Cliff Diver (Detective Emilia Cruz Book 1)

There is
no choosing between two things of no value.








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

“Driving a car?”
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
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
in Acapulco, 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,

“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
squadroom, 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
. 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
the United 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

“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’t matter. 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

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
squadroom, 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
complication,” 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

“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 shine. His
teeth were perfectly straight and white.

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
whose world of wealth and
leisure was light years away from the
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
shoulder holster and her straight black hair was scraped into its usual long


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 a holstered gun and 20 pounds of extra padding
around his middle. “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. “Kurt Rucker. Nice to meet you.”

The bustling
squadroom 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 squadroom. The noise level went back to normal.

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

has a grip like the bite of a horse,” Rico said in surprise, flexing his hand

“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,
,” Rico warned. Seldom serious and happily
twice-divorced, he rarely had this kind of 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 pulled off his jacket
and sat at his own desk. His chair groaned its usual protest.

Emilia typed in her
password and checked her inbox. A review by the national Secretariat de
Gobernación of drug cartel activities across Mexico. A report of a robbery in
Acapulco’s poorest
that would probably never be investigated.
Notice of a reward for a child kidnapped in the nearby Pacific resort 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;
eight of Acapulco’s ten detectives including herself and Rico 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 wall they used as a murder board, copying something into a
notebook about the latest set of virtually unsolvable cartel killings. Sandor
was swearing quietly by the decrepit copier as he fought with the paper trays.
She knew that Loyola and Ibarra had been handed an assignment from the dispatch
log after lunch and were still out. 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 to
her desk and flipped the roll back into the drawer.

When she’d first
started to use the detectives’ bathroom the men had 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 ignored them, until the day five
had walked in and stood around the doorless cubicle. As soon as she started to
pull up her pants Castro had unzipped his fly and announced he was going to give
her what she’d been looking for. He’d shoved his hand between her legs and
Emilia had grabbed his balls, dug in her fingernails and head butted his chest
at the same time. Castro screamed like a stuck pig as Emilia charged hard,
driving him through the surprised onlookers until the back of his head
connected with the rim of the center 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
. 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. It was better not 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 said breathlessly. “Someone’s head in a bucket on the hood of my car.”

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