Former mob hitman Dr. Brnwa is on the case and on the run in "Wild Thing," Josh Bazell's dark and funny sequel to his bestselling debut "Beat the Reaper." Read the excerpt.
Caribbean Sea, 100 Miles East of Belize
Thursday, 19 July
“ISHMAEL— CALL ME” is all the Tel‑E‑Gram says, but I’m busy pulling some poor f__er’s teeth out with pliers when it gets slipped under the door, so I don’t read it till later.
The guy’s a full‑on Nhambiquara Indian from the Brazilian Amazon. Beatlemania haircut and everything, though he’s in the white uniform of the laundry department.
Of course, every department’s uniform is white. I tap his next molar. Say “¿Seguro?”
“¿Verdad?” Like they speak Spanish in Brazil.
“It’s fine,” he says.
Maybe it is. From what I know about dentistry— which, granted, comes from watching about an hour and a half of procedure videos on YouTube— lidocaine to the posterior superior alveolar nerve will knock out sensation from the third molar in about two-thirds of people. The rest will need another shot, to the middle superior alveolar, or they’ll feel everything.
I assume any actual dentist would just go ahead and give both. But that’s the kind of thinking that caused me to use up all the lidocaine in the crew clinic in the first place, and almost all the lidocaine I’ve been able to steal from the passenger clinic. So now I have to tap and ask. And a lot of my patients are too butch, or just too polite, to admit they’re not numb.
Well, f__k it. Save the lido for someone too scared to lie.
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I twist the molar out as quickly and smoothly as I can. It crumbles into black muck in the pliers anyway. I catch the pieces in my gloved hand just before they hit the guy’s uniform.
It occurs to me that I should give another oral hygiene lecture in the warehouse. The last one doesn’t seem to have changed anything, but at least there were fewer knife fights down there while I was talking.
I peel my gloves off over the sink. When I look back, there are tears running down the man’s face.
Fire Deck 40 is a metal platform between two smokestacks, as far as I know the highest part of the ship you can actually stand on. F___ knows what it has to do with fire.
The sun’s setting, wind like a hairdryer. On the horizon there’s a ten-mile-tall wall of clouds running parallel to the ship. Iridescent reds and grays that bulge over each other like intestines.
I hate the f___ing ocean. Hate it physiologically, it turns out.
Being at sea f___s my sleep and makes me jumpy and subject to flashbacks. It’s part of what makes the job of junior physician on a cruise ship exactly what I deserve.
Not that I had a choice. If there’s another industry that hires this many doctors without giving a s__t whether their medical degrees— in my case from the University of Zihuatanejo, under the name “Lionel Azimuth” — are real or just kited off commercially available supporting documents, I’ve never heard of it. Let alone one that’s this poorly infiltrated by the Mafia.*
The hatch in the wall beside one of the smokestacks barks open, and a very black man in a long-sleeved version of the (white) uniform of updeck junior submanagement steps out.
“Dr. Azimuth,” he says.
Mr. Ngunde is staring at me. “Doctor, your shirt is open.”
This is true. I have a white undershirt on beneath it, but my white short-sleeved uniform shirt is unbuttoned. It has gold epaulets, so wearing it like this makes me feel like a drunk airline pilot.
“I don’t think anyone will mind,” I say, looking down over the edge.
From here the ship, which is twice as wide and three times as long as the Titanic, is mostly all-white rooftops and telecom equipment, though there are a few pairs of sorry f___s visible whose job it is to watch for pirates. The passenger areas I can see into, like the Nintendo Dome and the rearmost indoor-outdoor pool, are guaranteed to be empty, since all five of the ship’s main restaurants started dinner service an hour ago.
Mr. Ngunde doesn’t come over to look. It reminds me that he’s afraid of heights, and makes me feel guilty for forcing him to come all the way up here to find me. And for taking lightly an infraction that, were he to commit it, would get him fired and dumped at the next port. Apparently I can bowl over a security guard while coming out of a passenger’s stateroom, drunk and dying to get fired, and get an apology from the security guard. Mr. Ngunde, unless he’s driving the Zamboni machine or doing some other task that requires it, isn’t allowed to be anywhere a passenger could see him. Regardless of what his shirt looks like.
Speaking of the Zamboni machine, I say “How’s the arm?”
“Very fine, Doctor.”
That seems unlikely. Mr. Ngunde has a large sleeve-hidden burn on his left forearm from trying to add steering fluid to the Zamboni while the engine was hot. I haven’t been able to find a tetanus booster on the ship. Nor have I seen enough tetanus in my life to know how concerned this should make me.
“And the diarrhea log?” Mr. Ngunde says.
“Down, actually. Just don’t eat the stew.”
* Like the rest of the world, the mob only became interested in cruise ships after the 1977 premiere of The Love Boat— bad timing, since the FBI was then in the middle of an investigation of the International Longshoremen’s Association and already had wiretaps and informants in place. By the time the mob got untangled enough to make a move, the cruise industry had outgrown its reach.
† Cruise ships have, on average, crew members from sixty different countries. The cruise lines like to sell this as a happy byproduct of Let’s watch World Cup! globalism, but in reality the practice dates to a 1981 sit‑in by the predominantly Honduran and Jamaican crews of two Carnival Lines ships that were docked in Miami. Standard practice now is to not allow any single nationality to make up more than 5 percent of a crew, and to have as many officers as possible be of the same nationality— ideally one that speaks a language that most crew members don’t understand, like Greek.
Excerpted from Wild Things by Josh Bazell Copyright © 2012 by Josh Bazell. Excerpted by permission of Regan Arthur Books, a division of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive