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Tourist Season 22
“Shut up, you creep!” Pink in the face, Shivers bounced to his feet and assumed a silly combative stance. With one hand Brian Keyes shoved him back into the folds of the camel sofa.
“Don’t be an asshole,” Keyes said. “This is your daughter’s life we’re talking about.”
Reed Shivers was so angry his body seemed to twitch. It was not an image the L. L. Bean people would have chosen for the spring catalog.
“If it’s so damn dangerous,” Shivers rasped, “why won’t they just cancel the parade?”
Keyes chuckled. “You know Miami better than that. Christ himself could carry the cross down Biscayne Boulevard and they’d still run the Orange Bowl Parade, right over his body.”
“Mr. Keyes,” Kara Lynn said, “can I talk to my father for a minute, alone?”
Keyes walked out to the game room, which was walled in chocolate-brown cork. It was Sunday so there was nothing but football on the wide-screen television; Keyes turned it off. He counted sixteen golfing trophies in one maple bookcase. On the bar was a framed color photograph of Reed Shivers with his arm around Bob Hope. In the picture Shivers looked drunk and Bob Hope looked taxidermied.
Keyes went to the billiard table and glumly racked up the balls. Guarding the girl had been García’s idea; Keyes wasn’t thrilled about it but he’d taken the job anyway. With Skip Wiley out of reach in the Bahamas there wasn’t much else to do. No fresh tourist corpses had popped up and even the Trifecta Massacre had turned into a dead end, the bomber having made a clean getaway. Now it was a waiting game, and Kara Lynn was the bait.
Keyes scratched the cue ball just as she walked in. She closed the door behind her.
“Look, don’t get mad, but I’ve decided to go ahead and be in the parade.”
“Swell,” Keyes said. “I hope your father knows probate.”
“You’re really trying to scare me. Well, I’m scared, okay? I honestly am.” She really was.
“Then don’t be stubborn.” Keyes propped the cue stick in a corner.
“Look,” Kara Lynn said, “if I drop out, they’ll just get somebody else, one of the runners-up. Let me tell you, Mr. Keyes, some of those girls would ride in that parade no matter what. They’d pay to do it. So if I quit, it won’t change a thing. The Nights of December will still have somebody to kidnap, or try to. It might as well be me.”
“Besides,” Keyes said, “it’ll make great television.”
Kara Lynn glared at him. “You think I like this whole setup?”
“Don’t you want to be a star?”
“I’d much rather be alive.” Kara Lynn shrugged. “My dad wants to see his little girl on NBC. Let him have his moment, Mr. Keyes. He says it’s safe.”
“Your dad’s a real piece of work.”
“I told you not to get mad.”
Keyes smiled in spite of himself. It wasn’t easy, being a tough guy. “Okay, I’m not mad.”
“Good.” Kara Lynn went to the bar and fixed herself a club soda. She tossed a cold can of Coors at Keyes. He caught it one-handed.
“I’ve never had a bodyguard before,” she said. “How does this work?”
“Well, for the next week or so, it’s just you and me, with some discreet assistance from Dade County’s finest. The most important thing is that you’re never alone when you’re out of this house. We want the bad guys to see that you’re not a sitting duck, that you’ve got protection—though I use the term loosely. You want to go shopping, I’ll carry the groceries. You want to play tennis, I’ll carry the rackets. You want to go to the beach, I’ll carry the Coppertone.”
“What if I want to go on a date?”
“The eminent Orange Bowl Committee. They would prefer that you not go anywhere at night. I think that’s a good idea.”
“Oh, just a great idea.”
“Your boyfriend can come by the house to visit. Watch TV. Play Trivial Pursuit. Smoke dope. Doesn’t matter to me.”
“Can we make love?”
Keyes reddened. “If you’re quiet about it,” he said. “I need my sleep.”
Kara Lynn laughed. “I’m just kidding. I don’t have a boyfriend; we broke up after I won this stupid contest. Mr. Keyes—”
“It’s Brian, please. I get a new gray hair every time a pretty girl calls me mister.”
“All right ... Brian, will you carry a gun?”
“Sometimes. And a nifty Dick Tracy police radio.”
“What kind of gun?” asked Kara Lynn.
“Never mind.” It was a Browning nine-millimeter. Keyes hated the damn thing. The holster bled all over his shirts.
“Can I ask you something?” she said. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but when they told me about a bodyguard I expected somebody ...”
“A little larger?”
“Yeah. More imposing.”
“Imposing is my specialty,” Keyes said. “But you want to know why they didn’t send a big gorilla cop instead of a skinny private eye.”
Kara Lynn nodded. Her eyes were just dynamite.
Keyes said, “The eminent Orange Bowl Committee felt that it would be a catastrophe, image-wise, if it became known that the Orange Bowl queen was under police protection. The eminent Orange Bowl Committee felt that the scoundrels of the press would seize upon such a nugget and blow it way out of proportion. They feared that surrounding a beauty queen with heavily armed police would create the wrong kind of publicity. Detract from their splendid program. Make people too scared to come to the parade. So the civic fathers decided to hide the cops and hire a freelance undercover baby-sitter. Me.”
“Unbelievable,” Kara Lynn said. “Those jerks.”
“I know you’d feel safer with Clint Eastwood,” Keyes said. “So would I.”
“You’ll do fine.”
“Your dad doesn’t like me.”
“But I do,” Kara Lynn said, “and I’m the queen, remember? When do you start?”
“My stuff’s in the car.”
“The gun, too?”
“Would you forget about the gun!”
“As long as you don’t forget whose adorable little ass is on the line here.” Kara Lynn patted her blue-jeaned rump. “Mine! I know you’re no Dirty Harry, but promise me that you actually know how to use the gun, Brian. Promise me that much, please?”
The next day was Christmas Eve, and Skip Wiley assembled three-fourths of the Nights of December in his rented villa near Lyford Cay, on the outskirts of Nassau.
Tommy Tigertail had elected to stay deep in the Everglades, tending to bingo business, but Jesus Bernal and Viceroy Wilson had jumped at the chance to get out of South Florida, particularly since their photographs had been published on the front page of the Miami Sun. To be sure, neither picture bore much resemblance to the two men sitting on Skip Wiley’s sundeck. The photograph of Jesus Bernal with a Snidely Whiplash mustache had been taken in 1977 after his arrest for illegal possession of a surface-to-air missile. He looked about fourteen years old. The picture of Viceroy Wilson was no better; it actually had been clipped from an old Miami Dolphins yearbook. Wilson was decked out in his aqua jersey and shoulder pads, pretending to stiff-arm an invisible tackler. He was wearing the same phony scowl that all the bubblegum companies want football players to wear in their pictures; Viceroy Wilson’s real scowl was much more effective.
No photograph of the Indian had appeared in the Miami media because no photograph was known to exist.
Skip Wiley didn’t seem too concerned about the mug shots as he cracked jokes and handed out cold Heinekens to his visitors.
Viceroy Wilson peered over the rims of his sunglasses. “How come the papers don’t mention your name?” he asked Wiley.
“Because Mr. Brian Keyes apparently is covering up for me. Don’t ask me why, boys. A misguided act of friendship, I suppose.”
“The cops searched my mother’s house this morning,” Jesus Bernal blurted angrily. “My sister’s h
ouse, last night. They’re all over Little Havana, like rats, those cops.”
“An occupational hazard,” Wiley said. “You should be used to it by now.”
“But they broke down her door!” Bernal cried. “Fucking animals. This guy García, he’s going to pay. ‘Scum of the earth,’ he called us. It was in the papers. Scum of the earth! Cubans know how to deal with traitors like that.”
“Here we go again,” Viceroy Wilson said. “The Masked Avenger.”
“You shut up!”
Wilson laughed and attacked a plate of johnnycake.
“Go easy on the bread,” Wiley said. “Remember, you’ve got to drop ten pounds this week.”
Viceroy Wilson shoveled a thick slice into his cheeks. “And who the fuck are you,” he said, spitting crumbs, “Don Shula?”
“Aren’t we testy this morning? You boys must have had a bumpy flight.” Wiley festively stacked the empty green beer bottles. “I know just the thing to cheer you up. Jenna’s doing a plum pudding!”
“Count me in,” said Viceroy Wilson.
“And I think there might be a little something for both of you under the Christmas tree.”
“No shit?” Jesus Bernal said brightly. “Well, God bless Las Noches de Diciembre, each and every one.”
But the Nights of December never got to open their gifts. Hitting the newsstands of Nassau that afternoon was the Miami Sun, featuring Skip Wiley’s doctored Christmas column. Within thirty minutes the prime minister himself called an emergency cabinet meeting and declared that the story about the fisherman Rollie Artis was “an insult to the sovereignty and self-respect of the Bahamas.” The minister of home affairs immediately drafted a deportation order, to which each cabinet member affixed his signature. At approximately six P.M., just as Jenna’s plum pudding ignited, six uniformed Bahamian immigration officers burst into Wiley’s palatial manor house and ordered him out of the commonwealth forever. No amount of proffered cash or traveler’s checks would change their minds.
It wasn’t until much later, on the midnight flight to Haiti, that Jenna got up the courage to show Skip Wiley what had been done to his column.
“Bloodworth!” he gasped. “That wretched nematode!”
“It sure was a mean trick,” Jenna allowed.
“Sacrilege!” Wiley said, his brown eyes smoldering.
“But clever,” Jenna remarked. “Wouldn’t you say?”
“Well, now it’s our turn to be clever,” Wiley said, slipping the column into his jacket. “Jenna, as soon as we get to Port-au-Prince, send a message to Tommy back at camp. Have him Federal Express me the Nielsens from last New Year’s Eve. And the Arbitrons, too, if he can get his hands on ’em.”
“What now, Skip?”
“Don’t worry, darling, the strategy stays the same.” Wiley patted her knee. “Full speed ahead.”
From a bare-bulb warehouse off Miami Avenue, Jesús Bernal placed a phone call to the secret headquarters of the First Weekend in July Movement.
“El Comandante, por favor,” he said.
From the other end came thick Cuban voices, the sound of chairs scraping, a door opening. The telephone clanged as if someone had dropped it into a steel drum.
“Hey!” Jesus Bernal said angrily. “Oye!”
“Qué pasa, chico?” It was the Mixmaster rasp of the comandante himself. In his mind’s eye Jesus could picture the old bastard sucking on a wet cigar, his strained twisted fingers like a vulture talon clutching the receiver. Jesús Bernal could picture those mean brown eyes, narrowing at the sound of his voice.
“It’s me,” Jesus said in Spanish. “Have you seen the newspapers, Comandante?”
Proudly Jesus said, “I am famous.”
“So is Ronald McDonald.”
“I was expelled from the Bahamas,” Jesús declared.
“For what? Stealing coconuts?”
Jesús began to fume. “It is important work.”
“It is girl’s play.”
“I bombed a Miami policeman!”
“You bombed his fucking feet,” the comandante said. “I read the papers, chico. All these years and you are still the worst bomber I ever saw. You couldn’t blow up a balloon.”
After a pause, the old man said. “Tell me, who is this El Fuego?”
“I am El Fuego,” Jesús answered.
The comandante cackled. “You are a shit-eating liar,” he said, again in Spanish.
Jesus grimaced. “All right. El Fuego is a powerful Anglo. He is also a crazy man, he wants to give Florida back to the Indians and the raccoons. He recruited me for the dirty work.”
“And to write the communiqués.”
“It is the one talent you seem to have.”
Jesus Bernal smiled hopefully. There was a long silence on the other end. He heard the sound of a match striking wood; the old man’s damn cigar had gone out.
“The FBI has been asking about you,” the comandante growled. “It’s a bad idea, you calling me.”
Jesus Bernal swallowed hard. “I want to come back to the movement. My work here is finished. This organization, it is not disciplined, Comandante. There is drug use ... and liquor. And the crazy man, El Fuego, he’s always making jokes.”
“I’m not surprised. It is all very funny.”
“Please, Comandante, read the papers! Haven’t I proven myself?”
“You bombed a fucking golf course,” the old man said.
“A vital strategic target,” Jesus countered.
“Cono! A Russian freighter is a strategic target, but a golf course is ... a goddamn golf course. And these were not Communist soldiers you killed, they were rich Americans. I’m surprised Fidel himself didn’t send you a medal.”
By now Jesus was trembling. His voice skipped like a teenager’s. He cupped his hand over the mouthpiece so Viceroy Wilson couldn’t hear him begging.
“Please, Comandante, I’ve committed many bombings, kidnappings, even murders—all in the name of The Cause. What must I do to convince you to take me back?”
“Do something serious,” the old man said, his chest rattling. “And do it right.”
Jesús Bernal slammed down the phone and cursed. He returned to the sawhorse where Viceroy Wilson was working, snatched a hammer, and started whaling on a two-by-four. The warehouse was hazy with sawdust and marijuana smoke.
“So you didn’t get the job,” Wilson said through a mouthful of nails.
“I thought you didn’t understand Spanish,” Bemal snapped.
“In 1977 we had a placekicker named Rivera,” Wilson said. “From Mexico, I think. Used to give Spanish lessons on the team plane. One Sunday in Kansas City the motherfucker missed four straight field goals inside the thirty and we lost the game. That night a bunch of us got together and called Immigration.”
“You had him arrested?”
“The next day at practice.” Viceroy Wilson shrugged. ‘Football’s a tough sport, man.”
“So now you’re going to tell Wiley I want out.”
“Naw,” Wilson said. “Not if you stay through New Year’s. After that, I don’t give a fuck what you do.”
“I’m thinking of starting my own group,” Jesus Bernal confided.
“What you gonna call it?”
“I haven’t decided.”
“How about: The Ernesto Cabal Cabal.”
“Go to hell,” said the Cuban, still sensitive on the Ernesto issue.
“This new group,” Viceroy Wilson said, “what’s the mission this time?”
“Naturally.” With switchblades, no doubt. Viceroy Wilson started hammering again. Every once in a while he’d step back to see how the thing was taking shape.
Tommy Tigertail sat on a blanket in the corner, beneath a somber daguerreotype of Thlocko-Tustenugee, Chief Tiger Tail. Tommy’s eyes were open but unfocused; fresh from an Everglades passage, he had only just learned that P
avlov had been shot the week before in a beachfront swimming pool by the Fort Lauderdale SWAT team. Grief had robbed the Indian of all energy, and he had dropped his hammer and sat down in a trance. He feared it would be a night of dreams, when his fingers again would claw the wet bars of the dungeon where his great-great-grandfather had perished. On such nights Tommy’s soul wandered, keeping company with his warrior ancestor. Tommy knew what would happen if his soul should not return from its journey by dawn: He would forever become part of his own nightmare, and never awake from it. This was the fate of many anguished Seminoles, whose souls suddenly fled in the night; for Tommy Tigertail, such a death would be infinitely worse than anything the white policemen might do to him.
“Look at that crybaby,” Jesus Bernal said, scowling at the heartsick Indian. “Somebody shot his pet lizard.”
“You shut up,” Viceroy Wilson hissed at the Cuban, “or I’ll nail your nuts to your nose.”
Tommy Tigertail was the closest thing to a brother that Viceroy had found in the Nights of December. Between them was an unspoken bond that had nothing to do with the use of the Cadillac; it was a bond of history. In his post-heroin library days Viceroy Wilson had studied the Seminole Wars, and knew that Tommy’s people had fought not just to keep their land, but to protect the runaway slaves who had joined them on the Florida savannas. The magnificence of that struggle was not lost on Viceroy Wilson; he knew Tommy would never give him up. Viceroy had never trusted anyone so completely.
Jesus Bernal sensed that it was unwise and perhaps dangerous to make fun of the Indian, so he changed the subject.
“I’m going to show the comandante a thing or two,” he said determinedly.
“That’s cool,” said Viceroy Wilson, turning back to his work, “long as you wait till after New Year’s.”
“We’ll see about that, negrito,” Jesus said bravely, after Viceroy Wilson had cranked up the circular saw and could not possibly hear him.
Brian Keyes never thought of himself as lonely, but there were times when he wondered where all his friends had gone. As a rule private detectives are not swamped with party invitations and that part Keyes didn’t mind; he wasn’t a lampshade-and-kazoo type of guy. But there were nights when a phone call from any sociable nonfelon would have been a welcome surprise on the old beeper. It wasn’t loneliness, really; aloneness was more like it. Keyes had felt it as soon as he’d quit the Sun; it was as if the quintessential noise of life had suddenly shrunk by fifty decibels. On some days the quiet tortured him; the office, the apartment, the stake-outs. Sometimes he wound up talking to the car radio; sometimes the damn thing talked back. Two years away from the Sun and Keyes still longed for the peculiar fraternity of the city room. It ruled your whole damn life, the newspaper, and even if it made vulgar cynical bastards out of everybody, at least the bastards were there in the empty times. Day or night you could walk into the Sun and find somebody ready to sneak out for a beer or sandwich. These days Keyes ate alone, or with clients so scuzzy he wanted to gag on the comed beef and rye.