Initiation at Blackout Beach

11/01/22

On his first day at Blackout Beach, Hackman is drawn to Dirty Annie, a freckle-faced dishwater brunette sitting like a lame fawn beneath the Banyon tree, attempting to inject Mexican tar into her neck with assistance from Eran, who was trying to find a vein in her prolific skin.

“Hey bro, name’s Annie. Sorry you gotta see this, we usually do this in the bathroom over there, but too crowded, ran out of veins, you know how it goes…” she says, cheerful, presumptuous.

Her limbs leopard-print in bruises, an encrusted open wound on her forearm, like maybe she got the shit beat out of her if you didn’t know she did it all to herself.

“Quit fucking talking, Annie,” Eran whispers. “Every time you talk, your neck shifts, I lose the spot.” Eran can’t believe they’re doing this in broad daylight.

“I’ll keep watch.” Hackman says, heeding the pecking order of seniority, of time served on the beach. He scans the perimeter — dorky tourists: large women in water-logged one-pieces, their husbands in straw hats and Panama Jack gear scrambling to shield the eyes of their Zinka-faced children while they gawk above them.

There’s the blood bubble

“Yeeeeeeaah… Thanks, man.” Annie’s eyes go skyward, her head dips into a buoyant, approving nod.

“You’re new in town?” says Eran.

“Yeah, already got kicked out of summer school, first day,” says Hackman.

“Cool, you’ll fit right in here, then. None of us have anywhere to go, so we just come here to get into stuff, you know, like limbo for fuckups. Make money in little ways, spend it in bigger ways — pick the locks of the deposit boxes in the parking garage over there, pour saltwater into soda machines at the hotel there: spits out money or soda; it’s a gamble, like a slot machine. Or, we straight up rob tourists. See Black Freddie over there?” He points to a contemplative lone Afro-punk, staring at the ocean. “He leads the smash and grab missions, break into cars at night, you know? We get a big bonfire going here, get wasted, go off hard, barely sleep, but if you need to, you just go under the boardwalk — wear shades or sand’ll drop into your eyes as people walk by. Over there by the tower, that’s Big Jim and all the vets of the Beach. They’ve been here since the sixties, used to be part of The Brotherhood of Eternal Love or some shit, they’re the shot callers here, pretty much taught us everything…”

Hackman’s hyperactive mind ignites. He refuses to be the new guy, wants to accelerate in their ranks immediately. He resumes his optic scour of the crowded boardwalk, zeroes in on a filth-ridden transient dumb enough to be counting his day’s earnings in the open.

Before Eran can finish his meandering initiatory, Hackman is jog-skipping towards the drifter. If Annie can slam smack into her neck in public, this shouldn’t make any difference… He swings a right uppercut into the chin of the drifter’s downcast face. His head flies back, knocks off his weaving balance. Before he falls, Hackman grabs the cash with his left hand. Lightning fast, though indiscrete; the boardwalk full of tourists not only see, but… cheer?

Even the tourists play a part in the shadow side of Blackout Beach politics. They’re scared to death of homeless people — not what they bargained for coming to postcard-perfect Southern California — so Hackman appears the hero. Like if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it make a sound — at Blackout Beach, if no one complains, no crime was committed.

Hackman runs back over to the Banyon, fanning out the cash in his sucker punch hand, blocking his view of Eran’s rise from the grass, of Eran’s wind up, his punch through the cash, but feels the numbing shock, then burn, of Eran’s knuckles connecting with his nose, Eran’s other fist smash into his temple, then the grass hit the back of his head.

“That was our boy Rascal, you fuck — don’t fuck with Rascal!” said Eran, motioning for Dirty Annie to grab the drifting pile of cash; they’d need another twenty bag tonight.

~ fin ~

Gabe champagne edit

Gabriel Hart lives in California’s high desert. His neo-pulp collection Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell and poetry book Hymns From the Whipping Post are out now from Close to the Bone. Other works can be found in Rock and A Hard Place MagazineBristol Noir, and Expat Press. He’s a regular contributor to Lit ReactorLos Angeles Review of Books, and The Last Estate