Join Our Newsletter

Read a sample mystery every week


...or Read FREE Stories on Your Phone
The Pool Boy
About the Author: Julie Hastrup has been published by Shotgun Honey, and professional memberships include Sisters in Crime, ITW, Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Mystery Writers of America.

I squinted and tried to sit up straighter, but the rising sun still bored into my eyes. Why didn’t Uncle Richie fix his sun visor? I put the ancient truck in park while I waited for the drawbridge to lower and rooted around in the glove box for a pair of shades. They were grimy and lopsided, but the relief was instant when his Ray-Ban knockoffs slid onto my face.

7:10 a.m. Too early for sane people to be working. But given the traffic around me—electricians, gardeners, A/C repairmen, and my competition in their shiny pool maintenance vans—the Palm Beachers expected their staff to arrive with the sun. And to these point one percenters, the wealthiest of the wealthy, I numbered among their legion of personnel. Never mind the temporary nature of my pool boy status.

Bells clanged and brake lights lit up as us worker bees prepared to move. The bridge spans settled into place. Exercise junkies on the sidewalk tucked their phones back into their Spandex shorts and resumed their jog across the Royal Park Bridge. Given the temperature—eighty degrees with an equal helping of humidity—I expected at least one of them to collapse by the time they made it to the wealthy side of the Intracoastal. The flood of commercial vehicles got the green light to move on, and we split into three smaller trickles of trucks and vans at the next intersection.

Uncle Richie’s Thursday roster had me heading north on the island to an area he’d nicknamed, “Snobs and Swindlers.” He only ever used the term with me. When we were alone.

I eased the truck next to the curb at the corner, separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a two-lane road and a stretch of beach. Uncle Richie’s lessons from the times I’d helped out during my summer vacations echoed through my head: 1) You don’t want to wake the wealthy. 2) Be invisible. 3) Nothing you do will ever be enough. I closed the door as quietly as its complaining hinges would allow.

Every June starting at the end of fifth grade, Dad put me on a plane in Newark, New Jersey, and Uncle Richie picked me up at Florida’s sleepy Palm Beach airport. We’d go out for pizza, and the next day I’d be measuring chlorine levels. At least that was the routine until I turned fifteen. Around about when I hit puberty, Uncle Richie said I’d scare his Palm Beach clients. I didn’t know if it was because I’d grown twelve inches or because of my failed experiment with facial hair, but he let me sleep in and join him for his afternoon rounds closer to home in Loxahatchee. The way I saw it, sleeping until noon was a win-win.

That ended more than a decade ago, and I didn’t think I’d ever be back cleaning rich people’s pools. But here I was.

Uncle Richie’s notes next to the owner’s name and address sent me to the service entrance. I plugged in the code and let myself into the first backyard on the schedule. Three feet past the wall of traveling palms, something round and cold prodded the back of my neck.

Aw, shit.

Then there was the telltale clack of a bullet being chambered.

You didn’t grow up in Trenton without recognizing what that meant. I dropped my tools, put my hands in the air, and tried not to let my mind replay my last mugging.

“I got him. Suzy, call the police.” A gravelly but manic voice called out behind me. “I could shoot you now and teach all your friends what happens when you disrespect my property.”

This guy wasn’t a cokehead like my most recent experience with a dude waving a gun at me. Just a mean old man. I could cope with that.

Bullies had been a regular part of my life growing up. These days, the well-off parental version had a paragraph in my job description as a middle school English teacher at an elite academy in Princeton. I knew how to deal with them. Granted, the parents typically didn’t point a firearm at me. I’m sure there were times they wanted to.

But dogs barking—and not the yappy kind—was a whole other story. My morning protein shake threatened to erupt from my throat when I placed the source of the noise. Two German shepherds threw their snarling muzzles against the sliding door off to my left, each trying to get through the other and out to me. I should’ve paid attention to more than the breaking ocean waves before I plugged in the gate’s code. If Suzy exited the house, I’d be toast.

This story appears in our MAY 2024 Issue
(Visit Amazon for a print version)

Buy MAY 2024 Issue

Buy It Now

Digital Subscription

Price $24.75 Cdn

You will immediately receive the current issue.
Future issues are emailed on the 1st of each month.

Reader Discussion

Add Your Comments

Read stories on your phone