The concept did not come as a lightning bolt out of the sky, striking my cranium instantly. But more like a slow buildup of storm clouds on the horizon. The ones that leave a person wondering if inclement weather was in fact on the way or would fizzle into nothingness.
Weather is like that sometimes, much like thoughts, ideas, or dreams. Nothing to do with reality at the moment but perhaps in the future that reality would truly become real.
That was how it was with the epiphany I could make a lot more money if I turned my career into something deeper if not more sinister.
I grew up poor, angry and disillusioned in Forest Park in Detroit. The small neighborhood bordering Wayne State University had high unemployment and those lucky enough to be working had some of the lowest incomes in the state of Michigan. My parents worked hard in low-skilled jobs—mainly to the fact my father was an alcoholic and my mother never made it past tenth grade. They weren’t bad people—just two trying to do the best they could with five children sucking up whatever funds they could muster monthly.
It didn’t take long for me to find the allure of the gang life. I met Tony in Forest Park. He was shooting dice, and I watched for a while and then joined in the game of chance. Three rolls with a bet of two dollars increased my winnings to ten bucks. I was hooked.
Gambling led to higher bets on various other games around the hood, and then that led to small time rip-offs. A store here and there in the middle of the night were easy targets and then fencing the stolen goods in Brightmoor, brought an unexpected flood of money for Tony and me. Of course, there were some other guys helping us here and there, but they weren’t important enough for us to remember their names on a daily basis. They did what we told them to and they followed orders—easy enough.
A year into our entrepreneurship we were busted at one in the morning ransacking a Goodwill Store on Chene Street by an overzealous police officer. Tony got away and I was stuck literally holding a rack of second-hand clothes.
Two of our part time help rolled over on us as soon as the cuffs were around their wrists. I had just turned seventeen and pulled six months at Wayne County Juvenile Detention Center. Tony got nothing stating he had been at home and only knew me by name and the other criminals—well, they cried to the judge, blamed everything on me, and the hammer was dropped by justice on my head.
Almost eighteen and now free, I left Michigan without ever saying goodbye to my parents, who really weren’t that interested in my fate anyway, and headed west.
An editor once told a cub writer to do the same in the late nineteenth century, which I took as a positive omen and followed suit. If it was good enough advice for Mark Twain, then surely it would be for me.
Southern California was a dream come true. Sunshine, palm trees, and beautiful women. It beat my old hood without even trying. Venice Beach was where I landed and instantly decided that the life of crime was not my avenue any longer, but instead I would try the highway of legality.
Starting to work as a pool cleaner seemed like a heaven-sent job for a pale white guy from one of the toughest neighborhoods of Detroit.
Three months later I had saved enough for my own little four-cylinder truck and started moonlighting without my boss, Mr. Reynolds, knowing. Six months later I quit working for Cleaner by the Month Pool Maintenance and went out on my own with Pool Boy. A simple name for a simple guy.
Thirteen clients weren’t a lot, but I was sharing a two-room apartment in El Segundo so the monthly fees paid most of the bills. I worked evenings at a pizza joint on East Grand and was able to get by financially.
Females were friendly and available. I had gotten pretty tan, my light brown hair was fashionably longish, my blue eyes shined in the afternoon sun, and surfing skills were picking up. I had never been much for the ocean since Detroit didn’t have one, and we were so poor growing up, that the thought of heading to the coast in the east seemed a ridiculous expense to frolic in the surf.
The beach was within thirty minutes and with an inexpensive third-hand ‘thruster.’ I had more enough time, shredding off the coast of Malibu or Venice depending on my mood and weather conditions affecting the rollers.
Life couldn’t get any sweeter. My twentieth birthday came, and my roommate threw a killer party with a kegger, beach girls, and more sushi than all attendees could eat. It was a hell of a bash, and the cops were called at two in the morning. We thanked them for coming and shut the event down with no one going to jail.
It was a complete success.
Two months later my life started to resemble my past one.
I had hooked up with a part-time model out of Santa Monica, and we hit it off immediately. The love making was awesome and ever so tiring which, in itself, was nothing but a full complement for both of us. Her friends liked me, which was even more of a bonus since they all had money—of course, that was possibly the one thing that could stand in our way.
Jenny told me over and over again that having plenty of cash on hand wasn’t that important to her. That was easy for someone who had received a new Alfa Romeo for her twenty-first birthday from her parents. They were lawyers out of Century City and could afford it for their only child. Sweet of them and when they asked me about my family, I answered the only way I could. I was an orphan, which shut down any future conversation about my blood lines right away.
After cleaning a pool in El Segundo one afternoon, I was standing by my truck rolling up the hose when a silver Mercedes drove up and stopped beside me.
“You looking for another client?”
I was and stated so.
“I build pools.”
That was interesting and possibly lucrative. I took the bait.
The end was soon coming, but I couldn’t see it even with my twenty-twenty vision.
Turns out Mr. Mercedes did indeed own a very successful pool construction company out of Santa Monica, but he had a dark side. It seemed he also grew up back east in Detroit, small world, and knew the ugly reality of crime.
Building pools was a way to make a hard but honest buck. At times very financially rewarding but there were times during the year when homeowners weren’t so interested in plopping a gunite structure into their backyards. And it was those times when Mr. Mercedes had to find another avenue to support his rather large lifestyle.
Eating and drinking weekly at Geoffrey’s in Malibu called for a continuous flush of greenery, as well as having a two thousand square foot condo on Rey De Copas Lane. The guy needed income and had a unique way to keep the funds rolling in during those down months in construction.
He was a professional hit man. Quite simple, and, after discussing this and that with him for nearly two months, I decided to help him. I would get a cool five thousand per hit and the good thing was I didn’t have to pull any trigger.
My job was simply to deposit the body of the deceased in the pit dug for one of his custom and very expensive pools. The hole would be dug, the plumbers would set the drainpipes, and the crews would come in placing the rebar into place. The electricians didn’t have to go digging in the deep end at that point and would concentrate closer to the top of the hole. The last step, from my point, would have the gunite sprayed and smoothed over thus creating a waterproof grave.
A grave which should remain secret for at least a few decades if not forever.
Once the pool was operational, there was more than a good chance I would get the contract to keep the new swimming hole sparkling clean, especially from a recommendation of Mr. Mercedes. It was a win-win situation.
I took him up on it.
We met two months later in a deserted field not far from a pool that was being dug in the rear yard of a home in Manhattan Beach. The owners were gone on vacation, so it was a perfect time for me to do my thing. That is, burying the dead person before they got home.
Mr. Mercedes helped me with the rather large package that was sealed in a coroner’s black bag into the rear of my truck. I didn’t ask who the victim was, since I didn’t want to know nor really cared, but simply huffed and puffed as we threw the heavy bag into my truck bed. After casually throwing a tarp over the body, I received a white envelope that was bulging with cash.
I sort of liked this deal, as I put my foot to the pedal and headed into the sunset.
The neighborhood was upscale, with tall block walls and even taller trees and shrubs surrounding the property. With my Pool Boy truck, I knew it appeared like one of the pool installers was working and casually knocked on the front door. When no one responded I went back to my truck and drove further down the driveway. The large two-doored, wooden side gate was unlocked, allowing me easy access to the rear of the property, and I parked right at the lip of the shallow end.
I cast a look around the rear yard and didn’t see any peering eyes from the neighbors. They would have been hard put to see over the walls anyway, and I went to work. Since the crews had only been there in the last few days the ground was soft inside the pool crater, and, within fifteen minutes, I had a nice seven foot by three foot by four foot deep hole all carved out.
Tailgate down I pushed and yanked until the black bag toppled out of the rear of my truck and plopped five feet down into the shallow end of the pool. The rest was rather easy as I slid the corpse across the dirt and kicked it into the hole I had prepared. Ten minutes later, the ground didn’t look much different than when I had arrived approximately forty minutes earlier.
The rebar guys would be there in the morning, and, by the end of the week, the gunite would be shot on and smoothed out.
My job was finished, and I was five grand richer.
Life looked brighter by the month after that.
The pool business was picking up for Mr. Mercedes, and I was doing two bodies a month. Jenny wasn’t sure where my cash was coming from, but she never asked either. If she had, then I would just list off all the new clients I had from my association with Mr. Mercedes. In fact, I had upgraded to a new Dodge Ram 1500 and hired an illegal, utilizing my other truck for any cleaning I couldn’t get to. Of course, Julio was only involved in cleaning the pools and not of depositing anything below the gunite. That was my job, and I was not about to share in the profits from that side job no matter how much I liked the hard-working guy.
Two years later, I was up to three trucks in the business, a nice apartment in Redondo Beach, and plans for getting married.
Everything was going swimmingly.
Then the weather changed. In Southern California, one can expect the climate to be pretty stable year long. There are cold days, warm days, windy days, and non-windy days. But all in all, the weather is rather predictable, that is until the winter after my twenty-third birthday.
Storm clouds came crashing down the west coast from Alaska causing a chill I hadn’t felt before. The beach communities were down right freezing for one solid week, and then the Pineapple Express, the weather system from the area of Hawaii twenty-five hundred miles to the west, started pushing in warmer weather.
And when the Alaskan cold met the Hawaiian warmth, thunderstorms formed west of the San Gabriel Mountains, and the rain fell and fell. For five solid days the rain collapsed on the region, bringing torrential mudslides and upward of ten inches of water within the week. In an entire year, Southern California may only see fourteen inches total.
There wasn’t much in the way of pool cleaning, but I did receive a frantic call from Mr. Mercedes at seven in the evening on a Thursday.
“The damn body is floating.”
It didn’t take a brain surgeon to know what he was getting at. I had recently secreted a body on Crestvale Drive in the city of Sierra Madre and realized being at the foothills of the mountains this could be a problem for a freshly buried body. With the amount of rain suddenly pounding the greater Los Angeles area, it didn’t take much to saturate the ground and that’s exactly what had occurred on Crestvale Drive.
The ground was like a sponge. When that sponge got too full and couldn’t hold any more water it leaked. That hole where a pool was supposed to go got saturated, and thus couldn’t hide the body I had buried. Like a cork, the plastic black bag with human remains was suddenly floating around in a pool of muddy water.
Police had already arrived and secured the home by the time I arrived. I only went there at the insistence of Mr. Mercedes, who had got a frantic call from the homeowner about something amiss with the pool site.
There wasn’t anything for me to do but appear to be a curious neighbor or passer-by. I sat in the interior of my Dodge looking out through rain splattered windows wondering if there was anything I could do, but I knew there was nothing.
I wasn’t too fearful either, since there wouldn’t be any way to connect me or really Mr. Mercedes to the floating dead. There was nothing in the homeowners’ contract calling for the disposal of a dead person beneath a pool being constructed so we were off the hook. I was sure law enforcement was going to conclude that it was a crime of opportunity for a murderer to use an unsuspecting pool company as a guise to hide a homicide. Made sense to me, as I sat watching police personnel wandering here and there about the property looking very official.
When my cell buzzed again, I knew I was wrong with my assumption.
Mr. Mercedes advised me that another body was floating nearly twelve miles away at a construction site. I had been busy there two weeks earlier. With the impending storms on the way, the pool crews could not complete the process which would have hid my dastardly deeds.
My heart skipped a few beats, since there were another two additional properties which I had visited just before Mother Nature had opened up on Southern California.
It had been a busy month for me and now I was really getting pretty nervous sitting there in my truck. The weather called for another two days of torrential rain. Just my luck.
One body, okay, four to six floaters would raise any eyebrow toward Mr. Mercedes and me.
I suggested to Mr. Mercedes that we both may need a long vacation in a foreign land.
He was way ahead of me, by being aboard a Learjet 45XR, winging his way into Mexican Airspace.
I thanked him and hung up.
This was a conundrum not expected at this juncture of my still young life. I worked for Mr. Mercedes, my truck was often seen at the new pool sites after normal working hours, and I was always the pool boy service at those homes with expensive pools by Mr. Mercedes’ construction company.
It didn’t look too favorable for me at that moment, as the rain continued to pour down.
Perhaps, I too needed a break from the United States? Over the past couple of years working for Mr. Mercedes I had been able to stock away nearly a hundred thousand dollars. It wasn’t a fortune, but for a guy my age, it wasn’t bad, and it was all cash.
Jenny had just finished a law degree from USC, and I knew explaining I was an accomplice in a lot of homicides wouldn’t go over very well with her. I imagined the wedding plans would be called off, since marrying a man who was going to prison would not look good on a resume. I decided the best for both of us was to just leave.
I loved her and because of that didn’t even call her. It was tough, but it was for the best for both of us.
I loaded my truck up with a small bag of clothes and two heavier ones with cash and drove off through the rain southward on Interstate 5. Within a couple of hours, I would pass through the San Ysidro border check and drive into Tijuana, Mexico on my way to Cancun. My employee, Julio, had taught me passable Spanish while working with me, and I knew I could find employment in the tourist towns along the Pacific coast of Mexico.
Who knew, perhaps I would be cleaning pools at some of the resorts? I was very good at cleaning pools. I really was.
John R. Beyer, Ed.D./Ph.D.
Author of Hunted/Soft Target/Operation Scorpion/Iquitos: The Past Will Kill - Police Thrillers
Black Opal Books
Feature Writer, Beyer’s Byways – Daily Press Newspaper, Victorville, CA
This is his first feature on The Fictional Café.