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American Contemporary Fiction


I like to search for treasures in the sand. I walk up and down the beach with my handheld metal detector and wave it back and forth, listening for beeps. It's soothing, and it gives me a chance to think.


The metal detector was a gift from my wife, Sienna. She gave it to me for my fortieth birthday because she said I needed a hobby. She also hoped that maybe I'd find something valuable. Once in a while, it pays off. It's amazing how much jewelry people lose on the beach. Last Tuesday, I found two dollars and seventy-eight cents, a broken digital Casio wristwatch, a bunch of bottle caps, three one-kilogram packages of cocaine, and a pair of reading glasses with badly scratched lenses.


The two dollars and seventy-eight cents I put in the jar of loose change I keep by the front door. When the jar gets full, I take it to the A&P. They have one of those machines that counts coins and gives you a receipt for the amount minus the ten percent fee. The wristwatch and the reading glasses I threw away, along with the bottle caps, of course. I used to keep things like that, but Sienna told me that they were just cluttering up the house, so now I get rid of them.


The cocaine was trickier. The packages were vacuum sealed in thick, black plastic and stamped with the numbers “102” and a little image of a scorpion. I knew what it was because I saw something on the news the other day about cocaine washing up on shore lately. They were half buried in sand, sticking up just enough to cause a little ripple in the waves. The metal detector had nothing to do with it.


I checked around to make sure that I was alone before I picked them up. It was still early and only a few people were out. The sun was just coming up over the water. It wasn’t too hot yet, although I could tell it would be because the air was so still.


I know it was a Tuesday because on Tuesdays I take Madison to the dialysis center. Her appointment starts at 9 a.m. sharp. Madison is my daughter. She’s ten years old and was born with one kidney. She needs a transplant, but my insurance is no good and it’s going to cost twelve thousand dollars, even with the charitable donation from the hospital.


The dialysis place is up in Boca Raton, and if you’re even five minutes late, they charge you a fee. I take Route A1A instead of 95, even though there’s always traffic. You can see the ocean from the road. Sometimes we stop at Dunkin Donuts, if we’re making decent time. I get a small coffee and she gets to choose a doughnut. She always picks the one with pink frosting and sprinkles. I eat most of it because she's not supposed to have too much sugar, but I tear off a little bit for her because it cheers her up.


After I looked around, I put the packages in my bag. Then I went straight home.


Sienna and Madison were in the kitchen when I arrived. Madison was eating Cheerios and neither one of them paid me much mind. I went to my bedroom and put the cocaine in the back of my closet behind a bunch of old sweatpants and tee shirts that I haven’t worn in a long time.


I thought maybe I would turn it in to the police station. That was probably the right thing to do, I figured, but it wouldn't hurt to give myself a day or two to consider my options. I wanted to call Rick and ask him what he recommended before I made up my mind about anything.


I know Rick from when I worked construction before I hurt my back and had to go on disability. He used to deal a little bit of pot and some cocaine on the side. I didn’t know what he was up to now or whether he would have any advice, but I couldn’t think of anyone else to call.


While we were driving up the A1A, the ‘check engine’ light in my car came on, which was really bad luck. I didn’t want to pull over because I was worried that maybe the car wouldn’t start and I would be late for the dialysis appointment. I really didn't want to end up with a fee. I hate those fees. We didn’t stop at the Dunkin Donuts either.


I was nervous about the car, but we made it to Boca Raton a few minutes ahead of schedule. The dialysis center is in a strip mall between a Chinese carryout place and an Irish bar called Solly’s. I usually sit with Madison while she’s doing the dialysis. When she was younger, she used to hold my hand the whole time and squeeze it when she got scared or when her arm started to ache. She doesn’t do that anymore. She says she’s too old for that. I miss it.


The television in the dialysis center was showing Frozen, which Madison liked. I was glad about that too because it took her mind off things a little bit. I texted Sienna and told her about the engine light. After that, I found Rick on Facebook and sent him a friend request. Then I looked at some other people’s pages to see what they were up to. I was distracted by Frozen and also because I was thinking about the three kilograms of cocaine hidden behind my sweatpants.


Rick accepted my friend request after only a few minutes. I sent him a message saying that it had been a long time, and he sent me a message back asking me what was up and saying it was good to hear from me. He’d moved up to Gainesville, he said. He asked me how my back was, and I told him it still hurt and that I had trouble sleeping. I said I couldn't find a new job because nobody wants a masonry guy with a bum back and because I don't know how to do much else.


Gainesville was too far to go see him in person, even if the engine light in my car wasn’t on. I sent Rick a message asking if I could give him a call because there was a thing I needed to ask him about. I made sure not to say too much in the message. He wrote me right back again and gave me his phone number, even though I haven’t spoken to him in more than five years.


I told Madison that I needed to go get something from the car, and she nodded a little bit but didn’t take her eyes off the television. Then I walked out to the parking lot. It was hotter than hell, and there was still no breeze. I went to my car and got in. I figured I would turn on the air conditioning while I called Rick, but when I turned the keys in the ignition, the engine made a terrible grinding sound and the lights on the dashboard flickered and then went dark. I didn’t know what the matter was, but it sounded like it was going to be expensive.


On top of that, I realized I would have to get the car towed and take a taxi home. I started to add it up in my head and figured it would be at least a thousand bucks.


It was even hotter in the car than it was in the parking lot and I couldn’t roll the window down to get some fresh air because the car wouldn't start, but at least it was private. I dialed the number for Rick. I was sweating a lot because of the heat and because I was pretty nervous. My fingers kept slipping and I had to start over a couple of times.


Rick answered the phone halfway through the second ring. I asked him about his wife, whose name I couldn’t remember. He laughed and said “Tammy’s a lot happier now that she doesn't have to put up with me, that’s for sure.” He said she moved back to Arkansas after the divorce to be closer to her folks. I said I was sorry, but he told me not to be because he was dating a woman he met online who was thirty-two and “had a pair of tits that just, like, defy gravity, man.” I said that all sounded really great, mostly because I didn’t know what else to say.


I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, and I also didn’t want Madison to worry about me, so I got right to it and told Rick I found a kilogram of cocaine on the beach. I don’t know why I told him it was just a kilogram, rather than what it really was, which was three. It was maybe because I didn't know Rick very well. He got really excited. He called it the “White Lobster,” which he said is what the fishermen call it. Then he said it was probably worth a few hundred grand wholesale, and a lot more than that if I broke it down into smaller packages. I said I didn’t know about all that and told him I was probably just going to bring it to the police station.


Rick was quiet for a little while after that. I wondered whether he had hung up. I asked a few times, “Rick, you there?” I was about to give up when I heard his voice again. He said he could drive down and take it off my hands if I was interested. We’d split it fifty-fifty. I told him I would have to think about it. I thanked him for his time. Then I hung up and went back inside to check on Madison.


The tow truck ended up costing two-hundred fifty bucks, which left me with only sixteen dollars and forty-seven cents in my bank account, plus whatever was in the coin jar. I put the taxi on my credit card. I didn’t want to do that because I was already behind on the payments, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter.


Madison slept most of the way home. I sat next to her in the backseat of the taxi and she rested on my shoulder. I held her hand and squeezed it like she used to do to me, but not hard enough to wake her up.


When we got home, Sienna was standing in the front yard. I got out of the taxi and carried Madison inside. She's heavy now, and I was worried about my back, but I didn't mind too much. Sienna asked me where the car was and I told her it wouldn’t start and probably needed new pistons. I didn’t know for sure that that’s what it was, but at least it was an explanation. She told me it wasn’t worth putting another dime into that piece of shit. That’s what she called it.


I went to my bedroom and texted Rick that I'd made up my mind. Then I took a tote bag and put the cocaine in it. I grabbed my metal detector, too, so I would have an excuse. I told Sienna that I was going back to the beach, but she didn’t really care. She was angry about the car. She asked me whether I could please find a big bar of gold this time. She was joking, I think, but she didn’t laugh.


I didn’t go to the beach. Instead, I walked to the police station. The metal detector was heavy, and I regretted bringing it. I had to keep switching it from one hand to the other because my back was starting to act up.


When I arrived, there was an officer at the front desk. He looked at me kind of strange when I came in, maybe because I was soaked with sweat and I was hobbling a little bit. He gave me some water in a little paper cup shaped like a cone, which was nice. I told him I just came from the beach and that I’d found two dollars and seventy-eight cents, a broken digital Casio wristwatch, a pair of reading glasses with scratched lenses, and “something else he might be interested in.” Then I handed him the tote bag.


Inside, wrapped in vacuum sealed thick, black plastic and stamped with the number “102” and a little scorpion, were two kilograms of cocaine. 

May 24, 2021 17:55

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9 comments

A.Dot Ram
17:23 May 26, 2021

It's definitely a different voice than your other stuff. I picked up on that. This poor guy is caught in a tricky situation as many people are in real life. It's sad how realistic this is, except for the magical deus ex machina (in a good way-- not a critique. It's good to see someone catch a break). It's really compelling how the narrator is just doing math in his head all day long. I'm with Heather-- I'd like to know how he knows he has cocaine, even if he just recognizes it from TV or something in one clause.

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Cathryn V
19:57 May 25, 2021

Hi David, Great story, especially for a first draft. It’s funny that this simplistic narrative reminds me of my style which recently I’ve decided to try making more poetic. (Similar to many of your stories). Anyway, I certainly did not expect the ending. One suggestion is to back off a little on his tragic circumstances as it seemed a little overdone. This sick child is always winner. Maybe add a negative trait to the mc to round out his character. Build the tension beyond the obvious? As an aside, not sure how much you know about diab...

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David G.
20:20 May 25, 2021

Thank you, Cathryn. It’s always good to try new styles and explore what works. I’m sorry I haven’t been reading your stuff lately, but I’m going to this week. You’re probably right that the sick kid is overdone. I wanted to show that he’s a decent guy, even though he’s pretty hapless. He’s got a big decision to make and he wants to help his daughter. And thank you for the info on child diabetes. I certainly don’t want the parents to be abusive. I’ll take a look at that and revise it.

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Cathryn V
22:54 May 25, 2021

No worries about my stories. I truly enjoy reading what you create for the prompts. Please, feel no obligation to reciprocate!

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Cathryn V
20:58 May 28, 2021

Oh ho! I love love this new ending. God you got me. Very clever mr David.

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H L McQuaid
13:35 May 25, 2021

Delightful. You did a great job of showing us his dilemma. The only question I had was, how did he know that the packages had cocaine in them? Maybe it's something they teach in civics class in high school in Florida, but if I ever came across something like that, I might guess that it's drugs, but I wouldn't know what flavour. :0

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David G.
14:55 May 25, 2021

Thank you, Heather. I'm glad you liked it. I'm trying hard here to give the character a voice that's a little bit different from what I tend to write. I want the internal monologue to be fairly superficial, but for the reader to recognize that he's got some really big dilemmas on his hands and not a lot of great solutions. You ask a fair question about how he knows it's cocaine. I'll have to noodle on that. Maybe one of the packages is torn open just a little bit and he recognizes it from his time with Rick. I'm off to Florida on Thursda...

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Scott Skinner
05:09 May 25, 2021

Yes! Good, man. I'm glad he's going to try to get money off that cocaine. He's in a desperate situation; he's got a bad back, his kid's sick, his wife's breathing down his neck, he lives in Florida! Its's time to take advantage. I'm glad the story ended this way. I think you built the story well - the way you shared information about this man's world that allowed me to fill in the gaps about his situation - it all happened naturally with the character's voice. The character's voice is like, he seems like a good guy. He just seemed to me ...

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David G.
14:51 May 25, 2021

Thank you, Scott. I'm playing around a bit with short, declarative sentences and punchier internal dialogue. I think your writing has inspired me! I'm glad you liked the voice. I'll see if I can bring his desperation forward a little bit more without insulting the reader by making it too obvious. Also, re: "he's got a bad back, his kid's sick, his wife's breathing down his neck, he lives in Florida!" Ha! You've got a way with words!

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