Excerpt from Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Back to Blood

By Tom Wolfe

Back to Blood
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2012,
    608 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2013,
    736 pages.

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"Uhhh… that's right," said the great Idle Youth.

"How did he climb the mast?" said the Sergeant. "You said he was out of breath."

"There's a rope you can see right here coming down the mast. It's got a pulley at the top, and there's a bucket seat. You get in the seat down here, and you get somebody to hoist you to the top in the bucket seat."

Sergeant McCorkle pointed overhead. "Who hoisted him up?"

"Well, he—you can use the rope and pull yourself up, if you have to."

"That must take a while," said the Sergeant. "Did you try to stop him? Did anyone try to stop him?"

"Well, as I said, he looked—"

"—looked like a psycho," said McCorkle, finishing the sentence for him. "And maybe he had a concealed weapon." The Sergeant nodded his head up and down in cop mockery posing as understanding. Then he cut his eyes toward Nestor with a certain lift of the eyebrows that as much as said, "What a bunch a pussies, hnnnnh?"

Ah, Bliss! To Nestor, at that point, that look was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor! The Sergeant had acknowledged him as a member of the courageous brotherhood of cops!—not just a probie in the Marine Patrol adept only at getting in his way.

Radiocom transmission… "Guy claims to be an anti-Fidel dissenter… Bridge full of Cubans demanding that he be given asylum. Right now that don't matter. Right now you gotta get him down from there. We got eight lanes a traffic on the causeway, and nothing's moving. What's your plan? Q,K,T."

That was all it took. For any Miami cop, especially one like Nestor or the Sergeant, that was enough to account for… the man on the mast. Undoubtedly Cuban smugglers had brought him this far, just inside Biscayne Bay, aboard some high-speed craft such as a cigarette boat, which went seventy miles an hour at sea, had dropped him off—or thrown him off—into the water near shore, made a U-turn, and sped back to Cuba. For this service he probably had to come up with something on the order of $5,000… in a country where the average pay for physicians was $300 a month. So now he finds himself floundering in the Bay. He sees the ladder on the rear of the schooner and climbs up, possibly believing it's docked, since it isn't moving, and he can just walk off onto the shore, or else that the boat will take him as far as the bridge. That's all a Cuban has to do: set foot on American soil or any structure extending from American soil, such as the bridge, and he will be granted asylum… Any Cuban… No other refugees were granted such a privilege. America's most favored migration status the Cubans enjoyed. If a Cuban refugee set foot on American soil (or structure), he was classified as a "dry foot," and he was safe. But if he was apprehended on or in the water, he would be sent back to Cuba unless he could convince a Coast Guard investigator that he would face "a credible threat," such as Communist persecution, if he had to go back. The man on the mast has made it out of the water—but onto a boat. So when Nestor and the Sergeant arrive he is technically still "in the water" and is classified as a "wet foot." Wet foots are out of luck. The Coast Guard takes them to Guantánamo, where they are, in essence, released into the woods, like an unwanted pet.

But at this moment the police high command isn't thinking about any of that. They don't care if he's a wet foot, a dry foot, a Cuban alien, or a lost Mongolian. All they care about is getting him off the mast—right now—so normal traffic can resume on the causeway.

The Sergeant looked off, and his eyes focused on… an imaginary point in the middle distance. He remained in that stance for what seemed like forever. "Okay," he said finally, looking once more at Nestor. "You think you can climb that mast, Camacho? The guy don't speak English. But you can talk to him. Tell him we have no interest in arresting him and sending him back to Cuba. We just wanna get him down from there so he don't fall and break his neck… or stay up there and break my balls." That much was true. The Department openly instructed cops not to get involved in the whole business of illegal aliens. That was the federal government's problem, the ICE's, the FBI's, and the Coast Guard's. But this was Nestor Camacho's problem, or problems: climbing a seventy-foot foremast… and talking some poor scrawny panicked Cuban into descending the goddamned mast with him.

Excerpted from Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe. Copyright © 2012 by Tom Wolfe. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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