For me, starting the day right means fishing from the dock that sticks from my backyard into Black Creek, shaded by oak trees and bougainvillea. But this morning, after a late night, I slept in, showered, and put on my bathrobe. My whiskers have come in lately as white stubble, and I thought, Screw it, and skipped shaving. My wife Patty was out, so I turned on the stereo loud – REO Speedwagon singing “Keep on Loving You.” I went to the kitchen and cracked four eggs into a glass bowl.
Then a fist knocked on the front door.
In my neighborhood, no one knocks on doors except to sell candy bars for some scam religious fundraiser or another or to tell you one of your sprinkler heads is broken and flooding the street.
When I opened, the man on the front step eyed my bathrobe and said, “Hi, Daniel.”
I noticed two things. One, the air outside smelled of flowers and freshly turned soil. Two, the man had hidden the butt of a pistol under his shirttail.
“Can we talk?” the man asked.
I glanced at the yard, looked across the street. “Of course. C’mon.”
I held the door so he could pass, but he waved me ahead and followed me up the front hall.
“Patty home?” he asked.
“She went to work early. Why?”
He didn’t answer, but, as we came to the kitchen, he reached for the pistol. So I spun and threw a punch. I missed, and my robe pulled open. He fell back against the hallway wall. I caught my balance and lunged at him, but his fingers touched the pistol grip, and a pathetic little gun came into his hand.
I laughed. “What the hell kind of gun is that?”
He aimed it at my chest. “The kind that will shoot you.”
“I don’t think so.” But I stayed where I was.
“Tie your robe, you pig.”
I did. “What’s this about?”
“I’m tired of your lies,” he said.
I shook my head at him. He was as pathetic as his little gun. I turned and walked to the back door.
He aimed the gun. “Stop.”
“Do what you’ve got to do,” I said, “but I need some air.”
He followed me down the lawn to the dock. When I built it, I’d painted the pressure-treated wood white, constructed a bench at the end to sit on while fishing, and bracketed a length of PVC pipe to the back of the bench to hold a flag on the Fourth of July and Memorial Day. Now the bench and pipe were gone, and gray wood showed where wind and rain had stripped the paint.
I went to the end of the dock and stared at the water. An anhinga, its black wings stretched to dry in the sun, perched on the exposed branch of a fallen tree that had snagged near the bank. The man steadied his hand, pointing his pistol at me. The gun might have been little, but if he shot a bullet in my back, it would push me into the water and I would float with the lazy current to where the creek emptied into the St. Johns River and, if no one pulled me out with a net or a hook, down the St. Johns into the Atlantic Ocean.
But, from up the creek, an aluminum motorboat approached, driven by a neighbor whose name I’d never learned. He wore camouflage cargo pants, a sleeveless T-shirt, and a yellow baseball cap. Fishing rods hung over the stern. He waved at me, and I waved back.
Then the boat passed, and the air still smelled of flowers and freshly turned soil.
“Go ahead,” I said. “Do it.”
So the man pulled the trigger.
The gun blast shocked the air.
The anhinga lifted from its perch and disappeared into the trees on the other side of the creek.
I froze. Looked at my hands. My legs. My torso.
They were bloodless.
The man had drawn the barrel up as he’d shot.
I turned and faced him. “Goddamn it, can’t you do anything right?”
You can read more about Daniel in Second Skin, the second book in the “Daniel Turner” noir mystery series, published by Severn House Publishers. The first book in the series is Blue Avenue.
Meet the author
Michael Wiley is the Shamus Award-winning writer of the Joe Kozmarski mysteries, The Last Striptease, The Bad Kitty Lounge, and A Bad Night’s Sleep and, more recently, the Daniel Turner thrillers, Blue Avenue, Second Skin, and the forthcoming Tar Box. Michael lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his family and a variety of animals that walked or crawled into his house with his kids when he wasn’t looking. Michael teaches at the University of North Florida. Visit Michael at www.michaelwileyonline.com