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29.2

FM(29.2)

 

At the IHOB, everyone was stuffed and buttered up.

“Man, I love the IHOB,” Tommy said, rubbing his belly with one hand and holding the front sock in place with the other. A little bit of blood started to seep through his shirt. “I don’t know why I don’t come here more often.”

Efunibi now sat on Osceola’s former chair and watched everyone finish up their meals. Osceola himself had disappeared—he had excused himself to the restroom and had never returned.

“Okay,” Merideth said. “Where is that fucker?”

Efunibi stood up.

“Efunibi know where.” He paused for full dramatic effect. “He at Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet.”

“Is that across from the salad place?” Tommy asked.

“Sweet M’tatoes. That place is good, too,” Fulva interjected.

“No,” Joe said. “You’re thinking about the Regency Courtyard Royal-Clarion Inn.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Tommy agreed.

“Osceola use to scam breakfast at that Regency Courtyard Royal-Clarion Inn until he was banned for punching a manager. He didn’t believe that Teddy Roosevelt was Osceola’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather,” Bill interjected.

“That’s pretty great,” Tommy said wryly.

Fulva snorted, then said: “He didn’t punch the manager. He just yelled. Also, I didn’t know Roosevelt was an Injun.”

Everyone contemplated that for a moment, except Efunibi, who only stared.

“Wait, you mean the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet by the Consolation Zone sex shop?” Fulva asked.

Everyone looked to Efunibi, all knowing exactly what Fulva was talking about, but Efunibi shook his head and they all looked somewhat disappointed.

“Is it on Tamiami?” Bucket asked.

“East? West?” Bill added, and Fulva hit him because west goes straight into the Gulf.

“Is it on Siesta Key?” Merideth asked.

Fed up, Efunibi interrupted the question-fest: “Oh, for fuck’s sake, it’s three blocks away. Three fucking blocks away. Jesus Christ.” No one noticed his British accent.

With that, Efunibi got up and walked out.

As he did, Joe’s ass rang quietly. Angel’s voice answered: “Thank you for calling the Royal Courtyard Econo—” But Joe shoved his hand into his back pocket and clicked it off before his mother noticed.

There was a lull for a moment and then:

“That’s not Tamiami, that’s 72,” Tommy said.

“Yeah, if you were coming from Tamiami, you could take that slight right onto South Beneva . . . ” Joe added.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Tommy said. “Little short cut.”

“Okay, but it’s three blocks away,” Fulva said. “Which way?”

“It’s right next to the FFG. They share a parking lot,” Bill said without looking up from his dildo.

Fulva hit him again.

“Okay, let’s go,” she said, and they all got up from the table, but then spent fifteen minutes organizing their checks, doing the tip math, and getting everything paid for. When they made it out into the parking lot, they all dispersed to their various vehicles and hit their pipes in order to achieve optimum battle-worthiness, then they drove the three blocks over to the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet.

* * *

Rupert and Jesus exchanged small talk on the way to the motel, about what chemicals needed to show up and when, how to get a hold of this or that and in what quantities. Rupert was giddy at the anticipation of seeing Leenda, whom it felt like years since he last saw.

They pulled in back of the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet, the rest of the lot being hidden behind the building itself. Rupert would have to walk around it to get to the entrance and see the FFG’s menacing glow in the coming twilight. Jesus pulled away after agreeing to pick Rupert up the following morning.

As Rupert walked around the corner, he saw the seething, half-vacant, half-rabid crowd of simpletons twacked out on jibber-jabber in the lobby talking to Angel, who looked irate, which sort of made Rupert happy. He was also terrified. Though they hadn’t noticed him yet, Bill had MeeMaw’s Whackin’ Dick out and was brandishing it threateningly. Bucket, Freeze!, and Hands Up!—both dogs barking and tearing around the lobby—wore Boho dread wigs fashioned from Bucket’s unsold black market weave inventory. Steve Perry jumped up and down on the clerk’s counter, screeching. Fulva and Tommy yelled at Angel, demanding to know where Rupert was while Tommy bled more profusely and physically battled a panic attack. Merideth tried to get the lobby television to work; Joe thumbed his cell and may have ordered a pizza or a prostitute by mistake. And then, as if he’d just returned from a quick dash around the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet’s short corridors, Osceola, sat astride the massive aroused ostrich, burst from the dark hallway down which Rupert’s room was located. Everyone screamed, muted through the thick lobby glass.

Holy. Shit.

As Rupert had that one, brief coherent thought, he saw Bucket turn and catch sight of him.

“There he is!” Bucket yelled over the din. And then to Freeze! and Hands Up!: “Boys! Get him! Get that Oreo motherfucker!”

Damn. Rupert had .02 seconds to be offended before he took off like a shot.

* * *

“That was not cool.” Shit Pail smoked another of what seemed to be an endless supply of cigarettes.

“What? I mean, presumably the most whacked-out contingent of Methheads Sarasota County had to offer . . .”

“Not likely,” she countered.

“Yeah, probably not. But they were crazy and they were after me. But, you’re right. ‘Oreo motherfucker’ was probably a bit mu—”

She let out an exasperated wheeze. “No! What about poor Angel there? She didn’t deserve that—she’s just trying to do her job.”

“Fuck poor Angel,” Rupert said, flatly.

“You are a mean man.”

“Whatever.”

* * *

Since the antler episode, Tommy Bananas had emptied his car of some of his nostalgic garbage (into the brown bushes of the Gorge [Fine Men’s Clothing] parking lot), so Bucket and the dogs piled in. He had also re-attached the guilty antler to the head of the offending animal that tried to kill him and mounted it to the front of his car. The McEejits climbed aboard their Hodaka Combat Wombat motocross dirt bike. Joe was on the back and struggled with his helmet while his mother told him “we’re not moving until the helmet is on.” Fulva, Bill, and Steve Perry climbed, literally and with great difficulty, into a 1976 Fuchsia Mercury Grand Marquis—its large-displacement engine and 35-inch open-turbine rims terrified Rupert, which made him run faster.

What the fuck? That was not the Geo Tracker he knew from the Spotted Canned Dick times.

It took everyone long enough to get into their vehicles that Rupert had a bit of a head start getting down McIntosh Road, making a quick left down another smaller road that lead around some large industrial building, but by that time, Bananas had turned onto the road and was about forty feet away, screeching to a halt. Rupert heard “Oreo, Freeze! Oreo, Hands Up! Get him!” and the two dogs flopped out of the car, their boho dreads bouncing. They ran toward Rupert, who let out a strangled panic-scream, turned and ran.

He left the road heading into some urban brush that forced him through a swampy area slowing him down. He reasoned; this will make them lose my scent, but then he thought, idiot, they can see you. But it slowed the dogs down, too, and Tommy and Bucket couldn’t follow him in there with the Cutlass.

Rupert made it to the other side, which opened onto another small road, the other side of which was a suburban housing development. Rupert was now muddy up to his knees with two dreaded dogs chasing him and barking. He ran through the neighborhood, trying to stick to backyards in case his pursuers roamed the lanes of the complex. Rupert hopped a fence and landed in the middle of a family BBQ. He heard the dogs barking a couple houses over.

The yard got quiet—even the radio got turned off—all staring at him. Rupert couldn’t speak, panting. A large, exceptionally dark man with a tall, imposing box fade walked up to him, looked him up and down and said:

“Cops?”

“Methheads,” Rupert wheezed.

“I think we can help a brother out.”

By now the dogs had found a way under the fence. The kids, and some adults, ran screaming, but when Freeze! and Hands Up! got to Rupert, who cringed, expecting the sinking of teeth into his soft flesh, they only jumped up and licked him, tails wagging.

The kids returned from their hiding places and started playing with the dogs.

“Daddy! They’ve got hair like mine!” a little girl squealed with delight. And it was true.

“These your dogs?” the man asked Rupert.

“No. A Methhead’s.” Still catching his breath.

“Can we keep them?” a little boy asked.

The man looked at his wife. The dogs bounced and licked, rolled over onto their backs for belly rubs and scritches.

The kids begged now and the wife pursed her lips and shook her head, which translated to a bewildering yes, Rupert surmised based of the squealing glee of the kids.

“I guess they’re ours now,” the man said. He looked at Rupert. “We were gonna get one anyway. Might as well be two. Names?”

“Freeze! and Hands Up!,” Rupert answered, coming back around to some sense of respiratory normalcy.

A woman in the back put her hand up and shouted: “Oh hell naw!”

“Hell with that,” the wife said. “Their names are Toots and Maytal.”

Everyone clapped, whooped, and the radio came back on.

“How can we help you out, man?”

“I need to get to Spanish Point.”

“Well, my wife needs the car in the morning but . . . ” He leaned over to his son and asked: “How about letting this nice man who gave you these here dogs use your bike?”

The boy thought about it for a second before exploding into an enthusiastic yes! while Rupert imagined Bucket trying to get his dogs back from these good people.

Rupert didn’t care what kind of bike it was, as long as he had some transport. He’d forgotten that he was six foot ten and had never learned to ride a bike.

* * *

Rupert dwarfed the bike. His knees forced out instead of up, so his ankles bent at an awkward angle. He waited until the man went back inside his house before he attempted to launch off from the curb. After falling over twice, Rupert began to get the hang of it, agonizing as it was. He wondered if this was much better than running, but he found that sometimes he could coast dow on an incline with his legs out, so that was a plus. That was definitely faster than running and easier on his knees.

He made it to South Beneva and coasted as far as he could, looking over his shoulder until he saw the beast-headed Cutlass closing in behind him. The horned fiend had a look that denoted its recent penchant for human blood. It got too close—close enough to poke Rupert in the ass, but he made a quick left out of desperation onto Torrey Pines Blvd and narrowly avoided wiping out. Torrey Pines Blvd wasn’t so much a boulevard as a short strip of asphalt from Tamiami straight into the Country Club of Sarasota.

Rupert slinked on in through the open gate behind a Lexus, but the Cutlass wasn’t so lucky and the gate came down on its hood, knocking the recently glued-on antler off the mounted head.

The main landscaping features of the country club were a number of manmade ponds throughout, with and without fountains. Rupert made a right at one and headed for the racket club. The Cutlass, having escaped the gate, sped up behind him again.

Huge stands of bamboo grew up here and there, one of which Rupert crashed through, and the Cutlass followed. The bamboo turned out to be concealing yet another huge pond. Thankfully, though painfully, Rupert and the bike fell straight down onto the bank, but the Cutlass flew over him and into the water. It took out a rainbow-lit spray fountain fixture before settling and starting to sink. Rupert wasted no time grabbing the bike, dragging it up the embankment, and getting the hell out of there. Wet and muddy, and the bike a little wobblier than before, Rupert kept working toward Spanish Point.

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29.1

FM(29.1)

As the D.E.A.T.H. cave exploded, across town, geeking out on a shit rock of Dirty, Osceola decided—like between the White Man and the Indian—there should be a truce and a bit of a pow-wow. It took him two days to organize it, because everyone involved was high.

Over those two days, Rupert, not able to contain his excitement and wanting to have everything prepared, and pristine for Leenda’s impending arrival/approval, began moving equipment into the cavern, most of it collapsible or ready to be assembled once inside.

At length, a feeble meeting of the minds took place at an International House of Butter, about three blocks from the FFG where Rupert and Jesus had met and the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet.

Around three tables pushed together near a large window—perplexed and awkward with one another—sat Osceola, Bill, Fulva, Jesus, Joe, Merideth, Tommy Bananas, Bucket, and Steve Perry.

“Why the hell are you at the head, Osceola?” Fulva asked in her gravelly man-voice, trying to adjust her massive handmade Nepalese hippy bag under the table by her feet.

“Why the hell are we here at all?” Tommy asked, looking pale and sick, holding the area of his torso where he’d stuffed socks into the antler puncture wounds. The bleeding had never stopped completely and Tommy hadn’t felt quite right since the incident. He looked worse. The Cutlass was parked on the sidewalk, an inch and a half away on the other side of the window, which allowed him to still be within a few of feet of the car and not have a complete psychological meltdown, though the walk from the car to the table had been perilous.

“I’m at the head, Fulva, because I called the meeting,” Osceola answered. “And Steve Perry claimed the other end, so . . . . ”

Steve Perry, in an electric blue satin muscle shirt, tore the foil cover from a jelly packet and fingered the compote into his repulsive little monkey mouth.

“What the hell are you doing calling meetings?” Fulva demanded.

“I’m missing my prime time,” Merideth moaned.

Osceola clacked a saltshaker onto the table to bring everything to order, which accomplished nothing.

Fulva complained, Merideth berated Joe, Joe looked at his phone, Bill held onto MeeMaw’s Whackin’ Dick for extra security, Tommy winced as he surveyed the menu, and Bucket picked his nose, giving the mined ore to Steve Perry, who took it with pronounced enthusiasm and ate it.

The place was pretty empty with the exception of a man wearing a store-bought Halloween police officer’s costume, demanding from a waitress that his meal be free, for he was a public servant, goddamn it, an officer of the law, protect and serve, and all that.

“Everyone,” Osceola persevered. “Everyone, the reason I have called for a truce between us, and why I’ve asked you all to come here, and to come armed, is that I am under the suspicion that that Rupert guy is up to something.”

They all stopped what they were doing and looked at him. Even Steve Perry, but he still chewed. Even Fake Cop. The waitress ignored them all and sauntered into the back.

“Well, no shit, brainiac,” said Merideth.

“Yeah, badonkadonk,” Tommy said weakly. “We all pretty much know that.”

Osceola thought for a moment. He was indeed suspicious of Rupert, and he was pretty sure something specific was going on, but it was true that he didn’t know exactly what. He looked around the table and considered that perhaps this meeting was a little premature.

“I didn’t bring a weapon,” said Bucket.

“We didn’t either,” said Merideth, speaking for Joe, who wasn’t listening.

“Me neither,” said Tommy, still eyeing the menu.

“Man, we did,” Fulva rasped, grinning. “Well, Bill’s always got MeeMaws’ Whackin’ Dick. And I even made something special. I thought we were going to have, like, a turf war or something.”

“That would have been pretty cool,” Tommy replied, then coughed painfully.

“Right?” Fulva slapped the table. “Goddamn it, Osceola.”

“I gotta go,” Jesus said, abruptly pushing his chair back.

“Where?” Fulva growled.

“Got a late meeting with a potential bulk ticket sale.”

“Well.” Fulva was impressed. “Be gone, then.”

Jesus made himself gone.

Fake Cop now yelled at the waitress who stood by while two large line cooks forcibly removed him from the IHOB.

“I’m pretty hungry,” Tommy said. “I think I’m going to get the Crème-Topped Belgian Butter.”

At that, everyone opened their menus and perused the selections. Osceola, defeated, sat back down in his chair and reluctantly opened his own menu.

About five minutes passed in relative silence, with only the sound of Steve Perry whimpering, demanding more from Bucket, and Bucket trying to explain that the well had run dry.

Fake Cop was now outside, fumbling incoherent around the parking lot, his fake cop shirt hanging open and his belly spilling out. No one noticed.

At that moment, a tousled-looking, filthy, yet mostly unscathed Efunibi walked in with a wide, determined stride. He went straight up to the table, pushed Osceola out of his chair and stood on it.

“What the fuck, man—?” Osceola started, but Efunibi bent down, put his face close to Osceola’s, and glared.

“Efunibi know what Osceola do,” he said in a manner both mysterious and threatening.

Osceola looked confused, then anxious, and he made room for himself on the edge of Bill’s seat, who didn’t notice.

As Efunibi was about to address the motley gathering, the waitress walked up.

“Everybody ready?”

“Yeah,” Fulva croaked, “I think so.”

Efunibi stood on the chair, looking at the waitress while she took everyone’s order.

“Okay, I got the Crème-Topped Belgian Butter, a Tuscan Butter Scramble—that comes in a bowl—two Stuffed Butters with Bananas—”

“Oh, I didn’t see that,” Tommy interrupted, flinching from one or both of his infected antler holes. “Can I change mine to that?”

“Oh course, sweetie,” the waitress said smiling and made the note.

At the window, Fake Cop now had his pants down and was rubbing his naked ass back and forth across the window, cheeks dragging and spreading, dragging and closing. No one noticed.

“—Red Velvet Butter, a French Butter Swirl with a side of Chipped Butter, and a Butter Sampler. Anything else?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“The monkey?”

“Oh, he’ll have a stick of butter,” Fulva said.

“Kids’ size?”

“That’d be best.”

Then, the waitress turned up to Efunibi standing silently on the chair.

“You want anything?”

“No. Efunibi fine.”

“Alright then.” She went back to put in their orders.

Everyone almost slipped into some amicable, casual conversation, when Efunibi was finally able to address them.

“Florida Men—um, People. Florida People,” he began, and everyone turned to him. Fake Cop’s ass slid and gaped at them, still unnoticed.

“Efunibi come to warn. Big black man with short spic friend, they build meth fortress below.”

“What the fuck is he talking about?” Tommy whispered to Fulva. She smiled and shrugged, brushing the side of Tommy’s foot with hers.

“Dude, that is racist,” Osceola said. “I mean, I don’t even like them, but that’s some racist shit.”

“Wait, Rupie ain’t Black, he’s,” Bucket said, “what’s it . . . moolahtoh.”

Everyone around the table said “mulatto,” exploring the sound of the word with the shapes of their mouths.

“Wait, what’s that?” asked Joe, looking up from his phone.

“Half and half,” Bucket answered.

“Half what and half what?”

“I think black and white.”

“The term is ‘biracial,’ you bigoted assholes,” Osceola corrected. “Biracial, like Efunibi here.”

Efunibi glared down at Osceola.

“Efunibi no half-breed.”

“Like hell you ain’t.”

Fake Cop slammed hard against the window, as two real cops pulled his hands behind him, and he yelled something about protecting and serving his dick. Still, no one noticed.

“What’s going on?” Fulva demanded, pulling Efunibi’s agitated attention away from Osceola and back to the subject at hand.

“Rupert and Jesus build super lab!” Efunibi got out, exasperated.

Silence.

Bill slurped his buttery coffee.

“Really?” Fulva asked, genuinely surprised. “I thought he was a secret society member and was coming to, like, fuck with me.”

“Yeah?” Tommy appeared to be impressed. “Reptilian. I thought he was a Reptilian.” He nodded his approval of her theory.

Bill leaned over and glared at Tommy.

“I figured he was a malevolent thought-form from my own mind, finally coming to kill me, at last, and end my torment here on this earth,” said Bucket. Everyone nodded.

“I thought he was going to come with me on the work program,” Joe said.

“That’s ‘cause you’re a fucking idiot,” his mother spat and slapped him upside the back of his head. “I thought he was Oswald. For sure. He faked his death after the JFK thing. Been living down here ever since. I seen him.”

Everyone was fascinated with each others’ theories and presumed them all entirely valid, even Bucket’s.

“Are you sure?” Fulva asked Efunibi, who sighed.

“Yes. Efunibi positive.”

“How do you know?” Osceola asked.

“Efunibi blow up cave. Help build lab.”

“Why are you turning on them?” Osceola hated Efunibi.

“The Holy Nagai Nagayoshi told Efunibi, him say, ‘Fuck those Kemo Sabes.’”

“Right.”

“Well, let’s get that bastard!” Fulva shouted, jumping up and grabbing her bag as the waitress arrived with a butter-heavy tray. Fulva eased back into her seat.

“Well, we’ll eat first and then we’ll . . . ” Tommy said.

“Yeah,” Fulva replied.

* * *

“I told you, pendejo,” Jesus said to Rupert as he dropped down from the Pioneer Cemetery access. “I told you.”

“What?” Rupert asked, buffing a beaker on a lab table.

He couldn’t believe how much he and Jesus had accomplished in two days. It was pretty much set. There was even a nice little spot for the Plant with No Name, potted and happily sitting under a grow lamp of its very own. All he needed to do now was stock the chemical components and, well, build an army of Methmakers. But this was enough, at least, to impress Leenda, and she’d forgive him for whatever stupid thing he’d said.

“Those idiots,” Jesus replied.

“Well, shit, Jesus, that could be anybody. Which ones?”

“All of them.”

“Hmm,” Rupert considered that. “All of them . . . together?”

“Yeah, Osceola called a truce.”

“Osceola? Fulva let him?”

“It was weird. Everything is chaos. She was flirting with Tommy Bananas.”

“Ew,” Rupert said.

“And worse,” Jesus explained. “Efunibi is alive. I watched him walk into the IHOB after I’d walked out. It’s best to assume they now know all about you, me, and this place. They’re stupid, but if they’re all working together, they might be able to wrangle a few functioning brain cells to launch an attack.”

“An attack? You think so?”

“You want to chance it?”

“I suppose not.” Rupert put down the beaker. “What do you propose?’

“I don’t know yet. They’re at the IHOB right now getting loaded up on butter. That should slow them down, but I don’t know how long it’ll last. They’re all usually at some level of gakkification on Crystal, so it might zip through their systems.”

Not very long ago, this would have been a conversation Rupert would have walked away from based on the volume of stupidity alone. But now, it was completely plausible—downright important.

“That’s not the IHOB near the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet, is it?” Rupert asked.

“As a matter of fact, yeah,” Jesus confirmed.

“Shit. Okay, well. Hmm. You know, butter or no butter, Crystal or no Crystal, I don’t think they’re organized enough to get something together tonight.”

Jesus considered this.

“It did take Osceola a little over 48 hours to get them to meet at the IHOB.”

“See? I think maybe we have a little time to figure out a plan. And I’m counting on getting back to my room and catching some sleep. There are a few little things I want to do here tomorrow before Leenda arrives.”

“Leenda, Leenda, Leenda,” Jesus said. “Man, all you ever talk about is this Leenda. I didn’t know you had a thing for Latinas, bróder.”

“What? I don’t.” Rupert thought about it. “Well, I don’t think so. I might if given the oppor—”

“Never mind,” Jesus said, exasperated. “What makes you think she’s gonna be cool? You must have said something pretty foul.”

Rupert thought about it.

“Because she’s a good person.”

“You know this.”

“Yeah, I think I do.”

Jesus fished his wallet out of his shorts pocket, pulled out a condom, and threw it at Rupert.

“Wedding present,” he said and laughed.

“Har har,” Rupert said and threw it back. “You keep a condom in your wallet . . . ?”

“You’d rather I didn’t?”

Rupert nodded that he had him there.

“Alright, güey,” Jesus said. “You done here?”

“Yeah.”

With that, Rupert and Jesus made their way up and through the Pioneer Cemetery access, to the car, and drove back to the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet.

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28

FM(28)

Though the evening was hot and humid, the cave was cool. The D.E.A.T.H. program site was guarded at night, so it took Rupert, Jesus, and Efunibi three hours to hump the explosives from the Pioneer Cemetery access all the way up to the pit entrance. The tunnel was pitch black and while Rupert and Jesus carried flashlights, Efunibi preferred to use his own Native instincts of stealth and oneness with nature to find his way, which meant that Rupert and Jesus carried the wire, detonation devices, drills, and things that could explode, while Efunibi carried the step-ladder. He stopped frequently to pick it up because he tripped or outright fell over.

“I’m tellin’ you, man . . . ” Jesus whispered to Rupert with a hiss.

“Breathe.”

Jesus did, and soon they resumed their movements.

When they reached the mine entrance, they went about their task. Rupert worked with a manual hand drill directly into the rock surface closest to the entrance (and was tall enough that he didn’t need the step-ladder), while he sent Jesus and Efunibi about a hundred feet or so back to work with the battery-powered drill, which would go much faster but make less noise. When they finished plugging their holes with the sticks of ammonium nitrate emulsion-based explosives, they moved back another hundred feet and repeated. It took Rupert longer, but once he finished and wired everything up the way Efunibi showed him (which made him nervous), they were on their fourth and last set of explosives. They then uncoiled the remaining detonation wire as far back toward the cavern as they could for safety. Then Efunibi began preparing for detonation, which, if all went as planned, would unfold with a domino effect, starting with the entrance and working back into the cave.

Rupert knew the set up wasn’t perfect. The holes they drilled were inadequate for, say, a proper mining blast, so the resulting fallen rubble to block the tunnel would likely not be as much as hoped for, but he used the highest number of sticks at the front, because that’s where it counted. If they dug their way through that, they’d just be confronted with some other level of blockage further down the line. He doubted they had the incentive to unclog their main artery for a big, empty cavern.

“Dude, do you even know what any of this is?” Jesus asked Efunibi as he worked.

“Yes.”

“Well. What is it then?”

“This G-4 detonator,” Efunibi said, patient. “All Jesus need know.”

“Right,” Jesus said, stood up, and walked over to Rupert, who leaned uneasily against the cave wall. “Man, I toldyou.”

“What?”

“You know what he’s using?”

“It’s some kind of detonator.”

“It’s a G-4 detonator.”

“Is that bad? That sounds bad.”

“It’s bad for people blowing up on Battlestar Gallactica, because it only exists on Battlestar Gallactica.”

“But that’s a real detonator.” Rupert said, hopeful.

“We presume. I don’t think he knows.”

“So, either nothing is going to happen, or we’re all going to die down here.”

“That’s my guess.”

Rupert sighed. There was no going back now.

“Ready, Kemo Sabe,” Efunibi said as he stood up. He was positioned around the sharpest corner they could find as far back as possible.

“Okay.” Rupert said, and he and Jesus joined Efunibi and the G-4 detonator, around the corner, hoping not to die.

“No time like present,” Efunibi said, unaffected.

There was a too-long silence as they stuffed their ears with wax and Rupert thought of Leenda. Well, if it didn’t work and they didn’t die, he could meet her on the mound with a romantic picnic dinner under the moon. If they died, well, who gave a shit?

He took a deep breath and saw Jesus do the same. Efunibi seemed nonplussed.

“Go.”

Nothing.

“Go.”

Efunibi looked down at the detonation device.

“Go!” Rupert poked Efunibi in the shoulder, who couldn’t hear him through the wax.

A millisecond later, everything exploded . . .

. . . exactly the way they’d planned.

No shit, Rupert thought as the furthest point blew, then the next, then the next. It was loud to begin with, but the noise grew unbearable, all funneled through the cave system straight at them. The light of each blast around the corner grew brighter with each discharge. And the closer it got, the more bits and pieces fell around them, not too threatening at first, but they couldn’t keep standing there.

It was working—they could go. Run. Run.

By the time they reached the cavern that would house the lab, the explosions had stopped and no one was crushed to death. Or so they thought. Rupert and Jesus had run flailing into the cavern, and seeing each other safe and that they’d managed the successful execution of a hare-brained plan, they high-fived, hooted, and dug wax out of their ears.

But Efunibi didn’t follow.

“Hmm.” Rupert thought for a minute, catching his breath. “Do you think . . . ?”

“I don’t care.”

“Damn, that’s harsh.”

“He was up to no good,” Jesus said. “For real.”

“Maybe, but . . . he helped us this far.”

“True,” Jesus conceded. “But shifty. That guy was shifty.”

“He was. But not deserving-to-be-smashed-to-a-bloody-pulp shifty. I don’t think.”

“Maybe not. But if he is smashed to a bloody pulp, I’m not going back there.”

Rupert thought of all the times since he’d been in Florida when he either puked, or came close. It was pretty regular, he thought. No, he didn’t need to see that. If Efunibi was okay, he’d have been here by now. If he was smashed to a bloody pulp, no one needed to see that, least of all him.

“Right.”

He considered for a moment that maybe he should build a lab in Efunibi’s mutilated corpse, to honor him in the ways of his tradition. The idea made him a little sick. Nope. Fuck that.

Rupert and Jesus shimmied their way up the Pioneer Cemetery access. Despite the loss—he was still unsure it counted, by strict definition, as a “loss”—Rupert felt pretty invincible. Once the dust cleared, after a day or two, he could start constructing his masterpiece: RupeLee Industries.

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HammerHead

Plot twist—you would have thought the one-armed man wielding the hammer was our usual Florida Man suspect. Jeremy Randolph, drug-fueled and angry, was having an altercation with his live-in girlfriend, like you do. Perry Glover, our one-armed hero witnessed the fight and stepped in to break it up. When Randolph violently objected, Glover snatched up a hammer with his one hand and proceeded to whack Randolph in the head until he evacuated the premises. Randolph was arrested and booked for battery; as of the writing of the article, possible battery charges for Perry were pending review by the State Attorney’s Office. A public record search reveals the charges against Randolph, but not against Perry.

First Coast News. “One Armed Man Hits Drunk Man with Hammer, Police.”First Coast News. WTLV-TV. October 27, 2014.

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

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26

FM(26:27)

Rupert remembered the message light had been flashing when he’d come in the day before, but it wasn’t flashing now. Perhaps he’d been mistaken. That was plausible. He dismissed it, got dressed, grabbed the tablet of lab schematics, and joined Jesus behind the FFG.

After retrieving his shorts he spent the next hour explaining the entire plan to his friend, who was resistant, but by the end expressed a level of enthusiasm that surprised Rupert. Jesus voiced his apprehension regarding Efunibi’s clear instability, and still stressed the growing paranoia over at SIKildo Industries—and not only that, he’d said, everyone that Rupert had been dealing with was doubtless suspicious and on the defense. They had to be careful.

This time, Rupert took Jesus’s counsel seriously and agreed, they’d play it as safe as possible. They talked a little longer—even sold a few Golden Tickets—and then Rupert returned to his room, ignoring Angel. He didn’t even notice her.

Now, the green message light flashed.

He felt no panic at the thought of another confrontation with Pyrdewy. But his heart fluttered at the thought of hearing Leenda’s voice. He even considered calling her back this time, and talking and talking, talking for the rest of the day if he could—about her work, what she’d been up to, what were her hobbies, how was the planning for the mound work coming, her favorite color, her favorite food, her first pet, her family, her dreams—he wanted to know everything. And tell her everything. He wanted her to be his first—the first person who ever really knew him.

He picked up the receiver and retrieved the message. It was Leenda.

“Screw you, Rupert. Honestly, what the hell were you thinking? What have I done to you to deserve that? You know, Stanley and I talked about you a lot, and I know I didn’t really know you . . . I mean, to talk to you . . . but he painted a very different picture. I mean . . . ”

She paused, and sighed.

“You sounded great. A little weird, maybe, but I didn’t care. I don’t care about that. So, you get nervous, big deal. I liked you, Rupert, and I wanted to get to know you better. Boy, was that stupid. I think I know all I need to know now. Don’t call me again.”

Rupert sat on the bed, stunned.

He called her. He called her?

Last night. Fuck. He didn’t just call 911; he had called Leenda. Jesus Christ. What did he say? What the hell did I say to her?

He tapped the receiver of the phone for a dial tone, panicked—he had to call her. He had to talk to her. He had to explain . . . Oh my God, what did I say? And worse, how on earth could he explain? He’d been under a kind of spell—a psychotic episode—he hadn’t been himself. It hadn’t been him, not really. It was my inner Florida Man, escaped.

“Holy Fucking Christ, what the fuck did I say to her?” he shouted at a pillow.

He went to press the buttons on the phone and realized he’d never written down her number from any of her previous messages. But he’d called her. He must have gotten the number and written it down somewhere. It had to be somewhere.

He tore the room apart—the bed, the trashcan, his duffle bag, his cross-body bag—nothing. He interrogated the Plant with No Name, but the plant was no stool pigeon. He raged, he wept, he hated himself, though he knew he’d had no control over it. Emotionally spent, he curled his considerable frame up on the bed, trying to think of a way to contact her, and eventually fell asleep.

She’ll call again, she’ll call again, she’ll call again, she liked me . . . .

27

Over the next couple of weeks, Rupert, with the senseless and impractical spiritual guidance of Efunibi and the sane, practical help of Jesus, made the necessary preparations. Jesus infiltrated the D.E.A.T.H. program, emptied a few buckets of water, and cased the interior of the tunnel from the pit entrance to the cavern they were emptying—the near-future site of RupeLee Industries. Efunibi showed them the alternate entrance into that main cavern, which was located among the old tombstones in the Pioneer Cemetery next to Mary’s Chapel. It was, indeed, a tight fit, as Efunibi had forewarned, but Rupert was able to get through it, and with a few alterations here and there, he could get in and out, not so much with ease, but without injuring himself. His spiritual mentor—as Rupert referred to him to keep him reasonably lucid and happy—also showed him where he kept a rather disturbing stockpile of explosives, for which Efunibi gave no explanation, but Rupert surmised it had something to do with the Necropoachers—who may or may not have existed—and that Myakka State park should be thankful they were being used for this purpose instead.

For his part, Rupert fine-tuned his already-perfect plan and gathered all the materials that it required. Needless to say, this took up a tremendous amount of time and energy, which meant he dropped off the radars of the four meth operations he’d been dealing with. Jesus warned him against this, but there was nothing to be done. This was a huge undertaking and it needed to be done right—Rupert couldn’t afford the time wasted trying to keep a small group of lunatics off his back. As for Pyrdewy, Rupert didn’t think of him. He deleted messages without listening; he didn’t think of calling him. As far as Rupert was concerned, Pyrdewy was a non-entity, and Rupert himself was an ex-entropologist. Professionally, at least.

The cavern—now empty, if not completely dry—was approximately the size of a whopping-great cathedral, and Rupert’s design utilized every square foot in a way that made economic sense. The operation itself would include aspects of a super lab, with barrels and components bought by weight when possible, in order to make large batches with speed—these would take up three-quarters of the room’s perimeter. Further into the room would be table after table of regular lab set-ups for the express purpose of experimentation in color, scent, flavor, and even particular effect. They would be designing cheap street drugs meant to become trendy and possibly even make the news. This would be an area for the true meth artisans to express their distinctive creative visions. In the quarter perimeter area not taken up with super lab barrel supplies, there would be a few tables for training and demonstrations, plus a small supplies station, and an area where mobile lab experts would train manufacturers to cook anywhere. Floridian meth makers were internationally known for their uncanny ability to make meth in the most unthought-of, outlandish places. This would be the least expensive of Rupert’s product line, but the point of operating all three methods was to ladder the cost for consumers according to their income, and also ensure that product was always available. RupeLee Industries would never run dry.

After all of this, the next step was to gather an army of talented, moderately sane manufacturers to unite under the RupeLee banner of unique, reasonably clean, and almost-but-not-quite safe methamphetamine. That couldn’t be too hard, right?

The most immediate catch in the plan was Efunibi’s erratic behavior, which, though not surprising, was diverse and distressing in its manifestations. He became morose. Sometimes his Native American feel-good, we-are-all-One shtick faltered and he’d be downright pissy. This caused some trepidation with both Rupert and Jesus, but was more irritating to Jesus because he worked with Efunibi more closely.

“I’m telling you, ese, one more mood swing from that cracker and those feathers are going up his ass,” Jesus warned Rupert.

“I understand,” Rupert said. “I’m thinking, once this prep period is over, he’s going to have to go. He’s too unstable.”

“There’s something about him, too, man. Something not right. I wanna say sneaky, but it’s not just that. Something ain’t right with that cabrón.”

“Agreed.”

But there was one other catch. Leenda.

She never did call back, and when Rupert wasn’t obsessively occupying his mind with this project, he was ruminating, heartbroken, over what could have been.

So, he did what any sane, self-respecting person would do in desperation and he used the internet to find her address like a complete psycho. He sent her a post card, telling her he could explain if she would only listen. He knew she would soon be arriving to work on the Spanish Point mound, so he asked her to humor him—this one time—and meet him on the mound, at a certain time, on a certain day—the evening the lab would be in operating order and RupeLee Industries would open for business.

She’ll understand, Rupert told himself. She’ll know it was a misunderstanding, and she’ll forgive everything, and she’ll not only like me again, she’ll love me.

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Attention: Florida Man’s publishing schedule is changing! Instead of Tues, Thurs, Sat, it will be Mon, Wed, Fri starting this Friday, November 6th!

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25.3

FM(25.3)

Osceola reluctantly agreed to drive Rupert from Myakka back to the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet, but after they got into his teal 1988 Mazda Tracer and Rupert belted himself in, Osceola looked at him and said: “Got some Cristy, man, you wanna horn this shit?”

And with that, Osceola pulled a pipe from his front pocket along with a piece of balled up aluminum foil.

For a split second, Rupert didn’t think his usual first thought whenever he was exposed to a pipe, but it was only a second—progress!—and then he descended into a choking, red-faced spasm, twisting under the seatbelt, trying to get air. The interior of the Tracer turned pistachio, cream, and plaid—the worst was the plaid—the air smelled of Bacardi and cheese fondu. Every nerve in Rupert’s body screamed at him to run, to escape, but at the very least, for fuck’s sake, breathe.

“Oh yeah, Bill told me you could bust some moves,” Osceola said and lit up. Dogs barked nearby.

Rupert made a stalwart effort to turn his body to the right and look out the window. In a minute, his throat opened enough to pull in some air, and he reached forward and rolled down the window.

“Man, you’re gonna put up a flag,” Osceola said.

“Fuck you,” Rupert wheezed and watched the Spanish moss’s languid waving in the hot, late-afternoon breeze.

“Freeze! Hands Up!” A voice yelled behind a stand of Fiddlewood and Osceola froze, squeezing his eyes shut as if he believed that if he couldn’t see the cops, they couldn’t see him. He waited for the danger to pass. As Rupert looked out the window, half-gasping for air, half-dazed, two black labs ran by and his gaze settled on a pair of lashless eyes peering through the Fiddlewood, glaring intensely, but looking exhausted. Bucket. He’d followed them all the way from Spanish Point.

One foot was planted on the ground beneath the Fiddlewood, but the other was about four feet in the air, a little to the left, and upside down. Rupert instinctively knew exactly what was going on—Bakabass yogic telepathic molestation. Bucket was trying to get into his head. Simply assuming this almost made it real. This jolted Rupert’s system and he pulled in a massive dose of oxygen through his constricted throat. At that moment, the Tracer sped backward spraying gravel into the Fiddlewood stand, breaking Bucket’s trance and causing him to fall backwards and out of sight. Rupert had managed to squirm his shoulder out from under the belt strap during his trauma-induced seizure and now thunked his forehead against the dashboard.

Freeze! and Hands Up! came out of nowhere as Osceola did the fastest six-point turn Rupert had ever witnessed or experienced, then they were zipping through the labyrinth of park roadway, eventually getting on Route 41 heading north. Despite Osceola’s obvious drug use and accompanying paranoia, Rupert was surprised that this white boy would be alarmed at the prospect of possible interaction with law enforcement—especially in Florida—but then, he did identify as “Indian.”

What felt like an hour later, they were heading toward the motel, and Osceola had calmed down enough to tell Rupert the story of the ostrich.

“Everyone local knows about it,” he said, his seat leaned so far back he was almost lying down and Rupert doubted he could see over the steering wheel.

“Oh?”

“Word is that it escaped from a tourist petting zoo over a decade ago, and since then it’s become like a . . . ”

Osceola struggled for the right word. His high caused him to pitch his gaze from one side to the other as if watching an invisible tennis match, always seeing something in his peripheral. This disconcerted Rupert as Osceola was driving.

“A legend?”

“Yeah, like a legend.”

“Kind of like the . . . what is it?” Rupert said. “The Florida Skunk Ape.” And then: “Sixty-five, dude.” His spracked companion kept losing speed the further they went, overcompensating and hoping not to be pulled over for speeding, so when Osceola got down too slow, Rupert reminded him of the speed limit.

Osceola looked at Rupert and huffed a half-laugh. “Skunk Ape? Nah, man, that’s stupid.”

* * *

It was dark by the time Rupert got back to his room, exhausted. Between the heat, the dehydration, having to deal with both Efunibi and Osceola, then the unexpected panic attack accompanied by Bucket and his dogs, Rupert could hardly put one foot in front of the other.

The freezing AC of the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet didn’t even affect him.

“Fuck yourself,” he said to Angel without looking at her as he walked past and into the darkened hallway. Once he got inside, he saw the flashing message light on the phone and ignored it. He stood wavering in front of an until-now ignored full-length mirror on the wall and stared at himself in the imminent gloaming. He looked like shit. He felt like shit – pretty sure between Efunibi’s clubbing and cracking his head on Osceola’s dash, he was concussed. He wasn’t going to listen to that message because it was Pyrdewy and not Leenda, because what the hell would someone like Leenda want with someone like the monstrosity looking back at him?

He moved from the mirror, pulled his cross-body bag over his head, and dropped it on the floor. He then glowered at the innocuous-looking aloe plant on the table and said: “Way to go, genius.”

The Plant with No Name—a surprise to no one—said nothing.

Rupert spent the next hour drinking a gallon of water in small increments until he felt almost normal, and vowed never to eat at the FFG again, despite being ravenous.

Then he fell asleep, still fully dressed in his sweat-stiff shirt and shorts.

There was a dream, he thought. It felt like he had dreamed, but whatever it was had disappeared when he woke, immediately forgotten.

Rupert looked at his watch. It had only been twenty minutes, but he felt like he’d experienced a deep and profound, hours-long sleep. Whatever the dream had been, it must not have been anything like that other one—the one he didn’t like so much to think about. Except for the ending. Generally speaking, despite his enthusiasm for the concept of entropy, Rupert liked happy endings.

He got up and turned on a few lights. Looked around. He looked for something, but wasn’t sure what it was. He felt very awake, very clear headed. This was odd.

Rupert stripped and took a shower. He ran the water cool and it felt good to slough off all the chaos and filth from the day, which already seemed like yesterday. Or last week. As the soapsuds ran down the drain and disappeared, Rupert felt reborn. It was the most lucid he’d felt in, well, ever.

He toweled off, put on a clean pair of shorts, but didn’t bother with a shirt. He wasn’t going anywhere. Then he went straight to his cross-body bag, gathered his laptop, tablets, folders, and other things he typically carried with him, and he pushed the Plant with No Name, who still said nothing, to the side and set up a workstation. He wasn’t sure what he would be working on, but there was an idea in his head. It had yet to reveal itself to him, not even a vague idea of its subject. But it was complete; he knew that. It contained every step required and steps for each step. It was so detailed; there would be no way to screw it up.

Rupert sat before his open laptop, a blank document staring back at him, cursor blinking like the message button on the phone, which he’d forgotten about. A tablet full of blank pages to his right. His favorite, most reliable pen. And his clear but still-empty brain. The plant waited. Rupert ignored it. He felt no pressure. And then . . . .

There began an all-night attack of pure genius and insanity. Rupert typed, each word perfect, each letter expertly tapped without a single mistake—every movement in the design, every step. Everything bulleted and numbered, lettered, graphed, and charted. Every few pages he would slide the laptop aside and pick up the pen, sketching feverishly every angle and placement, listing each element, every ingredient. It got so that it wasn’t like he thought at all, as if he were a man possessed. As if he’d tapped into the part of his brain that dealt not with the physical, but linked his psyche to the nameless Universe, through it and into the bright soul-light of his Will and Intellect, which fired electric impulses back through his body and generated a wheel of unquenchable desire in his heart.

His heart . . .

* * *

 “Whoa-ho, dude, sounds like you were all lit up on Casper . . . ” Shit Pail interrupts again. Her ass seems to have sunk deeper into the bucket and Rupert hopes she’ll notice before she hits the bottom.

“What?” Rupert feels like he should have this drug lingo down pat by now, but it really is like learning a whole new language.

“Scrabble . . . ”

Rupert shakes his head.

“Rocky II.”

He just looks at her, helpless.

“Pony . . . Kryptonite . . . Hubba . . . Grit . . . Fries . . . Egg . . . Dip . . . Croak . . . Twinkie . . . ”

Rupert continues to shake his head.

“ . . . Squaretime Bob . . . Quill . . . Onion . . . Nuggets . . . Kokomo . . . Jelly Beans . . . How-Do-You-Like-Me-Now? . . . Golfball . . . Eastside Player . . . Double Yoke . . . Crunch n’ Munch . . . Cookies . . . Beamers . . . Yimyom . . . ”

“I have no idea what you’re saying.”

“Crack! Cocaine! Crack cocaine.”

“I had never done a single illicit drug . . . ”

“Well, I hope we get out of here soon so we can call the fuckin’ Queen and tell her.”

“You are awfully tetchy,” Rupert said after a long pause.

Shit Pail kicks her feet, then stops, defeated, and sighs. “Just . . . continue.”

* * *

As Rupert’s fingers typed away and his Id dictated the blueprint of his aspirations, he drew back into a quiet corner of his mind.

This is perfect. Yes. The lab. The location. Everything. And when it’s finished, and when it’s ready, and when it’s up and running, and it’s out on the street, and people are throwing themselves off buildings for it, she’ll come and she’ll see how amazing it is. We’ll never have to go back to the museum, or Pyrdewy, and everything will be amazing. And she’ll love me like I love her.

He wondered where he could get a dozen frozen baby alligators, and then he wondered if Leenda would marry him.

Of course she would—he’d be a wildly successful, sexy entrepreneur. He would be the head of RupeLee Industries.

He would need a live alligator if she would marry him, which she would, and he would tie the ring onto the end if its tail and they’d ride it into the swamps of Myakka, and he’d tell her all about how the world was formed, his world, and how many days it took him to create it, and that he would never rest, could never rest.

Rupert would be the self-assured, brilliant, benevolent King, and Leenda—lovely Leenda—would be his intellectual, beautiful electric Queen, and if there was a bone in her body that didn’t feel perfect in her own mind, he would break it, pull it out, and let it grow again—it would be pure gold, like the rest of her. They would rule over a wilderness populated by enlightened citizens who sincerely didn’t give a fuck about anything.

Florida Men.

And it will be perfect.

Suddenly, Rupert stood straight up, almost toppling the table, spilling some of the plant’s water, and he shouted: “I never received my goddamn tax return!”

He proceeded to dial 911.

*

The next morning, Rupert awoke still shirtless, disheveled—somehow he’d even lost his shorts, which he hoped were at least still in the same room as him. He felt hung over, which he dismissed as the unfortunate side effect of yesterday’s physically and mentally taxing excursion to and from Myakka, and he got up, popped a couple of aspirin, and made a pot of coffee.

On the table sat his laptop, screen blank in sleep mode, and a tablet full of impeccable super meth lab schematics and comprehensive lists of various items. The last page that had anything on it was full of doodles—the largest of which was Leenda naked, riding an alligator with a big diamond ring tied to the end of its tail. Her mouth was a perfect O. Then, the next few pages were ripped out.

He set the tablet down and looked at the Plant with No Name, who, again, provided no answers.

“You suck,” he said to it.

He wandered around the room, still looking for clues as to last night’s potential debacle (and his shorts). On the nightstand sat evidence of a foiled attempt at sexual gratification—a partially disassembled alarm clock, wires inexpertly stripped too far. He experienced his usual red-flush burst of shame any time he was faced with his own kink, but it was quickly replaced with relief. Whatever had happened last night—however out of his gourd he’d been—he hadn’t been so far gone as to electrocute himself into the Sarasota morgue, in flagrante delicto.

He now noticed that he’d been lying, sleeping, on the torn-out pages of the tablet. He also noticed the phone receiver was out of its cradle and stuffed into a pillowcase with the pillow.

Rupert sat on the bed, replaced the receiver, and picked up the sheets of paper, which were wrinkled, the ink of the writing smeared here and there. It was somewhat illegible, but he was able to make out something about his tax returns, something about the possibility of getting arrested and what looked to be the phone number of the closest bail bond service. Something about the IRS and a phone number with too many digits. He thought of Bill and how he’d become the weekly amusement of the local 911 dispatch. There were also clearly fake, lewd names: Officer Jack Mehoff, Dispatcher Anita Blackman, Sergeant Barry McCaulkiner. The list went on, and some were scribbled out and rewritten, as if he’d spelled them wrong and had been coached to get it right. Presumably fake badge numbers accompanied each name.

Rupert wondered how long this had gone on. Horrified, he turned to the Plant with No Name, which sat innocent on the table.

“Did I call 911?”

The plant said nothing.

Rupert got up and tossed the crumpled police notes near the trashcan, then took several measured, traumatized steps to the window before which the table sat. He looked out over the parking lot, toward the Florida Fried Gator. It was already sweltering, the heat shimmering above the pavement. Rupert stood there, shirtless, shortless, sweaty and emotional—something had happened. He had changed. Something in him was broken.

Or not.

He tilted his head askance to the sound of his own inner voice.

Perhaps . . . he’d been healed.

The Plant with No Name let out a satisfied sigh that Rupert didn’t register.

Across the lot, behind the FFG, Jesus stood looking at Rupert through the window, waving. Rupert slowly raised his hand and gave a weak wave in return. Jesus held up Rupert’s shorts and gave him a what the fuck? look.

Rupert was suddenly struck with the full realization that he had called 911 about his tax return. He was one of them now—a Florida Man. There was no going back.

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The usual political clusterfuckery we’ve come to expect here in the 21st century. Southern Baptist minister Charles Van Zant served as State Representative for Florida’s 21st District for four years and then the 19th District for six. In reference to the American Institute for Reasearch—an organization the state paid $220 million to design a standardized test—Van Zant is quoted as saying: “They will promote double-mindedness in state education and attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” To be honest, I do expect this flavor of far-right Christian conservative to express their lunatic concern about tests turning kids gay, but I don’t think anyone’s expressed concern about the level of gayness prior to this. Unsurprisingly—what with their moral compasses with machine precision—he, his wife, and his son (Charlies Van Zant, Jr, former Clay County School Superintendent—have been embroiled in various ethical investigations. If only they’d had standardized tests growing up that turned them into decent, principled citizens.

Elias, Dave. “FL State Rep: School Tests Designed To Turn Students Gay.” NBC2. Waterman Broadcasting of Florida, LLC. May 20, 2014.

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

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25.2

FM(25.2)

Rupert woke up with a headache and a dry mouth next to a dead alligator with tubes and plastic bottlenecks sticking out of its back. His sight was still a bit blurry from the blow, but he heard chanting nearby, and soon, he saw the man he’d been following. Efunibi was performing some sort of ritual over the gator lab carcass.

Please don’t fuck it, Rupert thought, unwanted dream images floating fuzzy somewhere in the muddle of his mind.

He tried to stand, using a tall palm for support. He didn’t feel in any condition to run away. Efunibi finished his prayer and, without looking at Rupert, adjusted the tubing, loosened and tightened bottle caps, then finally acknowledged Rupert’s presence and gestured gently for him to sit down. Rupert didn’t feel like he had much choice. With the headache compounded by the dehydration, he plopped back down to the ground.

Efunibi slid a plastic gallon jug full of water over to Rupert, who drank from it like Geddy Lee drank the Milk of Paradise. This, however, was not Xanadu. At least, he hoped not, or his image of Rush was completely blown.

After a moment of reflection on the timeless lyrics of a young Neil Peart—presumably an aftereffect to getting cracked in the head, but, let’s face it, probably not—Rupert wiped his mouth and looked at his host.

“Who the fuck are you?”

Efunibi put a finger to his own lips and his other hand cupped his ear, as if to say, Listen, can you hear that?

Rupert listened. He heard nothing. Nothing new, at least.

He shook his head no, but Efunibi nodded yes and smiled as if Rupert had heard whatever is was, then he closed his eyes and inhaled deep and loud through his nostrils.

This guy’s a crackpot. Thanks, plant.

The gator lab wasn’t exactly the most pleasant smell in the immediate vicinity. Finally, Efunibi opened his eyes and looked at Rupert in that forceful, yet comical way cartoon hypnotists look at you when they say, “You are now under my command.”

Rupert wiped his forehead and took another drink of water.

Finally, the guy spoke.

“I am Efunibi.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Efunibi was unfazed.

“What the hell happened?” Rupert continued. “How did I get here, and where the hell am I?”

Efunibi ignored Rupert and launched into a mystical sermon.

“You here to learn of Great Gift from Nature, Methamphetamine.”

“There is nothing natural about meth,” Rupert said, still replenishing his fluids and a little bothered that Efunibi spoke like Tonto, the 1930s radio sidekick to the Lone Ranger. This was a significant step down from Osceola and his dream catcher tattoo.

Efunibi frowned and looked at Rupert.

“Holy Nagai Nagayoshi isolate ephedrine compound in crystallized form from ancient Asian medicine plant, evergreen ma huang.” He pronounced ma huang with an exaggerated Japanese accent, which Rupert couldn’t tell if it was offensive or actually attempted cultural sensitivity, apart from what was already flagrant racism. This man was deeply triggering.

Rupert said nothing. Efunibi’s smile returned.

“When we enter nature, into Body of Holy Nagai Nagayoshi, who permeate All, something miraculous happen. We given heap big gift, we humble to accept.”

Rupert only thought of getting his system in order so that he could start walking out of wherever he was and getting away from this guy. What was he thinking, following him because of an idiot plant-gas-induced dream?

“Spirit of Holy Nagai Nagayoshi,” Efunibi continued, “live in body of animal.”

“Not plants?” Rupert interrupted. It threw Efunibi off a little.

“No, not so much plant. Plant something else.”

“Oh.”

“Each creature must be honored in traditional way,” Efunibi went on.

Somehow, Rupert didn’t think the traditional Japanese way of honoring a late-19th-early 20thth-century chemist was to build small meth labs into every animal that kicked it.

“Not like atrocity at marina, poor Holy manatee. Manatee heap Holy in Nagai Nagayoshi tradition.”

“Is that right?’ Rupert asked.

“That right, Kemo Sabe.”

Rupert closed his eyes and pretended he didn’t hear that. Rupert suffered from such a complete overdose of outrage, he didn’t think he could take much more, and this was impressive, considering he’d been in Florida for some time now. Not only was he shaking off the still-nauseating memory of the Bucket-exploded manatee lab, not only was he haunted by necro-bestiality dream fragments, not only was this guy calling him Kemo Sabe and talking like Tonto, but Rupert saw, now that he was up close, that Efunibi, like Osceola, was without a shred of doubt a white guy. A very tanned and leathery white man.

Rupert stared hard at Efunibi, whose real name he suspected was something like Paul, or Steve. Rupert bet he was a Steve. He opened his mouth to speak a few times, but stopped, trying to keep the angry shitstorm in his brain from spilling out onto the ground, next to the dead gator.

At FFG, they’d be deep-fryin’ this fucker, he thought, then squinted his eyes to keep the stray thoughts from wriggling their way into his cortex. How many gater sandwiches have I eaten since I got here? The dead gator stench assaulted him.

“So,” he said to get the ball rolling. “You seem to have meth labs all over the—”

“Honored Ones,” Efunibi corrected.

“Honored Ones . . . all over the city, or the county. That’s a lot of meth. Where do you sell it? How?”

Efunibi laughed longer than warranted.

“No sell, Kemo Sabe.”

He’s going to keep doing that. “Well then, what do you do with it?”

“Efunibi feed back into system, into soil, plant grow, animal eat. Circle of Life.”

Should have seen “Circle of Life” coming. Rupert didn’t want to keep talking about this, but moreover, he didn’t want to sit in an uncomfortable silence with this person. Though, he doubted Efunibi could abide by silence, since he had a somewhat captive audience. Where the hell am I?

Efunibi went on.

“Great Blue Herring—”

“Heron.”

“—eat Holy swamp grass, have heap big Holy experience. Die. Become Honored One.”

He was poisoning and killing the wildlife with meth. Fuck me.

Then, Efunibi’s offensive and remarkably screwed up discourse stopped on a dime. He looked around apprehensively and Rupert felt unsafe.

Rupert couldn’t hydrate as rapidly as needed, no matter how much he drank. He zoned out from the heat and fluid loss. Perhaps also from the stupidity overload, but then he believed he heard a buzzing sound. Then again.

Efunibi pulled out his cell phone from an inside jacket pocket to answer. The buzzing stopped.

“Hello . . . ?”

Rupert heard Joe’s small voice say “sorry,” and hang up.

Efunibi, confused, also hung up and looked at Rupert as he returned his cell from whence it came. “Wrong number.”

Rupert concluded he had hallucinated it. Maybe everything. He hoped he wasn’t in another plant-fart-induced dream state.

Efunibi had his hand cupped to his ear again. This time, Rupert thought maybe he did hear something. Something moving, maybe coming their way.

“Necropoachers,” Efunibi said, inscrutable and annoying at once.

“What?” Rupert perked up a little. “What the fuck is that?”

“Heap big wildlife in Myakka State Park,” Efunibi explained.

At least Rupert now knew where he was, narrowed down to almost sixty square miles of environmental and wildlife preservation. He also realized he was about twenty-five miles from Spanish Point.

“Fuck.”

Assuming it was this crazy Caucasian turd that knocked him out and dragged him here, that’s a little much. Rupert weighed 235 pounds. This guy was absolutely hopped up on something. As if he should wonder.

Efunibi responded to Rupert’s poignant expletive and continued.

“Yes. Necropoacher think they have true way to worship Honored One. Necropoacher wander land, search for fallen animal, defile—how you say, fuck—divine holy creature before Efunibi can honor in true way.”

Rupert was speechless.

“When Efunibi not honor fallen one, Efunibi spend day hunting Necropoacher.”

“Hunting?” He didn’t even want to know what that meant, but couldn’t help himself. “What exactly do you mean by that?”

Efunibi picked up a wooden cudgel—a piece of tree root—but then put it down again, looking to have regretted exposing Rupert to his propensity for knocking people over the head.

Rupert glared at Efunibi.

“You son of a bitch,” he said. “You thought I was going to fuck this alligator, didn’t you . . . ?”

Efunibi looked away and changed the subject.

The barking of dogs again—Rupert wondered if they were still somewhere near Spanish Point, or were these different dogs? And why didn’t Efunibi hear that? Perhaps because the dogs were still living, what with his preoccupation with carcasses.

“So, Kemo Sabe,” he said predictably. “You want be Big Chief. You want modern Nagai Nagayoshi Honor tradition, heap big.”

“How do you know about that?”

Efunibi smiled, which began to irritate Rupert.

“Plant tell Efunibi,” he said.

The Plant with No Name. That bastard.

“Yeah, so, I was supposed to come here and meet you. What great words of wisdom do you have to tell me about all that?” Rupert wanted to get out of here, sit in some air conditioning, and drink Superades for the rest of the day.

“Beneath love mound,” Efunibi said.

“What?” Rupert said, exasperated. His thoughts went to Leenda and his face grew redder, hotter. He couldn’t tell if he felt affronted by Efunibi referring to her mound, or if he was embarrassed that anyone knew how he felt about her or his aborted wet dream.

“Cave,” Efunibi went on.

“Look, pal . . . ” Rupert had had about enough of the euphemisms.

Even Efunibi was getting flustered at Rupert’s lack of understanding. He sighed.

“Cave. Beneath mound. Spanish Point.”

Rupert finally got it—it was obvious—and nodded. Efunibi stood.

“Come. Walk.”

Rupert rose shaky and unsteady on his feet. His head pounded for a moment before subsiding a little. He carried the water jug, the little that was left in it, and was glad to at least get away from the rotting, meth-producing, unfucked, Holy dead alligator.

As they meandered around the immediate area, Efunibi, in his exasperating manner of speaking, explained that D.E.A.T.H. program caverns extended all the way to Spanish Point, and that he knew of an alternative entrance there, though it was small and Rupert was “heap big.” Once the D.E.A.T.H. program workers cleared the chamber of water, which would be soon, Efunibi proposed a plan to close off the main entrance and then Rupert could begin to construct the greatest super lab the world, or at least Florida, had ever seen.

Rupert’s entire attitude changed, despite the fact that he was talking to and concocting a scheme with an absolute nutter—perhaps the most far-gone he’d come across thus far. His desire to hit it big here amongst the Florida People overrode his reason, or what remained of it.

“Power!” Efunibi said. “Heap big aphrodisiac.”

“That right, Tonto.” Rupert rubbed his hands together.

“Who Tonto? Also, meant to say, nice purse.”

Before Rupert could react, there was Osceola.

Without having noticed, they had meandered onto a well-maintained hiking trail, and Osceola looked embarrassed to be caught with a field guide and applying sunscreen.

“Osceola,” Rupert almost shouted, suddenly remembering he’d been trying to get away from this guy for—he had no idea how much time had passed.

“Rupie,” Osceola said, self-conscious and slipping the guide and sunblock into what looked to Rupert to actually be a man purse. “What are you doing out here? Didn’t think this was your bag.”

“It’s not. Mine’s a cross-body bag . . . ” Rupert began.

“Who this?” asked Efunibi.

“What?” Osceola looked to the other white, red man.

“Efunibi think he see you before.”

“Rupie, what the fuck?”

“Osceola, how do I—?” Rupert started.

“Yes. This Osceola heap big familiar.”

“Whoa, dude,” Osceola said, then to Rupert. “Is he for real? Is he Injun talkin’ me?”

“Yes, he is, both.” Rupert answered. “Now, if I take this trail—”

“Hey, asshole,” Osceola said to Efunibi. “You have any idea how fucking offensive that is to me and my People . . . ?”

Rupert stopped. He realized he was about to watch two white guys argue over what was and was not offensive to Native Americans while both claimed to be Native American, and that thought overrode other, more important things, like hydration and avoiding heat stroke. He half-expected Elizabeth Warren to come out and settle this once and for all.

“Actually, Efu,” Rupert said, “it is pretty offensive. Not that I know, not being Native American and all.”

“Efu?” Osceola sounded both amused and infuriated.

Efunibi sensed that this wouldn’t end well, so he put his hands out and shhhhh’d everyone. He cupped his ear.

Rupert rolled his eyes.

Just as the mystery dogs started barking up a storm, a mammoth ostrich crashed out from the surrounding foliage and onto the trail, its long legs stepping high and its neck gesticulating, moving like a snake’s body. Rupert thought he saw a furrowed brow, but he didn’t know if ostriches had that capability. He also didn’t realize they got this big.

It made straight for Efunibi.

For the next minute and a half, an awkward and hilarious struggle ensued. Rupert and Osceola, realizing they were not the targets and feeling safe by comparison, could do nothing but watch. Perhaps they could have helped, but it was a rather large, threatening bird. Finally, the marauding creature took a few steps back, inflated its neck, and then let out a low, but loud booming sound that perplexed everyone, and then it turned and was gone as unexpectedly as it had come.

Osceola looked as if he’d just had a Bigfoot encounter. Efunibi was shaken, but angry. Rupert recalled an Attenborough program from which he’d learned that male ostriches made that sound for mating purposes, and then he eyed Efunibi with suspicion.

When Efunibi caught his breath and put one of his feathers back into place, he shook a clenched fist, livid, and shouted: “Devil bird!” Then he turned, ran from the trail in the opposite direction of his assailant, and leapt out of sight into the thick of the jungle.

Rupert and Osceola watched him do this, saying nothing, and as Efunibi’s not-nearly-so nimble escaping sounds became fainter, Osceola turned to Rupert and said: “Man, that guy’s a fuckin’ dick.”

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25.1

FM(25.1)

Rupert watched Jesus’s Lincoln pull out of the Osprey School’s Visitor Center parking lot—waving as if his parents just dropped him off at camp for the summer—then he turned to the building and headed inside. The day felt like a heavy nuclear conversion and the asphalt pushed the heat up from underneath as the relentless sun beat down.

Why does anyone live in this godforsaken place? he thought as he pulled the door open and felt the anticipated cool blast of AC.

Spanish Point is a historical and environmental conglomerate of 19th– and early 20th-century features, including: an orange-packing house; a pioneer boatyard and cemetery; a footbridge; a house and cottage; a chapel; and a Late Archaic shell midden, which obviously predated the modern settlers. It was left to itself for almost eight centuries, until the Webb family, who named it after a Spanish trader who’d given them the tip on the land, moved down from New York in 1867 to build a homestead and start a business. Sugar cane, citrus, and a plethora of other vegetables—and, apparently, a winter resort—kept them alive, and other settlers bought parcels of the land to live on. A wealthy socialite purchased the Webb homestead in 1910, and thousands of acres surrounding it, for the purpose of commerce.

Rupert skipped through some of the pamphlet that he’d found sitting on the unmanned clerk’s counter situated across from the entrance. He noted that it was possible to make a living here outside the meth industry.

Leenda’s mound, though small, had been constructed over several generations by the prehistoric Native Americans who were also responsible for the midden. It was said to contain sharks’ teeth, pottery shards, some human bones, and other assorted things you might find in an antediluvian funerary mound.

He wanted to see Leenda’s mound, which he felt was a terrible way to put it, even to himself, but the mound didn’t have an official name like everything else at Spanish Point.

Rupert walked a short way down a cool, echo-prone corridor and turned left into the gift shop.

“Good morning,” the man behind the counter said, not too cheerful, but not rude—just the way Rupert liked his strangers.

“Good morning,” Rupert said. He felt strange in this normal environment—an average tourist attraction for normal people who enjoyed history and gardens. The still freshly departed pangs of social unease bristled beneath his skin. “I have a question for you.”

“Yes?”

“There’s a federally-funded work rehabilitation program somewhere nearby. Would you happen to know what direction it’s in, or how close it is?”

The man looked at Rupert, first as if he hadn’t heard what he said, and then like he’d just been told about Crack Planet.

“No, sir, I don’t think any such thing goes on near here. A lot of preservation land around here.”

“I see,” Rupert said, unsurprised. “Well, then. What’s the price of admission?” He smiled. The man smiled back.

The grounds map was simple enough, and he walked down a short gravel road to a much smaller, also gravel, parking area, past a water garden, and down a jungle-like path. Tropical flowers bloomed, insects buzzed, lizards scampered, and still the sun beat down. As he walked, he shielded his forehead from it with the map. Sunglasses—still—would have been helpful. And water.

Past the Pioneer Cemetery, sat “Mary’s” Chapel, named, Rupert had read, after a young woman who had died at the Webb’s winter retreat.

“What a shitty retreat,” he said to himself. Some dogs barked in the distance.

Here the paths were plainly demarcated, but surrounded with thick, high wall of myriad vegetal species, none of which Rupert could identify. He thought of the Plant with No Name and wondered if they knew each other. He chuckled, and then wondered why he hadn’t named the Plant with No Name. He then supposed if the plant had a name, or wanted a name, it would have said or it would have asked.

Why am I thinking about this?

It was beautiful here. He thought Leenda would love it when she arrived and saw it for herself, but then, he didn’t know anything. He didn’t know her. This was inescapable and produced an uncomfortable, foolish feeling in him, so he shook it off and looked at the map, then doubled back and took a narrow off-shoot trail that, according to the map, would lead him straight to the mound.

As Rupert emerged from the dense greenery and saw the mound a little way ahead—it was so much smaller than he’d imagined, but the same size as in his dream—he looked past it and off into the grass, near where two gravel walking paths intersected. Standing under an enormous tree bearing strange, alien pods, the likes of which he’d never seen, was Efunibi. Efunibi. The guy from the dream.

The guy from the dream? It was the guy from Florida Fried Gator. The guy who, Rupert suspected, cooked meth inside the carcasses of . . . and then too much of the dream flooded Rupert’s brain and he started to feel sick. He bent over and braced his hands against his knees, wishing one more time that he wouldn’t have to vomit. But he breathed deep for a moment and he felt better. Rupert straightened and then put his hand up.

“Hey!” he yelled to the guy, who stood looking at him.

Efunibi turned and ran.

“Oh, come on . . . ” Rupert started in pursuit.

He chased Efunibi down tall plant-lined paths, past something called the Guptill House, where a few animal-shaped couples’ paddle boats floated near the shore and a out-of-place-looking speedboat was docked a few yards off. Rupert followed Efunibi across Cock’s Footbridge—named for Daniel Cock, the man who’d built it in the late 1890s—which took them out to the mangrove-fringed peninsula at the northern end, where Cock’s boarding house, Fiddler’s Lodge, used to sit.

Every time he turned a corner, Rupert caught the tan fringe of Efunibi’s jacket, or the heel of his tacky cowboy boot, but was able to keep up enough to stay on his trail, despite the heat. After a while, they skirted the edge of the small cape and circled back around, bypassing the footbridge landbound on the other side of Webb’s Cove, past the cemetery and chapel, and eventually into the parking lot of the visitor center.

Neither ran at this point, just speed walking and covered in sweat.

Dogs barked again, though perhaps closer. Rupert barely registered this and only did because he thought he’d heard a voice, despite that he, Efunibi, and the visitor center employee seemed to be the only human beings for miles, assuming Efunibi was, indeed, human.

They moved past the visitor center—Rupert dodged a large luxury sedan driven by a tiny Jewish lady with amazing hair—and across the Tamiami Trail for a quick, but harrowing game of Frogger. Soon, they stalked across a carpet of wiregrass, past shrubs and Saw Palmetto, where the land presented an occasional stately oak strewn with Spanish moss or a tall, dark pine.

The terrain was changing.

About two miles and three gallons of sweat later, a somewhat delirious Rupert now wondered what a staggerbush even looked like, remembering some of the species weirdly whispered by the Plant with No Name in its eerie Walken-Busey voice. When he looked up, he found he’d lost sight of Efunibi.

The combination of loading up on salty FFG take away prior to arriving and the consequential premature dehydration prompted what Rupert rightly presumed was a case of entropy within a biological system—the biological system, in this case, being himself. He was starting to shut down.

He stopped, panting, dying for some water, bent over, hands on knees, a little lightheaded and wobbly, and then, a blow to the back of his head turned the sun’s light out.

 

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24

FM(24)

Rupert pushes his way through a mass of thick-stemmed, dinosaur-vegetation, vines and mega-leaves thrashing and slapping at his face, but he moves swiftly. He has to keep up. Ahead of him—leading him, he thinks—a form moves stealthily through the jungle foliage. All around him, the dark-night avian sounds shriek and whistle, calling to one another. He thinks they’re talking about him. Grass blades slice his fawn flesh, lighter, almost white in this darkness. But he has to keep up.

He moves faster, closing the distance between himself and his guide, and he sees a flash of fringe, the flutter of a feather, a swathe of grey hair, silver in the pale moonlight filtering through the palms above—Efunibi. Efunibi. And then he’s gone.

Rupert stands breathless in a clearing, the scent of long-past brush fires lingering, combining with the stinking decay of animal meat and meth. The birds have flown and it is silent, deafeningly so. Rupert covers his ears to it. Soon, behind him, muted by his hands, comes a grunting and moaning, of someone being eaten and of one eating. Or the sound of lifeless pleasure, a communion with a thing that has ceased. Rupert instinctively denotes the latter, and removes his hands—the sound is obscenely loud, accompanied by a soft, moist pushing and pulling. He turns to see an orgy of repulsion—several small, naked men, their ashen flesh glowing against the charred ground, thrusting themselves into any opening they can find in the animal carcasses strewn around the space of a circle, a depraved sacred rite embracing myriad species. Rupert’s diaphragm heaves a spastic push upward but he doesn’t vomit, nor can he look away.

The sounds of this sickening display grow louder, more intense, closer to all the little deaths threatening to explode over and into this stratum of putrefying dead flesh. Finally, a man in the center begins to whimper, weak at first, though building, coming closer, closer, louder, he is keening now, and then he bursts into flames. They all catch like blazing dominoes, their quarry cooking beneath them, finally free from their filthy assault. The stench of roast flesh and fresh coitus assaults Rupert’s senses, then he sees from his peripheral his guide, standing at the edge of the clearing. Efunibi turns and walks back into the jungle. Rupert runs.

Again, he catches up, almost able to reach out and grab the fringe of Efunibi’s jacket. The flora is not as dense now, more like an overgrown path. Rupert feels safer being on a course that had at least once been tread forward and back from wherever it is he is being lead. He didn’t want to be the first. The vegetation thins a little more with each step, and with that, he can see further into the edges of the path. Suddenly, huge misshapen marionettes, dangling from vines and flailing grotesquely, swinging their foam-flesh limbs at Rupert. He can make out their faces—Fulva, and Bill, and Osceola, and Tommy, and Bucket, and Joe, and Merideth, and even Derek Peterson, though his face is indistinct—all snarling and flapping their arms and legs. Those who make contact create no impact. Rupert feels nothing, and all he hears is a cackle from Efunibi, who has once again disappeared.

Rupert now stands in the middle of a colossal cavern, its bottom flat and damp, its ceiling a roiling, living thing, at the center of which sucks a quivering, puckering anus. Rupert covers his head intuitively, though nothing falls, but there is a sudden and blinding fluorescent blue-white light, and after the flash, the hovering asshole remains, but the cavern is now bright and furnished with numerous items—shining steel countertops, blenders, pails and buckets, gas cans and funnels, glassware and tubing. Immense storage containers line the entire diameter of the area, bubbling and stinking, manned by masked, HazMatted henchmen. Rupert realizes these men work for him. But the anus above still sucks, and sucks, and soon, he feels his feet lift from the ground, and he his heading straight up, squeezing into the now-gaping, living hole. It closes around him, compresses his form, changes him somehow, and in no time, births him above ground, out of the heart of a grass-covered burial mound.

He is clean. He is on his hands and knees, and he looks down into Leenda’s eyes. He moves between her legs, losing himself in an instant, almost crushing her, and she moans, but keeps a steady gaze. It pierces him and runs electric through his brain, zapping rhythmically into his heart. He closes his eyes and he comes closer, and closer, green flashing behind his lids with each thrust, each step nearer to rapture. The green light means go, it says go, and he lets go . . . .

* * *

When Rupert woke up, it was dark. His usual frustrating failure to finish what began as a wet dream came as a blessing this time. He didn’t think these sheets were ever changed.

The green message light on the phone next to the bed blinked on and off, illuminating the entire room. His head was empty, but of what? He had no way to comprehend, but the final image of Leenda stayed, sound and lasting in his mind.

Surely it was her.

He picked up the receiver to retrieve the message, impatiently enduring the motel’s preamble, and then:

“Hey, Mount Macaca.” Pyrdewy.

Motherfucker.

“My people tell me a large, moo-lah-toh guy came sniffing around the D.E.A.T.H. program today. Said it was the first time they’d ever seen you. Not good, my friend. The Spliphsonian has a policy against hiring liars, even to mop shit.”

Rupert sighed, still groggy.

“You’re in a lot of trouble, guy. You’ve got one last chance. You’d better get your ass back down there tomorrow, bring your Methhead posse, if indeed they exist, and do what I told you to do. We need scholarly research. And we need you to play along, get it? Gotta go along to get along and you need to get along if you still wanna keep doing what you’re doing, capisce? And, hey . . . better keep an eye on Marge. Sounded like she took a shine to you.”

The call ended with abruptly-cut laughter. Rupert rubbed his eyes.

“No,” he said out loud to himself. “Nope. Fuck this. I’m not doing this. Fuck him.” And with that, he turned over, pulled a pillow over his head, and sank back to sleep, meditating and synchronizing his deep breathing with that final dream image of Leenda, on the grassy mound.

In the dark, the Plant with No Name smiled.

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