Authors: Leighton Gage
Tags: #Brazil, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Silva, #Crimes against, #General, #Politicians, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction, #Mario (Fictitious Character)
There was a time when people called Lebanon the Switzerland of the Mediterranean, so peaceful and prosperous was the country.
In 1957, just fourteen years after winning independence from the French, Lebanon was invaded by the US Marines.
Ten years later, 300,000 Palestinians, fleeing the ArabIsraeli conflict, surged across the border and established camps, many of which remain until this day.
Nine years after that, the Syrian military moved in (they stayed for more than thirty years) and twice, in 1976 and 1982, Lebanese territory was invaded by the Israelis.
Each new outbreak of violence plunged the country deeper into chaos and caused more of her children to seek new homes abroad.
Many chose Brazil.
By the beginning of the 1990s, there were, it was said with some justification, more Lebanese in São Paulo than in Beirut.
But, before the refugees, before the great torrent of immigration began, there were a few young Lebanese upon whom Brazil exerted its attraction, not as a refuge, but as a land of limitless opportunity.
Two such adventurous spirits were Farid Nassib, newly graduated from the American University of Beirut with a degree in medicine, and his wife, Shada.
They arrived in São Paulo in the spring of 1950. Two years later, their son was born. They named him Jaco, after Farid’s father, and fate decreed that he should enter the world at the same hospital, and on the same day, as Mario Silva.
Placed in adjoining rooms, and shuffling around a common hallway, it wasn’t long before the new mothers struck up a conversation—and discovered they had much in common. It was the first child for each. Their husbands practiced the same profession. Both mothers had lost their own mothers, so both were lacking in that support so important to a woman about to bring home a baby for the first time. A friendship arose, first between the wives, later between their husbands.
When their sons were five, a house became available on the Rua Bela Cintra, the street where the Silvas lived. Doctor Nassib bought it and became the Silvas’ neighbor.
The two boys, Mario and Jaco, were friends from earliest childhood. They maintained their friendship after Jaco married and moved to Curitiba, his new wife’s hometown. The marriage was of short duration, less than three years, but Jaco’s relationship with Curitiba became permanent.
Even as a boy, Silva’s friend had been an inveterate gossip, so it was quite natural he’d be drawn to journalism as a profession. He’d been a reporter for as many years as Silva had been a cop and, during the last twenty-five of those years, had drawn his pay from the
Gazeta do Povo
, the most important newspaper in the State.
Jaco had begun his career as a reporter, covering the long, mostly boring, meetings of Curitiba’s City Council and the public and private lives of its members. Fifteen years later he’d been given his own column, and in the course of the last decade he’d become universally recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on the complicated world of Brazilian politics.
Jaco and the two federal cops met for dinner at a little place on the Rua Amintas Barros. Jaco had told them it was the best Lebanese restaurant in the city, and Silva believed him. Jaco had always been somewhat of a gourmet.
There was none of the faux atmosphere that often permeates such places, no middle-eastern fabrics decorating the walls, no hookahs, no photos of the Bekaa Valley, no
playing in the background, but it was exotic all the same. The scents that perfumed the air were of spices uncommon to Brazilian cuisine and at least half the clientele were conversing in languages other than Portuguese.
Jaco, as he was accustomed to doing with non-Lebanese, ordered for them all. The
hummus, baba ghanouj, esfihas
that preceded the main course were all more than good, but the beef
that followed was extraordinary. Silva pronounced it the best he’d ever eaten and Arnaldo agreed with him.
Meals in Brazil, as in Lebanon, are made to be enjoyed— and business is never discussed in the course of them, but after the dishes had been cleared away and the owner, solicitous to a fault, had left them to their coffee, Jaco leaned forward, lowered his voice and began talking about Plínio and Stella Saldana.
The story he told stood in sharp contrast to everything they’d heard before.
“Plínio was a politician,” Jaco said, “not as bad as some, maybe even better than most, but no saint. He started off as an idealist, I’ll give him that, but he fell in love with the power of office.”
“And his idealism didn’t last?”
“No. It didn’t last.”
“How about his wife’s?” Arnaldo asked.
“She retained hers. She’s a stronger person than he was, and smarter, but. . . .” Jaco toyed with his cup.
“What?” Silva said.
“This is going to sound weird.”
“I think there’s something dangerous about her.” Arnaldo frowned. “Dangerous?”
“Maybe dangerous is too strong a word. Immoderate might be a better one.” He looked at his old friend. “Do you recall, Mario, how we thought, how we acted, back in 1968?”
Silva smiled at the memory. “Our foolish youth, Jaco. I look back on that time, and I think, was that me? How could I ever have been that naïve? That idealistic?”
“Foolish, yes. Naïve, maybe. Idealistic, certainly, but here’s the thing: we weren’t out to kill people. For us, and for most of our fellow students, it was all just riot and rhetoric.”
“Excessive zeal, even when it’s rooted in a desire to do good, can have terrible consequences. The worldwide student riots in ’68 led to the founding of organizations like the
Aliança Libertadora Nacional
Rote Armee Fraktion
and the Weather Underground, all of which viewed the killing of innocents as morally justified as long as it led to the achievement of their goals.”
“What has all this got to do with Stella Saldana?”
“She’s a zealot, Mario, committed to her ideals, maybe even fanatically so.”
“To the extent of being a physical threat to someone who might get in the way of her programs?”
“Including her husband?”
“Come on, Jaco. Even from you, that’s pretty far-fetched.”
Jaco smiled. “Hey, if I can’t share my thoughts with you, who can I share them with? I sure as hell can’t print them in my column. The last thing the
needs these days is another lawsuit.”
“Does anyone, other than you, see these tendencies in Stella? Is anyone else saying the sort of things about her that you’re saying to me right now?”
Jaco shrugged. “Not as far as I know. Maybe you want to take everything I’m telling you with a grain of salt. I’ve been so close to so many politicians for so long I don’t trust any of them anymore.”
“Plus the fact,” Silva said, with a smile, “that you have a tendency to exaggerate.”
Jaco returned the smile. “It’s my Levantine character. Some people think we Lebanese live on
. In fact, we live on intrigue. Now, about Nestor Cambria. . . .”
“What about him?”
“You know about him and Stella?”
“Him and Stella? What about him and Stella?”
“They were an item once. About that, there’s no doubt. It’s a fact.”
“After she married Plínio?”
Jaco shook his head. “Before. Long before. Before she met Plínio, before they were all in law school together.”
“Perhaps. But there was a rumor, not long before Plínio was killed, that they’d gotten back together.”
“Any proof it’s true?”
“If I had proof, I wouldn’t have called it a rumor.”
“You believe it?”
“I’m of two minds. But here’s the thing: if, and I say if, it’s true, it might just have been Stella getting her own back on Plínio.”
“Getting her own back? What do you mean?”
“So you don’t know about Eva Telles?”
“Who’s Eva Telles?”
“He had a girlfriend?”
“He did. And Stella might have known about her, because Stella isn’t stupid, and Eva isn’t discreet. Senhorita Telles was running around telling people Plínio was going to ditch Stella and marry her.”
“You think Governor Abbas knows about this woman?”
“Without a doubt. Abbas has Madalena Torres working for him, and Madalena is a lady who makes it her business to know everything about everybody. She even has a dossier on me. She told me so herself. Fair enough. I’ve got one on her. She’s had so many lovers she—”
“Let’s stick with Abbas. If he knew Plínio had a mistress, why didn’t he use it against him in the campaign?”
“The talk on the street is because Abbas has his own little affair going on, and Plínio found out about it.”
“Ha. So it was a standoff?”
“Uh-huh. Plínio agreed to keep his mouth shut if Abbas did the same. That kind of stuff happens more than you might imagine in politics.”
“It could never be more than we might imagine,” Arnaldo said. “We live in Brasilia, remember?”
Jaco grinned at him. “Of course you do. I stand corrected.”
“So what’s your best guess?” Silva said. “If he’d been elected governor, would Plínio have ditched Stella for Eva?”
“No way. Eva is pretty, but she’s not . . . um . . . intellectually gifted. She wouldn’t have been of any help to him, and in many ways she’d have been a hindrance. I’m more inclined to put credence in the other rumor.”
“That Plínio had tired of Eva and was about to break it off.”
“So there’s another damned suspect,” Arnaldo said. “Two,” Jaco said. “Don’t exclude Stella.”
“We’re not,” Silva said. “About this Telles woman, can you get me contact information?”
“Sure. I’ll send it to you in a text message, first thing in the morning. How about some more coffee?”
Silva and Arnaldo both nodded. Jaco raised a hand. The waiter came to their table and took their order.
“Have you spoken to Plínio’s old man, Orestes?” Jaco asked when the waiter was gone.
“I have,” Silva said. “He’s a nasty piece of work.”
“He is. But the world won’t have to put up with him for much longer. He’s sick. Cancer. He’s got a year, at most.”
“How do you find out these things?”
“A quarter of a century of cultivating contacts,” Jaco said. “If the politicians in this town knew how well-informed I am, I’d fear for my life.”
He treated it as a joke, but Silva knew he was serious.
“Braulio Serpa,” Arnaldo said, “thinks Plínio’s brother might have been behind his murder.”
“So he could inherit all the loot when the old man kicks off?”
“A possibility,” Jaco said. “Lúcio’s a greedy bastard. But Orestes is another possibility. The old man’s capacity for hatred is boundless, and he hated Plínio. The thought of Plínio getting his hands on any of his money would have been intolerable to him.”
“Lovely family,” Arnaldo said.
“If I agreed with you,” Jaco said, “we’d both be wrong.”
“How about Orestes’s mother?” Silva said. “What do you think of her?”
“Ariana? She’s the exception. A splendid old bird; the last of her kind. How she could have produced that son of hers is a mystery to me.”
The waiter brought their coffee. Jaco waited until they’d been served before he spoke again.
“I’ve been saving the best for last,” he said.
“Oh, yes, Mario, there’s more. And it’s a bombshell. Have you ever heard me mention Ismail Khouri?”
“No. Who is he?”
“Ismail is an old friend. Not as old as you, but an old friend nonetheless. Most Lebanese in this country are Christians. Only a few of us are Muslims. I’m one. Ismail is another. Back in São Paulo, we used to spend quite a bit of time together, attended the same mosque. I thought you might have met him. Short little fellow? Beard? Walks with a limp?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Okay, it doesn’t matter. Here’s the story: a number of years ago Ismail moved to Foz do Iguaçu and opened a business.”
“What kind of business?”
“A shop specialized in electronics, cell phones, digital cameras, televisions, video disk players, that sort of thing. He lives in Foz, but his business is in Paraguay.”
“Ciudad del Este?”
“Indeed. He wouldn’t live there on a bet, but he makes good money, so he goes across the bridge every day to work. ”
“And Ismail tells me there’s a rumor floating around that Plínio was involved in an illegal business venture in that benighted country.”
“Benighted?” Arnaldo said. “Where do you get a word like that?”
“I write for a living, remember?”
“What kind of business venture?” Silva asked.
“Luxury automobiles, stolen in Brazil, smuggled across the river and reregistered and resold in Paraguay.”
Silva held up a hand. “Wait. You’re telling me Plínio Saldana, Senhor Morality, the guy who was running on a platform of sweeping Paraná clean, was a
Jaco nodded. “That’s the rumor. Unsubstantiated, I hasten to add. I haven’t heard it from anyone but Ismail.”
Silva looked dubious. “The car smuggling business has been going on for years, Jaco. Saldana, if the rumor is true, would have been the new guy on the block, and the Paraguayans wouldn’t have looked favorably on him trying to cut himself in.”
“Ah, but what if his partner was a Paraguayan, already established in the business?”
“That, of course, would be different. Who was it?”
“A gentleman of Syrian extraction who has an automobile dealership in Ciudad del Este. He’s said to be involved in the smuggling of arms and drugs as well. Moreover, he’s a hatemonger, a fanatic, maybe even a terrorist.”
“And what is this nasty character’s name?”
“Al-Fulan,” Jaco said. “Jamil Al-Fulan.”
Orlando Muniz, when he wasn’t visiting one of his far-flung
, lived in an apartment facing the sea on Avenida Vieira Souto in Rio de Janeiro. But he also kept a small place on Rua Pamplona in São Paulo, and it was there that he met the Colonel’s men.
Aldo—none of them gave Muniz a surname—was an enigma: a Mediterranean type, perhaps of Italian or Greek heritage, possibly of Portuguese, or Spanish,—but with a thick Slavic accent.
Reiner, blond-haired and blue-eyed, might have stepped out of a Nazi propaganda poster, but the way he spoke was suggestive of Rio Grande do Sul, a place where German immigrants had been settling ever since the nineteenth century.
Careca, the leader, was a huge man with a shaved head, tattooed arms and an incongruously high voice. He looked like a thug, but expressed himself like an officer—and a