The Chief - Cover

The Chief

Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay

Chapter 19

I'd decided to be late to the Camacho interview. I'd let him sweat for a bit before I went into the interview room. So I was at my desk, eating plain Ruffles potato chips, with a vanilla Coke on the desk and Hank Williams on the CD player that I rarely got to use because I had to listen to the scanner. Allen Mills and Cecelia – what I'd overheard one uniformed officer call the Salt and Pepper Team – were sitting across from me. I was reading the latest additions to the Rodríguez file – nothing really new, but police work requires more paperwork than Ernest Hemingway turned out in his life. A single case can generate more paper than goes into one of Ayn Rand's novels – at least it can seem that way. And I wanted to be more or less caught up on the case, since I was the one Camacho was going to talk to.

I finished scanning the file and looked at my watch. Cecelia and Mills had come into the office at about 25 till 6 – I wear an analog watch, and insist on telling time the original way – and it was now two or three minutes after 7. "Let's roll," I said, only realizing after I'd said it that I was echoing the words of Todd Beamer aboard United Flight 93. But I'd said the words, and it would be more trouble than it was worth to change them to something less melodramatic – something that I'd feel a little more worthy to say.

Cecelia led the way to the interview room, opened the door, and ushered Mills and me inside. Camacho was standing by the time I got in, a stocky dark man with distinctively Indian features, particularly the nose. He had a sparse mustache, and thick coarse hair that fell over his forehead. He was wearing a work shirt, jeans, and work boots, and he had the thick hands of someone who's done manual labor all his life.

"Señor Camacho," I said, using what little Spanish I know, "¿cómo está esta noche?"

"Bién, Jefe," he said. Obviously Cecelia or Mills had told him they would bring me, and besides I was in full uniform, with the stars of my rank on my collar and my badge.

"Bueno. ¿Conoce a Señor Mills y Señora Carpenter?"

"Sí, Jefe."

"Bueno. Solamente hablo poco español, y por eso la Señora Carpenter servirá de mi traductor."

Camacho said, "Bueno, Jefe," and then went into a spate of Spanish that was beyond me. I was, indeed, at the limits of what I could tell him – a greeting, making sure he knew Mills and Cecelia, and advising him that Cecelia would be the translator had strained my knowledge of the language almost to the breaking point.

Cecelia, standing to my left, smoothly translated: I'm glad you're here, Chief. It's not that I don't trust these two police officers, but you have the authority here.

"That's true," I said. "Let's all sit down, and I'll exercise some of that authority." It was a feeble joke, as most of mine are, but as Cecelia translated it he must have realized that I was trying to relax things, and he smiled a little.

"First," I said, "we'll be taping this interview to make sure that we have an accurate record of what everyone says. Do you have any objections to this?"

No, Chief, he said through Cecelia, while Mills set up the tape recorder. We didn't have the facilities to record two tapes at once, but we could copy the tape we'd get out of the deal – or tapes, plural, if the interview went on long enough.

"All, right. I'll first speak for the record, stating the date and time, and identifying the people here. Then we'll get to the questions."

He nodded.

I looked at Mills, and he had his finger poised over the Start button on the recorder. I nodded to him and he pushed it. "Today is Wednesday, September 9, 2009," I said, "and the time is 15 after 7 in the evening. I am Darvin Carpenter, chief of the Red Hawk Police Department. Also present are Officers Allan Mills and Cecelia Carpenter. We're here to interview Martín Camacho Pérez regarding information he has relative to the death of Héctor Rodríguez Rios. For the record, in Hispanic custom the last names of these men are Camacho and Rodríguez, and we shall all use them that way in this interview. Officer Carpenter is a certified translator between Spanish and English, and will function in that capacity during this interview, as well as asking any questions she may have or giving those questions to me or Officer Mills to ask."

I glanced at Cecelia, and she was keeping up, without any apparent bobbles. I'd first learned of her abilities as a translator the year before, but this was the first time she'd have to translate at length and I didn't want to get ahead of her. I looked back at Camacho. "Are you, Mr. Camacho, speaking to us of your own free will?"


"Then we'll proceed. Probably the best way to do this will be to let you tell us what you want, and then we can ask questions based on that. Is that agreeable to you?"

Yes, Chief.

I leaned back in my chair. "Then we're all listening."

He commenced, speaking rapidly, and slurring his words together as native Spanish-speakers do – people who've grown up speaking English do the same thing, though we don't notice it because it's what we're used to. Cecelia translated fluently, keeping up, and never had to ask for clarification. What little I could pick out of the flood of Spanish sounded like a typical, average person – able to speak the language fluently, but without the advanced vocabulary and grammar that Cecelia has. The only way Camacho might baffle her would be with speed or sloppy pronunciation – the likelihood of him using a word she didn't know was only slightly greater than the chances of the moon falling down on the police station before the interview ended.

I made notes as Camacho spoke. I saw Mills doing likewise, in the chair he'd taken behind Camacho. It's a typical police tactic for one officer to stand or sit behind the interview subject – it makes people nervous, and nervous people talk more. In this case, though, the subject didn't appear to notice, and about the only purpose Mills' position seemed to serve was that Camacho had one less person to look at while he talked.

Eventually he ran down. Mills checked the tape, and we paused while he turned it over. I looked at my notes while that operation took place, and decided which question to ask first.

"Mr. Camacho, you mentioned, in passing, a house in the southwest where Rodríguez went in, but – as far as you saw – never came out. Do you know the address there?"

I don't know the address, but I can find it.

"Would you be willing to show Officers Mills and Carpenter where the house is?"

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