The coroner explained to me that when he broke her jaw she would have stopped begging him for mercy. But it was when he broke her ribs that she stopped breathing. Respiration wouldn't have continued for long, what with the punctured lung, the rapid and inevitable buildup of fluid around the heart. He testified that she would have survived between four and six minutes.
No one was able to testify what Miguel Caliz had on his mind while he was beating the hell out of Violeta Ramirez. He might have been taking revenge on her for breaking the foremost rule of dating a thug: never cheat. He might, on the other hand, have felt nothing at all. He might have been as calm as a hot, airless Atlanta day in summer. But either way, Violeta Ramirez was dead.
I learned what happened when I was served witness papers in the middle of a lunch with clients at 103 West, a trendy and expensive restaurant in Buckhead. I smiled apologetically for the intrusion, set down my glass of pinot noir, and read the handful of lines that were to blow up my world. Caliz's lawyer this time was cheap--I had never heard of the firm--but not so cheap that he didn't know there was sympathy for his client in the fact that I had just slept with his girlfriend. So my deposition would be required.
Some weeks later I put my hand on a Bible and swore that my name was Jack Hammond, and these were my sins. But a judge isn't a priest, and he didn't offer any penance. I would have to find that on my own. He did, however, use the word reprehensible in his admonishment to me before I was excused. That word was powerful enough for the firm of Carthy, Williams and Douglas. They did not desire to have a person who committed that word in their employment. The tawdriness of what happened to the girl was not a positive reflection on the firm, and I was on the street.
For several weeks, I didn't turn off the lights in my bedroom. I simply sat, watching the hours click by slowly. Eventually, my body demanded its due, and I closed my eyes. But it was a dangerous sleep, and there was no protection in it.
It means nothing at all to me that Miguel Caliz will spend the next several decades in a federal penitentiary. Locking up Caliz did nothing to restrict the memory of Violeta Ramirez. That memory continues to haunt me, both in daylight and dark.
The complete overthrow of my principles. That was what I had done. And here I make confession, for the benefit of my soul. But even as I confess, I know that the scar remains. Until I make this one thing right in my life, I will have no peace.
From The Last Goodbye. Copyright © 2004 by Reed Arvin. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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