Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen
Rating: ••• (Recommended)
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It’s often hard to decide which is better in a Carl Hiaasen novel: the ensemble of offbeat characters or the wacky plot. Both elements are present in his latest offering, Skinny Dip. My advice: take off your suit, sit back, and be prepared to laugh throughout this book. Hiaasen reprises ex-cop Mick Stranahan for this book as a minor character. My only wish is that Hiaasen developed Mick a bit further here, and something that made his developing relationship with Joey a bit more believeable. Even with that lapse, Skinny Dip is an entertaining and funny novel where the villains are hilarious and the heroes are resourceful. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter Three, pp. 20-29:
“Don’t move,” the man said.
“Where am I?”
“Safe. Try to lie still.”
“What about the shark? Did I get bit?” “What shark?”
“The one I was hanging on to when you found me.” The man laughed softly. “That was a bale of grass.” “Don’t tell me,” Joey said.
“Terrific.” In her delirium she had mistaken the burlap wrapping for shark hide. “Where am I?” she asked again. “I can’t see a damn thing. What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“They’re swollen shut.”
“From the salt? Please tell me that’s all—”
“And jellyfish stings,” the man said.
Joey reached up and gingerly touched her burning eyelids. A Portuguese man o’war must have brushed against her face while she was drifting.
“You’ll be okay in a day or so,” the man told her.
Joey groped under the covers. She was wearing what felt like a fleece pullover and light cotton sweatpants.
“Thanks for the clothes,” she said. “Or I should say, thank your wife.”
“Actually, they belonged to a friend.”
“Is she here now?”
“Hasn’t been for ages.”
So they were alone in this place, Joey and the stranger who had rescued her. “I can still hear the ocean in my head,” she said.
“It’s right outside your window. You’re on an island.”
Joey was too worn-out to be afraid. She liked the man’s voice. He didn’t sound like a psychopath or a sex criminal. Then again, she had a history of getting first impressions wrong.
“Sit up,” she heard him say. She smelled lemon and tasted strong hot tea when he held the cup to her lips. She drank every drop. Next there was vegetable soup and she finished that, too.
“I wish I could see what you look like,” she told him, “since you’ve seen all of me.”
The man said, “Sorry, but that’s how I found you.”
Stark naked on a bale of pot, Joey thought ruefully. She shivered from the flooding warmth of the soup, and for a moment she feared she might throw up. The man took the cup and lowered her head to the pillow.
“Back to sleep,” he said.
“I swear I smell a wet dog.”
“You do. He’s a pain in the ass, but he almost never bites women.” It hurt when Joey smiled, her skin was so taut and raw. “What kind is he?” she managed to say.
The man whistled and Joey heard the brisk click of canine toenails on a wooden floor. A clammy nose poked against her neck. She patted the animal’s head before the man whistled it back to its unseen corner.
“He feels like a bruiser,” she remarked.
“Doberman. Can’t swim for shit,” the man said. “Joey, are you feeling well enough to tell me what happened?”
“How’d you know my name?”
“It’s engraved on the inside of your wedding ring. I took it off before I put you in the bathtub.”
“You gave me a bath?”
“No offense, but you stunk like a bong.”
Joey checked her left hand—the platinum band was still there. The man easily could have stolen it, but he hadn’t. He could have made her believe that she’d lost it in the ocean, but instead he’d returned it to her finger. By now she was ready to believe he was a decent guy. The early signs were promising.
“I was thrown off a boat,” she told him.
“What kind of boat?”
“One of those giant cruise ships. The Sun Duchess.”
The man sounded doubtful. “You’d need fifteen-foot seas to get pitched off a cruise liner. It wasn’t nearly that rough last night.”
Joey said, “I didn’t get thrown off by a wave. I got thrown off by my husband.”
“You don’t believe me?”
There was an unreadable silence in the room. Joey raised her head and turned toward where she thought the man was sitting. “I didn’t just fall overboard, okay? The bastard pushed me.”
“That’s a shiny move,” the man said.
Joey told him exactly how Chaz had done it.
“But why?” the man asked.
“I don’t know. I swear to God I don’t.”
She heard him rise and slide his chair away from the bed. She asked where he was going.
“There’s no phone in the house. I’ve been charging my cell off the boat’s battery,” he said.
“Wait a minute. Who’re you going to call?”
“First the Coast Guard and then the cops.”
“Please don’t,” Joey said.
“Tell me your name.”
“Mick, please,” she said, “don’t call anybody. Not yet, okay? I need to sort this out in my head.”
“Let me help. What your husband did is called attempted murder, and I’m pretty sure it’s still against the law.”
The man said, “Fine. Whatever you say.”
His voice came from farther away, and Joey knew he was standing in the doorway. She figured that he was humoring her. “You’re gonna call anyway, aren’t you? Soon as I’m asleep, you’re gonna sneak out to your boat and phone the cops.”
“No, I won’t. That’s a promise.”
“Then where you going, Mick, huh?”
“To take a leak. That okay with you?”
She sagged back on the sheets and laughed to herself, thinking:
Sometimes I’m such a pill, I swear to God.
The Coast Guard expanded the search to almost three thousand square miles, though most of its effort focused on a trapezoidal sector off the northern Miami-Dade coastline that corresponded to the false information provided by Chaz Perrone. He remained confident that the searchers wouldn’t find Joey, but he held a secret fear that if the sharks were negligent, her body might wash ashore somewhere down in the Keys. That would poke a gaping hole in his fictional chronology, and serve to energize the annoying Broward detective.
Only an hour after leaving the Sun Duchess, Chaz got a scare. He was watching television in his room at the Harbor Beach Marriott when there was a teaser for the evening news: A charter boat out of Ocean Reef had snagged a dead body while trolling for bilifish—stay tuned for details!
Breathlessly, Chaz shot out of the bathroom, where he had been masturbating fruitlessly over a stack of Danish pornography. Through three minutes of laxative commercials he trembled in dread, waiting to hear if it was his wife who’d been reeled in by the startled anglers.
The newscast began with shaky helicopter footage of the charter boat at anchor, followed by a zoom-in shot of the corpse—cloaked in a bright yellow tarp—being hoisted on a stretcher to a Coast Guard cutter. Interviewed later at dockside, a sun-bleached young mate on the charter boat said of the gruesome catch: “We knew right away it wasn’t no sailfish because it didn’t jump.”
Eventually, the grave-spoken newscaster
revealed that the victim was a tourist from
Chaz had chosen to stay at the Marriott because of its proximity to Port Everglades and the Coast Guard station. His house was only thirty minutes away on the interstate, but he felt that staying closer and readily available to the authorities would fortify his credibility. It was important to appear to be keeping a vigil.
He was surprised when a reporter from the Sun-Sentinel tracked him down, but he didn’t lose his cool. The reporter explained that she had been checking the daily police logs when she’d come across the missing-person report, which listed the Marriott as a contact point for the subject’s husband.
“Have you heard anything yet?” Chaz asked the reporter, who said she hadn’t.
“When was the last time you saw your wife, Mr. Perrone?”
“It’s Dr. Perrone.”
“Oh? What’s your specialty?”
“Wetlands ecology,” Chaz said.
“So you’re not an M.D.”
“No, I’m a biologist.” Chaz hoped that the woman on the other end of the line couldn’t hear the grinding of his molars. It annoyed him when people got snooty about addressing him as “Dr.”
The reporter asked, “So when’d you last see Mrs. Perrone?”
Chaz gave an abbreviated version of the same account that he’d given the detective. The reporter didn’t exactly sound riveted, which was fine with Chaz. A big splash in the media was the last thing he wanted.
“Do you have any theories about what might have happened?” the reporter asked.
“I can’t imagine. You ever heard of anything like this?”
“Sure. People disappear off these cruise ships every now and then, but usually it turns out to be.. .“
“Turns out to be what?” Chaz asked, though he well knew the answer: drunken accidents or suicides. Oh, he’d done his homework.
“They’re not telling me very much. It sure is frustrating,” he added.
“I’ll call you if I hear anything,” the reporter said. “How long will you be at this number?”
“Until they find her,” Chaz replied stoically.
Afterward he hurried down to the lobby and phoned Ricca from a pay booth.
“Something terrible’s happened,” he told her. “Joey fell off the ship.”
“Fell off? How?”
“Least that’s what they think. They can’t find her anywhere.”
“Oh my God,” said Ricca.
“It’s just unbelievable.”
“You think maybe she jumped?”
“Why would she do a thing like that!”
“Maybe she found out about us.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Ricca.
There was a pause on the other end that Chaz deciphered immediately.
Ricca said, “Maybe she found out about something else.”
“Please don’t start with that shit. Not now,” Chaz pleaded. Ricca didn’t trust him as far as she could spit.
“Maybe someone else. Like another girlfriend.”
“Don’t be asinine. You’re the only one.”
“Ricca, I don’t have time for your Glenn Close impersonation right now. Half the U.S. Coast Guard is out hunting for my wife— boats, jets, helicopters, it’s unbelievable.”
“You don’t have any other girlfriends? Really, Chaz?”
“Yes, really. Look, I’d better sign off—”
“I could come by tonight,” she suggested, “take your mind off all this depressing stuff.”
He was tempted to say yes, but Ricca was a noisy one. On no less than three occasions, her orgasmic caterwauling had brought hotel security officers thundering to the door, certain that an ice-pick murder was in progress. No such tumult could be risked tonight—it would be poor form for a husband to be caught bonking a mistress less than twenty-four hours after his wife had perished.
“Call you tomorrow,” Chaz said to Ricca.
“Baby, I’m awful sorry about Joey.”
“Me, too. Good-bye, Ricca.”
“Wait. Who’s Glenn Close?”
Chaz stopped at the hotel bar and ordered a martini. Rolvaag, the Broward detective, found him there.
“You want a drink?” Chaz asked.
“Let’s go for a walk,” the detective said.
Chaz poured his drink into a go cup and followed Rolvaag outside. The sun was setting and the weather was mild and breezy, just like the night before. A wedding was taking place at the hotel, the bride posing for photographs in front of a lush bougainvillea hedge in the courtyard. She was a voluptuous young Cuban woman, maybe nineteen or twenty, and Chaz found himself devising impure fantasies about the honeymoon arrangements.
“No luck yet,” Rolvaag said.
“Finding your wife.”
“They’ll probably knock off tomorrow,” Rolvaag said.
“You’ve gotta be kidding! I thought they had to search for at least a week.”
“I don’t know what the standard procedure is. You’d have to ask the Coast Guard.”
“But they can’t give up already!” Chaz said, thinking: This is too good to be true. He had been dismayed when the search was extended to the south, knowing it would put spotter aircraft in the vicinity of his crime.
“I’ve got a few more questions,” the detective said. “Routine stuff, but not particularly pleasant.”
“Can’t we do this some other time?”
“Won’t take long.”
“Jesus Christ, then, let’s get it over with.” Chaz hoped he sounded appropriately exasperated.
“Have you taken out any life-insurance policies on your wife?” Rolvaag asked.
“Did she take out any coverage on herself?”
“At my suggestion, you mean?”
“At anybody’s suggestion.”
“Not that I know of,” Chaz said.
“It’s easy enough to check, Mr. Perrone.”
“And you will, I’m sure. By the way, it’s Dr.”
The detective shot him the most curious look before plodding on: “Do you have a business partnership with your wife? Joint investments, trading accounts, real-estate holdings—”
Chaz cut in: “Let me save you some time. Joey has her own dough. Lots of it.” Inwardly he congratulated himself for sticking to the present tense. “And if she dies, I don’t get a cent. The money goes into an irrevocable trust.”
“Who’s the beneficiary?”
“The World Wildlife
“Nope,” Rolvaag said.
“They go around crusading for endangered penguins and panda bears. Stuff like that.”
“Doesn’t that bother you, Mr. Perrone?”
“Of course not. I’m a biologist, remember? I’m all about saving wildlife.”
“No, I meant the fact that you won’t be getting any of your wife’s money.”
“Hey, it’s not mine,” Chaz countered mildly. “It’s a family inheritance. She can do whatever she wants with it.”
“Not all husbands would take that attitude.”
Chaz smiled. “Hey, if she suddenly changed her mind and decided to leave it all to me, I definitely wouldn’t rip up the check. But that’s not what she wants.”
“Was this a source of friction between the two of you?”
“Definitely not. She laid the whole thing out before we even got engaged. Her folks died in a plane crash and left her a bundle—what was I supposed to say? ‘Cut me in for half, would you, darling?’”
The detective asked how much Joey was worth. Chaz said he didn’t know precisely, which was true.
“Would you guess several million dollars?” Rolvaag asked.
“That’s my impression, yes. The pre-nup didn’t put an exact number on it,” Chaz said.
He failed to add that he’d signed the pre-nuptial agreement fully anticipating it would be scrapped at a later date. In his unshakable vanity Chaz thought that he would eventually charm his new bride into sharing her vast inheritance. He had pictured the intimate ceremony taking place in the bedroom, of course, after a night of athletic lovemaking—Joey, still aglow, unfolding the pre-nup and holding it to the flame of a lilac-scented candle. It had never happened, though, and after nearly two years of waiting Chaz had given up hope. Joey wasn’t hoarding the family fortune so much as ignoring it, which Chaz regarded as a crime against nature. What was the point, he’d asked himse1f~ of staying wed to a wealthy woman who refused to act like one? The answer: There was no point.
“And after you were married,” Rolvaag was saying, “what was the financial understanding between you and Mrs. Perrone?”
“Simple. Separate checkbooks, separate bank accounts,” Chaz said. “We split the bills down the middle.”
“How come you’re not writing this down?”
“Not necessary,” said the detective. “Do you have a lawyer, Mr. Perrone?”
“Do I need one?” Chaz asked.
Up until then, the conversation had gone exactly as he’d imagined it would. “I mean, is there something you’re not telling me? Did they find any evidence that points to, you know, a crime?”
“No, sir,” Rolvaag said. “Earlier I noticed you using the pay phone in the hotel lobby. I’m curious why you weren’t calling from your room—you know, for the privacy and all.”
“And then it occurred to me that you might be speaking with your lawyer,” the detective said, “because that’s the sort of thing some lawyers would do—have their clients phone from a pay booth.”
“Because that way the hotel won’t have any record of the outgoing call,” said Rolvaag. “Some of these guys, they see too many bad movies.”
Chaz said, “I don’t even know any lawyers.”
“I was calling our cleaning lady. I had to give her the alarm code to the house, since I won’t be there when she comes Monday. I forgot all about it until I was in the elevator on my way down to the bar.”
“Well, you’ve had a lot on your mind,” Rolvaag said.
“Her name is Ricca, you want to check it out.”
“Ricca. . . now what the heck is her last name?” Chaz mumbled, as if to himself.
By now the two men were on the beach, trudging through the soft sand in the direction of the jetties. Chaz was satisfied with the way he’d covered himself on the phone call; the detective seemed totally suckered.
Abruptly Rolvaag stopped and placed a hand heavily on Chaz’s shoulder. “Look out there, Mr. Perrone.”
For a long chilling moment Chaz was afraid to raise his eyes. Obviously the stroll was not so casual—the detective had set him up in the cruelest way. Chaz’s knees began to wobble as if they were coming unhinged.
But it turned out that Rolvaag wasn’t pointing at Joey’s bloated corpse in the surf, as Chaz had dreaded. He was pointing at the twinkling outline of a cruise liner off the coast. The ship’s prow was aimed out to sea.
“That’s the Situ Duchess,” the detective said. “They kept her in port two extra hours to finish the search.”
Chaz took a slow breath and tried to conceal his giddy relief. “And there was no sign of my wife anywhere on board? Nothing?”
“So she’s definitely in the water,” Chaz said.
“That would be a reasonable assumption.”
“Joey’s a swimmer—I mean, like, a champion swimmer. They can’t give up searching after only a day or two. They can’t.”
Rolvaag said, “I understand how you feel.”
“So what’m I supposed to do?” Chaz’s voice cracked convincingly, the result of many private rehearsals. “What the hell do I do now?”
They turned back toward the hotel, the detective saying, “Is there a clergyman you could call, Mr. Perrone? Someone close to the family?”
“Let me think,” Chaz said.
Inside he was laughing like a jackal.
Hiaasen does a great job with dialogue, and uses it to reveal the personality of the characters. Skinny Dip provides a few hours of very relaxing entertainment.
Steve Hopkins, September 25, 2004
ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the October 2004 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Skinny Dip.htm
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