On that hot December afternoon, his long strides and fixed stare didn’t make it any easier to weave through all the pedestrians. To avoid bumping into people, and to maintain his steady rhythm, Espinosa found himself walking long stretches with one foot on the curb and the other in the street. He wasn’t late for anything and he wasn’t heading anywhere in particular. On the Rua da Quitanda, he had planned to turn onto the Rua do Carmo in order to check out the used-book store he’d visited since his law school days. But at the quick pace he was going, the Rua do Carmo and the bookstore were forgotten. Whenever possible, Espinosa took advantage of quiet afternoons at the station to examine a new bookstore or revisit one of his old haunts in the colonial buildings downtown. That was when he was working, but this afternoon he was just trying to enjoy one of his last days of vacation. The previous days hadn’t differed much from the one that was already halfway over.
Things had started going south a week before the beginning of his vacation, when Irene had received an invitation to a two-week seminar at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It came, out of the blue, from the museum itself, extended to foreign professionals who had distinguished themselves in some way over the last few years. So their own holiday, a trip to a beach in the Northeast, had had no choice but to relocate to Rio, which, after all, had beaches too. Great for Irene, a disaster for him. Great, too, for highlighting the difference between a graphic designer and a police chief, he thought, picking up the pace even more.
He’d been wandering through the downtown streets for almost two hours. In one of his hands he carried a small bag with two books he’d bought that afternoon, but he no longer remembered their titles, or even where he’d bought them. He didn’t have much interest either in the snack he’d planned to enjoy at the Confeitaria Colombo. It was Thursday and he didn’t have to be back at work until Monday. He headed to the nearest subway station and returned home.
The phone rang for the first time at seven-twenty that evening. Over the next fifteen minutes, it rang twice more. But nobody spoke on the other end of the line. Espinosa hesitated before picking up the fourth time, and when he did he met the same silence he’d encountered the first three times. He was about to hang up when he heard a man’s voice.
“I’m sorry to be calling you at home, but at the station they said you were on vacation.”
“My name is Artur Nesse. I’m a doctor. . . . A colleague at the hospital gave me your name. . . . You helped him . . .”
“. . . and now you need my help.”
“Right. . . . Well, not me, exactly . . . somebody else. . . . But I really don’t know what to do. Excuse me, Officer, I’m feeling really confused.”
“I’m going back to work on Monday. Why don’t you come by then to tell me what’s going on?”
“I can’t wait until then. . . . It’s urgent. . . . It’s my daughter . . .”
“What happened to your daughter?”
“She disappeared . . . kidnapped.”
“She disappeared or she was kidnapped?”
“First she disappeared, then I saw she’d been kidnapped.”
“And how did you see she’d been kidnapped?”
“Well . . . it’s obvious.”
“How long ago did she disappear?”
“One day. A day and a night.”
“How old is your daughter?”
“Have you had any contact with her since she disappeared?”
“So how do you know that she was kidnapped?”
“Because there’s no other explanation.”
“Have you already informed the kidnapping police?”
“No! I don’t want my daughter mixed up with the police.”
“Do you want her involved with kidnappers?”
“Can we speak personally?”
“We already are speaking personally.”
“I mean face-to-face. They told me you’re a considerate man.”
“I am, but my consideration makes me reluctant to believe that your daughter’s been kidnapped.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because if you thought your daughter had been kidnapped, you wouldn’t be doing this. Maybe your daughter ran away from home.”
“I’d like you to take on the case.”
“Dr. Nesse, I’m a police officer, not a private investigator. If you want a private investigation, you should get in touch with a detective agency.”
“Could we at least talk about the case? It’s not just my daughter’s disappearance. There are other things as well.”
“Fine. I’ll expect you in half an hour in the square in the Peixoto District, in Copacabana. Take down the address.”
At that hour, the square was empty: the people who hung out there in the afternoon had left and the square had not received the contingent of people who arrived after dinner and the evening news. After waiting for fifteen minutes in the doorway of his building, Espinosa noticed a car making the whole loop around the square. It was a fancy imported sedan, seemingly new, its dark color shining beneath the reflections of the streetlights. The driver didn’t look at the buildings, as if searching for a specific address, nor did he seem to be seeking out a specific person. On the second trip around the square he found a good parking place. Only then did he park, lock the door, circle the car once, and move off, looking at the buildings and a piece of paper he had in his hand.
Espinosa waited until the man was close to him before speaking.
“Dr. Nesse? I’m Chief Espinosa.”
“Oh, sir, I was just looking for your building.”
They shook hands. Dr. Nesse was only a little taller than Espinosa, but he seemed twice as large.
They walked across the street slowly and silently, looking for an isolated bench.
“So, Doctor, what happened?”
Copyright © 2003 by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Translation copyright © 2006 by Henry Holt and Company