During the day, the banyan-shaded streets of West Perrine, a South Miami-Dade neighborhood settled by black farmers and farmhands, offers a leafy contrast to the strip malls and auto dealerships lining U.S. 1 to the east and the stark landscape of new housing complexes along SW 107th Avenue to the west. And while the farms are gone, the lush foliage and dirt driveways maintain the small-town feel.

But at sunset, when young men emerge to stake out the street corners, rural languor transforms into something more menacing. What was merely secluded seems forsaken, a lonely stretch of darkness in a poor part of the county.

This would be an unlikely place for a white couple from the suburbs to end up at night. But Monday, February 17, 2003, 31-year-old Frank Pacheco, a single father from Kendall working as a salesman, rolled through with his girlfriend, Celia Lola, two years his junior and a stay-at-home single mom who struggled with a bipolar disorder. The two were on a date. They'd left their respective children with family and were now in search of crack cocaine to enliven their evening. In Lola's car Pacheco drove to a spot he was apparently familiar with, the corner of SW 102nd Avenue and 173rd Terrace, where he met a drug dealer and his associates.

Negotiations didn't go well. After an argument, the dealer and his friends beat Pacheco until he lay dying on the blood-smeared sidewalk. Lola watched helplessly. Then one of the men ordered her to help lift Pacheco off the ground and heave him into the back seat of her car.

Police know that Luis Domingo Leon was one of those men. Not only did they take his fingerprint from inside the car, but also he admitted he was present during the attack and helped load the bloodied victim into the vehicle's rear seat.

Although Leon denied beating Pacheco, Lola picked him out of a photographic lineup as one of the attackers.

But as events unfolded, police and prosecutors ended up with a startlingly different conclusion from the one they started with -- not about what happened, but about the outcome. They dropped murder charges against Leon and instead arrested Lola.

Her crime was not telling police that Leon got into her car and ordered her to drive to his home, where he raped her before she was finally able to escape by jumping out a second-story window, breaking an ankle in the process. But police chose to believe Leon, who after his arrest claimed he'd had consensual sex with her in exchange for crack and then, out of embarrassment, she'd fled via the window. Only after police confronted her with Leon's story did Lola reveal that she'd been forcibly raped. She had wanted to forget all about the violation, she explained, and didn't want to press charges.

To date, more than two years after the murder, no one other than Lola has been arrested in connection with the homicide. Police say the case is still open but admit they have no fresh leads.

Lola's omission didn't alter the facts of the case: Pacheco is dead and his killers are free. And her cooperation did help police identify one of the men at the scene.

The turn of events that freed Leon has left many questioning law enforcement's priorities. How does prosecuting Lola advance the cause of bringing Pacheco's murderers to justice? And what does society gain from prosecuting a woman who witnessed a brutal assault, who may have been sexually attacked, and who suffers mental-health problems?

Although those questions remain unanswered, records make one thing abundantly clear: Detectives and prosecutors blame Celia Lola for their failed homicide investigation.

The Miami-Dade Police Department, the county's largest with 4000 officers, has 1500 cold-case homicides -- murders whose initial investigative thrusts have ended -- dating back to 1951. The most common reasons for a case to falter are lack of physical evidence and witnesses. Rarely do police have physical evidence, a subject's confession that he was present at the crime scene, and a witness -- and then decide to drop the charges.

Lola is scheduled to stand trial April 26, charged with three counts of "false report of a crime to law enforcement," all misdemeanors with sentences of up to a year in jail. (The case will be heard by Judge Shirlyon McWhorter.) Her lawyer, Neil Taylor, was so stunned by the facts in this case that he waived his usual fee and agreed to represent her for a reduced flat rate. "When I heard this story, my heart dropped," he says. "I think the authorities have made a terrible mistake."

Taylor has been a state prosecutor and public defender. He also worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney. And he's been a defendant, accused of accepting drug money as payment from a client. (After two mistrials, he took a plea bargain for a misdemeanor charge. The Florida Bar is reviewing his license to practice law.) So he knows the system from most every angle. "I question the wisdom of prosecuting a woman who has gone through the trauma of seeing her boyfriend beaten to death in front of her and then raped," he says. "Even if you charge her, I can't imagine you would forgo the murder case. With crimes such as murder, I think you have an obligation to put it to trial, even if you lose it. Otherwise you send the wrong message -- that you can literally get away with murder." [page]

Taylor's obvious bias aside, many in the legal world share his view. "Prosecutors should not shy away from this case because she lied," says Sam Rabin, a prominent criminal-defense attorney who recently won a client's release from prison after another man confessed to the crime. Rabin is also a former assistant state attorney who spent three years prosecuting capital murder cases (he is not involved in the Lola case). "It is not uncommon for there to be problematic witnesses in murder cases. They have bad backgrounds or are involved in illegality themselves. This case is prosecutable. There is independent corroboration of the murder -- that's why this case is prosecutable. If they only had her, I could understand. But they do have more than her, and they should proceed."

Kellie Greene, a rape victims advocate who has worked with trauma sufferers, does not find Lola's reticence unusual. In fact, according to a 2000 Justice Department report, as many as 84 percent of rape victims do not call police. It is considered one of the most underreported crimes in America. In Lola's case, Greene posits, she may have been in shock; she may have felt shame and humiliation about the violation, especially if there was sexual abuse in her past (Lola told detectives she had been molested previously). Greene, a rape survivor herself, started the advocacy program Speaking Out About Rape (SOAR) in Tampa, and has consulted with the U.S. Department of Justice; the Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock, Arkansas; and the Florida Attorney General's office on sensitivity training for law-enforcement personnel who work with victims of sexual assault.

"I'm totally appalled they would drop the murder charges," Greene says. "And I think it's appalling to go after someone who, if she was the victim of a sexual crime, probably reacted as best as she knew how in a stressful situation."

Petite and pretty, 31-year-old Celia Lola seems an unlikely actor in the drama that has consumed her life. On the day she meets New Times in her lawyer's Coconut Grove office, she is dressed in a conservative dark top and slacks, her hair pulled back. She has no prior arrest record. In the two years since the attack, she has married and is pregnant. But as she recounts her life, it is also clear that forces beyond her control had perched her on the edge of an abyss for a long time. She just needed a push.

Her father is a former U.S. Air Force pilot who met Lola's mother while he was stationed in Nicaragua, where Lola was born. The family moved to air bases in Louisiana and Texas until the father lost most of the sight in one eye following a plane crash. He retired, received disability, and moved his family to Miami, where Lola was raised in Kendall's Winston Park and attended Miami Sunset Senior High School. She liked roller-skating and going to football games. After graduation she worked in doctors' offices as a receptionist and toyed with the idea of becoming a nurse or doctor. "I liked helping people," she says.

But by her midtwenties, it was apparent that future employment would be difficult. Throughout Lola's life, she was hobbled by severe depression and anxiety attacks that left her hospitalized, often for weeks at a time. At the age of 25 she was diagnosed as a bipolar schizophrenic. That coincided with becoming pregnant from a long-term relationship that eventually ended. At the age of 27, as a single mother, she was legally classified as disabled. She began taking medication to combat her condition while living with her parents in their modest three-bedroom house in the green and quiet suburbs.

Frank Pacheco lived at home with his parents on the same street. Lola would see him while she was outside in the yard with her child. He was a single parent too. When they met, his son was three years old.

"Frankie never really told me what he did for a living," Lola says during a supervised interview in Taylor's law office. "I know he was home a lot and that he wasn't doing steady work. He was working for a temp agency, and I know he worked for his dad. I don't know what they did. That's how I met him. He was home during the day like me, and he would see me in the yard." (Newspaper accounts stated that Pacheco worked full-time selling machines that read credit and debit cards.) [page]

They had other things in common besides parenting. Both had trouble sleeping and would talk for hours on the phone late at night. "Frank was very tall, very handsome, and very, very kind and understanding," she recalls. "He made me feel that despite all my depression and problems that he would protect me."

Pacheco had his own troubles, though. He had a score of minor arrests -- petty theft, marijuana possession, and one charge for breaking into a car -- and did not hide the fact that he smoked crack with friends.

Lola says the two had been friends for more than a year before she began dating him about two months before his death. She claims she was wary of getting too involved because of his drug use. While it concerned her, she didn't question it: "He just told me that's what he and his buddies did. I accepted it. He was a nice guy, in a good neighborhood, from a good family. And that's what he does to have fun. As long as I didn't become addicted, I didn't think there was a problem."

Before going out with Pacheco, Lola asserts, she had never used crack. "Don't get me wrong," she says. "I went to clubs and drank and stuff, but as far as that, I had never done it." She was already taking prescription drugs for her mental condition. But with Pacheco she began experimenting. Although she declines to go into further detail, investigators say she eventually admitted she had at least once traded sexual favors to acquire cocaine for Pacheco.

On the evening in question, Lola and Pacheco, who earlier that day had been working with his father in the yard, left their children with their respective grandparents and rented a motel room on SW Eighth Street in Miami. "We just went there to be intimate," she recounts. "I was taking Ativan [an antianxiety medication], and I was overdoing it. It was making me high. He wanted to try some. We were both feeling buzzed."

The Ativan high evidently sparked in Pacheco a desire for crack. The two may have bought drugs earlier, but if so, Lola won't discuss it. It is known, however, that sometime after midnight they set off for West Perrine. "That's always where he would go," she says.

They drove Lola's 1994 red Mazda MX-6 to the corner of SW 102nd Avenue and 173rd Terrace, where Pacheco got out to make his deal. Before exiting the car, he asked for her watch in order to sell it. When he came back to the car, a black man was with him.

"I just remember him coming back to the car with the guy, and he told me they couldn't do anything with the watch," she says quietly. "Frank didn't want to take no for an answer. I couldn't hear what they were talking about. They argued. I saw him push Frank to the ground. Then the others came over. They started to kick him. They didn't use their fists. I got out of the car while they were beating him. They told me: öYou come near him and we're going to kick your ass, too, bitch!'"

"Yes, I was petrified," she says in response to a question. And then she breaks into tears.

Witnesses described Lola as emotionally frantic when she arrived at Baptist Hospital about 3:30 a.m. An off-duty Miami-Dade cop visiting relatives happened to be present and saw her jump out of the Mazda screaming, "Help Frankie! Help Frankie! They beat him up!" The officer could see inside the car the slumped body of an unconscious man sprawled across the back seat with his head resting on the floor.

When he asked what happened, according to a report he later wrote, Lola explained that she and Pacheco "were driving around and became lost." She described how "three unknown black males approached their vehicle and said something" and that Pacheco, referred to as Victim One, "exited the vehicle from the driver's side to approach the subjects" and that "the three unknown black males struck Victim One in the face with closed fist, causing him to fall to the ground," at which point "the three unknown black males began to kick him. The three unknown black males then threw Victim One into the back seat of listed vehicle. Victim Two [Lola] stated that the three unknown black males told her öto leave or they would kill her!'" [page]

The officer called in the emergency to police dispatch. Meanwhile hospital staff rushed Pacheco to an examination room, where he was pronounced dead at 3:33 a.m. A member of the police team that descended on the hospital, which included four homicide detectives and a crime-scene analyst, described Lola as "hysterical after being informed that Victim One/Pacheco, had expired. This unit was unable to calm Victim Two/Lola down."

Lola was admitted to the hospital for a fractured left ankle, which she said she injured when one of the attackers pushed her down. The crime-scene specialists took her car to the Medical Examiner's Office to be combed for evidence.

From her hospital bed she told homicide detectives the same story of becoming lost and being attacked by a group of strangers who, after beating Pacheco and stuffing him into the back seat, warned her to leave or they'd kill her, whereupon she drove to Baptist Hospital. By 8:00 a.m. Lola had recovered enough, though she was on crutches, to accompany two detectives, Manny Blanco and Thomas Romagni, to the scene of the assault. Apparently the story about getting lost in that part of West Perrine made the detectives suspicious. By the time Lola returned to the police station and gave a formal statement under oath, she conceded that Pacheco was trying to buy crack.

From there the investigation moved rapidly.

A well-sourced beat cop from West Perrine, Ofcr. Ron Tookes of the neighborhood-policing unit, began reeling in tips from the street, relaying the information to homicide detectives. Tookes heard that the drug dealer who normally worked the corner where Pacheco was attacked was a 22-year-old named Cornell Clay. Police contacted Clay, who said that although he usually does work that corner, on the night in question he was home with his wife by 10:00 p.m. His wife corroborated the alibi. Clay admitted he'd heard about the incident and that the only other drug dealer who worked that spot went by the nickname "Peabody."

A few hours later Tookes called with a new lead. Another informant had helped identify two potential suspects: Luis Leon, a nineteen-year-old with a record that included arrests for burglary and grand theft, but no convictions; and a man who went by the nickname "Lagan." An hour later Tookes had detained "Lagan," a.k.a. 45-year-old Lyvonne Jackson, who agreed to meet with the homicide cops at the Hibiscus Police Station. Jackson, an admitted crack addict, explained that he was sleeping in the bed of his stepfather's truck the night Pacheco died. He allowed police to take his photograph, a DNA sample, and his fingerprints while detectives checked his story. When asked by police, his stepfather said he did catch Jackson sleeping in his truck early that morning.

The next day, February 19, detectives showed Lola three photographic lineups containing the pictures of Clay, Jackson, and Leon. She tentatively identified Jackson and Leon as two of the attackers.

By Thursday, February 20, two full days after the attack, identification specialists pulled a fingerprint from inside the Mazda and matched it to Leon. Another person's palm print was also found, which did not match Pacheco, Lola, or, as it would turn out, Jackson.

Lola also directed detectives to a friend of Pacheco's, Bruce Wilmbey, who lives on SW 138th Street. Wilmbey told them that Lola arrived at his house in tears about 2:00 a.m. February 18. She said Pacheco was in the car unconscious and not breathing, and she asked "what should she do," according to a summary of what he told police. He suggested she get Pacheco to the hospital, "at which time she asked him for a cigarette and then left the scene."

Now investigators had to try to understand why Lola told them she drove directly to the hospital when she didn't. Wilmbey lives about six and a half miles from Baptist, along SR 874. It's uncertain whether she knew the way, or if her panicked mind contributed to the delay.

It took the Medical Examiner's Office a month to conclude its report. March 19 Pacheco's death was officially determined to be homicide by blunt trauma, with a contributing cause of "positional asphyxia," meaning that an unconscious Pacheco had suffocated as a result of the way he was stuffed into the car. The medical examiner will not release the time of death, so it's unknown if Pacheco suffocated within minutes or hours after he was beaten.

Armed with Lola's lineup identification and the fingerprint from the Mazda, Detectives Blanco and Romagni asked Assistant State Attorney Daniel Bernstein for a warrant to arrest Leon on second-degree murder charges. Bernstein, a ten-year veteran of the State Attorney's Office who has prosecuted numerous homicide cases, described in a deposition how he prides himself on his intense involvement in murder investigations. "My practice was, if it was based on a number of witnesses, or however many witnesses, I would like to personally speak to the witnesses myself," he said. "As I recall, Detective Blanco or maybe it was Romagni ... called me and said that [Lola] would not come to the State Attorney's Office without a subpoena." [page]

By then Lola had talked to her attorney, Neil Taylor, who told Bernstein there was concern about her liability for manslaughter, given the medical examiner's report. After thinking it over, Bernstein concurred. He consulted his supervisor, chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hogue in the felony division, and they decided to grant Lola immunity. "We made a decision that clearly the person who beat Mr. Pacheco to his death was more culpable than the person who drove him around," Bernstein said.

March 25 Lola gave a statement under subpoena for the arrest warrant of Luis Leon. In preparation for that statement, Bernstein asked other questions, and that's when she admitted performing sex acts to help Pacheco get cocaine, a revelation that shocked Bernstein.

Hours after getting a warrant, police went to the apartment of Leon's grandmother on SW 107th Avenue and 178th Street, where he was known to be living. He wasn't there that night or the next. It would be a month before detectives caught up with him.

The night of April 26, Homestead police tried to stop a car speeding out of the M & M Market. After a brief but serpentine chase in which the driver zigzagged through the streets and at one point switched off his headlights, only to crash into a fence, police arrested the driver, who turned out to be Leon. A computer check quickly revealed he was wanted for second-degree murder.

For someone so eager to elude police, Leon proved surprisingly talkative when Detectives Romagni and Clarence Poitier interviewed him. "Luis Leon informed detectives that he had been present during the beating of the victim and that he assisted in placing him into the back seat of the vehicle; however, he denied any involvement in the actual beating," according to police notes of the interview. And then Leon offered something the police had not heard before: He told them that after putting Pacheco into the car, "he along with the victim's girlfriend responded to his grandmother's ... where she engaged in sexual intercourse with him for the promise of cocaine. Luis Leon further advised that at a certain point, his family arrived home, at which time Ms. Lola jumped out the second story window to avoid being detected." Leon added that he went downstairs and helped her into the car.

Detectives made a point of telling prosecutor Bernstein that Leon seemed truthful. "I was called by the police and told about the arrest of Mr. Leon and the statements that he had made and the fact that at that time ... the police put some credibility on what he had said," Bernstein said at his deposition.

Detectives immediately summoned Lola to the homicide bureau. "Upon arrival Celia Lola was confronted with Luis Leon's allegation," Detective Blanco stated in his report, "at which time she immediately informed the detectives that she had been raped."

A detective from the sexual-battery unit was brought in to interview her. According to a summary of Lola's description of the rape, after beating Pacheco unconscious, "the subject [Leon] then told the victim [Lola] to get into the car and drive to his house, so that öwe can take care of business.' [Lola] told the subject öI have to get Frankie to the hospital.' [Leon] tells the victim öFrankie will be all right, he's just sleeping.' [Leon] gives the victim directions to this residence and they leave the homicide scene. Upon arrival at the subject's residence, [Lola] tells the subject that Frankie doesn't look good. [Leon] tells the victim öHe'll be all right, come on in the house so we can get this over with.'"

Inside the apartment, Lola said, Leon ordered her to strip naked. She protested, telling him: "öNo, I have to take care of Frankie.' [Leon] tells the victim öI told you to take off your clothes. Frankie will be all right, he's just sleeping.'" Lola did as she was commanded. After the rape, Leon went to the bathroom. "At this point the victim gets dressed, opens the window, and jumps out," the interview summary states. Leon, she said, came running outside. "You shouldn't have done that," he told her. Lola "then asked [Leon] if she can leave now and take care of Frankie. The subject tells the victim öYeah, you can go. It's been taken care of.'" [page]

At the end of the interview, Lola declined to press charges. "I didn't want to have to go and see this man again," she tells New Times resolutely, gazing at the floor.

Officers returned to Leon and asked if he would take a polygraph. He refused. Records don't indicate if police also asked Lola to take a polygraph. Her lawyer says he would have no objections. "She would not decline one," Neil Taylor says.

When prosecutor Bernstein was told about this new information, it changed everything for him. His main witness had lost all credibility as far as he was concerned. "This case had to be nolle prossed [dropped] because of serious credibility problems which developed during the course of the investigation," Bernstein wrote in his close-out memo. He noted that the wounds Pacheco suffered from the beating were not life-threatening, but they became so after he was shoved into the car and not taken directly to the hospital. The prosecutor cited the fact that Lola broke her ankle jumping out a window and not from being pushed down at the crime scene, as she told police. He noted that she told him she had "prostituted herself for crack," which contradicted her assertion that she did not tell police she was raped because she was "embarrassed." He wrote that the detectives who questioned Leon "felt that he was being credible and they had serious doubts about the credibility of Ms. Lola." (Attempts to reach Leon at his grandmother's apartment were unsuccessful.)

Four days after police arrested Luis Leon, Bernstein dropped all charges against him. Even the Homestead arrest for fleeing police, a felony case handled by another prosecutor, was eventually dropped.

The physical evidence in the case had not changed, but the investigators' feelings about Lola did. Which raises a question: How thoroughly did authorities wrestle with those feelings? After all, a potential murderer and sexual predator was set free.

Bernstein, in a phone interview with New Times, says he struggled plenty with this investigation. "This is one of the saddest murder cases I have ever handled," he says. "Every problem we could have had, we seemed to have in this -- from the cause of death to the fact that we had to immunize someone. Every single decision we made in this case, everything seemed to go wrong. I feel terrible for the family."

The detectives and Bernstein were clearly angry with Lola for omitting the rape from her statement and altering the rest of her story to cover for the omission. Her betrayal was absolute in their eyes, making everything she said suspect. They had trouble believing that a rape victim would not report this crime to police or not want to press charges. And if police didn't believe she was raped, they were most likely repelled by the idea she had sex with Leon after Pacheco was beaten. They certainly couldn't comprehend why she would drive to a friend's house first and not go straight to the hospital, or better yet, call 911, with a dying Pacheco in the back seat.

Some of the police reports are subtly shaded with this bias. Detective Blanco wrote that Lola told detectives she went "voluntarily" with Leon to his home, when she in fact is claiming the opposite. Bernstein's close-out memo notes that after Lola jumped from the window, Leon came outside "and helped her up and into her car, behavior that seems totally inconsistent with the defendant having raped her."

But Kellie Greene, the rape-victim advocate, says if police had kept an open mind, they might have viewed Lola's actions as consistent with those of a trauma victim, especially one already suffering mental illness.

In that context, it follows that Lola viewed herself as a hostage after the beating. "She's seen what they could do; she's probably in fear for her life and the life of her boyfriend," Greene surmises. "You become numb and do whatever they tell you in order to survive." That would be why Lola went with Leon when he ordered her to. And given that she was having sex against her will, it follows that her leap from the window was an attempt to escape. Afterward she may have been traumatized, in a state of shock and disbelief complicated no doubt by her schizophrenia. "Driving around could be seen as a normal reaction to an abnormal situation because of the high stress she had been in," Greene says. [page]

And not reporting a rape is nothing new, Greene notes. Many victims are awash in shame, guilt, or denial. During his deposition, Detective Romagni conceded that point when he was asked if he'd ever heard of a woman not telling police she had been raped. "From what I hear, it's not unusual for some to conceal that," he said.

Statistics bear him out. Studies ranging from a 1994 National Crime Victimization survey to the Department of Justice's 2000 statistics estimate that between 70 and 80 percent of rapes go unreported. "The criminal justice system does not work well for rape victims," says Susan Lewis, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "It is so hard for victims to report because of the propensity to blame the victim and the fear they won't be believed."

If authorities had allowed for this factor in their equation, they might have found Lola more credible and might have been more willing to prosecute the alleged attackers. Even Bernstein concedes that the "lie" (really an omission) alone did not kill the case.

"Lying is an interesting thing, legally," says defense attorney Sam Rabin. "In some contexts, it's completely understandable why someone would lie. Here you've got a witness with a reasonable explanation why she lied -- she was involved in illegal activity. Presented properly and in context, a jury would understand it. A good prosecutor could make a jury believe it. It makes the case more challenging, but to let a murderer go free is just the wrong result." (Rabin's analysis doesn't bode well for the state's case against Lola, which is being handled by another assistant state attorney, Deisy Rodriguez.)

In the end, it wasn't the potential effect of Lola's untruthfulness on a jury that sank the case against Leon; it was the effect on the prosecutor. "I felt there was no way to ask a jury to convict Mr. Leon of murder when I was so unsure of the credibility of the lone eyewitness against him," Bernstein wrote in the last line of his close-out memo.

Celia Lola, of course, was not the lone witness. Pacheco's death resulted from a group beating, and police strongly suspect there were onlookers. But prying the secrets from West Perrine's streets has proven difficult.

A year after the murder, police staged a re-enactment of the crime for the media, hoping to stir up new leads in the case. It did no good.

Today people in the neighborhood cautiously remember the episode. "I ain't heard nothing about that in a long while," says one young man standing across the street from the crime-scene corner on a recent weekday.

As he speaks a tall lanky man on a bicycle pedals over, a pair of women's shoes dangling from the handlebars. "Oh, yeah, I remember that," the cyclist says when asked about Pacheco's death. This man, it turns out, is Lyvonne Jackson, who Lola picked from a lineup and police questioned. "I don't know why they grabbed me. I didn't do nothing. And I told 'em that. I got nothing to hide," Jackson says. No, he responds when asked, he doesn't know what happened that night, nor does he know the two other men questioned about the murder. He doesn't know much of anything, he shrugs, except how to hustle to stay alive. "Right now I'm trying to sell these ladies' shoes," he says. "You know anybody who wants to buy 'em?"

As Jackson pedals off, the young man on the corner, who won't give his name, notes that Pacheco isn't exactly forgotten. "I seen his kinfolk come by and lay flowers a couple of times," he says.

Pacheco's parents, Dominador and Pastora, who declined to comment for this story for fear it might hinder the prosecution of Lola, have indeed stopped by with flowers, as well as business cards with a confidential police tip-line printed on them -- anything, it seems, to keep the memory of their son's murder from fading into oblivion.

Lola's trial next month will briefly resurrect the family's tragedy, but it's difficult to imagine how her conviction could offer even scant solace for their grief.

Hip-Hop Hors D'oeuvres

There were at least a couple of classic albums (Beanie Sigel's The B. Coming and Kanye West's Late Registration) and a slew of great ones (Madlib's The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, Young Jeezy's Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101, and The Game's The Documentary) in 2005. Balance these albums with a steady procession of club-banging singles (Trina's "Don't Trip" and Ying Yang Twins' "Wait [The Whisper Song]"), as well as weepy ghetto ballads (G-Unit's "Hate It or Love It" and Damian Marley and Nas's "Road to Zion"), and you have a solid, if not spectacular, year for hip-hop.

But beneath the surface lurked a restlessness — a cultural and an aesthetic agitation that was both hidden and violent. The nation's roiling political climate added a certain postmillennium tension, but there was also a collective desire for the genre to move beyond 2004's crunk and pop-hop template. Some artists looked to hip-hop stepchildren such as grime, one-drop reggae revivalism, and reggaeton, while others banked on the emergence of the new and exciting scene in Houston to liven things up. In this vein, we examine three major trends that shaped this year in hip-hop.

Still Tippin': The Emergence of H-Town Rap: Yeah, "Still Tippin'" is two years old and at this point more played out than Stan Van Gundy. But when hip-hop historians look back at 2005, chances are it will be remembered as the year H-Town rap broke. The city's hip-hop scene had been poppin' since long before The Geto Boys put the South on the map with 1991's "My Mind's Playin' Tricks on Me," but though great and innovative music had been coming out of the region from artists such as DJ Screw and UGK, Houston rap was viewed as too insular, too esoteric, and just too Southern.

All of that changed with "Still Tippin'." The song introduced Houston's new rap vanguard — Paul Wall, Slim Thug, and Mike Jones — and though it wasn't technically screw music, it's austere synth swells and simple yet menacing beat did seem to announce the arrival of a new hip-hop aesthetic. The corresponding video was the icing on the cake. The video's grainy, low-budget look and communal focus seethed an unearthed underground vitality that was reminiscent of Dr. Dre's 1992 classic "Nuthin' but a öG' Thang."

The promise of "Still Tippin'" went largely unfulfilled. Unlike Dre's early Cali revolution, Houston would neither largely reconfigure how hip-hop sounds nor produce any genuine superstars. Sure, Bun B's Trill was great, but it paled in comparison to his earlier UGK material. And Mike Jones's Who Is Mike Jones? was little more than a series of marketing gimmicks disguised as an album. Though Slim Thug's Already Platinum was decent enough, with most of the production duties handled by the Neptunes, it wasn't exactly an H-Town album. And after all the excitement and hype that followed Paul Wall, it was disappointing to discover on The People's Champ that he was merely a mediocre rapper with a shiny grill. In the end, Houston felt like more of a pleasant diversion than a genuine transformation.

Stop Snitching! Hip-Hop Goes to Jail: In 2005 it seemed as though every week another hip-hop figure was getting arrested, going to jail, or whining to the press about the bias of judges or the unfairness of his parole hearing. Philly MC Cassidy celebrated his first Top 10 hit — the infectious early-summer jam "I'm a Hustla" — by allegedly going on a killing spree in his old neighborhood. After foisting the noisome "So Icy" on an ice-saturated public, Atlanta MC Gucci Mane was arrested not once but twice — first for murder and later, in Miami, for aggravated assault. And while Beanie Sigel's The B. Coming may have been criminally overlooked by fans, he certainly wasn't ignored by the law. By the time his album dropped in March, he was in jail for a litany of charges too extensive to list in just one edition of this paper.

Whew. And the beat goes on. Meanwhile the angels at Murder Inc. (home to Ja Rule and Ashanti) were indicted (and amazingly acquitted) on money-laundering charges involving Eighties drug lord Supreme McGriff. Over in Texas, UGK's Pimp C remained behind bars for brandishing a firearm. And up-and-coming Miami rapper Dirtbag returned to jail for violating his probation.

Lil' Kim's perjury case took the cake, though. During her trial, she denied being at the scene of the crime despite numerous eyewitnesses and a surveillance tape that clearly showed otherwise. It was a tragically logical conclusion to the "Stop Snitching" campaign that has become hip-hop's unofficial motto.

But it's too simple to throw up one's hands and declare that rappers are out of control. The truth is that rap listeners are just as culpable as the artists. What qualifies as bad behavior for most of the world is considered proof of authenticity by an increasingly jaded hip-hop audience. Do you have multiple bullet holes on your body? A rap sheet longer than Infinite Jest? Do you wear a bulletproof vest and carry a firearm at all times? If you want to be in the hip-hop industry, you might consider moving all of these things to the top of your to-do list. After all, it's much easier to blast a cap in some fool's ass than it is to write a classic verse.

What Kanye Said: Yes, we know. The subject of Kanye and Katrina has been covered ad nauseam, and nothing we say here is likely to change your perception of it. Regardless of how you feel about what he said, you have to give West credit for reintroducing mainstream hip-hop to politics. (Or is that politics to mainstream hip-hop?)

Sure, hip-hop's underground ghetto is a breeding ground for scorching polemics. This year alone saw the release of The Perceptionists' Black Dialogue, Immortal Technique's Revolutionary Vol. 2, and Sage Francis's A Healthy Distrust, but their messages are generally either convoluted by an esoteric and self-defeating concentration on "inside baseball" hip-hop politics or lost in a choppy miasma of bad beats and/or nonexistent distribution.

In contrast, what Kanye said was clear, simple, and nearly ubiquitous. And though most of the focus was on his condemnation of Bush, perhaps more important was that he confronted the still-taboo issue of race in America. It's revealing that for the West Coast rebroadcast of the program, his comments were edited out. To paraphrase Ice T: We have freedom of speech just as long as we watch what we say, and when rappers step out of line — when they stop talking about bling, bitches, pimpin', and ho-ing — then the censors will swoop in. And as hip-hop grows more violent and restless, Kanye West may very well be the most dangerous man in the industry.

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On Wednesday, October 12, shortly after 6:00 p.m., three police cars slide into the parking lot of a Walgreens on SW First Street and Twelfth Avenue. The sun is low in the sky, and the first lights are snapping on in Little Havana as residents arrive home from work. Tonight's raid will be a waiting game, and for the moment, police need to lay low.

In the muted interior of his vehicle, Maj. Mike Exposito, a stocky, mustached 31-year veteran of the Miami Police Department, recalls that he became a cop more than three decades ago by tagging along with a couple of friends to a recruiting fair.

Then the radio crackles: "Be advised. Owner of Latin market outside, talking to tow truck owner. Possible countersurveillance."

Exposito snaps to attention and presses the button on his walkie-talkie. "Moving out!" he announces. The squad cars leave the Walgreens, their lights flashing. The caravan sidelines evening traffic as it snakes down Twelfth Avenue and then turns left on Eighth Street.

At La Reyna Cafeteria, a small, inconspicuous storefront on Calle Ocho and SW Eleventh Avenue, the customers seem slightly stunned when, seconds later, a pair of plainclothes policemen burst in and yell, "Freeze!" The City of Miami Police Department, they announce, is conducting an investigation.

Enter Exposito, four uniformed police, and two code enforcement officers. The spinning lights of their vehicles blaze through the cafeteria's large windows. The all-male force — now numbering nine — disperses to the corners of the small eatery, eyes flashing, ready for action.

"Wow," is one customer's open-mouthed but frozen response. La Reyna is sparsely populated with a handful of single men. A diner in a yellow hat chews a plantain. The waitresses, dressed the careless way of women who expect to have food spilled on them, observe police with annoyed boredom.

Miami Vice it is not.

But fifteen minutes after the officers enter, police lead the restaurant's manager, a tired-looking woman in a blue T-shirt, to the squad car in cuffs. "This is unjust," she complains. "I have cancer...." The police shut her in the back seat.

"It's always something," Exposito sighs. "I have kids at home, I have cancer...."

This particular outing is Exposito's 160th since 2003. On this night, Exposito's illegal cafeteria task force visits three cafeterias and makes arrests at every one.

The crime? Serving beer without a full meal.

In 2002, Miami declared a war on such varied nuisances as illegal cafeterias, abandoned cars, and public drunkenness. The crusade was baptized with a vanilla name: the Quality of Life Task Force. Since its creation, a small army of fire, police, building, and code inspectors has issued more than 21,000 citations and visited over 1000 businesses. They've also made more than 1000 arrests — most at cafeterias that serve alcohol without a meal or employ what is known in Miami law enforcement parlance as "b-girls." (Major Exposito explains them thusly: "A woman comes up and asks a man, 'Will you buy me a beer?' Her beer is $15; his is $3.")

Some other numbers from the battleground: 800 illegal gaming machines confiscated, 4312 abandoned cars removed, 698 illegal units cited, and 6427 illegal chickens netted. The task force has also collected $551,000 in fines from code enforcement violations.

In a city where civic largesse is not in abundance (ask anyone trying to merge onto I-95 during rush hour), Miami officials dream of a community-minded, rule-abiding place where well-maintained yards are empty of rusty automobiles, hens nest in neatly padlocked cages, and well-lit cafeterias serve cafecitos, not prostitutes, to their patrons. Task force opponents say that the City of Miami is using code enforcement as an excuse to rid itself of poor people, immigrants, poultry, fun, and anything else that might impede investment in a glassy high-rise mecca of state-of-the-art gyms and Sub-Zero refrigerators.

What happens in Miami — where almost two-thirds of the population is foreign born and three-fourths speak a language other than English at home — when the city government attempts a crackdown is different from what happens in any other American city: What happens in Miami is a clash of cultures.

The question stands: quality of life? Whose?

On October 12, eleven hours before the police raid on La Reyna, Sgt. Al Alvarez sits in a swivel chair in his Allapattah office. Wearing a gray Nike T-shirt, white Nike sneakers, navy sweatpants, and gold accessories, he pages through task force files. He stops at 5 SW 55th Ave., a cafeteria called Los Amigos, which this past summer, after numerous inspections, lost its license to operate.

According to police reports from April 2004 to May 2005, he explains, officers made arrests at Los Amigos for drug possession ("While conducting a business inspection in an undercover capacity, I observed defendant drop a blue pen cap with a yellow-color baggy containing a white powder substance."); for weapons possession ("A pat-down of the defendant's outer garments revealed a knife-like object in his front right pocket. Upon retrieval of the object, an inspection of the knife revealed it to be a USA Super Knife, which is a switch blade with a length of five inches."); and for so-called mingling ("The defendant, who is an employee of the business, was observed by this officer masturbating a customer in the southeast corner of the club. The patron had his pants down...."). [page]

Also on the premises of Los Amigos, Alvarez continues, Miami police found illegal gambling machines ("No skills were used or necessary to control the outcome of the game, clearly making the operation of the machine a game of chance in violation of Florida State Statute 849.16."). And, working in an undercover capacity, Alvarez also made one arrest for prostitution ("Defendant agreed to go out to the car and give Sgt. A. Alvarez a blowjob ... she said it would be a hundred dollars.")

The arrest report from Los Amigos of one 49-year-old waitress (b-girls aren't necessarily a-list material) detailed the following system: "While conducting a routine bar check, we discovered a chart detailing a scheme where the bar girls sitting with customers would charge the customer's beer at $3, and the bar girl's beer at $10, each girl being assigned a number. Daily log reflected defendant as employee #8."

"You had to have been here from the beginning to realize the magnitude of the problem," says Major Exposito.

Miami's quality of life campaign is a variation on an anticrime philosophy made famous in Rudy Giuliani's New York. In 1994, then-Mayor Giuliani and his police commissioner, William J. Bratton, outlined a campaign based largely on a theory of criminology known as "broken windows," which was first discussed in a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article of the same name by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling.

In that essay, the authors argued that a police focus on minor infractions — petty vandalism, public urination, public drinking — would have a great effect on more serious crimes. In 1989 the authors recapped their theory thusly: "If the first broken window is not repaired, then people who like breaking windows will assume that no one cares about the building and more windows will be broken. Soon the building will have no windows. Likewise, when disorderly behavior — say, rude remarks by loitering youths — is left unchallenged, the signal given is that no one cares. The disorder escalates, possibly to serious crime."

Wilson and Kelling recommended a strategy of "problem-oriented" rather than "incident-oriented" policing. (Al Alvarez often refers to himself as a "problem-solving" police officer.) When Giuliani and Bratton first tested this theory in the streets of Manhattan's West Village in 1994, they concentrated on crimes that — while not necessarily dangerous — impinged on residents' sense of safety. They changed zoning laws to cut down on sex shops and strip joints. They prohibited alcohol at street festivals, and cracked down on what the New York Times referred to as "threatening behavior by squeegee users." In Manhattan, joint-smoking college kids, underage drinkers, and public urinaters were suddenly worthy of arrest.

In 1999, the Times reported that the number of misdemeanor cases had soared by 85 percent since the early Nineties. The resulting drop in crime was well documented. So was public outcry. Giuliani's reputation as a tyrant made libertarians from liberals.

In spite of the backlash, authorities in other places noticed the initiative. "Previously there was very little enforcement in our city," Miami Mayor Manny Diaz says. "Politicians every once in a while would raid a place, but you can't just go in and raid a place to get it on the six o'clock news."

So Diaz encouraged a change. "This is a sustained effort until everybody either plays by the rules — or doesn't play by the rules and shuts down."

In other words, attempting to apply a cookie-cutter approach to quality of life in Miami would not succeed without some tweaking.

At the Miami Jewish Home & Hospital for the Aged on NE 2nd Avenue and 52nd Street, a brown speckled hen and her black-feathered companion wander peacefully around a verdant lawn, oblivious to the wheelchairs and slow-moving walkers traversing a nearby sidewalk. A white rooster with a red comb rustles in the bushes of a gazebo; above him a pair of outdoor speakers emits a Muzak rendition of Nino Rota's "Love Theme" from Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet. In the shade of a banyan tree, red hens scratch idly at the ground. Gray pullets scamper and preen. Chickens at the Jewish Home live a happy, pastoral existence, one of sunshine and lush foliage, with a soundtrack of gentle stringed instruments lamenting the follies of youth. [page]

The flock of ten birds fails to notice as three men with long-handled nets edge near, nodding cordially to doctors and attendants as they zero in on their targets. The men wear navy blue polo shirts emblazoned with a drawing of a terrified rooster, under which are written the words: CITY OF MIAMI CHICKEN BUSTERS.

Two years ago, Osvaldo Iglesias, a Miami-Dade fireman, bet East Little Havana NET administrator Pablo Canton he could catch a hen the two observed strutting around the NET office's parking lot. "You catch that chicken," challenged Canton, "and I'll eat it."

Iglesias, a tall and burly joker with glasses and a disarming grin, did exactly that. Although Canton did not make good on his promise, Iglesias, who has raised guinea hens, ostriches, and emus, had an idea. He enlisted fellow fireman Nelly Rivera and Bill Borges, a code enforcement officer, to present an idea to city officials: On a volunteer, biweekly basis, the three would net the homeless chickens of Miami's streets and sell them to area farms as a fundraiser for the Firemen's Benevolent Association.

The idea coincided with changes spurred by new development. "These areas have been solidly populated by immigrants for 30 or 40 years," Borges explains. "Now people from the suburbs are buying in the area. They're moving to East Little Havana and The Roads. They're not used to roosters waking them up at three or four in the morning. They complain.

"In Cuba," he elaborates, "which is where I come from, the Latin people have pigs and chickens as pets. They give children dyed chicks when they're little, and when the chickens grow up, they can wander around the yard."

But this is a new Miami, and reformation is on the march. The three received permission to catch the stray birds, and Chicken Busters was formed, an official Quality of Life intitiative.

The trio was surprised by the sheer magnitude of the problem when netting birds in earnest began in April 2003. Zebra-striped hens, majestic green-necked cocks, and day-old chicks pecked and strutted around Miami by the thousands. "We experimented a little in the beginning," Borges recalls. "There's an old wives' tale that the chickens are easier to catch if you feed them raisins soaked in rum, but the liquor didn't take. Then we tried using fish nets, the sort you cast out." But the best tool has proven to be the simplest: a large net on a long handle.

Soon the Chicken Busters' popularity grew. "After all of the media attention, it got bigger than the hierarchy," Iglesias says proudly. "[The city] gets too many complaints not to support it now."

On October 14 the busters met at 7:30 a.m. at the East Little Havana NET office. They loaded the cages and nets into Borges's white pickup truck. At the Miami River Fish Market they bartered some coffee for a bucket of ice to keep the Gatorade cold and then headed for the Little Haiti house of a she-male vodou priest, a notorious chicken gathering-place. Soon Borges netted a handsome red rooster.

In overgrown yards next to weed-covered Cadillacs in Allapattah, in alcoves of duplexes near the Orange Bowl, the busters jumped walls and squeezed through fences into chicken-strewn lots, netting birds by the handful. "Catch 'em by the wings, transport them by their legs," says Borges, removing a brown hen from the net. "It's almost a science."

Some residents anxiously watched the busters. "You're not going to kill them, are you?" asked a housedress-clad woman in Spanish. But owners rarely lay claim to their fowl. Keeping a rooster is illegal in Miami, and hens must be in cages. Few want to risk a fine by confessing responsibility, and there are plenty of replacements. Borges estimates the busters' catch rate at 30 percent.

And the chickens can be a nuisance. "It's one of the crazy things in the city that people are actually in favor of," Iglesias says. "Chickens destroy the landscape. If you plant a garden, it's gone."

By the time the busters reached the nursing home, they had netted some 60 chickens. The men were sweaty, dirty, and exhausted. The cranky birds gnawed on the plastic cages and crowed loudly.

The busters' daily average is 98, although they once caught 217.

Back at the nursing home, the gazebo's soundtrack switches to Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova standard "Desafinado." The CD begins to skip. The chickens suddenly pause in their pecking, apprehensive. The busters pounce. An explosion of birds shoots skyward in a cloud of feathers. Then ... the chickens have disappeared. The cluck of a hen is faintly audible from a parapet up above, but she is nowhere to be seen. [page]

The city effort has produced disgruntled citizens, many of whom are convinced that Quality of Life is a racket, a way for the city to boost its coffers by leeching off of its poorest residents. Among the unhappy is Jeanette Marks, a tall, soft-spoken woman whose face is lined with worry. God is her copilot. It says so on the front bumper of her 1988 Buick LeSabre, a mostly maroon hulk with a tan hood. Marks has a small collection of city notices — a ticket after a stray dog she used to feed bit somebody, a warning about citrus canker in an orange tree out back, and multiple citations from the office of code enforcement.

Marks, age 59, used to be a telephone operator until a fall on a freshly waxed bathroom floor eight years ago left her on disability with a herniated disc. Three years ago she moved in with her 84-year-old mother, Kathryn Trumpler, who is nearly blind from glaucoma and at times suffers from dementia. They share the bedroom of the tiny house at NW 50th Street and 17th Avenue in Liberty City that Trumpler bought in 1965.

Jeanette Marks doesn't know much about Wilson and Kelling's view on broken windows, but she has her own theory about criminology. "Somebody's getting paid in this city to take people's property. It's a racket they got going — every Cuban place in Hialeah is full of these people's cars that they take for nothing." Marks used to have two vehicles, but since she couldn't afford the insurance and tags to run both, she parked the inoperable one, a 1988 Chrysler LeBaron, in the yard, ready for the morning that the machinery under the LeSabre's patchwork hood would fail her. "If one broke down," she explains, "I'd have something to fall back on."

Then, nearly a year ago, a code inspector told her the car with no tags would have to go. The portion of the yard she parks on, an "unimproved surface," would have to be paved. Then code enforcement stickered her cars, and before she knew it, tow truck drivers began routinely asking if they could take the car off her hands. In order to comply with city code, she sold the LeBaron, which she purchased for $20,000 in 1988, to one of the drivers for $20.

As for the driveway, she went to a city hearing and explained that on her stretch of NW 50th Street, the only place to park is on the sidewalk. Now she has to find the money to pave the driveway and to apply for a city permit.

Marks stands on the stoop of her mother's house and speaks her mind. "They don't care," she says. "They feel like they can do people any kind of way because it's their job." She scans the cluttered living room of the old house. She motions to the Buick, to her yard — a patchwork of old lawn furniture, an overturned foot stool, a mango tree, a creaky chainlink fence. She gestures beyond, to the overgrown lot across the street, to the man ambling down the sidewalk with a bottle in a paper sack.

"A lot of people's souls in trouble because of their job," she says, shaking her head.

Mayor Manny Diaz sees things differently. "We're supposed to enforce the city code," he says bluntly. "That's why it's there."

A fiery native of Honduras wearing a vivid royal blue suit, Felicita Casildo wants to know why the city does not issue violations at expensive restaurants in Coconut Grove. "I have never had to go to a place where I have to get my food before I can have a drink. The law is supposed to be for everybody, not just certain people."

Casildo is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed against the city in 2004. An ad hoc group of 46 plaintiffs called the Union of Cafeteria Owners sued, claiming that application of code enforcement is capricious and targets those without resources and influence to stop it.

The problem, says Pablo Canton, administrator for the East Little Havana NET office, is that it was only after the city began raiding businesses that commissioners passed a city law to differentiate between restaurants and cafeterias; it even stipulated the difference between a meal and an appetizer. (Alcohol can now be consumed only with a full meal.) The ordinance states that a cafeteria must have, as its primary source of revenue, the serving of food, not alcohol. [page]

The lawsuit, first filed by former Mayor Xavier Suarez (who declined comment), contends that such a restriction on a state-issued liquor license constitutes an illegal restraint of trade. It claims the cafeteria raids "appear to be based on discriminatory and selective enforcement ... since only the neighborhoods of Little Havana and Allapattah have been targeted." The city says the claim has no grounds. The case is awaiting review by a judge in U.S. District Court.

Alvarez insists there's a reason the illegal-cafeteria crackdown has been centered in neighborhoods such as Little Havana, Flagami, and Allapattah: That's where the laws are being broken. "I'm Cuban," says Alvarez. "It's not targeting immigrants. It's just that people in the north end of the city go to their restaurants to eat, not drink. We don't see the same problems there."

Exposito agrees. "All those businesses whose licenses were revoked were closed down three or four times, mostly in Little Havana, Allapattah, Little Haiti, the Hispanic areas. Liberty City is not the same people. In the north end they drink in bars. It's a Latin American thing."

When she is told of Exposito's claim, Casildo shrieks and then jumps up and down. "What about Monty's?" she demands, referring to the upscale raw bar on Bayshore Drive. "Don't tell me that at Monty's they don't serve you your wine before your food arrives. You don't see code enforcement there. You don't see women at Hooter's arrested for mingling."

(The difference, explains Exposito: Those restaurants are licensed by the state to sell hard liquor, beer, and wine. They only need to prove, at the end of the year, that 51 percent of their sales were food. It's a license, he adds, that's "a heck of a lot more expensive" to obtain.)

According to Pablo Canton, the first cafeteria raids targeted only the businesses where neighbors or police complained about fights or prostitution. After the task force developed a policy regarding cafeterias, the city began being more aggressive — arresting cafeteria owners for serving a single beer before a meal, or waitresses for chatting with a patron.

Alvarez bristles at accusations that raids on smaller operations are unfair. "Lots of places of different magnitude cater to single men," he says. "For them, it's a work-and-drink cycle, then a drink-and-drive cycle. The married man, instead of going home, blows his paycheck on women and beer. They urinate everywhere on the street; they get robbed — or they fake robbery reports so their family doesn't know where the money's gone — the wife's upset when he comes home drunk with no money; the wife gets abused; the children suffer. The only winners in this situation are the restaurant owners."

But the restaurant owners have their own narrative of debt, ruination, and divorce — the sort that happens when the family business gets shut down for code violations.

"My life changed totally," says Maria Fajardo, a native of Nicaragua whose cafeteria, La Poderosa, lost its license to operate in 2004 after repeated visits from the police. Fajardo is another of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the City of Miami. She was arrested once and the manager of her restaurant twice for serving beer without food. She describes being strip-searched in jail as "the greatest humiliation of [her] life." After losing her license, Fajardo found herself seeking employment with an arrest record. Now she cleans houses for minimum wage, and she wants the city to take some responsibility.

"They ruin lives! I had ten employees, people who had families. Not even in Cuba do people experience the persecution we have to live through. They should start listening to the poor instead of worrying about the rich. They should remember how they came to this country as immigrants, like we did."

Fajardo's opinion of Al Alvarez is venomous. "Es un perro," she says coldly. "He's a dog."

"These people hate me with a passion," Alvarez admits, then pauses. "But I've never arrested anyone who didn't need to be arrested. We're not here to crucify you, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you're not guilty, hire an attorney. If your only violation is not having a license, we won't arrest, just close the place, on the promise that you will appear in court." He snorts at the Union of Cafeteria Owners' self-characterization as beleaguered victims of injustice. "This is a little group of people making money and not paying taxes. So we revoke their license."

Despite its name, El Sol Superclub opens only after the sun goes down. A sign posted behind its barred windows reads "Cafeteria Lunches," but at lunchtime the pale orange building is padlocked and deserted, its parking lot empty. Deprived of black light, the Day-Glo tigers of the murals inside sleep during long afternoons. Its electronic gambling machines blink for no one. Chalk dust lies undisturbed on the felt of its pool tables. [page]

But on Friday nights, the parking lot and surrounding streets are full. A gauntlet of security guards at the front door frisks patrons and checks purses. Inside, more than two dozen scantily clad women in midriff-baring halter-tops and miniskirts serve beer to the overwhelmingly male clientele, whose own wardrobes range from Kobe Bryant jerseys to cowboy hats. The language is Spanish, the music is bachata and cumbia.

Rotating blue spotlights hover over a fenced-in dance floor, where the same women who serve the beer dance with customers. In the back, men surround two pool tables. In the bathroom, a heavyset attendant in a T-shirt listens to God's word on headphones, a highlighted Bible open before her. A diligent servant of the Lord, she delivers her pamphlets in both Spanish and English. A painted sign hangs over her head: "No fighting. No drugs. Be brief."

El Sol squats dimly on the west side of NW 27th Avenue at 28th Street, just a few feet outside the Miami Police Department's jurisdiction, which ends at 27th Avenue. Indeed, only four lanes of traffic endow El Sol and its owners with a smug sense of impunity. Al Alvarez is a man with a zero-tolerance approach to smug impunity. He loathes El Sol, but only because it's a difficult reality to accept: Many of the bars the task force closes simply move — to Hialeah, to unincorporated Miami-Dade, where they are free from Alvarez, Exposito, and any top-down definitions of life quality.

From 2002 to 2004, overall crime in Miami decreased by eight percent, and perhaps in correlation with the rise of the Quality of Life Task Force. But Mike Exposito says that the numbers, in the end, don't even matter. "Citizens aren't looking at stats in their mind. If they go to a place and it looks safe, then it's safe. If it looks bad, even if it's a safe area without much crime, they'll feel unsafe."

Alvarez mentions El Sol only to those who complain about the task force. The sergeant sends them to the club to see what sin looked like in the city before he banished it to the Tartarus of unincorporated Miami-Dade. "Those b-girls, that gambling machine — not anymore; that was how it used to be," he hopes to one day tell them.

So little time, so much trouble. In the 24-hour period that's dissected in Heights, the first feature from Harvard/Cambridge/USC film-school-educated Chris Terrio, an aspiring Manhattan photographer named Isabel (Elizabeth Banks) gets cold feet about her upcoming marriage to a dull but pleasant lawyer named Jonathan (James Marsden); a needy Broadway diva named Diana (Glenn Close), who also happens to be Isabel's mother, discovers her wayward husband has undertaken a new affair; a ragged, idealistic young actor, Alec (Jesse Bradford), has to face personal and artistic questions about his future; and a bewildered-looking magazine writer named Peter (John Light) struggles with the enigma that is his next assignment -- a difficult British photographer celebrated for his work and reviled for his abuse of the young gay men who are his subjects.

As you might expect, these seemingly disparate threads get woven together at the end -- in the Magnolia and Crash manner. The hash of the film's narrative starts to make sense of a sort, and resolutions spin out across the screen like the filament of some uneasy knowledge, some great mystery partially solved. Writer/director Terrio seems to have no fear of such stuff -- the big questions in life. On the contrary, he and playwright Amy Fox (an Amherst grad), from whose stage production the movie is adapted, attack their considerations of art, love, and the pursuit of happiness like a couple of nervy kids diving off a high board into a pool. Terrio exudes youthful bravado -- he's 29 -- as well as a kind of postadolescent melancholy. Where he might have cracked wise about the traumas of his young "creative class" strivers, he tends to mope. But then solemnity always comes easier than wit. Much of the film takes place in Woody Allen country -- the lofts and cocktail parties of the New York intelligentsia -- but neither Fox nor Terrio, despite trying, has anything like Allen's dead aim on neurotic folly.

Still there are things here to like -- particularly the filmmaker's sense of the big city as a welter of infinite possibilities. New York -- uptown, downtown, crosstown -- is an emotionally charged character, a teeming place that's always reinventing itself and where you can recast your life too. For Isabel, that means considering a New York Times shoot in the Balkans rather than a wedding on the East Side. For Alec, it's a choice between well-meant fringe theater and a move into the mainstream. For Close's Diana, who here provides the ballast of age (if not much wisdom), reassessment might mean understanding that a little of Lady Macbeth goes a long way -- especially when, without meaning to, you're beginning to live the part offstage.

In Terrio and Fox's hands, this tangle of troubles adds up to a kind of quirky, high-toned soap opera -- not always compelling but consistently interesting enough to keep us watching and wondering what will become of these people next morning. Meanwhile director of photography Jim Denault (who shot last year's unsettling drug drama Maria Full of Grace) provides some wonderfully unexpected New York views -- among them the rooftop of a SoHo apartment building and the spooky interior of a Juilliard rehearsal hall -- that transmit the tension and excitement of the city. The twentysomething cast members work nicely together (you can feel the camaraderie), and Terrio gets a couple of sharp cameos from old hands. Michael Murphy is a Times editor, playwright/actor Eric Bogosian has a nice turn as a harried theater director, and George Segal pops in for one scene -- the movie's funniest -- as an old-school rabbi who can't accustom himself to mixed marriage. Those with a taste for self-absorbed excess will probably take to Close's florid portrayal of the ex-movie star and Broadway queen who now finds herself at a crossroads as crucial as any faced by the younger characters.

For writer/director Terrio, Heights heralds the beginning of what promises to be a fruitful career. Sad to say, it also signals the end for a universally respected figure in the cinema world. This was the last film produced by Ismail Merchant, the overseer of invariably literate, sumptuously filmed period pieces like A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day. He died this past May at age 68. What will now become of Merchant Ivory Productions is anyone's guess, but the courage and vision the Bombay-born Merchant brought to the company will be difficult to replace.

The part with the dragon is really cool.

Might as well cut to the chase, right? It's not as though you need anybody to tell you the basic premise of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; if you somehow missed the last three, this won't likely be the one to break your pattern. So you probably want to know up front how the Hungarian Horntail dragon looks onscreen. And in the words of Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), it's bloody brilliant. Some things in the Harry Potter universe are much more fun to see than read about — the aerial sport of Quidditch is a prime example, and the sequence in which Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has to steal a golden egg from an angry dragon is right up there.

Not only does this fourth Potter movie — scripted once again by Steve Kloves (who also wrote the first two) and directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) — assume prior knowledge of the other films, but it also assumes you've already read the book. Secret villain Barty Crouch Jr. (David Tennant) is revealed as a traitor right at the beginning, and new professor Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) makes an offhand joke early on that's funny only if you already know what he keeps locked up in a trunk behind his desk.

Much has been trimmed from the lengthy novel to achieve its two-and-a-half-hour running time: Dobby the Elf and Emma Thompson's Professor Trelawney do not return to the big screen, Hagrid's scorpionlike skreets don't make it (nor do any monsters in the final maze, which is disappointing), and Gary Oldman makes only a quick cameo in digital form. Many of the trims work fine, but a maddening plot point involving the climactic confrontation between Harry and the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, sans nose) remains unspoken and might leave viewers confused. For their benefit, a key piece of information that would be a movie spoiler only if they had left it in: Remember that Harry and Voldemort have wands containing feathers from the same phoenix.

Speaking of Voldemort: It's about damn time the main villain in J.K. Rowling's world showed up. Previously seen only as the back of Ian Hart's head or in dreams as a young schoolboy, he appears here in his true form, in scenes that feel more like a horror movie than a family film (yes, yes, that's the point; understood). Fiennes, who generally has a tendency to underplay dreadfully, has recently impressed by being over-the-top, first in the Wallace and Gromit movie and now here. He even gets to breathe like Darth Vader, which must be quite a challenge without a nose.

Fiennes would probably be the major scene-stealer if it didn't take nearly the whole movie for him to show up; instead, that honor goes to Brendan Gleeson, whose Mad-Eye Moody feels like the scariest Irish pub rat you've ever encountered, transplanted to a classroom with the care of children rather dubiously entrusted to him. Not that all of the Hogwarts school isn't a dubious proposition for youngsters to begin with — when headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) says, "I've put you in terrible danger this year, Harry; I am sorry," you want to ask if he's been paying any attention at all for the previous three years, when Harry was menaced by a giant three-head dog, a forest full of man-eating spiders, a huge serpent, a werewolf, and of course the soul-sucking Dementors.

Much has been made of Rowling's influences from the likes of Roald Dahl, but few have called her out on her apparent fondness for Scooby-Doo. It's not only the idea of kids who go around solving mysteries but also the fact that every single Potter movie thus far has culminated in a scene in which a key character is suddenly revealed as he really is — though he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids! — and proceeds to explain the whole plot to us. It's not as badly telegraphed here as in the other films, but it's a literary crutch one wishes Rowling would kick away.

In the grand scheme of things, Goblet of Fire is perhaps closest to the original Sorcerer's Stone. Parts two and three, for worse and better, respectively, reflected their individual directors' visions, but Newell doesn't have much of a distinctive vision, as evinced by his rather diverse body of work (Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin, and Amazing Grace and Chuck). His is a Cliffs Notes version of the book, which is to be expected. But these movies are getting to be kinda like the original Star Trek films — did it really even matter exactly what Kirk, Spock, and Bones were up to? It's enough just to watch them do their thing again.

New Times's top DVD picks for the week of October 18

The Adventures of Superman: The Complete First Season (Warner Bros.)

American Movie Musicals Collection (Columbia/Tristar)

Batman Begins (Warner Bros.)

Bruce Lee: Ultimate Collection (Fox)

The Care Bears: Big Wish Movie (Lions Gate)

The Coen Brothers Collection (Universal)

CSI New York: The Complete First Season (Paramount)

Dark Shadows: The Complete Revival Series (Columbia/Tristar)

Elektra: Unrated Director's Cut (Fox)

Eternal (Columbia/Tristar)

Grand Sons (Strand)

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Season 1, Volume 1 (BCI Eclipse)

The Jazz Singer: 25th Anniversary Edition (Anchor Bay)

Mad Hot Ballroom (Paramount)

The Man With the Golden Arm: 50th Anniversary Edition (Hart Sharp)

Saving Face (Columbia/Tristar)

Saw: Uncut Edition (Lions Gate)

Strawberry Shortcake Gift Set (Fox)

Tarzan: Special Edition (Buena Vista)

Zappa: The Dub Room Special (Red Dist.)

Sure you want to be inside Sophie Jacobs's head? The poor woman's cabeza is so stuffed with guilt and fear, so tormented by grief and what might be delusions, that to spend even five minutes in there poses an obvious risk to your own sanity. At least that's the way filmmaker Greg Harrison (Groove) hopes we feel -- as crazy and mixed-up as Sophie herself. Almost the entire narrative of Harrison's new thriller, November, unfolds in his heroine's mind -- three distinct, contradictory narratives actually -- and by the time you get through the thing, you could be suffering from a case of perceptual overload. Puzzle nuts, dedicated surrealists, and admirers of Alain Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad (one of Harrison's acknowledged inspirations) will probably have a good time sorting through this 78-minute bag of tricks. Others may find it gimmicky to a fault.

Even on its surface, November can be as baffling as it is intermittently intriguing. What we know for sure is that the night of November 7, Sophie (Friends alum Courteney Cox, bespectacled, deglamourized, and deadly serious) and her lawyer boyfriend, Hugh (James LeGros), are driving home from dinner at a Chinese restaurant when she feels a sudden urge for chocolate. He stops at a corner store in a chancy neighborhood, goes inside, and is promptly shot dead, along with the store's proprietor, by a crazed stick-up man. The rest of the story, written by newcomer Benjamin Brand, keeps changing and shifting as the shocked Sophie wrestles with her sorrow and reimagines the murders on ever-more-complicated levels of consciousness. If you relish ambiguity, this might be the mystery for you.

Significantly, Sophie is a photographer who teaches at a local college, and the movie (inventively shot on mini-DV) has all kinds of things to say -- some of it worth heeding -- about the magic of images, the choices artists make, and the hidden meanings in pictures. Harrison says he was thinking of Nicolas Roeg's cult thriller Don't Look Now and Steven Soderbergh's The Limey when he put the mind games in November, but he may owe a bigger debt to Blowup, the haunting Michelangelo Antonioni film in which a nihilistic London fashion photographer gets a moral wake-up call when he discovers evidence of a murder in his snapshot of a leafy green park.

For Sophie, Hugh's death is not only a trauma; it's the beginning of a psychological revolution that threatens her in every way. In her photo class, a slide depicting the store where the murders occurred materializes in the magazine of her projector. Standing before her mirror, she morphs into someone else. Surveillance tapes suggest alternatives to Sophie's first impressions. Her outpourings to a psychiatrist (Nora Dunn) are muddled. As her memory begins playing tricks on her (or does it?), we see multiple versions of the corner-store murders. What's real? What's imagined? Is our troubled protagonist in complete denial?

Like everything from Rashomon to the twisty, immensely popular thrillers of M. Night Shyamalan, November means to drop plenty of hints about what really happened while leaving the mystery intact. Whether you think that kind of deconstructionist ploy works here probably depends on your tolerance for portents, mystification, and tricked-up flashbacks, but the eerie mood is intensified by Nancy Schreiber's dark, jittery cinematography, an offbeat score by Lew Baldwin, and the presence of three odd, minor characters -- Sophie's overbearing mother (Anne Archer), the co-worker with whom she's had a guilt-ridden affair (Michael Ealy), and a bullet-headed police detective in a lumpy suit (Nick Offerman), who grows more curious as Sophie's distress takes increasingly bizarre turns. Did she take pictures the night of the killings? If so, the cop laments, they are "too arty for their own good."

The same might be said of November itself. It's an interesting and sometimes compelling experiment -- especially when you consider that the makers got it onto the screen for a mere $150,000 -- but it's so derivative and it indulges in such film-school solemnity that many viewers will probably be more annoyed than engrossed. Harrison's first film, Groove, which glimpsed the San Francisco rave scene, received mixed reactions from critics and audiences, and the jury is evidently still out on this young director. As for Cox, who will probably take awhile to shake off her Friends trappings, November was obviously a labor of love and an attempt to alter her image, and she certainly shows some acting abilities we weren't aware of on the boob tube.

"Somewhere this could all be happening right now," spoke the narrator in the trailer for the first Star Wars movie (thereafter known as Episode IV: A New Hope), and to those who were small children then, it rang true. For an entire generation the Star Wars trilogy could never be mere movies; on a transcendent level they were an alternate reality populated by real people and real droids.

So it was a shock to many a couple of decades later when George Lucas produced Episode I, and it was indeed revealed as just a movie -- one with dubious dialogue, poor pacing, and stiff acting even by the likes of Liam Neeson. Some argued (wrongly) that the performances were no worse than Mark Hamill's, but few dared defend the toilet humor or the infamous Jar Jar Binks. Episode II was better: Despite a sappy love story, it returned a sense of danger to the Star Wars universe, reintroduced Stormtroopers and Boba Fett, let Christopher Lee chew the scenery much as his late colleague Peter Cushing had in Episode IV, and delivered a final battle worthy of a blockbuster. For most, however, it still didn't measure up to the original three.

With Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, it seems safe to say that if you've ever loved Star Wars, you will again. Gone is the cheesy dialogue (Tom Stoppard reportedly had a hand in that); instead we get battles galore, genuine intrigue, a bevy of familiar sights and characters, key moments fans have long wanted to see, and at least one truly great acting performance, courtesy of Ian McDiarmid, whose Senator-turned-Emperor Palpatine has been the highlight of the prequel trilogy, much as he was in Return of the Jedi. If the final scenes -- and especially the very last shot -- stir nothing within you, chances are you didn't like Star Wars that much to begin with.

Palpatine is front and center here, serving as father figure to the very confused, virgin-born Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Secretly married and disturbed by prophetic visions of his wife Padmé (Natalie Portman) dying, Anakin seeks the power to raise the dead, but not only can he not confide in the well-meaning Jedi Council; he doesn't have its trust anyway. Only Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) has faith in Anakin, but he lacks the power and connections of Palpatine, whose fatherly demeanor masks the dark secrets of the Sith -- the evil version of the noble Jedi.

Frankly it's hard to blame Palpatine -- if you were born and raised on a planet where the dominant species is a bunch of semiretarded amphibians with bunny ears and faux Jamaican accents, you'd probably be tempted by the Dark Side too. Feminists, however, could have a field day with Anakin's motives. Lucas clearly believes in male bonding -- Anakin/Darth Vader will of course ultimately be redeemed by his son -- but his attitude toward women is a bit off, to say the least. Anakin appears doomed to fall because he cares about his mother and his wife.

Lucas effectively channels the man who inspired him -- Joseph Campbell, the late anthropologist who was fascinated by cultural myths. Here Lucas returns to those mythical roots, invoking not only the Faustian legend of selling one's soul to the devil, but also the classic Greek tragedy template in which a protagonist goes to such extremes to avoid a dire prophecy he ends up making it come true. As brothers-in-arms turned enemies, both Christensen and McGregor take things up a notch, revealing they have more acting chops than were evident in the previous episodes. (Anyone familiar with their other work already knew this.)

Along the way we get a pointless but fun diversion to the Wookiee planet for a taste of how Return of the Jedi could have ended had Lucas gone with his original impulse, a look at Princess Leia's home planet of Alderaan, several familiar starships, an action-hero scene for R2-D2, and a pre-Vader cyborg model named General Grievous (voice of Matthew Wood, after Gary Oldman bowed out), who appears to have tuberculosis but still manages to swing four lightsabers at once. In your face, Darth Maul!

There are always nits to pick, but no more here than in the original trilogy. How is it, for instance, that anytime someone is sent to a new planet, he is able to pinpoint the exact location of the individual he's looking for, despite having been given no coordinates or leads? And aren't there any planets with more than one homogeneous environment? Apparently not, but some of the answers long awaited are provided here, including the virgin birth and that whole disappearing-after-death thing. The Battle Droids still act like petulant children, but that's probably why they aren't around in the Han Solo era (though the Stormtroopers somehow lose a lot of skill in the meantime).

Bottom line: Revenge of the Sith is the biggest action movie of the year. It's also pretty hard-core -- Darth Vader unmasked is freaky looking, and women and children die -- so leave the youngest kids at home. If they let you.

Miami, where a short drive can transport you from Little Havana to Little Buenos Aires and beyond, is the ideal spot in which to celebrate the vast and thrilling human quilt that is Hispanic culture. And some of the happiest celebrations are happening right here and now during the XX International Hispanic Theatre Festival at Teatro Venevisión Internacional.

Exuberance, ambition, and talent join hands in this adventure, which brings more than a touch of international drama to summer in the city. Mario Ernesto Sanchez and Miami's Teatro Avante, the festival's producers, took pride of place and began the festivities with the American premiere of a storied Cuban classic: Virgilio Piñera's 1960 play El Filántropo (The Philanthropist), freely adapted by Raquel Carrió and directed by Lilliam Vega. Elsewhere the offerings are rich. Running through June 26 at Teatro Venevisión and six other venues around South Florida, this year's festival is the most ambitious edition yet of this annual tribute to Hispanic drama. There are eighteen different productions, in addition to children's events and academic workshops, showcasing companies from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, France, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela, and the United States.

It helps if you speak Spanish, but it's not a necessity: English subtitles projected above the stage translate Spanish-language plays for the Anglophone audience. A play performed in French, Solo para Paquita, is subtitled in Spanish. Tickets are inexpensive, and the variety of shows is dazzling.

The Philanthropist is perhaps inevitably the most elusive facet of the festival's colorful kaleidoscope, a brave choice by any standard. The play packs in a lot, from a willfully simplified version of Hegel's dialectic of master and slave, to an ironic look at simple Marxist solutions. It's about a mysterious millionaire who runs a human puppet show, each of his puppets willingly humiliated, each hoping to grab his money. "The millions are mine," Coco the mad millionaire tells his prey, "and you are here of your own free will." Just how free poor people actually are and what choices anyone really has are among the profoundly unsettling questions raised in Piñera's dark comedy. The ending, in which Coco's slaves attack their master like weasels tearing at flesh, is redundant and grotesque.

Themes are obscured in Carrió's free adaptation, which reduces the number of characters in Coco's puppet show from more than a dozen to four, adds anachronistic touches, and insists on specificity of detail when vagueness might speak volumes. The production values are cheap, the set ugly, and the tone of the acting uncertain. Yet the right note is sounded by Avante's Sanchez himself, not as the director this time, but in his deliciously over-the-top performance as Coco, the heartless madman with money. Although Jessica Rodriguez is several rehearsals short of a finished character as the slutty Bella, and Jacqueline Briceño is not much better as the humble maid Motica, others in the cast suggest the depth and promise of Piñera's script. Juan Pablo Zapata is genuinely sweet as Sultan, a young man who wants only to become a plastic surgeon so that he may make everyone beautiful. Julio Rodriguez is touching in the pathetic role of King, who dreams of becoming an honest journalist. As Coco makes them all beg, hump, and bark like dogs, their degradation at the hands of the powerful carries a hurtful truth -- in or out of Cuba.

The author would have enjoyed that ambiguity. Piñera lived and worked in Buenos Aires for twelve years before returning to Cuba in 1958, and it's tempting to see the influence of his friend and champion, Jorge Luis Borges, in his work. It's also tempting to notice his affinity with the French existentialists and with the theater of the absurd, although Piñera's 1948 absurdist masterpiece Falsa Alarma (False Alarm) anticipates rather than follows Ionesco's The Bald Soprano. Piñera's 1941 Electra Garrigo, his best-known play, sprung in full armor from the head of this precocious, electrifying artist.

The truth is Piñera is both unmistakably Cuban and utterly unclassifiable. Like other Cuban writers, as diverse in style as Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas, Piñera combines an existentialist outlook with a postmodern sense of the baroque. Gay, brilliant, and rebellious, he found a ray of hope in the Cuban Revolution's deceptive outburst of liberalism in 1960 -- as tragic and brief a cultural episode as that inflicted upon Soviet artists in the Twenties -- but his light was soon dimmed by Fidel Castro's thought police. By the time Piñera died in Havana in 1979, he had been humiliated, interrogated, censored, and marginalized almost to oblivion. With exquisite hypocrisy, the communist regime then began taking credit for Piñera's career, reintroducing his name into official histories and allowing publication of his works abroad.

Yet his writing, like that of other gay geniuses, namely José Lezama Lima and Arenas, could not be made safe. Something else is at play in the holy trinity of Cuban letters even beyond the defiant homoerotic sensibility. These Cuban writers combine an almost insolent technical virtuosity with such cool precision that words shine as brightly as the tropical sun. An outsider's healthy distrust of authority and an Everyman's sense of everyday panic inform Piñera's work and keep it from toeing any party line. The sense of the absurd in Piñera lies not in any belief that our world or we ourselves are absurd; the Cuban translator of Beckett and Pinter knows the absurdity is rooted in the clash between our innate need for reason and a brutally unreasonable world. There are no answers: That is the absurd truth. Clarity is our intent; our failure to find it is our inescapable fate.

Piñera's style, on the page or the stage, embodies these tensions with sensual ease, the detached and humorous tone of his writing constantly at odds with the extreme situations lived by his characters. His play False Alarm, being presented during the current festival by Miami-Dade College's Teatro Prometeo, is drenched in fear of structures. His brilliant novel René's Flesh (La Carne de René) -- in which Piñera's prose remains as chaste as Saint Teresa's and as cool as the Marquis de Sade's -- is obsessed with the fear of pain. The Philanthropist, even in Raquel Carrió's radically cut version at Teatro Venevisión, approaches a frenzied fear of loneliness.

Loneliness is something Piñera knew well. It's something audiences everywhere will always recognize.

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