It's been a month since I last posted a blog from Key West. I apologize for not getting one out until this evening.
The launch of http://www.absolutelyamazingebooks.com, a new ebook publishing site, was the last item I reported to you. It's been doing well, with new book launches and the availability of the books on Kindle, Nook, IPads, and other devices. It won't be long until those books are available on print on demand.
I suggest you sign up on that website for automatic notification when a new book is offered on the site.
Don’t Say … Vivisection
Copyright 2012, John Guerra
Jeff Brister, tooling down U.S. 1 in his convertible, spotted the tiki bar through a hole
in the mangroves on his right. He slowed, checked his rear-view mirror and executed a U-turn.
It had been an hour since he hit the Keys; it was time for a drink by the water. He drove back up the road and made a left into the narrow driveway leading to the bar. After meandering down a lane to a small, gravel parking lot, he parked his car and got out.
He scanned the small, white-sand beach and blue water of the Gulf of Mexico behind the tiki bar and silently congratulated himself for discovering the perfect spot to have a beer.
Comfy little place, authentic in its rough wood framing and uneven, thatched roof. The front and back of the building were wide open, with solid walls on each side providing support for the roof. He walked up three steps to the cement pad that made up the bar’s floor. High above, ceiling fans rotated slowly to keep the air circulating.
The place had a predictable look for the Keys: old lobster traps, dented and paint-scarred buoys and rusty boat tackle on the walls and ceiling. Jeff felt himself relax as his eyes wandered over the old license plates, fishing poles, fish nets, anchors, and other boatyard flotsam decorating the place.
Photos of patrons holding drinks and mugging for the camera, apparently required by some law in Florida, were stapled to the wooden posts, as were framed photos of giant fish that anglers in the
1940s and 1950s never dreamed wouldn’t be that big again. Glassware hung from racks above the bar, and the old-fashioned cash register was silent.
Surprised to find the place empty, Jeff also could not hail a bartender, or anyone else who might be on duty. He sat at the bar on a stool with torn, green vinyl padding. The only hint the place might be open for business was the fishing show playing on the TV screen above the bar. He yelled "Hello!" several times, hoping someone would appear to serve him a drink.
He waited, taking in the beautiful blue water spreading all the way to the horizon. Glancing around the bar again, he noticed a hand-written sign over the TV:
"Warning: Don’t Say Vivisection," the sign read. Someone had drawn the face of an angry-looking monkey under the strange message. He chuckled to himself. He read it again, this time his lips moved.as he made sure he was reading it correctly. "Warning: Don’t say vivisection." He shook his head, turned on his stool to see if anyone was behind him, and pondered the sign again. That had to be a joke. Jeff, who might never have a reason to say the word in the first place, decided to play along. Nothing else to do. Can’t get a damn drink.
He cleared his throat, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and went for it.
"Vivi –""Don’t do it, mister!" yelled a man who suddenly appeared at a doorway just behind Jeff.
Jeff caught fast movement to his right and almost fell off his stool. A small ape was running down the top of the bar toward him.
"Barry, no!" the bartender screamed.
The ape halted. It had a crest of hair sticking from the top of its head. Beneath a pronounced forehead a pair of small, black eyes glared at Jeff with deep agitation. The ape wasn’t much larger than a big tomcat, but it looked dangerous. Though it had stopped advancing on the bartender’s command, it swung its head from side to side and bounced on little black feet.
The bartender commanded the ape again.
"Barry … Baaaaary. Caaaaalm down, Barry."
The little ape charged Jeff again.
Something got through to Barry because he slid to a stop about three feet from Jeff, who had jumped up from his stool and turned to run.
"Don’t run, mister," the bartender said evenly. "He’s stopped attacking. If you run now, he’s going to be on you before you can make it to the exit."
Jeff held his ground. The ape was sitting on the bar where it halted. A very human look. Even the way its arm rested across its knee--like a Greek philosopher. Then Jeff saw the small, razor-sharp knife in the hominid’s tiny fist.
"Don’t stare at him! Drop your eyes!" the bartender urged.
Jeff wanted to break and run for his car, but he remembered that the car top was down. Knowing how fast that little bugger moved, Jeff pictured himself carved like a pumpkin behind his steering wheel. He would be dead before he got the car started.
But the ape had calmed; it made a "chukah-chuk," noise, turned and raised its ass. It plodded back to its spot behind the cash register at the end of the bar.
"Sorry mister, but that sign’s there for a reason," the bartender said as he walked past Jeff and took his spot behind the bar. "Barry’s OK, he’s a great ape but there’s only one thing that upsets him, that gets him riled up, and that’s the word we have the sign up for."
"What the hell was that about?" the visitor said, still standing.
"Look, I apologize I wasn’t here when you came in," the skinny and weathered bartender said. He was missing a few bottom teeth. "What’ll you have?"
"A cold beer, please," was all Jeff could say.
The bartender pulled a draft beer and put it on the bar in front of his only customer. "This one’s on me for your … mishap."
"I’ll also have a shot of Wild Turkey 101 and a change of underwear," Jeff said, sitting down again.
"Ha ha! I hear that! My name’s Jimmy. Welcome to the Monkey’s Fist," he said, pouring the shot.
They shook hands across the bar.
"Jeff, and I’m pleased to meet you," he said. "I was at a seminar in Miami for a few days and decided to head down to Key West. Never been there." He tried to sound relaxed, but his eyes were trained on the cash register in case the monkey popped out from behind it.
"I gotta ask," Jeff continued, "what are you doing with an ape that’s not caged, or at least got a leash on it? And was that a knife in his hand? I mean, what the hell was that about?" He downed the Wild Turkey and took a sip of his beer. He wiped his mouth with the back of his arm and burped.
"I know how you feel right now, mister, but this is really Barry’s place," Jimmy said, hooking his thumb over his shoulder. "He was here first, long before me and my partner bought it. For years this bar was an empty shell under a leaky roof. There were weeds crawling up the side of the building and breaking through the walls. It’s hard to spot from the road now, but then it was completely hidden from sight by trees and shrubs, and a big, pile of junk. Barry was here then, and no one knows where he came from, except he’s a Barbary ape, the ones you see running up and down the face of the Rock of Gibraltar in Europe. He’s an old-world ape."
"With an inner-city attitude," Jeff added.
"That’s for sure. When me and my partner bought this little tag of shoreline, we had to
cut the Tiki bar out from under the vines and trees. It’s been here since the1930s but had
been abandoned. Barry was using the place as his home. It was perfect shelter for him because no one knew it was here. Also, he could climb inside the rafters when it rained and the yard had the avocado, Key lime, and star fruit trees for him to eat. And I guess he found plenty of food, because as you can see, he’s strong. But he had to be lonely all that time.
"He took to us like anyone who’s been living alone for a long time. When we walked the property with the real estate agent in ‘70, he must have hidden because we didn’t see him and the realtor didn’t know anything about him. After we closed on the land, we started clearing the weeds, vines and junk from around the yard, and that’s when Barry introduced himself. Made us jump. He just dropped to the ground from the top of the rafters and stood erect before us, rocking side to side."
"No, kidding!" Jeff said. This was getting good.
"He really is a cool, little dude, too," Jimmy said.
As we brought in lumber and began to rebuild the place, he hung around, chattering, chattering, chattering. He was glad to be part of something, real glad to do some meaningful activity with a group. We were his new tribe, or troop, whatever monkey families are called."
"It seems pretty lonely around here still," Jeff said, motioning to the empty bar stools surrounding the bar.
"Stick around. People will start coming in soon. We’re a real community; this is a neighborhood place."
"Why the sign? I mean, how did you figure out that he’s sensitive to …
Jimmy raised his hand to halt Jeff from continuing.
"... that word?"
They both stole a look toward the cash register. No movement.
"Because of his … behavior, we got the feeling Barry had been a lab animal or at least heard about …" Jimmy paused, pointing to the sign, "… the experiments where they hurt and maimed his fellow primates. There’s an island out in the Gulf called Lois Key, and it used to be full of monkeys on the loose. It was owned by Bausch and Lomb, the makers of eyeglass lenses. We think Barry swam from there. They didn’t torture monkeys out there, but it’s where they kept them until they were plucked from there and taken to a lab somewhere on the mainland. We don’t know how Barry made the connection to the ... V-word."
"But how the hell does he understand the word vi …"
Barry’s head shot up; Jeff saw eyes sparkle in the shadows.
"Mister, you’ve got to be careful!" Jimmy the bartender scolded. "I can’t always control Barry. He doesn’t put up with any bullshit."
Jeff decided that he’d had enough of this place. He’s got to hit the road anyway. Key West was still a long drive from this psycho monkey and his stoned keeper.
"Margot! Right on time!" Jimmy yelled past Jeff’s shoulder. Jeff turned to see who the bartender was hailing.
Margot was one of the most bizarre women Jeff had ever seen. She wasn’t very tall, but she carried herself like a princess. She wore a long, flowered skirt and a green, Danskin top. A long, gold necklace hung almost to her knees and though her arms were thin and elegant, her hands were large with webs between her fingers. She had ridden a bicycle to the bar. Jeff felt a chill crawl up his spine.
"Jimmy, I’ve had a tough day," Margot sighed. "Give me the usual, but make it a double. Where’s Barry?"
"He’s right here, honey. Grab a stool."
"I’ll take another beer, too," Jeff told Jimmy.
The woman glanced at Jeff with disapproval but gave him a grudging smile. She sat four stools away.
As soon as her derriere hit the stool, the ape emerged from behind the register and padded her way as sweetly as can be toward the new arrival. He carried a small jar of mixed nuts in one hand, so he was ungainly on three paws. But he made to Margot without spilling a cashew.
"Bar-reeeeeee!" Margot squealed. The little ape put the bowl on the bar in front of her and stood, opening his arms wide. As Margot leaned forward, Jeff watched as the damn thing wrapped its arms around her neck and pecked her cheek with little curled lips. He made a pleasant chucking and clicking sound as they embraced. Jeff noticed with disgust that Margot’s webbed fingers were spread wide on Barry’s back. His head swum in nausea.Jeff felt strangely ignored, however; neither the ape nor the web-fingered woman acted as if Jeff was present. Not to mention that Jeff got a blade with his greeting.
Jeff felt like an outsider. He was tempted to yell the "V" word right here, right now. Bring it on, you little bastard. He looked around the bar for a weapon, anything he could use to bean the little hominid next time he charged. But Barry did the unexpected, again. He released Margot and headed down the bar top toward Jeff.
Jeff froze in horror, but the ape seemed calm. It stopped in front of him, eyed Jeff calmly, then opened his arms for a hug.
"Hug him, for Chrissakes," Margot said. "If you want to be welcome here again, I’d do it."
"I met this sucker once already and it didn’t go so well," Jeff said, not taking his eyes off the ape as it stood before him with its arms open.
Jeff can smell Barry; it’s not a bad smell, but it’s the aroma of a little beast, like a raccoon or a
"Don’t hurt his feelings, Jeff," the bartender piped in. "If I was you, I’d hug him and fast."
"OK, OK," Jeff said as he put his arms around Barry. Barry did the same, but instead of kissing him on the cheek, Barry plants his lips on Jeff’s lips. He ambled off, leaving Jeff shocked and slightly disgusted. These things eat their own feces.
"That’s weird," Margot harrumphed. "He’s never done that before. Have you ever met
"Nope," Jimmy jumped in again. "They had a little misunderstanding (he pointed to the
sign) and that’s Barry’s way of making friends again."
"Are you kidding? What the hell is your problem, dude?" the frog-handed woman asked.
"My name is Jeff."
"Oh, well Jeff, you must not be very smart. That sign is up there for a reason. Why would
you do that when the sign says clearly that it’s dangerous to say what you said? I would
have taken you for smarter than that."
"Now that you mention it, I’ve got a question for you lady," Jeff snapped, pointing at the
sign. "That’s not a word most people pop off in normal conversation. Why the hell would
you have a sign that would create a dangerous situation for customers, not to mention the animal? That sign must cause more problems than it prevents."
"So you’re a smart guy, huh?" Margot sniffed. "It so happens that a lot of people know that word, with the sign up or not."
"That’s right. I’ve seen it magazines, in animal rights ads, and I’ve even heard it on TV.
People use that word all the time, especially at animal rights rallies and stuff. The fact
that no one says the word around this bar with that sign up there is proof that it works."
Jeff shook his head and stared into his beer. He could not find a way to respond to this woman’s reasoning, or lack thereof. But he tried anyway.
"OK, I’ll humor you," he began. "Speaking of the TV, what happens when the news
comes on and they’re interviewing an animal rights activist or a veterinarian or a scientist
and they use that word on TV?"
"That’s our fourth TV," Jimmy piped in again.
Jeff laughed at both of them, a good long laugh at the stupidity of these people. An hour earlier,
he’d been driving down U.S. 1, heading to Key West for a much-anticipated visit and he’d somehow crossed into a simian Twilight Zone.
"You can’t be serious! Are you pulling my leg?" Jeff yelled.
"Nope, this one’s about ready to retire, too," the bartender said. He had the remote in his hands and switched from CNN to other channels until a Marlins game popped up.
As he watched the channels flip by, Jeff saw that the TV’s plastic casing was gouged; that the set’s been scratched, chipped and dented. He dared not ask, but did so anyway.
"Did Barry do that to the TV?" Jeff asked Jimmy. "Because there was a show on discussing the V-word?"
"Yep. About three months ago. Luckily I got the remote and turned it off before Barry
could smash the tube."
Jeff decided to order another beer and to drink it in silence. He would not engage these people further. No monkey, no bartender, absolutely no Margot.
More people arrived as the afternoon wore into evening, and before Jeff knew it, he was among a lively crowd and Barry’s no longer behind the register all the time. He’s fully engaged, hugging customers, lugging bar snacks, and walking around in confidence.
No one, absolutely no one, asked about the sign above the TV. As long as that subject was never raised, people had a chance, Jeff mused.
Jeff left the bar as sunset began and turned his car south on U.S. 1, headed to Key West. He thought about Barry and what he'd witnessed. That place had once been Barry's quiet home. Once humans bought it and began to change it, there was nothing he could do to stop them from opening a bar. Now, he was trying to go along to get along, exploding whenever someone read the dreaded word out loud. He was clearly unhappy. An idea began to form in Jeff's head: He would return and rescue Barry from the stupid bartender who didn't know that Barry was stuck. Jeff would give Barry his home back and make sure he never heard the V-word again.
That, dear reader, is a story for another day.