Chapter One<br><br>Less than an hour after Juraci Santos was unceremoniously<br>dumped into the back seat of her kidnappers’ getaway<br>car, Luca Vaz crept through her front gate and poisoned her<br>bougainvilleas.<br><br>The way he figured it, he didn’t have a choice. And it<br>wasn’t his fault. It was the fault of that lying lowlife, Mateo<br>Lima.<br><br>“You’re sure about the color of these bougainvilleas?”<br>Juraci had asked when he was planting them.<br><br>“I’m sure, Senhora,” he’d assured her. “Blood red, like you<br>told me.”<br><br>“Guaranteed?”<br><br>“Guaranteed, Senhora.”<br><br>“All right, Luca. But you’d better be right. Because, if they<br>flower in any other color. . . .”<br><br>She left the threat unspecified. But a threat it was—and<br>he knew it.<br><br>Three weeks later, the roof fell in: Luca learned that those<br>new plants of hers were about to flower in a color his wife,<br>Amanda, had described as the palest purple I’ve ever seen on a<br>bougainvillea. If Juraci Santos, a woman known to be as vindictive<br>as she was distrustful, discovered the truth, he’d be in<br>big trouble.<br><br>Luca’s advance notice of the situation stemmed from the<br>fact that he’d swiped one of the cuttings and planted it to<br>the right of his front door. Unlike the bougainvilleas along<br>Juraci’s wall, it had been standing in strong sunshine for the<br>last three weeks and Amanda, with her sharp eyes, had spotted<br>the first little bud. She’d taken him by the arm, led him<br>over to the plant and pointed.<br><br>“Isn’t this bougainvillea supposed to be red?”<br><br>“It’s not red?” he asked with a sense of foreboding.<br><br>He wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t told him. Luca<br>wasn’t just color blind; he suffered from the most severe and<br>rarest form of the malady: achromatopsia. He saw the world<br>in black, white and shades of gray.<br><br>Six people in the world, and only six, knew about his condition.<br>Unfortunately, one of them was Amanda’s no-good<br>brother, Mateo, who owned a flower and shrub business, and<br>whom Luca blamed for his current troubles.<br><br>The truth of the matter was that Mateo Lima was a nasty<br>son of a bitch, and there weren’t many people in Carapicuiba,<br>or the surrounding communities either, who were willing to<br>buy flowers and shrubs from the likes of him.<br>Nor were there many people willing to hire a guy who was<br>color blind to care for their flowers.<br><br>So there they were, Luca and Mateo, stuck with each other.<br>The survival of Mateo’s flower and shrub nursery depended<br>upon Luca’s work as a gardener. And Luca’s continued<br>employment depended on Mateo keeping his mouth shut<br>about Luca’s condition, which Mateo, the blackmailing<br>bastard, had made clear he’d do only if he became Luca’s<br>exclusive supplier.<br><br>It was remotely possible, of course, that Mateo had made<br>an honest mistake about those supposedly blood-red bougainvilleas.<br>But Luca didn’t think so. The most likely possibility<br>was that Mateo was trying to pull a fast one because<br>he had no blood-red bougainvilleas in stock.<br>The other possibility was that Mateo had been having a<br>joke at Luca’s expense. He found color blindness funny.<br><br>Either way, Mateo had underestimated the consequences<br>for both of them. If Juraci saw those bougainvilleas flowering<br>in pale purple, she’d have a fit. And then she’d shoot her<br>mouth off to all of her neighbors. Luca would wind up losing<br>his customers; Mateo would be stuck with his flowers and<br>shrubs, and both of them would soon be scratching to make<br>a living. That was why the bougainvilleas had to go before<br>they brought flowers into the world.<br><br>Killing bougainvilleas, as any gardener will tell you, is a<br>tough proposition. The normal technique is to dig them out<br>by the roots. Luca would have to be subtler than that. He’d<br>have to make it appear they’d fallen victims to some mysterious<br>blight.<br><br>After giving the problem some thought, he decided on<br>his instrument of death: herbicide coupled with industrialstrength<br>bleach. He mixed up the concoction in a four-liter<br>jug, set his alarm clock for quarter to five in the morning, and<br>by five-thirty on the day of the kidnapping he was creeping<br>through Juraci’s gate. He missed encountering her abductors by<br>about fifty-five minutes, a fact that undoubtedly saved his life.<br>He, like the kidnappers, had chosen his time with care.<br>One of her maids had mentioned that Juraci was a night owl,<br>and that she seldom retired before two or three in the morning.<br>But Luca always smelled freshly-brewed coffee when he<br>arrived, which was usually around 7:00, sometimes as early<br>as 6:45. That led him to believe that the maids were up and<br>about by 6:30 at the latest.<br><br>His plan was a simple one, and he was convinced he’d be<br>able to pull it off without a hitch. The only imponderable was<br>that yappy little poodle of Juraci’s, the one she called Twiggy.<br>He prayed the dog would keep her mouth shut, because if<br>the little bitch didn’t, she might wake up the big bitch, her<br>mistress, and then Luca’s fat would be in the fire.<br><br>He’d brought a flashlight, but, as it turned out, he didn’t<br>need it. The moonlight was bright enough to work by. With<br>gloved and practiced fingers, Luca dug down to expose the<br>roots of each plant, severed them with his grafting knife,<br>poured in a healthy dose of the poisonous liquid and packed<br>the earth back into place. With any kind of luck at all, the<br>heat of the sun would cause the sap to rise, thereby drawing<br>the poison upward into the twigs and leaves.<br><br>At quarter past six, after a celebratory cigarette, Luca<br>began his normal workday. He went, first, to the shed at the<br>foot of the garden. From there, he took a plastic trash bag<br>and started working his way up the slope toward the house.<br>Juraci’s slovenly guests were in the habit of leaving paper<br>cups, paper plates, and gnawed-upon bones scattered about<br>the lawn after every barbecue—and she gave a lot of barbecues.<br>It was one of his tasks to gather them up.<br><br>6:30 passed, then 6:40 without a single sign of life from<br>the house; no yappy little Twiggy running around the garden<br>pissing on the plants; no smell of coffee.<br><br>At 6:45, curiosity and a craving for a café com leite getting<br>the better of him, Luca decided to investigate. Up to that<br>point, he hadn’t been alarmed. But when he rounded the<br>corner and caught sight of the kitchen, he stopped dead in<br>his tracks.<br><br>The door had been smashed—not just forced open, but<br>completely destroyed. Pieces of solid, varnished wood were<br>everywhere, a few of them still hanging from the hinges.<br>Burglars, he thought. And then: Already gone . . . or maybe<br>not. He started moving again, more cautiously this time. A<br>rat in the kitchen reacted to the sound of his footsteps by<br>scuttling out of the door to take refuge under a nearby hedge.<br>Luca had no fear of rats. He’d killed dozens in his time.<br>He quickened his pace. From somewhere beyond the dim<br>opening, he could hear the buzzing of flies. When he reached<br>the doorway, he stopped again, letting his eyes adjust to the<br>light, getting his first glimpse of the situation inside.<br><br>The flies, hundreds of them, had been attracted by a pool<br>of liquid on the white tile floor. They were over it, around it,<br>some were even in it, trapped, as if they’d landed on flypaper.<br>A few survivors waved their wings, making futile efforts to<br>escape.<br><br>Luca, at first, saw the liquid as dark grey. But then, he caught<br>a whiff of the steely smell, saw the two corpses from which it<br>oozed to form a single pool, and realized it must be red.<br>Blood red.<br><br><br>Chapter Two<br><br>The downpour menacing Brasilia for the past hour<br>was finally making good on its threat. Raindrops splashed on<br>the Director’s window panes. Mario Silva suppressed a sigh.<br>He’d left his umbrella at home. He’d get soaked on the way<br>to the airport.<br><br>“Let me have a closer look at that,” Nelson Sampaio said.<br>He leaned over his desk to snatch the photo from his chief<br>inspector’s hand. Then he put on his gold-rimmed reading<br>glasses and squinted at the headline.<br><br>Artist’s Mother Abducted.<br><br>He could have read it without the glasses. The typeface<br>was that big.<br><br>In the photograph, Juraci Santos looked terrified. Her<br>face was dirty, her hair unkempt; her upper body, as much<br>of it as could be seen in the shot, was clad in a dark green<br>sweatshirt several sizes too small. She had been photographed<br>holding up a late edition of that morning’s Cidado<br>de São Paulo.<br><br>Sampaio tossed the photo onto a pile of newspapers, all<br>with headlines echoing the one he’d been squinting at.<br>“Proof of life, my ass,” he said. “These days they can fake<br>anything. Why diamonds?”<br><br>“Cash is too bulky,” Silva said. “A bank transfer could be<br>traced. Diamonds have universal value. It’s a good choice.”<br>Sampaio took off his glasses and rubbed the indentations<br>on the bridge of his nose. “How did those damned radio<br>people get the news before we did?”<br><br>“I don’t know.”<br><br>“Where’s Arnaldo Nunes?”<br><br>“In São Paulo, visiting family.”<br><br>“Good! Saves us a plane ticket.” Sampaio, when he wasn’t<br>flattering a superior, or planning the overthrow of an enemy,<br>kept a sharp eye on expenses. “Pry him loose from his bloody<br>family. I need every available man, I need results fast. Timing<br>is critical.”<br><br>For once, Sampaio was right. Timing was critical.<br><br>The felons who’d snatched the Artist’s mother could<br>hardly have picked a worse time to do it.<br><br>The beginning of the FIFA World Cup was thirteen days<br>away. The nation, as it did every four years, had gone football<br>crazy. And, in the upcoming conflict, no player was more<br>crucial to Brazil’s success than the Artist.<br><br>What Beethoven was to music, Rembrandt to painting,<br>Tico “The Artist” Santos was to the art of futebol. He was the<br>new Pelé. Some alleged he was better than Pelé. With Tico<br>in form, his team was expected to go on to glory. With Tico<br>depressed and worried about the fate of his mother, Brazil ran<br>a grave risk of suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of<br>the country’s most bitter rival—Argentina.<br><br>Even that wasn’t the worst of it. Brazil, the only country to<br>have won the Cup five times, was hosting the series for the<br>first time in more than sixty years.<br><br>Every important government official, from the President<br>of the Republic on down, had acquired tickets to the games.<br>And every one of them had been looking forward to the<br>grand finale, where they’d rub elbows, mid-field, in the great<br>stadium of Maracanã, and watch Brazil crush the opposition.<br>Opposition that would, according to the bookmakers in<br>London, most likely be wearing the blue and white of the<br>Argentinean national team.<br><br>But now, the great elbow-rubbing fest had been thrown<br>into jeopardy. A serious risk had arisen that Argentina might<br>rub dirt into Brazilian faces. And, indignity of indignities,<br>that dirt might be Brazilian dirt.<br><br>The task of finding the Artist’s mother had fallen to the<br>Brazilian Federal Police. If Juraci Santos wasn’t quickly—and<br>safely—returned, there was no one more likely to be targeted<br>by the witch hunt that would surely follow than the Director<br>in charge of that organization.<br><br>Nelson Sampaio.<br><br>“The Argentineans have a club in São Paulo,” he said, biting<br>one of his nails. “That’s as good a place as any to start.”<br>Silva eyed him warily. “Start what?”<br><br>“Interviewing Argentineans, of course. It’s a question<br>of cui bono. If Tico can’t do his stuff, who benefits? The<br>Argentineans! That could be it right there! That could be<br>the motive.”<br><br>Wariness crystallized into disbelief, but Silva was careful to<br>keep his voice neutral.<br><br>“You think a cabal of Argentineans snatched the Artist’s<br>mother?”<br><br>“Makes sense, doesn’t it?”<br><br>“Honestly, Director, I don’t think—”<br><br>“Call Nunes. I don’t want him sitting around on his<br>ass waiting for you to get there. I want him over at that<br>Argentinean club questioning suspects. Tell him that.”<br><br>Silva suppressed a sigh. “I’ll tell him, Director.”<br><br>Sampaio stabbed the photo with a forefinger. “Did this<br>come by email?”<br><br>Silva nodded.<br><br>“We can trace emails, can’t we?”<br><br>“Not in this case.”<br><br>“Why the hell not?”<br><br>“They used a free, web-based account and logged in through<br>an unsecured wireless link.”<br><br>“Whatever the fuck that means.” Sampaio’s language<br>tended to get saltier when he was under pressure. “Have you<br>booked your flight?”<br><br>Silva nodded and looked at his watch. “It leaves in fifty-five<br>minutes.”<br><br>“Get a move on then.” Sampaio took another bite of nail.<br>“We’ll continue this conversation when I get there.”<br><br>Silva raised an eyebrow. “You’re coming to São Paulo?”<br>“Are you hard of hearing, Chief Inspector?”<br><br>The Director loved to throw his weight around.<br><br>Unfortunately for his subordinates, he generally threw it in<br>the wrong direction. Allowing him to go to São Paulo would<br>hinder, not help, the investigation. Silva acted immediately<br>to defuse the threat.<br><br>“I’m sure Minister Pontes will be pleased with your personal<br>involvement,” he said.<br><br>Antonio Pontes, the Minister of Justice, was the government’s<br>Witch Hunter-in-Chief.<br><br>For a while, Sampaio didn’t reply.<br><br>Silva knew what he was up to. He was turning it over<br>in his head: Go to São Paulo and assume all responsibility, or<br>stay in Brasilia and blame Mario Silva and his team in case of<br>failure?<br><br>For Sampaio, a political appointee and a political animal,<br>it really wasn’t much of a choice. He did exactly what Silva<br>expected him to do.<br><br>“Damn,” he said, “I forgot about the corruption hearings.<br>I’ll have to stay here. I could be called upon to testify.”<br><br>There was not the least chance of Sampaio being called<br>upon to testify. The congressional corruption hearings were<br>dead in the water. The politicians charged with conducting<br>them were stonewalling, some to protect their buddies, some<br>to protect themselves.<br><br>But Silva nodded, as if what the Director said made perfect<br>sense.<br><br>“Mind you,” Sampaio added, “You’ll be calling me with<br>updates at least twice a day.”<br><br>“Of course,” Silva said.<br><br>He had no intention of doing any such thing. <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>A Vine in the Blood</b> by <b>Gage Leighton</b> Copyright © 2011 by Gage Leighton. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime, a division of Random House, Inc.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.