Authors: Leighton Gage
Tags: #Brazil, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Silva, #Crimes against, #General, #Politicians, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction, #Mario (Fictitious Character)
By mid-afternoon, even before Silva and Arnaldo had completed their short flight to Curitiba, the three partial fingerprints lifted from the bomber’s severed hand had been circulated to the “neighbors”—the ten countries sharing borders with Brazil.
Based upon past experience, responses from Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, French Guyana and Uruguay could be expected within forty-eight hours.
Responses from Guyana, Suriname, Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia customarily took much longer.
The baby carriage turned out to be of Brazilian manufacture, one of many thousands produced. It was untraceable.
But the explosive was not.
Manufacturers don’t necessarily put post-detonation taggants into all the explosives they make—but they had in this one. It was C4, produced by an English firm called Ribbands Explosives.
This Lefkowitz imparted when he showed up in Hector’s office bearing a brown manila envelope.
“And shipped to?” Hector asked.
“The Paraguayan Army,” Lefkowitz said. “They bought a container full of the stuff, sixteen metric tons.”
? What the hell is the Paraguayan Army going to do with sixteen metric tons of C4?”
“The greater question is: why is there a Paraguayan Army at all? It’s not like anyone would want to annex the place.”
“Did you contact them?”
“Mara did. To hear her tell it, they were astounded, simply astounded. Three entire drums, a total of seventy-five kilos, have mysteriously gone missing. Until she asked them to check, they didn’t even know they were gone. That’s their story, anyway, and they’re sticking to it.”
“Of course they are.”
The response from the Paraguayans didn’t come as a surprise. Smuggling and the arms trade are to Paraguay what banking and cuckoo clocks are to Switzerland. And the Paraguayan military was known to be thoroughly corrupt.
“We should have finished the job back in 1870,” Lefkowitz said. His expression was sour.
“Harsh, Lefkowitz, very harsh.”
A nineteenth-century war with Brazil had been devastating for Paraguay. By the time it ended, seventy percent of the country’s total population, and almost all its adult males, were dead. There were those who believed the Paraguayans had been trying to get back at the Brazilians ever since. Lefkowitz was one of them.
“Harsh, my ass,” he said. “Do you have any idea how much stuff Mara has traced back to those people? She’s called them so often that she and her contacts in Asunción are on a firstname basis, and I swear to God I’m not kidding.”
“Believe me,” Hector said, “I didn’t think, even for a moment, that you were kidding. Any estimation of how many of those seventy-five kilos were used in the bombing?”
“Probably a little over a third.”
“So they’ve got almost fifty kilos left. What’s the shelf life of C4?”
“At least ten years.”
“Damn. Nothing but bad news.”
“Not really,” Lefkowitz said and took a photo out of the envelope. Next to a ruler with gradations in millimeters, it showed a twisted piece of steel.
“What’s this?” Hector said.
“A part of the frame that held up the shade on the baby’s carriage.”
“The shade? You mean that collapsible thing, the one that works like a hood on a convertible?”
Hector remembered the image from the video. “It was up when the bomb went off.”
“It was. Now, look at this.” Lefkowitz pointed to where the blackened strip was bent around a little donut-shaped piece of steel.
“Is that a washer?” Hector asked.
Lefkowitz nodded. “It’s a washer all right,” he said. “Now follow my reasoning: the washers were embedded in the explosive. The explosive was
the baby. The shade was
the baby. When the bomb was detonated, the washers were blown in all directions. This particular washer went straight up and impacted the frame of the shade. The force of the explosion caused the frame to wrap around the washer and hold it fast.”
“But to get to the frame it would have had to have passed through the bedclothes and. . .”
“Through the baby. That’s correct.”
“So, when you pry the frame and the washer apart, you might be able to extract—”
“DNA,” Lefkowitz said.
“Looks like a fucking street sweepers’ convention, doesn’t it?” Braulio Serpa said. Serpa was Paraná’s Secretary of Security, the top law-enforcement official in the State. He reported directly to Governor Abbas.
Arnaldo Nunes yawned. “
Plus ça change
,” he said. The three of them, Serpa, Arnaldo and Silva, were in Serpa’s office looking at a shot of Tiradentes Square. It had been recorded by a news camera only minutes before Plínio’s assassination.
Brooms were everywhere: big brooms, small brooms, brooms with dark bristles, brooms with light bristles, brooms with short handles, brooms with long handles, all being waved above the crowd like banners at a football match.
Serpa pushed the pause button and froze the image. “Plusa what?” he said.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,
” Silva said. “It’s French. Let’s move on, Braulio. Unfreeze it.”
But Serpa didn’t unfreeze it. “French which means what?” he said suspiciously.
“Which means,” Arnaldo said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
“So, all of a sudden, you speak French, do you?”
,” Arnaldo said with false modesty.
“Well, I don’t. So why don’t you explain to me, in good Portuguese, what the fuck you’re talking about?”
“The brooms,” Silva said with a sigh. “He’s talking about the brooms.”
“Plínio’s campaign slogan,” Serpa said, “was
sweep Paraná clean
. His symbol was a broom.”
“We know that,” Silva said.
“He stole it,” Arnaldo said.
“Whaddayamean, he stole it?”
“From Jânio Quadros. Quadros invented the slogan. And he invented the symbol. And he got himself elected. That was back in the forties.”
“Everybody around here thinks it was Plínio who invented that slogan,” Serpa said, impressed. It sounded as if he admired the man for being able to steal something and get away with it.
“Probably not everybody,” Arnaldo said. “Probably just the lesser-educated.”
“Fuck you, too, Nunes.”
Their relationship with the secretary was tenuous at best, but he and Arnaldo were going to have to work with the man, so Silva elected to pour oil on the troubled waters.
“I’m sure it wasn’t Arnaldo’s intention to offend you, Braulio. Was it, Arnaldo?”
“Perish the thought,” Arnaldo said.
Serpa decided not to pursue the issue, a sure sign he needed them even more than they needed him—or thought he did.
“Plínio Saldana,” he said, redirecting his anger, “was a fucking hypocrite.”
“Hypocrite?” Silva asked, steering the conversation into safer waters.
“He was a politician, wasn’t he?” Serpa said. “They’re all hypocrites.” Then, realizing what he’d just said, he backpedaled. “Not my boss, of course. Abbas is a stand-up guy. He tells you something, you can take it to the bank.”
“How about we go back to the video?” Silva said, breaking the short silence that followed.
Serpa started to say something, thought better of it and reached for the remote.
The broom-waving continued, both on the platform and off. It was still underway when Plínio took leave of his audience and made a beeline for the steps.
“Here it comes,” Serpa said.
Plínio approached the camera. His image continued to grow, culminating in a tight close up.
“Wait for it,” Serpa said. “Wait for it. . . .”
There was a
on the soundtrack. A hole appeared in the candidate’s forehead. Erupting out of the exit wound, blood and brain matter splattered several bystanders.
The scene, considered too graphic for television, had never been aired. Serpa, however, had seen it many times before. When the bullet went home, he wasn’t looking at the screen, he was studying Silva and Arnaldo, probably in the hope they’d recoil.
“How about that, huh?” he said when neither did.
Someone jostled the camera, or the cameraman, and the image skewed to the left. Then someone else obscured the view by stepping in front of the lens.
The two federal cops remained impassive.
Serpa moved on. “Now we jump back in time,” he said. “This was shot by a camera from another channel. It’s the same action, but taken from the other side.”
Three or four seconds into the sequence he pushed the pause button.
“That guy there,” he said, tapping the screen, “is Nestor Cambria, Saldana’s bodyguard. You get to see more of him in the next shot.”
“I know Nestor,” Silva said. “We both do.”
“So do I,” Serpa said. “He worked for me before he joined you guys.”
“We were glad to get him,” Arnaldo said.
“And I was glad to lose him.”
Neither Silva nor Arnaldo commented on that. They already knew Nestor’s side of the story—and they weren’t interested in Serpa’s.
“Have you worked on the sound?” Silva asked.
“You mean, filtered it? Tried to isolate individual voices?”
“We did. But there was just too damn much noise, too much screaming going on. Doesn’t matter anyway. No matter what anybody said, it doesn’t change anything.”
“Maybe not,” Silva said, but he didn’t sound convinced. “Maybe we should have a crack at it in Brasilia.”
Serpa shrugged. “Suit yourself, but it’s gonna be a waste of time.”
“Sure of that, are you?”
“One hundred percent. Ask that Lefkowitz of yours. Ask anybody. My guys are good.”
“All right, go ahead.”
Serpa unfroze the image.
Plínio’s back was to the camera. Facing him, a squat, powerfully-built woman was reaching out to grasp his hand.
“Nora Tasca,” Serpa said. “Our best eyewitness.”
A man edged into the frame and tried to shove her out of the way.
“Enter the killer, Julio Cataldo,” Serpa said.
Cataldo raised a pistol. Nora elbowed him in the ribs. A fraction of a second later a flash erupted from the handgun’s muzzle. Nora whipped her head around to look at Cataldo’s face. Saldana, mortally wounded, dropped out of frame.
Again the angle changed. Serpa rustled his papers but didn’t say anything. This time, the sequence had been filmed from farther away, or with a shorter lens, and consequently showed more of the surrounding action. Nestor was seen to draw his weapon, shoot, be shot, shoot again and go down.
“Ouch,” Arnaldo said.
“Ouch is right,” Serpa said, “but your friend Nestor still got the best of it. Plínio and Cataldo are dead. Of the three of them, he’s the only one who didn’t get a mortal wound. And now, gentlemen, the best coverage of all, which is why I left it for last.”
“Why the best coverage of all?” Silva wanted to know.
“Plínio had a personal videographer, a guy who followed him around. He was inside the security perimeter. Nobody got in his way while he was recording. Watch.”
The clip began ten seconds before the attack. Plínio and his bodyguard, Nestor, were on the right-hand side of the frame, Cataldo on the left. It was almost as if the assassination had been staged for the camera.
“Whoa!” Arnaldo said, when Nestor fired for the second time, and a jet of blood spouted from Cataldo’s neck. “Carotid artery. Game over. He would have bled out in no time.”
“He did,” Serpa said.
“How’s Nestor doing?” Silva asked.
“The doctors say he’s going to be fine.”
“Did you interview him?”
Serpa shook his head. “What could he tell us that we don’t already know?”
“Go back to the beginning of the previous shot,” Silva said, “and I’ll show you.”
“Keep your hand on the remote. Freeze the image when I tell you. Pay special attention to where Nestor’s hand is just before the assassin’s gun appears.”
“What are you talking about? What am I looking for?”
“Do as I suggest, and you’ll see for yourself.”
Serpa shrugged, rewound the video and hit the play button.
“Now,” Silva said, leaning forward. Then: “Inch it back a bit. There. That’s it.”
On the screen, Nestor’s gun was clearing his holster, but Cataldo’s wasn’t yet visible.
“Jesus Christ,” Serpa said. “Nestor
. He knew what was coming.”
“It appears he did.”
“I don’t know how I missed it.”
“Neither do I.”
Silva meant it as a reproach, but Serpa was oblivious to the criticism.
“We gotta get to the hospital,” he said. “Time to have a little chat with Senhor Nestor Cambria.”
“Go back to the beginning of the tape,” Silva said, ignoring him. “This time, pay attention to the expressions on Cataldo’s face.”
“Why? What am I going to see?”
“You want me to tell you?”
“Tell me. We’ll look at it afterwards.”
“When he approaches Plínio,” Silva said, “Cataldo looks nervous, but determined. He’s grim, but his jaw is set. After he shoots, his expression turns to one of horror.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t. He drops his gun hand to his side and stares. Nestor shoots him. He looks down at his chest, and looks up at Nestor, as if he can’t believe what Nestor has done to him. Surprise turns to anger. He lifts the gun again and shoots Nestor.”
“You saw that? You saw all of that?”
“You’ll see it, too, if you watch the tape again.”
“It’s just . . . that it all happened so fast.”
“So aren’t we lucky we have it on video?” Arnaldo said. “You got slow-motion on that thing?”
“I do,” Serpa said.
“So let’s see it that way,” Silva said.
They watched it again.
“Plain as the nose on your face,” Arnaldo said when it was over. He stressed the word
. Serpa had a nose as prominent as the bowsprit on an old-time clipper ship, but the secretary of security didn’t react to the dig. He was that intrigued with what he’d just seen.
“How about this?” he said, after a few seconds of thought.
“How about if Cataldo and Nestor were in it together?”
“Go on,” Silva said.
“Yeah,” Serpa said, warming to his theme. “Cataldo was set up to kill Plínio, see? And, afterwards, Nestor was supposed to hold him at gunpoint so the crowd wouldn’t tear him apart.”
“I don’t think so,” Silva said.
“No, wait. Let me finish. It all makes sense. Afterward, Nestor was supposed to let him escape, at least that’s what Cataldo expected. But Nestor’s plan, all along, was to kill Cataldo as soon as he’d taken Plínio out. Plínio dead. The killer dead. The bodyguard just doing his job. The perfect crime.”
“Not impossible,” Silva said.
“But you don’t buy it.”
“It doesn’t seem like the Nestor I know.”
“Everybody’s got his price.”
Arnaldo turned his head and looked at him.
“What?” Serpa said.
“Why are we wasting time?” Serpa said. “Nestor is the key to the whole business. Let’s—”
Silva held up a hand. “I’ll get back to Nestor in a moment. Right now, I’m interested in Cataldo. What else can you tell us about him?”
“What’s to tell?”
“Any history of violence? Any criminal record? Any indication he might have been mentally ill?”
“No, no and no. He was a family man, born and bred in Curitiba. His friends, his neighbors, everybody we talked to said he was the last guy they would have expected to do something like this.”
“And you don’t find that suspicious?”
“Not when you know the rest of the story.”
“He was broke. He had debts. He needed money.”
“So he took on a kill-for-hire. That’s the way you figure it?”
Serpa shrugged. “Like I said, everybody has his price. All we gotta do is figure out who picked up the tab.”
“Okay,” Arnaldo said, “so let’s talk about the elephant in the room.”
“Lots of people seem to think your boss had the best motive.”
“Lots of people have got it wrong. Governor Abbas is a smart politician. Even if he wasn’t, even if he’d been dumb enough to try to knock off Plínio, Madalena wouldn’t have let him.”
“Who’s Madalena?” Arnaldo asked. “His wife?”
“Hell no. That’s Esmeralda, and she’s as dumb as a post. I’m talking about Madalena Torres. She’s his campaign manager, and she’s fucking brilliant.”
“And the Governor wouldn’t have acted without consulting her?”
“He consults her about everything. When to have breakfast, when to go to sleep, when to take a—”
Silva cut him short. “So you’re sure the governor isn’t mixed up in this?”
“One hundred percent. Think about it. If Abbas had anything to do with it, why would he have agreed to call you guys in? Answer me that.”
“Agreed?” Silva said. “What do you mean
? The way I heard it, it was his idea. It started with him.”
Serpa shook his head. “It started with me. It was
idea. I told the governor I needed help.”
Silva raised an eyebrow. “You mean to tell me, Braulio, that we’re here because you actually
us here? The last time we were in Paraná, I got the impression you couldn’t get us out of your state quick enough.”
“Hey, that was then. This is now. This time, it’s different. This time, I’m your New Best Friend.”
“And with friends like you, who needs enem—”
“Shut up, Nunes. I’m talking to your boss.”
“Why the change of heart?” Silva said.
“I’m forty-eight years old. I got three kids. I got responsibilities. I got expenses. I leave this job without finding out who bankrolled Plínio’s murder, I’m not gonna find another one paying half as well. I solve the case, I’m going to be a hero, and I can write my ticket in the civilian security world.”
“So you don’t see yourself staying on after Abbas leaves?”
“Are you kidding? You know who’s running in Plínio’s place?”
“His widow, Stella.”
“That’s right. Stella Saldana announced her candidacy about two hours ago. With the backlash, with half the state thinking Abbas was behind her husband’s killing, she’s sure to win. She’ll take office on the third of January, and by the fourth, every Abbas appointee in this state will be out on his ass, me included. Happy New Year, right? Anyway, that only gives me another nine weeks to crack this thing, and I’d take help from the Devil himself.”
“Yeah, we’ve been looking forward to working with you too,” Arnaldo said. “Just the thought gives me a warm, cuddly feeling.”
“I told you to shut up.”
“If not Abbas,” Silva said, “who?”
“I don’t know,” Serpa said, “but it’s got to be non-political.”
“How do you figure?”
“Simple. Up until the time Plínio got shot, it was a twohorse race. Either Saldana, or Abbas, was gonna win this election. Nobody else. No other candidate had a ghost of a chance. And, since nobody in Saldana’s camp would have wanted to kill him, and nobody in Abbas’s camp would have been stupid enough to. . . .”
“We should be concentrating on people outside the world of politics. Is that the way you figure it?”
“That’s the way I figure it.”
“All right, understood. Any suspects?”
“None,” Serpa said. “Well, okay, maybe one. But it’s a stretch.”
“You didn’t get this from me, okay?”
“Plínio’s old man, Orestes Saldana, is richer than God. His wife is dead, and he only has—make that