DIRE STRAITS: A Miami Novel
by Marshall Frank
MIAMI, - SATURDAY, 10:30 P.M.
His broad nostrils sated with the aroma of sea air, Orestes Fernandez had just moored his twenty-four foot Mako at the far end of Dinner Key Marina when he heard footsteps approaching along the oak wharf. Odd, he thought, for anyone to be heading out to sea this time of night. But Orestes was one to mind his own business until he looked up at the three men standing quietly in the shadows over the bow.
"Can I help you men?" he asked in Spanish, wiping sweat from his brow.
The tall one in the flowered shirt looked furtively left, right, then spoke. "Si. We want to go fishing."
"I'm sorry," answered the seaman with a nervous smile. "There are no more boats leaving until tomorrow..."
In an instant, Orestes was peering into the muzzles of three semi-automatic pistols. Two of the men in black tee shirts jumped into the vessel as the tall one interrupted. "Perhaps I was unclear. We are going fishing now."
"Please. Please don't hurt me. Take the boat. Take whatever you want, just don't..."
"Drive the boat," ordered the leader. "Do as we say and you will not be hurt."
Trembling, wracked with fear, Orestes started the twin Mercury engines while the gaunt, skinny one pressed the muzzle at the back of his head. "Please..."
"Shut up," he barked, whacking him over the ear, twice.
"Drive slowly out to the bay so you do not attract attention," ordered the leader.
As he aimed his beloved craft toward the center of Biscayne Bay, Orestes lowered the throttle gently, shaking, whimpering, wondering what lay ahead, wincing at the cold, hard steel against his temple. "Where are we ...
Several minutes passed when the one referred to as Javier barked another order. "Stop here."
Idling in neutral, the Mako rocked calmly to the motion of the darkened waters. There were no other boats in sight, no other movement in the bay as Javier scanned the city horizon. He ordered Orestes to the stern with his hands atop his head, facing them.
"What, what are you going to ... ?"
As the short stocky Spaniard looked on from the side, Javier and the skinny one called Chico lifted their weapons, smiling.
Orestes was sobbing now, his face contorted in fear. "No, please, I beg you..."
"I told you, we were going fishing."
A volley of muzzle flashes pierced the darkness. They were his final image. The Mako headed south while Orestes' corpse rested peacefully at the bottom of the bay with an anchor attached to his ankle.
Twenty minutes passed as the three Latinos idled quietly through a labyrinth of residential waterways five miles to the south of downtown. The droning hum of engines and the slap of the bow cutting gently into the placid waters were the only sounds to pierce the August night as they slowly passed one mansion after another, careful not to create a wake. Occasionally they could see figures of people moving about through pane windows in the distance.
"Which one is Sylvester Stallone's?" asked Chico, nervously.
"Shhh. Stay down." Javier checked his watch. It was after eleven.
"Are you sure you know which is the right house?"
"Quiet. Trust me."
"Javier, look at the size of that house. Carrumba. What a score that would be, eh?"
"Chico, I told you to be quiet." Javier, the tall one, stood at the helm, peering house to house searching for a coral pink mansion at the end of a small peninsula and a statue of a small, black jockey standing on the dock. There was only a quarter moon but the spray of sparkling stars provided enough illumination to see houses, but not the statue. "Felix, turn on the spot," said Javier in a whisper. "Not on the houses, just the docks."
They made a slow left turn around a corner where the threestory house appeared, sitting alone at the end of the finger of land. Felix pivoted the spotlight to the left as they passed by. The davit was empty. Suddenly, the beam glared upon the statue of a miniature black man wearing a jockey uniform and a golden ring extended by one hand.
"Ah, this is it. A little further," whispered Javier as they turned off the spot. "There is supposed to be another house nearby under construction."
They deadened the motor and docked the boat at the rear of a half-built structure near a cul de sac two lots from their target. Quietly, all three deboarded, tied their lines and glanced over at the distant glow from the city to the north. Felix slapped at a mosquito. "Let's go," he ordered. "Chico, bring the tape and the ropes."
Perspiring from dense humidity, they stealthily penetrated the darkness and stopped in the lush foliage at the east corner of the mansion then recoiled at the sound of a door slamming. Peering through hibiscus, Javier and Chico watched the silhouette of a young woman stepping briskly toward a sports car, enter, rev the motor and drive away. Moments later, Javier felt the vibrating of his pager. Numbers were illuminated. Three zeroes. The signal.
"Who is the woman?" Chico asked in a hushed voice.
"Who knows. Es Bueno. One less to worry about."
A dark Chrysler convertible was parked in the circular driveway. Two other cars were parked a hundred yards away beside a dark field of cabbage palms and tropical weeds. They remained unnoticed.
From a bay window in the gated lanai, Javier peered through a crack in the drapery and saw a large woman lying on a sofa beside another woman with jet black Borneo-wild hair. They appeared to be sleeping. The faint sound of a distant television was barely audible over the pestering, squeaky bark of a small dog.
"Felix, you are the pizza man. You knock, say you are delivering a pizza. Say it in English, do not forget." Quiet, obedient, Felix was built low and strong like a fireplug, with connecting eyebrows and a face with more craters than the surface of the moon. "Hurry. Conyo, that fucking dog is barking."
They pulled semi-automatics from their waist bands, racked the slides and raised them at shoulder height. Javier and Chico took a position on each side of the door while Felix beat his fist on the frame disregarding an illuminated door bell. The little dog went into a frenzy.
"Knock again, Felix," said Javier, impatiently.
Before his fist struck the frame, the voice of a young English-speaking male asked through the door, "Yes? Who is it?"
"Pizza. Domino pizza," answered Felix hoping he would not have to converse in English. As the dead bolt unlatched, the door began to open. Javier moved Felix aside, raised the boot of his right foot and slammed it forward with force of a battering ram.
# # #
Three miles to the north, a drab gray Ford Taurus pulled out from the glitzy Mayfair Hotel driven by a large black man. By his side, a slick, well-dressed Cubano was jotting notes on a pad. An old lead which could have solved a 1996 murder hadn't panned out. The witness, a barmaid, died of an O.D. a year before.
"Hey, the Grove's jammed tonight, Zeke. Why don't you take a side street and head over to Bayshore Drive?" Detective Sergeant Mike Estevez checked his Rolex and saw there was less than an hour to go. "If nothing's going on, we'll stop at Monty's for a nightcap, to celebrate. I'll buy."
Mike smiled. "A murder-free Saturday night in the city of Miami. Would you believe it? Tonight, my friend, we are going home." He took a photograph from his badge case and showed it to his partner.
"That your old lady?" asked Zeke, glancing over. Mike nodded. "Good lookin'. You're a lucky guy."
Mike checked the glossy print himself. "Christ, I need a picture to remind me what she looks like," he said, wistfully.
It was one of those humid summer nights in the city of sunshine when clothing sticks to the body seconds after walking out of an air-conditioned room. But that had no effect on the throngs of fun seekers, theater goers, rick-shaws, side-alley masseuses, itinerant musicians, imbibers and eccentrics crowding the bistros, shops and streets of lively Coconut Grove. Zeke drove silently as Mike peered out the window, contemplating his life, his illustrious career, what the future might hold, reflecting on the pressures, the effect it has had on his family and pondering a change for the first time ever. Perhaps it was time to move on, he thought. He had made his mark. There was life beyond homicide. Then, a notion. He lifted the cellular phone from the glove compartment and punched seven numbers. Zeke listened with one ear to the police radio and the other to Mike.
"Corrina. How are you honey?" .... "Is your Mom there?"
"Oh, yes. I forgot. Scandinavian. Right." .... "Well, do me a favor, okay. Leave her a little note, uh ... no, better yet, don't we still have some of those Hershey Kisses in the jar?" .... .. Good. Listen honey, I want you to take two of them and just lay them on top of her pillow." .... "She'll understand." .... .. I don't know baby doll. Real soon, I hope." .... "I know it's been a long time. Maybe EPCOT Center, next month." "Sure." .... "Don't forget the Hershey Kisses. Love you. Bye."
He looked to Zeke. "My daughter. She's thirteen. Great kid."
They stopped at a traffic light when, suddenly, the sounds of screeching brakes were heard far ahead.- A small car was seen caroming off the sidewalk and coming to rest between a bus bench and a row of small trees. "Jesus, what now?" Mike growled. "Head over there." They attached the small, blue rotating beacon atop the unmarked car and sped through the intersection.
A young woman rested her chin on the open window from inside a metallic blue Mustang Cobra, grinning at the detectives. Strands of carrot-red hair laid slovenly across a face covered with freckles. "My God, you're gorgeous," she mumbled to Mike in a slurred but distinctive southern accent. Her lids were half closed while her eyes seemed to focus somewhere at his collar. "Hey, I'm sorry. Is there any damage?"
Mike flipped his shield which drew a breathy "oh shit" from the drunken lady. When he asked her to step out of the car, she stumbled and grabbed his arm. "I'm really sorry, you know. Really."
"Any damage, Zeke?"
Zeke stepped around the car. "Nope. Maybe a little scratch on her bumper. Want me to call for a unit? You know," Zeke winked to his partner. "Oh-nine, thirty-nine, reference a sixteen?" They were code numbers for a drunk driving arrest.
Mike checked his Rolex again. It was eleven twenty and his plans for an early homecoming were not to be foiled by a mere traffic matter. An arrest meant waiting for a uniformed unit, calling a tow truck and an hour of paperwork. But she was too drunk to drive.
"Are you going to arrest me, officer?" she asked.
"No ma'am, but I want your keys. Your car will be parked here tomorrow when you come for it." He turned to Zeke. "Call her a taxi."
"So, you don't wanna see my license?" she asked provocatively, looking him over. "You married?" She wore a candystriped sun dress with spaghetti straps and a sagging neckline showing a modest cleavage and, obviously, no bra.
Mike parked her Cobra next to Monty Trainer's On The Bay, an upbeat seafood restaurant and watering hole abutting the bayshore of Coconut Grove. "Make sure she has another set of keys at home because I'm locking these in the car," he shouted to Zeke.
A warm breeze whipped the woman's skirt as she stepped from the curb to the taxi. Then, she turned to face Mike across the lot and waved her fingers. "Too bad," she said to Zeke with a sloppy grin. "He's quite a guy."
"Yes ma'am, he is. And you're quite a lucky lady."
Minutes later, Mike twisted Zeke's arm and sauntered into Monty's open air waterfront bar hoping to pass the final duty hour away without a call. The atmosphere was alive with mostly young people sitting at picnic-style tables bobbing heads and shoulders to the sounds of the Reggae band while a parade of power boats and sloops drifted into the marina. The pungent aroma of sea water and dead fish drifted through the lounge.
Zeke was Mike's rookie working his first week in homicide. The term did not set well with the giant black officer. Not only was he five years older and a head taller, he had already been a uniformed cop for eighteen years. But this was the golden opportunity of a long career, to finally work in homicide with the best cops on the department. He knew how lucky he was to pull the esteemed Mike Estevez as his trainer.
Mike felt out of sorts sipping on a Johnny Walker Black in one of Miami's most popular bars while Zeke hoisted a glass of chocolate milk. Another waft of salty air blew strands of hair onto his forehead while his mind was consumed with thoughts of Robyn and Corrina, murder trials, lesson plans and the department bureaucracy. He barely listened while his partner chatted about his dream of owning a farm in North Florida. Zeke said he wanted pigs and horses, to go fishing on the Suwanee with his grandchildren and maybe even get married again one day, to a good Christian lady. Just maybe. It had been nine years since Agnes died.
At eleven fifty-two, Mike straightened the gold rings on one finger of each hand and called for the tab. It was at that moment that the beeper went off.
"You're not going to answer that, are you Mike? I mean, like it can wait for the graveyard crew. Right?"
Mike chewed on a piece of unmelted ice. "Well, Zeke, you never know. You just never know. Got your cell phone with you?"
"Man, they were right about you."
© 2000 Marshall Frank
Marshall invites you to visit