Dorsey World

Page 4 of 6

A merging driver on the interstate ramp gave Jim the bird. He would have given him two birds, but he was on the phone. Jim grinned and waved and let the man pass.

Jim Davenport was like many of the other thousand people heading to Florida this day, except for one crucial difference. Of all of them, Jim was hands-down the most non-confrontational.

Jim avoided all disagreement and didn't have the heart to say no. He loved his family and fellow man, never raised his voice or fists, and was rewarded with a lifelong, routine digestion of small doses of humiliation. The belligerent, boorish and bombastic latched onto him like strangler figs.

He was utterly content.

Then Jim moved his family to Florida, and before summer was over a most unnatural thing happened. Jim went and killed a few people.

None of this was anywhere near the horizon as the Davenports began the second day of their southern interstate migration.

The road tar at the bottom of Georgia began to soften and smell in the afternoon sun. It was a Saturday, the traffic on I-75 thick and anxious. Hondas, Mercurys, Subarus, Chevy Blazers. A blue Aerostar with Indiana tags passed the exit for the town of Tifton, "Sod Capital of the USA," and a billboard: "Jesus is Lord ... at Buddy's Catfish Emporium."

A sign marking the Florida state line stood in the distance, along with the sudden appearance of palm trees growing in a precise grid. The official state welcome center rose like a mirage through heat waves off the highway. Cars accelerated for the oasis with the runaway anticipation of traffic approaching a Kuwaiti checkpoint on the border with Iraq.

They pulled into the hospitality center's angled parking slots; doors opened and children jumped out and ran around the grass in the aimless, energetic circles for which they are known. Parents stretched and rounded up staggering amounts of trash and headed for garbage bins. A large Wisconsin family in tank tops sat at a picnic table eating bologna sandwiches and generic cheese doodles so they could afford a thousand-dollar day at Disney. A crack team of state workers arrived at the curb in an unmarked van and began pressure washing some kind of human fluid off the sidewalk. A stray ribbon of police tape blew across the pavement.

The Aerostar parked near the vending machines, in front of the "No Nighttime Security" sign.

"Who needs to go to the bathroom?" asked Jim.

Eight-year-old Melvin put down his mutant action figures and raised a hand.

Sitting next to him with folded arms and dour outlook was Debbie Davenport, a month shy of sweet sixteen, totally disgusted to be in a minivan. She was also disgusted with the name Debbie. Prior to the trip she had informed her parents that from now on she would only go by "Drusilla."

"Debbie, you need to use the restroom?"

No reply.

Martha got out a bottle for one-year-old Nicole, cooing in her safety seat, and Jim and little Melvin headed for the building.

Outside the restrooms, a restless crowd gathered in front of an eight-foot laminated map of Florida, unable to accept that they were still hundreds of miles from the nearest theme park. They would become even more bitter when they pulled away from the welcome center, and the artificial grove of palms gave way to hours of scrubland and billboards for topless doughnut shops.

Jim bought newspapers and coffee. Martha took over the driving and pulled back on I-75. Jim unfolded one of the papers and read aloud. "Authorities have discovered a tourist from Finland who lost his luggage, passport, all his money and ID and was stranded for eight weeks at Miami International Airport."

"Eight weeks?" said Martha. "How did he take baths?"

"Wet paper towels in the restrooms."

"Where did he sleep?"

"Chairs at different gates each night."

"What did he eat?"

"Bagels from the American Airlines Admiral's Club."

"How did he get in the Admiral's Club if he didn't have ID?"

"Doesn't say."

"If he went to all that trouble, he probably could have gotten some kind of help from the airline. I can't believe nobody noticed him."

"I think that's the point of the story."

"What happened?"

"Kicked him out. He was last seen living at Fort Lauderdale International."

The Aerostar passed a group of police officers on the side of the highway, slowly walking eight abreast looking for something in the weeds. Jim turned the page.

"They've cleared the comedian Gallagher in the Tamiami Strangler case."

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