How the hell do I get myself into these situations, thought John, stepping into the batter's box and tapping his bat on home plate. It was the bottom of the ninth in the championship game and the packed house at Dunkin Donuts Stadium was going absolutely bananas. The bases were loaded with two outs and John's team, the Crullers, was down by a run to the visiting Bearcats. The math was simple: a base hit and the Crullers would win, an out and their season was over.
As the pitcher went into his windup, John decided to look fastball and swing at the first pitch. Sure enough, here came the fastball, straight as an arrow and belt-high, and John swung and drove it high into the night sky. The crowd stood and roared as the center-fielder sprinted back to the wall, but their hopes for a championship died when the ball nestled softly into the outfielder's glove. As John trudged off the field, angry fans showered him with beer and questioned his mother's sexual mores.
Afterward, John sat bare-chested in front of his locker with a towel over his head. I got all of that ball, he thought, looking at his long skinny arms, it just didn't carry. Management had been on him all season to bulk up -- code for "get juiced" -- but he'd resisted and now his contract was up.
A sudden stench of cigar smoke made John look up and there was Buzzy Barnes, the general manager. Buzzy typically wore the expression of a basset hound with hemorrhoids, but tonight he looked sadder still. He swung his stubbly jowls back and forth once, twice, and then walked away. John's career as a Cruller was over.
Several hours and quite a few beers later, John had located a map of the world and Scotch-taped it to his dining room wall. He now stood across the room from the map, steak-knife in hand and swaying slightly. He wound up and flung the knife, which cartwheeled sideways and took out a philodendron and the window-pane behind it.
"Shit," he muttered. "Never did have much of an arm."
He took a deep breath, waited for the room to stop spinning, and let fly with a second steak-knife. This one pierced the map and the wall but in the middle of the big blue Pacific. John staggered over to retrieve the knife but noticed it had impaled a tiny island named Boca Loca. That's where I'll go, he thought. Then he passed out.
Two days later, John was in Waikiki, boarding a small twin-prop plane, Flight 142 to Boca Loca. There was only one other passenger on the plane, a woman who sat directly across the aisle from John. She was a tall brunette, with legs you could write your life story on and the kind of high, wide bust that makes grown men suck their thumbs. Lying at her sleek, high-heeled feet was a big black dog.
John was fastening his seatbelt when a dog head suddenly burrowed into his crotch.
"No, Rex, bad dog!" said the woman, dragging the dog away by his collar.
John gazed into the woman's large espresso eyes and felt a stirring in his loins, which were already wide awake thanks to the dog. He smiled and said, "Hi, I'm John Mullen. And that must be Rex."
"Yeah, sorry about him," said the woman. "He's a bigger crotch-hound than my ex-husband." She smiled and extended her hand. "I'm Dr. Honeywell, but everyone calls me Betty."
"Pleased to meet you, Betty," said John, shaking her hand. "You're the best-looking doctor I've ever met. Are you taking new patients?"
Betty blushed and said, "I'm not a physician, actually, I'm a marine biologist doing research out of UCLA. One of my grad students, Brad, has been running a project on Boca Loca but we lost contact with him a week ago. None of the natives seem to know where he is, and frankly, I'm worried."
Betty's tense mien softened when Rex began to lick her hand. She playfully scratched the dog behind his ears and said, "And what brings you to Boca Loca, John?"
"I'm a baseball player and my season just ended," he replied, trying not to stare at the woman's lush breasts, but not trying too hard. "I just need to get away, to go someplace where nobody knows my name."
"Well I never heard of you," said Betty, helpfully, "And the natives certainly won't bother you, all they ever do is eat, sleep, and fornicate."
"Then it looks like I've picked the perfect spot," said John as the plane began to taxi toward the runway. "If you'll excuse me, Betty, I'm really bushed. I think I'll take a little nap." John leaned back and closed his eyes.
Suddenly the black dog was back in John's crotch, sniffing frantically.
"Bad dog!" said Betty as the engines roared and the plane began to accelerate down the runway.
The copilot served them their in-flight meal -- ham and Swiss on rye, potato chips, and a Coke -- and gave them a half-hearted smile before hurrying back to the cockpit. John popped open his soda, took a long satisfying swig, and asked Betty what Boca Loca was like.
She told him the island was a veritable Garden of Eden, the year-round balmy weather supporting a vast profusion of plant and animal life. Between the idyllic clime and the abundant food supply, the natives neither worked nor worried. They lived their lives in their birthday suits and their main industry was making more natives.
"They're incredibly un-selfconscious about public sex," said Betty. "You've gotta try not to stare."
"That shouldn't be too hard," said John, tearing his eyes away from Betty's cleavage and taking a big bite of his sandwich. "I've seen things in hotel rooms you wouldn't believe!" He chuckled remembering Brennan the catcher's birthday bash.
"And another thing," said Betty, "do you know what guinea pigs are?"
"Sure I do, I had one as a boy. We called him Felix, 'cause he purred like a cat when we petted him."
"Yeah, well they grow wild on Boca Loca, they're everywhere and the natives just love them . . . for dinner. They eat them en brochette, with peppers, onions, and pineapple."
John discovered he was no longer hungry and wrapped the remainder of his sandwich in a napkin. "Well, as long as the natives aren't cannibals," he said, "I'll be all right."
"Oh no," said Betty, "they gave up cannibalism at least a decade ago!"
John stared at her and felt his ham sandwich doing back-flips in his stomach.
Betty burst into laughter. "Just messin' with you, John," she said. "The locals are sweet and friendly, almost child-like. We've never had any problems with them, although they are a bit free with their hands."
John smiled thinly and said, "I think I'll read my magazine for a while." He'd just finished the last article in his magazine, a spirited defense of the nuclear energy industry, when the Captain's voice came over the intercom.
"Folks, we'll be landing shortly in Boca Loca. Please make sure your seatbelts are fastened and your trays are in the upright position. And thanks for flying Affordable Air, 'We may be cheap but we care!'"
John glanced over at Betty who was fast asleep. Not only was her seatbelt secure but her skirt had ridden way up her legs, offering an exquisite view of her soft creamy thighs. As John continued to stare, he realized his tray wasn't the only thing in the upright position.
Just then, the plane banked hard and began descending through the clouds toward a tiny smudge of land in the middle of a blue mirrored ocean. As the aircraft began to level out, John squeezed his eyes shut and dug his fingernails into the armrest. If there was one thing he wasn't going to miss about playing ball, it was all the air travel, especially the take-offs and the landings. He was murmuring a heartfelt Act of Contrition when the plane's tires yelped against the tarmac, and Flight 142 shuddered, slowed, and rolled to a stop.
A warm breeze greeted John as he stepped down from the plane and had his first look at Boca Loca. Everywhere he looked, coconut, palm, and banana trees reached to the heavens for their share of sunlight. The air was filled with the songs of birds, frogs, and insects, and fat little guinea pigs rustled about in the sandy underbrush.
"There's a taxi stand over there," said Betty, pointing towards a nearby clearing, "and remember, try not to stare." As they walked along a sandy path, they passed a couple on a blanket enjoying the missionary position as several seagulls looked on indifferently. And up ahead on a wooden bench, in a scene only Freud could love, a kneeling woman pleasured a man while he ate a banana. Parked a few feet from the busy couple was a yellow taxi-cab, an immense tattooed man snoring loudly behind the wheel. And as Betty had predicted, not one of the natives had a stitch of clothes on.
"Excuse me, sir," said Betty, tapping on the cab's windshield, "Excuse me."
The driver's eyes opened and grew wide as he beheld the marine biologist's hourglass figure.
"Could you please take me and my dog to the UCLA Research Center?" said Betty. She looked around for Rex who'd apparently tired of chasing guinea pigs and was now helping out with banana man. She frowned and put her suitcases down but John had seen what was happening and said, "That's O.K., I'll get him."
He grabbed the dog by his collar, dragged him to the taxi and put him in the back seat.
"Listen, Betty," John said, "I'm in no hurry. If you want, I'll go with you and help you get settled."
"Sure," said Betty, smiling. "I'd like that."
As he was helping Betty into the cab, John got a good long look down her blouse and caught a whiff of her intoxicating perfume. As he slid in beside her, he felt an inexplicable urge to have a banana.
"Hi, folks, my name is Bali Lo," said the driver, "and I'll be your driver today. Feel free to ask any questions you might have as I drive you safely and in total comfort to your destination."
Amazing, thought John. No clothes, modesty, or direct contact with the outside world, still he's working on his tip. As the taxi pulled away, the couple on the bench switched places and the woman bit into a peach.
The UCLA Research Center at Boca Loca was a ramshackle hut less than a hundred yards from the ocean. Flowering vines of crimson and white covered the roof and the walls and blessed the entire vicinity with their scent. By the front door, a white egret stood on one leg, as if it were no big deal, and watched the cab pull up.
Rex bolted from the cab and chased the egret while John grabbed the bags and Betty paid the driver, politely declining his generous offer to impregnate her. John carried Betty's luggage inside, set it down, and had a look around. In the room was a desk, a set of drawers, a cot, and a lab table with a large aquarium on it. Inside the aquarium, John saw several species of crab, some of them quite large, and on the desk was a log containing daily measurements of the crab's size and weight. The last entry was seven days ago and a note was scribbled in the margin: Must ask Crank about Batch #6. Phenomenal growth and increased aggression!
John noticed that many of the crabs were missing a claw or an eyestalk.
"What's all this about?" he asked Betty, who'd finally coaxed Rex inside and was pouring him a bowl of water.
"Brad was researching ways to accelerate growth in crustaceans, to make them a better food source," said Betty. She walked over and studied the log. "He was very excited about the results, and looking at these numbers I can see why. He mentioned there was another American on the island who was helping him with his work."
"That must be this 'Crank' guy," said John. "I wonder if he knows where Brad is?"
"Well, let's go find ou -- " Betty jumped when Rex goosed her and nearly fell off her high heels.
"Bad dog!" said John, stifling a grin.
After a brief phone call and a long cab drive, John, Betty, and her dog climbed out of Bali Lo's taxi on the opposite side of the island. Betty handed the driver a twenty and said, "Really, I'm honored, but no thanks." Bali Lo merely shrugged and drove away.
The coast here was extremely rugged and mountainous, the sparsely-vegetated land dropping off in a sheer cliff to the water. John and Betty walked down a narrow path to a small tin pre-fab, which sat perilously close to the edge of the cliff and spewed noxious fumes from a vent in the roof.
John knocked on the door and said, "Hello, Mr. Crank? Hello?"
The door creaked open revealing two hundred fifty pounds of muscle stuffed into a five-foot package. The man's massive shoulders were almost level with the top of his shaven head, and angry pimples stood out in bas-relief on his cheeks.
"Whaddya want?" he snarled.
"We're trying to find Brad Hopkins, the UCLA researcher," said Betty, batting her eyelashes. "And we wondered if you could help us."
"Why sure, babe," said the man, flexing several facial muscles in a grotesque parody of a smile. "Why dontcha step into my office?"
John and Betty entered the tin hut and found themselves in a laboratory full of test-tubes, flasks, and Bunsen burners. Evil-looking liquids bubbled furiously in beakers and autographed glossies of famous ballplayers hung from the walls.
"Hey, I played with him," said John, pointing to one of the pictures. "Man, that guy could hit the ball a country mile!"
"Thanks to me," said Crank, grinning proudly.
It dawned on John that Crank was cooking up steroids, and liked to sample the sauce from the look of him.
"I've helped a lot of guys get big," said Crank, idly picking at a pimple. "And I was helping your man, Brad, with his crabs, but I ain't seen him for a while."
John glanced out the window and saw Rex barking furiously at a snake, undoubtedly frustrated by its lack of an obvious crotch.
"Do you have any idea where Brad might have gone?" said Betty.
Crank shrugged, nearly pulling a muscle, and said, "He said he wanted to explore the big cave at the base of the cliff, you know, see if he could find any new kinds of crab. And that's the last I heard."
"Could you take us to this cave?" Betty asked.
"Be glad to, babe," said Crank, trying to wink but producing something more like a nervous tic. "Just give me a sec to get ready."
He adjusted the stopper on a distillation flask, turned down a couple of the burners, and dropped to the floor and did two-hundred fingertip push-ups.
Springing to his feet, he said, "Okay, let's boogey!"
As he followed the man outside, John stared at Crank's massive, ripped arms and wondered how far he could hit a ball with guns like those. Might be worth a few pimples, he thought, but not shrunken testicles. There are some things that man should simply not tamper with.
Crank led the way down a steep path in the cliff followed by Betty, Rex, and John, the going slow, especially for Betty in her high heels. As the group slowly descended, little green lizards scrambled out of their way and disappeared into tiny holes in the porous rock. Finally, they reached the base of the cliff and saw the gaping black maw of an enormous cave.
You could fit the goddamn Goodyear Blimp in there, marveled John.
"This is the place," said Crank, walking over to the cave entrance and inspecting a wet streak on the wall. He touched the shiny liquid, smelled his finger, and looked up in the direction of his lab. "Hmm. So this where my chemical waste ends up," he said.
Rex went bounding into the cave and the others followed. As they carefully made their way inside the cave, they began to step on bone fragments, some of them rather large, some of them eerily familiar.
"I'm just a marine biologist," said Betty, taking a bone out of Rex's mouth, "but this looks exactly like a human femur."
"But what kind of animal would be capab -- " John's query was cut short when his sneaker disappeared into a mushy brown mass the size of a basketball. There were similar masses nearby.
Betty leaned over to get a better look at the brown gunk, exposing considerable cleavage and causing John and Crank to lean over for a better look too.
"This looks like crab scat," she said.
"What's scat?" said Crank.
"Shit!" said John, pulling his foot out of the slimy mass and realizing his sneaker was ruined.
"That's right," said Betty, "but the crab that left this would have to be the size of the Goodyear Blimp!"
John stared at the woman and wondered if he and Betty were soul mates.
Rex had brought back another treasure and proudly dropped it at Betty's feet. It was a human hand wearing a UCLA class ring. Betty's eyes rolled up in their sockets and as she swooned, John reached for her but his soiled sneaker slipped and he fell face-first into the scat. Luckily, Crank caught Betty before she fell and gently draped her over his shoulder. With his free hand, he helped John to his feet and they hurried out of the cave.
While John washed his face for the fifth time, Betty and Crank talked biochemistry.
"What must have happened," said Crank, "is that calcium and magnesium from the cliff wall leached into the chemical waste as it drained, causing cross-chain polymerization and enhanced hydrogen bonding. The result was a super steroid."
"And that Crab must have bathed in it every day," said Betty. "With hormonally-prolonged adolescence and unlimited caloric intake, the thing grew exponentially. What you've created, Crank, is a colossal crustacean eating machine!"
"Yeah," said Crank, grinning. "And not only huge but way powerful and aggressive too!"
Betty wiped a tear from her eye. "Poor Brad," she said.
"Yeah, that must have been pretty nasty," said Crank. "But at least he died for his work. I mean a giant crab like that would feed this island for a month! I wonder if the super steroids work on lobsters. I've always loved lobster, especially with drawn butter and maybe a baked potato or a side of cole slaw."
Betty shook her head and turned to John.
"We've got to warn the natives, John. We need to meet with their leader and see if we can't come up with a way to kill this monster."
"Perhaps Bali Lo can help us," said John, drying his face. The former Cruller felt like he'd never truly be clean again, but at least Rex was keeping his distance.
"Anybody got floss?" he said.
After bringing Bali Lo up to speed, Betty asked him if he could arrange a meeting with the leader of the island tribe.
"Sure," said Bali Lo. "You're looking at him."
Bali Lo was three-hundred pounds of sweaty, jiggling flesh dressed in sandals and a nose ring, and John was doing everything in his power not to look at him.
"But . . . you're just a cab driver," said Betty.
"In the land of pedestrians, the cab driver's king," said Bali Lo, his man-tits shaking as he laughed. "Besides, I don't believe in monsters."
"But if you're wrong," said Betty, "people will die. Are you willing to take that chance?"
"Sure," he said, cupping his package, "I can always make more. Wanna help?"
Betty pointed to the door and said, "Get out!"
"Listen, lady," said Bali Lo, taking a step towards Betty, "You really need to get laid, and I'm just the g--"
The island leader was interrupted by Rex who was growling and baring his teeth mere inches from the man's groin.
Bali Lo slowly backed out of the laboratory, pirouetted in the doorway, and hightailed it back to his cab. He was surprisingly light on his feet, the way some big men are.
"Good dog!" said Crank.
"Looks like we're on our own," said John, Q-tipping his ears one more time, just to be sure.
By late afternoon, the intrepid trio was armed and ready. Betty wielded a high-intensity flashlight, John held a home-made spear, and Crank hefted a long metal rod, attached by jumper cables to a car battery duct-taped to his chest. He touched the electrified prod to a folding chair, making a loud satisfying zaap! and causing the others to flinch.
John was going to distract the giant Crab by waving his spear, Betty would blind it with the flashlight, and then Crank would sneak in and fry the mother. At least that was the plan.
After locking Rex in the lab, the three of them hurried down the cliff path as the huge, blood-red sun dropped towards the horizon. Night came fast in the tropics. At the mouth of the cave, they stopped to review their strategy, shouting to be heard over the crashing waves.
Betty turned to John and said, "You're a good man, John. The kind of man I could love -- if we're somehow lucky enough to survive this." She kissed him on the lips, long and hard, and turned to Crank who leaned in expectantly.
"Good luck," she said and sashayed into the cave. John tried not to smirk as he headed in after Betty. Crank stood outside and sulked for a minute, his acned cheeks glowing in the day's final rays, and then he followed them inside.
Phosphorous in the cave walls gave off a sickly-green luminescence, enough light for our heroes to see by as they crept ever deeper into the cave. As bats swooped high overhead, they stepped over rocks, bones, and crab scat, the cave's dimensions greatly amplifying the squeaking and slithering of small unseen creatures. Crank had been humming the theme to Rocky until Betty asked him to stop, and although John was deathly afraid of the giant crab, he was concentrating mostly on not stepping in crab scat. He was on his last pair of sneakers.
Only a half-hour into their journey -- but what must have seemed like an eternity to someone who's potentially about to get eaten alive -- they came around a sharp bend in the cave and there it was: The Fifty-Five Foot Crab!
It was asleep, thank God, and apparently dreaming as its enormous pincers slowly opened and closed. The dome of its bright red carapace nearly scraped the ceiling and was mottled in places with the crab equivalent of acne. Its huge face was hideous and hostile, even in repose.
We're in luck, thought John as Betty motioned Crank forward, we caught it napping.
As Crank closed in for the kill, John moved over to get a better look and stepped in a particularly rancid pile of scat.
"Shit," he muttered, the sound as loud as an elephant's angry bellow thanks to the cave's superb acoustics.
The Crab's eyestalks suddenly twitched and in an instant, a giant claw had knocked Crank off his feet. The beast's furious screech echoed off the walls and ceiling as John and Betty turned to flee. They'd barely taken two steps when Betty's high heel got stuck in a crevice, twisting her ankle and causing her to fall. An avid movie buff, John knew exactly what to do: pick her up and run to safety.
But Betty, God bless her, weighed a solid, albeit gorgeous, hundred and forty pounds. Between her zaftig build, the treacherous terrain, and his shitty sneaker, John only carried her about thirty yards before he had to stop and sit down or suffer a massive coronary.
How the hell do I get myself into these situations, thought John as the caterwauling Crab raised up, its giant claws clacking, to deliver the killing blow.
Suddenly a black streak flew over their heads and Rex sank his teeth into one of the Crab's antennae. The massive Crab roared in agony and swung its ugly mug back and forth until Rex flew off into the shadows, a nice-sized chunk of antenna in his mouth.
The monster's angry eyestalks whipped back to John and Betty and it scuttled their way, its three pairs of mouth parts wriggling obscenely and dripping saliva.
Just when all seemed lost, Crank came running up behind the Crab and delivered twelve volts of dependable starting power where the sun don't shine. The monstrous thing reared up on its hind claws, writhing and shrieking piteously as Crank repeatedly jabbed it and screamed, "You wanna piece of me? Huh? You wanna piece of me?"
Apparently it did, for the Fifty-Five Foot Crab collapsed on Crank, crushing him flatter than a pancake, and then died. As John and Betty sat there, clinging tightly to one another, a not unpleasant odor of fried Crab filled the cave. Then Rex came hobbling out of the shadows holding his left foreleg in the air.
"Oh, you poor brave wonderful dog!" said Betty, holding Rex's head against her ample bosom and smothering him with kisses.
Although the dog had saved his life only moments ago, John felt a sharp and disturbing twinge of envy.
John, who hated boating even more than flying, held on for dear life as Bali Lo's canoe rocked perilously from side to side in the rough ocean chop. Apparently they were far enough from shore to begin the service because the natives had stopped rowing and Bali Lo was staring expectantly at Betty.
Betty sang the UCLA fight song -- in a deep, sultry piano-bar voice that had potential -- said a Hail Mary and an Our Father, and consigned Brad's remains to the sea. The grad student's remains, such as they were, were in an old Scooby Doo lunchbox that had been gathering dust in the Research Center. The lunchbox rode the waves for a minute or two before Scooby Doo sank out of sight. Betty dabbed at some tears with a tissue and now it was John's turn.
John read a list of all the ballplayers Crank had turned into All-Stars -- three of them were in the all-time top ten for home runs -- and then sang a truly brutal rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. He hefted Crank's remains, which had folded up nicely into a small suitcase, hollered "Play ball!" and threw them over the side, nearly falling into the drink in the process.
After John was safely seated, Bali Lo stood up and recited the islanders' traditional liturgy for the dead, a long rambling prayer that repeatedly emphasized making new Boca Locans to replace the dead ones. Then he solemnly proclaimed, "As we are born from salt water, so shall we return to salt water," and peed quite prolifically over the side, a most sacred Boca Locan tradition.
I'd hate to see their marriage ceremony, thought John as Bali Lo sat down heavily, almost swamping the boat, and the natives began rowing towards land.
When the canoe was in sight of the giant Crab's cave, everyone watched as a gang of natives pushed Crank's steroid lab over the edge of the cliff. It crashed on the rocks below and burst into flames, which were soon enough doused by the incoming waves. As the canoe neared the shore, John saw laminated photos of famous ballplayers floating out to sea.
Later, when they inspected the top of the cliff, all that remained of Crank's lab was a bare patch of dirt, a stray dumbbell, and the hole Rex had dug to escape. As the taxi slowly wound its way back to the village, John took a much-needed nap.
The night sky blazed with a billion stars as John, Betty, Rex and Bali Lo sat together on a ceremonial dais, surrounded by what looked like the entire native population. To a man, the Boca Locans were anxious to express their sincere thanks and gratitude for the outsiders' selfless heroism, plus they were always looking for any excuse to party.
At a signal from Bali Lo, pounding jungle drums kicked off the festivities. Men came forward juggling flaming torches and were joined by older women, singing sweetly in the Locan language. Everywhere you looked, natives tipped coconut shells full of bitter palm wine. John would have much preferred an ice-cold brew but by the third coconut shell, the wine had grown on him.
The drums abruptly stopped and the entertainers stepped away. Now the most beautiful young women on the island formed a line, their lithe naked bodies glistening with oil. As the drums beat slowly, they began to circle the dais, swaying back and forth as if in a trance, and as the drumbeat quickened, the women picked up the pace, undulating faster and faster, their long hair whipping through the air.
Courteous as always, John was giving the dancers his full and undivided attention when Betty leaned in and said, "You'd better blink before you grow eyestalks!"
John stared into the marine biologist's big brown eyes and forgot all about the nude dancing girls. This was the woman he'd been waiting his whole life for, it was as clear as the tropical night. When he finally broke eye contact, the dance was over and natives were bringing out large trays of food. One tray overflowed with papaya, coconut, and pineapple, another featured shrimp, fish, and oysters, and a third one was laden with huge chunks of Fifty-Five Foot Crab and all sorts of sauces.
While Betty and John sampled small portions of the various delicacies, Bali Lo inhaled large amounts of everything: eating was clearly his second favorite activity. He grabbed an item with both hands and raised it to his mouth; at the last second, John saw that it was a guinea pig on a stick. As Bali Lo bit into it, John could have sworn he heard it squeak but that was probably just his imagination. Nonetheless, he pushed his plate away and decided to stick to the wine.
The natives, having been sufficiently stuffed and entertained, now turned to their favorite pastime: sex. Amorous couplings broke out everywhere, not to mention triplings and quadruplings. Ever the opportunist, Rex limped off and attacked random crotches, encountering little or no resistance. Not far from the main dais, a young and remarkably agile couple was intertwined in a way that would have made a porn star blush.
"Do you think we could manage that?" John whispered to Betty.
She looked him right in the eye and said, "Why don't we go back to the Research Center and find out?"
John whirled towards Bali Lo and yelled, "Taxi!"