THE BRIGHT BLUE LIGHTS of patrol cars already at the scene were visible for almost a mile across the flat Chihuahua desert as Detective Captain Cruz Camacho drove his unmarked car toward a garbage dump on the edge of town. Growing more irritated as he got closer, he tried to remember whose personal cars were in the parking lot next door to PIM, the Police Investigation Ministry.
On this hot summer evening a fine mist of dust hung in the air around five white and blue Judicial Police patrol cars circled around a slight depression, their headlights pointing toward something in the middle. A coyote yipping in the distance was the only sound.
"Turn those God-damned lights off," Cruz, a man who rarely raised his voice, yelled as he jumped out of his vehicle. "You can see them all the way on the other side of the border."
"It's another one," Sergeant Arturo Ochoa told him.
"Well, I can see that," Cruz growled as he stood, hands on hips, surveying the scene before stalking toward the center of the circled cars where a young woman's body lay sprawled in the dirt.
Nine uniformed policemen were standing around, watching. None seemed to have been assigned crime-scene duties; none seemed to want to get too close to her.
"This isn't a damn tourist attraction, clear out everyone who doesn't need to be here.
What the hell are all these people from Judicial doing here just gawking? PIM's supposed to be dispatched when there's a body."
"When the call came into the emergency line, it wasn't clear that she was dead," Arturo answered.
"She looks damn obviously dead to me," Cruz said.
"A trash picker found her," Arturo said. "Scared the crap out of him. He flagged down a garbage truck. Truck driver told someone when he got to the garage. Someone at the garage called it in. The information wasn't real clear by that time so we came out to see what was going on."
"There's one helluva lot of people here just to see if it's a drunk."
"I know," Arturo snapped. "They come out to get a look at the latest one, then scatter like field mice. Shit, there were transit police driving out when I got here. I put the cars and men at a distance in a circle around the body to stop people from stomping around."
"I'm glad you're here, Arturo. Alright, let's get to it," Cruz said as he turned on the small tape recorder dangling from a strap round his neck.
"He picked up some boxes and she was underneath."
"Nothing except the boxes around her? No tracks? He didn't see anything or anyone?"
"No. I've already talked to him, I'll write up a report. He's in a patrol car if you want to talk to him."
"If you've already questioned him, that's enough for me. Forensics is on the way. As soon as they're done, let's get her out of here and get the scene cleaned up before this gets out and reporters and television cameras show up."
"Too late, that American woman's already here and she brought a reporter from Monterrey. He's got a camera."
"Aw shit! Didn't you tell them to leave?"
"Of course I did, but they just went across the road. The woman says it's private land and she knows the owner, says she has a right to be there."
Cruz looked to where Arturo was pointing and saw the reporter peeking back at him from behind a large cactus. He recognized Allison Sherwood, hands on hips, glowering at them. The large framed, outspoken woman that several officers described as "the old horse-faced hippie" was a resident volunteer at Guadalupe House Women's Center. She was also the instigator of several marches protesting the failure to stop the murders of Juarez women. For the past two years, Allison had personally laid a pink cross in front of PIM each time a woman's body was found.
Most of the once bright pink crosses strewn around Juarez have faded and fallen over by the year 2000, no longer of interest to locals. But they're still a draw for that particularly eerie group of sightseers--the poverty and massacre tourists. The practice of painting a cross pink for each murder started with foreigners. Mostly middle-aged women, they fly in first-class, pink plastic crosses pinned to their lapels. They march in the filthiest of streets with their arms around genuine poor people, utter 'tsk, tsk, tsk' at the stories of torture and murder of hundreds of women. Lastly, they kneel in front of the sad-looking rows of pink crosses to have their pictures taken before rushing for their outbound plane, bursting with titillating cocktail-party stories.
A few, like Allison, linger. That her efforts to rouse a strong community response were met with apathy only made her more determined and angry.
"This is a crime scene, she doesn't have any rights here. And how the hell is it that that woman is one of the first at the scene?"
"She's just trying to help. She works with the factory workers at the women's clinic."
"We don't need everyone knowing about this yet. Get your ass over there and take his camera."
"Hey, hand over the camera! This is a crime scene, it needs to be kept confidential until the evidence has been collected," Arturo yelled to the reporter as he hustled toward him.
"No problem," the reporter said, holding out the camera.
"When can he have it back?" the woman demanded.
"Come by the Judicial Police station tomorrow."
Cruz reached inside his bullet-proof vest for an antacid. This had been an especially rough day, he hadn't eaten, his gut was burning and he was sweating all over his dress shirt.
A deep sigh escaped from the 6´3", broad-shouldered man as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves and squatted down beside the young woman's body. "Aw chica, tell me what happened to you," he whispered.
"She was pretty," Arturo said.
"Most of them have been," Cruz muttered.
Arturo noticed rivulets of sweat pouring down Cruz's brow and he could see large stains in the arm pits of his shirt. For the first time in the seven years he'd known Cruz, Arturo smelled the stench of body odour instead of the faint essence of expensive cologne. For a brief moment a grin crept across his face.
She looked about eighteen, a little older than Cruz's oldest daughter. Her plump cheeks reminded him of his middle daughter. A silver butterfly clip was tangled in her long, dark hair which splayed out around her head in the dirt. There was an ash-grey tinge to her skin and her face was contorted in a horrible, painful-looking expression.
From above the waistline to the knees her jeans, along with skin and muscle, had been slashed on both sides of the zipper. Blood from a gash up her belly had saturated her clothing, but there was little blood in the dirt.
"Look at her nails. God bless her, she put up quite a fight," Arturo said.
"Yes she did."
"Something with a sharp, straight edge cut her pants and belly open. Why do you think some of them are cut open like that?" Arturo asked.
"Don't know. Some are cut up and down, some across. And you're right, they're clean cuts, a razor sharp blade was used."
Just then the American woman broke from behind the cactus and ran toward them, the reporter from Monterrey stayed across the road behind the cactus.
"Stop her! I don't want anyone walking around here," Cruz said.
A Judicial Police officer stepped close and reached out his arm to stop the woman.
"Detective, this makes over one hundred women killed," she yelled, shaking her finger at Cruz.
It's actually over two hundred now, Cruz thought, but I'm not about to tell you that. "I know," he said softly.
"It is an atrocity..."
"I agree. But I need to get on with the investigation, unless you have a better idea?" he interrupted her.
"That is my point! Young women working in factories keep getting brutally murdered. The police walk around, take some pictures and nothing happens, just like you're doing now. What are you actually doing to stop this?"
"I'm only number two in the department," he sighed. "I cannot discuss investigations with you. Your conversation should be with PIM Comandante Mercado. He'll be here shortly." And leave me alone you whiny annoying bitch, he thought.
Amazingly, the woman backed up and shut up. The officer who'd been holding her back politely turned her around and pointed back across the road.
Cruz carefully lifted the young woman's stiff torso with one hand and rolled her body over slightly. Dried blood stuck pieces of her jeans and panties to her body. He gently peeled them back as Sergeant Arturo handed him a wet tissue so he could wipe clean a small space on her left buttock.
"The skin is pinker from the accumulation of blood in the buttocks as she died, so she died on her back. The red lines in her eyes show she was probably strangled or suffocated," Cruz said.
"There are marks on the neck like she was strangled," Arturo pointed toward her neck.
"I see that."
"And marks on her wrists, like she was tied," Arturo said.
"Or from being held down while she struggled," Cruz said.
"No marks on the ankles, but she had on those heavy shoes, they probably held her down by the shoes," Arturo said.
Arturo noticed Cruz looking at the ground around the area.
"Blood on the body and clothes from the belly being cut, not much blood in the dirt. But she died on her back," Cruz mumbled into the tape recorder. "Body smells like she died a couple of days ago. So he started somewhere else, brought her here. Kicked up the dirt a little out to the garbage truck tracks, probably where his car was. Any identification on her?"
"But she's a maquiladora woman," Cruz said.
"Yeah, why the hell else would any woman be in Juarez? And a pretty girl her age wouldn't choose to wear these ugly shoes, they're company supplied. She's not wearing a factory uniform so she's from a small plant. Anything on the body or clothes that would tell us what kind of work she'd been doing?"
"No. But, there's a plastic sports bottle with a company name on it over there behind that patrol car," Arturo said, pointing.
"Did you tag it?"
"No. Want me to go get it?"
Cruz looked up momentarily, annoyed. "Yes, please. And you need to put your gloves on before you pick it up. If there's anything in the bottle, don't throw it out."
"Looks like water in the bottom," Arturo said as he brought the bottle to Cruz. "There's not much else here in this part of the fill except small pieces of industrial waste that looks like it was dumped quite some time ago, rubber, wire, plastic scrap. I figured the bottle came in with industrial stuff. Someone went to the trouble of bringing the body out here and covering foot or tire prints, you wouldn't think they'd be sloppy enough to leave behind something with a name on it."
"Tag it anyway. Trash pickers long ago took away anything that could be used and there hasn't been any traffic around this area since then. But the bottle's still bright blue, the sun hasn't faded it. Know anything about the name on the bottle, Mondan S.A. de C.V.?"
"Small plant in Benito Juarez Industrial Park," Arturo answered.
"What about the boxes that were on top of her?"
"No markings, they look like they were new."
"New sports bottle and new boxes left in an area where there hasn't been much activity for a while. We might have something."
As the forensics van drove up the dirt road at a steady pace, Cruz told Arturo "Get the girl's picture. I want a clear close-up of just her head that we can use to identify her. And a picture of the bottle. I need you to show me where this company is. Forensics will finish up here."