Cliff Diver (Detective Emilia Cruz Book 1) (10 page)

Best of friends
and worst of enemies
. “Thank you, señor,” Emilia said.

 


 

The coroner and
director of the Acapulco morgue was Antonio Prade. Emilia had heard he’d been a
proctologist earlier in his medical career.

Emilia hated the
morgue, hated that she was there so often. There were invariably more bodies
than the building was meant to accommodate. The two big freezer vaults always
held bodies stacked like sardines. And it always happened that Emilia needed to
see one at the bottom and the morgue workers would pull out the bodies like so
many pieces of cold meat before getting to the right one.

When there was a
big accident or a mass cartel grave was discovered the body bags lined the
halls. Prade would prioritize them or abbreviate the autopsy to just a handful
of procedures. Naked bodies on gurneys would form a queue waiting for their
turn in the small operating theater while the cleaning crew--about six older
women who seemed immune to the death around them--continuously mopped the
floor. The place always smelled odd; a mixture of cloying sweetness and
eye-watering antiseptic.

It wasn’t that
Prade wasn’t a methodical professional, it was just that demand exceeded
capacity for morgue services. And if the coffin makers fell behind everybody
else did, too.

Today Lt. Inocente
had been moved to the head of the line. The body was laid out on a stainless
steel table. Fresh cuts crisscrossed the body where the organs had been taken
out. From a few feet away, with a surgical mask clamped firmly over her nose
and mouth, Emilia watched Prade wrap up the autopsy. All she’d had to eat that
day was coffee and cola. She was wired and lightheaded at the same time.

Prade nodded to
his assistant to finish and walked over to Emilia. “I don’t have much for you.”
He stripped off gloves and mask and dropped them into a lift-top trash can.

“That’s too bad,”
Emilia said. “Everyone’s breathing down my neck. Wanting this wrapped up yesterday.”

“Why your neck?”

“Meet the new
acting lieutenant,” Emilia told him. “Courtesy of the police union.”

“The union?”

“Specifically
Victor Obregon Sosa.”

Prade raised
unruly eyebrows and peered at her over his tortoise shell glasses. He was in his
mid-fifties, with short brown hair and a wiry frame. His white lab coat was
clean but unpressed and he wore a plaid shirt underneath it. Emilia respected
him, not only for his obvious medical skill and dedication to a difficult job,
but because he treated her as respectfully as he treated the male detectives.
Moreover, he knew about the
las perdidas
list and always let her know
when an unidentified woman passed through the morgue.

“You be careful
around him,” Prade said. “He’s a powerful man.”

“He’s already let
me know,” Emilia replied. “But what about Lt. Inocente?”

“Well, let’s see
what we have here for you.” Prade led her to a long work counter at the narrow
end of the examining room. He found a form with
Fausto Inocente
at the
top. “Lt. Inocente died from a major blow to the head. Actually several.”

“Not shot?”

“No.” Prade wrote
on the form. “No bullet wounds anywhere on the body. He was fit, in good shape.
No sign of a struggle such as bruising on the body, scratches or blood or skin
residue under the fingernails. Time of death probably around midnight or a
little after.”

Emilia pulled out
her notebook and wrote on the timeline. “The maid said he left the house around
10:00 pm.”

Prade shrugged.
“So you have a limited time between the victim leaving his house and being
bludgeoned to death. That should help pinpoint what happened.”

“Can you tell what
he was hit with?” Emilia asked.

“The murder weapon
was smooth, not jagged,” Prade said. “The plastic bag wasn’t punctured but was
embedded in bone shards and brain matter.”

“What do you
mean?” Emilia looked up from her notebook and her surgical mask shifted. “The
bag was already on his head when he was hit?”

“From the way the
loose plastic was caught up in the skull, I’d have to say yes,” Prade said.
“The plastic bag was already on his head when he was struck with substantial
force a number of times.”

“With something
smooth.”

“Left no
particulate on the bag or on his clothes,” Prade said. “From the indentations
in the skull, I’d also say that the item was rounded, like a rolling pin. But
in all honesty, the head was fairly fractured so I can’t be certain. Would you
like to take a look?”

The body on the
cold metal table was ten feet away. The lab-coated assistant was doing
something with it. The head was tipped back oddly and the eyes were still open.
Her stomach fluttered. “I trust you,” she said. “What about the clothing?”

“Nothing
memorable. Nothing in the pockets. Blood residue on the clothing is his.
Diluted with salt water, of course.”

“No keys,
identification, anything like that?”

“No.” Prade
continued to scribble on his form. “What else?”

Emilia was dying
to get out of this room with its ghastly smells and cloying touch of death but
he’d given her so little. “There were rounded metal handrails on the boat,” she
said. “Could he have fallen?”

Prade looked at
her. “Of course he could have fallen while boating with a bag on his head,” he
said dryly. “Who wouldn’t?”

“I mean could he
have fallen hard enough against a metal handrail to hurt himself that badly?” She
was groping, she knew.

“Unlikely. I
imagine for that to happen his head would had to be bounced repeatedly off the
handrails.” Prade set down his pen. “With some force.”

“By someone.”

“Yes.” Prade
bumped his glasses higher on his nose. “Was the body found near any of the
handrails?”

“No.” Emilia
admitted. “The body was found inside the cabin. Sprawled on the floor. Near the
controls.”

“Hidden from
view?”

“Yes, more or
less.”

“All right,” Prade
said. “I saved the best for last. He had a blood alcohol level that was
elevated. But not by much. At the time of his death he wasn’t severely drunk.
Also, he’d had sexual activity shortly before his death.”

“Sex?” The
question came out a little too shrill.

“You think not
with la señora?”

Emilia shook her
head. “She’d gone out before he even got home from work.”

Prade smiled. “So
maybe you need to check if he had a friend.”

“A lover’s
quarrel?” That put an entirely new spin on things.

“Up to you to find
out.” Prade consulted the form. “There was quite a bit of fresh semen on his
underwear, suggesting that he hadn’t used a condom. At first I thought he might
have been masturbating and put the bag on his head to restrict his airflow.
Teenagers do it by hanging, aiming to ejaculate at the moment of near
suffocation to heighten the experience. Unfortunately it often results in death
by misadventure.”

Emilia pushed past
the image of Lt. Inocente at the urinal to the equally disturbing image of Lt.
Inocente pleasuring himself alone on his boat. “So maybe he . . . uh . . . had
his moment with a bag on his head while he was on the boat,” Emilia said.
“Suffocated and then fell against the handrail?”

“A man of his size
and weight would not have been able to fall, even in a dead faint, hard enough
to have damaged his skull to that extent.” Prade adjusted his reading glasses.
“Also, his pants were buttoned but unzipped and the zipper was stuck in his
underwear. If he’d suffocated during masturbation his penis would still be
outside his underwear. He’d hardly pull up his drawers and close up his
trousers, even partially, before he died.”

“We thought he
might have been killed elsewhere and dumped on the boat,” Emilia said. “There
were some bloodstains on the side that suggested the body being dumped or
carried over the side.”

“If the
bloodstains match up with his.” Prade looked toward the body and the stack of
clothing next to it. “But I’m just a doctor. All I can verify is the blood
alcohol level and the recent sexual activity, both of which could be totally
unrelated to the manner of death.”

“Which was blunt
force trauma with an unknown but smooth and rounded instrument.”

“Numerous blows
made by an assailant standing behind and to one side,” Prade said. “Not too far
away.”

“And he was struck
after he had the plastic bag on his head.”

“Yes.”

“So,” Emilia said.
“I guess that’s what I tell the mayor tomorrow.”

Prade signed the
form. It was a multiple copy affair, with attached sheets of carbon paper. He
rifled through the pages, extracted a yellow one and separated it from the rest
of the form. “I can only tell you what the body tells me, Emilia. And you need
to only say what will serve your purpose. There is someone out there who knows
why Fausto Inocente was killed, and with what, and they’ll be judging to see
what kind of adversary you are.”

A small bell
tinkled in another part of the building. Emilia realized that the assistant was
sewing up the cut down the length of Lt. Inocente’s body. The head was now
encased in clear plastic, no doubt to keep what was left of the contents from
spilling out. Two more assistants wheeled in a new naked body.

“Solve this case
fast, Emilia,” Prade said. “We’re running out of room.”

“Again? We haven’t
had a big shooting or accident lately.”

Prade shook his
head and lifted his chin in the direction of the examination table. “We’re
taking in bodies from a cartel ambush in Ixtapa,” he said.

“They have a
morgue.”

“Civil society is
under attack. Even a coroner isn’t exempt.” Prada indicated the man on the
table. “Professional courtesy. We don’t have time for the others.”

Prade slid off his
stool and Emilia reluctantly followed him over to the new corpse. The man’s
mouth was swathed in rings of silver duct tape. Hands and feet were bound with
the tape as well, the skin pulled taut. Emilia counted four bullet holes in the
chest before she was abruptly seized with dry heaves.

 


 

Emilia sat at her
own desk in the squadroom and quickly typed up her notes from the meeting with Bruno
and Rita Inocente. It was 6:00 pm and the place was deserted. The clack of the
computer keys sounded extraordinarily loud.

Silvio had done a
good job with the murder board. The entire side wall had been transformed into
a battle center, with space to add additional pictures and pin up new facts on
yellow cards kept for that purpose. Emilia had added the details from the
coroner’s report: approximate time of death, semen on his underwear, no gunshot
wounds but death by blunt trauma while head in a plastic bag. Pictures of the
body, including the smashed head, were taped to the top of the wall along with
photos of the blood pattern on the boat. Emilia printed out a picture of Bruno
Inocente from the Seguros Guerrero website and taped it to the side.

The hotline was
staffed by two uniforms in a small room upstairs. Emilia had come back to the
squadroom to find a typed note on
el teniente’s
desk chair with the
hotline number and a bulleted list of how the number would be advertised. A
public service announcement would run on two local television channels and
there would be a notice in the major newspapers for the next three days and a
banner on the Acapulco police website. Flyers were being printed up with a
picture of
el teniente
in happier days and instructions to call the
hotline number if the reader had any information as to the man’s whereabouts
last night.

Silvio knew his
stuff, Emilia thought grudgingly. It would have taken her a week to work
through the bureaucratic hurdles and get all that together. As it was, she
wasn’t sure she’d get
el teniente’s
phone records any time soon,
although the pictures had made an impression on the telecommunications office.

She checked her
watch at 6:10 pm. She finished the report and hit the send button.

Rico and Fuentes
walked in at 6:30 pm.

“A shit day,” Rico
announced as he flung his jacket onto his desk. “How many people did we talk
to, Fuentes?”

The younger
detective opened a bottle of water and downed half before speaking. “We talked
to 37 people.”

“All at the hotel?”
Emilia came to stand by Rico’s desk.

“And nobody saw
shit except the two who found the boat drifting.” Rico smirked at her. “Did you
know Rucker and the French guy are training for a triathlon? Rucker did Ironman
last year.”

Emilia didn’t take
the bait. “So nobody in that entire hotel, with all those windows facing the
ocean, saw that boat last night?”

“Nope.”

“What about hotel
security? Who works at the hotel marina?” Emilia had a hard time concealing her
disappointment.

Fuentes read from
a notebook. “Palacio Réal’s marina locks down at 11:00 pm when the dinner
cruise comes back. There’s a night guard, works a 12-hour shift starting at
8:00 pm. Night shift guard has to make sure all the boats get gassed up ready
for the next day and secure them for the night. After that he’s supposed to
walk the pier every 30 minutes. Other than that he’s got a fancy guardhouse and
a television.” Fuentes shrugged. “It’s a pretty simple arrangement.”

Emilia looked at
her watch. “You say the night shift guard got off at 8:00 this morning? So you
didn’t talk to him?”

“No,” Rico replied
acidly. “I’m going back later.”

Fuentes flipped a
page in his notebook. “We also need to talk to a repair technician who was
there late last night working on one of the boats. Not a hotel employee, but
from a maintenance company they use.” He put down his notebook and settled in
front of his computer. “A lot of money in those boats.”

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