Amanda Friedman for Reader's Digest
My first real job at the Miami Herald was the graveyard shift on the police beat. I was a chubby, overprotected Cuban girl from Kendall who had managed to Forrest Gump her way into a really cool job, and I spent the whole first year feeling I was on shaky ground.
They sat me next to two veteran crime reporters at the newspaper. On one side was Elaine de Valle, brash and bold. She was often screaming into her phone in Spanish, as if she were being burned at the stake by Fidel Castro. She had passion!
On the other side was Arnold Markowitz, Arnie, or Witz, if he really, really liked you. He was wild, with a shock of white hair and this white beard that he would claw in frustration if someone was being especially dumb or stupid. I was frequently both.
Because Arnie was hard of hearing, he rigged up his desk phone to a bright white light, like the kind of thing a tugboat would need to navigate foggy conditions. So every time the phone would ring, the light would flash and Arnie would pick up the phone and scream, “Markowitz! What you got?” It was terrifying, but he was a legend: unstoppable, un-scoopable. Every criminal and cop knew him, and I was determined to impress him.
That first summer, Arnie gets a call, a tip that there was a break in a cold case he had covered years ago. There was a guy who had disappeared on the way to a casino at the edge of the Everglades. Arnie gets a tip that they found his car at the bottom of a canal.
He sends me to the crime scene to see if they pulled any remains from the submerged car. I drive out to Homestead in the middle of the night, in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Somehow, I manage to talk my way onto the crime scene. I’m standing there, ankle deep in mud, and they’re winching up this old sedan, and one of the cops opens the door, and sure enough, it’s a tangle of bones and muck and weeds. Did I mention the bones?
So I scribble in my notebook and get the heck out of there because by now it’s ten minutes to deadline, and I have to call Arnie to file my feed.
Only my phone is dead, of course. So I’m driving in a blind panic in the rain, completely unhinged, praying for a pay phone. Then I see a Denny’s, like Valhalla in the distance, a Denny’s with a pay phone in front of it!
I screech like a maniac. I jump out of the car and run for the pay phone, and I notice, out of the corner of my eye, a group of potheads just kind of hanging out outside the Denny’s like potheads do. But I don’t even pay attention to them. I throw my coins in the phone and call Arnie.
He picks up. “Markowitz! What you got?” And I tell him everything: the car, the canal, the bones. And because Arnie’s hard of hearing, I have to yell all this at the top of my lungs.
So if you happened to be one of those potheads at that Denny’s on that dark and stormy night, this is what you would have seen: a chubby Cuban girl from Kendall, her legs caked in mud, her eyes streaked with rain and tears and mascara, wailing into a pay phone, “They found his bones but not a skull! His bones! In the car. They found the bones!”
I like to think that years later, those guys in the parking lot still talk about me:
“Bro, remember that girl at Denny’s?”
“Yeah, bro. She totally murdered someone. Right?”
The next day at work, I get to my desk, and there’s a note on the keyboard that says, simply, “Figueras, welcome to the craft,” signed, “Witz.”
Apologies to my husband in the back, but it was the best love letter a man has ever written me.
If you love crime, stories, read up about these runners who caught a criminal by accident.
*Told live at a Moth show at the Olympia Theater in Miami, Florida