Sunday, April 15, 2012

Issue #26: April, 2012


The morning the Moon man's wife disappeared, Hazeldeen worked the front desk. Her least favorite duty at the resort. She preferred working the Tiki bar, even when the hitey-titey British men with their big mustaches snapped their fingers at her.

In the blessed lull between sending more towels to the Australians at the pool, explaining that mainland cell phones didn't work on the island to a couple of wide-eyed New Yorkers cradling their iPhones, and asking housekeeping to shoo a cockroach out of the shower for the retired German couple, she saw the pasty white newlywed holding one sandal and staggering in the sand like a crab.

He wore cargo shorts and an aloha shirt from the gift shop. Puffy and white, he looked like he wore a spacesuit. So, the nickname. Him and his new bride had arrived yesterday with few clothes. Told her it was a lark, an elopement. Every newlywed couple was giddy, but Moon man and Freckle girl were different. They tipped well, they laughed loud. They had no complaints.

The night before, they had closed the bar with her.

Most newlyweds were nowhere to be seen on day one. Making love on every surface of their thousand dollar room. Hazeldeen had heard stories from the housekeepers. The faces they made, after wiping everything down.

She was glad all her Henry had required was mannish water and Wadadli beer. They had both liked their well-worn bed just fine. Three boys and a girl, they made on that bed, before he got the cancer, three years ago now. All of them still in school. Her Anna was getting older now, she'd want her own room. They needed a bigger house, and there was land next door. Build a new house; the old one would make a fine restaurant, she thought.

Then no more serving fruity drinks to tourists all night.

"Two more Antigua Breezes please, Hazeldeen."

"Yes, sir."

"Please, call me Jeremy." He was doughy and nervous like a little dog. He had black hair and bushy eyebrows. Soft brown eyes like a baby goat's.

"Hazeldeen," Freckle Girl smiled. "That's such a pretty name, darlin'." She was all teeth and sun spots. Sun streaked brown hair and big sunglasses, even at night. "I'm Katie Lynn."

Hazel smiled. Not everyone bothered to read name tags, or shake her hand.

"What brings you to our island?"

"We're newlyweds," he said, and gave his well-tanned bride a squeeze.

"Yep, we just up and got married. Bout time he made an honest girl of me."


"Lovely place for a honeymoon," he said.

"Like we walked into a postcard," his wife said, sipped. "How long have you been here?"

"Twelve years." It did not feel that long now. Some nights it did. "Where are you from?" She wiped down the bar.


"Mexico," she finished for him. "Albuquerque. So nice to be near the ocean."

"I love listening to the surf," he said.

They had the bar to themselves, so they listened. Drank. Talked her into drinking a few. Hector, the manager, was away from his perch. Hazeldeen made a pitcher of gin and fruit juice.

"I call this gin and sin. It's your wedding night. I should get you some mannish water," Hazel said.

"What's that?"

"Goat soup. Not the good parts," she wrinkled her nose. "Makes you strong, gives men… energy," she laughed. "To make many children."

"Goat parts, huh? I think I'll pass," he said, and drank.

"I think this punch is working just fine," Freckle girl said.

"You pour a good drink," he said. "You should start your own place."

"Oh, some day. I like to cook."

"Not that man water, I hope."

"No, no," she laughed. "Pepperpot. Vegetables, some pork. Stewed a long time."

"Sounds like gumbo," Freckle girl said. "My father'd come home with whatever he shot, and we'd have a stew of it."

"Hope we're not keeping you up late," he said. "Maybe we should head back to our room."

"Oh, it's that time, is it?" She smirked.

Hazeldeen smiled. Now they were acting the couple.

"Put this toward your restaurant fund," he said, and tucked bills into her hand. He put his arm around his wife, and she nestled into him. They stumbled in the sand back to their cabin.

Hazeldeen gasped and stuffed the notes into her shirt. Three hundred dollar bills.


Jeremy looked paler this morning, as he approached. Hair a black bird's nest. He smelled of sunscreen and sex.

She smiled. "Maybe you needed mannish water?"

His little eyes darted, baby face peppered with stubble. He was hung over for sure, but his gut was wrenched by other means, Hazeldeen thought.

"Have you seen Katie? I woke up alone. The sliding doors were open." He rubbed his forehead. "I found this on the beach."

He held up the one sandal.

"Could she have gone for a swim?"

"I didn't see her in the surf."

"There is a grotto around the jetty," she said. "Many colorful fish. Ira, the beach director, brings people there."

His eyes plead, but his lips were tight.

"I'll call him," she said, and picked up the phone. "Go to the beach, by the catamaran boats."

"Thank you." He swallowed, and waddled off. Flip flops full of sand.

Ira picked up after a dozen rings.

"Good morning, my broad-bottomed beauty."

"Lisa is sick today. This is Hazeldeen."

"I know who I'm speaking with."

"A guest named Jeremy is looking for his wife. A tall American girl with many freckles, long brown hair."

"She took a boat this morning. Been some hours now. I cannot leave until Oscar comes back with his Germans."

"What if she fell out the boat?"

"She has a life jacket. She worked the sail with skill. Here comes your man now."

"He's a good man. Help him out."

"He looks like pizza dough. She wanted to see the grotto. When Oscar comes, we'll find her."


Hazeldeen spent the morning handing out fresh towels. How can people use so many towels? She gazed at the Tiki bar. Hector manned the blender. Smiling large. He was slow, but fancied himself a showman. She shook her head, caught the hint of black in the corner of her eye.

"Honey. That beach is beautiful, but you see it all the time. You were daydreaming, there."

The man was short and dark. Black hair combed back. A large gold chain on his neck. Small, fine hands. A polo shirt and shorts. Fresh off the plane.

"How may I help you, sir?"

"Lookin' for a couple of friends of mine. From New Jersey. Well, one of them. The broad's from New Orleans. Y'all this, y'all that."

"We have many couples here, sir."

"How many are a fat geek and a hot hillbilly broad? They just got hitched."

"You'd be surprised."

"Would I now? He's my cousin Jerry. Smart kid. We were gonna throw a big Italian wedding for him, but he up and anteloped on us."


He smiled with tiny white teeth. His crow's feet dug deep. "You're pretty sharp, island girl. Anyhoo, I got a present for them, from his uncle. It's a surprise." He peeled a hundred off a large roll, tucked it in her shirt pocket. "You see them, I'll be by the pool. Come get me." He patted her breast.

She narrowed her eyes.

"And send me one of them mai tais," he said, and wagged his numbered room key, strutting to the palm trees that ringed the pool.

"Your name, sir?"

"Call me bwana," he laughed, boat shoes slapping the concrete path.

Ira's phone rang and rang. Could she call the police? He was up to no good, but the man was a guest. Not the first to touch her like that. Her hips were a magnet for slaps from wrinkled hands.

Hector's back was to her. He spilled grenadine, a clumsy show for an audience of men with shorts hiked high and ladies with chicken legs. She moved quickly toward the beach.

"Hazeldeen! Where are you going?" Hector called. "No one is manning the desk!"

"I have to use the ladies' room!"

The patrons laughed. Hector glared.

Ira's station was empty. The sign-up sheet read Jeremy, 9:20. Katie Lynn, 8:00.

She scrawled "your cousin wants to see you" across the sheet in pencil, then hurried back.
The phone rang at the front desk. The black-haired man behind it.

"Sir, that is not allowed!"

He held up a towel. "Just getting one of these." He flipped it over his shoulder, and headed down the cabin path.

Hazeldeen picked up the phone. "Front desk, how may I help you? More towels, yes. And new sheets? Oh my."

The old man made a joke about little blue pills, and she laughed.

Her smile faded. The register book was open. Jeremy Loscalzo and wife, cabin 33. She checked the drawer for the master key. It was still there.

Lunchtime came, and Hector brought her a hamburger on a plate. "You must work through. Too many out today."

She took a bite. "Done making a mess of the bar, are you?"

"The guests want fun."

"You're going to knock a guest's head in, the way you throw the tumbler."

"They want entertainment," he said.

"They want their drinks quickly. Not on the floor."

"I know, you've done it twelve years, little woman. With that attitude, you will do it twelve more." He had become manager in five, his crooked smile told her.

"I will finish my lunch at the bar."

"Clean the lemons off the floor," he called. "There was an accident."

No phone at the bar. She could not call Ira, or their cabin.

Hazeldeen put on her smile and poured ice drinks, scanning the beach for the couple when she could.

She did not see them.


When her shift was done, she carried a stack of towels to cabin 33. This is silliness, she thought. You will interrupt them making love on top of the sink and see Moon man's pasty buttocks.

She placed her ear to the door. Talking inside. She turned the master key slowly as she could, peeked in the door.

Jeremy was on his knees, clutching his head. A scrape of blood parted his hair.

The nasty little man stood over him, his back to her. He held up his fist, admiring it like a piece of ripe fruit. A large, jagged ring gleamed from the little finger. His other hand held a lit cigar.

"That hurt, didn't it Jerry? I call my right hand The Five Stages of Grief."

Jeremy looked up at the man's hand, his eyes wet.

"That was Denial. See, you're in denial still. You think you can lie to me. But you can't. Next comes Anger. You ain't gonna like that. Then Bargaining. You'll offer me money. Then Depression, when I kick your bankroll up that flabby ass of yours. When you're bleeding from every hole I ain't cauterized with my stogie, then comes Acceptance."

"Bobby, please," Jeremy said. He coughed, soft body jiggling.

"Sometimes. Sometimes not, and I gotta kill you. Why don't we skip all that shit? I don't like it any more than you will," he said, and puffed the cigar into a bright ember. "Guys shit their pants. Blubber and puke.

"No? Okay then."

He touched the cigar to Jeremy's nipple.

Jeremy shrieked. Hazeldeen joined him.

Bobby's head snapped around, caught her covering her mouth. She ran out the door.

The door slammed, and loud footsteps followed. Her strong legs pumped hard. She ducked into the bushes between cabins, toward Ira's beach station.

"This broad's got my money!"

Ira was not there. No time for tricks. She slid between windsurfing boats.

The little nasty man, Bobby, waved his cigar, panting. I could have outrun him, she thought. Too late now. She swung the oar thin side first. Like the rude boys swung a cricket bat, as a weapon.

It connected with his ribs. He groaned and slid to his behind in the sand, hunched over.

People were coming. No time for another swing. She ran back to the cabin.

She found Jeremy with his tit in the ice bucket.

"We should leave," she said.

"It hurts!"

"Take it with you."


"You cannot stay with me."

Hazeldeen drove her red Subaru Brat very fast through the narrow roads. Dodging people, skimming the wide gutters. She honked at a taxi.

"Where am I gonna stay?" Jeremy clutched a handful of ice from the bucket to his chest.

"I do not need this trouble!"

"I can pay. I can buy you that restaurant," he cried. "Please."

"Where is your wife? Who was that man? What is going on, you fool with too much money?" They were like children, these tourists.

"He works for my uncle."

"What did he want, to hurt you like that?"

"He thinks Katie is gaming me," he said. "Maybe she is."

"What do you mean?"

"My uncle runs online poker here. I'm a programmer for him. We do things..." he sighed. "He had me make fake players. To beat the real ones."

"You cheat?"

"Just a little!"

"So why does this make men burn your bubbies?"

"Katie told me I could skim off the top. Just from what they stole anyway. My uncle stole from his bosses and we stole from him. Sent the money here."

"Why your wife run away?"

"I don't know. She can't get the money without me," he said. "I don't think."

Hazeldeen slowed behind a vegetable truck. "Which bank we talking about?"


The Bank of Antigua was all gilt and glass, and the money was gone. Jeremy stood gesticulating, one of Hazeldeen's t-shirts stretched over his belly.

"But it's a joint account!"

"Sir, please behave yourself," the thin, elderly clerk said.

Hazeldeen led him to a plush red seat.

"I thought she was different," Jeremy said. "Uncle Artie told me a girl like that could never love me."

She patted his arm.

"My father died when I was a kid," he said. "My mother married Artie. He was a businessman. Always moving something. Stuff that fell off the back of a truck. Ma said I moped too much, so she made him buy me a computer. I fell right into that. I'm a natural.

"Sent me off to NJIT. Tech school. Then online poker got big, and he called me home. Made me talk to his friends with cigars and big hairy arms."

"Like Bobby?"

"He's just a soldier," he said. "These guys are big time. They sent me girls, cause I was lonely. You know, escorts. Cause at the bars, I'd take a girl home, and her boyfriend would barge in. Take my money. They call it the badger game, Artie said." He rubbed the bridge of his pudgy nose. "Happened a few times. Bobby took care of them."

She nodded, and bit her lip.

"So Katie, we met at a video arcade. She was really good at Super Mario Brothers. We played at her place. She wasn't like the others," he said. "Believe me."

"I believe you."

"Would a girl on the make wait until last night to make love to me?"

Hazeldeen narrowed her eyes.

"We did everything else but that," he said. "Until we were married. She's a Catholic girl. Why would she do that? The others all gave it up right away! That's not how you play the game."

He shook his head and stared at his hands.

Depends on what kind of game, she thought. Hazeldeen saw a well-dressed man doing nothing. That must be the manager. She approached him.

"Good morning, sir. Was a Mrs. Loscalzo here? Tall American girl, lots of freckles and long brown hair?"

The manager was a hefty man with a goatee. "The one with no shoes? Yes, yes." He dug into his suit coat, produced an envelope. "Is that her husband? She said he'd be coming."

In the truck, he read the letter.

"What does she say?"

"To meet her tomorrow morning at the Five Islands Yacht Club. Know where that is?"

"Yes, but you can get a hotel and a taxi."

"Haze, you saved my ass. Literally," Jeremy said. "I know Bobby. He's done sick shit for Uncle Artie. Stick with me, and you'll get that restaurant."

Hazeldeen sighed, and kneaded the wrapped steering wheel. Noted the crack spidering up her windscreen. The many miles on the truck's odometer. Anna needing her own room.

"Okay," she said. "Moon man, what have you gotten me into?"

Jeremy peered at his reddened skin. "What? I'm not that pale am I?"

"Mama, who is this bakra you bring home?" Junior was her youngest, with the sharp eyes.

She tousled his head. "None of that. Jeremy is our guest for dinner. Where's your brother?"

Twelve-year-old Anna had her nose in a schoolbook, braids down her back.

"The neighbors are having a party," she said. "Isaac is there already. We should all go!"

Hazeldeen sighed. Her eldest was already getting away from her, hanging with the boys.

"Get out of my kitchen, we've got to bring something."

The party was around the tightly pressed block of small houses in a big yard, full of men drinking. Elvin, a shopowner, had a cousin getting married; lots of back slaps and laughs around the skinny groom. Her Isaac among them.

"A new cricket bat for the marriedin' man!"

A pot of mannish water simmered over the firepit. The air smelled of spice and sinsemilla. Benches were laden with pots of food. She set her pot among them. Her children sat on the ground to eat.

"Hazeldeen! Who's this bakra with you?" Elvin came bearing two bottles. A big-bellied man, his hair gone missing.

"Ooh, don't kiss teeth at me," she said. "This is Jeremy, mattie of mine from work. Get him a beer and some mannish water."

He pushed a beer into Jeremy's hand, put an arm round his slumped shoulders. "Any mattie of Hazeldeen's is a brudda mine! Let's get you fed. Favor like you a true bellyologist!"

Jeremy gave a wide-eyed glance, and she waved him on.

Got herself a plate, then heard Ira's laugh behind her.  "Lookin' to make you some money off him, sista?"

She turned and saw his big firm chest, that silly gold cobra charm round his neck. "What happened to the freckle girl, his wife?"

"How would I know? She knew how to sail," he said. "She took a boat, left it at the grotto."

"You know more than you're letting on."

"I smell money on that boy."

"You want some of it, you get to talking. I don't have time for you to be fast with me. Boy's got a bandit after him, and after me."

He laughed and tipped the green bottle back. "That little man show up at the resort this morning? I've seen him before. And this bufu white boy's wife. When I worked at Coconut beach, two years ago. They up to no good business."

"They're in cahoots?"

"Didn't say that, girl. Just that they've been here before. Her with another man."

"They up to bandulu bizness," she said.

Ira nodded. "Bigger dan dat."

Jeremy laughed among the groom and his boys. Joint in one hand, bowl of mannish water in the other. She'd let him know about his freckle girl later.

"You gonna need my help, girl." Ira said, sipped the last of his beer. "You got no man in your house."

She laughed. "And you're that man, Ira? A big boy playing at being a man?"

"You don't know me, girl."

"And me likewise, Ira."

They ate with the children, talked of work. Ira made Anna laugh. How she loved her daughter's smile.

A gunshot cracked the night.

"Black Juice!" a boy yelled, pushing past her to the house.

Two rude boys at the gate. One with a little black gun. "We don't wanna ruin the party. Just give us the bakra boy."

Men jumped the fence, ran back to their homes.

Hazeldeen huddled by her children, arm round Anna. "Stay down, child."

The crowd parted for the gunmen. The groom sprawled, drunk eyes full of fear. Only Jeremy and her Isaac remained at his side.

Hazeldeen stood, hesitated. Be smart, my young man.

"Come wid us, white boy."

No fear in Jeremy's eyes. Mannish water, or the thought of his Katie Lynn freckle girl waiting on a yacht, Hazeldeen thought. She didn't want her children to see him die here.

Jeremy reared up with the cricket bat. "I have the power!"

The rude boy brought the gun butt down on his face. His partner punched Jeremy in his soft belly, and they dragged him out the gate to a big car thumping dance hall music. She saw a hairy arm in the passenger window, with a big pinky ring.

Bobby had him now.

Sweet nanny goat have a runny belly, Hazeldeen thought. Coveting the good things will hurt you later. "I'm sorry, Moon man."

Ira gave her a strange look.


"You can cotch a while at my place. Those Black Juice boys may come looking for you."

They piled into his little van. It smelled of sunscreen soaked into the fabric. He lived in a spacious flat on the second floor, walled with shaded windows. One big kitchen and parlor, bedroom behind a curtain.

"You got a hind claw, to have a place like this?" He had to make money on the side.

"I give tours, on my off hours," he said. "Children, you take the bed." He drew back the curtain, revealing a large bed. Dressers with the drawers all open, shirts bursting out.

"Go on in," she said. "It's late. Not skipping school on account of adventure."

Two sofas in the parlor.  They each took one.

Ira looked down, then met her narrowed brown eyes. Studied her high cheekbones, hair tied back from work. The firmness of her gaze, her small chin and her strength.

"Girl, you been dodging me since I started at your resort."

"You take with every chossel works there."

"Why you gotta 'buse me? You're a hard-eared girl."

"I've raised my babies alone three years now. A few more won't hurt me none."

"Not saying you need a man for help. You need him for yourself." He sighed and shook his head. "My madda kicked me out when I was younger than your Isaac. I was a rude boy a time, but now I have this. Honest work. You always talk about cooking in your own restaurant. Who's gonna pick up the supplies? I can do that on my tours. And bring the big spenders there. Tell every tourist on my boats to go to Hazeldeen's for an authentic island meal."

"You want to be my business partner?"

He smiled. "To start. I think I'll grow on you."


His snoring woke her up as dawn crept up the horizon. She scurried to the kitchen. Found a cane knife hanging by the stove. She wrapped it in a shirt she found on the floor, and pulled the door shut quietly.

Bobby would make Jeremy talk. Tell him Freckle girl waited here with his money. Maybe he would come out on top, give her the reward he promised.

Her little red truck nosed into the marina of the Five Island Yacht Club. The large boats filled the harbor. Big-bellied cruisers, sleek knives pointed at the rising sun.

Freckle Girl stood with her arms folded at the stern of a white hulled sailboat with a gleaming wooden cabin. She wore white pants and a striped tank top. Her big sunglasses scanned the road, hair whipped by the wind.

The mast aimed skyward like a finger of warning. Little Avenger, in gold across the stern. The wind would take them far today, if they made it.

Hazeldeen thought of Ira's offer. You should call the main guard, she told herself. But Bobby was mafia for sure. He'll pay them off. Put that cigar wherever he wants. She could hear the police laugh as Jeremy screamed.

No, she thought. He's a fool, but even fools deserve a chance.

She parked in the lot, got out, and knelt behind the hood.

A roaring engine approached on the flat road. Her heart began thumping, and she clenched the hefty handle of the broad cane knife. The black sedan swerved into the lot past her truck, then coasted in neutral.

"I don't know which one!" Jeremy cried from inside. Then, thumps and cries.

She waited, cane knife over her shoulder. Can't be harder than cutting a coconut, or parting out a goat, she thought. The little man called Bobby, she wouldn't mind. The rude boys, so young. They could change paths. Them, she would have guilt over.

The Freckle Girl disappeared from the deck. There was flashing from the cabin. Is she signaling her Moon man with a mirror?

Hazeldeen heard a flat slap, a tinkle of shattered glass. Then a crack echoing down the road. Another. Then another. Struggling in the sedan. It rolled toward the docks, listing to one side.

Jeremy tumbled out the back. Face swollen and lips cracked. Holes burnt in his shirt. He charged toward Freckle Girl's ship, a white rhino.

Bobby crawled out, hunkered behind the door. Crab stepped to stay in cover. The little black gun in his hand, aimed at the Moon man's back.

Hazeldeen gave a shout and ran at him, cane knife over her head. His white shirt billowed red with blood, splattered her face. She skidded on the asphalt to her behind, lost a shoe. She dropped the knife, and watched blood foam out of the little man's mouth.

The two boys in the car were bloody and unmoving.

Hazeldeen stood, waved and shouted. Took a step toward the docks. A bullet panged off the hood of the black Mercedes.

She held up her hands in surrender.

Bye bye, Moon man.


Hazeldeen brought the cane knife down on the goat's neck and drained the blood for sausage. Her children were at school. Still the old little house, but not for long. Anna would get her room. Ira came by each evening with a van full of hungry tourists, and she filled their bellies with saltfish and pepperpot, balls of cornmeal. Big pitchers of gin and sin.

The restaurant was small, closer to Ira's place than hers. He was selling it, told her they would build on the lot next to hers. Made to order. They worked hard, slept little. His bed was big and soft, and his big arms felt right around her. They let her stop worrying, and dream good things.

But often, while stirring her pots, she wondered about Moon man and Freckle Girl. Whether he was at the bottom of the ocean, or asleep in the cabin, his soft doughy arms wrapped around his wife's slender body. If they would come back for their anniversary. And if they could stop worrying, ever again.

Thomas Pluck is a writer living in Montclair, New Jersey. He is the editor of the Lost Children charity anthologies, and his work has appeared in Spinetingler Magazine, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey, Beat to a Pulp, The Utne Reader and Plots with Guns, among others. His home on the web is


  1. Wonderful story, Thomas! I love Hazeldeen, maybe we'll see more of her?

  2. Thank you, Sandra. You will definitely see more of Hazeldeen when I expand this into a novel with a very different ending. I was inspired by a barmaid on my honeymoon, and I hope to return when this book is in print and donate more to her restaurant fund!

  3. Hotel, restaurant and bar workers make excellent characters-what they see and what they do with that information. You did a terrific job with capturing the life here and spinning a great yarn. She is a keeper for sure.

  4. Brillian story Thomas. You took me to the island and held me prisoner while unfolding your murderous drama around me.

  5. Thomas, best I've read yet from you and that's covering some serious ground. Terrific story.

  6. Thank you all for your kind comments. This story is a special one to me, and I am very happy that it moved you.

  7. Tom- I really enjoy your stories. This was a great read and kept me engaged and entertained the whole way through. Look forward to more!

  8. Evocative and twisty. Waiting on the novel!

  9. The dialogue in this sizzles. Your stuff gets better and better the more I read. I loved Ira from his first line. I would buy this book.

  10. Thank you, I promise to write this one.

  11. This was such a delight to read - again! Terrific to see it at one of my favorite venues. Congratulations, Tom. You've brought another big win.

  12. Glad you said the NforNovel word. Hazeldeen needs a broader canvas to fully be appreciated. You made it all walk, talk, breathe and live. I was enmeshed in the scene and the words and the feel of the place and people within three lines and hooked solid through to the end. That's just plain out how to be tellin' a story, Tom. Cool.

  13. Hazeldean is a great character. I really enjoyed the story.

  14. I love the dialogue in a Pluck story. He's a new pulp master.