After three glasses of wine, Desie could no longer pretend to be following her husband's account of the canned rhinoceros hunt. Across the table she appraised Palmer Stoat as if he were a mime. His fingers danced and his mouth moved, but nothing he said reached her ears. She observed him in two dimensions, as if he were an image on a television screen: an animated middle-aged man with a slight paunch, thin blond hair, reddish eyebrows, pale skin, upcurled lips and vermilion-splotched cheeks (from too much sun or too much alcohol). Palmer had a soft neck but a strong chiseled chin, the surgical scars invisible in the low light. His teeth were straight and polished, but his smile had a twist of permanent skepticism. To Desie, her husband's nose had always appeared too small for his face; a little girl's nose, really, although he insisted it was the one he'd been born with. His blue eyes also seemed tiny, though quick and bright with self-confidence. His face was, in the way of prosperous ex-jocks, roundish and pre-jowly and companionable. Desie wouldn't have called Stoat a hunk but he was attractive in that gregarious southern frat-boy manner, and he had overwhelmed her with favors and flattery and constant attention. Later she realized that the inexhaustible energy with which Palmer had pursued their courtship was less a display of ardor than an ingrained relentlessness; it was how he went after anything he wanted. They dated for four weeks and then got married on the island of Tortola. Desie supposed she had been in a fog, and now the fog was beginning to lift. What in the world had she done? She pushed the awful question out of her mind, and when she did she was able to hear Palmer's voice again.
"Some creepo was tailing me," he was saying, "for like a hundred miles."
Her husband snorted. "To rob my lily-white ass, that's why."
"This was a black guy?" Desie asked.
"Or a Cuban. I couldn't see which," Stoat said, "but I tell you what, sweets, I was ready for the sonofabitch. Señor Glock was in my lap, locked and loaded."
"On the turnpike, Palmer?"
"He would have been one stone-dead mother."
"Just like your rhino," Desie said. "By the way, are you getting her stuffed like the others?"
"Mounted," Stoat corrected. "And just the head."
"Lovely. We can hang it over the bed."
"Speaking of which, guess what they're doing with rhinoceros horns."
"Who's they?" Desie asked.
"Asians and such."
Desie knew, but she let Palmer tell the story. He concluded with Durgess's fanciful rumor of two-day erections.
"Can you imagine!" Stoat hooted.
Desie shook her head. "Who'd even want one of those?"
"Maybe you might, someday." He winked.
Desie glanced around for the waiter. Where was dinner? How could it take so long to boil pasta?
Stoat poured himself another glass of wine. "Rhino horns, Holy Christ on a ten-speed. What next, huh?"
"That's why poachers are killing them off," his wife said.
"That's why they're almost extinct. God, Palmer, where have you been?"
"Working for a living. So you can sit home, paint your toenails and learn all about endangered species on the Discovery Channel."
Desie said, "Try the New York Times."
"Well, pardon me." Stoat sniffed sarcastically. "I read the newspaper today, oh boy."
This was one of her husband's most annoying habits, dropping the lyrics of old rock songs into everyday conversation. Palmer thought it clever, and perhaps it wouldn't have bothered Desie so much if occasionally he got the words right, but he never did. Though Desie was much younger, she was familiar with the work of Dylan and the Beatles and the Stones, and so on. In college she had worked two summers at a Sam Goody outlet.
Excerpted from Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen. Copyright© 1999 by Carl Hiaasen. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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