In early September, Leonard Smith covered over his family’s backyard pool and started swimming at the local health club. It wasn’t a fancy club, but it still required a membership fee. This restricted the number of people who had access to the property. Nevertheless, whenever Lenny tried to get in a swim, at lunch or after work, the other members drove him crazy.
The pool always seemed to be spilling over with either an aquasizer class or teenagers playing smurf football. Lenny liked to swim lengths. He saw himself as a power swimmer and fantasized about how he could have been in the Olympics. He did fancy head-over-heels turns that even he found impressive. The crowds weren’t working for him. He quickly learned the thing to do was to go to the club first thing in the morning and have the pool to himself.
However, that meant getting up at 5:15 am to be there when the doors were unlocked at 6:00 am. He followed this schedule Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Tuesdays and Thursdays, he was committed to driving his children to day care. All in all, it was a comfortable schedule.
By following this routine, Lenny could quickly change into his swimming suit, then dip into the pristine water. There was nary a ripple. It was perfection at its most sublime. The smell of the chlorine was intoxicating. The amniotic fluid accepted him into its heated embrace. He cut a perfect straight line up and down for his standard 50 lengths and he could not have been happier.
In early October, however, a significant fly appeared in Lenny’s ointment. Out of the blue, another individual started showing up at the same time as him, disturbing the purity of the moment. The newcomer was a quiet but still upsetting presence in the locker room. He created little waves in the water. He even liked to hum in the shower area. This was not acceptable.
Should Lenny change his schedule once again? Negotiations with his wife about their respective times for dropping off and picking up the kids at school had taken considerable patience and compromise. Approach her about re-opening their agreement? Who knew where the repercussions might lead? Past experience persuaded him to avoid that route at all cost.
Besides, Lenny liked beginning and ending his week with a swim. And on Wednesdays, it helped him get through “hump” day. How to remove the annoyance? By inclination, Lenny was not a violent man. He would have to come up with an answer through the use of mental finesse.
Keith Chan was a serious-looking gentleman of an age at most five years younger than Lenny. They were on either side of the cusp of forty. Keith was a match for Lenny in every way. Athletic and lean, he also had a stubborn streak that was hidden behind impeccable manners.
Keith soon caught on to the fact his swimming companion was at odds with the idea of co-habiting the pool early in the morning. His first clue was when, not just once, but on back-to-back occasions, the red panic button beside the sauna was pushed shortly after Lenny exited the area. This set off a klaxon call that was deafening in its intensity. Keith was left on his own to provide assurances to club staff that he was neither in distress nor responsible for the incident.
Keith was no dummy. This was a conundrum, no doubt about it. He wasn’t going to change his schedule either. That was his stubborn streak coming through. Also, behind the serious façade, there was a desire to have some fun with the situation. Keith began a charade of making friendly overtures to Lenny. Although he spoke perfect English, he became more oriental.
When Keith found out Lenny’s name, he dropped his “l’s” and started elongating his “r’s”. From that moment on, his greeting three times a week was, “Herro Renny. Rooks rike a rovery day.” As Keith tried to engage him in further conversation, Lenny looked more and more upset.
In early December, Lenny took his machinations to the next level. While Keith was taking a pre-swim shower, Lenny went to work with some crazy glue. He then fled into the pool area and uncharacteristically floated on his back, waiting to see the outcome of what he’d initiated. When Keith took his usual long deep swig of drinking water before entering the pool, he was left with a dilemma – what to do with a giant plastic water bottle cemented to his right hand?
Keith was no quitter. After several moments of confusion and doubt, he climbed into the pool and attempted the crawl. The problem was the bottle filled with liquid. This caused Keith to list to the right. He kept crashing into the side wall. Did he let himself show his annoyance? Not on your life. In fact, this gave him a whole new inventory of ideas to pursue.
For the rest of the month, Keith showed up with ever more elaborate gear. He started with flippers for his feet. Then he added web-fingered gloves for his hands. He topped it all off with a shiny black shower cap. He became quite the sartorial spectacle, draped with all the accoutrements of a well-equipped water baby. Lenny was left feeling both aghast and fascinated.
In January of the new year, Lenny tried the first of his sexual gambits. He began shaving his chest in front of Keith, back in the locker room after their swim. He’d have been surprised to know how little this bothered Keith. Keith thought Lenny was a bit of a hairy bear anyway. Some curbing of Lenny’s hirsute furry exterior would be no water off Keith’s back.
Several days later, Keith responded in kind. He showed up in the locker room wearing a hidden costume that he’d managed, after lengthy explanations, to talk his wife into buying. When he removed his trousers, he was exposed in black lace stockings and a garter belt. To Lenny’s questioning look, he responded, “Out rate rast night.” That was all he said. He knew that such a level of inscrutability would drive Lenny nuts. It darn nearly did push Lenny over the edge.
The next time they were together, Lenny pulled what he thought was an inspired rabbit out of his hat. Just as Keith was changing into his trunks. Lenny dragged a young man into the locker room who promptly set up a camera on a tripod. “It’s for my company’s newsletter,” Lenny explained. “The goal is to encourage other employees to take up an exercise program like mine. You don’t mind, do you?”
Without skipping a beat, Keith struck a muscleman pose in the background and that’s how the whole session went. When it was over, Lenny hustled his young protégé out the door and was disgusted that he’d just wasted $50 setting up a fake photo shoot.
In early February, a certain level of fatigue began to settle in with respect to their battle. Lenny was developing a grudging respect for Keith’s chutzpa and Keith had never been that opposed to Lenny in the first place. They began to talk more. Lenny noticed that Keith’s accent became more intermittent. When asked about it, Keith said that he was a quick learner.
Furthermore, Lenny had other problems on his mind. He needed all of his wisdom teeth removed. For a week after the surgery, he was laid up and didn’t go to the club. The two men found they missed each other. They both looked forward to seeing one another again.
On the first day that Lenny returned, his mouth still felt like it was filled with cotton batting. “How are you feeling?” Keith asked. “I guess you’re still in a lot of pain.”
Lenny nodded his head.
“Is there anything you can do about it?”
“The only wemedy is west,” said Lenny.
“Just the same, it must be getting on your nerves.”
“I’m taking twanqwilizers.”
“Life can be a bitter pill sometimes.”
“Too twue. Too twue.”
So the days went by and the bonding between Lenny and Keith grew apace. But contentment and peace are not the lot of man. They, among all people, should have known their “ideal” could not be enduring. On the Ides of March, their more simpatico world was turned upside down.
Lenny and Keith simultaneously sensed the new presence that slipped in between them in the pool. Cutting through the water with grace and elegance was a young lady of obvious abilities. Bobbing up and down, head and backside alternatively in and out of the water, she motored along with powerful strokes that left the other two in her wake. This was a woman with training, experience and porpoise-like talent.
After returning to the locker room, the two men looked at each other in consternation.
“What did you think of that?” said Keith.
“Show-offy and excessive,” was Lenny’s response.
“I agree, but what can we do about it?”
“We have to come up with a plan.”
More psychological gamesmanship and intrigue can be found in The Peace-of-mind Thief.