- The Eye of the Storm
Editor’s Note - In cooperation with local authorities, Tampa Bay Today has decided to publish a second letter in connection with the recent rash of homicides. Based upon evidence they cannot disclose, police have confirmed that the author is responsible for at least some of the murders. However, investigators are uncertain whether this new correspondence is the work of the same person writing in a different state of mind, or evidence of a second, copycat killer. A word of caution: certain language may offend sensitive readers, but we are leaving the letter intact to increase the chance that someone might recognize the writer’s syntax.
Dear Letters to the Editor,
Next: What’s with giving that retardo?bot serial killer credit for every unsolved murder in this state? He doesn’t possess nearly the intellect or wit to conceive the imaginative technique that police aren’t divulging in the Fowler Avenue case (if, hypothetically, I knew anything about it, which I don’t). But you have to admit, it was pretty funny, especially if you were there (which I wasn’t). And then, what on earth were you thinking publishing his letter last week? Could you believe that trite prose? What a bunch of self-important, freshman philosophy drivel! Sure, I went through the same idealistic phase about the encroachment of rampant development on our stressed ecosystems. And yes, people need to be killed, but not randomly. That’s just wrong.
Plus: What’s with letting the guy name himself? “Eye of the Storm.” Give me a break! The guy’s a serial killer! At the very least, his punishment should be he doesn’t get to choose his own nickname. On the other hand, it’s better than the dumb stuff the media always comes up with. Like a few years back when they started finding those bodies in Yosemite National Park, and you guys called him something lame like “The National Park Killer.” Hey, there’s no law that says you can’t go back and improve a serial killer’s nickname, so here’s my gift to you, what he should have been dubbed in the first place: “Son of Yosemite Sam.”
Finally: Why don’t you run bridge anymore next to the crossword? When did that stop? Personally, I hate the game and all who play it, but seeing those little hearts and clubs in the paper each morning was a reassuring cultural anchorage. Now I constantly feel off balance, like when you take a really sound nap in the afternoon and wake up just before sunset, and for a brief, terrifying moment you don’t know what part of the day it is: “Jumping Jesus! I’ve been drugged and kidnapped!” And you start checking for signs of anal violation. Know what I mean? Please run bridge.
Dissatisfied in Tampa,
Serge A. Storms
August, middle of the season, between hurricanes #3 and #4:
Traffic was heavy on Tampa’s main, north-south artery. Several of the vehicles were flying little satin flags declaring respective allegiance to the Bucs, Lightning or Gators. A unique flag snapped in the wind from the antenna of one vehicle: a large red square with a smaller black square inside. Storm warning.
Bump. Ba-bump. Bump. Ba-bump ...
Serge and Coleman sat through one of those ultra-long, four-way traffic lights at the corner of Dale Mabry and Kennedy. Coleman was driving so Serge could practice his new electric guitar. It was a pawnshop Stratocaster. Serge just had to have a Stratocaster because he was going to be “like Clapton, only better.” Serge tuned the D string and began strumming unplugged.
Coleman held his joint below window level. “What are you playing?”
“Classic Dylan.” Serge cleared his throat and inflected the distinct nasal twang. “This is the story of the Hurricane ...”
Bump. Ba-bump. Bump. Ba-bump ...
Serge stopped. The tuning was off; he twisted a knob again. “Can’t tell how glad I am it’s hurricane season again. I’m so pumped! I relish preparing for each new storm the way other people get ready for big football games, especially the tail-gating.”
Coleman took a hit from the roach secretly cupped in his hand in a way that looked even more suspicious. “Why’s that?”
“Because I love hurricanes!” He test-strummed a cord and twisted another knob. “Everything about them. History, science, the way the community bands together in the collective memory of a common experience, which dwindled out around the time we got Internet porn. As a bonus, TV provides gavel-to-gavel coverage from those insane weather reporters on the beach. What a scream! And no matter how hard you try, you can’t stop watching. It’s worse than crack. I just surrender and sit there for hours like when PBS runs those Labor Day marathons on bacteria.”
Coleman looked sideways at Serge.
“Nothing.” Coleman faced forward.
“No, you were going to say something.”
“Don’t want to judge. Just sounds like you’re hoping for tragedy.”
“Easy mistake to make,” said Serge. “It appears ghoulish on the surface, but an obsessive interest in hurricanes actually saves lives. The more you know, the easier to react and recover.”
“You’re saving lives?”
“When am I not?” Serge tried another cord. “If only more people had my ungoverned curiosity. Some politicians should be going to prison for New Orleans. Remember when that FEMA wimp said he didn’t know people were stranded at the convention center until Thursday? Imagine being so incompetent that your performance rockets a thousand percent if someone tells you, ‘Okay, stop absolutely everything else you’re doing and just watch a motherfuckin’ television.”
“I want that job.”
The light turned green. They drove. Serge’s hurricane flag fluttered in the breeze. “Nope, nothing would make me happier than if every storm this season obeyed my psychic commands and spun harmlessly out at sea.”
Coleman stopped at another red light on the corner of Cypress. “How did you first get into hurricanes?”
“Was imprinted as a kid by Charles Chips.”
“The trucks that used to deliver?”
“They’d drop off those giant, yellow-and-brown-speckled metal tabernacles of potato chip goodness,” said Serge. “Another casualty of progress.”
“What’s that got to do with storms.”
“Hurricane Betsy, 1965, Riviera Beach. Had a can all to myself, practically as big as me. It’s how my parents bribed my hyper, three-year-old butt from running around the house near the windows getting blown in.” Serge tuned another string. “Ate the whole thing by candlelight in the hallway while wind howled and candles burned down and a tree crashed through the garage. After that, hurricanes and Charles Chips went together like tonsillectomies and ice cream.”
Another stoplight. Serge released the tuning knob. “There we go. ... From the top. One, and-a two, and-a ... This is the story of the Hurricane ...”
Bump. Ba-bump. Bump. Ba-bump. Bump. Ba-Bump ...
“Why’d you stop playing?” asked Coleman. “I was getting into it.”
“That sound’s drowning out my song. Where’s it coming from?” Serge stuck his head out the window and looked up at the sky. “Are we being bombed? Is a building getting demolished?”
Coleman pointed at the rearview. “I think it’s that car back there.”
Serge twisted around. “Where?”
“Coming up from the last light.”
“Can’t be.” Serge rolled up his window. “That’s at least a half mile. How is it possible?”
The other car grew bigger in the back window.
Bump. Ba-Bump. Bump. Ba-Bump ...
Their whole vehicle shook. Metal seams hummed. Coleman tightened his grip on the vibrating steering wheel. “How far?”
“Two hundred yards and closing.”
The other vehicle rolled up in the next lane and stopped at the light.
BUMP. BA-BUMP. BUMP. BA-BUMP ...
Serge and Coleman turned to see a sunburnt man with a shaved head, fu manchu and Mr. Clean gold earring.
“What kind of car is it?” yelled Coleman.
“Datsun,” shouted Serge. “Standard package: Gothic windshield lettering, chain-link steering wheel, fog lights, chassis glow tubes, low-ride tires, thousand-watt bozooka amplifier, and those shiny, spinning hubcaps that glint in a manner that says, ‘I have no investments.’”
Coleman grabbed his cheek. “I think I lost a filling.”
“It’s un-tuning my guitar.” Serge’s voice warbled as he gestured toward the next lane with an upturned palm. “The Death of Courtesy, Exhibit Triple-Z.”
The light turned green. Squealing tires and smoke in the next lane. The Datsun raced four blocks and skidded up to another light. Serge and Coleman took their time. The music pounded louder again as they approached the intersection.
“I haven’t heard this song before,” said Coleman. “The only words I can make out are fight the oppression and pump that pussy.”
“He’s getting on my final nerve.”
“But I thought you liked rap music.”
“When it’s played by rappers. The genre organically sprang forth from a culture of adversity and fortitude. I can respect that. But it also fucked up some Caucasian DNA and spawned an unintended mutant.”
They eased up to the light and Serge tilted his head. “The Hip-Hop Redneck.”
“Now that you mention it, I been noticing them in disturbing numbers.”
“They should work on their own sound.”
“What would that be?” asked Coleman.
“If he’s going to play so loud, why does he have the windows down?”
“It’s his mating call.” Serge rolled down his own window and waved. “Excuse me?”
The other driver couldn’t hear him.
The driver looked around and noticed the passenger in the next car.
“Yoo-hoo!” shouted Serge. “I sure would appreciate it if you’d crank down the tunes. I believe I speak for the bulk of society. ... No, not up, down ... Down! Down! ... That’s up again! ...”
Serge rolled his window shut. He faced forward, took deep breaths and counted to ten under his breath.
Coleman leaned and looked across Serge. “He’s giving you the finger.”
“Just ignore him. The light’s green. Drive.”
Coleman started to go. “But you never ignore guys like that.”
“My psychiatrist says I must learn to walk away from this kind of negativity. So I focus on enjoying the future he’s limited to.”
Coleman glanced across Serge again. “He didn’t patch out this time. He’s staying right with us. ... Now he’s yelling something about your mother.”
“Turn in this parking lot. Let us go our separate ways.”
Coleman pulled into Toys R Us. “He’s following.”
“Park here,” said Serge.
The Datsun screeched up alongside. The driver jumped out and grabbed the locked door handle, banging on Serge’s window. “Open up! ...”
Serge rolled his window down a crack. “You look like you could use a big hug.”
“I’ll fuckin’ kill you!” He hopped on the balls of his feet, throwing punches in the air. “Come out here, you wuss!” He ripped Serge’s hurricane flag off the antenna, threw it to the ground and began stomping.
“Coleman, you’re a witness. Didn’t I try to walk away?”
“That you did.”
“Just so it’s noted in the official record.” Serge grabbed his door handle. “Okay, I’m coming out ...”