Swan Dive! Ch. 20: Mankind Must Pay

Rain felt like hornet stings on Sam Bennett’s face as he stood alone on the beach. The sky looked angry, more ominous than he ever remembered. Clouds climbed horizontally high into the sky clawing their way from the streaked horizon before curling and rolling like great mad tidal waves in the darkening atmosphere. Mother Nature conveyed her message loud and clear.


Get ready.

I’m just getting started.

Ian is my messenger.

Utter retribution is on the way.”

Sam knew disrespect goes only so far. Then you can get smacked. He saw the results in Florida barrooms all his drinking life. Somebody often gets smacked. Usually they deserve the slap.

Not wanting to hurt anybody, Sam plotted his next move in his lonely war against anyone who dared disrespect the earth. Whenever he decided on his next target, his handcarved gulls would do his bidding to save the planet.

Mankind wanted oil, gas, even coal and new styles of Lincoln cars. Mankind wanted bulky modern estates and mansions by the beach. Mankind wanted goods and products and merchandise all at nature’s expense. And mankind would pay, meeting extinction one day at the hands of fate with a little help from her friends. Mankind now punished the poor, the vulnerable and the weak. Sam needed to punish them but didn’t want to physically hurt anyone in the process. He just wanted to hurt their bank accounts. Call him naïve and insane. Call him deluded. Just don’t call him insincere.

Emergency responders had just started hurricane cleanup that morning. Sam weathered the rain and savage surges by constructing a basic shelter with his beloved gull drones in RayRay’s garage, hunkering down, holding out and holding his own, actually savoring the rush of wild wind in his face and the pounding of water all around, enjoying himself at one point so much he sang six words from the title of the 1970 B.J. Thomas song about raindrops falling on his head. Not everybody was so hearty or so lucky. As always in an extreme weather event some people lost everything.

Human attacks on the environment upset nature’s balance, heating the oceans and the Gulf, increasing the intensity of storms, escalating the amount of rainfall and propelling the ticking time bomb the globe had become.

So now what?

Exploding golf balls, that’s what.

With each ball containing an explosive charge sufficient to scare but not scar, Sam made good use of the detonators he impounded for the earthly revolution. Blowing up buildings was too easy. Making an original mark takes authentic creativity. And, if anybody exuded uniqueness, Sam Bennett oozed the stuff.

So Sam paid $199.95 for a bulk box of 300 blank white golf balls bearing no logos or manufacturer’s designs. After a few days experimenting in RayRay’s garage Sam took a bag full of balls to the northernmost remote part of the beach where nobody ventured. Placing a ball on the sand, he spread his legs the way he had seen Tiger Woods do on TV at the bar, addressed the ball with a length of driftwood driver that gave new meaning to the word “wood,” drew back on the club, swiveled his hips and swung with minimal force.

Because he aerodynamically designed the ball’s explosive force, the blast went down rather than up and out, maybe registering on a Richter scale but not causing any damage except to the sand. The same would happen to some of the most emerald velvety greens in the Sunshine State.

Sam would send and find a way to deliver exploding golf balls emblazoned with Gov. Ronnie DeShifty’s RD initials inscribed in gold (airplane model paint) wrapped in gold paper (gold spray paint) to big campaign donors, garnering attention from donors and golfers far and wide as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The press would stampede. America would assume terrorists had taken over Florida’s links. DeShifty campaign contributors would steer clear of country clubs and public courses. Money would dry up. The governor would lose not only the election but maybe even his wife.

Yes, no matter how bad the hurricane damage, the country clubbers and their golf addiction would soon return to Florida even as countless people continue to suffer the consequences of climate change that would only get worse through mass ignorance. Most Florida golfers would dismiss, trivialize or ignore the danger, especially the richest of the breed, a posh ilk of self-absorbed blue bloods preening and posing on the links. Sam had something special for them, a personal coral sunshine surprise he’d been working on for some time.

Wearing a black watch cap, camouflage pants, old fashioned black rubber galoshes with metal clips, a black and green flannel long sleeve shirt buttoned to the neck and wraparound sunglasses like an East Los Angeles gangbanger, Sam headed out to check on his friends. From what he could see, Clearwater Beach survived pretty much intact except for palm fronds and trees on the street. Nobody in Sam’s tight social circle likely got hurt.

Safe and sound in her condo after a rough night of wind and rain, Kim Phillips labored over her newest dilemma. Hurricane or no hurricane, never trust a Russian military veteran or draft dodger or mercenary or whatever Ivan Popov was before he moved to America and messed up life as Kim knew it. She didn’t know Ivan lied when he told her he sold insurance for Prudential. When she let him go home she felt exhausted, afraid of herself when she pulled her pistol and held him at gunpoint – afraid of the feeling she wasn’t alone even when Ivan left in a hurry, just happy to be alive.

In reality all Ivan ever sold amounted to a voluminous pack of goods to any sucker he could find willing to take the bait. Kim let her emotions get the best of her as she battled her hidden internal demons and tried to figure out ways to be a good friend and neighbor. Ivan did come up with an insurance policy on his brother, though, a 100 percent bogus document that listed Borys’ assets to the best of his knowledge with a two million dollar payout to Kim as sole beneficiary.

Ivan forged Borys’ name on the policy that gave consent. And he signed his own name as a witness. And he wrote an addendum to the policy swearing Borys loved Kim as a secret admirer ever since he saw her picture in a real estate brochure, wanting her to be financially sound and set for life in the event of his death because he viewed her as a soulmate.

Kim had read the page-long policy, expressing amazement at this shocking announcement.

“He doesn’t even know me,” she said. “But he’s in love with me?”

Ivan never thought Kim would buy into this fantasy but saw the opening in her insecure innocence and took advantage, trying to milk Kim’s simplicity in any way he could. Killing Borys would finalize this uncivilized ruse and Ivan would steal any of his brother’s possessions he could grab.

“He’s just shy,” Ivan said.

“I’m so confused,” Kim said. “I don’t want to be part of this. I’m out.”

“Once in never out,” Ivan said. “First rule of Russian mob.”

“I’m not in the Russian mob,” Kim said.

“You are now social member of South Florida family,” Ivan said. “Take a few days to think over proposition. Then call me.”

That’s the last she heard of him before the storm. Kim wondered how her personal mental cyclone had happened so quickly. Had she known about Tara and Shannon sowing disorder within her psyche she would have understood this unholy alliance was not her fault. Her personality disorder had already careened out of control and needed severe medical management.

Kim had no memory of driving to Ivan’s place at the Spyglass, didn’t remember going into his studio apartment and half remembered punching him. She had no recollection of stuffing him into the car trunk. Her meeting with Ivan clouded her mind like one of those magic mushroom hallucination flashbacks she read about, a bizarre light show she dreamed after passing out after a bad drunk. As she struggled to put the pieces together, a knock sounded on her door.

“I’ll get it,” said new roommate Marty Durkin, who jumped up from the couch where he had been watching CNN’s Don Lemon get rained on in Orlando.

“Glad to see you made it,” said Ruby when he opened the door. “I’ll take off my gull mask if we can stand at a safe distance on the balcony.”

“Another survivor,” said Durkin, stepping aside to let her in and keeping his distance.

“I just checked on RayRay and he’s fine, practicing his Rolling Stones songs at the bar,” Ruby said.

“I am so happy you’re safe and sound,” said Kim rushing into the room from the kitchen at the sound of her friend’s voice. “I’ll open a bottle of wine.”

“Awesome,” Ruby said.

While Kim chose a bottle of California Central Coast pinot noir, Ruby took a seat across from Durkin.

“We have a problem,” she said.

“Florida is one big problem,” Durkin said.

“I’m not just talking about Governor Ian,” Ruby said.

Before Durkin could process the comment, Kim raced back in the room waving a corkscrew the way a butcher wields a boning knife as Kim’s split personality took over. Wild-eyed and frazzled, she screeched.

“Out of my way!”

Kim’s split personality Tara howled in an accent that reminded Durkin of all the drunken Irishmen and Irishwomen he met at the shore growing up in Stone Harbor.

“No, you get out of my way,” said Shannon, Kim’s second multiple personality.

Durkin stood ready to fight but didn’t know with whom to put up his dukes. Kim’s face contorted as she struggled to emerge from cerebral darkness and regain her composure. Snapping out of grim delusion she did her best to speak.

“Would you both like if I sliced some apples and Swiss cheese with our wine?”

Tara’s voice bulled her way into Kim’s voicebox.

“All hands on deck! All hands on deck! We need whiskey now!”

Shannon took up the call for booze.

“Whiskey! Whiskey!”

Ruby stood her ground facing Kim who seemed ready to collapse. Speaking in a confident tone, the cords stood out in Ruby’s neck. Lines of muscle in her arms tightened. Knuckles whitened as she clenched her fists and extended unseen energy she drew from her spiritual core.

“Out,” she said. “Santa Muerte orders you out. Devil spirits leave. Florida demons depart. Out.”

Kim dropped to the blue shag carpet. Rushing to her side, Durkin looked to Ruby then to Kim and back to Ruby.

“She’s in the strong hands of mother death,” Ruby said.

Durkin looked ready to run when another knock on the door shook him from their turmoil. Moving toward and slowly opening the door, Ruby shook her head as she smiled at a man wanted by every cop in Florida who now stood before her hiding in plain sight.

Sam Bennett gasped, breathing hard through his gull mask.

“I ran out of gin during the super gale,” Sam said. “Who’d like to make me a martini?”