Authors: Carmen Amato
Squatting on his
haunches, the lead technician sliced through the front of the plastic bag
covering the victim’s head.
pushing Emilia back a step. “No,” he breathed.
around Rico’s leather jacket. Lt. Inocente’s face stared up at them from the
deck of the boat. His eyes were open, bulging with surprise and staring at
“You know him?”
the technician asked.
Rico said hoarsely. “Chief of detectives.”
“Had some enemies,
did he?” The technician took a picture of
Emilia said. Kurt’s words, so easily dismissed yesterday, seemed prophetic now.
Rico’s voice was thick. He thumbed his cell phone.
“Shouldn’t have cut
the bag,” the technician said regretfully. “Back of the head’s gone and his
brains are leaking out.”
He got out a large
clear evidence bag and the two techs stuffed Lt. Inocente’s head into it,
leaking beige plastic bag and all. The tech pulled out a roll of tape and
secured the evidence bag around Lt. Inocente’s neck so none of the matter from
the shattered head would ooze out. Emilia patted down the body for a wallet or
other identification. There wasn’t anything, not even a watch or a wallet.
The people from
the morgue showed up and unfurled a body bag. The boat rocked with the added
weight of two more men and Emilia and Rico braced themselves on the bench
lining the cabin. The techs said goodbye and left, causing the boat to rock
again as they clambered over the side with their heavy toolboxes.
seasick,” Rico said.
“We have to notify
his family.” Emilia watched the body guy from the morgue bundle Lt. Inocente’s
unresisting corpse into the long black bag with practiced motions. She wondered
how many bodies a day he handled.
“Silvio texted me
the address. Said to go over. It’s not far.”
lived around here?”
showed her the address. It was the Costa Esmeralda apartment building they’d
passed coming down the steep road from the
gate. Emilia gave
Rico a look and he made an indeterminate
sound with his lips. They
both knew Lt. Inocente’s police salary hadn’t paid for an apartment on the
“What about their
official statements?” Emilia indicated the hotel.
“You can do that
when you come to visit Loverboy. Or make them come down to the station.”
“Here we go,” the
body guy said. The two morgue workers wrestled the heavy body bag over the side
and let it drop to the pier where it landed with a muffled thud. The workers
climbed after it and carried it up the pier, the awkward bundle swinging as the
few hotel guests on the beach gawked.
There was nothing
to see on the open deck; it was clean except for the blood stains that crossed
to the cabin door. Emilia and Rico went into the cabin. The big flashlight was
still on the floor, rolling with the swells that rocked the docked craft.
Emilia picked it up, consciously stepping around the big bloodstain where the
corpse had been. The flashlight was turned on but the batteries were dead.
Although it was wet with the seawater that was on the deck, the batteries were
not corroded. “You think someone could have killed him with this?” she asked.
Rico glanced at
the flashlight as Emilia put it into a evidence bag. “Why didn’t the techs take
“When was the last time they got everything?” The crime scene technicians were
busy with a crime rate that made it impossible for the small unit to respond to
Rico gestured to
the boat controls. “The key’s in the ignition and turned. But the fuel gauge
says empty.” The key was turned to the “on” position, the throttles were pushed
forward, and the gas gauge was on empty. There was no blood on any of the
Emilia started to
examine the benches running around the interior of the cabin as Rico rifled
through maritime charts. She lifted the bench cushion. The compartment
underneath was full of clean beach towels. “We don’t know what we’re looking
for, do we?”
“We’ll know it
when we see it,” Rico muttered. “Like a fucking head in a bucket.”
The boat was slim
and compact. Emilia opened all the compartments under the cabin benches,
finding nothing more exciting than two men’s swimsuits, a small one for a girl
or petite woman, a few more clean beach towels and a shrink-wrapped carton of
bottled water. There were no scratches or gouges in the polished wood planking
of the deck or on the white fiberglass sides of the boat.
“No sign of a
struggle besides the blood,” she said.
looked around the sleek cabin. The edge of the cabin dashboard was rounded and
trimmed with dark wood. The handrails inside the boat were tubular metal.
Everything was polished and well maintained. “You think it was his boat?”
Emilia nodded. “It
goes with the address.” She looked down the line of boats riding at anchor in
the hotel marina. The bay curved and there was foliage in the way but she knew
the Costa Esmeralda apartment building was just around the bend. No doubt the
building had its own marina, too.
“I gave Silvio the
registration number on the hull.” Rico wiped his face with his forearm.
“They’ll run the ownership.”
“So either the
boat is his or he borrowed it,” Emilia said.
“Good kind of boat
for making fast trips.”
Emilia murmured. Fast boats were extremely useful in the drug running business.
Mexico’s Pacific coast both north and south of Acapulco was pockmarked with
coves perfect for small smuggling operations.
“Two boats meet up, deal goes bad. Bang. They take the stash, they leave him on
“Too close to
where he lives.” Emilia shook her head. This part of Punta Diamante was so
exclusive in part because it was a bay-within-a-bay. “Lt. Inocente was smarter
than that. He wouldn’t deal where he sleeps.”
followed him home and he couldn’t outrun them. Or when he ran out of gas they
boarded and shot him.”
Madre de Dios
Emilia squinted out to sea. This investigation was going to be a nightmare.
Hopefully, she and Rico would notify the family and then dump the whole mess
into Silvio’s lap. He was the senior detective. He’d deal with it.
Rico went around
the cabin once more, lifting cushions again and poking around in the storage
compartments. “They must have taken all his identification. Wallet. Money.”
“And didn’t leave
anything except the normal things you’d find on a boat.”
They walked back
out to the open deck, again avoiding the blood trail. The short ladder leading
over the side had the only sharp metal edges. The ladder steps were flat but
Music was playing
from somewhere on the hotel property. A couple of families had set up under the
on the beach and kids shrieked in the waves lapping at
“What if he hit
his head on the ladder?” Emilia asked, pointing to the steps.
“And then found a
bag and put it on to keep his brains from falling out, then gunned the boat for
home?” Rico asked sarcastically. “Only died because he ran out of gas?”
said. She’d spoken before the thought was fully formed. “Doesn’t explain the
blood on the hull, either.”
came from the body being carried over the side.”
“What are the odds
this is connected to the counterfeit?” Emilia asked softly.
“No bet.” Rico grimaced,
found a bandana and mopped his face.
“Maybe he never
told anyone he gave us some of it,” Emilia said, before Rico could say
“I think he fucked
us.” Rico wadded up the bandanna and stuffed it back into his jacket pocket.
“We don’t know what he said, who he was in this with, or his killer’s next
move. The question is what do we do now?”
That was Rico’s
talent. He could identify a problem, worry at it. But he rarely had the
imagination to solve it. Emilia felt fear like an iron band around her throat
and she gulped warm sea air as the sun shone down and the Pacific glinted like
a jewel. A pelican beat its wings into the air from where it had been perched
on a piling at the far end of the hotel marina. A hoarse bird call carried on
Rico looked at her
hopefully, waiting for an answer. “We’ll do our job,” Emilia finally said and
picked up the evidence bag containing the flashlight. “Maybe we’ll get
something from the fingerprints.”
Rico slid a hand
under his jacket and adjusted his shoulder holster. “Let’s go find his family,”
he said. “Make sure they’re not dead, too.”
They climbed over
the back of the boat and walked down the pier, shedding their latex gloves as
they went. Kurt met them as they crossed the open lobby on the way to the
“The body is that
of police lieutenant Fausto Inocente,” Emilia said staring straight at Kurt.
“Chief of detectives. We’ll have to wait for the coroner’s report to be sure of
the cause of death.”
She saw Kurt suck
in his breath. This time she knew he was a swimmer.
Rico took out his
“Someone will be
back to take statements,” Emilia went on, speaking stiffly so her face wouldn’t
betray her fear. “The boat will stay where it is for now while we figure out
who it belongs to. We’re sorry for the inconvenience to your dock.”
“Well,” said Kurt.
He drew in another breath. “Any reason for him fetching up on my beach?”
Emilia shook her
head. “Probably just a coincidence.”
Esmeralda apartment building had 15 floors, a fountain in the entrance
courtyard, a lobby bigger than Emilia’s entire house, and its own private
marina. Lt. Inocente’s apartment was one of four penthouses.
“Who paid for
this, do you think?” Rico looked around as Emilia rang the doorbell. The door
itself was elaborately carved with an iguana design that followed the grain of
the wood. Enormous stone pots of ferns stood on either side like sentinels and
a skylight illuminated the spacious hallway. The elevator had been mirrored,
inside and out. In the lobby, an elaborately uniformed concierge with a pencil
moustache had been unimpressed with their badges and insisted on calling the
apartment to see if they could be received. Rico had nearly shot him.
Emilia pressed the
bell again. The
doorbell chimes sounded like church bells. Emilia’s
stomach was tight as they waited for someone to answer.
A maid opened the
door. She was around Emilia’s age, with wide dark eyes and glossy black hair
pulled back in a bun. Despite the standard grey maid’s dress and white apron,
she had a good figure and shapely legs. She would have been a beautiful woman
except for a startling spray of puckered scars around her mouth and lower
cheeks. Several open sores looked inflamed and painful.
said and showed his badge. “We need to speak to la señora.
“Of course,” the
maid said. She opened the door wide and they walked through the foyer into a
living room so icy white it made Emilia squint. The only color was a
breathtaking view of the bay with blue sky and green water showing through the
wall of windows opposite the door.
A stylishly slim
woman rose from the white sofa and set aside the magazine she was reading.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Maria Teresa Diaz Inocente. You must be the people
Fausto’s office called about.”
Portillo and this is Detective Cruz,” Rico said.
Teresa said vaguely. She let her eyes travel up and down Emilia. “And what is
it that you do, señorita?”
“I’m a detective,”
Emilia said. The woman was only a few years older than Emilia but she had the
bearing of a woman born to privilege and used to elegance. Her hair was the
color of brass and lifted into a high shiny ponytail. She wore superbly fitting
beige silk capri pants, a black silk sleeveless blouse and flat shoes decorated
with a gold buckle on the toe.
“I didn’t think
they allowed women detectives.” Her expression said that no woman who wore
faded black jeans, sports sandals and denim jackets should have walked through the
front door, much less hold a position of responsibility.
“Do you mind if we
sit, señora?” Rico asked huskily.
“Oh.” Maria Teresa
looked around, obviously unprepared for the question and Emilia gathered that
they weren’t welcome to sit on the living room’s white sofa or chairs.
“Would la señora
prefer to receive in the dining room?” the maid asked quietly.
Teresa smiled at the maid. “An excellent idea, CeCe.”
The maid led them
through a wide swinging door into the dining room. The room was only a little
less stark than the living room, with a gold veined slab of marble for a table
top and clear plastic chairs that Emilia had seen once in a magazine. Sheer
white curtains flowed from floor to ceiling, outlining the incredible view
through yet another wall of windows. The floor was limestone brick set in a
herringbone pattern and a light fixture from outer space dangled from the
Maria Teresa sat
down and Emilia and Rico followed suit. CeCe shrank against a wall, next to a
doorway that probably led to the kitchen.
The plastic chair
bowed under Rico’s weight and he shifted uncomfortably and cleared his throat
at the same time “Señora, you are married to Fausto Inocente, chief of
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you have any
“Of course. Two.
They’re in school right now. Why do you ask?”
“We regret to say
that your husband Fausto Inocente was found deceased this morning.”
Maria Teresa said immediately.
señora,” Rico went on. “He was found on a boat adrift near the Palacio Réal
Hotel. That’s the hotel--.”
“Of course I know
where that is,” Maria Teresa snapped. “How dare you come here with such
Emilia put her
hand on Rico’s wrist and leaned forward. “Señora, I’m sorry, I truly am, but
Lt. Inocente was found deceased this morning. That’s why we’re here.”
resonated in a way Rico’s had not. Maria Teresa closed her eyes and seemed to
fold in on herself a little. The room grew quiet. Emilia glanced up at CeCe.
The maid was like a statue, staring at nothing, her disfigured face immobile.
“The cause of
death appears to be a head wound,” Rico said, breaking the silence.
“You said on a
boat?” Maria Teresa opened her eyes. They were watery but she wasn’t crying.
She frowned as if she had just now understood what Rico had said. “Our boat?”
“Could you describe your boat, señora?”
“It’s one of those
fast boats. He always drives it too fast, even with the children on board.
Likes to scare us all.”
“What color is
“Where did he keep
Teresa dabbed at an eye with a forefinger. “The building has a private marina.
That’s why we moved here. Fausto wanted a boat.”
“Do you have the
Teresa said. The maid took a step forward. Maria Teresa waved a hand at the
her. “Go find my husband’s boat registration papers. Check in his study.”
señora,” CeCe said softly and walked away, her feet practically silent on the
stone floor. Emilia watched her for a moment, wondering about the woman’s
disfiguring facial scars, then turned back to Maria Teresa.
“Is there someone
you’d like to call, señora? A family member, maybe.”
“My parents,” Maria
Teresa said distantly. Her eyes had strayed to the magnificent view out the
window. “I’ll have to tell them. They’ll say they told me so. That I should
never have let him be police. And Bruno. His brother.” She trailed off and
pressed a finger to the bridge of her nose.
Emilia and Rico
waited for a moment. Maria Teresa ignored them and stared expressionlessly out
said. “This must be a terrible shock. But we need to ask you some questions
about your husband’s whereabouts last night.”
Maria Teresa swung
her head around, her shiny ponytail bobbing. “We have tickets to the Midsummer
Ball in three days,” she said. “Do you have any idea how much they cost? Or who
will be there? No, of course you don’t.” She shoved her chair back and stood
! Dead on a boat three days before! Now what am I going
started and Emilia jumped up before he made it all worse.
touched her ponytail as if making sure her hairstyle had survived the bad news.
“Fausto told me he’d die of alcohol. That being a police officer wasn’t as
dangerous as they say.”
señora.” Emilia stood too. “Can I make you some tea--.”
Teresa snapped. “You’re offering me tea in my own house?”
“Let’s just get
your questions over and done with.”
“Yes, of course.”
Emilia took out her notebook and slowly sat down. After a moment Maria Teresa
sat as well.
Emilia turned to
the timeline page she’d started at the hotel. “Señora, can you tell us what
time your husband came home last night?”
“I don’t know.”
Maria Teresa shook her head. “He came home after I left.”
“And where were
you last night?”
“There was a
fundraiser for the San Pedro children’s clinic. I go every year. I’m a
“I see,” Emilia
said. Maria Teresa Diaz Inocente obviously lived in a social circle not usually
frequented by police officers. “What time would that be?”
“I left about 9:00
“Was anyone home
when you left?”
ignored the question and stood up again. “He didn’t have to work, you know.”
She walked over to a brass and glass sideboard laden with cut crystal tumblers
and several liquor bottles. She poured an inch of Osborne brandy into a tumbler
and drank it down swiftly. Emilia waited for the shudder as the alcohol hit her
throat and stomach. “His family owns this city,” Maria Teresa said, without a
trace of a reaction to the liquor. “Real estate, properties. Agua Pacifica.”
Emilia and Rico
exchanged a look.
“Police work was
just his hobby.” Maria Teresa slammed down the heavy tumbler with a sound that
might have been a laugh. “Kept his blood warm, he said. I never wanted him to
do it. My parents didn’t want him to. Or his brother. But I could never tell
CeCe came back
into the dining room holding a sheaf of papers. “The boat papers, señora,” she
said and placed them on the table.
Maria Teresa came
back to her chair and slid the papers across the cold marble to Rico. “Will
that be all? Obviously I’ll need to call some people. Make . . . make arrangements.”
“It’s his boat,”
Rico said after a swift look at the papers. He passed them to Emilia.
The boat was only
two years old. Lt. Inocente had purchased it new from a dealer in Acapulco.
hard. “Señora, I just have a few more questions.”
Maria Teresa went
back to the sideboard and poured herself another brandy. She drank with her
back to the dining table.
Emilia waited but
the woman didn’t turn around.
Rico gave Emilia a
Emilia said. “Was there anyone at home when you left?”
Teresa said without turning around. “And the children.”
“Did you drive
“What time did you
“Around 3:00 am.”
“And you were at
the San Pedro fundraiser all that time?” Emilia asked. “From nine in the
evening until three this morning?”
Rico rubbed his
“Is there anyone
who can verify that you were at the fund raiser, señora?”
I would think.”
“Would you have a
Maria Teresa spun
around and pointed at CeCe. “Get my bag from last night.”
No one said
anything until the maid came back to the dining room with a satin evening bag.
Maria Teresa snatched it out of the maid’s hand, pulled out a cardboard ticket,
and thrust it at Emilia. “There. Go talk to my friends.”
Emilia took the
gilt-edged ticket. It had a punch hole in it indicating admission. “If you
weren’t home, señora, do you know of anyone who might have been with your
husband last night or know what his plans were?” Emilia asked.
blinked. “His brother, Bruno.”
“Did he have any
close friends?” Emilia pressed. “Neighbors in the building?”
Maria Teresa shook
her head. “I don’t know his police friends.” She went back to the serving cart.
“Are we done?”
Rico cleared his
throat. “You’ll be notified when . . . uh . . . Lt. Inocente’s remains can be
released. There will have to be an autopsy as soon as possible.”
Maria Teresa held
her glass at eye level and filled it from the brandy bottle. Tawny fluid
sloshed over the lip of the glass. “It will be simple, though, won’t it?” she
asked. “Fausto was investigating something and he was killed to stop the
investigation. Some cartel kingpin who wants to control Acapulco’s drug trade.
Fausto was so close to cleaning them all up.”
dropped. Lt. Inocente had pushed paper and reported up the chain of command.
Emilia had never seen Lt Inocente do any street work, but then she’d only been
a detective for two years.
“Is that what he
told you about his work?” Rico asked. “Did he seem worried? Concerned for his
safety or that of you and the children?”
“No,” Maria Teresa
said. Her voice was finally getting thick from the brandy. “He just always said
he was rolling up the kingpins. To make Acapulco safe for our children.”
“We’ll look into
that, señora,” Rico said.
Emilia closed her
notebook. “Would you like someone here when you tell your children?” she asked.
Even though it had happened 25 years ago, she still remembered the chaotic way
she’d found out her father had died, with her mother screaming for hours and
relatives and friends and the priest coming and going. She’d been largely
forgotten; the little girl in the corner alternatively suffocated and ignored
by her mother. Emilia had grown into an adult that day and she didn’t wish the
experience on any other child.
“No.” Maria Teresa
took another healthy mouthful of brandy. “I’ll go with CeCe to pick them up at
school today. I can tell them then.”
Emilia and Rico exchanged
a look. Rico shrugged and got to his feet. “I’m sorry, señora, but we’ll have
to look around the house. Try and get an idea of what Lt. Inocente did last
night. Where he went. Anyone he might have met.”
“I suppose CeCe
can show you.” Maria Teresa flapped a hand, both to indicate the rest of the
penthouse and to end the interview. The woman had consumed at least half a
liter of brandy yet was still steady on her feet. An experienced drinker,
“We may have to
take some items as possible evidence. His computer, address book, that sort of
will tell you how selfish Fausto was?” Maria Teresa snapped. “Well, just
remember I wasn’t his keeper. Go talk to his brother. Tell Bruno Inocente that
he got his wish. His little brother is dead.” She pushed open the swinging door
to the living room and walked through. The door swung to and for several times
before staying shut.