The main complaint I’ve gotten in the feedback from my most recent manuscript is the side-stories, the deviations and detours from the direct route. I-5 is the fastest route from where I live to San Diego. If you’re in a hurry, take it. I have, and, metaphorically, I am trying to do the same with “Swamis;” focused, tight, direct.
It won’t happen. Because I am past this point in my latest rewrite, I will post it here. I have always envisioned my friend Stephen Davis as Gingerbread Fred (maybe it’s vice-versa). Steve and I have, particularly on long drives to and from surf trips, gotten a bit… verbal. Scream therapy I call it. If you know Steve, sure, picture him. He says he doesn’t mind.
We’ll scream it out soon.
Oh, I mention the Holders in this chapter. That’s going away. I haven’t really done the research to know if Carson Holder, about my age (70- echhh), who I met years ago at Grandview, is related to Dempsey Holder, legendary surfer from the late 1950s, or not. It’s a minor thing in the story, and it’s being cut, but, yeah, I do wonder.
Because I definitely over-explain, including this and other little true life references, is in part, part of my trying to make anyone willing to push through the turns and twists to possibly, actually believe this fiction is… believable, maybe even part of a view worth slowing down for. This doesn’t mean I disagree with the criticism. It is accurate.
I just realized my friends Day and Phillip are in this chapter. It is true they were busted for ditching school and did have to do cleanup for team remainder of our senior year.
Although some of this won’t survive, it is still copyright protected.
Thanks to real life role models for fictional characters.
CHAPTER 12- FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 1969
It wasn’t even dusk yet. I could have been surfing. Instead, I was at home. I had pulled the cord to the phone in our living room as far as it would reach, pulled the cord from the phone to its limit, and leaned against the picture window with a view to the coastal foothills to the west.
This paragraph is in present tense; it works better.
“I get it, Phillip, you can’t go.” I listen. “Okay. Hanging out at the base stables, yeah; probably more important.” Listen. “No, I think she does… like you. You have to… passing glances aren’t enough. You must… talk to her.” I nod, tap on the window. “No, man, before dawn; beat the crowd. Weekends. Shit.” Move toward the coffee table. “Yeah; it is so…” Set the base of the phone down, whisper, “Fucked up. Chulo. Yeah… so weird he was there… when my dad…” Inhale. Chuckle. “No, you’re right; he wouldn’t have intervened with the school board. Not for you and Ray… or for me… whatever people say.” Listen. “Really. Superintendent; not just the Vice Principal? Multiple truancy. Ditchers. So, what’s your punishment?” Turn on the TV. “Really? That’s it; pick up trash around the campus?” Laugh. “Every day? Nutrition and lunch?” I sit on the couch. “Well; no; I knew there weren’t enough detention hours before graduation. Still…” Laugh. “Good luck with the horsie girls then. Bye.”
My mother had not allowed me to go to the coast after school on the days immediately after Chulo’s murder. Just after arriving home, with Freddy, she was questioning my going on Saturday. “Too soon,” she said. “I don’t trust… the station wagon. It needs a tuneup. And… Larry says the investigation is ongoing and the scene is all a mess.”
“Larry says?” Larry. Wendall. She clamped her mouth shut. “I do have to go to work. Saturday? Tony’s? I can take the Volvo.”
The Volvo had been picked out, with my father’s help, from vehicles the Sheriff’s Office had impounded for various reasons, and, for various other reasons, these vehicles had not reclaimed. While my father would say, “it’s Swedish,” he meant ‘exotic,’ my mother routinely followed “Swedish” with “Safe, and practical.” What she meant was that it was hers. Freddy and I were not allowed to eat in it, and it was definitely not a car she would, or I could take to the beach. The Falcon had been the family station wagon, mostly, before the Volvo, before my father was allocated a full-time county rig, before I got a license. It had become the school and back vehicle, the beach vehicle, the mildew smell probably permanent.
“Just be careful. No one’s been arrested… yet.”
If my mother had been able to read my mind, as I often believed (not just mine), she would have known my look was a question as to whether this was inside information- Larry. I held the look a while. “It was on the radio,” she said.
The sound came from the TV before the black and white image cleared. A commercial. We would get a color set when they got it perfected, my father had said, not because my snotty and spoiled friends had one. Ours was the kind where the TV screen was only one part of the TV/record player/AM FM radio console. Furniture, nonetheless. Swedish modern. Blonde. Exotic? Practical.
I considered sitting in my spot on the sectional my mom had covered with some sort of almost-burlap fabric that was pretty much impervious to spills and such. I looked over at my father’s chair, overlarge, overstuffed, a rough sort of brocaded material in a purple-ish red, worn armrests. I hadn’t sat in it since his death. Actually, I had never sat in it.
My mother looked at me, turned her eyes toward the recliner without turning her head.
“We sent a crew back up to North County, following up after Tuesday night’s… murder.” I sat down. It was comfortable; it had the perfect view of the screen. Optimal.
“Gingerbread Fred,” I said, louder than the news anchor, jumping up, moving closer to the screen.
It was daytime in the footage and the camera seemed to select him, Gingerbread Fred, from the small group over by the bluff. No shoes, no shirt under a well-worn v-necked sweater that I knew to be tan on the greenish side. He had on an almost-matching and equally worn, hand-crocheted watchcap on his head, his almost-matching blondish-red hair exploding from underneath it. The camera seemed to move in, then up to his face, a lot of gray in his beard.
I hadn’t noticed Freddy behind me, takeout from the Fallbrook A&W, my dinner, in his hands.
“Fred,” the man on the TV said, microphone too close to his face. “Fred Thompson, Ma’am. Folks ‘round here call me…”
“Fred,” Freddy said, moving around the chair, and very close to blocking my view, “like me.”
Our mom smiled, ruffled Freddy’s hair. “No, Freddy; you will get a haircut.”
“Nothing like you, Freddy,” I said. “Gingerbread Fred’s supposed to have surfed Tijuana Sloughs and Killer Dana, and some mysto breaks outside of Windansea. Simmon’s Reef.” Not looking away from the TV, I added, “It was verified, I’m told, by one of the Holders.”
“Oh,” my mother and brother both said.
“The kid, lives… around the corner; he’s a Holder. Not sure if he’s related. Dempsey, Dempsey Holder… pioneer, legend.”
“Holders,” my mom said. “You should ask him… the kid.”
“I just saw the flame, man; it was so, um, uh, intense. You know?” Gingerbread Fred’s hands seemed outsized, moving around the same way they did when he talked surf. “Bright. You know? I thought I’d heard something, over by the…” All his fingers, both hands, were pointing. “The… compound. There was just a sliver of moon. I was coming up, just at the top of the stairs when I seen it. The flames.” Fred clapped his hands in front of him, way too close to the reporter. “Flash!”
She and the camera angle jerked back.
It was a woman reporter this time; young, thin, with a sort of post-beehive but sprayed-stiff hairdo. When she didn’t move the microphone closer, Fred moved closer to it. He was looking at her, then directly into the camera. “And a car was pulling away. No lights. It didn’t squeal out, but… it was loud.” Fred moved his right hand to mimic a car taking off fast.
Gingerbread Fred mimicked the sound. A rumble turned into “Errrrrrrcuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhh!” He stopped, put a hand on the reporter’s hand, on the microphone. The camera jerked again, from her frightened expression to Fred’s face, his eyes equally as wide. “Just, um… that might have been… before… before the, the… fire. Yeah. No. After. That’s why I looked over; it was the fire. And then, there was… screaming. The… all at once. In the air. Scream. Ffffwwwwwwweeeeeewwwww! And… it seemed like someone else, like… I thought I saw… on fire. Fire. Fire in the air.” He paused. Rather, he just stopped speaking, but kept looking straight into the camera.
The camera panned smoothly back to the reporter. Fred released his hand from hers. When he stepped back into view again, he was crying. “It was, it was a long ways away. I couldn’t…” He stopped again. His hands dropped down, out from his sides; then moved forward, palms out, then up, into a gesture, I thought, of surrender. “I ran, but, you see, I don’t run. Used to.” The camera moved in too close to Fred’s creased face. “It was like, um, the second coming; maybe; But then… then I could smell the… the fire. Chulo. Good surfer. One time, down at Windansea…”
Gingerbread Fred was gone, gone into his memories. The camera switched, abruptly, to the reporter. She seemed more frightened than moved by Fred’s meltdown. Irritated. “Well,” she said, “we will continue to follow…”
She continued. She looked, I thought, angry, pissed at herself for losing her composure. TV. It shows every emotion. I stopped listening. Gingerbread Fred, looking even more confused, walked past, in the background, and over to an older man in a heavier-than-necessary coat. That man allowed Fred to come close enough to embrace him.
“Wally,” I said, pointing at the screen.
I jumped up and moved closer to the screen. I was pretty sure I had seen Ginny Cole, a camera at her face, standing with but behind Wally; but the pan of the crowd passed too quickly.
“Ginny,” I said. “Ginny Cole,” I whispered. Ginny. There was no rewind.
I had my own rewind. Words. Images. Blink. Remember.
I was standing. I was frozen.
“And now, the weather,” a voice on the TV said.
“It’s all right, son; you can sit in your father’s chair… if you wish.”
“No; it’s fine, Mom.”
“Well, sit somewhere; your food’s getting cold.” I sat in the middle of the larger section of the sectional. “Oh, and… I, we… have an offer on the place. Where would you like to live?”
I briefly tried to picture everyone who had been at the wake; then, in my mind, I was cruising Neptune Avenue, looking at houses. Waterfront, on the bluff. Out of reach.
“Nine seconds,” Freddy said, sitting in our father’s recliner, motioning me away from his view of the screen. “I took a few of your fries because, you know… nine seconds.”