Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 37

  Wiley helped her sit up and pulled the blanket around to cover her back and shoulders, which were bare in the parade gown. He held the cup while she drank.

  “I know who you are,” Kara Lynn said. “I read the big story in the paper today—was it today?”

  Wiley looked at his wristwatch. It was half-past three in the morning. “Yesterday,” he said. “So what did you think?”

  “About the story?”

  “No, the column.”

  “You’ve done better,” Kara Lynn said.

  “What do you mean?”

  “Can I have another sip? Thanks.” She drank a little more and said: “You’re sharper when you don’t write in the first person.”

  Wiley plucked at his beard.

  “Now, don’t get mad,” Kara Lynn said. “It’s just that some of the transitions seemed contrived, like you were reaching.”

  “It was a damn tough piece to write,” Wiley said thoughtfully.

  “I’m sure it was.”

  “I mean, I couldn’t see another way to do it. The first-person approach seemed inescapable.”

  “Maybe you’re right,” Kara Lynn said. “I just don’t think it was as effective as the hurricane column.”

  Wiley brightened. “You liked that one?”

  “A real scorcher,” Kara Lynn said. “We talked about it in class.”

  “No kidding!” Skip Wiley was delighted. Then his smile ebbed and he sat in silence for several minutes. The girl was not what he expected, and he felt a troubling ambivalence about what was to come. He wished the Seminole sleeping drink had lasted longer; now that Kara Lynn was awake, he sensed a formidable undercurrent. She was a composed and resourceful person—he’d have to watch himself.

  “What’s the matter?” Kara Lynn asked.

  “Why aren’t you crying or something?” Wiley grumbled.

  Kara Lynn looked around the campsite. “What would be the point?”

  Wiley spread more tinder on the fire and held his hands over the flame. The warmth was comforting. He thought: Actually, there’s nothing to stop me from leaving now. The job is done.

  “Do you know Brian Keyes?”

  “Sure,” Wiley said, “we worked together.”

  “Was he a good reporter?”

  “Brian’s a good man,” Wiley said, “but I’m not so sure if he was a good reporter. He wasn’t really suited for the business.”

  “Apparently neither were you.”

  “No comparison,” he scoffed. “Absolutely no comparison.”

  “Oh, I’m not sure,” Kara Lynn said. “I think you’re two sides to the same coin, you and Brian.”

  “And I think you read too much Cosmo.” Wiley wondered why she was so damned interested in Keyes.

  “What about Jenna?” Kara Lynn asked. “You serious about her?”

  “What is this, the Merv show?” Wiley ground his teeth. “Look,” he said, “I’d love to sit and chat but it’s time to be on my way.”

  “You’re going to leave me out here in the rain? With no food or water?”

  “You won’t need any,” he said. “ ’Fraid I’m going to have to douse the fire, too.”

  “A real gentleman,” Kara Lynn said acerbically. She was already testing the rope on her wrist.

  Wiley was about to pour some tea on the flames when he straightened up and cocked his head. “Did you hear something?” he asked.

  “No,” Kara Lynn lied.

  “It’s a goddamn boat.”

  “It’s the wind, that’s all.”

  Wiley set down the kettle, took off his baseball cap, and went crashing off, his bare bright egg of a head vanishing into the hardwoods. Thinking he had fled, Kara Lynn squirmed to the campfire and turned herself around. She held her wrists over the bluest flame, until she smelled flesh. With a cry she pulled away; the rope held fast.

  When she looked up, he was standing there. He folded his arms and said, “See what you did, you hurt yourself.” He carried her back to the bed of pine needles and examined the burns. “Christ, I didn’t even bring a Band-Aid,” he said.

  “I’m all right,” said Kara Lynn. Her eyes teared from the pain. “What about that noise?”

  “It was nothing,” Wiley said, “just a shrimper trolling offshore.” He tore a strip of orange silk from the hem of her gown. He soaked it in salt water and wound it around the burn. Then he cut another length of rope and retied her wrists, tighter than before.

  The rain started again. It came in slashing horizontal sheets. Wiley covered his eyes and said, “Shit, I can’t run the boat in this mess.”

  “Why don’t you wait till it lets up?” Kara Lynn suggested.

  Her composure was aggravating. Wiley glared down at her and said, “Hey, Pollyanna, you’re awfully calm for a kidnap victim. You overdosed on Midol or what?”

  Kara Lynn’s ocelot eyes stared back in a way that made him shiver slightly. She wasn’t afraid. She was not afraid. What a great kid, Wiley thought. What a damn shame.

  They huddled under a sheet of opaque plastic, the raindrops popping at their heads. Wiley tied Tommy’s red kerchief around the dome of his head to blot the rain from his eyes.

  “Tell me about Osprey Island,” Kara Lynn said, as if they were rocking on a front porch waiting for the ice-cream truck.

  “A special place,” he said, melancholic. “A gem of nature. There’s a freshwater spring down the trail, can you believe it? Miles off the mainland and the aquifer still bubbles up. You can see coons, opossums, wood rats drinking there, but mostly birds. Wood storks, blue herons. There’s a bald eagle on the island, a young male. Wingspan is ten feet if it’s an inch, just a glorious bird. He stays up in the tallest pines, fishes only at dawn and dusk. He’s up there now, in the trees.” Wiley’s ancient-looking eyes went to the pine stand. “It’s too windy to fly, so I’m sure he’s up there now.”

  “I’ve never seen a wild eagle,” Kara Lynn remarked. “I was born down here and I’ve never seen one.”

  “That’s too bad,” Skip Wiley said sincerely. His head was bowed. Tiny bubbles of water hung in his rusty beard. It didn’t make it any easier that she was born here, he thought.

  “It’ll be gone soon, this place,” he said. “A year from now a sixteen-story monster will stand right where we’re sitting.” He got to his knees and fumbled in the pocket of his trousers. He pulled out some damp gray newspaper clippings, folded into a square. “Let me give you the full picture,” he said, unfolding them, starting to read. Kara Lynn looked over his shoulder.

  “Welcome to the Osprey Club... Fine living, for the discriminating Floridian. Makes you want to puke.”

  “Pretty tacky,” Kara Lynn agreed.

  “A hundred and two units from two-fifty all the way up to a million-six. Friendly financing available. Vaulted ceilings, marble archways, sunken living rooms, Roman tubs, atrium patios with real cedar trellises, boy oh boy.” Wiley looked up from the newspaper advertisement and gazed out at the woodsy shadows.

  “Can’t someone try to block it?” Kara Lynn suggested. “The Audubon people. Or maybe the National Park Service.”

  “Too late,” Wiley said. “See, it’s a private island. After old man Bradshaw died, his scumball kids put it up for sale. Puerco Development picks it up for three mil and wham, next thing you know it’s rezoned for multifamily high-rise.”

  “Didn’t you do a column on this?” she asked.

  “I sure did.” One of Wiley’s many pending lawsuits: a gratuitous and unprovable reference to Mafia connections.

  “Back to the blandishments,” he said, “there’ll be four air-conditioned racketball courts, a spa, a bike trail, a tennis complex, a piazza, two fountains, and even a waterfall. Think about that: they’re going to bury the natural spring and build a fiberglass waterfall! Progress, my darling. It says here they’re also planting something called a lush greenbelt, which is basically a place for rich people to let their poodles take a shit.”

  Kara Lynn said: “How will
people get out here?”

  “Ferry,” Wiley answered. “See here: Take a quaint ferry to your very own island where the Mediterranean meets Miami! See, Kara Lynn, the bastards can’t sell Florida anymore, they’ve got to sell the bloody Riviera.”

  “It sounds a bit overdone,” she said.

  “Twenty-four hundred square feet of overdone,” Wiley said, “with a view.”

  “But no ospreys,” said Kara Lynn, sensing the downward spiral of his emotions.

  “And no eagle,” Wiley said glumly.

  He acted as if he were ready to leave, and Kara Lynn knew that if he did, it would be over.

  “Why did you pick me?” she asked.

  Wiley turned to look at her. “Because you’re perfect,” he said. “Or at least you represent perfection. Beauty. Chastity. Innocence. All tanned and blond, the golden American dream. That’s all they really promise with their damn parade and their unctuous tourist advertising. Come see Miami, come see the girls! But it’s a cheap tease, darling. Florida’s nothing but an adman’s wet dream.”

  “That’s enough,” Kara Lynn said, reddening.

  “I take it you don’t think of yourself as a precious piece of ass.”

  “Not really, no.”

  “Me, neither,” Wiley said, “but we are definitely in the minority. And that’s why we’re out here now—an object lesson for all those bootlicking shills and hustlers.”

  Wiley crawled out from under the plastic tent and rose to his full height, declaring, “The only way to reach the greedy blind pagans is to strike at their meager principles.” He pointed toward the treetops. “To the creators of the Osprey Club, that precious eagle up there is not life, it has no real value. Same goes for the wood rats and the herons. Weighed against the depreciated net worth of a sixteen-story condominium after sellout, the natural inhabitants of this island do not represent life—they have no fucking value. You with me?”

  Kara Lynn nodded. She still couldn’t see the big bird.

  “Now,” Wiley said, “if you’re the CEO of Puerco Development, what has worth to you, besides money? What is a life? Among all creatures, what is the one that cannot legally be extinguished for the sake of progress?” Wiley arched his eyebrows and pointed a dripping finger at Kara Lynn’s nose. “You,” he said. “You are, presumably, inviolate.”

  For the first time in the conversation, it occurred to Kara Lynn that this fellow might truly be insane.

  Wiley blinked at her. “I’ll be right back,” he said.

  This time she didn’t move. Wet and cold, she had come to cherish the meager protection of the plastic shelter. Wiley returned carrying a short wooden stake. An orange plastic streamer was attached to the blunt end.

  “Survey markers,” Kara Lynn said.

  “Very good. So you know what it means—construction is imminent.”

  “How imminent?” she asked.

  “Like tomorrow.”

  “Tomorrow’s the groundbreaking?”

  “Naw, that was Christmas Eve. Purely ceremonial,” Wiley said. “Tomorrow is much more significant. Tomorrow’s the day they start terrain modification.”

  “What’s that?”

  “Just what it says.”

  Kara Lynn was puzzled. “I don’t see any bulldozers.”

  “No, those would be used later, for contour clearing.”

  “Then what do they use for this ‘terrain modification’?” she asked.

  “Dynamite,” Skip Wiley replied. “At dawn.”

  Osprey Island

  Kara Lynn thought she might have heard him wrong, thought it might have been a trick of the wind.

  “Did you say dynamite?” she asked.

  “Eight hundred pounds,” Skip Wiley said, “split into three payloads. One at the northwest tip, another at the southeast cove. The third cache, the big one, is right over there, no more than twenty yards. Can you see it? That galvanized box beneath those trees.”

  From where she sat Kara Lynn saw nothing but shadows.

  “I... I don’t...” She was choking on fear, unable to speak. Hold on, she told herself.

  “They do it by remote control,” Wiley explained, “from a barge. We passed it on the way out, anchored three miles off the island. You were asleep.”

  “Oh ...” The plan was more terrible than she had imagined; all the stalling had been futile, a wasted strategy.

  “They have to do it at dawn,” Wiley went on, “some kind of Army Corps rule. Can’t bring boats any closer to the island because the blast’ll blow the windows out.”

  He ambled to the campfire and stood with his back to her for several moments. His naked cantaloupe head twitched back and forth, as if he were talking to himself. Abruptly he turned around and said, “The reason for the dynamite is the coral. See—” He kicked at the ground with his shoe. “Harder than cement. They need to go down twenty-four inches before pouring the foundation for the condo. Can’t make a dent with shovels, not in this stuff... so that’s why the dynamite. Flip of a switch and—poof—turn this place into the Bonneville flats. Eight hundred pounds is a lot of firecracker.”

  Kara Lynn steadied herself just enough to utter the most inane question of her entire life: “What about me?”

  Wiley spread his arms. “No life forms will survive,” he said in a clinical tone. “Not even the gnats.”

  “Please don’t do this,” Kara Lynn said.

  “It’s not me, Barbie Doll, it’s progress. Your beef is with Puerco Development.”

  “Don’t leave me here,” she said, just shy of a beg.

  “Darling, how could I save you and not save that magnificent eagle? Or the helpless rabbits and the homely opossums, or even the lowly fiddler crabs? It’s impossible to rescue them, so I can’t very well rescue you. It wouldn’t be fair. It would be like... playing God. This way is best, Kara Lynn. This way—for the first time in nineteen pampered years—you are truly part of the natural order. You now inhabit this beautiful little island, and the value of your life is the same as all creatures here. If they should survive past dawn, so shall you. If not ... well, maybe the good people of Florida will finally appreciate the magnitude of their sins. If Osprey Island is leveled in the name of progress, I predict a cataclysmic backlash, once the truth is known. The truth being that they blew up the one species they really care about—a future customer.”

  Kara Lynn was running low on poise. “The symbolism is intriguing,” she said, “but your logic is ridiculous.”

  “Just listen,” Wiley said. From a breast pocket he took another clipping and read: “ ‘Officials in South Florida estimate that adverse publicity surrounding December’s tourist murders has cost the resort area as much as ten million dollars in family and convention trade.’ ” Wiley waved the clip and gloated. “Not too shabby, eh?”

  “I’m impressed,” Kara Lynn said archly. “A month’s worth of killing and all you’ve got to show for it is one dinky paragraph in Newsweek.”

  “It’s the lead Periscope item!” Wiley said, defensively.

  “Terrific,” Kara Lynn said. “Look, why don’t you let me go? You can do better than this.”

  “I think not.”

  “I can swim away,” she declared.

  “Not all tied up, you can’t,” Wiley said. “Besides, the water’s lousy with blacktip sharks. Did you know they spawn at night in the shallows? Aggressive little bastards, too. A bite here, a bite there, a little blood and pretty soon the big boys pick up the scent. Bull sharks and hammer-heads big enough to eat a goddamn Datsun.”

  “That’ll do,” said Kara Lynn.

  Something rustled at the edge of the clearing. A branch cracking in the storm, she thought. Skip Wiley cocked his head and peered toward the sound, but the hard rain painted everything gray and hunched and formless. The only identifiable noises were raindrops slapping leaves, and the hiss of embers as the campfire died in the downpour.

  Wiley was not satisfied. Like an ungainly baseball pitcher, he wound up and hurled
the survey stake end-over-end into the trees.

  The missile was answered by an odd strangled peep.

  Wiley chuckled. “Just as I thought,” he said, “a wood stork.”

  Just then the thicket ruptured with an explosion so enormous that Kara Lynn was certain that Wiley had accidentally detonated the dynamite.

  When she opened her eyes, he was sitting down, slack-jawed and pale. The red kerchief was askew, drooped over one eye. Both legs stuck straight out, doll-like, in front of him. He seemed transfixed by something close at hand—a radiant splotch of crimson and a yellow knob of bone, where his right knee used to be. Absently he fingered the frayed hole in his trousers.

  Kara Lynn felt a surge of nausea. She gulped a breath.

  Brian Keyes moved quickly out of the trees.

  His brown hair was plastered to his forehead; rain streamed down his cheeks. His face was blank. He was walking deliberately, a little hurried, as if his flight were boarding.

  He strode up to Skip Wiley, placed a foot on his chest, and kicked him flat on his back. A regular one-man cavalry! Kara Lynn was elated, washed with relief. She didn’t notice the Browning in Brian’s right hand until he shoved the barrel into Wiley’s mouth.

  “Hello, Skip,” Keyes said. “How about telling me where you anchored the boat?”

  Wiley’s wolfish eyes crinkled with amusement. He grunted an indecipherable greeting. Keyes slowly withdrew the gun, but kept it inches from Wiley’s nose.

  “Holy Christ!” Wiley boomed, sitting up. “And I thought you were dangerous with a typewriter.”

  “You’re losing blood,” Keyes said.

  “No thanks to you.”

  “Where’s the boat?”

  “Not so fast.”

  Keyes fired again, the gun so close to Wiley’s face that the charge knocked him back down. Wiley clutched at his ears and rolled away, over the sharp corrugated coral. The bullet had thwacked harmlessly into the stucco rubble of the old cabin.

  Kara Lynn cried out involuntarily—she was afraid she’d have to watch a killing. Keyes came over, untied her, and gave a gentle hug. “You okay?”

  She nodded. “I want to get out of here. They’re going to dynamite this place—”