I left Homestead on a warm, sunny morning. Palm trees swayed gently in the light breeze. My second day of exploring Southern Florida was off to a marvelous start! As I drove south on the Dixie Highway (also known as U.S. Hwy 1) I flipped through the radio stations, bypassing the myriad of Hispanic and hip hop offerings before settling on an oldies station.
It made me chuckle to hear the announcer proudly proclaim, “We play all your old favorites, from the 70s and 80s.” I remember when the oldies channel used to play songs from the 50s and early 60s. No matter, I can sing along to most of the tunes from any of those decades.
I was belting along with Tom Petty when the solid ground around the road gave way to turquoise water. It was finally happening, I was driving through the Florida Keys! Through isn’t the most accurate term. I was technically driving over a series of bridges that connect the various keys (key is an Anglicized version of the Spanish cayo, meaning small island).
Where the first bridge starts is where the road’s common name appropriately changes from the Dixie to the Overseas Highway. The roadway proceeds to swoop over the water, touching down on roughly twenty small islands along the 113 miles to Key West (the southernmost point of the contiguous United States).
Rolling down my window I was enveloped in the warm, salty air. It was a struggle to keep my eyes on the road as they were drawn to the bright, white beaches and the varying shades of cerulean on either side of me. A convertible would’ve been the only thing to make the drive more enjoyable.
My groovy radio station succumbed to static as I continued south so I scanned through my dwindling options to make a selection. My ears perked up at a fishing report and, since I’m fascinated by local items, I stabbed the button. Hey, don’t mock me, when I’m in rural Ohio visiting family, I listen to the farm report, too.
For the next few minutes I was regaled with details about wave heights, wind speeds, and which boat caught the largest sailfish. I also learned that when the boats return to port they will fly a flag for each sailfish they caught. One lucky boat had eight flags flapping in the breeze the previous day.
The local news started right after the fishing report and it soon had my full attention. According to the announcer, a man in Key West had reported his brother missing two days prior. A day later, the concerned sibling saw his brother’s white Honda Accord driving north on Hwy 1 from the island, so, of course, he followed it. He stayed behind the car for over 100 miles, calling and alerting the police along the way. He tailed the car into the Walmart parking lot in Homestead and waited for the cops.
When the cops arrived they detained the driver and the two people in the back seat (none of whom were the missing brother). Then the officers searched the car. In the glove box they found an unspecified amount of cocaine. Popping open the trunk, they discovered the missing brother’s body. The driver, who was on drugs at the time of his arrest, confessed to getting into a fight with the deceased and then strangling him with his phone cord.
Unbelievable! It sounded like an absurd tale straight out of a Carl Hiaasen crime novel. My dear friend, Karen, got me addicted to his writing a dozen years ago. Hiaasen’s books, while raunchy and prone to violence, always have an environmental slant. The reader can tell that he laments the loss of the natural Florida landscape that is rapidly succumbing to bulldozers and subdivisions. I remember being shocked by some of the deviant crimes until I learned that as a long-time journalist for the Miami Herald, Hiaasen, was often inspired by what he found in the paper’s police report.
To be completely honest, I actually prefer reading his YA novels. They share the same concern for the natural world, but with less crime, no blatant sex, and less profanity. Plus, they feature caring and determined young protagonists. I’m looking forward to reading Squirm, his latest YA offering.
But, back to the incident, which sounded like a drug deal gone bad to me. I kept running through the story in my head. It raised so many questions: Why did the murderer drive the victim’s car? What kind of idiot would travel for hours with a dead body? It doesn’t take that long for corpses to start to smell and ooze. You’re already a criminal, steal a car without a dead body or shove the body in the water somewhere (you’re on an island for god’s sake)! Also, just how unique was that White Honda Accord? There are literally hundreds of them on the road at any given time, how did the brother know that was the right car? Or was the living brother actually in on the drug deal? It sure seemed like he had some inside information. And finally, who has a phone with a cord any more?!
Overseas Highway, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda, Florida 2018