Thiago picked an oily rag up from the workbench and carefully cleaned the head of the hammer, then the smooth wooden shaft, meticulously rubbing away every last droplet of blood. Some, furthest along the shaft, had already dried and he had to press down with his thumbnail to scrape it away, but he left none of it behind. When he was satisfied that the hammer was clean he hung it on the tool-board on the wall, in between the saw whose teeth had never tasted wood and the sledgehammer that had never struck stone. He gazed at his tools for a few moments wondering at the odd emptiness he felt somewhere inside him, like a constant hunger, then sighed, clicked the electric light off, and walked outside.
He closed the garage up, locking and padlocking the door, and walked several steps across thin, yellow grass to the front door. He tried the handle and it opened, swinging silently into a short, narrow, terracotta-tiled hallway. The kitchen door at the end was open, and he could see his son's brown legs under the kitchen table.
"João!" he called out, closing the door behind him. "How many times do I have to tell you to keep the doors locked when you're in the house?"
There was the soft slap of bare feet hitting the tiled floor from the kitchen and then João scrambled down the hall and leapt at Thiago, his grin as wide as his face, his arms open wide for a hug. Thiago caught him up, swung him round, and then put him back down on the ground again. João was so light, too light for a nine-year old. He never seemed to put any weight on at all.
"It's fine, daddy," he said, "everyone here knows me. No-one's going to steal anything from us."
That wasn't what worried him, thought Thiago, tousling his son's hair and finding a smile forcing the corners of his mouth up despite the day he'd had. What worried him was his boss deciding that Thiago's loyalty could be better ensured if he adopted João.
"What did you do at work today, daddy?" João led him into the kitchen where the afternoon sun was coming through the window. Paper was stacked neatly on the table with some soft grey pencils next to it; João had been drawing. Thiago picked the top picture up while he tried to think what to tell João today. The truth -- that he had driven thirty miles with three other men to break kneecaps, smash teeth and tie piano wire around arms and legs -- was not something he ever wanted his son to know about. His boss, Vitargo, styled himself as a local businessman, which everyone knew meant drug baron, and Thiago's job was to see that his boss stayed in business, which meant stamping on the fingers of anyone trying to haul themselves up to Vitargo's level. Or as this time, leaving them in the bay as fish food.
"I was looking at air conditioners," he said slowly, admiring João's sketch of the trees visible from the window. "Miguel wants to start a repair business, but I don't think it's such a good idea." He picked the next piece of paper up and stared at it.
Would you like to play a game? it began, and then a list of names appeared beneath it:
- Michelle Sanchez
- Godfrey De Vries
- Elias Heikkinen
- Tony Blake
- Kamali Ncube
- Ebisawa Hitomi
- Alexi Bogdanov
- Mei Yu
- Vahide Younan
Kill these people and we will give you and your son a new life in the country of your choosing. To help you believe us, Vitargo's next job will involve a woman called Luiza.
"Where did you get this?" asked Thiago turning the page over. It was blank on the other side.
"It came in the post this morning," said João barely glancing at it. "It was pushed under the door. It's funny. I'd like to play that game. Then we could go to America and own a big car and eat hamburgers."
"Was there an envelope? Did you open my post?"
João looked up properly now, surprised at the anger in his father's voice.
"No daddy, it was just like that, only folded in half."
"You shouldn't have read it." Thiago folded it along the crease line, then again, and slipped it into the back pocket of his jeans. "It's just a silly joke, probably Miguel. I'll have words with him."
He left the kitchen and went upstairs to change his clothes, but the last two lines of the letter kept replaying themselves in his head. A new life for him and his son, a way to get away from Vitargo and his nasty, brutish, bullying life. It had to be Miguel posting this, as only he knew how much Thiago hated being a hired thug. He took his shirt off, and then his mobile phone rang. He closed the bedroom door to make sure that João couldn't overhear and answered it. It was Vitargo.
"Don't get too comfortable," said Vitargo, his voice thick and glutinous as though he were eating a mouthful of porridge. "Luiza Calliope has just paid me a visit threatening me. You and Miguel can get over there this evening and show her the error of her ways." Vitargo hung up without waiting for a response.
Thiago sat down slowly on the bed, the letter already in his hand again and open, his eyes looking at the last line on the page: Vitargo's next job will involve a woman called Luiza.
So was this letter a genuine offer?