KING PESO, Chapter 1

Under the midnight sky, the ocean glowed like mercury. Waves charged at the shore, retreated, and surged again. Emilia Cruz Encinos made her way across the balcony to lean over the stone wall and watch the Pacific fight against gravity.

If only all these people would leave. She needed to be alone in this spot high above the rest of Acapulco. Close her eyes and feel her heart beat in rhythm with the ocean. Draw in big breaths of salty darkness. Settle her mind.

Prepare herself for what she had to face tomorrow.

“Day after day I listen to Tony talk about his real estate investment club, eh.” The shrill voice made Emilia wince as she pulled her attention back to the party. Guests were everywhere, mingling between the spacious living room of the penthouse apartment and the balcony, which was nearly as large. The speaker next to Emilia was Jane Wilcox. She and her husband Tony were the Canadian owners of the Santa Rosa hotel.

“His real estate investment club, eh,” Jane repeated in her accented Spanish. The breeze ruffled her short gray hair as she waved a wineglass to punctuate her words, red liquid sloshing up to the rim. “Buildings and occupancy. Rate of return.” She paused to suck down more wine, then fixed Emilia with a glassy stare. “Is Kurt a member?”

Emilia forced a smile. “Kurt and I don’t talk about money.”

Her stolen moment was over. Emilia led Jane back through the sliding glass doors into the living room in hopes of foisting the tipsy Canadian off on someone else. From across the crowded space, as if he’d heard his name, Kurt Rucker turned his head and caught Emilia’s eye. He gave her a discreet wink, his wavy blonde hair haloed by the chandelier. Lean and muscled from his disciplined regime of triathlon training, he wore perfectly pressed khaki pants topped by a white polo shirt with the logo of the Palacio Réal hotel. His usual understated look of wealthy gringo hotel manager.

When Emilia returned his wink, he turned back to the two men with whom he’d been chatting. Both were fellow board members of the Acapulco Hotel Association. Twenty board members and their spouses were in the penthouse apartment Emilia shared with Kurt at the Palacio Réal, invited to watch the Sunday evening Copa America kick-off match between Uruguay and Costa Rica and dine on the buffet supper catered by the hotel’s 5-star restaurant.

But Uruguay had lost the match an hour ago. Dessert and coffee had been served and eaten. Emilia wanted all these strangers to get out so she could get ready for tomorrow. She needed to find Jacques Anatole, the Palacio Réal’s head chef and Kurt’s best friend. If Jacques and the kitchen staff made a production about cleaning up, perhaps the guests would get the point.

She realized Jane Wilcox was looking at her expectantly.

“I’m sorry?” Emilia asked, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice.

“I said, you might be young and in love, eh, but make sure to talk about money.” Jane swayed a little. She had to be on her fifth or sixth glass of wine. “Every girl needs to know where she stands, eh. With your looks, you could catch as much money as you wanted.”

Emilia pretended to laugh and took a sip from her own wineglass to avoid a reply. Maybe it was because she was tired, or worried about tomorrow, but Jane Wilcox’s words had struck a raw nerve. Talking about whether or not she loved Kurt, or if he loved her, wasn’t a place Emilia was willing to go.

Te amo. I love you.

Such small words. Such a big commitment.

What they had right now was enough.

“Emilia, I want to tell you all night what a beautiful outfit you have on.” Magda Porchenko joined them. Like Jane, Magda was in her fifties. She had blonde hair scraped into a tight bun and wore a white caftan that looked casual yet hideously expensive at the same time. The Porchenkos were Russian and owned the Pacific Lotus on the western side of Acapulco bay.

“Thank you,” Emilia said.

She’d borrowed the teal silk pants and halter from her friend Mercedes and paired them with her own chunky turquoise necklace, the one Emilia had bought after making detective. With her straight dark hair out of the way in its usual ponytail, the halter top let Emilia’s abs and biceps demonstrate that she was the most physically fit woman in the room. But for the careful application of makeup, the top would reveal a scar on her upper right arm where Emilia had been shot not so long ago.

“Darling Emilia.” Magda put a tanned claw-like hand on Emilia’s wrist. “You never told us how you and Kurt met.”

“We’re dying to know,” Jane slurred in agreement. She edged closer. “Kurt’s the most eligible man in Acapulco and all the ladies at the tennis club . . .” She stopped to guzzle more wine.

“Are terribly jealous,” Magda finished her friend’s sentence.

All the norteamericano women are terribly jealous that a Mexican woman snagged him instead of one of their own, Emilia thought.

“Here, of course,” she said brightly. “We met here. In Acapulco.”

“But details, darling,” Magda cooed. “We need all the dirty details.”

“We can live vicariously,” Jane giggled. “I’ll bet he’s a powerhouse in bed, eh.”

Emilia half-turned to look at the adjacent dining room, where the buffet table still bore the remains of dessert as well as a silver coffee service with the hotel monogram. “I think this is our last chance for dessert.”

“Don’t change the subject, darling.” Magda tightened her grip on Emilia’s wrist. “Was it a blind date? Or were you out clubbing?”

Magda’s husband Sergei Porchenko was probably Russian mafia. Emilia wasn’t about to admit to his wife that she was a cop or that she and Kurt had met because of a major drug smuggling investigation.

“Well, if you must know–.” She turned back swiftly to Magda, bumping into Jane in the process. The Canadian woman stumbled and the contents of her wineglass rained down on Magda’s bosom.

Magda gave a squeal of dismay as a dark stain bloomed over the sheer white fabric of her caftan.

“Oh, Magda,” Jane exclaimed loudly. “I’m so sorry.”

“My god,” Magda said. “This is ruined.”

Tony Wilcox barreled up. “Christ, Jane,” he barked to his wife in English. “Are you drunk again?”

“Entirely my fault,” Emilia apologized.

“Oh, Magda,” Jane exclaimed again and burst into tears.

“Let me get you a cloth,” Emilia said to Magda.

Two minutes later, Magda was in the guest bathroom with a helper from the kitchen staff, having the stain dabbed with club soda. The Wilcoxes had called for the valet to bring their car around. Kurt gave Emilia a rueful grin as he left to walk them down to the lobby.

To hell with all of this, Emilia thought as the door to the penthouse closed behind Kurt. She left the other guests still talking in the living room, went to the kitchen, and slumped into a chair at the table.

Jacques and two of his helpers were there. The chef glanced at Emilia, poured a glass of water from a fancy bottle and set it in front of her.

Emilia sat without moving as the helpers cleared the buffet, shuttling back and forth with trays between the kitchen and the dining room. Jacques supervised, meticulously packaging up leftovers. She knew he didn’t normally cater events himself, but had done so tonight as a favor to Kurt.

A few months ago, when Kurt had asked her to move into his new penthouse apartment at the Palacio Réal, Emilia had come on weekends. Not only was there the issue of what her family would say about being unmarried and living with a gringo, but there were practical considerations. The Palacio Réal was on the southeastern edge of Acapulco Bay, a long commute across the city to the police station which housed the detectives squadroom. And her mother Sophia, who’d hovered between reality and fantasy for years, still needed Emilia.

But the commute was manageable and when Sophia remarried, Emilia began to stay at the hotel more frequently. Little by little, her things migrated to the penthouse; clothes, mementos from her childhood, awards and certificates from her police career.

But sometimes, like tonight, it was hard to convince herself that she belonged there.

Jacques gave the helpers a platter of food and let them take it into the unused maid’s quarters behind the kitchen. Emilia and the chef were left alone.

“Jacques,” Emilia said, her head propped by a hand. “Do something. Make these people leave.”

The white chef’s jacket and loose checkered pants disguised the man’s slim frame as he leaned against the stainless steel counter and crossed his arms. Like Kurt, Jacques was a competitive runner and swimmer. He had jet-black hair, a large nose, and a sharp, almost pointed chin that gave his face mobility and character.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in the other room playing hostess?” he asked.

“I’m done.” Emilia flapped her free hand at the door to the dining room. “I’m horrible at this sort of social thing.”

Jacques chuckled. “Especially when you hide in the kitchen.”

“Don’t joke,” Emilia reproved him. “This is important to Kurt’s career and I’m a disaster.”

“Let Kurt worry about his career.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Emilia said.

The chef’s face grew serious and his eyebrows went up. “Emilia, it is foolish to worry,” he said. “No matter how difficult things get, you will always be much better for Kurt than Suzanne.”

Emilia blinked. “Suzanne?”

Jacques nodded. “How could you think otherwise?”

Emilia had no idea who or what he was talking about.

The door to the dining room door opened.

“Em.” Kurt appeared in the doorway and held out his hand to her. “Come and say good night. People are leaving.”

An hour later, wearing an old cotton nightshirt, Emilia propped her elbows on top of the waist-high wall edging the balcony. The tile floor was cool under her bare feet as she stared down at the moonlit ocean, letting the rhythm of the waves soothe her. The outside lights were off and the darkness was peaceful.

The balcony was one of her favorite things about living in the penthouse at the Palacio Réal hotel. It wrapped around two sides of the apartment and was accessed by sliding glass doors from every room. Teak chaise lounges, a dining table that could seat 12, cobalt cushions, and glazed pots full of geraniums and trailing greenery all helped make it the perfect escape.

The doors leading to the master bedroom were open. Thanks to the hotel’s professional decorators, that room was straight out of a magazine, with tasteful touches of blue warming the otherwise all-white color scheme. The rest of the apartment was just as streamlined and elegant. Kurt kept telling Emilia that they could redo the penthouse any way she wanted, but it was already nicer than any home she’d ever seen, let alone lived in.

This side of the balcony overlooked the marina, private beach, and part of the famous two-level Pasodoble Bar that formed the heart of the hotel. A dozen ceramic lanterns, each as big as a barrel, created a dramatic barrier of flames and color between the water and the edge of the Pasodoble’s lower terrace. Pinpoints of lights bobbed in the inky sky beyond the shore. Emilia knew they were reflectors on the floating dock anchored in the middle of Puerto Marques, the bay-within-a-bay that was part of the secluded charm of the Palacio Réal. The hotel was an architectural marvel; seven stories of luxurious hospitality clinging to the cliffs along Acapulco’s southeastern edge. Diplomats, rock stars, and global business tycoons stayed at the Palacio Réal for the world’s finest in food, accommodations, and relaxation.

The Pasodoble was open to the ocean on two sides and bounded by the hotel’s immense lobby on the others. The ocean’s rhythm, along with guitar music and gentle laughter, floated up to Emilia. Even at this late hour people drank and danced, unaware of the woman looking down upon them.

“Just how drunk was Jane Wilcox?” Kurt asked.

Emilia turned around as Kurt stepped onto the balcony. He wore a tee shirt and cotton boxers, and was barefoot. The bedtime attire did nothing to lessen the combination of natural confidence and personal power that he wore like a second skin. Maybe it came with his job as manager of Acapulco’s most exclusive hotel or was forged during his years as a Marine in his country’s military. Either way, his confidence had been a magnet for her since the day they met. That was the first time she saw a man with eyes the color of the water beyond the cliffs at La Quebrada or felt a handshake she didn’t want to release.

He knew. Emilia felt her face get hot; she could never keep anything from him. “I just bumped her a little,” she confessed. “Are you mad?”

“No,” Kurt said. “I was ready to punch Tony in the mouth, so your timing was impeccable.”

Emilia accepted one of the two small glasses he carried. Brandy. She was learning about the finer things in life from him. “Punch him? Why?”

Kurt touched his glass to hers. “Let’s just say that Tony found you very attractive and wasn’t shy about letting me know how lucky I am. As if I needed that oaf to tell me.”

He leaned in and gave Emilia a kiss that nearly made her knees buckle. When they came up for air Kurt put his arm around her and they watched the ocean’s relentless chase.

“Is that why you’ve been out here?” Kurt asked. “You thought I was mad?”

“A little,” Emilia admitted. “I’m thinking about tomorrow, too.”

Kurt played with the ends of Emilia’s hair as the breeze lifted it away from her shoulder. “What’s going on tomorrow?”

Emilia leaned against him as she sipped some brandy. “I’ve been ordered to attend a meeting tomorrow morning at the mayor’s office.”

“Monday morning with Carlota,” Kurt said with sympathy. “What’s on the agenda?”

Emilia had dealt before with Acapulco’s charismatic mayor, Carlota Montoya Perez. Every interaction had left Emilia both awed by the woman’s commanding presence and repulsed by her political machinations.

“I’m not sure,” Emilia said. “Chief Salazar’s office called me with a royal summons on Friday afternoon. Everyone in the squadroom thinks it’s a task force to look into the El Trio murders.”

“An El Trio task force?” Kurt’s arm tightened. “What’s Carlota got to do with that?”

“Maybe she’ll give us a pep talk.” Emilia heard the false humor in her voice.

In the last few months the Acapulco police department had been thrown into disarray, and Emilia knew she was partly to blame. She’d been the one to unknowingly take on the powerful head of Internal Affairs, who together with a lieutenant from Organized Crime and a vigilante group from a small town outside Acapulco, was shipping drugs to El Norte aboard a cruise ship. By a wholly unforeseen set of circumstances, Emilia had broken the ring and both of the dirty cops were killed, but not before one of them shot her.

Maybe it was just coincidence, but since then violent crime in Acapulco had spiraled while arrest rates declined. The murders of three law enforcement officers in as many weeks had thrown the situation into sharp relief. Dubbed the El Trio murders by the press, the fatal shootings had become a rallying cry for improved security. Tensions were high in the police department as every cop wondered if they were next. Emilia was no exception, but she had a better reason than most.

“The El Trio victims were all senior, weren’t they?” Kurt asked.

“Well, you know about Captain Espinosa,” Emilia said. “Killed last week. He was the federale in charge of the investigation into the killing field at Gallo Pinto.”

Kurt nodded.

“Captain Vega was the second,” Emilia went on. “He was on Chief Salazar’s executive staff. He took over that big arson case a couple of months ago.”

Kurt finished his brandy and set the glass on the smooth stone topping the wall. “And the first?”

“Javier Salinas Arroliza was my contact at the state attorney general’s office on the El Pharaoh casino money laundering mess.” Emilia thought back to that case, which had been tossed out when key evidence mysteriously went missing. But Salinas had helped salvage something from the wreckage before the casino reopened and jailed a minor player. “He was one of the good guys. So was Espinosa.”

The Copa America party had kept her busy all weekend; now the fears she’d tamped down since the phone call from Chief of Police Salazar’s office came surging forward.

“There’s one more thing I need to tell you,” she said slowly. She set her empty glass on the wall next to his.

Kurt tipped her chin up to see her eyes. “You sound serious.”

“I think I’m on the task force,” Emilia said. “Because I worked with all three victims.”

She’d worked with all of them, although not closely. She hadn’t even met Salinas, just talked to him a couple of times on the phone, each time imagining him as overweight, balding, and coping with a nervous tic. But he’d been honest with her and done what he said he would do. A rare and rapidly disappearing commodity these days.

“Who else worked with all of them?” Kurt asked. “Silvio? What does he think?”

“Franco worked with Vega on the arson case, too.” Franco Silvio was Acapulco’s senior police detective and Emilia’s perpetually surly partner. “But he never met Salinas or Espinosa. He wasn’t invited to the meeting, either. None of the other detectives were.”

“Even Loyola?” Kurt asked.

Emilia shook her head again. Loyola, who was junior to Silvio, had been made acting lieutenant of detectives several months ago. He now rarely worked cases. “Not invited. He only knew Vega from the arson case.”

“What are you telling me, Em?” Kurt paused. “That you’re a target, too?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” Emilia stared off at the lights twinkling in the dark ocean as the unseen swimming dock bobbed. “The El Trio killer could be another cop. Someone on the inside who is being specific about their victims.”

“I can’t believe you waited to tell me, Em,” Kurt said, exasperation and sudden anger in his voice. “You live here. If you’re in danger, that means everybody in this hotel is in danger. I have to know things like this.”

Emilia bristled. “I’m telling you now, aren’t I?”

Kurt turned to look at the ocean again, elbows propped on top of the wall. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish you were invested enough in us . . . in this relationship . . . to tell me things when they happen. Not a week later. Because you’re thinking how things impact us. Not just you.”

Emilia concentrated on the pinpoints of light out in the bay. Why did they keep having the same conversation and why was it always so hard?

Kurt raised his eyebrows at her, clearly waiting for a response.

“I just . . . I don’t know,” Emilia floundered. “You’re talking about . . . commitment. But I’m in one world and you’re in another.”

“That’s not true, Em.”

Emilia shook her head. “Take the people who were here tonight. They’re your colleagues. But we can’t even tell them I’m a cop or how we met because we don’t know who they’d tell.”

“Right now, I’m talking about you and me,” Kurt said. “Forget those other people.”

“They ask questions I can’t answer,” Emilia said.

“So we’ll figure it out,” Kurt said.

“Okay,” Emilia said. She didn’t have the energy to fight tonight. “I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Kurt echoed, his anger spent.

He put his arms around her and Emilia pressed her cheek against his shoulder. “I won’t live scared,” she whispered.

“I won’t let you,” Kurt said into her hair.

They stayed quiet for a long moment on the darkened balcony, as the distant sounds of surf and strings sighed through the night breeze. Her strength came from being with him, in this oasis that he’d created. Some days it felt as if Acapulco was crumbling under the assault of the cartel and gang violence that saw multiple murders on the city’s streets every day. The tourist zone around the lip of the bay was so far immune to the chaos, but in Acapulco’s hilly inland neighborhoods, life was cheap and lost value every day. But up here, in his arms, it still mattered.

“Jacques said a funny thing tonight,” Emilia said.

“What was that?” Kurt asked. He drew back to look at her, but didn’t release Emilia from the circle of his embrace.

“That I was better for you than Suzanne.”

“Suzanne Kellogg?” Kurt blinked. “Jacques said that?”

“Yes.” Emilia gave a tiny smile. “Who’s Suzanne?”

Kurt’s face was unreadable. “An old girlfriend,” he said. “From before I moved to Mexico.”

“Was she special?” Emilia felt suddenly awkward asking the question. They’d skimmed over each other’s past relationships; the past wasn’t important amid the urgency of life in Acapulco.

Kurt kissed Emilia’s forehead. “For awhile.”

Emilia waited for more.

Kurt stepped away from her and picked up the empty brandy glasses they’d left on top of the wall. “Come on, Em. Let’s go to bed.”

Emilia woke abruptly, seized with an unfamiliar feeling of dread. The bedroom was bathed in moonlight. She squinted to see the display on her cell phone, plugged into its charger and glowing faintly on the bedside table. It was 2:15 am.

Kurt’s side of the bed was empty. Emilia touched his pillow; it was no longer warm. The bedroom door was open.

A light clicked on in the hall. Emilia heard a muffled grind as the sliding door to the hall closet was pulled aside, followed by the scrape of hangers along the metal rod. Rattling noises ensued. Emilia pictured what was in the closet; two surfboards, tennis racquets, scuba and snorkeling gear, his bike helmets, boxes of winter clothes Kurt never wore.

After a few minutes, the closet door slid closed and the hall light went out.

Kurt came into the dark bedroom. He stopped at the end of the bed and looked around the room, as if it was unfamiliar. Emilia was on the verge of sitting up and saying something when he went to his dresser, a tall piece of furniture full of clothing folded to his precise specifications by the hotel laundry. A moment later he turned on the lamp and methodically combed through the top drawer where Emilia knew he kept odds and ends; cufflinks, a box of loose change, several different watches, the letters and photos his parents and siblings in the El Norte state of New York occasionally sent.

“Damn,” she heard him mutter. Kurt closed the drawer, switched off the lamp, and left the room.

Emilia got out of bed and found the old flannel shirt of his that she used for a robe. Getting it on over her tee shirt and soft cotton shorts took concentration. Despite weeks of physical therapy her right arm was still stiff from the gunshot wound.

She went down the hall. The living room, furnished with leather sofas and scrubbed pine occasional tables, looked even larger now that the guests had gone. Pale stucco walls were illuminated by the night sky shining through the glass doors and framed by open white draperies.

Kurt was slumped on one of the sofas, elbows on knees, head in his hands.

Emilia snapped on a table lamp, suddenly afraid.

Kurt’s head popped up. There was an expression of desolation on his face Emilia had never seen before.

“Are you okay?” Emilia asked.

He ran a hand through his hair and that indefinable confidence came rushing back, reanimating his handsome features like water filling a glass. “Did I wake you up?” he asked.

Emilia sat next to him on the sofa, unsure of what she’d just seen. “Trouble sleeping?”

“Thought I’d get a snack,” Kurt said, with the feigned artlessness that Emilia had seen too many times across an interrogation table. “I didn’t eat much with all those people here.”

Emilia hesitated. If you’re hungry, why were you sitting here in the dark?

A phone shrilled from the bedroom.

“Yours or mine?” Kurt frowned.

Emilia stood up. “Mine.”

She walked to the bedroom, skirted the bed, and reached for the phone. It stopped ringing. Emilia checked the call log.


Best partner and worst enemy.

“Problem?” Kurt appeared in the open doorway.

“Silvio.” Emilia gave a grimace as she held up the phone. “No doubt he’s drunk and wants to gloat, the pendejo.”

“Tell me you bet with him,” Kurt said.

“He was offering really great odds.” Emilia hadn’t planned on telling Kurt about her little flutter on the Copa America match. “I put down 200 pesos. It was the smallest bet he would take.”

Before Emilia had made it into the detectives squadroom, Silvio and then-partner Manuel Garcia Diaz had been involved in a shootout during a drug bust. Garcia was killed. Initially accused of setting up his partner, Silvio was suspended without pay during the investigation. To make ends meet, he became a bookie, running bets on boxing and fútbol, and kept the sideline going even when reinstated.

“Your partner is an illegal bookie,” Kurt said. “And you are aiding and abetting.”

“The entire police department is aiding and abetting,” Emilia said dryly. Everybody bet with Silvio. She tossed the phone back on the bedside table. “Do you still want that snack?”


“You said you were hungry.”

“Right. Sure.” Kurt smiled a little too widely. “I’ll make us something.” He disappeared down the hall.

Emilia went into the bathroom. Her stomach knotted as she washed her face. Kurt had always been the one whose life was an open book, the one who shared from the heart and pushed for commitment. She’d been the one who kept secrets and stalled when things got too serious.

But now, seemed as if that dependable dynamic was gone. Something was wrong and Emilia didn’t know what it was or why this was happening.

She only knew that Kurt had lied to her for the first time.

Not sure why she was doing it, Emilia turned on all the lights as she returned to the living room. The dining room chandelier came to life and illuminated the doorway to the kitchen. The lights were already on in there, bouncing off the stainless steel appliances and glossy Italian cabinetry.

Two glasses of wine stood on the table. Kurt was busy topping chupata rolls with thin slices of jamón Serrano, tomato, and avocado. “One sandwich or two?” he asked as Emilia sat down.

“Just one.”

Kurt put the sandwiches on a talavera pottery platter and slid one of the glasses next to her hand. “Here you go.”

Emilia took a sandwich despite the tension in her stomach. “Second party of the day.”

“Just the kind of people we are.” Kurt touched his glass to hers.

They ate their sandwiches in silence in the sterile and shiny kitchen.

“Is everything okay?” Emilia finally asked.

“As long as you’re okay, I’m okay.” Kurt poured them both more wine.

“I just ―.” She was cut off by the distant ring of her phone.

“Yours again, Em.”

Emilia stood up. “If this is Silvio drunk and butt dialing me, I’m going to slay him.”

She stalked down the hall to the bedroom, torn between fury at Silvio and fear that her relationship with Kurt was washing away like sand in a storm. The phone’s ring was insistent. As Emilia hit the button to talk she saw that the caller wasn’t Silvio, but the central police dispatch desk.

“This is Detective Cruz,” Emilia answered.

“This is the desk sergeant from Dispatch reporting a home invasion.” The male voice on the other end of the line sounded tired.

“Why call me?” Emilia said, not bothering to mask her annoyance. “Get it out to the night duty unit for that neighborhood.”

“The caller asked specifically for you. Detective Emilia Cruz.”

Emilia slowly sat down on the edge of the bed. The knot in her stomach tightened into a fist. “Okay,” she said. “Give me everything you’ve got.”

“Male caller. Couple minutes ago. Reported a home invasion. One victim. Female, 42 years old. Multiple gunshots to the upper chest. Claims she’s been dead less than four hours.”

“How would he know?”

“Didn’t say.”

And you didn’t ask. This sounded like the shooter calling it in to taunt the police. And he’d named her. Emilia felt sweat bead up on her forehead. “Location?”

The sergeant named a neighborhood known for poverty and violence. It was a combat zone full of street kids where gangs ruled at night and only one cop dared to walk.

She’d been there once or twice.

Emilia found herself nearly doubled over, the phone still pressed to her ear. “Did the caller identify himself?”

“No. Just kept repeating a number. Said it was a badge.” The sergeant on the other end was getting testy with all her questions. “Said to call you and have you come. That neighborhood, we figured it was some sort of a hoax. The captain here thought you should be aware. You got any enemies in that area?”

“Did you run the badge number?” Emilia demanded.

“No,” the sergeant said sulkily. “We can get somebody to do it in the morning, if you think it’s important.”

“Run it,” Emilia nearly shouted. “I’ll hold.”

She forced herself upright and held her breath as the clack of computer keys traveled through the line. Blood pounded in her ears and every nerve was stretched to the breaking point.

Less than a minute later, the sergeant cleared his throat.

“We got a hit,” he said. “The badge belongs to Detective Franco Silvio.”


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