Pulp City

"Indeed," Sam agreed. "Charles Willeford was really good. And John D. MacDonald with Travis McGee - those colorful stories usually took place around these parts."

"I'm not sure how trashy or lurid those authors were," Mack said flatly. "I mean, if you don't draw some boundaries, the list is almost endless. Hell, you've got a Miami Vice book in there, too. That drivel is beneath pulp. It's something less. I'm gaining a damn reverence for the real thing."

Sam's eyes took on an unexpected gleam. Mack was almost startled by the demonic expression, but he played it cool. "Come with me," Sam said, as if possessed by some unseen force. "I think it's time you broadened your horizons."

Sam led Mack through the Florida Room to a locked door. He twisted the key, braced the door open with his knee, and allowed Mack to pass by. "Somewhere back here," Sam said distractedly, "um, let's see, no, um, wait, here it is! Take a look at this!"

Mack couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was a book, but it wasn't a book: Murder Off Miami by Dennis Wheatley, described as a "murder mystery planned by J.G. Links." The book had a fairly normal cover, but the inside was a jumble of typewritten - not printed - pages, memorandums, a photograph of six cigarette butts, a burnt match, a clump of hair.... "The actual clues," Mack said reverentially. The book was wildly popular in the 1930s - who could resist a nonnarrative whodunit that required the reader to actually solve the crime, then check a special sealed section to find out if he was correct? Three similar "books" were published, but World War II ended the gimmick - too costly.

His writing made Carl Hiaasen seem like a decent enough guy, and Mack felt somewhat guilty about kidnapping him, especially for the sake of the pulp project. But Hiaasen had refused to meet him at the Pussycat, muttering something about feminism. So Mack had driven to One Herald Plaza, waited until Hiaasen emerged, and clumped the writer on the head with the butt end of a tarpon gaff. Hiaasen came to in the front seat of Mack's car, parked near Mashta Point, outside the fence that had gone up to seal off the prime Key Biscayne fishing spot from the public.

"You okay?" Mack asked, offering Hiaasen a pint of Jim Beam.
"What the hell happened?" Hiaasen managed weakly.
"Had to jack you one," Mack responded. "Need some info, and need it now. No time to waste. A deadline, you know."

"Christ almighty," Hiaasen muttered. "You know, I always return phone calls."

"Yeah, that's real nice of ya, but cut the crap and give me some bio on yourself before I get the gaff out of the trunk."

"Well, I was born in Fort Lauderdale, just like my father. I started in the Herald's Broward bureau in 1976 and came to Miami as a general assignment reporter. Then I was at Tropic for a couple of years, '78 and '79 I guess. After Tropic, I was on the investigations team for five years. I began writing my column for the local page in 1985."

"Congratulations," Mack said with a smirk. "But I'm interested in fiction."
"Oh," Hiaasen said. "The first fiction I wrote was in college. I ghosted a couple of novels while I was at Emory University. There was this young medical student I knew who had some ideas, anecdotes, and he wanted me to weave them into a fictional book about medical school. We did two books together, and both were published. Neither had my name on them, because, like I say, I ghosted them. One, Doc Hollywood, they're making into a movie with Michael J. Fox. I was nineteen or twenty when I wrote it. That was my first fiction."

"Go on," Mack said wearily.
"Then in 1979, when the first cocaine wars broke out and the crazies with machine guns were running around, I did a piece for Rolling Stone. A friend of mine in New York saw it and said I could write a great novel, based on this Miami shit. Bill Montalbano was my editor at the Herald at that time. It began as a lark between friends. But we sent five chapters and an outline to an agent who sold it to a publisher. We ended up doing three novels together: Powder Burn, set in Miami; Trap Line, set in Key West; and Death in China, which was set over there. Then Bill went to the L.A. Times. The books did pretty well, got good reviews, and I was ready to start out on my own."

Mack swigged at his pint. "Okay, so then came your three novels, Tourist Season, Double Whammy, and the new one, Skin Tight."

"Right," Hiaasen said. "I wanted more humor. I have a very dark view of the world and some rather burning concerns when it comes to what's happening to Florida. It's all very personal."

Mack passed the pint and Hiaasen took an appreciative swallow. He gently fingered the small lump that had risen on his skull before continuing. "There was a romantic thrill, getting that first hardbound copy. But practically, you're not really published until you hit the paperback mass-market. The people who buy books in Eckerd and Publix are the ones you want to reach."

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