Carlos Lara felt a faint nudge of recognition when the young woman with the porcelain nails and the long dark hair stepped into the Godiva Coiffeur last July. Trying to rustle his memory, he asked what she did for a living.
I'm an artist, she said.
Lara cut Gloria Trevi's hair twice last year. Each time she was nervous but friendly. Lara learned that she was from Mexico but not much more. Both times she tipped well. And both times, unlike all of his other customers, she declined to leave a home address or telephone number.
"She said she moved around a lot, and that made it impossible for her to give me a phone number," Lara, 52, said.
What Trevi, 29, did not tell her hairdresser was that she moved around a lot because she was on the run from charges that she and her manager had abused teenage girls, abuse that allegedly included rape and kidnapping.
Her evasions ended last Thursday morning when federal police here arrested the Mexican pop star, whose real name is Gloria de los Angeles Trevino Ruiz, along with her manager Sergio Andrade, and her assistant Maria Raquenel Portillo. Two other Mexican women and an Argentine woman also were apprehended. (Brazilian police said that the Argentine has been released.)
Lara was stunned when he heard the news later that day.
"For me, she was a wonderful customer," he said. "She just had a certain something, I don't know what you call it, a certain aura, maybe. But back in Mexico, she was maybe doing some things that weren't so wonderful."
Trevi is being held in a decrepit women's prison just outside Rio as she awaits the outcome of extradition proceedings that began this week when Mexican authorities arrived here.
Sergio Renaldo Allevato, one of Trevi's lawyers, said his client came to Brazil not to hide from Mexican authorities but to "learn Portuguese, do a show and make a CD."
"She does not agree with the accusations," Allevato said. "They're not true."
Last year, Trevi was accused of helping to lure teenage girls into Andrade's orbit by promising them pop music stardom. After pulling them in, the manager, also one of Mexico's most powerful record producers, allegedly abused some of the girls for months. One accused him of raping her repeatedly over nine months.
Trevi has denied the charges.
The case wrecked the singer's career, one she had carefully built on an intriguing blend of sexy antics, altruism and steely independence. She became a feminist role model and won a fierce following among Mexican teenagers, the audience largely responsible for the 5 million copies that her three albums had sold since the early 1990s.
Trevi was last seen in Mexico in July. That was the same month that Carlos Lara met her for the first time. The hairdresser, who keeps index cards on his customers, recorded her visits. Next to her name, he had written "cabelo bellisimo," beautiful hair.
A spokeswoman for the Brazilian federal police said Trevi initially entered Brazil on a tourist visa that expired last March. In July, Trevi applied for another tourist visa. But upon receiving her application, federal police learned that Interpol was searching for the singer.
The police went to the address listed on her application--an address in Copacabana Beach, here in Rio--and could not find her. They tracked her for the next seven months, following tips that she was moving from apartment to apartment, all in or around the beach. She moved into her last apartment in Copacabana Beach on Dec. 31.
There, in the 12-floor Vargem Alegre building, she, her manager and four other women apparently squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment, rented for the equivalent of $750. Sergio Lacerda, the building's technician, said he was in the apartment once while she lived there. He recalls it being neatly kept and filled with people--a man and several women, one of whom he now knows was Trevi. He said they were cooking what he assumed was Mexican food and watching television.
The Vargem Alegre, a block west of the sea, stands in the midst of a cluster of similarly nondescript apartment buildings. The neighborhood surrounding it caters to the middle class, with a video store, bakery, pharmacy, a couple of clothing stores, a coffee shop and a supermarket.
"I saw her only one time," said Manoel Azevedo, manager of the nearby Crack do Galeto restaurant. "She was in here with three or four other girls and she ordered a shish kebab and a beer. I think she spent less than $5."
At the Godiva Coiffeur, Lara said that Trevi divulged few details about her life. They talked a bit about Mexico, because he had lived there long ago, but all she would say was that she was from a large family.
He said he tried to tease out more information about why she was in Brazil. She told him that recently she had lived in a couple of other South American countries (which authorities believe were Argentina and Uruguay).
"She just kept saying that she was an artist," the hairdresser said. "But she said, 'I'm not doing anything at the moment. Maybe I'll live here.' "
She wore no makeup or jewelry and dressed in jeans and other casual attire. Lara said she got simple haircuts--layers--and although friendly, she always appeared on edge.
For the first haircut, she tipped him $4 on a $14 cut. On the second, she gave him $7. Lara said she paid cash both times. He noted Trevi's generosity on her index card.
After Trevi's arrest, Lara recognized her picture in the newspaper and then realized he had seen the singer long before she walked into the salon last July. Turns out that, years ago, he had bought one of her albums.
CAPTION: Trevi and a bulletin seeking information on the fugitive singer and her manager.