Death at the Book Festival
Copyright© Paulo Fernando Prada Levy 2015. All rights reserved
All rights to this edition reserved by
EDITORA BÚSSOLA LTDA.
No part of this edition may be used or reproduced – in any medium or form, be it mechanical or electronic, photocopy, recording, etc. – nor appropriated or stored in a data bank without the express written permission of the publisher.
Dora Levy [cj31] e João Carlos Heleno [cj31]
CIP-BRASIL. CATALOGAÇÃO NA PUBLICAÇÃO
SINDICATO NACIONAL DOS EDITORES DE LIVROS, RJ
Levy, Paulo Fernando Prada, 1967-
Death at the Book Festival [recurso eletrônico] / Paulo Fernando Prada Levy;
tradução Steven Mazzetti. – 1. ed. – São Paulo : Bússola, 2015.
Tradução de: Morte na flip
Texto em inglês
Requisitos do sistema: adobe digital editions
Modo de acesso: world wide web
ISBN 978-85-62969-47-8 (recurso eletrônico)
1. Ficção policial brasileira. 2. Livros eletrônicos. I. Mazzetti, Steven. II. Título.
15-27414 CDD: 869.93
“A murderer is one who wants to force others to blessedness, since he kills his own growth.”
Carl G. Jung
Police report, inquiry, new regulation, work order, forensic requisition, notifications, summonses, depositions, arrest warrant, communiqué, request for remand, requisition for the purchase of air-conditioning. Dornelas stopped here. He put down his pen, picked up the phone and dialed three numbers.
“Anderson!” he said, annoyed.
“What is it, sir?”
“The price for this air-conditioning is too high. Do we really need this much power in the IT area?”
“No, not now in winter. But when the summer heat comes you know what happens to the servers,” warned Anderson, the office nerd.
“Can’t you get a better price?”
He slammed the phone down. As if all this bureaucratic work weren’t bad enough, on top of it he also had to keep the precinct on a tight rein while counting pennies.
Dornelas arrived at the last sheet, signed it, put down his pen and pushed the pile of paper to a corner of his desk. Done. His hand ached. He sat back in his chair, opened the desk drawer and spotted his little piece of paradise: a chocolate bar. He carefully unwrapped one little square of it and put it in his mouth; with his tongue he proceeded to move the soft, melting substance from one side to the other, like a ball in a tennis match. Small reward for such boring work.
Through the window he saw the lights of the street lamps and of the shops and the supermarket across the street. The day had ended and he hadn’t even had time to notice. He looked at his watch. It was past seven thirty.
He put away his pen and put one more little square of milk chocolate in his mouth. He locked the drawer and stood up. He got his jacket from the back of the chair and put it on. He turned out the lights and left.
There was the usual activity going on in the new part of Palmyra: people browsing in the small shops, moving about on foot and by bicycle, cars here and there; a line outside the lottery kiosk, little tables on the sidewalk in front of the bakery and bar-coffee shop, the heavy drinkers playing cards loudly; little spits of mystery meat being barbecued on small portable grills; lots of tourists with maps in their hands looking for help.
A day like any other.
Dornelas, walking along, jumped over the heavy chains that barred automobiles from entering the Historical Center and returned, as he always did, to an unfinished image of the past. But on that day it was also weird. The heavy movement in the usually calm streets gave him a shock. The Historical Center was packed with people who looked alien to the inspector.
A tumult of people were tramping through the pé de moleque cobblestone streets, moving elbow-to-elbow between the Brazilian colonial style houses. They were coming and going, entering and exiting in a frenzy that had neither purpose nor direction. Dornelas was astonished by the shops teeming with customers, the tourists taking pictures, buying, eating, smiling, having a good time.
From one moment to the next he watched Palmyra be transformed into an immense seventeenth century theme park.
This was the signal that the months of preparations for the event that would begin that night had reached their culmination. The results could actually be calculated in numbers. The population of the city would practically double from one day to the next. Hotel vacancies were nonexistent. In some cases daily rates were more expensive than a night in New York City. Shops open, lights on, inventories overflowing. Houses that were either occupied by their owners or by renters who paid exorbitant prices to stay for a mere five days. Lines were forming at the doors of all the main restaurants.
The quality of service would certainly fall in the small city that usually received such intense activity only half a dozen times a year. Prices had already skyrocketed.
The International Book Festival, held annually in Palmyra for the last nine years, was going to begin that night with a concert by the famous rock group Skank. This edition of the event was to honor Fernando Sabino, one of Brazil’s greatest authors.
Dornelas continued on, turning left on Abolição Street and passing behind the Matriz church. Then he crossed over the river on the bridge decorated with pennants of the event that fluttered in the cold and salty breeze blowing in from the sea.
From there and all along the river mouth until the sea a complex of huge white dome-like structures came into view. The first pavilion – the principal one, for the authors – looked like a gigantic polar caterpillar with gaping mouths at each end ready to swallow the people passing by.
Dornelas entered the extremely high ceilinged pavilion and looked over the exposition of Sabino’s life and works while observing the movement around him: two men were removing plastic bubble wrapping from the panels; behind the counter receptionists were organizing the material for the event; six men were unloading rows of seats from a truck and taking them inside the auditorium where authors from the four corners of the world would read, recite and debate over the next four days.
The inspector kept going. A troop of young men was taking piles of books from cardboard boxes; they had almost finished arranging the tables, towers, showcases and shelves of the official Festival bookshop. A skinny and obviously tired fellow was disassembling, one by one, the empty boxes piled up in the entrance.
Crunching through the gravel, Dornelas arrived at the next pavilion. Down a long corridor carpenters, painters and electricians were applying the final touches to the rows of stands. Walking now on the outside along the broad sidewalk, he watched the hustle and bustle to the sound of hammering, shouting and the crackling of radios. The display windows of the official Festival store were being set up and decorated as final adjustments were made.
On the one hand he was pleased to have Palmyra host a festival that promoted books and reading. He had a special appreciation of books; they reminded him of his childhood when his father would read to him. “What shall we read today, Quinie?” his old man would ask before putting him in bed, ready to read by his side. On the other hand, more people and more festivities meant more chance of problems arising.
The Military Police were ready to maintain order in the streets. But the event’s security guards – bouncers wearing black suits and unfriendly expressions – were an unknown quantity, and the cause of the inspector’s added worry.
Given the civil police’s judicial and investigative nature, Joaquim Dornelas had no option other than to wait and see. In order for him and his team to act something would have to go wrong first. They would be on the alert.
He arrived at the last pavilion, an immense dais facing a sea of chairs, and watched a team of workers connecting the equipment on the stage. He heard a, “sound: one, two, three” from the enormous speakers as he continued walking toward the sea. He passed next to a giant screen and then jumped up on the first rock in the long sea wall that protects the estuary of the Pedras River from being clubbed by the ocean’s waves.
He left the bright lights of the Festival and, behind it, of the city, jumping from rock to rock until he reached the end almost two hundred meters ahead, now out in the open sea. He stopped at the last one and let his eyes try to pierce the darkness. Dornelas wanted to see the mouth of the bay on the horizon and the islets scattered along the way.
Able only to see little luminous dots here and there held captive against the dark backdrop, he took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of the salty air and then turned around to admire the circus-like scenario in front of him: the illuminated pavilions; the shining lights on the seaside footbridge; the excursion whalers anchored by the river bank; the coming and going of the visitors over the bridge; the activity in the square in front of the Matriz church on the opposite bank; shops and bars jam-packed. The view delighted him.
He felt the cold wind on his body and raised his eyes to the sky. Heavy clouds were hiding the moon and stars. It wasn’t raining.
From that spot, away from the event and the city, in the dark and enveloped by the sound of the sea, Dornelas felt detached from himself, as if he was observing his life from the sidelines, from some place outside himself.
With the sound of the waves hitting the rocks, the cold wind against his clothes and body, and the din of the Festival as background, he thought about the time he had devoted over the course of his life to solving crimes committed for reasons that were, at best, stupid, although human: money, power, jealousy, envy, greed, pure evil. And in the best case, if this is in fact possible; for love. ‘Human beings are a weird breed,’ he concluded.
He thought of his children and how much he missed them even after spending the last weekend with them in Rio de Janeiro. With this thought still in his mind, he took his cell phone from his pocket and called his ex-wife’s house. The phone kept ringing until the answering machine came on the line. He hung up without leaving a message. And then an unexpected movement broke the charm of the moment.
One of the small excursion boats had broken away from the riverbank and was slowly moving toward the estuary under the cold light from the footbridge. Dornelas, following it with his eyes, thought to himself, ‘where the hell is that boat going at this time of night?’ He looked at his watch: 8:37 p.m.
What happened next made no sense to the inspector. If he were asked about it later he wouldn’t have any idea how to explain it. But he felt, for some unknown reason, that there was something wrong with the scene he was watching: a man sitting underneath the canvas canopy and the boatman standing at the helm in the stern. And it wasn’t simply because the boat was sailing out to sea on a dark night. There was something else puzzling him.
He decided to go back. He wanted to warn the sailor that something was wrong, something that he, the inspector, could not define. Maybe order him to return under the pretext of examining the boat’s documents, or the number of life preservers onboard, or ask him where he was going, anything to not let him keep going. He went, jumping from rock to rock, back the way he had come.
Navigating in calm waters, the boat soon reached the middle of the river. At that point the crackling sounds from the engine came quicker and the small boat accelerated. Dornelas quickened his pace too.
Afraid of tripping in one of the black troughs between the rocks, and with his attention alternating between the uneven surface and the boat that was getting further and further out in the ocean, far from the footbridge lights, heading toward the darkness, Dornelas yelled out:
“HEEEY,” arms waving in the air.
Dressed in a dark suit, his shouts drowned out by the crashing waves, Dornelas was invisible to the passenger and the crewman who were looking straight ahead. Not knowing what else to do, he concentrated on making out the name crudely written in small letters on the bow. He couldn’t do it.
The boat bounced over the breakers and reached the open sea. Dismayed, he focused on memorizing the boat’s yellow and white hull with the horizontal blue band and the white cushions with the navy blue or black stripes.
Under the moonless overcast sky the small boat continued on a little further and then was swallowed up by the darkness.
Dornelas reached the little beach and took his cell phone from his pocket. He wanted to let Solano know that a boat had gone out to sea at that time of night. He pressed a few keys and stopped. He could imagine the dialogue they would have and his subordinate’s suppressed laughter on the other end of the line. “Boats go out to sea all the time, sir,” the detective would say.
For the police, intuition is not justification for any type of action. For Dornelas it was a valuable work tool. The manner in which that scene had unfolded he felt could lead to a crime being committed. Or not. At this stage he couldn’t do anything but wait. The forced inactivity gnawed at his insides. Only the Port Authority could avoid a tragedy, if there actually was one in the making. But Dornelas didn’t want to alert them without something more tangible in his hands. He also didn’t want to do nothing. He decided to call, even at the risk of being tagged a rattlebrained fool.
“Where are you?” he immediately fired at Solano.
“At home. I just got in. Did something happen?” replied Solano.
“Not yet, but it’s about to.”
The detective was silent. Dornelas knew why. He continued:
“I know it doesn’t seem like much, but an excursion whaler, one of the small ones, just sailed out to sea from the river in front of the Festival.”
“Is that a problem, sir?”
As if he were watching a movie for the second time Dornelas could sense his subordinate’s indifference on the other end of the line. He was undoubtedly thinking: ‘Here comes the inspector with his crystal ball again.’
“No. But tell Caparrós and Lotufo to be ready. I don’t want to call the Military Police or the Port Authority yet. It might be nothing. But if it turns into something serious I want to be first on the scene. Is that clear?”
“He’s probably taking care of his move or walking around town looking for a TV camera.”
Dornelas thought of his deputy inspector and his passion for the spotlight.
“Leave him out of it. If he opens his mouth it’ll most likely give me a headache tomorrow.”
“Copy that, sir.”
But this move of Peixoto’s caught his attention.
“You mean Peixoto’s moving to a bigger house because of his newborn son?”
“You didn’t know? He moved out yesterday, left his wife and the baby.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, shocked.
“He left them, sir. Packed his bags and left. Said he couldn’t handle all the baby stuff, all the crying and dirty diapers.”
Dornelas was furious. But all he said was:
“Keep your phone on. And have a good night.”
“Same to you, sir.”
They hung up. Dornelas went home brooding over the small boat, the sailor, the passenger. He replayed the scene back and forth in his mind searching for some detail he might have missed. But he couldn’t think clearly. The anger that Peixoto’s cowardice had caused clouded his thoughts.
He opened the door and turned on the lights. ‘Lupi’s been up to something’ he thought when the dog didn’t come to greet him as usual. Suspicious, he inhaled deeply and was pleased when there was no smell of dog shit in the air. He whistled and heard the patter of little paws on the stairs.
The dog appeared, squirming all around. Dornelas understood immediately. He got a plastic bag and the leash from the cupboard by the door and went outside with Lupi.
His cell phone rang.
“Have you had dinner yet?” asked Dulce Neves on the other end of the line.
“Not yet. I just got in.”
“Want to have it with me? I’m near your house.”
“I do, but we’ve got to go to the supermarket first. Unless you want a goró.
“Baby cereal with milk? Don’t even think about it!”
Dornelas let out a loud laugh.
“Vito’s Bar in ten minutes?”
“It’s a date. See you there. Big kiss.”
“Same to you.”
He hung up happy, his heart warmed. It had been two days since he’d seen her. He missed their friends-with-benefits relationship, something he hadn’t felt about a woman in a long time.
“It’s happened, sir,” said Solano on the other end of the line. He sounded depressed.
“When? Where?” shot back Dornelas sitting up in bed, still bleary-eyed from sleep.
The clock showed 5:42. It was cold and dark. The early morning light still hadn’t appeared through the cracks in the shutter. He turned on the lamp.
“On Brava Beach. The guy who watches over the bar, he’s also the caretaker of the house behind it, found a body against the foot of the bar. According to him, stabbed to death. It’s full of holes.”
“Why do you think this has something to do with the boat that I saw?”
“Was it a yellow and white boat with a blue band?”
“That’s the one.”
“It’s half sunk at the end of the beach. The waves tossed it against the rocks.”
“Any other bodies?”
“No. Just the one.”
‘Was it the passenger or the boatman?’ wondered the inspector.
“How’d you find out about this?”
“I spent the night at the precinct. I switched shifts.”
Dornelas was pleased not only with the commitment his right-hand man had shown, but especially with the trust Solano placed in his intuition.
“Have you called the Fire Department, Forensics, the Medical Examiner? And advised Peixoto?”
“Not yet, sir”
“Leave Peixoto out of this,” he growled. “I’ll be there in twenty. Call the Fire Department and Forensics, make sure you get Chagas himself… but only after I arrive.”
“And the Medical Examiner?”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve got it covered.”
Dornelas put the phone back on the hook and again thought about his deputy’s cowardice in leaving his wife and baby. But at that early morning hour he just shrugged his shoulders and thought, ‘What fault does a son have if his father’s a total asshole?’ He’d get back to that later.
He looked to his side. Dulce Neves, head coroner at the Medical Examiner’s office, was sound asleep, her head buried deep in the pillow. Even with her eyes closed she emanated serenity. He stroked her hair, kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear:
The sunlight was trying hard to puncture the thick layer of furrowed clouds. A drab morning. Dornelas parked the car in front of the school on Mansa Beach. From there they went on foot to the crime scene on Brava Beach. The students hadn’t arrived yet for the day’s classes; it was still too early for them, even though it was a Thursday.
Dulce, stretched out asleep on the back seat, awoke when the car braked to a halt and then got up. A victim of the crazy hours kept at the Medical Examiner’s, she would nap whenever the opportunity arose. The half hour drive from the Palmyra police station was a direct invitation from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep. In the passenger seat Solano’s eyes were red and sunken. He looked like a zombie.
Once a peaceful fishing village, over time Mansa Beach had gained the status of a quasi-independent community thanks to the horde of noisy tourists that its bars, hostels, private houses, general store and a few good restaurants attracted like magnets.
The three got out of the car and took the only access by land to Brava Beach, a sort of cow path only a hundred meters long that cut through the thicket between the two beaches.
“Did it rain last night?” asked Dornelas, stopping and opening his arms wide as they started off to bar the others from going on. Solano was right behind him with Dulce bringing up the rear of their little queue.
“Very late at night, sir,” the detective answered.
“Did it last long?”
“Twenty minutes, maybe half an hour.”
Doubling his concentration, the inspector looked down and started searching in all directions for footprints in the sodden earth since that was the only way to enter or get away from the crime scene by land.
He also looked for signs of damaged leaves above and below the steep embankment in case the culprit had traveled through the brush, realizing he might leave footprints on the trail. He walked along the entire path very slowly, eyes on the ground, looking carefully all around. Solano and Dulce did the same. They reached the rocks of Brava Beach having spotted absolutely nothing.
The beach faced the Atlantic wide open, the waves battering the rocks and the sandy slope of the beach mercilessly in an endless battle. Even from a distance Dornelas recognized the blue band on the yellow and white hull that lay keeled over on its port side amidst the rocks at the opposite end of the beach. The part of the hull that was out of the water was constantly awash in the waves, pounded so hard by the breakers it ran the risk of being rolled up on the hillside. The small boat rocked back and forth in a herky-jerky motion, like the lifeless body of an animal being pushed around at will by the sea. And yet it seemed to be held by something. Cushions were scattered around the rocks. From that angle it was impossible to see anything across the breadth of the hull.
“Don’t step on the sand,” he ordered. “We need to look for footprints.” Dornelas jumped from the trail directly onto a grass patch, separated from the sand by a low wall. Solano and Dulce followed his lead.
Countless eroded footprints – with shoes and barefoot – were all mixed together in a total hodgepodge, like a confusing diagram of dance steps printed on a sheet of paper.
Only one well-defined trail of footprints emerged from the waves, going through the sand in a straight line up to the steps that led to the deck in the middle of the beach.
“Solano, check out those two houses and the brush around them until the other end of the beach. See if you find any signs of entry or running away.”
“Copy that, sir,” said his subordinate, breaking away from the little group.
As Dulce came closer to him they both saw a man sitting in one of the bar’s chairs on the deck, watching the struggle between earth and water with a helpless expression. An iron rake was propped against the table. A plastic yellow shovel was lying on the wooden floor.
“Good morning,” Dornelas shouted, still far away.
The man slowly turned his head, raised his arm in a short wave and got heavily to his feet.
“Good morning,” he replied in a serious tone.
“Was it you who found the body and called us?” asked the inspector as he jumped from the grass to the deck, still looking closely at the ground. He stuck his hand out. “Inspector Joaquim Dornelas. I’m in charge of the case.”
“Herculano, sir,” said the man, shaking his hand. “Yessir, it was me.”
“This is Dr. Dulce of the Medical Examiner’s office and over there,” he pointed at the already distant detective, “is Solano. He works with me.”
Herculano greeted Dulce with a slow nod of his head as an oppressive silence fell over them like a black cloak. It wasn’t necessary to ask about the corpse. The clear trail of footprints coming out of the sea came up the sand and the steps, then along the deck and the granite floor, ending next to an arm extended on the floor between two bar stools; the rest of the body was hidden by the bar itself.
Dornelas headed toward it with Dulce behind him, staying clear of the markings on the floor. And suddenly he felt as if he was crossing what seemed like an imaginary line, almost a landmark. Up until that point the place had brought to mind images typical of a beach bar: fun, sun and beer. Now, with a corpse coming further into view with every step, those automatic mental associations were replaced by something far less conventional. And as the body came into full view, the horror of the scene took their place.
The body was lying next to the bar, which was protected by a canopy. At first Dornelas couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, perhaps due to the strange position it was in: it was stretched out on its left side with most of the right side leaning against the wall, like a surf board. The jeans and loose-fitting jacket didn’t help. Its head was resting on the extended arm – the one he had seen initially – with its face looking at the floor. The right arm was stretched along the body.
If not for the large red stain on the back of the jacket, with signs of multiple cuts in the fabric, the bandanna soaked in blood and the red puddle on the granite floor, it might have been taken for a passed-out drunk.
He took a step forward while still maintaining a certain distance so as not to contaminate the scene. With his eyes he once again followed the trail of footprints along the wooden deck, then across the granite squares, and noticed two things: the tracks of bare feet were headed straight toward the body, and there were no drops of blood along the way. Another step. He looked for blood splashes on the wall of the bar. Nothing, only some circular drops near the body, beside the puddle on the floor.
He crouched down carefully next to the corpse. He wanted to examine it systematically. He noted the short, peroxide blond, disheveled hairdo with the black roots; no bruising visible on the back of the neck – the wound responsible for all the blood must be in the front, maybe hidden by the bandanna; the beige jacket with the large bloodstain on the back; the pants wet until just above the knees, cuffs rolled half-way up the shins; the bare feet full of sand.
He mentally compared them to the footprints on the beach, the steps and the deck.
Just the one trail. That puzzled him.
When he was able to see the entire body he concluded it was of someone very tall, taller than even his own 1.85 meters. A man, maybe. But then he noted the dolphin earring in the right ear, the graceful lines of the neck, the thin wrists, the delicate fingers, the rings, the long fingernails polished black that, together with the wide hips, made him decide it was the body of a woman. Probably a foreigner, given that the average height of Brazilian women was around 1.60 meters.
“Seventeen stab wounds to the back,” said Dulce, crouching next to him.
Still processing his thoughts, Dornelas remained silent, immersed in his analysis. Dulce watched him admiringly, seeing in him the deep concentration akin to the great artists, where the creator and his work become one.
Solano appeared at that exact moment.
“Nothing in the brush, sir. Just the eroded footprints in the sand,” the detective said.
His thoughts somewhere else, Dornelas assented with a slight nod. Then, following his instincts, he got down on his stomach and nearly stuck his nose in one of the corpse’s pant legs at knee level.
“Was it a hard rain yesterday, windy?” he asked Solano, who was standing up watching him.
“A damn heavy shower like I’ve never seen.”
“What time do you think she died?” he asked, turning to Dulce.
“Hard to say. I need to study the general condition of the body, the degree of lividity and rigor, the vitreous humor, the corneas, what she had in her stomach and in her blood. I have to look carefully at her wounds. Right now, looking at the jacket, I can only tell you it wasn’t a knife. And from the amount of blood on the bandanna and the floor she may have been struck in a carotid artery.”
Dornelas frowned and lay on his stomach to study the marks in the jacket more closely. He noted that they were made by a curved instrument, shaped in a semicircle with a diameter of roughly 3 centimeters and very sharp given that the cuts in the cloth were well defined. But what puzzled him most was that on the inside of each groove in the cloth there was a pointed depressed part that forced through the fabric before the blade initiated the cuts.
“What kind of instrument can do something like this?” he murmured.
Dulce, crouched next to him, replied:
“A wood sculptor’s chisel perhaps.”
Dornelas wasn’t convinced.
“Could it have been in the middle of the night?”
“Why do you say that?”
The inspector didn’t answer. He got up slowly, while his eyes were looking to see if there was anything in the rear pockets of the corpse’s jeans; a wallet, documents. Nothing. All he said was:
“I’m going to talk to Herculano. Look for a tool that could leave a mark like this. And for her shoes too, I didn’t see any around here. And pay attention to the blood on the floor.”
When he stood up and looked at the extended corpse the image of the small boat sailing out to sea came back to him. And all of a sudden he realized what had bothered him so much about that scene; something that the disorganized interpretation of the eyes and mind wasn’t able to pick up, but that hadn’t escaped the more comprehensive vision of his intuition: it was a woman in the boat, sitting under the canopy. It was the short hair and beige man’s jacket that had confused him.
If the body was in fact that of a foreigner would be confirmed later on. And if it were, no surprise there. Palmyra received visitors from all over the world, all year long. Even more so during the week of the Festival.
On the way to where Herculano was, Dornelas stopped short and leaned his face against the railing that rose from the rear counter of the bar to the ceiling and surrounded the kitchen: the dry floor, the closed drawers, the bottles on the shelves, the kitchenware above the sink. He concluded that everything was in its proper place. And that it would be impossible for anyone to remove anything from there because the spaces between both the bars and the trelliswork that covered the ceiling were too narrow. He checked the entrance door: locked tight by a heavy padlock.
The inspection over, he approached the caretaker who was collapsed in one of the chairs on the deck. The man was a picture of consternation. Dornelas pulled a chair up to the table and sat in it. Dulce and Solano were behind him, walking slowly in circles, heads down. A scene reminiscent of a couple looking for a lost earring or a contact lens.
“Tell me a little about when you found the body,” said the inspector softly, trying to sound supportive.
Herculano shifted slowly in the chair and rested his arms on the table top. As he opened his mouth to speak he appeared to the inspector to have become even more solemn.
“It was almost 5:30 in the morning, sir. I wake up every day at that time. I left the house, the one right behind here, next to the boss’s, and right away saw the hull of the boat sticking out of the water, up on the rocks. I thought that was strange so I came here.”
“Why here, to the bar, and not straight down to the end of the beach where the boat was?”
“Down there I’d have to jump the fence onto the sand. From here I can go down the stairs. I always go down this way.”
“Any particular reason?”
“The boss doesn’t like us to jump the fence. It could be a bad example for the tourists.” The man paused briefly and finished with, “What’s the difference? They don’t respect anything anyways!”
Dornelas looked around, studying the low wall and wooden fence that separated the grass from the beach as well as the two staircases, one on each side of the deck, which in turn was about two meters above the beach.
“And when you got here…?” he began again.
“I got scared when I saw the body over there by the bar so I went back home and called the police.”
“What time was that?”
“I don’t know, I don’t have a watch.” The man pulled up his sleeves and showed his bare, tanned arms. Dornelas noted that there was no whiter patch of skin in the shape of a watch on either wrist.
“But it was right away,” Herculano went on. “From a distance it looked like just another drunk sleeping over there. But when I got closer and saw the red-stained jacket and the puddle of blood on the floor, I ran home and called you guys.”
The man’s expression was now one of fear. Dornelas just watched him for a while. He decided to keep going.
“If you don’t use a watch, how do you know it was 5:30 when you came here?”
“I don’t have a wrist watch but I have an alarm clock on my night table. Today I woke up a little earlier, at 5:07. I know that because I looked at it as soon as I got out of bed.”
“What did you do after you got out of bed?”
“I went to the bathroom to pee, threw some water on my face, got dressed and left.”
Dornelas remembered the time showing on his clock radio when Solano had called: 5:42. ‘Give or take a few minutes, his story holds up,’ he decided.
“Was it dark?” the inspector asked, knowing the answer.
“At this time of year it always is.”
“But then how were you able to see the hull of the boat as soon as you left the house? It’s a good twenty meters from your door to the beach, plus the sand, the rocks… fifty meters in all,” he surmised, mentally measuring the distance as he visualized a straight line from the door of the caretaker’s house to where the boat was.
“The spotlights, sir,” said the man, looking up and to both sides. “They were all on. They have a sensor that keeps them lit during the night and turned off during the day.”
Dornelas looked at both ends of the deck and at the lampposts on the fences at both sides: six spotlights in all, aimed at the beach.
“When were they installed?”
“Awhile ago, around three years. When the bar opened.”
“Any particular reason for them?”
“The boss ordered them. He said they’d scare off the hooligans and the couples looking for a place to get laid. After that there was a lot less monkey business on the beach at night.”
“How long does the bar stay open?”
“Until dark. Between seven and eight in the summer. In the winter, before six.”
“And when does it open?”
“At eleven in the winter. In the summer, when more people come, at ten.”
“Every day of the week?”
“Tuesday through Sunday. But yesterday we didn’t open.”
“I didn’t see any point with the Festival beginning. I took advantage to give the employees a day off.”
“How long have you been the caretaker?”
Dornelas noticed that as they talked the man had loosened up and had begun to feel more secure, perhaps because of the subject, which he knew well and which was not directly related to the crime. Keeping him mentally away from the corpse proved to be a good strategy of the inspector’s.
“And what do you do in the bar?”
“I’m the manager. I also take care of the upkeep of the house and the grass.”
“That’s a lot of work for one man!”
“How many other people work in the bar?”
“Six. Two in the kitchen, two girls behind the bar and two guys waiting on the tables.”
“Do you live alone?”
“No. My wife and daughter live with me. Laudelina looks after the boss’s house, cleaning and cooking.”
“What time do they wake up every day?”
“Those two don’t like to get up early. They sleep like logs. I wake the two of them up around seven. My daughter goes to school at Mansa Beach. It begins at eight.”
“And today, what time did they wake up?”
“I called my wife as soon as I got back to phone the police. She didn’t want to go outside to see what happened. I can’t tell you what time she woke Catarina up.”
The inspector turned in his chair and looked at the bigger house. He assumed it was the owner’s. It was closed up. In the smaller house next to it, Herculano’s he supposed, he could see a woman through the window moving around in what appeared to be the kitchen and a girl sitting at a table chewing something.
“Is the owner here?”
“He didn’t come. He only shows up when the city’s empty. I’ve never seen him around here when it’s full.”
“Can you remember hearing anything strange or unusual last night?”
“Nothing besides the windstorm and heavy rain late at night.”
“And the noise from the boat?”
“That’s always there. You can see that there’s always boats passing by here.”
Dornelas looked out at the ocean and saw two fishing boats heading out to sea.
“Even at night?”
“Why not? There’s a fishing village one beach over.”
Dornelas searched in his mind and asked:
“Let’s go back a bit. After you got here and saw the body, you told me you went back home to call the police, right?”
“What did you do after you called the police, go to the boat?”
“No sir, I didn’t. I stayed for a while at home with my wife and then I came here.”
“You mean you never stepped on the sand, the rocks, anywhere!”
The man shook his head from side to side in an emphatic negative. Dornelas studied him a little longer in silence. The man was transparent, sure of himself.
“That’s it for now,” the inspector finished. “I’m going to want to speak to you again. And to your wife and daughter too. Is that okay?”
“Whenever you like, sir.”
They both stood up and exchanged a firm handshake. Then the inspector went to the edge of the deck, sniffed the air and studied the footprints in the sand, especially the trail that went up in a straight line from the sea to the stairs. Little raindrops were falling. Actually, more of a drizzle. It caused the impression that the grass and the thicket behind it were being plasticized as the droplets landed on their blades and leaves. The moisture accentuated the colors and shine of the Mata Atlântica – the Atlantic Forest – that pulsated with all the nuances of a Monet painting.
The inspector then turned his attention to the hull of the boat keeled over on the rocks and felt a kind of magnet in his chest pulling him toward it.
“Did you find anything?” he asked as he passed by Solano, who was scouring the ground with his eyes. Dulce was squatting down next to the body.
“Nothing, sir,” the subordinate replied without raising his head.
With her hands stuck in her coat pockets, Dulce remained quiet. She was studying the corpse inch by inch.
As the investigative chain of command barred her from touching the body before the Forensics technicians arrived, she was exercising super-human willpower to contain the desire to begin the autopsy right there. From a distance Dornelas could see that her lips were moving; she was muttering something, as if she was talking to the deceased.
‘Go figure,’ thought the inspector, shrugging his shoulders as he passed her on his way to the shipwreck.
His cell phone rang a soon as he stepped on the grass. The inspector took it out of his pocket and answered it right away without even looking to see the number on the screen.
“Joaquim?” asked a female voice.
“Who’s this?” he retorted without thinking.
A brief silence was followed by a heavy gulp, and then the deep voice was back, sounding like the evil queen in a Disney film:
With his mind somewhere else he hadn’t recognized his ex-wife on the line. ‘Starting early,’ he thought. He had a sudden urge to reply, ‘Me who?’ just to provoke her. He controlled himself.
“Good morning, Flávia.”
“I need to speak to you. It’s urgent.”
Her voice sounded anxious, worried.
“Can I call you later? I’m in the middle of an investigation.”
“Aren’t you always?”
The stab he felt made him stop. Dornelas looked up at the sky and took a deep breath. The Achilles heel his separation had produced began to hurt again.
“Go ahead,” he let out.
“It’s Luciano, Joaquim. I caught the boy.”
The inspector rolled his eyes, thinking the worst: ‘My son’s mixed up with drugs.’
“Caught him doing what? Where?”
“Masturbating. In the bathroom. Last night,” said Flávia, now in tears.
Dornelas burst into laughter out of relief.
“So what’s wrong with that?”
“He’s only eleven, Joaquim. He’s still a boy. He shouldn’t be doing those things.”
“It’s his age, Flávia. He’s discovering his body, the girls in school. It’s normal.”
“It’s too soon,” she insisted.
“No it’s not.”
“You, for example, when did you start?”
Not wanting to tell her that at eleven he was a big dummy who only thought about playing ball, he answered:
“About the same time.”
“So what should I do?”
“Let the kid jerk off whenever he wants.”
“What do you mean?”
“Leave the boy alone and let him discover himself. It’ll be fine.”
“Relax, Flávia,” he interrupted. “If you keep pestering him, that’s how you’ll give him a trauma.”
“But what about me, what do I do, act like nothing’s happened?”
The small boat shook once more against the rocks, getting Dornelas’ attention. He breathed deeply and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
“Let’s do the following: I’ll call him and talk to him about it later. Is that okay?”
“I guess so.”
“Great. I have to hang up now. A kiss to you.”
“You too,” said his ex-wife, still in tears.
Dornelas hung up and thought about his son entering puberty. It made him feel happy, but also older. And because of that, a little sad. He remembered when he was at that age, his first girlfriend, when he lost his virginity. Daydreaming.
He looked at the boat again and returned to reality. Then he shook his head as if to be free of a swarm of mosquitoes and headed down there.
As he jumped from the grass to the rocks at the opposite end of the beach from where he had entered, the inspector could see for the first time across the breadth of the hull that, turned toward the brush, was out of sight from the deck. That’s why he hadn’t seen the loose planks, the oar, the torn canopy, a few cushions and a foot that appeared every time the water from the waves receded, like a horrific version of synchronized swimming.
He cautiously picked up the pace on the uneven ground without missing any details of the scene around him. He was looking for a trail, an object or a sign of blood on the rocks or in the crevices between them; he found nothing of any value. He gave up in the face of the gloomy scenario.
The boat was breaking apart, on its way to becoming a pile of twisted boards. Being jolted by the waves merely accelerated the process. The side under water had been fractured inwards, like a broken eggshell. Two of the three wooden poles on that side, the ones that held up the canvas canopy, were stuck in a crevice between two immense rocks. That was what was holding the keeled over boat in place. If not for that it would have floated back out to sea and sunk far from the beach.
As he got closer Dornelas could see the shape of a body stretched out on the deck, almost completely wrapped in green canvas. Only a large foot and hairy ankle were sticking out of the cigar-shaped thing that it had formed.
Dornelas went down the rocks in a crouch until he was next to the corpse. Doing this required extra care since the free ends of the snagged poles were pointing in his direction like three spears, threatening him every time the waves rocked the entire structure.
He grabbed one of the ropes attached to the canvas and began to pull hard on it. Helped by the push from the waves that broke underneath the boat, he was able to drag the body onto the rocks. He carefully began to unwrap it.
It was a man 35 or 40 years old, short, muscular, completely bald – Kojak style – with a crooked nose and a thin mouth that looked like it had been carved out by a straight razor. He was wearing jeans and a gray windbreaker. There was no sign of blood in the front. When he turned him over he was surprised to see a deep, purple flattened area behind the right ear that went all the way to the nape of the neck.
He stood up and shouted toward the beach:
On the deck the detective and the coroner raised their heads and looked at him. Waving his arm he signaled for them to come down there
While they ran to where he was the inspector looked closely at the boat once more and noticed that the rope tied to the bow cleat was lying on the rocks like a pit of lifeless snakes.
He went down close to the boat once more, the ripples wetting his shoes and pant cuffs. He grabbed both sides of the thick rope coming out of the cleat and ran his hands down them until he reached the two ends. On the shorter one there was a classic figure eight knot with the extremities of the nylon strands partially melted. On the other, longer, the rope had been cut symmetrically. The fibers were slightly unwoven, the middle clean. That puzzled him. He stored the image in his memory and dropped both ends on the beach.
Solano and Dulce approached and looked agape at the scene of havoc in front of them.
“The sailor, sir?” asked the detective.
“That’s him. I remember seeing him at the helm last night.”
Dulce squatted next to the body and looked carefully at the wound in the back of the head.
“What a blow!” she exclaimed.
“I need you to tell me if he hit his head or if he was hit by someone,” said the inspector.
She nodded in assent and the inspector turned back to his subordinate.
“As soon as Forensics finishes their work ask for the Fire Department’s help to remove this boat from here. I want everything: cushions, wood, engine, ropes, the canopy, everything inside it and spread around here – and I mean everything – in the precinct courtyard today, all of it intact if possible. Think you can do it?”
“No problem getting it done. But by today depends on their workload, sir. If you could have a word with Major Astolfo…”
“Good idea. I’ll go by there as soon as I leave here.”
He turned to Dulce.
“Any word on the hearse?”
“It’s on the way. As soon as Chagas does his part I’ll take them both to the Medical Examiner’s.”
“Great.” He turned back to Solano. “Close the Mansa Beach access to this beach immediately. Isolate the bar. Don’t allow any boats to dock or tourists to set foot here. Take advantage of the bar employees showing up to work to notify them to give statements this afternoon at the precinct. I want to talk to all of them, personally. Get Caparrós and Lotufo to help you.”
“I’m on it.”
“Good. I’m going back to town then.”
Dulce stood up; Dornelas held her by her arms and kissed her affectionately on the lips. He looked at her and asked:
“See you later?”
She demurely opened her eyes wide and kissed him lightly. The inspector started to go, took three steps, turned around and said:
“Put the woman at the head of the line. The press is going to eat me alive if she’s a foreigner.”
“Okay,” Dulce replied.
Certain he had done everything he could, Dornelas turned and walked toward the beach, bothered that he had to make that type of distinction, as if the woman’s life was worth more than the sailor’s. But, since it was the press that had created that rule, not him, there was nothing he could do about it.
He walked along the low wall, waved to the caretaker, who was looking out of the window in his house, crossed the deck and the lawn and entered the trail. As he got to the end of it and was heading toward his car, another vehicle appeared, going very fast, and braked sharply next to him.
Four men opened the doors, got out and slammed them shut, in a cadenced manner reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. With his team right behind him, Chagas, the head technician of the Crime Laboratory, frowned deeply when he caught sight of Dornelas. Sworn enemies, the two got along politely purely out of professional necessity.
“You’re here early, sir!” he exclaimed with his shrill voice, feigning friendliness.
As he was directly responsible for the entire investigation, below only Amarildo Bustamante, the Sectional-Inspector, Dornelas didn’t want to lose the chance to take a jab at his colleague, who he privately referred to as “Shithead”, a nickname that he had earned, deservedly, within the precinct.
“It’s you who overslept. I got here right on time,” the inspector replied, grinning out of the side of his mouth.
They shook hands – a mere formality – and went on their separate ways.
“Good morning. Has Major Astolfo arrived?” Dornelas asked the fellow behind the counter at the Fire Department.
“Not yet. Would you like to speak to him by radio?” replied the muscular young man, Cpl. Moreira according to the name embroidered on his shirt pocket.
The man took two steps over to a table and picked up a black radio a bit smaller than a brick. He pressed a button and said:
“Major, can you talk?”
After a few seconds a metallic voice came on the line amid the dry crackling noise of static.
“Go ahead, Moreira.”
“I have Inspector Dornelas here with me. He’d like a word with you, sir.”
“Put him on.”
The corporal passed the radio to Dornelas who pressed the button and spoke.
“Good morning Major Astolfo. How are you?” asked Dornelas, trying to keep up appearances in front of the corporal. Astolfo, an old fishing buddy of his, replied:
“Cut the shit, Dornelas. What do you need? Must be something big for you to call so early on a Thursday.”
“You’re right. I’ve got two deaths on Brava Beach. I found them this morning. One of them appears to be a gringo woman. I need your help to get the remains of a boat to the precinct and I need it today. What’s your day look like?”
“A mess, as usual. But I’ll see what I can do. What kind of boat; big or small?”
“An excursion whaler. Canvas canopy. Twenty-five, thirty feet.”
“Is it sinking?”
“No. It’s on the rocks, it’s in really bad shape.”
“Only access by land is the trail, right?”
“We’ll have to do it by sea then. I’m going to need a big boat, one with a crane. Did you talk to the Navy?”
“Not yet. I figured I’d talk to you first.”
“Alright. I’ll figure something out. Are any of your people there?”
“Talk to Solano. He’s assisting Chagas and Dr. Dulce.”
“Okay, I got it.”
“One more thing,” Dornelas remembered. “Could you send a diver to sweep the sea bottom at the mouth of the beach and the rocks around it?”
“What’re you looking for?
“A ship’s anchor tied to a cable and an instrument that would produce a wound in the shape of a semi-circle.”
“I know it sounds strange, but that’s the shape of the marks on one of the victim’s clothes. And no doubt of the wounds as well.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Are we still on for fishing this weekend?” the major asked.
“Gonna be tough if the woman’s really a foreigner.”
“Let me know.”
“You got it. Take care.”
“Yeah, you too.”
They hung up. Dornelas thanked the corporal, left and went to the precinct in the adjoining building.
“Good morning, Marilda,” said the inspector to the receptionist as he stepped into the precinct.
“Good morning, sir.”
Just as Dornelas was about to enter the corridor that led to the offices, Marilda called him.
“What is it?” he answered, going back to her.
“Can I leave a little earlier today? I have to do some exams. Woman things,” she said, feeling embarrassed.
“No problem. Just make sure your area isn’t left empty.”
“Great. What time are you leaving?”
“Right after lunch.”
“Okay. I hope this time’s the charm.”
Dornelas walked away thinking about the receptionist’s unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant. It’s what she wanted more than anything in the world. Certainly her body at age thirty-five, and anxious to conceive a child, had already set off a biological alarm. The problem was her husband, a big strong guy who just couldn’t produce spermatozoa in sufficient numbers.
From what he could tell, it was affecting the very foundation of their marriage. He felt sorry for her and then thought of his children. He looked at his watch and decided that at that time they were probably out enjoying their school vacation.
He entered his office and sat in his chair, then unlocked and opened the desk drawer. He broke off a whole row of his chocolate bar and began to eat it slowly, square by square. He was hungry. He hadn’t eaten anything since he got out of bed at dawn that morning.
As he stretched out in the chair and looked down at his shoes he realized they were wet, as were his pants up to his shins. He closed the drawer, got up and went out to the reception area.
“I’m going home to change clothes and come right back,” he told Marilda. “If anyone needs me, they can call my cell phone.”
He could hear the noise from the vacuum cleaner the day maid was using on the ground floor as soon as he walked in. Lupi, his dog, met him at the door with his tail wagging.
“Good morning,” he shouted to Neide, who was vacuuming with her back to him and paid him no heed.
Dornelas just shrugged and went up to his room. He changed clothes and went back downstairs.
“Good morning, sir,” the maid said when he appeared. Then she turned off the machine that was roaring like a jet engine. “Did you fall out of bed today?”
“I had to.”
“Want me to make you something to eat?”
“No time. I’ll go with a goró.”
The cleaning lady threw him a stern reproving look. Dornelas went to the kitchen, got a bowl out of the cupboard and made his faithful anytime recipe: six soup spoons of farinha láctea baby cereal, two of powdered milk and a cup of water. He stirred it until it was a mush and wolfed it all down in a few spoonfuls.
“When are you going to learn to eat grownup food, sir?” Neide asked him with a scowl.
“When they invent something as good and as practical as my goró.”
“Humph,” grumbled the maid in objection as she turned the vacuum cleaner on and turned her back on him. Dornelas hit the street.
His cell phone rang as soon as he started walking back to the precinct. He looked at the number and answered.
“Go ahead, Marilda.”
“Sir, some people from the Festival just arrived. They want to speak to you urgently.”
“Take them to the conference room and serve them coffee. I’ll speed it up and be there in ten minutes.”
Marilda hung up before he did.
A young man and a woman got up as soon as he crossed the doorway.
“Please, sit down,” the inspector said.
And they did, until the flurry of introductions began. The woman, the older of the two, introduced herself as Ruth Velasco, responsible for the organization of the Festival. Owner of a healthy complexion, a round face and long, dark and disheveled hair, she exuded maturity, energy and common sense. She was clearly upset. And in a rush. Dornelas could sense in her an air of authority that would be unshakeable even under the most extreme work conditions. He imagined her as the captain of an oil tanker.
Satisfied, he turned to the young man who was thin and pale with long, delicate fingers. A sort of closely trimmed down covered his face, the type of beard the young always use to appear older when they aren’t taken seriously enough. He looked lost. Dornelas got that impression when he noticed the lad examining the environment in the precinct as if he were in a science fiction movie.
“Inspector, one of the guest authors didn’t return to her hotel last night,” Ruth said. “Nobody knows where she is. Calls to her cell phone go straight to voice mail. We don’t know what to do.”
“When was she last seen?” Dornelas asked.
“Yesterday evening,” Ruth replied. “The receptionist at the hotel saw her go by there a little after seven.”
“Did you bring a document, a photo, anything that can help us to identify her?”
Dornelas didn’t want to talk about the body found on the beach until it had been identified by Forensics or the Medical Examiner’s office.
Ruth looked questioningly at the young man, named Bruno, who quickly took a book out of a brown envelope and handed it to the inspector. Unlimited Passion was the title of the book. The author’s name: Georgia Summers.
Opening the flap of the book cover, he came upon the picture of a woman with an angular face and long dark hair. The black and white photo was too small to make a definite positive identification. And since he hadn’t been able to look at the corpse’s face, his uncertainty was even greater.
“What nationality is she?” Dornelas asked.
“American?” replied Ruth, casting an uncertain look at Bruno, who confirmed the information with a nod.
“Is she married?”
“Yes, sir,” Ruth answered.
“Is her husband here, did he come with her?”
“Not her husband, Inspector. Wife. Georgia’s married to a Brazilian woman,” said the organizer.
Bruno looked to see if the inspector’s face displayed any surprise but was disappointed.
“Where is she right now?”
“At the hotel. She’s devastated,” replied Ruth
“I understand,” murmured the inspector. “What’s her name?”
“And what did Georgia say to her before she left?”
“That she was going for a walk in the city.”
“She didn’t say where she was going?”
“Not that I know of.”
Dornelas thought back to the Festival pavilion, and to the boat. Ruth was wringing her hands in distress. Bruno followed the conversation in silence, his head going back and forth between Ruth and the inspector as if at a tennis match.
“Another thing, Inspector; Georgia is one of the distinguished invited guests at this year’s Festival. She’s going to lead a discussion on female novels on the final day. We don’t know what to say to the press.”
“Don’t say anything until we’ve looked a little deeper. She may be around somewhere; maybe she met some friends and had a bit too much to drink. Who knows? Did anyone from her publisher come with her?”
“Not that I know of,” Ruth answered.
“Did anyone from the publishing company come looking for you?”
“Not so far.”
“They probably will. And when they do, tell them to come speak to me. Let me have your cell phone number.”
Ruth scribbled on the notepad that was in the middle of the table, tore the sheet off and gave it to the inspector.
Dornelas dialed the numbers on his phone, pressed a key and heard her phone start ringing.
“There’s my number.”
Ruth got her handset, refused the call and copied the number to her list of contacts. Dornelas waited until she was finished and said:
“Go to the hotel right now and tell Madalena that a friend of yours is going to visit her in an hour, just to have a little chat. I don’t want to bring her here – that could put a magnifying glass on the matter and draw the attention of the press.”
“What name should I tell her?”
“Joaquim is fine. Just don’t say I’m with the police. It might scare her.”
Dornelas searched through his mind for a few seconds.
“That’s it for now. Please don’t talk to anyone about this. Contact me directly with anything you find out and we’ll do our part over here. And you,” – he turned to Bruno – “trap shut. Try to keep a low profile and don’t go around gossiping.”
Like a frightened puppy, the young man opened his eyes wide with a fragile expression and shivered.
After seeing Ruth and Bruno off Dornelas left the conference room and felt a huge load land on his shoulders. He prepared for the worst. A famous writer killed at the Festival was going to make his life a living hell. Then an idea hit him and he ran to the reception desk.
“Call Chagas right now on his cell phone, please. I’ll take it in my office,” he said to Marilda.
“Right away, sir.”
He barely had time to sit down before the phone rang.
“Mr. Chagas’ phone goes straight to voice mail.”
‘Fucking Chagas,’ he thought.
“Call Dr. Dulce then.”
He slammed the phone down. After a few seconds it rang again. He tore it off the hook.
“I’ll put Dr. Dulce through.”
Anxious, he jumped out of his chair.
“Hi, Joaquim,” Dulce said.
“How’s it going over there?” he shot out.
“Chagas has finished his part. The hearse is here and I’m getting ready to take the two bodies to the morgue.”
“Great. Did you find any ID on the woman?”
“A Danish passport.”
“In whose name?”
“Does her face match the name?”
“It’s her alright.”
Fearing Dulce was going to say Georgia Summers, Dornelas now felt as light as a feather floating in the wind.
“Great news! Thank you. Let me know when you’ve got anything else,” the inspector said, relaxing in his chair.
“Okay. Big kiss.”
They hung up together. Dornelas got up and went to get a hot cup of coffee.
If he entered Madalena’s hotel dressed in a suit and tie he would become the unwanted center of attention. So, feeling like a model in a fashion show, Dornelas went home to change once more.
“You going to eat another goró, sir?” the maid asked him when she saw him come in. The sarcasm in her voice was obvious.
“Not now,” he replied dryly as he went up to his room.
When she saw him appear in the living room dressed like the owner of a luxury yacht – plaid trousers, sports shirt and navy blue blazer – Neide dropped her broom and hurried into the kitchen, smothering her laughter with her hands. Dornelas left the house, a scowl on his face.
“Good morning, Inspector,” the smiling hotel receptionist said, totally destroying his disguise.
Ever since the Mangrove Crime, when he appeared on TV pulling the body of a drug dealer out of the mud in front of the Santa Teresa church, Dornelas had become a sort of celebrity in the little city of Palmyra. He was marked as an honest and competent cop, a kind of poor man’s implacable hero against organized crime.
“I’m here to talk to Ms. Madalena Brasil. Just announce me as Joaquim, a friend of Ruth Velasco’s. No need to mention inspector, please.”
The receptionist picked up the phone, pressed a few keys on some device below the counter and threw him a catty look that, trying as he was to blend into the surroundings like a chameleon, he pretended not to understand. The girl murmured something and hung up.
“Ms. Madalena asked you to meet her in her room. It’s number twelve. Just walk past the pool and keep going; it’s the only suite at the end of the garden.
Dornelas thanked her, crossed the large room filled with sofas and people talking and reading, and went out into a lush garden with a bean-shaped pool. In the rear was an ample bungalow with a door and two windows. He rapped on the door with his knuckles.
“Come in,” yelled a muffled voice.
Dornelas turned the doorknob, opened the door a crack and spoke through the opening.
“Come in, come in,” the female voice insisted from within the room. “It’s so cold out there.”
The inspector opened the door wide and came face to face with a woman with caramel-colored skin, eyes as blue as the Caribbean and fleshy lips, dressed in a white robe. The deliciously wet curls of her hair fell on her shoulders. His immediate first impression was that she was emanating the fresh sea breeze that comes with the day’s first ray of sun.
The woman was sitting in an armchair upholstered in flower-covered material, bent over one of her legs. She was polishing the toenails of a foot that was propped up on a footstool. Half of her robe had slipped open to the waist leaving her lavishly naked leg to shiver in the cold air that blew in through the open door. The blue eyes studied the inspector judiciously from head to foot. Dornelas, rooted to the spot, began to perspire and felt his heart pounding. Then the woman looked him in the eye, a voracious look; her thick red lips opened and a melody filled the air.
As if an angel had called to him from heaven, Dornelas remained motionless, silent, politely awaiting instructions.
“Please close the door.”
Like an animated puppet, Dornelas finally moved and shut the door.
“Sorry,” was all he managed to say.
“It’s me who should apologize for receiving you like this. Ruth told me you’d be coming, but… I’m so upset that doing my nails is my way of keeping my head together.”
“Would you like me to wait outside?”
“Not at all. If you don’t mind, we can talk while I finish. What do you think?”
‘Thank you, Lord,’ the inspector thought.
“It’s okay with me,” was all he said.
“Good.” The woman closed the bottle of nail polish, placed it on the floor and covered up her thigh. “Ruth said you know a lot of people in the city and that maybe you can help find my Gigi.”
“You could say that,” he replied, nodding his head.
“Oh wow, that’s wonderful!” she yelled, nearly hysterically, raising her arms in the air. Next she put her other foot up on the stool, opened the bottle of nail polish and went to work on it. Dornelas pulled out a chair from the little dining table and sat down.
“Can you tell me when was the last time you saw her?”
“Late afternoon yesterday. I was taking a bath. She told me she was going out for a walk in the city and would be back before dinner.”
“What time was dinner?”
“Between eight and nine.”
“She didn’t mention if she was going to meet someone, go someplace, anything?”
“Nothing, Joaquim. Not a thing.”
“What did you do when you realized she hadn’t come back?”
“I called the front desk to check if there were any messages. There weren’t. I turned on the TV and fell asleep watching it until this morning. I woke up worried and called the front desk again. Nobody had heard from her. So I asked them to find one of the Festival organizers. I spoke to Ruth and the rest you already know.”
As she finished the first nail a slight movement of her arm caused one side of the robe to gently slide open, liberating another naked thigh; another piece of paradise. ‘That gringo woman had good taste,’ he thought while admiring the lovely lady’s magnificent legs. Visibly disconcerted, Dornelas compared the meeting to visiting a museum, where one could only appreciate the masterpieces from a distance without being able to touch them.
“Do either of you know anyone in the city?”
“No. We only know a few of the invited authors. That’s it. This is the first time we’ve been in Palmyra, at the Festival.”
“Where do you live?”
“Isle au Haut.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Not many people have. Isle au Haut is a little island off the coast of Maine, six miles out.” Madalena lifted the little nail polish brush up and painted an imaginary map in the air. “We live in a delightful house facing the ocean. That’s where Gigi moved after her career took off. I met her at a book fair in Chicago and we fell in love instantly. It was magic.”
“What are the books about?”
“Novels for women, those sugary love stories that sell like hot cakes in bookstores and newsstands.”
“And does she sell a lot?”
“Millions, Joaquim. Millions. The stories are full of impossible feelings for strong, passionate men. They always take place in beautiful and remote locations. Women needy for this fantasy world buy Gigi’s books by the ton.”
He was an avid reader, but Dornelas had never read anything of that sort. He’d ask Dulce later if she’d heard of Georgia’s books.
The foot finished, Madalena closed the bottle of nail polish and stood up. Even from where he was he could now appraise her fully. The tight sash around her waist revealed that the robe was hiding a firm and curvaceous body. Then she raised her hips, threw her head back while freeing her hair from the collar of the robe with her hands, and as gracefully as a gazelle began the short walk to the closet. Her movements were fluid and elegant, those of a female conscious of the power she exercised over men. Dornelas’ mind filled with fantasies, just from knowing that women were her thing – which actually only increased his attraction to her.
“And what about you, where are you from? How do you fit in to all of this?” he asked, clearly disturbed.
“I was born in Brazil, in Recife. I got into the publishing business because of my father, who was a Portuguese and English teacher. He did reviews and translations from English to Portuguese for a few local publishing houses. I have a degree in languages. I worked at a publisher for a few years and became a literary agent at a time when there were very few professionals in that line of work around here. I followed in the footsteps of Lúcia Riff, one of the pioneers in the field.”
“Is your last name really Brasil?”
“No. It’s Altamira. I adopted Brasil because it helps to identify me in literary circles. Altamira is too complicated for the gringos.”
Madalena had reached the closet and opened it. All Dornelas could do was appreciate her in silence as she ran her hands over the clothes hanging in it and picked out a long-sleeved blue dress that she tossed on the bed.
“Is that still what you do?” he asked, reluctantly interrupting the fashion show.
“It is, but now only for Gigi. I look after her work, negotiate the rights, the contracts. But I’m tired.”
And with no warning, ever so lightly and casually, she spread her arms, arched her back and let the robe slide down her body and fall lazily to the floor. Dornelas, unable to contain himself before this vision, stood up in delight as his imagination came to life before his eyes. Pure poetry in motion: full, firm breasts, swaying to her lithe movements; shapely legs fully extended; the curves of her ass, enough to drive a man to folly, shaking slightly; the slight swivel of her slender waist twisting the lines of her back up to her shoulders like Velazquez’s Venus in her Mirror. Simply beautiful. Madalena adjusted her panties, which had become disarranged, lifted the dress in the air and let it slide down her soft, burnt sugar-colored skin that was waiting to receive it.
Noticing his dumbfounded expression, Madalena thought it best to intervene.
“Pardon me, Joaquim, but I’ve adopted Gigi’s customs. This is how she grew up and now she’s taught me that the body is something perfectly natural. We have no qualms about doing this in our house”
“Think nothing of it,” Dornelas stammered, “it’s just that you are a very, very beautiful woman and…”
She just smiled. He, meanwhile, was struggling inwardly; he felt as if his fitful thought process was being distilled in a solution of cooking oil.
“But you said you were tired. Do you intend to do something… something else… like what?” he asked, forcing himself to resume the conversation.
“I dream about working in television, becoming an actress or a TV host.”
‘With a body like yours and sleeping with the right guys…,’ he thought wryly. But as soon as that thought had come and gone he realized that there was something in their conversation that required further attention; maybe needed to be reviewed.
“Excuse me, but you said ‘Gigi’s customs’?”
“Just customs, that’s all,” she said almost indifferently.
“What kind of customs?”
“Customs like regarding our bodies, and sex, as being something natural. It’s usual in her family, where she comes from,” Madalena replied, trying to get away from the subject, possibly because she considered it so trite.
“She’s American, right?” said the inspector, surprised.
“Gigi is naturalized American. Actually, she’s in the final process of obtaining her Green Card. Gigi was born in Denmark.”
Dornelas reacted as if he’d been hit by lightning. He ran his hand through his hair and began walking aimlessly around the room. He took off his blazer. He was sweating. Madalena, seeing that something had happened to him, became frightened.
“What is it?” she asked anxiously.
“Her name’s Georgia, right?”
“Georgia Summers, it’s her pen name. Her birth name is Gytha Svensson.”
Dornelas pulled his chair closer to Madalena and asked her to sit down as he did the same. He looked at her and said:
“I need to tell you something.”
The woman opened her eyes wide as she stiffened in her seat.
“You’re scaring me.”
Dornelas took a deep breath and went on:
“My name is Joaquim Dornelas. I’m the head inspector of the Palmyra Civil Police. Early this morning we found two bodies on Brava Beach, half an hour from the city. One of them is a woman with short peroxide-blond hair…”
When Madalena heard this she put her hands over her face and began to scream:
“GIGI! OH MY GOD, MY GIGI!”
Ruth showed up at the room twenty minutes after getting Dornelas’ phone call. Madalena was crying nonstop in the armchair.
“I gave her a sedative,” the inspector said. “It should kick in shortly. I don’t want to leave her alone. It would be best if someone stays here with her.”
“I understand, but I have the Festival to organize,” Ruth replied, nearly begging.
“Someone from the publisher maybe?”
“Then call them right now.”
Ruth nodded and immediately got the radio she carried on her waist.
“Bruno, do you read me?”
It took a few seconds before the lad’s metallic-sounding voice came through.
“Go ahead, Ruth.”
“Get hold of whoever’s responsible at Prada Publishing and bring him to the Il Gattopardo Inn now. Tell them to call me in room twelve. It’s urgent.”
He hung up. Ruth went to console Madalena who was hiccupping slouched in the armchair. Dornelas went into the garden, took his cell phone out of his pocket and called Solano.
“What do you need, sir?” asked the subordinate.
“Did you see the size of the bombshell that just landed in our lap?”
He asked the rhetorical question solely to give vent to his feelings; Dornelas was looking to share the burden that had just crashed down on his shoulders. He began to walk furiously around the pool.
“What does that mean, sir?”
“The body on the beach isn’t just a foreigner’s, it’s one of the illustrious Festival authors. That means we give total priority to this case. As soon as the press finds out they’re going to want to sink their teeth in our necks.”
Solano stayed silent, perhaps due to the impact caused by the news, comparable to a hard blow to the chest. Then:
“What would you like me to do, sir?”
Dornelas kept quiet, deep in thought. While he was waiting for the people from the publisher, Dulce was performing the autopsy – let her work in peace – and Chagas was organizing the technical evidence to put in his report. He’d call him soon to let him know the magnitude of the case and maybe squeeze him by the nuts a bit, solely to share the pressure that was increasing by the minute. The Fire Department was working on the case. Major Astolfo had assured him that he would handle it personally. He needn’t worry about that. However, even as this festival of duties being distributed was going on, there was something important left to be done. But first he needed to assign Solano his duties.
“How’s it going there?” he asked his subordinate.
“The bar personnel arrived but were detained at Mansa Beach,” Solano replied. “Caparrós is with them. I’m here with Lotufo on Brava Beach assisting Dr. Dulce. Mr. Chagas has already gone.”
“Excellent,” said Dornelas. “Advise Caparrós of the extent of the case and instruct him not to let the waiters and kitchen crew spread word of the crime. By the way, I spoke to Major Astolfo. He promised to take care of removing the boat personally. He’s going to send a diver to search for the anchor and a possible weapon. Focus on helping his team and taking the bar people, including the caretaker, to give statements this afternoon. Ask Lotufo to help you with that. That should get us started.”
“Copy that, sir.”
“See you later.”
And then, just before hanging up:
“One more thing: get all the info you can on the sailor from City Hall’s files because in order to moor at the mouth of the river he needed a special license.”
“I’ll call you later.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
They hung up and the inspector started looking for a number in his phone. He found it, pressed a button and waited.
“Sectional Police Headquarters, how can I help you?” said the velvet-voiced operator.
“I’d like to speak to Amarildo Bustamante, please,” answered Dornelas rather quickly.
“Inspector Joaquim Dornelas, from Palmyra.”
Amarildo Bustamante, besides being his boss and long-time friend, needed to know what was going on before the press tsunami sank the Festival and the police under a wave of contradictory reports. In a case like this one, where even the international press would be focused on the crime, the sooner they mounted a counterattacking strategy, the better. And Amarildo wasn’t only the Sectional Director, he was also a brilliant strategist who knew how to deal with ticklish matters such as this.
“Good morning, Joaquim,” said the boss, sounding jovial, even carefree.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Joaquim, how many times do I have to tell you,” the boss cut in. “When it’s just us, lose the ‘sir’.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “But I’ve got some bad news.”
Dornelas could hear creaking at the other end of the line. No doubt the boss had just sat up in his chair.
“Very early today we found two bodies on Brava Beach: a man, a sailor, and the other a woman. Everything points to it being murder. Not only did the crime occur on the inaugural night of the Festival, but the woman was one of the most important invited authors at the event.”
‘There,’ he thought. ‘I’ve tossed the grenade. Now let’s see the damage it’s caused.’ He heard a deep sigh and then the boss let out an emphatic:
Dornelas said nothing because nothing useful, or that might relieve Amarildo’s state of panic that he, Dornelas, had put him in, came to mind.
“Sonuvabitch,” Amarildo repeated.
“Should I bring you up to date on what we’re doing?” he asked tactfully.
Dornelas didn’t spare any details explaining to his boss what was being done as they were speaking.
“It took me a while to ID her since she was born in Denmark but lives in the U.S. and uses the pen name Georgia Summers.”
“Has the press caught on already?”
“Not yet. But it won’t take them long. Her partner is sedated in her hotel room, so the only ones who know about it are me, her, my detectives and the Festival organizer. The caretaker doesn’t know who she is. But with the beach closed and cop cars all over, very, very soon the rumors are going to start spreading that a crime’s taken place there.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Well, we didn’t find the weapons that killed the writer and the sailor, if he was in fact murdered and not the victim of an accident. Dr. Dulce, Chagas and the Fire Department are still working. That’s why so far we don’t have any technical proof much less a clear line of investigation to follow. All we have right now are statements from the bar employees scheduled for this afternoon, and information on the sailor and the boat that one of my detectives is going to get at City Hall. We’ll talk to other sailors, see who else had their boats moored at the river mouth last night at that time. Other than that, there’s not much else I can tell you right now.”
“That’s the police line of disclosure. But don’t forget that the Festival organization and the publishing house may want to make announcements of their own. They’ll have reasons to do so.”
Dornelas could only agree that Amarildo’s reasoning made sense.
“So,” the boss continued, “tell your subordinates about what you just said and try to convince the people at the Festival and the publisher to let the police do the talking.”
“You know how difficult that’ll be.”
“I do, but your work’s going to get a lot more complicated if the press releases are disconnected and they begin to say things they don’t know, especially under pressure from the press that’ll be out for blood. You know all too well how the press distorts what’s said to sell more newspapers.”
“Then I think we should put ourselves out there,” interjected the inspector, “which means immediately divulging that a crime has been committed before the press discovers for themselves. At the same time, we say that more details will be made available at a press conference scheduled for the end of the day. We invite the Festival and publishing people to participate. What do you think? Three birds with one stone.”
“And what’s that get you?” Amarildo retorted.
“Time to delve further into the case. Or at least to form a clearer line of inquiry beyond the obvious, meaning hearsay from the bar employees and possibly from other sailors.”
“It’s a good idea. But what do you plan on saying before the press conference?”
“Just that a crime’s been committed, without giving a lot of details. And that the investigation is ongoing.”
“Do it. I’ll go there to help you out just as soon as I clean up some things here. But first I’m going to inform the people upstairs. I’ll be there mid or late afternoon. Take care and I’ll see you soon.”
“You too,” said Dornelas, satisfied with the outcome of their conversation.
His boss hung up just before he did.
Madalena was lying in bed, quietly whimpering when Dornelas returned to the room. Ruth was sitting in a chair next to her, holding one of Madalena’s hands between her own. The phone rang. Ruth answered it, spoke briefly and hung up.
“The people from the publisher have arrived.”
Not a minute later there was a knock on the door. Dornelas opened it. A man and a woman were there, clearly uneasy.
“Let’s talk outside,” Dornelas said to the two of them. He turned to Ruth, “I’ll be back in five minutes.”
Ruth nodded. Dornelas went out and closed the door.
“Good morning. I’m Inspector Joaquim Dornelas.”
He held out his hand first to the woman and shook hers gently, then shook the man’s firmly.
The young lady returned his greeting by introducing herself as Mariane Gabon; an emaciated woman with milky skin and straight black hair who seemed timid and physically frail. ‘A mere gust of wind would probably put her in bed for a week,’ thought Dornelas. Her eyes, however, had a feline curiosity to them that right then was being used to examine the inspector from top to bottom. No doubt she was having trouble linking his appearance as a yacht owner to that of a police inspector. No matter.
The man bit off a few words introducing himself as Fernando Prada, the owner of the publishing house; a thin man, not particularly tall, Moorish dark-skinned, thick, black brows over deep-set eyes and gray-flecked hair combed in the shape of a helmet. Not one hair was out of place. The guy looked like he had just stepped out of a fashion catalogue: charcoal gray trousers and blue blazer, immaculately white shirt and shiny black shoes with excessively pointed tips. Dornelas looked at them and amused himself imagining a poisoned stiletto coming out of the toes of one of them like the one SPECTRE’s Rosa Klebb used in the James Bond movie, From Russia with Love.
The inspector invited them to sit at one of the poolside tables under a flowered umbrella. The sky was gray and a light drizzle was falling so the space was completely empty. This suited him since he didn’t want any interruptions or uninvited ears listening to their conversation.
Dornelas sat down, patiently waiting for the other two to get comfortable in their chairs, then rested his forearms on the table top and looked first at one, then at the other.
“I’ll be brief,” he said. “Gytha Svensson, or Georgia Summers, was killed last night or early this morning. We are investigating the circumstances of her murder.”
The woman’s eyes opened wide as she raised her hands to her mouth.
“Murder? Oh my God,” she said, turning to Fernando.
“How?” asked the publisher, incredulous.
“From multiple stab wounds by an as yet unidentified instrument.”
“Where?” asked Mariane.
“On Brava Beach, which is half an hour from the city.”
“Are you sure?” questioned Fernando.
“Absolutely. Forensics and the Medical Examiner found her passport in one of her jacket pockets. It’s a Danish passport in the name of Gytha Svensson. They made a positive identification.”
Mariane’s eyes turned red as small teardrops began to well up.
“What was she doing there?” the woman asked, seemingly to herself, visibly shocked. She looked at Fernando for some sort of instruction.
“And now what, sir?” the publisher asked.
Dornelas explained in detail what was being done by all the agencies involved to give him confidence that the police were acting quickly and efficiently – which actually was nothing more than the absolute truth.
“At this time we have to do two things,” said the inspector. Fernando and Mariane sat up and refocused their attention. “First, somebody needs to stay with Madalena. She’s in bed, sedated. Although she may be a Brazilian, she’s like a foreigner here. Ruth Velasco, the Festival organizer, is with her but can’t stay much longer. Can one of you volunteer to do this?”
Fernando looked at Mariane who immediately offered herself.
“Good. Please go in and ask Ruth to come out here.”
Mariane got up and went to the room. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence the Festival organizer appeared and joined the other two beneath the umbrella. The light drizzle continued nonstop.
“The second thing,” Dornelas resumed, alternating his attention between Fernando and Ruth, “is we need to coordinate among ourselves regarding how the news reaches the press.”
Dornelas explained once again, this time to Ruth, what was being done by the Civil Police, Medical Examiner, Fire Department and Forensics.
“This crime is going to attract the local and international press like honey does a swarm of bees. If we don’t take care to divulge the news in an organized manner, the police’s job is going to become very difficult. And who loses with that? Not just the investigation itself, but also the publisher and the Festival, which will encounter future problems to attract new authors, especially foreigners. Right now we don’t need the media to paint Brazil as being a violent country, where there are monkeys and snakes in the streets, whose capital is Buenos Aires… and so on. You know what I mean.”
They both nodded their understanding. Dornelas continued:
“Ruth, I suggest that you immediately issue a release in the press room that the Festival’s organizers are going to make an unofficial announcement in the next two hours in some place that you can choose. Mr. Prada and I will be there. At that time we will simply say that Georgia Summers has been killed, that an investigation is underway, and that further details will be released at a press conference scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Civil Police headquarters. I’ll give out the address at that time.”
“But Inspector, what happens when they ask me for details of the case after my announcement?” Ruth countered.
“The newsmen are going to do that, including to you,” he turned to the publisher, who was looking at the floor, his mind seemingly far from the conversation. “Any questions, Mr. Prada?”
“No, sir,” he murmured,” immersed in his thoughts. “I’m just thinking about what support we can give Madalena and on the impact this will have on our other authors.”
“I understand. You’ll excuse my bluntness, but I’m afraid those problems are solely yours,” Dornelas stated.
“Of course, of course,” Fernando agreed, returning to the conversation.
“Very good. Going back to being harassed by reporters, they’ll push you to the limit, just as they always do with me. I’m asking you to resist them as much as possible. I realize you both have to defend your own interests. But where the investigation is involved, I’m the one responsible. So just say that further details regarding the case will be given at the 7:00 p.m. press conference. Nothing else. The less we say right now, the better. Any questions?”
Both shook their heads.
“Alright, then.” Dornelas concluded as he stood up. Ruth and Fernando did the same when Ruth’s radio crackled to life. She raised a finger to ask for a minute and stepped away from them to take the call.
“Inspector, do the police already have a suspect?” Fernando asked, coming closer and looking around in a clearly conspiratorial manner.
“Yes,” Dornelas answered, curtly, “but I can’t discuss it at this time. I hope you understand.”
“Of course, of course,” he replied.
Dornelas shook his hand, waved to Ruth and left, thinking, ‘If I were Pinocchio, my nose would have grown at least a meter after that last bit of bullshit.’
Convinced that the eye of the hurricane is the best place to be when a storm breaks out, Dornelas went to Vito’s bar to have coffee.
“Buongiorno, Ispettore,” said the Italian as soon as he saw Dornelas appear at the door. “You wanna cachaça today?”
His mind a whirlpool of thoughts, he didn’t hesitate.
“Sure,” he replied, accepting the offer of a shot of sugar cane rum, “and a coffee too, please.”
Vito disappeared, satisfied. The inspector entered and sat down at one of the tables in the back, away from the door, in the half-light. He wanted to be alone for a minute, far from everyone, be able to breathe deep, feel as if his feet were taking root in the floor and let his turbulent mind pour out its thoughts.
What he wanted was to reflect calmly on all that had happened that morning, organize his ideas and establish a line of investigation beyond the very evident and obvious one.
The Italian returned with the smoking hot coffee and a little cup of thick glass that he filled with Canarinha, the inspector’s favorite golden-colored cachaça. Dornelas thanked him and Vito disappeared. The inspector carefully sugared the coffee and began to drink it in small sips, unhurried, until it was finished.
Placing the empty cup in the saucer, he picked up the small glass with his fingers, lifted it to his nose and breathed in the fiery aroma before taking the first taste. In the complete silence he turned his sight inwards and began to mentally walk through the facts of the case.
Although the crime appeared to be nothing more than a simple murder, perhaps the result of a robbery gone bad, or maybe a rape – with the aggravating circumstance of the victim being a foreign author at the country’s most renowned literary event – Dornelas suspected that there was something below the surface that went beyond the appearances. Seventeen stab wounds in the back indicated a premeditated attack, something that had been brewing in the murderer’s soul for a long time. Even with more holes than concrete evidence to back it, this approach made sense.
Next he began to analyze the fact that there was only one clear trail of footprints on the beach, on the steps of the stairway and along the deck until the bar, which he found very puzzling. Two hypotheses came to mind: first that the murderer arrived at the scene of the crime by sea, before the rain, and waited for the victim in the bar, under the canopy, during the downpour.
Following this line of thought, the rain would have erased the killer’s tracks in the sand and on the deck. The victim, in turn, would have arrived at some time after the rain stopped, jumped out of the boat onto the sand, gone up the stairs, walked along the deck and met the killer by the bar. And there she’d been murdered. ‘But why? By whom?’ If that’s what happened, the victim knew the murderer. If she didn’t, she must have arranged to meet with him, or her, for some reason.
The caretaker? All the evidence pointed to someone who hadn’t walked through the sand. But Dornelas didn’t believe Herculano had motive much less the nature to do something like that. It just didn’t fit. Still, he couldn’t ignore the possibility. He’d come back to it after listening to him again.
‘So if the killer didn’t flee through the sand to get back to the sea, which way did he go?’ he asked himself. ‘On the grass, then the rocks and from there to the sea,’ he answered himself. That would be the theory best suited to the structure that he was mentally beginning to put together. Taken altogether, it would explain the absence of footprints in the brush and on the trail that connected the Brava and Mansa Beaches, as well as a second person’s footsteps in the sand going toward the sea that would have been made after the rain.
Consequently, one fact seemed to be irrefutable: if Forensics proved that the footprints on the beach and the deck really did belong to the author, as Dornelas assumed, she could only have arrived at the crime scene after the rain, described by Solano as torrential, had stopped. If she had arrived earlier, the volume of rainfall would have destroyed the marks in the sand and washed away the footprints on the deck.
At the same time, if the author had been killed under the canopy with a pointed instrument, how to explain the absence of blood spatter on the bar wall? There were only circular drops on the floor and dripping from the wall. He didn’t need to try hard to come up with a reasonable explanation for that. The cloth of the shirt and loose jacket could have blocked the blood spray coming from the blows from the weapon. There would have only been drops from the wound falling before the victim sank to the ground, just as the scene indicated.
The second theory would be that the victim was killed somewhere else and the body carried to the spot where it was found after the rain. But Dornelas quickly discarded that hypothesis. It would explain only one set of footprints in the sand and on the deck – the killer’s, with the victim in his arms – but then there would have to be more blood on the ground along the way, and not just near where the body was lying. And the idea that the victim was unconscious when she arrived at the crime scene and there was stabbed seventeen times was just too absurd for him to consider. In any case, the forensic examination would determine if the depth of the footprints was compatible with the weight of a single person with that shoe size and format. He thought of the sailor.
‘Why not,’ he asked himself. If he were alive he’d be the principal suspect in the writer’s death. But if Dulce were to confirm that he was murdered, then that would be proof that a third person was part of the crimes; maybe of the author, maybe of the author and the sailor.
Unable to reach a conclusion, he decided to focus on the anchor’s cut cable. Either the anchor got stuck at the bottom of the sea and the sailor was forced to cut it loose not to be tossed against the rocks, or somebody deliberately cut it for exactly that to happen.
His brain cells were jumping from one thought to another: the murder weapon. What kind of instrument would leave a mark in the shape of a semi-circle on the jacket? He was unable to answer and didn’t want to rush to find one. He’d wait for the autopsy and Forensics’ report before jumping to any conclusions.
There was still one question left, however, maybe the hardest one of all to answer: what did the author and the sailor do between the time he saw them sailing out to sea and when the crime was committed?
All things considered, Dornelas decided to follow the trails his mind had opened. But where to start? He had no idea. But he had faith and confidence that the evidence collected by Chagas and by Dulce would help him out of the uncomfortable place he was now in, meaning, so far at least, no place at all.
He looked around, then at the wall clock: 1:52 p.m. The conventional lunch time was ending and the restaurant was emptying out. The announcement to the press would be made in forty minutes. He took his cell phone out of his pocket and pressed a few numbers.
“Dona Flávia’s residence, good afternoon,” said a drawling voice on the other end of the line.
“Lindalva, it’s Joaquim Dornelas. How are you?”
“Fine, sir. Would you like to speak to the kids or to dona Flávia?”
“To Luciano, please.”
“Just a minute.”
The cleaning lady put down the phone, producing a muffled thud. While he waited Dornelas pondered how to broach the subject of masturbation with his son. It was going to be their first discussion on the subject, man to man. He really didn’t want to do it by phone, but being three hours away left him no choice. Then he heard the cleaning lady yell his son’s name, the sound of footsteps in the background and a noise like a door slamming.
“Dad?” his son asked.
“Hi, son. How you doin’?”
From the tone Dornelas could sense a certain misgiving in the air. No doubt the boy had figured out that the call had a predetermined purpose.
“Listen. Ask your mother to talk to Lindalva. Her answering the phone as if it was a five star hotel there is dangerous. She shouldn’t give out your mother’s name before she knows who’s calling.”
The stalling had begun. Dornelas was beating about the bush.
“I’ll talk to mom.”
“Good. How’s school?” he asked, trying to change the subject to something more personal.
“We talked about that last week!”
His son’s tone of voice was now going from distrusting to sulking.
“You’re right. So how’s soccer?”
An empty silence. Just like that the subject had died. There was nothing left to do but meet the problem head-on.
“You’re mother called me this morning.”
“Oh, yeah?” Luciano countered, with total disinterest.
“Yeah,” Dornelas answered, merely to play his son’s game; there was no reply. His experience in interrogations told him that creating empathy would help to get the boy to lower his defenses, thereby allowing his father to get closer to him. “It’s all good, son, really. You know, the first time I masturbated I was your age.”
‘There goes Pinocchio growing another meter of nose,’ he thought.
“Yeah. And it was great, son. It was a real discovery for me. For you too?”
“Jeez, Dad. It’s really embarrassing talking about it.”
“I know. But even being far away I want you to know you can talk to me about it any time you want. I’m here for you. Got it?”
“Great. What did your mother say when she caught you?”
“I was so embarrassed I don’t even remember.”
“Doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it. Your mother didn’t get upset because you were masturbating but because she saw that you’re growing up. She’ll be fine. She’ll get used to it. Masturbating is the most natural thing there is. You’re discovering your body, son. That’s all it is.”
“I’m sure of it. I’ve been there. The only difference is that back then I couldn’t talk to my dad about it. They were different times. I’ve been down that road. That’s why I’m here, to help you.
“Tell me something. Did you use a magazine or your imagination?”
“Jeez, really, Dad?”
“My imagination,” he mumbled.
“That’s what I did too. Who was it?”
“My Portuguese teacher.”
Dornelas burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?” his son asked, going back to the sulky tone.
“Because I fell in love with a teacher too. She was beautiful. Miss Suzy, English teacher. Dark haired, really hot. I thought about her the other day and wondered what she’s like now.”
His son laughed. And that was the point, to let the kid know the world he was entering was normal and allowed.
“That’s funny. Want to talk to Roberta?” Luciano asked, done with the subject.
“Not now. I only called to talk to you.”
“Take care, son. I’m here if you need me. Stay well.”
“You too. We’re buddies, right?”
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too. Very much.”
Dornelas hung up. He was pleased his son had let him into his new world. But it made him sad that he had to fulfill his role as a father by phone. Once his ex-wife decided to leave him and take his children to live in Rio de Janeiro, it was the only way available to him other than the weekends he was able to go to Rio to visit them. But if these were the conditions that life had handed him, he’d just have to try to make the best he could with them.
He looked at his watch again, then asked for the bill, paid it and left.
Needing to give the press release event the proper police atmosphere, Dornelas stopped at home and changed clothes for the third time that day. Goddamn conventions.
From the Festival lobby he could already see the overflowing press room through the glass doors. As soon as he opened them he felt besieged by the countless heads that turned to look at him. He couldn’t tell if the great interest was due to his suit and tie or because he was the only person with a police badge on his belt.
He walked past the radio booths, the little computer room and into the crowd to find Fernando and Ruth sitting on one of the black sofas with the dull imitation leather fabric.
“Right on time, Inspector,” said Ruth, standing up when she saw him to shake his hand.
“Where should we address them?” Dornelas asked.
“Right here,” she answered. “I’ll say your name in the microphone and then you can speak.”
The inspector considered the arrangement too improvised for such an important announcement. But under the circumstances, what better place than the press headquarters to launch a news bombshell? The die was cast.
“Good afternoon to all of you,” said Ruth, microphone to her mouth. A funeral silence fell on the room. “My name is Ruth Velasco. I’m the Festival organizer and here with me are Mr. Fernando Prada, Director of Prada Publishing, and Inspector Joaquim Dornelas of the Palmyra Civil Police. Unfortunately we have a very sad announcement to make.”
The inspector’s name and Ruth’s grim introduction had prepared the ground for the bad news that was to come. A collective murmur ran through the room. Ruth handed the microphone to Dornelas who took a deep breath before speaking.
“Good afternoon to all. I wish I had good news for you, but unfortunately that’s not the case. I’ll be brief. Georgia Summers was killed last night.”
The mass of reporters closed in on the inspector and began to rain questions on him. Dornelas calmly lifted his hand in the air until the shouting had abated. Then he continued, his voice serious and firm.
“I came here to tell you that. And to announce that details of the case will be made available later today at the press conference that will be held at the Civil Police headquarters at 7:00 p.m.” Dornelas furnished the address and concluded: “The investigation is ongoing. We have no further information at this time. I ask for your understanding and that you let the police do their jobs.”
The inspector handed the microphone to Ruth as the shouting began again. The multitude of reporters hemmed him in on all sides. By pushing and shoving while repeating “sorry, sorry”, Dornelas made his way through the crowd and went straight to the precinct.
As soon as he stepped into the precinct the reporters who filled the reception area assaulted him like a flock of seagulls attacking a school of sardines. With a frown and looking straight ahead, Dornelas went through the reception like an arrow.
“Good afternoon, Arlete,” he greeted the receptionist. “Did you switch Saturdays with Marilda?”
“That’s right, sir. She had to go to the doctor’s,” replied the woman.
“Mr. Amarildo called. He said he’s on his way here.”
“And somebody who said the sound system you bought would be delivered to your house tomorrow.”
Hearing that his old dream was about to come true made him feel like a child getting a new toy. With the reporters’ inquisitive stares hounding him, however, he limited his celebration to a discreet smile. But inside he was ecstatic.
“Thank you. Has Caparrós arrived yet?”
“Both he and Lotufo, sir. They’re in the conference room with another nine people.”
‘The crew from the bar with Herculano and his family.’ He headed straight there.
The noise from the room could be heard from the hallway. Dornelas opened the door. Everybody fell silent. With his hand on the doorknob, he tossed out a generalized good afternoon and immediately received one in return. Caparrós stood up and directed him out of the room, closing the door behind them.
“The press is all over us, sir.”
“I could see that in the reception. You did well to keep everyone from the bar isolated here. Have you spoken to any of them?”
“Not yet. Solano told me I was to wait for you, sir.”
“Excellent. Let me get to my desk. Bring the first of them in ten minutes. Start with the women. Let’s leave the caretaker for last.”
Caparrós opened the door, went inside, and closed it. Dornelas went to his office, sat down at his cluttered desk and unlocked the drawer. Stealthily, he unwrapped a strip from his chocolate bar and savored one small square at a time. Once again he went over all the facts of the case in his mind; the witnesses, suspects and hypotheses. And he waited patiently.
“I spent the day at my mother’s house, sir. And I slept there too. You can check with her and the neighbor who had dinner with us,” said Maria do Rosario, one of the employees at the Brava Beach bar.
“Married or single?” the inspector asked.
“Single, thank God.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Lazy. All that nonsense in the beginning is really obnoxious. I’ve got no more patience to start all over again, dating, dressing up, holding back your farts, going through the whole ‘what do you like to do’ thing.”
‘This is going to take forever,’ bemoaned the inspector to himself. He discreetly looked at his watch, aware the time for the press conference was approaching.
“What do you do at the bar?”
“I serve the clients at the bar, pass their orders to the kitchen, clean up, a little of everything.”
After giving her statement, Maria do Rosario, dragging her sandals, got up and left in the same disinterested and insolent way she had entered. She was worn out by losing the day at the police station and had no fear of letting it show.
Glorinha, as she asked to be called, was short and overweight, her head covered with tufts of hair as thick as sausages. She entered the office and sat in one of the chairs facing the desk. Caparrós remained standing to one side.
“I’m the cashier, sir. A huge responsibility.”
“Where’d you spend your day off and where were you on the night of the crime?”
“At home, taking care of the boys.”
“How many children do you have?”
Dornelas’ eyes opened wide.
“All of them. Josué, Josias, Josemar, Jonatas and Jap.”
“Jap is a name?” Caparrós asked.
“For my son it is,” the woman retorted as she turned toward the detective, clearly angered by the question.
“Why Jap?” the inspector asked, curious.
Glorinha turned her eyes on him.
“You see, sir, the boy was born with his eyes sort of slanted a bit and really straight, black hair. So me and my husband decided to honor his best friend, a Chinaman who lives nearby.”
Dornelas raised his eyebrows and looked at Caparrós, who started coughing to keep from laughing.
“Was your husband at home yesterday?” the inspector continued.
“No. Just me and the boys. My husband works at night.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a cab driver.”
“If I understand correctly, you work during the day and he works at night.”
‘The marriage of the sun and moon,’ thought Dornelas.
“You mean, one of you takes care of the boys while the other’s at work?”
‘And when do they fuck?’ the inspector asked himself. ‘On the other hand, that explains Jap,’ he mused.
Next was one of the waiters, an Argentine with almond-shaped eyes, long, oily brown hair who spread out on the chair with one armpit draped over the back.
“I stay all dee day in dee casa of mi girlfriend, screwin’ all the tiempo, señor,” the man said in a failed attempt to cover up his native language. “Una hora sí, den the next no, den we do again. Den we rest a leetle bit,” he finished, hands waving in the air.
It wasn’t his conceit, nor the fact that he was a detested Argentine; Dornelas simply didn’t take to the guy.
“Can your girlfriend confirm your story?”
“Sure. I breeng hair here if you wan.”
“Do that.” He turned to Caparrós, who nodded in understanding, then went back to the Argentine, “And last night, where’d you sleep?”
“I no sleep, señor. How I can, weet a mujer like deese one!” The guy opened his arms wide and looked up at the sky as if thanking the good Lord. “Me and mi girlfriend, we go to have a few dreenks at Vito’s bar, den we go back to hair casa and we screw a leetle more until dee morning.”
Dornelas gave a deep, mournful sigh.
“What time did you go to Vito’s bar?” he asked, trying to establish a connection with the time he and Dulce were having dinner the night before.
“Mebbe nine, ten, I theenk.”
“Repeat your name, please.”
“Juan, señor. Juan Cachiocavallo, dee same like dee cheese.”
“Are you of Italian descent?”
“No, señor, I theenk it is dee cheese who is lucky to have dee same nombre as me.”
Dornelas wrote down his name and the time of his visit to Vito’s and let him go.
The second waiter was next. His name was Marquinhos, a young fellow with a peaceful expression, suntanned skin, curly hair and the face of a cherub.
“I was all around the city, sir. Passed through the Historical Center, went to take a look at the Festival and then went back to my boarding house to finish my book before going to sleep.”
“What were you reading?”
“The Garden of Eden, by Ernest Hemingway.”
“Good choice,” said the inspector, being himself a fan of the American author’s books. “Have you read The Old Man and the Sea?”
“My bible, sir.”
The inspector could see he was a good-natured kid.
“What time did you go to bed?” he asked.
Caparrós, his legs tired from standing the whole time, pulled up a chair and sat down.
“Before ten, if I remember right. You can check with the lady in charge of the place. Her name’s Dona Eustáquia.”
“You said you went to the Festival. What time was that?”
“In the evening. Like around eight.”
“Did you see anything unusual, say a boat or somebody that caught your attention?”
The boy looked down, searching through his memory, then looked at the inspector.
“Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Dornelas took down his name and when he visited the Festival, then waited for the next witness, one of the cooks. A big guy appeared; burly, bald as a boiled egg, and round, black and nervous eyes. His name was Ronaldo, or Ronny, as he said he was usually called. He was wearing cutoff jeans and a white T-shirt. His visible skin was full of tribal-themed tattoos covering his legs, neck and arms. The man was a walking painting. Dornelas found himself facing a Maori warrior ready to do battle. An impressive guy, the kind you don’t want to come across in a dark alley.
“I was sleeping till two in the afternoon. Then I ate lunch, watched TV and went to take a shower in the Penha waterfall, behind the city.”
“A lot of black flies there?”
“Too many, sir, even using repellent.”
“Did you go alone?”
“With a few friends. I came back at the end of the day, went home, had dinner and went back to bed.”
“Do you live alone?”
“I share the house with my sister.”
“Did she sleep there last night?”
“Yes, sir. With her boyfriend, in the room next to mine.”
Dornelas turned to Caparrós.
“Get the sister and boyfriend’s info and see if his story holds up.”
His subordinate nodded. Dornelas turned back to the cook.
“What time did you go to sleep?”
“Right after the soap.”
The inspector, a hard-core fan of the TV Globo soaps, felt like asking him what happened in last night’s episode that he missed while having dinner with Dulce. But he refrained.
The deposition over, Ronny left, with Caparrós right behind him.
Alone in his office, tired after a day that started too early and kept going at a hectic pace, Dornelas rubbed his stinging eyes with his fingertips while waiting for the next witness. He looked at his watch: nearly 6:00 p.m. He picked up the phone and pressed three numbers.
“Arlete, please ask someone to bring me a cup of coffee.”
Caparrós didn’t come along this time. Adalberto, the second cook, came in alone and shut the door. He sat down and calmly observed the inspector’s general state of being: the sunken, red eyes, the loosened tie, top shirt button undone, arms resting heavily on the desk.
“Tough day, sir?”
“Don’t even ask.”
A knock on the door, immediately opened, and Arlete appeared with a smoking cup of coffee in her hand.
“It’s fresh, sir.”
“Many thanks. Want one?” he asked the cook.
“No thanks, I’ve already had too much coffee today.”
Dornelas took a cautious sip, put the cup down on the desk and leaned back in his chair.
“Tell me your story, Mr. Adalberto.”
“You can call me Dadá.”
The inspector nodded. The man arranged his husky 1.90 meter body in the chair.
“It was the gringo lady that died, wasn’t it sir?”
The hand that had been going toward the cup stopped in midair. Dornelas raised his eyebrows and stared at the boy.
“How’d you know?”
Dadá shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head slightly. Dornelas sat up straight in the chair and gave him his full attention.
“I saw a blond gringo with real short hair on Mansa Beach last night. I live there, sir, with my dad, who’s a fisherman. I was drinking beer with a bunch of my friends in the bar in front of the beach road. We were part of a group playing pagode samba music, my favorite. Then all of a sudden this gringo lady showed up. She started to dance the samba between the tables, then she lifted her arms up in the air and started spinning all over the place with her eyes shut. The woman was dancing by herself, sir. Looked to me like she was real high, or really drunk.”
“How do you know she was a foreigner?”
“I just figured she was. Hey, a tall blond like her?! I never saw a Brazilian woman like that.”
“What time do you think this all happened?”
“Between eleven and midnight.”
“Before it rained?”
“Way before. I left the bar as soon as it started to thunder, before one. She wasn’t there anymore.”
“Do you remember how she was dressed?”
“Jeans rolled up over her ankles, white T-shirt, beige jacket and a checkered bandanna.”
“Can you identify this woman?”
‘Finally,’ thought the inspector. ‘It’s about time there’s some light at the end of this friggin’ tunnel.’
“Was she alone?”
“At the bar she was.”
“What do you mean, at the bar? Was there someone else with her around there?”
“Before she got to the bar I saw her walking on the beach, alone. Then she went through the shadow of the sunshade tree that blocks the light from the street lamp, crossed the street and came in. A woman like that gets noticed, sir. Then, when she was dancing a man appeared below the same tree. He just stood there, looking at her, leaning on the trunk.
“Can you tell me what he looked like, what he was wearing?”
“I only remember his jacket, it was red.”
‘The sailor?’ he wondered. He quickly scribbled something on the notepad on his desk.
“Could you identify this man?”
“No way. He was hidden in the shadow of the sunshade tree that’s about a hundred meters from the bar, so the only thing I could see was part of his face whenever it was lit up by the light from his cell phone before he used it.”
“Did he use it a lot?”
“Almost the whole time. He’d call, then hang up. In between calls I could also see the tip of his cigarette glowing in the dark every time he took a drag.”
“Sounds like you were really into watching that scene!”
“I don’t know, I paid attention because it was strange, almost suspicious. You know, a woman like that, alone, in a place like that, late at night, it’s like asking for trouble.”
Dornelas pursed his lips, nodding in agreement.
“How long do you think the woman was in the bar?”
“Half an hour, maybe forty minutes tops.”
“Could you try to identify the man?”
“Why? Did someone else besides the woman die?”
“The sailor on the boat she rented.”
“I can try. But like I told you, he was pretty far away from us and I’d already had a few beers.”
“Not a problem. It’ll still help us. I’m going to ask one of my detectives to take you to the morgue. You can arrange a time with him. That okay?”
“Great. Did this woman come on to any of the guys you were with?”
“Not that I noticed. Like I said, she was dancing with her eyes shut, alone. But I can tell you that the guys in the group playing got pretty excited when this tall blond showed up out of nowhere and started dancing samba in the middle of them.”
‘No doubt,’ Dornelas thought before continuing.
“I’m going to ask you a very delicate question now. Please don’t be offended and forgive me at the same time: do you think any of your friends in the group could have killed the gringo?”
“No chance. We may be poor but we’re not criminals. Besides, I was the first to leave and the woman had already been gone for a while. The guys all stayed till God knows when.”
“Can you give me the names of your friends? We need to talk to them.”
Dornelas picked up the phone and pressed three numbers.
“Arlete, ask Caparrós to come to my office, please.”
“Right away, sir.”
He hung up.
“Were there any women in your group?” he began again.
“Martinha and Soraia, both girlfriends of friends of mine.”
“I’d like to talk to them too. And to the owner of the bar.”
Dadá agreed as Caparrós entered. Dornelas told him about the conversation with the cook, with all the details, and instructed him to take statements from everyone who was present in the bar as well as to schedule a time to take Dadá to the morgue so he could try to identify the bodies of Gytha and the sailor.
“We just got out of square one,” he said, venting his relief. “Call the caretaker.”
Solano entered the office as soon as Dadá and Caparrós left.
“The remains of the boat are here, out back,” the detective said.
“Were you able to bring everything?”
“Everything that was there. A helluva job it was, too.”
“I can imagine. Who stayed at the beach?”
“Lotufo, with one of the on duty cops. They’ll come back when the Military Police arrive for their night patrol.”
“Good. And what about the sailor?”
“Marcos Altino. He’s clean, no priors. The boat’s license is current and in order. Nothing wrong with it.”
“Yeah. One three year old daughter.”
Dornelas felt badly about that, then remembered his deputy.
“Haven’t seen him today, sir.”
The inspector made a mental note in a corner of his mind, as if using a Post-it sticker. On it was written: Talk to Peixoto ASAP. A knock on the door brought him back. Caparrós opened it and stuck his head through the opening.
“I’ve got Herculano here,” Caparrós said.
“Give me ten minutes. Is the press all there?” he shot back.
Caparrós, about to pull his head back like a turtle, stopped.
“And how. The reception area looks like a chicken coop.”
“And Mr. Amarildo?”
“In the conference room, on the phone.”
“Okay. Tell him I’ll be right there.”
Caparrós closed the door. Dornelas then went over the entire case with Solano; the facts, his thoughts, the depositions – especially Dadá’s.
“Have you got any idea who this guy is?” the detective asked.
The inspector shook his head.
“But I’m counting on the depositions of Dadá’s friends to find out more about him. So far we’re looking for a faceless man with a red jacket… Whether or not he’s the killer is another story.”
Solano looked at his boss sympathetically.
“Bring in the caretaker,” the inspector ordered.
As he expected, nothing new came out of Herculano’s second deposition, and even less from his wife’s and daughter’s, who came with him. The man was sincere, assured and didn’t appear to have any reason to be evasive with the police. Besides, where was the sense in killing a stranger twenty meters from his house and then going back to bed? ‘If the woman really was a stranger,’ the inspector thought. Anyways, if she lived in Maine and arrived in Palmyra two days before being murdered, how could Herculano have known her? It was difficult for the inspector to consider him a suspect despite there being a huge distance between that supposition and the facts connected to the caretaker, as much as he was professionally obligated to do so.
“One more thing,” the inspector started to open the door and then stopped. “Is the access from Mansa Beach to Brava Beach open at night?”
With her daughter hugging her around the waist, Herculano’s wife was looking at her husband with fear and adoration. From what Dornelas could see, the man was clearly the family’s eyes, voice and strength.
“It is, as much as the boss doesn’t like it,” replied Herculano. “He went so far as to put up a gate with a lock and chain, but City Hall went and tore it all down.”
“And the lighting along the way, does it work?”
“Yes, sir. Without it the only way you could get to Brava Beach would be with a good flashlight. The ups-and-downs, the exposed roots, the different levels of the terrain, the uneven ground… you saw what it’s like.”
Dornelas nodded and led them out and down the hall to Caparrós’s office. The caretaker entered behind his wife and daughter, who sat down together in one of the chairs facing the desk.
“They’re all yours,” Dornelas said to his subordinate. Then the inspector bid good night to everyone and went on to the conference room. Amarildo was hanging up the phone when he entered.
“There’s a new piece of information that might help us,” the inspector said as he shook his boss’s hand.
“One of the cooks at the Brava Beach bar says he saw the writer around midnight drunk and dancing samba on Mansa Beach.”
“That’s really important news!” exclaimed the boss, smacking the table. “Do you intend to release it at the press conference?”
“I have my doubts.”
“A man with a red jacket was seen watching her dance. If he brought her there or not I still need to determine. The cook couldn’t see him clearly. The guy was hidden in the shadow of a sunshade tree.”
“That attitude alone makes him a suspect.”
“That’s the problem. Who is ‘him’? I don’t want to make public that we’re looking for a faceless man with a red jacket.”
“You’re right,” Amarildo said upon reflection.
“Although we have a presumed fact in our hands, I need to check how solid it is, because whatever you’re going to read in the newspapers will always be about a true story. If released the wrong way this information could make us look like a bunch of idiots.”
“So then say nothing.”
“But the press is here waiting for something! So what do I say instead of nothing?”
Amarildo scrutinized him, then, looking right at him, settled it:
“Don’t worry. You’ll know when the time comes.”
Due to the simple fact that there was not adequate space to accommodate the unbelievable horde of reporters who were there, the press conference had to be held in the precinct’s reception area. For these occasions the inspector kept stored in a small back room an immense cardboard panel covered with a white sheet of paper on which were adhesive logos of the Civil Police, the Palmyra municipal government and the state of Rio de Janeiro. Whenever the occasion called for it, as it did today, the panel was propped up against the large back wall. Although it looked like something from a barnstorming theatre group, the effect it produced in front of the cameras was impressive.
As soon as Dornelas and Amarildo showed up there began a symphony of clicks, and a wave of popping flash bulbs that resulted in a brightness so intense that the whole area began to heat up.
Every time he put himself between the publicity apparatus and the TV cameras, Dornelas felt like a race driver or a soccer player. The only things missing were the logo-filled uniform, a baseball cap on his head and a fistful of ready-made phrases that meant absolutely nothing. He wished that were really the case.
Palmyra’s Secretary of Security was on vacation, so he had sent a representative, a small, badly dressed woman who had no idea what was going on. And since Dornelas had assumed jurisdiction of the event he hadn’t, as of yet, exchanged a single word with anyone from the city’s executive branch. Why not? Purely for lack of time.
The inspector stood under the spotlights, took the microphone that was connected by a thick wire to a loudspeaker the size of a hotel minibar, and thought: ‘I hope this thing is working’.
“Good evening to you all,” his deep voice split the air and immediately silenced the murmuring. “As you know, Gytha Svensson, or Georgia Summers, the famous guest author at the Festival, was murdered late last night.”
“Do the police have a suspect yet?” yelled a voice in the back.
“I’ll get there,” Dornelas answered, irritated by the interruption. “She was stabbed seventeen times in the back…”
“Where did it happen?” yelled the same voice.
Dornelas paused briefly, then continued:
“On Brava Beach. All indications are that she rented an excursion whaler on the river in front of the Festival and sailed out to sea somewhere around nine last night. We know she was seen at a bar on Mansa Beach around midnight. Let me emphasize that we are still waiting to receive the official findings from Forensics and the Medical Examiner’s office, which will provide us with much more precise information regarding the circumstances of her death.”
“What was she doing there?” the voice yelled again.
Weariness, combined with the situation, began to drain his patience. Dornelas took a deep breath and went on:
“I should add that the sailor is also dead. We don’t know yet whether he was murdered or suffered an accident. The Medical Examiner’s report will shed light on this case too.”
“Was she alone when the crime was committed?”
‘Who is this goddamn pest?’ he asked himself, exasperated, while trying to find a face through the glare of the spotlights. That’s when he locked eyes with those of a reporter with thin, blond hair, pink, sweaty skin, a long crooked nose and round, hungry eyes. At first glance, a plucked chicken in the body of a man standing in the middle of the crowd. It was he who was stretching his skinny neck out and blabbing questions.
“From all indications, yes,” replied Dornelas, without taking his eyes off the guy.
“But sir,” said the reporter, stretching out his neck again, “have you already identified the man in the red jacket?”
The question startled Dornelas. And Amarildo. Calmly, he turned off the microphone, bent down and called Solano, who came in a flash.
“As soon as this is over,” he whispered in the detective’s ear, “take that reporter aside. I want to talk to him in my office.”
Dornelas straightened up, turned the microphone back on and answered:
“Not yet. We’re investigating.”
A flurry of questions came at him next. The inspector confidently answered them one by one while skillfully skirting the trickier ones. Remaining aloof to the shouting and satisfied that he had reasonably covered all aspects of the case, at least those he deemed of interest to the press, he finished up with:
“That’s all for now. Further information will be made available as the investigation progresses.”
He turned the microphone off and walked out with Amarildo right behind him.
“What’s your name?” Dornelas asked, leaning back in his chair. The reporter sat in one of the visitor chairs facing the desk, Solano in the other.
“Walter Ambrosino. But you can call me Chicken.”
“No kidding!” the inspector went right at him.
The guy shrugged his shoulders, raised his hands in the air and smiled.
“What can I say?”
Dornelas didn’t answer. Tiredness was clouding his thinking. He had no more patience for any bullshit. Deep down he was annoyed at needing to have a private conversation with someone from the press. It was so irritating because it felt as if he was about to give a friendly hug to the devil himself. And what was worse, he had no choice.
“Mr. Ambrosino, I’m aware that your professional ethics don’t allow you to divulge the source that tipped you off to the man with the red jacket. We’re looking for that man. But given that this crime possesses a dimension beyond the usual, and that my job is to apprehend the murderer as fast as possible, if you have any information that might help the investigation I ask that you share it with the police.”
The man inhaled the inspector’s words, one by one, his chest puffing up as if they were pure oxygen flowing into his lungs. He had immediately seen an opportunity. Dornelas could see that the hunger his eyes hadn’t abated. On the contrary, it had grown. And judging from the man’s greedy look, it would take a high price to satisfy it. Perhaps too high.
“What’s in it for me?”
‘An ominous question,’ Dornelas thought regretfully as he felt a sharp pang in his gut. Nevertheless, it was a question for which he had prepared an answer.
“If your information is good, and we’re going to check it out, you’ll know everything we know before anyone else.”
“What guarantee do I have that you’ll keep your end of the bargain?” Walter, the Chicken, shot back.
Dornelas stared at him for a while, regretting that in this day and age a man’s word, a “gentlemen’s agreement”, a handshake or to look someone in the eye meant absolutely nothing. ‘Those days are gone,’ he thought to himself. And playing the tough and unerring cop wouldn’t work since the government authority that he was a member of was the subject of exposés by the press on a daily basis. All you had to do was open the paper and find case after case of policemen involved in all manner of crimes. ‘The end of times,’ he concluded.
“None,” he said sadly. “But you shouldn’t throw this opportunity away. Nor should I. If your information is really good, I have no reason to double-cross you. If it’s not, we never had this conversation and the matter dies here.”
The man paused briefly, mainly to show he was thinking about it.
Dornelas nodded slightly with guarded approval. His innards were contracting painfully, like a wet towel being twisted by strong hands. He had a bitter taste in his mouth. Dealing with the devil this way was not at all to his liking. And not being able to obtain the information before the press did pissed him off even more. He had been forced to conform to the fact that Palmyra extended over a vast area, full of beaches, while his team got smaller every year.
“So, what do you know about this man?” he asked, clearly dispirited.
“That he arrived at Mansa Beach on a motorcycle and met the woman there.”
The inspector leaned forward in his chair, turned in Solano’s direction and calmly put his elbows on the desk.
“Did you find a cell phone with the gringo lady?”
“No, sir. Not with her or with the sailor.”
He turned to the reporter.
“Do you know the motorcycle’s license plate number, its color, the make?”
“No. Just that he arrived by motorcycle.”
“Who gave you this information?”
“A fisherman. Faustino Arantes. He had just beached his boat and was unloading it when the whaler with the gringo woman anchored inside the breakers for her to get off. She jumped into the shallow water, wetting her pant legs, and walked up the beach to meet with this guy who was leaning on his bike. After meeting with him – it didn’t take long – she went on to the bar. That’s all I know.”
“Mr. Faustino didn’t see the guy again? And did he see anything after, like when she left?”
The inspector paused to think. Given that he hadn’t mentioned at the press conference that Gytha had been in the bar, Chicken’s story fit perfectly into the pattern he was mentally forming.
“Alright. Like I said, we’re going to check your story out,” he said cautiously.
Even though the rest of the world might have discarded the concept, considering it outdated, the inspector still believed that his word was his bond. He stood up, offered his hand to the man and looked into his eyes.
“I believe you. If your information is confirmed, we’ll keep our end of the bargain.”
Chicken shook his hand carelessly and left.
Amarildo returned to the conference room as soon as the press conference ended. He remained there on the phone, stitching together the political ramifications of the case while the inspector was talking to the reporter in his office. The atmosphere in the precinct had calmed down. Dornelas went to see him and tell him the promising news.
“I’ll go find this fisherman first thing tomorrow morning.”
“For the first day we’re doing alright, eh?” asked the boss, gathering his things as he prepared to leave.
“Dunno,” muttered Dornelas. “My deal with this reporter is eating at me inside.”
“Don’t be such a tight ass, Joaquim! You know that for us in the police reality is a gray area. Black and white is only for the rest of the world.”
“Yeah, I know that,” he grunted unsmilingly. “But it’s not right.”
The boss gave him a pat on the back, shook his hand and ended with:
“See you tomorrow.”
“Where you going to spend the night? The hotels are all full.”
“At a friend’s house. She invited me earlier,” the boss answered with a mischievous grin.
Amarildo left. Dornelas put his things away, closed up his office and left right behind him.
Stepping outside the precinct and feeling the cool evening breeze, Dornelas was struck by a great sense of relief. An extremely intense day had ended, and he felt drained. He hadn’t even had time to have lunch, let alone to have a calm conversation with Dulce Neves. At least there was only the crime to worry about. He got his cell phone out of his pocket and called her. It went straight to voice mail; he decided to leave a message.
“I’m on my way home. If you can make it I’ll be waiting.” He was about to hang up, then added, “I miss you,” and quickly hung up, his heart beating like a teenager’s.
The inspector had never been much for romance, nor for terms of endearment, flirting or other things women so loved, like having heart-to-hearts about their relationship. At least not with his ex-wife.
And then it hit him that his sullen behavior had been a decisive factor in ending his marriage. He also realized that it had been necessary for him to separate from Flávia and receive an injection of life from Dulce for him to be able to get out those three simple words: I miss you. He was proud of himself for being able to say them, even if it was on the phone, to an answering machine. He had no idea what effect they would have on Dulce, which he found a bit unnerving. With a recent ex-wife on his résumé, the last thing Dornelas was looking for was something beyond the friends-with-benefits relationship that he and Dulce currently enjoyed. But one thing he did know: his caveman days were over. He was now a man in evolution.
Suddenly a bright light exploded in his head and he stopped in the middle of the road: ‘I’m living a love affair!’ he discovered, initially impressed with himself, then, right after, worried.
With his body frazzled and Dulce not there, he was struck by an idea. Abruptly, he changed direction and started walking straight to the Festival.
The mere rasping sound of the key in the lock was enough to make Lupi growl on the other side of the door. Dornelas opened it just enough to stick his hand inside and turn on the lights but the dog snuck through the narrow space and zoomed out to the street. It was past ten and the little fellow hadn’t had a pee since early afternoon.
Dornelas went in, got a plastic bag from a drawer in the hall cupboard and went back outside. Lupi was relieving himself at length on a nearby tree. Dog and owner then walked to the end of the street, crossed to the sidewalk on other side and returned home.
Dornelas put his keys, badge, pistol and the copies of Gytha Svensson’s, or better, Georgia Summers’, last six books that he had bought during his quick trip to the Festival on the hall table.
They were pocket-sized paperbacks, well-printed on newsprint and sold at attractive prices. On the covers, without exception, were illustrations or photos of a man and a woman either kissing or close to it. The words ‘love’, ‘tenderness’, ‘passion’, ‘emotion’ and ‘conquered’ were alternated, repeated or combined in elegant serif type on the covers of all six of them.
Dornelas left them there and tried to call Dulce on her cell phone again. And again he got voice mail. He hung up, left his phone on top of the books and went in the kitchen.
He opened the fridge and looked at a handful of receptacles: rice, mashed potatoes, ground beef – leftovers from the weekend – a peeled mango, Jell-o, salad and, next to the last, on a round platter, a huge milk pudding. To the inspector, this was the culinary equivalent of the Garden of Eden. What followed was an epic mental battle. One side of his mind told him to eat healthily: rice, meat, potatoes, salad and dessert, preferably a fruit. He was reminded of the expression ‘do the right thing’ and so, like a defiant young kid, he promptly decided to listen to the other side.
He put a generous helping of pudding on a plate, covered it all with burnt sugar topping – watching it slowly spread over the sides – and went to sit on the sofa in the living room. On the way he poured himself a full shot of cachaça and picked up one the books from the hall table.
Passion on Olympus was the story of Robin, an American female architect who, during a vacation in Greece with a girl friend, reencountered an old schoolmate. The passion was instantaneous. When her vacation ended, Robin returned home decided to throw caution to the wind and set out to find her true love. But a doubt was gnawing at her soul: had that been only a summer romance, inspired by the idyllic scenery that surrounded them, or was it a deep love that had burgeoned between her and Mark, formerly a chubby and boring boy who had become a strong, handsome man, a true Greek God?
Not finding any reason other than professional that would induce him to follow the rest of that story, Dornelas took the book with him to the sofa. He began to read it while eating the pudding, every spoonful sending him to cloud nine, and drinking the cachaça, which softened his senses with each sip. At one point, right at the beginning of the book, he had the distinct impression that the words were floating above the page.
‘This isn’t going to work,’ he thought, and got up. He finished the pudding and the cachaça, took the plate and glass to the kitchen and went up to his room. After a quick shower he put on his pajamas, sat on the bed and, turning on the bedside lamp to begin reading again, noticed the four books that he was reading that month on the night table.
Holding Passion on Olympus in his hand, Dornelas looked at them feeling slightly ashamed, as if he was openly betraying them. So he humbly bowed his head to the four of them and inwardly apologized to Joseph Campbell, Paul Theroux, Nelson Rodrigues and Marcus Aurelius, the ‘emperor-philosopher’, and his ‘Meditations’. He took the latter from the stack and opened it to one of the pages he had earmarked with a Post-it. He read for the umpteenth time one of the thoughts that had guided him through the most difficult moments of his separation, those first days after his wife had left for Rio de Janeiro with the children. It read: ‘Concentrate on the craft you have learned and love it. As for all the rest, live as a man who has entrusted himself completely to the Gods. Be neither a tyrant to nor a slave of any man.’ He turned a few pages and read another one: ‘It is madness to attempt the impossible. It is also impossible for evil men not to practice that which is in their nature’.
He closed the book, placed it on the top of the stack and, displeased, picked up Passion on Olympus again. As he expected, the attempt didn’t last long. Zonked out by fatigue, by the super sugary prose of the book, and by the pudding and cachaça, Dornelas stretched out on the bed and embarked without any resistance into a deep sleep, the book lying open on his chest.
“Good morning,” said Dulce tenderly, as soon as he opened his eyes.
Seeing her standing there, naked, in the bathroom doorway, Dornelas smiled with satisfaction. The lighting behind her accentuated the pureness of her skin, seeming to create a glowing aura around her body. Not wanting to miss a single detail, Dornelas surveyed it from head to toe. He delighted in the smooth lines of her legs and how her trim thighs flowed into curvy hips, the slender waist and elegant upper body with the small, firm breasts; next his eyes swept over her delicate arms with the hands of an artist, then up to her long, chestnut brown hair, still disheveled from the night before. And finally he was captivated by those fascinating blue eyes. Dornelas was totally enthralled by this divine feminine vision.
“What time did you get here?”
“Two,” Dulce answered, flattered by the close inspection she had just undergone, especially since from the foolish look stamped on his face she had passed with flying colors. Then she glided over to the bed, sat on the edge and kissed him on the lips. “Your message was adorable.”
Dornelas froze on the spot, eyes fixed on her.
“I loved it,” she finished, stretching her naked body over his, still beneath the covers. “Whatever got into you?”
“Whaddaya mean?” he asked, ducking the question.
“I dunno. You saying you miss me, then falling asleep with a woman’s novel on your chest…”
Dornelas never hesitated.
“Come here and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
He pulled her roughly to him, kissed her hard and loved her he as he had never loved another woman before.
“You’re going to be interested to hear what I found in the gringo’s stomach,” said Dulce, getting out of the shower.
Still showering, Dornelas didn’t answer, waiting for her to complete the thought.
“Risotto with saffron, some chicken, squid, mussels, shrimp and a few pieces of octopus. Quite a banquet.”
He turned off the water and through the steamed up glass of the shower saw Dulce’s shadow moving lightly around the room.
“She ate paella!” he exclaimed, astonished. He got out of the shower and grabbed a towel.
“Like a vacuum cleaner,” said Dulce, by now in her panties. She was fastening her bra, hands behind her back, next to the bed. “Not only did she eat a lot, she swallowed almost all of it without chewing. The pieces of seafood were nearly whole.”
“And that means…?”
“That the digestive process had begun not more than two hours before her death.”
Dulce was getting dressed serenely, like a princess. Dornelas, his mind working furiously, dried himself like a child, leaving much of his body wet. He sat down on the edge of the bed, still naked.
“So you’re saying that, as a rough estimate, she finished eating just before she was seen dancing samba on Mansa Beach. Anything else?”
“She had 3.2 grams of alcohol per liter of blood in her veins. With 0.6 grams a person is already considered incapable to drive and defend themselves. Besides being big, the woman drank like a fish. So if she was seen dancing in a bar after drinking that much, she was strong as hell.”
Dornelas stood up to get underwear and a pair of socks from the chest of drawers. He put on the underwear quickly. Using his index finger and one of the socks, he improvised a Q-tip and dried his ears. Then he turned it inside out and put it on.
“No signs, “ Dulce answered.
“Just a suspicion. I ordered a histopathological exam done on some tissue which had small points of infection.”
“What do you suspect?”
“It’s too soon to say. Let’s wait for the results of the exam.”
“And the sailor: accident or murder?” He tossed the question at her as he took a suit off the hanger.
“Murder,” she answered bluntly.
“Why?” he asked, nearly jumping into the pants.
Dulce finished getting dressed, then went into the bathroom to comb her wet hair in front of the mirror.
“Do you have a hair dryer?” she asked.
“Under the sink,” he replied, oblivious to the interruption.
Dulce bent down, calmly opened the cabinet door and took out an old, black gadget that from a distance looked like a ray-gun out of a spaceman cartoon.
“Does this work?”
“Dunno. Gotta try it.”
Dornelas was getting impatient waiting for an answer. Dulce stuck the plug in the wall, pushed “Start” and the dryer began producing a blowing sound something like a filter for an aquarium.
“It’ll take forever with this thing.” She put the machine on the sink.
When she turned around she came face to face with her boyfriend, glassy-eyed with anticipation.
“Okay, okay. The blow to the back of the head was too deep and the bruise too well-defined. His body weight wouldn’t have been sufficient to cause a wound of that depth and extension. He was struck by an iron bar or a wooden club while he was crouching down because the mark starts at the nape of the neck and runs almost lengthwise. Cause of death was cranial trauma and a fracture of the upper cervical spine. The blow was so hard that it fractured the temporomandibular joint.
Dornelas put on his shirt and jacket, wound the tie around his neck and knotted it. They went downstairs together. Dulce searched through the kitchen shelves: empty. She went to the fridge, studied the milk pudding and decided not to touch it. The calories from such a choice dish would not be welcome. Dornelas made himself a goró and devoured it instantly.
“I don’t know how you can eat that stuff!” she exclaimed.
“It’s the invention of the century.”
“I’ll eat something on the way to the Medical Examiner’s,” Dulce said with disgust, standing in front of the sink with her arms crossed. Her hair still wet, she looked dejected. Dornelas deposited the empty bowl in the sink and scribbled a note on the little magnet-held notepad on the fridge for Neide to walk the dog as soon as she arrived.
“I promise that I’ll do supermarket today for sure,” he said, already at the door.
“And buy a new hair dryer,” Dulce completed the sentence, smiling, while wagging a finger at him.
The inspector took her in his arms, kissed her on the lips, looked at her and said:
“I love you.”
She fixed her eyes on his and smiled. Docile and content, Dulce rested her head on his chest and stayed that way for a while. Outside it was raining.
“You drive,” Dornelas instructed Solano as he went through the precinct doorway and headed for the car. “I need to make a few calls on the way.”
They switched sides, the inspector opened the passenger door and took a seat while getting his cell phone from his pocket. Solano started the car and drove straight out of the city and onto the highway.
“Good morning. I’d like to speak to Chagas, please,” said the inspector to the crime lab secretary.
“Mr. Chagas hasn’t arrived yet,” the woman replied in a nasal voice. “Who wants to speak to him?”
Dornelas looked at his watch: 8:12.
“Inspector Joaquim Dornelas. Please ask him to call me back as soon as possible. On my cell phone.”
They hung up. Dornelas searched for another number on his phone and dialed it.
Another nasal voice, this time a man’s, mumbled something.
“Chagas?” Dornelas shouted.
“Whooo’s thiiis?” responded the pasty voice.
“Did I get you out of bed? Dornelas here.”
On the other end of the line there was a thud followed by a series of thumps, and then the voice took on a shrill tone, almost electric.
Dornelas took a deep breath.
“You were expecting the prince, Sleeping Beauty?”
“No, sir,” Chagas squeaked out a reply. “I was up really late because of my report.”
“Excellent. And what’s it say?”
“I’ll get my notes. Just a sec.”
More thumps, a croak and Chagas came back on the line.
“Here it is.”
“Then tell me first of all: were the footprints in the sand Gytha’s?”
“No, sir,” the head of the crime lab answered confidently. “Although the prints in the sand and on the deck are of big feet, like the victim’s, they were probably a man’s. Gytha wore size 41. The footprints at the crime scene were a little bigger, 43’s. The shape is different too, wider, with broader toes. The sand at Brava Beach is very thick so there were no signs of any wrinkles or grooves from the soles, only the deep prints. What sand was still on the feet when they reached the stairs was left on the steps and along the deck so where the body ended up the prints were nearly invisible.”
‘There goes my theory that the gringo had arrived after the rain, from the sea,’ he thought. ‘Then why not the opposite?’ he asked himself. ‘If that’s the way it was, she would have arrived before the rain and the killer after.’
“I see,” the inspector said casually, lost in his thoughts. “The sailor’s?”
“Not his either. His feet are even smaller than the gringo’s. Marcos Altino, that was his name, wore a size 39.”
“So the prints are a third person’s,” Dornelas murmured to himself.
“It’s the only explanation,” said Chagas, thinking the inspector had spoken to him.
“Is the depth of the footprints compatible with this third person carrying Gytha in his arms, either dead or unconscious?”
“No, sir. They’re of a person of normal weight, treading firmly, with none of the sideslipping that occurs when one person carries another.”
“And what about the murder weapon?”
“Hers or the sailor’s?”
Chagas let out a deep sigh.
“We still haven’t been able to solve that mystery. I can’t think of anything that would produce a half-moon wound of only 3 centimeters in diameter, that’s pointed in the middle, cone-like, and with very sharp edges. Dr. Dulce suggested a carpenter’s or an architect’s chisel. I don’t think so. They’re very different.”
“I understand.” Dornelas shook his head and, still pensive, decided to ask: “In your opinion, what do you think happened?”
“Alright. In my opinion, and I need to discuss this with my team before issuing the final report, Gytha arrived at the beach overland, before the rain, and went from the rocks, along the grass, to the deck. And that’s where she took shelter until the rain ended. When the heavy shower had passed, the killer, who came by sea – I can’t say if by boat or swimming – went up the sand and across the deck and met her beneath the canopy. And that’s where he killed her.”
“I considered that possibility, but there’s a hole in that theory,” said the inspector.
“It suggests that the killer may have arrived by boat or swimming, walked from the sea to the deck, murdered the gringo, escaped along the grass, then over the rocks until getting back to the water.”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“If he left all those footprints on the way up, why was he so careful not to leave any on the way back?”
The head of the crime lab was silent for a few seconds, began a line of thinking and, before completing it, decided to speak.
“When he arrived he hadn’t committed the crime yet.”
‘Brilliant,’ thought Dornelas. ‘The nickname Shithead was well chosen.’ He decided to go on.
“We didn’t find any signs of a getaway on the trail between the beaches, nor in the brush. Did you find anything?”
“Nothing either. That helps explain the absence of Gytha’s footprints on the way to the crime scene, which reinforces my theory that she came overland before the rain.”
“And the other footprints on the beach? I’m talking about the eroded ones.”
“Irrelevant. They were made by children and an adult who seem to have been playing tag. From the state they were in they were surely made yesterday during the day and partially destroyed by the rain. I discarded them immediately.”
“Alright,” said the inspector. “Do you think the gringo was killed under the canopy or brought there already dead?”
“I believe she was killed under it. There was no blood splatter on the bar walls, only round drops around the body, besides the pool of blood. The T-shirt, bandanna and jacket would certainly have prevented any spraying caused by the blows.”
“That’s what I think,” the inspector said. “Did you find anything else?”
“Yes,” Chagas said. “Traces of cocaine in her jacket and nostrils. Dr. Dulce can confirm that information.”
“That’s important. What about the sailor?”
“He was hit on the back of the neck with the tiller, which is made of solid wood. It weighs a ton.”
“What makes you think that?” the inspector asked, paying special attention to this part.
“That’s easier. The boat’s paint is new, indicating it was painted recently. There were small bits of paint missing from a particular place on the tiller. I found small flakes on the floor and stuck in the victim’s skin, at the spot of the wound. Also, the tiller’s shape fits the shape of the wound.”
Dornelas searched his memory and regretted that he had forgotten to note a detail on the boat.
“Was the tiller connected to the rudder?”
“It was, with a bolt, an iron pin that goes through holes in both the tiller and the top of the rudder.”
“I see. But something’s puzzling me. There was no anchor.”
“And me as well,” said Chagas. “Based on my conversations with the fishermen on the neighboring beach the ocean was very rough the night of the crime, perhaps due to the wind.”
“Do you think the sailor had to cut the anchor cable because he wasn’t able to raise it while the current and the waves were tossing the boat against the rocks?”
“It’s possible,” Chagas reasoned.
“Or then we’re back to the theory of the mysterious diver who cut the cable while in the water,” said Dornelas.
Chagas was silent while the inspector was thinking.
“Alright. If you think of anything else, please call me.”
“I’ll do that, Inspector.”
“Sweet dreams then.”
They hung up. Dornelas dialed Dulce’s number.
“Where are you,” she asked as soon as he picked up.
“On the way to Mansa Beach to talk to a fisherman. I have two questions for you.”
“Did you find cocaine in Gytha’s nostrils?”
“Yes. I forgot to tell you. Sorry.” Dulce lowered her voice to almost in a whisper. “It was so good that I forgot to tell you a bunch of things!”
Dornelas was pleased to hear that, but he didn’t want to lose his focus.
“And what about the stab wounds in the back?”
“There was another in addition to the seventeen in the back: in the left carotid, which was shielded by the bandanna. It was the decisive one and the reason for all that blood on the floor.”
“How do you think it went down?”
“Well,” Dulce said thoughtfully, “in my opinion she received the first blow to the carotid, fell down and then was stabbed seventeen times in the back. The stabs to the back, although numerous, merely bounced off her ribs and wounded muscle, but were not sufficiently deep to cause damage to any organ. If they had she would have had internal hemorrhaging, which wasn’t the case.”
“Do you think she died somewhere else and was then carried there?” prompted the inspector.
“No, no way,” Dulce replied emphatically. “The amount of blood under the body was enormous. And there was no blood trail leading there.”
“I just learned from Forensics that the footprints in the sand and on the deck weren’t hers,” said Dornelas, obviously discouraged.
“Does that complicate things for you?”
“A bit. It changes everything. Shit happens.”
“I love you,” she blurted out of nowhere.
Dornelas turned his face to the window and cupped his hand over his mouth.
“I love you too,” he whispered. “A big kiss.”
“And one to you. I’ll be thinking of you,” she said before she hung up.
“Uh-huh,” he grunted, his head already somewhere else.
Dornelas hung up as Solano stopped the car in the same space they had parked in the day before. The detective got out. The inspector stayed in his seat, seat belt still on, looking for another number on his phone. He found it and made the call.
“Good morning, Major Astolfo, please.”
“Who’s calling, please?”
“Inspector Joaquim Dornelas.”
“Just a minute.”
After a few seconds the major came on the line.
“Good morning, Joaquim.”
“How are you?”
“In a rush, as usual.”
“Thanks for the boat,” Dornelas said. “I haven’t had time to take a good look at it yet.”
“No problem. Glad we could get it done.”
“Any news on the anchor or the murder weapon?”
“Nothing, I’m afraid. The ocean was too rough all day long yesterday. According to my diver you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.”
“That’s too bad,” he lamented. “Not even between the rocks?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry. But we’ll try again as soon as we can. I just can’t guarantee it’ll be this week. The Festival is taking up all my men.”
“I understand,” said Dornelas regretfully. He wasn’t happy to have his investigation compromised because of someone else’s priorities, even when the someone else was a good friend. “Thanks anyways.”’
“I’m really sorry. Are we still on for fishing this weekend?”
“Can’t do it. With the Festival in town and this murder all over the news I’m barely going to have time to breathe this week.”
“Well, take care then.”
“Yeah, you too,” said the inspector, hanging up.
A fisherman was pushing his skiff into the water. Dornelas went up to him and asked if he knew Faustino Arantes. The man pointed his bony finger to the other side of the beach where a man in a blue shirt was sitting on the ground, wrapped in what looked like a shining white cloud.
That morning the gray furrowed sky seemed to be hovering over the land like a giant, heavy press. Only the base of the mountains and the beachfront houses stood out on the narrow strip of brush between the water and the cloud-covered mountain tops above them. Dornelas started walking along the beach feeling like he was moving through an immense low-ceilinged room. The optical illusion gave him the impression that by the time he reached Faustino he would be on his knees.
The sea had awakened calm. There was no wind. The boats were floating motionlessly. There were no birds in the sky. Except for the small waves that gently lapped up on the sand like pages from a book, the scene had the frozen appearance of a photograph.
Faustino Arantes was leaning against the trunk of an enormous sunshade tree mending one of his fish nets; a man of indeterminable age, short and slightly built with sparse silver hair. He had deep creases around the eyes and on what was visible of his neck, and on his strong, calloused hands that worked the large needle on the net that lay entangled around his feet with impressive speed. The muscles of his forearm twisted and turned like a nest of writhing serpents every time he made a quick motion with his hand as he stitched the net.
“A strange night, sir,” he said without lifting his eyes from his work. “Very strange.”
“What makes you say that?” Dornelas asked, sitting down beside him.
Solano was roaming around the area following the boss’s instructions: find a restaurant that served paella. According to the inspector, it could lead to an important source of information regarding Gytha: who was with her, where she was coming from, what she did while she was there, where she went when she left.
“I smelled trouble the minute that huge woman jumped out of the boat onto the sand.”
“Did anyone get out with her?”
“No, sir. The sailor, he was the son of a friend of mine…”
The fishermen dropped the mesh net and the needle; he turned his head toward the inspector, his pale eyes looking straight at Dornelas.
“Such a good man, sir,” Faustino whispered, heart-stricken.
Dornelas said nothing. The man lowered his head, pressed his lips together, closed his now moist eyes, opened them and stared at the ground for a long while. One of his hands picked up a rotten tree stub from the sand. His strong fingers began to strip off the bark until he was down to its bare core, which he broke into little pieces.
“I used to hold that boy in my lap, sir.”
“Tell me about him.”
“What’s there to say? He was young, a hard worker, had his head on right. Didn’t mess with drugs or booze. Had a pretty wife, a little girl. It ain’t right to die young like that.”
The man took a deep breath and dried his eyes on his sleeve.
“I’m looking for his killer” said Dornelas. “I need your help.”
Understanding how important his participation was, the fisherman raised his head, sniffled and wiped his nose with his forearm.
“I saw the boat as it was passing mine. It was late at night. I’d come in from the sea a few hours before. That was how long it took me to put the boat in order and go home. I was really tired, sir.”
“What did you see when the boat passed by yours?”
The man picked up the needle and net from the ground and started working again.
“Nothing special. Marquinhos steered inside the breakers, threw the anchor over the stern, let the boat drift real close to the sand, waited for the woman to jump off and went back.”
“He went back to the city or just anchored further out to wait for the woman?”
“He anchored further out and waited. But just as I was about to leave I saw him sailing out to sea, toward Brava Beach.”
“What was the sea like that night?”
“Raging.” Faustino looked aimlessly into the distance. He was trying to find inside himself the exact feeling, the feeling that only those who live hand-in-hand with the elements are able to grasp. “Dark sky. Lightning bolts left and right. Strong cross winds. Big breakers everywhere. One of them nights no one should even think about going outside. You don’t fool around with the sea, sir, you respect it. I was just happy to have gotten in before St. Peter unloaded that huge downpour on us.”
Dornelas’ respect for the man grew considerably. He wished he was able to feel nature in that primeval way. And at the same time still be able to maintain his powers of deduction, be a lawman, unaffected by outside influences.
Deep down, though, the two things seemed to him to be mutually exclusive because humans are the only animals that need to be policed. No other animal kills for love, greed, hate, pleasure. ‘Killer whales, maybe,’ brooded Dornelas, although that possibility was only scientific speculation. It gladdened him, however, to know that human nature, the raw material of his job, despite certain deviations caused by the modern, post-modern or whatever world, emanates from the same origin as all animals, drinking from the same fountain and springing from the same roots.
“Did you see where she went after jumping off the boat?” asked the inspector, returning to his questioning.
“I only saw her go up the beach, she went to talk to a guy leaning on a motorcycle and then she went to Angelo’s bar, across the street.”
“What did this man look like?”
“I couldn’t really see. I was pretty far away and to tell the truth, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention.”
“Was he wearing any easily identifiable clothes?” Dornelas asked, already expecting the answer.
“Jeans and a red jacket.”
“What can you tell me about the motorcycle?”
“One of those dirt bikes. The gas tank was white.”
Dornelas decided to pause briefly to let the man catch his breath, let his hands working on the net distract his mind for a while before asking him the most important question.
“Mr. Faustino, I need your total concentration to answer my next question.”
The man put the needle and net on the sand and looked at the inspector with redoubled attention.
“Was it your impression, I’m saying just in your opinion now, do you believe that the woman knew the man on the motorcycle, or did she only go up to him to ask for information? This is very important.”
Faustino looked out at the sea again. As if he expected the answer, like his livelihood, would come from there.
“She just went to ask the guy for information. That’s what I believe,” Faustino replied firmly.
Dornelas stared at him for a moment searching for something more in the man’s frank and open look, and then looked away, satisfied.
“Thank you very much for your help. And I apologize for interfering with your work.”
The inspector shook the man’s hand firmly, stood up and started walking back to the car. ‘Chicken’s story matches Faustino’s,’ he thought, still unhappy with the deal he had made with the reporter.
Seeing the calm sea and his footprints in the sand going in the opposite direction, an idea popped up in his head. Dornelas started walking faster, looking for Solano. The detective was talking to a lady holding a large shopping bag.
“Did you find anything?” the inspector asked.
“Not yet,” Solano replied, sounding frustrated. “The restaurants are all closed right now. But since it’s now past ten it shouldn’t be long before they open for lunch.”
“You want to stay around here? I’m going back to town to get some things; I’ll be back in an hour.”
“I can do that, but I don’t know if it’s worth it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“If the woman got here by boat she could only have come from another beach.”
“We can’t ignore the possibility that she had dinner in a restaurant around here, got on the boat, saw a lively bar from out on the water and asked Marcos to go back to the beach.”
Solano looked admiringly at the inspector.
“If you don’t find anything, then we’ll check out another beach,” Dornelas added. “How’s that?”
Solano nodded his agreement. Hard as it was to admit, the boss’s mind functioned an octave higher than his; he noticed every detail and visualized innumerous possibilities.
They parted ways. Dornelas got in his car and sped off to town.
When she abandoned him, his ex-wife took away not only the security that comes with family life, but also a good part of what was in the closets, some furniture and almost all of their remaining wedding presents. Or at least those that hadn’t been broken and still worked.
That’s why it wasn’t difficult for the inspector to find the bag with his old wet suit, flippers, diving mask and snorkel among the fishing rods and old tennis racquets.
It had been more than fifteen years since Dornelas had last put on that garb. He was now struggling mightily to fit into it in the locker room at the Brava Beach bar. The passage of time had treated both impiously; the thick neoprene fabric had lost much of its elasticity while the inspector had gained a good few kilos.
By pushing, pulling, kicking and jumping around, sweating profusely, Dornelas was finally able to stick himself in the wet suit and zip it all the way to his neck.
Even though he was well aware that Brava Beach had been closed because of the ongoing investigation, he opened the locker room door and stepped out on the grass cautiously, looking all around to see if there were any curious bystanders in the vicinity. Seeing not a soul – not even Herculano and his wife – he walked to the low wall holding his mask, snorkel and fins in his hands.
The current high tide had wiped out all vestiges of the footprints from the sand. The absence of any wind or rain had left the sea as calm and smooth as a Swiss lake in a picture on a jigsaw puzzle box. Dornelas, not wanting to impose on Major Astolfo again, and realizing that the pressure on the investigation called for haste, took it as the invitation he needed to look for the murder weapon and the anchor himself.
He went down to the sand; when he reached the water he put on the flippers, rubbed spit on the inside of the diving mask glass, put it on, adjusted the strap behind his head and bit down on the snorkel’s mouthpiece with its bitter taste of old rubber. Awkwardly, he walked backwards with geisha-like steps into the painfully cold water that sent spasms racing up his body until finally stabbing into his brain.
When the water reached his waist he let himself fall backwards all at once as a ‘God help me’ went through his head. Initially the impact jolted him, but with every stroke that took him away from the shallow water the cold bothered him less. The effect of the freezing water, penetrating through the cracks in the old wet suit and on his wrists, ankles and neck, diminished when it mixed with the warm sweat on his skin.
He stopped swimming when he could no longer stand up and realized that in order to search the area thoroughly he would have to make long dives along the bottom. The visibility was not very good; from where he was he could barely make out the small parallel ridges in the sand, formed by the incoming waves that ran out toward deeper water.
When he felt comfortable with the water temperature and with his equipment while floating on the surface, he looked at the deck of the bar and imagined a straight line running first from there to the footprints he had found in the sand the day before and then about fifty meters into the sea. He moved a few strokes in toward the beach, took a deep breath and went under. He did this two, three, four… ten times, going deeper with each dive. When he reached about five meters he felt a sharp pain from the pressure on his ears. Still under water, he squeezed his nose shut with his fingers and blew hard enough to force the air out until his ears popped. Now adapted to the pressure, he continued diving until he reached the end of the imaginary line. He found nothing.
Next he searched the area in the direction of the rocks on the side opposite from where the shipwreck had been. He went down countless times, carefully searching in the sand and among the rocks. A butterfly stingray, the size of an extra large pizza, was gliding along the bottom. Small pollacks hid furtively in the crevices, sergeant fish circled around in droves, a parrotfish was nibbling on what was left of the corral, and a bluish-colored wrasse was swimming from one side to the other, flapping his fins like wings on a bird. For a sound track there was the smacking noise that reverberates incessantly at the bottom of the sea. Dornelas forgot his mission for a moment to delight in the natural exuberance that was all around him.
He came up one last time and just lay floating there for a while. He was tired. Certain that he would find nothing on that side of the beach, he took off his flippers, hanging them by their heel straps on his arm, pulled his mask down to his neck and scrambled out of the water on to the rocks like a crab, then walked back to the beach.
He lay on the sand and rested for ten long, pleasurable minutes. When he felt the cold returning with a vengeance he got up and started walking toward the sea; he put his equipment back on and entered the water in front of the spot where the footprints had been the day before. He intended to cover a larger area this time, beginning at the imaginary line and ending at the rocks the boat had smashed into.
He dove gamely into the cold water and carried on sweeping along the bottom, heading out to deeper water. He dove and surfaced time after time, always moving forward. And then, far from the beach, while on the surface, despite the precarious visibility, he noticed a dark shadowy form on the bottom. He figured it was either a ray or a turtle. He dove deep enough to see that the shadow wasn’t moving. Now he assumed it was a rock. He went deeper, not yet reaching it, and ran out of breath. He shot up to the surface, emerging with his lungs painfully about to burst, refilled them greedily with air and went under again. It was deep enough that he was forced to compensate for the pressure by popping his ears several times before reaching his destination.
The shadowy form turned out to be nothing more than a hard stone in the shape of a large flattened drop. Covered in seaweed that swayed with the current, it looked to the inspector like a giant sole floating above the sandy seafloor. Below it was a deep, dark, wide-open crevice that reminded him of a shark’s mouth. He needed to get right next to it before he could see a white cable, about a meter long, coming out of it.
Dornelas grabbed it; looking along its length he realized that it was longer than he first imagined because parts of it were visible while others were buried, like stitches sewn in a hurry. He pulled it and the entire cable appeared as he began to run out of air again. Patiently, he repeated the earlier procedure of surfacing and replenishing his air supply. As he descended once more, the coiled cable in the sand and the seaweed-covered stone formed a singular image: an emerald necklace set on a table made of Brazilian ivory wood.
The inspector grabbed the cable again, pulling it up until, with a jolt, a galvanized iron Danforth-style anchor, commonly found on excursion boats, appeared from under the stone: two triangles soldered to a pipe and separated by a moving shaft that was attached to the cable.
Getting it to the surface, however, proved not to be so easy: starting to run out of air again, Dornelas decided to go up quickly with the cable in his hands. But before he reached the surface the cable tightened with the anchor still resting on the bottom. What to do? Let it go while he went up, caught his breath and go back down to get it, or continue pulling the anchor up by the cable as he ran out of air? He swiftly decided on the latter. Holding the taut cable in his hands while the piece of iron tried to do its job of dragging him down, Dornelas started kicking as hard as he could and, with his leg muscles on fire, emerged just as his lungs were about to explode.
Gulping in air and treading water, the inspector reeled in the cable, pulling the anchor to the surface, turned on his back and started swimming to the beach with the heavy implement lying on his stomach like a sea otter. When it got shallow enough he dragged himself out of the water, threw the anchor to one side and crumpled to the sand. Gasping uncontrollably, he blinked compulsively as if that would help him get more air into his lungs.
He calmed down slowly; exhausted, warmed by the thick wet suit and the partially cloud-blocked sun, Dornelas closed his eyes and took a nap.
As Solano emerged from the trail that connected Mansa Beach to Brava Beach he came to a sudden halt.
“Holy Mother of God!”
He was struck by a nearly overwhelming fear. The detective couldn’t tell if it was caused by the sight of his boss lying motionless on the sand or because he was dressed for a spearfishing competition. Nearly tripping in the soft sand, he raced over to him. Dornelas was fast asleep hugging an anchor as if it was a down pillow and he a happy castaway. ‘This is crazy, but he’s breathing,’ thought the detective, kneeling beside the boss.
“Are you alright, sir?” he asked, poking the inspector.
In his dream world Dornelas heard the detective’s voice with the muffled echo of someone who’s shouting from far away. The sound of the waves hit him softly, as if coming from a 78-rpm vinyl record playing at 33 1/3. The inspector opened his eyes slowly, protecting them from the light with his hands, and gazed at Solano – and his worried expression – for a while. He tasted something bitter in his mouth as he sat up on the sand with his arms resting on his knees.
“What time is it?” he asked, still woozy.
“Almost one in the afternoon.” Solano noticed the anchor that the boss had tossed to the side. “Is that the murder weapon?”
Dornelas just shook his head heavily from side to side, like a pendulum. So Solano got up his courage and asked the question that had been gnawing at him since he first saw the boss from the trail:
“What the hell got into you, pulling a crazy stunt like this?!”
Dornelas lifted his head that until then had been resting on his chest, and looked at his subordinate.
“Haven’t you ever gone snorkeling?”
“Yeah. On my vacation, in the summer,” answered Solano reproachfully.
“And what’s the big deal about doing it in the winter? So the water’s a bit colder.”
“But alone, sir! What if you’d started feeling bad under water, who’d have helped you?”
Solano was right. His decision to dive alone was rash, even childish. His conscience, taking advantage of the chance to jump in, bellowed at him from above: ‘Since when did you become Superman?’ In a painful psychological maneuver, his conscience and his subordinate had joined forces to rip away, in one fell swoop, his invincibility shield. And from deep down there emerged a man with a good and just heart, susceptible to the consequences of life and time. Dornelas felt now like he had a few months ago when he went to a urologist and had a digital rectal exam for the first time. With the doctor’s finger up his ass the inspector realized that he wasn’t the immortal being he thought he was. That was also when he perceived for the first time in his life that, due to preconception or just plain stupidity, it could all end at any time. From that moment on the inspector had begun to view his existence from a more realistic perspective. He embraced his frail human condition much as a father embraces his only child. A lesson he thought he’d never forget. And being the fallible human being he was, he forgot. But life, sometimes forgiving, had given him a second chance; Solano was there now to remind him.
Without a word he stood up, shook the detective’s hand firmly and went wobbling off to the locker room.
“How did you figure out I was on Brava Beach?” asked the inspector with his hands on the wheel.
He was leaving the narrow dirt road with the gravel crackling under the tires to get on the paved federal highway on the way back to town. In the last two days Dornelas had made the same drive so often that by now he knew where all the potholes were by heart. An unfortunate state of affairs he could only regret.
“When I saw your car in front of the school and you were nowhere around, I just assumed you were on Brava Beach,” replied Solano. “That simple.”
That took care of his curiosity.
“And what about the restaurant? Did you find out anything?”
“It’s just like you figured. I found a little Spanish restaurant in the corner of Mansa Beach, on the opposite end from where the bar is. Gytha had dinner there with two other people. A man and a woman. According to the owner, the woman was a knockout. They ordered the Valencia-style paella, served at the table straight out of the pot; they drank fourteen caipirinha cocktails made with cachaça and a few bottles of mineral water. For dessert they all had crème Catalan, followed by espresso and the bill. A big one, by the way.”
“Any idea who they were?”
“I was able to make copies of Gytha’s and the man’s credit card receipts. The man is someone called Nickolas Crest. They split the bill in half.”
“Good work. How’d you do it?”
“I looked for a receipt in either Georgia Summers’ or Gytha Svensson’s name. I figured that being famous she’d pay her own bill. After finding one in Gytha’s name, I started looking for another one for the same amount on the same day and at the same time.”
Dornelas just shook his head and smiled with almost paternal pride.
“What time did they arrive and leave?”
“The other woman got there around 9:50 with this Nickolas guy. Gytha arrived a little after ten. They all left together after eleven.”
“That’s not good enough?”
“No. I want to know what they did after they left.”
“That’s all I could get, sir,” said Solano, and then he fell silent. Maybe the boss was pissed off at him because he gave him hell back at Brava Beach. Better not to push it any further.
As for the inspector, he had donned his shell again. He was aware that he needed to get rid of it sooner or later. And he would, slowly, cautiously. He accepted that a life governed by strength, by the ability to decide and to act, can’t be changed from one minute to the next. And the work he did in the police didn’t help. Quite the contrary. If he wasn’t careful, it would only make him even more calloused. Leaving the force was not an option. All of a sudden, in the midst of one of his mind’s twists and turns, he saw the challenge that awaited him: to cross over from being brutal to being human while still doing his job. He thought of Dulce, grateful that she was in his life, and he missed her.
Half a dozen reporters were waiting in the precinct reception area. Dornelas could see them from the parking lot through the glass doors. Annoyed because of the time he’d lost napping on the beach, but at the same time pleased that he‘d whetted the media’s interest at the press conference the night before, the inspector decided to do what he always did: walk in without looking left or right and go straight to the reception desk. In one hand he held a small paper bag with a few cheese bread buns that he had bought at Grandma’s Tidbits, a roadside snack bar.
“Good afternoon, Marilda,” Dornelas said to the receptionist as soon as he came through the door under the hopeful looks of the reporters.
“Good afternoon, sir.”
“Mr. Amarildo called. He said he tried to get you on your cell phone but couldn’t. He asked that you call him back and said he was on his way to Sectional Headquarters.”
He turned toward the corridor that led to the offices, then stopped and turned back to Marilda.
“Could you come with me for a minute?”
Taken by surprise, Marilda got up and followed him into the hallway. Dornelas closed the door as soon as she passed through it.
“How did the exam go?”
The receptionist relaxed her tensed up shoulders and lowered her head. Tears welled up in her eyes; taking off her glasses she started to wipe them with the palms of her hands.
“I think this time it’s going to work out, sir. My husband finally got it that it’s his problem and decided to have surgery to fix it. It’s got something to do with a blood vessel that warms up one of the testicles.”
Dornelas came closer and gave her a fatherly pat on the arm.
“May it all go well this time,” he said. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“Thanks a lot, sir. Really.”
Marilda dried her tears and went back to the reception. Dornelas continued on to his office.
A single day away from his bureaucratic responsibilities was enough to allow a huge pile of papers that needed to be signed to take over a corner of his desk. As he stepped into his office he looked at it and was reminded of one of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey comic strips that he had seen a few days ago. In it, General Halftrack, sitting in his office, had put a grenade on top of a similar looking pile that was heaped on his desk. An officer next to him asked: “Why are you using a grenade as a paperweight?” to which the General replied: “When it gets too high I pull the pin.” Dornelas smiled to himself and thought, ‘Wish I could do the same.’
Feeling sorry for himself, he settled into his chair and ate the three cheese bread buns from the bag. Resigned to the fact that the precinct couldn’t shut down because of one crime, as important as it might be, he opened the desk drawer, fumbled around inside it looking for his pen and, as if by accident, came across the chocolate bar. Following the cheese bread with a little piece of paradise for dessert was everything he needed right then.
Making a deal with himself that he would only take on the paperwork after the chocolate had completely melted, Dornelas unwrapped one small square and popped it in his mouth. Then he sat back in the chair and waited. There was a knock on the door, followed by a “come in”, and Peixoto slid into the room.
The deputy inspector’s presence forced him, against his will and in a reaction similar to receiving a shock, to swallow what was left of the sweet treat.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Peixoto said.
Dornelas felt the anger growing in him, producing a sudden deep heat. He felt as if there was a cauldron full of a thick, dark, boiling brew in his stomach. He was sweating. He undid the top button of his shirt and loosened his tie.
“Sit down,” he said dryly.
Peixoto sat down stiffly on the edge of the chair and remained that way, ready to get up at any moment. He seemed to know that a reprimand was heading his way.
“I want to have a chat with you,” said the inspector in a somber and firm voice.
“Let’s do it, sir.”
Dornelas sat up straight in his chair.
“For openers, I suggest that we both leave our official positions out of this for the time being. A man to man talk, father to father, if you like. What do you think?”
The deputy inspector lowered and then raised his head nervously, eyes fixed on the boss.
“Excellent,” Dornelas continued, resting his elbows on the arms of the chair and clasping his hands together in front of his chest. “Tell me something: do you remember exactly the year, the day, the hour, the minute and the second when it happened?”
“When what happened, sir?” replied Peixoto ingenuously with a foolish expression on his face.
“When you became an asshole!” snarled Dornelas. “How the fuck could you walk out on your wife and newborn baby? You think that’s right?”
Now it was the deputy inspector’s turn to undo his shirt button and loosen his tie. Small beads of sweat began to appear on his forehead.
“That’s not how it is,” he defended himself. “It’s a lot more complicated than that.”
Dornelas got up, clenched his fists and leaned on them on the desk top like a gorilla about to attack. The squarish head, the deep vertical creases between his thick eyebrows, the hard, penetrating stare; the result was a scowling countenance with broad shoulders that framed a tough and intimidating presence.
“Then explain how it is, because I still don’t get it. Did you or did you not leave your wife and your son of… how many months?”
“Four,” murmured the deputy inspector, shrinking in the chair.
“Four months old! Peixoto, how in hell could you leave a woman with a four month old baby?”
“Sir, the non-stop crying, the sleepless nights, the diapers full of shit, the smell of sour milk all over the house… It’s beyond human, sir. I couldn’t take it anymore! And what’s worse, my wife doesn’t give a good goddamn about me anymore. It’s the kid, just the kid and only the kid. Where’s that leave me?”
Dornelas remembered affectionately when he’d wake up in the middle of the night, change the kids’ diapers, while they still needed them, and get his wife out of bed so she could breast feed them. Flávia looking like a zombie and doing her part with a lack of concern that was enviable. Dornelas would wander around the house, sometimes falling asleep on the bedroom floor waiting for his wife to finish. Then she’d go back to bed while he held them in his arms to burp them, changed their diapers once more and put them back in the crib. The whole operation would take almost two hours in the middle of the night. A physically and emotionally exhausting phase. Especially on their marriage. Yet the inspector stayed strong and remained faithful by his wife’s side for more than fifteen years. They were like the first mate and the captain of a pirate ship. With the inspector, in this case, being the second-in-command.
“This is a difficult time in any marriage,” said Dornelas in an almost fatherly tone, sitting back down in his chair. “A lot changes, you’re no longer your wife’s top priority… there’s no way around that. You’ve just got to learn to cope with it, man!”
“I know, sir. But it’s tough.”
“I know it is,” Dornelas agreed. “But it’ll pass. It won’t be long before your boy starts to walk, say his first words. He’ll learn something new every day. You want to miss that?”
Peixoto shook his head, still moping.
“Suzana needs your support too,” continued the boss. “I know it’s hard on you. But think about her, spending the whole day with the baby. Think of the sacrifices she’s made, the changes to her body, the uncertainties, how hard it is to learn the difference between the different sounds of his crying, hunger, dirty diapers, his first illnesses. Don’t kid yourself that at childbirth only your son was born; a mother was also born, a new woman that didn’t exist before. It’s a miracle of nature. Don’t let this get away, Peixoto.”
The deputy inspector mumbled something, eyes downcast.
“Do you love your wife and child?” Dornelas asked.
“More than anything in the world,” Peixoto answered, ready to receive his sentence.
“Good. Then let’s do the following. I’ll give you two choices. First, you go home in the next twenty four hours at most. If you agree, fine. Otherwise, I’ll find a way to get you transferred far from here, the furthest and lousiest place I can find in the state of Rio de Janeiro. And then, old buddy, only by bus on weekends.”
The cards were now on the table. Peixoto just had to choose which one to play.
“One more thing,” Dornelas went on, “if you go home and then give up again, I’ll transfer you all the same.”
“I got it, sir,” murmured the subordinate. And then he proclaimed with a sigh, “I’m going home.”
Peixoto stood up.
“Do we understand each other?” Dornelas concluded, straight to the point.
“Anything happen around here while I was out?”
“Just the usual cases. It’s all under control,” replied the deputy director, looking down again.
Dornelas shook Peixoto’s hand, a shaking and sweaty hand, before he left. Then the inspector pulled the pile of papers toward him and went to work.
He had signed half the pile, his hand feeling like a collection of rusty joints, when the phone rang.
“Sir, there’s a man on the phone who’s really anxious to talk to you. Something about a motorcycle on Mansa Beach,” said Marilda.
The inspector lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Put him through.”
In a succession of abrupt movements, the inspector dropped his pen, pulled his chair closer to the desk and straightened up. And waited.
“Good afternoon,” said a youthful voice on the other end of the line. “Is this Inspector Joaquim Dornelas?”
“This is Dornelas,” he stated. “Who am I talking to?”
“Agenor,” answered the young man succinctly.
The inspector wasn’t convinced that was really the young man’s name. Getting him to talk was the only way to find out. If their conversation were to take place in an American TV series, all he’d have to do would be keep the guy on the line for a few minutes to allow the police to trace the call using ultramodern equipment while madly cross-referencing satellite generated data. Just push a button. But since Palmyra was worlds behind in terms of police technology, he would have to hook the guy by keeping him interested in the conversation, and, who knows, slowly talk him into coming in for a face to face chat at the precinct.
“How can I help you, Mr. Agenor?” he asked cautiously.
“Not me. Maybe I can help you.”
“Tell me how.”
“The dead gringo.”
“What do you know about that?”
“Do you know who killed her?”
Silence. The inspector regretted having pushed the dialogue so fast. His eagerness may have frightened the guy. He waited.
“I don’t know who killed her,” the young man answered anxiously.
The inspector began to think the call was only a prank being played by a bored kid.
“What do you know then?” he asked bluntly.
A long silence. Dornelas could hear irregular breathing coming from the other end of the line.
“What happens to me if I tell you?” the young man answered with a question of his own.
“If you’re not involved in the crime, nothing. If you help us find the killer, you’ll be a hero.”
Saying that last word had an amazing effect on Agenor.
“Really?” he blurted out, in an excited voice.
“You betcha,” said Dornelas, encouraging him. Then he put a hand to his forehead and laughed softly under his breath at the expression he had just used, one he hadn’t heard in decades. Who knows, maybe if the guy came up with a hot tip he’d hit him with a ‘right on’!
“I saw a picture of the dead woman on TV.”
“I knew her.”
The inspector rested his elbows on the desk and held his breath before repeating:
“I was on my bike on Mansa Beach, smoking a cigarette, when this tall, hot lady jumped out of a boat and came over to talk to me.”
“Can you tell me what color your bike is?”
“White,” Agenor answered, suspiciously.
“What were you wearing that night?”
“Why you asking?” the youth parried.
Another silence, which made Dornelas feel the connection with the young man getting away from him, like a fish when it gains some loose line in its struggle with the fisherman. He needed to reel him back in.
“Jeans, white T-shirt and a red jacket,” Agenor replied. The inspector could hardly believe what he had just heard. He tried to control his excitement.
“What did she say to you?”
“I didn’t really understand much because she was speaking some foreign language. It sure wasn’t English.”
“What did you understand?”
“She wanted a cigarette, so I gave her one and lit it. Then she said something about me being so good looking, grabbed my hands and started dancing with me all clumsy like. I felt sort of strange, I mean she was a couple of inches taller than me. So then she tried to pull me toward the bar where you could hear samba playing but I didn’t go.”
“I dunno, I just thought the whole thing was so weird…”
“You mean you wouldn’t go dancing, even with a woman like her?”
“Sure I would. But the woman was drunk out of her mind. Plus she was excited way over the top. It was really eerie, man.”
“I got it,” Dornelas said thoughtfully. “So what were you doing on Mansa Beach that time of night?”
“I’d just left my girlfriend at home. She lives in the village. They don’t let you smoke anywhere inside anymore so I went to the beach for a smoke.”
“Let’s go back a little. After you decided not to dance with her what did you do?”
Dornelas waited patiently while the young man paused to consider his answer. When he felt the silence had gone on too long he decided to provoke Agenor.
“Nothing? You just let the woman go?” he asked, taking the conversation to a purely male level.
Agenor sighed deeply on the other end of the line. Hearing it, Dornelas had to grin as he commiserated with the boy. His question had hit the kid’s male pride dead center – just as he had intended. Like two men bragging about their female conquests, both of them knew that this conversation was all about Agenor letting a beautiful and provocative woman get away from him. All that was left was the regret that was now gnawing his insides. The young man needed to get rid of it with someone. Why not the inspector, since the woman was dead and Dornelas was responsible for the investigation? Whether Agenor was involved in the crime or not Dornelas would figure out sooner or later. Either way, he’d hit the jackpot.
“Nothing,” he replied ruefully. “I just watched her dancing under the sunshade tree.”
“Do you have a cell phone?” Dornelas asked, sure he already knew the answer.
“I’m talking on it,” the young man answered.
A question came into the inspector’s mind. And with it came a doubt whether or not he should ask it. Use the wrong tone and he would scare the kid off. He decided to ask anyways.
“Did you use your cell phone while you were watching her dance?”
Instinctively he regretted asking as soon as the words were out of his mouth. The vacuum that enveloped the conversation only confirmed his intuition: the question had made the boy realize that the police already knew a lot more about him than he thought.
“I didn’t kill the woman, sir,” he said in a rushed voice and hung up.
“HELLO, HELLO!” Dornelas shouted, hoping he was still on the line.
He wasn’t, so he got up and raced to the reception.
“Marilda, get me the number of the call you just passed me from the Caller ID!”
“Just a minute.”
She pressed some buttons, turned to the inspector and said sorrowfully:
“The number’s blocked, sir. I’m sorry.”
Surprising everybody there, Dornelas made a fist and slammed it down on the counter. Marilda nearly jumped out of her chair.
“SHIT!” he roared, and went back to his office.
For the next fifteen minutes Dornelas roamed around his office like a cockroach looking for a meal. He kept looking compulsively at the telephone wishing for two things: for it to ring, and that it would be the boy. Neither happened. Anxious and frustrated, he tore his jacket off the back of the chair and left.
“Is Caparrós back?” he fired from the doorway to Solano’s office.
“Not yet. He’s in the field getting statements from Dadá’s friends,” replied the detective.
“He’s with Dadá at the morgue.”
“What about you, what are you doing?”
Sitting in his chair, Solano raised his arms and interlaced his fingers behind his head.
“Thinking how to find this Nickolas Crest dude. The credit card company’s going to take forever to come up with the information. And the restaurant owner’s description is too vague. It’s not practical to go around town knocking on every hotel door. I don’t know where to begin.”
“Come with me.”
“I’d like to speak to Ms. Madalena Brasil, please,” Dornelas said to the hotel receptionist.
“Who’d like to speak to her?” she came back at him.
“Inspector Joaquim Dornelas.”
“Just a minute, please.”
The girl took the phone off the hook, pressed a few keys on some device hidden under the counter and began murmuring conspiratorially in the mouthpiece.
“I’m sure Chagas has already been here. So now I’m going to gather my own information.”
“Tell me what you need.”
“Talk to everybody here at the hotel and find out everything you can about Madalena’s movements since she checked in.”
The receptionist put the phone back on the hook and turned to the inspector.
“She’s waiting for you in room twelve, at the end of the garden, past the pool,” she said, pointing in the direction Dornelas should go.
“I know where it is.”
The girl smiled as she watched him leave.
Dornelas knocked on the door harder than he had on his first visit. Obeying a muffled order from inside the room, the inspector opened it a few seconds later and there was Madalena. She looked tired, her eyes sunken and red. From the deep tracks on her cheeks, which had dried up like fruits at a street market at the end of the day, Dornelas assumed that the death of her companion had drained her energy. She had lost her exuberance overnight, aged in a matter of hours. The disheveled hair, absence of makeup and wrinkled jeans and sweatshirt didn’t help; they also revealed that she had been lying down until he arrived.
Madalena looked at him and broke into a bright smile; Dornelas could see that the light that normally emanated from her, although weak, was still there, shining in her eyes. Dimly, but still there.
“Hi Joaquim,” she said extending her hand to the inspector and kissing him on the cheek. “May I call you Joaquim or will I have to call you inspector now… or maybe sir?”
Dornelas shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“You can call me anything you want. I need to talk to you. Is now a good time?”
“Anytime you like. I’ve got nothing else to do except wait.”
Madalena invited him in and offered him the same chair in front of the same table as yesterday. Dornelas chose to remain standing for the time being. He wanted to study the room before getting settled. Seeing that he was looking around, she dropped into the armchair where she had done her nails the day before, leaving him free to inspect whatever he wanted. Just seeing a figure moving around that part of the room reminded him of her naked thighs, an image that was still vivid in his memory.
“And the girl from the publisher, is she gone?” he asked.
“I let her go last night,” Madalena replied without going into detail. “When do you think they’ll release the body?”
Dornelas opened the closet doors, surveyed the contents from top to bottom, closed them and examined what he could see of the bathroom through the open door: towels and feminine toiletries on the sink.
“Soon,” he answered, turning to look at the table, the robe thrown over the back of one of the chairs and the turned off TV; nothing of any note. On one side of the unmade bed he could see the imprint of a body on the wrinkled sheets, and of a head on the pillow on the same side. On the bedside table there was a box of Kleenex, a pair of reading glasses and one of Georgia Summers’ novels open like the wings of a bird, cover and back cover facing up. Dornelas noticed it was not the same one she had been reading the night before.
“I started reading Passion on Olympus,” he said, pointing at the book.
Madalena, following him with her eyes, sat up and asked in an animated voice:
“Do you like it?”
Hunching his shoulders, he let out a “humph” and continued his inspection. The woman sank back into the cushions. The room exuded a hot and tainted scent, a mixture of mildew, human breath and perfume.
“Can I open a window?” the inspector asked.
“Please do. It really is a bit stifling in here.”
Dornelas drew back the curtains of one of the windows and opened wide one of the glass panes, letting in the salty smell of the cold sea air. Then he went to the chair she had offered him and settled into it. He took a deep breath, bent forward, rested both elbows on his knees and looked at her.
“Why did you lie to me?”
“What are you talking about?” she shot back, her eyes widening in surprise.
Speaking in a grave voice, Dornelas went straight at her:
“I know you had dinner with Gytha and Nickolas Crest at the El Toro restaurant on Mansa Beach. You arrived with him around nine-fifty and Gytha got there a little after ten.”
Her huge blue eyes suddenly watered, quickly spilling over into a flow of tears running down her cheeks. Madalena covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, God, this whole thing is driving me mad!”
Dornelas, not moved by her tears – a feminine wile to distract him – continued to look at her with a cold, hard stare. Under his unrelenting scrutiny Madalena was now struggling with herself.
“What can I say, Joaquim?” she said, spreading her arms with the moist palms of her hands facing upward.
“How about the truth?”
“And how could I tell you the truth yesterday?” the woman rejoined defiantly. “I didn’t know you! I’m not the kind of woman who goes around laying open her life to the first person who happens by. And besides, I didn’t know you were a police inspector until you told me that Gigi had died.”
Madalena had lied and yet had, at the least, an acceptable reason for doing so. There was no way Dornelas could argue with that, as much as he might want to. Then she moved forward to sit on the edge of the arm chair, rested her elbows on her knees, lowered her head and looked at the floor for a long while, as if observing an ant walking on the carpet. All of a sudden her head snapped up and, with a newly lit spark in her eyes, she started talking again with the words gurgling out of her.
“Gytha and I had decided to have dinner with Nick at a restaurant here in town. I was in the shower when she came in the bathroom and said she didn’t want to wait for me, that she wanted to take a walk by herself to see Palmyra before dinner.”
“What time did this happen?”
“A little before seven,” she said, turning to look at the inspector before lowering her head to look at the floor again, her eyes now rolling furiously around in their sockets.
“And?” Dornelas prompted her.
“Well,” she sat up straight, as if someone had poked her in the back, “her decision came out of nowhere, it took me by surprise. We normally wait for one another. But since I usually take a long time showering, choosing what to wear, you know, women things, I didn’t have a problem with it. I just asked her to come back before dinner so we could go together.”
Seeing that the conversation was now going in the direction he wanted, Dornelas sat upright and leaned an elbow on the table so he could rest his head in the palm of his hand.
“Then what happened?”
“Half an hour later she called me on my cell phone and changed everything. She said she’d met some people in town who had recommended a Spanish restaurant on Mansa Beach, the El Toro. It was fantastic according to her. I confess that at the time I noticed something strange in her tone and the way she was speaking. She seemed high, overly excited.”
“Did you both use drugs?”
“We smoke grass, mainly before making love,” answered Madalena, sounding nostalgic.
“I don’t. Gigi does. It’s a habit she brought with her from Europe. Whenever we’d go to a premiere or some such event she’d snort before leaving home. That is, when she could get it, from wherever. As famous as Gigi was, she was still very shy, she had a hard time dealing with her fame. The coke helped her to disguise her shyness really well. She became a different person whenever she used it, much more open and social. Authors, in general, are lonely creatures who spend days at a time sitting in front of a sheet of paper or a computer monitor with only their thoughts for company. When the fame arrived and she began to make lots of money, and get more and more invitations to events, especially in the U.S., Gigi had a lot of trouble handling the social side of her career. Because of her celebrity we moved to the States, to be closer to her readers. We chose Isle au Haut, in Maine, so we could isolate ourselves as soon as the events ended. Gigi used to say that living there reminded her of the peaceful life she had in her childhood, in Denmark. She’d say that that place, the isolation, brought her the peace of mind she needed to make up all those stories.”
While she was telling him all this Dornelas was studying her closely; her way of talking, of motioning, her posture, as if he were a flesh and blood polygraph test. Another part of his mind, however, couldn’t help but admire the woman’s beauty.
“What do you think of Isle au Haut?” he asked, intrigued by her analysis.
“It’s a very beautiful place, but sometimes it’s too peaceful. And when it’s cold, it’s really cold. I like it there. I chose to live there to be with her, to help her with her career. But I miss the heat of the Brazilian northeast, the sunny beaches, wearing a bikini, all that stuff.”
A question popped into his mind. He searched the ceiling, the windows, all around, looking for a sign that would tell him it was okay to ask it. He didn’t get one. He decided to let it go anyways.
“Is Gytha your first relationship with a woman? Have you ever had men in your life?”
Madalena studied him for a long time before answering. She was looking in the inspector’s eyes for any indication of bias or even of hypocritical interest, given that many men fantasized about ‘three-ways’; having sex with two women at the same time.
“I had several boyfriends when I lived in Brazil. I was married to a man from the state of Pernambuco for two years. Every man I’ve ever known disappointed me, with the exception of my father.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Not sure,” she said mockingly. “It was either my fault for not being in love or it was because they cheated on me left and right.”
“Cheat, on a woman like you?” the inspector retorted, surprised.
She grinned with disdain.
“And why not? Just because I’m pretty? Many men cheat not because they don’t like beautiful women, but because they can’t handle us. Being beautiful is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I suffered a lot at the hands of men and even more at the hands of women, especially when I was single. No woman wants to be friends with a beautiful woman, especially if she’s got a man. She’s always going to consider me a rival that she can’t beat, besides thinking that I’m going to try to rob the man she’s with. If we women weren’t so jealous of each other, we would have already united and conquered the world. You men wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“I don’t doubt that for a minute.”
Madalena suddenly stood up and went to the minibar, opened it and took out a sweaty bottle of mineral water.
“Would you like one?” she asked.
“Please,” he answered.
She got another one, put it on the table in front of him and went to the bathroom. She came back with two glasses and the bottle in one hand, as if she were holding tennis balls. She gave Dornelas a glass, which he thanked her for, opened his bottle and poured water into his glass, beads of water forming quickly on it. Madalena sat back down in her armchair and poured water for herself in the glass she had put on the bedside table next to the book.
“I met Gigi when I was still married. At first I was disturbed to be in love with someone of the same sex. Then, maybe because of all the disappointments I’d had in my previous relationships, all of them with men, I decided to give into it. I betrayed my husband with Gigi more than once.” She raised her glass and took a sip. A shiny, transparent thin moustache formed on her fleshy upper lip. “You know what I learned?”
Dornelas said nothing, just shook his head and waited.
“I learned that women cheat seriously while men just do it for fun. Men are like cats, Joaquim, they like their food served on time, their armchair in front of the TV, their beer cold, their clothes hung neatly in the closet and the picture of the family hanging in the foyer, where everyone can see it. Behind this charade they have their little escapades, but they always come back. When they’re the breadwinners they make it easy for the woman to find out, sometimes even on purpose, just to show her who’s boss, as if to say her place isn’t all that secure. The message is written between the lines but clear: either try harder or you’re out on your ass. With women it’s different; when we cheat, no man ever finds out. And when we fall in love with another man, or woman, as I did, there’s no going back. It ends in divorce, period. When I met Gigi, I realized that men were not for me. I’ve been very happy ever since.”
“You never quarreled?”
“Of course we fought, just like any couple. But we knew we loved each other and that’s all that really matters.”
Seeing that the relationship between the two had been covered, Dornelas decided it was time to change direction.
“Let’s go back a bit. Where do you think she went when she left here? Did she know anybody in town?”
“I can’t say. Gigi has always been very reserved, closed even, about some parts of her life. She was a woman full of secrets. At times it was impossible to get close to her.”
“Did you know she rented a boat?”
“I only heard after she arrived at the restaurant. After she left here she called me and said she’d get there on her own, and that I should arrange with my friend how to get there.”
“What did you think of that?”
“I was mad as hell.”
“So what did you do?”
Tears came back in her eyes, but none fell thanks to her blinking repeatedly. She hiccupped very quietly, stretched her neck, swallowed something – her pain, maybe – and kept going.
“Nothing. I just called Nick and changed everything like she asked me to.”
“Asked?” Dornelas snorted. “Sounds more like ‘told’ to me.”
Madalena showed her sorrow with a slow movement of her head, started to sob quietly and, opening her heart, said:
“Gigi was never a hundred percent open with me. If she made a date to meet someone here in Palmyra, she never told me.”
She took another sip of water, put the glass on the little table and stared at a corner of the rumpled bedspread. Though her eyes were glued on the bedspread, her mind was wandering somewhere far away.
“Do you have access to her e-mails, her cell phone, password, those kinds of things?”
She shook her head heavily from side to side, never taking her eyes off the bedspread.
“Is her cell phone with you?”
“No,” was all she said, sinking into the cushions and bursting into tears.
Like melting plastic, Madalena’s face contracted and transformed into something ugly in a matter of seconds. In the inspector’s eyes, the woman was writhing in pain inside. If he had any hope of keeping her attention on their conversation much longer he would have to keep changing the subject as often as a three year old child needs to be given a new toy.
“What about money? I mean who pays, or paid, the bills?” asked the inspector, trying to bring her back to reality.
The woman abruptly stopped crying, stiffened in her seat and turned sluggishly toward him.
“What’s that?” she responded aggressively
“Money,” Dornelas repeated emphatically. “Which one of you handles, or handled, it?”
“Gigi, it was always Gigi,” Madalena replied with a blank stare. “Gigi paid everything. Me, what can I say, I gave up my career as a literary agent to be able to help her. The book sales are our only source of income.” She lowered her head, sighed deeply and finished with, “A pretty good source, by the way.”
The resentment in her voice was clear, as was the look in her eyes; cold and penetrating. At that instant Dornelas perceived that Madalena was no longer the wife of a famous author, but a calculating woman. Faced with this realization, there was only one fateful question left to ask.
“Did Gytha have life insurance?”
“Five million dollars.”
“Who’s the beneficiary?”
“I am,” Madalena replied angrily.
“Do you also inherit her estate?”
The woman abruptly lifted her eyes from the floor and stared at the inspector with an expression that was a mixture of rage and indignation.
“Are you suggesting I killed her for her money?”
Dornelas didn’t answer immediately. The question itself conveyed the answer: point a finger at Madalena as a suspect in the murder of her companion.
“It’s a possibility. Unless you have something else to tell me that would make me forget the idea,” responded the inspector calmly.
“Like what, for example?” replied Madalena sharply, jumping up, arms tensed and extended by her side, fists clenched, ready to strike.
Dornelas never moved, merely gazed at her with a slight grin and said:
“Sit down, please.”
Madalena wasn’t about to throw in the towel.
“How dare you come here and accuse me of killing the love of my life?”
Sparks were flying out of her eyes. The inspector just leaned back and repeated:
“Sit down,” and added, “I’m not asking.”
Madalena, huffing like a trapped bull, sat tensely on the edge of the armchair, knees together, elbows resting on them and her head on her closed hands, like a child who had just been scolded.
“Tell me a little bit about Nickolas Crest,” the inspector requested gently.
“He’s a friend of mine who came to the Festival,” the woman growled.
“Where’s he from?”
“The first time I was here you said you didn’t know anyone in the city.”
Madalena raised her head and looked at him, furious.
“And I didn’t know you.”
“True. But where’s this friend of yours right now? I need to talk to him.”
The woman began studying the lines of his face like a fortune teller reading palms.
“I don’t know.”
“What hotel is he staying at?”
With her bottom teeth Madalena began to bite her upper lip like a rat nibbling a cookie.
“I think he’s already gone.”
“From Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo?”
She took a sip of water and sank back in the armchair again.
“Answer, dammit!” Dornelas growled.
“São Paulo,” she whispered.
His thoughts buzzing around in his head like bees in a hive, Dornelas couldn’t contain himself. He stood up, walked over to the open window and leaned his rear on the low window sill.
“What did the two of you do after Gytha went back to the boat?”
Another long pause during which Dornelas kept watching her closely. He felt like a screwdriver energetically tightening a screw until the thread was about to be stripped.
“Alright,” Madalena, sighed and stood up. And with her hands on her hips said: “I’ll tell you everything.” She traded the armchair for a corner of the bed and raised her watery and angry eyes to him. “Nick and I were interested in each other, had been for a while. I can’t say it was an affair, but we were interested. I know it sounds confusing, but though I loved Gigi with all my heart, I missed having a man inside me. I met Nick at one of Gigi’s events in Paris. He owns a small publishing house in England and when I found out he was coming to Palmyra we traded messages and agreed to meet. That’s why we arranged to have dinner together. And when he found out I was married to another woman, a famous author, it only made him even more interested. On the night Gigi was killed, as soon as we left the restaurant she decided to go back to town by boat. So I came here and waited for her.”
“What did you and Nick do while you waited?”
Giving no indication of whether or not he approved of her behavior, since he wasn’t qualified to make that call, much less pass moral judgment, Dornelas took his cell phone out of his pocket and called Solano on his. After two rings his subordinate answered.
“What’s up, sir?”
“Call the Federal Police at the following airports right away: Congonhas in São Paulo, Cumbica in Guarulhos and Viracopos in Campinas. I want to know if a Nickolas Crest has departed or is scheduled to depart on a flight bound for England. If he is, have him detained.”
“Copy that, sir.”
“Do something else,” Dornelas interrupted with an idea that had just hit him. “Get Protásio Marcondes’ phone number from Marilda and send it to me ASAP. He’s with the Federal Police in São Paulo.”
“Anything going on there?”
“Well, I discovered that dona Madalena left with a man last night at nine. A receptionist saw him when he came to pick her up. The guy gave his name in English as Nickolas. And another one saw her come in with a man later on. The one on the late shift just said that the two of them came in without saying anything. But from the description I’d say it was the same person.”
“Call the airports and I’ll call Protásio as soon as you get me his number.”
Dornelas hung up and put the phone on the table. He turned to Madalena.
“Your friend’s in the line of fire as of right now.”
“Why? For making love to me?” She stood up again, put her hands on her hips and stuck out her jaw as if daring the inspector to fight. “Are you envious of him, Inspector Joaquim Dornelas?”
Feeling totally dismayed that she would think that, the inspector slowly breathed in, then exhaled and looked at her benevolently.
“Your beauty truly is like a prison from where you misinterpret a number of things. Don’t ever confuse my role in this investigation.”
The woman dropped her arms to her side and collapsed on the corner of the bed, her eyes opened wide with fear.
“Now tell me the reason why you wanted to introduce the man you were interested in to the love of your life, to use your own words.” Dornelas filled his glass with cold water and sat back down in the chair.
Madalena hung her arms between her knees and looked at the floor. She was exhausted. The inspector patiently waited in silence, sipping from the glass. His cell phone, which he’d left on the table, started ringing.
“Go ahead, Solano.”
“I’ve got Protásio’s number.”
“Just a sec, let me write it down,” he said, signaling to Madalena to get him pen and paper. She just pointed to the tablet and pen that were lying on a writing pad with the hotel’s logo next to the TV. Dornelas, moving like a coiled spring, stretched out, grabbed both with one hand and brought them back to the table.
Solano let go a sequence of numbers which he jotted down on the pad of paper.
“Great. Did you already speak to the Feds at the airports?’
“Not yet,” the detective replied, continuing before the boss could speak. “Sir, I know this might sound like ill will or incompetence on my part, but I honestly think a call from you will carry a lot more weight than if it comes from me. For sure they’ll act much quicker if you call.”
Dornelas huffed and said:
“Alright. You might be right. Are you at the precinct?”
“Just got here.”
“Okay, I’m on the way.”
He hung up, put his cell phone and the paper with the number in his jacket pocket and turned to Madalena.
“Give me your passport.”
“Why?” the woman objected, surprised.
“You’re not allowed to leave the country until the investigation is concluded. If you’re cleared, go home with the love of your life, in a coffin. Does she have any family?”
“Her mother and a brother. They both live in Denmark.”
“If you’re involved in any way in her death the body will be sent to her family, wherever they are, and you’ll stay right here, more than likely for a good long time.”
Madalena was aghast at hearing this.
“The passport, please,” Dornelas repeated, his hand extended toward the woman, palm up. She dragged herself to the closet and opened it. Dornelas heard the click of the safe being opened and two passports appeared, one with a green cover and the other blue, which her trembling hands placed in his.
“Thank you. We’ll finish our conversation later.”
Frozen where she stood, Madalena could only watch Dornelas get up, turn his back on her and leave.
Minutes later the inspector stepped out of the hotel. A cold breeze was flowing through the narrow streets and punishing the horde of people walking through the Historical Center. Most of them were heading to the Festival, defending themselves as best they could against the wind, heads down, heedful of the uneven walkway with its rounded stones. Dornelas straight away lifted the collar of his jacket and buttoned it. It wasn’t raining.
The night was slowly swallowing the last light. The lit streetlamps and old lanterns hanging from some of the houses signaled that darkness was about to engulf Palmyra.
Dornelas enjoyed seeing the city lit up, with light and life.
As he watched the people in the street, he was filled with satisfaction to confirm that, like he, there were men and women from the four corners of the earth who were also attracted by this city straight out of the seventeenth century Brazilian colonial period. It showed him how part of a small, revolutionary group could resist against a world governed by excesses – of technology, of conflicts, of a lack of humanity. It produced a comforting sentiment in him.
As he began walking to the precinct he got his cell phone out of his pocket and pressed a few keys.
“Yes, sir,” Solano said on the other end of the line.
“Madalena no longer has her passports; she’s forbidden from leaving the country. Assign three duty officers to watch her in three shifts, twenty-four seven.”
“Copy that. Is she involved in her partner’s death?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out. I’ll be there in thirty.”
They hung up. Dornelas found a number in his phone and called it. It took only two rings for the deep voice of Judge Souza Botelho to come on the line.
“Go ahead, Dornelas.”
“Good evening, Judge. Are you at the courthouse?”
“Just leaving. My wife called a little while ago to say she had Brazilian style fish chowder on the stove. What do you need?”
Aware of the judge’s voracious appetite, and that he was a contumacious gormandizing gourmet, Dornelas decided not to beat around the bush and get straight to the point.
“A preliminary injunction preventing a suspect from leaving Palmyra County.”
“Is this about the case of the writer?”
“It has to be today?”
He heard a snort, then:
“Come and get it. But be quick about it. If the calamari gets overdone it turns to chewing gum and the dogfish to Styrofoam.”
“I’m on my way.”
Dornelas heard the thud of the judge banging the phone down, put his own phone away and raced over there.
Recognizing that in both mind and spirit Judge Souza Botelho was already finely tuned to the fish chowder bubbling on the stove at home, Dornelas explained objectively the reasons that led him to confiscate Madalena’s passports. During his brief presentation of the facts Dornelas noticed the judge now and again furtively looking at his watch, obviously in a hurry. He was sweating from his fat, round face and from the double chin that covered the collar of his shirt. As soon as the explanation was over his rotund fingers with the polished nails began machine-gunning the keyboard of his computer.
The preliminary injunction would provide a legal basis for Dornelas’ decision. Not that it would prevent Madalena’s lawyer, if she retained one, from overturning it without too much trouble. The fact that the passports had been confiscated without the injunction would only help to make it even easier. But given the circumstances and the urgency of the investigation, an injunction after the fact was still better than none at all. The order in which the components came wouldn’t alter the final product. At least that was what Dornelas was putting his faith in.
“Here it is,” said the judge, handing him the document that had been produced in record time.
In his entire career Dornelas had never seen a civil servant work so efficiently in such a short time.
“Thank you. And good appetite,” said the inspector as he realized that his own hunger was also considerable and growing.
“Next time give me some advance notice and come have dinner with us.”
“It will be a pleasure.”
A man with a great sense of commitment, Judge Souza Botelho lifted his huge bulk from the chair, stretched, forced the button of his jacket to close – though it threatened to fly off any minute – turned out the lights and left with Dornelas following close behind.
“Protásio Marcondes, please,” Dornelas said to the operator at the São Paulo federal police headquarters.
“Who should I say is calling?” she asked.
“Inspector Joaquim Dornelas, from Palmyra.”
He waited a bit and then heard two of the most annoying questions anybody can ever be asked on the phone.
“Right here,” he responded gravely.
“And what is the purpose of your call?”
For that one, instead of being irritated he thought of an amusing reply: “Tell him his ballet teacher would like to reschedule his class.” But he refrained. Protásio – now the Protásio Marcondes, the all-powerful of the São Paulo State Federal Police – had been a contemporary of Dornelas’ at the inspector preparatory course at the Federal Police university in Cabo Frio. Having already decided not to leave Palmyra, Dornelas passed the exam and became a police inspector there. Ambitious to the core, Protásio decided at the last moment to take the exam for the federal police. He passed in first place. His move to São Paulo happened just as soon as his heart coupled with the heart of a São Paulo girl he met while he was on vacation in Campos do Jordão.
“Police business,” was all he said.
“Just a minute,” hissed the girl, machine-like.
Dornelas waited a lot longer than that. Looking out of the window while he waited he observed the leaves of the coconut trees planted in the island that ran down the center of the avenue waving in the wind. Taking a pencil out of the desk drawer he started doodling on a notepad lying on the desk. He drew an elongated circle with a kind of little tuft on top and another at the bottom. A coconut. He could almost taste the water and the meat. Then he drew two horizontal parallel lines above it that appeared to form a handle. Protásio came on the line.
“My man Joca, how you doin’?” asked his friend boisterously.
“I’m good. How about you, Protozoan?”
Protásio laughed out loud on the other end of the line.
“Haven’t heard that nickname in a while. Everyone’s so formal around here. You know what I’m talking about!”
“The whole world’s gotten too serious, hasn’t it?”
“Has it ever, it’s sick, man. Even worse here in the government. They take everything so seriously! But hey, why you calling?” asked the top cat of the Federal Police, clearly in a hurry. Protozoan was undoubtedly a very busy man.
“Have you heard about the author who was killed at the Festival here in Palmyra?”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes right now.”
“Yeah, you got that right,” said Dornelas, still doodling while he spoke. “This writer was married to a woman who I suspect of being involved somehow in her murder.”
In his drawing Dornelas, on one of the sides, continued sketching along the first line, then along the other, and turned them both downward, still parallel, in a ninety degree curve. It looked now something like a wheel wrench.
“A few hours before the crime,” he continued, “this woman, the author and a man, an Englishman, had dinner together in a local restaurant. When they left the writer got back aboard the boat she’d rented while the man and the woman went back to town by car.”
On the other end of the line Protásio’s attention was also being divided with something else. His computer perhaps, because Dornelas could hear the tapping of fingers on the keyboard.
“When they got back to Palmyra they made love in her hotel room.”
“Wait a minute,” Protásio interrupted. “You mean they were getting ready to have a three-way with the writer? So when the writer didn’t get there they went at it without her.”
At the end of the curve the inspector extended the two lines inwards and connected them, forming an elongated triangle, ending in a sharp point.
“That’s right,” he agreed. “That’s her alibi. I want to hear his version, but…”
“I get it. The guy left Palmyra and you want me to look for him in the São Paulo airports.”
It wasn’t by chance that Protásio had scaled the Mt. Everest of the São Paulo Federal Police in only a few years. The man’s mind worked at the speed of light.
“Congonhas, Cumbica and Viracopos?”
“England. London, I imagine.”
“If we find him should we detain him?”
“I’ll call you as soon as we get anything.”
“One more thing. Take care of the paperwork so we can avoid any potential headaches from some British Embassy lawyer.”
“Okay then. Pass me your contact numbers.”
Dornelas gave him the phone numbers for the precinct, his cell phone and his house. They traded goodbyes and hung up. Dornelas found himself intrigued by the drawing he’d made: a coconut opener in the shape of a wheel wrench, just like the ones in the little carts selling coconuts around the city. The long, curved point, razor sharp, is used to puncture the fibrous outer layer, then the inner shell and finally the meat until reaching the water, with one blow. Once the strike has been delivered all it takes is a simple twist of the T-shaped handle and all the layers come out like a cork. The device eliminates the need for a machete. That’s when he was hit by a sudden brainstorm. Ripping the drawing from the notepad, he raced out of the office, down the hall and past the lunchroom, turned on the outside lights and went into the courtyard.
He started searching every centimeter of the shipwreck. He pulled the canvas off the canopy, removed some of the twisted boards and the seats from the side benches, opened the access lid to the engine and finally the hatch to the bow locker, pulled up the floor frame and there it was: the coconut opener. He sped back to his office, got a plastic bag from one of the desk drawers and returned to the courtyard. Seeing him go flashing by, Solano went after him.
Bending down over the wreckage, Dornelas placed the implement in the bag, not touching it with his hands, and held it up to the light fixture over the back door.
“Voilà,” he said to Solano, who was watching him from a distance. “The weapon that killed the gringo.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Note the shape of the sharp point, in a semicircle. I’ll bet you a Coke that it’ll fit her wounds perfectly.”
Solano went nearer to his boss, looking closely at the thing he was holding in the transparent plastic bag and said:
“No bet. You want me to send it to Forensics?”
“Immediately. But before you do I want to talk to you, Caparrós and Lotufo. My office, now.”
“Children, let’s go over what we have so far,” said Dornelas to the three detectives spread out in front of him. The inspector, sitting in his chair, was lightly touching the plastic bag with the coconut opener that was lying on the desk. The implement was clean, exhibiting no sign of dried blood on either the handle or the blade.
“Lotufo, how’d it go with Dadá at the morgue?”
“He recognized the gringo straight off,” replied the detective, still standing. “As soon as the girl from the Medical Examiner’s office lifted the sheet he said, “It’s her”. But with the sailor, nothing.”
“Can’t have everything,” Dornelas lamented. “Caparrós, were you able to get anything more from the bar owner and from Dadá’s friends, including the girls?”
Caparrós, sitting in one of the visitor chairs, sat up as soon as he heard the question.
“Nothing, sir. They all confirmed what Dadá told you. I noticed that the women, Soraia and Marta, when they talked about the gringo, they made some pretty nasty comments. A typical female thing, protecting their turf. But from there to committing murder I don’t think is very likely.”
“I agree,” he murmured without taking his eyes off the opener. “Besides, it’s not everyone who could take out a woman who stands…” He turned to Lotufo. “How tall was she?”
“A meter ninety two.”
“What a tremendous woman!” the inspector exclaimed, pursing his lips to form a sort of beak. “I also doubt that a woman, any woman, would have the strength and drive to stab someone eighteen times with this thing here.”
With a part of his mind he was listening to the conversation. With another he was deeply focused on the hand that was on the plastic bag, as if by touching the murder weapon, even though it was in the bag, he could put himself in the killer’s place, and that way perhaps understand the motive for the crime. Tapping his fingers lightly on the handle, inside the bag, he unconsciously pulled up an image of Madalena and placed it in his mind’s eye. What that image brought forth left him in doubt regarding the woman’s connection to her partner’s death, which in turn annoyed him. But somehow the coconut opener and Madalena didn’t add up. There was a gap that was bothering him. He questioned whether he wasn’t forcing the facts to fit, to intentionally incriminate her any way he could. With the detectives intently watching him in silence, Dornelas removed his hand and lifted his head.
“Caparrós, and the Argentine’s girlfriend, anything?”
“Nothing there, sir. She confirmed her boyfriend’s story, and I believe her.”
“I understand,” he murmured again. And remembered he needed to check with Vito if the Argentine and his girlfriend had been in his restaurant on the night of the murder.
Although he was physically present, Dornelas’s mind was far away, in some peaceful but unknown location.
With a big mental and physical effort, Dornelas briefly told his subordinates about the phone call from the biker, the conversation with Madalena and his initial suspicions regarding her participation in the crime, and the request he had made to Protásio to detain Nickolas Crest at any of the São Paulo international airports, if still possible. At this point the man might already be safely in London.
The inspector abruptly stood up, got his cell phone out of his pocket and took three photos of the still bagged implement on his desk. He put the phone away, grabbed the bag and gave it to Solano.
“Send it immediately to Chagas and ask him to get it to Dr. Dulce at the Medical Examiner’s ASAP.”
“Then good night,” and with that he got his jacket from the back of the chair and left.
The three detectives looked at each other, surprised, and watched him disappear out the door.
Inspector Joaquim Dornelas practically dragged himself to Vito’s bar. He was irritated. Because he was tired? Pressure of work? Loneliness? No time to himself? He didn’t know the answer. Differently from other times when he had used the tranquility of the bar as a place for reflection, today Dornelas confirmed with Vito the Argentine’s presence the night of the crime indifferently, mechanically downed a glass of cachaça – which didn’t go down well – paid the bill and went home.
On the way he remembered that he should return Amarildo Bustamante’s call and call Chicken to tell him about the latest developments in the investigation, as agreed. ‘It can wait till tomorrow,’ he decided and kept going.
He opened the door cautiously. Lupi appeared, happy, his tail wagging frantically. Dornelas stood in the doorway while the dog relieved himself nearby. Still in the dark, he got a small bag from the cupboard drawer, collected the dog doo and threw it in the trash can in the street.
They entered. As he locked the door and turned on the living room lights the irritation that was poisoning his soul was replaced with an almost childish joy. An enormous box was lying on the living room floor: the sound equipment that he had so long dreamed of.
Like a kid, he got the box and took it up to his room. He opened it quickly. He took out the cabinet with the amplifier and CD player and the two speakers, made space on top of the chest of drawers and hooked it up right there. He connected the speaker wires, plugged the power wire into the wall outlet, put the batteries in the remote control and was looking for the manual when his cell phone rang.
“Dornelas,” he answered anxiously.
“Joca, we found the guy,” said Protásio on the other end. “Nickolas Crest is scheduled to embark from Guarulhos on TAM’s flight 3582 to London tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. You want me to detain him?”
“I do. Take him to your headquarters.”
“You want me to take his statement from here with you connected remotely?”
Dornelas stopped himself from laughing out loud.
“The only thing remote I have at the precinct is the TV control. And the Internet connection isn’t all that good either. Can we do it by phone?”
“Sure,” replied Protásio. “I’ll call you as soon as we get our hands on him.”
“Talk to you soon. Take care.”
They hung up. With the charm of the sound equipment broken, Dornelas decided to call his girlfriend. She answered on the first ring.
“How are you?” Dulce purred at the other end.
“Tired, but okay. And you?”
“Exhausted and with a busy night ahead of me.”
“A car with three stiffs was left on the Rio-Santos highway. Another one with Rio de Janeiro plates.”
“Is Miranda investigating it?”
“Uh-huh,” Dulce replied. “At a snail’s pace. If Marealto was Palmyra and he was you, it would have gone a lot faster. The only thing I found out so far is that all three have records.”
“With the Military Police?”
“Don’t know. All I know is killing them there and leaving them here is really shitty.” Dulce sighed deeply. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too. A lot.”
“I won’t be able to see you today.”
“That’s not good! We’ll make up for it tomorrow, if we can. I’ll go to your house.”
“Done and done!”
“My sound equipment arrived,” he said, getting away from the gloomy tone of their conversation.
“Play something for us.”
“I’ll handpick it. You take care and we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“As soon as I can. A big kiss.”
“Another to you.”
Dulce hung up before he did. Dornelas looked at his watch: ten-twenty. On the one hand he was sorry not to see Dulce. On the other, he had the whole night to explore his new toy, all by himself.
With trembling hands he aimed the control at the equipment, pressed the ‘POWER’ button and watched a sort of luminous space-type thing light up in the room. When the bass sound of a radio station reverberated from the immense speakers, green and orange light beams began to irradiate in all directions. He pushed the CD mode button and silence reigned again. He hurled himself down the stairs, got a CD from his collection in the living room and went back upstairs holding it between his fingers. He pressed the ‘OPEN’ button and the little drawer slid out of the apparatus like a mechanical tongue. He carefully placed the small disc in it. He used the remote control to select a song, buried his finger on the volume button and the first notes of Astor Piazzolla’s grandiose ‘Adiós Nonino’ echoed throughout the four corners of the house.
Inspired by the concertina played by the Argentine genius, Dornelas stood up as straight as he could, arched his right arm, stuck the left out to the side, imagined Dulce between them and began twirling around the room. He felt electrified. Less than three minutes went by and the land line phone rang. He snorted with anger at being interrupted, then ran to get the remote control, pressed ‘PAUSE’ and hurriedly answered the phone.
“Ah, so your name is Dornelas!” raged a man’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Who’s this?” he snapped, annoyed by the aggressive tone.
“Your new neighbor. Is that music going to stop or do I call the cops? It’s past ten and there’s no way I can get to sleep with it playing so loud.”
Dornelas was now a lawman who had just committed a misdemeanor, and he couldn’t have been more ashamed. He thought it better not to identify himself so as not to besmirch his badge for such a minor lapse.
“I’m really sorry. I’ll keep the volume down from now on.”
“You better had.”
That last phrase pushed the inspector’s patience to the breaking point. And like a new rubber band, it didn’t snap by very little. To play the hard-ass cop in this situation would be the same as shooting himself in the foot because all the respect he’d conquered in the community that he worked for would be washed away the minute he blew up at the neighbor.
“Besides,” the guy was saying, calmer now that he’d gotten what he wanted, “I can’t stand that music, the hammering, that little harmonica. It gets on my nerves! If it was some good old, down home country music, I might understand, but that stuff?”
Disgusted, the inspector just shook his head, hunched his shoulders and asked himself, ‘good old, down home country music? Really?’ To someone less enlightened than he, comparing country music to Astor Piazzolla would sound like a blatant personal insult. But all Dornelas could do was sigh sadly. He was so dejected that he couldn’t be bothered to try to explain to his neighbor the creative beauty and richness of the Argentine ‘portenho’ music.
“Sleep well. Good night.”
He banged the phone down, lowered the volume considerably and pressed ‘PLAY’. With the melodious music issuing softly from the speakers, Dornelas slowly got undressed and threw the dirty clothes in the bathroom hamper. With the dog watching him intently from the throw rug in the bathroom, he stood up as straight as he could and risked a few more dance steps on his way to the shower.
Sleep didn’t come easy. And when it did, it wasn’t the sound kind. Dornelas passed the night in that indefinite region between the mind that isn’t at rest and the deep sleep that that doesn’t happen. In limbo, perhaps. Not even reading the honey sweet Passion on Olympus helped end his restless vigil. The way he felt when he woke up was similar to when he once got a thrashing in school. His muscles ached. His eyes stung as if they were spinning while immersed in a pool of fresh mud.
Of all the factors that contributed to his current state – overtired, shower too hot, the huge plate of ground beef with mashed potatoes, rice and beans he’d wolfed down like an animal before going to bed – it was having the bed all to himself that bothered him the most.
That was when Dornelas realized that Dulce had captured a place in his soul and his life in a way that was so smooth, even too smooth – the famous feminine touch, as she herself would say – that getting through the lonely nights without her was now uncomfortable. Like an old dog that could learn new tricks, Dornelas had become used to having her next to him in bed.
Maybe this was one of the many signs that mark a life, signs only perceived by those with watchful hearts, saying he had reached a point in his existence where female company – not just anyone’s, but Dulce’s specifically – was not only desirable but extremely welcome and necessary to calm his spirit. A man of independent body and soul, Dornelas now saw himself joined to a woman like never before.
Contented, he got the phone and called her cell phone. Voice mail. He decided not to leave a message. She might be sleeping and he didn’t want to give her the impression that he had become a clingy, desperate man.
So he decided to enjoy his sound system a little more. Still in his underwear he snuck cautiously down to the living room – he didn’t know if Neide had arrived – got another CD from his collection and went back upstairs. He turned on the electronic artillery, opened the little drawer and changed the disc. He pressed ‘PLAY’ so Yefim Bronfman’s strong fingers could caress the piano keys and bring forth, as if in a dream, the first notes of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 3.
Dornelas’ spirit soared to the heavens and beyond; as soon as the Russian pianist’s hands began to race with incredible speed along the keyboard a type of turbine was activated in his mind that accompanied the electrifying rhythm of the first movement.
From there Dornelas found himself thrown into thinking about the crime scene: the footprints in the sand, on the deck, and especially about Marcos Altino’s boat that he envisioned anchored beyond the breakers; the sailor taking cover from the rain under the canopy’s green canvas, Gytha protected under the roof of the bar.
Despite the succession of events the investigation had turned up so far, some issues seemed definite while others were merely suppositions. He went back: Gytha left the restaurant a little after eleven at night, boarded the boat, sailed the length of the beach and got out again in front of the bar where Dadá and his group were. She went up to the young man on the motorcycle, then went to dance samba while he, on his cell phone and protected by the shadow of the sunshade tree, watched her attentively. When she stopped dancing she noticed the gate to the trail that connected the two beaches was open and walked to the bar on Brava Beach before the rain completely erased her footprints along the trail. Alone or with someone? Too soon to know.
Marcos Altino in turn was told to sail the boat around the headland that separated the two beaches and wait there for the woman. When he arrived he decided to anchor far beyond the breakers. The reason each went their own way was simple: with the sea so rough due to the rain and wind that was noisily blowing into the bay – especially on Brava Beach, which stares wide-open at the ocean – it would be impossible to steer the whaler close enough to the beach for Gytha to jump off without getting completely soaked. And the heavy waves would surely toss the boat into her as soon as she was able to step on solid ground. The opposite, landing the bow of the boat in the sand, would also not be possible. That fact puzzled him. And from what he had been able to see when the small boat was leaving Palmyra, it wasn’t towing a dinghy with an outboard motor, which would have allowed her to land directly on the beach.
Other factors also supported this theory: considering the gentle incline of the beach and the shallow draft of the hull, propeller and rudder, a small whaler like that one could easily navigate, going slowly, in waters no deeper than seventy centimeters or so. According to Faustino Arantes, Marcos put the bow of the boat as close to dry sand as he could, which wouldn’t prevent the writer from having to jump in the water, shallow though it was. And that alone explained her pant legs being wet up to her knees.
The rough sea would also explain why the sailor chose to anchor in deeper water at Brava Beach. If the anchor had somehow come loose from the bottom because of the rough sea, he would have enough time to start the engine and take the boat out to the open sea. Cutting the anchor cable, on the other hand, would seem to him the most sensible recourse were the anchor to get stuck under a rock, which in fact is what happened. Whether he was dead or alive when the cable was cut was another question that was puzzling the inspector.
There was, however, one element of solid evidence: the footprints that came out of the sea, went up the beach and along the deck until arriving where Gytha was; footprints that were not Marcos Altino’s, much less the author’s, as Chagas had confirmed. ‘Who was the first to be murdered?’ Dornelas asked himself.
If the murderer came by sea, but in another boat – a possibility that he now considered – it would be correct to assume that the sailor died before the author. Far from the spotlights on the beach and from the eyes of a drunken customer, the sailor would be the perfect prey.
If that was in fact the sequence of events, after killing Marcos the murderer went to the beach and then killed the writer. ‘But had Gytha been so physically wasted that she couldn’t notice someone approaching to kill her? Wouldn’t the intruder have frightened her?’ he asked himself. The answer came to him instantly: ‘Not if she had been waiting for the murderer, who came to supply her with the cocaine she snorted before he killed her.’
If Chagas and Dulce confirmed that the coconut opener was the weapon that killed the writer, the tool was used on the beach and then taken to the boat. In that case, it wouldn’t be rash to surmise that the murderer killed Marcos with the tiller, went to the beach, killed Gytha with the coconut opener, went back to the boat, threw the weapon on the deck and cut the anchor cable. All to frame Marcos with the murder of the author, leading the police to think he accidentally tripped and died when he hit his head while struggling to control the boat against the waves.
‘But the killer made a crass mistake,’ Dornelas concluded: he overdid it when he killed the sailor. The wound the tiller caused was too deep to have been the result of an accidental blow. Dulce had confirmed this deduction. The force that had been employed was brutal, which, together with the footprints in the sand, made it clear to the inspector that a third person had done it all. ‘Who?’ And if she was first stabbed in the left carotid, from the front, it would indicate that the murderer was almost certainly right-handed.
As absurd as it had seemed at first, Chagas’ theory of a mystery diver began to make sense.
Meanwhile, as the two crimes were being committed Madalena and Nickolas were making love in her room. The receptionist had confirmed that they arrived together and that he only left much later. That by itself provided Madalena with a perfect alibi since it eliminated her from the crime scene. But it didn’t eliminate Dornelas’ suspicion; one that he needed to find some proof for. Yet at the same time he had serious doubts that she had been a participant.
So he concentrated his thoughts on the young man with the motorcycle, going over their telephone conversation in his head, forward and backward, then backward and forward. And like part of a song that you can’t get out of your head, usually beginning with a perfectly chosen note that lends the rest of the melody a weighty and unique tone, the inspector’s attention was taken by a specific passage. He focused on the point where he asked the boy if he used his cell phone while he watched Gytha dance. It was at that point the guy denied killing her and abruptly hung up.
Dornelas, puzzled by the boy’s attitude, started to consider him not as the killer but as the missing link. Maybe the boy being there, with his motorcycle, at that time and place, wasn’t the mere coincidence that the circumstances had made him think, but part of a very well orchestrated plan.
Inspector Joaquim Dornelas was pleased with both the conclusion he’d just reached and with the end of the third movement of Rachmaninov’s concerto. Already dressed, he turned the system off and went downstairs. He took Lupi for a walk down the street, returned home to leave him there and left again to have breakfast at Onofre’s bakery and coffee shop.
In Dornelas’ opinion the real art of cooking was not found in richly prepared dishes and much less in the exaggerated sophistication that was haute cuisine, but in the magic of those who prepare simple everyday food.
Nothing like the aroma of hot, freshly brewed coffee, a pat of butter melting on French bread just out of the oven, and orange juice, squeezed right there in front of him, to revive the palate. Dornelas enjoyed his breakfast like a king at a banquet. He might have been in a typical margarine commercial except for the fact that he was reveling in it all by himself at the counter of a coffee shop.
Satisfied with his meal, himself and life, the inspector paid the bill and left bouncing down the narrow streets of the Historical Center. Even with the gray, furrowed sky – not a drop fell – in spirit Dornelas was dancing as if he was Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.
The number of reporters was distinctly larger that morning. He barely got through the doorway before a group of them got off their asses from the benches and walls and avidly advanced on the inspector, who dodged them as best he could until reaching the front desk.
“Good morning, Marilda,” he said to the receptionist.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Mr. Amarildo asked you to call him urgently. He said he tried to call your cell phone but couldn’t get through.”
Dornelas quickly got his phone out of his pocket. It was off. He tried to turn it on. Low battery.
With reporters pressing all around, and having a clear understanding of their professional code, Marilda didn’t answer. She simply slid a piece of paper across the counter toward the boss as if they were both Russian spies exchanging secrets in the CIA cafeteria. Written in small letters was: call Ambrosino, the ‘Chicken’.
Playing along with the conspiratorial tone she had set, Dornelas covered the note with his hand, pulled it to him like a Las Vegas croupier, and stealthily stuck it in his pocket.
“Give me ten minutes, then call Mr. Amarildo. Pass it straight through to me. Then call him, please,” Dornelas whispered and gave Marilda a wink, which she acknowledged with a subtle nod. He went to his office.
He didn’t quite have enough time to take off his jacket and hang it up, unlock his desk drawer, look over Madalena’s passports, stick his phone in the charger and eat with relish an entire row of his chocolate bar – one of the last. The phone rang before he finished the last little square. Dornelas picked it up and immediately started talking:
“Good morning, Amarildo. I forgot to charge my phone and…”
“Sir,” interrupted Marilda in a low voice. “It’s that boy with the motorcycle. Should I put him through?”
Startled, Dornelas sat up in his chair, straightened his tie as if he was about to receive him in person, and said:
A few seconds went by.
“Inspector?” the young man asked, reluctantly.
“Dornelas here. Is this Mr. Agenor speaking?”
“That’s right. Can you talk?”
“I can if you have something important to say. If not, I’ve got better things to do,” the inspector replied, short and sweet.
The reason he was being rude was to let the boy know he wasn’t all-important, although given the current state of the investigation, to Dornelas he actually was. But the inspector believed that encouraging criminals was the quickest way to create future blackmailers.
“I really need to talk to you,” implored Agenor. “It’s about the dead gringo.”
“I’m right here. Go ahead,” he said casually, trying not to let show the anxiety that was making his innards tingle.
“I didn’t kill the gringo, sir.”
“You already told me that before. Nothing new there. What else?”
Silence. He waited. When nothing happened he continued.
“Did you participate in the crime, Agenor?”
“Yes and no,” the boy said cautiously.
“What do you mean, yes and no?! What kind of answer is that?!” snapped Dornelas, the conversation beginning to anger him. “Either you participated or you didn’t. Which is it?”
“I did, sir, but only indirectly. The thing is, I didn’t know my participating would result in the crime. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, sir.”
Dornelas was intrigued.
A deep snuffle sounded from the other end of the line.
“I’m a broken man, sir,” said the boy, unburdening himself. “To be honest, I’m desperate. My girlfriend and I got engaged twenty days ago. Until last week I worked in a costume jewelry shop in the Historical Center. One slip and I lost my job.”
“What kind of slip?”
“I stole a piece of costume jewelry from the stockroom, a beautiful ring I wanted to give Marileide as an engagement present. I don’t make a lot so before stealing it I asked the owner if she’d give me a special discount and let me pay in a bunch of installments. The woman, a real tightfisted bitch, said no. One day when I was doing inventory I separated one without anyone seeing. I figured no one would find out. But they did, and I was fired.”
“Did they press charges?”
“No. But they used it to not pay me my two weeks notice and told me to just go.”
“Does your fiancée know?”
“Not yet. She works for the city and thinks I took a leave of absence.”
“Alright, but what’s this got to do with the gringo’s murder?”
“I don’t have the money to pay the motorcycle installments much less to marry Marileide. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to let a woman take care of him, sir. So, when I got a proposition that night there’s no way I could say no.”
“What kind of proposition?”
The inspector’s interest in the conversation began to grow.
“A thousand bucks.”
“To do what?”
“Meet up with the gringo and tell her she had to go to Brava Beach to buy the coke she was looking for. The supplier would be there with it. That’s it. I never dreamed the woman would end up dead.”
“But how’d you know who she was or where she was? How’d you find her?”
“I was told to look for a blond with short hair, really tall, wearing jeans and a beige jacket. And that she’d be at that Spanish restaurant… I don’t remember the name.”
“That’s it. I was on the beach when she came out of there. When I saw her getting on the boat, I thought it was all over. But I decided to follow the whaler while it sailed along in front of the breakers. And when I saw the sailor throwing the anchor off the stern and bringing the boat into the shallows, I figured the woman was going to come ashore. After that it was easy. I parked the bike in the sand, in a spot where the woman couldn’t miss me. So then she came up the beach, dizzy as hell, and staggered to where I was. I said what I had to say and left.”
“But she could speak Portuguese?”
“Dunno. But she understood everything I said. She even muttered an ‘obrigado’ before going to the bar.”
“What about after she went to the bar? I have information that you were talking on your cell phone while she was dancing.”
“True. I got a call from the guy who hired me asking if the job had been done.”
“I see,” murmured Dornelas, largely to himself, as he considered this new information. It made him think about Gytha’s movements in town between the time she left Madalena in the room, met somebody in the Historical Center, completely changed their plans, and finally boarded the boat. According to Madalena, Gytha had called saying that friends had recommended the El Toro restaurant. ‘What friends?’ he asked himself. ‘A trap or a simple drug deal that ended in murder?’
Dornelas considered his next step, which entailed discovering who gave the author this tip in the Historical Center. “Can you tell me who made this proposition?” he asked, returning to the conversation.
A silence followed and dragged on until the inspector’s cell phone began to vibrate on the desk. Dulce Neve’s name appeared on the screen.
“I couldn’t say, sir”
“Just a sec,” interrupted the inspector. He grabbed the phone and refused the call, then accessed the SMS app, texted on the tiny keys ‘Call you right back. Kisses.’ and sent the SMS to Dulce. “What did you say?” he asked.
“That I don’t know who made the proposition.”
“Don’t give me that crap, Agenor!” the inspector exploded. “You expect me to believe that bullshit?”
His cell phone vibrated again, a different, brief vibration. And then stopped.
“It’s true! I received it by cell phone on the night the gringo died,” Agenor said in an agonizing voice.
With his mind on the conversation, Dornelas grabbed his cell phone again and quickly read the message: ‘I’ll wait. Big kiss.’ He put it on the desk and considered the matter closed for the time being.
“From who?” the inspector insisted.
“I swear I don’t know. A guy I never heard of called and gave me some made-up name.”
“Like you’re doing with me?”
“Sort of,” the boy said, disconcerted. “But it’s different in my case; I called you to find out what could happen to me if I gave you my real name.”
“It’s too soon for that. Go on.”
“This guy said he’d pay me a thousand bucks if I went to Mansa Beach to meet up with the woman and tell her what he told me to tell her.”
“And you accepted even knowing the job involved drugs?”
“But I wasn’t dealing, or using drugs, sir,” Agenor rebutted. “I was just the messenger. I did it for the money. I was desperate, sir. Finding a job is tough. You can’t believe the president when she says on TV that Brazil right now is in a situation of full employment. It’s bullshit. People who have to scrape to get by know. When the guy called and said he’d pay that much just to meet up with a gringo woman and tell her something, I thought that finally something good was happening to me.”
“Do you have his phone number?”
“No, sir. It appeared as blocked on my phone screen.”
“Too bad,” Dornelas lamented, again mainly to himself. “What about the money, did you get it?”
“They said if I did everything right all I had to do was go home and the money would be in an envelope slipped under my door.”
“You live alone?”
“I live with my mom and my nine year old sister.”
“What about your father?”
“I don’t know who he is, sir.”
“Was the envelope there?”
“Yes, sir. I got home after midnight, opened the door and there it was, a thousand bucks in a sealed envelope.”
“Does your mother or sister know about the money and how you got it?”
“No, they don’t know anything.”
“I see,” said Dornelas, reflecting for a minute. “You mean that whole story about going to the beach to smoke a cigarette after taking your girlfriend home was total bullshit?”
“No, sir. That’s really what I did. I just didn’t tell you the whole story.”
Dornelas bit off what he was going to say, nearly growling.
“Sir, I’m not a criminal,” Agenor pleaded. “I’m just a working stiff who took a wrong turn on one of life’s streets.”
‘A mule,’ thought Dornelas sadly. Like a lot of kids in poor communities used as foot soldiers by drug dealers. They’re the ones who do the dirty work, who transport the cocaine, marijuana and crack from the drug lords to the customers. Recently unemployed, about to get married, Agenor in this case was an accidental mule, lured by the drug trade in a moment of weakness and desperation. Putting someone in his situation in prison was a sure way to see him come out a bigger criminal than when he went in.
“How old are you?”
Dornelas sighed deeply, not only for the boy, but for all the young kids gone astray because they had no hope of a better future. Plus the temptation of the easy riches that only the drug traffic and corruption can offer.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. If what you’ve told me is the truth, I promise I won’t charge you as an accomplice to murder, even though you really were part of it.”
“But I didn’t know, sir!” Agenor begged. “I only told her where to go to get the cocaine. That’s all.”
“So you said.”
“I didn’t kill the woman!”
The boy began to cry on the other end of the line.
“Agenor, pay attention. If your story is all true I’m not going to charge you. Is that clear?”
“Yes, it is, sir,” the boy answered, recovering. “But how can I trust you, a policeman?”
“I have no reason to screw you over, Agenor. Try to understand this, once and for all: I don’t want to arrest you. I want to find who killed the gringo. If you didn’t do it, you’ve got nothing to fear. And the fact that you called me tells me you know you fucked up and you regret it. You’re helping me. Think of it as a business deal: you help me and I’ll help you. How’s that?”
“I guess it’s okay,” the boy murmured. “So what do you want me to do now?”
“First you need to promise you’ll never get mixed up with trafficking drugs again. Ever. Is that clear?”
“You promise?” Dornelas insisted.
“Great. Now try to find out who hired you. Do it carefully. I don’t want you to risk your life over this. Just calling me is already a risk. I appreciate it and I respect you for doing it. Take down my cell phone number.”
Dornelas gave him the number.
“Now give me yours. I need to be able to contact you.”
“But sir, if the guy who hired me finds out I’m in touch with you I’m a dead man.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Dornelas said, even though he knew Agenor was right. “Beginning now we’ll use a code to talk to each other. From now on you call me Juarez. When you call me or I call you, that’s the name you use for me. Okay?”
The boy gave his cell phone number to the inspector, who wrote it down on the notepad on his desk.
“Then it’s a deal Agenor. And to show my trust in you, as well as for your own safety, I don’t want to know your real name right now. Agreed?”
“Great. Only call me on my cell phone. Don’t call the precinct again. Stay in touch.”
“See you, then.”
Dornelas hung up and dialed three numbers.
“Marilda, call Mr. Amarildo please.”
He had just enough time to lean back and begin to relax when the phone rang. Dornelas unglued himself from the back of the chair and answered it.
“Mr. Amarildo is in a meeting. Should I call the other guy now?”
They hung up. A minute later the phone rang again.
“It’s him, sir”
“Thanks. Put him through.”
“Good morning, Walter,” Dornelas said, obviously dispirited. Merely picturing the reporter in his mind’s eye was enough to make him feel that something like an anvil was sinking his soul.
“Good morning, Inspector. I’ve been trying to talk to you, looking for some news…” whined Chicken on the other end of the line.
“I apologize. I’ve been very busy.” The inspector was holding the phone with one hand while drumming on the desktop with the other. “But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten our deal.”
“Of course you haven’t, sir,” the reporter rejoined. “I would never think anything like that of you!”
Dornelas sighed deeply as his eyes swept around the room from floor to ceiling without focusing on anything.
“Your story checks out,” he said, with a great effort. “Faustino confirmed seeing the boy on the motorcycle talking to the gringo.”
“I told you so.”
“Well then, that’s all I’ve got on him so far.” Dornelas could feel the guy getting ready to contest this so he decided to continue. “But what I can tell you about the case is that we found an anchor.”
“From the whaler the gringo rented?” Chicken cackled.
Being able to divert the reporter’s attention ignited a little spark of satisfaction in the inspector’s chest.
“Where was it?”
“Stuck under a rock at the bottom of the ocean, a good distance from the breakers.
Dornelas, assuming Chicken was thinking, decided to wait out the silence that followed.”
“Was the cable cut?” cackled the reporter again.
“Yes, it was.”
“Do you think Marcos had to cut it to prevent the boat from being smashed to pieces against the rocks?”
“It’s possible,” dissimulated Dornelas reflectively. His satisfaction was growing as he realized there was nothing better than an anxious reporter eager to jump to his own conclusions, thereby sparing the police department from being compromised by divulging inaccurate information. The direction the conversation was heading also pleased him.
“But how did the boat end up smashed on the rocks, that means he couldn’t avoid hitting them and died in the accident,” Chicken reflected out loud.
Dornelas smiled widely. The anvil dragging down his soul was magically transformed into feathers floating in the air.
“That’s about it,” he limited himself to saying.
“And how did he die, Inspector?”
“Hit his head, the nape of his neck, actually, and fractured his upper cervical spine.”
“Do you think he killed the writer?”
It was one thing to let Chicken reveal incorrect facts, namely that Marcos had died due to the accident. But to proclaim him the murderer was going a little too far; the evidence said otherwise. His wife and three year old baby daughter didn’t deserve that. More importantly, allowing the reporter to divulge an incorrect fact would make the police assume a position that didn’t reflect the truth. But because Dornelas believed that the only information that could truly be trusted in newspapers was the date, revealing an incorrect piece of information might actually prove to be positive for the future of the investigation. If the murderer happened to see the news, he would assume that his ruse had been successful, meaning the investigation had been thrown off course. And that might well lead him to relax, which in turn could facilitate the police’s job. Dornelas carefully considered how to reply, then chose his words and said:
“I don’t think so; he had no motive. But I can’t discard the possibility.”
“I see,” murmured the reporter. “And how did the writer die?”
“Stabbed eighteen times with a coconut opener.”
“Have you found the weapon?”
“On the boat.”
“So it’s solved! Marcos killed the writer on the beach, went back to the boat and died in the accident.”
Dornelas decided he had better intervene. The reporter’s excitement was going too far.
“It’s too soon to reach that conclusion. The coconut opener is still with Forensics, meaning we don’t know if there are any prints on the weapon.”
“When will you get their report?” Chicken was cackling again.
“Will you let me know?”
A sudden irritation hit him, clouding his mind and making him imagine holding an axe in one hand and Chicken’s throat in the other. Dornelas didn’t like being pressured for answers, especially by the press. He took a deep breath and said placidly:
“If there’s time.”
“Of course, sir,” said the reporter, backing off when he realized he’d overstepped his bounds.
Dornelas decided to take advantage of the brief silence that followed.
“That’s it for now. Okay?”
He banged down the phone and stood up to stretch his legs. Then he extended his arms to the sides and to the front, stretching them as well, before leaving his office and making his way to the lunchroom. Time to get a hot cup of coffee.
Solano and Caparrós were there sitting around the little table when the inspector entered and got his coffee, sweetening it moderately.
“I just spoke to Chicken on the phone,” the inspector said.
“That meddlesome reporter from the press conference?” Caparrós asked.
“That’s the one.”
“What did you say to him?” Solano asked.
Dornelas told them unhurriedly about the conversation he had with Agenor, the conclusions he’d reached and the ones the reporter had jumped to in their phone conversation.
“If he discloses that the sailor is the murderer it could get in the way of our work, couldn’t it, sir?” asked Solano.
“It could. But I doubt he’ll do that. The murder weapon’s with Shithead, right?”
Solano nodded a yes.
“Squeeze him to release the results of the fingerprints by this afternoon,” the inspector instructed, then thought of something. “If the prints are the sailor’s, we’re in big trouble.”
“Why?” Caparrós asked.
“It’ll complicate our game plan because it’ll mean he did kill the writer, which means we’ll have to go looking for a motive, and I confess I have no idea where to begin. At the same time, it doesn’t rule out a third person killing him. And again we have no motive.”
Solano and Caparrós had their eyes glued on the boss, whose mind was working at full speed. Dornelas continued.
“Caparrós, dig up everything you possibly can on Marcos’ life. Check if he had any debts of any kind or if he had any connection to drugs. Who knows, maybe he was part of the scheme to get Gytha to Brava Beach.”
“On it, sir.”
“What about me, what do I do?” asked Solano, pouting because he wasn’t included in Caparrós’ task.
“What time is it?” the inspector shot back at him.
Solano lifted his arm and looked at his watch.
“Ten past noon,” the detective replied.
“Finish your coffee and come to my office.” He turned to Caparrós. “Keep me posted on anything and everything you find.”
Dornelas took a sip of his coffee and poured it into the sink. It was cold. He got another one, stirred in sugar and went to his office holding the steaming cup with his fingertips.
Solano sat in one of the visitor chairs; Dornelas went to his. With his eyes fixed on the telephone, an arm went instinctively to the drawer and opened it. His hand, feeling around the back and sides, found nothing. He looked inside it and remembered that he had finished his chocolate bar, which caused him some minor despair because for him there was nothing like a piece of chocolate to take the edge off moments of stress.
He looked at his watch, scribbled some nonsense on the notepad, grabbed his cell phone, read Dulce’s message again, and put the phone back down. Solano was watching him in silence. He knew all too well that at times like this it was best to leave the boss alone and not intrude. The phone rang. Donelas jumped at it.
“Mr. Amarildo for you, sir. Can I put him through?” Marilda asked.
Dornelas snorted, placed both elbows on the desk and said with a heavy voice:
After a few seconds:
“Good afternoon, Joaquim.”
From Dornelas’ dry, monotonous tone his boss suspected that something was wrong with the inspector.
“Did something happen?” Amarildo asked.
Dornelas quickly told him about Nickolas Crest and the need to hear the man’s version of the story; his needing to be quick because Protásio Marcondes would be calling as soon as he had detained the guy in São Paulo, which would be any moment now… ‘HOLY CHRIST!’ the inspector thought, rolling his eyes as he suddenly turned pale. Solano looked at him, figuring his boss had for sure just suffered a heart attack right there at his desk.
“Just a minute,” said Dornelas into the phone. Then he covered the mouthpiece with his hand and looked at Solano. “I need you to get, right now, this minute, this second, the paperwork for my request to the Federal Police to detain and question Nickolas Crest. Put yesterday’s date on it, bring it to me to sign and send it by fax and e-mail to Protásio Marcondes’ office. Now! Go!”
Solano immediately got up and bolted out of the office.
“As I was saying…”
“I got it, Joaquim. No problem. Just try to avoid a diplomatic incident.”
“Alright then.” Amarildo began to cough, made a noise that sounded like croaking, and came back on the line. “What I wanted to tell you is that the press is all over my ass because they say you’re refusing to give them any information about the case.”
Dornelas looked at a fly on the ceiling and sighed.
“Come on sir, you know why that is,” he vented.
“Not ‘sir’. Just ‘you’, Joaquim. And yes, I do know. But please, tell them something, anything, just get those assholes off my back.”
“Don’t worry. I just spoke to Walter.”
“Walter who?” the boss shot back at him.
“Yeah, so I’m going to give him a few hours head start and then I’ll tell the crew hanging around here at the precinct what I told him.”
Like the needle of a record player stuck on a scratched record, Dornelas once again went over the conclusions he’d reached and the conversation with Agenor, especially the part about the deal he’d made with him. Solano entered the room with three sheets of paper in his hand, and placed them on the desk in front of the boss. Dornelas signed and returned them to his subordinate, who left the office again.
“Are you sure this Agenor guy is telling the truth?” asked Amarildo.
“No, I can’t be absolutely sure, especially when you consider that I’ve been trained to not believe him. But I do believe that sometimes the truth comes out of nowhere, simply and directly. This kid and his story fit into that category. Besides, what choice do I have?”
The boss was quiet for a minute – thinking – and then said:
“You’re right. Go for it.”
“And good luck.”
“That’s it than, Joaquim.”
Amarildo hung up first. Dornelas gently put the phone down and waited for it to ring again.
Like a charm, the phone rang just as the wall clock read half past noon. Dornelas picked it up and pressed it to his ear.
“Joca? Protásio. How are you?”
“Fine. Did you grab up the guy?”
“I got him; we’re here at the Cumbica airport.”
“Excellent. You planning to take him to your headquarters?”
“No need. I can question him right here, in our office.”
“Tell me something. Have your people already sent the paperwork to make this operation kosher?” asked Protásio. “When I left the office my secretary told me she hadn’t received anything yet.”
At the other end of the line Dornelas’ made a face like an angel – minus the halo – and with a straight face said:
“As soon as we finished talking. Want me to ask them to send it again?”
“Wait a minute.”
Dornelas made Protásio wait for exactly thirty seconds, counting down from the wall clock, then came back on the line.
“Done. You can confirm with your secretary that it’s all in order.”
“I’ll check later. Let’s question the guy?”
“Up to you. Tell me something, did he call the embassy, a lawyer?” Dornelas asked.
“Not so far. I told him it would be an informal chat about the gringo’s death. He seemed calm enough.”
Protásio’s voice suddenly became muffled, distant, as if he was speaking to someone next to him. He came back on the line after a few seconds.
“We’re on our way to our office. You want me to call you when we get there?”
“No need. I’ll wait on the line.”
Dornelas could hear the rhythmic slapping sounds of hard shoe soles walking on a stone floor, people talking, a door opening, then closing, and the irritating scraping sound of metal chairs being dragged back and forth. Protásio came back on the line.
“Joca, I’m going to hang up my cell phone and call you on the speakerphone here in the office. Be back in a minute.”
He hung up. Dornelas put his phone down, but kept his hand on it. Solano snuck into the room like a cat and sat in the same visitor chair without a sound. Less than a minute later Marilda passed the call straight through; the inspector answered and put it on speakerphone also.
“Let’s go,” said Protásio. “Here with us is Mathias, our assistant, who speaks English fluently and will help us.”
“Good afternoon, Mathias,” said Dornelas while mentally preparing his first question. “Can we begin?”
“Go ahead,” Protásio replied.
“Ask Nickolas what time he went to pick up Ms. Madalena Brasil at the hotel on the night of the crime.”
Mathias translated the question into English. Nickolas answered immediately and the assistant repeated it in Portuguese.
“He said he didn’t pick Madalena up at her hotel, but that she picked him up at his hotel at nine-fifteen.”
Dornelas was surprised by his answer.
“Is he sure about that?” he asked.
Mathias reformulated the question. Nickolas answered at length.
“Absolutely positive,” said the assistant. “He didn’t know Palmyra at all so they agreed that Madalena and Gytha would pick him up for dinner. Only Madalena showed up”
“Which hotel did he stay at?”
Mathias went at it again. Dornelas could only hear a murmuring from Nickolas.
“Trilha de Ouro Inn,” the assistant said. Dornelas wrote down the name on his notepad and fired off another question.
“Did he and Madalena meet with or talk to anyone between his hotel and the restaurant?”
More murmuring back and forth.
“Nobody other than the cab driver.”
“Then ask him what his relationship with Gytha and Madalena is.”
“He publishes Gytha’s books in the United Kingdom.”
“And what was the reason for the dinner?” Dornelas asked, then waited for Mathias to translate the question into the publisher’s native tongue and return with the reply in Portuguese.
“They knew each other. Nickolas wanted to present how he planned to introduce Gytha’s work in that market.”
“When did they arrange to have the dinner?” asked Dornelas.
Mathias. Nickolas. Mathias.
“About a month ago.”
“Good,” the Palmyra inspector said while thinking. “Ask him to tell you where they went, the restaurant where they had dinner, what they ate and when they left.”
This was a longer question and so took Mathias longer to translate. As soon as he was finished, Nickolas answered without hesitating. The assistant relayed the translation:
“From the Trilha de Ouro Inn they left the Historical Center on foot and after a few blocks caught a cab that took them to the El Toro restaurant on Mansa Beach. Seems they ate paella and drank a lot of cachaça caipirinhas.”
Dornelas could hear Nickolas interrupting Mathias and saying something that made everyone break into laughter.
“He said it was the first time he tried caipirinhas and that he liked them a lot and got really loaded.”
At his end of the line Dornelas was getting more and more intrigued.
“Ask him where he met Madalena.”
After Mathias did his thing Nickolas’ succinct reply needed no translation.
“Very good,” Dornelas said. “Did he and Madalena have a personal relationship before this dinner?”
Mathias reformulated the question. This time Nickolas didn’t answer so quickly. And when he did, it caused a commotion in the room.
“What happened?” asked Dornelas.
“He wants a lawyer,” responded Protásio.
“Tell him I only have a few more questions.”
Mathias translated this and the inspector heard an angry ‘alright’ in reply.
“So then, did they have a relationship before meeting here,” repeated Dornelas.
“Yes,” answered Mathias.
“Excellent. Ask him where they went after leaving the El Toro restaurant.”
Mathias. Nickolas. Mathias again.
“To take Madalena back to the hotel.”
“And Gytha?” Dornelas shot back.
Murmuring. Then the assistant answered.
“She got on the boat to return to the city.”
“Very well,” said Dornelas. “What did Nickolas and Madalena do when they arrived at the hotel?”
Mathias restated the question in English, followed by another commotion, louder this time.
“He’s insisting on a lawyer,” Protásio intruded. Dornelas pondered this and said:
“Ask him to answer just one more question. Depending on the answer, you can call the lawyer.”
Mathias translated the request. Nickolas let out only one word, which Dornelas easily understood: love.
“Love, Inspector,” said Mathias.
“Yeah, I got that.” Dornelas then went over in his mind all the facts from the investigation, the depositions, the conversations, looking for a hole in his story. After some time had gone by Protásio jumped in:
“Should I call the lawyer?”
“Not yet,” Dornelas replied. “Ask him when he left the Festival, left Palmyra.”
Mathias. Nickolas. Mathias once more.
“The day after the dinner with Gytha and Madalena.”
“Why so soon?” Dornelas shot back.
Mathias quickly rephrased the question in English. Nickolas gave a longer answer that was translated by the assistant:
“He only went to the Festival for this dinner, to meet Gytha. He left the next day. Since then he’s had several meetings here in São Paulo.”
On his end of the line the Palmyra inspector thought about this, somewhat annoyed.
“Protásio!” he said.
“You can let the guy go. I only need one more thing from you: take his picture and send it to my e-mail, please.”
“What’s your address? I’ll send it from my cell phone.”
Dornelas gave Protozoan the e-mail address and said:
“Thank you very much for all your help.”
“Anytime, Joca. That’s what we’re here for.”
“What are you going to do with him now?”
“Pat him on the back and put him on the next flight to London.”
Dornelas scratched his head, but finding nothing else to say, just sent his friend at the Federal Police his sincere regards.
“Same to you, Joca. Stay in touch.”
They hung up.
Dornelas stood up, placed his open hands on the desktop and kept looking at the name of Nickolas Crest’s hotel scribbled on his notepad. Solano, who had remained a statue during the entire deposition, just watched the boss while he was thinking. The phone rang again; the inspector picked it up.
“Umm,” he grunted.
“Inspector, dona Flávia wants to talk to you,” said Marilda on the other end of the line.
‘What the hell is it now?’ Dornelas asked himself.
“Put her through,” he growled.
“No, sir,” the receptionist said gently. “She’s here in the reception.”
Dornelas didn’t see that one coming. He looked around, at his watch, and thought about it.
“Ask her to wait a minute. I need to finish up a few things here.”
He banged the phone down and sat in his chair.
“What do you want me to do?” Solano asked, breaking the silence.
The inspector nibbled his lips, turned to his computer and concentrated on checking his e-mails. And there was the message from Protásio Marcondes. He opened it, downloaded the photo of Nickolas Crest and sent it to his printer. The machine began humming and quickly spit out a colored picture of the English publisher. Dornelas got it and placed it on his desk facing toward Solano.
“Go to Madalena’s hotel and show this picture to the two receptionists who were working that night. Call me as soon as you’re done.”
Solano picked up the picture and disappeared.
Dornelas got up and left the office at a snail’s pace. He couldn’t decide whether to speak first to his ex-wife or to the reporters who’d been waiting for days in the reception. As soon as he appeared, and sensing his mood, the horde of reporters descended on him like a flock of hungry seagulls attacking a school of sardines. By sheer force of the questions they shouted at him, one after the other, they gave Flávia, who had remained seated, absolutely no chance.
The inspector answered every question with assurance. Every so often he turned his head to see how his ex-wife was doing. All he got in return was an inquisitive look.
“That’s all we know about the case at the moment,” concluded Dornelas. “The investigation is ongoing. Thank you.”
“But Inspector…” said a reporter in the back.
Too late. Dornelas had already turned away and headed toward his ex-wife.
“What a surprise!” he said, feigning pleasantness; this was the first time he had seen her since she walked out on him to live in Rio, taking their two children with her.
Flávia got up to greet him and Dornelas, fending off the old habit of kissing her on the mouth, exchanged friendly pecks on the cheek with her.
“A good surprise or a bad surprise?” his ex-wife tossed at him. Dornelas merely shook his head slightly in response.
“After what you did to me, that’s not the best question you could ask.”
Flávia drew back and became visibly cooler.
“I come in peace. I need to talk to you…”
“About?” the inspector cut her off at the roots. His resentment, dormant deep in his soul until now, reemerged.
“Everything that’s happened, my decision, the children.”
The inspector took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“Let’s talk in my office,” he said, pointing to the hallway.
“No, not here,” Flávia replied. “Let’s go somewhere else. Somewhere neutral. Is that alright?”
“Have you had lunch?”
The woman shook her head with the doleful, defenseless look of a puppy.
“Alright then. I’ll go get my things.”
She agreed, satisfied. Dornelas went to his office, put on his jacket, got his cell phone and wallet and went back to the reception where Flávia was waiting, purse in hand.
One of the tables at the back of the room seemed to the inspector to be the most appropriate neutral point for a conversation with his ex-wife. They sat down, cell phones on the table, napkins on their laps and tension heavy in the air.
Nearly an accomplice of the inspector, who began to frequent the bar more and more since being abandoned by his wife, Vito approached the table slowly and cautiously, and laid two menus on the paper tablecloth.
“Thank you,” Dornelas said.
Flávia grabbed one and stuck her nose in it. She studied it from end to end and, not finding anything to her liking, asked the chef if he could make her a paillard and fettuccine with tomato sauce. Vito said he could, Dornelas ordered grilled fish with vegetables, and the owner slipped off to the kitchen like a ghost. Eyeing Flávia from head to toe, Tamires, Vito’s wife, muttered something to him as soon as he reached the bar.
“Well then,” said Dornelas, assuming a clearly challenging tone, “what’s so important that you had to come here in person to talk about it?”
Flávia sat upright in her chair, adjusted her dress and leaned forward, giving Dornelas a privileged view of her generous cleavage.
“You do realize this isn’t an inquiry, don’t you?” she said, calmly disapproving.
Dornelas raised his right hand and rested it on the table next to his plate.
“You’re right. I’m nicer at an inquiry,” he replied.
Flávia just smiled, knowing the man in front of her well: objective, astute, impetuous, rough even, but fair and with a kind heart. Putting her elbows on the table and resting her chin on her interlaced fingers, she looked straight at him with her eyes wide open, giving her an air of fragility.
“I want to talk about the two of us, the way it all ended, the future.”
Dornelas started to tremble in his seat, perhaps with rage.
“This ‘two of us’ you’re referring to no longer exists. You did away with what it used to be in the worst possible way. It’s history.”
The woman unlocked her hands, stretched out the left one and rested it on his.
“Don’t say that. You know things weren’t good between us… your career was always getting in the way… today I understand its importance to you… I believe we can go back to what we were before. I don’t know… I miss you, the children miss you. Don’t you think we can find a way to fix all this?”
Touched by this, Dornelas’ mind, as if by magic, opened a kind of box containing memories of everything they had lived in over fifteen years of marriage, then wandered slightly and finally distanced itself from them. Without a word, he slowly pulled his hand back from hers. Trying not to make his total rejection of her attempt at reconciliation too obvious, he mechanically picked up his knife, got some butter from the plate of appetizers, spread and salted it on a piece of bread and ate it.
“It’s a little late for that.”
“It’s never too late if we love each other,” his ex-wife said with feigned sweetness.
Dornelas knew those words all too well. Flávia used to use them in times of conflict, when their separation seemed imminent. It made him doubt her intentions. ‘Sincere or a siren song?’ he asked himself as he buttered another piece of bread, put it in his mouth and calmly chewed and swallowed it.
“I have a girlfriend who I love very much,” he decided to say in a firm voice.
His ex-wife’s affable expression turned to a scowl in a matter of seconds.
“Who?” she asked, her voice now grim.
Flávia stiffened noticeably.
“That separated flirt who came to our wedding?”
“And what’s wrong with that?” he retorted. You’re a separated woman too. And it was your choice.”
Flávia’s scowl became even deeper, her eyes turned dark, nearly shut with repressed hatred, and her mouth contracted in a sullen pout.
“I’m sorry, but if you hadn’t left, from one day to the next, none of this would have ever happened,” Dornelas said very calmly. “I didn’t ask you to leave, much less want you to. But you did. You walked out on me and made me live without my children. I was forced to remake my life. I have a girlfriend I love and who doesn’t complain about my job. And now you regret what you did. I repeat; it’s too late for that. You should have given it more thought when you packed your bags and took the children with you to Rio in such an impetuous manner that’s so typical of you.”
Flávia crossed one of her arms in front of her plate, leaned forward and looked straight at him.
“Are you going to introduce her to our children?”
“Why not? I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Their food arrived bringing with it a sudden break in the conversation that in a way the inspector welcomed; end of round one. As he was cutting a piece of fish his cell phone rang. Dornelas put down his knife and fork, picked up his phone and looked at the name on the screen: Dulce Neves. Watching her ex-husband’s face as he looked at his phone, and seeing how his expression went from serious and angry to slightly stupid, the ex-wife was the picture of disapproval.
“How are you?” Dornelas asked into the phone.
“You forgot about me!” Dulce said reprovingly on the other end.
“I’m really sorry. I had a crazy morning, not to mention getting the Englishman’s statement by telephone at the Federal Police in São Paulo.”
Hearing the noise from the restaurant in the background his girlfriend was compelled to ask:
“Where are you?”
The abruptness of the question almost caused the inspector to choke. Facing a clear conflict of interests, he said with great tact:
“With my ex-wife. She came to the precinct to talk to me.”
Even on the phone Dornelas could sense Dulce’s humor souring more and more as the conversation progressed. Under Flávia’s scrutiny, and knowing that no man was ever going to win an argument with a woman, he decided that honesty was the best strategy.
“She regrets leaving me and wants to come back,” he said, turning to look at Flávia, who gripped her knife and fork tightly while shooting daggers at him with her eyes. The inspector instinctively feared being stabbed in the chest.
“And you, what did you say?” Dulce challenged him.
“I told her no. I also told her you and I are together. And that I love you.”
A silence, which he artfully took advantage of.
“It’s all good. Don’t worry,” he said, putting a final touch on it.
Dulce mumbled something.
“I miss you,” he said affectionately. His choice of expression, besides being sincere, was intended to prevent her from reaching any conspiratorial theory that she, like most women in similar situations, might inadvertently create.
“Me too,” said Dulce, speaking in a very low voice.
“Are we still on for tonight?”
“Great. When I’m finished here I’m going back to the precinct. Big kiss.”
“And one for you.”
Dulce hung up before he did. Aware that he had just walked a tightrope between the two women – he was sweating buckets – Dornelas loosened his tie and finished eating in silence.
On the way to the precinct Dornelas made a strategic stop at one of the little variety shops in the Historical Center to buy two of his favorite chocolate bars that the salesperson hid – at his request – in a brown paper bag.
That way Dornelas was able to reach his office without revealing his state secret to the battalion of reporters camped out at the police station.
With Solano and Caparrós in the field, he used the time to give the investigation a rest and check out what was happening in the rest of the precinct. With Anderson, the nerd, he agreed to the purchase of the air-conditioning unit for the IT room; with the duty officers he went over the other recent crimes committed in the municipality, none serious; he went to see how Peixoto’s move had gone and how things were at home; finally, he got a hot cup of coffee and went to study the destroyed boat in the courtyard. He looked it over carefully, fiddling, opening and closing here and there, then went back to his office.
Relaxing in his chair, he opened the drawer and savored every little square of the chocolate bar that he put in his mouth. After the strenuous demands of the investigation over the last few days, Dornelas felt lazy just sitting in his office calmly waiting for the next developments to occur.
He picked up the phone and dialed his ex-wife’s house in Rio. He meant to talk to his daughter, find out how she was. It had been a few days since he’d heard her voice and he missed her. The call went straight to voice mail. Dornelas imagined that Roberta was out enjoying her school vacation with friends. He decided not to leave a message. With Flávia in Palmyra, his ex-mother-in-law would surely be nearby, maybe staying at the house for a few days to take care of the kids. He didn’t want to speak to her. He hung up.
With a start he jumped out of his chair, got his cell phone, locked the drawer, put on his jacket and left. It was Saturday afternoon; time for him to check out the Festival.
The extensive schedule of lectures, inaugural events, literary panels, private meetings and gossip sessions were all in full swing at the Palmyra International Literary Festival that, in its next to last day, showed clear signs of winding down. The crowds in the narrow streets were visibly smaller. Dornelas was able to walk freely through the Historical Center without colliding into anyone. He imagined that the July cold weather, the cancellation of Georgia Summers’ – or Gytha Svensson’s – lecture and the heavy traffic expected on the Rio-Santos highway the next day had prompted many people to pack their bags and leave for home a day earlier.
With the streets not so crowded the shops and restaurants were also not full. Palmyra appeared to be slowly returning to its usual serenity. Dornelas passed behind the Matriz church, crossed the arched bridge over the Pedras River, walked along the pavement with the river to his right and the pavilions of the Festival to the left and reached the stone wall that protected the estuary from the ocean’s waves. Just like on the night of the crime he climbed up on it and, jumping from rock to rock, went to the end two hundred meters away.
Although the sky was gray and threatening, it was still day and not yet raining. Dornelas turned to look at the Festival and the city and from there his mind went back to the memory of the night he was in the exact same place and saw the little boat disappear into the darkness. He remembered a thought he had at that time: ‘The stupid reasons that cause people to commit crimes: money, power, jealousy, envy, greed, pure evil and love.’ It brought to mind an observation Carl Jung had written in The Red Book about how a murderer, by killing his own growth, forces others to blessedness. And then his cell phone rang. The inspector got it from his pocket, saw Agenor’s name on it and answered.
“Juarez here,” he said before the boy could say anything.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Agenor said nervously.
“Not sir, Agenor. Juarez.”
“It’s alright. What have you got for me?”
“A name, sir. Juarez. Juarez,” said Agenor, correcting himself.
“Madman. Who hired me was Madman.”
“I know who he is. He’s got a record. You’re sure?”
“Okay then. Delete my number from your phone and promise you’ll never get involved with drugs again. You understand?”
“I got it, sir. Sorry. Juarez. Dammit!”
“If we can make a case against him I’m going to need you to testify. I’ll call you.”
“Okay, sir. Shit!”
“Goodbye Agenor. Take care of yourself.”
Dornelas hung up before the boy could answer. He called Caparrós.
“Did you get anything on the sailor?”
“Sir,” said Caparrós awkwardly, “before I tell you I need to explain something.”
“I know you won’t like it, but I went by the Military Police, got a handful of impounded marijuana that was waiting to be incinerated and paid a confidential informant to help us.”
Dornelas became furious.
“For fuck’s sake, Caparrós! How the hell could you do that without telling me? Working with a dealer, even a small one, makes us criminals too!”
“I know, sir. But to get information out of a dealer, you know that’s the only way.”
Given the rules of the street, the ineffectualness of the police against the drug trade and the urgency of obtaining the information, Dornelas was forced to give in. He snorted.
“Shit! Next time let me know before you do it. Who knows, maybe we could have found another way. I hate this,” he vented.
“I know, I know. But what I found out from our informant and from the sailor’s wife is that the guy was clean, he didn’t owe anybody anything. He was a good guy.”
“So be it,” Dornelas said, calmer. “You’re sure of it?”
“A hundred percent.”
“Good. End the deal with the CI and go back to the precinct.”
“I’m on my way.”
The conversation over, Dornelas next called Solano.
“And?” he let out as soon as the detective picked up.
“There’s something going on there, sir. The ten o’clock receptionist said it wasn’t the Nickolas in the photo who showed up to get Madalena at the hotel but some other man who most likely used his name. But the receptionist who came on duty next said it was the Nickolas in the photo who came in with Madalena near midnight and left around an hour later, after the rain stopped.”
“Great. That fits with what I was thinking. Go on back to the precinct. I’m on my way there.”
Dornelas hung up and started to jump along the rocks on his way back. It was getting dark. At one point he remembered a piece of information he was missing so he stopped and made another call.
“Crime Lab, good afternoon,” answered a velvety female voice.
“Good afternoon. I’d like to speak to Chagas, please.”
“Who’s calling?” inquired the young woman.
“Inspector Joaquim Dornelas.”
“Just a minute.”
Chagas’ screechy voice came on in less than that.
“Good afternoon, sir. You’re calling about the results of our examination of the weapon, right?”
“Uncanny how you can read my mind,” said Dornelas facetiously.
“What can I do, sir, this profession teaches us to be very shrewd.”
‘The genie in the lamp,’ thought the inspector, shaking his head and letting out a sigh long enough to make him roll his eyes.
“How about that. And what about the weapon?”
“Well. The report is limited, not to say inconclusive.”
“How so?” asked the inspector, surprised.
“It’s simple. The fingerprints on the handle were blemished by grease from the skin and the weapon had been immersed in salt water for a long time. As a result the prints were significantly damaged, not so much by the salt as by the impurities in the water, motor oil, gasoline, and so on. From the few fragments I was able to recover I can only state that the prints found are not the sailor’s. Nothing else. And as our digital systems aren’t as advanced as those on CSI, that TV series, it’s very difficult to establish a definite comparison of these fragments with the prints on file here in our data bank. If the prints were whole it would be a lot easier.”
Dornelas didn’t know whether to regret the lack of modern tools to assist in their investigations or to be thankful for Shithead’s technical capacity, despite how obnoxious he was.
“But it’s not impossible, right?” he decided to ask in a final attempt to find a solution.
“Nothing is impossible,” the expert replied, his desire to be useful fairly oozing out.
“That’s great! Do you know if the system over there and the precinct’s new system are connected, if they’re compatible?”
“Not yet, sir. But soon they will be.”
“Okay,” he said, disappointed. “In any case, thank you.”
As he was about to hang up, Dornelas felt his body becoming as heavy as a boulder and his feet seemed to be growing roots into the floor. Hit by a sudden brainstorm, he tried to reinitiate the conversation.
“What is it, sir?”
“Just to be sure: could you send a fingerprint specialist or some other forensic expert to look through the files at the precinct? Although a lot of them are still in print form, we have digitalized part of the collection. It won’t be easy but I think it’s worth a shot.”
A silence, followed by a grunt.
“I’ll go. The print specialist is on maternity leave. In addition to being the chief technician I also cover for her when she’s away,” sighed Chagas.
“Could that make the evidence inadmissible if we make a case?”
“Not at all. The local judge has recognized the capacity and independence of the Civil Police experts to perform fingerprint recognition. In fact, before becoming a forensic scientist I was a fingerprint specialist.”
“Fine. Then we’ll be waiting for you tomorrow.”
“But tomorrow’s Sunday, sir!”
“And today’s Saturday, the day after tomorrow is Monday…”
Chagas grumbled on the other end of the line.
“Great. Thank you. I’ll leave word you’re coming. Take care.”
They hung up. With a clear conscious that all of the investigation’s open issues were being taken care of for the time being, the inspector resumed jumping along the rocks until reaching the sidewalk and from there walked to the precinct.
Dornelas arrived at the precinct engaged in a Herculean mental effort. He had focused all his energy on helping him to distill, while following a single line of reasoning, an analysis of the web of facts, statements and depositions the investigation had yielded to date.
Not wanting to lose the Ariadne’s thread that his mind had conceived, he went through the main door like a raging bull and crossed the reception area on the way to his office without so much as asking Marilda if there were any messages. Any distraction might cause him to lose his train of thought. The reporters, already in a state of advanced exhaustion, merely watched him as he raced frantically from the door to the hallway.
Solano, Caparrós and Lotufo, who were shooting the breeze in the latter’s office, saw him go by like a locomotive. They decided to go after the boss, who charged into his office and cast his sizeable body into his chair. With his elbows on the desk and chin resting on the knot he made with his hands, he sank deep into thought.
With his subordinates watching him closely, Dornelas finally lifted his head and looked at them one by one.
“Spread the word throughout the Amendoeira neighborhood and the surrounding slums that we’re looking for Madman. Only Madman. If they don’t deliver the guy by tomorrow morning tell them we’re coming in with the Military Police, the Federal Police and the Special Ops Police with their armored truck. Is that clear?”
The inspector heard a ‘yes, sir’, a ‘very clear’, and a ‘perfectly’ and dismissed them with a curt movement of his head. As they were turning on their heels to leave, Dornelas barked:
The detective halted and turned back to the boss.
“Who’s watching Madalena right now?”
“The new detective, the one who’s got a big shot in the Freemasons?”
“You sure she can handle the job?”
“I’m sure. She’s going to be one hell of a detective.”
“Very well. Thanks.”
Solano turned around and left. Returning to his thoughts, the inspector bellowed:
“Thanks,” Solano yelled back, already in the hallway.
Abruptly, Dornelas picked up the phone and dialed three numbers.
“Call Jaque on her cell phone, please.”
He hung up, opened the drawer and wolfed down an entire row of his chocolate bar. His mind was churning at such a pace that there wasn’t sufficient energy left to savor the tasty tidbits properly. He was hungry; the vision of a goró invaded his imagination. The phone rang.
“Put her through.”
There was click on the line.
“Wandering around the city. Right now, sitting on a bench in front of the Old Jailhouse, looking out at the ocean.”
The inspector had to laugh. ‘How ironic,’ he thought.
“Does she know you’re following her?”
“She knows. We’ve even spoken.”
“Excellent. Go get her and bring her here. Tell her we need to have a chat. I can’t go to the hotel right now.”
“Consider it done, sir. I’ll let you know if anything goes wrong.”
“I’ll be here.”
The inspector put the phone down and waited. The solution to the case, although still clouded, was becoming clearer and clearer in his mind.
Dornelas remained silent while waiting, occasionally checking his e-mails, reading the jokes and the latest news on the Internet, reviewing the requests and straightening up his desk, which actually was not as messy as usual. From what he’d gathered in the precinct during the afternoon, it appeared that the number of crimes committed during the Festival had been fewer than expected. This pleased him and allowed him to consider Gytha’s murder an unfortunate exception.
He got up and went to the lunchroom to get a cup of coffee. On his way through the reception he saw Arlete, the night receptionist, relieving Marilda, who was going home. As soon as they saw him the reporters came running in his direction.
Dornelas said nothing. He just held an open palm up in the air and shook his head. They got the message – no interviews – and retreated.
Looking around the room he felt a tinge of pity for a short, heavyset, fragile-looking, white-haired lady who was sitting quietly on a bench in the reception. She was wearing thick-rimmed glasses, a beige sweater and a dress made of some fabric that would have done nicely as a covering for a sofa. Her thick fingers were holding a pink umbrella tightly in her lap. She held her handbag on the bench clutched against her thigh with an arm through the grip. Her look was clearly one of apprehension. He went to speak to her.
“Has someone helped you, ma’am?” he asked politely.
The heavy-rimmed glasses slid down to the tip of her nose as soon as she started to lift her head. Then, her face raised, she focused them on the inspector.
“Not yet,” she replied, sounding like a grandmother in a fairy tale.
“What happened? Perhaps I can help you,” the inspector said kindly.
Her little black eyes lit up as the woman rose quickly and straightened her glasses with a finger.
“Problems with the bank, sir.”
“What kind of problems?”
She seemed to shrink a bit as she grasped her umbrella even tighter.
“My husband passed away a few months ago. Ever since then I’ve been receiving credit card bills with a bigger balance every month.”
Noticing the reporters’ growing interest as they gathered around them, Dornelas invited the woman to his office to speak in private. Happy to be attended to by the inspector himself, she accompanied him down the hallway, from there to his office and then into one of the visitor chairs where she made herself comfortable with her handbag and umbrella in her lap. Dornelas sat in his, leaned forward and folded his hands.
“What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Maria do Carmo.”
“Alright. Tell me what happened.”
“My husband died last year with nothing owing on his credit card. Romeu went to his maker with all his bills paid. May the Lord keep him,” said the woman raising her small hands in the air. “So you can imagine my surprise when I started getting credit card bills every month with a bigger balance. I even went to talk to the people at the bank.”
“And what did they say?”
“That since the card wasn’t cancelled the bank kept charging the monthly maintenance fees, past due interest charges and so on.”
‘Sons of bitches,’ thought Dornelas shaking his head in obvious disapproval.
“They also said, one of those call center girls who are more like robots than people, that the upkeep and interest charges were correct. I asked them to forget about it, just give it up as a loss but they said that was impossible because it happened over so many months.”
“I asked them what they would do when they found out that my husband was dead when the charges began.”
With a prickly case like Gytha’s occupying his mind, Dornelas found the whole story unusual and entertaining enough to provide him with a short reprieve from the worries and anxieties of the investigation. In addition, he also found the little grandmother very likeable. In fact he was beginning to feel a certain affection and empathy for her akin to that of a dear and mischievous grandson.
“And what was their answer?”
“The attendant was dumbstruck. So I asked her if she thought God would be angry with Romeu for not paying his bills after he was dead. That’s when she called her supervisor.”
“And what did he say?”
Dornelas rested his chin on one of his hands, giving the woman his full attention; he barely blinked.
“He asked for the death certificate, which I faxed him from my niece’s shop. Then I called him back.”
“You’re not going to believe this. That awful man told me that the bank’s systems weren’t configured for ‘death’.”
Dornelas, astonished by this, loosed a loud snort.
“What a bastard!”
“Isn’t he?!” she exclaimed. “Seeing that the problem wasn’t about to be solved, I suggested that he send the bills to my husband’s new address.”
“And where’s that?”
“St. Francis of Assisi Cemetery, 145 Redemption Avenue, Lot no. 32. The man got mad and said the charges would stand and if I wanted I should sue the bank. That’s why I’m here.”
Feeling pleasantly amused, and keeping his eyes fixed on granny, it took Dornelas a while to figure out that her story had ended, which inwardly saddened him. He leaned back in his chair and thought for a bit before saying:
“Dona Maria do Carmo, you have every reason to be indignant, as a matter of fact so am I, but unfortunately the Civil Police is not the most appropriate place to handle this matter. I think you should take it to a civil law court.”
Her glasses once more on the tip of her nose, she lifted her face again to focus the inspector through the lenses and opened her mouth, clearly disappointed.
“But I can do the following, which I’m sure will help you,” said the inspector, deciding to get involved. “I’m going to write a letter to the judge, an old friend of mine, asking if he can’t speed up the legal suit.”
Maria do Carmo let go of her umbrella and made a complete sign of the cross.
“Thank you so much, sir.”
Moving nimbly, Dornelas whirled his chair around to face the computer. He composed a short letter, printed it out, signed it and handed it to the woman.
“I wish you good luck, ma’am. If this doesn’t help, come find me again.”
“I’m so grateful, Inspector. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Dona Maria do Carmo got up, extended her chubby little arm over the desk, had her tiny hand enveloped by the inspector’s outsized paw, and left.
Madalena entered his office fifteen minutes later wearing a long face.
“I’d hoped to be treated with more dignity,” the woman grumbled, crossing her arms and dropping into the chair like a sulky child, the same chair where Maria do Carmo had just sat. Dornelas was surprised by her reaction.
“And exactly when did we treat you in an undignified manner?” he objected.
“Whatever. Coming here… this place… it makes me feel like a criminal.” The woman grimaced and quivered in her seat, an expression on her face typical of snooty rich ladies when they see rats and cockroaches running around the floor.
“If you’re not you have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if you are, you may as well start getting used to it,” said Dornelas with a sarcastic grin that infuriated the woman.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she spit out, her eyes filled with rage.
“I mean you lied to me once again, which makes me suspect you more and more,” replied the inspector firmly.
Madalena shrunk into her seat like a whipped dog.
“When you said Nickolas Crest picked you up at your hotel at nine o’clock.”
“And he did,” she sighed.
“Stop taking me for a fool! I know a man purporting to be Nickolas Crest was there to get you at that time.”
Madalena sat up and leaned toward him.
Dornelas calmly turned to his computer, found the e-mail from Protásio Marcondes, opened the photo of Nickolas Crest that was taken by the Federal Police and turned the monitor so Madalena could see it.
“Here it is. You thought Nickolas had already left the country and that we wouldn’t be able to detain him. Well, we not only have this picture, we also have his deposition taken by me and by the São Paulo Federal Police stating that it was you who picked him up a little past nine.”
Madalena, looking totally startled, became as stiff as a statue.
“You not only lied to me, you made love with Nickolas so you could use him as your alibi,” Dornelas continued. “Well played. You were sure that the police in a small city like Palmyra wouldn’t be sufficiently diligent and professional to uncover your clever ruse. When I was talking to Nickolas I got the definite impression that he had no idea that he was being used by you.”
The woman, seeming to shrink in her chair, said nothing. Another ten minutes listening to Dornelas and she’d be ready to go back to her mother’s womb.
“Now tell me: who’s the man who went to get you at the hotel? No more lies. And remember, I can make your life very difficult. Even more than it already is.”
Madalena mumbled something, swallowing the words.
“Repeat that. I couldn’t understand you,” he fumed.
The news didn’t surprise Dornelas.
“What’s his name?”
The woman squirmed about in the chair, then froze. Her face got even longer, signaling her refusal to open her mouth.
“Try to understand something: I’m going to find out one way or another regardless of whether or not you tell me. The only difference is that it’ll mean more work, which is going to put me in a bad mood. And the worse my mood, the less I’m going to feel like helping if things go bad for you. It’s that simple,” he said calmly and thoughtfully. “So, what’s his name?”
Madalena moved slightly, coming out of her apoplectic state, and said very softly:
Dornelas wrote the name on his notepad.
“Where is he?”
“At the Trilho de Ouro Inn.”
“Where Nickolas Crest was staying?”
The woman nodded affirmatively. Dornelas picked up the phone and dialed three numbers.
“Yes, sir,” answered the receptionist.
“Tell Jaque to come to my office, please.”
“Right away, sir.”
Dornelas hung up. Jaqueline showed up soon after and stood next to Madalena, who scrutinized the detective from head to foot: hair in a pony tail, nails polished, wearing an engagement ring and a bulletproof vest and a pistol on her belt.
“Yes, sir?” Jaque said.
“I’ve got a job for you. Draw up a subpoena in the name of Felisberto Capuano and bring it to me to sign. Since the precinct is pretty calm today, get a duty officer and go to the Trilho de Ouro Inn. You know where it is?”
“In the Historical Center, next door to the ice cream parlor.”
“That’s right. Bring Mr. Felisberto here to give a statement. Any problem, give me a call.”
“Got it, sir.”
Jaque left. Dornelas got his cell phone and called Solano.
“How’s it going there?”
“Better than expected. They might deliver Madman to us by tonight.”
“That’s great! Do you think Lotufo and Caparrós can handle it from here on?”
“I think so,” Solano replied, wondering. “What do you have in mind?”
“I want you to go to Madalena’s hotel and bring both receptionists here to give statements. I’ll ask the duty officers to draw up the subpoenas and I’ll leave them here already signed.”
“I’m on my way,” said Solano before hanging up.
Dornelas picked his cell phone up from the desk and called Dulce, who answered on the second ring.
“Where are you?”
“Still here,” Dornelas answered, discontented. Merely hearing Dulce’s voice caused him to forsake the turbulence occupying his mind and approach his inner self. He realized how heavy his body felt and how tired his eyes were.
“I just got home. Are you going to be long?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” The inspector put his elbows on the desk and began rubbing his eyes with his free hand. “I think the gringo case is on the way to being solved. I still have to take a few statements and possibly do a suspect recognition with two witnesses… we’ll see.”
Madalena, sitting dejectedly in her chair, was oblivious to the conversation.
“I’ll wait for you,” Dulce said, looking forward to her boyfriend’s company. “I’m going to take a shower and make us some food. It’s Saturday night. What would you like to eat?”
The question made Dornelas’ hunger reaffirm itself in his stomach. He imagined the aroma of tomato sauce being poured over crunchy meatballs dancing in olive oil with fresh basil in a smoking frying pan. The mere thought made his mouth water.
“Spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs.”
“That’s easy. Getting you here is the hard part.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but no guarantees. I think it may be a while. I’ll let you know.”
“So a big kiss to you.”
“And one for you.”
The thud of the phone being hung up echoed in his chest as if a huge safe door was being shut on his heart – and brought him back to the reality that was in his office, on a Saturday night, with Madalena staring at the floor.
The time passed slowly.
“May I stand up?” Madalena asked after squirming constantly in her chair. “My butt’s almost square.”
Dornelas, who was doing paperwork, raised his eyes to look at her.
“Suit yourself. Just don’t leave this office.”
She halted after a few steps and looked at him.
“This really is a prison!” she snorted.
“Not yet,” he fired back at her, returning to his paperwork.
At one point he heard the bang of the main door followed by steps and voices; a few seconds later his phone rang.
“I’ve got the man here, sir,” said Jaque. “Should I take him to the interrogation room?”
Dornelas considered this briefly and replied:
“No. Bring him here.”
The steps reached the hallway and Jaque appeared with a swarthy man, thinning hair, squarish head, nervous eyes and a gash for a mouth in his angular face. He was dressed in a white shirt and a blue suit, no tie. His external visual seemed artificial to Dornelas because his rough, unpolished look didn’t fit the elegant clothes he was wearing.
“Mr. Felisberto Capuano?” he asked, addressing the man.
The man assented with a discreet nod of his head, placing himself in front of the desk with a very unfriendly expression. A meter ninety of pure hostility.
“Please, have a seat,” Dornelas said pointing to a chair and sitting down in his.
The man moved effortlessly, like a panther circling its prey, and sat upright, in a state of readiness. Madalena hastened back to her chair, next to his. Jaque remained standing behind the two of them.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Dornelas asked.
Felisberto moved his head from side to side without taking his eyes off the inspector.
“Very well. Do you know this woman?” he asked, pointing to Madalena.
The guy nodded that he did. The inspector continued:
“You were seen at her hotel last Wednesday at nine p.m. Do you recall going to get her at the hotel on that day and at that time?”
His head shook no.
“You did not go to get her at her hotel on that day at nine at night?” he rephrased the question for emphasis.
“I see.” Dornelas bit one side of his lower lip, his fingers drumming on the tabletop. “I’m going to give you a second chance. If you don’t start talking, every unanswered question is going to make your ex-wife’s life more and more difficult. You feel me?”
Madalena looked at Felisberto imploringly. The guy limited himself to moving his head up and down.
“Jaque, take him.”
“No, please don’t do that.” Madalena turned and grabbed her ex-husband by the arm as he was about to get up. “Don’t leave me here all alone, Beto!”
The man stood up showing no intention of resisting and calmly left with Jaque, who took hold of his other arm. Madalena, almost in tears, watched as he turned and walked out of the office without saying a word, without even looking at her.
“Great partner you’ve got there,” said Dornelas watching him depart.
“What are you going to do to him?” the woman blurted out.
“That’s none of your business.”
Madalena, lips pouting, grimaced. Dornelas opened the drawer and took out an unopened chocolate bar.
“Would you like a piece?”
The woman licked her lips and stuck out her hand. The inspector, who wasn’t given to sharing his favorite milk chocolate with anyone, slid the bar across the desk.
“Just a little piece,” the woman said.
She picked it up, opened it, broke off a square from the corner and put it in her mouth. Aware of the effects of good chocolate on a woman’s emotional state, Dornelas was pleased to see he had managed to calm her down.
The night was dragging on; the minutes went by at a snail’s pace. The telephone rang.
“Dornelas,” he answered immediately.
“I’m in the reception with the two girls from the hotel, sir,” said Solano. “Where should I take them?”
“To the viewing area of the lineup room. Ask Jaque to come here.”
They hung up. As soon as Jaque appeared, her boss gave her a few instructions and left. Solano was waiting with the two receptionists in a small, dark and hot room. The inspector shook their hands one at a time and rapped on the glass with a knuckle. On the other side Felisberto Capuano, sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, was studying his shoes. The guy raised his head at the sound and turned his face toward it. Locked in a brightly lit room, he was totally unable to identify anyone on the other side of the mirror.
“Did either of you see this man come for Madalena Brasil last Friday night?” asked the inspector pointing at Felisberto, who was now inspecting the glass like a snake in an aquarium.
The little brunette, her hair in a pony tail, lifted a finger and said in a reedy voice:
“I did, sir.”
“Very good. What time was that?”
“Nine at night.”
“And what did he say his name was?”
“How long did he wait for her?”
“I don’t know, maybe two minutes. Dona Madalena came right after I told her he was there.”
“How did they greet each other? This is very important.”
“With a kiss.”
“On the mouth?”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. I noticed her as soon as she walked in the reception. She’s the type of woman who draws attention. She looked very pleased to see him there.”
“Anyone else in the reception at the time?”
The girl searched her memory.
“I can’t say, sir.”
“Alright. What time did your shift end?”
“Who replaced you?”
“She did,” said the brunette, pointing to the other girl. Dornelas turned to Solano.
“Do you have the picture of Nickolas Crest?”
Solano went through his jacket pockets, took out a folded piece of paper and handed it to the boss, who took it and looked at it for a bit before showing it to the other receptionist, a curly-haired redhead with a freckled face. Both she and the brunette were dressed in the same hotel uniform.
“What time did your shift begin?” the inspector asked firmly.
“At ten, like she said,” replied the redhead pointing to the brunette.
“Did you see the man in the picture enter the hotel that night?”
The girl nodded affirmatively.
“At what time?”
What time did he leave?”
“After it stopped raining, like around one in the morning.”
“Was there anyone else around at that time?”
“Was it that man you saw entering the hotel with Madalena?” Dornelas asked, pointing at Felisberto, who was again sitting in the chair, “and not this man in the picture?”
The girl shook her head no.
“And what about you, did you see this one?” asked Dornelas, placing the photo in front of the brunette.
“Very good. As of now I need you both to be available to testify in court if required.”
After they assented Dornelas turned to Solano.
“Please get the clerk to take both their depositions and then they’re free to go.”
The detective frowned.
“Hildebrando had to go home, sir. He wasn’t feeling well.”
“Then you do it,” the boss instructed without hesitating.
Solano, obeying the order, left with the two girls. Dornelas looked closely at Nickolas’ photo, then at Felisberto, then the photo again and concluded that there was a resemblance between them, which had no doubt been carefully sought-after.
As he was opening the door to enter his office he heard shouting coming from the reception area. Going there he saw Caparrós and Lotufo come in holding a man, each one gripping a bony arm. The guy was skinny and in a foul humor, wearing dirty striped Bermuda shorts, a filthy sweatshirt way too large for his body, and shapeless, worn sandals.
“What’d I do this time, sir?” the guy spit out. “I wasn’t botherin’ nobody.”
“Calm down, Madman,” Dornelas said. “Help me out here and you’ll be back on the street in a jiffy.”
“What do I gotta do?” Madman asked, exposing a grotesque set of putrid, rotten teeth.
“Come with me.”
Caparrós and Lotufo let him go. Dornelas started down the hallway with Madman following him and the two detectives bringing up the rear.
“Get in there.”
Madman entered the dark setting that was the interrogation room with the inspector and his subordinates right behind. Felisberto was on the opposite side, with his nose nearly up against the glass, his face inside the shell he had made with his cupped hands. He was trying everything he could to see through the mirror. Unsuccessfully.
“Do you recognize this man?” Dornelas asked.
“I didn’t do nuthin’ wrong, sir,” the guy said, turning toward the inspector.
“Cut the shit, Madman. Do you know this guy or not?”
“Yeah, I know him.”
“He come lookin’ for me at the beginnin’ of the week.”
“What did he want?”
“Am I goin’ down for this?”
“Not if you tell me the truth. If you lie, probably.”
Madman thought for a minute.
“He was lookin’ for a few nickel bags of coke.”
“Two.” The man made a ‘V’ with his fingers in the air.
“Anything else? Any special job?”
The guy scratched his stomach.
“He asked me to get him a messenger.”
“What for?” the inspector prodded, not wanting to give Madman any time to think.
“To find some woman and give her some information.”
“She should go to Brava Beach usin’ the trail. That’s where she’d find the guy with the coke she was lookin’ for.”
“What did you think of that?”
“It was weird. Nobody never asked me nuthin’ like that before!”
“Did you do what he asked?”
Madman nodded positively.
“For the dough, boss. The man said he’d pay me a cool five thou if I did what he wanted.”
“Did he pay?”
“Half up front. The rest on Thursday.”
“Who did you hire?”
“Some sharp kid from the village. He’d just lost his job and was dyin’ to make some bread.”
‘Agenor,’ thought Dornelas disdainfully.
“How much did you pay this kid?”
“Late Wednesday, maybe early Thursday, just before the rain, after he told me from his cell phone he’d done the job. I sent a mule to slip a envelope with the cash under his front door.”
Dornelas crossed his arms and nibbled on his lips.
“Alright. Get a statement from him.”
Madman stared at the inspector.
“You gonna throw me in the slammer, sir?”
“I should, but I’ve got more important things to do right now.” He turned to leave the room when an idea hit him. He turned back to Madman. “I know your word is worthless, but I’m going to turn a blind eye to what you did if you promise me three things.”
Madman’s eyes opened wide as the inspector raised his hand in front of his face and began lifting one finger at a time.
“One: you’re business is going to slow down a whole lot for a while. Two: you agree to be a witness in this case whenever we need you. And three: you promise me that you’ll never, and I mean never ever, get the kid you hired involved again in anything to do with drugs. You mess up any one of these three things I’ll find a way to see that you rot in prison. Do we have an understanding?”
While he said this Dornelas kept looking with cold, hard eyes at Madman, who tried unsuccessfully to avoid them.
“Do we have an understanding or not?” he asked even more emphatically.
“Yes, sir,” the man stammered.
”What’s the boy’s name?”
“Sidney, sir. Sydney Marrano.”
Madman gave it to him.
“Alright then. If anything at all happens to him beginning right now, I’m coming after you. You got that?”
“Take his statement, then cut him loose,” the inspector ordered.
Madman left the room with Lotufo holding him by the arm. Caparrós turned to the boss.
“Are you really going to make a deal with that man, sir?” asked the detective indignantly.
“What choice do I have?” the inspector countered. “If I put him behind bars he shuts up and I get zilch.”
Caparrós said nothing; just watched the boss turn and walk out of the little room.
“Jaque,” Dornelas said as he stepped into his office.
“Take dona Madalena back to the hotel. Stay on guard duty outside the door. If you get tired, arrange for someone to spell you when you need to.”
“Copy that, sir”
Madalena, listening to the exchange, leaped to her feet. Dornelas turned to her.
“Do you use any sleeping pills, tranquilizers, anti-depressants or anything of that nature?”
“Good. Even so, and if you don’t mind, let Jaque look over your things.”
The woman just shrugged. Jaque exchanged looks with the boss to let him know she understood the purpose of that instruction, namely to be sure Madalena didn’t do anything stupid with some medicine or with anything else. Then she showed the woman out of the office and they both went down the hallway. Dornelas followed behind them but stopped when he got to Solano’s office.
The two hotel receptionists, sitting in chairs facing the detective’s desk, turned in surprise when the inspector appeared in the doorway.
“Come here for a minute,” Dornelas said to his subordinate, who got up and followed the boss out. “I’m leaving,” he whispered when they were in the hallway.
“Book Felisberto. He’s going to spend the night in the cage. I can ask for a temporary arrest warrant based just on his buying drugs from Madman.”
“If anything comes up during the night, call my cell phone.”
“One more thing. Shithead’s coming here tomorrow. I asked him to compare the fingerprint fragments from the weapon to our data bank. Ask him to start with Felisberto. The whole works: hands and feet. And speaking of the data bank, how’s the digitalizing coming along?”
“It’s just beginning,” Solano replied.
“Something else. Tomorrow get whatever information you can on Felisberto, if he’s got a record, his routine at the hotel, when he checked in, comings and goings, that kind of thing.”
“The Trilho de Ouro Inn. Same place where Nickolas Crest was staying.”
“That smells fishy to me, sir.”
“To me too. But we need proof.”
“Have a good night.”
“Same to you.”
Dornelas went back to his office, closed everything up – computer and drawer – got his jacket and cell phone and left. He was starving. While still in the hallway he began dreaming of Dulce Neve’s spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs.
He hit the street. He was exhausted but filled with a sense of satisfaction from the work he had done. He was especially pleased with the way he had discovered Agenor’s identity, recently revealed to be Sydney Marrano. If Madman hadn’t recognized Felisberto things would have gotten complicated. And if the drug dealer had discovered who gave him up it would have been curtains for the boy. He got his cell phone from his pocket and made a call.
“Sidney?” he asked as soon as a thick voice answered with a grunt.
A brief silence.
“Who’s this?” The boy returned the question.
“Have you got a minute to talk?”
“Yes, sir. But what about the Agenor, Juarez thing…?!”
“You can forget it. I need you at the precinct tomorrow.”
“But what about Madman? He’ll kill me.”
“No he won’t. He thinks some other kid ratted him out to the cops. It was he who gave me your name. You’re safe. You can rest easy.”
Another silence. Then a sniffle.
“What time do you want me there?”
“At ten. Can you handle that?”
“Okay, good night then. Sorry to get you out of bed.”
“Don’t worry about it, sir. Good night.”
Dornelas hung up, put the phone back in his pocket and continued on. In a sudden change of mind, and of direction, he entered the Historical Center and went straight to Vito’s Bar. A shot of Canarinha, his favorite cachaça, would help him relax.
The Italian was wandering randomly among the tables, tray in hand, stopping to serve here and there when the inspector went up the little steps and entered. Seeing that the tables were all taken he leaned against the bar and gave his order to Tamires. While he waited he used the time to scan the room, the clientele. It came as a complete surprise when he happened to exchange glances with Ruth Velasco, the Festival organizer, dining alone at one of the tables in the back.
Dornelas waved at her and in return received a wave inviting him to join her. So he waited for Tamires to bring his cachaça and, small glass in hand, went to see Ruth.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” he said standing next to the table.
“Not at all. Please, sit down,” she invited, pointing to a chair. Dornelas sat down and put his glass on the table. “Have you had dinner?”
“Why don’t you join me?”
“Thank you very much, but my better half is waiting for me to have dinner with her.”
Even though he said it casually, and with Dulce on his mind, Dornelas was shocked as soon as the words ‘my better half’ came out of his mouth. It pleased him that the sentiment that came with them felt very comfortable. Although he was unsure where their relationship was headed, the mere fact that he said ‘my better half’ and felt good about it meant that deep down he had raised the status of his affair with Dulce to the next level. Realizing this made him happy, but he didn’t allow Ruth to see any of it. He lifted his glass in a private toast and took the first sip.
“So you’re just having one for the road,” she said.
“You could say that,” he replied, putting the glass back on the table.
Ruth put a forkful of food in her mouth as Dornelas watched with vicarious pleasure, chewed slowly, swallowed and asked:
“How’s the investigation going?”
“Getting close to the end, God willing.”
“Can you tell me who killed Georgia Summers?”
When he heard that name his first thought was that someone else had been murdered besides Gytha Svensson since he always referred to the victim by her birth name, not her pen name.
“Not yet. All I’ve got are a few suspects, but no proof.”
“That’s not good,” said Ruth, putting another forkful in her mouth.
“How about you, how’s the Festival going?” Dornelas asked.
“A mad house… but also about to end. If the police had prevented Georgia’s murder everything would have been fine.”
“I’m sorry about that, but we at the Civil Police only come into play after the shit hits the fan, never before. Patrolling the streets is the job of the Military Police.”
Ruth put down her fork and took a drink of water from her glass. The conversation died for a minute. Looking at her Dornelas continued:
“But I’m going to confess something to you. On the night of the crime I saw the boat with Gytha, Georgia, whoever, leaving from in front of the Festival.”
The woman’s eyes opened wide as she stiffened with the glass in her hand. Dornelas went on.
“I thought it was strange, I sensed that something was wrong… pure instinct. I could never imagine that what I saw would result in a crime, much less such a heinous one.”
Ruth placed her glass on the table in slow motion, dumbfounded.
“What I did at the time was warn my team to stay alert,” the inspector said, taking another sip of his cachaça. “And that’s what we did.”
“And alert the Military Police?” Ruth questioned him, coming out of her paralysis.
“Not possible. For the police, intuition doesn’t warrant any type of action. When I come across a situation that seems suspicious to me, generally I just observe it for a time, filter the details and follow how it develops. On that night I had no way to follow it. The boat appeared, sailed down river for a while and disappeared into the darkness. It all went so fast; I was caught by surprise. I was only there, on the seawall, merely to enjoy myself. And there was no point in trying to get the Navy to follow the whaler. Not only wouldn’t they go out on a night like that, but I’d have looked like a complete fool if nothing happened.”
Dornelas crossed his arms on the table, lowered his head, grabbed his glass and downed the rest of the cachaça in one swig.
“From what you’re telling me, sir, there wasn’t much you could do,” Ruth said, feeling a good deal of compassion for him.
Dornelas put his glass on the table.
“Please, call me Joaquim. And yes, I know that. Like I know that whoever committed this crime knew exactly what they were doing. It was well-planned, with that night being handpicked: everyone’s attention on the Festival, the rough sea… getting Gytha away from being the center of attention and taking her to a deserted beach on that night was a stroke of genius. From what Madalena told me, she was very shy and used cocaine to overcome her handicap. That was the bait that made her get out of here and die where she did.”
Ruth was quiet. She merely listened to Dornelas, hearing his somber tone as he tried to lighten the burden he carried. After a long silence, she decided to speak.
“From what I read in the newspaper, she was stabbed to death with a coconut opener.”
The inspector confirmed this with a nod.
“And there were footprints in the sand, coming out of the ocean,” Ruth went on.
“If the sea was so rough, how did the killer arrive at the beach?” she asked, entering the spirit of the investigation.
His feelings somewhat cushioned, Dornelas let himself get carried away. He was enjoying the conversation. Discussing the issues with someone outside the police might bring him a fresh vision of certain things.
“That’s the crucial question. Not overland because no one saw Georgia leaving the bar on Mansa Beach with another person. And according to the estimated time of death, she died after the rain. If the murderer had gone by land he would have left tracks in the mud. We found none. That’s why we think he came and left the crime scene by boat. I’ve got the suspects in the palm of my hand and I’m not able to prove how they did it.”
“You’re really not going to say who they are, are you, sir?”
“Madalena and her ex-husband.”
The statement shocked Ruth.
“I didn’t know she’d been married before. Much less with a man.”
“Exactly,” said Dornelas. “Do you know anything about her that might help me? Anything about Gytha, Georgia?”
“About Madalena, nothing,” said Ruth, shrugging her shoulders. “About Georgia, only what’s in the media: that she was very famous, lived in the United States…” Ruth’s mind began to wander a bit. Dornelas waited patiently, seeing that the woman was searching her memory. “But I remember hearing through the grapevine not long ago that she had recently been diagnosed with a fatal disease. Something with an odd name.”
The inspector felt like he’d been struck by lightning. And just like that he decided to leave.
“I really enjoyed our conversation, but my girlfriend’s waiting for me,” he said, already standing up.
“I’m glad I could help. If I hear anything else I’ll let you know.”
Dornelas went around the table, kissed her cheek and went to the bar. He paid his bill and left.
Before going to Dulce’s house, Dornelas went to his. Lupi was there alone and hadn’t been out since lunchtime. As soon as he opened the door he was assailed by a foul stench. Fresh dog shit. Too late. Taking pity on the dog, he got the shovel, broom and a plastic bag from the laundry room and cleaned it all up in a minute without getting mad at him once.
Dornelas then took the dog for a long walk on the street. Lupi was allowed all the time he needed to do his business, was patted by his owner and then both returned home.
“I’ll be back tomorrow morning, boy,” he said, kneeling and affectionately stroking the animal for a long while. “Take care of the house.”
Dulce was fast asleep on the living room sofa. The TV was turned on to TV Globo where a movie was playing. Dornelas looked at his watch; it was past eleven. He regretted missing another episode of the soap opera. But not that much. The plot of the current one hadn’t caught his imagination as much as the previous one.
He kissed Dulce on the forehead, put his arms under her knees and back, and lifted her off the sofa. Dulce woke up on the way to the bedroom.
“My Prince Charming,” she said, her voice husky.
“Sleep well. We can talk tomorrow,” Dornelas whispered, laying her in bed and covering her with a blanket. Dulce immediately nestled in it and went back to sleep. Her cat, which she adopted after an investigation he’d conducted a while ago, joined her on the bed and curled up at her feet.
The inspector went down to the kitchen and made himself an enormous plate of spaghetti and meatballs from the pot that was waiting for him on the stove. He devoured it with gusto, saved the rest in a plastic container that he put in the fridge, washed the dishes, turned out the lights and went upstairs. He took a long hot shower and went to bed.
A little after three in the morning his cell phone began to ring on the night table. Lost in dreamland, Dornelas stuck his arm out almost unconsciously and picked it up. He looked at the name on the screen: Solano.
“What is it?” he mumbled.
“Sorry to call you so late, sir, but it’s important.”
“The Military Police found a corpse in a sailboat anchored at Mansa Beach. The boat’s owned by some guy from São Paulo. The body was in the cabin in an advanced state of decomposition.”
Dornelas quickly sat up in bed, turned on the light and nudged Dulce, who groaned quietly next to him.
“Who tipped them off?”
“They said they got an anonymous call and went to check together with the fire department. From what I gathered, he was shot to death.”
The inspector’s brain immediately went to work.
“Do you think this is somehow connected to the gringo’s case?” he asked.
“Too soon to say. What should I do?” Solano asked in return.
“I’ll check with Dulce, You call Chagas. Get him out of bed. I want him at the scene immediately. If he complains, call me.”
“Are you going to go there?”
“No. You can tell me all about it tomorrow morning. I’ll be in early.”
“Okay. Good night, sir.”
Dornelas, intrigued, ended the call. He turned to Dulce, who was stretching next to him, her long, uncombed hair framing her face.
“What was that?” she asked, grumbling.
“The Military Police found a decomposing body in a sailboat. Will you have to go there right now?”
“No, sir. Today I’m staying with you. Whoever’s on duty can handle it.” Dulce was chewing her words.
“Could you call there then and tell them it’s urgent?”
His girlfriend got the phone, called the Marealto Medical Examiner’s office, which also covered the Palmyra municipality, and gave instructions to the doctor on duty.
“Done,” she said, hanging up. “And good night.” The woman stretched out, gave her boyfriend a kiss and buried her head in her pillow.
Dornelas turned out the light, but remained wide awake in the dark for a long while. He continued thinking until the thoughts started to get jumbled in his mind and he fell into a deep sleep without realizing it.
“You shouldn’t have waited up for me so late,” he said, still in bed. Dulce had gotten up and was on her way to the shower.
“I wanted to see you,” she purred, getting in the shower stall.
Dornelas liked hearing that, especially because it meant that his love for her was reciprocated. He got up and went after his girlfriend. Dulce turned the faucet. The sound of the water filled the bathroom.
“Last night I heard that Gytha had been recently diagnosed with a fatal disease,” he said, already in the bathroom but needing to almost yell to be heard. “Did you find anything in your examination?”
“The biopsy report should be here tomorrow,” she replied, under the water. “I had them do it in Rio de Janeiro. I’m not able to do it in Marealto.”
“Do you think you could get a preliminary report by phone today?” Dornelas got undressed and entered the shower.
“I can try,” she replied, gurgling.
“Need some help scrubbing your back?”
Dulce pulled her head away from the water, wiped her face, smoothed her hair and gave him a roguish look.
“That’s the oldest line in the book.”
“Yeah, but it works.” Dornelas pulled her to him and planted a hot, wet kiss on her mouth.
The day dawned sleepily in Palmyra on Sunday. Swallows flew around in the cold and humid air. A few pedestrians wandered through the Historical Center. The sailors of the fishing boats and tourist schooners were waiting with little hope to find their way out to the sea, on which the surrounding mountains were perfectly reflected.
Feeling content in mind and body due to the night spent with Dulce and the goró filling his stomach – the ingredients for which his girlfriend had been considerate enough to provide – Dornelas arrived at the precinct a little past eight. Ismênia, who covered for Marilda on weekends, was already there arranging things on her desk.
“Good morning, sir,” the receptionist said, seeing the inspector come through the door.
“Good morning,” answered Dornelas, whose contentment only increased when he noticed the reception area was devoid of beat reporters. “Any messages?”
“Not so far.”
The inspector settled into his office, turned on the computer, noticed that the pile of papers was again growing, turned around and went to deal with Felisberto in the cage. The guy was lying in one of the beds, arms crossed behind his head, staring at the ceiling.
“You ready to talk today?” Dornelas asked as he approached the bars.
“Only with my lawyer present,” Felisberto replied.
“What time’s he coming?”
“Any time now.”
As he turned to go back to his office, a brainstorm caused him to do an about-face.
“What illness did Gytha have?” he hurled at the man.
The guy’s eyes opened wide as he lifted his head from the pillow.
“Only with my lawyer present,” he repeated emphatically.
Dornelas turned around and left.
Taking advantage of the calm in the precinct, Dornelas decided to buckle down and take care of his bureaucratic work. He wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible. He placed the pile of paper in front of himself without hesitation. In less than an hour he was able to reduce its size considerably.
At a little after nine he opened his drawer to get his chocolate bar. He heard footsteps in the hall. The hand holding the bar froze in the drawer. Motionless, he redoubled his attention; a noise at the door. Purely by instinct he opened his hand and slammed the drawer shut. Solano and Chagas barged in, panting, a few seconds later. ‘That was close,’ he sighed, a bit childishly but relieved. His favorite sweet had been saved again.
“Good news, sir,” said Solano, sitting in one of the chairs. Chagas took the other.
“Tell me everything.”
Solano, now sitting on the edge of his seat, began.
“The corpse is of a sailor who looked after the sailboat for some guy in São Paulo.”
“You already told me that.”
“Okay then. The scene pointed to a struggle and a robbery. The vessel not only has a dinghy with an outboard motor but also…”
Unable to contain himself, Chagas interrupted.
“I’m nearly certain that it’s the gringo’s killer.”
“What makes you say that?” rejoined Dornelas, annoyed by the interruption.
“Well, first I need to do my analyses, compare…”
“Anything else?” the inspector cut him off at the roots. He wanted to get into the details of the report and had no patience to put up with Shitface’s usual rigmarole. “Any object in particular?”
“A plastic pouch in his pocket. Inside was a nickel bag of cocaine,” Solano completed.
Dornelas thought for a minute, then turned to the technician.
“Look for fingerprints on the pouch and the bag of coke. If you get any, compare them with Madman’s and Felisberto’s. That could help a lot.” He turned back to Solano. “What’s the estimated time of death?”
“Three, four days. I need to confirm with the Medical Examiner’s office,” replied the detective.
“Good.” He turned to Chagas. “Prints on the boat?”
“All over the place. I collected most of them,” the head of Forensics answered.
“Compare the prints on the coconut opener and the tiller of Marcos Altino’s whaler with Felisberto’s. Then compare the ones found on the sailboat with Felisberto’s. If you don’t get a match, start looking through our data bank. And don’t forget to compare the dead guy’s footprints with the tracks we found on the beach.”
They both got up to leave.
“Solano,” he growled.
The subordinate stopped and looked at his boss.
“Call Jaque and ask her to bring Madalena here. You go get Madman. Ask someone to help you.”
“On my way, sir.”
“And close the door on your way out, please,” ordered the inspector, giving the impression he had some secret mission in mind. With his hand on the drawer handle, he waited until he heard the door close before opening it. He ate a whole row of the chocolate with gusto.
Satiated, he got his cell phone and called his girlfriend.
“You want to know about the corpse, right? Dulce asked as soon as she saw her boyfriend’s name on the screen.”
“Marcelino Almeida Melo, twenty nine years old, 1.82 meters, shoe size 43. Does that help?”
“So far, yes. What else?”
“Three gun shots to the body from a .38. Point-blank. Most likely day of death was Thursday.”
“What did Gytha have?”
“The biopsy confirmed my suspicions. The infection in her lung and kidney tissue was caused by multiple sclerosis.”
“Meaning?” the inspector asked.
“MS, roughly speaking, is the degeneration of the myelin sheaths in the central nervous system, the CNS. It’s a fatal disease that causes loss of muscular coordination in the limbs, double vision, difficulty to pronounce words, muscle spasms and urinary dysfunction. There is no cure. Treatment is limited to trying to retard the disease’s progress and improving the patient’s quality of life. Curiously the disease’s largest incidence is in white women with Caucasian genotype. Which is Gytha’s case. How about now, did that help you a little more?”
Dornelas was fascinated.
“Much more. We’ll talk later, alright?”
“Another one for you.”
The phone rang as soon as he hung up his cell phone.
“Sir, Mr. Felisberto’s lawyer is here,” Ismênia said.
“Have him come in, please.”
A minute later there appeared a dark-skinned man with round eyes, like those of an owl, but so severely cross-eyed it couldn’t be ignored. He gave the impression of being somewhat overweight for his average height. He had a small mouth below an enormous nose and gray hair that was shaped like a kind of oily wave flowing from one side of his head to the other. He wasn’t wearing a suit, just brown trousers with a black belt and a white shirt open halfway down his chest from where a thick gold chain swayed every time he moved. Under his arm, a briefcase of imitation leather like that found in car seats. He stuck out his hand as soon as neared the inspector’s desk. Dornelas couldn’t help but notice how filthy the lenses of his gold-framed glasses were.
“Dr. Ramashid Duran, a pleasure to meet you,” the lawyer introduced himself.
“Inspector Joaquim Dornelas. Please, have a seat.”
The man sat in one of the chairs and deposited his briefcase in the other. One eye took aim at the inspector while the other was inspecting some other part of the office.
“What’s my client accused of, sir?” the lawyer asked.
“Drug dealing and conspiracy to commit a crime.”
“What proof do you have?”
“The testimony of a dealer who sold him two nickel bags of cocaine. Besides purchasing cocaine, your client hired the services of a messenger to inform Ms. Gytha Svensson, popularly known as Georgia Summers, where she should go to get the cocaine. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but after this event took place Gytha was murdered either late Wednesday night or very early Thursday morning. She was a famous author. Women’s novels, basically.”
“And what exactly is my client’s connection to this crime, apart from this alleged messenger?”
“Your client is the former husband of Madalena Brasil, the victim’s widow.”
The man took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair.
“Quite the new world we live in!”
Dornelas gave him a sardonic smile.
“Does that make him a murderer?” asked the lawyer.
“Not at all.”
“So what’s the reason for the arrest warrant?”
Dornelas was getting a bit irritated.
“What part of what I said didn’t you understand?”
“I understood it all perfectly, Inspector. I’m just saying that, if I may speak frankly, you seem to be pushing it a bit far in order to justify keeping him locked up.”
“I don’t know if you’re aware that conspiracy is a crime. Drug trafficking is also. Two nickel bags of cocaine give me enough evidence to charge him with dealing drugs.”
The guy raised his arms in the air and said in a voice as smooth as velvet:
“Let’s not exaggerate, sir.”
The inspector’s irritation was growing by leaps and bounds.
“In addition,” continued Dornelas, “he’s suspected of being involved in the death of Gytha Svensson.”
“On what basis?” objected the lawyer.
“He’s still intimately involved with his ex-wife, the writer’s current widow. Gytha left a considerable amount of money and a life insurance policy in the widow’s name. That alone makes me think he had sufficient motive to want her dead.”
“Do you have any proof of this?”
Dornelas nodded that he did.
“The testimony of one of the receptionists at the hotel where Gytha and Madalena were staying. She saw Madalena and your client kiss each other on the mouth when he went there to pick her up last Wednesday.”
Dornelas couldn’t remember how many times in his career he’d had to deal with wormy lawyers like this one. Yet even with all his experience, they never ceased to annoy him.
“Dr. Duran, I suggest you talk with your client, who so far has shown no inclination to cooperate with the investigation.”
“I will do that. And I’ll file for a writ of habeas corpus immediately.”
“Go right ahead,” said Dornelas, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. “But since today is Sunday and the courts are closed, your client is going to stay in jail until tomorrow. And if I were you, I’d be hoping that Judge Souza Botelho has a happy and gastronomically satisfying weekend. Have a nice day.”
The inspector stood up and stuck his hand across the desk, forcing the lawyer to do the same, shake hands and leave. As soon as he reached the hall, Dornelas called Chagas’ cell phone.
“The footprints on the beach belong to Marcelino,” replied Chagas.
“What about the fingerprints?”
“I’m working on them.”
“I’ll be waiting.” He hung up, sat down and waited.
Sidney was sitting on one of the benches in the reception when Madman came in followed by Madalena. Advised that the drug dealer had arrived, Dornelas asked Ismênia to send him to his office. He arrived escorted by Solano. The detective handed him a sheaf of papers.
“Look at this, sir. I asked Caparrós to go to the airlines and get all the flights that Gytha, Madalena and Felisberto took to and in Brazil. There’s also every move Felisberto made at the hotel where he was staying.”
Dornelas carefully studied the sheets, one by one, compared a few details and dropped them on his desk.
“You’re learning, my man!”
“Thank you, sir,” said Solano, slightly embarrassed.
Dornelas turned to Madman.
“You don’t need to sit down. Just tell me who Marcelino Almeida Melo is.”
Madman, his eyes lowered, gave a concise answer:
“Who hired him?” asked Dornelas, getting straight to the point.
Silence. That Madman broke with a whisper. Dornelas listened carefully, picked up the phone and gave instructions to Ismênia. Less than a minute later Sidney, Felisberto – with his lawyer – and Madalena, accompanied by Jaque came into the office, with Caparrós and Lotufo right behind.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” the inspector told them; he remained in his chair waiting for everyone to find a spot. Once they were all arranged around the room, he decided to go on. “Alright then. Madman, what day did Felisberto get in touch with you?”
Sitting in a chair next to Madalena, Felisberto never so much as moved a muscle.
“Last Monday, sir.”
“Was Gytha with him that day?”
“No, sir. She came the next day,” Madman replied.
“Very good. That’s enough. Now I’m going to tell you what happened.” Dornelas placed the palms of his hands on the desk and began his explanation. “Five days before the Festival’s inaugural show Madalena and Gytha arrived in Recife and met with Mr. Felisberto Capuano, Madalena’s former husband. The three of them stayed in that city for the next two days. On the third day all three took TAM flight 3954 from Recife to Rio de Janeiro, and from there traveled by car to Palmyra. Gytha and Madalena checked in to the Il Gattopardo Inn last Sunday, a little after four in the afternoon. Mr. Felisberto, around the same time, checked in to the Trilho de Ouro Inn. While they were together in Recife the three of them had planned a crime. When they arrived in Palmyra they didn’t have the elements necessary to execute it – almost as if following a cake recipe – that Madman supplied them with the next day.” Dornelas pointed at the drug dealer and then raised four fingers, one at a time. “The ingredients: two nickel bags of cocaine, one excursion whaler with crewman, one messenger, and one killer.”
The ambiance in the packed room was heavy with a sense of death. Under the attentive eyes of all present, Dornelas continued.
“On the night she was killed, the opening night of the Festival, Gytha left her room around seven and boarded the boat on the Pedras River, in front of the Festival, just before nine. I personally observed the boat sailing out to sea with two occupants: Mr. Marcos Altino, sailor, at the tiller, in the stern, and Gytha Svensson, seated on one of the benches under the canvas canopy.”
Hearing this, Madalena’s eyes opened wide in shock. Dornelas kept going.
“As previously agreed, at nine that night Madalena’s ex-husband went to get her at the Il Gattopardo Inn. Mr. Felisberto, in an effort to confound the police, took the precaution of staying at the same hotel as Gytha’s publisher in the U.K., a Mr. Nickolas Crest, with whom the author and her wife had made a date to have dinner the night of the crime. He stayed at the same hotel for a very specific purpose: to emulate the publisher’s features and manner of dressing so he could be taken for him at the reception desk of the inn where his ex-wife and the author were staying. Not only did Mr. Felisberto give Nickolas’ name at the reception, but he also introduced himself to a receptionist whose shift was scheduled to end in an hour.”
The inspector paused briefly to have a drink of water from the glass on his desk.
“Would anyone like some?” he asked. Taking the silence as his answer, he decided to continue. “From the Il Gattopardo Inn Madalena and her ex-husband proceeded on foot to Nickolas Crest’s inn, the same one being used by Mr. Felisberto. Before arriving there, the couple split up. Madalena picked up the publisher around nine-fifteen, they walked out of the Historical Center and got a cab in the new part of town. The ride from there to the El Toro restaurant, on Mansa Beach, lasted some twenty, thirty minutes. According to a statement from the owner of the restaurant, Madalena and Nickolas arrived around nine-fifty and Gytha, who came by boat, a little after ten. The three of them feasted on paella à Valenciana, crème Catalan, cachaça caipirinhas and the like during what was to be Gytha Svensson’s, or Georgia Summers if you prefer, last meal. When they left the restaurant Madalena, who undoubtedly used all her feminine wiles to seduce Nickolas, took him to her hotel while Gytha got back on the boat supposedly to return to Palmyra when, in fact, her intended destination was Brava Beach. But as they were sailing along Mansa Beach she saw an animated bar at the opposite end from the restaurant and asked the sailor to put them into the shallows there so she could get out. And that’s what happened because a fisherman named Faustino Arantes saw Marcos Altino’s boat pass next to his. That same fisherman also witnessed Gytha’s meeting with Sidney.”
Dornelas pointed at the boy, who then became the focus of everyone in the room. Taking advantage of the distraction, the inspector had another drink of water as his throat was becoming parched and scratchy. Putting the glass on his desk, he picked up the phone and dialed three numbers; Ismênia answered.
“Is Chagas around?”
“In the meeting room.”
“Ask him to come to my office.”
He hung up. The funereal silence that followed was broken by the sound of the doorknob being turned. Chagas opened the door and entered.
“You called me, sir?”
“Have you got the fingerprint results?”
All eyes were on the head of Forensics, who drew back.
“The ones on the coconut opener and the tiller of Marcos Altino’s boat are Marcelino’s. Those on the bag of cocaine are from Madman, Marcelino and Felisberto. On the boat there were various prints. I found many belonging to Marcelino himself and many belonging to Mr. Felisberto, in addition to others I haven’t had time to identify yet.”
“Thank you. This evidence proves my thesis.”
“And what’s that, Inspector,” asked Dr. Ramashid Duran.
“You’ll find out in a minute.” Dornelas stirred in his chair and continued. “Moving on. Sidney went to Mansa Beach for the sole purpose of giving the author a message: that she should take the trail that connects Mansa and Brava beaches to meet with Marcelino Almeida Melo, a sailor on a boat anchored on Mansa Beach and who had the cocaine purchased by Felisberto from Madman. After receiving this information, Gytha decided to first have some fun. She walked to a nearby bar and danced by herself in the middle of all the others who were playing and singing samba. Around midnight she entered the trail by herself. From here on out this story takes a gruesome turn for the worse. With her blood alcohol content extremely high, high enough to impede her from driving or defending herself, Gytha arrived at the bar on Brava Beach a short while later. And there, under cover of the roof, she waited alone for her killer to arrive. Marcos Altino, in turn, went to Brava Beach by boat and anchored far from the break. Once there, as instructed, he waited for her. While Marcos waited, Marcelino took a dinghy with an outboard motor – the support boat from the sailboat he looked after – and went around the headland to Brava Beach. Halfway there a huge downpour occurred, which not only didn’t hamper him, it actually helped him to come alongside Marcos Altino’s boat unnoticed. After tying the dinghy to the whaler, Marcelino boarded the boat and killed Marcos, striking him at the base of the skull with the tiller. I’m not able to tell you if there was a struggle or not because both of them are dead. Regardless, after doing in the sailor Marcelino, coconut opener in hand, rode the dinghy into the beach, past the breakers, jumped into the shallow water, dragged the dinghy onto the sand and went on foot toward the deck. He went up the stairs, along the wooden flooring and met up with Gytha under the roof. The author, who was waiting for him, greedily snorted one of the bags of cocaine. At some point, perhaps when he saw how physically wasted she was, he stabbed her the first time in her left jugular with the coconut opener; she went down and was stabbed another seventeen times in the back. Meanwhile, Madalena and Nickolas were making love in her hotel room. Very definitely a well-conceived alibi.”
Madalena raised her eyes from the floor and looked at Felisberto, who remained impassive. The inspector went on.
“At some point after killing Gytha, Marcelino noticed that the waves had pulled his dinghy back into the sea and tossed it against the rocks. So he ran along the little wall that separates the sand from the grass, climbed up the rocks and jumped into the dinghy. That’s why he left his footprints in the sand when he got to the beach but not when he left. After killing Gytha and Marcos, and in possession of his dinghy, Marcelino returned to Marcos’ boat, dropped the coconut opener on the deck and then I think he tried to raise the anchor. Unable to do so, because the anchor had gotten stuck under a rock at the bottom, he cut the cable and let the sea do its part by throwing the boat against the rocks. The blow to the head and the cut anchor cable were meant to make it look like Marcos had died accidently while trying to control the boat in the rough sea. Marcelino was even careful enough to reattach the tiller to the rudder with the iron safety pin. The wound, however, was too deep to have been made by an accidental blow from a fall. The report from the Medical Examiner’s office proves that. In addition, there were traces of paint from the tiller around Marcos’ wound. The report from Forensics revealed that evidence. Any questions so far?”
No one spoke up so the inspector continued.
“With the operation successfully concluded, Marcelino went back to Mansa Beach in the dinghy, tied it up to the sailboat and I believe slept on the boat. The next day, expecting to be paid for his work, the sailor received a visit from Mr. Felisberto who killed him at point blank range with three shots from a .38 caliber pistol. To date we have not found this murder weapon. We’re counting on Mr. Felisberto’s cooperation to elucidate this part for us. The concrete evidence we have so far is irrefutable: Mr. Felisberto’s fingerprints connect him to the testimony Madman gave us, to Marcelino himself and to the crime scene on the sailboat. But what impresses me the most in all this is that it was Gytha herself who hired Marcelino to kill her.”
Sidney, clearly shocked, decided to ask:
“But why would the gringo lady do that?”
The inspector turned to Madalena.
“Care to answer?” he asked the woman, who was quaking in her chair.
“A few months ago she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The first symptoms of the disease began to manifest themselves a short while ago. She felt sick, had attacks of trembling and difficulty to think clearly. Gytha had always been very active and couldn’t accept living with any physical limitations.”
“But why here?” asked Solano.
“Because she loved me, loved Brazil, and she believed that dying a violent death, at the peak of her career, would drive the worldwide sale of her books even higher. Not only is the Festival here one of the most charming book fests in the world, but Gigi always wanted to die in grand style, and in this way she would be leaving me ‘well off’.”
“Besides,” interrupted the inspector, “if Gytha committed suicide Madalena would lose the huge payout from her life insurance policy.” Total silence. Dornelas continued. “How did Mr. Felisberto fit into the relationship between you and her?”
The ex-husband, who until now had remained expressionless, turned to face Madalena and growled through clenched teeth:
“Don’t say anything, Madá. Shut your trap.”
The woman looked at him forlornly and said:
“Too late, Beto. Our plan failed.” She turned to the inspector. “I never stopped loving this man, not even after I fell in love with Gytha, who not only accepted that, but even allowed us to hook up with each other from time to time. As time went on, the thing evolved. Gytha, Beto and I shared the same bed more than once.”
“Who are the heirs and beneficiaries of her assets?” asked Caparrós.
Madalena merely raised a finger in the air. Silence descended on the room.
“Does anyone have anything to say?” asked Dornelas, who waited for a bit but received no reply. “Alright. Mr. Felisberto, who’s already under temporary arrest, will remain here.” He turned to Madalena. “You’ll keep him company. Are you familiar with the Maria da Penha law?”
The woman nodded that she was.
“I thought you might be. Being only an accomplice and as a wife you’ll surely benefit from this law. As for you, Madman, I’m going to have to stick you in jail.”
Dornelas raised his hand, palm up.
“Sorry, but I can’t arrest Mr. Felisberto for drug trafficking and not arrest his supplier. Besides, your participation in the crime was much larger than just selling drugs. You’re going to be charged with conspiracy as well. But for cooperating with the police, you’ll almost certainly get a reduced sentence.” Dornelas turned to Jaque, Lotufo and Caparrós. “You can take them.”
Felisberto and Madalena left the office accompanied by Dr. Ramashid, Lotufo and Jaque. Caparrós left with Madman. Sidney was getting ready to leave when the inspector asked him:
“Did you see what a terrible predicament you got yourself involved in?”
The boy turned to him, squirming where he stood.
“I can’t believe I was part of something like that, sir!”
“I’m going to keep my promise not to charge you, though I need you to remain available to testify because of your participation.”
“Just call when you need me. And thank you very much”.
“Solano will take your testimony.”
Solano, who was listening to the conversation, took the boy by the arm and led him out of the office. Dornelas, left alone, had the comforting sense of having done his duty. He picked up the phone and called Dulce. She took a while before answering.
“Case solved,” he said as soon as she came on the line.
“Wow, that’s great! Who killed the writer?”
Dornelas gave her an abridged version of the entire case.
“Can you have lunch with me?” he asked.
“Can’t do it. I’ve got too much to do here. I’ll call you as soon as I’m free,” replied Dulce.
“Done. I’ll wait for you. Big kiss.”
Dulce sent him a kiss back and he hung up. Then he picked it up again and dialed three numbers. Ismênia answered.
“Call Mr. Amarildo, please.”
In less than a minute the phone rang. Dornelas picked it up eagerly and brought it to his ear.
“He’s traveling, sir. Should I leave a message?”
Dornelas put the phone down, thought for a minute, then called Ismênia again.
“Yes, sir?” said the receptionist.
“Call Chicken, please.”
Two rings and the reporter answered. Dornelas went over the entire case, giving him names, details, and a two hour head start on the rest of the press. Chicken cackled a few thank-yous and hung up happy.
An emptiness hung in the air. That’s when Dornelas realized he was free for the rest of the day. Abruptly he closed up everything, put on his jacket and left. As he was passing Solano’s office he said from the doorway:
“Prepare the full investigation report so we can send it to the district attorney tomorrow. I’m going out but I’ll be back in a few hours to sign everything. Leave it on my desk. If you want to talk to me, I’ll be on my cell phone. And when you’ve finished, go home.”
Out on the street, Dornelas got his cell phone out of his pocket and called Major Astolfo at the Fire Department. Whoever answered said the major was off duty that day. He hung up and called Claudio, his fisherman friend who owned a boat named Janua.
“You going out today?” he asked his friend as soon as he answered.
“No plans. You interested in going trolling for barracuda? The sea’s too calm for anchovies.”
“That’s exactly what I’m interested in.”
“In half an hour on the dock?”
“I’ll be there. And remember: the diesel fuel’s on me.”
Dornelas hung up and went straight home, got his fishing rods, reels and bait box and filled the ice chest with sandwiches and drinks. With his hands full, he went walking cheerfully down the street on the way to the dock with Lupi at his heels.
The idea of a crime being committed during a book fair came to me when I visited the Paraty International Literary Festival in July of 2011. I became excited with the possibility of placing Inspector Dornelas in that environment. All the characters and situations in this book are the fruit of my fertile imagination and are in no way based on anything in, or on, reality. And now I would like to thank my friend Antonio Cabral, for all our conversations that taught me so much on my path as an author; my brother Joca, for his help in developing the story; Talita Zerbini, for her explanations of police medical procedures; Roger Franchini, a former civil police officer and currently a lawyer and fellow police story author, for his help with legal procedures; Flavio Lapa Claro, a former civil police officer, for his help with police procedures; José Eduardo Márcico, for his lessons and tips regarding fingerprint and footprint recognition techniques; the teams of the 167th Police Precinct and Fire Department in Paraty; and last, but most certainly not least, Carminha Levy, for her wisdom, support and unshakeable faith.
Ideas or suggestions:
A new Inspector Joaquim Dornelas adventure. The Palmyra International Book Festival, one of the most charming literary events in the world, is about to begin. At this tenth edition of the Festival, and with the city jam-packed, Inspector Joaquim Dornelas is split between feeling happy and worried. To him, the more people and celebrating there was meant the greater the chance for trouble. And of course, the unexpected happens, moments before the inaugural show. Dornelas is faced with a scene that puts him and his team in a state of high alert. A crime is committed in the middle of the night. Pressured by his boss and by the press in this new and delectable adventure, Dornelas finds himself involved in a complex network of facts and intrigue that attempt to detour the investigation and confuse the police. Excited with his friends-with-benefits relationship with Dulce Neves, with his shots of cachaça rum, with his ability to be a father from a distance, and with his baby cereal porridge, Inspector Joaquim Dornelas once again uses his keen intuition and incredible police instincts to solve yet another complicated crime.