5. What I planted up there in the sierra
The wait. The ocean dark, and millions of stars clotting the sky. The shadowy expanse infinite to the north, limited on the south by the black silhouette of the coastline. Everything around so still, the water looked like oil. And a light, barely perceptible offshore breeze that brushed the water and stirred tiny sparkles of phosphorescence. Sinister beauty, she concluded. That was the word for it. She was not good at expressing that sort of thing. It had taken her forty minutes. But anyway, that was what this seascape was-beautiful and sinister, and Teresa Mendoza was contemplating it in silence. Since the first of those forty minutes she had sat motionless, her lips never parting, and had felt the damp night air soak her cotton sweater and the legs of her jeans. Listening attentively to the sounds of both land and water. To the muffled murmur of the radio, channel 44-the volume so low she could hardly hear it. "Give a look," Santiago said.
He spoke in a barely audible whisper. The ocean, he had explained the first few times, transmits sounds and voices differently at different times. If the moment was right, you could hear things said a mile away. Same thing with lights, which was why the Phantom was running dark, camouflaged in the night, on the water, by the black matte paint that covered its fiberglass hull and the engine casing. And which was also why she was not smoking and the two of them were sitting silently, unspeaking, hardly moving. Waiting.
Teresa put her face into the rubber cone that hid the screen of the Furuno eight-mile radar. At each sweep of the antenna, the dark line of the Moroccan coast was redrawn with perfect neatness on the bottom of the screen, with the arch of the cove down, between Punta Cruces and Punta Al Marsa. The rest was clean-not a blip on the entire surface of the ocean. She hit the zoom button twice, widening the surveillance radius from one to four miles. With the next sweep, the coast appeared smaller and longer, and toward the east included the precise outline of Perejil Island. Everything clean there, too. No boats. Not even the false echo of a wave. Nothing.
"Esos cabrones"she heard Santiago mutter.
Waiting. That was part of the job, but in the time she had been on the job, going out to sea with Santiago, Teresa had learned that the bad part was not the waiting itself, but the things your imagination did while you waited. The sound of water against the rocks, the murmur of the wind that could be confused with a Moroccan patrol-the Moros, in Strait slang-or the Spanish Customs helicopter were not as unsettling or disquieting as that long calm during which your thoughts became your worst enemy. Even concrete danger, the hostile echo that suddenly appeared on the radar screen, the roar of the engine struggling to achieve speed and freedom and life, the fifty-knot run-for-it with a patrol boat glued to your stern, the slaps of the boat's keel on the water, the violent alternating discharges of adrenaline and fear were for her preferable to the uncertainty of the calm, the imagination. How terrible lucidity was. And how perverse the terrifying, coldly assessed possibilities that lurked in the unknown. That unending wait as you tried to pick up a signal from land, a contact on the radio, was like the gray dawns that still found her awake every morning, and that now had followed her onto the sea, with the night growing light in the east, and the cold, and the wetness that made the deck slippery and soaked her clothes, her hands, and her face. Chale. No fear is unbearable, she concluded, unless you've got time on your hands and a healthy imagination.
Five months already. Sometimes, the other Teresa Mendoza she would catch sight of in the otherworld of a mirror, on some corner, in the dirty light of dawn, was still hovering, still spying on her, apparently curious to see the changes gradually being registered on her. That was why it was interesting, almost educational, to come and go from her own body, her own mind that way, and to be able to see herself from outside as well as from inside. Now Teresa knew that everything-fear, uncertainty, passion, pleasure, memories, her own face, which looked older now than it had only a few months ago- might be contemplated from that double point of view, and with a mathematical lucidity that belonged not to her but rather to that other woman that throbbed in her. The aptitude for this uncanny out-of-body experience, which had been discovered, or rather intuited, the afternoon (not even a year earlier) that the telephone rang in Culiacan, was what now allowed her to cast a cold eye on the motionless motorboat in the darkness of the sea that was becoming so familiar to her. She stood, once more, alongside the silent shadow of a man whom she didn't love-or perhaps just thought she didn't love-but with whom she was out here on this boat, at the risk of spending the rest of her life rotting in jail. It was an idea (the ghost of Lalo Veiga was the third crewman accompanying them on every run) that made her shiver.
But it was better than Melilla, better than anything she had expected. More personal and cleaner, somehow. At times she even thought that it was better than Sinaloa, but then the image of Guero Davila would come to her mind like a reproach, and she would feel guilty, deep inside, for betraying his memory that way. Nothing was better than Guero, and that was true in more than one sense. Culiacan, the pretty house in Las Quintas, the restaurants on the malecon, the music of the chirrines, the street musicians that only Sinaloa in all of Mexico had, the drives to Mazatlan, the beaches at Al-tata, everything that she had believed to be the real world, and that had made her happy with life, was based on a mistake.
Now, however, there was something new, something indefinable and not altogether bad in the darkness of the night, and in the quiet, resigned fear
she felt when she looked around her, despite the nearby shadow of a man who-this she had learned in Culiacan-would never be able to persuade her to deceive herself again, allow herself to believe that she was somehow protected against horror, pain, and death. And strangely, that sensation, far from intimidating her, excited her and goaded her on. It forced her to analyze herself and other things more intensely, with a thoughtful curiosity not altogether free of respect. Which was why she sometimes stood looking at the snapshot that she and Guero had been in, glancing back and forth at the mirror, taking note of the ever greater distance between the three women: the young woman with the surprised eyes in the snapshot, the Teresa who was now living on this side of life and the passage of time, and the stranger who observed the other two from her-increasingly less precise-reflection.
Chingale, she'd come a long way from Culiacan. Between two continents, with the Moroccan coast just ten miles from Spain: the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar and the southernmost limit of a Europe she had never in her life dreamed of visiting.
Here, Santiago Fisterra ran a transport operation for other people. He rented a little house on a beach in the Bay of Algeciras, on the Spanish side, and kept his speedboat tied up at Sheppard's marina, under the protection of the British flag that flew over the Rock. The boat was a 24-foot Phantom able to go 160 miles on its gas tanks, with a 250-horsepower engine that could go from zero to fifty-five knots in twenty-two seconds. Santiago was a mercenary. Unlike Guero Davila in Sinaloa, he had no one boss, did not work for a single cartel. His employers were the Spanish, British, French, and Italian drug traffickers who ran their business on the Costa del Sol. Aside from that, though, it was more or less the same: transport shipments from one place to another. Santiago charged so much per delivery, and he paid for losses or failures with his life. But that would be only in the most extreme case. This smuggling- almost always hashish, sometimes tobacco from Gibraltar warehouses-had nothing to do with what Teresa Mendoza had known before. The world of these waters was hard, the people gruff, but both the world and the people were less hostile than in Mexico. There was less violence, fewer deaths. People were not shot down over one drink too many, nor did they carry AK-47s, like in Sinaloa. Of the two sides of the Strait, the northern, Spanish side was more easygoing, even if you fell into the hands of the law. There were lawyers, judges, rules that applied to the criminals as well as to their victims.
But the Moroccan side was different: there, it was a nightmare. Corruption at every level, human rights virtually unrecognized, prisons you could rot in. With the added problem of being a woman, and what that meant if you fell into the inexorable machinery of a Muslim society like that.
At first, Santiago had refused to let her take Lalo Veiga's place. Too dangerous, he had said, nipping the discussion in the bud. Or thinking that he had. It was one thing for her to come with him and stay onshore, but ride with him? Never. Real serious, totally macho, the Gallego, with that odd accent he sometimes had, less brusque than other Spaniards, who were so contemptuous, so rude when they talked.
But after a night Teresa spent with her eyes open, staring first at the darkness of the ceiling and then at the familiar gray light, she woke Santiago up to tell him that she'd made a decision. And that was that. She was never going to wait for anybody again, watching telenovelas in some house in some city somewhere-so he could choose: Either take her on the boat, or she would leave him then and there, forever, nice knowing you.
Santiago, his chin unshaven, his eyes red with sleep, scratched his tousled hair and asked her if she was crazy or had turned into a bitch or what. Until she got out of bed, naked, and still naked took down her suitcase and began to throw her things into it, trying not to look in the mirror or at him or think about whether she was sure she would truly leave. Santiago let her pack, watching her for a minute and a half without opening his mouth.
Finally convinced that she was actually leaving, he said, All right, you win, okay. Fuck it. It's not my cunt the Moros are going to rip open if they catch you. Just try not to fall overboard like Lalo.
There they are." A click-clack, three times, barely audible on the radio. A small shadow, leaving a wake of phosphorescence on the black, quiet surface. Not even an engine, just the muffled splash of oars. Santiago was watching with the Baigish-6U night-vision binoculars. Russian. The Russians had flooded Gibraltar with them during the Soviet liquidation. Any boat, submarine, or fishing boat that came into port sold off everything that could be unscrewed. "Those hijos de puta are an hour late."
Teresa heard his whispers while her face was cradled in the rubber cone of the radar. All clear outside, she said, whispering also. Not a sign of the Moros. The speedboat rocked when Santiago stood up to move toward the stern with a rope.
The cargo was well packed, in plastic shrink-wrap with handles for easier handling. Pills of hashish oil, seven times more concentrated, seven times more valuable than the conventional resin. Twenty kilos per bundle, Teresa calculated while Santiago passed them to her and she stowed them in rows in the hold. Santiago had taught her to fit one pack tightly against another so they wouldn't shift during the run across the open sea. This underscored the importance that good stowage had on the Phantom's speed-as much importance as the propeller's revolutions or depth in the water. One package, badly stowed, might mean a difference of two knots, two nautical miles per hour. And in this line of work two nautical miles, two and a third land miles, was not a distance to be sneezed at. It often meant the difference between prison and freedom.
"Anything on the radar?"
Teresa could make out two dark silhouettes on the little rowboat. Sometimes she could hear a few words in Arabic, spoken softly, or an expression of impatience from Santiago, who was still tossing bundles on board. She looked at the gray line of the coast to see if she could make out any lights. Everything was dark except a few distant dots on the black bulk of Mount Musa and on the steep profile she could distinguish from time to time toward the west, under the light from the Punta Cires lighthouse, where she could see a few fishermen's and smugglers' houses. She looked at the screen again, then clicked down the scale from four miles to two, then back up to eight. There was a blip at almost the outer limit. She looked through the 7X50 binoculars but saw nothing, so she picked up the Russian pair: a very distant light, moving slowly toward the west, no doubt a big boat on its way to the Atlantic. Still peering through the binoculars, she turned toward the coast. Now any point of light could be seen clearly in the green landscape, its rocks and shrubs neatly defined, and she could even see the slight undulations of the water. She turned the lenses on the two Moroccans in the rowboat: one young, in a leather jacket, and the other an older man, wearing a wool beret and a dark windbreaker. Santiago was on his knees next to the big outboard-motor housing, stowing away the last bundles in the stern: jeans, boat shoes, black T-shirt, his stubborn profile turning from time to time for a cautious look around. Through the night-vision lenses, Teresa could make out his strong arms, his muscles tense as they lifted the cargo. Even here, the cabron was fine.
The problem with working as an independent runner, unconnected with the big narcomafias, was that somebody could get upset with you and whisper a few dangerous words in the wrong person's ear. Just like in pinche Mexico. That might explain the capture of Lalo Veiga-Teresa had her ideas about that, and Dris Larbi was one of them. But Santiago had apparently learned his lesson, and now he was trying hard to keep the unexpected to a minimum with more money spread around in Morocco through an intermediary from Ceuta. That lowered his profits but at least in principle lowered the risk. Of course his modest means would never be enough to buy off everybody. Not to mention that there might always be some agent for the Moros, some Moroccan cop or gendarme that wasn't happy with his cut, some competitor that could pay more than Santiago could and blow the whistle on him, some influential fucking leech lawyer that needed clients to bleed. Or the Moroccan authorities might organize a roundup of little fish so they could have something to show at some big international narcocop convention. In any case, Teresa had acquired enough experience to know that the real danger, the concrete threat, came later, when they entered Spanish waters, where Customs and the Heinekens of the Guardia Civil- their colors were just like the beer's-patrolled night and day, looking for smugglers. The advantage with them was that unlike the Moroccans, the Spaniards never shot to kill, because if they did, the judges and courts would be all over them-in Europe certain things were taken more seriously than in Mexico or the United States. That gave you the chance to get away, if your boat could outrun them, although it was not easy to shake the Customs' powerful HJ turbocraft or their helicopter-the bird, Santiago called it- with its powerful detection systems, its veteran captains, and its pilots able to fly just feet above the water, forcing you to go throttle-out in dangerous evasive maneuvers, with the inevitable risk of engine or steering problems, the risk of being captured before you could reach the lights of Gibraltar. In those cases, the bales were thrown overboard-adios forever to the cargo, and hola to another kind of problem, maybe worse than the cops, because the people that shipped the hashish were not always understanding mafiosi, and you ran the risk that after all the books were balanced there might be a couple of sombreros too many. All that without taking into account the possibility of a bad bounce on the waves, a leak in the hull, a crash between your boat and the boats pursuing you, a submerged rock that would rip out the guts of the boat and its crew, running aground on the beach. "That's it. Let's go."
The last package had been stowed. Exactly three hundred kilos. The men in the rowboat were now rowing toward shore, and Santiago, after coiling the rope, jumped into the cockpit and sat down in the pilot's seat, on the starboard side. Teresa moved to let him pass as she, like him, pulled on a life jacket. Then she gave another look at the radar screen: everything clean ahead, toward the north and the open sea. End of the immediate precautions. Santiago turned the key, and the weak light of the instruments illuminated the dash: compass, tachometer, oil pressure gauge. Throttle levers to the left of the pilot, trim-tab lever to the right. Rrrr. Roarrr. The needles moved, startled, as though they'd suddenly been shaken awake. Roaaarr. The propeller whipped up a froth of spray, and the Phantom's twenty-four feet began to move, faster and faster, cutting through the oily water as cleanly as a well-sharpened knife: 2,500 rpms, twenty knots. The vibration of the engine was transmitted to the hull, and Teresa could feel the power pushing them forward, making the fiberglass of the hull, which suddenly felt as light as a feather, quiver. 3,500 rpms, thirty knots, and hydroplaning. The sensation of power, of freedom, was almost physical, and as she felt it once again, her heart beat as though to the rush of the third drink of the night. Nothing, she thought once more, is like this. Or almost nothing.
Santiago, concentrating on the boat's reactions, leaning slightly into the wheel, his jaw reddish from the instrument panel lights, eased the throttle forward: 4,000 rpms, forty knots. The windshield was no longer enough to protect them from the wind, which was now wet and cutting. Teresa zipped up the life jacket and pulled on a wool cap; she tucked her hair, which was whipping into her eyes, under it. Then she gave another look at the radar and swept the channels on the Kenwood radio-the Customs agents and Guardia Civil used scramblers to talk back and forth, but even if she couldn't understand their transmissions, the intensity of the signal let her know whether they were close by. Once in a while she raised her face, looking for the menacing shadow of the helicopter against the cold lights of the stars. The firmament and the dark circle of the sea around them seemed to run with them, as though the speedboat were at the center of a sphere traveling swiftly through the night. Now, on the open sea, the slight swell made them bounce over the surface of the water, and in the distance she could begin to make out the lights of the coast of Spain.
How alike and how different they were, she thought. How much they resembled one another in some things-she had sensed this since the night at the Yamila-yet what different ways they had of facing life and the future. Like Guero, Santiago was quick, smart, determined, and very cold in his work, one of those men that never lose their head even when they're getting beat to shit. He also was good for her in bed-generous, thoughtful, always controlling himself very calmly, attentive to her reactions. Less fun, maybe, but more tender than Guero. Sweeter, sometimes. And there the similarities ended. Santiago was a man of few words, didn't spend money, had few friends, and distrusted everybody.
"I'm a Celt from Finisterre," he would say. "In Galician, fisterra means end, the end of the earth. I want to live to be an old man and play dominoes in a bar in 0 Grove, and have a big pazo"-the Galician word for a country house or villa-"with a mirador, all glassed-in, that I can see the ocean from, with a telescope to watch the boats going in and out, and my own sixty-foot schooner beached down at the mouth of the river. But if I spend my money, or have too many friends, or trust too many people, I'll never live to be an old man or have any of that-the more links in the chain, the less you can trust it."
Santiago never smoked tobacco or hashish or anything else, and he would have as much as a glass of wine only now and then. When he got up in the morning he would run for a half-hour on the beach, through water up to his ankles, and then do push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups-Teresa counted, and it was always fifty of each. His body was lean and hard, with skin that was light but tanned dark on the arms and face, with his tattoo of the crucified Christ on his right forearm and another mark on his left shoulder, a circle with a Celtic cross and the initials I.A., whose meaning-she suspected they stood for the name of a woman-she always refused to ask. He also had an old scar, about three inches long, diagonal, at kidney level, on his back.
"A knife," he said, when Teresa asked. "A long time ago. When I was selling Turkish tobacco in bars and the other kids were afraid I'd take their customers away." And as he said this he smiled ruefully, melancholy, as though he missed those days when somebody could stab you in the back with a knife.
She would almost have been able to love him, Teresa thought sometimes, had everything not happened in the wrong place at the wrong time in her life. Things always happen too soon or too late. But she liked being with him, really liked it, watching TV as she leaned on his shoulder, looking through romance magazines, lying in the sun with a Bisonte laced with hashish between her fingers-she knew that Santiago didn't approve of her smoking the stuff, but she never heard him say a word against it-or watching him out on the porch, his torso naked, the sea in the background, as he worked on his wooden boat models. She loved to watch him build those little boats, because he was so very patient and painstaking, and incredibly skillful at constructing fishing boats that looked exactly like the real ones- painted red, blue, and white-and sailboats with every sail, line, and cable in its place. It was strange about those boats, and the speedboat, too, because she had discovered that Santiago didn't know how to swim. Not even paddle along like she did, clumsy strokes that Guero had taught her in Altata- with almost no style, but at least swimming.
"I could never even float," he confessed once, a parenthesis while they were talking about something else. "It makes me feel weird."
And when Teresa asked him why, then, he risked his life in a speedboat, all he did was shrug fatalistically, with that grin of his that seemed to emerge after many twists and turns through his insides.
"Half of us Galicians don't know how to swim," he said at last. "We sink, we die-with resignation." He grinned.
And at first she didn't know whether he was altogether joking, or altogether serious.
One afternoon, over tapas at Kuki's-Casa Bernal, a tasca in Campamento-Santiago introduced her to a man he knew, Oscar Lobato, a reporter for a Cadiz newspaper. Dark-skinned, fortyish, his face marked and scarred like a ruffian, which he wasn't, and loquacious-a born talker- Lobato moved as easily (like a fish in water, thought Teresa) among smugglers as among Customs agents and members of the Guardia Civil. He read books and he knew something about everything, from engines to geography to music. He also knew everybody, wouldn't reveal his sources even if you held a.45 to his head, and had moved in this murky world for some time, with his telephone book full of contacts. He always lent a hand when he could, no matter which side of the law you were on, partly out of an instinct for public relations and partly because despite the bitter aftertaste of his trade, people said, he was not a bad guy. Not to mention that he liked his work.
These days he was hanging out in La Atunara, the old fishing neighborhood of La Linea, where a strike had turned fishermen into smugglers. Boats from Gibraltar would pull up onto the beach in broad daylight and be unloaded by women and children who painted their own pedestrian crosswalks on the highway so they could carry the packages and bales of contraband across the road. The kids played at being drug traffickers and Civil Guardsmen along the water, chasing each other with empty Winston cartons on their heads; only the youngest and most gullible of them could be persuaded to be the cops. And every enforcement operation ended in tear gas and rubber bullets, with real bullets only between the inhabitants and the riot police.
"Picture the scene," Lobato was saying. "The beach at Puente Mayorga, at night, a speedboat from Gibraltar with two guys unloading tobacco. A patrol from the Guardia Civil, old corporal and young private. 'Halt, who goes there,' et cetera. The guys on the beach take off running. The engine won't start, the young guardsman jumps in the water and climbs on the speedboat. The engine finally catches, and there goes the speedboat for the Rock, one drug trafficker at the helm and the other one beating the living shit out of the guardsman… Now picture that speedboat stopping in the middle of the bay… The conversation with the guardsman. 'Listen, kid,' they tell him. 'If you stay on this boat all the way to Gibraltar we'll be fucked, and you'll get screwed over for chasing us into British waters. So let's think this over, all right?'… Bottom line: Speedboat returns to the beach, guardsman climbs off. Adios, adios, buenas noches. And peace on earth, goodwill to men."
As that combination of Galician and drug runner that he was, Santiago distrusted journalists. But Teresa knew that he considered Lobato an exception: he was objective, discreet, didn't believe in bad guys and good guys, knew how to get along, paid for the drinks, and never took notes in public. He also told good stories and even better jokes, and he never spoke ill of those who weren't present. He had come into Casa Bernal with Toby Par-rondi, a speedboat pilot from Gibraltar, and some of Toby's friends. They were all young: long hair, tans, tattoos, gold rings in their ears, cigarettes and gold lighters on the table, high-powered cars with dark-tinted windows that they drove around in playing the music of Los Chunguitos or Javivi or Los Chichos as loud as it would go-songs that reminded Teresa a little of Mexican narcocorridos. At night I don't sleep, in the daytime I don't live, went the lyrics to one, in these four walls, this miserable prison. Songs that were part of the local folklore, like those songs in Sinaloa, and with equally picturesque titles: "The Moorish Girl and the Legionnaire," "I'm a Stray Dog in the Street," "Fists of Steel," "To My Colleagues." The smugglers from the Rock differed from the Spaniards only in that more of them had blond hair and light skin, and they mixed English words into their Andalucian-accented Spanish. Otherwise, they were cut from the same cloth: gold chains with crucifixes around their necks, medals to the Virgin or the inevitable image of Camaron. Heavy-metal T-shirts, expensive jogging suits, Adidas and Nike sneakers, faded designer jeans with wads of bills in one back pocket and the bulge of a knife in the other. Very tough guys, as dangerous at times as their Sinaloan cousins. Nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Their girlfriends stuffed into stretch pants that showed off their tattooed asses and short T-shirts that showed off their navel-piercings, with lots of makeup and perfume, and all that gold. They reminded Teresa of the girls that ran with the narcos from Culiacan. And in a certain way they reminded her of herself-and realizing that made her think that too much time had passed, and too many things had happened.
In this group there was the occasional Spaniard from La Atunara, but most of the kids were from Gibraltar-Brits with surnames inherited from Spain, England, Malta, and every other corner of the Mediterranean. As Lobato said with a wink, including Santiago in the gesture, "the best of every country."
"So, Mexican, eh?"
"You've come a long way." "Life's like that."
The journalist's smile was flecked with beer foam. "That sounds like a song by Jose Alfredo." "You know Jose Alfredo?" "A little."
And Lobato started humming "The Drunk Came In Drunk" as he signaled the waiter for another round. "The same for my friends and me," he said. "And for those gentlemen at that table, and their ladies."
Calling for five tequilas, and the bartender told him that'd be all for tonight.
Teresa sang a few lines with him, and they laughed at the end. He was simpatico, she thought. And he wasn't a know-it-all. Being a know-it-all with Santiago and those guys over there was bad for the health. Lobato was studying her, trying to guess her weight, so to speak. Eyes that knew which side of his mouth the iguana chewed on.
"A Mexican and a Gallego. Never thought I'd live to see the day."
That was good. Don't ask questions, but open the door so the other person could tell his story, if he wanted to. Smooth as silk, this one.
"My father was Spanish."
"I never knew."
Lobato didn't ask whether that was true or not, that she'd never known, or whether she was just closing that door. Giving up on the family questions, he sipped at his beer and gestured toward Santiago.
"They say you ride over to Morocco with this guy."
"Who says that?"
"People. There are no secrets here. Ten miles-not a lot of water, you know."
"End of interview," said Santiago, taking Lobato's half-drunk beer out of his hand, in exchange for another one from the new round that the blond guys at the next table had just sent over.
The reporter shrugged.
"She's pretty, your girl. And that accent."
"I like her," said Santiago.
Teresa let herself be hugged tight in Santiago's arms. Kuki, the owner, set out some tapas on the bar-gambas al ajillo, roast beef, meatballs, tomatoes drenched in olive oil. Teresa loved to eat this way, the way the Spaniards did, from a dozen little plates of all sorts of food, eating standing at the bar, going from one bar to another-sausages, cold cuts, wonderful things from the kitchen. Tapas. She saw the beef, and dipped a piece of bread in the juice. She was famished, and she didn't worry about gaining weight; she was naturally thin, and for years she had been able to allow herself to indulge. Overindulge. Stuff herself, in fact. Kuki had a bottle of Cuervo behind the bar, so she ordered a tequila. In Spain they didn't use the tall, narrow caballitos that were so common in Mexico, so she always drank it from sherry glasses, which weren't a bad substitute. The problem was that you got a double with every drink.
More customers came in. Santiago and Lobato, at the bar, were discussing the advantages of Zodiac-type rubber speedboats for crossing the sea in high swells, and Kuki was taking part in the conversation. Stiff hulls took a beating during chases, and for a while now Santiago had been toying with the idea of a semi-rigid with two or three engines, a boat big enough to stand up to the ocean and run as far as the eastern coast of Andalucia and Cape Gata. The problem was money-too much investment and too much risk. Even assuming that these ideas could be confirmed on the water.
Suddenly the conversation halted. The Gibraltar boys at their table had fallen quiet, too, and their eyes were turned toward the group that had just taken seats at the far end of the bar, next to an old poster announcing the last bullfight before the civil war-Feria de La Lima-19, 20 y 21 de julio de 1936. The group consisted of four young men, clean-cut and good-looking. A blond in sunglasses and two tall, athletic types wearing polo shirts, hair cropped short. The fourth man was attractive, dressed in an impeccably ironed blue shirt and a pair of jeans so clean and starched they looked new.
"And here I am once more," Lobato sighed ironically, "between the Achaeans and the Trojans."
He excused himself a moment, winked at the Gibraltar boys, and went over to say hello to the newcomers, pausing especially at the man in the blue shirt. When he returned, he laughed softly.
"All four of them are with Customs Surveillance."
Santiago regarded them with professional interest. One of them, when he realized he was being inspected, inclined his head a bit in greeting, and Santiago lifted his glass a couple of inches. It might be a reply, or might not. The codes and the rules of the game they all played: hunters and prey in neutral territory. Kuki set out sherry and tapas as though nothing were happening-which in a way it wasn't; this kind of encounter happened every day.
"The movie star," Lobato went on, "is the pilot of the bird."
The bird was the Customs' BO-105, equipped for tracking and hunting at sea. Teresa had seen him harrying the smugglers' boats. He flew well-low, and well. Took risks. She examined him: thirty-something, dark hair, deep tan. Could pass for Mexican. Looked good, maybe even fine. A little shy.
"He told me somebody fired a flare at him and hit a blade." Lobato looked at Santiago. "That wouldn't have been you, would it?"
"I didn't go out last night."
"Must have been one of these guys."
"Must have been."
Lobato looked at the Gibraltar boys, who were now talking exaggeratedly loud, and laughing. "I'm gonna ram eighty kilos tomorrow," one of them was crowing, "right up your ass." One of them, Parrondi, told Kuki to serve a round to the gentlemen from Customs. "It's my birthday and it will be my pleasure," he said with obvious sarcasm, "to buy them a drink." From the end of the bar, the four men turned down the gesture of appreciation, if it could be called that, although one of them held up two fingers in the sign of victory as he wished Parrondi happy birthday. The blond in sunglasses, Lobato informed them, was the captain of an HJ turbocraft. And a Galician, of course. From La Coruna.
"As for the bird," Lobato added for Santiago's sake, "it's in the shop, so there's a week of clear air, no vultures on your back. So…"
"I don't have anything going these days."
"Not even tobacco?"
"That's a shame."
Teresa was still watching the pilot. He looked so calm, well behaved, inoffensive. With that ironed shirt and gleaming hair it was hard to tie him to the helicopter that was every smuggler's nightmare. Maybe, she thought, it was like in that movie that she and Santiago had seen in La Linea: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Lobato, who had noticed where her eyes were turned, smiled more broadly.
"He's a good-looking young man. From Caceres. And they throw the wildest things you can imagine at him. Once somebody threw an oar. It broke a blade and almost killed him. And when he landed on the beach, the kids almost stoned him to death… Sometimes, I swear, La Atunara is like Vietnam. 'Course out on the water, it's different."
"Yeah," said Santiago, sipping at his beer. "Out there it's those hijos de puta that have the advantage."
That was how she and Santiago filled their free hours. Other times they
would go shopping, or run errands at the bank in Gibraltar, or walk along the beach in the afternoon, enjoying the long, glorious Andalucian sunset, with the lights on the Rock coming on one by one in the background. The bay would be full of ships under many flags-Teresa could now identify most of them-and their lights, too, would come on one by one as the sun sank in the west. The house was a little place about ten yards from the water, at the mouth of the Palmones River, where there were also a few fishermen's houses, in the middle of the bay-shore between Algeciras and Gibraltar. She liked this area, whose sandy beaches and blue and red fishing skiffs beside the calm river reminded her a bit of Altata.
In the morning they would have coffee-very black, just a drop of milk; cafe cortado, it was called, coffee cut in this case with rich whole milk-and bread toasted on a grill with oil, at El Espigon or the Estrella del Mar. On Sunday, Spanish omelettes at Casa Willy-thick, potato-rich plates with onions and, in Willy's case, shrimp. Sometimes, between cargo runs across the Strait, they would take Santiago's Cherokee and head up toward Seville on the Ruta del Toro, to eat at Casa Becerra or stop at roadside stands for spicy sausage or hard, gamy slices of ham from hogs fed only on nuts. They might drive up the Costa del Sol to Malaga, or in the opposite direction, through Tarifa and Cadiz to Sanlucar de Barrameda and the mouth of the Guadalquivir-Barbadillo wine, langostinos, discos, outdoor cafes, restaurants, bars (sometimes with karaoke), until Santiago would pull out his wallet, look inside, and say, "Let's go, we're running on the reserve tanks already. Gotta go back and earn some more-nobody's giving it away." Sometimes they would spend days on the Rock, covered with oil and grease, getting roasted by the sun and eaten by flies on the dry dock at Sheppard's marina, breaking down and then reassembling the Phantom's engine-words once Greek to Teresa, like "pistons," "hemi heads," "bearings," no longer held any mystery-and then they would take the boat out for a test run through the bay. They'd race along at planing speeds, watched over by the chopper and the HJs and the Heinekens that that very night might well meet them again in the cat-and-mouse game they played south of Punta Europa. And every afternoon on those calm days in port or dry dock, when the work was done they would go to the Olde Rock to sit at their usual table, under an engraving depicting the death of an English admiral named Nelson, and have a drink.
So during those almost happy months-for the first time in her life she was conscious of being happy-Teresa became a pro. The little Mexican girl that little more than a year earlier had taken off running in Culiacan was now a woman experienced in midnight runs and scares, in sailing skills, in boat mechanics, in winds and currents. She knew the course and activity of boats by number, color, and positioning of their lights. She studied Spanish and British nautical charts of the Strait and compared them with her own observations until she knew soundings, coastal profiles, references by heart- things that later, at night, would make the difference between success and failure. She stowed tobacco in the hold from the Gibraltar warehouses and unloaded it a mile farther on, in La Atunara, and stowed away hashish on the Moroccan coast and then unloaded it in coves and on beaches from Tarifa to Estepona. Wrench and screwdriver in hand, she checked refrigeration pumps and cylinders, changed electrodes, oil, and spark plugs, and learned things that she never imagined would be useful, such as, for example, that the fuel consumption per hour of a souped-up engine is calculated by multiplying the maximum horsepower by 0.4-an extremely valuable rule of thumb when fuel is being burned at high speeds on the open sea, where there are no gas stations.
She also learned to guide Santiago by tapping him on the shoulder during super-fast chases, so that the proximity of the turbocraft or helicopter wouldn't distract him when he was running at dangerously high speeds. She even learned to steer a speedboat herself at over thirty knots, giving it gas or slacking off in bad seas so the hull wouldn't suffer unnecessarily, raising the tail of the outboard motor in swells or lowering it for planing, camouflaging the boat near the coast, taking advantage of moonless nights, running close in to a fishing boat or big cargo ship in order to throw off the radar signal. And also evasive tactics: using the Phantom's short turning radius to keep the more powerful but less maneuverable turbocraft from boarding them, circling behind the pursuit boat, turning its bow or cutting across its wake, taking advantage of gasoline over the adversary's diesel. And so, run by run, she went from fear to euphoria, from victory to failure, and she learned, once again, what she already knew: that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you call it a draw. She would throw bundles of cargo into the sea, with her pursuers' spotlight right on her, or offload them to fishing boats or black shadows that scurried out of the underbrush onto deserted beaches and waded waist-deep into the water, with the murmur of the waves as background noise.
On one occasion-the only one so far, and in the course of an operation with people you couldn't trust too much, anyway-she offloaded the cargo while Santiago looked on from the rear deck. He was standing in the darkness with an Uzi under his coat, not as a precaution should Customs or the Guardia Civil show up-that was against all the rules-but as a precaution against the people he was delivering the stuff to: some French guys with a bad reputation and worse manners. And then, that same dawn, on their way back to the Rock, the cargo offloaded, Teresa herself, with great relief, had thrown the Uzi into the sea.
Now she was far from feeling that sense of relief, despite the fact that they were hydroplaning empty, on their way back to Gibraltar. It was four-forty in the morning, and just two hours earlier they had loaded three hundred kilos of hashish resin on the Moroccan coast-enough time to travel the nine miles between Al Marsa and Cala Arenas and offload the cargo with no problems. But as the Spanish saying had it, until the tip of the tail goes by, it's still a bull. And to confirm that, a little before Punta Carnero, just after they entered the lighthouse's red zone and could see the lighted mass of the Rock on the other side of the Bay of Algeciras, Santiago, looking up, had muttered a curse. And an instant later, over the sound of the engine, Teresa heard a purring sound approaching from one side and then taking up a position on the stern, seconds before a blinding light suddenly lit up the boat.
"The bird," Santiago growled. The fucking bird. The helicopter's blades were raising a tornado of wind and spray around the Phantom when Santiago moved the trim-tab lever, shoved the throttle lever forward-the needle jumped from 2,500 to 4,000 rpms-and the speedboat took off, its nose high, hydroplaning, slapping lightly over the water. But no luck-the spotlight was still on them, moving from one side of the boat to the other and from bow to stern, its white curtain of light illuminating the spray raised by 250 horsepower of finely tuned engine. Bounced by the slaps of the hull against the water, stung by the spray, holding tight so she wouldn't fall overboard, Teresa did what she had to do: forget about the relative threat of the helicopter-it was flying, she calculated, about twelve to fifteen feet above the water, and like them, at about forty knots. She needed to worry about another threat that was no doubt close by, and certainly, because they were so close to land, more dangerous: the Customs Surveillance HJ that must be even now racing toward them at full speed, trying to cut them off or force the speedboat in toward the shore. Toward the rocks on the sandbar at La Cabrita, which was somewhere forward and to port.
She glued her face to the rubber cone of the Furuno, banging her forehead and nose each time the hull hit the water, and punched the buttons to reduce the range to a half-mile. Dios, dios. In this business, if you're not in good with God, you're cooked, she thought. The antenna sweep on the screen seemed to take forever, an eternity through which she held her breath. Get us out of this, sweet God, she prayed. She even remembered St. Malverde, that black night in Sinaloa. They were running without any cargo that might send them to prison, but the Customs people were hard, even if they wished you happy birthday in the bars in Campamento. At this hour, and on this course, they could use any pretext they felt like to seize the boat, or to ram it "accidentally" and sink it. The blinding glare of the spotlight fell on the screen, making it hard to see. She noticed that Santiago had revved the engine higher, despite the fact that with the sea raised by the wind out of the west, they were at the limit already. But the Gallego was not one to roll over and play dead, or to gift-wrap his boat for a fucking Customs seizure. So the speedboat gave a leap longer than the others-Don't let the engine seize up, she prayed silently, imagining the propeller whirling in space, out of the water-and when the hull hit the water again, Teresa, holding on the best she could, her face striking the radar cone, finally saw on the screen, among the countless little echoes of the wave swell, another green blip, a different kind-a long, sinister shape approaching rapidly from off the starboard stern, less than five hundred yards away.
"Five o'clock!" she cried, shaking Santiago's right shoulder. "Three cables!"
To make herself heard above the roar of the engine and the wind, she held her mouth against his ear. Santiago gave a futile look in that direction, lowering his eyes against the brightness of the spotlight from the helicopter, which was still right on their tail, and then he turned the radar screen toward him, to see for himself. The sinuous green line of the coast was drawn uncomfortably close with each sweep of the antenna-about three hundred yards to port. Teresa looked back. The lighthouse at Punta Carnero was still red. On this course, when they passed into the white zone there would be no way to avoid the sandbank at La Cabrita. Santiago must have been thinking the same thing, because at that very second he reduced the boat's speed and turned the wheel hard right, then accelerated again and made several zigzags, seaward, looking alternately at the radar screen and the helicopter's spotlight, which at every zig or zag seemed to shoot ahead, losing them momentarily but then fixing on them again, framing them in its light. Whether this was the guy in the blue shirt or another one, Teresa thought admiringly, he certainly had balls. Why should I tell you no, if the answer's yes. And he knew what he was doing. Not just anybody could fly a helicopter at night four yards above the water. The pilot must be as good as Guero was in his time. Or better. She'd like to shoot a fucking flare at him, if they had any flares aboard. Watch him go down in flames. Whoof.
Now the blip off the HJ was nearer, and closing fast. Running at full throttle over a flat sea, the speedboat was untouchable, but with swells it suffered, and the pursuers had the advantage. Teresa looked back and to starboard, using her hands to shield her eyes against the light from the helicopter, expecting to see the HJ at any second. She was still holding on as well as she could, ducking each time a splash of spray came over the windshield, and her kidneys hurt from the banging of the hull against the waves. Every now and again she looked up at Santiago's stubborn profile, his tense features dripping salt water, his wide eyes peering through the night. His hands gripped the Phantom's wheel tightly, steering the boat with short, skillful turns, getting the most out of the souped-up engine's extra 500 rpms, the inclination of the stern, and the flat keel that during some long leaps seemed to fly, as though the propeller were touching the water only intermittently, then other times slapped down hard, the hull creaking as if it were about to splinter. "There it is!"
And there it was: a ghostly shadow, sometimes gray, sometimes blue and white, approaching in the field of light projected by the helicopter, throwing off a broad wake-its hull was dangerously close. It went into and out of the light like some enormous wall or monstrous cetacean on the surface of the water, and a spotlight was being trained on them now from the turbocraft as well, flashing blue as the police lights spun, like some malignant eye. Deafened by the roar of the engines, soaked by the spray, Teresa hung on where she could, not daring even to rub her eyes, which were burning from the salt water, for fear of being thrown out of the boat. She saw that Santiago had opened his mouth to yell something that she couldn't understand, and then she saw him ease back on the throttle and move his right hand to the trim-tab lever and the stern thruster. He turned the wheel sharply to starboard and pushed the throttle forward, hard and fast, the boat's bow now pointed straight at the lighthouse on Punta Carnero. The maneuver allowed them to evade the helicopter and the HJ, but Teresa's relief lasted only the brief seconds it took her to realize that they were headed straight for land between the red and white zones of the lighthouse, toward the four hundred yards of rocks and reefs at La Cabrita. Don't screw this up, she whispered. The turbo-craft's spotlight was now trained on them from the rear, and the helicopter was practically on top of them again. And then, as Teresa, her hands clutching the bits on the side of the boat, was still calculating the pros and cons, she saw the lighthouse in front of them and above, too close, go from red to white. She didn't need the radar to know that they were less than a hundred yards from the rocks, and that the depth was lessening rapidly. This is bad, she told herself. Either he backs off or we crash. When she looked around, she saw the HJ's spotlight falling farther and farther back, as its crew gave the sandbar a wide berth. Santiago remained on the same course a few seconds longer, shot a look over his shoulder at the HJ, glanced at the depth finder and then ahead, where the distant lights of Gibraltar silhouetted the darker La Cabrita.
I hope he doesn't do it, Teresa thought fearfully. I hope he doesn't try to thread the channel through those rocks; he did it once, but it was in daylight, and we weren't going as fast as we are now.
Just then, Santiago let up off the gas again, turned hard right, and passing under the belly of the helicopter, whose pilot pulled up fast to miss the Phantom's radar antenna, shot not through the channel but over the outer point of the sandbar, with the black mass of La Cabrita so close that Teresa could smell the algae and hear the echo of the engine off the rocky walls of the cliff face.
And suddenly, her mouth still open and her eyes popping out of their sockets, she found herself on the other side of Punta Carnero: the sea much calmer than outside the bar, and the HJ a couple of cables away because of the arc it had had to make to slow down. The helicopter was about to glue itself to their stern again, but now it was little more than undesired company, no big deal, while Santiago revved the engine to the maximum, 6,300 rpms, and the Phantom crossed the Bay of Algeciras at fifty-five knots, planing over the flat sea toward the opening in the harbor at Gibraltar. Fucking incredible! Four miles in five minutes, with a slight maneuver to avoid an oil barge anchored halfway in. And when the HJ peeled away and abandoned the pursuit and the helicopter began to fall back and gain altitude, Teresa stood up in the middle of the speedboat and, still illuminated by the spotlight, lifted a triumphant single finger. Adios, cabroooon.
6. I'm staking my life on it, I'm staking my luck on it
I located Oscar Lobato with a telephone call to the Cadiz news-X paper. Teresa Mendoza, I said. I'm writing a book. We agreed to meet the next day at the Venta del Chato, an old restaurant on the beach at
I had just parked the car, with the ocean across the street, the city in the distance, sunny and white at the end of its sandy peninsula, when Lobato got out of a banged-up Ford full of old newspapers, a press card half visible on the dashboard. Before coming over to me he stood talking with the parking attendant and then gave him a pat on the back, for which the young man thanked him as profusely as if it had been a tip. Lobato was simpatico, a talker, with an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes and information.
Fifteen minutes later, we were best friends, and I had broadened my knowledge: of the inn, an authentic smugglers' inn, with two hundred years of history; of the composition of the sauce the inn served with its
venison; of the name and usefulness of each and every one of the hundred-year-old (at least) tools, instruments, and appliances decorating the walls of the restaurant; and of garum, the sauce for fish that was the favorite of the Romans when Cadiz was called Gades and tourists traveled in triremes. Before the second course I had also learned that we were near the San Fernando Naval Observatory, through which the Cadiz meridian passes, and that in 1812, Napoleon's troops laying siege to the city-they didn't reach the land gate, Lobato pointed out-had pitched one of their camps there. "Did you see that movie Lola la Piconera?'
I said no, I hadn't, so he then narrated the story, from beginning to end. Juanita Reina, Virgilio Teixeira, and Manuel Luna. Directed by Luis Lucia in 1951. According to the legend, false of course, Lola the Picador was shot by a frog firing squad on this very spot. National heroine et cetera. And there was that song-Long live happiness and down with grief, Lola, Lolita, the Picador. He looked at me as I put on my interested-as-all-hell face, winked at me, refreshed his glass of Yllera-we had just uncorked the second bottle- and with no transition whatsoever, started talking about Teresa Mendoza. Very willingly.
"That Mexicana. That Gallego. That hashish back and forth and up and down, like rucking ring-around-the-rosie. Epic times," he sighed, with a drop of nostalgia in my honor. "Dangerous times, too, of course. Hard people. But there was none of the grudges and fuck-you-for-the-fun-of-it there is nowadays."
He was still a reporter, he said. Like back then. A fucking infantryman reporter. But with honor. The truth was, he didn't know how to do anything else. He liked his job, although it still paid the same ratshit salary as ten years back. But thank goodness his wife brought home a second check. And there were no kids to say, "Papi, I'm hungry!"
"That," he concluded, "gives you more liberte, egalite, and fraternite."
He paused to return the greeting of some local politicos in dark suits who were just sitting down at a nearby table-a low-level minister of culture and another one of urban affairs, he whispered. "Never even graduated from college." And then he went on with Teresa Mendoza and the Gallego. He would run into them from time to time in La Linea and Algeciras, her with her Indian-looking face, kind of pretty, really, very dark-skinned…
"… And those big eyes… vengeance in those eyes. She was not what you'd call a knockout, she was a little thing, no bigger than this, but when she fixed herself up she was good-looking. With good tits, by the way. Not big, but…" Here Lobato brought his hands together and extended his index fingers, like the horns of a bull. "A little tacky in the wardrobe department, same style as the molls of the other hashish and tobacco runners: skintight pants, T-shirts, high heels, all that. Good hair, good makeup, good nails, but the rest… slutty, you know? But she didn't mix much with the other girls. She had just enough class, although it was hard to say why, exactly. Maybe the way she talked, because she spoke softly, with an accent that was sweet and cultured. With those nice archaisms that Mexicans use. When she pulled her hair back into a bun, with a part down the middle, you could see the class even clearer. Like Sara Montiel in Veracruz. Twenty-something, probably."
It had struck Lobato that she never wore gold, only silver. Long dangling earrings, bracelets. All silver, and not much of it. Sometimes she would wear seven bangles on one arm-a semanario, he thought she called it. Cling, cling. He remembered her by that clinkling.
"In the street she started earning respect-little by little at first, you know. First, because the Gallego had a reputation, people respected him. And second, because she was the only one of those girls that went out shoulder to shoulder with her man. Early on, people thought it was a joke- Whoa, look at that, you know. Even the Customs agents and the Guardia Civil had their little laugh. But when word got out that she had the same balls as any man, things changed."
I asked him why Santiago Fisterra had such a good reputation, and Lobato made a circle with his index finger and thumb, as though indicating he was okay. "He was straight with people. Quiet, dependable. Very much the Gallego, in the good sense of the word. I mean, he wasn't one of those callous, dangerous cabrones, or one of those guys you could never depend on, or some fucking ghost-appearing out of nowhere and vanishing just as fast- dabbling in hashish running. He was discreet, never made trouble. Straight-shooting. Not one of these fucking wise guys, and no fooling around. Not an amateur. He went about his business like he was working in a bank or an insurance office or something. The other guys, the guys from Gibraltar, would tell you tomorrow at three, and tomorrow at three they'd be screwing their girlfriend or off drinking in some bar, and you'd be leaning against a lamppost with spiderwebs up and down your back, looking at your watch. But if the Gallego told you, Tomorrow I'll be there, that was it. He'd be out there, with his sidekick, even if there were fifteen-foot waves. A man of his word. A professional. Which was not always a good thing, because he made certain other… entrepreneurs look bad.
"His dream was to save enough money to go into something else. And that may have been why he and Teresa got on so well. They looked like they were in love, of course. Holding hands, hugging each other, you know. Standard stuff. But there was something about her that wouldn't allow her to be completely controlled. I don't know if I'm explaining myself. Something that forced you to ask yourself whether she was sincere-and I'm not talking about hypocrisy or anything like that. I'd put my hand in the fire and swear she was an honest girl… I'm talking about something else. I'd say that Santiago loved her more than she loved him. Capisce?… because Teresa was always kind of distant. She'd smile, she was discreet and a good woman, and I figure they fucked like rabbits. But there was that something, you know?… Sometimes, if you looked carefully-and looking carefully is my job, my friend-there was something in the way she looked at all of us, even at Santiago, that implied that she wasn't in it for the whole ride. Like she had some bread and ham wrapped in wax paper, and a bag with a few clothes and a train ticket ready somewhere up in the closet. You'd see her laugh, drink her tequila-she loved tequila, of course-kiss her man, and all of a sudden there'd be something in her eyes, a strange expression… like she was thinking, This can't last."
This can't last, she thought. They had made love almost all afternoon, like there was no tomorrow, and now they were walking under a medieval arch in the old city walls of Tarifa. Won from the Moors-Teresa read on a tile set into the archway-during the reign of King Sancho IV the Brave, September 21, 1292.
"An appointment, work," Santiago had said. "Half an hour by car. We can take advantage of the trip to have a drink, take a walk through the town. And then have pork ribs at Juan Luis."
So there they were, with the sunset almost gray from the salt spray raised by the wind blowing in from the east, across from the beach at Los Lances, on the Atlantic, with the Mediterranean on the other side and Africa hidden in the haze that the setting sun was slowly darkening in the east. Slowly-the way they were walking, their arms about each other's waist, wandering through the narrow whitewashed streets of the town where the wind always blew, from whatever direction, almost every day of the year. That afternoon it was blowing hard, and before walking into the town proper they had sat in the Cherokee and watched the waves break on the rocks along the edge of the parking lot at the foot of the old wall, alongside the Caleta, the shattered water spattering the windshield. And sitting there, comfortable, happy, listening to music from the radio, her head resting on Santiago's shoulder, Teresa saw, in the distance, a sailboat sail out of the harbor, its three masts looking like something out of an old movie. It was sailing slowly out toward the Atlantic, its bow plunging into the high waves as the strongest gusts overtook it, the boat blurred in the gray curtain of wind and spray like some ghost ship from another time, one that had been sailing for centuries. Then they'd gotten out of the car and walked down the most protected streets toward the center of Tarifa, looking into shop windows. The summer season was over, but the terrace under the awning and the interior of Cafe Central were still full of suntanned, athletic-looking foreigners. Lots of blond, blue-eyed types, lots of gold earrings, lots of T-shirts with company logos and city names. Windsurfers, Santiago had said the first time they were there. The latest craze. People will do the strangest things.
"I wonder if you'll make a mistake someday and tell me you love me."
She turned to look at him when she heard his words. He was not upset with her, or in a bad mood. It was not even a reproach. "I love you, cabron."
"Of course you do." He was always making this joke. In his easygoing way, watching her, inciting her to talk, provoking her.
"You'd think it cost you money," he would say. "You're so cool… You've got my ego, or whatever you call it, beat to a pulp." And then Teresa would hold him, kiss his eyes, say I love you, I love you, I love you, over and over. Pinche Gallego piece of shit. And he would laugh as though it didn't matter to him, as though it were nothing but a simple pretext for conversation, a joke, and she were the one that should be reproaching him. Stop, stop. Stop! And in a minute they would stop laughing and stand facing each other, and Teresa would feel powerless at all the things that she couldn't do, while the male eyes would look at her fixedly, resignedly, as if crying a little inside, silently, like some kid running after the older boys that were leaving him behind. A dry, unspoken grief that made her feel so tender, and then she would be almost sure that maybe she did really, actually love this man. And each time this happened, Teresa would repress the impulse to raise her hand and caress Santiago's face in some way hard to know, explain, feel, as if she owed him something and could never repay him.
"What are you thinking about?"
I wish this would never end. I wish this existence somewhere between life and death, suspended above some strange abyss, might go on until one day I could say words that are true again. I wish his skin and his hands and his eyes and his mouth could erase my memory, and I could be born again, or die once and for all, so that I could say old words as though they were new, as though they didn't sound to me like betrayal or a lie. I hope I have-I wish I had, we had-enough time for that.
They never talked about Guero Davila. Santiago was not one of those men that can talk about other men, nor was she one of those women that does. Sometimes, when he lay breathing quietly beside her in the darkness, very close, Teresa could almost hear the questions. That still happened, but for a long time the questions were just habit, the routine whisper of silences. In the beginning, during those first days when men, even the ones just passing through, try to make obscure-inexorable-demands that go beyond mere physical intimacy, Santiago asked some of those questions aloud. In his own way, of course. Not particularly explicit, or not explicit at all. He circled like a coyote, attracted by the fire but not daring to come in. He had heard things. Friends of friends that had friends. And, well…
She'd had a man, she summarized one day, tired of seeing him slinking around the same old topic when the unanswerable questions left unbearable silences.
"I had a man that was good-looking and brave and stupid," she said. "A great guy. A pinche cabron like you-like all of you, but this one in particular got me when I was just a kid, without a world, and in the end he screwed me good, and I had to run because of him, and you can see how far I had to run if I came all the way to fucking Spain or whatever the fuck this place is. But it's no business of yours if I had a man or not, because this man I'm talking about is dead-very, very dead. He got taken out, and he died, the way we all die, but early. And what that man was or was not in my life is my business, not yours."
And after all that, one night when they were screwing, clutching each other for dear life, and Teresa's mind was deliciously blank, stripped of memory or future-nothing but dense, thick present, a warm intensity to which she abandoned herself without remorse-she opened her eyes and saw that Santiago had stopped and was looking at her very close in the semi-darkness, and she also saw that he was moving his lips, and when she finally came back to where they were and paid attention to what he was saying, the first thing she could think was, Stupid Gallego, stupid, stupid, stupid, like all men, with those questions at the absolutely worst fucking time-him or me, him better, me better, love me, loved him. As though it were that easy, just sum everything up that way, life in black and white, good and bad, one better than the other, one worse. And she felt a dryness in her mouth and in her soul and between her legs, a new anger bursting inside, not because he was asking questions again but because he was elementary, and awkward, and was seeking confirmation for things that had nothing to do with him, and it wasn't even jealousy, but habit, self-image, some absurd stupid male thing, the hang-ups of a macho that takes the woman out of the herd and refuses to allow her any life but the life that he plants in her womb. Which was why she wanted to insult him, and hurt him, and she shoved him away as she spat out Yes, the truth, of course-to see what he would think, this idiotic Gallego. What did he think-that life started with him and his fucking prick?
"I'm with you because I've got no better place to go, or because I learned that I don't know how to live alone, without a man-which could be one man or another, no big deal-and I couldn't care less why he chose me or I chose the first one that came along." And getting up, naked, still not free of him, she slapped him, hard, a slap that made Santiago turn his face. And she tried to hit him again, but this time it was him that hit her, kneeling above her, returning the slap with a violence that was calm, dry, without anger- she was surprised, perhaps-and then he stood there above her, still on his knees, unmoving, while she cried and cried, tears that sprang not from her eyes but from her chest and throat, as she lay still, on her back, insulting him-Pinche gallego cabron de la chingada, pendejo, hijo de puta, hijo de tu pinche madre, cabron, cabron, cabron. Then he tumbled down beside her and lay there awhile not saying anything, not touching her, ashamed and confused, while she lay on her back, also not moving but growing calmer little by little, until she felt her tears drying on her face. And that was all, and it was the only time. Neither one ever again raised a hand against the other. Nor were there, ever again, any questions.
Four hundred kilos," said Canabota in a half-whisper. "First-quality oil, seven times purer than the normal stuff. The cream of the crop."
He had a gin and tonic in one hand and an English cigarette with a gold filter in the other, and he alternated puffs at the cigarette and sips at his drink. He was short and fat, and his head was shaved, and he sweated all the time, to the point that his shirts were always wet under the arms and at the collar, where there gleamed an inevitable gold chain. Maybe, thought Teresa, it was his job that made him sweat that way. Because Canabota-she had no idea if that was his surname or some kind of nickname-was what in professional slang was called un honbre de confianza, a man of trust: a local agent, a go-between, an intermediary between two groups of drug traffickers. Specializing in logistics, in organizing the shipment of hashish from Morocco and ensuring its delivery. That included hiring runners like Santiago, and also seeing to the complicity of certain local authorities. The sergeant of the Guardia Civil-thin, fiftyish, dressed in civilian clothes-who accompanied him that afternoon was one of the many instruments that had to be played to make the music. Teresa knew him from other times, and she knew that he was posted somewhere around Estepona. There was a fifth person in the group: a Gibraltar attorney named Eddie Alvarez, a small man with thin, kinky hair, very thick glasses, and nervous hands. He had a modest law office located down by the harbor in the British colony, with ten or fifteen front operations with their signs on the door. He was in charge of controlling the money that Santiago was paid in Gibraltar after each run.
"This time we have to send notaries," Canabota added.
"No way." Santiago shook his head, very calmly. "Too many people on board. What I've got is a Phantom, not a fucking ferryboat."
Notaries were witnesses that drug traffickers put on speedboats to ensure that everything went according to plan: one for the providers, who were usually Moroccan, and another for the buyers. Canabota didn't seem to like this new wrinkle.
"She"-he tilted his head toward Teresa-"can stay on land."
Santiago didn't take his eyes off the hombre de confianza as he shook his head. "I don't see why she should. She's my crew."
Canabota and the guardsman turned to Eddie Alvarez disapprovingly, as though they blamed him for the refusal. But the lawyer shrugged. It's useless, his gesture said. I know the story, and besides, I'm just here to watch. What the fuck do I care.
Teresa ran her finger over the condensation on the outside of her glass. She had never liked going to these meetings, but Santiago always insisted. "You take the same risks I do," he would tell her. "You have a right to know what goes down and how it goes down. Don't talk if you don't want to, but it can't hurt you to pay attention. And if these guys don't like you being there, fuck 'em. Fuck all of'em. I mean, their women are playing with themselves at home, watching TV, they're not risking their cunts against the Moros five or six times a month."
"Usual payment?" Eddie Alvarez asked, looking out for number one.
Payment would be made the day after the delivery, Canabota confirmed. One-third direct to a BBV account in Gibraltar-the Spanish banks in the colony were branches not of the main bank in Madrid, but rather the bank in London, and that made for delightful financial blindspots-and two-thirds in hand. The two-thirds in dineros, as the Spaniards called money that was never reported on tax forms. Although they'd need some fake invoices for the bank. The usual red tape.
"Make the arrangements with her," Santiago said. And he indicated Teresa.
Canabota and the guardsman exchanged an uncomfortable glance. What a fucking thing, their silence said. Bringing a chick into this. Lately, Teresa had been increasingly involved in the bookkeeping side of the operation. That included control of expenses, doing the books, telephone calls in code, and periodic visits to Eddie Alvarez. And also dealing with a corporation headquartered in the lawyer's office, the bank account in Gibraltar, and the justifiable money invested in low-risk ventures-something without too many complications, because Santiago was not used to having his life exposed too much to banks. He'd opted for what the lawyer called a minimal infrastructure. A conservative portfolio, he also called it, when he was wearing a tie and decided to get technical. Until recently, and despite his mistrustful nature, Santiago had depended almost blindly on Eddie Alvarez, who charged him a commission even for simple monthly payments when he invested legal money. Teresa had changed that, suggesting that everything be used for safer and more profitable investments, and even that the lawyer make Santiago a partner in a bar on Main Street, to launder part of their income. She didn't know anything about banks or finance, but her experience as a money changer on Calle Juarez in Culiacan had given her some very clear ideas. So gradually she took over the money end of the business, putting papers in order, finding out what could be done with the money instead of immobilizing it in some hiding place or checking account. Skeptical at first, Santiago finally had to yield to the evidence: she had a good head for numbers, and was able to foresee possibilities that never entered his mind. Above all, she had incredible common sense. Unlike him-the son of the Galician fisherman was one of those people who keep their money in plastic bags in the back of the closet-Teresa always saw the possibility that two and two made five. So despite Eddie Alvarez' initial reticence, Santiago put it to him clearly: She had a say in the money.
"Cunt hair ties tighter knots than hemp rope," was the lawyer's verdict when he got Santiago alone. "I hope you don't wind up making her co-owner of all your holdings, too: Gallego-Aztec Transport, Inc., or whatever. I've seen stranger things. Because women…" He shook his head as his voice trailed off. "… And these quiet little mousy types, worse yet. You start out screwing them, then you get them to sign papers, then you put everything in their name, and in the end they run off and leave you without a penny."
"That," replied Santiago, "is my business. Read my lips: Mine… And by the way, fuck yourself."
He said this with an expression that made the lawyer almost drop his glasses in his drink. After that he very meekly drank down his whisky-they were on the terrace of the Rock Hotel, with the Bay of Algeciras spread out below them-and never again expressed any reservations about the matter. J hope you learn your lesson, you pendejo, the lawyer thought to himself, however. Or that that slut two-times you like they all wind up doing. But he didn't say it.
Now Cariabota and the Guardia Civil sergeant were looking at Teresa, the atmosphere tense, and it was clear that the same thoughts were going through their minds. Skirts stay home and watch TV, their silence said. Uncomfortable, Teresa averted her eyes. "Trujillo Fabrics," read the glazed-tile sign on the building across the street. "Notions." It was not pleasant, being studied that way. But it occurred to her that the way they were looking at her was an insult to Santiago, too, and at that she turned her face, now angry, toward them and locked unblinkingly on their gaze. You don't know who you're fucking with, she seemed to be telling them.
"Well, when all is said and done," the lawyer was saying-he never missed a thing-"she's in pretty deep already."
"Notaries are good for what they're good for," said Canabota, still looking at Teresa. "And both sides want guarantees."
"I'm the guarantee," Santiago shot back. "They know me."
"This shipment is important."
"As far as I'm concerned, they all are, so long as somebody's paying. And I'm not in the habit of having people tell me how to do my job." "Rules are rules."
"Cut the crap. This is a free market, I'm a free agent, and I have my own rules."
Eddie Alvarez shook his head in discouragement. Useless to argue, he appeared to be saying, when there's tits involved. Just wasting your time.
"The boys over in Gibraltar don't make such a fuss about it, Santiago," Canabota insisted. "Parrondi, Victorio… They take on notaries and anything else that's asked of them."
Santiago took a drink of his beer, staring over the rim of the glass at Canabota. That fat fuck has been in the business ten years, he had once remarked to Teresa. And never been in jail. Makes me resent him, you know?
"You don't trust the Gibraltar boys as much as me."
"That's what you say."
"So do the thing with them and stop busting my balls."
The guardsman was watching Teresa, with an unpleasant smile on his face. He was badly shaven, and a few white hairs bristled on his chin and under his nose. He wore his clothes awkwardly, like a man who's more used to a uniform, a man whose plainclothes cover is never quite comfortable. I know your type, thought Teresa. I've seen you a thousand times in Sinaloa, in Melilla, everywhere. You're always the same. "Let me see your documents," et cetera. "And tell me how we can get you out of this problem." Oh, the cynicism of it. The excuse that you can't quite make it on your salary, with all your expenses, till the end of the month. Shipments of drugs intercepted and half the seizure reported, fines you collect but never put in your reports, free drinks, hookers, made men. And those official investigations that never get to the bottom of anything, everybody covering for everybody else, live and let live, because everybody has a stash of something in the closet or a dead man buried under the floor. The same thing here as over there, except that the Spaniards aren't to blame for what goes on over there, because they left Mexico two hundred years ago, so… Less brazen about things here, of course, more suave. Europe and all that. Teresa looked across the street. That "less brazen" applied only sometimes. The salary of a sergeant in the Guardia Civil, or a cop, or a Spanish Customs officer wasn't enough to pay for a brand-new Mercedes like the one this asshole had parked, brazenly, in front of the Cafe Central. And he probably-no, surely-went to work in that same car, to his fucking police station, and nobody was surprised, and all of them, chiefs included, pretended they didn't see a thing. Yeah. Live and let live.
The discussion-almost an argument-went on in lowered voices, while the waitress came and went with more beers and gin and tonics. Despite Santiago's firmness about the notaries, Canabota wasn't giving in just yet. "If they jump you and you have to throw the shipment overboard," he said, "let's see how you justify that without witnesses. X number of kilos overboard and you coming back without a scratch. Plus this time they're Italians, and they're bad boys-trust me, I deal with these guys. Mafiosi cabroni. Bottom line, a notary is a guarantee for you as well as for them. For everybody. So just this once, leave the little lady on land and don't be so fucking stubborn. Stop fucking around and don't be so fucking stubborn and you don't get fucked."
"If they jump me and I throw off the bundles," Santiago replied, "everybody knows that it's because I had to… It's my word. And anybody that hires me knows that."
"Jesus fucking Christ. I'm never going to convince you?"
"No. No, you're not."
Canabota looked at Eddie Alvarez and passed his hand over his shaved head, declaring himself beaten. Then he lit another of those cigarettes with the weird filters. And if you ask me, thought Teresa, this one bats left-handed. His shirt was sopping wet, and a rivulet of sweat ran down one side of his nose, to his upper lip. Teresa still said nothing, her eyes fixed on her own left hand on the table. Long red nails, seven bangles of Mexican silver, a thin silver cigarette lighter, a gift from Santiago for her birthday. With all her heart she wanted this conversation over. Wanted to get out of there, kiss her man, lick his lips, dig her red nails into his kidneys. Forget about all this for a while. All of them.
"One day something bad is going to happen to you," the guardsman muttered.
They were the first words he had spoken, and he spoke them directly to Santiago. He stared at him deliberately, as though engraving his features in his memory. A gaze that promised other conversations in private, in the privacy of a jail cell, say, where no one would be surprised to hear quite a few screams.
"Well, you make sure it's not you that makes it happen."
They studied each other a few seconds longer, wordlessly, and now it was Santiago's expression that promised things. For example, that there might be jail cells where a man might be beaten to death, but there were also dark alleys and parking lots where a corrupt Civil Guardsman might find six inches of knife rammed up his crotch, right about where the femoral runs. And five quarts of blood spurting out before he knew what was happening. And that the man you push past going up the stairs, you might trip over real bad on the way down. Especially if he's a Galician-and hard as you try, you never really know whether you're on the way up or on the way down.
"Okay, then, that's settled." Canabota clapped his hands together softly in a gesture of reconciliation. "Your fucking rules. Let's not quibble… we're all in this together, right?"
"All of us," added Eddie Alvarez, who was cleaning his glasses with a Kleenex.
Canabota leaned toward Santiago. Notaries or not, business was business. "Four hundred kilos of oil in twenty kits of twenty," he said, tracing out imaginary numbers and drawings on the table. "Delivered Tuesday night, dark of the moon… You know the place-Punta Castor, on the beach near the rotunda, right at the end of the Estepona loop, where the highway to Malaga begins. They'll be waiting for you at one sharp."
Santiago thought about it for a second. He looked at the table as though Canabota had actually drawn the route there.
"Seems a little far to me, if I have to go down to Al Marsa or Punta Cires for the shipment and then deliver it so early… From Gibraltar to Estepona it's forty kilometers as the crow flies. I'll have to load while it's still light, and it's a long return."
"There's no problem." Canabota looked around at the others, encouraging them to confirm his words. "We'll put a monkey up on the Rock with binoculars and a walkie-talkie to watch for HJs and the bird. There's an English lieutenant up there that we've got eating out of our hand, plus he's fucking a stripper that works for us in a titty club in La Linea… As for the kits, no problem there, either. They'll pass them over to you from a fishing boat, five miles east of the Ceuta lighthouse just after dark. The Julio Verdu, from Barbate. Channel 44 on the marine band: you say 'Mario' two times, and they'll guide you in. At eleven you come alongside the fishing boat and load up, then head north hugging the coast, nice and easy, no hurry, and you unload at one. At two, the kids are in bed and you're in your warm little love nest."
"That easy," said Eddie Alvarez.
"Yep." Canabota was looking at Santiago, and the sweat ran down his nose again. "That easy."
She woke before dawn, and Santiago wasn't there. She lay for a while between the wrinkled sheets. September was on the way out, but the temperature was the same as on the summer nights that were behind them. A humid heat like the heat in Culiacan, softened just at dawn by the breeze through the open windows: an offshore breeze that came down the river in the early morning, just before sunrise. She got up, naked-she always slept naked with Santiago, as she had with Guero Davila-and when she stood in front of the window she felt the coolness of the breeze. The bay was a black semicircle dotted with lights: the boats anchored off Gibraltar, with Algeciras on one side and the Rock on the other, and nearer in, at the end of the beach the house sat on, the towers of the refinery reflected in the motionless water close to the shore. It was all very lovely, and still, and the sun had not yet begun to turn the horizon blue and pink, so she picked up the pack of Bisontes on the night table and lit one as she leaned on the windowsill. She remained there awhile, doing nothing, just smoking and looking at the bay while the breeze cooled her skin and her memories. The time that had passed since Melilla. Dris Larbi's parties. Colonel Abdelkader Chaib's smile when she laid the thing out for him. A friend would like to do some business, et cetera. And you will be a part of it? the Moroccan had asked-or said-in his friendly voice, the first time. I make my own deals, she replied, and the man's smile intensified. An intelligent type, the colonel. Cool and correct. Nothing, or almost nothing, had happened with respect to the personal margins and limits set by Teresa.
But that had nothing to do with anything. Santiago hadn't asked her to go, nor did he forbid it. He, like all of them, was predictable in his intentions, in his awkwardness, in his dreams. He was also going to take her with him to Galicia, he said. When all this was over, they'd go to O Grove. It's not as cold as you think, and the people don't say much. Like you. Like me. There'll be a house you can see the ocean from, and a roof you can hear the rain and wind on, and a fishing skiff tied up on the shore, you'll see. With your name on the bow. And our kids will play among the mussel barges with radio-controlled model speedboats.
By the time she put out the cigarette, Santiago was still not back. He wasn't in the bathroom, so Teresa pulled the sheets off the bed-her fucking period had started during the night-put on a T-shirt, and crossed the darkened living room toward the sliding doors that opened onto the beach. She saw a light, and she stopped, still inside the house, to look out. Hijole. Santiago was sitting on the porch, in shorts, his torso naked, working on one of his model boats. A gooseneck lamp on the table illuminated the skillful hands that sanded and fit the wood pieces before gluing them. He was building an antique sailboat. Teresa thought it was beautiful: the hull formed by strips of different-colored wood made even more striking by the varnish, all perfectly curved-he wet them and curled them with a soldering iron-and tin nails; the deck like the real thing; and a miniature wheel, built stick by tiny stick, now positioned very near the stern, alongside a small hatch with a door and everything. Whenever Santiago saw a photograph or drawing of an old boat in a magazine, he would cut it out carefully and put it in a thick file, which was where he got ideas for his models, all perfect down to the last detail. From the living room, very quietly, so he wouldn't know she was there, she watched him-his profile as he leaned over the pieces, the way he picked them up to study them closely, in search of imperfections, before applying a drop of glue and setting them in place.
So neat-so wonderful, she meant. It seemed impossible that those hands Teresa knew so well-hard, rough, with nails always stained with grease- possessed that remarkable dexterity. Working with your hands, she had heard him say once, makes you a better man. It gives you back things you've lost or you're about to lose. Santiago was not much of a talker, or one to make fine-sounding phrases, and he had not much more culture than even she did. But he had common sense, and since he was almost always so quiet, he looked and learned and had time to turn ideas over in his head.
She felt a deep tenderness for him as she watched from the dark living room. He seemed both a child busy playing with a toy and a man loyal to his dreams. There was something in those wooden models that Teresa didn't fully understand, but that she sensed was close to profundity, the hidden keys to the silences and ways of life of the man whose woman she now was. Sometimes she would see Santiago stop, sit motionless, not opening his mouth, looking at one of those models that he had invested weeks or even months of work on, and that were now everywhere-eight in the house, or nine, counting the one he was working on-in the living room, the hall, the bedroom. Studying them with a strange look on his face. It gave the impression that working on them for so long was the equivalent of having sailed on them in imaginary times, on imaginary seas, and that now he found in their small painted and varnished hulls, under their miniature sails and lines, echoes of storms, boardings, desert islands, long journeys he had experienced in his mind as those little ships took form. All human beings dream, Teresa concluded. But not in the same way. Some go out to risk their necks on the ocean in a Phantom, or in the sky in a Cessna. Others build models as compensation. Others just dream, period. And some build models, risk their necks, and dream. All at once.
As she was about to step out onto the porch she heard the roosters crowing in the yards down in Palmones, and suddenly she was cold. Since Melilla, the crowing of roosters had been linked in her memory with the words "sunrise" and "solitude." A band of brightness lay low in the east, silhouetting the towers and smokestacks of the refinery, and that part of the view was turning from black to gray, the same color as the water along the shoreline. Soon it will be day, she told herself. And the gray of my grimy
sunrises will be illuminated first with golds and reds and then with blue, and sunlight will spread across the beach and the bay, and I will once more be safe, until tomorrow's dawn.
Those were her half-thoughts when she saw Santiago raise his head to the lightening sky, like a hunting dog sniffing at the air, and then sit there absorbed, his work suspended, for a long time. Finally he stood up, stretching his arms to wake himself a bit, turned off the light, and removed his shorts, stretched his shoulders and arms, tensed his muscles as though he were about to embrace the whole bay, and walked down to the shore, wading out into water that the breeze made hardly a ripple on-water so still that the concentric circles in it could be seen from far away. He toppled forward and waded out slowly, to where the water was too deep to stand in, and then he turned and saw Teresa, who had pulled off her T-shirt as she stepped off the porch and was now wading out into the water, because it was much colder back there, alone in the house or on the sand that the sunrise had turned steely gray. And so they met, the water up to their chests, and her naked, goosebump-covered skin grew warm at its contact with the man, and when she felt his hard member press first against her thighs and then her belly, she opened her legs, holding it between them while she kissed his mouth, felt his salty tongue, and, half weightless, put her legs around his hips as he entered her, deeply, and emptied himself inside her slowly, unhurriedly, as Teresa stroked his wet hair and the bay grew lighter around them and the whitewashed houses of the shore turned gold in the morning light and a few early-rising seagulls flew in circles above them, cawing, as they came down from the marshes. And then it struck her that life was sometimes so beautiful that it didn't seem like life at all.
It was Oscar Lobato who introduced me to the helicopter pilot. The three of us met on the terrace of the Hotel Guadacorte, very close to the place where Teresa Mendoza and Santiago Fisterra had lived. There were a couple of first communions being celebrated in the banquet rooms, and the lawn was full of well-dressed children chasing each other under the oaks and pines.
"Javier Collado," the reporter said. "Helicopter pilot for Customs. Born hunter. From Caceres. Don't offer him a cigarette or alcohol, because he doesn't smoke and all he drinks is orange juice. He's been at this for fifteen years and he knows the Strait like the palm of his hand. Serious, but a good guy. And when he's up there, as heartless as the mother that bore him. He does things with that whirlygig that I've never seen anybody else do in my whole goddamn life."
The pilot laughed. "Don't listen to him," he said. "He exaggerates." Then he ordered a lemon slush. He was tanned, good-looking, forty-something, thin but broad-shouldered, a little reserved-introverted, I wanted to say. "Exaggerates like hell." He seemed uncomfortable at Lobato's praise. At first, when I made an official request through Customs headquarters in Madrid, he had refused to talk to me. "I don't discuss my work," was his reply. But the veteran reporter was a friend of his-I asked myself whether there was a man, woman, child, or stray dog in the province of Cadiz that Lobato didn't know-and he offered to put a word in. "I'll bring him around," Lobato had said. And there we were.
As for the pilot, I'd made inquiries, so I knew that Javier Collado was a legend in his world-one of those guys who could walk into a bar full of smugglers and they'd elbow each other, mutter, "Jesus fuck, look who's here," under their breath with a mixture of resentment and respect. The modus operandi of smugglers had changed some over the last few years, but he was still flying six nights a week, on the prowl for hashish like some big-eyed owl after mice. A professional-that word made me think that sometimes it all depends on which side of the fence, or the law, fate has put you on.
"Eleven thousand hours of flight time in the Strait," Lobato said. "Chasing bad guys. Including, of course, your Teresa and her Gallego. In illo tempore."
And so we talked about that. Or to be more precise, about the night that Argos, the Customs BO-105, was flying at surveillance speed over a reasonably flat sea, scanning the Strait with its radar. A hundred and ten knots. Pilot, copilot, observer. Routine flight. They'd taken off from Algeciras an hour earlier, and after patrolling a sector off the Moroccan coast known in Customs slang as the Econo-Mat-the beaches between Ceuta and Punta Cires-they were now flying without lights toward the northeast, far off the coast but following the Spanish shoreline. There were warships, Collado remarked, NATO maneuvers west of the Strait. So the patrol that night centered on the eastern side, watching for a target to pass off to the turbocraft, which was also running without lights, fifteen hundred feet below. A night of hunting like any other.
"We were five miles south of Marbella when the radar picked up a couple of blips down below, without lights," Collado said. "One lying motionless and the other headed for land… So we gave their position to the HJ and started to drop down on the one that was moving."
"Where was it going?" I asked.
"It was headed toward Punta Castor, near Estepona," Collado said, turning to look east, beyond the trees that hid Gibraltar, as though he could see it from there. "A good place to beach, because the Malaga highway passes by there. No rocks, and you can put the bow right up on the sand… With guys waiting for you on the beach, you can unload in three minutes."
"You said there were two blips."
"Yeah. The other one was sitting farther out, about fifteen hundred yards offshore. Like it was waiting. But the one that was moving was almost to the beach, so we decided to go for it first. The infrared was giving us a wide blast every time it hit the water… "When he saw the confused look on my face, Collado laid his hand on the table, then raised and lowered it to imitate the movement of a speedboat. "A wide splash indicates that the boat is loaded. If they're not loaded, they hit easier, so the spray doesn't spread out so wide-all that hits the water is the tail of the engine, So anyway, we went
for that one."
I saw that he was showing his teeth, the way a predator draws back its lips and shows its fangs when there's prey in sight. This guy, I thought, is enjoying this-he gets off remembering that night. Suddenly, somehow, he was different, transformed. "Just leave it to me," Lobato had said. "He's okay, and if you trust him, he relaxes."
"Punta Castor," Collado went on, "was a regular drop-off point. Back then the smugglers didn't have GPS, so they steered by sightlines. The spot was easy to hit because you left Ceuta on a course of seventy or ninety, and when you lost sight of the lighthouse light you just turned north-northwest, sailing by the glow of La Linea, which lies abeam-straight out perpendicular… Out front you'll immediately spot the lights of Estepona and Marbella, but there's no way to get confused, because you see the Estepona lighthouse first. Pushing it, you're on the beach in an hour.
"Ideally, you catch 'em in the act, along with the accomplices waiting for them onshore… I mean, when they're right on the beach. Because before that, they'll throw the bales overboard and then run like hell."
"Run like hell," Lobato echoed, nodding-he had ridden along on several of these pursuits.
"Yeah. And it's as dangerous for them as it is for us." Now Collado was smiling a little, and this accentuated the air of hunter about him-the danger seemed to spice up the chase for him. "That's the way it was back then, and that's the way it still is."
He enjoys this, I decided. This cabron enjoys his work. That's why he's spent the last fifteen years going out on night hunts, and has those eleven thousand hours Lobato was talking about. There's really not much difference between the hunter and the hunted, after all. Nobody jumps into a Phantom just for the money, and nobody hunts it down just out of a sense of duty.
That night, Collado went on, the Customs chopper dropped down slow and easy, heading for the blip closest to the coastline. The HJ-Chema Beceiro, the skipper, was an efficient guy-was closing in on it at fifty knots, and would be there in about five minutes. The chopper descended to five hundred feet. It was getting set to maneuver over the beach, to drop the copilot and observer if it came to that, when all of a sudden, lights came on down below. There were vehicles illuminating the beach, and they could see the Phantom for a second right along the shoreline, black as a shadow, before it cut hard to port and took off like lightning, leaving a cloud of white spray. So Collado put the chopper right on his tail, turned on the spotlight, and took off after him, three feet off the surface of the water.
"Did you bring the picture?" Oscar Lobato asked Collado.
"What picture?" I asked.
Lobato didn't answer; he was looking at Collado tauntingly. The pilot was playing with his glass of lemon slush, twirling it in half-circles, as though he hadn't quite made up his mind.
"Come on," Lobato insisted, "it was ten years ago."
Collado still hesitated. Then he laid a brown envelope on the table.
"Sometimes," he explained, gesturing toward the envelope, "we photograph the people in the speedboats during the pursuits, so we can identify them later… It's not for the police or the press-just for our files. And it's not always easy, with the spotlight swinging back and forth and up and down, and the water and all that. Sometimes the shots come out and sometimes they don't."
"This one came out," Lobato said, laughing. "Go on, show it to him."
Collado took the photograph out of the envelope and put it on the table, and when I saw it my mouth went dry. Eighteen by twenty-four, black-and-white, and the quality not perfect: very grainy, and a little out of focus. But the scene was clear enough, given that the shot had been taken from a helicopter flying three feet above the water at fifty knots, in the midst of the cloud of spray raised by a speedboat going full-out-a helicopter skid in the foreground, darkness all around it, white spots and splatters multiplying the flash. And through all that you could see the central part of the Phantom from port, and in it the image of a dark-skinned man, his face dripping water, looking out into the darkness over his bow, leaning over the wheel. Behind him, kneeling on the deck of the speedboat, her hands on his shoulders as though indicating the movements of the helicopter that was chasing them, was a young woman dressed in a dark windbreaker or slicker that gleamed from the water running off it, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and wet from the spray, her eyes very wide, the light reflected in them, her lips clenched and firm. The shutter had snapped just as she was turning to look to one side and up slightly, toward the chopper, and her face was whitened by the nearness of the flash, her expression startled by the burst of light. Teresa Mendoza at twenty-four.
It had stunk from the beginning. First the fog, as soon as they left the Ceuta lighthouse behind. Then the delay in the arrival of the fishing skiff they were waiting for out on the open sea, in the middle of the hazy darkness with no references, no landmarks, nothing to tell them where they were, and the screen of the Furuno covered with blips from merchantmen and ferries, some dangerously close. Santiago was antsy, and although Teresa couldn't see anything of him but a dark mass in the darkness, she could tell he was not his usual calm self by the way he moved from one side of the Phantom to the other, checking to see that everything was in order. The fog covered them enough for her to dare to light a cigarette, so she ducked under the dashboard, cupped the lighter in her hands, and made sure to hide the lit end of the cigarette in her palm. And she had time to smoke three more.
Finally the Julio Verdii, a long shadow on which silhouettes were moving about like ghosts, materialized out of the darkness, just as a glow from the east shredded the fog into long cottony tatters. And then the cargo wasn't right-as the men on the fishing boat passed them the twenty bales wrapped in plastic and Teresa stowed them in the hold, Santiago remarked how surprised he was that they were larger than he'd expected. They're the same weight, but more bulk, he said. And that means that they're not the good stuff, they're the other-regular chocolate, lousy quality, instead of hashish oil, which was purer, more concentrated, more expensive. And in Tarifa, Canabota had talked about oil.
After that, everything was normal until they got to the coast. They were running behind and the Strait was as flat as a dinner plate, so Santiago raised the nose and ran the Phantom north at full speed. Teresa sensed that he was uncomfortable, forcing the engine brusquely, harshly, hurriedly, as though he especially wanted this thing over with that night. Nothing's wrong, he replied when she asked whether anything was wrong. Nothing at all. He was far from being a loquacious type, but to Teresa this silence seemed more worried than at other times. The lights of La Linea were glowing in the west, off the port side, when the twin glows of Estepona and Marbella appeared over the bow, more visible each time the speedboat bounced off the water, and the light of the lighthouse at Estepona very clear to port- one flash followed by two more, every fifteen seconds. Teresa put her face into the rubber cone of the radar to see whether she could calculate the distance to land, and then, shocked, she saw a blip on the screen, motionless, a mile to the east. She looked through the binoculars in that direction, and when she saw no red or green lights she feared it was an HJ lurking, waiting to pounce. But when the echo disappeared on the second or third sweep of the antenna, she felt calmer. Maybe the crest of a wave, she thought. Or another speedboat waiting to run in to the coast.
Fifteen minutes later, on the beach, the trip turned really bad. Spotlights everywhere, blinding them, and shouts-Halt! Halt, halt!-and blue lights flashing up on the highway. The men standing in water to their waists, unloading, froze with the bales in midair or dropped them and took off running, in vain, high-kneed through the surf. She saw Santiago lit from behind, crouching without a word-not a groan, not a curse, not anything- absolutely silent, resigned and professional, backing the Phantom off. Then, with the hull just barely not grazing the sand, turning the wheel hard to port and slamming the throttle all the way forward-roooaaarr!-running parallel to the beach in no more than eight or nine inches of water. At first, the speedboat reared up like an ICBM, then it made short bounces along the quiet water-swooosh, swooosh-pulling away diagonally from the beach and the lights, seeking the protection of the dark ocean and the distant brightness of Gibraltar, twenty miles to the southwest. At the same time, Teresa grabbed the four bales that were still aboard, lifted them one by one and tilted them overboard, the roar of the engine drowning out each splash as the bale sank in the boat's wake.
It was then that the chopper dropped down on top of them. She heard the whump whump whump of the blades above her and to the rear and she raised her head, but she had to close her eyes and turn away because in that instant she was blinded by the white glare of a spotlight, and the end of a skid lighted by that glare was swinging back and forth just above her head, forcing her to crouch down with her hands on Santiago's shoulders. Under his clothes she felt his tense muscles, his back bowed over the wheel, and she saw his face illuminated in brief bursts from the spotlight swinging above them, all the bursts of spray that wet his face and hair-he looked better than ever this way, she thought; he was even better-looking than when they were screwing and she was looking at him up close and could have eaten him alive and then licked her lips. When he was this way, stubborn and sure of himself, totally concentrated on the wheel and the ocean and the Phantom's gas tanks, doing what he knew how to do best in the world, fighting the way he knew how to fight against life and fate and that pinche light that was chasing them like the eye of some evil giant, he was fucking irresistible, bien padre, padrisimo. There are two kinds of men, she thought suddenly: Those who fight and those who don't. Those who take life the way it comes and say, Oh well, what the fuck, and when the spotlights come on put up their hands and say, Take me. And those who don't. Those who sometimes, in the middle of a pitch-dark ocean, make a woman look at them like she was looking at him now.
And women, she thought. There are two kinds of women, she started to say to herself, but she couldn't complete the thought, because she stopped thinking.
The skid of the pinche fucking bird, less than a yard above their heads, was swinging closer and closer. Teresa tapped Santiago's left shoulder to warn him, and he nodded once, intent on steering the boat. He knew that no matter how close the helicopter came, it would never hit them, except by accident. Its pilot was too good to let that happen, because if it did, pursuers and pursued would go down together. This was a pursuit maneuver, to confuse and frighten them and make them change course, or make mistakes, or accelerate until the engine, already at its limit, flamed out. It had happened before, many times. Santiago knew-and Teresa did, too, although that skid so close scared her-that the chopper couldn't do much more, and that the purpose of its maneuver was to force them closer to shore, so the straight course the speedboat had set for Punta Europa and Gibraltar would turn into a long curve that would string out the chase and make the speedboat crew lose their nerve and run aground on some sandbank, or give the Customs HJ time to arrive and board them.
The HJ! Santiago lifted his chin toward the radar, gesturing for Teresa to give it a look, and she walked over on her knees, feeling the boat's bounces off the water through the thin skin of the hull, and put her face to the rubber cone. Holding on to a rib of the hull and Santiago's seat, the intense vibration of the engine through the hull numbing her hands, she watched the dark line of the coast that the sweep outlined to port, closer and closer, and the clean expanse on the other side. At a half-mile everything was clear, but when she doubled the range, she found the expected dark shadow coming in quickly at fifteen hundred or so yards, on a course that would cut them off. She put her mouth to Santiago's ear to shout at him over the roar of the engine, and she saw him nod again, unspeaking, his eyes fixed on the course. The chopper dropped a little more, the skid almost touching the deck on the port side, and then lifted again, without making Santiago swerve even a degree off the course he'd set. He remained hunched over the wheel, fixed on the darkness ahead, while the lights of the coast ran swiftly off starboard: first Estepona with the streetlights along the long avenue and the lighthouse at one end, then Manilva and the port of Duquesa, with the speedboat at forty-five knots slowly gaining the open sea. And it was then, when she looked for a second time at the radar, that Teresa saw the black blip of the HJ too close, and closing faster than she'd thought-about to cut them off on the left. When she looked in that direction she saw, through the mist of the spray, despite the white glare of the chopper's spotlight, the HJ's rotating blue lights coming ever closer. That presented the eternal alternative in these cases: run the boat up on the beach, or try your luck while the menacing flank of the cutter growing more and more visible in the night skimmed up alongside, taps from its bow trying to break your hull, stop your engine, throw you into the water. There was no longer any need for the radar, so moving again on her knees-she could feel the violent bounces in her kidneys- Teresa took a place again behind Santiago, her hands on his shoulders to warn him of the movements of the helicopter and the cutter, to right and left, near and far, and when she shook his left shoulder four times because the fucking H J was now a sinister wall looming over them, charging at them, Santiago pulled back on the throttle, slowing the engine 400 rpms; he lowered the hydraulic-powered trim tabs with his right hand, hit the stern thruster, furiously whirled the wheel to port, and the Phantom, in the cloud of its own spray, made a tight circle, incredible, that cut through the wake of the Customs cutter, leaving it a bit behind in the process.
Teresa felt like laughing out loud. Jesus! They all bet everything they had in these strange hunts that made your heart beat a hundred and twenty times a minute-aware that the advantage you had over your adversary was in the narrow margin that defined that limit. The chopper was flying low, feinting with the skid, threatening to tap the boat and knock it over, and marking their position for the HJ, but most of the time it was acting as a headlight, because it couldn't make real contact. The HJ, in turn, was cutting back and forth across the bow of the speedboat, making it bounce in the wake it left, making its engine whine as the propeller whirled in air; or it pursued, ready to nudge the speedboat, the cutter's skipper knowing he could do that only with the cutter's bow, because lifting the bow meant killing the occupants of the Phantom instantiy, in a country where you had to explain a lot to the judges when that sort of thing happened. And Santiago knew all this, too, the smart cabron de mierda that he was, and he was willing to put all his chips on the table-zigzag, or run in the wake of the HJ until it slowed down or turned back, cut across its bow to stop it. Even slow down suddenly, cold-bloodedly when he was leading-trusting in the reflexes of the skipper of the other boat to stop the cutter in time, not run right over them-and then five seconds later accelerate, gaining precious distance, with Gibraltar closer and closer. All on a knife-edge. And a single error in his calculations would be enough to tip that precarious balance between hunter and hunted, and send them all to hell. "We're fucked," Santiago shouted.
Teresa looked around, disconcerted. Now the HJ was on their left again, outside, pressing inexorably in toward land, with the Phantom running at fifty knots in less than fifteen feet of water and the chopper right on top of them, its white spotlight trained on them tight. The situation looked no worse than five minutes earlier, and Teresa put her mouth to Santiago's ear and told him that. "We're not so bad," she shouted. But Santiago moved his head as though he hadn't heard, absorbed in piloting the speedboat, or in what he was thinking. "That cargo," she heard him say. And then, before he stopped talking altogether, he added something, but Teresa could make out only one word: decoy. He's probably saying they suckered us, she thought. Then the HJ sideswiped them with its bow, and the spray from the two boats running alongside each other at full speed turned into foam, water beaten into a meringue that drenched them, blinded them, and Santiago was forced to yield a notch, to take the Phantom in toward the beach, so that now they were running in the current, between the breakers and the beach itself, with the HJ off to port and a little more open, the chopper above them, and the lights from land flying by just a few meters away, it seemed. In six inches of water.
Jesus, there's no water here, thought Teresa. Santiago was taking the speedboat in as close as he could, to keep the cutter off them, but the other boat's skipper took every opportunity to run them in to the coast. Even so, she calculated, it was much less probable that the HJ would run aground, or suck in a rock that would totally fuck the engine, than that the Phantom would touch the sand with its propeller in the middle of a bounce, and then the bow would go straight in and the two of them would be sucking at Faros until the resurrection of the flesh. Jesus God. Teresa clenched her teeth and gripped Santiago's shoulders when the cutter closed in again, spray flying, then pulled away, ahead of them, to blind them again with its spray and then tacked in to starboard just a touch, to press them tighter against the beach. That skipper was something, no denying that, she thought. A guy that takes his job seriously. Because no law demanded this much out of him. Or maybe it did, when things got personal between two macho fucking cabrones who turned any spat into a cockfight to the death.
The HJ was close-its flank looked so big and dark that the excitement the race had produced in Teresa started to turn to fear. She had never run in this close, in the shore current, so close to the shoreline in such shallow water, and every so often the helicopter's spotlight showed her the undulations of the sand, pebbles, seaweed on the bottom. There's hardly enough draft for the propeller, she thought. We're plowing this pinche beach. And suddenly she felt ridiculously vulnerable there, soaked through, blinded by the light, shaken, rocked by the bounces on the water. Fuck the law, she told herself. These two are just testing each other. The first one who blinks, loses, that's all. These two are doing a little dick-measuring here, and I'm in the middle, fucked. Sad, dying for this.
And that was when she remembered the Leon Rock. It was a boulder, not very high, that sat a few yards off the beach, halfway between Duquesa and Sotogrande. It was named after a Customs agent who had smashed the hull of the cutter he was using to chase down a speedboat-craaccck!-and was forced to run ashore. And that rock, Teresa now remembered, was directly on the course they were following now. The thought gave her a jolt of panic. Forgetting the closeness of their pursuers, she looked out to the right for references, to locate herself by the land lights flashing past the Phantom. It had to be, she decided, very, very fucking close.
"The rock!" she shouted to Santiago, leaning over his shoulder. "We're close to the rock!"
In the light of the pursuing helicopter she saw him nod, never taking his attention off the wheel and the course, glancing over now and again at the cutter and the shore to calculate the distance and depth they were running at. Just then the HJ pulled away a bit, the helicopter closed in, and as she looked up, shielding her eyes with her hand, Teresa could make out a dark figure in a white helmet descending to the skid, which the pilot was maneuvering just over the Phantom's engine. She was fascinated by that incredible image: a man suspended between sky and water, one hand grasping the door of the helicopter and the other holding an object that it took her a second to recognize as a pistol. He won't shoot at us, she thought, befuddled. They can't do that. This is Europe, goddammit, and they have no right to treat us like that, just shoot us, bam! The speedboat gave a long leap and she fell backward, and when she sat up, dazed, ready to scream at Santiago- "They're going to kill us, cabron, slack off, stop, stop before they shoot us!"-she saw that the man in the white helmet was pointing the pistol at the engine head and was emptying the clip into it, one shot after another, orange flashes in the glare of the spotlight and the thousands of dots of shattered water, with the blasts-blam! Blam! Blam!-almost drowned out by the roar of the engine and the blades of the chopper and the sound of the ocean and the chops of the Phantom's hull against the shallow water of the shoreline. And then the man in the white helmet disappeared into the helicopter, and the bird gained some altitude, though its spotlight never wavered from them, and the HJ once more veered in dangerously close while Teresa looked in shock and stupefaction at the black holes in the casing of the engine, which went on working as though nothing had happened, not even a wisp of smoke, just the way Santiago coolly held his course, without ever having turned around to look at what was happening, without asking Teresa if she was all right, without doing anything but running that race he seemed willing to run till the end of time, or his life, or their lives.
The rock, she remembered again. The Leon Rock had to be right there, a few yards ahead of them. She stood up behind Santiago to peer out ahead, trying to see through the curtain of droplets illuminated by the white light of the helicopter, trying to make out the rock in the darkness of the shoreline that snaked before them.
I hope he sees it in time, she said to herself. I hope he sees it in time to maneuver and dodge it, and that the fucking HJ lets us. She was hoping all this when she saw the rock ahead, black and menacing, and without needing to look to the left she knew that the Customs cutter had swerved to miss it at the same second that Santiago, water pouring off his face, his eyes averted from the blinding light that never lost them for an instant, hit the trim-tab lever and turned the Phantom's wheel, a burst of spray covering them in its luminous white cloud, the boat dodging the danger just as Santiago accelerated and resumed his course again, fifty knots, flat water, once again inside the breakers, almost no draft. Then Teresa looked back and saw that the rock wasn't the pinche rock-it was a boat at anchor that in the darkness had looked like the rock-but the rock was still ahead of them, waiting. She opened her mouth to yell at Santiago, to tell him it wasn't behind them, be careful, it's still up there ahead, when she saw that the helicopter had turned off the spotlight and lifted almost straight up, and that the HJ was pulling away with a violent jerk seaward. And she also saw herself, as though from outside, very quiet and very alone in that boat, as if everyone were about to abandon her in some wet, dark place.
She felt a wave of intense, familiar fear, because she had recognized The Situation. And then the world exploded.
7- They marked me with the Seven
At this moment, Dantes felt himself being thrown into a huge void, flying through the air like a wounded bird, then falling, falling, in a terrifying descent that froze his heart…
Teresa Mendoza read those words again and sat suspended, the book open on her knees, looking at the prison yard. It was still winter, and the rectangle of light that moved in a direction counter to the sun warmed her half-knitted bones under the cast on her right arm and the thick wool sweater that Patricia O'Farrell had lent her.
It was nice out there in the late-morning sun, before the bell for lunch. Around her were fifty or so women, gathered in circles, talking, sitting in the sun like she was. Some lay back smoking, trying to get some color, while others paced in groups from one side of the yard to the other, in that walk typical of inmates forced to move within the limits of their surroundings: two hundred thirty paces across and then back, one, two, three, four…
then a half-turn when they got to the wall crowned by a guard tower and rolls of razor wire between them and the men's unit… two hundred twenty-eight, two hundred twenty-nine, two hundred thirty paces exactly to the basketball court, another two hundred thirty back to the wall, and so on, eight, ten, twenty times a day. After two months in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Teresa had become familiar with those daily paces, and she herself, hardly noticing, had come to adopt that way of walking, with the fast, slightly elastic bounce one saw especially in the veteran prisoners-as fast and direct as though they were actually going somewhere.
It was Patricia O'Farrell who had pointed it out to her after she'd been inside a few weeks. You ought to see yourself, she told Teresa, you've already got the prisoner walk. Teresa was convinced that Patricia, who was now lying on her back near her, her hands under her neck, her very short gold hair gleaming in the sun, would never walk that way, even if she spent another twenty years in this place. In her Irish-Jerez blood, she thought, there was too much class, too many good habits, too much intelligence.
"Gimme a nail," Patricia said.
She was lazy or capricious, depending on what day it was. She smoked American-style filter cigarettes, with blond tobacco, but if she didn't feel like getting up for one of her own she would smoke one of Teresa's unfiltered, black-tobacco Bisontes, often taken apart and rerolled with a few grains of hashish. Nails, without. Joints or basucos, with.
Teresa pulled a cigarette out of the pack next to her on the ground, half of them laced with hash, half straight, lit it, and leaning over Patricia's face, put it between her lips. She saw Patricia smile before she said, "Thanks," and inhaled without removing her hands from behind her neck, the cigarette dangling from her mouth, her eyes closed in the sun that gave a glow to her hair and the light dusting of golden hairs on her cheeks, around the slight wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. Thirty-four years old, Patricia had said, without anybody's asking, Teresa's first day in the cell-the rack, in the jail slang that Teresa now knew so well-that the two women shared. Thirty-four on her National Identity Document, and nine on her sentencing sheet, "of which I've served two. With good behavior, work credits, a third off just because… I figure I've got one or two more, max."
Teresa started to tell her who she was-"My name's Teresa and…"- when the other woman cut her off. "I know who you are, sweetheart. Here, we know everything about everybody real fast-sometimes even before they get here. So let me tell you. There are three basic types: bitches, dykes, and pussies. By nationality, aside from the Spaniards we've got Moors, Romanians, Portuguese, Nigerians-with AIDS and everything, you want to stay away from them, they're in bad shape, poor things-a group of Colombian girls that practically run the place-they get any fucking thing they want, and sometimes get away with murder, so watch out-a French girl or two, and a couple of Ukrainians-whores that offed their pimp because he wouldn't give back their passports. Then there are the Gypsies-don't mess with them. The young ones with the Lycra pants, long hair, and tattoos deal in pills and chocolate and whatever, and they're the toughest ones. The older ones, the fat ones with the big tits and the long skirts and their hair in buns, they've taken the fall for their men-who've got to stay on the street because they've got a family to feed, so they come to pick up their Rosarios in a big Mercedes when they get out-and they're pretty peaceable, but they look out for each other. Except for the Gypsies, among themselves, the inmates look out for number one and only number one, which means that the ones you see in groups are there out of self-interest, or survival-the weak ones looking for a ride on the strong ones.
"If you want a piece of advice, don't make friends, don't mix. Try to get a good gig: laundry, kitchen, commissary-which also takes time off your sentence. And don't forget to wear flip-flops in the shower and never sit your ass down on the toilet in the latrines in the yard-you could catch god knows what. Never say anything against Camaron or Joaquin Sabina or Los Chunguitos or Miguel Bose, or ask to change the channel when the soaps are on, or take drugs from anybody without knowing what it's going to cost you in return. Your rap, if you stay out of trouble and do what you're told to do, will keep you here a year-obsessing about getting out, like all of us, thinking about the family, or remaking your life, or the drink you're going to have, or the screw, whatever it is. Year and a half max, with the papers and the reports from Corrections and the shrinks and all those other bastards that open the doors or close them on us, depending on their digestion or whether you make a good impression on them or whatever other bug happens to be up their ass that day. So take it easy, keep that nice sweet expression on your face, say Yes sir, Yes ma'am to everybody, don't pull my chain, and we'll get along fine, Mexicana. I hope you don't mind if people call you Mexicana. Everybody's got some name here. Some girls like them, some don't. Mine is Lieutenant O'Farrell. And I like it. Maybe one day I'll let you call me Patty."
"This book is great." "I told you."
Patty's eyes were still closed, the lighted cigarette dangling from her lips, and the sun accentuated little spots, like freckles, on the tip of her nose. She had been attractive once, and in a certain way still was. Or maybe more pleasant-looking than actually attractive, with her blond hair and her five feet eight inches and her bright eyes that made it seem she was always laughing inside. Her mother was a Miss Spain 1950-something, married to the O'Farrell of sherry and thoroughbred-horse fame, a man you saw from time to time in the magazines: an elegant, raisin-wrinkled old man photographed with beautiful horses and barrels of wine in the background, or in a house with tapestries, paintings, and shelves filled with ceramics and books. There were more children; Patricia was the black sheep. Something to do with drugs on the Costa del Sol, with the Russian mafia and a couple of dead men. A boyfriend with three or four noble last names shot dead at point-blank range, and her making it out alive by a miracle, with two gunshots that had kept her in the ICU for a month and a half. Teresa had seen the scars in the showers and when Patricia took off her clothes in the rack: two star-shaped areas of drawn and puckered skin on her back, under her left shoulder blade, about two inches apart. The exit wound from one had left a slightly bigger scar, under her clavicle. The second bullet, smashed flat against a bone, had been removed in the operating room.
"Full metal jacket," was Patricia's comment the first time Teresa stared at the scars. "If it had been a dum-dum or a hollow-point we wouldn't be talking right now." And then she closed the matter with a silent, comic grimace. On humid days that second wound bothered her, as Teresa ached from the fresh fracture of her arm.
"How do you like Edmond Dantes?"
"Edmond Dantes is me," Teresa replied, almost seriously, and she saw the wrinkles around Patricia's eyes deepen, the cigarette quiver as she smiled.
"Me, too," Patricia said. "And all of us," she added, gesturing toward the yard without opening her eyes. "Innocent and virginal and dreaming of a treasure that awaits us all when we get out."
"Abbe Faria died," Teresa said, looking down at the book's open pages. "Poor old man."
"You see? There are times when some people have to buy it so others can live."
A group of inmates passed by, walking the two hundred thirty steps toward the wall. They were tough, mean-looking, a half-dozen girls led by Trini Sanchez, also known as Makoki III: a small, masculine, aggressive, tattooed dark-skinned woman, always scrapping with the other inmates, or shiwing them-dangerous, and a regular in the Hole. She'd gotten fourteen years for stabbing her girlfriend over half a gram of horse. "Those dykes like fresh bait," Patricia had warned Teresa the first time they met in the module corridor, when Trini said something that Teresa didn't catch and the others laughed, sharing the code. "But don't worry, Mexicanita. They'll only eat your cunt if you let them." Teresa hadn't let them, and after a few tactical advances in the showers, the stalls, and the yard-including one attempt at social interchange via smiles and cigarettes and condensed milk at a table in the dining room-they went on their way. After all, her rackmate was Lieutenant O'Farrell. And with her, the word was, La Mexicanita was taken care of.
"How's it goin', bitches?" Patricia hadn't even opened her eyes. And her hands were still crossed behind her neck. The others laughed harshly-a couple muttered some good-humored obscenity-and continued pacing the yard. Teresa watched them pass and then looked over at her friend. It had not taken her long to see that O'Farrell enjoyed certain privileges among the inmates: she had access to money far above the legal amount of available funds, she received packages from the outside, and with these goods, people on the inside were disposed to help her. Even the guards and prison officers treated her better than the rest.
But there was also an air of authority about her that had nothing to do with money or packages from the outside. First of all, she was a girl with culture, which made an important difference in a place where very few inmates had gone as far as high school. She expressed herself well, read books, knew people at a certain level of society. It was not unusual for other inmates to come to her for help in filling out forms-requests or official documents that should have been filed by their lawyers-appointed by the court, the motherfuckers disappeared the minute the sentence was handed down, or even before.
O'Farrell could also get her hands on drugs, from pills of any color to pot or chocolate, which was what they called hash, and she always had rolling paper or aluminum foil for those who needed to light up.
Plus, she wasn't one to let anybody get to her. The story was that one day when she was still new, a long-time inmate had raped her, and that O'Farrell had taken it without opening her mouth. But the next morning, when she and the rapist were both naked in the showers, she had come up to the bitch and held a shiv-made from the frame of a fire-extinguisher box-to her throat. Never again, sweetheart, were her words as she looked into the woman's eyes, the water from the shower running off her, the other inmates standing around like they were watching the TV, although later they all swore on their most recently departed loved ones that they hadn't seen a thing. And the troublemaker, an alpha bitch everyone called La Valenciana, with a reputation as one mean cunt, was in complete agreement.
Lieutenant O'Farrell. Teresa saw that Patricia had opened her eyes and was looking at her, and she slowly turned her eyes away so that the other woman wouldn't read her thoughts. Sometimes the youngest and most defenseless inmates bought the protection of a respected, dangerous alpha bitch-"respected" and "dangerous" meant the same thing-in exchange for favors that in this prison without men included the obvious. Patricia never suggested anything like that to Teresa, but sometimes Teresa caught her watching her in that fixed, slightly reflective way, as though she were looking at her but thinking about something else. She had felt herself looked at that way when she arrived at El Puerto, with the noise of locks and thick bars and heavy doors-clang, clang-and the echo of footsteps and the impersonal voices of the guards and that smell of locked-up women, dirty clothes, musty mattresses, foul-smelling food, sweat, and lye. As Teresa undressed the first night, or went to the toilet-hard at first, until she got used to it, because of the lack of privacy, her jeans and underwear down around her ankles- Patricia would sometimes look at her from her bunk without a word. She'd lay the book she was reading-she had a bookcase full-facedown on her stomach and study Teresa from head to toe. She'd done this for days, weeks, and once in a while she still did. Like now, for example.
Teresa went back to the book. Edmond Dantes, tied in a sack and with a cannonball attached to his feet to weigh him down, had just been thrown over a cliff-his captors thought it was the body of the dead abbe. The sea is the graveyard of the Chateau d'If… she read avidly. I hope he gets out of this, she thought, quickly turning the page, to the next chapter. Though stunned and almost suffocated, Dantes still had the presence of mind to hold his breath… Hijole! I hope he can get out of that sack and go back to Marseilles and get his boat and take his revenge on those three sons of bitches that sold him out like that.
Teresa had never imagined that a book could absorb her attention to the point that she could sit down and pick it up right where she'd left off, with a scrap of torn paper for a bookmark so as not to lose her place. Patricia had given her this book after talking about it a lot-Teresa had been marveling to see her sit so quietly for so long, looking at the pages of her books. To think of her getting all those things in her head and preferring that to the telenovelas-she herself loved the ones from Mexico, with their accents of her homeland-and movies and game shows that the other inmates would crowd around the television for.
"Books are doors that lead out into the street," Patricia would tell her. "You learn from them, educate yourself, travel, dream, imagine, live other lives, multiply your own life a thousand times. Where can you get more for your money, Mexicanita? And they also keep all sorts of bad things at bay: ghosts, loneliness, shit like that. Sometimes I wonder how you people that don't read figure out how to live your lives." But she never said, You ought to read such-and-such, or Look at this, or that; she waited for Teresa to come to it herself, after catching her several times rummaging around among the ever-changing twenty or thirty books that she kept on the shelves in the rack, some from the prison library and others that some relative or friend on the outside would send her, or that she would have other inmates, with third-degree permits, order for her.
Finally, one day Teresa said, "I've never read a whole book before, but I'd like to read one." She was holding something called Tender Is the Night, or some such title, which had drawn her attention because it sounded so incredibly romantic, plus it had a lovely picture on the cover, a slender, elegant girl in a garden hat, very, very twenties. But Patricia shook her head, took it from her, and said, "Wait, all things in good time-first you ought to read something that you'll like even better." And the next day they went to the prison library and asked Marcela Rabbit, the inmate in charge-Rabbit was her nickname, of course; she had put that brand of lye in her mother-in-law's wine-for the book that Teresa now held in her hands. "It's about a prisoner like us," Patricia explained when she saw Teresa worried about having to read such a thick book. "And look-Porrua Publishers, Mexico City. It came from over there, like you. You were meant for each other"
There was a scuffle at the far end of the yard-Moors and young Gypsies cursing each other, some hair-pulling. From there you could see the barred windows of the men's unit, where the male inmates would often exchange messages-yells and signs-with their "girlfriends" or female buddies. More than one jailhouse idyll had been hatched in that corner-one prisoner doing some cement work had managed to knock up a female inmate in the three minutes the guards took to find them-and the place was frequented by women with male interests on the other side of the wall and the razor wire. Now three or four inmates were arguing, and it had reached the point of slapping and scratching-jealousy, maybe, or a dispute over the best spot in the improvised observatory, while the guard in the guardhouse leaned over the wall to watch.
Teresa had seen that in prison the women had more balls than some men did. They might wear makeup, have their hair fixed by other inmates who'd been hairdressers on the outside, and like to show off their jewelry, especially when they went to mass on Sunday-Teresa, not thinking about it, stopped going to mass after the death of Santiago Fisterra-or when they were working in the kitchen or areas where some contact with men was possible. That, too, gave rise to jealousy, rip-offs, and settling of scores. She'd seen women beaten to within an inch of their lives over a cigarette or a bite of omelette-eggs weren't on the official menu and you could get shivved for one-or an insult or even a "What" spoken in the wrong tone of voice. She'd seen women stabbed, or kicked until they bled from their nose and ears. Thefts of food or drugs also caused fights: jars of preserves, cans of meat or other delicacies, heroin or pills stolen from the racks while the inmates were in the dining hall at breakfast and the cells were open. Or breaking the unwritten rules that governed life on the inside. A month earlier, a snitch that cleaned the guardhouses and blew the whistle once in a while on her sister inmates had been beaten to a bloody pulp in the yard latrine when she went to pee. She'd hardly gotten her skirt up when four inmates rushed inside, while others, who later turned out to be deaf and blind and mute, stood outside to block the door. The bitch was still in the infirmary with several broken ribs and her jaw held together with wires.
Teresa watched the commotion at the end of the yard. Behind the bars, the guys in the men's unit were throwing fuel on the fire, and the shift sergeant and two other guards were running across the quadrangle to take charge. After her distracted glance, Teresa returned to Edmond Dantes, with whom she was madly and frankly in love. And as she turned the pages-the fugitive had just been rescued from the sea by fishermen-she could feel Patricia O'Farrell's eyes fixed on her, looking at her the same way that other woman did, the woman she'd caught so many times stalking her from the shadows and in mirrors.
She was awakened by rain on the window, and she opened her eyes, terrified in the gray light, because she thought she was out on the ocean again, near the Leon Rock, in the middle of a black sphere, falling into the void the same way Edmond Dantes had in Abbe Farias shroud. After the rock and the impact and the night, the days that followed her awakening in the hospital with one arm immobilized on a splint to the shoulder, her body covered with bruises and scratches, she had gradually-from comments by doctors and nurses, the visit from the police and a social worker, the flash of a photograph, her fingers stained with ink after an official fingerprinting- reconstructed the details of what had happened. Still, whenever somebody pronounced the name Santiago Fisterra, her mind went blank. All that time, the sedatives and her own emotions had kept her in a state of semiconsciousness that prevented any real thought. Not for a moment during those first four or five days did she allow herself to think about Santiago, and when the memory came to her unbidden, she would push it away, sink back into that voluntary stupor. Not yet, her subconscious and her body would say to her. You'd better not face that yet.
Until one morning, when she opened her eyes and saw Oscar Lobato sitting there, the reporter from the Cadiz paper who was a friend of Santiago's. And beside the door, standing, leaning against the wall, another man whose face was vaguely familiar. It was then, while that second man listened without saying a word-at first she took him for a cop-that she heard from Lobato's lips what on some level she already knew, or guessed. That night the Phantom had crashed at fifty knots into the rock, shattering into a million pieces, and Santiago had died instantly. Teresa had lived only because she had somehow been thrown out of the speedboat. But her right arm had broken when she hit the surface of the water, and she had sunk fifteen feet to the bottom.
"How did I make it?" she wanted to know. And her voice sounded strange, no longer her own. Lobato smiled in a way that softened the hard features of his face, the marks of time around his eyes, and his tone lightened. He gestured toward the man leaning on the wall, not saying a word, looking at Teresa with curiosity and a hint of shyness, as though not daring to come any closer.
"He pulled you out," Lobato said.
Then he told her what had happened after she was knocked unconscious- that after the impact she floated for a minute before she sank, with the helicopter spotlight illuminating her. The pilot had passed the controls to his copilot and jumped into the water from ten feet above, and in the water he had taken off his helmet and self-inflating life jacket and dived to the bottom, where she was drowning. He brought her to the surface, in the midst of the spray raised by the chopper's blades, and from there swam with her in to the beach. While the HJ was looking for the remains of Santiago Fisterra-the largest pieces of the Phantom were no more than eight or ten inches across- the lights of an ambulance approached along the highway. And while Lobato was recounting all this, Teresa was looking at the face of the man leaning against the wall, the man who was still not saying a word or nodding or anything, as though what the reporter was describing had happened to somebody else. And finally she recognized the man as one of the Customs officers she'd seen in Kuki's that night, the night the smugglers from Gibraltar had been celebrating that guy's birthday.
"He wanted to come with me to see your face," Lobato explained. And she looked at the other man's face, too, the Customs helicopter pilot who'd killed Santiago and saved her. Thinking: I need to remember this man later, so when I'm all right again I can decide whether to kill him, if I can-or say, Peace, brother, cabron, shrug and let it go.
She finally asked about Santiago, where his body was, and the man leaning against the wall looked away, and Lobato frowned a bit, in grief, when he told her that the casket was on its way to O Grove, the Galician town where he'd been born. "A good guy," he added, his face solemn, and it struck Teresa that he may have been sincere, that the two men had spent time together, and that maybe Lobato had really liked him. That was when she started to cry, quietly, because now, now she was thinking about Santiago dead, and she could see his motionless face with his eyes closed, like when she'd slept with her head on his shoulder. And she thought: What am I going to do now with that fucking model sailboat that's sitting on the table at the house in Palmones, half done, with nobody to finish it. And she realized that she was alone for the second time, and in a certain way forever.
It was O'Farrell who really changed her life," Maria Tejeda repeated. She had spent the last forty-five minutes telling me how and why. When she finished, she went to the kitchen, came back with two glasses of herbal tea, and sipped at one while I went over my notes and digested the story. The former prison social worker at El Puerto de Santa Maria was a chubby, vivacious woman with long, dark hair streaked with gray, kindly eyes, and a firm set to her mouth. She wore round gold-rimmed glasses and gold rings on several fingers-at least ten of them, I counted. I figured her for somewhere around sixty. For thirty-five of those years she had worked for Corrections in the provinces of Cadiz and Malaga. It had not been easy to find her, since she had recently retired, but once again, Oscar Lobato had come to my aid and tracked her down.
"I remember them both very well," she said when I phoned. "Come to Granada and we'll talk."
She greeted me in a jogging suit and tennis shoes from the balcony of her apartment in the low-lying Albaicin section of the city, with all of new Granada and the plain of the Darro on one side, and the Alhambra, gold and ocher in the morning sun, perched among trees up on the hill, on the other. Her house was filled with light, and there were cats everywhere: on the couch, in the hall, on the balcony. At least half a dozen live cats-it smelled like hell, despite the open windows-and some twenty more in paintings, porcelain figurines, woodcarvings. There were rugs and pillows embroidered with cats, and among the things hung out to dry on the balcony was a towel with Sylvester on it. While I read over my notes and savored the mint tea, a tabby observed me from the top of a wardrobe closet, as though she'd known me somewhere before, and a fat gray cat slunk toward me over the carpet, as though my shoelaces were legal prey. The rest were lying or walking about the house in various postures and attitudes. I hate these creatures, which are much too quiet and intelligent for my taste-there is nothing like the stolid loyalty of a stupid dog-but I girded my loins and soldiered on. Work is work.
"O'Farrell made her see things about herself," my hostess was saying, "that she had never imagined existed. And she even started to educate her a little, you know… in her own way."
On the table she had stacked several notebooks, in which for years she had kept records of her interviews. "I was looking over these before you came," she said. "To refresh my memory." She showed me some pages written in a round, tight hand: individual entries, dates, visits, interviews. Some paragraphs were underlined. Follow-up, she explained. "It was my job to evaluate their rehabilitation, so to speak, help them to find something for afterward. On the inside, some women sit with their hands folded, while others prefer to stay busy. I made staying busy possible.
"Teresa Mendoza Chavez and Patricia O'Farrell Meca," she went on. "Classified as SFIs: special follow-up inmates. They gave people lots to talk about in their time, those two."
"They were lovers?"
She closed the notebooks and gave me a long, evaluating look. No doubt considering whether that question stemmed from sick curiosity or professional interest.
"I'm not certain," she replied at last. "Among the girls there were rumors, of course. But there are always rumors like that. O'Farrell was bisexual. At least, no?… And the truth is, she had had relationships with some inmates before Mendoza came. But about those two specifically, I can't say for sure."
After biting at my shoelaces, the fat gray cat was rubbing against my pants, covering them with cat hairs. I bit the end of my ballpoint stoically.
"How long were they together?"
"A year as cellmates, and then they got out a few months apart… They were both clients of mine-that's what we call them. Mendoza was soft-spoken and almost shy, very observant, very cautious in a way, with that Mexican accent that made her seem so prim and proper… Who'd have known what was coming, no?… O'Farrell was just the opposite: amoral, uninhibited, always with an attitude-superior and frivolous at the same time. Worldly. A society girl who condescended to live in the real world. Irreproachable conduct, hers. Not a black mark in the three and a half years she spent on the inside, you know? Despite the fact that she purchased and consumed narcotics… I'll tell you, she was too intelligent to get into trouble. She seemed to consider her stay in prison an unavoidable interruption in her life, and she was just waiting for it to pass-she wasn't about to make trouble for herself or anybody else."
The cat that was rubbing up against my pants leg sank its claws into my sock, so I pushed it away with a discreet kick that earned me a brief censorious silence from my hostess.
"Anyway," she went on after the uncomfortable pause, calling the cat up to her lap, "Come here, Anubis, precious thing-O'Farrell was a woman, not a child, with a personality, a character, you know? She was already formed, and the newcomer was very much influenced by her-the good family, the money, the name, the culture… Thanks to her cellmate, Mendoza discovered the usefulness of an education. That was the positive part of the influence-it gave her the desire to better herself, to change. She read, studied. She discovered that you don't have to depend on a man. She was good at figures, and she found the opportunity to get even better at them in the prison education program, which allowed inmates to get time off their sentences for taking classes. She took an elementary mathematics course and a course in Spanish, and her English improved tremendously as well. She became a voracious reader, and toward the end you might find her with an Agatha Christie novel or a book of travel writing or even something scientific. And it was O'Farrell, definitely, who inspired all that.
"Mendoza's lawyer was a Gibraltar fellow who dropped her just after she came to the prison, and so far as I could see he also kept the money, which may have been a little or a lot, I really couldn't say. In El Puerto de Santa Maria she never had any male visitors, no 'conjugal visits'-some of the inmates managed to get false marriage certificates so men could visit them- or any other kind of visitor, for that matter. She was completely alone. So O'Farrell did all the paperwork for her parole hearing.
"Had it been anyone else, all of that would have probably led to real rehabilitation. When she got out, Mendoza could have found a decent job: she was a quick study, you know, she had good instincts, a cool head and an IQ"-the social worker had consulted her notes again-"in the high one thirties. Unfortunately, her friend O'Farrell was too far gone. Certain tastes, certain friends, you know…" She looked at me as though she doubted that I really did know. "Certain vices. Among women," she went on, "some influences or relationships are stronger than among men. And then there was the matter of the lost cocaine that everyone has talked about… Although in the prison"-Anubis was purring as she ran her hand over his neck and back-"there are hundreds of such stories. So no one actually believed that
this one was true Absolutely no one," she insisted after a thoughtful si-
lence, still petting the cat. Even now, years later and despite everything that
had been published about it, the social worker was still convinced that the
story of the cocaine had been a myth.
"But you see how things are. First it was O'Farrell who changed the Mexican girl, and then the Mexican girl completely took over O'Farrell's life… You never know about those quiet kind of girls…"
As for myself, I can still see the young soldier with his pale skin and black eyes. When the angel of death comes down to take me, I am certain I shall recognize Selim…
The day she turned twenty-five-they had taken the cast off her arm a week earlier-Teresa paused and put a bookmark on page 740 of the novel that held her in its spell. Never before, she reflected, had she thought that a person could project herself, as she had, so intensely, into what she was reading, so that reader and protagonist became one. And O'Farrell was right: More than the movies or TV, novels let you live so many things you'd never otherwise be able to live-more than you could ever fit into a single life. That was the strange magic that kept her glued to that volume whose pages were so old they were coming unsewn. But Patty had insisted it be repaired, because, as she said, "It's not a question of just reading books, Mexicana, it's also the physical pleasure and inner peace you get from holding them in your hands." To intensify that pleasure and inner peace, Patty went with the book to the inmates' bookbinding shop, and she had the book taken apart and carefully resewn and then rebound with stiff covers, good paste, Florentine paper for the endpapers, and a lovely cover of brown leather with gold letters on the spine: Alejandro Dumas, El conde de Monte Cristo. And under it all, with smaller gold letters, the initials TMC, for Teresa Mendoza Chavez. So after five days of impatient waiting, with Teresa's reading interrupted at Chapter XXXVII-"The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian"- Patty presented it to her once again, all new. "It's my birthday present for you."
It was the hour for breakfast, just after the day's first head count. The book was very nicely wrapped, and when she held the book again, Teresa felt that special pleasure her companion had spoken about. It was heavy and soft, with the new cover and those gold letters. And Patty looked at her, elbows on the table, a cup of chicory in one hand and a cigarette in the other, enjoying her happiness. "Happy birthday," she repeated, and the other girls also congratulated Teresa. "To the next one on the street," one of them said. "With a stud to wake you up in the morning," another added, "and me there to watch!"
That night, after the fifth head count, instead of going down to the dining hall for dinner-the usual disgusting breaded halibut and overripe fruit-Patty had made arrangements with the guards for a little private party in the rack. They played cassettes of old torch songs by Vicente Fernandez, Chavela Vargas, and Paquita la del Barrio, and after closing the door Patty pulled out a bottle of tequila she'd gotten god knows how-an authentic Don Julio some prison officer had probably smuggled in, after payment of a sum five times its price-and they put it away delightedly, enjoying how great it was. Some other girls joined the party, sitting on the bunks and in the chair and on the toilet in the case of Carmela, a big, older Gypsy, a shoplifter by profession, who cleaned for Patty and washed her sheets-Teresa's clothes, too, while her arm was in a cast-in exchange for Lieutenant O'Farrell's depositing a small sum of money into her account each month. Rabbit, the lye-pouring librarian, was there, as was Charito, who was in for picking pockets at the Rocio and Abril fairs (not to mention a hundred or so others). And also Pepa Trueno, aka Blackleg, who'd killed her husband with a knife they used for slicing ham in the bar they ran on National Highway 4, and who bragged that her divorce had cost her twenty years and a day, but not a penny.
Teresa put the silver semanario on her right wrist, to inaugurate her new arm, she said, and the bangles clinked happily with every drink. The party lasted until the eleven-o'clock head count. There was parcheesi, which was the slammer game par excellence, and tinned meat, and "perk-up-your-cunt" pills, as Carmela called them, and basucos made with thick rolls of hashish, and jokes, and laughter. Here we are in Spain, Teresa thought, in big-deal Europe for god's sake, with its rides and its history and the way these people look down their noses at corrupt Mexicans, and look at us. Pills and chocolate and a bottle once in a while-nobody goes without if they find the right guard and have the money to pay for it.
And Patty O'Farrell had money. She presided over the celebration, sitting off to one side, watching Teresa through a cloud of smoke the whole time, with a smile on her face and in her eyes. With her rich-girl attitude, it was as though she was just looking on, not really part of any of this-like some mommy who takes her little girl to a birthday party with hamburgers and clowns.
Meanwhile Vicente Fernandez was singing about women and cheating, Chavela's breaking voice reeked of alcohol as she sang of bullets and cantinas, and Paquita la del Barrio belted out that song about a dog, loyal and unquestioning, lying always at your feet, all day and all evening, and in your bed at night. Teresa felt the embrace of the nostalgia, the music, and the accents of her homeland-the only thing lacking were chirrines strolling down the prison corridors making music, and a case of long-necked Pacificos- although she was a bit befuddled by the hashish burning between her fingers. "Don't bogart that joint, there, Mexicanita." "I've smoked worse, girl- 'cause you go down to the Moors to score, you are definitely going to smoke some nasty shit." "To your twenty-fifth, my darling," toasted Carmela the Gypsy. And when Paquita started singing that old one about Three times I cheated, and she came to the chorus, all of them, now gloriously buzzed, joined in: The first time out of anger, the second just because, and the third for pure damn pleasure-"Three times I cheated, you motherfucker," shouted Pepa Trueno, no doubt in honor of her dearly departed.
They went on like that until one of the guards came around in a foul mood to tell them the party was over, but the party went on, in the same vein, later, when the cells were closed and the iron doors clanged shut all over the prison. Patty and Teresa were alone now in the rack, almost in darkness, the gooseneck lamp on the floor next to the washbasin, the shadowy magazine clippings-movie stars, singers, landscapes, a tourist map of Mexico-decorating the green-painted wall, the window with its lace curtains made by Charito the pickpocket, who had good hands. It was then that Patty took a second bottle of tequila and a little bag out from under her bunk and said, "This is just for us, Mexicana-I mean, giving is better than receiving, but you do need to keep something back for yourself!"
And with Vicente Fernandez singing "Mujeres Divinas" for the umpteenth time, and Chavela, slurring her words, warning, Don't threaten me, don't threaten me, they passed the bottle back and forth and made little white lines on the cover of a book called The Leopard. And later, Teresa, powder on her nose from the last sniff, said, "It's awesome. Thank you for this birthday, Lieutenant, never in my life…"
Patty shook her head, it was nothing, and as though she were thinking of something else, she said, "I'm going to masturbate a little now, if you don't mind, Mexicanita." She lay back on her bunk and took off her slippers and skirt, a very pretty dark full skirt that she looked good in, keeping on just her blouse. Teresa sat a little stunned with the bottle of Don Julio in her hand, not knowing what to do or where to look. Then Patty said, "You could help me, girl-it works better with two." But Teresa gently shook her head. "Chale. You know I'm not into that," she whispered.
And although Patty didn't insist, Teresa got up slowly after a minute or so, still clutching the bottle, and went and sat on the edge of her cellmate's bunk. Patty's legs were open and she had a hand between them, moving it slowly and softly, and she was doing all this while gazing at Teresa out of the green shadows of the rack. Teresa passed her the bottle, and Patty drank with her free hand, then returned the bottle as she continued to gaze at Teresa's face, into her eyes. Then Teresa smiled and said, "Thanks again for the birthday, Patty, and the book, and the party." And Patty never took her eyes off her as she moved her fingers between her naked thighs. Then Teresa leaned down close to her friend, repeated, "Thanks," very softly, and kissed her softly on the lips, just that, and for only a second. And she felt Patty hold her breath and tremble several times under her mouth, and moan, her eyes suddenly very wide, and afterward she lay without moving, still looking at her.
O'Farrell woke her up before dawn. "He's dead, Mexicanita." They hardly spoke about him. About them. Teresa was not one to open up too much, share confidences. Dropped words here and there, casual remarks: one time this, another time that. She really tried to avoid talking about Santiago, or Guero Davila. Or even thinking very long about either one of them. She didn't have any photographs-the few with the Gallego, who knew where they were now?-except, of course, for the one of her and Guero torn in half. Sometimes the two men merged in her memory, and she didn't like that. It was like being unfaithful to both of them at once. "That's not it," Teresa replied.
They were in darkness, and the sky had not yet begun to turn gray outside. It was still two or three hours before the guard would start banging on the doors with her key, waking the inmates up for the first head count, giving them time to wash up before they rinsed out their underwear-the panties and T-shirts and socks that they would hang up to dry on broom handles stuck into the wall. Teresa heard her cellmate turning over, moving about in her bunk. A while later she changed positions, too, trying to sleep. Very far away, behind the metal door, down the module's long corridor, a woman's voice cried out. I love you, Manolo, she screamed. I love you, I tell you, another called back, closer, provocatively. So do I, a third voice chimed in. Then there were the footsteps of a guard, and silence once again. Teresa lay on her back, in a nightshirt, her eyes open in the darkness, waiting for the fear that would inevitably come, as regular as clockwork, when the first glow appeared in the window, through the lace curtains sewn by Charito the pickpocket.
"There's something I'd like to tell you," said Patty.
Then she fell silent, as though that were all, or as though she weren't sure she should tell, or perhaps waiting for some response from Teresa. But Teresa didn't say anything-not Tell me, not Don't. She lay motionless, looking up at the night.
"I've got a treasure hidden on the outside," Patty finally said.
Teresa heard her own laugh before she realized she was laughing. "Hijole!" she said. "Just like Abbe Faria."
"Yeah." Patty laughed too. "Except I don't intend to die in here… In fact, I don't intend to die anywhere."
"What kind of treasure?" Teresa was curious.
"Something that got lost and everybody looked for, but that nobody found because the people who hid it are dead… Like in the movies, huh?" "I don't think it's like the movies. It's like life."
The two were silent for a while. I'm not sure, thought Teresa. I'm not totally convinced that I want to hear your secrets, Lieutenant. Maybe because you know more than I do and you're smarter than I am and older and everything, and I always catch you looking at me that way you look at me. Or maybe because I'm not crazy about the fact that you come when I kiss you. If a person's tired, there are things that shouldn't be talked about. And tonight I'm very tired, maybe because I drank and smoked and snorted too much, and now I can't sleep. This year I'm very tired. Hell, this life. For the moment, the word "tomorrow" doesn't exist. My lawyer only came to see me once. Since then all I've gotten from him is a letter telling me he invested our money in paintings whose value has dropped to almost nothing and there's not even enough left to pay for a coffin if I kick the bucket. But the truth is, I don't care about that. The one good thing about being in here is that this is all there is. And that keeps you from thinking about what you left outside. Or what's waiting for you out there.
"That kind of treasure is dangerous," Teresa said.
"Of course it is." Patty was speaking slowly, very softly, as though she were weighing every word. "I've paid a high price myself… got shot, you know. Bang bang. And here we are."
"So what about this fucking treasure, Lieutenant O'Farrell?"
They laughed again in the darkness. Then there was a quick burst o f light at the head of Patty's bunk-she had just lit a cigarette.
"Well, I'm going to go look for it," she said, "when I get out of here."
"But you don't need that. You've got money."
"Not enough. What I spend in here is not mine, it's my family's." Her voice turned sarcastic when she pronounced that last word. "And the treasure that I'm talking about is real money. A lot of it. The kind that sometimes makes lots more, and more, and more."
"You really know where it is?"
"But somebody owns it… I mean somebody besides you. Who owns it?"
The ember of the cigarette glowed. Silence. "That's a good question." "Chale. That's the question."
They fell silent again. You may know a lot more things than I do, thought Teresa-you've got education, and class, and a lawyer that comes to see you once in a while, and a good chunk of money in the bank, even if it belongs to your family. But what you're talking to me about-that, I know about, and it's very possible that I know quite a bit more about it than you do. Even if you've got two scars like little stars and a boyfriend in the cemetery, you're still like above it all. But me, I've seen it from down below. I've had mud on my bare feet when I was a kid, in Las Siete Gotas, where the drunks knocked on my mother's door in the middle of the night. I've also seen Gato Fierros' smile. And the Leon Rock. I've thrown fortunes overboard at fifty knots, with a chopper on my ass. So let's cut the crap.
"That question is hard to answer," Patty finally said. "There are people
that were looking for it, sure. They thought they had a certain right to it, you
know But that was a while back. Now nobody knows that I know."
"So why are you telling me about it?"
The red glow of the cigarette grew brighter a couple of times before the reply came. "I don't know. Or maybe I do."
"I never figured you for such a talker," said Teresa. "I could turn out to be the kind of girl who can't keep a secret. I could rat you out."
"Uh-uh. We've been in here together for a while, and I've been watching you. You aren't like that."
Another silence. This time longer than the others.
"You keep your mouth shut. You're loyal."
"You are too," Teresa replied.
"No. I'm other things."
Teresa saw the cigarette go out. She was curious, but she also wanted this conversation to be over. Let's get this behind us, she thought. I don't want you to wake up tomorrow and regret having said things you shouldn't have. About things that I don't need to know, places where I can't follow you. Or better yet, if you go to sleep now, we can always forget this happened, blame it on the party and the tequila and the coke.
"One day I may get you to help me recover that treasure," Patty suddenly concluded. "You and I, together."
Teresa held her breath. Oh shit, she said to herself. Now we can never pretend that this conversation never took place.
"Why me?" Teresa asked. She couldn't just say nothing. But she couldn't say flat-out yes or no, either. So that question was her only possible reply.
She heard Patty turn over in her bunk, toward the wall, before she answered.
"I'll tell you when the moment comes. If it does."