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Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 32


  “You sure we have to print this?” Cardoza said.

  “Absolutely,” Cab Mulcahy replied.

  “Then go ahead,” the publisher growled, “but when the calls start pouring in, remember—I’m out of town.”

  The crusty businessman in Cardoza—which was to say, all of Cardoza-immediately thought of selling the newspaper, getting out before they straitjacketed the whole building. Just last week he’d had an excellent offer from the Krolman Corporation, makers of world-famous French bidets. A bit overcapitalized, but they’d cleared thirty million last year after taxes. Cardoza had been impressed by the bottom line-thirty mil was a lot of douching. Now the Krolman boys were looking to diversify.

  The publisher’s fingers were flying through the Rolodex even as he hung up on Cab Mulcahy.

  Reed Shivers pounded loudly on the door to the guest room. “Young man, I want to speak with you!”

  “Later,” Keyes mumbled.

  “No, not later. Right now! Open this door!”

  Keyes let Shivers in and met him with a scowl. “Open this door right now! What do I look like, the Beaver? Gee, Dad, I was only trying to get some sleep.”

  “That’s enough, Mr. Keyes. You said you were going to be gone for one hour last night—one hour! The housekeeper says you got in at six.”

  “A situation came up. I couldn’t help it.”

  “So you just run off and forget all about my daughter,” Reed Shivers said.

  “There was a squad car at each end of the block.”

  “All alone, the night before the big parade!”

  “I said I couldn’t help it,” Keyes said.

  Kara Lynn walked in wearing a shapeless pink robe and fuzzy bedroom slippers. Her hair was pinned up and her eyes were sleepy. Without makeup she looked about fourteen years old.

  “Hi, guys,” she said. “What’s all the racket?”

  Right away she saw that Brian had slept in his street clothes. She stared at the sticky brown stain on his clothes, somehow knowing what it was. She also noticed that he still wore his shoulder holster. The Browning semiautomatic lay on a nightstand next to the bed. It was the first time she had ever seen it. It seemed unwieldy, and out of place in a bedroom.

  “The Cuban’s dead,” Keyes said flatly.

  Reed Shivers rubbed his chin sheepishly. It occurred to him that he had underestimated Keyes or, worse, misread him entirely.

  “Bernal kidnapped García last night and I had to shoot him,” Keyes said.

  Kara Lynn gave him a long hug, with her eyes closed. Keyes stood there stiffly, not knowing how to respond in front of her father. Reed Shivers looked away and made a disapproving cluck.

  Keyes said, “I expect there’ll be some police coming by a little later to ask me some questions.”

  Reed Shivers folded his arms and said, “Actually this is extremely good news. It means all those damn Nachos are dead. According to the papers, this Cuban fellow was the last one.” He tugged his daughter safely back to arm’s reach. “Pumpkin, don’t you see? The parade’s going to be wonderful—there’s no more threat. We won’t be needing Mr. Keyes anymore.”

  Kara Lynn looked up at Brian questioningly.

  “Let’s play it safe, Mr. Shivers. I’ve got my doubts about that helicopter crash. Sergeant García and I agree that everything should stay the same for tonight. Nothing changes.”

  “But it was on TV. All these maniacs are dead.”

  “And what if they’re not?” Kara Lynn said. “Daddy, I’d feel better if we stuck to the plan. Just for tonight.”

  “All right, cupcake, if you’ll sleep easier. But as of tomorrow morning, no more bodyguard.” Reed Shivers marched down the hall, still wondering about that hug.

  Brian Keyes closed the door quietly and locked it. He took Kara Lynn’s hand and led her to the bed. They lay down and held one another; he, hugging a little tighter. Keyes realized that he had crossed a cold threshold and could never return to what he was, what he had trained to be—a professional bystander, an expertly detached voyeur who was skilled at reconstructing violence after the fact, but never present and never participatory. For reporters, the safety net was the ability to walk away, polish it off, forget about it. It was as easy as turning off the television, because whatever was happening always happened to somebody else; reality was past tense and once removed, something to be observed but not experienced. Two years ago, at such a newsworthy moment, Keyes himself would have been racing south with the wolf pack, jogging through the hammock to reach the jetty first, his notebook flipped open, his eyes sponging up each detail, counting up the bullet holes in the corpse, by now gray and bloodless. And two years ago he might have gotten sick at the sight and gone off to vomit in the woods, where the other reporters couldn’t see him. Later he would have stood back and studied the death scene, but could only have guessed at what might have happened, or why.

  “We don’t have to talk about it,” Kara Lynn said. She stirred against him. “Let’s just lie here for a little while.”

  “I had no choice. He shot García.”

  “This was the same man we saw outside the country club. You’re certain?”

  Keyes nodded.

  He said, “Maybe I ought to say a prayer or something. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you kill somebody?”

  “Only in spaghetti westerns.” She slid her arms around his waist. “Try to get some rest. You did the right thing.”

  “I know,” he said dully. “The only thing I feel guilty about is not feeling guilty. The sonofabitch deserved to die.”

  The words came out soulless. Kara Lynn shuddered. Sometimes he frightened her, just a little.

  “Hey, Sundance, you want to see my gown?”

  “Sure.”

  She bounced up from the bed. “Stay right here, don’t move,” she said. “I’ll model it for you.”

  “I’d like that,” Keyes said. “I really would.”

  At noon Al García awoke. He gazed around the hospital room and felt warmed by its pale yellow walls and the slivered shadows from the venetian blinds. He was too drugged to pay much attention to the burning in his arm or the huge knot on the base of his neck or the burbling sound from inside his chest. Instead the detective was washed by a mood of elemental triumph: he was alive and Jesus Bernal was dead. Deader than a goddamn cockroach. Al Garcia relished the role of survivor, even if he owed his life not to his own faltering reflexes, but to Brian Keyes. The kid had turned out to be rock steady, and strong as a bear to haul him out of the ocean the way he had.

  Groggily Garcia greeted his wife, who offered spousely sympathy but peppered him with questions that he pretended not to hear. Afterward, an orthopedic surgeon stopped in to report that although García’s left arm had been saved, it was too early to know if the muscles and bones would mend properly; the shoulder basically was being held together by steel pins and catgut. García worriedly asked if any shotgun pellets had knicked the spine, and the doctor said no, though the initial fall on his neck had caused some temporary numbness. García wiggled the toes on both feet and seemed satisfied that he would walk again.

  He was drifting off to sleep when the chief of police showed up. García winked at him.

  “The doctors say you’re going to make it,” the chief whispered.

  “Piece-a-cake,” García murmured.

  “Look, I know this is a bad time, but the media’s gone absolutely batshit over this shooting. We’re trying to put together a short release. Is there anything you can tell me about what happened out there?”

  “Found the body?”

  “Yes,” the chief replied. “Shot four times with a nine-millimeter. The last one really did the trick, blew his brains halfway to Bimini.”

  “Fucker blasted me with a sawed-off.”

  “I know,” the chief said. “The question is, who blasted him?”

  “Tomorrow,” García said, closing his eyes.

  “Al, please.”

  “Tomorrow
, the whole story.” Or as much of it as was absolutely necessary.

  “Okay, but I’ve got to say something to the press this afternoon. They’re tearing around like a pack of frigging hyenas.”

  “Tell ‘em you don’t know nuthin’. Tell ’em I haven’t regained consciousness.”

  “That might work,” the chief mused.

  “Sure it’ll work. One more thing...” Garcia paused to adjust the plastic tube in his nose. “Tell the nurses I want a TV.”

  “Sounds reasonable.”

  “A color TV for tonight.”

  “Sure, Al.”

  “Don’t want to miss the parade.”

  30

  In the mid-1800’s Miami was known as Fort Dallas. It was a mucky, rutted, steaming, snake-infested settlement of two hundred souls, perennially under attack from crafty Seminoles or decimated by epidemics of malaria. This was a time long before Fisher, Flagler, and the other land grabbers arrived to suck their fortunes out of North America’s most famous swamp. It was a time when the local obsession was survival, not square footage, when the sun was not a commodity but a blistering curse.

  No one knew what Fort Dallas might eventually become, not that knowing would have altered its future. The dream was always there, sustenance against the cruel hardships. Then, as now, the smell of opportunity was too strong to ignore, attracting a procession of grafters, con artists, Confederate deserters, geeks, bushwackers, rustlers, Gypsies, and slave traders. Their inventiveness and tenacity and utter contempt for the wilderness around them would set the tone for the development of South Florida. They preserved only what was free and immutable—the sunshine and the sea—and marked the rest for destruction, because how else could you sell it? In its natural state, the soggy frontier south of Lake Okeechobee simply was not marketable. Still, the transformation of the face of the land began slowly, not so much because of the Indians or the terrain as because of the lagging technology of plunder. Finally came the railroads and the dredge and the bulldozer, and the end of Fort Dallas.

  For thirty years, beginning around the turn of the century, South Florida grew at an astonishing pace. Rabid opportunists seized as much land as they could, swapped it, platted it, sold it. Where there was no land they dredged it from the bottom of Biscayne Bay, manufactured an island, named it after a flower or a daughter or themselves, and peddled it as a natural oasis. All this was done with great efficiency and enthusiasm, but with no vision whatsoever.

  Those wheeler-dealers who didn’t blow their brains out after the Hurricane of ’26 or hang themselves after the real-estate bust were eventually rewarded with untold wealth. Today they were venerated for their perseverance and toughness of spirit, and some even had public parks named after them. These characters are regarded as the true pioneers of South Florida.

  It is their descendants, the heirs to paradise (and to the banks and the land), who put on the annual Orange Bowl Parade.

  The pageant began a half-century ago as an honest parade, Main Street entertainment for little children and tourists. But with the ascension of television the event grew and changed character. Gradually it became an elaborate instrument of self-promotion, deliberately staged to show the rest of the United States (suffering through winter) a sunny, scenic, and sexy sanctuary. The idea was to make everybody drop their snow shovels and hop the next jumbo jet for Florida. To this end, the Orange Bowl Parade was as meticulously orchestrated as a nuclear strike. Those who would appear on camera were carefully selected: high-school bands from Bumfuck, Iowa, awe shining from their sunburned faces as they bugled down Biscayne Boulevard; a sprinkling of Caribbean blacks and South American Hispanics, evidence of Miami’s exotic but closely supervised cultural mix; the most innocuous of TV celebrities, delighted to shill for the tourist board in exchange for comped rooms at the Fontainebleau.

  From the Chamber of Commerce point of view, the most essential ingredient was subliminal sex. You cannot sell sun-drenched beaches without showing tanned female cleavage; Middle America hungered for it. Thus the pageant always featured droves of women in brief but not-quite-nasty bathing suits. The favored choice of models was the pneumatic blond teenager, suggestively hugging a neoprene palm tree or riding a stuffed alligator and smiling so fixedly that any idiot could see her makeup had been put on with a trowel.

  Every year the Orange Bowl Committee chose a sunny new theme, but seldom did it touch on Florida’s rapacious history. Swamp wars and slave raids and massacres of Indian children did not strike the Orange Bowl fathers as suitable topics for a parade; a parade intended purely as a primetime postcard.

  As noted, this year’s slogan was “Tropical Tranquillity.”

  At six P.M. the floats and clowns and high-school bands collected in the parking lots across from the Dupont Plaza Hotel. Dusky clouds rolled in from the north, smothering the vermilion sunset and dropping temperatures. The wind came in chilly gusts; some of the girls in bathing suits sneaked back to the dressing rooms to tape Band-Aids over their nipples, so they wouldn’t be embarrassed if it got cold.

  Before the parade could begin, a huge balloon replica of some comic-strip character with teeth like Erik Estrada’s broke from its tether and drifted toward the high-voltage power lines. A policeman with a rifle shot it down, the first casualty of the evening.

  Traditionally, the order of march began with a police honor guard and ended, a mile or so later, with the queen’s float. This year the regimen would be different. Al García had insisted that a troop of cops be positioned within shouting distance of Kara Lynn Shivers, but the Orange Bowl Committee absolutely refused, fearing Major Image Problems if TV cameras were to show uniformed police in the same frame as the queen. Brian Keyes had suggested a compromise, which was accepted: a colorful contingent of Shriners on motorcycles was inserted between the queen’s float and the City of Miami (Marching) SWAT Team.

  The Shriners would be led, of course, by Burt and James, packing handguns in their baggy trousers. Of the forty men behind them, only twenty would actually belong to the Evanston Shrine; the rest would be motorcycle cops secretly conscripted by Al García. This part of the plan had never been revealed to the Orange Bowl Committee or to the Chamber of Commerce. However, to anyone paying close attention, it was obvious from the pained expressions on these unusually young and muscular-looking Shriners that something was screwy. The way they wore the fez hats, for one thing: straight up, instead of cocked ten degrees, jocular-Shriner style.

  There was even more firepower: thirty undercover officers armed with machine pistols (and a mug shot of Viceroy Wilson burned into their memories) would move through the crowd, flanking Kara Lynn’s float. From above, eight police sharpshooters with nightscopes would watch from various downtown buildings along Biscayne Boulevard and Flagler Street, the parade routes.

  The queen’s float shimmered gold and royal blue, by virtue of seventy-thousand polyethylene flower petals stapled to a bed of plywood, plaster, and chickenwire. The motif was “Mermaid Magic,” featuring Kara Lynn in a clinging burnt-orange gown, her hair in tendrils under the Orange Bowl tiara, her cheeks glistening as if kissed by the sea. There had been a brief debate about whether or not she should wear a rubber fish tail, and though her father endorsed the idea (“More camera time, sweetcakes”), she declined firmly.

  Kara Lynn’s throne was a simulated coral reef built on the front end of the float. From this perch she would smile and wave to the throngs while a hidden stereo broadcasted actual underwater recordings of migrating sperm whales. Meanwhile the four runner-up contestants, dressed in matching tuna-blue mermaid gowns, would pretend to cavort in an imaginary lagoon behind Kara Lynn’s reef. In rehearsal, with all the blond beauty queens making swimming motions with their arms, someone remarked that it looked like a Swedish version of the Supremes.

  The queen’s float had been constructed around a Datsun pickup truck, which would power it along Biscayne Boulevard. The truck’s cab had been camouflaged as a friendly octopus in the mermaid lagoon; t
he driver of the float and Brian Keyes would be sitting inside. The windshield of the pickup had been removed to permit a sudden exit, just in case.

  Despite these extraordinary precautions and the preponderance of high-powered guns, the pre-parade atmosphere was anything but tense. Even the Orange Bowl committeemen seemed loose and confident.

  The sight of so many policemen, or the knowledge of their presence, was reassurance enough for those to whom the parade meant everything. These, of course, were the same buoyant optimists who believed that the violent events of the weekend had conclusively ended Miami’s drama.

  The parade was due to begin at seven-thirty P.M. sharp, but it was delayed several minutes because of a problem with one of the floats. Acting on a confidential tip, U.S. customs agents had impounded the colorful entry sponsored by the city of Bogotá, Colombia, and were busily hammering sharp steel tubes through the sides of the float in search of a particular white flaky powder. Failing in that, they brought in four excitable police dogs to sniff every crevice for drugs. Though no contraband was found, one of the German shepherds peed all over the Colombian coffee princess and the float immediately was withdrawn. It was the only one in the whole pageant made with real carnations.

  At 7:47 P.M., the West Stowe, Ohio, High School Marching Band and Honor Guard stepped onto Biscayne Boulevard, struck up a unique rendition of Jim Morrison’s “Light My Fire,” and the King Orange Jamboree Parade was under way. The skies were cloudy but the wind had steadied and there was no trace of rain. Standing five-deep along both sides of the boulevard was an enormous crowd of 200,000, most of whom had paid at least twelve bucks to park their expensive late-model cars in one of the most dangerous urban neighborhoods in the western hemisphere.