Cliff Diver, Chapter 1

“It’s against Mexican law,” Emilia said.

“Driving a car?” the gringo asked skeptically.

“Just what is your relationship to the owners of this car and their driver?” Emilia asked. The man sitting next to her desk had yellow hair and a starched blue shirt and the impatient confidence all norteamericanos seemed to have.

“The Hudsons come to Acapulco every few months.” He pulled out a business card. “I manage the hotel where they stay.”

Emilia took the card.  Kurt Rucker, General Manager, Palacio Réal Hotel, Punta Diamante, Acapulco. The Palacio Réal was one of the most exclusive and luxurious hotels inAcapulco, an architectural marvel clinging to the cliffs above the Punta Diamante bay on the southeastern edge of the city. Even the card was rich, with embossed printing and the hotel logo in the corner.

“Let me explain,” Emilia said. She carefully laid the card next to the arrest file on her desk and tried to look unimpressed as she settled back in her desk chair. “A Mexican citizen may not drive a vehicle that carries a foreign license plate without the foreign owners of the vehicle being in it.”

“So the problem was that the owners weren’t in the car,” Rucker said.

“Yes,” Emilia said. “Señor Ruiz was alone in the vehicle.”

“The Hudsons drive down to Mexico several times a year.” Rucker leaned toward her and one immaculate sleeve bumped the nameplate reading Detective Emilia Cruz Encinos. There were initials embroidered on his shirt cuff. KHR. Emilia resisted a sudden silly urge to run a finger over the stitching.

“They always hire Ruiz when they come,” he went on. “They travel all over and he does errands alone. There’s never been any trouble before. Monterrey, Mexico City, Guadalajara.”

“Well, señor.” Emilia moved her nameplate. “Here in Acapulco we enforce the law.”

“Of course.” His Spanish was excellent. “I fully understand.  But how do the Hudsons get their car back?”

From across the squad room, Emilia saw Lt. Inocente watching her from the doorway to his office. El teniente nodded curtly at her then started talking to another detective. It was late afternoon and almost all the detectives were there making calls, writing up reports, joking and arguing.

Emilia opened the file and scanned the report of the arrest of Alejandro Ruiz Garcia, charged with illegally operating a vehicle with foreign placas. Three days ago he’d been arrested in front of the main branch of Banamex Bank. Bailed out by a cousin the next day. Ruiz had been driving a white Suburban owned by Harry and Lois Hudson of Flagstaff, Arizona. The vehicle was now sitting in the impound yard behind the police station. The keys were in Emilia’s shoulder bag.

“Why are you here instead of the Hudsons?” she asked.

“They returned to theUnited States,” Rucker said. “Before they left they asked me to help get the car back.”

“They left Mexico?” Emilia didn’t know why she should be so surprised. What was one car more or less to rich norteamericanos?

“They flew. Said it was a family emergency.”

Emilia closed the file. “Señor, in order for the Hudsons to regain possession of their car they must present proof of ownership.”

“Of course.” Rucker passed a paper across the desk. “Here is their title to the vehicle.”

It was a copy of an official-looking document. Emilia knew enough English to pick out words like name and number and address but it didn’tmatter.The document was meaningless under Mexican law. She handed it back with a sigh. “Señor, they need to provide the history of the vehicle, including all sales transactions and verification of taxes paid every year of the car’s life.”

“What?” His eyes widened in disbelief.

They were the color of the ocean far beyond the cliffs at La Quebrada.

Emilia had never seen eyes like that and it took her a moment to realize he expected an answer and another moment to untangle her tongue. “After six months, if they have not produced the necessary documentation, the vehicle becomes the property of the state.”

The disbelief drained out of Rucker’s face as he realized she wasn’t joking. He exhaled sharply, as if he had the lungs of a swimmer, and his gaze traveled around the squad room, taking in the gray metal desks, ancient filing cabinets, and walls covered in posters, notices, and photographs from ongoing investigations. Most of the detectives were in casual clothes; those who’d been outside much of the day had shirts stained with sweat at the neck and underarms. All of them wore weapons in hip or shoulder holsters. Emilia wondered if he realized that she was the only woman there.

El teniente went into his office and closed the door.

“There’s a complicating factor,” Rucker said to Emilia. “The  Hudsons’ cell phone is out of service. I was hoping that you could give me the contact information for their driver. He might have another number for them.”

“I would have to check with my superior before giving out that sort of information,” Emilia said primly.

“I’d appreciate it if you would and then call me.” Rucker stood and held out his hand. “Thank you very much, Detective Cruz.”

“You’re welcome.” Emilia stood up, too, and shook his hand. His grip was dry and strong.

Rucker smiled at her, a wide smile that lit his face and made the blue-green eyes sparkle. His teeth were perfectly straight and white. He could have been a toothpaste ad, the kind with the government subtitle “Cleanliness is Healthy” written on the bottom for poor people who needed to know why to buy soap and shampoo.

Emilia smiled back, caught, knowing this was the wrong place and the wrong time and the wrong man but unable to stop smiling at this gringo whose world of wealth and leisure was light years away from the barrio she came from. She wished she was wearing something nicer than her work uniform of jeans, tee shirt and the Spanish walking sandals that had cost two months’ salary. Her gun was in a belt holster and her straight black hair was scraped back into its usual ponytail.

“Oye!”

Emilia gave a start and dropped Rucker’s hand. Her partner Rico loomed over her desk.

“You’re done here,” Rico said to Rucker, jerking his chin in Emilia’s direction, his leather jacket falling open to reveal his gun. “She’s got a man.”

Emilia felt her face flush with embarrassment and anger, but before she could say a word, Rucker held out his hand to Rico. “Kurt Rucker. Nice to meet you.”

The bustling squad room was suddenly silent. Lt. Inocente opened the door to his office and stood in the entrance again.

Disconcerted, Rico shook hands. The handshake held for a fraction too long. Emilia watched Rico’s round face tighten. He let go first.

Kurt Rucker nodded at Emilia and walked out of the squad room. The noise level went back to normal.

“Ricardo Portillo, you’re a pendejo,” Emilia hissed at Rico.

“That gringo has a grip like the bite of a horse,” Rico said in surprise, flexing his hand painfully.

“Don’t be lying and saying I’ve got a man unless I ask you to,” Emilia whispered hotly and slammed herself into her chair.

“Stay with your own kind, chica,” Rico warned. There was an edge to his voice.

“You’re not my mother.” Emilia jerked her chair around to face her computer, effectively ending the conversation. Rico made a snorting noise as he went back to his own desk.

Emilia typed in her password and checked her inbox. A review by the Secretariat de Gobernación of drug cartel activities across Mexico. A report of a robbery in Acapulco’s poorest barrio neighborhood that would probably never be investigated. Notice of a reward for a child kidnapped in the nearby town of Ixtapa who was almost certainly dead by now.

Emilia turned away from the computer and scanned the room. Silently she counted the detectives in the room. Counting herself and Rico, eight of Acapulco’s ten detectives were there. Silvio, the most senior detective, was at his desk, as was his partner Fuentes. Gomez and Castro, the two most raucous men, were joking by the coffee maker. Macias was at the murder board wall copying something into a notebook about the latest set of virtually unsolvable cartel killings. Sandor was swearing quietly by the decrepit copier as he fooled with the paper trays. She knew that Loyola and Ibarra were out on a call that had come in after lunch. They were all accounted for.

She took a roll of toilet paper out of her desk drawer and walked out of the squadroom.

Maybe she shouldn’t care and just use the public women’s bathroom behind the holding cells but they weren’t going to scare her out of what she’d earned. As a detective she had the right to use the detectives-only bathroom. It was down the hall from the squadroom, quieter and brighter than any other facility in the building. The stalls had long since lost their doors and there was rarely any toilet paper but it was reserved for the elite of the police force and that included her.

Emilia went in. The space was long and narrow with the three doorless toilet stalls along one wall. On the opposite wall a row of urinals hung below a mirror running the width of the space. A single sink was located between the last urinal and the door. The cement floor was cracked and spotted with yellow stains. This late in the day the place smelled of piss and stale cigarettes but Emilia was alone.

She went into a stall, slid down her jeans, sat down on the cool porcelain and let nature take its course.

The bathroom door opened and Lt. Inocente came in.

As Emilia watched helplessly, he glanced at the mirror above the urinals. El teniente’s face was expressionless as he saw Emilia’s reflection as she sat on the toilet with her jeans around her knees and the toilet paper in her hands. Emilia pulled her gaze down before her eyes could meet his in the mirror.

There was the soft sound of a zipper being pulled and then Emilia heard a stream tinkle into the urinal. She hastily used the toilet paper and fastened her jeans. Lt. Inocente probably watched her every move but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of letting him know she was bothered. Emilia didn’t look at him or say a word as she tucked the toilet paper roll under one arm and washed her hands at the sink. When she left, Lt. Inocente was still standing motionless in front of the urinal with his pants unzipped. The stream had ended.

Emilia walked back to her desk and flipped the roll back into the drawer.

When she’d first started to use the detectives’ bathroom the men often followed her in. They’d do what el teniente had done, but loudly and joking about it, making sure she saw their equipment. Emilia had ignored them, until the day five walked in and stood around the doorless cubicle. As soon as she started to pull up her pants Castro had opened his own pants and announced he was going to give her what she’d been looking for. He’d shoved his hand between her legs, with his own pants around his thighs and Emilia had grabbed his balls and dug in her fingernails and head butted his chest at the same time. Castro had screamed like a stuck pig as Emilia charged hard, driving him backwards through the surprised onlookers until the back of his head connected with the rim of a urinal. The porcelain had cracked as Castro’s eyes rolled back in his head and the episode was over.

Since then, by silent agreement, none of the detectives ever went into the bathroom when they saw Emilia head out of the squadroom with her roll of white toilet paper.

Except for el teniente. It wasn’t frequent, maybe only every few months, and he never said a word but it was still unnerving. Emilia didn’t know if it was an accident–his door was usually closed so he probably didn’t realize she’d walked out with the toilet paper–or deliberate. She didn’t really want to know as long as he didn’t bother her.

Her phone rang. It was the desk sergeant saying that a Señor Rooker wished to see her. Emilia avoided Rico’s eye as she said, yes, the sergeant could let el señor pass into the detectives’ area.

A minute later Rucker was standing by her desk, sweat beaded on his forehead. The starched collar of his shirt was damp.

“There’s a head,” he gulped. “Someone’s head in a bucket on the hood of my car.”

Cliff Diver, Chapter 1

“It’s against Mexican law,” Emilia said.

“Driving a car?” the gringo asked skeptically.

“Just what is your relationship to the owners of this car and their driver?” Emilia asked. The man sitting next to her desk had yellow hair and a starched blue shirt and the impatient confidence all norteamericanos seemed to have.

“The Hudsons come to Acapulco every few months.” He pulled out a business card. “I manage the hotel where they stay.”

Emilia took the card.  Kurt Rucker, General Manager, Palacio Réal Hotel, Punta Diamante, Acapulco. The Palacio Réal was one of the most exclusive and luxurious hotels inAcapulco, an architectural marvel clinging to the cliffs above the Punta Diamante bay on the southeastern edge of the city. Even the card was rich, with embossed printing and the hotel logo in the corner.

“Let me explain,” Emilia said. She carefully laid the card next to the arrest file on her desk and tried to look unimpressed as she settled back in her desk chair. “A Mexican citizen may not drive a vehicle that carries a foreign license plate without the foreign owners of the vehicle being in it.”

“So the problem was that the owners weren’t in the car,” Rucker said.

“Yes,” Emilia said. “Señor Ruiz was alone in the vehicle.”

“The Hudsons drive down to Mexico several times a year.” Rucker leaned toward her and one immaculate sleeve bumped the nameplate reading Detective Emilia Cruz Encinos. There were initials embroidered on his shirt cuff. KHR. Emilia resisted a sudden silly urge to run a finger over the stitching.

“They always hire Ruiz when they come,” he went on. “They travel all over and he does errands alone. There’s never been any trouble before. Monterrey, Mexico City, Guadalajara.”

“Well, señor.” Emilia moved her nameplate. “Here in Acapulco we enforce the law.”

“Of course.” His Spanish was excellent. “I fully understand.  But how do the Hudsons get their car back?”

From across the squad room, Emilia saw Lt. Inocente watching her from the doorway to his office. El teniente nodded curtly at her then started talking to another detective. It was late afternoon and almost all the detectives were there making calls, writing up reports, joking and arguing.

Emilia opened the file and scanned the report of the arrest of Alejandro Ruiz Garcia, charged with illegally operating a vehicle with foreign placas. Three days ago he’d been arrested in front of the main branch of Banamex Bank. Bailed out by a cousin the next day. Ruiz had been driving a white Suburban owned by Harry and Lois Hudson of Flagstaff, Arizona. The vehicle was now sitting in the impound yard behind the police station. The keys were in Emilia’s shoulder bag.

“Why are you here instead of the Hudsons?” she asked.

“They returned to theUnited States,” Rucker said. “Before they left they asked me to help get the car back.”

“They left Mexico?” Emilia didn’t know why she should be so surprised. What was one car more or less to rich norteamericanos?

“They flew. Said it was a family emergency.”

Emilia closed the file. “Señor, in order for the Hudsons to regain possession of their car they must present proof of ownership.”

“Of course.” Rucker passed a paper across the desk. “Here is their title to the vehicle.”

It was a copy of an official-looking document. Emilia knew enough English to pick out words like name and number and address but it didn’tmatter.The document was meaningless under Mexican law. She handed it back with a sigh. “Señor, they need to provide the history of the vehicle, including all sales transactions and verification of taxes paid every year of the car’s life.”

“What?” His eyes widened in disbelief.

They were the color of the ocean far beyond the cliffs at La Quebrada.

Emilia had never seen eyes like that and it took her a moment to realize he expected an answer and another moment to untangle her tongue. “After six months, if they have not produced the necessary documentation, the vehicle becomes the property of the state.”

The disbelief drained out of Rucker’s face as he realized she wasn’t joking. He exhaled sharply, as if he had the lungs of a swimmer, and his gaze traveled around the squad room, taking in the gray metal desks, ancient filing cabinets, and walls covered in posters, notices, and photographs from ongoing investigations. Most of the detectives were in casual clothes; those who’d been outside much of the day had shirts stained with sweat at the neck and underarms. All of them wore weapons in hip or shoulder holsters. Emilia wondered if he realized that she was the only woman there.

El teniente went into his office and closed the door.

“There’s a complicating factor,” Rucker said to Emilia. “The  Hudsons’ cell phone is out of service. I was hoping that you could give me the contact information for their driver. He might have another number for them.”

“I would have to check with my superior before giving out that sort of information,” Emilia said primly.

“I’d appreciate it if you would and then call me.” Rucker stood and held out his hand. “Thank you very much, Detective Cruz.”

“You’re welcome.” Emilia stood up, too, and shook his hand. His grip was dry and strong.

Rucker smiled at her, a wide smile that lit his face and made the blue-green eyes sparkle. His teeth were perfectly straight and white. He could have been a toothpaste ad, the kind with the government subtitle “Cleanliness is Healthy” written on the bottom for poor people who needed to know why to buy soap and shampoo.

Emilia smiled back, caught, knowing this was the wrong place and the wrong time and the wrong man but unable to stop smiling at this gringo whose world of wealth and leisure was light years away from the barrio she came from. She wished she was wearing something nicer than her work uniform of jeans, tee shirt and the Spanish walking sandals that had cost two months’ salary. Her gun was in a belt holster and her straight black hair was scraped back into its usual ponytail.

“Oye!”

Emilia gave a start and dropped Rucker’s hand. Her partner Rico loomed over her desk.

“You’re done here,” Rico said to Rucker, jerking his chin in Emilia’s direction, his leather jacket falling open to reveal his gun. “She’s got a man.”

Emilia felt her face flush with embarrassment and anger, but before she could say a word, Rucker held out his hand to Rico. “Kurt Rucker. Nice to meet you.”

The bustling squad room was suddenly silent. Lt. Inocente opened the door to his office and stood in the entrance again.

Disconcerted, Rico shook hands. The handshake held for a fraction too long. Emilia watched Rico’s round face tighten. He let go first.

Kurt Rucker nodded at Emilia and walked out of the squad room. The noise level went back to normal.

“Ricardo Portillo, you’re a pendejo,” Emilia hissed at Rico.

“That gringo has a grip like the bite of a horse,” Rico said in surprise, flexing his hand painfully.

“Don’t be lying and saying I’ve got a man unless I ask you to,” Emilia whispered hotly and slammed herself into her chair.

“Stay with your own kind, chica,” Rico warned. There was an edge to his voice.

“You’re not my mother.” Emilia jerked her chair around to face her computer, effectively ending the conversation. Rico made a snorting noise as he went back to his own desk.

Emilia typed in her password and checked her inbox. A review by the Secretariat de Gobernación of drug cartel activities across Mexico. A report of a robbery in Acapulco’s poorest barrio neighborhood that would probably never be investigated. Notice of a reward for a child kidnapped in the nearby town of Ixtapa who was almost certainly dead by now.

Emilia turned away from the computer and scanned the room. Silently she counted the detectives in the room. Counting herself and Rico, eight of Acapulco’s ten detectives were there. Silvio, the most senior detective, was at his desk, as was his partner Fuentes. Gomez and Castro, the two most raucous men, were joking by the coffee maker. Macias was at the murder board wall copying something into a notebook about the latest set of virtually unsolvable cartel killings. Sandor was swearing quietly by the decrepit copier as he fooled with the paper trays. She knew that Loyola and Ibarra were out on a call that had come in after lunch. They were all accounted for.

She took a roll of toilet paper out of her desk drawer and walked out of the squadroom.

Maybe she shouldn’t care and just use the public women’s bathroom behind the holding cells but they weren’t going to scare her out of what she’d earned. As a detective she had the right to use the detectives-only bathroom. It was down the hall from the squadroom, quieter and brighter than any other facility in the building. The stalls had long since lost their doors and there was rarely any toilet paper but it was reserved for the elite of the police force and that included her.

Emilia went in. The space was long and narrow with the three doorless toilet stalls along one wall. On the opposite wall a row of urinals hung below a mirror running the width of the space. A single sink was located between the last urinal and the door. The cement floor was cracked and spotted with yellow stains. This late in the day the place smelled of piss and stale cigarettes but Emilia was alone.

She went into a stall, slid down her jeans, sat down on the cool porcelain and let nature take its course.

The bathroom door opened and Lt. Inocente came in.

As Emilia watched helplessly, he glanced at the mirror above the urinals. El teniente’s face was expressionless as he saw Emilia’s reflection as she sat on the toilet with her jeans around her knees and the toilet paper in her hands. Emilia pulled her gaze down before her eyes could meet his in the mirror.

There was the soft sound of a zipper being pulled and then Emilia heard a stream tinkle into the urinal. She hastily used the toilet paper and fastened her jeans. Lt. Inocente probably watched her every move but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of letting him know she was bothered. Emilia didn’t look at him or say a word as she tucked the toilet paper roll under one arm and washed her hands at the sink. When she left, Lt. Inocente was still standing motionless in front of the urinal with his pants unzipped. The stream had ended.

Emilia walked back to her desk and flipped the roll back into the drawer.

When she’d first started to use the detectives’ bathroom the men often followed her in. They’d do what el teniente had done, but loudly and joking about it, making sure she saw their equipment. Emilia had ignored them, until the day five walked in and stood around the doorless cubicle. As soon as she started to pull up her pants Castro had opened his own pants and announced he was going to give her what she’d been looking for. He’d shoved his hand between her legs, with his own pants around his thighs and Emilia had grabbed his balls and dug in her fingernails and head butted his chest at the same time. Castro had screamed like a stuck pig as Emilia charged hard, driving him backwards through the surprised onlookers until the back of his head connected with the rim of a urinal. The porcelain had cracked as Castro’s eyes rolled back in his head and the episode was over.

Since then, by silent agreement, none of the detectives ever went into the bathroom when they saw Emilia head out of the squadroom with her roll of white toilet paper.

Except for el teniente. It wasn’t frequent, maybe only every few months, and he never said a word but it was still unnerving. Emilia didn’t know if it was an accident–his door was usually closed so he probably didn’t realize she’d walked out with the toilet paper–or deliberate. She didn’t really want to know as long as he didn’t bother her.

Her phone rang. It was the desk sergeant saying that a Señor Rooker wished to see her. Emilia avoided Rico’s eye as she said, yes, the sergeant could let el señor pass into the detectives’ area.

A minute later Rucker was standing by her desk, sweat beaded on his forehead. The starched collar of his shirt was damp.

“There’s a head,” he gulped. “Someone’s head in a bucket on the hood of my car.”

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© 2016 Carmen Amato.

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I'm author Carmen Amato. I write romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.  More

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