Authors: Gregory Mcdonald
Gregory Mcdonald is the author of twenty-five books, including nine Fletch novels and three Flynn mysteries. He has twice won the Mystery Writers of America’s prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery Novel, and was the first author to win for both a novel and its sequel. He lives in Tennessee.
Fletch and the Widow Bradley
Fletch and the Man Who
Son of Fletch
The Buck Passes Flynn
Skylar in Yankeeland
Who Took Toby Rinaldi? (Snatched)
Love Among the Mashed Potatoes (Dear M.E.)
Exits and Entrances
A World Too Wide
The Education of Gregory Mcdonald
(Souvenirs of a Blown World)
Dedicated with affection and admiration
to Gloria and Alfredo Machado, their family
Naturally the samba drums were beating, rhythms beside rhythms on top of rhythms beneath rhythms. Especially just before Carnival did this modern city of nine million people on the South Atlantic reverberate with the ever-quickening rhythms of the drums. From all sides, every minute, day and night, came the beating of the drums
“You cannot understand the future of the world without first understanding Brazil.” That was the way the trim, forty-year-old Brazilian novelist Marilia Diniz spoke. Informative. Instinctual. Indicative. The umbrella over the café table on Avenida Atlantica shaded her eyes, leaving her mouth in the afternoon sunlight. She shrugged her thin shoulders. “Unfortunately, Brazil is beyond anyone’s understanding.”
Marilia sat across from Fletch in a light dress with only straps over her pale shoulders. Marilia Diniz was the rare
who never went to the beach.
Laura Soares, more appropriately dressed in shorts, sandals, a halter, more appropriately tanned golden brown, sat to Fletch’s right. Laura would always go to the beach.
Fletch was dressed in the uniform he had learned to be innocent, egalitarian: shorts and sneakers.
In front of Marilia and Laura were glasses of beer,
. Fletch had the drink he liked best in all the world:
“Now that Fletch sees the
Praia de Copacabana
he will never go anywhere else,” Laura said. “Maybe I will never even be able to get him to come back to Bahia.”
“I’ll go back to Bahia anytime,” Fletch said. “If your father lets me.”
“He’ll embrace you. You know that.”
“I don’t know.”
“The first truth about Brazil,” Marilia said, “is its absolute tolerance.”
“Does Brazil tolerate intolerance?”
“I suppose so.” Marilia wrinkled her nose. “You see, you cannot understand.”
stretched the huge, dazzling Copacabana Beach, from the Morro do Leme to his left, to the peninsula separating Copacabana from the beaches of Arpoador, Ipanema and Leblon to his right.
On the beach, among the brightly colored umbrellas and blankets, were thousands of golden brown bodies, all ages, sexes, their swimsuits so small on them only their skin, really, was visible, exercising, taking turns at the provided chin-up bars, reclining on sit-up boards, running. Within sight on the beach, Fletch counted fourteen soccer games in progress. Small children played at the water’s edge, but most of the people in the water were doing disciplined swimming. Proportionately few on the beach were resting. The temperature was thirty-three degrees centigrade, about ninety degrees Fahrenheit; it was four o’clock in the afternoon, and the people’s energy shimmered up from the sand more positively than reflected the strong sunlight.
At street corners to the right and left of where they sat drummed samba bands. Boys, men, from fourteen years of age to whenever, beat on drums of various sizes, various tones as if this were their last chance to do so, ever. The band to the right wore canary yellow shorts; to the left, cardinal red shorts. Immediately around each band, pedestrians stayed to give in totally to the samba awhile, dancing on the sidewalk, up and down the curb, among the cars parked pridefully anywhere. One or two drummers might stop a moment to wipe the sweat from their chests, bellies, forearms, drink a
to make more sweat, but a samba band itself never stops, when it moves, when it stays in one place. A samba band’s stopping is as fatal a thought as your own heart’s stopping.
And the people passing on the sidewalk in front of the café, the pedestrians, going from corner to corner, band to band, businessmen dressed only in shorts and sandals, sometimes shirts, carrying briefcases, women in bikinis lugging bags of
groceries, barefoot children running with a soccer ball, walked, lugged, ran, keeping the beat of the drums in their feet, their legs, their hips, their shoulders. This moving to the samba instead of just moving gives Brazilians the most beautiful legs in the world, having a true balance, an ideal proportion between muscular calves and slim thighs. The groups of gap-mouthed begging children, the cloth of their shorts worn so it almost did not exist, kept their bare feet moving to the rhythm of the drums, making the stillness, the steadiness of their huge dark eyes the more shocking, imploring. To provide a deception of class difference for the tourists, the café waiters wore black long trousers and white open shirts and real shoes, but even in their brushing crumbs from the tables, begging children away from someone they had implored too long, they somberly kept the samba beat.
In his chair, Fletch stretched his arms over his head.
“Mysterious city,” said Marilia. “Mysterious country.”
Fletch said: “The guidebook says something like, ‘At first sight of Rio de Janeiro instantly you forgive God for what’s visible of New Jersey.’”
“I like New Jersey,” said Laura. “Isn’t that where Pennsylvania is? I thought so.”
“If you cannot understand the future of the world without first understanding Brazil,” Fletch said, “I would like to understand more of Brazil’s past. Granted, I came to Brazil rather quickly, without really expecting to, without being prepared, but once here I can find out very little of Brazil’s history. Even Laura’s father—”
Laura giggled and put her hand on his thigh. “Brazil has no past. That’s what makes us so mysterious.”
Marilia shot a glance at Laura. “You have not heard of
queima de arquivo
A begging child came by and placed one peanut in front of each of them.
Laura laughed. “A while ago a Brazilian airliner crashed on a runway. As anyone’s airliner might. Within minutes a crew
showed up to paint over the Brazilian how-do-you-call-them? insignias on the airplane. It is our way of preventing what has already happened.”
“It means ‘burn the record,’” Marilia said.
“It means ‘cover up,’” Laura said. “It is the Brazilian way of life. That is why we are so free.”
“It has happened more than once,” Marilia said. “A government takes power. In disapproval of all that has gone before, it burns the records of previous governments. Like confession, the idea has been to give us a fresh beginning.”
“So we are a nation of anarchists,” laughed Laura. “We are all anarchists.”
“All histories are shame-filled,” Marilia said.
“Brazil’s shames we have expunged by setting fire to them, sending them on the wind.”
At a little distance from them, the pixie, a boy about six years old, watched them with disappointment. They were not eating their peanuts.
Marilia put her sunglasses on her nose and sat back in her chair. “And you, Fletcher?”
Slowly, Fletch ate his peanut.
Instantly the small boy stepped forward and offered to sell Fletch a bag of peanuts.
out of his sneaker and gave too many to the boy.
He opened the peanut bag and held it out to Marilia.
She shook her head. “Do you practice
queima de arquivo?
Are you in Brazil to burn your record?”
“It would make him Brazilian,” Laura said. “Honorary Brazilian.”
“Is that why Laura’s father does not like you?”
“My father likes him,” said Laura. “Loves him. It’s only that—”
“Her father,” Fletch said, “is a scholar. A professor at the university. A poet.”
Now a dozen begging children were around his chair, whispering at him.
“Of course. Otavio Cavalcanti. I know him well. Laura is almost my niece. She should be staying with me, here in Rio.”
“He is intolerant of North Americans. I am a North American.”
Standing on the sidewalk near the curb, standing uncommonly still, was an old woman, a hag. A long, shapeless white dress hung from her neck. Dark pouches high in her cheekbones made it seem as if she had four dark eyes. All four eyes were staring at Fletch.
“That’s not it, precisely,” Laura said. “Fletcher can come here to Brazil, to sit in this café, drink
and watch the women walk. My father is not permitted into the United States of the North anymore, to read his poetry at Columbia University. My father is intolerant of that.”
“I have read your father,” said Fletch. “He speaks on behalf of the people.”
Across the sidewalk the woman in white was staring at Fletch as if he had dropped from the moon.
“And there is something else.” Laura shifted in her chair. “You must admit it, Fletch.”
“What is it?” Marilia asked.
“My father feels Fletch does not see the difference in the Brazilian people.”
“There is no equality like Brazilian equality,” Fletch said. “I love that.”
“It is not the equality….” Uncomfortably, Laura was looking at Marilia.
“Oh, yes,” Marilia said.
“My father says Fletch keeps trying to understand the Brazilian people through other people he has known. He cannot see the other side of us.”
“There is much I don’t understand,” Fletch said.
“There is much you do not accept.”
Fletch grinned at his own joke: “There is much I cannot see.”
“Your father is a member of a
Fletch said. “An intelligent man like that.”
Marilia twisted the cloth braided around her left wrist.
“But he loves Fletch. He says Fletch is surprisingly open, as a person,” Laura said.
“As a North American.”
“You cannot understand Brazil,” Marilia said from behind her sunglasses. “Brazil accepts thieves. The United States of North America will not accept scholars and poets who speak on behalf of the people.”
“Am I a thief?” Fletch asked. Clearly the hag staring at him from across the sidewalk thought he was something extraordinary.