Puck sat next to me, conked out on the steering wheel of a minivan I’d never seen before. My head was hazy, like I’d spent the night on the floor of a jail cell. I pulled the keys out of the ignition, studying the keychain markings: a small logo that only a NASCAR fan—
“What a night!”
Puck jolted up, scrunching his eyes in the penetrating morning sunlight. “What?” He stretched.
“Do you remember anything?” I shook him. “There’s a block on my memory. Did we win the challenge?”
“Hand- han- hang on, I’ll check my voicemail,” Puck said groggily. While he punched in his passcode, I got out and checked our new ride. It was covered with a thin film of godawful decals and looked like it’d been through the mill.
“Whose minivan is this?” I muttered, pulling up the stuck trunk. Oh fuzz.
Puck slide around the side of the car. “I’ve got four calls from women asking me out, so I think I won the ‘Flirt’ challenge. I don’t know it you won—”
“We killed Richard Petty.”
“What?” Puck jumped back, unable to register the crumpled body wrapped in a blanket in our backseat. I popped off the cowboy hat and touched its face.
“So cold.” Thinking quickly, I uncapped the spare gasoline canister and doused the blanket.
“Richard Petty? What?”
Using Puck as a meaty shield, I ran to safety as the minivan exploded in flame.
Puck coughed up a lung as burning embers rained down on us like sulfuric snow. “What happened last night? Where’s the SHARC?”
“I don’t know, Puck.” I nodded slyly at the looming ‘City Limits’ sign. “Let’s go on a fact-finding mission.”
The first people we ran into in town was an overweight cop (his novelty badge marked him as the sheriff) and his lanky partner. “Get to the ground,” they shouted. “Make me,” I shouted back. It was all good, clean fun until they fired the first warning shot.
“What’s the idea?!” I scoffed. “That might have hit me!”
Puck grabbed my collar and dragged me to the curb. “Get down, y’fool!”
The cops wasted no time cuffing both of us. Whenever I tried to express my love of all living things, I only got a billy-club to the mouth.
“You’re lucky Richard Petty dropped the charges,” the lanky cop sneered as he shoved me into the back of his puny Floridian squad car.
“Richard Petty is alive?!” I exclaimed. That got some arched eyebrows.
“You stole his dress manikin and the $150,000 worth of clothes on it,” Officer Lanky charged.
“I had to, yo!” Using the hidden arm they forgot to cuff, I pulled out a recent poll. “Nobody votes for a vice president from the bargain bin! I need designer apparel!”
“Well, Petty might not want ya, but what’s left of Daytona does.” The sheriff held a newspaper to the back screen, keeping both sunglassed eyes on the road. The front page was a photo of a raging beachfront inferno. The picture below the fold showed a lot full of firetrucks up on cinderblocks, their tires slashed.
“So we were in the wet t-shirt contest?” Puck chimed creakily.
“You were in the last wet t-shirt contest. There’s a ban now,” the lanky cop rattled. “Now how’s my ailing mother-in-law going to make ends meet?”
“You boys’re lucky they reattached Charlie Sheen’s hand.”
Puck and I exchanged concerned looks on our way to the slammer.
“…can’t even sell it for market value. And that’s after we completely replaced the plumbing— o hai Puck lol!”
Fresh off his one phone call, the cops relocked the cell door with Puck staring me blankly in the eye-sockets. “I’m a superhero. In jail.”
“Miguel was just telling me about how he flipped six houses in Cuba,” I waved to the languid Latino drooped on the bars like a rag doll. Yep, Florida was a lazy peninsular paradise.
“I reached Yvette,” Puck continued, immune to the tropical atmosphere. His Canadian immune system must be too strong for the rumba beat. “She’s wiring the bail money. The people of Daytona want our heads, but Yvette knows Bill Bronsky, the new mayor of Daytona. Apparently, the mayor can pardon anyone of any crime within the city… and also call for the execution of anyone within the city.”
“That’s what I call the ‘royal treatment,’” I clucked. “Lunk-head.”
We had a roundtable discussion with Miguel and two homeless drunks and a disgraced ex-congressman for the next half hour. This was excellent preparation for the vice presidential debate I’d snubbed three weeks ago. Any public pronouncement on my part— nay, from any person of my prominence, must be prefaced perfectly with precipitous platitudes, to prevent premature prevarication.
“Time to go,” the sheriff finally said, waltzing in and unlocking the cell door with a large blue key looped ’round his little finger. “You’ve got a guardian angel looking out fer ya, that’s fer dang sure.”
I froze. Huzzah! A flashback: Tabu. Loud music… mustard spilling everywhere… and I totally raised the roof!
“Koola koolay! Puck! I think I know what I did last night!” I bounced. If Puck was smiling in solidarity with my happiness, he hid it well.
“See you a-round, bo-bo,” Drunken Stanley hiccuped from the cement, unable to sit up. “R’member what I said ’bout short selling.”
“And you remember what I said about making a shiv from sculpted toilet paper.” I held my head up high. Justice, my justice, had prevailed.
The overflowing glass began to boil against my forehead. We were here.
“There you are,” Yvette called from the club’s entrance.
Tabu may be a popular nightspot, but at 11:00 A.M. it was only a mildly active (but nonetheless exclusive) daycare center. I had to dress Puck up in a sailor suit to pass him off as a precocious 1st grader just to get in. He now watched me from the fenced-off dance floor with about twenty small children.
“Quiet. I’m about to get a psychic reading. Yes… we were totally here last night…”
“I’ll say,” the bartender grunted as she poured a tray of apple-juice mugs. “And he was wearing the same sailor suit.”
“You didn’t happen to see if either of us made out with any of the patrons, did you?” Puck asked, straddling over the fence with the hand-eye coordination of a Chinese acrobat.
“Oy, I wish I could forget. You set up a fricken’ booth.” She popped a DVD into the side of the bartop big-screen, showing a very graphic scene that made several of the smaller children cry.
“Sweet Amnesiac Disjoint of Makeout Point!” Now that was some first-class flirting.
“What about me?” I held up a $20 bill. “Michael Jackson says I was here last night.”
She waved me away. “Benjamin Franklin says otherwise.”
“Are you daft, woman?! Benjamin Franklin is a fictional character.”
“You were here, too, okay?” She fast-forwarded.
“Did I use witty pickup lines?”
She nodded. “You got slapped many times.”
“Did you fall from heaven? ’Cause you look like hell.”
“That got you slapped.”
“Is your name ‘Magnet?’ ’Cause you’re bipolar.”
“That got you slapped.”
“Are you from Tennessee? ’Cause you’re a redneck.”
“She was from Tennessee, and she put two live weasels down your pants.”
“Did anybody ask me if there were live weasels down my pants, or if I was just happy to see them?”
“You did, and you slapped yourself.”
“This is critically important,” I leaned o’er the counter, putting a $50 bill down. “General Custer wants to know if I was making out with anybody last night.”
“You spent the whole night making out with a full-breasted, hot…”
“There’s only one way that sentence could be made more awesome.”
“…grilled turkey sandwich.”
“AW SNAP IT ENDED IN THE WAY THAT MADE IT THE MOST AWESOME EVER ROFL!”
“Then we lose, right?” Puck trashed the preppy sailor cap that pulled his ensemble together. “A sandwich isn’t a patron.”
“He bought it four drinks.”
“And in Florida, that makes it a person! Hot diggity daffodil!” I kicked down the metal front door, letting the children run free in the streets. “Be free, children!”
“I’ve never been so confused,” Yvette kvetched on our way to the SHARC. She’d had it washed and debuffed, I just remembered!
“It’s victory at any cost, my dear,” I spun, “according to Florida statute, any corporate entity — in this case, a sandwich — can be taxed and represented in court as an individual.”
“That’s totally bogus.”
“Puck, that sandwich was my soulmate. The hour we spent together was more real than our friendship.” I licked my fingers. “I’ll never forget what we had, and I’ll be a consarned varmint if’n I let y’all talk trash about my precious southern belle!”
“Calm down, Gyrobo,” Yvette pleaded, keying open the SHARC.
“I will not calm down,” I exploded, sealing myself within the vehicle. “What we had was delicious and low-fat. Puck, I respect you professionally, but you’re dead wrong on man-sandwich relations.”
My stomach rumbled with righteous pride. A man needs to stand up for what’s right, no matter the indigestion it causes.