(Read the rest of this series here. It will fix your soul.)
I threw myself out of the van, coughing and retching. The noxious cloud of pepper spray followed me into the street. I was so busy slapping at the pain in my eyes that I barely noticed the oncoming car about to flatten me. It honked and I skipped out of the way at the last second.
As my eyelids blinked the acid away, my surroundings started to come into focus. We had stopped on a bridge, the van pulled over into the shoulder on the right side of the road. Concrete K-rail barriers, standing about gut level, lined the edge of the bridge. Giant suspension cables stretched high into the air, fixed to two stone columns in the center. It looked like whatever that dinosaur is with the spiky sail on its back.
Sid was forcing Maria out of the van. Neither of them looked to be in good shape themselves. He rubbed at his eyes, still managing to keep the gun trained on her. She backed up, hands in the air.
I had no idea what kind of condition Joe the manatee was in. I decided to wait until the pepper spray cleared before I stuck my head back in the van.
“Back up!” Sid shouted. “All the way to the wall.”
Maria glared. “That’s my manatee in there. And I’m going to take her back.”
“Yeah, well this gun here and every bullet inside it says otherwise. Now turn around and put your hands on the cement.”
I didn’t doubt the sincerity of the menace in his voice, but Maria seemed unfazed by it. She stood still and folded her arms, defiant.
I went over to defuse the situation. “Sid, what are we doing here, bro? Just ditch her and let’s get off this stupid ass bridge.”
Sid didn’t budge. “This bridge, my out-of-state friend, is the Sunshine Skyway. Flag bridge of Florida. And in about ten seconds our little guest here is going to find herself flying off of it.”
“Sid! Jesus fuck, man, you don’t need to kill her!”
He spun on me, snarling. “No bitch pepper sprays me like that! She could have gotten us all killed. I’ll be damned if I let that go unpunished!”
“Yeah, but she’s hot. It’d be a total waste.”
He coughed and spit out a wad of something sticky. “Fucking pepper spray. This is why women should be in crates, where they belong.”
Sid has a very particular world view.
Maria took a step forward. Her eyes were narrow slits, thinner than paper cuts as she stared us down. “Give. Me. The. Manatee.”
Goddamn, this chick had no fear.
I said, “Yo, why are you so insistent on rescuing this one manatee?”
Another step. Her fists balled up. “Rescuing manatees is what I do, motherfucker! That is literally my day job!”
Sid said, “I swear, if you move even another hair closer I will blow a hole in your skull and chuck your carcass over the bridge myself. Now get back, turn around, and put your fucking hands on the wall!”
They stared each other down for so long that I was just about certain he would just shoot her. Finally she backed away, her reluctance weighing down her every footstep. She did as she was told and stood against the outer barrier, palms out flat against the concrete.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe we’d still be able to get out of here without bloodshed. “All right,” I said. “Now you just stay there while we back away. Else my psychotic friend here might get more trigger happy than he already is. C’mon Sid, let’s get gettin’.”
Sid didn’t move. For a moment we just looked at each other. Right before the confusion could settle firmly into my brain, Sid said, “You know Chris, I think this is a good enough time as any for us to part ways.” He swung the gun toward me. “Get over there with the girl.”
I stared. “Yo, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“I’m taking the manatee for myself. I have my own interests.”
Holy shit. He was seriously betraying me. I couldn’t believe it.
I said, “What?! Was this your plan from the beginning? You just used me?”
“I’m afraid so.”
I said, “Man, I thought it was weird that you agreed to help me without even asking what was in it for you.”
He shrugged. “Sorry Chris. Business is business.”
I stomped over next to Maria and sulked. “Well this is some bullshit. Everyone always says that human traffickers are bad news, but I didn’t want to stereotype so I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Now this is how you do me? I thought we were bros.”
“Yeah, maybe we were at one time, Chris. But you’re the kind of guy who goes years without talking to someone then shows up on their doorstep asking for all kinds of elaborate favors. So I don’t feel too bad about being the selfish one for a change.”
Maria piped up, “Selfish why? I don’t understand any of this. What do you people even want with this poor manatee? What could possibly be worth all this trouble?”
I puffed up. “Well I’m tryin’ to win a challenge. I’m Chris Derricks, after all, and I ain’t one to back down from a challenge. And he, well, I don’t know what his shit’s about now.”
Sid shrugged. “I’ve got a client who will pay big money for this kind of thing.”
Maria said, “What kind of thing do you mean? A harmless aquatic mammal?”
Sid smiled. “Not just some aquatic mammal, no. There are people who look at them with a little more affection than that. Actually, a lot more affection.”
Despite the fact that Sid still had his gun very much trained on us, Maria turned around to face him. “More affection? I spend every day with these creatures! They’re why I went to school for eight years. Why I spent another three volunteering my time to work with them before anyone ever offered to pay me for it. I rush to the water in the middle of the night to help them when they get hit by boats. I spend weeks rehabilitating them. Hand feeding them. Stitching their wounds. I do everything in my power to make them healthy enough to send back into the wild to try and live full lives. And now you people come along and take one from me, because you think someone will show them ‘more affection’ than I do? I don’t think that’s possible, asshole.” She took a step closer. “Now you give me back my manatee.”
Sid laughed. “I don’t think so. You’re not exactly the one cutting me a check, are you? And maybe you’ve forgotten, but I’m still absolutely willing to shoot you in cold blood. So stop moving.”
Maria, bless her for her spunk, didn’t budge.
I said, “Back up, lady. I once saw this guy beat the shit out of a Domino’s delivery guy because he didn’t bring enough of those little Parmesan cheese packets. So he’ll probably do any crazy thing he says he’s gonna do.”
I mean, at least fight them over something reasonable, like how shitty their pizza is.
Maria looked at me hard, then finally relented.
Sid smiled. “Very good. Thanks for backing me up, Chris. Now, here’s what you’re going to do: jump. Both of you.”
I did a single jumping jack.
Sid cackled. “Not exactly, no. I meant jump off the bridge.”
I balked. “Whoa, what now? You’re serious?”
“I don’t want to kill you, Derricks. But I can’t risk you following me either. So jump.”
Maria scowled. “Fuck you. This bridge is almost two hundred feet high.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “And you think you’ll have better luck up here, with this gun barrel pointed at your face? Come on, it’s not that bad. We’re not even on the main span. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll just break your legs and be able to float around until rescue comes. Now I’m not going to say it again: jump.”
At this point I had turned my attention to the cars driving past. I waved my arms like a maniac and shouted, “Hey! Yo, help us out here! A psychopath is trying to kill us and steal my manatee!”
Sid rolled his eyes. “Stop that, Chris. You’re embarrassing yourself.”
My arms fell to my side. I said, “Jesus, nobody is even stopping!”
“Yeah, this is Florida. People are pretty used to stuff like this.”
“Fuck your drama. I have places to be.”
I thought about my chances. On one hand, I could throw out one of my signature Chris Derricks spin kicks and try to disarm him. On the other, I wasn’t sure I had the clearance to pull off such a move. Plus, like, I’d pulled my hamstring a couple days ago so I probably couldn’t stretch that far.
Hopping off the bridge might not be so bad. It would just be like extreme cliff jumping or something. Who knew? Maybe we’d even survive.
I turned to Maria. “Hey babe, I don’t think we have a choice. Either this fuck shoots us right here, or we risk it in the water. If you’re worried about floating; my muscles are super big and buoyant so you can just wrap yourself around them.”
Maria blinked. “Oh, this is all so fucked.”
To Sid, I said, “You better not hurt Joe, you queef. He deserves better than the likes of you.”
Poor little bastard.
“Believe me, it’s not me you have to worry about mistreating him.” He gestured with the gun. “Now come on, up on the ledge.”
I tried to think of something to stall for time, but short of whipping my dick out and trying to hypnotize him I couldn’t come up with anything. So together Maria and I climbed up onto the concrete siding that separated the safety of firm ground from the drop below. For what it’s worth, I still felt relatively confident about our chances of survival. Then I took one peek over the edge and completely changed my mind.
I turned around, tried to hop back down to the road, saying, “Oh fuck this, never mind! I’ll take the bullet!”
Sid said, “Sure thing.”
He fired the gun.
I don’t know if he meant to hit me and missed, or if he just wanted to scare us, but either way it worked. I flinched out of reflex at the sound of the gunshot and that little movement sent me over the edge. I flailed instinctively and tried to catch onto something. That something turned out to be Maria. She yelped as I pulled her down with me. Behind us, Sid giggled as we fell.
Then the sound of his laughter was drowned out by both the rush of wind and our own screams.