Authors: Carl Hiaasen
“I’ve been down here five years, and I’ve never seen it so bad,” Appel said. “They brought in one of these jokers the other day and I counted eleven machine-gun holes. Machine guns…think about that.”
“Why a war?”
“Greed,” Appel said. “The money is beyond imagination, probably even more than doctors and architects make.” The coroner grinned. “Coke,” he said.
“That’s it. That’s why these assholes get killed. That’s why your friend got killed. She got between the salesman and the merchandise and never knew it.”
Meadows stood up to leave. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t find one of the killers here today.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Appel said sardonically. “Most of these murders are never solved. No one talks.” He pointed at the dead Colombian. “That’s the price you pay if you do.”
“Did Nelson say if they had any more leads?”
“Didn’t say.” Appel shook Meadows’s hand. “It was nice meeting you. Hope I didn’t spoil your appetite for the day.”
“I’ll be OK.”
Meadows stepped into the parking lot, and the harsh afternoon sun blinded him. He breathed deeply. Full of rain and summer heat, the air felt marvelous in his lungs after an hour in the stale autopsy room.
was ringing when Meadows returned from the morgue.
“Chris, thank God. It you don’t come here instantly and rescue me from these miserable curs, I shall never speak to you again.”
“Perro de mierda. ¡Cállate, carajo!”
“Terry, where are you?” From the receiver came snarls, barks, a howl.
“I have just brought two dozen mangy dogs from Panama to a place called the Miami Shores Kennel Club. I should have dumped them out over the Caribbean instead. Filthy brutes.”
“I’ll be right there. Wait in the lobby.”
“I will not wait in the lobby. I will wait in the bar, and if you are not here in twenty minutes, I shall run off with the first man there who tells me he hates greyhounds.”
Meadows hustled back to his Karmann Ghia and pointed for the expressway north. The steering wheel was nearly too hot to grasp. Meadows hardly noticed. Terry was back.
Terry the wildcat. Meadows had never known a woman like her. She was to Sandy as a hurricane was to spring rain.
They had met at a party in New York the year before, one of those East Eighties parties so full of earnestly meaningful phonies that Meadows had taken one look and nearly headed for the door. Instead, he had sought out a quiet corner, and there she’d been.…
MY NAME IS
María Cristina Betancourt Issuralde,” she said after a moment, apparently deciding he wasn’t one of the bores. “People call me Terry.”
“Chris Meadows.” He offered his hand awkwardly. “How do you get Terry from Maria and all the rest?”
“It’s a nickname—short for
“I am moved.”
Terry rewarded him with a grin, then, after a few minutes, said suddenly, “Will you please take me away from this horrible party? Take me to eat. I’m starved.”
“Sure,” said Meadows, delighted and somewhat nonplussed. “Chinese food?”
Over dinner they talked, or rather mostly she talked and Meadows listened. She had been born rich, Terry confided between mouthfuls of Peking duck, and she bored easily. She was the eldest child of a South American land baron who owned huge tracts, and passports to match, in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Terry had skied at Portillo and swum at Monaco. She spoke English, Portuguese, Spanish and French interchangeably. She had been to boarding schools in England and a university in France. She had been wooed by playboys and tycoons. And she had rebelled.
“There I was one day, twenty-two years old. I had known about men since I was sixteen. I had known about the world since I was born. So I asked myself: ‘María Cristina, what are you going to do with your life?’ It was nasty question.
“‘Marry a millionaire and screw the gardener while he counts his money? Run off with a sports car driver until one day he makes goulash of himself against a concrete wall?’ No,
that was not for me.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t find a good revolution,” Meadows ventured.
“I thought about that, it is true—and believe me, I look terrific in khaki fatigues and a beret. But I will tell you something about my part of the world. The revolutions all promise freedom and justice. South America is a continent of great promises. But what they deliver is nothing. And I will tell you something else. Take away the rifles from those tough
and they are nothing. A woman might as well go to bed with her teddy bear for all the good they will do her.”
“I didn’t know,” Meadows replied weakly.
“Revolutionaries destroy. I am a builder. So I looked around for something I could build, something romantic and challenging. I thought about it for a long time, and then I decided. I went to my parents, and I told them. My mother called for her confessor. My father yelled and threatened to whip me, but deep down I think he was very pleased, for we both knew I was more like him than his sons, my brothers.
“I went to school and studied to be a pilot. Never has anyone studied so hard. And then I borrowed the money for a plane—an old Convair. I found a copilot, and I flew that plane anywhere there was cargo.
“Río Gallegos. Puerto Montt. Cuiabá in the Mato Grosso. Potosí, in Bolivia, where the mountains are cruel and the runway is short. My company is called Cargas Aereas Nacionales, CAN. I fly where I say I will fly, and I charge what I say I will charge. CAN do! Now I have four planes, and the money I spend is my own. My father is proud of me; my mother dares not criticize. Tonight I flew race horses to New York from Venezuela. Before that it was Brazilian tractor tires to Tegucigalpa. In a few days, who knows?”
SHE’D TRANSFIXED HIM.
Beside her Meadows felt earthbound, pedestrian.
“I don’t know why you hang around with me,” Meadows teased one day after a joy ride across the state in a rented single-engine plane had left him green.
Terry had laughed deeply and bitten his ear.
I should have told you it would be bumpy. I’m sorry. That was a terrible thing to do to my protector.”
“My protector.” It was a private joke, a shard of that first night in New York. They’d left the restaurant three hours later and wandered aimlessly through the streets of Chinatown, talking.
The mugger had found them near the river. Meadows gave him what money he had, almost with a shrug, as though it were a form of taxation people who walk at night must be prepared to pay. But the mugger had wanted more than money.
“You go for a walk, big boy. The girl stays.”
That had been too much. When the man advanced, waving a chain, Meadows charged blindly and seized him in a bear hug. For endless minutes the two men grunted in a clumsy wrestling match until their momentum carried them crashing into a steel trash bin, and it was the mugger’s skull that caught the corner. The chain clattered to the pavement.
Terry had tugged at Meadows’s elbow, but still enraged, he’d stooped down and methodically stripped the man of his clothes, mugging the mugger, leaving him in underwear and socks and moaning half-consciously. He’d thrown the clothes into a sewer, then bought himself two Irish coffees to stop the trembling. That night he and Terry had made love for the first time.
MEADOWS’S REVERIE CARRIED
him onto I-95, through the long elevated curve that skirted downtown Miami, past the blackened sentinels of despair that the riots of 1980 had posted in the Liberty City ghetto. The dog track was only two blocks off the 125th Street exit, and the matinee was in high gear by the time Meadows arrived. The clubhouse seemed to rattle like an airplane hangar as the crowd cheered another skinny hound to the finish. Meadows rehearsed what he would tell Terry about the shooting.
She was hard to miss in the tawdry bar, tall and bronzed, hair like pitch and eyes to match. To Meadows’s surprise, Terry seemed to be studying a race program. As he moved toward her, though, first his gaze, then his path were blocked. Was the couple in front of him dancing? No, they were wrestling.
“Gimme the ten!” snarled a tall black man in a Panama hat. “You tol’ me to bet that dog. It’s your fault I lost.”
He clutched a belligerent woman by the elbows. In one hand she deftly balanced a plastic cup full of beer; in the other she kept a death grip on a crumpled ten-dollar bill.
“Get your fuckin’ hands off me!” she shouted. “You touch me and I’ll run to your goddamn wife.”
They twirled in a woozy minuet until a fat security guard waddled up and collared them both. Meadows slid onto the barstool next to Terry’s and sneaked an arm around her waist.
“Nice place you have here,” he whispered, “but welcome home anyway.”
The embrace took Meadows’s breath away.
“Let’s get out of here,” Meadows said into the great black mane. “I have lots to tell you.”
Terry surveyed him hungrily. “Ten minutes, one race. I have made a bet.”
“I thought you hated dogs.”
“I do when they shit all over my airplane. But not this one. Look.” She gestured to the program. “Here, number three, Fly Baby. It must be good luck for me.”
They found a seat twenty rows up, far from the race track. Meadows noticed glumly that they were surrounded by garrulous retirees from a nearby condominium. Having spent their youth, but not their savings, in Queens and Charlestown, they fled to Florida, first for the winters and then forever. Great climate, but not a damn thing to do but to await death over the bingo table or to sign up for the bus trips to the dog track. Meadows tuned out their chatter.
Two minutes before race time the grooms emerged from the kennel area. At the end of each leash was a lean greyhound capped tightly with a muzzle. The dogs were impossibly mean, he knew, sometimes even stopping in the middle of a race to fight each other. The inbreeding that had made them fast as a freight train had also made them monumentally stupid. Each dog in front of him now wore a cloth number and walked in a desultory gait two or three paces behind the groom.
“You picked a name. How does everybody else know which dog to bet on?” Meadows asked.
“That’s how,” said Terry, pointing. The number seven greyhound was hunched unabashedly in a squat, fertilizing an orchid bed near the home stretch. A cluster of drunks down on the rail gave a hearty ovation.
“Jesus!” Meadows laughed. “Great sport.”
everyone will bet that dog now.” Terry sighed. And sure enough, by post time the odds on the seven greyhound had dropped to five to three.
The dogs bolted from the gate in hot pursuit of a bogus rabbit nailed to a moving boom. Meadows tracked Fly Baby as it grabbed an early lead, faltered, move up once more before getting bumped to the outside and finished fourth, out of the money. The whole thing took forty-nine seconds.
muttered Terry. The number seven dog won by three lengths. “Let me go to the bathroom, and then we will leave. I’ll meet you at the finish line.”
Alone, Meadows scanned the payday crowd. Below, six rows down, was a pretty young woman. From the back she resembled Sandy Tilden. Meadows found himself straining to see if a small child sat at her side. Of course, there was none. When the woman turned sideways, she did not look like Sandy at all, and Christopher Meadows looked away.
He limped down to the rail for a better glimpse of the greyhounds. From the grandstands they all looked alike; up close he noticed marked differences in size, musculature and gait. The grooms looked bored stiff. So did the dogs.
“Stop it now. I was here before you.”
Meadows turned to his left in time to see a pudgy snowhaired old man move nose to nose against a tall young Latin. “Now this was my spot, son. Move down a little bit, please.”
His adversary was built like a refrigerator.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” the young man demanded. He had the face of a ferret. Another husky Latin stood behind him, laughing. A third had his back to the fracas. He was studying the greyhounds. Meadows noticed he wore a cream-colored suit.
“Now I don’t want to fight…” the older man was saying.
Meadows searched the crowd for a sign of Terry. When he looked back, the old man was out of breath and off the ground; the punk had hoisted him by the shoulders.
Meadows did not move. His heart raided against his ribs, and his legs felt like sand. He saw it quite clearly, tucked into the young man’s belt…the bluish butt of a pistol. Then the third man turned around. The face of the man took Meadows’s breath away.
There it was. Oval and brooding. Those fierce, deep eyes, coals and ice.
It was him.
The eyes flicked past Meadows as the man in the cream-colored suit said something harsh to the other two and gestured sharply. The young
sullenly put the old man down and walked toward the ticket lobby with his two companions. The old man slapped wanly at his rumpled clothes, speaking to no one in particular. “Stupid goddamn hoods. Think they own this country…”
Meadows could only stand transfixed.
Terry appeared then. “Chris! You’re pale! Is something wrong?”
Meadows grabbed her arm.
“Let’s go. Let’s go,” he muttered. “I’ll tell you later.”
Meadows and Terry moved upstream against the crowd, which was pouring back to the grandstand from the ticket windows. His eyes searched the seats as he shuffled impatiently toward the exit.
In the last row up, they sat together. Meadows counted four now. The three biggest ones were laughing together. The fourth, the dapper one in the suit, held a pair of small binoculars to his eyes.
He had been scanning the park, but now he stopped. He wasn’t looking at the greyhounds. He was looking directly at Christopher Meadows.
“What is it?” Terry asked. “Chris, you’re pushing me.”
That night, when he tried to draw that face from memory, the shape came easily in smooth, circular strokes. The sharp eyebrows and heavy Neanderthal ridge of the forehead were not exact, but acceptable.