The thing that surprised me, and the members of the first few rows, which became a Sea World-esque no-go zone, the most was the amount of blood.
I had no idea that Christopher Moore and Carl Hiaasen were mortal enemies and that Books Inc. had obviously thrown them together for the sheer spectacle of it all. The hordes of TMZ cameras out front should have clued me in that it was going to be that kind of an event. But the afternoon began harmlessly enough, the two authors striding out onto the stage from opposite wings of the stage, faces going only slightly sour as they saw the other man. Carl spotted Christopher first, as Christopher was busy waving to the audience, who were chanting his name and stomping their feet, for some reason. And the first hint that the conversation would not go quite as expected was when Carl sprinted across the stage and flung himself at Christopher, the force of which knocked the two men down, sent Mr. Moore’s microphone pack flying into the third row, raising an unsightly gash on an attendee’s forehead. While the two men tussled on the floor, rocking back and forth as one then the other gained the upper hand, raining body blows down on each other, the AV guy attempted to re-fit a microphone pack onto Christopher, which he did, though I’m fairly certain he received a cracked rib or two for his trouble.
While he was up there the AV guy also confiscated a pair of brass knuckles from Mr. Hiaasen, who wasn’t expecting Christopher Moore on stage with him, but simply carries brass knuckles around with him at all times “just in case.”
After the initial brawl the MC did a commendable job of getting the two settled in their respective chairs. The Books Inc. event organizer would later say that, hindsight being 20-20, they would have put more than a small side table and two bottles of water between the two, had they known it was going to escalate *that* quickly.
Through gritted teeth which you could hear thanks to the quick work of the AV guy, Christopher Moore asked Carl a few questions, mostly focused on his personal life and allegations of unspeakable acts with monkeys (hence the title of his new book, quipped Mr. Moore). He asked whether or not Carl knew of the fatwa issued against himself by the Floridian government.
It was this question that seemed to have set something off in Christopher Moore’s mind, and, instead of waiting for the answer, he leapt from his seat, a particularly painful maneuver, considering Chris had suffered a torn ACL in the earlier fight, and attempted to karate kick Carl Hiaasen. I say attempted because, at that moment, the MC threw two stainless steel kitchen knives onto the stage, one of which struck Mr. Hiaasen in the left temple, causing him to duck away in pain. The karate kick missed, whistling over the ducking head of Mr. Hiaasen, and the look on Mr. Moore’s face revealed that he had expected his opponent to be less spry than he was proving. Which is a shame, because while he was processing this new data about his fight he failed to appreciate the karate kick he had just performed, which would have felled a man much, much taller than himself.
Carl Hiaasen parlayed his duck into a very elegant tuck and roll across the floor, kneeing a bottle of water off the side table he was rolling past. The water was thrust into the air, tumbling over and over until it landed in Carl’s left hand as he finally righted himself and took a triumphant swig.
The event organizers took this natural pause in the conversation to tie the kitchen knives to the authors’ hands with duct tape, the handlers on Christopher Moore’s side having more trouble with their charge because he had decided that the best approach to this wily fighter he faced would be to attack aggressively.
The knives were attached and the two men attacked each other with the vigor of authors much younger than themselves (I’m thinking of the 12 year old authors in the death matches they televise on ESPN 4 and the creative violence they exhibit). The first few rows were evacuated after the Books Inc. staff noticed a few of them collecting the blood of the writers in vials, presumably to sell or splash on their books in lieu of signed copies. From the back of the room people were encouraged to throw glassware and spoons, for some reason, and I regret to admit that I engaged in throwing a spoon or two when the bartender explained that they simply had too many spoons and wanted to get rid of a few.
At the sound of the commotion the TMZ crew, who had been waiting outside patiently, tending to sick children and puppies while they loitered, rushed inside, sweeping out the remainder of the audience like an incoming wave, where we then went on with the rest of our business for the day.
I do not know which, if either, author survived the conversation, but would like to thank Books Inc. and the authors for a memorable event.*
* This did not happen.