It was just sitting there in plain view, exposed, vulnerable. There was nothing appealing about that bland, clear plastic handle and worn white bristles. It reminded Brent of the brushes he had owned most of his life living in different parts of upstate New York and New Hampshire. This one was used to clean pools. The ones he knew were for clearing snow off of cars. He had absolutely no use for it which is why it still sat on his car seat right where he had left it a week after leaning out his car window and plucking it from its holder—a simple piece of PVC pipe mounted on the side of Rob’s truck.
Rob and Lourdes watched a Broward County sheriff’s car pull into their driveway while they were eating hot turkey sandwiches with their two kids. The tall sheriff dressed in a forest green shirt and khakis knocked on the door. Rob and Lourdes had gotten up from the table as soon as they saw the car and were already at the door when they heard the knock. The sheriff nodded, said two words—“Robert Layton?” extended his hand holding a manila envelope, explained something about being served, turned around and left. Lourdes stood with her arms hanging by her side as Rob explained to his wife why he was being ordered to appear in county court to face charges of malicious destruction of property, criminal mischief and petty theft.
Rob had done a double-take three days earlier when he was walking back to his truck at the tennis courts and passed the silver, 7 Series BMW that had squeezed into the parking space next to his the previous week. There was barely enough room for the driver of that car to open his car door. Rob had looked to see if the car door had put a dent in the side of his truck. There was no sign of damage but he made a mental note of the first three letters of the license plate: AID and told himself “Asshole Idiot Driver.” In Rob’s mind, that kind of arrogant elitism belonged at the country club and not at his public courts where he had played since he was a kid.. When he walked alongside it to see if the license plate matched the car of the previous week, he saw his pool brush perched on the passenger seat.
“I never told you but I lost a brush that I keep on the truck,” Rob explained to Lourdes. “I just assumed that it fell off the back when I was driving around or else I had left it at one of the pools. I never gave it another thought until last week. I was walking past a parked car at the tennis courts and saw it sitting on the seat.”
“How did you know it was your brush?” Lourdes interrupted.
“I’d had that brush for years. Why the hell would a pool brush that looks exactly like mine be sitting on the seat of this car?”
“Maybe they found it on the side of the road.”
“Maybe you’re right or maybe it wasn’t my brush but that same car had been parked right next to my truck about a week before. Anyway, I was so annoyed that some rich person would have the audacity to steal my pool brush.”
“And?” As Rob was explaining what he had done, he realized how wrong it had been for him to go to his truck that day, get a screwdriver and return to break the side window of that BMW.
Rob was long gone when Brent returned to his car and saw the opening on the passenger side and pieces of tempered glass strewn on the pavement. When he called the police, it never occurred to him what the motive of the vandal might have been. But after seeing that the brush was missing, he told himself that it might not have been such a good idea to get the police involved.
“Was anything stolen?” The shorter of the two cops asked him.
The police went to the tennis court offices to review the surveillance camera and got a clear view of Rob smashing the window, grabbing something from the car and hurrying to his truck. A different camera captured a vivid image of the license plate of Rob’s truck pulling away.
“The guy reached in and took something out of your car,” the officer told Brent.
“What was it?”
“It looked like a stick or rod or something.”
“Maybe it was whatever he used to break the glass?” Brent said. Brent was so upset over the violence of the event that he replied “yes” when the police asked him if he wanted to press charges.
About two weeks after Rob had been served by the county sheriff and with another month to go before his court date, Brent pulled his car into the parking lot of the tennis courts and saw a guy getting out of the pool-cleaning truck From the paperwork he had signed, he knew the guy’s name but there were no photos of him and he had never seen the video tape of his car window being smashed. Brent watched Rob dip his broad, lean shoulders out of the truck. Rob’s long legs took one graceful stride after another across the parking lot, through the gate and onto the clay courts.
Brent marveled at Rob’s perfect toss, the dramatic arch of his back and the long reach of his racket as it powered a blurred serve to his opponent. The clean pop of the ball coming off the strings as they exchanged ground strokes back and forth was a sound that Brent had heard only at professional tournaments.
Brent played only mixed doubles and always with couples no less obese than him and much older. Balls bounced into the net and over fences. The slapping thud of their footwork was nothing like the fast patter of Rob’s game. Rob’s game included animalistic grunts and groans that sounded like battle cries while Brent’s game was filled with giggles and cursing.
Brent called an attorney friend to ask him what could be the consequences for Rob if found guilty on all charges. “What did he steal Brent?” he asked.
“Well then the petty theft charges will be dropped. Do you need representation?”
“No.” Brent knew that Rob would be likely to tell his story about finding his pool brush on the seat of Brent’s BMW. That was a humiliation that Brent was not ready to face. Brent had no answer whenever he asked himself what prompted him to steal the pool brush. It was there within arm’s reach when he was backing out that day. He looked around; saw no one; lowered his window and that was that. If someone had asked him “what possessed you to do such a thing?”, he would have replied that it was exactly that. It was as if something possessed him.
Brent never wanted to leave the northeast and he never wanted to retire so early—nearly twenty years before he had planned. It was his wife who decided that they had enough money for him to stop working and it was her choice to move to Florida since she abhorred the cold. Brent filled the endless empty hours in Florida with anything he could find. He had taken up tennis only because some of their new Florida friends invited him and since they were all beginners, it was one of the few activities where he felt he belonged.
Tennis meant a lot more to Rob than it meant to Brent. It had been his salvation and he pursued it with a passion. He had been a star baseball player at Pompano Beach High School and was later recruited by the University of Miami where he became the starting shortstop until his junior year when he met Lourdes. He got her pregnant, married her and then admitted to himself that he could barely keep up with his studies and accepted the reality that no major league scouts were contacting him. He dropped out of college, started his own pool cleaning business and soon his second kid was on the way.
A tennis ball coming at him from across the net was not much different than a ground ball hit his way. He had to react quickly, get his feet moving forwards, backwards or sideways to put his body in just the right position whether he was throwing the ball to first base or hitting it back across the net. The times when the tennis ball struck his racket head in just the right area was no different than when the baseball found the sweet spot on the bat. Rolling his wrists to get the bat to deliver a little extra power was similar to rolling his wrist to put a little extra oomph on the tennis ball. A tennis ball skidding past his opponent was as gratifying as a line drive whizzing just beyond the reach of the third baseman.
“Your deductible with your insurance company is the extent of your loss,” Brent’s lawyer friend told him. “That can’t be much. He might be required to pay you as much as five times that amount. Other than that, he faces a small fine that he pays the court. Technically the malicious destruction of property charge could result in some jail time but given the low value of the damage, no judge would order any jail time. But technically it could happen.”
“But these charges are all misdemeanors right”
“Probably but these charges could also be felonies. Depends on what was filed.”
Brent imagined Rob buying a replacement brush after he first found it missing. He guessed that it probably cost him the equivalent of a fast-food meal for the family of four.
Rob recognized Brent’s silver BMW as soon as it pulled into his driveway. He walked to his front door and waited for Brent to lift himself out of his car and make his way up the walkway.
“I’m guessing you know who I am,” Brent said. Rob nodded.
“What do you want?” he said in a quiet voice.
“Look. This got out of hand. I’m dropping the charges and I wanted you to have this.” He handed Rob a white envelope stuffed with cash. “I’m guessing that’s enough for about one month of mortgage for you. I’m very sorry about this whole mess.” Rob took the envelope and held it under his chin with his other empty hand next to it in a pose not unlike a boxer. Brent waited for him to say something but when he didn’t, Brent turned and walked back to his car.
“Hold on,” Rob shouted. He hurried to meet him by the car. “I damaged your car.”
“No, I mean I followed you one day into the parking garage on Copans. If you look at your rear bumper, you’ll see a scratch underneath it about six inches long. I did it after I got the papers telling me that you were pressing charges.” Brent took a deep breath and without inspecting the damaged bumper, said, “OK.” He lowered himself into the driver’s seat and drove away.
It was pure coincidence that Rob spotted the silver BMW that day. He made a U-turn on Federal Highway and followed three cars behind Brent. Brent parked on the second level and Rob kept driving up three more levels. He stayed in the truck and changed from his shorts into long pants and a hoodie that he had in a bag on the backseat. He put on a large safari hat that he wore only when working in the sun. He rolled his shorts and T-shirt into a ball and carried them in one hand as he walked down the ramp to Brent’s car where he looked everywhere for possible security cameras and found none.
When there was no one around, he bent over, pulled a screwdriver from his pants and dug into the car’s metal. Scraps of silver paint fell from the screwdriver onto the concrete. He stood up, slowly put the screwdriver back into his pants and walked to the nearest stairwell where he stayed for almost an hour. There, he changed back into his shorts and T-shirt. He figured that if there were security cameras that he had overlooked, the lapsed time would suggest that the man coming out of the stairwell was not the same man who had been by the BMW.
As Brent was driving away that day after giving Rob the envelope of cash, he saw the pool brush sticking out of the PVC pipe holder mounted on the side of Rob’s truck.
He drove back that night shortly after dark and parked three blocks away from Rob’s house. He walked to Rob’s house where the truck was still where it had been. He walked past at a steady pace with his hands in his pockets and his head down. As he passed by the truck, he lifted the brush from its holder and held it alongside his leg as he returned to his car. He popped the trunk, lifted the carpeted board that covered the spare tire and tucked the brush into a crevice that felt as if it had been designed specifically to hold that brush. He smiled and drove away.