Fiction — January 22, 2013 12:03 — 0 Comments

The Crow Of Suspicion – Caleb Powell

Jorge counted two months left to serve when he met Mariano, a new arrival to the Casa de Detenção de Paraná, a penitentiary in southern Brazil.  Mariano faced two to four years. Jorge and Mariano had grown up in neighboring favelas outside the city of Londrina. They came from equal dirt: unknown fathers who left pregnant lovers to disappear back to Londrina and their spouses; mothers that died in sadness, leaving quasi-orphans to be raised by elder cousins and aunts. For them, the inchoate sense that “crime paid when nothing else did” hardened into certainty with age.

Jorge taught Mariano protocol, the intricacies of securing protection and favors from powerful inmates and guards and access to contraband: marijuana, cocaine, liquor, shivs, and erotic magazines. When Jorge’s sentence finished Mariano asked if he would look after his family, a girlfriend and two children.

Jorge returned to the favela, embraced recidivism, and reunited with an old friend and accomplice, João. He also saw that Mariano’s girlfriend and children stayed protected, fed, and sheltered. Two years later Mariano joined Jorge and João.

They supplemented armed assault by smuggling merchandise through the Rio Iguaçu at the Tríplice Fronteira, the Triple Border Area between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, transporting DVD players and televisions. Jobs that demanded use of weapons proved lucrative yet dangerous. Thus they accrued capital and moved toward what they considered a safer enterprise that maximized reward for risk quotient. Cocaine.

They knew the shipping routes. Trucks and boats, loaded with drugs, entered the state of Paraná via the Rio Iguaçu. They could buy quantity and transport within Brazil, traveling as far as Belo Horizonte, Santos, São Paulo, and Porto Alegre; doubling or tripling their money. Their first few runs ran smoothly, but one time after a pickup they ran into a police barrier. The change of direction alerted the police, who chased and fired. João took a bullet and died.


Jorge and Mariano womanized together, kept secrets, convinced of their machismo, they considered that sex outside love did not equal cheating, and thus considered themselves loyal to their women and children. But João? They envied his fidelity. His widow, Carlita, had curves and bunda, ass that drove the Brazilian male crazy. When they passed the news and gave João’s share to Carlita Mariano stayed to console. Jorge went home to his family.

Mariano spent more and more time with Carlita. Without shame. She was twenty to his thirty-four. Jorge observed and questioned internally the ramifications. Would Mariano really leave the mother of his two children? But another man’s life was another man’s life. Jorge said nothing when Mariano moved in with Carlita.


Jorge and Mariano grew powerful in the favela, cautiously recruiting, and each overseeing their own band. They learned from the code of organized crime, and treated fellow poor as family, threw money into the community, and kept the electricity and water running free. In return, when police raided the favela they were met with silence. But the two entrepreneurs diverged. Jorge saw riches could buy more power and greater riches. Mariano saw an escape from crime toward peace with Carlita.

One evening, when Mariano was out of town, Jorge visited a club and saw Carlita with a man he feared he recognized. He felt trouble from two sides, and kept an eye on the couple. They did not notice his presence. He followed them to a motel. When the two lovers separated, he trailed the man to his home and confirmed misgivings.


The next day Jorge and Mariano, according to habit after a job, met at a small bar in the favela. Jorge drank cachaça, one shot; then another as Mariano talked business.

Jorge said, “All’s good, with one exception. Listen.”

Mariano said, “Fale da boca.” Speak from your mouth.

Jorge said, “Carlita sleeps with police.”

“Who says?”


Jorge told how he saw Carlita outside the club with a man and followed them to a motel and to the driveway of a house where there was another car marked Policiais Federais.

Mariano considered killing. Whom? Him? Or her? Jorge remained silent. Mariano returned to calm. The two departed and separated. Mariano went home. Carlita was absent, and he folded her clothes, packed suitcases, and waited. When Carlita entered he pushed her to the wall.

She asked. “Why?”

He slapped her face with an open palm. She kept pleading for an explanation.

“You’re betraying me with police!”

He beat her again and she screamed. The noise brought neighbors to the door. He shouted, “Puta! I left the mother of my sons for you! You dirty cow! I give shelter, love, friendship and you throw me pennies. You traitor bitch! I know about this police, you and he went to a motel. I risk my life so you can wear pretty clothes and this is what you do!”

Carlita stood quiet. “Who told you?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it does. This will destroy our lives, our home, and you tell me I have no right to know who tells?”

“Jorge,” Mariano said, “And so?”

“Make him say this to my face,” she said, “If you do that, I’ll grab my bags and leave.”

And so Mariano left and returned with Jorge. Jorge repeated, detail by detail. “I saw you bite his ear.” Jorge finished.

Carlita said, “You forgot one thing.”

“Oh yeah?”

She pointed at Jorge’s chest. “You didn’t tell Mariano about how you begged me to abandon him. That you loved me, but I told you I loved Mariano and how I’m friends with your wife. I am faithful.”

Jorge called her a liar, and told her that if it weren’t for respect of his friend that he would strike her. He hurled execrations. She grabbed her suitcases and walked out.

Jorge turned to Mariano, “You don’t believe this crocodile shit? Do you? We’ve been in prison, friends, partners…we could have betrayed one another for a lot more than a woman, but never. We have honor between men. And I have no lack of women. Why would I do this?”

“Quiet, quiet,” Mariano said.

They sat without words.


Before Carlita left the favela she visited Jorge’s wife, Elena, a mulatta with dark eyes, peroxide blonde hair, tight clothes, neon pinks and blacks with no shortage of makeup. Jorge had earned his reputation as a mulherengo, and Elena had caught Jorge in the wrong fish more than once.

Carlita told Elena. “Jorge came over talking about how I’m seeing a policia, a complete fib. He’s trying to destroy us.” Then Carlita departed for her mother’s house.Elena waited to confront Jorge.


The next day Jorge, with nail infected scabs criss-crossing flayed cheeks, found Mariano at the same bar. He said, “Let’s talk.”

“You sleep with a cat?” Mariano asked.

“Carlita told Elena I wanted her. You know Elena. And you?”

“I feel…much, too much. But,” Mariano said and emptied his glass, “O corvo da desconfiança pousou na nossa amizade.” The crow of suspicion descends upon our friendship.

Jorge said, “Você está falando sério?” You serious?

Mariano nodded, “From here forward, each one follows his own path.”


Mariano went to his mother-in-law’s house to convince Carlita’s return. Carlita accepted on condition of previous harmony. Nothing would be said about betrayal and police. Ever. He promised.

He had chosen Carlita. But it did not seem possible that Jorge would have betrayed him. Without Carlita’s knowledge he spied. He would tell her he was going away for a couple days and stay in Londrina. He had friends keep tabs. He watched, he waited, but he never caught her. Eventually, he felt secure.


Their gang split. Mariano knew more about the subtleties of cocaine, and Jorge supplemented drugs with a greater focus on armed robbery. But one time the police had a tip and Jorge went back to the Casa de Detençãode Paraná as a two-time felon. Five to ten years.


Months became a year, and Mariano forgot jealousies. He worked, for the most part, alone. Mariano continued transporting cocaine. He bought farmland in the rolling hills outside of Londrina. At Carlita’s suggestion he registered the property in the name of his mother-in-law. This way, if he ever were caught she would be secure.

The border peril grew. The flow of drugs continued, organized crime and increased police surveillance meant greater danger. Cartels knocked off competition. And whether police worked for the cartels or not, they had no compunction in executing bandits. Mariano became creative. He worked hard. He looked at a future outside the favela where he might actually raise cattle or coffee, and enter middle age with Carlita at his side. They would have children.

He told Carlita the next run might be the last. He had many routes and tricks to escape attention and he would use them all. He carried a Bible in hand, packed his suitcases, orated scripture aloud on the bus, and as he traveled north and east he exchanged drugs for cash. All transpired well. He arrived home to Carlita in bed. After locking the cash in a basement safe he fell asleep by her side.

The following morning, as he drove off his property, police blockaded him from the front and behind. Carlita’s lover oversaw the operation. At the Casa de Detenção de Paraná Jorge and Mariano reunited, yet forgiveness and hunger for vindication failed to move Mariano. Mariano became addicted to crack and contracted tuberculosis. The authorities gave bedside privileges at the prison hospital.

Jorge, as he witnessed the last breath leave the skeletal husk, contemplated the absence of salvation.


Caleb Powell's work is in Post Road, The Rio Grande Review, and Zyzzyva.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney