Fishing for memories off Key West


The following is an excerpt from Carl Hiaasen’s “Bad Monkey,” which will be released on Tuesday. Additional excerpts will be published in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s Tropical Life.

On the hottest day of July, trolling in dead-calm waters near Key West, a tourist named James Mayberry reeled up a human arm. His wife flew to the bow of the boat and tossed her breakfast burritos.

“What’re you waiting for?” James Mayberry barked at the mate. “Get that thing off my line!”

The kid tugged and twisted, but the barb of the hook was imbedded in bone. Finally the captain came down from the bridge and used bent-nose pliers to free the decomposing limb, which he placed on shaved ice in a deck box.

James Mayberry said, “For Christ’s sake, now where are we supposed to put our fish?”

“We’ll figure that out when you actually catch one.”

It had been a tense outing aboard the Misty Momma IV. James Mayberry had blown three good strikes because he was unable to absorb instruction. Dragging baits in the ocean was different than jigging for walleyes in the lake back home.

“Don’t we need to call somebody?” he asked the captain.

“We do.”

The hairy left arm was bloated and sunburned to the hue of eggplant.

A cusp of yellowed humerus protruded at the point of separation, below the shoulder. The flesh surrounding the wound looked ragged and bloodless.

“Yo, check it out!” the mate said.

“What now?” James Mayberry asked.

“His freakin’ finger, dude.”

The victim’s hand was contracted into a fist except for the middle digit, which was rigidly extended.

“How weird is that? He’s flippin’ us off,” the mate said.

The captain told him to re-bait the angler’s hook.

“Has this ever happened out here before?” James Mayberry said. “Tell the truth.”

“You should go see about your wife.”

“Jesus, I’ll never hear the end of it. Louisa wanted to ride the Conch Train today. She did not want to come fishing.”

“Well, son,” the captain said, “we’re in the memory-making business.”

He climbed back to the bridge, radioed the Coast Guard and gave the GPS coordinates of the gruesome find. He was asked to remain in the area and look for other pieces of the body.

“But I got a charter,” he said.

“You can stay at it,” the Coast Guard dispatcher advised. “Just keep your eyes open.”

After calming herself, Louisa Mayberry informed her husband that she wished to return to Key West right away.

“Come on, sugar. It’s a beautiful morning.” James Mayberry didn’t want to go back to the dock with no fish to hang on the spikes—not after shelling out a grand to hire the boat.

“The first day of our honeymoon, and this! Aren’t you sketched out?”

James Mayberry peeked under the lid of the fish box. “You watch CSI all the time. It’s the same type of deal.”

His wife grimaced but did not turn away. She remarked that the limb didn’t look real.

“Oh, it’s real,” said James Mayberry, somewhat defensively. “Just take a whiff.” Snagging a fake arm wouldn’t make for as good a story.

A real arm was pure gold, major high-fives from all his peeps back in Madison. You caught a what ? No way, bro!

Louisa Mayberry’s gaze was fixed on the limb. “What could have happened?” she asked.

“Tiger shark,” her husband said matter-of-factly.

“Is that a wedding band on his hand? This is so sad.”

“Fish on!” the mate called. “Who’s up?”

James Mayberry steered his bride to the fighting chair and the mate fitted the rod into the gimbal. Although she was petite, Louisa Mayberry owned a strong upper body due to rigorous Bikram yoga classes that she took on Tuesday nights. Refusing assistance, she pumped in an eleven-pound blackfin tuna and whooped triumphantly as it flopped on the deck. Her husband had never seen her so excited.

“Here, take a picture!” she cried to the mate, and handed over her iPhone.

“Hold on,” James Mayberry said. “Get both of us together.”

Louisa watched him hustle to get ready. “Really, Jimmy? Really?”

Moments later the captain glanced down from the bridge and saw the mate snapping photographs of the newlyweds posed side by side at the transom. Their matching neon blue Oakley wraparounds were propped on their matching cap visors, and their fair Wisconsin noses practically glowed with sunblock.

Louisa Mayberry was gamely hoisting by the tail her sleek silvery tuna while James Mayberry wore the mate’s crusty gloves to grip his rancid catch, its middle finger aimed upward toward the puffy white clouds.

The captain dragged on a cigarette and turned back to the wheel.

“Another f------ day in paradise,” he said.

Excerpted from Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. Copyright © 2013 by Carl Hiaasen. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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