Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Excerpt: The House on Mermaid Point by Wendy Wax

Wendy Wax, author of the book The House on Mermaid Point, stopped by to share with us an excerpt from her book.



Excerpt from THE HOUSE ON MERMAID POINT by Wendy Wax


There had been a time, many times actually, when William Hightower would have left rehab in a limo. That limo, sent by his record label, would have had tinted windows, a fully stocked bar, and an eager woman with long legs, big breasts, and a talented mouth perched on the back seat.

His release would have been celebratory and newsworthy with photographers and fans jostling each other outside the gates so that they could snap photos and scream his name as the limo sped by.

The articles and news stories would run for weeks after his release. Each would begin with pictures of him on a stage surrounded by a vast, undulating sea of enraptured fans. Back when the braid that hung down his back was darker than the night sky over a Florida swamp. When he’d swaggered across a stage as if he owned it. As if he were a real Seminole warrior and not a scared kid from a dusty no name town who had two drops of Native American to every gallon of Florida Cracker blood in his veins.

Back then the alcohol and drugs were just part of the gig. They hadn’t yet slowed his fingers or marred his voice, or eaten away the muscle and sinew that held him together, like termites gnawing on a wood shanty. The pain of watching his little brother leave their band, the aptly if offensively named Wasted Indian, in a hearse, hadn’t yet been carved into his face like a name slashed into a tree trunk. Back then the roar of the crowds had convinced him that he was alive. And destined to be young forever.

Today the car that whisked him away from rehab had not been sent by a record company and did not contain drugs, alcohol or a woman, eager or otherwise. It was a muddy brown BMW driven by his angry, tight jawed son whom he barely knew. The only one left from that once-vast sea, the only one bound by the obligation of blood.

“Thanks for picking me up,” Will said.

A grunt was his only answer. Which was perhaps more than he deserved.

“And for arranging my … stay.” It was as close as he could come to admitting that he, William Hightower, who had made and blown millions, couldn’t have afforded the month spent at Three Palms Whole Health Center, which practiced an holistic and adventure based approach to beating one’s demons. Not even if he’d wanted to go there.

There were no gates to drive through. No waiting press. No screaming fans. Just a clean modern building sandwiched between a lake where he’d paddled a kayak until his muscles burned and a pool where he’d numbed his mind and his body with lap after lap. He was leaving far fitter than he had arrived. Fitter than he’d been since he’d played his first gig at seventeen. He’d give the Three Palms folks one thing; they’d forced him to clean up his outside while they’d hammered away at his interior. As if there were anything left in there.

The hair that had once hung down his back barely brushed his shoulders; the glossy black was streaked with gray. His face, bruised and battered by 61 years of hard living was still dominated by a hatchet of a nose and high harsh cheekbones that the camera had once loved. His dark eyes were framed by a spider’s web of lines, but they were clearer than they’d ever been; allowing him to see the world around him as it really was; stark and unrelenting.


They drove south from the hermetically sealed town of Westin, Florida in silence, palm trees sliding by, bold blasts of tropical color climbing walls and snaking up tree trunks. The flat morning light was unforgiving, leaving only the stingiest triangles of shade.

In Florida City the turnpike emptied onto US-1 then onto the two-laned eighteen mile ribbon of asphalt that locals called ‘the stretch.’ It was here that the real world began to dissolve while paradise crooked its finger just ahead. Even on the crappiest day ‘the stretch’ could cause heart rates to slow, stress levels to drop, and brain synapses to fire less frantically. But today Will’s mind flitted at random as Tommy drove sedately, his eyes fixed straight ahead.

Despite the open windows the silence between them hung hot and heavy, stuffed with things that had never been forgiven and which Will sincerely hoped would never be discussed.

A chain link fence was all that held back the scrub and brush as they skirted the Everglades and crossed over the Monroe County Line. Will stole the occasional surreptitious glance at his son, who had inherited his size and coloring and who looked so much like the younger brother he’d been named for that it hurt to look at him. He thought about the boy’s mother, who’d been a casualty of the life they’d lived, too. So many people gone for no good reason.

From the top of the Jewfish Creek Bridge sun glinted off the impossibly turquoise water that flanked them and a warm salt breeze tinged the air and rifled Will’s hair. In Key Largo scuba and bait and tackle shops began to fly by. A strip mall sign promising Pilates in Paradise caught his eye.

The silence spooled out. Will’s eyelids grew heavy. He was close to nodding off when Tommy said, “I talked to the bank. Then I brought in a Realtor to look at Mermaid Point.”

Will’s eyes blinked open. This was what happened when you gave your only blood relative power of attorney. In case of emergency. Never thinking that you might be thrashing it out in rehab when they decided to declare one.

He’d bought the tea-table shaped key on a whim back in the early eighties when Key West had ceased being a place to hide out, kick back and chill. When cruise ships began to arrive and depart daily and crowds longing to be wild and eccentric planted a flag and declared Key West their capital of crazy. Everyone he cared about had fled. Will had only made it seventy-nine mile markers up US-1.

“I’m not interested in selling Mermaid Point.” Not his island. Not ever.

They were passing through Tavernier. Mariner’s Hospital and McDonald’s flashed by and then they were crossing Tavernier Creek. Soon they’d be on Upper Matecumbe, the third of Islamorada’s four keys.
Almost home.

“Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t sell the island without doing something about the house and the outbuildings,” his son said. “Not in the condition they’re in.”

It was Will’s turn to grunt. When he’d bought Mermaid Point it had been one of many homes Will owned. Now it was all he had left. All he wanted to do when he got there was stretch out in a chaise by the pool and zone the hell out. Which wouldn’t be anywhere near as easy without a drink or a joint in his hand.

At the moment he was trying not to think about how he was going to live the next week, let alone the rest of his life, without numbing up. He wasn’t sure his pool—or even the Atlantic Ocean, which his pool overlooked—were big enough to swim the number of laps it would take. He didn’t know if there were enough laps in this world to make the need to detach go away.

“The thing is if the house and grounds could be renovated it would make a great place for an island vacation or a corporate retreat. And you could keep the rooms rented out all the time — I mean you’re still a name. People would pay a fortune to come stay in a property owned and operated by William the Wild.” The tone was derisive. As if he were relating something that he didn’t understand but he knew to be true. “You could make a living as the ‘genial host’ of the Rock n Roll Bed and Breakfast. Or, I don’t know, maybe we should just call it the Wild House.”

“You’re joking.”

Will kept his voice even. He wasn’t even home yet. He was not going to get worked up. Hadn’t he just spent a month trying to learn how to stay calm and in control? “And it’s not like you’d ever get approval for a Bed & Breakfast. There’s an ordinance against them. And a moratorium on building.”

Tommy shook his head dismissively. “That’s just semantics and small town politics. And I never joke about money.” Of course, he didn’t. The kid was a damned Investment Banker with a calculator for a brain. If he didn’t look so much like a Hightower Will might have doubted the paternity test. “Unless you want to end up on the sofa sleeper in my living room? Or an old age home for former rock stars?”

Will crossed his arms over his chest and turned an eye on Tommy. He’d used this look to good effect with record people who’d wanted to turn him into some fancy boy crooner when he was a rocker through and through. And with fans who didn’t understand boundaries or personal space. “That won’t be happening.” If he’d earned anything in all the decades played out onstage, it was privacy. “There’s no way in hell I’m sharing my island or my home with strangers.” He shuddered when he thought of wide-eyed honeymoon couples or worse, sad-eyed retirees in the bedroom down the hall.

You didn’t own a slab of coral rock barely tied to land if you wanted strangers anywhere near you.

His son turned and looked at him. “Well, I’m afraid you don’t really have a choice. You don’t have enough money to live on without using your sole remaining asset one way or the other. You can sell Mermaid Point and the structures on it and live frugally for the rest of your life.” His tone indicated he didn’t believe William had the ability to do any such thing. As if he’d been born to wealth and hadn’t earned his fortune one damned song at a time. “Or you can renovate, play the host to anyone willing to spend the money, and at least keep a roof over your head.”

William’s throat was so parched he could barely swallow. He didn’t know how he’d made such an obscene amount of money and ended up with so little. Or how the son who despised him had come up with such a horrifying plan.

A drink would have smoothed things out. Would at least allow him to pretend he wasn’t a broke, recovering alcoholic. Slowly, he reached in his pocket and pulled out a tootsie roll pop. He unwrapped it carefully and placed it in his mouth as they passed Whale Harbor Marina. The Lor-e-lei whizzed by on his right. Pretty soon they’d see Bud n’ Mary’s Marina which would make him as good as home. He sucked on the thing in silence refusing — in a ridiculous test of will— to give in and bite into its chewy center like he wanted to.

Danielle, his favorite group leader at the facility, had given him a large bag of the pops as a going away present. Idly, he wondered why no one had ever invented a whiskey-flavored version with a shot of Jack Daniels in the center. Maybe that’s what he should do to get back on his feet. Invent an alcoholic version of the Tootsie Pop.


He turned his head to hide his smile, concentrating on the hard, sweet candy in his mouth. Maybe an alcoholic but sugar free version so all the poor alcoholics didn’t become diabetic on top of everything else. He crossed his arms on his chest and let his eyes skim over the familiar surroundings as he sucked on that candy shell.

He could tell by the position of the sun that sunset was only a few hours away. From Mermaid Point he could watch the sun rise over the Atlantic in the morning and see it set over the Gulf every night; both were sights he hadn’t gotten tired of seeing yet.

Back in the day he could have scribbled down a hit song on a napkin between sets in a bar. But that was then. Before he’d turned as old as the fucking hills and lost most everyone he’d ever cared about. This was now. And he was pretty certain that he didn’t have so much as half a melody hidden anywhere inside him.




About the book:

In this new novel from the author of Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach, three unlikely friends who were thrown together by disaster get a do-over on life, love, and happiness . . .

Maddie, Avery, and Nikki first got to know one another—perhaps all too well—while desperately restoring a beachfront mansion to its former grandeur. Now they’re putting that experience to professional use. But their latest project has presented some challenges they couldn’t have dreamed up in their wildest fantasies—although the house does belong to a man who actually was Maddie’s wildest fantasy once . . .


Rock-and-roll legend “William the Wild” Hightower may be past his prime, estranged from his family, and creatively blocked, but he’s still worshiped by fans—which is why he guards his privacy on his own island in the Florida Keys. He’s not thrilled about letting this crew turn his piece of paradise into a bed-and-breakfast for a reality show . . . though he is intrigued by Maddie. Hard as that is for her to believe as a newly single woman who can barely manage a dog paddle in the dating pool.


But whether it’s an unexpected flirtation with a bona fide rock star, a strained mother-daughter relationship, or a sudden tragedy, these women are in it together. The only thing that might drive them apart is being trapped on a houseboat with one bathroom . . .



About the author:

Wendy Wax, a former broadcaster, is the author of nine novels including Ocean Beach andTen Beach Road. The mother of two college-age sons, she lives in the Atlanta suburbs with her husband, and is doing her best to adjust to the quiet of her recently emptied nest.


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