If dogs get beach access, will camels follow? Ask the mob at Town Hall.
Editor’s Note: Ten years ago, Longboat Key author H. Terrell Griffin made his debut as a mystery writer with the “Killer Summer” serial in the Longboat Observer featuring the fictional Detective Jake Bass. Click here to read the catch up with his latest series.
The night was dragging on. The crowd was wet from the fire hoses and still milling around the Town Hall. Here I was, the man in charge of the major crimes division of the Longboat Key Police Department and the only cop on the scene. Every few minutes, someone grabbed the bullhorn and threw out some red meat, stirring up the natives.
“What do you mean that we can’t take our dogs onto the beach?”
“Are we really going to let them build a Motel 6 in the Village?”
“The first thing we do, we kill all the peacocks.” (Apologies to Shakespeare).
“Who cares about a motel, our beaches are eroding."
“Leave the peacocks alone. I like to drive through the Village and look at them.”
“Bring back Moore’s.”
I watched the crowd splitting into two groups: the SOPs and the NOPs.
The SOPs, those who lived south of Publix, were worried about their beaches washing away, and the NOPs, those who lived north of Publix, wanted immunity for strangling the Village peacocks.
The dogs-on-the-beach crowd was truly a bipartisan effort that included both NOPs and SOPs. They wanted free rein for their dogs to roam the beach. They were chanting, “Dogs are people, too. Open the beach.”
Charlie Goins had joined the pro-dog group even though he hated dogs. His reasoning was that if we let dogs on the beach, pretty soon he’d be able to take his pet camel, Jeremiah, for a walk in the sand. He thought it would remind his pet of the desert where he grew up. “Progress,” Charlie said, “is a wonderful thing.”
“They’re never going to let a camel on the beach,” I said.
“They’ll have to. It’s a matter of Jeremiah’s civil rights.”
“Animals don’t have civil rights,” I said.
“Don’t tell that to the Animal Rights section of The Florida Bar. They’ve got lawyers standing around every slaughterhouse in the state to make sure the butchers do their business in a humane manner.”
“Lawyers are nuts.”
“Still,” Charlie said, “civil rights for animals is a sensitive subject, and there are lawyers out there just chomping at the bit to make their reputations by defending the downtrodden. Like Jeremiah. The only sand around here is on the beach, and Jeremiah was born to run in the sand. I wouldn't be surprised if the ACLU jumped into the fray on Jeremiah’s behalf. I used to be a lawyer, you know, and I know a good case when I see one.”
“Charlie, you almost went to jail for practicing law without a license.”
“A mere technicality.”
“And some innocent people you represented went to prison.”
“Yeah, but when you think about it, they were probably guilty of something, even if they weren’t charged.”
“They’re still rotting in a jail cell.”
“Not a problem. I got the retainer upfront.”
I wasn’t getting anywhere with Charlie. He seemed quite attached to his camel.
“People are worried that dog poop might cause disease,” I said. “You really think they’re going to allow a camel on the beach?”
“The beach erodes so fast that the poop won’t last a day or two at the most.”
“What about the turtles?”
“What about them?” Charlie asked.
“Those Turtle Watch people are very powerful and they’re not going to like any kind of animals on the beach. Other than turtles, that is.”
“I’m telling you, Jake, if it’s OK for turtles to be on the beach, it’s got to be OK for dogs and camels. They've all got rights, and you know there are no poop-less turtles. If they can use the beach for their droppings, so can dogs and camels.”
“If all these animals have rights, then so do the peacocks,” I said.
“You’re right, and if I were still practicing law I’d file a class action lawsuit against the city. Do you know our taxes are paying something like, a lot, for each peacock the bird catchers trap?”
“Is it working?”
“I think so. They’ve gotten two of the little buggers in the past two months.”
“That seems kind of slow.”
“Yeah. I think it has to do with the amount we’re paying the trappers. They catch one bird and take a few weeks off. I’m planning to get into the business.”
“Nah, those are mean birds. And stupid. They’ll peck your car if they think you’re trying to trap them. I’m going to talk to the city fathers about trapping seagulls. Lots more of them than there are peacocks and they’re even dumber.”
“Don't you have to have a license to be a wildlife trapper?”
“Yeah, but you gotta have a license to sell real estate or practice law, and I did pretty good in both those professions without one.”
The crowd was getting rowdier. I was nearly run down by five people, four of them wearing large name tags. There were three women and two men, all with big hair, running away from the torches. If a spark had hit one of them, all that hair would have exploded and taken out a lot of our citizens.
I tripped the last guy in the group and he went sprawling. I put my knee in his back and handcuffed him. “You’re under arrest.”
“Running in a public place.”
“I’m a minister. This is not going to end well for you.”
“I thought you were a real estate salesman.”
“That’s the devil’s work.”
“But you’ve got big hair.”
“I’m from Georgia. Got a little church outside Waycross.”
I uncuffed him and let him up. “Why were you running?”
“I was following those other preachers.”
“The ones with the name tags?”
“Those were real estate people.”
“They’ve got big hair.”
“Yeah. That’s kind of their uniform.”
“How do the preachers here do their hair?”
“Most of them don’t have enough hair to mess with. Besides, I think they’re all Episcopal, Catholic, or Presbyterian.”
“Why are you here?”
“Mildred Goins asked me to come here to save the soul of her son, Charlie.”
“We need to talk. Want a beer?”
“Heavens no. You got any white lightning?”
“Let’s go see Sammy at the Haye Loft.”