Authors: Leighton Gage
Tags: #Brazil, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Silva, #Crimes against, #General, #Politicians, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction, #Mario (Fictitious Character)
—two kids, Lúcio and Plínio.”
“So, before Plínio got himself killed, Orestes’s estate, when he died, would have been split equally.”
“And it didn’t matter a damn that Orestes hated Plínio’s guts, which he did. The law prohibited him from disinheriting a son, so Plínio would have gotten half the money, unless—”
“He predeceased the old man.”
“Likes money, does he? This Lúcio?”
“I don’t know if he likes it, but he sure as hell needs it. Word on the street is his business is going down the tubes.”
“What business? What does he do for a living?”
“He’s a financial consultant. But I wouldn’t call it a living, because it isn’t.”
Silva shook his head as if to clear it. “Say that again,” he said. “This Lúcio’s a financial consultant, yet he can’t make a success of his own business?”
Serpa gave a sardonic grin. “Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it? So it’s no surprise that the folks in this town who have money aren’t likely to trust him with any of it.”
“You just said his father was richer than God.”
“So why doesn’t he help him out? Pump some money into the business? Use his influence to get his son some clients?”
“You wouldn’t ask that question if you knew the old man. Orestes Saldana doesn’t put a
into anything that isn’t guaranteed to give him a return.”
“Like that, is he?”
“He’s the biggest tightwad that ever there was. Every charity in this town has had a go at him at one time or another, and he’s sent every one of them packing. The only thing he ever contributes to is Governor Abbas’s campaigns.
“And what is there about Governor Abbas that inspires the generosity of Senhor Saldana?”
“It’s not generosity. It’s an investment. Orestes owns a construction company that does about ninety percent of its business with the State.”
“How cozy,” Arnaldo said.
Serpa didn’t look at him, acted as if it had been Silva who’d spoken.
“Very cozy. Abbas and Saldana are like this”—Serpa held up a hand with his forefinger and middle finger crossed— “and the governor is going to want to keep it that way.”
“And therefore,” Silva said, “if we should subject Orestes, or his son, to interrogation—”
“Orestes is gonna squawk. And who is he gonna squawk to? Abbas that’s who! And the next thing you know the governor will be on my ass. There’s no way he’s gonna believe Orestes, or Lúcio, had anything to do with Plínio’s death, not unless we can prove it to him beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
“How do we prove it, if we can’t question them?”
“Yeah, that’s a problem, isn’t it? Put your thinking cap on, and maybe you’ll come up with a solution. But I never said a word to you about either Lúcio
his old man. Are we clear?”
Silva didn’t reply.
“You want to visit the crime scene?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“No, I didn’t think so. You wouldn’t get anything out of it anyway. It’s already been trampled over by everybody and his brother—and it’s knee-deep in flowers.”
“Have you spoken to Cataldo’s wife?”
“Sure. She sang the same tune as their friends and neighbors. She claimed to be mystified, said what her husband did came as a complete surprise. At first, I didn’t buy it.”
“But you do now?”
“I hooked her up to a lie detector. She passed with flying colors.”
“Lie detectors can be fooled.”
“You telling me something I don’t know? But that takes a cool customer, and this lady is an emotional wreck.”
“I’d like to talk to her anyway.”
Braulio shrugged. “Suit yourself. What else?”
“We’d like a copy of everything you’ve got. Everything.”
Serpa opened his drawer, removed a ring binder and put it on his desk. “I figured you would.”
“Not very thick,” Arnaldo said.
Serpa chose to take the observation as criticism. “What the fuck did you expect?” he said. “It just happened a few hours ago.”
“Medical examiner’s reports?” Silva asked.
“Tomorrow morning. But they’re not gonna tell us anything we don’t know already.”
Serpa nodded. “Plínio’s father, his brother, Cataldo’s wife, even Nestor’s wife, they’re all in the book.”
“And the governor?”
“Him too. And the governor’s chief-of-staff, Rodrigo Fabiano. And Madalena Torres. But you’re going to be wasting your time with that lot. No way any of those people are involved in this.”
He pushed the binder in Silva’s direction.
“Then we’re done for the moment,” Silva said, picking it up and rising to his feet. “Next stop, the hospital.”
“I’ll go with you,” Serpa said, standing up and reaching for his coat.
While his back was turned, Silva and Arnaldo exchanged a glance. The last thing they wanted was to have Serpa dogging their footsteps.
“Not a good idea,” Silva said to Serpa’s back, knowing he wouldn’t take kindly to being excluded.
The secretary turned to face him. “Why the hell not?”
“We’re friends of Nestor’s,” Silva said, reasonably. “You’re not. Without you, we’re likely to get more out of him.”
It wasn’t a strong argument, but it was the best he could think of on the spur of the moment.
Serpa stood there for a few seconds, trying to think of a way to refute it—but he couldn’t, so he mumbled something inaudible, scowled and sat down.
He was still scowling when they closed the door behind them.
A twenty-minute cab ride took Silva and Arnaldo to Santa Cruz Hospital. They arrived to find a horde of people exiting the front door.
“Shift change,” Arnaldo said.
But it wasn’t.
“The afternoon visiting hours just ended,” the woman
at the reception desk told them. She was elderly, long past retirement age, probably a volunteer. Her thick glasses magnified friendly brown eyes.
Silva showed her his warrant card. “Police business,” he said.
“Well, that’s different, isn’t it? The patient’s name?”
Silva told her.
She opened a folder and ran an index finger down a list. “Here it is. Cambria, Nestor. Room 542.”
They boarded the elevator and pressed the button for the fifth floor. It stopped on the second.
The door opened to reveal two young women engaged in conversation.
“So then I told her,” one was saying, “that, with a boyfriend like that, she’d be better off if she just—” She stopped abruptly when she saw the elevator wasn’t empty.
Both women were dressed in identical pink frocks, and both were pushing carts laden with trays. Arnaldo put out a hand to prevent the door from closing as they climbed on board.
“Thanks,” the one who’d been speaking said, but she didn’t resume her conversation. The elevator filled with the smell of overcooked vegetables.
One woman got off on the fourth floor; the other on the fifth where she turned left and moved off at a brisk pace.
Arnaldo and Silva stopped at the desk directly in front of the elevator doors. From behind it, a no-nonsense type with a pencil protruding from her hair like an antenna was staring daggers. Silva looked for a name tag. She wasn’t wearing one.
When they asked her how to find room 542 she raised her chin.
“Visiting hours just ended,” she said.
“Yes,” Silva said. “We’re aware of that.”
“We’re serving dinner. We don’t admit visitors during mealtimes.”
“Sorry. You’re going to have to make an exception. This is police business.”
“Can’t it wait?”
“No, Senhora,” Silva said, keeping a tight rein on his temper, “I’m afraid it can’t.”
“Credentials, please,” she said.
Both cops showed her their warrant cards. She took her time studying them, then pointed and said, “It’s that way, at the end of the hall.”
“The life of the party, that one,” Arnaldo muttered after they’d turned their backs and were walking away. “Remind me never to get shot in Curitiba.”
“Never get shot in Curitiba,” Silva said.
Just then, there was a scream followed by a crash. The woman who’d exited the elevator with them hurried out of a room and passed them on the run. She stopped at the nurses’ station and leaned over the desk.
Silva and Arnaldo quickened their pace, reached the door from which she’d emerged and stepped over the tray of food and crockery she’d let fall to the floor.
Nestor was lying across the bed, his pajamas and sheets soaked with blood. More had pooled on the floor.
The PA system burst into life.
Code Blue. Room 542. Code Blue. Room 542.
“Closet and bathroom,” Silva snapped.
Arnaldo, gun already in hand, went to check both places.
Silva holstered his Glock and put his index and middle fingers on Nestor’s carotid artery.
Their friend’s eyes were open. An ugly gash was in his forehead, a bloody pillow next to his body. His pulse was nonexistent.
“Whoever did it is gone,” Arnaldo said, returning from the bathroom. “Nestor?”
“Also gone,” Silva said.
There was a commotion in the hallway. A young man wearing green scrubs appeared at the door. He spotted the pistol in Arnaldo’s hand and stopped so abruptly that both of the nurses behind him ran into his back.
“Police,” Silva said and stepped aside.
Reassured, they entered the room, followed by a third nurse pushing a cart heaped with instruments and medical supplies. The first two women went to the bed and bent over Nestor.
“I’m Doctor Sobel,” the man in scrubs said. “What happened?”
“Senhor Cambria is dead,” Silva said. “Murdered.”
The young doctor raised an eyebrow. “I think I’d be the better judge of that.”
“I don’t give a damn what you think,” Silva said, annoyed. “Tell your security people to block off this floor and to send their senior man to the nurse’s station near the elevator.” “I’m a doctor. I’m not—”
“Just do it!”
Sobel grimaced and, apparently better at giving orders than taking them, addressed one of the nurses.
“Do as he says.”
She moved toward the telephone. The two cops hurried back in the direction of the elevators.
“Senhor Cambria?” the no-nonsense woman asked before either one of them could get a word out.
“Murdered,” Arnaldo said.
His bluntness would have rattled most people. Not her.
“Murdered, eh?” she said. “You seem very sure of yourself. Don’t you think Doctor Sobel should make a call like that?”
“No, I don’t.”
That took her aback. “No? Why not?”
“Because I’ve seen lots more murdered people than that arrogant little prig ever did,” Arnaldo said.
Silva stepped-in before the altercation could escalate. “Your name, Senhora?”
She shot a nasty look at Arnaldo, but responded civilly enough. “Telles. Celia Telles.”
“Tell me, Senhora Telles, is it possible to get onto this floor by way of the stairwell?”
“Stairwells,” she corrected him. “There are two, and, no, it isn’t. You can
the floor, but you can’t
“What happens if you get trapped in the stairwell?”
“You have to descend to the lobby. Down there, the door isn’t locked.”
“So any visitor to this floor would have to use the elevator to get here?”
“Unless he had a key, or someone admitted him.”
“Or unless someone left one of the doors propped open,” Arnaldo said.
She obviously would have preferred to ignore him, or refute him, but was forced to give a reluctant nod.
“Who has keys?” Silva said. “The nursing staff? The doctors?”
She shook her head. “Only the security people.”
“How long have you been on duty?”
“Since ten. I’m doing a double shift.”
“How much of that time have you spent here, in this location?”
“Most of it. Someone has to keep a constant eye on the monitors. Unless I’m on a break, that’s me.”
“When was the last time you were on a break?”
She glanced at the clock on the wall. “I returned from the last one an hour and . . . twenty-six minutes ago.”
“Where are the monitors?”
“Come around to this side.”
Silva stepped behind the desk. Below the level of the surface, out of the sight of visitors, was a bank of small computer screens. Sharply-defined peaks were springing into existence on one side of each and trailing-off to disappear on the other. Above the pulsing green tracings, and in the same color, there were numbers. Some changed as he watched.
“Vital signs,” she said, and then pointed them out, “heartbeat, respiration, blood pressure.”
“Was Senhor Cambria hooked up to one of these?”
She shook her head.
“We don’t have enough units for everyone. His wound wasn’t serious. We had other priorities for the equipment.”
“What kind of priorities?”
“Patients over sixty, or those with special problems. Senhor Cambria didn’t fall into either category.”
“You keep a list of visitors?” Arnaldo asked.
“No,” she said.
“We do that in intensive care, and in maternity, where it’s necessary.”
“Meaning that here it isn’t?”
“Meaning exactly that.”
Her tone was getting sharper with each successive reply.
Once again, Silva stepped in, “How many patients on this floor?”
“Forty-two. Every room is occupied.”
“Forty-two,” Silva repeated. “That must generate a great deal of coming and going.”
“So you’d have a hard time remembering all the visitors.”
“It’s not my job to remember visitors.”
Silva betrayed no irritation, although he certainly felt it, and persisted: “But Nestor would have been different, right? He was a special patient. Somewhat of a celebrity. Someone whose visitors you’d be more likely to remember.”
“Yes,” she conceded, “he was. Senhor Cambria was a hero. Everyone saw him on television. Everyone. They kept playing the scenes over and over.”
“So who were they? Who came to visit him?”
She reflected for a moment, then said, “Well, his wife, of course. She was here this morning just after they brought him in. She said she’d be back after dinner.”
“A gang of reporters.”
“Stella Saldana, Plínio’s wife. She arrived with a whole entourage. They all trooped down to Senhor Cambria’s room. After a while, the others all came back and hung around here, waiting for her.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re saying Senhora Saldana remained alone in the room with Senhor Cambria?”
“That’s correct, but surely you’re not suggesting that she had anything to do with—”
“I’m not suggesting anything, Senhora. I’m just trying to get a feel for the timeline. How long did Senhora Saldana stay with Senhor Cambria?”
“Ten minutes? Fifteen? I really can’t be sure. I didn’t keep an eye on the clock.”
“But you don’t think it was more than fifteen minutes?”
“At about what time did she leave?”
“Shortly before you arrived. When the visiting hours ended.”
The elevator door opened, and a man in a uniform stepped out.
“Just one more question, Senhora,” Silva said. “How many of those reporters were there?”
“Seventeen,” the newcomer said, injecting himself into the conversation, “most of them idiots.”
He was a slim young man, about a hand’s breadth shorter than Arnaldo, with a mole on his left cheek and intelligent gray eyes.
Silva turned to face him. “What makes you say that?”
“They kept asking him how it
to be shot. How it
to lose a friend. How it
to kill a man. They weren’t really after answers, just sound bites and visuals. The newspaper people were the only ones who asked intelligent questions. And there were damned few.”
“Newspaper people or intelligent questions?”
“Sounds like you were there,” Arnaldo said.
“I was. Bunch of ghouls. Hell, how did they expect him to feel when a friend was murdered? A friend he was supposed to be protecting? And right in front of him too. I’m Raul Sintra, by the way, Head of Security here at Santa Cruz. Who are you?”
Silva showed his gold Chief Inspector’s badge. Sintra looked suitably impressed.
“And this is?”
“Agent Nunes,” Arnaldo answered for himself.
“Did I understand you to say Saldana and Nestor were friends?” Silva said.
“Close friends, ever since they were in law school. Didn’t you know?”
Silva shook his head.
“Tell me this, Senhor Sintra, did you ask for credentials from all those reporters?”
“No. I didn’t deem it necessary.”
“Fair enough. Did you take their names?”
“Nope. I didn’t think that was necessary either. I just told them to assemble in the lobby, and we’d take the whole gang upstairs at once, which we did. My turn. What’s going on?”
Silva told him.
Sintra reddened with anger. “Murdered him?” he said. “Someone
him? On my watch?”
“I see you’re taking it personally.”
“Goddamned right I’m taking it personally. Nobody warned me his life was in danger. Nobody said so much as a goddamned word. If they had, I would have had people inside and outside his room. I would have had a camera installed in there.”
“You sound like you might have been a law-enforcement officer.”
“I was. I was a delegado with the Civil Police here in Curitiba.”
Sintra’s jaw tightened. “I resigned.”
“Because I had a boss I couldn’t stomach.”
“Good. We can’t stomach him either.”
Sintra smiled. “You sound like my kind of people. What can I do to help?”
Silva pointed toward the elevator bank. “I spotted a security camera when we were coming up. How many have you got and how many actually work?”
“There are security cameras in every elevator in the building. They all work. And we record all the images and keep them for seventy-two hours.”
“Excellent. And the stairwells? Also covered?”
“Both stairwells. Ground floor only. And, before you ask, all the exits and entrances to the building.”
“And, if you’re on this floor, there’s no other way to leave other than via those elevators”—Silva pointed—“or the two stairwells?”
“And the video recordings are date and time-stamped?”
“Excellent. I’d like you to go through the videos and make a photo of every person who used an elevator, or one of those stairwells, in the past hour. Will you do that for me?”
Sintra nodded. “Sure. No problem. Why only the past hour?”
“Senhor Cambria’s body is still warm. He hasn’t been dead for more than a few minutes. So, in the interest of speed, let’s start with that. We can always expand the envelope if we don’t come up with anything. Are your men trained to use firearms?”
“They’re all ex-cops, except for one who’s an ex-army NCO.”
“Do they carry?”
Sintra shook his head. “Not normally, but there’s a locker downstairs where I keep some weapons for emergencies.” He fished a notebook and a ballpoint pen out of his hip pocket. “You want me to cover the exits, right? Just in case he’s still in the building?”
“Exactly,” Silva said. “Two armed men on each of the exits, make a record of everyone who leaves, detain anyone who’s suspicious and carry out a complete search of the building. Have you got enough staff to do all that?”
“Enough on duty,” he said, “to cover the doors with two in reserve. I’ll call in people from home to do the search. What else?”
“You want me to call Serpa and get backup?”
“If that bastard’s in,” Sintra said, “I’m out.”
“Then he’s not in,” Silva said.
“Good,” Sintra said. “What else?”
Show the photos to the staff and the patients. See if there’s someone none of them recognizes.”
“Okay. Who do I call if I get a hit?”
“Me. Take this.”
Silva offered his card.
“The number for the phone I carry is on the back,” he said. “If Serpa shows up, don’t give it to him.”
Sintra flipped the card over to check the number.
“I can already see it’s going to be a pleasure to work with you, Chief Inspector,” he said.