PART 4 – THIEVES MARKET
The apartment did not look an awful lot cleaner (or less for that matter) than when I last set eyes on it but Leila had put my bags in the bedroom, as she had promised. Over the kitchen table chair a pair of towels was draped. They came in handy, because I was sweating like a pig. I had not taken public transport back to the apartment, but had come on foot. A bus tram or metro I could not have handled. The judging eyes of the commuters – even if they were only judging in my delusion – would have weighed too heavily on me. Yet making the one-hour journey on foot proved no less an ordeal. Though mostly downhill, there were half a dozen travesso’s to navigate that went steeply uphill. By the time I had reached my destination my shirt looked as though it had been recently tossed into the Tagus.
The shower got rid of the sweat, but not of the nagging guilt. I had just killed a man. Killed him in cold blood, because some girl had blackmailed me into it. To protect a secret from my sordid past I’d rather not have out there. The police would have arrived on the spot by now, counting the indentations of the rosary in his neck. I leaned into the tiled wall, the warm water washing over me. I tried to cry, I wanted to scream, but nothing came out. I was alone with my guilt, the only ones I trusted hundreds of miles away in another country. Damn this city, I thought, damn Lisbon and its many temptations, its winding streets and its shadowy parks. Was this how saudade felt? Was mine a tale they’d someday sing Fado songs about?
I didn’t unpack. Why bother bringing out the laptop? Sure, I had plenty to write about, but there were more pressing things on my mind. Like the text message that I found blinking on my cell phone screen. ‘Meet me at the Feira da Ladra’. I wasn’t looking forward to meeting Carmo again. If I’d kept the rosary instead of chucking it in a sewer, perhaps I could have strangled her too. In plain public, for everyone to see. That is how desperate I felt. But I could not. There were questions to be answered. Like what was she planning on doing with the secret she’d wrestled from me now that I had done her dark bidding.
As I descended the wooden stairs, I ran into Laila again. At least my predicament hadn’t diluted her quaint cuteness.
‘I hope you find your apartment to your satisfaction,’ she said.
‘Absolutely. Very clean.’
‘Me and my boyfriend are right next door if you want anything or have any questions. If you need some pointers about sights to see or places to eat …’
‘As it happens I’m off to the Fiera da Ladra now.’
‘Ow, you’ll like that. Always lots of people.’
‘I’m only looking for one.’
That befuddled her. I didn’t care. I had other fish to fry.
No wonder they called it a Fiera da Ladra, a thieves’ market. Either what you saw on the cloths in front of the fervent sellers was nicked, counterfeit or intended to knock a shitload of money out of your pockets without much to show for it. The sight of the Panteão Nacional, its white dome visible from each corner of the market, gave the surroundings a soupcon of class but that was about all that could be said about the market. I had grown weary of these flea markets. Every capital in the world now boasted one and they seemed to cater more and more to the tourists. Buying a real find here would be like searching for a needle in a haystack.
‘So, we meet again,’ a familiar voice said.
She was wearing something floozy again, as if she’d succeed in whirling me around her finger once more.
‘Enough with the pleasantries,’ I replied.
‘Is it done?’
‘You have proof?’
‘I’m guessing it will be on the news soon enough.’
‘I knew you had it in you.’
Such knowledge for such a young girl.
‘He didn’t put up too much of a fight, did he?’
I did not feel like answering these icy cold questions, detached from any emotion. I grabbed her by the arm.
‘Now you listen, Carmo, our business is far as I’m concerned is done. I gave you what you wanted, now you give me what I want.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘The audio file.’
She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone, erasing the audio file in front of me.
‘And the other thing,’ I demanded.
‘No. Only after I’m sure.’
‘You have my word. Now give it to me.’
She walked out on me with a line straight out of a forties film noir.
‘Insurance is expensive these days, honey.’
I responded by kicking the shit out of a collection of brightly coloured wooden cockerels in front of me. But can you blame me? Everything I had – my pride, my career, my innocence and now too my most guarded secret – had been stolen from me. I was hungry for revenge and it would not be a dish served cold.
Of course you can’t serve up revenge on an empty stomach and so I headed to the Cais do Sodré, to the recently restored Mercado da Ribeira. The morning’s food market was already closed but the other hall was already bustling with activity for the lunch crowd. I ordered a bacalhau from one of the food stands and, drinking a giant, chilled Super Bock beer waited for the order to be cooked on my stool at the long wooden tables that dominated the inside square. With nothing else to do, I ogled the quickly changing crowd, a mix between the usual tourist crowd and a younger and upscale section of the local population. Five chairs further a businessman was digging into his seafood pie with vigour. He looked like the kind of insufferable hotshot that was willing to do skim a million here and there from one of his clients, knowing they’d never notice it on their bank statements anyway. If it was him who had been found in a park with rosary indents in his neck, nobody would have cared. Hell, they might have rejoiced. I was pretty sure that would not be the case with Rodolfo. He seemed like an okay guy.
With an infernal noise and dozens of flashing red lights the gizmo in front of me sprung to life and kicked me out of my daydream. My order was read it seemed. The dish looked like something concocted by a Michelin-starred chef, but I’m not sure it tasted quite good enough to be. Still, it silenced my rumbling stomach.
I’m not sure how many more Super Bocks I had, but by the time I was kicked out of the Mercado by the security an evening breeze had descended on Lisbon and I waddled towards a place I’d vowed not to set foot in during my time in this city: the tacky, touristy eyesore of the Alfama district, where beautiful, authentic buildings and soulful surroundings were mercilessly sacrificed on the altar of commercial exploitation.
Luckily I stumbled into the one bar in the district that had more or less kept its integrity, as there was nary a tourist in sight and the old guard of the locals had conjoined on the odd assortment of chairs outside to watch the Bayern-Barcelona football game on a small TV that still operated with an antenna. The geezers where firmly in the Bayern camp. The German team had eliminated FC Porto in an earlier round – humiliated would be a more accurate word – and as fans of Porto’s arch rivals Benfica that counted for something.
The game failed to distract me and when at half-time a news broadcast was sandwiched between commercials, I sobered up immediately. There it was at last: confirmation that Rodolfo was indeed dead. I could not understand a thing the reporter said, but she said it solemnly enough that there was no mistaking the gravity of the situation. More worrisome for me was that the report was followed by a crude sketch of a man that looked remarkably like myself. The resemblance escaped the locals, who had – bar a guy sipping a rhum in the corner – retreated to the inside to order another round, but I made sure I got out of there as fast as I could.
As I climbed up the wooden steps of the apartment building, frantic dialogue was coming from Leila’s room. The door was askew and had I spoken any Portuguese I surely would have tried to eavesdrop, but it seemed better to retreat to my own room. If you have ever been drunk, you probably know that putting key to lock is not that straightforward and after three tries the keys fell from my hands, onto the floor, with a loud bang. Immediately the voices stopped and was replaced by the sound of approaching footsteps. Open flung the door and out stepped not Leila. Out stepped a police officer.
He asked me something in his native tongue but soon realised I understood nothing he said. He couldn’t have failed to notice the fear in my eyes though. Nevertheless, he helped me up, took my keys and unlocked the door, patting me on the back. I would have entered my apartment immediately and locked the door three times had it not been for a familiar voice that sounded as I was planning to do this.
Leila’s arms were flung around me and her salty tears fell on my neck, eventually rolling down my back.
‘He is dead, mister Gerald. They have killed him! Dead!’
The police officer and his colleague, who had now too appeared from the doorway, pulled Leila from me. I knew it would be best to be silent, but I have a tendency to ask questions. Call it an occupational spasm.
‘Who is dead?
‘My boyfriend. Rodolfo. Rodolfo is dead!’
The second cop escorted Leila back inside her apartment. The other one walked up to me and looked me in straight in the eye. Had he recognised me? But al he said was, in an awful accent: ‘Drink is bad. Not drink. OK?’ And he too disappeared again into Leila’s room.
Five seconds later my door was double locked and I stood panting against it. Of course! That’s why his voice sounded so familiar to me. I had heard it coming out of the bedroom window on that first day. It was Rodolfo who had been arguing with Leila. And probably not about cavorting in my bed before my arrival. I was sure it had been about that stalking maniac. Yes, it all came back to me. I had heard Leila shouting that name. Carmo. She had distinctly said Carmo. Was that why I had gone along with her that easily 36 hours ago? Because I had a subconscious recollection of her name? Freud is a bitch.
Then my mind turned to Leila. Poor, quaintly cute Leila. What would she do if she knew that the murderer of her boyfriend was just a few feet away from her at this very moment? The police must not have shown her a picture of the possible culprit yet. They’d probably wait till the morning, till Leila could think straight again. That didn’t give me much time. I was convinced I had to end it all in the morning. I had to put things straight. I had to avenge Rodolfo and Leila for my horrible mistake.
My eye caught one of the brochures Leila had planted on my writing desk when I had arrived. ‘Visit Sintra’, it said, with on the cover the ruins of a Moorish medieval castle, overlooking lush green pines and cold grey rocks.
Yes, I decided.
It will all end in Sintra.
To be continued …