Pulp City

"As long as you feel good," Mack said with resignation. "Personally, I've got a headache a mile wide." He polished off the pint and stuck the empty bottle under the front seat. Better to get busted for an open container, Mack figured, than to pitch it out the window.

"I can't believe you'd come in here at a time like this!" Paris looked genuinely shocked.

"Why not?" Mack answered. "You pour a mean bourbon. And apart from the swelling in your chest, you're a very attractive young woman."

"Thanks," she said, pouring Jim Beam into a tumbler with a small amount of ice. "But, um, after what happened to your little friend...."

"The Fixer?"
"Whatever."
"What happened?"

"They found him outside in the trunk of a Ford Tempo. Dead. Had a Bic Metal Point pen shoved all the way up his nose into his brain."

Mack choked on his bourbon and gestured for another. The Fixer dead. Christ, Mack thought, perfect timing. I finally have something to give him, some real answers, and the son of a bitch goes and gets himself murdered.

The Fixer would never know that the key was 1939, the year the Mike Shayne series began. In that year, in Miami, the reality was twice as weird as Halliday's fiction. On December 12, 60 felony cases were disposed of in a single day by Judge Ben C. Willard, including the manslaughter charges against a man accused of punching a woman dead in front of a fish market. A few days later, 39 less fortunate suspects in various crimes were transported from county jail to state prison - the largest number of prisoners moved at once in Miami history. In another case, a woman's slacks were stolen from a clothesline and the cops found another woman walking around wearing the hot pants. Then there was the man riding atop a stack of furniture on a truck. He was sitting backward and never saw the traffic beacon that crushed his skull when the truck drove beneath it.

"One more double," Mack said hazily. Paris brought the drink.
Yes, Mack thought to himself, things had changed, but things were still the same. Miami in 1939 was a lot like Miami in 1991. There was a baby girl, eleven months old, riding in a car that hit a fire truck. No one could find the little girl. Turns out she'd rolled from the car into a storm sewer and drowned. And there was another kid who fell out of a car. He was okay, but his grandmother, a passenger, had a heart attack. And fake lottery tickets on foreign sweepstakes were being circulated around town.

The Jim Beam was beginning to blur Mack's vision, and his thoughts drifted from reality to fiction, fiction to reality, all of it mixing together in a dizzying haze. Mike Shayne was guarding a warehouse in Miami. There had been a series of break-ins, each taking place during nasty weather, and with a tropical storm approaching the South Florida shores, Shayne was prepared. When an intruder appears, Mike guns him down, creating "a shapeless heap of lifeless flesh." Mack Bennett rolled that phrase around with his bourbon.

And what was that other one? Oh yeah - "hungry as a bitch wolf suckling sixteen pups." Beautiful. But there were flaws in Halliday. A Miami Beach cop named Jim Hogan suddenly becomes Joe Hogan on page 32 of A Redhead for Mike Shayne. And Shayne only carries his .38 sometimes, like when the plot calls for him to shoot somebody. And Mack was unsettled by the attribution on one bit of dialogue: "`Come again,' he ejaculated."

But Shayne knew how to get from the far western outskirts of Dade County - around Red Road at the time, Mack figured - to Key Largo. He took the "Palmetto Speedway" to "Highway Number One." Tidbits like that were so much niftier than drivelly insight into romantic characters, like in Michael Shayne's 50th Case, where several chapters are wasted showing true love, love the patient reader well knows will be torn asunder by blunder or bullet. (Or, in this case, asphyxiation.)

Still, any Shayne, with its intimate knowledge of Miami, was preferable to John Creasey, a British pulp writer whose protagonist, Superintendent Roger West of Scotland Yard, came to South Florida in the Sixties with Murder, London - Miami. The Brits in the novel are stunned when the prime suspect flees to...Miami.

When the heroine, Henrietta, arrives from England, Creasey writes, "Henrietta found herself in a steam bath. The sun was blazing, the sky a beautiful blue - it was so hot she caught her breath." What literary insight, Mack thought.

A couple of compelling moments are provided by a character named Chloe: "Folks say a lot about Miami Beach which isn't in its favor, but, gee, it's beautiful. It's just about the most beautiful city in the world." Mack looked up at the dame dancing on-stage and wondered who'd stuck that pen up The Fixer's nose. Probably that lawyer who had once fallen victim to The Fixer's writing instrument of choice. Sure, Mack thought, must've been the lawyer.

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