PART 3 – TWENTY-EIGHT WAYS TO DIE
The following night is mostly a blur. Carmo had served me one rhum cocktail after the next in Cacilhas, numbing my senses in the hope it might make me more susceptible to the unusual request she had made a couple of hours earlier. As the sun drooped over the city on the other side of the river, the yellow lights popping up against the night sky were melding into one another: an impressionist painting, splattered against the backdrop of a waking nightmare.
The cool winds of the midnight ferry to the Cais Sodré did not clear my mind, which was poisoned not just by the alcohol, but by the dark droplets of murder Carmo had whispered in my ear throughout. By the time we entered B.Leza – an unassuming bright yellow building on the edge of the river that turned into a throbbing nightclub awash with African beats once you entered – my head was spinning and Carmo, her sweaty body draped against me like a snake strangling its prey into submission, was making outrageous promises – most of which I’ve already forgotten – to tempt me into murder.
I never would have thought that the sight of a naked twenty-something next to me, on a sun-drenched holiday morning, could make me sick to the stomach, but it did. I spilled my guts into her toilet bowl as she lay there sleeping, unperturbed and peaceful. Opening her bedroom window, gasping for fresh air, I was treated to a glorious view of the Tagus, worthy of a postcard image. It did nothing to dispel the doubts in my mind. What had I agreed on? What had I promised her? God, I didn’t even remember if the sex was any good. Perhaps if I snuck out, I could leave this behind me. I could return to my laptop halfway across Lisbon and forget about last night. But just as I tied my laces, the sound of shifting bed sheets was audible behind me and a familiar voice spoke sleepily.
‘Where do you think you’re going, Gerald?’
‘I have a novel to write.’
‘After you do what you promised.’
No, you listen…’
She stepped out of the sheets, not afraid of showing off her gorgeous naked body, and reached into her handbag. Out came an iPhone. She scrolled trough some menus and then pressed play.
It was my voice alright. Slurry and barely comprehensive, but if you listened carefully you could clearly hear me say: ‘Yes, I’ll do it. I’ll kill Rodolfo Theobaldo.’
‘That is blackmail,’ I protested.
‘That is my insurance. Rodolfo will die, whether you like it or not. And when he does, and the police come sniffing at my door, I’ll let them hear this.’
She had me by the balls. The tape surely would not be enough. But I was sure she had taken other assurances as well. A thumbprint on a piece of tape she could plant wherever the crime would be committed. A hair. A drop of blood maybe.
‘I has to be today,’ she continued. ‘You remember his itinerary?’
I shook my head.
‘Take the 28 from Limoeiro at half past eleven. He’ll head for Estrela. Look for a shady part of the park. At that hour there shouldn’t be too much of a crowd.’
My throat had turned hoarse.
‘How will I recognise him?’
‘You’ll know, don’t worry. And take a shower. You smell of booze and sex.’
When I came out of the shower, she was gone. On the table lay a snippet of paper. It simply read: close the door behind you.
There was no time to pass by my own apartment. The time was eleven and Limoeira was a brisk twenty minute walk. The shower proved a waste of time. If I wasn’t sweating from the thirty degree heat, the dread of having to take a life was enough to give my pores a severe workout. Somehow the route led me past streets that were covered in menacing graffiti, something that did nothing to ease my trepidations. Some writers would – for lack of a better word – kill for this opportunity; to live out a plot straight out of the novels you were writing. But I was not one of them. My senses were doing overtime. I smelled the salty odour of the Tagus all the way up to here and for the first time noticed the squeaking of my shoes on the smooth yet uneven stones of the narrow sidewalks. The jangling bell of a tram pierced my ears as it raced past me. It was eighteen past eleven. I’d have to hop onto the next one.
On a weekday outside of the holiday season the number of tourists at the tram stop was mercifully slim. There was an old couple in their seventies, holding up admirably under the heat and a young lady wrapped in a blouse that looked like it could fall to the ground at any time but somehow clung to her torso, whatever movement she made. But more importantly, there was no sign of Rodolfo Theobaldo. There still wasn’t when the tram arrived. Was he delayed? Had he sensed that today was not a good day to get out of bed? Perhaps I should not have gotten on the tram either. But I did. And like Carmo had predicted, I recognised Rodolfo immediately. It was hard not to: his name was prominently shown on the tag on his tram driver’s uniform.
I zapped 1.5 euros from my public transport card and moved to the back of the carriage. The tram was filled by a mix of locals and tourists, juggling for a seat near the rolled-down windows that provided a refreshing wind in the otherwise smothery tram. Stutteringly the vehicle came alive, climbing the hilly streets of the city. The passengers only had eyes and ears for the sights outside of the tram – the parks, the churches, the tiny squares that housed a multitude of cafés, their waiters sneaking between the trams to get a hot plate from one side of the road to another – but mine were firmly fixed on Rodolfo. He was in his early thirties, sported a perfectly manicured, black beard and despite the overpowering heat didn’t sweat a drop.
Why he had to die, I no longer remembered. But it was all that consumed me, all the way up to the Campo de Ourique: in an hour’s time Rodolfo would have to die. How would I do it? I couldn’t overpower him. He looked way too strong for that. I had no poison on me, nor a gun or a knife. Perhaps I’d push him in front of a passing car. Or a tram. Wouldn’t that be ironic? But then there’d be witnesses. But I had to kill him before Carmo would and with the final stop fast approaching I still hadn’t figured out how.
The crowds flooded out of the tram: the old couple, the girl with the blouse, five young American tourists who had during the trip done nothing but take pictures on their selfie stick. A new batch of tourists was already waiting at the stop, ready to fill the vehicle to the brim once more. Rodolfo got out as well. He heartily greeted the colleague that was taking charge of the tram now. According to Carmo he would now be setting off to the Jardim de Estrela, a lush, gentle park we had passed a couple of minutes ago on our way up. And indeed, Rodolfo set off in that direction. I shadowed him, my legs nearly giving out from the stress. But only a couple of hundred metres on, my future victim took a detour. Unexpectedly, he headed towards the big, white church, the Igreja do Santo Condestável, and entered through its gates.
I could have waited for him to re-emerge from the building, but perhaps he’d take another way out and then I’d lose him. So I went after him. On the steps to the entrance local youth was seeking refuge from the sun in the shadow of the giant stone statue of a saint. One of them gave me a high-five.
‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Speak English?’
I didn’t reply.
‘Speak English?’ the youth kept repeating, as I entered the church. ‘You speak English, yes?’, twice more.
As monumental as the church looked from to outside, so common did it look on the inside. There was hardly a person there. Only the echoes of Rodolfo’s footsteps, heading towards the confessional. I saw the priest on the other side of the church, talking to an old lady who had no intention to stop her story halfway through. So I took a chance and headed for the confessional myself, entering the priest’s box.
‘Benção, pai, por eu ter pecado,’ he said.
‘I don’t speak Portuguese,’ I replied. ‘Do you speak English?’
There was a short silence. Then, an unsure ‘yes?’
‘You don’t know me, but you have to listen to me. Someone wants to kill you. Do you know Carmo?’
‘Carmo? She was my girlfriend.’
‘And now she wants you dead.’
‘She would never.’
‘How would you know?’
‘She asked me to do the deed.’
On that note Rodolfo stepped out of the confessional and dragged me out of my box with force.
‘Who are you?’
‘I am Gerald. I am a writer.’
‘Why are you sticking your nose in other man’s business?’
‘I don’t want to either. I just want to warn you. I’m not gonna kill you. But Carmo might. You must take precautions.’
The ruckus we had caused had alerted the priest, who was now making his way towards us and begged us to be quit.
‘Let’s got to the Jardim de Estrela,’ I suggested to Rodolfo. ‘We won’t bother anyone there.’
On the way to the park, I told him what had happened to me. How Carmo had seduced me with alcohol and then her body. Rodolfo was less surprised at my tale than I had foreseen. He told me how he and Carmo had met two years ago, in a way not dissimilar to what I had just told him. They had dated for over a year, but – sensing that something was wrong with her obsessive nature – he had broken it off. She had stalked him. He had gotten a restraining order. He hadn’t heard from her since. Rodolfo’s story didn’t sound familiar in any way. Whatever Carmo had fed me the night prior – I still couldn’t remember it – must have been something totally different.
The park was surprisingly empty. You’d expect more Lisbon locals to seek out the cool shadows on a warm day, but they didn’t. Rodolfo and I looked for a park bench far away from any other people to continue our talk.
‘All I ever did was love her,’ he said. ‘But to her that wasn’t enough. I always had to be around her. Always. Day and night. She was scared to death I was going to meet someone else and leave her.’
‘She is one crazy bitch alright.’
Rodolfo let out a hearty laugh.
‘Yes. Crazy bitch. Could not have said it better.’
‘So what do we do now?’
‘We go to the police. Simple. I will do the talking.’
It sounded so obvious when he said it. Why hadn’t I done that?
‘Shall we go?’
I nodded. He got up. He didn’t notice me reaching in my pocket for the rosary I had picked up from a seat at the church.
I handled swiftly. The rosary was around his neck before he could do anything about it. He struggled like a wild boar to get it off. But he was less strong than I had expected. The beads were making big indents in his throat now and his skin was turning a soft shade of purple. His breath slowed, then some more, until no breathing was heard anymore. I kept on choking him for another minute to make absolutely sure.
We should go to the police. That’s what did it for me. Why hadn’t I done that? Because deep down I knew it wouldn’t help. Deep down I knew that Carmo had something on me, so damning that if I went to the police she’d ruin me.
And there was only one thing that could be.
To be continued …