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Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 13


  If Skip Wiley was the ebullient nerve of Las Noches de Diciembre, Tommy Tigertail was the soul. He was a man of unusual temperament—taciturn, sometimes brooding, yet outwardly gracious, even warm. He was quiet not because he was shy or queer, as Jesús Bernal would whisper; Tommy was quiet because he was watchful. Never relax, never look away, never trust a white soul—the expensive lessons of history. Tommy Tigertail did not carry the pain of his ancestors for strangers to see; he carried it in his heart and dreams, which haunted him. He was tormented by the nightmare of his great-great-grandfather, Chief Tiger Tail, dying in the dank misery of a New Orleans prison barrack. Tiger Tail, who had never quit like Coacoochee, or been duped into capture like the eloquent Osceola; Tiger Tail, who had spurned the Army’s demand to abandon godforsaken Florida with its fever and mosquitoes and rebuild the Seminole nation in Arkansas, of all places. Arkansas! Tiger Tail, who from the beginning had sensed the white man’s mendacity and fought back brilliantly until the end, when there were virtually no warriors left. Tiger Tail, who had been captured in the battle at Palatka and shipped to a dungeon on the Mississippi, where he soon died, tubercular, homesick, and broken.

  Growing up, Tommy Tigertail had memorized the broken treaties—Camp Moultrie, Payne’s Landing, Fort Gibson, and the rest. These were the devices that had swept from paradise all but three hundred unconquerable Seminoles, among them Tommy’s great-grandfather, then a teenager, who had hidden and fought and never touched a quill to a U.S. treaty.

  Viceroy Wilson had read up on the Seminoles, who impressed him as some of the craftiest motherfuckers ever to raise a rifle. The more he read, the more Wilson was persuaded that Tommy’s people had just as much fury to burn as American blacks. Viceroy Wilson was waiting for the day when the Indian’s hatred percolated into raw violence or sinister magic, but so far Tommy Tigertail had kept it under rein. Moderation and manners served him well. He weaved as effortlessly through the white man’s labyrinth of high finance as he did through the knotted trails of the Big Cypress. It was Tommy Tigertail who had turned the inane bingo fetish of Florida’s senior citizens into a Seminole bonanza: soon after gambling was ruled to be legal on the Indian reservations, Tommy converted some old airplane hangars into the world’s biggest bingo halls. Ingeniously he tailored them for the various South Florida markets: Yiddish bingo, Cuban bingo, Brooklyn bingo, and redneck bingo. The tribe got rich, and Tommy Tigertail became a tycoon without even trying. It was bingo money that bankrolled Las Noches, but Tommy didn’t seem to care how it was spent. He said little, and carried out Skip Wiley’s extravagant orders with dispassionate obedience. Around the midnight campfires it was Wiley who did the fulminating, who put the anger and the passion into words, but it was Tommy Tigertail whose spirit seemed to dominate; it was in Tommy’s burnt-wood eyes that Skip Wiley found a pure purpose for his crusade.

  As his airboat sliced through the morning mist, Tommy Tigertail thought for the hundredth time: It is too bad Great-great-grandfather didn’t have one of these babies. They’d never have caught him.

  “Slow down!” Brian Keyes croaked, teeth clicking.

  Tommy Tigertail glanced down at his prisoner.

  Keyes mouthed the words: “Help me.”

  The Indian cut the engine, and the airboat coasted to a stop. The silence seemed sudden and immense.

  Tommy hopped off his perch and bent over Keyes.

  “I’m bleeding to death,” Keyes said, fingering his sticky shirt.

  “No,” Tommy Tigertail said. “I dressed the wound myself. And gave you medicine.”

  “I don’t remember.”

  “Button snakeroot and willow shavings.” Tommy lifted Keyes’s shirt and studied the knife wound. Gently he put his hand on Keyes’s belly. “You’re very cold,” he said. “We’ll wait a few minutes then.” He opened a moleskin canteen and tipped it to Keyes’s mouth. The liquid was hot and smoky-tasting, stronger than any coffee known to man.

  “Black tea,” explained Tommy Tigertail, “to stop the madness.”

  “Too late for that,” Keyes said with a sigh.

  The Seminole wore a long-sleeved flannel shirt, denims, and western boots—the same damn boots from Wiley’s cabin. Tommy Tigertail looked like no other Florida millionaire Brian Keyes had ever met.

  The Indian surveyed the swamp. “We are four miles from the road.” He climbed into the driver’s seat and pointed toward the sunrise.

  “When I was a boy,” he said, “a herd of white-tailed deer lived here. Three bucks, many does. The fawns you seldom saw. In the winter, when the water disappeared, I could always find the deer grazing on the edge of this basin. When I was fifteen it was time to kill one, and I did.”

  Keyes sat up, bolstered by the strange tea. Under different circumstances Tommy’s version of Bambi would have touched him, but Keyes could scarcely listen. He was preoccupied with the selfish notion that he should be taken to a hospital as soon as possible.

  Tommy Tigertail said: “Three years ago the deer died. Five white men in a half-track ran them into the high water and killed them with shotguns. The fawns, too. I watched from this spot.” The Indian described the slaughter with no outward emotion, as if it were something he’d been expecting his whole life. It gave Keyes a fresh chill.

  The Seminole said, “You were wondering what I’m doing with Mr. Wiley. You didn’t ask, but you wondered just the same. So this is my answer: your friend Mr. Wiley says there’s a chance to put things right, to make those who don’t belong here go away forever.”

  “But it’s a fantasy,” Keyes said.

  Tommy Tigertail smiled handsomely, his caramel face brightening. “Of course it’s a fantasy. Of course it is!” He laughed softly, a laugh full of irony. “Ask anybody,” Tommy said. “Florida is the place where fantasies come true. Now, lie down, Mr. Keyes, and we will go.”

  With that the Indian cranked the propeller and the two of them were drowned in noise. The airboat rocketed out of the sawgrass, and the wind shocked Brian Keyes to the spine. He huddled down, cheek to the cool aluminum deck, and counted out the miles in his pounding head.

  Shortly after noon on the ninth of December, the head nurse of the emergency room at Flagler Memorial Hospital was notified by a policeman that “a school bus with serious injuries” was on its way to the hospital.

  Assuming the worst, which is the only sane way to function in Miami, the nurse immediately declared a Code Orange and scrambled every available surgeon, anesthesiologist, scrub nurse, and lab tech in the hospital. The other patients—miscellaneous gunshot victims, drug overdoses, and screeching teenagers in labor—were shuffled out of the way and told to manage as best they could. Flagler Memorial braced for full-scale carnage and catastrophe.

  In no time the E. R. filled with TV crews, newspaper reporters, photographers, and personal-injury lawyers. After about an hour of waiting, everyone got cranky and wanted to know what was the damn story with this busload of mangled orphans. Where were the choppers? And the ambulances ? Where the hell were the grieving parents?

  The head nurse was getting baleful glares from the orthopedic surgeons (“It’s Sunday, for Chrissakes!”) when the bus finally clattered up to the emergency-room door.

  It was not a school bus, though once it might have been. And in fairness to the cop who radioed it in, the bus had the right colors, yellow and black; the yellow being paint and the black being rust.

  The driver, a phlegmatic fellow with a Budweiser in one hand, seemed extremely surprised to be met by bright lights and Minicams and an army of tense-looking people dressed in white. Drunk as he was, the driver could sense their collective disappointment.

  For the bus was not packed with seriously injured children, but perfectly healthy migrant workers—Jamaicans, Haitians, Dominicans, and Mexicans, all sweaty and dusty and peeved that their day in the tomato fields had been cut short.

  “I don’t understand,” the nurse said, scanning the dark faces. “Where’s the emergency?”

 
“There’s your fuckin’ emergency,” the bus driver said, waving a stubby arm. “Up top.”

  The nurse stood on the tips of her white shoes and saw what the driver was talking about: a young man strapped to the rack on top of the bus. He looked damp and half-conscious, his clothes soaked with blood. For some reason a briefcase had been placed under his lolling head.

  “Hmph!” said the nurse, turning to face the throng. “Relax, everybody.”

  A pair of orderlies clambered atop the bus and untied Brian Keyes. As they placed him on a stretcher and carried him into the hospital, the emergency room emptied with a groan. Only one reporter hung around to ask questions, and that was Ricky Bloodworth.

  Nobody bothered to retrieve the briefcase from the top of the migrant bus. Miraculously it remained there, unsecured, almost halfway back to Immokalee, until the bus accidentally struck an opossum crossing Route 41. The jolt launched the briefcase—containing all Skip Wiley’s vital evidence-off the roof of the bus into the Tamiami Canal, where it sank unopened into a gator hole.

  Al García was in a bellicose mood. He hated the night shift if he couldn’t be out on the streets, and he couldn’t be on the streets if he was running the motor pool. The motor pool was a terrible place for a detective; there was nothing to investigate. The highlight of the evening was when one of the K-9 guys drove in with chunks of dead cat all over the backseat of the squad car. The cop said the cat had gone crazy and attacked his K-9 German shepherd and the dog didn’t have a choice but to fight back—it was just a terrible thing to see. García said sure, pal, and wrote it up anyway, musing over the sick possibilities.

  Al García did not want his career to end this way, in a stale little office on a parking lot full of police cars.

  He was still furious about the two goons from I.A.D. who had foraged through his house, hunting for a typewriter that wasn’t there. They’d each carried Xerox copies of the El Fuego letters to compare with anything they found. But all they’d discovered was a bunch of hand-scrawled hate letters García had once written to Lee Iacocca, the president of Chrysler Motors. For some reason almost every cop car in America is made by Chrysler, and Al García calculated that he’d spent at least forty thousand hours of his life riding in Chrysler-made automobiles: Furies, LeBarons, Diplomats, Monacos, Darts, you-name-it. Al García was an expert on Chryslers, and he hated the damn things. Hated the steering, hated the shocks, hated the brakes, hated the radios. García especially hated the seats. He had hemorrhoids the size of bell peppers and it was all Lee Iacocca’s fault. So García had dashed off a few appropriate missives, which he wisely never sent. Typically the letters would begin: “Dear Shit-for-Brains.” For some reason the guys from I.A.D. found this fascinating. They sealed the letters in a plastic bag and exchanged congratulatory whispers. García gave them the finger on their way out the door.

  He didn’t really expect to see the I.A.D. boys again anytime soon, so he was mildly surprised when one of the assholes appeared that night at the motor pool. García remembered that his name was Lieutenant Bozeman. He was very young to be a lieutenant, and much too sharply dressed to be a good cop.

  “I hope you need a car,” García said. “You like cats?”

  Bozeman helped himself to a seat. He took a notebook from his coat.

  “Just a few questions, sergeant, if you don’t mind.”

  “I do mind, dipshit. I’m very busy right now, in case you didn’t notice. I got six marked units waiting to have the tires rotated, I got a rear bumper missing off a paddy wagon, and the transmission just dropped out of an undercover car in the middle of the Rickenbacker Causeway. Much as I’d love to help you, I got no time.”

  Bozeman said, “Harold Keefe thinks you wrote the Fuego letters.”

  “Why would I do a stupid thing like that?”

  “To make him look bad.”

  “Hal doesn’t need my help.”

  Bozeman scribbled something in the notebook.

  “Weren’t you passed over for a promotion last year?”

  “Yeah,” García said. “Failed the swimsuit competition. So what?”

  Scribble, scribble. The scratch of the pen jangled García’s nerves.

  “You don’t like Detective Keefe very much, do you, García?”

  “I love Detective Keefe,” Garcia said. He leaned over and beckoned Bozeman with a fat brown finger. “I love Hal very much,” Garcia whispered. “In fact, I want him.”

  “That’s not funny,” Bozeman said stiffly.

  “You’re right, it’s very sad. See, Hal doesn’t want me ... what did you say your first name was?”

  “I didn’t.”

  Bozeman started jotting again. García firmly took him by the wrist. “I like you, too, lieutenant.”

  “Stop it!”

  “Please don’t be shy. Are you married?”

  “Sergeant, that’s enough.”

  García frowned. “You don’t want me either?”

  “No!”

  “Then why are you getting a lump in your pants, you little fruit!”

  Bozeman pulled away, as if burned on a stove. García wheezed with laughter and pounded on the desk.

  “You!” Bozeman tried very hard to look icy, Bronson-style, but was betrayed by his crimson blush. “You’re nothing but a psychopath, Sergeant García.”

  “And you’re nothing but a well-dressed sack of shit.” García stood up and exhaled straight into the lieutenant’s face. “Now get out of here before I launch that Bic pen up your Brooks Brothers ass. And put this in your notebook: whoever wrote those Fuego letters is crazier than me, and he’s for real.”

  After the I.A.D. guy left, Garcia didn’t have much to do so he scrounged up a police manual and looked up “moral turpitude.” The definition wasn’t so bad but, Christ, those two words really jumped off the page. Especially turpitude, which inspired images of Great Danes and Reddi Wip and double-jointed cheerleaders. Certainly wouldn’t go over very big back at the homestead. If I.A.D. dumps on me, Garcia thought, maybe they’ll have the decency to go with simple “insubordination.” With a creep like Bozeman, who could tell.

  Ricky Bloodworth’s story began like this:A local private investigator was stabbed and left for dead along an Everglades highway Sunday.

  Police said Brian Keyes, 32, was attacked and dumped on the Tamiami Trail about fifteen miles east of Naples. Keyes was spotted by a passing bus driver and transported to Flagler Memorial Hospital, where he was listed in stable condition following surgery.

  Keyes, a former Miami newspaper reporter, told the Sun that he was on a canoe trip when he was abducted, robbed, and stabbed by two Slavic men wearing wigs and Halloween masks.

  Bloodworth finished typing and took the story to Cab Mulcahy’s office. Mulcahy sat behind the desk, dictating letters, trying to conceal his wretchedness. He wore an expensive knit sports shirt—a classy lemon pastel, not a crease anywhere.

  The old boy never came in on weekends; Bloodworth wondered what was up.

  “You said you wanted to see this?”

  “Yes, Ricky, have a seat.” Mulcahy took the story and read it. It took him a long time; he seemed to read each sentence twice.

  “Is it the byline?” Bloodworth asked worriedly.

  Mulcahy glanced up. “What?”

  “My byline. I changed it.” Bloodworth walked around the desk and pointed over the editor’s shoulder. “See? Richard L. Bloodworth. Instead of Ricky.”

  “Oh yes.”

  “I think it looks better,” Bloodworth said. “More professional.”

  What had really happened was this: Ricky Bloodworth had eaten breakfast with a correspondent from the New York Times, who explained that the Times simply didn’t hire people named Ricky. How about just plain Rick? Bloodworth had asked. Well, Rick was a swell name for a Little League coach, the reporter had said, as kindly as he could, but it was hardly appropriate for a world-class journalist. Bloodworth was devastated by this revelation because he’d spent half his adul
t life sending résumés to Abe Rosenthal without even a postcard in reply. Now he knew why. He pressed the Times man for more tips and the fellow told him that everybody on the Times used middle initials in their bylines because surveys showed that middle initials enhanced credibility twenty-three percent among newspaper readers.

  Ricky Bloodworth thought this was a great idea, and he’d quickly fallen in love with the way Richard L. Bloodworth looked on the screen of his word processor.

  “So, you like it?” he asked Mulcahy.

  “It’s fine,” Mulcahy said, paying no attention whatsoever. Personally he didn’t care if Bloodworth called himself Richard L. Douchebag. Mulcahy was more concerned about Brian Keyes.

  “What else did he say?”

  “Not much. They gave him a shot at the hospital and he got real spacey,” Bloodworth said. “Kept asking for Jenna.”

  Mulcahy groaned inwardly. “Did he mention anyone else?”

  “No. It sure is a strange tale. What do you suppose he was doing way out there in a canoe?”

  “I’ve got no idea.” Mulcahy handed Bloodworth the story. “Good job, Richard L. The new byline looks splendid.”

  “Thanks,” Bloodworth said, beaming. “I’m gonna use it on the column, too.”

  Cab Mulcahy’s ulcer quivered. “Ricky, I meant to tell you: the column’s been put on hold for now. We need you on general assignment.”

  “Sure, Cab,” Bloodworth said in a wounded voice. Then, rebounding: “Tell you what. I’m gonna go see Brian again tomorrow. Try to get a blow-by-blow.”

  Mulcahy shook his head. “Let him rest.”

  “But it’d be a terrific second-day feature—”

  “The man just got his thorax stitched back together. Give him a break, okay? Besides, somebody gets stabbed every thirty seconds in Miami. It’s not news anymore. Maybe in Spudville, Iowa, but not here.”

  Not news. That was all Ricky Bloodworth needed to hear.