“Samantha, how can you leave me like this?”
“But Fernando, I’m only going to the john.”
“Do not be long, my dear! I cannot live without you!”
Rita brushed her brunette layers out of her eyes, sipped her Caiperinha, and shifted her gaze to the next group on the beach that she’d give voice to.
“Mmm, Wilhelmina, your leg feels so… so stubbly.”
“Oh, Alfredo, I bet you say that to all the girls.”
To say that Rita was feeling surly would be an understatement of epic proportions. She’d been stood up by a handsome tourist, who just happened to be in the publishing business and had been chatting her up earlier in the day. The man had suggested sharing a meal and drinks at The Sandbox, a bar and seafood grill on Santos beach at 6:00. It was now after 8:00, the sun was merely a smear of melted butter across the water, and the meeting that was supposed to change her life had turned into a drunken, bad lip-reading party for one. This whole Brazilian writing retreat was supposed to be a celebration for her divorce being final, and this hardly seemed like a good omen for starting over.
She looked down at the espadrille sandals laced up her calves below the form-hugging, palm print dress she’d bought against her better judgment, and a headline popped into her head: Totally Hot Tourist Cools on Totally Hot Publisher.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
After thirty minutes of waiting, she had thought about calling her traveling companion, Dani, to come join her, but after an hour, she knew she wasn’t fit company for anyone, and alone had seemed completely apropos. She’d even considered calling Gaspar so the evening wouldn’t be a complete waste, but she was always annoyed by people talking on their phones in restaurants. She’d wait for a better time.
She took another sip, leaning an elbow on the deck railing, watching a light bobbing close to the water’s edge, the silhouette of a small boat still visible in the dwindling daylight. A figure climbed out, leaving an oarsman behind, and made his way up the beach. Rita began to narrate that which she could really barely see: “The tall wiry man strode with purpose, the muscles in his legs burning with the effort it took to walk through the thick sand. He paused and pointed the small flashlight at his hand. The map she had drawn for him was now in tatters, but it would still lead him to untold treasures.”
Rita giggled and brought her drink to her lips as the man seemed to turn and head toward the grill. “But first,” she continued, “Francois De Gaul San Pedro Arturo Madrid needed a stiff drink. ‘The jewels will still be there after I have a Corona,’ he reasoned in his gravelly voice. ‘I’ve traveled far and…’ ” Rita paused and squinted in irritation as the man swept his flashlight over the crowd on the bar’s elevated patio.
“Hey, man, cut it out,” someone yelled nearby, and Rita turned to get the surprisingly bright light out of her eyes as more rumbles of irritation were directed at the interloper.
She continued narrating in her head. Francois was rude and uncultured, however, starting a fight with the locals who— The light was in her face again.
She turned her back to it and found that the waiter clearing her table looked as irritated as she felt. “Listen Mister,” she threw over her shoulder, “this is not a good way to make friends and influence—”
“Diva de Diamante, I am here for you.” The man’s accent sounded native to Brazil.
The waiter froze, his surprised expression illuminated quite clearly.
Rita looked past him with amusement. “Hey, Diva,” she projected across the deck, “whoever you are, come forth so this guy will stop blinding us.”
He spoke again. “Or do you now prefer Rita Engels.”
Rita turned in surprise, holding a hand to her squinting eyes, and tried to see the man behind the light. All she could tell was that he was tall. “For your information, it’s not Engels anymore. It’s Miller. Who are you?”
“Someone you should not have crossed.”
As the gun shot rang out, and she stumbled back, flinging what was left of her drink, she had the inane thought that she needed to write this down.
Two Days Earlier
“Well, Dani, I hope you got shopping out of your system, because now it’s my turn,” Rita announced as they left the Rio Sul Shopping Mall in Rio de Janeiro, where they’d spent most of the day so far. It was now mid-afternoon and hot. Rita was glad she had on shorts and a light weight cotton shirt.
“For today,” the sassy blonde threw back in similar gear, bags in each hand. “I can’t believe you only bought a scarf.”
Rita pulled the multicolored square of silk out of her small shopping bag and proceeded to tie it around her wide brimmed hat. “And I only bought that to keep my hat on in this stupid gusty wind. How do I look?”
Dani didn’t hesitate. “Like a goof. Why didn’t you just buy a new hat with a tie?”
“Some of us have a budget. Some of us don’t have a CEO for a boyfriend. Some of us—”
“All right, all right. You should have held out for more from your ex.” She looked around. “So where to?”
Rita studied the map on her phone. They’d done a lot of the touristy things already over the last several days: Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer Statue, and Copacabana beach. Now it was time for some serious research. “The legislative buildings are just a few blocks that way.”
Dani fell into step beside her. “Well, that sounds like a blast. You sure we can’t swing by our hotel to drop these off first?” She held up the shopping bags.
“I don’t want to risk it closing before we get there.”
“Seriously, you’re going to make me heft these all over town?”
Rita kept walking. “Headline: ‘Woman Who Bought Out Store Surprised to Learn She Must Carry Her Purchases.’ ”
Dani blew out a breath but didn’t argue.
Rita inwardly smiled. Dani Harper was certainly enjoying her fiancé’s money these days. If Rita had asked her, she would have bought her a new hat on Keith’s credit card in a heartbeat. She couldn’t really blame her for having fun—it wasn’t often that a woman went from struggling to rich almost overnight—but she did hope she would slow down on the social scene soon. She’d hate to see her friend turn into a snob.
The trip to Rio had been an impulsive celebratory move for Rita when her divorce became final, and although Keith wasn’t initially on board with paying for Dani’s tickets, somehow she had persuaded him.
For Rita, it had been one of those bucket list kinds of trips and an in-your-face jab at Robert, who had planned on taking it without her several years ago. As the date drew closer, and her bank account grew lighter, however, fears and regrets almost had her canceling. Turning it into a writing retreat had been C.G.’s idea. Her best friend had said if she couldn’t find inspiration for a new book in Brazil, she probably wouldn’t find it anywhere. Rita was more than ready to start something new, although she was still trying to find an agent for her first book.
Dani interrupted her thoughts. “So this legislative building… it figures into the book you’re writing?”
“Yes. Well maybe. I’m not exactly sure of my subject yet,” she conceded.
“Is that how it works?”
“How what works?” Rita waved her hand to the right. “We need to cross the street.”
Dani followed as she turned. “The writing process. You just wander around a foreign city until you get inspired?”
Rita laughed. “Well, since I’ve only written one book, I can’t say for sure, but it seems as good a plan as any.”
They dodged cars crossing the street, then walked on, chatting about the latest book they’d been reading in their book club back in Kansas City where they’d met and become fast friends about ten months ago.
Rita suddenly became aware of groups of people—mostly men—passing them and a loud rumble in the distance. “I wonder what’s going on up ahead.”
A man answered as he speed walked past. “A labor strike started at noon today. There’s a protest at ALERJ,” he threw over his shoulder before breaking into a jog.
“Alerj?” Dani inquired.
“It’s an acronym for the Legislative Assembly—the government building. Well, rats. Who knows if we’ll get in with a protest going on?”
They walked on until they were twenty-five feet from the gathering crowd.
“Wow, you really know how to have fun, Rita, although pawing our way through this angry crowd might actually be more entertaining than touring a stuffy government building.” The slightly taller woman raised her voice to be heard over the protesters as the brim of her hat blew straight up in the stiff wind.
Rita fought to retie the silky scarf holding her own hat on. “Ha ha.”
There would be no tours of these buildings today. No details gathered for the engaging and informative book she hoped would grow out of this trip. She let out a sigh. “Well maybe we’ll have another chance before we head to São Paulo. What else can we do in this area?”
Dani set her shopping bags down and shook out her arms. “I’ve got to get these back to the hotel before we do anything. Let’s get a taxi.”
Rita pointed to the group before them. “Not sure we’ll be able to get one. All the taxi drivers may be up there.” She realized she was having to practically shout now.
A news crew was setting up nearby, and sirens were getting closer.
Dani picked up her bags. “Well, I guess we hoof it, then,” she yelled back.
They turned to see a noisy mob of men heading their way, homemade signs of protest in their hands. Both women froze for a moment, then pushed forward as the human sea broke around them. Rita’s scarf came undone—it and her hat blown from her head the moment they were in the open again. Rita ran after it as it headed for another couple of men trailing the larger group. One caught the scarf while the other nabbed the hat as a police car screeched around the corner to a stop at the curb.
Policemen jumped out with nightsticks in hand, spouting an angry language that neither woman understood. Their gestures between the women and the guys who still held Rita’s headwear made her think they believed the men had stolen them from her. Her mind tried to grab onto any of the Portuguese she had studied, but she was a complete blank except for the word for “no” which was hardly a difficulty.
“Não, não!” she yelled, shaking her head. “The wind, the wind…” She looked to Dani. “What’s the word for wind?”
“How should I know? Who learns emergency weather phrases?”
“Vento!” one of the men was saying.
“That’s it! Vento!” Rita tried to explain to the policemen, even as they backed the men against the wall.
Finally, the taller of the two officers with thick, black hair actually seemed to hear her. Taking the hat and scarf from the men, he turned and handed them to her while the other sent the innocent men on down the sidewalk with a shove.
The man returning the wandering accessories turned his dark eyes on the women, looking them over with obvious appreciation. “Americano tourists should probably leave the area,” he said in his heavy accent. He glanced toward his partner, who was eying the news crew across the street. “But after I am off duty, I would love to show you around.” He reached into his front shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. “I get off at six.” Rita absently took it from his hand as he gave them a final gleaming smile that probably broke Brazilian hearts on a daily basis and jogged to catch up to the still-growing crowd.
Dani leaned in to read the card that contained a number along with a name: “Gaspar Nunes.” Rita stuffed it in her purse, and the two started back the way they had come. “Headline,” Dani began as they picked up their pace, “Brazilian Romeo Offers Inside of Pants Tour.”
Rita laughed and took one of the bags off her hands. Then the two started to run.
Lourenco Formosa sank into his leather sofa with a beer to watch the news. Strikes were not good for business. Strikes kept men from working, creating gaps in production and cash flow. He gulped a few swallows, watching the men race toward what could only end in bruises, blood, and even death. Rio polícia were not known for their gentle put-downs of rebellion.
The camera panned to two women in floral shirts and shorts being engulfed by the protesting crowd. The news was framing it as a picture of labor against tourism. There was something familiar about one of them that started his heart racing. The hat. The scarf. The sunglasses. Lourenco leaned forward, willing the camera not to cut away until he saw her again.
The moment she emerged chasing the hat, he sprang to his feet. “Diva de Diamante!” He slowly sat back down as the confrontation with the polícia continued on his TV. “Can it really be her?” he breathed out. “Are the reports of her death… exaggerated?” He unconsciously traced his thumb’s scar with his index finger as he thought. “Or maybe it was all a farce. A fake. They said she wanted out.”
Pictures of the Diva were practically non-existent, so protected was her identity. The only ones he’d ever seen were taken from a distance and grainy. And she was never without sunglasses and a big hat or a scarf to cloak her visage. Only a bit of hair was visible below the hat—just enough to show that it was dark. Just like this woman.
His brows rose as he recognized the policia interacting with them. Most were not above taking a bribe, but Gaspar Nunes took the practice to new heights. He’d sell out his grandmother for a few centavos. Did he know the woman? He’d call him later. If she really was the Diva, Laurenco just might have to start believing in a god.
Because he’d prayed for revenge.
Jodi Bowersox has been an actress, seamstress, designer, business owner, homeschool teacher, choir director, and artist. Her romance novels span genres from faith fiction to suspense to time travel to sci fi, and she also has written children’s picture books, stage productions and a Bible commentary. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband.