The downpour menacing Brasilia for the past hour was finally making good on its threat. Raindrops splashed on the Director’s window panes. Mario Silva suppressed a sigh. He’d left his umbrella at home. He’d get soaked on the way to the airport.

“Let me have a closer look at that,” Nelson Sampaio said.

He leaned over his desk to snatch the photo from his Chief Inspector’s hand. Then he put on his gold- rimmed reading glasses and squinted at the headline.

Artist’s Mother Abducted.

He could have read it without the glasses. The typeface was that big.

In the photograph, Juraci Santos looked terrified. Her face was dirty, her hair unkempt; her upper body, as much of it as could be seen in the shot, was clad in a dark green sweatshirt several sizes too small. She had been photographed holding up a late edition of that morning’s Cidado de Sao Paulo.

Sampaio tossed the photo onto a pile of newspapers, all with headlines echoing the one he’d been squinting at.

“Proof of life, my ass,” he said. “These days they can fake anything. Why diamonds?”

“Cash is too bulky,” Silva said. “A bank transfer could be traced. Diamonds have universal value. It’s a good choice.”

Sampaio took off his glasses and rubbed the indentations on the bridge of his nose. “How did those damned radio people get the news before we did?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where’s Arnaldo Nunes?”

“In Sao Paulo, visiting family.”

“Good! Saves us a plane ticket.” Sampaio, when he wasn’t flattering a superior, or planning the overthrow of an enemy, kept a sharp eye on expenses. “Pry him loose from his bloody family. I need every available man. I need results fast. Timing is critical.”

For once, Sampaio was right. Timing was critical.

The felons who’d snatched the Artist’s mother could hardly have picked a worse time to do it.

The beginning of the FIFA World Cup was thirteen days away. The nation, as it did every four years, had gone football crazy. And, in the upcoming conflict, no player was more crucial to Brazil’s success than the Artist.

What Beethoven was to music, Rembrandt to painting, Tico “The Artist” Santos was to the art of futebol. He was the new Pele. Some alleged he was better than Pele. With Tico in form, his team was expected to go on to glory. With Tico depressed and worried about the fate of his mother, Brazil ran a grave risk of suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the country’s most bitter rival-Argentina.

Even that wasn’t the worst of it. Brazil, the only country to have won the Cup five times, was hosting the series for the first time in more than sixty years.

Every important government official, from the President of the Republic on down, had acquired tickets to the games. And every one of them had been looking forward to the grand finale, where they’d rub elbows, mid-field, in the great stadium of Maracana, and watch Brazil crush the opposition.

Opposition that would, according to the bookmakers in London, most likely be wearing the blue and white of the Argentinean national team.

But now, the great elbow-rubbing fest had been thrown into jeopardy. A serious risk had arisen that Argentina might rub dirt into Brazilian faces. And, indignity of indignities, that dirt might be Brazilian dirt.

The task of finding the Artist’s mother had fallen to the Brazilian Federal Police. If Juraci Santos wasn’t quickly-and safely-returned, there was no one more likely to be targeted by the witch hunt that would surely follow than the Director in charge of that organization.

Nelson Sampaio.

“The Argentineans have a club in Sao Paulo,” he said, biting one of his nails. “That’s as good a place as any to start.”

Silva eyed him warily. “Start what?”

“Interviewing Argentineans, of course. It’s a question of cui bono. If Tico can’t do his stuff, who benefits? The Argentineans! That could be it right there! That could be the motive.”

Wariness crystallized into disbelief, but Silva was careful to keep his voice neutral.

“You think a cabal of Argentineans snatched the Artist’s mother?”

“Makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“Honestly, Director, I don’t think-”

“Call Nunes. I don’t want him sitting around on his ass waiting for you to get there. I want him over at that Argentinean club questioning suspects. Tell him that.”

Silva suppressed a sigh. “I’ll tell him, Director.”

Sampaio stabbed the photo with a forefinger. “Did this come by email?”

Silva nodded.

“We can trace emails, can’t we?”

“Not in this case.”

“Why the hell not?”

“They used a free, Web-based account and logged in through an unsecured wireless link.”

“Whatever the fuck that means.” Sampaio’s language tended to get saltier when he was under pressure. “Have you booked your flight?”

Silva nodded and looked at his watch. “It leaves in fiftyfive minutes.”

“Get a move on then.” Sampaio took another bite of nail.

“We’ll continue this conversation when I get there.”

Silva raised an eyebrow. “You’re coming to Sao Paulo?” “Are you hard of hearing, Chief Inspector?”

The Director loved to throw his weight around. Unfortunately for his subordinates, he generally threw it in the wrong direction. Allowing him to go to Sao Paulo would hinder, not help, the investigation. Silva acted immediately to defuse the threat.

“I’m sure Minister Pontes will be pleased with your personal involvement,” he said.

Antonio Pontes, the Minister of Justice, was the government’s Witch Hunter-in-Chief.

For a while, Sampaio didn’t reply.

Silva knew what he was up to. He was turning it over in his head: Go to Sao Paulo and assume all responsibility, or stay in Brasilia and blame Mario Silva and his team in case of failure?

For Sampaio, a political appointee and a political animal, it really wasn’t much of a choice. He did exactly what Silva expected him to do.

“Damn,” he said, “I forgot about the corruption hearings. I’ll have to stay here. I could be called upon to testify.”

There was not the least chance of Sampaio being called upon to testify. The congressional corruption hearings were dead in the water. The politicians charged with conducting them were stonewalling, some to protect their buddies, some to protect themselves.

But Silva nodded, as if what the Director said made perfect sense.

“Mind you,” Sampaio added, “You’ll be calling me with updates at least twice a day.”

“Of course,” Silva said.

He had no intention of doing any such thing.

Chapter Three

The Federal Police’s Sao Paulo field office operated under the direction of Delegado Hector Costa.

Some people said he owed his position to his uncle’s influence.

They were wrong.

Silva had done everything he could to convince his nephew to embrace a less dangerous profession-and failed. When Hector had been accepted to the Federal Police, Silva had steadfastly refused to promote his

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