yacht Club the year the Australians took the cup away, pouring drinks on a massive wooden hull Mathews, a sixty-foot floating living room powered by diesel Caterpillars.
I spent the summer tying lines around bollards, docking into slips that were too tight for a captain who was soused much of the time.
The man invented a screw-threading machine after graduating from MIT; he patented the device and soon he was rich as old Croesus himself. Thereafter he yachted between three homes up and down the eastern seaboard. My father knew the man and got me the job in Vero Beach as a wake-up call into the big wide world of fucking assholes; I suppose to prove to me that life was not a Disney ride and I needed to get my shit together, either that or invent something that got me rich.
“Give shit, or eat shit, Gary! Take your pick. Decide, don’t float because you’ll end up eatin’ and I mean yards of it!”
I took the job as it seemed like a cool thing to do between freshman and sophomore years. From Vero, Dad’s friend and I, along with party guests climbed the Intracoastal Waterway all the way to Newport. Oh, I knew the breed well. They would die, absolutely die, to have been the first with that name on their transom.
“Hell yeah…” laughed Ryan. “Some mean sumbitches, huh?”
“The meanest,” I said.
We reached the water finally, and the last one hundred yards were pure murder for the burning of the sand.
But the ocean was something gorgeous to behold, clean blue all the way to the horizon. The surface of it looked jumpy, is the best way I can describe it. So far, the only swell peeling was a light four-foot crumbly chop dashing on the offshore bar but the shore break had strength to it. It surged up the beach and back again with a hiss.
“It’s actually gotten bigger,” said Ryan.
“Oh I think we better get out there. I’ve got a feeling…”
“Really,” said Dale in disbelief. “Shouldn’t we already be seeing it by now?”
“Any minute gentlemen. Any minute now. The question is, where do you want to be when it hits? Standing here or out there?”
And so with that, all three of us were in the water. Getting out to the bar was easy enough. You could feel it in the way the little rollers were slamming onto the bar, however, there was power in the water. Things were beginning to change. I kept on paddling. Dale and Ryan followed me for a little while then stopped. They sat up on their boards and looked at each other as if to say “what’s his problem?”
I stopped and turned around; waved them to follow but they didn’t budge. I settled on a spot a good football field distant from their outpost. They rode a few knee hoppers onto the sandbar; little “shits and giggle” waves and continued regarding me with smiles and hand signals every so often. Another ten minutes passed and I turned around toward shore again. I could see the top of Ryan’s head go up and down behind the back of a three foot wave, the nose of Dale’s board poked through the rolling smooth surface and his head popped free of the water with a smile. Apparently the buddies had barely missed colliding. The look on Dale’s face darkened instantly.
I turned around and saw it: a solid wall of gorgeous blue, fifty yards further out to sea and nearly ready to break.
Twice the height of a grown man, it looked like it had been drawn by a ruler, extending to left and right for a mile. It jumped up from out of nowhere. And there was no telling whether this was only the first in a conveyer belt of fifteen or whether this was nothing more than a rogue; a vanguard freak only hinting at the condition of the swell that was still minutes or even hours from us. You couldn’t see beyond it to know for sure.
One thing was certain, though. Dale and Ryan were about to get washed ashore.
For a second I could do nothing more than sit there and admire it. It was utterly beautiful and deadly. It moved closer and feathered at the top. I paddled to my left aiming the nose of the board for a clear gradual slope on the shoulder.
The feathering gave way to a pop and hiss where the very top of the wave crumbled to a pillow of white that began to elongate into couch, then a rolling cloud the size of a VW bus which itself stretched and elongated into something the size of a railway car. As the white water was building the wave began to thicken as the bowl and barrel formed, and the shoulder I plunged for with all the effort in my lungs, got steeper until nearly merging with the subway car, threatening to dump on me with full force.
I rose to my knees on the board and with full weight behind my thrusts, managed to drive it up the face of the wave and stood on the deck to propel it over the top before it could crash on me.
As I sank into the trough I saw the next wave in the train, slightly bigger, already beginning to feather just as its predecessor had done, only fifty yards further out than the last. This was a race to the death, then. Well all right, I thought. I might as well give it everything I got.
I looked back and the land was gone, only blue sky and a roiling mass of water heading toward Dale and Ryan, who were now somewhere there in the wash; ants in the washing machine; helplessly pummeled by whitewater.
The pop and hiss started the race all over again. I was in the exact predicament I had been in not thirty seconds ago, a repeat. I had not moved an inch as far as escaping the worst of it. Again I drove toward the water. No choice now. There went the pillow, forming into a couch, into a VW bus, into a subway car. My lungs burned. Up to the knees for three final thrusts, stand and up!
I could have caught that wave. The white water just missed me. I looked down the face as the monster rolled under me. Eight-foot plus, if it was an inch.
The next wave had already formed into the pillow, now the couch, now the VW now the subway train and I hadn’t even begun to paddle.
Risking it all I angled the board due east to my left. It was a gamble but what the hell. Just maybe I was out far enough, and deep enough that all I needed to do to get out of this situation was avoid the sand bar below me and the white water would pass me by. Paddling with everything I had I outran a ten foot wall of white water escaping the crush of it by three strokes.
The next wave in the train was an absolute monster, already formed into a full barrel, walling and sectioning fifty yards ahead of me. I turned to and scratched for the horizon, but this time it came and went under me before the whitewater. Not trusting my luck I continued on for the horizon again, now into a bright blue room formed between the next wave and the back of the last one. Getting over that I was terrified to see a solid wall of whitewater where the next wave had already collapsed on yet an even deeper sandbar off shore. There was no way out of this one. This was it. It would not be pretty.
The whole section just jumped up and fell over in one solid line. Like fifteen rail cars attached caboose style, all leaning over on a curve and slamming down at once.
The board was far too big to duck-dive beneath it. I could strip my leash and head for the bottom but then, I’d have nothing to ride back to shore on, and by my estimation I was a good quarter mile out to sea. I would not make it back in without the board. I could bail off, swim to the end of my leash for the bottom anyway and let the whitewater drag me, but it would likely haul me ass over t-kettle into the impact zone. Then I would be on the death’s conveyor belt I had just escaped.
“Are we having fun yet?”
It was Graham’s voice in my head.
“Oh shut the hell up…” I muttered.
“You’ll admit this was far from wise.”
“Okay bite me, pal. Just bite me!”
I paddled with everything I had left and prepared to duck dive but a curious thing happened. Apparently the water was deep enough between the two off shore sandbars that the white water gradually subsided to a hiss again before reaching me; then it grew and formed into the next wave and crashed on the bar shoreward of me. I was in a trough between the offshore bars, safe for the moment.
Well at least I knew it could break this far out on the clean-up swells. The horizon was filled with ruler lines; the swell was here. One of the lines jumped up into a thick black bar, nearly twice the size of his compatriots. Yes that one would bust on the offshore-offshore bar and keep right on grinding through the inside. I managed to get all the way out there beyond all of them.
Exhausted I let the largest of them pass beneath me and explode onto the deep reef, a full twelve-foot close-out Mack truck. The kind of wave that would suck you down to the bottom and spit you up on the inside with four more, smaller waves ready to come down on your head. You’d surface in the froth, unable to drag your board to you, unable to breathe; seconds away from another trip to the bottom. It would go on until you were dead. Getting back to the beach sure was going to be interesting, to say the least. I tried to control my panic. Now I had done it, now I was essentially trapped offshore.
From here I could at least see the beach. The waves rolled under me and as I rose, I gazed shoreward. Ryan and Dale were little ants on the strand sitting next to their boards.
Oh, that was bad. Dale’s board was smashed in half. And it looked like he was leaning over, and yes, yes, here it comes…puking his guts out. Oh, he had been worked badly. Now there he goes collapsing beside what remained of his board. I could only imagine what he had been through.
I looked to the west and was surprised to see a thin feminine form in a purple bikini and a blood-red thruster come knifing out beside me.
She was gorgeous, came slicing right out to me as though paddling through two-foot rollers.
“It’s all about the duck dive,” she said. “I couldn’t let you have all these to yourself…”
“Honey, you can have them. I haven’t rode the first one and I’m beat like a broke-dick dog.”
“No wonder with that log you’re sitting on. It’s amazing you even got out here,” she said.
“I had a bit of luck. My new friends didn’t though.”
“Yeah, I saw. You’re one buddy said he almost died.”
“My name’s Gary.”
“ I’m Trish. Is that a borrowed board? It must be.”
“How do you figure?”
“No one brings a long board like that to a day like today. Not intentionally anyway.”
“Got me there.”
“Excuse me for a second,” she said and paddled out to sea. The swell came rolling up and over the outside bar. It was enormous. Trish slid right into position beside the peak like a checkmark and dropped in. She looked over at me through clear blue eyes and smiled, a great big smart aleck grin on her face, carved a deep bottom turn came up off the top then she was gone behind the wall of rolling water headed toward shore. Every now and again you could see a slash of spray where she had hit the cascading lip. You could follow her carving line through the back of the wave. Finally, the board and surfer came shooting up and over the curl as it collapsed into a gushing explosion.
Trish rolled her arms like a cliff diver as she flew through the air, a full ten feet above the back of that wave, knifing into the water in a perfect dive. She was a football field away from me. It had taken seconds, mere seconds.
Safe as a bug in a rug she paddled out to me again. Not the first line of white water to fight through.
“Refreshing,” she said. “You should take one.”
She sat up and rolled her blonde hair into a ball and wrung it with her hands. Then she shook the water out of her left ear.
“On this tank? I’m lucky to be alive now.”
“No, that’s a good board for being out here. It’s just not a board that makes it easy to get out here. But, the thing is, you’re here now. Safe. Everything’s cool. Just play it right and you’re golden.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve done big waves on a long board.”
“Make your buddies jealous,” she said and damn, what a perfect smile she had. That was a “class skipper” smile. That was a smile a tenth grade girl gave you when she telling you that you and her were going to skip class third period and throw water balloons at someone in the gym, then run off into the woods and do whatnot.
“Make ‘em jealous, huh?”
“Yeah, they suck, man. Look at those guys! They’re weenies!”
This is what a slightly-immature and terminally-cute twenty-year old girl said. She could really surf, though. That one wave with her on it; the cool way she forgot about the tons of water she so gracefully avoided and just went for it, even sparing a little smile for me as she passed. You can’t buy that, it doesn’t come in a can. It’s not something you can acquire in a hostile takeover.
“Just make ‘em jealous, huh?”
I looked shoreward and Dale was sitting up now. Ryan was standing. And there was Tommy. He had recovered enough to come out for a look-see, to find out how his board was doing.
Might not get another chance. She was right. Pretty soon Tommy’s going to want his board back. Not that he’ll make it out here but, he’ll want it just the same.
I headed for the horizon with Trish right next to me the whole way.
It came from the depths, this thing. It started off blackish green, then jacked up half a foot moving through blue water, feathered at the tippy top.
“Yeah….” Said Trish. “Yeah, that’s it.”
“Make ‘em jealous. Make ‘em jealous.” I kept it up, over and over. No fear, just drive those hands down, over and over to make ‘em jealous.
I whipped the board around went from sitting to prone in one smooth flick. Three, four and five paddles. The wind rushed up the face of the giant threatening to throw me over and off it’s back with the spray but I closed my eyes and repeated, six, seven, eight… “Make ‘em jealous, make ‘em jealous….make those suckers jealous!!!!!”
The drop seemed without end. I had my feet planted right where I wanted them, slightly aft and splayed more to starboard. At first I thought the big Hobie wasn’t going to dig in, that I was going to keep right on heading down, burying the nose, getting sucked up and over the curl, over the falls and down to the bottom. But that’s not what happened.
She screamed behind me, “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyYeah!” and I knew from the sound of her voice the rail had held. The turn was obscenely wide but good enough. I had so much forward motion from the downhill run, and my feet were so well squared and planted, knees bent just right, the spray shot up and mixed with the mist getting sucked back over the wave. The radius of the arc, ten feet, was wider than a slalom skier pulled over water at thirty so I knew I was moving faster. I had all the room in the world at the bottom to just go flat out. Meeting up with the rising wall to my right, I walked forward, angled the nose toward shore slightly and I was right there, in tight and driving the train, a hood ornament screaming for joy. I was moving so fast I couldn’t make out the texture of the wave anymore. Everything became hissing and frothing and speeding. All of it me, my line of sight, my legs, the board, my balls shriveling up inside me, became part of the blurring pounding grinding thing moving toward resolution.
I was vaguely aware of the shoreline to my left rising and falling as I angled high on that wave walked backwards and shot down with every drop. I forgot about the barrel chasing me. It didn’t exist anymore. On and on it went, ten seconds, fifteen seconds, twenty. I knew in the back of my mind that I was getting closer to shore than I wanted to go.
Coming off yet another bottom turn I shot for the sun just as the entire section walled up and collapsed. Up, up and over I flew with that white Hobie corkscrewing like a well-thrown pass. The wall of water I had been on grew smaller as I sailed. At the top of my arch looked out to sea and there she was, a little wisp of a thing smiling at me. I struck the water hard but I didn’t feel it yet. When I crawled back on my board I was shaking with adrenaline, stroking for the horizon again, acutely aware of every droplet, every heliographing color dancing on every shimmering surface. The blue sky, so rich and so endless, you could taste it.
God damn! That was fantastic!
She was leaning back on her board laughing at me when I finally made it out to her.
“See? What did I tell you, dude!”
“I guess there’s a little channel here to our left.”
“You can see it from the top of the light house, almost in the same place every time. Sand shifts and you have to watch out but it’s usually there when the waves come. Water’s got to go somewhere…” she said.
“See? Those guys are soooooooooo jealous. You almost got clobbered though. I could tell. You just made it out of there didn’t you.”
I nodded.
“I’m going again. Wish me luck,” she said.
And there it was. Another perfect swell. In three strokes she had it was up and gone, covered up by a double-overhead barrel. This time there were no slashes of spray hitting the top of the wave as she traveled. Soon though a long, flowing line appeared on the back of the wave where she had been.
“Yyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeahhhhhhh,” came her voice as if from out of a cave. Bam, she hit the top of the wave with both arms raised in victory. She made it out. Then the slashing started and the punch-out at the end.
Trish made it back to my position and smiled.
“It’s getting pretty thick inside, walling up pretty good again. We need more of an offshore to hollow it out. I’m not trusting that inside just yet. But the outside’s fun,” she said.
Well she was a little chatterbox wasn’t she? We had a moment of calm here, in between sets.
She said she was from Virginia Beach. In high school she won several ESA events, right here at Hatteras. So she knew how the place worked, had her favorite spots wired and this happened to be one of them.
I asked her what she did for a living?
“Well, I’m going to school, right now. In fact, I’m supposed to be heading back to UVA but not with this…”
We paddled together to combat the long-shore drift.
She said she had a friend named April who was, or at least, had been camping with her in the park but April hooked up with some guy she met down at Frisco Pier and so she was with him, staying in a rental he shared in Frisco. So Trish had the six-man tent all to herself.
We talked about tents. She had the real deal, a Coleman. I had a knock off.
“So, where’s your wife?” she asked with a grin as we stopped and set up again.
“Actually she’s back in Florida right now, working …”
“Big fight, huh?”
I thought for a second before responding then said; “something like that.”
I asked her where her boyfriend was. She was cute enough. How come she was alone?
“I guess it’s my winning personality. Guys just LOVE me what can I say,” she said facetiously.
“They’re intimidated, maybe?” I offered.
“Most of them are too damned stupid to be intimidated, or to hold a decent conversation. Those that aren’t are either jerks, or they’re….”
“Too old and married?”
She laughed.
“Or married, yeah. I didn’t want to say it. You know. I didn’t want to make you feel bad. You seem like a nice guy and we’re just out here surfing but you never know. I might need you to save me if I hit my head on my board, you know? Or if I tombstone on the inside….so…”
“You look like you can take care of yourself,” I offered.
“Hey, three time ESA women’s champion, but anybody can screw up.”
“You’ve got that right. So the deal is I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine?”
“It’s a deal. Now see?” she said looking to our right. “See what I’m talking about? Guys today are just plain macho dumb-asses. Here we are guys, over here..hey!” she said waving.
There were three of them. Young guns who had almost made it out. They could have paddled to their left to get out of the impact zone and into the channel but they didn’t. They ignored us completely, and kept trying to bull their way out through the worst part of the break. Three massive waves came and went, dumping every last one of them in the worst possible way. Each time they surfaced, gasped, and grabbed their boards and each time they were shoved shoreward just a little bit farther. Never once did they consider coming near us where the water was deep and calm.
“See what I’m talking about?”
“It’s like the gene pool is shallowing up anymore. You’re right.”
“I’m telling ya…”
Then a Mack Truck set came rolling in. Even Trish and I had to get out of the way. We high tailed out of there, paddling toward Diamond Shoals with everything, and made it beyond the angry reach of the ocean’s mauling meat-grinders.
The three surfers were gone, more ants in the washing machine. Ten minutes later and they surfaced one by one, beat tired, trudging up on shore a half-mile down the beach having been pulled round the cove with the long-shore current.
The ocean’s power was increasing. At this point Trish and I were facing swell that approached double overhead consistently.
I took off too late on one of these huge outsiders that, while large, seemed smooth and make-able, but it was not to be. The wave was moving faster than I expected and I went down hard. Fortunately I fell in smooth water and missed getting buried in whitewash and was soon up, breathing again and ready to give it another shot.
Trish caught a random jump-up left and rode it as far as she dared before shooting off the back, and scratching like hell out of the impact zone. Two large waves broke almost on top of her, but she was just able to duck-dive and paddle out of danger.
“Well that was interesting,” she said of nearly ending her day, adding “…oh shit, look at that!”
I turned just in time. It was perfect indigo wall pushing twelve feet, feathering at the top. I was perfectly positioned to go. I had three strokes to make up my mind. But the power and speed was such that when it broke it broke up and out, causing me to go partially airborne before catching a rail.
I dropped like man standing in a falling elevator and prayed to God my feet would find the board after gravity did its thing. Landing at the back of the board and flailing to stay on, I made the ugliest bottom-turn in the history of surfing, a turn that immediately propelled me back up to the top of the wave, awkwardly out of position.
I overcorrected on the cut-back and was airborne again. This time I landed the turn more smoothly but the wall had stacked up so quickly all I could do was duck, trim toward shore, slightly, and watch in terror as the lip came over my head.
I hadn’t wanted a tube ride, not today. I was about to get one. It rose steep and clear as the wall grew more critical to my right, sectioning and falling like a house of cards as the end of the tunnel raced on ahead of me.
If the sound of an exploding bomb could be drawn out, dissected then looped at two second intervals, that would be the sound that a twelve foot barrel makes as it walls overhead then falls, detonating to my left in a shaky room of glass. I kept my eye on the entrance to that tunnel that seemed to have slowed slightly ahead of me but showed no immediate signs of providing me an escape. I only hoped it wouldn’t seal up like tube of toothpaste, spitting me out in the wash of whitewater.
The wave and I were closer in toward shore now. The barrel was warbling on the sand reefs, it’s entrance becoming less defined. I kept my eye burned on that sunlit shoulder as it peeled back toward me. The first break I got I ducked beneath the closing lip, cranked a bottom turn just outside the tube, readjusted and came flying out onto the face. Joy surging through me as I screamed into the sunlight. The beach was closer but still more than one hundred yards away.
I looked to my right and there she was, Trish was powering down the side of a black mountain of water, nearly twice the size of the wave I was on. Hers was not a scream of joy but pure terror as the section in front of her, more than fifty yards long and a story high, walled up, cracked at the top and dumped, all of it, that absolute tonnage of water hit so hard I could feel the shockwave.
Trish turned directly for shore but the explosion of white had her. For a second she valiantly tried to ride whitewater but it was such an unruly mass it rejected all her efforts. Trish’s body was tossed the way an angry child flings a rag-doll across a slick floor, cart-wheeling over the surface, then she was gone.
I came off my wave and started paddling for her. We were both trapped inside now. I waited until the last second with my eyes on the tip of her board before diving off mine. The white water rolled me and held me down. I grabbed the leash and hauled myself back to the sun and crawled aboard. I had gone so deep my ears were ringing. Trish’s board was still in “Tombstone” mode, a triangle of red marking her location below the surface of the waves.
In four strokes I was there, off my board and following her leash down. I got hold of her ankle and hauled her up. For a second she fought me, obviously surprised at finding a hand attached. We hit the surface amid the foam coughing and spitting.
“Get on my board,” I shouted.
“I couldn’t find up,” she said through gasps.
I climbed between her calves with my head just above the small of her back; my chin nearly resting on her tattoo, a facsimile of some sort of Navajo sand-painting.
With my ears were ringing and hurting again, I caught three quick breaths and watched in horror as another wave exploded on the offshore sandbar.
“Oh shit,” she said. “Not again.”
“No, no. This one we’re going to ride. Keep near the center of the board with your head up. Paddle!”
And we turned toward shore, managed about four or five strokes before the wall of whitewater had us. It hit so hard it nearly knocked the wind out of me.
“Grab the board! Stay centered!”
“Oh shit!”
“Grab air and hold on if we dump!”
It seemed like an eternity. The board shot nearly vertically with us looking down before settling on the foam, ten feet off the water. The foam swallowed us and shoved us downward again. We held our breaths through the foam, each of us fighting our instincts to ditch and just take the punishment, in the hopes the board would land upright on the smooth water below the rolling pillow of white.
It was everything I could do to keep the nose from plowing under, pitch poling us. I didn’t want any part of what Trish had experienced and I knew she didn’t want to go through that again either. We bounced once, came totally airborne, free of both the sea surface and the whitewater, bounced again before catching hard. We had done it. We were on the smoother waters ahead of the chaos, rushing across the inside chop on a carpet out of hell. We must have been going about forty miles an hour. Trish’s board skipped along behind us like a fishing lure.
The inside, that area of break between the extreme offshore and the beach, was a mess of conflicting lines of swell but somehow we managed to stay upright and knife through them all. Catching a random, sidelong chop, the board went airborne again and buried into the back of the thick, barreling shore-pound, sending Trish and I over the falls in a mess of leashes boards and bodies.
The shore-pound drove me headlong like a piling into a slurry of sand and foam. I lost my grip on Trish, as my neck twisted impossibly. Sand raked my back and shoulders and I kicked for what I thought was sunlight.
When the foam cleared I was able to breathe. I turned back to sea to find that Trish, with an absolute look of horror on her face, was being sucked over the sandbar, back into the angry waves. I grabbed her hand and up over the falls we went again. The tip of her board or a fin slashed me across the chest and once again we were tangled underwater with nothing showing us the way to the surface.
This was just not working out. It was getting serious now. I was pissed. I didn’t want to die this way.
I remained calm, hauled on her hand again and we found some air amid the slurry of foam washing shoreward.
By now we were only a few feet from the shore but these thick barrels, formed where the last of the wave’s energy finally expended itself in the shallows, had us solidly in irons. The water rushing down the beach and beneath the waves sucked us back just enough for the big rollers to grab us up and throw us over again into a hole of rushing foam and sand. On and on it would go unless…
I reached down with my feet and discovered some purchase against hard sand and shells, reached for Trish again and pulled. That last, final pounding stripped my leash off and rolled us but something would not let me release her arm.
It was said in a look in her eyes, she was telling me she was losing strength, that one or two more trips over the falls and she was going to give up. Fortunately the last wave shoved us up the beach like a bulldozer. I reached under her arms and hauled her up the sand before collapsing myself.
“There….see?…..That wasn’t ….so bad….was it?”
She couldn’t say anything for a minute. All she could do was sit and breathe. There were tears in her eyes and her bathing suit top was gone.
The long board bounced around in the surf. I found it and hauled it away from the reach of the waves and returned to Trish’s side.
“Are you alright?”
“Jesus, I almost died!”
“Good thing we made that deal, right?”
“I just can’t believe...”
“You need to pick your battles…a little better.”
“It looked make-able…”
“That monster? Honey, I’ve know grown men surfing every day all their lives who wouldn’t have the balls to drop in on that. Took some guts. I’ll give you that.”
“I almost died out there. I couldn’t find up. I got so turned around…then, then you were there. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. There’s this feeling like something’s clamping on my ankle and it won’t let me go. It was really, really weird! It was almost like a dream. I was picturing that I was trying to swim up and something was holding me down. Then I opened my eyes and I could see how screwed up I was ….if you hadn’t, if you hadn’t been there…”
“No, no. You needed saving. You would have done the same for me. That was the deal, right?”
Ryan, Dale and Tommy were approaching at a fast clip. They had watched the events unfolding. It was surprising to see how far down the beach we had drifted in such a short time. I made Trish cover herself with her board.
Tommy was first to speak. He was angry and what he had seen me do to his board and let me know about it right away.
“Damn man! I’m surprised you didn’t break it. Look at this shit, Dale. I just got this fucking board. Awww man, I don’t believe this shit!” he whined pointing to a newly formed ding on the rail.
I leaned over and looked at it. It was the teeniest, most pussy-assed ding in the history of surfboard dings. It was more like a light scratch. It would take a repair guy five minutes of sanding and buffing and it would be gone.
The guy probably wouldn’t even charge him. Tommy could do it himself if he had the first clue about surfing which he obviously didn’t; which lead me to reflect that the whole “squirts” incident had been an excuse to avoid incoming hurricane swell.
I looked up at him.
“Man, are you fucking kidding me? After what I’ve been through and you’re actually going to bitch at me about this? Are you out of your skull?” I said, repeating my favorite line of Tampa Bay Coach John Gruden. “Are you out of you goddamn mind?”
“You know what? Keep the damned rum, Tommy. Keep all of it man, okay? You happy?”
Dale held Tommy back. “Tommy, c’mon man. You got the board back…”
Trish chimed in through tears; “What the hell was he supposed to do, you moron, let me drown out there?”
Ryan smiled at me and gave me a thumbs-up. As Dale and Tommy and Ryan left us alone, even Dale turned back and winked at me, mouthing the words, “nice goin’ man!”
Trish was still sitting there looking out to sea.
“You okay?”
She looked up at me.
“You’re bleeding,” she said.
I looked down at the laceration across my chest. It didn’t need to be stitched but it wasn’t pretty.
“I’ve got something for that back in my tent.”

She also knew an alternate trail through the dunes, sea oats and scrub. After a while she gave up trying to cover her breasts. Aside from fighting the urge of arousal, I was getting nervous about her silence. Had she been hit on the head or something? Had I said something wrong? What the hell was going on?
I had a sudden fear that I swept from my mind. No, no….that couldn’t be it, could it? And I kept walking, and talking.
The midday sun was causing havoc on the pads my feet but we were making good progress.
We made it back out to the main trail and over a rise comes Dan McGreary in the Bronco. His eyes bugged wide looking at Trish. He barely noticed me then hit the brakes. Trish sort of slumped off the trail into the bushes.
Dan’s eyes met mine. He looked as if he was about to say something, then merely raising a finger to the side of his nose, turned and drove on to the beach.
“Do you know that Ranger?” Trish asked.
“Sort of …I helped him out. I think he was shocked seeing you like that.”
“If it was such a problem he could have stopped to help,” she said.
The signal. That was a bad thing. I was a wanted fugitive. I needed to remind myself of that after what I had just been through. I was not on vacation, although, how much more of a vacation can you ask for? Here I was walking with a half naked twenty year old surfer chick college student from Virginia who “had something for that” back at her tent. Had something for that. Seems pretty obvious what “that” is and I was trying to see a way out of it, and at the same time hoping like hell there was none. I at least wanted to see what “it” was? Was that really “it” or was she in fact, concerned for my health and grateful like a rescued Florence Nightengale, well versed in the healing arts?
“Hey, Gary,” it was Dale. “Here. Tommy felt bad about the way he acted. He wanted you to have this back.” And with that Dale handed me back my bottle of rum; there was still just under half a bottle. I gave Dale a smile and continued walking with Trish.
“You know those guys pretty well, huh?”
“Not really. I just sort of met them this morning.”
“Pretty soon they’ll be electing you mayor…”
“This is me, right here. I can get you a towel, if you like?” I asked indicating my tent.
“Sure, what the hell…”
“You seem down.” I said stupidly. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t know this has never happened to me before. It scared the hell out of me. Now I just feel weird. Like I’m not really all here or something.”
“Do you want me to leave you alone?”
“No! Don’t you dare,” she said, then smiled. “ I mean, not until I can at least clean up that cut for you. Least I can do. C’mon. Don’t be an ass. Bring that too,” she said, indicating the bottle.
“Rum drinker, huh?”
“I am today.”