Tucker Case awoke to find himself hanging from a breadfruit tree by a coconut fiber rope. He was suspended facedown about six feet above the sand in some sort of harness, his hands and feet tied together in front of him. He lifted his head and strained to look around. He could see a white sand beach fringed with coconut palms, a coconut husk fire, a palm frond hut, a path of white coral gravel that led into a jungle. Completing the panorama was the grinning brown face of an ancient native.
The native reached up with a clawlike hand and pinched Tucker’s cheek.
“Yum,” the native said.
“Who are you?” Tucker asked. “Where am I? Where’s the navigator?”
The native just grinned. His eyes were yellow, his hair a wild tangle of curl and bird feathers, and his teeth were black and had been filed to points. He looked like a potbellied skeleton upholstered in distressed leather. Puckered pink scars decorated his skin; a series of small scars on his chest described the shape of a shark. His only clothing was a loincloth woven from some sort of plant fiber. Tucked in the waist cord was a vicious-looking bush knife. The native patted Tuckers cheek with an ashy callused palm, then turned and walked away, leaving him hanging.
“Wait!” Tucker shouted. “Let me down. I have money. I can pay you.”
The native ambled down the path without looking back. Tucker struggled against the harness, but only managed to put himself into a slow spin. As he turned, he caught sight of the navigator, hanging unconscious a few feet away.
“Hey, you alive?”
The navigator didn’t stir, but Tucker could see that he was breathing. “Hey, Kimi, wake up!” Still no reaction.
He strained against the rope around his wrists, but the bonds only seemed to tighten. After a few minutes, he gave up, exhausted. He rested and looked around for something to give this bizarre scene some meaning. Why had the native hung them in a tree?
He caught movement in his peripheral vision and turned to see a large brown crab struggling at the end of a string tied to a nearby branch. There was his answer: They were hung in the tree, like the crab, to keep them fresh until they were ready to be eaten.
Tucker shuddered, imagining the natives black teeth closing on his shin. He tried to focus on a way to escape before the native returned, but his mind kept diving into a sea of regrets and second guesses, looking for the exact place where the world had turned on him and put him in the cannibal tree.
Like most of the big missteps he had taken in his life, it had started in a bar.
The Seattle Airport Holiday Inn lounge was all hunter green, brass rails, and oak veneer. Remove the bar and it looked like Macy’s mens’ department. It was one in the morning and the bartender, a stout, middle-aged Hispanic woman, was polishing glasses and waiting for her last three customers to leave so she could go home. At the end of a bar a young woman in a short skirt and too much makeup sat alone. Tucker Case sat next to a businessman several stools down.
“Lemmings,” the businessman said.
“Lemmings?” asked Tucker.
They were drunk. The businessman was heavy, in his late fifties, and wore a charcoal gray suit. Broken veins glowed on his nose and cheeks.
“Most people are lemmings,” the businessman continued. “That’s why they fail. They behave like suicidal rodents.”
“But you’re a higher level of rodent?” Tucker Case said with a smart-ass grin. He was thirty, just under six foot, with neatly trimmed blond hair and blue eyes. He wore navy slacks, sneakers and a white shirt with blue-and-gold epaulets. His captains hat sat on the bar next to a gin and tonic. He was more interested in the girl at the end of the bar than in the businessman’s conversation, but he didn’t know how to move without being obvious.
“No, but I’ve kept my lemming behavior limited to my personal relationships. Three wives.” The businessman waved a swizzle stick under Tuckers nose. “Success in America doesn’t require any special talent or any kind of extra effort. You just have to be consistent and not fuck up. Thats how most people fail. They can’t stand the pressure of getting what they want, so when they see that they are getting close, they engineer some sort of fuckup to undermine their success.”
The lemming litany was making Tucker uncomfortable. He’d been on a roll for the last four years, going from bartending to flying corporate jets. He said, “Maybe some people just don’t know what they want. Maybe they only look like lemmings.
“Everyone knows what they want. You know what you want, don’t you?”
“Sure, I know,” Tucker said. What he wanted right now was to get out of this conversation and get to know the girl at the end of the bar before closing time. She’d been staring at him for five minutes.
“What?” The businessman wanted an answer. He waited.
“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m happy.”
The businessman shook his head. “I’m sorry, son, but I don’t buy it. You’re going over the cliff with the rest of the lemmings.”
“You should be a motivational speaker,” Tuck said, his attention drawn by the girl, who was getting up, putting money on the bar, picking up her cigarettes, and putting them into her purse.
She said, “I know what I want.”
The foregoing is excerpted from Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022