Silva raised his eyes to the ceiling. The director looked up just in time to notice.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I know it’s not normally a job for the federal police.”

“Normally?” Silva said. Then, when it became clear that Sampaio didn’t intend to respond, “How about ‘never’?”

Sampaio dropped his pencil and rested his forearms on his desk.

“Stop being difficult, Mario. Look at it from the deputado’s point of view. It’s not just a missing girl; it’s also a political thing. The deputado has to get her back before it’s known she’s gone. Otherwise, people might start asking themselves what she’s running away from, might draw the conclusion that there’s something dysfunctional about the household of the deputado’s son and daughter-in-law, or odd about the deputado himself, which of course there isn’t.”

“Which of course there isn’t,” Silva echoed. “With all due respect, Director, I can’t imagine that Deputado Malan has so little influence with the cops in… where’s he from again?”


“In Recife, that he can’t get them to find her and be discreet about it.”

“That’s just it. They tried, and they can’t find her. Malan knows we’re better at that sort of thing than the locals. He wants us to look into it.”

“And if we say no?”

“We’re not going to say no,” the director said. “I’ve already told him yes. He’s waiting for your call.”

Chapter Three

Deputado Roberto Malan was a scion of one of the great landholding families of Brazil’s Northeast, people who’d wielded considerable power since colonial times. Originally, they held their estates in fiefdom to the King of Portugal. After the declaration of independence, they transferred their loyalty to the emperors of Brazil. Then, in May of 1888, Dom Pedro II, by Imperial decree, abolished slavery throughout the country. Slaves had been as much a part of the economic equation as sugarcane and coffee. Five times more Africans had been shipped to Brazil than to North America. Their value as property had been reduced to nothing by a few strokes of the monarch’s pen.

The powerful barons of Bahia and Pernambuco, owners of more than 90 percent of the arable land in those regions, managed to survive the blow by hiring their former slaves as employees. But the price of rent and food was deducted from wages. And the price of both was determined exclusively by the landlords. Deductions always exceeded wages. What’s more, the landlords no longer had the obligation to care for sick and infirm slaves. So, in the end, the landlords were better off than they’d been before. They came to accept, indeed embrace, a slaveless society.

What they couldn’t accept was a continuing subjection to Dom Pedro II. Their newfound distrust, and in some cases hatred, led them to work assiduously for his downfall. The traitor to his class, the last emperor of Brazil, was overthrown and sent into exile. A republic was established.

Within a year, Pedro Malan (named after the emperor he’d worked so hard to depose) became a duly elected senator in the new federal government and Malan had been in the legislature ever since. Roberto, the current patriarch of the line, the grandfather of the missing girl, had been there for over thirty years.

Now, at sixty-four, his was the name most often cited as the next president of the Chamber of Deputies, a job that would put him third in succession to the Presidency of the Republic. He’d become accustomed to treating federal employees much as he treated his workers back home.

“Sit,” he said, pointing Silva to a chair, as if he was issuing instructions to a household pet.

The deputado offered neither his hand, nor an apology for keeping Silva waiting. He was a man with a florid face, bushy white eyebrows, and a habit of leaning forward when he spoke.

Silva did as he was bade. The legs of his chair were unusually short, while Malan was sitting on something that raised him up. The politician’s diminutive stature was a feature well known to, and exploited by, caricaturists and cartoonists. He’d taken steps to compensate for it.

Ostensibly in the interest of keeping the inquiry under wraps, the deputado had asked that their meeting take place in his home on Paranoa Lake. The lake, an artificially constructed body of water in the center of Brasilia, was largely surrounded by imposing mansions like Malan’s. Behind him, through an open window, Silva could see an expanse of green lawn and the dock where the deputado’s gleaming white motor yacht was moored. A sailor in white shorts was polishing one of the cleats. There were two gardeners at work among the rose bushes, and the fragrance of the flowers permeated the room. Across the blue water of the lake the national flag waved lazily from its huge flagpole on the Praca dos Tres Poderes. The room would have been a pleasant place had it not been for the presence of the man who owned it.

Silva took out his notepad, turned to a blank page and uncapped his pen.

Malan offered no refreshment, made no attempt to indulge in small talk. He got right down to business: “Sampaio tell you what this meeting is about?”

“Your granddaughter,” Silva said. “I understand she’s missing.”

“You understand right.”

“I’ve been told she’s gone missing before.”

“Right again.”

“What’s her full name?”

“Marta Nascimento Malan.” The deputado said it slowly so that Silva could make a note of it. “Her mother was a Nascimento.”

Silva was obviously expected to know the name, and he did. The Nascimentos also owned great estates in Pernambuco.

“Was?” he asked.

“Was,” the deputado repeated. “Now, she’s a Malan.”

Possessive, Silva thought.

“How long has she been missing?” he asked.

Malan had to rifle through the calendar on his desk to answer the question. When he found the annotation he was looking for, he tapped it with his finger.

“My son first told me about it on the fourth of this month,” he said. “So she must have gone missing four or five weeks before that.”

Silva lifted his head from his notebook and stared at the deputado.

“Five weeks before the fourth of April? More than two months ago?”

Malan wrinkled his nose and sniffed, as if he could detect criticism by scent alone. He glared at Silva. “I know how to count, Chief Inspector.”

It was the first time he’d used Silva’s title, but there was no respect in it. He said “Chief Inspector” much as he might have said “waiter” or “driver.”

Silva masked a flash of anger. “When did your son report her disappearance to the authorities?”

“On the same day he notified me, the fourth of April. He called a friend of ours in Recife, the mayor, Arlindo Venantius. You heard of him?”

“No,” Silva said.

“You will before long,” Malan said. “We’re talking about making him governor.”

Not running him for governor, making him governor. Malan paused long enough for Silva to draw the obvious conclusion, then said, “And Arlindo called his chief of police.”

Not the chief of police, his chief of police.

In many places in the North, true democracy was little more than a distant dream. The real power was in the hands of feudal families, and it had been that way for four hundred years. Silva was glad he hadn’t been obliged to deal with people like Malan when he was growing up in Sao Paulo. Back then, he had been accustomed to telling people what he thought.

“Why did your son wait for more than a month before talking to the mayor?” he said.

Malan waved an impatient hand.

“I told you. She’s gone missing before. Why fuss about it if she’s going to come crawling back with her tail

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