Excerpt of The Last Goodbye by Reed Arvin
(Page 4 of 5)
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We didn't speak much before she left. She dressed and slipped away gracefully,
without imposition or demand. She left me with my task: in other words, to get
Miguel Caliz out of jail. If nothing else, I owed her that. And after what had
just happened, I owed him that.
I had to buy him clothes. I paid for them myself, probably out of a sense of
penance. I knew I had crossed an ethical line, although lately the lines were
moving so quickly that I wasn't sure where they were. I only knew one thing
for certain, that winning was the most ethical thing of all.
I met Caliz at the jail to give him the suit, and he accepted it without a
word. I waited for him to dress to go over his testimony. He looked good, but
not slick, which was the idea. I didn't want the jurors to know I had dressed
him, so the suit I brought was cheapish, nothing too stylish.
Ten minutes into the trial, I realized it didn't matter. I had planned
carefully, ready to cite the most cutting-edge legal opinions on
constitutional law, from search and seizure to racial profiling. I never had
the chance. Everyone in the courtroom was spellbound as they watched the
police officer on the stand blowing up, his face covered with ill-concealed
loathing for all things brown in the inner city of Atlanta. I actually
wondered how long the prosecuting attorney would let it go on. But she had no
choice. The policeman was the arresting officer, and without his testimony,
there was no case. In spite of his angry, narrow eyes, sarcastic tone, and
generally hate-filled countenance, she had to keep asking him questions. The
jury--there had never been a question in my mind whether or not to ask for a
jury--was more than half Latino, and they were hating him back with a combined
hundred years or so of built-up resentment.
Caliz himself had helped; like a lot of cons, the kid could act. His
expression, with me suspicious and dangerous, transformed itself into
victimized fear. His voice trembled. The officers had pulled him over because
of his skin. He was humiliated. They had searched him because they didn't like
his accent. Of course he knew about drugs. Everybody in his neighborhood knew
about them. But he had never taken them in his life.
It took less than an hour for the jury to acquit. There was some satisfaction
in that, I suppose. I had to take satisfaction where I could get it, because I
didn't get any from Caliz. He didn't shake my hand when he heard the verdict.
Instead, he turned and looked at Violeta, who was sitting quietly behind the
two of us. Which was the moment I began to wonder who was driving the train I
I thought about her that night, missing her. I was confused, wondering what
she was doing. Was she flat on her back, happily letting Caliz replace my
heritage with his own? Or was she declaring her independence, telling him
having her man in and out of jail wasn't acceptable anymore? I wanted to will
her back into my bed, to feel her legs wrapped around me, to lose myself again
in her dark hair and eyes. The next morning, submerged into my normal life,
she floated in and out of my mind, coalescing in my memory. I very nearly
called her, formulating some banal question to ask, some bit of paperwork
needing to be signed.
I did not yet understand the chasm between normal and criminal thinking. To
Caliz, it didn't matter whether or not Violeta had sacrificed herself to get
him the kind of legal expertise he could never afford on his own. It only
mattered that he was the kind of angry young man who beats the woman in his
life. If she had seduced me on his orders, maybe he just suspected that she
had enjoyed herself too much. I never found out. I only know that two days
after I got him out of jail, he beat her to death.
From The Last Goodbye. Copyright © 2004 by Reed Arvin. HarperCollins
Publishers. Used by permission.