The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Saturday, October 13, 2012

An Excerpt From The Empanada Affair

Today's blog post is Chapter 1 from my first South American mystery novel, "The Empanada Affair".  On the positive side, readers will find out how Roger and Suzanne first met and became a couple.  Readers will get to visit Salta, Argentina and the surrounding areas, a region my wife and I both loved when we lived there.  Lots of tourism, local food, and a mystery story, all for the bargain price of less than a dollar.  On the less positive side, it was my first ever novel and I was learning how to write a book by doing it.  If you are interested in seeing the evolution of a mystery writer and their characters, this is a must read---comparison with "The Surreal Killer" or "The Matador Murders"will dramatize my learning process.  And a caution for adult content (this was my first, and only, attempt to write an erotic book; I think readers will support this decision).

Without further preamble, here is Chapter 1 from The Empanada Affair:

                                                CHAPTER 1.

It was a sunny day in November, one of those days the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce tries to convince the tourists is typical of our weather all year round.  I was sitting at my desk waiting for a client to walk in and hire me.  I had been sitting at the same desk for a day or two, and was getting bored with nothing much to do.  It had been a good year for me and I had been working hard until the end of last week.  That meant I was sitting on a nice bank balance and could afford to be without a client or a job for a while longer.  On the other hand, I didn’t particularly enjoy doing nothing and thought about taking the rest of the afternoon off and making a quick trip to work out at the new Gracie Jiu Jitsu gym I had seen written up in the local news section of the L.A. Times.  A moment later the decision was taken out of my hands.

There was an assertive rap on the door, which opened and she walked in.  About 5’8”, on the good side of 30 years old, lean athletic body, Scandanavian looking face, long blond hair, and an aura of success and good breeding. Wearing $300 jeans and Bruno Magli heels, her look was casual but at the same time Los Angeles sophisticated.   Maybe it was pheromones, maybe it was just how beautiful she was, but somewhere deep in my mind a little voice was shouting, “Wow, this could be the one for you!”

I introduced myself and made a gesture; she sat on the client chair facing my desk, crossed her long legs, and leaned forward. There was a pause while she decided what to say.  I could read the letters on my door backwards; they still said “Roger Bowman Investigations”.  I glanced around the office seeing again the desk with a computer monitor on top, the computer tower and a laser printer under the desk, the client chair in front, and a couple of file cabinets against the wall.  The opposite wall featured a large window with a great view of the smog hiding the Tehachapi Mountains to the north, and a sprinkling of my various martial arts competition trophies on shelves on the walls, an overall image far less elegant than my potential new client.

“Hello. I assume you are Roger Bowman”, she said.

“Yes, I am” seemed to be the right answer.

            “My name is Suzanne Foster.”

            “What can I do to help you Ms. Foster?”

“I’m being followed”, she told me, “and there seem to be at least two people taking turns doing the following.  This has gone on for more than a week that I am aware of, and I don’t know for how long before that until I realized I was seeing the same two men behind me over and over”. 

“Do you have any idea why someone would want to have you followed?” I asked.
            “There is no reason on Earth why anybody would be following me because of something I did or didn’t do.  It seems more likely that it must be related to my father’s murder last month.  I can’t think of any reason somebody would want to kill my father, but someone did.  The police are assuming that it was a random killing---a robbery that went bad---and not looking very hard for who did it any more.  I want to hire you to find out who did it and why, and to bring his killer to justice.  And to find out who is following me, and why, and do something about it to make it stop.” 

She sat back in the client’s chair and waited for me to answer.

“The Los Angeles police department certainly has more manpower and resources to solve a murder than a one-man detective agency like mine.  What makes you think I could succeed when they can’t?” I asked reasonably.

“The killing didn’t happen in Los Angeles” she replied.

“Maybe you need to start at the beginning and tell me your story”.

She moved forward in the chair and started to explain.  I listened carefully without interrupting, and took a few notes as she spoke.

“My father was Robert Foster, an amateur winemaker and a wealthy retired businessman who had made a ton of money importing hand- made crafts and furniture from all over the world, especially South America, and selling it to buyers from stores who dealt with the public.  He dreamed about buying some land of his own and having his own vineyards and winery.  About a month ago he went to Argentina to buy some property and start his new career growing grapes and making wines.  I heard from him shortly after he arrived, just to let me know he had gotten there, then nothing until the U.S. counsel in Argentina called two weeks ago to let me know that his body had been found laying on a street in Salta, and that he had been beaten to death.
Apparently the police in Salta didn’t do much of anything to investigate after the body was found and identified.  They function on a cash economy down there, with minimal use of credit cards, so the assumption is that he was carrying a lot of money that was missing when they found him.  His killers left his passport and his wallet with no cash in it on the body, which was why identification of his body was so easy.  The police are convinced that it was a random robbery, and they have no clues as to who did it.” 

“Why do you think this has anything to do with your being followed?” I asked.

“I think his killing had its roots here in Los Angeles and that the killer or killers followed him to Argentina and murdered him for reasons other than stealing a few thousand pesos he was carrying in his wallet.  I want to hire you to go to Argentina with me, help me to find out as much as we can about what happened, and try to identify who killed him and why.”

“You may be asking for the impossible”, I replied, “you are asking me to solve a murder over a month after the killing, in a foreign country where I have no contacts and no connections to the local police, no status as a private detective, no clues, and nowhere to begin.  This will be very expensive and maybe a total waste of our time, Miss Foster.”

“I know all of this.  But I can’t just leave things as they are.  I need to know who did this and why.  Money is not an object, and I think that if someone who has an open mind and only this one case to concentrate on looks into it with fresh eyes, there could be some answers.  And I’d be there with you, so as far as your standing with the police in Argentina is concerned, I think my status as next of kin will extend to you and we’ll get their cooperation.”

“Let me ask you a few questions before I say yes or no.  First and most important, what did you mean when you said that you thought his killing had its roots here in Los Angeles and that the killer came from here?”

“Dad was far too wealthy to have made his money as an honest import agent.  I think he was mixed up in something illegal over the last 10-20 years that helped him get rich.  I don’t know what---drugs, smuggling, something bad---but I do know that he did a lot of traveling abroad for his work, especially to Argentina.  This trip to buy land for a winery could have been a combination of business with pleasure for him, and I think we need to find out what the business part was all about. If we knew that, we might find links to Los Angeles, and I think that is where the answers will finally end up being found.  And my being followed for the last week or two makes me even more convinced that there is a strong connection between something criminal in Los Angeles and my father’s murder in Argentina”.

“My next question may be a little harder for you.  The answers you’re looking for may be ugly and reflect badly on your father.  Are you prepared for that?”

“Yes”, she said.  “I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few weeks and I would rather know the truth than spend the rest of my life wondering whether Dad was a victim or one of the bad guys.”

I thought about it for a minute or so.  There were several pro arguments for my getting involved.  I had nothing better to do right now, at least professionally, and I was being offered the equivalent of a very well paid vacation to an interesting and somewhat exotic part of the world that I would likely never go to on my own.  The case was a real challenge and I like challenges.  My Spanish skills consisted of whatever was left over from four years of study in high school, but was serviceable enough to handle chasing missing kids and wives in Tijuana.  My companion would be a beautiful woman who I was already fantasizing having sex with, and who I sensed would be an interesting and intelligent travel companion.  My current social and sexual life was nonexistent, and something was going on that suggested there were possibilities here with Suzanne, whose pheromones were calling out to my libido.  Strangely enough, that little voice deep in my mind was telling me that it thought that my pheromones were having a similar effect on her libido.  It seemed to be worth a week or two of my currently idle time to find out if we really were connecting. 

To be honest, from a professional point of view my conscience was telling me that if the client had been a 73-year old man I would have found a dozen reasons to say no to this case.  But the client was a beautiful woman, not an old man, and the trip would be a most welcome change in my routine.  There weren’t any con arguments with Suzanne as a client except that the chances of success were slim to none.

I made up my mind.  “OK, I’ll do it, but with a few conditions.  You will pay me double my usual fee for as long as I’m working on this case, plus all of my expenses here and in Argentina, and we’ll set a time limit of no more than two weeks on how long we can stay in Argentina.  This is a one-man agency and I can’t afford to be away from my potential clients longer than that.  And I will need a retainer of $2,500 today.  A check will be fine.”

She stood up, reached out her hand for a firm handshake, and agreed to all of my conditions.

“I’ll take care of all of our travel arrangements”, she said. “Do you have an up to date passport?”

“Yes, I do”. 

“Good.  Argentina doesn’t require visas for Americans to enter the country, just a fee to leave the country at the airport.  Here’s the check for your retainer.  You have a new client.  And thank you very much for hearing me out and agreeing to help me.”

“Thank you.”

“We’ll leave for Argentina in two days.  Our flight to Miami leaves from the American Airlines terminal at LAX.  We can meet there at 7:30 in the morning and be on time for the flight.  Don’t forget that Argentina is on the other side of the world, as far south as you can go before you get to Antarctica in the Southern hemisphere. The seasons are reversed from here in the Northern hemisphere.  It is November here in Los Angeles, the autumn season.  That means it will be spring in Argentina, the equivalent of May.  In northwest Argentina, where we’re going, it will be sunny and warm during the days, much like Southern California in May.  We’ll just be two more tourists visiting an interesting and out of the way part of a country half way around the world.  Don’t forget to pack light and casual and to bring your passport.”

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