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Excerpt
The following is an excerpt from the book A Window in Copacabana
by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Published by Henry Holt; January 2005;$23.00US/$32.95CAN; 0-8050-7438-4
Copyright © 2005 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

2

The first thing that caught Espinosa's eye was the slit in her skirt, which revealed part of her thigh as she walked. Seated next to the door, he had an ample view of the street, and even before she walked in front of the bar, it was the hint of leg flashing beneath her skirt with each supple movement that distinguished her from the other women passing by. She was about thirty-five. She had a good body, nice legs, and a face whose attractiveness was diminished by a fatigued expression and unkempt hair. The detail of her skirt made her look bold rather than vulgar. He watched the movement of her legs, now revealing, now hiding her thighs, until she passed the café and exited his field of vision.

Espinosa turned his attention back to the cappuccino he'd started to drink and concentrated on the foam covered with cinnamon powder. A few sips later, he was still thinking about the woman when she entered the café. He hadn't expected her to come back. He saw her walk up to the cash register and then look for a seat on the balcony. He decided her return on this hot summer afternoon was a gift from the gods, and he felt within his rights to examine her more closely. What he'd seen when she'd walked by was confirmed by a more detailed inspection. She had perfect legs and a pretty face, with small age lines around her mouth and eyes. These added a note of experience to the youthfulness of her body. She really did look tired, and her hair needed attention, though her hands and skin were well tended. She wasn't paying attention to anything or anyone, simply staring at her coffee cup. Not out of modesty. Someone who walks through a crowded downtown wearing a tight skirt slit up the side isn't exactly concerned about modesty. He soon realized that she wasn't attracting as much attention as she had at the beginning. Not all the men were looking at her; in fact, besides him, only one teenage waiter with bad acne was looking at the woman who stood in front of the bar, back turned, hiding her half-opened skirt.

His thoughts wandered to the possible reasons for her tired (or was it sad?) face; it took him a while to realize that the buzzing coming from his coat pocket was his phone. Just as he answered, the woman also took a cell phone out of her purse. Both spoke at the same time. Unfortunately, he thought, not with each other. As she spoke, her eyes drifted past Espinosa without seeing him, while he looked at her and tried to concentrate on what his assistant, Detective Welber, was telling him.

"Officer, another colleague has been killed."

"Who?"

"Silveira, from the Third Precinct."

"I don't know him."

"He'd been around, but not many people knew him."

"Where are you?"

"At the scene. Praça de Lido, on the side facing the beach."

"He was killed on the street?"

"Sort of. The square is fenced off. He was found seated on one of the benches."

"I'm on my way."

When he hung up, she was gone. He hadn't talked to Welber for more than a few seconds; she couldn't have disappeared. He walked to the door and looked around. The pedestrian traffic was intense, and she could have gone in any one of four different directions. He didn't know what he would do if he saw her walking away. He wasn't a Don  Juan -- never had been. He thought that getting married had forced him to lose sight of the rituals of courtship. Ten years of marriage had produced a kind of emotional myopia. Ever since he and his wife had split up, he'd been trying to retool his approach, to learn new ways of doing things, to move into new territories. But he'd only managed to convince himself of one thing: focusing for too long  on one object hadn't improved his vision; it had simply made him nearsighted, as well as a mediocre husband and an inadequate father. He'd devoted the last decade to trying to recoup the lost time.

He walked to the subway, thinking that it would be quite a coincidence to run into her waiting for the same train to Copacabana. At three-thirty the platform of Cinelandia station was fairly empty, though even if it hadn't been he thought he would have been able to pick her out of a crowd. But she wasn't there.

He'd taken the afternoon off to buy a new electric toaster and browse in the secondhand bookstores downtown. He didn't like malls; he liked downtown, with its foot traffic and diverse architecture. He'd barely gotten started when the phone call came through. He was aware that he was not being perfectly honest about needing to come downtown for a toaster or a used-book store; both were available closer to home. And neither justified the absence of the chief of the Twelfth Precinct, on a Monday afternoon, from his workplace in Copacabana: but these trivial errands let him dream of a life outside the police. Every once in a while the desire for a change of pace suddenly surged within him. The spark could be a story in a paper reporting that cops controlled prostitution in several different parts of the city, or a weekend spent exclusively with Irene. The situations elicited entirely different responses --dismay in the first case, attraction in the second -- each signaling the silent and almost imperceptible process of distancing himself from something. He wasn't sure what, but it had started a while ago and it worried him intensely. Until he actually made up his mind, a walk through downtown Rio was an effective remedy, though he knew that it was only a placebo.

On his way to the Praça do Lido, he thought about books. It wasn't really the books themselves he liked -- he wasn't a bibliophile, and his books didn't even have proper shelves. They were just piled up next to the living room wall, one row arranged vertically, another horizontally, and so on, until they rose taller than Espinosa himself. It was narratives he sought in books, well-told stories. His maternal grandmother, who had educated him, had instilled in him a love of reading. In any case, that afternoon, downtown, he hadn't bought a single book, or a toaster; he was simply distracted by a woman's leg. He was sorry about missing the bookstores, but he was secretly satisfied about the toaster. His toaster had had the same problem for almost a year: it toasted only one side of the bread. He'd grown used to the ritual of toasting one side of the bread, then flipping it around and waiting for the other side to be ready. Before he'd even gotten rid of the toaster, he'd already missed it.

He got to the Praça do Lido a little before four in the afternoon. Located in the first third of Copacabana Beach, the plaza took up half a block; the other was occupied by a public school. The school was on the side facing the Avenida Copacabana, while the square faced the Avenida Atlantica, in front of the ocean. At that hour, it would have been occupied by children and senior citizens, if the yellow police tape hadn't kept them back. Covered with a piece of black plastic that Espinosa identified as a reconfigured garbage bag, the body sat on the bench, in the same position in which it had been discovered by the companion of an elderly woman who often visited the square.

As soon as he bent under the yellow tape, Espinosa spotted his assistant walking toward him. Welber had lost the freshman jauntiness he'd had when Espinosa first met him. But he still had the same enthusiasm that two years earlier had led him to take a bullet directed at his chief. Not out of heroism -- though he was capable of it -- but because he was younger and quicker.

"What happened?" the officer asked.

"Silveira from the Third Precinct ... He was shot in the neck while sitting on the bench in the garden. Nobody saw or heard anything. He was discovered by the nurse, who was with an old lady in a wheelchair who comes every afternoon to the square. She sat on one end of the bench with the wheelchair next to her, talking to the lady... According to her, it wasn't exactly a conversation, since she was the only one talking. Half an hour later, she noticed that the man seated at the other end of the bench, whose head was resting on his chest, hadn't moved an inch. At first she thought he was asleep, but then she noticed something was wrong. She spoke to him, but he didn't answer. She tried again, but the man didn't budge. She got up to look, and that's when she saw the blood on his collar. She got one of the maintenance men and asked him to call the police. It was around three in the afternoon."

"Where is the woman?"

"On that bench over there. She says she can't stay; she has to take the old lady home."

"And what about her? Did she see or hear anything?"

"She can't talk. The nurse says she can understand the occasional grunt, but she doesn't think the old lady knows what's going on around her. In any case, she didn't seem to be scared or shocked by anything."

"Why didn't they sit on an empty bench?"

"All the others were taken."

"No witnesses?"

"None. Nobody saw anything unusual."

"What did you find out?"

"Not much. He was shot point-blank while sitting on the bench, his back to the grassy part of the park. The murderer could have come up from behind, across the grass, silently, with the weapon hidden behind a newspaper or inside a bag. The noise of the traffic from the two avenues is enough to muffle the noise of a gun with a silencer. A professional job."

"What was a detective from the Third Precinct, downtown, doing at three in the afternoon on a weekday sitting on a park bench in Copacabana?"

Espinosa had hardly finished the question when he realized that it could apply to himself as well. What had he been doing at that same hour, sitting in a cafe downtown? If he'd been shot in the head, what would his death have to do with the fact that he had been drinking a cappuccino downtown? No investigator, no matter how expert, could have guessed that he was there only because he'd randomly decided to sit in that cafe at that moment, his eye attracted by a slit skirt.

"Try to find out if he lives around here, or if some relative does. The park must have someone in charge of it; talk to him, ask if he'd ever seen Detective Silveira. I'll go talk to the chief of the Third Precinct. Did anyone go through his pockets?"

"I did. Wallet, ID card, cell phone, keys, notepad, pen, handkerchief. His weapon's in his belt. Nothing written on the notepad."

"Could anyone have done it before you?"

"The cops who answered the call, but if anyone went through his pockets they don't seem to have taken anything. His wallet still has his credit cards, checks, and some money."

"If you've already taken down the names and addresses of the woman and the nurse, you can let them go. If Silveira met people at this park, the caretaker must have noticed something. Squeeze him a little. I'll see you back at the station."

The station was five blocks down the Avenida Atlantica and two to the right, up Hilario de Gouveia. Whenever possible, Espinosa preferred to take the Avenida Atlantica. The soft breeze kept the sea calm, with small waves, and seagulls flew in groups toward the Cagarras Islands. Why would someone choose a public place, a park, to murder a policeman? One answer: because no one would think to do it there. Another possibility: because he happened to be there. Third possibility: because the cop and the murderer had arranged to meet there. There were other options, but since the walk to the station wasn't very long, Espinosa contented himself with those three. The third was probably the most likely. Now, if the cop had arranged to meet the murderer there, and was waiting for him while peacefully sitting on a bench, it was because the cop didn't know that he was a murderer, or because he knew but it didn't occur to him that he himself would be the victim. It probably wasn't a meeting arranged to settle scores, or the cop would have been more careful. The laid-back way he'd waited for the other's arrival suggested that they knew each other. They might even have been friends. Espinosa eliminated the idea that they were meeting to exchange some merchandise. The location was too visible, and there was only one exit. The breeze from the sea took the edge off the heat and even made the walk fairly pleasant, provided, of course, that Espinosa stayed in the shade.

As soon as he arrived at the station, he called the Third Precinct. The officer who answered was new at his post and sounded young. As they didn't know each other, Espinosa kept things formal.

"Sir, I'm sorry about what happened to your detective. I've just come from the scene, and I'd like to discuss a couple of matters regarding the victim."

"Thank you, Officer Espinosa. I've only been at the Third for a little more than a month, and I don't know all the officers here yet. I had little contact with Detective Silveira. I only knew that he'd been around for a long time, and that he was biding his time till retirement."

"Did he work or was he working on any case that could have left him open to a revenge killing?"

"Not as far as I know."

"Any declared enemies?"

"I don't think so. He was a nice guy; he had good relationships with his colleagues."

"Well, in any case, thank you. Don't hesitate to call me if there's anything you need."

"Thanks a lot."

Welber arrived forty minutes later.

"Nobody knows anything, nobody saw anything, and the guy in charge of the park had never seen Silveira. You'd think he died of a heart attack and not a shot in the head. Some people even said he might have been a victim of a stray bullet."

"Maybe, but it strayed right into his head."

"Did you talk to the Third Precinct?"

"I did. According to them, Silveira was an exemplary cop, friendly with all his colleagues. In my opinion, if he was so exemplary and beloved, he's not being mourned very loudly. Up until now, nobody's bothered to ask what happened."

"And what do you think happened?"

"We could be dealing with two connected crimes: today's and Ramos's murder last week. They have some things in common. First, obviously, both victims were cops. Second, the way the murderer shot them: one fatal shot, no struggle, no confusion. Third, they were both killed in front of other people, which made no difference at all: Ramos was killed in front of his father, who has Alzheimer's and can't understand what is happening around him; Silveira was killed in plain view, but nobody saw anything. Same style, same murderer. It's a good bet."

Copyright © 2005 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza