I STEPPED OUT OF THE COOL AIR-CONDITIONED gun shop into a moist cauldron that posters call Midsummer Florida. The sun blazed molten gold through a haze hidden sky, causing the drooping palms to dance in the shimmering air above the tarmac. The evening breeze that made the place bearable at this time of year was still snoozing somewhere offshore over the horizon, leaving the beach egg frying hot and deserted. I crossed the empty street to the shade of the palms, sat on my haunches and lit a cigarette. The smoke tasted of burnt straw. I wished I had headed downtown instead to this cool little bar I knew owned by a huge Cuban known as Castro. Castro could gauge his customers moods with a fine tuned antennae some put down to Voodoo, leaving them to brood over their beer in solitude or listen to their problems with a Latin sympathy that lasted as long as their drinking rate remained steady. Considered unsavory by tourists, the bar had become a kind of club that offered a second home for people who didn't have a first one. For a moment I felt tempted, I had to get myself down there later on anyway, but right now it was just too hot to go anywhere. Even Castro and his iced beer would have to wait until things cooled down a shade. I flicked the offending butt into the sand, stared out at the oily sea and tried to think.
The jacket lay heavy on my shoulder. I slipped it off, sliding my hand into the side pocket to caress the cool steel of the snub nosed thirty eight. A quiver of elation swept through me, tightening my throat, throttling the cry of excitement I could feel welling up inside as it was born. It was a strange feeling. At forty three I had never even fired a gun let alone owned one, yet each time I held the snub nosed little beauty in my hand or fingered its deadly cargo of shiny squat brass bullets, it was like welcoming an old friend I hadn't seen in a while. Perhaps being lonely had something to do with it. Not that I regretted leaving Frieda, that was the best move I had made in years. The idea had crystallized without warning in middle of my lunch hour. Suddenly I knew if I had to live with that mewling screwed up complaining excuse for a face one day longer I would do something really terrible. So instead of going back to the shop that afternoon I told her good-bye and went to the bank instead, cashed in the savings account and bought a ticket on the first train out of town. I didn't even ask where it was going. I didn't care. Provided it was a long long way from Frieda that was fine by me. As it turned out the train was scheduled for Miami. Even I didn't need to go that far, so I bought a ticket to Smyrna Beach, which is about halfway, and finished up by getting off at Lutonville because I liked the look of the station.
Our marriage had been a farce for years, though just when it mutated to an ugly hatred I'm not sure. I was used to her drinking and sluttish way she kept house, so it was probably that day I first noticed her legs had turned puffy, with ugly fat ankles that rolled into little creases when she moved her feet. I hate fat dimpling ankles. Most of my adult life had been spent in the drudgery at Hayman's Shoe Store. Spending my days spread eagled like a stretched out monkey on the mobile stairs or down on my knees before large fat women with fatter ankles that always creased and dimpled every time I tried to shoehorn their swollen feet into a size too small. I never got a chance to serve the pretty girls with slim legs and dainty feet. They tried on their own shoes, slipping in and out of them like greased butter, leaving me to heave and struggle with the soft pudgy oldies, fighting the urge to look up their skirts for a glimpse of mottled flesh. I hated that too. But in the same way you can't help peeking through your fingers at a horror movie, I couldn't help taking a quick squint at those lardy thighs whenever I got the chance. But all that and Frieda were behind me now thank God.
I was staring out at the ocean, letting my mind drift and ripple with the waves, when I saw him. One moment there was nothing out there but sea, then suddenly there he was just standing in the middle of everything. At first I put him down to a mirage like the dancing palm trees. Nobody wells up out of the sea like that, particularly dressed in a snazzy three piece suit. He was even wearing a tie which was ridiculous in this heat and a broad brimmed white fedora hat like the ones they wore back in the nineteen twenties. He didn't seem to walk exactly, but glided up the beach without moving his legs, like he was riding one of those walkways you find at airports. He stopped about six feet away and just stood there staring at me, a quizzical smile on his face and I noticed his clothes were dry. The irritating thing was I