“I cannot reverse time, but I can always go back.”
To me, time folds back on itself. —Prince, 2015
September, 1984. Sleek, lurid couture and homicidal tendencies reticulate Miami, Florida’s cosmopolitan tableau. Male-centric sex and speeding jai alai pelotas mar the southern city fused with plastic explosives wired to detonate. Assassinations are commonplace here, as is vainglory. A local man exits a nearby jewelry store with a new gold Rolex watch around his left wrist and is shot in the face. His murderer sacks the corpse for its Rolex. The man annihilated for his watch is left unattended by the emergency medical technicians on site, dour flabby men who stand around and smoke Parliaments; their eyes engage in terrorism against the hardbodies and the women wearing spandex short skirts, tensing their jaws and feeling the leers sear their asses as they pass the paramedics and the body-shaped lump now hidden underneath a white sheet, blood soaking into the cotton until it spreads into a red, waterlogged O.
The United States of America prepares to re-elect Ronald Reagan by a landslide, in a wave of conservative might that broke in the 1970s, when Richard Nixon engineered his successful presidential bid by capitalizing on the birth of a new Republican Party forged by rancor, by betrayal, according to Southern white men who felt the Democratic Party, in its support of integration, of equal rights, had abandoned them, now that the Democrats had found their golden ticket in the new Black electorate it helped create, and the GOP extended its arms to them, and welcomed its new brothers, and plotted the only coup d’état allowable by the Constitution: control of all three branches of the federal government. This is all academic, as is the War on Drugs.
Detective Ricardo Tubbs of the New York City Police Department—gray Italian single-breasted suit, black dress shirt (unbuttoned by three), black loafers, khaki trench coat draped over his right arm, black briefcase in his left hand—is on special assignment. He makes his way down a corridor in Miami International Airport, silent, a deadpan stare straight ahead. In New York, Detective Tubbs had followed an unnamed individual—a man in a black suit, black trench coat, and black fedora—from the VIP section of a nightclub to a parked black vehicle, in which the unnamed individual sped off into the night. Now Detective Tubbs is in Miami to continue his search.
A few miles away, two men—a local drug dealer and a Metro-Dade police officer—activate a car bomb, triggered by the insertion of a car key into the trunk lock, and are blown apart. Uniformed officers canvass the scene; onlookers look on; evidence is gathered, tagged, and thrust into bags. Metro-Dade Vice detective James “Sonny” Crockett—white sports coat, aqua T-shirt, white pants, white loafers, no socks—witnessed the explosion, and now sits in a squad car with his lieutenant. His colleague, Eddie Rivera, was alive just a few minutes ago; in fact, they had both stood on a street corner about an hour before the carnage, watching break dancers. They had discussed the inner workings of Eddie Rivera’s marriage; Crockett will later make his way to a nearby greasy spoon where Maria works, and inform her of Eddie’s sudden demise. Now, the lieutenant demands results from Crockett who, despite having worked undercover as a drug smuggler for over a week while failing to check in with his superior officer, has lost track of the Colombian drug lord—nameless, faceless—who has terrorized Miami for two months, causing a spike in the supply of cocaine in the city as well as six separate drug-related homicides. Crockett adjusts his crisp white sport coat and looks at his watch.
Across Miami, Metro-Dade Police, specifically its Organized Crime Bureau, Vice Division, is besieged with cases powered by drugs and the promise of financial reward. The narcotics industry requires investors who believe, and labor to move the product: bodies. Some bodies roll down Brickell Avenue in Italian sports cars, the new office buildings, still under construction, looming overhead. Men in suits blink blue eyes wet with rheum behind Wayfarer sunglasses as they move product throughout the city, or liaison on behalf of their bosses to broker new deals, new prices. Poverty is an apparatus made whole entirely by bodies: of women, of children, of out-of-work men, of the uneducated and the unnecessary—that is, those who do not create wealth for others, and therefore have no purpose—and of the elderly. The old Cubans—those who pound down stovetop espresso despite doctors’ orders—have already learned the lesson in politics, and the limited roles offered: a person either creates and sets policy, or yields to it. I cannot see what these elders see when they sit at the coast and stare out, either with their eyes facing Cuba or with their backs to it. But I know what these men have come to understand: The Cuba they remember is gone, forever flensed and dried and nailed to the wall. And then there are the dead bodies in graves, or outside of graves waiting to be inserted into holes, or cooling off in the morgues, or being transported in the back of ambulances, or lying in blood pools on the street, or standing up but falling backwards now, because someone said thirty but someone else demanded fifty and, amid failure to compromise, guns are drawn, and bullets are ejected from barrel to brain.
Detective Crockett walks into his son’s birthday party late. He proceeds to make himself the center of attention and emotional comfort by sharing the details of the car bomb with other adults at the birthday party, including his estranged wife, Caroline. Meanwhile, his son opens the last-minute gift his detective father bought him: a toy police squad car. The boy is elated, and the father redeemed; the mother scrapes birthday cake scraps off plates: This is a madhouse. Across town, Detective Tubbs is sweating, and smiling, lone gold chain resting upon his exposed and hairy chest, as he dances while the stripper dances to Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.” Tubbs is watching the stripper; the stripper watches Tubbs, and the money in his hand; a white man who enters the club and chats up the bartender while waiting for a drink is watching Tubbs, and asks about him. “Been in here three nights in a row,” the bartender says, “looking to score.” The white man sips his drink and stares at the black man dancing, and the black woman stripping.
Later, Tubbs, pretending to be a drug dealer, steals a speedboat from Crockett, pretending to be a drug smuggler, who then commandeers a citizen’s Chevrolet Camaro to chase down Tubbs, all of which leads to a spectacular speed race between car and boat. Forces conspire to flood Miami with drugs and guns, and yet this decadent warfare is submerged beneath the gloss, the glam, the sleight of decay that entices rather than frightens. A beguiling artifice overlays a social and economic cataclysm, from the Overtown riots to the Mariel boatlift; a city is spliced together, frame by frame, with jarring transitions leaping across the spectrum of possession, with wealth and destitution acting as the extreme poles: Bearing witness to death necessitates an application of stylized sex and music and fashion, in broad, sweeping strokes, like funereal makeup. There is a cartoon quality to this Miami, a caricature of some alternate Miami where, without flair, the machinations and lives of people abruptly end.
Strange times. Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, has visited Cuba, the first sitting US president to do so since Calvin Coolidge. Embassies have been reopened. Commercial flights between the nations will resume before the next holiday season. In 2011, the Cuban government allowed its citizens to buy and sell real estate. Meanwhile, Cubans flee: a 77% spike in Cuban immigration to the United States in 2015, perhaps the result of a collective fear that the United States Congress will soon repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act. (Make it to the States as a Cuban, and you have a chance for permanent residence; caught at sea by US law enforcement, and you go back.) Ownership of land exchanges hands now, with more money available to businessmen and dreamers, those willing to create and barter new promises, and map new, circuitous routes to an old destination—the promised land, America, or its mirage—but why would anyone leave home? What resurrection lies in exile? How treacherous the road?
The old route: Three dozen Cubans board a vessel of questionable craftsmanship and dubious seaworthiness, and flail against the ghastly waves of the Florida Straits—the natural death trap between Cuba and Miami, thanks in part to the massive Gulf Stream—until they are rescued (arrested) by the Coast Guard, or until they die of dehydration, or of drowning, or of some other mid-sea fracas, or until they make it to the United States.
The new route: A harrowing eight-nation path to the US—beginning with a flight from Cuba to Ecuador, then circumventing sovereign borders, primarily by foot through Central America, covering over eight thousand kilometers—leaves 3,500 Cubans stranded in Panama, as officials in neighboring Costa Rica, after flying at least five thousand people out of their country to Mexico, close their borders to any new Cuban migrants who, despite the warnings, continue arriving from South America. Some Cubans take to local Panama hotels, where eight people to a room share both common space and dire circumstances. They cannot go back.
I am in real time. I am watching now. Consider it the separation caused by a dimensional veil slipped in between observable universes—or consider it my imagination. Regardless, I can watch through the veil, and so I do. In my hand is a small remote control. The remote control is silver, made of milled aluminum, and it controls a square computer, ten centimeters on all four sides, attached via HDMI cable to the television. The computer itself connects to a private WiFi network generated by the nearby router and cable modem suckling from broadband. I press the black circular button on the remote. The blue screen blackens.
The square computer loads an app for a streaming video service, granting access to many of America’s latest sitcoms and TV dramas, as well as an archive of television shows that ended decades ago. While many still extol the civic virtue and cultural value of public libraries, streaming video services now dominate. They contain the compendium of twentieth and twenty-first century American life, captured increasingly with film, microphones, flash storage drives, motherboards, central processing units, and captured less so with—say, for example—essays.
I make my selection via the streaming video app’s main menu—a mosaic of screenshots from movies, television shows, music videos, amateur videos. Each screenshot, if clicked, will drill down deeper into the menu, displaying more information: how many seasons, who directed, what year, which location, which awards, how it fared amongst reviewers. Excess is generational, traced by the mosaic, this interconnected nexus I traverse once I become a tiny point of energy—the closest representation of what I actually am: a human in time who can never approach or exceed the speed of 299,792,458 miles per second, yet existing in and moving through time. At this size, I enter a new observable universe relative to, yet separate from, the reality I’ve come to know as life. Slipping into coaxial cables and fiber optic wires is easy at this size. Into the hardware—brain and body imbibed with data represented by a shower of incalculable blue lights—I return, to the source, the afrofuture—the intersecting past and present.
It is posited that there is a central point in space-time, the Janus point, where time was born, quickly splitting in opposite directions: twin paths, two observable universes separate from and unknowable to each other. The theory goes that if time in our universe is perceived to move in a linear, forward direction, then time in the other universe, while still linear, moves and would be perceived backwards. The Janus point, and the backwards universe—the inverse?—is inaccessible, even to this afrofuturist who plunders insignificant scraps from history, and regards these infinitesimal ephemera as amulets. But while the backwards universe is impenetrable, there are options if traveling back in time is the goal. In the dark ages, a new episode of a television show would appear at a specific time, on a specific channel, and would run from beginning to end, with occasional interruptions for advertisements. Absent crude solutions—hoping a friend recorded the episode onto a physical medium, or waiting years for the show to enter syndication—a missed episode would be lost to the passage of our universe’s time. Television has since been decoupled from the immutability of time by the building of larger, more sophisticated physical media, connected to and accessible by anyone with a subscription and a strong data signal. Missing an entire show’s run, or a season, or an episode or a scene, has lost its significance; by rewinding, time is excavated from the dirt. I cannot reverse time, but I can always go back.
Detective Tubbs of the NYPD proves vital to the Metro-Dade Police Department, Organized Crime Bureau, Vice Division, by providing superior officers key information pertaining to the cocaine flowing unabated from Colombia, specifically the name of the Colombian drug lord/murderer both Tubbs and Detective Crockett—currently making love to fellow Vice detective Gina Calabrese in the sleeping quarters below deck of a boat obtained by Metro via forfeiture and seizure laws relative to property purchased with money earned from the sale and distribution of controlled substances—have tried to arrest and prosecute, if not outright murder.
Detectives Tubbs and Crockett eventually confer and soon confirm—via surveillance photos provided to Metro-Dade by Detective Tubbs—that they are pursuing the same man, the Colombian drug lord/murderer identified as Calderone who, in addition to running his vast Miami cocaine empire, also found time to have Detective Rafael Tubbs—Ricardo’s brother—gunned down during a New York drug bust that had, as they say, “gone wrong.”
As Metro-Dade Police, Vice Division—with the assistance of Detective Tubbs of the NYPD—works to build a solid evidentiary case against Calderone, subject to his apprehension and arraignment, Detective Crockett appears distracted. He engages in impromptu and hushed conversations, asides and clarifications—one such discussion occurring within the police department’s women’s bathroom—with Detective Calabrese, who expressed anger toward Crockett the morning after they made love because in the middle of a drowsy post-coitus embrace, Crockett whispered the name of his estranged wife into Calabrese’s ear; to make amends, Detective Crockett concocts a plan in which a single red rose—bud still closed—is inserted into Calabrese’s inter-departmental inbox, where she finds it, and sniffs it, and stares at Crockett, the muscles in her face softening.
Detective Tubbs has a lead on the possible whereabouts of Calderone and heads into the city, while Detective Crockett remains behind and—after accusing Lieutenant Lou Rodriguez, his superior officer, of accepting bribes, and after staring at Detective Calabrese for a disturbing amount of time—reviews crime scene photographs related to the murder of Leon Mohammad Jefferson, local drug dealer arrested in connection with a Metro drug bust.
Undercover that evening as his alias Sonny Burnett, Detective Sonny Crockett had escorted Leon Jefferson to a scheduled buy—three kilograms of cocaine—with two gentlemen new to Miami who Jefferson felt were trustworthy and honorable men of business, men of industry, who saw the wisdom in buy for one, sell for two, who were honest or at least not complete liars, two men who were in fact Detective Ricardo Tubbs of the NYPD, street alias Teddy Prentiss from Kingston, Jamaica, accompanied by the DEA agent—and Crockett’s former Vice partner—Scott Wheeler (street alias unknown) who was the very man who watched Tubbs watch the stripper dancing to “Somebody’s Watching Me.”
Metro-Dade Police moved in and arrested Leon Jefferson in connection with the purchase of three kilograms of cocaine.
Mr. Jefferson, after assessing the situation, refused to cooperate with officials, and invoked his right to an attorney.
A scheme was hatched between Metro-Dade and local prosecutors, leading to Leon Jefferson’s release from police custody during a bond hearing where Mr. Jefferson was congratulated and thanked in open court and on public record by the presiding judge for providing crucial evidentiary information to law enforcement officials, information Mr. Jefferson did not in fact provide, a key point Mr. Jefferson screamed at the conclusion of his bond hearing as he was carried out of court by bailiffs and tossed, so to speak, out onto the street.
Fearful for his life, Leon Jefferson contacted Metro-Dade Police, Vice Division, and spoke with Lieutenant Lou Rodriguez regarding, in exchange for police protection, the possibility of actually providing crucial evidentiary information to officials, namely detailed business dealings concerning his boss, Calderone.
Behind an ice cream stand on South Beach, minutes after this phone call with officials, Leon Jefferson was killed—shot once in his chest at point-blank range—by an assailant described by eyewitnesses as a woman wearing heels, sunglasses, a hat, and a pastel, floral-print pantsuit.
Detective Crockett is now looking at call records pulled from the phone number associated with Leon Jefferson’s last-known address; the records show outgoing phone calls made to Scott Wheeler, DEA agent and Crockett’s former partner.
There were rumors of a possible leak within the Metro-Dade Police Department, Vice Division, potentially compromising the evidential and future prosecutorial integrity of many open cases—such as the unsolved murder of Leon Jefferson—although, when approached by Detective Tubbs about his suspicions, Detective Crockett had lashed out at Tubbs for accusing “righteous cops” of wrongdoing, and furthermore implied that perhaps police corruption was more commonplace “back in the Bronx” but that in Florida, police officers were “strictly business” and operated “by the book.”
Detective Crockett receives a message from Detective Tubbs, who says he is on his way to visit local drug addict, suspected hitman, and intolerable Miami criminal Trini DeSoto, plugged into the “underworld” where information regarding the whereabouts of Calderone would surface.
Trini DeSoto—Cuban expatriate and television buff, a champion of actor Desi Arnaz, thespian of high regard who, according to Mr. DeSoto, deserved an Academy Award—was contracted by Calderone to shoot and kill Leon Jefferson before Mr. Jefferson testified in open court.
The connection between these gentlemen is Scott Wheeler, DEA agent on scene and undercover when Leon Jefferson was arrested during the Metro-Dade drug bust coordinated by Crockett, the same Scott Wheeler whose name now appears on Mr. Jefferson’s phone records.
Detective Crockett deduces that Scott Wheeler gave to Trini DeSoto the location of Leon Jefferson shortly before or after Mr. Jefferson’s release from police custody, likely at the behest of Calderone.
It stands to reason, then, that Detective Tubbs’s pending meeting with Mr. DeSoto could be a set up, provided that Mr. Wheeler informed Mr. DeSoto that Teddy Prentiss from Kingston, Jamaica is in fact Detective Ricardo Tubbs of the New York Police Department.
Detective Crockett mobilizes police backup as he drives his black 1974 Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona, commonly known as the Ferrari Daytona Spyder, to assist Detective Tubbs, unknowingly in danger.
Detective Tubbs is cornered in an alley by an armed woman wearing heels, sunglasses, a hat, and floral print pantsuit—a woman who reveals herself to be a man, Trini DeSoto.
A Metro police squad car speeds down the opposite end of the alley; Trini DeSoto turns, aims, and discharges his weapon at the squad car before said squad car strikes Mr. DeSoto head on.
Detective Crockett arrives on scene and is relieved to see Detective Tubbs alive and well, while Trini DeSoto, de-wigged, is deceased; Crockett informs Tubbs of DEA agent Scott Wheeler’s likely betrayal, and further informs Tubbs that they are now heading to Mr. Wheeler’s residence, police backup in tow.
There, Detective Crockett discreetly shows DEA agent Scott Wheeler a warrant for his arrest—paperwork Mr. Wheeler reviews with his back to his wife and two children, just sitting down for a family dinner: Spaghetti is on the menu.
Outside, sitting in the black Ferrari Spyder, Scott Wheeler pleads his case to his former partner that if it weren’t for Scott Jr.’s medical bills, a sum that exceeds Mr. Wheeler’s annual salary of $30,000, the bribes provided to Mr. Wheeler by Trini DeSoto—detailed payouts recorded in ledgers later found in Mr. DeSoto’s residence—would’ve been turned away, but Mr. Wheeler has a family to think about, and so a little extra income coming in off the books can only prove beneficial to the Wheeler household, and besides Mr. Wheeler risks his life every day for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, chasing and arresting drug criminals who spend $30,000—in cash—per month, so these bribes serve as a corrective measure against the financial imbalance between civic hero and criminal, because it’s not fair that criminals—the drug dealers and drug lords and thieves and schemers and murderers, all—get to flash expensive jewelry and enjoy expensive meals and drive fast cars while he, the good cop operating once upon a time by the book, cannot afford to care for his wheelchair-bound son, because he is the one with the gold badge, and it is he who should reap the rewards in society, not drug profiteers.
Scott Wheeler is arrested and taken into custody.
Detectives Crockett and Tubbs speed away in the black Ferrari Spyder now that they have information—provided by a sobbing Scott Wheeler—pertaining to the whereabouts of Calderone, set to flee the city, and the country, tonight.
Detective Tubbs sits quietly in the passenger seat of the black Ferrari Daytona Spyder, resting a sawed-off shotgun across his lap, as Detective Crockett stops the car, pulls up on the emergency brake, exits the vehicle, and saunters over to a pay phone, as though police work can wait for a quick or not-so-quick chat—and certainly not a meaningless one—since Detective Crockett has chosen a pay phone over the state-of-the-art car phone wired and mounted into the cockpit of the black Ferrari Daytona Spyder, chosen privacy over convenience and expediency, leaving Detective Tubbs to wonder who exactly Detective Crockett must speak to right now of all times, with Calderone ready to slip away, perhaps for good.
Here, I diverge: The camera stays with Detective Crockett as he opens the pay phone booth partition and shoves a hand into his pants pocket for a dime, but I remain with Detective Tubbs, and take my place beside him in the vacant driver’s seat of the black Ferrari Daytona Spyder, the seat still warm from Detective Crockett’s ass.
I turn to face Tubbs—Ricardo. He is flawless, his dark brown skin without scar.
He reminds me of my great-grandfather: Black man, my love; a defender of conditional liberty mustard-gassed overseas during unconditional service; I can save him; I can save us.
If I could talk to Tubbs, I would tell him to get on the first plane back to New York, to make amends with NYPD officials—by now miffed with Tubbs for not only departing for Miami without informing them, but for falsifying documentation indicating that NYPD had sent Tubbs down south on special assignment when, in fact, they had relegated Tubbs to desk duty pending results from psychological evaluations taken in the wake of his brother’s on-the-job murder—and to leave Miami, this alien, sun-scorched city of the vanities where Crockett will need constant attention, supervision, comfort, perhaps an illegal favor or two, for this is Crockett’s universe I observe, and I know Tubbs will never be the hero, will never be seen as an equal to Crockett, will always be the one to run sweatily through the streets, chasing bad guys into empty warehouses, will always be the one with guns to his temple and knives to his throat, will always be the recipient of multiple vicious beatings, all while Crockett drinks too much, smokes too much, breaks into apartments without search warrants, arrests citizens off the street without probable cause, and discharges his firearm without hesitation should he decide another human is a threat.
I cannot speak to Tubbs—Crockett hangs up the phone, and closes the payphone booth partition behind him, and approaches the Ferrari Spyder—but I hope emotions transcend universes, and Tubbs will feel my dread.
Emotional transference across space-time is still a working afrofuturist theory, but I am nonetheless hopeful. I believe, even though I know.
Retracing my steps—out from the innards of the square computer, through the coaxial and fiber-optic cables connecting the square computer to the wall, and back to the other side of the veil—I take up my original position on the couch. Detectives Crockett and Tubbs sprint toward a Chalk’s Mallard seaplane—Calderone safe and sound in its cabin—taxiing on a runway, helpless to stop the aircraft from taking off and departing for the Bahamas, most likely heading to the capital, Nassau, outside of both officers’ respective jurisdictions.
The black Ferrari Daytona Spyder races down the highway and toward the dawning sun. Crockett asks Tubbs if he has ever considered a career in Southern law enforcement; Tubbs chuckles and replies, “Maybe.” Detective Tubbs will stay in Miami, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I turn off the television.
From my back pocket, I pull out my smartphone and turn on the screen. There are no notifications displayed on the smartphone’s lock screen; I unlock the phone with my thumbprint. I’m tempted to void myself of the ephemera just consumed, to cancel imagination with the real, to insist Culture upon the sublime, by searching online for the television show Miami Vice and for any relevant information, clips, reviews, names, and dates.
I turn off the phone screen. I am staring at the reflective black glass in my hand. I recognize you. I remember you. I wonder where you went all this time, why, when I wanted to write fiction four years ago, you disappeared, but as soon as I began to see through the artifice of fiction—not disproving fiction as fact, but grounding the fictional into real life to create, for me, a vital and necessary convergence, obliterating the distinction between fiction and nonfiction—why you, my imagination, decided to return now.
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Of all the things that have come and gone in my life, I wanted this one thing, just one: to be a writer.
No one else can judge your practice. You must believe in the work that is in front of you, taking shape before your eyes.
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