Jamica Me Dead
By Bob Morris
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2005 Bob Morris
All rights reserved.
It was the first game of the season at Florida Field, and in typical fashion the Gators had scheduled something less than a fearsome opponent. This year it was the University of Tulsa. Midway through the second quarter the score was already twenty-seven us, zip for the Golden Hurricanes.
Reality would come home to roost in two weeks when we faced off against Tennessee, but for now the future appeared glorious, and the only thing in life that even mildly concerned me was why a football team from Oklahoma would call itself the Golden Hurricanes.
I turned to Barbara Pickering and said: "Don't you think they ought to call themselves something more geographically appropriate? Like the Golden Cow Patties?"
It got laughs from the people sitting around us.
"Or the Golden Tumbleweeds," said a woman to my left.
Barbara looked up from her book.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Did you say something?"
It was Barbara's first time at Florida Field. In fact, it was her first time at a football game. I was trying hard not to be offended by the fact she had not only brought along a book — A House for Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul — she was actually reading it. I had never seen anyone reading a book at a football game.
A man sitting in front of us turned to Barbara.
"Honey," he said. "Please tell me that's a book about football."
"Well, actually, it's about the Hindu community in Trinidad and how this poor downtrodden man, Mr. Biswas, so badly wants a house of his very own, yet —"
I gave Barbara a nudge. She stopped.
"You'll have to forgive her," I told the man in front of us. "Barbara's British."
Barbara gave the guy a smile so stunning that his ears turned red. I could relate. I do the same thing whenever she smiles at me.
I reached under my seat and found the pint flask of Mount Gay that I had smuggled into the stadium. I poured a healthy dollop into my cup. Then I pulled a wedge of lime from the plastic baggie in my pants pocket and squeezed it into the rum.
The man in front of us turned around again. Mainly because I had succeeded in squirting the back of his neck with lime juice.
"You'll have to forgive him," Barbara told the man. "Zack has scurvy."
Moments later, the Gators scored. I stood to cheer with the rest of the crowd. Barbara took the opportunity to stretch and yawn and work out the kinks. She glanced at the scoreboard.
"Oh my, only two minutes left," she said. "Perhaps we should go now and beat the crowd."
"That's just until halftime."
"Meaning, with TV time-outs and the Gators' passing game, I'd say we can look forward to at least another two hours of this. Good thing the relative humidity is 187 percent. That way it will seem like a whole lot longer."
She faked a smile. Even her fake smiles are pretty damn stunning.
Just then I heard someone yell: "Yo, Zack!"
Monk DeVane was standing in the aisle, waving for us to join him.
"Come on, there's someone I want you to meet," I told Barbara.
"An old college friend?"
"Yeah, we go way back."
Barbara put her book on her seat and we began edging our way toward the aisle.
Monk DeVane had been my roommate when we played for the Gators. Like me, he had knocked around in the pros a few years before getting hurt and calling it quits. He opened a car dealership, but it went belly-up. So he tried selling real estate and tried selling boats and tried selling himself on the idea that he could stay married. Last I heard there had been three wives, but I had lost track on exactly what he was doing to make a living.
Monk's real name was Donald, but one Saturday night on a bye weekend during my freshman year, when I had gone home for a visit, Coach Rowlin decided to conduct a curfew check at Yon Hall. He caught Monk in bed with not one but two comely representatives of Alpha Delta Pi.
While Coach Rowlin booted players off the team for missing practice or talking back to a coach, and did it in a heartbeat, bonking sorority girls at 2A.M. was not high on his list of misdeeds. At the following Monday's team meeting, when Coach Rowlin handed out punishments for a variety of weekend infractions, he gave Donald twenty extra wind sprints.
"You boys need to be saving your strength during the season," Coach Rowlin told us. "Not engaging in wild-monkey sex."
Donald had been Monk ever since.
Despite all Monk's ups and downs over the years, he seemed none the worse for wear. Still fit and handsome, his sun-streaked brown hair was considerably longer than I remembered, and he had grown a beard. It was spackled with just enough gray to lend a note of dignity.
Monk stuck out a hand. I took it without thinking, and a moment later I was grimacing under his grip. Monk had a Super Bowl ring. I didn't. He liked to remind me of that by catching my hand in just the right way for his big gold ring to bear down on my knuckles.
I wrenched away and introduced him to Barbara. Monk pulled her close and wrapped an arm around her.
"How about you dump this joker you're with and come up to the skybox and have a drink with me? We're throwing a little party."
"This skybox of yours, is it air-conditioned?" asked Barbara.
"Cool as Canada, with an open bar and food that'll make your eyes bug out."
"Since when do you have a skybox?" I said.
"Since never. It's the president's skybox."
"As in president of the university?"
"As in," Monk said.
"Traveling in some pretty swank circles these days, aren't you?"
"Well, it helps that I work for Darcy Whitehall."
Monk saw the look on my face. On Barbara's, too.
"Yeah, that Darcy Whitehall," he said. "I'd like for you to meet him, Zack. Plus, there's something I need to talk to you about."
I had seen Darcy Whitehall that very morning at Publix when I went to pick up a few things for our pregame tailgate lunch. He was staring at me from the cover of People, along with a host of other celebrities the magazine had proclaimed "Still Sexy in Their Sixties."
Barbara spoke before I had a chance to.
"We'd love to join you," she told Monk.
After that, things went straight to hell.
We cut under the stands and headed for the elevators that would take us to the skybox level. The concrete breezeways echoed with the boisterous buzz of game day, and we wove through a happy crowd all decked out in variations on a theme of orange and blue.
I had been coming to Gator games since I was in diapers, and the seats I now held season tickets to originally belonged to my grandfather. I felt right at home at Florida Field, but it seemed an odd place for the likes of Darcy Whitehall.
Darcy Whitehall was Jamaican, a white Jamaican, part of a family that could trace its roots on the island back to colonial days. He had made his name as a young man in the music industry. Catching reggae's early wave of popularity, Whitehall had started a music label and signed a number of musicians who hit it big.
Since then, he had branched out and was now best known as founder and figurehead of Libido Resorts, a collection of anything-goes, all-inclusive retreats scattered throughout the Caribbean. The first one, in Jamaica, just up the coast from Montego Bay, immediately gained notice as the ultimate swingers' haven. Naked volleyball. Group sex in hot tubs. "Formal" dinners for three hundred where the women were clad only in pearl necklaces and high heels, and the men wore black bowties, but not around their necks.
In recent years, Libido had tried to present a more refined image, no doubt to justify the many thousands of dollars it cost to stay there for a week. Gourmet dining. Serene spa treatments. Yoga pavilions under the palms.
Turn on the television and there was Darcy Whitehall, an icon of rakishness, strolling along a dazzling stretch of beach, an umbrella drink in one hand, a gorgeous young woman on his arm, telling would-be guests: "Yield to Libido."
The pitch was upscale, but the subtext was the same as it always had been: book a week at Libido and you'll definitely get laid.
As we approached the elevators, Monk gave us laminated badges that said "Skybox Access." We clipped them on, and I stood up straight and tried to look presentable. We would soon be mingling with all sorts of movers and shakers. The conversation would be dignified, the company refined. And I wouldn't have to pour my rum out of a plastic flask hidden underneath my seat.
I was wearing my sit-in-the-sun-and-swelter outfit — flip-flops, khaki shorts, and a T-shirt from Heller Brothers Produce that I had chosen because it had a plump, juicy navel orange on the chest that was my nod to sporting Gator colors. The T-shirt also bore a variety of stains — Zatarain's Creole Mustard, Louisiana Bull hot sauce, Big Tom Bloody Mary Mix — which spoke to the success of our tailgate lunch and the zealousness with which I enjoyed it.
The skybox elite might sniff that I was underdressed, but I wasn't concerned. Barbara was at my side and, like always, she looked dazzling. Her outfit was simple — something beige and linen — but she wore it with a grace that few women can claim. She had recently cut her long dark hair and was wearing it in a swept-back style that fell just above her shoulders. I was still getting used to the look, but it was tugging at me in all sorts of pleasing ways.
Barbara caught me staring at her and smiled and gave my hand a squeeze. I knew she was thrilled by the chance to meet Darcy Whitehall. It had nothing to do with his sexiness or his celebrity. Well, maybe it had a little to do with that. But for Barbara it was mostly a matter of business. I saw the look in her eyes. Her mind had undoubtedly slipped into overdrive as she tried to figure out a way to leverage this lucky encounter into an opportunity for Tropics.
Tropics is Barbara's baby, her pride and joy, a classy travel magazine that covers Florida and the Caribbean. She launched it on a shoestring and, against long odds, carved out a niche in the market, thanks both to the quality of the magazine and her very considerable will. The success of Tropics has allowed her company, Orb Communications, to start tourist magazines on several islands — Barbados Live! and St. Martin Live! among others — along with occasional custom publications for cruise ships and resorts.
She's done well, very well. Still, in the publishing world she's small-fry, and she's on the road often, roping in new advertisers, stroking old ones, and promoting her magazines with dauntless zeal.
I knew she had long tried to land the Libido account, but had made little headway. Now to have this opportunity fall in her lap, well, I was pretty sure she'd forgive me for making her sit through a football game.
We got on the elevator and as the doors closed behind us I thought about Monk DeVane working for Libido Resorts. It was like the fox getting hired to run the henhouse.
"So what do you do for Darcy Whitehall?" I asked Monk. "You the Vice President for Rubbing Suntan Lotion on Female Guests?"
"No, I'm in the security business these days, Zack."
"Ah, you make sure the female guests don't get hit by falling coconuts."
"It's slightly more complicated than that," he said. "We'll talk about it."
The elevator dinged as we reached the skybox level. The doors slid open and a crush of people began pushing their way on before we could get off. Not the sort of behavior you'd expect from this exclusive crowd.
It helped that Monk used to be an offensive guard. He bulldozed a path out of the elevator. We followed him into the narrow hallway that led to the skyboxes. It was packed with people, all heading for the elevators.
But something was off, way off. This was not a jolly football gathering. No, these people looked scared, on the edge of panic.
I saw the lieutenant governor using his wife as a battering ram to get to the elevators. I saw a fairly famous golfer elbowing his way through the fray. I saw the junior U.S. senator from Florida desperately yanking open a fire door. As people split off to follow him down the stairs, the alarm shrieked a soundtrack to the mayhem.
A short round woman collided with Monk. He caught her as she tumbled and helped her to her feet.
"You alright?" Monk said.
The woman gasped, words hanging in her throat. She shot an anxious look back toward the skyboxes.
"There's a bomb," she said.
The bomb was in skybox 14, row 1, by a floor-to-ceiling window that looked down on Florida Field. It was fastened under the seat of a leather-console chair. Sitting in the chair, gripping the armrests, was Darcy Whitehall.
I wasn't the best judge of whether Whitehall really was as sexy as People insisted, but there was no denying that he had a presence about him. Pale blue eyes and a mane of silver hair, he reminded me of an aging rock star who hadn't lost his chops. His face bore the deep lines of indulgent living that on some lucky bastards only seem to enhance their good looks. Darcy Whitehall was one of them, a guy who would go to his grave looking good.
Unless, of course, the bomb beneath his butt did him in. In which case we'd all be waltzing off into the hereafter a bit less photogenic than we might have wished.
Whitehall was taking slow, deep breaths, like they teach you in yoga, trying to stay calm. He seemed to be doing a pretty good job of it, considering that just a few minutes earlier he'd received a call on his cell phone from a man who said: "There is a bomb under your chair. One move and you're a dead man."
Except for a handful of people, everyone had evacuated the skybox. I recognized William B. Barnett, the tanned and dapper president of the University of Florida. Flanking him were a pair of UF campus cops. They stood by a counter filled with God's own hors d'oeuvres — fat shrimp in remoulade sauce, beef tenderloin crusted with cumin and peppercorns, and sushi of every description.
Not that I would consider snacking at a time like this. Well, I'd already considered it, actually, but dismissed it as bad form. Rare are the occasions when my self-restraint shines through, but this was one of them.
A young man and woman stood a few feet from Darcy Whitehall. The woman was in her twenties and nothing short of beautiful. Exotic, smoky features and long black hair. She was crying, wiping away tears with a sleeve of her sheer linen blouse. She wore it loose outside of a long embroidered skirt. Stylish, classy.
The young man wore a charcoal gray suit and wire-rim glasses that gave him an air of seriousness well beyond his years. He had an arm around the woman, trying to comfort her.
Monk kneeled on the floor by Darcy Whitehall, who was still clutching his cell phone.
"When did you get the call?" Monk said.
"Couldn't have been more than a couple of minutes or so after I sat down, while you had stepped away," Whitehall said.
"You recognize the voice?"
Whitehall shook his head no.
Bill Barnett shifted anxiously between the two campus cops. The cops looked pretty nervous, too, out of their element. But then, we all were.
Barnett checked his watch.
"Bomb squad should be here by now," he said. "Been seven minutes since I called 911."
Down on the field the Gator band was marching in formation to start the halftime show. Speakers around the skybox blared the Florida fight song.
Monk said, "You done anything to get the rest of the stadium emptied?"
Barnett shook his head.
"Well, you've got people pouring out of the skyboxes screaming about a bomb. Got to do something or else there's going to be pandemonium down there."
As Barnett pulled out a cell phone, Monk told him, "Blame it on the weather."
The president paused, puzzled. The weather outside was gorgeous — puffy white clouds against a perfect blue sky.
Monk said, "Say the weather service has issued an advisory that there's a squall line moving in from the Gulf. NCAA has a rule says that if there's lightning spotted within six miles of a stadium, then the teams have to leave the field. You have to tell them something or else eighty-five thousand people are gonna go ape shit."
Barnett nodded and made the call. Given Florida's freakish out-of-nowhere thunderstorms, it was surely plausible.
I had to admire the way Monk was handling things. He was cool and focused, in control of the situation, a far cry from the break-all-the-rules hellraiser I'd known in college and in the years we played in the pros.
I watched as Monk moved aside a few shopping bags and a briefcase that sat by Whitehall's chair. Then he flattened himself on the floor and looked under the chair. He crooked his head to get a good view of whatever was underneath it. No one in the skybox said a word.
Barbara pulled me close. I put an arm around her. Part of me wanted to turn us both around and march out the skybox door, but the other part felt obliged to stay there with Monk, at least until the police arrived.
Monk stood up. He looked at the young man and woman.
"Alan, Ali ... I want you to step slowly away and exit the skybox."
The young woman said, "What about you?"
"I'm staying here with your father," Monk said.
The young woman, sobbing now, flung herself at Monk, burying her head in his chest.
"Please, please, no," she said. "Don't let this happen." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Jamica Me Dead by Bob Morris. Copyright © 2005 Bob Morris. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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