Inspector Espinal was still thinking about his conversation with the American. Something about Mister Martin’s behavior toward him indicated that he might know more than he had told him, which was a bit perplexing. He had begged the Inspector to investigate a murder only he witnessed, but when asked for more information with which to do just that, he had suddenly gotten a little cagey and evasive.
And that comment about choosing to trust him with his contact infomation…he shook his head and turned his attention back to the dish, homemade arroz con pollo, before him and the report he was supposed to be finishing.
Only moments later, however, his concentration was interrupted by the arrival of his sergeant.
Jordi looked devastated. He shuffled into Espinal’s office and slumped into the chair in front of his desk. “”What is wrong with you? Did that girl from the support staff break your heart?”” Espinal half-teased.
“”Haven’t you heard the news?””
“”No,”” Espinal admitted. He usually liked to check the news a couple of times a day, but he had been too preoccupied today.
Jordi threw his hands up and let them fall back into his lap dramatically. “”It’s only the worst day of my life, Hector. Milian is dead!””
Espinal frowned. Milian…the name was familiar, but he didn’t know why he should know it. “”Who?””
“”Are you mad? Nico Milian! The prodigy striker for Club Madrilenos, the rising star and one of the youngest footballers to play for the Spanish National team? You know nothing about him?””
“”Ah, yes,”” Espinal said. He took another bite of arroz con pollo. “”What happened?””
“”Car crash. Burned to death,”” Jordi added with a deeply sad sigh. “”It happened last night, but they were just now able to make a positive identification.””
“”Last night? Where was this?””
“”I don’t know exactly, a few miles outside the city. They say he must have fallen asleep at the wheel. It was a bad crash up.”” He shook his head. “”Totaled his beautiful silver Porsche Panamera, too. Such a shame.””
“”He had a silver Panamera?”” Espinal leaned forward, ignoring his food.
Jordi looked at him as if he had just crawled out from under a rock. “”Everyone knew that car; everyone who saw it knew it was him coming back into the old neighborhood… The poor boy who made it to the top of the game. Everyone liked that he drove something expensive but not too flashy, you know? He enjoyed his wealth but didn’t rub our noses in it.”” Jordi’s gaze drifted wistfully. “”He was supposed to play in the next World Cup. I was going to make a lot of money off of him.””
Espinal pursed his lips in mock sympathy. “”I’m sorry for your loss, Jordi.””
Jordi nodded silently, then quickly shifted his eyes to peer at him. “”You mock my pain, Hector, but that boy gave us poor cats hope. If a guy like him, with no money and a nobody family could become that filthy rich, maybe the rest of us could, too. He was a symbol!””
“”Okay, Jordi, I’m truly sorry. I had no idea you felt so strongly.”” Or that you could play futbol.
“”Ah, forget it,”” he said, suddenly dismissive. “”It’s all over with now.”” He leaned forward and grabbing a hunk of bread, scooped up a handful of arroz con pollo from Espinal’s plate, shoveling it into his mouth. “”If you don’t need me for anything, I’m going to go drown my sorrows with Esmeralda,”” he said, wiping his hands and mouth with an extra napkin. “”I think I may just get over my pain with her help, yeah?”” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Espinal scoffed. “”Esmeralda, huh? That’s the support staff girl?””
Jordi put his hands behind his head and stretched out languidly in the chair. “”Esmeralda,”” he sighed. “”Jewel of my heart.””
“”This week,”” Espinal muttered. Jordi pretended like he didn’t hear him, but it was obvious from his stiff expression that he had. Espinal waved his hand dismissively. “”Who am I to stand in the way of young love? Go, get out of here and treat your young lady to a nice evening.””
“”Ah, thank you, Hector,”” Jordi said, rising eagerly to his feet.
“”Oh, Jordi?”” Espinal stopped the younger man before he got to the door. “”Just be sure you don’t stick your grubby paws into her food, too, you mooching dog.””
Jordi laughed, but his expression faltered when Espinal didn’t join in. The young sergeant blushed a bit and dipped his head by way of taking his leave. After he was gone, Espinal regarded Jordi’s finger tracks through what was left of his bread and decided he had lost his appetite.
How had Mister Martin described the victim? Young, good-looking and athletic….The car he had seen the body being hidden in had been silver, just like the one this Nico Milian had been found burned in… Making sure the body burned would delay identification, as it had, but would also hide a number of other causes of death…
It could all be a coincidence, he told himself. All the same, he picked up his phone, threw away the rest of his dinner and made a few phone calls.
After about an hour of the usual run-around, Espinal was finally put in touch with the officer who was investigating Nicodemo Milian’s death, a man named Molina. The press was all over it, going so far as to declare it a “sad day for Madrid and all of Spain,” and the officer was feeling the pressure of having the public eye trained squarely upon him. So Espinal wasn’t too surprised that the man was less than eager to speak with him, or that he was a little less than civil.
“”Listen, Espinal,”” Molina said just two minutes into their conversation, “”I really have enough going that I don’t need you calling up to question my investigation.””
“”I realize that. I can also appreciate the kind of pressure you must be under to get to the bottom of this thing and put it to rest. But all I’m asking is if it remotely possible that something beyond what it looks like on the surface might be at play in this kid’s death.””
Molina heaved a great sigh. “”Who would want to kill him, huh? This guy was the golden child, he was supposed to be a sure bet for getting Spain into the finals for the next World Cup, maybe even for the win.””
“”Oh, I could think of any number of people who would want to make sure that didn’t happen,”” Espinal said. “”Madrid isn’t only full of Spaniards, after all.””
“”Look, Espinal, I promise to keep an eye open for anything suspicious. If I see it, I’ll let you know, but I don’t want you looking over my shoulder on this. And I think it best that you keep a lid on your suspicions until there’s some kind of proof, hear me? Don’t add fuel to the media firestorm.””
“”That isn’t what I’m -” Espinal stopped speaking. There was only dead air on the other end; Molina had hung up on him.
He hung up the phone and turned to his computer instead, looking up everything he could find about Nico Milian. The majority of what he found seemed to be focused on his meteoric rise to fame and his love life.
Not interested in all the celebrity fluff, he narrowed his focus to biographical articles. Ten minutes of sifting through articles all regurgitating the same basic information, he finally found what he was looking for.
It was a piece from about a year prior, a one-on-one interview with Nico by a local magazine reporter.
Apparently, the two had attended the same school growing up and had a passing acquaintance with one another, which is why the usually somewhat press-shy footballer had agreed to the in-depth interview. What caught Espinal’s eye, however, was the mention of a planned series of special visits Nico would be making over the course of the next few years to the youth center where he had first learned to love sports to help train other kids just like him.
It was the very same youth center where Zeb Martin had witnessed a body being stuffed into the trunk of a silver sports car.
That was one coincidence too many, in Espinal’s estimation.