I’ve been intrigued by the Miami River since I moved to South Florida, some twenty-seven years ago. Its five and a half miles snake past empty lots and high-rise hotels, fading shipyards and condo towers, connecting Biscayne Bay to the Everglades, and has been a commercial transportation route since the first white men came to these shores and began trading with the Seminoles and Miccosukees.
In the 1970s, the Miami River was a major port for cocaine smugglers. That trade climaxed with a case called the Miami River Cops Scandal in 1985. The Mary C, a fishing boat loaded with $12 million in cocaine, docked at the Jones Boat Yard, and soon after a dozen policemen were alleged to have ransacked it and stolen the drugs. By the time the dust settled, about a hundred officers had been arrested, suspended or reprimanded and at least twenty were sentenced to prison for robbing dope dealers of cash and cocaine.
I worked in downtown Miami in the mid-80s, and my co-workers and I used to go to a little waterfront café right in the middle of the industrial zone, where we could watch freighters glide by, bound for Haiti stacked with stolen bicycles. Wrecked and abandoned boats littered its shores, and its waters were polluted. It served as a point of entry for illegal drugs and illegal aliens.
I was fascinated by the river, and even wrote a screenplay that took place there, called River Heat, about a naïve young Anglo with a powerboat who rescues a beautiful Nicaraguan revolutionary running along the riverbank. I spent a lot of time cruising around the river, looking for settings that evoked the images I wanted.
Even though I’ve moved a half-hour north of the city, I’m still interested in the Miami River. The climactic scenes of my newest book, Genie for Hire: A BiffAndromeda Mystery, concern arms smuggling from the backwaters of the former Soviet Union. The arms arrive at the Miami airport, smoothed along by a corrupt Customs officer, and then are offloaded to a freighter for shipment to Nicaragua.
The papers say the river has been cleaned up, but I’m sure there’s still a clandestine business going on there, which is terrific for a mystery writer.