In the flickering glow of a blue candle Ruby’s face resembled a ghost, a soul shadow from the netherworld. Bathed in purple light from the fluorescent art deco circle hanging on the outside balcony wall of her new efficiency apartment her caramel skin blended to glow as a lush ripe plum. Sitting in a white plastic chair at a circular metal table she covered with a Mexican linen tablecloth embroidered with red roses, Ruby silently watched her date’s eyes for a sign.
Moving to a new one-bedroom apartment on New Year’s Day thrilled her. Most of her possessions still filled cardboard boxes in the dingy cramped place where she lived since relocating to Clearwater Beach. When RayRay bought the 15-unit waterfront motel and refurbished the place into a retro 60s-style long-term rental oasis, he invited Ruby to be his first tenant. Painted creamsicle orange and lime vodka green, RayRay’s Paradise overlooked Clearwater Harbor. The two-story building boasted a swimming pool and a dock leading all the way to RayRay’s Elbow Room.
Ruby loved communing with the water.
Mysterious spirits of the deep frolicked in the harbor each morning, entertaining her as she drank fresh orange juice. When not in class she conjured spells in the afternoon and extended good vibes at night across small lapping waves that rippled below the spacious dark sky. For the first time in her life she honestly felt like a bruja, a sorceress with the power of life and death in her hands.
On the other side of the romantic flickering flame, Randall Lark looked glum. Of course he felt good, better than good, when Ruby asked him over for champagne and fish spread, an exotic meal as far as he was concerned that only added to her allure. Being from Philly, Randall liked cheesesteaks, roast pork sliders and scrapple. But his mind was elsewhere.
Randall felt the adrenaline surge with his desire to take the law into his own hands the way he did when he killed as a soldier. Somebody needed to shoot that Russian billionaire. Maybe throwing his gun into the Gulf of Mexico wasn’t such a good idea. He could easily buy another, a sniper rifle maybe. Any number of targets loomed on the pastel horizon of corporate and government corruption. Ruby had talked with him about peace of mind for hours on the beach, while railing against dirty politicians and the harm they do to people like them.
People like his dead baby brother Tyrone.
People like his beloved mother and father.
White business executives killed his mother and father by pushing menthol cigarettes at them for decades with the ease of high-flying heroin dealers. Selling smokes is much easier, of course, because tobacco is legal. Feeding America’s nicotine addiction and destroying addicts with lung cancer, strokes and heart attacks also helps the medical and insurance industrial complex that’s worse than the military industrial complex.
As for Ruby, a drunken state senator smashed head-on into her parents’ car and crushed them both. Police charged the longtime elected official with DUI but the attorney general from the same political party ruled her parents at fault in the accident. Witnesses who disagreed with the judgment suddenly clammed up. The DUI charge quickly disappeared. The senator sued her parents’ insurance company for damages.
Maybe Randall should track down members of the cigarette company board of directors.
Maybe he should stake out the senator.
Nobody would know he pulled the trigger until they finally figured out his identity and motive. Maybe he’d call a press conference and announce his mission. He wouldn’t tell Ruby, but she’d know anyway. She seemed able to read minds, especially his. Ruby was right about corruption, of course. That’s one reason he liked her. She survived as a thinker brave enough to act, a witch, too, she told him proudly, who took seriously her calling on both sides of her Mexican/Cuban families.
A witch? Man, Randall thought, a witch. He dug her though. He dug her a lot. She could see right through him when he thought he kept the darkness hidden deep inside his innermost identity as a Black man.
Blackness meant something to him white people would never understand. Ruby wasn’t African American, but he knew she knew what made him tick like a time bomb. Randall sensed her ticking as well. Rage was cool as long as you kept the frenzy under control. Rage could and should be channeled. That kind of control could save the world. Rage turned to Black power meant a change was coming, but at what cost? Some of the brothers and sisters sold out for big money, rapping and seducing white girls dancing hip hop like they grew up in North Philly instead of the Jewish suburbs of Northeast Philadelphia. Some people were too poor to sell out because they had nothing to sell.
White people never understood.
White people never would understand the heart and soul of soul.
Slavery said it all. Slavery created America. If half the country could bring back chains and the auction block they would. Even well-meaning white people take their white privilege for granted with many arguing such privilege doesn’t even exist.
Maybe Randall should go back to the gun.
“Thinking those heavy thoughts again?” Ruby asked.
“Sorry,” Randall said.
“How’s the fish spread and crackers?”
“Great with the hot sauce,” he said.
Randall tensed when he heard the knock at the door.
“Relax, dude,” Ruby said. “It’s just our main course. Follow me.”
RayRay stood on the other side of the door holding a tray piled high with extra-large stone crab claws.
“You know the best part about these claws?” Ruby asked Randall.
“Other than they taste like some of your sweet hoodoo dipped in melted butter?” he said with a small laugh, trying to lighten up.
“The claws grow back,” Ruby said. “They really do. You remove the claws, throw the crab back into the water and in a year the claws are back. Like renewable energy.”
“Is that really true?” Randall asked.
“No illusion here,” Ruby said.
“Pity champagne doesn’t grow back when you finish the bottle,” RayRay said. “Let me know when you can make that magic happen, Ruby.”
“You never know, RayRay,” she said. “I hear that at RayRay’s Elbow Room anything is possible.”