Riptide — Chapter 2

Sam McRae Mystery #3

Jamila and I had gone shopping for antiques on Sunday. Which is to say, Jamila wanted to shop for antiques and I dragged my ass along.

We took a spin to a small shop outside Berlin, Maryland. A mom-and-pop outfit in the middle of nowhere. Inside the store, Jamila took her time browsing while I stifled yawns.

A lacquered rosewood music box caught Jamila’s eye.

“Isn’t that pretty?” she asked.

I made approving noises. I had to admit, the image of kittens on the box was cute. However, I hate knickknacks. More stuff to gather dust and cat hair.

After checking the price, Jamila made a counter offer. The saleswoman may have looked like Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show, but she drove a hard bargain.

Having reached a happy compromise, the lady wrapped Jamila’s new treasure and placed it in a gift box.

“You all have a lovely day, girls,” she said, beaming as if life couldn’t get better.

I followed Jamila to her silver Beemer. The spring in her step matched the saleslady’s mood. But not mine.

“I was thinking, there’s another place only half a mile from here.” Jamila could barely contain her excitement.

“Um, okay.”

Jamila scrutinized me. “You’re bored, aren’t you?”

“Well …”

She smiled and shook her head. “Guess you and I won’t be watching Antiques Roadshow together anytime soon.”

“I’d take that bet.”

*****

We stopped for coffee then drove to the condo and parked in the lot. A group of twenty-somethings stood around a candy-apple red Corvette. They turned to look at us as we got out of the car. I recognized a couple of them. Renters in the condo beneath ours. They’d kept the stereo blasting until well after midnight the night before. I’d gone down and threatened to sic the cops on them. They had slammed the door in my face. I’d stomped back upstairs and made the call. I suspected I wasn’t high on their list of favorite people.

“Hey!” one of the men called out. “You ain’t supposed to park here ’less you live here.”

“We’re renters. We have permission,” I shot back, not stopping to engage him further. How is this your damn business, anyway? Who are you, the parking lot police?

“Well, that’s a fine thing,” the young man shouted. “Didn’t know niggers could rent here.”

I ignored him, but I could feel my face grow hot with anger. The group snickered amongst themselves. A real rocket scientist, I mused. Probably a Harvard grad.

“Hey!” he said again. “I’m talking to you.”

The guy ran around and barred our entry to the exterior staircase leading to our unit. Jamila and I froze. I gazed at the gangly, sandy-blond kid. A real shit-kicker, based on looks alone. Grin a bit too goofy, beady eyes a bit too close set. His parents were probably first cousins.

“I said, I didn’t know niggers could rent here.” He challenged Jamila with a withering look. Then it was my turn. I stared right back. I was ready to kick his nuts up to his neck. But all his friends were there. Things could get ugly. So I did nothing.

Jamila was a vision of total calm. She didn’t even flinch when he used the N-word.

I whipped out my cell phone. “Step aside or I call the cops.”

“And have me arrested? For what, you dumb white bitch?” The blond began laughing. All his friends joined in.

He had a point. He hadn’t done much of anything. Yet.

“Excuse me,” Jamila said, trying to get past him.

“Whoa, whoa! Don’t be pushing me around, girl. That’s battery, you know.”

The others had drifted over. Guess they didn’t want to miss the big show.

I eyed them surreptitiously. Two guys and two girls. All white. All corn-fed inbreds.

The young man peered at me. “You’re the one called the cops on us, ain’t ya?”

“Yes, I’m the one,” I said. “So why don’t you leave my friend out of it? And try not playing your music so loud you wake up people in Philadelphia.”

“I didn’t break no rules. I can play music as loud as I want.”

“Local ordinances say otherwise.” Ocean City had noise ordinances because of the overabundance of “June bugs” (the local term for rowdy high school kids doing their “school’s out” ritual) and bikers on Harleys with straight pipes.

“Well, being that my daddy owns the building, I think I ought to know what I can and can’t do.”

Oh, Christ. I’d about had it with the little shit. Jamila continued to look stoic, standing proudly erect.

“Your daddy may own the place, but you can’t just ignore the law.” Asshole.

Once again, Jamila tried to maneuver around the tall blond. He grabbed at the container Jamila held. A brief tussle ensued before he wrested it from her hand.

“What’s this?” He tore the box open and tossed it aside. The wrapping paper sailed off on the breeze. “Well, ain’t that cute?” He surveyed the antique music box like he’d unearthed it from an archeological dig.

“Hey, check this out, guys.” He waved the music box around.

The group drew closer. Their eyes were vacant. They simply followed the leader.

Jeez! What is this? Day of the Dead? The Ocean City Zombie Brigade?

“So, tell me,” the young man said. “How does a nigger afford a fancy car and a fancy box like this?”

Jamila stayed silent for a long moment. “Give that back,” she finally said, in a firm voice.

“How do I know it’s yours? You probably stole it.”

The group snickered again. They sounded like a pit of rattlesnakes.

I was losing it, so I tried to snatch the box. The kid threw it to someone in the group. They tossed it back and forth like a hot potato.

Jamila’s look never wavered, but I could sense desperation, worry, and anger. The two male friends circled around me and Jamila as they played catch with their leader.

I tried to make another grab for the box as it sailed past. It bounced off my fingers and smashed on the pavement. The delicate inlay shattered. The box lay scratched and splintered. And no amount of Krazy Glue could repair it.

A string of curse words passed through my mind. Jamila retained her impassive expression, but I knew she probably wanted to cry. I wanted to impale myself on the nearest stake.

“Don’t go blaming me for that,” the young man taunted. “I’da caught it, if you hadn’t gotten in the way.”

“And this whole thing wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t grabbed it and started throwing it around, you ass wipe.” I’d reached my limit.

“Aren’t you the tough girl?” The young man lorded it over me.

“Why don’t you leave them be, Billy Ray?” The voice was female, faltering and soft. The face was pretty, the hair light brown and shoulder length, the eyes hazel and sincere.

“Don’t be telling me what to do, Danni!” The kid snapped. “You ain’t my girl no more. You can’t be bossing me around.”

“Well, isn’t she the lucky one?” I muttered into Jamila’s ear. She gave the ghost of a smile.

“What did you say?” Billy Ray turned his rabid, beady gaze my way.

“Just sharing my thoughts about you. Nothing important.”

Billy Ray didn’t catch the obvious slam. Nor did he budge.

“She’s right, Billy Ray.” One of the other guys spoke up. “Let’s blow this pop stand.”

“Hmmph.” Billy Ray looked disgusted. “Fine thing, when a nigger and her little white girlfriend can make me leave my daddy’s property.”

He continued to stand in our way.

“C’mon, Billy Ray!” The other girl whined. “I’m bored.”

The whiner was a pretty redhead with fair skin, green eyes, and big tits, which she showcased to great advantage in a tight tank top.

“Well …” he said.

“I want to leave now!” the redhead demanded.

“Hey, Billy Ray,” one of the guys said. “That is your girl talking. Wanna get any tonight or not?”

The boys chuckled. I glanced between Billy Ray and Big Red. He looked torn by indecision. She stared him down and crossed her arms beneath her breasts, pushing them up to her chin.

I felt sick, shuddering to think how these pathetic losers must live. Big Red seemed to be enjoying her hold over Billy Ray. Jesus, girl! Get a life.

Billy Ray nodded decisively, as if he was in charge. “Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here. This is getting dull.”

As he stalked off, Big Red glided toward him and grabbed his arm, like a drowning woman lunging at a flotation device.

“We’re having another party tonight,” he shot over his shoulder at us. “We’ll try to keep it down so you old folks can sleep.”

The others guffawed as they followed him — all except Danni. The quiet girl held back long enough to say, “It’s not even his daddy. It’s his stepdaddy.” She ran to join the others piling into the red Corvette.

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Debbi Mack

Debbi Mack

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New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, including the Sam McRae Mystery series. Screenwriter, podcaster, and blogger. My website: www.debbimack.com.