Unfinished Business: Pursuit of an Antarctic Killer is Book II of The Antarctic Murders Trilogy. It continues the story of Captain Roberto Muñoz of the Lientur and the hunt for the millions of dollars in U.S. and British cash, negotiable securities, gold coins, and jewelry that were stolen from the Banco Central de Chile following the Chilean Earthquake of May, 1960. The story of the theft and murders that followed is told in Book I: Frozen in Time: Murder at the Bottom of the World. Unfinished Business introduces Captain Mateo Valderas and Lieutenant-Commander Antonio Del Río of the Chilean Navy's Office of Internal Affairs. They have been sent to Arica, Chile, where the Lientur is undergoing repairs, to solve a murder that took place on the naval base. Their investigations uncover evidence that leads them to someone who is determined to settle old scores and wrap up 'unfinished business' on two continents-South America and Antarctica.
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Unfinished BusinessPursuit of an Antarctic Killer
By Theodore Jerome Cohen
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Theodore Jerome Cohen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe garrote closed with terrifying speed, a thick steel strand of wire that almost severed Osorio's head from his hulking body. That's for what you did to my friend, Cristian! thought Captain Muñoz. His powerful hands, possessing almost superhuman strength, jerked the wire even tighter, lifting the chief warrant officer's feet several inches off the ground and causing the wire to slice through Osorio's skin. Blood spurted from the man's carotid artery, spraying Muñoz' gloved hand and the floor below.
The struggling Osorio-his official rank, name, and position were Chief Warrant Officer Gabriel Osorio, Office of Navy Records, Santiago-after one violent attempt to reach for the wire around his neck, gurgled and slumped towards the floor of the warehouse. Muñoz let the body down slowly so that it fell quietly onto the plastic sheet that he had spread on the wood planks. It's done, Muñoz thought, only then realizing the horror of it all. Blood continued to spurt from the severed artery. Grabbing a towel from the canvas bag he had brought with him, he quickly tied it around the man's neck, stemming the flow. I need his uniform's jacket ... and it can't be covered in blood! Muñoz' plan for revenge, already in play, was proceeding according to schedule.
Deep ligature marks encircled Osorio's thick neck, and his tongue hung out one side of his mouth, which lay wide open, its silent scream for help never to be heard, much less answered. His blank eyes, bulging from their sockets, stared accusingly at Muñoz. Don't look at me, Muñoz thought, I'm not going to nger your murderer. He laughed to himself. The captain, of course, would be loath to testify as to the manner of death, much less who murdered the man lying before him, a murder that put a swift and effective end to the chief warrant officer's career. Killing Osorio was the retribution Muñoz exacted for the role Osorio had played in the death of the captain's good friend, Lieutenant-Commander Christian Barbudo, during the 16th Chilean Expedition to the Antarctic earlier that year.
Muñoz quickly stripped Osorio of his jacket, which he threw on top of a nearby crate together with the dead man's hat. For now, he would leave the body where it lay. There would be need for it shortly.
After wiping his surgical gloves, which he had taken from his ship's infirmary, on the pantlegs of his overalls, he took a serrated combat knife out of the small canvas bag. Moving quickly into the shadows, he hid behind some crates 30 feet away from Osorio's body.
A few seconds later, he heard a loose plank somewhere in front of him yield under the weight of a man, sending a rat scurrying from its hiding place to a small opening beneath a crate across the aisle.
"Gabriel! ?Dónde está usted? Where are you?" It was Chief Warrant Officer Demetrio Ramos from the Navy's Office of Internal Affairs, Commander Cristian Barbudo's former Internal Affairs contact in Santiago and Osorio's accomplice. He and Osorio had separated upon entering the Fleet Warehouse in Arica to search for a certain crate. The one they were looking for had just been returned to Arica from Chilean Army Base Bernardo O'Higgins in Antarctica aboard Muñoz' ship, the auxiliary fleet tug Lientur.
Inside the crate was the new, imported, top-of-the-line, 1960 Hotpoint 18-cubic-foot yellow refrigerator ostensibly purchased by Army First Sergeant Leonardo Rodríguez for his wife, Juanita. Rodríguez, however, had died during an orca attack in the Antarctic in January, 1962 ... an orca attack instigated by two non-commissioned officers from the Lientur, Chief Warrant Officer Raul Lucero and Chief Petty Officer Eduardo Bellolio.
What made the refrigerator a prize worthy of Osorio's and Ramos' attention was the fact that Lucero and Bellolio had robbed the Banco Central de Chile in Talcahuano following the Great Chilean Earthquake of May 1960. They had stashed the spoils from the robbery-US$12 million in U.S. and British currency, negotiable securities, gold coins, and jewelry-in the refrigerator before it was shipped to Antarctica. The refrigerator, in fact, had been purchased by Lucero in the name of Sergeant Rodríguez. Lucero and Bellolio wanted to share the loot with Rodríguez, but when he became greedy, they found a way to kill him.
Lucero and Bellolio had planned on assisting the sergeant's widow claim her refrigerator when the Lientur put into Arica in March, 1962, following the end of the 16th Chilean Expedition to the Antarctic. Of course, they had every intent of removing its contents first, these being the items they took from the bank's safe deposit boxes. But Lucero and Bellolio now were dead. Preliminary Naval Boards of Inquiry held in February, 1962, on Greenwich Island in the South Shetland Islands determined the two men had killed each other in the hold of the Lientur while the ship was in Antarctic waters.
The refrigerator had been shipped to and from Antarctica-part of the pact between the Chilean government and servicemen who volunteer for Antarctic duty that releases them from paying onerous import duties on expensive foreign white goods. Thus, Señora Rodríguez now was free to pick up her refrigerator and take it home. Osorio and Ramos, who were well aware of Rodríguez', Lucero's, and Bellolio's deaths, came to Arica from Santiago to assist her. Their offer of assistance was nothing more than a ruse by which they meant to take possession of the refrigerator's contents. If it succeeded, they would soon be richer by a king's ransom and well on their way into the jungles of Peru to a new life before their superiors in Santiago even knew they were missing!
After paying their respects, Osorio and Ramos secured written permission from Señora Rodríguez for the Navy to release the refrigerator to them. They had promised her that they not only would bring it to her home, but also, exchange it for the refrigerator she currently was using.
Captain Muñoz knew their plan.
The warehouse, dank and musty because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, was eerily silent. Work on the base had stopped for the day. Except for an occasional, muted car or truck horn somewhere off in the distance, not a sound could be heard.
Muñoz, lurking in the shadows, grunted. "Aqui!" It was enough to draw Ramos towards him. Muñoz waited for the petty officer to approach. When Ramos was within a yard of the captain, Muñoz pounced.
"Usted no es Osorio!" Ramos' eyes opened wide. Before Ramos could utter another word, Muñoz thrust the knife into his heart, an instant kill!
Leaving the knife embedded in the petty officer, he dragged the dead man to the open crate that held Señora Rodríguez' refrigerator. He stopped only to mold Osorio's right hand around the knife's handle in the position required to pin Ramos' murder on Osorio.
The captain peeled off his bloody surgical gloves and threw them on top of Osorio's body. Putting on a clean set of surgical gloves, Muñoz then took several U.S. and Brazilian gold coins from the canvas bag, all of which had Lucero's and Bellolio's ngerprints on them. Carefully, methodically, he added Osorio's ngerprints to several. When he was sure they contained good examples of Osorio's ngerprints, he scattered a few around Ramos' body to ensure that no one could mistake the motive for his murder.
Leaving Ramos' body in front of the crate, he slipped off the second set of surgical gloves and his coveralls, and hurled them both on top of Osorio's body. Rolling Osorio's body and the other items in the plastic sheet, he tied everything tightly with nylon cord. Then, he stuffed the roll into a wooden crate he had prepared and positioned nearby. With that accomplished, he quickly dressed himself in Osorio's jacket and hat.
Jumping on a nearby forklift, he switched on the ignition, and after a few awkward maneuvers, succeeding in moving the crate containing Osorio's body to the bed of the pickup truck that Osorio and Ramos had rented and parked at the loading dock. Grabbing a long 2x4 lying on the loading dock near the truck, he threw the piece of wood on the truck bed as well. It only remained for him to put his canvas bag on the passenger seat in the cab.
The night watchman, Able Rate Camillieri, already aware that Osorio and Ramos had made arrangements to pick up a crate, paid no attention to the truck or the after-hour activity in the warehouse. When Muñoz, posing as Osorio, waved to him, Camillieri saluted because he thought Muñoz was one of the warrant officers. Muñoz returned the salute, thinking, That's a nice touch ... I hope he remembers all this when he is called to testify as to what happened tonight!
After returning the forklift to the warehouse, Muñoz closed the steel roll-up door and jumped into the truck.
Leaving the naval base presented no problem. Hunched in the driver's seat, wearing Osorio's jacket and hat with his collar pulled around his face, Muñoz quickly ashed Osorio's Navy identification card and grunted to the guard that Ramos still was working in the warehouse. It took less than a second for the guard, distracted by another vehicle entering the base, to wave him into the darkness.
Muñoz drove north on Ruta 5, Chile's longest route, towards Tacna, Peru, the first major town north of the Chile-Peru border. Just before reaching the border, he turned west and worked his way toward the coast over a densely overgrown and deeply rutted dirt road, stopping near a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Muñoz knew the area well ... at least, he had traversed the sea to the west of the cliff many times and had viewed the area through his binoculars on countless occasions from the bridge of several ships. Triangulating its location was easy, a skill he learned during his first year at the Naval Academy.
He knew that the waters in that area are deep, even at the very bottom of the cliff, which itself lay several thousand feet back from the open ocean at the end of a narrow inlet. This geographical feature focused the ocean waves impinging on the cliff, causing them to rise to enormous heights before expending their energy in thunderous convulsions on the rocks at the base of the cliff. Even in times of relatively calm seas, the water within the bay was characterized by significant wave action, and nothing could survive intact for more than a few minutes there, once it hit the water from above.
Using the 2x4 as a lever, Muñoz of offloaded the wooden crate containing Osorio's body. The crate shattered upon hitting the ground. Untying the nylon cord, he unrolled the plastic sheet and placed a row of large stones he found lying at the top of the cliff alongside the body. Then, he rolled up the body and stones, and tied the bundle securely with the nylon rope.
Dragging the rolled-up body and rocks to the edge of the cliff, he disdainfully pushed it over the edge into the rough, surging waters of the Pacific Ocean more than 300 feet below. The wind-driven surf repeatedly smashed the bundle and its contents against the rocks at the base of the cliff, destroying within minutes any evidence of its existence. The crate met a similar fate, once he had broken it down and hurled it over the side.
Muñoz quickly drove the truck back towards the main road. When he was within one-quarter mile of Ruta 5, he stopped, got out, and opened his canvas bag. Putting on rubber surgical gloves, he carefully withdrew five gold coins containing Lucero's, Bellolio's, and Osorio's fingerprints from the bag and scattered them on the ground behind the truck.
Opening the front hood, he took an incendiary device containing a small initiating detonator from the bag and positioned it on top of the engine. He then removed his gloves, which he put back into the bag, so that he could connect a 75-foot length of twisted-pair cable to the detonator. Once the wires were connected, he let the cable out slowly by walking backwards from the truck to a small clearing. Staking the cable to the ground, he walked back to the truck, stripped off Osorio's uniform, dressed in his own-which he previously had placed in his canvas bag-stuffed Osorio's uniform into the bag, and after taking a battery out of the bag, threw everything into the truck's engine compartment.
Closing the hood, he turned, ran to the other end of the wire, where, using the battery, he ignited the incendiary device. In a fraction of a second, the engine compartment erupted with a roar. Within a minute, the vehicle was engulfed in flames. Yanking what remained of the cable away from the truck, he rolled it up and threw the bundle and the battery into the woods.
Muñoz walked quickly to the highway, where he flagged down the driver of a tractor-trailer. The captain explained to the sympathetic truck driver his military vehicle had broken down and he needed a ride back to Arica. The driver, somewhat inebriated from having too much wine at dinner, was only too eager to oblige, especially after Muñoz offered him 50 escudos to drive to a bar located on the northern edge of Arica. From there, Muñoz could call a taxi.
The trip to Arica should not take long, Muñoz thought. After all, it's only a matter of 11 miles. He leaned back and dozed. The truck plowed through the darkness. He relived in his mind's eye the intense planning that had gone into the day's events ... how he even had made it a point to pay a condolence call on Juanita, Sergeant Rodríguez' widow, as soon as the Lientur had docked in Arica almost two weeks earlier.
"I am so grateful to you, Capitán Muñoz, for searching the waters off Base O'Higgins for my husband after the accident. Can you tell me anything more than I learned from the Army chaplain?"
"Señora Rodríguez, I can tell you that the captain of the Piloto Pardo, Señor Ignacio Núñez, and I both put launches into the water from our ships and searched the area where Lucero and Bellolio said that they had been hunting seals. Regrettably, we found nothing. We searched over and over again. Finally, I went back to Base O'Higgins to pick up the Army chaplain and take him to the site where we thought your husband may have died, so that the chaplain could offer a prayer for your husband. I wish that we could have done more. Lo siento mucho."
Juanita, looking pale and tired, started to cry. It was dif cult enough to be the one responsible for raising their children when her husband was away from home on an Army assignment, but now, he was gone, and all they had to live on was his Army pension. "We are four, Capitán ... me and the three children. There are days," she sobbed, "when if it was not for the children needing me, I would not want to go on living."
Muñoz took a clean handkerchief from the breast pocket of his uniform's jacket and handed it to her. She dabbed her eyes, and acknowledged his kindness by nodding her head.
"I don't know if the Army chaplain mentioned it," he continued, "but before the Expedition, your husband purchased a new refrigerator for you and your family. I brought it back from Antarctica in the hold of my ship, and now, it is in the Fleet Warehouse in Arica.
"Of course, it is the government's responsibility to ensure the safe delivery of this gift to you, though I don't know whether you will be contacted by someone from the Army or the Navy. It's going to take the Army a while before they process all the paperwork required to remove a crate from a Fleet Warehouse and move it to Army custody. So it's my guess that someone from the Navy will call you first.
"If someone from the Navy does call, he probably will suggest that it might be faster for the Navy to handle the paperwork and delivery. If you approve, I would expect two people to arrive at your house within the following week or so.
"Regardless of who calls you, Señora Rodríguez, please call me immediately. I will make sure that everything is ready at the warehouse so that there is a minimum of paperwork and delay."
"Of course, Capitán. You are most kind. I still have not heard from the Army about the return of my Leonardo's personal items, and except for a visit from the Army chaplain, no one has paid any attention to us. I will never forget how you, an officer in the Navy, took time from your busy schedule to visit with me."
Excerpted from Unfinished Business by Theodore Jerome Cohen Copyright © 2010 by Theodore Jerome Cohen. Excerpted by permission.
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