With the temperature down to sub-zero and snow piling up on the sidewalks, to me New York had become a hole in the head. I longed for the sun. I hadn’t been to Paradise City for two years and I now had the itch to relax in the comfort and luxury of the Spanish Bay hotel – the best hotel on the Florida Coast.
I had sold a couple of shorties to the New Yorker and my last novel had been third on the bestseller list for the past six months so I didn’t have to worry about money. Looking out of my window at the grey sky, the snow and watching people moving around like ants far below me in a freezing wind gave me the incentive to reach for the telephone.
A telephone can be a miracle of convenience. You get an idea and the telephone will turn that idea into a reality – always providing you have money. I had money, so in a few minutes I was speaking to Jean Dulac who runs the Spanish Bay hotel at Paradise City. In another few minutes, a room with a balcony
that caught ten hours of sunshine per day and overlooking the sea was reserved for me.
Thirty-six hours later I arrived at Paradise City airport to be met by a gleaming white Cadillac that conveyed me to this fabulous hotel which catered only for fifty guests – each guest getting V.I.P. treatment.
I spent my first week relaxing in the sun, chatting up the dollies and eating too much, then I remembered Al Barney.
Two years ago, I had met this fat, beer-bloated beachcomber and he had given me an idea for a book. Barney described himself as a man with his ear to the ground. What he didn’t know about the background, the crime, the sex life and the muck behind the City wasn’t worth knowing about.
I asked Dulac if Barney was still around.
‘Of course.’ He smiled. ‘Paradise City without Al Barney would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower. You will find him, as always, outside or inside the Neptune Tavern.’
So after an excellent dinner, I went down to the smelly waterfront with its crowd of camera festooned tourists, its fishermen and its fishing boats: one of the most picturesque scenes along the Florida coast.
I found Al Barney sitting on a bollard outside the shabby Neptune Tavern. He was still wearing the tattered dirty sweatshirt and the grease-incrusted trousers he had been wearing when I first met him.
Someone had patched the sweatshirt and had made a bad job of it – probably he had done it himself. An empty beer can in his enormous hand, he sat like a bloated piece of flotsam with the crowd of tourists moving around him.
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