Whaling
June 22, 2019

Boredom always made him do stupid things. As the state trooper’s boots crunched on the roadside gravel, Braxton caught himself about to check his hair in the rear view mirror.

“You can go, Mr. Whales.” The trooper handed Braxton’s license, registration and the ticket into the open window of the Carrera.

“Thank you, Officer –” and Braxton peered up in the light from the cruiser that had pulled him over doing seventy on the old shore highway, “Richards.”

“You want to watch it on this road.” Officer Richards wasn’t letting go of Braxton’s papers quite yet. “Couple of kids came up over that hill last summer, left of center, and wasn’t much left of them or the family in the Volvo they hit.”

“I remember.” Braxton looked away. There’d have to be a lecture; there always was.

“Enjoy your evening.” Richards tossed the papers in onto Braxton’s lap and walked away. He must be new around here but Braxton simply eased the Carrera back out onto the pavement, passing up on the cheap thrill of a taunting peel out.

He’d been on his way home. There hadn’t been anything interesting happening out at the end of Mastick Lane, only the usual suspects cruising and who wanted any of that? Occasionally he’d find a tasty bit of trash at one of the rest areas further down island. He wished he’d gotten the number of that last one: skinny and supple, big hair and an enormous…appetite.

Braxton Whales was not gay. Some things were just easier to feed than deny. With his days of eligibility facing a soft expiration date, he was going to have to consider selecting a candidate from the marriage lot if only to get his mother off his back. Martine Whales had managed to herd her two girls through those dicey college years and took her younger son’s personal and romantic foibles as a personal challenge. Through it all, her eldest, Braxton, had been left to his own devices. Brax had a head on his shoulders. Everyone said so. Only lately had Martine begun calling and dropping by, asking casual questions about any women he was seeing.

Coming off the shore road, he paused. One more round? There might be something up along the expressway now. How badly did he need it tonight? Idly heeling his hand down his crotch he weighed the options. He seldom weighed consequences. Blessed with his mother’s looks, he’d been called pansy and faggot long before he’d even made it to a junior high school locker room. Coming from serious money and schooled at the knee of one of the financial world’s most feared guerillas he barely noticed. Maybe if he’d gone in, banged a couple of heads together and bloodied something, he’d have found his tribe.

Instead he refused to react. He slouched through school, smoking Gaulloises filched from the au pair and helping himself to the offered charms of town girls in the summer. When a town boy asked for a ride once Braxton helped himself to some of that, too, not really caring if the boy talked about it later or not. After the tiresome dance to get into girls’ panties, there was a real thrill in the rough wrestle of sex with another guy. That first boy had been fun, but he’d wanted more than Braxton had to give: he had wanted to be friends.

Braxton didn’t want friends.

It was late and anything out on the expressway wasn’t worth the trip. He swung the Carrera east and headed home through the real country dark. Tomorrow he’d have to get back to the city; there was a meeting his father had mentioned in passing that Braxton suspected might be about the latest takeover bid. The car swung easily through the curves and wanted to go fast. Oh what the hell, Dudley Do-Right wouldn’t still be out here and Brax bumped her. It didn’t take much and, as his stomach settled in down next to the base of his spine, he let himself relax.

His sense of control was complete. There was nothing that he had to cede to any other hand. The roads out here had wide shoulders to accommodate summer walkers, cyclists and horseback riders but the guts of the fun were to be had in keeping the Carrera in a disciplined lane and that was how Braxton managed not to kill the star-gazer. As he whipped by, there was an eyeblink impression of startled eyes and blowing silvery white hair in the rear view mirror that was gone almost before it registered that he knew that face.

It couldn’t be.

‘Babe’ Sundersen had gone on the run after a confusing and never fully explained series of bank robberies up and down the West Side that had the pun-loving headline writers of the daily rags in paroxysms of joy through that summer of ’93. When one fairly clear surveillance photo made the front page Constance Sundersen hit the road and had not been heard from since. A year of increasingly nutty speculation had added new ‘facts’ to the now-legend. Soon there were automatic weapons, third world freedom fighters and a ransom note ignored by Babe’s furious and embarrassed family.

Braxton kept his speed steady just long enough to gain the next curve and then slid off road and cut the engine. He got out of the car but paused to lean back and do some star-gazing of his own and have a smoke. The overcast sapped the sky of all but the brightest stars. Snapping the butt down to grind it out in the sand on the edge of the road Braxton zipped his jacket and headed back down the road on foot.

He cleared the curve and, sure enough, the shoulder was empty. The damp chill from the ocean said that summer had been a nice diversion but that the real season was making a come-back. Steadily, he walked back to about where he thought he’d seen the white-haired woman not taking any particular care to be quiet.

“Nosy fuck.” It was Babe all right looking very ethereal in the moonlight.

“Nice to see you, Babe.” He offered a cigarette and took one himself when she shook her head.

“I’ll take your word on that, Brat.” She didn’t seem particularly put out tossing her pet name for him out without inflection.

Cigarettes were the most brilliant way to say nothing and say it loudly. He could casually light the cigarette, idly spout smoke into the damp air and wait her out. But she dropped her head back and returned to her star-gazing, saying nothing every bit as loudly as he. Well, this was stupid.

“What brings you back?” He dropped the half smoked cigarette and stepped on it.

“Curiosity.” Babe didn’t drop her head and spoke to the sky, “Boredom.”

“Did you do it?”

“Does it matter?” Now she did drop her head and swung a sharpness at him that was unsettling, “Why do you want to know anyway?”

“Boredom.” He quite deliberately did not shift his weight to get more comfortable, “Curiosity.”

“Like I said, Brat, you are a nosy fuck.” She crossed her arms, “You didn’t used to be. This place must have finally gotten to you.”

“You got a place to stay?”

“Naw, I’m bumming around, sleeping on the dunes and showering at campgrounds and sneaking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from unwary picnickers.”

“Want to sleep in a bed?”

“Not yours.”

“Of course not; you’d get the guest room.”

“Not a great idea.”

“Ah.” He resisted the urge to pull out another cigarette, “Still on the lam.”

“It wouldn’t be in your best interest to be seen with me.”

“Why did you do it?”

“Brat.” And here she paused and looked at her feet. The dun of the surf against the shore could have muffled her next words, but didn’t, “Mind your business.”

“All right, but let me give you a ride.”

“I’m good, thanks.” She was walking away and all Braxton could do was watch.

She wove between some dunes and was gone. He stood there, waiting. Nothing happened. He scanned the night sky and, out to the southeast, caught an oddly strobing light reflecting off the foggy night air. Frowning, he topped the nearest dune. Was it a boat? He crouched and tried to find Babe’s figure. This was no longer a picture postcard of a beach; years of neglect had resulted in more gravel than sand. A decaying line of pilings supported enough of a walkway that locals used it as a pier.

No finding any sign of Babe, Braxton peered intently out at the bobbling light, nearly certain that it was a good sized dinghy. He found himself stretching out on the damp sawgrass. The light wove in closer then seemed to hover just out of recognizable range. He was so intent on figuring out what that light could be that he almost forgot about Babe but there was still no sign of anyone down on that narrow strip of rocks. Frustratingly, the light retreated and disappeared.

Eventually it registered that the grass was soaked and so was his front. Cold and annoyed he rose and stumbled on back down the dune to the road. He pulled the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket but they were bent and wet. He crumpled the pack and tossed it aside only to backtrack and pick it back up. Christ, he had to be on the road soon if he wanted to avoid traffic and get into the city in time for that damned meeting.

It was cold, dawn was pushing out along the horizon and Braxton just wanted to be in his car and on his way home. He tucked his head down and got to moving. What the hell had that all been about anyway? Why would Babe come back here and what was with all the cloak and dagger crap? He’d been maybe nineteen when she’d disappeared and remembered now how his parents would stop talking when he came into a room in the weeks after she’d gone.

Suddenly he stopped. Confused, he looked around. How could he have overshot the curve where he’d parked the car? A low certainty grew as he backtracked. He was such an asshole. The car was gone. Of course it was gone and, of course, he’d left his cell phone on the charger in the car. One short spike of rage fell uselessly and he pulled his jacket closer. It was a long walk home.


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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