© July 2015
By David Rockwell
I peek down at the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean to take it all in. I gaze longingly at lightly toasted golden brown sand. I see the beginnings of the daily pilgrimage to the beach. Six people quickly become twenty. The twenty will soon become a hundred. The hundred will then expand in the heat to uncounted thousands. With each body that joins the expanding throng I am alone, ready and waiting.
The first of the summer regulars are setting up in the morning heat. So far the temperature is bearable, but by noon it will be sweltering. The regulars know and brace for this. They scurry about preparing by staking out their turf.
Reflecting off the water, I can see Tom McMullen laying out his gear. Back in Washington, DC, Tom is a Senior Consultant for a big firm that provides services for the government. Here he is just Dad. Here he is just the guy that Deb, Kelley, Ronnie and Tom Jr. sent ahead to set up their stuff.
Their stuff is set up facing slightly South East. It consists of five folding lounge chairs, two umbrellas that will be adjusted hourly to maximize shade, a bag of beach toys and a Rubber Maid cooler. The cooler is packed to the lid with sandwiches, cola and chilled fruit. All of this bounty is piled on top of Deb’s secret stash of wine. Not enough to get her in trouble, but just enough to keep Deb feeling like she is still the wild one and not the mother of three. Tom loves this wild side of Deb and keeps her secret.
Towels are laid out on each of the chairs and the camp is complete for the day. It will be about another hour before the rest of the family arrives. Sliding on his Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, Tom heads off to the main strip to find coffee, a newspaper and one hour of peace and quiet. It’s Tom Time. No chatter from coworkers, no requests for money from Kelley and Ronnie, and none of the blathering from Tom Jr. The boy’s constant jabbering wouldn’t be so bad, according to Tom’s muttering, if the boy didn’t always smell like spoiled cheese and stale fish crackers. Tom Jr. is three. And, let’s face it, Tom Sr. can be a little bit of a jerk.
Tom walks off the beach, unaware that I will spend the day trying to kill him and his family. Maybe he never will know I watch them. Enjoy your coffee Tom.
Tom and his family are gone now. My new early morning companion is Lydia Vanderkamp. I follow her walk down the beach and boardwalk every day. She is up early and she never stays out too long. She walks purposefully but never hurriedly. She is confident and self-assured. She knows I am trying to kill her but she likes to tempt fate, if only a little.
What attracts me to Lydia is that she loves linen. Every day she dresses in a smart pair of linen slacks and a crisp linen top. She enshrouds her head with a scarf she uses to tie a wicker hat to hear head. She blocks out unwanted attention with a pair of oversized Vera Bradley sunglass.
As she walks the strand, she passes the bandstand. Sometimes she will stop to rest on a bench before she walks along Rehoboth Avenue to browse and window shop the art stores. She is trying to beat the morning heat before it settles in and drives her back to the comfort of her glassed in, air conditioned sun porch. She walks slowly enough that I can imagine that she is actually enjoying the warmth of my deadly gaze on her shoulders and back. Never close enough to catch her scent, I know she smells like flower petals on the sea breeze.
Lydia is a local grand dame, a retiree who has no time for the nonsense of killers. She protects every inch of her skin and every hair on her head. I will watch and wait for her to slip up. I will keep her within the arc of my reach, waiting for my opportunity with her to expose itself.
With Lydia a slow work in progress, I have thousands of other beach goers to choose from. Take Carl and Stewart Smith for example. Carl is the great, great, great grandson of an escaped slave that was freed by traveling Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad. The route took his ancestor south and west of here through Cambridge, Maryland, passed Dover, Delaware, and then on further north to safety. Now, over 150 years later, Carl enjoys coming back this way each year for two weeks in our idyllic summer haven.
Carl and his son Stewart drive six hours to be here with Carl’s Fisher F4 Metal Detector stowed lovingly in the cargo space of his Volvo station wagon. The Fisher F4’s Amazon page lists it as an “easy-to-use metal detector ideal for relic hunters and beachcombers”. Carl likes the idea that he is both of these things. Back home he is a United Methodist pastor and widower. For two weeks a year Carl escapes all that and becomes, on a small level, an adventurer of the highest order.
Relic hunting gives Carl a chance to be near but not smother his son Stewart who is now an avid surfer. Last summer Stewart suddenly had the urge to take up surfing during dinner. The two had been grabbing some ribs and wings for Stewart’s 18th birthday at Hooters when Carl realized that he was no longer in the dinner conversation. Clearly smitten, Stewart was chatting enthusiastically with Annie, their 20-year-old waitress who just happened to also work as a surfing instructor at a nearby boarding school. The next day Carl had found himself alone and on Amazon checking out metal detectors. They never saw Annie again.
Resting from his treasure hunting, Carl turns to me and speaks.
“You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you?” he asks.
Sweat drips down from the brim of his hat and runs down his face. He wipes it from his eyes with his shirtsleeve. He pauses as if waiting for me to respond. I don’t. He pulls his water bottle to his lips and drinks deeply. He looks out and sees Stewart catching a wave before returning to sweeping the sand with the power of his F4. His casualness with my sinister plans makes me feel 93 million miles away.
I spend the rest of the day pondering. Carl proves some of the beach goers know what I am up to. And yet they still come to the beach, day after day.
Belinda Thompson is one of my long term projects. She is a regular to our stretch of sand. At age 51, Belinda is too regular of a beach goer for her daughter Stephanie’s taste. Belinda’s once beautiful skin is now dark brown and the texture of beef jerky. Her lips are dried and cracked, pulling them apart just enough to expose her over-whitened teeth.
Having spent the midday laying out baking in oily repose, Belinda has retreated to a nearby patio bar for margaritas and flirting with the early party crowd. Emboldened by her beyond golden skin, she drinks and talks more than she should. Belinda only pauses in her efforts to find companionship to take long drags on her quickly dwindling Marlboro Lights 100’s cigarette.
Belinda is playing directly into my hands. She likes that I dwell on her. She will flirt until well into the evening and then, I assume, she will stumble home. I almost feel sorry for her as the day fades into evening. I return to observe Belinda every day.
The summer is passing quickly and the people coming to the shore are harder, more tired and chaffing at the approach of autumn. Families are less frequent as the number of back to school sales increases calling them away from the beach and back into the suburban malls of Washington, Baltimore and Philly. This leaves me with Rick, Todd, Chad and a guy named Wiggy, better known as the Class of 2002 Brew Crew. Wiggy, listed on the rental agreement as Eugene Butterman, is the outgoing leader of this crew of vacationing buddies. He gathers his boys at the beach each year to relive their college days. The guys are in good shape and are successful salesmen for large companies with iconic logos. Sun, beer and volleyball are the order of the week for the Brew Crew.
I am happy to supply them with what I can. They are eager to take what I have to offer.
Shirtless, they sweat as they play. Serve after serve, point after point, they play on throughout the day. They take in too much of everything as they play for a smallish crowd of wives and girlfriends. The ladies laugh, talk and cheer as the Brew Crew remains in constant motion.
They are unconcerned by my surveillance. I make no effort to hide. I see them order subs and pizza. They drink copious amounts of water, beer and Wiggy’s special punch, affectionately called “Wiggy Juice”. They halt play long enough to make arrangements to rent a boat and jet skis for later in the week. As the afternoon fades, Todd finally taps out from the group to head back to the cottage to fire up the smoker to start the ribs and other meats. With uneven teams, the other guys spray down again with SPF and head into the water.
With little to do as the afternoon passes into evening and the evening into dusk, I head out with the last of the day’s light. In the coming days I will look in to see what mischief I can get into with the 2002 Brew Crew and to see what damage I can do.
Margaret and Morty Collins are celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. Yesterday they were in Columbus, Ohio lamenting that they never do anything, never go anywhere. One impulsive moment, plus twelve hours in the car, and the flat plains of the Midwest are exchanged for the crashing of waves as the dawn breaks over the sea. For the locals, sunrise is just part of the everyday routine. For Margaret and Morty it’s the first glimpse they have ever had of an ocean. They sit on a bench and watch, hypnotized as sea gulls glide on gusts of wind. They see me and smile. I gleam back in a shared moment. If I had a hat, I would have tipped the brim at them wishing them “Good morning”.
I watch as Morty puts his arm lovingly around Margaret. She leans into him for warmth in the morning breeze. The beach is cooler this time of day than they would have guessed. After a few minutes of snuggling and watching the daybreak, Morty releases his embrace with Margaret long enough to remove his jacket and wrap it around her shoulders. They head off in search of breakfast and a place to stay. I watch them as they go. I will be here when they return.
I am alone again with mostly just the locals. Lydia still comes out daily covered head to toe and keeps me company. Soon enough she will need a jacket. The hordes of beach goers have returned to only being a few dozen people or less scattered about. Summer has come and gone. No more picnic lunches, family vacations, weddings or romantic getaways. They are all gone. I am still here.
Tom, Lydia, Carl, Belinda, Wiggy, Morty, Margaret and the millions of others only have fond memories of their time with me at the beach. I tried to kill them slowly without meaning too. They think of me as warm and friendly. I also made them happy and gave them memories to look back on. I could only watch. They prayed I would come out every day. They paid for their time with the hopes that I would be there.
I will be here for a long time. I am with them always, even in the dark. I am friend and foe, villain and hero. At times, I feel like a god. I don’t judge, but if they don’t act carefully around me I will punish them. I will cause them pain. Eventually, in 500 million years or so, I will kill all their descendants as I expand and die. I am sorry about that, I really am. Until then, I hope they enjoy our time at the beach together.
With you, as always,