Chico Xavier needs cash. His father has cut off his allowance, and for a university student with expensive taste—and an even more expensive girlfriend—this is a death sentence. And so he and his friends arrange to kidnap one of their school chums: a fellow dilettante who lets himself be taken in exchange for a cut of the ransom. Two days of criminal behavior, Chico thinks, and they’ll all live happily ever after—or die in the Rio sand.
To store the victim of their faked kidnapping, Chico’s girlfriend pays a taxi driver for the use of his house. But the driver is no ordinary cabbie—he is Captain José Da Silva of Interpol. He can’t tell if Chico’s scheme will turn out to be tragedy or farce, and so he plays along, hoping to save the kidnappers from themselves.
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
The Xavier Affair
A Captain José da Silva Mystery
By Robert L. Fish
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1969 Robert L. Fish
All rights reserved.
To the funereal urubú pivoting silently in the thin, mile-high morning air above the twisting green fairways of the Gavea Golf and Country Club, the only visible thing of interest in the peaceful scene lay in the still form of a dead animal its beaded, unblinking eyes had miraculously discerned, flung to one side of the narrow driveway far below. A rabbit or a small dog, it surmised, victim of hunger, brutality, or a careening car. It wheeled lower and lower still, verifying its find, and then swooped. Competition in that particular area, while not excessive at that early hour of dawn, still existed.
It dropped like a plummet and then suddenly extended its black wings to their fullest rigid spread, braking, the clawed talons hooked slightly to cushion the landing. Its wings flapped gently to settle it next to its prey. Then, with a startled hiss, it scrambled back, managing to get airborne again just in time to avoid joining the stiff-legged corpse in death. A car had swung recklessly into the club grounds entrance, moving at a suicidal rate, skidding on the sharp turn and the loose stones, narrowly missing the urubú and the carrion. The hook-beaked scavenger settled down again, its fright fading fast in anticipation of the succulent meal, still warm, before it.
The car straightened from its slew under expert control, accelerated madly down the short gravel driveway with its twin exhausts roaring, and then was forced to brake suddenly to avoid collision with the clubhouse itself. It skidded to a halt in a cloud of dust, its wheels nudging the low step to the clubhouse porch. Its driver, Ricardo Caravelas, was a dour young man with an expressionless face, a pronounced widow's peak of pitch-black hair, thin cheeks, thin lips, a thin moustache beneath a thin nose, and eyes which were strangely hooded in the manner of the bird he had so nearly struck. He checked his wristwatch, scowled, and opened the door of the car, sliding out. With a bitter set to his thin lips to indicate his disfavor with the earliness of the hour, he marched inside the main entrance of the club. The angled staircase leading to the second floor was taken two treads at a time; he tramped across the shadowed lounge, skirting covered sofas and chairs, passing the empty bandstand, emerging finally onto the wide veranda.
He twisted his head, glancing down the length of the railed porch, and nodded, his jaw tight. His old friend and fellow student at the university, Chico Xavier, was slouched in a wicker chair, watching him with a faint smile on his face. Chico—or Francisco Pedro Domingos Sá Xavier, Jr., to give him the full benefit of the name his family had worked so hard and so long to accumulate—was a handsome, rather slender young man in his early twenties who, when standing rather than slumping in a chair, was a bit over six feet in height. His features were regular, almost feminine in their symmetry; his forehead was high, his eyes black and limpid against his olive skin. Contrary to the custom for Brazilians his age, he managed without a moustache, and at the moment there was a slightly petulant twist to the smile he presented for Ricardo's benefit. Petulance, however, was a characteristic of Chico's that Ricardo was quite familiar with, nor did he allow it to deter him from his irritation. He marched down the porch and stood over his friend. Chico nodded.
Ricardo stared down a moment, dragged a chair around and dropped into it. He drew a package of cigarettes from a pocket, lit one, and tossed the remainder down on the table.
"I hope you have a damned good reason for getting me out of bed at this hour," he said. His voice was harsh, but this, at least, could not be laid to his barely controlled anger. Ricardo's voice had always been harsh. "Especially on the last day of between-term holidays." He glared over the railing at the quiet pool below and somehow seemed to find fuel for his annoyance in its very desertion. "And if you had to see me, why here? Not only is Gavea at this hour undoubtedly the most isolated, Godforsaken spot in the world, but from your house to mine is about two blocks. Why not at one of them?"
"Because what I want to talk about is personal," Chico said calmly, quite accustomed to Ricardo's moods. "And confidential. I didn't want parents or servants listening in."
"And the only hour you can be confidential is seven in the morning?"
"Time's running out," Chico said evenly. "I haven't had a chance before; you've been up at Petrópolis on vacation. And, as you say, at seven in the morning Gavea is nicely deserted—"
A more important thought occurred to Ricardo. He came to his feet.
"Let's hope it isn't too deserted, even at this ungodly hour," he said half to himself, walked to the end of the porch, and pushed through the door leading to the main bar. A moment later he returned, nodding. While still not smiling, his scowl, at least, had abated somewhat. "Thank God for late parties! They had one last night, and a couple of the waiters had to come in early to clean up. I just ordered a double gin-tonic. How about you?"
Chico shook his head. Ricardo sat down again, took one final drag on his cigarette, and flipped it over the rail. It hissed itself out in the still waters of the pool. "And don't give me any lectures about drinking at this hour. I get enough of them at home. And if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be drinking at this hour. I'd be home, sleeping."
"I didn't say a word." Chico smiled to himself. Ricardo's apparent toughness had ceased to intimidate him years before, when they were still small children living near each other. He knew Ricky like a book; now he needed Ricky to play a part in a scheme he had, and he knew he'd get him. The smaller man just liked to play tough first.
The waiter delivered the drink, accepted Chico's negative shake of the head, took the signed chit from Ricardo, and disappeared. The smaller man raised his glass in a gesture of a toast.
"First one today...."
Chico smiled, waiting. With Ricky, the formula was always the same. The glass was now brought to the lips and held there momentarily.
"Here's to crime."
Chico cleared his throat slightly; he even managed a slight frown for the other's contemplation. "It's odd you should say that."
Ricardo set the glass down and looked across the table. "What's odd about it? I always say it."
"I know, but it's still odd you should drink to crime today. Because that's what I wanted to talk to you about: about a crime." Chico smiled encouragingly. "How would you like to have some fun?"
Ricardo's eyes narrowed slightly. Chico's ideas of fun had cost them enough whippings when they were children, and had almost caused them to be expelled from the university twice. Still, in general, they usually suffered far less than the victims of their fun.
"What's your idea of fun this morning?"
"I told you. A crime. A kidnapping." He grinned. "If you want to call that a crime."
Ricardo stared. Chico, despite the lightness of tone, sounded quite serious. Their escapades in the past had always managed in the end to be excused by parents and somehow squared with the police, and an occasional payment to anyone who had suffered from their animal high spirits usually resolved any animosity from that direction. But kidnapping? A bit different from ganging up on someone or tossing someone into a sewage canal, or drag-racing through evening traffic, or abandoning some stupid girls miles from town without their shoes. He decided to take a light approach.
"Do I wish to call kidnapping a crime? Well, considering we're both in our last year of law at the university, it would be a pretty sad commentary on our education if we called it anything else." Despite himself, the lightness had not come off. "Are you serious?"
"Of course I'm serious."
"But why? I mean, why would you get involved in anything like that?"
Chico looked at him with no expression on his face at all.
"For money, of course," he said quite simply.
Ricardo stared. It was the last answer in the world he expected. He picked up his glass, drained it, and set it down, all without taking his eyes from Chico's face.
"How does it happen you need money? According to the latest figures in Visão, I believe your family—which is to say, your father—now rates fourth wealthiest in Brazil. Or is it third?" He could not help the slight touch of jealousy in his tone. His own family was rich, but nothing like the Xaviers. "Remember, you said you were serious."
"I am serious." Chico leaned back in his chair, his smile gone. "You have to remember a few things. You've had money in your family for generations. It came from the land, and like all the old families, you've gotten used to it. Well, it's different in my family. My father's a so-called self-made man. He thinks respect for money is a good thing."
"And you don't?"
"Of course I do." Chico smiled faintly. "In order to respect it, though, you've got to know what it looks like. You've got to get your hands on some. And my father doesn't believe in going that far."
"Tough," Ricardo said. He couldn't control his sarcasm. "You've got charge accounts all over town, and an allowance that could probably keep a family of ten in luxury." He abandoned that line as being unproductive. "Even if you have to raise some money, why kidnapping? There's got to be some way a lot less dangerous."
"Not less dangerous than this one," Chico said, his grin returning. "This one is going to be a setup." He winked across the table. "In this one, the victim is going to cooperate with us."
There was a moment's silence as Ricardo slowly digested both the words and the tone of Chico's pronouncement. A sudden thought came to him that would explain both; it was a thought he didn't like. He raised one hand abruptly.
"One moment," he said slowly. The harshness of his voice increased. "Just in case you've got me picked to be the victim in this little bit of fun, forget it! To begin with, the Caravelas family fortune is a lot less than you seem to think. In the second place, it happens to be entailed, which means—as you'd know if you ever studied—that the capital has to be passed on, and not spent. And lastly, of course, I doubt they'd waste any part of the income from it to get me back."
Chico's grin had not flagged.
"I've got a lot better victim than you picked out. Someone who's more than willing to work with us, and someone whose family has all the money we need and plenty to spare."
"Who is he?"
"You'll find out when and if you come in with us."
"Us?" Ricardo frowned. "You mean there are more involved?" A sudden thought struck him. "Is Romana one of the 'us'?"
"Of course. In fact—" Chico suddenly closed his mouth.
Ricardo's eyes narrowed; the warm feeling the liquor had given him suddenly disappeared. "In fact, what? In fact it was her idea?"
"It wasn't her idea. It was mine."
"Sure." Ricardo snorted. "It was your idea, only she gave it to you." He shook his head. "Why do you want to get involved in some crazy scheme just because of her? Just because of some girl?"
Chico was stung. "And since when don't you like girls?"
"I like girls, but if I didn't it would be because Romana happens to be a sample."
Chico had no intention of allowing the discussion to degenerate into an argument about Romana. "You never liked Romana, so why don't we leave her out of the discussion?"
"Leave her out? How? You just said she was in." He shook his head. "And you're right that I never liked her. I don't trust her. Who is she? Where did she come from? Who are her family?"
"What difference does that make?"
Ricardo didn't press the issue. "I'm merely trying to point out that one fine day you happen to meet your mysterious Dona Romana Vilares—she tripped over her own feet in front of you and you helped her up, as I recall the story—or something like that—and the next thing you're madly in love with her. And shortly after that you suddenly come up with this mad scheme for extortion—because that's what it is, if your victim goes along or not—and that bright idea was given you by darling Romana, and don't try to deny it!"
Chico smiled at the other's vehemence.
"It really doesn't matter whose idea it was. It's a damned good idea, and Humberto thinks so, too."
Ricardo stared at him, speechless for a moment.
"Humberto?" His voice became curious. "No more? Are you sure you wouldn't like to put an ad in tomorrow's Diário de Notícias? 'Wanted: helpers on a small matter of kidnapping cum extortion. Low pay, high risk. Line forms on the left.'" He stared at Chico sardonically. "I don't like to criticize a future master criminal, but I thought it was generally conceded that the fewer people involved in a crime the better. You don't seem to agree. Why?"
"Because I have a plan," Chico said. He smiled pleasantly. "In that plan, each person has a job to do. One job, no more. In that way nobody can connect things up. Each action is independent. Understand? Unfortunately," he added with a touch of sadness, "knowing the family of the victim, I'm afraid it's a waste of a good scheme."
"And you won't tell me who it is?"
"Not unless you are definitely in it with us."
"Will you at least tell me why this victim of yours is willing to go along with you? Why he'll cooperate?"
"Because he also likes money," Chico explained. "There's another reason, too—he hates his family."
"I see," Ricardo said slowly, and looked up. "And just how much does he hate his family? Moneywise, I mean?"
"Half a million dollars, American."
There were a few moments of silence; then Ricardo took a deep breath. This was far from the fun and games of their earlier days; this was the kind of fun that led to more trouble than anyone in his right mind would look for. Still, Chico appeared uncommonly assured. Half a million dollars....
"Who has that much money?"
"Our victim's family," Chico said, and glanced at his watch. "Humberto and Romana ought to be here pretty soon. You're going to have to make up your mind if you're in or out."
"And how's this half million to be split?"
"You'll get one hundred thousand dollars." Chico looked at him calmly. "Not a bad amount to start life with, even with a university degree. And a family that's well off."
"And what would I have to do?"
"I'll tell you when you decide."
"No." This was a little too much! "How can I decide if I don't know?"
It was a legitimate question, and Chico was fair enough to recognize it. "You do the thing you do best," he explained quietly. "You drive a car. In the course of which you also pick up the money."
"Great!" Ricardo snorted. "That's probably the most dangerous—"
Chico's raised hand cut off the complaint. "You're wrong. It's the easiest part. If you say you're in, I'll tell you about it. Otherwise—" He spread his hands apologetically, and then smiled. "Really, you know, if kidnapping custom didn't dictate that the means of paying off a ransom note had to be all involved and complicated, I'd simply have the money mailed to General Delivery. There's absolutely no danger at all. It's—" He suddenly held up his hand again, commanding silence; there had been the sound of footsteps from the lounge. He swung about, started to nod, and then frowned. "Humberto—where's Romana?"
Humberto Maciel, a year younger than the other two, stepped out onto the porch. He was a huge boy with very small eyes; his heavy cheeks were already glistening with sweat from the growing heat of the mid-January day. His clothes seemed to have been forced over his thick thighs; his sport shirt was open at the throat, showing his massive chest and ropy neck muscles. He leaned over, helping himself to a cigarette from the pack on the table.
"Romana? She called me. She said—" He paused, tilting his large head in Ricardo's direction.
Chico nodded. "You can talk. He knows. What did she say?"
Humberto lit the cigarette and dragged around a chair. The wicker squeaked under his weight.
"She said she was going ahead with her part of the scheme this morning. She said you didn't really need her here and there wasn't any point in wasting time. She said she'd call you this afternoon to arrange meeting all of us tonight." He thought a moment. "Oh, yes. She said if she had any luck today, maybe we could pull it tomorrow." He took a deep drag on his cigarette and tipped his head in Ricardo's direction. "Is he in?"
Excerpted from The Xavier Affair by Robert L. Fish. Copyright © 1969 Robert L. Fish. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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