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Tourist Season

Tourist Season

Tourist Season 7


  “Pick a pale one.” Those were his orders today. “Pale and comely.”.Now what the fuck did that mean? Pale was pale.

  Wilson studied the tourists as they strolled by, scouting the parking lot for their precious rental cars. The boss was right: it was a bountiful crop. In no time Wilson selected a redhead, tall and creamy-skinned, with lots of cinnamon-colored freckles. Her hair was thick and permed up to bounce, and she wore a crimson halter over silky blue jogging shorts. Minneapolis, Wilson guessed, maybe Quebec. A real alien. Best of all, her husband-boyfriend-whatever was only about five-two, a hundred-ten pounds, tops. He stood there shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun, squinting pathetically as he searched for the maroon Granada or whatever it was they’d be driving.

  Viceroy Wilson polished off the joint and slid out of the Cadillac. That old familiar growl was building in his throat.

  Thirty-one Z-right!

  Brian Keyes felt uncomfortable whenever he ventured back to the newsroom. In a way, he missed the chaos and the adrenalized camaraderie; then again, what did he expect ? Him and his one-man office with a tank full of algae-sucking catfish.

  Whenever Keyes revisited the Sun, old friends flagged him down, briefed him on the latest atrocities against truth and justice, and offered to get together at the club for a drink. Keyes was grateful for their friendliness, but it made him feel odd. He was something of a stranger now, no longer entrusted with Serious Information, the currency of big-city journalism. Nonetheless, he was glad when they waved and said hello.

  This time Ricky Bloodworth was the first to corner him.

  “Tell me about Emesto Cabal,” he said breathlessly. “I’m doing a big weekender on the Harper case.”

  “Can’t help you, Rick. I’m sorry, but he’s a client.”

  Bloodworth’s voice climbed to a whine. “You’re talking like a lawyer now, not like the Brian I used to know.”

  Keyes shrugged. Bloodworth was irrepressibly annoying.

  “At least tell me if you think he’s guilty. Surely you can do that, cantcha?”

  “I think he’s innocent,” Keyes said.

  “Right,” Bloodworth said with an exaggerated wink. “Sure, Brian.” He scooted back to his desk.

  Keyes figured the cops hadn’t told Bloodworth about the El Fuego letters, which was just fine. Bloodworth would have gone nuts with that stuff, and then so would the city. Nothing like a little panic to muck up an investigation.

  Cab Mulcahy was waiting in his office. Slate-colored suit, crisp white shirt, navy tie. Same civilized handshake, same crinkly smile. And there was the coffeepot steaming on the corner of the desk. Same place it had been the night Brian Keyes had walked in with his resignation.

  “It was good of you to come on short notice. Mind if I close the door?”

  “Not at all, Cab.” Keyes had been surprised to get the message on his beeper; he’d been wondering about it all afternoon. A new job offer—that was his best guess. But why would the Sun want him back? The place was crawling with raw talent, kids who were plenty tough enough.

  “Cab, are you going to ask me to come back to work?”

  Mulcahy smiled kindly and shifted in his chair. “To be honest, Brian, I hadn’t thought about it. But if you’re interested, I’m sure we can—”

  “No. No, I’m not.” Keyes wondered why he didn’t feel more relieved. “I was just curious.”

  “I called you,” Mulcahy said, “because I want to hire you as a private investigator. We have a very sensitive case. You’re the only one who can handle it.”

  Keyes was well-versed in the rudimentary techniques of bullshitting that the Sun taught all its top editors. The phrase “You’re the only one who can do it” generally translated to “No one else will touch it.” But this time Mulcahy did not appear to be shoveling anything. He appeared to be genuinely upset.

  “Brian, Skip Wiley has disappeared.”

  Keyes did not move a muscle. He just looked at Mulcahy; a look of disappointment, if not betrayal. Cab Mulcahy had been afraid this might happen. He had dreaded it, but there was no other way.

  “I’m sorry, Brian. I’d never ask unless we were desperate.”

  “Disappeared?”

  “Vanished. They found his car yesterday in the middle of 1-95. He didn’t show up at home last night.”

  Home. Keyes chuckled: Come on, Cab, just say it, I’m not going to break down in tears. Wiley didn’t show up at Jenna’s last night. God, the old man was funny sometimes, Keyes thought. Trying to spare me a little pain. It was two years ago that Jenna had dumped him for Wiley—Wiley, of all people! Why couldn’t it have been an artist, or a concert musician, or some anorexic-looking poet from the Grove? Anyone but Skip Wiley—and right in the bitter worst of the Callie Davenport business. What a couple: Jenna, who adored Godunov and Bergman; and Wiley, who once launched a write-in campaign to get Marilyn Chambers an Oscar.

  “Did you call the cops?” Keyes asked.

  Mulcahy shook his head and reached for the coffee. “We decided not to. I’ve pretty much ruled out foul play.” He told Keyes about Wiley’s eccentric behavior, and about his visit to the psychiatrist the day before.

  “So you think he’s hiding out?”

  “I do. So does Dr. Courtney.”

  Remond Courtney’s opinions didn’t carry much weight with Brian Keyes, who knew something of the doctor’s meager talent. In the aftermath of the terrible 727 crash, when Keyes was being fingered by imaginary severed limbs, Dr. Courtney had advised him, by way of therapy, to get a job as an air-traffic controller.

  “Forget that idiot shrink,” Keyes said. “What about Jenna? What does she think?”

  Mulcahy said, “She’s pretty worried. She thinks Skip might do something crazy.”

  “Would that surprise you, Cab? Wiley may be talented, prolific, tough as hell—all the things you people put a premium on—but he’s also a card-carrying flake. He could be anywhere. Vegas, Nassau, Juarez, who knows? Why don’t you just wait a few days? He’ll get so miserable not seeing his byline in the paper that he’ll rush right back with a stack of fresh columns.”

  “I don’t think so,” Mulcahy said. “I hope you’re right but I just don’t think so. I need him back now, here—where we can keep an eye on him.”

  So that’s it, Keyes thought. Mulcahy was worried less about Wiley’s well-being than about all the trouble a man like that could create. Wiley presented an explosive public-relations problem for the Miami Sun; no newspaper can afford to have its star columnist turn up as the proverbial sniper in the schoolyard.

  And in Skip Wiley’s case, another factor loomed large: he had an enormous public following. If his column didn’t appear for a few days running, lots of readers would stop buying the Sun. If the days turned into weeks, the attrition would show up in the next ABC audits. And if that happened, Cab Mulcahy would have to answer to the highest possible authority; good journalism is fine, but circulation is sacred. No wonder Mulcahy was nervous.

  “You know him better than any of us,” Mulcahy said. “You sat next to him in the newsroom for three years. You recognize his moods, how he thinks, if he thinks ...”

  “I haven’t seen him since I left the paper.”

  Mulcahy leaned forward. “He hasn’t changed that much, Brian. True, his behavior is a bit more extreme, and his writing is certainly more irresponsible, but he’s still the same Skip Wiley.”

  “Cab, you’re talking to the worst possible person. You ought to know that: I can’t take this case. I’m not ready to deal with him.” Keyes stood up to leave. “Why, Cab? Why would you do this to me?”

  “Because Jenna asked for you.”

  Keyes sat down hard. His heart was skipping along nicely now. All he could think was: Cab better not be lying.

  “I told her I didn’t think it was fair,” Mulcahy said with a sigh. “But she’s very worried about him. She said it would be a great favor if I asked you to look into it, and not some stranger. ”

  Ke
yes knew it wouldn’t do any good to lecture himself about Jenna, and it was pointless to act like he was going to waltz out of Mulcahy’s office and forget the whole thing. The old man was right—it wasn’t fair.

  Mulcahy was careful not to go on too much about Jenna. “Please, Brian, will you try to find Wiley? We’ll pay you five hundred a day, plus expenses.”

  “Jesus, you guys are really scared of what he might do!”

  Mulcahy nodded glumly. “He’s got a considerable temper, as you know. Watching him these last few months has been unsettling, to say the least. I’m sure you read the infamous hurricane column, or maybe some of the others. ‘Rats as Big as Bulldogs Stalk Condo.’ ‘Snakes Infest Bathroom Plumbing at Posh Resort.’ ‘Mystery Disease Sweeps Shuffleboard Tourney.’ Wiley was very shrewd about it. One day he’d write a rousing Good Samaritan column, then a funny man-on-the-street piece, then a tearjerker about some little kid with cancer ... and then he’d quietly slip in one of those gems. He became single-minded about it. He became ... perverse.” The editor lowered his voice. “I think this disappearance is part of a plan. I think he intends to embarrass the newspaper in some extraordinary way.”

  “You don’t think he’s playing games just to get a raise?”

  Mulcahy shook his head firmly.

  “What about the possibility that something really happened? Maybe Skip got kidnapped.”

  “Maybe that’s what he wants us to think,” Mulcahy said, “but I don’t buy it, Brian. No, if I know Wiley, he’s out there,”—Mulcahy waved a manicured hand toward the bay window—“biding his time, enjoying the hell out of this. And I want him found. ”

  “Suppose I do,” Keyes said.

  “Call me immediately. Don’t do a thing. I’m not asking you to confront him, I’d never do that. Just find him, tell me where he is. Leave the rest up to us.”

  “You and Jenna?”

  “He listens to her,” Mulcahy said apologetically.

  “He worships her,” Keyes said. “It’s not the same thing. ”

  “You’ll take the case?”

  Keyes didn’t answer right away, but he knew what he’d say. Of course he’d take the case. Part of it was the money, part of it was Jenna, and part of it was that goddamn brilliant Wiley. A long time ago it would have been pure fun, tracking down an old comrade lost on a binge. But that was before Jenna. Fun was now out of the question.

  Keyes told himself: This will be a test, that’s all. To see how thick is the scar.

  “Let’s wait twenty-four hours, Cab. In the meantime, why don’t you run one of Ricky Bloodworth’s columns in Skip’s slot tomorrow? Run the kid’s picture, too. If that doesn’t make Wiley surface, then maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s something serious this time.”

  “Brian, I don’t know about Bloodworth ...”

  “I understand he’s chomping at the bit. So publish one of his masterpieces. And if that doesn’t bring Wiley charging back to the newsroom tomorrow, I’ll take the case.”

  “It’s a deal. And you can start first thing.”

  “We’ll see,” Keyes said. “Believe it or not, Cab, I’ve got other clients with worse problems than yours.”

  “What could be worse than a maniac like Wiley?”

  “For starters, there’s a very nice lady whose husband vanished in broad daylight on Miami Beach, and there’s also a not-so-nice Cuban burglar in the county jail looking at Murder One.”

  “Not anymore.” It was Bloodworth himself, inserting his rodent face through a crack in the door.

  “This is a private conference!” Mulcahy barked.

  “Wait a second. Ricky, what is it?”

  “I thought you ought to know, Brian. Just got word from the police desk.” Bloodworth waved a notebook momentously. “Ernesto Cabal killed himself about an hour ago.”

  8

  Viceroy Wilson came into the room wearing tight red Jockey shorts and nothing else. This vision would have provoked cries of glee or terror from most women, but Renee LeVoux was speechless. Viceroy Wilson had stuffed a towel in her mouth before lashing her to the bed the night before.

  Renee was mystified and afraid. She didn’t know who this was, or where she was, or what was about to happen. She was sure of only one thing: her vacation was in shambles.

  In the parking lot at the Miami Seaquarium, she had barely seen the inky specter that had swept her into the car and promised to kill her if she so much as twitched her honky lips.

  The trunk of the automobile had been cramped and uncomfortable, but it had a new-car smell, which Renee thought was a good sign. She had shut her eyes and tried not to cry aloud. All she could hear was Wilson Pickett singing “Wait Till the Midnight Hour,” which her captor had played over and over on the tape deck, full blast.

  Although it had seemed like eternity, Renee LeVoux actually spent only twenty-seven minutes in the trunk of the Cadillac. Viceroy Wilson had driven straight from the Seaquarium to a cheap motor inn on the Tamiami Trail. There he’d popped the trunk and lifted Renee LeVoux over one shoulder like a sack of tangelos.

  Inside the room, he’d wordlessly removed her halter and jogging shorts, gagged her, and tied her to the bed. He’d noticed that she was trembling, so he’d tossed a thin blanket across her, as if she were a horse.

  Renee had slept fitfully, straining against the ropes, certain that she would awake any moment to be violated by the biggest black man she’d ever seen.

  But nothing had happened. Aside from intermittently checking the knots at Renee’s wrists and ankles, Viceroy Wilson had paid almost no attention to his beautiful captive. Instead he’d watched Mary Tyler Moore on television, skimmed the New Republic, and done one hundred push-ups, Marine-style.

  The next morning, when she heard him turn on the shower, Renee began to cry again. Viceroy Wilson poked his glistening head out the bathroom door and glared. He put a finger to his lips. Renee nodded meekly and became quiet.

  Viceroy Wilson had no interest in pale white girls with strawberry hair. During his time in the NFL he had known an astounding variety of women with an equally astounding range of sexual appetites. It had gotten boring toward the end, and dangerous. When Wilson had reinjured his right knee before the crucial Pittsburgh Steelers game in 1977, the Miami Dolphins had put out a press release saying it had happened in a practice scrimmage—when in fact Viceroy’s knee had hyperextended on a water bed beneath two limber sisters who worked in a foundry on the Allegheny.

  Later, when he became a revolutionary, Viceroy Wilson made a vow not to mix sex and sedition. He wanted to be remembered as a very professional terrorist.

  He attached no symbolism to the red Jockey shorts.

  “What’re you lookin’ at?” he asked Renee LeVoux as he toweled off.

  From the bed his prisoner just stared in fright.

  Moments later a key rattled in the door and another man slipped into the motel room. Viceroy Wilson greeted him with a grunt and a nod of the head. Renee was struck by the difference in the two figures and thought it odd that they could be partners. Wilson’s companion was a wiry Latin-looking man who spoke sibilantly and moved catlike about the room. Craning her neck from the bed, Renee could see the two of them conferring in the kitchenette. Soon she smelled coffee and bacon, and her stomach began to make noises. Viceroy Wilson approached the bed and removed the gag from her mouth.

  “If you scream, you’re dead.”

  “I won’t, I promise.”

  “Your name is Renee?”

  She nodded; obviously they had her purse. “You can have all the money in my wallet,” she offered.

  “We don’t want your money.” Viceroy Wilson slid one hand under her head and lifted it slightly off the pillow; with the other he held a cup of coffee to her lips. She slurped at it timorously.

  “Thank you.”

  “What’s your boyfriend’s name?”

  Wilson put the coffee cup down. Renee LeVoux noticed that he had a pencil and a piece of paper.

  ??
?Why do you want to know?” she asked.

  “We’re going to write him a letter. Tell him you’re okay.”

  “Oh no!”

  “Oh yes.”

  Now there were two faces hovering over her, one black and indifferent, one thin and fierce. The thin man was sneering. He tore the blanket away and saw that Renee was dressed only in her panties.

  “Don’t hurt me!” Renee cried.

  The thin man brandished a shiny knife.

  “Oh please no,” Renee cried.

  The black man ferociously seized the thin man by the wrist and twisted his arm. The thin man yelped and the knife fell into the bedding.

  “Hay-zoose, don’t ever try that shit again,” Viceroy Wilson said. He was thinking to himself: This is the problem when you work with Cuban lunatics. They can’t go five minutes without pulling a pistol or a blade. They couldn’t help it—it was something in their DNA molecules.

  “Renee, my name is Mr. Wilson. This here is Mr. Bernal.”

  Renee said, “How do you do?”

  Wilson sighed. “We need the name of your boyfriend, and we need it now.”

  ‘I’m not telling. I don’t want you to hurt him.”

  “Girl, we don’t want to hurt him. We want to let him know what happened to you.”

  Puzzled, Renee asked, “What did happen to me?”

  “You’ve been kidnapped by a group of dangerous radicals.”

  “God! But I’m nobody.”

  “That’s true,” said Jesus Bernal, fishing through the bed for his blade.

  “Why me? I’m just a tourist.”

  “Did you enjoy the porpoise show?” Bernal asked.

  Renee nodded apprehensively. “Yes, very much. And the trained whale.”

  “Shamu,” Bernal said. “That’s the whale’s name.”

  This guy was sickening, Wilson thought. He might even be worth killing someday.

  “Did you ride the monorail?” Bernal went on mockingly. He wore a mean smile.

  “No, David wanted to see the shark moat instead.”

  Now we’re getting somewhere, Wilson muttered. “David who?”