‘The Bokor Diary’ Part 2 – A Miami Zombie Story
Detective Eugene Laurence is investegating the recent ‘Zombie’ attack in Miami, in this short story we’re serializing. Catch up on Part 1 here if you missed it or dive right in as Detective Laurence starts his search into Miami’s voodoo community.
Colleagues at the MPD knew that Detective Eugene Laurence grew up near the Broward County line in the Lemon City neighborhood that contained Miami’s Haitian enclave. They knew he attended Edison High School. But they didn’t know just how deep his roots sank into Little Haiti.
It was north to the old neighborhood that Eugene set out for early Monday morning following what the press had dubbed the ‘cannibal attack.’ Traffic was sparse on Biscayne. Today was Memorial Day; but Ramon’s would be open. Eugene turned left onto 56th Street NE and headed for the breakfast and lunch joint run by Ramon Carruso.
It’s said that Miami is the crossroads of the Caribbean. No where is that more evident than in a place like Ramon’s. The cafe sits in a Haitian neighborhood, its proprietor is a Puerto Rican and he happens to serve the best cup of Cuban coffee north of Calle Ocho . If only Ramon had Jamaican reggae playing from a tinny boombox, then the Pan-Caribbean feel would be complete.
Eugene opened the front door, swinging hin to ring a small bell that caused Ramon Carruso to look up from pouring a cafe cubano. Instead of the tinny boombox of Eugene’s imagination, this morning’s soundtrack was provided by the clank-clank of a game of dominoes just underway at a corner table.
Eugene took a stool at the counter and gladly accepted the small, sweetened cup of coffee set before him.
“Hola, Ramon. Has Chief Gabe been in this morning?” the detective asked.
“Nah, the chief is probably still out fishing the canal. I suspect he’ll be in before too long,’ replied Ramon in his thick Spanish-heavy Puerto Rican accent – a bit more Ponce than San Juan.
Chief Gabe was Gabriel Burel, retired Miami Police officer and Eugene’s early mentor. Gabe wasn’t truly a chief. He retired with the rank of captain. But as Lemon City’s main patrol officer, he might as well have been chief of police to most of the neighborhood’s residents.
An amusing volley of French Creole epitaphs was escalating in volume as the dominoes game was nearing a heated conclusion when Chief Gabe came in seeking a bit of air conditioning and over-sweetened coffee. Most people, when they first see Gabe, would notice the chief’s brushy band of white hair growing in an ear-to-ear halo sprouting from his dark skin. Or maybe one would first notice the deep crags on his face – stress from years on the beat in a tough Miami neighborhood. Eugene saw simply the smile that grew on his former mentor’s face upon seeing his protegee sitting at the counter.
“What brings you up this way? Did the models on South Beach stop calling?” Gabe ribbed his friend.
“Nah, just came up to see if Ramon’s swill was as bad as I remembered,” Eugene replied as he grabbed a bowl of plantain chips and headed for a table in the opposite corner from the dominoes players.
Ramon feigned insult from Eugene’s remark as he brought two fresh cups of cafe cubano to the table Eugene and Chief Gabe settled into.
“You saw the video on Channel 7 last night?” asked Eugene.
“Yes, and I read the story in the Herald this morning as well,” replied Gabe. Along with fishing and cafe cubano, the local news section of the Miami Hearld made up Gabe’s morning ritual. As one of the MPD’s first officers of color, the chief helped to desegregate the city’s police force back in the 1960s. He made it his business to keep tabs on the city he’d patrolled for so long. “They say drugs. I don’t know many drugs that can make a man do that to another man. Where you there?”
“The causeway is just a few blocks from the condo. I ran down after I heard the first report come over from dispatch. And, Gabe, it was unlike any thing I’d ever seen. If you’re seeking a motive, you won’t find one. No fight over a woman, not a robbery or a drug deal gone sour. It was one of those crimes without reason.”
“I suspect you’re right, Eugene,” Chief Gabe concluded. “How many rounds did the boys have to use?”
“Nine. Two to the legs and one to the shoulder and he didn’t even feel them. Only when the patrolmen opened up on his chest did he even react,” answered Eugene. “But it was the eyes….”
“The eyes?” Chief Gabe cut him off and dropped his voice, “that wasn’t drugs, son. Sounds like vodou plain and simple. That man was zombie.”
And there it was. Chief Gabe cut right to the heart of it. Vodou. The Haitian variety of what New Orleans and mainstream America calls voodoo and, in smaller pockets of the Americas, hoodoo.
Vodou, not a subject one could easily broach at the downtown Central MPD Precinct, but exactly the reason he came to Lemon City to see Chief Gabe.
“There can’t be a zombie without a bokor,” Gabe told Eugene.
“Have you heard of any houngan who have become bokor?” asked the detective. Houngan, and the female version mambo, are the priests of Haitian vodou. They are entrusted with the spiritual health of the community, a conduit to the spirits and leader of rituals.
Eugene thought back through the South Florida Hatian culture he’d been mentally chronicling most of his adult life. He remembered the last time an houngan sought the dark side of the magic – Armand Toussaint.
“I haven’t heard of any bokor in Miami since Toussaint was killed near Omni Mall back in ’86,” recalled Gabe, who was part of the task force charged with bringing down the criminal the public referred to as the Medicine Man of Lemon City. The Haitian community knew just was kind of danger a bokor like Toussaint represented. Therefore the community was very content to let mainstream Miami remember him as a nothing more than a trigger-happy pill pusher. “You know we’re just not that kind of community, anymore,” the chief said wearily, not wanting to believe what yesterday’s incident might mean.
Neither did Gabe want to believe that their peaceful enclave might have a priest who sought the dark arts. Still, the evidence was so troubling, “It sure seems like someone’s out to change what kind of vodou is practiced in South Florida,” replied Eugene. If there is one person who might know, thought the detective, it would be the High Priestess of Palm Beach, Marie Antoinette Marçon, a mambo who leads a vodou community in the heavily Haitian city of Delray Beach, a suburb of West Palm.
“Think Marie would know?” Eugene asked the Chief.
“She’s as good a lead as any. Shall we take a drive?” suggested Gabe.
“Let’s go.” Eugene stood, dropped a few dollars on the table, waved to Ramon, and followed the chief out the door.
“You drive, I’m tired of always toting you around,” Gabe smiled as he slid into the passenger seat of Eugene’s car.