DOCTOR Z and the HOA
Dr. Zackary Middleton, Ph.D., former professor of Astral Genetics, moved to Grapefruit Gardens Condominiums, Boca Citrus, FL. He quickly decided there were too many old people there. According to his residency application, his academic career had focused on geriatric sequencing. The board promptly approved his application and also offered him a seat on the board. Dr. Z’s opinions mattered.
In only three months, he managed to stir up this previously unconcerned oasis of seniors with his controversial views.
In his volley of geriatric criticism, the first shot was his seminal treatise, Aging, What Is It Good For? He placed one in everyone’s mail cubby, adding an additional three copies for Traci Wolfe, HOA president, with a Post-it attached saying, “Just in case.”
“In case of what?” wondered Traci. She reread the treatise, using a yellow highlighter to mark statements of particular importance: Old people need to live on the edge, they’re taking up too much room…Old people need to be themselves, everyone else is already taken…Arthritis sucks! Nothing that Traci, a sprightly age 67, could disagree with. Also, she agreed that a man of Dr. Z’s credentials and listed awards would be a great asset for this community.
Only one man saw a problem. He wasn’t a resident—he cleaned the pool and power washed the driveway three days a week. Eddie Dorraine was taking a break. He figured he deserved it after working for three hours in the sun and needed to get off his swollen feet. Finding shade against the building, Eddie saw a flyer sticking out of one of the mailboxes, grabbed it, and read: Aging, What Is… He quickly saw it for what it was, “What a crock of pelican poop!”
Doctor Z would discuss his treatise at the drop of a sun visor. Relishing his first appearance before the select group to detail his proposal to reduce the HOA budget. The elite group was culled from the condo population by age, with 79 being the cutoff. Anyone older was determined by Dr. Z to not be worthy of his wisdom and, in fact, in the way of progress. He started slowly—he began with the elevators.
Addressing the assembly, he said, “Condo mates, it’s a pleasure to meet with you today and discuss my budget reducing proposals. As you know, my academic career has focused on the universal disability, aging, and the deleterious effects it can bring. Not to the aged person, but those that have to put up with their frailties, give way to their walkers, or speak louder to deaf ears.” The group leaned forward intently, listening to this gospel.
He continued, “My studies and research have shown a direct link between aging and value. Those eighty and above have the least value. Therefore, to enhance the living standard of our select group—and you all know those parameters. I’ve determined that the elevators be shut down and personal worthiness tested by the ability to walk up the stairs.” There was a distinct murmur among the assembly as they tried to absorb this science.
Dr. Z stopped to take a drink from a sippy cup containing Jack Daniels. Then said, “I’ve gone over the logistics of the apartment locations viz a viz age, and found that not one old person lives on the first level, which is splendid news. Having been fearfully influenced by the exploding python population in south Florida, they were eager to choose the third-floor units’ safety. Therefore, the use of elevators is a significant expense. If we eliminate the elevators, the costs go down and, most likely, old people move out.”
Eddie Dorraine didn’t miss a word and went to inform Muriel and Howard in 305-C.
Howard was 83, a Marine combat vet who still did twelve pushups every morning. Muriel had been a field hockey player at Wellesley, proud of her bent nose. They were tough old birds. When Eddie finished describing the Dr. Z meeting at the clubhouse, they simultaneously said, “What a crock of pelican poop!”
Muriel got beers and beef jerky from the kitchen then they all huddled together to plan a strategy. Howard took a pull on his Bud Light and said, “I think we need to keep quiet for now. We don’t want to get any of the geezers riled before we’re ready to act, so let’s make a plan and keep it quiet until D-Day.”
“D-Day?” Eddie and Muriel spoke simultaneously.
“Defiance Day! That’s when we tell them we’re not going to take this crap!” Howard’s face got red.
“Okay,” Eddie said, “What do we do then?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet.” Howard took another pull on his beer, and Muriel went to the bathroom.
* * *
Unknown to the speakers, Jenny Paige, their next-door neighbor, had her ear pressed against the bottom of a water glass placed tightly to the demising partition. She didn’t hear well, so when she heard “D-Day,” it brought back the terrible memories of her youth during the Blitz in central London. She recoiled in terror, assumed the worst, and put it on her grocery list to tell Traci Wolfe that a plot was being hatched.
* * *
Traci was nobody’s fool. She knew that old Jenny might be one metaphor short of a short story. Still, she felt that it was certainly something that should be brought to the attention of Dr. Z, not a bad looking single guy who appeared to have all his own teeth. Traci was lonely since Jeff died six years ago while snorkeling in the Gulf. Traci identified the found foot from the bunions. Jenny approached her in the laundry room and revealed the possibility of a potential terror plot. Traci checked her reflection in the glass front machines, loosened a top button on her floral printed blouse, and went directly to Dr. Z.
“Call me, Zack, please.” He held open his apartment door, and she brushed past him into the foyer. He asked, “Sweet tea, or something stronger?” He had come to the door with a Tervis Tumbler, clicking the cubes.
“I’ll have what you have, Zack.” Traci needed something to calm her nerves.
She sat on the bamboo frame sofa facing the pass-thru. Zack was on the other side, fixing her drink, and said, “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” He hesitated, then added, “I’ve been hoping we could have a private chat.”
Just his tone was enough to curl Traci’s bare toes. “I’ve got some news that was brought to me on good authority from one of the condo owners…I can’t reveal her name.” Traci let that hang for a moment. “It seems there’s a possible terror plot being hatched.”
“This person, I can’t say her name…I’ll just call her JP, overheard a conversation about bombs.”
“She said there was a possible terrorist cell, with three people.”
Zack entered the living room and handed her a Tervis with a lot of ice and a lot of Jack. Traci took a sip, said, “Wow! That’s a pretty stiff drink, Zack. I could get a little tipsy.”
“Go right ahead, Trace, but tell me more about this plot. Where did your informant hear this?”
“I can’t reveal her name, you understand, but she said they were in room 305-C.” Traci picked up the tumbler, took another drink, and swirled the watermark on the table with her finger.
“So, somebody…three people were having a conversation about bombs…was their door open? I mean, how did your informant hear this information?”
“With a glass…against the wall…you know, like when we were kids. I used to listen to my parents when they were in bed…I learned a lot that way.” Traci picked up her glass again while Zack looked puzzled.
He questioned her further. “So, JP definitely heard someone say they were planning to make or use bombs?”
“Righto, Z, but I can’t reveal her name.” Traci took another drink and set the tumbler between her thighs.
“Well, I’m certainly glad you came to me with this information. I’ll have to think about this, but I’m not sure we should go to the Sheriff at this time…would you agree?”
Traci crunched some ice cubes but managed to say, “Damn skippy, Z.” Before resting her head on the back of the sofa.
Zack took the glass out of her hand and saw some future possibility, but next time would lighten up on the Jack. He drained his drink and decided to take a stroll to the third floor and scope things out. As he closed the front door, he looked back at Traci, who had now slumped to full repose on the sofa, hoping she wouldn’t get sick.
Eddie was knocking on Howard’s door when Dr. Z stepped off the elevator. Z gave him a look. Eddie gave it right back at him. Z was about to say something about hired help when Howard opened the door, and Eddie disappeared inside. Z took it all in, 305-C, two men, unfriendly stares, and concluded that he had found the nest of terrorist vipers. This was something that needed further thought.
* * *
Z was an early riser, particularly today after a fitful night mulling possible actions to be taken against this threat. He decided on the direct approach, Eddie would be cleaning the pool this morning.
“Good morning, sir.” Z approached with a car salesman’s smile, right hand outstretched, and a styrofoam cup in his left. “Brought you a coffee.”
Eddie ignored the right hand but leaned the dip net handle on his shoulder and took the coffee, mumbling something that sounded like, “Thanks.”
Z kept it going, “Have you heard about the new HOA budget reduction proposals?”
Eddie knew when to play dumb. “Huh?”
“We’ve done an extensive cost analysis and determined that elimination of elevator use could save enough money that we would…” Z paused for emphasis, “…not have to eliminate your job or, at the very least, cut your pay.”
“Ya’ can’t cut my pay; I only get the legal minimum.”
“That may be,” Z added, darkly, upping the threat ante. “We could eliminate this position.”
“No, you can’t, the Board of Health would close down your pool in a heartbeat.” Eddie stepped back, satisfied, and handed the empty cup to Z, saying, “Throw this in the trash when you leave.”
Z left the pool area in a rage. This shriveled up old fart had dared to challenge him. He must be the ringleader. We need to get rid of him. He headed to Traci’s unit leaning into this task with a red face.
Traci answered the door looking like she wished she hadn’t. “Pretty early, Z.”
Zack checked his knock-off Rolex, “Seven-thirty, Trace, how’re you doing?”
“Like I’ve been shot at and missed, pooped at and hit. Want some coffee?”
“Thanks,” Z pushed by her noting the open front of her robe, and sat at the glass-topped dining table.
She set two mugs on the table and sat opposite him without clenching the robe. “What’s up, Z?”
“Well, I’ve done some investigating about our terror plot. I think I’ve found the ringleader.”
“Yeah, it’s that old fart pool cleaner.”
“I don’t know his name. The guy out there with the net and all.”
“That’s Eddie. He always seemed like a pretty good egg. Are you sure?”
“I just interrogated him, and he incriminated himself.”
“What? How’d he do that?”
“He refused my handshake but drank my coffee. He smirked when I said we could cut his pay. And, he threatened a pool closure if he was fired. Oh yeah, he also told me to put the cup in the trash.”
Traci was confused. “What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s the way he said it.”
“So, what do you propose?”
“I think we should get rid of him.”
Traci was really starting to wonder where this was going. “You just said we can’t fire him.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
It was early, and Traci was still a little buzzed, unsure of Z’s meaning, and needing another cup of coffee. She held up her cup and said, “Want another one?”
Traci returned with the two cups when she asked again, “So how do we get rid of him.”
“We kill him.”
The two cups crashed on the tile floor, and Traci’s hand flew to her mouth. Her vision blurred, and she staggered sideways, catching hold of a dining room chair. “What did you say?”
“Don’t worry, Trace, he’s 80 something years old. He’ll probably thank me.”
“I don’t believe I hear this.” She managed to sit and looked directly into his eyes.
Z explained, “It will be painless. All I need is the key to the pool equipment room.”
They sat there for several minutes, Z explaining the upside and Traci tearing a paper napkin into tiny pieces. He left there, whistling a happy tune with the key in his pocket.
* * *
Z had some experience with electrical wiring. He had totally rewired the basement rec room at a previous home in Winnetka, IL. The subsequent fire investigation strongly suspected an electrical malfunction, but the intense blaze had wiped out any evidence.
After dark, Z crept to the pool equipment room. His Skechers squishing softly on the pavement. Seeing no one, he slipped into the room and flipped on the light. He had several tools from his AAA emergency kit and began to work with the wires. Several minutes later, after groping and cutting and splicing and taping, he was satisfied with the work. Unable to sleep, he sat on his lanai in the dark, overlooking the pool, waiting for daylight and Eddie to arrive.
Yesterday, following his encounter with Z, Eddie was in a foul mood, finished the pool cleaning, threw his aluminum handled dip net in the battered Datsun truck bed, and climbed into the cab without securing the load. He was a mile away from Grapefruit Gardens when the net bounced out of the back and was run over by a tourist bus headed to Porpoise Purpose.
“Crap!” Eddie slammed on the brakes and picked up the 10-foot-long aluminum shaft that now resembled a 10-foot metal banana. He next stopped at Pool World and purchased a new telescoping fiberglass shaft dip net, anxious to give that baby a try in the morning.
Z awoke with a start. The sun was up, and Eddie was approaching the pool. He extended the fiberglass dip net shaft and began to scoop out the leaves and other debris that lightly floated in the pool. He dipped, swung the net over the fence, and tapped it gently to empty the net.
“What the…” Z was pressing hard against the lanai screen. He watched Eddie dipping the net, cleaning the tabletops, and straightening the chaises and chairs. Eddie reloaded the Datsun and left.
Z couldn’t get down there fast enough. He entered the pool enclosure and looked over the pool edge at the shimmering crystal water softly bubbling from the jets. He casually leaned against the stainless-steel ladder. “Yeeoow!” The shock flung him backward with an umbrella table catching him before he could fall to the deck. “What the…” Z stood there shaking, his right arm feeling like someone had hit his funny bone with a hammer.
When he recovered, Z quickly disconnected the lethal wiring before Emma Phalen came for her early morning lap swim. Then he went to Traci’s to report.
“Well?” She met him at the door, hands-on-hips.
“I’ll tell you in a minute, got any Jack?”
“In the cupboard over the sink.”
Z didn’t bother with a glass. He tipped the bottle to his lips, then tipped it to her.
“Why not,” She reached for the bottle. “How’d it go?”
After Z explained the morning’s failed attempt. Traci felt a little better. She had no malice toward Eddie and was hoping this was the end of it but couldn’t help asking, “What’s next?”
“Leave it to me, I’m gonna jimmy his truck somehow so he’ll crash, and that will be the end of it.”
Traci took another swig, then passed the bottle to Z. He said, “I think I’ll do something with the brakes, but I want to get some more inside information. Let’s bug 305-C.”
“And how do we do that, genius?” Traci’s sarcastic tone did not fall on deaf ears.
“Trace, I told you I have this under control. Get your informant, the unidentified lady, to listen through the water glass. Tell her we’re looking for keywords. That’s what the NSA does. I’ve gotta go.” Z took another pull at the bottle, looked at Traci who was starting to wobble, and left.
After lunch, Traci went to see Jenny Paige and impress upon her the importance of recording keywords. Jenny was on the case, and over the next three days of water-glassing wrote three words on her grocery list: fire—oatmeal—fruck. She was unsure of the last one but thought it sounded suspicious. She met Traci in the laundry room on Thursday.
Traci was more worried now. She phoned Z and asked him to stop by. He was unsure of her tone but went there optimistically thinking about the open robe and that today might be the day.
Her inside door was open. Z entered to find Traci at the dining room table with pen and paper. “Look at this,” she said. Pushing the paper toward his side of the table.
“I think it might be a code word. Want a drink?” Traci went to the kitchen while Z puzzled over the interpretation of ‘fruck,’ trying to work the letters into an anagram.
When she returned, Z said, “I think we don’t have much time. We need to get this done.”
Traci removed the bottle from her lips and passed it to him. “What’s the next move?” She leaned over the table, looking squarely into his eyes.
“I’m gonna cut the brake line. When he leaves here, he’ll hit that downslope at the entrance and into the traffic on Palmetto. That crapola Datsun will crumple like eggshells in my sink disposal.”
“Wow!” Traci was wide-eyed. “Do you know how to cut the brake lines?”
“Of course, I’m an American male, aren’t I.”
Traci quivered at that thought and imagined him in her bedroom. She reached for the bottle.
The following morning Eddie was pressure washing the pavement beside the pavilion, with his Datsun parked on the opposite side under the shade of a royal palm grouping. Z emerged from the east stairway and quickly walked behind bldg. B approaching Eddie’s truck from that end. His fingers curled around Traci’s Swiss Army knife. The lot was empty of other vehicles. He popped the hood a few inches and ran his hands through that slot, holding it up with his left hand.
Looking behind him and seeing no one, he opened the knife with his teeth and reached in the engine compartment feeling for some sort of small diameter hose. He found one that seemed appropriate and severed it. Letting the hood down quietly, he folded the knife blade and walked away.
Eddie finished the power washing, put the machine away, picked up his lunch pail, and went to his truck. There was a puddle of blue liquid pooling slowly underneath the front of the Datsun. Eddie opened the hood and discovered a broken windshield washer line dripping on the pavement. “How the hell…” Eddie didn’t have a suspicious bone in his body and never considered this to be sabotage. He grabbed a roll of black tape out of the glove compartment, spliced the two ends, and drove away.
Z lingered near the front of the building, observed the oncoming truck, and awaited a horrific collision on Palmetto. This did not happen. Eddie braked at the downslope curb, eased the Datsun into the heavy traffic, and turned left toward home.
Z was red-faced and breathing hard by the time he got to Traci’s unit. She found that condition strangely appealing.
“Sonofa…!” That was the only word he could utter as he pushed past her and slumped on a couch. “Sonofa…!” He repeated and held his palms tight against his face. “Trace, get me a drink.” She loved it when he gave orders.
Several minutes later, he told her what happened but had no clue as to how it happened. “There’s only one thing to do—I need a gun!”
Traci recoiled from that thought and chewed on the side of her thumb. The idea of firearms and blood made her queasy. “Do you know anything about guns?”
“What’s to know. You point and pull. Problem solved.”
“Do you have a gun?”
“No, I thought you might.”
She sat up straight and said, “What are you nuts?”
“Just asking, I’ll go get one. Find me a gun store.”
Traci fired up her laptop. “The closest one is Daddy’s Guns and Daggers, on Sunnyside.”
Z handed her a glass and thought about kissing. Traci slurped some Jack too fast and had a coughing fit. Z slapped her on the back for a while, then left her, still gasping, to go buy a gun.
* * *
Daddy’s was a concrete block building with narrow windows covered by iron grilles. As Z stepped into the world of lethal hardware, he was overwhelmed by the selection. He stood there, feasting on the display of guns, wicked-looking knives, and assorted other weaponry, including Nunchuks and throwing stars. He was reaching for a spiked metal ball attached by a short chain to a 2-foot oak handle when a craggy voice said, “Hep ya?”
Z looked around for the voice before finding the diminutive Daddy standing before him, looking like Yosemite Sam. “Hep ya?” Daddy repeated it, a little louder, standing there with a .44 “hog leg” strapped to his waist. The extreme ends of his droopy mustache reaching nearly to his chin.
Z tried to impress with words. “Yes, I’m looking for an instrument to pursue the demise of a certain individual.”
Daddy squinted and said, “Ya lookin’, ta kill somebody.” It was not a question.
Before Z could respond, Daddy continued. “Lookin’ at ya I’d say you’re kinda soft, kinda like a marshmella. Here’s a piece just right for ya.” Daddy picked up a pistol. “Three-eighty cal. with pink grips. We call it a ladies gun, heh, heh, heh.”
Z’s embarrassment was showing. He wanted out of there. “I’ll take it.” He said, reaching for a credit card, hoping it wouldn’t bounce.
“Not so fast, Sonny. There’s a three-day waiting period. Ya’ gotta’ fill out forms.” Daddy took back the gun and went behind the counter. Z had no choice. His hand shook as he filled out the paperwork treating it like his condo application.
* * *
To say that Traci was surprised when the Deputy knocked on her door would be a mild understatement. She was flabbergasted to learn that Dr. Z was a phony that law enforcement had put on its “Most Wanted” list. Her head was swimming. She backed away from the door motioning the Deputy to enter while she headed for the Jack.
She sat at the dining table, looking at the Deputy through the empty bottle, using it as a telescope. At the same time, he explained the facts about phony Dr. Z. Traci thought the deputy looked so sexy in his pressed uniform and mirror shades.
“Well, that’s it, Ma’am, it took a while, but we caught up with him before he could do any real damage. We’ll return him to the hospital and make sure he stays inside. He’s not gonna walk away from there again.”
Traci dropped her head onto her crossed arms lying on the glass tabletop and said, “Fruck!”
About the Author
Ed N. White lives on the Suncoast of Florida, writing about the past and hoping for a global, COVID-free future. He has forsaken his dozen novels of murder and mayhem and written a series of middle-grade mysteries under the pseudonym of Celia J. The first of these, Miss Demeanor, will be published by Histria Books in September, 2021.