Somehow Charles Chelsea summoned the creative energy necessary for fabrication:
Golf legend Jake Harp was accidentally shot Thursday during groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Falcon Trace Golf and Country Club Resort on North Key Largo.
The incident occurred as Mr. Harp was preparing to hit a ball off what will be the first tee of the 6,970-yard championship golf course, which Mr. Harp designed himself. The golfer apparently was struck by a stray bullet from an unidentified boater, who may have been shooting at nearby sea gulls.
Mr. Harp was listed in serious but stable condition after undergoing surgery at South Miami Hospital.
"This is a tragedy for the entire golfing world, professionals and amateurs alike," said Francis X. Kingsbury, the developer of Falcon Trace, and a close personal friend of Mr. Harp.
"We're all praying for Jake to pull through," added Kingsbury, who is also the founder and chairman of the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills, the popular family theme park adjacent to the sprawling Falcon Trace project.
By mid-afternoon Thursday, police had not yet arrested any suspects in the shooting. Charles Chelsea, vice president of publicity for Falcon Trace Ltd., disputed accounts by some reporters on the scene who claimed that Mr. Harp was the victim of a deliberate sniper attack.
"There's no reason to believe that this terrible event was anything but a freak accident," Chelsea said.
Kingsbury approved the press release with a disgusted flick of his hand. He drained a third martini and asked Chelsea if he had ever before witnessed a man being shot.
"Not that I can recall, sir."
"Close up, I mean," Kingsbury said. "Dead bodies are one thing – car wrecks, heart attacks – I'm not counting those. What I mean is, bang!"
Chelsea said, "It happened so damn fast."
"Well, you know who they were aiming at? Moi, that's who. How about that!" Kingsbury pursed his lips and drummed his knuckles.
"You?" Chelsea said. "Who would try to kill you?" He instantly thought of Joe Winder.
But Kingsbury smiled drunkenly and began to hum the theme from The Godfather.
Chelsea said, "There's something you're not telling me."
"Of course there's something I'm not telling you. There's tons of shit I'm not telling you. What, I look like a total moron?"
Watching Francis Kingsbury pour another martini, Chelsea felt like seizing the bottle and guzzling himself into a Tanqueray coma. The time had come to look for another job; the fun had leaked out of this one. A malevolent force, unseen and uncontrollable, had perverted Chelsea's role from cheery town crier to conniving propagandist. Reflecting on the past weeks, he realized he should've quit on the day the blue-tongued voles were stolen, the day innocence was lost.
We are all no longer children, Chelsea thought sadly. We are potential co-defendants.
"No offense," Kingsbury was saying, "but you're just a flack. I only tell you what I've absolutely got to tell you. Which is precious damned little."
"That's the way it should be," Chelsea said lifelessly.
"Right! Loose dicks sink ships. Or whatever." Kingsbury slurped at the gin like a thirsty mutt. "Anyhow, don't worry about me. I'm taking – well, let's just say, the necessary precautions. You can be goddamn sure."
"That's wise of you."
"Meanwhile, sharpen your pencil. I ordered us more animals." Kingsbury wistfully studied his drink. "Who's the guy in the Bible, the one with the ark. Was it Moses?"
"Noah," Chelsea said. Boy, was the old man smashed.
"Yeah, Noah, that's who I feel like. Me and these fucking critters. Anyhow, we're back in the endangered-species business, saving the animals. There oughta be some publicity when they get here. You see to it."
The woman named Rachel Lark had phoned all the way from New Zealand. She said she'd done her best on such short notice, and said Kingsbury would be pleased when he saw the new attractions for the Rare Animal Pavilion. I hope so, he'd told her, because we could damn sure use some good news.
Fearing the worst, Charles Chelsea said, "What kind of animals are we talking about?"
"Cute is what I ordered. Thirty-seven hundred dollars' worth of cute." Kingsbury snorted. "Could be anything. The point is, we've got to rebound, Charlie. We got a fucking void to fill."
"Speaking of which, we also need another golfer. In case Jake croaks, God forbid."
Chelsea recoiled at the cold-bloodedness of the assignment. "It won't look good, sir, not with what happened this morning. It's best if we stick by Jake."
"Sympathy's all fine and dandy, Charlie, but we got more than golf at stake here. We got waterfront to sell. We got patio homes. We got club memberships. Can Jake Harp – don't get me wrong – but in his present situation can Jake do promotional appearances? TV commercials? Celebrity programs? We don't even know if Jake can still breathe, much less swing a fucking five-iron."
For once Francis Kingsbury expressed himself in nearly cogent syntax. It must be excellent gin, Chelsea thought.
"I want you to call Nicklaus," Kingsbury went on. "Tell him money is no problem."
"Jack Nicklaus," the publicity man repeated numbly.
"No, Irving Nicklaus. Who the hell do you think! And if you can't get the Bear, try Palmer. And if you can't get Annie, you try Trevino. And if you can't get the Mex, try the Shark. And so on. The bigger the better, but make it quick."
Knowing it would do no good, Chelsea reminded Kingsbury that he had tried to recruit the top golfing names when he was first planning Falcon Trace, and that they'd all said no. Only Jake Harp had the stomach to work for him.
"I don't care what they said before," Kingsbury growled, "you call 'em again. Money is no problem, all right?"
"Again, I'd just like to caution you about how this might appear to people – "
"I need a hotshot golfer, Charlie. The hell do you guys call it – a media personality?" Kingsbury raised one plump fist and let it fall heavily on the desk. "I can't sell a golf resort when my star golfer's on a goddamn respirator. Don't you understand? Don't you know a goddamn thing about Florida real estate?"
They rode to the airport in edgy silence. Danny Pogue was waiting for Lou to say something. Like it was all their fault. Like the people in Queens wanted their money back.
Earlier Bud Schwartz had pulled his partner aside and said, look, they want the dough, we give it back. This is the mob, he said, and we're not playing games with the mob. But it's damned important, Bud Schwartz had said, that Lou and his Mafia people know that we didn't tip off Kingsbury. How the hell he found out about the hit, it don't matter. It wasn't us and we gotta make that clear, okay? Danny Pogue agreed wholeheartedly. Like Bud Schwartz, he didn't want to go through the rest of life having somebody else start his car every morning. Or peeking around corners, watching out for inconspicuous fat guys like Lou.
So when they got to the Delta Airlines terminal,
Danny Pogue shook Lou's hand and said he was very sorry about what had happened. "Honest to God, we didn't tell nobody."
"That's the truth," said Bud Schwartz.
Lou shrugged. "Probably a wire. Don't sweat it."
"Thanks," said Danny Pogue, flushed with relief. He pumped Lou's pudgy arm vigorously. "Thanks for – well, just thanks is all."
Lou nodded. His nose and cheeks were splashed pink with raw sunburn. He wore the same herringbone coat and striped shirt that he had when he'd gotten off the airplane. There was still no sign of the gun, but the burglars knew he was carrying it somewhere on his corpulent profile.
Lou said, "Since I know you're dyin' to ask, what happened was this: the asshole bent over. Don't ask me why, but he bent over just as I pulled the trigger."
"Bud thought you probably got the two guys mixed up-"
"I didn't get nobody mixed up." Lou's upper lip curled when he directed this bulletin toward Bud Schwartz. "The guy leaned over is all. Otherwise he'd be dead right now, trust me."
Despite his doubts about Lou's marksmanship, Bud Schwartz didn't want him to leave Miami with hard feelings. He didn't want any hit man, even a clumsy one, to be sore at him.
"Could've happened to anybody," Bud Schwartz said supportively. "Sounds like one hell of a tough shot from the water, anyway."
A voice on the intercom announced that the Delta flight to LaGuardia was boarding at Gate 7. Lou said, "The guy that got hit, I heard he's hanging on."
"Yeah, some golfer named Harp," said Danny Pogue. "Serious but stable."
"Maybe he'll make it," Lou said. "That would be good."
Bud Schwartz asked what would happen when Lou returned to Queens.
"Have a sitdown with my people. Find out what they want to do next. Then I got this big birthday party for my wife's fortieth. I bought her one a them electric woks – she really likes Jap food, don't ask me why."
Danny Pogue said, "Are you in big trouble?"
Lou's chest bounced when he laughed. "With my wife or the boys? Ask me which is worse."
He picked up his carry-on and the blue umbrella, and waddled for the gate.
Bud Schwartz waved. "Sorry it got so screwed up."
"What the hell," said Lou, still laughing. "I got me a nice boat ride outta the deal."
Joe Winder and Carrie Lanier met Trooper Jim Tile at the Snapper Creek Plaza on the Turnpike extension. They took a booth at the Roy Rogers and ordered burgers and shakes. Winder found the atmosphere more pleasant than it had been at Ocean Reef. Carrie asked Jim Tile if he had phoned Rikers Island.
"Yeah, I called," the trooper said. They thought it was crazy, but they said they'd watch for anything out of the ordinary."
"Out of the ordinary hardly begins to describe him."
"New Yorkers," said Jim Tile, "think they've cornered the market on psychopaths. They don't know Florida."
Joe Winder said, "I don't think he's going to Rikers Island. I think he's still here."
"I heard about Harp," said Jim Tile, "and my opinion is no, it wasn't the governor. I'll put money on it."
"How can you be so sure?" asked Carrie.
"Because (a) it's not his style, and (b) he wouldn't have missed."
Winder said, "Mr. X was the target."
"Had to be," agreed Jim Tile. "Who'd waste a perfectly good bullet on a golfer?"
Carrie speculated that it could have been a disgruntled fan. Joe Winder threw an arm around her and gave her a hug. He'd been in a good mood since trashing Pedro Luz's steroid den.
The trooper was saying Skink might've headed upstate. "This morning somebody shot up a Greyhound on the interstate outside Orlando. Sixty-seven Junior Realtors on their way to Epcot."
Panic at Disney World! Winder thought. Kingsbury will come in his pants.
"Nobody was hurt," Jim Tile said, "which leads me to believe it was you-know-who." He pried the plastic cap off his milkshake and spooned out the ice cream. "Eight rounds into a speeding bus and nobody even gets nicked. That's one hell of a decent shot."
Carrie said, "I'm assuming they didn't catch the culprit."
"Vanished without a trace," said the trooper. "If it's him, they'll never even find a footprint. He knows that area of the state very well."
Winder said it was a long way to go for a man with two fresh gunshot wounds.
Jim Tile shrugged. "I called Game and Fish. The panther plane hasn't picked up the radio signal for days."
"So he's really gone," Carrie said.
"Or hiding in a bomb shelter."
"Joe thinks we should go ahead and make a move. He's got a plan all worked out."
Jim Tile raised a hand. "Don't tell me, please. I don't want to hear it."
"Fair enough," Winder said, "but I've got to ask a small favor."
"The answer is no."
"But it's nothing illegal."
The trooper used the corner of a paper napkin to polish the lenses of his sunglasses. "This falls into the general category of pressing your luck. Just because the governor gets away, don't think it's easy. Or even right."
"Please," said Carrie, "just listen."
"What is it you want me to do?"
"Your job," Joe Winder replied. That's all."
Later, in the rental boat, Joe Winder said he almost felt sorry for Charles Chelsea. "Getting your sports celebrity shot with the press watching, that's tough."
Carrie Lanier agreed that Chelsea was earning his salary. She was at the helm of the outboard, expertly steering a course toward the ocean shore of North Key Largo. A young man named Oscar sat shirtless on the bow, dangling his brown legs and drinking a root beer.
Carrie told Joe he had some strange friends.
"Oscar thinks he owes me a favor, that's all. Years ago I left his name out of a newspaper article and it wound up saving his life."
Carrie looked, doubtful, but said nothing. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail. She wore amber sunglasses with green Day-Glo frames and a silver one-piece bathing suit. Oscar didn't stare, not even once. His mind was on business, and the soccer game he was missing on television. Most Thursdays he was on his way to Belize, only this morning there'd been a minor problem with Customs, and the flight was canceled. When Joe Winder called him at the warehouse, Oscar felt honor-bound to lend a hand.
"He thinks I cut him a break," Winder whispered to Carrie, "but the fact is, I did use his name in the story. It just got edited out for lack of space."
"What was the article about?"
From the bow, Oscar turned and signaled that they were close enough now. Kneeling on the deck, he opened a canvas duffel and began to arrange odd steel parts on a chamois cloth. The first piece that Carrie saw was a long gray tube.
"Oscar's from Colombia," Joe Winder explained. "His brother's in the M-19. They're leftist rebels."
"Thank you, Professor Kissinger." Carrie smeared the bridge of her nose with mauve-colored zinc oxide. It was clear from her attitude that she had reservations about this phase of the plan.
She said, "What makes you think Kingsbury needs another warning? I mean, he's got the mob after him, Joe. Why should he care about a couple of John Deeres?"
"He's a developer. He"ll care." Winder leaned back and squinted at the sun. "Keep the pressure on, that's the key."
Carrie admired the swiftness with which Oscar went about his task. She said to Winder: "Tell me again what they call that."
"An RPG. Rocket-propelled grenade."
"And you're positive no one's going to get hurt?"
"It's lunch hour, Carrie. You heard the whistle." He took out a pair of waterproof Zeiss binoculars and scanned the shoreline until he found the stand of pigeon plums that Molly McNamara had told him about. The dreaded bulldozers had multiplied from two to five; they were parked in a semicircle, poised for the mission against the plum trees.
"Everybody's on their break," Winder reported. "Even the deputies." At the other end of the boat, Oscar assembled the grenade launcher in well-practiced silence.
Carrie cut the twin Evinrudes and let the currents nudge the boat over the grassy shallows. She took the field glasses and tried to spot the bird nest that Molly had mentioned. She couldn't see anything, the hardwoods were so dense.
"I'm not sure I understand the significance of this gesture," she said. "Mockingbirds aren't exactly endangered."
"These ones are." Winder peeled off his T-shirt and tied it around his forehead like a bandanna. The air stuck to his chest like a hot rag; the temperature on the water was ninety-four degrees, and no breeze. "You don't approve," he said to Carrie. "I can tell."
"What bothers me is the lack of imagination, Joe. You could be blowing up bulldozers the rest of your life."
The words stung, but she was right. Clever this was not, merely loud. "I'm sorry," he said, "but there wasn't time to come up with something more creative. The old lady said they were taking out the plum trees this afternoon, and it looks like she was right."
Oscar gave the okay sign from the bow. The boat had drifted close enough so they could hear the voices and lunchtime banter of the Falcon Trace construction crew.
"Which dozer you want?" Oscar inquired, raising the weapon to his shoulder.
"Take your pick."
"Joe, wait!" Carrie handed him the binoculars. "Over there, check it out."
Winder beamed when he spotted it. "Looks like they're pouring the slab for the clubhouse."
"That's a large cement mixer," Carrie noted.
"Sure is. A very large cement mixer." Joe Winder snapped his fingers and motioned to Oscar. Spying the new target, the young Colombian smiled broadly and readjusted his aim.
In a low voice Carrie said, "I take it he's done this sort of thing before."
"I believe so, yes."
Oscar grunted something in Spanish, then pulled the trigger. The RPG took out the cement truck quite nicely. An orange gout of flame shot forty feet into the sky, and warm gray gobs of cement rained down on the construction workers as they sprinted for their cars.
"See," Carrie said. "A little variety's always nice."
Joe Winder savored the smoky scent of chaos and wondered what his father would have thought. We all shine on.
That night Carrie banished him from the bedroom while she practiced her songs for the Jubilee. At first he listened in dreamy amazement at the door; her voice was crystalline, delicate, soothing. After a while Bud Schwartz and Danny Pogue joined him in the hallway, and Carrie's singing seemed to soften their rough convict features. Danny Pogue lowered his eyes and began to hum along; Bud Schwartz lay on the wooden floor with hands behind his head and gazed at the high pine beams. Molly McNamara even unlocked the door to the adjoining bedroom so that Agent Billy Hawkins, gagged but alert, could enjoy the beautiful musical interlude.
Eventually Joe Winder excused himself and slipped downstairs to make a call. He went through three telephone temptresses before they switched him to Nina's line.
"I'm glad it's you," she said. "There's something you've got to hear."
"I'm honestly not in the mood – "
"This is different, Joe. It took three nights to write."
What could he possibly say? "Go ahead, Nina."
"Ready?" She was so excited. He heard the rustle of paper. Then she took a breath and began to read
"Your hands find me in the night, burrow for my warmth.
Lift me, turn me, move me apart.
The language of blind insistence,
You speak with a slow tongue on my belly,
An eyelash fluttering against my nipple.
This is the moment of raw cries and murmurs when
Nothing matters in the vacuum of passion
But passion itself."
He wasn't sure if she had finished. It sounded like a big ending, but he wasn't sure.
"What do you think?"
"Poetry. A brand-new concept in phone sex."
"Interesting." God, she's making a career of this.
"Did it arouse you?"
"Definitely," he said. "My loins surge in wild tumescence inside my jeans."
"Stop it, Joe!"
"I'm sorry. Really it's quite good." And maybe it was. He knew next to nothing about poetry.
"I wanted to try something different," Nina said, "something literate. A few of the girls complained – Miriam, of course. She's more comfortable with the old sucky-fucky."
"Well," Winder said, "it's all in the reading."
"My editor wants to see more."
"You have an editor?"
"For the syndication deal, Joe. What'd you think of the last part? Nothing matters in the vacuum of passion but passion itself."
He said, " 'Abyss' is better than 'vacuum.' "
The abyss of passion! You're right, Joe, that's much better."
"It's a long way from dry-humping on the Amtrak."
Nina laughed. He had almost forgotten how wonderful it sounded.
"So how was your hot date with The Voice?"
"It was very enjoyable. He's an exceptional man."
"What does he do?"
Without skipping a beat: "He markets General Motors products."
"Cars? He sells cars! That is exceptional."
Nina said, "I don't want to talk about this."
"Buicks? Pontiacs? Oldsmobiles? Or perhaps all three?"
"He is a surprisingly cultured man," Nina said. "An educated man. And it's Chevrolets, for your information. The light-truck division."
"Boy." Winder felt exhausted. First the poetry, now this. "Nina, I've got to ask. Does the face match the voice?"
"There's nothing wrong with the way he looks."
"Say no more."
"You can be such a prick," she observed.
"You're right. I'm sorry – again."
"He wants to marry me."
"Showing excellent taste," Winder said. "He'd be nuts if he didn't."
There was a brief pause, then Nina asked: "Are you the one who shot the golfer?"
"Nope. But I don't blame you for wondering."
"Please don't kill anybody, Joe. I know how strongly you feel about these issues, but please don't murder anyone."
"I'll try not to."
"Better sign off," she said. "I'm tying up the phone."
"Hey, I'm a paying customer."
"You really liked the poem?"
"It was terrific, Nina. I'm very proud."
He could tell she was pleased. "Any more suggestions?" she said.
"Well, the line about the nipple."
"Yes. An eyelash fluttering against my nipple."
"The imagery is nice," Winder said, "but it makes it sound like you've got just one. Nipple, I mean."
"Hmm," said Nina. "That's" a good point."
"Otherwise it's great."
"Thanks, Joe," she said. "Thanks for everything."