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
    Paperback:
    Apr 2001, 352 pages

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"Feo, tan feo. No puedes pasar aquí, amigo. Porque la fiesta no es para los feos."
The rhythm was . . . what was the word? Arkady wondered. Unrelenting.
Across the bay a golden dome seemed to burst into flame, and the houses of the Malecón started to express their unlikely colors of lemon, rose, royal purple, aquamarine.
It really was a lovely city, he thought.

Light from the high windows of the autopsy theater of the Instituto de Medicina Legal fell on three stainless-steel tables. On the right-hand table lay the neumático's torso and loose parts arranged like an ancient statue dredged in pieces from the sea. Along the walls were enamel cabinets, scales, X-ray panel, sink, specimen shelves, freezer, refrigerator, pails. Above, at the observation level, Rufo and Arkady had a semicircle of seats to themselves. Arkady hadn't noticed before how scarred Rufo's brows were.

"Captain Luna would rather you watched from here. The examiner is Dr. Blas."
Rufo waited expectantly until Arkady realized he was supposed to react.
"The Dr. Blas?"
"The very one."

Blas had a dapper Spanish beard and wore rubber gloves, goggles, green scrubs. Only when he appeared satisfied that he had a reasonably complete body did he measure it and search it meticulously for marks and tattoos, a painstaking task when skin tended to slide wherever touched. An autopsy could take two hours, as much as four. At the left-hand table Detective Osorio and a pair of technicians sorted through the deflated inner tube and fishnet; the body had been left tangled in them for fear of disturbing it any more. Captain Arcos stood to one side, Luna a step behind. It occurred to Arkady that Luna's head was as round and blunt as a black fist with red-rimmed eyes. Already Osorio had found a wet roll of American dollar bills and a ring of keys kept in a leaky plastic bag. Fingerprints wouldn't have survived the bag, and she immediately dispatched the keys with an officer. There was something appealingly energetic and fastidious about Osorio. She hung wet shirt, shorts and underwear on hangers on a rack.

While Blas worked he commented to a microphone clipped to the lapel of his coat.
"Maybe two weeks in the water," Rufo translated. He added, "It's been hot and raining, very humid. Even for here."
"You've seen autopsies before?" Arkady asked.
"No, but I've always been curious. And, of course, I'd heard of Dr. Blas."

Performing an autopsy on a body in an advanced stage of putrefaction was as delicate as dissecting a soft-boiled egg. Sex was obvious but not age, not race, not size when the chest and stomach cavities were distended, not weight when the body sagged with water inside, not fingerprints when hands that had trailed in the water for a week ended in digits nibbled to the bone. Then there was the gaseous pressure of chemical change. When Blas punctured the abdomen a flatulent spray shot loudly up, and when he made the Y incision across the chest and then to groin, a wave of black water and liquefied matter overflowed the table. Using a pail, a technician deftly caught the viscera as they floated out. An expanding pong of rot-as if a shovel had been plunged into swamp gas-took possession of the room, invading everyone's nose and mouth. Arkady was glad he had left his precious coat in the car. After the first trauma of the stench-five minutes, no more-the olfactory nerves were traumatized and numb, but he was already digging deep into his cigarettes.

Rufo said, "That smells disgusting."
"Russian tobacco." Arkady filled his lungs with smoke. "Want one?"
"No, thanks. I boxed in Russia when I was on the national team. I hated Moscow. The food, the bread and, most of all, the cigarettes."
"You don't like Russians, either?"
"I love Russians. Some of my best friends are Russian." Rufo leaned for a better view as Blas spread the chest for the camera. "The doctor is very good. At the rate they're going you'll have time to make your plane. You won't even have to spend the night."

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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