E X C E R P T
In the Winter of 1981 a multimillionaire by the name of Robinson Daniels shot a Haitian refugee who had broken into his home in Palm Beach. The Haitian had walked to the ocean from Belle Glade, fifty miles, to find work or a place to rob, to steal something he could sell. The Haitian’s name was Louverture Damien.
The bullet fired from Robbie Daniels’s Colt Python did not kill Louverture immediately. He was taken in shock to Good Samaritan where he lay in intensive care three days, a lung destroyed, plastic tubes coming out of his nose, his arms, his chest and his penis.
Louverture said he had an argument with the people who lived in the same room with him in Belle Glade. He paid forty dollars a week for the room and twenty dollars deposit for a key to the bathroom. But they had stopped up the toilet and it couldn’t be used. They cleaned fish, he said, and threw the heads in the toilet. Speaking in a mixture of languages and sounds, Creole and Bahamian British English, he said, “I came here to search for my life.”
The Palm Beach Police detective questioning Louverture that evening in the hospital looked at him with no expression and said, “You find it?”
Lying in the white sheets Louverture Damien was a stick figure made of Cordovan leather: he was forty-one years old and weighed one hundred seventeen pounds the morning he visited the home on South Ocean Boulevard and was shot.
Robbie Daniels was also forty-one. He had changed clothes before the police arrived and at six o’clock in the morning wore a lightweight navy blue cashmere sweater over bare skin, the sleeves pushed up to his elbows, colorless cotton trousers that clung to his hips but were not tight around the waist. Standing outside the house talking to the squad-car officer, the wind coming off the ocean out of a misty dawn, he would slip a hand beneath the sweater and move it over his skin, idly, remembering, pointing with the other hand toward the swimming pool and patio where there were yellow flowers and tables with yellow umbrellas.
“He came out. He crossed the yard toward the guest house. Then, once he was in the trees over there I didn’t see him for, well, for a couple minutes. I started across. Got about right here. Yeah, just about here. And he was coming at me with the machete.”
They could hear the high-low wail of the emergency van streaking west on Southern Boulevard, a far-off sound, fading.
As Mr. Daniels rubbed his bare skin the squad-car officer would catch a glimpse of the man’s navel centered on his flat belly, tan and trim, the cotton trousers riding low, slim cut down to bare feet that were slender and brown. The squad-car officer, twenty-seven years old and in pretty good shape, felt heavy in his brown and beige uniform, his gunbelt cinched tight to support about ten pounds of police gear. He was from West Palm and had never been in a millionaire’s home before.
“Sir, you chased him out of the house?”
“No, I thought he was gone. I got the gun, came out to have a look around…. I see him coming out, I couldn’t believe it. He was still in the house when we got home.”
The wind had been blowing for several days, the sky overcast, an endless surf pounding in. Mr. Daniels said he hadn’t heard the man, it was more like he sensed him coming across the yard, turned and there he was.
The squad-car officer wondered at first if Mr. Daniels was a movie star. He had the features and that kind of sandy brown curly hair some movie stars had and never seemed to comb. The few lines in his face disappeared when he opened his eyes that were pale blue and seemed amazed in the telling of how he had actually shot a man. Twice in the chest.
“Sir, how many rounds you fire?”
“How many times you fire your gun?”
“What was he about, twenty feet away?”
“Closer. Ten feet maybe.”
“Swinging the machete.”
“What? Yes, raising it.”
“But he didn’t get a swipe at you.”
Mr. Daniels seemed surprised, or else he seemed dazed or preoccupied, thinking about it and the squad-car officer’s question would bring him back to now. Otherwise Mr. Daniels was polite and seemed anxious to be of help.
People were always seeing movie stars around Palm Beach and Mr. Daniels mentioned George Hamilton twice. He mentioned Shelley Berman and he mentioned Burt Reynolds. Mr. Daniels and some friends had gone up to Jupiter to the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre, saw “God’s Favorite” and came back, had a few drinks at Charley’s Crab, then stopped by a friend’s house to visit. He said he got home at approximately four-thirty, quarter to five.
Out visiting that time of the morning. The young squad-car officer nodded. He had seen a young woman down at the far end of the living room that was like a hotel lobby. Younger than Mr. Daniels. Light brown hair parted on the side, not too long; black turtleneck. Eating an apple.
“Sir, your wife was with you?”
‘She’s in Aspen.”
That stopped the young squad-car officer. “Aspen?”
“Colorado. She’s skiing. A houseguest was with me.”
“Could I have that person’s name?”
“Angela Nolan. Put down journalist. She’s been interviewing me for a magazine, some kind of story.”
“So she came in with you?”
“Yeah, but when I realized someone had broken in, the way the place was tossed, I told Miss Nolan, stay in the foyer and don’t move.
The squad-car officer paused. One of Mr. Daniels’s words surprised him, bothered him a little.
“Sir, you know what if anything was taken?”
“No, you’ll have to search the guy. I didn’t touch him.”
“How ‘bout the help? Where were they?”
“The servants? They came out after.”
“Must’ve heard the shots.”
“I suppose so.”
The young squad-car officer had a few more questions, but a detective arrived with the crime-scene people and the squad-car officer was sent out to South Ocean Boulevard to wave traffic past the police vehicles lining the road. Shit, what traffic? He was curious about a few things. He wondered if the houseguest, Angela Nolan, had seen any of the action. He wondered if Angela Nolan was staying in the main house or out in the guest house.
The young squad-car officer’s name was Gary Hammond.
On the third day a woman who worked in a shirt factory inHialeah and said she was Louverture Damien’s wife came toGood Samaritan to sit at the man’s bedside while he died.
Officer Gary Hammond was stationed outside the Haitian’s hospital door now-in case the poor son of a bitch ripped out his tubes, somehow crawled out of bed and made a run for it. Gary would talk to the woman from time to time.
How come if she was married to Louverture she was living in Hialeah? To work, the woman said. Well, how come her husband didn’t work there? The woman said because her husband believed to work every day was a bad thing. “If work was a good thing the rich would have it all and not let you do it.” Grinning then, showing her ugly teeth.
Jesus, the old broad was putting him on.
The woman was as skinny as the man in the bed. An old leather stick with a turban and nine strands of colored beads. She told Gary her husband had found nothing in his life worthwhile. She told him her husband was sometimes a thief, but not a dangerous one. He was too weak or cowardly to hurt anyone.
Gary said if he was harmless then what was he carrying the machete for, to get some coconuts?
The woman told him her husband had no mashe . She said her husband run. The man say to him to stop. Her husband stop. The man say to him to come back with his hands in the air. Her husband does this. The man shoots him and Ii tomber boum , her husband falls with a great crash.
Gary said, “You believe that?”
The Haitian woman said, “If he lie he could tell a good lie, he can tell grand stories. But I don’t know.” She said, “I go home tonight and fetch a white chicken and kill it.”
Gary said, “Yeah? Why you gonna do that?“The woman said, “Because I’m hungry. I don’t eat nothing today coming here.”
Gary said, “Oh.”
He told the detective investigating the case the man had died. The detective said, well, there were plenty more where he came from. They stood between two squad cars parked near the gate entrance to the estate.
Eyes half-closed in cigarette smoke the detective said, “What do you think this place would sell for?”
Gary said he supposed about a million.
The detective said, “Try three and a half. You know how many rooms are in that house? How many just bedrooms?”
The young cop had a hard time figuring the house out. It was classic sand-colored Spanish with a red-tile roof, common enough in Florida, except it was big as a monastery with wings and covered walks going out in different directions. Hard to make out because of all the vegetation: the shrubs and sea grape, royal palms, a hedge of hibiscus full of scarlet flowers hiding the wall that ran about three hundred feet along South Ocean Boulevard.
The detective said, “Six bedrooms up, four more in the guest house not counting the servants’ wing. The place will sleep thirty without putting anybody on the couch.”
How’d he know that?