Romantic Couple at Sunset

Leep got himself a ferocious sunburn on his very first day at the resort, and subsequently had to wear thick lashings of sunscreen, a hat, and cover both his arms and legs to protect himself, even when he sought refuge in the shade under a tree or umbrella or beach canopy.

He regularly submerged himself in tub of cold water until his steaming skin warmed it to soup temperature, and took two extra-strength Advil every four hours as directed, to deal with the stinging pain of the burn. He lay in darkened rooms until the buoyant nausea subsided.

He watched the swimmers and boaters and fishers and wind-sailors with wistfulness and regret, even though he couldn’t swim and wouldn’t dream of paying $185 to frighten himself by wind sailing. And so he became an observer of others on vacation, not a vacationer himself.

There was the self-conscious newlywed couple, desperate to make romantic memories but curiously awkward and restrained; Felipe the activities director whose bright encouraging expressions dropped from his face in seconds when he turned his head away from the giddy group learning to line dance or build leis or use flippers. There was Alejandra, lean and muscular, who patrolled the pools and cafes and restaurants in a navy staff bikini and black pareo; the blonde sisters who took pains to befriend the staff and ignore the advances of other guests; the quiet man and woman who spent long days in the sun in silence and stillness, growing black; and the young family whose children were more dignified and well-mannered than their parents.

And Leep, anonymous in a wide rimmed straw hat, behind dark sunglasses, in long sleeves and grey cotton trousers that covered him to his ankles, distant and unapproachable.

Then, one day, he fell in love. He didn’t kid himself: love among the palms was a fantasy of Leep’s, at least it was since he researched and booked his ten days at a lushly landscaped all-inclusive tropical resort. There were photos online of couples laughing together in an azure pool, sipping exotic drinks in candlelit dining rooms, silhouetted by orange skies as they strolled hand in hand at twilight. He understood, of course he did, that these were marketing ploys, alluring and fantastical and unreal, but he fell under their spell nonetheless. The silhouette of the man could be Leep, why not? The woman could be a blonde sister, or Alejandra in a black pareo, or someone seated next to him at the fish and chip lunch, or someone he encountered not far from the resort, while sitting on a stool in deep cool shade, sipping Dos Equis and watching the beach vendors hawking their silver and leather.

Yes, there.

She was tall and too thin and wore a gauzy embroidered top cinched by a leather belt over jeans so faded as to be almost white in colour. Her leather sandals had loops that surrounded her big toes. She was dark, naturally, since she lived in constant sunshine, and her voice, though soft, betrayed too many years of smoking cigarettes.

“I quit in 1990,” she told Leep. “Cold turkey.” She spoke in short bursts like that, which Leep liked since they made his halting manner of speech seem almost normal.

“Another beer, Leep?” She took his empty glass and smiled at him with slightly raised eyebrows.

He’d already had his usual limit, two, but he smiled back, shrugged and nodded, and Lacey laughed and pulled another frosted green bottle from the little refrigerator with the glass doors.

Reggie was at the far end of the bar as he was every day, setting himself apart because the fragrant smoke from his pipe did not please everyone. He sat with his back to the beach, facing the tiny bar and the banyan tree behind that and the modest whitewashed hotel behind that. Soon Camille would roll out of bed and appear in her rumpled sundress and open weave cardigan sweater, ordering an orange juice, then and orange juice with vodka, then a vodka straight up.

Tourists strolling the beach might spot the small, shady, set-back oasis, but Leep knew it looked like a black hole from the sand, appealing only to someone like Leep, sweating under his hat and his shirt and with an eye for the black holes of the world.

Sometimes the curious would appear anyway, and perhaps have a drink with pineapple juice or slices of papaya which Lacey served up with a flourish, before setting off into the real world again. Reggie and Camille and Leep would fall silent for a while, as Lacey bantered with the fresh faces, and when they finally left Camille might pick up the story of her ex husband where she’d left off, or Leep would ask Lacey another question about her travels, or Reggie might say, “When did shoulder pads come back in style?”

Leep and Lacey, Reggie and Camille. They were a group. A gang. A comfortable clique. A casual club. An exclusive society of dark sitters, nectar sippers, easy idlers. Leep had never been a member of a group that welcomed him by choice, not ever. Among these people, Leep was a swaddled stranger, a mysterious man of few words, a kindred soul, a fellow traveller. He had never been happier in his life.

In the evenings, before bed, as he lingered in the tub of cold water he would dream about calling Mr Duffy and quitting his job, taking an inexpensive room at the whitewashed hotel, banging out his stories on a typewriter, sipping beer and sharing experiences with his group, his club. His friends. His woman.

Why not?

Uncle Al

Prompt: Connected

Alberto Demarco arrived at an awkward hour, as Deborah and her mother were finishing dinner and arguing about what to watch on television that evening. Since Vincent’s death, Deborah was obsessed with legal procedural programs, like “Law & Order”, while her mother, for the same reason, couldn’t bear to watch blood or violence or death, preferring reality TV. She liked “Survivor” and “Guy’s Grocery Games”.

People didn’t generally come by at that hour of the day, especially unannounced. But there was Vincent’s Uncle Al, on their front porch in the soft twilight, apologizing for disturbing them. There was a car at the curb, engine still purring, the silhouette of a heavy-set man at the wheel. Al explained he was sorry he missed the funeral as he was out of the country, but now wanted to pay his respects to Deborah and perhaps, help in some way.

They invited him in. “Your friend is welcome, too,” said Deborah’s mother.

“No, no,” said Uncle Alberto, and he gestured to the man in the car, who turned the engine off. “That’s ok, he’s good.”

Deborah’s mother put on a pot of decaf coffee, and the smell drifted into the living room, where Alberto sat on a high backed arm chair, facing Deborah across a coffee table stacked high with books. Coffee table books, in fact. Secrets of the Royal Family. A Model’s Life in Pictures. Illustrated Guide to Yoga, Pilates, and Deep Breathing. The Big Book of Astonishing Optical Illusions. Deborah’s mother liked books. Her family always knew what to get her for Christmas.

Uncle Al wore a suit. He looked very formal. Deborah was wearing jeans and one of Vincent’s summer sweaters, a brown pullover.

“Needless to say,” said Alberto, “I’m sorry about Vince.”

Deborah nodded. She’d always been a little intimidated by Uncle Al, by his size mainly, but also the cold serenity of the man. Impenetrable, inscrutable, and immune to Deborah’s or anyone’s perceived charms.

“And the cops have not arrested anyone?” he asked.

“No– well they did, a homeless man, but while he was in custody the killer struck again. Wounded a friend of Vincent’s, actually, when he tried to run away. Stole his wallet and phone.”


Deborah told him. She was surprisingly calm. Uncle Al had an inevitable air about him, too. No point in getting emotional, or curious, or resistant. Let Uncle Al handle it, whatever “it” was.

“It was late,” she said. “Hootie was walking home.”

Her mother put a tray of filled coffee cups and a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table, and passed around milk and sugar.

“There’s too much crime on the street at night,” she said. “People getting robbed and assaulted.”

“But not usually shot,” Deborah said. “Just my Vince, shot in the face–”

Her mother put a hand on Deborah’s wrist, to steady her.

“But Hootie was just wounded. He said the guy told him that he killed Vince.” There was an almost undetectable tremor in Deborah’s voice. Alberto Demarco heard it, though. “Why would he do that?”

“I thought it was all over, when they got that old man.” Deborah’s mother sighed deeply. The tremor in her voice was not subtle. “So this guy, this murderer, is just walking the street, free, it’s not fair, I–”

Now the daughter comforted the mother. Deborah broke a piece of chocolate chip cookie and fed it to her mother as if she were an infant, and then put a warm coffee cup into her hands, urging her mother to drink.

“I was close to Frank,” said Alberto. “I promised him I would look after his family when he passed. I’m sorry. I couldn’t protect Vincent. But I would like to help you now.”

“Thank you,” said Deborah. They did need help, there was no point pretending otherwise. Vince left very little behind. Alone, she couldn’t afford to keep up the mortgage on their little house. She didn’t want to lose it. It was full of Vincent.

Uncle Al understood. He would do everything he could. “And who can I talk to about what happened to Vincent? Is there a lawyer, a cop?”

“The police don’t tell us much,” said Deborah’s mother. “They have been kind, but don’t seem to know any more than we do.” She paused. “There is a friend of Vincent’s who keeps a kind of scrapbook. All the newspaper clippings,  the reports, the interviews and so on. He is recording it all in Vincent’s memory, he says, and for us. Would that be helpful?”

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” said Uncle Al. “And to Hootie. And I’ll take you both out for dinner, no argument.” He got to his feet. “What’s the friend’s name?”

“Leep,” said Deborah. “He’s a strange one, Uncle Al, but he means well.”


Prompt: Fearless


The police came to the factory, to interview everyone about the death by murder of Vincent Demarco. It was lunchtime, and almost everyone was in the social club, some playing pool, some talking on the phone, some sitting alone nursing egg sandwiches. Beer wasn’t served at lunch. But you could buy a Coke or a Snapple, or bring your own beverage and store it in the fridge, if you trusted people.

Leep usually brought a carton of chocolate milk. Sometimes it was still in the fridge at lunch, sometimes it wasn’t. People were dishonest, he felt. They proved it all the time, lying to you, stealing milk, and sometimes making fun of you for no reason, while pretending to be your friend. He’d learned that on his own, through experience. He believed you should learn things every day, just by living.

They were interviewing every single person, alone. They would be questioning Leep about Vince, and the night he was shot. In the face. Was that fact reported on the news? Leep thought it was, but wasn’t sure. He wouldn’t mention it unless they did. He would just lay low and try not to be nervous. Try not to show how nervous he was. What if they gave him a lie detector test? Were the results admissible in court? He was pretty sure they were.

Billy was the first to follow them into the manager’s office, vacated so the police could have some privacy. Billy had griped about them cutting into the lunch hour, instead of work time. When he came back from the manager’s office, he was all cocky and smug, because it was over and he knew what they would say, and no one else did.

The wait to be summoned was agonizing. Leep’s stomach was doing flip flops. Finally Brendan returned and said “Your turn, Leep,” rolling a fist into Leep’s upper arm. He pulled away. He wondered how they decided who they would see, in what order. The most suspicious first, or last, or random, to keep everyone off balance?

Mr Duggin’s office was stuffy. There were no windows, and nothing to circulate the air. There were two officers, a heavy-set man and a woman with red hair, neither in uniform. The room smelled of sawdust and fried food. They had Leep sit in a hard-backed chair, while the woman sat in Mr Duggin’s swivel chair and the man sat on the corner of the oak desk.

“Leep, is it?” asked the woman. Her hair was shiny. She hadn’t taken off her overcoat, which was still damp with rain.

He nodded. He decided he wouldn’t volunteer any information. Unless it would make him seem defensive. He would have to be careful about that.

“I’m Inspector Spencer, and this is Inspector Levinson,” she said, nodding to her partner. “How well did you know Vincent?”

“Well we work together,” said Leep.

“Yes, but were you friends, did you see him outside of work?” asked Levinson. He looked like he made a mess of his morning shave. His cheeks and chin looked a bit raw, but a bit stubbly too.

“We went to a hockey game once,” said Leep.

“Did you? When was that?”

“Most of the guys went,” said Leep. “It was the Monday of the long weekend.”

“The guys from the factory,” said Inspector Spencer.

Leep nodded. He felt his palms grow warm, and probably sweaty. He hoped the fact that his heart was pounding didn’t show on his face.

“Where were you on the night of the twenty-second, between eleven pm and midnight?” asked the man.

“Um,” said Leep. He didn’t want it to seem like he had an alibi all worked out ahead of time. “I was at home, I didn’t go out.”

“Home alone?” he asked.

Leep nodded again.

“Did you call anyone, did anyone come to the door, can anyone verify that you were at your home at…” The Inspector checked his notepad. “…411 Lord McAllister?”

“Um,” said Leep. “No, I was just watching TV and that.”

“Do you own a gun, Leep?”

“No, sir.”

“Did you get along with Vincent?”


“Do you know his wife, Deborah Demarco?”

“I met her a couple of times,” said Leep.

“A very attractive woman,” said the Inspector.

Leep said nothing. Debbie was really pretty, even though she sometimes dressed a bit too sexy, he thought. Sometimes she picked Vince up at the club in just shorts and a cropped top. She had long legs; slim thighs. Leep wondered if Vince really had met her at the adventure camp. She was cheerful, and smiled a lot. Leep guessed she was not cheerful at the moment. He felt sorry about that. At least they didn’t have any children.

“Tell us what happened that night at Toby’s, about a year and a half ago,” said Inspector Spencer.

Leep flushed. It was a while ago, before he started saving up for the vacation. He’d got up the nerve to talk to a girl sitting at the bar. He didn’t know the girl was there with anyone. When he tried to talk to her, the words tumbled out of his mouth and made no sense, and she started to laugh. Then her boyfriend came over, and he laughed too. He was not threatened by Leep. As if Leep would be of interest to his girlfriend. Ha, it was a ridiculous thought. So they laughed, and Leep punched him in the face.

The police were called, and he got a warning, and had to leave. But they didn’t arrest him or anything, and so he wondered how these two knew about it. Someone must have said something.

So Leep told them a version of the story; that he had too much to drink and approached a girl, and a fight broke out with her boyfriend. That was normal enough, right?

“Do you often lose your temper?” asked Levinson.

Leep felt a bit sick. He wished they would at least open the door, let in some air.

“No I just had a few beers,” he said.

“Are you sure you didn’t leave the house that night?” asked the woman.

Leep hesitated. What if someone had seen him walking around? He felt like he might choke if he said something. He took a deep breath, though, and said he didn’t think so.

“You’re not sure?” she asked.

“Pretty sure,” said Leep.

Inspector Levinson stood up and extended his hand. “That’s all for now, Leep,” he said.

Leep stood up too and instinctively took the Inspector’s hand to shake it. Then he pulled his hand back.

Leep’s palm was ice cold, but wet with sweat. Levinson stared at him.

“Could you ask Wayne to come in?” said Levinson. His face betrayed nothing, not that he thought Leep was lying or telling the truth, or if his hand was unusually sweaty and that was a sign, or if he thought Leep was a violent type because of that boyfriend at Toby’s. Did he know that some people called him Leep the Creep? Would any of the guys tell him that? Would they search his house for a gun? Would he ask Debbie if Leep ever stared at her? He didn’t, he really didn’t. Vince liked to think that he envied him, but he really didn’t stare at her. She was not  his type.

Leep went back to the lunch area. There was no one there; lunch was over. So he found Wayne on the floor and passed along the message. Then he went to the men’s room, and vomited into the toilet.


Image: johnpence.com