So much for spending any quiet time with Alan. That wouldn't happen until both sets of parents left town…but then they would have ten weeks, four days, and a handful of hours to explore this new relationship. Or they should if Granny didn't get in the way.
With his mother and Granny in communication Eric's birthday dinner scheduled for the thirteenth had become a large affair with both families involved. Eric had mentioned that he would have to get his evening shift switched with one of the other workers, but Mrs. Connors didn't seem to mind.
The timing worked out well because Monday was also Freddy's day off and after his Saturday evening performance Eric's parents invited him to the dinner. As expected Beetle and Eric's sisters were all agog over Freddy and he was very content to allow the adoration.
This would be the last time Beetle would see Freddy until later in the summer since the Morgan family was returning home the following day. Granny booked them into the private dining room at the Farnham Country Club, which as Eric recalled had a decent menu. Going out to dinner with a Pierpont meant coat and tie, but he wasn't about to complain.
The only dressy thing he had brought was his school blazer, but then Alan wore his as well. The meal, the cake, and a few presents ushered in Eric's eighteenth year, but with Granny and the Morgan family present Eric's father didn't get to give one of his speeches. There was an upside to everything.
And so the families departed back to hearth and home leaving Eric and Alan with some hope of being able to use the condo for some private time. With Eric working the evening shift from two to ten that meant if they were going to visit the condo it would have to be in the morning.
"I can deal with that," Alan said a few days after the parents departed. "What shall we do, flip a coin to see who gets to lose his virginity first?"
They had been out in Granny's yard tossing a lacrosse ball around. There was an old fence post in the ground that they were using as a target for the toss, varying the distance and speed of the throw. Alan had volunteered to get a goal net but that seemed silly with only the two of them in play.
"You're very accurate with a speed throw," Eric said, watching Alan slam a ball into the post from about fifty feet away. The hard rubber ball made a solid thwack as it hit the wood and the post vibrated. That would certainly hurt if it ever hit another player. Of course it would also keep an opposing goalie on his toes.
Alan laughed. "You changed the subject."
Eric smiled. "I just figured I would go first and give you time to think about it."
"I have thought about it…I think of little else... I want it to be perfect."
"It will be perfect…so how about tomorrow morning after breakfast?"
Now Eric lay in bed and gazed in to Alan's eyes. It had not been perfect but it was damn close. Like any team sport they needed practice, although once past the initial shock they were both left with a satisfying tingle in all the right places.
The afternoon and evening crowd at Playland was decidedly different, and so were the challenges. The younger kids in the mornings were with parents, and although filled with unbridled energy they usually listened to authority. But once the sun started to go down the teenagers came out to play.
The problems on the late shift were rarely from the tourist category of their clientele, probably because they weren't on home turf. But the locals prowled the boardwalk as darkness approached. The Farnham police were more alert for problems as people left the beach and clustered on the boardwalk, but that was a large area to cover and some things were left unseen.
Eric still managed the bumper cars which only gave him a view of the arcade from the rear. Mr. Connors always closed the shutters over the north side entrances just before dark and forced the boardwalk traffic to enter and exit from the front. That made supervision easier except with the doors down it seemed to get louder.
Farnham's teen boys were very possessive of their turf and the girls they dated. Tourists always came to town with money in their pockets and a festive attitude. This conflicted with the town boys who worked in the various attractions and had to put up with tourists all day long which did nothing to improve the relationship between the two groups.
The townies were very aware of all the attractive girls that blew into town, stayed a few days or a week and then went home with their parents. Looking was one thing but that did little to ease the highs and lows of the teenage libido. A frustrated boy could often act without thinking, and any conflict with the source of the town's living always brought a police presence.
Eric understood that most of the Playland employees were outsiders, many of them college students from up and down the coast. But the Connors ran the most successful business on the boardwalk so there must be something to their hiring formula. Bobby Connors had summed it up back when they first met.
"Dad has to hire family, that's part of his business. Can't say all of us have the aptitude when dealing with the public, but he wants smart employees. They're hard to find among the local population, especially the teenagers."
So the Connors carefully chose their people. Well, maybe not that careful since they had hired Terry and Neil, but so far the guys had not done anything totally outrageous. Eric looked up from his post at the bumper cars and saw Terry by the door that lead to the outdoor attractions owned by the Moss family.
Connors begrudgingly allowed the Moss Amusements Park to share an entrance with Playland, it was good for business. It was only a set of glass double doors with an overhead sign that said Playland Entrance but there was always a lot of activity in and out.
Moss had all the typical outdoor stuff: a small Ferris wheel, the tilt-a-whirl, a wild mouse mini rollercoaster, and game booths. They thrived in good weather, but when the rains came most of their customers sought shelter at Playland.
Freddy joined Terry around sunset to monitor the traffic through this side door because there was always some issue…like the drinkers. The Moss employees were often careless but Connors forbid beverages in Playland because the machines were too valuable. There were signs posted outside but not everyone respected the rules.
The latest batch of youngsters to engage a ride on the bumper cars were just getting started when Eric saw the scuffle begin. Four locals had objected to Terry trying to keep them out of the building because they were carrying cans of beer poorly concealed in paper bags.
Not that Terry wouldn't gladly chug down a few beers with anyone who gave him respect, but that was not about to happen with this bunch. Eric recognized John and Ethan, two of the Talbot brothers known around town as troublemakers. Even Bobby would have nothing to do with those boys.
Eric couldn't hear what was being said but he knew Terry was hard-headed and so no one was going to get past him with a can or cup of anything. Several of the boys tossed their cans in the waiting trash can and Terry let them through, but not the Talbot brothers.
Mr. Connors was at the front of the arcade and didn't see the confrontation. Eric couldn't leave his post but he could pick up the intercom and notify the main ticket booth of the problem. Mrs. Connors answered the phone.
"We're about to have a fight at the outside door back here," He said. "Several locals carrying alcoholic beverages refuse to leave."
"Oh my, I'll call the police," She replied.
Oh shit, Eric thought, this could get totally out of hand. The buzzer went off on the control panel and Eric shut down the power for the bumper cars. There were loud moans and groans from the kids, but no one wanted to argue about the ride ending. They got ten minutes to bash one another but that never seemed to be enough so a lot of the kids got back in line.
The shoving match by the door was now drawing a crowd, most of them from the Moss side of the doors…and standing with his head above everyone was Freddy. Terry would not back down but Eric didn't think Freddy would be comfortable in the middle of a shoving match.
Mr. Connors and two police officers went rushing past the bumper car ride just as two more officers came in behind the troublemakers from the outside. Eric allowed several kids to hand over their tickets, but they were all more interested in the scene by the door.
Things got a little confusing after that. The Talbot brothers had been joined by a half dozen other boys and just when Eric thought the police presence would quell the disturbance he saw Freddy get shoved against the wall and Terry punched one of the attackers.
Suddenly there was a general free for all punching match and Eric slapped the red button which shut down the power to the bumper car ride. The alarm bell started ringing which was pretty annoying but it also alerted the staff that something was amiss. That brought Neil and several other college boys to the back which was not a good thing.
The brawl did not need any more participants and Mr. Connors was yelling for his employees to back away. Easier said than done but it was made possible by the arrival of several State troopers who came through the side door and right into the fight. Eric knew Terry could take care of himself…but where was Freddy?
Within minutes there were a bunch of local teenagers on the floor, hands cuffed behind their backs, and a uniformed policeman holding them down. Mr. Connors had Terry and Neil, along with several other employees corralled against the wall, and there sat Freddy. Eric could not resist, he had to see if Freddy was all right so he abandoned the ride.
The police had eight local teenagers to haul away, some for public intoxication, the others for simple assault. Mr. Connors was talking to the lead officer when Eric walked over and looked down at Freddy. The boy had a bloody nose but no other apparent damage…in fact he gave Eric a grin.
"Just another fun day at the beach," Freddy said, blotting his nose with a blood stained handkerchief.
Eric couldn’t help but smile, at least until Mr. Connors and the cop walked over.
"You saw everything from your post, didn’t you?" Connors asked. "How did this get started?"
"Several teenagers tried to get past Terry with cans of beer and he refused to let them in. He was outnumbered so they thought they could push him aside," Eric said. "I guess they were wrong."
"We'll take them down to the jail, keep them overnight and call their parents," the cop said. "You know Ethan Talbot is their ringleader and he won't forget this. Are you going to press charges?"
Connors shook his head. "No, but I will probably ban them from the arcade. There weren't any damages so there's no reason to press charges. Thank you for your prompt response."
"No problem," the cop said.
The police left with their handcuffed charges and Terry went for the mop to clean up the spilled beer. Freddy was told to go back to the dorm, and the arcade went back to business. Eric resumed his role on the bumper cars and the last two hours of operation seemed to drag on forever.
Alan had taken the shuttle flight out of Dover to Boston that morning and would be gone for the rest of the week. He wanted to go through his things before Beetle took over his room, but the whole family would be back for the Fourth of July celebrations and Alan's birthday on the fifth.
Eric stood in the shower and washed off the day's grime before bedtime.
"How did you get punched in the nose, Freddy?"
The nose wasn't broken but it was swollen and looked painful. Eric decided Freddy's face was just in the wrong place when it happened.
"One of those jerks pushed me up against the wall," Freddy said. "He smelled like beer, but I don't think he was drunk. Somehow he knows me."
"Your face was all over the news."
"No this was personal. He told me not to go out with his sister."
Uh oh. "Did you get his name?" Eric asked.
"Ethan something…I heard him tell the cops that much."
"Is Valerie's last name Talbot?"
"Yeah, how did you know?"
"Aw, crap, Freddy. Ethan Talbot is the biggest troublemaker in town. This is not going to make your relationship with Valerie any easier. I wonder how he found out?"
"I sure don't know…I thought we were being pretty cautious." Freddy sighed. "She's a nice girl with an asshole for a brother."
"Four brothers, we only saw two of them tonight," Eric said.
"Oh great, just what I need is a whole family after me."
"I imagine Ethan will be a little preoccupied after this arrest, might quiet him down a little."
"I can only hope," Freddy said. "I like her and I am not going to give her up no matter what her family thinks."
A few days later they were both back on the day shift as the month of June came to an end. Eric was now a floater assigned to the games along the front of the arcade facing the boardwalk. The Skee-Ball and Whack-a-Mole games were some of the oldest forms of entertainment in the establishment, and among the loudest.
Watching the younger kids bash away at the mechanical moles in the game got pretty amusing at times, especially since many of the kids had such slow reaction times. Eric had tried this game from about the age of six and remembered it could get frustrating for the player. The moles didn't always seem to cooperate and nothing had changed over the years.
Whack the right number of moles and a string of tickets would slide out of a slot to be redeemed at the prize counter inside the arcade. Eric seemed to spend more time reminding kids to take their tickets and go claim a prize before they walked away. It was a fun post to work and since he was often out in the sun Mr. Connors gave Eric a Playland baseball cap to wear.
The beach season was starting to peak in the run up to the Fourth of July. Farnham would have a major Independence Day celebration with a parade and a huge fireworks display. The fireworks company would load up four barges with their goodies and anchor them a few hundred yards off the beach for safety.
Eric would like nothing better than to sit in the sand with Alan and watch the fireworks explode. So far the summer had exceeded all his expectations and it would only get better as August arrived and he could think about returning to school with Alan. The issue with Freddy and the Talbot brothers was the furthest thing from his mind, although it shouldn't have been.
The sun was shining…the breeze off the ocean kept the arcade from getting too hot… and Eric was enjoying himself. Alan was coming back tomorrow and Eric would have two days with the boy before his parents started their two-week vacation at the condo. A hand slapped him on the shoulder and Eric turned to see the smile on Bobby Connors' face.
"Eric, my man…how's it going?" Bobby asked.
"Bobby…how are you? What brings you back to town?"
"The Fourth, wouldn't want to miss that. I mean Crisfield is all good, I'm going back later next week, but I needed a little vacation time."
"Your Mom told me…must be a tough job."
Bobby shrugged. "Not all that bad, just exhausting. Uncle John keeps us going from dawn to dusk, but he buys the beer when the day is done. I like the town over there and the Bay is just so different. So, I hear you had a little kidnapping drama last month…did everything work out?"
"Guess so," Eric said. "The tall red-headed guy behind the prize counter was the real hero…I was just there when it happened."
"The magic guy, yeah, Dad pointed him out. Maybe I should have stuck around, but then I never would have met this girl Janice in Crisfield."
"Whoa, you have been busy," Eric said. "Oh, Freddy is in the dorm with me."
"Don't worry, I am not sleeping here. I have a room in the house so I won't have to put up with the noise…or the curfew. So, Mom said something about a fight the other day."
"Yeah, the Talbot brothers. Have to admit, you warned me about them."
"Idiots one and all. Guess I better find out why…"
"Freddy is going out with Valerie and Ethan threatened him," Eric said.
"Oh hell…now there's trouble. Yeah, I better go talk to some of my friends. Catch you later."
It was good to see Bobby again, Eric thought, maybe he can figure out this whole thing with Valerie. The girl was tough, independent, and smart, the very attributes Freddy liked about her. Eric didn't imagine she would put up with her brother's interference, and he didn't have to wait long to get proof of that.
By early afternoon Eric was looking forward to the end of his work day, perhaps a quiet evening with Bobby Connors, and then the bright sunshine of tomorrow when Alan would return for the holiday weekend. What he didn't expect was the sudden appearance of Ethan Talbot in the boardwalk crowd heading for the center of town.
There was no mistaking his tall muscular body shoving his way through the tourists, only now he wore a baseball cap pulled low to hide his face, but not low enough. The black circle around his left eye was indicative of a good solid punch sometime in the last twenty-four hours. Perhaps Valerie had let her feelings be known.
Eric would have laughed out loud except he didn't want to attract Ethan's attention since the guy looked sincerely pissed off. Denise arrived and took over his post so Eric went looking for Freddy.
The prize counter was not a post Eric hoped he would ever have to work because it was just too hectic. Most kids showed up with a small handful of tickets, took their little plastic prize and went back to the beach. But then there were the big winners, the ones who stayed half the day and collected hundreds and hundreds of tickets. No matter that they had spent a considerable fortune for such a small gain…it was a matter of ego.
That many tickets could not be easily counted and so Freddy placed them on a scale, two hundred tickets weighed nearly four grams. The big prizes were stuffed animals or small personal items like harmonicas, bandanas and hats. It was not a good return on the money spent but then this was all about the fun it took to get that many tickets.
Eric stood waiting as a man and his two young kids cashed in a pile of tickets and walked away with a small plush elephant covered in green fuzzy material.
"Green elephants?" Eric laughed.
"You’d be surprised how popular they are with the kids," Freddy said. "Personally, I like the tigers."
"At least they look real. Um, I think you should stay off the boardwalk tonight…I saw Ethan out there with a black eye looking all pissed off."
Freddy grinned. "Val said she was going to tell him off…I guess she did."
"It's not funny, those are some bad ass boys, Freddy."
"Okay, I get it. Val has to work tonight anyways…want to go see a movie?"
"Bobby Connors is back for the holiday so I thought we might hang out," Eric said.
"That's right, you're friends with him. Maybe I should just lay low for the evening. I can work on my magic tricks. Have you seen Neil? He was supposed to relieve me fifteen minutes ago."
"No idea…and I haven't seen Terry in a while either. But here comes Mr. Connors so perhaps you'll find out."
The news was that Neil wasn't going to work his shift and Freddy would have to work an extra hour until Tom Connors could take over. Freddy didn't seem to mind but Connors didn't look happy…something was up.
Eric went upstairs to shower and change before going out to track down Bobby. There was a suitcase in the hallway outside the room that Terry and Neil shared which couldn't be a good sign.
"He's in jail," Terry said, walking out the door with a cardboard box under his arm. "And he is so fired."
"Connors fired him?"
"Yup…one too many parties. Neil and this babe were drunk, naked, and going at it on one of the lifeguard chairs…at least that's what the cops say. The report pushed all of Mr. Connor's buttons, that and the event took place at two in the morning…Neil is so fired."
"I thought he was your buddy?" Eric said.
"He is, but there are limits and he exceeded them. Suppose that's what happens when your father is a Methodist minister...the boy has no self-control. Look, you and I know this is an easy gig with very few rules to follow. I guess even one rule is too many for Neil so he goes home in shame."
"I thought you said he's in jail."
"He is until his father drives down to pick him up. I think the cops will settle for kicking him out of town, at least that's what Mr. Connors says will happen."
"What happened to the young lady involved?" Eric asked.
"I was about to go find out," Terry said. "She was only down here for the week so I imagine her party is over, too."
Eric shook his head and headed for the showers. On the lifeguard stand? Wow, they must have really been drunk. Knowing Farnham as he did, Eric figured the story would be all over town by this evening, and it was. At least it was a distraction from the Talbot brothers.
"Did you hear about…?"
"I did," Eric said when he finally found Bobby with some of his friends in the pizza parlor.
"Dad is furious."
"Of course he is. He hired Neil and it makes Playland look bad."
"He was ranting about fornication," Bobby said. "I suppose you guys will be getting a lecture at the dinner table. So…this thing with Ethan and Freddy could get violent."
"Freddy doesn't need that," Eric said. "He's not the violent type, although the rest of us will stand up for him if it happens at Playland. This doesn't make sense to me, why is he interfering with his sister's relationship?"
Bobby shrugged. "I guess that's what the Talbot boys do. You probably ought to stay out of it."
"I will. Oh, Alan comes back tomorrow. I should introduce you guys."
"Dad said you had a friend in the Pierpont family. I don't know those people."
"Oh come on, he's not a snob," Eric said.
Bobby smiled. "Remember, I'm a townie. Except for you we don’t hang out with the tourists. What's he like?"
"He's just like me, Bobby. We like the same sports and he'll be in school with me this fall."
Bobby slapped a hand on Eric's shoulder. "Well, if he's another you I suppose I can tolerate him."