Afternoon, heavy with light, has crept over the beach, coloring the
bodies stretched on bright towels an oily brown from the excess of
Facão pulls up his trousers, pats the gun resting in the holster, and
wipes his bald head to dry off the rivulet of sweat that makes a shallow
carving in his skin.
One more hour and he will be free. One more hour of listening to Yankee
wails about stolen bucks, lost Nikon cameras, and misplaced passports.
And misplaced kids. As far as he is concerned, they can all go to hell
or back to Texas and Alabama. Or wherever they come from. Toronto,
maybe. He detests their white bodies in flapping shorts and Hawaiian
shirts with surfers and tropical flowers and the hungry stares they give
chunky mulatas whose round buttocks ooze out of the dental floss as
everyone in Rio calls the skimpy bikinis.
Facão he doesn’t fancy mulatas—too much African blood, too voodoo for
his taste. Now, a skinny hairless body … the tingle in his loins, as
if a gang of ants were marching up and down his thighs, signals his
escalating excitement but he brushes the thought off his mind and steers
it to his duty. After all, he is a cop, and whatever his appetites,
there is no time for them now.
He is attentive to any potential indication of criminal activity but
finds none. Exceptionally quiet. People seem to have exhausted their
need for melodrama, alcohol, and blood in the Carnival. 358 dead, nearly
a thousand wounded either stabbed or shot, tourists raped and robbed. He
shakes his head. Modern times.
Rio in summer is hell. He can’t fathom why people just don’t stay at
home and save themselves and him problems? He hates tourists—men,
women, young, old. Especially old. Desiccated French ladies that, like
fish, spoil from the head—necks wrinkled as washing boards, loose
eyelids, sagging breasts. Disgusting. Or maybe not so much the old.
Maybe the fat and drooping. Yes. He hates those the most.
He glances at his watch. Nearly time. One last peep around, nobody could
say he doesn’t take his job seriously.
“Hey, lady, that your girl?” he shouts to a woman frying her skin in the
biting glare. Hasn’t she heard of cancer?
He points to a little girl screaming in panic as frothy waves carry her
to and from the beach.
“Oh my God!” Her tan forgotten, the woman rushes towards the child and
takes her in her arms. She is slippery from the suntan oil and the girl
slides from her embrace onto the hot sand.
Fool, Facão thinks. One moment of carelessness and the girl could have
His mother is waiting for him back home with a pot of bubbling
feijoada, a greasy mixture of black beans, pork sausages, and pig’s
“Nutritious,” she says.
“Full of body.”
She smiles her toothless grin, and he nods falsely. He hates feijoada
and resents his mother a little. After all, she has bequeathed on him
the pocked skin, beady eyes, and black stiff hair. And on top of all, as
if to tease fate, as if knowing that his ugliness, just like her own,
would last forever, she called him Constante.
He prefers his nickname—Facão or ‘machete’. It gives him a slightly
exotic air of an Amazon explorer, a tough guy chopping his way through
the jungle, a hunter stalking a deer, or even an alligator.
In the delegacia, he takes off his sweat-drenched uniform and
dutifully deposits the gun in the safe.
“You gonna see the match tonight?” a tall cop with a drinker’s belly
calls to him from behind a desk.
Facão shakes his head. No, he doesn’t give a damn about the latest
dispute between Flamengo and Fluminense.
“Anyone ever tell you your nose looks like a machete?” the cop laughs,
his double chin shaking like repulsive jelly.
Idiot, Facão thinks but doesn’t bother to reply.
It has been a long, exhausting day and he doesn’t feel like going back
home. Not yet. The TV set with another episode of Sai de Baixo will be
on. He hates the stupid soaps. Life is soapy enough around Ipanema. He
could go to the cinema and see that old Hitchcock movie again. The one
with the impressive shower scene. No, not tonight, he has seen it four
times already. It’s the end of the month so he can hardly afford a
packet of cigarettes, never mind a meal. And after patrolling Copacabana
for eight hours, the beach is out of the question. Nothing to do, no
money to spend. Bloody life.
A sudden thought crosses his mind: Baixada Fluminense … Yes, that’s
where he’ll go.
Baixada is one of Rio’s poorest areas. Sprawling favelas stretch for
miles and wrap the city like a leper’s disintegrating skin. Home for all
kinds of crooks and parasites, he thinks.
He stops a passing taxi and flashes his badge at the cabbie. The trick
“Merda, man, couldn’t you pick someone else?” the driver swears but
obediently starts the car.
They pass the Sugarloaf, God’s gift to Rio and to international tourism.
He detests it just like he hates everything else here that evokes
enthusiastic oh’s and ah’s from the foreign nitwits. Now, if he were the
Mayor, he would bulldoze the spongy-looking hill and flood the favelas
to get rid of the scroungers once and for all.
“Stop!” he orders and gets out of the cab.
“Where’s my money?” the cabbie says.
Facão smiles and walks away.
The taxi moves, stops, the driver shouts out of the window: “Machete
face!” then speeds off with the stink of burnt tires.
Facão enters a café and orders a cup of coffee. Like all Brazilians, he
likes his coffee strong as the devil, hot as hell, and sweet as
A couple is dancing on a tiny platform next to the counter, hips moving
frenetically, feet beating a rapid rhythm. He regards them with
undisguised disgust—they wouldn’t make it to a samba school.
It’s not dark yet but night has begun to finger the sky with grey. Facão
orders another coffee. Yes, it was a good idea. Here, in Baixada, he can
forget for a while he’s a cop. He can be himself.
His bladder is bursting. In the foul-smelling toilet, he goes through
his pockets. A hole in the lining of the jacket has swallowed up some
coins. Must tell mother to fix it.
He leaves the café and takes the first turning right to Avenida Rainha
Elizabete, named after the Queen of England. The old bitch would have a
fit if she could see the street: shacks of rusty, corrugated iron lumped
together, filthy water flowing over in the gutters, fat blobs of filth
floating on the surface. He coughs. Bloody dump.
Fifty meters to the left there’s a square with stone benches and
exuberant shrubbery. The only exuberant things in Rio are the multas and
the vegetation, he thinks. The rest is crap.
The square is the meeting place of the abandonados, children whose
parents couldn’t care less whether they lived or died. Like the
Sugarloaf and the favelas, Facão would get rid of the little rats who
beg, steal and poke their snotty noses into decent neighborhoods.
He spots two boys. They must be around ten, eleven at most. The taller
one has a yellow, jaundiced face and a head full of copper curls.
Clearly showing more than a drop of European descent. Probably the
result of a quick one-night stand of a visiting tourist. The other’s
black with elongated Indian eyes and a rodent’s protruding teeth.
Facão’s glad. No Hitchcock movie can compare to this.
“Hey, pequenino, wanna earn a few reals?” He calls to them.
Black eyes stare up at him.
“Depends on what?”
“I don’t do it without a Camisa-de-Venus.”
The taller one laughs. “Got your blood test? Clean for AIDS?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Facão says and silently curses the kids.
“You from the favela?” the black one asks.
“How come I’ve never seen you around?”
“I work in the city.”
Why is he explaining anything to the kid? He feels like smashing those
buckteeth in right there and then.
“Just some simple moving. A wardrobe. Heavy bastard, can’t do it on my
The boys communicate in silence. The black one nods—he is the boss.
“Twenty upfront, fifty more after the job.”
Facão takes out a handful of notes. Rats, he thinks. Smelly, vile rats.
It’s dark now and a weak crescent of a moon barely illuminates the sky
and the corny Sugarloaf.
The kids flank him like soldiers.
“Far still?” the tall one asks.
“A couple of blocks.”
The black boy whistles through the gap in his teeth.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Who cares? They call me Rabbit.”
Facão can see why.
They leave the built-up area and head for an empty stretch. The boys’
heads bob like two beach balls surfing on waves. The tall one looks up
at him, his face anxious.
Facão looks around. Clear. He doesn’t dare to put his hand in the
pocket. Not yet. It could scare them, but he’d like to touch the knife
with his fingertips. After the tingling in the loins, the feel of steel
is the second sweetest sensation he knows.
He makes a half-spin, grabs the tall one by the hair, and pulls. The kid
squirms like an eel, his hair is greasy and difficult to keep hold of.
“Run, Rabbit, run!” the boy screams and sinks his teeth in Facão’s arm.
Facão tries to shake him off and reaches blindly for the knife in his
Rabbit runs, stops, looks back, runs again. The weak moon illuminates
his terrified face.
The tall kid hangs on to Facão’s arm, his teeth sinking into the flesh,
twisting, grinding. The pain is unbearable. Where’s the bloody knife? At
last, his hand closes around the horn handle. He tries to pull it out.
He doesn’t care about Rabbit anymore. He must get the knife out, kill
the little rat and cut his nuts off. The kid squirms, gurgling sobs like
the gasps of an asthma-ridden dog bubble out between his clenched teeth.
Yet he still holds on to his arm.
The knife is out. The feeling of joy and thrill is overpowering. He can
already smell the kid’s blood, its pumping vitality. A river of blood,
Suddenly, an ear-splitting scream brings him back from the precipice of
a climax. Rabbit, mad with rage, rushes towards him, his arms raised. He
is holding something—something big and dark.
Facão lets go of the kid but it’s too late. A stone alights on his skull
and a sticky liquid, not unlike watery ketchup on a raw hamburger, drips
into his eyes.
“Rats …” he gasps. “Fucking rats …”
From the descending darkness, laughter reaches him before he passes out.