Authors: Ross Kemp
Born in Essex in 1964, Ross Kemp is best known for his portrayal of Grant Mitchell in
. His father was a senior detective with the Metropolitan Police force and as a result crime has always fascinated Kemp. In 2007
Ross Kemp on Gangs
won a BAFTA for Best Factual Series.
Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
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First published 2009
Text copyright © Ross Kemp, 2009
Map copyright © Tom Sanderson, 2009
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author and illustrator has been asserted Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser ISBN: 978-0-14-192434-2
1. Dead Baby
A storm was coming.
Dark clouds rolled in towards Rio de Janeiro, looming above the luxury high-rise apartments and the hillside shanty towns alike. The atmosphere was taut with the threat of rain. On top of Corcovado mountain, the giant statue of Jesus that looked over the city had its arms outstretched, as though helpless in the face of the oncoming storm. Down on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, glamorous bathers glanced up at the darkening sky and began pulling on T-shirts over their bikinis and swimming trunks. Raucous games of beach football came to a ragged end as players ran for shelter.
As the first spots of rain began to fall, Vitor ‘Nene’ Barbosa boarded a bus down by the beachfront, a basketball nestling under his arm. He was dressed in a tracksuit and his cropped black hair was still damp from his posttraining shower. As he moved along the aisle towards the back of the bus, the driver called out a cheery greeting. Even though Nene had only just turned sixteen, everybody in Rio knew him – a basketball prodigy, he was destined for great things.
His nickname meant Baby – a joke, seeing as how Nene had towered over his friends since he was a child. Now more than two metres tall, he was still growing. Nene played centre for Flamengo Petrobras, Rio’s basketball team. The pivotal position on court, centres operated in and around the basket, where the rough-and‐tumble demanded a muscular, athletic presence. You didn’t normally play there at sixteen. But then normal rules didn’t apply to Nene.
It wasn’t only his height that made him special. The first time Nene had walked out on to the basketball court, his trainers squeaking on the hardwood surface, it felt as though he had come home. Things just made sense to him there. While his opponents tried to barge and muscle their way to the basket, Nene glided, snatching rebounds and sinking fade-aways as though the opposition wasn’t even there. From the tip-off to the final buzzer, to him games felt like long, beautiful dreams.
Thirty points against Flamengo’s rivals Brasilia in the last game – when Nene had been almost unplayable – had increased the hype surrounding him to fever pitch. Now there was talk of a call-up to the national team, even rumours that American scouts from the NBA were going to travel all the way down to Brazil to watch him. Nene had spent years gazing at the basketball posters that plastered his bedroom walls, dreaming of becoming the next Kobe Bryant. The thought that he might one day play on the same court as him made Nene dizzy with excitement.
It was about more than sporting glory, though. Everyone knew that there was serious money to be made in America, million-dollar contracts up for grabs. To Nene, who lived with his mother and two brothers in a small house in Rocinha – the largest
, or shanty town, in Rio – such riches seemed unimaginable. Money was tight at the best of times, but recently Nene’s mother had been laid up ill in bed, and the money Nene received for playing basketball and working in a supermarket was barely putting food on the table. If he could only impress an NBA scout, Nene told himself, then none of his family would have to worry about money ever again.
The bus driver honked his horn angrily, interrupting Nene’s train of thought. There was a squeal of brakes and the bus came to an abrupt halt.
It was raining heavily now, large drops drumming against the windows. Peering outside, Nene saw that they had stopped at a quiet intersection on the edge of the Zona Sul, Rio’s affluent tourist district. A group of teenagers had fanned out across the middle of the road, blocking the bus’s path. They were dressed identically, in all-black T-shirts and knee-length shorts. His heart sinking, Nene saw that they were carrying guns: a deadly combination of pistols and semi-automatic rifles. The bus was being hijacked.
Perhaps he should have been more surprised – but then, gangs were a part of Rio’s life as much as the beaches and the
. Made up predominantly of teenage boys, they maintained their own distinct identities and colours, marking out their territories in the
with lurid graffiti. Most of the time the gangs stayed on their own turf, concentrating on drug dealing and warring with their rivals. On the rare occasions that they ventured out en masse into downtown Rio, chaos ensued: robberies, rioting, even shoot-outs with the police.
Growing up in Rocinha, Nene knew all about infamous Rio gangs such as the Compadres and Quarto Comando. But the Compadres’ colours were red and Quarto Comando’s green; they wouldn’t dress in all black like these guys. He forced himself to stay calm. Sports stars were cherished in Rio – even among the
gangs. They weren’t about to shoot holes into a
, a local boy, who had made good. He just had to keep quiet and do as he was told.
A dark-skinned boy in orange-tinted Ray-Bans stepped to the head of the gang and gestured at the bus driver to open the door. Then they strutted aboard the bus, their confidence bolstered by the firearms at their sides.
‘We’re the Comando Negro,’ the boy with the sunglasses called out confidently. ‘Get your money out now. Any trouble and we’ll start firing.’
Immediately the passengers began rooting through their pockets and handbags, removing watches and jewellery in their eagerness to cooperate. Nene pulled out his wallet, careful not to make any sudden movements. He had never heard of the Comando Negro before and new gangs always spelled trouble – with everything to prove, and reputations to build, they tended to have twitchy trigger fingers.
The gang moved down the aisle, shouting at the passengers to throw their valuables into sports bags. One boy remained at the door of the bus, scanning the road for signs of the police. Whoever these guys were, Nene thought to himself, they looked pretty professional for a new outfit.
A black teenager with bleached-blond hair and a deep facial scar stopped by Nene’s seat, his wide pupils and trembling hands bearing the hallmarks of heavy cocaine use. As the boy pointed at his open sports bag with a snubnosed pistol, Nene tossed in his wallet, aware that he was throwing his family’s dinner away with it.
Once the passengers had been stripped of their money, the gang filed quickly back off the bus. It had been a lightning raid. The blond-haired boy made to follow them, then turned back to Nene.
‘I know you,’ he said. ‘Basketball player, aren’t you?’
‘We played against your team a couple of years back.’
‘Yeah.’ The boy nodded. ‘You scored a lot of points that day. Didn’t make me look so good.’
Nene shrugged. ‘Didn’t mean anything by it. All in the game, you know?’
The blond boy replied by cocking the hammer of his pistol and pressing it into the side of Nene’s head. The metal barrel felt icy cold on his skin.
‘You don’t look so big now,’ said the boy.
‘I don’t want any trouble,’ Nene replied softly, his pulse racing. ‘You’ve had my wallet. I haven’t got anything else.’
The boy dug the barrel deeper into Nene’s skin, forcing his head back against the window. He smiled coldly.
A whistle came from the front of the bus.
‘Stripe!’ the boy with the orange Ray-Bans called out. ‘Angel said no pissing about, remember? If you’ve got his wallet, let’s get the hell out of here.’
Stripe shot an angry glare at the other boy and then pulled the gun away from Nene’s head.
‘Next time,’ he said.
As the boy walked away, Nene’s shoulders slumped with relief. Looking down at his hands, he saw that they were shaking uncontrollably.
As the Comando Negro hurried off the bus and towards their 50cc motorbikes on the corner of the intersection, the sound of sirens struck up an insistent wail in the background. Joker – the boy with the orange Ray-Bans – smiled. It was going like clockwork, just as Angel had said it would. The passengers had handed over their valuables without a murmur. These beachfront people were all the same: soft.
He was about to speed away on his motorbike when he saw that Stripe had stopped in his tracks, a thoughtful look on his face.
‘Come on, Stripe! We’re done!’
The blond-haired boy ignored him. Turning abruptly on his heel, he walked back through the rain towards the bus.
‘Where the hell are you going now?’ Joker called out. ‘The police’ll be here soon!’
Deep in his heart, however, he knew exactly where Stripe was going – Joker had known him long enough for that. Perhaps Angel could have stopped him, but then Angel wasn’t here. All Joker could do was watch, revving his bike engine in frustration. Through the bus windows he saw Stripe reboard the vehicle and stride back along the aisle towards the tall boy with the basketball. Stripe said something, raising his gun.
There was a loud popping sound and then a spray of red liquid splattered against the window where the basketballer’s head had been a moment beforehand.
As a chorus of horrified screams went up from the bus’s passengers, Stripe walked nonchalantly back down the steps and towards Joker.
‘What?’ he said, catching Joker’s sideways glance. ‘He made me look bad.’