Joe Avery Returns to the Beach by Charles C Cole

Joe Avery Returns to the Beach
Charles C Cole

A friend from high school reached out. I didn’t have the best childhood, surrounded as we’d been by neighborhood violence. Most acquaintances had grown up but not out, if you get my drift, older but rarely wiser, often substandard copies of one parent or the other, commonly “adulting” in the same once-childhood house.

Maynard, raised by an aunt after his mother’s fatal car accident, had been a sophomore when he finally learned who is biological father was, a second cousin in the suburbs. He moved within a week, to catch up and to get away. Except for a grand graduation party at his oceanside home, that was the last I’d seen of him.

My reputation was growing: liaison to exotics. Usually, my clients were unique individuals dealing with a semi-hostile human population who enjoyed nothing so much as repetitive sameness.

Maynard picked me up at the train station and we debriefed. His family loved recreating in the water. They had Wave-runners, a sleek fiberglass motorboat for towing skiers, as well as a large floating platform for diving and semi-private suntanning.

Sometime between the end of one summer and the start of the next, a family of bottom-dwelling merfolk settled into the small, sheltered cove. Each group ignored, or consciously denied the existence of, the other for as long as possible. Then came the hot weather where curious human boys in tiny swimsuits encountered voluptuous mermaids.

I’ve got nothing against exotics,” explained Maynard, an expression I heard all too frequently, “if they stay on the ocean floor, but when they come to the surface, there’s bound to be an accident. The boys zoom around like it’s a racetrack. There are a couple of young girls, sisters I think, who’ve been sunbathing on our dock, laughing and giggling. They don’t get the concept of private property. Or modesty. They’re just asking for trouble. The boys can’t help but stare.”

I’ll do what I can,” I offered.

If anyone can come to the rescue, it’s the legendary Joe Avery.” I smiled wanly. My reputation was a two-edged sword that cut both ways.

Most coastal merfolk were nocturnal, an adaptation that kept their interactions with humans to a minimum. At dusk, friends in a lobster boat pulled up to the dock. I’d helped them out with a reticent genie, and they were tired of feeling indebted. I wish I could say we shared a warm reunion, but second- and third-generation fishermen have an almost genetic distrust of mischievous sirens.

Long story short: my exotic receptionist, Calendula, had recruited a she-faery, a former client, to act as a reconnaissance drone to find a submariner Golem who was then used as a courier. I turned on the floodlight. The merman popped up at the designated spot at the designated time.

Detective Avery?”

Duke Mako?”

I hear we have a mutual problem,” said Mako. Mermen waste no time.

I’m told you have beautiful daughters.”

They get it from their mother.”

I don’t have any children of my own, but I can imagine being very protective.”

When they were younger, yes,” admitted Mako. “For many years. But teenagers need their freedom or they will rebel, so my wife tells me. I see no problems accommodating them, if they stay near home and out of trouble.”

And away from tempting human males?”

It’s a phase all mergirls go through; I’m not worried.”

I thought mermen are known for their blunt honesty,” I said.

Some of us have adapted to the ways of our human neighbors, with white lies and vague answers. It still leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, but it serves its purpose.”

Help me help you.”

I like it here,” Mako began. “Gentle currents and a subtle tide. At night it’s easy to forget about air-breathers overhead. I sleep in the day, not because I want to, but it’s a different place: a loud, busy, gasoline-smelling tourist destination. Like all vacationlands, it’s paradise so long as it’s viewed through the right filter.”

And that’s, more or less, where we left things.

That night I headed home on the last train back to the city. All around me, people were their best quiet selves: they read or listened to music or slept. But I knew that daylight would bring a different energy.

Maynard called me at home a few weeks later. I was hand-washing an ashtray made of a turtle’s shell. It had been a “consolation prize” from Mako. What was a natural beauty to some was a meal (or an ashtray) to another.

First off, everybody’s okay.”

What happened?!”

One of my boys, Jacob, was showing off, zooming around while ogling the girls. He wasn’t watching where he was going. He ran aground, hard, flew into the water. The girls saved his life. Brought him to shore before he lost consciousness. He would have drowned. I know it wasn’t the girls’ fault, but it didn’t have to happen.”

And?” I prodded.

Mako’s acknowledged we were here first. I’ve promised him that we have no interest in what goes on along the seabed. His daughters understand their part. The boys are going to drive slower, and the girls are going to partially cover up their ‘assets.’ Everyone’s agreed: only one species on the dock at a time.”

I’m glad everyone’s okay,” I said. “You and Mako both seem like reasonable men doing the best you can.”

There’s more. His wife, a lovely woman by the way, and mine have become chummy, at our expense I suspect. We’ve had a couple of shoreline adults-only late-night seafood dinners, alcohol provided by the landlubbers. I think we’ll be okay, but we’re all ready for summer to end.”

Maybe next summer will be better,” I ventured.

The boys will be entering college, and I’m going to insist on summer jobs out of town to get them used to being away from home.”

At that time, that was the closest thing I’d seen humans and exotics becoming neighborly. It gave me hope.

Joe Avery Returns to the Beach by Charles C Cole 1

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