Friday, August 1, 2014

Carnival Beach

Patrick G. rode waves every sunrise and prowled Venice Beach most afternoons. A hardcore, twenty-year-old California surfer with no job and an attitude problem, Patrick didn’t haunt Venice to gaze at rolling Pacific swells or ogle tiny bikinis. He watched tourists, waiting to see where they hid their wallets before they took an ocean swim.

Patrick excused his petty thievery as part of the local sideshow. Dead center in a line of beach towns dotting the coast just west of Los Angeles, Venice brings to mind a loony carnival on the sand. On this particular Tuesday, gargantuan weightlifters held a seaside snatch and curl contest. A one-eyed tattoo artist on the boardwalk inked Batman and The Joker onto a local preacher’s shaved feet, Batman atop his right foot, The Joker atop his left.

Nearby, a pair of jugglers tossed meat cleavers and buzzing six-pound chainsaws to each other, while a gypsy woman in a black wedding dress offered, for ten dollars, to put a deadly curse on any cheating husband.

Undistracted, Patrick surveyed the beach. Got one. Family of four, in a spot by themselves, with boogie boards for the kids and mom wearing a modest blue swimsuit. The father, a flabby little specimen with skin as pale as a fish belly, stuffed his billfold into a sneaker, took a furtive look around, and charged toward the breakers with his whooping clan. Patrick threw on a bright red baseball cap and sprinted across the sand, just another shirtless runner on the beach. He raised his head, waved to no one, and sped up, as if to meet somebody.

And then he tripped over the family’s belongings in a wily pratfall. Right on top of the sneaker. He slipped the wallet into his pocket, got up, yanked the baseball cap low, and began running again. A few laughs tickled his ears and a freckled kid pointed at him and yelled.

Patrick trotted north on the boardwalk, toward home, his parents’ cramped apartment in Santa Monica. He separated the cash from the wallet, ditched the wallet and red baseball cap, and pulled on a white t-shirt he’d tied around his waist. He covered his face with oversize plastic sunglasses he kept in the pocket of his cargo shorts.

Transformation complete: One more non-descript guy loping along.

He’d gone half a mile when she stopped him. She rushed past, turned around, and stepped right in front of him, smiling with everything except her eyes. She looked like a classic California teen, tall and fit, a cold-blooded blond with a perfect tan.

“I saw what you did, ” she said. “And it’s not the first time. I saw you before too.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean my Dad’s a cop. And I’ll call him right now unless you split the money with me.”

“You can’t punk me with that bullshit.”

She tapped her phone. The screen showed “Calling Daddy…” over a picture of a stern guy in a dark police uniform. Patrick recognized the uniform: LAPD, seriously badass cops with jurisdiction in Venice. He’d seen two of them body slam a drunk onto the sidewalk last week because the guy showed them a sneer instead of an ID.

A low male voice came through the phone. “Yeah?”

Patrick signaled to stop the call.

“Sorry, Daddy. I guess I butt-dialed you.”

“You what?”

“Accidentally called you. My phone must have brushed against something. Love you, Daddy.”

She ended the call and put the phone away. Patrick walked her to a quiet spot on the sand.

“Here’s forty bucks. I gotta go.”

“You got lots more than eighty from them.” She pulled out her phone.

Patrick relented. “Here’s exactly what I got, two hundred and forty, all twenties. I’ll give you half, a hundred and twenty.”

She took it. As Patrick hustled away, she tapped her phone. The screen showed “Calling Daddy…” and the picture again. And thirty yards away, a phone vibrated again. The same low voice answered. Her boyfriend, keeping watch.

“It worked!” he said. “How much?”

“A hundred and twenty!”


They strolled back down the boardwalk, laughing, chatting, and enjoying the loony carnival.


This story is an original work of creative fiction. Although Venice Beach is a real place, and among the most popular and colorful destinations in Southern California, the people, activities, and events described or depicted in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to real people, individual activities, or actual events is unintended and coincidental. Batman and The Joker are trademarks of DC Comics, which also holds copyrights.