Almost Night

Almost Night

by Ann Prospero

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451409935
Publisher: Onyx
Publication date: 12/15/2000
Edition description: REISSUE
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 6.72(h) x 0.91(d)

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Chapter One


    The half moon still shone.

    I walked to the kitchen. I stood at the window above the sink. I saw the moonlight white on creases in the palm fronds outside, and it shone on the faucet and an empty glass in the sink. It bounced from these inanimate things to shine on my hand.

    And when I saw my moonlit hand, I yearned for the place I'd known since I was a child. Without thought I strode back to the bedroom, pulled on jeans, T-shirt, sneakers, picked up my ring of keys from the bowl beside the front door, and patted my golden retriever, Gilda, on the head.

    "Come on, girl. Let's run away from here." I drove to my sacred place—the Everglades—away from Miami. Away from startling nightmares. And away from images of a murdered child and the man and woman we'd booked for that child's murder earlier that day.

    Yet.

    Miami sparkles. Green leaves spill over the streets from extravagant neotropical plants, and flowers bloom in colors as bright and clear as if they were new crayons in a freshly opened box. The sun glitters—on water, in windows, off the streets and houses and plants—and all night the neon signs and streetlights and headlights blare their gaudy colors.

    Biscayne Bay borders downtown Miami, and its waters slap softly, urgently against a sea wall a mere block away from the city's towering new buildings. The nearby shipping port on a small man-made island connects to the mainland via a high, short bridge. Passenger ships and cargo ships leave Miami headingtoward foreign ports. They glide away from downtown and past the MacArthur Causeway, where cars speed between Miami and Miami Beach. From the causeway, the ships look like moving, massive apartment buildings on their way out to sea.

    At downtown's southern edge, a river runs into the bay. Seminole Indians and early settlers once traveled that river, the Miami River. Water pours out from its mouth into the bay—as if the craziness in the city were overflowing.

    And there is a madness buried underneath Miami's beauty, a madness that resides below the surface layers of tourism and glamour. The putrid Miami is the one I most often see as a homicide detective in the Miami Police Department.

    I'd been to a cocktail party at Bill and Fran's house. Bill and Fran are my parents. I was born around the time Miami began to grow up—not too long after Castro exultantly drove out Batista and his cronies. The lives of my parents didn't change whether Castro or Batista or Eisenhower or Kennedy were in power. They had always held cocktail parties for visiting dignitaries and the governor and people with old and new money. Bill, an attorney and lobbyist in Washington, was in his mid-sixties. His black hair showed only a few strands of white and his tall frame bore no flab.

    Fran, about the same age, looked more like a frumpy fifty. Her blond hair turned ashen and frizzy and showed remnants of her beauty. Every day she dug her hands into clay and built sculptures more sophisticated and complex than her critics dreamed her capable of. Her hands had turned red and raw after so many years of use, and beneath her cotton pants and tops she hid her thickened waist. For the party that night, she wore her hair pulled back and a dark top and skirt of a sumptuous fabric, but no makeup.

    Peter had come. He wouldn't have missed an opportunity to mingle with the powerful. We stayed on opposite sides of the room. I'd demanded too much of him, he said the last time we spoke. I waved. He didn't see me.

    Bill, his blue eyes glittering, did see me. He motioned me over to him with his raised glass.

    "Honey," he said. "I want you to say hello to our new governor. You remember him?"

    "Of course I do," I said. "Your kids came over to break the branches on our avocado tree."

    "And you came to our house to break our windows," he said.

    "Only once. We were playing softball in the field next door."

    "You hit a home run?"

    "Exactly."

    A man stood behind Bill and smiled as he listened to us. Bill turned toward him as if he'd spoken.

    "Come over here," Bill said to him. He put his hand on the young man's arm. "I want you to meet my daughter. You've already met the governor." Bill looked at me with the smirk I knew so well. The governor slipped away and began talking to the next gaggle of admirers. "This young man has been telling me how he appreciates our work for the Everglades."

    "You've raised a lot tonight?" I asked Bill. Then I turned to the man, whose eyes were like deep water with the sun shining on it. "My grandfather owned large parcels of land out near the Glades. He left most of it to the national park system. Maybe you've heard of him? Andrew Cannon?"

    "Sure, I have," he said. "He was one of the important pioneers in the area. By the way, my name is Martin Benson." He held out his hand. My father most likely had forgotten Martin's name and therefore hadn't introduced us.

    "I'm Susannah Cannon," I said. "What's your interest in the Glades?"

    "I'm a ranger in the national park system. I just transferred down here about six months ago."

    "Has my father shown you around the city?"

    "No, I heard about this fund-raiser and called him up about it day before yesterday. He invited me, and here I am."

    Sounded like something Bill would do. Invite a stranger to the house. Martin was taller than I, and stocky without being overweight. Many more muscles showed than fat. Sun shone through his skin, browned and warm, and it shone on his hair, lightened and windblown even in my parents' house. He wore a jacket over an open-necked shirt, and no socks with his loafers. He could easily have belonged in the group.

    "If you want to see Miami," I said, "I can show you some of it. And you can meet people interested in the Everglades through my parents."

    "I can see that," he said, as he looked around the room. His gaze stopped on Peter, who looked back at him.

    One of my father's friends came over to us.

    "Suze," he said, as if he were surprised, "you look gorgeous tonight. You always look gorgeous." My father's friends like to drink, too. I checked Peter again to see if he thought I was gorgeous. He was talking to a woman. No, I think she was a girl dressed up to look like a woman. Maybe eighteen. I turned back to Bill's friend.

    "You say that to all the girls."

    Martin joined the older man's drunken praises. "I think you'd pass for beautiful—long blond hair, green eyes, great dress."

    I shrugged and turned away from the two men, who began talking to each other about the watershed. I tried to find my mother. I needed to talk to someone about the dead child we'd found earlier. Peter wouldn't even acknowledge my existence. Bill smiled and smirked and joked with his friends. When I found her, she was in the kitchen, leaning against the red tile counter, wineglass at her lips, her eyes fixed on the man standing in front of her.

    I left the party then. I wanted to sleep, even though it was just after six. I drove home, exhausted. I walked to my bedroom, Gilda following me, and dropped my clothes on the floor and fell into my bed naked.

    Each time I fell asleep, I woke from nightmares. I finally gave up the effort and left the house. In the middle of the night, I drove to the Everglades.

    I came home calmed. In a cool shower, I rinsed off the heat and I ran my hands down the sides of my body before I dried myself. I verified that my waist was small and my body firm. I remembered the two men who praised my appearance. I combed back my wet hair to lie slick on my head—Peter loved my blond hair. I wore my usual that day—slacks, blouse, and light jacket. The jacket would cover the Glock. And earrings. Gold earrings. Small loops and balls.

    I made sure Gilda had enough water for the day and was about to go out the front door when the bell rang. I looked through the peephole. Peter.

    "Oh," he said. "You're leaving."

    "Actually," I said, "I'm late for work. I have to leave right this minute."

    "Can we talk?"

    "Not right now," I said. "I'm sorry. Call and we'll get together. Soon." I reached backward for the doorknob and closed the door behind me, then locked it.

    "Don't think I'm going to call you," he said, as I hurried toward my car. "You can forget it. If you want to talk, you call me."

    "Peter, for God's sake. You could have talked to me instead of the homecoming queen last night," I said to him from the open car window. I backed out.

    Traffic had begun to slow, and I raced the car forward a few feet to prevent another car from slipping in front of me. As I neared downtown, I pulled the car into a strip shopping center, where I went into a cafetería for take-out café con leche. I'd drink my morning coffee with one of my partners, Homicide Detective Rafael Hernández.

    "Give me all you've got." I pointed to the small glass case perched on top of the larger case. When I first began driving at age sixteen, I'd stopped at the same shop on Eighth Street to take a box full of doughnuts back to school. Through the years, the street became better know as Calle Ocho, and the shop catered to a Cuban taste. Not only did it sell doughnuts and coffee, but also pastelítos de guayaba and café con leche y una colada.

    "And two café con leche—to go," I said after she'd filled the box. "Not too sweet." I nodded hello to two patrol cops sitting at the back booth in the otherwise empty shop, each with a Styrofoam cup of steaming coffee and a doughnut on waxed paper in front of him.

    I bypassed the expressway and crossed the Miami River bridge, my favorite way to get to the station. I like to see the river and bay view. The day hadn't turned bright yet, and the sunlight was still tinted copper, and the bay water, not yet choppy, was a moving image of the sky. Downtown, in contrast, looked gray and quiet. Its tall glassed buildings cast shadows but at the same time mirrored the morning light.

    Street people already moved under the expressway and on the streets. Some pushed their grocery-store shopping carts. And pages from newspapers and red candy wrappers and empty paper cones on North Miami Avenue blew in and out of the gutter into the street. Morning traffic hadn't yet turned downtown Miami into a live animal.

    I placed my packages on my desk. Rafael had already arrived for the day. His dark eyes had black lashes and his mouth was expressive. About eight years younger than I, he'd been in homicide four years. I liked his eagerness and willingness to take on whatever the job required. His enthusiasm had lasted, and I wondered how much longer he could maintain it.

    Rafael and I drank the sweet, rich, strong coffee, and I described a great blue heron, feathers wet like just-washed hair, I'd seen out by West Lake in the Everglades that morning. Then as soon as we heard Commander's end of a telephone conversation, we stopped to listen. The day had started and we were about to meet Carla Reeves.

    "Secure the scene," she said into the receiver. "I'll send backups. Cannon'll be there in five minutes. Yes. Detective Cannon." Commander Bea Williams looked over at me. She was African American, a brown silk woman with rhinoceros hide, her head covered in tight white tendrils. Nobody knew her age. Nobody dared ask. She walked to the door of her glassed-in office, leaned out, and said. "You're lead, Suze. A woman found murdered in her bed at the Bay's Edge Apartments. Sounds like the killer did a job on her." She stepped back inside her office. "Hurry up," she snapped.

    Rafael smoothed back his thick black hair with a free hand and stood to put on a finely tailored suit jacket. He wore a gun in the leather holster crossed over his back. I glanced at his back before he covered it and could see his lean muscles move under the handkerchief-thin cotton of his shirt. His tawny skin and hard lean body attracted the women at the station. We teased him about it.

    I waited for him to drain the last of his café con leche, and he followed me into Commander's office.

    "The officer on the scene called Homicide as soon as he arrived. He doesn't know what had been touched before he got there. I ordered backup."

    "Are they there yet?" I asked.

    "Not as of two minutes ago," she answered, her sarcasm crisp that morning, "but they'll be there before you will. The victim's female, cut, left on her bed—the manager verified it's her apartment. Here's her name." She handed me her notes. "It's a sadistic one. You know what the mayor'll do. And the press." She sighed and looked down at her papers. Not only was she the first female commander in Homicide, she was the first African American, and she made sure everyone knew she didn't give a damn what the unit thought of her.

    Rafael and I drove toward an apartment building located on the bay in Coconut Grove, one of Miami's older, higher-priced sections. The Grove was shaded by mature oaks and mahoganies and flame-flowered poincianas, though by September the abundance of the poinciana blossoms had fallen and returned to the earth. From the Bay's Edge balconies, you could see sailboats and motorboats crisscrossing the water by day. In some lights the bay's water was aqua, but most of the time you saw the gray-hued water as heavy and polluted. By night the city across the bay from the apartment building lighted up the sky like a permanent fireworks display.

    I had already phoned Elton Hall and Craig Burns, my two other team members, by the time we pulled into the apartment building's circular drive. My turn for lead. I'd coordinate, notify next of kin, attend the autopsy, and order tests and investigations.

    Rafael and I entered a lobby lined in pink-hued faux marble, gray rugs, and rose-colored deep-cushioned sofas and chairs. The columns scattered throughout the lobby were mirrored from floor to ceiling.

    "Miami Homicide," I said, holding up my badge. The doorman raised his hand, snapped his fingers to get the attention of a young man, and pointed toward us when the boy looked up.

    "La policía," he said. "Llévalos al piso doce."

    On the twelfth floor we saw two uniformed officers posted at a doorway halfway down a long, red-carpeted hall. Ends of yellow tape hung down on each side of the door. Only two other people stood outside: one a small woman with her face buried in a cloth, one a big red-faced man.

    I headed toward the taped door and nodded at the uniforms.

    "Who called the police?" I asked.

    "I called. I live down the hall. I heard a woman wailing and looked out my door to see what was the matter. Turned out to be the maid." He stopped, then said, "My God."

    "What'd you do?"

    "I went inside. Someone carved her up. Literally. Blood all over the bed. My God."

    "Wait here," I told him, then pointed at the small woman. "Who's this?"

    A cop stepped up and said, "Carmenza Rodríguez. Works—worked for the deceased. Found the body."

    "Sí, sí," she answered.

    "You wait here, too."

    Rafael and I bent down to pass under the yellow tape and entered the apartment.

    Ahead of us was a small foyer, then the living area, and a hallway extended to our left. The walls were painted an ivory color, the carpet matched. There was a sofa and chair covered in a moss green fabric, the wood a warm, dark shade, and bookshelves of the same kind of wood lined one wall. The bookshelves were like the shelves in my mother's studio, though Fran's were dusted with dried clay. She would place her clay sculptures on the shelves before she fired them.

    I turned to see a patrol officer standing at the end of the hall to our left.

    "Down here, Detective." He motioned us in his direction with his arm. I swear he looked as if he was directing traffic. His pumped, hardened muscles bulged below his uniform's short sleeves, and his gun fit snugly in its holster.

    As Rafael and I walked down the hall toward the cop, I whispered, "I bet he works out, has a pretty wife, and three kids at home."

    "She's in there," said the cop. "The maid pulled off the sheet. That's when she found her. And," he looked at his notes for the name, "Albert Simonton says he used the phone there to call." He pointed into the bedroom. "She was just like that when I arrived." And his mouth tightened, lips closed.

    Standing at the foot of the bed, I understood. Her eyes were blue, green. I couldn't tell. Red stippled the whites. They were open. Her mouth was open.

    Strands of her auburn hair strayed over her face and curled around brass earrings. She was nude and the paleness of her skin could have been due to death. Maybe not. I moved to the side of the bed that was close to her head. A slice barely the width of an artery had marked her neck. Underneath each breast a gash glistened red, like red crescent moons. A thin film of dried blood covered the top surface of her torso. The blood flowed from the cut to pool down around her body and then soak into a black sheet. Some of the blood, but not all, had congealed.

    She was awkward and vulnerable looking as she lay there with her bent knees spread open, exposing her genitals. Her palms faced up, eerily still, as if they were about to grasp the air beside her shoulders. The top sheet hung down to the floor where the maid had dropped it.

    Both the uniform at the doorway and Rafael at the foot of the bed were watching me. Both men were of the younger generation, and I wouldn't have to prove to them I was man enough to do the job. Only to myself.

    "No wonder Commander bitched this morning. Wait'll the press gets news of this," I said. "You'd think the killer'd at least wait for tourist season to come and go. You know, out of deference to the Convention Bureau."

    They laughed. I laughed. And I felt very alone.

Table of Contents

This electrifying, gracefully executed novel marks the debut of poet Ann Prospero as a powerful new writer of suspense. The protagonist of Almost Night, Susannah Cannon, is a homicide detective for the Miami Police Department who is assigned to hunt down a cunning serial killer preying on lonely professional women. The case has special resonance for Cannon because of her own troubled past: tough as she is on the job, she is vulnerable to cold-or worse-emotionally destructive men. The team that works with her to track the killer reflects the cultural melange of the city: Bea, her formidable African-American female commander; Rafael, her Cuban emigre partner; Anglo colleagues Elton, a former motorcycle cop, and Craig, a wrestler and family man; and Raja, the fully Americanized Indian and self-possessed forensic pathologist. Miami is a richly textured backdrop for their pursuit: cosmopolitan brilliance with a dark underside, luminous tropical beauty, and the shadowy natural wonders of the nearby Everglades. Almost Night offers compelling reading, and promises a bright future for this accomplished first-time novelist.|Ann Prospero is an award-winning journalist whose features have appeared in publications ranging from The Miami Herald to Horticulture. She has also written features and a monthly arts column for Miami and South Florida magazine. A founding member of the poetry journal Palmetto Review, she is a poet and writer, and she has read in such prestigious venues as the Miami Art Museum and the North Carolina Writers' Network. After living for forty-five years in Miami, she has recently moved to Durham, North Carolina.

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Almost Night 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Miami is rocked by the brutal slashing murder of businesswoman Carla Reeves. Homicide Commander Bea Williams assigns the investigation to Detective Susannah Cannon. Soon other victims with one trait in common are found viciously mutilated. Susannah realizes that she and her crew are on the trail of a serial killer who selects lonely single women as his victims.

The link personally hits home to Susannah because she too is a desolate individual who seems to only hook up with destructive males. As the investigation begins to uncover the identity of the mass murderer, Susannah begins to wonder if the cold-blooded killer might have included her on his list. Will she find him in her professional life or her personal life?

ALMOST NIGHT, a South Florida mystery, is an entertaining tale that centers on an emotionally damaged lead protagonist and a support group with diverse ethnic backgrounds. The story line is fun though the killer is obvious rather early in the plot. The ¿good guys¿ team is what makes the novel fun to read. Their various backgrounds blend into a cohesive crew who operates at peak capacity during the intriguing investigation. They also allow readers opportunities an exciting glimpse into the multicultural heritage of the Miami area. Those subplots involving diversity cleverly blend into the main story line making this a unique regional police procedural worth reading.

Harriet Klausner