Sell It or Smell It

Potatoes are plentiful, but green beans are scarce. Okra abounds, and tomatoes are holding their own. If it weren't for Allapattah's terminal market, Miamians would have no food for thought.

That would have been Diane Nelms, whose charred body was found October 5 on a fire-blackened produce pallet. Two months earlier and a hundred yards away, another homeless woman in her early forties, Vida Hicks, had been killed and disposed of in the same way. Last month the burned body of a third woman known to frequent the market was found in the Miami City Cemetery. Other women have reported similar-sounding assaults, and rumors have circulated about a serial killer frequenting the market. One of the more lurid stories has him driving a truck decorated with a picture of the Devil and a burning woman in chains.

As scary as that sounds, people still go out to the tracks at night, and hookers still do business at the market. Rohlfing offers an example: "the pregnant Guatemalan chick" who wanders the neighborhood looking like a lost eleven-year-old. Barely five feet tall, no more than 100 pounds, with a gap-toothed grin and painfully thin legs. "You know that's gonna be a crack baby," Harraghy says. "It's a shame. It really is a shame."

Across NW Thirteenth at the Produce Connection, they know the Guatemalan prostitute, too; they call her Shorty. She's here this morning, in fact, sans infant, having given birth a few days ago. For a new mother, Shorty seems unnaturally frisky; judging by appearances she's entirely devoid of maternal qualities. She dodges around the busy dock like a little kid, her bony body hidden by a ragged leather jacket. She runs up to sales rep Dennis Young and makes a proposition. He looks disgusted for a moment, then grins and answers her in Spanish. "She wants a dollar," he says. "'Ay, papi, gimme a dollar.' I told her I'd give her a dollar if she grabbed that guy's dick over there. She did it!" Young gives her the dollar -- one-fifth the price of a rock -- and she disappears over the edge of the loading dock. He grimaces. "They all got a scam. I hate 'em all."

Young and Produce Connection owner Bruce Fishbein have no time for scams this morning. They're in crisis mode. "You heard what happened to our truck, right?" Fishbein asks. "We had a California load we booked that was coming here. The driver had a heart attack in Louisiana and wiped out not only himself but from what I understand six or eight cars. People died, produce everywhere."

The phone on the counter rings. He snatches it smoothly. "Hello, Produce. Well, pick 'em out yourself, you know what I'm saying? Bro, you know I love you, and I appreciate it, I'm just saying pick 'em out yourself and bag 'em for us. Big, big berries. The stems were nice, give me five more stems, okay? And try to get us an early delivery. Thank you, my brother." Five Jamaican importers on their regular weekly buying run -- two thin men and three large women -- stand in front of the counter shivering, hunched over in thick sweaters. Fishbein's getting by comfortably on adrenaline and a white, hooded Dolphins warmup. He grabs one more call, then leads the Jamaicans back to his office.

It's half past six and the eastern sky has gone all pink and orange. Out on Thirteenth Avenue a man shuffles by, bent over behind a heavily loaded shopping cart. At some point during the night, someone dumped a load of garbage fruit at the railroad crossing, and the wind wafts the smell back to the Produce Connection warehouse. No matter. The dock is full, and the forklifts are running as fast as they can.

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