Authors: Leighton Gage
Tags: #Brazil, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Mystery & Detective, #Silva, #Crimes against, #General, #Politicians, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction, #Mario (Fictitious Character)
Three days after Salem Nabulsi’s bid for martyrdom, there was another explosion, this time during Shabbat services in Argentina’s oldest synagogue, the
on the Calle Libertad in Buenos Aires.
The death toll, according to Sunday’s
Jornal da Cidade
, was “even greater than that of this week’s bombing of the American Consulate in São Paulo.” Among the dead were the Israeli ambassador to Argentina, Daniel Grundman, his wife, Devorah, and his two children, Miriam, eleven, and Aaron, thirteen.
Hector took the newspaper into the kitchen, where his fiancée was washing breakfast dishes. “Listen to this,” he said.
He sat down and read the article aloud.
“You’re thinking,” Gilda said, when he’d finished, “that the remainder of that plastic explosive might no longer be totally unaccounted for?”
“I am,” he said. “What puzzles me is why they’d cross over into Argentina to do this one. God knows, there are plenty of targets here at home.”
“Maybe this isn’t home for them,” she said. “You told me the stuff was purchased in Paraguay, right? And that bomber you’ve identified was also from Paraguay. Maybe the terrorists live there, not here.”
“Good point,” Hector said.
Gilda dried her hands and Hector handed her the newspaper.
“You know what this reminds me of?” she said, after studying the photograph.
“The explosion that killed Isaac Marcus.”
Hector took the paper back and studied the picture. “Yes,” he said. “It does. He was Danusa’s father, you know.”
“Most people don’t. She doesn’t like to talk about it.”
Rabbi Isaac Marcus had been a Brazilian religious superstar. During his lifetime, Isaac’s progressive attitudes had earned him the admiration of most of the younger and more progressive members of his congregation—and a good deal of criticism from the older and more conservative ones.
But it was outside of São Paulo’s small Jewish community, and in matters not directly related to his faith, where Isaac had made the biggest impact. In the time of the dictatorship, he’d been courageous in his criticism of the regime—and had come close to paying the ultimate price for his outspokenness. When democracy returned, he’d become a media darling, a pundit whose opinions were sought-after on every issue, from sex to the politics of the Middle East.
He was an articulate speaker, a man with charisma, fluent in Spanish and English as well as Hebrew and Portuguese. He was often called upon to speak at commencements, fundraisers, even political gatherings. Businessmen, politicians, clergy of other faiths all knew and respected Isaac Marcus. It sent shockwaves throughout Brazil when his synagogue was bombed, and Isaac was killed in the explosion.
“She was his only child,” Hector said, “and very young. She didn’t attend the funeral.”
“She was living abroad. Is there any more coffee in that pot?”
Gilda took one of the demitasse cups from the drainer, filled it and set it down in front of him. No milk, no sugar, the way he liked it.
“Abroad where?” she said.
“Israel. Her parents sent her to visit a kibbutz the summer she was twelve. She went back the following year, went back
year until she finished university.”
He drained the coffee and handed her the cup. She rinsed it and put it back in the drainer.
“And returned to Israel to live after she’d completed her studies.”
“And then she met this guy—”
,” Gilda said.
cherchez la femme
“Not in this case.”
“I just did. Finish the story.”
“They fell in love. They were going to get married.”
“For a while. Then he was killed.”
“Aw.” She pulled a face, took off her apron, and took a seat facing him. “Killed? How?”
“I get the impression it was some kind of undercover work. I also get the impression she did some undercover work herself.”
“Why no more than an impression? Don’t you people investigate the hell out of anyone you’re going to hire?”
“We do. Her records say she served honorably in the Israeli Defense Forces. According to them, it was in the areas of logistics and supply.”
“But you think she might have been doing something else?”
“She’s fluent in Farsi and Arabic. She can quote the Qur’an like a mullah, and she’s a mine of information about both Sunnis and Shiites.”
Gilda raised an eyebrow. “Unusual in someone who specialized in logistics and supply, don’t you think?
“I do, but we didn’t think it mattered. She was eminently qualified, and languages are always a plus for us, so we were happy to get her.”
“You think she joined up with you lot because she thought it would help her find the people who killed her dad?”
“That would be my guess.”
“And did she? Find them, I mean.”
Hector shook his head. “No. We ran every lead into the ground. They all just . . . petered out.”
“She’s attractive, isn’t she?”
Hector wasn’t about to fall for that one. “I hadn’t much noticed,” he said.
“Oh, really?” she said, folding her arms and making a study of his face. “Well, maybe you can tell me this: Does she have a new boyfriend?”
“Not that I know of. You do love gossip, don’t you?”
“Don’t try to change the subject. You think she’ll go back to Israel?”
“She might. She talks about it sometimes.”
“If she does, will you be sorry to lose her?”
“Well, in a purely professional sense, I suppose I would.”
“Are you suggesting there’s another side to your relationship with Danusa Marcus? Other than purely professional, I mean.”
“Of course not. How about making some more coffee?”
“How about you make it yourself? In case you never noticed, this is an equal opportunity kitchen.”
“I’ve spoken to the
in Buenos Aires,” Mara said. “The taggants match. The explosive came from the same batch.”
Hector turned to Lefkowitz. “You have an estimate on how many kilograms they might have used?”
“Judging by the photos we got, and Mara’s conversation with our Argentinean friends, somewhere around ten, maybe a little more. But it was a confined space, so the loss-of-life was higher.”
“What’s the current total?”
“One hundred and two killed, eighty-seven injured,” Mara said, “of which twenty-three seriously.”
“Jesus. Another suicide bomber?”
“Apparently not. The device had a timer. It was under a seat, set to go off during the service.”
“Ten kilograms,” Hector said. “So they’d have somewhere between thirty and forty left.”
“At the moment,” Lefkowitz said, “but what’s to prevent them from buying more? The death merchants in Paraguay are still sitting on seventy-five kilograms short of sixteen metric tons of the stuff.”
“Not a comforting thought,” Hector said. He turned back to Mara. “Speaking of our friends in Paraguay, did you feed them that name Danusa came up with? Salem Nabulsi?”
“I did. I’m waiting for them to get back to me.”
“Anything you can do to speed them up?”
“Sure,” Mara said. “I can pay them. How high are you willing to go?”
“That’s probably not as much of a joke as you might think,” Lefkowitz put in.
“Who’s joking?” Mara said.
“Did you manage to extract DNA from that washer?” Hector asked Lefkowitz.
“I did. And we’re running the comparison with Carlotta Chehab’s blood. The washer, by the way, was soaked in rat poison. The nuts and bolts were as well.”
“But not uncommon.”
“And the reason,” Mara said, “that we’re expecting the number of fatalities to go up.”
Hector looked around the table. “Where’s Babyface?”
“I was just getting to that,” Mara said. “It seems Salem had a cell phone, and I’m not talking about one of those prepaid and untraceable things we would have expected him to have. I’m talking about a cell phone for which he had a conventional account.”
“Careless of him,” Hector said.
“Contemptuous, I’d call it,” Danusa said. “He didn’t give a damn if we traced him after his bomb went off.”
“And assumed we wouldn’t be doing it before it did. Did you ping it?”
“I did,” Mara said. “It’s either switched off or it’s been destroyed.”
“What do the account records tell us? Many incoming calls?”
“Not a single one.”
“Two numbers: one that he called many times, always on the same day of the week, always at the same time, another that he called only once.”
“Let me guess,” Danusa said. “Just before he blew himself up?”
“Saying goodbye would be my guess. It’s not uncommon for them to do that. Both numbers in Paraguay?”
Mara nodded. “Ciudad del Este. We’ve requested a trace. Don’t get your hopes up, though. The same day of the week, at the same time would suggest he was calling a public telephone, talking to someone who was waiting for him to call.”
“How about the billing address?”
on the Rua Leite de Morais in Santana.”
“Likely just a mail drop.”
“Maybe. But you asked about Babyface. And that’s where he is right now.”
Rio Paraguay was a small and cheap establishment situated in a neighborhood abounding with other establishments equally small and cheap. The owner was Oscar Benitez, a rotund little man with a gold incisor and a thick accent.
Gonçalves flashed his badge.
“You’re kidding,” Oscar said.
“Kidding about what, Senhor Benitez?”
“You look too young to be a federal agent.”
“Nevertheless,” Gonçalves said, with a touch of frost in his
a federal agent.”
“Hey, no need to get your hackles up. Not my fault you
look like a kid, is it? What can I do for you?”
“Did you have a man staying here by the name of Salem
Nabulsi?” Gonçalves said, dropping the temperature another
“He’s paid up until the end of the week. So what?” “Is this him?”
He showed Oscar the photo.
“Of course not,” Oscar said. “That’s a woman you’ve got
Oscar did and, as recognition hit him, his eyebrows rose
almost to his hairline, a neat trick for someone whose hairline was as receded as his was.
,” he said.
Gonçalves opened his mouth to say something more,
closed it when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Did I hear you asking about Salem Nabulsi?” a voice
behind him said.
Gonçalves turned around. The woman who’d done the
tapping looked to be in her forties, maybe early fifties, was
running to fat, and was dressed in a green tracksuit. “Let me see that photograph,” she said.
Gonçalves showed it to her.
Same words, same accent, same eyebrow action as Benitez.
Gonçalves took them both for Paraguayans.
“It’s him then?” he said. “Salem Nabulsi?”
“It’s him,” she said. “Why is he dressed like a woman?
What’s he done? Was he the one who set off that bomb in
front of the American Consulate?”
Gonçalves saw no reason to deny it.
“Yes,” he said, “he was.”
, Malu,” Benitez exploded. “
hijo de la gran puta
into my establishment.”
Malu responded in kind. “
Ponga sus gracias en el culo
Oscar. You think I knew?”
Gonçalves forestalled the rebuttal from Oscar: “Is what
he’s saying correct? Are you the one who brought him
“Yes! Yes!” Oscar said. “She’s the one. She befriended the
bomber, not me.”
Malu lifted her purse to hit him with it, but Gonçalves
grabbed her arm before she could.
“How about you tell me about it?” he said.
She stammered. “I didn’t . . . I was. . . .”
,” Benitez said.
were women who rode the buses to Paraguay,
bought everything from electronics to perfume (all duty free)
and brought it back to Brazil. There was nothing illegal about
it, unless the women exceeded their duty-free allowances, or
unless they bought it for resale, both of which they usually
did. And, because they did, they generally had stockpiles of
goods difficult to explain. A search of her room would likely
result in her being taken away in handcuffs—all because of
Oscar’s big mouth.
!” she said, and tried to free the arm holding the
“Stop it right now,” Gonçalves said. “Or I’ll arrest the both
She stopped struggling. Oscar looked at his feet. “What’s your name?” Gonçalves said to the woman. “Malu Caceres,” she said, “but I didn’t—”
“Hold it right there, Malu. Listen to me. I don’t care about
how you earn your living.”
Her eyes rounded in surprise. “You don’t?”
“I don’t. All I care about is hearing everything you know
about Salem Nabulsi.”
“I don’t know much,” she said.
At which point, Oscar, once again, stuck in his oar. “Me?
I know nothing. I gave him his mail, I collected the money
for his room, and we exchanged greetings. That was it. We
never had a conversation of any—”
“Shut up, Oscar,” Gonçalves said.
Oscar shut up.
“Now,” he said to Malu, “start at the beginning, and tell
me everything you remember.”
“I never saw him before he sat down next to me on the
bus,” she said.
“Which bus? When?”
“A bus from Foz do Iguaçu to São Paulo. Maybe three
months ago. I . . . um . . . go back and forth quite a bit, so it’s
kind of hard to. . .”
“Yes, yes, I understand. Go on.”
“He was polite,” she said, regaining her equilibrium and
anxious, now, to please him, “but he wasn’t talkative.” “What did you discuss?”
She took a while to think about it, finally said, “I can’t
remember us really
anything. It was more like
me asking questions and him giving me one and two-word
answers. Except, once, he asked me where I lived in São
Paulo, and I told him about this place. He said he needed
somewhere to stay, and asked if there were any free rooms.
I knew about one, where the lady had moved out the week
before, and I wasn’t sure if Oscar had rented it, so I suggested
he come with me and ask.”
Muchisimas gracias, Doña Malu
,” Oscar said.
She looked at him. “Didn’t you hear the policeman,
Oscar? He told you to shut up!”
“Did he say why he was coming to São Paulo?” Gonçalves
“The same reason we all do, to look for work. All of us,
that is, except for a few rich bastards who have the money to
buy hospedarias and suck the blood of poor working people
by charging too goddamned much for their rooms.” “Hey,” Oscar said.
“You search his room?” Hector asked.
Gonçalves shook his head. He was back at the office,
reporting on what he’d learned. “I didn’t want to run a risk
of contaminating the scene, so I called Lefkowitz.” “And he just called me,” Mara interjected, crossing the
threshold. “He found prints that match the three partials
from the crime scene.”
Hector rapped his knuckles on his desk. “Good.” “It gets better.” She held up the file she’d been carrying.
“We received Salem’s identity records. There were prints on
those as well. They all match.”
“That’s it then. Salem Nabulsi is our bomber. How about
those calls from his cell phone?”
“The number he called regularly was, as we suspected, a
suspected. Located where?”
“On San Blas, right in the heart of Ciudad del Este’s main
shopping district. It’s one of the busiest streets in the city.” “Damn,” Hector said. “Well, that’s no help. How about
the other one?”
“Registered to a guy by the name of Barir Nabulsi.” “Salem’s father?”
“That would be my guess. He lives at the same address
Salem used when he applied for his identity card.” “I wonder,” Gonçalves said, “if Barir was in on it.” “Only one way to find out,” Hector said.