BEFORE THE STORM
Tuesday, August 14
Clearwater Beach, Florida
(23 miles west of Tampa)
Jack Cobb wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone.
Not the hostess, not the locals, and certainly not the shirtless tourists who whooped with glee as they drank their piña coladas while listening to a white guy with dreadlocks play a reggae version of Margaritaville.
Cobb rolled his eyes and gulped his beer.
Another fucking day in paradise.
Prior to his trip to Florida, he could tolerate Jimmy Buffett, but his beach songs were played so often—and so poorly—at the bars and restaurants around town, Cobb was tempted to pull his gun and shoot the wannabe Rastafarian before he could inflict more damage to the public’s eardrums. With the liberal gun laws in the Sunshine State, Cobb was ninety percent sure he could plead self-defense and get away with it.
The thought of violence made him smile.
It was the first time he had smiled that day.
With its stifling heat, Florida is miserable in August. While the winter months are heaven on earth, summer is closer to hell. According to a plastic thermometer behind the bar, the temperature was ninety-five—and so was the humidity. It was so hot even the seagulls were cranky. They shrieked obnoxiously as they searched for food on the wooden deck overlooking the wide white beach and the vast turquoise sea.
From his stool at the end of the bar, Cobb watched the birds fight for scraps. The imagery pissed him off because it made him think of his current ordeal.
He had come to the Palm Pavilion, a popular beachfront hangout on Clearwater Beach, to take his mind off things, but the place was having the opposite effect.
Everyone around him was loose and having fun.
Meanwhile, he was coiled and ready to strike.
People sensed it, too.
The place was packed, but the stools next to him were empty.
His icy gray stare kept people away.
Thunder rumbled in the distance like gunfire in the Middle East. The locals were so used to the threat they paid it no mind. Along this part of the Gulf Coast, it rains almost every day in the summer, normally in the middle of the afternoon. The showers were often quick but powerful. With more thunderstorms than just about anywhere on the planet, this region proudly calls itself the lightning capital of the world.
Cobb glanced at his watch. It was 1:37 PM.
He guessed he had ninety minutes until it started to rain.
He raised his hand and ordered a pitcher of beer.
It was time to pick up his pace.