The homeowner was drinking cocktails by the pool. He mixed them up on a small metal cart stocked with glassware, ice, and liquor. He’d had a few already. The pool boy knew from the work order that the man’s name was O’Hara.
“The trick to a good Old Fashioned,” O’Hara was saying, “is the sugar. Demerara sugar. That’s the key. Adds the notes of baking spices.”
The pool boy had finished vacuuming and was rolling up the plastic hose.
“And the whiskey, of course. Rye whiskey’s what you need. Drier. Lot of people use bourbon. Big mistake. Too sweet. Doesn’t take in the sugar, you see. No room for it. Comes out too syrupy.”
The pool boy didn’t respond. The house sat on top of a hill; the backyard looked down the slope and out onto the harbor, where white sailboats skipped across the blue.
“Learned that from a bartender in Greenwich Village. Then he stole my woman.” The man held his glass aloft, spinning its contents around with a connoisseur’s bent. “Genius.”
“Bitters, of course,” he went on, “are crucial. You know about bitters?”
“No, sir,” the pool boy said. He was skimming leaves and twigs from the water’s surface with a long retractable net.
“Used to be some guy’d roll into town with this big wagon selling all sorts of stuff. Potions and such. He’d mix up this high-proof alcohol with herbs and tree bark and fruit skins; get it real nasty-tasting, right? Like medicine ought to be. Then he’d pawn it off as this sort of magic cure-all. Didn’t matter if you had stomach ulcers or epilepsy or a broken thumb. ‘Just drink this,’ he’d say, ‘getchya right as rain.’ And it worked. For a bit, anyhow. You’d choke it down and things wouldn’t seem so bad. Trick is you were just sauced. Didn’t fix a damn thing. Just got you blitzed, made you believe you were feeling better long enough for him to pack up and skip town.”
“Almost done, sir.”
“Make sure to check the filters for me.”
“Yes, sir.” The pool boy got on his knees and opened the filter cover. He cleaned out the gunk with his bare hand and closed it again. “Done.”
“Good. Good. Say, have you been here before?”
“Thought I recognized you.”
“All set.” The pool boy started to pack up his equipment.
“Hold up,” the homeowner said, sitting up in his chair. “Come on over here.”
“Sit down, have a drink.”
“Oh, no, sir. I can’t. Thank you. I have other jobs to get to.”
“You just got here. You work too fast. Come on, have a drink.” He lifted his nearly empty glass. “You ever had one of these?”
“No, sir,” said the pool boy. “Thank you, but—”
“You have to try one. It’ll change your life. Come on.”
“Goodbye, Mr. O’Hara.”
“I’m actually a doctor. Dr. Calvin Coolidge O’Hara.”
“Oh, okay. Sorry, doctor. Goodbye.”
He picked up his pool-cleaning gear and started lugging it towards the gate that led to the driveway where his work van was parked, but stopped when O’Hara called behind him, “I’ll pay you.”
“Ten bucks. Stay for one drink.”
The pool boy hesitated, turned around, and said, “No, thank you.”
The older man smiled; his belly poked out of his open Hawaiian shirt and sagged over the waist of his Bermuda shorts.
Standing there with his bucket and his net, and the plastic hose looped and slung over his shoulder, the pool boy looked down the slope of the property to the ocean. It was a nice view. “Okay,” he said.
“Good. Good. Come on. Have a seat. Leave that shit there.”
The pool boy set down his gear, walked back, and sat sideways on a lounge chair.
“I’ll fix us a round.” The host got to work. He poured and stirred and squeezed the skin of an orange over each glass before dropping it in. “You squeeze the orange over the top. Just the rind. See, it’s covered in these aromatic oils. So you get those out over the top, and when you go to take a sip, you’re smelling the flowers of the orange while you’re tasting the cocktail, and it all meets up there in your cortex. Gives you a full sensual experience.”
O’Hara handed him and Old Fashioned, raised his own, and said, “To a hard day’s work.” The pool boy sniffed his drink before sipping it, and they sat in silence until he said, “So, what kind of doctor are you?”
“You like it?”
“Taking a bit of a sabbatical at the moment.”
The pool boy sucked his teeth and nodded as if he understood.
“Know why anesthesiologists are bad at parties?” the doctor said.
“They put everyone to sleep. How’s the drink?”
“Told ya, rye whiskey.” O’Hara drank.
After another silence, the pool boy said, “Nice house.”
“Yeah. My wife picked it out. Oh, before I forget.” O’Hara reached into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out a $20 bill. He handed it over.
More sips in silence.
“She has her interests and I have mine.”
“My wife and I. She’s off in Newport or Easthampton, having champagne and canapés with an art critic or Daughter of the American Revolution.”
“Big society type, you know.”
The pool boy shuffled uncomfortably in his seat. The doctor was smiling at him in a way that made him fidgety. Wanting to relieve the tension, he said. “I have a girlfriend.”
“Good,” O’Hara said. “Good.
“Having our first child soon.”
“Mazel.” He held his glass up again. They clinked their drinks and drank, finishing them. “Another!”
The pool boy stood up. “No, sir. Thank you. I have to go.”
“It’s not time yet. Here.” O’Hara pulled another $20 from his pocket. “Have one more.”
The pool boy checked his watch, took the bill, and sat back down. O’Hara made more drinks. The sun sank. There were fewer boats on the water now. They talked about the weather and the pool boy drank quickly. When he’d finished his second one, he moved to stand up again. “Really, now I have to go.”
“You can’t leave now.”
“My boss. I’m already late for the next job. He’ll get calls.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
“Your boss. I’ll call him. What’s his name?” Then, seeing that the owner’s name and phone number stitched to the front of the pool boy’s breast pocket, he said, “Paul’s Pool Services and Repair. Paul’s the man to talk to.” O’Hara mumbled the telephone numbers to himself to memorize them and handed the pool boy another $20. “Just stay put. I’ll be right back,” he shouted over his shoulder as he jogged toward the house.
The pool boy anxiously bounced his left leg and rubbed his hands together. He looked between the cleaning equipment piled on the lawn and the money in his hand. The sun was almost gone now, and the lights of the pool clicked on.
O’Hara came out a minute later, this time from the back door of the detached garage. He waved. “All set. Come on over. Wanna show you something.”
The pool boy obeyed.
“Told your man Paul I had a cracked pipe. Big mess. Gonna take a few hours. To have him bill me for your overtime.”
“Oh.” Then, “Thanks.”
“Look it,” O’Hara ushered him into the garage, and the pool boy saw what he was being shown: a sleek, two-seater sports car, red with a white convertible top.
“Shipped over from Italy. 5350 cc, 5.4 liter American-made four-stroke V8 engine, 335 horsepower. Pressed steel and welded panel chassis. Zero to sixty in 6.6.”
“Less than 800 manufactured.”
“Used to have another one just like it in blue. Lost in a bet over a golf game. Prick endodontist out of Bay Ridge. Lucky son of a bitch. I’m sure he cheated.” The doctor pulled back the soft top of the car; it folded neatly behind the seats. “Check out that interior.”
Headlights appeared through the garage door windows. The pool boy put his drink down.
“Aha,” O’Hara said. “Right on time.” He pushed a button on the wall and a motor pulled a chain, opening the garage door. The car in the driveway was a taxi. The doctor’s flip-flops made smacking sounds as he hurried over to it and opened the back door. A woman got out. O’Hara paid the driver, and the cab pulled away. Walking back with her arm-in-arm, O’Hara said, “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. This is Lana.”
She was dreadfully skinny, with faraway eyes and half-wet hair. She wore a spaghetti-strap top, a plastic miniskirt, and open-toed shoes. The pool boy thought maybe she’d been pretty once.
She looked to O’Hara and said, “Two?”
“Let’s have a drink.”
“That’s it for me,” the pool boy said.
“What? No. Come on. We’re having fun.”
The pool boy marched toward the driveway, determined.
“Your gear,” O’Hara said.
He turned around to get his stuff, but the doctor was on him.
“Fifty bucks.” He held the bills in his hands like a Chinese fan. “Please.”
“My girlfriend will be angry.”
“Not when she sees this,” O’Hara said, waving the cash.
The pool boy looked back at his van, then at the woman. “Last one.” He took the money. “Then I go.”
“Last one,” O’Hara grinned. He opened the passenger side door of the convertible and said to Lana, “Have a seat.” He held her hand as she sat like a starlet in a limousine after the big premiere. Closing her door, he pointed to the driver’s side and said to the pool boy, “Please.” The pool boy wiped his nose with the back of his hand then got in behind the steering wheel.
“Like you’re on your way to Lookout Point,” O’Hara said. “Here. Put your arm around her.”
He did as he was told.
“There it is,” the doctor said. “Now you’re ready to ask her to go steady. Don’t move a muscle.” He scurried out.
The pool boy and the woman sat in the car. The silence was brutal; to break it, he asked, “How long have you known the doctor?”
“He’s a doctor?”
“That’s what he told me.”
She pulled a compact from her purse and checked her makeup in its little mirror. He could see the foundation caked into the acne craters of her face.
“And you believe him?” she said.
“Why would he lie?”
Lana laughed. “You’re funny, kid.”
Before he could respond, O’Hara returned carrying a triangle of tall glasses between his fingers.
“Decided to switch things up,” he said, handing them out. “Tom Collins. Mind the upholstery.” He ran his finger along the top of Lana’s headrest, and lifted his glass with his other hand. “Italian leather. Cheers.”
They all drank.
“Gin this time. Some people say you shouldn’t mix liquors. Makes your hangover worse, but that’s bullshit. Trust me, I’m a doctor. Quality, that’s the thing. As long as what you’re drinking is of a certain caliber, have whatever you want. You like it?”
“It’s good,” Lana said.
“Yeah,” the pool boy said. “Good.”
“Fresh lemon juice. Little cane sugar. Lets the botanicals of the gin shine through. Some bubbles to tickle your nose.”
The pool boy cleared his throat. The woman drank.
“Fun story behind the Tom Collins. All started as a big joke. Some guy’d run up to you on the street in New York and say, ‘Hey, there’s this guy Tom Collins that’s been running his mouth about you.’ Then you’d say, ‘Where’s he at?’ and he’d say, ‘In that bar over there.’ So you bust in there ready for a fight and ask the bartender, ‘Where’s Tom Collins?’ and he’d hand you one of these and say, ‘Here ya go.’”
After a silence the woman said, “Nice car.”
The pool boy said, “It’s getting late.”
“Best Tom Collins I ever had? 1953, on a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, me and my wife. My first wife. They served them with these little ginger candies. Went down real easy. I started getting a little frisky, asking her if she wanted to join the Mile High Club. You know how those long hauls are; you get cabin fever.”
“I’ve never been on a plane.”
“Who wants some music?” O’Hara said. He opened the woman’s door and held out his hand again to help her. Her heel slipped from under her as she stood up, but she recovered. “Easy does it.” Then, to the pool boy, “Come, come.”
The pool boy got out of the car and checked his watch again. The doctor fished a key from the pocket of his shorts and put it in the car’s ignition. He turned it one notch, and the radio came on. The other two stood by and sipped, while O’Hara scanned the stations, eventually settling on some jangly hippie pop number, “Aha.” Turning back to them, he took the glasses from their hands, placed them on the floor and said, “How about a little dance?”
The pool boy shook his head. “No. No, sir. That’s enough.” He held his palms up in front of him, signaling he was done.
“Here.” The doctor pulled a wad of cash from his shorts and peeled off bills without counting them. “Take it. Take it. One dance.”
The pool boy looked at the doctor, the money, and the woman. “Why are you doing this?”
O’Hara took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and waved the bills. He bowed his head and said, “Please.”
Slower this time, the pool boy took the cash. The doctor’s demeanor changed instantly. He smacked his hands together, “Alrighty.” He reached into the car to turn up the volume on the radio and said, “Let’s dance.”
Lana and the pool boy didn’t move, so the doctor started clapping. “Come on. Come on.” He swung his index fingers in the air like a conductor. “And a-one and a-two.”
The woman began moving her hips and bobbing her head to the music. The pool boy followed suit.
“No, no.” The doctor put his hands on their backs and guided their bodies towards each other. “Come on. Together. Together.” The woman put her arms around the pool boy’s shoulders, and he put his hands on her hips. They swayed to the music. “That’s it. Feel the tempo.” O’Hara plopped down in the passenger’s seat. He took a big gulp of his Tom Collins. “That’s it.” He smiled and let his head loll onto the leather headrest. “You’re young and it’s a full moon and you’ll never be as happy as you are right now.” The hippies sang about love in the summertime.
“Calvin Coolidge,” the doctor said over the music. “The only US President born on the Fourth of July.”
The dancers made a small circle with their steps.
“Kept a mechanical horse in the White House. How about that?” O’Hara finished his cocktail, then picked up the pool boy’s from the floor and drank that one too. “Lana, put your head on his shoulder now.” She did.
“That’s it. Young love.”
The song changed to a maudlin orchestral piece with strings and a wandering melody.
“Young love,” the doctor sang his own made-up tune over the music. “Young love, love, love.” His refrain degraded into a mumble. “Young love, young love.” They stopped dancing. The doctor was asleep.
The woman and the pool boy separated.
“Dude’s a trip,” she said.
“I think he’s sad.”
“Rich people ain’t get to be sad.” The pool boy watched as she rifled through the doctor’s pockets until she found the money. She counted all the bills and said, “He’s short.”
She rolled her eyes. “My man will come out here for the rest of it.”
“What does that mean?”
“Everybody’s gotta pay. One way or the other.”
The pool boy looked at O’Hara, asleep in the passenger’s seat of his Italian sports car, and said, “He seems older than he did before.”
The pool boy pulled out the cash the doctor had given him from the pocket of his work pants. The bills were all wadded and smashed together. He handed the pile to Lana.
She took the money and counted it.
“Okay,” she said.
The pool boy reached in and turned the car off. He dropped the key onto the doctor’s lap. Then, to the woman, he said, “You need a ride somewhere?”
“I’ll get my gear.”
Michael C. Campbell
Michael C. Campbell spent most of his adult life working his way around the US as a bartender and musician. He recently received his MFA in creative writing from Boston University and is currently at work on his debut novel. He likes punk rock, the beach and movies about space.