A Rio de Janeiro Thriller
With no witnesses and no weapon, it seems like the case of the one-legged homeless man found lying in a cul-de-sac on São João Hill, shot through the heart, will remain unsolved. But Chief Inspector Espinosa can't shake thoughts of the hapless victimwho would target a penniless man who posed no physical threat? Focusing his incisive mind and his usual unhurried inquiry on a group of wealthy guests who dined at a nearby mansion on the rainy night of the murder, Espinosa interrogates his way into the lives of his suspects, exposing lies, cover-upsand another murder.
About the Author
LUIZ ALFREDO GARCIA-ROZA, a distinguished academic, is a bestselling novelist who lives in Rio de Janeiro. The Espinosa mysteries have been translated into five languages. This is the sixth book in the series.
Read an Excerpt
An Inspector Espinosa Mystery
By Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Benjamin Moser
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2006 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
All rights reserved.
Espinosa could clearly make out the sounds coming from the street and was fully aware that he was lying in his own bed, but he still hadn't made up his mind to open his eyes. He tried to estimate the time: after six, for sure, so six-thirty was a good guess. He could have looked at the watch on his bedside table, which rested inches from his head, but that would mean accepting that he was technically awake. He kept his eyes closed. All he wanted at that time was, slowly, lazily, to enjoy the image of Irene coming up the two flights of stairs, arms full of bags, announcing what cheeses, wines, and bread she had brought; while he, at the top of the stairs, could look at her lightweight outfit hugging her thighs, her calves, and her breasts, insinuating more than showing. The imaginary scene wasn't borrowed from the night before or from any night in particular, recent or remote; it was a foretaste of the meeting they would have that night. Which was why he was reluctant to open his eyes and meet the stupid reality of his watch. It read six-twenty when Espinosa decided to get up.
He was turning on the coffeemaker when the telephone rang.
"Morning, Chief, sorry to wake you."
"You didn't. What happened?"
"A man was killed with a single shot at the end of the Rua Mascarenhas de Moraes, that steep part off of the Rua Tonelero. We thought you'd like to see the body before it's removed."
"There's nothing to like about it, Detective."
"Sorry, just a manner of speaking."
"And why did you think I would like to see it? Is the victim someone I know?"
"No, sir, it's a homeless man, an old guy, with only one leg. ... He was killed with a shot to his chest."
"A single shot?"
"Just one. Close range. In the heart. In the middle of a rainy night. He was stretched out at the end of the street ... at that round end ..."
"It's called a cul-de-sac ... it's French."
"Well, anyway, he had fallen beside that curb, and he was found by the doorman of the only building on that end of the street. I'm going to send a car to get you; it's raining and it's hard to get over there without a car."
"So how did he get there?"
"Exactly. ... Nobody knows."
* * *
Even before the car went up the steep street, Espinosa recognized it. In his mind it wasn't the Rua Marechal Mascarenhas de Moraes but Otto's Street. That wasn't the street's original name, but when he was thirteen years old he and his friends always called it Otto's Street. They never saw a sign bearing that name, nor knew anyone on the street named Otto, nor was Otto some teenage idol of theirs. For whatever unknown reason, one day one of them decided to refer to it as Otto's Street, and the name stuck. Thirty years on, there he was, without the English bicycle that was the most incredible present his father ever gave him, recalling the intense emotion he felt before descending the street on that bicycle and feeling sadness at seeing the one-legged man, shot in the chest, fallen in the middle of the street. The geography was the same, but the stories were different.
The street was a steep, S-shaped road on the rocky flank of São João Hill, in Copacabana, entirely paved with cobblestones. Two sweeping curves along its four-hundredmeter length demanded careful attention from both drivers and pedestrians. The street began on the Rua Tonelero and ended in a little square that had once offered perfect views of most of Copacabana and the sea. Now the views were blocked by an apartment building that had been put up on the far side of the street, turning the cul-de-sac into a dark, charmless hole. One side of the cul-de-sac was bordered by a natural stone wall, almost entirely covered by vegetation. Alongside this wall, there was an old cement staircase that began at the entrance to the cul-de-sac and followed the curve of the hill until disappearing into the neighboring trees. The access to the staircase, a little gate hacked into the rock, was obstructed by a robust wooden door. The other side of the little square, which once faced the sea, was completely blocked off by a high masonry wall and the five stories of the building. There was also an iron gate, much larger than the first, that led to a plot of land that followed the slope of the hill down to the Rua Tonelero, two hundred meters down, and that belonged to a religious educational institution. The cul-de-sac was used almost exclusively by the residents of the street.
The body was lying at a point where the sidewalk hugged the stone wall. The plastic sack stretched across the body was not long enough to cover the wasted shin and the single foot, from the big toe of which hung a sandal worn out at the heel. Two crutches had been placed on top of the plastic, holding it down.
The nearest building was only a few meters away, shoehorned into the space left by the neighboring constructions, luxurious mansions that had escaped the trend of tearing everything down to make room for apartment blocks. The garageman and the doorman employed there had already answered the questions from the policeman who had answered the call. The garageman, who had found the body, waited impatiently and curiously for the other cop, the one without a uniform who had arrived in a different car and seemed more important than the others, to call him over. But for the time being the policeman was more interested in the cobblestones, the curb, and in the little things he found on the ground and placed in a plastic bag. After that, he examined the dead man's pockets, moving on to explore beneath his shirt and inside his shorts. Finally, he took the crutches and examined them with the same care he had expended on the clothes. If he was looking for something in particular, he didn't find it. The man had already been engaged in his search for more than an hour when a car arrived, the same one that had brought him there, and deposited two men who were also in plainclothes and carrying umbrellas. They greeted the other man immediately. Only then did they look in the direction of the garageman and head over to talk to him. The man who had been looking for things on the ground spoke.
"Good morning. I'm Chief Espinosa, from the Twelfth Precinct. This is Inspector Ramiro and Detective Welber. What is your name?"
"Are you the one who found the body?"
"What time was it?"
"It was still dark. It must have been before five."
"And what were you doing outside, in the dark, while it was raining?"
"I'm the night doorman and also take care of the cars. I wash and drive them. When the garage is full I have to take one or two of the cars and park them outside, so that I can have the others ready in the order that the residents leave. It was when I took out the first car that the lights picked out the body lying on the ground. I immediately thought he was dead. If he had just been drunk, the rain would have woken him up."
"And then you went to make sure he was really dead?"
"I left the lights on and walked over. The rain had washed away the blood, but I could see the shot in the middle of his chest. I came back and called the police."
"You didn't touch the body?"
"While you were washing the cars, you didn't hear a shot, or a car driving down the street?"
"It was raining hard, with thunder, and I didn't leave the garage until it was time to arrange the cars."
"Was anyone else in the garage with you?"
"Did you know the dead man?"
"I'd seen him around, but I don't know who he is. I recognized him because of the leg ..."
"Do you know what he was doing up here?"
"I think the people from the club might give him some food at the end of the day."
"The Horizon Club. It's right over there, behind that building, near the turnoff."
"You mean that every day he climbs up this street with only one leg? Even in the rain?"
They were talking beneath the door of the building's garage, and Severino repeatedly glanced inside the garage as he wrung the towel he used to dry the cars.
"Are you worried about something?" Espinosa asked.
"No, sir. It's just that one of the residents could come by and ask for their car."
"That's fine, Severino, thanks for your help. Detective Welber will take note of your name and phone number, in case we need to talk to you again. If you remember anything else, here's my card — you can call me at any time."
The rain had temporarily relented and the three went back over to the body. Espinosa made a broad gesture with his arms, indicating the cul-de-sac.
"I went over this entire area, every cobblestone, and I didn't find a single shell," he said.
"The murderer could have used a revolver, not a pistol."
"Or he made sure to pick up the shell. ... Which doesn't sound like drug traffickers, since they don't care about those details; besides, with them it's rarely just a single shot. Soon the residents are going to start leaving for work. Make sure to ask them if they saw or heard anything, and come back later to talk to the ones who stay at home. Try the night owls and the insomniacs."
The police car that had responded to the doorman's call was still parked beside the curb, the lights on the roof blinking, in front of the car from the Twelfth Precinct. If any other car tried to turn around there, the driver would have a hard time getting down the narrow street, since the cul-de-sac was blocked with yellow police tape. Espinosa knew the body wouldn't be removed before noon, and that the forensic people wouldn't have much to do there — the rain that had been pouring down all night had washed out the crime scene.
"I'll see you back at the station. Keep the car. I want to go back on foot."
* * *
The twisting descent and the wet sidewalk forced Espinosa to pay attention so as not to slip while he was observing the neighboring houses. The club was at the corner of the hill, just off the street and protected by a wall with an entrance for cars and pedestrians. The club hadn't existed in the days of his adventures on his bicycle. In fact, few houses remained from that time — most of them had been replaced by little apartment buildings that occupied almost the entire length of the hill. Espinosa kept going downhill, experimenting with hopping down the tightest, most dangerous curves on a single leg. He could imagine that even with crutches, it wouldn't have been easy at all for the homeless man to climb up and go down the street. He kept walking, imagining what would lead a person with difficulty in walking to go beg in such a tough-to-reach spot, with little visibility, on a rainy night. As he walked the three more blocks to the Twelfth Precinct, he came up with a few answers to the question. None was satisfactory.
Neither the question nor the possible replies were anything like a real investigation, but they did increase the number of conjectures that told him that in his own head something was about to begin. He still couldn't call it an investigation: it was more like an intellectual stew combining very acute observations, subtle rationalizations, and delirious ideas. He considered it to be something like prethought, and — to his own relief and that of his colleagues — it was a passing phase ... though it could occasionally bear useful fruit.
He would try not to think about it until Welber and Ramiro got back, around lunchtime. Since he didn't like to talk about cases he was working on while he ate, they probably wouldn't discuss the subject until the afternoon, which didn't mean that other ideas wouldn't occur to him in the meantime.
* * *
Camila and Aldo had different ways of waking up in the morning. While she took her time, languidly, step by step, stretching like a cat, he got up brusquely, tensely, going directly from sleep to a state of absolute alertness. And on that Friday morning he got up first. It was six-thirty. He turned off the alarm, which was set for seven, got up without making noise, and went into the bathroom. When he returned to the bedroom, having already showered and shaved, Camila was in the middle of her waking ritual, which would last another half hour. They had been married for more than ten years and he had never ceased to be fascinated by the way his wife rose from sleep. No other, up till then, was her match in beauty and sensuality, though these traits were not immediately obvious. They slowly became apparent to the spectator, until he was hopelessly captured by the fascination of Camila. He then went to wake the children, whose morning style was completely different from their parents'. Neither languor nor tension but resistance: they struggled for the right to one more minute in bed despite their father's kisses and words. Cíntia was like her mother in every way: pretty, charming, and as seductive as her nine years allowed her to be; Fernando, a year younger, was as intelligent as his sister but quieter. They studied full-time in a bilingual school. During the week they all ate breakfast together. When the school bus came to pick them up, it was still raining.
"Well?" said Camila as she scanned the newspaper.
"Last night, during dinner, you were chatting up a storm ... and on the way home you didn't say a single word and went to sleep without so much as a good night."
"Sorry. It's just that once the dinner was over I took off my costume. I was discouraged, tired of having to pretend that those spoiled kids were intelligent and interesting when in fact they're just talking dolls."
"But those talking dolls have the money to pay the best interior decorator in Rio de Janeiro."
"I did what they asked. The only thing I did was get rid of the obvious absurdities and add a few of my own ideas."
"So there you have it. That's the magic of your profession: getting them to think that those were their ideas."
"Then they could cut out the dinner parties to show off their new house."
"But, honey, they also want to show off the new designer. We agreed, it's good for their ego and it's good for yours as well ... and for your wallet."
"They didn't even see the money! The money went straight from her father's account to mine."
"Even better: from the source. But you still haven't told me why you came home depressed. Was it something someone said?"
"I don't know what it was, but it's over now. Are you going to go to work now?"
"No, today I only have patients in the afternoon. This morning I'm going to take care of my body and my hair."
"We can go out for dinner, just the two of us, if you can find someone to stay with the kids."
Aldo and Camila lived in one of the most sought-after blocks in Ipanema, halfway between the beach and the lagoon and two blocks from the Jardim de Alá. Camila walked to her office and to everything she most required for her personal well-being. She didn't need to have her girlfriends around to go shopping, work out, or check out the latest publications in the neighborhood bookstore. She only liked groups on birthdays and for small dinner parties; besides that, she liked to be alone or with her husband. The gym not only kept her body in shape but also cleared her head of the unpleasant aspects of daily life.
She liked to go after eight in the morning, when the first wave of visitors, who had to be at work by nine, were already gone and the group of people who got up later had yet to arrive. And the rainy morning didn't seem to beckon people to leave home to go to the gym, or at least that's what she gathered when she found that even the most popular machines were free. An hour of working out was exactly what she needed. When she left the gym, already showered, the rain had stopped and the shops were opening. She liked to wander through the shopping centers, entering stores, lingering in the bookstore, or trying on clothes, usually returning home empty-handed. By eleven she was at the hairdresser's and at twelve-thirty she ate a salad on the terrace of a neighborhood restaurant. At two o'clock she saw the day's first patient.
Excerpted from Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, Benjamin Moser. Copyright © 2006 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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