MORAN’S FIRST IMPRESSION of Nolen Tyner: He looked like a high risk, the kind of guy who falls asleep smoking in bed. No luggage except for a six-pack of beer on the counter and the Miami Herald folded under his arm.
He reminded Moran of a show-business personality going to seed. Long two-tone hair thinning fast, what was left of a blond pompadour receding from a sunburned peeling forehead. Moran could see dark roots that matched his dark, neatly trimmed mustache. The khaki shirt was neat too, freshly laundered, faded, the cuffs of the sleeves turned up once, shirttails hanging out, aviator sunglasses hooked to one of the flap pockets. Onetime dude over the hill at forty. Maybe half in the bag. Dreamy eyes looked up from the registration card to the calendar on the wall behind Moran, then half-closed, squinting.
“Is it October already?”
It was almost November.
He filled in another line of information about himself, looked up and stared directly at Moran, deadpan.
“This is the Coconut Palms Resort Apartments. Is that correct?”
“That’s correct,” Moran said, just as dry.
Nolen Tyner’s gaze shifted to the inside window of the office that looked out toward the Atlantic Ocean, past the oval-shaped pool and empty lounge chairs. His sleepy eyes returned to Moran.
“Then why don’t I see any palm trees?”
“Some bugs ate ’em,” Moran said. “I had to have six trees removed.”
“It doesn’t bother you,” Nolen Tyner said, “you call this place the Coconut Palms there isn’t a single palm tree out there? Isn’t that false advertising?”
“The high rise on the south side of us, nine stories, is called the Nautilus,” Moran said, “but I don’t think it’s a submarine. The one on the other side, it’s ten stories, is the Aurora. Tell me if you think it looks like a radiant glow in the upper atmosphere. That’ll be thirty dollars. You’re in Number Five, right next to the office.”
Nolen Tyner continued to stare at Moran. He nodded. “Okay. How about if I sit out by the pool and drink my beer and I don’t take a room? How much is that?”
“That’s also thirty dollars,” Moran said. “For the ambience and the music.”
“I don’t hear any music.”
“I haven’t turned it on yet,” Moran said. “I’ll tell you what though. You can take your six-pack up the road, you might find something more to your liking. Maybe even less expensive.”
Nolen Tyner was looking at Moran’s beard, his white T-shirt and cutoff jeans. “You work here or own the place?”
“Both,” Moran said. “My desk clerk’d stand here and chat with you all afternoon, but he’s off today.”
“Being courteous to people who come in off the street,” Nolen Tyner said, smiling a little, “I imagine that can be a pain in the ass at times, huh?”
“It can if you let it,” Moran said.
Moran looked at the reservation card.
Nolen Tyner, 201 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables, Fla. 33134. Make of car: ’76 Porsche. No license number.
Written in an arty back-leaning style, half-printed. Give him an “A” for neatness but an “F” for lying about his home address, since 201 Alhambra Circle was a big glass building, the Ponce de Leon Plaza, where his former wife’s lawyer had his offices. It wasn’t more than a mile from where Moran had lived during the seven years of the marriage.
If Nolen Tyner did live in Coral Gables or had an office there and he liked to sit outside in the afternoon and drink beer, why didn’t he go to Bayfront Park? Why come all the way up to Pompano, an hour’s drive, pay thirty bucks for a room and then sit outside? Which the guy was doing now. Lying in a lounge chair on the afternoon shadyside of the pool. Holding a can of beer on his chest, moving it almost in slow motion when he’d take a sip. Wearing his sporty safari shirt, but also wearing, Moran noticed, very unsporty black socks with his open-toed sandals. If he wasn’t meeting a woman here-and after about an hour and three cans of beer it didn’t look like it-then he was either hiding or looking for action.
But if he was hiding he’d stay inside. Wouldn’t he?
And if he was looking for action and had heard something about the Coconut Palms’ SECRETARY SPECIALS-advertised twice a year in big-city papers up north-it was possible he’d come with the idea of picking up some poor secretary who was here by herself, bored out of her mind. Except that October was a very lean month for secretaries compared to February and March. And the guy had not said anything clever or hinted around about looking for girls.
So maybe he was looking for somebody in particular. And if that was the case, without checking the guest chart Moran knew who it would be. Not the secretaries from Dayton in Number Three. Not the ones from Fort Wayne in Four. Or the elderly couple who wanted Seven so they could keep an eye on their Buick parked on the street. No, it would have to be the afternoon lovers in Number One, the lower oceanfront apartment.
They had been meeting here every afternoon except the weekend for the past eight days: the young Cuban-looking guy who wore rings and chains, gold-rimmed sunglasses up in a nest of thick hair, and the stylish woman who was about ten years older than the guy and probably married to a Cuban businessman in Miami. The guy had signed in Mario Prado and Moran, taking in the guy’s glistening hairdo, said, “Haven’t I seen you on TV?” Mario Prado said yeah, he did guest shots on Tony Marvin’s show; he was playing cocktail piano at the Sheraton in Palm Beach; his manner so bored, relaxed, Moran was afraid the guy might collapse, melt into a puddle of grease. Mario took Number One oceanfront for a month, paid fifteen hundred cash in advance, without Moran asking for it, and the mystery woman appeared a short time later. Mario Prado waited on the street, sunglasses over his eyes now, until the gray Mercedes pulled up. He took a case of champagne out of the trunk. After that they arrived separately each afternoon between one and two and usually left about five, not much later. Neither of them ever spent the night.
One time, a few days ago, the woman arrived on schedule, but the piano player failed to show. Moran watched her come out of Number One to stand by the low cement wall that separated the yard from the beach, the woman in a white sundress and heels, her dark hair shining in the sunlight, tied back with a violet scarf. She had her arms folded and seemed impatient, though she didn’t move much. Moran went out in his T-shirt and cutoffs to get a look at her.
He said, “Mrs. Prado, how’re you today?”
She appeared to be in her late thirties, about Moran’s age, stylishly thin, holding a languid model pose now, wrist bent on her hip, as she studied Moran from behind big round violet-tinted sunglasses.
“That’s not my name,” the woman said, with an edge but only the hint of an accent.
“It’s the name your husband signed,” Moran said.
“My husband?” the woman said. “You think that’s my husband?”
“Well, whoever you are, we’re glad to have you,” Moran said. “You like me to put some music on? We’ve got outside speakers.”
“I like you to beat it and leave me alone,” the woman said and turned to look at the ocean. She had a nice profile, thin, straight nose, her hair pulled back tight to show round white earrings.
“Well, enjoy your stay,” Moran said and got out of there. He couldn’t imagine her being much fun. Maybe that was why they brought all the champagne, get her loosened up. Lula, Moran’s part-time maid, would come out of Number One in the morning with a plastic bag of trash and give him a report. “ ‘Nother dead soldier and the brandy’s near touching bottom. Should see how they tear up a bed.” Moran never went into occupied rooms out of curiosity, to see how people lived or what they’d brought with them; he respected their privacy. But he did consider sticking his head into Number One, some quiet evening after the lovers had gone. Inspect the setting on the off chance it might reveal something about them. Still, it had to be a purely sexual relationship, and if that was the case then what would he be looking for, pecker tracks? He could think of a lot more important things to do-if he put his mind to it.
The day following the brief meeting with the woman the piano player came into the office, his pink shirt open to show his chains and said to Moran, “I understand you try to make the moves on the lady with me. I’ll tell you something, man, what’s good for you. Stay away from her. You understand?”
At this point the piano player and the woman had used up only about two hundred of the fifteen-hundred-dollar advance. The numbers registered in Moran the innkeeper’s mind as he considered grabbing the piano player by his pink shirt and throwing him out on the street, and the numbers gave him pause. It wouldn’t hurt to be polite, would it?
Moran said, “I’m sorry if I gave Mrs. Prado the wrong impression. I didn’t much more’n say hi to her.”
“You ask her if she want to dance with you.”
“No, I’m not a dancer,” Moran said. “I asked if she wanted me to turn some music on.” He grinned in his brownish beard. “I suppose a lady as attractive as your wife has guys hitting on her all the time. I can see where she’d become, well, defensive.” Which was not an easy thing for Moran to say. Now if the piano player would accept this and leave…
But he didn’t. Mario Prado spread his ringed and lacquered fingers on the counter like it was a keyboard, like he was going to play Moran a tune, and said, “I hear you go near her again you going to be in deep shit, man. You got it?”
Moran said to him, no longer grinning, “Mario, there’s a certain amount of shit you have to put up with in this business, but you just went over the limit. You want, I’ll give you the rest of your money back. But if I do I’ll probably pick you up and throw you in the swimming pool, and with all those fucking chains you got on you’ll probably sink to the bottom and drown. But it’s up to you. You want your money back?”
The piano player squinted his dark eyes and got hard drawn lines around his nostrils. This, Moran assumed, was to indicate nerves of ice banking the Latin fire inside. Moran wondered if the guy practiced it.
The piano player said, “Just wait, man. Just wait.”
That was a few days ago and Moran was still waiting for the Cuban’s revenge-the guy and the woman in the apartment right now doing whatever they did. While Mr. Nolen Tyner reclined in a lounge chair on the shady side of the pool, beer can upright on his chest, as though he might be sighting the beer can between the V of his out-turned sandals, aiming his attention directly at oceanfront Number One. Keeping an eye on the Latin lovers who, Moran had decided, deserved one another.
Wait a minute. Or was Nolen Tyner watching out for them, protecting them? Hired by the piano player.
Christ, he could be keeping an eye on you, Moran thought. It gave him a strange feeling. It reinforced the premonition he’d been aware of for a couple of weeks now, that he was about to walk into something that would change his life.
Except that it wasn’t time for Moran’s life to take another turn. He was thirty-eight, not due for a change until forty-two. He believed in seven-year cycles because he couldn’t ignore the fact that every seven years something happened and his life would take a turn in a new direction. Only one of his turns was anticipated, planned; the rest just seemed to happen, though with a warning, a feeling he’d get. Like now.
When he was seven years old he reached the age of reason and became responsible for his actions. He was told this in second grade, in catechism.
When he was fourteen a big eighteen-year-old Armenian girl who weighed about thirty pounds more than he did took him to bed one summer afternoon; she smelled funny, but it was something, what he learned the human body liked.
When he was eighteen he misplaced the reason he had acquired at seven and joined the Marines, Moran said to get out of being drafted, to have a choice in the matter, but really looking for action. Which he found.
When he was twenty-one, back on the cycle and through with his tour, he left the Marines and his hometown, Detroit, Michigan, and went to work for a cement company as a finisher, to make a lot of money. This was in Miami, Florida.
When he was twenty-eight Moran married a girl by the name of Noel Sutton and became rich. He went to work for Noel’s dad as a condominium developer, wore a suit, bought a big house in Coral Cables and joined Leucadendra Country Club, never for any length of time at ease in Coral Gables high society. He couldn’t figure out how those people could take themselves and what they did so seriously and still act bored. Nobody ever jumped up and said, “I’m rich and, Christ, is it great!” Moran knew it was not his kind of life.
And when he was thirty-five Noel, then thirty, divorced him. She said, “Do you think you can get by just being a hunk all your life? Well, you’re wrong, you’re already losing it.” Answering her own question, which was a habit of Noel’s. Moran told her answering her own questions was a character defect. That and trying to change him and always being pissed off at him about something. For not wearing the outfits she bought him with little animals and polo players on them. For not staying on his side of the court when they played mixed doubles and she never moved. For “constantly” bugging her about leaving her clothes on the floor, which he’d mentioned maybe a couple times and given up. For drinking beer out of the can. For not having his Marine Corps tattoo removed. For growing a beard. A lot of little picky things like that. He did shave off the beard, stared at his solemn reflection in the mirror-he looked like he was recovering from an operation-and immediately began growing another one. Henry Thoreau had said, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Moran believed those words ought to be cut in stone.
The divorce was not a bad turn in the cycle. Moran had never been able to say his wife’s name out loud without feeling self-conscious or thinking of Christmas. So that was a relief, not having to say her name. Also, not having to look bright and aggressive when he was with her dad. Or look at beachfront property and picture high-rise condominiums blocking the view.
He had certainly been attracted to Noel, a petite little thing with closely cropped dark hair and a haughty ass: she seemed to be always at attention, her back arched, her perfect breasts and pert can sticking out proudly; but he wasn’t sure now if it was love or horniness that had led him to marriage. In the divorce settlement Noel got the house in Coral Gables and a place her dad had given them in Key West and Moran got their investment property, a twelve-unit resort motel in Pompano Beach, the Coconut Palms without the palm trees.
Sort of a U-shaped compound, white with aqua trim. Two levels of efficiencies along the street side of the property. A wing of four one-bedroom apartments, two on each level, that extended out toward the beach. The apartment wing was parallel to a white stucco one-bedroom Florida bungalow that also faced the beach. And the oval swimming pool was in between, in the middle of the compound.
Moran moved into the bungalow and found he liked living on the beach and being an innkeeper, once he’d hired a clerk-accountant and a part-time maid. He liked meeting the different people. He liked being in the sun most of the day, doing odd jobs, fishing for yellowtail and snapper once a week. Renting the efficiencies for fifty a day in season and the apartments for seventy-five Moran grossed around eighty thousand a year. Taxes, utilities, upkeep and salaries ran thirty-five to forty, so Moran wasn’t exactly socking it away. Still, it was a nice life and he was in no hurry to change it.
Then why did he feel it was about to take another turn on him?
He was planning a trip next week: fly down to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, a vacationland Moran had invaded with the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines in 1965 when a revolution broke out and Johnson sent in Marines and Airborne to safeguard American lives and while you’re at it run out the Communists. “I’m not going to have another Cuba in the Caribbean,” the president said. In his thirty-day war Cpl. George S. Moran, Bravo Company, Third Platoon, a First Squad fire-team leader, shot a sniper, was wounded, taken prisoner by the rebels, got a Purple Heart and met a Dominican girl he would never forget. He wanted to walk those streets again without sniper fire coming in and see what he remembered. He might even look up the girl who had once tried to kill him. See if she was still around.
Maybe it was the anticipation of the trip that Moran mistook for a premonition of something about to happen.
But maybe it was something else. Something winging in at him out of the blue.