It was Norma Palhares who first steered her new husband toward the offshore oil platforms. At the time, it seemed like a judicious course to follow. In the end, it set their marital ship on the rocks.
Jonas would spend only two days a week at home; but the money was good, and he’d only do it for a year or so, just until they had enough saved up to buy a bigger house. But the kids they’d planned on never came, so they’d never needed that bigger house. And, in the meantime, their expenses just kept going up and up. New cars every year, flat-screen televisions all over the house, imported wines, designer clothing, the most expensive restaurants, the finest club in the city, the best hairdressers. Jonas kept bringing the money in, and Norma kept shoveling it out. A year became two, then three. And by the time the divorce became final, they’d been together for more than seven.
Jonas moved in with a colleague and began to do what he’d wanted to do for quite some time—embrace the good life.
The colleague was another petroleum engineer who had taken a small flat on a busy shopping street in the Leme neighborhood, six blocks from the beach. He, too, had recently separated from his wife and, burdened by child support, would have been happy to have Jonas stay on and help with the rent. But Jonas, who’d managed to conceal a bundle of money from Norma and her lawyer, had no kids and no financial problems. He wanted a place of his own.
He settled first in Santa Teresa, taking a small house with a high wall and a big garden. The house, situated in the highest part of Rio’s highest neighborhood, was conveniently located, less than fifty meters from the nearest streetcar stop. The single-story structure was of just the right size: big enough for Jonas’s needs, but small enough to be maintained without a full-time maid. A cleaning lady, who came in three times a week, kept it tidy.
From his backyard, Jonas could look down on the mouth of the bay. The headlands, seven hundred meters below, were so close to one another that a Portuguese navigator had once, on a long-ago January day, mistaken them for the entrance to a river. It was he who’d given the place a name it would bear forever after: Rio de Janeiro, River of January.
The spectacular view was further enhanced by the Christ Statue up on the Corcovado. The monument, almost forty meters in height, was actually four kilometers away, at almost the same altitude as the house. To Jonas’s visitors, it looked like a copy in miniature set into the recesses of his garden among the banana trees.
It was all very lovely, but the neighborhood’s newest resident soon came to a rude awakening: the charm of Santa Teresa was offset by a lack of security. It had become a dangerous place to visit, and an even more dangerous place to live.
After being held up at the point of a gun three times in nine months, Jonas, frightened and fed up, paid the penalty for canceling his lease and took an apartment in Ipanema.
There, smack-dab in the middle of Avenida Vieira Souto, his terrace faced the brilliant yellow sand of the beach. The South Atlantic was only a hundred meters from his front door. Beyond the curling waves, islands floated on a sea of blue. Farther out, the superstructures of ships dotted the horizon. And on weekends, Jonas was treated to the sight of tiny forms, climbers, scaling the gray walls of the Sugarloaf.
But unlike the house in Santa Teresa, he hadn’t chosen the apartment in Ipanema for the view; he’d chosen it because the neighborhood attracted many visitors and many of them were tourists. The city fathers didn’t like it when tourists were assaulted, so Ipanema was heavily patrolled, not only by the civil police but also by a special battalion dedicated to the protection of tourists. Jonas Palhares was confident that he’d moved to a place of absolute safety.
His confidence was misplaced.
On the fatal day, a little before noon, he was surprised to hear the doorbell ring. It was thirteen days before Christmas, a holiday he’d planned on spending with his widowed mother in Minas Gerais.
Back in November, on his most recent trip to the States, he’d bought presents for her and his sisters. They were wrapped and stacked in a neat pile on his bed, the final items he’d pack. But before leaving for Belo Horizonte, he had work to do. A leak had been reported, an oil slick was staining the sea around platform P-23, and a helicopter was on its way to fetch him.
The pickup point was Santos Dumont, the little airport not twenty minutes away. There’d be no long cab ride to Galeão, and that, at least, was a blessing.
Jonas’s apartment was in a luxury building. Doormen were downstairs to screen visitors. No one should have been allowed to simply board the elevator, show up in front of his door, and ring the bell. But this was Rio, and in Rio one comes to expect such things. Service personnel tend to be lax. The guy charged with announcing his visitors might have dropped down to the bar on the corner for a quick coffee, or more likely a cachaça and a beer. On the other hand, the doorman might be at his post. And, if he was, the person standing outside in the corridor might be his girlfriend,
Chantal. The doorman wouldn’t stop Chantal. He’s used to seeing her come in at all hours.
He went to the door and, without looking through the peephole, jerked it open.
It wasn’t Chantal.
And less than four minutes later, Jonas Palhares’s hopes for an enjoyable future were dashed forever. He was just another statistic, one of Rio de Janeiro’s unsolved homicides.
In the early years of the twentieth century, the small town of Brodowski, in the heart of São Paulo State’s coffee-growing district, was populated almost exclusively by Italian immigrants. They labored on the plantations, maintained their language and customs, married one another, and largely kept to themselves. In the winter months, Ribeirão Prêto, the closest city of any size, could be reached by a single-lane dirt road. But in the springtime, when the rainy season began, the dirt turned to mud, and the mud isolated Brodowski from the world.
A hundred years later, the coffee was gone, replaced by the new century’s more lucrative cash crop: sugarcane. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original residents had been assimilated, the road had long since been paved, and Ribeirão had swollen to more than a million residents.
But one thing hadn’t changed: Brodowski was still a sleepy little town. And yet Brodowski was famous. Famous because it was here, in 1903, that Cândido Portinari had been born. Portinari grew up to be Brazil’s most famous painter. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, his work was selling for hundreds of thousands of reais and gracing the walls of some of the most prestigious art museums in the world.
Then, in late 2005, something else happened to put Brodowski on the map: the famous social psychologist Paulo Cruz bought a house there.
Doctor Cruz’s first book, Trabalhando nos Campos do Senhor (Toiling in the Fields of the Lord), was a weighty tome on Evangelical sects in Brazil. It earned high praise in the world of academe, but the first—and only—printing numbered a mere thousand copies. And more than half of them were pulped.
His second work, released in 1998, under the title Namoro e Noivado (Courtship and Engagement), was a different case altogether. Cruz’s colleagues lamented the lack of scholarship. The critics turned up their noses. The scientific journals panned it. And it went through seven printings in four months, each one bigger than the last. His publishers, attempting to explain the phenomenon to the astonished author, compared Cruz’s work to that of the American Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s.
They were right.
The author’s detractors, almost exclusively professors of sociology and social psychology, ascribed his success to prurient interest. They accused Cruz of titillating his readers under the guise of educating them.
And they, too, were right.
But, after seven printings in four months, there was no stopping Doctor Paulo Cruz. He wrote two more books in quick succession.
O Casamento (Marriage) appeared in 1999, and was re-released in 2000 with a lurid new cover and a new title: Sexualidade no Casamento (Sex within Marriage). Cruz followed it up in 2003 with Sexo e a Familia (Sex and the Family). And that became the biggest hit of all, ultimately translated into thirty-two languages. Cruz’s reputation was made, and he was offered a lucrative sinecure in the psychology department at the University of Ribeirão Prêto, which he accepted.
By 2005, he was traveling the world, delivering—over and over again—variations of the same speech. It was a talk he constantly updated by introducing new and different slides. The slides were of attractive and well-endowed men and women photographed in “scientific” poses.
The professor, required to show his face in a classroom no more than once a week, and not even that if he was away on a speaking engagement, could permit himself to live quite far from the campus. He hit upon Brodowski, selected the house and grounds of a former coffee planter, and settled in as the town’s newest resident. Living in the great house, and playing the lord of the manor, suited Cruz well. So, too, did his domestic arrangements.
He met a young psychology student named Florinda Gomes, who soon became his mistress. Florinda assumed Cruz was going to marry her. In that hope, as with many other things in their life together, she was disappointed. Cruz’s research on male/female relationships in general had convinced him that a fixed union was not for him. He liked feminine companionship, he even liked children, but he didn’t want to have a wife or offspring living with him in the same house, and he certainly didn’t intend to entangle himself in a marriage.
He forbade Florinda to move in. If she had, within a few short years the law would have considered her his common-law wife. But by setting her up in an apartment of her own in downtown Ribeirão Prêto, all she could hope for, should he tire of her, was child support. Officially, and before the law, Professor Paulo Cruz remained a bachelor.
Florinda’s mother, a widow named Eustacia Gomes, lived almost fourteen hundred kilometers to the north, on the island of Itaparica. She visited her daughter infrequently, offering as an excuse that the arthritis in her knees made it difficult to
travel. All of them knew this to be a lie. The truth of the matter was that Eustacia Gomes didn’t like Paulo Cruz.
The island’s sandy beaches and lukewarm seas made it an ideal place for a family vacation. During the summer months, January through March, it seldom rained on Itaparica, and Paulo and Florinda’s three kids, released from the imprisonment of their school back home, were in their element.
That year, taking advantage of the drop in airfares after the Christmas season, Florinda scheduled a visit that was to last a month. Cruz remained behind. He always did. In the absence of his mistress and their brood, he coveted his solitude. The lack of distraction also had a concrete advantage: it would enable him to make significant progress with his next book, a work he’d provisionally titled Sexualidade Entre Doze e Vinte (Sexuality between Twelve and Twenty).
Cruz’s insistence on being left alone while in the throes of creation was well known. Friends and family were aware that they’d meet with a cold reception if they attempted to visit, or even to telephone, at such times.
So his murder remained undiscovered for quite some time. The medical examiner’s estimate was that Professor Paulo Cruz had already been dead eight to ten days before Florinda returned and found him. The local police had no clue as to the motive for the crime, and had no suspects. The rarity of murder in the vicinity of Ribeirão made undertaking a murder investigation difficult for them. It was already being chalked up as the work of a random killer, an unsolvable crime.
Chief Inspector Mario Silva of the Federal Police suppressed a yawn.
He’d been up late the night before, struggling through yet another crisis with his wife, Irene. They were coming up to the anniversary of little Mario’s death, always a bad time of the year.
Then, too, his boss’s urgent summons had come between him and his second jolt of morning caffeine.
Add to those two facts another: an urgent summons from Sampaio was commonplace. Sampaio was an alarmist, a chronic worrier. Most of what he considered urgent turned out not to be urgent at all.
But Silva still had had no choice but to hurry to the office.
It wasn’t until the director of the Brazilian Federal Police dropped his bombshell—“Somebody killed Juan Rivas”— that Silva came instantly and completely awake.
But he was an optimistic man, and he remained hopeful. “Please tell me Juan Rivas is no relation to Jorge Rivas,” Silva said.
Silva’s hope evaporated.
Jorge Rivas was the Venezuelan foreign minister. In the days when he’d been ambassador to Brazil, Rivas had forged links with everyone who mattered in the Brazilian government. The president liked him, and the minister of justice liked him, so it was a sure bet that Nelson Sampaio, ever eager to emulate his superiors, would declare a liking for him as well.
“I like him,” Sampaio said, as if in response to the thought. “He’s a fine man, and a great representative of his country.”
“I see,” Silva said.
What he saw was trouble ahead. The murder of Rivas’s son would be a killing with political implications, the kind of case he hated above all others.
“Tell me the kid wasn’t killed on federal property,” he said.
“The kid, as you choose to call him, was thirty-two years old. And he wasn’t.”
Sampaio shook his head. “The murder took place in his apartment.”
Silva sat back in relief. “Then it’s a concern of the civil police. We’re out of it.”
“Don’t kid yourself. You think we can hide behind our mandate? Mandates don’t mean squat if I get a direct order from Pontes.”
“You got a direct order?” Silva felt a headache coming on.
“Any time now. A call is coming. You can bet your ass on it.”
When Sampaio predicted a call from the minister of justice, Silva didn’t doubt him. The director was never wrong about the machinations of Brazil’s federal bureaucracy.
“Now, in case the seriousness of this situation isn’t clear to you,” Sampaio said, “let me spell it out: no one gets to be foreign minister of Venezuela without being a buddy of the clown who runs the country. And nobody in this government wants to get on the wrong side of The Clown. This isn’t just a murder, Mario; it’s a major political incident.”
“Because of the oil,” Silva said.
“Of course it’s because of the oil. What else? You think the president shows up in all those pictures hugging The Clown because he likes The Clown?”
A green light started flashing on Sampaio’s telephone. He punched a button and picked up the receiver.
“It’s him?” he asked.
Ana, in the outer office, said something Silva couldn’t quite hear. Sampaio grunted and punched another button.
“Good morning, Minister,” he said, morphing, in a flash, from querulous superior into solicitous subordinate. But then his smile turned to a scowl. “Yes, yes,” he said rudely, “put him on.”
A second passed. The smile returned.
Silva couldn’t hear what was being said, but the gravelly voice and the imperious tone were unmistakable. It was Pontes, all right. The director, sycophant that he was, sat listening to the minister as if he was hearing the Voice of God.
After almost a full minute’s harangue, Pontes stopped to draw breath.
Sampaio leaped into the breach. “I have to tell you, Minister,” he said, “that I’m truly shocked.” His voice, if not his expression, carried complete conviction. “I’ve just arrived at the office. This is the first I’ve heard of this.” Sampaio was a consummate liar, a fact he didn’t bother to conceal from his subordinates. “His apartment, you say?”
The minister droned on. Like Sampaio, he’d rather talk than listen.
“I’ll give it first priority,” Sampaio said when the droning stopped, “and put my best man on the case.” Sampaio didn’t mention Silva by name. He never did. “And I’ll go there personally to give impetus to the investigation. Give me an hour or two, and I’ll call you with a firsthand report.”
Sampaio seldom missed an opportunity to rub shoulders with the Great and Powerful, even if the shoulder rubbing was only via telephone.
The minister dealt out more advice, this time about ten seconds’ worth.
“Yes, Minister. Of course, Minister. Goodbye, Minister.”
Sampaio’s scowl was back before the telephone hit the cradle.
“You’ll do the grunt work, of course,” he said to Silva without missing a beat, “but I’ll be giving you my full support. You have my cell number. If you need advice, feel free to call, twenty-four seven.”
Silva let his eyes drift to the window. A cloud, harbinger of an oncoming storm, was just emerging from behind the Ministry of Culture.
“Ana has the address,” Sampaio concluded. “We’ll go separately.”
He stood and went into his private bathroom. The audience was over.
In the outer office, Ana Tavares, Sampaio’s long-suffering personal assistant, was extending a sheet of paper.
“Crime-scene address,” she said. “I called Arnaldo. He’s on his way to your office.”
“Thanks, Ana. Efficient as always.”
She ignored the compliment.
“Mind if I ask you a question?”
“You can ask,” she said. “I may not answer.”
“Do you always make Sampaio jump through hoops, make him talk to the minister’s secretary first? I can’t recall a single occasion—”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ana Tavares said.
Excerpted from Every Bitter Thing by Leighton Gage. Copyright © 2011 by Leighton Gage. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.