LaBrava
went bust, never happened. The boat-lifters and dopers come in, half the neighborhood’s already down the toilet.
    “I know a guy lives in a place called the Beachview on Collins. Listen to this, Collins Avenue, he pays four hundred seventy-five bucks-a-year rent. You know why? He’s got a seven-by-ten room, no bath, newspapers on the floor, no air, no stove even. Joe, is that right? Joe took some pictures of the guy in his room he’ll show you. Looks like a gypsy wagon, all the crap piled up in there. Four-seventy-five a year on Collins Avenue, you think it hasn’t changed?
    “Show her the La Playa.”
    Why would she want to see a run-down fleabag hotel?
    “We already passed it.”
    “Show her,” Maurice said.
    There, corner of Collins and First. Two blocks from the Miami Beach Police station, they had over two hundred assaults, shootings, knifings, rapes, ripoffs and what have you in that one hotel alone last year. You believe it? Look. What’re we on? Washington Avenue. They got video cameras mounted up on cement poles, close-circuit TV, so the cops can watch the muggings, the dope transactions, and not have to leave the station. Look. Right before our eyes, two young girls beating the shit outta each other on the street. Nice? I’m telling you . . .
    But why was he telling her? His good friend the once-famous movie star. To frighten her? So she’d stay in the hotel and never go out alone?
    No, LaBrava decided. It was to impress her. The old man was showing off. Letting her know, yeah, it was a rough place, but he knew his way around. Ballsy little eighty-year-old guy. What it came down to, Maurice loved South Beach.
     
    Jean Shaw said she would join them in a few minutes, she wanted to change. LaBrava watched her walk down the hall to the guest suite.
    She had long thin legs, still a good figure. He had liked blonds with coppery tans but was coming to prefer dark hair parted in the middle, pale skin.
    He took off his sport coat following Maurice into his apartment, the gallery, a photographic record of what Maurice had witnessed in his life covering most of three walls. The rest of the room was crowded with hotel-lobby furniture, a sectional sofa, Maurice’s La-Z-Boy recliner. Maurice went to his bar, a credenza by the formal dining-room table, and got ready to pour their nightcaps. Tighteners. LaBrava hung his coat on the back of a dining-room chair and, as he always did, began looking at photographs.
    The way it went most times, Maurice would pretend not to notice. LaBrava would study a row of framed black-and-white prints. And finally Maurice would say:
    “Terpentine camp, wood smoke and backyard cauldrons, men working that sticky mess for a dollar a day . . . and dance with their women at a jook place called the Starlight Patio, way in the piney woods . . . Sniff, you can smell the coal-oil lamps, look at the eyes shining, dirt rings on the neck of that lovely woman . . .”
    LaBrava would move a step, concentrating, not looking around, and Maurice would say:
    “Georgia road gang, 1938. They wore stripes till ’42. That’s the captain there. Gene Talmadge, used to be governor, said, ‘You want a man knows how to treat convicts, get you somebody who has et the cake.’ Somebody once a convict himself. Eugene believed in whipping and the use of the sweatbox.”
    LaBrava would move on, gaze holding, and Maurice would say:
    “That’s Al Tomani, known as the next-to-tallest man in the world. His wife was born without legs and together they were billed as the World’s Strangest Couple. About 1936.”
    And LaBrava would move on to be told about men digging mole drains in canefields, migrants cutting palmetto, boy sitting under a tung tree, Miccosuki Indians drinking corn beer, called safki . . .
    But not this evening.
    Maurice came out of the kitchen with an ice tray, glanced over to say, “Arrival of the Orange Blossom Special, January 1927 . . .” and got a surprise. LaBrava stood with

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