Valley of bones jp 2, p.1

Valley of Bones jp-2, page 1

 part  #2 of  Jimmy Paz Series

 

Valley of Bones jp-2
 



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Valley of Bones jp-2


  Valley of Bones

  ( Jimmy Paz - 2 )

  Michael Gruber

  Michael Gruber

  Valley of Bones

  There are four evidences of divine mercy here below. The favors of God to beings capable of contemplation (these states exist and form part of their experience as creatures). The radiance of these beings, and their compassion, which is the divine compassion in them. The beauty of the world. The fourth evidence is the complete absence of mercy here below.

  — SIMONE WEIL,GRAVITY AND GRACE

  The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley, which was full of bones.

  — EZEKIEL,37:1

  Blood of Christ, Society of Nursing Sisters of the (SBC)

  Founded by Bd. Marie-Ange de Berville in 1895, the Nursing Sisters of the Blood of Christ are dedicated to giving succor and providing healing to the innocent victims of war and oppression. The order, which was one of the few to retain the habit after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, is noted for its almost military discipline and its custom of recruiting very young girls from the ranks of abandoned and disabled children throughout the world, although this aspect of its work has been widely criticized. Sisters of the order have distinguished themselves by their bravery and self-sacrifice during both world wars and thereafter in many fields of strife. Although counting no more than three thousand professed sisters and oblates at the present time, it has lost to death over 120 of its number, more than any other order in modern times. Traditionally, its members categorically refuse to leave patients and communities for which they have taken responsibility, in keeping with the order’s motto “Where we go, we remain.”See also Bd. Marie-Ange de Berville; Pope Pius XI; Cardinal Matteo Ratti.

  — ENCYCLOPEDIA CATHOLICA, 2D ED.,1997

  One

  The cop happened to look up at just the right instant or he would have missed it, not the actual impalement, but the fall itself. It took him a disorienting second to realize what he was seeing, the swelling black mass against the white stone and glass of the hotel facade, and then it was finished, with a sound that he knew he would carry to his grave.

  After that, he took a minute or so to sit on the bumper of his car with his head down low, so as not to pollute the crime scene with his own vomit, and then reported the event on his radio. He called it in as a 31, which was the Miami PD code for a homicide, although it could have been an accident or a jumper. But itfelt like a homicide, for reasons the cop could not then explain. While he waited for the sirens, he looked up at the row of balconies that made up the face of the Trianon Hotel. The thought briefly crossed his mind that he ought to go and check the guy out to make sure that he was actually dead, that perhaps the wrought iron fleur-de-lis spearheads protruding from the man’s neck, chest, and groin had missed all the vital organs in their paths.

  He was a dutiful officer, but this was his first fresh corpse, and he decided not to investigate more closely than a couple of yards, telling himself that it was better not to contaminate the crime scene. The corpse had been a good-looking guy, he thought, leather-dark skin but aquiline features: hooked nose, thin lips, a little spade beard. There was something foreign about the face, although the officer could not have said what it was.

  Turning away from it with some relief, he inspected the facade of the hotel, noting that there were three vertical columns of balconies adorning the twelve floors of the building, which was capped by a copper roof styled after a French chateau. That was the theme of the Trianon Hotel, as much French as would fit: besides the roof, there were gilt cornices, coats of arms, New Orleans-style wrought iron on the balconies, and, of course, fleurs-de-lis on the iron fence that surrounded the south face of the property. People were coming out of the hotel now, frightened men in the hotel’s white livery, a few guests from the lobby. A woman’s shriek recalled the cop to his duty, and he herded them all back into the cool interior.

  A broad man in a double-breasted cream suit accosted him at this point and announced himself as the manager. He knew who it was, a guest, 10 D, and gave a name. The cop wrote it down in his notebook. The manager departed, dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief, and the cop resumed his study of the facade, although his eye kept drifting over to the victim. The flies arrived and got to their buzzing tasks, and shortly after that an ambulance pulled up. The paramedics emerged, took in the scene, declared the man officially dead, made wiseass paramedic remarks, and went back to their bus to wait in the cool of the AC. The crime scene van arrived, and the CSUs started to assemble their various implements of investigation and their cameras, while making some of the same cracks (that’s what I call piercings; sorry, he can’t come to the phone right now) that the paramedics had made, and after a little while an unmarked white Chevy pulled up, and out of it came a neatly built, caramel-colored man, in a beautifully cut gray-green silk and linen suit. The cop sighed. Of course it had to be him.

  “Morales?” asked the man. The cop nodded, and the man held out his hand to be shaken, saying, “Paz.”

  “Uh-huh,” said Morales. He knew who Jimmy Paz was, as did everyone on the Miami PD, as did everyone in Metropolitan Dade County who owned a television. Morales had not, however, met him professionally until now. Both men were first-generation Cuban immigrant stock, but the patrolman considered himself white, like 98 percent of the Cuban migration to America, and Paz was not white, yet also undeniably Cuban. It was disconcerting, even without the tug of racism, which Morales was conscious of trying to resist.

  “You’re the first response on this?” Paz was not looking at the corpse. He was looking at Morales, with a pleasant smile on his face and little lights glinting in his hazel eyes. He was looking at a man in his early twenties, with a fine-featured beardless face, in the complexion usually called olive, but which is more like parchment, a face that might be choirboy open when relaxed but was now guarded, tense, the intelligent dark eyes focused on the detective so hard they almost squinted.

  “No, I was here already. Somebody called in a disturbance at the hotel. It was a hoax call. I was just about to pull out when he came down.”

  “You saw him drop?”

  “Yeah.”

  Paz looked up at the face of the hotel and saw what Morales had seen. It was perfectly clear from which balcony the victim had begun his fatal descent. All the balconies but one had their glass doors closed against the afternoon heat. In the single exception the door was open and the white curtains were flapping like flags. Paz counted silently.

  “It looks like the tenth floor,” he said. Now for the first time he inspected the corpse. “Nice shoes,” he said. “Lorenzo Banfi’s. Nice suit too. A dresser. Tell me, why did you call it in as a homicide?”

  “He didn’t yell on the way down,” said Morales, surprising himself with this statement. Paz grinned at him, a catlike grin, and Morales felt his own face breaking into a smile. “Very good. Good police work. Guy slips off a terrace, you have to figure he’s going to make some kind of noise on the way down. And now that we know that, this little line of blood dripping under the back of the skull here is more interesting, huh?”

  “He could have hit his head on the way down.”

  “Against what? You saw it: it’s a straight shot from that balcony to the fence, and he made a perfect three-prong landing. No, he went over with that wound already on his head. He was probably out cold when he landed. Probably a good thing too, considering.” They both looked for a moment at the fly-crawling corpse.

  Then Paz said, “I tell you what, Morales. This guy isn’t going anywhere. Why don’t you and me go on up to that room and try to find out what he was doing before he came down?”
r />   “His name’s Jabir Akran al-Muwalid. I got it off the manager. He’s a guest, 10 D.”

  Another big grin from Paz.

  “Very good, Morales. Great! Terrific! Thank you. I wasn’t looking forward to going through that guy’s pockets for ID.”

  Morales was thinking that maybe the book on Paz was wrong, that he wasn’t an arrogant pain in the ass after all. Morales had been on the force for nine months, and this was the first time a detective had treated him like anything but a useless doughnut-dunker who had probably messed up the crime scene and helped the perp on with his coat. The other funny thing was that the guy didn’t have a partner. All the homicide guys worked in pairs, but apparently not Jimmy Paz.

  They picked up a key card from the desk and went up in the elevator, which was, like the lobby, decorated in cream and gold. It even had a little Louis Quinze chair in it, with a brocade seat. As it turned out, they did not need the key card. A rolled towel had been placed on the floor to thwart the automatic-closing feature of the room door. They stepped over it and into the room.

  It was a suite, furnished in the same Louis Quinze style as the lobby and the elevator; and they were now in the spacious sitting room thereof. One whole wall was lined with gilt-framed mirrors, and on the opposite side they had a view of the balcony and the French windows that led onto it; the heavy drapes, printed with heraldic ancien regime designs were pulled back, and the filmy white sheers fluttered in the breeze from Biscayne Bay.

  Paz started to walk toward this balcony but caught a glimpse of something in the mirror and stopped. There was a woman in the room. She was kneeling on the faux Aubusson, her hands clasped to her breast, eyes wide open, staring. Paz moved into her field of vision, but she didn’t appear to notice him. He observed that she was speaking in a low voice. Praying? He moved closer, at the same time gesturing for Morales to check out the bedroom.

  It didn’t sound like prayer, not that Paz was particularly familiar with the sound. She seemed to be talking to someone conversationally, although he could not make out the words. It was much like the one-sided conversations one heard lately on the streets from the people with cell phones. Paz looked carefully: no cell phone. The woman was tall and thin and had the bony good looks of a country-and-western star, a little faded. A C amp; W singer who’d never really made it, or one thathad made it and then got ruined by drink and/or shiftless men, living small in a Hialeah motel. A hard face, he might have said, the kind you saw in the tank when the cops had rounded up a bunch of whores, except that there was something transcendent in the expression on her face that didn’t go with the picture. She was dressed in a faded blue T-shirt, very loose and a little soiled, a calf-length brown cotton skirt, and tire-tread sandals. Dusty feet. Her hair was crow black and cut into a boy’s cap from which small lobeless ears emerged, close to the head. No earrings. Her eyes, set deeply within a hedge of thick dark lashes, were (surprisingly, given her hair and complexion) the color of washed blue jeans, against which the pupils looked unusually small, like BBs. Drugged, maybe? That might explain that expression too. She wore neither makeup nor nail polish, and her skin was sallow in the way that indicates a deep tan faded. Against her neck, just above the fabric of her shirt, he could make out a thin leather cord, perhaps attached to some ornament she wore under the T-shirt.

  “Excuse me,” said Paz. To his surprise, the woman rolled her eyes back into her head so that only the whites showed and toppled gently over onto her side. Paz immediately knelt beside her and put his hand to her neck. Her skin was moist and felt unusually hot, but the pulse beating beneath it was strong and regular. A scent came off her, sweat and something gas-station-ish, like oil or gas, and a faint floral note. Paz had handled many floral arrangements in his time and recognized the odor: lilies.

  The woman’s eyelids fluttered, her eyes opened, she jerked and looked surprised when she saw Paz staring down at her.

  “What happened?” she asked. “Who’re you?” A rural-sounding voice.Hur yew.

  “You were kneeling and then you kind of keeled over,” Paz said. “I’m Detective Paz, Miami PD. Who are you?”

  “Emmylou Dideroff. Is he here?” She sat up and looked around the room.

  “He would be Mr. al-Muwalid, yes?”

  “Uh-huh.” She rose somewhat shakily to her feet, and Paz saw that she was tall indeed, somewhat taller than his own five ten.

  “You ought to sit down,” he said, “you look a little shaky.” She did, on one of the silly uncomfortable-looking French chairs. “You’re from the police?” she asked, and when Paz nodded, she said, “Are you here to arrest him?”

  “Why would we want to do that, Ms. Dideroff?”

  “Oh, he’s a murderer,” she said. “A criminal. That’s why I followed him. I couldn’t believe it, walking down the street in Miami, like nothing. He drove into the parking garage and I parked my truck on the drive?where you check in? And I waited in the lobby for him to come by. I wanted to go up to him and look him in the face, I mean to make sure it was really him. And he didn’t show up and I thought, Oh darn, he probably came up right from the parking garage.”

  She met Paz’s eyes and said, “Oh my gosh, I fainted again, didn’t I?”

  “Yes, ma’am. What exactly were you doing before you went out?” In the mirror Paz saw Morales in the doorway of the bedroom. Their eyes met, Morales shrugged and gestured with his thumb at the room behind him, meaning, no one there. With a slight motion of his head, Paz indicated the balcony. Morales slipped along the wall, silently for a cop, and went through the open French windows.

  “Oh, talking to Catherine,” the woman said. “Anyway, I just took the elevator up to the top floor and found the chambermaid and asked her which was his room, but he wasn’t on that floor, and then I just went down floor by floor, talking to the ladies there, until I got to ten and that one knew him right off. So I went to the room and I saw that the door was propped open and…I went in. I guess I shouldn’t have, right?”

  “Not really. Who’s Catherine?”

  “Catherine of Siena.”

  “As in Saint?”

  “Uh-huh. She’s extremely wise in the ways of the world.”

  “Was. I thought she was dead.”

  The woman gave him a smile. He saw that she was missing two teeth on the right side, but besides that it was a lovely open smile. “Well, yes. But the dead are all around us. It’s the communion of saints. Are you a Catholic?”

  “Raised. I’m not much of a churchgoer.” The woman had nothing to say to that.

  Throat clearing behind Paz: he turned, and there was Morales with the curtain flapping around him and an excited look on his smooth face. “Ah, Detective, I think you need to see this out here.”

  Paz waved him in and walked across the room. They conversed in low voices.

  “What’ve you got?” Paz asked.

  “I think the murder weapon’s lying out there. Looks like an engine part with…ah, like blood and hair on it. I didn’t touch it or anything.”

  “Good. Anything interesting in the bedroom?”

  “The vic’s ID. A Sudan passport with a bunch of business cards stuck in it. A wallet with a couple of grand in fresh hundreds. I looked in the top drawer of the dresser. Was that okay?”

  “Not really, but we’ll let it slide. The dead have no rights, but we like to wait for crime scene before we touch stuff. Now, why don’t you keep Ms. Dideroff there company while I take a look at your clue.”

  “What’s her story?”

  “Damned if I know,” said Paz and walked through to the little balcony terrace. He squatted low and peered at the thing. When he was sixteen and poor as dirt, Paz had rebuilt the blown engine on his first car, a ‘56 Mercury, and so he knew just what he was looking at. It was a rod, the short, strong, steel forging that connects the piston of an internal combustion engine to the crankshaft, larger than the Merc’s was, maybe from a big diesel. It consisted of a ring designed to grip the crankshaft and a smaller ri
ng that went around a fat pin inside the piston. There was a smear of blood along the side of the large ring and a few curly dark hairs that looked like they could have come off the head of the victim. He leaned closer, balancing like a chimp on the knuckles of one hand. The rod was brand-new, it seemed, and covered with a sheen of oil. Low on the shaft were several almost perfect fingerprints, where someone had gripped it. Well, well.

  He stood and looked over the wrought iron railing. He could see the impaled victim, ten stories below, with the CSU swarming around him, photographing and taking samples. Paz wished them well but thought that most of the relevant evidence would be found right up here in 10 D. He pulled out his cell phone, called the CSU team leader on her cell phone, and was amused that he could actually see the person he was cell-calling to. He waved and she waved back and he told her to get up to 10 D with all speed.

  He went back inside and pulled up a chair so that he was facing Emmylou Dideroff.

  “So, Ms. Dideroff?can I call you Emmylou?” She nodded. “Emmylou?what’s your connection to Jabir al-Muwalid? You a friend of his?”

  “Oh, no. He was our enemy.”

  ” ‘Our’ being…?”

  “My tribe. The Peng Dinka. The Monyjang.”

  “Uh-huh. And this was because…?”

  “Oh, he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands of people. I don’t mean just in the war. He was the leader of a kind of special death squad.”

  “I see. And this was where? Here in Miami?”

  Her face underwent a change, as if she had suddenly realized where she was and what was happening. Paz got a stare that could have come from any Overtown chippie. “Excuse me, but what’s going on? Where is he, and why’re you here in his room?”

  “He’s dead,” said Paz bluntly. “He went out that window there about twenty minutes ago and impaled himself on a spiked fence.”

 
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