Authors: Robert W. Walker
|Robert W. Walker|
When murder meets Cuba’s first female Lieutenant Detective, Qui Aguilera, she is faced with a triple homicide. Three dead medical personnel—two Americans and a Canadian female are fished from the Cuba Blue waters surrounding this tropical paradise. Who killed the visiting doctors and why has her captain, who wishes her to fail miserably, so anxious to turn this case over to Qui--if not to see her fail.
When the bodies are stolen from under the nose of Cuba’s most famous medical examiner, Arturo Benilo—the only man she trusts—all instinct tells the tenacious Cuban detective that there are far more rats lurking in the deep shadows of Old Havana than she imagined.
While working the case with her hands tied at every turn under regime rule, Qui learns that everyone in ‘Timewarp Town’—even those she loves—plead that she drop the case. Her stubborn nature only latches on tight. No matter where this twisting octopus of a case leads, no matter who it touches, nor who she loses in the bargain, Qui ‘Cuba Blue’ Aguilera will win or die trying.
About the Author
Robert W. Walker is the author of more than forty thriller and horror novels, including 11 books in the acclaimed INSTINCT series featuring FBI medical examiner Jessica Coran.
Praise for Robert W. Walker
"Masterful." -- Clive Cussler
"Ingenious." -- San Francisco Examiner
"Gruesome." -- The Sunday Oklahoman
"Frightening." -- Midwest Book Review."
"Bone-chilling." -- Publisher's Weekly
"Perfect for Patricia Cornwell fans." -- Mystery Scene
"Walker is a master at the top of his game." -- Jack Kilborn
ROBERT W. WALKER & LYN POLKABLA
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Robert W. Walker.
Friday, late afternoon aboard the Sanabela II
Flowing across the sea-green coastal waters of Canal del Entrada, the mechanical cry of screeching gears aboard the shrimper, Sanabela II, trawling a few miles north of Havana, formed an oddly musical counterpoint to the shrieks of hungry seagulls hunting food along the shore. When the ship’s gears shuddered to a sudden standstill, the absence of that sound shocked the gulls into momentary stillness. Aboard the shrimper, all activity stopped. The men froze in place, afraid to breathe, afraid to hope. They stared first at the choked-off wench and then at one another. Fishing had been wretchedly poor all season; not once had the nets filled with so heavy a prize as the one promised by the old equipment groaning as the ship rocked in the waves. In the pilothouse, bearded and white-haired Captain Luis Estrada gasped. As another enormous groan choked from the wooden moorings and metal hoist, he rushed down to the main deck.
Everyone aboard knew what the subsequent silence meant.
Still, Estrada, like his crew, feared giving a moment’s vent to any jubilation. Not until a man stood knee-deep in the catch did he dare celebrate—an unwritten rule that all seamen knew only too well.
Pearls of small Christmas lights, strung from the tops of masts and the crow’s nest, created a colorful necklace for the busted-up old tub, Estrada’ cheap, efficient answer to the lighting problem whenever they worked into the night, or like today, under a dark sky threatening rain. The crew joked mercilessly about Estrada’s low-tech solutions.
The captain watched the net being slowly pulled up. Too slowly for his or anyone’s liking. He exploded, ordering, “Crank it up!”
The pulley operator shouted back, “She’s at full-throttle now!”
“It’s a full net!” shouted Adondo, his young eyes expectant.
Big Giraldo added, “Net’s heavier than my wife’s ass!”
“That’s damn heavy!” replied Adondo, laughing and adding, “but such a sweet one, that Miranda. You don’t deserve her, Giraldo!”
The jest made them all laugh, touching off their pent-up jubilation. Shouting, dancing, and singing erupted, with Adondo happily beating on oil drums with a knife in one hand and a huge tenterhook in the other.
With a burst of black oily smoke belching from the old machinery, the net lurched upward. Inside the rough-hewn many times mended net, hung a tangled web of bodies. Bloated skin mottled with dark bruises stretched over a grotesque catalogue of swollen body parts: eyes, ears, noses, limbs, torsos pressed tightly against the net, as if searching escape. The appalling package wore a ribbon of heavy chains with decorations of sea life.
The noisy celebration instantly turned into stunned silence.
Estrada exclaimed, “Madre de Dios!” Shaking his head, he muttered, “God just doesn’t like me, does he?”
Police Headquarters, Old Havana
“There is no cause for angry words, Mr. Zayas! After all, we’re a small police department.”
“I understand that but—”
“We’re doing everything in our power as quickly as we can.”
Lieutenant Detective Quiana Magdalena Aguilera looked up from a file she’d been poring over, both curious and annoyed at the sound of raised voices here in the Old Capitol Police Force building. Detective Jorge Peña was escorting a tall dark-haired man out of Colonel Gutierrez’s office. “These things take time.”
As the two men passed her desk, the stranger glanced her way, seeing a slim, dark eyed, black haired woman beneath the poor lighting of the old stationhouse. Her café au lait skin had the sheen of faint perspiration, ever present in this tropical climate. She noticed his blue-green eyes widen at her as if in greeting, and she smiled in reply.
The rest of the man’s conversation with Peña trailed off, lost in the sound of office noise and humming fans.
Anything to break up the tedium of her latest and most boring assignment—preparing monthly reports. Sighing, she turned her attention back to the papers on her desk.
Damn, lost my place again. They do this sort of thing on computers in other countries, why not here? Castro’s celebrated full employment—that’s why a lieutenant detective is saddled with such chores
. The oft repeated thought provided a backdrop to the irritating squeaking of old worn-out chairs and tired fans that did little more than move hot air from one place to another. She promised herself that this weekend, she’d go diving off the coast of Miramar. Glancing up, the clock said she could shortly escape the drab office, but knowing the Colonel, not before she finished this report. To this end, Qui—as her friends called her—took up her pencil once again and vowed to ignore any further distractions.
But a few moments later, her attention was again diverted, when Peña, returning to his desk, complained about the officious security guard from the American Interest Section poking his nose into Peña’s missing persons case.
“Peña, wanna trade? I’m sure with your experience, you’d be better suited to analyzing last month’s figures,” she called out, knowing he hated preparing reports.
Peña caustically replied, “Not done with your paperwork yet, Aguilera? With your skills, it shoulda been done hours ago! You’ve got nothing else to do.”
The insult, regardless of how true, rankled and Quiana wanted to be anywhere but here. Those still left in the squad room listened with relish, hoping for a replay of last month’s noisy confrontation.
“At least I’m making progress, Peña! How long’s it been since you’ve cleared a case?”
Peña’s face visibly darkened. “Just remember, you gotta finish the Colonel’s report before you can go home to Papa. Speaking of which, what’s for dinner tonight?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she taunted.
“Let me guess: grilled filet mignon with hollandaise sauce, roasted yam wedges seasoned with cumin and freshly ground pepper and sea salt, fresh tomatoes sprinkled with goat cheese served with a vinaigrette delicately flavored with cilantro and lemon zest, a light red wine with hints of raisins and pear, and—”
“Stop it!” shouted another detective. “You’re making my mouth water!”
“—and for dessert, flaming crepes suzette and coffee served in those cute little demitasse cups.”
His mimicking of fancy menu descriptions made the squad room erupt in laughter. No one in Cuba ate well except tourists and the elite.
“Aguilera! Come here. Now!” demanded the Colonel, shouting above the laughter.
“From bad to worse,” Quiana muttered under her breath while grabbing her notebook and pen. She walked to the Colonel’s office, a sense of dread replacing the sting of ongoing chuckles and the smug look on Peña’s face. The dislike between the two detectives paled in comparison to the aversion she felt for her boss. Beyond his dislike of women in general, his inexplicable animosity toward her made Qui regret being under the Colonel’s command.
“We have a problem.” Her superior, Colonel Alfonso Gutierrez, spoke in his familiarly irritating deadpan. “And you, Aguilera, have been requested to investigate.”
Surprised Qui asked, “Requested?”
“By the captain of a shrimp boat.”
“A shrimp boat, sir?”
“Yes, they radioed a problem.”
“So, where is this boat? Which marina?”
“No marina! It’s out on the water, a few miles off the bay. The Sanabela II, a Captain Luis Estrada…says he knows you. Says you are,
, related. Are you?”
Estrada called himself uncle to her, but he meant it in the loosest way. She knew that in some distant past they might well be related somehow, but no one knew precisely how; he called himself
to anyone he had an acquaintance with who happened to be younger than himself. Such an attitude toward the entire community, well that was Old Cuba. Qui thought of people as either Old Cuba or New Cuba, defined more by attitude than age, though she must admit most men tended to act Old Cuba around women.
“No, sirs, we’re not related, Colonel. He just calls himself ‘Uncle’ to almost everyone.”
“How nice for you…well then, take a police boat out. You can get a boat, can’t you?” Gutierrez needled more than asked.
“I’ll find transport.”
“Yes, I am sure you will.”
No love lost here
, she thought, seeing Gutierrez’s sour expression. It’d never set well with the older man to have a woman—ranking as a detective-placed under his authority.
“Do your best,” he finished, his words daring her to take offense. “Some sort of death aboard; can’t say for sure exactly what. The man sounded hysterical.”
“A death aboard a shrimp trawler?”
“More than one—if this ‘uncle of yours’ hasn’t exaggerated.”