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Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 6


  “I don’t think I know you,” Viceroy Wilson growled.

  Brian Keyes was in the process of spinning around on the barstool, about to say something extremely witty, when a black fist the approximate size and consistency of a cinderblock slammed into the base of his neck.

  At that instant Keyes’s brain became a kaleidoscope, and he would later be able to recall only a few jagged pieces of consciousness.

  The sound of the screen door slamming.

  The taste of the sidewalk.

  The cough of an automobile’s ignition.

  He remembered opening one eye with the dreadful thought that he was about to be run over.

  And he remembered a glimpse of a vanity license tag—“GATOR 2”—as the car peeled rubber.

  But Keyes didn’t remember shutting his eyes and going nighty-night on the cool concrete.

  “Hello?”

  Brian Keyes stared up at the round, friendly-looking face of a middle-aged woman.

  “Are you injured?” she asked.

  “I think my spine is broken.” Keyes was lying outside Pauly’s Bar. The pavement smelled like stale beer and urine. Unseen shards of an ancient wine bottle dug into his shoulder blades. It was eleven o’clock and the street was very dark.

  “My name is Nell Bellamy.”

  “I’m Brian Keyes.”

  “Should I call an ambulance, Mr. Keyes?”

  Keyes shook his head no.

  “These are my friends Burt and James,” Nell Bellamy said. Two men wearing mauve fez hats bent over and peered at Brian Keyes. They were Shriners.

  “What are you doing here?” one of them asked benignly.

  “I got beat up,” Keyes replied, still flat on his back. “I’ll be fine in a month or two.” He ran a hand over his ribs, feeling through the shirt for fractures. “What are you doing here?” he asked the Shriners.

  “Looking for her husband.”

  “Theodore Bellamy,” Nell said. “He disappeared last Saturday.”

  “Give me a hand, please,” Keyes said. The Shriners helped him to his feet. They were big, ruddy fellows; they propped him up until the vertigo went away. From inside Pauly’s Bar came the sounds of breaking glass and loud shouting in Spanish.

  “Let’s take a walk,” Keyes said.

  “But I wanted to ask around in there,” Nell said, nodding toward the bar, “to see if anybody has seen Teddy.”

  “Bad idea,” Keyes grunted.

  “He’s right, Nell,” one of the Shriners advised.

  So they set off down Washington Avenue. They were a queer ensemble, even by South Beach standards. Keyes walked tentatively, like a well-dressed lush, while Nell handed out fliers with Teddy’s picture. The Shriners ran interference through knots of shirtless refugees who milled outside the droopy boardinghouses and peeling motels. The refugees flashed predatory smiles and made wisecracks in Spanish, but the Shriners were imperturbable.

  Nell Bellamy asked Keyes what had happened inside the bar, so he told her about Viceroy Wilson.

  “We saw a black fellow speeding away,” Nell said.

  “In a Cadillac,” Burt volunteered.

  “Burt sells Cadillacs,” Nell said to Keyes. “So he ought to know.”

  The four of them had reached the southern point of Miami Beach, near Joe’s Stone Crab, and they were alone on foot. This part of South Beach wasn’t exactly the Boardwalk, and at night it was generally deserted except for serious drunks, ax murderers, and illegal aliens.

  With Nell leading the way, the entourage strolled toward the oceanfront.

  Burt remarked that he once had seen the Dolphins play the Chicago Bears in an exhibition game, and that Walter Payton had made Viceroy Wilson look like a flatfooted old man.

  “That was in ’75,” the Shriner added.

  “By then his knees were shot,” Keyes said halfheartedly. He didn’t feel much like defending any creep who’d sucker-punch him in a place like Pauly’s. In all his years as a reporter he had never been slugged. Not once. He had been chased and stoned and menaced in a variety of ways, but never really punched. A punch was quite a personal thing.

  “You should file charges,” Nell suggested.

  Keyes felt silly. Here was this stout little woman searching godforsaken neighborhoods in the dead of night for her missing husband, while Keyes just moped along feeling sorry for himself over a lousy bump on the neck.

  He asked Nell Bellamy about Theodore. She mustered herself and told, for the sixteenth time, all about the convention, the venomous jellyfish, the unorthodox lifeguards, and what the cops were saying must have happened to her husband.

  “We don’t believe them,” Burt said. “Teddy didn’t drown. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Where’s the body?” Burt said, swinging a beefy arm toward the ocean. “There’s been an easterly wind for days. The body should have floated up by now.”

  Nell sat on a seawall and crossed her legs. She wore blue slacks and a modest red blouse, not too vivid. Biting her lip, she stared out at the soapy froth of the surf, visible even on a moonless midnight.

  The loyal Shriners shifted uncomfortably, conscious of her grief. For the sake of distraction Burt said; “Mr. Keyes, what’d you say you do for a living?”

  Keyes didn’t want to tell them. He knew exactly what would happen if he did: he’d have a missing-persons case he really didn’t want.

  “I work for some lawyers in town,” he said ambiguously.

  “Research?” Nell asked.

  “Sort of.”

  “Do you know many people? Important people, I mean. Policemen, judges, people like that?”

  Here we go, Keyes thought. “A few,” he said. “Not many. I’m probably not the most popular person in Dade County.”

  But that didn’t stop her.

  “How much do you charge the lawyers?” Nell asked in a businesslike tone.

  “It depends. Two-fifty, three hundred a day. Same as most private investigators.” No sense ducking it now. If the fee didn’t scare her off, nothing would.

  Nell got up from the seawall and daintily brushed off the seat of her pants. Excusing herself, she took the Shriners aside. Keyes watched them huddle in the penumbra of a streetlight: a chubby, pleasant-faced woman who belonged at a church bake sale, and on each side, a tall husky Midwesterner in a purple fez. Nell seemed to do most of the talking.

  Keyes ached all over, but his head was the worst. He checked his pants pocket; miraculously, his wallet was still there. Just thinking about the three-mile hike back to the MG exhausted him.

  After a few moments Nell approached again. She was holding a folded piece of paper.

  “Do you take private cases?”

  “Did I mention that my fee doesn’t include expenses?”

  Not even a flicker. “Are you available to take a private case?”

  “But, Mrs. Bellamy, you just met me—”

  “Please, Mr. Keyes. I don’t know a soul down here, but I like you and I think I can trust you. My instincts usually are very sound. Most of all, I need someone with ...”

  “Balls,” Burt said helpfully.

  “You marched into that awful tavern like a trooper,” Nell said. “That’s the kind of fellow we need.”

  The decent thing to do was to say no. Keyes couldn’t take this nice woman’s money, feeding her false hope until poor Teddy finally washed up dead on the beach. Could be weeks, depending on the tides and the wind. It would have been thievery, and Keyes couldn’t do it.

  “I’m sorry, but I can’t help.”

  “I know what you’re thinking, but maybe this’ll change your mind.” Nell handed him the folded paper. “Someone left this in my mailbox at the hotel,” she explained, “the morning my husband disappeared.” “Read it,” said the Shriner named James, breaking his silence.

  Keyes moved under the streetlight and unfolded the letter. It had been neatly typed, triple-spaced. Keyes read it twice. He still couldn’t believe what it said:Dear Mrs.
Tourist:

  Welcome to the Revolution. Sorry to disturb your vacation, but we’ve had to make an example of your husband. Go back North and tell your friends what a dangerous place is Miami.

  El Fuego,

  Comandante, Las Noches de Diciembre

  7

  Brian Keyes delivered a photocopy of the new El Fuego letter to Homicide the next morning. Afterward he went to the office to feed the tropicals and check his messages. The Shriners had called from the county morgue to report that no one matching Theodore Bellamy’s description had turned up in the night inventory of Dade County corpses. There was another call-me message from Mitch Klein, the public defender. Keyes decided not to phone back until he knew more about the letter.

  At noon Keyes returned to police headquarters. “Let’s go eat,” Al García said, taking him by the arm. Garcia didn’t think it was a swell idea to be seen around the office with a private investigator. They rode to lunch in the detective’s unmarked Dodge, WQBA blaring Spanish on the radio. García was nonchalantly dodging deranged motorists on Seventh Street, in the heart of Little Havana, when he stubbed out his cigarette and finally mentioned the letter.

  “Same typewriter as the first one,” he said.

  Keyes wasn’t surprised.

  “The Beach police think it’s a crackpot,” Garcia added in a noncommittal way.

  “What do you think, Al?”

  “I think it’s too hinky for a crackpot. I think to myself, how would this Fuego know about Bellamy so soon? Almost before the cops! And I think, where’s the connection between this Bellamy guy and B. D. Harper? They didn’t even know each other, yet after each one comes these death letters. Too hinky, like I said.”

  “So you’re ready to spring Cabal?”

  Garcia laughed, pounding on the steering wheel. “You’re hilarious, Brian.”

  “But Ernesto didn’t kill Harper and he damn sure didn’t snatch this drunk Shriner.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Because,” Keyes said, “the guy’s a burglar, not a psychopath.”

  “Know what I think, brother? I think Ernesto is El Fuego.”

  “Give me a break, Al.”

  “Let me finish.” Garcia pulled the Dodge into a shopping center and parked near a Cuban café. He rolled down the window and toyed with another cigarette. “I think your little scuzzball client is El Fuego, but I also think he didn’t dream up this scheme all by his lonesome. I agree with you: Cabal ain’t exactly a master criminal, he’s a fuckin’ burglar, and not very good at that. This whole thing sounds like a bad extortion scam, and our pal Ernesto, he don’t have the brains to extort a blow-job from a legless whore. So he had help. Who? you’re asking me. Don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet it’s this mysterious superhuman black dude Cabal’s been crying about ...”

  Keyes related his encounter with Viceroy Wilson at Pauly’s Bar.

  “You deserve a good whack on the head for showing your shiny angel-food face in that snakepit,” the detective said. “You wanna file A-and-B on the sonofabitch?”

  “Just find him, Al. ”

  “Yes sir, Mr. Taxpayer, I’ll get right on it.”

  “This might help.” Keyes handed Garcia a scribbled note that said “GATOR 2.” “It’s the tag on the Caddy that Wilson was driving.”

  “Hey, you do good work. This’ll be easy,” Garcia said. “Come on, let’s get a sandwich and some coffee.”

  Both of them ordered a hot Cuban mix and ate in the car, wax paper spread across their laps.

  “Al,” Keyes said, savoring the tangy sandwich, “what do you make of the name of this group? Las Noches de Diciembre—the Nights of December, right?”

  García shrugged. “Usually Cuban groups name themselves after some great date in their history, but the only thing I know happened in December is Castro came to power—nothing they’d want to celebrate. ’Course, there is another possibility.”

  “What’s that?”

  García paused for another enormous bite. Somehow he was still able to speak. “They got something planned for this December. As in, right now. And if what we’ve seen already is any indication”—he glanced over at Keyes—“it’s gonna be a treat.”

  Daniel “Viceroy” Wilson stood six feet, two inches tall and weighed 237½ pounds. He usually wore his hair in a short Afro, or sometimes plaited, but he always kept enough of a gritty beard to make him look about half as mean as he really was.

  One of the things Wilson fervently wished this afternoon, skulking in the parking lot of the world-famous Miami Seaquarium, was that he could own this fine Cadillac he was driving. It didn’t seem right that it belonged to the Indian, who didn’t appreciate it, didn’t even use the goddamn tape deck. One time Wilson had left a Herbie Hancock cassette on the front seat, and the Indian had thrown it out the window with a bunch of Juicy Fruit wrappers and bingo tickets onto 1-95. At that moment Wilson had contemplated killing the Indian, but when it came to Seminoles, one had to be careful. There was a wealth of mystical shit to be considered: eagle feathers, panther gonads, and so on. Wilson was much more fearful of Indian magic than of jail, so he let the Herbie Hancock episode slide. Besides, for the first time in years, Wilson had something to look forward to. He didn’t want to spoil it by pissing off the Indian.

  Still, he’d have loved to own the Caddy.

  Life had not been kind to Viceroy Wilson since he was cut from the Miami Dolphins during the preseason of 1978, a month before his own Cadillac Seville had been repossessed. Since then Wilson had been through three wives, two humiliating bankruptcies, a heroin addiction, and one near-fatal shooting. Yet somehow he had managed to maintain his formidable physique in such a way that he could still bring silence to a crowded restaurant just by walking in the door. Wilson’s fissured face looked every day of his thirty-six years, yet his body remained virtually unchanged from his glory days as a star fullback: taut, streamlined calves; a teenager’s spare hips; and a broad, rippling wedge of a chest. Wilson’s strength was in his upper body, always had been; his shoulders had been his best weapons inside the twenty-yard line.

  As a rule, Viceroy Wilson didn’t go around clobbering strangers in stinky taverns. He believed in the eternal low profile. He was not homesick for the Orange Bowl locker room, nor did he especially miss getting mobbed for his autograph. A free case of Colt .45 was the only reason he’d signed that football in Pauly’s Bar. Generally Viceroy Wilson believed that the less he was recognized in public, the better. Part of this attitude was personal preference (autographs being a bitter reminder of the Super Bowl years), and part of it was a necessary adjustment in order to lead a successful life of crime.

  Exactly why he’d sucker-punched the skinny white guy in Pauly’s, Wilson wasn’t sure. Something—a street instinct, maybe—told him not to let the dude get a good look at his face. Something about the back of his head said trouble. Thick brown hair, shiny, straight, razor-cut. Sculptured around the collar. Yeah, that was it. Cops got haircuts like that. Wilson was sure this man wasn’t a cop, which made him even more of a useless jive asshole. Who else would get a haircut like that? It really annoyed Viceroy Wilson just to think about it, and he was glad he’d smacked the guy and put an end to his curiosity. Now was no time to have razor-cut strangers nosing around, asking coplike questions.

  Viceroy Wilson did not think of himself as a common criminal. Since leaving the National Football League (after eight bone-battering seasons, seventy-three touchdowns, and 7,889 yards rushing), Wilson had become a dedicated anarchist. He had come to believe that all crimes were perfectly acceptable against rich people, although the term “rich” was admittedly subjective, and varied from one night to the next.

  Wilson himself was no longer rich, having been neatly cleaned out by sports agents, orthopedic surgeons, ex-wives, ex-lawyers, accountants, mortgage companies, real-estate swindlers, and an assortment of scag peddlers from Coconut Grove to Liberty City. With a shift in economic fortunes Wilson had been forced to quit s
hooting heroin, so he’d turned to reading in his spare time. He spent hours upon hours in the old public library at Bayfront Park, amid the snoring winos and bag ladies, and it was there Wilson decided that America sucked, especially white America. It was there that Viceroy Wilson had decided to become a radical.

  He soon realized two things: first, that he was ten years too late to find a home in any sort of national radical movement and, second, there were no English-speaking radicals in all of South Florida anyway.

  So for years Viceroy Wilson had quietly burgled apartments and scammed dope and boosted cars, all the while nurturing romantic hopes of one day inflicting some serious shit on the white establishment that had mangled his knees and ruined his life. Wilson remained proud of the fact that he’d never robbed a liquor store, or stolen an eight-year-old Chrysler, or snatched a purse bulging with food stamps. Politically, he was careful about picking his victims.

  Then El Fuego came along and Viceroy Wilson felt redeemed.

  He didn’t know what the name El Fuego actually meant, but it sure sounded bad, and as long as it didn’t translate into something like “The Fart,” Wilson could live with it. They shared the name anyway, all of them. They were a team. More of a team than the goddamn Dolphins ever were.

  It was four-thirty by the digital clock on the Cadillac’s dash, and the last porpoise show had ended at the Seaquarium. Tourists were starting to trickle out in a splash of godawful colors.

  Viceroy Wilson adjusted his Carrera sunglasses, lit up a joint, jacked up the a/c, and mellowed out behind the Caddy’s blue-tinted windows. He imagined himself an invisible, lethal presence. This was fun. He liked the dirty work. “Thirty-one Z-right,” he called it. That had been his jersey on the Dolphins: number thirty-one. And “thirty-one Z-right” was head-down-over-right-guard, the big ball-buster. Five, six, seven nasty yards every time. Viceroy Wilson had absolutely loved it.