Mick Cullen glided through the warm water as easily as a snapping turtle on a hot day in the bayou. Long lazy swings of his arms propelled him several feet at a time. Holding his breath for a long minute, he let it out slowly and continuously, turning his head side to side as he swam. Tiny bubbles of cool air tingled on his skin, stimulating his senses and causing his muscles to contract under goosebump skin.
The side gate opened with a practiced squeak and the young woman, tall, sleek looking in her dark blue bikini, walked into the lounge area. Mick pressed his body against the pool wall, balling the bathing suit in his hands, as she walked by. Her large brim hat and dark glasses revealed the cool image of a mature woman with a still young body, strong chin and straight nose. The edges of her lips curled in an easy smile.
She sat on a lounger and pulled a bottle of baby oil from her bag. Her tight thighs glistened in the sun as she spread the oil onto her dark skin. Mick smiled and she nodded slightly. She turned, pulling her bathing suit bottoms down a few inches to reveal a white tan line.
“Hot today,” he said.
“Mmmm,” she purred.
“Like a bath.”
“The birds have been at it again,” he said referring to the crushed and broken berries that covered the decking.
“They like the berries.”
She turned toward Mick, pulling her sunglasses down onto her nose, and said, with a twinkle in her eye, “I like berries.” She looked around as if noticing the deck for the first time and said, “They’ve made a big fat mess, haven’t they?”
Mick pointed to the bushes crowding the pool fence. “They’re poisonous.”
“Those?” she said.
“I hear they’re delicious, actually. Then you die a slow painful death.”
She turned onto her back and crossed her feet.
“I haven’t seen you before. New to The Chamberlain?” he asked, referring to the condos.
“Staying with friends?”
“And you’re the welcome wagon?”
Mick laughed. “Just nosey.”
He slipped feet first down into the water, put his bathing suit back on and slowly came up again, letting the water smooth the slick his thick, black hair back on his scalp.
“I guess I can’t help myself,” he said. “I mean, I know most of the residents. Maybe I know your friends?”
“My cousin, actually,” she said.
“Sherry. Sherry Pilton?”
Mick gulped a mouthful of water and spit it out in a long stream. Sherry Pilton. That bitch. Hysterical, manic Sherry Pilton, soaking wet, running out of the pool. That picture would stay in his head forever. Man, was he drunk that night. Sherry Pilton, the head case.
“No, don’t think I know her,” he said through polished teeth.
“She’s having a little get-together later.”
“I’m going into town,” he lied. “Meet up with an old friend.”
“Her parties are a hoot.”
She turned sideways on the chair, white tan lines starting to pink.
Mick swam the length of the pool, catching a glimpse of her breasts as they fought to break free from her top. His mind reached for conversation.
“Where are you visiting from?” He asked as he paddled on his back near her chair.
“I’m moving in, actually.”
“Getting your own place?”
She pulled her sunglasses down again and looked over them with radiant blue-green eyes. If there was a family resemblance to Sherry, Mick sure couldn’t see it.
“I mean you’re probably looking for your own place,” Mick smiled.
“Are you in real estate or something?”
Mick laid his hands onto the deck for support. “As a matter of fact, I am, sort of.”
“Huh,” she said, smirking.
“It just so happens that I have a property that is available.”
“Really,” she said in a disinterested tone. She turned onto her side, her head away from the pool.
Splashing onto his back, he slid down into an inverted loop, slowly coming back around and up for air.
Mick turned to say something but when he saw she had turned away, he started to do laps instead.
Sherrie Pilton’s naked body popped into his mind; her dark red hair, brown freckles dotting her white skin. Man, she was a wildcat, angry and bitter from a nasty divorce, living the lonely life of a single gal. Always talking to her cat. That was enough to drive any guy away. He chuckled, remembering the way she looked at him when he told her to leave him alone. All hurt and stupefied. That girl just couldn’t take a hint, wasn’t worth the trouble, anyway. Sure she had a nice little body, but her bad habits drove him crazy. She was looking for love and desperate about it, but had no idea what he was like or what he wanted. She always wanted him to go to this party or that, or double date with one of her bimbo friends. Sherry didn’t even know the difference between Chardonnay and Cabernet. She was a white trash loser. A hick, really. Creepy. Needy all the time, like she’d get her claws into you and never let go.
He was drunk the day he tossed her into the pool. Right after that barbeque full of losers at her friend’s house, and he’d told her to get lost.
Mick floated on his back near the side of the pool. So what if she was Sherry’s cousin? What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt either of them.
“What if I was to tell you that you could have a two bedroom condo with a pool view and brand new carpeting?”
“Thanks, but I think I found a place,” she said without looking up.
“Nine-eighty a month.” He wanted to grab his tongue as the words slipped out, knowing he could get twelve. He hoped she hadn’t heard.
“A thousand square feet, two bedroom beauty ready for move in.”
The last tenant was a divorced mother with a ten-year-old kid. What a little brat. Digging into the walls, writing all over the closet doors with magic marker. He finally had to tell them he was moving in to get them the hell out. It took a week to clean up the mess. She was a horny little thing, but the kid was a nightmare. And he’d vowed no more kids. The little pigs weren’t worth the trouble.
“Maybe I’ll take a look, then.” She sat up and put her hat on.
“Sure. I mean, if you haven’t signed a lease.”
“No, not yet.”
“No kids, no pets.”
“What do you have against kids and pets?”
“Insurance doesn’t allow them,” he lied. “They do damage.”
“No kids, no pets,” she said.
“Good. I’ll take you over to see it.”
She gave him a why not nod and sat back in the chair.
“I’m Michael, by the way. Michael Canova.”
She smiled warmly and said, “Laura, Laura Ray.”
“Glad to meet you, Laura.” He flashed a smile and slunk down into the water, his eyes just above the surface, staring into the dark lenses of her sunglasses, wondering how long it would take him to get under that bathing suit and get her into bed.
She was tall and sophisticated looking in her floral print sundress as she strolled down the hall toward the condo. Mick felt a tingle in his gut when she smiled and held out her hand to shake. He held her hand for a second longer than he should have, but she didn’t seem to mind. Encouraged, he held his hand on her back as they walked into the empty condo
Mick pulled open the blinds to reveal a view of the pool.
“That’s where we were,” she said looking at the pool area. “That was my chair right there.”
“There it is,” he said, wondering if she was really that sweet. “Let me show you around.”
They walked into the first bedroom, an empty 10 x 12 room with a sliding glass door on the closet. She nodded politely and followed Mick into the master bedroom.
“What’s that?” She looked up at the mirrored ceiling.
“Last tenant must have put that in. Never seen it before,” he lied. “I guess the bed would go…”
He stopped himself from saying the obvious and stood directly below the mirror. “Of course, that will have to come down.”
“You don’t have to go through any trouble. I’ll get used to it.”
“Yeah?” he said, surprised. He looked into her eyes and they locked for a moment, then she turned toward the window.
“So, what do you think?” he asked.
“I’ll take it.”
“Good. I’d like to let you have it.”
They smiled at each other for a few seconds. She broke it off to look at the pool.
He took in her even profile, not believing his incredible luck; a real beauty in his condo. A ripple of anticipation fluttered in his stomach and spread out over his chest. She likes the mirror. She likes the pool. She likes me. Then Sherry, the crazy bitch, popped into his head. She could ruin everything. What was he going to do about her? Calling himself Michael would help. Sherry only knew him as Mick. They’d go out, go to his place and avoid Sherry at all costs. And if he had to, he’d pay her a little visit.
One Week Earlier
Mick slapped Sherry one more time before pushing her into the pool. Just then, out the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a blue Hawaiian shirt and a bright flash lit up inside his eyes. Mick found himself on the pool deck, holding his head. A huge hairy man stood over him with his fists clenched, the Hawaiian shirt hanging loose around his chest.
“You want more?”
Mick was looking into the eyes of a maniac. Large, wild black dots in the center of a fat red face darting from the pool to him and back again.
“What you hit me for?”
“Leave the lady alone!”
Mick turned to Sherry. She stood waist high in the pool, her tan dress nearly transparent in the cold water.
“Sherry, was I bothering you?”
Sherry held her arms out in front of her body as if to block a body check, her lips quivering slightly. “No. No he wasn’t bothering me. He’s my husband.”
“That’s right,” said Mick. “You gonna stand between a husband and his wife?”
The thick man looked at Sherry with doubting eyes, then back at Mick. Backing away, he turned toward the pool. “You don’t have to lie to me, lady. I saw him hit you. You can press charges. Take him to court.”
Mick smiled, his fingers wrapped tightly around the back of a lounge chair to support his wobbly legs.
“What’s your name?” asked Mick.
“Never mind my name. I know what I saw and I don’t go for it.”
The big guy looked distracted suddenly, like he was confused about something. Mick took it as his chance to rectify the situation.
“How about you go for this?”
Mick swung the chair around, sliding it into the big guys shin. Big guy leaned down to grab his leg and Mick slammed him in the gut with a right. Reaching back for a good wind-up, Mick smacked Big Guy right in the nose. He went down hard, and Mick was all over him. Kicking him in the face and punching him until he lay on the ground with his arms covering his head. Mick grabbed a large, white rock from the garden near the pool fence. Holding the rock high above the guy’s head, Sherry screamed for him to stop. Mick saw the gold Detective’s shield on the big guy’s belt and backed away, dropping the rock back into the garden.
Sherry was screaming like hell. Mick jumped into the pool to calm her down. Blood from the Detective’s head dripped into the pool. Mick held her, fighting her flailing until at last she was a silent, quivering mess in his arms.
Mick squeezed Sherry’s mouth with his fingers and pulled her face close, so he could see the wild in her eyes. He held her tight and whispered into her ear.
“You see that fat shit over there?”
She nodded her head.
“He’s a cop. A gold shield Detective and he hit me in the head. You understand? He just hauled off and socked me without cause and didn’t identify himself. They have to do that, you know. Identify themselves as cops. And you’re my witness, you understand?”
She nodded slowly.
“That’s right. Now, if I need you to, you’re gonna testify against this fat shit Detective that he hit me first without a reason, you got that?”
“Yes,” she mumbled.
“Good. Now, I don’t ever want to see you again, understand me, you little whore? Unless I call you, I don’t want to see your fat ass around the pool or anywhere near my side of the condos, you got me?”
“Good. Now, go home. And if you tell anyone about this, I’ll find out. Now go.”
Sherry waded out of the pool and ran through the open gate. Mick chuckled to himself, seeing her run all scared like that, her stupid little purse flapping behind her legs. She looked like a water soaked poodle.
The fat cop was starting to move when Mick walked up and stood above him, water from his soaked pants dripping onto the Detective’s face.
“You are in some deep shit, my friend.”
Mick took the badge number down and kicked the cop one last time before walking off. Fat pig deserved it for ruining his evening.