Read Hungry Ghosts Online

Authors: Peggy Blair

Hungry Ghosts (23 page)

BOOK: Hungry Ghosts
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Ramirez was pulling up in front
of his apartment building when his cell phone rang. It was Natasha Delgado. She sounded excited.

“Inspector, I got a call from the manager of the mine where Juan Otero used to work. Señor Otero was fired because he assaulted another employee. Apparently, he has a very bad temper. There were rumours he beat his girlfriends. And Fernando just spoke to the bartender at El Bosquecito. He says LaNeva Otero never worked there. He's never heard of her. Fernando says he believes him.”

“So Otero lied to us.” Ramirez turned the small car around in a U-turn, ignoring the blasts of angry horns. “Get Patrol to pick him up at Pedro Perez. If he's not there, tell them to keep the building under surveillance until he returns. I'm heading back to headquarters now. When they bring him in, put him in the interview room. Tell him I have a few follow-up questions for him about his wife. Don't let him know he's a suspect. Meanwhile, check with Holguín
Province to see if there have been any reports of murdered women with nylons tied around their necks.”

“I've already called them. They're going through their records.”

“Good. See if you can get hold of Dr. Flores to join us to observe the interrogation. At the moment, Señor Otero is our best suspect.”

And our only suspect, thought Ramirez. He put his foot firmly down on the gas pedal.

Inspector Ramirez stood in the anteroom, watching Juan Otero through the mirrored glass, assessing him, trying to decide how best to proceed. The suspect sat behind the Formica table on a red plastic chair, fiddling with a small gold cross around his neck. The fluorescent light flickered against the cracked grey walls.

“He didn't give Patrol any trouble,” Detective Espinoza said to Ramirez.

Natasha Delgado nodded. “He thinks he's here because of the investigation into his wife's murder.”

“He's right about that,” said Ramirez.

Manuel Flores knocked on the metal door to the anteroom before he entered. Ramirez thought he looked even more tired than before.

“Thank you for joining us on such short notice, Dr. Flores,” Ramirez said. “I'd like you to watch while I question the suspect. I'd appreciate your input as to whether he fits the profile. Let's run a tape recorder on this side, Natasha. If I take one in with me, he'll be suspicious.”

Delgado nodded. “I'm sure it's him, Inspector. Good luck.”

“Señor Otero, I appreciate you coming here today. I'd like to ask you a few more questions,” said Ramirez as he entered the interview room. He closed the metal door behind him. He sat beside Otero,
pulling his chair close to the suspect's. It was one of Ramirez's favourite tactics: letting him think they were about to engage in joint problem-solving, catching him off-guard. “I hope you don't mind that I sent a patrol car to pick you up. I doubted you had transportation.”

“Have you found out something about my wife's death?”

, Ramirez noted. Not
. But Flores had said that the killer might not want to admit what he'd done, not even to himself.

“Not yet. That's why I wanted to talk to you, to get a better sense of what LaNeva was like, and what she was doing in the hours before her death. I'm sorry; I know this is difficult. I also wanted to personally thank you for coming in last night to identify your wife's body. Believe me, I know how hard that is.”

Otero's eyes welled up.

Death was something most people denied, pushed aside, pretended happened only to other people. But there was nothing like a decomposing corpse to change all of that, thought Ramirez. Even someone who killed another person often didn't fully imagine what happened to the body until confronted with it.

“I won't keep you long,” Ramirez lied.

He would keep the suspect for days if he had to, but he always thought it best to let a suspect think otherwise. Later, as the suspect tired, Ramirez could imply that he might never leave police custody. That usually wore them down. Interrogation, he'd learned over the years, was a delicate balance between hope and despair.

“I forgot to ask you when we met, Señor—how long have you been in Havana?”

“I moved here last summer.”

“The date?” Ramirez opened his notebook and reached for a pen in his pocket.

“Early June. I don't remember the exact day.”

“Did you come to Havana with your wife?”

“No. We weren't married then.” Otero paused, and Ramirez
picked up the hesitation. “I couldn't stay in Holguín with my family any longer. They couldn't afford it.”

No mention of being fired, thought Ramirez. Juan Otero had a selective memory. “You said you came here to find work. Had you been working before then?”

“Yes. In a mine. But it was shut down.”

“That must have been very hard for you,” Ramirez said, ignoring for the moment that he was lying. As a matter of pride, many men would lie about being fired. “The same thing happened to me before I joined the police force. I had a job in a factory that closed. I was in my twenties. My wife was pregnant with our first child. I had no idea how we could survive without any income.” He leaned closer to Otero. “I had to pretend to be strong.
No es fácil
.” The common refrain among Cubans: It isn't easy.

“Completely untrue,” Flores whispered to Espinoza. “Ramirez's first job was with the police. He's never worked in a factory. This is good. He's empathizing with the suspect, trying to find common ground.”

Otero swallowed. “I thought I'd be able to get work quickly and send money home. I didn't know all the rules about housing. We don't hear much about that in the country.”

“Our bureaucracy.” Ramirez shook his head slowly. “It's incredible how badly they treat our own citizens. How did you get here from Holguín? Did you hitchhike?”

“I drove with a friend,” said Otero. “In his car.”

“What's your friend's name?” Ramirez asked casually.

“Rider Aguilera.”

Ramirez nodded slowly. He made a mental note but didn't write down the name. It was time to change the subject before Otero wondered why Ramirez was asking questions unrelated to his wife's death.

“Now, tell me about LaNeva. Was she from Holguín too? Is that where you met?”

“No, she's from Santiago. We met in Havana, actually. Not long after I arrived. I went out with her sister first.” Otero smiled slightly. “But I knew right away that LaNeva was the one for me. She was easy to get along with.”

“And the sister wasn't?”

The man shrugged.

Time to tighten the screws, thought Ramirez. “But not
s so easy, correct, Señor?” He pulled a report from his jacket pocket and put it firmly down on the table. “We have a citizen's complaint, reported by the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution. People heard loud arguments in the building on Pedro Perez, the sounds of things breaking. You're the only people living there. What did you fight about?”

“What's he doing?” said Espinoza. “There are no CDR reports.”

“The only reports I found were from Cayo Hueso,” said Delgado. “Do you think he's confused?”

“That's one of Ramirez's tactics,” Flores smiled. “There are no reports. Note that he hasn't mentioned a date. He's guessing. He likes to let the suspects think he has evidence when he doesn't. That piece of paper could be anything. I've seen him use office supply forms.”

“The usual things. Nothing serious,” said Otero.

Ramirez let this second lie pass without comment. It was another tactic, letting the suspect back himself into a corner before Ramirez pounced. “What did you argue about the night she disappeared?”

“What makes you think we argued?”

Ramirez shook his head. “I saw the broken mirror in your apartment, Señor. Your wedding photograph was on the floor, the glass smashed. Someone threw it down in the heat of an argument, I'm guessing. Was it you or was it her?”

Otero sat silently, jiggling his foot.

“If my wife broke something that important,” said Ramirez, “she would pick it up later, however angry she was. She would never leave
it lying on the floor in pieces. That makes me think that LaNeva ran out of the apartment and didn't come back.”

“I saw those things too,” said Espinoza. “But I didn't connect them. He's good, isn't he?”

Flores grinned. “He's one of the best interrogators I've ever known. Watch closely and learn.”

Juan Otero got up. He pushed the chair out of the way and paced around the room, running both hands through his short wiry hair. “All right, I admit, we argued the day before she disappeared. It was Lovers' Day. I wanted her to stay home with me. She said she had to go to work. She said that it was one of the best nights of the year to make money.”

She was right, thought Ramirez. Lovers' Day was a national holiday, a major celebration not just for spouses and intimates, but for friends and family. He suddenly remembered Mama Loa's comment about her goddaughter and the strong young man she'd married on Lovers' Day.

“And you knew what she meant, didn't you?” he said. “You knew she wasn't talking about earning tips at the bar.”

Ramirez waited. Silence made most suspects uncomfortable. They often volunteered information to fill the vacuum.

“No,” Otero finally said. “I didn't know what she was doing. Not at first. Maybe I didn't want to know.”

“And when you
find out, it made you angry?”

Otero rearranged the chain around his neck, saying nothing.

“It's nothing to be ashamed of. I can understand your feelings,” said Ramirez. “Knowing your wife was with other men, that they paid her to do things to them. That would make any man furious.”

“He's getting him to imagine it,” said Flores. “To visualize what she did. It will anger him all over again and give Ramirez a glimpse into how enraged he might have been the night she disappeared.”

“How did the mirror get broken?” Ramirez asked. “Did you push her against the wall and knock it down?”

“No,” Otero said, shaking his head. He clenched his fists. “I never struck her. The photograph fell on its own.”

“Señor,” said Ramirez, shaking his head. “I asked about the mirror, not the photograph. I saw where that photograph used to hang, the nail hole in the wall. It was at least three feet away from the mirror. If it wasn't thrown on the ground, then something must have hit the wall hard enough to knock them both down.”

“It was a shoe. She threw her shoe at me after . . .” Otero paused.

“After what?”

“After I called her a

“I see,” said Ramirez. He didn't fully believe him. One shoe couldn't bring down both the mirror and the photograph. He kept his expression neutral and leaned back in his chair. “If she was sleeping with other men, I don't blame you for losing your temper.” He lowered his voice again. “Sometimes my wife hints at having an affair when she's angry at me. She's angry with me now, so I know exactly how you feel. Just the thought of it makes me crazy. We promise to be faithful when we marry.” He watched Otero fiddle with the cross around his neck again. “Adultery is a sin.”

Otero hung his head. “I couldn't believe it,” he whispered. His eyes spilled tears. “That she was fucking other men. That she wanted to do it with a stranger on Lovers' Day.”

“And not just Lovers' Day, but your wedding anniversary.”

Otero nodded. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He pinched his nose with his fingers.

“I know you hit her, Juan. Please, don't forget, we've done an autopsy on the remains. Our pathologist is very good. I already know the answer; I simply want to hear it from you.”

“Was there any bruising on the body?” Flores asked Espinoza.

BOOK: Hungry Ghosts
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Shoreline Drive by Lily Everett
Goodbye to Dreams by Grace Thompson
Why Me? by Donald E. Westlake
The Tinner's Corpse by Bernard Knight
B0046ZREEU EBOK by Elphinstone, Margaret
A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King
White Tiger by Kylie Chan