Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción
Issue / Numero
issue/numero: # 06
Author | Autor: Rodrigo Garcia Lopes
Translated by Marco Alexandre Olivera
Shots in the dark
After finishing breakfast with bacon, country eggs and cake, served by
Gloria, the cook, a corpulent black woman with a generous smile, the
men went into the meeting room. Garden stood up, greeted Lovat and
took a seat next to the table. Blake sat in a corner and started to leaf
through an edition of the local newspaper, the Paraná-Norte. The four-page tabloid
was the enterprise’s main piece of propaganda. Underneath the title PARANÁ
PLANTATIONS — NORTH PARANÁ LAND COMPANY came the words AGENTS
The cook entered and left a jar of water and three glasses on a tray. She exchanged
a few words with Lovat, who treated her courteously, asking about her
children, her husband, and her health. Then Gloria excused herself and closed the
door. Garden held his safari hat over his lap and examined a few documents. He
“So, what happened?” Lovat asked, without beating around the bush.
“We’re still trying to understand. It was a huge blow for us. Nussbaum and
the Müllers were people of the highest order, excellent employees,” Garden said,
shifting in his chair.” According to the sheriff’s report, on August 1 Müller caught
Nussbaum and Magdalene in his bed. The neighbors heard gunshots and screaming
coming from the house that night.”
“Where did they live?”
“In a small house on Heimtal St.”
“I believe I don’t remember the Müllers.”
“They were good doctors. They spoke several languages, which made the
house calls easier. You know, besides malaria, we’ve been having lots of accidents
in the forest, during the clearcutting. The doctor along with his partner and assistant,
Dr. Magdalene, were recommended by Eckstein.”
“Yes, I remember that.”
“They were doing a good job, since we don’t have enough doctors in the city.
It was a tragedy what happened.” Garden took a sip of water and then wiped the
sweat that ran in streams down his face. “Today I feel sorry for not having taken
seriously the rumors that Nussbaum was having an affair with Dr. Magdalene, and
right under his nose. A week before, at a party, employees witnessed the doctor
threaten to kill him if he didn’t stay away from his wife. ‘And if I kill you, nobody’ll
find you,’ he said. Something more serious only didn’t happen right there and then
because Müller was held back,” Garden continued, breathing the air out of his
lungs. “We should’ve transferred Nussbaum to São Paulo for a while.”
“When did you last see Nussbaum?” the lord asked.
“On the night of the incident, right before going home. I had just returned
from city hall around nine o’clock and I decided to get some papers at the company.
I saw lights on and noticed that he was still working. It was common for him to
stay until late at the office. You knew him, you know that when he had some deadline
to meet, his spirit would become attached to work and aloof from the world.
Nussbaum was very dedicated.”
“Yes, very dedicated”, Lovat said. “Did you speak to him before leaving?”
“Quickly. He only asked me to lock the front door, since he had a copy of the
key. I went back, locked it from the outside and went home.”
Blake raised his eyes to the mayor. Garden sat rigid in his chair, arms by his side.
“When did you notice the chief accountant was missing?”, Blake wanted to
know, intruding on the conversation.”
Garden glanced at Blake and then looked at the lord again.
“Well, first we missed the doctors, who usually came to work together. On
the morning following the incident, around eight o’clock, patients came to complain
that the Müllers hadn’t shown up at the hospital. A little later we found out
that Nussbaum also hadn’t come to work. We thought it was strange, since it was
extremely rare for him to miss work, it wasn’t like him. He always asked someone
to tell us when he couldn’t show up. I asked some men to go to his house, but he
wasn’t there. I immediately went after the sheriff, who was already coming back
from the Müllers’ house.”
“The sheriff was the first to arrive at the scene?,” Lovat asked.
“Yes. Early in the morning he had gone looking for one of the neighbors. Besides
hearing the screams and the shots, two neighbors saw the couple inside the
car, leaving the residence.”
“What time was that?”
“Around eleven-thirty at night.”
Garden took a sip of water. Lovat signaled for the company director and city
mayor to continue.
“There was nobody at the house. The door had no sign of being forced open.
The accountant’s automobile was there, but not Müller’s. There was a lot of blood
and bullet holes at the scene. I could see it for myself. He’ll be able to tell you all
of the details.
Lovat stroked his moustache and then asked:
“Do you have any theory about what happened?”
Garden blinked his eyes a little and continued:
“To speak frankly, sir, crimes of passion are common around here. Let’s say
that there is an imbalance between the sexes. There aren’t enough women in the
city. Müller had reasons to be jealous of his wife. Beatings were constant. For me,
he committed the crime to save his honor. He returned from the house call to a
farm earlier than expected, so he caught his wife with Nussbaum. He killed him and
ran away with his wife.”
Lovat stared at Garden for a moment, without saying anything. Garden flexed
his mouth muscles in an attempt to smile.
“I know you’re worried, but I must say that we have already replaced the three
employees. I assure you that this incident has not affected business operations at
all. Our lot sales have not been compromised and...”
The lord slammed his fist on the table. Blake was startled.
“Are you telling me that a crime happens at the company, involving important
employees, and everything is alright?,” Lovat yelled. “Why didn’t anyone tell me
Garden dried the sweat on his face with a handkerchief. His jaw constricted.
“It wasn’t our mistake, but that of the branch in São Paulo. They were the ones
who were responsible for breaking the news to the office in London. It’s strange
that Mr. Eckstein didn’t let you know.”
Lovat shook his head, making an impatient face. He looked out the window
and saw the street, the rivers of mud stubbornly refusing to dry. He turned to
Garden and said:
“Nilson, you’re in charge here. How did you let things get to this point? We’ve
got to set the example. This is terrible for business!”
He then stood up, crossed his hands behind his back and started walking
around the room, causing the floorboards to creak. Garden bit his lips under his
little moustache while he followed Lovat’s silent pacing. The lord sat down again,
took a sip of water and asked, with his voice a little calmer:
“What else do you know about Nussbaum’s last steps?”
“What I know is that on that night he stopped by the Eldorado bar. He was
drunk, it seems... He was distressed, and muttered incoherent things. They reported
that he stayed only a little while, said good-bye and mentioned that he was
going to solve a problem.”
“A problem,” Lovat murmured. “Did he say what it was?”
“No, he only said he wasn’t feeling well. He said he needed medical care, and
left. I suggest you talk to Günther and Razgulaeff. They were at the bar and were
some of the last people to see him.”
Lovat agreed and made a vague gesture. Blake finished jotting down the
names in his notebook and raised his head to Lovat.
“What was the Müllers’ routine like?,” the lord asked.
“They didn’t go out much.”
“I believe the doctor didn’t like to show off his wife outside the workplace,
except for, every once and a while, at company dances. They were quite reserved.
So much so that they didn’t even have servants.”
“Nothing relevant was found, not even a clue?”
“If so, the sheriff’s got it. He’s the one who did the investigation at the scene.
The Müllers’ house has been abandoned since then, until his family in Germany
decides what to do with the property. Now in his office I assure you nothing was
touched,” Garden said.
“And where is Nussbaum’s house located?” Lovat asked, turning his eyes
again to Garden.
“He lived alone, on Higienópolis, a new avenue that Razgulaeff planned, but
since the incident a family has been living there. We’ve been facing a serious housing
problem for newly arrived buyers. The property belonged to the company.
Nussbaum intended to move soon to the house he was building.”
“What happened to the accountant’s belongings, his personal objects?”
Garden gulped, and tightened his lips. After a few seconds, he said:
“After the incident, his bags, his clothes and the rest of his personal objects
were donated, his little furniture was auctioned and what was left, burned.”
Lovat and Blake looked at each other. The lord snorted and scratched his face.
“And may I know who had such an awful idea?”
“A negligent employee, sir.”
“Where is he?”
Garden took his eyes off Lovat for a few seconds, then stared at him again.
“Mr. Francisco died last month, while he was helping our men cut down a forest
to clear new lots. Yeah, we’ve been seeing many accidents like this.”
Lovat breathed out through his nose. He shook his head for a moment, his
face stern. He glanced sidelong at the newspaper in the chair next to the translator
and turned to the mayor:
“What’s the circulation of the Paraná-Norte?”
“Two thousand copies.”
“Increase it to four thousand. Put an ad in the front, offering a generous reward
to whoever provides any clues that can take us to their whereabouts. Make
posters and spread them in all the train cars from Rolândia to Ourinhos. Surely
there are photographs of them on their contract forms.”