Narco Noir: Detective Emilia Cruz Book 8

Acapulco’s first female police detective drives into a Hollywood film starring lies and murder when she goes undercover to catch a killer.

A bitter past, maddening clues, and her deepest fears all collide in Detective Emilia Cruz’s toughest case yet. As the camera rolls, she’ll make the ultimate decision.

Chapter 1

Emilia Cruz Encinos leaned forward in her seat, mesmerized by the climax unfolding on the big screen.

Glamorous jewel thief Laura stood on a rocky beach, facing handsome Clive and his gun. The sky behind her was streaked with angry indigo storm clouds. Jet black hair fluttered in the wind, contrasting with the white silk scarf at her throat. A jagged bolt of lightning momentarily sharpened her famous features.

“Don’t do this, Clive,” Laura said, her accented English husky with emotion. The camera zoomed in. A tiny tear glistened in the corner of her eye. Her trademark pout trembled with emotion. “I love you.”

Te amo. Spanish subtitles ran across the bottom of the screen but Emilia didn’t need them.

“Hand me the diamonds,” ordered Clive. He’d been in Laura’s bed 15 minutes ago in a scene that made Emilia’s cheeks grow warm, but now he was all business as he motioned to his lover with the black handgun.

Laura’s hands went to the leather crossbody bag that contained a treasure in diamonds. She lifted the strap over her head and held out the bag to Clive.

Still keeping the gun trained on Laura, Clive used his free hand to fling the bag into the seat of a sleek red convertible parked just beyond the rocks. He produced a pair of handcuffs. “Turn around,” he ordered.

“Don’t humiliate me,” Laura said. “If you ever loved me, Clive, you’ll do it in front, not in back.” She held out her hands, wrists together.

Clive hesitated.

“Please,” Laura begged. “I love you, Clive. I know you love me.”

Bolts of lightning whipped the screen while thunder roiled through the theater. The tempest was upon them all.

“I do,” Clive vowed as rain pelted them. “I swear I love you. But I love diamonds more.”

He shoved the gun in his belt, grabbed her wrist, and snapped on one of the steel bracelets.

Before he could fasten the other, Laura slammed her head into his chin. Clive stumbled backwards, arms windmilling for balance. Hair and scarf flying behind her like a matador’s cape, Laura whirled into a slow motion roundhouse kick. Clive took it on the jaw and fell to the ground, unconscious.

Next to Emilia, Kurt Rucker gave a snort of derision. Emilia dug her elbow into his side.

“I knew who you were all along,” Laura declared to the prone figure. “But as God as my witness, I still love you.”

She scooped up the gun, handcuffed Clive, jumped into the red convertible, and sped off. A helicopter view tracked the car as it zoomed through hairpin turns above a surging ocean. Laura’s white scarf unraveled as she drove and billowed into the storm.

Back at the beach, Clive massaged his jaw, his shirt rendered transparent by the downpour. Borne by the wind, the white scarf settled onto the rocks next to him. Clive reached for it.

Laura had cuffed his hands in front.

“This isn’t over,” he said and pressed the scarf to his lips.

Laura appeared on the screen again, handling the convertible like a Formula One racer. She yanked the wheel and the car skidded sideways through the gates of a small airport. Carrying the leather crossbody bag and surprisingly dry, Laura ran to a waiting helicopter.

Music swelled over the thwap-thwap-thwap of the churning rotors. Laura’s voice crooned Adios, mi amor, adios as the helicopter rose, tilted, and turned to reveal a large logo painted on the side. A globe surrounded by a laurel wreath was sandwiched between a sword hilt and the scales of justice. INTERPOL, the acronym for the International Criminal Police Organization, flashed across the screen in stark white letters.

Adios, mi amor, adios, adios.

The credits for Diamond Run starring Alejandra Messi as Laura and Ben Barrett as Clive began to roll as the helicopter got smaller and smaller and finally disappeared.

The lights in the cinema came up. Emilia slumped in her seat, as breathless as if she’d raced through half of Europe with the two superstars, not to mention getting blindsided by the plot twist at the end.

“What did you think?” Kurt asked. His ocean-colored eyes danced with fun.

“Did you know Alejandra Messi was the Interpol agent from the beginning?” Emilia asked.

Kurt stood and offered Emilia his hand. “I suspected. Did you?”

“No, and it’s my job to know stuff like that.” Emilia let him pull her upright.

“You’re only a detective in real life, Em,” Kurt said. “Not at the movies.”

They walked out of the Cinépolis to find that the sun had set while they watched the Hollywood blockbuster, although Acapulco’s swankiest commercial district was never dark. The city’s best stores, restaurants, nightclubs, and hotels fanned out from the intersection of Avenida Farallón del Obispo and Costera Miguel Alemán where the famous monument to Diana the Huntress presided over a perpetually chaotic traffic circle. Beyond the circle, Acapulco’s beaches kept up the pretense that the deadliest city in Mexico was still a glamorous tourist attraction.

Emilia tucked her hand into the crook of Kurt’s elbow as they jostled with the crowds along Avenida Farallón del Obispo. Under a hazy indigo sky studded with stars, Saturday night felt like a carnival. Palm trees edged the sidewalk, trunks outlined with fairy lights. Restaurants offered open air seating and the inviting sounds of music, laughter, and the click of flatware against china. A strolling guitarist moved from table to table, strumming romantic tunes, and collecting pesos. A woman with a basket over her arm sold roses in his wake. Business was good.

“I really thought Laura and Clive were going to end up together,” Emilia said.

“Jewel thief and Interpol agent.” Kurt grinned as they skirted a gaggle of pre-teens heading into the multiplex. “Doomed, if you ask me.”

Emilia thought of the love scene. “But they had chemistry.”

“True. I’d see a sequel.”

“For Alejandra Messi,” Emilia teased.

Undisputed superstar Alejandra Messi was originally from Mexico City but had conquered Hollywood with her famous pout and charming accent. She sang two of the songs on the movie soundtrack, including Adios, mi amor, which was on every radio station in Mexico both day and night, helping to make Diamond Run a worldwide phenomenon.

“Only because she reminds me of you,” Kurt said and pulled Emilia closer. “Same hair, eyes. Of course you’re hotter. And smarter.”

Emilia rolled her eyes. “Flattery, Sen͂or Rucker.”

“Have I ever lied to you?”

“Let me think.”

Kurt laughed. She was the one with the loose concept of honesty and they both knew it.

On the opposite side of Avenida Farallón del Obispo, families enjoyed the offerings of Parque Bellavista. It wasn’t a proper park, like the enormous Parque Papagayo to the west, but a skinny triangle of green shoehorned into the urban landscaped. A playground with a carousel anchored the space, which often hosted family entertainment like musical groups or puppet shows. Toy and balloon vendors were always there, along with food stands and old men hawking ice cream from wheeled carts.

Through the trees, Emilia could see kids bopping helium-filled balloons and running around pulling toys with sparkly streamers. It had been a long time since she took in the city like this, rather than rushing by on her way to another homicide.

“We’ve got a couple of minutes before our reservation,” Kurt said. “I want to show you something across the street.”

“In the park?”

“Next to it.”

The blocky Santander Bank presided over the 3-way intersection where Avenida Bellavista emptied into Avenida Farallón del Obispo. Café Coco, the new French restaurant Kurt wanted to try, stood on the opposite corner. Paris had come to Acapulco with flamboyant iron filigree and a striped awning over an entrance that faced Avenida Farallón del Obispo. Emilia figured the restaurant had opened near a bank because most patrons would have to take out a loan to pay the dinner bill.

As they walked, Emilia savored the sensation of Kurt’s lean body against hers. He was in much better shape than the actor who played Clive. Of course, whatsisname was also a gringo from El Norte, but he probably didn’t have Kurt’s military background or addiction to endurance sports.

The traffic light turned red. Cars stopped on Avenida Farallón del Obispo. Kurt tugged her hand and they ran across the broad avenue before the traffic from Avenida Bellavista streamed into the intersection. Emilia’s new wedge espadrilles and the shoulder holster under her black moto jacket made her feel slow and flatfooted but she kept up with Kurt’s athletic strides.

He guided Emilia to a cluster of upscale stores on Universidad hugging the southern tip of Parque Bellavista and stopped in front of a shop with tall windows. Curving gold lettering proclaimed Joyas Alameda. Rolex. Cartier. Philippe Patek.

“See anything you like?” Kurt asked.

“Who wouldn’t.” Emilia gave a laugh and bumped her head against Kurt’s shoulder. Thick bulletproof glass distorted displays of Swiss watches and glittering jewelry. “This is probably the most expensive store in Acapulco.”

Tourists who floated to Acapulco aboard private yachts shopped in stores like Joyas Alameda, not chica police detectives whose entire annual salary wouldn’t cover the cost of walking in. Kurt on the other hand, had money to spare. He was the general manager of the Palacio Réal on the edge of Puerto Marques on the east side of the bay, inarguably Acapulco’s most luxurious hotel, but never seemed to notice the huge financial and social gap between them. Emilia noticed, however, and at times like this it pricked her pride.

Kurt tapped the center window. “I saw this the other day,” he said. “Made me think of us.”

Three white boxes, mounted on folds of turquoise satin, held rings created from twists of gold and silver. Each box held two braided bands, one a little larger than the other. The braided patterns varied, making each set of rings unique. A spotlight created a prism effect, casting soft color on the white boxes, as if the two metals vibrated at different frequencies.

More turquoise satin looped around the base of an easel which held a placard. A sepia photo of a jeweler sitting at a workbench with a loupe in his eye accompanied the tagline.

Mexican silver and American gold. Bound together in timeless love.

Emilia caught her breath.

“I asked you once before,” Kurt said. He touched her cheek. “You said you weren’t ready. But a lot has changed since then and I’m hoping your feelings have, too.”

Emilia stopped breathing. “Are you–.”

The screech of car tires engulfed her words. Both turned from the window toward the intersection in time to see a minivan hurtled across the lanes of traffic, totally out of control as it headed for the park. Kurt threw his arm across Emilia’s shoulders, plastering their bodies to the jewelry store. The minivan whipped by them, close enough for Emilia to feel the heat of the exhaust, before smashing headlong into a palm tree rising from the sidewalk just a few yards away.

Kurt’s arm released her. Noise erupted all along the street. Secondary crashes as cars collided. Horns. Shouting. The incongruous calliope music from the carousel.

The front end of the minivan was a crumpled mess but Kurt managed to lever open the driver’s door. A deflated airbag draped over the steering wheel. The driver, an older man, was badly shaken.

“An encapuchado,” he said hoarsely as Kurt settled him on the ground. “He had a gun. Ran out in front of me. With a gun.”

“Where?” Emilia bent to hear him better. The term encapuchado, meaning a person whose face was hidden by a hood, never had a good connotation. “Where was he?”

The driver raised a trembling hand and pointed to the intersection. “By the taxis.”

“Call it in,” Emilia said to Kurt. “Officer in pursuit.”

She didn’t wait for his answer but ran toward the intersection with Avenida Bellavista, where they’d passed a line of taxis waiting for fares. The clump of her wedge heels against the cement was drowned out by frustrated shouts and a continuous blast of car horns. Engines rumbled as people tried to drive past the pileup across from the park.

A woman screamed like a siren, the note high and piecing. Emilia instinctively dropped into a squat, sheltered by the shadow of some rosebushes, heart hammering and eyes swiveling to find the source but all she saw was a scrum of people rushing away from Café Coco.

On the other side of Avenida Bellavista, next to the Santander Bank, a line of white taxis was hemmed in by the mess in the intersection. A slight figure in jeans and a hoodie leaned against the driver’s door of the first taxi, his back to the chaos.

From the width of the shoulders and the cut of the jeans, Emilia knew it was a man. Before she could register more than that, the figure took a step back, revealing a large handgun. He fired point blank into the taxi through the open window.



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