The Stingray Shuffle
Uh-oh. Lenny slipped me LSD.
That can be the only explanation.
Itís been nonstop hallucinations. Which normally I donít mind, but you wouldnít believe how it complicates trying to cross U.S. 1 against heavy traffic. I must have stepped off the curb and headed back about fifty times now. I think Iím in the Florida Keys.
I keep slapping the side of my head to make the visions stop, but it only changes the picture, like a slide projector.
Car jackings, exploitation of the elderly, cigarette boats running from the Coast Guard, melanoma, tar balls, deed restrictions, beefy mosquitos that crack windshields, Colombian shootouts, Cuban boycotts, Mexican standoffs, rampant-growth speculators, offshore-drilling lobbyists, cheap rum, cheaper motels, crack vials, condoms, mouse ears, Patrick Kennedy Smith, Phillip Michael Thomas, chicken wing restaurants featuring womenís breasts ...
Shark attacks in two feet of water, barracuda jumping into boats and biting people, alligators roaming backyards and eating poodles named Muffins, college boys named Bo funneling beers on the beach and trampling sand castles and making children cry, broken-down cruise ships with decks full of irritable people from Michigan in puffy orange life preservers, the lottery won by a pool of 23 office workers who quit their jobs to become down-and-out junkies, trained seals playing 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' on bicycle horns ...
There. The hallucinations have stopped. Iím in the dark, now. Iím weightless, too. Thatís much better.
Whoops. Spoke too soon. The weightlessness is giving way. Iím starting to drop. Faster and faster. Free-falling toward a pinpoint of light. The light grows bigger, spinning off bright curved red swirls as I hurtle down this spiral chute like some hokey special effect from The Twilight Zone, or Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo; Iím helpless, this little black silhouette of a man, arms and legs flailing in a blizzard of chads, plummeting toward a haunting psychedelic pinwheel with the floating head of Jeb Bush in the middle ...
The spinning has stopped. Iím coming out of the tunnel now. The LSD feels like itís wearing off, but the sky is still ten different colors and the clouds are whispering about me. Just ignore them or youíll end up doing something odd that will attract attention. Are we hungry? My skin is unusually sheen and agreeable. I want to raise my voice and croon the opus of life! ... I canít think with all the people in my head talking at once! I need to call the room to order. ... Thatís better. Next item of business? Yes, you in the back with your hand raised. ... Why are we wandering in the middle of busy traffic? ... Good question. How did we get out here? I thought we were still on the sidewalk ...Well, whatís done is done. Cars are whizzing by, so work with it. ... Try to get to the opposite curb. So what if that truck is coming? Heíll stop because I will it. I am the master of time, space and dimension. Here we go: to the curb ... See? The truck stopped. He hit that car when he swerved around me, but Iíve made my point ... Whereís that music coming from? Itís The Doors, 'People are Strange.' No kidding. The sound ... itís coming from the sun. Godís playing it on his personal hydrogen jukebox, the Big Puff Daddy-G layiní down the master moral rap and spinniní the eternal hits, If thereís a rock íní roll heaven, you know they got a hulluva band! ... Oh, no, that horrible song is now stuck in my head. I must kill myself immediately. Damn that Lenny! ... Wait. Whoís Lenny? For that matter, who am I? Why canít I remember my name? And what the heck is this strange outfit Iím wearing? A royal blue jumpsuit with a NASA patch on the shoulder. Am I an astronaut? ... Now Iím getting a shooting pain. Itís coming from my forehead. Whatís this I feel up here? That's some huge knot you got on your dome -- better have a doctor look at that. Maybe thatís why I canít remember who I am ... When in doubt, check your license. Letís see, is your wallet in this pocket? No, not there, but ... whatís this? A prescription bottle? Empty. Wow, thatís some serious medication on the label; the guy whoís taking this is one real sick-o. ... Hold a sec. Could this be yours? The first name on the label is ďSerge,Ē but the last name has worn off. And the refill date was over a month ago. ... Now itís starting to add up. This isnít LSD after all. Itís not even a drug experience. Thatís the whole problem -- you havenít taken your drugs. ... Uh-oh, hallucinations again; the ground is starting to move. The road is rumbling and rising up. This is no ordinary street. Itís a bridge. A drawbridge. Only one thing to do: hurry up and get to the lip of the span and hang on by hooking your arms through the grating. That way, when the span rises, youíll be way up at the top, above the hubbub, alone with some space to think and a clear view of the situation. ... Here we go, up, up, getting pretty high now, nice panorama. Wish I had my camera. Why are all those people down there pointing at me? And who called the cops? Here they come again, drawing their guns as usual. Now Iíll have to dive in the water for my getaway. All this stress canít be good ...
Two weeks later.
An unconscious man in a blue astronaut jumpsuit lies face-down on the shore of a breezy mangrove island in the Gulf Stream. Heís coming around, talking in his sleep. "Jeannie! Come out of that bottle right now!" His eyelids flutter in the sand, squinting at the bright sunlight. He raises his head and sees hundreds of eyes staring back at him.
Theyíre still here. What do they want from me? Serge stands up.
ďI told you. Iím having memory problems. I can only recall textbook history, plus some stuff about a briefcase and a recent trip I took, but I canít piece it all together yet.Ē
The eyes silently stay on him. Some blink.
ďOkay, okay. One more lesson.Ē
Serge steps forward in the sand and spreads his arms in an encompassing gesture:
"Railroads had a seismic impact on the development of Florida, beginning with the fabled East Coast line slashing its way through the swamps a hundreds years ago, opening up the bottom half of the state, an unforgiving no-manís land of eccentric pioneers, cranky Indians and alcoholic hermits ...Ē
Serge. Serge A. Storms. Wiry, intense, unhinged, standing on a beach in the lower Florida Keys, leaves rustling in the salt wind, surrounded by his students, hundreds of small attentive monkeys.
ď... Then the railroads unveiled the fancy deco streamliners of the 1930s, introducing the northerners to frost-free vacations and society-page beach sex in Palm Beach ...Ē
Serge stops speaking. One of the monkeys in back is chattering.
ďButtons, please, Iím trying to talk up here.Ē
The monkey stops chattering.
ďThank you ... As I was saying, the histories of the railroads and Florida are inextricably entwined. By the end of the twentieth century, Amtrak had unveiled its latest high-speed express train, The Silver Stingray, for its New York-to-Miami route. The train didnít have the seminal influence on the state as it predecessors, but it played a crucial role in one of the most infamous mysteries in the annals of Florida crime: the missing briefcase with five million dollars. Remember? The one with the curse that I was telling you about?Ē
The monkeys stare.
ďIt was a Wednesday. The Silver Stingray clacked down the tracks on its regular afternoon run. The train entered a tunnel near a phosphate mine, and everything went dark. The train came out of the tunnel. Someone screamed! A body lay in the aisle of the dining car!Ē
Serge lies down in front of the monkeys for effect.
ďThe victim wore a blue velvet tuxedo and ruffled shirt, one of the lounge reptiles entertaining the tourists on the trip south. It was murder! All the passengers eyed each other suspiciously. Who was the killer? Was it one of the other performers in velvet tuxedos? The blues singer from New York? The Russian? The Jamaican? Or perhaps one of the women in that book club? And why? Did it have something to do with the five million dollars rumored to be on board? ...Ē
Serge stops talking again, his hyper-keen senses twitching. He jumps up and runs to the edge of a mangrove outcropping, peering out at the ocean through the branches. His head suddenly spins back to the monkeys.
ďA boatís coming! Battle formations! ...Ē
Paperback Cover- large type