Swan Dive! Ch. 15: Aw, Shucks

Killing Durkin would end Randall Lark’s blood reprisal. Bringing the man who killed his baby brother to justice, as cops like to say, would be sweet. Just pull the trigger.

Randall already owned a gun. He bought the piece on sale for $300 within a week of tracking Durkin and moving to Florida, a Taurus PT-111, the number one concealed carry gun in Florida, according to the bad breathing bearded redneck clerk at the Florida Gun Supply store who wore faded red and blue tattoos on both arms featuring coiled rattle snakes ready to strike with fangs dripping venom.

“This one here’s a beauty,” the hick said. “Equipped with textured grips. You never want to drop a gun in a firefight. Sweaty palms and adrenaline can make you lose control of your carry gun in a pinch.”

Having never before owned, carried, shot or even touched a handgun, Randall stared. The white gun nut clerk kept rolling.

“Adjustable sights to make sure you’re always as accurate as possible, double/single action trigger that could save your life, striker-fired trigger that makes the single or double action trigger pull excellent.”

Stunned, Randall listened.

“Picatinny rail system which allows you to mount a laser or flashlight to be able to get on target or see a threat in low-light conditions, double stack capacity which ensures you’ll never run out of ammunition in a firefight.”

With his mind in a daze Randall’s thoughts drifted back to the gunfire blasts in his old Philadelphia neighborhood.

The gun merchant seemed offended.

“You listening to me? You hear me, boy?”

Randall woke to the sound of the word.


The clerk grinned.

“No offense, mister,” he said.

That made two times Randall wanted to shoot somebody. Durkin, of course, topped the hit list. As time passed maybe Randall would conjure more targets. Maybe he’d run amok as a Black militant on a race rampage to get even like everybody else in America who seeks a reckoning to punish perceived sinners through slaughter with a bullet.

Randall now carried his own death grudge – a mortal vendetta heavier to him than the cross Jesus dragged up Calvary – and his own weapon, a semi-automatic with a dozen 9mm cartridges in the magazine with one in the chamber. The time had come to unload, actually to load, empty the magazine and maybe even reload. The time had come for Randall to start shooting.

Nestled nice and snug under his left arm, tucked into a snappy black leather shoulder holster, the nine hung within easy reach if he decided to use the gun when he got to RayRay’s to get something to eat. Entering and taking his seat at the same table for two at the back of the room where he sat a few nights before, he picked up a menu and got ready to order. He noticed Durkin sitting at the end of the bar.

Out back, behind the restaurant, Sam Bennett hid in the shadows eating the hot dinner RayRay snuck him as part of Sam’s being on the run. Sam hunched over a large pot loaded with three dozen steamed clams. The old man splashed melted butter down his red Hawaiian shirt as he slurped the night away. Sam sure loved clams – steamed clams, chopped clams, raw clams, clam chowder, clams casino, clams Rockefeller – any kind of clam cooked or uncooked any kind of way.

Nobody knew Sam had developed his love for gulls because of clams.

Each time Sam Bennett savored clams he registered deep in his body and soul his earliest nutritional experience, not remembering but feeling a primitive bond that connected him to another animal. In Sam’s case that attachment remained real, very real, a literal primordial taste and smell of primal nourishment reminding him of the raw clam meat soaked in river water that once kept him alive,

On a Saturday morning so very long ago, little Sammy’s first birthday, in fact, he fell asleep for a nap beside his maternal grandma Betty who had earlier spoon-fed him mashed yellow cake with chocolate icing to celebrate in their second floor apartment above the fresh fish shop. Weak from early onset arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries around the heart) and hypertension (high blood pressure), just caring for the baby wore her out.

Six months earlier she cradled her grandson in arms thin as smooth mop handles and watched her peroxide blond daughter with the eyebrow pencil beauty mark, cat eye rhinestone glasses and leopard print pedal pushers drive off with Sammy’s father Ricky to seek their fortune out West –  Vegas she thought her daughter Samantha said where she could dance with feathers in her hair or deal blackjack hands in one of the new gambling casinos until a producer or agent discovered her and featured her up on the silver screen. That was the last anybody heard of Samantha or Ricky. Whether they made it to Vegas was anybody’s guess.

When Betty and Sammy stretched out in the cool breeze of that crisp golden afternoon grandma left the bedroom window wide open, taking her last breath of salt air and Lemon Pledge furniture polish into her lungs until the shivering organs shut down as her heart tightened and gave out. Sammy awoke hungry, his cries weak and helpless, intermingling with yawps of gulls that gathered around the downstairs fish shop to dine on entrails and offal.

Baby shrieks drew the female gull to the window ledge where she landed and stood watching Sammy watch her make an instinctive decision, one that signaled life and death that hung in the balance. Lifting off and flying away she returned about 15 minutes later with the first of many deep fried clam strips she pilfered either from the garbage at the shop or from one of the handful of restaurants that operated near the beach in those days.

Soaked with water, the juicy clam ribbons the motherly gull dropped into Sammy’s open mouth sometimes five times a day gave Sammy the life sustaining nourishment he needed to stay alive. At night the gull returned, sopping wet from bathing or wading, to open wide her wings and nestle Sammy beside her drenched body as he found water droplets with little lips and snuggled for warmth into her soft pulsing breast.

Two days later police broke into the apartment after concerned workers downstairs called 911 to complain about a fishy but not fishy odor that wafted downstairs. Sammy screeched his greeting at the first responders, refusing to stop squawking until he got to the hospital.

“I thought the kid was a gull screaming,” a cop said.

Police located no gull – just a weak but living baby boy, a soiled child wrapped in a mysterious white blanket of swaddling feathers, a little ragged human hoping to fly.