I left my house On that fateful day for my weekly trip beyond the mountain range that bordered São Paulo to the west, to meet with a business supplier. It was a 150 kilometer trip (93 miles) each way, but there was usually no traffic.
The highway passed dangerous territory. I always drove looking over my shoulder for signs of trouble; recently several businessmen have been abducted for ransom by gangs. Wealthier businessmen hire armed guards, and many people carry firearms for protection. Not that a rifle could be of help when surrounded by desperate goons with machine guns, but at least it gave the illusion of protection.
I had neither firearm, nor armed guard. I was just a simple business owner, struggling to make ends meet. The gangs wouldn’t bother with me, or so I thought.
Halfway through my route, I turned off into a tiny rest area on the side of the freeway. It really didn’t deserve the title of “rest area.” All it had to offer were a filthy restroom, a rusty sink and a weathered picnic table.
In hindsight leaving my car was a reckless thing to do. It took less than a fraction of a second, but I keep replaying the events in slow motion. Opening the car door, swinging my right leg onto the seat, eager to get back on my way…and feeling the cold gleam of metal on the back of my neck.
“Quiet!” snarled a voice near my ear, and my blood ran cold. “You’ll do as we say if you value your life.”
There were two goons inside my car, brandishing a pistol, the barrel smelling of cordite.
My hands shook as they hung, limply at my sides.
“O…O que você quer? (W…what do you want?)” I managed, in quavering Portuguese.
“Shut up and don’t ask any questions!” they replied. The leader of the two, tall and rugged, his arms covered in tattoos, withdrew a length of rope, and proceeded to tie me up. He emptied my pockets, removing my cell phone, bank cards, credit cards and business receipts, and stuffing them into the pocket of his own leather jacket. The second goon removed my billfold, counting the reais and centavo coins. I didn’t have much money with me—maybe seventy reais and a couple dozen centavos.
All this time I was shaking so hard, I couldn’t get another word out of my mouth.
A smelly piece of cloth served as a blindfold, and a piece of duct tape effectively sealed off my mouth. Now I was both blind and mute, unable to summon help. I felt weirdly detached, as if I was watching a drama that didn’t involve me at all. The mind does strange things under duress.