Dreaming Wide Awake, Chapter 8 excerpt

mystery

As I drew closer to my apartment, I noticed a dark herringbone sleeve protruded from the shade my doorway. I tried to see who it may be, but a cold breeze whipped around the building and hit me in the face. I zipped up my spring jacket and closed my eyes against the onslaught of street dust. As I drew closer, I saw a man standing near my vestibule. He had a large flattened nose and heavy jaw. A thin mustache lined the area above his narrow upper lip. I expected him to dash away, but he simply smiled. He was chilled and swayed from foot to foot. “A little late in spring to see your breath, eh?” he said, and blew on his massive hands before shoving them deep into his coat pockets.

Recognizing him as the man who stared at me from the car in Connecticut, I was unsure whether to run or punch him in the nose. “You shaved your beard.” I said.

His black eyes narrowed. “Having trouble sleeping through the night lately, Gus?”

“Congratulations, you know my name.” I slipped by him and stood near the trash cans, ready to push him into the bins if he made a move.

“I just want to talk,” he said.

“What about?”

“I apologize for the way I’ve been…how shall I say it?”

“Stalking me?”

“Ha! Stalking… No, I’ve got much better things to do. Let’s just say I’ve been observing.”

Observing, my ass, I thought. I know a loon when I see one. His shabby coat told a story too tedious to care about. “I’m already on a case,” I said. “Can’t take on anything new.”

“Ah, yes. The convicted murderer in Connecticut. How’s that going? You know how many murder convictions get overturned or even re-tried in the United States?” I stood ready to jam him into the bins and run, put his gray herringbone coat back where it belonged. He continued his discourse. “Of course, it depends on which state we’re talking about. Conviction-happy, some states. Take Texas for example—”

“I’m tired and I’m cold,” I said. “I’m going inside. Call my office if you want a meeting.”

I unlocked the vestibule door. He took a step closer.

“Seeing a lot of lines and rectangles, lately?” He asked.

His knowing tone reminded me of a malevolent teacher grilling a student. His eyes lit-up with expectation. Moisture collected on his wiry mustache. The spark in his irises told me he was about to move in for a strike.

“Stop right there,” I said, and held up my hand.

He took a step back, but held his ground, still too close for comfort. I tried to avoid smelling his breath and cologne, but there it was, hanging in the air, a repugnant fog of Old Spice (or something similarly quaint) from the bowels of some ancient vanity. No doubt slapped on his newly shaven face.

“Out with it. What do you want?” I said.

“I’d like to…” He turned slowly toward neighborhood foot traffic, then watched a slow moving cab roll past. “…to buy you a cup of coffee.” His head snapped back to mine, and he smiled. His teeth, what I could see of them below his mustache, were small and yellowed from coffee and cigarettes.

“Not now,” I said.

“A drink, then? I need fifteen minutes of your time. It will change your life, I promise you.”

“A disease will change your life. Death will change your life.” I breathed through my mouth to avoid offensive odiferous inhalation.

“Gus,” he said, in a chastising tone, and butted a size-twelve, extra-wide, wingtip up against my big toe. “I promise you’ll not regret it.”

“I’ve got things to do.” I said, about to unleash my anger.

“I’ll give you a retainer of three hundred dollars right now.”

“No.”

“One thousand, then.” He pulled out a wad of cash and started flipping through hundred dollar bills. My temper quieted down. Was I that shallow, money could dissuade me so easily? I didn’t know or care. “Okay, I’ll give you ten minutes,” I said, eyeing the bills. “The pizza joint, over there.” I nodded toward the corner store.

 

We sat in a small table in the back room. I ordered a slice with everything, and a coke. He stared at me as I took a large bite, wiping grease from the corner of my mouth with a paper napkin. After a few seconds, he pulled a small white business card from his pocket and handed it to me. It read, Porter Grossman, MEd. An out of state phone number was printed below his name.

“Okay, Mr. Grossman, what’s on your mind?”

“Have you ever heard of a government project called…Stargate? The Stargate Project?”

“No,” I lied. I’d heard something about it, but wasn’t sure if it had to do with aliens, UFO’s or psychics. I took a sip of coke. “Enlighten me.”

He opened his mouth to speak and my stomach turned over. A picture lit in my mind; A long, straight white line leading into a rectangle. In an instant the image was gone, but it left an indelible impression. It was like when you stare at a white image against a back background and the ghost images light-up when you turn away. This is what I’d been dreaming for the past few weeks. He noticed my unease and stopped what he was about to say.

“Stargate,” I said, finally, shaking off my unease. “Go on…”

He squinted at me, and took a miniature notebook out of his coat pocket, the kind that leaves no room for more than five lines a page. He glanced at the tiny handwriting, all neatly slanted to the right, like trees in the wind. “I’ve been conducting a little experiment.”

“Experiments?”

“One experiment.” Held help up a gloved hand and pointed his index finger at me.

“On me?” I asked. He nodded. “Does it have anything to do these white lines and rectangles?”

“Mmm. Yes, something like that.”

“So, are you saying those are from you, your little experiment?”

“Yes.”

I sat back and wondered what the hell was going on. Was he invading my sleep? And if so, how the hell was that happening?

“How?” I asked.

“You don’t believe me?”

“I don’t know what to believe. Explain yourself.”

“Well,” he said taking a sip of his coffee, “That’s what this little meeting is about.”

“Why me?”

“Obvious reasons.”

“To you. Enlighten me.”

“Well, one of my jobs is to scour the media, print, TV, internet, etcetera. Read about any potential talent out there in the world. I happened upon your psychic exploits, your dream state, and found it quite intriguing. Although, I didn’t believe for a second someone could be that psychic.”

“Am I?”

“I decided to see how talented you truly are. By the wide-eyed look on your face when I mentioned the lines and rectangle dreams you’ve been having, I take it the experiment was a success.”

I took a sip of soda and looked around the joint. Nobody had come in since we sat down. It was quiet. A young couple held hands and sipped drinks in front dining area. I didn’t know what I was expecting, a crew of secret agents descending upon us maybe, but I felt uneasy. Digestively compromised. I put the pizza down. “Are you telling me, you invaded my dreams?”

“Invaded? Hmm. I suppose you could say that. I sent you signals and you picked them up. White lines and rectangles. They weren’t random. They were a map of a particular area I was concentrating on.”

“I’m supposed to believe you sent me signals?”

“That’s right.”

“In my sleep.”

“Yes.”

“From your psychic brain?”

“Well, at first, yes. Later, when I was sure you were tapped into these images, I merely looped a video on my computer and played that. All night long.”

“Your computer? I was picking up signals from…and my normal dreams were…”

“Blocked, I presume. Or severely interfered with.”

I sat back, staring at this strange man. He looked like he hadn’t enough money to buy a TV, never mind have the resources to tail me for days.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I told you.”

The sparkle in his eyes told me he was lying, or at the very least leaving a big truth out. I didn’t mind so much, but my stomachache was getting worse. I took a long sip of soda and loosened my belt. “What do you want?” I asked.

“I want your help. Your cooperation in a little experiment.”

“I thought I already was your guinea pig?”

“That was a small test.”

I frowned, thoroughly confused.

“Let’s back up a bit. We were talking about Stargate.”

“So?”

“May I continue?”

“Hey, it’s your dime. Knock yourself out.”

He nodded and took another sip of coffee. “The project was disbanded. That’s the official story at least, after the CIA report disparaging remote viewing became public. They declared the program a failure, called it useless for spying purposes, etc.” A look of ironic humor animated his face. He was enjoying the story. His smile turned to a grimace and he cleared his throat.

“Not true?” I asked.

He snorted and touched a finger to the side of his nose. “It was a public report…”

“Why would I care?”

“Why should you care? A psychic with extraordinary gifts like yours, why indeed?”

I took another sip of soda and stared at him.

He continued. “The report was a cover, the program officially disbanded.”

“Okay, but—“

“And then came the Orenda Project. Much more secret and sinister, born in its place.”

“You work for them?”

He chuckled. “Oh, no. No. Not at all.” He peered into the front dining room, then at the back exit. His cold eyes met mine. His smile was replaced by a tight lipped frown. “I have been authorized to offer you a place within our group.”

The nausea started again. I could smell fruitcake all around me. I hate fruitcake.

“Your group. A boy band?”

He sat back. “You’re a complex character, Gus. We like that. Our group is made up of twelve distinguished scientists, psychics and lawyers, all former government contractors, all aimed at blocking or destroying the inner workings of the Orenda Project.”

“You want to destroy the Orenda Project?”

“Yes.”

I wanted to call for the check, just to have someone normal near us, but I’d already paid. I stood up.

“You can’t leave.” I held the back of my chair and his frown turned to a smile. “I haven’t finished.”

“That’s okay. I get the picture.”

“The Orenda Project was designed to control the leaders of the world.”

I laughed while putting on my coat, but his eyes told me he was deadly serious.

“Gus, I’m telling you…no more free elections. No more representation. All of it controlled by a small group within the Orenda Project. Billionaires vying for complete control of world finances and governments, through mind control.”

I was going to ask him to show me his tin foil hat, then I figured he might just have one. Then I remembered the many times I’d tried to warn people I’d seen die in my dreams, convince them of their impending doom. They had no reason to believe me and usually didn’t, but I wouldn’t give up. I stalked, cajoled, sent notes indicating the time and place of their death, and still they wouldn’t respond…right up until the moment they were killed. Out of respect for his sincerity, and the thousand bucks, I sat back down.

“Aren’t billionaires already doing just that, controlling the world?”

“Ahhh, you would think so, but not in the sense I’m talking about. Of course, captains of industry maintain a certain hold on the political system, by means of lobbyists, money changing hands in a back room deals, promises of riches when retired, etcetera. I’m not talking about that.”

“Oh?”

“I’m talking about direct control of governments through mind control.” He stared at me expectantly. I frowned. He continued. “Those dreams you were having, lines and rectangles, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine being able to convince a world leader to change his mind on a subject simply by bombarding his dreams with the outcomes you want? Imagine if you could do that?”

“Are you saying they’re doing that now, these billionaire, these Orenda people?”

“They’d like to. I mean, that is their goal.”

“So, they really can’t do it?”

“Something is blocking their efforts, Gus.” He sat back, pleased with himself and winked.

“So, the dream blocking images you sent to me…”

“Not the ones I targeted you with, but similar ones are helping slow their progress.”

“But don’t the leaders of the free world…I’m assuming that’s their target?”

He nodded. “Wouldn’t they have to be psychic in order to receive these signals?”

“Normally, I’d say yes. But we, each of us, have a certain amount of psychic ability already, Gus. We’re all born with it. They’ve simply found a way to tap into that natural ability.”

“How?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

I nodded, and stood up.  I reassessed Grossman, and his old coat, and he came up wanting. I still smelled a fruitcake. “Well, that’s all very informative, Mr. Grossman. I appreciate the offer, but I’ve got my own business to attend to. I can’t be joining any groups right now.”

“We’re running out of time, Gus.”

I pull the wad of money he’d given me out of my pocket and tossed it on the table. “What do you want from me, exactly?”

He didn’t seem to notice. “You have the strongest natural psychic ability I’ve ever seen. We need you.”

“To send signals?”

He leaned toward me. “To infiltrate their group, through psychic visions.”

“I’m not a spy.”

“You’re a detective, what’s the difference?”

He got to his feet and faced me, then looked past me to the window that overlooked 92nd street. His focus was drawn to a parked car, then at a couple walking our way, and he took step back. “I wanted to…”

“What?” I asked.

He seemed suddenly up-side-down about something. “I’ll get back to you soon.”

He dashed outside and headed toward 2nd avenue. I picked up the cash and followed him out the door. He walk at a good clip toward the corner, turned and shouted, “You’ll sleep better, I promise!” He crossed Second Avenue and sauntered up the hill toward Third. I noticed a car parked on the curb with two men in it. They both stared in my direction. After a few seconds, they turned toward Grossman. Then the black sedan abruptly lurched forward, turned right and headed down Second Avenue.

 

I slowly walked back into my building, wondering how the anything he said could be true.

 

 

   Deppea Splendens               

 

desert

    The two men dripped sweat after the short chase. They sat in the broiling patrol car, hot and miserable, in the mid-day heat. Officer Barrett wrote in his log.

The prisoner looked up and smiled. “Hey hombre, they say if you breathe in the smoke of the burning Deppea splenden plant, you will come face to face with the demons that hold you back. They are hidden in a world of shadows, far away from the life you truly should be living. You know what I’m talking about?”

Officer Barrett kept writing in his book and didn’t look up.

“You know, that gentle nibble, the irritation gnawing at you until it bites at your soul?”

Officer Barrett wiped sweat from his brow with a white handkerchief, and glanced in the rear mirror at his prisoner.

“You got illegal plants, Golton?” Barrett asked.

“Illegal? That plant? No. Extinct in the wild, very endangered world wide.”

“Extinct huh?”

“The smoke sets you on a journey you wouldn’t believe.”

“I know you don’t have anything on you, unless it crawled out your ass. And I ain’t going there.”

“I know where to get it. Close by.”

“I don’t smoke amigo. But you keep talking like this, I’ll book you on more than just being a public nuisance and you can spend more time in lock up. Understand?”

“I can get it for you now. You see what it can do.”

“I can see it did wonders for you. Why don’t you just shut up?” Officer Barrett chuckled as he wrote in his log.

“You see what I mean? I have an offer for you that could change your life and all you can do is write in your police book. Why don’t you look around, Hombre? People are living other people’s lives.”

Barrett stopped writing, glanced in the side-view mirror for oncoming traffic, then merged the patrol car onto the single lane highway.

Golton made a clucking sound with his tongue and rested his head against the back door. The desert heat penetrated the car and washed over the men in rippling waves.

“Hey Hombre, how about turning up the air in this bucket?”

“Don’t worry about it, we’ll be at headquarters in fifteen minutes.”

“You telling me you don’t have air?”

Barrett said nothing. Golton kicked the seat and slumped down.

“You kick that seat again and I’ll close your window.”

The two men stared at each other in the mirror. Golton broke eye contact and hummed quietly the Spanish song, De Colores as he turned away and looked out the window.

Distant, low mountains gleamed in the desert sun. Sequoia cacti dotted the sparse landscape. The occasional tumbleweed blew across the dusty road.

“I see a few lonely plants out there, Hombre. But none like the Deppea. She has the most beautiful flowers of any plant, more beautiful than the cactus flower. It’s purple. A deep, deep purple like you’ve never seen. I can take you to it.”

Barrett smiled into the mirror. Golton frowned. “Hey, these cuffs are hurting my wrists. Why don’t you fix them at the next stop?”

“Next stop for you is the jail.”

“Before that, I have to pee.”

Barrett started to roll up the rear window.

“No, no! Please the air is all I need!”

The rear windows came back down and Barrett smiled into the rear view mirror.

“You piss in this car and you’ll be cleaning it up.”

Golton Nodded. “Have a heart, Amigo.” But Barrett  said nothing.

They sat in silence for a while. Golton coughed and sighed, then said, “The first time I tried the plant, it was such a beautiful day. It was at my cousin Celia’s house, in the back yard. We sat under some trees there and she pulled out this small dried piece of the Deppea. The air was thin and dry that day, too, like today. Some clouds were trying to roll in from the foothills, but the sun was keeping them away. Celia, she lit this little twig and pulled a shawl over us to breath in the smoke. I coughed and choked, Amigo. Oh, man my throat closed up and I could hardly breathe. But, that was when I saw her. She came to me under that tree. She appeared to me first from a silver cloud and took the shape of a beautiful woman with long flowing gowns. She had flowers in her hair. I said to her, where do you come from? And do you know, she looked right at me with those stabbing eyes! Her eyes sparkled like little silver sparks from a blade, like tiny bits of sun. I have always been with you, she says. Then she spread her wings and covered me, took me in her arms and…”

Barrett looked at Golton in the rear view mirror.

“She took you for a ride, huh?”

“No man, she made me see. I saw my life the way it should have been instead of the way it is now. I was a different person. I was me, but a better me.”

Barrett pulled his aviator glasses down his nose a bit and glanced at Golton. “You weren’t a screw up anymore? Good dream. Too bad you can’t live it, huh? Live the dream.” Golton looked away in dismay. “Most drug trips just kill a few thousand brain cells, yeah?”

Golton looked out the window. “You wouldn’t understand even if I told you the whole story. You would just laugh. People like you always laugh at people like me.”

“At drug addicts? Nah, I’m not laughing at you Golton, I’m laughing with you.”

Golton began to cough. He gagged and choked and tried to catch his breath. “What are you doing back there?” said Barrett. He pulled off to the side of the road and got out of the patrol car. Opening the back seat door, he leaned in to see to Golton. “You pull anything and I’ll -”

The spray hit him squarely in the face. Barrett shot up straight and put his fingers to his nose and mouth. A fine, dark purple power covered his fingers. The earth began to spin. Round and round it went until he could no longer hold on, until he staggered back and fell to his knees. His eyes crossed and his eyelids closed.

“I forgot to tell you, Amigo, it comes in powdered form, too,” Golton laughed.

Barrett was rigid on the ground. His body convulsed once, and then went limp.

“Oh, shit, Amigo. Don’t die on me. I still have to get you off the road.”  Golton dragged Barrett around the back side of the cruiser and lay him face down in the dirt. He removed the keys to the cuffs and unlocked them from his wrists. “These hurt me, amigo.”

Gloton went through the deputy’s pockets, found cigarettes and matches and lit one up. In the front seat he found a bottle of water and drank it down. Water droplets tickled his nose and he rubbed his fingers under his nose and wiped. When he pulled his fingers back he saw they were purple. “No!” he said out loud and looked in the rear view mirror. The purple was in his nostrils and on his fingers. “Shit, shit!” Golton wiped his face on the deputy’s shirt. He found Barrett’s hanky and used it in each nostril, but it was too late. All he could do now was wait.

Golton sat on the front seat with the door open and stared far across the vast emptiness of the desert plane.

A small dark cloud lingered in the distance. Soon the cloud was rising up. And he could see her coming. On a galloping horse-cloud she rode. Her teeth were bright white and clenched, her hair flowing back into the wind. In an instant she was there. Her wind horse was screaming. Dust flew up into his face. She sat on the thundering horse cloud as it reared up before him. Her shadow cast him into darkness and the wind blinded him with sand.

“Have mercy!” he pleaded.

She leaned forward on the swirling horse-cloud and spread her wings.

“Forgive me mother! I am a wicked man! Please. I know I have not done what I am supposed to do. I have failed you! Please!”

Her voice rang through him like an electric current. It yanked and pulled his flesh, yet was smooth and comforting. A voice, other worldly in gravity and charm, it grounded him, pinned him to the floor of the Mother Earth and opened him like a frog on a dissection table. “You are. No more, no less than eternal truth has created you.” she said.

She picked him up in her arms and carried him far across the desert to a small oasis covered in olive trees. There she gently placed him by the water. He tried to see her, but she melted away into the sand and with her, the light of the day was gone.

He was alone in the heavy, clawing darkness for how long he couldn’t tell, until a small distant light appeared. It came close and was carried by a beautiful dark haired girl. She sat down next to Golton and looked into his eyes.

“Who are you? he asked.

She smiled a perfectly white smile and offered him a cup. He sipped and tasted, for the first time, what he knew to be his life and he spit it out. Bitterness crept inside him and he felt cramps in his stomach.

“Do you not like it?” she asked.

“It’s bitter.”

“It is what you have made.”

“I made this?”

She smiled and took off her clothes and stood naked before him.

“You are beautiful,” he said.

She turned and walked into the water and disappeared beneath the surface of the black pool.

“Wait. Come back,” he yelled.

But he knew she would not be back. He knew he was all alone. For alone is what he’d been his whole life. And he felt the stillness of this. Then he felt something very hard come to him. Not on his body but in his mind. It was hard and final and useless, and he knew it was death that he felt. Death, like the sand under his feet, was all around him and made up everything he saw. For the earth and death were the same and made of the same things. All things were living and dead at the same time.

Golton hunched down at the edge of the water and heard whispers there. Whispering voices from everyplace and no place. Pieces of words came to him and filled his heart with heaviness. Words that where whispers of what he could have done with his life, whisperings that meant nothing and all of everything. Empty and meaningless words pinched and bit at his arms and face. Echoes of choices made or ignored long ago. Black vomit full of regrets filled his heart and came out from his mouth, and he knelt down and sobbed them onto the ground. Regrets flowed from his eyes as he moaned and softly cried.

The sound to his left was love lost. The sound to his right was a wrong that could have been righted. The wind gently blew sand toward him, and in those grains, he knew, were the thousands of lost hours he’d spent doing nothing, being nothing, thinking nothing. For he was alone. And Golton wished to all the knowing grains of sand that he could have those moments back. That he could make something out of his life, if only he could have one last chance. “Please dear God, one last chance!” he cried. Then all was still, and black. And he fell asleep.

Golton awoke to a thundering voice. “Get out!” Barrett pulled Golton from the car and steadied him as they walked into the police station door. Golton strained to open his eyes. They stung and felt sand scratched as he tried to concentrate on Barrett’s commands.

“I don’t know what stunt you pulled on me, Golton. But I’ll be damned! Assault on an officer!”

“Hey, Amigo. I’m glad to see you’re all right. I thought maybe you had a bad trip or something. Some people don’t make it back fro the purple flower. It’s too much for their system. They collapse instantly and never come back. But that only a ew. It’s worth the risk, though, eh?”  Golton said, as they made their way to the processing room. Barrett sat Golton on a metal chair and cuffed his hands to the table. “Hey, Amigo. Have I told you about the Deppea, the lady in the wind? She comes to me and tells me when things are going to happen.”

“Yeah? Did she tell you you’re gonna spend forever in lock up?” Barrett said, as he filled out a form. “Resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, illegal substances….”

Another voice charged the air. “Barrett, what the hell happened to you?”

A large man stood by the desk.

“Nothing, Sarg. I got the wind knocked out of me. Damn little prick hit me with some kind of spray.”

“Yes. Yes, she tells me many things, Amigo,” Golton said.

“Well, you look like crap. Get yourself hydrated.” Sarg snickered and walked away.

Golton still could not see well, but as he turned to go with Barrett, he heard a banging against the desk, then a fall. Men scuttled toward him and then to Barrett. They said things like, “Get the EMT’s.” And, “Put his feet up.” He heard the chest compressions being performed. More men scuttling back and forth and then the far off sound of a siren could be heard as it raced across the desert toward them.

“Hey, Amigo? Are you still there?”

A voice called, “Somebody get him out of here!” And Golton was being led to a cell. The blurry path to the back was lined in tan uniforms and shiny guns and badges as the whirling sounds of a life and death struggle played out in back of him.

“Amigo. Don’t fight it. I see now what she told me. Yes, she told me she was coming. For you! I thought it was for me. But she covered me with her wings. It must have been for you, Amigo. You! You see? The Deppea Splenden never lies. I told you, Amigo. She sends you on a trip, eh?” Golton laughed and coughed. “A trip, eh?”

Golton suddenly grew very tired and rested his head on the bench in the cell. He wondered what trip the policeman had been on. If she had come to him, too. Perhaps she folded her wings on him and he had pushed her away.

The sirens were there now, just outside his door, but they could not keep him awake. They could not bring him back. He fell slowly into the desert’s swirling winds, covered only by her wings. And in that moment, he felt a tinge of regret for the life he had wasted, for the man he could have become, then he felt vaguely hungry and wondered what they were serving for supper that night.

 

 

Warm Water (part one)by CR Hinckley

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.”

“I bet.”

“The birds have been at it again,” he said referring to the crushed and broken berries that covered the decking.

“The birds?”

“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.

“Just visiting.”

“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.

“Cousin?”

“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.”

“Really?”

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.

“Two bedroom?”

“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?”

 

She nodded.

 

“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.