Acapulco Black Book is an unpublished Detective Emilia Cruz short story.
Frowning with curiosity, Emilia followed the coroner to the stitched-up body on the table. There was nothing remarkable about the dead man. His waxy face was composed, his eyes closed. He wasn’t tall or well-built or
good looking. An ordinary fisherman, student, taxi driver.
Or cartel killer.
“How old was he?” Emilia asked. For a moment she wondered if anyone missed him, was worried that he hadn’t come home.
“According to his previous arrest record, he was 26 years old,” Prade said briskly. The coroner turned both of the dead man’s hands to show the palms and spread the fingers apart. “Nine fingers identify him as the late
Julio Lira Valdez, reportedly dead in a car fire two months ago.”
“Nine fingers?” Emilia repeated. She could plainly see ten.
Prade reached up and adjusted the light fixture above the table, concentrating the gleam on the man’s right hand. “The print from his right index finger belongs to a man named Tito Sandino Hernandez. There's no record
of his death anywhere.”
Emilia didn’t need further prompting to see what Prade meant. Tidy stitches ringed the pad of the right index fingertip.
“Someone else’s print was sewn onto his finger,” she said. “Madre de Dios.”
“Whoever sewed it on was a gifted surgeon,” Prade said. “No infection and minimal scarring.”
“When was this done?”
“Perhaps six or seven weeks ago. From the healing, I'd estimate no more than that.”
“Madre de Dios,” Emilia swore again. "Around the same time as the car fire?"
"What do you think?" It was a rhetorical question.
Prade didn't answer.
The body on the table, wearing someone else’s fingertip, supposedly died in a car fire two months ago. Presumably with all of his original body parts.
If the grafted fingertip had lifted and beckoned, Emilia would not have been surprised. A secret was hidden behind that carefully attached piece of skin. But as the concrete block walls of the sterile examination room
closed in and her lungs screamed for fresh air, she didn't care.
Emilia hated the morgue, but never so much as today.
“Quite a surprise, I tell you.” Prade gently set the dead man’s hand back on the table.
“You’re sure about the fingertip belonging to Tito Sandino Hernandez?” Emilia asked.
Prade came to the worktable and found a clipboard. “That’s what the database told us.”
Emilia pulled off mask and gloves made some notes, thanked Prade, and reeled out of the building. Leaning against the side of the Suburban, she called the hospital. The patient Tito Sandino Hernandez was still in
critical condition. Yes, he had all ten fingertips. None were scarred or surgically altered.
Emilia cut the connection, her thoughts whirling. The man in the hospital had been identified as Tito Sandino Hernandez from the contents of his wallet. Identity card. Store credit card. The vehicle registration
documents found in the truck.
But who was he?
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