The Quixotics

The following excerpt is from Chapter One of  The Quixotics, a novel by John Wayne Falbey. If you enjoy it and want to read more of the book, the complete novel can be purchased in print or ebook format here.


Copyright © 2012 John Wayne Falbey

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-0-9855187-2-1 

 Library of Congress Control Number:  Pending

 

“Everyone is as God has made him, and oftentimes a great deal worse.”

- Miguel de Cervantes


Chapter 1

Fort Lauderdale, 1970

The cool, early morning breeze wafted over the balcony and through the open sliders into the bedroom. It mingled the fragrance of jasmine with the pungent odor of the sea.  The gentle rustling of palm fronds accompanied the background music of small waves lapping the moonlit beach.  The stillness of the hour was broken by an occasional car horn. Brief bits of conversation drifted into the room from time to time.  The sheers strung across the glass wall of the room facing the ocean swayed lightly in the breeze that slipped through the open sliders. It caused moonlight to flicker across the elegantly furnished bedroom like candlelight dancing in a draft.

Stevens had been having a familiar nightmare. In it, he was being pursued through a marshy jungle by unseen enemies. He could hear them drawing closer, shouting in a foreign tongue. He tried to run faster, but in the darkness he kept slamming into trees and tripping over their roots. The mud sucked at his feet as if trying to hold him in place. A feeling of panic and dread was swiftly drowning rational thought. Then he saw the cave and darted into it. But it was a mistake. The dream always ended this way. With the mouth of the cave now blocked by his pursuers he had no means of escape. And there in front of him, blocking further passage in the cave, was an enormous black spider the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It advanced slowly toward him with tiny, bright red eyes.

Stevens awoke with a start, a scream caught in his throat. Despite the efficiency of the air conditioner and the cool damp breeze drifting in through the open sliders, he was soaked in sweat. He stirred restlessly and kicked off the damp sheet.  He lay naked on the bed, his eyes open and sweeping slowly around the room.  Despite the breeze and the comfort of an expensive bed, he knew he wasn’t going to fall back asleep.  Beside him the girl stirred and drew her hand lightly across her face, pulling the tangled blonde strands away from her nose and mouth.  In a moment her breathing was deep and regular again.  Stevens envied her sound sleep. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept well.

He ran his tongue slowly around the inside of his mouth.  The taste was rank.  He groped around the floor beside the bed and found his glass.  It was empty.  With a sigh of disappointment, he set the glass on the nightstand, swung his feet over the side of the bed and sat up.  After a momentary stretch and yawn, he rose slowly to his feed and padded across the carpeted floor to the dressing table.  It was garnished by a three-quarters empty bottle of Black Bush Irish whiskey.  Stevens poured three fingers into a fresh tumbler, took a large gulp, and topped it off.  He splashed a single cube from a stylish ice bucket into the glass and swished it around with a finger.  A few drops spilled over the lip and ran down his hand.  He licked them off.  The whiskey made a warm pleasant sensation in his throat. He picked a damp towel off the back of a chair and wrapped it around his naked waist. Pushing the billowing sheer aside, he stepped through the doorway and onto the balcony.

Stevens rested his hands on the rail of the balcony and surveyed the dark beach several floors below.  At two o'clock in the morning there was very little activity. The only lights were from a couple of ships plying the distant waters of the Gulf Stream. A jetliner on a redeye flight to somewhere else soared high above, outlined briefly against a full moon. He watched for a moment, wondering if it was one of the newly introduced Boeing 747s. They’re calling them jumbo jets, he thought. He envied those on board the plane, and imagined them headed toward adventure, newness, and change.

After a few moments, he settled onto the cushions of a chaise lounge that was wet with the night’s dew and took another long drink from the tumbler. The breeze had a soothing, coldness, but the Black Bush warmed him. Four more hours, he thought, and I'll be on my way to Nassau. It will be my turn to experience adventure, newness, and change.

Stevens had been restless as a youth, thirsting for the travel and excitement of the adventure novels. He had entered college on a football scholarship briefly intrigued by the thought of playing professionally, but injuries changed the plan. He accepted the situation with characteristic stoicism, and developed interests in skin-diving, karate, and weightlifting. He pursued them with a passion. As a result, he had developed a hard, muscular physique, along with speed, power, and lethal skills.

He finished college and, although he had joined a fraternity, dated, partied and made friends, he had always remained something of a loner. Friendly but reserved. His best friend and high school teammate, Brett Flynn, was similar in personality. Neither was able to settle on a major until the final year in college. One of the things he found interesting about Flynn was his ability to support himself by writing term papers for other students. Even in subjects where Flynn had no background or experience, he simply held the course textbook to the side of his head for a few moments, and then proceeded to write the paper. Flynn had a standing guarantee that the paper would score no lower than a B. In fact, the papers almost always earned A’s. Oddly, Flynn didn’t earn such grades for himself. Both men graduated in the upper middle of the class with degrees in business administration.

The war in Vietnam was building up. To avoid the draft as much as anything, Stevens had gone to law school, receiving his J.D. at the age of 24.  After graduation, he turned his back on the comfortable, but in his perspective boring, career of an attorney. Instead, with the war in Vietnam starting to escalate, he joined the Army.  After boot camp, jump school, and Ranger training, he followed the urgings of his old comrade, Flynn, and entered the Special Forces.  For a while Stevens seemed to have found his place.  He discovered that the men of the Special Forces were much like himself.  They had few outside interests, no binding ties to any other life.  The jungled world of guerilla and counter-insurgency tactics embraced them in a daily cat-and-mouse game with death.  It seemed to provide the excitement and adventure he had always sought.  Destiny, Stevens decided, had led him to become a Green Beret.  He would make it his career.

Two days before his twenty-sixth birthday the Viet Cong attacked his Special Forces camp in the central highlands of Vietnam, near the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  The camp's commanding officer, a captain, died in the initial mortar barrage.  Stevens, as executive officer, had assumed command.

For three days and nights a vastly superior Viet Cong force reinforced by North Vietnamese regulars poured rockets, mortar shells, machine gun fire, and grenades into the small hilltop compound.  During that period, the steadily decreasing number of able men in the camp had no time to attend the wounded, eat or even think.  Air support was sporadic and mostly ineffective because of the heavy rain and fog of the monsoon season. They fought on as automatons, driving back wave after wave of the VC, as the guerillas relentlessly pressed the attack. 

Late in the afternoon of the third day the enemy ceased firing and withdrew into the thick forest that ringed the camp.  The brief lull allowed Stevens to evaluate his position.  Where there had originally been twelve Americans and two hundred Montagnard tribesmen, Stevens found himself commanding three able-bodied Americans, including himself and Brett Flynn, and twenty-one Montagnard.  It clearly was a hopeless situation.  Their relief column had been pinned down eight klicks away, and the weather that hampered air support also made helicopter evacuation impossible.  A quick check revealed that the ammunition for the usable machine guns had been exhausted and there were no more hand grenades or mortar rounds.  Only enough rifle ammunition remained to supply each man with a few rounds.

Stevens made his decision just before the enemy began what he knew would be the final assault.  It began at nightfall in a soft, drizzling rain.  In the last flickering minutes of daylight Stevens watched it begin.  Several hundred uniformed North Vietnamese soldiers, a fresh battalion, poured out of the dark forest below the camp.  Behind them the mortars began to cough their deadly shrapnel into the compound.  Darkness settled in as the assault force cleared the tree line and began blazing its assent up the hillside toward the camp above.

In Southeast Asia the darkest part of the evening comes just after sunset, before the moon has risen above the treetops that elevate the horizon.  During the monsoon season, the skies are continually overcast, adding to the darkness of the day and night.  It was this pervasive darkness that led Stevens to make the decision to order his men to abandon the fort-camp and flee for the forest.  There the defenders could separate in the darkness and have a better chance of eluding their pursuers.  He collected the dog tags of the dead Americans and dropped them into a small canvas pouch, which he stuffed inside his shirt.  It never occurred to him that he might not escape death either.

When the forward element of the enemy forces began to close on them, Stevens gave the signal to move out.  His men, who had gathered together at a point along the sandbagged, earthen wall nearest the tree line below, moved swiftly over the wall and down the hillside, running in a low crouch.  The move caught the attackers by surprise.  Before they could react effectively, Stevens' group was among them, smashing at the North Vietnamese with rifle butts and bayonets.  Stevens, who had spearheaded the charge, was the first man to break through the tightening ring, and ran as fast as he could, stumbling toward the sanctuary of the trees.

He was about twenty yards from the tree line when his right leg jerked out from under him.  He crashed awkwardly to the ground.  A sharp, agonizing pain seared his calf.  It felt as though it had been savagely bludgeoned then bathed in acid.  He struggled to get back on his feet, desperate to reach the forest.  Suddenly he was slammed to the ground again, and an intense pain began to throb inside his right shoulder.  Bleeding badly, but still conscious, Stevens had begun to crawl on his hands and knees toward the forest. So close and yet so far.

One moment he was clawing his way painfully over the hard, wet ground.  The next instant he was airborne, being carried bodily into the dense undergrowth by one of his comrades.  He struggled to see who his rescuer was, but as the darkness of the forest enveloped his body, unconsciousness flooded his mind.

When Stevens regained consciousness, it was daylight and he was lying on his back in a small thicket.  Consciousness was not a sudden thing; it came slowly.  His first awareness had been of warmth and rare sunlight filtering down through the canopy of trees above him.  He guessed there had been a brief breakthrough in the overcast monsoon skies.  Slowly, he became aware of the dull, aching throb in his leg and shoulder, and remembered the struggle that had cost him those wounds.  Someone, a man, approached and knelt beside him on the ground. The man began to dress the wound in his shoulder.  Stevens slowly focused his eyes on the man.  He recognized Brett Flynn, his best friend and the A-Team’s demolitions sergeant, one of the two Americans who had fled the doomed camp with him.  He had tried to speak to Flynn, but the curtain of unconsciousness again settled over his mind, drowning all thoughts.

Stevens' next memory was of the inside of a Quonset hut that obviously was being used as a sickbay or dispensary.  Welcome to Da Nang, the medic on duty had quipped, noticing that Stevens was regaining consciousness.  Over time he learned that Brett Flynn had saved his life.  It was Flynn who had plucked Stevens off the deadly hillside and carried him into the sanctuary of the forest.  It had taken the sergeant nearly a week to carry Stevens five miles through enemy forces to a Montagnard village, where he had been able to radio for help.  Except for one brief interlude, Stevens had remained unconscious while Flynn tended his wounds by day and carried him on his back through enemy territory by night.  A Marine helicopter had flown Flynn - suffering from a severe case of dysentery - and a feverish, badly infected Stevens to the hospital at Da Nang. After Stevens had healed sufficiently, he was sent to a military hospital near San Francisco, California, to complete his recovery.

It had taken three, long, boring months for the mending to complete itself.  It was during this period that Stevens unintentionally brought about the termination of his Army career. It was the result of comments made in a television interview.  He had been instructed by the public relations officer at the hospital not to discuss the battle at the Special Forces compound with any news media.  It was still classified information, he was told.  Defeats do not receive publicity.  Nevertheless, through a common bureaucratic mistake a television crew was allowed to interview Stevens in the hospital.  Caught between Scylla and Charybdis, Stevens elected to follow the instructions of the public relations officer.  After being questioned repeatedly about the battle, he lost his temper and told the interviewer where he could put his questions.  After the network ran the interview on coast-to-coast television, someone in the Pentagon decided Lt. Eric Rhinehardt Stevens had become a discredit to the Army.  He was given a disgraceful general discharge from the Army on grounds that, by ordering his men to abandon their position while under attack, he had evinced unsatisfactory leadership qualities. It was the military’s way of dealing with the failures of those higher up the chain of command.

Incongruously, Stevens had been given his discharge papers and a Purple Heart at the same time.  A short time later he was released from the hospital.  At first, he found it difficult to believe that these events had really happened to him; but soon the incredulity turned to anger and resentment.  The final product was a potent feeling of animosity toward his country in general and the military in particular.

After his release from the hospital, Stevens took a small apartment near Golden Gate Park.  He had become involved with one of his nurses while in the hospital, and, with no real plans, decided to remain in San Francisco for a while.  For the first few weeks the romance pursued a furious course then came to an abrupt end.  The girl had begun to push for a more permanent relationship. That unnerved Stevens. Marriage, or something like it, was wholly out of the question for him.  Independent and something of a lone wolf by nature he was still emotionally scarred by his experiences in the military.  He knew he was not yet able, or willing to give enough of himself necessary to the development of permanent relationships.  Stevens abruptly broke off the affair. He didn't like it when girls shed tears over an affair that ended in that fashion, and the nurse definitely shed tears. He just didn’t know of any other way to end the relationship.

During the days that followed the break-up, Stevens toyed with the options of getting a job or leaving San Francisco.  In the meantime, he drank a lot, moved to another apartment to escape the relentless pursuit by the torch-bearing nurse, and ran into Brett Flynn. 

 

With his current enlistment almost completed, the Army had decided to take advantage of Flynn's knowledge and experience in counter-insurgency warfare and had assigned him as an instructor at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; the training camp for Special Forces soldiers.  Pending the transfer to Fort Bragg, Flynn had taken leave to visit his wife in San Francisco. They married just prior to his first tour in Vietnam, and had maintained a modest home near the Presidio since then. The area was populated with military dependents nervously awaiting each new casualty list. Their marriage had been unsuccessful almost from the beginning, but in a last effort to work things out, Flynn decided to spend this leave in San Francisco, instead of Tokyo or Bangkok.  However, the efforts of both Flynn and his wife had failed, and divorce was imminent.

One hot and soggy day Stevens had ducked into a little bar near the Presidio to escape the noontime heat, and was surprised to find Flynn there. The two of them had been close friends since their high school days in Florida.  They had played in the same football backfield and had gone to the same college on athletic scholarships.  

When the two men were reunited in the San Francisco bar, it sparked a long night of drinking and revelry.  As in their college days, they had moved from one bar to another, becoming progressively drunker and more belligerent along the way.  By early morning, both men were very drunk and the edges of savagery honed raw in the jungles of Vietnam had begun to show through.  As they drank, they cursed the Army, the Pentagon and the perversity of matrimony.  Returning briefly to Stevens' apartment, they picked up his discharge papers and Purple Heart.  Next, they took a cab to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge.  With Flynn clinging to his belt to provide support, Stevens leaned far out over the rail and cast the shredded bits of paper and the medal into the dark waters of the bay.  The act left Stevens with that strange, happy satisfaction that only a drunk can know.

Later that evening, for reasons they couldn’t remember, they took a cab across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to Berkeley.  In a bar, they found a dozen bearded, tie-dye clad members of the Hip Generation.  In their drunken condition it was an opportunity Stevens and Flynn could not let pass. They had left blood, flesh, and good friends in the killing fields of Southeast Asia. At the same time, people very much like these hippies had cursed their efforts and sacrifices. In their drunken state, Stevens and Flynn saw them as the same cowardly bastards who had cursed and spit on their nation’s returning warriors. Allied with the media, they had turned their own country against those who were serving it. The enemy became the heroes, and the American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen became the enemy. Needing no more provocation than that, the two men gleefully tore into the hippies, who were badly outmatched.  Within a few minutes several of the hippies had been beaten senseless, and the others had either fled or been thrown bodily out of the bar.

The police arrived just as the violence began to subside and hauled Stevens and Flynn off to jail.  Later, Flynn was permitted to call his wife, who came to the station and picked him up.  Because he was a serviceman returning from Vietnam, the police had been willing to release Flynn.  However, they were not so lenient toward Stevens, whom they regarded as a potential vagrant and troublemaker.

Fortunately for him, Stevens had several old friends living in the Bay Area.  He called one of them, an acquaintance from law school who was practicing in Oakland.  While his friend pleaded with the police for his release, Stevens called Lee Marten, another one of his college friends.

Marten was the scion of one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in San Francisco, a family that enjoyed considerable influence in the Bay Area.  Although it had been years since they had seen each other, Marten got out of bed in the middle of the night, made a few telephone calls, and within minutes Stevens had been released into the custody of his lawyer.

Stevens spent the remainder of the night at the lawyer’s home.  The next morning he went to Brett Flynn's home to apologize to his wife for the previous night’s escapades.  Unfortunately, the woman had never approved of Flynn's college or service friends, particularly Stevens.  The events of the night before only served to deepen this animosity.  She answered his knock, and upon seeing that it was Stevens, slammed the door in his face.  Flynn, who had witnessed the scene from the home’s small kitchen, ran into the living room, cursed his wife, and ran out to apologize to Stevens for her behavior.  The woman followed him outside and began to scream hysterically at the two men. All along the street neighbor's heads popped into sight through open doors and windows.  From his position in the front yard, Flynn loudly cursed his wife in return.  More than a little uncomfortable, Stevens beat a hasty retreat to his waiting taxi, and rode to the Marten Building in the financial district of downtown San Francisco.

He gave the secretary his name and immediately was admitted to Lee Marten's private office.  After a few moments of hand pumping and backslapping, they settled down to coffee and reminiscence.  Marten seemed to be extremely interested in Stevens' background, particularly the law degree and military service with the Special Forces.

It was late morning and Marten decided to take the rest of the day off. He asked Stevens to join him for lunch at his club.  Later, they spent the afternoon playing golf.  That evening Marten and his wife arranged for Stevens to escort a pretty, young socialite friend of theirs to dinner with them.  As the evening was drawing to a close, Marten took Stevens aside and offered him a good position with his company.  Stevens slept on the offer.  The next morning he turned it down, thanked a surprised Marten for his kindness, and left town.

 

He bought a used Corvette in Oakland and headed east.  It took him two weeks to drink and brawl his way across the country from San Francisco to Florida.

When Stevens arrived in Fort Lauderdale, he contacted another law school friend who aided him in finding a position with a local firm.  It took three days for Stevens to become disgusted with what essentially was a desk job.  He quit.

During the next three months, he worked as a salvage diver, karate instructor, bartender and gigolo, the latter quite by accident.  He had been working as an instructor at a local karate dojo when he met Linda Montrose, the girl whose bed he currently was sharing.  She was twenty-six, twice divorced, the daughter of a wealthy New England venture capitalist. Neglected as a child by her socially active parents, she had grown into an insecure young adulthood. It was further marred by the wreckage of two marriages and a number of disastrous love affairs.  He later learned that she had attempted suicide on three different occasions.

Stevens became acquainted with the girl when she began to take karate lessons. It was an effort on her part to find a distraction from the bitterness of her most recent unsuccessful love affair.  Soon after the lessons began, she felt herself attracted to Stevens, her instructor.  This wasn’t unusual.  Other women at the dojo had been attracted by Stevens' rugged handsomeness and quiet competence.  Her feelings rapidly developed into more than just admiration, but Stevens chose to ignore her.  Social misfits and people with emotional issues had always made him uncomfortable. At the same time, he recognized that his own pragmatic, individualistic nature no longer was welcome in a politically correct, let’s–all-just-blend-in mentality of modern American society.

In a short time Stevens had discovered firsthand the meaning behind the adage, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  When he rejected the girl's advances, she complained to the owner of the dojo that Stevens had groped her.  She had demanded that he be fired or she would tell the authorities that the dojo was being used for immoral purposes.  Although not really frightened by her threats, the owner had been looking for an excuse to fire Stevens. He was jealous of Steven’s attractiveness to women and superior martial arts skills.  Stevens, ever the pragmatist, took it in stride. He found another job; this time as a bartender/bouncer in a plush hotel on the beach.

 

A small rain shower came up, and the soft, warm drops pelted Stevens' flesh, arousing him from his memories.  He had finished the bottle of Black Bush.  He rose, set the empty bottle in a corner of the balcony, and went into the room where Linda was sleeping.  For a moment he stared at her peaceful figure on the bed; his face displayed no emotion.  It would have been impossible for anyone to discern his feelings at that moment. He quietly crossed the room to the dresser, stooped and slipped open the bottom drawer.  Inside was another bottle of Black Bush.  It too was almost empty.  He closed the drawer and went back out onto the balcony.

It was early morning now, and false dawn peeked over the distant horizon.  Stevens glanced at his watch.  It was almost four o’clock.  He would have to leave soon in order to catch the early flight to Nassau.  He pulled the cork from the bottle, dropped it on the floor beside the chaise lounge, tilted his head back and drank deeply from the bottle.  The liquid no longer caused that burning sensation in his throat. As the breeze, pungent with the odor of the sea, wafted over the balcony, Stevens' thoughts drifted back to the point where they had left off moments earlier.

 

He had been tending bar in the Grotto, a plush cocktail lounge in one of the toniest hotels on the beach.  He’d had mixed emotions about tending bar.  On one hand, the position seemed beneath the station of a man with a law degree; but it was interesting, provided an income, and gave him an opportunity to work out his hostilities on the occasional aggressive drunk.

One evening Linda Montrose wandered into the lounge and, discovering Stevens there, became a fixture at the bar for the next several nights.  She was drunk when she came in, and she stayed drunk.  Since the last time Stevens had seen her, at the karate dojo, she had been involved with an older, married man.  The experience had drained her visibly.

He was still angry about the episode at the dojo, and tried to ignore her.  It only seemed to heighten her interest in him. He became her latest challenge. One evening, she managed to corner Stevens. She had leaned seductively over the bar, her loose, low cut top proudly displaying much of her large, firm breasts, and plainly asked him to have sex with her. He had gazed at her without expression for a few moments, then turned his back and strolled to the other end of the bar.

A string of angry curses erupted from the girl, and she threw her glass at him.  She ripped open her purse, took out a small bottle of capsules and tossed the contents into her mouth, nearly gagging as she swallowed them.  Sobbing hysterically from anger, embarrassment and self-loathing, she lurched off her bar stool and ran blindly toward the plate glass doors, which opened into the hotel lobby.  Stevens vaulted the bar and ran after her, catching up to her just before she would have crashed into the doors.  Wild and furious, she spun around and swung at Stevens with her purse.  He leaned away from the roundhouse swing, then stepped in close and jammed the rigid fingers of his right hand into her solar plexus.  It was a paralyzing, but not a damaging blow.  The girl gasped, her knees buckled, and she collapsed.  Stevens caught her and carried her over to an empty booth, where he stretched her out on the cushions.  Moments later the hotel’s night manager burst through the doorway from the lobby.  Stevens sent him to get the house doctor and call for an ambulance.  A crowd of hotel guests, bar patrons, and employees gathered to stare slack-jawed at the inert figure on the cushions.

The effects of Stevens' martial arts technique quickly wore off, but the effects of the pills began to take hold.  Stevens was quite relieved when the doctor arrived.  The medic swiftly examined the girl and the small bottle from which the capsules had come.  He identified them as Nembutol, a form of pentobarbital - sleeping pills.  Eventually the ambulance arrived, and the girl was rushed to the hospital to have her stomach pumped.

Stevens had tried to continue behind the bar, but he felt uncomfortable under the stare of the patrons.  He had actually felt a sense of relief, when the manager called him into his small, cluttered office and told him that his services were no longer needed.  He went out and got drunk.

The next morning, for some reason, which he would never understand, he went to the hospital to visit Linda Montrose.  She had been under a mild sedative but was capable of conversing.  Her bout with the sleeping pills had left her pale and weak, but at the sight of Stevens she managed a pretty blush.  She tried to apologize to him, but he stopped her, and told her to forget the matter.  The only thing he wanted was her promise that in the future she would leave him alone.

When she learned that she had cost Stevens his latest job, too, she seemed to feel even more remorseful.  It touched a soft spot somewhere beneath Stevens' armor, and he encouraged her to talk about herself.  A long and involved story began to unfold.

Actually, it was the story of her life; and Stevens, with nothing to do and no place to go, listened.  He learned of her neglected childhood, and her desperate, unfulfilled need for affection and companionship.  She told him of her unsuccessful marriages, broken love affairs and previous attempts at suicide.  It seemed clear to him that she was disturbed and lonely, striving for love from someone, anyone.  Twenty-six years old, she felt painfully alone, lost in an indifferent world. One with which she could not seem to cope.  Stevens felt a little sorry for her; almost, but not quite, tender toward her.  Perhaps it was a feeling of kinship which one solitary, rootless soul feels toward another.

He visited her at the hospital each day, and drove her home after she was released.  Almost without realizing it, Stevens had developed certain feelings toward the girl.  It was no longer just pity, although there was no room in his heart for love.  He didn’t believe in love.  To him, such a relationship would be anathema to his way of life.  However, with no job, and in an effort to conserve what capital he had left, he accepted her invitation to move in with her.  It was an arrangement that they both appreciated at first.

Now that he had lived with her for almost a month, she seemed to be a much different person from the one he’d first met at the martial arts dojo. She seemed calmer, more stable. Initially the relationship had worked out fine, but lately things had begun to change.  He had found himself almost hoping that his attitude also would change; that he would be ready to settle down, establish a relationship.  After all, the girl was beautiful.  Stevens readily admitted to himself that she was one of the most beautiful women he had known, and to make her all the more attractive, she had beaucoup money. Still, having his bills paid by a woman somehow made him feel less masculine.

Now, as he sat on the balcony of her beachfront condominium watching the sun rising over the calm tropic sea, he recognized a familiar restlessness stirring within him.  The events of the last several days had begun to slip into the well-worn pattern. Stevens knew the time had come for him to wade back into the mainstream of life, drifting toward the next rendezvous with his destiny.

For the past few days, while making love, the girl had started telling him how deep her love for him was.  Later, as they lay quietly on the bed, she would caress him and tell him how wonderful things could be if they were married.  He had done nothing to encourage the talk of marriage.  He regarded it as a subject that insecure people promote eventually.

Then, yesterday, an event occurred which proved to be a catalyst. They had made love, after which the girl slept, which was her custom in the late afternoon before dinner.  Stevens had dressed and gone to one of his favorite bars on the beach, a short distance from the apartment.  There he met and struck up a conversation with one of the local surf-bums.  The topics changed from women, to the merits of one beer over another, to their respective service time in Vietnam.  Finally, they touched on the subject of fighting a not uncommon topic in male tavern conversations.

The man described a brawl he had been involved in the previous evening.  At first Stevens listened with only mild interest, paying more attention to his beer than to the story.  The man explained how he had gone to a local bar, gotten slightly drunk, and made a pass at one of the barmaids.  Unknown to him, a young motorcycle tough had already laid claim to her.  He had swaggered over to the surf-bum's table and, with help from his two friends, tried to wrestle him out the door.  He had struggled to get free, but the three men simply overpowered him.  He had accepted the fact that he was in for a bad ass-kicking, when help arrived unexpectedly.

As the surf-bum began describing the man who had come to his aid, Stevens' interest suddenly picked up.  The man was described as having sandy colored hair, sharp features and pale blue eyes.  The word "Hawk" had been tattooed on his right forearm.

Using hand-to-hand combat techniques with the skill of an expert, the stranger savagely beat the three would-be tough guys. He continued his attack against anyone within reach.  Eventually, a stool-wielding bartender struck him down from behind.  Although the blow would have rendered most men unconscious, it only drove the brawler to his knees for a few moments, blood streaming from the gash in the back of his scalp.

As the police rushed through the front door, the stranger had sprung to his feed, grabbed the surf-bum by the arm and thrust him through the rear entrance into the alley.  They spent the next several minutes racing through the back streets and alleys, until they eluded the pursuing officers.  The stranger then led the surf-bum to his sailboat, an old, decrepit sloop moored at a local marina. They spent the remainder of the night patching wounds and drinking beer.

Stevens' narrator said the man had told him that he was a Special Forces veteran, recently divorced and discharged. He said he was planning to sail his newly purchased boat on a long, slow voyage through the Caribbean.

Stevens had hurriedly left the bar, and driven to the marina.  From the description, he knew the man had to have been Brett Flynn.  Their paths had crossed again.  Too many factors matched for it to have been anyone but Flynn.  The man's physical characteristics, his tattoo, his fighting skills, the recent divorce and the service with the Special Forces all pointed to the conclusion that Flynn was in town.  The ironic element was the planned voyage through the Caribbean.  Stevens and Flynn had planned such a trip when they were in college.  They had almost made a reality of it.  But on the way to Miami to trade Stevens' car for the sailboat, one of them - they were too drunk to remember who was driving at the time - fell asleep or passed out.  The result was a spectacular wreck.  Although the car had been totally destroyed, neither man was seriously injured, which they considered an argument in favor of drinking to excess.

Disappointment faced Stevens when he reached the marina.  The boat had sailed.  The manager didn't know what its destination was; but his description of the boat's owner also fit Brett Flynn.  A hurried search of other marinas and boat yards in the Fort Lauderdale area proved unsuccessful.  Finally, Stevens called the local Coast Guard station.  Their records showed that a sloop answering the description Stevens gave them had sailed for the Bahamas that morning.  Its owner had listed his name as Bill Fleming.  It amused Stevens that his friend was traveling incognito.  It occurred to him that Flynn might be trying to avoid prosecution for non-payment of alimony.

After his conversation with the Coast Guard, Stevens had given considerable thought to his next move.  Other than the emerging tension over the marriage issue, he had a great thing going for him with Linda Montrose.  She loved him. She was beautiful. She was great in bed. She was wealthy.  His existence, for the moment, was a secure one.  But, it was the longer-range prospects that troubled him.  Linda was focused on marriage, but he certainly wasn’t.  The thought of actually making the long-dreamed of voyage with the wild, irrepressible Flynn was too enticing.  He was presented with an opportunity that he couldn’t ignore.  Now, as he watched the sun begin its inevitable ascent far out over the sea, he knew it was time to leave.

 

Stevens rose from the lawn chair in which he had been sitting, and stretched.  He picked up the two empty whiskey bottles, and went back into the bedroom.  It was time to get started for the airport.  His flight to Nassau would leave in an hour.

Quietly, he stuffed the empties into a wastebasket near the dresser.  From the closet he removed a worn leather suitcase, and placed it on the floor near the dresser.  Moving soundlessly, he transferred his few possessions to the suitcase.  A few pairs of undershorts, socks, half a dozen knit polo shirts, and a pair of faded blue jeans went into the suitcase.  He collected his toiletries and shaving gear from the bathroom, and placed them in the suitcase, too.  Finished packing, he slipped into his other pair of worn blue jeans, running shoes, and a white knit T-shirt with a fish logo on the left breast. 

The girl was still asleep.  Stevens scribbled a note on the back of an envelope.  It said, "So long, kid.  Take care of yourself.  Rick."  He didn't know what else to say.  It occurred to him that the girl might try suicide again, but he knew he wasn’t the cause of her insecurities and emotional issues. He was very well trained in two incongruous areas – law and killing. Neither of those fields qualified him to deal with another person’s emotional problems. Picking up his suitcase, he left the bedroom, and walked quietly to the door. He stepped into the hall and shut the door behind him.


 

 

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