Lowering the loaded gun from his temple, Randall Lark removed his finger from the trigger and opened his eyes.
The suicide note said this:
“I will be the last person to die by my hand. I am sorry for everything. You should be, too.”
With trembling hands Randall stuffed the paper and the gun into the deep pocket of his purple board shorts he bought and wore when he taught himself to surf at the north end of the beach at the double-sandbar beach break known as 880. Driving to the beach now he thought about the vacationing brother he met there one morning who laughed and told him Blacks don’t surf.
Blacks don’t what?
This Black man planned to break more than a few unwritten rules in whatever time he had left on this sad, endangered planet.
But he wouldn’t kill Marty Durkin.
People back home on the block in Philly expected him to have already killed the ex-cop and turn the gun on himself. Murder/suicide happens all the time. Anybody who knew Randall Lark knew he’d take a lot of mental pressure before reacting but once he moved on you there was no turning back.
Kill Randall’s baby brother and die. Everybody knew a date with the reaper was set in stone – as in headstone – as soon as that New Jersey cop killed baby Tyrone in what cops called an accident. Yeah, everybody knew a bullet was headed his way. Randall fully expected to ice that honky-assed Jersey cracker. Then he’d ice himself. Put an end to suffering for Durkin and himself.
But the cold metal barrel against his head only made Randall think about life and living as best he could to honor his parents, to honor the memory of Tyrone, to honor the memory of the little boy he couldn’t save from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Instead he’d hunt down and haunt Durkin wherever he went. Shadow him into guilty mental submission. Drown him beneath the weight of a culpable conscience like a walking, talking “psyop,” that stands for psychological operation, the savage American CIA and military tactic that plays with people’s heads and drives them crazy.
He’d love for Durkin to lose his mind and decide to kill himself. That would be just. But Randall’s conscience told him that was wrong. Getting even didn’t make life better. Revenge showed weakness. Vengeance wasn’t his, sayeth the Randall. Thinking such thoughts made him laugh. Randall never saw himself as any prince of peace but peace was the answer. Calm discipline showed strength. Randall needed Black power now more than ever.
Soothing rays of sunshine warmed him as he paddled his surfboard far enough into the Gulf of Mexico to dump the note and the gun into deep water. When he sensed the rise of a two-foot wave, he got unsteadily to his feet and rode the small swell into shallow water before stepping off.
Ruby Arenas had been watching from the shore ever since finishing her morning swim. She, too, liked the isolation of the north beach as long as she got there ahead of the surfers and could enjoy the water that embraced and taught her everything she needed to know about life and death. She had spotted the surfer on her way in and wondered why he had paddled out so far. Then she recognized him.
Randall looked down at the sand when she approached him.
“I was worried about you,” she said. “You were out so far anything can happen.”
“You were out pretty far yourself,” he said. “Then you dove and didn’t surface.”
“I’m a good underwater swimmer,” she said.
Beads of sweat wet their bare shoulders beneath the yawning apricot sun.
“How have you been?” he asked.
“Cool,” she said.
“What’s that mean?”
“You, know, getting by.”
“You’re not wearing your COVID mask,” Randall said.
“We’re outside,” Ruby said. “Mother Nature’s looking after me and keeping us at a distance.”
Laughing together they sat on the sand facing a brightening sky, Randall stretching out long legs, Ruby pulling hers to her chest and wrapping her arms around her knees. A long minute passed in silence.
“Durkin told us about your brother. Were you really going to kill him the other night at RayRay’s?” Ruby asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I hate guns,” she said.
“Me, too,” Randall said. “That’s why I paddled out and threw away my gun.”
“Peace of mind is good,” Ruby said.
“Easier said than done,” Randall said.
Ruby felt embarrassed but said what she’d been thinking ever since she first met Randall.
“You called me sister when I served you,” she said. “I never thought of myself as Black.”
“I think too much about it,” Randall said.
“About me being Black?” she asked.
“No, me,” he said.
Again they laughed, feeling closer in their simple admission that opened each one to the other. Sitting in silence, they watched two dolphins surface and dive about 50 yards from shore, swimming beneath a flock of gulls that flew so close together their wings seemed to touch like angels playing tag in the sky.
“What’s the difference between a person of color and a Black person?” Ruby asked.
“We’re all people of color,” Randall said. “Except white people.”
“We’re both Black?” Ruby asked.
“We’re both Black,” Randall said.
“My Cuban father’s skin looked like a piece of Werther’s Original candy,” Ruby said. “My Mexican mother’s skin was dark as chocolate mole sauce. I look like molasses.”
“Nothing wrong with brown sugar brown, sister,” Randall said.
Randall and Ruby laughed again, louder this time, feeling closer with each small wave that washed gently over the sand.
“They tell me it’s a free country,” Randall said. “Call yourself whatever you like. Just don’t call yourself white.”
Ruby looked deep into Randall’s eyes that shined like vibrant black coral.
“I’m also a witch, you know,” she said.
“Black magic?” Randall asked.