The Origin of Murder
Please enjoy these sample chapters
About the book……… 5-Star cruising all the way! Roger and Suzanne take a vacation cruise through the Galapagos Islands, retracing the path Charles Darwin sailed and walked more than 175 years ago. The body count increases almost as fast as the clues. From a reader review, “When a luxury cruise ship full of hard-to-predict eco-tourists is confronted with a murdered passenger, survival of the fittest takes on a whole new meaning.” Series fans and new readers alike will enjoy this mystery novel, which can be enjoyed as a standalone entry to the series. Like all of the Roger and Suzanne series on Amazon Kindle, this is a tough, sometimes violent, but clean (no cussing, no sexual promiscuity), mystery.
Chapter1.Suzanne finds a body
Darwin: I shall always feel respect for every one who has written a book, let it be what it may, for I had no idea of the trouble which trying to write common English could cost one—And alas there yet remains the worst part of all correcting the press.
The crewmember tending the outboard engine on the rubberized Zodiac craft picked up a dozen tourists and our guide from the lowest deck, which was just a short step above the ocean level of the cruise ship. The Zodiac ran as a shuttle service between our large cruise ship and whichever island we would be visiting that morning or afternoon. With more than 100 passengers on the cruise ship, the Zodiac driver kept busy ferrying groups of about a dozen each trip to and from the islands.
The outboard motor was large and powerful, the Zodiac itself was pretty light, and the sea was calm, so our trip of about 500 meters to the beach landing should have taken us less than 10 minutes. This particular trip took a lot longer since we had to stop and pick up the dead body that Barbara Kaufman and Suzanne spotted floating face down in the Pacific Ocean less than 100 meters from the beach.
As our rubberized ferry chugged towards our planned wet landing just off of the white coralline beach of Darwin Bay, Barbara Kaufman was enjoying the close-up view of the ocean alongside the starboard side of our boat. The water was quite cold and quite clear, so it was easy to see to the bottom where all sorts of sea life were hanging out. “Slow down!” she hollered in Spanish to our driver in the back of the boat. “There’s something big floating in the water over there, about 50 meters out that way,” she continued, speaking to the boat driver in Spanish, pointing towards a shape in the ocean.
I was surprised at Barbara’s fluent and almost native Spanish. When we first met in Quito, both of the Kaufman sisters had given us the impression that they had minimal survival skills in Spanish, but not much more language proficiency than restaurant menu items and bar drinks. Maybe some of the helpless tourist pose both of the sisters affected was geared to attracting macho males on this trip, rather than indicating the real thing. In any case, it was hard to make fun of the obvious ploy since it certainly seemed to be working with Raul Vonhorst.
“It looks like a human body to me,” added Suzanne, who was sitting right next to Barbara towards the front of the boat. I should mention Suzanne’s peculiar knack for discovering dead bodies, either when she was with me or on her own. This was her first Ecuadorian corpse as far as I knew, to join the ranks of previous Paraguayan, Uruguayan, and Bolivian bodies she had discovered in Montevideo, Uruguay and Los Angeles. It was a very good bet that if the thing in the water looked like a human body to Suzanne, we had a mysterious murder victim floating in the Pacific Ocean near our boat.
The driver slowed the boat and did a wide turn to bring the port side of the Zodiac alongside the shape. He shifted to neutral gear alongside the body and asked Bruce and me to pull the body into the boat as carefully as we could. Bruce, who was sitting alongside me, handed Robert to Suzanne to hold as well as she could given the bulky infant-sized life jacket with M/S Santa Cruz stamped on it Robert was wearing. Bruce took the bottom and I took the top as we heaved the body over the low side of the Zodiac and onto the floor of the craft. In a few seconds the lifeless body lay inelegantly in a broadening puddle of water in the bow of the Zodiac while most of the passengers scampered towards the stern as if they might get infected with dead-person germs by proximity to the inert corpse.
The deceased was wearing jeans and a dark blue woolen sweater with a crew neck. As we pulled it up into the boat, it became obvious that the body was that of a woman with long dark hair who was probably in her mid- to late-thirties. She had a pretty face and a well cared for body in pretty good shape. Several of the passengers recognized her as having been one of the tourists on our cruise ship.
One of the passengers, a chubby middle-aged man named Howard, spoke up. “Oh my God! Is she dead? This is horrible! That woman ate dinner with us at our table last night. She was by herself. We assumed she was traveling alone. She didn’t say very much. We tried to get her to tell us about herself. I don’t remember her name. Oh my goodness.”
His wife Cora, a skinny counterpoint to the pudgy Howard, confirmed this recollection, turning to the crewmember at the engine to add, “Oh, good Lord! I think she’s dead, señor. Her name is Rita something. She was from New York. This was her first trip to South America. She wanted to see the birds and animals. Rita had a copy of ‘The Origin of Species’ with her at the table. I think she planned to be on the first boat leaving the cruise ship every morning. She couldn’t wait to see all of the different kinds of birds and animals she’d been reading about that inspired Darwin to come up with his theory of evolution. Oh Lordy, this is just terrible!”
The body hadn’t been in the water very long, since there weren’t any signs of damage by hungry sea creatures or by collisions with floating flotsam or jetsam. At this latitude and longitude the ocean was surprisingly cold considering that the Galapagos Islands are almost exactly on the Equator, with water temperatures of 70-77 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the season. Given how cold the water was, it would take a forensic pathologist to estimate how long the body had been in the water, how far the body could have drifted given the prevailing currents, and when Rita had been murdered.
The boat driver asked me to check the body for I.D. Her pockets were empty and she wasn’t carrying a money belt or other kind of pouch in which she could have kept a passport or other I.D. I could, however, guess that the cause of death was acute lead poisoning since two bullet holes were clearly visible in the back of her sweater. The Zodiac swung around to return us with our additional cargo to the mother ship. As we motored back to the larger ship, the driver spoke into his walkie-talkie in a voice too low to be heard by the passengers.
The captain and first mate, plus two other sailors from the crew, were waiting for us when we got back to the M/S Santa Cruz. Rita’s body was transferred to a waiting blanket while the first mate recorded the name of each passenger in the Zodiac. Then we were released and the Zodiac once again motored us to the island, this time landing successfully in the knee-deep water just off the beach. Our guide assembled us into a group, reminded us about essential tourist etiquette in the Galapagos—follow the guide, stay together, stay on the marked paths—-and off we went to study nature.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. We should start this story at the beginning, in Los Angeles, when Suzanne originally had the idea of all of us taking this particular vacation——-
Chapter2.Quito: El Museo Nacional
Things had pretty much settled down for the Bowman family since we’d solved the murders at the dog shows and Juliet had her big litter of puppies. We’d kept one of the males, Romeo, and he’d grown enough in the past couple of months to enjoy playing in the backyard with his mother, Juliet. Robert was almost 1 year old, Bruce was still his nanny, and Suzanne and I were back to our normal jobs, she teaching and doing research and me doing what private detectives do on a regular basis. We were both more than ready for a vacation.
“Look what I found,” an excited Suzanne volunteered as she waved a copy of Sunset Magazine in front of me. “This is what I want to do for our next vacation, really soon.”
Suzanne is a Professor of Biochemistry at UCLA, in Los Angeles. During the quarters she isn’t teaching a class she’s portable and free to travel, so a vacation on short notice was feasible from her point of view. I’m her husband, Roger Bowman, a private detective. My partner, Vincent Romero, can run our detective agency in my absence, so I’m also portable on short notice. Thanks to Suzanne’s inheritance after her father died, we’re pretty wealthy. There really wasn’t any good reason not to take a vacation whenever the urge hit us to do so, which was very, very infrequently.
I started reading a story in Sunset about a dream vacation in the Galapagos Islands, where tourists could relive a small part of Charles Darwin’s famous journey of discovery on H.M.S. Beagle. The article highlighted a non-stop direct flight from Los Angeles to Quito, Ecuador, the jumping-off point to Baltra via Guayaquil to connect with a ship for the Galapagos cruise.
Suzanne looked over my shoulder to make sure I saw all the advantages of her idea. “Look at the larger boats for the cruise–comfort, gourmet food, and lots of luxury between islands. It’s expensive, but it’ll be our first real vacation without any corpses since I met you. And as long as we don’t go to Montevideo or Lima, there shouldn’t be any new corpses waiting for me to find.”
A little voice in back of my head whispered something about not counting one’s eggs prior to them hatching.
United Airlines’ direct flight between Los Angeles and Quito, with local connections to Ecuador’s major port city, Guayaquil and onwards to the Galapagos Islands, plus a convenient travel agency in nearby Westwood, made planning this trip easy. I had a large check I’d just received as a bonus from a client for an investigation that had saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential legal fees, that would more than cover the cost of the entire vacation for all four of us, plus Vincent’s share of our agency’s profits.
So that’s how Suzanne and I, accompanied by our son Robert and his nanny, Bruce, decided to fly to Quito en route to a nice sized ship leaving Baltra, the entry point for the Galapagos Islands, in the Pacific Ocean 600 miles west of Guayaquil, to see tortoises, birds, and the sources of Darwin’s inspiration for writing his classic “The Origin of Species”.
Arrangements in Ecuador were made through the travel agency in Quito highlighted in the Sunset Magazine article via our local travel agent, and checks were written. Less than a month later we were on a flight arriving early in the morning at the International Airport in Quito, the first leg of our adventure. Quito, at an elevation almost two miles high in the Andes Mountains and one of the oldest cities in the Americas, was an important part of the Incan Empire in the 15th and 16th Centuries. The capital city of Ecuador is very different from the other Spanish Colonial cities of similar age to the south in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. It’s really a very modern city despite the pervasive poverty of most of its inhabitants.
We easily cleared customs and immigration as tourists and connected with a gentleman who was obviously of indigenous ancestry waiting in the airport lobby. He carried a large sign with the local tourist agency’s and our names on it. The driver had a prepaid taxicab waiting to take us to The Hilton Colon Hotel, part of the package tour we had bought, and typical for upscale tourist travel in South America. Suzanne at 5’8” with her lean and athletic body towered over the taxi driver. Her long blonde hair clearly distinguished her from the local travelers. At 6’2″ and 190 pounds I didn’t look much like the typical Ecuadorian either. Bruce, who is an inch shorter than Suzanne, and Robert, who had inherited his mother’s blond hair, also looked like gringo tourists. The long ride from the airport to the hotel reminded me a lot of Lima, Peru, except Quito was smaller, poorer looking, and at a much higher elevation, well inland from the Pacific Ocean.
Quito is long and narrow, shaped a lot like a wriggling worm. It’s about 26 miles long and only 5 miles wide. Most of the main north-south boulevards are at least four lanes wide with center islands, so movement of people by bus, car, and taxi is relatively fast and efficient despite the huge number of buses and taxis clogging the streets. Our hotel was in the northern part of Quito, a long taxi ride from the airport south of the city.
Until UNESCO declared the historic buildings in Quito a national resource a couple of decades ago, the older colonial buildings were routinely torn down to make way for progress. New construction of modern buildings took the place of the older, beautiful, architecturally interesting mansions that used to line the wide boulevards leading to the periphery of the city. As a consequence, most of the construction is post-World War II vintage and utilitarian, if not ugly, blocks of concrete and glass.
The taxi from the airport took quite a while, passing through a large part of the city, to get to our hotel, one of the large ultra-modern style buildings. The Hilton Colon Hotel catered to English speakers, most of who were tourists and business people. The Hilton Colon itself is a 5-star high-rise building with all the amenities of a modern luxury hotel. Despite the time, about 9 A.M., our rooms were waiting for us, and the well-equipped exercise room followed by a long hot shower seemed totally appropriate after our long flight. We both lifted some weights and did time on the Stairmaster and treadmill before sharing that shower. Finally, we joined Robert and Bruce for the breakfast buffet in the lobby, which beckoned to us.
Unlimited fresh locally raised tropical fruits, freshly squeezed fruit juices, bacon, ham, sausage, eggs, freshly baked breads, rolls, pastries, and plenty of coffee, were all included in the price of the room. The large, hot, protein-rich breakfast was just what our jet-lagged bodies needed to prepare us to go out and face the new day as tourists. We had a couple of hours to kill between now and our scheduled tour of the Old Town in the afternoon, and Robert was surprisingly full of energy after our long flight, so all of us went out to explore nearby Quito..
Suzanne had virtually memorized several tourist guides on the long flight from LAX. Now she dragged all of us to the Banco Central del Ecuador-Museo Nacional, probably the best anthropological museum in the hemisphere south of Mexico City. The historical museum was a few blocks from our hotel, an easy walk past a pretty park, and we were immersed in the wonderful world of Incan history and gold artifacts for the rest of the morning. The museum’s Incan gold collection was less elaborate than its counterpart in Cuzco, Peru, the center of the ancient Incan Empire. However, the exhibits and the historical displays were quite similar here in the northern part of the old Incan Kingdom.
Once again I noticed how differently Suzanne and I approach walking through a museum. I look, but tend not to talk, letting everything wash over me and getting impressions. For me, it’s about imagining what the time and place when the objects were made might have been like and how I’d have fit into that world. Suzanne is more detail oriented, and likes to discuss specific pieces and what they make her think about. She uses the specific piece to stimulate associations with our modern world or compares what she sees with what she has seen before in other museums in other places. Maybe it’s that whole left brain versus right brain thing again, or maybe it’s about Suzanne being from Venus while I came from Mars.
We saw, in well preserved and displayed ancient artifacts, panoramic displays and maps, the history of Ecuador’s earliest peoples. After our previous trip to Machu Picchu while we were chasing The Surreal Killer, the most interesting parts of the exhibits for us related to the Incas. We were fascinated by how very late the Incas appeared in pre-Columbian history and what a short time, a total of only 70 years, the Incan Empire actually existed.
The Incan-era pottery we looked at was much more religious or utilitarian, and much less “artistic”, than Mayan and other pre-Columbian pieces from hundreds of years earlier I’d seen in Central America and museums in the USA. Some of the museum’s pottery pieces here looked downright crude.
Suzanne pointed to a collection of very ugly small statues of male and female gods. “Do these pieces remind you of the statues of fertility gods we saw in Hawaii? The sculpture is crude and the gods are ugly, but I’ll bet you they have something to do with human or crop fertility. Especially the three little ones in the corner there.”
I tried to remember the Hawaiian statues we’d seen in gardens all over Maui and the other islands we’d visited. “Yes, I can see a lot of similarities.” This seemed to be a good time to be a bit of a smart-ass. “I wonder if all of the primitive cultures ended up with a similar view of the gods of fertility because there really were fertility gods who looked like that?”
Suzanne understood I was yanking her chain and tugged me over to the next exhibit, this one featuring far more sophisticated pieces of jewelry, and functional pieces made from various metals including silver, gold, copper, iron, and bronze. We could see that Incan and earlier Ecuadorian indigenous metallurgy was very advanced. There were beautiful pieces made from gold and silver, as well as from the less valuable metals. The Incan craftsmen had mastered what we tend to think of as modern techniques including welding, molding molten metal, and cold shaping of thin sheets of metal over molds. Fine-worked filigree pieces in gold and silver were abundant. Apparently body piercing was common, with pieces designed for ornamenting noses, ears, eyebrows, lower lips, nipples, belly buttons, and anywhere else you might think of.
Suzanne leaned over a display of jewelry for the properly pierced Incan of the 15th Century. “You know the old expression, ‘what goes around comes around’, Roger? Here’s a great example of modern fashion recycling old ideas. The average California teenager probably thinks body adornment and piercing is a recent invention to make them different. The reality is there’s really nothing new. I wonder how many of the kids in Beverly Hills High School know that teenagers in South America were doing body piercing half a millennium ago?”
We walked further into the museum to a traveling exhibit of ancient Chinese sculpture—ceramic, stone, and wood. This was different than Cuzco, where the museum featured only Incan artifacts. Suzanne asked me, “What does this look like to you, Roger?”
The resemblance in form and style between the ancient Chinese and the pre-Columbian art from Central and South America in the museum was almost uncanny. “It looks a lot like the Incan artwork we were looking at just a few minutes ago. I don’t know much about pottery making, but I’d say the Chinese were more advanced in firing techniques, clays, and glazes. It’s the subject matter and the execution that makes these pieces from ancient Asia and the Incan work from ancient South America so remarkably similar.”
Suzanne nodded as I was talking. “I don’t know anything about ancient pottery from the Middle East and the Central Asian area with all the ‘stans in it, but I’d bet their pottery and art would look similar in many respects to the Incan pieces, too. Hey, Bruce, did you see any of the really old artwork or pottery when you were in Iraq or Afghanistan?”
Bruce, who had been busy keeping Robert interested in what we were looking at until now or wandering off with our son as seemed most appropriate, had obviously been thinking much the same thoughts as Suzanne. “I’ve been to museums in Baghdad and Kabul, and seen a few exhibits of old pottery and jewelry. And I’ve been on a couple of missions to recover stolen artwork for the Iraqui museums. Yeah, I’d say there’s a lot in common. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it. There’s no way an Incan could know what an Afghan was doing 600 years ago or vice versa, but there’s a lot of similarity in how the pieces look and what subjects they chose to portray. Somehow the art is similar in technique and subject. It makes me wonder whether all those old books about visitors from outer space landing among all those ancient civilizations and cross-fertilizing their development might have had some basis in real life.”
Suzanne smiled at him. “I don’t think so, Bruce. If aliens from outer space landed in Quito in the pre-Columbian era, you’d think they’d have gifted the natives with the concept of the wheel and with mortar for holding bricks and rocks together. That would have saved the indigenous people millions of man-hours of the hardest kind of labor dragging huge boulders around to build things and grinding them to fit the previous boulder perfectly when they built temples and walls. But despite all their engineering expertise, the Incans never discovered the concept of the wheel to help move heavy objects.”
We were standing in front of one of these displays when three younger tourists from our hotel approached us, two women who looked to be in their 20s and a man in his 30s, that we’d seen at breakfast. All three made an appropriate fuss over Robert while they introduced themselves to us and to Bruce.
“Where are you folks from? We heard you speaking English at the hotel.” This was the standard way to say hello among tourists in this part of the world, and one of the girls was asking Suzanne the questions.
“California,” replied Suzanne.
“Really? So are we. What part of California?”
“Los Angeles now, but I was born and raised in Sacramento. How about you?”
A couple of minutes later we knew that Gretchen and Barbara Kaufman were sisters from San Francisco sharing an apartment in The City. Barbara told us they were starting their professional careers after finishing studies at the University of California. Gretchen was a couple of years older than her sister and taught 3rd graders at a local public school. Barbara had just graduated from UC Berkeley and worked at a job with a local publisher. Both young women were quite attractive, apparently single, and quick to mention they were available. Both wore the standard young tourist uniform of jeans and backpack. They looked enough alike, sharing dark hair and brown eyes, as well as being about the same size, a couple of inches shorter than Suzanne, to make it easy to see they were sisters. Barbara wore her hair longer and entirely skipped any makeup, while Gretchen used lipstick.
I intercepted a quick look, which I interpreted as ‘that’s him’, between the two sisters and their male companion. Strange! What could have made meeting me, if indeed the look was about me, important to any of them? I would have thought travelling with my wife and toddler advertised I wasn’t available for fun and games. Thinking about it, I tentatively concluded maybe there was considerably less romance in the air than their handsome companion was hoping for. Perhaps my role in the next day or two was going to be to serve as a buffer between them and predatory single males. “OK, Uncle Roger,” I told myself, “you have a new purpose in life!”
Raul Vonhorst, a handsome gentleman in his low- to mid-thirties, accompanied them. Raul apparently hadn’t decided which of the two he wanted to pair off with as yet. Or maybe he dreamed of a manage-a-trois. We never found out which. He was tall, a few inches shorter than me and considerably lighter in weight, dark, handsome, and equally fluent in Spanish and English. Raul also concealed a secret identity, as we were to find out later. The two sisters seemed to barely have survival skills in Spanish, so clearly appreciated Raul for his language skills as well as his charm and good looks. As we walked among the various exhibits, Raul and the Kaufman sisters joined us to examine the collection of pottery and metalwork made by Incan craftsmen from the 15th and 16th Century.
Raul turned out to have a great deal of knowledge of the Incas and their crafts, so explained what we were seeing as we went by the display cases, which made him a very handy guy to have along. He explained, “I’m a local, from here in Quito. Believe it or not, I’ve never been to the Galapagos Islands. They were at the top of my list of dream spots to visit. The Galapagos Islands tour turned out to be a great deal, and I had some vacation time coming, so here I am. I figured to take the whole package so started today from the hotel where I could get a head start on meeting other people on the tour rather than beginning tomorrow at the airport. So far, it seems like that was a good idea,” he said, smiling (or was he leering?) at the Kaufman sisters.
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