TOURIST SEASON by Carl Hiaasen
TOURIST SEASON by Carl Hiaasen
On the morning of December 1, a man named Theodore Bellamy went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off South Florida. Bellamy was a poor swimmer, but he was a good real-estate man and a loyal Shriner.
The Shriners thought so much of Theodore Bellamy that they had paid his plane fare all the way from Evanston, Illinois, to Miami Beach, where a big Shriner convention was being staged. Bellamy and his wife, Nell, made it a second honeymoon, and got a nice double room at the Holiday Inn. The view was nothing to write home about; a big green dumpster was all they could see from the window, but the Bellamys didn’t complain. They were determined to love Florida.
On the night of November 30, the Shriners had arranged a little parade down Collins Avenue. Theodore Bellamy put on his mauve fez and his silver riding jacket, and drove his chrome-spangled Harley Davidson (all the important Evanston Shriners had preshipped their bikes on a flatbed) up and down Collins in snazzy circles and figure eights, honking the horns and flashing the lights. Afterward Bellamy and his pals got bombed and sneaked out to the Place Pigalle to watch a 325-pound woman do a strip-tease. Bellamy was so snockered he didn’t even blink at the ten-dollar cover.
Nell Bellamy went to bed early. When her husband lurched in at 4:07 in the morning, she said nothing. She may have even smiled just a little, to herself.
The alarm clock went off like a Redstone rocket at eight sharp. We’re going swimming, Nell announced. Theodore was suffering through the please-God-I’ll-never-do-it-again phase of his hangover when his wife hauled him out of bed. Next thing he knew, he was wearing his plaid swim trunks, standing on the beach, Nell nudging him toward the surf, saying you first, Teddy, tell me if it’s warm enough.
The water was plenty warm, but it was also full of Portuguese men-of-war, poisonous floating jellyfish that pucker on the surface like bright blue balloons. Theodore Bellamy quickly became entangled in the burning tentacles of such a creature. He thrashed out of the ocean, his fish-white belly streaked with welts, the man-of-war clinging to his bare shoulder. He was crying. His fez was soaked.
At first Nell Bellamy was embarrassed, but then she realized that this was not Mango Daiquiri Pain, this was the real thing. She led her husband to a Disney World beach towel, and there she cradled him until two lifeguards ran up with a first-aid kit.
Later, Nell would remember that these were not your average-looking bleached-out lifeguards. One was black and the other didn’t seem to speak English, but what the heck, this was Miami. She had come here resolved not to be surprised at anything, and this was the demeanor she maintained while the men knelt over her fallen husband. Besides, they were wearing authentic lifeguard T-shirts, weren’t they?
After ten minutes of ministrations and Vaseline, the lifeguards informed Nell Bellamy that they would have to transport her husband to a first-aid station. They said he needed medicine to counteract the man-of-war’s venom. Nell wanted to go along, but they persuaded her to wait, and assured her it was nothing serious. Theodore said don’t be silly, work on your tan, I’ll be okay now.
And off they went, Theodore all pale-legged and stripe-bellied, a lifeguard at each side, marching down the beach.
That was 8:44 A.M.
Nell Bellamy never saw her husband again.
At ten sharp she went searching for the lifeguards, with no success, and after walking a gritty two-mile stretch of beach, she called the police. A patrolman came to the Holiday Inn and took a missing-persons report. Nell mentioned Theodore’s hangover and what a lousy swimmer he was. The cop told Mrs. Bellamy that her husband had probably tried to go back in the water and had gotten into trouble in the rough surf. When Mrs. Bellamy described the two lifeguards, the policeman gave her a very odd look.
The case of Theodore Bellamy was not given top priority at the Miami Beach police department, where the officers had more catastrophic things to worry about than a drunken Shriner missing in the ocean.
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