By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
The book sits quietly, battling long odds. Hundreds of other titles line the shelves of Books & Books in Coral Gables. Meditations on politics. Memoirs and biographies. First novels by the graduates of elite writing workshops. Some 60,000 new books are released in America every year. Most disappear quickly, with little notice and few readers.
The book in question rests on a back wall, among a kaleidoscope of competitors. Some cry for attention with fluorescent dust jackets. Titles are printed in vivid oranges and greens. The spine on this book is basic black. Maize-colored letters spell out a title that is not particularly catchy: Freedom Land. The front cover features a portrait of a frontiersman in buckskins. A bandanna caps his long brown hair, a rifle rests in his hands, his thin lips are set in grim resolution. Leather boots disappear into a watery marsh stained yellow by a setting sun. Off his right shoulder, melting into a burnt orange cloud line, floats the subtitle, a sultry hard sell:
From the pages of our nation's history comes a novel of passion, betrayal, and the all-consuming quest for freedom.
At the bottom of the cover, printed in white letters to contrast with tan blades of sawgrass, is the author's name: Martin L. Marcus.
"He was a real man's man, sort of a renaissance kind of man," says Sherrie Marcus of her brother Martin. "He didn't lead a typical nine-to-five life, ever."
Martin was born in Philadelphia in 1946, the son of a butcher. He grew up with the personality of South Philly: a little gruff, brimming with machismo, imbued with a certain fearlessness. He told people what he thought. He showed little patience for dreamers. If you shared a bright idea, he'd ask you what you were doing about it. Right now. Today. Why hadn't you started making the dream come true? He was athletic, not tall or bulging with muscles, but fit from constant activity. He'd played soccer and football in high school, then in college in Atlanta. He loved to ski. In pictures his face is chiseled. His eyes burn with life.
"He was a 'just do it' kind of Nike kind of seize-the-day kind of guy," says Sherrie, an attorney in Miami.
Martin vowed to lead a life different from his father the butcher. There would be no leaving for work at 4:00 a.m. only to trudge home exhausted fourteen hours later. His career would be a more fluid pursuit of his passions. Soon after Martin moved to Miami, in the early Seventies, he began investing in racehorses. Chief Steward, Ships in the Night, Uronurown. He loved watching them run. Even better was standing in the winner's circle after a race, holding the reins of a bet that paid off. He could tell you the bloodlines of any horse racing at any track in the country. He lived to gamble.
Just about the time Martin established himself as a thoroughbred owner and trainer, he changed careers. A friend had tickled him with promises of high profits in real estate. Impulsively, Martin opened his own real estate company in Miami, in 1980. He diversified with a handful of condominium time-share projects in Colorado, which allowed him to ski in Aspen. His work hours were so flexible he could play tennis, his favorite game, any time he wanted. He could have set up something stable to buffer the insecurities of life. Instead he changed careers again.
Now it was screenplays, movies. He'd been a fan of classic Hollywood films since he was a kid. Films like Casablancaand Lawrence of Arabia. Because he liked these movies, and because he thought it would be fun to make them, he did. Or at least he tried. Who cared if he lacked training? Who cared if he had no background in the arts? Didn't matter. He was fond of a quote from Wayne Gretzky, the hockey superstar: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."
Martin formed a company, Peerless Productions, and was on his way. About the only thing missing was someone to share his adventures with.
"I'm not the marrying kind," says Carol Durbin. She's sitting at the kitchen table of her condominium, just north of downtown Miami. Beyond a wall of glass, the blue surface of the Intracoastal Waterway shimmers in late-afternoon sunshine. Cars appearing no larger than palmetto bugs dart across the Julia Tuttle Causeway. She was only twenty when she first married. The union lasted less than a year. Her second marriage lasted only six weeks.
"You really want to know your lover? Travel cross-country," she says. "Believe me, travel tells a lot about a person."
Durbin is tall and thin. Her straight, shoulder-length copper hair frames a long delicate face. Her nails are long, as are her earrings. She's wearing jeans and a fashionable top constructed somewhere between a T-shirt and a peasant blouse. She grabs a toothpick with her long, thin fingers. While piercing a melon cube from a platter, she traces the disastrous early years of her love life. An annulment after the road trip was followed by a third marriage and still another divorce. Was it her unwillingness to compromise? Was she evolved enough for marriage in the first place?