The air was hot, sultry, and tasted of exhaust fumes. The surface of Cartagena Harbour lay green and lifeless beyond the fractured rocks of the decaying breakwater. Somewhere above, a worker was drilling concrete. Fine grey powder fell through the polluted morning air, thick and dirty with the sound of rush-hour traffic. I walked on. The pavement was cracked and broken; gaping holes where once there were steel grids.
A dark Mercedes slows as it passes me, then stops fifty feet ahead; its deep lustre incongruous in this broken street. The driver’s door opens and the chauffeur steps out. From a back door, three children bubble to the kerb, then three supressed shots spit through the damp air and collide with the sound of the angry traffic. A man falls. A child screams. The chauffeur’s blood is pooling.
No thoughts hinder my feet as I rush at the young deer frozen in the headlights of an assassin’s gun. I bundle them over the seawall and into fragile safety, as the gunman continues his work. Four hot metal fingers probe my back as he attempts to execute the three mute children. Brick dust flies, blood runs. I hear tyres squeal and an engine roar; the sounds of the fleeing assassin as sirens approach. The children stare at me, huddled in mute fear.
Unknown hands staunch the bleeding. There’s no pain, just a sensation of warmth and fear, the smell of blood and dirty street. Soft touches and muffled words leaking through my clotting senses. Another squeal cleaves my skull as tyres fight to grip asphalt. Voices and hands, urgent and foreign. Fingers part my left eye, and a shaft of light burns in.
Two uniformed officers of the Policía Nacional de Colombia were first on the scene. They called it in as a multiple homicide and attempted kidnapping.
Veteran homicide detective Sal Tejada arrived ten minutes after the first call went out. Sal stood away from the scene, quietly taking in the overall layout, then the details. His partner Luis Cordova was already there talking to everyone and filling a book with precise notes. Luis Cordova had been his partner for two years. He liked and trusted him, but to Sal, a twenty–eight year old was still just a rookie.
When Sal was satisfied, he walked toward the scene and looked down at the body of the dead chauffeur; the blood was starting to dry and flies were converging to feed at the gaping wounds. The first shot had found the back of his neck, destroying the upper spine and cervical nerves. He wouldn’t have heard or felt the second round that shattered ribs and tore through his heart with shards of bone. Low calibre high velocity rounds, Sal guessed.
He called out to a paramedic who stood idling by a waiting ambulance. ‘Get a sheet over him, estupido, before he’s nothing but a pile of stinking maggots.’ The paramedic muttered under his breath as he snatched a sheet from the back of the van, and then covered the chauffeur’s lifeless body.
Sal squinted into the morning sun and cursed the heat. He needed to go on a diet sometime, but for now, he would continue to sweat and curse the heat. Luis Córdova was standing on the other side of the Mercedes staring down at the lifeless body by the sea wall.
‘Who’s the gringo, Luis?’ Sal asked the younger man.
Luis Córdova didn’t answer immediately as he continued writing in his notebook. He finished, then nodded and slipped the book into his breast pocket.
‘Seems like he was just lucky enough to be walking past at the right time. The children claim he shoved them over the seawall.’
‘Claim? Waddaya mean claim? You think they might be making that shit up at this time of the morning?’ Sal threw Luis Córdova a sideways glance. ‘Just a Good Samaritan tourist, huh?’
‘What makes you think he is a tourist?’
‘Other than the worn backpack and a bad haircut, nothing. Have you searched it?’
‘The backpack Luis, have you searched the backpack?’
‘The photographer hasn’t finished.’
Sal shrugged, then squatted down beside the pack and unzipped it. He removed and opened a waterproof bag and shook out the contents.
‘Like I thought. I said he was a tourist didn’t I. Didn’t I tell you that?’ he said, looking back at Luis. ‘Ok, here we go. Australian Passport. Samuel J Autenburg, born in England.’ Sal dropped the passport and continued to leaf through the rest of the documents. ‘Owns a yacht registered in UK; named Clara. You better notify both British and Australian consuls, let them bicker over jurisdiction… or the body; he isn’t going to make it. And get someone from immigration to run a trace on where the yacht is. My guess is it’s there,’ he said pointing at a small marina a kilometre away. ‘He was walking home. Any word on the trigger?’
‘People aren’t saying much. But that puta over there,’ Luis said, nodding toward a young man giving a statement to a uniform, ‘he claims he saw it. Says the shooter sped off on a motorcycle. He didn’t get the number, doesn’t know what make and the closest he has for a colour is ‘dark’.’
‘Pinche idiota! What else those kids say? The parents been contacted?’
‘They’re clammed up. In shock, I guess. The mother is on her way.’
‘I don’t want no hysterical running around here. Keep her away from my crime scene. And what about the car?’ he said, nodding toward the black Mercedes.
‘It’s registered to Ledesma Mercantile S.A.’
Sal’s eyebrow arched. He cursed again as he stood and stretched his back. ‘Montez Ledesma?’
‘And there’s something else; they’re Ledesma’s kids. This was either a botched kidnapping, or—’
‘Or an assassination gone tits-up,’ Sal said, running a hand across his stubbled chin. ‘No point looking for the hump that did this. He’s dead already.’
There was a screech of tyres. Sal looked around. The woman had thrown open the car door and was running toward the three children sitting on the back of an ambulance with a medic. ‘Luis,’ Sal said, ‘get them out of here!’