"You're the first response on this?" Paz was not looking at the corpse. He was looking at Morales, with a pleasant smile on his face and little lights glinting in his hazel eyes. He was looking at a man in his early twenties, with a fine-featured beardless face, in the complexion usually called olive, but which is more like parchment, a face that might be choirboy open when relaxed but was now guarded, tense, the intelligent dark eyes focused on the detective so hard they almost squinted.
"No, I was here already. Somebody called in a disturbance at the hotel. It was a hoax call. I was just about to pull out when he came down."
"You saw him drop?"
Paz looked up at the face of the hotel and saw what Morales had seen. It was perfectly clear from which balcony the victim had begun his fatal descent. All the balconies but one had their glass doors closed against the afternoon heat. In the single exception the door was open and the white curtains were flapping like flags. Paz counted silently.
"It looks like the tenth floor," he said. Now for the first time he inspected the corpse. "Nice shoes," he said. "Lorenzo Banfi's. Nice suit too. A dresser. Tell me, why did you call it in as a homicide?"
"He didn't yell on the way down," said Morales, surprising himself with this statement. Paz grinned at him, a catlike grin, and Morales felt his own face breaking into a smile. "Very good. Good police work. Guy slips off a terrace, you have to figure hes going to make some kind of noise on the way down. And now that we know that, this little line of blood dripping under the back of the skull here is more interesting, huh?"
"He could have hit his head on the way down."
"Against what? You saw it: its a straight shot from that balcony to the fence, and he made a perfect three-prong landing. No, he went over with that wound already on his head. He was probably out cold when he landed. Probably a good thing too, considering." They both looked for a moment at the fly-crawling corpse.
Then Paz said, "I tell you what, Morales. This guy isnt going anywhere. Why dont you and me go on up to that room and try to find out what he was doing before he came down?"
"His names Jabir Akran al-Muwalid. I got it off the manager. Hes a guest, 10 D."
Another big grin from Paz.
"Very good, Morales. Great! Terrific! Thank you. I wasnt looking forward to going through that guys pockets for ID."
Morales was thinking that maybe the book on Paz was wrong, that he wasnt an arrogant pain in the ass after all. Morales had been on the force for nine months, and this was the first time a detective had treated him like anything but a useless doughnut-dunker who had probably messed up the crime scene and helped the perp on with his coat. The other funny thing was that the guy didnt have a partner. All the homicide guys worked in pairs, but apparently not Jimmy Paz.
They picked up a key card from the desk and went up in the elevator, which was, like the lobby, decorated in cream and gold. It even had a little Louis Quinze chair in it, with a brocade seat. As it turned out, they did not need the key card. A rolled towel had been placed on the floor to thwart the automatic-closing feature of the room door. They stepped over it and into the room.
It was a suite, furnished in the same Louis Quinze style as the lobby and the elevator; and they were now in the spacious sitting room thereof. One whole wall was lined with gilt-framed mirrors, and on the opposite side they had a view of the balcony and the French windows that led onto it; the heavy drapes, printed with heraldic ancient régime designs were pulled back, and the filmy white sheers fluttered in the breeze from Biscayne Bay.
Paz started to walk toward this balcony but caught a glimpse of something in the mirror and stopped. There was a woman in the room. She was kneeling on the faux Aubusson, her hands clasped to her breast, eyes wide open, staring. Paz moved into her field of vision, but she didnt appear to notice him. He observed that she was speaking in a low voice. Praying? He moved closer, at the same time gesturing for Morales to check out the bedroom.
From Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber. Copyright Michael Gruber 2005. Published by HarperCollins. Used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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