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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
Tourist Season 24
“The reason I came back,” Wiley said somberly, “is to prevent disaster. To save us from international ridicule,”
As he looked up, the pale light snared his chin, the ridge of his long nose, the blond crest of his forehead. The others were struck by Wiley’s flickering visage. He reminded Jesus Bernal of a priest in the confessional, and Viceroy Wilson of a Basin Street scat singer. And when Tommy Tigertail looked at Wiley, he was reminded of an animal spirit he had once encountered at the sacred Green Corn dance.
“Our moment is at hand,” Wiley told them. “And this is no time to be losing ground or getting careless. We’ve had a rotten week. First we’re booted out the Bahamas—humiliating, but not calamitous—and then yesterday we nearly blow it for good. Yesterday”—he glanced down at the Cuban—“we had extreme major fuckage.”
“Unngh,” Bernal remarked defensively.
“The whole idea,” Wiley said, his voice building, “of surveilling Kara Lynn Shivers was to determine if she was under police protection. I assumed we all understood that it was vitally important to remain invisible.”
The word invisible seemed to snake through the warehouse and wrap around the Cuban’s neck.
“Now, Jesús,” Wiley went on, “since your teeth got knocked out and your larynx looks like an avocado, I’m not going to make you tell me precisely what happened. Not now, anyway. Today I want you to rest, and I want you to stay here until I tell you to leave. Because, as we speak, every police officer in Dade County is out looking for you. If you were captured—and I realize that might appeal to your grandiose appetite for martyrdom—but if you were captured, there’s no telling what they’d do to make you talk.”
“No mucking way,” Bernal said.
“Let’s not take the chance. You stay put,” Wiley said. “Gentlemen, we’ve had a major setback: we’ve lost the element of stealth.”
“But Keyes already knew the plan,” Tommy Tigertail said.
“Of course, of course—but look...” Wiley was trying to come up with a good Seminole-type metaphor. “Tommy, it’s the difference between knowing there’s a panther hiding in the swamp, and seeing that panther with your own eyes. What’s more frightening: wondering where it is, or finding it?”
The Indian didn’t need it spelled out for him. Neither did Viceroy Wilson. They knew the magnitude of Bernal’s transgression.
“Judging by the paper this morning, yesterday’s clumsy episode has taken some of the luster from our mission,” Wiley said sardonically. “In all my life I’ve never heard of a professional terrorist being subdued by a putz with a tennis racket.”
“Eaaamy,” replied Jesus Bernal, probably in Spanish.
“Lucky he didn’t kill you,” Viceroy Wilson said.
“Lucky’s the right word,” Wiley added. “Lucky all we lost is a car.”
“What?” Wilson cried.
“I’m sorry, old man, but the cops put a BOLO out on the Caddy so I had Tommy get rid of the darn thing.”
“I dumped it in a rockpit,” the Indian said.
With the roar of a wounded grizzly, Viceroy Wilson hurled himself upon Jesus Bernal and began pummeling him ferociously in the ribs and kidneys.
“Ged ob me, you addhoe!” the toothless Cuban howled. “Hep!”
With great effort Tommy Tigertail was able to pull Viceroy Wilson away from Jesus Bernal. Once separated, the two revolutionaries glowered at each other, panting like leopards.
Skip Wiley rose to his feet. “Look what’s happening here! Ten days ago Las Noches was unstoppable, fearless, indivisible. Now we’re trying to maim and mutilate each other. Last week we were front-page news and today the paper’s making fun of us. Did you see the Sun? Did you see the bloody cartoon? Bearded guy supposed to look like Che Guevara, with a beret and machine gun, except he’s got a tennis racket smashed over his head! Funny, huh? Vaudeville terrorists, that’s us. That’s the Nights of December. And instead of going out to redeem ourselves with some serious extremism, what do we do? We sit in this rathole and hold our own tag-team wrestling match. Don’t you see, this is exactly what they want! They’re trying to destroy us from within!”
Tommy Tigertail thought Wiley was giving García and the other white men entirely too much credit. Brian Keyes was the only one who worried Tommy.
“The sad truth is, we’ve lost our psychological advantage,” Skip Wiley said, “and we’ve got to get it back. That’s why I’ve divined a new plan.”
“What new plan?” asked Viceroy Wilson. He couldn’t bear the thought of learning a whole new plan; he thought the old plan was all right.
“Nupid! Mus plain nupid!” Jesus Bernal whined. Not only was it stupid, it was downright suicidal to change the plan so late in the game; it went against all basic terrorist training. It was unthinkable.
“Lighten up, comrades,” Skip Wiley said. “We’re not tossing out the old plan, just embellishing it.”
“Tell them,” the Indian said. “Tell them your idea.”
So Wiley told them all about it. “Not just one princess, but two!” he concluded merrily. “Double your pleasure, double your fun!”
Viceroy Wilson liked what he heard; the new plan was Wiley’s cleverest yet. Phase One would wreak bedlam, knock everybody off-balance; the perfect setup. Phase One also required a helicopter, and Viceroy Wilson had always wanted to ride in a helicopter. Tommy Tigertail approved of the plan too, mainly because it afforded him a couple days of working deep in the Everglades, alone with his people.
Only Jesús Bernal opposed Skip Wiley’s new plan. He lay on the warehouse floor, carping unintelligibly, growing more and more miserable as Wiley issued orders. The beating he’d gotten from that maricón Keyes and the cruel scolding he’d gotten from El Fuego had plunged Jesús Bernal into a familiar well of self-pity. Unable to be understood in any language, he found himself ignored. And worse, patronized. That Wiley had decided upon such a reckless change of strategy without consulting him—him, the most seasoned of all the terrorists!—infuriated Jesús Bernal. It was infamy repeating itself; it was the First Weekend in July Movement all over again.
When it came time for the Cuban’s assignment, Skip Wiley announced that Las Noches once again would be needing Bernal’s unique skills at the Smith-Corona; there were historic communiques to be written! Jesus assented halfheartedly, hoping that in the dim light the other conspirators could not see the disloyalty in his eyes, or his sneer of contempt. Jesús Bernal made a private and fateful decision: he would proceed with a plan of his own. He would humble them all: the arrogant Indian, the stoned-freak nigger and the culebra cop Garcia. Keyes, too; Keyes would suffer in failure. And when it was over, on New Year’s Day, El Comandante would beg Jesus Bernal to return and lead the holy struggle against the Bearded One. It would be most satisfying to watch the old man grovel. Ha!
And Wiley, damn him—who said he was such a genius? If Wiley was so smart, Jesús thought, how could he have forgotten about the third bomb, the most powerful of all? How could he forget to inquire what had become of it? What kind of leader was so careless to let such a thing pass?
So tonight when it becomes an issue, thought Jesus Bernal, I can look him square in the eye, on the way out the door, and say: But, El Fuego, you never asked. You never asked.
Richard L. Bloodworth had spent the day at the Metro-Dade police station, lying in wait for Sergeant Al García. Bloodworth could be excruciatingly patient. He passed the time introducing himself to secretaries and patrolmen, upon whom he proudly foisted newly printed business cards on which the “Ricky” had been replaced with the staid “Richard L.” Most of those who received Bloodworth’s business card tore it up the minute he was out of sight, but a few tucked it away in a drawer or a wallet. Someday, Bloodworth hoped, one of these drones would call with a hot tip, maybe even a ticket to the front page.
At first Al Garcia had no intention of letting Ricky Bloodworth slither within striking distance. Their last exchange had be
en brief and unfortunate:
Bloodworth: Sergeant, these terrorists act like real scum of the earth, don’t they?
García: Yeah. Get out of my office.
The next morning the detective had picked up the paper and seen this impolitic headline: Cop Labels Terrorists Scum of Earth.
Al Garcia believed that no good could ever come from a newspaper interview, and that only idiots spoke to newspaper reporters. He explained this to the chief when the chief phoned to ask why the Miami Sun was getting jerked around. As often happened, the chief did not agree with Al García’s philosophy and remarked on the detective’s poor attitude. The chief argued that it was vital for the head of the Fuego One Task Force to keep a high law-and-order profile until the Orange Bowl Parade. That meant cooperating with the press.
So Ricky Bloodworth finally got an audience with the sergeant. The reporter came in wearing a lawyerly three-piece suit. He said hello to Garcia and shook hands amiably, as if being forced to wait seven and a half hours was the most natural thing in the world.
Bloodworth took out a notebook, uncapped a red pen, and jotted García’s name at the top of a page. The detective watched the ritual with a sour face.
“Before I forget, I’d like you to have one of these.” Bloodworth handed Garcia a business card.
“I’ll treasure it always,” Garcia said. “What’s the L stand for?”
“Lancelot,” Bloodworth said. That was one of the drawbacks about the new byline; people were always asking about the middle initial. Leon was such a nerdy name that Bloodworth had scrapped it. Lancelot was more fitting.
Bloodworth asked his first question.
“Sergeant, exactly what happened last night?”
“The suspect escaped.”
“Jesus Bernal, the famous terrorist?”
“What about the vigilante with the tennis racket?”
“We’re waiting,” García said, “for him to come forward.”
Bloodworth scrawled in the notebook.
“Do you intend to press charges?”
“Assault, of course. According to witnesses, he simply walked up to Mr. Bernal and beat him senseless with the tennis racket, without any provocation.”
García said, “That’s still under investigation.”
Bloodworth scribbled some more. He was starting to remind García of that young shithead Bozeman from Internal Affairs.
“Any idea what Mr. Bernal was doing in Coral Gables?”
“Nope,” García said.
Bloodworth dutifully wrote “NO IDEA” in his notebook.
“Sergeant, I’m still puzzled about how this went down.”
García hated it when jerks like Bloodworth tried to talk like cops.
“What do you mean went down? Down where?” García said.
“I mean, how could it happen? Here’s one of the most wanted men in Florida lying unconscious in a pool of blood on a busy public street—and the police still manage to lose him. How in the world did he get away?”
García shrugged. He thought: Let’s see you quote a shrug, asshole.
“It seems simply ... inconceivable,” Bloodworth remarked.
Al García realized that, in effect, he’d just been called a Jell-O-brained moron. That was the beauty of a snotty word like inconceivable.
“The one thing everybody wants to know,” Bloodworth continued, “is where the Nights of December are going to attack next.”
“I’d like to know, myself.”
“You have no idea?”
“Nope,” García lied.
Again Bloodworth wrote, “NO IDEA.”
“Let me bum a cigarette,” the detective said.
“Sorry, but I don’t smoke.”
“Then what’s that in your vest? It looks like a pack of cigarettes.”
Bloodworth smiled sheepishly and took out a small Sony Pearlcorder. “A tape recorder,” he explained unnecessarily.
“Oh,” Garcia said. “Is it on?”
“Can I see it?”
Ricky Bloodworth handed the miniature recorder to Garcia.
“Quite a little gadget,” the detective said. “You keep the First Amendment in here, do you?”
“Very funny.” Bloodworth’s bluish mouth opened in a round ratlike smile, all incisors.
Garcia set the Pearlcorder flat on the desktop, its tiny reels still spinning. He reached into his holster and took out his Smith and Wesson service revolver.
“What are you going to do?” Bloodworth asked.
With the butt of the pistol, Garcia pounded the Sony to tiny pieces. He gave the pieces back to Bloodworth, along with a tangle of brown ribbon.
“Don’t ever tape me again,” García said, “not without asking.”
Bloodworth stared in disbelief at the expensive Japanese debris.
“What’s the matter with you?” he cried. “Everybody uses tape recorders. It’s just a tool, for God’s sake ... for accuracy ... to make me a better reporter.”
“Brain surgery wouldn’t make you a better reporter,” Garcia said. “Now get out of here before I have you strip-searched.” So much for cooperating with the press.
“This is ... an outrage,” Bloodworth stammered.
“Simply inconceivable,” Garcia agreed.
For half an hour Bloodworth sat on the steps of the police station and morosely flipped through his notebook. García had given him practically nothing, not one damn usable quote. It had been a dry week, too, newswise. Until last night, Las Noches had been quiet: no more kidnappings or murders to goose the story back to page one. Bloodworth was getting itchy. He wondered if Cab Mulcahy would let him do a column about Al Garcia and the bumbling Fuego One Task Force. He wondered what García’s boss would say if he found out about the tape-recorder incident.
A local TV crew marched up the steps, around Bloodworth, into police headquarters. He thought: What if Garcia had given them an interview, too? What if the detective actually said something important on television? Identified El Fuego, for instance? Bloodworth’s flesh turned clammy. Christ! He’d completely forgotten to ask Sergeant García about El Fuego.
In a panic, Bloodworth dashed back up the steps. He couldn’t go back to the newsroom empty-handed, too much was riding on this story—a raise, his very own column, maybe even a job with the New York Times. The stakes were too fantastic to let an oafish Cuban cop ruin everything.
Bloodworth hopped off the elevator at Homicide, but the TV crew was nowhere in sight. He scurried from office to office, unimpeded. At the end of a long hall, he finally spotted the bright TV lights.
It was too late. Through the window of a soundproof interview room, Bloodworth saw Al Garcia talking expansively to a pretty brunette television reporter. She was holding a microphone and he was smiling like it was cocktails at the Four Seasons. The camera rolled.
Bloodworth watched in wretched helplessness, struggling to read the detective’s lips. García glanced at Bloodworth’s face in the window and mouthed three words: “Up your ass.”
In a fury, Bloodworth retreated to García’s empty office, where he fumed and cursed and looked at his wristwatch every thirty seconds. How long could it last? What could he be telling her? Bloodworth felt a damp stripe settle down the back of his shirt. He was getting beaten, beaten badly. By a TV bimbo.
A man with a plastic badge that said “Mail Room” came in and piled papers and packages on García’s desk.
As soon as the messenger left, Bloodworth slid over and sifted through the goodies. A two-page memo on weapons training. A ten-page memo on pensions. An invoice for softball uniforms.
Next he sampled the unopened mail, scanning the return addresses. He found something from the FBI fingerprint section in Washington and held it to the light, without success; the clever Feebs used opaque envelopes.
Underneath the stack of lette
rs was a brown box the size of a toaster.
A bright red courier sticker was glued to the box: Same-day service, fourteen bucks. Oddly, whoever had sent the parcel had tied a luxurious bow in the twine, the kind of bow you’d see on a Fifth Avenue Christmas package.
The address label had been typed neatly:To Sgt. Alberto García, Maggot and Traitor
Metro-Dade Police Pig Department
Miami, City of Pigs, Florida
Ricky Bloodworth excitedly opened his notebook and copied everything.
In the upper-left-hand corner, on the top of the box, the sender had written:
“De un guerrero y patriota.”
From a warrior and patriot.
Ricky Bloodworth went to the door and peered down the hallway. Amazingly, the TV lights were still blazing away. God Almighty, he thought, not even Joe Wambaugh yaps this much.
Bloodworth returned to the desk and picked up the brown box. It was much lighter than he expected. Bloodworth shook it cautiously at first, then briskly. Nothing. It was packed solid.
Bloodworth trembled at the thought of what he was about to do.
We’re talking felony, he told himself. This is police evidence, no doubt about it.
But screw García—he busted my tape recorder.
Ricky Bloodworth put the box under one arm and hurried out of the Homicide office. He went down three flights of stairs and came out in the Traffic Division, which was deserted. He found an empty rest room and locked himself in a stall that reeked of ammonia and bad cologne.
The reporter sat on a toilet and set the box on his lap. He propped his notebook on the tissue rack. He stuck the red pen behind his left ear.
Bloodworth’s heart was drumming. He actually felt himself getting hard—that’s how much he loved this job. Ricky savored his coup: a treasure chest of clues from the Nights of December. An exclusive, too ... that was the part that gave him a hard-on.