Desperate Play

By: Barbara Freethy


As the sun rose over Manhattan Beach, Wyatt Tanner adjusted the baseball hat on his head and changed positions on the very uncomfortable bench upon which he'd spent the past few hours. It was a little before seven, and he was happy to see the city waking up. He was itchy to get the day going.

He pulled a granola bar out of his weathered, green seabag and downed it in two bites, then tossed the wrapper into the nearby overflowing trash can. The food did little to ease the gnawing hunger in his gut. He'd always been a big breakfast person, and right now visions of eggs, bacon, hash browns, and pancakes with powdered sugar and hot maple syrup floated through his head.

Later, he told himself, not sure that was a promise he would keep. But he'd told so many lies in his life, what was one more?

He ran a hand through his dirty, brown hair and wondered how the hell he'd gotten here. It was a thought that had been running through his head far too frequently the past several months. Of course, he knew how he'd gotten here, but sometimes the twists and turns his life had taken seemed surreal, even to him.

But he couldn't get lost in the past.

An old minivan pulled into the parking lot behind him. Three young males tumbled out of the van along with a few empty beer cans. He hoped those were from the night before.

The men pulled on wetsuits, grabbed their surfboards and headed across the sand. They were young, ripped, full of life, and cocky as hell.

He could almost remember that feeling…

Not that he was old, but this morning he was feeling every day of his thirty-two years.

As the wind picked up, he zipped up his weathered bomber jacket, and was happy he wasn't out on the ocean today. It was early December, for God's sake. This might be Southern California, and while the temp was supposed to get up into the low seventies today, it was only in the fifties now, and the sea was ice-cold. But he could understand the lure of the waves, the adrenaline rush that came from battling Mother Nature. Since he'd come to California, he'd been out on those waves more than once, impatiently waiting for the ride of his life. Usually, the ocean did not disappoint.

He sat up straighter as a black Escalade pulled into the lot a few spots away from the mini-van. The driver, a male in his mid-forties, wearing a conservative gray suit, got out from behind the wheel and moved around the front of the car to open the back door.

An older man stepped onto the pavement, his hair white, his skin tan, and his body lean in his black wetsuit. The man had probably fifty years on the three teenagers who had hit the beach before him, but there was excitement in his expression as his gaze moved toward the large waves crushing the beach. It wasn't a day for amateurs, but clearly this man did not fall into that category.

The driver handed the man his surfboard and then said, "You need anything else for now, Mr. Tremaine?"

"No, thanks, Robert. Go have your coffee. I won't be more than a half hour. Busy day today."

"Enjoy yourself," Robert replied, before heading down the strand toward a beachside café a quarter of a mile away.

The older man ran a reverent hand down his board and smiled to himself. He was clearly looking forward to riding the waves. But as he picked up the board, a dark SUV came speeding into the lot, stopping directly behind the Escalade, rather than pulling into an adjacent parking spot.

Wyatt's gut clenched. Trouble was coming.

The two men who exited the vehicle looked more like thugs than surfers, wearing jeans and dark jackets, baseball caps on their heads, dark sunglasses covering their eyes. As they moved toward the Escalade, the taller man pulled out a gun.

He jumped to his feet.

The older man suddenly realized the danger he was in as the shorter man ripped the surfboard away from him, tossing it onto the ground while his friend shoved the older gentleman up against the side of the car, pressing the gun into his side.

Wyatt wasn't about to let the man be robbed, kidnapped or carjacked. No one was paying any attention to him. He was just another homeless person on the beach.

He took a wide circle around the van, so he could creep up behind the shorter man. He grabbed him by both shoulders and bounced his head off the side of the car. The man groaned and slumped to the ground.

The taller man heard the commotion, turned toward him, gun in hand.