When the corpse of a Russian is hauled from the oily waters of Havana Bay, Arkady Renko comes to Cuba to identify the body. Looking for the killer, he discovers a city of faded loneliness, unexpected danger, and bewildering contradictions. His investigation introduces him to a beautiful Cuban policewoman; to the rituals of Santeria; to an American fugitive and a group of ruthless mercenaries. In this place where all things Russian are despised, where Hemingway fished and the KGB flourished, where the hint of music is always in the air, Arkady finds a trail of deceit that reaches halfway around the world-and a reason to relish his own life again.
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May 20, 2008
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Excerpt from Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith
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 Polic�a Nacional de la Revoluci�n 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 contact with Russians was contamination.
Osorio combined the sharp features of an ingenue with the grave expression of a hangman. She spoke and Rufo explained, "The detective says this is the Cuban method, not the Russian method or the German method. The Cuban method. You will see."
Arkady had seen little so far. He had just arrived at the airport in the dark when he was whisked away by Rufo. They were headed by taxi to the city when Rufo received a call on a cellular phone that diverted them to the bay. Already Arkady had a sense that he was unwelcome and unpopular.
Rufo wore a loose Hawaiian shirt and a faint resemblance to the older, softer Muhammad Ali. "The detective says she hopes you don't mind learning the Cuban method."
"I'm looking forward to it." Arkady was nothing if not a good guest. "Could you ask her when the body was discovered?"
"Two hours ago by the boat."
"The embassy sent me a message yesterday that Pribluda was in trouble. Why did they say that before you found a body?"
"She says ask the embassy. She was certainly not expecting an investigator."
Professional honor seemed to be at stake and Arkady felt badly outclassed on that score. Like Columbus on deck, Captain Arcos scanned the dark impatiently, Luna his hulking shadow. Osorio had sawhorses erected and stretched a tape that read NO PASEO. When a motorcycle policeman in a white helmet and spurs on his boots arrived, she chased him with a shout that could have scored steel. Somehow men in T-shirts appeared along the tape as soon as it was unrolled-what was it about violent death that was better than dreams? Arkady wondered. Most of the onlookers were black; Havana was far more African than Arkady had expected, although the logos on their shirts were American.
Someone along the tape carried a radio that sang, "La fiesta no es para los feos. Qu� feo es, se�or. Super feo, amigo m�o. No puedes pasar aqu�, amigo. La fiesta no es para los feos."
"What does that mean?" Arkady asked Rufo.
"The song? It says, 'This party is not for ugly people. Sorry, my friend, you can't come.' "
Yet here I am, Arkady thought.
A vapor trail far overhead showed silver, and ships at anchor started to appear where only lights had hung moments before. Across the bay the seawall and mansions of Havana rose from the water, docks spread and, along the inner bay, loading cranes got to their feet.
"The captain is sensitive," Rufo said, "but whoever was right or wrong about the message, you're here, the body's here."
"So it couldn't have worked out better?"
"In a manner of speaking."
Osorio ordered the boat to back off so that its wash wouldn't stir the body. A combination of the boat's light and the freshening sky made her face glow.
Rufo said, "Cubans don't like Russians. It's not you, it's just not a good place for a Russian."
"Where is a good place?"
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, se�or."
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 neum�tico," Rufo told Arkady. "A neum�tico 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.
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.