August 30th is National Toasted Marshmallow Day so, naturally, we're celebrating.
Sure there's some debate: Is National Toasted Marshmallow Day August 14th or August 30th? We go with the 30th because it's closer to Labor Day. Besides, if you dig a little deeper, you'll discover August 14th is also National Creamsicle Day, and we firmly believe Creamsicles deserve their own, separate day of national recognition.
Five of my long-time buds and I are driving out to Tangerine Beach. Here in Sea Haven, New Jersey, the beaches get named after the streets they're closest to. On the way, we pass Buccaneer Bob's Bagels, Sea Shanty Shoes, and Moby Moo's Ice Cream Cove. In case you can't tell by the waterlogged names, this is your basic down-the-shore resort town: we live for July and August because our visitors go home in September and take their wallets with them.
I'm a part-time summer cop with the Sea Haven Police. That means I wear a navy-blue cop cap and help elderly pedestrians navigate the crosswalks. This year I might go full-time when summer's over, which is, basically, next week. They usually offer one part-timer a job at the end of the season. The chief gets to pick. We have a new one. We'll see. Anyhow, I put in my application.
Riding up front with me, twiddling her sparkly toes on the dashboard, is Katie Landry. She's a friend who I hope will soon become a "friend." Like the Molson billboard says: "Friends come over for dinner. Friends stay for breakfast." So far, Katie and me? We're just doing takeout. Mostly Burger King or Quiznos.
In the second row are Jess Garrett and Olivia Chibbs — a sleepy-eyed surfer dude and an African-American beauty queen slash brainiac. Jess and Olivia are already buttering toast and squeezing orange juice together. She comes home from college every summer to make money to cover the stuff her med-school scholarships don't. Jess lives here full time. He paints houses when he's not busy goofing off.
Then there's Becca Adkinson and Harley Mook. Becca's folks run the Mussel Beach Motel, she helps. Mook (we all call him Mook) is short and tubby and loud. He's in the way-back, popping open a bag of Cheetos like it's a balloon. He's just in town for a week or two, which is fine. You can only take so much Mook. He's in grad school, working on his MBA.
According to Jess, that means "Me Big Asshole."
"Hey, Danny?" Mook hollers. "What's the biggest crime down here these days? Taffy-snatching? Over-inflated volleyballs?"
Mook's not funny but he's right: people typically come to our eighteen-mile strip of sand for old-fashioned fun in the sun. It's not the South Bronx. It's not even Newark. But, Sea Haven is where I saw my first bullet-riddled body sprawled out on a Tilt-A-Whirl over at Sunnyside Playland. I remember that morning. It wasn't much fun.
"Traffic!" Becca says. "That's the worst!"
I'm driving because my current vehicle is a minivan with plenty of room for beer and gear. I bought the van "pre-owned," my mother being the previous owner. She sold it to me when she and my dad moved out to Arizona. It's a dry heat.
I'd say half the vehicles in front of me are also minivans, all loaded down with beach stuff. Bike racks off the backs, cargo carriers up top. You can't see inside anybody's rear windows because the folding chairs and inflatable hippopotami are stacked too high. I have plenty of time to make these observations because our main drag, Ocean Avenue, is currently a four-lane parking lot.
"Take Kipper!" This from Mook. Now he's chugging out of a two-liter bottle of grape soda.
"Hello? He can't," says Becca. She points to the big No Left Turn sign.
"Chill, okay?" Katie teaches kindergarten so she knows how to talk to guys like Mook.
"For the love of God, man, take Kipper!" Now Mook's kneeling on the floor, begging me to hang a Louie. For the first time all day, he's actually kind of funny so I go ahead and make the illegal left.
Oh – the streets in this part of town? They're named after fish. In alphabetical order. Only they couldn't find a fish that starts with a Q so Red Snapper comes right after Prawn.
As soon as I make the turn, a cop steps into the street and raises his palm.
And, of course, it's my partner. John Ceepak. He signals for me to pull over.
There's another cop with him. Buzz Baines. Our brand new chief of police. Some people thought Ceepak should've taken the top job after what happened here in July. Ceepak wasn't one of them.
I'm not sure if Buzz is Baines's real name or if it's just what everybody calls him because he's really an Arnold or a Clarence or something. Anyhow, Buzz is the guy I hope will give me a full-time job next Tuesday. Today he's going to give me a ticket.
"Danny?" Ceepak is startled to see me behaving in such a criminal fashion.
Ceepak is a cop 24-7. He's 6'2" and a former MP. He still does jumping-jacks and push-ups — what he calls PT — every morning, like he's still in the Army. He also has this code he lives by: "I will not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate those who do." An illegal left turn? That's cheating. No question, I'm busted.
"Hey, Ceepak!" Becca sticks her head over my shoulder. She loves his muscles. Maybe this is why Becca and I don't date anymore: where Ceepak's beefcake, I'm kind of angel food.
"Who we got here, John?" Baines hasn't recognized me yet.
"Auxiliary Officer Boyle."
I hear Becca sigh. Ceepak? He's handsome. Buzz Baines? He's handsomer, if that's a word. Sort of like a TV anchorman. You know what I mean, chiseled features with a lantern jaw and this little mustache over a toothpaste-commercial smile.
"Of course. Boyle. You and John cracked the Tilt-A-Whirl case."
"Roger that," says Ceepak. "Officer Boyle played a vital role in that investigation."
"Keep up the good work." Chief Baines winks at me. "And don't break any more laws."
"Call me Buzz."
"Yes, sir. Buzz."
I hear Ceepak rip a citation sheet off his pad. It's all filled in.
"You're writing him up?" Baines asks.
"Yes, sir. The law is the law. It should be applied fairly, without fear or favoritism."
"John, when you're right, you're right. Sorry, Danny. If you need help with the fifty bucks, come see me. We'll work out a payment schedule."
"Drive safely," says Ceepak.
From Mad Mouse by Chris Grabenstein. Copyright 2007 by Chris Grabenstein. Excerpted by permission of Chris Grabenstein.