Still hearing shrill voices in her head but not telling anyone, relief washed over Kim Phillips that the “girls,” as she now called them, were keeping to themselves. The exorcism must have scared split personalities Shannon and Tara into some kind of weird mental demilitarized zone as Kim tried to keep going about her business trying to sell luxury Clearwater Beach condominiums.
Ruby Arenas dutifully went to class, studied, swam long distances in the Gulf of Mexico in the morning, worked at RayRay’s at night and pondered becoming a full-time witch, casting black and white spells on elected political officials. She also wondered why she didn’t want a boyfriend. Honestly, Randall Lark was nice but came with too much baggage. Nobody else of any gender or no gender at all impressed her at the college, the restaurant or anywhere else. Mexican death saint Santa Muerte served as Ruby’s best friend, partner and role model. Marty Durkin also needed help with his past and not her type – better suited to Kim, who, like her, expressed no interest in relationships with anybody.
Unbeknownst to anyone, RayRay now faced a severe dilemma, continually second-guessing himself about making the wrong choice by accepting the U.S. Justice Department’s offer of plastic surgery, a new name, his own beach bar and a secure spot in the federal witness protection program.
His government handlers in Washington, D.C. loved him. After refusing to rat out Mafia bosses he knew all his life, he accepted a “contract” job that did appeal to him – hitting the hit men.
RayRay, born as Kevin Leary – that’s right, Irish – hated the mob. Growing up in Boston’s North End Italian neighborhood, he knew all the wise guys and the worst of the worst, psychotics who grew up to be hit men, killers, cold-blooded La Cosa Nostra button men.
More Molly Maguire than made man, Kevin Leary loved his Celtic blood lines. Revenge, justice and old-fashioned taking the law into his own hands appealed to him. Watching evil assassins he knew who was who and what was what. When he finally had enough of the wanton violence that intimidated and ruined the lives of good people he decided to do something about it.
A crooked Irish FBI agent who grew up with Kevin loved Kevin’s idea and introduced him to corrupt law enforcement contacts. The next week Kevin Leary hit his first hit man. The FBI agent picked up the tab for expenses – gun, bullets, hotel, car, new suit, dinner.
“May the road rise up to meet you,” Kevin Leary said before pulling the trigger.
Then he hit another hit man.
Within a year all over America the Mafia ran low on killers because Kevin Leary whacked the whackers. When he sensed he made his point and the mob was on the ropes losing power and influence in America, he decided to quit and call a press conference.
The feds went nuts and cut a deal: Keep killing what they called “bad guys” for one year, they said, and we’ll take care of you for life. The government loved Kevin Leary because he did what they wanted to do but couldn’t do in a nation of law.
OK said Kevin Leary.
“For one year I’ll hit all the hit men I can hit,” he said. “Then I’m out.”
“OK,” said the feds, including CIA bosses who also loved his work.
Twelve men fell dead in 12 months.
More than a decade later, RayRay lost his Boston accent and doubled down on a trace of a Buffalo dialect with the help of an FBI linguist and lived in peace. Masterful at changing the subject about his professional hockey career because it never existed, he loved cooking at the restaurant, wiping down the bar, playing drums in the house band, watching hockey on TV and looking after Dillon.
What RayRay hated was worrying about his sister. Nobody knew he shared blood with Kim Phillips except her and the feds who broke all their own rules by giving her a new identity and backstory because Kevin refused to cooperate and move to Florida without her. With their drunken abusive Irish parents having long ago killed themselves Kevin looked out for Kim better than a pedigree army of guard Dobermans. Kim suffered severe psychological trauma growing up, but Kevin always respected her wish to get better on her own without the doctors who disagreed about her diagnosis and mostly without her powerful medication. Now she had God knows how many voices singing sympathy for the devil in her head and was worse than ever.
Kevin Leary, aka RayRay Gagliardi, had no idea how to help.
RayRay wasn’t the only guy feeling confused by chaotic life events out of his control. With just a week to go before Christmas, Dillon finished his last rum and Coke of the night as he helped RayRay string colored lights around the bar. When RayRay locked up for the night and left, the poor bird couldn’t sleep. Depressed and anxious, the crusty parrot knew he needed to straighten up and fly right.
After all, he had a gull friend.
Partial to gulls over his own kind, for weeks he had his eye on one beach blanket bird he spotted sunbathing near Pier 60 as he cruised sunny skies when he could get out looking for a snack. Watching her daintily eating clam strips, she ignored him when he landed nearby. She ignored him when he strutted and flexed his muscles like a preening parrot Popeye the sailor man. She even ignored him when he sang a snippet from “Free Bird,” the Lynyrd Skynyrd song he learned from the jukebox at RayRay’s. The gull’s name was Margot and she had more important things on her mind than a parrot with a hangover, a dirty bird that reminded her more of a feral chicken than a newfound fine-feathered friend.
One day last week when Dillon spotted an unattended open foam take-out container loaded with a variety of Italian pasta delicacies displayed on an unoccupied beach towel, Dillon swooped. With a half dozen marinara-coated strands of pasta in his beak, he hovered over Margot’s head, dropping first one single tortellini. A cheap date, Margot devoured the morsel as Dillon now dropped a plump lobster ravioli which she swallowed in one gulp. Nervous in the service of love, Dillon girded his loins for a tender finale.
Holding one end of a slimy strand of white clam sauce encrusted linguine in his beak, he hovered, dangling the macaroni strand above Margot’s head as she looked up with warm dark eyes. Taking the other end of the noodle she gobbled until together they reached the middle.
Their beaks touched.
Love at first bite.
Despite inbred differences, him a parrot, she a gull, they shared the same fluttering instincts at a tumultuous time when the world needed all the friendship it could muster – or mustard if you count the potato salad Dillon and Margot found and shared for dessert on their first date.
If only for a moment, all was well in the world. If only for a moment, as a perfect cantaloupe sun sank into the shimmering horizon off a white sandy shore, that’s amore.
Dillon might not stop drinking but he was sick of people picking on poor Sam Bennett who only tried his best to save the world, the environment and the gulls.
Endangered Margot mattered.
The time had come to move to the top of the pecking order.
The time had come for Dillon to start pecking.