Friday Sampler: Made in Acapulco by Carmen Amato

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In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Made in Acapulco, a short story collection from Carmen Amato. One woman battles violence and corruption on the seamy side of Mexico.

As one reviewer said: As the first woman on the detective squad, Emilia Cruz faces daunting challenges from her coworkers, including sexism and corruption, while she wages impossible battles against drug cartel violence, investigating cases of missing persons, kidnapping, and murder with imagination and daring. Amato is a talented storyteller who renders unimaginable situations believable and unforgettable.

 The Story

MADE IN ACAPULCO is a collection of short stories featuring Emilia Cruz, the first and only female detective on the Acapulco police force. The Emilia Cruz mystery series has taken the international mystery genre by storm, going inside Mexico’s drug war with a fearless style and a woman who will be hard to forget.

MADE IN ACAPULCO contains five stories:

The Beast captures Emilia’s struggle to become the first female police detective in Acapulco. It previously appeared in The Huffington Post’s Huff/Post 50 Featured Fiction showcase.

The Disappeared sees Emilia search for a friend who goes missing. Those who have gone missing amid Mexico’s drug war violence is a continuing theme throughout the mystery series.

The Artist was inspired by Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s efforts to bring awareness to the plight of families impacted by the drug war violence and references photos of some of the rallies held in Mexico in recent years.

The Date explores the downside of a job that pits Emilia against Mexico’s enduring culture of machismo, while also drawing on real events that occurred in a nightclub in Mexico in 2006.

The Cliff is the original Emilia Cruz story. Written for a literary critique group, the story was initially entitled So Far From God and introduces hotel manager Kurt Rucker. The story became the basis for CLIFF DIVER, the first Emilia Cruz novel.

The stories in MADE IN ACAPULCO take place before the action in the full-length Emilia Cruz mystery novels, including CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE. They have the same fast and dangerous vibe that caused Kirkus Reviews to say this about CLIFF DIVER: “Consistently exciting . . . A clever Mexican detective tale that will leave readers eager for the series’ next installment.”

The Sampler

From The Artist

Carmen Amato
Carmen Amato

The message was delivered in the form of a narcomanta banner printed in black and red block letters and hung on the school’s heavy iron gates. All teachers were to “donate” half of each month’s salary. A teacher would be killed each week until the money was paid. But how or when the payment was to be made wasn’t specified.

The banner was signed with the elaborate sword and gun shield of Los Esgrimidores. It wasn’t the first time Detective Emilia Cruz Encinos had seen the logo and she was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Los Esgrimidores―the Fencers―were an up-and-coming street gang in Acapulco, fighting it out in the rougher barrios with the long-established El Machete gang.

“We should close the school,” Vice Principal José Medina Rivas said.

“There has to be something we can do.” Maria Ileana Toledo Garza was the principal of the Lomas Hermosas elementary school. She was a comfortably stout woman in her early fifties with hair tucked into a tidy bun and a face made older by stress. She wore a dark pantsuit, reading glasses on a string around her neck, and brown leather pumps that badly needed polishing.

Emilia tried to keep her expression professional and calm as she sat on a bench in the small teachers’ lounge. The air smelled faintly of coffee from the machine in the corner. Her partner, Rico Portillo, shifted restlessly next to her. The bench was too narrow for his heavy build, although someone had tried to make it more comfortable with floral cushions.

The room was small, with blue cinderblock walls, worn linoleum floors, and a bulletin board with notices of books to trade and teacher training sessions. The windows were covered with warped wooden blinds. Through the slats Emilia saw boys in navy shorts and white shirts playing kickball on the school parking lot.

Across from the detectives, the two administrators were obviously in conflict, at a time when Emilia would have preferred to see solidarity. Medina, a bony man whose cotton collared shirt hung loose around his neck, was clearly terrified, while Señora Toledo wore an expression of grim determination.

The narcomanta was spread across a low table and the ends puddled on the floor. The banner wasn’t some hand-painted message on a bed sheet, as so many were. This one was a professional print job on waterproofed fabric. The artistic logo looked like an elaborate Spanish family crest instead of a death threat from a gang using terror tactics to gain control of yet another Acapulco neighborhood.

Vice Principal Medina had been the one to find the banner at 6:30 a.m. that morning. Six hours later, Emilia was still surprised that the school had actually called the police and that the dispatch desk had actually slotted the assignment to the right unit. Lt. Inocente, Acapulco’s chief of detectives, had assigned the case to Rico and Emilia with an offhand comment about not wasting too much time on it. She knew the thinking behind his words. Although teachers were some of the best paid public servants, thanks to an enormously powerful national union, strong enmity between that union and the more fragmented police union made kickbacks to the police unlikely. And Lt. Inocente didn’t like cases from freeloaders.

“In the short term, we can get patrol cars in this neighborhood to come by a few more times a day,” Rico said to Señora Toledo. “We’ll ask around, see if anyone saw who put up the banner. Interview your teachers, make sure this isn’t an inside job. Longer term, we’ll work with the Organized Crime unit to try and break the Los Esgrimidores gang. But we can’t post guards and we can’t shadow all of your teachers. The school needs to get some security for the gates.”

“There’s no money for a security guard,” Señora Toledo said. “We’ve asked and asked the state school superintendent, but they always say there’s no money.”

Medina shook his head, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed nervously. “We should close the school,” he said again. “First they target us. Next it will be the children.”

“These children have nothing else,” Señora Toledo said sharply. “If we close the school they’ll be on the streets, ripe for gang recruitment. They’ll become halcones, lookouts for the very thugs who are threatening them. No, I refuse to let these people deny them an education.”

Emilia couldn’t help but admire Señora Toledo. The woman reminded her of several teachers who had pushed Emilia to excel in school when there was no money for uniforms and books, and Emilia was tempted by the opportunities for pretty girls that were always available in a tourist city like Acapulco. Without those teachers, Emilia knew she never would have graduated from high school, gone to a security academy, become a cop, or made detective before she was 30.

“Maria Ileana,” Medina said in a low, urgent voice. “There isn’t anything the police can do. If we keep the school open we’re putting all of our lives in danger.”

“What if we could stay?” Emilia heard herself say before Señora Toledo could answer the younger man’s plea. “As surveillance. And . . . deterrence.”

Señora Toledo tried not to look hopeful but the fatigue fell away from her face and she was suddenly a younger woman. “What did you have in mind?”

“Yeah,” Rico said. “What did you have in mind?”

Emilia swallowed hard, trying not to think of what Lt. Inocente would say to this idea. She gestured at the narcomanta. “How many teachers have seen this and won’t be back?” she asked the school administrators. “Maybe Detective Portillo and I can fill in for a few days, see who is watching the school, stay in touch with the patrol cars. If anything happens we’ll be here.”

“Undercover as teachers?” Rico asked, his voice thick with skepticism.

“It would let us stay around the school without calling attention to our presence,” Emilia said.

“You don’t have the proper qualifications,” Medina protested. “We can hardly have her teaching science or math, can we? What would the union say?”

“Could you teach an art class?” Señora Toledo asked Emilia.

“Maria Ileana!” Medina exclaimed.

“José, this is more important,”  Señora Toledo admonished him. She turned to Emilia with an expectant look. “I’m not asking you to paint the Mona Lisa. Just supervise the children’s projects.”

Emilia nodded. “I could do that.”

They talked a bit more about how the two detectives could integrate into the school routine, and then Emilia and Rico talked to the teachers. Most were around Emilia’s age and all seemed as frightened as Medina. Rico asked some clever questions but none gave any indication of being involved.

“I think we just scared everyone even worse,” Emilia said as the two detectives went back to their car. It was parked inside the school property which was surrounded by a tall wall topped with razor wire. The big iron gates were the only way in or out. “Teachers threatening to kill teachers? How likely is that, anyway?”

“Always gotta ask,” Rico said. “Not just once, either.”

 

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