Frank stops by my tent early, and he starts right off by asking me nosy questions.
“Hey, you awake in there?”
I crawl outside and zip the screen shut while he hovers a few feet away. Then when I turn around, I see Frank looks worried about something.
“Didn’t Alicia say she was a school teacher?”
“Well yeah, she did. Why?”
He eyes me suspiciously for a moment, and then he motions up the beach toward the pavilion.
“You haven’t heard about the murder that happened last week?”
“What are you talking about, Frank?”
I get the impression he is ready to take off running.
“They found some woman schoolteacher up there in her tent with her throat slashed a couple of days ago.”
Frank can get excitable at times, but my words eventually convince him Alicia really did leave here safely, and he calms down some.
“Look. I’m about ready to leave Malaquite myself. So whenever you want, let’s take a ride into town so I can sell my cans.”
His face lights up at that.
“You decided you’re going up to Illinois, huh?”
I offer to buy him gas for the trip, so he tells me to be ready around noon. He turn to leave then, and for the next half-hour I go take a last solitary walk down the beach.
A steady off-shore breeze has already begun to blow, and it feels refreshing. The sun is now starting to heat up the air around me. Off on the horizon, a bank of dark clouds stretches from north to south, while overhead, the sky is clear.
The shoreline itself looks almost deserted except for a few washed-up jellyfish and the scattered clumps of golden-brown seaweed I pass on by. Tiny crabs crawl in and around the tangled masses, all searching for food among the wet leaves. Down closer to the water, beds of periwinkles have been exposed by the receding tide. Spent waves still lap at their numbers, leaving them wet and sparkling.
Farther on I meet and disturb a couple of stray gulls who stand facing the morning sun, warming themselves. Each laughs as they both rise into the air and fly off. Out in the flattened parts of the surf, a lone black-winged skimmer expertly plows his bright-orange and black beak through the foaming waters, flying just above the surface. All in all, it looks to be a typical but most glorious kind of day.
On the way back to the tent I pick up my pace.
Once there, I begin packing up the few clothes I own. That takes little time to accomplish, and I start to feel the excitement well up as I arrange things inside the knapsack. Next I go down to Frank’s car to drop off my two bags in his back seat, and I put the bike and my knapsack in the trunk. Then, taking my shaving kit, my only towel and my new Mello Yello tee shirt I won, I go visit the pavilion for one final cold shower before we hit the road.
Just for old times sake, I scrounge a few cans on the way there, and after trading them for cash at the snack bar, I buy one more burrito and a last carton of chocolate milk. Then I go outside to sit and watch the tourists while my hair dries, and I eat.
As soon as I have a seat on top of one of the picnic tables, a blue school bus pulls up in the parking lot. On the side of the bus is painted the name of a high school, along with a name of some town or city up in far-away Michigan. After the door swings open, a mob of loud teens begins to spill out, and they immediately stampede toward the shade of the pavilion, all the while yelling and screaming and laughing. The place goes into an uproar for the next ten minutes as they dash and dart between the snack bar and the gift shop.
One group gathers near the rail overlooking the beach, and there they jostle each other for a better view of the expansive gulf. I chew slowly while observing all the madness.
Then an adult in charge claps his hands and announces that it’s time to leave.
“Back on the bus, guys. Let’s go, let’s go!”
One of the girls, her camera held focused on the beach and waves below turns her head and begs the man for a little more time.
“Please, please? I just want to get a few more pictures of the lake.”
A few minutes later, the area returns to normal again as students and the blue bus leaves the parking lot. Then I notice the two men wearing suits. And they are both noticing me, as well, and they stroll over to my table.
The one that speaks first has a set of steely eyes.
“What are you doing here?”
I stare right back and reply.
“I’m finishing my burrito.”
He gives my bare and tanned chest a once-over.
“No, I mean here at the beach. Have you been here long?”
“Yeah, for a few weeks. Why?”
The second man leans over and peers down into my shaving kit which sits opened beside me. My tee shirt lays neatly folded next to my towel.
“Do you mind if I look through that?”
I have nothing to hide from the cops, so I nod.
He rummages inside the bag for a moment. The other man’s eyes glisten when the first one pulls out my pair of scissors, and Detective Steel Eyes demands to know.
“What are those for?”
It is hard to keep from grinning at these two.
“To keep my beard trimmed.”
The other detective holds the scissors up to the light and turns them slowly while his partner crowds in for a closer look. One points to a smudge on the blade.
“That looks like blood right there.”
I lean forward to see.
“It looks more like rust to me.”
These guys must think I murdered that schoolteacher.
They step back and talk low for a second. Then the friendlier one asks,
“Do you mind if we keep these?”
“How am I supposed to trim my beard?”
They talk again before he makes an offer.
“I’ll tell you what. How about if we give you ten dollars in exchange for them and your name and a current address. That way we can run some tests later.”
“I don’t know, guys. Those are some good scissors.”
It makes both of the bright men happy to get my pair of scissors, along with my full name and only my social security number for their records, and I become more than pleased to end up with a crisp twenty-dollar bill -- three times what my old shears were worth.
Frank is both astonished as well as tickled to hear what just happened.
“Somebody up there must really like you, man.”
“I think you might be right, Frank.”
The car lurches and bounces as we drive through a cut in the dunes to reach the main highway, and soon we are both soaring towards town with all of the windows rolled down. We begin the approach to the same bridge where the Opal first began acting up. Frank gets to the crest, and as we cruise over the top, he pounds the dashboard and curses.
The wind is fierce, and I have an arm held back on one of the bags, and I shout.
“What’s the problem?”
He yells over the noise,
“The frigging car just died on me.”
How can this happen twice, and in the same location?
We coast to a stop at the bottom of the hill, and for a few minutes he goes under the hood to have a look before he slams it back down again. He crawls back behind the wheel with a long look on his face.
“Looks like we are going to have to hitchhike into town. One of the belts broke.”
I have my two huge bags of cans. Frank has his blood he wants to sell.
“Let me get my bike out, and we’ll catch us a ride easy.”
“Forget about them cans, dude. That’s too much for us to carry.”
He is right about that, too.
We both arrive at the blood bank together, Frank and me. I have my pack on my back and my bicycle at my side. We both agree that he gets to keep the cans to help pay for any repairs to his car. I go inside and get myself another twenty dollars for giving blood, and an hour later I am on the road, peddling myself north.
I have forty dollars in my pocket now, so I know I’ll get by.
Somehow, I always do.