Cliff Diver (Detective Emilia Cruz Book 1) (21 page)

“I can help you
get ahead, Emilia,” Carlota said. “I see you moving on, not stuck with the
police. A fine start and you’ve gotten what you could from it, but there’s so
much more ahead for you.”

“I hadn’t really
ever considered any other job,” Emilia said. The mayor was now calling her
Emilia, as if they were best friends. “Sometimes, señora, I know I’m doing
something important. For people who need help.”

“There are better
opportunities for you.” Carlota refilled both their coffee cups from the silver
pot on the table. “The city government has marvelous opportunities. For
example, the position of undersecretary for administration will be opening up
soon. A smart woman like you should be reaching for that kind of position.”

Emilia must not
have been able to hide her surprise because the mayor smiled knowingly. “I can
be your mentor, Emilia. Help you build that network and move to the next level.
I know a lot of people who would like to see you move forward. Once this
terrible case about poor Lt. Inocente is wrapped up.”

Some omelet got
caught in Emilia’s throat. She swallowed hard to push it down.

“Wouldn’t you like
a job here?” Carlota asked.

Emilia sipped some
coffee to help the omelet stay down. “What does an undersecretary for
administration do?”

Carlota considered
for a moment, lovely face composed, fork in the air. “Staffing,” she finally
said. “Organization. It’s a very powerful position. It pays at least three
times what you’re making now and a driver and car come with it.”

Emilia nearly
choked. Three times her current salary would be a fortune. She had a sudden
vision of herself in Carlota’s tweed suit, nails polished. The undersecretary
of administration for the city of Acapulco was a sleek, confident women who had
a nice office, didn’t need to bribe people with food, and dated men like . . .
like . . .
norteamericano
hotel managers.

Carlota ate a
grape from the fruit salad nestled in a cut-glass bowl next to her plate.
“Those people who could be so helpful to your career are watching this case,
you know. Seeing how you handle pressure and if you’re ready to move up.”

Emilia reluctantly
put aside the notion of herself in nail polish and a fancy office, although the
prospect of such a job dangled at the edge of her vision, like a bright, shiny
Christmas ornament. “We’re just trying to find the truth,” she said in response
to Carlota’s statement. “That’s how we’ll find the killer.”

“It’s been a week
already,” Carlota said. “How close are you to finding your truth?”

“It’s a very
complicated situation, señora,’ Emilia said.
Which you have just made worse
.
She put her napkin on the table next to her plate.

“I have a lot of
confidence in you, Emilia. I think you know that being a professional woman is
hard. You have to be smarter than the men.” Carlota threaded her fingertips
together so that her hands formed a loose bridge. “Women have to work together.
Make alliances. Help each other move forward.”

“I really should
be going, señora.” Emilia needed to be alone. She needed time to think through
what Carlota had just offered her. “As I said, we have the new fingerprint
results and another interview with the brother.”

“And I have a
meeting with some Olympic supporters. Negotiations are at a delicate stage. We
can’t afford any bad news to chase them away.” The enamel bridge fluttered
apart so that Carlota could give Emilia’s hand a brief pat. “We understand each
other, don’t we, Emilia? Two women helping each other.”

“Thank you for the
wonderful breakfast, señora,” Emilia managed. “I appreciate your time.”

The mayor smiled
tightly, gestured to her ever present and discreet staff, and Emilia was
escorted back to the car that had brought her.

The drive back to
the police station took 15 minutes. Emilia sat in the back while some anonymous
chauffeur drove. The same thought kept circling, circling, trying to find a
reason to stop.
What had happened since Thursday, when Carlota first insisted
that the result of the Inocente investigation not embarrass the city, which
made the mayor feel she had to up the stakes
?

And then Emilia
lost herself in a daydream in which she was dressed in a tweed suit, opening
the door of her office to a yellow-haired man with initials on his shirt. 

 


 

According to her
file, Rosita Vasquez Garcia was 23 years old and a veteran hooker. She wasn’t a
street walker, the type of girl who gave 50-peso blow jobs in back of the cheap
hotels beyond Avenida Pinzon. Rosita was a girl with upscale looks that would
let her have an easy time of it at the El Pharaoh. Most nights she prowled the
floor, looking for customers who needed a friend when the slot machines went
against them. The casino took a cut, the girl made it fast, and in 20 minutes
the customer would be back in the main casino, smug with satisfaction and ready
to pull the lever again.

But as soon as
Ibarra threw down a picture of Fausto Inocente on his table at the morgue,
Emilia knew they had a problem.

Rosita’s face went
white. “Is he dead?”

“Yes,” Ibarra
said. “Head smashed in.”

“I don’t know
him,” Rosita breathed.

“Your fingerprints
were found on his boat.” Ibarra tossed down a picture of the boat. The blood
spatters were visible.

Rosita shook her
head. She was about Emilia’s height and weight and had her hair caught up in a
loose ponytail. The pictures had shaken her, that was clear, but she recovered
fast and a look of grim determination settled on her face that let everyone in
the room know she had nothing to say.

They were in the
same interrogation room where Emilia had had her talk with Maria Teresa about
Dr. Chang. It was crowded, what with Ibarra and Loyola, Silvio, Emilia and
Rosita. The hooker was the only one sitting in a chair.

They’d picked up
the other girl, Begonia Torres Blanco, at the same time. The other girl was
sitting alone in the other interrogation room. The two hookers lived with
Begonia’s grandmother who’d pitched a screaming fit, according to Loyola, and
obviously didn’t realize what the girls did for a living.

It had been
Silvio’s idea to keep them separate; see if their stories matched. “Did you
meet him at the El Pharaoh?” Silvio asked.

“I don’t know
him,” Rosita repeated.

“How did your
fingerprints get on his boat?”

“Police magic.”
Rosita folded her arms.

Ibarra and Silvio
took turns asking questions. Rosita continued tough.

Emilia left, found
the picture of Lt. Inocente she’d taken from his file, and went into the other
interrogation room.

Begonia and Rosita
could have been sisters. They were roughly the same size. Begonia had the same
big dark eyes rimmed with thick black eyeliner and long hair caught up in a
tousled ponytail. She had on a short skirt, a turquoise bra and a denim jacket
that came just to her waist. She wasn’t as tough as Rosita, however, and
waiting alone had made her nervous.

“Do you have a
cigarette?” she asked Emilia.

“No, but this will
only take a minute,” Emilia said. She sat across the table from Begonia. “Sorry
you’ve had to wait so long.”

“Where’s Rosita?”

“Talking in the
other room.”

“I don’t want to
wait any more,” Begonia said.

“Just a minute
more.”

“What are you? The
secretary?”

“It’s a shit job,”
Emilia sighed.

“You want to earn
more,’ Begonia said with a nervous giggle. “I can help you.”

“I could use some
help,” Emilia said “I gotta find out something about some guy before they start
yelling. And stuff.” She touched the bandage on her forehead.


Pendejos
,”
Begonia muttered.

“All of them.”
Emilia gave another sigh, making sure to put a little teary sound into it. She
showed the girl the picture of Lt. Inocente. “I’m trying to find him.”

“Fausto?” Begonia
was clearly surprised.

“Yes,” Emilia
said. “You know him?”

Begonia squirmed
in her seat. “Well, sort of.”

Emilia tried to
look abused and interested at the same time.

“He comes into the
El Pharaoh.” Begonia gave her nervous giggle again. “To gamble.”

“Is that the only
place you’ve ever seen him?”

“Well.” Begonia
looked around the little room. “Who wants to know?”

“Me.” Emilia wasn’t
sure if the girl was stupid or had a real reason for the question.

Begonia licked her
lips. “You’re pretty. You’d do good at the El Pharaoh,” she said. “But the real
money is when you freelance.”

“You mean go to
the customer’s place?”

Begonia looked around
the room again. It was plain concrete block with a constant odor of sweat and
fear. Evidently satisfied that no one was listening in, Begonia leaned forward.
Emilia leaned forward too, so that their heads were almost touching over the
table. “Everybody who comes to El Pharaoh has money,” Begonia said in a low
voice. “But the El Pharaoh has rules. You know. It’s their room. You can’t take
too long. So the big money is when you can get one of the regulars to get you
out of there.”

“And Fausto got
you out?”

“Me and Rosita.”
Begonia smiled proudly.

“Did the El
Pharaoh know?”

“No, that’s one of
the rules. You aren’t supposed to do that.”

“Where did he take
you?”

“He had a boat.”
Begonia was pleased to be sharing a confidence. “I never did it on a boat
before. I thought it would be different.”

“Was it?”

Begonia sighed.
“He likes to do it from behind. Even on the boat.”

“When were you on
the boat?”

“A couple of
times.”

“Alone?”

“No, me and Rosita
both. He always pays for both.” She looked coy. “He likes to do one while the
other watches and then we switch. The one who watches has to talk. Tell him how
hard he is and that she likes to look at him. The one he’s doing has to be
absolutely quiet.”

Emilia’s elaborate
breakfast with the mayor threatened to make a return appearance.

“It’s his thing,”
Begonia said.

Emilia took a deep
breath, willing the omelet to stay where it was. “When were you on the boat
last?”

Begonia shrugged.
“Maybe two Sundays ago.”

“What about last
Tuesday?”

“We only ever go
on Sundays. It’s the only day me and Rosita have off from the El Pharaoh.”

Emilia nodded.
“Who makes the schedule at the El Pharaoh?”

“If I tell you,
Tito’ll get mad.”

“Tito have a
really bad temper?” Emilia tried her best to look sympathetic. So many
pendejos.

Begonia bit her
lip. “Sometimes.”

“Does he like
boats?”

“Tito?” Begonia
frowned. “I don’t know.”

“Would he have
gotten mad at Fausto?”

Begonia was
beginning to get bored. She picked at her chipped nail polish. “Usually Tito
just gets mad at us. So we always give him a
propina
, you know?”

A
propina
was a tip. Obviously Tito acted as their off-hours pimp as well as the bouncer
or whatever at the El Pharaoh. Emilia told Begonia she’d go find her a
cigarette. She got one from the holding cell guard and walked into the hall
just as Silvio came out of the other interrogation room. He gave her a
questioning look.

“Rosita not
talking?”

“No.”

“That’s because
she probably thinks the bouncer at the El Pharaoh offed
el teniente
and
she might be next,” Emilia said. “Ibarra never should have showed her the
picture of a dead guy. The girls aren’t supposed to make extra money on the
side with anybody they’ve met at the casino and some guy named Tito keeps them
in line.”

“Fuck,” said
Silvio.

Emilia gave Silvio
a rundown of what Begonia had told her.

When she was done
Silvio’s customary scowl turned to mild surprise. “Why’d she spill all this to
you?”

“We talked about
me needing a new job,” Emilia said.

Silvio looked like
he was going to laugh but checked himself. “I’ll check out Tito. Maybe Portillo
and Fuentes have already run into him. Verify the Sunday thing as well.”

“Maybe Tito caught
him on Tuesday,” Emilia said. “With a different girl who wasn’t going to give
him a cut.”

“A girl who wore
gloves,” Silvio said.

Emilia shrugged
and turned to go back into the room with Begonia.

“You have a nice
time with the mayor?” Silvio asked.

“Best friends,”
Emilia said and kept going.

Chapter 18

 

 

The Agua Pacific
bottling plant manager was happy to show them around. Emilia was glad she’d
changed into her usual jeans and tee shirt as she, Rico, and Fuentes were
helped into disposable yellow coveralls and booties, given hairnets and safety
goggles, then shown onto the plant floor.

The plant manager
had introduced himself as Licenciado Hernandez, so that the riffraff from the
police would know he was a professional with a degree. Emilia followed him as
he strode across the plant floor, Rico and Fuentes trailing behind. He stopped
in front of an impressive array of machinery. A seemingly endless line of pale
transparent 5-gallon water jugs—the 5-gallon kind for water dispensers known as
garrafons
--moved along a gleaming metal conveyor belt. The thick plastic
containers darkened as they were filled to the narrow neck.

“This is the
capping machine,” Hernandez shouted above the noise of the conveyor belt and
the surprisingly loud rub of heavy plastic things coming together as the
containers jostled along. A contraption pressed down on the neck of each jug as
it passed, leaving it with a cap decorated with the Aqua Pacifico logo. Workers
in white coveralls and vinyl aprons made sure the jugs were positioned
correctly as each one made its way to the capping arm. Emilia counted five
capping stations.

“Five hundred jugs
an hour at full capacity,” Hernandez said.

The conveyor belt
looped under the machinery, forcing the capped jugs off the line and into the
waiting arms of workers who loaded them on hand trucks. The jugs were then
wheeled over to a loading zone beyond the sterile plant floor.

The detectives
trailed Hernandez, looking at the distillation operation itself. The air in
that area of the plant was like a warm, humid jungle. Giant vats of water were
boiled and the steam collected in big pressure tanks. When the steam cooled the
distilled water was clean and free of sediment and impurities. Gleaming pipes
carried the purified water from the pressure tanks to the pumping stations
where the water made it into the big jugs. In yet another room, used jugs were
sanitized, rinsed and put back into the supply chain.

All the jugs were
the same; thick heavy plastic tinted a pale blue that appeared darker when full
of water. The Agua Pacifico cap was turquoise.

“Everything looks
very new,” Emilia said when they were finally done with the tour and had
shucked off the disposable jumpsuits and booties.

“Really clean,”
added Rico.

Hernandez smiled.
He was in his mid-thirties with regular features, his face only marred by large
square teeth that reminded Emilia of tablets of chewing gum. “Everything is
very new. State-of-the-art, really. Agua Pacifico is the fastest growing water
supply company in Mexico.”

He walked them out
to the loading zone. The plant boasted six loading docks and all were in
operation, with signature turquoise Agua Pacifico delivery trucks backed up to
each dock. Drivers in turquoise Agua Pacifico shirts checked their manifests
while workers in coveralls took out empty jugs and replaced them with full
ones. The jugs were loaded into the racks specially designed to hold them. When
a truck was fully loaded, a metal roll-top door closed over the jugs. When a
truck headed out with a driver and helper another truck rolled in to begin the
unloading and reloading process.

“How many
deliveries can one truck make?” Emilia asked.

Fuentes stared at
Emilia as if she was the biggest time waster in the world. Which she supposed
she was. Emilia wasn’t sure what she thought they’d find here. It appeared to
be an orderly, well run business.

Hernandez flapped
his hand. “It depends on the number of jugs each customer orders every week but
the usual number of stops for a driver in one day is about 20.”

Emilia tried to do
the math in her head and failed. “At five hundred bottles an hour, it’s no
wonder your company’s trucks are everywhere,” she said. “And isn’t there
another plant as well?”

Hernandez gave her
a patronizing smile. “This is the flagship plant,” he said. “We’re growing at a
rate of nearly seven percent a year.”

“So the other
plant is smaller?” Rico asked.

“Yes,’ Hernandez
said frostily. “Similar but a smaller capacity.”

“Weren’t both
plants the same capacity when Lomas Bottling bought them?” Rico asked
conversationally. “Wasn’t the recap the same for both?”

Hernandez froze
for a moment, just like Carlota had done when asked about the undersecretary
for administration.
Staffing. Organization. Nothing at all because the job
doesn’t exist yet.

Emilia waited.

The plant manager
gave a brittle smile. “The truck repair facility is there. It must have taken
up part of the bottling floor.”

“It’s on Highway
200 on the way to Ixtapa, isn’t it?” Rico was just making conversation.

A flush had crept
up Hernandez’s neck. “The other plant doesn’t do tours,” the man said and
showed them the exit to the parking lot.

 


 

“You think Silvio
turned up anything about Tito from the El Pharaoh?” Rico asked. He raised his
empty beer bottle and the proprietor’s wife hustled over to replace it.

“Like if the guy’s
got a boat?” Emilia asked.

“Yeah.” Rico
burped. “Maybe this Tito character wanted to scare him and things went wrong.”

“I don’t know”
Emilia shoved her sunglasses into her hair as the proprietor slung down two
plates laden with food. “The timing is wrong.
El teniente
died on a
Tuesday and the girls said they only saw him on Sundays. I don’t think they
were lying.”

They were at a
tiny
loncheria
near the fishing docks on Avenida Azueta, sitting at one
of three tiny outdoor tables. Both had plates of rice, salsa, and
pescado
empapelado
; marinated fish wrapped in foil and grilled by the sweaty
proprietor. Emilia pulled apart the foil packet, taking care to keep her
fingertips away from the billow of lemony steam. The whole fish lay nestled
inside the packet, fragrant with citrus and tomato, the fish’s mouth open wide
as if in surprise.

Rico ripped open
his packet, cursed at the hot steam, and soothed his fingers with the cold beer
bottle. “I don’t know,
chica
. Tito in another boat, lets
el teniente
do some other girl there. Knows he’s going to get a hefty cut.”

“You really think
this is just some hooker thing gone wrong?” Emilia asked, her voice low.
“Nothing to do with the phony money and the kidnapping?”

“My question
first.” Rico forked up some rice. “You gonna go after Gomez?”

Emilia peeled
white flesh from the fish bones. “Silvio asked me that, too.”

Rico chewed,
swallowed. “So?”

“Silvio said Gomez
should stick around because it’ll remind everybody that he tried to go after me
and didn’t succeed.” Emilia plopped some salsa on her fish. “Said it would
deter the next one.”

Rico shoveled in
more fish and rice. “I don’t think Gomez has the guts to stay.”

“Let’s not talk
about Gomez,” Emilia said, pushing aside a twinge of guilt about the money
she’d taken off the man. The food was good and Rico was a pal again. She felt
better than she had in a while.

Dusk was still at
least two hours away but the sun was already promising another spectacular
sunset. They had a view of copper and pink streaks across the sky.

“So Fuentes and I
are checking on Lomas Bottling shit,” Rico said around a mouthful. “His
accountant is happy to talk, show his boss to be Mr. Acapulco Business. When
his son got kidnapped the accountant helped Morelos de Gama liquidate and get
the cash together to pay the ransom. In pesos.”

“The ransom was
dollars.” Emilia stopped with a forkful of rice halfway to her mouth. “Nobody
ever said he was supposed to pay in pesos.”

“Maybe Ixtapa
knew, maybe they didn’t.” Rico scraped a fishbone clean with his teeth. “Bet
el
teniente
knew. But that’s what the guy said. They paid cash. Pesos.”

“You think Ixtapa
was in on it with
el teniente
?” Emilia asked. “That’s why there wasn’t
any follow-up?”

“Maybe,” Rico
admitted.

“We need to talk
to that Pinkerton agent.”

Rico found the
card that Morelos de Gama had given him. “Alan Denton.
Cristo
, another
gringo
.
They’ve got all the good jobs.”

Emilia pulled the
card out of his hand and found her cell phone. The connection on the other end
rang three times before switching to voice mail. Emilia listened as the
standard Telmex recording asked the caller to leave a message.

Rico continued to
eat as she left her name and number, stressing that the matter was urgent and
that Denton could call her any time. “Be interesting to know if this guy knew
the Hudsons,” Rico said when she was done.


El teniente
sure did.” Emilia left her phone next to her plate and reminded him of the
coinciding hotel stays.

Rico sucked a
fishbone then tossed it onto the little heap that had once been a meal. “Here’s
what doesn’t make sense. If
el teniente
kidnapped the kid, why would he
want to end up with fake cash? Just take the real money and be done.”

“Because he wanted
somebody else to end up with counterfeit,” Emilia said quietly. Lights blinked
on around the patio. “Somebody he wanted to get into trouble. Silvio.”

“What the fuck
does Silvio have to do with this?”

Emilia put down
her fork. “Fuentes gave me this.” She dug the counterfeit bill out of her bag.
“Says he lifted it off a snitch Silvio had given it to. Fuentes said he told
Lt. Inocente about it just before he died.”

Rico dropped his
fork on his plate and took the bill. “Isn’t this the stuff we got from
el
teniente
?”

“Sure. It’s the
same.”

“No,” Rico said
seriously. “I mean the exact same.”

“What?” Emilia
couldn’t hide her surprise. “You think I’m trying to frame Silvio?”

“Well, he’s trying
to push you out and you hate him,” Rico pointed out.

“You
pendejo
,”
Emilia said with heat. “Fuentes gave that to me.”

“Hey, calm down.”
Rico gave her back the bill. “I believe you.”

“Fuentes said that
Silvio had a lot. Gave some to the snitch and asked if he’d seen it around. To
call him if he did.” Emilia took a deep breath. “There’s more I haven’t had a
chance to tell you. Silvio took one of the dispatches last week. It was a call
from a bank that somebody had come in with counterfeit.”

“Fuck,” Rico
swore. “What did he say about it?”

“Nothing.” Emilia
flipped over her fish and started on the other side. “He’s not going to give me
his report.”

“So what are you
saying?”

“What if they were
partners?” Emilia sifted through the possibilities. “Something went awry and
el
teniente
wanted Silvio to take the blame. Or
el teniente
set the
whole thing up so he could find a way to get rid of Silvio. Make him think they
were partners and then frame him.”

“And Silvio found
out and killed him?”

“I don’t know,”
Emilia admitted.

“I got a problem
with Silvio doing any shit with
el teniente
.” Rico finished his second
beer. “He’s a decent guy. And he kept his distance from
el teniente.

“What sort of
detective was
el teniente
?” Emilia asked.

Rico rubbed his
nose. “He never did much,” he said. “Everybody knew he was planning to move
up.”

“Who was his
partner?”

“Guy named Alfredo
Suarez Lata.” Rico mimed drinking to the proprietor who brought him another
beer. “He left when
el teniente
made lieutenant.”

“What happened to
him?”

“Heard he got a
union job.”

“What about Silvio
back then,” Emilia pressed. “Were they friends?”


Rayos, chica
.”
Rico’s face creased in an expression of exasperation. “No, they weren’t
friends. I think you’re too hung up on Silvio and Inocente being partners.”

“But Agua Pacifico
is really bothering him,” Emilia pointed out. The
pescado empapelado
had
been delicious but now her stomach was on fire with nerves and confusion. “I
think Silvio doesn’t want us looking at anything that ties back to Lomas
Bottling and the kidnapping.”

“You going to tell
Obregon?” Rico’s eyes narrowed.

Emilia pushed her
plate away. “Maybe. I don’t know. There’s no proof.”

“Give it some
time,” Rico counseled. “I don’t want Obregon messing up Silvio on a hunch.”

“Okay.” From the
look on his face Emilia knew Rico was struggling with divided loyalties. “We’ll
give it another couple of days. But it’s too slow. I need a break in this case
to get Obregon and the mayor off my back.”

“I don’t know
about Silvio, but I got a feeling about the water thing.” Rico leaned back in
his chair and scraped at his teeth with a fingernail. “That manager was a weird
shit. He pretended to be all nice but he hovered. Like he was afraid we were
going to touch something. You know what I mean?”

“He didn’t like
you asking questions about the other plant.”

“No, he didn’t,”
Rico said thoughtfully.

Emilia’s cell
phone rang. The display showed a number she didn’t recognize. “
Bueno
?”

“I’d like to speak
with you privately at your earliest convenience, Detective Cruz,” Bruno
Inocente’s voice said.

 

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