A dead Russian is followed by the murders of a Cuban boxer and a prostitute. Although none of them is supposed to be investigated, Arkady cannot be stopped.
The body, at least what was left of it, was drifting in Havana Bay the morning Arkady arrived from Moscow. Only the day before, he had received an urgent message from the Russian embassy in Havana that his friend Pribluda was missing and asking that he come.
The Cubans insisted that this corpse floating in an inner tube was Pribluda, but Arkady wasn't so sure.
"You don't investigate assault, you don't investigate murder. Just what do you investigate?" Arkady asks Ofelia Osorio, a detective in the Policía Nacional de la Revolución. "Or is it simply open season on Russians in Havana?"
The comrades of the Cold War have parted bitterly, and the Russians who used to swarm through Havana's streets are now as rare as they are despised, much more so than Americans.
Havana is overrun with color, music, and suspicion. The Revolution's heroes have outlived idealism. The Communist world has shrunk to Cuba. Paradise has become a stop on sex tours. It is a city of empty stores and talking drums, Karl Marx and sharp machetes, where an American radical rides around in Hemingway's car to tout island investments and a Wall Street developer on the run from the FBI flies a pirate flag.
"A dead Russian, a live Russian," Ofelia says. "What's the difference?"
But the dead Russian is followed by the murders of a Cuban boxer and a prostitute. Although none of them is supposed to be investigated, Arkady cannot be stopped. He speaks no Spanish, knows nothing about Cuba, and, as a Russian, is a pariah. However, there is something about this faded, lovely, dangerous city--the rhythms of waves against the seawall, the insinuation of music always in the air, and, finally, Ofelia herself--that plunges Arkady back into life.
A police boat directed a light toward tar-covered pilings and water, turning a black scene white. Havana was invisible across the bay, except for a single line of lamps along the seawall. Stars rode high, anchor lights rode low, otherwise the harbor was a still pool in the night.
Soda cans, crab pots, fishing floats, mattresses, Styrofoam bearded with algae shifted as an investigation team of the Policía Nacional de la Revolución took flash shots. Arkady waited in a cashmere overcoat with a Captain Arcos, a barrel-chested little man who looked ironed into military fatigues, and his Sergeant Luna, large, black and angular. Detective Osorio was a small brown woman in PNR blue; she gave Arkady a studied glare.
A Cuban named Rufo was the interpreter from the Russian embassy. "It's very simple," he translated the captain's words. "You see the body, identify the body and then go home."
"Sounds simple." Arkady tried to be agreeable, although Arcos walked off as if any...
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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