Carol was spying on the table next to theirs, hiding behind large shades. She loved the kind of basic beachfront retiree gossip they were dishing. It was almost a pastime for her, immersing herself in the narrative miasma of coconut-vanilla, spray-tan, condo pools, and other people’s secrets. The loudest of the group was calling the story’s subject’s affliction, with faux-sarcastic air quotes, a ‘social disease.’ Carol knew such a thing was more common in their small barrier island community than one would think. A lot of tea partiers, too much money, too much time. Nothing else to do but get drunk on Tom Collinses, mouth off about liberalism, sleep with your friends’ wives. She called up her own recent sins. She noted that the fishing nets on the ceiling of the Pelican had captured a mermaid, suspended her there like bycatch. Nathan returned from washing his hands and sat at their glass deck table. It overlooked the Gulf, and the yellow umbrella shielding them from the late morning sun cast them in a certain glow.
“You have to call Chance as soon as we leave,” Carol said.
Nathan extracted a smart phone from his pocket. He was always checking the stocks, had never fully retired. He scrolled for a minute before Carol realized with a small thrill that no; he was cruising. He inspected the neighboring cluster of mature women and slipped his phone back into his pocket. He winked at her. “Why should I do it?”
“Because, I can tell he likes you.”
“He likes you.”
Just then, their new friends arrived. They had met this couple at the last HOA meeting. The husband told them that he’d recently retired from sports medicine in Tampa. Carol had since Googled him and seen the whole ten-minute video behind the scandal that forced them down here to Manasota Key. “It started when I was fourteen,” the woman had said, into the camera. Now 25, she was clean and articulate, sober, apparently, at least for an audience—who knows what a mess she was off-screen. There was something feral about her. “I started babysitting for his kids. I knew them from church,” etcetera. Carol could have written it. By sixteen, the girl was working at his private practice. “I was in-between the wall and his chair. He would tell me to go to mass, get good grades, go to a good school. I would leave and cry in my car.”
“You beat us here,” said Benjamin.
Nathan rose to greet him. He kissed Amy on the cheek. Benjamin sat down next to Carol. Amy was facing her, and a cloud was gathering over her face. Carol attempted to scatter it. “How are you adjusting to the area?”
“To be honest,” Amy said, “we didn’t have these creatures in Tampa.”
“The iguanas,” said Benjamin.
“I found one in our pool. It was sitting on the highest stair of the shallow end.”
“Unfortunately, there’s no nonviolent solution,” said Carol. “And the infestation has only gotten worse since we got here ten years ago. There are ways to repel them, but they’re an invasive species, so they have no natural predators.”
“What have you tried?” said Amy.
“Chicken wire. Wind chimes. Lawn ornaments.”
“A bit tacky.”
“We just kill them now,” said Carol. “They always come back. They’re inextinguishable. All the yards are connected.”
“How do you kill them?” said Benjamin.
“With a pellet gun. Or you can hit them over the head with a shovel.”
Amy felt disturbed. She marveled at her ability to maintain a calm disposition and reasoned that it must be due to her having drawn upon this skill in relation to Benjamin for twenty-five years. She detested the animals but killing them seemed extreme. Of course, she knew as a medical person that this was only because they bled. Or perhaps it was due to their size.
The waitress came with mimosas. They ordered, and Carol inquired about the practice they’d closed. “Did you open it together?”
“I was his nurse,” said Amy.
Benjamin looked at her. “Should I tell them the story?”
“Please don’t.” She held his gaze. He attempted a smile. “I’m begging you.”
He turned back to Carol. “I’ll tell you later.”
“You’ve never been shy about that story,” he said to Amy.
She ignored him. She turned her attention to the beach. Among the sunbathers, two women were wading into the surf together, and further out, a sailboat led her eye to the line of buoys marking the furthest safe distance from shore. “It’s already viral,” their lawyer had told them, his voice echoing through their Audi’s Bluetooth. Benjamin had stopped her searching the video that instant. “We had a consensual affair when she was eighteen,” he insisted, to both of them. “Which I regret now.”
She’d had a feeling. She recalled that the girl had at one time ridden horses with their own daughter. She probed her memory for sleepovers, unplanned barn trips, silent messages left on the office voicemail.
She felt the outside of Benjamin’s pocket for his keys but didn’t find them. She rose to go to the bathroom, but the food arrived. The conversation continued in typical fashion. At one point, she seemed to notice Carol watching her profile.
They paid the bill and left, gathering on the sidewalk.
Nathan said to them, “We live down the beach. Come over.”
Amy tried to decline. Benjamin held her by the elbow. She allowed him to lead her, and by the time they reached the sand behind the Pelican, she’d managed to free herself, and catch up with Carol.
They walked the waterline.
“There is another option if you don’t want to kill them yourself,” Carol told her. Then, turning to Nathan: “We can put them in touch with Chance.”
Nathan fell into step with them. He draped an arm around his wife’s waist.
“Is Chance an exterminator?” said Amy.
“I hesitate to tell you more about our relationship,” Nathan joked. “I don’t talk God or politics in mixed company.”
“I’m a registered Democrat,” said Benjamin.
“He comes out and shoots the iguanas, then disposes of the carcasses,” said Carol. “He charges a reasonable fee.”
“He actually became somewhat notorious when he posted some pictures of one of his hunts on Facebook recently,” Carol continued. “He can guarantee up to one hundred iguanas in a single hunt. He had them all laid out in rows with their legs bound, and huge plastic bins of dead lizards, rooms and hallways full of them. Then these happy white men in t-shirts with the sleeves cut off, posing.”
“You can imagine,” said Nathan.
“Thousands of shares. People calling him a murderer.”
“He’s doing our community a service, really.”
They climbed a narrow path worn into the sea grass. It led to the screened-in pool of a stone lanai furnished in rattan. Nathan went behind the bar with his phone to his ear. He fixed their drinks out of earshot. Carol invited them to sit on a loveseat. She offered them each a cigarette. They declined.
“I suppose you know too much about the consequences of smoking.” She lit the cigarette and drew out the motion of removing it from her mouth. A slip of smoke hovered between her lips. “My father was a pack-a-day smoker until he died at ninety-two. I figure I’m immune.”
“I’m not sure that would stand up to peer review,” said Benjamin.
“You’re right. Too emotional.”
Amy felt nauseated. She pressed her fist into the cushion. Nathan returned and handed her a glass of chilled wine. He sat on her other side and leaned into her. “Chance is in the neighborhood,” he said.
“Wonderful,” said Carol.
Amy set her glass on the table and sat forward, looking for fresh air. Beyond the screen, a chartreuse iguana crept into the yard and along a row of crotons. The spines on its back fanned out and it paused at the base of a palm tree. It began to climb, gripping the smooth face of the wood. Its delicate fingers were almost human.
“They’ve been known to eat small animals,” said Nathan. “Birds and rabbits.”
“Do they carry diseases?” said Benjamin.
“I would imagine.”
They turned at the sound of the door opening. A man exited the back of the house and stood looking at each of them. He was rangy like a bird of prey, and Amy startled when she noticed a large gun riding on his shoulder.
“You’re here,” said Carol. “I’m so glad. We were hoping you could give our new friends a demonstration of your services.” She looked at Amy. “It’s a rush.”
Amy watched as Chance approached the screen and stepped onto the sand. He centered his sights on the reptile. It had ascended midway to the crown of fronds. The only sound was the rush of the ocean, the penetrating screech of gulls.
The iguana’s tail wrapped completely around the shank.
Chance lowered his gun and looked at Amy. “Do you want to try it?” he said.
Amy looked at each of them. A cloud moved over the sun. She rose and crossed the stones to exit the screen. Chance slung the gun’s holster around her. She held the stock awkwardly against her body.
Nathan appeared beside him, holding a glass. His palm rested in the small of Chance’s back.
“It’s immensely satisfying,” said Carol.
Benjamin leaned on the frame of the open screen. “We’ll go after this,” he said.
Chance moved her into position. “Look here,” he said, lifting the scope to her eye.