Beach Reads – Living In Ray’s World
I was perched on a bar stool at Barnacles, drinking a Bloody Mary and waiting for breakfast. It was a Wednesday. For the first time in months I was thinking about Samantha without also considering a long swim to oblivion.
Samantha could do that to you. She had a mess of curly hair and the kind of body that made men drive fast through curves. When I met her, she was wearing psychedelic tights and a red sweater to a black-tie event. She made that getup look like a package you could wrap your dreams in and, like everyone else in the room, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
That was a little more than four years ago. I had picked up an invite to a movie premier party at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood after stunt driving for the movie. I didn’t do that regularly. Far too high profile for my tastes and career. I took the gig as a favor to the man I worked for at the time. He had put money in the movie and wanted to make sure there was someone attached he could trust to keep an eye on the producers.
It was a low-budget movie and I didn’t know any of the actors. I didn’t like the people much and almost didn’t attend the party at all. Had I skipped it that night, everything would have turned out different.
I stopped thinking about Samantha when I heard the clatter of dress shoes on the beach bar’s concrete floor. I turned slightly at the unusual sound and took in a stranger’s face wearing a familiar suit. Mr. Garvey’s drivers always wore the same suit – navy blue with a white shirt and thin black tie. We were a study in contrasts. I was wearing the beach bum’s uniform – the board shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt I had woke up in that morning.
The stranger and I weren’t the only people in the bar but it was close. There was Tracy the bartender and the bar owner, Liam. Liam was getting to be his own best customer since his wife died six months ago. He was reading the LA Times and sipping an MGD.
I watched the reflection in the cooler’s glass door. The head atop the familiar suit pivoted left and right. He squinted his eyes against the sudden dimness inside the bar. I tensed as they came to rest on me. I could see the doubt on his face. I didn’t want to believe that Garvey sent him all this way to a seaside shack for someone that looked like me.
The suit crossed the bar in two long strides. He squatted down on the stool next to mine. Tracy put down her phone – we had been playing Words With Friends along the length of the bar – and started to come over to her new customer. I held up a palm to hold her off and she sat down again.
“You’re Jack, right?” the suit asked.
“Mr. Carr,” I answered.
He glared down at me. Even sitting he towered. Anywhere but Playa Sol, his height would make him stand out in public. I considered asking him if he had ever played beach volleyball.
“Jack…” he started again.
“Mr. Carr,” I answered.
He considered his options for a moment. Shook his head as if rejecting one or two, then started again.
“Mr. Carr,” he sighed. “Mr. Garvey would like to have a word with you. He sent me over to give you a ride to his house.”
I considered his words during the time it took to have two sips of my Bloody Mary. As he spoke he had shifted his weight and moved his body a quarter turn on the bar stool so that now he was facing me. Big men always wanted to test me.
I lifted the pint glass that held my Bloody Mary, a slice of bacon and enough vegetables for a dinner salad. I took a big sip of the drink, sat the glass down and stiffened my fingers flat to the bar. Then I pressed my right foot hard to the bar floor, pivoted fast left and brought those fingers up into the man’s windpipe.
Both hands went to protect his throat too late and he started choking for air. He lost his balance on the stool as his weight tilted away from me. I caught him before his body did real damage to the concrete floor. I lowered him down and knelt beside him. I put my open palm on his chest.
“Breathe,” I said. “Just breathe.”
His suit coat had fallen open and I could see a black Glock 17 in a shoulder holster. I pulled the coat’s lapel over it and held that in place.
“Tracy, this man is choking. Can you call the EMTs?” I said without looking away from his eyes.
My victim started shaking his head no. He got his body up on his elbows and I helped him sit against the wall. I heard Liam start to say something and Tracy told him to wait. I kept looking at the man in front of me.
“You ok there, friend?”
He shook his head yes.
“Never mind, Tracy. Looks like our friend is better now.”
I helped him to his feet. When he was standing I whispered, “Go back. Tell Mr. Garvey I’m retired.”
The man cleared his throat. It was going to be sore for a while.
“Next time I’ll be ready,” he managed to croak.
“Well, you certainly should be,” I said.
I followed him to the door and watched him climb into a black Audi sedan. He pulled away from the curve, turned left on 8th street and disappeared.
The sun was well above the hill section now and had probably chased the shadows from the beach. It was late summer, mid-week and Sol Avenue seemed eerily quiet. The day was heating up fast though and the tourists would be out in droves soon enough.
I figured I had less than 48 hours before Garvey devised another way to reach out to me. He wasn’t a man that stopped asking for what he wanted but it was good to set boundaries. If I was going to walk back into the lion’s den, it would have to be on my terms.