SOMETHING TOOK THE HELICOPTER and shook it like
a jackal worrying a carcass. The bishop gripped the aluminum
supports on either side of his seat and hung on for dear life.
“Clear air turbulence,” the pilot observed laconically, and
resumed chewing his gum.
“Merda!” the bishop muttered. He regretted the vulgarity
as soon as he’d said it.
“What’s that, Your Excellency?”
The bishop’s eyes darted to his right. In his fear and discomfort,
he’d forgotten the microphones, forgotten the
headphones, forgotten that the man could hear every word
And what if he had? Was it not true? Was the helicopter not a
merda, a great stinking, steaming merda? And who was the pilot,
anyway? What had he ever done in his blessed life other than to
learn how to fly the merda? How dare he criticize a man who might,
God willing, be a future prince of the Church?
The pilot, whose name was Julio, and who wasn’t criticizing
anyone, had been distracted by a flock of vultures wheeling
in graceful curves over the approaching river. He honestly
hadn’t heard what the bishop had said. He opened his mouth
to repeat the question, then shut it again when he saw the
cleric’s mouth set into a thin line.
Julio had a paunch, sweat stains under the arms of his
khaki shirt, and a habit of chewing gum with his mouth open,
all of which Dom Felipe Antunes, the Bishop of Presidente
Vargas, found distasteful. But it was nothing in comparison
to Dom Felipe’s distaste for the helicopter.
The bishop glanced at his watch, wiped his sweaty palms
on his silk cassock, and resumed a death grip on the aluminum
Forty-seven blessed minutes in the air. Forty-seven minutes.
“It won’t be long now, Your Excellency.”
Was that amusement in the man’s voice? Was he enjoying himself?
Did he think fear was funny?
On the floor beneath Dom Felipe’s feet there was a thin (he
was sure it was thin) window of Plexiglas. He tried to avoid
looking down, but some perverse instinct kept drawing his
eyes back to that dreadful hole in the floor. They were over the
river now, sand bars protruding through chocolate-colored
foam. The sand looked as hard as the rock-strewn banks.
Do helicopters float?
A rowboat drifted in mid-river, two fishermen aboard, a
huge net piled high between them. They looked up at him,
shielding their eyes against the morning sun. One waved.
Reflexively, Dom Felipe waved back. Then a flash, like
the strobe on a camera, caused him to snap his head upward
and seek the source of the light.
Far ahead of him, beyond the bug-flecked windshield, the
flash came again. He squinted and . . . yes, there it was.
Sunlight of an almost blinding intensity reflected off an
expanse of glass. It couldn’t be anything other than the
Great Window. And that meant that the brand-new church
of Nossa Senhora dos Milagres was in sight.
The window was almost five meters in diameter and had
come all the way from the Venetian island of Murano at a
cost of almost 200,000 reais, not including the shipping,
which, together with the insurance, had amounted to
R$30,000 more. When the sun hit it just right—as it was
doing now—the window would cast rays of glorious blue
light all along the nave of the new church.
Dom Felipe made a conscious effort to hold that image,
focusing on the blue light, as if it were a meditation. But
then the pitch of the engine changed, dragging him back
into his dreadful reality.
The Lord is my shepherd. . . .
A landing spot had been marked out: a Christian cross in
stones the size of golf balls, and just as white. A rectangle of
sere grass surrounded it, hemmed by dusty palm trees. Yellow
plastic tape ran from tree to tree, holding back the crowd.
Men in the gray uniforms of the State Police were stationed
at intervals along the length of the tape, their backs to the
cross, keeping the landing area clear.
The crowd started moving like a living thing. Signs of
welcome were raised. Others, already aloft, were turned to
face the approaching helicopter. White and brown faces
looked upward. And there were banners, too.
Dom Felipe bit his lip in vexation. The banners were red,
blood red, the unmistakable standards of the Landless Workers’
League. The league seldom missed an opportunity—no matter
how inappropriate—to turn a gathering into a political
event. The bishop knew that. Still, he’d been hopeful that,
in this case, the consecration of the new church . . .
There was the slightest of jolts as the helicopter’s skids
met the grass.
It’s over! Hail Mary, full of grace. . . . Never again.
Julio pulled a lever and threw a switch. The engine died.
Above the swish of air from the still-spinning rotor blades
Dom Felipe could hear, for the first time, the cheers of the
crowd. He took off his headset, handed it to the pilot, and
raised his right hand in benediction.
Insolently, the red banners waved back at him.
Dom Felipe suppressed an uncharitable thought and bent
over to retrieve his miter, untangling the lappets before placing
it on his head. Then he composed his features into a
beatific smile and waited for the pilot to open his door.
Julio, unaccustomed to ferrying bishops, finally seemed to
realize what was expected of him. He removed his headset,
skirted the nose of the aircraft, and reached Dom Felipe’s
side just as the bishop opened the door himself.
Dom Felipe waved off the pilot’s offered hand, put his feet
on solid ground, and started searching the crowd for the face
of his secretary, Father Francisco, the man who’d hatched
the helicopter plot.
If Francisco thinks I’m going back to Presidente Vargas the
same way he got me here, he’s got another think coming. I’ll
return by car, he’ll have to find one, and it had better be one with
Francisco was nowhere in sight, but Gaspar Farias was.
Dom Felipe could clearly see his corpulent body, wrapped in
a black cassock, standing in the shadow of the vestibule.
Involuntarily, the bishop scowled.
A choir of adolescents dressed in identical cotton robes
was standing against the tape, a rectangle of blue in the multicolored
collage that made up the crowd. The children were
close enough to read the bishop’s scowl and seemed to be
puzzled by it.
With the skill born of practice, Dom Felipe forced a smile
onto his lips. The youngsters’ puzzlement vanished, replaced
by beams of welcome. A woman in an identical robe, her back
to the bishop, her face toward her charges, started to wave her
arms and the children broke into song, their young voices
murdering the English words, “Why do the nations . . .”
Handel? A Protestant? Who in the world chose that?
Dom Felipe raised his hand in another benediction and
silently mouthed words of thanks, conserving his voice for
the sermon and for the all-important interviews that were
sure to follow.
It was the dry season and, to make it worse, a great deal of
construction was going on. From the air, the city of Cascatas
do Pontal had seemed to be covered by a dome of red dust.
He could feel some of that dust right now, abrading his neck
where it met his collar, coating his lips, working its way into
his throat. He’d need a carafe of water on the pulpit.
Francisco could take care of that. Not Gaspar. Dom Felipe
didn’t want anything from Gaspar, didn’t even want to talk
The bishop shifted his body to face another sector of the
crowd and raised his arm. His silk sleeve slid downward, just
enough to expose his watch. A practiced flick of his eyes
confirmed that he wasn’t early. He was a stylish seven minutes
So where is the blessed reception committee?
He didn’t want to stand there looking like a fool, so he
folded his hands under his chin, bowed his head, and offered
In recognizance of the solemn moment, the singing faded,
and then stopped. The cheering abated. Dom Felipe kept his
head down, and his eyes closed, until he heard the rustle of
people working their way through the crowd. Then he lifted
his head and unclasped his hands. Immediately the cheers
erupted anew, and the singing started all over again, right
from the beginning of the piece.
One of the policemen grasped a segment of the yellow
crowd tape and held it shoulder high. One by one, the members
of the reception party slipped under it, seven men in all,
and started crossing the empty space toward him.
Cascatas do Pontal was an agricultural town, an informal
place. The jackets and ties the men were wearing all looked
new. Despite the welcoming smiles they’d plastered on their
faces, the local dignitaries looked uncomfortable. All seven
of them were red-faced and sweating in the heat.
The bishop took an impulsive step toward them, and then
They’ll think it more dignified if I let them come to me.
It was the last decision of Dom Felipe’s life.
WALTER ABENDTHALER snapped off another shot with
the Pentax, advanced the film and reached for the motordriven
Nikon. Some of his contemporaries liked the digital
gear, and all of the kids used it, but not Walter. Walter preferred
film. He was an old-fashioned kind of guy.
Maybe too old-fashioned; at least that’s what the agency
art directors were telling him these days. A few lines on your
face, a little gray in your hair, and they all thought you were
over the hill.
Scheisse! Why didn’t they concentrate on his portfolio
instead? His pictures clearly demonstrated that he had a better
eye for angles than most of the young punks now getting
into the business. But did they appreciate that? No, they didn’t.
Instead of focusing on his pictures, art directors had a tendency
to focus on his gray hair.
Walter would have been willing to bet good money—
something he happened to be short of at the moment, or he
wouldn’t have been in Cascatas at all—that not one of
those overestimated punk kids, not even that Scheisskerl
Chico Ramos, would have had the foresight to do what he’d
He was on the church steps, almost in the vestibule, just
below Gaspar Farias, the crow that ran the parish. (The
black soutanes priests wore always reminded Walter of crows
so that’s what he called them.) That put Walter seventy-five
meters from the helicopter, maybe even a little more, but
that was the beauty of it, the action of a man who knew his
business. The punk kids always tried to get in close, instead
of letting the lens do it for them. And now, while they were
all down there in the crush elbowing each other out of the
way, Walter had a spot all to himself, high above the heads
of the crowd. There was nothing, nothing at all, between
him and the Chief Crow. He had an unimpeded view.
Exactly as he’d forseen, Walter’s medium-length telephoto,
the 300mm, was the perfect lens for the job. His frame ran
from slightly below the knees to the tip of the bishop’s miter.
Walter hit and released the shutter button. The Nikon
clicked and whirred.
Ha! Gotcha sneaking a peek at your watch.
He’d save that one, maybe blow it up and put it in his portfolio.
They’d never print it. Then it got boring: His Crowness
bowed his head, concealing his face under his funny hat, and
stood there for a long time doing absolutely nothing.
Walter didn’t bother to waste any film.
At last the head came up and the kids started singing again,
their high voices carrying well over the murmur of the crowd.
Walter knew the music, a passage from the Messiah, and
he hummed along, pleased with himself.
The bishop took a few steps forward and stopped.
Just to the cleric’s left, Walter had the logotype, the whole
logotype, solidly in the shot. The telephoto altered the perspective,
brought the background closer, made the logo look
even bigger than it was. The client would love it.
Love it, because Walter’s assignment wasn’t to register the
arrival of the bishop. It was to register the link between the
Church and Fertilbras, Brazil’s largest manufacturer of fertilizer.
Providing this day’s transportation was a publicrelations
ploy for the company. Running the chopper cost
them 1,800 reais an hour, and they intended to get their
money’s worth by making sure that Walter’s photos, the
ultimate selection of which would be made by Fertilbras’s
chairman himself, appeared in every newspaper in the
state of São Paulo. Or at least in those newspapers where
Fertilbras’s advertising budget gave them leverage with the
In one of his sarcastic moments, of which there were
many, Walter, no Catholic, had commented to his wife,
Magda, that there was a similarity between what the
Catholic Church and his client offered to the public. Magda
hadn’t laughed, so he’d had to explain: “The Church peddles
bullshit, another form of fertilizer. Get it?” She still hadn’t
laughed. Magda was from Zurich and had the same sense of
humor as her parents: none at all.
The Chief Crow had turned out to be as handsome in the
flesh as he was in the photos Walter had seen. Dom Felipe
was still young, well under sixty, but his abundant, carefully
coifed hair was already a snowy white.
Colored, for sure. His eyebrows are still dark.
Unfortunately, the 300mm didn’t bring Dom Felipe close
enough to display the blue eyes that women were prone to
gush about. Walter hoped for better luck when the bishop
got his act together and moved toward him.
The guy’s got charisma, I’ll give him that. Looks like he has a
poker up his ass. Stands more like a soldier than a priest.
Walter momentarily took the viewfinder away from his
eye and glanced at the film counter.
Six. Thirty shots left on the roll.
He switched off the automatic focus and made a minor
A cloud slipped between Walter’s subjects and the sun.
He had to open up. One, no, two stops. Two whole stops!
Scheisse! It was playing hell with his depth of field. If the
bishop moved any further away from the background,
Walter was going to have to choose between staying sharp
on either the man or the logotype. And that was, as the
English put it, Hobson’s choice: no goddamned choice at
all. Unless the sun came back from behind that fucking
cloud, the link he was supposed to capture would be gone,
and he’d have one unhappy client.
Walter saw blurry movement on the bottom left of his
frame. He lowered the camera to check it out, and then
clapped the viewfinder back to his eye.
The reception committee.
He left the focus where it was. The group was getting
sharper and sharper as it approached the bishop. Then one
of them stepped right between Walter and the logotype.
In a spasm of anger, Walter pressed the shutter.
A fraction of a second later, a hole appeared in the front
of Dom Felipe’s cassock.
The shutter stayed open long enough to register both the
entry wound and the red mist that spurted into the air
behind the bishop’s back.
A less-experienced man, one of those young punks, might
have started looking around to see where the shot had come
from. But not Walter Abendthaler.
Walter, old pro that he was, kept his finger on the shutter
button. The motor drive kept advancing. The shutter opened
and closed, opened and closed, capturing shot after shot.
In successive frames, the bishop took a step backward,
looked down at his chest, sunk to his knees, and pitched forward
onto the ground. And then, in the very last exposure
before the film ran out, the top of his head seemed to explode.
The crowd was horrified.
Walter Abendthaler was ecstatic. He was damned near positive
he’d captured the very moment of the bullet’s impact.
Excerpted from Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage. Copyright © 2012 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.