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Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 18


  “Florida’s not an island, Skip.”

  Wiley hopped over two Bahamian children who were wrestling in the water. His gravelly, melodic laughter mixed with their giggles and carried into the surf.

  “Don’t you think this has gone far enough?” Keyes asked.

  “I was waiting for you to say that,” Wiley said, marching ahead. “Mr. I’m-Only-Trying-to-Help, that’s you. A real killjoy.”

  Keyes stopped walking. The blue water curled over his tennis shoes. “I hate to see people die, that’s all,” he said to Wiley.

  “I know you do,” Wiley said, looking back. “So do I. Believe it or not.” He didn’t need to say any more. They were both remembering little Callie Davenport.

  Up ahead a crowd of bathers gathered noisily in a circle under some slash pines. Keyes and Wiley heard the sound of men shouting and, in the distance, a siren.

  Keyes thought of Burt and James and started running, his sneakers squishing in the sand. Wiley put on a sudden burst of speed and caught him by the arm.

  “Wait a minute, Ace, better let me check this out.”

  On the fringe of the melee Keyes counted four Bahamian policemen, each wearing a pith helmet and crisp white uniform. They carried hard plastic batons but no sidearms. Wiley strolled up and started chatting with one of the cops; he came back with the bad news.

  “I’m afraid your friends had to learn the hard way.”

  From a distance Keyes watched the Bahamian officers lead Burt and James away from the beach. The purple fez hats were easy to follow, bobbing above the jolly crowd.

  “What the hell happened?” Keyes asked, contemplating a rescue attempt.

  “Stay here,” Wiley cautioned, “unless you’re into bondage .”

  What had happened was this: on their reluctant trek down Cable Beach, the keen-eyed Shriners had spotted none other than Viceroy Wilson, the fugitive football star, coming toward them. As usual Wilson was wrapped safely behind his Carrera sunglasses and, as usual, he was stoked to the gills, having scored some primo Jamaican herb off a busboy at the hotel. Viceroy Wilson had never been to the islands, and the striking display of Bahamian womanhood along the beach had seriously diverted his attention from the revolution. Wilson was so preoccupied that he hadn’t noticed the two husky purple-hatted honkies in gray suits stalking him among the bathers.

  The Shriners had struck swiftly, with a sinister rustle of polyester. Burt had seized Viceroy Wilson’s left arm and James had grabbed the right, pivoting and twisting in a very sophisticated karate maneuver. Unfortunately, the people who invented karate never got to practice on 235-pound former NFL fullbacks with sequoia-sized arms. Viceroy Wilson had disrespectfully flattened the Shriners and broken hard for the hotel. Robbed of agility by the marijuana, he’d tripped on an Igloo cooler and gone down. The Shriners had been upon him quickly, puffing and grunting and attaching themselves to his powerful torso. Somehow Viceroy Wilson had risen to his feet and galvanized his famous legs. The old reflexes had taken command; with Shriners clinging to his thighs, Wilson churned along the beach. It was a memorable sight, and several quick-witted tourists had turned their home-movie cameras toward the combat. Viceroy Wilson was all elbows and knees and speed, and the Shriners had fallen away, tassels spinning. Eventually the police had arrived and arrested Burt and James for assault. The officers apologized profusely to Skip Wiley, for they specifically had been recruited to keep watch over Wiley’s entourage, a commitment guaranteed by a generous cash gratuity.

  “I told your bookends to behave,” Wiley said reproachfully as they watched the police van drive off.

  Keyes asked wearily, “Are they going to jail?”

  “Naw, to the airport. They’ll be deported as undesirables. Certainly can’t argue with that.”

  They returned to the shade of the blue umbrella. Keyes sat down in the cool sand. Wiley stretched out on the patio chair.

  “They’re going to figure out it’s you,” Keyes said. “The cops, the press. Somebody’ll put it together.”

  “Not for a while.” Wiley squinted into the sun. “You weren’t thinking about squealing, were you?”

  Keyes shook his head and looked away, out at the gentle waves. Of course I’m thinking about it, you jerk.

  “Because I meant what I said before,” Wiley said. “If the cops catch on to me too soon, we’re in trouble. And if they do catch on, I’ll know it was you. Nobody else.”

  “But, Skip, there’s all kinds of clues. Wilson and the Cuban, they’re leaving a trail—”

  “Fine, no problem. That we can survive. Besides, they’re secretly dying to be famous again. Me—I’ve got to work in the background right now. Too much planning to be done, juking here and there. I can’t have Metro Homicide sniffing after me; it plays hell with the creative process. See, if I’m exposed as El Fuego, I’ll lose my leverage with the troops. It’ll mean I’m not so shrewd, not so clever, not so irreplaceable. They’ll stop listening to me, Brian, and that’s big goddamn trouble. Some of the things these fellas want to do, some of the people they want to snuff! Lose me and you lose the voice of reason. Then it’s Bloodbath City, old pal, and that ain’t standard Wiley hyperbole. That’s a goddamn fact. ”

  Keyes studied his unraveled friend and thought of the Ida Kimmelman ceremony. Skip’s threat of a massacre seemed deadly serious.

  Keyes said, “If you’ve got them so mesmerized, convince them to call it off.”

  Wiley answered with a snort. “Never! The cause is just. The dream is pure.” He pointed a finger at Keyes. “It’s up to you and Cab and the others to end the violence. How? Accept the Nights of December as a legitimate terrorist cell. Give us a forum. Pass the message that we’re serious, that we’ll continue the campaign until the exodus is fully under way. Ha! Imagine: bumper-to-bumper from Key West to Jacksonville: U-Hauls, Winnebagos, Airstreams, station wagons, moving vans, buses, eighteen-wheelers. All north-bound!” Wiley sat up animatedly. “Brian, in the last hour we’ve been talking, 41.6 morons moved into the state of Florida. They are arriving at the rate of a thousand a day. One thousand each and every day! There is no place to put them! The land is shriveling beneath us, the water is poison, the air is rancid.” Wiley threw back his head. “Lord, such a simple equation. Nature’s trying to tell us it’s time to move on.”

  “The last of the Malthusians,” Keyes said.

  “Hell, Malthus only dreamed a nightmare like Interstate 95. He never had to drive the fucking thing.”

  Keyes thought: He seems to have his mind made up. Maybe I’ll have to kill him after all. Certainly not now, not on a crowded beach in the afternoon. But maybe soon.

  Wiley propped his fuzzy chin on his knuckles and grew silent. He watched the arrival of a gleaming cruise ship across the harbor. Its alabaster decks were lined with bright specks of tourists snapping pictures and flailing idiotic hellos toward the peddlers on the dock. Wiley looked quite amused. Brian Keyes wished he could penetrate his old friend’s twisted swamp of a brain; he felt more helpless than ever.

  Wiley said: “I suppose you want to hear what’s next.”

  “You bet.”

  “It’s a real beaut.”

  “Let’s have it.”

  “Okay,” Wiley said. “We’re going to violate the most sacred virgin in all Miami.”

  “Can you be a little more specific?”

  “‘Fraid not, Brian. You’re a bright young man, you figure it out.”

  “When you say violate, you mean rape.”

  “Hell no!” Wiley was indignant. “I can’t believe you’d think such a thing. All the years we’ve known each other—Christ, do I look like a rapist?”

  Keyes didn’t answer because sometimes Skip Wiley did look like a rapist.

  “The word ‘violate’—”

  “Dust off your dictionary, Ace. We’re going to desecrate an immaculate princess. That’s all the clues for you.”

  Wiley dug into his jeans and came up with a silver traffic whistle, which he b
lew three times, loudly.

  “What the hell is that?” Keyes asked, realizing that it was too late.

  “Time for you to say good-bye to Goombayland.”

  Keyes caught sight of four starch-shirted Bahamian cops running down the beach, kicking up sand with their black boots, and waving batons.

  “Oh shit,” Keyes muttered.

  “Look at them move,” Wiley marveled. “Isn’t bribery wonderful?”

  Keyes quickly reviewed his options. Physical resistance was out of the question; the policemen looked like four scowling black locomotives. Running also seemed futile—there was nowhere to go where he wouldn’t shine like a two-hundred-watt bulb. He considered plunging into the surf and swimming for freedom, but was dissuaded by the probability of being mortally gnawed by a bull shark, or mowed down by a ski boat. In the end, Keyes meekly presented himself to the Bahamian officers. The tropical sunshine seemed to evaporate as they encircled him.

  “Take it easy, men,” Skip Wiley said, unfurling from the beach chair. “He’s obviously harmless.”

  Eight rock-hard hands clamped onto Brian Keyes.

  “I guess this means you and Jenna aren’t inviting me up for conch chowder. ”

  “‘Fraid not, Brian.” Wiley yawned, stretching his ropy brown arms. “Have a safe trip home. ”

  “When am I gonna see you again, Skip?”

  “Soon,” Wiley said. “On national TV. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my windsurfing lesson.”

  17

  “Kara Lynn.”

  “Yes, Mr. Mayor. ”

  “What do you think about famine?”

  Kara Lynn Shivers considered the question carefully. “Which famine, Mr. Mayor?”

  “World famine,” the mayor said, “in general.”

  “Well, in general,” Kara Lynn said, “I think famine is a truly terrible thing.”

  “If you were selected our Orange Bowl queen,” the mayor went on, “would you work to end world famine?”

  “Tirelessly, Mr. Mayor.”

  The other judges nodded approvingly. They liked Kara Lynn Shivers better than the other semifinalists, and they’d already made up their minds. If only the mayor would hurry up with the last interview.

  “How would you do it?” the mayor asked.

  “Do what?” Kara Lynn said.

  “Stop famine.”

  “I didn’t say I could stop it,” Kara Lynn said with a trace of sarcasm. In the third row she spotted her father, grimly making a slashing motion across his throat.

  “But I’d certainly try,” she said, softening. “As you know, I’m majoring in public relations, Mr. Mayor, and I could use those special skills to bring the world’s attention to the plight of its starving children. I would consider that my first priority as Orange Bowl queen.”

  The mayor beamed. Kara Lynn’s father let out a sigh of relief.

  “Thank you, Kara Lynn,” the mayor said. “We’ll adjourn until tonight.”

  “Thank you, Mr. Mayor,” Kara Lynn said. Then, nodding sweetly toward the other judges, “Thank all of you.”

  And now, she thought, you can all go back to the Hyatt and whack off.

  Kara Lynn Shivers, nineteen years old, blond, hazel-eyed, five-foot-eight, one hundred twenty pounds (Viceroy Wilson was on the money), had become a cynical young woman. She despised beauty pageants and all the fraudulent insouciance they required. Though she had won many titles—Little Miss Mass Transit, Miss Anglo Miami and, of course, Stone Crab Queen—each new tiara only added to Kara Lynn’s deepening misery. Offstage she had no smiles, no charms, no patience. She was all used up.

  It was her father’s fault. He was the one who’d made her learn “Eleanor Rigby” on the French horn. “The judges’ll love it,” he’d said, and they always did.

  It was her father who made her, at age six, change her name from Karen Noreen because “Noreen belongs in the 4-H, not Atlantic City.”

  It was her father who dragged her to Geneva, at age nine, to be ministered by “the greatest ambidextrous orthodontist in all Europe.”

  Kara Lynn Shivers suspected there was something seriously hinky with her father—not for wanting his little princess to be a star (a harmless fantasy), but for suggesting that no price was too high.

  It was her father who’d mailed off a stack of bikini Polaroids to Playboy magazine, then to Penthouse, then Oui, and after countless rejections announced that Kara Lynn needed bigger breasts. Kara Lynn didn’t want bigger breasts. Her little breasts were just fine; round, perky, very cute. No one ever complained about her breasts except her father, who hadn’t seen them naked since she was a kid anyway.

  One afternoon, a few months before the Orange Bowl pageant, Kara Lynn’s father secretly invited a renowned plastic surgeon to the house. Kara Lynn had just returned from exercise class in a pink body stocking. She was in the kitchen, fixing a pitcher of iced tea, when the two men slipped up behind her.

  “Well, what do you think?” her father had asked.

  “No sweat,” the surgeon had said. “B-cup, or C?”

  “Stay away from my tits!” Kara Lynn had cried, reaching for a steak knife.

  “But, buttercup, I’m only trying to help.”

  “They’re my tits, Dad. You stay away!”

  “Forty million people watch that parade on New Year’s Eve. Don’t you want to make a good impression?”

  Kara Lynn’s mother was no help.

  “Your father just wants the best for you,” she’d said. “What’s so wrong with that?”

  “Mother!”

  “It’ll be a lovely Christmas present.”

  “But I don’t want new boobs for Christmas,” Kara Lynn said, “I want a Volkswagen.”

  On the night of December 16, Kara Lynn Shivers and her original breasts charmed a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Civic Center, and the judges unanimously crowned her Miami’s Orange Bowl queen. A surprise guest, Julio Iglesias, presented Kara Lynn with a bouquet of roses. She smiled expertly and accepted Julio’s kiss, but her heart was not aflutter. After the television lights went dark, Jerry, the oily emcee, thanked Kara Lynn for reviving him after his altercation with the black security guard. Jerry told Kara Lynn he was “wiped out emotionally” by her rendition of “Eleanor Rigby,” and asked if she’d join him for a drink.

  “You just want a blow-job,” Kara Lynn said. “What’s that got to do with world famine?”

  Kara Lynn Shivers decided that the Orange Bowl would be her last beauty pageant. She was right.

  The week of December 16 was the busiest yet for Las Noches de Diciembre. Three more tourists vanished, a drunken college kid was eaten alive by a wild crocodile, and the bucolic Hibiscus Kennel Club was the grisly scene for what became known as the Trifecta Massacre. The national wire services were slowly awakening to Florida’s newest crime wave, and no less an authority than the New York Times published its own priceless account: Abductions of Florida Tourists Trouble Some Authorities.

  It was the worst week in the entire life of Detective Harold Keefe.

  With Skip Wiley out of the country, Jesús Bernal went hog-wild with bombs. He built three of them, and typed up a preliminary list of targets:1. Detective Harold Keefe.

  2. Anyplace with lots of tourists.

  3. Anyplace with lots of Communists.

  The first bombing was not a total success.

  On the morning of December 17, Harold Keefe left his house at the usual time and took his usual route to the Metro-Dade Police Department. From keen surveillance Jesus Bernal knew that between 7:38 and 7:46 A.M., Detective Keefe would pass through the toll plaza on the Dolphin Expressway. He also knew that Keefe would use the lane marked Trucks-Change-Receipts. Jesus Bernal was ready. He got to the toll booth at 7:25A.M., tied up the cashier, and watched for Harold Keefe’s unmarked black Plymouth Volare.

  Harold Keefe was not at his most observant early in the morning. He scarcely glanced at the lean Cuban cashier who dropped his change—“Sorry,
meester!”—and crawled under his car, groping (Keefe assumed) for the quarter. And he paid no attention to the faint plink of metal on metal.

  Which was the sound of Jesus Bernal attaching the remote-control bomb.

  “Have a nice day!” Bernal waved as Harold Keefe drove away.

  Sixty seconds later the bomb exploded, lifting the black Volare out of rush-hour traffic and dropping it into a drainage culvert.

  Harold Keefe was not killed. The Miami Sun described his wounds as “massive foot injuries,” which is another way of saying that the detective’s toes were blown off, every single one; other than that, Harold Keefe hopped away without a scratch. It was one of the strangest bombings anyone could remember, and it was not what Jesús Bernal had in mind.

  The second bomb was more powerful, and its results more spectacular. It blew up on the night of December 18, during the first race at the Hibiscus Kennel Club before a record crowd of 14,501 spectators (including two-thirds of the county commission). The kennel club bomb actually was a small land mine, a rudimentary imitation claymore, which Jesus Bernal had buried on the second turn of the track. The greyhound that triggered the mine was a speedy dam named Blistered Sister who went off at 20-to-l . Literally. One second there were eight lank dogs churning along the rail, and the next they were airborne, inside-out. It was a mess. The blast took out a sixty-foot stretch of racetrack and disrupted betting for hours. Blistered Sister, whose brindle carcass landed closest to the finish wire, was ruled the winner and paid out $40.60 on a $2 ticket. As the kennel crews repaired the mangled track with a backhoe and shovels, a taut, unfamiliar voice rang out of the public-address system:

  “Hola, Pari-Mutuel Wagerers,” the voice said. “Welcome to the Revolution!”

  Only the county commissioners seemed alarmed.

  The third bomb was the one Jesus Bernal saved. He’d looked all over Miami for a gathering of Communists to blow up, but found none. He knew they were there—they had to be. Bernal didn’t want to waste this bomb because it was a real masterpiece; his ticket back to the First Weekend in July. He decided to save the bomb until some Communists popped up. If worse came to worst, he could always plant it at ACLU.