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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


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THIRTEEN

Rummaging through a dead man's belongings at midnight was not Joe Winder's idea of fun. The lab was as cold and quiet as a morgue. Intimate traces of the late Will Koocher were everywhere: a wrinkled lab coat hung on the back of a door; a wedding picture in a brass frame on a corner of his desk; a half-eaten roll of cherry-flavored Turns in the drawer; Koocher's final paycheck, endorsed but never cashed.

Winder shivered and went to work. Methodically he pored through the vole file, and quickly learned to decipher Koocher's daily charts: size, weight, feeding patterns, sleeping patterns, stool patterns. Some days there was blood work, some days there were urine samples. The doctor's notes were clinical, brief and altogether unenlightening. Whatever had bothered Koocher about the mango-vole program, he hadn't put it in the charts.

It was an hour before Joe Winder found something that caught his eyes: a series of color photographs of the voles. These were different from the glossy publicity pictures these were extreme close-ups taken from various angles to highlight anatomical characteristics. Typed labels identified the animals as either "Male One" or "Female One." Several pictures of the female had been marked up in red wax pencil, presumably by Will Koocher. In one photograph, an arrow had been drawn to the rump of the mango vole, accompanied by the notation "CK. TAIL LENGTH." On another, Koocher had written: "CK. MICROTUS FUR COLOR is THERE BLOND PHASE?" In a third photograph, the animal's mouth had carefully been propped open with a Popsicle stick, which allowed a splendid frontal view of two large yellow incisors and a tiny indigo tongue.

Obviously the female vole had troubled Koocher, but why? Winder slipped the photos into his briefcase, and turned to the next file. It contained a muddy Xerox of a research paper titled, "Habitat Loss and the Decline of Microtus mango in Southeastern Florida." The author of the article was listed as Dr. Sarah Hunt, PhD, of Rollins College. In red ink Koocher had circled the woman's name, and put a question mark next to it. The research paper was only five pages long, but the margins were full of Koocher's scribbles. Winder was trying to make sense of them when he heard a squeaking noise behind him.

In the doorway stood Pedro Luz pocked, bloated, puffy-eyed Pedro. "The fuck are you doing?" he said.

Joe Winder explained that a janitor had been kind enough to loan him a key to the lab.

"What for?" Pedro Luz demanded.

"I need some more information on the voles."

"Haw," said Pedro Luz, and stepped inside the lab. The squeaking came from the wheels of his mobile steroid dispenser, the IV rig he had swiped from the hospital. A clear tube curled from a hanging plastic bag to a scabby junction in the crook of Pedro Luz's left arm; the needle was held in place by several cross-wraps of cellophane tape.

The idea had come to him while he was hospitalized with the ferret bites. He had been so impressed with the wonders of intravenous refueling that he'd decided to try it with his anabolic steroids. Whether this method was effective, or even safe, were questions that Pedro Luz hadn't considered because the basic theory seemed unassailable: straight from bottle to vein, just like a gasoline pump. No sooner had he hung the first bag than he had felt the surge, the heat, the tingling glory of muscles in rapture. Even at ease, his prodigious biceps twitched and rippled as if prodded by invisible electrodes.

Joe Winder wondered why Pedro Luz kept staring down at himself, smiling as he admired the dimensions of his own broad chest and log-sized arms.

"Are you feeling all right?" Winder asked.

Pedro Luz looked up from his reverie and blinked, toadlike.

Affably, Winder remarked, "You're working mighty late tonight."

Pedro Luz grunted: "I feel fine." He walked up to the desk and grabbed the briefcase. "You got no authorization to be here after hours."

"Mr. Chelsea won't mind."

Invoking Charlie's name made no impression on Pedro Luz, who plucked a leaf out of Joe Winder's hair. "Look at this shit on your head!"

"I spent some time in the mangroves," Winder said. "Ate snake-on-a-stick."

Pedro Luz announced: "I'm keeping your damn briefcase." He tucked it under his right arm. "Until I see some fucking authorization."

"What's in the IV bag?" Joe Winder asked.

"Vitamins," said Pedro Luz. "Now get the hell out."

"You know what I think? I think Will Koocher was murdered."

Pedro Luz scrunched his face as if something toxic were burning his eyes. His jaw was set so rigidly that Joe Winder expected to hear the teeth start exploding one by one, like popcorn.

Winder said, "Well, I guess I'll be going."

Pedro Luz followed him out the door, the IV rig squeaking behind them. To the back of Winder's neck, he growled, "You dumb little shit, now I gotta do a whole report."

"Pedro, you need some rest."

"The doctor wasn't murdered. He killed hisself."

"I don't think so."

"Man, I used to be a cop. I know the difference between murder and suicide."

Pedro Luz turned around to lock the laboratory door. Joe Winder thought it would be an excellent moment to snatch his briefcase from the security man and make a run for it. He figured Pedro Luz could never catch him as long as he was attached to the cumbersome IV rig. Winder pondered the daring maneuver too long.

Pedro Luz glanced over his shoulder and caught him staring at the briefcase.

"Go ahead," the big man taunted. "Just go ahead and try."


Francis X. Kingsbury and Jake Harp had an early starting time at the Ocean Reef Club, up the road a few miles from the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills. Kingsbury played golf two or three times a week at Ocean Reef, even though he was not a member and would never be a member. A most exclusive outfit, the Ocean Reef board had voted consistently to blackball Kingsbury because it could not verify several important details of his biography, beginning with his name. Infuriated by the rejection, Kingsbury made himself an unwelcome presence by wheedling regular golf invitations from all acquaintances who happened to be members, including the famous Jake Harp.

Reluctantly Jake Harp had agreed to play nine holes. He didn't like golf with rich duffers but it was part of the deal; playing with Francis X. Kingsbury, though, was a special form of torture. All he talked about was Disney this and Disney that. If the stock had dropped a point or two, Kingsbury was euphoric; if the stock was up, he was bellicose and depressed. He referred to the Disney mascot as Mickey Ratface, or sometimes simply The Rat. "The Rat's updating his pathetic excuse for a jungle cruise," Kingsbury would report with a sneer. "The fake hippos must be rusting out." Another time, while Jake Harp was lining up a long putt for an eagle, Kingsbury began to cackle. "The Rat's got a major problem at the Hall of the Presidents! Heard they had to yank the Nixon robot because his jowls were molting!"

Jake Harp, a lifelong Republican, had suppressed the urge to take a Ping putter and clobber Francis X. Kingsbury into a deep coma. Jake Harp had to remain civil because of the Falcon Trace gig. It was his second chance at designing a golf course and he didn't want to screw up again; over on Sanibel they were still searching for that mysterious fourteenth tee, the one Jake Harp's architects had mistakenly located in the middle of San Carlos Bay.

As for his title of Falcon Trace "touring pro," it was spending money, that's all tape a couple of television spots, get your face on a billboard, play a couple of charity tournaments in the winter. Hell, no one seriously expected you to actually show up and give golf lessons. Not the great Jake Harp.

In the coffee shop Francis X. Kingsbury announced that he was in a hurry because he was leaving town later in the day. The sooner the better, thought Jake Harp.

Standing on the first tee, Kingsbury spotted two of the Ocean Reef board members waiting in a foursome behind them. The men smiled thinly and nodded at him. Kingsbury placidly flipped them the finger. Jake Harp grimaced and reached for his driver.

"Love it," said Kingsbury. "Think they're such hot snots."

Jake Harp knocked the ball two hundred and sixty yards down the left side of the fairway. Kingsbury hit it about half as far and shrugged as if he didn't care. Once he got in the golf cart, he drove like a maniac and cursed bitterly.

"Our club'll make this place look like a buffalo latrine." The cart jounced heedlessly along the asphalt path. "Like fucking Goony Golf I can't wait."

Jake Harp, who was badly hung over, said: "Let's take it easy, Frank."

"They're dying to know how I did it," Kingsbury went on, full tilt. "This island, it's practically a goddamn nature preserve. I mean, you can't mow your lawn without a permit from the fucking EPA."

He stomped the brake, got out and lined up his second shot. Jake Harp asked: "You gonna use the driver again?"

Kingsbury swung like a canecutter, topping the ball noisily. It skidded maybe eighty yards, cutting a bluish vector through the dew-covered grass.

"Keep your head down," advised Jake Harp.

Kingsbury hopped back in the cart and said: "Grand-fathering, that's how I did it. The guy I bought from, he'd had his permits since '74. I'm talking Army Corps, Fish and Wildlife, even Interior. The state well, yeah, that was a problem. For that I had to spread a little here and there. And Monroe County, forget it."

He shut up long enough to get out and hit again. This time he switched to a four-wood, which he skied into a liver-shaped bunker. "Fuck me," muttered Francis Kingsbury. He remained silent as Jake Harp casually knocked his second shot thirty feet from the pin.

"What was that, a five-iron? A six?"

"A six," replied Jake Harp, pinching the bridge of his nose. He figured if he could just cut off circulation, it would starve the pain behind his eyeballs and make his hangover go away.

Kingsbury punched the accelerator and they were off again. "You know how I got the county boys? The ones giving me a bad time, I promised 'em units. Not raw lots, no fucking way town houses is all, the one-bedrooms with no garage."

"Oh," said Jake Harp, feeling privileged. He'd been given a double lot, oceanfront, plus first option on one of the spec homes.

"Townhouses," Kingsbury repeated with a laugh. "And they were happy as clams. All I got to do, it's easy, is sit on the titles until Phase One is built. You know, keep it off the tax rolls for a few months. "Case some damn reporter shows up at the courthouse and starts looking up names."

Jake Harp didn't understand the nuances of Francis Kingsbury's scheme. The man was proud of himself, that much was obvious.

When they pulled up to the sand trap, they saw that Kingsbury's golf ball was practically buried under the lip. It appeared to have landed at the approximate speed and trajectory of a mortar round.

Kingsbury stood over the ball for a long time, as if waiting for it to make a move. Finally he said to Jake Harp: "You're the pro. What the hell now, a wedge? A nine, maybe?"

"Your only prayer," said Jake Harp, forcing a rheumy chuckle, "is a stick of dynamite." Miraculously, Kingsbury needed only three swings to blast out of the bunker, and two putts to get down.

While waiting on the next tee, Jake Harp said he thought it would be better if he didn't do any more speaking engagements on behalf of Falcon Trace.

Kingsbury scowled. "Yeah, I heard what happened, some broad."

"I'm not comfortable in those situations, Frank."

"Well, who the hell is? We got her name, the old bitch." Kingsbury took out a wood and started whisking the air with violent practice swings. Jake Harp could scarcely stand to look.

"One of those damn bunny huggers," Kingsbury was saying. "Anti this and anti that. Got some group, the Mothers of some fucking thing."

"It doesn't really matter," said Jake Harp.

"The hell it doesn't." Francis X. Kingsbury stopped swinging and pointed the polished head of the driver at Jake Harp's chest. "Now that we know who she is, don't you worry. This shit'll stop it's been taken care of. You'll be fine from now on."

"I'm a golfer is all. I don't do speeches."

Kingsbury wasn't listening. "Maybe these assholes'll let us play through." He hollered down the fairway toward the other golfers, but they seemed not to hear. Kingsbury teed up a ball. He said, "Fine, they want to be snots."

"Don't," pleaded Jake Harp. The slow-playing foursome was well within the limited range of Kingsbury's driver. "Frank, what's the hurry?"

Kingsbury had already coiled into his backswing. "Yuppie snots," he said, following through with a ferocious grunt. The ball took off like a missile, low and true.

Terrific, thought Jake Harp. The one time he keeps his left arm straight.

The other golfers scattered and watched the ball streak past. They reassembled in the middle of the fairway, shook their fists at Kingsbury and began a swift march back toward the tee.

"Shit," said Jake Harp. He didn't have the energy for a fistfight; he didn't even have the energy to watch.

Francis X. Kingsbury put the wood in his bag, and sat down behind the steering wheel of the golf cart. The angry players were advancing in an infantry line that was the color of lollipops. Where Kingsbury came from, it would be hard to regard such men as dangerous.

"Aw, let's go," said Jake Harp.

Kingsbury nodded and turned the golf cart around. "Trying to make a point is all," he said. "Etiquette, am I right? Have some fucking common courtesy for other players."

Jake Harp said, "I think they got the message." He could hear the golfers shouting and cursing as they drove away. He hoped none of them had recognized him.

On the drive back to the clubhouse, Francis Kingsbury asked Jake Harp for the name of the restaurant manager at Ocean Reef.

"I've got no idea," Jake Harp said.

"But you're a member here."

"Frank, I'm a member of seventy-four country clubs all over the damn country. Some I've never even played."

Kingsbury went on: "The reason I asked, I got a line on a big shipment of fish. Maybe they'd want to buy some."

I'll ask around. What kind of fish?"

"Tuna, I think. Maybe king mackerel."

"You don't know?"

"Hell, Jake, I'm a real-estate man, not a goddamn chef. It's a trailer full of fish is all I know. Maybe six thousand pounds."

Jake Harp said, "Holy Jesus."

Francis Kingsbury wasn't about to get into the whole messy story. He'd been having a devil of a time penetrating the Sudanese bureaucracy; UNICEF was no better. Yes, of course we'd welcome any famine relief, but first you'll have to fill out some forms and answer some questions....Meanwhile, no one at the Amazing Kingdom seemed to know how long whale meat would stay fresh.

From the back of the golf cart came a high-pitched electronic beeping. Kingsbury quickly pulled off the path and parked in a stand of Australian pines. He unzipped his golf bag and removed a cellular telephone.

When he heard who was on the other end, he lowered his voice and turned away. Jake Harp took the hint; he slipped into the trees to get rid of the two Bloody Marys he'd had for breakfast. It was several seconds before he realized he was pissing all over somebody's brand-new Titleist. He carefully wiped it dry with a handkerchief and dropped it in his pocket.

Francis X. Kingsbury was punching a new number into the phone when Jake Harp returned to the golf cart.

"Get me that dildo Chelsea," he was saying. "No...who? I don't care where did you say he is? Twenty minutes, he's not in my office and that's it. And get that fucking Pedro, he's in his car. Keep him on the line till right I get back."

He touched a button and the cellular phone made a burp. Kingsbury put it away. He was steaming mad.

Jake Harp said, "More problems?"

"Yeah, a major goddamn problem," said Kingsbury. "Only this one works for me."

"So fire him."

"Oh, I am," Kingsbury said, "and that's just for starters."


TWELVE | NativeTongue | FOURTEEN