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Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 21


  The chairman glowered. “Sergeant, you don’t seem to understand what’s at stake here.”

  “Human lives,” the detective said, raising his hands. “That’s all, far as I’m concerned.”

  “It’s much more than that,” the Orange Bowl chairman snapped. “NBC is here! Let’s not forget that. And let’s not forget the theme of this year’s parade: ‘Tropical Tranquillity.’”

  Brian Keyes desperately looked across the table at Cab Mulcahy. The managing editor’s eyelids closed slowly, like a dying iguana’s.

  “Look,” Garcia said, “you guys have to put on a parade and I have to solve murders. Maybe even prevent ‘em, if possible. So listen real good ’cause here’s the plan: we’re gonna have cops crawling all over Biscayne Boulevard on New Year’s Eve. We’re gonna have the Orange Bowl queen so completely surrounded by police that you might as well paint a badge on her goddamn float. I don’t care what it looks like on television. Fuck NBC. Fuck Jane Pauley. Fuck Alf Landon, ”

  “Michael Landon,” Keyes whispered.

  “Him, too.”

  The Orange Bowl chairman looked like he’d have killed for a Maalox. He said, “Sergeant, that’s the worst plan I ever heard. It would be a catastrophe, image-wise.”

  “I agree,” said Sparky Harper’s successor.

  “This is not a military parade,” scoffed another Chamber of Commerce man.

  “Now, wait a minute,” said one of the orange-blazer guys. “Maybe we can compromise. Suppose we have the police wave batons and march in lockstep behind the queen’s float! I’d say that would look mighty darn impressive. And no one would suspect a thing.”

  “How about screw the batons,” said Al García.

  “Then plainclothes,” suggested the Dade County police chief.

  “Maybe,” Garcia said.

  “And have them hiding in the crowd,” the Orange Bowl chairman said. “Not in the blessed parade.”

  “Won’t work,” Keyes said. “I’ve been stuck in that crowd before, when I covered the parade for the Sun. You can’t move—it’s like acres of human taffy. Something happens and it’d take you five minutes to reach the float, and that’s too long.”

  The Orange Bowl chairman was not persuaded. He scrunched his blackberry eyes and said, “There will be no police marching in this parade! We’re selling Tropical Tranquillity, not Dragnet.”

  “Okay, if that’s the way you want it,” García said. “How about we just stash a midget with a MAC-10 underneath the queen’s gown?”

  “Al, please,” groaned the Dade County police chief.

  “No one would notice a thing,” Garcia said mischieviously, “except maybe the midget.”

  “Don’t you have another plan?” pleaded one of the blazers.

  “Yeah, matter of fact, I do.” García winked at Brian Keyes. “I sure do.”

  Skip Wiley’s Christmas column arrived from Nassau by telex on Saturday, December 22.

  Cab Mulcahy read it carefully before he summoned Ricky Bloodworth to his office.

  “You’ve been doing a fine job on the terrorist story,” Mulcahy said. This was a shameless lie, but Mulcahy had no choice. Bloodworth was a sucker for phony compliments.

  “Thanks, Cab,” he said. “Did you hear? Time magazine called.”

  “Really.”

  “Yup. Wanted all my clips on Las Nachos.”

  “Las Noches,” Mulcahy corrected.

  “Right. But isn’t that great? About Time magazine?”

  “Terrific,” Cab Mulcahy said, thinking: Does this chowderhead really believe Time magazine wants to hire him?

  “Ricky, I need your help.”

  Bloodworth’s squirrelly features furrowed. “Sure, Cab, anything at all.”

  “I got this column from Skip Wiley”—Mulcahy waved the telex—“and, frankly, it’s not up to par.”

  Ricky Bloodworth didn’t say anything immediately, but his eyes brightened with an it’s-too-good-to-be-true look.

  “You want to substitute one of mine!”

  “Not exactly,” Mulcahy said.

  “I’ve already got a Christmas column worked up,” Bloodworth persisted. “Christmas in Palm Beach. I interviewed Rose Kennedy’s butler. It’s a nice little story, Cab. Rose Kennedy bought the butler a Chevrolet last Christmas, and you know what he got for her? You’ll never guess.”

  “Probably not.”

  “Two tickets to Torch Song Trilogy.”

  “Ricky ...”

  “Don’t you think that’s a good Christmas story?”

  “Very moving, but not precisely what I had in mind.”

  God forgive me, thought Cab Mulcahy as he handed Wiley’s column to Ricky Bloodworth.

  “I want you to punch up Skip’s piece,” Mulcahy said. “Really make it sing.”

  Bloodworth skimmed the column warily. “Geez, Cab, I don’t know about this.”

  “Do it as a favor,” Mulcahy said, “for me.”

  “But what’s Skip going to say?”

  “Let me worry about that. ”

  “He can get pretty nasty, Cab. He punched me once,” Bloodworth said, “in the groin area.”

  “Skip punched you?”

  Bloodworth nodded. “He said I burned one of his sources.”

  “Did you?”

  “It was a misunderstanding. I didn’t know the guy was off-the-record. Anyway, he gave me a helluva quote.”

  “So,” Mulcahy said, “you printed his name in the story.”

  “Right. ”

  “What happened?”

  “I think the guy got fired.”

  “I see. ”

  “And possibly indicted,” Bloodworth said.

  “Hmmm.” Mulcahy thought: When it’s all over, I’m getting rid of this asshole. Send him up to the Okeechobee bureau to cover Cucumber Jubilees for the rest of his life.

  “The whole thing was just a misunderstanding, but Skip was totally irrational about it. He blamed me for everything.”

  “Did he now?” Mulcahy’s ulcer was shooting electric messages.

  Bloodworth said, “The point is, I don’t want Skip to go on the warpath again. He’s a violent man.”

  “Ricky, let me worry about it. Just take a crack at the column, all right?”

  It had arrived as a lovely little piece, one of Wiley’s traditional holiday tearjerkers. It began like this:Rollie Artis rowed out to sea last Thursday dawn.

  You could watch him from Cable Beach, paddling out Nassau harbor, his thick black arms flashing at the oars.

  Rollie went to hunt for conchs, which was his livelihood, as it was his father’s. And, as his father, Rollie Artis was a splendid diver with strong lungs and sharp eyes and an instinct for finding the shellfish beds.

  But on Thursday the winds were high and the water was ferocious, and the other conch divers had warned Rollie not to try it.

  “But I got to,” he had said. “If I don’t go fishin’, there be no Christmas for my babies this year.”

  At dusk Rollie’s wife Clarisse waited on the dock behind the Straw Market; waited, as she always did, for the sight of the bright wooden skiff.

  But Rollie Artis never returned. The next morning the seas calmed and the other fishermen searched for their friend. Not a trace was found. A few of the men were old enough to remember that the same thing had happened to Rollie’s father, on another winter’s day. An act of God, the old divers said; what else could explain such tragic irony?

  Yesterday, at Rollie’s house in Queen’s Park, Clarisse put up a yule tree and sang to her two small children. Christmas carols. And the song of a fisherman.

  Ricky Bloodworth took Wiley’s column to his desk and slaughtered it. It took less than an hour. Cab Mulcahy was surprised at Bloodworth’s aptitude for turgidity; it came naturally to the kid.

  This, unedited, is what he brought back:The Bahamas Coast Guard has some real explaining to do.

  Nassau fisherman Rollie Artis disappeared from sight last Thursday and nobody exc
ept his fishing pals seem to give a hoot.

  In our country, Artis would have been the object of a massive air-and-sea rescue effort. But in the Bahamas, nobody lifts the first helicopter. Is it money? Manpower? Equipment? Makes you wonder where all those tourist tax dollars are going—especially when you consider what they’re gouging for a decent hotel room these days on Paradise Island.

  It also makes you wonder about a supposedly modern government that fails to enforce basic safety regulations for boaters. If a law had forced Rollie Artis to carry life jackets, he might be alive today. And if his boat had been properly equipped with an outboard motor, he might have made it back to port.

  He might have been home for Christmas.

  Ever since its independence the Bahamas has been telling the world community what a prosperous advanced nation it has become. Well, it’s time to start acting like one. It’s time this little country, which so loves rich foreigners, took an equal interest in the fate of its own people—especially the poor and feckless.

  Cab Mulcahy nearly gnawed through his upper lip as he read Ricky’s rewrite.

  “I thought Skip was being a little too sentimental,” Bloodworth explained. “I think he really missed the big picture.”

  “Yes,” Mulcahy said pensively. “You’ve turned a sentimental anecdote about a missing fisherman into a blistering indictment of a friendly foreign government.”

  “Exactly,” Bloodworth said proudly. “The column’s got some guts to it now.”

  “Guts.”

  “Cab, isn’t that what you wanted?”

  “Oh yes. This is perfect. ”

  “You know,” Bloodworth said, “nonnally I’d ask for a byline on the column, since I rewrote it and all. But under the circumstances, I think I’d like to leave my name off. Just keep it our secret.”

  “Smart move,” Mulcahy said.

  “Otherwise Skip might get the wrong idea.”

  “I understand.”

  “Because if he gets upset—”

  “I told you, I’ll handle it. Don’t worry.”

  “Thanks, Cab.”

  Forty minutes after Richard L. Bloodworth left, Mulcahy had not moved from his desk. He looked rumpled and dispirited.

  The city editor strolled in and said, “I hear Ricky’s polished up Wiley’s column.”

  Listlessly Mulcahy handed it to him.

  The city editor didn’t know what to say. He was the one who’d always said Bloodworth showed promise. Consequently, he felt duty-bound to offer something positive.

  “Well,” the city editor said, not taking his eyes off the page, “Ricky certainly doesn’t pull any punches, does he?”

  “He’s an insensitive cretin. A menace.”

  “He’s a pretty good police reporter, Cab.”

  “I never said he wasn’t.”

  “So what do you want me to do?”

  “Smooth the wrinkles and run it Monday.”

  “But that’s Christmas Eve,” the city editor said. “I thought we were using it Christmas Day.”

  “I refuse to do that to our readers,” Mulcahy said. “Not on Christmas.”

  “But what’ll I run in Wiley’s slot Christmas Day?”

  “I don’t know,” Mulcahy said. “A prayer would be nice.”

  20

  The Shivers family lived in a beautiful old home next to a golf course in Coral Gables. It was a two-story house, white Florida stucco with a red barrel-tile roof. An ancient ficus tree cloaked the front lawn. In the driveway were a BMW, a Lincoln, and a new Volkswagen. Brian Keyes parked behind the VW.

  A short man with a fresh tan and a pointy chin answered the door. He was trim, almost youthful, and dressed stem-to-stem in L. L. Bean. He definitely belonged to the BMW.

  “Reed Shivers,” he said with a collegiate handshake. “Come in, Mr. Keyes.”

  They sat in an elegant living room with plenty of soft camel furniture. In one corner stood a tall, woodsy-smelling Christmas tree; some of its ornaments were made of blown glass.

  “Pumpkin!” Reed Shivers called. “Come here!”

  At first Brian Keyes thought Shivers might be shouting to a pet beagle.

  “My daughter,” Shivers said. “She’ll be down in a minute, I’m sure. Would you like coffee?”

  “Thanks,” Keyes said. “No sugar.”

  “Not in this house,” Shivers said. “We watch our diets. You’ll see for yourself.”

  Shivers poured the coffee from a silver pot.

  “So you’re a private detective.”

  “Yes,” Keyes said restlessly.

  “I’m a tax lawyer, myself.”

  “So I heard.”

  Shivers waited, thinking the private eye would ask about what it’s like to be an important tax attorney in Miami. Keyes sipped at his coffee and said nothing.

  “I’m just curious,” Shivers said. “How much money do private investigators make?”

  “At least a million a year,” Keyes said. “Sometimes two million. I lose track.”

  Reed Shivers whistled. “Wow! You’ve got good shelters, I presume.”

  “The best.”

  “Oil, right?”

  “Concrete.”

  “Hmmm-mmm,” said Reed Shivers.

  Keyes wondered how this clown ever made it through Yale Law.

  “Pumpkin pie!” Shivers hollered again. “I don’t know what’s keeping her, Mr. Keyes.”

  “Before your daughter gets here, I’d like to offer some advice.”

  “Certainly.”

  “Don’t let her ride that float in the Orange Bowl Parade.”

  “You’re joking.”

  “Not at all,” Keyes said. “The people who’ve made this threat are very violent. And ingenious. No one knows what they might do.”

  “Sergeant García said it was a kidnapping plot.”

  “It’s a bit more complicated than that.”

  “You think they might try to harm Kara Lynn?”

  “It’s very possible,” Keyes said.

  “But there’ll be cops all over the place!”

  Keyes put down his coffee cup, aiming for a linen doily. “Mr. Shivers, I just want you to be aware of the risks. The risks are substantial.”

  Reed Shivers looked annoyed. “Some risk. An Injun, a Cuban, and a washed-up spade ballplayer. Don’t tell me a hundred well-armed policemen can’t stop a bunch of losers like that!”

  “Mr. Shivers, losers get lucky. If one nut can shoot the damn President in Dealey Plaza, a whole gang of nuts can sure as hell snatch your precious little Pumpkin off Biscayne Boulevard.”

  “Shhhh.”

  Kara Lynn Shivers stood at the French doors.

  “Sugar doll! Come here and meet Mr. Keyes.”

  Reed Shivers whispered: “Isn’t she spectacular?”

  She was. She wore tight jeans, white sneakers, and a gray Miami Hurricanes sweatshirt. Kara Lynn Shivers greeted Brian Keyes with an expert smile. It was one of the best smiles he’d seen in a long time.

  “So you’re my bodyguard,” she said.

  “It wasn’t my idea,” Keyes said.

  “I can think of worse assignments,” Reed Shivers said with a locker-room wink.

  Keyes said, “Kara Lynn, I’m going to tell you what I told your dad: I think you ought to drop out of the parade next week. I think you’re in serious danger.”

  Kara Lynn looked at her father.

  “I already told him,” Shivers said. “It’s out of the question.”

  “Do I get a choice?”

  “Of course, buttercup.”

  “Then I want to hear what Mr. Keyes has to say.”

  Kara Lynn Shivers was quite beautiful, which wasn’t surprising; one did not get to be Orange Bowl queen by looking like a woodchuck. What did surprise Brian Keyes was the wit in Kara Lynn’s gray-green eyes and the steel in her voice. He had expected a chronic case of airheadedness but found just the opposite. Kara Lynn seemed very self-assured for nineteen, and canny—light—years
ahead of her old man. Still, Keyes was wary. He had stopped falling in love with beauty queens when he was twenty-six.

  “One reason Sergeant Garcia asked me to keep an eye on you,” Keyes said, “is because I’m the only person who’s seen the terrorists face-to-face. At least, I’m the only one still alive. They’re treacherous and unpredictable. And clever—I can’t overemphasize that. These guys are damn clever. Now, your father’s right: there will be scores of plainclothes police all up and down the parade route. You won’t see them, and neither will the folks watching on TV, but they’ll be there, with guns. Let’s hope Las Noches know it; then maybe they’ll think twice before trying anything.”

  “Dad, suppose something happens,” Kara Lynn said.

  “We pay the ransom, of course. I’ve already called Lloyd’s about a kidnap policy and arranged the very best—the same one all the top multinationals have on their executives.”

  “That’s not what I meant,” Kara Lynn said sharply. “Suppose there’s a shoot-out during the parade, with all those little kids in the crowd. Somebody might get killed.”

  “Now, darling, these police are expert marksmen.”

  “Mr. Shivers,” Keyes said, “you’ve been watching way too much TV.”

  Kara Lynn started to smile, then caught herself.

  “In the first place, this gang doesn’t ask for ransoms. They don’t need your money,” Keyes said. “And your daughter’s absolutely right about the shooting. Once it starts, somebody’s going to die. As for all those cops being crack shooters, I guarantee you that half of them couldn’t hit the SS Norway with a bazooka at ten paces.”

  “Thank you, Mr. Keyes,” Reed Shivers said acidly, “for your reassurance.”

  “I’m not paid to give pep talks.”

  “Dad-” Kara Lynn said.

  “Sweetie, it’s the Orange Bowl Parade. Forty million people will be watching, including all the top talent agents in Hollywood and New York. Jane Pauley’s going to be there. In person.”

  Kara Lynn knew the forty-million figure was a crock.

  “Dad, it’s a parade, not a moon shoot.”

  Reed Shivers’ voice quavered. “It’s the most important moment in your whole life!”

  “And maybe the last,” Keyes said. “But what the hell. It’d be worth it just to see little Pumpkin’s face in People magazine, right?”