The cop happened to look up at just the right instant or he
would have missed it, not the actual impalement, but the fall itself. It took
him a disorienting second to realize what he was seeing, the swelling black mass
against the white stone and glass of the hotel facade, and then it was finished,
with a sound that he knew he would carry to his grave.
After that, he took a minute or so to sit on the bumper of his car with his head down low, so as not to pollute the crime scene with his own vomit, and then reported the event on his radio. He called it in as a 31, which was the Miami PD code for a homicide, although it could have been an accident or a jumper. But it felt like a homicide, for reasons the cop could not then explain. While he waited for the sirens, he looked up at the row of balconies that made up the face of the Trianon Hotel. The thought briefly crossed his mind that he ought to go and check the guy out to make sure that he was actually dead, that perhaps the wrought iron fleur-de-lis spearheads protruding from the man's neck, chest, and groin had missed all the vital organs in their paths.
He was a dutiful officer, but this was his first fresh corpse, and he decided not to investigate more closely than a couple of yards, telling himself that it was better not to contaminate the crime scene. The corpse had been a good-looking guy, he thought, leather-dark skin but aquiline features: hooked nose, thin lips, a little spade beard. There was something foreign about the face, although the officer could not have said what it was.
Turning away from it with some relief, he inspected the facade of the hotel, noting that there were three vertical columns of balconies adorning the twelve floors of the building, which was capped by a copper roof styled after a French château. That was the theme of the Trianon Hotel, as much French as would fit: besides the roof, there were gilt cornices, coats of arms, New Orleans-style wrought iron on the balconies, and, of course, fleurs-de-lis on the iron fence that surrounded the south face of the property. People were coming out of the hotel now, frightened men in the hotel's white livery, a few guests from the lobby. A woman's shriek recalled the cop to his duty, and he herded them all back into the cool interior.
A broad man in a double-breasted cream suit accosted him at this point and announced himself as the manager. He knew who it was, a guest, 10 D, and gave a name. The cop wrote it down in his notebook. The manager departed, dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief, and the cop resumed his study of the facade, although his eye kept drifting over to the victim. The flies arrived and got to their buzzing tasks, and shortly after that an ambulance pulled up. The paramedics emerged, took in the scene, declared the man officially dead, made wiseass paramedic remarks, and went back to their bus to wait in the cool of the AC. The crime scene van arrived, and the CSUs started to assemble their various implements of investigation and their cameras, while making some of the same cracks (that's what I call piercings; sorry, he can't come to the phone right now) that the paramedics had made, and after a little while an unmarked white Chevy pulled up, and out of it came a neatly built, caramel colored man, in a beautifully cut gray-green silk and linen suit. The cop sighed. Of course it had to be him.
"Morales?" asked the man. The cop nodded, and the man held out his hand to be shaken, saying, "Paz."
"Uh-huh," said Morales. He knew who Jimmy Paz was, as did everyone on the Miami PD, as did everyone in Metropolitan Dade County who owned a television. Morales had not, however, met him professionally until now. Both men were first-generation Cuban immigrant stock, but the patrolman considered himself white, like 98 percent of the Cuban migration to America, and Paz was not white, yet also undeniably Cuban. It was disconcerting, even without the tug of racism, which Morales was conscious of trying to resist.
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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