It didnt sound like prayer, not that Paz was particularly familiar with the sound. She seemed to be talking to someone conversationally, although he could not make out the words. It was much like the one-sided conversations one heard lately on the streets from the people with cell phones. Paz looked carefully: no cell phone. The woman was tall and thin and had the bony good looks of a country-and-western star, a little faded. A C & W singer whod never really made it, or one that had made it and then got ruined by drink and/or shiftless men, living small in a Hialeah motel. A hard face, he might have said, the kind you saw in the tank when the cops had rounded up a bunch of whores, except that there was something transcendent in the expression on her face that didnt go with the picture. She was dressed in a faded blue T-shirt, very loose and a little soiled, a calf length brown cotton skirt, and tire-tread sandals. Dusty feet. Her hair was crow black and cut into a boys cap from which small lobeless ears emerged, close to the head. No earrings. Her eyes, set deeply within a hedge of thick dark lashes, were (surprisingly, given her hair and complexion) the color of washed blue jeans, against which the pupils looked unusually small, like BBs. Drugged, maybe? That might explain that expression too. She wore neither makeup nor nail polish, and her skin was sallow in the way that indicates a deep tan faded. Against her neck, just above the fabric of her shirt, he could make out a thin leather cord, perhaps attached to some ornament she wore under the T-shirt.
"Excuse me," said Paz. To his surprise, the woman rolled her eyes back into her head so that only the whites showed and toppled gently over onto her side. Paz immediately knelt beside her and put his hand to her neck. Her skin was moist and felt unusually hot, but the pulse beating beneath it was strong and regular. A scent came off her, sweat and something gas-station-ish, like oil or gas, and a faint floral note. Paz had handled many floral arrangements in his time and recognized the odor: lilies.
The womans eyelids fluttered, her eyes opened, she jerked and looked surprised when she saw Paz staring down at her.
"What happened?" she asked. "Whore you?" A rural-sounding voice. Hur yew.
"You were kneeling and then you kind of keeled over," Paz said. "Im Detective Paz, Miami PD. Who are you?"
"Emmylou Dideroff. Is he here?" She sat up and looked around the room.
"He would be Mr. al-Muwalid, yes?"
"Uh-huh." She rose somewhat shakily to her feet, and Paz saw that she was tall indeed, somewhat taller than his own five ten.
"You ought to sit down," he said, "you look a little shaky." She did, on one of the silly uncomfortable-looking French chairs. "Youre from the police?" she asked
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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