Inspector Hector Espinal hung up the phone and let out a slow breath. Americans, he thought. Always they were coming to his city, and always they were finding trouble. Usually it came to nothing, but something about this American’s voice told him that the man was truly shaken by what he had seen. Or what he thought he had seen. He hoped it wasn’t another case of misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
Protocol is protocol, he reminded himself, and began logging in the report. He opened a drawer in his desk and eyed the bottle of amontillado hidden under the forms he retrieved to file the alleged murder, almost tasting the sherry with his eyes alone. His fingers itched to take up the bottle and pour the amber liquid down his throat. He lay the flat of his palm on his forehead and rubbed upward toward his receding hairline slowly, and the craving diminished. He needed a clear head, just in case this murder tip fleshed out.
He filed the official initial report and went in search of his Sergeant. He found the younger man flirting with one of the support staff, the lovely young woman looking every bit as impressed with Jordi as he was with himself. “Jordi,” Espinal called out, ruining his Sergeant’s seductive air.
The young man’s flirtatious smile withered on his pouty lips and his dark eyes turned coldly toward his superior. Espinal beckoned him over like a dog and suppressed a smile at the sympathetic look the young lady gave the poor, mistreated officer. “”I had her eating out of the palm of my hand,”” Jordi said when he got close to the Inspector. “”What are you trying to do? Ruin my love life?”” Jordi straightened up as tall as his shorter frame allowed in an effort to tower over Espinal, something the young man did any time he was upset with his superior officer. Which was more often than not.
“”Apologies, Jordi,”” Espinal said in mock cordiality, “”but I’m afraid a small matter of murder might take precedent over your personal life, or lack thereof, friend.””
Jordi’s eyes lit up. “”Murder?””
“”Yes,”” Espinal said gravely. “T”wo men were reported hiding a body in the trunk of their car south of Atocha. An American witnessed it.””
Jordi’s nose wrinkled. “”An American,”” he said with distaste. “”But still, a murder investigation always makes us look very impressive, eh?”” he added, playfully swatting Espinal’s paunch with the back of his hand.
“”Yes, Jordi,”” he sighed. “”Very impressive. Now, go get some officers and let’s go catch some bad guys.””
Espinal pulled up to the building the American had described several minutes later. He recognized the place immediately as a youth center where the young boys and girls of the community learned team sports in an effort to keep them on the straight and narrow. The building was closed now, it was going on eight pm, and the darkened area seemed serenely quiet.
There was no sign of the silver car the American had so vaguely described. There was no sign of anything near the youth center or the few buildings nearby. Espinal signaled to a few of the officers to fan out and have a look around, then headed toward the large windows flanking the building’s main entrance. His flashlight illuminated a clean but shabby little lobby and a set of wide, low steps leading to double doors separating the lobby from the training areas and classrooms beyond.
Behind the reception desk was a short hallway housing a men’s room to the right and the ladies’ room to the left. He knew this more from memory from the few times he had been here before than from what the weak beam showed him. To the right of the reception desk was another double door leading to the main gymnasium. One side of this doorway was propped open, revealing only a yawning darkness beyond.
“”I thought you said there was a body,”” Jordi said, suddenly behind him.
Espinal growled low in his throat, and threw his junior officer a dirty look. “”I said the body was in the trunk of a car. Do you really think the killers would leave that car here for us to find?””
“”Maybe if we asked nicely enough, eh?”” Jordi favored him with what he apparently thought was his most charming smile.
“”Ha-ha,”” Espinal replied. He dug around in his suit jacket pocket for his mobile phone and dialed the phone number painted on the youth center window under the business hours. Faintly, he heard the phone inside the building ringing.
“”What are you doing?””
He held up a finger to silence Jordi and waited through five rings. Then, as expected, he heard the answering service pick up, rattling off the hours of operations and prompts to leave a message for various departments. Then, he heard the prompt he had been waiting for: “”for urgent after hours issues, please press 6 now.””
Espinal pressed 6 and heard the line ringing once more. A surprised male voice answered. “”Mister Reina, this is Inspector Espinal. We’ve had a report of suspicious activity at the youth center. We’ll need you to come down and let us inside, please.””
Señor Reina hastily agreed and promised to be there in no time at all, which turned out to be roughly ten minutes. The owner of the youth center was a former University athlete with a troubled past, all of which showed on his aging, thin frame and rough, wrinkled skin.
To his credit, Señor Reina didn’t ask many questions as he unlocked the doors and let Espinal and Jordi inside. He remained in the parking lot, looking the part of a lost puppy in the glow of the security light.
Espinal headed directly for the open gymnasium door, directing Jordi toward the other hallway. At first he relied solely on his flashlight, but when there didn’t seem to be any signs to indicate this was a crime scene, he flipped on the main light switch and flooded the gym with bright, fluorescent light.
Other than the underfunded center’s need for new paint, the light revealed nothing inside the gymnasium. To be sure, however, he took the time to look over the entire room.
Twenty minutes later, Jordi strolled into the gym, and flapped his arms once loudly against his light overcoat. “”What are we doing here, Hector?””
“”Our jobs, Jordi,”” Espinal replied, circling around to peer behind the last section of bleachers.
Jordi stretched out his arms and gestured to take in the whole of the gymnasium. “”There is nothing here! That American was just having a laugh.””
“”No, you didn’t hear him. He was terrified.””
“”Spooked by his own shadow, no doubt.”” Jordi laughed, then gave his superior officer a pitying look. “”He is making a fool of you.””
Espinal sighed. “”Better a fool for doing my job than a fool for letting someone get away with murder,”” he shrugged. “”But, eh, perhaps you are right. Let’s go.””
Jordi nodded and turned on his heels, exiting the gym. Espinal watched him go, still seeing the smug, condescending pity on the young man’s face. He suddenly wished the American were here so he could look him in the eye before he punched him.