The deep rumbling of crime rolls just under the surface of a glossy beach-side town.
“I think we’re in a lot of trouble already, actually!” Rene hisses as she turns sharply into a souvenir T-shirt store flashing the sunburnt teenager behind the counter a tight smile.
“Okay, so, I didn't make the best first impression back there. What’s the big deal? Those assholes didn’t even follow us.” Green Eyes makes a big show of craning his neck over the tie-dye t-shirt stand to scout the boardwalk. He shrugs, “Nope. Nothing.”
Rene looks out through the open bay doors to scope the scene herself. She sure as hell can’t trust Green Eye’s judgement. If she did, she’s probably be walking over his body as he’s laid out in the parking lot of the Monkey’s Paw waiting for an ambulance to come get him. But, no, she just had to jump in and pull him away from Danny and the bike crew. In all honesty, if she were smart she would’ve just stayed out of it. She would've still helped—sure. She’d have called the 5-0 while she sipped her mojito in peace.
God, she needed that mojito right now.
“Now there’s a look!” Green Eyes holds up a monstrosity of a pink and orange tie-dye t-shirt with the words ‘beach bum’ airbrushed across the front and a drawing of a shapely deriere on the back, also airbrushed, red thong and all.
Rene must have scrunched her face in reflexive disgust because Green Eyes broke out in a hearty chuckle. His laugh is deep and genuine with all the charm you would expect from a guy who would get himself in this kind of a pickle.
“Looks good on you. You should get it,” she says, “As a disguise.”
“Oh, come on! Cheer up, kid. Those guys probably went back to bar already. No harm, no foul,” he says casually, still examining the shirt.
Now it was her turn to laugh. “Not from around here are you?”
“Nope.” He winks at her. “Just your regular weekender getting out of the concrete jungle for some fun in the sun."
"Figures," Rene says as she turns away to check the boardwalk one more time before walking toward the exit.
"Wait. Hang on, I want to buy this." Green Eye calls out. He's already making his way to register. The teenage girl behind the counter looks up at him from a glossy entertainment rag with all the interest that her minimum wage seasonal job paycheque affords. With a the barely hidden raise of an eyebrow, the clerk punches in the price of the shirt on an muted brown and white cash register plastered with surf and skate style stickers just as tacky as the rest of the merchandize. It's like an airbrush machine blew up in this place in 1999 right before time stopped.
"Cash or card?" she asks.
"Cash, please." He flashes a wide smile that crinkles the sides of his eyes. From his pocket, he pulls out a stack of small bills, peels one off the top and hands it over to the cashier. The clerk returns his smile by turning up the corner of her lips slightly; her eyes lingering a little too long at the roll of bills as Green Eyes slips it back in his pocket.
The clerk gives Green Eyes the receipt and moves to get a bag.
"No, it's okay." He stops her. "I don't need a bag."
She shrugs, hands him the merchandize and goes back reading her magazine. "Thanks for your business," she mumbles under her breath flipping over the page.
"You're not gonna...wear that...are you?" Rene asks.
Green Eyes clamps the tie dye shirt between his knees so he can pull off his plain athletic grey t-shirt. "Of course I am," he says with a huff as he tugs the tie dye eyesore over his head. "I needed a disguise so Danny can't tell who I am, remember?"
Rene watches him with knitted eyebrows as he walks past her and into the boardwalk. How did he know Danny? It doesn't happen often that the local guys even so much as look twice at the tourists. Not unless they're pretty girls--extra points if they're a couple margaritas deep and looking for a good time. Maybe he's one of the cottagers who swing by the Paw when they're in town?
"What are you up to now, sweetheart?" He turns back around noticing that Rene didn't follow him down toward the east end parking lot. "I'd feel rejected if we had to end our first date before the sun even set."
He punctuates that last sentence by opening his arms wide and gesturing toward the water and the twillight sky that melts into it.
At this, Rene laughs humourlessly. "That was just a cover story," she says. "So that you can get away before you piss off Danny and his crew any more with your smart mouth. Next time you come around here you should remember not to flirt with the bartender unless you want to get your teeth kicked in."
Sometimes it seems like the tourists forget that these towns aren't full of tourists like themselves. Not everyone is looking for an adventure--some racy story to tell their friends when they go back to their regular lives. To the locals, this is regular life. It would do Green Eyes well to keep that in mind because next time he might try to bark up a tree worse than Danny Stuart's girlfriend.
"What kind of vacation would it be if you didn't get into a bar fight with a biker?" he teases as he goes back to walking toward the parking lot. He calls back to Rene, "Come for a ride. I have to drop of something to a buddy at Main and Pineway. Then we'll go for a drink after."
"Can’t," she says but her feet were carrying her toward him anyway. "I have to get back to the Paw in about an hour for my shift."
Green Eyes stop at the edge of the parking lot. Rene was side by side with now. "So, I guess I can't follow your advise about hitting on bartenders at the Monkey's Paw,” he winks. “Well, you're here now and I can drive you back to the bar in an hour. Come on..."
"Rene," she offered.
"Thomas," he smiles. "Come on, Rene. It'll be fun. My car is right there." He points at a plain looking rental sedan with a sensible navy blue paint job.
She looks at him then to the car, considering the offer. The women in this town don't bother looking twice at the tourists either. Unless they're looking to cut loose during the weekends on someone else's dime. Except today is a Tuesday. Besides, Rene knows how easy it is to sucker a tourist into sponsoring a Girl's Night Out. Too easy, actually. It gets old quick.
Rene chews the side of her lower lip thinking it over.
"Oh what the hell," she says defeated. "What else am I gonna do before my shift? Hopefully Danny and the boys will be gone by the time I get back." Unlikely, but a girl can dream.
"Nice! I didn't think that would work," Thomas pulls the door open and hops into the driver's seat. Rene opens the door on her side, throwing her purse on the floor first before getting in herself.
They peel out of the parking lot and turn left into King Road driving toward Pineway Street.
"What do you do?" she asks.
"Mostly sales and distribution," Thomas said plainly. Rene got the sense that he may be less interested in his nine-to-give gig than she is. Thankful for the cue, she dropped the subject to avoid having to hear the well-worn tale of the boring office job that pushes so many of the weekenders to come out to Milarm Beach. It’s a hazard of her profession, really, being bored to death by her customers’ weekday woes while topping up their TGIF drinks. At least they tip well if she smiles wide and picks a mandatory dress code black tank top that’s tight enough to wake up the girls.
“Sounds fun,” she teased.
He laughs, “It keeps me running around, that’s for sure.”
They spent the rest of the 15 minute trip flipping through the local radio stations. Thomas sang along off beat to some of the songs on the throwback hip hop channel while Rene looked at him with amusement. What else can you do when you’re looking at a guy with ‘beach bum’ scrawled across his chest trying to sing along to Naughty by Nature?
When they reached Main St, they turned into a parking spot to the far left of the entrance to the laundromat. Rene took a look around taking stock of their destination. The lot only had a handful of other cars parked on the opposite end which looked like overflow from the much smaller liquor store parking lot next door.
Thomas popped open the trunk but didn’t make a move to get out of the car. Instead he rolled down the window so that he can casually hang his arm out and tap on the side panel. Before Rene could ask what they’re waiting for, a middle aged man wearing a casual plaid shirt and faded Wranglers came out of the laundromat. The man nods in Thomas’ direction. Rene looks over in time to see Thomas give a small nod in return with a quick flash of severity on his face. He must know the guy. Rene was sure that Thomas owns a cottage around here. How else would he know both Danny and the laundromat attendant?
As the man walks past them Rene can see Thomas watching him out of the corner of his eyes, then through the rear view mirror. She hears the trunk being opened and noticeable shift as some kind of load was taken from the back of the car. Then a larger shift as the trunk was shut closed.
Still watching, Thomas’ eyes follows the man back into the laundromat. A few seconds later, another man—much younger this time—walks out of the store front. He has on a worn out baseball shirt under a leather vest with the same patches that Danny and his crew proudly wear. As much as she wanted to, Rene senses that this was not the right time to ask questions. As the younger man lights a cigarette and comes to the driver side window, Thomas sits up a little straighter bringing his arm back into the car.
There is no mutual acknowledgment this time. Leather vest guy bends down at Thomas’ face level. He takes another drag from his cigarette. As he turns his head to side to blow out the smoke, the guy smoothly pulls an envelope from an inner pocket on his vest and slips it to Thomas’ waiting hand before turning his head back to meet Rene’s gaze.
Rene has been working at the Monkey's Paw long enough to know that that look meant that she didn’t see anything. She turns her attention straight ahead, looking through the painted lettering on the laundromat windows, unseeing; blinking too often, trying to shake away the pounding heartbeat that crept up her neck and seems to settle right behind her eyes.
Seeing things that you shouldn’t see is the second biggest hazard of working as a bartender at a local biker bar—next to the deathly boring work stories from her big city customers, of course. People assume that you can hit pause on the shot of adrenaline that tingles down your spine whenever you cross paths with wrong kind of folks. They think that, eventually, you can control your body against it. Or, maybe, that your threshold for that kind of low rumbling fear goes up a couple of notches to the point that you don’t even feel it anymore.
None of that is true—not really. The adrenaline rush, the involuntary tightening of muscles, coiling and ready to react at any moment, the hypersensitivity to your surroundings, it’s all automatic. Hardwired into the lizard brain that kept our prehistoric ancestors from becoming prey themselves.
Sometimes, the fear becomes managable. For some people—the tougher ones—the physiological responses are no longer as jarring. They learn to ride out the adrenaline rush, breathe though it as it crests, and eventually subsides.
But, sometimes if you're not careful, it becomes enjoyable; and you find yourself chasing the waves.