Vigorous senior citizens prison break a nursing home. Powerful enemies stand in the way of beach living, romance, and spending time with a pot-smoking surfer. Join Mary, the Catholic; Ed, the atheist; Tina, the Thespian, and Legend, the surfer. Lively, yet timely, Escape from Sunny Shores, explores the changing parameters of aging, and it's a lot of fun to read.
Ronnie watched the apartment from his BMW, the engine off, the windows down. Nine o’clock at night and hot as hell, no breeze, the suffocating air reeking of cedar and car exhaust. San Antonio was even hotter than Corpus Christi, if that was possible. A dry heat, people said, although to him it was all miserable.
It was his second night, and he worried that someone would notice his car, gorgeous hunk of glass and steel that it was. He worried less about someone noticing him. No one ever paid attention to him. Not women, not men, not even muggers. He hated it that he was so nondescript, yet it was his greatest strength at that moment.
The smell of the doughnuts wafted up to him from the passenger seat. Only three remained. Sure, maybe he needed to lose a few pounds, who didn’t, but he needed courage. He chose a Bavarian cream, took a bite, and savored the yummy filling until his tooth sang in pain. Damn, another cavity.
Suddenly, the light in the apartment went out. Was it show time? He set the doughnut down and grabbed the sack that held the cigarettes and kitchen matches.
The tenant came out of the building. Enveloped by the dim, yellow streetlights, he tramped across the expanse of parched, dying grass in the yard. Where in the hell did he go at night? The manager didn’t know, only that most nights he left at nine or ten, sometimes later, and was gone an hour or two, sometimes longer.
Pulling his baseball cap low across his forehead, Ronnie slid out of the BMW and started walking. His knees wobbled, but this was his moment of greatness. He licked the last flecks of doughnut glaze from his lips and strolled into the complex. Luck was with him. The long, interior hall was empty, and he hurried to the apartment door and opened it with the key the manager had provided.
The place was a disgusting wreck. The tenant was a hoarder. Magazines and newspapers piled up everywhere, several feet high in places. A natural tinderbox. Ronnie would hardly have to do anything. He had to hand in to Judge Miller. The guy picked his victims carefully.
The newspapers stacked on the living room coffee table beckoned. He set an ashtray next to them, and took the matches out of the sack. All the articles had said not to use an accelerant, only use materials available at the scene. Damn, the Internet was good. You could learn how to do anything.
Besides, he didn’t need an accelerant. The place was a fire waiting to happen. All it needed was a little help. He pulled a full garbage sack next to the couch and slid some newspapers under the ashtray.
The long, erect flame of the wooden match excited him. He lit a cigarette, the same brand the tenant smoked, and sucked on it until it glowed a bright red, then set it on the newspaper. The paper blackened, but didn’t catch.
This was harder than expected. Sweat gushed from his body, and he farted. There was no turning back, no running back to his BMW. If he ran, there would be no BMW. It would be repossessed. He sat on the couch and, hand trembling, lit another match and held it up to the stack of newspapers above the ashtray.
It didn’t catch.
He got so nervous he dropped the match into the box of matches. Flames shot up like a torch and set the newspaper stack on fire, then spread to the couch inches from his thigh. He bounded to his feet as the fire crawled up the back of the couch and down the frayed seam in the middle of the carpet. Everything was catching fire. The curtains. The garbage sacks. Flames all around. How beautiful.
As he walked slow and steady out of the apartment, an alarm sounded, but no one ran into the hall. Lucky again. Another alarm went off as he put the car in gear. Fire danced in the apartment window, ran up the side of the building to the second floor. People, some in bathrobes, ran outside. A baby cried. A siren approached.
When he was a few blocks away, he buried his nose in his shirt sleeve and breathed the smell of the smoke deep into his lungs. How exciting, like nothing he had ever experienced. The Hemisfair Arena and the other downtown landmarks slipped past. The elation brimmed inside him, and he pulled out his burnerphone. What an appropriate name for a phone.
“The eagle has landed,” he said.
“Time is still running out,” Judge Miller said in his gravelly voice. “The balloon notes are coming due soon. We need the beachcomber store that the old surfer owns. And we need your mother-in-law’s beach house.”
“I’ve tried everything on my mother-in-law.”
“Get creative. Turn up the heat.”
The line went dead. Ronnie’s elation faded. He picked up the Bavarian cream, chewed slowly to make it last, licked the glaze from his lips, and winced at the pain in his tooth. The surfer, Legend, was on the ropes, past due on all his bills. He would sell. But Mary had proven harder to swindle than he’d expected. He’d thought that once they’d gotten her to sell her house in town and move to Sunny Shores Retirement Villa it would be easy to get her to sell the beach house too. He’d even had the papers prepared, only to have her refuse to sign when they sat down in the plush leather chairs at the title company. What a humiliation for him.
Maybe she needed to see with her own eyes how much he had let the beach house fall into disrepair. Sunny Shores had periodic field trips, and one was planned for the beach. That would be a perfect opportunity for her to see what a wreck the place had become.
Even so, the old bat was stubborn. How could they turn up the heat even more?
The coolers. She lived to get drunk on those raspberry coolers. He would have Suzie refuse to get them for her any more. Suzie might balk, Mary being her mother, but he would not tolerate disobedience.
And he would call Sylvester Bonnet, the nursing home administrator. Ronnie would lie. He would say that Mary had started drinking heavily again, and she needed to be closely watched.