LAND O'LAKES — It was still dark Thursday morning when the man burst into the Citgo station at the rural crossroads of U.S. 41 and State Road 52.
Mohammed Kabir looked up from the counter. The man had been a regular customer for at least seven years. This time, he seemed rushed and upset. He grabbed a red Sharpie and piece of scrap paper. When he finished the note, he used packaging tape to post it on the edge of the counter.
Lost Monkey ACROSS street $200 RewARD NAME is Doc
He rushed outside.
An hour later, the man was back. This time, he bought two fried chicken legs and two thighs kept warm beneath a heat lamp. Outside, a truck pulled into the parking lot to deliver produce. Kabir watched through the window as the man shoved a few bills into the driver's hand, grabbed a handful of bananas and ran back into the woods.
It's not clear whether "Doc'' is the name of the man or the monkey. Kabir had never been formally introduced.
It's not even clear whether there really was a monkey.
But sometime just before 4 a.m., the man caused quite a commotion across the highway at the Hess gas station when he told a Pasco sheriff's deputy that his pet monkey had escaped from his car and disappeared into the woods.
The word spread. People parked cars on the side of U.S. 41, presumably to help search. Somebody called the Sheriff's Office, thinking there had been an accident.
Other deputies responded to the scene, department spokesman Kevin Doll said, but they didn't join in the search.
In the light of day, with the alleged monkey still missing, TV crews arrived.
Would this turn out to be anything like the notorious wild Pinellas County monkey that has been spotted swinging through St. Petersburg neighborhoods for three years?
Reporters might have asked "Doc,'' but the number on the poster went unanswered. The 702 area code: Las Vegas.
By Thursday evening, there was still no sign of the monkey. With the lack of information, Doll said, authorities could not confirm it even exists.
"In order to be sure that there was a monkey, we'd have to see the monkey,'' he said, "and I haven't heard anybody saying that they saw a monkey."
The sparsely populated area is known by locals as Gower's Corner. Nearby is Crossroads Sawmill. Owner Virgil Williams, an elderly man with thick glasses and a high-set trucker's cap, snickered when he heard of the escaped monkey. He said his lumber yard might be a choice place for the primate, what with all the wood and scraps of food workers toss out after their lunch.
Employee Shirlene Powell looked disgusted.
"Them are nasty," she said. "I wouldn't have a monkey."
Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.