In a jungle outside of São Paulo a number of bodies are discovered in a mass grave. Silva and his colleagues investigate. The motive for the crimes is totally contemporary and totally chilling.
Leighton gives an overview of the book:
“What’s this crap Ana handed me?”
Nelson Sampaio raised his jaw and looked pugnaciously at Mario Silva. Sampaio was the Director of the Brazilian Federal Police. Ana was his long-suffering personal assistant. What he was referring to as crap was a request for two round-trip airline tickets, Brasilia/São Paulo/Brasilia.
Ana had served five directors in succession, one more than Silva, and averred that Nelson Sampaio was the worst of the lot. The director was a pink-faced, prematurely balding man with suspicious blue eyes. Mostly, they were enlarged by spectacles, but this morning he was trying out a new set of contact lenses. He kept blinking at Silva, while his hand remained splayed over the form in front of him. The two men, Silva and Sampaio, were on opposite sides of Sampaio’s desk in his spacious office in Brasilia, the nation’s capital.
Everything in the room had been chosen with an eye to making a statement: The national flag demonstrated Sampaio’s patriotism; the portrait of the President bespoke party loyalty; the photographs around the walls assured visitors that they were in the presence of a man who rubbed elbows with Brazil’s movers and shakers; the triptych on his desk (his wife flanked by his two daughters) showed that he was a good family man; the sports trophies (Silva suspected that at least some of them were bogus) revealed that he’d been an athlete in his youth; the awards for public service attested to his social conscience; a couple of knickknacks (fashioned by school children) indicated that Sampaio hadn’t lost the common touch, and the two (Brazilian) paintings established his artistic sensitivity. Even the view made a statement: the window behind him overlooked the Ministry of Culture.
“You mind telling me what’s so important that you have to take a couple of days out of your schedule and go gallivanting off to São Paulo when there’s so much to do right here?” Sampaio continued.
“It’s all there on the form,” Silva said, patiently. “And, with respect, Director, it’s not gallivanting.”
“Oh? What is it then?”
“You’ve seen today’s newspapers?”
“Of course, I’ve seen today’s newspapers,” Sampaio snapped. “I read three of them every morning. So what?”
Nelson Sampaio had been a successful attorney before he entered government service. A political appointee, whose ambitions went far beyond his current post, he was a man who’d never been to a crime scene and had never smelled a corpse. When he spoke of reading three newspapers, Sampaio meant the front pages, the editorial pages and the social columns. The majority of the articles that attracted his attention were those dealing with the Machiavellian world of Brazilian national politics. They were unlikely to be the same ones that interested Mario Silva.
“Then perhaps you read about that clandestine cemetery in the Serra da Cantareira?” Silva said, making the statement a question.
“What about it?” the Director said, neither confirming nor denying his awareness of the article in question.
“There were children in some of those graves,” Silva said, plunging on in the face of his boss’s apparent lack of interest. Silva, childless after the death of his son from leukemia at the age of eight, could get particularly passionate about the murder of children.
“Kids, adults, what’s the difference?” Sampaio said. “I asked you a simple question: what’s so important? Don’t you think you have enough on your plate right here in Brasilia?”
“I wasn’t aware that I had--”
“Not aware? Not aware? Mario, for God’s sake, what about Romeu Pluma?”
Romeu Pluma was a former journalist and the current press secretary for the Minister of Justice, Sampaio’s immediate superior. Pluma and Sampaio loathed each other.
“I told you, Director, we haven’t been able to find anything in Pluma’s background to suggest--”
“And I told you to keep digging. Everybody has something to hide. You, him, even me. I want to know what Pluma’s hiding. Is that so much to ask?”
Sampaio was a believer in using the powers of his office to forward what he considered to be good causes, and foremost among all good causes was the continued advancement of Nelson Sampaio.
Romeu Pluma had the ear of the Minister. He’d been whispering into it, questioning Sampaio’s competence and criticizing his effectiveness. And, even worse, he’d been expressing those same opinions to the press. Pluma was quoted as being an “unnamed government source”, but that didn’t fool Sampaio. He always knew who was out to get him. He desperately wanted something to hold over the press secretary’s head, and he expected Silva to get it for him.
“With all due respect, Director, the children in that cemetery deserve--”
“There you go again,” the director said, cutting him off. “You remind me of Vulcano.”
The director owned a fazenda where he raised cattle. He didn’t do it for the money. It was more in the nature of a hobby, and it was an activity that interested him far more than apprehending criminals. Vulcano was his prize bull. Comparing Vulcano to Silva was as close as Sampaio ever got to paying him a compliment.
“Just like you,” Sampaio explained, “Vulcano is always charging off whenever he gets wind of something he thinks is threatening his territory. But you’re not a street cop anymore, damn it! You’re my Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters. You’ve got people to do the leg work.”
The Director held up a hand. “What’s more important? That damned cemetery, or your investigation into the background of that filho da puta Pluma?”
Silva looked at his lap.
“Exactly,” Sampaio continued, as if he’d successfully made his point. “The corpses will wait. Pluma won’t. The bastard makes me look bad every chance he gets. If he has his way, I’ll be out of this job right after the election and that, as I don’t have to remind you, is less than two months away.” Sampaio glanced at the huge desktop calendar where he’d penciled in a countdown to Election Day. “In fact, it’s only fifty-two days. Forget the cemetery. Or let your buddy Arnaldo handle it.”
“Or get that hotshot nephew of yours, whatshisname?”
“Yeah, him. Get him to work on it.”
“He’s already working on it, Director, but he needs all the help he can get.”
Sampaio showed no sign of having heard him.
“Pluma is an ex-journalist for God’s sake. All those guys smoked marijuana or used cocaine at one time or another.”
“I hate to be insistent--”
“Which you’re being.”
“--but I feel that we have to go. How about if we leave tonight and we’re back in the office on Monday morning? Will that suit you?”
The director stared at Silva for a while.
Silva didn’t blink.
Finally, Sampaio said, “That’s two round-trip tickets plus hotels, plus per diem. It’s gonna cost at least three thousand Reais. Don’t you think we have better things to spend our money on?”
“We can economize on the hotels,” Silva said. “I’ll stay with my sister. Arnaldo has family in São Paulo. He can stay with them.”
“And you can take the midnight flight. It’s cheaper.”
“Alright. We’ll take the midnight flight.”
“Deal,” the director said and reached for his pen.
Leighton Gage visited Spain in the time of Franco, Portugal in the time of Salazar, South Africa in the time of apartheid, Chile in the time of Pinochet, Argentina in the time of the junta, Prague, East Germany, and Yugoslavia under the Communist yoke and lived and worked in...