Feeling threatened by his new neighbors, the ‘killer bees,’ the writer launches a preemptive attack.
Illustration: Joe Bluhm
Cow belly. That was my first thought when I saw the oozing honeycombed blob in my driveway.
My next thought was John, which tells you something about my neighbor, the deputy sheriff, a prankster who hid shrimp in the air vents of a friend’s home and once festooned a mailbox with fish heads. I could just see him laughing maniacally as he loaded a couple of pounds of tripe from Publix into a giant slingshot and let it fly. But that didn’t explain the bees.
Closer inspection revealed that the honeycombed blob was, well . . . honeycomb. Honey—at least a quart—“treacled” down the driveway. The thing was as long as my arm. Being a bear of very little brain, I found this fascinating and crouched down for a closer look.
Two things occurred to me almost at once. One, the leaves around me were moving. And, two, large pieces of honeycomb rarely, if ever, sprout like mushrooms from concrete. But it was the fat splat of honey near my left knee that made me look up.
Now I’m a big guy—six feet, two inches in socks, and tipping the scales at upwards of two hundred pounds. I’m large and in charge. But let me tell you, looking up at a hive the size of a 30-gallon trash can swaying precariously in a tree 20 feet above my head, it was all I could do not to scream like a little girl.
Adrenaline flowed, hot, into my extremities. It was fight or flight, and my flight had arrived. I backpedaled zippy-quick into my garage and closed the door. A single bee, trapped inside with me, buzzed reconnaissance.
I pulled the lever on my mental slot machine and tried to recall everything I knew about bees. The wheels spun, but all that came to mind was old Pooh Bear, dangling from a string tied to a balloon, coming to grips with the fact that “these are the wrong sort of bees.” When the wheels stopped spinning, they all landed on the same ignorant and alarmist expression:
Back in the dark ages, before Google, I might have called John, who, according to Bro Code, would have been duty-bound to bring me a beer and stand with me beside the driveway of my Ocoee home, sizing up the situation from a safe distance. John, being as uninformed as I am about bees, would have shared my unfounded declaration that they were killer bees. Because that’s what neighborhood legends are made of.
But we live in the Information Age, so five minutes later I’d read what the Orange County Agricultural Extension Office had to say about Colony Collapse Disorder, feral bees, and the proliferation of Africanized “killer bees” in Central Florida. Africanized bees are the same species as European honeybees, and individually their stings are no more potent than their European cousins. But while a Eurohive might send out a handful of bees to investigate a disturbance, an African hive tends to respond with an all-call, sending hundreds of bees in attack mode and willing to chase down a threat for up to a quarter-mile. Africanized bees arrived in Florida from South America in 2002, and today beekeepers say it’s a pretty good bet that most wild beehives built out in the open here are Africanized. The lady at the extension office recommended I call an exterminator.
An inspector with Massey Services barely made it out of the car. He gave my tree’s bee beard a quick glance and went back for his camera phone. “Good luck,” he said, as he drove away. Apparently bees in trees aren’t Massey’s thing.
A “bee removal specialist,” by phone, outlined a plan in which he’d lull the bees to sleep, tuck them into a bee box, and re-hang the nest in a cozy wood, for only $400. For that price, I would have insisted he throw in a bee massage and mani-pedi.
Eventually I found a bee removal service that would do the job for $150. They’d take the bees, clean the tree and give me a one-year warranty. The website for the national firm was professionally designed and all business. And the bee wrangler said he could be(e?) at my house that evening. Impressive, considering he was in Key West when I called.
I played carnival barker, summoning each of my neighbors as they arrived home from work. They were all suitably shocked and awed, except one, a crusty contractor. “Yep, that’s a beehive,” he yawned. I told myself he was just jealous. I had a beehive and he didn’t.
Two hours after sunset, a black Cadillac pulled into my driveway. The doors opened, disgorging three rangy hombres and a cloud of cigarette smoke. Their eyes were suspiciously red, and they were covered in drywall mud and what looked like prison tattoos. They couldn’t seem to locate their insurance certificate. I considered my original plan, which involved a deputy sheriff (my neighbor John), a hazmat suit, duct tape, a chainsaw, a trash can, a pull-string and a bug bomb. But the price was right, and they’d driven all that way. Did I mention they had a nice website?
They donned their beekeeper outfits—taping off the arm and leg holes—borrowed my extension ladder, a flashlight, five leaf bags, a hose and a push broom, and offered to break me off a piece of honeycomb as a sweet keepsake, if I’d supply the container. I brought them a plastic tub and retreated to watch the action from my dining room.
There was a racket on the roof and a dervish of bees swirled in the carriage lights flanking the garage. A large bag, containing something heavy, fell to the ground. When one of the bee wranglers removed his hood, I stepped outside to pay them. The crew boss descended the ladder and handed me a hot, sticky container full of honeycomb and hundreds of furious bees. The box vibrated like one of those restaurant seating gadgets.
“Are they . . . ?” I let the question hang. I have a habit of not finishing my . . .
“Yep. They’re Africanized. Mean ones too.”
I handed the boss a check and the bee boys threw the bagged hive into the trunk of the Caddy. They helped me put away the ladder and asked if I had any jumper cables. I gave them a jump start and their car roared off into the night, leaving me standing there holding a push broom and my box of angry bees.
None of the neighbors were around to see my bees—which was kind of a buzz kill—so I took them inside to show them to my daughter and my fiancée. The ladies were not at all impressed, and they felt more than a little queasy about my carrying something like that around the house.
“Feel the box,” I said. “Those are Africanized ‘killer bees.’”
The legend had already been written, but it felt good to know it was also true.
Brad Kuhn is a frequent contributor to Orlando magazine. If you’re interested in writing for First Person, submit a one-paragraph synopsis of your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.