Thursday, May 2, 2013
THE BODY IN THE PARKING STRUCTURE
The 11,600-word novelette, "The Body in the Parking Structure", was my first book written in a shorter format than the traditional novel. This very fast-paced mystery story features characters from the author's popular South American mystery series working on a murder case at home in Los Angeles. The book can be purchased from Amazon for $1.99, and is free to borrow by Prime members. Just click on the appropriate link below or the book cover image on the right. Can you figure out whodunit before Roger does?
Here’s an excerpt (950 words—8% of the story) from the beginning of the book to get you hooked:
Chapter 1. Suzanne finds the body
For the first time since we had met, Suzanne discovered a dead body without me being there. She was collecting her car at twilight from the UCLA parking structure after a quick trip to the laboratory to change the samples on a DNA sequencer. The structure seemed to be deserted except for her and a large lump lying lifeless between her car and the garage wall. She called 911 to report the body then called me.
The police and I arrived at the garage at about the same time. While she was waiting for us, Suzanne took a closer look at the corpse and got her second shock of the night. She not only counted at least five bullet holes in the body but she also recognized the victim from one of our previous cases. It was Eugenio Vasquez, a biochemist from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, who we had met the previous year in Lima, Peru. We had spent a pleasant afternoon with him and his cousin Rogelio, at a couple of museums, eating ceviche for our first time and drinking Peruvian beer.
The responding police officers took her name, address, asked about her reason for being there, and checked her car registration. Suzanne was asked to stay out of the way and wait for the detectives to question her. I identified myself as her husband and a former LA Police Department homicide detective who had just arrived on the scene. They were OK with me keeping her company while we waited for the detectives to arrive.
The first chance we had to be alone Suzanne slumped against me, using my body to support her, and very quietly brought me up to date.
"Eugenio had a slip of paper in his pocket with my name and UCLA address on it. The same slip of paper also had the name of a small local Biotech company, Plantacur, on it."
I asked her how she knew this.
She admitted to having gone through his pockets after recognizing the body during the time before the police arrived.
"I was working with RNA in the lab, so had a few pairs of plastic gloves in my pockets. I couldn't have left any fingerprints or DNA on Eugenio's body or the note, so I put the note back in his pocket. Do you remember who Professor Vasquez was, Roger? We met him in Lima last year."
"Yes, I remember him from our day at the Incan Museum. He studied in Australia so was fluent in English and told a lot of Foster Beer jokes. I liked him, both as a person and because most of the locals didn't speak English, so I hung out with him a lot that first day. Do you remember what he did at the university in Santa Cruz?"
"He was what we call an Ethnobotanist. He studied local exotic plant species that the Shamans and Curanderos from the indigenous tribes used for curing local diseases as possible sources of new and novel drugs for the developed world. I wonder if that's his link to either me or to Plantacur. All of this raises the question of what should I tell the police when they question me."
"They're going to find your name in his pocket. So, you answer all of their questions truthfully, but don't volunteer any additional information. You don't have any idea why he had your name in his pocket and you don't think you've ever heard of Plantacur. Tell them anything you remember from that day in Lima, but they don't have to know you were there for anything other than a scientific meeting where you were an invited speaker."
The detectives arrived and quickly separated us and started questioning Suzanne. They treated her politely as a witness rather than as a suspect and finished with her after less than 20 minutes. We drove home in two cars and got busy with our normal routines, Suzanne feeding Robert, our 9 month old son, and bathing him while I started cooking dinner for Suzanne, Robert's nanny Bruce, and me.
Over our very late dinner served at 10:30 PM, the normal time for supper in South America but not for us in California, the main topic of discussion was tonight's murder. Suzanne described finding the body for Bruce's benefit. The questioning by the detectives was perfunctory at best. They confirmed that she was a Professor at UCLA, that she sometimes stayed late or returned to the lab from our nearby house, and that she always parked her car in the parking structure when she was at work. She had met the victim casually a year earlier at a scientific meeting in Peru. That was it. She frowned and fiddled with her food.
"I have a bad feeling that this killing is going to go into the police files as just another Hispanic killed in a drug deal that went bad. If that happens, there's no way it's going to be solved. That is, unless we solve it. Do you have some time to investigate, Roger? Bruce and I can help."
"I liked Eugenio and shouldn't be all that busy for the next week or so. Vincent can cover for me if any new cases come calling. Sure, count me in."
I volunteered to cover the Plantacur angle tomorrow, and also to see whether Eugenio's name cropped up in a quick computer search of recent patents on potential new drugs. Suzanne would talk to people in her Biochemistry Department to find out if anyone had seen or heard anything unusual the previous night. Bruce would look after Robert and serve as the reserves if needed.