It’s snowing in New York, and Jimmy Martin is pleading for his life. He owes a loan shark $100,000, but he knows he will make his fortune if he can just hop a plane to Brazil. The lender gives him a thirty-day extension, and Jimmy is on his way. But he will find Brazil a better place in which to end a life than to save one.
Interpol detective José Da Silva has seen many schemers undone by Brazil. Jimmy Martin leaves the United States clutching a fistful of bearer bonds—some of which belong to the Brazilian government—and Da Silva is waiting with handcuffs when his plane arrives. But there’s no sign of Martin. He slipped off in Recife, disappearing into the country’s vast interior. If he is lucky, Da Silva will find him before the jungle takes its toll.
About the Author
Fish died February 23, 1981, at his home in Connecticut. Each year at the annual Mystery Writers of America dinner, a memorial award is presented in his name for the best first short story. This is a fitting tribute, as Fish was always eager to assist young writers with their craft.
Read an Excerpt
Brazilian Sleigh Ride
A Captain José da Silva Mystery
By Robert L. Fish
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 estate of Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
The voice on the telephone was evenly modulated and quiet, but it was no less deadly for all that. The listening man gripped the receiver lightly, as if even the pressure of his hand on the smooth plastic might somehow sway the course of the conversation; this call was extremely important to him and it had to be handled just right. His half-closed eyes, staring through the broad window at the snow falling gently over Manhattan, saw none of the nighttime beauty of the winter scene, but only the thin, clever, sardonic face of the man at the other end of the line. He swung his heavy chair around to face the large well-furnished office with its low sofa and large paintings, but again he saw none of it. He nodded his head; this was the time to cut into the icy flow of language, but it had to be done with just the proper touch of desperation, just the exact amount of pleading, or at least the hint of pleading. He listened to a few more words and then cleared his throat, interrupting.
"Listen, Barney, please ..."
"No," said the voice in his ear, with that exaggerated pretense of patience that was its trademark in the gambling fraternity of the city. "No. You listen to me instead, Mr. Martin, and you listen very carefully. One hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money in anybody's language, and you owe it to me. And have long enough. You lost it and I won it. And I want it."
"And you'll get it, if only you'll—"
"I know I'll get it. I know it better than you do." The listening man could almost see the tight little smile creeping across the other's thin lips, could almost see the small cold eyes glisten momentarily in anticipation of their own sardonic humor. "Either the money or its equivalent. From your hide."
Now is the time to sound angry, the listening man said to himself, but it must be an anger tinged with just the slightest edge of fear. Nothing too overt, but nothing too easily misunderstood, either. "Are you threatening me?"
"Threats? What are threats?"
The listening man maintained his studied tone. "You'll get your damned money!"
"You're repeating yourself." Barney's voice was bored, as if the conversation were dragging on longer than he felt necessary. "You keep saying the same thing, that I'll get my money, but you don't get around to saying when. And that's what interests me."
"Now look here, Barney! If I wanted to, I could tell you that gambling debts are illegal; uncollectable—"
"So?" Quiet amusement entered Barney's voice for a moment, instantly replaced with an even deadlier coldness. "Gambling debts are uncollectable? Is that what you're saying? Well, Mr. Martin, would you like to make a separate bet on that? Double or nothing?"
"You know what I mean! I mean—"
"And they're also illegal? Let me bring you up to date on something, mister—everything is getting to be illegal these days. It's a shame, but that's the way it is." Barney's voice was almost conversational. "You want to know something? Even accidents are illegal. A man gets himself into an innocent discussion with some complete strangers in a bar one day, and the first thing he knows they have him out in the alley in back, and they make a basket case out of him. Cripple him up bad. For no reason at all. Is it legal? Or—"
"—or," the cold voice went on inexorably, "this same guy comes out of the movies some fine night with his girl friend on his arm, and he starts to cross the street with the light—maybe to pick up his car, or to catch a drink in some joint they like—and out of nowhere some car comes, some maniac driver shooting around the corner, not watching where he's going, and wham!" The quiet amusement returned for a moment. "You want to know something, mister? Even committing suicide is illegal. So just remember that fact, and don't tell me what's legal and what isn't!"
"Will you listen? I said I could tell you that, but I didn't! And I'm not! I'll pay you off!"
"I hate to repeat myself ..." Barney's even tones contained neither sarcasm nor the slightest trace of humor; he sounded as if he really meant it. "Just tell me when."
"Soon. In a month or so. I've been—" He hesitated as a sharp rap came on the door of his office. "Hold it a second." His hand cupped the receiver; he stared angrily at the door. "Yes? Who is it?"
The heavy door swung back; an elderly woman in a stained dress and a faded dustcap peered in on him from behind the dubious protection of a mop handle protruding from a galvanized pail. "Cleaning woman," she said succinctly, and looked about the large office as if weary to see it again, as if she would have been equally pleased to skip it this night. Her eyes came back to the man at the desk. "You going to be long, mister? How soon before I can get in here?"
"I'll be out in a few minutes," he said shortly, and waved her away. He waited until the door had closed behind the woman and then uncovered the receiver again. "It was the cleaning woman—but damn it! It could have been anyone."
"So call from a phone booth instead of your office," Barney said calmly. "You called me, I didn't call you."
"And you'd better not! I could get in a jam just for knowing you, let alone talking to you." That should be the proper tone, he thought with some satisfaction. Just the right amount of outrage combined with just the proper touch of panic.
"Mister," Barney said wearily, "just pay me what you owe me and you won't have to worry about telephone calls from me, to me, or with me." There was a moment's pause. "How's that for a solution? Why don't we try that one for size?"
The listening man abandoned this line of discussion for one that suited his purpose better. "I was saying that I was working on a scheme that can't miss; it'll get me the money I owe you and leave me in the clear. The only thing is, it'll take another month at the least to set it up, and maybe even more. Almost certainly more, but it's dead certain to work. The way the thing works—"
"Don't tell me your ideas," Barney said with no expression in his voice at all. He might have been reading the stock-market reports on the radio, or the weather news. "Don't unburden yourself of your schemes to me. I couldn't care less. Just pay up. And quick."
"I'm trying to tell you you'll get your damned money, but I need a month, damn it! At least a month and probably more!" He tightened his voice calculatingly. "You can't get blood from a stone!"
"I can try," Barney said philosophically. From the tone of his voice the listening man could imagine the other calmly inspecting his fingernails. "Of course, the stone don't look quite the same afterwards ..." There was a brief pause; then Barney sighed deeply, as if surprised at his own softheartedness, at the decision to relent a bit. "All right—I'll go along. You got one month to come through with the dough."
"I said at least a month and probably more. I—"
"One month," Barney said with cold finality. "Thirty days. From today." He paused again. "This is the twenty-ninth of November—on the twenty-ninth of December I want you here. With the dough. I don't want to have to go out looking for you. So for your sake I hope your scheme works."
"Don't worry, it'll work. I—"
The sound of the dial tone cut into his words; Barney had quietly hung up on him. For a moment the man held the receiver in his hand, staring at the instrument without actually seeing it, reviewing the conversation in his mind, listening again to the words and the hidden nuances, and then he leaned forward and carefully replaced the receiver on its hook. He swiveled his chair slowly, glancing at the papers on his desk, at the heat calendar pad, at the expensive desk set with its slim black pen and pencil waiting alertly for use, leaning forward a bit, eagerly, from the dark onyx slab in which they were embedded. The corners of burnished mahogany that relieved the dark green expanse of blotter glistened under the oblique light from the fluorescent desk lamp.
He smiled, congratulating himself.
His thick muscular hand touched the desk top for purchase as he swung his large leather-upholstered chair in a wider arc. The high view of the fantastic city greeted his new position, unfolding through the blurred focus of the broad glass window framed in the long folds of the open drapes. The snow of the season's first fall drifted past, aimless and peaceful, blanketing the rooftops of lesser buildings in the distance, tipping the sills of darkened windows across the way with soft white edging, muffling the red taillights of automobiles creeping their tortuous way through the canyon floors of the city below. In the greater distance taller buildings thrust themselves through the black of the night, glittering with rows and rows of little windows, tiny lit dominoes laid side by side.
He smiled again, a broader smile this time, his triumph at last allowing itself to be savored, to lessen some of his inner tension, to ease some of the lines of tautness from his face. Not all of the story I told you was a lie, Barney, he said softly to himself. The scheme exists and there isn't any doubt at all but that it will work. And will be finished and done within a month—well within a month. The fiction of the extra time was necessary, though, because you might make me trouble in your anxiety to collect, and right now the last thing I want is trouble. This way, for a month at least I don't have to worry about you, Barney—and after that I won't have to worry about you either. Thank you for the month, Barney, and thank you for wishing me success with the scheme.
I'll drink to that, Barney, he thought with a sudden grin, mentally filling a glass and raising it to his lips. Though this plan can't really miss, since I have all the strings in my hand. Oh, yes, it will work, Barney, and it will produce a lot more than the hundred thousand dollars you seem to be so worried about. And without risk, Barney—without risk! Can you say as much about your crap games? With the possibility of loss, or police raids, or—perish the thought—bad debts? No, Barney, my way to make money is a lot better than yours. My scheme will work However, Barney, the only question is this: Will you ever see one thin dime of the money it will bring in? One red cent?
Dubious, he said to his reflection grinning happily back at him from the vague space beyond the window that mirrored his neat office and his own triumphant figure eerily in the glass. Extremely doubtful. This beautiful scheme, Barney, wasn't worked out so cleverly over so long a period just to repay a gambling debt. True, if I hadn't lost the money to you I might have taken the time to polish it a bit, touch up some of the edges, possibly make it more lucrative, and with you on my back I'm being rushed just a bit. But not so much as to hurt, and I'll be quite happy with the results; and you can hardly be surprised, Barney, that under the circumstances I don't feel like handing almost half of it over to you. You can understand that, can't you, Barney? You must be able to see that....
The snowflakes fell past him softly, a misty curtain through which he carried out the drama of his plan to the end. Palm trees swayed in his mind, tall majestic shafts fronting a wide stretch of warm sand, and the glaring rays of a friendly sun glinted from the tips of rolling blue tropical waves. And blood, of course—that was a shame, but unfortunately a part of it all. He brushed aside the thought of the blood and returned to his dream. I wonder if Brazil is as beautiful as they say it is? he thought, and then shrugged. Brazil plays the smallest part in the plan—a walk-on bit, you might say. The trip there is necessary, vital to the scheme, but actually the briefest of the many stops this plan requires. The United States is the only place to live, especially with money in one's pocket; a pity that New York has to be ruled out, but one can't have everything....
He sighed happily and bent over his desk, putting his papers neatly away in folders, and stacking them into the side drawer of the desk. There was another rap on the door. Once again the cleaning woman stuck her head in, peering at him questioningly in a combination of query and unspoken complaint. He locked the drawer and smiled, bowing as low as his position at the desk would allow.
"Any time, madam," he said gallantly, happily, and pulled himself easily to his feet.
Barney Hahn's office, set in a maze of similar cubbyholes on one of the lower floors in a sagging, shabby building a few blocks north of Times Square, had been designed neither for luxury nor permanence. In Barney's business an office was not an essential, since few visitors were ever entertained and fewer records kept. However, it did provide room for a safe, which was a necessity since a large amount of cash flowed through Barney's hands, and it also gave him a place from which to make and receive private and confidential telephone calls—such as the one he had just completed. This was necessary since his wife insisted, for the children's sake, that he keep his occupation completely divorced from his home life, especially since the children were at an age when they were most impressionable. A third and possibly greatest advantage of the office was that it provided him with ostensible legitimacy, if one were to believe the B-H COLLECTION AGENCY stenciled in chipped black paint on the frosted glass of the door. It was a poor conceit, fortunately never challenged, designed to answer any questions curious police were often prompted to ask of people whose living standards far exceeded their visible means of support.
At the moment, facing the dapper little man and sharing in his problem, was his associate, a large slab-faced individual called, for reasons none of his friends had ever cared to question, by the single name of Trenton. Even Barney did not know if the name was a legitimate heritage from his parents, or if it merely stemmed from past residence in the New Jersey city. Nor did he care. Trenton was a useful man, feared by those who had cause to fear him, and a man he could trust. To Barney, this was enough. An added benefit was that Trenton was sufficiently talented as a collector of difficult debts as to almost justify the faded printing of the legend on the door.
Trenton watched Barney, eyes narrowed, push the telephone away from him. The thoughtful frown with which the smaller man continued to contemplate the now silent instrument brought a look of apprehension to the face of the other. He waited for some word from Barney, and when none was forthcoming, cleared his throat and spoke himself. His voice was rasping, harsh.
Barney brought his eyes up slowly. He snapped his fingers and Trenton obediently bent forward; Barney reached across the desk with a small manicured hand and extracted a cigarette from the shirt pocket which gaped invitingly before him. His wife was growing increasingly insistent that he cut down sharply on his smoking—it set a very bad example for the children, and how could he expect her to raise them properly if every time they saw their father he had one of the filthy weeds in his mouth? Trenton flicked a match to life with a big thumbnail, applied the flame to the end of the cigarette, and then waved the match to extinction. His gray eyes were steady on his boss's face.
"A welsh, Barney?"
"I don't know," Barney said slowly. He inhaled deeply, withdrew the cigarette from his lips, and studied the growing ash as if searching for an answer to the question there. "He sounded different on the phone today. Like he was trying to be cute or something. A little—" He shrugged almost apologetically, as if he were somehow at fault for not being able to be more specific. "Well, different. I don't know."
Trenton shook his head decisively. "Well, obviously we ain't going to let him get away with anything," he said in his gravelly voice. "What the hell! One guy works a welsh and gets away with it, you might as well fold shop—might as well go down to the river and try to hit Jersey with them dice. Pretty soon words gets around and everybody figures like it's Liberty Hall. Salvation Army. You can win but you can't lose. Which would be nice, but that ain't the way it is."
Excerpted from Brazilian Sleigh Ride by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1988 estate of Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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