When they got to Andrew’s car, an immaculate white Jaguar sedan, he made a point of motioning Debbie to the front door and opening it for her. She got in and he closed it behind her. Jake stood with a sarcastic smile on his face waiting for his door to be opened. Andrew just walked around to the driver’s door.
“Oh, gentlemanly, I get it. My bad,” Jake said letting himself into the back seat.
“So Andrew, what is it that you do?” Debbie asked.
“I have an antique and interiors shop on Highway 98, about ten miles west of here.”
“Not quite. It’s across the street from Four Mile Beach.”
“What is Four Mile Beach?” she asked.
“Lot’s of history, no treasure,” Jake voiced from the back seat.
“It’s a very exclusive gated community, some fantastic beach homes down there,” Andrew replied. “Celebrities and very important people keep homes there.”
“Including Andrew’s father in law, the great Walter White,” Jake added.
“Your father-in-law?” Debbie asked.
“He’s a developer down here who has done very well for himself over the years. Jake’s distress comes from the fact that Walter has been trying to buy Jake’s market ever since he inherited it from that old pilot,” Andrew said.
Most people had a much lower opinion of Carl Green than Jake did. Carl had always fought for keeping the beaches on the county road as natural and underdeveloped as he could. They saw him as a hindrance to the type of progress that had made other parts of Florida like Miami and Tampa internationally recognizable.
Jake began shifting around in the back seat of the car and clicking the door lock button back and forth. It was either because he was uncomfortable with the conversation or perturbed by the fact that Andrew was barely going twenty five miles per hour in a thirty five zone.
“Why don’t you sell it?” she asked turning around to face him. “The property taxes must be more than the place clears in a year.”
“I do alright,” Jake replied. “Hey Andy, speed limit’s thirty five.”
“I know what the speed limit is. This is not the sort of place you want to be going too fast,” he said just as they were passing the large sheet of plastic where Jake’s living room wall used to be. “Besides, the High Tide is only two miles down the road, it’s not like you’ll miss that much drinking time.”
The car was quiet for a minute, as if a moment of silence had been requested for Eden.
“Why is it called High Tide?” Debbie asked. “Is the owner a retired sailor?”
Jake explained, “Well, the owner is Dutch, moved over here about five years ago. He said in his hometown they had a special happy hour every day at high tide seeing as how that was when there was most likely going to be trouble in a country that’s already mostly under sea level. He was kind of romantic about the concept, so he was reading about this place one day, thought it would be a nice place to open a bar.”
“Hmm, sounds kind of foolish moving halfway around the world for trouble,” Debbie mused.
“I can think of worse,” Andrew said as they stopped to park.
The High Tide sat on a stretch of beach unique in this part of Florida in that it was all still public beaches. The area beaches sold off for private development were scratched with an endless row of spider-leg shaped private beach access stairs surrounded by notice boards threatening all types of civil and criminal punishments to anyone uncouth enough to trespass. But the only proof that people ever visited the public beaches were the strings of trashcans for the flotsam of beverage cans and suntan oil bottles that were consumed daily, mostly by that endangered species known as the beach bum. They drove in for day trips to the beach and had been doing so long before the rich bought up big chunks of the shoreline to build personal monuments to their success. They came to spend a few hours without having to spend a month’s pay on rental houses. The beach for them was something to share. But with the affluence of America that spirit of sharing came in the crosshairs of the desire to hoard what one could. Like little children, the beauty of the beach made them want to scream, “Mine!”
Like the public beach, the High Tide belonged to no one group. The tourists and the wealthy vacation homeowners liked to think of it as their place. They felt superior because they knew and used the owner’s name as often as possible. As far as the locals and the beach bums went, they too knew his name, but civility kept them from using it like a status symbol. The bar itself had evolved since it was opened. Originally furnished as some kind of back street coffee shop one might find in a European capital, it had become a classically American place, with the exterior of an unremarkable bungalow and an interior that screamed unique individualism. It was a place where all types would meet from the idle rich to the working poor, although not much mingling between those groups ever happened.
Walking up to the door the three heard a low voice shout out “Jacob!” It belonged to the area’s last auto mechanic and open mike extraordinaire Bobby Thomas. “BT,” Jake called back walking up to the bench where he sat drinking a beer.
“Where ya been, man? I tried calling you earlier today. Wanted to make sure you were coming to hear me play tonight. Glad to see you brought some good company too.”
“Yeah, I got the message, managed to round up a new groupie for you. Bobby Thomas, this is …”
“Debbie, my favorite castaway,” he said cutting Jake off
“Hey Bobby,” she said walking over to give him a hug.
“Am I the last one down here to meet you?” Jake asked to Debbie to which she just smiled and winked.
“Andrew, how’s the historical artifacts business?” Bobby asked.
“Doing fine Bobby,” Andrew replied while trying to avoid the teams of children running around and playing an after dinner game of tag while their parents finished up at a café across the street.
“How’s the crowd looking tonight?” Jake asked
“Pretty tame, except for Hoss. Looks like he brought a group of workers in tonight for some sort of shot contest.”
“That sounds interesting,” Jake replied
“Yeah, I bet it’s gonna get worse before it gets better.”
“It always does with that hoodlum,” Andrew added. Not surprisingly, he and Hoss had pretty much negative opinions of each other. “I think I will take a rain check on the nightcap. Will you excuse me?” he asked Debbie.
“Yes, I think I’ll be safe with my neighbor here,” she said wrapping her arm around Bobby’s.
“Here’s my card in case you ever want to stop by the gallery and take a look around.”
“Thanks,” she said taking it from him.
“Well then, goodnight all,” he said as he turned to go back to his car.
Debbie looked down at the card. “Trojan Artifacts,” she read aloud. “There’s no phone number, just an address.”
“Yeah, old Andy doesn’t come off very well on the phone, only in person,” Jake told her.
“I can’t imagine why, he seems very polished to me.”
“He stutters on the phone. I heard it’s some kind of phobia about strangers listening in or something,” Bobby said.
A horn started blaring a random series of long and short bursts and they looked over to see Andrew behind the wheel of his car with his face almost pressed against the windshield as he attempted to shoo children away. The children just giggled and made faces at him as he backed out.
“Saved by Hoss,” Jake said.
“You don’t like him very much do you?” she asked him.
“He’s just one of those people that manages to get under your skin no matter what he does,” Jake replied. “I’m going inside for a drink, ya’ll want anything?”
“I’m good,” Bobby said holding up his beer.
“I’ll join you in a minute,” said Debbie.
“Oh-Kay,” drawled Jake as he started towards the door.
“So, whataya think of him?” Bobby asked Debbie.
“Jake. He’s nice. Seems to have a chip on his shoulder about some people though.”
“Well, despite his age he’s kinda old school around here. He is one of those who wants the beach back the way it was when he first moved down. Thinks there’s too many people trying to make a buck off the beauty. Personally, I think he’s fighting a losing battle, but I’m biased. I like the chaos that comes with change.”
“You like change?” she asked incredulously. “You run what is probably the last full service gas station for a fifty miles in either direction. That doesn’t sound like someone who is into change to me.”
“Wise man once said that there’s only two noble professions: physician and musician. He said it’s because they’re the only ones that deal with healing people, one physically and the other spiritually. I was too stupid to make it through medical school, so I figure mechanic is the next best thing.”
“You ever hear the theory that to an alien cars would look like the dominant form of life?”
“What about you? You’re not just on vacation; it’s easy to see. You came down here looking for something. Is it something you’ve lost or something you’re missing?”
“Both. Or maybe neither. I’m not yet sure, but I do know two things. It’s not money and it’s not fun.
“So what is it?” Bobby asked looking puzzled.
“I don’t know, but I can see shadows of it in many things down here. That quick blast of salt air, kites above the gulf, night sky so full of stars that it looks like the nighttime view of a city from up in a plane.”
“Sounds like you’ve lost the awe of your past to me.”
“Maybe,” she said. “Is that why Jake gets defensive about the market?”
“That’s got a lot to do with it. He inherited the market from a real old-schooler, named Carl Green, back from when most of this place was used by Eglin flyers. I think Carl left it to him because he figured he had no ambitions in life. Over the years developers have tried everything from honey to vinegar but they can’t get that fly off his spot.”
“Hmm,” she said nodding. It was an easy scenario to imagine, hardheaded people protecting the status quo.
“Well, I gotta go earn some tips,” he said finishing his beer.
“I’m with you, I should go see how much more toasted Jake is by now.”
As he opened the door for her he said, “Go easy on him, that girl’s death hit him harder then most people know.”
“Why, were they involved?” she stopped and asked.
“No, at least I don’t think so. But if it weren’t for that thick skull of his, she would’ve been his daughter. Jake and her mom were real close to getting married.”
“Oh,” Debbie said. Then she was confused by a feeling of jealousy that she had no reason to feel.
Walking into the High Tide was like going to a cocktail party at a psychedelic thrift store. It was at once fun and freaky. There were areas where one could relax on couches and slowly sip a glass of wine and for the more rugged, an L-shaped bar along the far and side wall for shooting liquor and drinking beer. Bobby walked straight through the crowded tables and sofas to a small passageway in the back corner that led to a live music room. The owner, Lars, always liked to keep a diverse roster of bands from Panama City, Pensacola and points beyond rotating through that door to have a little something for everyone available. His last resort for no-shows and off nights was the open mike, which almost always meant Bobby and his acoustic guitar.
Debbie saw Jake waving her towards a narrow spot at the turn in the bar. He must have had to pry it open between a young couple, fashionably dressed and fused face to face and a motley group of guys that looked like they had just survived a plane crash. She approached cautiously worried that one of those guys would elbow her right in the eye accidentally during a barrage of high fives they kept giving each other.
“This place is a little more intense than the Dinner Table was,” she said to Jake.
“Yeah, pretty wild huh? I just finally got a spot at the bar. You want another glass of wine?”
“No, I’d better try something a little more suitable. How about getting me a bourbon and ginger ale?”
“Now you’re talking,” he said with a wide smile. He turned towards the bartender to order up.
“Is it always like this?” she asked, while being prodded in the ribs by elbows from all directions.
“No, this is much tamer than when one of those punk bands comes through.”
The bartender returned with their order. “Here you go ma’am,” Jake said handing her what anyone would have a hard time calling a mixed drink.
“Wow, that’s strong,” she said squinting her eyes.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I have this theory that if you want good service you should always tip well. The down side to it is that once the servers get to know you, they kinda make your drinks a little strong to show appreciation.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s not just a little strong, could you ask him to put a little more ginger ale in there?”
“No problem,” he said turning back towards the bar.
She turned the other way to do some people watching when she caught one of the guys next to them staring at her. He licked his finger, rubbed it on her shirt and then yelled, “Damn baby, we got to get you home and out of those wet clothes!”
“Nice,” she replied. “Did you get that one out of Penthouse?”
All of his drinking buddies started into a chorus of laughing at him and oohing her.
Jake turned around with the repaired drink and shouted, “Hoss, you owe me some beer!”
The skebby surfer replied, “Hey Jake, I’m sorry about that. I’ll get you taken care of tomorrow.” Then he said to Debbie, “Sorry about that little lady. I didn’t know you were with Jake.”
“Oh, okay”, she replied trying to sound nonchalant.
“What’d you say to her,” Jake said with a look of anger rising up.
“Nothing I haven’t heard before”, Debbie said, not so much to take up for Hoss as to cool Jake down. The overhead lights flickered twice.
“What’s that?” Debbie asked.
“BT’s starting. You wanna go watch?” Jake replied.
“Yes, definitely,” Debbie said grabbing hold of his arm and smiling at Hoss.
They followed part of the crowd back into the music room. It was a small room, maybe could hold a hundred people with a raised stage at the far end where Bobby sat on a stool in front of a microphone.
“Hey, ya’ll. Thanks for coming in. I’m Bobby. This is something I just wrote for a new friend of mine. It’s called ‘She’s Got it Good’.” As he started strumming on the guitar, Jake noticed he and Debbie smiling eye to eye.
“He’s already writing songs about you?” Jake asked Debbie in a low voice.
“It’s not like that,” she replied smiling.
“Not like what?” he said.
“Hush, Jake. It’s not every day a girl gets to hear a song written about her,” she said smiling, ignoring his jealousy.
Jake listened to the song, trying to find some pulse of romance and was happy to find none. It was a nice Lyle Lovett type of ballad about a woman who moved around leaving a trail of broken-hearted guys in her wake. The kind of song that made the couples in the room rock steadily together and the single people stand and dream with only a bottle or glass to hold. And when it ended slow and sad, everyone applauded. Bobby then went into a set of cover songs that was pretty appropriate for a beach bar. Jimmy Buffet wanting to get drunk and screw and Bob Dylan serenading some girl to keep it together. He started in on a rough-house version of a Johnny Cash song but broke a string and stopped mid-verse.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said low and slow into the microphone. “That is what I call a bad omen. I’m gonna get this taken care of and I’ll be back in fifteen. Stick around ‘cause I will be playing requests.”
He put his guitar on a chrome stand, got off his stool and walked over to Debbie and Jake.
“What did you think?” he asked them.
“You wrote a song about her?” Jake asked back.
“Nah, man. That was about my most recent wife. She damned near broke my heart too.”
They all laughed.
“So Bobby, how many have you had?” Debbie asked.
“Married three times, divorced three times. You could say I’m batting a thousand. How ‘bout yourself?”
“What makes you think I’ve been married?” she asked trying to act offended.
“Woman like you doesn’t stay single,” Jake shot out.
“Like Bobby sang, you got it good.”
“Alright you two, I’m gonna go take care of a couple of things. I’ll see you back here shortly,” Bobby said walking away.
“Not me, you won’t. I don’t think I can handle a bunch of drunk rednecks yelling ‘Freebird’ during your request set,” Debbie said.
It was too late for Bobby to hear her. He had already been surrounded by a group of young women who were evidently on some sort of bachelorette party as they were very drunk and one of them had a bride’s veil just barely hanging on to her recently styled and highlighted hair.
“Aw, c’mon Debbie. It’s just getting fun in here,” Jake said.
“Not for me, it isn’t. But you can walk me home if you’d like.”
“Yes, definitely,” he said gesturing with a wide wave of his hand for her to go ahead.
They walked back out past the bar, which was now about three people deep with the thirsty. The seating area on the other hand had thinned considerably. Going out the door Jake asked, “Which way?”
“I’ve got a place down at Broadwalk. But since we’re walking, let’s take the beach.”
“Broadwalk? I didn’t know you were rich.”
“I’m not. I found a long time ago to have the best you can be rich in life or lead a rich life.”
“I agree completely,” he said. “So how is it that you never were married, late bloomer?”
“Here we go with the old lady talk again,” she complained.
“Knock it off. I’m not implying you’re old. In fact, I believe you to be much younger than me.”
“Because you still have an unjaded positivism in you,” he stated like a drunk that is sure he can drive.
“Well, I’ll answer your question then. Been close but never been married.”
“How close?” he asked.
“Six months ago, I was sitting on my sofa in my apartment staring at a very successful, very earnest man on bended knee asking me to marry him.”
“How successful and how earnest?” Jake asked.
She stopped, “Are you mocking me, Jake?”
“Not at all. This is the first chance I’ve had all night to learn about you. I think I should get every detail I can.”
“OK. Very successful and very earnest.”
“That’s not what I meant. Was he successful in a cure for cancer kind of way or in a I’ve got a really big stock portfolio kind of way?”
“Well if he’d have cured cancer, I’d probably be married,” she said sarcastically.
“But he did care about me,” she added.
“I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“Yes you did, or is there some other definition of earnest.”
“I believe that he cared about you. That’s definitely not a stretch. But there is another way one can be earnest.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“The I’m gonna have the perfect job and the perfect house and the perfect life kind of earnest.”
Debbie stopped and turned towards him. Over his shoulder she could see a row of beach lounge chairs. During the day they were rented out to vacationers, at night they stood silent on the sand used freely by anonymous moonlit lovers.
“Jake, how old are you?”
“I’m thirty eight.”
“Who’s the closest person to you right now?”
“Right now?” he asked stopping and looking in both directions down the beach. “I’d say you were the closest person to me right now.”
“Ha ha,” she said, “and if I took off running into the dunes?”
“Well then I’d have to catch you,” he said with a devilish grin.
“Knock if off, Casanova. You know what I mean.”
“I don’t know Shelia, all people are so . . .”
“Who’s Shelia?” Debbie asked. Jake stopped and mouthed a word to no one. Then he answered.
“Um, nobody, I mean an old friend.”
“Is Shelia Eden’s mother?” she asked, her voice softening.
“Yes, she is. Please don’t try to read anything into that. It’s just that when someone is coming down on me, it’s usually her.”
“So, is she the closest person to you?”
“Nah, more like an old friend that could use some support,” he said.
“Are you giving her any?”
“What?” Jake asked quickly with large eyes.
“Oh, yeah, I offered. I guess its one of those self healing deals. Or maybe I’m just no good in the emotional support department.”
“You wouldn’t be the only guy that had that problem,” she said turning back towards the surf.
Jake backed up a couple of steps and sat down on the foot of a chair.
“maybe,” he replied “but they have some accomplishments to be proud of. You know, something that gives them the ability to get up and go everyday.”
“And you don’t?” she asked over her shoulder.
“I’ve got a business I didn’t really start that doesn’t really make any money anyway, a house I didn’t buy, a few friends that no one else would want and a nack for making women want to hit me and run away. You could say I’ve got everything that’s not worth having.”
She turned back to look at him but only saw the top of his hung down head. She walked to him, kicking the white sand up on his leg. His head stayed down so she sat next to him.
“That’s what you see in you. I see a community leader in paradise,” she said looking at the side of his lowered head.
They stayed like that for a minute then he smiled and looked up at her.
“You’re alright, Debbie Baylor.”
“Thanks, so are you Jake Burns,” she replied getting up.
She continued down the beach and he followed, hands in his pockets surveying the surf.
They walked for a few minutes in silence then she stopped and asked, “Wow, does this not just totally amaze you?”
“The night sky down here, the stars!”
“That’s why I live down here,” he said. “Almost every waking moment I am amazed by something.”
They walked quietly for another one hundred yards or so and then stopped at a white sign that said, “Broadwalk Beach Access”.
“Well, I guess this is your exit,” Jake said.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, if you’re down by the market tomorrow, I’d like to buy you lunch.”
“I didn’t know there was a lunch place nearby,” Debbie said.
“Oh, I guess I meant I’d like to make you lunch.”
“Thanks, maybe I’ll stop by.”
“OK, goodnight Debbie.”
As she stopped at the steps to clean the sand from her sandals, he turned and walked home.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 6