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Archive for the ‘Florida Man Friday’ Category

21

FM28 (23)

“Finally,” says Shit Pail.

Rupert is starting to feel a little guilty about referring to her as “Shit Pail” in his head, but he doesn’t remember if he’d even caught her name to begin with, and of course, it’s far too late to ask.

“Yes, finally,” he says, shifting his sitting position on the floor. His ass is beginning to ache.

Shit Pail rummages through her bag, which contains everything that’s ever existed in the history of Man. Things falling out include a standard nail file, mints, a protein bar, an airline barf bag, a stale half-slice of white bread, the Shambhala Pocket Classics edition of The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh, a row of eight red raffle tickets, a piece of black Basalt, and a knotted, but deflated long orange balloon. That’s just what fell out.

“That took a while,” she says, still pushing her entire arm around in the big, allegedly-handmade, woven Costa Rican bag.

“Well, I wasn’t really trying, was I?”

She stopped and looked at him.

“Yes, sweetie. Had you been trying, you’d have been in like Flint.”

“Flynn.”

“In like Flint. It’s a Movie. Coburn.”

“The film’s title was a play on ‘in like Flynn,’ which referred to Errol Flynn and possibly his sexual exploits, which I assure you wasn’t, nor would be, the case in this story.”

Shit Pail shifted on her shit pail.

“You’re kind of an asshole.”

“I know.”

“Woolah!” Shit Pail yells, jolting Rupert out of his too-self aware pity party of one.

“What?” Rupert lost the thread.

“Sorry. Woolah.” She pulls a blunt out of her bag.

“Weed?”

“And crack. Better than nothing. I forgot it was in here.”

“Screw it. Light it up.”

“Second time smoking crack.”

“First,” Rupert corrects.

“Sure.” She grins, lights up the Woolah and Rupert continues.

22

The following day, beneath an uncharacteristically grey and brooding sky, Rupert and Joe went to the D.E.A.T.H. program site. All the driving around with Jesus had helped Rupert become pretty familiar with the area, and as they pulled down the muddy road in Joe’s muddy ‘89 Yukon through a plain of Pampas grass and Saw Palmetto, passing big, slow-moving, liquid-carrying tanker trucks, he knew he was somewhere near Spanish Point, where Leenda’s burial mound was located.

As they approached the site, Rupert saw that nothing about this operation appeared legitimate. Joe didn’t appear to notice anything amiss, which made Rupert more suspicious.

The flat plain had a massive pit dug into it, and into the side of the pit was the opening to a drift mine, which looked cartoonish—a big, squared tunnel entrance propped up by large wooden beams. Methheads of all stripes and levels of withdrawal walked into the mine with big, empty blue buckets and shuffled out with them full of brackish-looking water. They then walked unsteadily up a rickety set of wooden steps out of the pit, over to a couple of open tanks, up the aluminum steps to the top of those, and dumped the water in.

If Rupert squinted, the entire enterprise resembled a modern-day depiction of the now-discredited theory of slave labor building of the pyramids—the kind of thing you used to see on the History Channel before it was taken over by “reality” shows such as Possum Hunter and Ancient Alien Plumbers. Hundreds of thin, unhappy, sick people toiling zombie-like, performing the time-honored tradition of monotonous, soul-killing slog on behalf of their betters.

When the open tanks were full, the tanker truck alongside it would drop its industrial hose in, suck up the water, cap off, and move out, replaced by another.

A work trailer stood some distance from the pit. A few Tweakers shook and scratched themselves in a short line outside the door. Some tottered around the back where a few barrels had been placed to throw up in. When he or she was finished, they’d dip a scoop into a bucket of sawdust and throw it into the barrel over the fresh vomit, then either return to work, or to the line outside the trailer.

This is pretty fucked up, Rupert thought.

“Joe, does this look normal to you?” Rupert asked.

Joe looked through the windshield at the scene before them, considering it, and then to Rupert:

“Well, I don’t know what it is yet, so I don’t know.”

Unexpectedly astute. But still.

They got out of the Yukon and walked to the trailer. As they neared, a woman in coveralls came out and adjusted her hard hat. She had a sturdy-looking Maglite holstered at her side. More hard hats and inferior flashlights hung along the railing of the trailer steps, for anyone to use, Rupert supposed, though he didn’t see many workers wearing them. He suspected they didn’t much care if a chunk of mine ceiling crushed their heads to a pulp—in their condition, they might have hoped for it.

The woman stopped as she walked down the steps, ignoring the barrage of comments, questions, and outright pleas of the Tweakers who’d been waiting to speak with her. She watched Rupert and Joe as they approached.

Rupert elbowed Joe, who had thumbed the screen of his phone while he walked. The phone was again reholstered into Joe’s back pocket.

“We’re here for the program,” Rupert said.

She examined them, but less Joe than Rupert.

“You don’t look too strung out,” she said to him.

Rupert looked at Joe—Rupert hadn’t noticed he was sweating a little and he had a slight tremor.

“Not yet,” Rupert said.

“Stocked up, huh?”

Rupert shrugged. “Came prepared.”

“Well, it’s only going to make it worse for you in the end,” she snarled, clearly disgusted with everyone and everything around her.

Rupert noticed an embroidered nametag on her coveralls that read Marge.

“Can I call you Marge?” he asked.

“No,” she answered, curt. “You don’t call me anything. Grab a couple of helmets and lights.”

Rupert did and handed Joe his.

“Follow me,” Marge said, and they proceeded to the pit, down the stairs creaking beneath them, and into the mine opening, dodging working Methheads.

The tunnel was black and crudely dug out with a few support structures spaced too far apart for Rupert’s sense of well being. Marge said nothing, but as they progressed, the tunnel grew wider and taller, eventually opening up to about the width of a two-lane road. The deeper they went, the more the scenery changed.

As he tried to avoid the sloshing buckets carried by the teetering Methheads, Rupert let his flashlight beam wander over the walls and ceiling—small calcium carbonate lumps and bumps ran in haphazard formations along the edges of the tunnel, their sources found leaking above, drip, drip, dripping the measured geologic process that would build them into something more. As the trio moved on, the formations grew larger, drifting in shades of chestnut, ochre, tawny, amber and white, creating stalagmites and stalactites, flowstones and helictites, what they called “soda straws”—hollow, cylindrical mineral tubes—and “bacon strips,” when the flowstones grew down in rippling sheets. Rupert had visited a show cave up in Virginia, so this wasn’t entirely new to him. It looked as if they’d mined their way into a natural cave system.

Marge walked fast and soon there was a little distance between them, enough that Joe felt comfortable enough to have a conversation.

“Hey Rupe,” he starts. “Mom started to get a little suspicious last night after you left.”

“Suspicious of what?”

“Of you.”

“For what?”

Someone, somewhere threw up and its sickening echo traveled throughout the caverns, triggering a vomit domino effect that continued throughout their conversation.

“Something about the possibility that you might share our special recipe with some other operations around here.”

“Joe, why would I do that?” The whole we’re-all-big-time paranoia began to irritate Rupert.

“I dunno,” Joe shrugged. “She heard somewhere that you’ve been dealing with Tommy Bananas. Maybe even Bucket.”

Rupert was torn between the concern he felt at knowing people named “Tommy Bananas” and “Bucket” and the speed at which Merideth could obtain this ridiculous information.

“I’ve known the woman for fewer than twenty-four hours!” Rupert stopped and took a deep breath. “I’ve never heard of them, Joe. But so what if I did?

Joe shook his head. “It’s not how things work, Rupe. You just don’t do that.”

“Know people? You can’t just know people . . . ?”

Joe’s back pocket beeped nine times in various tones, then started ringing.

Rupert’s eyes rolled involuntarily back into his head. “You know, I hear you can keep that from happening . . . I don’t even own one and I know that.”

Joe fumbled with his phone. “I know, but I don’t know how—”

“Hello, The Gorge (Fine Men’s Cloth—”

Joe hung up. “Yeah,” he looked to Rupert. “I need to figure that out.”

“How do you even have any reception in here?”

Finally, Marge stopped for them to catch up.

“Used to be a show cave,” she said. “Till water seeped in from the Gulf.” Another fifteen feet and they rounded a corner, entering a huge, cathedral-sized cavern.

They stood at the edge of what looked like an underground lake.

“Wow,” Joe whispered with the kind of awe that might be inspired by a Close Encounters ship landing. Rupert was pretty amazed, too. He’d seen cavern lakes before, but nothing like the size of this thing. Enormous stalactites pointed down to the water, pocking its surface with a light, eerie rain. Around the edges that were accessible, Methheads came, scooped, and left. Marge pointed her flashlight to a place on the cavern wall across the water where the color lightened considerably about ten feet up.

Must be on an incline, Rupert thought.

“High water mark,” she said. “We’re about halfway there. If you want in on this, you’d better start soon.”

“Why is it being emptied?” Rupert asked, forgetting for a moment why he was there.

“What the hell do you care?”

“Um. I guess I don’t.” Rupert rubbed the back of his head.

“I don’t know,” she answered anyway. “I don’t care either. But I guess it’s cheaper to use these sorry sacks of shi—you guys . . . than to run a length of industrial hose and pump it. Anything to save a buck. Right, let’s go.”

They wove their way back through woozy Tweakers and into the too-bright grey outside.

“Is there paperwork?” Rupert asked as Marge retrieved their helmets and flashlights. She laughed and walked back to the trailer.

“Come back tomorrow, seven a.m.,” she called over her shoulder.

No. Nothing about this was even a little bit legal. Stanley would have had nothing to do with anything like this.

Rupert and Joe walked back to the Yukon and as they passed one of the idling tankers containing a lunch-eating driver, Rupert yelled over the rumbling engine.

“Hey! Spanish Point’s around here, right?”

“Yeah!” the driver yelled back, chewing what looked to be a classic bologna-on-white and jerked his thumb back behind his head. “About half-mile!”

“Thanks!”

They climbed into the Yukon, and Rupert waited until Joe had finished looking at whatever he was looking at on his phone. When he looked up and moved to put the key in the ignition, Rupert asked: “You going back tomorrow?”

“I dunno. Maybe. You?”

“Hell no.”

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20

FM26 (20)

Joe McEejit lived with his mother, Merideth (pronounced, Joe stressed, Merry Death) in a trailer way in the back of the Stately Swamp Mobile Home Commons just off the Tamiami Trail. The trailer park reeked of meth-making, and various colored clouds of smoke puffed from every other trailer. Rupert rode shotgun in Joe’s 1992 Jimmy Yukon down a cracked paved road that wound through the park. They passed a man covered in what looked like tar being handcuffed over the hood of a tan, rusted-out 80s Chevy Cavalier. As they passed, Rupert heard him yell, “If I had some crack, I wouldn’t be out here stealing . . . ” Joe didn’t notice. But Rupert’s attention shifted the instant they drove around a double-decker trailer creation on a turn. Not a trailer designed to be a two-story habitat, but two single-wide trailers stacked and welded together, with a chain ladder going from the bottom to the top. But that wasn’t what impressed Rupert. As they rounded the curve, he could see the back of the makeshift structure, over which was painted as a massive faded rebel flag with the words “The South Will Rise Agian.” The a was a tiny, less-faded later edit a fat Sherpie marker between the i and n.

About thirty seconds later, they pulled up next to what Rupert presumed to be the McEejit household. A broken fiberglass birdbath stood in what passed as a front yard and a red Hodaka Combat Wombat motocross dirt bike leaned up against the side of the trailer. It looked youth-sized and old.

As Rupert followed Joe through the door, he was overcome, not by meth cooking, for once, but the smell of baking cookies. An old woman with auburn-faded-to-rust-colored hair came out from behind the connected counter island that separated the kitchen from the dinning/living room area.

“Who the fuck is this asshole? Is that a purse?”

Joe handed her two Golden Tickets to Crack Planet and Rupert and his man purse were forgotten. She squealed like a non-crack-smoking old woman who’d won a trip to Vegas with an unlimited supply of nickels to play the slots, except she likely smoked crack and the slots in this scenario shilled out free crack.

“Crack Planet, here we come!” Then she stopped. “How’d you get two tickets, Joe? What did you do . . . ?” She looked about to come at him, but Joe threw his hands up and pointed at Rupert, who braced himself for a light pummeling. But she stopped and looked up at him.

“Who the fuck are you? You’re fucking huge.”

Rupert opened his mouth, but Joe spoke.

“Mom, this is Rupert.” He explained the deal they’d made and she contemplated it for a moment.

“I hear Crack Planet’s pretty amazing,” Rupert said, voice low and polite.

Merideth shot him a look, and then Joe, who was occupied with his phone.

“Goddamn it, Joe, put that fucking thing away. We have a guest.”

Joe slid his phone into his back pocket. Merideth said nothing else, but only returned to the kitchen and opened the oven. The fresh cookie smell wafted stronger, warmer. Rupert passed Joe a dubious look, but Merideth returned with a tray stacked with still-steaming cookies and set it on the table. Her shirt neckline was a little low—not embarrassing-cleavage low, but low enough to reveal a tattoo high on her chest that said “Don’t Fuck with Gramma,” embellished with a rose and a leaping manatee, which Rupert doubted they did. It looked old and faded, as if she’d gotten it long before she’d reached the conventional age for grandmotherhood. That was a little unsettling, though not unexpected.

Rupert thought of Bucket jumping onto—into—the deceased, definitely-not-leaping manatee, but was snapped back to the present when Merideth said: “Well, let’s get cookin’ then. But first, have some cookies.”

Rupert picked up a cookie, still warm between his fingers, and looked at it. Chocolate peanut butter, he thought, though he was a little leery. They stood in a meth lab trailer with an old woman who cooked meth and with whom Rupert did not want to fuck. He considered declining like he’d declined Bucket’s offer of post-cook coffee.

Joe grabbed one and took a bite. He had his phone out again and thumbed through something or other, then looked over at Rupert. “Oh, they’re clean. Mom would never put that shit into her cookies, right mom?”

“You’re goddamn right.”

Rupert took a bite and the chocolate-peanut-buttery goodness slid down his gullet.

It was the single best cookie he’d ever eaten in his life.

“Oh my God,” he said through another bite.

Merideth grinned, the gums of her dentures the same color as her hair. And then they all stood there for a moment—Joe eating cookies and thumbing his phone, Rupert eating cookies, his mind blank, and Merideth standing there, enjoying the fruits of her labor. But the quiet filled only with cookie-chewing was too much for Rupert’s still-delicate social composure, and he said: “So, you have grandchildren?”

“Fuck no,” she said, as if she really meant it.

Silence but for the cookie chewing. Then:

“Did you hear about that fella, tried to shoot Trump at a rally in Vegas?” Merideth made small talk.

Rupert eyes lit up. “Did he?”

“No, thank God.”

“Oh.” Rupert wondered what ridiculous, hypothetical garbage the country could have been spared, should the worst happen in November. Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, perhaps. Maybe ending ANWR drilling restrictions or rolling back environmental regulations. Suppose he would increase the likelihood of using nuclear weapons again for the first time since 1945. Or, Rupert thought, possibly he’d oversee the longest government shutdown during a psychotic temper tantrum in order to get billions of dollars for this completely unnecessary wall he’d keep talking about between the United States and Mexico that no one but a handful of heartland bigots would actually want or think we need. Maybe he’d legitimize white supremacy, or use mass shooting victims as photo ops. Perhaps he’d politicize or monetize a deadly global pandemic. All predicated on the inexorable deterioration of the man’s brain, as he’s clearly in the early stages of dementia, in addition to being illiterate and clinically narcissistic.

Rupert snickered to himself—he had a pretty wild imagination sometimes, even in this godforsaken upside-down state.

Merideth waddled down the hall and behind a curtain on the other end of the trailer. Rupert and Joe both grabbed another cookie each and followed her.

There, Rupert was confronted with a massive, immaculate, complex system of tubes and stands and glass beakers. It was awe-inspiring.

“Wow, Meri . . . Merry-Death, you did all this?”

She stood with her fists on her hips, nodding and admiring her own creation. Then:

“Joe’s lucky I let him near it.”

Joe nodded, dispassionately resigned to his complete incompetency.

“But, I like bakin’ better than cookin’, so fuckknuckle there’s gotta do it. He does okay. He only fucks it up now and then.”

A faint ringing issued from Joe’s back pocket, and then a voice: “Holly’s Hush Hush Lingerie, how may I help you?” Joe nonchalantly slipped his hand into his back pocket and hung up the call without removing the phone.

Merideth smacked Joe upside the head. Joe hardly seemed to notice.

Rupert chewed the remainder of his final cookie.

“Well,” she said, clapping her hands together. “Let’s get started.”

Rupert took notes as they worked, and during a quiet moment when Merideth wasn’t instructing, Joe asked Rupert:

“Hey, Rupe, have you heard of this government-funded meth work program?”

Rupert froze.

“No.” He returned to mixing the pseudoephedrine with the red phosphorus and hydriodic acid. He realized he had begun to believe the D.E.A.T.H. program didn’t exist.

“I guess it’s some kind of thing that puts Methheads to work as a form of rehabilitation. Their pay is accumulated and once they get clean, they get a lump sum to go start new lives.”

“With some kind of supervision, of course,” Merideth added.

“Hmm,” Rupert said. “Sounds interesting. Are you thinking about checking it out?”

“Well, Mom wants me to,” Joe said, and Merideth nodded.

“Get clean, get the cash, and then he can have it back.”

“Have it back . . . ” Rupert said.

“His habit.”

“Of course,” Rupert replied. For the first time, this whole scene struck him as a little depressing. Joe seemed like an okay guy.

“Supposed to be a lot of cash,” Joe said. Rupert looked at him—he was thumbing through his phone again.

“I’m going to maybe check it out tomorrow. Wanna come?”

“Sure.” Rupert said impassively, and he prepared to filter out the red phosphorus.

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GrinderFace

Eriks (pronounced “Erik”) Mackus was in prison for grand theft auto and robbery, and while he was in prison, he tattooed himself face using a very special ink blend of melted checkers, grease, toothpaste, and pencil lead, applied with a paperclip—among other things, his 727 Pinellas area code on one cheek and the state of—you guessed it—Florida on his other cheek. When he got out of prison, he made to start over by getting a welding certificate, which was good. He was told he’d have a hard time finding work with the tattoos on his face, so he had a fellow welding student take them off with a wire brush welding grinder, which was bad. He got his certificate and planned to find work with a union, to save money, and move to Texas, or maybe even Alaska, which was good. Five years later in 2019, he was booked on charges in Pinellas County for felony domestic battery, which is bad. I was really pulling for Mackus.

Kuruvilla, Carol. “Florida Man Grinds Off His Jail Tattoos with a Steel Wire Brush.” New York Daily News. Tribune Publishing Company. May 31, 2014.

 

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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19

FM25 (19)

Rupert and Jesus stood outside a FloridoMart, watching Tweakers come and go with their Slurpits, and trying to wrangle up some Crack Planet customers. Today, Rupert did better selling Tommy’s Tropical Supreme than either of them did with the tickets.

“Delayed gratification, Jesus,” Rupert said as an FFG meal bag blew up against his shin, then escaped back into the wild. “People want the smaller reward now, instantly, rather than have to wait for a larger reward later. That is, assuming there is a reward later at all in this case.”

Jesus rolled his eyes and then looked at Rupert.

“Yes, gringo. It isn’t just not wanting to delay the reward. People tend to perceive the delayed reward as less valuable depending on how long they have to wait for it. The longer they have to wait, the less they value what is in actuality an equal reward. Exponential discounting, Rupert.”

Rupert smiled. “I like you. You’re a reader.”

Jesus laughed. “You’re tolerable.”

Rupert hissed through his teeth.

“That’s right,” Jesus said. “You oughta put some Vapor Rub on that.”

“That was not a burn.”

“Was.”

“I am making more meth sales than you are tickets sales.”

“Truth,” Jesus conceded. “If Fulva finds out, she gonna be pissed.

“So, you keep up with the news . . . what’s new?” Rupert changed the subject. “I haven’t really heard much since I’ve been down here.”

Jesus glared at him. “Well. Just in the last week, some stalker guy shot that one singer on The Croon.”

“Shit. I don’t watch The Croon.”

“You didn’t seem like the type. Happened right here—”

“Here?”

“Well, in Florida. Orlando. And another guy shot up a gay club. Killed forty-nine—”

“Shit.”

“—wounded fifty-three.”

“Shit.”

“Also in Orlando.”

“ . . . the fuck?”

Jesus paused to think. “A two year old was attacked, mangled, and drowned by an alligator at a tourist resort—”

“Orlando?”

“Nope. Golden Oak.”

“Where’s that?”

“Near Orlando.”

Rupert sighed. “All in Florida. What about the rest of the country?”

“Have you not noticed that the longer you’re in-country, the less relevant the rest of the country becomes?”

“I’m still interested—”

“No you’re not. You just don’t want to talk about how Fulva’s gonna ream you out with MeeMaw’s Whackin’ Dick—”

“Not true.”

“You’re really interested?”

“Not really.” Rupert acquiesced.

“Don’t feel bad. Your interest, or lack thereof, is also irrelevant. Shit just ceases to matter here.”

“Unless you’re getting shot or eaten by alligators.”

“Yeah, but to be fair . . . we eat an awful lot of gator down here.”

Rupert shrugged his capitulation. “Fair, indeed.”

“Could be.”

“Where is Orlando?” Rupert wanted to know exactly how close death loomed.

“About 130 miles, north-ish.”

“Too close.”

Bróder, it’s all the same. You’ve seen it.”

“I have.” Rupert slumped.

“Anyway, Fulva’s gonna go through the roof. And Tommy, for that matter. Maybe not through the roof, but . . . ”

“Through the roof of his car.”

They both laughed. Though Rupert kept selling his supply of Tropical Supreme, he had been avoiding Tommy Bananas since the prospect of a cooking lesson fell through, though he’d heard things.

“Did I tell you what happened to Bananas?” Rupert asked. Jesus shook his head.

“So, Tommy likes to have these long, excruciating meetings in his car—”

“How are the Ebonics lessons coming along?”

“Fuck you. Anyway, after I left the last one—when I asked him about cooking—I guess that precariously mounted whatever-the-hell-it-is I told you about fell over into the front and impaled Tommy, pinning him to the seat.”

“What?” Jesus snorted a laugh that sounded painful. “Is he okay?”

“Well, as you know, the cops didn’t show up when he called, because the last time Tommy called the fuzz, he tried to barter with the dispatcher—three bucks and a chicken dinner for sex.”

Jesus doubled over, laughing. “Chalé! Stop . . . ”

“He spent twenty-seven hours trying to break the antler off the head and work himself up over the end. Said it went right through.”

“I can’t breathe.”

“And, of course, he can’t leave his car, so he can’t go into a hospital, so he plugged both ends with a couple of socks he dug out from the back and said he was fine.”

Jesus stopped laughing, “Oh man, he’s not fine.”

“Fuck no he’s not.”

“Who told you this?”

“Guy working at the Gorge (Fine Men’s Clothing), store #7.”

Jesus shook his head. “Serious talk now, it’s a good thing he’s, um, incapacitated. I’ve heard things. I had notheard what happened to him, but I have heard things.”

“That’s not at all cryptic. Heard things? What things? Who are you even talking to?” Sometimes, this place—these people—irritated Rupert. Little did he know, this general gossipy activity was not exclusive to Floridians.

“You might find this hard to believe, but when I’m not slumming with you selling Crack Planet tickets to Piperos, I actually have a very fulfilling social life involving a broad variety of reasonably stable people.”

“One of these reasonably stable friends of yours has news about Tommy Bananas?”

Jesus considered Rupert for a moment. “I don’t even have to tell you.”

Rupert looked at Jesus for an equal space of time, expressionless, then Jesus gave in.

“Bananas is under the impression that you are secretly making and selling his dead father’s recipe.”

“You said he was still alive.”

“Depends on one’s perspective, eh?”

“I’m selling Cancer Nanners.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“He never told me the recipe.”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s convinced that—get ready—at some point during one of your car meetings, you hypnotized him with—no joke, get ready—your Ebonics talk, and got the formula out of him.”

Rupert was silent for a long time, watching myriad bits of trash swirl around their feet in the hot, lazy breeze.

“I’m just . . . ” he began. “I’m not going to . . . I am choosing to recognize that as . . . I am choosing not to respond to that.”

“Good choice.” Jesus’s eyes scanned the horizon for potential customers. “Ironically, like I’ve said, Papa Bananas is alive and well, making and selling his formula, but only to the lowest, most desperate Geekers. Shit’s no good . . . ”

“But Tommy thinks I’m making bank on it . . . ”

“Yep,” Jesus replied and grinned, still scanning for clients. “Must be your hypnojive powers, ese.”

“Jesus, I am trying . . . no, I am choosing not to react—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, look, all I’m saying is that you should consider yourself fortunate that your man, Bananas, is incapacitated.”

“Impaled or not, the dude can’t leave his car. I’m not sure how less capacitated he actually is.”

“Never underestimate a tweaking Dollaboy. Getting run through with an antler’s not going to slow him down . . . more . . . ” Jesus stopped and addressed an especially desperate looking Jibby, about to ease into his Crack Planet pitch. The guy looked through Jesus and floated away. “Dang. That guy is spun like a bun on the run . . . ”

“Yeah, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be working for Tommy anyway,” Rupert said.

“I don’t know how much longer Tommy’s going to be around,” Jesus said. “You know that shit’s infected.”

“Yeah.” Rupert squinted down the street at nothing in particular. “Well, since Bucket taught me how to—”

“Seriously hermano, you don’t want to get into that. Sell some tickets, make some easy money, do a good deed, and that’s that.”

Rupert sighed. He realized his drive to become big time here grew stronger than his desire to get the hell out and go back to DC, burning him up like a lab fire ignited by an unvented, lithium-filled bottle. Rupert sighed again, bothered by this involuntary use of simile.

“Well, Bucket wants to get together again to further discuss the New Thought Movement,” Rupert said, still undecided as to whether he wanted to interact with Bucket anymore. That one’s Nutbag Level was indeed exceptional.

“So,” Rupert continued. “You know Bucket. You said everyone knew about Bucket. That guy—”

“Did Bucket tell you about Bucket?”

Rupert stared at Jesus. What now?

“Well, I guess it’s not a thing a person is much willing to bring up. Remember back in the 80s, that kid that got stuck in the well? It was on all the news channels.”

“Yeah,” Rupert said, thinking. “I remember that. In the end it turned out to be as simple as dropping the well bucket down there and pulling him out, but they’d made it more complicated than that and the kid almost starved to death.”

Take a simple situation, add a group of people with their egos and their individual subjectivity, and watch it devolve into a state of complete chaos—social entropy, and Bucket’s story is only a microcosm of what we do all over the world, every day, and not just the shit that makes the news. In our lives, in big and small ways, all rippling out in the form of a billion devastating repercussions. Rupert considered the Butterfly Effect of just that one, particular fuck-up.

“Really? The kid in the well—that was Bucket?”

Jesus nodded.

“Well, that explains a lot.”

“You know that little bridge over the inlet that the kayakers like to go under. You go over it to get to Van Weasel?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Kids have been selling for him for years. They start at around eight and age out around twelve, but the firstgroup, years ago, they thought he was a troll—the troll living under the bridge. Then they got a little older and found the well story out somehow. They’re the ones that started calling him Bucket and it just got passed down through the generations.”

“Thought forms.”

“What?”

“Those kids, man. What a bunch of little—”

“He’s pretty stoic about it, though, right? I don’t think he remembers his real name.”

He deliberately forgot it. Rupert stared ahead, thinking.

Jesus looked at Rupert. “That dude is in rough shape. I wouldn’t mess with any of that.”

“Well, he’s happy enough,” Rupert said. “But no joke, Jesus. I gotta.”

“What?”

“I gotta get in on this game.”

“What the hell for? Tickets, man. It’s the way up.”

“Man, these things are going nowhere. They’re a scam.”

Jesus eyerolled again and Rupert matched him. They eyeroll-battled for a full minute.

“Jesus, if I could get some production going, I could make all these small-time operators disappear. My shit would be the best shit. And you’d be my right-hand man.”

Jesus looked appalled.

At that moment, a guy came around the corner, not looking like he wanted to go into the store, but went directly to Jesus. He didn’t look like a Geeker, but he was a little twitchy. He cast a wary glance to Rupert.

He looked like a pretty regular guy. A little thin, unshaven in defiance of his receding hairline, and maybe a bit dirty, but not on-the-street dirty. More like shops-at-the-Homeware-Wearhouse dirty. He had his cell phone out, but shoved it into his back pocket before addressing Jesus.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey Joe,” Jesus said. “What’s cookin?” Jesus laughed, but Joe didn’t, not because he didn’t think it was funny, Rupert thought, but because he didn’t get the joke. Rupert now knew this guy cooked.

“Hey,” Joe said to Rupert.

“Joe, this is Rupert.” Jesus introduced them. “Rupert, Joe.”

They exchanged nods.

“Jesus, Mom’s been buggin’ me about getting one of those damn tickets,” Joe said, finally getting down to it.

“She’d have the time of her life,” Jesus replied.

“Yeah, that’s what she says.” Joe digs into his front pocket and pulls out a fold of bills—it looks like a hundred dollars worth of singles.

“Let’s do this then,” said Jesus, as he dug around in his shorts pockets for a ticket, but pointed to Rupert. “He’s the money man.”

Joe paid Rupert, who counted it with swift expertise—ninety-nine one-dollar bills and ninety-nine cents in change. Joe—or his mother—was exact.

“Thanks, Jesus,” Joe said, examining the ticket, and about to turn. At this moment, Joe’s ass spoke. Or, more precisely, his cell phone did—it was an FFG joint he’d accidentally butt-dialed. The tinny voice announced its business and location, then asked how they could help Joe. Joe took out his phone and put it to his ear. “Sorry,” he said, to the FFG employee, and Rupert and Jesus, then hung up without waiting for a response. This seemed routine.

Rupert stopped him—noticing again that his social anxiety seemed to have vanished.

“You wouldn’t be interested in—?” he started, but Jesus interrupted.

“He don’t want it. He and his mama make it at home.”

“Oh yeah?” Rupert said like he didn’t know. “Like a real lab, all set up?”

Joe put both the ticket and phone back into his pocket and faced them again, then crossed his arms in front of him, suddenly affable. “Oh yeah. You should see it. Mom is a master at constructing clean and efficient labs. People around here’ll tell you, hers is the best, you know, as far as quality and how it goes down. Best cookies, too.”

“You don’t say,” Rupert said. “I’d love to see it. I mean, it sounds impressive. I don’t know much about how it works, but—”

Jesus glared at Rupert and Rupert ignored him.

“Yeah, it can be fascinating,” Joe said, fiddling with his back pocket again. He pulled out the ticket and looked at it. “Jesus, be straight with me, right? Does Crack Planet exist?”

“Real as you and me, son.”

Joe offered a feeble nod and was about to turn once more when Rupert stopped him again.

“Joe, would you like to go to Crack Planet with your mom?”

Jesus looked at Rupert like he’d dropped his pants and took a dump right there in front of the FloridoMart. Rupert wondered just how shocking that would really be. Not very, he suspected.

Joe thought for a moment. “Well, yeah, I guess. Sure. But I gotta save up again and she’ll want to go soon . . . ”

“No need,” Rupert said. “Jesus, hand me one of those Golden Tickets.”

“You know Fulva counts these.”

Rupert made a grabby hand gesture and Jesus threw the ticket at him. It bounced off his elbow and clacked to the ground.

“Nice catch, noir niño,” Jesus said.

“God, shut up,” Rupert replied, picking up the ticket and handing it to Joe. “On the house. One condition.”

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18

FM24 (18)

New Pullers jerseys were in at a shop a few blocks down from the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet, so Rupert and Jesus parted ways there and Rupert walked through a few parking lots, cross-body bag bouncing against his hip, aware that a living plant—a potentially talking plant—bounced around inside, so he slowed down to not jostle it so much. He needed to get it into some water.

At that moment, he was narrowly missed by a man who’d run out of a Holly’s Hush-Hush lingerie store with two armloads of women’s underwear. Thongs and open-crotched panties fluttered to the blacktop around Rupert. A managerial-looking woman in a smart suit and a phone in her hand ran a little way behind the man, stopping next to Rupert, who’d also stopped to watch. They saw the man navigate the main road traffic, leaving a trail of frilled undergarments in his wake. Behind this set piece, the sun shone its brightest as it prepared to retire for the day. Rupert wondered how many times he needed to burn out his retinas before he remembered to buy sunglasses.

“He does this about once every three or four months,” she said to Rupert as her inventory ran away.

Rupert nodded.

Then, police cars screeched and squealed from all directions and the next thing the thong thief knew, he was knocked sideways, his booty scattered to the sky. He landed on his hip, but it was hard to tell through the streaming cars.

“He never lands the same way,” the woman said, sighed, and walked towards the scene.

Rupert moved on, remembering the Plant with No Name.

Back at the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet—after ignoring Angel and wondering if anyone else worked or was even staying there—Rupert sat at the small, square table in his room. The plant now sat safely in a glass of water on the other side of the table, as if they were about to share a meal together. He stared at it, waiting.

The plant said nothing.

Rupert inspected it—the black ridges, the strangeness of its twisted limbs fascinated him. It had incurred an injury in his cross-body bag during the escape, and it oozed now, not the clear, slippery sunburn-soothing liquid of normal aloe, but something translucent and blue. He wasn’t quite up to putting his fingertip in it to see if it at least shared the same consistency.

Finally, after much deliberation with his solitary pride, he brought himself to address the plant.

“So . . . ” he began in almost a whisper.

The phone rang. Rupert resisted the urge to slam his head onto the table.

“Yes,” he said as the receiver reached his ear.

“Where’s everything at, Rupe?”

Pyrdewy’s uncharacteristic calm sounded strange to his ear. Rupert tensed up, waiting for the shiny, well-maintained business shoe to drop.

“Well.” Rupert stalled. He really needed to spend more time during the day thinking up lies to tell this man. “It’s . . . good.”

“Oh, it’s good?” Pyrdewy cooed. “Good.”

Silence.

“What the fuck are you telling me, you fuckin’ weed?”

Rupert relaxed once the screaming started.

“I’m in the program. I’ve . . . gotten in, and I’m observing, and . . . ”

Fuck. He didn’t even know where the D.E.A.T.H. program was. Pyrdewy had already warned him that it was so top secret that finding it without an introduction from already-matriculated Methheads would be next to impossible, and yet he’d given him no hint.

“Well,” Pyrdewy said and then a pause. “None of our operatives have mentioned seeing you.”

“I suppose they haven’t noticed. I haven’t seen any of them either.” Rupert cringed.

“You’re a six-foot-ten inch black man,” Pyrdewy said.

“I prefer ‘multi-ethnic’—”

“Shut up.”

“Yes.”

Pause.

“They treating you alright down there, Rupe? I mean, everyone being nice?” Pyrdewy’s voice became calm again, as if speaking to a child.

“Um, sure. Fine.”

“Good, good,” Pyrdewy said in a soft, soothing manner that made Rupert a bit nauseous. “Sarasotans aren’t so much known for their hospitality for your . . . type, Rupe.”

“My . . . ?” Rupert got it. And Pyrdewy was right. There were some racist motherfuckers down here. But there were obviously some racist motherfuckers in DC, so what difference did it make?

“The swarthy type, Rupe.”

I get it. Rupert said nothing.

“The melanin-friendly type, Rupe.”

Yep, got it. Rupert still said nothing. He wished Pyrdewy—and everyone—would stop calling him “Rupe.” He also thought it better not to respond to this particular line of conversation.

“Get back to work, Rupe,” Pyrdewy said, then hung up.

Rupert replaced the receiver and then glared at the plant sitting oblivious on the table.

The phone rang again and he let it. A moment later, the green message light flashed. Rupert listened; it was Leenda. “Just checking in.” His chest filled with sparks, but they dissipated into a dull ache and he returned the receiver to its cradle again. Rupert thought about the last time he saw her, which felt like forever ago. The elevator door sliding shut, and a dinner proposal that hinged on the re-appearance of Stanley. Rupert hoped even more fervently that they found him, though by now it seemed improbable. But Leenda would be here soon, and there would be a meeting regardless. He felt both eager and terrified.

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17

FM23 (17)

Rupert and Jesus drove to another Gorge (Fine Men’s Clothing) location to drop off Golden Ticket monies with Bill—the branch store in which they met changed from day to day in rotation, so Rupert didn’t always have to worry about running into Tommy Bananas, who was pretty obvious and easily avoidable regardless.

“We spend a lot of time in this car, Jesus,” Rupert said as they drove past a small gas station where a few emergency responders pulled another shirtless man out of a vending machine. The man ate a candy bar with his free hand while a uniformed woman with a sour look beneath her protective face gear used some sort of industrial saw to free him. He didn’t look too put out.

“Name of the game,” Jesus said, stopping at a light. “Hey, Fulva’s been asking about you. She wants to know where you are and why she never sees you. And she’s not asking in a way like she misses you. I think she’s onto you.”

“Come on,” Rupert said and shuddered a little at the thought of this woman and her demon lover. “So, I’m moonlighting a little. It’s not like we have an exclusive contract or anything.” He was both perplexed and pleased with his new-found nonchalance in the face of potential otherworldly retribution.

The light turned green and the Lincoln lurched forward.

“Besides, why would they care? They’re making more money on Golden Tickets than they ever have.”

“Yeah, and that’s good, but you have to understand these people, pana,” Jesus said, eyeing Rupert sideways.

“They can be understood?” Rupert laughed, but Jesus didn’t. They pulled into the plaza, which housed The Gorge (Fine Men’s Clothing) #3 in their scheduled rotation, and parked. Jesus turned off the engine and looked at Rupert.

“Every one of these crooks thinks they’re big time. So, they like to act big time. If you’re not careful, big time might fuck you up.”

“But they’re buffoons, Jesus,” Rupert argued, creeping doubt notwithstanding. Fulva was menacing even if you didn’t know she fucked Derek Peterson. The Peterson fucking only changed the quality—like splatter movies are gross and scary, but body horror is gross, scary, and deeply unsettling.

“That, mi hermano, is what makes them more threatening—the buffoonility,” Jesus said, satisfied with his coinage. He got out of the car.

This did make a certain amount of sense to Rupert and he followed Jesus into the Florida heat.

As they prepared to go in, Bill walked out, followed by Osceola. No one said anything as Bill and Osceola climbed into the back of Jesus’s car. Jesus shrugged at Rupert and they got back in.

“Drive,” Osceola said, sliding down into the seat to assume a super-relaxed position.

Jesus picked at his thumbnail, then chewed it a little. Rupert stared at a window mannequin wearing a sharp suit that no one in their right mind would wear in this heat.

“Drive,” Osceola said again, this time agitated by Jesus’s insubordinance.

“Where are we going, Bill?” Jesus asked, looking at Bill in the rearview. Bill had simply been distracted by some routine MeeMaw’s Whackin’ Dick maintenance.

“Oh, Fulva’s,” he said, looking up. He then returned to his massaging.

Jesus turned the engine over and soon they were on their way to Segue-La. Rupert reached a long arm back past Osceola and handed Bill a wad of cash, which Bill took without moving any attention from his massive pink dildo.

None of this struck Rupert as weird anymore.

* * *

When they arrived at Segue-La, Fulva sat cross-legged on her mat-throne reading a book by Derek Peterson called Bareback Militia. Steve Perry sat on the raised platform beside her—sporting a cowhide vest and a small cowboy hat—carefully pulling part his own old, desiccated feces, picking undigested seeds out of it, and popping them into his disgusting little monkey mouth. As soon as he saw Rupert, he ran, climbed up Rupert’s body, perched on his shoulder, and sniffed the side of his head. Rupert grimaced. He disliked this monkey.

As they approached, Fulva looked up from her book and smiled at Rupert, ignoring Jesus, which Jesus was used to and preferred.

“You read Peterson, Rupie?” she asked as if she referred to John Stuart Mill.

Until he came to Florida, Rupert had never heard of him. He wasn’t sure Peterson existed outside of Florida.

“I don’t think I have, no.” He knew absolutely that he’d have known if he had.

“Do. He’s incredible. Hands down, the best erotic/horror-young-adult-self-help writer of the genre.”

“She just wants to fuck him,” Bill spat as he and Osceola walked in. He slid down into the beanbag chair in front of his VMS4. Rupert wondered if Bill had made his weekly 911 call yet, or maybe the VMS4 system is back up and running to Bill’s satisfaction. Then, a little late to the game, his thought was interrupted by a vision of Peterson’s rubbery, distorted face laboring exhaustively over Fulva as she grunted her old man moans of greasy-gross pleasure, perhaps opening a pestilential rift in the Universal Source.

Fulva eeked out a wispy, revolted noise, much milder than Rupert wanted to express.

“Bildo’s just jealous.”

Rupert said nothing. Fulva flipped the book aside and looked at Rupert.

“Where’ve ya been, Rupie?”

“Oh, around. Selling tickets. Seeing the sights. Never been to Florida before.”

“Yeah? Where’ve you been?”

You know . . . around,” Rupert hadn’t been anywhere that he could point to as a “sight.”

“Yeah, but where?”

“I’ve been,” Rupert began slowly, “down to the marina.”

“Which one?”

Shit.

“Hey, you know, before we continue this conversation, and speaking of water, would you mind if I, um . . . ?” Rupert indicated his need to urinate by loosely grabbing his junk and plonking his knees together.

Fulva, annoyed, waved him away. Jesus pointed over his shoulder to a large pink door with gold trim.

Rupert really did have to go, though he hoped he could buy enough time to think of the marina’s name. Any marina’s name.

The bathroom is, of course, pink. Persian Rose, to be exact. Rupert did not recall ever having taken a color-theory class. It was clear Fulva preferred unnatural colors, but this was one of the more toned-down pinks. And everything matched. Whoever put this together nailed it. The floor, walls, toilet, shower and curtain, sink, counter, soap dish, soap, everything was the exact same shade of Persian Rose. Furthermore, it was immaculate, as opposed to the rest of Segue-La. Rupert was impressed, despite that it gave him vertigo.

The only thing here not Persian Rose was a massive, bigger-than-Rupert-sized aloe plant gone biologically haywire. Its leaves didn’t just grow up from the container in a single inflorescence, but branched off to create countless little aloe plantlets, like a spider plant, which was strange for an aloe. It sat in a pink pot atop a Persian Rose wardrobe with slatted doors, and branched off in all directions, twisting and turning, hanging down to the floor. He wasn’t even sure it was an aloe plant, though its leaves were aloe-shaped and fleshy, green with pointed ridges along the sides. More like tentacles, really. The ridges were black, though, and he’d never seen an aloe plant like that. Perhaps some special species of Aloe. Florida did contain some prehistoric monster-looking vegetation. Fucking Florida.

As Rupert drained his bladder, he heard a faint whisper from behind: “Help me.”

He figured it was just the sound of his whiz hitting the water and echoing around the Persian Rose walls and tiles. Or maybe Bill and Fulva were fighting out there. Whatever.

But as he finished up, shook off, and had his hand on the handle to flush, it came again.

“Help me.”

Nope, he thought. I gotta get some kind of ventilation mask when I’m around the cooking fumes. This is some bullshit.

He flushed, pivoted to the sink and washed his hands, which turned pink from the soap. Rupert wondered what the soap was made of to get that kind of toxic-looking lather. He rinsed and as the filling toilet and running faucet stopped at the same time, it came again, distinct.

“Help me.”

Rupert swung around to his left, toward the wardrobe, and opened the doors. It was full of Derek Peterson Little Girl brand yoga pants—Rupert’s throat constricted. Did he feel a presence in the room? Please don’t be Peterson. As he shut the doors, his eyes fell on the freakazoid aloe plant, and then he heard: “Yessss . . . ”

It was the plant.

A knock at the door almost made Rupert scream.

“You fall in?” Osceola’s voice came muted through the door. Rupert found this ironic; he was too large to ever “fall in,” whereas Osceola was small enough to do that very thing.

Without thinking, Rupert snapped a plantlet off its stem and threw it into his cross-body bag. Osceola banged on the door and started to rap, Rupert supposed, to pass the time during the three seconds between now and the evacuation of the bathroom. Rupert opened the door and walked around Osceola without a word.

Once more before the court of Fulva, Rupert looked at his watch.

“Whoa, Jesus, the time,” he said. “We gotta go to the place to do that thing with the selling.”

Jesus looked up, startled as he had been ignoring the proceedings, but he caught on quickly and said: “Ah, yeah, the thing. Tickets. Over to the place. We’re gonna be late.” He fished his keys out of his pocket. “Gotta sell them tickets. They’re knocking the door down for them.”

Rupert nodded.

“Rupie,” Fulva called.

He turned and looked at her.

“Don’t be a stranger.” Fulva smiled.

Rupert nodded again, smiled, and gave a weak wave. Christ, stranger than what?

“And hey,” she added. “You should stop by Mote Marine. They have manatees.”

Rupert thought of the floating manatee meth lab of putrefaction.

“I will. Thanks for the tip.” Does she know something?

Rupert and Jesus left and walked to the car more hurried than usual.

“Do you think she knows?” Rupert asked Jesus.

“What, now you’re worried?”

“She is kind of menacing.”

“I tried to tell you.”

They got into the car and Rupert erupted into a nervous sweat.

“So, where are we going?” Jesus asked.

“Anywhere.”

As they drove, Rupert looked around for whatever bizarre, drug-addled event might be taking place around him, but for once found nothing. He relaxed a little. Then he remembered the aloe plantlet in his cross-body bag.

“Can you drop me off at the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet?”

“Sure.”

“Hey Jesus,” Rupert started. “That plant in the bathroom.”

Jesus’s face got serious.

“The Plant with No Name,” he replied, cryptic.

“Seriously?”

Jesus looked at Rupert like, what do you expect at this point?

Rupert silently conceded, then: “What do you know about it? Like, what kind of plant is it?” He could identify every possible shade of pink that ever existed, natural or manmade, but he couldn’t identify a houseplant.

“Ever heard of something called ‘Wet’?” Jesus asked.

Rupert shook his head.

“Fry? Illy?”

Still no. “Wait, is that Ebonics? I told you, I’m not fluent . . . ”

“No. Okay. Pharmaceutical pop culture lesson. A handful of years ago, this was all the rage on the street. Basically, it’s marijuana soaked in PCP, or you just dip a joint in it. That’s all well and good, but the trouble came because, in fact, a nickname for PCP in the community is—

* * *

“Oh, I remember Wet,” Shit Pail chimes in, again ruining Rupert’s storytelling groove.

“You seem like you might. Fond memories, I presume.”

“If by ‘fond memories’ you mean no memories—”

“That doesn’t sound like you remember it.” Rupert, irritated by another interruption, bated Shit Pail with no luck, then was relieved when she didn’t notice.

“I remember it as a thing that existed in the world—whether I existed when I used it is a matter of debate.” She seemed to pick something out of a tooth hole.

“I guess that’s what you get from smoking something called—”

* * *

“—Embalming Fluid.”

“Hmm.”

“Real original, I know. So, Fulva and Bill, in all their glorious wisdom, wanted in on the act ‘cause it was makin’ bank. So, they sent Osceola off to get them some ‘embalming fluid.’ And you’ve met Osceola.”

“This can’t be good.”

Pendejo comes back, not with PCP, but actual embalming fluid. Now, evidently, that can get you high—you can dip a cigarette, marijuana or otherwise, into some PCP-laced actual embalming fluid, and folks call that Fry, but we’re getting into some complicated substance sub-genres here . . . anyway, it can get you high, though it can also give you seizures and put your ass in a coma. So, when that all went south, Fulva told Bill to get rid of it, and he poured it into her plant in the bathroom.”

“Is that an aloe plant?”

“Um, yeah, I think it is. That shit you break off and put on burns?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Hmm.”

“Shit yes, and it got wild. Keeps trying to escape. But she can’t part with it. Gift from Derek Peterson.”

“Thee Derek Peterson?”

“The very one.”

“Where’d he get it?”

“Regular ol’ aloe plant—I dunno. Plant shop.”

After a moment of silence: “That’s, uh . . . that’s a crazy story.” Rupert gazed down at his cross-body bag lying across his lap.

“You expected something more plausible?”

“Yes,” Rupert admitted. “Yes, I did. I hoped . . .”

“Okay, how about this? It’s not a plant at all. It’s an alien from Crack Planet.”

“Embalming fluid it is, then.”

“Hey,” Jesus said, looking between Rupert and the road. “You leave that plant alone.”

They eyed each other, suspicious. Rupert thought Jesus knew something more about the Plant with No Name, but he himself was reluctant to tell the only half-sane person he knew here that he’d heard a plant request his assistance.

“Okay.” Rupert went back to scanning the plazas for crazy, shirtless Florida men.

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SpiderFace

Simply put, Eric Rico Ortiz got a tattoo of a black widow spider on the side of his face because he was afraid of spiders. Let me quote the article: “’Everybody fears spiders,’ Ortiz told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, while standing at the Volusia County Courthouse to handle felony charges against him for habitually driving with a revoked license.” His rap sheet on the day of this hearing included burglary, narcotic possession, retail theft, prowling, and domestic battery. The crime saga doesn’t end there. A few days later, after an altercation with his girlfriend involving a box cutter and an attempted rape, Ortiz was being sought by police for kidnapping, battery, false imprisonment, attempted sexual battery without force, tampering with a witness, robbery by sudden snatching, and preventing someone from calling 911. According to HireExFelon.com, Ortiz was later sentenced for “willful child abuse” and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He also has the following tattoos as described by the Florida State Prison West Unit, where he is being held as of this writing: “Cross Cards 8Ball Rosary Banner Dragon Gun Eric Yariel Angel NY” on his left arm, “Clouds Star Prayer Hands Sun Mi Orguello Flag Clouds Boricua” on his right arm, “Heart Roses Banner” on his left chest, “Skull” on his right chest, “Love Eye” on his right hand, oh, and a “Spiders Web” on his face, opposite the giant spider that captured the media’s hearts. His release date is April 4, 2020, if you happen to live in the area.

McCoy, Terrence. “Florida Man Terrified of Spiders So He Tattooed A Giant One on His Face.” Miami New Times. New Times. February 21, 2014.

Joseph, Chris. “Florida Man with Spider Tattoo on His Face Is Now Wanted By Police.”March 4, 2014. Broward Palm Beach New Times. New Times.

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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16.2

FM22 (16.2)

They went back into the tarp-tent and Bucket removed the lighter tarp hanging from the branch.

On a length of two-by-ten nailed to a relatively horizontal mangrove branch, sat the following items: Two 2-liter bottles, one 1-liter bottle, one 20-ounce bottle, aquarium tubing, needle-nose pliers, a pair of wire snips, a set of measuring cups, a funnel, a lidded plastic container, some baggies, a razorblade, and a packet of coffee filters. There were also several B-Line cold packs, some Drainü, campfire fuel, a 3D ViewLooker, a handful of AA lithium batteries, a 3.78-liter can of Xylene, a shoebox full of 12-hour Sudafeed, iodized salt, sulfuric acid, Isopropyl alcohol, and a gallon of distilled water. All astonishingly clean.

Four hours—and a surprisingly detailed overview of New Thought philosophy—later, methamphetamine lay drying on the coffee filters, and Rupert was mentally exhausted, but rather impressed.

“Did you know . . . ” Bucket began as he peered through the ViewLooker. Rupert noted that it had no reel. “ . . . That Nagai Nagayoshi synthesized methamphetamine from ephedrine in 1893?”

“You don’t say . . . ”

Bucket clicked the lever on the ViewLooker and nothing happened.

At that moment a stone hit the outside of Vailima, the Home of Truth.

“Bastards,” Bucket mumbled. He bent down to the sleeping bag and pulled the box out from under the chair cushion. From the box, he pulled a handful of small, knotted baggies that Rupert knew to be “Dominican knots,” as Bill had once informed him. He was learning so much.

Outside, the sound of kids pierced Rupert’s ears like an ice pick. They chanted:

“Buh-ket! Buh-ket! Buh-ket!”

“Bucket, you wax-face motherfucker!” One exceptionally charming little boy split off from the rest. They all laughed.

Holy shit, Rupert thought. Another stone hit the tarp-tent and he was almost afraid to leave it. But he followed Bucket through the flap and ducked a few more stones. There were six of them, all on bikes, and none could have been much older than ten. One of them leapt from his bike, dropping it, and with a can of Lysol and a disposable lighter ran up to Bucket and lit a massive plume of flame much closer to Bucket’s face than Rupert thought very safe, but he also noticed that Bucket didn’t have much head or facial hair left to lose.

“Get ‘im, Donny! Get ‘im with fire!” one little psychopath egged on.

Perhaps most disturbing was that Bucket didn’t recoil. But little Donny ran back to his bike, and as he picked it up and mounted it, he threatened: “Next time, Bucket. Next time we’ll have a Bucket barbeque!” More laughter.

“You’ll wish you still lived at the bottom of that well,” another kid chimed in.

From one of them another stone flew, cracking Bucket in the back of the head. Again, no response. Bucket then threw the handful of baggies toward the gaggle of heathens and they scrambled off their bikes, each grabbing at whatever he could. When the knots were gathered, they remounted their bikes and took off. One lagged behind and dug into his bulky front pocket, pulled out a crinkled liter-sized plastic bag, and threw it on the ground. Then he pointedly flipped off both Bucket and Rupert before pushing his bike up the bank.

Rupert looked at Bucket, who acted as though nothing had happened.

“What the fuck was that? And,” Rupert paused, “did you just give meth to a bunch of ten year olds?”

“Them? They don’t imbibe. Least I don’t think so. They sell for me.”

Rupert couldn’t respond.

Bucket bent over and picked up the bag the last kid had tossed. He continued:

“Those, my friend, are thought forms. I created them on a bad trip—could have done a much better job, and I regret not doing so, but there they are, and they serve their purpose.” He opened the bag and peered in. “When the way is clear and I’m maintaining my oath diligently, they come. They know to come. They take my enlightening substance and distribute it amongst the unenlightened. They also test my resolve to stay true to the Movement, as you may have noticed.”

“The rock throwing and almost re-setting your face on fire. . . ”

“I never bend.”

Rupert hoped there would be no more yogic feats of dexterity.

“Bucket, how much do you make from these kids?”

“Make?” Bucket asked, confused. “Oh! Money! Oh, I never see the money. I have no idea what they sell it for.”

Bucket put his fingers inside the bag and felt around. It was clear plastic, but Rupert couldn’t figure out what was in it.

“They do bring me these,” Bucket said.

“And . . . what are those?”

“Weaves.” Bucket smiled. “Hair weaves. These I do sell on the black market.”

“There’s a black market for weaves?”

“Remy hair—real hair—from India. Best quality. I don’t know how they get it, and I don’t want to know. But it goes for big bucks. Or, it did.”

Freeze! and Hands Up! came tearing down the bank path, zipped around them, then tore back up.

“Freeze! Hands Up!” Bucket yelled. “They’re good dogs, but they’re full of beans. Yes, the weave market has slowed down quite a bit since the natural hair movement took hold.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Rupert said.

“I was thinking of trying to sell them to one of those cancer things—Malignancy Manes, Tumor Tresses . . . ”

“Caring Curls for Cancer,” Rupert added. “Hmm. I don’t think they buy hair, though. I think they rely on donations.”

“Well, I’ll have to find another way to sell it. It’s how I buy my supplies. Gotta do it before the damn dogs eat all the inventory. I may take up wig making again.”

“Hmm.” Again? Obviously.

Bucket took the new baggie of hair, sealed it back up, and lifted the lid off of a large plastic container behind the tarp-tent Rupert hadn’t noticed. It was packed full of hair weaves.

“You want a coffee?” Bucket offered, which sounded surreal here.

Rupert declined, thinking of the meth drying on the filters in the tarp-tent. As he did, he glanced at the water and saw a duck float by with some tubing and a bottle top sticking out of it. The duck’s bill was half-open, its head flopped to one side.

Alarmed, he scanned across the inlet, around in the bushes, up on the bank path, and across the water again. He caught a glimpse of the man with the fringe jacket and feathers, silently paddling his fluorescent yellow rented kayak out of the inlet and back out into the Gulf, feathers and fringe flapping in the breeze.

“Suit yourself,” said Bucket before he disappeared into his Home of Truth.

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15

FM21 (15:16.1)

Rupert sat nauseous in the passenger seat of Tommy’s stifling Cutlass Supreme despite the window being open. Tommy had a fresh, full batch of still-ripening bananas sitting between them. The horned thing loomed over Tommy’s head, as though it were considering an escape through the window. Rupert couldn’t blame it. The collection of junk either propping it up or threatening to release it was a confused assortment of garbage and nostalgia—FFG meal bags and childhood toys. Rupert thought he spotted what might have been a treasured Shake n’ Bake Superade bottle wedged between a single work boot and a rusty, metal Ripley’s Believe It or Not! lunchbox.

Tommy counted cash, flicking his tongue back and forth in the space one of his missing teeth had left in a manner Rupert found sickening. The smell of real bananas and the air fresheners made him recall his promise to himself that morning: Upon no circumstance would he vomit today.

“And here you go, Rupie,” Tommy said. “You can count it.” He was about to hand Rupert his take when he stopped and held it back. “Wait a tick.” He looked at Rupert, grinning.

Rupert sighed. “Fitty.”

Fitty,” Tommy repeated. “Use it in a sentence.”

Rupert leaned back and thought for a moment. The seat pushed to the rear a fraction of an inch under his weight, and even that little bit shifted the precarious mound of crap behind them, possibly enough to trigger a garbage avalanche of suffocating proportions. He leaned forward again, the horned beast eyeballing him.

“Alright.” Tommy Bananas, I’mma’bout to whack you upside your head fitty times. “That wad of money you’re about to give me better be more than fitty dollars.”

Fitty!” Tommy shouted, too loud. “Ha! That is great. You folks are great.” He handed Rupert the cash.

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome, friend,” Tommy said, pulling a green banana off the bunch.

Rupert didn’t know how much longer he could bake in that car.

“Tommy? Question.”

“Shoot.”

“I want to learn how to cook—”

“Nope.”

Rupert slipped into a surprised silence before he could redirect his prepared argument.

“That’s it, nope? No discussion? I’ve been selling the shit out of your Canc—Tropical Supreme.”

“Yes, you have, and I appreciate it.” Tommy peeled the banana and took a big bite.

“But . . . nope,” Rupert said, frustrated.

“That’s right. Look,” Tommy said around chewed banana mush. “I like you. You do good work. But I can’t be just handin’ out my cookin’ secrets left and right. I’m onto something here. No offense, but I don’t need the competition with my own idea, you know what I mean?”

“What about the non-scented version? The regular version?”

“I’m afraid that’s a nope, too.” Tommy chewed. “That’s my daddy’s secret formula. I can’t give that out. I can only pass that down to my own son.”

“You have a son?”

“Not yet, but I will. Someday.”

Rupert thought he saw the horned beast’s eyes grow wide, which would have been impossible, yet understandable.

This was a lost cause. And a waste of time.

“Okay. I gotta get going,” Rupert said, opening the door. His absence in the seat made the mountain of junk shift again. He stuffed the cash into his pocket. “See you later.”

“Bye, Rupe!” Tommy said as if the cooking conversation had never taken place. “Fitty,” he then said to himself. “Fitty badonkadonks.” Then he laughed until banana lodged in his sinuses.

16.1

Jesus dropped Rupert off at the marina in Sarasota Bay after pointing the way to get down the bank.

“This is Vailima,” Rupert said, somewhat disgusted.

“Yes, it is,” Jesus confirmed.

Rupert got out of the car, but before closing the door, stooped down and stuck his head back in.

“Jesus, do you know what Vailima is?”

Jesus looked offended.

“Of course I do,” he said. “Vailima is a village on the island of Samoa. Robert Louis Stevenson named his estate after it.”

Rupert raised his eyebrows.

“Get away from my car,” Jesus said.

Rupert shut the door and Jesus pulled away. He looked toward the marina, then toward the bay, then followed the way Jesus had pointed.

He found a path through some low, dead grasses and half-fell his way down the steep embankment to where the tuncated shoreline was flat. A patch of mangrove trees edged in from the stagnant water. It was pretty calm, almost peaceful. Ducks swam, gobbling up whatever they happened to find. Fish jumped from the water, catching insects that flew a little too low.

The patch was situated along an inlet right beside the Van Weasel Performing Arts Hall, where wealthy snowbirds took in the opera and whatnot. Obscured by the foliage, this inlet was a place where unsuspecting tourists paddled their rented kayaks from the harbor around the corner, looking to take in some nature, and then, upon seeing Bucket relaxing in his “Vailima,” propelled themselves back out as quickly as possible. Too much wildlife for them.

Freeze! and Hands Up! ran around, sniffing things, barking at Rupert’s presence, but not pausing from their enthusiastic rampaging to even look at him.

Bucket emerged from a blue-tarp tent woven into a couple of the mangrove trees and secured with a thin line.

“Welcome!”

Rupert was about to greet him in return, when Bucket cut him off.

“Get in here, let’s do this.” Bucket was all business, not as obvious a spectacle as he was when Rupert first encountered him.

They disappeared into the tarp-tent. The brackish water lapped at the shoreline near their feet, propelled by the slapping paddles of giggling people who’d never kayaked before. Rupert had never kayaked before. Come to think of it, he’d never learned to ride a bike. He’d always been too tall for regular bikes, kayaks as well, though he’d never tried.

A sleeping bag was spread out on the driest side of the tarp-tent with a kitchen chair cushion for a pillow, underneath which a small, ratty cardboard box stuck out. A much smaller, lighter-blue tarp hung over a branch—perhaps the entrance to another whole wing of Vailima.

“You there?” Bucket asked. Rupert thought he was smiling, but it was hard to tell in this light and with that face.

“Yes, yes,” Rupert answered. “Just thinking about—”

“You need to be thinking about the task at hand,” Bucket said.

My God, he almost sounded like a normal person. But Rupert knew better at this point. Nothing and no one was normal down here.

“First, though, we need to get in line with one another,” Bucket said.

Uh-oh. “Okay.”

“Do you know anything about the New Thought Movement?”

“I do not.” Rupert thought maybe he’d heard about it somehow, somewhere, but it didn’t matter because he had a feeling he was going to hear all about it now.

“I am proud to say that I am a member of that great movement,” Bucket went on. “We don’t have the time to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but it’s enough to say that Infinite Intelligence, what you might call “God,” is not a thing out there, separate from you and me and everything else on the planet, or in the Universe. It is the ultimate reality. And, through many years of what some might call “paranormal” and “degenerate” experimentation, I have discovered for a fact that one can touch this reality—it will reveal itself to you—when you smoke this particular substance.”

“Meth.”

“Yes.” Bucket looked Rupert square in the eye and his bald lids didn’t flinch.

Rupert replayed the scene of Bucket launching himself at the dead manatee he was sure he could ride out into the gulf, away from his imaginary pursuers.

“That’s interesting,” Rupert said. “Go on.”

Bucket appeared surprised.

“Well, I make this Godly substance and I distribute it. Well, I don’t, but I’ll get to that in a minute. But by distributing it, I consider it spreading the Truth, the Word and Wonders of the New Thought Movement.”

“Why is it called New Thought?” Rupert asked. Let’s engage, why not?

“Good question. There are many facets to New Thought, but I’ll give you the most obvious example. Illness. Disease. Even injury. It is all created by electrical impulses running through your nervous system. Which are, of course, generated by the mind. Your thoughts.”

“Right.”

“For example, you might not know this, but I was once involved in a rather unfortunate accident. Well, several. And, in fact, they were not accidents. They were products of my own faulty thought forms.”

“Really?” Rupert wondered how fast he could get back up the bank if necessary.

“Yes. Had I been in the right state of mind and practicing the teachings of John Bovee Dods, or William Walker Atkinson in an attentive and rigorous fashion, I would not have sustained any sort of injury whatsoever when my lab exploded.”

“Wow, is that right . . . ?” Rupert said and wiped his hand over his mouth to suppress an involuntary smile, then covered that up with a thoughtful rub of the chin.

“Every day, several times a day—on the days I’m not connecting with the Great Reality—I meditate and practice yoga.

“The meditation and yoga don’t connect you with the Great Reality . . . ?”

“’Course not, don’t be stupid. Come here, come see . . . ” Bucket lead Rupert back out of the tarp-tent. A couple of distressed kayakers glided by.

Then Rupert watched while Bucket performed a series of downright baffling yoga positions. The man’s vulgar flexibility both alarmed and appalled. When he righted himself and replaced all of his limbs and joints, he continued:

“When I meditate and become the practice, truthful and all-embracing, I am able to channel the great Hindu teacher, Swami Bakawaas, who assists me in honing my thoughts, fixed like a laser, to heal my injuries and make me whole again.”

Rupert wasn’t sure how whole Bucket had ever been.

Then Bucket lurched at Rupert and placed his shiny, misshapen face close to his. It was too late to pull back, and Rupert noticed that, at least, the crevice-seeking bits of manatee had been removed—he assumed here in this swampy inlet.

“See? You can hardly tell a Kumquat Quencher bottle blew up in my face.”

Rupert reconsidered learning this method of meth making, but felt it was too late for that now.

“Do you know what Vailima means?” Bucket asked, stepping back into Warrior Pose.

Rupert had read a biography on Robert Louis Stevenson, and he knew the answer to this one.

“It means ‘The Home of Truth,’” Bucket answered himself, incorrectly. “Now that you know a little about what we’re accomplishing here, and I do mean only a little, let us return to the Home of Truth and make some fucking meth.”

Rupert reminded himself of his end goal, which he realized he hadn’t quite articulated yet in any great detail, but figured now was a good time to make a note to do that later. If he had a face later.

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14.2

FM20 (14.2)

Shit Pail waves her arms frantically for several seconds, though Rupert had stopped talking and had been looking right at her.

“Did you know . . . ?” she begins.

Ah, great.

“ . . . that a manatee named Philbert survived three shipwrecks during World War Two—the Bismarck, the HMS Cossack, and the HMS Ark Royal, only to die peacefully in—”

Rupert had been shaking his head since the word “shipwrecks.”

“That was a cat named Sam.”

“I had a cat named Sam, who died . . . ” She didn’t pause.

“Am I boring you?”

“ . . . in a . . . ”

“Are you bored?”

“ . . . a . . . ”

“Are you—?”

“Yes.”

“—bored?”

“A bit.”

Rupert sighed.

“Manatees are boring.”

“Not this one.”

“Oh, because . . .”

“Can I continue?”

“ . . . I had a . . . ”

“Can I—?”

“ . . . catatee . . . ”

“Stop.”

“Okay.”

* * *

Jesus watched the hump, still nodding, and looked about to say something, when a man crashed through the bushes next to them. He ran straight into Jesus, knocking him back a bit—he looked like he was running from someone. For a second, it appeared Jesus was about to put a whuppin’ on the guy, but Rupert saw recognition on his friend’s face and then Jesus rolled his eyes. The guy, though, didn’t appear to know Jesus. The guy didn’t seem to know much of anything, except that someone was after him and he needed to act quickly. In the coming twilight, Rupert had just enough illumination and time to see that the man had suffered a pretty horrible burn at some point. Not recently, but sometime in the distant past. His eyes, crazed and red-rimmed, had no lashes, nor did he have eyebrows, except for a few hairs that sprouted on the outside edge of where the left one should have been.

I’d pluck those, Rupert thought, and then lamented that his brain worked this way.

The guy’s lips were functional, but not so much lip-shaped, and his nose was absent more cartilage than anyone would feel comfortable still calling a nose. The rest of his face, with the exception of a palm-sized patch on the jaw line and lower part of the left cheek, looked waxy and taut in some places, wavy and abstract in others.

As far as they could tell, no one was after him. Rupert had noticed as he exploded through the foliage that he’d been accompanied by a liquid-sloshing sound, but he couldn’t tell exactly where it came from.

“(Incoherent) fuzz, man! (incoherent!)” the guy said as his frantic but cloudy eyes scanned the water and landed on the hump of the slow-moving manatee.

Another glance around and Rupert could see there was definitely no one in pursuit. The only people interested in this guy were the tourists who looked on in shock and horror. Then:

“(Incoherent) gonna ride that sumbitchin’ sea cow outta here! (Incoherent!)” With that, the man with the melted face took a few steps back, ran, and launched himself into the water of the boat launch, toward the grey hump. Jesus had put up his hands, perhaps to stop the crazy man, but it was too late.

Here, two things happened:

1) At take-off, a plastic Superade bottle fell down and out of the guy’s pant leg, and rolled to a stop at their feet; and 2) the guy flailed and landed directly onto the manatee, which was indeed a manatee, though not a live one, and rotting from the inside. The guy popped through the decomposing hump, into and through the putrefying carcass, and now he struggled to free himself.

The stench was awful and instant, and everyone moved away from the canal, except for Rupert and Jesus who could only stare in revulsion. They watched him for a few minutes. He didn’t seem much closer to freedom.

“That’s Bucket,” Jesus said.

“What?”

“He’s kind of a fixture.”

Rupert was about to ask more about Bucket, but he then noticed the Superade bottle near his feet, which was murky inside, filled with a dirty, chalky-looking residue that had been jostled in the fall and was now settling. Rupert pointed to it.

“He dropped that. What is it?”

“Shit, son, that’s a bomb,” Jesus said, and with that, he jumped over a low hedge and commenced a brisk, yet nonchalant stroll away from the scene through a small gravel lot where people parked their boat trailers.

It didn’t look like a bomb to Rupert, so he stood there a little longer, watching Bucket thrash in the water, working the putrid manatee flesh from his limbs and yelling incoherencies and marginally more coherent expletives. Rupert felt a little sorry for the exhausted man named Bucket and his heroic battle with this dead manatee—he thought the least he could do was help him out. But the stink of the disintegrating offal was too much to get any closer.

In fact, by this time, Bucket’s struggling had pushed him and the manatee carcass closer to the edge of the launch, and Rupert saw that Bucket was not only engulfed in rotting manatee meat, but also a tangle of tubes, rods, and what Rupert thought was a glass beaker.

Bucket pushed himself up onto the concrete edge of the launch, fell over, rested, but wheezed for about ten seconds, and then attempted one last violent squirm out of the whole mess, the bulk of which plopped back into the brown-black water. Finally, he sat up, inhaled deeply a few times, and tried to stand. Rupert hoped very much he would not have to steady him, because he had no idea how long it took to get the smell of dead manatee out of one’s skin.

But Bucket succeeded in righting himself on his own, and he looked down around his feet at the leftover meat and tubing, then started to pat down his pants, as if looking for something.

“Pretty sure I just had the bottle in there, not a whole set up,” Bucket said and cackled, but turned serious again when he didn’t find what he looked for. He scanned the bushes. Rupert pointed to the bottle where he and Jesus had been standing, still looking at the manatee mess—Rupert had been in country long enough to recognize the remains of a box lab amongst the decomposing manatee flesh. What the hell?

Bucket ran over to the bottle—Jesus’s “bomb”—gave it a couple of shakes, which made Rupert wince, then walked back over and tried to shake Rupert’s hand. Rupert did everything in his power to avoid this.

“I’m Bucket,” the guy said. “Kids call me Bucket. Everyone does.”

Rupert hoped this man had not procreated.

“Nice to meet you, Bucket.” Again, Rupert couldn’t help but notice a drop in anxiety whenever he interacted with those whom society deemed unpalatable.

Bits of manatee meat had found their way into the melted flesh creases of Bucket’s face, and Rupert felt his ta’amia with shrimp start to rise. The combination of the rotting manatee flesh and Bucket’s burn-scarred face was like an olfactive-visual battle of entropic proportions—two things, falling apart, and never meant to have ever made contact. He wondered if he could go three days without puking. No one warned him about all the vomiting one would do when visiting Florida.

“Whatchya got there, Bucket?” Rupert asked, pointing to the bottle.

Bucket looked at the bottle for a moment, and then back at Rupert, perplexed.

“Meth.” Bucket said this like one would say, “bread,” or “socks.”

Rupert looked at him. Slowly, Bucket came around.

“Shake n’ Bake, brother,” he said. “You interested?”

Rupert was now possessed of two competing thoughts:

1) That Bucket made his own meth and might be unstable enough to be convinced to teach Rupert; and 2) he was almost positive that dead manatee contained a small, possibly-functioning meth lab, and that fact was so baffling, it was hard for him to conduct business. Was there nowhere these Floridians could not make meth? But Rupert persevered.

Bucket squeezed canal and manatee juice from his already too-big t-shirt, stretching it out further. He’d either forgotten anyone had been chasing him, or thought that he’d gotten away.

“So, this,” Rupert said, pointing to the bottle again. “That works?”

“Works? Hell, I’ll show you!” Bucket answered, delighted. Rupert found this disconcerting, which was a real feat under the circumstances.

“But I gotta warn you,” Bucket continued, then leaned closer to Rupert than was welcome. “It’ll put a crimp in your masturbation routine. I mean, if you got a schedule. I mean, if you wanna work it in your pants, like I do when I’m out and about.”

“I’m flexible.” That was easy enough. Confusing and gross, but relatively simple.

“Yeah, I’ll teach you, no problem,” Bucket said, unnatural lips undulating, lashless lids still squinting out toxic-canal/meat juice and other revolting things. “I’m at Vailima.”

“Robert Louis Stevenson?” Rupert asked, pleasantly surprised.

“Who?”

Let down.

Bucket turned, hopped the same low hedge Jesus did and trotted across the lot, dripping and shouting, “Freeze! Hands Up!” Two black labs came out of nowhere, barking and slobbering, tails wagging, and followed Bucket. A small group of black tourists, also sandaled and covered in tropical print, craned their necks to see who shouted, but upon seeing Bucket, quickly moved back down the shopping area, joining their white counterparts in a rare display of social solidarity.

Rupert watched impassively as Bucket and the dogs disappeared into the neighborhood, then turned back to the section of the boat launch nearest the canal, when there on the other side of the deep end of the launch was the guy he’d seen at the FFG on his very first day in Sarasota. He peered out from behind a bush, but Rupert saw the fringed jacket and the feathers in his hair. The guy shook his head in sorrow, and though the dusk had grown darker than it was just ten minutes before, Rupert swore he saw a single tear run down the man’s face.

Rupert turned to yell for Jesus and when he looked back, the mysterious man was gone.

A lone gull screeched its garbage-eating, beach bum cry in the distance.

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