Ahead, Big Coppitt Key flared suddenly behind the rowing fisherman who had rescued him, like carnivals appear around far corners, though sounds not audible. Randy had no idea how he had gotten out here on the Gulf, afloat in a dory. He’d only guess. His head hurt. His ass hurt. His gut hurt. Blisters rode his lips. His tongue was swollen. He felt lumps under his beard.
A three-day headache, the bump on his head, the grenade-like ache in his gut, told him it hadn’t been nice. He itched for a smoke, one of his own brands, a Corolla thick as a candy bar. His throat burned. Hadn’t he earned the paid vacation to the Keys with his year-long quota, standing other guys on their ears, even in the face of smoking bans lighting up all over hell. His idea of new cigar stores had leaped. He had money in a number of them. A dozen new ones had sprung up like weeds along the East Coast, all the way up to Hampton, NH. He was going to make money. Some board members said it was a conflict of interest.
Someone wanted to cut it short. They’d put something in his happy hour drink at the hotel, banged him on the head, put him out to sea. The frigging current could have carried him out into the Bermuda Triangle… all for smokes. He pictured a trail of cigar shops up to Montreal. He wondered who was fighting him. If cancer was worse.
“Go spend some money, Randy, go to happy hour in the hotel, or a place like that” Emily saying in the pool with the three chicks from Vancouver, forgetting him, lusting after their young frames, waiting for the pitch, hers or theirs. Randy had dropped wads of dough every time they turned around, hinting how horny they made him; Emily wanting any one of them, all at once or one at a time. Once she said, “What the hell, it goes with smoking, it goes with fire, lights me up. You’re great, Randy, but there’s more, something shaved lovely. I just know it. You’ll see. I’ll prove it to you.” She’d whetted his appetite.
What vacation possibilities! And now Emily’s nowhere in sight. Not for three days perhaps. Had she made her score? Had he missed all the encores? Had she missed him? Had she set him up? It was a possibility. The light switch, he thought, had been snapped to full beam, party time. He’d find her and the chicks at the pool or in the room, and maybe the guy who hit him on the head and pushed him out to sea. A hired bopper? A boyfriend? A connected cigar man? One of his new partners?
He looked again at the old French geezer, tough, leather-strap looking Louie Charbrante, who had found him out on the Gulf. Randy felt his own lips and face burned by the sun, even behind the beard now on his chest. He’d almost drank salt water, sailing to Byzantium on the horizon.
“Home comes the hunter, home from the fucking sea!” Randy spoke low again in the back of the boat, the anger rising. He’d get back now, find out who did it. That thought made him pull his right hand from the warm waters of the Gulf, which, if not for Louie Charbrante, would have been his deathbed. No shark bites now. A good feeling suddenly buoyed him up, a bon amitie loose in his blood. It came out on his tongue.
“Tell me again you could, Louie, how long you t’ink I could been oud here.”
He leveled a blank expression at this old and unceasing man at the oars, marveling there’d been no show of fatigue. None at all. They had been miles out in the Gulf, he figured.
Louie let out a roar. “You funny guy, Randy. I like man whad laugh easy his ass in his hand an’ his head still hurd ‘im. Like I say, if you ged in by da Keys, I t’ink day and a half, two t’ree day countin’ time with Louie. Dat day day an’ a half bring you oud dere where I find you. But you don’t know where you could come in from here, huh? Tampa? San Pete? Claywater? Maybe you could not know if you was told. All kind people ged lost like dat. I seen ‘em ged lost. T’ink they nevah ged home from like dat.”
Be a phone nearby when we land, Randy wondered. Emily, he pictured in the Big Coppitt Key glow, wearing little, her pale green robe, and then nothing, but cast in a shadow. A Vancouver girl Emily had spotted, redhead Marilla, had been standing beside him shining like a new penny, flashing dollar signs and high blood pressure permanently woven into the fabric of her dress, waiting to be spent. Both of them could taste her.
“We don’t ged killed dey see us, da big boats, an’ Armand see us comin’ in. He’s best pal, waiting all da time, no fish anymore, Armand, play guitar. He ged drunk, smash it up, two t’ree of dem. I save his wire strings, tie t’ings up, pick bad tooth wid it, he ged mad again. We ged in dere soon, meed Armand, have drink, ged you hospital, maybe ged liddle drunk you hokay dey don’ kip you hospital. See if your lady don’ smell different today from Sadidy, huh, what you say, you got Sadidy lady waitin’? I got Sadidy lady waitin’.”
There was concern on Louie’s face, a flare of it. “I bet you t’ink how your Sadidy lady smell right now, dis same minute. Forget everyt’ing else, do you. Smell the Sadidy lady. She real. She miss your beard, maybe foot long is now, t’ree four days longer. You play games wid her, the Sadidy lady? T’ink she know how you come be here?
What the hell made him say that? Randy said.