Early in the morning under a daylight moon, they saw the Reverend facedown in the shallows, black hair afloat, arms outstretched like a Jesus. They pulled him out of the seaweeds and flopped him onto his back, the man big-bellied and naked from the waist down. The crowd of onlookers surged forward for a closer view, a few boys in prom suits hopping onto car hoods and peering over heads. Another Belize City Police Land Rover drove up and two more cops got out and walked over to the group standing around the body.
Across the clearing on a small rise, Leo Varela sat behind the wheel of his father’s BMW in a rumpled gray suit, a wilted carnation stuck in a buttonhole. He watched the cops talking, occasionally pointing. His eyes were bleary and he reeked of rum and Cokes. Patrick, his older brother, was in pajamas in the other front seat, exhaling morning breath through the open window. Freddy Robinson was in the back rolling a joint, glancing up every ten seconds and asking them for the play-by-play.
All around, St. John’s boys in prom suits sat or stood on car hoods watching. Most of them had taken their dates home hours ago, then had flocked to Lonesome Point after they heard.
One of the policemen turned and studied the swarm of cars. He spoke to another cop, a tall black man, and within seconds they were marching across the clearing ordering everybody to leave, roll out. Boys stood up with defiant slowness and ambled around to get into their cars, start them up. The tall black cop sauntered up the rise to the BMW—Alfonso Robinson, Freddy’s cousin. Strolling over to Patrick’s window now. He put his hands on the roof, ducked down. "Time to go home to Mommy."
Patrick said, "Hey, man, Leo woke me, told me what happened. It’s really the Rev?"
"Indeed. Ugly scene." The cop twisted around to face it.
Leo leaned across his brother’s lap. "What happened to him, Fonso?"
"Got shot. Took one in the skull, two in the back." Fonso shook his head. "Man had no drawers on or nothin’."
Cars filled with St. John’s boys drove past, some of the boys throwing up waves to Leo and Freddy.
"So tell me," Patrick said, "where’s the Rev’s car?"
Fonso said, "Well," and spat off to the side. "Assuming the Rev came here in his car, looks like somebody stole it."
Leo gazed across the clearing to the cops standing around the body, silty waves washing up on the hard sand. Seaweed and pebbles and driftwood littered the beach to where it turned west and petered out near a bank of mangroves. It was beginning to sink in: The Reverend was dead, a family friend, a man he’d known nearly all his life.
Fonso said, "You guys best get on outta here." He tilted his head to the rear. "Before the inspector starts crawling up my ass."
They drove away through the open barbed-wire gate, the grand entrance to this ragged beach people had used for years for every illicit pleasure imaginable. In the eighties, a developer had cleared this land, eight miles up the Northern Highway, dredged canals, and started building concrete homes. Then he went broke or was in prison for embezzlement in Panama, Leo forgot which, and now the land was the public’s to enjoy despite a gigantic no trespassing sign out front.
Back on the Northern, Leo kept his mind on the Reverend lying there with no pants, his skin looking like rubber. Freddy pulled out his Bic to spark the joint, but Patrick turned around and glared. "Not in the car, dude." In the rearview, Leo saw Freddy tuck the joint behind his ear.
They were approaching the turn to Independence Park, Freddy’s neighborhood, and Leo sped toward it, his eyelids getting heavy, the long night catching up to him. He turned right onto the dirt street, steered around rain puddles and deep potholes. High grass crowded both sides, ramshackle wooden houses set back in weedy yards.
"Drop me off here by these brothas," Freddy said.
A small group of teens was hanging out in front of a corner store, a couple of them leaning on bicycles. They watched with surly cool as the car pulled up.
Freddy got out and slammed the door shut, maybe a touch too hard for Patrick’s liking. "Yo, listen, Lee," bending at the waist to look through Patrick’s window. "We’ll party again soon?"
"Course. I don’t leave for another two weeks."
Freddy grinned. "My boy. Off to fuckin’ college and shit. Somebody pinch my black ass."
"What can I say, accidents happen."
Freddy reached in across Patrick and bumped fists with Leo. He pulled out and looked at Patrick. "Nice jammies. Got any with fire engines on them? That’d look cute. Or Superman?"
Patrick turned his face to the windshield, hit the button and the car window slid up.
A minute later, Patrick said, "You really should be happy you’re leaving, know that?"
Patrick sighed. "Well, for one, just that you couldn’t do any worse than hanging around that loser."
Leo opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it. He and Patrick would probably never understand each other.
Near the city, Leo thought again about the Reverend and got his mind off that by thinking about Celina instead.
Remembering her look of surprise when he’d shown her his old notebook full of long prose poems. How he smiled when she said, I didn’t know this about you. Then, last night, kissing her by the Fort George Hotel pool when the prom was winding down. The taste of her tongue, like rum and Coke, only more intense and sweeter. Her shiny black hair like a curtain that hid their kisses.
He pushed the car up to sixty-five, seventy. They tore down the road, only a couple of cars heading the other way so early in the morning. They flashed by the toilet paper factory and the truck depot. Flew by the propane gas plant and the old Texaco station, and coming up now on the left was Varela & Sons. The largest used car dealership in the country. Whenever his father bragged about that, Leo would think, Yeah, Dad, that’s because most of those cars jammed in that clay yard behind that high chain-link, beside that three-story glass building that doesn’t really suit third-world Belize—most of those cars are stolen; and everybody knows.
And that’s why Leo would be content never to see Varela & Sons again.
They were coming into the city, curving around the circular onto Princess Margaret Drive, and Leo felt relieved that he was almost home and just days away from leaving home, setting out on his own. His shoulders relaxed. He lifted his foot off the gas and cruised. "You going to tell Dad?"
When Patrick made no reply, Leo turned his head to look at him.
His brother had gone ghost-white. Hunched over, hugging himself.
Leo looked away.
Yeah, it must be hitting Patrick now, the cold shock that somebody had murdered the Reverend. Their father’s right-hand man.
Excerpted from Lonesome Point by Ian Vasquez.
Copyright © 2009 by Ian Vasquez.
Published in June 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.