it out our cherished one and only review in the Penn
State Daily Collegian
Friday, February 12
Tanner sat behind the wheel of a hot '83 Coupe DeVille watching the
reporter's house, wondering how
he was going to make murder look like an accident.
Stitch wasn't used to being so subtle
in his work. Multiple gunshot wounds were more his
style, partly because he had lousy
aim and partly because multiple shots were just more
He loved the
feel of a gun in his hand, loved the power of life and death that
kicked his palm as he squeezed the
trigger. There was so much action for so little effort.
And he knew through experience that
you didn't have to be a great marksman to snuff out
a life. Sink enough lead into anyone
and he's bound to stop moving.
this hit wouldn't be so simple. How could he make it look like an
accident? A fall in the shower?
Drug overdose? Electrocution? Stitch struck a wooden
match, lit another Kool. Maybe fire,
he thought. The top half of Tally's house was
wooden and would go up all right.
But the bottom part was coral rock, which you couldn't
burn with a blow torch.
Even if the house
was all wood, fire would be too chancy. What if Tally ran out?
Then Stitch would have to plug him
a couple or ten times with his new fifty-caliber Desert
Eagle. While that might be more
fun, it would hardly look like an accident.
the cigarette butt out the window and immediately felt like lighting
up again. He was uneasy about working
in the daytime. Normally, he liked to do his thing
at night, when people were already
scared and tended to shut their eyes to nightmares like
him. In daylight, people were bolder
and their sight was sharper. But the boss had
sounded serious about taking care
of the reporter as soon as possible.
Stitch idly scratched
the scar on his cheek that earned him his nickname. It ran
from the corner of his left eye
almost to the jawbone. Just about everyone called him
Stitch now. Since his Mama died,
the only ones who still called him Otis were the police.
The cell phone
sitting on the seat chirped. Only one other person knew the
number. Stitch picked it up.
"Got to be today,
Stitch." Even over the cellular, the voice on the other end had
a hypnotic resonance, deep and rich
as a lion's roar. "And don't forget, it's got to look like
Stitch said. "I'll take care..."
"Just call me
when it's done."
The line went
dead. Stitch set the cellular down and scratched his scar, a sign that
he was thinking. But it wasn't helping
much. He'd never been too good at planning things.
Better to just wait, he decided.
Something would turn up.
Dan Tally's first
inkling of consciousness was an ache in the back of his neck. He
opened his eyes and saw the ceiling
fan spinning round and round. He was lying on his
living room sofa, his head propped
against the armrest at an angle which would better suit
an invertebrate. From the direction
of the TV set, he heard birds chirping and a narrator
whispering about the mating habits
of the yellow-eyed babbler. Ever-so-slowly, he sat up,
the knot of muscles in his neck
tightening as they resisted movement. He fought off the
spasm by ignoring it.
The birds were
singing up a storm, pre-nuptial serenades according to the
announcer. Tally checked the bandage
on his left hand. It was ripe for changing. He stood
up and headed for the bathroom.
As usual, his bad knee needed a couple of steps to start
functioning properly. But other
than that, he felt pretty good considering all he'd been
through in the past couple of days.
He splashed some water on his face with one hand,
then redressed the wound on the
other just as the emergency room nurse had
Back in the living
room, the yellow-eyed babblers on the TV had a nest full of
baby babblers. Each chick seemed
to be about ninety percent mouth as their diligent
parents doled out a din-din of regurgitated
nightcrawlers. The idea of thrown-up worms
didn't do much for Tally's appetite,
but since he hadn't eaten much lately, the mere act of
watching other creatures dine sent
some mild hunger pangs through his gut.
off the TV and cracked the verticals. It was getting around to dusk,
the best time of day anywhere, but
especially in the tropics. He glanced at the clock.
Almost five. Maybe he'd take a spin
on his bike before dinner. His knee really needed
some exercise. His head, too. But
nothing too strenuous, he thought, just a nice quiet
sunset ride through Coconut Grove.
had been patiently watching the little house down the block for
hours, smoking Kools while listening
to reggae and rap on the university station. When
a white girl came on to DJ, he switched
to K-Soul. Barry White got him thinking about
his woman Martha, how she'd ridden
him last night, her big sweaty breasts slapping
together, fingers digging into his
chest, breathless voice telling him how good it felt.
were getting real long now. Stitch glanced at the clock in the dash.
Five-oh-two. Soon it would be dark.
That was good. More accidents happen after dark.
He pulled off one of his leather
driving gloves to open a fresh pack of smokes and lit up.
A car pulled
around the corner. Stitch slid down in his seat until it passed, then
sat up. There was some movement
over by the reporter's house. It was Tally. He was on
a bicycle, wearing a green t-shirt and dark blue cap. He rode out of
his driveway and
turned Tanner's way. Stitch slipped
down in his seat again until the reporter passed, then
sat up and watched him pedal away
in the rear-view mirror. Stitch tossed the cigarette
he'd just lit out the window, pulled
on his glove and cranked up the Caddy. Damned thing
had a hole in the muffler and made
too much noise. But he liked big cars, especially for
a job like this. He smiled as he
made a U-turn. Stitch remembered hearing somewhere that
bicycling was the single most dangerous
mode of transportation in the world. He couldn't
have planned it any better. Tally
was just another accident waiting to happen.
hand throbbed a bit, but nothing he couldn't handle on an evening
like this. The weather was perfect,
scattered clouds and untropically cool, thanks to the
remnants of a recent cold front.
The air invigorated him, and he had to fight off urges to
pedal faster. Normally when he cycled,
he pushed himself to maintain a speed that kept
him gasping for air, trying to keep
his thirty-three-year-old body fit. It had been working
pretty well. He was only five pounds
over his collegiate playing weight, and his muscles
hadn't lost much tone. Despite a
rebuilt knee, his legs were particularly strong, rarely
tiring even though his old Raleigh
ten-speed was stuck in high gear.
But today, he
wasn't looking to push his cardiovascular limit. He was just on an
easy cruise through the back streets
of Coconut Grove, a scenic slice of southern suburbia
where the houses seemed to be half-devoured
by the foliage. In the distance, he could hear
the sounds of rush hour on Dixie
Highway, but these streets were quiet. They'd been
blocked off to keep cars from using
them for shortcuts. There was no traffic to contend
with, no gas fumes to suck up, no
noise except for birds, an occasional barking dog and
the rhythmic squeak of the Raleigh's
rusty crank axle.
lost Tally when the reporter rode around a walled garden which
blocked off a side street. Stitch
tried to get through down the road, but all of the side
streets were blocked off. He cursed
the rich folk logic of having streets for people instead
of cars. It took a couple of minutes
for him to find a way in off Tigertail Road. By then
Tally was nowhere in sight. Stitch
drove around, hoping to "bump into" him somewhere.
There were hardly any people around:
a guy washing a black sports car in a driveway,
a lady in a maid's uniform walking
a curly-haired little dog, a couple of boys kicking a
soccer ball around a lawn. This
was a perfect spot to make the hit. Too bad the target was
missing in action.
his way through the shaded lanes of the Grove backstreets, Tally
headed towards the Rickenbacker
Causeway. This was his normal route, through swanky
neighborhoods, around the Vizcaya
castle drive, past the Homeless Hotel and out to the
Causeway approach. He passed the
big plastic shark on the Seaquarium sign, then rode
through the toll booth with a wave
at the attendant. Out of habit, he kept to the emergency
shoulder of the six-lane causeway
instead of the bike path, which could get congested with
tourists on rentals, young parents
with toddlers in bike seats and a wide array of in-line
skaters, most of whom used up a
lot of pathway and couldn't stop.
An older woman
on a snazzy hybrid approached him with a smile. She wore
biking gloves and helmet. Most everyone
was wearing helmets these days. Tally knew that
it made sense, at least statistically.
But he just couldn't see himself wearing one. Besides,
it was vulnerability that made going
fast a thrill.
was flat, glassy enough to reflect a dazzling sunset sky. Tally felt
surprisingly strong and picked up
his pace. He'd originally planned to just go as far as the
old drawbridge, which was now a
popular spot for fishermen and the gulls, pelicans and
egrets they attracted. But he felt
good enough to push himself a little, go over the newer
William Powell Bridge. Rising nearly
a hundred feet in the air, it was the biggest hill
around and could be a bitch when
the wind was coming from the northeast. Today, the
only wind was the one created by
his movement against the still air.
harder, hitting the bridge's incline with a little momentum. It faded
quickly, totally gone by the time
he passed a sign that said: Bikers dismount and walk
across bridge. He dropped his head,
pulled up on the handlebars for resistance and
started counting his pedals. Seventy-five
would take him to the top, then he'd coast down
the other side, building up enough
speed to bring tears to his eyes and make his heart
pound with the thrill of being just
one slip away from needing a helmet.
the back streets of the Grove for at least ten minutes before coming
to a light at a main drag.
Bayshore Drive. Left or right. He figured to head back towards
Tally's house and just wait to whack
him when he came home. But then he saw three guys
on bikes going in the opposite direction.
They were wearing tight black shorts and white
helmets and moving faster than most
of the cars. The light changed. On a hunch, Stitch
made a left and followed the bikers.
About a half-mile ahead, they turned onto the
causeway that led towards Key Biscayne.
A couple of other riders coming up Brickell
Avenue turned the same way. This
seemed to be a popular route for cyclists. Stitch made
a right, paid the dollar toll and
The traffic heading
out to the Key was heavy, but once Stitch passed the three
cyclists he'd followed, he didn't
see any bikers ahead. He figured he must have guessed
wrong. Tally couldn't have come
this far. He drove up and over the big bridge, then pulled
into the first crossover to turn
A guy on a bike
zipped past the front of his car. Green t-shirt, blue hat. It was
Tally, booking a flight down the
middle of the center lane. Stitch looked to his right.
Police had stopped traffic a few
hundred yards away to let an oversized truck trailing a
pre-fab house cross the highway.
He smiled. This
was much better than anything he could have planned. Tally
reached the bridge and veered over
to its narrow shoulder. There was no sidewalk, just
a low white retaining wall. No room
for a guy on a bike to maneuver. Stitch pulled onto
the empty road. The reporter was
just a couple hundred yards ahead, moving more slowly
now as he pedaled up the steepest
part of the bridge. Stitch wondered what Tally would
think if he knew that this was destined
to be his last minute on earth.
Tally was gasping
for air, his leg muscles aching. He stood up on the pedals to
get better leverage and ease the
burn in his thighs. He was just twenty yards from the top
of the bridge. Ten more hard pedals,
then he'd have a nice breather coasting down the far
side. From there, he'd take it easy.
His hand was really throbbing now and a tiny spot of
blood had seeped through the fresh
As Tally reached
the crest of the bridge, the last amber embers of sunlight
reflected off the top floors of
Miami's tallest glass towers. It was a picture-perfect
evening. Soon, he'd be home free.
His thoughts turned to dinner. He was ready to make
up for lost time. Maybe he'd grill
some Jamaican jerk beef, or just head over to the Mako
Lounge, have a bowl of creamy clam
chowder and full rack of ribs, the meat so tender it
fell away from the bones...
His dining plans
were interrupted by a noise that sounded like a motorcycle
accelerating behind him. He glanced
back and saw a big car straddling the solid white line
marking the emergency shoulder,
the right fender all but scraping the bridge's retaining
wall. There was no time to think.
Just react. He jumped up off the pedals as the car
plowed into the back wheel of his
bike. The corner of the roof smacked him in the butt.
Then he was airborne, flying over
the wall and tumbling through empty space towards the
mirrory surface of the bay, a hundred
He felt his cap
fly off. Flashing images of sea, sky and the underside of the bridge
were whirling around him. His arms
and legs instinctively flailed away, trying to find
enough resistance in the air to
control his twisting, somersaulting body. But the air was
too thin to grasp, and gravity seemed
to be pulling him in several directions at once.
he didn't think much about trying to gain his equilibrium, or even
wonder who'd tried to run him down.
His lone thought was that he wasn't supposed to get
his wound wet, especially in Biscayne
Bay, which he knew to be regularly contaminated
by spills from Greater Miami's far-too-porous
sewage system. Of course, there wasn't
much he could do about it at this
point, and in actuality, rampant bacteria shouldn't have
been his primary concern.
He was falling
in the direction of the bridge's west-side fender, one of four that
marked the channel under the span.
His eyes must have caught glimpses of the fender's
railroad ties and concrete block,
but the potential harm they represented didn't register in
his brain. He knew only that the
world seemed to be both dropping away and rising to
meet him. Utterly disoriented, he
closed his eyes and curled into a tight fetal ball. Every
muscle in his body contracted as
he accelerated towards impact.
For what it's
worth, Tally didn't actually hit the bridge fender, but rather a narrow
maintenance dock which ran from
the fender to a metal ladder on one of the bridge
supports. He felt the dock slap
his back, knocking out the little bit of wind that was left
in his lungs after being starved
of air while pedaling up the bridge and experiencing an
emergency shutdown during flight.
of his mass was far too much for the dock's weathered wooden slats.
He crashed through them, then seemed
to be falling in slow motion through a different
element. It was cold and wet and claustrophobic. Saltwater stung his
eyes. He still
couldn't get his bearings. His arms
and legs reached out and found enough resistance in
the water to right his body with
gravity. Unfortunately, its pull was still downward.
The dead weight
of his soaked clothes and sneakers dragged him down into a
chilling darkness. He kicked his
legs. A searing pain shot through his left side, paralyzing
him. Something inside his body was
broken. He didn't know what, but it felt as though he
was being stabbed repeatedly in
the hip with a red-hot knife.
His arms reached
over his head. His cupped hands pulled against the water,
fighting to break free of gravity's
now-gentle tug. Pain shot through his body again,
convulsing his limbs. He couldn't
swim, couldn't move, couldn't breathe. Something bit
him under the arm. His chest ached.
The roar of the ocean filled his ears. Pings of light
swirled around his head. His lungs
demanded an immediate fill-up. He couldn't fight it
anymore. His mouth opened. His lungs
got their wish. The ache in his chest eased,
replaced by a heaviness which dragged
him down, down into the depths of darkness.
The Coupe de
Ville was overheating, steam already wafting out from under the
hood. Stitch cursed. He'd been planning
to dump it in a canal way out west. Now he had
to improvise. He turned into the
Vizcaya Metrorail station and parked at the far end of
the lot. The engine was pinging
hot. So too was the car. And it would be getting hotter by
the minute if anyone had gotten
a good look at him ramming Tally.
Quickly, he belted
his gun, pocketed his smokes, grabbed the cell phone and left
the Caddy behind. Actually, he thought,
this might even work out better than dumping the
car out west. Instead of stealing
another one for the ride home, he could just take the
Metrorail. As he walked to the station
entrance, he pulled off his leather driving gloves
and stuck them in his jacket pocket.
The Metrorail guard was giving directions to a couple
of white-legged tourists and didn't
even seem to notice him. Stitch quickly popped some
quarters into the turnstile and
was through. Once up on the northbound train platform, he
walked to a deserted end before
pulling out the cell phone and making a call.
"Yeah. He had
a bike accident."
"Fatal, I presume."
Stitch felt himself
smiling, near bursting with pride. "I'll say. I hit him so hard he
flew right off of that big bridge
out to the Key. No doubt about it. Tally's a dead man."
ends the opening
chapter of Dead Man's Tale.
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