After three glasses of wine, Desie could no longer pretend to be
following her husband's account of the canned rhinoceros hunt.
Across the table she appraised Palmer Stoat as if he were a mime.
His fingers danced and his mouth moved, but nothing he said reached
her ears. She observed him in two dimensions, as if he were an
image on a television screen: an animated middle-aged man with a
slight paunch, thin blond hair, reddish eyebrows, pale skin,
upcurled lips and vermilion-splotched cheeks (from too much sun or
too much alcohol). Palmer had a soft neck but a strong chiseled
chin, the surgical scars invisible in the low light. His teeth were
straight and polished, but his smile had a twist of permanent
skepticism. To Desie, her husband's nose had always appeared too
small for his face; a little girl's nose, really, although he
insisted it was the one he'd been born with. His blue eyes also
seemed tiny, though quick and bright with self-confidence. His face
was, in the way of prosperous ex-jocks, roundish and pre-jowly and
companionable. Desie wouldn't have called Stoat a hunk but he was
attractive in that gregarious southern frat-boy manner, and he had
overwhelmed her with favors and flattery and constant attention.
Later she realized that the inexhaustible energy with which Palmer
had pursued their courtship was less a display of ardor than an
ingrained relentlessness; it was how he went after anything he
wanted. They dated for four weeks and then got married on the
island of Tortola. Desie supposed she had been in a fog, and now
the fog was beginning to lift. What in the world had she done? She
pushed the awful question out of her mind, and when she did she was
able to hear Palmer's voice again.
"Some creepo was tailing me," he was saying, "for like a hundred
Her husband snorted. "To rob my lily-white ass, that's why."
"This was a black guy?" Desie asked.
"Or a Cuban. I couldn't see which," Stoat said, "but I tell you
what, sweets, I was ready for the sonofabitch. Señor Glock was
in my lap, locked and loaded."
"On the turnpike, Palmer?"
"He would have been one stone-dead mother."
"Just like your rhino," Desie said. "By the way, are you getting
her stuffed like the others?"
"Mounted," Stoat corrected. "And just the head."
"Lovely. We can hang it over the bed."
"Speaking of which, guess what they're doing with rhinoceros
"Who's they?" Desie asked.
"Asians and such."
Desie knew, but she let Palmer tell the story. He concluded with
Durgess's fanciful rumor of two-day erections.
"Can you imagine!" Stoat hooted.
Desie shook her head. "Who'd even want one of those?"
"Maybe you might, someday." He winked.
Desie glanced around for the waiter. Where was dinner? How could it
take so long to boil pasta?
Stoat poured himself another glass of wine. "Rhino horns, Holy
Christ on a ten-speed. What next, huh?"
"That's why poachers are killing them off," his wife said.
"That's why they're almost extinct. God, Palmer, where have you
"Working for a living. So you can sit home, paint your toenails and
learn all about endangered species on the Discovery Channel."
Desie said, "Try the New York Times."
"Well, pardon me." Stoat sniffed sarcastically. "I read the
newspaper today, oh boy."
This was one of her husband's most annoying habits, dropping the
lyrics of old rock songs into everyday conversation. Palmer thought
it clever, and perhaps it wouldn't have bothered Desie so much if
occasionally he got the words right, but he never did. Though Desie
was much younger, she was familiar with the work of Dylan and the
Beatles and the Stones, and so on. In college she had worked two
summers at a Sam Goody outlet.
To change the subject, she said: "So what did Dick Artemus
"A new bridge." Stoat took a sideways bite from a sourdough roll.
"No big deal."
"A bridge to what?"
"Some nowhere bird island over on the Gulf. How about passing the
Desie said, "Why would the governor want a bridge to
Her husband chuckled, spraying crumbs. "Why does the governor want
anything? It's not for me to question, darling. I just take the
calls and work my magic."
"A day in the life," said Desie.
"You got it."
Once, as a condition of a probation, Twilly Spree had been ordered
to attend a course on "anger management." The class was made up of
men and women who had been arrested for outbursts of violence,
mostly in domestic situations. There were husbands who'd clobbered
their wives, wives who'd clobbered their husbands, and even one
grandmother who had clobbered her sixty-two-year-old son for
blaspheming during Thanksgiving supper. Others of Twilly's
classmates had been in bar fights, gambling frays and bleacher
brawls at Miami Dolphins games. Three had shot guns at strangers
during traffic altercations and, of those, two had been wounded by
return fire. Then there was Twilly.
The instructor of the anger-management course presented himself as
a trained psychotherapist. Dr. Boston was his name. On the first
day he asked everyone in class to compose a short essay titled
"What Makes Me Really, Really Mad." While the students wrote, Dr.
Boston went through the stack of manila file folders that had been
sent to him by the court. After reading the file of Twilly Spree,
Dr. Boston set it aside on a corner of the desk. "Mr. Spree," he
said in a level tone. "We're going to take turns sharing our
stories. Would you mind going first?"
Twilly stood up and said: "I'm not done with my assignment."
"You may finish it later."
"It's a question of focus, sir. I'm in the middle of a
Dr. Boston paused. Inadvertently he flicked his eyes to Twilly's
folder. "All right, let's compromise. You go ahead and finish the
sentence, and then you can address the class."
Twilly sat down and ended the passage with the words ankle-deep in
the blood of fools! After a moment's thought, he changed it to
ankle-deep in the evanescing blood of fools!
He stuck the pencil behind one ear and rose.
Dr. Boston said: "Done? Good. Now please share your story with the
rest of us."
"That'll take some time, the whole story will."
"Mr. Spree, just tell us why you're here."
"I blew up my uncle's bank."
Twilly's classmates straightened and turned in their seats.
"A branch," Twilly added, "not the main office."
Dr. Boston said, "Why do you think you did it?"
"Well, I'd found out some things."
"About your uncle."
"About a loan he'd made. A very large loan to some very rotten
"Did you try discussing it with your uncle?" asked Dr.
"About the loan? Several times. He wasn't particularly
"And that made you angry?"
"No, discouraged." Twilly squinted his eyes and locked his hands
around the back of his neck. "Disappointed, frustrated, insulted,
ashamed --- "
"But isn't it fair to say you were angry, too? Wouldn't a person
need to be pretty angry to blow up a bank building?"
"No. A person would need to be resolved. That I was."
Dr. Boston felt the amused gaze of the other students, who were
awaiting his reaction. He said, "I believe what I'm hearing is some
denial. What do the rest of you think?"
Twilly cut in: "I'm not denying anything. I purchased the dynamite.
I cut the fuses. I take full responsibility."
Another student asked: "Did anybody get kilt?"
"Of course not," Twilly snapped. "I did it on a Sunday, when the
bank was closed. That's my point --- if I was really pissed, I
would've done it on a Monday morning, and I would've made damn sure
my uncle was inside at the time."
Several other probationers nodded in agreement. Dr. Boston said:
"Mr. Spree, a person can be very mad without pitching a fit or
flying off the handle. Anger is one of those complicated emotions
that can be close to the surface or buried deeply, so deeply we
often don't recognize it for what it is. What I'm suggesting is
that at some subconscious level you must've been extremely angry
with your uncle, and probably for reasons that had nothing to do
with his banking practices."
Twilly frowned. "You're saying that's not enough?"
"I'm saying --- "
"Loaning fourteen million dollars to a rock-mining company that's
digging craters in the Amazon River basin. What more did I
Dr. Boston said, "It sounds like you might've had a difficult
relationship with your uncle."
"I barely know the man. He lives in Chicago. That's where the bank
"How about when you were a boy?"
"Once he took me to a football game."
"Ah. Did something happen that day?"
"Yeah," said Twilly. "One team scored more points than the other
team, and then we went home."
Now the class was snickering and it was Dr. Boston's turn to manage
"Look, it's simple," Twilly said. "I blew up the building to help
him grow a conscience, OK? To make him think about the greedy
wrongheaded direction his life was heading. I put it all in a
"Yes, the letter's in the file," said Dr. Boston. "But I noticed
you didn't sign your name to it."
Twilly spread his hands. "Do I look like an idiot? It's against the
law, blowing up financial institutions."
"And just about anything else."
"So I've been advised," Twilly muttered.
"But, still, at a subconscious level --- "
"I don't have a subconscious, Doctor. That's what I'm trying to
explain. Everything that happens in my brain happens right on the
surface, like a stove, where I can see it and feel it and taste the
heat." Twilly sat down and began massaging his temples with his
Dr. Boston said, "That would make you biologically unique in the
species, Mr. Spree, not having a subconscious. Don't you dream in
"Seriously," Twilly said.
"Not ever in my whole life."
Another probationer waved a hand. "C'mon, man, you never had no
"Nope," Twilly said. "I can't dream. Maybe if I could I wouldn't be
He licked the tip of his pencil and resumed work on the essay,
which he submitted to Dr. Boston after class. Dr. Boston did not
acknowledge reading Twilly's composition, but the next morning and
every morning for the following four weeks, an armed campus
security guard was posted in the rear of the classroom. Dr. Boston
never again called on Twilly Spree to speak. At the end of the
term, Twilly received a notarized certificate saying he'd
successfully completed anger-management counseling, and was sent
back to his probation officer, who commended him on his
If only they could see me now, Twilly thought. Preparing for a
First he'd followed the litterbug home, to one of those exclusive
islands off Las Olas Boulevard, near the beach. Nice spread the guy
had: old two-story Spanish stucco with barrel-tile shingles and
vines crawling the walls. The house was on a cul-de-sac, leaving
Twilly no safe cover for lurking in his dirty black pickup. So he
found a nearby construction site --- a mansion going up. The
architecture was pre-Scarface Medellín, all sharp angles and
marble facings and smoked glass. Twilly's truck blended in nicely
among the backhoes and cement mixers. Through the twilight he
strolled back toward the litterbug's home, where he melted into a
hedge of thick ficus to wait. Parked in the driveway next to the
Range Rover was a Beemer convertible, top down, which Twilly
surmised would belong to the wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. Twilly
had a notion that made him smile.
An hour later the litterbug came out the front door. He stood in
the amber light under the stucco arch and fired up a cigar. Moments
later a woman emerged from the house, slowly backing out and
pulling the door shut behind her; bending forward at the waist, as
if saying good-bye to a small child or perhaps a dog. As the
litterbug and his female companion crossed the driveway, Twilly saw
her fanning the air in an exaggerated way, indicating she didn't
much care for cigar smoke. This brought another smile to Twilly's
face as he slipped from the hedge and hustled back to his truck.
They'll be taking the ragtop, he thought. So she can breathe.
Twilly followed the couple to an Italian restaurant on an unscenic
stretch of Federal Highway, not far from the seaport. It was a
magnificent choice for what Twilly had in mind. Litterbug parked
the convertible in true dickhead style, diagonally across two
spaces. The strategy was to protect one's expensive luxury import
from scratches and dings by preventing common folks from parking
next to it. Twilly was elated to witness this selfish stunt. He
waited ten minutes after the cigar-smoking man and cigar-hating
woman had entered the restaurant, to make sure they'd been seated.
Then he sped off on his quest.
Her stage name was Tia and she was already up on their table,
already twirling her mail-order ponytail and peeling off her lacy
top when the stink hit her like a blast furnace. Damn, she thought,
did a sewer pipe break?
And the three guys all grins and high fives, wearing matching dark
blue coveralls with filthy sleeves; laughing and smoking and
sipping their six-dollar beers and going Tee-uh, izzat how you say
it? Kinda name is Tee-uh? And all three of them waving fifties, for
God's sake; stinking like buzzard puke and singsonging her name,
her stage name, and slipping brand-new fifty-dollar bills into her
G-string. So now Tia had a major decision to make, a choice between
the unbelievable gutter-rot stench and the unbelievably easy money.
And what she did was concentrate mightily on breathing through her
mouth, so that after a while the reek didn't seem so unbearable and
the truth was, hey, they were nice-enough guys. Regular working
stiffs. They even apologized for stinking up the joint. After a few
table dances they asked Tia to sit and join them because they had
the wildest story for her to hear. Tia said OK, just a minute, and
hurried to the dressing room. In her locker she found a
handkerchief, upon which she sprinkled expensive Paris perfume,
another unwanted gift from another smitten customer. She returned
to the table to find an open bottle of the club's priciest
champagne, which was almost potable. The crew in the dirty blue
coveralls was making a sloppy toast to somebody; clinking their
glasses and imploring Tia to sit down, c'mon, sit. Have some
bubbly. They couldn't wait to tell her what had happened, all three
chattering simultaneously, raising their voices, trying to take
charge of the storytelling. Tia, holding the scented hankie under
her nose, found herself authentically entertained and of course not
believing a word they said, except for the part about their
occupations, which they could hardly embellish, given the
How come you don't believe we got our load hijacked! one of them
Because it's ridiculous, said Tia.
Really it was more of a trade, said one of his pals. The young man
give us three grand cash and the use of his pickup and told us to
meet back here in a hour.
Tia flared her eyebrows. This total stranger, he hands you three
thousand bucks and drives off in a ---
All fifties, one of the men said, waving a handful of bills. A
Tia, giggling through the handkerchief: You guys are seriously
No, ma'am, we ain't. We might smell like we are, but we
The one waving the fattest wad was talking loudest. What we told
you, he said, that's the honest-to-God truth of how we come to be
here tonight, watchin' you dance. And if you don't believe it, Miz
Tee-uh, just come out back to the parkin' lot in about fifteen
minutes when the boy gets back.
Maybe I will, said Tia.
But by then she was busy entertaining a table of cable-TV
executives, so she missed seeing Twilly Spree drive up to the
neon-lit strip club in a full-sized county garbage truck. When
Twilly got out, one of the men in blue coveralls tossed him the
keys to the black pickup.
"You guys go through all that dough I gave you?" Twilly asked
"No, but just about."
"And it was worth every dollar, I bet."
Twilly shook hands with each of the men and said good-bye.
"Wait, son, come on inside and have just one beer. We got a lady
wants to meet you."
"Rain check," said Twilly.
"No, but see, she don't believe us. She thinks we robbed the bingo
hall or somethin'. That's how come you gotta come inside just for a
minute, to tell her it's no bullshit, you paid us three grand to
rent out the shitwagon."
Twilly smiled. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Hey, man, where's the load? The truck, it looks empty."
"That's right," Twilly said. "There's nothing to haul to the dump.
You guys can go straight on home tonight."
"But what happened to it?"
"Best you don't know."
"Oh Lord," one of the garbagemen muttered to his pals. "This is a
crazy-ass boy. He's gone done some crazy-ass thing."
"No," Twilly said, "I believe you'd approve. I really do." Then he
drove off, thinking how wrong Dr. Boston had been. Anger wasn't
such a complicated emotion.
Palmer Stoat ordered an antipasto salad, garlic rolls, fettuccine
Alfredo, a side of meatballs, and before long Desie had to look
away, for fear of being sick. He was perspiring, that's how hard he
went at the food; droplets of sweat streaking both sides of his
jawline. Desie was ashamed of herself for feeling so revulsed; this
was her husband, after all. It wasn't as if his personality had
transformed after they got married. He was the same man in all
respects, two years later. Desie felt guilty about marrying him,
guilty about having second thoughts, guilty about the rhinoceros
he'd shot dead that morning.
"From here to the salad bar," Stoat was telling her. "That's how
close she was."
"And for that you needed a scope?"
"Better safe than sorry. That's Durgess's motto."
Stoat ordered tortoni for dessert. He used a fork to probe the ice
cream for fragments of almonds, which he raked into a tidy pattern
along the perimeter of the plate. Watching the fastidious ritual
plunged Desie deeper into melancholy. Later, while Palmer reviewed
the bill, she excused herself and went to the rest room, where she
dampened a paper towel to wipe off her lipstick and makeup. She had
no idea why, but it made her feel much better. By the time she
finished, her husband was gone from the restaurant.
Desie walked outside and was nearly poleaxed by the smell. She
cupped her hands to her mouth and looked around for Palmer. He was
in the parking lot, beneath a streetlight. As Desie approached him,
the odor got worse, and soon she saw why: a sour mound of garbage
ten feet high. Desie estimated it to weigh several tons. Palmer
Stoat stood at the base of the fetid hill, his eyes fixed
lugubriously on the peak.
"Where's the car?" Desie asked with a cough.
Palmer's arms flopped at his sides. He began squeaking like a lost
"Don't tell me." She struggled not to gag on the stink. "Dammit,
Palmer. My Beemer!"
Haltingly he began to circle the rancid dune. He raised an arm,
pointing in outraged stupefaction. A cloud of flies buzzed about
his face, but he made no effort to shoo them away.
"Goddammit," Desie cried. "Didn't I tell you to put the top up?
Excerpted from SICK PUPPY © Copyright 2011 by Carl
Hiaasen. Reprinted with permission by Warner Vision, an imprint of
Hachette Book Group USA. All rights reserved.
- Genres: Fiction
- paperback: 513 pages
- Publisher: Warner Vision Books
- ISBN-10: 0446604666
- ISBN-13: 9780446604666