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Image by Ricardo Gomez Angel

The Cover-Up

The sounds of garabato songs filled a country club, in Barranquilla, Colombia. The audience cheered as the Carnival Queen, Juliana Trujillo, appeared on the stage. Like the other female dancers, she was wearing a floor-length, black dress that revealed her shoulders. Just below her shoulders, there were layers of red, green, and yellow fabric. And she had large, red flowers in her hair. Unlike the other typical garabato dresses, hers was made of sequins. Her 90-60-90 figure was that of every Carnival Queen, and the same measurements as every Miss Colombia beauty pageant winner. Her 60 centimeter-sized waist sparkled every time she turned her skirt sideways.

Someone disguised as a waiter, who wasn’t really a server, stood away from the crowd, in one of the balconies facing the stage. The audience was dressed up in carnival costumes, and they danced and clapped along with Juliana. They sang the lyrics of the popular Checo Acosta songs as husbands danced with their wives, boyfriends with their girlfriends, and even children joined along as well. Everyone in Barranquilla partook in the carnival celebrations, which lasted four days. After all, it was a tradition that was established in Colombia back when the country was a Spanish colony.

Amidst the dancing, the music, and the shots of aguardiente, few people noticed when Juliana stopped in place and collapsed on the floor. “Juli!” her mother screamed. She rushed to the stage and saw that her daughter, the Carnival Queen, had been shot.  


Adriana Alvarez looked out the window of the plane as it soared over the incandescent, Manhattan skyscrapers. She clutched her boarding pass, which had Barranquilla, Colombia marked as her destination. It was a one-way ticket. She tried her best not to pull out her phone and cry while reading the goodbye messages that her friends, from the NYU Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, had sent her.

Adriana grabbed a novel from her purse, but the moment she took a look at the spine and noticed the publishing house listed, she felt the urge to throw the book against the floor. She resisted and instead closed her eyes. The first thing that popped into Adriana’s brain was her interview at that same publishing company. After she was offered a job in the editorial department, her new boss retracted the offer that same afternoon. He said that the company couldn’t sponsor her work visa. Adriana interviewed at all of the major publishing houses, and they all rejected her for the same reason. When her student visa expired, she had no choice but to come home.

 As soon as the plane landed, the humid air hit her once she stepped out. When she climbed down the stairs, she experienced two different sensations while she observed the palm trees and the iguanas. Adriana smiled as she thought about her parents waiting outside of the airport for her. At the same time, though, she felt knots in her stomach as she thought of coming home for good. To her, nothing exciting ever happened in the sleepy town of Barranquilla.

A month later, Adriana bit into an arepa and said “Good morning” to her parents, when they showed up in their pajamas and sat down beside her.

“I’ll start looking at apartments for rent soon,” Adriana said to her father, across the table.

Her father, who had been staring at the view of the Magdalena River, out the window, turned to look at his daughter. “That’s not necessary, Adri. Besides, we know that you have no money right now. Stay as long as you need to.”

“Yes, please do. We love having you here,” her mother said, stroking her arm.

“Thanks,” Adriana said. “But I do plan on returning to New York as soon as I find a company that will sponsor my work visa.” She then wiped her mouth with a napkin and stood up. Her chair made a loud scratching noise as it moved across the marble floor. “I’ll still write while I’m here. I don’t have to be in New York City to submit query letters to literary agents there. I’ll go back soon enough, though. I don’t see myself living in Barranquilla forever.”

“Well, who knows, you might change your mind and realize it’s actually pretty great here,” Adriana’s father said.

After her mother was done with breakfast and had showered, she drove Adriana to her job. Adriana had started working as a P.I.’s assistant. On the way there, her mother turned to her and said, “Adri, why did you pick this job?”

“I’m sure it will help provide me with inspiration for my mystery stories,” Adriana said while she looked out the window of the car.  

Her mother stopped the car in front of a traffic light. “You know that there aren’t any murders in Barranquilla, right? You’ll probably only get infidelity cases. Besides, you’re only the assistant, it’s not like they’re going to take you along to investigate.”

Adriana sighed, got out of the car, and said goodbye to her mother. As she went up the stairs, she hoped that her boss, Daniel Abuchaibe, hadn’t seen her mother drive her there. She was twenty-seven years old, after all. Daniel was a man in his late forties, with a full head of dark, black hair that matched his bushy eyebrows, and green eyes. A cross necklace hung around his neck. His great-grandparents were Lebanese and had immigrated to Colombia several years ago. That day, he invited Adriana to a dinner party, at his apartment, which his wife was hosting.

Adriana arrived at the Abuchaibe home that night and caught the smell of marmaón coming from the kitchen. She sat down in their living room and was surrounded by the Abuchaibe’s friends and family. Daniel’s wife sat next to her.

 “Daniel says that you used to live in New York City. What was that like?” Mrs. Abuchaibe said.

“It was amazing. My plan was to stay and become a successful novelist and support myself by working in publishing. However, my day job didn’t work out. Then, my visa expired and I had to come home,” Adriana said.

“I’m sorry.”


“Have you been published yet?” Mrs. Abuchaibe said, and then she bit into a dedito. Mozzarella cheese stretched out of it and into her mouth. Mrs. Abuchaibe quickly covered her berry-colored lips with her red fingernails.

 “No. Not yet.” Adriana remembered the long list of rejection emails she had received.

Just then, Daniel burst in and said, “Adriana, come with me. There’s been a murder.”

With wide eyes, Adriana took her purse and followed her boss into his car.

“It’s Juliana Trujillo, the Carnival Queen. She was shot.”

Adriana gasped. “Juliana Trujillo? I know her. We went to high school together.”

“Did you know her well?” Daniel said as he stopped his car in front of a stoplight.

Adriana’s thoughts trailed to high school. Adriana hadn’t discovered makeup yet because she was much too distracted reading the classics to care about boys. There were thick round glasses over her eyes, and her teeth looked like they could set off a metal detector. Also, her blonde hair was frizzy because of the humid weather. The other kids in her class called her the ghost because her skin looked like it had never seen the sun. Juliana was one of the kids who mocked her. Adriana wished that her ancestors were not from Spain, and that instead, she was Trigueña, like Juliana, (a race that consisted of a mixture of Spaniards, native Colombians, and Africans). All of the popular kids in her school had either cinnamon-colored skin, or they were white, with lovely tans; not pale like Adriana.

“Adriana?” Daniel said from the driver’s seat.

“Huh? yes, I knew her well.”

“If this is too much for you, you don’t have to work this case with me.”

“No, I’m okay. The last time I saw Juliana was in high school.”

They drove up to the Trujillo home and greeted Juliana’s parents, who had hired Daniel for the case. They didn’t recognize Adriana.

Juliana’s mother dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “You need to find out who killed my baby girl,” she said, in a hoarse voice.

“We will do our best,” Daniel said.

“As you know, the police here are useless. That’s why we hired you, Daniel. We need a P.I. to help us find out who did this,” Juliana’s father said, with his hand in a fist.

“Of course. Do you know who would have wanted your daughter dead?” Daniel said.

“No. Everybody loved Juliana.”

After that, Daniel and Adriana drove away to a country club, which was the scene of the crime. They passed by the pool, where women tanned while waiters took their lunch orders. After that, they walked past a room with glass doors, where a clown was entertaining four-year-olds, at a birthday party. Once they were inside of the office of one of the managers of the club, he gave them a list of people who had purchased tickets to see the carnival show, on the night that Juliana died.

The manager then took them to the room where the murder took place. It was the same room where wedding receptions, graduation parties, and first communion celebrations took place. After all, that country club was where every social event in the city of Barranquilla occurred.

The next place Adriana and her boss visited was Juliana’s boyfriend’s apartment. Juan Sebastián opened the door with bloodshot eyes. Paola, Juliana’s best friend, and a former beauty pageant winner, was there too. When Paola noticed that Juan Sebastián had tears forming in his eyes, she gave him a long hug.

Juan Sebastián showed them pictures of him and his girlfriend. When asked if Juliana had any enemies, he told them about Katia. “She also wanted to be the Carnival Queen, and when Juliana won the title, Katia was very upset. I don’t think she could kill her, though.”

“Paola, can you think of anybody else who would have wanted Juliana dead?” Adriana said.

Paola scratched her nose. “No.”

Katia lived in the apartment building across the street from Juliana. When Adriana and Daniel got there, Katia was baby-sitting her sister’s toddler. “Juliana should never have been elected as Carnival Queen. I saw her stumbling her way out of parties. Not very lady-like, if you ask me.” Before they could keep talking, Katia’s nephew began to draw with his crayons, on the wall, and Katia asked Adriana and Daniel to leave.

Back at the office, Daniel requested that Adriana go through the list of people who had attended the carnival party. Adriana identified everyone there as a member of the club. She also looked into Juliana’s background.

A day later, a friend of Juliana’s mother stopped by Daniel’s office. She claimed that she had seen Juliana at the hospital, a few months ago. Juliana had dislocated her shoulder because she was in a car accident in which she was the driver. Paola, her best friend, and the former beauty pageant winner, had been in the car too. However, nothing had happened to her.

Right after that, Adriana and Daniel stopped by Paola’s apartment. They made sure that her husband was at work before they came. “Paola, we found out that you were in a car accident with Juliana, a few months ago,” Daniel said.

Paola placed her hand on her hips. “Who told you that?”

“Could you please tell us what happened?” Daniel said.

Paola bit her lip. “What does that have to do with Juliana’s murder? You should be investigating that; instead of wasting your time on irrelevant things.”

Adriana then said, “Are you and Juliana’s boyfriend having an affair?”

“Get out of my house!” Paola screamed. She pushed them all the way to the door.

            Adriana thought of high school when she saw Paola hurting her. Juliana had invited Adriana to a sleepover at her house, and when Adriana fell asleep, Juliana and her friends had written Ghost on her thighs. Among Juliana’s friends that day, was Paola, who still didn’t remember Adriana from high school.

            Adriana held back tears and got into Daniel’s car. “I think Paola did it,” she said to him. “I think she was having an affair with Juliana’s boyfriend.”

            “Maybe. We need proof, though,” he said. “And that will be tricky since there are no security cameras in that country club.”

            “I know. There’s hardly any criminal activity in Barranquilla.”

            Katia’s boyfriend showed up at their office, the next day. He had heard that Daniel and Adriana had stopped by to speak to his girlfriend, the woman who lost the Carnival Queen election, about Juliana’s death. “I was there the day of the murder,” he said. “I recognized a retired police officer there. My father was a friend of his. I don’t know why, but he was dressed up as a waiter. His name is Leo Cifuentes.”

            Adriana looked his name up, in her online database, and found his picture. “Is that him?” she said, showing him the photograph. Katia’s boyfriend nodded. Daniel got the car ready, and he and Adriana sped away, to give the retired police officer a visit. He wasn’t home, so instead, they asked Juliana’s parents and husband to meet them at their office.

            “Do you know why, on the day of Juliana’s murder, there was a retired police officer, disguised as a waiter?” Daniel said, once they were all gathered.

            Juliana’s father ran his hands through his hair.

Juliana’s mother then interjected. “You have to tell them,” she said, looking at her husband. “If this is related to Juli’s murder, you have to tell them.”

Juliana’s father sat down and buried his face in his hands. He took a deep breath and then he said, “Juliana drank too much one night. She had gone to a party, without her boyfriend, and she drove drunk. On her way home, she ran over a man. And he died.” He stopped to cover his eyes again.

“Keep going,” Daniel said.

“She called me and told me what happened. Even though she wanted to confess, I couldn’t watch her throw her life away, so I bribed the police chief to cover it up, and nobody found out. The only thing I knew, about the man whom our daughter killed, was that his father was a retired police officer. Are you saying that he killed our daughter?”

Daniel looked at Adriana and said, “We have to go find that man now.”

They drove back to Leo’s house, and when they explained who they were, Leo pointed a gun at them. Daniel, who had had military training, before he became a P.I., forced the gun out of Leo’s hands and pointed it at him. “She killed my son!” Leo yelled, on the way to the police station. A policeman arrested him, along with Juliana’s father.

When Adriana got home that day, she hugged her parents. “Barranquilla is not so boring after all. I want to stay. I think working with Daniel will be great for my career as a mystery writer.”

The Cover-Up: Project
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