A billionaire oil-tycoon is acquitted of his wife’s murder. Now the only witness to one of the hottest cases in American history pulls former journalist turned con-man Lewis Maynard into a web of violence and conspiracy. Led to the streets of São Paulo, pursuing something called the Black Vulture–whose worth far exceeds monetary value–Maynard will learn that certain people and certain cases and certain money obey a different set of laws.

“My clients wish that the public respect their privacy at this time. Ivana was a wife to Richard, a sister to Bruno. Let the men mourn their loss. While we wait for the real perpetrator, or perpetrators, to be brought forth, let it be known that this will no doubt be a long and thorough investigation that will ultimately show not only the innocence of Richard Hansen and Bruno Tourinho, but the diligence of the American justice system.”

Chapter 1: City of Joint Hands

November 29th, 1999

He and his brother-in-law had been arrested. It echoed back to the 1981 death of Natalie Wood. The two men would plead innocent while the American public watched. All across the nation television sets showed a news presenter, his thick glasses resting on the desk in front of him, staring away from the camera as he delivered the news.

“Kansas City police have laid charges against Richard Hansen and Bruno Tourinho this morning in connection with the death of Ivana Tourinho.” He picked up his glasses, put them on, continued: “Ivana’s body was found washed ashore last week off the coast of Brazil. She had allegedly been on a three-week holiday with her husband, Hansen, and her brother, Tourinho, on a private yacht when she was reported missing along with the yacht’s captain, Sven Lidholm. Now authorities are saying that Lidholm, originally from Sweden, and who is yet to be found, may be victim number two in this brutal crime. Ivana Tourinho was the only daughter to Brazilian conglomerate Fernando “Lobato” Tourinho, who retired one month ago today. Brazilian officials have promised a close connection with American authorities to bring justice to this nonsensical act.”

A young Lewis Maynard, of the Kansas City Three, appeared on the television screen outside Kansas City Supreme Court. He carried a fluffy microphone with the local newspaper Crystal Springs Star logo on it. A Mercedes was parked on the street beside the lion statue. The driver’s door opened and then Bruno Tourinho and Richard Hansen got out of the Mercedes, surrounded by police. Their lawyer stood beside them, carrying a briefcase. Bruno was a very well-built man, tall, dark-skinned, brilliant blue eyes, like sapphires encrusted in mahogany. Richard, much shorter, sandy-hair, weak chin.

Lewis Maynard said, “Mr. Hansen, did you murder your wife over oil? The public has the right to know.”

“I resent that question,” said Richard. “I did not kill my wife, not for oil, not for anything. I loved my wife. I loved her.” The lawyer saying no questions, no questions, waving his hand, the Rolex on his wrist gleaming.

Lewis Maynard continued: “What does this mean for your company? What about the deal between your company and your wife’s? The Aurora Corporation produces sixty percent of the world’s oil. Will this affect the public?”

Camera’s flashed. A plague of journalists and cameramen swarmed up the steps of the courthouse.

“Nothing about my company will change,” said Richard. “I am innocent. My brother-in-law is innocent. I ask you one question, where is Sven Lidholm?”

The lawyer stepped in and took over the unwanted questioning as they continued walking toward the grand oak doors. “My clients wish that the public respect their privacy at this time. Ivana was a wife to Richard, a sister to Bruno. Let the men mourn their loss. While we wait for the real perpetrator, or perpetrators, to be brought forth, let it be known that this will no doubt be a long and thorough investigation that will ultimately show not only the innocence of Richard Hansen and Bruno Tourinho, but the diligence of the American justice system.”

January 4th, 2000

The noise of fingers clicking away at keyboards, faces aglow from CRT monitors. The periodic chirp of telephones. Voices chattering at the water cooler. A banner hanging from the ceiling: Y2K: Are you prepared?

Lewis Maynard pushed himself up from the desk when he was called into the chief editor’s office, the blinds on the windows down.

The great oak desk was like a King’s throne, flanked either side by two men he’d never seen before in his life: a career politician and one smoking a cigarette and looking through the blinds; his hair blond in the sunlight, cut short, a style suited for a younger man.

Lewis said, “You dropped the Hansen case. Explain it.”

The chief editor raised his hand. Gold rings sparkling. “Old news, Maynard.”

“It’s the only real damn news right now.”

“Watch your pie-hole.” He nodded at career-politician. “This is the Crystal Springs city manager Elden Postle. He agrees when I say this whole thing’s been blown out of proportion.”

“By whom?”

Blondie said, “The media,” and then breathed in a lungful of smoke and squinted.

“Media’s not to blame for this one, sparky.”

“Where are the facts?” said the city manager.

“How do you feel every time you fill up your car knowing there’s blood in it?”

“They’ve been acquitted,” said the chief editor. “No substantial evidence has ever been brought up. It’s all heresy. Richard’s one of the richest men in the Americas, you think maybe someone wouldn’t be out to tarnish his name? The verdict’s in: let the poor man get on with his life.”

“Then we’ll report until the prosecutor gets a reality-check. What about Sven Lidholm? Body washes ashore only a week and a half after Ivana’s. Same place, except this guy’s trachea’s crushed, like hands the size of Bruno’s been all over it. This isn’t a case of misunderstanding or a tragic accident at sea. It’s murder. Now Richard’s putting the lives of four hundred thousand in his pocket. I didn’t think the city was up for sale. How do you find walking with your pockets so full?”

The chief editor barked: “I told you to watch your pie-hole, Maynard. There are men in this room more important than your entire genealogy.”

“I read your coverage of the trial,” said the city manager. “It was thorough and entertaining. Some friends of mine, the Mayor and myself included, want to thank you for your service to keeping the people informed.”

“It’s corporate corruption,” said Lewis. “I don’t care what title’s on your office door.”

“You’re off the case,” said the chief editor.

“Excuse me?”

“You and Addison and Wayne. You’re going over to true crimes in the projects. Starting from this morning.”

“You’re starting to piss me off, Chief.”

Blondie crushed out his cigarette in the onyx ashtray on the desk, saying, “Hank, I think what the kid needs is an incentive. I have a substantial amount of money right here that would give him a good holiday. Everyone needs a holiday every now and again. It soothes the mind. Don’t you agree, Lewis? I suggest you take it.”

“I don’t even know who you are, but fuck you, man,” said Lewis.

Chief-editor slammed his fist on the desk, roared: “You’re suspended,” like he’d been waiting his entire career to say it.

Blondie stepped in to try and salvage the wreck. “What Hank is trying to say is that a paid vacation is what you need right now.”

“You’re not going to buy me out. Take your briefcase of money and donate it to someone who needs it. I quit.”

“I don’t think that’s a wise choice, Lewis.”

But Lewis had already turned around and the chief-editor was barking his name, demanding him to come back: commanding him like a dog. Blondie standing there in the sunlight, a smirk on his face, the remains of his crushed cigarette wisping in the ashtray.

In the newsroom, Addison Guzman and Wayne Cochrane were standing beside the water cooler drinking water from paper cups, listening to the shouting of the boss-man in his office. A printer clacked out a draft copy of a minor article.

Wayne Cochrane wore a dark-green shirt that hung loosely about his large stomach. He put his arm around Lewis’s neck, his sausage-like fingers digging into the skin.

“Why the long face?” said Wayne.

“They pulled the plug on the case. He’s been acquitted. We’re off it, permanently.”

“Which one?”

“Which one you think? The Tourinho case.”

“You win some you lose some.”

“You knew about this?”

“I read the memo.”

“You aren’t angry?”

Addison finished his cup of water and stepped in saying, “No sense barking at the bigger dogs, Lewis. You fight when you know you can win.’

“If that were true no one would ever fight,” said Lewis.

Wayne said, “What can we do about it?”

“I don’t know, maybe dig up some dirt on the guy and expose him for the cockroach he is?”

Addison: “Relax, Lewis. Things come around in the end. You’ll see.”

Lewis didn’t bother packing his desk up into a cardboard box; he left his collection of fantasy figurines beside photographs he could always print again. Wayne stood at his desk watching him heading for the door. He called out, “Hey, Louie, where you going? Don’t go out like this, man. We’ll get a beer. A round of golf. Everything’s swell.”

But the door had already shut, and Wayne was shouting to no one. The Y2K banner unstuck and fell to the floor. Fingers returned to computer keyboards. Clack, clack, clack. Someone lit a cigarette. A desk phone purred.

Outside, the street was alive with people but for Lewis everything was quiet. He swore he could hear the clouds sliding across the blue sky, and he walked as though he’d got his feet stuck in a couple of wooden blocks.

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