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EIGHTEEN

On the morning of July 23, a semi-tractor truck leaving North Key Largo lost its brakes on the Card Sound Bridge. The truck plowed through the tollbooth, jack-knifed and overturned, blocking both lanes of traffic and effectively severing the northern arm of the island from the Florida mainland. The gelatinous contents of the container were strewn for ninety-five yards along the road, and within minutes the milky-blue sky filled with turkey buzzards hundreds of them, wheeling counterclockwise lower and lower; only the noisy throng of gawkers kept the hungry scavengers from landing on the crash site. The first policeman to arrive was Highway Patrol Trooper Jim Tile, who nearly flipped his Crown Victoria cruiser when he tried to stop on the freshly slickened pavement. The trooper tugged the truck driver from the wreckage and, while splinting the man's arm, demanded to know what godforsaken cargo he'd been hauling.

"A dead whale," moaned the driver, "and that's all I'm saying."


Charles Chelsea was summoned to Francis X. Kingsbury's office at the unholy hour of seven in the morning.

Kingsbury looked as if he hadn't slept since Easter. He asked Chelsea how long it would take to get the TV stations out to the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills.

"Two hours," Chelsea said confidently.

"Do it." Kingsbury blew his nose. "On the horn, now."

"What's the occasion, if I might ask?"

Kingsbury held up five fingers. "Today's the big day. Our five-millionth visitor. Arrange something, a fucking parade, I don't care."

Charles Chelsea felt his stomach yaw. "Five million visitors," he said. "Sir, I didn't realize we'd reached that milestone."

"We haven't." Kingsbury hacked ferociously into a monogrammed handkerchief. "Damn my hay fever, I think it's the mangroves. Every morning my whole head's fulla snot." He pushed a copy of the Wall Street Journal at Chelsea. A column on the front page announced that Walt Disney World was expanding its empire to build a mammoth retail shopping center, one of the largest in the Southeastern United States.

"See, we can't just sit here," Kingsbury said. "Got to come back strong. Big media counterpunch."

Chelsea skimmed the Journal article and laid it on his lap. Tentatively he said, "It's hard to compete with something like this. I mean, it goes so far beyond the realm of a family theme park "

"Bullshit," said Kingsbury. "The Miami-Lauderdale TV market is what, three times the size of Orlando. Plus CNN, don't they have a bureau down here?" Kingsbury spun his chair and gazed out the window. "Hell, that new dolphin I bought can't you work him into the piece? Say he rescued somebody who fell in the tank. A pregnant lady or maybe an orphan. Rescued them from drowning that's your story! 'Miracle Dolphin Saves Drowning Orphan.' "

"I don't know if that's such a good plan," said Chelsea, though inwardly he had to admit it would have been one helluva headline.

"This celebration, make it for noon," Kingsbury said. "Whoever comes through the turnstiles, strike up the band. But make sure it's a tourist, no goddamn locals. Number five million, okay? In giant letters."

His gut tightening, Chelsea said, "Sir, it might be wiser to go with two million. It's closer to the real number...just in case somebody makes an issue of it."

"No, two is chickenshit, really. Five's better. And the parade, too, I'm serious." Kingsbury stood up. He was dressed for golf. "A parade, that's good video," he said. "Plenty of time to get it for the six-o'clock news. That's our best demographic, am I right? Fucking kids, they don't watch the eleven."

Chelsea nodded. "What do we give the winner? Mr. Five Million, I mean."

"A car, Jesus Christ." Kingsbury looked at him as if he were an idiot. A few years earlier, Disney World had given away an automobile every day for an entire summer. Kingsbury had never gotten over it. "Make it a Corvette," he told Chelsea.

"All right, but you're looking at forty thousand dollars. Maybe more."

Kingsbury extended his lower lip so far that it seemed to touch his nose; for a moment he wore the pensive look of a caged orangutan. "Forty grand," he repeated quietly. "That's brand new, I suppose."

"When you give one away, yes. Ordinarily the cars should be new."

"Unless they're classics." Kingsbury winked. "Make it a classic. Say, a 1964 Ford Falcon. You don't see many of those babies."

"Sure don't."

"A Falcon convertible, geez, we could probably pick one up for twenty-five hundred."

"Probably," agreed Chelsea, not even pretending enthusiasm.

"Well, move on it." Francis X. Kingsbury thumbed him out of the office. "And tell Pedro, get his ass in here."

Pedro Luz was in the executive gym, bench-pressing a bottle of stanozolol tablets. He was letting the tiny pink pills drop one by one into his mouth.

A man named Churrito, lounging on a Nautilus, said: "Hiss very bad for liver."

"Very good for muscles," said Pedro Luz, mimicking the accent.

Churrito was his latest hire to the security squad at the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills. He had accompanied Pedro Luz on his mission to Miami, but had declined to participate in the beating. Pedro Luz was still miffed about what had happened the old lady chomping off the top joint of his right index finger.

"You're useless," he had told Churrito afterward.

"I am a soldier," Churrito had replied. "I dun hit no wooman."

Unlike the other security guards hired by Pedro Luz, Churrito had not been a crooked cop. He was a Nicaraguan contra who had moved to Florida when things were bleak, and had not gotten around to moving back.

While Churrito was pleased at the prospect of democracy taking seed in his homeland, he suspected that true economic prosperity was many years away. Elections notwithstanding, Churrito's buddies were still stuck in the border hills, frying green bananas and dynamiting the rivers for fish. Meanwhile his uncle, formerly a sergeant in Somoza's National Guard, now lived with a twenty-two-year-old stewardess in a high-rise condo on Key Biscayne. To Churrito this seemed like a pretty good advertisement for staying right where he was.

Pedro Luz had hired him because he looked mean, and because he'd said he had killed people.

"Comunistas," Churrito had specified, that night at the old lady's apartment. "I only kill commoonists. And I dun hit no wooman."

And now here he was, lecturing Pedro Luz about the perils of anabolic steroids.

"Make you face like balloon."

"Shut up," said Pedro Luz. He was wondering if the hospital in Key Largo would sell him extra bags of dextrose water for the IV. Grind up the stanozolols, drop them in the mix and everything would be fine again.

"Make you bulls shrink, too."

"That's enough," Pedro Luz said.

Churrito held up two fingers. "Dis big. Like BBs."

"Quiet," said Pedro Luz, "or I call a friend a mine at INS." He couldn't decide whether to fire the guy or beat him up. He knew which would give more pleasure.

"They got, like, three flights a day to Managua," he said to Churrito. "You getting homesick?"

The Nicaraguan grimaced.

"I didn't think so," said Pedro Luz. "So shut up about my medicines."

Charles Chelsea appeared at the foot of the weight bench. He had never seen Pedro Luz without a shirt, and couldn't conceal his awe at the freakish physique the hairless bronze trunk of a chest, cantaloupe biceps, veins as thick as a garden hose. Chelsea didn't recognize the other fellow shorter and sinewy, with skin the color of nutmeg.

"I'm working out," said Pedro Luz.

"Mr. Kingsbury needs to see you."

"Who ees that?" Churrito said.

Pedro Luz sat up. "That be the boss."

"Right away," said Charles Chelsea.

"Can I go?" asked Churrito. He didn't want to miss an opportunity to meet the boss; according to his uncle, that's what success in America was all about. Kissing ass.

"I'm sorry," Chelsea said, "but Mr. Kingsbury wants to see Chief Luz alone."

"Yeah," said Pedro Luz. As he rolled off the bench, he made a point of clipping Churrito with a casual forearm. Churrito didn't move, didn't make a sound. His eyes grew very small and he stared at Pedro Luz until Pedro Luz spun away, pretending to hunt for his sweatshirt.

Churrito pointed at the scarlet blemishes on Pedro Luz's shoulder blades and said: "You all broke out, man."

"Shut up before I yank your nuts off."

Backing away, Charles Chelsea thought: Where do they get these guys?


Francis X. Kingsbury offered a Bloody Mary to Pedro Luz, who guzzled it like Gatorade.

"So, Pedro, the job's going all right?"

The security chief was startled at Kingsbury's genial tone. A ration of shit was what he'd expected; the old fart had been livid since the burglary of his private office. The crime had utterly baffled Pedro Luz, who hadn't the first notion of how to solve it. He had hoped that the mission to Eagle Ridge would absolve him.

"I took care of that other problem," he announced to Kingsbury.

"Fine. Excellent." Kingsbury was swiveling back and forth in his chair. He didn't look so good: nervous, ragged, droopy-eyed, his fancy golf shirt all wrinkled. Pedro Luz wondered if the old fart was doing coke. The very idea was downright hilarious.

"She won't bother you no more," he said to Kingsbury.

"You made it look, what like muggers? Crack fiends?"

"Sure, that's what the cops would think. If she calls them, which I don't think she will. I made it clear what could happen."

"Fine. Excellent." Kingsbury propped his elbows on the desk in a way that offered Pedro Luz an unobstructed view of the lurid mouse tattoo.

"Two things " Kingsbury paused when he spotted the bandage on Pedro Luz's finger.

"Hangnail," said the security chief.

"Whatever," Kingsbury said. "Two things some assholes, the guys who stole my files, they're blackmailing me. You know, shaking me down."

Pedro Luz asked how much money he had promised them.

"Never mind," Kingsbury replied. "Five grand so far is what I paid. But the files, see, I can't just blow 'em off. I need the files."

"Who are these men?"

Francis Kingsbury threw up his hands. "That's the thing just ordinary shitheads. White trash. I can't fucking believe it."

Pedro Luz had never understood the concept of white trash, or how it differed from black trash or Hispanic trash or any other kind of criminal dirtbag. He said, "You want the files but you don't want to pay."

"Exacto!" said Kingsbury. "In fact, the five grand I wouldn't mind getting it back."

Pedro Luz laughed sharply. Months go by and the job's a snooze now suddenly all this dirty work. Oh well, Pedro thought, it beats painting rat tongues. He hadn't shed a tear when the mango voles were stolen.

Kingsbury was saying, "The other thing, I fired a guy from Publicity."

"Yeah?" Watching that damn tattoo, it was driving Pedro silly. Minnie on her knees, polishing Mickey's knob whoever did the drawing was damn good, almost Disney caliber.

"You need to go see this guy I fired," Kingsbury was saying. "Find out some things."

Pedro Luz asked what kind of things.

Kingsbury moved his lips around, like a camel getting ready to spit. Eventually he said, "The problem we had before? This is worse, okay. The guy I mentioned, we're talking major pain in the rectum."

"Okay."

"As long as he worked for us, we had some control. On the outside, hell, he's a major pain. I just got a feeling."

Pedro Luz gave him a thumbs-up. "Don't worry."

"Carefully," Kingsbury added. "Same as before would be excellent. Except no dead whales this time."

God, thought Pedro Luz, what a fuckup that was.

"Do I know him?" he asked Kingsbury.

"From Publicity. Joe Winder's his name."

"Oh." Pedro Luz perked up. Winder was the smartass who'd been hassling him about Dr. Koocher. The same guy he'd sent Angel and Big Paulie to teach a lesson, only something went sour and Angel ended up dead and Paulie must've took off. Next thing Pedro knows, here's this smartass Winder snooping around the animal lab in the middle of the night.

Mr. X was right about the guy. Now that he was fired, he might go hog-wild. Start talking crazy shit all over the place.

"You look inspired," Kingsbury said.

Pedro Luz smiled crookedly. "Let's just say I got some ideas."


When Molly McNamara opened her eyes, she was surprised to see Bud Schwartz and Danny Pogue at her bedside.

"I thought you boys would be long gone."

"No way," said Danny Pogue. His eyes were large and intent, like a retriever's. His chin was in his hands, and he was sitting very close to the bed. He patted Molly's brow with a damp washcloth.

"Thank you," she said. "I'm very thirsty."

Danny Pogue bolted to the kitchen to get her a glass of ginger ale. Bud Schwartz took a step closer. He said, "What happened? Can you remember anything?"

"My glasses," she said, pointing to the nightstand.

"They got busted," said Bud Schwartz. "I used some Scotch tape on the nose part."

Molly McNamara put them on, and said, "Two men. Only one did the hitting."

"Why? What'd they want money?"

Molly shook her head slowly. Danny Pogue came back with the ginger ale, and she took two small sips. "Thank you," she said. "No, they didn't want money."

Danny Pogue said, "Who?"

"The men who came. They said it was a warning."

"Oh Christ."

"It's none of your concern," said Molly.

Grimly Bud Schwartz said, "They were after the files."

"No. They never mentioned that."

Bud Schwartz was relieved; he had worried that Francis X. Kingsbury had somehow identified them, connected them to Molly and sent goons to avenge the burglary. It was an irrational fear, he knew, because even the powerful Kingsbury couldn't have done it so quickly after their blackmail visit.

Still, it was discouraging to see how they had battered Molly McNamara. These were extremely bad men, and Bud Schwartz doubted they would have allowed him and Danny Pogue to survive the encounter.

"I think we ought to get out of here," he said to Molly. "Take you back to the big house."

"That's a sensible plan," Molly agreed, "but you boys don't have to stay."

"Like hell," Danny Pogue declared. "Look at you, all busted up. You'll be needing some help."

"You got some bad bruises," agreed Bud Schwartz. "Your right knee's twisted, too, but I don't think it's broke. Plus they knocked out a couple teeth."

Molly ran her tongue around her gums and said, "I was the only one in this building who still had their own."

Danny Pogue paced with a limp. "I wanted to call an ambulance or somebody, only Bud decided we better not."

Molly said that was a smart decision, considering what the three of them had been up to lately. She removed the damp cloth from her forehead and folded it on the nightstand.

Danny Pogue wanted to know all about the attackers how big they were, what they looked like. "I bet they was niggers," he said.

Molly raised herself off the pillow, cocked her arm and slapped him across the face. Incredulous, Danny Pogue rubbed his cheek.

She said, "Don't you ever again use that word in my presence."

"Christ, I didn't mean nothin"."

"Well, it just so happens these men were white. White Hispanic males. The one who beat me up was very large and muscular."

"My question," said Bud Schwartz, "is how they slipped past that crack security guard. What's his name, Andrews, the ace with the flashlight."

Molly said: "You won't believe it. The big one had a badge. A police badge, City of Miami."

"Wonderful," Bud Schwartz said.

"I saw it myself," Molly said. "Why do you think I even opened the door? He said they were plainclothes detectives. Once they had me down, I couldn't get to my purse."

Danny Pogue looked at his partner with the usual mix of confusion and concern. Bud Schwartz said, "It sounds like some serious shitkickers. You say they were Cubans?"

"Hispanics," Molly said.

"Did they speak American?" asked Danny Pogue.

"The big one did all the talking, and his English was quite competent. Especially his use of four-letter slang."

Danny Pogue rocked on his good leg, and slammed a fist against the wall. "I'll murder the sumbitch!"

"Sure you will," said his partner. "You're a killer and I'm the next quarterback for the Dolphins."

"I mean it, Bud. Look what he done to her."

"I see, believe me." Bud Schwartz gave Molly McNamara two Percodans and said it would help her sleep. She swallowed the pills in one gulp and thanked the burglars once again. "It's very kind of you to look after me," she said.

"Only till you're feeling better," said Bud Schwartz. "We got some business that requires our full attention."

"Of course, I understand."

"We made five grand tonight!" said Danny Pogue. Quickly he withered under his partner's glare.

"Five thousand is very good," Molly said. "Add the money I still owe you, and that's quite a handsome nest egg." She slid deeper into the sheets, and pulled the blanket to her chin.

"Get some rest," Bud Schwartz said. "We'll take you to the house in the morning."

"Yeah, get some sleep." Danny Pogue gazed at her dolorously. Bud Schwartz wondered if he was about to cry.

"Bud?" Molly spoke in a fog.

"Yeah."

"Did you boys happen to find a piece of finger on the floor?"

"No," said Bud Schwartz. "Why?"

"Would you check in the kitchen, please?"

"No problem." He wondered how the pills could mess her up so quickly. "You mean, like a human finger?" But Molly's eyes were already closed.


SEVENTEEN | NativeTongue | NINETEEN