A new Carl Hiaasen novel is always cause for celebration. We look forward to a mystery novel such as his to laugh a bit and shake off the oddities of life.
“If you could use some wild escapism right now, Hiaasen is your guy.” —The New York Times
WITH A NEW EPILOGUE
At the height of Palm Beach’s charity ball season, Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons, a prominent member of geriatric high society, suddenly vanishes during a swank gala. Kiki Pew was a founding member of the Potussies, a group of women dedicated to supporting the President, who spends half the year at the “Winter White House” just down the road. Meanwhile, Angie Armstrong, wildlife wrangler extraordinaire, is called to the island to deal with a monster-sized Burmese python that has taken residency in a tree. But the President is focused on the disappearance of Kiki Pew. Never one to miss an opportunity to play to his base, he immediately declares her a victim of rampaging immigrant hordes. This, it turns out, is far from the truth, which now lies in the middle of the road, where a bizarre discovery brings the First Lady’s motorcade to a grinding halt. Irreverent, ingenious, and uproariously entertaining, Squeeze Me perfectly captures the absurdity of our times.
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|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Place of Birth:South Florida
Education:Emory University; B.A., University of Florida, 1974
Read an Excerpt
The Otter Falls subdivision was on the westernmost outskirts of Boca Raton. A small drab gatehouse marked the entrance. The young, thick-tongued guard said nobody named Angela Armstrong was on the vendor/contractor list. Angie said she wasn’t a vendor/ contractor; she was a specialist.
“What’s that in the back of your truck?” the guard asked.
“Capture noose. Bungie cords. Road kennel.”
“I meant the gun.”
“Gas-propelled rifle. Shoots tranquilizer darts.”
“For real? No effin’ way.”
“Doubt I’ll need it today,” Angie said. “A man named Fleck left a message asking me to come right away. Unless there’s another Otter Falls around here . . .”
“This is the only one I heard of.”
“Wild guess: No otters and no waterfall.”
The guard rubbed his fleshy chin. “It’s just that Mr. Fleck didn’t call and put your name on the list.”
“That’s because he didn’t have my name,” said Angie. “All he had was a number.”
Drowsily the guard shook his head. “Sorry. It’s the rules.”
“I believe you’re baked.”
“What! No way.”
“Sir, there’s a vape pen in the pocket of your uniform.”
The guard sheepishly moved the pen out of sight. “I am totally legal,” he said. His mouth had gone dry. “I got my state card and everything. The weed is for migraines.”
Angie smiled. “I’d get stoned, too, cooped up all day in this glorified outhouse. But at least they gave you a/c. Some of these homeowners’ associations, they’re so cheap they make the guards roast in the heat.”
“I can’t let you in. That’s how the dude before me got fired.”
“Understood. So, if Mr. Fleck calls up asking where I am, please tell him you did your job and turned me away.” Angie put the truck in reverse. “Also, tell him good luck with that raccoon.”
As Angie backed up, the stoner guard scrambled out of the booth waving at her: “Yo, ma’am, wait! I didn’t know that’s why you were here.”
She poked her head out the truck. “The noose wasn’t a clue?”
“The Flecks are in Building D, number 158.” He raised the gate and motioned for the specialist to drive through.
“Rock on,” Angie said as she drove past.
Jonathan Fleck was pacing the sidewalk in front of the townhouse. His wife and kids had barricaded themselves in an upstairs bedroom while the wild raccoon ransacked the kitchen.
“It must’ve broke in through the back door,” Fleck said as he led Angie inside.
The living room was neat and newly renovated. White walls and pale furniture made it feel less cramped. Fleck was dressed up for a legit job—navy slacks, white shirt, club necktie. Obviously the guy worked Saturdays, so Angie figured he must be in sales—new cars maybe, or household audio components.
Fleck took out a handgun, which he passed to Angie saying, “I couldn’t do the deed myself. Truth is I’ve never fired this thing.”
It was a Glock nine, of course, the favored armament of modern white suburbanites. Angie made sure the safety was on before placing the weapon on a hallway table. She went back to her truck, rigged the capture noose and put on some long canvas gloves.
“Can I watch?” Fleck asked.
“No, sir. You get hurt, I lose my insurance.”
“All right. But at least can I ask how much is this gonna cost?”
“Four hundred dollars,” Angie replied.
“You’re shitting me.”
“Five-fifty, if it’s a female with little ones.”
“Unbelievable,” Fleck muttered. “You take plastic?”
The pudgy raccoon sat splay-legged on its haunches, finishing a Triscuit. It growled at Angie while nimbly plucking another cracker from the box. The animal’s furry dome of a tummy was evidence of a prolonged feast. The kitchen was a wreck—the cabinet doors had been flung open, the countertops strewn with rice, raisins, dry macaroni, granola, our, pistachios and Lucky Charms. A half-eaten blueberry Pop-Tart extruded from a toaster that the raccoon had unplugged and dragged to the floor.
Angie noticed the animal eyeing her long-handled noose. “Sorry, compadre,” she said, “but we gotta take a ride.”
From the hallway came a voice: “Don’t you need to shoot it so they can test for rabies?”
“It’s not rabid, sir. Just cheeky.”
Behind Angie, the swinging kitchen door moved. It was Fleck, holding the damn Glock again.
He whispered, “I thought you could use some backup.”
“Back your ass up those stairs,” Angie told him, “and wait with your family.”
Transferring the raccoon to the truck was, as usual, a clamorous enterprise. Plenty of bare-fanged snapping and writhing—Angie’s trousers saved her shins from being shredded. Afterward the Fleck children emerged with upraised phones to snap photos of the sulking intruder inside the transport kennel.
Angie shook off her gloves and processed Fleck’s AmEx with her mobile card reader, which rejected it on three attempts.
“Your chip slot isn’t working,” Fleck protested.
“It works fine,” said Angie.
“Then there’s some sort of screwup by American Express.” Fleck was striving to appear more irritated than embarrassed. “I’m afraid I don’t have four hundred in cash on me. Will you take a personal check?”
“Don’t even go there.”
“So . . . what happens if I can’t pay you right now?”
“What happens is I re-deposit this unruly creature in your domicile.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“No, Señor Fuckwhistle, I am not."
“I went from ‘sir’ to ‘Señor Fuckwhistle?’ ”
Angie put on her gloves again. “I didn’t come here to get stiffed. This bad boy’s going straight back to the kitchen.”
Fleck bolted inside to fetch his wife’s MasterCard, which sailed through Angie’s reader on the first try. Angie promised to email a receipt.
After departing Otter Falls, she drove all the way to the Seminole reservation at Big Cypress. There were closer places to have staged the release, but she enjoyed the long ride across the blond saw grass marsh. It was a rare stretch of South Florida interstate with a view that wasn’t savagely depressing.
Angie took the Snake Road exit and continued north to an area with lots of tall timber and relatively few hunters. When she reached down to unlatch the door of the carry kennel, the raccoon huffed at her. She stepped back and saluted as the animal grumpily walked into the woods. In a perfect world, it would never again catch the scent of a Pop-Tart.
For a while Angie cruised slowly along the back roads of the reservation, hoping to see a panther or a bear. She didn’t get home until seven-thirty. Joel was sitting in her TV chair watching a PBS special about calving glaciers.
“I thought this was your dad’s weekend,” said Angie. “He asked me to skip his turn.”
“Ah. The equestrian must be visiting.”
“Actually, they’re living together now,” Joel said. “Well, well.”
“And she can’t ride for a while. She got thrown and cracked her pelvis.”
“Ouch. What’s your old man going to do for fun? Or should I say who?”
“She’s getting around pretty good. You want a drink, Mom?”
Joel fixed her the usual, a tall gin-and-tonic. He showed up every other weekend, as if there was court-ordered custody sharing. He and Angie joked about it. She felt good that her grown ex-stepson still cared enough to hang out with her. A while had passed since Joel’s father, Dustin, had divorced her. It had happened when Angie still worked for the state.
The kid had been a senior at FSU when she left for prison, fourteen months at Gadsden Correctional. On Angie’s orders, Joel didn’t visit. Soon after graduating, he moved back south and began alternating weekends between his dad’s place in West Palm and Angie’s apartment in Lake Worth. Sometimes he brought along a girlfriend, and sometimes the girlfriend showed promise.
“Tell me some stories,” he said to Angie.
“Well, let’s see. I had a fragrant morning in Margate, your basic dead opossum-under-a-porch. Next call was two feral cats behind the funeral home in Coral Springs, then a raccoon at a townhouse in West Boca.”
“Break-in artist. Big sucker, too.”
Joel, who’d majored in business, had helped Angie Armstrong set up her critter-removal company, Discreet Captures. He’d even ordered magnetized signs for her truck, though Angie removed them because people kept flagging her down to ask if she was one of those TV bounty hunters.
Joel said, “Let’s grab dinner.”
“I need to clean up first.”
He pinched his nose and said, “Take all the time you need.”
When Angie stepped out of the shower, her phone was ringing. The caller ID showed the 561 area code. A man on the other end identified himself as “Tripp Teabull, with two P’s.” He said he managed the Lipid estate in Palm Beach.
Angie asked, “Did Mr. Lipid die and leave me some money?”
“Not that kind of estate. It’s a private compound on the island.”
“So you would be the caretaker.”
“Manager,” Teabull said tautly. “We need you out here right away.”
“It’s late, sir, and I have a dinner date,” Angie said. “Tell me what you’ve got.”
“What we’ve got is a nightmare.”
“No offense, but everyone who calls me says that.”
“Does everyone who calls offer you a fee of two thousand dollars?” Angie stepped back into her dirty khakis.
“The address, please,” she said.
She drove up the driveway of Lipid House and pulled into the valet line. Moments later a brawny, brick-headed fellow in a pale tuxedo approached her truck and asked to see her invitation.
“I have none, sir.”
“You must be at the wrong place. This is the Stars-and-SARS event.” The man wore an ear bud, and a peanut microphone clipped to his lapel. He said, “Please turn this vehicle around and leave.”
Angie said she’d been summoned by the manager of the estate. “He made it sound like an emergency,” she added.
Brick Head relayed this information to his lapel and awaited instructions. Dutifully he stayed beside the pickup as Angie inched forward in the valet line. Ahead of them, couples were emerging with varying degrees of fragility from limousines, hired sedans and private luxury cars. Angie noted an absence of SUVs, which are impossible to exit gracefully in formal wear. All the women wore long gowns; evidently the men had been ordered not to deviate from tuxes.
Finally Brick Head tapped on Angie’s windshield and said, “Mr. Teabull wants you at the service gate right away. You’ll definitely need to turn around.”
But Angie was too far along for that; in her rearview glowed a train of headlights stretching all the way to the road. Brick Head attempted to create a gap in the line, but the hunched white-haired driver of the Jaguar glued to Angie’s bumper refused to yield, defiantly rolling up his window when the security man approached.
The procession moved slowly toward the portico, where an elaborate ice sculpture spelled out “Stars for SARS!” above a foaming neon-blue fountain. Brick Head slipped into the shadows as Angie’s pickup—caked with swamp mud from the raccoon transport— began attracting comments. When she braked to a stop beside the ice sculpture, the valets reacted with wary reserve. None ventured forward, so Angie cranked up the radio and waited.
A person that could only be Tripp Teabull appeared, roughly shoving one of the valets toward the truck. As soon as Angie stepped out, Teabull hustled her away from the curious guests.
On the veering golf-cart ride through the topiary, she asked, “Who are tonight’s ‘stars’?”
“I know SARS is the disease, but who are the stars?”
“Technically SARS is not a disease, it’s an illness,” Teabull said. “The stars? Well, let’s see—Dr. Oz, Jack Hanna, Ann Coulter, and a former Mrs. Ron Perelman. They’re all on-site this evening.”
Angie whistled. “That is a recipe for crazy.”
Teabull parked beside a pond that was dimpled by cruising goldfish. Instead of yellow crime tape, purple velvet ropes had been strung through brass stanchions to secure the area to be avoided. Patrolling the perimeter were Brick Head and several other body- builder types. At Teabull’s command, one of the guards unclipped a segment of the cordon so that Angie and the caretaker could enter. They crossed a soft flawless lawn to a corner of the property illuminated by triangulated mobile floods. The powerful white beams were fixed high in a lush old banyan tree.
Teabull pointed needlessly with his own puny flashlight. “See?”
“Impressive,” Angie said.
“How quickly can you get that thing out of here? We’ve promised the guests a nighttime croquet match. The glow sticks are already fastened to the mallets. Where’s the rest of your team?”
“I don’t have a team, sir.”
Teabull gave Angie the same up-and-down she always got, being female, five-foot-three and barely a hundred pounds. Usually she didn’t need assistance on a job. This time would be different.
She said, “I’ll come back in the morning with some help. Meanwhile don’t let that sucker out of your sight.”
Teabull blanched. “No, we can’t wait! Whatever needs to happen, make it happen now.”
Angie was staring up at one of the largest pythons she’d ever seen, and she’d seen some jumbos. This one had arranged its muscular length on a long horizontal limb. The reptile was deep into a post- meal stupor; a grotesque lump was visible halfway between the mid- section and tail.
“Anybody missing a goat?” Angie asked.
“Mauricio will help you handle this,” said Teabull, and introduced the head groundskeeper.
Mauricio looked as if he’d rather be in the front row at a German opera. He told Angie that one of his mowing crew had spotted the giant snake in the tree that afternoon.
“It hasn’t moved an inch since then,” he said.
“We’re hoping the damn thing is dead,” Teabull added anxiously.
“Oh, it’s the opposite of dead,” Angie informed him. “It’s digesting.”
The trunk of the ancient banyan presented a dense maze of vertical roots. Angie wasn’t wearing the right shoes for such a slippery climb.
“I’ll need an extension ladder,” she told Mauricio, “and a pistol.”
From Teabull: “Absolutely no gun re at this event!”
“Well, we’re looking at about eighteen feet of violent non-cooperation,” Angie explained. “The recommended approach is a bullet in the brain.”
“Hell, no! You’ll have to do it another way.”
“Then you will have to find another wrangler.”
The band had started playing—Cuban music, a well-meaning tribute to the Buena Vista Social Club. Soon the guests would be twirling drunkenly all over the grounds. Teabull wore the face of a climber trapped on a melting ledge.
“Five thousand cash,” he whispered to Angie. “But we’re running out of time.”
Angie put a hand on Mauricio’s shoulder and said, “Sir, would you happen to have a machete?”