The second book in the Mario Conde Mystery series, 2006
First published in Spanish as
© Leonardo Padura Fuentes 1998 English translation © Peter Bush 2006
For Ambrosio Fornet, the best reader of the history of
For Dashiell Hammett, because of
For friends, near and far, who are part of this story.
And, happily, for you, Lucia.
In 1990, when I started to write the novel
I want to note just two things via this confession: that I owe to the Count (a literary, never real, character) the good fortune to have meandered through a whole year of his life, following his every hesitation and adventure; and that his stories, as I always point out, are fictitious, although they are quite similar to some accounts of reality.
Finally, I must thank a group of reader-friends, for their patience in absorbing and analysing each of the versions of
She reflected. “I prefer stories about squalor.”
“About what?” I said, leaning forward.
“Squalor. I’m extremely interested in squalor.”
J. D. Salinger
Hurricane, hurricane, I feel you coming
Jose Maria Heredia
“And get here quick…!” he screamed at a sky that seemed languid and becalmed, as if still painted from October’s deceptive palette of blue: he screamed, arms crossed, chest bare, bellowing a desperate plea with every ounce of strength his lungs could muster, so his voice would carry and also to check that his voice still existed after three days without uttering a single word.
Punished by cigarettes and alcohol, his throat at last felt the relief of creation, and his spirit thrived on this minimal declaration of freedom, soon to bubble up in an inner effervescence leading him to the brink of a second exclamation.
From the heights of his terrace roof, Mario Conde had surveyed a firmament devoid of breezes and clouds, like the lookout of a lost vessel, morbidly hoping his crow’s nest would allow him to glimpse, at the horizon’s end, two aggressive crosses he’d been tracking for several days as they journeyed across the weather maps, as they approached their prescribed destination: his city, his neighbourhood and that very terrace from which he was hailing them.
Initially it had been a distant, anonymous sign on the first plotting of a tropical depression, heading away from the coasts of Africa and gathering hot clouds before entering its dance of death; two days later it won promotion to the worrying category of cyclonic disturbance, and now was a poisoned arrow in the side of the mid-Atlantic, hurtling towards the Caribbean and arrogantly claiming its right to be baptized:
But Mario Conde knew none of those incidents or illusions could change its destiny or mission: from the moment he saw it born to life on those maps, he felt a strange affinity with that freak of a hurricane: the bastard’s coming, he told himself, as he saw it advance and swell, because something in the atmosphere outside or in his own inner depression – cirrus, nimbus, stratus and cumulus rent by lightning, though still unable to transform themselves into a hurricane – had warned him of the real needs of that mass of rain and rabid winds cosmic destiny had created specifically to cross that particular city and bring a long anticipated, necessary cleansing.
But that afternoon, tired of his passive vigil, the Count had opted to issue verbal summons. Shirtless, his trousers barely secure, with a skinful of alcohol fuelling his hiddenmost energies, he clambered out of a window on to the terrace and encountered an autumnal, pleasantly warm twilight, where, however much he tried, he couldn’t detect the slightest trace of a lurking cyclone. Beneath that cheating sky, and momentarily oblivious to its designs, the Count began to observe the topography of his neighbourhood, populated by aerials, pigeon-lofts, washing-lines and water tanks reflecting simple, rustic routines from which he, however, seemed to be excluded. On the only hill in the area, as always, he espied the red-tiled turret of that fake English castle his grandfather Rufino Conde had