Excerpt from Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Havana Bay

by Martin Cruz Smith

Havana Bay
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  • First Published:
    May 1999, 329 pages
    Apr 2001, 352 pages

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"Where is a good place?"
Rufo shrugged.

This side of the harbor, now that Arkady could see it, was like a village. A hillside of banana palms overhung abandoned houses that fronted what was more a cement curb than a seawall that stretched from a coal dock to a ferry landing. A wooden walkway balanced on black pilings captured whatever floated in. The day was going to be warm. He could tell by the smell.

"Vaya a cambiar su cara, amigo. Feo, feo, feo como horror, señor."
In Moscow, in January, the sun would have crept like a dim lamp behind rice paper. Here it was a rushing torch that turned air and bay into mirrors, first of nickel and then to vibrant, undulating pink. Many things were suddenly apparent. A picturesque ferry that moved toward the landing. Little fishing boats moored almost within reach. Arkady noticed that more than palms grew in the village behind him; the sun found coconuts, hibiscus, red and yellow trees. Water around the pilings began to show the peacock sheen of petroleum.

Detective Osorio's order for the video camera to roll was a signal for onlookers to press against the tape. The ferry landing filled with commuters, every face turned toward the pilings where, in the quickening light floated a body as black and bloated as the inner tube it rested in. Shirt and shorts were split by the body's expansion. Hands and feet trailed in the water; a swim fin dangled casually on one foot. The head was eyeless and inflated like a black balloon.

"A neumático," Rufo told Arkady. "A neumático is a fisherman who fishes from an inner tube. Actually from a fishing net spread over the tube. Like a hammock. It's very ingenious, very Cuban."
"The inner tube is his boat?"
"Better than a boat. A boat needs gasoline."
Arkady pondered that proposition.
"Much better."

A diver in a wet suit slid off the police boat while an officer in waders dropped over the seawall. They clambered as much as waded across crab pots and mattress springs, mindful of hidden nails and septic water, and cornered the inner tube so that it wouldn't float away. A net was thrown down from the seawall to stretch under the inner tube and lift it and the body up together. So far, Arkady wouldn't have done anything differently. Sometimes events were just a matter of luck.

The diver stepped into a hole and went under. Gasping, he came up out of the water, grabbed onto first the inner tube and then a foot hanging from it. The foot came off. The inner tube pressed against the spear of a mattress spring, popped and started to deflate. As the foot turned to jelly, Detective Osorio shouted for the officer to toss it to shore: a classic confrontation between authority and vulgar death, Arkady thought. All along the tape, onlookers clapped and laughed.

Rufo said, "See, usually, our level of competence is fairly high, but Russians have this effect. The captain will never forgive you."

The camera went on taping the debacle while another detective jumped into the water. Arkady hoped the lens captured the way the rising sun poured into the windows of the ferry. The inner tube was sinking. An arm disengaged. Shouts flew back and forth between Osorio and the police boat. The more desperately the men in the water tried to save the situation the worse it became. Captain Arcos contributed orders to lift the body. As the diver steadied the head, the pressure of his hands liquefied its face and made it slide like a grape skin off the skull, which itself separated cleanly from the neck; it was like trying to lift a man who was perversely disrobing part by part, unembarrassed by the stench of advanced decomposition. A pelican sailed overhead, red as a flamingo.

"I think identification is going to be a little more complicated than the captain imagined," Arkady said.
The diver caught the jaw as it dropped off from the skull and juggled each, while the detectives pushed the other black, swollen limbs pell-mell into the shriveling inner tube.

Excerpted from Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith. Copyright© 1999 by Martin Cruz Smith. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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