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Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 27


  Kara Lynn watched him so closely that Keyes began to feel a little uncomfortable. She was zeroing in on something. The old Jenna antennae started to twitch.

  “What do you think about me, Brian?”

  “I like you,” he said. “I like you very much.”

  “She really hurt you, didn’t she?”

  Out of the blue. Just when he’d started to relax.

  “Who?” he said inanely.

  “Jenna. One look at the two of you together—”

  “Forget the two of us together.”

  “I’m sorry. No more soap opera, I promise.” She folded her arms and sat back. Her gray-green eyes captured him, froze him in one place. Nineteen years old, no one should have a look that good, Keyes thought.

  “I can’t figure out what I like so much about you,” Kara Lynn said. “But I think it’s your attitude.”

  “I’ve got a miserable attitude.”

  “Yeah, you come on that way but it’s bullshit, isn’t it, Marlowe? Some of it’s an act.”

  “Until I grow my turtle shell.”

  “What I like,” said Kara Lynn, “is your attitude toward me. You’re the first man who hasn’t treated me like a porcelain doll. You don’t pamper, you don’t drool, and you don’t try to impress me.”

  Keyes smiled wanly. “Somehow I knew there was no danger of that.”

  “And I like the way you tell the truth,” she said. “For instance, I think you told the truth just now when you said you liked me. I think you really do.”

  “SurE.”

  “I think you wouldn’t mind if I kissed you.”

  Keyes opened his mouth but nothing came out. He felt a little shaky. Like prom night, for God’s sake.

  Kara Lynn reached over and took his arm. She pulled him gently. “Meet you halfway,” she said.

  They kissed across the table. It was a long kiss, and Keyes nearly got lost in it. He also managed to plant his left elbow in the pizza.

  “You’re nervous,” she said.

  “You’re a client. That makes me nervous.”

  “Naw. Pretty girls make you nervous.”

  “Some of them, yeah. ”

  In the MG on the way home, she sat much closer.

  “You’re worried about me,” Kara Lynn said.

  “I don’t want you in this stupid parade.”

  She held onto his right arm with both hands. “I’ve got to do it. It’s either me or some other girl.”

  “Then let it be some other girl.”

  “No, Brian.”

  Things were changing—all of a sudden the stakes couldn’t be higher. The harrowing parameters of his nightmare had become perceptible; and locked inside them, Kara Lynn Shivers and Skip Wiley.

  Keyes wondered if the maniac had phoned Cab Mulcahy, like he promised.

  “You’re frightened, aren’t you?” Kara Lynn asked.

  “up.”

  “We’ll be all right,” she said. Like Jenna used to say.

  The house was dark when Keyes pulled into the driveway. The shaggy-headed palms hung still in the crisp night. Grackles bickered high in the old ficus tree. From the flowerbed a disinterested calico cat watched them come up the walk.

  Keyes waited on the second step while Kara Lynn unlocked the front door. He went in first, switched on a small lamp in the hall, checked around.

  “Everything’s fine,” he said. And out of habit took a step toward the guest room where he slept.

  “No,” Kara Lynn whispered, taking his hand. “Come upstairs.”

  26

  Skip Wiley stormed into the warehouse shortly after noon on the twenty-ninth of December, the day after the bombing at police headquarters.

  “Where is Jesus?” Wiley demanded.

  “Don’t know,” Viceroy Wilson said.

  “He was gone when we got here,” said Tommy Tigertail.

  Both men were shirtless, with leather carpentry belts strung from their waists. The Indian had a red bandanna around his neck, and his caramel chest was beaded with perspiration. Viceroy Wilson wore gray sweatpants and faded aqua wristbands, which kept his hands dry.

  They had worked unceasingly since dawn, and the skeletal contraption had grown to fill the warehouse from floor to ceiling.

  “It’s coming along,” Wiley said haltheartedly. “You’re doing fine.”

  He paced with agitation, gnawing his lower lip, hands crammed in the pockets of his jeans. With each step his track shoes squeaked on the dusty concrete—a noise that only added to the tension. El Fuego was on the threshold of eruption; Viceroy Wilson and Tommy Tigertail could sense it.

  In slow motion Skip Wiley picked up an iron mallet. He studied it methodically, weighed it in each hand, then began to pound the aluminum door like a gong. With every swing came a new expletive. “That crazy-cretinous-brainlessshitheaded putz of a Cuban!” he grunted. “Worthlessmisguided-suicidal-goddamn miscreant!”

  Viceroy Wilson flinched each time the mallet landed, the noise amplified in his skull by forty freshly ingested milligrams of methamphetamine.

  “Why didn’t he tell me about this?” Wiley cried. “Who ordered him to go bomb that reptile Bloodworth?”

  “Maybe he thought it would make up for the tennis thing,” Tommy Tigertail said.

  “Rubbish! Even after my lecture on solidarity, he pulls a silly stunt like this! No wonder the other crazy Cubans kicked him out. I should have known better-I should have listened to you guys.”

  Viceroy Wilson resisted the temptation to rub it in. Actually he was somewhat puzzled by Skip Wiley’s anger. He figured that after all that had happened, Wiley ought to be elated to see Ricky Bloodworth go up in smoke. And if a new wave of counterpublicity was what Wiley sought, the bombing had been a bonanza: Las Noches were all over the morning papers and TV. But Viceroy Wilson listened unquestioningly to the harangue because he simply couldn’t bring himself to defend Jesus Bernal. He’d warned the little bastard to chill out until after New Year’s.

  “Insubordination!” Wiley bellowed. “A group like ours can’t survive with insubordination. You know what this is? A test, that’s what. That slippery hot-blooded weasel is trying to push me as far as he can. He thinks I’m not tough enough. He wants mucho macho. He wants machetes and machine pistols and nightscopes. He wants us to dress in fatigues and crawl through minefields and bite the necks off live chickens. That’s his idea of revolution. No subtlety, no wit, no goddamn style.”

  Wiley was getting hoarse. He dropped the iron mallet. Viceroy Wilson handed him a jar of cold Gatorade.

  “We need to find him,” the Indian said.

  “Damn soon,” added Wilson.

  Wilson wiped his mouth. “Any clues?”

  Viceroy Wilson shook his head. In one corner of the warehouse, on Bernal’s pitiful carpet remnant, sat the Smith-Corona typewriter. It was empty.

  “He won’t be back,” Tommy Tigertail said.

  “A loose cannon,” growled Wiley, subsiding a bit.

  Viceroy Wilson decided there was no point in keeping Jesús Bernal’s secret. “The other night he was on the phone to his old dudes. Trying to get back on the A-team.”

  “The First Weekend in July?”

  “They told him no way,” Wilson said.

  “So he decided to put on a one-man show,” Wiley said.

  “Looks that way.”

  “Well, that’s gratitude for you.”

  “Let’s try to find him,” Tommy Tigertail repeated, with consternation.

  “Hopeless,” Skip Wiley said. “Anyway, he’ll crawl back when he gets lonely—or when he can’t stand the heat from García.”

  “Oh fme,” Viceroy Wilson grumbled. “Just what we need. ”

  Wiley said, “Besides, I hate to completely give up on the guy.” What he really hated was the thought that anyone could resist his charisma or so blithely spurn his leadership. Recruiting a hard-core case like Jesús Bernal had been a personal triumph; losing him stung Skip Wiley’s ego.

&nb
sp; “Look, I’ve got to know,” he said. “Are you boys still with the program?”

  “Tighter than ever,” Viceroy Wilson said. The Indian nodded in agreement.

  “What about the chopper?”

  “Watson Island. Nine tonight,” Wilson said. “The pilot’s cool. Free-lance man. Does some jobs for the Marine Patrol, the DEA and the blockade-runners, too. Long as the price is nice.”

  “And the goodies?” Wiley asked.

  “Safe and sound,” Tommy Tigertail reported.

  “Nobody got hurt?”

  The Indian smiled—these white men! “No, of course not,” he said. “Everybody had a ball.”

  Wiley sighed. “Good, then we’re on—with or without our Cuban friend. ” He reached into a pocket and came out with something in the palm of his hand. To Viceroy Wilson the object looked like a pink castanet.

  “What the hell,” Wiley said. He carefully placed the object on the keyboard of Jesús Bernal’s abandoned typewriter. “Just in case he comes back.”

  It was a brand-new set of dentures.

  Cab Mulcahy had waited all night for Skip Wiley to call again. He’d attached a small tape recorder to the telephone next to the bed and slept restlessly, if at all. There was no question of Wiley reaching him if he’d wanted—Skip knew the number, and had never been shy about calling. Back when he was writing in full stride, Wiley would phone Mulcahy at least once a week to demand the firing or public humiliation of some mid-level editor who had dared to alter the column. These tirades normally lasted about thirty minutes until Wiley’s voice gave out and he hung up. Once in a while Mulcahy discovered that Skip was right—somebody indeed had mangled a phrase or even edited a fact error into the column; in these instances the managing editor would issue a firm yet discreet rebuke, but Wiley seldom was satisfied. He was constantly threatening to murder or sexually mutilate somebody in the newsroom and, on one occasion, actually fired a speargun at an unsuspecting editor at the city desk. For weeks there was talk of a lawsuit, but eventually the poor shaken fellow simply quit and took a job with a public-relations firm in Tampa. Wiley had been remorseless; as far as he was concerned, anyone who couldn’t weather a little criticism had no business in journalism anyway. Cab Mulcahy had been dismayed: firing a spear at an editor was a sure way to bring in the unions. To punish Wiley, Mulcahy had forced him to drive out to the Deauville Hotel one morning and interview Wayne Newton. To no one’s surprise, the resulting column was unprintable. The speargun episode eventually was forgiven.

  As a habit Skip Wiley called Mulcahy’s home only in moments of rage and only in the merciless wee hours of the morning, when Wiley could be sure of holding the boss’s undivided attention.

  Which is why Cab Mulcahy scarcely slept Friday night, and why he was so fretful by Saturday morning when Skip still hadn’t phoned. Keyes called twice to see if Wiley had made contact, but there was nothing to report; both of them worried that Skip might have changed his mind. By midafternoon Mulcahy—still unshaven, and rambling the house in a rumpled bathrobe—was battling a serious depression. He feared that he had missed the only chance to reason with Wiley or bring him in for help.

  He was fixing a tuna sandwich on toast when the phone finally rang at half-past five. He hurried into the bedroom, closed the door, punched the tape recorder.

  “Hello?”

  “You viper!”

  “Skip?”

  “What kind of snake would let Bloodworth sodomize a Christmas column!”

  “Where are you, buddy?”

  “At the Gates of Hell, waiting. I told ’em to save you a ringside seat at the inferno.”

  Mulcahy was impressed by Wiley’s vitriol; not bad for a five-day-old rage. “I’m sorry, Skip. I should never have done it. It was wrong.”

  “Immoral is what it was.”

  “Yes, you’re right. I apologize. But I don’t think morality is your strong suit, at the moment.”

  “Whoa,” Wiley said. “Blowing up Ricky Bloodworth was not my idea, Cab. It was one of those things that happens in the fever of revolution. Corrective measures are under way.”

  “He’s going to recuperate. You’re damn lucky, Skip.”

  “Yeah, I paid a visit to the hospital.”

  “You did? But there’s supposed to be a police guard!”

  Wiley said, “Don’t get all upset. The kid was thrilled to see me. I brought him a stuffed skunk.”

  Mulcahy decided to make his move. A conversation with Wiley was like a freight train: you either got aboard fast or you missed the whole damn thing.

  “If you’re in town, why don’t you stop by the house?”

  “Thanks, but I’m extremely busy, Cab.”

  “I could meet you somewhere. At the club, maybe.”

  “Let’s cut the crap, okay?”

  “Sure, Skip.”

  “Keyes isn’t as smart as he thinks.”

  “Oh.”

  “Neither are you.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “In due time, old friend.”

  “Why are you doing this?” The wrong thing to say—Mulcahy knew it immediately.

  “Why am I doing this? Cab, don’t you read your own newspaper? Are you blind? What do you see when you stare out that big bay window, anyway? Maybe you can’t understand because you weren’t here thirty years ago, when it was paradise. Before they put parking meters on the beach. Before the beach disappeared. God, Cab, don’t tell me you’re like the rest of these migratory loons. They think it’s heaven down here as long as the sun’s out, long as they don’t have to put chains on the tires, it’s marvelous. They think it’s really paradise, because, compared to Buffalo, it is. But, Cab, compared to paradise ...”

  “Skip, I know how you feel, believe me. But it’ll never work.”

  “Why not?”

  “You can’t evacuate South Florida, for God’s sake. These people are here to stay.”

  “That’s what the cavemen said about tyrannosaurus.”

  “Skip, listen to me. They won’t leave for a bloody hurricane—what makes you think they’ll move out after a few lousy bombs?”

  “When the condos fail, the banks fail. When the banks fail, it’s bye-bye lemmings.” Wiley sounded impatient. “I explained all this to Keyes.”

  “Okay, I understand it,” Mulcahy said. “I understand perfectly. Just tell me, what’s this business about ‘violating a sacred virgin’? How does that fit into your theory?”

  “I thought you smartasses had it all figured out.”

  “Well, if it’s the Orange Bowl queen, forget it. The police are everywhere.”

  “Maybe, maybe not.”

  Mulcahy said, “Skip, you’re going to get yourself shot.”

  “I’m not planning on it.”

  “What are you planning?”

  “To be on the front page of your newspaper again tomorrow.”

  “Tomorrow?” Mulcahy found it difficult to sound nonchalant. “But the parade’s not for two days.”

  “This is a little preview, Cab.”

  Mulcahy was flustered. “What kind of preview?”

  Wiley said, “You’ll have to wait and see. As a courtesy, I’m advising you to budget some space for tomorrow’s front page.”

  Mulcahy took a deep breath. “No, Skip.”

  There was a pause; then Wiley laughed disbelievingly. “What do you mean no?”

  “I won’t put the Nights of December on page one. I’ll bury the story, so help me God.”

  “You can’t,” Wiley said, sounding vastly amused. “Don’t you see, you’re powerless. You can’t ignore the news unless you’re ready to forsake the public trust—and you’re not, Cab. I’ll bet on it. You’re too honorable, too ethical, too everything. The integrity of that newspaper is sacred to you, probably the only thing sacred in your life. Diddling around with my column is one thing, but censorship’s another. You wouldn’t do it, not in a million years. You’re at the mercy of the news, old friend, and right now the new
s is me.”

  “Skip, I still run this paper,” said Mulcahy, his voice taut. He was choking the phone with both hands.

  “And you do a swell job running the paper,” Wiley said. “But if you don’t think I know how to make the front page after all these years, then it’s your brain that’s turned to Rice-a-Roni. Now I’ve really got to sign off. My schedule is extremely tight.”

  “No, Skip, hold on just a second. I want you to please, please stop killing these innocent people—”

  “Dammit, I haven’t. Not one. Not innocent.”

  “Just stop the murders, please. As a friend I’m begging you. The cops are going to figure it out and they’ll track you down. Why don’t you end this thing and turn yourself in. You need—”

  “What do I need? Help? I need help? Come on, Cab, lighten up. Melodrama doesn’t suit you. I’ve got to run.”

  “Skip, if you hang up, I’m calling García. I’m going to give him your name, tell him everything.”

  “Brian didn’t explain the rules.”

  “I can’t go along anymore, threats or not. Bloodbath, my ass—I mean, what more can you do, Skip? You even blew up one of my reporters.”

  “So you’re going to put all this in the newspaper?”

  “Absolutely.”

  “Then do me a favor,” Wiley said seriously.

  “What?”

  “Make sure you run a good picture. I’m partial to the right-side profile, the one where I’m wearing the corduroy jacket. The dark brown one.”

  “Yeah, I remember,” Mulcahy said dejectedly.

  “What about Cardoza?”

  “He’s next on my list, after the cops.”

  “S’pose he wants his New Year’s column.”

  “Don’t even think about it,” Mulcahy said.

  “Fine. Be that way. The paper’s dull as dishwater.”

  “I’ll handle Cardoza,” Mulcahy said.

  “I’m sure. But in the meantime, Cab, watch the heavens.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Watch the heavens! Got that?”

  “Yes,” Mulcahy said. He didn’t like the sound of things. He would have preferred that Wiley not bother giving any more clues. “Look, Skip, why don’t you call Brian?”

  “He’s busy nymphet-sitting.”