Swan Dive! Ch. 44: One More to Kill

Churning from the west, a waterspout funnel cloud would have received less attention.

Wide eyes followed the enormous parasail decorated with a smiley face as its canopy flailed from side to side in the darkening sky, spinning out of control above horrified crowds standing on Pier 60 and scattered up and down the rice white beach. No way could this tragedy in the making end well.

Randall Lark stopped in mid-lick of a double-decker pistachio ice cream cone. All that morning he had pondered leaving Florida and America for good. Heading back to Africa, like so many cracker white folks had suggested to his kind since the end of the Civil War, was looking better every day. People skills other than killing techniques he learned in the Army and put to work in Afghanistan might serve him well. He could work with kids and help villagers with health care, education or other economic empowerment projects – a one man Peace Corps.

Randall could turn the damning racist order around, make going back to Africa his own idea, claiming the slur the way some of the young brothers claimed ownership of the word “nigger.” Randall hated that word no matter who used it, but if anybody owned the epithet his people did. Blacks earned ownership with slavery, lost lives, chains, modern day-to-day oppression and perennial white-hot bigotry.

Go back to Africa, nigger.

OK, motherfucker, I’ll do just that.

Randall hated that crude word as well, insulting motherhood with a vicious smear he never understood. Who came up with the m-bomb as a password to brotherhood? He doubted Muhammed Ali ever used the word. But sometimes it just felt good to let loose with a bombshell profanity that made white people cringe.

Down the beach Marty Durkin abruptly ended his daily run and looked skyward. Just that morning he had decided to move back to New Jersey. He didn’t fit in Florida, missed good pizza and felt lonely. People were nice to him, but he carried too much mental baggage to relax and move forward. He’d go home, rent a small apartment near Stone Harbor, maybe in Ocean City. Durkin had failed to escape himself. Life would never be good again. He’d atone for his sins, visit his parents’ graves and grow old alone. If he gathered the courage, he’d visit Tyrone Lark’s grave as well. The boy he shot and killed in the line of duty deserved as much.

When RayRay spotted the parasail he stood calmly clipping his nails in a Pier 60 parking lot, wearing a black t-shirt, gangster Italian loafers with silk socks and a black pinstriped suit that drew every degree of 85-degree heat. He removed mirror-lensed wraparound Ray-Ban sunglasses as he stared at the accident waiting to happen. The two Russians who had threatened his sister Kim on the phone had agreed to meet him at the pier to discuss a real estate deal but hadn’t shown up yet. Kim’s crazed alter ego Becky had directed RayRay to the two Moscow hitmen as part of her forever unpredictable wheeling and dealing. RayRay planned for the mobsters to follow him to Sam Bennett’s old empty room at the Spyglass Apartments where RayRay had locked three hungry alligators and two Burmese pythons he bought special for this occasion from a redneck trapper husband and wife who lived in a cabin in the Everglades. RayRay befriended the young lovebirds at the Elbow Room when they stayed one weekend in Clearwater Beach on vacation. They never asked what he intended to do with his new pets. RayRay never told.

Even Rocco and Ricco, “The Terrible Tag Team from Hell,” stopped practicing their professional wrestling chokeholds on each other in the Pier 60 children’s playground to watch the drama unfold in the sky and prepare for the worst.

None of them knew Sam Bennett and Kim Phillips, let alone crazy Becky, hung and swung in the balance of the runaway parasail.

Only Dillon the Elbow Room’s drunken parrot mascot stopped slurping warm puddles of beer from overturned cans he found in the Dumpster long enough to scramble and take off like an F-15 fighter jet racing to Margot’s side as soon as he spotted his gull friend trailing the uncontrolled parasail that snared her friend Sam.

From where Ruby Arenas stood in the sand the apprentice sorceress knew exactly what was going down – actually going up, down and all around. Mexican death spirit Santa Muerte who infused Ruby with the power of the ancients also read the reality of the fierce sky. As she guided warrior women over the centuries in their secret battle against sexism and evil – the same offense – Santa Muerte empowered Ruby with a superhuman will to persevere.

In the parasail the battle to survive continued.

“Let’s crash, Sam,” Becky said. “Just like Romeo and Juliet. We’ll go to heaven together.”

“I don’t believe in heaven,” Sam said. “When we’re dead, we’re dead. We just disappear.”

“So let’s disappear,” Becky said.

“Nope,” said Sam. “I’m almost ready to fly, to solo like a bird.”

Becky’s insane cackle sounded like a truck full of chickens going over a cliff.

“You’re one strange bird all right,” she said.

Wind flared, gusting, blustery and primitive, twirling and swirling the parasail almost upside down as Becky menacingly waved her hook knife in Sam’s face. Calm as a gray stone garden Buddha, Sam continued to enjoy the view.

“Let’s cut the strings that bind us to this rotten life,” Becky said. “C’mon, cutie, let me cut our harnesses and drop free as your birds.”

“You’ve lost it, Kim,” Sam said. “Your split personality controls your life – even going so far as to advocate double suicide. You need help. I’ll help. We’ll all help.”

“Not me,” said Becky. “Not me.”

Becky’s babble picked up as did the wind, her shrieks building to a terrifying wail. Seconds later the wind stopped. Stillness filled the air. The parasail’s momentum slowed as the hulking smiley face descended gently into the water where lifeguards swimming and in boats prepared to haul the two passengers to safety.

Few people on the shore had noticed Ruby standing with tanned toes touching and her long arms extended, reaching, extending energy into the cosmos. Breathing slowly, mindfully, she had exhaled and directed with her mind each moment of the parasail’s surprising landing in the calm salt water.

Santa Muerte watched Ruby navigate the rescue all by herself.

“Continue to do good things,” Santa Muerte said.

“I promise,” Ruby said. “I only have one more enemy to kill.”

Santa Muerte’s eyes blazed.


“Becky,” Ruby said.

Santa Muerte showed a mouth full of polished teeth in the shape of skulls. Perplexed but knowing never to question her teacher, Ruby waited for the answer she knew would come. The skull teeth scared her. Sometimes Santa Muerte flashed fangs like a shadowy vampire ready to bite into the throat of another human sacrifice. Sometimes her teeth glistened like perfect precious pearls hanging from the neck of a movie star posing on the red carpet at a Hollywood premier.

“You might not have to kill one more,” Santa Muerte said.

Pointing a long bony finger tipped with a sharpened red fingernail, she gestured to the grandiose pastel pink hotel and condominium complex that stood like a palace on the road opposite the beach.

“He might do it for you,” she said.

A glint of sunshine flashed off the barrel of a rifle protruding from the penthouse window and caught Ruby’s eye. A former Russian special forces captain wearing a Yankees baseball cap and a cheap Hawaiian shirt decorated with hula girls dancing in a conga line squinted behind the sight of a 6S8 sniper rifle he pointed at the parasail. Intent on engaging what his orders called “two high priority targets” using powerful 12.7x108mm ammunition, the KGB assassin prepared to squeeze the trigger.

Santa Muerte showed her teeth.

“Now what, Ruby?” she asked.