Story pick: The rough side of Rio
Rio de Janeiro is getting prettied up for its star turn as host of the 2016 Olympics and inevitably that's going to mean a little rough stuff between police and the bad guys in the lawless slums ringing the city. Well, for a superb foretaste of that drama, don't miss this perfectly written account of a recent police raid by Brett Forrest in the December Atlantic.
Part detail-perfect short story, part action-movie scenario, part socio-economic white paper, Forrest's piece brings alive a rich cast of characters, events and conditions during a few hours in one of Rio's hillside favelas, where the cops don't go except in armored vehicles. Don't believe me? Read this lede:
It is summer in Rio de Janeiro, and the snitch wears a ski mask. Two cops have rousted him from the Hotel Carioca, in the Centro district, and he lights a cigarette as he limps toward the police station, smoking through the mask’s mouth hole. Rodrigo Oliveira watches from the window of his second-floor office. “We shot this guy in the leg last week,” he says. “Now he works for us.”
I won't give away the plot (and there is one), but Forrest's wonderful writing is packed with description like this:
Following Oliveira, they slip through an alleyway and vanish into the favela. Shacks made of slag, tin, wood, and mud cover the hilly terrain. Rebar and drainage pipes poke from slanting concrete walls. The humidity intensifies the stench of excrement. Securing jagged corners and blind alleys, the cops move quickly, their radios chirping like birds.
They reach a hilltop strewn with garbage, and Oliveira takes a breather, sweat dripping off his nose. An old woman folds laundry on her porch. Children and young men walk by, heedless of the police. Graffiti on a nearby wall reads I DON'T KNOW. I DIDN'T SEE. I'M NOT A SNITCH. LET ME GO.
Read it. These could well be the best 1,200 words of your day.
| December 2, 2010; 10:40 AM ET
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