There we were, Mr. Willem Dafoe and I, resting up from our recent trials in the Florida Everglades in the back bed of a dark stranger’s El Camino pick-up car. Little did we know that the man behind the wheel was not just any man, but the infamously unbalanced Florida Man.
[This story begins here (part 1)]
Some of you may remember Florida Man from such disturbing headlines as, “Florida Man Accused of Catching and Eating Protected Tortoises,” “Naked Florida Man Threatens Passers-By With Sword,” and “Florida Man Has Sex With Pit Bull In His Front Yard As Neighbors Beg Him To Stop.” As to the former headline, I can only assume there is some connection to the alleged tortoise-people of Kentucky mentioned in the first part of this tale. As to the latter headline, I know singer Pitbull lives in Florida, but I cannot say with 100 percent certainty that this was not just a coincidence.
Willem and I were too tired to worry about any of this, even if we had been aware of it. As it was, we were unaware of both the identity of our new friend and the terror that awaited us. I don’t remember much of the ride, but it didn’t seem like much time had passed before we were pulling into the parking lot of the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. The El Camino drove around the gravelly lot to a small loading area near the back of the main building and stopped, the engine still running. As our mysterious driver slid out of the driver’s seat, Willem and I stood, our backs cracking in a chorus of beaten bones, and hopped out of the bed. Willem stumbled a bit, but I caught his arm. We started to thank our driver and beat a hasty retreat, but before we could utter a sound, the driver said, “You fellers min’ givin’ me a hand wit’ sum’m, first?”
Now, neither Willem nor I felt much like spending any more time in the company of this off-putting character than we had to, but we were also both raised right, and knew we had an obligation to help the man that had just helped us. Without a word, we followed the shady figure to a side door beside a loading dock and waited as he fiddled around with the door knob.
“Damn keyhole,” he said. “Thing’s been rusted through for years and the key always sticks. I keep telling Don to change it, and he always says, ‘next week, next week,’ but you know next week never comes.”
Willem and I exchanged another uneasy look as our benefactor rattled the doorknob, each time more aggressively than the last, until he suddenly just grunted, “Fuck it!” and smashed the window with a rock. Before Willem and I had time to react, the agitated fellow had reached in through the shattered window and unlocked the door. The door swung open, and he beckoned us inside.
“I jus’ need ta pick sum’m up and put it in m’roadster out there,” he said as we followed him through what appeared to be a specialized garage.
“What exactly are we looking for?” Willem asked as the shady character checked license plates on various old vehicles, some under tarps, some not.
“Sum’m…” mumbled the man, and said no more. Finally, he found what he was looking for: the famous Mooneyes gas dragster, once driven by the infamous Dean Moon. Now, neither Willem nor I knew anything about drag racing or which cars had belonged to what drivers, mind you, but our new friend told us all about it as he popped the trunk with a crowbar and removed a heavy-looking crate from within.
“Y’all gimme a hand wi’ dis?” he said, and Willem and I, seemingly with no other recourse, obliged. As we moved the crate outside and set it into the bed of the strange man’s El Camino, I couldn’t help but notice the words “Fort Kentucky Air Force Base” were stenciled on the side. The stranger caught my eyes staring at the lettering, and he quickly threw the tarp over it and began fastening the snaps on the sides of the bed. “What’re you?” he asked as he hurriedly fastened the tarp , “A reader or sum’m?”
Before I could answer, the stillness of the Florida night was cut with the sound of squealing tires, and the darkness was suddenly shattered by the flashing blue and red lights of Florida state trooper cruisers. A quick burst of police sirens and the sound of car doors opening and shotguns cocking set the tone, and a bull-horned voice said, “Hold it! Let’s see those hands!”
“Fuckin’ silent alarm!” growled our shady companion. “It was supposed to be off!” He slowly raised his hands, cigarette tip still glowing near his lips, and Willem and I followed suit as a group of troopers, weapons drawn, fanned out around us and began moving in for the arrest. Willem smiled. He was Irish, after all, and felt he had a connection with cops, especially since he had played cops in the movies.
He grinned his patented Dafoe grin, and stepped forward. “Evenin’, officers,” he began in a tone dripping with camaraderie, “I’m Willem DafOOOOF!!!” was as far as he got when the butt end of the shotgun slammed into his gut and he went down like a sack of gator guts.
“On the ground!” the officer yelled, now aiming the shotgun at myself and the mystery man of the hour. I started to get on my knees, my hands still raised above my head, and I could see out of the corner of my terrified eye that Mr. Cigarette Voice also seemed to be following orders. But then, just as he got under the barrel of the gun, he reached up and yanked it violently forward, then shoved it back with just as much force, bashing the butt of the weapon into the trooper’s face, knocking him to the ground. Taking the gun, this monstrous man then dove behind the El Camino, popping up again like a crazed gopher in a game of whack-a-mole (why do they call it whack-a-mole when the things are obviously gophers?), firing a fast volley at the police, who dove for cover as return fire came from the officers positioned behind the open doors of their vehicles. As the bullets whizzed past my head, I crawled under the El Camino, then reached out to drag Willem under with me. Above us we could hear the pop-pop-pop and bang! of the firearms, and we could hear the thunk-thunk-thunk of bullets hitting the vehicle underneath which we were cowering. We also heard the passenger side door of the El Camino creak open, followed soon after by the brrrrap! spray of a Mac-10 semiautomatic that had obviously been illegally converted to an automatic. Shells fell onto the gravel around us like brass rain, then a clip, and then after a quick click-clack, more brrrraaaaappppppp!!!
The terrifying racket of firearms discharging all around us cut through the night for what seemed like hours, and then… silence. I could hear the heavy breathing of a two-pack-a-day smoker somewhere above. Willem began to crawl forward out from under the El Camino’s bed, but something grabbed his leg and he was pulled backwards out the other side.
“Come on, readin’ man!” barked our mysterious cohort. “You, too. Out! We gotta move!” I rolled out under the back end of the car-truck, pulling myself out and up on the bumper beneath the gate, and that’s when I saw it, hideously illuminated by the little light bulb above it:
Before I could shriek my terror into the night, a steel-toed boot swung at my head, shattering the tiny bulb above the plate.
“The fewer people see that, the better!” Florida Man hissed. He grabbed my shirt collar and hoisted me to the side of the vehicle, where Willem was staring at me, wild-eyed, as he mouthed the words “What the fuck?!” I mouthed back, “Florida Man!” and I could see the color drain from Willem’s face, giving it a soft, terror-induced glow, like a small moon in the blackest night he and I would see for a long, long while.
Before we knew what was happening, our hands were bound with bungee chords and we were under the tarp in the bed of the El Camino from Hell, laying beside the mysterious crate we now realized we had helped to steal. Gravel kicked up against the gate like the bullets that had pelted it just moments before as the tires spun and carried us back onto the open road. Terrified though we were, as the adrenaline wore off the mixture of shock and exhaustion swept over us, and we were soon lulled into an uneasy slumber by the steady tap-tap of the interstate rolling beneath us.
TO BE CONTINUED…