Authors: Leighton Gage
Tags: #Brazil, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Silva, #Crimes against, #General, #Politicians, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction, #Mario (Fictitious Character)
“Late last night,” Janus began without preamble, “this salesman for a media company got back from a trip to Rio and found his wife dead in their apartment.”
“Because they had a baby, a son about four months old— and he’s missing.”
Hector grabbed his pen. “Name?” he said.
“Adnan Chehab.” Janus spelled it. “His wife was Carlotta with two Ts.”
“Chehab? What kind of a name is that?”
“Lebanese, I think. Anyway, the guy sells space in magazines, has a number of clients in Rio and goes there once a week. Yesterday morning, at around quarter past seven, he kissed his wife goodbye and left. When he got home, at ten that night, he found a bloodbath, and she was in the middle of it. Somebody cut her throat and left her body on the living room floor.”
“The father’s story check out?”
“He had ticket stubs for the shuttle. He met a colleague at Congonhas. They flew together. We called his business contacts, had a look at the passenger lists. He was in Rio all right.”
“Could he have killed her before he left?”
“The M.E. says he
have, but the first responders found him sitting on the floor, with her head in his lap, babbling like an idiot. If he was putting on a performance, they said, he deserves an Academy Award. So I don’t think it’s likely.”
“Yesterday, Lefkowitz told me he might be able to recover DNA from the baby. We’ll need a sample of the woman’s blood.”
“I’ll get one for you. But I’m not finished.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“Chehab kept getting more and more hysterical, and the paramedics finally had to shoot him full of sedatives. But, before they did, my guys got him to take them around his apartment.”
“And it wasn’t a robbery. Other than the kid, nothing was missing.”
“You’re about to ask me about a baby carriage, right?”
“I was, yes.”
“Like I said, nothing. The Chenabs’ carriage was still there, and they only had the one.”
“Where is Chehab now?”
“At the Sírio-Libanês Hospital. We won’t get any more access to him until sometime this afternoon, if that.”
“You have people there?”
“Two. Sitting just outside his room.”
“How about the Chehabs’ neighbors?”
“My guys held off until this morning before they did the canvassing. They wanted to do it at the same time of day the wife had her throat cut.”
“They struck pay dirt. It’s a small building, only twentytwo apartments. A lady who lives on the floor above goes out every morning to buy fresh bread. Yesterday, Adnan joined her when she was going down in the elevator. He was off to Rio, he said. She wished him a pleasant trip and went to the
on the corner. It isn’t fifty meters from the front door of her building. When she got back a young guy,
pushing a baby carriage,
was talking to Chehab’s wife on the intercom.”
“Dark-skinned, she said. A middle-eastern type.”
“Your man show her a photograph of the bomber?”
“The damned fool wasn’t expecting to get lucky, so he didn’t have one with him. I chewed up one side of his ass and down the other. He’s on his way back as we speak, but I haven’t got much doubt about what she’s going to tell him. You?”
“No. Did she hear their exchange? Over the intercom?”
“Carlotta seemed to know him and had no qualms about buzzing him in, only that.”
“Did she introduce herself to him? Get a name?”
“They rode up together in the elevator, and she tried to initiate some friendly chitchat, but he wouldn’t have it. His attitude put her nose out of joint. She thought he was rude.”
“Baby in the carriage?”
“No baby. The carriage was new. She thought the guy was delivering it.”
, on the Avenida do Estado, was São Paulo’s oldest mosque and the one with the largest congregation. It was, therefore, the logical place for Danusa to initiate her inquires.
She was just arriving for her appointment with Sheikh Ahmad, the worship leader, when Hector called her cell phone and filled her in on the conversation with Janus Prado.
“With a name like that,” she said, “I think Janus is right about him being Lebanese. What’s the wife’s first name?” “Carlotta.”
“Carlotta? That doesn’t fit.”
“I didn’t think so either.”
“Is the husband a practicing Muslim?”
“I’ll ask the Sheikh about him. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“I must admit to a certain degree of curiosity about all this urgency,” he said. “I was to have spoken, this morning, at a school, and I hate to disappoint children.”
He’d used the word
. What he really meant was
, but he was too polite to say it.
“I’m sorry,” Danusa said, “but when you know the facts, I think you’ll agree that there was no time to lose. Tell me, what percentage of the city’s Muslims worship here at the Centro Islamico?”
“Fifty percent . . . or thereabouts.”
“So it follows that you probably know half the Muslims in São Paulo?”
“Probably. We’re not a very large community.”
“Are you, by any chance, acquainted with a couple by the name of Chehab?”
“I know two couples named Chehab. Why all these questions?”
“The people I’m referring to are Adnan and Carlotta.”
“Adnan and Carlotta? Yes, I know them.”
“Are you aware that Carlotta recently gave birth?”
“Yes. God blessed them with a little boy. They named him Fadi. Again, why all these questions?”
The murder of Carlotta would be in the morning papers. There was no need for secrecy. Danusa told him.
The Sheikh’s mouth opened in surprise, and his eyes became even sadder. “What kind of a monster would do something like that?”
“That’s a question for psychiatrists,” Danusa said. “Our job is to
the monster. You’ve heard about the bombing in front of the American Consulate?”
“Yes. A terrible thing.”
“More terrible, even, than the newspapers are letting on.”
She told him about the baby.
“And that baby . . . was Fadi?”
“We don’t know that for certain, but it’s a distinct possibility.”
The Sheikh looked at his hands. He was quiet for a long moment.
“And Adnan?” he said, looking up again. “What of him?”
“He’s overwrought. He’s being treated at the Sírio-Libanês Hospital.”
The Sheikh began straightening the things on his desk. “I must go to him.”
Danusa shook her head. “He’s under heavy sedation, and he’s not being allowed any visits, even from the police.”
“Oh,” he said, becoming still. “Until when?”
“Sorry, I don’t know.”
“I shall call the hospital to check. And I shall pray for him. He’s a good man, who loved his wife and child very deeply. He will be heartbroken.”
“So you can’t see him using his baby for something like this?”
“Adnan Chehab? Never!” He accompanied his words with an emphatic shake of his head.
“No chance he could be involved with an extremist group?”
“Adnan’s positions against radicalism and violence are well-known. He is moderate in all things, extreme in none.” “You’re sure?”
The Sheikh’s nod was equally emphatic.
“Ask anyone in the congregation. If Adnan hates anyone, it’s the people who bring our religion into disrepute by misinterpreting the word of God. Further proof of his tolerance, if any is required, is that he married a Christian.”
“Carlotta is a Christian?”
The Sheikh waved a finger in denial. “Carlotta
a Christian. She converted to Islam.”
“At his behest?”
“Certainly not. Of her own free will. Because she wanted to.”
Danusa showed him one of the photos. “Do you recognize this man?” she said.
He gave it only a cursory glance. “That’s a woman,” he said.
She shook her head. “Please look more closely.”
“Please. Just look. It’s a picture of the bomber, taken seconds before the explosion.”
The Sheikh pushed his spectacles above his hairline, accepted the photograph and brought it close to his nose. “Oh, God,” he said.
His eyes had become huge. Danusa felt the hairs rising on the back of her neck.
“You know him then?”
The Sheikh nodded. “I know him.”
“Who was he? What was his name?”
“Salem Nabulsi,” the Sheikh said, shaking his head as if to negate the thought.
“Salem?” Danusa said. “
” She repeated it with more emphasis.
He raised an eyebrow. “You know Arabic?”
“I do,” she said. “
. What an irony. A suicide bomber named Peaceful. Was he a member of your congregation?” The Sheikh sighed. “I am sorry to say he was.”
“Did he ever give you any indication he was planning a violent act?”
“He did not. And, if he had, I assure you, I would have informed the authorities.”
“Any idea how Salem might have become associated with the Chehabs?”
The Sheikh ran a hand through his beard. “I fear I was responsible for that.”
“Salem had heard, somewhere, that Carlotta had been a teacher. He spoke good Spanish, and had the rudiments of Arabic, mostly
he’d learned by rote, but his Portuguese was very poor.”
“Wait. You mean to tell me that Salem Nabulsi wasn’t Brazilian?”
“You didn’t know?”
She shook her head. “Until now, I knew nothing about him, not even his name. Only that he detonated the bomb.”
“He was from Paraguay.”
“Paraguay? Where in Paraguay? Asunción?”
“Ciudad del Este. I’ve never been there. I’ve heard it’s a dreadful place.”
Danusa nodded. “You’ve heard correctly.”
“He’s been . . . was in São Paulo no more than a few months, but he told me he intended to stay and wanted help to improve his language skills. Someone told him Carlotta had been a teacher. He asked me to approach her, encourage her to give him lessons, said he’d pay her.”
“And she agreed?”
“Not because of the money. They didn’t need it, she said. She was a good-hearted person, always willing to help others.”
“He’d go to her apartment for his lessons?”
The Sheikh seemed shocked that she’d even asked. “That wouldn’t have been at all appropriate. No, she’d meet him here, leave the baby in our crèche and instruct him in a corner of the library.”
“How long had this been going on?”
“A month. No more.”
“Do you think it was a ploy, this business of the language? That he used it to approach Carlotta and her baby?”
“It must have been, don’t you think? If he was planning to blow himself up, why would he put any effort into learning Portuguese?”
“Why indeed. What else can you tell me about Salem?”
“Very little. He was devout. His parents immigrated to Paraguay before he was born. He was not unintelligent, but he was poorly educated. Other than that. . . .” The cleric’s words trailed off. He made a gesture of helplessness.
“Nothing else? Nothing more you can remember?”
The Sheikh shook his head. “He was a private person. When he spoke to me at all, which was seldom, he spoke of God, and the Holy Qur’an, and of almost nothing else. He had some strange interpretations, more based upon hate than love. He referred once, with reverence, to a certain Mullah Asim. He asked me if I knew the man.”
“And do you?”
“How did he react when you told him that?”
“He seemed disappointed.”
Leo’s bar had seen better days, and so had that stretch of the Rua Aurora on which it was located. Beyond the open front door, the street was packed with panhandlers. They’d be joined by a horde of whores as soon as the sun went down.
The Colonel recognized Muniz from his newspaper photographs and raised a hand. The wealthy landowner spotted the gesture and made a beeline toward him.
“That’s unimportant. Make yourself comfortable, Senhor
Muniz took the proffered seat, but didn’t pick up the glass. Instead, he sat studying the beverage, as if he thought the Colonel might be about to poison him.
Meantime, the Colonel studied Muniz.
He hadn’t much liked what he’d seen in the photographs. In the flesh, the man pleased him even less. Muniz had a more-or-less permanent scowl, the kind that turned a smile into an evil grin.
“So you’re the guy,” the Colonel said, “who killed that priest.”
“It was self-defense,” Muniz said, as he’d said a hundred times before.
“The way I heard it, the old guy was unarmed.”
“I was set up. They told me he had a gun. And, besides, he was a leftist, a liberation theology fanatic, no better than a Communist. He got what was coming to him.”
“We share a sentiment,” the Colonel said. “I, too, have little use for Communists.”
In fact, the Colonel had a visceral dislike for anyone whose politics were even slightly to the left of those of Attila the Hun. During the dictatorship he’d been a young lieutenant, later a captain. His assigned task, one he’d performed with relish, had been apprehending leftists. He’d done it for almost seven years, and it was a matter-of-record that none he’d apprehended had ever been found.
His activities, in those days, had given rise to his reputation for discretion and secrecy; qualities that, in more recent times, had resulted in people like Muniz seeking him out.
“You don’t have to keep looking around,” he said, smiling slightly at the way Muniz’s head was swiveling back and forth on his neck. “No one in this place pays attention to anyone else. It’s one of the things I like about it.”
“Assuming you’re right,” Muniz said, grumpily, “what else is there to like?”
“It has the best draft beer in the city,” the Colonel said. “Everyone from São Paulo knows that.”
don’t know that,” Muniz said.
“Ah, but then you’re not from São Paulo, are you?”
“Rio,” Muniz snapped, “and draft beer is draft beer. Only the brands are different. It doesn’t matter where they tap the kegs.”
“No, my friend, that’s where you’re wrong. Leo’s draft beer is definitely a cut above the rest. I’m told it has something to do with the metal used to make the tubing between the kegs and the taps. And the fact that they flush the system every day.”
The Colonel picked up his glass, took a long swallow and wiped the foam from his mustache. The mustache was trim, as was everything about the Colonel. He was almost the same height as Muniz, but there the resemblance ended. Whereas Muniz had a roll of fat hanging over his belt, a double-chin and flabby biceps, the Colonel was all muscle. His bearing was erect, and he radiated an air of command. He wasn’t wearing a uniform, hadn’t worn one for almost five years now, but no discerning observer would have taken him for anything other than a military man.
“Delicious,” he said, and saluted Muniz with his glass. “Go ahead. Try it.”
Muniz grabbed his, took a sip, grunted, and took a swallow. Then he took two more.
“See?” the Colonel said.
“I’m not here to drink beer,” Muniz said. “I’m here to do business.”
“And I’m here to do both,” the Colonel said. “So how can I be of assistance?”
Muniz put down his glass, shoved it aside, leaned across the table and lowered his voice.
“I think we should go somewhere else to discuss this.”
The Colonel’s grin belittled Muniz’s concern. “As I’ve already told you once before,” he said, “people in Leo’s Bar don’t listen to each other’s conversations. It isn’t polite. And it could be dangerous.”
Muniz continued to hesitate, still averse to airing his business in public.
“If you’ve got a problem with someone,” the Colonel pressed him, “I’m your man. It’s my business, and there’s nobody better at it. Speak up. Or finish your beer and leave. It’s all the same to me.”
It was. These days, people were queuing up for his services.
Caution might have dictated that Muniz get up and leave, but time was short, and he was an impatient and impulsive man. He took the plunge.
“I want some people taken care of,” he said, his voice just above a whisper.
The Colonel took another sip of his beer. He’d learned to react lukewarmly when a client made a proposal. A show of indifference tended to inflate the value of the contract.
“From what I’ve read about you,” he said, “you’ve got some pretty big estates up north.”
Muniz frowned. “What of it?”
“They say labor is hard to find up there. They say landowners like you bring in workers with all sorts of promises, promises that are never kept. And the next thing those laborers know, they’re as good as slaves. Too much work, too little money, and not a chance of being allowed to leave.”
Muniz sniffed. “People say all sorts of things. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear.”
The Colonel went on, as if the landowner hadn’t spoken. “Slaves have to be kept in line. I’ll bet you have
for that, men with guns and whips who aren’t reluctant to use them. I’ll bet they have to kill a man, every now and then,
pour encourager les autres
, as the French say.”
“Colonel, I didn’t come here to—”
The Colonel cut him off in mid-sentence. “What I’m asking myself, Senhor Muniz, is why you don’t use your own people? You obviously have them. So what do you need me for?”
“They’re ruffians, just a cut above animals. They’re useful in their way, but there’s not one good brain among them. They’re not disciplined, they’re not trained—”
“And my men are. I understand that part. But why should you even need trained men? Why not just turn your
loose on the people you want to attend to, and if it doesn’t work the first time, send more. Eventually, they’ll pull it off. And if you’re far, far away when it happens, you’ll have complete deniability.”
“That’s just the point, Colonel.”
is just the point, Senhor Muniz?”
“The point is, I don’t
to be far, far away. I want to be there. I want to do it myself, and I want the people concerned to be looking into my eyes when I do. I want the smile on my face to be the last thing they see on this earth. That’s what I want, Colonel, and that’s what I want you to help me with.”
“That’s quite an indulgence, Senhor Muniz.”
“I’m a rich man, Colonel. I can afford my indulgences.”
“And the role of my men would be?”
“To protect me during the process. And to cover my tracks when I’m done.”
“By eliminating witnesses?”
“If need be, yes. Are you interested?”
The Colonel drained the beer in his glass and signaled the waiter for another.
“I, too,” he said, “am a rich man. I’m not adverse to a challenge, but I tend to avoid excessive risk. I’d have to know a bit more about this job before I can answer that question.”
“Picky, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Senhor Muniz, I am.”
The waiter arrived with the Colonel’s beer, saw Muniz’s glass was less than half-full and looked at him expectantly. Muniz waved him away.
“It’s like this, you see,” the Colonel went on when the waiter was gone, “my employees are all ex-soldiers, highly trained and dedicated. In that sense, it’s a bit like a private army of which I’m the commanding officer. And, like any good officer, I take care of my men. They know that. They expect it of me. And they respond with loyalty. That loyalty, more than anything else, has been the foundation of my success.”
“I don’t give a good goddamn about your success, Colonel. Or how you run your business either. I’m only interested in two things.”
The Colonel disliked being interrupted while patting himself on the back.
, he thought to himself,
has just gone up.
“Very well, Senhor Muniz,” he said dryly. “And those two things are?”
The Colonel’s evident displeasure pleased his potential client, who was getting tired of being talked down to.
“Whether you’re willing to take on the assignment,” Muniz said, “and how much it’s going to cost me if you do.”
The Colonel stroked his lower lip with a forefinger, then said, “Let us, then, get to the crux of the matter. How many people are we talking about?”
“Together or separately?”
The Colonel quaffed some beer. “Business rivals?”
Muniz shook his head.
“One is a public prosecutor. The other is a Chief Inspector of the Federal Police. Does that shock you?”
“Very little shocks me, Senhor Muniz, but you’ve just defined two
, as we in the military refer to them. The price of my collaboration will be high.”
“Two hundred thousand American dollars. Each.”
Muniz blinked, but said nothing at all.
“For that,” the Colonel went on, “you’ll get the services of three of my men for as long as it takes. They’ll provide the weapons. You absorb the expenses for everything else, including transportation, hotels and per-diems, which I will stipulate at five hundred dollars per man, per day.”
“Agreed? Just like that?”
“Are you willing to take less?”
The Colonel grinned. “No. But I’m beginning to think I should have asked for more.”
Muniz met the grin with a scowl. “But you didn’t. So it’s two hundred thousand each, and it’s agreed.”
“Half in advance. Transferred to a numbered account in Riga. I no longer trust Swiss banks.”
Muniz reached for the notepad and pen he always carried with him. “Give me the account information. I’ll make the transfer this very day.”
The Colonel had come prepared. He reached into his pocket, took out a piece of paper and handed it across the table.
“The routing number is at the top,” he said. “The long number below it is the account number. The name of the bank, and the address, are at the bottom.”
Muniz snatched the paper and scanned what was written there. “When can I meet your men?”
The Colonel drank more beer before he answered. “I have contact with my banker on a daily basis. I’ll get in touch with you as soon as I’ve received the money.”
“And, now, Senhor Muniz, you may tell me the names of those soon-to-be deceased.”
“The public prosecutor is Zanon Parma. The Chief Inspector is Mario Silva.”
“Silva I’ve heard of. He lives in Brasilia.”
“Normally, yes. But I’ve been told he’s currently in Curitiba, working on a case.”
“Duly noted. And where does Parma reside?”
“Here in São Paulo.”
“Do you have a priority?”
“Parma first. Killing Silva is something I want to savor.” “Good. That’s all I need to know at the moment.”
The Colonel reached into the breast pocket of his black leather jacket and removed a notebook. “Give me a number where I can reach you.”
Muniz rattled one off, and the Colonel made a note with a gold-plated pen.
“I believe that concludes our business. Please, have another beer. And can I interest you in lunch? Today is Friday, and, on Fridays, this place serves excellent