A police boat directed a light toward tar-covered pilings and water, turning a black scene white. Havana was invisible across the bay, except for a single line of lamps along the seawall. Stars rode high, anchor lights rode low, otherwise the harbor was a still pool in the night.
Soda cans, crab pots, fishing floats, mattresses, Styrofoam bearded with algae shifted as an investigation team of the Policía Nacional de la Revolución took flash shots. Arkady waited in a cashmere overcoat with a Captain Arcos, a barrel-chested little man who looked ironed into military fatigues, and his Sergeant Luna, large, black and angular. Detective Osorio was a small brown woman in PNR blue; she gave Arkady a studied glare.
A Cuban named Rufo was the interpreter from the Russian embassy. "It's very simple," he translated the captain's words. "You see the body, identify the body and then go home."
"Sounds simple." Arkady tried to be agreeable, although Arcos walked off as if any contact with Russians was contamination.
Osorio combined the sharp features of an ingenue with the grave expression of a hangman. She spoke and Rufo explained, "The detective says this is the Cuban method, not the Russian method or the German method. The Cuban method. You will see."
Arkady had seen little so far. He had just arrived at the airport in the dark when he was whisked away by Rufo. They were headed by taxi to the city when Rufo received a call on a cellular phone that diverted them to the bay. Already Arkady had a sense that he was unwelcome and unpopular.
Rufo wore a loose Hawaiian shirt and a faint resemblance to the older, softer Muhammad Ali. "The detective says she hopes you don't mind learning the Cuban method."
"I'm looking forward to it." Arkady was nothing if not a good guest. "Could you ask her when the body was discovered?"
"Two hours ago by the boat."
"The embassy sent me a message yesterday that Pribluda was in trouble. Why did they say that before you found a body?"
"She says ask the embassy. She was certainly not expecting an investigator."
Professional honor seemed to be at stake and Arkady felt badly outclassed on that score. Like Columbus on deck, Captain Arcos scanned the dark impatiently, Luna his hulking shadow. Osorio had sawhorses erected and stretched a tape that read NO PASEO. When a motorcycle policeman in a white helmet and spurs on his boots arrived, she chased him with a shout that could have scored steel. Somehow men in T-shirts appeared along the tape as soon as it was unrolled-what was it about violent death that was better than dreams? Arkady wondered. Most of the onlookers were black; Havana was far more African than Arkady had expected, although the logos on their shirts were American.
Someone along the tape carried a radio that sang, "La fiesta no es para los feos. Qué feo es, señor. Super feo, amigo mío. No puedes pasar aquí, amigo. La fiesta no es para los feos."
"What does that mean?" Arkady asked Rufo.
"The song? It says, 'This party is not for ugly people. Sorry, my friend, you can't come.' "
Yet here I am, Arkady thought.
A vapor trail far overhead showed silver, and ships at anchor started to appear where only lights had hung moments before. Across the bay the seawall and mansions of Havana rose from the water, docks spread and, along the inner bay, loading cranes got to their feet.
"The captain is sensitive," Rufo said, "but whoever was right or wrong about the message, you're here, the body's here."
"So it couldn't have worked out better?"
"In a manner of speaking."
Osorio ordered the boat to back off so that its wash wouldn't stir the body. A combination of the boat's light and the freshening sky made her face glow.
Rufo said, "Cubans don't like Russians. It's not you, it's just not a good place for a Russian."
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