“While No One Was Looking” – Chapter 1

The effect others have on the path of our life are often not apparent. We see clearly how our own actions and decisions change our lives, but it’s often in retrospect that we realize the changes brought on by others that we may not even consider directly involved in our lives.

Most people never recognize the people that form the triangles in their personal relationships.  Just as we unintentionally and unknowingly change the lives of the people around us, their indirect actions and reactions have effects and some control on our own path, even indirectly through a third person. As the sage advice says “be careful who your friends are”.


Chapter 1

There had been many memorable days working on the Lady Z drift fishing boat. Days with perfect weather, or terrible weather, days with big fish being caught all day, the decks full, crowded with excited fishermen, and some days were especially memorable for the people who came on board. This was one of those days.

Juan Rivera, first mate, was helping the second mate Allan hand out fishing gear to the customers, giving and taking the usual jokes and jibes from the regulars, the boat engines warming up at idle, the Lady Z still tied to the dock, when Captain Harris gave Juan the order to cast off the lines. Juan glanced up the dock as he unlatched the boarding steps while Allan picked up the bow line near Larry, a regular customer with a prime spot on the starboard bow. Juan dropped the boarding steps back onto the rail. He waved to Allan to wait, then turned to look back at the dock. Trotting toward the boat were two late-comers, tall, young and laughing, obviously first-timers. They stopped at the gate and waved.

Juan looked up at Captain Harris. The Captain nodded and pointed at his watch, it was two minutes after 7, and the Lady Z almost never left the dock later than 7 am. Juan jumped up on the dock and ran to open the gate.

As Juan helped the couple on board, he took the woman’s hand. She stopped and looked at his face, as if studying it, and as he looked back something in her eyes froze him, something tightened in his chest, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe.

“Hello, I’m Barbra Ossa”, she said. The world became silent to Juan. He no longer heard the boat engines, or the seagulls, or the chatter of the fishermen. It seemed as if all had ceased. Barbra’s voice was deep and rich with a tremolo that vibrated in accompaniment to the tingling of his skin where he held her hand. Juan was frozen, enjoying this moment more than he should, when Larry blurted out “Hello, I’m Larry, let’s go fishing!” The laughter from the fishermen broke Juan’s spell.

Barbra Ossa looked at Larry and back at the group of smiling men. She blushed and lowered her eyes, not realizing their laughter obscured that they were mesmerized by her beauty.

Juan regained his composure and shook Carlton’s hand. Smiling at them both he said his usual greeting “I’m Juan Rivera, first mate. Find a place at the rail or have a seat and I’ll get your gear for you after we cast off. Welcome aboard the Lady Z.”

Cruising out the Boca inlet on smooth waters, the 30 year old boat had been making morning and afternoon trips during the winter season since Captain Harris bought her nineteen years ago. Almost all the customers on board today were regulars. They had their usual spots on the rail and were ready to fish as soon as the boat reached the reef and shut down the engines. The two newcomers stood out in this group of drift boat regulars. The fishermen barely noticed the guy. Trying not to stare, and failing, all eyes were on the woman. She was an uncommon beauty amongst them. Some of them thought they had seen her on a calendar or in a magazine, or maybe it was in a movie? Others were dreaming of being with her. Almost everyone wondered what these two were doing on this tub?

Juan had worked on the Lady Z for so many years he had lost count. It was actually 18 years, but he paid no attention to the passing of time, or what he might have achieved financially in a more rewarding occupation. Elena, his ex-wife did, and this was one of the reasons she had left him. That and the fact that he always smelled like the fish he brought home with him every day. Juan didn’t mind the smell of fish, it was part of his life that he loved, working on the ocean.

Juan had only worked on the Lady Z, and only for Captain Harris, who he regarded as a great captain. He originally began the job when he and Elena had just married, considering it temporary, just until he finished college and could start a career in something else. The problem was he hadn’t decided what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Every day while at school his thoughts were of being out on the water, working on the fishing boat. The work was hard, especially during the season when it was two trips a day. The pay and the tips on a drift boat were not great, but most days he received fish in return for cleaning the catch for some of the customers. Eventually Elena refused to cook the fish he brought home. Juan would cook their dinner, something for her and fish for him. He loved to find new ways to cook the fish, and he loved to eat it.

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“While No One Was Looking” – Chapter 2

 

Chapter 2

The fishing trip actually began last night for Barbra Ossa, on the eve of her birthday. It was also the anniversary of the night when her parents had left her two years ago. She had thought she would never celebrate her birthday again, but then changed her mind, deciding she would use the occasion to honor their memory.

Last year she bought a chocolate cupcake, stuck one candle in it, and tried to think only of happy times, birthday celebrations with her mother and father, hers and theirs. Last night, she went to a movie, alone, came home and went to bed, not to sleep but to stare at the ceiling, the pain of her grief coming back stronger and stronger, washing over her in waves as she fought to empty her mind and find sleep.
After the tears subsided, she would blame the hum of the neighbor’s air conditioner for keeping her awake. Or maybe it was the sound of the palm trees rustling in the night breeze? That’s the price you pay for living close to the ocean, she thought, there was always a breeze keeping you awake. She laughed at the irony of the thought, as the ocean breeze was part of why she loved living here. Sometimes the breeze became a strong wind, making a humming sound as it blew around the building. Sometimes the wind howled. She remembered nights when she enjoyed the sound of the wind in the trees.

On a night like this, when sleep is a stranger, every little thing comes to your attention, each little sound, or smell, or touch on your skin can be irritating. Thoughts swirl around, seeming so important at that moment, while you try to avoid thinking of unpleasant things. Such as losing your family in a senseless auto accident, an event that came out of nowhere, never expected or foreseen as you and your loved ones started that day, just another morning as you shared a laugh over breakfast, smiled as you kissed goodbye, unsuspecting in the moment it was your last goodbye.

The loves of your life, here one minute, vanished the next, leaving a hole in your heart the size of a continent. Trying to understand, people explaining it to you, it was a heavy rain, a winter night when dark comes before dinner time, her loved ones driving home on a crowded expressway, one driver losing control up ahead, unseen. Cars and trucks going too fast for the rain, the oil slicks on the pavement defeating the attempts at braking hard, everyone braking too late in the low visibility, coming together, some spinning, loud bangs you could feel as much as hear, rolling over, some burning. Big trucks were shredding cars, the people inside with little chance. In the downpour, no one could see where it began or would end.

So many times since she had found a way to stop thinking of that night. She learned a Buddhist chant. That sometimes worked. She thought of pleasant times she had at the beach, on horseback, on a boat ride or water skiing. Things she had shared with her father and mother. Tomorrow was her birthday; she was sure that her parents would not want the coincidental anniversary to be a cause for annual grieving.
Barbra Ossa lay still on top of the sheets, under the ceiling, staring up at the fan, unable to find sleep, still wrestling with her mind for control of her feelings. Her pillows began to feel like they contained rocks, she threw them on the floor. She had already put her alarm clock in the night table drawer, not caring to know how late it was before she found sleep, as knowing would make her even more tired after she arose next morning, as she never slept in. Eventually she noticed the sky begin to lighten. She opened the night stand drawer and looked in. It was 5:15, an hour till sunrise.

Restless, she decided a to start the day with a good cup of coffee and a sunrise on the beach, combining two of her favorite things, the aroma of strong coffee and the ocean air. “Happy birthday to me” she thought as she jumped up, stretched her long body, pulled on her favorite blue shorts and a white halter top, and jogged out to the coffee shop on the way to the beach a half block away, suddenly not feeling tired at all.
Barbra Ossa walked along the damp sand at the waters edge, watching the clouds over the gulfstream turning glorious colors, breathing in the air, and sipping her café. She wanted to enjoy being alive, to be rid of the heavy feeling in her heart. She wondered how that was possible.

She consciously tried to look at positive aspects of her life, here and now. Well, she had no classes today, which was a good thing, only a 4pm appointment with Professor Hampton, head of the university drama department. A tryout, or audition, she wasn’t sure, for a part in the college theater production of Bali Hi. Professor Hampton had asked Barbra Ossa to try out for the part of the island witch doctor, a major role to offer a beginning drama student. The character was a short, older woman in the movie version, the physical opposite of Barbra Ossa.

In a brief conversation following one of her public speaking classes in which he was a guest lecturer, the professor had outlined his ideas to Barbra Ossa for a creative interpretation of the play. It was going to be a challenge for her, she knew, but he had strongly encouraged her, insisting that she would be right for the part as he saw it in his mind’s eye, one of his bold casting choices to bring the play current! His creative vision, and the excited way he asked for her help had excited her. She suddenly had the thought that this was just what she needed to gain some recognition in the university, maybe finally make some friends, and build her confidence for her future broadcasting career.

Looking forward to the tryout she started to worry about fatigue. She would take a nap before the audition, but she wanted to do something fun and a little special first. Watching the waves come in, the colors of the sunrise reflecting on the white foam in the surf, she suddenly had the thought, for the first time in her life she was sure, that she should go fishing. She laughed at the idea. She had no idea how to fish! As she turned to continue her walk along the water’s edge, she came face to face with someone she immediately recognized from campus.

“Ahhh! I thought this beach was empty!” she said laughing, taking a step back. “I thought I was alone, I hadn’t seen anyone here. Where did you come from?”

“I’ve been walking toward you from over by the parking for several minutes. I’m sorry I surprised you. I saw you standing and looking out at the waves, you seemed lost in your thoughts. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you! I’m Carlton, or Carl if you prefer. He was not offering his hand, but he was smiling broadly. Carlton was pleased he had gotten close before she had a chance to avoid him. He wanted to meet her, but he wouldn’t have pursued if she had just walked away when he approached.

“I’ve seen you on campus from time to time. I’ve wanted to say hello, but you were always alone and on the move, so I didn’t know how without seeming to be hitting on you, which must happen to you all the time.”

Barbra Ossa said, “Not really! I’ve seen you too. You’re usually surrounded by people, but you stood out, I guess because you’re tall and you were looking my way. So, it’s nice to meet you, I am Barbra Ossa”, she said, smiling and offering her hand. Taking her hand Carlton said “I’m glad to finally meet you too” then adding her name slowly, as if he wanted to say it correctly, “ Barbra Ossa.” “I’m just glad you stood still long enough for me to walk over. Do you want to be alone this morning, or may I walk with you?”

Uh oh, he is hitting on me, and in less than 30 seconds, she thought. Better be careful, he really is good looking, he likes early morning walks on the beach, and he might even be romantic. She suspected that he was one of the well-known, popular students at the university. She had the thought that he was a catch, though this wasn’t the kind of fishing she had been thinking about, and laughed.

His face reddened at her laughter. “Oh no, I wasn’t laughing at what you said, I was laughing because it’s my birthday and I had wished not to be alone today, and you just appeared out of nowhere!” “I guess I was a little sad, because well, it’s my birthday, as I said, and I’m missing my family. I don’t have classes today, just an appointment at 4 o’clock. I’m trying to decide what to do with the day.”

His smile became huge. She wondered what had made him smile. She decided that whatever caused it, his smile would be her birthday present. Her thoughts racing ahead, as her thoughts often did, she visualized them as a couple, happy to be together, with little Barbra and Carlton children, laughing together over breakfast as her family once had. They would be living in a small village in Spain, riding bicycles with their children wherever they needed to go.

The freshening wind and the sound of the gulls returned her to the beach. Get real, she thought. She had career plans and life goals. Lonely as she was, she didn’t need to share her life right now.

They started to walk, Barbra feeling comfortable with Carlton, which was surprising her. She liked his relaxed, confident manner, his looks, even his name. Carlton was different, not at all a common name, like Barbra.

“Well first of all, Happy Birthday Barbra Ossa! I’m glad I fulfilled your wish! As it happens, I don’t have classes today either. Normally I’d just sleep in until afternoon, but something woke me early today, the sky was just getting light. I woke up and wanted to do something different and new. I’ve never been here for sunrise before. I thought coming here for sunrise would help me get an idea of something to do with the rest of the day. I was surprised to see you here. Do you come here often?” Laughing he added, “Now that’s a classic line, right? I meant for the sunrise.”

Barbra Ossa smiled back, “I’ve never come here for sunrise before today. But I came for the same reason.”

Carlton stopped walking and turned to face her. “Let’s see, we both came here for sunrise, looking for an idea of what to do on this special day. What could be new and different? I know! Let me take you fishing for your birthday! We could go on one of those fishing boats at the marina. Thy have fishing poles and everything you need. Why don’t we do that? Let me take you fishing for your birthday?”

“While No One Was Looking” – Chapter 3

 

 

Chapter 3

Barbra stared back at him, slow to answer. Carlton expected she was not too happy with his idea. “You have to be a total figment of my imagination. I can’t believe you just said that, because that’s exactly what I was thinking before you “appeared”.

“I’m going to wake up from my dream any second now. Excuse me, but I have to pinch you to see if you are real! She pinched his arm. He was real enough.

“I’ve never been fishing, or even thought about it until just now. Before you walked up, as I stood looking at the ocean, I wished to not be alone today, on my birthday, and that maybe I could go fishing. Suddenly I turn around and there you are, very close and out of nowhere, and after a few minutes you suggest we go fishing.”

“I don’t know whether to be thrilled or frightened. I don’t know whether to run away and never tell anyone, as they would think I made it up, or say yes and go with it. Yesterday, I would probably walk away and pretend it never happened. Today I feel different; I feel I’m supposed to go fishing with you. Happy coincidences are new to me, so give me a minute to adjust before I can accept. OK?”

“OK.”

”I can’t say no to you, not when you answer both my birthday wishes! So yes, let’s go fishing. No, wait! I only have this morning. I have that appointment at four with Professor Hampton. I can only go if it’s only for the morning.”

“Great! I looked at the marina signs the other day. Drift fishing boats have half day trips that leave around 7am and get back around noon. You can easily make your audition at 4. We have over an hour to get to the boats now. Are you hungry? Let’s grab some breakfast at the diner on US1 near the marina, OK?”

She smiled and nodded, her knees a little shaky and her mouth suddenly not able to form words, let alone complete sentences. She felt a little weak, but great, like her life was beginning all over again. He had smiled with her, not at her, and his smile made her forget the sadness of last night. It wasn’t just the caffeine and adrenaline kicking off her birthday now.

After breakfast they had to hurry to make the drift boat. In fact it was about to leave the dock as they ran up. Carlton waved and yelled at the mate with the dock line in his hand, Barbra Ossa jogging alongside, noticing that the boat was full of men, only men, and all eyes were on her.

The Lady Z drift fishing boat was full of regulars, men who knew the best places on the boat to fish, who arrived early and staked out their favorite fishing spot on the rail. Carlton and Barbra Ossa found a couple of feet of empty rail near the stern. They accepted the fishing equipment the boat’s mate handed them, noticing that most of the regulars had brought their own shiny looking gear. It was hot near the stern, the engines just below deck giving off heat as well as noise and vibration. Luckily the smell of diesel exhaust was replaced by a fresh breeze as the Lady Z gradually picked up speed after clearing the channel outside the inlet.

Carlton brought them water and juice from the galley, and they both took off their shirts and put sun block on each others backs. Barbra was beautiful in her shorts and halter top, the oil from the sunscreen combining with her sweat to make her skin shine, enhancing the definition of her muscles as she practiced handling the fishing rod.

Alan came over to give her and Carlton instruction on the use of the reel’s star drag. Juan came over and took Alan’s place, giving Alan another task, something to do with preparing the bait. Juan threw Barbra’s line overboard without bait and told Barbra to practice reeling it in against the drag of the moving water. She strained against the weight on the line from the speed of the boat, her effort making her even more exciting to watch for the men on board. Carlton was acutely aware of the stares. He felt proud, and protective too. “She’s with me dudes” he thought. “Eat your heart out.” And they did.

As it turned out, Barbra Ossa was indeed supposed to go fishing that day. She caught as many fish as any of the more experienced fishermen on the boat, gathering crowds around her as she reeled in kingfish, snapper, grouper and even a cobia, the men watching her working hard to reel in her catch, her body getting sweatier, and her breathing get heavy, hearing her yells and laughter. It was too good a show to miss, as she caught the fish they probably would have.

Carlton only caught one fish, a small kingfish. Being too small, the mate threw it back. But he didn’t mind, this was new to him too. He just enjoyed watching Barbra and being with her.

Their fishing trip ended before noon. The fishermen on board caught 36 fish. Barbra Ossa caught 11 of the 36. No one on board that day, even those who hadn’t caught anything at all, begrudged her good luck. She had been the highlight of the trip. They cheered when the ice chest was unloaded the at the dock and the fish bearing her cut mark landed on the dock. She didn’t know about the boat’s fishing pool. Being first timers they hadn’t been asked to join the pool for the most fish caught, but she had won it. Larry came over and handed Barbra $125, $5 from each of the fishermen. As it was presented they all let out a “Happy Birthday Barbra Ossa” cheer!

“While No One Was Looking” – Chapter 4

 

 

Chapter 4 – The Audition

Lourdes Cooper pulled her detective car into her driveway with takeout Chinese dinner on the front seat. Her husband Danny and 5 year old daughter Emily had been waiting for her on the front lawn. They were hugging and kissing hello when her cell phone rang, the ring tone indicating it was a call from the office of Tucker Bailey, chief of police.

Crap, she thought, there goes our family dinner time, again.

Lourdes let it ring a few more times as she held Emily in her arms and swayed from side to side. Emily loved that. Danny was saying “I’m sorry, if I had picked up dinner we would have finished eating by now. Tell Bailey you need fifteen minutes to feed your family.”
Lourdes answered it while she held her daughter. “Cooper” was all she was able to say, the caller was Marcia Gray, Tucker Bailey’s assistant. Marcia immediately began the rapid-fire orders she had been told to pass along to Lourdes. There had been an alleged rape and beating at the university involving a professor and a student. She needed to arrive there as soon as possible. Uniform police were on the way and university police were on the scene.

“Five minutes” she replied and clicked off her phone. “I’ve got to go back to work for a little while Emily, but I’ll hurry home as soon as I’m done, honey. You and Daddy have your dinner now, but save some for me, ‘cause I’m gonna be hungry as a bear when I get home! OK honey?”
“OK Mommy, we’ll keep it warm for you too!” Emily hugged her hard, this not being the first time they had this conversation. Lourdes was almost ready to call Marcia back and tell her to send someone else; her family was a hell of a lot more important than her job. Deeper down she knew she did this for her family, so if Danny lost his job, or had a relapse of his illness, this was all they had to support them. She handed Emily to Danny, kissed them both on the cheeks, handed off the Chinese food, opened the bag, grabbed two egg rolls, and left them waving at her on the lawn.

It wasn’t hard to find the location of the “event”. Uniform patrol cars were gathered at the rear of the auditorium where it joined the rear of the gymnasium. There was something going on in the gym, probably a basketball game, as the parking lot was full, there was a bus from another South Florida school parked at the entrance and even the press was already here. My lucky night, Lourdes thought.

The uniformed officers were doing their job keeping the press from entering the auditorium, but there were too many school staff hurrying in and out of the doors. She recognized the school doctor and nurse rushing in and she called out to stop them. She didn’t want anyone treated that may interfere with a rape case investigation.

Once inside, she was surprised by what she found: lying on his back with a gash on his head and blood on his hands was the man she recognized as the performing arts professor. She called out to let the doctor and nurse in to treat his wound until the EMT’s arrived.

Sitting on a stage prop trunk was a woman, student age, with no apparent injuries and a defiant look on her face. This was not what Lourdes had expected. In her experience a rape/beating case presented a battered woman and a defiant male suspect. This looked like the opposite, but she withheld any assumptions, and went to the injured male first.

His forehead was bleeding profusely. He had a dazed look as the university sports doctor applied pressure to the wound with a gauze bandage. The EMT’s arrived and the doctor relinquished his position but he continued talking to the wounded man, “Harold, I have to stay in the gymnasium until this game is over. You’ll need stitches on that cut. I’ll come to the hospital as soon as I can to make sure that whoever stitches that up is capable of preventing a lasting scar. And I’ll make damn sure this woman is prosecuted and prevented from doing harm to anyone else, here or anywhere!” As he finished this little speech, the doctor glared at the young woman sitting on the trunk. She glared back until the doctor and his nurse hurried back to the basketball game in the gym.

There were lights shining in the open stage doors from the press video cameras and Lourdes ordered all non-police or EMT personnel out and the doors closed. As this was being done, a door opened and in walked Tucker Bailey. Lourdes had to make a conscious effort to keep a surprised look off her face as he approached her. She wondered, what would cause the police chief to leave his home in the evening just to poke around an assault case?

He walked up to her. “Fill me in Lourdes.” Bailey was staring at the man on the floor.  “I just arrived. It appears the man is the victim. I’m going to question him now before they transport him for treatment. I don’t know if he’s the rape suspect or not.”

Bailey was now looking at the woman. “Rape? Is she claiming he raped her? She doesn’t appear injured, does she? What did she clobber him with?”

The professor yelled an answer. “She beat me with a bamboo post from the stage set! Then she flung it over there!” The man was turning around, and they saw him pointing to stage left. They turned to see a uniformed officer shine his light on a piece of bamboo lying under a stage curtain. Lourdes walked over and picked it up with a gloved hand. She came back and knelt by the man.

“Who are you sir?” “I’m Harold Hampton, dean of the university performing arts department. He raised his hand and pointed at the woman. “That woman is Barbra Ossa, a student here. She attacked me with that post and nearly killed me.”

“I was defending myself! He raped me!” she screamed back, jumping up from her seat on a equipment trunk. She began to come towards them but was stopped by an officer.

“Oh, come on! She seduced me. She was hoping to force me into guaranteeing her a leading role in our upcoming play. When I told her that she needed to work on her acting and singing skills, she turned on her charms. She seduced me. I mean, look at her, barely dressed in that costume, is that appropriate? She knows she is very pretty and thought that sex would compromise me into giving her the part. I know it was wrong to give in to her advances. I offered to help her learn the skills for future productions. When I refused her the part in this play, she flew into a rage and attacked me!” He looked frightened as he recalled the event. Very convincing, Lourdes had to admit.

Bailey was convinced. “Book her for aggravated assault. We’ll see what the DA wants to charge her with when we have all the facts, possibly attempted murder.”

“What? Are you nuts? He raped me! He told me to put on this costume. He put his hands on me during the audition, supposedly to instruct me, he said to “position me” for the reading. He became irritated when I resisted his touches, demanding I cooperate so he could help me succeed, saying we could help each other! Cerdo!!” She spat in his direction and became furious, stomping her feet and waving her arms. “He held me down with his body on top of me on that trunk. He put his hand on my throat, the other under my clothes. He had his tongue in my ear. I think I passed out. I awoke and he was inside me, hurting me, pushing. I was yelling NO, NO, trying to push him off. It was hard to breathe, and that frightened me. I shoved him harder then and he pulled on my hair as he fell off me. He jumped up and slapped me, then kneed me where he had been inside me. I kicked at his face, and fell off the trunk. The bamboo stick was there on the floor so I picked it up and swung it as he leaned over me yelling. It hit him in the head, so I was able to get up. I kept swinging it and hit him more times as backed away. I LOVED the surprised look on his face.” She turned to the professor. “Didn’t any of your other rape victims fight back, Puerco?”

Well, this interview is going well, Lourdes thought. “OK, OK miss, we’ll get the rest of your statement at the hospital. Right now the EMT’s will check you for injuries, then we’ll take you to the hospital for a rape examination. I’ll be there to get your complete statement. Please have a seat.”

Lourdes said to Bailey “I’ll take her to the hospital for the rape kit exam and get a detailed statement from both parties there and report back to you tonight if you wish.”

“Officer, please escort Ms. Ossa to my car, but go out the side door to avoid any university staff or students or the press waiting at the rear doors.” To the uniform Sergeant Lourdes said “Please tape off the stage area and lock up. Inform the university not to allow anyone in until we notify them that CSSI has completed their crime scene examination.”

“Mr. Hampton the EMT’s will take you to the hospital and I’ll get your full statement there.”

Harold Hampton was complaining loudly “I just gave you my statement. Write it down. That is what happened. I was compromised and beaten by this aggressive woman. She’s a liar! I’m the victim here!” The EMT’s tried to calm him and stop the flow of blood from overpowering the bandage on his head as he yelled, the veins in his neck and face standing out. “I’m the one who called 911! I called the police, not her!”

“He’s got a point Lourdes, be sure and look at both sides in this. We don’t want to ignore any possibilities that would abridge his rights.” Bailey said to her.

Lourdes thought, yeah, you men do stick together, but so do we women. Wouldn’t want to tarnish the university’s image would we? She knew Bailey was thinking of where the city’s bread was buttered. Oh Lord, help me to see the truth in all things, she silently prayed. “Yes sir.” was all she replied.

Eventually she followed the woman and an officer out the side door to her car, the bloody bamboo post in her hand.

 

“While No One Was Looking” – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Jules’ new-to-him ’97 Corvette’s stereo is blasting “Middle of the Road” as he turns on the ignition. He lowers the volume as his phone rings, glances at his watch, sees 6:20pm, then at the phone’s caller id. It says “Shaun G.”. He expected this call.  Shaun has been calling all day to remind him to be on time for the appointment he made for Jules with an investigation service  in Boca Raton. Jules sighs, presses the button “Hey Shaun, I’m leaving for Boca now.”

“It’s late, really late Jules” Shaun sounds really worried “Boca is 160 miles from here. Can you get there by 8:30?”

“I can, and will. Look, I planned on leaving before 6, but there were delays I couldn’t control, like the one at the attorney signing off on our business sale. I’m taking the ’90 ‘Vette I took of the lot today.  She’s a sweet ride and I’ll make time on the way down. Traffic should be light until West Palm, and Boca is not far from there. I’ll call you after the meeting and let you know how it went.”

“If you’re late there isn’t going to be a meeting. Please make it there by 8:30. Cranky Charlie’s an ex-cop, a retired Boca detective. He’s really strict about people being on time. He made it clear that he won’t work with someone who shows up late. It’s a hard and fast rule for him. I vouched for you as being a stand-up guy, which is true, but stretched it and said punctual. Don’t make me look bad. Charlie’s a good guy to have as a friend, one I’d like to keep. But he’s called Cranky Charlie for good reason. I haven’t ever seen that side of him Jules, and I wouldn’t want to man!” Shaun was talking louder and faster as he spoke, sounding both worried and angry, which got Jules temper rising a bit too. “Shaun, take a break , I’m not late, and I’m on my way. Don’t call me again tonight, I’ll call you when the meeting is over.” Jules made his point by hanging up.

Jules headed west on Eau Gallie Boulevard toward the interstate with the setting sun glaring in his eyes, just below the level of the ‘Vette’s sun visor. He forgot to take his sun glasses from the Camaro he left at the sports car dealership he had just bought that day. He had been looking forward to driving this Corvette, one of the 25 sports cars he acquired with the business. As the new owner of Eau Gallie Sports Cars Ltd. all he had to do was put the dealer plate on and gas it up.

Jules was relieved to finally turn south and have the setting sun off to his right. In a few minutes the sky turned into a Florida sunset worthy of a postcard, the view west of the Upper St. Johns River Wildlife Management Area with Bull Creek a little farther west topped by the usual towering cumulous clouds now in all the colors only nature can provide. The sunset only reminded him that it was late, and getting later. Although Jules is in a rotten mood from Shaun’s call and the pressure he was feeling from needing to cover 160 miles in 2 hours and 10 minutes, he was looking forward to opening the ‘Vette up a little bit on the hopefully empty expressway. At least he was in a great road car. and it didn’t disappoint. When he felt like he was going about 90, he looked down and the speedo showed 130! It was solid, and not even breathing hard. In respect of his license to drive, he slowed to a more common speed of 85 – 90.

Jules was surprised as traffic became heavier between Vero Beach and Fort Pierce. This was the Treasure Coast’s summertime version of evening rush hour he thought. He realized he still had over 100 miles to cover in less than an hour and a half.

Jules thoughts wandered. He was curious why the private investigator “Cranky Charlie” was so intimidating to Shaun. All he had been told was that Charlie had retired after a thirty year career with the Boca Raton police department and now owned a popular bar in Boca Raton, about 10 miles from The Atlantic, Shaun’s bar in Boca that her sold when he returned to Palm Bay last year to look after his parents. Shaun met Charlie at a holiday party thrown by the regional spirits distributor when he was the Atlantic’s new owner. Charlie had taken Shaun under his wing and mentored him on the bar business, and helping him to make a profit in his first year. As a result Shaun was easily able to sell the bar and move back to Brevard County to look after his aging parents. Charlie always kept track of bars for sale on Florida’s east coast and told Shaun about the listing for Jules’ bar in Palm Bay. Maybe he had become a father figure, but for whatever reason Shaun wanted to please Charlie, and since Shaun had been Jules’ close friend in high school, and they were now reunited, that made it important for Jules as well.

Jules was beginning to worry. After two separate delays at the lawyer’s office this afternoon, Jules began developing the first headache of his life. It continued growing, getting stronger still as he drove into the setting sun. He slapped the steering wheel several times in frustration at the increasing traffic. He consciously tried breathing deeply as he focused on relaxing. It helped to rub his forehead. He breathed deeply several more times and ran his hand through his hair. Jules was not experienced dealing with stress.

Jules led an easy, carefree life, things usually going his way. He made it that way partly by good luck and partly by deliberately not getting involved with people and their personal dramas. Jules strongly preferred watching drama on the movie screen, so that he could just stand up and walk away when it was over. Easy, relaxed, that was his motto.

He realized all of a sudden that he was in danger of leaving the easy relaxed life. The trip to this meeting represented a change in his direction. He wondered why did he make this decision? Selling his bar to his high school buddy that he hadn’t seen in years, buying the sports car dealership the very same day, meeting Barbra Ossa, within the same week, and sure enough, his life was getting complicated. Things were happening fast, things that he couldn’t control, and they didn’t seem to be going easy. He was aware that for the first time in his life, he wasn’t able to stay detached. He couldn’t just turn away from Shaun, or stand up and walk away from Barbra and her issues. Jules couldn’t understand this, and he was not comfortable with it.

Today was a perfect example. In spite of Shaun’s remark, Jules would always arrive early and be on time for everything. Always, that is, before today. Being in control and staying relaxed was important to him. He observed others who always ran behind schedule. They either didn’t care about themselves or others. or became nervous, harried and out of sorts.  He wondered why they couldn’t control their time and avoid the distractions and the stress that resulted.

Today unfortunately, he was probably going to be late for an important meeting because of decisions he had made and things he couldn’t control. At the last minute Shaun’s attorney had pushed back their appointment for the bar sale closing. The attorney had changed the time from 1 pm to 3 pm at the last minute. Knowing he had the 8:30pm meeting some distance away, Jules normally would have re-scheduled for another day. But since he closed on his purchase of the sports car dealership in Eau Gallie the day before, he needed the funds from the bar sale transferred to his bank today.

Being on-time at 3 pm didn’t work out so well for Jules either as the attorney showed up late and the meeting didn’t start until almost 4 pm. Jules started to leave just as the attorney arrived, so he stayed to complete the transaction. It was too important to him to finalize the sale and transfer the funds.

Even though Shaun’s attorney caused Jules to leave late for the 8:30 meeting with Cranky Charlie, Jules wouldn’t mention it to Shaun or use it as an excuse. He really was glad to have Shaun back in town and to have him as a close friend once more. He felt he didn’t need to whine to Shaun about his lawyer being late. He had to average 65 miles per hour to cover the 160 miles and arrive by 8:30, but since all but 10 miles was expressway, if he cruised at 80 miles per hour, he thought he could make it on time anyway.

Jules remembered being impressed to hear that Cranky Charlie didn’t tolerate people who didn’t show up on time. That implied he was a person of high integrity and demanded integrity. Jules always admired people with high standards. But his admiration of Cranky Charlie’s intolerance was deflating as he watched the time grow later.

No, Jules wasn’t used to stress, and he knew it. As the miles dragged on he lamented his feeling of being out of control and suddenly thought “Isn’t this what happens when you fall in love?” He considered that and thought “What’s next, heartache?”

That thought, coupled with his reflexive reaction to avoid trouble, complications and drama caused him to swerve toward an approaching exit ramp, to turn back, back to his normal, peaceful life. Knowing it was too late, that he was already too involved, he overcame the reaction, swerved back into his lane and continued heading south. Jules just couldn’t quit once he started something. He never could. He picked up speed again, his red Corvette soon indicating 85, easily approaching 90. He glanced at a mileage sign on the expressway. It said Boca Raton was 105 miles. Jules only had an hour and forty minutes to reach this meeting. That left him an hour and a half on the expressway and 10 minutes in local traffic to find Charlie’s bar.

With the miles going by, and the ‘Vette loafing along, Jules calmed down and his thoughts turned to Barbra Ossa, and to the incredible feelings he had since meeting her. She was the reason he was going to meet the investigator in Boca Raton. He thought of her smile and laughter during their talk at the gym. He had never seen so much life in anyone. He recalled the beautiful contradiction of the light shining from her dark eyes, the eyes that also revealed sadness that flickered across her face, even in the midst of her laughter, as if she fought back some unpleasantness even as she laughed, her face becoming more beautiful and captivating by the contrasts it held. He recalled the feelings of fear and admiration for the Bengal tiger he was able to touch through it’s cage at the big cat sanctuary in Homestead. The feelings he had as he looked into the eyes of the enormous tiger, amazed at it’s beauty, but terrified at its power and excited at the danger of being so close, came back to him as he talked to Barbra Ossa.

But other feelings he had when he was with her were new to him, and he recalled those now too. They were traveling down through him, tingling on his scalp and skin, to a feeling almost like a punch in his gut, to a strange new yearning sensation that appeared in his chest. Although it wasn’t pleasant, in a way that confused him, it wasn’t unpleasant. Jules was amazed by the power of these feelings, and suddenly, as he recalled them now, they became terrifying.

He remembered how he was distracted by these intense feelings as they talked, and he began to feel like running away. Jules was unaware that she sensed his discomfort, he thought he hid it well. He didn’t know Barbra Ossa was thinking that Jules disliked her and was repulsed by the personal drama she had shared.

Barbra couldn’t have known Jules wondered if the way he was feeling was a symptom of falling in love. He didn’t think he had ever felt love for anyone outside of his family. But something was gripping him and making him feel so strongly. “So this is why it’s said that the heart is the place we feel love.” He thought. He hadn’t ever understood the heart shaped candies and valentines. He always thought it was because the heart shape made a prettier caricature on the front of a card or box of candy than any another organ, say a brain, or a stomach! Had he “fallen” in love? Why is the term “fallen” used anyway?

Jules was suddenly drawn back from his thoughts of Barbra Ossa by a new sound, something different, a rhythmic sound from the rear of the car. His mind went over what could cause a knocking sound from the rear of the car? Nothing good, his final thought on the subject, then, of course! In this, his new life, things can go wrong on a regular basis, can’t they? No matter what was causing the sound, he was sure it would end the hope of making the meeting with Charlie.

Jules lowered his speed and the sound slowed too, but remained just as loud, or louder. Something was definitely wrong. Jules wished he had an idea what it could be. Being an owner of a sports car dealership for one day didn’t make him an auto expert.

Jules considered calling Shaun. Shaun knew how to reach Cranky Charlie to re-schedule the meeting, and Jules would rather do that than arrive late, even with car trouble as a reason. Shaun thought about it for a moment, then decided that he didn’t want to hear Shaun ranting about his decision to drive down in a used sports car he had never driven before, in addition to leaving late. He made his bed, even though he had the attorney’s help, and he would have to sleep in it.

The Palm Beach Gardens exit was coming up and the sign told him it was another 40 miles to Boca Raton. He knew he should take the exit off the interstate and find the cause of the noise. He pressed on.

A little while after passing the exit the sound abruptly changed, becoming louder. Now it was joined by a vibration Jules could feel in the floor of the ‘Vette. Changing with the speed as he slowed, the sound reminded Jules of a baseball card hitting the spokes of his bicycle as a kid. It made a noise that sounded like a motor.

With stress stoking his imagination with negativity, he forgot the childhood memory and imagined this noise was coming from a broken axle that was about to fall off and cause him to crash, coming to rest as a bloody pulp after rolling and flapping down the road.

Jules shook his head to clear the thought. He remembered once picking up a large nail in a tire, and it made a similar sound. The ‘Vette actually felt fine in spite of the noise. He just might be able to keep going. He rubbed his forehead, and thinking of the possibility of a sudden flat tire, he put both hands on the wheel again.

His destination, a bar named Jimbo’s, Jambo’s, or something like that, was facing the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in the old industrial part of Boca Raton. The address and directions were written on a scrap of paper in his jeans pocket. He wasn’t going to let go of the wheel to reach for it now, not while barreling along with a vibrating tire that might let go at any time.

The recalled the directions Shaun gave him said to head east off the interstate, pass the college and turn left on the road just before the railroad tracks. Or was it just after the tracks? He wasn’t sure. It was a bitch getting into his jean pockets while driving or sitting. Because the jeans were tight he had to lean over and stretch his leg out to reach into a pocket. He couldn’t afford to get pulled over because he was weaving along the interstate. Jules decided to wait until he got off the highway.

A sound made him jump, sounding like a gunshot in a quiet neighborhood in the middle of night, it was a sound you didn’t want to hear. Was it a backfire, or a gunshot? All of a sudden, a split second after the sound, the rear of the car began to drift left while the front continued to follow his lane. Jules had been too deep in thought to react quickly. When he did react he over-corrected and the back end swung over too far to the right.

Several more swerves followed. If they increased in intensity he would lose control, and he felt it wasn’t too far from that now. “Stay off the gas. Don’t hit the brakes” Jules thought. “Make smaller movements of the wheel. Stop swerving”. It worked. The car slowed and Jules pulled onto the shoulder somewhere near West Palm Beach.

Turns out it was the left rear tire, not from a nail but from it’s tread separating from the inner belts. He couldn’t afford the delay to change the tire but he had no choice. Be on time or don’t come, that was the message from Charlie given to him by Shaun.

He again longed to return to an uncomplicated life. Maybe he could go to a new gym, get a new trainer. He could forget the perfectly imperfect Barbra Ossa. Yeah, OK. Right, like he wanted to do that. But neither in his old life nor in his new life could Jules imagine what he was getting into.

Better change the tire in record time Jules thought. He went to get the jack and tire wrench from the rear of the car, and he groaned as he remembered he had neglected to put the renewal sticker on the license tag. If a State Trooper stopped to check on him while he was changing the tire it was sure to mean an additional delay and perhaps even a ticket if his tag renewal didn’t show up on the computer in the trooper’s car.

Now what? No tire iron in the car? The jack was right there next to the spare, but not the tool to raise the jack or loosen the lug nuts. Jules reached for his cell phone, trying hard not to care about the consequences of calling to change the meeting time. There was no answer at the number Shaun gave him, and no voice mail. “What century are these people living in?” he wondered.

The flat was on the left side of the car, closest to the roadway. He would be inches away from the traffic lane while he changed the wheel. In this century drivers don’t usually slow down for a vehicle on the shoulder of the interstate unless it’s been wrecked and they can gawk. They will flash by at 80 miles per hour just a few feet away. When it’s you standing there, it’s really hard not to think about what would happen if one of the drivers swerved at just the wrong moment.

Just then an approaching car did move on to the shoulder. Its lights shone full on Jules and the back of his Corvette, and Jules’ muscles tightened as he prepared to jump off the shoulder. Finally it slowed and stopped several yards behind him. It was a Highway Patrol car. Jules muttered to himself “Really not much hope for making the meeting now.”

Except Jules got lucky… the Trooper entered his plate number in the computer before he got out of the patrol car and saw that it was current. He also had the tools Jules needed to work the jack and the lug nuts. The Trooper turned on his blue lights and made sure traffic moved over to the next lane so Jules could safely change the flat. Other than chiding Jules for the missing license sticker and tools, the net result of his arrival was saving Jules a lot of time and possibly saving his life. Score one for the FHP.

It was only five minutes past 8:30pm when Jules found the club. He had lost the scrap of paper with the club name and directions when he changed the tire. He had turned left before the railroad tracks. He passed a couple of bar and grills but this had to be the right one. The sign read “Jumbo Jimbo’s Gathering Place”. Who thinks up these names? Jules thought. “Jules’ Gathering Place” would have been classier.

He parked in the lot and practically ran up to the doorman, a GIANT of a man in an old, tight fitting suit with highly polished but well worn brogans. “Good evening” the doorman said to the couple ahead of Jules, and opened the door to let them in. The giant held his hand up in front of Jules chest to stop him, looked him up and down and said “Sorry, the club is at max capacity. You’ll have to wait until someone leaves before you can go in.”

“Is it too full for just one more person? Can you please check? I’m here to meet the owner, and he is probably inside waiting for me.” Jules said, trying hard not to appear as irritated as he felt.

“Sorry, you can’t go in till someone leaves. The fire marshals limit the club to a max occupancy of 150. So you’ll have to wait until someone leaves.” the giant said, grinning broadly and obviously enjoying this part of his job.

Jules didn’t give up, this meeting was important to him, and he had just driven over a hundred and fifty miles in less than two and a half hours including stopping to change a flat and chat with a state trooper. “Look sir, I’m here to meet Cranky Charlie. I believe you work for him. I’m a potential client and we have an 8:30 meeting. Do you think he would not want me to go in, especially as he doesn’t wait for people who are late?”

The giant man looked amused for several seconds, chuckling and staring into Jules eyes, then burst into laughter so loud Jules had to step back, laughter so loud Jules was actually surprised car alarms didn’t go off in the parking lot. Abruptly the giant face turned serious and he scowled as he boomed “Look!! I know who you are and you’re late. Since you are late, you can turn around and leave. Leave now before I begin to get cranky!”

‘Wait, wait a second, are you Charlie? Our friend Shaun G. set up this meeting. Shaun said you’re the man that can help me. Will you cancel a meeting that would benefit everyone involved, considering I’ve driven over a hundred and fifty miles and arrived just seven minutes late, in spite of setbacks all day, would you really do that?”

“You’re late; the degree doesn’t enter into it. I assure you that my associate and I will not work with someone who can’t be relied on to keep their word. What amount is disqualifying? Is that your question? Any amount. So goodbye. Leave now and have a nice life. Or, you may decide to stay and continue this discussion until I really do become cranky. I can be very “interesting to be with.”” The giant emphasized the last four words by creating giant “air quotes”. “I suggest you leave sir, I really do.” His broad smile was back, but this time it didn’t extend to his eyes.

Jules stepped back a few feet and considered the huge man before him. Jules now guessed he wasn’t Charlie, or even an employee, maybe a partner. Probably Jumbo Jimbo, the club’s namesake. Jules decided to soften his next appeal by calling him Jim. Just before Jules spoke the big man’s expression changed again, and staring hard at Jules, he raised his right arm, half turned to his right and spoke into his right cuff.

He has a wrist radio! Jules thought, finally seeing the ear bud in his left ear. The old suit and worn shoes had caused Jules to underestimate the man, apparently. You really cannot judge a book by its cover. That is so true, and Jules realized that he had.

When “Jimbo” stopped whispering into his sleeve he looked back at him and Jules said “OK. I understand the meeting is canceled. I get that. I take responsibility for leaving too late to arrive on time. It’s my fault entirely. But I did just drive a hundred and fifty miles, and changed a flat tire. I’m tired and thirsty as hell. I would really like to go inside your bar for a few minutes to have a drink before I leave. Just for a few minutes, when there’s room in the bar of course.” “Jimbo” snorted and opened the door. “10 minutes.” he said.

Jules found a well appointed but fairly typical local bar scene inside. Bar stools around a oblong central bar tended by two very attractive bar maids. There were hi-top tables lining the walls, mostly with two chairs per table. All the seats were filled. Jules circled the bar, finally found a solo empty seat and ordered a scotch from a young pretty barmaid he guessed was working her way through college. Both barmaids were conservatively dressed, in long sleeve blouse and slacks, not what he expected in a college town gathering place. He counted the people in the bar. Including him and the barmaids it came to 135. He found the wall placard and it showed max occupancy to be 150. “Oh well, it was a nice story” he thought, trying hard to be mad at Jimbo for the lie and not at himself for being late.

He was surprised as he sipped his drink. It was very good scotch, even though he hadn’t called for a brand. No cheap whisky served with well drinks here. A good local bar that took care of its patrons would always be full. Jules noticed the recorded music was good and not loud, making it easy to have a conversation. This was the kind of bar he wished he had owned in Eau Gallie. Then maybe he wouldn’t have sold it.

Glancing around he saw a man leaving the men’s room and staring right at him, but smiling as he approached. “I’ll buy you another drink if I can have my seat back” he said. Good scotch and nice people Jules thought.

“Thanks for the offer. I’ll join you for another drink, I’ve got a long drive home, but this is good scotch and one more will do.” Jules said, standing and nodding to the barmaid, then tipping his glass up and draining it. Jules bought the round for both of them, left a generous tip, then stepped away from the bar stool. “Thanks for the loan.” “Jules” he said and extended his hand.

`“Teddy, Teddy Reed. Where are you from?” he asked. Their drinks came and Teddy handed Jules his scotch.

“I drove down from near Cape Canaveral to meet someone here, but I had a flat on I-95, arrived late and missed him.” Jules thought the details were more interesting, but he was only given ten minutes and it was better to give the short version. He was starting to unwind and he wondered if he really needed to leave in ten minutes or not?

“Bummer,” Teddy said, “So you’re just gonna turn around and drive right back?” “If it was me, I’d probably enjoy the evening here, pick up a late snack and a motel room, and head back in the AM after picking up a new tire. Might not be a good idea to drive home on the spare.”

That sounded good to Jules, a relaxed way to deal with it, enjoy the night and drive back rested in the morning. He didn’t need to be at the dealership until 10am anyway. He pondered the idea.” Not a bad idea. Can you recommend a motel?”

“They are up and down US1, just a few miles east of here. I don’t recommend places because you never know what someone else would experience, and I wouldn’t want to be remembered that way!”

“Got that! Very wise. I’m ok with driving back. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do around a couple of situations, new business, new girlfriend and such as that, so a drive home would be good for me. I enjoyed talking with you over some good scotch. If this bar was in my town I’d be back on a regular basis. Nice place.”

“Good to meet you Jules. Good luck with your business and your girlfriend. Have a safe drive home on your spare tire!”

Jules nodded to the man, waved to the barmaid and left. He glanced at his watch, saw that over 20 minutes had passed since he came in, and cringed. He just couldn’t be on time today.

He was surprised and relieved as he walked out the door that the big man was gone. In his place was a beautiful woman, well dressed in a pants suit. She was holding several small groups of people to one side, waiting for others to leave before letting them in. She seemed to lose her smile as she acknowledged Jules with “Good night sir.”, and he wondered why.

What a waste of an evening Jules thought, shaking his head as he headed for his car. The only thing he had accomplished was having a drink in a good bar, and… losing his car! The spot where he had parked the ‘Vette was an empty space. He checked the other rows on either side, but this was the right one. He stood for a moment looking at the spot as if his car might reappear when he saw a tow truck on Dixie Highway, the north / south road across the railroad tracks from 2nd avenue, the street the club parking lot was on.

The truck was towing his Corvette, going north. He reached for his cellphone and spun around to return to the club when he saw a a large dark blue SUV coming down the row towards him from the club’s direction. He then heard a car approaching him from behind. Jules turned to see a police car turning into his row from the direction of the street. Both vehicles approached him from opposite directions and stopped a couple of yards away. For some reason Jules considered running up to the club, and had to laugh at himself for the thought. With the lights on the club building behind it, the occupants of the SUV weren’t visible so Jules walked over to the police cruiser.

The police cruiser’s driver window came down as he approached and Jules said “Officer, my car is missing from this parking lot,” indicating the only empty parking spot in the row. “I just saw it being towed north on Dixie Highway.”

“Yes sir. I’m very sorry to tell you that your car was towed because you’re trespassing.” the officer replied. He was unusually polite Jules thought, and liked him immediately in spite of the situation. “The club management stated that you were asked to leave, but instead you asked to have one drink and leave in ten minutes. When after 20 minutes you still hadn’t left they called us and the tow truck.”

Jules was astonished. These folks were serious people he thought. And he realized he hadn’t taken any of this seriously enough. “what did they say I had done to be asked to leave?” he asked.

The officer ignored his question. “Management is willing to drop the trespassing charge and give you transportation to the impound yard if you agree not to return here, and not to come back without an invitation.” Jules thought he would never come back, that was for damn sure! “Your alternative sir,” the officer continued, still very politely, “is I can cite you for trespassing and take you to the station for processing and to post bond.”

Jules was speechless. What had he done to deserve this? Have a blowout and only arrive ten minutes late (really? ten minutes!!)? As he wondered this the SUV’s driver door opened and “Jumbo” stepped out and back, opened the rear passenger door and looked at Jules with that broad smile.

“My God he has big teeth.” Jules thought. “he could swallow me whole. I wonder if he’s a cannibal, and I’ll never be heard from again if I go with him?” Then Jules said aloud, “Would that be safe?” then “What time do you have?” to the officer. “9:00” he replied.

“I assume you have my name from my license tag?” The cop nodded. “Would you please write in your daily report the fact that I agreed to leave and left in his vehicle as requested?” Jules asked.

Getting his point, the cop replied “Yes sir, I will, but don’t worry, Mr. Charles, or Charlie as he is known by everyone he meets, is a great guy, and you will be safer in his car than in your own.”

“Charlie? Isn’t he also called “Cranky Charlie?” That big guy standing there smiling at me like I’m his next meal?” Jules asked.

The officer laughed so hard he coughed a few times before being able to reply. “No sir, that’s Danny, Mr. Charles’ son and the general manager of Jumbo Jimbo’s. “Cranky Charlie” is a good-natured nickname for Mr. Charles, really a term of endearment from his closest friends. They call him that because when Charlie gets angry, he’s still so nice you can’t really tell. You might notice that he’s a little cranky, that’s all. Charlie expresses his frustration, disappointment and anger with others by taking the time to teach them a life lesson. He’s really good at that. Only good friends and family call him Cranky Charlie. He’s in the back seat of the vehicle waiting for you. Sorry about your blowout earlier, sir, glad you had assistance from FHP and are safe. I suggest that you have your tires inspected and get a new tire before getting back on the expressway for home sir. Have a better night now!” He nodded to Jules as he put up his window, spun the wheel and used the empty parking spot to turn around and leave the parking lot.

Jules head was spinning. How had the Boca officer known about the flat and the FHP officer stopping to help? Why had Shaun referred to Mr. Charles as Cranky Charlie, were they really good friends? Or maybe family? Why had Charlie and Danny treated him this way about being on time, when he had come to hire Charlie to investigate the college professor that Barbra Ossa had told Jules had raped and humiliated her? Why threaten a trespassing arrest and have his car towed after allowing him into the club? And now personally taking him to get his car when he could call a cab?

Danny was still smiling as Jules walked over and said “Why trespassing, really?” but Danny didn’t answer him, just motioned him into the back seat and said “Jules Jameson, meet Charlie”. And Jules met Cranky Charlie.

Charlie was a small man, maybe five feet tall, but tan and fit, well dressed in tropical weight cotton pants, a tropic pattern cotton shirt, expensive casual clothes, no socks with fine Italian loafers. A comfortable man both in his clothes and, judging by his demeanor, very comfortable in his skin. Exuding confidence, obviously locally respected and with some degree of power, but not a physically imposing man on the short side of 5’ .

Jules wondered if the Jumbo Jimbo bar name ironically existed from a previous owner, was an attempt at irony, or came from the same short man syndrome that sold so many large Cadillacs and Lincolns.

Jules asked for the reason he had been rebuffed without a chance to explain why he was ten minutes late for their meeting. Charlie’s answer was not to the point, but actually answered the other question on Jules mind. “Jumbo Jimbo’s Gathering Place is named after my son Danny, aka “Jumbo”, and my Bulldog “Jimbo”. I began admiring the bulldog breed initially because I identified with their small, compact, energetic and naturally muscular bodies. I learned of their other qualities after some time living with them and gained an admiration that continues to this day. As Danny grew up in our home I tried to teach him to admire and emulate the bulldog’s characteristics: his bark is as bad as his bite, instead of the inverse; a quiet perseverance with unpleasant situations; determination: grab hold and hold on until achieving your goal; humility: follow until it’s time to lead, then be strong and take charge; trustworthy: faithful and loyal. I’m still looking for a person that can come close. Other than Danny, I’m not hopeful of success in that search, sad to say. Danny may make it though.

Jules now realized that the ride to the impound lot was the time and place for their meeting. The realization that this was Cranky Charlie’s life lesson for Jules to be on time that came too. A lesson that would cost Jules $300.00 and give Charlie’s buddy’s towing company a little more income. Some people know how to make a point.

During the drive across Boca Raton to the Delray Beach towing yard Jules made his request for assistance…..

”This request is not as simple as you think, Jules” Charlie said. “It can’t be yankered like weeding a garden, but must be done delicately with patience and skill, with the right tools, like shaving a scrotum.”

“Yankered? Is that a southern term for screwed-up Yankee style?” Jules asked, hoping it would elicit a laugh and not an offense. Charlie just ignored it.

“There’s more to this, something else that really concerns me because it concerns you. It’s on your mind and I can see it in your eyes, but you’re not telling me about it.” He stared directly at Jules face. “We’re both friends of Shaun Gage. He vouched for you, just as I’m sure he vouched for me. But we’ve just met, and you’re asking me to be involved in this, situation. Why would you ask me if you didn’t believe that you could trust me? First and foremost you must believe that you can talk to me… so talk to me Jules. Tell me everything.”

Jules didn’t answer, taking a moment to consider what to share at this point, and what to hold back to protect Barbra Ossa.

“You can talk to me”…… “You can talk to me”….. Charlie said this in a way that made Jules want to tell him everything Barbra Ossa had told him. He wanted to tell him every detail that she had poured out during their first conversation. Details that he couldn’t believe she was able to say to someone she had just met, and that had turned his stomach to knots. But he promised that he wouldn’t. So Jules hedged. Charlie knew it. And he got Cranky. But you couldn’t tell.

Charlie and Danny dropped Jules on the sidewalk in front of the tow company office. The “open” sign was lit, but the office was dark and the door was locked. Perfect. The office hours on the door said 8am to 9pm. It was 9:25pm. Great. Jules called the after hours number on the sign and was told to wait, the driver just left for a pickup and would be back within an hour. Jules sat on the curb to wait for the privilege to pay $300 to get his car. The point for being on time was made.

As he waited, Jules wondered if bulldogs were ever late.