The first thing that caught Espinosa's eye was the slit in her skirt, which revealed part of her thigh as she walked. Seated next to the door, he had an ample view of the street, and even before she walked in front of the bar, it was the hint of leg flashing beneath her skirt with each supple movement that distinguished her from the other women passing by. She was about thirty-five. She had a good body, nice legs, and a face whose attractiveness was diminished by a fatigued expression and unkempt hair. The detail of her skirt made her look bold rather than vulgar. He watched the movement of her legs, now revealing, now hiding her thighs, until she passed the café and exited his field of vision.
Espinosa turned his attention back to the cappuccino he'd started to drink and concentrated on the foam covered with cinnamon powder. A few sips later, he was still thinking about the woman when she entered the café. He hadn't expected her to come back. He saw her walk up to the cash register and then look for a seat on the balcony. He decided her return on this hot summer afternoon was a gift from the gods, and he felt within his rights to examine her more closely. What he'd seen when she'd walked by was confirmed by a more detailed inspection. She had perfect legs and a pretty face, with small age lines around her mouth and eyes. These added a note of experience to the youthfulness of her body. She really did look tired, and her hair needed attention, though her hands and skin were well tended. She wasn't paying attention to anything or anyone, simply staring at her coffee cup. Not out of modesty. Someone who walks through a crowded downtown wearing a tight skirt slit up the side isn't exactly concerned about modesty. He soon realized that she wasn't attracting as much attention as she had at the beginning. Not all the men were looking at her; in fact, besides him, only one teenage waiter with bad acne was looking at the woman who stood in front of the bar, back turned, hiding her half-opened skirt.
His thoughts wandered to the possible reasons for her tired (or was it sad?) face; it took him a while to realize that the buzzing coming from his coat pocket was his phone. Just as he answered, the woman also took a cell phone out of her purse. Both spoke at the same time. Unfortunately, he thought, not with each other. As she spoke, her eyes drifted past Espinosa without seeing him, while he looked at her and tried to concentrate on what his assistant, Detective Welber, was telling him.
"Officer, another colleague has been killed."
"Silveira, from the Third Precinct."
"I don't know him."
"He'd been around, but not many people knew him."
"Where are you?"
"At the scene. Praça de Lido, on the side facing the beach."
"He was killed on the street?"
"Sort of. The square is fenced off. He was found seated on one of the benches."
"I'm on my way."
When he hung up, she was gone. He hadn't talked to Welber for more than a few seconds; she couldn't have disappeared. He walked to the door and looked around. The pedestrian traffic was intense, and she could have gone in any one of four different directions. He didn't know what he would do if he saw her walking away. He wasn't a Don Juan -- never had been. He thought that getting married had forced him to lose sight of the rituals of courtship. Ten years of marriage had produced a kind of emotional myopia. Ever since he and his wife had split up, he'd been trying to retool his approach, to learn new ways of doing things, to move into new territories. But he'd only managed to convince himself of one thing: focusing for too long on one object hadn't improved his vision; it had simply made him nearsighted, as well as a mediocre husband and an inadequate father. He'd devoted the last decade to trying to recoup the lost time.
From A Window in Copacabana by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Copyright 2001 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Originally published in Brazil in 2001 under the title Uma Janela em Copacabana. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Henry Holt & Company.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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