Key West, FL I

The ambulance is pulled over on the shoulder of Alligator Alley, the corridor of Interstate 75 that cuts horizontally across southern Florida, bisecting the Everglades. There is no accident, no stretcher, no mangled car overturned on the roadside. The ambulance creeps backward, then forward, then ceases to move at all. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the ambulance has a blown tire. Upon even closer inspection, it comes clear that the ambulance is no longer an ambulance but, instead, a private vehicle sold at a government auction. White paint covers its flashing lights and its former decals have been scalpeled off, leaving only ghostly impressions of its past function. Its engine turns off. Its engine turns on. The fake ambulance limps forward and backward idiotically, its blown rear tire reduced to a few strips of steel-belted jerky flapping against the pavement. After fifteen minutes of random movement and steady axle damage, the degraded machine backs up an onramp and groans to a stop in the parking lot of a rest area. Its sad reverse-beeper croaks as its engine turns off. After a few minutes, the back door opens and a middle-aged man with a dark complexion, shaved head, and black mustache emerges. His navy blue shirt is black with sweat as he gazes blankly at the wheel he has, knowingly or not, broken far beyond repair. He stands. And stares. And sweats. Two button-down shirts are visible through the cab of the fake ambulance, their threadbare fabric hanging limply against faux-wood paneling.

Highway 1 runs over one hundred miles from Key Largo to Key West, a series of causeways between islands, like a gigantic concrete and steel game of connect the dots. The swimming pool-blue waters of the Atlantic pulse calmly on both the left and right at Key Largo but, as traffic proceeds west, the blue water loses its color under the clouds of an impending thunderstorm.

The Squid, like all squids, rides an overpowered, underweight inline four-cylinder sport bike. His is cherry red, covered in aerodynamic plastic—so svelte that even the turn signals are embedded in the frame. He wears a tank top, board shorts, flip flops and, as if to spite the gray weather, sunglasses. Being a good squid, he has no helmet. His racing pedigree ensures that he will never crash, no matter how fast he rides through paradise. This self-assurance may also account for why he is sitting upright and texting with both hands as he rides down the narrow causeway at 55 miles per hour.

The thunderstorm turns out to be a lightning storm, its few drops of rain forgotten next to the blinding white-purple explosions overhead. Networks of electricity fill the sky, wiping from left to right, then right to left, coming from behind and filling one's entire field of view, pouring over windshields and helmets like a waterfall of energy. Broadsides of thunder roll continuously as shadows come from first one direction and then another, stretching across shining violet pavement. The water remains calm, perfectly reflecting the drama overhead. Electricity on all sides.