A prosthetic leg with a Willie Nelson bumper sticker washed ashore on the beach, which meant it was Florida.
Then it got weird.
Homicide detectives would soon be stumped by the discovery of the so-called Hollow Man. Empty torso with no external wounds, like all his organs had been magically scooped out. Little progress was made in the case until a TV station began calling him the Jack-O’-Lantern Man, which immediately doubled the number of nicknames.
But right now, the victim had yet to be found. In fact, he was still breathing.
A finger tapped a chin. “Should I kill the hostage back at our motel room?”
Coleman surveyed topless sunbathers and swigged a secret flask. “You never asked that question before.”
“I know.” Serge looked at his sneakers. “But this would make four guys in the last two months. I wouldn’t want to be accused of over-reacting.”
“I did notice you’ve been wasting a lot more dudes lately.”
“I blame my environment.” Serge picked up a piece of litter. “Oil spills in the Gulf, foreclosed homes in Cape Coral, voting machines held together with paper clips, rising crime, falling landmarks, that structured-settlement asshole on TV yelling, ‘It’s my money and I want it now!’ ”
“Who can take it?” said Coleman.
“I live for Florida.” Serge stuck the piece of trash in his pocket. “And she’s been disintegrating for decades. I’ve tried sounding the alarm.”
“Remember the time you actually used a real alarm?” said Coleman. “That handheld siren and a helmet with a revolving red light on top. Everyone scattered and screamed when you ran through.”
“They’ve become blind to the darkening spiral.”
“But it was a baby shower in a restaurant.”
“Because I care about future generations,” said Serge. “If we don’t act fast, they’ll never know the majesty of this sacred place. But recently, the decline has accelerated far beyond anything I imagined possible, and the Florida of my youth may be gone in my own lifetime. I won’t survive-it’s like oxygen to me.”
“Then what will happen?”
“I could become unstable. So to keep pace with the deterioration, I’m forced to kill more of the fuck-heads who blight my fine state.” He turned and looked at Coleman. “Is that selfish?”
“I say the guy back in our room has it coming.”
Serge nodded. “And I respect your opinion because you smoke marijuana. You’re chemically biased against violence and job applications.”
“I’m only against taking part. But I still like to watch.”
“Which? Murder or people working?”
“Both.” Coleman picked up a prosthetic leg and tucked it under his arm. They continued walking along the surf.
“We need to get back to the motel and prep the patient,” said Serge. “I’ll call the county agricultural department to learn who handles bull semen.”
“What’s jism have to do with croaking him?”
“Ever make a jack-o’-lantern?”
The Day Before… 12 DEC-0800-MIAMI SECTOR URGENT Echo: Intercept unsuccessful. Sanction proceeding. Repeat. Sanction proceeding. Target: Unknown Asset: Unknown Protocol: Omega Germination: Data Corrupted ALL SECTIONS: TOP PRIORITY
A river of headlights inched through the humid dusk along the Palmetto Expressway. An inbound Continental jet from Houston cleared the highway and touched down at Miami International. Then a United flight from Oklahoma City.
Serge snapped a photo out the window of a green-and-orange 1968 Plymouth Road Runner. They took the next exit.
Coleman looked around a dark neighborhood of burglar bars and darting shadows, then back up at the parallel, elevated expressway with a row of reassuring streetlights. “I’d feel a lot safer if we were still on that other road.”
“And that’s exactly why we’re down here.” The needle dipped under thirty as Serge leaned over the steering wheel.
Coleman leaned over his bong. “Why are we down here?”
“Miami’s gotten an unfair reputation just because of all the tourist murders. I blame the media.”
“It’s not right.”
“And ground zero of this herd-thinning epidemic is the ancillary roads around the airport, where roving bands of land pirates cruise for unsuspecting visitors in rental cars who get lost and take the wrong exit. So we took the wrong exit.”
“But we’re only two guys,” said Coleman. “How can we change things?”
“All it takes is one headline.”
Coleman looked down at himself. “Is that why we’re dressed like this?”
Serge floored the gas and cut his lights.
“What are you doing?”
“Here’s our headline.”
On the shoulder of a dim and deserted access road, a retired tool-and-die salesman from Bowling Green stood next to his wife behind their rented Taurus.
The carjacker heard something and turned. “What the-?”
A screech of brakes. The assailant went up over the front bumper, then bounced off the windshield and landed at the feet of the shaken couple.
Serge jumped out with his own gun.
The couple’s hands went back up.
“Put your arms down,” said Serge. He grabbed the wrist of the would-be thief for a pulse. “I’m not robbing you. I’m rescuing you.”
The man squinted in the darkness at Serge’s leotard and flowing red cape. Then his chest. “Superman?”
“No, that’s a different S. I’m Serge.”
The woman stared at a passenger climbing out the other side of the Plymouth. “Who’s that?”
Serge glanced over the roof at Coleman, wearing a plain white T-shirt with flames drawn in red Magic Marker. “The Human Torch.”
Coleman waved cheerfully and lit a joint.
Serge dragged the carjacker by the ankles and threw him in the trunk. Then he walked back to the driver’s door. “Shit, I got a run in my tights.” He looked up. “Welcome to Miami! Please tell the media.”
“Tell them what?”
Serge gathered up his cape and put on a helmet with a revolving red light. “Everything’s normal.”
A Plymouth Road Runner raced east on the Palmetto Expressway.
Another overhead thunder of Pratt amp; Whitney jet engines.
Outside the airport, people on cell phones covered free ears. Arriving passengers looked up from the curb as an Aeromexico 747 roared on takeoff.