by Hunter S. Thompson
From The Silk Road: Fast Boats on The Ocean At Night
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We were calling a cab in the Key West airport when I saw these two Fishhead boys grab my bags off the carousel. The skinny one was halfway to the parking lot with the big red, white, and blue seabag full of diving gear before I realized what was happening ...
No, I thought. No, this can't be true. Not right here in front of my eyes, in the blue-lit glare of the breezeway in this friendly little airport, with palm trees all around and Mother Ocean rolling up on the beach just a few hundred yards to the south.
It must be a setup, I thought; some nark in the pay of the White House that evil bastard Hamilton has been trying to bust me ever since I set him on fire in Orlando ... and this was, after all, another election year.
In the good old days I might have thought it was Gordon Liddy, just running one of his capers. But Gordon doesn't work for the White House anymore, and Hamilton has other problems -- like trying to reelect what Dick Goodwin calls “the only truly Republican president since Herbert Hoover” on the Democratic ticket.
So, for the White House and even the DEA ... and on a “need to be busted” basis, I figured my name was not even on the list for 1980. I was not even covering the campaign.
I still had the phone in my hand when I saw the fat one. He came shuffling out of the darkness, where he'd obviously been standing lookout for his buddy; he glanced around to see that nobody was watching, then reached down and picked up my triple-locked leather satchel.
Whoops, I thought, let's have a word with these boys. They were locals — punks, maybe nineteen or twenty years old, and they did it so casually that I knew they had been here before. Semipro luggage thieves, the lowest and cruelest kind of scum. I felt the phone pulling out of the wall as I suddenly moved toward the action.
Cut the thumbs off these vultures, I thought. Carve on them.
Then I remembered that my bone knife was in the red, white, and blue diving bag. All I had for leverage was this baby blue telephone receiver that I'd just ripped off the wall by the Travelers' Aid counter. It was trailing about six feet of coiled blue rubber wire as I ran.
"Goddamn you rotten bastards I'll kill you goddamn brainless --"
This savage screaming confused me for a moment. Then I realized it was me. Was I moving faster than my own sounds?
Maybe not. But pure rage is a serious fuel, and now I was moving at least like Dick Butkus on speed toward this poor doomed screwhead who had already staggered and fallen to one knee under the weight of my leather satchel. I was still about 100 feet away when he heard my screams and saw me coming. I knew I had the angle on him, even before he staggered ... he was out in the open now and his face was stupid with terror.
“Eat shit and die!”
It was a thundering brutal scream, and for a moment I thought it was me again, still moving faster than sound ....
But this time the scream was really behind me. It was Skinner: He'd been raving, drooling drunk all the way from Aruba, but the sudden screech of battle had jerked him awake from his stupor and now he was right behind me, screaming as he ran. I pointed left toward the parking lot, at the skinny geek with my diving bag. I smelled the whiskey pumping up from Skinner's lungs as he passed me and angled left to where I'd pointed.
It was not quite an hour after sunset. We had come in on the last flight and then lingered for a while in the pilots' lounge, so now there was nobody else in that end of the airport. A magic moment in the tropics: just the four of us, like beasts gone into a frenzy, back to the fang and the claw ... and for just a few seconds the only other sound in that empty white corridor where we were closing with terrible speed and craziness on these two Fishhead boys was the high speed rubbery slap of Skinner's new Topsiders on the tile as we bore down on them ... wild shouts and the squeal of new rubber ....
A punk's nightmare: like getting sucked into the blades of a jet engine, for no good reason at all ...
Right. Just another late gig at the airport .... Just you and Bubba, like always; maybe two or three times a week: just hang around the baggage area until something worth stealing shows up late on the carousel ... and then, with perfect dumb style and timing, you seize the bags you've been watching and ...
YE FUCKING GODS! Two drunken screaming brutes, coming wild out of nowhere and moving with awesome speed ...
“Hey Bubba! What's all that screaming? I thought there was nobody --”
“O God, no! Run, Bubba, run!"
Killer Drunks! They jumped us like mad dogs. At first I saw only one of them. He had big brown eyes and no hair ... I was scared, man. I mean the way he was running and screaming just scared the shit out of me .... It was CRAZY.
Bubba never had a chance. These were serious Killer Drunks, man. I mean they were out of their fucking minds. The last thing I remember is when Bubba started to scream and then all of a sudden I didn't hear anything ... and that's when the other one hit me. It almost broke my back, and all I remember after that is pain all over my head and somebody yelling, ”Eat Shit and Die!“ They were serious, man. They were trying to kill us. They were crazy!
Well ... maybe so. But we were there to cover the Boat Race, not to act crazy.
And certainly not to kill Fishhead boys ... although Skinner was so crazed on whiskey that for a while I thought he really was going to kill that skinny bleeder he ran down out there in the parking lot.
"You screwhead bastard!" he was yelling. Then I heard the awful smack of bone against bone .... The sound drove me wild; somewhere in that madness I recall a flash of remorse, but it had to be very brief. My last coherent thought before we made physical contact with these people was, Why are we doing this?
There was not much time to think. All of a sudden the whole airport came alive with the sounds of violence. A pitiful cry drifted in from the palm-shrouded darkness of the parking lot as Skinner made his hit ... and then I crashed into the fat boy at top speed, leg-whipping him in the groin as we collided and then tumbled wildly across the tile floor and into the wall of the Avis booth.
I grabbed him by the hair and bit deeply into the flesh on the side of his neck. The sudden taste of hot blood caused me to bite him twice again before he went stiff and started making sounds like a chicken. I got a grip on his hair and dragged him out to the parking lot, where I heard Skinner still whipping on the other one.
"Let's tie these bastards to a tree and play hurricane," I said. He was still kicking the body of the unconscious thief -- but he heard what I said, and smiled.
So we lashed these two Fishhead boys to a palm tree with some yellow nylon cord from my diving bag; then we beat them with tree limbs for twenty or thirty minutes. Finally, when we were too exhausted to whip on them anymore, I wanted to cut off their thumbs with the bone knife, but Skinner said it would be wrong.
Later, in my penthouse suite at the Pier House, I felt vaguely unsatisfied.
"We don't need it," Skinner insisted. "The joke's over when you start mutilating people -- hacking off thumbs and weird shit like that. We're not in Damascus, Doc. Get a grip on yourself."
I shrugged. Why not? Why push it?
Skinner was drinking heavily now, but his mind seemed clear. "There could be a few questions when they find those boys tied up to that tree in the morning," he said.
"Never mind that," I told him. ”We have work to do in the morning; we have our own questions to ask."
He stared into his drink for a long moment. "Ah yes,” he said finally, “The Race.”
Indeed. We were there to cover the boat race -- big off-shore boomers like Cigarettes and Scarabs and Panteras, ninety miles an hour on the open sea. When I asked if I could ride in one of the race boats, the driver replied, “Sure you can -- but if you have any fillings in your teeth, you'll probably lose them.”
“That’s right,” he said. “We kick ass. We never slow down.”
"Okay," I said. "I guess I'll ride with you."
The driver looked up at me from his seat in the cockpit of the boat. It was forty feet long and the whole rear end was two 300-horsepower Chrysler engines. "No you won't," he said after waiting a moment while Skinner took some pictures of his boat. "It's against the rules."
Skinner spit down into the cockpit. "Fuck you, man," he said. "We're riding on this boat. We're taking it to Cuba."
The driver seized a wrench handle and quickly stood up in the cockpit. "You conch bastard!" he snarled. "You spit on my boat!"
Skinner was wearing three Nikons around his neck, and I grabbed him by one of the straps. "Are you sick?" I said quietly. "Is this how you act when I finally get you a decent assignment?"