The Off Season

 

 

Carlos dropped Mark off about 4:00 a.m. in front of the small apartment Mark rented with his girlfriend Tiffany two blocks off a park among a maze of raised wooden walkways running through tall curved coconut palms and the small pines that separated Collins Ave. from the beach's constant silence and endless love of crushing little teal waves.

             Mark was a musician/surfer who felt frustrated because he thought he played better guitar than either of the guitar players in the band that he ran the sound for. He had met Tiff while playing lead guitar in a band.

            He would leap from the stage and follow a pre-selected female around while playing thebluesy pseudo far-eastern lead to David Bowie's"Little China Girl".It was his patented, sure-shot, method for picking up chicks. That move gota woman to his bed almost every time. He had been with Tiffany, a waitress, nowfor a couple of hot and miserable years.

His mother almost lost it once when she saw Tiffany as she emerged from his garage apartment to leave early one morning after Mark used the guitar hero tricks onher. At eight in the morning Tiffy's mascara made her eyes look like a raccoon's.Her huge pile of brown matted curls, her oversized hand bag, a Marlboro Gold 100hanging from her lips, wearing a mini-skirt and high heels at that hour wassomething not attractive to his semi-retired mother standing in the driveway first thing in the morning. She told him so later, point blank."That girl is going to take you to hell in a handbasket."

Because her mother had afforded her an abortion that "did something" to her, Tiff said, she could not get pregnant. To Mark this was great. He didn't want to marry her. Tiffany thought it was great too. She couldn't, or wouldn't, reach orgasm. She used her looks to control men. She had a way with men and she knew it. It was a game of chase and tag with her. She never planned how to win, much less how to lose. She wasn't going anywhere. She was twenty-two. She'd torture the willing fools. Bouncing back and forth from bed to bed. Starting fights and turning at least a few innocents cold and bad men worse. Damaged goods. She'd grown up exchanging boyfriends with her mother. She had two younger sisters. They all had different sailor fathers. Mother and two sisters, all different last names. Tiffany went by two last names herself in a sort of uncertain way. Not one of the three sisters' fathers were known to amy of them. Her two sisters were old enough to join the boyfriend swapping at home. Only one, Sheila, was barely the age to take Tiffy's place as bait for her mom's men. Barely old enough for her mother to sneak her into the Fifth National Banque–a local country bar where a sailor could become a slap leather cowboy. Just like the song says, they all got drunk and screwed. But that was Virginia and this was Miami and Mark was not the Navy or the cowboy type. He was going to rescue her, or so the song goes.

Mark ran. He was not a coward, it was his insides, his feelings that hurt. That was the real attraction between them. They both hurt, without ever saying it. He tried to run away from his problems, but he always seemed to take them withhim wherever he went. He couldn't outrun them, drugs helped that.

He had once transferred colleges from Boston to Miami, so he knew and liked this place. It seemed like paradise. He thought they could start-over here.

Mark was in a phase of being a pop-rocker. He had brown, shoulder length, blow-dried hair. He wore white Converse hi-top sneakers, Levi's, and a pastel tiger print shirt with either ablack, or a white, cotton jacket. He'd pull the sleeves up to the elbows, his heart on one sleeve, idealism's badge on the other.

The park and the beach were friends to Mark. He found solitude there. He came to know the wooded areas off the walkways well, places nobody else ever seemed to notice. Tiff never went near the beach or in the sun much, though she'd go to the pool if it was night-time, and there was a small pool right in front of the small apartment building.

They were night people, Mark a musician and Tiffany a bar waitress. She was, after all, always sleeping, and Mark, of course, often was too. The didn't live on much. The rock band Mark had latched onto in Key West helped him out–he'd learn later that the boys in the band, all Cuban, did exactly what they wanted to do–have a band, hot cars, and hotgirls–because all of them, except Carlos, had been drug dealers in highschool and some still were. The guys didn't live in Miami Beach but in various places in Miami, mostly Hialeah, with their families. Except Carlos, the professed Christian, Cuban drummer. He lived with his parents in North Miami Beach; his father a Cuban exile, a tobacco man. Still, Mark and Tiff were on the skids, but they didn't show it except in their excess. Sometimes they lived on five dollars: a sack of potatoes to make potato skins, a half gallon of orange juice, and a bottle of the cheapest vodka available. They'd eat big meals and walk out on the check. Knowing if and where there was a side door, they'd do it like that. Tiff would leave first by going to the women's room and Mark would ask for the check and then himself go to the men's room and so they'd leave one at a time. They would rotate the restaurants to avoid detection, though they did have their favorite eating spots. Pre-renaissance Miami Beach was a wonderland of sex, thievery, and addiction. They fit right in, almost. They weren't hardened like the rest of the beach's denizens. Mark was discontented, but Tiff was the disco cowgirl with lots of willingness.

She finally got a job, after much prodding by Mark, at the very place that he said they'd never go. A dive, corner bar, that Mark had pointed out when they drove into town in the MG his brother had loaned him. They traveled on a Shell creditcard he'd stolen from mother's wallet and hadn't been cut off yet. They'd lived and drank on it for months, all the way down to Key West, and now here. The bars stayed open, sometimes all night, but mostly they'd close at 4 or 6 a.m.and reopen at 10 a.m. Mark didn't like the people here; mostly, they were "boat-people." Mark called all illegals in Miami boat-people."Hell,"he thought,"more like inner-tube people."He knew Tiff would start-up her ways again. She still teased Mark, too.

So,now it was 4:00 a.m., Mark had a buzz and was horny, he was usually horny and usaually unsatisfied. She wasn't in the apartment."Damn,"Mark thought out loud. He went back outside. He knew this would eventually happen. He walked down to the pay phone; waited for Carlos to have time to get home, then he dialed.

"Carlos,Tiffany's not here. Will you come and get me and take me around to look for her?"

"Now?"

"Please, Carlos."

"OK, I'll be there."

"When"

"20 minutes."

"Thanks, man."He hung up.

 

Hehad almost left her, he thought, in Virginia. He tried to. She said she wasn't coming the day he left, but he swung back by, hoping, and there she was standing in the door with her beat up canvas American flag looking suitcase. A belt held its contents in.

It was quiet and still all around, except in Mark's head. He thought of his prior life at music college in Boston and of surfing on Cape Hatteras. He could have had it all he thought, and still could. He wasn't even thirty. He had traveled before, alone,and now he wanted a woman, a romance to share it with. He was doing what he'd kept doing for almost two years now–trying to rescue Tiffany from her life before Mark.

"Hey,thanks, Carlos,"he got in Carlos's new deluxe mini-van. His mind was spinning. All he wanted was to hear some jazz, some pot, and a woman waiting for him. Tiffany was definitely in trouble and he was responsible, he had brought her down here."Will you help me look for her, man?"

"Alright,"Carlos sounded a tad reluctant."What do you want to do?"

"Justcruise down Collins and up Ocean and look for her."Carlos drove. Mark didn't say anything, he just peered out over the yellow lighted, deserted, sidewalks. They drove up and down. Mark knew she was screwing some guy, this is what their relationship had always been, screw-up and make-up, make-up and screw, ad nauseum, and he knew it.

"Why do you do this?"

"Because. I have to."

"You think she loves you? Would somebody who loved somebody not be home at 4 a.m.?"

"Idon't know, I don't know. I just have to find her."

 

They stopped and Carlos waited several times while Mark went into one disco and several bars. He felt paranoid and unwelcome, even in danger, in the disco. This town was in collapse except for a few jeweled spots in the middle of the desolation. Everybody was Latin and Mark stuck out as if he'd leaped from the stage again. These people had money and would scoop Tiffany right up for fun. He knew she didn't know what she was getting into, but to her it was the samegame as anywhere else–they'd both worn"snow-shoes before–and loved it, coke everywhere. Mark wished he were somebody. He'd always wished he had something.

He combed throughthe basement bars of the beachfront hotels looking for her laugh, or her dancing, or her hair seated between men ordering more drinks. Their patrons were street people, scam artist who spoke and heard only selective English. He'd pulled her out of holes like this before. Once, in Lauderdale, he found her stripping in an"amateur"contest. She'd tell him that she was doing it for"us,"to"bring in some money."Mark knew it was for attention and drinks.The sky was beginning to change.

"Carlos?"

"Uh-huh."

"Come on. Let's walk down the beach, OK?"

"Surreal right."

"Why is God doing this to me? I can't take much more."Mark looked at the first-light.

"Mark,"Carlos offered,"God doesn't do things for you; God puts things in front of you and you decide what to do."

 

They walked the flat beach for a few long blocks. They didn't talk. It was quiet except for the distant beating of the small waves. The sun was not quite yet coming up. Mark was beginning to lose his focus and knowingly started turning, walking in large circles. Carlos had stopped and stood watching him.

"Ijust don't get it. I don't understand. She said she loved me."

 

He looked east. A beautiful ball of orange emerged on the horizon. Its heat waves looked magnetized to the rippled mirror of the ocean.

His mind quieted for a moment. Something was coming. He waited for the sun to touch him. He was beginning to lose himself. He knew he'd get tired and sleepy and have to giveup his search for Tiffany when the sunlight hit him. He wanted that to happen. Carlos watched.

Mark stared from the south corner of the park at the postcard image of the sand, the surf, and the sun. He looked across the sand to the seashore where the ocean so lightly reached-out its warm hand over and over the wet sand with its thin sheets of salt-water. He saw his dreams, his romance, as two lovers rolled onto each other kissing in the thin warm beach-foam of small teal waves under the morning's early sun.

He blinked a few times, squinted and pointed at the Miami lovers, saying toCarlos,"That's probably her right there."He started the long walk to the water, Carlos followed, but Mark wouldn't have known Carlos was even there. Carlos's words about God were echoing in his consciousness. As he got yet closer to the water he saw the lovers in each other's arms, wet, on the sand."It is her!"He started to run now."It is her!"He could barely say it. He was suddenly in slow motion, his brain escaping in the moment of numbness. His beliefs about himself, the ocean, and love, were no longer the philosophical mental images of the dreamer, but cold, hard, bottom of the barrel reality. Sharp rocks, storms, sharks, pain, death, must be next.

"What are you doing?"he asked desperately. He could see that the guy's pants were unzipped and his ribbed old-man tee-shirt was off and laying wet beside where they had lay. Tiff and this stranger got up and stared at Mark."Don't you see this ring on her finger?"He held up her hand with the small diamond on it.

"I see that,"a tough guy accent spoke,"but that's her business."

Mark turned and walked out into the ocean, he wanted to keep walking until the sea covered his head and just stand there and drown but he wasn't brave enough to die. He walked out up to his chest, fully clothed, and facing the sun he held up his arms palms up and outward in grand protest against the sun, the creator, and all living things. Turning himself from the hypnotic heat, the teal waves, and the dawned horizon, he again snapped his brain back into gear and waded back out of the ocean.

"What'syour name, man?"Mark demanded.

"Tony."

 

Tiffany was looking at Mark the entire time. Silent. Her big brown eyes and slight pout said everything she wanted to say perfectly. She was a master of this language. She, of course, was fully clothed. But she had trained Mark to wonder where her hands and other parts of her had been.

"She's going to do the same things to you."Mark matter-of-factly Told."the same thing."He managed a half-smile half-sneer.
He walked away, toward Carlos who had watched from a distance.

"Godsure is in your life."Carlos lectured the whole ten blocks back to the apartment, telling Mark, pleading with him not to waste himself on this girl and to get away from her. Mark fell asleep immediately when he laid on the sofa-bed that was his and hers; she didn't come home and Carlos picked up Mark that evening for the gig at Big Daddies in Kendall thirty miles away. Mark couldn't wait to get a few cocktails in him. The band drinks free.

 

"Carlos, come on in with me this time, OK?"

"Alright."

"She'snot here,"Mark said.

"Whatnow?"Carlos asked."Mark? Mark? Just don't go out and look for her again, OK? Mark? I'm going home."Carlos slammed the door and walked out.

Mark went out. He saw them walking down the sidewalk and came up close behind them."Whore! Fucking whore!"

"Look, man, I told you it's her business, man. She don't want to be with you,"Tony said, shrugging and raising his arms slowly at the elbows, turning his palms outward.

"Fuck you, asshole,"Mark fired back before Tony got out his last word.

 

Mark did an about face, went home, pulled out the sofa bed, curled up like a fetus and cried. Tiff didn't come back. The next day he looked for them, he looked for her, and as his luck always had it he found her, and him, at the pool-bar at the Princess Hotel.

"Oh man, what the fuck you doing here, you don't belong here. You fucking jerk. The jerk and the whore."He said these things plenty loud, but nobody looked.

"Man, come on man,"Tony turned to Mark and shrugged, facing his palms toward Mark. Tiffany was tight lipped when Mark did this. She wouldn't look at him. She went about whatever it was she was doing, which was generally nothing. They had no money so they had no drinks. Tony, with her along-side, turned and started walking out of the Princess' pool bar towards the other hotel where they stayed, up the beach. Mark followed.

"Come on and what? Faggot."Mark sped up alongside."You come on!"Mark never stopped taunting Tony. They got out and onto the beach road, all ofthem, Mark following cussing them down the street. They went into the lasthotel on the north side, oceanfront, and as they approached the hotel Mark said,"You and me, fuck it, right out here, right now asshole!"Marksaid clenching his jaw and pointing at the ground with both index fingers.

"Igotta go inside. Look she got a sister, why don you call her sister, man?"

"Right here, I'll wait!"

 

Tonyand Tiff went in. Mark got very nervous as he waited. He went inside and wasshaking. The deskman knew something was going on. He queried, yelling at Mark,"Hey you, you can't go up there, you not guest here?"Mark didn't answer and went upstairs.

The hotel was a typical South Beach fleabag. Carpets were worn out. Paint was coming off. Leaky air conditioning dripped down the walls. The place was fullof transients. Mark knew the routine, you get the room, pay a night and thenput the guy off until you wear out your welcome and leave out a window and do the same thing at the next hotel down. Mark went to a random floor, the fourth. He headed right for a door in the corner of the hall and started banging on it. His luck never left him when it came to finding her–Tiff came to the door and cracked it open.

"Go on down,"he'll be down in a minute she looked straight into Mark's eyes, but not like in the grocery store; this time she looked mad, like he had no business at all banging on her door. She closed it on him as fast as she had opened it. He stood looking at the door for a minute; he thought about the heat waves at the bottom of the sun that morning that he found them together.

Mark went home after Tony never came out.

 

The next day Tiffany showed up."Can I take a shower?"she asked like a lost puppy as she stood in the door. She'd been wearing the same mini skirt that Mark had bought her and taped the hem up higher with duck tape six months ago so she could get a job. She looked beat. Mark let her in and she started to shower and to tell Mark all about Tony. They'd met at the bar where she single-handedly was working, serving the boat people; Mark already knew that much.

"What happened?"Mark asked,"did he give you some coke?"

"No, he offered me a little the first night. Then I don't know. I did some Quaaludes."

"So, what the fuck are you doing here?"

"Taking a shower. You better quit messing with us. Tony has been in prison before."Threatening.

"So you're going back?"

"Well, yeah."

 

Mark almost collapsed. Ten minutes passed as he sat smoking her cigarettes while sheshowered and fixed herself up.

"Will you take me to get some cigarettes?"

"Shit, alright."He wanted to convince her to come home. He wanted to be her hero, her savior.

 

Mark had a '69 MG with the tread separating on one tire. He could only drive it 40mph and it made an awful whapping sound as the piece of loose tire rubber slapped the road each time it went around. They drove down to the grocery store and parked it in the lot.

"Get a cart."Tiffany got a cart.

"Stand here in front of me and open your bag."Mark shoveled in a few steaks. They filled the cart as they shoplifted and ate peanut M&Ms. Strolling past the cigarettes they put four packs of Marlboro Golds in the cart and headed down the last aisle. Mark took the smokes out of the cart and put them in his pants. He figured once he had them on him the store couldn't say they weren't already his, but, they always bought something, maybe a candy bar just to look legit. They abandoned the cart mid-aisle and walked into the checkout lane. Standing there waiting, Tiff started fidgeting nervously, twirling her hair onher index finger. Her huge bag style pocket book hung low and heavy under her arm, full of meat and candy.

"I don't know, Mark?"she said turning toward him. Her eyes searched his for rescue.

"Shutup and turn back around, and stop playing with your hair."

"But there's those metal things."
Metal detectors were a new phenomenon in grocery stores; Mark thought for sure that they were not real, just deterrents. Tiff was about to lose it, he thought, but they'd done this lots of times.

"Don't worry about it, nothing is going to happen,"Mark sounded bothered by her fear, but totally confident.

"Is that all?"The clerk asked cordially when Tiff laid a Hershey bar with almonds on the counter."

"Yes,ma'am."Tiff answered nervously. Like she was speeding but frozen. Staring straight at the clerk.

"Fiftycents."

 

Mark paid her.

 

They left without a hitch and walked across the lot to the car. Mark opened herdoor and Tiff slid into the little sports car's low bucket seats that forcedlegs straight. Mark went around and got in. He looked at Tiffy and she startedto shake subtly. She began to shake more violently. She became stiff and hereyes rolled back in her head. Her mouth was open, her voice made a long soundlike someone was shaking her. Mist and spit began to come out of her mouth in ahissing sound.

"Tiffy?"
He touched her shoulder and she hissedlouder. He pulled himself over to her and saw her eyes had rolled back intoher head. She began shaking uncontrollably, violently. Her arms, hands, and fingersbecame stiff. Her neck. Her legs. Stiff as a board. She was having aseizure.

Mark had never seen one of these. She made noises like she was choking. Mark thought he had to keep her throat open. He reached across and put the fingers of his left hand in her mouth. She bit down on his fingers.
"O-o-ouch!"He screamed. Hecouldn't get his hand back out. He thought his fingers were going to be bittenoff any second.

A man was walking by and noticed that something was happening and ran overand opened the door.
"I can't get my hand out!"Mark yelled.
Hestruggled to pry her mouth open with his other hand. In the MG's long bucket-seats it was too difficult to get around and over to any sort of leverage position.

"Here,"said the stranger, and he pulled out a pocket sized paperback. They pried open her mouth and Mark jammed the book in-between her teeth. Mark's fingers were cramped and deep teeth marks in three of them; he stared at them in disbelief. Tiff started to come out of it and the book fell from her mouth. Mark tried to give the guy the book but he said to keep it, it was a Bible. Mark started the car and pulled away quickly.

Tiffany dozed for a minute or two or three. She woke up abruptly.
"What happened?"

"You had a seizure."

"A what?"

"A seizure. People get them when they do coke sometimes. You had one. Are you doing lots of coke?"

"No, just some Quaaludes. Maybe a little."She said trying to look repentful knowing she'd done something wrong. It scared her.

"That must be some nasty shit he's got. No telling what Tony's cheap shit's got in it. You don't even know."Mark thought that the grocery rip-off had probably contributed to the seizure. He didn't think there was anything for them to do at the hospital so he didn't go there. He figured that you either had seizures or you didn't and that they couldn't be stopped anyway. He didn't tell Tiff any of this though; he had other things on his mind–like her loving him or not.

"It's good shit I know that,"she taunted Mark.

Mark wanted dope more than she did but it was all he could do to keep them in vodka and beer. She only did the dope to be cool–alcohol got her loose."You wannacome lay down?"Mark wanted her to be safe and to be with her.

"Let me outover there,"she said. They neared the hotel."I need a drink."

"So, this is it, huh?"

"Yep, this is it."

"I'm not gonna make it you know."

"Huh?"She looked sweetly upward.

"I can't make it without you Tiff."

"Well, I'll be back."She lengthened the words.

"No, I can't make it until then, I want you home now."

"Maybe, later," she paused." Phfft." Slightly disgusted. Acting. She flitted around, then walked off.

Mark didn't work for a few days. "Hell in-a-hand-basket," he remembered his mother's words. And he thought outloud," She loves me. I know sheloves me."

Early the next morning, Mark went out to the small pool in front by the street, there was never anyone in his pool. He never knew if anyone else lived there; they never saw anyone else. He had to show her that he would fight, that he would die for her, that he would trade his life for hers, so he stood by the pool and took out a razor blade. He stripped to his shorts and ran the sharp corner of the unused blade hard along the inside of his thigh. He ran it deep and long, but not into the muscle, eight inches. Blood ran everywhere and he squinted. He walked down to the hotel, holding his wound, but he didn't run into them, to her. He had difficulty walking and was tired of bleeding everywhere. No one asked, and maybe one person stared. He went home and passed out. Getting up, an hour later, he hitched a ride to the hospital and thought he'd get stitched up. The hospital questioned him and called in the police.

"I was walking along the beach alone last night,"he told the cop. Two guyswere sitting on the beach and asked to blow me, so I flipped them off. One of them got up and pulled out one of those glass-cutting razors, and before I knew what happened he slid it up my pant leg. When they saw the blood they ran off."

"Really?"The doctor and the nurse looked perplexed. The cop grinned and quit writing.

"Really."He didn't care if they believed him or not. He suspected that at this point they were analyzing him for the psycho ward. The cut was too straight. The doctor sewed up his leg loosely.

"I can't sew it up tight because it might be infected, you waited too long to come in."

"Can I go now?"Mark was getting dressed, and he left without an answer. There was no answer.

 

Mark found her the next day and followed them around, calling them names again and told her about his incident and that he had looked for her. He always told her that he looked for her."Hey, Tony, you were right about her sister, she's coming down tomorrow."And Sheila did come down to help Mark get Tiffany back. Mark had asked her too, but had no idea that her mother would buy her a ticket, a one-way ticket. Two days later Sheila had a boyfriend, Tony's brother. All these boat people are sister and brother, not by blood but bychoice, Mark thought. Sheila stayed at the apartment with Mark one night and the next day moved in with her sister and Tony in the hotel.

Mark went back to the apartment and came back out later before dark and saw them near the hotel by the beach."Hey, Tony, I got something we can do together. If you can help me and a friend out, there's some money in it."

"What's up with that?"Tony said in his phony Brooklyn voice.

"I'm leaving here man, but I got a friend and we can both make some money before I split. He's flying down from Maryland and wants me to set him up with a couple of kilos, can you do it?"Mark was trying to be cool."I need thismoney, man. I want to leave."

"See man, Itold you man, we can be cool man,"Tony shrugged, lifting his hands out ofhis pockets, palms up and out. His tight long sleeve Tonyon shirt clung to hisbody like it was statically charged.

Mark felt like blowing Tony's brains out."Two days, man. He's gonna get a hotel room Surfside, far side of the park. I'll let you know in a couple hours. How fast can you set it up?"

"Cool, two days,"Tony nodded.

"Youfind out for sure, man, and I'll catch you tomorrow, because we ain't staying long. It's tomorrow for you. If you're going to take of her you gonna need some money, dude,"Mark told him with a smile,"and I know someone else who can do it. My friend doesn't fuck around, man."

Mark went home, wondering how he could use this situation to fuck Tony over. He called the vice."I got to get my girl friend out of here and so I'm setting up the asshole that's giving her dope for a kilo or two of coke. Now this guy is going to have it tomorrow and I want you to bust him, or else I'm gonna fucking kill his ass."Two hours later there was knock at the door. A geeky-looking guy in glasses, jeans, a tee shirt and old tennis shoes stood at the door.

"You, Mark?"

"Yeah,"Mark knew exactly who he was talking to."Come on in."A badge was flashed as he crossed into the room. Mark closed the door and pulled the shades.

"Nice place,"he said, glancing at the beer-can pyramid art on the mantel and at the floral display of liquor bottles that graced the center of a small dinette.

"I got a guy wants to sell me some coke,"Mark declared.

"Ok, you introduce me as your buyer and we'll take it from there,"the narc said.

"No way. I set this up to get my girlfriend out of here. I gotta do it or it won't work,"Mark was getting uptight.

"Well, that's how we do it,"and he got up and pulled out his card and held it out for Mark to take.

"No. I have to do it. I do it or shit's gonna happen,"Mark was trying not to panic, he wanted this to happen. He knew Tony would do time."It won't work, I gotta get her back, man, and this is how, see, it's gotta be me. And shit's gonna happen anyway with or without you. OK?"

"Alright. We can do it. Now, I'm going. Walk out and down the street and around the corner and come by in a car. Look for me and come outside. Walk down the block and I'll pick you up."

Mark was driven around for ten minutes and then blindfolded. The car stopped and he heard another person get in. They drove on. After ten minutes more the blindfold was removed and Mark was looking at a clean, small, three story brick building on the Miami River with lots of palms shading it. The entrance had cameras in several places and there was a double door system opening immediately into an elevator. They went up. Mark heard familiar music, a song the band covered, he faded:"I can see you. ... . .shinin' in the sun, I seeyou. . . . . .smilin' at everyone, . . .after the boys of summer have gone. ..."Bump, the elevator stopped suddenly. The music abruptly ended and with it Mark's musical head-trip.A glowing green digit flashed"3,"on the panel. Whish, the elevator doors opened efficiently. They were in a hallway of half a dozen business-like offices with all the doors open. The people walking in and out of the rooms had guns and badges, along with their paperwork. All of them looked just like Mark, but even more like Tony, like geeky boat people, but white. They took Mark in an office and told him that he'd have to get the deal on tape for them to make the bust and he'd have to try to walk who ever he could outside so they could take telephoto pictures for ID purposes, that they needed both to record things and to possibly know who they were dealing with. Mark told them he'd set it up for two kilos of coke and that his friend who was supposed to be staying at the hotel on the other end of the park was supposed to buy it.

"You call the hotel,"one cop said.

"How much cash money is available tonight?"another asked.

"Thirty-thousand, tonight,"another answered.

"Ok, I got the rooms."

"Sign here,"a briefcase was handed to one of the cops.

"Come with me,"a healthy looking bra-less woman in a tank top and designer razor-ripped jeans, with a little of her butt showing, said to Mark as she held his arm and walked him down the hall into a small closet-like room."Take off your shirt and unzip your pants."Mark followed her instructions without hesitation, gladly. She put a small tape recorder in Mark's crotch and taped it up against his skin."If this gets really wet, like you go swimming or something, it's gonna leak its battery and burn you like shit. And we'll be monitoring this too, so if you want us, call us by saying 'bummer,' really slow like this, 'bumm-mer.'"Then she taped the wire up his stomach and it came to an end in the middle of his chest."This is the mic, don't take off your shirt for anybody but me, honey. Button up your pants and put your shirt on. Let's see."She winked and smiled.

Mark was subdued, unusually serene. He had no resistance, no second thought. He thought this peaceful feeling was both good, so they wouldn't think he couldn't do it, and that he didn't care, he didn't careanymore about himself, which was a contrast and a realization because he had never really cared about himself, so this made him feel, maybe he could care about himself afterall, but after this. She patted his crotch and led him out. He felt part of a team now, almost like he had friends, but he hated these people because they were cops.

There were about fifteen vice cops involved with Mark's mission. As they led Mark out of the building one of them said to Mark,"See that building there?"pointing across the little secluded street,"that's the BeeGee's recordingstudio."

"Wow,"Mark said outloud, and he thought:the fucking BeeGees and Miami vice right across the street from eachother. Though, he knew that this just one of many vice hideaways, and maybeeven tomorrow it would be gone. Then, sports cars of all kinds, but used,pulled out from behind the building and they opened the trunks quickly. Marksaw weapons like he'd never imagined, trunks full of shotguns and rifles,cameras. The vice cops were checking themselves with multiple weapons on theirbodies."Can I have a gun?"Mark asked.

"I'dgive you one but I can't do that."Mark was disappointed, because he knew his next step. They sped off one by one in different directions.

"Now you go to the meeting tonight, and remember you must get him, not you, to say 'coke'on tape; you can say it, but after he does."Mark didn't even think twice about how he was going to do that. He knew it would all be easy. The copdriving with Mark took him by a place inland, a street with an apartmentcomplex that Mark didn't know was in his neighborhood, about ten blocks fromthe beach area."Now, this is the emergency spot if anything goes wrong we'll meet here, ok?"Then they drove up near they hotel where the false buy and the bust was set up to happen."Listen Mark, there we will be in the bushes all the way through the park and right up to the hotel. We will be near the bar, and we will have two adjoining rooms. I'll be your friend, the buyer,the room number is 636, got it?"

"Ok."Mark nodded slowly.

"Now, look, I got to tell you, most of these buys are fake. I mean, your connection is probably going to bring bullshit coke, maybe a little real coke on top to taste, but then they're going to probably pull weapons and try to take the money."

"You guys have to bust me too. I can't be found out 'cause I have to walk around here. You let me go later, but you have to bust me, too, right?"

"Right, ok, yeah we will, don't worry."

The car stopped. Mark got out and walked around for an hour, until about 9:30pm. He was going tomeet Tony in the basement bar of the hotel at 10 and was supposed to start the deal and make all the prerequisite recordings, including asking Tony to move outside to talk. Mark had a few drinks and Tony came in.

"Can you do it?"Mark said.

"Sure, one call."

"Ok, look,now what are you bringing us, I want to hear you say it, make sure we understand each other, then I'm going to tell you how we're going to do it. You can tell me how you want to do it and we can work it out, right? So, what are you bringing us?"

"Two kilos, maybe one."

"One? One what?"

"Maybe one coke, maybe two."

"How much?"

"Four thousand."

"Ok, maybe, you make the call, and you get the package and I'll drive you up to the room."

"No, man, I'll make the call and we'll drive you up to the room."

"Whatever, make the call. Wait, let's take this outside just to mix it up."

"No, man you stay in here."

"Fuck, ok, go ahead, hurry up, how long?"

"They're coming from Hialeah, thirty minutes, maybe more, depends."

"Depends, fuck, go ahead."

Tony left. Mark went to the men's room and in the hall by the door he said outloud, quickly,"He's coming out alone, he's wearing a blue long sleeved shirtand jeans. He has brownish hair and a mustache."He hoped they heard him.

An hour went by, and no Tony. He never really thought Tony had any clout anyway. Mark was getting angry. He was sitting on a little overhang, alone, no money, no more drink, he began to feel uncomfortable and walked outside. He saw two of the vice people, that woman cop and a guy cop sitting in a pickup truck parked at the sand, they were making out hard, and drinking beers. Mark went back inside. Thirty more minutes passed and Mark had a moment of clarity that said this wasn't going to happen; he couldn't acknowledge his desperation in all of this and simply told himself that he had no place to go, so he waited. Then, the woman vice came in and bought two beers and went back out. There were only derelicts and half-derelicts in the bar and no women except a torn down woman tending bar.

Mark left and walked to the meeting spot, all his visions of the big bust soared in his mind and in his throat. When he arrived at the cops were already there. Mark suspected them.

"What happened?"Mark asked demandingly.

"She was recognized when she came in the bar."

"Fuck, man, what did you dothatfor, damn it!"

"I thought you might be in trouble she said."

"It's over,"another vice said.

And Mark knew it was. Later that night as he walked along the sidewalk, a BMW with very dark tinted windows sped by him down Ocean Dr. and he saw someone yell from apartly rolled down window,"Narc!"The next day Tiffany came by to taunt and lecture Mark that he was fooling with the wrong people and that they knew it was him, that the female narc was recognized by someone she had busted and that put the whole beach on alert that something was going down, and Mark had a deal set up that same night. So, that made him the informant and he knew it.

"Tony's goingto get you."

"Fuck him, I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."He thought she probably, maybe believed him, after all he had pulled most of it off already."Tell Tony, if that's his name?."

"His name isTonymond!"

"Tell Tony, that he didn't show up and to meet me tonight, asshole."

 

Mark went to his landlady and told her he was working for the narcs. After all, they had told him if he was interested he could make 10% being a CI, a civil informant, andthey gave him his CI number. He told her he was a CI and she lent him somemoney, $90. He got her to let him sleep in the apartment across the hall fromhis own, just for that night, just in case.

Mark went way down to the south docks and bought a small handgun for 20 bucks. He walked despondently back up and stopped in a beachside McDonald's to sit and watch another hotel where he thought Tony and Tiff and Sheila were now staying. An ambulance backed up onto the sidewalk to the hotel's front steps. He watched as they wheeled a person lying on a gurney down the steps; a person with one knee cocked in the air. He jumped when he remembered that Tiffany slept with one knee cocked just like that. He knew it was her. He hurried to reach the ambulance but it pulled away. He knew there were two hospitals close by and decided to go the closest. He found her sitting up in bed in a cubicle in the emergency room. She'd had a second seizure.

"The seizures were cocaine induced seizures,"the doctor told him. Mark had told him about the first seizure."We want to keep her, are you her husband?"

"Yeah,"Mark answered.

"She said you were."

"Yeah, keep her."

Sheila came in with Tony. Mark pulled her aside and told her to go back home, back to Virginia. She said she was the next day.

He went into the screened off area of the emergency room where Tiffany was lying. Tony was in there, dressed in military surplus."You were in the service?"Mark asked sarcastically.

"Yeah."

"I was in the Army,"Mark said,"and you weren't in shit, but jail."

"Yeah, I been there,"Tony answered.

"So, what's it gonna be Tiff?"Mark didn't want to call her Tiffany around him,it was too correct, too respectful, and nothing was correct."You want himor me?"

She looked at Mark sadly, knowingly, like she knew it wasn't over until she said itwas over, and said,"h-him."She drew out her answer, like she wasn't sure.

"Look, Tony, can I talk to you?"Mark said, nodding to the hall. They moved outside."Look, man, what the fuck happened to you?"Mark thought if he played way down his concern for Tiffany, then he might take the bait again."Look, I don't know what's happening but my friend is still available, so meet me by the park tonight right after dark."

Mark strolled overthe wooden walkways in the vacant, off-season, park. Waiting, without feeling,through the breeze-less evening. He went through the brush into the wooded area that approached the beach and saw the sandy overgrown hole that he'd once before wondered about on his exploration of the area."This would make a good grave for Tony."

 

Mark borrowed $90.from his landlady. The Shell card had been cut off. He owed her more than that already, but who's counting. She wasn't. The MG had also developed a loose engine rod, and so, instead of abandoning it he drove it to a dealership for repair, to give his brother a chance to retrieve it. He walked down to the South Beach area and bought a bus ticket for as far as he could and still eat, Daytona Beach, and got onboard. There were two Swedish chicks in see-through fishnet shirts, he flirted with them, but he didn't feel very confident. He wanted to talk, to tell them everything. It wasn't"glamorous"anymore. He didn't have the energy.

The waves were bigger in Daytona and cars drove on the beach. He could not help checking the beachside bus station or a nearby bar for Tiffany's face. Things were fairly quiet for him here, alone. The season didn't start until after Thanksgiving. The sun was just as hot as Miami, but the sand was not white and the waves not teal.