Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Redemption or Bust - Bad Decisions & Poor Impulse Control
Skylight Drive is a lane and a half worth of country road with fields of wheat and corn on either side. I just about had it to myself as the Olds and I motored out to Bog Island. Two farmers on tractors were out ahead of me but I got around them without getting flipped off or shot at.
I thought things over as I drove.
It wasn't too late to turn around and do the smart thing; go back to the motel and call the police.
The name Reubens meant nothing to me. All I knew was that the man was badass enough to spook Evangeline. Someone that badass was not going to be scared off by the local constabulary. He might even be the local constabulary.
Like Evangeline told me, I was out of my territory.
Twenty minutes later I passed a sign that read, “Bog Island 5 miles”. Four miles after that I pulled off and parked my Olds next to a couple of other rusty heaps on the side of the road.
The few clumps of grass that still clung to the ground around the pull-off were matted and brown, done in by decades of fishermen and nature lovers parking there.
There was a dying pier you couldn't have paid me to walk out on and a sandy path leading down to the water. I stood on the path and looked out on a long stretch of reedy shoreline. The morning fog had just begun to burn off.
Evangeline was right. It was beautiful country.
After a minute or so I cut the Kodak moment short and got going. My legs felt okey after a couple dozen steps on the path and they stayed that way as long as I kept moving. My face throbbed and my ears were ringing but I could see out of both eyes and I was spoiling for a fight. Nothing like getting your ass kicked to give you a bellyful of righteous anger to jump start your day.
Cabin D was easy enough to find.
The cabins, a baker's dozen of them, were arranged in a big horseshoe around the lake, set back in the woods.
A dirt road looped the island and each lot had a simple gravel driveway cut into the ground.
Only three of the cabins showed signs of recent habitation and of those three only one had a car parked in the driveway.
Cabin D was one of the quiet ones.
Like all of the cabins on Bog Island Cabin D was a sturdy structure with a log exterior. The people who owned the places paid a lot of money to make them look like they were built with Lincoln Logs.
There was a pile of stacked firewood on a front porch that came equipped with a bench, a swing, some dead plants in wicker baskets, and a couple of barrels to rest your drink on while you sat and enjoyed the view.
A quick inspection of the driveway revealed no recent tire tracks and there was nothing in trash cans at the bottom of the driveway.
I padded up on the front porch to get a look inside but couldn't see anything through the drapes.
I ran into the same problem around the side of the cabin. There only was one window there and all it afforded me was a fine view of a set of closed red and white gingham curtains.
Around back I found a window that wasn't curtained. It was a foot and a half over my head. The back door winked at me, its lock begging to be picked, but I wanted a look inside first. I rummaged around for a stump or a bucket or anything.
“Why don't you just knock?”
The familiarity of the voice hit me as I spun around.
She was still in the shadow of the trees but I knew that voice.
“Marisa?” I smiled and took a step towards her.
“Stay where you are,” she said.
I did like the lady said and kept smiling as she stepped into the broken early morning sunlight.
She'd ditched my clothes for a pair of black jeans and a gray tank top.
She looked beautiful in that soft light. The curls around her face, that hooked nose I was getting fonder of by the minute.
I didn't feel the same fondness the gun in her hand. It was a little snubnosed job and it was pointed right at my gut.
“Hands in the air or out in front of you. Your choice.”
Her hair was darker and her skin didn't have the golden tan of a beach girl. Her body was leaner, more toned than Marisa's.
My smile crapped out as I began to get the idea. I moved my hand away from my gun and held it up. “Turn around,” she ordered. She stepped forward and frisked me.
When she told me to turn back around she had my gun in her pocket and my wallet in her hands.
She didn't smell like the ocean at all.
“Jacob Tunner,” she read off of my drivers license. “Jake.”
“That's me. My other license is in there too.”
She flipped through my collection of cards and licenses. When she was satisfied she slipped her gun into her waistband and tossed my wallet back to me. “Let's get out of here,” she said.
We moved off down the road to another uninhabited cabin and climbed up onto its porch.
“You sneak around like most people bang pots and pans in the kitchen,” she said. She handed me my gun.
“Never claimed to be any good at it.” I slipped the piece back into my shoulder holster.
She raised an eyebrow at me. “What the hell kind of PI are you?”
“A shitty one.”
She didn't contradict me. She also didn't offer me a seat.
There was a very inviting adirondack chair right there next to the swing.
I decided it was worth the risk and parked it in that chair.
I settled in and she didn't shoot me. That made us pals in my book. We'd be holding hands and singing, 'Kum Ba Ya' in a minute.
“That's Reubens' place, isn't it?”
She stared hard at the other cabin for a second and then looked at me.
“That's a nice shiner you've got there.”
I chuckled. “You oughta see the other guy. I wore out his fists with my face.”
She looked at me funny and laughed with her eyes.
“You called me 'Marisa',” she said.
“What should I have called you?”
She crossed her legs. A black canvas flat dangled from her right foot. Something on the top of her foot caught my eye. A tattoo.
She smirked when she noticed me looking.
“What are you, one of those foot freaks?”
“You know, I'm beginning to think I am. May I?”
She nodded and I slipped her shoe off and let it drop down to the porch.
It was a nice foot, just like her sister's. The word, 'ruthless' was tattooed on the instep.
“Which do you like better, mine or hers?”
Some days I'm sharp like a bag of hammers but I recognized a question I shouldn't answer when I heard it so I rubbed my temples and pretended I didn't hear it.
We had a great view of the lake's unbroken surface from our places on the porch. The water shone in rich pinks and oranges as the morning sun gained strength.
Rosario and I watched in silence as a single bird lifted out of the water, leaving a straight line of tiny ripples as she flew out of sight.
We also had a bang-up view of Cabin D. No one was going to drive up or even walk up without us seeing them.
Rosario was still eyeballing me. I smiled at the sight of that familiar hooked nose.
“Twins,” I muttered.
“You're good,” she said. She smirked at me and I couldn't help but smirked right back. “I can see why my sister hired you.”
“She didn't. Not exactly.”
She indulged in a fresh round of eyeballing. “I should have guessed. Did she tell you she was in trouble and needed help?”
“As a matter of fact, she did.” My stomach started churning and all of a sudden I was aware of the pain in my head. “She do that often?”
She sighed. “You'd better tell me what happened. And don't leave anything out.”
I gave her the whole deal, from the beach to the drive to Bog Island.
When I was finished she nodded and cracked her knuckles. “That fits with what Evangeline told me.” She smiled at the look of surprise on my face. “Did you think I just happened to drop by?”
I rubbed my face with both hands. “I don't know what to think. My head hurts too bad to think. What's your story, anyway?”
She looked at me out of the corners of her eyes and smiled at me. “You're the detective. What do you see? Thrill me. Redeem yourself for that pitiful display of stealth.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “You're identical twins but you're not tan like Marisa so either you don't cook yourself on the beach or you just don't have the time. You do have time to work out though and you know how to handle a gun. That was a pretty good frisk you gave me and I'm guessing you didn't do it 'cause you were happy to see me.” I broke off and took a long look at Cabin D. It was still deserted. “You speak with the authority of someone who's used to being obeyed. Add that to your sneaky sneak tricks and I'm gonna say law enforcement. Ex-law enforcement.”
“Two things. One-- you'd have flashed the badge by now if you were still on the job. Two-- Evangeline took a pass on calling the cops back at the hotel but she did call you. How am I doing so far?”
“You're not that shitty, Jake Tunner.”
We didn't talk for a few minutes. My mind drifted back to Marisa in. I could still feel her in my arms, her hands on my face as we kissed. I rewound the entire day looking for a clue.
“You got someone that needs hurting?”
“I think I might, Jake. I think I might.”
“The big guy, the one who grabbed her,” I asked, “is that Reubens?”
Rosario laughed. “Him? God,no. He does work for him though. His name's Vern and I have tell you I'm impressed. You're lucky you still have a head.”
“I don't think he was trying real hard.”
“Well,” she said, “looks like he's going to get another crack at you.”
A red SUV was coming up the driveway to Cabin D. The sound of its wheels grinding against the gravel carried all the way to our porch. I caught a glimpse of Marisa in the passenger seat. The driver's bulk eclipsed everything behind it.
“What exactly did Evangeline tell you?”
Rosario and I both stood up and stepped off of the porch.
“She said that some big city fool with a private investigator's license and pussy on his mind was coming out alone to get himself killed on Bog Island.” She got points for a fine Evangeline impersonation.
“Doesn't miss much, does she?”
“Nope.” She grinned. “She likes you.”
“How can you tell?”
“You smell like aguardiente. Evangeline only shares her stash with people she likes.”
“You gotta be kidding me. That paint thinner? What does she give to people she doesn't like?”
Her gun was already in her hand by the time I got mine out of the shoulder holster.
“Got a plan?” she asked me.
“Yeah. I'm not gonna lead with my face. You?”
She didn't answer because she wasn't there.
“All right,” I muttered. “I guess I'll take this side.”
It wasn't hard to get right up on the Cabin B lot, even for a guy who sneaks around like most people bang pots and pans in the kitchen.
Vern was trying to wrestle Marisa out of the car and she was still giving him the business in two languages. I could've brought the Scandinavian yodeling team with me and they wouldn't have heard a thing.
The bad part was she was between me and a clean shot at Vern. Just as well. Rosario was out there somewhere and I had no idea where. She could've been anywhere in the woods. Friendly fire isn't so I holstered my gun.
I hoped Evangeline had Santo on speed dial.
Marisa was giving Vern all he could handle so I took a few seconds to plan. I raced out to Bog Island on a jag of bad decisions and poor impulse control but the situation now called for care and calculated action.
The words, “Get your fuckin' hands off me,” out of Marisa put a bullet in care and calculated action.
I stampeded out of the woods and made right for Vern.
He was even bigger than I thought he'd be, a full head taller than my five foot eleven. I figured he'd fill out the tent Santo had on earlier. He was pool ball bald and his face was ruddy enough to tell me that any hair he once had was red.
I drove my shoulder into his gut, good and low. He grunted and A fine mist of spittle settled on the back of my neck as the air burst from his lungs.
He slammed back into the side of his SUV and I threw a couple of body shots into him that would've staggered a moose.
I may as well have slugged a big tree.
Marisa-- still in my shirt and shorts-- tried to get at him with her fists but fell on her ass and scrambled out of range. She kept right on hollering.
Vern tagged me with a short left but there wasn't much on it. There wasn't any room. Best defense against a guy that big is to get in close and stay there. You still get hit but he can't get much power behind his punches.
I ate two more lefts, fed him a right, and then we both hit the ground in a rolling, kicking, gouging heap. Vern was muttering something I couldn't catch as we rolled down to the middle of the driveway.
My left elbow found the target and he quit muttering as the back of his head bounced off the gravel.
I jumped up and reached for my gun. It wasn't there.
I pawed at the empty shoulder holster a second time and risked a look back up the driveway. The gun was on the ground, about ten yards away.
Everything had gone quiet, except for the wheezing Vern and I were doing. I couldn't spot Marisa and Rosario was still nowhere to be seen.
Vern heaved himself up to his feet and I got ready to renew hostilities.
He opened up his trap to say something but the words were drowned out by the roaring of an engine. His engine.
We both turned toward the noise and froze.
Vern's big red SUV was tearing down the driveway and coming straight for us. Rosario was driving and Marisa was slumped over in the passenger seat.
The big man and I locked eyes and shouted, “Shit!” He grabbed two handfuls of my shirt and yanked me towards him.
I didn't resist and we went flying into the trees as Vern dove away from the oncoming vehicle.
We hit the ground hard and, thank God, I landed on top.
The SUV made the end of the driveway and sped off down the road as Vern and I wobbled upright and picked the gravel and twigs out of our scrapes and cuts.
“You all right?” he asked me. He wiped some blood off of his chin with his sleeve.
“Think so. You?”
The sound of the SUV's motor faded away as we both caught our breath.
“What was that you were saying before?” I asked him. “Couldn't hear a thing.”
He put one huge open hand out in front of him. “I'm reaching for my wallet,” he said.
I nodded and he fished the thing out of his back pocket.
The badge was gold and shiny. State Police issue.
“Oh no,” I said.
“Oh yes. That's why I pulled my punches the other night.”
“You call that pulling your punches? That poor table'll never be the same.”
He shrugged and looked down the driveway to the road.
“I don't suppose you got a car nearby?”
“Can't you call in the cavalry?”
“Phone's in the SUV.”
I nodded. “About a mile down the road, by that little pier.”
“The piece of shit Olds.”
“Yeah,” I said. The fatigue was settling in and making fast friends with the bumps, cuts, scrapes, and bruises. “The Olds.” On another day I might have slugged him for insulting my Olds. Instead I went and retrieved my gun. I checked it out and holstered it.
He asked to see my ID and I showed it to him.
“You gonna tell me what's going on?” I asked.
“I'll fill you in as much as I can in the car. Let's go.”
He turned and started walking down the driveway.
I took a last look over at Cabin D and had to run catch him before he reached the road.
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.