Carl Hiaasen – Naked Came The Manatee

Carl Hiaasen – Naked Came The Manatee

Carl Hiaasen – Naked Came The Manatee

1. BOOGER—Dave Barry

Saturday night, Coconut Grove.

It was the usual scene: thousands of people, not one of whom a normal person would call normal.

There were the European tourists, getting off their big fume-belching buses, wearing their new jeans and their Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts, which they bought when their charter bus stopped in Orlando. They moved in chattering clots, following their flag-waving tour directors, lining up outside Planet Hollywood, checking out the wall where famous movie stars had made impressions of their hands in the cement squares, taking videos of each other putting their palms in the exact same spot where Bruce Willis once put his palm.

Eventually they’d be admitted, past the velvet ropes, get an actual table, order an actual cheeseburger. This, truly, was America: eating cheeseburgers with other European tourists.

Outside, the pulsating mutant throng was gearing up for the all-night street party, fashion bazaar, and freak show that the Grove becomes on weekend nights. Squadrons of young singles—bodies taut, hair perfect, clothes fashionable, minds empty—relentlessly roamed the CocoWalk Multi-Level Shopping and Pickup Complex, checking each other out, admiring themselves. Everywhere for blocks around, there were peddlers peddling, posers posing, gawkers gawking, drunks drinking, bums bumming, and hustlers hustling. Traffic had already congealed into a dense, noisy, confused mass of cruising tourist-bearing rickshaws, blatting Harleys, megawatt-booming cruise cars, and the pathetic, plaintively honking fools who actually thought they could drive through the Grove on a Saturday night. It was just getting started. It would go on until dawn, and beyond.

Sitting on the porch of her snug, hurricane-weathered cottage nestled beneath a pair of massive ficus trees not three hundred yards away, Marion McAlister Williams listened to the distant din wafting toward her on the South Florida night. She could still hear pretty well, and she could think as well as anybody—better than most, in fact. Not bad, when you considered that she was 102 years old, had come to Miami on a sailboat when Coconut Grove was a two-family, no-road hamlet, and Seminoles fished the bay.

Not much fish to catch in there now, she thought bitterly, not much life at all in that poor overused, over-dredged public sewer. Oh, she’d done what she could. She’d written that book, back in the forties, way ahead of her time; she’d told the world what the movers and shakers of South Florida were doing to the bay. The book got a lot of attention, won her a couple of big awards. After a while even the movers and shakers noticed, started inviting her to dinners, giving her plaques, calling her a South Florida Treasure, like she was some kind of endangered turtle. Then they’d pat her on her frail, stooped shoulders, send her off home, and go right back to screwing up the bay.

From her porch, she could smell the water, close by to the southeast. She wondered, as she often did, what was going on out there, away from the lunacy of the Grove, in the dark.

A mile or so down the coast, where rich people live in huge, expensive, fashionable, professionally decorated, truly uncomfortable homes, Booger flippered his massive blob of a body slowly through the murky water just offshore. Of course, he didn’t know he was called Booger by the boat-dwellers in the Grove, where he spent most of his time. Being a manatee, he wasn’t big on abstract concepts such as names. He also hadn’t figured out, despite several collisions and one painful propeller-inflicted wound, that he should try to avoid motorboats.

And thus, although he could sense it coming, he made no effort whatsoever to avoid the beat-up old outboard-powered skiff racing directly toward him in the dark. And since the two men in the skiff were (a) running without lights and (b) arguing, they did not notice Booger’s bulk dead ahead, almost all of it just below the surface, just like the iceberg that caused all that trouble for the Titanic.

“This ain’t no damn computer, I can tell you that for damn sure,” Hector was saying, from the front of the skiff. He was frowning at the wooden crate sitting on a seat cushion and strapped to the seat with a pair of bungee cords. He kicked aside the scummy towrope at his feet and leaned down to poke around in the straw between the slats of the crate for a clearer glimpse at the plastic-wrapped, roundish object, hard and smooth like some kind of metal, pressing up against the wood.

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