Saturday, March 1, 2008

It began in Florida in 2000

Miami, Florida
November 7, 2000

“Isn’t this the kind of vehicle serial killers use?” asked the lanky redhead who bounced onto the tattered bench seat beside me.
The question drew a chuckle from one of the guys seated behind us, but the fat man in the Bermuda shorts wordlessly slid the door closed. He walked around the rust-stained van, climbed into the driver’s seat, and started the engine. He was already talking on his cell phone.
“Must be one of those serious policy wonks.” The redhead leaned toward me. “Hey, I’m Tommy Noonan.”
“Trevor Wynne.” I shook his hand. He was a couple of years older than me, maybe in his mid twenties. He wore a tie-dyed tee shirt and faded jeans. His socks showed through the toes of tattered sneakers.
“You poli-sci?” he said.
“No. Public relations major. I graduate in December. And you?”
“Poli-sci. Working on my Masters.” He perused the van’s four other occupants and shook his head. “I hoped there would be some babes.”
“That why you’re here?”
“Nah.” He shook his head, setting his unruly mop of long red hair into motion. “That would’ve been gravy. I want to make some contacts for after graduation. How about you?”
“My marketing prof called me last night. Knew I needed the money.”
“Did he tell you what we’d be doing?”
“He said it was working on voter turnout for the election today. That’s all.”
Tommy accepted the information with a shrug. He settled into the seat, and we endured the rest of the bumpy ride through the gray early morning light in silence.
The driver stopped the van outside the local campaign headquarters in Doral, a few blocks from Miami International Airport. He had talked on his cell the whole fifteen minute drive.
We unloaded from the van. The fat man led the five of us inside. He left us slurping weak coffee and disappeared down a hall at the back of the building. The open office area smelled of mildew and antiseptic spray and, faintly, of body odor. Yard signs with candidates’ names stood stacked against the walls; enormous posters bearing their likenesses loomed over the outside world through plate glass windows facing the street.
Telephones buzzed like oversized, desk-bound mosquitoes until one of the bleary-eyed workers would at last pick one up, and shout something like, “Precinct ten needs signs,” or “Somebody needs a ride to the polls in precinct seven,” seemingly to no one in particular.
“You’ve gotta love it,” Tommy Noonan said as he absorbed the scene. “Suh-weet.”
A few minutes after he disappeared, our driver re-emerged, carrying a large cardboard box. A lumpy black duffel bag hung from his shoulder.
“Come on,” he said, not bothering to pause when he got to our little group. We followed him back to the van. He drove us towards Overtown. Twenty minutes later, he parked in the handicapped space outside a soup kitchen.
“This’ll just take a second. Wait here.” He said over his shoulder. He carried the duffel bag into the church across the street and emerged a few minutes later, sans duffel bag. He opened the van’s side door and motioned. “Awright, the pastor said it’s a go. Everybody out”
He led us to the back of the vehicle, where he opened the rear door. He reached into the box and started removing cases of Marlboro cigarettes.
“Take two cases. Pass the rest on,” he said in an accent that sounded like he was from Brooklyn or the Bronx. A New York accent, at least, to my southern ear.
“Hey, I don’t smoke!” One of the guys protested.
“Tell somebody who cares, moron.” He was a short, bulb of a man, with a short, bulb of a face and the kind of scrawny mustache that made me want to take a napkin to his upper lip and wipe it away, like a parent cleaning grape juice from a child’s lips. He had stringy, black hair and dark dots for eyes.
He stopped handing out cigarettes when we each had two cartons. “So, here’s the drill. I’m your team ‘captain’.” He made quote marks with his fingers. “You can call me, Cap. We—and by we, I mean you—are going to persuade each of the fine, upstanding citizens who frequent this establishment today to do their civic duty and vote.” He held up a cigarette case. “These, are an incentive to help them decide to do the right thing.”
“How do we know if they’ve registered to vote?” a voice behind me asked.
“Oh, don’t sweat that.” Cap reached into a shirt pocket and pulled out a handful of what appeared to be voter registration cards. “They’re registered.”
“Is this legit?” I said.
“What’s your name, college boy?” Cap looked up at me. Under his suggestion of a mustache, lips curled. I couldn’t tell if it was a smile or a sneer.
“Oh, Trevor.” Up close, his breath reeked of tobacco smoke. “Well, Clever Trevor, you can either stay here and make some dough, or you can take a hike now.”
The idea of walking through Overtown by myself didn’t sound too safe, even for me. Besides, I really did need the money. “I’ll stay.”

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