General Fernando del Campo ran his hand slowly along the naked thigh of the woman he loved. He gazed at the beautiful curves of her body, her small breasts and wide hips, her youthful waist, her dark hair still wet with beads of sweat after their lovemaking, and her long legs that stretched all the way to the end of the satin sheets. More hair fell around her brown eyes and cascaded in a dark waterfall to her shoulders. Here her smooth skin was bronzed by a life lived in the tropical sun. She was on her side, her head propped up on one hand, and she was smiling.
“You seem distracted,” she said to him.
“No, no. Just lost in looking at you. Ah, you must forgive me.”
“There is nothing to forgive.”
She spoke her Portuguese with a smooth, cultured São Paulo accent. This only made her even more intriguing. Juliet Catherina Formosa was the most perfect woman the general had ever known, the most beautiful, the most forgiving of his own faults and tempers, and the most willing to wait for him. Secretly, he worried that she must find his aging body repulsive. He was sixty-eight, more than twice her age. His straight hair was completely grey, his skin furrowed, his hands thickened with age, and his sagging belly betrayed decades of overindulgence. But Juliet was pure youth.
There was a goodness about her that the general could not help but love. When he was tired, she would massage his neck, she would bring him cheerful conversation, strong coffee, cheese and fresh fruit. She would bring a newspaper, or play samba or jazz on the stereo. They would watch movies together. Sometimes they would even dance. But always alone.
The penthouse apartment was large. It was comfortable and luxurious. Always there was the quiet hum of the ducted air conditioning, keeping the air cool and dry. And there were views of the white beach stretching out for miles, nineteen storeys below. Tonight the beach was quiet and dark. It was late and the city was sleeping, preparing for the working day to come.
“You are too good to me,” said the general.
Juliet Formosa kissed him.
“You know, I must go soon.”
The general felt almost guilty to leave her. She was different to the others. Since Juliet, he had left all his other women behind, had never seen them again. For two years there had been only Juliet Formosa. Sometimes he even fantasised about leaving his wife for her, but he knew it was not possible. What would his sons say? And his daughter, he could never look her in the eye again if she knew. All of them happily married, and given him so many grandchildren. It was unthinkable to incur their disapproval. And quite apart from that, what would his business associates say? His wife and their wives were fast friends, inseparable at every social occasion. He could not suddenly appear with a woman young enough to be his daughter and announce he had left his wife. Not if he expected to do business in Recife.
“You look sad, Juliet.”
“You are already gone. Lost in your thoughts. Not here with me.”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could be with you. I wish I could stay.”
“One day, you will stay. You know the day will come.”
“I know,” the general lied.
“Come, I will make you something to eat before you go.”
“Yes. I am hungry.”
Juliet Formosa got up and wriggled into a pink satin robe. The general watched her as she left the bedroom. How lucky I am, he thought.
The general was not a kind man. He was difficult, moody, hard to predict. When public matters did not go his way, his wrath was immediate and merciless. Juliet Formosa had learned how to keep him happy, in and out of bed. She was even naive enough to believe that one day the infamous Chief of Military Police would actually leave his wife for a young model such as she. Nevertheless, she worried constantly. When would it happen? How much longer would she have to wait? She knew that as soon as the general had left her apartment she would begin worrying again. And it broke her heart to see pictures of that old hag, Maria Anna del Campo, the general’s sour wife, plastered all over the social pages of the newspapers, with her Fernando. She imagined she could see the secret unhappiness in his eyes in every picture, the unhappiness he always told her about. But she knew that he was waiting, waiting for the right time to break the news to his sons and daughter that he would be leaving Maria. Until then, she would just have to be patient. This was what she told herself as she stood in the kitchen, slicing mango, adding it to two bowls of ice cream.
“Fernando, come and eat.”
“All right. I’m coming.”
The general hauled himself out of bed. It wasn’t easy. He liked to kid himself that he was still young, still virile, and indeed Juliet had never complained about his skills as a lover, but it was getting harder. He pulled on some boxer shorts and shuffled out to the dining room.
“Sit down at the table, darling.”
The general obeyed. He was well used to obeying his wife, in any case. Women, he found, always gave the orders at home. Four decades of marriage had taught him it was best to play along. Even adultery had its price.
Juliet Formosa placed the dessert in front of him. She knew it was his favourite. And she wanted him in the best possible mood. “Do you want a drink? I’ve chilled some wine. It’s Chilean. You know, the one you like.”
“Juliet, you know I can’t drink tonight. If Maria smells wine on my breath how will she believe I have been at the barracks?”
“Tell her you drank with the duty sergeant, or Captain Sollo. Tell her you were playing poker. Can’t you even have a glass of wine, Fernando?”
“The duty sergeant drinks only American whiskey, it’s very unpatriotic. Captain Sollo drinks mostly blood. And if I were playing poker, I’d be at the club taking money from that limp-dicked old judge and his lawyer cronies. No, Juliet. You know Maria is already suspicious.”
Despite her gentle nature, Juliet Formosa felt a sudden fury. “Then let her suspect. It’s just one glass of wine.”
“Coffee, Juliet. It’s late. Just coffee.”
Juliet Formosa poured a glass of wine for herself, then returned to the kitchen for the coffee pot. Something inside her stirred at that moment, after two years of clandestine meetings, two years of subsidised living in the luxury apartment like a prized pony in its stables. She decided she would say even more than she was planning to.
“Thank you, my love,” said the general as he sipped his coffee.
“You don’t love me any more.”
“Oh, no,” said the general. “Not this again.”
“Little Cat, you know that’s not true. You know I love you. You are the woman I think about always. You know how unhappy I am when we cannot be together. When I have to endure that dragon they call my wife.”
“Then tell her you are leaving her.”
“You know I will. It’s just not time. I have to think of the family.”
“They will understand.”
The general was beginning to worry. Juliet’s requests were becoming more frequent. He didn’t want to lose her. She was a rare oasis of beauty in his ugly life, a breath of fresh air in a world of murder and corruption, a world in which he had lost count of the number of secret executions he had ordered. But he would never see any harm come to her. She was like a work of art, a thing to be treasured, to be protected. She was a naive angel in a world of devils. And he could not bear the thought of losing her. He delivered his impeccable reply as believably as only a professional liar can. “One day, they will understand, Juliet. But this is not that day.”
“If you loved me, you would tell her it is over between you.”
“I will, Juliet. I will. Just not today. All right?”
“Then do something to show you love me. Show me.”
“But Little Cat, you know you may have anything you desire. The penthouse is in your name. It is yours. Not mine. Do you need money? Let me get you tickets to Florida. For you and your mother. Take a holiday.” The general ate his mango and ice cream as he spoke. It was good.
“I don’t want your money, Fernando. A million dollars is nothing to you, I know. What does it mean if you throw me a few thousand dollars, even a million dollars? I miss you, Fernando. I want to take a holiday with you.”
“Ah, Juliet. You know I can’t get away. Not this year.”
“Then what can you do? Show me.”
With a heavy sigh, the general pushed his half-finished dessert aside, stood up, and took Juliet to the sofa. He put a comforting hand on her cheek. “You tell me, my angel. Tell me what I can do for you.”
“I’m tired of sneaking around like a mouse. I want people to know of our love. I want to appear with you in public.” Juliet Formosa picked up the newspaper from the huge mahogany coffee table and opened it to the social pages. For once, the general was not in it. “I look in this newspaper and I see you and her. For once, I want to look and see you and me. I want people to know us.”
“I do too, my love,” the general lied. “But think of how my children would feel, my grandchildren, if they hear of us first in a newspaper?”
“Then I want a token of your love. Something everyone can see.”
“And you shall have it, Little Cat.”
For a moment, Juliet Formosa felt a surge of joyous relief. Could he really mean it? Would he publicly declare his love, if only by a token? Then suspicion took over. He had broken many promises before. “Are you playing with me, Fernando? Because if you are playing with me, I shall not forgive you. You know my heart breaks just waiting to see you. You know how much I am filled with missing you, how hard it is to wait for you. Two years, Fernando. Two years. You must swear you are not playing. Do you mean it?”
“Yes, Little Cat, I swear it. You shall have a public token of my love, and whenever you wear it, it will declare our bond. I promise you. You know how much I love you. I swear it. You shall have a token of my love.”
Juliet Formosa threw herself at him. She hugged him tight, half with excitement and half with tears of relieved frustration. “Thank you, Fernando. I was afraid to ask. I was so afraid to ask, because if you said no, I had told myself that I must be strong and leave you. And I don’t want to lose you.”
“My Little Cat, my Juliet, you must not be afraid. I can see how important it is to you. You didn’t really think I would let you down?”
“No, no. Of course. I just worry. I just worry so much.”
“Now, tell me what token you shall have.”
Juliet Formosa nodded her head excitedly. “Yes, I have chosen one. Something that only you could get for me. Something that people will see and know that secretly you must love me, that I am yours.”
“Of course, my dear.”
“I saw it today, in this very newspaper.” She flipped the pages. “Here.”
The general looked at the large headline. It read, ‘Angels in Rio.’ The accompanying photograph was of an exquisite diamond necklace, its dozens of small jewels strung in three delicately tiered arcs.
“It’s from Paris,” said Juliet Formosa. “An antique, made in 1955. Do you see how beautiful it is, my love? Have you ever seen anything like it? You see these two central stones? The large ones? They are rubies. Every other stone is a diamond. I have seen no woman wear such a beautiful necklace in Recife. And who else but you could procure such a thing for his love?”
This pleased the general. Juliet’s ignorance aside, there was in fact no shortage of new money in Recife. Any one of several local multi-millionaires, whether they made their money through graft or legitimate business, could afford to buy such a thing for their mistresses. It would not particularly incriminate him as an adulterer, that Juliet Formosa should suddenly appear in public wearing a few diamonds. “No one but I, my dear.”
“And do you see what it is called? Les larmes des anges. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t it the perfect way to show our love?”
“I’m sorry, Little Cat. The army had me learn English. It comes in handy dealing with the Americans. A lot of money to be made, you know. But I don’t speak French. You’re a smart girl. What is this name, then?”
“Les larmes des anges. It means, The Tears of the Angels. You see these beautiful little diamonds, they shine like tears, and the rubies are the hearts of two angels. It’s all about love, Fernando. A divine reference to love.”
“Well, my love. An angel like you deserves such a thing.”
“You mean it, Fernando? You promise me I can wear it in public?”
“Of course. It will be yours. I give you my word.”
“And it will signify our love? It will be our secret message?”
“It will declare our love to the world, Little Cat.”
“Oh, Fernando, I knew I could ask this of you. I knew I shouldn’t have worried. I am so silly, sometimes. I am so silly to worry.”
Seeing Juliet so happy and excited warmed the general’s heart, and rekindled his desire. Her tiny silk robe barely left anything to the imagination. Perhaps he could spare another few minutes, he thought, before he would have to return to his wife. He reached out and kissed her, roughly.
Juliet Formosa pushed him back on the sofa, so firmly that it took him completely by surprise. Then she laughed, and kissed his chest.
General Fernando del Campo knew he was a lucky man.
Bob Richards sauntered lazily down the sidewalk. Walking fast was not a good idea. Tourists walked fast. Americans. Germans. Fat targets for the local muggers. Tourists who stopped curiously to look at everything, who spoke loudly in foreign languages, who wore wristwatches and hung expensive cameras around their stupid necks. Somewhere, behind a tree or down an alley, a thief would be watching, waiting for somebody stupid. Somebody who didn’t know the rules. Maybe somebody in a pair of Reeboks and a souvenir T-shirt, with a fat wallet full of US dollars. So Richards wore a short-sleeved, brown cotton shirt, with the shirt tails hanging out over his dark slacks. On his feet were a pair of leather moccasins, without socks. He wore no watch and carried only a spare wallet stuffed with worthless cruzeiros. Bob Richards knew he looked Brazilian. Hell, after four years in Recife he damn near was Brazilian. Still, he missed the States.
Walking fast was also not a good idea on account of the weather. It was May, which meant fall, but Recife was only eight degrees south of the equator. It was always around thirty degrees Celsius and so humid you were constantly damp. Sweating had no effect. It was like living in a sauna. You walked slow, you talked slow, you thought slow. Richards had lived most of his life in New York City, where it was cold and fast. Nobody walked slow in Manhattan, not during business hours. Lately, Richards had come up with the idea that the hotter it got, the slower people lived. They just kind of slowed up and got more and more relaxed. Especially in the tropics.
The Brazilians were so laid back you almost had to take their pulse to check they were still alive. Except when they were dancing. Richards often marvelled at the fact that although the country was in total chaos, he had never seen so many happy people in his life. Admittedly, they had gotten rid of the military government and were enjoying some kind of democracy at last, so maybe they were still celebrating over that. But it was already 1992 and the economy was still so bad that if it were a horse you would have to put it out of its misery. President Colorr was probably going to get impeached, state politicians were getting assassinated, inflation was running up to twenty percent a month, unemployment was raging like a fiery inferno, and crime was almost the national sport – after soccer. None of this stopped the locals from partying. Richards sometimes thought the sky could fall down and no one in Brazil would notice. The samba music would go right on playing, the beer would go right on flowing, and nothing, but nothing, would stop Carnival. He had never seen such joie de vivre in his life.
Richards stopped at an intersection and waited while a small Fiat raced by at sixty miles an hour, then he crossed the otherwise quiet street. He was heading towards the beach, walking through a fashionable suburb known as Good Voyage, Boa Viagem. Sensible people lived in the many towering apartment blocks, away from the dangers of the street, but some hardy souls had their houses surrounded by seven-foot concrete walls topped with broken glass, barred their windows, and tried their best to ignore the risk. These walls were everywhere. Still, crime here was different to New York. Mostly, the Recife muggers were just hungry. They needed money for food, not drugs. You gave them your money and they left you alone. They weren’t going to kill you just for the hell of it. Unless you tried to resist; then, of course, you were dead. Lately there had also been a disturbing number of kidnappings. Richards thought, on the whole, that things were probably getting worse.
When friends back in the States asked him if he liked Brazil, he had to say that he did. More than like it, he loved it. And he hated it at the same time. He loved it for the people, the wonderful, friendly ordinary people, who partied while the proverbial boat was sinking because they couldn’t swim anyway. They were good people and he loved them. He hated it for the chaos, the pollution, the crime, and for the corruption at the top. But, as he often told himself, Brazil was no different to anywhere else. Every country had the same set of problems, only some had it better and some had it a whole lot worse. No matter where you lived, you did the best you could to make a living and to stay out of trouble. Bob Richards was a man very concerned with staying out of trouble.
He reached the beach and turned north. It was another few blocks to the Golden Beach Hotel. Sometimes Richards couldn’t help wondering how the hell he had ended up in Brazil, and not just in Brazil but out here in the boondocks of Pernambuco, where the locals spoke with their nasal, hillbilly accents and were the laughing stock of the snobs down in São Paulo. But when the bottom fell out of the Dow Jones back in 1987, and Richards needed a place to run, it was no good going to Rio or São Paulo. He had clients there. Clients who had lost a whole lot of money because of his advice. And he doubted that even five years would have dulled their memories. Not that it was really his fault they lost their fortunes. But when four or five million dollars were involved, Richards found that people tended to prosecute first and ask questions later. Nowadays, memories of his glory days in Manhattan seemed like an improbable newspaper headline: ‘Minnesota Insurance Salesman Turns Stockbroker and Makes Fortune.’ The Financial Times actually did run a feature article about the meteoric rise of his small firm, how it catered successfully to the needs of foreign investors.
Richards remembered how much the article had pleased his ex-wife, Emily. She told him she loved him with all her heart. Until the firm went under. Then she promptly left him. Emily had expensive tastes, expensive friends, and expensive lawyers who screwed him for every penny they could lay their grubby little paws on. That was strike one. Then the IRS all of a sudden wanted a million dollars in back-taxes. Strike two. When an angry creditor from the wrong side of town started knocking on the door of Richards’ upmarket, fifteenth-floor Manhattan apartment and making unpalatable threats, it was the last straw. Strike three. Richards figured he had two choices. He could open the window and jump out, or he could get on the telephone and use his Platinum Visa card one last time before it got cancelled, buy a one-way ticket to Brazil, whistle down a cab and tell the driver to take him to JFK, and get the hell out while the going was good.
Richards sighed. It was such a cliche. Escape to Brazil. When did my life turn into a cliche? he wondered. But he had reached the hotel.
“Good day,” he said in Portuguese to the doorman.
“Good day, Senhor.”
Richards strolled into the lobby and took a seat. Here he waited impatiently to see the Chief of Military Police. Richards had arrived twenty minutes early. He wanted to be very, very sure he was not late.
Richards spoke Portuguese without effort, as if he were merely speaking English. He even spoke it in the comical Pernambuco accent. The worst thing about it was that nobody pronounced the letter R. Instead, they made a sort of guttural H sound. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were incapable of finishing a word in a hard consonant without putting an E on the end of it. This meant that Bob Richards had to endure the indignity of being called ‘Bobby Hichards.’ It drove him constantly mad, but no matter how many times he would coach the locals, all they would do was laugh at him apologetically and call him ‘Bobby Hichards.’ To be fair, even Rio was not Rio, but ‘Hio.’ Recife was not Recife but ‘Hecife,’ pronounced, ‘Heh-see-fee.’ So he could hardly expect them to manage ‘Richards.’ Still, it made his life seem even more absurd to him, like some kind of very bad joke that he was trapped inescapably in the middle of.
Richards didn’t feel like laughing. He was about to see one of the most dangerous officially sanctioned killers in Recife. Still, business was business and the general was a legitimate customer. Richards would simply set up the deal and not worry about it. He had long since learned to keep his nose out of other people’s dangerous concerns and just be a broker. After all, it was only a jewellery sale. How much trouble could it be? At that moment, a clerk walked into the lobby and started calling out his name.
“Senhor Bobby Hichards! Paging Senhor Hichards.”
Richards stood up. “I’m Bob Richards.”
“Oh what, Senhor?”
Richards let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m Senhor Hichards.”
“Oh yes, Senhor. Come this way. The general will see you now.”
At last, Richards thought, his chance to make some real easy money had arrived. He followed the clerk to the elevator.
“The general is on the eleventh floor, Senhor. Report to the guards there and they will take you to him.”
Richards nodded as the elevator doors closed. When they opened again, he was confronted by two huge soldiers in grey military police uniforms. They each carried a sub-machine gun but Richards thought they didn’t need to. Either of them could easily have killed him with their bare hands.
“You are Senhor Hichards?”
“Yes, I am.”
One of the soldiers frisked Richards briefly. “Very well.”
“Thanks,” said Richards. He left the soldiers standing in the lobby of the luxurious suite and proceeded into the enormous living area. Huge windows revealed a panoramic view of the crowded beach and the endless Atlantic Ocean. The city was named for its reefs. Richards looked out over the shining sea and saw a few tiny fishing boats working their trade in the distance, beyond the submerged hazards. It was an impressive view.
“Mister Richards. Mister Bob Richards, isn’t it?”
Richards swung around. “General del Campo.” He held out his hand.
“A pleasure, Mister Richards. Glad you could make it.”
“I didn’t know you spoke English, General.”
“Not very well, I am afraid. But I manage. My wife and I are fond of vacationing in Florida. Disney World, you know. My grandchildren like it.”
“You speak it very well, General.” In truth, the general had a heavy accent, but Richards wasn’t about to point that out. He had gotten his name right, after all. And regardless of the general’s casual attitude, the man had a legendary temper. He seemed deceptively ordinary, dressed in a red silk shirt which hung out over his black pants. His thick fingers were stained with tobacco. He was smoking a fat cigar.
“Oh, how rude of me. Would you like a ... smoke, Mister Richards?”
“Thank you, General.”
“They are Cuban. Unpatriotic of me, I know, but they are the best.”
Richards lit his cigar. “Outstanding.”
“Well, you must excuse me but perhaps we should get down to business. Have a seat, let’s talk about diamonds.”
“Of course.” Richards sat down on a huge chesterfield sofa. The dark, leather-upholstered furniture seemed somehow out of place in the tropics, but it was comfortable and luxurious, unlike the cheap sofa he had at home.
The general threw a newspaper onto the glass coffee table between them. “Unfortunately I have a – How do you say it? – a niece with expensive tastes. If you understand what I mean.”
Richards was interested only in the five percent spotter’s fee he was about to pocket. But if the old general wanted to confide in him about his sordid love affairs, so be it. He forced a laugh. “Ha ha ha. Your niece.”
“Exactly. Women. They are an expensive addiction, don’t you agree?”
“I’ll agree with that, General. I’ll agree with that.”
“But where would we be without them, uh?”
“A whole lot richer.”
“Perhaps. But a whole lot poorer as well, don’t you think?”
The old bastard was a romantic. Richards hadn’t suspected this. He assumed the necklace must have been to get sex. Now it sounded like del Campo might actually care for this woman, whoever she was. In that moment, Richards decided to add another fifty grand to the asking price. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Hmmm,” said the general, considering his cigar. “I know I am. Now, this necklace I see here in the newspaper. They call it, The Tears of the Angels. My sources tell me you know the dealer, a Senhor Fontaine?”
“Your sources are good, General. I do know him.”
“Can you set up a meeting for me? My niece wants this particular necklace, you see, for her ... um ... birthday in July. I’d like to close a deal.”
“No problem, General. Your aide already spoke to me about it. Pierre Fontaine’s coming to Recife next month, the twenty-third. He’s got some other business here and he’d be able to see you in person.”
“Excellent. Now, what of the price?”
“Well, I understand the necklace is an antique. One of a kind. Pierre tells me it’s valued at two hundred and sixty-five thousand. US dollars, of course. There’s been a lot of interest in it from buyers in Colombia, but I’ve assured Pierre he should talk to you first.”
“Hmmm. I see. Well, Mister Richards, I don’t think we need to waste time. I’ll give you quarter of a million for it. I think that’s fair.”
Richards said nothing for a few long seconds. He was trying to look cool but all he could think about was the twelve thousand dollars he had just made from five minutes’ work. It was good to have an old friend who was a jewellery dealer, an old friend who was desperately looking for new customers. “All right, General, two hundred and fifty it is. Consider it yours.”
The general stood up. Richards followed suit. They shook hands.
“A very wise sale, Mister Richards. You understand, my niece must have this necklace. Be sure your Senhor Fontaine is here on time.”
Something about the general’s voice frightened the hell out of Richards, but he told himself it was just a transaction, just another customer. “He’ll be here, General. You can be sure of that.”
“Excellent. I regret I’m due at the barracks.” The general smiled, then called out in Portuguese to his men. “Show Senhor Richards out.”
“Thank you, General.”
“Thank you, Mister Richards.”
Richards bought a coconut at the beach afterwards, to celebrate. As the vendor hacked off the top of the nut with a huge machete, Richards reflected that life in Brazil wasn’t so bad after all. He drank down the warm milk and looked out at the ocean. Bob Richards was in the money.
Bob Richards liked women. He respected them. He had even once tried to love one of them – and he had the lawyers’ bills to prove it. When his money had run dry and his wife had left him, she kept his name. Emily Richards. He knew a woman could steal your heart. He never really realised they could steal your name as well. That was nearly five years ago.
“Forget sex,” Pierre Fontaine had once told him. “What you want is a woman who can talk. Good conversation, my friend. That’s the key.”
Richards had a better idea. Forget conversation. Go for the sex. So much simpler. No emotional involvement. Just fun. And no lawyers at the end of it, providing you were suitably careful. And Richards was. You just had to find the right kind of woman, one who was looking for exactly the same thing you were. Just find a suitable woman. Or three.
Carina Arantes was exactly Richards’ kind of woman. At thirty-five, she was old enough not to be an idiotic kid. He didn’t want someone who was going to go and fall in love with him over a little casual sex. He had met her in the travel agency on the corner, a comely brunette in a short blue skirt. She had a boyfriend, a pilot with Varig. Theirs was an open relationship, she had told him over an illicit cup of coffee. Oh, how Richards loved a liberated woman. When Ayrton was away in Buenos Aires, or Sydney, or Singapore, Carina would give Richards a call. This was a most agreeable arrangement. And when Carina wasn’t available, there was Maria, the office manager at the club, who would occasionally take pity on his loneliness and hers and invite him back to her apartment. Last but not least was Patricia, from the language school. That little affair had been going for years. Richards was not a religious man, but he had to admit he had a tremendous admiration for Brazilian Catholicism. For a Catholic people, Brazilians had the most liberated attitude to sex you could possibly imagine. If you were going to escape to some foreign country, you might as well go somewhere the women were gorgeous and willing. In this regard, Richards had made a good choice. He was eternally grateful to those bright sparks who had invented the thong bikini and the lambada dance, both of which he profoundly admired.
Carina Arantes looked stunning in a thong bikini. But then Carina Arantes looked stunning in just about anything. She had even taught him the lambada, which he had made a complete fool of himself trying to do. “You Americans have no rhythm,” she used to complain. And she would laugh at him. Then she would take him to a bedroom and have her evil way with him. Richards was a handsome man, which was fortunate since his financial affairs were pretty shaky. His money was not going to attract women. Carina Arantes was interested in more basic things.
A few days after he had seen the general, Carina had called Richards and informed him that Ayrton had just left for London. She suggested dinner. Richards had gladly obliged. They ate Italian food and got drunk.
Richards had left his car in the underground security lot back at the apartment. He knew if they went in the car he would have to find somewhere safe to park it, then be forced to pay some grubby street kid fifty cents to protect it from thieves while they ate. Actually, it was more like paying some kid fifty cents to agree not to take a knife to the tyres. And Richards would have to leave the handbrake off, so the car could be pushed if someone else wanted to park nearby, or else he would return and find the windows smashed in. Naturally, he would not have stopped at any red lights, either. Too dangerous. It was all just too much trouble for a quick trip down the road. He knew the rules. It was safe enough. So, they would walk.
After the meal at the Little Napoli, a cheap but tasty cafe on a quiet road two blocks behind the impressive Golden Beach Hotel, Richards was eagerly walking Carina Arantes back to his apartment. Their steps were heavy, echoing off the high concrete walls of the quiet houses. Carina’s ample cleavage kept peeking out of the top of her blouse, and she was complaining loudly about her new jeans being uncomfortable, which Richards could only take as a very encouraging sign. It was already nearly midnight, and his apartment was only a ten-minute walk away. It was a hot night. Carina’s drunken laughter was warm in his ear. She leaned on him constantly as they walked. Richards was enjoying the anticipation.
He was also getting impatient. He knew he could get home faster if he took the shortcut, and the sooner he could casually suggest that Carina might like to get out of those uncomfortable jeans, the better. So he steered her left, down a dirt alley behind several well-fortified houses.
They were about fifty yards down the long alley when Richards realised he had made a mistake. There were children sitting in the shadows, peeking out from gaps between the houses, waiting for passers-by. There was just enough light to make out their crouched figures.
“Oops,” Richards said under his breath, as he turned Carina around and decided they had better take the long way home, after all.
As he did so, five kids stepped out into the alley in front of him. The youngest was probably about nine, the eldest perhaps fourteen. Now that they were close, he could smell them. They were street kids. Dirty, violent, dangerous street kids. He saw the flash of a knife in the hand of a skinny, blonde-haired kid in the middle of the group. Richards was an average-sized man, even a little bulky. These were skinny little kids. They were no match for him physically. They were just children. But Richards knew there was always more to these situations than met the eye.
Carina had stopped laughing. “Street kids,” she said soberly.
“Just leave it to me,” Richards replied. “And don’t do anything silly.”
“Okay, Bobby. Okay.”
The blonde-haired kid looked about twelve years old. He was wearing a white T-shirt that was so grubby it had nearly turned black, but Richards could still make out the writing on it as the kid stepped nearer. It said, ‘Mercy of God Orphanage.’ Obviously the kid wasn’t too bright.
“Your wallet, Senhor,” the kid said in a nervous voice. “Your wallet.”
“Okay, I will give you my wallet.” Richards moved very, very slowly. He put his right hand in his trouser pocket, just finger and thumb, no sudden movements, and drew out the spare wallet he always carried when walking. He wore no watch, no jewellery, and his real wallet was at home. He bent down and put it slowly on the ground.
“The lady’s also,” said the child. He pointed the knife pathetically. Richards wondered how the hell this little skinny-armed kid thought he was going to do any damage with the tiny blade, but he played along anyway.
“Give him your wallet, Carina. Put it on the ground.”
Carina gingerly took out her wallet and dropped it in the dirt.
Two of the other children ran in and grabbed the wallets off the ground, then began flipping through all the money excitedly. The thick wads of cruzeiros were the equivalent of about forty dollars. It was nothing to Richards, but to the kids it was a fortune. The kids were laughing.
“Okay, okay. We go now,” said Richards. He led Carina backwards.
All of a sudden an older boy stepped out of the shadows and called out to Richards, just to let him know he had been watching. The boy was tall and thin, with pale skin and a couple of missing teeth from some previous encounter. He held up a dirty, rusty revolver so Richards could see it. “Yes. Senhor, you go now. You are a very smart man. Goodnight.”
Richards nodded, to let the boy with the gun know he understood that it was his decision to let them live, and to thank him.
Richards led Carina quickly out of the alley.
Five minutes later, more at a jog than a walk, they had reached his apartment. He sat Carina down on his cheap sofa and got her some water.
“Are you all right, Carina?”
“Oh, Bobby, you’re so sweet. Yes, I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry. It was my fault. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s all right, Bobby Hichards. It’s just a few cruzeiros.”
“I wanted to get you back here quickly. It’s my fault.”
“You wanted to undress me, didn’t you? Huh? I know you, Bobby.”
Richards was glad she was so drunk. It had made her only half-aware of the whole robbery. Probably she never even saw the kid with the gun, never even realised they nearly got killed. “No, I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
Carina put a hand on his cheek. “You are really worried.” She kissed him and ran her hands through his hair. “Let me make it better. Okay?”
“Carina, I’m sorry. I don’t think I can, tonight.”
“Oh, Bobby,” Carina said softly. “You are a strange man, sometimes.”
Richards smiled, but he felt awful. He might have gotten her killed.
“Drive me home then, Bobby?”
Richards nodded philosophically. “Sure.”
Bob Richards had been robbed before. It was just part of life and normally when it happened he just let it go. There was no point in calling the police – the civil police, that is. By the time you had finished bribing them you would be twice as poor as from the robbery itself, and they never caught the thief anyway. Without a bribe they wouldn’t even try. The only police you ever saw on the streets were military police, and as far as Richards was concerned the less contact you had with them, the better.
It was best not to ask questions about the military police. Usually you saw them cruising the streets slowly in their grey-and-white vans, or walking their beat along the beach. Richards always thought it was odd, whenever he was relaxing at the crowded beach, watching a beach volleyball game or admiring the young beauties in their thong bikinis, to see a gun-toting soldier march seriously along the sand as if he were expecting an armed coup to arise at any moment, starting right there on the beach at Boa Viagem. But as incongruous as the beach soldiers were, they made Richards feel safe. There were too many armed robberies in Recife.
Other times the military police made him feel anything but secure. Once or twice, when he was driving, he had looked a little too closely at military police cars that were overtaking him and seen four or five uniformed men with their faces covered by black ski masks and large sub-machine guns in their hands, speeding on their way to some anonymous mission. Death squads. You did not want to see stuff like this. What you wanted to do was keep your head down like a good citizen, get on with your life, and try not to think about it. And hope like hell you never met one of those guys up close.
Anyway, he wouldn’t want to get the military police involved in investigating a robbery perpetrated by street kids. You never knew which politician or general might just give the order to quietly slaughter the children and be done with it. No one would even know they were gone. Richards had little sympathy for the street kids, they were thieving little bastards, but they certainly didn’t deserve to die. They were just children.
It annoyed Richards intensely, however, that he had been robbed by a bunch of skinny children. A grown man should know better. It had made a fool of him in front of the lovely Carina, as well, and ruined a perfectly good evening. Maybe it was just transferred frustration at the pathetic state of his life in general, but Richards had been stewing over the robbery for a couple of days now. He just couldn’t get it out of his mind.
He honked the horn of his little Ford Escort. Weren’t they ever going to open the damn gates? he thought. The sun was beating down mercilessly and he had already been sitting out here with the engine running for nearly five minutes. What kind of an orphanage was this? Was nobody home?
At last, a teenage boy in shorts and a white T-shirt came wandering slowly up the dirt driveway and reached the gates. He started fidgeting clumsily with the chain and padlock until he had it undone, then he swung the big gates open, one at a time, until there was room for Richards to drive through. The boy seemed to do everything tediously slowly, which annoyed Richards even more. Nevertheless, Richards stuck his head out of the car and thanked the kid for letting him in.
“You are welcome, Senhor,” the kid replied, but not looking directly at Richards. His head slanted in the wrong direction. His eyes were cloudy.
Richards realised, to his horror, that the kid was blind. He had been sitting there, honking his horn impatiently, while this blind kid had come as fast as he could to let him in. “Thanks again, kid. Sorry about the horn.”
“It is nothing, Senhor.”
Richards drove slowly up the winding driveway, past ramshackle houses and towards the central building, a large, white, stone structure which looked almost like a converted church, without the spire. He parked the car and got out, wondering why he had bothered coming.
By the doorway was a colour portrait of the Virgin Mary, covered by glass to protect it from the sudden tropical downpours which drenched Recife from time to time. Richards paused to look at the painting.
A young woman came to the open door. “Good day.”
“Good day, Senhorita,” said Richards, as he handed her a business card.
“My name is Fabriola, Senhor ... Hichards. How can I help you today?” The woman spoke Portuguese with the accent of a well-educated university student. Richards imagined she must have donated her time.
“A pleasure to meet you, Fabriola. Look, it’s nothing, really. I’m just looking for a particular boy.”
“I see, Senhor. What is his name?”
“Well, I don’t know. You see, I was robbed three days ago. There was a boy with a knife. He was about twelve. Blonde hair. He was wearing one of your orphanage T-shirts. I thought you might know who he is.”
“Oh, no, Senhor! I am sorry to hear this.”
“It’s all right. No one was hurt.”
“Thanks be to God.”
Richards was never comfortable with religion. He was an atheist in a country full of believers, and it was sometimes a struggle to adapt. He tried his best. “Yes. Uh, right. Thanks be to God. But do you know this boy?”
“Well, I am not sure, Senhor. There are forty-seven boys here.”
“You understand, I am not here to make trouble. I don’t want to see the kid end up with the police. But you understand, Senhorita, you cannot have boys from the orphanage out on the street, with knives.”
“Oh, of course, Senhor. Of course, you are right. And thank you for not calling the police. I thank you for that kindness. The children are having lunch. Why don’t you come and see? Is that all right?”
“Sure.” Richards decided he would find the kid, frighten the hell out of him, and leave it at that. He just wanted to get it out of his system.
Fabriola led him down a long, cool corridor until they reached an enormous hall. About sixty people were seated around long wooden tables, eating lunch. Most of them were young boys. The rest were the volunteers who ran the orphanage, most of them older women. The scene was remarkably quiet. Richards had never seen so many well-behaved kids in his life. It was a simple place, and it could have done with a fresh coat of paint, but it was clean and welcoming. Nevertheless, Richards felt uncomfortable. He had never had any children himself, and he didn’t like kids. All he wanted to do was get it over with and go home. The sooner it was over, the better.
“We will walk around the tables, Senhor. You tell me if you see the boy.”
Richards followed her around the room, but the blonde-haired boy was not there. “He’s not here. Are there any others?”
“No, these are all the boys. I am sorry.”
“Okay. You know, if this boy stays out on the street, he will end up getting himself killed. It’s an ugly world.”
“I know you are right, Senhor. One moment, I will get Susinha to speak to you. She may know of this boy you seek. Why don’t you wait in the office?”
“Thanks.” Richards made his way back to the little office they had passed on the way to the hall. He took a seat on a rickety wooden chair.
After a couple of minutes, an attractive woman with light-brown hair and pale, delicate features appeared in the doorway to the office. She looked about forty-five, nearly his own age. Richards would later remember he felt immediately attracted to her, at least until she opened her mouth. She wore an expensive wristwatch, blue linen trousers, and an orphanage T-shirt. She walked into the office and, somewhat self-importantly, sat down behind the wobbly old desk. “Good day, Senhor,” she said in Portuguese.
“Good day, Senhora.” Richards had seen her gold wedding ring.
“With what can I for to help you, today, if possible?”
“Oh what?” said Richards, bemused. Her Portuguese was terrible.
“The lady tells me you are come to ask the questions, yes? Um ... she says you look for the boy of the street.” The woman looked exasperated.
“I don’t understand,” said Richards, rather cruelly.
“One moment,” said the woman. She pulled out a pocket dictionary and began flipping through it. “You are here to ... investigate a boy?”
Richards spoke in English now. “I’m an American.”
“Oh,” said the woman, embarrassed and relieved. “Oh, right. Well, that makes it easier then, doesn’t it?” She spoke in an absurdly posh English accent, which Richards disliked immediately. “Portuguese isn’t the easiest language in the world. All those irregular verbs.”
Richards had a look on his face halfway between pain and a smile.
“Look, um, sorry,” she said. “Can we start again?”
The woman stood up and offered her hand. “Susan Harris-Smythe.”
Richards thought even her name was ridiculous. “Bob Richards.”
Susan sat down again. “Right, Mr Richards. I understand you’re looking for one of our boys, blonde-haired, about twelve years old?”
“He robbed me at knifepoint. One of his buddies had a revolver.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr Richards. That’s awful.”
“Yeah, well, I’d like to find him and talk him out of doing it again.”
“What makes you think he was one of our boys?”
“He was wearing one of your T-shirts.”
“Ah. Look, I’m only a volunteer supervisor here. I’ve been over from London for six weeks. I’m on an ecumenical exchange program, from the Church of England. But the Sister is away at the moment, so I’m in charge.”
“You’re a vicar?” For courtesy, Richards quickly added, “Ma’am?”
“Oh, no. Me? No, I’m just on the Ecumenical Committee. The chance came up to help our friends in Brazil, so I volunteered. I’ve got a lot of experience working with children. I’m a teacher.”
“Well, as long as you’re not teaching them Portuguese.”
Susan laughed. “No, fortunately for them, I’m not.”
“Look, Susan. May I call you Susan?”
“If you like.”
“Susan, this skinny little kid was out there in the middle of the night with a knife, a little tiny knife, holding people up. One of these days he’s going to hold up the wrong guy and get himself killed. Not to mention he ruined a perfectly good date and nearly got me shot.”
“What do you mean?”
“He was with a gang of street kids. The leader had a revolver. I knew what to do, so I just handed over my wallet and walked away. But some dumb tourist or somebody is gonna panic, and they’ll shoot him. Then your kid’s going to be an accessory to murder.”
“What would you like me to do, Mr Richards? Have him flogged?”
“We had a boy here who matches your description. His name is Junio. Apparently his mother was murdered two years ago, in Maceió. Then he was brought to Recife, to the orphanage, but he ran away. The Sister told me he took to hanging around with the street gang because he was bored. The people in the slum used to give him food. Eventually they got him to come back to the orphanage. But he ran away again a month ago. He was suffering from malnutrition at the time. He’s our only missing boy.”
“I never said anything about wanting him punished.”
“Then why are you here, Mr Richards? What did he take from you?”
“A few cruzeiros. That’s not the point.”
“Well, what do you want with him, then?”
Richards wondered why she had suddenly become so damn defensive. “Look, I’ve been robbed ... at gunpoint. I might have been killed. I’m just ... annoyed. All I want to do is give the kid a piece of my mind and maybe, just maybe, he’ll think twice before he does it again. I could go to the police, you know, but I haven’t.”
“Well, why haven’t you? Or do you want to administer your own justice, Mr Richards? Beat up a defenceless child? Would that solve anything?”
“Hey, that’s enough! I don’t know why I came. Maybe it’s just because I’m embarrassed about the whole thing. I’m sure as hell not here to beat up any children. Lady, you’ve got a hell of a nerve!”
Susan said nothing for a moment. “You’re right, Mr Richards. I’m sorry. It’s just ... read the newspapers. Everyone hates the street kids. Everyone blames everything on the street kids. Clean up the streets, they say. The little devils deserve everything they get, they say. I’ve seen enough abuse of children for one lifetime. I saw enough of it in London, and I don’t need to see more of it here. I thought you were one of them.”
“One of who?”
“Look, I’m not an abuser. I’m just an ordinary guy who got robbed by a bunch of armed kids and who counts his lucky stars he’s still alive. And I came here looking for, I don’t know, justice. I just came to see the kid get a slap on the wrist, get the shit scared out of him, and be told to write a hundred times, ‘I will not mug my fellow man,’ on the blackboard.”
“And would that help you feel better, Mr Richards?”
“Maybe. It sure as hell might help the kid, Ms Smythe.”
“Pardon me,” Richards said sarcastically.
“We have no idea where Junio is. He might already be dead. I’ve just walked through the slum this morning, looking for him. No one has seen him. So if you really want to help him, Mr Richards, then pray for him.”
“God and I aren’t on speaking terms.”
“God listens to atheists and believers alike, Mr Richards.”
Richards had had enough. “I’m sure he does. Let’s just forget it.”
“Fine. Anyway ... I’m sorry you were robbed.”
Richards stood up. “You be careful. Those street kids are no angels.”
“They’re children, Mr Richards, closer to God than you or I.”
Richards held up his palms in surrender. Without another word he stood up, walked out, got into his car, and drove away. He should have known better than to go seeking justice. There was no such thing.
Susan picked up the old telephone by her bed and nervously dialled the number. It was hot in her small bedroom at the orphanage. All kinds of insects were chirping and clicking in the foliage outside her window. Her room seemed almost eerie, the weak yellow light of the grubby electric bulb bouncing off the bare stone walls. It was like being in a prison cell, except for the elegantly carved crucifix over her bed.
There was no answer. Her heart beat quickly. Later, when she would think back to this moment again and again in her mind, she could only classify it as a moment of temporary insanity. What had come over her, she would never quite know. It was probably the telephone call from Adrian.
Adrian Harris-Smythe, Tory MP and hero of the business community, wealthy landowner from the right kind of family, with his own country estate and a townhouse in Mayfair, was simply the perfect husband. Susan remembered all the praise her mother had lavished upon her for having found such an eligible bachelor and actually married him. Actually married him. They had been married for fifteen long years.
Adrian was sixty-six years old, twenty-one years older than Susan. He tolerated her penchant for charity work, though why on earth she wanted to spend six months in Brazil, of all places, was completely beyond him. But he knew it was good publicity – a conservative politician’s wife working for the underprivileged orphans of the Third World. Made him seem less Thatcheresque, which was not easy. Adrian was so busy with his work that he would hardly miss her, but it still annoyed him that she had gone. Even when she was in London, she spent half the time volunteering for church work and the other half teaching English at an abominable little college for recent immigrants. He had let his frustration at this kind of irritating behaviour get the better of him, unfortunately, and had an argument with her on the telephone. A long-distance argument, at one pound fifty a minute, over a scratchy satellite link from London to bloody Recife. “Why can’t you just come home?” he had complained. “I miss you.”
Susan didn’t miss Adrian. Her life had grown slowly but surely more stale since she had married him. He was a boring old man, a man who loved her at best as if she were a favourite pair of slippers, and at worst as if she were a fashionable accessory to have on his arm at party political rallies, without which people might secretly ask if he were gay. In fact, Adrian wasn’t gay. He just wasn’t much interested in sex. Susan doubted he ever had a passionate thought. Sex with Adrian was like going to the dentist. It wasn’t actually uncomfortable, it didn’t last too long, it didn’t happen all that often, and it served some kind of necessary purpose known only to the dentist himself. Adrian actually used to say to her, “Thank you, my dear,” at the end of it, just to let her know he appreciated her providing him with his marital rights. She was beginning to hate him.
They had never had any children, although Susan had always wanted a family. The thought of having children with this grey old man was unthinkable. Could she raise a son and have him turn out as lifeless and dour as Adrian? Could she face that kind of family? She could not. Everyone congratulated her on how happy she must be, how comfortable her life was, how lucky she was to have a marriage that had lasted fifteen years. Married to a millionaire. Married to Adrian Harris-Smythe.
She had told him she had only just arrived in Brazil and she would come home when she was ready and not before. He had hung up on her.
What had really brought her halfway around the world? she thought. Not just charity. She did plenty of that at home in England. She had come to Brazil to get away from her husband, to get away from the nightmare of the ‘perfect life’ which she lived with him, and to feel alive again. To feel alive.
Come on, answer the phone! she thought anxiously. Come on, come on! She knew she had to do this tonight or she would never do it. What did people do in this situation? she wondered. How did they go about it? She had no idea. But Adrian was thousands of miles away, for the one and only time in fifteen long, miserable years, and she was angry. Answer the phone!
Bob Richards stepped out of the shower, wrapped a towel around his waist, and walked out to his living room, leaving wet footprints on the wooden floor. He shook water out of his ear and picked up the phone. At that moment a huge truck roared by, four storeys below. Goddamned noise, he thought. The noise never stopped, twenty-four hours a day. Car engines, trucks, music from the local pub, people talking, the television upstairs, and most of all, automobile horns. The damn Brazilians couldn’t drive fifty yards without tooting their horns. “Bob Richards,” he said at last.
“Mr Richards. Um, it’s Susan Harris-Smythe.”
Richards shook some more water out of his ear. “Who?”
“Susan Harris-Smythe, from the orphanage.”
“Look, Mr Richards, I’m calling because ...”
“Don’t tell me you found the kid.”
“The kid who stole my wallet. Junio.”
“Oh, of course. No. We still haven’t seen him.”
“Right.” Richards thought that would have been too good to be true.
“No, you see, I’m calling because it’s Friday, and ...”
“And I thought you probably wouldn’t be working tomorrow.”
“I pretty much work when I like, Susan. Depends on the client.”
“Right. So I thought perhaps I could ask you if you wanted to come to the orphanage tomorrow and, um ...”
“Do some charity work? Look, Susan, you people at the orphanage do great work, and all that, but, uh, the IRS still want a million dollars out of me. Now is not the time for charity. You know what I mean?”
“No, no. I was going to ask you to lunch.”
“Lunch? At the orphanage?”
“I know,” Susan replied nervously. “It’s not the best place. Do you know somewhere better? It’s just you’re the only person I know in Recife who speaks English, and I’m going crazy speaking Portuguese all the time.”
“You’re asking me out to lunch?”
“Well, there’s a seafood cafe I know, on the beach at Boa Viagem.”
“That sounds fine.”
Richards couldn’t help feeling deeply suspicious. “You like seafood?”
“I love it, Mr Richards.”
“Look, Susan, could you do me a favour?”
“What is it?”
“If we’re gonna have lunch, could you call me Bob?”
“Bob. Right, of course.”
“Okay, Susan, I’ll come to the orphanage at twelve. That okay?”
“Great. See you then.”
Richards put down the phone. That was a goddamn weird phone call, he thought. For a long moment he looked out of his large, open windows at the apartment building opposite his own. It was stained with tropical mould, a black haze spreading over every concrete surface. He could see families huddled around their TV sets in every window. Then he looked down. On the narrow street below, some stupid guy was bending the aerials of parked cars, just for the hell of it.
Richards leaned out of his window and yelled.
“Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing? Get lost!”
The man pulled a revolver out of his shorts and waved it defiantly.
Richards stepped quickly back from the window and let the man get on with it. No point confronting a nutcase, he thought. It usually ended in someone getting killed. He switched off the light, just to be safe.
Why the hell had Susan called him, anyway? he wondered. As far as he could tell at the orphanage, she hated him on sight. It was typical of his whole life since coming to Brazil. There was always something weird happening. Nothing really surprised him any more. Nothing.
Fifteen hours later, Richards was looking at Susan’s pale blue eyes. Her face was delicate, almost innocent, with the milky complexion that came from a life under the cloudy skies of England. But there were lines of worry around her eyes. Her brown hair was cut in an attractive bob, the kind of sensible hairstyle you would expect from someone working with children. Bob Richards wished like hell he didn’t find her so attractive. Even in a cotton shirt and slacks, she looked great. This bothered Richards greatly, because she was so damned annoying.
She ate her fish as if she were sitting in some fancy hotel in Paris, slicing away delicately at the succulent flesh, chewing it appreciatively, then taking little sips of her wine. Richards had to slow down just so he didn’t end up sitting there with an empty plate for a half-hour while she finished. She had actually closed her eyes for a few seconds before they ate, to thank God for the meal. He saw her muttering a prayer under her breath. Worst of all, she had removed her wedding ring before he had picked her up from the orphanage. Richards was a well-practised observer of women, ever since his ex-wife had ripped his heart out and chewed it into a million pieces. He had a way of separating women into those who were no trouble, and those who were trouble. Susan Harris-Smythe, with her snooty name, ridiculous accent, and quaint habits, was definitely trouble. She was married, for a start. Richards had never gotten involved with a married woman, and he wasn’t about to start now. That would definitely be trouble.
“I often go walking around the slums,” she said, as if she were saying that she often played a nice game of croquet on Sunday afternoons.
“I take my video camera. It’s so different to anything I’ve seen before. And the people are so interesting.”
“They’re good people. They have so little, but they help each other.”
“Susan, most people wouldn’t walk around downtown with a camera. Doing it in the slums is crazy.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? Do you wear a watch?”
Susan thrust her milky wrist forward so Richards could see the tiny, elegant gold wristwatch she wore. “Of course.”
“Do you take it off when you go walking?”
“No. Should I?”
“What about your wallet? Do you carry it with you, with all your credit cards, your English pounds, photographs of your husband?”
“I don’t carry photographs of Adrian,” Susan said seriously.
“Right. But do you take your wallet with you, to the slums?”
“Of course. I might need to buy something.”
Richards couldn’t believe it. He shook his head. “Susan, you’re going to get yourself killed. You can’t carry that kind of stuff around on the streets. You may as well wear a sign saying, ‘Hooray! I’m rich and you’re poor!’ ”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s an insult. It’s telling everyone that you’re a gringo, too dumb to know not to carry valuables in public, you’re just begging to get robbed. You’ll be telling me you wear jewellery next.”
“Oh, my God.”
“I’ve never had any trouble yet, Bob.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I rest my case.”
“The locals know me, they even call me Susinha. I’m safe.”
“They call you Little Susan? That’s great, you’re probably safe from them ... but not from the people you don’t see, the people watching you quietly from a distance, just figuring when to strike.”
“I’m not going to be forced off the street by hoodlums.”
Richards shook his head again. “At least promise me one thing.”
“You won’t speak English in the slums. Always Portuguese, okay?”
“They don’t like dumb tourists, especially not Americans.”
“But I’m English.”
“They don’t know that, Susan.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
“The guy on the street corner with the gun in his pants. The kids with knives. The mafia. The ordinary crims. Even the military police.”
“Oh, come on. You’re exaggerating.”
“Think whatever you like. Just don’t wear a watch, don’t take the camera, use a spare wallet, don’t speak English, and preferably don’t go alone. Then you’ll live to a ripe old age and I won’t have to come rescue you.”
Susan stopped chewing on her fish. She swallowed it. “Rescue me?”
Richards ignored the question. “Susan, what are you doing in Brazil?”
Susan looked down for a moment. “Running, I suppose.”
“From what? From your husband?”
“Well, it’s a nice place to run to.” Richards looked out of the open front of the cafe to the beach. It was a stunning sunny day. Hundreds of people were swimming and enjoying the everyday good weather.
“A bit too hot, sometimes.”
“What about you, Bob? What are you doing in Brazil?”
“Running, I suppose.” Richards was mocking her accent.
“No, really. I mean it. What are you doing here?”
Richards slowly drank his beer, then looked at her. “I’m running.”
For his honesty, Susan suddenly liked him very much.
The following Wednesday afternoon, they met for tea at the orphanage. Richards immediately suggested they go for a walk on the beach instead. “I don’t really like kids,” he said. “Can’t we get away from this racket?”
“You don’t like kids?”
“Don’t get me wrong. Kids are okay. They’re okay for other people. But they’re not ...” Richards struggled to find the words, then lifted up the ridiculously dainty teacup Susan had given him, “... my cup of tea.”
“I’ve seen a lot of bad parents, back home, people busy with their careers, people who are great on the courtroom floor or on the exchange or on the road, but lousy with kids. And I’ve seen the kind of kids they raise.”
“You mightn’t be like that if you had kids, Bob.”
“I don’t relate to kids. Maybe I’m just too screwed up. It’s a full-time job just taking care of myself. I wouldn’t wish me on a child. Anyway, I’m not sure I’d want to bring a child into this crazy world. What about you, Susan?”
“I love kids. I always have.”
“Then why didn’t you ... and your husband ... have any?”
“I didn’t want to bring a child into that kind of family.”
Richards decided to let this alone. “Let’s go to the beach.”
After they parked the car, they gave a bored-looking teenager a few cruzeiros to watch it for them and set off on a long walk. Beach vendors with carts were selling pineapples, coconuts, beer, and ice creams. An endless column of high-rise apartments bordered the ocean. The sand on their feet was almost white, a faint light brown. The sun was fierce, but the azure sea was calm and beautiful.
“Have you noticed,” said Richards, “that the beach here is like the national religion? And the female form, in the thong bikini, it’s almost worshipped. Have you ever noticed that?”
“I suppose I have, to be honest. Is that what brought you to Brazil?”
“I told you, I was running. But it is a sexy country.”
“For the men, maybe.”
“Maybe. But don’t believe anything you’ve read about machismo.”
“What do you mean?”
“Who’s in charge at home, you or your husband?”
“I don’t know,” Susan lied.
“Come on, Susan. I’ll bet old Adrian tells you what to do. I’ll bet you’re the dutiful wife, smiling for the photographers at press conferences and cooking his supper for him every night.”
Susan was annoyed. At the same time she was amazed he knew her so easily he read her like an open book. “All right. Maybe you’re right.”
“Well, that’s more machismo than Brazil.”
Susan laughed. “Adrian is no macho man, believe me.”
“Well, more chauvinistic, then.”
“I expect so.”
“Not in Brazil. It’s the opposite of whatever you might have heard. Down here, it’s the women who run everything. Oh sure, the men run the politics and the business world and the army, but that’s not where the real power is, not the power that really counts.”
“Tell that to a women’s liberationist.”
“No. Really, I mean it. The most important thing in Brazil is the extended family. The family is everything, it’s the whole box and dice. Without family connections, you’re nobody. And who runs the families? The women. Behind closed doors the women call the shots, the wives, the mothers. I’ve seen powerful men in public, real tigers, but you meet them at home and they’re well-trained, harmless pussycats. They have to be. It’s the power structure. Women here know their power. They use it.”
“Does this explain why you haven’t married one of the locals, Bob?”
“Marriage? Me? No. When it comes to marriage, no matter who’s in charge, somebody’s always screwing up the other person’s life. It’s too much like a bad business deal. Take my ex-wife. She ran out the door as soon as my money dried up. Transaction over. No, me and marriage don’t mix.”
“Not everyone sees marriage that way. You might find someone who loved you. Don’t you think that’s possible?”
“Love and marriage are two different things.”
Susan nodded. She stopped walking and stared out over the sea. “Perhaps that’s true.”
Richards took a long look at her. “We’d better start back.”
Bob Richards’ face was deeply tanned. He loved the beach and the sun. His thick hair was dark, with a slight wave to it. His eyes were something between blue and grey, and his build was tallish but stocky. He was naturally a fairly strong man, yet he had beautiful hands, Susan thought, as if he should have played a musical instrument. She guessed it was because he had worked all his life at a desk, or making deals with clients. They were not the hands of a farmer or a labourer. His hands fascinated her.
Richards had taken her to the steakhouse. It was a prestigious venue. The Brazilians liked their red meat, and their cattle ranches were among the best in the world. The wealthy would dress up and come to the high-class steakhouse more like they were going to the theatre than chowing down on beefsteaks and potatoes. It was different to the States. Richards wore a dark suit and Susan had put on a white summer dress. He had never seen her in a dress before. She looked even more attractive to him.
“Why do you do so much charity work?” Richards asked.
“To help people. And guilt, I suppose.”
“What could you possibly have to be guilty about? You’re a good churchgoing citizen, married to an upstanding parliamentarian, you drink tea, hardly touch alcohol, and say grace before you eat. Come on, Susan.”
“It’s not enough. I don’t know. I just feel I should be doing more to help those less privileged than myself.”
Richards chewed his steak. “This is good.”
“No, the sirloin.”
“What’s wrong with doing charity work?”
“Nothing. But you do so much, why is it never enough?”
“I don’t know. Maybe ... maybe I’m looking for something.”
“Maybe you’re trying not to think about your life too much.”
Susan looked away. “Probably. Maybe I’m just living a lie. That’s what I think, sometimes. The politician’s wife, you know. Squeaky clean.”
Richards shook his head. “No, you are squeaky clean. I’ve never met anyone more squeaky clean than you. Your husband chose well.”
“A politician can’t afford to be married to a woman who might do anything scandalous, is that what you’re saying, Bob?” Susan was annoyed.
“You said it, Sue. Not me.”
Susan reached across the table and patted him on the hand. “Sorry.”
“Why do you stay with him?”
“I don’t know. Duty, I suppose. Good old-fashioned English duty. We English like to be proper, you know. Adrian’s got an important job. I support him in it, even if I don’t always agree with his politics.”
“A Democrat married to a Republican husband, huh?”
“You might say that, but you forget we still have a Queen. A prime minister. The House of Lords. Tradition. We do the right thing.”
“The right thing?”
“We don’t do anything too improper. I try to stand by Adrian and the days go by. We go to all the right parties and the opera and for weekends at the estate. It’s all very civilised.”
“Cucumber sandwiches and tea on the lawn?”
“But you’re unhappy, aren’t you?”
“Unhappy? How could I be unhappy married to multi-millionaire Adrian Harris-Smythe? He’s the perfect catch,” Susan said sarcastically.
“Like I said, you’re unhappy.”
“Well, why don’t you leave him? You don’t have any kids. It’s just you and him. It’s not the 1940s, Susan. It’s the nineties. Just leave him.”
“It’s not that simple, Bob.”
“Oh,” said Richards dryly, “I get it. It’s the money. That’s why he was the perfect catch, isn’t it? Never have to worry about money again. Marry the landed gentry and live the good life.”
“You just say the first thing that comes into your head, Bob, don’t you?”
“Well, is it true?”
Susan let her annoyance subside. “Yes.”
“That’s why my ex-wife married me. But the money can run out.”
“I’m not staying with him because of the money.”
“For the sex? Then he’s an Adonis in the bedroom, right?”
At this, Susan laughed out loud. “Adrian? You must be joking.”
“So what’s the point?”
“You wouldn’t understand. You’d think I was stupid.”
“Because I gave a vow. Because I got up in church, before God and my family and friends, and I gave a vow to stay with him in sickness and in health till death do us part. Because that matters.”
“But you’re miserable. Do you love him?”
“Love? What does that really mean?”
“Do you like him? Is he a nice guy? Do you want to be with him?”
“No. Not for years.”
“Then you’re crazy. Leave him.”
“I don’t know if I can. I made a vow in the sight of God. I promised.”
“Religion. I might have known.”
“Not everyone has the luxury of being an atheist like you, Bob. Not all of us enter lightly into marriage and then just skip out of it when it suits us. Some of us have our faith to deal with.”
“Hey! Emily left me! She treated me like dirt for years, then took every penny I had. If I had any sense I would have left her years before, but I hung on till the bitter end and got the shit kicked out of me. I didn’t skip out, Susan. Just because I don’t believe in God doesn’t mean I don’t believe in commitment.”
“You’re right, Bob, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Look, you can’t stay with this guy if you’re unhappy. All this charity work and all this noble concern for your husband is great, but when it comes down to it, twenty years from now, you’re going to look back on your life and realise you threw it all away. You’re going to kick yourself for not leaving him while you were still young. God isn’t going to strike you down for leaving your husband. God helps those who help themselves, isn’t that what they say?”
“I know, but I still can’t bring myself to do it. I even feel guilty just being here with you. I know that sounds terrible.”
“We’re not having an affair. I haven’t even shaken your hand.”
“But, that’s why I called you. That’s why I called you in the first place.”
Richards sighed. He was unaccustomed to being chivalrous. “Look, Susan. You don’t want to do this. You’re a pretty lady, I like you. I like spending time with you. But we’re just friends. You don’t want to complicate your life. You don’t want to have an affair. What you want to do is leave Adrian. I don’t care what the church says, that’s what you need to do.”
Susan disliked the way he could see right to the heart of her problems. It scared her. “I know you’re right, Bob. I know it. But there’s still a part of me that doesn’t respect myself enough to do that. I still think it’s wrong to leave one’s husband. It’s just wrong.”
“Is it wrong to care about yourself?”
“Maybe it is.”
“Who the hell taught you that?”
“I don’t know. It’s just the way I feel.”
“No wonder you walk around the slums with a video camera. You are trying to get yourself killed. You hate yourself.”
“Maybe I do.”
“Lady, you’re completely nuts.”
“Thanks for the compliment, Bob. It really helps.”
Richards laughed. “You’re welcome.”
The following Thursday, Richards agreed to meet Susan after the orphanage kids had been put to bed for the night. He drove her to the beach and they ate hamburgers in the dark, listening to the waves and smelling the salty, warm ocean. Then Susan uncharacteristically said she wanted a drink, so Richards pointed at one of the tall buildings a few blocks further along the beach. He led her there.
“Here it is. The Golden Beach Hotel. They’ve got tables on the deck upstairs, see? Want to go for a drink up there?”
Susan looked up at the five-star hotel. There was a large, open balcony for dining on the second storey. The view would be magnificent and Susan fancied the idea of sitting out in the warm night air. “I’d love to.”
By the time they were seated and enjoying their drinks, Richards was already wondering what the hell he was doing seeing her again.
“What are you thinking, Bob?”
“Oh, nothing. Just thinking about a jewellery deal I set up. I met the buyer in this hotel, early last month.”
“I didn’t know you dealt in jewels.”
“I don’t. I’m just the broker. The dealer’s an old French friend of mine, Pierre Fontaine. He’s in Rio this year. So he’s flying up next week to meet the buyer and make the transaction.”
“What kind of jewels are they?”
“Oh, it’s just an old diamond necklace. A French antique. But Pierre’s got a few deals to make with his regular clients here. He’ll bring a mother lode of rocks with him.”
“Very exotic, isn’t it? Trading diamonds in Brazil.”
Richards shrugged. “It’s just business to me. No big deal. But it is a big commission, about twelve grand. That kind of money goes a long way down here. It’s one of the advantages of leaving the States.”
“That’s about seven thousand pounds, isn’t it?”
“Something like that.”
“Adrian spends that much like it’s small change.”
“I’ll bet he does. There was a day when I did, too.”
“But not now?”
“Have you seen the rust on my car? No, not now.”
“Do you miss it? The money, I mean.”
“Oh, yeah. I miss it.”
Susan was sorry she asked.
“But there are other things you can’t put a price on. The beach. The good people here. Freedom. Not having the IRS banging on your door. Having time to think. Friends I’ve made. It’s not all bad, being broke in exile.”
“And the women?”
“Sure, the women. This is Brazil.”
“And the thong bikini, I suppose?”
“The thong bikini,” Richards agreed.
“It’s all a bit juvenile, isn’t it, Bob? Chasing after girls in bikinis?”
“You live life your way, I’ll live it my way. You don’t always have to take life seriously down here. People like to enjoy life. So do I.”
“Are you saying I don’t enjoy life?”
“Whoa! Stop right there. I’m not getting into that argument, Susan.”
“But what do you see in these women of yours? Do they mean anything to you? I mean, at the end of the day, are they just a convenience or do you actually have ... feelings for them?” Susan took a large sip of her Bacardi cocktail. She seemed much less inhibited than Richards had ever seen her.
“Why do you want to know? What difference does it make?”
“I don’t know. It’s just ... conversation.”
“Well, I don’t know. They’re my friends. Sometimes we sleep together. They use me as much as I use them. We just have fun together.”
“Well if you don’t want to know, don’t ask.”
“Maybe I do want to know,” Susan said provocatively.
Richards tried to ignore it. He drank his Scotch.
Half an hour later he had driven her back to the orphanage and was waiting impatiently for her to get out of his car. He wanted to go home and forget about her. That would have been sensible. Susan didn’t give him the chance. She learned across and kissed him, suddenly and awkwardly.
“Look, this isn’t a good ...”
She kissed him again.
Susan ignored him. She kissed him again, longer this time.
Against his better judgement, Richards kissed her back. After a few long moments, he spoke again. “What are you doing, Susan?”
Susan spoke her words with conviction. She had decided. There was no turning back. “There’s a party at a farm, next Tuesday. Fabriola’s invited me to stay. There’ll be dancing, fireworks, a barbecue. Come with me.”
“Come on, Sue, you know this isn’t what you want.”
Susan kissed him again. “Come with me.”
Richards put a hand on her cheek. “Are you sure?”
“Come with me.”
Richards couldn’t help admiring her courage. No one ever did anything uncharacteristic of themselves, he had always thought. “Okay. I’ll come.”
“Pick me up at three, on Tuesday? We could drive out together.”
As Richards reversed the car between the orphanage gates and saw Susan standing in the beam of the headlights watching him, he wondered how the hell he had let himself get talked into this. A married woman. What the hell was he doing? And why did he have to like her so damn much?
He drove away.
It was a slow night at the club. Apart from the poker game going on quietly in the West Room, to which waiters occasionally took drinks and cigarettes, respectfully closing the big doors behind them as they left, there was hardly anyone around. The West Room was for senior members of the club. Lowly plebeians like Richards frequented the bar and the lesser rooms.
Membership to the exclusive Southern Cross Club was expensive and limited to successful male pillars of the local business community, with the occasional exception of a few hangers-on like Richards who had managed to talk their way in. Occasionally there would be family days on weekends, and the place would be overrun with children and wives, but on weeknights the club was a male domain. Bringing girlfriends was strictly forbidden. Richards shelled out the annual subscription mainly to make business contacts, but he also enjoyed the club as a place to unwind.
Sitting at the bar, Richards watched a waiter walk over the plush blue carpet on his way back from the West Room with a tray of empty glasses.
“What’s the matter, my friend?” said Ricardo Fuentes, in English.
Richards looked gloomily into his Scotch. “You don’t want to know.”
“Bobby, Bobby,” Ricardo said expansively, “you Americans hide your feelings too much. You must speak of them. You will feel better.”
“You think I should have more Latin passion?”
“Of course! Life is too short.”
“A little less passion might do me more good.”
“Ah. I knew it. It had to be a woman. What else could be bothering Bobby Hichards? You have lost one of your harem? Don’t worry, Bobby, there are – How do they say? – plenty of new fish in the ocean.”
“No. The harem is fine.”
“Then what, Bobby?” Ricardo swivelled on his bar stool and put a hand on Richards’ shoulder. “You have business problems? You want me to loan you some money? No problem, my friend. How much do you need?”
“You know I won’t take money from you, Ricardo.”
“Bobby, the price of sugar is good this year. I built a new mansion on the farm. My son is going to move in, with his wife. Everything is wonderful. If you need a little money, it is easy for me.”
“Thanks, but I don’t borrow money from friends. Anyway, business is okay. I’ve got a jewellery sale going down with General del Campo, as soon as the dealer gets to town.”
Ricardo lowered his voice to a whisper. “Bobby, you are doing business with the general? This is not wise, my friend. This is a bad man. People he don’t like sometimes just ... disappear.” He drew a finger slowly across his own throat. “They just disappear.”
“Oh, come on. It’s just one deal.”
“You should be more careful how you make your money.”
“Ricardo, you know me. I’m always careful.”
“Yes, this is true. And it is good for you that you are.”
“I always am, Ricardo. I always am.”
“Then it is a woman?”
Richards sighed. “Yeah, it’s a woman.”
“Don’t tell me, Bobby, you are in love?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Do I look that stupid? No, I’m not in love. Americans don’t fall in love overnight.”
“But you have feelings for her, this woman?”
“I don’t know, Ricardo. I don’t know what I’m doing. I had my life so well worked out. One week I’d see Carina, another week Patricia, then Maria. No problem. It’s all very ... sensible.”
“Yes, Bobby. Here is to sensible women.” He raised his glass.
“But one day you will marry, Bobby. I know you will. You say you are not interested, but I can see you settled down here. Brazilian life suits you.”
“I still have fantasies of going back to the States. All I have to do is come up with a million dollars in back-taxes.”
“You’re a dreamer, Bobby. That’s what I like about you.”
“I’m an idiot, is what I am. I’ve got this crazy Englishwoman, she’s kind of a schoolteacher ... we’re going for a night in the country.”
“She is attractive?”
“Well, go. Enjoy. What’s the problem?”
“She’s married, for a start.”
“Ah,” Ricardo said flatly.
“Her husband’s some high-flying politician in London. A powerful man.”
“Don’t sleep with the wives of powerful men, Bobby. That is the first rule. And the second rule, don’t get caught.”
“It’s not just that.”
“There is more?” Ricardo raised his eyebrows.
“I’ve got the damn woman on my mind all the time. I don’t know what it is about her. It’s not just physical. I don’t know. I can talk to her.”
“You have slept with her already?”
“And she wants you?”
Richards raised his drink to say yes.
“You are talking to a woman and you have not slept with her? This is something I have not heard before. And, a married woman? Ai, ai, ai.”
“Tell me about it.”
At that moment the doors of the West Room swung violently open and a man stormed out. He stomped angrily through the bar, past the security guard, and straight out the exit to the car park. He looked about seventy years old, but large and strong in stature, and he had untidy white hair and wore an expensive grey linen suit.
Ricardo whistled. “Hey, look at that. They beat him again.”
“Who is he?”
“Judge Marcus. Looks like he lose a lot of money. You know your friend the general is playing him tonight, don’t you?”
“Del Campo? He’s in the West Room?”
“I didn’t know he was here tonight.”
“Sure. He must have taken big money from the judge again. The judge comes with his lawyers and the general comes with a couple of his men. Usually the general wins, or they let him win.”
“They let him win?”
“Sure, sometimes. Who wants to make an enemy of such a man?”
“But the judge, he is different. He plays to win.”
“Isn’t he afraid?”
“Judge Marcus is a powerful man. Many connections. The general cannot touch him. But the general, he plays better poker. The judge always lose his money. They say it is because he is only half a man.”
“What do you mean?”
“They call him Spaghetti Marcus. He is a limp-dick.”
“He’s impotent? So what? The guy must be seventy years old. It happens to the best of us in the end, Ricardo.”
“Speak for yourself, my friend.”
Richards laughed loudly. “I apologise.”
Ricardo laughed back. “But with Marcus, it was different. His wife left him twenty years ago, and never since then, not one woman. You must have heard about this.”
“I try and stay away from the courts, Ricardo.”
“Of course. Well, the general loves to taunt him. They are like two bulls in the same arena. Each knows they cannot win, if they should charge at each other, so they snort and scratch the dirt, make a lot of noise, but nothing ever happens. But I feel sorry for Marcus the judge.”
“It’s not right for one man to disgrace another man’s reputation the way this general does. As soon as Marcus has his back turned, the general is making his little jokes about the spaghetti-dick. Sometimes even in front of him, little comments. I hate to be in the room when he says this.”
“And the judge has never tried to, I don’t know, have him killed?”
“The army is too powerful. Marcus tried a few times to bring a case against the general in court, for this murder or that missing person, you know the kind of thing. But nothing ever sticks.”
“Yeah. The military police cover their tracks. No evidence makes it to court. You know, Ricardo, we don’t need this kind of feud going on in town. It’s bound to be trouble.”
“Ah, Bobby, these men are idiots. They are dangerous idiots. That is why I am telling you, you should not be doing business with del Campo. Make this your last deal with that man, if you want to live a long life.”
“Living a long life is my motto. Don’t worry.”
Ricardo looked at him, concerned. “Be careful, my friend.”
Richards nodded soberly. “I always am, Ricardo. I always am.”
“This time, make sure you are.” Ricardo Fuentes was still worried.
Firecrackers exploded like gunshots at the feet of the children – little girls in pretty party dresses, boys in their best shirts and jeans. Crackling, sizzling, dangerous fireworks detonated right by their feet.
“Don’t get too close, Guillerme. You’ll get burned,” said one of the mothers. Her boy obediently stood back from the exploding firesticks.
Richards stood with Susan, watching the spectacle. The adults had lit a huge bonfire. It was burning brilliantly against the dark country landscape. Nearly everyone was dancing on the concrete floor of the outdoor entertainment area. It had its own tiled roof, supported on concrete pillars, just in case a tropical downpour should dampen the celebrations.
A small band took up one corner of the floor, playing loud forro, samba, and lambada music in their shirtsleeves, getting sweaty in the evening heat. The drummer pounded out driving rhythms on big snare drums, the singer crooned his lyrics with unsophisticated joy, and the veteran musician with the piano accordion pumped out racing melodies. There must have been thirty people there, plus a handful of their children, and everyone was dancing and laughing as if they had all just won the lottery.
Richards examined the two blocks of cheese he was holding over the coals of the barbecue on long sticks. “They’re nearly ready.”
“Are you sure this is good?” said Susan nervously. “Barbecued cheese?”
“Cheese on the Coals. It’s great. You gotta try some.”
Susan looked at the dancers and wished she could dance like them. Brazilians seemed to be born with rhythm. Even the children were good. “They certainly know how to have a good time, don’t they?”
“You better believe it. This is Brazil. These people are the best in the world at having a good time. They really know how to party.”
“But isn’t this supposed to be a religious festival?”
“Sure. It’s the festival of St John. Have some cheese.”
Susan took one of the sticks from Richards and sniffed cautiously at the white block of hot cheese on the end of it. “Well, it smells all right.”
“Take a bite.”
“Oh, it’s really good!”
“I told you so.”
“Why are all the men dressed like that?”
“Oh, there’s a kinda tradition of dressing up like hillbillies. Straw hats and neckerchiefs. And the girls in pretty peasant dresses.”
Susan smiled. “Perhaps we should have dressed up.”
“No, nobody cares. It’s just about having fun.”
Susan looked at the three or four couples who were dancing very close and fast to the latest song. It was very sexy. “What’s this dance called?”
“It’s a lambada.”
“Do you dance, Bob?”
“Sure, a little. You want to try it?”
“Oh, no. Heaven forbid. I’m not a dancer.”
“Okay. Suit yourself. I’m kind of tired, anyway.”
Susan watched the dancers, their legs interlaced, their bodies pressed against each other, as they smoothly flowed back and forward through the beat of the music. The dancers were graceful and sensual. The music was like nothing else she had heard before, it was earthy and joyous, the sound of a little three-piece band on a tropical night in Brazil. The rhythm of the music had an almost hypnotic effect on her. She felt happy and aroused.
“They’re great, aren’t they?” said Richards, admiring the dancers.
Susan smiled at him.
They watched the dancers for a long time. By ten o’clock the party was in full swing, but Susan wanted to find some privacy with Richards. She said her goodbyes to her friends, fellow workers from the orphanage, especially to Fabriola, who had invited her, and then led Richards around to the front of the simple but very large farmhouse. They sat down alone on the front steps of the porch. The brown concrete was refreshingly cool to touch.
“It is beautiful out here, isn’t it?” Susan said.
Richards looked into the night. The nearest house was a quarter-mile away in the darkness, past fields filled with overgrown fruit trees. But there was no livestock. “Is this really a working farm?”
“No, not really. Fabriola’s parents keep it as a kind of holiday home. They come up here to get away from the city and relax.”
Susan didn’t know quite how to broach the next subject, so she just said the first thing she thought of. “We have our own room at the end of the house. It’s very private.” She had shown no affection towards him in public.
“Our own room? Hey, I know the Brazilians are pretty relaxed, but Fabriola must know you’re married. To someone else, I mean.”
“She was going to share a room with me herself, but I told her you were an old friend and that you often came to stay with me in England. There are separate beds. She didn’t think it was strange.”
Richards looked at her. “You really had this all planned.”
Susan felt a twinge of guilt, then pushed it out of her mind. “Hmmm.”
“Is it that important to you? To be lovers, not just friends?”
“Aren’t I as attractive as your other women?”
“That’s not the point, Sue. And yes, you’re beautiful.”
“I like talking with you,” Susan said, simply and unexpectedly.
“I like talking to you. Listening to you. Spending time with you. Just talking. All of the things I hate doing with Adrian.”
“Don’t you think that’s what really counts, Bob? In a marriage, or any relationship? Isn’t it the talking the matters, and the just being together? Feeling like you’re on the same wavelength as the other person?”
Richards sighed. He was beginning to like her more and more. “Yeah.”
“I feel like I’m alive again when I’m with you, Bob. I feel like so many things from the past are healed over and gone. I feel like laughing.”
Richards said nothing.
“Do you know what I mean, Bob? Do you feel that way too?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
“Are you afraid to answer it?”
“Where’s this going, Sue? You want me to say I feel alive again when I’m with you? That I feel things I haven’t felt for years, things I told myself I’d probably never feel again? Where would it leave us if I said that?”
“Say it if you want to.”
“What if I said I felt different about you? What if I said you weren’t like all the other women? What if I ... uh, didn’t want to wreck our friendship?”
“I’d believe you. I can tell you’re an honest man.”
“Are you an honest woman?”
“What do you mean?”
“I like you, Susan. Goddamn it, I didn’t want this kind of complication in my life, but I like you. And you’re married. You’re from England. You’ll be going back there in a few months, back to your husband. Isn’t that it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No,” Susan said softly. “I’m not sure about anything any more.”
Richards sighed. “That’s Brazil. It does that to you.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, Bob. That’s the truth.”
“Look, Sue, I should go home. Fabriola can drive you back in the morning. You’re great, too great, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Susan put a hand on his knee. “Bob, I’m asking you not to go. Stay with me, just stay with me. I don’t want to talk about it, analyse it to death until there’s nothing left of it. I just want to be ... with you.”
“You know we’re going to get hurt if you go back to him?”
“I know. Just stay.” Susan kissed him.
After a moment’s silence, Richards said quietly, “Okay.” He wondered how the word had come out of him, but he had said it now and there was no turning back. It was different to Carina, to Patricia, to Maria. Somehow Susan was different. It was complicated. Risky. He cared about her.
When Susan kissed Richards, on the single bed in the dark room, she could see his face only in the faint light of a tiny candle. She had carefully moved a table behind the door, and this was where the candle burned.
It was adultery, she knew, but it was so unlike anything anyone had ever told her about being unfaithful. It was something beautiful.
Time seemed to lose its meaning. All her memories of that night blended into a seamless collage in her mind, a tapestry of new experiences, of touch, of closeness, of affection, of beauty, and of sin. Could this be a sin, to be alive again after all these years? Surely not. The sin was in the empty sex that Adrian subjected her to, as if she were some kind of servant. And what was she feeling now, as she and Bob Richards made love, each very much surprised by the other, with the strange rhythms of loud samba music still coming from behind the house, drowning out their noises, giving them privacy? It was honesty. That was what she felt. It was terrible, wonderful honesty, all at once, overwhelming. It was honesty.
Later, in the quiet of the night, once the party had died down, the rightness of her decision was undeniable to her. She knew she had done the right thing. She knew it. “I’m glad you stayed, Bob. I’m so glad you did.”
They fell asleep, happy together, in the tiny single bed.
Fifty miles away, in Recife, a man was murdered.
It was the night of the festival of St John. If Pierre Fontaine had bothered to look out of the window of the Varig 737 as it made its approach to Recife, he might have seen hundreds of tiny bonfires burning in dirt roads throughout the poorer suburbs of the city. In the slums, people had made fires around which to dance and celebrate. In the wealthier suburbs, the pubs were packed with revellers. Music was playing everywhere. The noise of children setting off fireworks on street corners all over town sounded almost like the gunshots of a civil war. But there were no parades, no thousands of people marching down the main streets. It was not Carnival.
Fontaine did not look out the window. He fastened his seat belt and felt the gentle shudder of the aircraft landing. The only thing which concerned him, as he walked down the boarding stairs onto the asphalt taxiway, was getting some sleep. It was late.
The air was hot and thick. Fontaine was still not used to the strange aromas that one took in with every breath in Recife. There was the ocean, you could smell the salt of it. There was the stench of human excrement from the open sewer that flowed through the city. There was jet fuel and gasoline. There was the sweet smell of tropical vegetation, and then the sour aftertaste of rotting fruit. There was the perfume of the women walking next to him to the airport terminal. It was everything at once.
Fontaine wished his jacket were cooler. He was sweating in a white linen suit and tie, weighed down by a large collection of jewels stuffed into various money belts and inside-pockets. It was his own decision to travel without bodyguards. He had good insurance, so if anything were stolen it would not be the end of the world. He only had to make it to the hotel. Then he could get some sleep. The hotel guards would take care of security.
A teenage boy was handing out pamphlets to every passenger as they passed him on the way to the terminal building. The stars shone overhead.
“Senhor. Welcome to Recife,” the boy said in Portuguese.
“Thanks,” Fontaine replied. The pamphlet was a health warning against the current cholera epidemic. There was a skull and crossbones, just to drive home the point to anyone who didn’t read Portuguese, and a warning to drink only bottled water. Fontaine spoke Portuguese fluently.
Ten minutes later he was standing in a small queue outside the little airport, waiting for a taxi. When his turn came, he threw his hand luggage onto the back seat of a tiny taxi and squeezed into the front. It was not easy. Fontaine was a lanky six feet, four inches tall.
The taxi driver also seemed out of place in the little car. He was a fat man with a greasy moustache and thinning black hair. His belly seemed almost wedged under the little steering wheel. “Good evening, Senhor.”
“To where am I taking you?”
“The Golden Beach Hotel, Boa Viagem.”
The engine of the little taxi whined in protest as the driver raced through the streets of Recife at sixty miles an hour.
“You have an accent, Senhor, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Yes. I’m French.”
“Ah. You speak Portuguese very well. Have you been in Brazil long?”
“A year. I’ve been staying in Rio.”
“What brings you to Recife? Business or pleasure?”
“Pleasure,” Fontaine lied. “I’m visiting a cousin.”
“Ah. Well, you should have come a day earlier. You have missed the festival of St John. All the parties are closing down for the night.”
Fontaine grunted in reply. He wished the driver would shut up.
At the hotel, the driver took a long, careful look at Fontaine’s face as he handed Fontaine the change. “Have a pleasant stay in Recife, Senhor.”
Fontaine checked into the hotel with the intention of going directly to his room. It was nearly midnight. Unfortunately the manager happened to be in the lobby and he recognised Fontaine immediately.
“Pierre!” The manager walked over and held out his hand.
Fontaine shook it. “Rafael, how are you?”
“I am well, I am well. And your trip was good, I hope?”
“The plane was delayed. I’m a little tired.”
“Well, we must get you to your room. Now, you have merchandise with you, as usual, I suppose. Do you want me to put it in the hotel safe?”
Fontaine looked around the immaculate lobby of the hotel. Two armed security men stood guard on the marble floor. “No, that’s okay.”
The manager summoned a porter. “Take Senhor Fontaine’s bags to 902. Well, Pierre, it is good to see you again. Until the morning.”
“Until the morning.”
When Fontaine got to his small but luxurious room, he put his jewels, including the antique necklace he had brought for General del Campo, in the small combination safe in the wardrobe. His meeting with the general was scheduled for ten o’clock in the morning. Fontaine stripped down to his boxer shorts, got into the king-sized bed and turned out the light. He knew that sleep would come to him in only a few minutes. It was a relief.
Five hundred metres down the beach road, the taxi driver had pulled up by a public telephone. He dialled the number he had been given.
The voice that answered the call said only one word. “Yes?”
“I think I have seen the man you are waiting for,” said the driver.
“Who is this?” The voice was deep. It was male.
“Miguel Dereito, taxi driver.”
“Yes, Miguel, who have you seen?”
“The jewel dealer, Senhor Pierre Fontaine. I have just taken him to the Golden Beach Hotel. I am certain it is him. I recognise his face.”
“And he is staying at the hotel tonight?”
“Yes, Senhor. I swear it.”
“Then my information was correct. There must be a sale going down.”
“I am sure there must be, Senhor. He looked nervous.”
“Then we are in luck, Miguel. This is good information. You will be rewarded. Do not go back to the hotel, do you understand? Stay away.”
“Whatever you say, Senhor.”
The line went dead.
It was two in the morning when three men walked slowly up to the entrance of the Golden Beach Hotel. They seemed relaxed, as if they were returning from a night out at one of the beach pubs. The last of the men carried a green and blue beach towel, rolled up and covered in sand. It was dyed in the colours of the Brazilian flag. The security guard at the door greeted them as they pushed open the heavy glass doors at the lobby entrance.
“Good evening, Senhors.”
“Good evening,” said the first of the men.
Inside the lobby, there was only one other guard. He was having a smoke at the reception desk with the night clerk. His revolver, like that of the guard at the door, was carelessly holstered at his hip.
The first of the men went to the reception desk, while the others stood in the centre of the lobby. At the desk, the first man spoke to the clerk. “Good evening. I’d like our keys, please.”
“Oh, Senhor? Which numbers are you staying in?”
“Ah, do you know what, I can’t remember which floor it was.”
The clerk looked at his guest list. “What is the name?”
In an instant, the man withdrew a nine-millimetre automatic pistol from his pocket and pointed it at the head of the surprised security guard, who let his cigarette fall from his lips. “I forget the name.”
At the same moment his two accomplices brought out their own guns. The one with the towel revealed a small sub-machine gun, the other had a nine-millimetre of his own. They whistled at the guard by the door, who looked across the room to see their barrels pointed right at him.
The leader spoke loudly. “Now, Senhor Security Guard, Senhor Desk Clerk, I am going to bet that this man here, this guard at whose head I have pointed my pretty little pistol, is your friend. I am going to bet that you would rather not see him killed immediately. Perhaps you would all like to keep living and not have any trouble. Would that be correct?”
No one said anything. The two accomplices moved apart. It would be impossible for the guard at the door to draw his holstered revolver fast enough to hit more than one of them.
The leader spoke to him. “Lie down on the floor, Senhor Guard, with your hands behind your back, and your friend here gets to live. Let’s not be stupid. Do you both want to die for the pittance they pay you here?”
The security guard at the door decided he did not want to die. He lay down. One of the accomplices walked over and handcuffed his wrists.
“And now you,” the leader said to the guard he held at gunpoint, who wisely decided to follow suit.
The leader spoke to the clerk. “You will give me the key to the luggage room, please. Very slowly, that’s right.”
The clerk gingerly drew out his hotel master-keys from his pocket and put them on the reception desk, then replaced his hands on the desk.
“Thank you.” The leader threw the keys to an accomplice.
“Lock the doors. Lock these guards in the luggage room. And tape their mouths. Then secure the area. Okay?”
The first accomplice locked the glass lobby doors, then joined his partner in herding the two guards into the luggage room near reception.
Once the guards had gone, the leader led the night clerk into the deserted office behind the reception desk. The clerk was a frail man in his fifties, and he hadn’t survived so long without gaining some common sense. “Don’t kill me, Senhor. I will help you. What do you want?”
“Ah, a smart man! Well, that is refreshing. I am in a hurry, if you don’t mind. I would advise you to tell me the truth, or I will kill you at once.”
“Yes, Senhor. Don’t kill me. I have a family. I will help you.”
“First, are there any more guards upstairs?”
“No, Senhor, I swear by my children there are not.”
“Very well. Second, in what room is Senhor Pierre Fontaine?”
“Room 902, Senhor. He came in tonight.”
“And did he put anything in the hotel safe?”
“No, Senhor. I swear it. I swear it, there is very little in the safe tonight.”
“Yes, I know. The armoured car came this morning.”
“Yes, yes. That is right.”
“Well then, you may live. I will not take you from your children.”
“Thank you, Senhor.”
“I regret I will have to handcuff you, also. Turn around.”
The leader took him into the luggage room. With all three prisoners bound hand and foot, their mouths taped, he was ready. “Okay, let’s do it.”
The accomplices had donned black balaclavas. It was regrettable that they had to enter the hotel with their faces exposed, but with the hit ordered at only an hour’s notice they had little choice. It was a professional risk they had taken for a few minutes – unfortunate, but unavoidable.
The leader left one of the accomplices to watch the prisoners and the other to watch the lobby. He left his own balaclava in his pocket for now, and replaced the nine-millimetre in its pocket also, in case of the unlikely event that he should meet a guest in the elevator. Time was of the essence. At the ninth floor, he went straight to room 902, pulled on some gloves and his balaclava, took the spare key which the clerk had given him, and opened the door.
The room was in darkness. He flipped on the light at about the same time that Pierre Fontaine turned over in bed, woken by the noise, and pointed his pistol at the bleary-eyed Frenchman.
Fontaine was so sleepy it took him a long moment to register what was happening to him. The figure of a masked man with a pistol pointed directly at him came into focus at the same time as he heard the words.
“Senhor Fontaine. This is a robbery. Put your hands out where I can seem them. Hands out where I can see them, right now, or I shoot.”
“All right, all right,” Fontaine managed to say in Portuguese. He slowly brought his hands out from under the covers and held them up.
“Get out of bed. Stand against the wall. Hands on your head.”
Fontaine did as he was told. He felt the cold steel of handcuffs snapping on around his wrists.
“Now then, the merchandise is in the safe, correct?”
“Correct,” said Fontaine.
“You will tell me the combination, please.”
“99 to the right, 56 to the left, 25 to the right.”
“Good. Now lie down. Face down.”
Fontaine lay on the floor. Quickly, the thief dialled up the combination and the tiny wardrobe safe popped open. In it were a number of loose diamonds, some impressive rings, some US dollars, and one large diamond-and-ruby necklace originally destined for sale to General del Campo. The thief pulled up his shirt, revealing a money belt into which he stuffed the cash and all of the jewels except the necklace, which he put in his pocket. “Thank you, Senhor Fontaine. Roll over, please.”
The thief taped up Fontaine’s mouth, then taped his ankles together.
“I apologise, but you understand it is necessary.”
Fontaine nodded his agreement. He was mostly glad that the thief was a professional. It was obvious he was not a common murderer.
“Goodbye, Senhor Fontaine.”
The light went out again. Fontaine waited in the darkness.
Back at the lobby, the leader collected his men and prepared to leave. One of the accomplices asked, “All well?”
“All well. But it’s a small haul.”
“Not more than half a million, tops. Maybe only a quarter.”
“Shit,” said the other accomplice. “We risked our lives for that?”
“It’s not our choice, boys. The boss wanted it done.”
“Fuck the boss.”
“Let’s get out of here. Unlock the staff entrance, we’ll go out the side.”
The three men removed their balaclavas as they stepped out into the alley at the side of the hotel. Without another word they each walked off in different directions, all relieved that the risky operation had gone well.
There would be no problem with escaping on foot. There was no need to run. No one would look twice at someone walking casually down the beach or through the streets of Boa Viagem. And soon they would reach their cars and quietly drive off into the night. Everything had gone smoothly.
The leader’s car was parked a few blocks away. He walked casually past the Little Napoli restaurant, which was now closed, and along the deserted streets with all their quiet houses hidden from view by high concrete walls. There would be a lot of drunks in those houses, he knew, sleeping off their St John celebrations. Then he came to a long alley, behind a row of houses, which led to the street on which his car was parked. He walked quickly into the dirt alleyway, silently thinking what a waste of time the job had been. Even the necklace couldn’t have been worth more than a measly quarter-million US dollars. He was hoping for at least a million.
His thoughts were rudely interrupted by the scurrying noise of several grubby street kids running out of the shadows and appearing menacingly in front of him. One of the little bastards actually had a tiny knife.
“Your wallet, Senhor,” said the blonde-haired kid with the knife.
The jewel thief felt only one emotion, annoyance. He pulled out his nine-millimetre without a moment’s hesitation, walked straight up to the kid with the knife and pointed the barrel at his forehead.
Junio didn’t know what to do. His skinny arm trembled. The knife shook uncontrollably. This had never happened before. The rest of the kids started backing away, leaving Junio alone.
The jewel thief was already angry about risking his neck for a pissy little heist that would barely pay his bills. He certainly didn’t need any other distractions. “Listen, you little shit, I should kill you for what you just did, kill you right here and now ...”
At that millisecond the gut-wrenching sound of a pistol shot exploded like fire in Junio’s ears. Junio’s heart seemed to stop. He thought he must be dying. Urine ran down his leg and stained the dirt.
But then the man with the gun fell to the ground. Junio was confused. He didn’t know what was happening. He dropped his knife and just stood there, paralysed with fear, unable to move, in a pool of his own urine.
The man had dropped his gun. He was lying in the dirt gasping desperately for air and coughing up blood. The blood was bright red, and there was so much of it. It was so ugly. Junio could see it in the light from the street lamp at the end of the alley. The man was gargling on his own blood, spluttering like he was drowning, desperately fighting for every breath, fighting to get oxygen. Junio stepped back. It was a sight he would never forget as long as he lived. It was like something from hell.
Paulo, the leader of the street kids, stepped out from his hiding place and walked over to the dying man. He kicked him in the back – viciously – at the point where the shot had entered his chest and punctured his lung. The man twisted in agony but he could feel oxygen getting into his lungs at last. He might survive. He might live.
“Junio,” said Paulo, laughing. “You have pissed your pants!”
“No, Paulo. I didn’t.”
“You did! Look, you crybaby, you pissed your pants. Look, see here on the ground, here it is. Pissed your pants! Pissed your pants!”
The injured man managed to gulp down some more air, but he couldn’t move. He was dying after all, he decided. More blood dripped out of his mouth, there were clots in it. He wanted to scream – for the pain – but he could not. It was all he could do to spit up the blood and try to breathe.
“I didn’t, Paulo. I didn’t piss my pants.”
“Never mind, Junio. What shall we do with this man, here? You know he was going to shoot you? You want I should kill this stupid man, Junio? You want I should kill him?”
The injured man turned his grey, pale face up from the dirt and saw a skinny fifteen-year-old boy with a rusty revolver pointed at his chest. “No,” the man managed to say. “Don’t shoot.”
Paulo repeated the question. “You want me to pull the trigger, Junio? This man is a mess. Look at all this blood on his face, on his teeth. Phew! You are a mess, Senhor. I think you are better off dead.”
Junio ran over to Paulo. There were tears on Junio’s face, dirty tears flowing down onto his neck. “No, Paulo! Please, no! Don’t kill him. Don’t kill the man. Please, Paulo. No.” Junio didn’t want to see a man die. He had never seen a man die. He thought that God would send him to hell if he should see a man die with his own two eyes. “No, Paulo.”
“You are no fun, Junio. What a sissy-boy.” Paulo whistled loudly. The other children came out of the shadows again and looked curiously at the dying man on the ground. “Get his wallet, take his things.”
One of the young boys hesitantly put his hand in the dying man’s pocket and pulled out the diamond necklace. “What is this, Paulo?”
Paulo took the necklace. “I’ll take that. Give it to me.”
The dying man gasped louder for breath. The children didn’t want to touch him. There was too much blood. Paulo had killed before but there had never been so much blood. It was too ugly.
“All right,” Paulo declared. “Come on, let’s go. The police will come.”
Junio took one last look at the dying man. “I’m sorry, Senhor,” he said pathetically, looking at the man’s blooded face. It was as pale as a ghost. The man looked up at him, his face twisted in the dirt, still gasping, unable to speak. Junio turned and ran as fast as he could.
The man tried to move, once the street kids were gone, but a shooting agony raced up his neck to his skull each time he tried it. His limbs would not obey him. He could not rise. He knew he was destined to die here, lying in a clotted pool of his own blood and the foul urine of the bastard street kid. He would never last more than an hour, he knew that for sure. He closed his eyes, spat some dirt and saliva out of his mouth, and realised death was upon him. Death tasted bad, like blood. Then he was unconscious.
When he came to again, he saw dirt and dried blood. He remembered where he was, still lying in the alley, but now there was a voice calling out and someone was shaking him.
“Captain! Captain, over here! I found a victim.”
The thief tried to turn over, to see who was speaking. Then he felt strong hands on his shoulders pulling him around until he was lying on his back. He let out a cry of pain as his broken rib grated along his spine. When he was able open his eyes again, the sight of a young military police corporal bending over him came into focus. The military police! He was lost.
“Senhor, are you all right, Senhor?” said the corporal.
“I’ve been shot. I need a hospital,” the thief managed to whisper.
“All right, Senhor, all right. Don’t worry, we will get you to a doctor.”
Behind the corporal, two privates looked on.
The corporal shouted at them. “Don’t just stand there! Help this man sit up.” Then he spoke quietly. “Hold still, Senhor. I will check your wounds.” He unbuttoned the man’s shirt and saw the small, ragged hole where the .38 calibre bullet had exited his chest. There was blood everywhere.
“I’m bleeding to death. Please, get me to a doctor. Get me a doctor.”
“We will take you to the hospital. But I must check your wounds.” The corporal opened the man’s shirt further, and saw the black money belt wrapped around his waist. “Were you robbed, Senhor?”
“No, no.” He was beginning to lose consciousness again.
The corporal removed the money belt and opened it. He was confused by the sight of two dozen diamond rings, countless loose jewels, and a thick wad of US dollars. “What the hell? What’s all this? This man ... this man is one of the thieves, from the hotel. Here are the jewels, they are here.” He shouted again. “Captain! Captain, I have the thief!”
The injured man let his head slump forward. Now he knew he was dead. He wished he could have just died in the alley, without recovering consciousness. That would have been much better.
A hulking military police captain got out of the parked police van, slammed the door in annoyance and stomped down the alley to his corporal.
“What the hell are you shouting about, Corporal? I have General del Campo on the radio and he’s in a mood like the devil. What’s the problem?”
“This man, Captain Sollo. He’s not a victim. He’s one of the thieves. Look!” The corporal stood up and handed over the money belt.
A flash of anger came across the captain’s face. He had thick features, a nose broken years before in a drunken brawl, and what little hair he had was clipped back to a military fuzz. He took his heavy black truncheon in his hands and swung it silently in thought for a moment. “Stand aside.”
“Hold this man still!” the captain barked. The two privates lifted the injured man a little higher. “Hold up his head so he can see me.”
The thief looked up weakly at the towering figure of Captain Sollo.
“You are the thief who has robbed Senhor Fontaine, yes?”
“What does it matter?” the thief whispered, dribbling bloody saliva.
Sollo brought his truncheon down in a vicious, sweeping arc, smashing it into the thief’s right cheek, splintering the bone in an instant.
The man’s blood-choked cry of pain rang out in the dark alleyway. He wished again that he were already dead.
“Now, we will try again. You are the thief who robbed Senhor Fontaine?”
It was difficult to speak at all with a fractured face. “Yes ... yes.”
“That’s better. Well then, we shall have a little talk in private. Corporal, have this man put in the back of the van. I will interrogate him.”
Sollo returned to the front of the van and leaned in for the radio. He grabbed the microphone. “I’m sorry, General, for the delay.”
The sound of General del Campo’s voice hissed from the dashboard speaker. “What’s going on, Sollo? Have you recovered the jewels?”
“Some of them, General. We have caught one of the thieves. Over.”
“Does he have the necklace, the diamond necklace?”
“No, sir. What do you want me to do with him?”
“Find out where the necklace is. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir. And the man?”
“Kill him. And get me that necklace, Sollo. This is a nightmare.”
“I understand, General. Leave it with me, sir. Out.”
Sollo replaced the microphone and went around to the back of the large van. He closed the doors behind him and kneeled down on the hard floor by the thief, who was propped up in the front corner as helpless as a baby.
“Now, my friend. You have stolen something which is very important to a friend of mine. A diamond necklace with two large rubies. Where is it?”
“I don’t have it. For God’s sake, get me to a doctor. I’ll find it for you.”
“I might consider bringing you a doctor, Senhor, if you tell me what happened to the necklace. Perhaps your accomplices have it?”
The thief coughed. His shirt was soaked with blood. “No, I had it myself. Listen to me. I was shot by some fucking street kid. He took it.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“Do you think I would shoot myself, Captain? Look at me.”
“Then tell me about the street kid.”
“He was tall, about fifteen. Skinny ... light skin, dark hair. He had an old revolver. The others called him Paulo. I remember the name.”
“How many were there, altogether?”
“I don’t know. Five. Maybe seven.”
“And the necklace?”
“I told you, the tall kid took it. He took it, I tell you.”
Sollo touched the thief’s face. “You have a nasty injury there. I’d say it’s broken. And this gunshot wound, not good. Not good at all. You could die soon. Probably without a doctor you will die very soon. And if you are lying to me, Senhor, then I assure you, you will die. So, is this the truth?”
“It’s the truth. The kid has the necklace.”
Sollo fingered the familiar handle of his army knife and grasped it firmly in his right hand, slowly drawing it out of its sheath. “I am glad you have decided to tell me the truth, Senhor. It will go much better for you now. Because I will find this child, Paulo, and I will recover the necklace. The general will be very happy with me for this, you understand? Very happy.”
“All right. Just get me to a doctor, I’m begging you.”
“Of course, Senhor. Of course. You have cooperated.”
Without warning, Sollo thrust his knife deep into the thief’s exposed abdomen. With an expert movement, like that of an abattoir slaughterman, he cut away the man’s life. It took two seconds.
The thief’s eyes widened in horror and in a wave of unbearable pain, then the knife came out of him. He looked down at his own belly, fresh blood seeping out like some vile acid, mixing with the dried blood from the gunshot wound. Then he took one crackling breath and fell forward into blackness.
Sollo shook his head over the dead man’s body. “You should not have stolen from General del Campo, my friend. That was your mistake.”
He kicked open the rear doors of the van and called out to his men. “Corporal, take this man to the morgue. He has died of his injuries.”
The corporal saluted and asked no questions. “Yes, sir. At once.”
Fifty miles away, in a quiet farmhouse, Bob Richards slept peacefully. Susan was curled up by his side. The candle in their room had burned out.
It was completely dark.
They were careful at breakfast. Several of the guests had stayed overnight at the farm. Fabriola had set up a table outside with juice and fruits, fresh bread and cured meats. There were even leftover cakes. People were crowded around the table, jostling for their breakfast of choice, carrying their plates away to chairs and tables set around what had been the dance floor a few hours previously. Everyone was a little subdued from the heavy drinking the night before. Susan and Richards talked to different people, queued in different lines, sat at different tables. After breakfast, Susan thanked Fabriola again and explained that Richards had to get back to Recife and since she was sharing a car with him she would have to go.
As the car bumped slowly over the winding dirt road that led back to the highway, Susan began to laugh. Richards took his eyes off the road for a moment and glanced across at her, before swerving the car a little to avoid a goat that had wandered out from one of the neighbouring properties.
“Sorry,” said Susan. “I’m just nervous, I expect.”
“You laugh when you’re nervous?”
“Well, it is funny. I felt like everyone was watching me, watching you, as if everyone knew. It’s a bit like being a naughty schoolgirl again.”
Richards laughed at this. “You? A naughty schoolgirl? I don’t think so.”
“How do you know I wasn’t one?”
“You were straight. You probably brought the teacher an apple.”
“Well, I still felt like a naughty schoolgirl this morning.”
Richards pulled up at the junction with the highway, looked left and right, then turned onto the blacktop and accelerated. It would be a long drive back to Recife. “Is that what we were doing last night? Misbehaving?”
Susan ran the fingers of her left hand through his hair. “No.”
Richards looked lazily at the fields of sugar cane that drifted by, at the brick red, wet soil by the sides of the highway, at the horse-drawn carts they occasionally passed. He was happy.
Susan looked often at Richards, at his tanned face, his wavy black hair, his strong neck. He was so different to Adrian, so much more alive. She was attracted to him physically, very much, but it was more than that. He fascinated her. He was in many ways the kind of free spirit that she herself would have loved to be, free from everything which chained her down.
“Have you ever had an affair before, Sue?”
“Am I having one now?”
“You tell me.”
“No. Never before.”
“In fifteen years, not once?”
Richards nodded. “Me neither. When I was with Emily, I mean.”
Richards pointed at a small, green, stone building by the side of the highway. It was just sitting there by itself, surrounded by farmland, isolated at the side of the road. “See that? Assembly of God.”
Susan looked at the building as they sped past it. It was a flat building, not much to look at, but there was a white cross at its front which stood out against the lime green of the building itself. “A church?”
“Yeah. A little different to your Catholic variety.”
“How do you mean?”
“Hocus pocus. Black magic. You walk past one of those places some nights and you hear people yelling in joy, possessed by spirits. You find the whole congregation standing up and shouting. You should see it.”
“I don’t think my vicar would approve.”
“I don’t know, I kinda like it. They just let it all hang out.”
“It sounds crazy to me.”
“Doesn’t this world sometimes make you want to shout, Sue? It’s such a goddamned crazy planet. A little shouting’s gotta be good for the soul.”
“Have you tried it?”
“Who, me? I do my shouting in silence. There’s a little voice in the back of my head that spends most of the day yelling his lungs out.”
“What does he say?” said Susan, bemused.
“He just yells, ‘Get back to Kansas!’ Over and over. All he says.”
“Oh, yeah. One day I’ll figure out what it means.”
Susan laughed. “You think it’s a message, then?”
“I tried clicking my heels together, but I’m still right here in Brazil.”
Susan ran her hand through his hair again. “I’m glad you’re here, Bob.”
“That makes one of us,” said Richards, deadpan. Then he laughed.
“You know, Bob, I really care about you. This isn’t just ‘an affair.’ ”
Richards shook his head and spoke softly. “Oh, no. Don’t say that.”
“Why not? What’s wrong with saying it?”
“People find something good. Maybe they have it for a little while. Maybe they have it forever. But they go and put words on it. They have to give it a fancy name. Only maybe it doesn’t live up to the name they give it, or maybe it does. Either way, it’s better without a name.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Bob.”
“You know how you told me you felt alive again?”
“Did you mean it?”
“Of course. You know I did, Bob.”
Richards smiled at her, then looked back at the road. “So did I.”
Susan felt a wave of affection for him, when he said that.
“Well, Sue, don’t try and give that a name. Okay?”
“Okay,” Susan said softly. “Okay, I won’t.”
When they stopped at a little town for some gas, Susan kissed him. She hadn’t felt this way about a man for twenty years. It was strange and new, and she loved the feeling. She could hardly believe it was happening.
An hour later, Richards had dropped her off at the orphanage. He was genuinely happy, a feeling of which he was at once both appreciative and deeply suspicious. But even with all of his world-weary paranoia, he could not have guessed how very soon the bubble would burst. Two uniformed military policemen were waiting for him at his apartment building.
As he drove through the gates into the underground parking lot, the two soldiers waved him to a stop. Richards wound down the car window.
“Senhor Hichards?” said the closest of the men.
“You will park your car and come with us.”
“All right. No problem. Just give me a minute.”
“Very well, Senhor.”
Richards wondered what the hell was going on. He had never had soldiers waiting for him at his apartment before. Something had to be up, probably something very bad. He had no idea what it might be. He parked the car and walked slowly towards the soldiers. They each had a sub-machine gun hanging from their shoulders. Richards wasn’t going to make any fast moves that might upset them. The military police had a bad habit of shooting first and asking questions later.
“All right, Senhor Hichards, you will come with us.”
“What’s this all about?” said Richards, as they frisked him.
“General del Campo wishes to see you urgently.”
“He could have just called,” Richards said sarcastically.
“Let’s go. Move it,” the second soldier barked.
The soldiers drove him to the general’s mansion. It was separated from adjacent houses by an eight-foot concrete wall topped with razor wire, and there were two small guard towers, one at the front and one at the rear of the property, each of which contained two soldiers at all times. Richards knew that a man like the general might find himself the target of assassination attempts by powerful rivals. Kidnapping, however, was less likely. The military police would slowly crucify any lowly kidnappers.
The house itself was a rambling mansion, built in a Spanish style. The garden at the back was lush and large, leading up marble steps to an open entertainment room filled with cane furniture and huge potted plants. There was an enormous swimming pool, more of a lake than a mere pool, but on this particular morning it was devoid of swimmers. None of the general’s large family were visiting. He was in full uniform, rows of ribbons and medals on his chest, and he was not in the mood for company.
Richards was escorted through the rear boundary gates and marched into the large garden, past the pool, and up the steps to the seating area where the general waited.
“Leave us,” the general grunted to the two military policemen. Then he spoke in English. He seemed to be trying to contain his volcanic temper, and was only just managing to do so. “Richards, have a seat.”
Richards sat down.
The general remained standing. “Do you have any idea what this is about? Hmmm? Any guesses, Mister Richards?”
Richards shook his head. “I’m sorry, General. I don’t. No.”
“You don’t? Where were you last night?”
“I was out of town, for the festival.”
“I see. Well, while you were out having a good time, your friend Pierre Fontaine arrived in Recife. You know this, yes?”
“Of course, General. He was due to meet with you this morning.”
“There will be no meeting.”
“My men found Senhor Fontaine gagged and bound in his room last night. He had been robbed, Mister Richards. Do you understand?”
“What are you talking about? Is he all right?”
“That is not my concern. My concern is the necklace he was to bring for me. The necklace that my ... niece wanted so much. The necklace I told you I had to have. Do you know where that necklace is?”
“No, Mister Richards. I ask again, do you know where it is?”
Richards dared not stand up. The general was leaning over him, barking his questions out like he was in some dark interrogation room, not in his luxurious home. “What are you saying, General? How should I know?”
“The necklace is stolen. Don’t you think it is a coincidence that this happens only hours after Senhor Fontaine arrives at the hotel? Don’t you think it would be rather difficult for a thief to know exactly when he was due to arrive? And that he should have such a valuable necklace in his room?”
“Look, General, I told you I was out of town. What happened?”
“What happened? For your information, three armed bandits raided the hotel after two this morning. They tied up the guards, went to Fontaine’s room, and stole the necklace, along with a number of lesser jewels which are of no concern to me.”
“Jesus,” Richards hissed. “It sounds like a mafia job.”
“Yes, that is what it sounds like. And how did they know?”
“Maybe a crooked hotel clerk. Or a spotter at the airport. Could have been anything. Fontaine’s a well-known jeweller. Goddamn it.”
The general turned his back on Richards and walked a few paces. Then he turned around and spoke again. “Or perhaps it was an inside job. Hmmm? Perhaps someone wanted to make a quick buck, Mister Richards? I believe your sales commission is five percent. Twelve thousand dollars. How much more profitable it would be to get, say, twenty-five percent? I believe that is the common reward for a valuable informant to the mafia. Sixty thousand dollars, all for one little piece of information, the date and time that Fontaine would be in that hotel with the necklace. Hmmm?”
Richards stood up now, ignoring the risk. He was a dead man if the general thought he was in on it. “Just wait a minute. Pierre Fontaine is my friend. He might have been killed. I’m just as pissed as you are, General, believe me. I’m not going to sabotage my own deal. You ask anyone in Recife who’s done business with me. I deliver. I’m straight. And I don’t have anything to do with the mob. I’m a broker, and that’s all I am.”
“Really? Then where is the necklace? You have not delivered.”
Richards tried again. “Look, General, I’m a washed-up stockbroker. My sofa’s got holes in it. I drive a rust-bucket car. I’ve never fired a gun in my life. My idea of excitement is taking a girlfriend out to the Little Napoli for spaghetti marinara and a couple of beers. Do I look like somebody who’s on the take for the mob? Come on, General. I know you’re pissed about this, but give me a break. I’m just the little guy caught in the middle.”
“What you are lucky not to be, Mister Richards, is a dead man.”
Richards stood there looking at the general, thinking fast.
“No one steals from General del Campo and lives to tell the tale. The thief learned as much, when we found him near the hotel. Now he is in the morgue. And that is where you would be, if it were not for Senhor Fontaine.”
“Yes. It seems he has vouched for you. He said he would trust you with his life. And perhaps that is exactly what he has done.”
Good old Pierre, Richards thought.
“But, Mister Richards, although I am prepared to believe him, if I find one shred of evidence that you are involved in this theft, I will have you executed. And I will be looking. Do you understand?”
“I wasn’t involved, General. Believe me.”
“Forgive me, General, but if the thief is dead ...”
“Where are the jewels? Good question. He had most of them with him, but not the necklace. We only found him because he had been shot.”
“Shot? Who shot him?”
“Street kids. At least that is what he told Captain Sollo. He claimed to have been shot by some little bastard with an old revolver who then took the necklace from him. I find the story ridiculous.”
“There are a lot of street kids in that area,” Richards replied.
“Granted. That is true. And they sometimes are armed.”
“Maybe it’s the truth. Maybe the kids did shoot him.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps his accomplices have the necklace. There were two other thieves we did not catch.”
“Hmmm.” Richards was pleased the focus of the general’s anger had shifted away from him. “So what now?”
“Sollo believes this story about the children. He says he was convinced the man was telling the truth, before he executed him. And Sollo has much experience in these matters. So, we find the little bastards.”
“We kill them, Mister Richards. And you had better hope one of the little runts has that necklace, or it will be your head next.”
Richards didn’t want to see any kids getting murdered, but this was no time to try and argue the finer points of morality with a homicidal maniac like the general. “You’ll find it, General. I’m sure you’ll find it.”
“You had better hope we do, for your sake, my friend.”
The first thing Richards did after leaving the general was go to a public telephone and call the Golden Beach Hotel. Fontaine agreed to see him immediately. Sitting in the taxi on the way to the hotel, Richards could not believe his predicament. The whole thing was supposed to be a simple jewellery sale – a simple sale – and now all hell had broken lose.
Fontaine met him on the second-storey terrace of the hotel. The beach was filled with happy people enjoying the brilliant weather, as usual, but Richards didn’t look.
“Jesus Christ, Pierre, you might have been killed.”
“Tell me about it, my friend,” said Fontaine.
“What the hell happened?”
“They were professionals. They came into the lobby with concealed weapons, tied up the guards, and forced the clerk to reveal my room number. The whole thing took less than fifteen minutes.”
“Did you have a gun?”
“No. It is too much the easy way to get me killed. I am a jeweller, not a gunman. These thieves would shoot me dead before I would even take aim.”
Richards noticed Fontaine’s hand shaking as the Frenchman drank his vodka on the rocks. He reached across the table and patted his old friend on the shoulder. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t get hurt, Pierre.”
“So am I, Bob. So am I. When the light in my room went on, I turned over in bed and what do I see? A man in a black balaclava with gloves. He had a Luger pistol trained on my head. I thought it was a bad dream.”
“What did you do?”
“What could I do? I got out of bed, like he told me, let him handcuff me and told him the safe combination. Then I listened as he took all my merchandise. But it is just money. I have insurance.”
“Did you think he would kill you?”
“At first, yes. But then it became clear he was a professional, a thief, not a murderer. So then I knew I would be safe.”
“Any idea who he was?”
“No. Mafia, probably. They must have had me followed.”
“Did you hear what happened to him?”
“No. Del Campo didn’t say.”
“The general had him executed. But even when they found him, he was already injured. He gave them some cock and bull story about being robbed by street kids while he was getting away from the hotel.”
“This is ridiculous. A professional, robbed by children? No.”
“That’s what I thought. But one of the general’s henchmen interrogated him before they had him executed. Just like the old days of the military regime. Most people don’t lie under that kind of torture.”
“No, he must have lied. His accomplices must have the necklace. He would lie to protect them, lie until the end. A brave man.”
“Maybe, Pierre. But the general is going to round up the children and have them killed. I think he’s serious about it.”
“Ah, he is a pig, this man, the general. You know, Bob, this thief did not touch one hair on my head. He took only the jewels and did me not one piece of harm. I am sorry for his death. There is too much killing. Too much.”
“Yeah. I know what you mean. And I might be next.”
“The general thinks I was an informer.”
“Bah! This is even more ridiculous. I told him you were clean.”
Richards said soberly, “Thanks, Pierre. That saved my life, you know.”
“It is nothing, my friend.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“The general says he does not want me to leave town until the necklace is found. So I am a prisoner in this hotel. But at least I am safe.”
“Shit. This is a goddamned nightmare, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And you must take care, Bob. This general is angry. He wants blood. Be careful that blood is not yours.”
“I’ll be careful, Pierre. I always am.”
“I hope it is enough, to be careful,” Fontaine said cryptically.
Richards smiled weakly. “So do I.”
Bob Richards was used to dealing with his problems alone. So at first he didn’t say anything to Susan about the theft of the necklace, despite the fact that someone had leaked the news to the press. Maybe the hotel manager had confided in a reporter, but whatever the reason there it was on page three of the morning newspaper, three days after the heist. ‘Tears of Angels Stolen.’ This was just the kind of publicity that Richards didn’t need. Looking at the large photograph of the necklace only depressed him further. In disgust, he had thrown the newspaper in the trash on the walk back from the corner newsstand. He didn’t even want the story in his apartment.
Richards hoped fervently that the whole thing didn’t turn into a media circus. The Brazilian tabloid media was a sensational affair. During live feeds, television reporters actually screamed their lines, jumping around and waving madly at events happening on camera. The serious media hardly rated at all by comparison. Millions of illiterate viewers sat every night in front of their TVs and laughed, clapped, shouted and gasped at the exciting, largely fictitious news. Richards dreaded the thought.
He had spent most of the day stewing over how to find the necklace, but had come to the sad conclusion there was nothing he could do but hope the military police came across it – and hope they did so without bloodshed. Richards hated violence. Other than a few schoolyard brawls as a kid, he had never physically hurt another person in his life and he never wanted to, either. He had always refused to have any part in shady business deals which were going to involve intimidation, violence, or even murder. He was appalled that a simple jewellery sale had suddenly turned into a catalogue of brutality. Ricardo Fuentes was right. Richards should have listened to him that night at the club. He should have had more sense than to try and do business with General Fernando del Campo. And now it might cost him his own life. It was a simple mistake.
Richards tried to stop thinking about it. Susan would be arriving any minute. She was driving from the orphanage to spend the evening with him. The minutes passed slowly until she arrived. He actually missed her.
“Hello,” she said brightly, when he opened the door.
“Hi. Come in.”
Susan kissed him, then walked into his living room. “So this is your swinging bachelor pad? Am I safe in here, unchaperoned?”
“Depends on whether you want to be safe.”
Susan stopped looking around and hugged Richards. “Definitely not.”
Eventually, Richards pulled himself away from her kiss. “I wouldn’t want to subject you to my cooking, but I bought a cake. Want some coffee?”
“Have a seat. It’s a chocolate cake, with ... strawberry liqueur icing.”
“Sounds wonderfully decadent. I won’t say no.”
Susan looked closely at the old sofa she was sitting on. The blue fabric was threadbare and there were a few small holes. She could actually see the stuffing. But the apartment was clean and neat. A multicoloured rug covered much of the wooden floor. There was an American flag on one wall, and a leather mural on another, which was a simple map of Brazil. The view from the large windows at the front of the long apartment was of the next apartment building – another of the countless ugly concrete towers that made up this part of the city. She could hear car horns and engines from the street below, and also the televisions of neighbours. It was all so different from her home with Adrian. Bob Richards had so little money and yet she felt so happy and safe to be with him, so far away from England.
Richards brought the coffee and cake and sat next to her.
“You seem quiet,” said Susan.
“No, it’s nothing. I’ve just had a long day. Have some cake.”
“I mean it, you look worried.”
“It’s better we don’t talk about it.”
Susan put a hand on his knee. “Why is it better?”
“It just is. Believe me. It’s safer you don’t ask.” Richards felt uneasy. He was well used to picking up on the moods of his lady friends, but he wasn’t used to one of them knowing him just as easily.
“Safer? What are you talking about, Bob? Are you in trouble?”
“No more than usual.”
“Bob, come on. Tell me. You’ve got me worried, now.”
Richards put his face in his hands for a moment. “Okay. I’ll tell you. You remember I told you I was the broker for a jewellery deal at the Golden Beach Hotel? Well, something went wrong. There was an armed robbery the night before the deal was supposed to happen. The dealer lost everything.”
“Oh, God. I see.”
“It gets worse. The customer is a very influential man, a military man. His name is General Fernando del Campo.”
“Del Campo? The head of the military police?”
“Right. Well, he’s pretty pissed about not getting the necklace he ordered. And he’s blaming me for the robbery. He thinks I’m an informant, that I tipped off the thieves the dealer would be in the hotel.”
“Well, tell him you didn’t. Get a lawyer. If you need money, I can ...”
“No, Sue. This isn’t about the law. Del Campo is judge and jury around here. And the sentence for crossing him is death.”
“Death? You can’t be serious.”
“Does it look like I’m joking?”
“But you’re not an informant, Bob.”
“Of course not.”
“Then he can’t prove it.”
“He doesn’t have to. He’s so pissed about not getting the diamond necklace he wanted for his mistress, he just wants somebody’s head. Mine.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Hope like hell his goons find that necklace. If it turns up, maybe the general will forget about me and things will get back to normal. If it doesn’t turn up ... I’d rather not think about it.”
“Bob, I’m so sorry.” Susan hugged him tightly.
Richards wasn’t used to a woman caring about him. “Uh, thanks,” he said stupidly. After a few seconds, he continued, “But don’t worry. It’ll turn out all right. I shouldn’t have told you.”
Susan looked at him seriously. “Yes, you should.”
I really like this woman, Richards thought. “Okay,” he said at last.
“I’ll pray for you, Bob. I’ll pray for that necklace to be found.”
“Well, thanks. But I think it might take a little more than a prayer.”
“I’ll pray for you, anyway.”
“Okay,” Richards said softly. Maybe a prayer couldn’t hurt.
An hour later, they were in bed. There were no military police. There were no jewellery deals. There were no murders, no beatings. There was no IRS. There was no Adrian, no perfect boring life in London. There was no loneliness. There was just the gentle lovemaking, the two of them riding on the endless waves of sensation their bodies generated, the waves of passion and beauty, the waves celebrating the happy discovery that they had each other, that they were not entirely alone any more in their separate lives. They realised, that long night, they were in love.
Neither of them dared say it.
It was a large slum, but it had no particular name. The people who lived there took good care of their makeshift homes, they spoke to each other of their endless problems, helped each other in times of trouble, lit bonfires and danced to celebrate the festival of St John, and always, always kept an eye out for trouble. The rusty dirt roads ran in a crazy pattern, a town planner’s nightmare. It was a community which had exploded in every direction like a monstrous chain reaction, devouring every piece of open space in its path. The roofs of the houses were made of corrugated iron, or tin, or even tiles, for the lucky ones. The walls were wooden, painted in dirty colours, or roughly fashioned out of large bricks. Some of the smaller huts had only blankets of canvas where a wall should be. There were holes in the wood, or in the brick walls, for windows, often without glass. Sometimes wooden shutters plugged these holes to keep out the rain. There were dogs and children in the streets, there was a highway on the edge of the slum which constantly filled the air with smog and noise, and, a few blocks away, there was an open sewerage channel that reeked of decomposing human excrement. The rank stench drifted equally through the slum and the middle-class suburbs nearby. Sometimes mothers would take their children to the sewerage channel to wash tools and rags, or just to play. Most of the people here would never read or write. Hundreds of ordinary people survived in this place, they came home to these ramshackle huts every night after long days at honest work that paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day. Here was survival at its most basic. The slum.
Strangely enough, while sometimes there might not be enough food on the table or clean clothes to wear, there were still televisions in many of the houses in the better part of the slum, the part which was closer to the highway and which had electricity. People here would buy the biggest television that they could find the cash for, no matter how hard times were. Television was bright, it was loud, it was exciting, and it connected the people to the rest of the country, to worlds they could hardly even imagine. Sometimes children from families who had no television were allowed to visit the houses of those who had. Even some of the street kids, the ones who were not violent, were occasionally permitted to stand by an open window and gaze in wonder at the magical television inside, laugh at cartoons or soap operas, and maybe, if times were good, be given a little food. There was a basic kindness in the people here. Kindness in a place of survival.
There were many good people in the slum, honest people trying to make a living and feed their children. But there was also the crime that came from desperation, the muggers, the burglars, the small-time pushers and pimps, the thugs-for-hire, and even a few truly crazy people, the rapists and the killers. The slum was like anywhere else, there was much good and there was bad, but the poverty magnified the bad. It was an extreme place. And so the good people stuck together. They watched out for their streets, for their meagre possessions, for their children. They talked sadly of the women who had been forced to turn to prostitution to survive. And they were wary of outsiders, wary of strangers, and wary, above all, of the military police.
This particular slum was also home to a group of street kids led by a tall boy known to the locals only as Paulo. At the end of the slum furthest from the highway the shacks were the worst of all. Paulo’s group stayed here, not in the shacks but in a derelict warehouse bordering the slum. Part of the roof had collapsed, but beneath where the roof was still intact there were the rags, blankets and miscellaneous effects of a dozen children that squatted here when they were not out sleeping in alleyways. The security guards had stopped throwing them out ever since the building had been condemned as unsafe, but the rest of the warehouses, which were still in use, remained off-limits to the children. There was a chain-link fence and several Doberman guard dogs to discourage anyone from stealing from these buildings, as if the threat of being caught and shot were not enough. Paulo was not stupid enough to try it. The street kids merely slept in the decrepit warehouse and never went beyond the fence.
It was in a corner of this warehouse that one of the newest boys, Junio, liked to sleep. Paulo was his leader, his hero, the strongest, oldest boy, and the only one with a gun – two guns, now that he had taken the fancy pistol from the man he shot in the alley. Junio wanted to be as strong and confident as Paulo, as unafraid of life, as bold. But Paulo also shocked him, revolted him with his violence, violence which Junio himself had never perpetrated. Junio was in the warehouse alone, this particular afternoon. It was very hot. He was sitting on his filthy blanket, listening to the gunshots from Paulo’s target practise outside. They sounded like the firecrackers Junio’s mother had bought for him at the festival of St John three years before, when he was nine. Junio loved firecrackers, but he hated guns. It was a gun that had taken his mother from him.
Junio had seen guns on the television shows many times. Senhora Vientes, a kind lady in one of the slum houses, often let him watch her television. She said he was too dirty to come inside with her own children, who were always scrubbed clean, but she let him watch through the window. Senhora Vientes would open the shutters and let him lean on the bricks that framed the glassless window. He would lean all the way in and laugh with delight at cartoons, whoop with terror and amazement at the action shows. She even gave him food. He liked Senhora Vientes. And he had never let Paulo know that he went to visit her. It was his special secret, not for the others. It reminded him of when he lived with his mother, in her little shack in another slum in another city. It was so much the same.
Junio rarely thought of his mother, other than when he was outside Senhora Vientes’ house. Somehow he knew it was better not to think of her. The priest had told him that she had gone to God, and that one day he would see her again by the side of God, where good people go when they die. Junio had no father, that was what his mother had always told him. It was just the two of them, she used to say. That was three years ago, when he was just a little boy of nine. And now he was a big boy, that was what Senhora Vientes always called him, “My big boy.” Junio was proud to be twelve. He wanted to be fifteen, like Paulo. Then all the other boys would look up to him. He would be just as brave as Paulo, just as strong, and never cry. Paulo said he was a crybaby. Junio wanted never to cry, but sometimes he still did. He had hated it when the people at the orphanage saw him cry.
When his mother was alive, she used to call him her little angel. “You’re my little angel, Junio. That’s what you are, an angel that God has given to me. And never forget that, no matter what anyone says, Junio. You’re my little angel.” No one else ever called him that, except his mother. He remembered the way she used to tell him about the future. “All I do is clean houses and wash clothes, Junio. But you are my little angel, and one day you are going to have a better life than me. You are going to go to school. They will teach you everything. And I think you will grow up to be a teacher too, my little angel, because you have such a good heart.” He loved the way she smelled. She was always clean, and she wore a simple rose perfume which he would never forget. It was her smell.
Junio never saw his mother get shot. He only knew what the priest had told him, that there had been some kind of accident, that a bad man had shot her and when the police had found her she was already dead. Junio never understood what death was, before that time. Now he knew what it was. It was when someone went away and never came back. It was when they went to be with God.
Junio hated the orphanage. He wasn’t interested in the lessons, in them trying to teach him to read and write. His mother promised she would send him to a special school. But now she was gone. The people at the orphanage pretended to be like his mother, they told him what to do, they made him pray every night before he slept, they told him that he was lucky to be here and not in the slum he had come from. But Junio was not from Recife. He was from Maceió. They had only sent him to Recife after his mother was shot. They said he would be safer there. But they had taken him away from all his friends, away from the slum he had grown up in.
Junio didn’t know exactly why he had run away, why he had ended up in this new slum, sleeping on streets and in the warehouse. He only knew that he missed the place where he had grown up. But getting back to that place seemed impossible. He didn’t even know how far away it was. A long, long way, that is what the Sister at the orphanage had told him. A long, long way away. His favourite place in the world now was outside the window of Senhora Vientes, where he could watch the television. It was the closest place to home. And one day he would learn from Paulo how to be strong, how to be tough, and then he wouldn’t have to be afraid any more. He wanted to be like Paulo more than anything else in the world. Except for the guns.
The noise outside had stopped. Paulo must be reloading the pistol, Junio thought. Paulo had asked Junio to go with him ten minutes earlier, asked him to come to the side of the warehouse and shoot cans, but Junio had told him that he didn’t like guns. His mother had been killed by guns. He would not play with guns. Paulo had called him a crybaby. The noise started again. Paulo must have reloaded the gun.
All the other boys were outside, watching Paulo show off with his new pistol. Junio felt stupid to be sitting inside like a crybaby, so he got up and walked into the slum, away from the noise. He would watch television instead, he thought, while the other boys were busy. As he walked between the worst of the shacks, he hoped he would be lucky and find Senhora Vientes at home. She lived on the far side of the slum, near the highway. It would take him a few minutes to get there. Maybe there would be a cartoon. Maybe she would give him food. As Junio walked, he ran a stick along the walls of the shacks he passed, just to make walking more fun. It rattled in his hand.
By the time he was approaching the far side of the slum, he knew something was wrong. People were taking their children off the streets. Worried faces were looking out from the houses. There was hardly anyone around, hardly anyone standing on street corners talking. Things had gone quiet. This seemed strange to Junio, but he wanted to see the television, so he kept walking, humming to himself and scraping his stick on the ground.
Then he saw the trucks. There were three military police vans in convoy, turning slowly onto the narrow road and driving towards him, kicking up clouds of red dust with their tyres. Sitting in the front of the first van was a huge soldier in a captain’s uniform and peaked cap. Junio thought it would look worse if he ran, so he stood still as the vans drew close to him. The big soldier looked straight at him. Junio could see the man’s nose was bent, as if it had been broken in a fight. For a horrible moment, Junio thought the vans were going to stop, that the soldier was going to interrogate him, but then the vans drove slowly past. Junio began to run, once he thought they were no longer looking at him. He was afraid. He found a quiet street, ran into it, and sat down beside one of the shacks, breathing heavily after his sprint away from the trucks. It would be more than fifteen minutes before he would find the courage to return to the warehouse. Junio was scared of the police, and of their guns. They had big guns, machine guns and shotguns, like he had seen in movies. He hated that they had seen him.
Captain Sollo, in the lead van, scanned the streets carefully as they drove. His plan was to stop the trucks a hundred yards short of the warehouses and spread out his men, to be sure none of the street kids would escape. His sources in the slum had told him there was a group of children squatting in the warehouse, and that their leader was a tall boy named Paulo. This was the boy the captain wanted to find, the boy that his sources had said was buying ammunition for a nine-millimetre pistol. He wasn’t interested in the others. When he had heard the faint sound of pistol shots coming from the warehouse end of the slum, Sollo knew he was in luck. He knew he would find the boy he wanted. He told the driver to stop the van, checked his own sidearm, and stepped out onto the road.
“Let’s go,” Sollo ordered.
Twenty soldiers quietly dismounted from the vehicles.
“You and you, come with me,” said Sollo. “The rest of you, spread out and secure the area. The kid we’re looking for is tall, with dark hair. But don’t let any of the little bastards escape from the area.”
The soldiers dispersed efficiently into the slum. Sollo and only two of his men walked directly up the road to the warehouse. Sollo knew that the fewer witnesses there were, the better things would go for him. The military police was a powerful force but it was not totally immune to prosecution for its actions. It was best that no one saw what they did not have to see.
Susan was annoyed to be sitting inside the little shack listening to the sound of gunfire. The family had insisted she come inside, where it was safe, and that she leave her car. Only a few minutes earlier she had been handing out fruit and clean T-shirts to the local children. There had been a crowd of two dozen kids following her little car down the twisting dirt roads of the slum, shouting happily, “It’s Susinha! It’s Susinha!” The nickname had been given to her by some of the parents when Susan had first started showing up at the slum with bundles of fresh food and clothing donated by the church. Susan had found the people to be reluctant to accept charity but always ready to welcome her and to assist her in filming life in the slum with her portable video camera. They respected the fact that she worked for the church and that she cared for the orphans she came across.
Pedro da Sousa was an assistant in a hardware store. His wife Silvia was a maid, but nowadays she mostly stayed at home to take care of her three young children. Silvia could read a little, and she was eager for her kids to go to a church school. Susan had met Silvia one day at the orphanage when she had come to make enquires. Now Silvia was repaying the favour to Susan. The young mother looked worried.
“Susinha, they are shooting. You must stay inside.”
“I didn’t come here to stay inside the houses,” Susan struggled to say in her broken Portuguese. “I came to do my work, to give the food.”
“No, no, Susinha,” Silvia repeated. “These street kids are bad. They are shooting again. You must not go near them.”
“Silvia is right,” said Pedro da Sousa. “It is dangerous, Senhora.”
“Why the children are shooting?” said Susan.
Silvia corrected her. “Why are the children shooting? Because they are crazy in the head. Because they are just mad about nothing. They put cans next to the warehouse and shoot them. To practise their killing.”
“I don’t believe that,” Susan replied. “Really, Silvia, I don’t.”
“What else are guns for, Senhora, but killing?” said Pedro.
“It is true, Susinha,” said Silvia. “They are killers. That is why the military police have come today. Have you not seen the trucks?”
“Yes, I saw the trucks.”
“The police have come for the street kids, Senhora,” said Pedro. “They have heard the shooting and come to take these boys away.”
Susan looked at Pedro’s calm face. “What will happen with them?”
“It is best you do not ask,” said Pedro.
“It is best I do not ask? Will they kill them?”
“You must not ask these questions, Senhora,” Pedro repeated. “The military police are bad. But these street kids are worse. They are all killers.”
Susan was horrified. She struggled to find the words in Portuguese. “But I cannot do nothing ... as the police kill them.”
“There is nothing you can do, Susinha,” said Silvia. “Look, come here to the window and I will open the shutter. You can see the old warehouse where the street kids stay. I worry one of their bullets will come here.”
Susan followed Silvia to the far wall of the little brick-and-iron shack. There was a tiny window, about one foot square, with a wooden panel jammed in it as a shutter. Silvia dislodged the panel and put it aside. The little window was set low into the wall, about waist high. Silvia stood back. Susan kneeled on the floor and peered out.
“Oh yes, Silvia, I see them. I can see them.” Susan could make out several children standing around at the side of the warehouse, about forty yards away, beyond the last row of shanty houses. She saw that the tallest boy had a pistol. It was his shooting she must have heard. “What are they doing? What for do they stand there?”
“I told you, Susinha,” said Silvia. “They shoot at cans. They practise their killing. You must not go there.”
Susan watched carefully as the tall boy raised his pistol and took careful aim, then fired. A tin can flew crazily off a low wall. He was a good shot. “All right, Silvia. I believe you. I can see the boy. He fires his gun.”
“Then you will stay inside with us, Senhora?” said Pedro.
Susan answered him without looking away from the window. “Yes. Yes, you are right, Pedro. I will stay.”
“Thanks be to God,” Silvia exclaimed. “Thanks be to God, Susinha.”
“I will stay. I will use my ... my moving camera.”
“What, Senhora?” said Pedro, confused.
“My camera, my camcorder. It’s on the table.”
Pedro went to the table and retrieved the little video camera. “You mean this, Senhora? You want to take pictures?”
Susan took the camera. “Yes, thank you, Pedro. I will take pictures. This is a ... video camera. It takes pictures ... that move. It is a gift to me from the church. They want me to take pictures of the children.”
“I do not think this is good,” said Silvia. “What if they see you?”
“The window is very small. No one can see me. Here it is dark inside.”
“Ai, Susinha,” Silvia replied. “Always something strange.”
Susan did not answer. She looked at the video camera. It was fitted with a zoom lens which she focussed all the way out. Then she looked through the viewfinder. It was much easier to see the boys now. She could even tell that the boy held an automatic pistol, not a revolver. She panned the camera around and checked all of the boys but none of them was Junio. She had heard nothing of Junio for nearly three months.
“If anyone comes close to the house, Senhora, you must stop and close the window. We must not take any chances,” said Pedro.
“All right, I will stop if anyone is near,” said Susan, speaking as quickly as her rudimentary Portuguese would allow. “But they will not come near here. They are far. We are here. It is dark inside the house. The window is very small. They will not see us.”
“Ai, Senhora. All right, then. Use your camera. But there is nothing to see. All you will have is a lot of boring film. Boys shooting cans.”
Susan turned around for a moment. “Thank you, Pedro. Thank you, Silvia, for letting me into your house and helping me.”
“That’s all right,” said Silvia. “That’s all right, for sure, Susinha.”
“Thank you,” said Susan. She turned back to the window and began to experiment with recording some footage. The camera made almost no sound at all, and it was quite dark inside the shack. There was no electric light. Anyone looking at the shack from the warehouse would not see her. Susan felt completely safe, although she hated to see children playing with guns. She didn’t believe for a moment that they could really be killers. They were just children and the gun was just a toy to them, she was sure of that.
Junio was running again. He had regained his nerve, got up, and started running back to the warehouse. If the military police were here, he thought, they might be here to look for them, to look for Paulo and the others. Paulo had told him stories that the military police had sometimes shot at them, had tried to kill them, and that they had been forced to hide. Junio was scared, but he didn’t want to be a crybaby and do nothing. He wanted to be tough and warn Paulo that the police were coming. So he had decided to get up and run back to the warehouse. He had dropped his stick. There was nothing in his hands. He was running barefoot through the dirt roads of the slum, turning quickly down the familiar maze of alleys, taking the back way to the warehouse, so that he would not be following the trucks. His throat was dry and his heart beat fast, but at least he was not being a crybaby.
Junio stopped running suddenly, when he saw two soldiers talking to each other across the next road. He stepped back behind a large, brick house and peered carefully around the corner at the soldiers. He could hear them talking, although he was still panting from his run. They had shotguns.
“I don’t know why the captain’s so mad about these street kids.”
“Me neither. They’re worthless little bastards. We’ve got better things to do.”
“What are we supposed to do with them, anyway?”
“Don’t ask, my friend. That’s up to the captain. Just ... do your job.”
“Hmmm. Well, we won’t be seeing any of them. None of the little fuckers are going to come running out here. They’ll hide. You can’t catch them. They’re like animals.”
“What a waste of time this is, huh?”
“Yeah. Come on, let’s move. We’re supposed to be looking.”
“All right, all right.”
The two soldiers started walking away. When Junio was sure they had their backs turned, he scurried across the road and continued on his way to the warehouse. His bare feet made little sound on the dirt as he ran.
When he came at last to the little clearing by the warehouse, and the chain-link fence, he slowed to a walk, then dropped to the ground behind a tree and did not move. A few feet away, from behind a shack, the big soldier with the broken nose had suddenly walked out, with his back to Junio. There were two other soldiers with him, each carrying little machine guns.
Junio waited until they had moved away, then he got up off the ground and knelt by the tree, waiting to see what they would do next.
Captain Sollo was very pleased to see his quarry only thirty yards away. The tall boy with the pistol, and several other smaller boys with him, were in a dead end formed by the side of the warehouse on one side and the chain-link fence on the other. If Sollo blocked the entrance to the warehouse with gunfire, there would be no escape from the trap. It was all going to be far too easy, and this pleased Sollo immensely.
“You, block the entrance to the warehouse. You, get those little bastards’ attention, but nobody shoots them. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said the two soldiers, almost in unison. One of them set off running for the warehouse at high speed, while the other jogged forward and began firing his sub-machine gun in the air in one long continuous burst as he approached the children.
The moment the first bullet came from the soldier’s gun, all of the children looked around from the cans on the wall and sprinted in different directions. Some of them were screaming. Most of them tried pathetically to scale the chain-link fence, but it was too high and topped with barbed wire. Paulo, the leader, thought more quickly. He made for the entrance to the warehouse, the only real route of escape. But he was too slow.
“Stop or I shoot!” said the first soldier, who had arrived at the entrance of the warehouse. “Stop right now or I shoot!”
Paulo stopped short of the warehouse but didn’t drop his pistol.
The soldier yelled at him frantically, afraid that he was going to fire. The pistol wasn’t much compared to a sub-machine gun, but it was still enough to kill. “Drop the gun, you bastard, or I shoot you. Now!”
Paulo was standing very still, frozen with terror and adrenalin. He was looking down the barrel of the soldier’s sub-machine gun, standing only ten feet or so from the muzzle. He pointed the pistol pathetically at the soldier, as if daring him to fire. “No. Drop yours.”
The soldier screamed angrily. “Get on the ground! Now!”
The second soldier was looking around anxiously at the other children, who were scattered around the perimeter of the chain-link fence, to see if any of them had guns. He couldn’t tell. It was not a good situation.
Captain Sollo walked calmly over to Paulo and pointed his .44 calibre revolver at the boy’s head, stopping when he came about six feet away. He was standing to Paulo’s right. “Drop the gun, boy, or I kill you right now.”
“If I drop the gun, you will kill me anyway,” Paulo replied, scared.
“No. We just want to ask some questions. Now, put the gun down and we will talk. All right? Just put the gun down.” Sollo sounded sincere.
Paulo knew he was beaten. With a last defiant look, he lowered the pistol and put it slowly on the ground. Then he stood up again and held up his hands. The soldier walked over quickly and frisked him, removing a revolver from the small of Paulo’s back, where it had been tucked in his belt.
“He is disarmed, Captain,” said the soldier, stepping back but keeping his sub-machine gun trained carefully on Paulo.
“Excellent, Corporal,” said Sollo. “In a moment, I will talk to this boy. So get the rest of these scum out of here, and leave us.”
In a shack forty yards away, Susan’s hands trembled as she held the camera. Under her breath, quickly, over and over, she was saying a prayer. “Please God, let them live. Let the children live.” She ignored Silvia’s pleas to come away from the window, and kept filming. It took all her courage.
Behind a tree, near the corner of the chain-link fence, Junio watched. He wanted to help Paulo but there was nothing he could do. He was scared.
The two soldiers rounded up the rest of the children and marched them through the warehouse, then let them then run away into the slum.
When they were gone, Sollo began his interrogation. It was unusually sloppy of him to interrogate a prisoner in the open, but the boy looked so scared that Sollo knew the interrogation would not take long. He kept his revolver trained on Paulo while he turned the nine-millilitre pistol over in his free hand, examining it quickly.
“Where did scum like you get an expensive gun like this, huh?”
Paulo said nothing. He looked defiantly into Sollo’s dark eyes.
Sollo kicked at the street kid’s revolver, which was still lying in the dirt where the soldier had emptied it. “This rusty old revolver, I can understand. You probably paid some dealer for it, like a fool. I’m surprised it hasn’t blown up in your face. But this other gun is a different story. An expensive automatic, well oiled, in pristine condition. This is not the kind of gun that you little bastards could lay your hands on. Isn’t that right, boy?”
“The gun is mine, Senhor,” said Paulo angrily.
“It’s Captain, boy, not Senhor.”
“The gun is mine, Captain,” Paulo repeated. “I bought it.”
Sollo was walking in a small circle around Paulo, disappearing behind him and then reappearing, all the while keeping his .44 trained on him. “No, boy. You did not buy this gun. You stole it, didn’t you?”
“I think you did. I think you stole it from a man you murdered behind the Golden Beach Hotel, the man you shot in the back. Isn’t that true?”
“I bought it. I bought it at the Shopping.”
Sollo laughed at this. “You? At the new shopping mall? They wouldn’t even let a grubby little bastard like you through the doors.”
“I bought it at the gun shop at the Shopping, Captain. It is true.”
Sollo dropped the nine-millimetre into the dirt. Then he reached out with his free hand and grabbed Paulo suddenly by the hair. He wrenched the boy’s head back until he was looking at the sky. “Open your mouth, boy. Open your mouth or I’ll blow your fucking head off.”
“All right, Captain. All right.”
Sollo put the steel barrel of his revolver into the boy’s mouth. Paulo drew his lips back in a desperate grimace, an expression one would find on a corpse, a grotesque grin which exposed his dark, broken teeth. He gasped down what he thought would be his last breath. Sollo drew back the hammer of the revolver with his thumb, making ready to fire. Then he spoke softly. “I am going to take this gun out of your mouth now, and you will tell me where you got the pistol. If you lie to me again, I will splatter your brains all over this warehouse wall. Don’t test me on this, boy, because I will kill you if you lie. Understand?”
Paulo nodded his head very slightly.
Sollo withdrew the gun.
When he was able to speak again, Paulo said, “I stole it from the man I shot in the alley, Captain. That is the truth, I swear it by God. I swear it.”
Sollo let go of the boy’s hair and stood back. “That is better. Now, this man you stole from, he was carrying jewels, wasn’t he?”
“And you took these jewels?”
“Ah, I see you are learning the benefits of telling the truth. Good. Now, one of these jewels was a diamond necklace, with two large red stones.”
“Yes, Captain. I took it.”
“Excellent. Now, you will give it to me. It belongs to a friend of mine.”
“I do not have it, Captain. I swear by God, I do not have it.”
“You just said you stole it, boy. Where is it?”
“I swear by God, Captain, I gave it to the boy named Junio.”
“Why would you do that?”
“He keeps it for me, until we can take it to the dealer.”
Sollo raised the gun to Paulo’s throat and pressed it against his windpipe. “Are you sure you are not lying, boy? Hmmm?”
“No, it is the truth. I will help you find him, Captain. He is here, in this slum. He is the one with the white hair, like the sand of the beach.”
“He has blonde hair?”
“I see. Turn around, boy. Turn around and face the wall.”
Paulo did as he was told.
“You swear you have told me the truth? This Junio has the necklace?”
“Yes, I swear. I will help you find him. I will take you to him.”
Sollo pointed his revolver close behind the boy’s head, without letting it touch the skin. “Of course you will, boy.”
“Yes, Captain. I will find him for you. I promise.”
“Good,” Sollo whispered. But Paulo did not hear the word. He did not hear the gunshot, either, the explosive sound of the hollow-point bullet being hurled by a fireball of hot gas and gunpowder out of the barrel and into the base of his skull. There was only silence, only silence, and there was death.
Paulo’s legs buckled under his dead body and his smashed head slammed into the dirt. Sollo leaned over the body to make sure it was dead. Where the bullet had entered there was a small hole, but where it had exited in multiple molten fragments, there was a huge cavity. One side of the face was missing, replaced by a grotesque pulp of red and grey, a hollow cup like the shell of a rotten melon. Sollo was satisfied. The boy was dead.
On the warehouse wall was an obscene, spattered patch of blood and brains and tiny splinters of bone from the dead boy’s skull. Some of this had been blown back by the force of the impact and had spattered onto the sleeve of the captain’s arm. This annoyed him. He wiped at his sleeve.
In the little shack forty yards away, Susan was hyperventilating. She was crying. She could hardly see down the viewfinder of the video camera. It was all she could do just to keep it blindly pointed in the right direction. She was so sickened, so scared, she thought she would pass out, but she told herself she could not. She must film this, or there would never be any justice. She was the only hope for these children, the only hope. She wished she had never come to the slum that day. But she had come.
Behind the tree, Junio was crying too. He moved all the way behind it, so he was completely out of view to the warehouse, and gripped his arms so tightly that his fingers dug into his own flesh, bruising himself. Paulo was dead. The soldier had killed Paulo. Junio prayed for his own life.
Captain Sollo called the two soldiers out from inside the warehouse.
“Get this carcass out of here. We have another boy to find.”
“Yes, sir,” said the first of the soldiers. “Right away.”
Susan kept the camera rolling while the military police van trundled slowly up to the side of the warehouse, and as the soldiers threw Paulo’s body in the back of the van. She stopped only when they and the captain had gotten into the van and driven away. Then she waited a few minutes to be sure all the military police had gone, bade Silvia and Pedro goodbye, and despite their protestations she went to the warehouse.
She walked over slowly, as if she were being forced to do so against her will. It was her intention to go to the wall of the warehouse, where the boy had been murdered, and photograph the site up close, but as she walked over she saw a blonde-haired boy nervously walk out from behind a tree near one corner of the chain-link fence. The boy approached her until he was close enough to be recognised. She could see he was crying.
“Junio?” Susan said, unsure if it was really him. He was very dirty.
Susan felt tears welling up in her eyes again. She ran over to him and whisked him off the ground, hugging him. She was so distraught that she forgot to speak Portuguese. “Oh, thank God. Thank God. You’re alive. Oh, God, Junio, we were so worried. Where have you been?”
For once, Junio did not mind being hugged. He pressed his face into Susan’s shirt and cried, not understanding a single word of the English.
At last, Susan remembered what language she was speaking, and switched to her shaky Portuguese. “Thanks be to God, Junio. Thanks be to God. We must go. We must go now. The soldiers can come back. Quickly.”
Susan took Junio’s hand and led him back to where her car was parked, past the shack of Silvia and Pedro. She put him in the back, then got in and started the engine. Soon they were bumping slowly across the dirt roads of the slum. In only a few hundred yards, she came to a military police checkpoint. There was a parked van and several soldiers asking the locals questions. Susan wondered if she should turn back, but they had seen her.
“Junio, listen,” said Susan. “There is a blanket. Get into the blanket and sit on the floor of the car. Do you understand?” Then she said in English, “Oh God, let me get it right.” She tried again. “Junio, get under the blanket! Get under the blanket and lie down on the floor! There are soldiers!”
Junio understood at last, and did as he was told.
Susan drove slowly up to the checkpoint and stopped.
A soldier walked over to the car. “Good day, Senhora.”
“Good day,” said Susan, still in Portuguese.
“What is your business here today?”
Susan stumbled nervously on her words. “I bring food for ... the poor families. I am from the church. I bring food for the poor families. Now I am finished. I go home now.”
The soldier peered in the window of the car. There was still a parcel of food on the back seat, and a blanket covered what looked like more parcels on the floor in front of the seat. “Okay, Senhora. You can go.”
“Thank you. Thank you, officer,” said Susan. The man was a private, but she only knew the word for ‘officer,’ something the locals had told her would come in handy if she were ever pulled up by a traffic cop.
The soldier waved her on.
Susan put the car in gear and drove slowly down the dirt road, heading for the highway. When she finally reached the sealed road, she pulled onto it and accelerated rapidly away from the slum. It was only then that she finally said, “Okay, Junio. Let’s go. Sit up now.”
Junio came out of under the blanket and got up on the back seat. He said not one more word until they reached the orphanage. All he did was look through the box of food and open some biscuits. He began to eat them slowly, one by one, as Susan navigated the busy roads of Recife and raced back to the orphanage. She had already decided what she would do. She would call Bob. He would know what to do, she was sure of that, and she herself was so wound up she could hardly think straight.
But first she must talk to Junio. Once she had parked the car, she took the boy to her private bedroom at the orphanage and sat him on the bed. She closed the door so no one would hear her questions, then she pulled the chair away from her little desk and put it next to the bed. She sat down and looked at Junio, thinking of the Portuguese words she needed to say.
“Junio, are you all right? Did the soldiers do anything to you?”
“No, Senhora. They did not see me. I was hidden from them.”
“Okay. Junio, did you see ... did you see what happened to Paulo?”
Junio nodded his head slowly, to say that he had seen it but more than anything else in the world he did not want to remember it.
“Oh, no. I am sorry, Junio. I am sorry that you saw.”
Junio looked down at the floor.
“Junio, my little Junio, you must tell me about Paulo.”
“Tell you what, Senhora?”
“Why did the soldiers come for Paulo? Why did they shoot him?”
Junio looked straight at her, his eyes wide with terror. “The soldiers came for him, Senhora, because Paulo stole from God. He stole from God, Senhora, and God was angry. God made the soldiers come ...” Junio was crying again. Susan reached out and hugged him.
“It’s all right, Junio. It’s all right. It will be okay.”
“But he stole from God, Senhora, and I was with him when he stole. God will send the soldiers for me, too, and I will never see my mother in heaven, Senhora. God will never let me go to heaven and see my mother...”
“No, no, Junio. How could you think such a thing? God loves you. It will be all right. God did not send the soldiers, Junio. It was not God.”
“But Senhora, I saw it on the television of Senhora Vientes. They say that those whose steal from God are little devils. They say the children on the streets are from the devil, they say God will punish us.” Junio was crying almost hysterically now, a child’s tears, almost unable to breathe.
Susan hugged him tightly and stroked his filthy hair as he wept. “No, no, Junio. You are not a devil. You are my little angel, Junio. You are just a little boy. Don’t cry. Everything will be all right. You are my little angel.”
Junio looked up at her seriously. “You mean it, Senhora? I am?”
“Yes, of course, Junio, dear Junio. You are my little angel of the street.”
Junio gradually stopped crying. The sense of panic had left him.
Susan smiled at him. “Everything is going to be all right, I promise.”
“But we stole from God, Senhora. The soldiers will come for me, too.”
“What is this you are saying, Junio? What is this, ‘We stole from God’?”
“Paulo stole it from the man. I saw it on television, Senhora. They say it is a gift from the angels, the angels of God. And Paulo, he took it.”
“What are you taking about? Took what?”
Junio reached into the pocket of his grimy shorts. “This, Senhora.”
Susan found herself unable to reply in Portuguese. Junio had handed her a marvellous diamond necklace with three long strings of diamonds and two large rubies. It must have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. She spoke in English. “Oh, my God, Junio. Where did you get this? Where on earth did you get this?”
“Oh what, Senora?” said Junio, puzzled by the strange language.
Susan spoke Portuguese again. “Sorry. Sorry, um, from where is this?”
“From the man, Senhora. Paulo took it from the man.”
“The man he shot with his gun.”
“Paulo shot someone? Junio, did Paulo shoot someone?”
“Yes, Senhora. He shot the man.”
Suddenly Susan remembered that Bob had told her about an armed robbery at the Golden Beach Hotel, about a diamond necklace being stolen. “Junio, wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Susan hurried to the orphanage office, went to the desk, and hunted around for the newspaper she had saved a few days ago, the one with the article about the robbery. When she found it, she turned to the page that had the photograph of the stolen necklace, held up Junio’s necklace to the newspaper, and realised they were one and the same. She whispered the caption out loud, translating it to English. “The Tears of the Angels.”
“Oh, God,” she said, as she dialled Bob’s number on the office phone. She was glad that the orphanage was quiet that afternoon. Fabriola and the others had taken the children on a church excursion. Even the blind boys had gone. There was no one to hear what she was saying.
When Richards answered his home phone, he didn’t even get the chance to say hello before the torrent of words began.
“Bob. Thank God you’re home. It’s Susan. Look, I’ve ... I’ve got the necklace. The Tears of the Angels. I’ve got it, and Junio’s here, too. There’s been a boy killed, Bob, they shot him, the military police shot him ...”
“Susan? Susan, what are you talking about?”
Susan tried again, speaking more slowly this time. “Listen, Bob, I’m not joking. I’ve got the necklace, the necklace that was stolen. They’re killing the children, Bob, they’re killing them.”
“Susan, are you sure?”
“Yes, of course I’m sure! Didn’t you hear me, Bob, they’re killing them!”
“All right, all right. I heard you.”
“Well, what are we going to do about it?”
“Susan, stop talking. It’s not safe. I’m coming over.”
The phone went dead. Susan put it down and went back to her bedroom. To her amazement, Junio was asleep on her bed. She looked at him lying there, hoping that his sleep was bringing him some peace from the nightmare he had just been through. Then she locked the door behind her as she left, to be sure no one could get to him. She was sure she had not been followed, but she would not be able to forgive herself if anything happened to the boy. She went back to the office and sat anxiously with the necklace in her hands for ten minutes, waiting for Richards to arrive. Ten minutes seemed like a whole hour to her.
When Richards finally knocked on the lobby door, Susan would not open it without climbing onto a chair first and looking down through the louvred windows above the door so that she could see for sure it was him. Then she unlocked the door and locked it again behind him.
“Bob, thank God. Come to the office. I’ve got to show it to you.”
“All right, okay. I’m coming.”
In the office, Susan got the necklace out of the desk drawer and handed it to Richards. He snatched it from her and shook his head incredulously.
“Jesus Christ! Where in the hell did you get this, Susan? Jesus Christ! You weren’t kidding, were you?”
“Junio had it, Bob. Junio had the necklace.”
“Junio? The kid who stole my wallet?”
“Yes! I found him in the slum today, and he had this.”
Richards tried to think. “But that means that b.s. story about the street kids taking it must have been true. I thought it was a crock of shit. The little bastards must have taken it from the jewel thief, after all.”
“They’re not bastards, Bob. They’re children. They’re just children.”
“Well, those children killed a man, or at least they would have, if the military police hadn’t finished the job they started.”
“What do you mean?”
“Has Junio told you that, Susan? Did he tell you how they shot a guy in an alley in Boa Viagem and took the jewels he was carrying?”
“He ... he said that Paulo shot a man.”
“Who the hell is Paulo?”
“He’s another boy. He’s dead.”
“Dead how? When?”
“Today! Just now, in the slum. The military police came for the children. I thought they were going to kill them all, but they just took one boy, Paulo, and let the other children go.”
“What happened to Paulo? Did they interrogate him?”
“Yes, I saw it.”
“You saw it?”
“I was in Silvia da Sousa’s house when the police came. I could see everything that happened, from the window. I saw them kill him, Bob.”
“Oh, Jesus, Susan. What the hell were you thinking?”
“What do you mean?”
“What the hell were you doing watching? Don’t you know if they saw you they might have just decided to go and kill you, too?”
“Bob, you’re not listening to me. I saw them shoot a child. They ... shot him in the back of the head. They ... just murdered him.” Susan could feel herself beginning to cry, but she held back the tears. “There was an officer, a captain I think. He interrogated Paulo outside the warehouse. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Then he made the boy turn around and he shot him. He killed him, Bob. I can still see the blood, all over the wall ...”
Richards grabbed Susan by the shoulders, to steady her. “Shit, Susan, I’m sorry about the kid, I really am, but you don’t watch that kind of thing. You walk away. You might have gotten yourself killed.”
Susan pushed him away. “Walk away? How could I walk away? A child has been murdered. Could you walk away from that?”
Richards sighed. “This isn’t England, Susan. It’s Brazil.”
“Does that make murder all right, Bob?”
“Susan, come on. I’m on your side, remember. It’s just, I just couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you. Okay? Can you understand that?”
Susan calmed down. “I’m sorry. I’ve never seen anyone shot before. It was so horrible. I’ll never forget it. It was so horrible.”
“Okay,” said Richards. “We’ll work it out. It’ll be okay.”
Susan hugged him, at last. “Oh God, Bob, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Well, we’ve gotta work out what to do next.”
“What do you mean? We have to go to the civil police.”
“The police? And tell them what? That you have a quarter-million dollars worth of stolen necklace in your pocket?”
“No. I’ll show them the tape.”
“Videotape. I had a camera. Everything I saw ... I’ve got it on camera. The interrogation. The shooting. It’s all on tape.”
Richards turned his back to her and leant against the wall for a moment. Then he faced her again. “Susan, you’re not telling me you stuck a goddamn video camera out the window and taped an execution? Please tell me that’s not what you’re saying.”
“I had to. It was the only thing I could do, to help those children.”
“Oh, Christ. We’re dead.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if anyone – anyone – knows you have that tape, and that necklace, it’ll get you killed, me killed, Junio killed, and anyone else who has seen the tape killed as well. Del Campo already told me if he finds any connection between me and the robbery, I’m a dead man. Do you think he’s going to let a tape like this exist? Jesus, Sue.”
Susan said nothing.
“Have you shown it to anyone?”
“Well, all right. We know Silvia won’t talk. She can be trusted. The question is, How do we dispose of that tape safely?”
“We’re not going to dispose of it, Bob. We’re going to take it to the police and we’re going to help save the rest of the children.”
“Take it to the police? Which police?”
“The civil police.”
“Sue, don’t be a fool. This isn’t Wimbledon! They don’t fight by Marquess Queensberry Rules out here, pip pip hurrah and three fucking cheers to the victor. You can’t go to the police with this.”
“Do you have to swear about everything, Bob?”
“I’m trying to get through to you. Don’t you get it? If they find us with that videotape, we’re all dead. And that goes for the necklace as well. The best thing you could do with that tape is take it out and burn it, believe me.”
“And I’m trying to get through to you, Bob. I’ve just seen a child murdered, and as God is my witness there has to be justice.”
“Justice? Look, this is northern Brazil. You have to bribe the civil police just to get ’em to cross the road. Witnesses disappear, up here. You go to the police and we’re all dead. I’m not making this stuff up.”
“But we have to return this necklace.”
“Don’t be a fool. That necklace is the only thing which might – just might – keep us alive.”
“So what are we going to do, Bob? You tell me. What?”
“Nothing. Just let me think about it for a couple of days. Don’t do anything, okay? Will you promise me that, Susan? Please?”
“All right,” Susan said at last.
“Okay. Where’s the kid?”
“He’s in my bedroom.”
“All right. Keep him here at the orphanage and don’t let him out of your sight. If he runs away again it could be the end for him.”
Richards hugged Susan one more time. “How the hell did we get in this mess? How the hell? Just lie low, okay? Just lie low and stay safe.”
“Okay. But we can’t let them kill any more children, Bob. We can’t.”
“All right. I’ll think of something. I’ll think of something.”
They hugged each other for a long time.
That night it started to rain. Heavy rain, a sudden downpour from angry tropical clouds, the kind of rain that flooded the streets all over town and turned the dirt roads of the slums into an impassable sludge.
Outside a small army barracks in the suburbs of Recife, a lone guard stood miserably on the dark street. There was a heavy rifle over his shoulder and swollen raindrops dripped constantly off his helmet onto his camouflaged poncho. His boredom was momentarily relieved by the approach of a military police van. It came up the street and turned into the barracks, stopping at the checkpoint which he manned. He walked over to the van and briefly checked the identity of its passenger. Then he saluted.
In a moment the red-and-white barber-pole boom of the checkpoint swung upwards and the van drove through. The guard resumed his bored stance as the boom came down again. He wished the time would pass more quickly. It was a godforsaken night to be on sentry duty.
Once the van was parked, Captain Sollo dismissed his driver. He would see General del Campo alone. Sollo jumped down onto the wet ground, slammed the van door heavily, and jogged through the rain to the building which housed the office of the Chief of Military Police. Soon he was knocking on del Campo’s door and pushing it open. He walked into the general’s private office and saluted. “Forgive the intrusion, General.”
Del Campo looked up from his desk. “Captain. What is it?”
“My report, sir. I have found the boy you were seeking.”
“Found him? Where?”
“In the slum, just as our informant said, by an old warehouse.”
“And the necklace?”
“That is a small problem, sir. The boy didn’t have it.”
This was not what the general wanted to hear. “Excuse me?”
“I interrogated the boy myself and I assure you, General, he was telling the truth. He did not have the necklace.”
“Well, Sollo, if he doesn’t have it, who does?”
“I am sure we will find it, sir. The boy admitted shooting the jewel thief. He gave the necklace to one of the other boys.”
The general looked down at his desk. “This is a nightmare, Sollo. You have no idea how important that necklace is to me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, of course, General.”
“Tell me about this other boy, the one he gave the necklace to.”
“He has blonde hair. His name is Junio. But he was not in the slum.”
“Are you sure this boy has the necklace?”
“Yes, absolutely. There is no doubt of it. I can tell the difference between truth and a lie, in the eyes of a man about to die.”
“You killed the boy, then.”
“Of course, sir.”
“And were there any witnesses?”
“No one who matters, sir.”
“Good, Sollo. Good.”
“I promise you, General. We shall find this boy, Junio, in no time, and I will bring you the necklace, and his head if you want it.”
“The necklace will be sufficient, Captain. The head you can bury.”
“Do not worry, sir. I will have retrieved the necklace in a day or two.”
The general stood up. “Very well, Sollo. You are a loyal man, and I will not forget that loyalty. I look after my own.”
“Thank you, General.”
The general nodded. “That will be all, Captain.”
It was only twenty minutes later that General del Campo was driving an unmarked police car, leaving the barracks and travelling towards the penthouse apartment of Juliet Formosa. He parked in the underground lot and took the elevator to the twentieth floor. He was nervous about seeing Juliet at a time she was so disappointed with him, but he knew he had to try to make peace with her, and at least he had some little good news.
When Juliet Formosa saw him at her door, she kissed him only on the cheek, more out of formality than affection. “Fernando,” she said simply.
“Ah, Juliet. Thank you for seeing me, my love.”
Juliet Formosa ran her hand idly through her long, almost black hair. She was wearing a long cotton dress. It was white, with a pattern of red roses splashed across the front. The dress played around her ankles as she walked. She looked immaculate and beautiful as always, as if she had nothing better to do in her ivory tower than make herself pretty. “I am not your kept woman, Fernando. I see you only if I please to see you.”
“Of course, Little Cat. That is why I thank you. I know you are upset with me, and I wish I could have prevented it.”
“Have you eaten?”
“Then I will cook. Come and sit in the kitchen.”
“You don’t have to cook, Little Cat. I came only to see you.”
“No, I will cook. You must be hungry, Fernando.”
“You are too kind to me, Juliet. I do not deserve you.”
Juliet Formosa led him to the kitchen. She looked in the refrigerator. “Hmmm. I have some fish from the market. I will cook it with some mango and some rice. Do you want that, Fernando?”
“It sounds good, my love.”
“I have been drinking wine. Will you drink with me? Or can you not drink again this night, in case your beloved wife smells it on your breath?”
“Maria is away visiting her sister. I can drink.” The general walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist. “I can stay, Juliet. The family is gone for tonight. I can stay with you.”
Juliet turned around. She smiled excitedly, despite herself. “You mean it, Fernando? You can stay with me tonight? It has been so long since we woke up together. So many months.”
“Yes, my love, of course I do.”
Juliet Formosa kissed him. “Then sit at the table, Fernando, and I shall cook us a meal fit for a king and queen. Sit down, Fernando.”
When the meal was over, they made love. The general was pleased that Juliet had not mentioned the stolen necklace once that night. Perhaps in time she might even forget it altogether. He fell asleep with a full belly and a relieved heart, grateful to be by her side.
Juliet Formosa was awake again by three. After an hour of listening to the general’s contented snores and deciding she could not get back to sleep, she pulled on her pink silk robe and went to the living room. Without turning on the light, she unfastened the lock on the balcony door, slid it open, and went out. The rain had stopped. Far below, the beach was soaked, quiet and dark, but there was a warm, humid wind blowing in off the ocean. She could hear the sound of waves tumbling over the invisible offshore reefs and washing softly in to the shore. There was a gap in the clouds. She looked up and saw the bright trapezium of the Southern Cross glistening in the sky.
Would the general ever really love her? she wondered. There he was, sleeping in her bed, snoring like a pig, happy after eating the meal she had cooked for him, happy after having had sex with her, happy to stay the night the one time in four months that his damned wife was away. When was he going to give her a commitment? Never, never, never, said the sky.
Never, never, never.
She was disgusted with herself for not sending him away. She should have turned him away at the door tonight, told him to go home and sleep by himself in his empty bed, the bed he shared with that vile old wife of his. She should have turned him away. That would have taught him a lesson for lying to her, for breaking yet another promise.
She had read the newspapers. They said it was a robbery. The Tears of the Angels had been stolen from the jewellery dealer right in his hotel room. That was what the papers said. And it bothered her. She knew it shouldn’t bother her. After all, it was just a theft. But Juliet Formosa had seen the general break one too many promises. This was too much to take.
He had promised her that he would recover it within twenty-four hours, two days at most. It was now more than a week. She would not have minded so much if he had said that he simply could not get it back, if he had admitted it was impossible. But no, the pig had to promise her that the impossible was possible. Just like all the times he had told her that one day he would leave his wife, one day far from now, and they would be forever together. He was always promising her the impossible. Juliet Formosa had a degree in Spanish literature. She spoke three languages fluently. She was from a well-connected São Paulo family. And she was damned if she was going to let Fernando treat her like an idiot girl. She wished she had never agreed to come to Recife, never agreed to come and live like a prized parrot in this twentieth-storey birdcage. She felt like such a fool.
But that was not the worst of it. The worst of it was that she actually loved this pig of a man. She actually loved him. Her heart ached for him when he was away. She longed to see him, longed for him to stay with her, so much so that she could not turn him away from her door that night, even as mad at him as she was, she had just melted when he had told her that he could stay. She looked at the silent sky. This penthouse was her empty prison and loving Fernando was her sentence. There were no guards but still she could not simply walk out. Somehow, she had to make it right. There was no other way. Somehow, she had to make it right.
She hugged herself, feeling a chill despite the warm air. Her own fears made her tremble. What if these two years had been for nothing? What if she would have to leave him, have to admit defeat and walk away? It was unthinkable to her. It would break her heart. But that would not happen. She would speak to Fernando in the morning, really speak to him this time. She would make him understand.
Juliet Formosa went back to bed and waited for the morning. When the general finally opened his eyes, it was well past dawn.
“Good morning, Fernando. At last you are awake.”
“Good morning, my love,” the general grunted.
“It has been four months since you have said those words, you know.”
The general rubbed his eyes and sat up in the bed. “What words?”
“Then, good morning again, my love.”
Juliet Formosa ignored him. She got out of bed. “Do you want some coffee? I will make some coffee. Have your shower.”
“Is something wrong, Juliet?”
“Have your shower,” she repeated.
It was not until breakfast was over that Juliet Formosa broached the subject of the necklace. “Have you had enough to eat, Fernando?”
“Yes, my love.”
“Then we will talk. We will talk, and you will answer me.”
“Talk about what, Little Cat?”
“You promised me a necklace. Do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember. And you shall have it.”
“You promised me you would have it within two days.”
“A minor delay, my love. I am sorry. I meant to talk to you about it last night. We have found one of the thieves. He has told us where the necklace is. It should be a matter of days until we have retrieved it. No one in Pernambuco would dare buy it. They know it would mean death.”
“Death? Death, Fernando?”
“Yes, my love. It will not be sold. We shall find it.”
“Is that what everything is about to you, Fernando? Your killing? The soldiers? Death to those who steal from the great General del Campo? Is that what everything is to you? This is not about the necklace!”
“But it is, Little Cat. I have promised it to you.”
Juliet Formosa stood up, knocking her coffee cup off the kitchen table as she did so. “No, you bastard! I am not talking about a necklace, about a few diamonds, something you put on your credit card to buy me with. I am talking about what that necklace was supposed to mean to you and me!”
“But, Juliet ...”
“Sit down, Fernando! Sit down and listen to me! You told me this necklace would be a symbol of our love, it would be our secret message, to tell the world that you loved me, that your heart was with me. Don’t you understand that, Fernando? Don’t you understand that?”
“Of course, my dear. I promise you, I promise you, you shall have it.”
Juliet Formosa was screaming now, hysterical with rage. “Enough of your promises, you pig. Do you think I care about that goddamned necklace? Do you think I care? I care nothing for that damned thing! I care about what is in your heart, Fernando. I care about whether you love me or not. Do you keep me here in this pretty little cage so you can come once a week and fuck me? Do you make your promises just for that, Fernando? Tell me!”
“No, no, Juliet, not for that.”
“Because if you want to keep me as your whore, then you have the wrong woman. I will not be your whore. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” The general had never seen her like this. “I understand.”
“Then will you leave your wife for me, Fernando? Yes or no.”
The general rose to his feet. “Juliet, you must understand ...”
“Sit down, you bastard! Sit down and answer me, you son of a bitch!”
“All right, all right, I’ll sit. Juliet, calm yourself.”
Juliet Formosa took a few moments to catch her breath. And then tears started rolling down her cheeks. “Listen to me, Fernando del Campo. Listen to me. I don’t know why, but I love you. You are a goddamned son of a bitch, but I love you. Do you know what that means? It means that you are going to leave your wife, or I am going to leave you. And you are not going to make me any more false promises. Do you understand, Fernando? Not one more, never again, or I shall not forgive you.”
Something inside the general’s hard heart cracked at that moment, watching Juliet Formosa weeping. Something crazy happened inside him. Maybe it was just the desperation of an aging man, desperate not to lose a beautiful sprite who was part of his life, but he knew in that one moment that he simply could not lose her. He knew it would be nearly impossible to leave his wife, but he looked at Juliet Formosa’s tears and knew. He could not lose her. He could not bear to lose her, no matter what.
“Juliet, Juliet. You are right. You are right about me.” The general stood up and walked around the table. “You are right about everything.”
“No, not this time,” Juliet said, taking a step back from him. “Not this time, my general. You are not going to lie your way out of this one. Get away from me and talk. Don’t lay a finger on me. Get away.”
The general held up his hands in surrender. “It’s not a lie, Juliet. You are right, I have always lied. It is true. But you are wrong if you think I do not love you. I do. I do love you, not my wife. Only you and my children and my children’s children, these are the only people who mean anything to me. Don’t say that I do not love you. I do. It is the truth.”
“Then why do you always lie to me, you bastard? May God damn you!” In pure rage, Juliet Formosa smashed her arm through a dozen plates that had been, a split second before, tastefully displayed on a shelf. The noise was deafening as the china crashed to the tiled floor and bounced out like shrapnel around her feet. Then she looked at her arm. It was bleeding.
The general was shocked. He had never known her to have such a tantrum. She could be difficult, yes, but this was something new. “Juliet, you have hurt yourself. Let me look at it ...”
“Get away from me! Ai, God, I’m bleeding.” The cut was small. There was not much blood. “Do you see this blood, Fernando? That is what you suck out of me every week that you lie to me, this is what you do to me. Do you think I want to live this kind of life? Do you think this is what I want?”
The general knew what he must do. He knew it was crazy, but he had no choice. He could not lose this woman. “Juliet ... I will leave her. I will leave Maria. I promise you, as God is my witness, I will leave her for you.”
“No, no, no!” Juliet Formosa yelled. “No, Fernando! No more lies!”
The general could hardly believe he was doing it, but he got down on one knee and looked up at her. He did not lie. “Juliet, no more lies. I promise you, no more lies. Seeing you like this makes me realise I cannot hurt you any more. I cannot. Because I love you. I will leave Maria.”
Juliet Formosa lowered her voice nearly to a whisper. “I don’t believe you. Not again, this lie. You are still lying, aren’t you? Aren’t you, Fernando?”
“No, Little Cat, I am not. The truth is, I will leave my wife for you. I do not know how, but I will leave her. I cannot tell you when. I will need two or three months to prepare my affairs. It may ruin my business life, but I will do it for you. I will do it for you, because you are my last chance at love. I am becoming an old man. Who will love me, if not you? And there is no woman in the world I love but you, Juliet. It is the truth.”
“The truth, Fernando? With all of your lies and your killing and your power, I don’t think you know what the truth is any more. Do you?”
“Juliet ... I know I have been wrong to you. But I am telling the truth. You are right about the necklace. I bought it to please you. I thought it would be an easy way to make you happy. To tell you the truth, I don’t know when we will find it, but I promise you it will be only for you. I promise that is what it will mean to me. And I don’t know how long it will take me to prepare to leave Maria. I must speak to my sons, my daughter. I must see my lawyers. It is going to take time, I cannot do it today. But I will make the preparations, Juliet. Look in my eyes and see that I am not lying.”
Juliet Formosa said nothing for quite a long time. She walked out of the kitchen and left him kneeling there. Eventually he followed her out to the living room sofa, where she was sitting in silence. Minutes passed.
At last, Juliet spoke. “You will come to see me more often, Fernando. You will stay overnight. And if you are lying to me about leaving your wife, you will wish that you had never met me. I will not be your whore.”
“Of course, Juliet. Of course. I will come more often, I will stay. And you are not my mistress, not something cheap. Please believe me.”
“I don’t know why I love you, you bastard,” Juliet Formosa sobbed. “And I don’t know why I believe you, but I do.” Then she hugged him.
For the first time in twenty years, as Fernando del Campo held a woman, a tear rolled down his own cheek, from his own eye. He actually loved this woman, loved her enough to leave his wife, to do the impossible. He knew that now. “Thank you, Juliet.”
Juliet Formosa saw the tear. She wiped it away from his cheek. “You don’t deserve me, Fernando. You know that.”
“God smiled upon me the day he brought you into my life. It is the day that will change everything. God must be merciful to send you to me, for surely I do not deserve you.” The general had never spoken like this to a woman before in his life. He meant every word. “Such an angel as you.”
Juliet Formosa leaned on his shoulder and cried.
Maria Anna del Campo looked at her husband reading the morning newspaper and eating the breakfast the maid had prepared for them. He was ignoring her, as usual. “Do you have a busy day today, Fernando?”
The general did not look up from his newspaper. “Not especially, dear.”
“Will you be going to the club tonight? Perhaps you should take the cigars my sister bought for you.”
“The club? No, not tonight.”
“Then why don’t we go to the steakhouse? I have a new dress.”
The general looked at her for a moment. He hated her wiry grey hair, her wrinkled face, the ridiculous make-up she painted herself with, all the rings and bracelets she wore. He thought she looked like some kind of clown, not like the beautiful woman he married long ago. “The steakhouse?”
“Or the hotel, Fernando. Let’s stay at the hotel tonight.”
“Oh, I can’t, my dear. I forgot. There is an exercise tomorrow. I will have to stay at the barracks tonight. I should have told you sooner.”
“Stay at the barracks? All night?”
“Yes. We must prepare for the morning.”
Maria toyed with her sliced melon, twirling her fork repeatedly. “Are you sure that is why you must stay out tonight, Fernando?”
“Yes, of course.”
“That is not what people tell me.”
The general put down his newspaper. “Oh what?”
“That’s not what people tell me, Fernando. They tell me I should be more careful. They tell me while a wife turns a blind eye, her husband will find someone new. That is what they tell me.”
“This is nonsense, my dear. You know I love only you.”
“When was the last time you took me somewhere, Fernando? When was the last time you did something especially for me?”
“I am a busy man, Maria. You know that.”
“Busy with what, Fernando? Are you having an affair? Again?”
“You know I am past that, Maria. I have put that behind me.”
“You made a fool of me, is what you did. People saw you with your little whores all over the city. You made me a laughing stock, Fernando, and you said that it would not happen again. You said, for the sake of our grandchildren, it would never happen again. Have you broken your promise?”
“Those women meant nothing to me. You know that.”
“Don’t you find me attractive any more, Fernando? Is that it? Do you want to trade me in for a younger model, now that I have given you your children? Is that why you have all these women?”
“I have not had any women for two years, Maria. You know that.”
“Yes, I know, my lawyer knows, and the detective knows.”
“Very funny, Maria.” The general drank his coffee.
“Even my family knows. My brother. Do you know how it hurt him, to find out that you were running around with your little whores, making a mockery of his sister? He used to call me from Brasilia every night.”
“Your brother is an excellent politician and businessman, my dear, but he knows nothing about us. He should keep his nose in the affairs of the Federal Treasury and keep it out of our marriage.”
“What do you think he will say, Fernando, if he finds you are having another affair? I called the house while I was at my sister’s. You were not here. There was no answer.” Maria inclined her head and smiled at him.
The general reached across the table and took his wife’s hand. “Maria, you are worrying yourself about nothing. I am not having an affair. You know that. You know I gave up my women two years ago. No one has seen me with anyone because I have not been with anyone. I have changed.”
“Then why were you not at home?”
“This is ridiculous! What is this, Maria? An inquisition? I was at the barracks, working late on an important case. It was raining cats and dogs, and you were not home anyway, so I stayed in my quarters overnight.”
“I don’t believe you. What case?”
“What does it matter what the case was? Do I have to tell you every last detail? Really, Maria, have a little faith in me.”
“No, Fernando, you do have to tell me every detail. What case?”
“Ai, God in heaven. If you must know, it was the case of the stolen necklace. Have you seen it in the newspapers? This ‘Angels’ necklace?”
“And why did you have to work on it so late at night?”
“Captain Sollo had to debrief me on his interrogation of suspects. He had been in the slum all day. He was late getting back. All right?”
Maria grunted. “Huh. The Tears of the Angels. Yes, I have seen this necklace in the newspapers. It is something from which you could learn.”
“How so, Maria?”
“It is beautiful. Three strings of diamonds, two rubies. Do you know what the rubies represent, Fernando? I read the full report.”
The general sighed. “No, but I am sure you will tell me.”
“The rubies are the hearts of two angels, separated from each other, and the diamonds are their tears. It is about love. It is a declaration of love, for a man to give such a thing to a woman. About that, you would not know.”
The general laughed out loud. “A declaration of love? Ridiculous! It’s only a necklace, Maria. I’ve never heard anything so foolish.”
Maria sneered at this. “Thank you, Fernando, for showing me what is wrong with all men. I don’t know why I ever married you.”
“Yes you do,” said the general, as he resumed reading his newspaper. “And so does your brother. I am told he adds up fairly well.”
This silenced Maria Anna del Campo for a moment. “It is not just your money that attracted me to you, Fernando. It was also your good heart.” She spat out the last two words with bitter sarcasm. “Huh, Fernando?”
“Anything you say, Maria.”
“Yes, Fernando, anything I say. And anything my brother says. And if you are having another affair, I promise you he will have something to say.”
The general looked at her over his newspaper one more time. He realised things were going to be even more difficult than he had feared. “Maria, stop doing this to yourself. I am not having an affair. All right?”
Maria Anna del Campo looked closely, but she could see nothing but the utmost sincerity in her husband’s eyes. “All right, Fernando. All right.”
What is love? Bob Richards thought. It was a question he asked himself often since he had become involved with Susan. His life was such a bad joke. Everything he had ever believed in had fallen apart: his marriage, his career, even his citizenship. He loved the States, he was proud to be an American, born and bred, but he could not even think of returning there, not before he could come up with a million dollars in taxes. Not to mention pay off a couple of shady creditors who would dearly like to see him at the bottom of the Hudson River in fashionable concrete shoes.
And now here he was in a seedy little apartment in Brazil, lying in bed next to a fanatical, naive Englishwoman named Susan, listening to the rusty air conditioner groan and wheeze as it choked on the smog and humidity outside and tried to pump a little cool air into his bedroom. What the hell was he doing in bed with a married woman? he thought. And why did the ridiculous idea that he loved her keep popping into his head? The whole thing had disaster written all over it. But he couldn’t help liking her.
“What are you thinking, Bob?” said Susan, looking at him quizzically.
“You first,” he replied, trying to put it all out of his head.
“You look just as lost in thought as I am.”
“You’re right. I’m feeling guilty. I’m worried about Junio.”
“Junio’s fine. Fabriola’s looking after him. He’s fine.”
“You can’t watch over him twenty-four hours a day, Sue. As long as he’s off the street and under supervision he’ll be fine for now.”
“It was really kind of Fabriola to take him to her home. When I explained that his life was in danger, she didn’t hesitate. She just said she would take him to her house, that her parents would watch over him.”
“Yeah, that’s Brazil for you. The people here are kind.”
“Yes. But life is so hard here.”
“It’s easier for me than back in the States, right now.”
Susan ran her fingers though his hair. “Do you think you’ll ever go back? To your old life, I mean. Back to Manhattan. Back to trading.”
“I wanna go back home, yeah. I miss it. But I’m not so sure about New York. I’d kinda like to go back to the countryside. Small-town Minnesota. Don’t ask me what I’d do for a living. I just miss it.”
“I don’t know. The simple life. Sounds stupid, I know.”
Susan kissed him. “It doesn’t sound stupid. I’ve often wanted to get away from London, and I don’t mean to Adrian’s estate. But it’s impossible.”
“Well, here you are in Brazil. Is that something?”
“It’s something because you’re here, Bob.”
Richards said what he had dared not say. “What are we really doing here, Susan? What is this really all about, us I mean?”
“I thought you said we shouldn’t give it a name.”
“Not a name, just ... I don’t know ...”
Susan looked down at her pillow. “I suppose I’m learning what it’s like to want to be with someone again. I haven’t felt that way in years. With Adrian, I was always fantasising about ways to escape, to get away. But with us, I’m always thinking about ways to see you, to not be apart.”
Richards thought about this for a moment. He hadn’t seen Carina, or Maria, or Patricia, for weeks. He hadn’t even returned their calls.
“You know, Bob, I feel guilty about being so happy with you. Guilty because of Adrian. Guilty because I feel we shouldn’t be having a single good moment until we have saved all the children. What if the police are out in the slum tonight, looking for them right now?”
“We’re not gods, Sue. We’re not politicians or generals. We’re just two people caught in the middle of this mess. We can’t just snap our fingers and make everything right. But we’ll think of something. I don’t know if we can save the children or not, but maybe we can keep it from getting worse.”
“What do you mean?”
“The general. He’s hell-bent on getting his revenge. The damn necklace was supposed to be for his mistress. He’ll kill to get it back. The longer this thing goes on, the worse it’ll be for everyone. We have to do something to change the rules of the game.”
“Change the rules?”
“Yeah. Right now, it’s just between the general and the kids who stole the necklace. We have to bring some new players to the table.”
“But how can we do that?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve got an idea. Give me a couple more days, okay?”
“You have to tell me, Bob, before you do it. We’re both caught in this trap, so it has to be both of us who decide. I know you think I’m just a silly goose who doesn’t know anything about Brazil, and maybe you’re right about that, but you have to let me know what you’re going to do. Promise me.”
“All right, Sue, if that’s the way you want it.”
Susan lay back on her pillow. “Do you think it’s just Brazil, Bob?”
“Us. You and me. The time we spend together. Do you think we could be this happy if we were in England or America? I mean, living normal lives. Do you think we could work, out in the open, instead of sneaking around behind locked doors? Or is it just Brazil?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just Brazil.”
Susan looked at him. “Do you really think so, Bob?”
“I don’t know, Sue. I don’t know. There’s so much stuff happening right now, who knows what’s real? Who knows how it will turn out in the end?”
“I don’t like it when you talk like that, Bob.”
“So empty. Is life really that empty for you?”
“You mean because I don’t have your faith in God?”
“I suppose so.”
“What about you, Susan? How is it any different?”
“Different to what?”
“You have your faith. But what about your life, your happiness, right here and now? What about your life with Adrian?”
Susan thought for a long moment. “What about it?”
“Didn’t you tell me it was empty for you?”
“Isn’t that what matters, how we feel?”
“I expect it is.”
“So ... what about us, is it different?”
“Very,” said Susan, as she put a hand on his arm.
“Is that just Brazil, or is it real? Do we really have something, here?”
I don’t know, Susan said. She said it silently, with a kiss.
Bob Richards was bent over the old desk in the orphanage office. On a single sheet of paper he was constructing a note. He was wearing surgical gloves, gluing down the letters of the message one by one, cut from newspaper. When the knock came on the office door, it startled him.
“Who is it?” he said in Portuguese.
A familiar snooty English voice answered him. “It’s me, Bob.”
Richards went to the door and let Susan in. “Do you think Fabriola is going to wonder why I’m in here with the door locked?”
“I told her you were expecting an important call from America.”
Richards sighed. “I wish.”
“What about the note, Bob? Is it finished?”
“See for yourself.” Richards handed her the envelope.
Susan read it through. “The Street Angel?” she asked, puzzled.
Richards shrugged. “Seemed like as good a name as any. You’d have to be an angel to go sticking your neck out to save these little killers.”
“They’re not all killers, Bob.”
“Okay, okay. Whatever you say. As long as nobody ever realises that Bob Richards made this note, it’s fine by me. Any name but mine.”
Susan read the note a second time. “No, I like it. The Street Angel.”
“I’ll send it this afternoon.”
“I can send it,” Susan replied. “I’ll be going to the post office later.”
“Thanks, Sue, but I’d sooner send the package myself. It was my idea.”
“I told you before, Bob, we’re in this together. Together, okay?”
“Okay. But let me mail it. I’ve gotta see the agent first.”
Susan looked at him sideways. “Sometimes I wonder about you, Bob. Where do you get all these underworld connections?”
“Underworld? Come off it, Sue. He’s just a private investigator. Emily had two PIs following me, gunning for her divorce. Just look in the yellow pages. It’s as easy as getting a dentist. Anyway, this guy was recommended by an old friend of mine. Someone I can trust.”
“Where do you get all these old friends?”
“I do a few favours for people.”
“Uh huh,” said Susan. “Favours you’d like to tell me about?”
“Not really. You’d rather not know.”
“Nothing illegal. Well, pretty much nothing illegal.”
Susan shook her head. “Bob, if you didn’t get yourself involved in that sort of thing, maybe you would never have had to run from New York.”
“It’s not that bad, Sue. Nothing they’d throw me in prison for. The only problem is when you start doing favours for the wrong people. It’s not the cops that are keeping me away from the States. It’s the IRS, and one or two guys on the wrong side of the law whose favours didn’t work out.”
“You’re incorrigible, Bob Richards. And now you’ve got me doing it, too.”
“You wanna back out? There’s still time.”
Susan sighed. “No. You’ve convinced me we can’t go to the police.”
“We’re doing this for the children, remember? And maybe, just maybe, to save our own necks as well. Sooner or later the police will find us, if we do nothing. We have to divert their attention before they do.”
“I know, Bob. I’m prepared to do this. I still see that boy being shot. It’s still there in my head, burned in my memory. I can’t forget it. I can’t let his death go without justice, and I can’t let them kill any more children. You know, Bob, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Richards was worried by her strong words. “You said it yourself, Sue. We’re in this together. I promised you I wouldn’t do anything without telling you first. That promise goes both ways, okay?”
“Okay,” said Susan, after a long pause. “It goes both ways.”
“All right, then. I’ll see you tonight. Wish me luck.”
Susan kissed him. “Good luck.”
Antonio Marcus looked out of the window of his third-storey office. It was a grand old building. A polished mahogany staircase, each step underfoot cut from heavy stone, led down from his expansive judicial rooms to the lobby. The heavy limestone and plaster walls kept the heat out, while everywhere there were large, elaborate ceiling fans stirring the air. His office was quiet, like the altar of a church or the waiting room of a high-class bank. It pleased the judge to look down from his window to the two-hundred-year-old cobbled courtyard, the old cathedral opposite, and the little shops. It gave him the illusion of wealth, to sit here in these expensive surroundings, but he did not in fact own the building. He was a mere tenant in all this luxury.
His office door was always open. Open to all manner of people. For the appropriate fee, he was always willing to help bend the law just a little, just enough to solve the problems that people presented him with. Of course it was expensive to bend the law, but not quite expensive enough. Antonio Marcus lived in hope that one day through his door would come someone wealthy enough to really make a difference before his retirement. That day he would do the deal that would allow him to retire in the luxury to which he had become accustomed. Money was a comfort to him, a comfort to an old man with no wife and no prospect of ever having a wife again.
A legal clerk poked his head in the open door. “Good morning, Judge Marcus. I have the mail for you.”
“Thank you. Put it on the desk.”
Marcus watched the clerk go. Then he looked absent-mindedly at the courtyard a second time. A smartly dressed woman was making her way from the shoe shop, below him, to the church. She wore a miniskirt and a short blouse. Marcus wondered if she was an attorney. Had he seen her in a courtroom somewhere? Perhaps so. She looked to be in her early thirties. Ah, but she was beautiful, he thought forlornly. So beautiful, all these women, but he knew none of them would ever look twice at an old man who was not truly a man at all. Not any more. He watched the woman walk slowly across the cobblestones in her new shoes. The shoes suit you, he thought silently to her. They suit you well, they suit your long legs. He followed her with his eyes all the way to the church, until she disappeared inside.
Marcus walked over to his desk and sat down. He rifled through his mail and scattered it angrily across his desk. The usual rubbish, he thought.
Then he came across a package. He picked it up and shook it. He ripped open the paper and out fell a video cassette and a brown envelope. Carefully, he took a letter opener and slit the envelope open. Inside there was a note made of newspaper cuttings glued to form a pattern. The judge’s eyebrows rose in surprise as he read the Portuguese words.
T H I S M A Y H E L P Y O U W I T H Y O U R O L D
F R I E N D T H E G E N E R A L. R E G R E T I C A N N O T
R E V E A L M Y I D E N T I T Y. L E T ’ S J U S T S A Y
W E S H A R E C O M M O N I N T E R E S T S.
T H E S T R E E T A N G E L
Marcus found this intriguing enough to pursue immediately. He went to his always-open door and closed it. Then he locked it. He took the tape to a television he kept in a corner of the large office for examining tapes admitted as evidence in criminal cases, and made ready to play it. Then he sat down in one of the armchairs and watched carefully.
At first there was nothing much to see. A few grubby children playing by the side of some kind of building. A red-brick wall. A chain-link fence. A tall boy with a small pistol, shooting cans. Marcus was beginning to wonder why he was bothering to watch the tape at all, when all hell broke loose. There was the sound of machine gun fire. The camera panned wildly to show two military police soldiers jogging towards the children. Soon a military police captain appeared in the frame, walking up to a captured boy with his revolver pointed right at the boy’s head. Marcus leaned forward in his chair. The camera zoomed in on the captain and the boy. There was an interrogation, although the tape did not record the words. And then the captain had the boy turn around to face the wall. Suddenly, without warning, the captain had brought his revolver up behind the boy’s head and fired; there was a blur of blood exploding across the screen as the boy dropped to the ground. The camera was shaking badly at this point. Then the view zoomed right in on the officer. Marcus pressed the pause button.
After a moment calmly scrutinising the frozen face of the captain on the large television screen, Marcus whispered a single word. “Sollo.”
He unpaused the tape and watched it to the end. It showed Captain Sollo overseeing the removal of the body. Two soldiers threw the dead boy in the back of a military police van, Sollo got in, and they drove away. Then the television went blank. The tape was over. Marcus let it keep playing until the screen was filled with static and a loud hiss came from the speakers. He spoke softly to himself. “Ah, General. Very sloppy work. Very sloppy indeed.”
He switched off the television and the room went quiet. Then he took the tape over to the huge safe in the opposite corner of the room and locked it carefully inside, putting it underneath a stack of legal documents to make it less conspicuous. Finally, he went back to the window and looked out again at the courtyard. It was a beautiful, clear morning. He felt almost like singing, but contented himself with a slow, wry smile and his own thoughts.
This was indeed a fortunate day. General Fernando del Campo was a very wealthy man. A very wealthy man whom he hated very, very much. Judge Marcus decided he would go to church. For this he must give thanks.
The view from the steps of the cathedral was interesting. Around the large cobbled courtyard were many exclusive shops. There were three excellent tailors, two bookshops, a handful of fashion boutiques, a small cafe, and a shoe shop. Well-dressed shoppers, mostly women, made their way quietly across the square to whichever shop was their favourite. The studious ones went to the bookshops. The obedient ones went to the tailors, to buy suits for their businessmen husbands. The pampered ones went to the boutiques. The ones who had brought their children went to the cafe and ordered candy and biscuits to silence complaints of hunger and boredom. The man sitting on the steps of the church watched them all. He was a careful observer, even more carefully dressed. No one paid any attention to him, just another beggar trespassing in the better part of town, sitting in his bare feet and tattered clothes, his dark skin slowly turning an even deeper ebony in the inescapable midday sun. Occasionally someone would drop a coin in his cup, as they passed him on their way into church, but they would barely look at him as they did so. This pleased the man greatly.
The most interesting thing of all to him was the white, stone building above the shoe shop. It housed the rooms of Judge Antonio Marcus. It was the second day the man had sat patiently on the steps, watching the comings and goings from that building, but he was not especially bored. He was trained for this work. It was how he made his living. Two days was nothing. In any case, the pay was good, and the American stockbroker who hired him had even handed over three hundred dollars in advance. The investigator liked working for foreigners. They always paid more, sometimes stupidly so, and foreign currency was so much more useful than cruzeiros. So the man waited and watched, as the afternoon slowly died. It was just before sunset that he finally got lucky. He recognised a man’s face.
“You might have worn your uniform, Sollo,” Judge Marcus said in disgust. “What business would a man like you have in visiting me, other than official business? I told you to come quietly and not to create attention.”
“And how should I avoid attention in the uniform of a captain of the military police? To wear civilian clothes was the only way.”
Marcus closed his always-open door for a second time in a week. “No matter. You are here now. Sit down, Captain. There is much to discuss.”
Sollo went to take a seat at the judge’s desk, but Marcus indicated instead the armchairs at the other end of the room.
“What is so important that you can only tell me in person, Judge? And why did you have your idiot clerk check me for a gun? This is absurd.”
“He wasn’t checking you for a gun, Captain Sollo. He was checking you for a wire. In legal matters one has to be careful, you know.”
“What is this about legal matters? I have no quarrel with you.”
The judge got up and switched on the television. “No, of course not, Captain. But I think you shall be most interested in this recording.”
“I have no time to waste watching home videos.”
“Hmmm. Well, do you recognise this place? This is a warehouse, here. My sources tell me it is on the edge of a local slum.”
“No, I do not recognise it.”
“What about these children, playing here?”
Sollo began to feel uncomfortable. “I see them. And what of it?”
“Let’s not waste time, Captain. Let me fast-forward.” Marcus resumed his seat and glanced at Sollo. “Perhaps you recognise these two soldiers, the ones rounding up the children? And all that noisy machine gun fire?”
“These are my men, yes. Dispersing a group of young thieves. Hardly worth dragging me into your office, Judge Marcus.”
“Indeed. Then let me go forward to the interesting part.” After a moment, the judge played the tape again. “I believe this is you, Captain Sollo, is it not? Interrogating a boy? Your face is clearly visible. They give the most excellent images, these modern video cameras.”
Captain Sollo did not answer.
“Ah, now, Sollo, you lift up your gun. But the poor boy is facing the wall, not even looking at you. His hands are empty. He has no gun. Now you are raising your gun to the back of the child’s head. Why is that? I wonder.”
There was a sudden splash of red on the television screen, coming from the boy’s head and spattering onto the warehouse wall, and there was the sound of a gunshot. The body of the murdered boy dropped to the dirt, then the shaking camera zoomed in on Captain Sollo’s face. The judge paused the tape, leaving the image of Sollo’s face frozen on the screen.
The judge spoke calmly and rationally. “Ah, now we see why. You raised your gun to shoot the boy. Because you had decided to execute him. Just another little devil off the street. Who would miss him?”
Sollo leaped up from his chair. “You know – you know perfectly well – that these little bastards have to be disposed of somehow. It’s been going on for years. I don’t have to watch this. You’re wasting my time.”
“Ah, but you do have to watch it, Captain. I’m afraid you do. Sit down.”
“General del Campo will hear about this, Judge. I assure you of that.”
Marcus remained in his chair. “I don’t think that would help, Captain. You see, I obtained this tape from the general. From the document vaults at the barracks, if you must know. You must have heard that things have gone missing lately, that there is a security leak. Hmmm?”
“Yes, I heard.”
“Well, this is one of those missing things, my dear Captain. And if I were you I’d be asking myself who else but the general could have known just when you would be in the slum? Who else could have had you followed?”
“The general gave the order to search the slum himself.”
“Exactly. And it appears he had you tailed, just for insurance. You know there’s been a lot of bad press in Rio this year. The New York Times reporting on the murder of ‘innocent’ children. All that nonsense. It’s much ado about nothing, of course. But all this publicity could cost someone’s career, sooner or later. And if that happens, you don’t imagine that General del Campo would take the blame, do you? As you know, Sollo, it is not the general but his lieutenants – his captains – who end up in prison. The generals always walk free.”
Sollo stood motionless for a moment, then resumed his seat.
“That’s better. As I was saying, if this kind of thing ever comes to court, the general is not going to admit giving the order, is he? But here we have you, on tape, doing the deed. This is very bad, Sollo. Very bad indeed. We can’t have our police running around killing children, can we? At least, not on camera. No, the existence of this tape, and its undoubted copies, is very bad. I must say that any judge would be inclined to convict, given this evidence. And I imagine a man like you would have quite a few enemies in prison. Isn’t that right, Sollo?”
Sollo growled his reply. “Are you threatening me, Judge?”
Marcus laughed. “Look at me, Captain. I’m an old man. You think an old fossil like me wants to waste his time threatening the police? I could care less that you’ve killed a few worthless little street urchins. As far as I’m concerned we’re better off without them. Well done. You have my applause. No, this isn’t about you, Captain. It’s about a mutual friend of ours, General Fernando del Campo.”
“What about the general?”
“What indeed. He is not a man I like, Sollo. I have no quarrel with you. But del Campo owes me many things. It is time to collect payment, I think.”
“And why should I want to help you with that?”
“Ah, yes. Because what you need, Captain, is a little insurance policy of your own. Should this whole nasty affair ever reach the courts, what you will need to prove is that you were ordered to kill the boy. Yes, you will do a little time, but it will not be the end for you. What you need is proof of that order.”
“And how should I have that, Judge?”
“You will wear a wire. You will go to see the general. You will record him confirming that he gave the order. Then you will bring the tape to me. Naturally, you may keep a copy for yourself. Think about it, Sollo. The American reporters pay good money for secret material. Who knows when the videotape may be leaked to the press? Somewhere is the cameraman who took this film. Perhaps he needs money. You must be ready.”
“I have never trusted the general. That much is true.”
“Well, there you are. We agree on something. I regret that this unpleasantness involves you, Captain, but I have an agenda to settle with the general. And it would be so much better if you simply played along.”
“Another threat, Judge?”
“Call it a piece of friendly advice.”
Sollo nodded. “Very well. I could use this kind of ... insurance.”
“Then I’ll consider we have a deal?”
“Deal,” Sollo grunted, standing up.
“Thank you, Captain. You are a very smart man.”
Sollo ignored the judge’s outstretched hand, and walked out.
Bob Richards was pleased when the telephone call came from the private investigator, even if it had cost him three hundred bucks. With a smile, he picked up his home phone and dialled a number in Rio de Janeiro, a number he hadn’t had reason to call for a long time. A familiar, gruff American voice answered with a single word.
“Chester,” said Richards. “Chester Louis. It’s Bob.”
“Bob? Where the hell are you?”
“Still in Recife. Where else?”
“Still, huh? So the guy from Rio’s still looking for you?”
“Yeah. Rio’s not a real good place for me right now. But it’ll blow over.”
“You’re a survivor, Bob. I’ll say that for you.”
“What the heck can I do for you, buddy?”
“Yeah. Look, Chester, there’s a story up here you might want to see for yourself. It’s not something I can talk about on the phone.”
“I’m real busy right now, Bob. What’s it about?”
“I can’t talk about it on the phone. Take my word for it, it’s big. You won’t be disappointed if you come up here and see for yourself.”
“Well, I was planning a trip to Amazonia next week.”
“Come up early, Chester. I’m telling you, this is gonna be a huge story and you can be the one to break it. Have I ever let you down?”
Chester Louis thought for a moment. “Hell, no. You never have.”
“Then I’ll see you?”
“Ah, Jesus, Bob. All right, you’ll see me. I’ll fly up tomorrow. But this had better be good. There’s a lot of stuff happening in Rio right now. I’m supposed to have a story in for the magazine by Friday.”
“It’s good, Chester. It’s good. I’m telling you.”
“Okay, Bob. I’ll see you.”
Richards put down the phone. He figured it would be no more than thirty-six hours before Chester would have the story on the front page of every newspaper in the country. And that was exactly what he wanted. Richards went to the little safe behind the Stars and Stripes on his living room wall, and took out a copy of the videotape. It was his only hope.
By the following evening, Chester Louis was sitting on Richards’ decrepit sofa and watching the videotaped murder of a fifteen-year-old boy. Chester was a big man. His expression was almost always serious, but as he ran his hand over his bald scalp he broke into a false laugh.
“Jesus Christ, Bob. You had this thing sitting in your wall-safe?”
Richards replied soberly. “Uh huh. You guessed it.”
“Are you trying to get yourself killed? That’s an MP captain executing a street kid. Do you know what the MPs would do to you if they knew you had this tape? On the second thoughts, don’t answer that question.”
Richards went to the television and turned it off. Then he handed the tape to Chester. “It’s yours, Chester. Use it well.”
“Where did you get it?”
“I can’t tell you that. I didn’t film it myself. The, uh, man who shot the tape is in real danger. He’s a dead man if his name gets out. But he asked me to get it to a good reporter. You’re the best I know.”
Chester turned the tape over in his hands. “Why are you risking your neck for this, Bob? I hate these murdering MPs too, but when did you become a vigilante? Life could get awful hard for you in this town, you know.”
“I trust you, Chester. You’re not gonna tell anybody you got it from me.”
“Sure, but even so ...”
“It’s a friend of mine. Somebody playing with fire. I’m doing a favour.”
“That’s quite a favour. Why didn’t you just bury this thing?”
Chester Louis looked Richards in the eye. “That personal?”
“Yeah. That personal.”
“You poor bastard. You’re doing this for a woman, aren’t you?”
Richards sighed. “Tell me about it. Look, we’ve got a chance to do some good here, for the kids, and maybe to save the necks of a couple of idiot foreigners who are up to their chins in shit, one of which is me.”
“Is she pretty?”
“It’s not like that,” Richards replied angrily.
“No. I don’t suppose it is, Bob. Not this time. You’ve really got it bad.”
“You’ve got your story, Chester. Just get it in print.”
“Okay, good buddy. If you say so. I hate to do it to you, but this is a helluva story. I’ll probably even end up on CNN.”
“Just as long as you don’t mention me, Chester, do whatever you like.”
“Okay.” Chester Louis put the tape in his canvas bag and headed for the door of Richards’ apartment. “And ... good luck with the lady, huh?”
“Yeah,” said Richards to himself, as he pushed the door shut again. He knew all hell would break lose once the story hit the papers, but he was convinced that it was the best option. It just might work.
Maria Anna del Campo drank her coffee slowly. This infuriated the general. She always insisted he sit with her at breakfast and not leave until she was done. And then she would sit with her newspaper and turn the pages, making stupid comments about the stories as if she knew anything about the real world – the world in which he commanded the military police, did business, and made all the money which she so much enjoyed spending. He could see she was about to make another stupid comment.
“Have you seen the newspaper today, Fernando?”
“No, my dear. How can I see it when you have it yourself?”
“Well, you should see this. Here it is right on the front page. ‘Child Killed by Military Police.’ They even have a picture. Look.”
The general took the newspaper in silence. He looked incredulously at the huge photograph of Captain Sollo firing his revolver into the back of a skinny boy’s head. “This is an outrage,” he said at last.
“An outrage, Fernando? It is not true then?”
“True? Of course not. You think I have my men run around shooting children? Of course there is no truth in this. You know reporters, my dear.”
“Oh. I see. Then can I have the newspaper back, Fernando?”
“Yes, yes, just let me see what it says. ‘The identity of the officer in the photograph has not yet been confirmed, but sources indicate he is a member of the Military Police of Pernambuco. This local murder comes after recent reports in the international press of the widespread execution of street kids in Rio.’ What nonsense. This is scandalous rubbish.”
“Then you must speak to the press, dear, and put it right.”
“The press do not believe the good citizens of this state, Maria. They only believe the hoodlums who falsify this kind of videotape. There is no point in making any comment. This is a forgery. That is all there is to it.”
“Very well, Fernando. Now may I have the newspaper back?”
“What? Oh, yes, of course. There you are, my dear.”
Maria Anna del Campo turned to the social pages. “Do you have a busy day today, Fernando?” she asked, as she looked at the party photographs.
“Today, my dear? Oh no. Nothing but a routine day.”
It was difficult not to succumb to the temptation to call Sollo immediately, but the general managed to sit through breakfast and then wait until he had driven to the barracks, whereupon he summoned the fool. It was two hours after his wife had shown him the newspaper when the general finally had his chance to respond to the publicity with genuine fury.
Sollo saluted in front of the general’s desk. “General del Campo.”
“Captain Sollo. You will not take a seat. You will remain standing and you will explain to me the meaning of this.” The general tossed a copy of the morning newspaper across his desk, with the execution photograph upmost.
Sollo stepped forward and looked in horror at the headline. Forgetting himself, he picked up the paper and read it anxiously, then he remembered the general was watching him and put the paper down again.
“It shows the execution of a street kid, General.”
“So it does, Captain Sollo. So it does. And who is this who holds the gun, who shoots the bullet? It is you. On the front page of the newspaper!”
“I am sorry, sir. I don’t know how I was photographed.”
“You don’t know?” The general stood up. “You don’t know?”
The general walked around behind the captain and yelled. “You imbecile. When I tell you to have one of these little runts killed, I mean you to do it in private! You take him away, somewhere there are no cameras, and you dispose of him there. You do not pull out your pistol and shoot him in public. Are you a moron, Captain Sollo?”
“I did what I was told, sir.”
“Did what you were told? I told you to kill the boy quietly, not to make a circus out of it. I gave you a simple order. Was that too hard for you?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I thought this was what you wanted.”
“I wanted the boy dead, yes, but not with his blood on my hands. Do you realise what the press are going to do with this? They are going to make so much noise that the federal bureaucrats in Brasilia will start asking questions. Then there will be an inquiry. And who do you suppose they are going to point the finger at? Me, goddamn you, Sollo.”
Sollo stood to attention, without moving a muscle.
“Well, I tell you, Sollo, that is not going to happen. It will only be a matter of time before you are identified from this photograph, and then you will be linked with me. So I am suspending you from active duty, effective immediately. I’ll do my best for you, Sollo, but there is only so much I can do to protect you from your own stupidity. If you go down, I’m not drowning with you. Why could you not do a simple job properly?”
“I did what you told me to do, General. What more could I do?”
The general was enraged. “You could do it like a professional, not like some kind of petty thug. You could do it behind closed doors!”
“I am sorry, General.”
The general calmed down. “Sollo, you have been loyal to me and I respect that. I look after those who put their trust in me. We shall see.”
“We will see what we can do to get you out of this mess. All this, over some pathetic little street bastard. I will do my best for you.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
The general waved at him. “Get out, Sollo. Get out.”
Once Sollo had gone, the general collapsed into his chair and shook his head. Never in his entire life had he been faced with such a pathetic situation. He wished he had never agreed to buy The Tears of the Angels.
That same afternoon, when Sollo reported to Judge Marcus with the audio tape of his conversation with the general, Marcus was happier than he had been in many years. Never in his life had he come across such an excellent situation from which to make money. He took the tape and the wire back from Sollo, listened to the recording, then spoke.
“Well, Captain Sollo. It appears you have your insurance.”
“He said everything I wanted him to say, Judge.”
“Indeed he did. You have saved yourself, Captain. He cannot touch you now without being incriminated himself. It may even be worth some money to you, once I finish with him. You’ve made an old man very happy.”
“But what about the newspaper?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. General del Campo will find a way to discredit the videotape as a forgery. You have nothing to fear.”
“He has suspended me from duty, Judge.”
“Has he now? Well, we can fix that. Leave it with me.”
Once Sollo had left the office, Marcus reflected that the man was very possibly the most arrogant fool ever to have risen to the rank of captain in the Pernambuco Military Police. From his office window, Marcus watched Sollo make his way across the busy courtyard, one uniformed captain in a sea of civilians. It was certainly no pity, Marcus thought, that this idiot must soon die. And there was much to gain from his death.
Judge Antonio Marcus knew he would retire a wealthy man.
Susan leaned over in her deckchair and kissed Richards. It was a rare opportunity to be romantic in public. She was a long way from Recife, relaxing on a beach an hour’s drive from the city limits. No one would recognise her. Here it was as if Adrian didn’t exist, at least for one blissful weekend. No news of this kiss could ever return to her husband.
“You seem relaxed, at last. I thought you never would,” said Richards.
“I know I should still be worrying about the children, but ... I just want to be with you. Is that too bad of me, Bob?”
“Junio’s safe with Fabriola’s family. You know that. If you had any contact with him it would just put him at risk. The police might be watching the orphanage. You’re doing the best thing you can do – lying low.”
“I haven’t even been back to the slum,” Susan said guiltily.
“Great. No contact between you and the street kids means no connection between you and the videotape.”
“I know you’re right, Bob. It’s the waiting. Not knowing.”
“I told you, Judge Marcus met with Sollo just like I said he would. And the only thing that matters to Marcus – the only thing – is getting even with del Campo. The judge will make his move soon enough. Once the general realises his ass is going to get dragged through court over the kid’s murder, he’ll have to back down from having the rest of them killed. Especially now the press is involved.”
“But what’s in it for the judge?”
“Money. What else? Enough money will make the whole thing go away. Nobody’s going to get convicted, video or no video, unless someone in power wants them to get convicted. That’s just how it works. As long as del Campo pays off Marcus, they’ll find a scapegoat for the whole thing, probably Sollo, and then it’s business as usual. But if the general doesn’t pay up, heaven help him. Judge Marcus is very well connected. He’s untouchable.”
“I don’t know, Bob. I just don’t know. What if something goes wrong?”
“Sue, we’re doing the best we can. You know we are. I’m not ... I don’t know ... John Wayne. I don’t pack a six-shooter and shoot it out with the bad guy at high noon. We’re just two little people. We don’t mean squat to a man like del Campo. What do you want me to do? Go to his house and make threats? He’d have his soldiers take turns at beating me to death.”
“No. I’m sorry, Bob. I’m just worried about the children. I wish there were more we could do to keep them safe. You know.”
“Sue, I’m a stockbroker. You’re a teacher. This is Brazil. And we’re a couple of gringo foreigners. This isn’t even our business. If we can do anything at all to help these kids, it’s more than we should be able to. But we are doing all we can, okay? You know that.”
“Yes. I know we are. Sorry.” Sue leaned across and kissed Richards again. “Let’s not bring it up again, okay?”
They were sitting on a crowded beach, not a tourist resort but a favourite holiday spot for those in Recife fortunate enough to own beach houses in the nearby village. It was a spectacular place. The Atlantic Ocean glistened under blue skies and the beautiful white beach stretched north and south as far as the eye could see. There were no high-rise buildings, only a line of beach shacks and a few simple seafood restaurants. Families were at play in the water and on the sand. Vendors sold cool beer.
Susan heard the faint drone of a chainsaw engine coming slowly closer. First she looked at the many jet skis racing around in the waves, but the noise from their water turbines was different. Neither was it the noise of the speedboats racing out to favourite fishing spots, or of the motor launches towing parasailors steadily through the air. “Bob, what’s that noise?”
“That engine sound.” Suddenly it was a whole lot louder.
“Just look up,” said Richards, delighting in Susan’s puzzled expression.
Susan leaned forward, so she could see beyond the beach umbrella, and was startled to see a huge orange shadow drift overhead. “Oh, God!”
Richards laughed uncontrollably. “It’s only an ultralight, Sue. You look like you saw a ghost.” He watched the flimsy aircraft fly slowly away.
“That scared the hell out of me!”
“Sorry,” said Richards lamely.
“But, really ... what kind of pilot flies that low over all these people? That aeroplane couldn’t be more than fifty feet up! What if the engine fails? Somebody will get killed. Aren’t there rules against that sort of thing?”
“Safety isn’t a real high priority around here, Sue.”
“I can see that.”
“That was just the first of them. You’ll see lots more. This beach is all about having fun. It’s a pity they’re only single seaters, or maybe we could ask one of the pilots to take you for a ride.”
“No, thank you.”
Richards laughed again. “I love this beach. It’s a great place. All you have out here are people having fun. Ordinary people. No big shots.”
Susan watched a large motor launch pull away from a nearby boat ramp and speed out to sea. “No big shots?”
“Well, everything’s relative. You get your ordinary folks. You get your businessmen. But they’re all small fry out here. The really important people go to the big tourist resorts, or to their private beaches. And good riddance. Out here, you don’t have to worry about all that crap.”
“Do you have to swear, Bob?”
“Sorry. You don’t have to worry about politics, about who’s watching. You have a barbecue, invite the neighbours. You have a beer on the beach. And most of the beach houses are pretty much the same. Nobody’s here to show off. You can pretty much forget your troubles.”
“Have you had your beach house for long?”
“Couple of years. I had some friends build it for me. One of them’s the caretaker. I’ll introduce you to him later. He’s a great guy. A real character.”
“Then I suppose quite a few of your ... girls have been to visit?”
Richards looked at Susan for a moment. “You’re not one of my girls.”
“I’m just jealous. Don’t pay any attention.”
“Actually, I haven’t seen any of them, since we ...”
“You haven’t?” said Susan. “Is that really true, Bob?”
“Sure. I wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t.”
“No. But I thought your ... your philosophy of life was just to have fun.”
“I’d rather be here with you than with any of those girls.”
Susan smiled at him. “I know. I’m just feeling insecure. I don’t know why. I am an adulteress, after all, cheating on Adrian. Why should I expect you to be any better?”
“Don’t call yourself that. You’re not that.”
“But I am. That’s what this is. Adultery.”
Richards put down his beer and put a hand on Susan’s arm. “Don’t beat yourself up, Sue. Why are you saying that?”
“Because I’m happy with you, Bob. Because I’m so happy with you, and I’m not supposed to be. I’m supposed to be miserable. This is supposed to be evil. It’s supposed to be an empty sin. That’s not how it feels.”
Richards sighed. “I wondered when this was going to come up again.”
“I’m sorry, Bob, I can’t help it. It’s my faith.”
“Is it part of your faith to be unhappy?”
“The biggest part.”
“Come on, Sue,” said Richards angrily, “be serious.”
Susan looked at all the children playing on the beach, building sandcastles, learning to jet-ski, eating ice creams, laughing. “You know what bothers me the most, Bob? I’m so happy with you, but I’ve only known you for such a short time. I feel closer to you than I ever did to Adrian, and we’re so different to each other. You don’t even believe in God.”
“I don’t have a cent, either.”
Susan was beyond pretence. Bob could see through her too easily, so she didn’t even try to argue. “Yes, you don’t even have a cent.”
“I’m a great guy,” Richards muttered sarcastically.
Susan grabbed his hand suddenly. “No, no. Bob, I’m sorry. That’s what I mean. You are a great guy. Better than Adrian ever was. I never wanted to have a family with Adrian. I couldn’t bring children into that kind of family, couldn’t give them that kind of father. So cold. And now it’s too late.”
“You could adopt.”
“I’m forty-five years old. Who’s going to let me adopt?”
“You don’t look it,” said Richards, with an amorous smile.
Susan laughed. “Stop it, now. None of that.”
“Yes, no more flattery. I can’t take it.”
“Why not? You’re a beautiful lady.”
“I don’t feel beautiful. I feel like a liar, like a fake.”
“What are you lying about?” said Richards, lazily drinking his beer.
“How happy I am. Trying to tell myself I’m really not happy with you at all, that really I’ve learned my lesson and that adultery’s just miserable.”
“Are you going anywhere with this, Sue?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is this just idle conversation, or are you trying to say something?”
“It’s not idle conversation. I’m trying to say something.”
“Well, just say it.”
Susan looked down for a moment, then reached across and took Richards’ hand again. She squeezed it seriously. “I’m trying to say that I don’t love Adrian. You know that, don’t you? I don’t love him.”
Richards scanned her face for any sign of the significance of this bizarre comment. He came up blank. “Okay, you don’t love him. I believe you.”
“I’m telling you, Bob,” Susan repeated. “I don’t love him. I don’t know why I’m still with him. I should have left him years ago. It’s just, I can’t get past what I believe. I just can’t get past it. It’s not right.”
“Sue, why don’t you just stop beating yourself up and let it be?”
Susan said nothing for a moment. “Because ... I love you.”
Richards was shocked. He stared at Susan’s worried face. For a second his mind told him to admit the same in reply, but he suppressed the urge.
“You mean more to me, Bob Richards, than Adrian ever did. Ever.”
Before Richards could drum up something safe to say in reply, the boy from the beer stand appeared next to them, holding up two cold bottles.
“You want more beer, Senhor. Senhora? It’s ice cold.”
“No thanks,” said Richards.
“No,” said Susan. The boy walked away.
“Maybe we should get some lunch,” said Richards.
“All right,” Susan replied. She could tell that Bob felt awkward about what she had said, but she was still glad she had said it. “I’m hungry.”
“So am I. Starving.” Richards got up and offered Susan his hand.
They walked slowly down the beach and along the dirt roads of the village until they reached his dilapidated beach house. It was a flat-roofed structure built from cheap bricks and shoddy plaster, with bare concrete floors. There was little furniture. Two comfortable hammocks were strung across the front porch, overlooking a small, grassy yard and a gas barbecue. Susan immediately went to take a shower, while Richards got the barbecue fired up. He was cooking a couple of succulent steaks when a barefoot man in shorts and an old T-shirt walked into the yard.
“Good day, Senhor Hichards,” the man said in Portuguese.
“Good day,” Richards replied. “How’s it going, my friend?”
“All is well, boss. All is well.”
“Knock it off, Rico. Stop calling me that.”
“You own the house. I am the caretaker. Boss is what I call you.” Rico smiled. He was a big man, enormously strong, and his tanned face was covered in thick stubble. His perpetual smile revealed tobacco-stained teeth, and he nearly always seemed ready to break into raucous laughter. Until you got to know him, Richards knew, he seemed a little crazy.
“Rico,” Richards replied as he turned the steaks, “when are you going to learn English? Then I could explain that you don’t have to call me boss. Somehow I just can’t make the point in Portuguese.”
Rico shook his head. “No, no. The Senhor must know, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. And this dog is getting old.”
Richards laughed. “You’re thirty-five. A baby. Stop complaining.”
“No, boss. Rico cannot read. I will not learn English.”
“It didn’t stop you from learning Portuguese.”
“Yes, boss, but that was taught to me by my mother while I was still on the breast, sucking for milk.”
Richards ignored this absurd comment. “You want some lunch?”
“No, boss. I saw you with the lady. You want to be alone.”
“Look, Rico, I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t mean it. You want lunch?”
Rico grinned. “I brought some cane. It is mighty sweet.”
“I can see that,” said Richards, looking at the long pipe of freshly cut sugar cane that Rico was carrying under one arm. “Sit down, I’ll get another steak for you. And I’ll introduce you to the lady. Is that all right?”
“All right,” said Rico, happy to have gotten himself invited to lunch.
Richards went inside and got another steak out of the icebox. He found Susan drying her hair, dressed in jeans and a clean shirt.
“Who are you talking to, Bob?” she asked.
“Rico. The caretaker for this street. He’s staying for lunch. You wanna come out and meet him? He’s brought you a delicacy.”
“He brought food?” Susan said incredulously. “For me?”
“Sure. He saw us on the beach. I think he likes you. It’s his way of being hospitable. Obviously he approves.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Or does he do this for all your girls?”
Richards frowned. “Just come outside and you’ll see.”
Susan followed Richards out to the barbecue.
Rico leapt up from his plastic chair when he saw Susan, took her hand and shook it vigorously. “Oh, Senhora. You are so beautiful, such a beautiful lady. You must be from Rio. The women in Rio, Senhora, they are beautiful. Are you from Copacabana?”
Susan couldn’t help smiling. She was flattered, even if he was nearly crushing her fingers. “No, no. I’m not Brazilian.”
Rico let go of her. “Then you must be French, Senhora. They are beautiful in Paris. Yes, you are from France.”
Richards rolled his eyes. “Knock it off, Rico, for God’s sake. Susan’s from London, England.” Then, in English, he said, “Sorry. Rico has to try his charm routine on every woman he meets. Just ignore him.”
“England, Senhora?” Rico chimed. “I have seen it on the television. You come from a beautiful country. A beautiful country, yes.”
“Thank you,” said Susan, as she and Rico sat down while Richards finished cooking the steaks.
“Yeah, so anyway,” said Richards in Portuguese, “Rico has brought you some sugar cane. You have to try it. It’s fantastic.”
“You want some, Senhora?” Rico asked eagerly.
“Yes, I’ll try some, if you say it’s good. Thank you.”
“Ah, good, Senhora. You will not regret this. It is sweet, sweet.”
Susan nearly fell over backwards in her chair when Rico reached around to the back of his shorts and pulled out an enormous machete which had been hidden under his baggy T-shirt. The fourteen-inch blade sparkled in the sun. Rico held it up to her and smiled. “I cut some for you, Senhora.”
Susan watched nervously as Rico held the thick sugar cane in his left hand, then swung the blade down viciously and chopped off a six-inch piece. Rico’s grip on the cane was vice-like as he repeated the axing twice more, until there was a piece of cane for everyone. “Here you are, Senhora. Sweet, you understand. It is sweet.”
Susan took the cane but had no idea what to do with it. It was rock hard, except for the exposed cut surface, which was firm, wet and spongy. She sat there, feeling foolish, looking at Rico’s smiling face. “Um ... thanks.”
Rico laughed uproariously. “Boss, does she not know how to eat it?”
“Of course not, Rico. How much sugar cane do you think they have in England? It’s cold in England. They have no cane.”
“Okay, boss. Okay. I tell her how to eat it. Look, Senhora, you eat it like this, like this.” Rico stashed the machete down the back of his shorts again, then took his piece of cane and thrust the end of it into his mouth, sucking furiously. There was a loud slurping noise. Then Rico took the cane out of his mouth and smacked his lips. “Ai, my mother, that is sweet!”
Susan screwed up her brow in disgust, but she thought she had better be polite, so she took her own piece of cane and put it hesitantly to her lips. Then she sucked. She was rewarded with the wonderful, fresh, slightly fruity taste of sugar syrup. Susan was surprised by how good it was, so much so that she hardly minded the two men laughing at her.
“I told you it was a delicacy,” Richards said in English.
“Do you know, it’s really quite good.” Susan tried some more.
“The Senhora likes it?” said Rico.
“Yes, thank you,” Susan said in Portuguese. “I like it.”
“Do you hear that, boss? She likes it. I knew she would like it.”
Richards brought the steaks over to the plastic table and sat down next to Susan. “Enough sugar cane. Let’s eat some meat.”
Fifteen minutes later, Richards brought out a bottle of beer. He handed a glass to Susan and then one to Rico. “You had any trouble lately, Rico?”
“Yes, boss. I had some trouble last week. Big trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?” said Susan, after taking a sip of her beer.
“Ah, Senhora. I find some little rascals trying to steal from the houses. They come from time to time, push in the doors, steal from inside.”
“Little rascals?” said Susan, not sure if she understood him correctly.
“The children of the poor, Senhora. Sometimes they come here from the next town. Teenagers, mostly. They start to steal early. Last week there were four of them at the beach house of Senhor Santiago. Vandals.”
“Four of them?” said Susan. “What were they doing?”
“They were stealing clothes, and food from the icebox. Stealing from my street, Senhora. Everyone knows, no one steals from Rico’s street. It is my job to keep the houses safe. No one steals from here.”
“So what happened?” said Richards.
“Ai, boss. I caught them at it. When I see them, I bring out my shotgun and fire it in the air. That got their attention.”
“Did he say shotgun?” Susan said in English.
“Yeah. He’s got a sawed-off shotgun. Comes in handy.”
Rico continued his story. “Yes, Senhora, I took out my little shotgun and fired both barrels in the air. Then I reload. The thieves come running out of the house of Senhor Santiago when they hear the gunshot. And I chase them.”
“Did you catch them?” Susan asked.
Rico turned his head and spat on the ground in disgust. “No, Senhora. Only one of them did Rico catch. Only one. The others got away.”
Susan asked despite her fears, “What did you do with him?”
“Ai, Senhora. I beat the little bastard. I beat him. I beat him good.”
“You hit him?”
“I tanned his hide, Senhora. I beat his bum black and blue. He will not sit down for a week. He will not steal again from my street, and neither will his friends. Unless they come back with guns.”
“Did you call the police?” Susan asked hesitantly.
At this, Rico grinned broadly. His brown teeth were grotesque. Then he burst into hilarious laughter. “Call the police, Senhora? No, no.”
Richards couldn’t help laughing a little himself. “Come off it, Sue,” he said in English. “Of course he didn’t call the police. He didn’t want the kid to end up in some jail. Rico just made sure he wouldn’t steal again.”
“Oh God,” said Susan. “You don’t mean he ... killed him?”
Richards translated this into Portuguese. “Rico, she thinks you killed the boy. She wants to know if you killed him.”
At this, Rico laughed even louder, until he had to wipe tears from his eyes. Finally he said, “No, no, Senhora. God forbid, I would not kill these children, these children of the poor. I just scare them away. Not more.”
Susan relaxed and managed a little laugh herself. “Ha ha. Of course.”
Rico looked her in the eye. “No, Senhora, I would not kill the children. They are too young. They deserve to learn. Not like the others.”
Susan muttered under her breath in English. “Bob, what does he mean, not like the others?”
“Just what it sounds like,” said Richards. “Rico’s had to shoot a few armed bandits in his time. He’s had a few close calls.”
“He’s had to ... shoot people?”
Rico grew impatient with all the English being spoken. “So, Senhora, enough about these things. Are you having a good holiday here?”
Susan tried to put the matter out of her head. “Um ... yes. Thank you.”
“I am happy to hear this, Senhora, because Brazil is a beautiful country, a beautiful country. The best in the world.” Rico smiled mischievously at Richards, looking for support in his claim. “The best in the world, yes, boss?”
“The best in the world,” said Richards. “Well ... second best.”
Rico laughed again. “And you, Senhora, do you like Brazil?” He stared expectantly at Susan, leaning his huge bulk forward menacingly in his plastic chair, waiting for her reply.
“Uh, yes ... I do,” Susan muttered nervously.
Rico laughed in satisfaction. “Ai, boss, she likes it!”
Susan lay naked in Richards’ arms, her head resting on his chest. She breathed in the fresh ocean air that wafted through the open window. This time they slept in a double bed. Its old mattress was lumpy. There was nothing else in the room but a small chest of draws on the concrete floor. The builders had made a bad job of the plaster. There were cracks. Beach sand was sprinkled everywhere – no matter how carefully they washed their feet it followed them inside. Bob Richards’ beach house was not luxury, Susan thought, but it was paradise. It was definitely paradise.
She couldn’t help thinking about Rico, about what he had said, about his machete and his shotgun, about the stark brutality of it all, and about his twisted sense of humour. Rico had scared her. She knew it was silly to feel scared. He had been nice to her, but he still scared her. Susan hated guns, hated knives, hated having to hear about it all.
She remembered Rico’s question. Does the Senhora like Brazil? There had been a kind of crazy urgency about the question, as if she could answer nothing but yes if she wanted to escape with her life. Susan told herself she was being stupid, but it was how he made her feel.
She thought about Bob, too. He had laughed as well, laughed about the beating, laughed about her question when she asked if Rico had killed the boy. What was funny about that? It made her like Bob a little less. But a little less than completely loving him was still being deeply in love with him. She was glad to be here with Bob. It was paradise. And the love they made together was like nothing else she had ever experienced.
Whenever they made love, afterwards they would say nothing for a long time. They would just lie close to each other, as if it would be sacrilege to pollute the silence and contentment with mere words. They were happy together in silence, breathing in time with each other, their chests rising and falling gently, their hearts beating slowly. The calm after the storm.
The minutes would pass and eventually one of them would speak, would bring them back to the reality of speech. That night it was Bob.
“Are you glad you came up here for the weekend?”
Susan did not lift her head from his chest, did not change her gaze from the window. “Yes. Very glad, Bob. Very glad.”
“It’s a nice place.”
“This is the best place of all, right here,” Susan whispered. “I wish we never had to leave this room. I wish we could stay here, as happy as this.”
“I doubt that would work, somehow.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know. Me too.”
“You didn’t answer me, Bob, at the beach. Why was that?”
“When?” said Richards, stalling for time.
“When I said I loved you,” Susan said simply.
“The kid came with the beer, remember?”
“It was time to go. We had to cook lunch.”
“I know. But you still didn’t answer me.”
“I know,” Richards said cryptically.
“Well? Is it just going to hang out there forever, now that I’ve said it?” Susan’s voice was soft. She was not angry. “You never said a word about it.”
“I didn’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything, except what you feel.”
“Maybe I’m afraid to say that out loud.”
“What do you mean, Bob?”
“Maybe I don’t want to say what I feel out loud.”
“You don’t have to, but it would be nice to have an answer.”
Richards sighed. Susan’s head rose and fell with his breath. “After Emily, I promised myself I wasn’t going to tell anyone ... you know ... ‘I love you.’ What does it mean to say that, anyway?”
“It means what it says, Bob. If it’s what you feel. And when you say it without feeling, it doesn’t mean a thing.” Susan thought of how many times she had said it to Adrian, long after the marriage had turned empty.
“That’s what I mean. Emily ... I don’t know ... kind of spoiled it for me. Call me a cynic. I’m just not an ‘I love you’ kind of guy. Not any more.”
“Then what are you?” said Susan softly.
“Mixed up, I guess.”
“You’re an honest man, Bob. That’s what I like about you.”
“Me? An honest man? I’ve had to do more bent deals than you could count. I’ve been just as two-faced as the next guy, down here.”
“Yes, but behind all that, you’re an honest man, a decent man.”
“Maybe. Does it matter?”
Susan lifted her head for a moment, looked at him and kissed him, then rested again on his chest. Eventually she whispered. “You don’t fool me, Bob. You don’t fool me at all. You know it matters. That’s why you’re a decent man. That’s why I love you. You really do know it matters.”
“Yeah, maybe I do.”
“You do,” Susan agreed. “So what about your answer?”
“You don’t give up, do you?” Richards was only slightly annoyed.
“I’ll give up if you want me to. Do you want me to?”
“No,” Richards whispered. “Don’t give up.”
“Then, how do you feel about us, Bob?”
“When I was a kid, my father used to take me to the state fair. We had a wheat farm in Minnesota. You know, I couldn’t get away from that damn place fast enough. I hated it, hated being a country boy. My brother loved it. But I wanted to make something of my life ... I don’t know ... make it in the big city. I got a job in an insurance office in town, selling policies. That’s how I got into stockbroking.”
“I didn’t know you had a brother.”
“Oh yeah. He’s the successful one. Runs the farm now that Mom and Dad are gone. He’s got three kids. He was the smart one.”
“Don’t say that, Bob. You’re smart too.”
“How smart? I ended up in Manhattan, making a lot of money. Maybe that’s smart. Married Emily. Dumb. Everything kind of went downhill from there. And here I am in Brazil,” Richards said sarcastically, “a big success.”
“Couldn’t you ask your brother for some help?”
“I promised myself I never would. I wasn’t going to be a burden on David. He’s got kids to put through college. No.”
“He probably wants to help you.”
“That’s his problem. David was always too kind for his own good. He’s squeaky clean. If I asked, if I let him help, he’d go broke trying. No, I’ll handle the IRS – and the others – myself. It’s just gonna take a few years.”
“Then you will go back to the States one day?”
“Yeah. I’ll get back home.”
“Hmmm.” Susan squeezed his arm.
“Anyway, Dad used to take me to the fair. We’d look at tractors, cats, harvesters, all the latest hardware. It’s funny. I hated being a farm boy, but I loved those machines. I loved the new ones. All that fresh paint, the smell of those big tyres, taller than I was. I was ashamed of the old tractors we had – covered in rust, paint all chipped off. But my dad used to show me a brand new harvester and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have one of those, Bobby? Man, what we could do with one of those.’ And then he’d lead me away from it after a while and say, ‘But that’s not for the likes of us. We’ll just have to make do with what we have.’ Dad never did buy anything new. We bought everything second-hand.”
“Money isn’t everything, Bob. What did it matter?”
“Yeah. You’re right. It didn’t really matter. That’s not what I mean. It was just like this dream, it was always out of reach. And I went chasing the dream. To Wall Street. And I made it. I really made it. For a while.”
“You’re still the same person. Probably a better person.”
“Maybe so. But you know what I’m saying? All my life I wanted something better, I reached out for it, but every time I grabbed onto it, it just slipped through my fingers. Rich and then poor again. Married and then divorced. I love my country and now I can’t even go back. You know what I’m saying, Sue?”
“I think I do,” Susan replied quietly.
“You know how I feel about you, Sue. I just don’t want to say it.”
“Because when you leave, I’ll have to remember I said it.”
Susan sat up and looked at him. “But I’m not going to leave.”
“Sure you are. You’re going to go back to Adrian when this is all over, back to London, back to your old life. You know that, Sue.”
“Perhaps I wouldn’t go if you gave me a reason to stay. I told you, I just want to be here with you. I just want to be with you.”
“Come on, Sue. You know I want you to stay. And you know I love you. There, okay ... I said it. I love you. And that’s the truth.”
Susan felt a strange thrill, fear and happiness at once. She lay down again and didn’t speak for a few moments. She knew it was true.
“I don’t want to lose you, Bob. I want us to be together.”
“I know,” Richards whispered.
Soon they were asleep.
Maria Anna del Campo sat on her luxurious bed, brushing her hair and waiting for her husband. For once he had made no excuse and was coming to bed early, although he still had not removed his uniform. Maria was annoyed when the bedside telephone rang.
“Leave it, Fernando. Come to bed.”
General del Campo stopped struggling with the knot in his tie. “You know I must always answer the telephone. It could be the barracks.”
“Then answer it, if you must. But do we have no privacy?”
The general picked up the phone. “Del Campo.”
Maria continued brushing her hair. “Who is it, Fernando?”
The general ignored her. Then he said into the telephone, “Very well. Immediately. I will be there.” He put the receiver down thoughtfully.
“Who was it?” Maria repeated.
“Who, my dear? It was the barracks. There is an emergency.”
Maria threw down her hairbrush. “Fernando, we were to spend tonight together. One night with my husband. Is that too much to ask?”
“I am sorry, Maria, but business is business. I must go.”
Maria stood up. “Are you sure it was the barracks, Fernando? So many nights now you are away. Are you sure it was not a woman?”
The general replied angrily. “A woman? A woman? No, Maria, for the last time, it was not a woman. There is no woman. It was the barracks. You know I have responsibilities. A man in my position is always on call.”
Maria slumped onto the bed. “Ah, I know, Fernando. It’s just that I wanted us to be together tonight, you know that.”
The general tried not to show his revulsion at her sickly, romantic smile. Her wrinkled face was smeared with make-up, as usual, and she still wore all the ridiculous gold chains and bangles he hated so much. Even worse, she had just had her grey hair dyed an appalling shade of burgundy. He found her repulsive. Nevertheless he forced himself to kiss her on the cheek. “I will miss you, my dear. But I must go.”
“Ah, very well Fernando.”
“Don’t wait up for me, my dear. I will be very late.”
“But you will return?”
“Yes, I will return. I promise.”
Maria said nothing more. She watched her husband grab his briefcase and walk quickly out of the bedroom.
General del Campo was a practised liar. He knew the rules of lying so well he could do it successfully even when distracted. His performance with Maria had been exemplary. He had not shown one hint of how angry he was, of the fire that raged inside him. He wanted to smash furniture, wanted to kill, but he had hidden it all. Maria would never know that he had just been given an ultimatum by a limp-dicked old judge.
He drove himself to the judge’s office. He did not want a chauffeur for this particular errand. And as he drove he let his anger come to the surface. The screaming note of the engine of his bulletproof limousine was testimony to the fact that someone, someone would pay for what had happened.
When he arrived in the dark courtyard and climbed the steps to Judge Marcus’s office, it was after eleven. The shops were all closed and deserted and even the beggars had gone to their hiding holes for the night. He was met by an impudent young legal clerk who insisted on frisking him rather more thoroughly than usual and removing his sidearm. The clerk ran some kind of portable antenna over him also, as if checking him for bugs.
At last the clerk led him to the judge’s private office. The general strode in angrily as the clerk closed the door, leaving his boss to do business in private with the infamous General Del Campo.
Judge Marcus was seated behind his large desk when the general entered. “Good evening, General. Please have a seat. My apologies for having my clerk search you. A necessary precaution, you understand. These days so many people carry electronic surveillance equipment.”
Del Campo sat down. “What do you want, Marcus? What’s the meaning of this outrage? Calling me here in the middle of the night ...”
“As I said on the telephone, General, an urgent matter has come to my attention. The bureaucrats in Brasilia want me to give it top priority. The public execution of a fifteen-year-old boy, without trial. A serious matter, no?”
“I don’t see what it has to do with me. And I don’t see why you couldn’t have met me at your home like a decent man, instead of treating me with such poor hospitality. This is not the way a decent man does business.”
“Really? Is that right? And what would you know about decent men, General? I may not be much of a man myself, as you are so fond of telling everyone, but decency is not your strength.”
“You brought me here to insult me, Marcus?”
“Merely to make a transaction, General. Strictly business, I assure you. First of all, while we are speaking of decency, there is the small matter of your affair with one Juliet Catherina Formosa. You keep her in a penthouse apartment on the beach at Boa Viagem. She is from a very well-connected São Paulo family, I am told. What she sees in you, I have no idea. Of course I have photographs. A wonderful thing, the telephoto lens. You should be more careful what you do out on the balcony, General.” Marcus threw a number of black-and-white prints across the desk. The photographs showed Juliet Formosa in her lingerie, embracing a half-naked, drunk del Campo.
The general looked briefly at the photographs. “Blackmail, Judge?”
“Yes, my general. Blackmail. But that is just for starters. At any rate, when we speak of decency I am sure your wife would be ... disappointed to hear you are running off to screw this pretty young thing every week.”
“Watch your mouth, Marcus,” the general spat. “I love Juliet. I will be leaving my wife soon enough. So if you have nothing more than this to say, may I suggest you make sure your last will and testament is in order.”
“May I remind you, General del Campo, that I have very powerful friends in Brasilia, and you know perfectly well that if anything happens to me, something equally fatal will happen to you. I am not one of the nobodies you can simply make disappear. So why not dispense with the threats?”
“Don’t interfere with Juliet. It’s not what you think. I love her. And a man in love will do stupid things, even to you.”
Marcus narrowed his eyes, calculating quickly as he spoke. “Love? Really? I didn’t realise. In that case, my apologies.”
“You didn’t bring me here to discuss Juliet.”
“No, I didn’t. But I thought it might be helpful to let you know that I knew about her. Now, down to business. The murder of the street kid. Unfortunately there is a video of the sad event. Now we have photographs in the newspapers. A captain of the Pernambuco Military Police putting a bullet in the skull of this poor, fifteen-year-old child.”
“You know as well as I do, these kids are killers.”
“Naturally. I’m with you, General. A job well done, if you ask me. But the press are not so sympathetic, especially the foreign press. And as you know, the IMF is reviewing its funding at the moment. Naturally, Brasilia is nervous about all these ... stories of children being executed. It’s hard to ask the international bankers for an extra hundred million or two while you have atrocities being committed in public. So Brasilia is looking for a scapegoat. As Chief of Military Police, you would make an excellent scapegoat. A nice, high-profile figure to please the reporters. We in the judiciary must be seen to seek justice. Of course you understand.”
The general leaned back in his chair, relaxing. “I can arrange a scapegoat for you, no problem. If that is all you want.”
“Ah, I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple. Let me play you a little tape. No need to listen to the whole thing, you’ll catch on pretty quick.”
Marcus put a pocket cassette player on the desk and switched it on. Del Campo heard his own voice. ‘When I tell you to have one of these little runts killed, I mean you to do it in private! You take him away, somewhere there are no cameras, and you dispose of him there. You do not pull out your pistol and shoot him in public. Are you a moron, Captain Sollo?’
Marcus stopped the tape. “I think that’s enough, don’t you, General?”
As good a liar as the general was, his poker-face still went a little pale. “You’re in collaboration with that idiot, Sollo? You’re in this together?”
“Let’s just say that Sollo came to me with a publicity problem and I helped him to solve it. You just heard the solution. Brasilia would be most interested in that tape, along with a testimony from Captain Sollo. At the very least, I’d say they’d start an intensive investigation, send in a few incorruptible federal police, start turning over rocks. All kinds of unpleasant things might come to light, don’t you think?”
The general leapt up from his chair and yelled out loud. He leaned over the judge’s desk and grabbed him by the collar. “I ought to kill you ...”
Marcus replied calmly. “Sit down, General, and let me go.”
For a long moment, del Campo considered breaking the despicable neck of the old judge, but he knew it would be unwise. He let go and sat down again, barely managing to contain his desire to kill.
Marcus remained completely serene. “That’s better. I’m glad you’ve decided to be civilised about this. Now, you have two choices. You can throw away your career, your fortune, and look forward to a nice long stay in one of our more dangerous jails, or you can do business with me. Which will it be?”
“What do you want, you impotent old bastard?”
“A trifle, really. Just two million American dollars. Call it my retirement fund. A couple of million isn’t that much to a man like you. It’s a small price to pay to make this whole nasty business go away forever. And it’s a fair bounty for a man’s life, don’t you agree?”
“What do you mean, a man’s life?”
Marcus smiled. “Ah, well, once Sollo has been sent to prison for the murder of the boy, we shall have to make sure he never talks again.”
The general started to calm down again. “Agreed.”
“You see how easy these things can be? Then we have a deal?”
“You’ll get your money.”
“Very well, General. Now that’s out of the way, might I suggest you find that stolen necklace as soon as possible. I assume it was for Senhorita Formosa. If it really does turn up in the hands of some child, it’s going to look rather incriminating for you. And the whole thing is making a laughing stock of our police. I’m a patriot, General. I don’t like to see my country made to look foolish. I’d like the case solved. But ... just make sure your soldiers don’t get caught on camera, hmmm?”
Del Campo stood up. “Believe me, Marcus, I will retrieve that necklace if I have to kill every last one of those little street bastards to find it. And yes, it was a gift for Juliet. A gift of love, something I’m sure an old spaghetti-dick like you would not remember. You can’t get the love of a woman by blackmail, Marcus. You have to be a man. A man.”
Marcus smiled wryly. “Thank you for reminding me.”
Del Campo leaned over the desk a second time. “Listen, you old bastard. You can have your two million dollars, but I warn you – this is the last time. If you cross me again, I will have you killed, no matter what the consequences of that may be. Do we understand each other?”
Marcus looked calmly at his angry face. “Perfectly.”
Judge Marcus smirked as he watched the general walk across the dark courtyard two storeys below. He had not predicted that the general actually loved the young woman, Juliet. It would make everything so much sweeter.
Fernando del Campo was not in a good mood. And when the general was not in a good mood, one thing was for certain – someone had to pay. It was bad enough that he was being blackmailed by a limp-dicked old judge. It was bad enough that his beautiful mistress was threatening to leave him. It was bad enough that he had just finished enduring another breakfast with his dragon of a wife, who mercifully had now gone shopping. All this, he could stomach. But being made a public fool by a bunch of illiterate street kids was the last straw. If the miserable little bastards had not stolen the diamond necklace, he would not be in this whole mess. And worst of all, even with the entire resources of the Pernambuco Military Police at his disposal, he could not recover the godforsaken thing. He wished he had never agreed to purchase it in the first place. But now, someone would have to pay.
Bob Richards knew he was in trouble. He didn’t like the way the general had turned his back on him, the way he was pacing back and forth without speaking, no doubt lost in murderous thought. But Richards sat in his cane armchair as calmly as he could and tried to distract himself by looking out over the now familiar sight of the general’s vast swimming pool. For some reason he imagined his own body floating face down with a bullet from the general’s pistol in his back. He shook the image out of his mind and tried not to assume the worst. So the general had summoned him once more to his mansion. It didn’t necessarily mean his number was up. Still, he wished the general was wearing civilian clothes. The uniform made it seem less like a business meeting and more like a military interrogation.
At last, del Campo stopped pacing. “Well, Mister Richards. What do you suggest we do about it, hmmm? I agreed to pay a quarter-million dollars for a diamond necklace, which you agreed to supply. And now, no necklace.”
The angry tone of the general’s voice worried Richards even more. “Come on, General, I did supply the necklace. Pierre Fontaine arrived on time, ready to make the transaction. How was I to know there was going to be a heist that night? I told you all this before.”
The general fingered the holster of his pistol. “Do you know what annoys me, Mister Richards? I am the commander of all military police. My officers know every mafia boss, every pimp, every fence, every money-cleaner, every ... shall we say, ‘private investor’ in Recife. And the word is out. Anyone who buys that necklace is a dead man. Anyone who touches it. Those little bastard street kids will not make one penny from their crime. But despite this, I cannot find it. Children steal from me and I cannot find what they have taken. If the mafia had the necklace, a little pressure on the right people and it would be returned to me. But these street bastards are like cockroaches. They are hidden in every sewer, every crack in the wall, and you cannot flush them all out. This annoys me very much.”
“You’ll find it, General,” Richards said lamely, trying to sound relaxed.
“Of course I will. Of course I will. But perhaps it will take more time than I want it to take. That is why I have summoned you.”
Richards couldn’t help putting a finger in his collar. “Oh?”
“You procured the original necklace for me. You can find me another.”
The general took a seat in one of the cane armchairs. “Another. You must understand, this whole business is a public embarrassment for me. The longer it takes to retrieve the necklace, the more ... impotent my police seem. And I take pride in my police, Mister Richards.”
“Naturally,” Richards replied, wondering where this was going.
“And there is my niece. You know how much this gift meant to her.”
“So you will procure a second necklace for me. One that is identical to the first. That should not be difficult for a man with your contacts.”
“Wait a minute, General. You don’t know what you’re asking. The necklace is an antique. They don’t make items like that any more.”
“Come now, Mister Richards, surely at the right price ...”
“Look, I wish I could help, but I don’t know anyone who could forge a necklace like that, not quickly. We’d have to go foreign. I could ask Pierre, but I know what he’d say. This is a famous necklace. There are records. You try to forge it and somebody’s going to notice. It wasn’t made yesterday. It’s aged forty years. That’s hard to simulate. And just getting replacement jewels would take time. Those rubies ...”
“My niece wants the necklace. I want to give it to her.”
“And what if you give it to her and she has it valued, or checked? Someone’s going to notice the glue’s hardly dry. Do you want that?”
Del Campo paused. “No. She must not know it is not genuine.”
“I’m sorry, General, but it can’t be done. At least, I can’t do it for you. I’m a broker, not a jeweller. Maybe there’s someone who can.”
“No. Perhaps you are right. It is an antique.”
“Couldn’t you get your niece something else?” As soon as he said it, Richards knew it was a mistake, so he added quickly, “Maybe?”
Del Campo looked at him blankly. “No. No, I could not.”
“Well, you’ll find it. It’s just a matter of time.”
The general did not reply. Instead, he stood up, slowly removed his pistol from his holster, and turned it over meditatively in his hands. It was a nine-millimetre automatic Beretta, the finest money could buy.
Richards considered getting up and running for the gate but it was nearly a hundred yards away, past the pool and down a long, exposed garden path. He’d never make it. He looked at the gun nervously.
The general held up his gun. “You see this gun? There was a time when this could solve all of my problems. Someone crosses me, he disappears. Someone steals from me ... you understand. This gun, and the guns of my soldiers. Solved it all.” He prepared the weapon, turned towards the swimming pool, and suddenly fired a single shot. The bullet made a sickening whizzing noise as it smashed into the distant water.
Richards nearly jumped out of his chair but he quickly made himself sit down again. His heart was pounding like a jackhammer. He wished he could be more like Humphrey Bogart and less like a terrified stockbroker. Somehow he managed to keep the fear out of his face. It was an effort.
Two soldiers came running into the garden from the rear guard tower but they turned and left, whispering into their radios that it was no alarm, when the general waved them away. Apparently they were used to him occasionally firing his unsilenced weapon just to blow off steam.
Richards wondered if the general knew he had the necklace. If the general knew, Richards was dead. But he was still alive. Maybe he didn’t know. But then again maybe he did.
Suddenly the general pointed the gun directly at him and grinned.
Richards’ life didn’t flash before his eyes. He wasn’t filled with sudden regrets about all the quality time he had missed. The only thing he saw was the short barrel of a very accurate Beretta pointed directly at his forehead, and the general’s sick smile behind it. Only two thoughts came to mind. The first was something about what a complete idiot he was. The second was just six words – Oh, shit. I’m gonna die here.
After a few seconds, the general spoke. He did not lower the gun. “Now, Mister Richards, I could pull this trigger. Easy as pie, I believe you Americans say. All I have to do is move my finger just a little. Huh?”
Richards managed to speak in a level voice. He held up the palms of his hands. “I’m just a broker. I’m just the little guy.”
The general nodded. “Yes, you are. And that is my problem. Pulling this trigger won’t solve my problems. For once. Ironic, isn’t it?”
“What?” said Richards, confused.
“I just lost two million dollars. But that is nothing. Nothing at all.”
Richards’ heart sank. The general was crazy, waving the gun around like a lunatic. Richards realised he was going to die here, after all. Beads of sweat appeared on his face.
“I might lose the woman I love over this,” the general hissed. “Do you know what that feels like? And pulling this trigger won’t help. Not even a little.”
To Richards’ great surprise the general then put the gun away.
“That is what love does, Mister Richards. It leaves us powerless. Do you really mean it when you say you cannot obtain a good forgery for me?”
Richards was still too shocked that he was not dead to form a coherent reply. Eventually he said, “Uh ... yeah. I mean, no. I can’t. Not quickly.”
The general sat down again. “That is what I thought. Do you love a woman, Mister Richards? Do you have a wife, children?”
“No. I had a wife. A long time ago.”
Del Campo looked at him. “She betrayed you?”
“You might say that.”
“Hmmm. I thought I could see it in your face. And now you prefer to stay away from women? Too much ... trouble?”
“I’ve got my share of women,” Richards said flatly.
“But none that you love?”
“No.” Richards hoped the general did not know about Susan.
“Then you are a wise man.”
“Maybe,” Richards said absent-mindedly. He was busy hoping the general wasn’t going to take out the gun again. Richards wasn’t too interested in discussing the general’s wacky philosophy of love.
“Hmmm. Well, my friend, I am not so wise. I am in love. And I will kill to protect that love, you understand, when anything interferes with it. But do not worry, it is not your head I want. Not yours. It is the head of every one of those filthy street kid bastards. I will exterminate every one of those little cockroaches, one by one by one. That is love, Mister Richards.”
Richards tried to sound like he didn’t care. He had no idea – until now – of just what a lunatic del Campo truly was. “Right.”
The general grunted and stood up. “Hmmm. Well, Richards, I think I have wasted enough time for one morning. It is a pity you cannot make a forgery for me. I shall have to resume my search for the real thing.”
Richards stood up. “Good luck.”
Del Campo stared at him oddly before replying. “Luck, Mister Richards? Luck has nothing to do with it.” He patted the holster of his pistol. “Here in Recife, I am God. This gun says I am. You understand?”
Even Bob Richards was disgusted by this final comment. Staring down that gun barrel must have done something to him. He stood there, looking at the general, and felt pure, cold hatred. You’re not God, Richards thought. And you’re the cockroach, not those children, you murdering bastard. But out loud all he said was, “Whatever you say.”
The general laughed loudly. “That’s right. Whatever I say.”
Richards walked away.
Susan looked at the Stars and Stripes. She wondered how much Bob must miss his country to hang its flag on the wall of his living room, how much a patriot or how much a dreamer he must be to think he would return there one day, hounded by the IRS or not. She had never really been able to relate to the outspoken patriotism of her American friends, although she liked and admired the United States very much. It was just that as an Englishwoman her pride in her country was something she kept quietly, not something she declared loudly at parties. She wondered what Bob’s Brazilian friends must think of the display. Brazilians, from what she could tell, were on the whole just as ardent patriots as the Americans, if not more so. And in the long history of the region there had developed some minor animosity towards America, which the locals often spoke of as an interfering power which should keep its nose in its own business. But nobody seemed to take all this too seriously. American or not, the locals would still invite you for a beer and a game of beach volleyball. Susan liked that about Brazil.
Susan thought some more about the flag. She was an idealist, she knew that much about herself, and as much as she got ridiculed for that fact at fashionable tea parties she still believed it was a better way to live, better than the cold indifference of someone like Adrian. Why had she married him? she wondered. She could almost hear the voices of all the society wives declaring, “Oh, darling, I just can’t understand why you bother with all that charity work, really I can’t.” There was no point trying to explain to them about loving thy neighbour as thyself. And certainly no point trying to explain that she believed it was something that God wanted us all to do. Their idea of church was somewhere to wear fashionable outfits, not somewhere for spiritual contemplation. And now here she was in Brazil, working in an orphanage, meeting an American man she had fallen hopelessly in love with, and looking at the flag upon his wall. She decided she liked the flag, and liked Bob more for having it there. Beneath his cynical exterior there must beat the heart of a believer, she supposed, to display a flag that stood for a two-century struggle for freedom and democracy. She supposed he must really love his country, and miss it.
“Why did you put that flag there?” she asked Richards, as he returned from the kitchen with a tray of coffee and toast.
Richards sat down next to her on his old sofa and took a sip of his coffee. He seemed to ignore her question. “Brazilian coffee. The best in the world. I love this stuff.”
“No, really. Is it because you’re homesick?”
“Homesick? Yeah, I guess.” Richards seemed unwilling to open up.
Susan prompted him. “And?”
“It’s home. You know. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I had all the dreams that got me into this mess in the first place.”
“Stop joking,” said Susan. “Come on, I mean it.”
“You want a serious answer? I miss my country. I miss it, Sue. I have to hold on to the idea that I’m going back there one day.”
Susan put a hand on his knee. “I thought so.”
“I love my country, you know. I love America. I even love the goddamned farmland I grew up on, the farm I couldn’t wait to leave.”
“What about your life? What about Wall Street?”
“Maybe that wasn’t right for me. I don’t know.”
Susan smiled at him. “I’m sure you’ll make it back.”
“Yeah,” Richards replied unconvincingly. “Bankrupt and washed up.”
“Is that really so bad, Bob?”
Richards looked at her with genuine affection. “I appreciate what you’re trying to say, but can we change the subject?”
Susan thought he seemed nervous. “If you like.”
Richards looked at the new day flooding in through the open windows of his living room. The pale sky was brightening. “You better get dressed, don’t you think? You’ve gotta be at the orphanage by eight.”
“Maybe I like sitting around in my pyjamas with a sexy man,” Susan replied. Richards was not wearing a shirt. She patted his chest.
“When did you become so uninhibited all of a sudden?” Richards replied with a grin. “I thought you weren’t supposed to enjoy sex.”
“Why on earth not?” Susan said, taken aback.
“You religious types. It’s all Catholic guilt and self-loathing.”
“I’m not a Catholic, Bob.”
“Ah,” said Richards, as he kissed her briefly. “That would explain it.”
“Do you want me to explain it some more?” Susan whispered.
Richards sat back from her. “Maybe later. Look, we’ve gotta talk.”
“About what?” Susan said, not sure what he could be getting at.
“I didn’t want to tell you last night.”
“About the general. I ... uh ... nearly got myself killed yesterday.”
Susan frowned. “Killed? What are you talking about?”
“Del Campo called me to his house. I’d been there about ten minutes when he pulled out his gun and pointed it at my head. Told me a whole lot of stuff about how upset he was about the necklace, how much he wanted somebody’s blood for the heist.”
“You should have told me...”
Richards held up his hand. “No, it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know we have it. I thought he did. I was sure he was going to pull the trigger, but he didn’t. He was just horsing around.”
“Horsing around? With a gun at your head?” Susan put her hands on his shoulders and squeezed. “Bob, if something happened to you, I’d ...”
“No, Sue, you’re not listening. He said he wants blood for what happened. He said he’s going to kill the street kids.”
Susan let him go. “Kill them? But I thought you said ...”
“He’s real pissed. He says he’s going to kill every last one of the children … ‘exterminate’ them. And I think the son of a bitch means it. I think he’ll go through with it.”
“But the reporter, the newspapers. You said he wouldn’t.”
“I thought he wouldn’t, but he’s a goddamned madman. He told me he was God, that whatever he said goes. He means it. I’m sorry.”
“And what about you, Bob? Are you safe?”
“Yeah. He doesn’t know we have the necklace. I’m sure of it.”
“Well then, we can’t give up. We have to think of something. We can’t let all those children die. I’ll set up cameras. We’ll watch them.”
Richards shook his head. “Listen to me. He’s not going to make the same mistake twice. He’ll have the kids taken off the streets quietly, and he’ll execute them where there are no cameras.”
Susan stood up. She raised her voice. “What are you saying? Are you saying we just give up?”
Richards let out a sigh. “No. I’m saying there’s nothing we can do. There is nothing. Unless you want to try and assassinate a general.”
Susan yelled. “Damn you, Bob, don’t make jokes! You’re talking about the lives of dozens of children. What if the police come to the orphanage?”
“They won’t. Just keep a low profile. They’re not after the orphanage children. It’s the ones on the streets they want.”
“And that makes it all right, I suppose? Does it?”
Richards stood up and yelled back. “Goddamn it, Sue! No, it doesn’t make it all right. You think I want to see those kids murdered? You think I don’t give a damn? You think I don’t hate del Campo, that I don’t hate that slimy, murdering son of a bitch? What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to care, Bob. I want you to care about those children.”
At this, Richards exploded. “You think you’re the only one who cares, Sue? That’s it, isn’t it? You think you’re not like the rest of us, that your holier-than-thou, goddamned naive attitude makes you special? You think none of us ordinary folk down here in the gutter give a damn? You think you’re the only person who ever broke down and cried at what goes on? Don’t you think I’ve cried? Don’t you think I’ve seen friends killed?”
Susan stood watching him, hardly able to comprehend his tantrum.
“Coz I have, Sue. I’ve seen friends killed by these bastards. I’ve known people, good people, who I never saw again. Have you ever seen that?” Richards was panting from the shouting. His face was brick red.
“No,” Susan said quietly. “No, I haven’t.”
Richards led her back to the sofa. “You don’t want me to tell you the stories, believe me. You don’t wanna know. But I’ll tell you what keeps people alive down here. Friendship. I’ve got friends I can rely on when everything’s gone to hell, people I can trust. Brazilians. These people know what a friend is. And I’ve lost friends.”
“I’m sorry,” Susan whispered.
“You’ve gotta believe me. I do care about those kids, but unlike del Campo, I don’t think I’m God. Sometimes there are things you just can’t change, not without getting yourself killed, and this is one of those times.”
Susan looked at him without speaking.
“We’ve tried, Sue. We tried everything. We’re lucky we haven’t already gotten ourselves killed. I’m telling you, when del Campo had that gun at my head, it was time. I knew if I took this thing any further, I’d be dead. We both would. You’ve gotta believe me. I care about those kids, but it’s game over. There’s nothing more we can do. Do you understand?”
Susan spoke very softly. “I think so.”
“We’re just two little people in the middle of all this crap. We can’t work miracles. But we can stay alive. We can stay alive.”
Susan hugged him. “Bob, I’m sorry. I should never have gotten you into this in the first place. You might have been killed. And it’s my fault.”
Richards looked at her gravely. “Tell me you understand what I’m saying. Tell me you know we can’t do any more. Do you understand? Because if you don’t, if you try to do anything stupid, you’ll get yourself killed. I’m not kidding. These guys play for keeps. Promise me you won’t do anything.”
Susan nodded. “I promise, Bob. I won’t do anything.”
“I don’t want to lose you. You know that?”
Susan hugged him again. She would not say a word to him, but she had made up her mind. Even if she had to risk her life, she would save those children. But she would not risk Bob’s life. All she whispered was, “I know.”
Richards looked at her and tried to see if she meant it.
He couldn’t tell.
It was not until after his shower, after he had dressed and driven Susan to the orphanage, after he had been to the bank and returned to his apartment to put some money in the wall-safe behind the Stars and Stripes, that he knew she was lying.
“Oh, shit,” he said out loud. He rushed to the phone, punched in the orphanage number and waited impatiently for them to pick up.
“Is Susan there?” he asked urgently in Portuguese, recognising Fabriola’s voice. “Is she there?”
“No, Senhor Hichards. She said she must go out for the rest of the day, that she had some business to attend to.”
“Business? What kind of business?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, God,” Richards said, forgetting himself. “Tell me this isn’t real.”
“Forget it. Thanks, Fabriola.”
“It’s nothing, Senhor Hichards. Until tomorrow.”
Richards put the phone down and walked back to the safe. He shook his head in anger and in sorrow. The necklace was gone.
“Goddamn it, Sue,” he muttered. “Why couldn’t you just ... listen?”
After a couple more frantic phone calls, he ran out of his apartment and charged down the stairs to the underground parking lot. He drove like a maniac across the hectic city, then parked a discreet distance from the front entrance of General del Campo’s mansion, hoping to stop Susan before she could get herself killed. He watched the street like a hawk. If he were a religious man, he would have prayed. As sunset came and went without any sign of Susan, he toyed with the idea of praying anyway. But by midnight Richards knew he was too late. He knew she hadn’t gone to the barracks, at least not since two o’clock. He had paid the private investigator a small fortune to watch the army base at zero notice. And now he couldn’t bring himself to start the car and drive home knowing that Susan was probably already in a cell somewhere, being interrogated.
His worst nightmare had come true. Maybe she was already dead. Richards hung his head and rested on the steering wheel, exhausted.
Susan felt bad about stealing the necklace from Bob’s wall-safe. She had watched him open it two weeks previously and memorised the combination. For his part, Richards had never thought to suspect that she would ever abuse the information. The night she had learned the combination they were just two lovers, happy together, following each other around the apartment, laughing with dizzy anticipation, preparing to make love.
“I’ll just get some money from the safe,” Richards had told her. “You’ll need some US dollars if you want to get the best price on those shoes.”
“What safe?” she had said, nibbling on his ear, hugging him from behind. “I didn’t know you had a safe.”
“There’s a lot about me you don’t know,” Richards had joked, leading her to the Stars and Stripes that hung on his living room wall and pushing it aside to reveal a small safe recessed into the wall.
She had continued nibbling at him while he opened the safe. “I hope you’re going to reveal ... everything to me.” She laughed.
Richards had turned the dial of the safe to the right, 64, the left 36, then right, 12. And it had popped open. Susan remembered it well. It wasn’t that she had been planning to steal the necklace. She was just naturally good with numbers. She could see them in her mind almost photographically. Telephone numbers. Automobile license plates. Numbers of bank accounts. A safe combination was just six digits. It was easy. At home in London, the church committee had even made her treasurer. Numbers were easy for her. She simply could not help but remember.
She remembered the love they had made that night, too. She remembered the way he had held her afterwards, she remembered his smell, she remembered listening to his heartbeat. She remembered how much she loved him, how much he meant to her. But she remembered the numbers.
And when Bob had told her, just a few hours ago, that she had to give up, that there was nothing more they could do to save the children, she had felt guilty about lying, about promising him she would not do anything stupid. Even as she had made the promise she was already remembering the safe combination, already deciding what she must do.
She knew the numbers, she knew the children needed her help, and she knew that every human being would be held accountable before God for what they did in defining moments, in moments that made the difference between actually caring and just saying one cares. Susan couldn’t just walk away, not knowing what she did. She had to try. She had to lie to Bob, take the necklace, and put her life on the line.
And that was how she came to find herself standing here, waiting for a reply from a murderer. Bob had told her the man was evil, that he was a son of a bitch who would not hesitate to have her killed just for the hell of it, and that she must never contact him. But Susan was willing to bet her life that Bob was wrong. A judge must have a shred of decency. And so she had come.
For his part, Judge Marcus was simply perplexed to see the nervous Englishwoman trembling before him. He could not imagine what on earth she wanted, barging into his office without an appointment and demanding to see him, saying it was a matter of life and death. Marcus had been annoyed with his clerk for letting the woman in, but the clerk had countered that the woman was English and that she would not take no for an answer. Marcus thought she spoke appalling Portuguese. He wished she would go away so he could get some work done. The woman was babbling.
“What did you say, Senhora? I didn’t understand.”
“Judge, you must for to ask your clerk to leave alone us.” Susan’s Portuguese was getting progressively worse. She was sick with fear.
Marcus got up from his desk chair and scratched his forehead impatiently. He decided to speak English. It might be easier. “Madam, if you will kindly calm down then perhaps I can help you.”
“Oh, you speak English, Judge. Thank God. Look, could you ask your clerk to leave us? What I have to say is private.”
The Judge rolled his eyes in consternation. “Leave us,” he barked at the clerk. “Now Madam I must be frank and tell you I don’t see clients without appointments. If you require the services of a lawyer ...”
Susan ignored him and went to the door of his huge office. She closed it, leaving the two of them alone and unobserved. Marcus looked on incredulously as she did this, his words trailing off into silence.
“I don’t need a lawyer. I’m not a client. I have to speak to you alone, Judge. You’ll understand why. This is a matter of life and death.”
“So you keep saying, Senhora ...?”
“My name’s not important. I’m ... I’m the Street Angel.”
“I don’t understand, Senhora. What are you talking about?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know me, Judge. I know you got my note, and I know you got the videotape. I’m the Street Angel.”
Marcus thought carefully. He had shown the note to no one. It was impossible that anyone should know that the writer had used the codename, Street Angel. Anyone, that is, other than the author. “You? You filmed the videotape? You wrote the note?”
“Yes. What’s wrong, Judge? Didn’t you think it could be a woman?”
“I admit that I did not. Forgive me. Perhaps you should sit down, my dear. Then we can talk.” Marcus indicated an armchair.
Susan sat down. She crossed her legs nervously.
Marcus took a good look at her, at her long legs clad in tan slacks and at her elegant white blouse falling over her small breasts. He decided she was attractive, that she knew it, and that she had dressed to impress him. Silently he lamented the fact that he was such an old and useless man, at least when it came to women. “Can I get you something to drink? Perhaps it would help you to relax. And in any case it is not often that such an attractive foreign woman comes to my office.”
“I’m not here to socialise, Judge. But thank you.”
“Then I hope you will not mind if I have one. American whiskey is one of my weaknesses. I would like to say that another of my weaknesses is pretty women, but alas at my age I am beyond such things.” Marcus sat down and took a shot of his bourbon. “Now, what can I do for you?”
“I want you to help the children.”
“I don’t think I understand. I thought your interest was in seeing General del Campo humiliated. At least, I took that from your note.”
Susan thought quickly. “Yes, yes. That’s right. I’m an aid worker. I’m from one of the orphanages. And we’re so frustrated with what the military police have been doing, harassing the street kids, I thought if they were publicly embarrassed they might decide to leave us alone. We all hate del Campo, Judge. I thought you did, too. That’s why I sent you the package. I thought you’d use it to have the general deposed.”
Marcus narrowed his eyes. It seemed an unlikely story. “I must admit I was intrigued by you not demanding money for the videotape. After all, it has been most profitable to me.”
“Judge, this isn’t about money. I didn’t want any money.”
“Then it is about the children?”
Susan nodded in relief. She thought he must be a decent man after all. “Yes, that’s right. It’s all about the children. We want to save them.”
“We? Who is we?”
“The orphanage. I mean, they don’t know I’ve done this. I dared not show the tape to anyone, not anyone, because if anyone knew about the tape their life would be in danger, but ... we at the orphanage care about the children. I saw ... a chance to help them. So I took it. On my own.”
Marcus took another gulp of his whiskey. “Senhora, do you have any idea of the kind of business you are involved in, here? Do you have any idea of the kind of money the general has paid me to solve the problem of this videotape and make it go away?”
Susan tried to sound convincing. “Of course. I’m glad you were able to make a ... a handsome profit from the tape. That was the idea.”
“I see. Well, Senhora, excuse me but the deal is already made. Two million dollars, as a matter of fact. I will retire a wealthy man.”
“Yes. But I want to help the children, as well.”
“You want to help the children?” Marcus said sarcastically.
“Senhora, it would have been much better if you had just sent the note and not contacted me again. Now you are beginning to annoy me.”
“He’s going to kill them, Judge. I’ve made a lot of money for you, now I’m asking you to help the children. Please.” Susan hoped she didn’t sound as pathetic as she felt. She knew she was in over her head.
“The Street Angel. I thought this was an unusual name. I thought it must have come from an unusual person. But not a stupid one.”
“I’m sorry? What?”
“Senhora, you must realise the most convenient thing to do with a fool like you is to have you killed. You are a very brave woman to have made that videotape, and to come to me now. But there is a point at which courage ceases to be courage and becomes ... stupidity. Fatal stupidity.”
“I know,” Susan said simply. “But I’m here for the children.”
“You see, Senhora, in order to collect my two million dollars, it was necessary to play one man against the general. The man in the video, if you must know. The man who killed the boy. He is quite an idiot, I don’t mind telling you, and it was a simple task to convince him that the video was taken by the general’s own men, and from there, to have him do my bidding. This matter is at quite a delicate stage as we speak. Namely, I have not yet collected my money. People are going to die over this little transaction, including this stupid man. And, quite possibly, you.”
“I didn’t come here to commit suicide, Judge. I’m not that stupid.”
“I’m glad to hear it. It would be such a pity.”
“I came here to ask you for mercy. Not for me. For the children.”
“My dear, I think there is something you do not understand. Let me explain it more clearly. I could not care less that Captain Sollo, the man you filmed, kills these little bastards with clockwork regularity. Normally he shows more restraint and does it in private, but apparently this one time he got lazy and killed in the open. Of that I am very glad. Very glad indeed. Soon I will be two million dollars richer for it. But I could not care less that these little – How do you say it? – street kids, are dying. Let them die.”
“Why, Judge? Why should they die?”
“Should? Why? Why not? These children are killers, thieves, vandals. Sometimes they slash people, even babies, with their palm-knives, just for the hell of it. Not even for money. Just for the blood.”
“Not all of them, Judge. You’re talking about a few killers. Most of them are just innocent children trying to survive. They’re not like that.”
Marcus shook his head. “Ah, Senhora. The bliss of the ignorant. You have no idea what these little bastards are like. Be grateful that you do not meet them in a dark street one night. Then you will know.”
“Please, Judge, think about it.” Susan urged as forcefully as she could. “Would I be here risking my life for a bunch of killers? I’m here for the good kids, the ones that don’t deserve to die. No child deserves to die.”
“I’m touched by the sentiment, but I prefer to live in the real world. What an old judge like me deserves is to retire with some dignity and with a few million dollars under his pillow. And what someone as foolish as you deserves is to disappear and not cause me any more trouble, one way or the other. And as for these grotty little thieves, I consider them vermin. Forgive me for being blunt but you are beginning to try my patience.”
“I can’t just walk away. I can’t let the children die.”
“In that case, Senhora, this is when it is time for me to see you out. Then I will speak to my clerk and he will speak to a mafioso who owes me a favour and he will speak to a faceless man you will never even see coming. And then you will no longer be concerned about the children.”
Susan stood up defiantly. “Damn you, you old bastard! Don’t you realise I am willing to die for this? I can’t let him kill all those children.”
Marcus looked up at her distastefully. “Madam, no one speaks to me that way. I suggest you leave now. I would be delighted to have you killed here, but it could be messy. However I will be glad to oblige elsewhere.” He raised his whiskey glass to his lips.
Susan walked over to him and put a hand on the glass, stopping him from drinking it. She did this with surprising gentleness.
Marcus looked at her pale hand. Her fingers rested on his own.
“I’m willing to do anything to save them,” Susan muttered. “Anything.”
Marcus smiled. He never expected her to show such spunk. “I told you before, Senhora, I’m an old man. I would be delighted to take you up on your offer, if I could, but I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
Susan could barely believe she had just tried to sell sex for a favour. She was relieved the Judge had turned her down, since she had no intention of going through with it anyway. But it was one of those moments.
“Then you’ll have to kill me here,” she said softly. “Because I’m not leaving. Not without you agreeing to help the children.”
“Help them? And why should I?”
Susan sat down again. “Do you have any children, Judge Antonio?”
“I have a daughter. She is twenty-nine. But if we are going to use first names, I am at a disadvantage.”
“A pretty name. Yes. So, I have a daughter. What of it?”
“I can’t offer you anything in return, but I want a favour of you. Something I want you to do for your daughter. Stop the killing. Don’t you see if one child can disappear, so can two, ten ... a hundred? I’m asking you for your daughter and for your daughter’s daughters. It needn’t make any difference to the money, to the two million dollars. But don’t you see if a general can kill one child and get away with it, he can kill another and another? You’re a parent, Judge. I’m asking you to see that.”
“My daughter is in no danger. The general knows if he touches her he will find himself hunted down and killed like a dog. I have friends. In fact, my dear Susan, that is the single worst business proposition I have ever heard. You offer me nothing, yet you ask me to do much for you.”
“Then do it for this,” Susan said. She pulled an exquisite diamond and ruby necklace out of her handbag and put it on the coffee table. “The Tears of the Angels. It’s yours, in return for the lives of the children.”
Marcus was completely surprised by this. He picked up the necklace and examined it closely. It was clearly the genuine item. “You have the necklace? But how could you? Ah, it must be true that the children had taken it. I thought my contacts had the story wrong. But it is true.”
“Yes, it’s true. The children had the necklace. One of them gave it to me. It’s worth a quarter of a million dollars. It’s yours, if you’ll just agree to have the general stop the killings. Do we have deal, Antonio?”
Marcus looked bemused. “Susan, you surprise me. I should hope that you are already an angel, to do something as stupid as this. Then death should not concern you. Do you not realise I could have you sent to prison for possession of this necklace? But I would not need to bother. The general will surely kill anyone who has it. And as for its worth, it’s valued at a little over two hundred thousand. The general was a romantic fool to think of paying a quarter-million. And I’m not interested in such small change.”
“It’s still a lot of money, Judge. Think about it.”
“How could I sell it? It would certainly be traced back to me.”
Susan was beginning to despair. “Don’t tell me I’ve risked my life for nothing. All I want is to stop the killings. Please ... help me.”
Suddenly Marcus laughed out loud.
Susan looked at him laughing, not knowing what to think.
Eventually he stopped. “Susan. What is your last name?”
“This is your real name? No lies?”
“Would you have slept with me, Susan, if I had taken you up on your little offer just now? Would you have gone through with it?”
“Probably not. I ... I’m not sure.”
“Are you married, Susan?”
“Yes. He’s in London.”
“I see. And do you suppose he wants you dead?”
Susan spoke defiantly. “I don’t care what my husband wants. I’m sure he’d think I was crazy to be begging for the lives of a few street kids.”
“Even if it kills you?”
“Even if it kills me. They’re just children, Judge. Children.”
“What do you do, Susan? What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a schoolteacher. Um ... I’m retired. I do charity work for the church. The Church of England. That’s what brought me to Brazil.”
“My dear Susan, a woman like you has no place putting her nose in my business. People die because of me. Money changes hands. People find themselves acquitted of ... inconvenient charges. Other people disappear in prison. You probably think I would not really have you killed. After all, you have done nothing to me. But I would.”
“I don’t care.”
“But I’m not going to do that. And do you know why?”
“Because I’m an old man, only half a man as my wife used to say, and I will never have a woman again. But the necklace you have brought to me can give me, shall we say, my final satisfaction. Frankly, Susan, I care little what happens to the little street bastards, but I care a great deal for revenge. A great deal. And you have given me that.”
Susan’s heart quickened. “And the children?”
Marcus ignored the question. “You came here to work for the church?”
“I’m working at the Mercy of God Orphanage. I came to help, yes.”
“Do you believe in God, Susan? And how he must judge us?”
“Yes. I do.”
Marcus took another swig of his whiskey, draining the glass. “Well, Susan, the Lord knows my life has been less than saintly. I’m an old man. There is blood on my hands and more blood to come. But I too am a believer. Perhaps doing this one little thing might redeem me in the eyes of God.”
“I’m sure it would,” said Susan eagerly.
At this, Marcus burst into hilarious laughter. He almost cried. “In the eyes of God? Redeem myself? You people believe ... anything. Adolf Hitler said that, you know, Susan. The bigger the lie, the easier you believe.”
“I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
“You are a stupid woman, Susan Harris-Smythe. Go back to your husband in London and keep your nose out of my business. I guarantee you the general will have you killed if he learns of your involvement in all this. And I will do nothing to stop him.”
“But you said ...”
“I have no interest in killing the likes of you. It would be a waste. Such a pretty woman, and so high-principled. We need more of your type in society. Keep us all honest.” Marcus laughed again.
Susan felt a wave of hatred for him. She began to walk out.
“Susan, one more thing,” the judge called after her. “I will grant your request. You have no idea how it will warm my heart, the revenge I can do with this. It will be almost better than sex. A rare enjoyment indeed.”
Susan stopped at the door before opening it. “Is that all that matters to you? Only revenge? Nothing else I said made any difference?”
“You are a good woman, my dear. I can see that. Once I was married to a good woman. You remind me of her, if you must know why.”
Susan looked at him in silent disgust.
Then she walked out.
When night fell she drove to the beach at Boa Viagem, ignored the danger of walking alone, and went down to the water. She walked along the dark sand for hours, trying to understand. She had saved the children, but she felt sick to her stomach. She thought she would find something decent in the man, something to appeal to. Instead she had prostituted herself, or at least offered to. She had begged him for mercy for the children and he had laughed at her. And in the end the only thing which had made any difference was his gratitude for some kind of revenge he wanted to extract with the necklace, which she could not even understand. She wondered who else might suffer now that the children had been saved, what other lives would be lost, what she had become a party to. But most of all she felt sick to find a man so devoid of any compassion or decency, a man who only let her live because she reminded him of his wife. It was all so absurd, so insane, and she could understand none of it.
Somehow she felt she had lost her innocence, that she had gone into something she should never have walked into, that she had been irrevocably tainted by what had happened. She almost felt she had blood on her hands, that doing a deal with a vile man like that made her just as bad. But what she had done had saved lives.
Susan had never met a man she thought so utterly evil.
And what was she doing in Brazil? Having an affair. Cheating on Adrian. How she hated Adrian. He was such a bore, such an inconsiderate ass, but he was still her husband. She had taken an oath to love him, to be faithful to him, an oath in the sight of God. Instead she was sleeping with another man – she was deeply, deeply in love with another man. Was it wrong? She didn’t know any more. She simply didn’t know.
Susan decided she would go and see Bob, right at that moment. She had to see him, had to convince herself that her love for him was still real, had to try and understand it, and had to tell him the news.
It was one in the morning when she asked the old caretaker at his apartment building to let her into the lobby. She took the elevator to Bob’s floor and knocked on his door. It opened surprisingly fast.
When Richards saw her, he nearly collapsed. “Oh, Jesus Christ, Susan. You’re alive. Oh, thank God.” He hugged her, then led her inside.
Susan found herself overcome with emotion, all at once. She cried. She just stood there, holding him, and cried.
Richards kept talking. “I thought you’d gone to the general. Oh God, Susan, he would have had you interrogated. I thought the worst. I just can’t believe you’re still here. Thank God.”
“I’m sorry, Bob,” Susan whispered. “I had to try.”
“You went to Marcus, didn’t you? I thought of that too late. I should have known that’s where you’d be going. I should have known. I was stupid. Damn it, I should have known.” He squeezed her tight.
“I saved them, Bob. I saved them. Marcus agreed to stop the killings.”
“He what? How? Why would he agree to that?”
“I don’t know. He said something about using the necklace for revenge.” Susan looked at the floor. “And ... I offered to sleep with him. I don’t know what came over me. I was desperate to save the children. I don’t know what came over me ...”
“Jesus, Sue. I don’t care about that. I’m just glad you’re alive.”
Susan leaned against him. “I’m so tired. Can we sleep now?”
“No. No, no. We’ve gotta get you outta here. I’ve got a friend. Ricardo. He’s got a sugar plantation outside of town, and plenty of connections. I’m getting you out there tonight. You’ll be safe there. You can’t go back to the orphanage, do you understand?”
“What? I suppose so. If you think I have to.”
“And you’ve got to stay out of town, lie low till we can get you out of the country. Judge Marcus is a mean bastard, you never know when he might mention you to the general. If he does that, they’ll kill you. You have to get out of the country.”
“Tonight? Do I have to go to the farm tonight? Can’t we be together?” Susan leaned against him again. “I don’t want to be alone.”
“There’s no time. We’ve gotta move right now. Marcus might have already made a call. There could be people waiting for you at the orphanage. Come on, I’ve got a driver downstairs. He’ll take you to Ricardo. Remember what I said about my Brazilian friends? Well ... I’d trust Ricardo with my life. He’ll take care of you. Don’t worry.”
Susan looked at him. “What have I done, Bob? Will they come for you too? Have I killed us?”
“Not if I can help it. If you didn’t mention me, there’s probably no connection. I can talk my way out of it. But we’ve got to get you out of here.”
“Bob, I’m sorry. I only did what I thought was right.”
When Richards bundled Susan into the little car that the farmhand had waiting below in the underground lot, he put a hand on her shoulder before closing the car door. “You’ll be safe on the farm. Ricardo’s men are well armed. We’ll get you out of Brazil in a few days.”
“I’m sorry, Bob. I’m sorry.”
Richards nodded. “I should have known you’d try it. Who knows? Maybe you really have saved them. It’s hard to say what Marcus will do. There’s a chance he meant it. The killings might stop.”
Susan felt too guilty at putting Bob’s life at risk to say anything.
“I admire what you did, Sue. I never would have done it.”
“Really? Do you mean that?”
“Yeah. But this time you have stay out of sight, we have to get you out of the country. I’m not kidding. You’d never be lucky a second time.”
“All right. You’d better get going.” Richards closed the door and tapped on the top of the car. The driver started the engine.
Susan spoke out of the window. “Bob, in case anything happens ...”
“I love you,” Susan said softly.
“I love you, too,” Richards replied matter-of-factly. “So stay safe.”
“I will,” said Susan, as the car began to roll away.
“Make sure you do,” Richards said to himself, as he watched the car turn into the street. “Because I don’t want to lose you. You know that?”
In life, Judge Marcus knew, there were a few things which were sweet beyond words. One was the love of a good woman, a pleasure he would never know again. Another was the privilege and comfort that money brought, which he was soon to know in great abundance. But sweetest of all was to take revenge on someone he had despised for two decades, someone who had dragged his name through the mud, someone who took delight at humiliating him openly at the poker table and secretly behind his back. Marcus had seen the smiles, heard the muffled laughter. To make fun of the loss of another man’s manhood was the worst insult of all. And until now Marcus had never had the means for true revenge. Yes, he had arranged to extract two million dollars from the unfortunate general, and that pleased him greatly, but Marcus knew full well that such a sum was just small change to the likes of del Campo. It would not really hurt him. What would hurt a man most would be to lose that which he loved more than anything.
Marcus had found the pathetic pleading of the Englishwoman for the lives of a few grubby little thieves utterly contemptible, but he had still admired her courage, even as stupid as she was. He would not kill her. Marcus was not averse to having people killed, if need be, but he preferred not to get his hands dirty unless absolutely necessary. There were safer ways for a man in the legal profession to generate income than to get directly involved in homicide. Nevertheless, he had enjoyed tormenting the woman. It made him feel almost virile again. And she was such a pretty woman. It was almost a pity to think that if del Campo ever found out about her he would certainly kill her. Perhaps she would be smart enough to keep out of the way and not interfere again. Then the general might never hear of her.
But what she had asked for, that the children be spared, was something Marcus had found a greater meaning in. It was a pointless exercise to spare the lives of a few irrelevant little thugs, but Marcus was a superstitious man. He had been handed on a platter the greatest opportunity for revenge he had ever known. It seemed appropriate to thank the messenger. And denying the general an outlet for his anger would make revenge even sweeter, it would make del Campo just as impotent as Marcus himself. This was the reason Marcus had summoned the general one last time to his judicial rooms, that he had his clerk search him for wires and then leave them alone for a final private conference. With it he would work his master stroke. It was an effort not to smile gleefully as he spoke.
“Sit down please, General. I apologise for calling you here again.”
Del Campo took a seat in front of the judge’s huge desk. “I’m a busy man, Marcus. I hope you’ve not brought me here to gloat. You’ll get your money. I stick to my deals. But I will not tolerate further insults.”
“Gloat, General? Me, such a quiet and ... pliable man? Of course not.”
“Well, what do you want? I’m due back at the barracks.”
“About the little matter of the two million dollars.”
“That is my final price, Judge. Do not ask me for more. And a poor man like you should be happy with such a sum.” Del Campo smirked.
“Indeed. It is rather a lot of money to me. For that I thank you.”
“What then?” said the general impatiently.
“Nothing, really. I simply require one more condition, and you have my word this is the final item. Call me a sentimental fool, but this kind of publicity we have in the newspapers – ‘Street Kids Murdered’ headlines – it’s not good for Brazil. And I love my country. Therefore, General, you are not to touch one hair on the head of one more street kid, or you will find yourself in the next cell to Captain Sollo.”
Del Campo snorted. “You can’t be serious, Marcus. This is nonsense. These thieves I can dispose of quietly. No reporter need ever know.”
“I’m afraid I am serious, General. Quietly or not, you will not touch the children. Do we understand each other?”
The general was so incredulous he could not at first answer. He just laughed. “I think you are senile in your old age, Marcus. But if it is that important to you, I agree. I care nothing for the little bastards either way.”
“Good. Other than that, we shall call it quits. After all, this is such an insignificant thing I ask of you. You only wish to vent your spleen by killing them, so why not just forget about them altogether?”
“All right, Marcus,” said del Campo, annoyed. He knew Marcus wished to deny him the pleasure of revenge. “You’ve made your point.”
“After all,” Marcus continued, “Nothing will change. You will still be a free man, still a very wealthy man, enjoying life just as much as before this whole debacle. I will retire in comfort. A most agreeable outcome.”
“If you’ve quite finished, Judge, I have work to do.” The general went to get up from his chair, but Marcus waved him back into it.
“Not quite. You might want to have your office call that American reporter, the one who printed the execution story with the picture that was so embarrassing for Captain Sollo, and confirm to him that you are going to host a charity dance at the ... Mercy of God Orphanage.”
“What are you up to, Marcus?” the general growled.
“Nothing at all. As I said, all this bad publicity has been unfortunate. So I thought a little public relations exercise would be advisable. I have already taken the liberty of having the event organised for the twenty-eighth of next month. You and your wife will officially open the event, pose for the cameras with the children, kiss a few babies. You know the sort of thing.”
“Must you stick your nose into everything, Marcus?”
“Think of it, General. Your image has been tarnished. Front-page photographs of the execution of a young boy by one of your men. Speculation in the American newspapers about how long this has been going on. Bureaucrats in Brasilia asking awkward questions. We can’t have the Chief of Military Police looking so bad. This should put that to rights.”
Del Campo sighed. “I suppose it is a reasonable idea.”
“That’s the spirit, General. You get to come out of all of this a ... public hero, protector of the children. And your uncontrollable renegade Captain Sollo becomes the villain. You pledge to root all such corruption out of the military police. The people will love it. You can’t lose. It’s good for Brazil.”
“Hmmm. Very well. I’ll do it.”
“Fine. In that case our business is completed and life can get back to normal around here.” Marcus stood up. “Thank you, General. I shall not call you again. You may consider our transaction completed.”
Del Campo rose from his seat. “Until next time, Marcus.”
“Farewell, General. Oh, and by the way, I think it’s about time our friend Sollo went to prison. Don’t you?”
“I’ll see to it,” said del Campo, turning to leave.
Marcus smirked. It was regrettable that he could not be at the event himself to witness his revenge first hand. That would be just a little too obvious of him. But he knew it would be very, very sweet.
Once the general had gone, Marcus lit himself a cigar.
They had finished making love. Now they were relaxing out on the balcony of the penthouse apartment, enjoying the warm tropical air rolling in from the dark Atlantic Ocean. It was late and quiet. The sounds of the beach were soothing. Gentle waves. An occasional car sped past far below, but most people had gone home for the night. The beach was deserted.
Fernando del Campo was not concerned about being out on the balcony with Juliet. He knew the judge had photographed them here once before. But soon he would announce to his wife that he would be leaving her. He no longer had to be quite so careful. At any rate, the towering apartment block was just one of dozens that lined the endless beach. There was virtual anonymity, even half-undressed, nineteen storeys above the ocean. And it was so warm and comfortable on the balcony, he wore only boxer shorts. Juliet was beautiful in her revealing satin robe. This was paradise.
“I saw you in the newspaper, Fernando.”
Del Campo leaned back in his chair. “Really, my love?”
“Yes. I am proud of you.”
“Your speech. About how Captain Sollo must be brought to justice for the murder of that boy, that he would stand trial. I didn’t think you cared so much about these children. I thought you cared nothing for them.”
Del Campo thought quickly. “Yes, Little Cat. It is true I did not care. But even an old man can learn to change. Just as I have learned to change in love. These killings have gone on for too long. It is time to stop them. And Sollo took matters into his own hands. That is why he is in prison. The people must know the police are not above the law.”
“I know your job is difficult, Fernando, but there’s too much violence. And I am proud that you are finally trying to change that. I never thought you would change ... but now you are.” She squeezed his hand. “It is good.”
“I’m afraid not all the news is good, Little Cat.”
“What do you mean?”
Del Campo did his best to looked regretful. “Perhaps I did not do the right thing. I have had news today from the prison. Captain Sollo has been killed by another prisoner. Apparently there was some kind of riot.”
“Killed, Fernando? That’s awful. You knew the man.”
“Yes, I ... should have known better. A policeman in that kind of prison has many enemies. Of course he was guilty of his crime, but he had not even made it to trial. I should have put him in solitary confinement. It was a mistake. And now he has paid for that mistake with his life. I did not want to tell you earlier. I thought it would upset you.”
“Ai, these prisons are terrible.”
“Yes. But there is more bad news. And this I know will upset you.”
“What, Fernando?” Juliet leaned forward nervously in her chair.
“Juliet, my love ... I must tell you. Your necklace, The Tears of the Angels, it is lost. My men have scoured the city for it. But we could not retrieve it. Perhaps we may still find it one day, but I think not. Probably it has already been sold, perhaps in Rio or even out of the country. I have failed you. I can no longer promise it to you.”
“Oh,” said Juliet, a little upset.
“You know, Little Cat, that I would move heaven and earth to see that you have that necklace, for it is a declaration of our love. The two rubies are the hearts of two angels, and the diamonds are their tears.”
“Yes, Fernando. You remember.”
“I remember.” Del Campo was pleased at how well she was taking it. “And we have tried everything. It is gone. I’m sorry, my love. Forgive me?”
Juliet reached over and kissed him. “Of course I forgive you. The necklace was beautiful, but what matters is you and me, that we are together. Soon we will be together all the time, won’t we?”
“Soon we will.” Del Campo kissed her back.
“Ah, you make me so happy at last, my Fernando. At last you do.” Juliet hugged him tenderly. How much she preferred the truth to his lies. How happy she was that he had admitted he could not find the necklace, instead of making her empty promises. “You really have changed.”
General Fernando del Campo knew he was a lucky man. His luck had not deserted him, after all that had happened. Everything would be all right.
“I love you, Juliet,” he said happily.
“And I you, Fernando. Always.”
It was against the sober advice of Ricardo Fuentes that Susan had borrowed an old pickup truck and driven from his cane plantation to visit Junio. Ricardo had insisted that Susan should not put herself at risk. But the tiny hobby farm where Junio was staying was only a dozen miles distant down the winding country highway. Susan knew it might be her last chance to see the boy before she would have to leave Brazil. And so Ricardo had reluctantly agreed, once she had promised she would not to go into the city. He had given Susan the keys to the pickup.
So many thoughts were running through Susan’s mind at once as she bumped down the dirt road to the farm. This was the same long road that she and Richards had driven along after they had first become lovers. And ahead was the farmhouse at which they had celebrated the festival of St John, at which she had led him to her room, lit a candle, and put a table behind the door. She still remembered that first night. It had been almost magical, such a release from the prison of her empty marriage to Adrian, such an awakening to realise that she could have those feelings again, could want to be close to a man not out of duty but out of affection. She wanted to think she could hold onto that forever, that somehow she could wave a magic wand and have it that she had never met Adrian Harris-Smythe, had never married him, had never ended up as the well-respected society wife smiling out of newspaper pictures, supporting her husband, being seen with him in all the right places. So many other political marriages had failed. Not theirs. It made Adrian all the more powerful. It commanded him public respect. Susan wished she had never agreed to be a player in that inescapable game. She wished she could walk away from it all and stay with the unknown, ruined American stockbroker she loved, stay in his little Brazilian apartment and leave it all behind. She wished they could just be together.
But soon she was to be put on a plane and rushed back to England. Everything here would be just a memory, so far away that she could never reach out and get it back again, so far away that it might as well never have happened at all. Susan Richards, she thought, running the name through her head a few times. Then she chastised herself for being so stupid ... and so immoral. She already was a married woman. And it wasn’t just Adrian. It was her life, all her friends in London, the church, the language academy, her students. What was she thinking? She couldn’t just disappear. She couldn’t just throw everything away and spend her life on the run from the military police in a troubled country on the other side of the world. But still she did not want to leave. She needed Bob, wanted him, loved him.
You’re a fool, Susan, she thought. You’re a damn fool.
How many times had she told her friends that she could never abide adultery, that if one was married then one ought to be married faithfully for it was a sacred union in the eyes of God? It was just wrong, she had always proclaimed so righteously, it was just wrong to cheat on your husband. And how much she had despised all the well-to-do husbands she knew who kept mistresses in discreet flats and bedded them twice a week while they promised their wives they were working late at the office. How far the thought had been from her mind that one day she too might be unfaithful. It had been unthinkable. She would never do such a thing. And now she had done it. And it had been so beautiful, not something ugly at all.
Susan wished it would all go away, all the problems in her life, that she could just start over and live it again. No Adrian. No military police. No murders. Just working at the orphanage and learning Portuguese, feeling welcomed by the wonderful people here, learning to dance. And then she might have met Bob under different circumstances. She might have been unmarried and have met Bob and fallen in love with him. She might never have known what it was like to have all the money and public admiration she had in England. She might have just lived a simple life and married for love. And there would have been no sin in it, no sin at all. Only happiness.
But she was married to Adrian. And there were military police, everywhere. And at least one child was dead. She could no longer stay at the orphanage. She had already done everything she could to save the children and now she must leave. But the most horrible fact was that she loved Bob Richards, and this meant there was no easy way out of the whole mess. Susan had prayed every night for guidance. But none had come.
She had easily known what the right thing was when the lives of the children had been threatened. She had risked her own life to save them without hesitation. And now everything she had been taught about adultery seemed turned upside down. What was wrong and what was right? She wasn’t sure any more. But she knew she must decide something.
It was in that moment, driving slowly up the road to the farmhouse where she had first realised how much she loved Bob Richards, that she made her choice. She prayed for the courage to go through with it.
Junio sat in his new clothes, looking at the tiny package Susan had brought for him. It was wrapped in shiny golden paper. He wanted to see what was inside, but she was still talking. He waited impatiently for her to finish.
Susan sat next to Junio on his bed. She spoke slowly, trying to get the Portuguese right. “Now you understand, Junio, that the ... necklace is back where it belongs. And you must never tell anyone you ever saw it. It is just our little secret, okay? You tell no one about it.”
“Yes, Senhora.” Junio kicked his legs nervously, swinging his feet back and forth over the edge of the bed. “I understand.”
“Because ... um, because now that the necklace is returned to its owners, everything is all right. No one is mad any more. The police will not come again. You will be safe, Junio. You will be safe.” Susan smiled as convincingly as she could. She could hardly try to explain that the necklace was now with a corrupt judge. She thought it was better to simplify things.
One of Junio’s feet bumped against a soccer ball. He watched it roll slowly across the room. Then he looked at Susan. “Senhora, is God still angry with me? For stealing the necklace from the angels?”
“Oh, Junio.” Susan smiled at him. “It wasn’t really from the angels. That was just a name. It was just a necklace, not from the angels, Junio.”
Junio shook his head. “No, no, Senhora. I saw it on the television of Senhora Vientes. I saw it. They said it was from the angels.”
Susan squeezed his arm. “Don’t worry, Junio. God is not angry with you. I promise you, he is not angry. He loves you. You are a good boy.”
“Then the police will not come for me? Like they came for Paulo?”
“No, no. They were angry with Paulo. Not with you.”
Junio thought of Paulo. “I wish they did not come for him ...”
“I wish that too, Junio. But don’t you worry. Now everything is all right. The police will not come. You are going to Maceió. You remember, that is where you grew up? We have found an orphanage for you there, far away from the police, far away from everything. You will be safe, Junio. I promise.”
Junio wondered if he could go back to the slum he grew up in and see his house. Would it still be there? He did not know. “You promise, Senhora?”
“Yes, I promise. Fabriola will take you to Maceió next week. She has spoken to the Sister at the orphanage there. They want to see you, very soon, because I told them what an angel you are. I told them you are my little angel from the street, and that you wanted to go home to Maceió.”
Junio said nothing. He didn’t like orphanages.
“Is that okay, Junio?” Susan said encouragingly.
“I guess so, Senhora.”
“Good, my Junio,” Susan said affectionately. “Now, look! I’ve brought you a gift. Do you want to see what it is?”
Junio looked at the package again. “Yes.”
“Then take it. It’s for you.” Susan ruffled his hair.
Junio ripped open the paper and uncovered a small plastic box. He opened it and saw a polished piece of bright red glass, round and shiny. He had no idea at all what it was. He’d never seen anything like it.
“It’s a yoyo. Take it out and I’ll show you how it goes.”
Junio gave it to her, curious but unimpressed. He was hoping for something exciting, like a watch. This thing was boring.
Susan stood up. “Now, watch me! This is how you do it.”
To Junio’s amazement, the piece of glass fell from her hand and then rose up again, spinning on a piece of string. It was like magic, up and down, up and down. It made a strange whirring noise. He laughed in excitement.
“That’s nothing,” Susan said, pleased that he was enjoying it. “I used to have one of these when I was a girl. I know a few, uh ... games.” Susan couldn’t think what the word for ‘tricks’ was, not and yoyo at the same time.
Junio took a step back in surprise as Susan made the yoyo spin up above her hand in a sudden circle and then loop back down to the ground. Then she made a larger circle, like a gigantic propeller, each turn powered by an expert flick of her wrist. Then she made a triangle out of the string, with her free left hand, and made the yoyo hang spinning inside the triangle.
“Cat’s cradle!” Susan declared, amazed that she could remember how to do it. Almost immediately she realised she had said it in English. Then she tried to translate. “Um ... bed of the little cat.”
Junio laughed in excitement at this strange toy. He was eager to try it for himself but embarrassed that he didn’t know how.
Susan brought the yoyo to a stop and handed it to him. “It’s for you.”
“Will you ... will you show me? I don’t know how.”
Susan could see how excited Junio was to learn the yoyo, how much he had forgotten about the police at least for a moment, how he was suddenly just a normal little boy who wanted to play. “Of course, Junio. Of course.”
Junio put the string around his finger, the way Susan showed him, and tried to make the toy work. He frowned with concentration, then smiled broadly when the yoyo started to obey him. He loved it.
Susan breathed a sigh of relief as she watched him play. It was good to see him smiling. It almost made her forget everything for a few minutes.
When the time had come to drive back to the cane plantation, Susan didn’t make a big fuss of saying goodbye. Junio was still absorbed in his new toy. She hugged him briefly and then let him play. She knew that Fabriola would see he was taken care of, that he would get to Maceió safely. And as she drove down the long dirt road towards the highway, she allowed herself to think about Bob again. The drive was over all too quickly.
When Richards drove out to the plantation that same afternoon, Susan was not in the house. Instead he found her walking by herself along one of the dirt tracks which bordered the cane fields. It was a wiltingly humid, becalmed afternoon. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. The plantation was on a low rise which made for sweeping views of the cane fields, a handful of large farmhouses and the quiet highway in the distance. The sun hung wearily in the west, two hours from its disappearance.
Susan turned when she heard footsteps behind her. She had been lost in her private thoughts, not appreciating the view, but now she looked up and saw Bob striding down the track towards her. Behind him, at the top of the hill, was the impressive mansion of the family of Ricardo Fuentes, her temporary home. “Hello, Bob,” she said, certain that she sounded guilty.
“Hey, Susan. You okay?”
“Ricardo said you borrowed the pickup. So how’s the kid doing?”
“He’s okay. Fabriola’s going to take him to the orphanage in Maceió. She thinks he should be safe there. And it’s closer to home for him.”
“Hmmm. Well, I’ve got some good news for you.”
Susan seemed strangely quiet. Then she said, “Can we keep walking? It’s so pretty out here.”
“Sure.” Richards wondered what was wrong. He guessed she must still be upset about the murder of the street kid. “Let’s walk.”
“So, what’s your good news?” Susan muttered.
“Had a call from Chester Louis, the reporter. He got a call from General del Campo’s office. Looks like your visit to the judge worked.”
“What?” said Susan, disbelievingly.
“I’m not kidding. Chester said he could hardly believe it himself, but the MPs have opened the case file of that kid’s murder to the newspapers. Chester’s seen all the documents. The captain you filmed is in prison. Or at least he was ... he’s been killed. They say it was a prison riot, but that’s just for the media. It must have been an arranged execution.”
“That’s good news? Another death?”
Richards shook his head. “No. Good news is they wanna put a stop to the publicity. They’ve named their fall guy. And now he’s dead. So they’ll wipe their hands. That’s nothing new. But there’s more. Your little talk to Marcus must have struck a nerve. He must have put some kinda pressure on the general – he’s backing down.”
“What do you mean, backing down?”
“Well, he told me he was gonna kill every last one of the street kids, but now he’s turned around completely. He’s going the other way, wants to play the public hero. Chester tells me there’s going to be a charity dance at the orphanage. Del Campo’s going to open it with a speech. All the press will be there. It’ll be quite a circus.”
“A dance? At the orphanage?”
Richards sighed. “Yeah. My guess is Marcus wants to humiliate him in public. The general hates street kids. Now he has to be their benefactor. But I can see why del Campo agreed. It’s going to make him look good. Instead of getting investigated for murder, he gets lauded as a hero. General del Campo, protector of the children.”
“I don’t understand. How could that be?”
“How can it be is you risking your life to see that old judge. I don’t know what you said to him, but it worked.”
“The children will be all right?”
Richards nodded. “It looks that way. They’re off the hook.”
“Oh, thank God. Thank God, Bob.”
“Yeah,” Richards replied, a little uncomfortably.
“I prayed for them so many times, so many times.”
“Well, looks like somebody listened.”
“Thank God,” Susan repeated. She felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted off her shoulders. “I would never have forgiven myself, running away back to England, if any more of those children had died.”
Richards reflected that she was just lucky she hadn’t gotten herself killed, but he didn’t say it aloud. “Well, they’re gonna be okay.”
Susan leaned against him for a moment, overwhelmed by the relief.
“You wanna come back to the house now? Ricardo’s making drinks.”
Susan wondered what to say. “Not yet, Bob. I ... we ... need to talk.”
As soon as Richards heard her say it, he knew. He tried not to show it in his face, but he knew what she was about to say, what he knew all along she would say sooner or later. He had been trying to kid himself that he was wrong, that everything would work out. But now he knew it would not. You’re a goddamned idiot, Bob Richards, he told himself silently.
“Bob ... I’m leaving so soon, there’s hardly been time to think. I don’t want to go back to Adrian. But my whole life is in London.”
“You have to leave the country. It’s not safe for you here, not now. We’ll get you out of Brazil. Then you can think about it later.”
“I know. But it’s all been going around in my head. Everything that’s happened. Everything that ... that I did.”
Richards noticed the guilty tone of her voice. “What did you do, Sue? You came to Brazil. You saved the lives of dozens of children. And you spent a little time with me. What’s so bad about that?”
Susan looked at him with genuine concern. “I didn’t just spend a little time with you. I fell in love with you. You know that ... don’t you?”
Richards walked beside her in silence, looking at the countryside. Eventually he said, “Yeah. I know it. You know it too, don’t you?”
Richards felt like an even greater fool, but something compelled him not to give up. “Why don’t you just come out and say it, Sue? Huh?”
Susan tried not to cry. “Because I can’t.”
“Then listen to me. I’ll get you out of the country. But I’ll do better than that – I’ll come with you. I’ve got contacts in Argentina, people that owe me a few favours. The market’s okay in Buenos Aires, and my Spanish is pretty good. I know people who are looking for English tutors, too. We’d get by all right, until we could get back to the States. I’ll go with you.”
Susan felt tears roll down her face. “Damn. I told myself I wouldn’t cry,” she whispered. Then she looked at Bob, wordless.
“Come on, Sue,” Richards said in exasperation. “Don’t do this.”
“What I did was wrong. Adrian’s never cheated on me. But I ... lied to him, told him there was nothing going on. And I was with you. Don’t you see? It’s not right.”
Richards was angry now. “Goddamn it, Sue. What are you saying? For Chrissake, you don’t love the guy. You’re miserable with him!”
“But I’m married to him. I’m married to him.”
At this, Richards laughed. He shook his head. “The rest of us are living in the twentieth century. But not you. What do you want to do to yourself? You hate yourself so much? You want to throw us away? Because you’re married to the guy? Come on, Sue. Don’t. Don’t do it.”
Susan was so upset she forgot herself. She just let the words come out. “And what am I supposed to do, Bob? Follow you to Buenos Aires, to Bogotá, to Havana? Live in a flat somewhere? Wait until you get the guts to go back to New York? And then what? If the IRS doesn’t find you, somebody else will. How much money did you say you owed? A million dollars?” As soon as she said it she was sorry. But it was too late.
“What?” Richards said incredulously. “What did you say?”
Susan looked at him levelly. “I’m sorry, Bob.”
“You, Sue? You too? I don’t believe it.”
Susan shook her head. She had come face to face with the ugliest part of herself. It wasn’t just that she knew it was wrong to leave her husband. It was also that she was a coward. The money mattered to her.
“You love me, don’t you?” Richards asked, already knowing the answer.
Susan nodded, but she was too ashamed to speak.
“And you don’t love him any more, do you?”
Susan shook her head.
Richards laughed sarcastically. “For God’s sake, Sue. You risked your life to save those children. I thought for sure you were going to get yourself killed. But you did it. And now you’re telling me you won’t take a chance?”
“What kind of life would it be, Bob? What kind of life?”
Richards glared at her as he spoke. “It’d be a life where you were goddamned happy. Remember all those things you said about love? About how you felt alive again? About how we both did? You’d have that!”
“I’m forty-five. My whole life’s in England. My friends ...”
“Then we’ll go to England. Just give me some time.”
Susan said nothing. She seemed frightened by the suggestion.
Richards saw it in her eyes. “You really mean it, don’t you? You’ve made your choice. You’re going back to him for good.”
“If I were twenty years younger ... If I didn’t feel so guilty ...”
“And if I wasn’t broke?”
“Maybe,” Sue whispered. “Maybe that too.”
Richards threw his hands up in disgust. “At least you’re honest. Honesty, Sue. That’s a virtue. I’ll give you that. But I never would have thought the money would matter that much to you. Not the Street Angel.”
“I didn’t choose that name. You did.”
“No. No, I didn’t. It’s what Fabriola calls you behind your back. Because you can walk through the slum with a camera and never get mugged. I promised I wouldn’t tell you. Looks like I’ve broken a promise.”
Susan barely whispered her reply. “I never promised, Bob.”
“No. You didn’t, did you?”
Susan put a hand on his arm. “I love you, Bob. You make me happy. But ... I just can’t throw away my whole life. I have to go back to Adrian.”
Richards looked at her. He wanted one last honest answer. “If you’d have met me in New York, when I still had the company, when I still had money, would it have been different? If we weren’t down here in Brazil?”
“Probably. I don’t know. I ... just don’t know.”
Richards said nothing for a moment, letting the truth of this sink in, coming to grips with it. Then he said quietly, “Ricardo will see you get out safely. He’s booked a flight. It’s for tomorrow. Everything’s taken care of.”
Now that the moment had finally arrived and Susan knew she was going to have to say goodbye, she found herself crying again. She wished she wasn’t such a coward, wished that she could just leave everything and run away with Bob Richards. But she knew she could not.
“So,” said Richards, with little emotion. “I guess I’ll see you around.”
Susan grabbed his arm tightly, to stop him from walking away. “I’m sorry, Bob. I never should have done this to you. I’m so sorry.”
“So am I,” said Richards. Then he walked away.
On the plane to Miami that Friday morning, Susan told herself she had done the sensible thing. On the long flight to London, Brazil seemed so far away it was almost just a dream. And when the plane touched down at Heathrow, Susan put Bob Richards out of her mind as best she could. Adrian would be waiting for her in the arrivals lounge and she would have to smile at him and kiss him hello as if nothing had happened. It would not be easy, but Susan had made her choice. One cannot live in a dream, she thought.
Maria Anna del Campo was watching a soap opera. It was nearly time for lunch but she could not drag herself away from the television. She was sitting in the home cinema her husband had bought for her. There were four rows of six seats. She sat in the middle of the front row, blasted by the booming voices of the actors. Brazilian soap operas were never quiet. They were larger than life, loud and exciting. The maid, Helena, was standing secretly at the back of the room, hardly daring to breathe, just as enthralled by the show as Maria herself.
The scene was of two lovers in bed, wrapped in each other’s arms and declaring – loudly and with very bad acting – their undying love. Maria and Helena could not tear their eyes away from the drama because they knew the husband of the woman was coming home, the idyllic scene of love was about to be disturbed. So when in the soap opera the bedroom door suddenly burst open and the angry husband crashed into the room and screamed in rage at the top of his lungs that he would kill them, both Maria and Helena could not help crying out in horror. He had a knife.
“Ai,” Maria declared. “I can’t watch this ...”
Helena screamed. Then she crossed herself. “Our Lady in heaven ...”
And then the episode finished, the credits rolled, and Maria and Helena were left in suspense. When the music was over and the advertisements had begun, Maria switched off the picture. It was quiet again. Then she raised the lights and got up to have lunch.
Helena was about to run out of the room, embarrassed at being caught watching television when she was supposed to be cleaning, but Maria was in an exceptionally good mood that day. After all, she was going to a charity dance with her husband that night, she was going to wear her new dress, and the media would be there in force.
“I’m sorry, Donna Maria,” Helena muttered. “I should be working.”
Maria ignored this. Instead she said, “I think he will kill them. He finds his young wife in bed with another man. I think he will kill them.”
“You think he will?” Helena said eagerly.
“I think so. He is like me. If I found Fernando with another woman there would be blood, I tell you. Perhaps not his blood. But the woman ...” Maria drew a finger slowly across her throat. “She would learn a lesson.”
Helena listened in delighted horror. But she dared not reply.
“Now, Helena,” Maria said briskly, “it is time for lunch.”
“Yes, Donna Maria. I will prepare it immediately.”
After lunch, while Maria was in the master bedroom deciding which of her innumerable pairs of shoes to wear to the dance, there was a knock on the door. Helena entered carrying a gift-wrapped parcel.
“Forgive me, Senhora, but this just came for you.”
“Put it on the bed,” Maria said absent-mindedly, deciding she would wear the high heels. They were so much more elegant, and in any case she knew that Fernando liked tall women. Maria was rather short.
Once Helena had gone, Maria turned her attention to the package. It was about the size of a large book, wrapped in cherry red paper, but quite light. There was a card attached. She opened it and read.
When she read the words, she was surprised but pleased. It was not like Fernando. He was not usually such a romantic. She ripped the package open and found it contained a jewellery case, exquisitely fashioned, with gold corners and covered in black velvet.
Maria Anna del Campo held her breath and then opened the case. What she saw was a magnificent diamond necklace, with three delicate strings of diamonds and two huge rubies near the centre. There was an engraved plaque inside the case. It read, ‘The Tears of the Angels.’
Maria tried it on. It was beautiful. Then she picked up the card and read it a second time. It was written in Fernando’s own hand:
To my darling Maria,
Wear it tonight, as a token of our love.
Antonio Marcus had spared no expense. He knew there were two kinds of forgeries, those which were cheap and those which were good. And Marcus had been prepared to pay for the best. He wanted total satisfaction.
By the time Juliet Formosa had answered her door, taken the envelope from the courier and gone to the kitchen to read it, the satisfaction of Judge Marcus was virtually assured. When she read the invitation, Juliet actually cried with happiness. It was everything she had always hoped for.
My darling Juliet,
The time has come for us to declare our love. We need not hide any longer. It is time for our first public appearance. Let the people watch and say what they will. Come to the dance tonight, my love. I love you.
Eight hours after Juliet Formosa read the invitation, Bob Richards tugged uncomfortably at his bow tie. He was sweating in a dark suit, wondering why the hell he had agreed to come to the dance at all. He didn’t own a tuxedo and he wasn’t going to waste his money hiring one for a night like this. He knew the whole thing was some kind of sick publicity stunt for del Campo’s benefit, and being at the orphanage only reminded him of the day he had first met Susan. He was trying to forget.
“You do not look happy, my friend,” Pierre Fontaine said in English.
“I don’t know why I’m here, Pierre. I really don’t.”
“Ah, it is not so bad. Champagne. Music. Beautiful women ...”
“Don’t talk to me about women.”
“What is this? I have not heard you speak this way before. You have not even looked at the women here tonight.”
“You know what’s wrong with me.”
“You are not still thinking of this Susan?”
Richards looked at Fontaine without a word, to say yes.
“Uh. You are. She was something special to you?”
“You could say that.”
Fontaine thought for a moment. “You loved her?”
“For what it’s worth.”
“And she you?”
“So she said. Only she ran back to her husband.”
Fontaine shrugged. “Well, if you sleep with a married woman ...”
“Married to a millionaire big shot. What do you expect?”
“Precisely. But you have taken it hard, no?”
“Oh, yeah.” Richards sighed. “Does that make me an idiot, Pierre?”
“No, my friend. It just makes you human.”
Richards lifted his champagne glass. “Here’s to humanity,” he said sarcastically. “May it show up real soon.”
“Humanity,” Fontaine repeated.
Richards looked across the dance floor from the corner of the orphanage hall in which he and Fontaine were standing. There were almost four hundred people present, if you counted the fifty or so kids running around in orphanage T-shirts and collecting food eagerly from the large buffet. The rest were workers from the orphanage, dressed in the best clothes they could afford, and the immaculate socialites who had each paid a couple of hundred dollars for the privilege of dancing in an old hall and having their photo taken by any one of a half-dozen press photographers. After all, the party was being hosted and funded by General Fernando del Campo and his wife, as a personal gesture of goodwill to the children of Recife. It was an in-crowd.
Like all Brazilian parties, the dancing was furious and sensual, the music loud and heavy in the rhythms of samba and lambada – coming this time from an expensive jazz orchestra – and everyone was having a wonderful time. Richards reflected that it really didn’t matter what the state of the world was when it was party time in Brazil. You were just glad to be alive. It almost, but not quite, swept him up in the mood.
In the opposite corner there was a small podium where the general, in full dress uniform, was getting ready to make his speech. The reporters were starting to clamour for space. The podium was nowhere near high enough. Del Campo’s head was just visible above the thronging crowd on the dance floor but Richards could not see his short wife at all. All he could see was a ridiculous banner strung up behind the podium, which read, in Portuguese, ‘Del Campo Childrens Foundation. First Annual Gala Ball.’ Anybody who believed that one cent of this money would be going to street kids was out of their tiny mind, Richards thought. It was almost more than he could stomach, seeing del Campo up there about to take the credit as a humanitarian hero when Richards knew full well he would gladly have every street kid in the city shot if he thought he could get away with it. Judge Marcus must have made quite a threat, Richards concluded.
Chester Louis appeared out of the crowd, smiling and drinking beer. He was dressed in a safari suit, as was his old-fashioned habit when travelling in the tropics, and he carried a camera.
“Hey, good buddy,” Louis said. “Tudo bem?”
“For Chrissake, Chester. Speak English, will ya? Yeah, everything’s just dandy. If you don’t count the fact that Susan left me, I haven’t made any money in six goddamn months, and that murdering bastard’s up there about to take a bow like a goddamn hero.”
Chester took a long pull at his beer. “Look, Bob, I’m sorry about the woman. I could see you had it bad. Wish it hadda turned out for you. But you got me a helluva story with that videotape of yours. Now with the case files opened up by the MPs, I’ve got a great follow-up coming out – the death of the captain in custody, that kinda thing.”
“Yeah? What about that son of a bitch up there? You know he did it.”
Chester stopped smiling. “We gotta catch the fish we can catch.”
“Are you saying he’s going to get away with it?”
“Looks like it. Yeah, I’d say so. He’ll be a genuine hero after all this gets into the papers. You know, ‘Lone South American General Stands Up Against Corruption and Saves Children.’ The international papers love that kind of shit. He might even get TV time. Especially in Europe. They’ll lap it right up. Everybody wants to hear good news.”
“He’s right, my friend,” Fontaine added philosophically.
Richards still remembered staring down the barrel of del Campo’s gun. “Do me a favour, Chester.”
“Promise me if you ever get the chance to nail that son of a bitch, you’ll do it. There has to be some kind of ... I don’t know ... justice.”
Louis shrugged. “I’d love to. But don’t hold your breath.”
Fontaine was surprised. “You have become an idealist, my friend. When did this happen?”
Richards looked with loathing at the podium. Del Campo was just about ready to call for silence. “Maybe it was after that son of a bitch put a gun to my head. Or maybe it just rubbed off on me from someone I know.”
Fontaine gave this little remark considerable respect. “Perhaps.”
Chester Louis felt a little ashamed. “Ah, I’m just happy as a hog in shit coz I got my story, that’s all. But you’re right. Okay, you got my word. If I get the chance to bring that s.o.b. down, I’ll do it. But I wouldn’t hope for justice any time soon. It’s gonna take time. Might never happen.”
Richards nodded. “Yeah, I know. That’s life, right?”
“You betcha,” Louis replied quietly.
“C’est la guerre,” Pierre agreed. “The big fish always escape.”
“I gotta get goin’, boys.” Chester Louis headed for the podium, camera in hand. “It’s a photo opportunity.”
“See you,” Richards said quietly. The band had stopped playing.
Neither Richards nor Fontaine paid any attention to the attractive dark-haired woman in a little black dress who was making her way towards them, walking along the edge of the hall, before she turned and plunged into the crowd on her way to the podium. Had they watched her carefully, they would have seen a well-dressed man following her quietly a few steps behind, although neither of them would have recognised him as Judge Marcus’s clerk. Richards and Fontaine simply looked at the podium as the speech began. Richards hated the proud smile on del Campo’s face.
“Good evening, my friends, all of you,” del Campo began in Portuguese. “Welcome to this charity event.” Then, in English, he added, “And welcome to the members of the international press who are with us tonight.”
Once the applause had died down, the general droned on with his speech in Portuguese. Richards thought it was the biggest load of crap he’d ever heard, but the audience seemed to take it well. The son of a bitch even had a few of the orphan boys up there on the podium with him, whom he would turn to and praise from time to time in the speech, something Richards would see for himself the next day when the newspapers came out. What idiot built the podium so low? he thought incredulously. Still, it was probably a blessing not to be able to see the whole sickening spectacle.
“As you all know,” the general continued, his voice booming through the loudspeakers, “it has always been a priority of mine to look after our needy children, especially those poor boys and girls who do not even have homes but must live on the street. It’s orphanages like this one that I am happy to support, and children like these poor boys here with me on the stage. That is why my wife and I organised tonight’s charity dance.”
Juliet Formosa had been pushing her way through the crowd when she heard this last sentence. His wife? she thought. His wife? No, that couldn’t be right. Behind her, the clerk ducked behind a tall man. He stepped out again when she continued on her way to the podium.
What Juliet saw when she reached the front of the crowd was worse than she had ever imagined in her most neurotic nightmares. There was that bitch of a wife of his, Maria Anna del Campo, with her grey hair dyed black and a ridiculous red ball gown on her plump figure, standing next to Fernando like an excited schoolgirl on prom night, holding onto his arm proudly and lovingly. And there was the strobe flash of camera shots, again and again, the spotlight of publicity on Fernando again and again, not with Juliet but with his bitch of a wife. She hardly heard any of his words. She saw only the two of them, standing arm in arm on the podium, frozen by every flashbulb as if time itself were running slow. This was more than Juliet could understand. He had sent her the note. For what? To torture her? To bring her here and humiliate her? And then she saw it.
The Tears of the Angels.
The necklace! she thought. Our necklace. The necklace that was supposed to proclaim our love to the world, that was supposed to have been stolen, the necklace that Fernando had told her he could not recover. He had given it to that bitch. Now she was wearing it around her wrinkled neck.
My God, Juliet thought, he brought me here for this.
At that precise moment, Fernando del Campo happened to look down during his speech, smiling proudly at those in the crowd closest to him, and he saw her. He stopped in mid sentence.
Inside Fernando del Campo’s stomach suddenly there was cold ice. Juliet! he thought. Then he remembered Maria was wearing the necklace, the necklace which she had claimed that very afternoon that he had sent to her, the necklace that she insisted upon wearing. In those few seconds of silence, with the puzzled crowd waiting for him to go on and with his wife oblivious of the whole affair, it was not anger – at who might have orchestrated this – but fear, pure fear which gripped him. He could lose her, he could lose Juliet over this, he could lose the only thing which truly mattered to him! But before he could think what to do, Juliet spoke.
She made the movements of speaking. In fact, she gave no voice to the words, but he could read them clearly on her lips before she turned and pushed her way into the crowd, perhaps gone forever from his life.
Del Campo shook his head and tried not to panic. “Forgive me, ladies and gentlemen. I ... lost my train of thought. As I was saying, we are so pleased you could all be here tonight. I thank you. Enjoy the evening.”
Before the polite applause had ended, del Campo was on the floor and pushing his way roughly through the crowd. Maria was left by herself to answer the reporters’ questions. Del Campo heard her words while he looked in vain for Juliet Formosa. She had already gone.
“My husband is a wonderful man,” Maria Anna del Campo said into the microphone. “Never have I seen anyone care so much for children as he. All the children of Recife he loves as if they were his own.”
When the questions were over and the band started again, Richards decided he had no desire to stay any longer. He spoke loudly to Fontaine over the music. “You wanna go outside, Pierre? It’s stuffy in here.”
Fontaine followed him out, away from the crowd, halfway down the long, winding driveway of the orphanage. It was a hot, dark night.
“Can you believe that propaganda, Pierre?”
“Ah, like I said, c’est la guerre.”
“Well it’s making me sick.”
“You are getting too sensitive, Bob.”
“Maybe. But just to see that murdering bastard up there, celebrating like a hero. Nothing ever changes, does it? He’s going to get away with the whole thing scot-free. And the band plays on.”
“Things do not change, my friend. You should know that.”
“Yeah. I guess I should.” Richards looked down the driveway to the open gates of the orphanage. He remembered first coming to the orphanage, nearly four months ago, the blind kid opening the gates for him, meeting Susan. He faced Fontaine again. “I’ve had enough for one night. I’ll see you.”
Fontaine looked concerned. “You are walking home?”
“Yeah. I could do with the fresh air.”
Fontaine patted him on the shoulder. “Then take care, my friend.”
“Always, Pierre. I always do,” said Richards.
He walked out of the orphanage gates for the last time.
General Fernando del Campo banged his fist impatiently on the door of the apartment of the woman he loved. He had left Maria at the dance, had run out desperately once he was sure Juliet was no longer there, and driven to her apartment. The caretaker had told him she had returned. So he knew she was inside. He thumped on the door again.
Juliet Formosa had ignored all of his pathetic pleas, but now he had stopped talking. He was just banging his fist wordlessly on her door. Against her better judgement, she finally relented and opened it a few inches.
“Oh, my God. Juliet! Thank God I have found you.”
“What do you want, you bastard?” Juliet hissed.
“I want to explain. Let me come in. Let me in and we’ll talk.”
“You want to come in? All right, Fernando. Come in.” Juliet released the security chain and swung the door open. “But don’t touch me.”
“All right, all right. Of course.” Del Campo followed her into the large living room of her penthouse apartment. But neither of them sat down.
“Well, Fernando. I suggest you make it brief. I am flying back to São Paulo in the morning. You understand?”
“No, no. Juliet. No. Let me explain. Someone sent the necklace to my wife, with some kind of forged note. I knew nothing about it. You must believe me.” He stared to walk closer to her.
“Get away from me, you pig. Keep your distance. I don’t want your filthy paws on me. And I don’t believe your lies any more. You asked me to come to the dance to humiliate me, didn’t you? You filthy bastard!”
“No, my beautiful Juliet, no I did not. Little Cat, I would never ...”
Juliet was still wearing the little black dress she had worn to the orphanage. “Don’t call me that. And that’s all you think about, isn’t it? How pretty I am? How you can come over and fuck me whenever you feel like it? How I believe all your lies? Well, Fernando, you will never touch me again.”
“Juliet, try to calm down. I’m telling you, I’ve been set up. Someone sent the necklace to my wife. I didn’t have it. And I didn’t know you were coming to the dance. I didn’t know.”
Juliet was screaming now. “And that makes it all right? You didn’t know I was coming, so you can parade in front of the photographers with that bitch wearing my necklace? That makes it all right?”
“No. I told Maria she may not wear it, but she wouldn’t listen ...”
“And the note, you bastard, you dirty pig, the note? Such a beautiful letter, telling me we would be together at last. You sent that for a joke? To humiliate me? To laugh at me in public with your friends?”
“Juliet, I sent you no note. It must be part of the set-up. Someone is trying to break us up. Be reasonable, Juliet. You must see that I wouldn’t do this. You must ...” Del Campo was walking towards her again.
Disgusted by him, Juliet backed away until she came to one of the sofas. She sat down and started fumbling with the drawer of the large mahogany coffee table. “Get away from me, Fernando.”
Del Campo kept coming. He held out his hand. “Please, Juliet. I just want to talk. That’s all. I just want to talk.”
At that moment Juliet Formosa was so utterly revolted by him that something inside her completely snapped. She reached inside the drawer and pulled out the .38 calibre revolver which del Campo himself had insisted she keep in the apartment. After all, as he had told her so many times, it was a dangerous city. She pointed the gun at him, her hands shaking half with rage and half with fear and disbelief at what she was doing, and told him to stop. “Get back! Get away from me!”
The general’s eyes widened in amazement. He raised his hands a little and stood still. He knew Juliet would never pull the trigger but he still felt almost naked when he realised he was not carrying a sidearm. He had not thought it appropriate for a formal dance. “Okay, okay. It’s all right. I’m not going to try to touch you. All right?”
Juliet stood up again. The gun was polished silver in colour. The general found he could not take his eyes off it. He stood very still.
“No, Fernando. It is not all right. Do you hear me? It is not all right.”
“I only meant ...”
“Shut up, you bastard! Just shut up. I told you not to lie to me again, not to play with my heart. But this cruel joke of yours, it’s too much. I’m not coming back to you, Fernando. I’m going in the morning. You lost me.”
Del Campo almost forgot about the gun. “No, Juliet. Don’t say it. I love you. I love you! This is all a mistake. Someone’s trying to break us up, I’m telling you. I didn’t do this. I don’t know who did but I’ll find them and when I do, I promise you, I promise you there will be justice. Whoever did this will pay with his life. But I’m begging you, Juliet. Please, give me a chance.”
Juliet spoke very softly now. There were tears in her eyes. “Do you think I care about justice? I don’t. Would I be with a man like you if that mattered to me? All I care about is us, Fernando. Not justice.”
“Then give me a chance, Juliet.”
“A chance for more of your lies, Fernando?” As if she were in a dream, Juliet lifted the gun and cocked it. “I don’t think so.”
The general raised his palms again. “Juliet, my angel, you must put down the gun and we can talk about this sensibly. Be careful with it, okay?”
“No,” said Juliet quietly. “Not okay.” She walked forward now, gripped by a kind of anger she had never known before in her lifetime. It was the kind of anger that only two years of abuse could engender, and it was all funnelled into that single moment. “It’s not okay, Fernando.”
Del Campo retreated slowly. “Now, Juliet ... just calm down ... you don’t know what you’re doing ... you’re upset.”
“You,” Juliet said, “are a miserable bastard. And I hate you. Take off your clothes. Take them off.”
“You heard me, get them off. Everything but your pants.”
“Juliet, I don’t understand ...”
“Just do it, you bastard, or I’ll shoot.”
“You wouldn’t,” said del Campo, believing the words.
“Take off your clothes, Fernando. Maybe I’m horny. Think what you want. Take them off.” She waved the gun.
“All right, all right.” Del Campo stripped down to his trousers. “Now what? This is silly, Little Cat. Why don’t we just talk?”
“You think I want to talk to you? I hate you. Now, open the front of your pants. Leave the belt tight, but open the fly.”
Del Campo finished opening his pants. “What’s this all about? You want to make me feel stupid, humiliate me? Why take off my clothes?”
“I’ll show you why, Fernando,” Juliet said softly. “This is why.”
Del Campo saw her finger move at the trigger. He couldn’t believe it. He shook his head. Juliet Formosa was no killer.
But then a sledgehammer seemed to crash into his chest, there was the sound of a gunshot, and he was falling backwards. With a crack he hit the floor and was suddenly looking up at the ceiling, gasping for breath.
The last thing Fernando del Campo ever saw was the sight of Juliet Formosa leaning over him. He tried to focus on her face, tried to make sense of what was happening, but he could not speak and his vision was beginning to fail. In a minute, he would be unconscious. In two, he would be dead. He saw Juliet look down at him dispassionately.
She shook her head. “I can’t pull the trigger a second time, Fernando. That wouldn’t be self-defence.”