5. The Grator Gator Eliminator

A Hitman Jake Story by Preston Pairo

Jake didn’t like the idea any more than he liked the heat.  Killing someone didn’t bother him—that’s what he did for a living—it was that he’d have to stay in Florida to do it.  And all the sunshine and warm weather short-term tourists and longer-term snowbirds flocked south to bathe in Jake found oppressive.

“You’re like a native then,” Jack Karupka appreciated, calling from his law office in Baltimore, a locale much cooler (in terms of temperature, not style) than Miami, which was where The Kroop was offering Jake the opportunity to make a large sum of money.  “Anyone born in South Florida hates the heat,” Karupka said.  “Then again, most people born in Florida hate Florida and want to get the hell out.”

Jake could understand that.  Two hours should have been plenty time to get to the West Palm airport to fly north, but all he’d done for the past twenty minutes was sweat.

The rental car’s AC was merely blowing lukewarm air and traffic wasn’t moving at all.  The latest pile-up on I-95 happened to be just before the exit to the airport and Loiza, working his phone in the passenger seat, reported that all alternate routes were clogged like a steak-eater’s arteries.

“I’ll text the details,” the Kroop proposed.

“We’re going to miss the flight anyway,” Loiza offered, not seeming to mind, then again he wasn’t sweating either—the metabolic difference between a 50-something bear and a gazelle in its physical prime.  “We could get off here,” Loiza suggested of the exit just ahead.  “You could get something for Grace at the outlets—they’ve got a Nordstrom Rack.  Then we could get something to eat—there’s a pizza place with good ratings.  Then drive down to Miami after this mess clears up.”

“How about it, Jake?” Karupka asked, able to hear Loiza’s contribution to the discussion because Jake had the call on speaker.

Shadows from a dozen pelicans in flight glided over the highway, followed by a large splatter of excrement, which landed in the lap of the driver of the Mercedes GT Roadster who’d cut in front of Jake two miles back.  The white-haired man did not take it well.

Appreciating the bird’s precise targeting, Loiza said, “It’s an omen.”

Jake wasn’t sure if his young assistant was basing his opinion on his gypsy heritage or hatred of obnoxious drivers.

“We take the job,” Jake told Karupka, “I’m going to need a better car.”

“Cadillac,” Karupka assumed.  “I’ll make the arrangements.”

Four hours later, a Cadillac CT-6, jet black with tinted windows, was waiting for Jake in a dark corner of the parking lot to a Russian-mob-owned strip club with a name that implied a high-class of clientele.  Keys in the ignition, it was a perfect vehicle not to stand out in South Florida, where a Lexus was a commuter car.

Jake and Loiza transferred their suitcases from the rental car to the Cadillac along with a gift-wrapped cashmere sweater Loiza had picked out for Jake to take home to Grace.

As a precaution, Loiza ran the Caddy’s VIN and registration, both of which were clean and came back to Alstin Transportation, LLC.

“Sounds almost Texan,” Loiza commented of the company name, “but it’s also an anagram of Stalin.”

As Jake adjusted the driver’s seat to comfort his stocky frame, one of the strip club’s high-classed patrons stumbled outside and projectile vomited into the erect fronds of a small European fan palm that graced the establishment’s entrance.

Loiza did not suggest it was an omen.

Jake steered out of the parking lot and headed to Miami.  The drive was uneventful, although traveling that stretch of highway unscathed was noteworthy.

After navigating the interchange that connects I-95, the Florida Turnpike, NE 167th St., and the Palmetto Expressway like so many strands of overcooked linguine thrown drunkenly onto a city planner’s desk, Jake followed Loiza’s directions to a flooring warehouse in Hialeah—a place that looked more like somewhere to get shot than browse for luxury vinyl tile.

At the far end of the plain metal building, a delivery bay opened.  Jake drove unhesitatingly inside the darkened interior, Cadillac headlights illuminating a double-vehicle car carrier vinyl-wrapped with an elaborate logo for Rosie’s Royce White Glove Car Transporters, the silver-and black design for which was a trademark-infringement blend of symbols used by the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars company and the Las Vegas Raiders.  Jake eased the Cadillac up the extended ramp into the trailer and cut the engine and lights.  Unseen figures lowered the back door, shutting Jake and Loiza in tomb-like darkness, save the screen of Loiza’s phone.

Jake reclined the driver’s seat and closed his eyes while Loiza continued to review details of their latest job which, it turned out, were jobs, plural: four to be exact, which was a critical point.

As four targets often involved more than four times the planning, complications, and—therefore—hours (or days) of one, the prospect of needing to stay even longer in Florida loomed like thundercloud.  Maybe a cold front would come through.

The Kenworth semi to which the dazzling silver-and-black car carrier was connected rumbled to diesel life.  Two minutes later, they were being moved, the transport in which they were now Cadillac cargo backing out of the warehouse and, according to Loiza’s phone, heading south.

Loiza reported additional details forwarded by The Kroop as to the targets someone wanted them to kill: “All four live in the same house.  So he says we should be able to get them at once.”  By we, Loiza meant Jake, because Loiza handled logistics and technology not any actual killing.

“A family?” Jake wondered, thinking perhaps that was why they were being paid so well—although it was unlike the people who usually hired him to consider there might be a premium to take out parents and their children.

“No.  Four unmarried guys.  The Grator Gator Incubator.”

“What?” Jake asked.

“That’s what they call themselves—the four guys: the Grator Gator Incubator.”

South Florida was overrun with businesses named Grator Gator Something-or-Other.  Whoever first decided to fudge the spelling of Greater to letter-match its rhyme partner Gator had started a trend as regionally ubiquitous as the yellow smiley face.  Then someone else came along to add a third rhyming word that was often also intentionally misspelled.

Jake had seen: Grator Gator Breadbakor (with signs inside their yeasty shop assuring no federally-protected alligators were harmed in the baking of their dough products); Grator Gator Incinerator (a crematorium); Grator Gator Exterminator (which, contrary to its name, did not remove, kill, or harass alligators, only insects and small mammals); Grator Gator Perculator (a fair trade coffeehouse); and Grator Gator Tabulators (a bookkeeping service).

“They’re Silicon Valley guys,” Loiza reported.  Identifying the quartet Jake had been hired to kill, Loiza’s tone revealed a conflicted line between envy and hatred.  Like many of his techy brethren, Loiza was at war (sometimes philosophically, sometimes digitally) with those who had made fortunes creating applications which should have had no use for anyone beyond kindergarten but were wildly cherished by people of all ages and, consequently, had caused the term “adulthood” to become quite fluid (if not obsolete).

“They all had start-ups back in California that got bought out, then they moved down here a year ago to fund other start-ups.”

Jake had a vague idea what that meant, having seen headlines about unheard of companies being bought by bigger companies everyone knew about for amounts of money with ludicrous numbers of zeros to the left of the decimal point.

Loiza continued, “In Miami, these guys have founded a couple SPAC’s, which have been hit or miss.  Actually…”  Loiza thumbed deeper into encoded documentation from The Kroop.  “…they’ve all been misses.”

And like that, Jake was lost.  He didn’t know what a SPAC was.  And doubted he was going to care.

“Special purpose acquisition company,” Loiza informed.

Correct.  Jake didn’t care.  That sequence of four words meant nothing in the English language he understood.

Loiza explained in thumbnail form: “A SPAC gets formed, has an IPO, which raises money the SPAC later uses to buy a company.  One of the Grator Gator Incubators—Harivda Mawani—hs videochat start-up got bought by a SPAC three years ago for a hundred-million dollars.”

Which led to another point Jake did not understand: why someone with $100 million would do anything other than enjoy the money in some way that stayed the hell out of the way of people who might be given some reason—other than unavoidable jealousy—to want him killed.

“Mawani didn’t get all hundred million,” Loiza detailed.  “Only about a quarter of it.”

“Twenty-five million?” Jake asked.

“According to this,” Loiza said of his phone—the Millennial’s Gospel.

“So instead of putting his money in the bank…”  Jake held up his hand, seeing Loiza was about to explain how that kind of money wasn’t simply put into the bank.  “…or whatever rich people do with their money, this guy invests in other new companies to try to make even more money?”

“Mainly he gets other people to invest their money in new companies and he takes a cut.  Him and his three Incubator partners.  All of whom also sold their start-ups to SPAC’s or private equity firms.”

“So, the investors in these new start-ups, the ones down here,” Jake said, “they figure they’re buying the latest greatest idea with the hope it gets bought by last year’s latest greatest idea.  Which will make them a lot of money.  A lot more money.”

“Pretty much.”

“And if the start-up goes belly-up?” Jake had a guess he knew the answer to his own question.

“Yeah—the investors lose their money.  Basically,” Loiza clarified, assuming Jake wouldn’t want to hear about corporate bankruptcy law, tax write-offs, and the like.

“And the, what’s their names…?

“The SPAC?”

“No, the what’d you call them, Grator Gator—?”

“Oh, Incubator.”

“Yeah.  I assume they get their cut no matter what?”

“Yes.”

“Uh-huh…” Jake considered.

“It’s not really that complex, but SPAC’s are considered fairly sophisticated investment opportunities.”

“Uh-huh.”

“There have been a few articles in the papers down here,” Loiza recounted.  “References to SPAC’s not being for unsavvy investors.”

“Mm.”  Jake wondered what kind of investments they were for unsavory investors.

Half an hour later, just before midnight, the car carrier rumbled to a stop.  The rear door was raised, at which point Jake backed the Cadillac out into the balmy night and found himself on a quiet residential street in front of an 8,000-square-foot French Provincial estate with exterior lighting like a Disney castle.

Although the magnificent home was currently being offered for sale at $25 million, there was no sign on the lawn.  The property was a pocket listing, a popular tactic with Miami Realtors determined to avoid the multiple list service and having to share commissions with other like-unethically-minded agents.

Having successfully smuggled the Cadillac containing Jake and Loiza through the gated community’s guarded entrance, the car carrier drove off.  At which point a text pinged Loiza’s phone: instructions how to remotely open one of the home’s five garage doors.

Once Jake pulled in, Loiza reentered the code and the door slid shut behind them with a whisper.  Retrieving their luggage from the trunk, they went inside the expensively decorated pseudo palace that would serve as their base until the job was done.

“Here’s something else,” Loiza read from his phone, trailing Jake through a marble-floored mud room.  “We don’t have to get rid of the bodies.  Just shoot ‘em and leave ‘em this says.  So that’s good.”

Jake said, “Maybe there’s a Grator Gator Janitor.”

“No,” Loiza replied.  “The bodies are to be attended by a stylist…  That must be a typo.”

“Must be,” Jake said.  Five nights later, he started shooting.

Fifteen years ago, the Grator Gator Incubator’s richest member, Harivda Mawani first set foot in the United States at the age of 12, stepping off a private jet at recently renamed Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport.  The flight from Bombay had been long but exhilarating.  Young Harivda had not slept a wink on the plane despite a seat that fully reclined, having used the 17-plus hours in the air (what would have been 27 hours had he flown commercial) to debug the most recent updates to his app, PantsOnFire.

Long before the days of fake news, Harivda created PantsOnFire as a social media app where everyone was supposed to lie.  Hence the name, as in liar, liar, pants on fire.  Like most social media apps and online games, PantsOnFire was created to appeal to children.  It registered over one million users worldwide in its first month, a time in recent history when outlandish lies were still entertaining and not offered as headlines on the nightly news.

But behind all the silly posts (A lizard named Wamma ate my toes at the Teuila Festival), Harvida inserted code that analyzed the site’s users’ lies: their different word choices between truth and fiction and measuring the speed of keystrokes when creating lies as opposed to keystrokes of more routine or verifiably truthful posts.

Eventually, as the app’s coding became more covertly intrusive, each posted lie was subjected to over 50 review points, which was considered a breakthrough in artificial intelligence.

Harivda had crafted a way to determine with reasonable certainty whether someone was lying.  For this, a group of Silicon Valley investors set him up in business (behind a more impressively credentialled-front man than a 12-year-old with dark rings of sleeplessness under his eyes).

PantsOnFire became one of the world’s most popular apps until ever-shortening attention spans moved on to something newer.  By that time, however, over 50 million users (by unwittingly clicking the app’s consent panel, offered in a friendly cartoon text box at the end of a 60,000 word “privacy statement”) had agreed to have their personally identifiable information, including an evaluation of their propensity for truthfulness, shared with anyone in the world, assuming those “anyones” were willing to pay PantsOnFire for the information—and many were—knowledge of such personal details being considered a valuable commodity.

With these accomplishments, Harivda had already lived quite the full life by age 27.  Imagine the opportunities presented to a bright young man handed a check for $25 million, this after earning an annual average salary of $1.5 million since he was 13.  Had he made the most of those opportunities?  That was a question for others to worry about.  Because Jake saw to it that Harivda wasn’t going to make it to his 28th birthday.

The young tech entrepreneur was sleeping soundly at 3:00 a.m. when Jake eased into the spacious second floor bedroom, moonlight spilling through arched windows, and shot him in the head three times.

And then there was Bunky McAlister: San Diego born surf rat and only child of a mother addicted to plastic surgery who, when Bunky was 15, died at the negligent shaky hands of a discount tummy-tuck specialist.  Ensuing litigation ended up with Bunky being awarded $5 million dollars, which the law firm representing the by-then-18-year-old advertised on billboards with a photo of Bunky and the proclamation: UNITAS TOBERRY GOT ME 5 MILLION BIG ONES!

 Before Bunky could blow all the money on an ill-conceived Bali surfboard venture, a charming young woman with a law degree and the good sense not to actually practice law introduced Bunky to a new game app, MucADuc, a sort of digital dodgeball where players could make their opponents’ avatars look like anyone they wanted.  “Imagine,” the striking woman charmed Bunky during a candlelight dinner on a terrace overlooking the Pacific, “throwing a ball at the head of whoever you most hate.”

“I don’t really hate anyone,” Bunky had replied zenfully.

“Not even the doctor who caused your mother’s death?” the woman inquired with sensitive manipulation.

“It was her fifteenth surgery,” Bunky pointed out.

She stroked his hand.  “How about the guy who cut you off that wave this afternoon?”

Bunky gestured for her phone on which the app, still in beta, was installed.  A week later, he owned a controlling share in MucADuc, which went on to become a popular app for divorced spouses, especially those embroiled in hopeless child custody battles who set up MucADuc with their ex’s face as an opponent.

(A darker, more realistic version of the app was released in Eastern Europe under the name, Slwter, where digital dodgeballs were replaced by a variety of weapons, which {for a fee} could inflict the far greater depths of depraved harm the internet is so good at.)

Jake killed Bunky peacefully in his sleep, not by an exploding animated MucADuc dodge ball (or realistic Slwtr Bazooka in Zagreb), but the sound-suppressed gunfire of a Baretta (which now had 9 rounds left).

Killing Bunky, Jake aimed for the unmistakable beginnings of a bald patch at the back of the surfer’s head, not considering any chance he was sparing the handsome guy the emotional anguish of losing his hair.   

The Grator Gator Incubator’s numbers down to two, Jake eased back into the hall.

The other bedrooms were on the opposite side of the house, accessed by a carpeted walkway that overlooked the home’s meant-to-impress open foyer.

Jake stayed close to the wall, dressed in his usual black.  His footfall was surprisingly light for his stocky size thanks to a professional lifetime spent stepping as if the floor was covered in cartons of eggs.

But sometimes doors open unexpectedly.  Not everyone is a good sleeper.

J. Dorrissey Coward used to wonder if his life would have been different had he been born with a different surname.  His parents tried to console him with the lie he was descended from a famous English playwright, Noel Coward.   Even had that been true, J. Dorrissey (or J. Dorkey or Doris Coward, as he was incessantly teased growing up), doubted that would have helped.

The truth was he was a frail, easily frightened boy who lacked not just physical coordination but even the most basic understanding of how not to be a completely unsympathetic twat even to those who wanted to like him.  Ill-equipped to get along with other people, J. Dorrissey Coward did what many in his position could only wish for: he set about ways to cause others to share his many miseries.

By the time he was 9, frail J. Dorkey had killed no fewer than half a dozen pets of kids who made fun of him.  Usually, he did this by poisoning.  He set a few fires.  He scraped the sides of cars with nails.  And he was good at getting away with it.  Because no one could imagine someone who seemed so utterly hopeless being so purely evil.

Then J.D. Coward learned to code.  And it was like setting Beethoven down at a piano.  At 15, J.D. created a social media app that allowed users complete anonymity to say or do anything they wanted.  His company logo was a chipper yellow woodpecker that pecked text messages.

By the time he was 18, his app had 70 million users.  But J.D. did not consider that as his crowning achievement.  In a few short years, through online bullying, most often by setting up accounts in the real names of his teachers, other kids, parents of other kids, and people he just plain didn’t like, and posting horrifyingly embarrassing content in their name, all with the intent it would be believed those posts had been created by the person named on the account, J.D. credited himself with causing no fewer than five suicides, four bankruptcies, and uncountable divorces, job firings, demotions, and cases of depression.

And J.D. was not alone.  Thanks to the clueless help of narcissistic celebrities who made his site popular by posting minute by minute accounts of their grotesquely materialistic lives, J.D.’s app allowed thousands of other sociopaths to carry out digital emotional torture.  And for this, a private venture capital firm paid him $50 million dollars.

But J.D., although now quite wealthy, was still a scared frail fellow who often had nightmares.

On the night Jake came looking to kill him, J.D. found himself once again unable to sleep.  After restlessly tossing and turning, he threw back expensive sheets and got out of bed.  Sometimes walking around the big new Miami house helped.  Not tonight.

As soon as he stepped into the hall and saw the form in the dark, he realized it was a stranger.  He froze.  Trembled.  Let out a high-pitched scream.  The sound—like his company’s cartoon woodpecker might make chipping his beak—lasted just a second.  Which was all the time it took Jake to shoot him.

Now Jake had a problem.  He had a runner, which was always bad in the killing game.  No longer unsuspecting of harm, runners were on alert.  They went into hiding.  They called the police. 

Consider how heads of state often refer to terrorist killings as cowardly acts.  As though a brave terrorist should, perhaps, send engraved invitations to its perceived imperialist targets, requesting participation in a modern-day Burr-Hamilton duel perhaps.  What military think tank did that strategy come from?  Wasn’t the idea to strike unexpectedly and get away with it.  Whether that was cowardly was debate for another time.

A time Jake wasn’t running down the hall, chasing after his final target of the night, who—alerted by the distressed chirp of the now-deceased J.D. (speaking of cowards) Coward—had emerged from his bedroom, seen who he quickly assessed as an intruder (Jake) checking for a pulse at the neck of his fallen fellow Incubator and dashed for the home’s safe room.

As a fired shot splintered a hunk of six-inch door molding behind his head, the fourth man ducked into the safe room, shutting and locking the steel door behind him.  As a bank of battery-powered LED lights snapped on, the man hit the panic button, which sent an emergency signal to the home’s private security company.

Seconds later, over the hammer-thumping sound of his pulse in his ears, the man in the safe room heard the phone chime.  He answered the call, able to get out a hello with what little air his lungs weren’t exhausting in panic.

“This is the Major,” the caller introduced with calm authority.  “Police, paramedics, and fire are being dispatched.  Please state your emergency.”

“There’s someone in the house.  I think he killed one of my…”  Even in the heat of the situation, 27-year-old Mikel Sabdul hesitated picking the term he felt most comfortable using to describe one of his fellow Grator Gator Incubators.

Calling him a “roommate” sounded too collegiate, and perhaps even implied Mikel was trying to cover up a homosexual relationship with someone he was sharing a house with.  Not that there was much call for that sort of secrecy these days, and certainly not in Miami, but Mikel grew up in parts of the Middle East where homophobia ran deeper than oil reserves.  And psychological pitfalls were hard to overcome.

Referring to J.D. as a “friend” had the same we-might-be-gay connotation, while “partner” seemed to fall even heavier in that category.  “Business partner” made it sound as though partner required a further camouflaging adjective.

Knowing his life might well depend on finishing his sentence, Mikel finally said, “person I know.”

The military-sounding voice on the other end of the phone seemed to accept that, and asked: “Are you damaged?”

“What?”

“Damaged.”

“What?  No.  Scared.  I’m scared.  Please send the police.”

“They’re on their way.”

“How long—?”

“Minutes.  Try to remain calm,” the man instructed, then asked, “Are you armed?”

“I’m fine.” Mikel thought he’d been asked if he was harmed.

“Do you have any weapons?” the Major clarified.

“No-no.  We don’t believe in guns.”  Mikel fought the urge to hyperventilate, expecting whoever he’d seen on the walkway would try to breach the safe room door any second now.  “Please hurry.”

“Four minutes,” the Major reported calmly.

“Okay.  Okay.”

The safe room was a windowless hard shell of eighteen-inch-thick poured concrete, built to withstand the impact of whatever Florida might throw at it, from weaponized insurrection to the unthinkable (except disaster-loving weather forecasters thought about it all the time) Cat-6+ hurricane surely spinning out there in the future.  The door was constructed of bank-vault grade steel with a locking mechanism as secure as the hatch on a nuclear submarine.  Air exchange came through a series mouse-sized ventilation ducts, including periscoping fresh-air tubes that extended well above the home’s roofline in the event of a complete structural collapse.

There were two sofa beds, a stocked refrigerator, microwave, flatscreen TV, airline-sized bathroom (no shower), and a cabinet filled with unbreakable glasses and plates.  In a power outage, electricity was supplied by a propane-fired subterranean generator.

The room had added $125,000 to the custom home’s cost of construction and was why, the real estate agent said, the rent was $3,000 a month higher than the comparable home the Incubators had considered when looking for their new Miami-based residence.

Not that money was an issue for them.  The foursome had come to south Florida flush with cash and a plan to make lots more.  Mostly it was Mikel’s plan.  Because while they all had reaped small fortunes in tech, Mikel was the only one of the group with a business degree.

It was Mikel, back in Santa Clara County, who forwarded the compelling argument they all should have been much richer.  Much, much richer.  These investors, the SPACs, the hedge funds, the private equity mongers…those were fancy terms for two-legged leaches who attached themselves to smart guys like them and sucked out as much as they could.  They didn’t do the work.  They didn’t have the ideas.  They just had money.

Well, now the Grator Gator Incubators had their own money and were setting out to create their own global empire.  They’d be the ones with mansions in Monaco.  A fleet of Gulfstream G700’s.  Lamborghini Aventadors.  Superyachts.  And where better to set that foundation than South Florida.

Forget foggy northern California.  Or hail-stormy Austin.  Or melt-in-summer Scottsdale.  Or Hilton Head and its burgeoning Bluffton suburb (where barely lukewarm winter days were justified as “at least it’s not snow and ice.”)  And where better in South Florida than Miami?  Where Mikel quickly became a suave international star.

Unlike his geekier partners, Mikel’s blended Middle East/Southeast Asia heritage gave him the exotic (in the most politically correct sense of the word) look as if the world’s cultures were stirred into one handsomely co-mingled pot.  He was tall, lean, and dark-haired, with the hue of brown skin that looked more suntanned than frightening to the racially-skittish.

Mikel played business matchmaker between tech start-ups and those with hefty wallets who made Miami’s exclusive enclaves their home-away-from home.  (No one with unspeakable wealth actually lived in South Florida, a place which if people didn’t need to escape winter weather would be a shantytown swamp of mosquito-bitten fisherman, alligators, and stealthy panthers).

Mikel’s three partners provided know-how that propelled young companies, while Mikel explained to investors how losing money wasn’t a bad thing and that a tech company sinking in debt could be sold for five times its astronomical losses.  It was all about “negative inverse earnings capacity,” Mikel assured, a formula he created which assigned a dollar-based value to the ratio between subscriber growth and cost-deflected expenses.  All of which had zero inkling of support in any IRS code or economics textbook, but similar thinking had built scores of Silicon Valley fortunes, so why not Miami fortunes as well?

That not entirely rhetorical question ended up being answered by Jake, who shot Mikel three times once the young tech entrepreneur released the lock and opened the safe room door.

This occurred after an anxious wait, which had ended with the security company man on the phone who called himself the Major assuring Mikel that Dade County Sheriffs were on the scene and the house had been secured.  Only the Major wasn’t anyone at the security company, but Loiza, who, during days of contingency preparation, had hacked the safe room’s dedicated cellular service (which was using antiquated 2G to save costs {not that Loiza couldn’t have gotten in an encrypted 5G network, too, it would have just taken more time}).

Calling himself the Major was inspired by Three Days of the Condor, a movie Loiza had recently seen for the first time on Showtime.  In that 1970’s thriller, a panicked Robert Redford phones his CIA-handler, who refers to himself as the Major.  In fact, Loiza’s entire performance was based on that character from the movie.

Promptly after shooting Mikel dead, Jake left the house by a side door while Loiza set about finalizing a few tech housekeeping items, covering up all electronic evidence of their presence.

The following morning, they were on separate flights back to Baltimore.

Three days later, as snow fell softly along the lane to Jake’s downtown carriage house, Loiza sent Jake a link to a frontpage story from the Miami Herald.

The Herald reported a string of sensationalistic murders where the victims’ bodies (in some cases just parts) had been methodically deposited around Dade and Broward Counties in a manner considered an homage to historic Miami killings.

The author suggested the slaying of the Grator Gator Incubators was a sign some “older, established influences” weren’t willing to welcome new blood.  Or maybe there had been some “misunderstanding” about the Grator Gator Incubators’ investment approach.  And that certain investors (without specifically naming the bunch who ran ecstasy from Miami to Brooklyn) may not have appreciated the “complexities of modern tech company finances.”

Apparently, the “stylist” engaged to take care of the dead bodies Jake had been instructed to leave behind had started with J. Dorrissey Coward.  J.D.’s bullet-riddled head was found in a dumpster at Dadeland Mall, where in July 1979, the phrase “cocaine cowboys” was created by a police officer on the scene of a broad-daylight submachinegun shootout linked to the then-fledgling Medellin cartel.

The from-the-neck-down remains of J.D. were found in a different dumpster, this one behind Meyer Lansky’s last Florida residence, the Imperial House condominiums on Collins Ave.

The corpse of Harivda Mawani, mostly intact (save what looked to be some indiscriminate gnawing by omnivorous marsh rats), was found along the cheerfully-named Dolphin Expressway, not far from where, in September 1993, Uwe-Wilhelm Rakebrand, a German tourist, was shot and killed in his rental vehicle just miles and minutes from where his flight had landed at Miami International Airport.  (Rakebrand’s killing had been the eighth murder of a tourist that fall.)  Confirming Harivda’s identity was delayed due to precautions linked to the body’s contact with the forementioned marsh rats, also know as mice rats, which are primary hosts of the Bayou Virus, the second-most common agent of hantavirus infections in the United States.

Bunky McAlister—in the nascent stages of male-pattern baldness—was found in the driveway of an ordinary Spanish bungalow in Hallendale, an address hardly worth a second look save a new Spanish tile roof and that it was a former “carpet joint,” the term applied to illegal Miami-area casinos that popped up in the 1950’s, created by the same groups trying to establish a foothold in Cuba’s gaming world.  (The image-conscious stylist who disposed of Bunky’s body had mindfully applied hair paint to those portions of Bunky’s bald spot not decimated by entry wounds, doing unto others, perhaps.)

  The shot-up body of handsome Mikel Sabdul, who the Herald reported as having the looks of an international fashion model, was found in reasonable enough proximity to the Villa Casa Casuarina to recall how the mansion’s former (himself quite internationally fashionable) owner Gianni Versace had been gunned down outside the iron entrance gates to the property when it was his estate.  Perhaps the stylist had been wary of getting too close to the actual marble steps to deposit Mikel where Versace had been slain, or perhaps someone had moved the body away from the current boutique hotel so as not to cause a stir, but the Versace reference was clear: Mikel being dressed in the same sort of grey sleeveless t-shirt, knee-length shorts, and baseball cap reportedly worn by Versace’s serial killer assailant.  (When shot by Jake, Mikel had been wearing silk boxers and a designer t-shirt.)  

The Herald article “couldn’t help suggesting” the killings were more than the revenge of dissatisfied investors and were, in fact, a warning: that while times may change, this was still Miami.  The writer also imagined the town had not seen the last of a killer he was calling, The Grator Gator Eliminator.

“How about that, Jake,” Loiza said.  “You’ve got a nickname.”

Jake was not impressed.  But he had been well paid.