By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Mack Bennett poured his fifth cup of coffee and lit another Marlboro Light. The window shades were up, but no shadows were cast; it was high noon. Time to get to work, Mack Bennett thought to himself. He was alone in the cramped office, and he held at arm's length the first breakthrough in the case, the one that had begun the night before over bourbons at a strip joint near the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton. Mack's caffeine gaze was percolating on page ten of a pamphlet printed on textured tan stock. He set the evidence aside, padded down the hallway to the kitchen, and fixed a breakfast of four scrambled eggs, toast, a slab of Spam, and a chocolate doughnut that had sat in the refrigerator two days.
The Fixer - a small, harmless-looking man whose appearance belied a deadly dangerousness - sucked on the last bourbon-soaked ice cube in his tumbler. He stared straight ahead at the hypnotically gyrating breasts of the blonde on-stage at the Pink Pussycat. Must be a 36C, he noted mentally. The blonde thrust the crux of her G-string at his face, and the ice cube crunched between steely molars. At that moment (11:16 p.m.), Mack Bennett claimed a stool, snapped his fingers, pointed two of them downward, and smiled as The Fixer turned toward him to acknowledge the gesture, offering Mack a limp, damp handshake.
The Fixer was not a bad guy, Mack was thinking; his nickname was more a joke than a token to any grossly violent deed. Of course there was that one time he attacked a local attorney with a Bic Metal Point pen, but the courts had found it to be justifiable. The Fixer was, however, the sort of man who expected his questions to be answered - at any cost. Just like Mack Bennett.
"How's it going?" The Fixer asked diffidently.
"Shitty." Mack smiled as the two bourbons were set before them by a busty brunette.
"Did you say `titty'?" The Fixer joked, pointing at the barmaid and winking. "Sorry," he added, "but you know how I adore puns."
"Well, she's got nice buns," Mack responded blithely, brightening to the dull conversation.
The two men chuckled nervously and tugged at their cocktails in unison. Mack lit a cigarette and sighed heavily. "So what's up, Fix?"
The Fixer - whose real name was Charles Edward Phixture III - stared straight ahead at what he figured to be a pair of 38Ds and answered soberly. "I want to know the real history of Miami, and how it got this way. And I'm not talking about that dull Howard Kleinberg crap, either." He finished off his whiskey in one big gulp and glanced sideways at Mack to gauge the reaction.
Mack rubbed his temples, clapped his hands together, and pointed two fingers at the empty tumblers. He knew The Fixer was up to something, and he also knew better than to ask what. Big Bust behind the bar smiled before turning her back to fetch the bourbon. "Nice puns," Mack muttered under his stale breath.
As he forced down the aging doughnut and poured his sixth cup of coffee, Mack began to address the Fixer assignment, for which he'd been promised $500 upon completion. He knew he had a solid lead on page ten of the pamphlet - an exhibition of pulp novels set in South Florida and published during the past 50 years. Hell, Mack thought, Miami's only 94 - he already had more than half of what he needed right there. The books were on public display at the main library downtown. He also had Sam Boldrick, listed on the pamphlet as a curator of the exhibition. Perhaps Sam could fill in the other half.
Miami's main public library on Flagler Street can be entered several ways. Mack always preferred the long but gently ascending ochre-and-red-tile ramp next to the fountains, on the south side. Sam's office was a mere one-floor elevator ride up, in the Florida Room.
There hadn't been too many queries about the "Miami Pulp" display, judging from the way Mack's question was greeted. "Ready to see some great trash?" said Sam. A tall, mustachioed man who had worked at the library 21 years and possessed an endless fondness for pulp novels, Sam asked the question graciously, without satire.
"Yeah," said Mack. "Miami trash."
"Okay." Sam smiled his big smile again. "Um - but - um...."
"What is it, Sam?"
"Could you please extinguish your cigarette first?"
Brett Halliday seemed invisible, as if he'd never existed, and that frustrated Mack Bennett, who knew Halliday was the key to the case. His name kept coming up, 22 times in the pamphlet alone. Mack was certain that this guy was the king of Miami pulp authors: among the library's collection were titles such as Murder and the Married Virgin, Die Like a Dog, Murder in Haste, Dividend on Death, and A Redhead for Mike Shayne, all with Halliday's name on them. All featuring a tough, honest, red-haired private dick, name of Michael Shayne. All set in Miami. All pure pulp.
The stream of Shayne novels began in 1939 with Dividend on Death and continued at least until 1970's Fourth Down to Death. That much Mack knew from the exhibition. Reading these hard-nosed stories provided few clues - if any - about the identity of Halliday, although Mack came to know Mike Shayne like a brother.