Table of Contents
“One of America's finest novelists.”
“Hiaasen isn't just Florida's sharpest satiristâhe's one of the few funny writers left in the whole country . . . I think of him as a national treasure [and] I have yet to be disappointed. . . . Hiaasen is not just a good comic writer. He's just a good writer.”
“Hiaasen [is] king of the screwball comedies . . . a truly original comic novelist.”
âRocky Mountain News
“Hiaasen is always good for a number of laugh-aloud scenes and lines . . . His ear is pitch-perfect.”
âThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Hiaasen's campfire voice, perpetually amused by the resourcefulness with which his characters reaffirm his opinion of human nature, provides a core of truthiness.”
âThe New York Times Book Review
“When he's in good form, Hiaasen, like Elmore Leonard, shouldn't be missed.”
âSan Francisco Chronicle
“A lifelong resident of the Sunshine State, [Hiaasen's] novels have always addressed the state's ecological and social ills with scathing satire, ironic comeuppance, and an ever-evolving sensibility.”
âTime Out New York
“He writes with an old-time columnist's sense of righteous rage and an utterly current and biting wit.”
“A bird so rareâthe humorous popular novelist with an acutely critical social perspectiveâthat he's practically an endangered species.”
Also by Carl Hiaasen
A DEATH IN CHINA
(with William Montalbano)
(with William Montalbano)
(with William Montalbano)
For Young Readers
THE DOWNHILL LIE:
A HACKER'S RETURN TO A RUINOUS SPORT
HOW DISNEY DEVOURS THE WORLD
KICK ASS: SELECTED COLUMNS
(edited by Diane Stevenson)
PARADISE SCREWED: SELECTED COLUMNS
(edited by Diane Stevenson)
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhiâ110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
eISBN : 978-1-101-43663-9
Skin tight / Carl Hiaasen.
eISBN : 978-1-101-43663-9
the third of January, a leaden, blustery day, two tourists from Covington, Tennessee, removed their sensible shoes to go strolling on the beach at Key Biscayne.
When they got to the old Cape Florida lighthouse, the young man and his fiancÃ©e sat down on the damp sand to watch the ocean crash hard across the brown boulders at the point of the island. There was a salt haze in the air, and it stung the young man's eyes so that when he spotted the thing floating, it took several moments to focus on what it was.
“It's a big dead fish,” his fiancÃ©e said. “Maybe a porpoise.”
“I don't believe so,” said the young man. He stood up, dusted off the seat of his trousers, and walked to the edge of the surf. As the thing floated closer, the young man began to wonder about his legal responsibilities, providing it turned out to be what he thought it was. Oh yes, he had heard about Miami; this sort of stuff happened every day.
“Let's go back now,” he said abruptly to his fiancÃ©e.
“No, I want to see what it is. It doesn't look like a fish anymore.”
The young man scanned the beach and saw they were all alone, thanks to the lousy weather. He also knew from a brochure back at the hotel that the lighthouse was long ago abandoned, so there would be no one watching from above.
“It's a dead body,” he said grimly to his fiancÃ©e.
“Come off it.”
At that instant a big, lisping breaker took the thing on its crest and carried it all the way to the beach, where it stuckâthe nose of the dead man grounding as a keel in the sand.
The young man's fiancÃ©e stared down at the corpse and said, “Geez, you're right.”
The young man sucked in his breath and took a step back.
“Should we turn it over?” his fiancee asked. “Maybe he's still alive.”
“Don't touch it. He's dead.”
“How do you know?”
The young man pointed with a bare toe. “See that hole?”
“That's a hole?”
She bent over and studied a stain on the shirt. The stain was the color of rust and the size of a sand dollar.
“Well, he didn't just drown,” the young man announced.
His fiancÃ©e shivered a little and buttoned her sweater. “So what do we do now?”
“Now we get out of here.”
“Shouldn't we call the police?”
“It's our vacation, Cheryl. Besides, we're a half-hour's walk to the nearest phone.”
The young man was getting nervous; he thought he heard a boat's engine somewhere around the point of the island, on the bay side.
The woman tourist said, “Just a second.” She unsnapped the black leather case that held her trusty Canon Sure-Shot.
“What are you doing?”
“I want a picture, Thomas.” She already had the camera up to her eye.
“Are you crazy?”
“Otherwise no one back home will believe us. I mean, we come all the way down to Miami and what happens? Remember how your brother was making murder jokes before we left? It's unreal. Stand to the right a little, Thomas, and pretend to look down at it.”
“Come on, one picture.”
“No,” the man said, eyeing the corpse.
“Please? You used up a whole roll on Flipper.”
The woman snapped the picture and said, “That's good. Now you take one of me.”
“Well, hurry it up,” the young man grumped. The wind was blowing harder from the northeast, moaning through the whippy Australian pines behind them. The sound of the boat engine, wherever it was, had faded away.
The young man's fiancÃ©e struck a pose next to the dead body: She pointed at it and made a sour face, crinkling her zinc-coated nose.
“I can't believe this,” the young man said, lining up the photograph.
“Me neither, Thomas. A real live dead bodyâjust like on the TV show. Yuk!”
“Yeah, yuk,” said the young man. “Fucking yuk is right.”
day had begun with only a light, cool breeze and a rim of broken raspberry clouds out toward the Bahamas. Stranahan was up early, frying eggs and chasing the gulls off the roof. He lived in an old stilt house on the shallow tidal flats of Biscayne Bay, a mile from the tip of Cape Florida. The house had a small generator powered by a four-bladed windmill, but no air-conditioning. Except for a few days in August and September, there was always a decent breeze. That was one nice thing about living on the water.
There were maybe a dozen other houses in the stretch of Biscayne Bay known as Stiltsville, but none were inhabited; rich owners used them for weekend parties, and their kids got drunk on them in the summer. The rest of the time they served as fancy, split-level toilets for seagulls and cormorants.
Stranahan had purchased his house dirt-cheap at a government auction. The previous owner was a Venezuelan cocaine courier who had been shot thirteen times in a serious business dispute, then indicted posthumously. No sooner had the corpse been air-freighted back to Caracas than Customs agents seized the stilt house, along with three condos, two Porsches, a one-eyed scarlet macaw, and a yacht with a hot tub. The hot tub was where the Venezuelan had met his spectacular death, so bidding was feverish. Likewise the macawâa material witness to its owner's murderâfetched top dollar; before the auction, mischievous Customs agents had taught the bird to say, “Duck, you shithead!”
By the time the stilt house had come up on the block, nobody was interested. Stranahan had picked it up for forty thousand and change.
He coveted the solitude of the flats, and was delighted to be the only human soul living in Stiltsville. His house, barn-red with brown shutters, sat three hundred yards off the main channel, so most of the weekend boat traffic traveled clear of him. Occasionally a drunk or a total moron would try to clear the banks with a big cabin cruiser, but they did not get far, and they got no sympathy or assistance from the big man in the barn-red house.
January third was a weekday and, with the weather blackening out east, there wouldn't be many boaters out. Stranahan savored this fact as he sat on the sun deck, eating his eggs and Canadian bacon right out of the frying pan. When a pair of fat, dirty gulls swooped in to nag him for the leftovers, he picked up a BB pistol and opened fire. The birds screeched off in the direction of the Miami skyline, and Stranahan hoped they would not stop until they got there.
After breakfast he pulled on a pair of stringy denim cutoffs and started doing push-ups. He stopped at one hundred five, and went inside to get some orange juice. From the kitchen he heard a boat coming and checked out the window. It was a yellow bonefish skiff, racing heedlessly across the shallows. Stranahan smiled; he knew all the local guides. Sometimes he'd let them use his house for a bathroom stop, if they had a particularly shy female customer who didn't want to hang it over the side of the boat.
Stranahan poured two cups of hot coffee and went back out on the deck. The yellow skiff was idling up to the dock, which was below the house itself and served as a boat garage. The guide waved up at Stranahan and tied off from the bow. The man's client, an inordinately pale fellow, was preoccupied trying to decide which of four different grades of sunscreen to slather on his milky arms. The guide hopped out of the skiff and climbed up to the sun deck.
“Morning, Captain.” Stranahan handed a mug of coffee to the guide, who accepted it with a friendly grunt. The two men had known each other many years, but this was only the second or third occasion that the captain had gotten out of his boat and come up to the stilt house. Stranahan waited to hear the reason.
When he put down the empty cup, the guide said: “Mick, you expecting company?”
“There was a man this morning.”
“At the marina?”
“No, out here. Asking which house was yours.” The guide glanced over the railing at his client, who now was practicing with a fly rod, snapping the line like a horsewhip.
Stranahan laughed and said, “Looks like a winner.”
“Looks like a long goddamn day,” the captain muttered.
“Tell me about this guy.”
“He flagged me down over by the radio towers. He was in a white Seacraft, a twenty-footer. I thought he was having engine trouble, but all he wanted was to know which house was yours. I sent him down toward Elliott Key, so I hope he wasn't a friend. Said he was.”
“Did he give you a name?”
“Tim is what he said.”
Stranahan said the only Tim he knew was an ex-homicide cop named Gavigan.
“That's it,” the fishing guide said. “Tim Gavigan is what he said.”
“Shit,” said Stranahan. Of course it wasn't Timmy Gavigan. Gavigan was busy dying of lung cancer in the VA.
The captain said, “You want me to hang close today?”
“Hell, no, you got your sport down there, he's raring to go.”
“Fuck it, Mick, he wouldn't know a bonefish from a sperm whale. Anyway, I've got a few choice spots right around hereâmaybe we'll luck out.”
“Not with this breeze, buddy; the flats are already pea soup. You go on down south, I'll be all right. He's probably just some process-server.”
“Somebody's sure to tell him which house.”
“Yeah, I figure so,” Stranahan said. “A white Seacraft, you said?”
“Twenty-footer,” the guide repeated. Before he started down the stairs, he said, “The guy's got some size to him, too.”
“Thanks for the info.”
Stranahan watched the yellow skiff shoot south, across the flats, until all he could see was the long zipper of foam in its wake. The guide would be heading to Sand Key, Stranahan thought, or maybe all the way to Caesar Creekâwell out of radio range. As if the damn radio still worked.
three o'clock in the afternoon, the wind had stiffened, and the sky and the water had acquired the same purple shade of gray. Stranahan slipped into long jeans and a light jacket. He put on his sneakers, too; at the time he didn't think about why he did this, but much later it came to him: Splinters. From running on the wooden deck. The raw two-by-fours were hell on bare feet, so Stranahan had put on his sneakers. In case he had to run.
The Seacraft was noisy. Stranahan heard it coming two miles away. He found the white speck through his field glasses and watched it plow through the hard chop. The boat was heading straight for Stranahan's stilt house and staying clean in the channels, too.
Figures, Stranahan thought sourly. Probably one of the park rangers down at Elliott Key told the guy which house; just trying to be helpful.
He got up and closed the brown shutters from the outside. Through the field glasses he took one more long look at the man in the Seacraft, who was still a half mile away. Stranahan did not recognize the man, but could tell he was from up Northâthe guy made a point of shirtsleeves, on this kind of a day, and the dumbest-looking sunglasses ever made.
Stranahan slipped inside the house and closed the door behind him. There was no way to lock it from the inside; there was no reason, usually.
With the shutters down, the inside of the house was pitch-black, but Stranahan knew every corner of each room. In this house he had ridden out two hurricanesâbaby ones, but nasty just the same. He had spent both storms in total darkness, because the wind knifed through the walls and played hell with the lanterns, and the last thing you wanted was an indoor fire.
So Stranahan knew the house in the dark.
He selected his place and waited.
After a few minutes the pitch of the Seacraft's engines dropped an octave, and Stranahan figured the boat was slowing down. The guy would be eyeing the place closely, trying to figure out the best way up on the flat. There was a narrow cut in the marl, maybe four feet deep at high tide and wide enough for one boat. If the guy saw it and made this his entry, he would certainly spot Stranahan's aluminum skiff tied up under the water tanks. And then he would know.
Stranahan heard the Seacraft's engines chewing up the marly bottom. The guy had missed the deep cut.
Stranahan heard the big boat thud into the pilings at the west end of the house. He could hear the guy clunking around in the bow, grunting as he tried to tie it off against the tide, which was falling fast.
Stranahan heardâand feltâthe man hoist himself out of the boat and climb to the main deck of the house. He heard the man say: “Anybody home?”
The man did not have a light step; the captain was rightâhe was a big one. By the vibrations of the plankboards, Stranahan charted the intruder's movements.
Finally the guy knocked on the door and said: “Hey! Hello there!”
When no one answered, the guy just opened the door.
He stood framed in the afternoon light, such as it was, and Stranahan got a pretty good look. The man had removed his sunglasses. As he peered into the dark house, his right hand went to the waist of his trousers.
“State your business,” Stranahan said from the shadows.
“Oh, hey!” The man stepped backward onto the deck, forfeiting his silhouette for detail. Stranahan did not recognize the faceâan odd and lumpy one, skin stretched tightly over squared cheekbones. Also, the nose didn't match the eyes and chin. Stranahan wondered if the guy had ever been in a bad car wreck.
The man said: “I ran out of gas, and I was wondering if you had a couple gallons to get me back to the marina. I'll be happy to pay.”
“Sorry,” Stranahan said.
The guy looked for the source of the voice, but he couldn't see a damn thing in the shuttered-up house.
“Hey, pal, you okay?”
“Just fine,” Stranahan said.
“Well, then, would you mind stepping out where I can see you?”
With his left hand Stranahan grabbed the leg of a barstool and sent it skidding along the bare floor to no place in particular. He just wanted to see what the asshole would do, and he was not disappointed. The guy took a short-barreled pistol out of his pants and held it behind his back. Then he took two steps forward until he was completely inside the house. He took another slow step toward the spot where the broken barstool lay, only now he was holding the pistol in front of him.
Stranahan, who had squeezed himself into a spot between the freezer and the pantry, had seen enough of the damn gun.
“Over here,” he said to the stranger.
And when the guy spun around to get a bead on where the voice was coming from, Mick Stranahan lunged out of the shadows and stabbed him straight through with a stuffed marlin head he had gotten off the wall.
It was a fine blue marlin, maybe four hundred pounds, and whoever caught it had decided to mount only the head and shoulders, down to the spike of the dorsal. The trophy fish had come with the Venezuelan's house and hung in the living room, where Stranahan had grown accustomed to its indigo stripes, its raging glass eyes, and its fearsome black sword. In a way it was a shame to mess it up, but Stranahan knew the BB gun would be useless against a real revolver.
The taxidermied fish was not as heavy as Stranahan anticipated, but it was cumbersome; Stranahan concentrated on his aim as he charged the intruder. It paid off.
The marlin's bill split the man's breastbone, tore his aorta, and severed his spine. He died before Stranahan got a chance to ask him any questions. The final puzzled look on the man's face suggested that he was not expecting to be gored by a giant stuffed fish head.
The intruder carried no identification, no wallet, no wedding ring; just the keys to a rented Thunderbird. Aboard the Seacraft, which was also rented, Stranahan found an Igloo cooler with two six-packs of Corona and a couple of cheap spinning rods that the killer had brought along just for looks.
Stranahan heaved the body into the Seacraft and took the boat out into the Biscayne Channel. There he pushed the dead guy overboard, tossed the pistol into deep water, rinsed down the deck, dove off the stern, and swam back toward the stilt house. In fifteen minutes his knees hit the mud bank, and he waded the last seventy-five yards to the dock.
That night there was no sunset to speak of, because of the dreary skies, but Stranahan sat on the deck anyway. As he stared out to the west, he tried to figure out who wanted him dead, and why. He considered this a priority.
the fourth of January, the sun came out, and Dr. Rudy Graveline smiled. The sun was very good for business. It baked and fried and pitted the facial flesh, and seeded the pores with vile microscopic cancers that would eventually sprout and require excision. Dr. Rudy Graveline was a plastic surgeon, and he dearly loved to see the sun.
He was in a fine mood, anyway, because it was January. In Florida, January is the heart of the winter tourist season and a bonanza time for cosmetic surgeons. Thousands of older men and women who flock down for the warm weather also use the occasion to improve their features. Tummy tucks, nose jobs, boob jobs, butt jobs, fat suctions, face-lifts, you name it. And they always beg for an appointment in January, so that the scars will be healed by the time they go back North in the spring.
Dr. Rudy Graveline could not accommodate all the snow-birds, but he did his damnedest. All four surgical theaters at the Whispering Palms Spa were booked from dawn to dusk in January, February, and halfway into March. Most of the patients asked especially for Dr. Graveline, whose reputation greatly exceeded his talents. While Rudy usually farmed the cases out to the eight other plastic surgeons on staff, many patients got the impression that Dr. Graveline himself had performed their surgery. This is because Rudy would often come in and pat their wrinkled hands until they nodded off, blissfully, under the nitrous or I.V. Valium. At that point Rudy would turn them over to one of his younger and more competent protÃ©gÃ©s.
Dr. Graveline saved himself for the richest patients. The regulars got cut on every winter, and Rudy counted on their business. He reassured his surgical hypochondriacs that there was nothing abnormal about having a fifth, sixth, or seventh blepharoplasty in as many years.
Does it make you feel better about yourself?
Rudy would ask them.
Then it's worth it, isn't it? Of course it is.
Such a patient was Madeleine Margaret Wilhoit, age sixty-nine, of North Palm Beach. In the course of their acquaintance, there was scarcely a square inch of Madeleine's substantial physique that Dr. Rudy Graveline had not altered. Whatever he did and whatever he charged, Madeleine was always delighted. And she always came back the next year for more. Though Madeleine's face reminded Dr. Graveline in many ways of a camel, he was fond of her. She was the kind of steady patient that offshore trust funds are made of.
On January fourth, buoyed by the warm sunny drive to Whispering Palms, Rudy Graveline set about the task of repairing for the fifth, sixth, or seventh time (he couldn't remember exactly) the upper eyelids of Madeleine Margaret Wilhoit. Given the dromedarian texture of the woman's skin, the mission was doomed and Rudy knew it. Any cosmetic improvement would have to take place exclusively in Madeleine's imagination, but Rudy (knowing she would be ecstatic) pressed on.
Midway through the operation, the telephone on the wall let out two beeps. With a gowned elbow the operating-room nurse deftly punched the intercom box and told the caller that Dr. Graveline was in the middle of surgery and not available.
“It's fucking important, tell him,” said a sullen male voice, which Rudy instantly recognized.
He asked the nurse and the anesthetist to leave the operating room for a few minutes. When they were gone, he said to the phone box: “Go ahead. This is me.”
The phone call was made from a pay booth in Atlantic City, New Jersey, not that it would have mattered to Rudy. Jersey was all he knew, all he needed to know.
“You want the report?” the man asked.
“It went lousy.”
Rudy sighed and stared down at the violet vectors he had inked around Madeleine's eyes. “How lousy?” the surgeon said to the phone box.
“The ultimate fucking lousy.”
Rudy tried to imagine the face on the other end of the line, in New Jersey. In the old days he could guess a face by the voice on the phone. This particular voice sounded fat and lardy, with black curly eyebrows and mean dark eyes.
“So what now?” the doctor asked.
“Keep the other half of your money.”
What a prince, Rudy thought.
“What if I want you to try again?”
“Fine by me.”
“Same,” said Curly Eyebrows. “Deal's a deal.”
“Can I think on it?”
“Sure. I'll call back tomorrow.”
Rudy said, “It's just that I didn't count on any problems.”
“The problem's not yours. Anyway, this shit happens.”
“I understand,” Dr. Graveline said.
The man in New Jersey hung up, and Madeleine Margaret Wilhoit started to squirm. It occurred to Rudy that maybe the old bag wasn't asleep after all, and that maybe she'd heard the whole conversation.
“Madeleine?” he whispered in her ear.
“Are you okay?”
“Fine, Papa,” Madeleine drooled. “When do I get to ride in the sailboat?”
Rudy Graveline smiled, then buzzed for the nurse and anesthetist to come back and help him finish the job.
his time at the State Attorney's Office, Mick Stranahan had helped put many people in jail. Most of them were out now, even the murderers, due to a federal court order requiring the state of Florida to seasonally purge its overcrowded prisons. Stranahan accepted the fact that some of these ex-cons harbored bitterness against him, and that more than a few would be delighted to see him dead. For this reason, Stranahan was exceedingly cautious about visitors. He was not a paranoid person, but took a practical view of risk: When someone pulls a gun at your front door, there's really no point to asking what he wants. The answer is obvious, and so is the solution.
The gunman who came to the stilt house was the fifth person that Mick Stranahan had killed in his lifetime.
The first two were North Vietnamese Army regulars who were laying trip wire for land mines near the town of Dak Mat Lop in the Central Highlands. Stranahan surprised the young soldiers by using his sidearm instead of his M-16, and by not missing. It happened during the second week of May 1969, when Stranahan was barely twenty years old.
The third person he killed was a Miami holdup man named Thomas Henry Thomas, who made the mistake of sticking up a fried-chicken joint while Stranahan was standing in line for a nine-piece box of Extra Double Crispy. To supplement the paltry seventy-eight dollars he had grabbed from the cash register, Thomas Henry Thomas decided to confiscate the wallets and purses of each customer. It went rather smoothly until he came down the line to Mick Stranahan, who calmly took away Thomas Henry Thomas's .38-caliber Charter Arms revolver and shot him twice in the right temporal lobe. In appreciation, the fried-chicken franchise presented Stranahan with three months' worth of discount coupons and offered to put his likeness on every carton of Chicken Chunkettes sold during the month of December 1977. Being broke and savagely divorced, Stranahan took the coupons but declined the celebrity photo.
The shooting of Thomas Henry Thomas (his obvious character flaws aside) was deemed serious enough to dissuade both the Miami and metropolitan Dade County police from hiring Mick Stranahan as an officer. His virulent refusal to take any routine psychological tests also militated against him. However, the State Attorney's Office was in dire need of a streetwise investigator, and was delighted to hire a highly decorated war veteran, even at the relatively tender age of twenty-nine.
The fourth and most important person that Mick Stranahan killed was a crooked Dade County judge named Raleigh Goomer. Judge Goomer's specialty was shaking down defense lawyers in exchange for ridiculous bond reductions, which allowed dangerous felons to get out of jail and skip town. It was Stranahan who caught Judge Goomer at this game and arrested him taking a payoff at a strip joint near the Miami airport. On the trip to the jail, Judge Goomer apparently panicked, pulled a .22 somewhere out of his black nylon socks, and fired three shots at Mick Stranahan. Hit twice in the right thigh, Stranahan still managed to seize the gun, twist the barrel up the judge's right nostril, and fire.
A special prosecutor sent down from Tampa presented the case to the grand jury, and the grand jury agreed that the killing of Judge Raleigh Goomer was probably self-defense, though a point-blank nostril shot did seem extreme. Even though Stranahan was cleared, he obviously could no longer be employed by the State Attorney's Office. Pressure for his dismissal came most intensely from other crooked judges, several of whom stated that they were afraid to have Mr. Stranahan testifying in their courtrooms.
On June 7, 1988, Mick Stranahan resigned from the prosecutor's staff. The press release called it early retirement, and disclosed that Stranahan would be receiving full disability compensation as a result of injuries suffered in the Goomer shooting. Stranahan wasn't disabled at all, but his family connection with a notorious personal-injury lawyer was sufficient to terrify the county into paying him off. When Stranahan said he didn't want the money, the county promptly doubled its offer and threw in a motorized wheelchair. Stranahan gave up.
Not long afterward, he moved out to Stiltsville and made friends with the fish.
marine patrol boat pulled up to Mick Stranahan's place at half-past noon. Stranahan was on the top deck, dropping a line for mangrove snappers down below.
“Got a second?” asked the marine patrol officer, a sharp young Cuban named Luis CÃ³rdova. Stranahan liked him all right.
“Come on up,” he said.
Stranahan reeled in his bait and put the fishing rod down. He dumped four dead snappers out of the bucket and gutted them one at a time, tossing their creamy innards in the water.
CÃ³rdova was talking about the body that had washed up on Cape Florida.
“Rangers found it yesterday evening,” he said. “Lemon shark got the left foot.”
“That happens,” Stranahan said, skinning one of the fish filets.
“The M.E. says it was one hell of a stab wound.”
“I'm gonna fry these up for sandwiches,” Stranahan said. “You interested in lunch?”
CÃ³rdova shook his head. “No, Mick, there's some jerks poaching lobster down at Boca Chita, so I gotta be on my way. Metro asked me to poke around out here, see if somebody saw anything. And since you're the only one out here . . .”
Stranahan glanced up from the fish-cleaning. “I don't remember much going on yesterday,” he said. “Weather was piss-poor, that I know.”
He tossed the fish skeletons, heads still attached, over the rail.
“Well, Metro's not all that excited,” CÃ³rdova said.
“How come? Who's the stiff?”
“Name of Tony Traviola, wise guy. Jersey state police got a fat jacket on him. Tony the Eel, loan-collector type. Not a very nice man, from what I understand.”
Stranahan said, “They think it's a mob hit?”
“I don't know what they think.”
Stranahan carried the filets into the house and ran them under the tap. He was careful with the water, since the tanks were low. CÃ³rdova accepted a glass of iced tea and stood next to Stranahan in the kitchen, watching him roll the filets in egg yolk and bread crumbs. Normally Stranahan preferred to be left alone when he cooked, but he didn't want Luis CÃ³rdova to go just yet.
“They found the guy's boat, too,” the marine patrolman went on. “It was a rental out of Haulover. White Seacraft.”
Stranahan said he hadn't seen one of those lately.
“Few specks of blood was all they found,” CÃ³rdova said. “Somebody cleaned it pretty good.”
Stranahan laid the snapper filets in a half inch of oil in a frying pan. The stove didn't seem to be working, so he got on his knees and checked the pilot lightâdead, as usual. He put a match to it and, before long, the fish started to sizzle.
CÃ³rdova sat down on one of the wicker barstools.
“So why don't they think it was the mob?” Stranahan asked.
“I didn't say they didn't, Mick.”
Stranahan smiled and opened a bottle of beer.
CÃ³rdova shrugged. “They don't tell me every little thing.”
“First of all, they wouldn't bring him all the way down to Florida to do it, would they, Luis? They got the exact same ocean up in Jersey. So Tony the Eel was already here on business.”
“Makes sense.” CÃ³rdova nodded.
“Second, why didn't they just shoot him? Knives are for kids, not pros.”
CÃ³rdova took the bait. “Wasn't a knife,” he said. “It was too big, the M.E. said. More like a javelin.”
“That's not like the guineas.”
“No,” CÃ³rdova agreed.
Stranahan made three fish sandwiches and gave one to the marine patrolman, who had forgotten about going after the lobster poachers, if there ever were any.
“The other weird thing,” he said through a mouthful of bread, “is the guy's face.”
“What about it?”
“It didn't match the mug shots, not even close. They made him through fingerprints and dentals, but when they got the mugs back from the FBI it looked like a different guy altogether. So Metro calls the Bureau and says you made a mistake, and they say the hell we did, that's Tony Traviola. They go back and forth for about two hours until somebody has the brains to call the M.E.” CÃ³rdova stopped to gulp some iced tea; the fish was steaming in his cheeks.
Stranahan said, “And?”
“At least five different operations, from his eyes to his chin. Tony the Eel, he was a regular Michael Jackson. His own mother wouldn't have known him.”
Stranahan opened another beer and sat down. “Why would a bum like Traviola get his face remade?”
CÃ³rdova said, “Traviola did a nickel for extortion, got out of Rahway about two years ago. Not long afterward a Purolator truck gets hit, but the robbers turn up dead three days laterâwithout the loot. Classic mob rip. The feds put a warrant out for Traviola, hung his snapshot in every post office along the Eastern seaboard.”
“Good reason to get the old shnoz bobbed,” Stranahan said.
“That's what they figure.” CÃ³rdova got up and rinsed his plate in the sink.
Stranahan was impressed. “You didn't get all this out of Metro, did you?”
CÃ³rdova laughed. “Hey, even the grouper troopers got a computer.”
This was a good kid, Stranahan thought, a good cop. Maybe there was hope for the world after all.
“I see you went out and got the newspaper,” the marine patrolman remarked. “What's the occasion, you got a pony running at Gulfstream?”
Hell, Stranahan thought, that was a stupid move. On the counter was the
open to the page with the story about the dead floater. Miami being what it is, the floater story was only two paragraphs long, wedged under a tiny headline between a one-ton coke bust and a double homicide on the river. Maybe Luis CÃ³rdova wouldn't notice.
“You must've got up early to get to the marina and back,” he said.
“Grocery run,” Stranahan lied. “Besides, it was a nice morning for a boat ride. How was the fish?”
“Delicious, Mick.” CÃ³rdova slapped him on the shoulder and said so long.
Stranahan walked out on the deck and watched CÃ³rdova untie his patrol boat, a gray Mako outboard with a blue police light mounted on the center console.
“If anything comes up, I'll give you a call, Luis.”
“No sweat, it's Metro's party,” the marine patrolman said. “Guy sounds like a dirtbag, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Stranahan said, “I feel sorry for that shark, the one that ate his foot.”
CÃ³rdova chuckled. “Yeah, he'll be puking for a week.”
Stranahan waved as the police boat pulled away. He was pleased to see Luis CÃ³rdova heading south toward Boca Chita, as Luis had said he would. He was also pleased that the young officer had not asked him about the blue marlin head on the living-room wall, about why the sword was mended together with fresh hurricane tape.
Gavigan had looked like death for most of his adult life. Now he had an excuse.
His coppery hair had fallen out in thickets, revealing patches of pale freckled scalp. His face, once round and florid, looked like somebody had let the air out.