By Thom L. Jones
The man standing on the beach is a deaf mute. He kills people for a living.
The beach is Ipanema, on the south side of Rio de Janeiro, and he's standing opposite Rua Garcia D'Ávila, where the volleyball school is located. He's a big man, well over six feet, weighing about 250 pounds, all muscle, solid all the way through; built like the perfect quarterback, wide shoulder, strong legs, thick arms and big hands. His head is shaved and it glistens in the morning sun. His eyes are deep and dark behind the sunglasses. This morning, he's wearing a navy rayon short-sleeved shirt, hanging loose over khaki chinos and his very special tan boat shoes. They're special because he has them hand made, reinforced with stainless steel toe caps, useful tools when he gets' into a fight, which is often. He's referred to in his part of the underworld as 'ele dedo' which is an abbreviation of 'the toe cap,' tampão do dedo do pé.
His name is Inacio Jorge and he is waiting for his partner to arrive so they can go and have breakfast.
It's already a hot morning and the beach is filling up with young people; the girls strolling down in their tank tops and shorts or minis, ready to strip off to their bikinis or thongs, the young men sauntering along in T's and surf shorts, waiting to show off their lithe, tanned bodies in the latest colour Speedos. The sand is soon a seething mass of men and women, backpacks and tote bags staking out territorial lines. All over the beach, there are games in progress: frescobol and futevolei, the unique Brazilian version of beach tennis and foot volley-ball are by far the most popular. And off-shore, there are people surfing, waiting for the best breaks. It's winter time, so the waves are already looking good. Street vendors are parading up and down offering ice cream, melted cheese or shrimp on a stick, as well as chilled coconut juice and cans of ice-cold beer. The palms that fringe the walkway are shifting gently in and out on the onshore breeze, and the place is already throbbing with the music from dozens of portable radios. The beach is flanked its entire length by blocks and blocks of expensive apartments above shops and restaurants and cafes, stretching all the way from Leblon to Copacabana.
Jorge scans the area, looking for his friend. There are now so many people it's getting harder to find him, because Benedito Silva, the man he is waiting for, is a dwarf, standing four feet nothing. Eventually, Jorge spots him waddling up the Avenue Vieira Souto, the main thoroughfare facing the beach, his little body pushing its way through the crowds, barrelling along the black and white tiled surface of the sidewalk, elbowing arms and legs and buttocks out of the way. People turn in exasperation and annoyance, and then pull back when they see what’s causing the problem. He arrives eventually, walking up to Jorge, pushing him hard on the leg with both of his hands.
"What you keep me waiting for?" he says, throwing out the words, using his right hand, fingers spelling, using Libras, the Brazilian sign language.
"The fuck you say," replies Jorge, "you're the one keeping me here, you little prick. I've been standing around for ages."
"Never mind, let's go eat, okay?"
The two men walk back across the avenue and down the street towards the Leblon beach, turning right into a road that's filled with shops and bars and restaurants. They stop at a small cafe called 'Midnight Blue,' and walk in, finding a table at the front, looking out over the street. They order a basket of fresh-baked rolls, guava juice and home made coffee. When the food arrives, the two men sit eating, sipping on their drinks, watching the people who are watching them.
The dwarf Silva, sits, with his feet dangling in the air, his thick, little body bunched up as he concentrates on the job at hand. He has curly hair and a full beard, both jet-black, a button nose and deep, melancholy eyes. His name, Benedito, translates from the Portuguese as 'blessed' and he often wonders at the irony of the choice his parents made when they christened him. They called him this because they had tried for so long to have a child, and when he finally arrived, it seemed to them that they had indeed been favoured. This was before they discovered their baby was afflicted with dwarfism. His father so ashamed at what he had spawned, turned to drink and one day, inebriated out of his mind, stepped off the footpath in front of a speeding yellow cab. After she buried him, Benedito's mother handed her son over to her parents, and then disappeared into the wilderness of the Brazilian jungle like Sir Percy Fawcett, the famous British explorer had, fifty years earlier, lost in the Mato Grasso.
His grandparents did the best they could, but trying to bring up an unregenerate midget with an attitude, proved too much, and once he'd finished basic schooling, they let him go. Out onto the streets of Rio, to join the millions of other indigent, lost souls populating the nearly five hundred square miles of one of the biggest cities in the world, filling the favelas, the shanty towns of the city, that spot the metropolitan vastness, from the North and West Zones right down to the luxury beach resorts of Cococabana and Ipenema like huge, sprawling cankerous moles rather than the wildflower from which they are named, on an urban landscape that dated its history back over four hundred years.
Disadvantaged beyond belief by his birth defect, Silva the dwarf, found he had to rely on a mixture of guile and obsequiousness to maintain his survival on some of the meanest streets on the planet, in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where every week up to a hundred people are murdered.
Wheeling, dealing and rolling with life's vindictive punches became simply an exercise in survival, as he struggled not only to stay alive, in a city where people are so poor they only ate meat if they gave each other hickeys, but also to carve out some kind of career beyond a mere existence. Becoming one of the ten thousand young men employed in the narcotic business of the city, he ricocheted from one crisis to another, working as a dealer and lookout in one of the major drug gangs in the Cidade de Deus favela. Not living, simply enduring, earning his living off the ten per cent commission he got on every twist of weed he sold; for him and his peers there was no real hope in their lives. There was no way out for them and, in the end, they would all be destined to die, most of them before they reached the age of twenty.
And then, he met Inacio Jorge, and his life changed forever.
After they finish breakfast, the two walk down the street until they reach the Avenue Pessoa, crossing the two-lane highway, and reaching Lagoa de Freitas, sometimes referred to as the heart of Rio, because of its geographical shape.
This saltwater lake sits behind the Ipanema and Leblon beaches in a huge bowl surrounded by jungle covered mountains . Christo Redentor, the enormous concrete statue of Christ with arms outstretched, looking like a tiny model at the top of Mount Corcovado above the Tijuca forest, is reflected in the calm waters of the lake which is about eight kilometres in circumference, providing a walking trail for tourists and Cariocas, the locals of Rio, once they've had enough of the heat of Ipanema or Cococabana beach, or the never-ending shopping. Its shores lined with jogging tracks, tennis courts, parks, restaurants, sports clubs and samba schools. Right on the southern edge of the lake is the Caiçaras Country Club, its buildings and facilities spread over a small island covering 90,000 square feet.
The men board the blue and white rope-pulled gondola that takes them across the narrow waterway onto the island itself. In the large, open air foyer of the club house, people are sitting drinking or eating an early lunch. Jorge has come here to-day to meet a man who wants to hire him for a job. He's sitting at a corner table, drinking an ice-cold Bohemia beer, straight from the bottle. Two men are standing behind him, their hands crossed in front of their bellies. They are wearing dark suits and sunglasses. Their hair is pulled straight back from the forehead, tied back in a pony-tail. They look tough and mean which means they probably are. Here in Rio, they call these men malandros: bad guys. No doubt, under their jackets they are packing semi-automatic's of some make.
The man they are guarding is every bit as tough. His name is Luiz Espinosa. There is a story told about this man, that he carries a gold-plated pistol which fires gold-plated bullets and that every time he shoots someone, he has the bullets dug out of the body, so he can use them again. It's the kind of myth which fuels the legend that propagates the fear that's needed to succour the myth. And everyone believes it.
According to the Rio police narco-squad, there are three syndicates controlling the distribution of hard drugs in this city: Comando Vermelo, Terceiro Comando and Amigos dos Amigos, selling cocaine and marijuana through the favelas. The police intelligence is good, but not perfect, for there is a fourth, the one this man heads. He is the chefe , the chief of the biggest cocaine falange, controlling the sale and distribution of this drug on a majestic scale not just here in Rio de Janerio but across Brazil, the biggest consumer of this drug in the world, next to the United States. For such a powerful man, he wears his reputation neatly disguised by an outward appearance which seems to suggest blandness and mediocrity. He is average in height and build, with a face that would pass with honours in a test for the most forgettable- nothing distinguishable, short dark hair, no moustache or beard. It's the eyes, always the eyes that send out the alert signals. So deep they seem bottomless, filled with a force field that can paralyse any recipient who has done him wrong.
He gestures to Jorge and Silva to sit, opposite him, at an angle so they can see him and each other simultaneously. "You want anything, a beer, glass of wine, something?" His voice is flat and colourless like his face.
The two shake their head, no, and wait. He starts to talk, looking at the man he wants to hire, as the dwarf starts working with his hand. Espinosa has plenty of hired help in his organization, men who can kill and maim without hesitation if so instructed. The help is good, but he needs someone extra special for the job he has in mind.
"There's this man I want you to find," he says. A viado. His name is Enzo Moreira. He lives at Vila Cruzeiro." This is one of the dozens of favelas that are dotted across the city, this one out near the international airport. The dwarf and the hit man wait for the punch line.
"When you find him, kill him, slowly and with lot's of pain and suffering. You see, this fucking faggot did one of my top men last week. He killed him, then he cut off his head and his arms and legs, and left the torso in the main street for everyone to see. He posted the bits to me in a case, courtesy of Fed-Ex. Can you imagine the nerve of this songo mongo. This asshole does this to me and laughs at me, embarrasses the fuck out of me. Leaves my man's body out in the street for the dogs to piss on. Expects to get away with it." He pauses and takes a long drink from the bottle of beer.
"After you've done it, bring me his head, okay. I want to see the look in his eyes. Here," he hands over a thick envelope, "is the fee. Do it soon, I'm really impatient to get the taste of this prick out of my mouth."
The audience is over. The two men stand and nod, a sign of respect. No one at their level would ever shake the hand of Senor Espinosa. Then they turn and leave, heading back for the next gondola that will take them off the island. They walk along the lake front for a while, talking, and then flag down a cab which drops them off in the Rua Vincius de Morias, where they find an empty table at the Garrota de Ipanema -Girl from Ipanema Bar. It's one of the oldest drinking spots in town, originally called the Velloso bar, and legend has it the famous song was written here in the 1960's. Like most legends it's more myth than fact of course. They order chopp, draft beers, along with chicken sandwiches and cheese, and sit sipping, watching the endless parade of gorgeous woman and young girls, drifting down the busy, tree lined street the one block towards the beach. The song could have been written here Benedito Silva thinks; easy to see where the inspiration would have come from.
"What you think about it ?" Jorge asks the dwarf.
"I dunno. What I know of this nutter, he's not going to be easy to pin down, especially outside the favela. It's gonna take a lot of planning. There's no way you'll get into Cruzeiro, and get out in one piece. You know what these places are like. There's someone watching on every corner, day and night with handfuls of firecrackers to warn of danger. There's guys on roof tops with walkie-talkie's plotting everyone in and out. He'll have to be out of there to do it. How you manage that, " the little man shrugs, "we need to give it a lot of thought, amigo."
The two men sit, drinking their beer, watching the world go by. They've been together a while now, like each others company, comfortable just sitting, no need to talk, which of course they never do in the strict sense of the word. It was this that brought them together.
When he had lived in the Cidade de Deus favela, the dwarf had learned finger talking to help him communicate with the deaf man who had adopted him, taken him in off the streets. He had lived with this man for five years, becoming so adapt in sign language, he often used it without realizing he was doing it, during conversations with non-deaf people. They would look at him at first, thinking it was something to do with his height, all these little fingers flashing around as he jabbered away, him being different in one way maybe made him unusual in others. Gradually, he learned to control his spontaneity when he felt the impulse to talk using just more than his voice, and once the old man he lived with died, he stopped using sign language altogether, until that night in the bar in Copocabana.
It was New Years Eve, the second biggest festival in Rio.
Benedito Silva and a pack of his associates from the favela dressed up in their best whites and made their way down to Copacabana to join the other two million or so people who were hell-bent on seeing in the new year, drunk or sober. It was almost midnight when the dwarf, separated from his mates, found his way into a boite on the Rua Duvivier. The bar come strip club, was packed, like every drinking and eating place in the town, the crowd tanked to the max, waiting for that magic final second to come and go.
Silva burrowed his way through the heaving bodies, pushing and shoving until found a spot near the corner of the bar. Someone bent down and picked him up, sitting him on the counter. The man who did this was unusual in a number of ways. Firstly, unlike almost everyone, he was not wearing white clothing, a traditional way to see in the new year and guarantee luck. He was dressed almost completely in black. Then, it became apparent after the dwarf had shouted at him, that he was deaf and dumb, the tall, heavily built man miming, pointing at his ears and mouth and then using a slashing motion to indicate nothing there. He started to turn away, his good deed for the night done, when the dwarf grabbed his arm, making him turn to face him. Benedito Silva started to talk to him, using sign language.
"Why you the only guy here not dressed in white?"
"I make my own luck, tamborete de forró. Don't need stupid superstitions to do if for me."
Silva punched him on the side of the head. It hurt his fist and seemed to make no impression on the rock solid skull. "Watch your mouth cuzão, careful who you call little man."
Inacio Jorge smiled, thinking that the last man who called him an asshole did it just before he had his face remodelled. He grinned at the dwarf perched on the bar top, his little legs dangling loose, his funny button-nose face flushed with booze and excitement, and held up his hands in surrender.
"Hi, brother, peace. No hard feelings, but you're not exactly a giant are you?"
"I got more fucking balls than jerk offs twice my size. Don't let the dimensions fool you. I can cause damage if I want to. And, as you can see smart ass, I can talk to you. How many people you know can do that, eh?"
The big man smiles and has to agree with him on that. "Okay, amigo, let me buy you a drink and then we'll see in the new year."
Hours later, carrying a drunken Benedito Silva astride his shoulders, Jorge makes his way back to his apartment in Ipanema, and starts a new phase of his life. From this point on, the dwarf would be his constant companion and connection to the rest of the world, his minder, literally watching the p's and q's of life for him.
Ignacio Jorge, like his new companion, is a man whose life has been ruptured from birth by a cruel twist of genetic misconduct. Perfect in every way, except the ability to speak or hear, he grew into manhood developing the body of an athlete and a collection of other extant senses that over compensated for the ones he had lost.
Like the dwarf, his childhood and puberty were spent in one of the favelas, the biggest one in Rio- Morro da Rocinha. A chaotic confused jumble of ram shackled houses, cobbled together from concrete blocks or brown bricks or simply wood and cardboard onto cinder blocks, a complex jigsaw of unnamed, unpaved streets linked by crooked steps, clinging to the gloomy steep granite cliffs of the Dois Irmãos hills, laced with strips of jungle foliage, high above the white sands and silver speckled sea of Ipanema. Like some medieval Arabian souk transported in time and place into the lush, green hillside of Brazil. Over 200,000 people struggled here on a daily basis trying to create and maintain some kind of existence in the face of seemingly impossible restrictions and handicaps-no official sources of water, sewerage or electricity, no state funded roads or schools or hospitals, no local doctors or nurses, no telephone system, no television link, nothing in fact representing the things civilized society accepts as a given rather than a privilege.
In the favelas of Rio de Janerio in fact, everything is a privilege. With no recognized bureaucracy to run these shanty towns, the drug dealing cooperatives emerged as the default form of local government, becoming what would be known as the 'parallel power' supplying the services or endorsing charitable groups endeavouring to fill the vacuum, and people like Jorge grew up knowing only their presence.
His development as a cog in one of these dominant narcotic syndicates followed the traditional route. First he started out as a fogueterio, just a young kid, hanging around the streets with the other children. From there he graduated to be a foquete, one of the hundreds of street warning bells employed by the drug gang, carrying a pocketful of crackers to be exploded at the first sign of danger. Once he had proved himself at this level his next step would be either promotion to a dealer or joining the enforcement arm of the gang as a soldado, a street soldier. His parents, poor, indigenous Brazilian natives, struggled to cope with their own miserable lives let alone try and direct his, and by the time he was eighteen, Inacio Jorge was a fully fledged soldier in the drug syndicate of Amigos dos Amigos. His handicap was more than outweighed by his physical capabilities and he became one of the most feared enforcers in the favela.
He carried a small pad and pencil with him at all times, and this was his only method of communicating with most people. He did learn deaf sign language as a back up, although in the circles in which he moved, he had never yet found anyone who was able to communicate with him in this way.
He knew his life expectancy was limited if he stayed in the favela, so when he turned twenty he made his move. With his handicap and background he knew there was no chance he'd ever be able to enter a normal, traditional work environment. He needed to finance himself out of the shantytown where he had spent his life and so one night, he waylaid one of the dealers who was heading home after a profitable day working his boca de fumo, his satchel bulging with money from the sale of drugs at his site. As the man passed along a typical narrow street, pausing to step over an open sewer, Jorge stepped behind him and pulled him back, twisting the man's neck, breaking it in one fluid move. He slid the satchel into his backpack, already stuffed with his few belongings, and slipped away in the darkness and out of the shanty town.
A day later, he caught a bus to São Paulo and there, in the largest city in South America, a megalopolis of 17 million people, with endless rows of skyscrapers filling the horizon from every angle, he set down roots and created his own special career, offering his strength and courage and street guile for sale to the highest bidders. In a city where violent crimes such as murder, rape, kidnapping, armed assaults and burglaries were a part of normal everyday life, he soon found himself plenty of work and quickly established a reputation and a substantial nest egg which he invested wisely. Ten years later, he moved back to o cidade malavilhosa, the marvellous city as the natives of Rio referred to their home. He yearned for the beach on his doorstep. In São Paulo, it was a long drive to the sea and sand, not a ten minute walk. To Jorge, as it did to so many of the people of Rio, the beach was not just a place or an activity, it was a way of life and he missed it. He reckoned it safe to return.
Most it not all of the drug people he had been involved with in the favela, were either now dead, or in prison. He quickly established himself back on the hard streets of Rio. There were few people, even in a city of this size, with his special talents, and his reputation grew exponentially to the successful completion of the contracts he accepted. He bought himself a nice apartment in Ipanema on the corner of Rua Joana Angelica, with views straight down onto the beach. It was essentially, like so many of these buildings in the beach area, a complex of holiday lets, so people checked in and out all the time, and he never had to worry about meddlesome neighbours. People came and went, smiling and laughing, enjoying their vacation. The building occupants were always a mixture of old and young, middle-aged and children, not unlike a (favela) in that respect. He was close to a gym where he worked out every day, practicing his skills in capoeira, the Brazilian form of martial arts, and most mornings he was up early running on the beach before it got busy. By the time of the meeting at the lakeside complex, he and the dwarf had been sharing the apartment for two years.
They were sitting on the balcony, a couple of days after the visit to the country club, sipping on capirinhas, the classic Rio cocktail of sugarcane rum, lime and crushed ice, watching the sky darken and the crowded beach slowly thin out.
"I think I've figured out a way." This from Benedito the dwarf.
"Listen up, that's what I said big boy. I've been working my contacts. Last night, I went around talking to people I know. This faggot Moreira has recently found himself a new puta. The bitch is a hairdresser and he runs his own salon in Leblon, not far from Jobi's. They see each other every Saturday evening, after the guy closes down for the day. They go eat, do the clubs and then crawl back to an apartment above the shop. It's a routine they've got into ever since they met up. Moreira has two garboons on his tail all the time, guarding him, but these guys slope off once their boss is safely tucked up in bed with his slut for the night. They pick him up at about mid-day the next morning and drive him back to Vila Cruzeiro. So there's a window there if you want to take it."
"You know where this apartment is, the building?" asks Jorge.
"Yeah, I've got it covered. It's down the street from Pizzaria Guanabara. There's the front door of course, and a trade entrance on the side street. That's your way in. The hairdresser lives on the seventh floor, unit 7011."
"How do I get through the service door?"
"300 reals should do it."
"Naturally. You know someone who knows someone, right?"
The dwarf grins, his little lop-sided face lighting up like a trick-or-treat pumpkin. In Rio, everything and everyone is for sale, from ministers down to the cops; the secret is in finding the right key to the right door.
"Getting into the building's one thing," says Jorge, "what about the room? They have special locks, to keep people like me out."
"That's another 300. That'll get you a swipe card, made to order," says the dwarf.
Jorge thinks to himself, 600 reals, about four times the average monthly wage here in Rio. Seems a fair price for setting someone up to be killed. It's two days until Saturday, plenty of time for him to oil the wheels. He tops up their drinks from the pitcher standing on the glass-topped table between the chairs and clinks his glass against the one held by the dwarf.
"Let's go padre."
Friday, he makes the arrangements and then goes across the canal to Leblon, checking out the building, the streets around it. There's a place near the trade entrance where he can park the Land Rover. According to the dwarf's contact, the main lobby is on security camera, but not the back entrance and there are no cc TV's set up on the floors. He'll wear a baseball cap and sunglasses just in case. He needs to get in and out with Moreira in one piece, and he'll use the service elevator for that. Midnight on, there will be no one using it, he hopes. He gets Silva to ring and arrange on his behalf, for the use of the workshop up near Rio Comprido, over the mountains towards the North Zone. It belongs to one of the people he works for on a regular basis and he has a spare key. It's built into a rock face, up a dead-end street. It has bars across the windows and a solid, steel plated entrance door. Everything he needs to do the job is there. He'll strap the victim down in a chair, do the bad stuff, then take the head off and pack it in a chilly bin filled with ice. That's how it will be delivered to Luiz Espinosa.
And this is more or less how it goes down. In the early hours of Sunday morning, Jorge parks the Land Rover in the alley and makes his way, without incident into the building and up to room 7011. He enters very quietly, padding softly across the main room into the bedroom. There is plenty of light from the street and the moon to help him navigate the place. The two men are lying on top of a king-size bed, sprawled in each others arms on silk sheets that have been so excited they have crumpled into submission. Drunk to the world on booze, drugs and multiple orgasms, they look like two porno stars gone to seed after a hard day in front of the cameras. Jorge looks down on them, in disgust, then leans forward and snaps the neck of the hairdresser. Moreira turns and mutters in his sleep, as Jorge lifts him up of the bed and hits him hard on the jaw, edging him into an even deeper sleep. He lifts the body, easily off the bed, and wraps it in a colourful rug he finds on the bedroom floor, and then, with the inert figure slung over his shoulder, makes his way back downstairs to the car, and drives away, north through the tunnel and up to the workshop.
When he's done the job, he leaves the bits and pieces to be collected by Espinosa's men who will make sure the body, minus the top bit, will be left strategically placed somewhere in Vila Cruzeiro. He leaves the head in an ice-packed chilly bin. Tit for tat, honour maintained. Lessons learned should not be forgotten.
Two days later, Benedito the dwarf has breakfast with Jorge and then leaves to do some shopping. He doesn't come back. By the Wednesday morning Jorge is beginning to worry. His little friend has never gone away without making sure that he left information on his itinerary. He and Jorge have been virtually inseparable since that New Years Eve party in Cococabana. The big man is standing on his balcony looking down at the crowded beach when the pager on his belt vibrates. He looks at the message. It's from the front desk concierge to tell him he has visitors coming up. He walks across the apartment and opens the door just as Espinosa and his two bodyguards arrive. There's a fourth man with them, and he steps forward to speak to Jorge in sign language.
"I'm sorry, we are here to bring you some bad news."
Jorge indicates they should come in, and they do, the bodyguards standing on either side of the closed door. One of the men is carrying a box.
"I'm sad this has happened," says Espinosa. "Apparently the digging around your little friend did on Moreira did not go un noticed. Some of his friends took the dwarf off the streets yesterday. He's in hospital at the moment, over at the Miguel Conto. He'll live okay, but I'm afraid he won't be the same. They sent me this by Fed Ex this morning. Fucking outfit is working overtime delivering body parts to me this week."
He nods to the man with the box, who steps forward offering it to Jorge who accepts it gingerly as though it might do something awful to him, and then carefully raises the lid. Inside, clustered like stems of penne pasta done in tomato sauce, is a bunch of human fingers.
"The bastards could have just killed him, like I would have expected, but no. They have to go one better," says Espinosa. "I'm supposing this will be an inconvenience to you, right?"
They certainly have and it certainly will be, thinks Jorge.
I've just lost my voice, once again.
© Thom L. Jones 2010