Posted by John on Thursday, 29 September

exclamations could be daunting and acerbic. The words struck venomously at Charles Chelseas insecurities, and made him tremble. On the afternoon of July 17, Chelsea finished his lunch, threw up, flossed his teeth and walked briskly to Kingsburys office. Kingsbury was leaning over the desk; the great mans sleeves were rolled up to reveal the famous lewd tattoo on his doughy left forearm. The other arm sparkled with a gold Robbie Raccoon wristwatch, with emerald insets. Todays surfer-blond hairpiece was longish and curly. Kingsbury grunted at Charles Chelsea and said: Wildlife Rescue Corps He raised his hands. Well Chelsea said, The group exists, but the phone call could be a crank. Were checking it out. Whats this exploitation shit, were talking about, what, some kind of rodent or such goddamn thing. Not even close to a quotable sentence, Chelsea thought. It was astounding the man spoke in over-torqued, expletive-laden fragments that somehow made perfect sense. At all times, Charles Chelsea knew exactly what Francis X. Kingsbury was talking about. The publicity man said, Dont worry, sir, the situation is being contained. Were ready for any contingency. Kingsbury made a small fist. Damage control, he said. Our top gun, Chelsea said. His name is Joe Winder, and hes a real pro. Offering the reward money was his idea, sir. The AP led with it this morning, too. Kingsbury sat down. He fingered the florid tip of his bulbous nose. These animals, theres still a chance maybe Chelsea could feel a chilly dampness spreading in deadly crescents from his armpits. Its unlikely, sir. One of them is dead for sure. Shot by the highway patrol. Some tourists apparently mistook it for a rat. Terrific, said Kingsbury. The other one, likewise. The bandits threw it in the window of a Winnebago camper. Kingsbury peered from beneath dromedary lids. Dont, he said, exhaling noisily. This is like...no, dont bother. You might as well know, said Chelsea. It was a church group from Boca Raton in the Winnebago. They beat the poor thing to death with a golf umbrella. Then they threw it off the Card Sound Bridge. There, Chelsea thought. He had done it. Stood up and delivered the bad news. Stood up like a man. Francis X. Kingsbury entwined his hands and said: Who knows about this Knows that we know Anybody You mean anybody on the outside No. Charles Chelsea paused. Well, except the highway patrol. And I took care of them with some free passes to the Kingdom. But civilians No, sir. Nobody knows that we know the voles are dead. Fine, said Francis X. Kingsbury. Good time to up the reward. Sir Make it a million bucks. Six zeros, if Im not mistaken. Chelsea took out a notebook and a Cross pen, and began to write. Thats one million dollars for the safe return of the missing voles. Which are dead. Yes, sir. Simple, hell. Very simple. Its a most generous offer, said Charles Chelsea. Bullshit, Kingsbury said. Its PR, whatever. Stuff for the fucking AP. But your hearts in the right place. Impatiently Kingsbury pointed toward the door. Fast, he said. Before I get sick. Chelsea was startled. Backing away from Kingsburys desk, he said, Im sorry, sir. Is it something I said No, something you are. Kingsbury spoke flatly, with just a trace of disgust. On the way back to his office, Charles Chelsea stopped in the executive washroom and threw up again. Like many wildly successful Floridians, Francis X. Kingsbury was a transplant. He had moved to the Sunshine State in balding middle age, alone and uprooted, never expecting that he would become a multimillionaire. And, like so many new Floridians, Kingsbury was a felon on the run. Before arriving in Miami, he was known by his real name of Frankie King. Not Frank, but Frankie; his mother had named him after the singer Frankie Laine. All his life Frankie King had yearned to change his name to something more distinguished, something with weight and social bearing. A racketeering indictment (twenty