Clearwater Homesick by Al Rennie by Al Rennie - Read Online

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Clearwater Homesick - Al Rennie

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—Katherine

Chapter 1

The Tennis Court

The older model ball machine fired the well used yellow Penn Championship tennis ball at the skinny kid. He was standing across court, poised and ready to meet whatever came at him with the ‘old school’ black Prince racquet his father had sent to him from Saudi Arabia three years earlier. The kid was a darkly tanned, wiry eighteen year old wearing cut-offs and a sweat stained, too large white T-shirt and a navy sweatband. His white tennis shoes, Adidas Barricades, like the pros wore, were where he had spent his money. Only last week, he had paid almost one hundred and fifty dollars of his too quickly dwindling supply of cash to buy them. His father had taught him from a very young age that footwear was the most important part of what you could wear. People judged you by your shoes and more practically, if your feet were damaged, so were you. Maybe that was beyond shelf life thinking, but the kid did love those shoes.

The young guy met the ball with a smooth strong stroke that would clearly have spelled problems for his opponent if he had been playing with one. He wasn’t. He was alone, which was the way he had felt for most of his life.

It was late morning, almost the noon hour in the hot Florida sunshine. There was no one else on any of the three courts and only a couple of younger school kids were goofing around in the adjacent skate-park. The kid figured not only that the skaters were there because they were skipping school, but also that they were none of his business. His school days were over… maybe forever. He inhaled deeply, took his return stance, positioned his racquet and stood still. He was ready again. He waited for the next ball to be fired in his direction.

The young man had returned a few more tennis balls when he slowly became aware of a presence; the sensation that someone was watching him. He glanced back behind him to the ten foot high chain link perimeter fence and saw a trim looking middle-aged man wearing the beige pants of a tropic weight suit, a short sleeve white shirt open at the neck and well-worn brown leather sandals. The man was standing there with his slim fingers interlocked into the fence at shoulder height. The man said nothing right away. He stood there and studied the boy carefully like he was working out a problem. The boy was thinking, ‘Take a picture, dude; it might last longer’. He smiled at his own internal monologue. That’s what happens when you spend so much time alone … you have witty conversations with yourself. ‘Do I know this guy?’ The man and the boy continued to study each other while waiting for the other to say something. A tennis ball went flying by the left side of the kid and bounced into the fence.

Are you Omar Taylor? the man finally asked.

Who wants to know? Omar said tersely like he had seen the hero in one or two of the movies he loved. ‘I am so ‘sick’…’ the kid thought. ‘I wonder whatever happened to, old school, so cool like my dad used to say.’

If you are, I will have a message for you from your father. He would not be pleased to learn that you were so rude to an elder.

Sorry sir … what is his message that he could not call me or Skype me?

Your cell number has been changed and those conversations are too easily monitored by NSA. I will tell your father that I have met you. I will deliver his message to you after that. Be here at these courts for the next three days, in the late morning hours, doing what you are right now. Stay here for four hours. I will contact you on one of those days when I have his message. Tell no one of this meeting.

I understand.

Practice your backhand, boy … it needs a lot more work.

The man turned abruptly and walked away the short distance towards where his car was parked on the street running past the courts.

The young guy watched the middle-aged Arab man as he walked away. Another ball skidded by him and bounced into the fence.

I’ll do that, he called out to the man’s back. ‘… What a dick!’ the kid said softly to himself before he turned and prepared for the next tennis ball.

Chapter 2

Clearwater Homesick

Joey, put down the dumb-bell; we have a problem.

Busy here, babe … I’m getting all stoked up for a hot date I have scheduled with a cute little blonde in about an hour.

Right now, Joey … I mean it. This is serious.

Right now, as in the house is on fire? Or is this one of those pink deals that can take a few years to work out all by themselves?

Right now … I just spent the last half hour on the phone with Lincoln. He wants to quit school. I tried to give him all the reasons for staying, but I think his mind is made up. You need to talk to him and get him to understand what is best for him.

Okay, Sweet Cheeks … I’m on it. I’ll just finish up here and …

Now, Joey…

I picked up my cell from the shelf and sat on the weight bench. A drop of sweat ran down my nose as Mia dropped into a cross legged sitting position on the weight room floor like a little kid at a campfire. My hot date, the cute little blonde, was going to be my audience …

Linc was one of the two young guys who ended up coming to live with us when Billy Ray and I bumped into a weird cult that made some of its money legitimately selling flowers at busy intersections but most of it in an assortment of illegal activities including drug pedalling and prostitution. The other boy’s name was Dan. Through a twisted set of circumstances, the two cult kids had come to live with Mia and me. They both shared a similar past having been subjugated to the ideas of the cult leader, who was as crazy as Yosemite Sam on bad crack cocaine, but they could not have been more different as individuals. Dan was the run-away only son of a local single mom pharmacist who still works at the Clearwater Beach CVS. They have established a relationship that works for them. Dan is a tall, thin handsome kid who is also quite intelligent, articulate and very sharp academically. As my old grandma might have said, The world was his oyster. Seemingly, he had unlimited potential.

Linc was a ‘fire-plug’ tough kid who had the ‘street smarts’ from his time before falling in with the cult. There had been nothing peachy in his childhood. He was from somewhere in the Carolinas and had never told us anything about his past, his family, or even why he took off on them. The only thing he had offered was that he had severed ties with his family completely when he had been only fourteen years old. He could not go back there. He was clearly the more athletic of the two, lettering in track and lacrosse, but academics had not come easily to Lincoln. He had a quirky sense of humour and the ability to imitate the voices and mannerisms of a whole range of celebrities. He did an incredible imitation of Christopher Walken. His aping of Mia being ‘ticked off at Joe’ has broken all of us up a number of times. You are hopeless, Joe … absolutely hopeless. That broken up part might not always have included the Princess if she still happened to be ‘ticked off’. With Dan and Jeremy helping Lincoln, he had managed to score high enough on his college boards to get into the University of Florida.

In the time before he went off to Gainesville with Dan and Michelle, ‘the three musketeers’, Linc had helped us out on a missing kid case that CHIPs was working. Before he left for school, he told me that he really didn’t want to go any further in his studies. Rather, he wanted to work for me at the investigation and protection agency. I had finally convinced him that getting a degree and the university experience was a better idea and kinder to all those co-eds who would otherwise never benefit from the Linc experience if he went to work for me. After he graduated, he would have more opportunity to decide what he really wanted to do and still have enough life left to do it. If he wanted to work for CHIPs after graduation, that might be the ticket. Apparently, the promise of university success had run out.

Hey Linc … Bud … Mia just told me you want to pack it in at U of F. I know she gave you all the reasons to stay; maybe you could give me a few of the reasons to leave.

I can’t do it, Joe … Dan and Michelle, need more space for just them, and I feel like I’m the extra wheel. I’m not crazy about my courses this semester and the girl I was dating just got engaged to one of the instructors. I just want to come home, Joe. I miss you guys. Maybe I’ll start at community college next semester, but I’d really just like to come to work for you at CHIPs.

And you’ve really thought about this …eh?

I have…Joe. It just feels like I’m spinning my wheels right now. I could be working for you and making money. I know that I’d be happier. I could help out at home with Sean and little Billy. I love watching those little guys grow up.

Alright … find out when the next bus leaves Gainesville for Tampa … text me and I’ll meet you at the station. Say ‘hi’ to Dan and Michelle for us and make certain they know that they did nothing to chase you out … even if they did.

Okay, Joe … See you soon. Thanks for understanding.

As I disconnected, Mia did her rapid elevation from cross-legged sitting on the weight room floor to upright standing position in less than a second that always leaves me somewhat in awe. In the days just after we started dating, we had been sitting together, quietly interdigitating on the beach sand and watching another fantastic Clearwater sunset when I witnessed Sweet Cheeks do that rapid standing feat for the first time. I had been amazed at the ease and speed with which she accomplished upright. I tried to duplicate the flexibility of her action in the privacy of the room that I was renting at that time. I hurt myself.

You really told him, Joey … I’m on it … right… a real mind changer you are.

He can always go back …he’s confused … maybe working for a living will make him more mature.

Working for you …and with Billy and your crew, I don’t think that maturity is even remotely possible. And you know they don’t go back … he’ll find a girl and get married and … I don’t know what.

Make us surrogate grandparents … jeez, there’s a thought. It’s his life, babe … what would have happened if I had made my old dad happy and gone to law school after I graduated from university and then gone to work for him like Frank did? I never would have been a cop or met you and then, you wouldn’t have found anyone to boss around. You made a decision to quit school and leave home while you were still in high school, and you were younger than Linc is.

And look what happened to me a, a … trashy life … booze and drugs … thinking of suicide and I was only twenty-four years old. And if you had become a lawyer, you never would have had those various bullet-hole scars, and I don’t boss you around… do I, Joey?

I was just teasing you, babe.

Okay … so give me a nice kiss … no Larry the Lizard, finish your work-out, have a shower, brush your teeth, and I’ll be your hot date in an hour or so. I’ll go check that the boys are asleep.

Sure thing … I said, thinking … ‘no, what was I thinking? You don’t boss me around at all Round Eyes.’

Chapter 3

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 – Back Home Again

We were to pick Lincoln up at Tampa International Airport on Sunday morning at 11:15 as he had called back late on Saturday night to tell us that there was no direct bus transportation between Tampa and Gainesville. For $164.00 on United Airlines, he could be home in forty-five minutes from take-off. That sounded like a plan so, this morning, which is my legitimate sleep in morning, we had done a trip to Starbucks and then driven Gulf to Bay followed by the Courtney Campbell Causeway to the airport. The boys had nine kinds of fun exploring the shops of the airport mezzanine while we waited for Linc’s flight to land. At a neat shop called Mindworks, which was primarily stocked with gifts designed for kids, I bought each of the little guys a pilot’s cap so that they would be the only non-super heroes looking for candy from the neighbours this Halloween.

For my efforts, I got a, ‘What about poor little old me?’ look from the Princess who had just, entirely by chance mind you, spotted a fantastic pair of Serengeti Serena sunglasses at Sunglasses International. These were the shades that she confessed she had secretly been lusting after almost her entire life. They were actually almost giving them away for $349.99 … marked down from the exorbitant price of, $367.89. How could anyone take a pass on such an incredible bargain?

I had to agree and pay the three-fifty, or I’d pay for it the rest of today.

The grandeur of the purchase was diminished when Sean observed that the new Serengeti sunglasses looked just like the ones Mia always wore. Brave kid …eh?

For whatever reason, guilt most likely, Mia disappeared into the Ron Jon Surf Shop and bought me a big shark’s tooth on the end of a brown leather thong. The $7.99 price tag left on it was a bonus. The kids said that the shark’s tooth was really ‘sick’, so I guessed that we were even.

The re-union had been a noisy one with Sean and little Billy each trying to hug their big brother and help him with his luggage. We had all gone to lunch at Smoky Bones on the drive home and got caught up on what was happening with Dan and Michelle in their academic courses and their ‘heading towards marriage’ relationship. I had the distinct feeling that Linc wanted some face time with me. My New England Patriots had been badly trounced by the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, so there was a lot of angst this past week in the New England Nation. Was the dynasty over? Coach Belichick had made it crystal clear to all the media types that they were preparing for Cincinnati this weekend. Our game against the Bengals wasn’t on until eight-thirty tonight, so there would be time this afternoon to do a beach walk. The little guys always like Linc’s help when they build a sand fort, so that would be the excuse to head off to the water.

Mia hid behind her new sunglasses and was kind of quiet during lunch and the drive. If she was trying to send our guy the message that she was disappointed, she was doing a good job of it. I even felt guilty and I had done nothing wrong that I could remember.

Joe … can I come and work with you at CHIPs? You don’t have to pay me much.

Mia had stayed with the boys as they put the finishing touches on their most recent fort while Linc and I had gone for a walk along the waterline. A noisy tern had found us to be an interesting duo and scrambled along the beach ahead of us. Occasionally, for short distances, he was joined by a larger gull and other beach walkers of the human kind. If the crazy little guy spotted something good to eat, he would dart into the water and then dash back out. Life is pretty simple when you are a tern.

"I’ve had some time to think about that, Linc. When you did that work for me before, you were kind of thrown into the middle of something without training or any real preparation. You handled yourself well, but those things are not all that common in what we do. There’s a lot more in the day to day work of CHIPs. Some of it is pretty damn boring. You met Simon Scott’s