The man in the black jacket stared down the alleyway that ran out before him, a street made of dust and sand and cobblestones held together by what appeared to be dried and hardened mud. Most of Manaus was modern, even thriving in a way not seen since the rubber boom of the 1920s, but every city had its barrios, and Manaus was no different. The nameless jumbled street lay in one of them, and as he started walking down it, the man in black could feel the eyes of its inhabitants upon him.
His name was Vogel, and he had a business meeting to attend in such auspicious surroundings. He followed the street back, walking between faded buildings that sagged with age. Halfway down, where the road bent slightly to the right, two chickens pecked at something in the corner and a scrawny, lazy dog panted quietly in the shade. Just beyond, a man wearing a narrow fedora sat on an overturned five-gallon bucket, smoking a cigarette in the afternoon sun. The man seemed to notice his approach, but did little more than stare.
“Are you Remo?” Vogel asked, walking up to the man and failing to hide a German accent.
Vogel recognized the voice; to this point they’d only spoken on the phone. “You know who I am,” he said. “So tell me what happened.”
Remo stood up, flicked his cigarette into the cobbles and pushed his hat back. “I did what you wanted,” he said. “That captain, he ain’t gonna be taking any charters from them for a while. No matter how much they pay.”
“Good. What else?”
Remo shrugged. “Not much. They met with another trader. Bought some more junk. Those two are like tourists with their souvenirs. And then yesterday the girl drove up to the mountains … alone.”
Vogel knew that. In fact, there wasn’t much the NRI agents did that he didn’t know about beforehand. “Moore is going back to America,” he said. “We don’t want that. We want you to take the girl out, so that he has to stay behind.”
Remo looked at Vogel as if he had said something crazy. “We could have done that yesterday. Why the hell didn’t you tell us? It would have been easy.”
Vogel understood that. In fact, it would have been a perfect chance to take her, but the people he worked for had continued to hesitate, preferring to stall the NRI instead of confronting them head-on. The reasons were not revealed to him.
“We didn’t want that yesterday,” he explained. “Today we do. Are you up for it?” As he finished, Vogel reached inside his jacket, grabbed an envelope filled with cash and tossed it to Remo, who snatched it out of the air.
Opening it and guessing at the proceeds, Remo looked disappointed. “For kidnapping someone? For killing them? You need more than this.”
“She’s going to book another charter,” Vogel said, ignoring Remo’s complaints. “We know who it’s with. She’ll need to inspect the boat just like last time. You can do it then. Easy work. That should cover the cost.”
Remo leaned back against the wall. “No,” he said. “I don’t think it will.”
He rapped his knuckles against the window and two men, both larger than Remo or Vogel, appeared in the doorway. One rested a shotgun on his shoulder; the other held a machete in one hand and displayed a pistol tucked in his belt.
Vogel’s eyes went back to Remo, who had produced a black 9mm from his own belt, racking the slide once to load it. He held it toward the ground but the intention was obvious.
With a smug grin Remo put his foot on the overturned bucket and leaned forward. “I think it’s time to renegotiate, no?”
Vogel’s stare went from one man to the next and then finally back to Remo. He broke into his own smile, which seemed to crack his wooden face. “No.”
At that instant the bucket was blasted out from beneath Remo’s foot by a rifle shot. He fell forward, regained his balance and looked up in a panic. Bright red dots were dancing around him, zeroing in on his chest and the torsos of the other two men. The man with the shotgun ducked back into the building but the other froze. Remo did likewise, straining to look past Vogel for the source of those laser sights, afraid to move.
“Isso bom,” he said, holding up his hands. “It’s cool. It’s cool.”
Locals, Vogel thought. Sometimes they needed to be reminded who they were. “Good,” he said finally. “Good to know we are all in agreement.”