"Is that a real newspaper?"
Jim turned back to the front page and pointed at the top. The Tampa Tribune.
Martha rolled her eyes.
"Says they released an artist's sketch. Bald with mustache and long hair on the sides. Police got hundreds of calls that it looked like Gallagher. But they checked his tour schedule — he was out of state the nights of the murders."
"They actually checked him out?"
"They also checked out Gallagher's brother."
Martha looked at Jim, then back at the road.
"After clearing Gallagher, they got a tip that he has a brother who looks just like him and smashes watermelons on a circuit of low-grade comedy clubs under the name Gallagher II. But he was out of town as well."
"I hope I don't regret this move," said Martha.
Jim put his hand on hers. "You're going to love Tampa."
Jim Davenport had never planned on moving to Tampa, or even Florida for that matter. Everything he knew about the state came from the "Best Places to Live in America" magazine that now sat on the Aerostar's dashboard. Right there on page seventeen, across from the feature on the joy of Vermont's covered bridges, was the now famous annual ranking of the finest cities in the U.S. of A. to raise a family. And coming in at number three with a bullet — just below Seattle and San Francisco — was the shocker on the list. Rocketing up from last year's 497th position: Tampa, Florida. When the magazine hit the stands, champagne corks flew in the Chamber of Commerce. The mayor called a press conference, and the city quickly threw together a band and fireworks show at the riverfront park; the news was so big it even caused some people to get laid.
Nobody knew it was all a mistake. The magazine had recently been acquired by a German media conglomerate, which purchased the latest spelling and grammar-check software and dismissed its editors and writers, replacing them with distracted high school students in Walkman headsets. The tabular charts on the new software had baffled a student with green hair, who inadvertently moved all of Tampa's crime statistics a decimal point to the left.
Jim and Martha Davenport were a perfect match. She had long, flowing red hair and the patience of a firecracker. He had selective hearing.
Martha was forty-two, a year older than Jim, five-six with large hips but the perfect weight. Her lips were full, and she unconsciously favored shades of lipstick that matched her hair and freckles. Jim was five-ten with a curious physique. His frame was narrow, except for the shoulders, which were spread and bony, and he required big suits that hung all over him like a Talking Heads video.
Martha drove past the Ocala exit and checked on the kids in the rearview. Debbie was working on her sulk. Melvin wore thick glasses and read a science book, how to make a compass with a glass of water and a sewing needle. Nicole leaned forward in her safety seat, discovering her toes.
Martha set cruise control on seventy in the far right lane. They began to enter the gravitational field of Tampa Bay. An electric-lime bullet bike shot past on the left. Another ninja bike flew by on the right, in the breakdown lane, followed by a speeding red convertible full of shirtless, tattooed rocket scientists.
Martha watched them accelerate and disappear. "They endangered our family! If I had a gun —"
"That's why you don't have a gun."
"Can we get a Suburban?"
"You know how much they cost."
"They have more armor to protect the kids. Look how the people drive here."
An Eagle Talon raced by on the right, cutting across the minivan with inches to spare. Martha hit the brakes.
"What kind of a place are we moving to?"
Jim grabbed the magazine off the dash. "Great weather, sandy beaches, beautiful state parks, historic Latin quarter, barely perceptible crime rate ..."
They reached the city an hour before sunset. The moving van wasn't due until morning, so they had to put up. Martha drove slowly, hunched over the wheel, scanning roadside motel signs. Econo, Budget, Value, Thrift-Rite, El Rancho.
They rolled through an intersection, the gas stations on all four corners boarded up with squatters in lawn chairs selling velvet paintings, country music lawn statuary, counterfeit Beanie Babies and slightly fresh seafood. Outside a pawnshop, a homeless man and a woman in a leopard miniskirt wrestled over a VCR.
"Doesn't look safe."
Jim pointed. "There's a Motel 9."
"I don't know."