“Hoss Man, what color did you want your wall repainted again?” he said as he saw Jake approaching.
“What wall? I don’t see any wall to be painted. I see a blue tarp!”
“Whooa, easy there big fella. We gotta take this one step at a time. First we need to make sure we have all the materials, then we can start the work.”
“What material? What work? It’s been two damn weeks now and all that’s been done is what I’ve done. I put up the tarp. You’ve been sitting in your truck and talking on your phone!”
“Hoss Man, chill. You’re scaring away what I am guessing is your only customer today,” he said as he pointed over to the bench where Debbie sat. As Jake looked over at her, her smile dissolved and she started fidgeting with her hands as if she were giving herself a manicure.
“Hi, Debbie,” Jake said weakly. “Sorry, I left. I had to run across the road to speak to someone.”
“Oh, it’s no problem. I was just coming down to tell you that I was going over to the beach – wanted to see if you could play hookey for a while. Guess I was too late.”
“Yeah, I’d like to go, but I gotta watch the store until Ashley gets back. Maybe you could run down to your place, grab your suit and we could go then.”
“Couldn’t she just borrow one of the ones that what’s her name left when she moved out?” Hoss asked.
Hoss had lived by the old credo that all was fair in love and war, not that he believed in either. Love to him was like the love that a high school boy professes to his girl to talk her into sleeping with him. The closest he ever came to war was a good old fashioned bar fight.
“Maybe I’ll just go back to Broadwalk and hang out on the beach there,” she said.
“Broadwalk. You live down there? I thought you looked familiar. If you need any work done around the house, I’m available. Norman Leeds Renovations, that’s me,” Hoss offered.
“Thanks, but I’m just renting.” She got up and pulled her car keys out of her pocket. “I’ll leave you boys to your negotiations.”
“No, no, we’re not negotiating anything. I want to go over to the beach with you. It’s a beautiful afternoon,” Jake said almost pleading.
Debbie looked up at the clouds moving overhead. Although there was a lot of sun out, it wasn’t what most people would qualify as beautiful.
“You sure it’s not going to get bad? Those clouds look threatening.”
“Those clouds will make the sunset worth drinking to,” Hoss said crossing his arms over his chest.
“Debbie, it is important that you spend an afternoon on the beach with a local.”
“Two locals,” Hoss chimed in.
“You’re working,” Jake said to him.
“If my guys show up.”
“When, when! Don’t talk like you’re not sure.”
“I don’t know. They’re cleaning up that other job down in Grayton.”
“Is that some kind of euphemism? Is that other job the binge ya’ll were on last night?”
Just then Hoss’s face lit up. He turned towards Debbie and pointed at her like he was going to accuse her of something. “I knew you looked familiar!” he said. “You have to come down to the beach with us now, I have to buy you a beer to make amends for being such an ass to you last night. Jake, open up the store. I need to buy some beer.”
“You got cash?” Jake asked.
“Yeah, sure. I just got paid for the other job.”
“Great, so you can pay for all the charges you made while you’ve been loafin’ in my house the last two weeks.”
Their haggling was interrupted by Ashley riding into the parking lot on her bicycle.
“You’ve already made it to a college and back?” Debbie asked her.
“College. What college?” Ashley replied with the look of someone who had just been asked if they had seen Elvis recently. “Oh no, I take a glass blowing class at Broadwalk,” she said.
“That’s a real class? I saw that on the kiosk in the town center, but I thought it was just a show for the tourists, like Colonial leather tanning in Williamsburg.”
“No, it’s for real. They organize several different activities year ‘round.”
Broadwalk was just one more example of how unique the area on the county road was. At first, the locals saw it as a pipe dream doomed from groundbreaking. America at the end of the twentieth century was obsessed with suburbs and exurbs, not self-sufficient communities. Then after people began buying into the idea, skeptics dismissed it as a carnival, some kind of five hundred acre hotel/tourist trap. But then, a funny thing happened. The visionaries behind it stayed true to the vision. Although they could, and did charge exorbitant rates for a stay in a cramped cottage, they also developed a culture and identity that made it a destination rather than just a stop.
“Okay, you have no excuse now. Go get your beach clothes and come back,” Jake directed her.
“Alright, you guys pack a cooler and I’ll meet you right here,” she said.
Watching Debbie pull out of the parking lot, Ashley looked at Jake and said, “She is very cool. You definitely don’t want to screw this one up.”
“Yeah, or else I’ll be in on that like chocolate in milk,” Hoss added.
Jake grumbled, “I don’t know what ya’ll are talking about,” as they walked around to the market.
There were two large SUV’s, engines running and packed full of people and vacation gear, waiting for them as Jake unlocked the door.
“You people must not mind losing business, closing down on the middle of a Friday,” a man said as he followed them in.
“Sorry,” Hoss replied, “we were closed for siesta.”
Jake tried to ignore him.
“Well, can’t you wait until closing time to have a party?” the man asked scornfully.
“No, dear, that’s a fiesta,” the woman with him said, “Siesta means nap.”
“Fiesta, siesta, you’re losing business either way,” the man said.
“Ronald, relax. We’re on vacation, remember?” She turned to Jake and said, “I apologize about him. He’s been driving since four o’clock this morning.”
“I’m not on vacation until I get to the house with a cold beer in my hand. Frankly, I don’t see why we had to come to Florida. I keep telling her if we had kept the ranch, we would have been on vacation six hours ago,” the man said as he put a case of beer on the counter in front of Ashley.
“You know good and well why we didn’t keep the ranch,” the wife called from back at the wine cooler. “The children didn’t like it.”
“Yeah, they prefer the beach, so I have to buy a place at the beach,” Ronald said in a low tone to Ashley.
In that magic power that wives have, she heard and responded, “No, not prefer. Your daughter woke up in the middle of the night with a diamondback coiled beside her bed rattling away.”
“That snake was more afraid of her than she was of it,” he countered in a loud voice with his face pointed almost to the ceiling. He must have wanted to make sure everyone heard that.
“Ya’ll from Texas?” Ashley asked politely.
“Yes, we are. Houston. This is our third time down this year. We’re still hunting for a vacation house to buy. Say, this place isn’t for sale, is it?” he asked.
“Afraid not,” Jake interjected. “Anyway, you want a place on the beach front side of the road.”
“At a hundred thousand dollars a foot, I most certainly do not. You know what that would buy back home? C’mon, give me a number.”
“Sorry, it’s not for sale. Besides, it’s zoned for commercial.”
“Well, that can be changed easy enough.”
It was sadly true. Apart from the ban on highrises, the county commission was willing to play just about any scenario when it came to development. The only land that was safe around there was what the state owned. They had so much coming in from tourism and property taxes that they didn’t need to worry about developers. Besides, they usually had their plate full worrying about issues that really got the voters attention: immigration down at the tip of the peninsula and anything dealing with retirees state-wide.
As Ashley rang up the couple’s purchase, the man slid a business card onto the counter. “If your boss changes his mind, tell him to give me a call.”
“Ok. That’ll be twenty-eight fifty,” she said. He signed over a fifty dollar traveler’s check and she slid it, along with his card under the cash drawer in the register.
Hoss was balancing two cases of beer in the ice cream freezer when Jake walked up behind him.
“What are you doing?” Jake asked.
“Beer for the beach. It’s got to have ice crystals in the can to be right. I’ll pull it out when your friend gets back.”
“You think we need two cases?”
“Man, it’s not even four o’clock. I’m being conservative.”
“Close the door and come up to the register. It’s the end of the month and that means time to settle up your tab,” Jake said.
As he was following Jake to the front of the market, his phone started ringing to the tune of Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot.
“That’s pretty annoying,” Ashley said.
“What? It gets me in the groove to do some business,” he said as he flipped it open and started in on a string of yeahs.
Jake reached behind the counter for the account book but noticed Hoss walk past him and straight out the door repeating “yeah” in varying tones.
He went ahead and totaled up the account on a calculator and laid the tape on the counter waiting for him to come back in. The door opened and Jake picked up the totaled tape, but put it back down when he saw that it was a couple of young guys who appeared to just be stopping in on the way to check into a rental. They were loudly discussing “a couple of hotties” that they were planning on finding as soon as they got their car unloaded. One of them found Hoss’s beer in the ice cream cooler and grabbed one of the cases. They were checking out as he was coming back in from his phone call. Jake quickly handed him the tape which he studied for a bit until he noticed the guys had his beer.
“Hoss Man, I know you’re not planning on stealing my beer,” he said seriously.
“What?” asked the one closest to him as he was pulling cash out of his wallet to pay for it.
“That’s my beer.”
“Dude, what are you talking about? I got this out of the cooler.”
“The one back there,” the guy said pointing towards the back wall.
Hoss marched back to the ice cream cooler, tape still in hand, and shouted, pointing towards the sole case in the freezer, “That’s my beer!”
“Whatever,” the guy said as he collected his change and the beer and walked out with his friend.
Jake ran around the counter and blocked Hoss’s path, who apparently was aiming to tackle the guy.
“Hey, the bill!” Jake said trying to distract him.
“He stole my beer!” Hoss whined.
“He bought that beer. Now, the bill.”
“Well, Hoss Man, gotta a little problem with that. That phone call, that was my guys. They stopped by for their pay. You know, Friday and all, had to give them my cash.”
“You couldn’t have given them checks?”
“No. They won’t take my checks. That’s the trouble with hiring these rednecks around here. I need to find me some Mexicans.”
“Hoss, you’re the biggest redneck I know and you don’t speak a word of Spanish.”
“I bought me some tapes – Learn Spanish While You Drive. Got ‘em at a truck stop in Panama City. Check it out: Komo Stass,” he said to Ashley.
“Are you trying to say ‘Como estas?” she asked him.
“Yeah. See, a couple of more weeks and I’ll be good to go.”
The door opened and Debbie stuck her head in.
“You boys ready to go?”
“That was quick,” Jake said.
Hoss dropped his tab on the counter and went to get his case of beer. “I guess you need to add this on.”
“What about the ice and the cooler?” Ashley asked.
“Well, I’ll bring the cooler back and the ice, it’s just frozen water. You don’t wanna charge me for that do you?”
“Charge him for it,” Jake said flatly.They packed up and joined Debbie outside for the walk across the street to the beach.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 13