There are people whose good luck derives from misfortunes," Eddie Alvarez concluded. "And that was the case of Teresa Mendoza." The lenses of his glasses made his wary eyes look smaller. It had taken me time and a couple of intermediaries to get him to this point, sitting in front of me, but there he was, putting his hands in his jacket pockets and pulling them out again, after offering me just the tips of his fingers to shake. We were chatting on the terrace of the Rock Hotel in Gibraltar, with the sun filtering in through the ivy, ferns, and palms of the hanging garden on the face of the Rock itself. Down below, on the other side of the white balustrade, lay the Bay of Algeciras, bright and blurry in the blue haze of the afternoon: white ferries at the end of long straight wakes, the coast of Africa a hint of gray out beyond the Strait, the boats at anchor with their bows all pointing east.
"Well, I understand that at the beginning you helped her," I said. "By which I mean, you made some of those 'misfortunes' possible."
The lawyer blinked twice, twirled his glass on the table, and looked at me again.
"You shouldn't talk about things you don't know anything about." It sounded like reproach, and advice. "I did my job. That's how I make my living. And back then, she was nobody. No one could possibly have imagined…"
His face underwent two or three changes of expression, almost involuntarily, and there was displeasure, discomfort, a squirming quality there, as though somebody had told him a bad joke, one that it took a while to get. "Couldn't possibly…" he mused.
"Perhaps you're mistaken. Perhaps somebody could have imagined how things would go."
"We're often mistaken." Alvarez seemed to console himself with that plural. "Although in that chain of mistakes, I was the least of them."
He passed a hand across his sparse, curly hair, which he wore too long and which gave him an air of seediness. Then he touched the broad-mouthed glass again: his whisky was an unappetizing chocolaty color.
"In this life, everything comes with a price," he said after thinking for a
moment. "Some pay in advance, others during, and still others afterward
In the case of the Mexicana, she paid in advance.
She had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. And that's what she did."
"People say that you abandoned her in prison. Without a penny."
He looked truly offended. Although in a guy like him, with his background-I had taken the trouble to look into it-that meant absolutely nothing.
"I don't know what these 'people' might have told you, but that's not quite accurate. I can be as practical as the next man, understand?… It's perfectly normal in my profession. But that's not the point. I didn't abandon her."
With that out of the way, he gave a series of more or less reasonable justifications. Teresa Mendoza and Santiago Fisterra had, in fact, entrusted a certain amount of money to him. Not an extraordinary amount, just some funds that he proceeded to discreetly launder. The problem was that he invested almost all of it in paintings: landscapes, seascapes, and so on. A couple of nice portraits. Yes. And this happened to be just after the Gallego's death, when Teresa was in prison. And the painters were not very well known. Their parents may not even have claimed them-he smiled-which was why he invested in them. Appreciation, of course. But then the crisis came along and he'd had to sell off everything, to the last canvas, plus their small interest in a bar on Main Street and a few other things. From all that he deducted his fees-there were late payments and other matters-and the rest of the money went toward Teresa's defense. That entailed a considerable amount of money in expenses, of course-an arm and a leg, you might say. And after all was said and done, she'd spent only a year in prison.
"They say," I told him, "that that was thanks to Patricia O'Farrell, because it was her lawyers who did the paperwork."
He started to put a hand over his heart, once again offended. But he stopped in mid-gesture.
"They say a lot of things. The fact is, there came a moment when, well…" He looked at me the way a Jehovah's Witness looks at a doorbell. "… I had other concerns. The Mexicana's case was at a standstill."
"You mean the money had run out."
"The little there was, yes. Run out."
"And so you stopped representing her."
"Look…" He showed me the palms of his hands, raising them slightly, as though that were a guarantee. "This is how I earn my living. I couldn't afford to work for free-that's what court-appointed lawyers are for. Besides, I repeat that it was simply not possible to know…"
"I understand. She didn't come around to settle the score later?"
He became lost in the contemplation of his glass on the glass top of the table. My question did not seem to call up pleasant memories. Finally he shrugged in reply, and sat looking at me.
"But later," I insisted, "you did work for her again."
Once more he put his hands in his jacket pockets and took them out again. A sip from the glass, and the hands again.
"Maybe I did," he finally admitted. "For a short period of time, and a long time ago. Then I refused to go on. I'm clean."
My information said otherwise, but I didn't argue. What I'd been told was that when she got out of prison, the Mexicana had grabbed him by the balls and squeezed them till Eddie did what she wanted him to do, and then she threw him out once he was no longer useful. Those were the words of the police chief of Torremolinos, Pepe Cabrera. "Mendoza had that bastard shitting bricks. To the last." And that phrase fit Eddie Alvarez like a glove. You could perfectly imagine him so scared he was shitting bricks, or anything else Teresa Mendoza told him to shit. "Tell him I sent you," Cabrera had said while we were eating in the sporty port city of Benalmadena. "That piece of shit owes me big-time, and he won't be able to say no. That affair of the container from London and the robbery at Heathrow, for example-just mention that and he'll be eating out of your hand. What you get out of him is your business."
"She wasn't upset or anything, then," I persisted.
He looked at me with professional caution. "Why do you say that?" he asked.
I figured he was calculating exactly how much I knew about what had happened. I didn't want to disappoint him. "The famous trap," I prodded. The word seemed to have a laxative effect.
"Bullshit," he said, squirming in his rattan-and-wicker chair, making it creak. "What do you know about traps?… That word is an exaggeration."
"That's why I'm here. So you can set the record straight."
"At this late stage of things, it can hardly matter," he replied, picking up his glass. "In that mess at Punta Castor, Teresa knew I had nothing to do with what Canabota and that sergeant in the Guardia Civil were planning. Afterward, she took the trouble to find all that out. And when my turn came… Well, I convinced her that I'd been an innocent bystander. And the fact that I'm still alive proves that I convinced her."
He turned thoughtful, tinkling the ice in his glass. He took a drink. "Despite the money lost on the paintings, Punta Castor, and all the rest…" he insisted, and he himself seemed surprised, "I'm still alive."
He took another drink. And then another. Apparently, all this remembering made him thirsty.
"Actually," he said, "no one ever went specifically after Santiago Fisterra. No one. Canabota just needed somebody to use as a decoy while the real cargo was unloaded someplace else. That was standard practice: they used the Gallego the way they might have used anybody else. Bad luck is all it was. He wasn't the type to flip if somebody slapped a pair of handcuffs on him. Plus he was from outside, he had that attitude of his, and he had very few friends in the Strait… And there was that sergeant in the Guardia Civil that had got the idea in his head of doing the Gallego in. So they picked him." "And her," I suggested.
He squirmed and made the chair creak again, looking at the stairs to the terrace as though Teresa Mendoza were about to appear on them. A silence. Another drink. Then he straightened his glasses and said, "Unfortunately." Then he fell silent again. Another drink. Unfortunately, no one could have imagined the Mexicana would get where she got.
"So what happened to them afterward?… To Canabota and this Sergeant Velasco?"
The defiance lasted three seconds. He folded. You know as well as I do, his eyes said distrustfully. Anybody that reads the newspapers knows. But if you think it's me that's going to explain it to you, you've got another think coming.
"I don't know anything about that." He made the gesture of zipping his mouth closed, looking mischievous and self-satisfied-the expression of a man who has remained standing longer than others of his acquaintance. I ordered coffee for me and another chocolate-colored whisky for him. From the city and the port came sounds muted by distance. An automobile was climbing the highway below the terrace, with a great deal of noise from its muffler, toward the peak of the Rock. I thought I saw a blond woman at the wheel, and a man in a sailor's jacket.
"Anyway," Eddie Alvarez went on, after considering the matter for a while, "all of that was later, when things changed and she decided to collect on her outstanding debts… And listen, when she got out of El Puerto de Santa Maria, I figure all she was thinking about was disappearing from the world. I don't think she was ever ambitious, or a dreamer… I'll wager she was never even truly vengeful. She just wanted to stay alive, that's all. Thing is, sometimes luck, after slapping you around for a while, decides to smile on you."
A group of men and women from Gibraltar occupied a neighboring table. Alvarez knew them, and he went over to say hello. That gave me the opportunity to study him from some remove: the obsequious way he smiled, shook hands, listened-like a man listening for clues to what he ought to say. A survivor, I told myself. The kind of slimy son of a bitch who survives, as another Eddie had described him-in this case Eddie Campello, also from Gibraltar, an old friend of mine and publisher of the local weekly Vox. "Doesn't even have the balls to double-cross you, our friend," said Campello when I asked about the relationship between the lawyer and Teresa Mendoza. "What happened at Punta Castor was Canabota and that sergeant from the Guardia Civil-Alvarez wasn't involved. He just pocketed the Gallego's money, and money didn't mean shit to that woman. The fact that she rescued that asshole and put him to work for her again is proof of that."
"And let me tell you"-Eddie Alvarez was back at our table-"I'd say that the Mexicana is still not vengeful. She's more… I don't know. Maybe just practical, you see?… In her world, you don't leave loose ends."
Then he told me something interesting. "When they threw her into El Puerto, I went to the house that she and the Gallego had in Palmones, to liquidate everything and close it up. And you know what? She had gone to sea that night like so many other times, not knowing that it would be the last time. But she had everything all in order, in boxes, drawers, everything in its place. Even in the closets. That house could have passed an army inspection.
"More than cold-blooded calculation, ambition, or thirst for revenge"- Alvarez nodded, looking at me as though the drawers and boxes and closets explained everything-"I think it was a sense of symmetry."
She finished sweeping the wooden walkway, poured herself half a glass of tequila and filled the rest with orange juice, and then went to smoke a cigarette out on the end of the walk, shoeless, her feet half buried in the warm sand. The sun was still low, and its diagonal rays covered the beach with shadows from each wave or footprint, making the sandy expanse look like a landscape on the moon. Between the kiosk and the shoreline everything was clean and neat, awaiting the swimmers who would begin to arrive at mid-morning: two lounge chairs under each umbrella, carefully aligned by Teresa, with their blue-and-white-striped cushions shaken out and straightened. The air was calm, the sea was quiet, the water at the shore silent, and the early-morning sun shimmered with metallic orange splendor between the black silhouettes of the few passersby: retirees on their morning walks; a young couple with a dog; a solitary man looking out at the ocean, a fishing pole stuck into the sand beside him. And down toward the end of the beach and the orange glow, toward the east, behind the pines and the palm trees and the magnolias, Marbella, with the red-tile rooftops of its villas and its concrete-and-glass towers rising in the golden haze.
She savored her cigarette, undone and rerolled, as usual, with a little hashish. Tony, the manager of the stall, didn't like her to smoke anything but tobacco when he was around, but at this hour Tony hadn't arrived and the swimmers would be a while yet-it was the first few days of the season-so she could smoke in peace. And that tequila with orange juice, or vice versa, was terrific. She'd been here since eight this morning-coffee, no sugar, a piece of bread with olive oil, a donut-setting out the lounge chairs, sweeping the walkway, straightening tables and chairs, and ahead of her she still had a day of work identical to yesterday's and the day before's: dirty glasses behind the counter, and at the bar and the tables lemon slushes, juices, iced coffees, Cuba fibres, mineral waters, her head splitting and her shirt drenched with sweat, under the palm-thatch roof the sun filtered through. The heavy, humid atmosphere reminded her of Altata in the summer, but with more people and more smell of suntan lotion.
And she had to be alert, too, to the demands of the customers: I ordered this with no ice, Listen, hey, I ordered this with lemon and ice, Don't tell me you don't have any Fanta, You gave it to me sparkling and I ordered it still. Chingale. These fucking Spaniards and gringos summering here with their flowered shorts and red greasy skins and sunglasses, their screaming kids and their bodies spilling out of their bathing suits and T-shirts and pareos- they were much worse, much more self-centered and inconsiderate, than the customers that frequented Dris Larbi's puti-clubs. Teresa spent twelve hours a day with these people, back and forth, with no time even to sit down for ten minutes, the recently healed fracture in her arm aching from the weight of the drink-laden tray, her hair in two braids and a kerchief around her forehead to keep the sweat out of her eyes. And always with Tony watching her suspiciously.
But it wasn't all bad. There was that period in the morning when she'd finished straightening the kiosk and lining up the lounge chairs and could sit quietly and look out at the ocean, waiting, at peace. Or at night when she walked down the shore toward the modest pension in the old part of Marbella, just like in the old days-centuries ago-in Melilla, when she closed up the Yamila. The hardest thing to get used to when she got out of El Puerto had been the bustle of the outside world, the noises, the traffic, the beaches full of people, the deafening music from the bars and discotheques, the flocks of people all along the coast from Torremolinos to Sotogrande. After a year and a half of strict routine and order, Teresa sometimes felt more uncomfortable on the outside than she'd felt behind bars. In prison, they told stories about inmates with long sentences who got out and then tried to find a way-that is, a crime-to get back into that single place in the world where they felt at home. Teresa never believed that, until one day, sitting in the same place where she was sitting now, smoking, she was suddenly swept by homesickness, if it could be called that, for the order and routine and silence of the life behind bars. Jail is home for nobody but the unfortunate of the earth, Patty had said once. For people who don't have any dreams.
Abbe Faria-Teresa had finished The Count of Monte Cristo and many other novels, and she was still buying books, which sat in piles around her room in the pension-was not one of those who considered prison home. On the contrary: the old prisoner had yearned to get out so that he could recover the life that had been stolen from him. Like Edmond Dantes, but too late. After thinking a lot about this, Teresa had come to the conclusion that the treasure that belonged to the two men was simply a pretext for staying alive, dreaming of escape, feeling that they were free despite the locks and bars and chains and walls of the Chateau d'If. And in the case of Lieutenant O'Farrell, the story of the cache of lost coca was also, in its way, a means of staying free-which may have been why Teresa never entirely believed it. Although now, when she was finally living in a world with real days, not just numbers on a calendar, she found that she wanted to believe in something. She wanted to have something just that clear-cut to live for.
Now what? she had asked herself as she'd stepped into the street outside the prison. The answer had come from O'Farrell, who sent her to some friends who owned kiosks on the beaches at Marbella. "They won't ask questions or exploit you too much," she'd said. "Or fuck you if you don't want them to." The job made Teresa's parole possible-she still had more than a year of her debt to society to pay off, and the only limitation on her was that she stay in one place and make an appearance once a week at the local police station. The job also paid enough for a room in a pension on Calle San Lazaro, some books and clothes, food, tobacco, a few sniffs of coke from time to time-and the packages of Moroccan chocolate for spiking the Bisontes she smoked in her room at night or during slow hours on the beach, like now.
A seagull dropped down, watchfully gliding near the shore. It skimmed the surface of the water and flew out seaward without finding anything. Fuck you, thought Teresa, inhaling, as she watched it fly away. Fucking wolf with wings. She'd once liked seagulls; she had considered them romantic, until she got to know them on the trips back and forth across the Strait in the Phantom, and especially one afternoon, in the early days, when something went wrong with the engine in the middle of the ocean. They had both tried to get the engine started, and Santiago stayed at it while she lay down to rest, watching the gulls circle lazily nearby. He warned her to cover her face, because gulls were known, he said, to peck at people if they fell asleep. The memory came back with crystal-clear images: the quiet water, the seagulls floating on the water around the drifting speedboat or gliding and fluttering above it, and Santiago aft, working on the engine, covered with grease to his elbows, his naked torso with the tattoo of Christ on one arm, on the other those initials-whose, she never found out.
She inhaled several times more, letting the hash spread slowly through her veins, toward her heart and brain. She tried not to think much about
Santiago, just as she tried to keep her headaches at bay by taking a couple of aspirin before it was too late and the pain moved in for hours, shrouding her in an exhausting cloud of queasiness and unreality.
Generally she managed not to think too much, period, about Santiago or anybody or anything. She had discovered too many uncertainties and horrors lurking in every thought that went beyond the here and now, or the practical. Sometimes, especially when she was lying awake at night, she couldn't keep herself from remembering. But as long as she didn't actually think, the remembering would give her no more than a sensation of movement toward nowhere, like a boat adrift. That was why she now smoked hashish. The smoke in her lungs-which may have traveled with me in twenty-kilo bundles from Morocco, she sometimes thought, amused by the paradox, when she scraped around in her pocket to pay for a miserable little bag of it-accentuated that sense she had of drifting off, drifting away. It brought with it not consolation or indifference, but rather a gentle stupor. It made her unsure that it was she herself she was remembering, as though there were several Teresas lurking in her memory, none with any direct relation to the Teresa of today.
Maybe it's that this is life, she would tell herself, confused and puzzled. Maybe old age, when it comes, is about looking back and seeing the many strangers that you have been and in whom you can't quite recognize yourself. With that idea in her head, sometimes she took out the torn photograph and looked at it, realizing that the features of the man that had been torn from the photo mixed in her memory with those of Santiago Fisterra, as though the two of them had been one. It was the opposite of what happened with the girl in the photo, the one with the big black eyes, who had shattered into so many different women that it was no longer possible to re-compose her into just one.
These were Teresa's thoughts from time to time, until she realized that they were, or could be, the trap. So from then on she seized at the recourse of keeping her mind blank-allowing the smoke to run slowly through her blood and the tequila to calm her with its familiar taste. Those women who resembled her, those other Teresas, were falling into the past, floating like dead leaves on water.
That was also why she read so much, now. Reading, she'd learned in prison, especially novels, allowed her to inhabit her mind in a new way-as though by blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, she might witness her own life as if it were happening to somebody else. Besides teaching her things, reading helped her think differently, or think better, because on the page, others did it for her. Although it was also true that with novels you could apply your point of view to every situation or character. Even to the voice that told the story: sometimes it would be that of a narrator, either with a name or anonymous, and sometimes it would be your own. She had discovered with surprise and pleasure that as she turned each page, the book was written, as though for the first time, all over again.
When she got out of El Puerto, Teresa had continued to read, and her choices were guided by intuitions, tides, first lines, cover illustrations. So now, in addition to her leather-bound Monte Cristo, she had her own books, which she bought one by one, cheap editions that she found at street markets or in used-book shops, or pocket books that she bought after giving spin after spin to those revolving racks. She would read novels written long ago by men and women whose portraits were sometimes on the back cover or the flap of the dust jacket, and also modern novels about love, adventure, travel. Of all she had read, her favorites were Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon, by a Brazilian writer named Jorge Amado; Anna Karenina, about the life of a Russian aristocrat, written by another Russian; and A Tale of Two Cities, which made her cry at the end, when the brave Englishman-Sydney Carton was his name-consoled the frightened young woman by taking her hand as she walked toward the guillotine. She also read that book about a doctor married to a millionaire that Patty had suggested she leave till later, and another, very strange one, hard to understand, that had drawn her in because from the first moment she recognized the land and the language and the soul of the characters that ran through its pages. The book was called Pedro Paramo, and although Teresa never fully unlocked its mysteries, she returned to it over and over again, opening it at random to reread a few pages. The way the words flowed fascinated her, as though she had peered into an unknown, shadowy, magical place that was related to something she herself possessed-she was sure of that-in some dark part of her blood and memory: I came to Comala because I was told that my father, a certain Pedro Paramo, was living there…
So after a great deal of reading in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Teresa went on adding books to her inner library, one after another, on her free day each week, on nights when sleep would not come. Even the familiar fear of the gray light of dawn could be held at bay, sometimes, if she opened the book that always lay on the night table.
Tony arrived. Still young, with a beard, a ring in each ear, his skin tan
from many Marbella summers. A T-shirt with the Osborne bull on it. A beach professional-or beach bum, perhaps, living off tourists, with no apologies. No apparent emotions at all. In the time she'd been there, Teresa had never seen him angry or in a particularly good mood, excited or disappointed, and certainly never cheery. He managed the kiosk with dispassionate efficiency, earned good money, was courteous with the customers and inflexible with the bores and troublemakers. Under the counter, he kept a baseball bat for emergencies, and he served the municipal police that patrolled the beaches snifters of cognac in the morning and gin and tonics when they were off duty. When Teresa came to meet him, shortly after getting out of El Puerto, Tony looked at her long and hard and said he'd give her a job because a friend had asked him to. "But no drugs, no alcohol in front of the customers, no picking them up or letting them pick you up, no sticking your hand in the cash drawer, or I'll throw you out on the fucking street. And if you stick your hand in the cash drawer, I'll also bust your face. The hours are eight to eight, plus the time it takes you to pick up after we close. Take it or leave it."
Teresa had taken it. She needed a legal gig in order to satisfy the conditions of her parole, and eat, and sleep under a dry roof. And Tony and his kiosk were as good or bad as anything else.
She finished smoking the basuco, burning the tips of her fingers, and then finished off the tequila and orange juice in one long gulp. The first swimmers were beginning to arrive, with their towels and their suntan lotion. The guy with the fishing rod was still down on the shoreline, and the sun was rising higher and higher, warming the sand. A nice-looking man was doing exercises down past the lounge chairs, gleaming with sweat like a horse after a long race. She could almost smell his skin. Teresa stood watching him for a while-his flat stomach, his back muscles flexing with each push-up or twist of his torso. Once in a while he would pause to catch his breath, looking down at the ground as though he were thinking, and she watched him with her own thoughts running around and around in her head. Flat stomachs, back muscles. Men with bronzed, weather-beaten skin smelling of sweat, jealous under their pants. Chale. It was so easy to catch them, and yet so hard, despite everything, despite how predictable they were. And so simple to become a mere "girlfriend," an appendage, a nothing, when you thought with your pussy, or even when you just thought so much that finally it was all the same, you were stupid from being so fucking smart. Since she'd been on the outside again, Teresa had had only one sexual encounter: a young waiter at a kiosk on the other end of the beach, one Saturday night when instead of heading off for her room she stayed around, drinking a few drinks and smoking a couple of joints while she sat on the sand and watched the lights of the fishing boats in the distance and dared herself not to remember. The waiter's timing when he came up to her was perfect, and he was cute, clever, and funny enough to make her laugh, so they wound up a couple of hours later in his car, parked in an abandoned lot near the bullring. It was an encounter that just happened, and Teresa went into it with more curiosity than real desire-she watched herself, absorbed in her own reactions and emotions. The first man in a year and a half-something many of the girls in the prison would have given months of freedom for.
But she picked the wrong place and the wrong company. Those lights out on the black ocean, she later decided, were to blame. The waiter, a kid who resembled the man doing exercises down by the lounge chairs-no doubt why this memory had come to her now-was selfish and clumsy, and the condom that she made him put on after looking for a good long time for a pharmacy open at that hour didn't make things any better. It was so uncomfortable inside the car that she had to struggle even to unzip her jeans.
When they finished, the kid was visibly ready to go home and get some sleep, and Teresa was unsatisfied and furious with herself-more furious still with the silent woman who looked back at her from behind the red cigarette-ember in the car window: a luminous dot like those on the fishing boats that worked all night, and on the boats in her memory. So she pulled on her jeans again, got out of the car, said, So long, nice knowing you. She hadn't even caught the kid's name, and if it mattered to him, then que chingue a su madre.
That same night, when she got to her room, Teresa took a long, hot shower, and then she got drunk and lay naked on her bed, facedown-so drunk that she vomited, long arcs of bile-and fell asleep at last with one hand between her thighs, her fingers inside her sex. She could hear the distant sound of Cessnas and speedboat engines, and the voice of Luis Miguel singing from the cassette player on the night table. If they let us, if they let us, we will love each other all our lives.
She woke up that same night, shivering in the darkness, because she had finally discovered, in a dream, what was going on in that little Mexican novel by Juan Rulfo. It was the one she'd never quite understood before, no matter how hard she'd tried. I came to Comala because I was told that my father, a certain Pedro Paramo, was living there…
Hijole! The characters in that story were all dead, but they just didn't know it.
"Youve got a phone call," Tony said.
Teresa put the dirty glasses in the sink, set the tray on the counter, and went down to the end of the bar. It was the butt-end of a long, hot, hard day: thirsty men, women in dark sunglasses with their pussies in the sun- some of them had no shame-ordering beers and drinks all day; and her head was splitting and her feet burned from walking back and forth from the bar to the lounge chairs over the hot coals of the sand, waiting on table after table, and sweating like crazy in the blinding glare of that blast oven. It was late afternoon, and some of the bathers were beginning to leave the beach, but she still had a couple of hours of work ahead of her.
She dried her hands on her apron and picked up the telephone. Nobody had called her since she'd gotten out of El Puerto, either at the kiosk or anywhere else, nor could she imagine why anybody would do so now. Tony must have been thinking the same thing, because he watched her out of the corner of his eye as he dried glasses and lined them up on top of the bar.
"Hello," she said warily.
She recognized the voice at the first word, with no need for the person to say, It's me. A year and a half hearing that voice day and night had engraved it in her memory. So she smiled and then laughed out loud, almost joyously. 'Orale, mi teniente! How great to hear your voice. How's life treating you? She was truly happy to hear that self-assured, composed tone of voice, that person who took things as they came. That person who knew herself and other people as well, because she knew how to look at them, and she had learned even more from people's silences than from their words. At the same time, in one part of her mind, Teresa thought, Chale, I wish I could talk like that, dial a telephone number after all this time and say, How's it hanging, Mexicanita, you silly bitch you, I hope you've missed me while you were screwing half of Marbella, now that nobody's watching you. We going to see each other, or have you moved on?
Teresa asked whether she was really out, and Patty O'Farrell laughed and said, "Of course I'm out, silly, out three days ago, and going from one homecoming to another-I don't sleep, and then they wake me up again! And every time I catch my breath or regain consciousness I've tried to find your telephone number-and I finally found it, about time, huh?-so I could tell you that those fucking dyke guards could not keep the old Abbe down, and that they can finally shove the Chateau d'lf up their asses, and that it's about time for Edmond Dantes and his friend Faria to have a long, civilized conversation somewhere where the sun doesn't come in through bars. So I thought you could take a bus, or a taxi if you've got some money, or whatever, and come to Jerez, because tomorrow they're throwing me a little party and the truth is, without you, parties are weird. How about that, puss? Jail-house habits are hard to break, huh? So, you coming or not?"
It was quite a party. A party at a country house in Jerez, what the Spaniards called a cortijo, one of those places where it took you forever to get from the archway at the entrance of the grounds to the house itself, at the end of a long gravel driveway, with expensive cars parked at the door and walls of red-ocher plaster and windows with wrought-iron grilles that reminded Teresa-this is where they come from, she realized-of old Mexican haciendas. The place was like one of those houses in the magazines: rustic furniture ennobled by antiquity, dark paintings on the walls, terracotta floors, beamed ceilings. And a hundred or so guests drinking and talking in two large rooms and out on the terrace with its grape arbor extending toward the rear, a roofed bar to one side, an enormous wood-fired grill, and a pool. The sun was just setting, and the dusty dull gold light gave an almost material consistency to the warm air, out on the horizon of green vineyards softly rising and falling into the distance. "I like your house," Teresa said. "I wish it was mine." "But it belongs to your family." "There's a big difference between my family and me." They were sitting under the grape arbor, in wooden chairs with linen-upholstered cushions, each with a glass in hand, looking at the people milling about nearby. Everything in keeping, Teresa decided, with the place and the cars at the door. At first she'd been ill at ease in her jeans and high heels and simple blouse, especially when some people looked at her strangely when she arrived, but Patty O'Farrell-in a mauve cotton dress, pretty embossed sandals, her blond hair cut short as she always wore it-reassured her. "Here," she said, "everybody dresses the way they want to. And you look terrific. That hair pulled back so tight, with the part down the middle, looks wonderful on you. Very native. You never wore it like that in lockup." "In lockup I didn't go to any parties." "Oh, yes you did!"
And the two of them laughed, remembering. There was tequila, Teresa discovered, and alcohol of all kinds, and uniformed servants moving about with trays of hors d'oeuvres. Perfect. Two flamenco guitarists were playing at the center of a group of guests. The music, happy and melancholy at the same time, rising and falling in gusts of sound, fit the place and the landscape in the background. Sometimes the people listening clapped, and some of the young women danced, arms high, fingers snapping, heels tapping, pretending to be Gypsies, and then conversed with their companions. Teresa envied the self-possession that allowed them to move about like that, greet people, talk, smoke in that distinguished way that Patty also had, one arm across their lap, one hand holding the other elbow, the arm vertical, the smoking cigarette between their fingers. This may not have been the highest of high society, she concluded, but it was fascinating to watch them-they were so different from the people she'd met in Culiacan with Guero Davila, thousands of years and miles from her most recent past and from what she was, or ever would be. Even Patty seemed an unreal link between those different worlds. That's the way you're supposed to act, she decided, and I wish I could learn how. And how nice to be able to observe it all, so unimportant and invisible that nobody even noticed you.
Most of the male guests were over forty, with dark jackets, good shoes and watches, and informal touches-open shirts, no tie. Their skin was tanned, and not exactly from working in the fields. As for the women, there were two definite types: good-looking girls with long legs, some a little ostentatious in their clothing and jewelry, and others that were better dressed, more sober, with fewer adornments and makeup, on whom plastic surgery and money-one permitted by the other-sat very naturally. Patty's sisters belonged to that second group: nose jobs, facelifts, blond hair with tips and streaks, that marked Andalucian accent that betokened good breeding, elegant hands that had never washed a dish, designer clothes. Around fifty the older one, forty-something the other, Teresa figured. They resembled Patty from the front-the oval faces, the way they twisted their mouths when they talked or smiled. They'd looked Teresa up and down with that same arching of the eyebrows-two circumflexes that took her in and put her down in mere seconds-before returning to their social obligations and their guests.
"Pigs," Patty muttered when they'd turned their backs, just as Teresa was thinking, Orale, what was I thinking, wearing this smuggler outfit. I should have worn something else, the silver bracelets and a skirt instead of jeans and heels and this old blouse that they looked at like it was a dishrag.
"The older one," Patty said, "is married to a lazy idiotic bum, that potbellied bald guy laughing like a hyena in that group over there, and the other one kisses up to my father the way he likes it. Although the truth is, they both kiss his ass."
"Is your father here?"
"Good god, of course not." Patty crinkled her nose elegantly, her whisky on the rocks halfway to her mouth. "That old cabron lives under glass in his apartment in Jerez… He's allergic to the country." She laughed maliciously. "Pollen and all that."
"Why did you invite me?"
Without looking at her, Patty finished raising her glass to her lips. "I thought," she said, her lips moist, "that you'd like to have a drink with me."
"There are bars to have drinks in. And this is not my scene."
Patty set her glass down on the table and lit a cigarette, although the previous one was still burning in the ashtray.
"Mine, either. Or at least not entirely." She looked around contemptuously. "My sisters are absolute imbeciles-throwing a party to welcome me back into society. Instead of hiding me, they show me off, get it? That way they can act like they're not ashamed of the lost sheep… Tonight they'll go to bed with their cunts cold and their consciences easy, like they always do."
"Maybe you're being unfair to them. Maybe they're really glad."
"Unfair?… Here?" She bit her lower lip with an unpleasant smile. "Would you believe it if I told you that nobody has yet to ask me how it was for me in prison?… Taboo subject. Just, Hey, sweetheart. Kiss, kiss. Like I'd been on vacation in the Caribbean."
Her tone was lighter than in El Puerto, Teresa thought. More flighty, frivolous; more talkative. She says the same things and in the same way, but there's something different, as though here she feels the need to give me explanations that in our former life were unnecessary. Teresa had been watching her from the first moment, when Patty stepped away from some people to greet her, and then when she left her alone a couple of times, going and coming among the guests. It took a minute to recognize her, to really believe it was her behind those smiles, the gestures of complicity with people who were strangers to Teresa, to really believe it was Patty accepting cigarettes, inclining her head while someone lit them for her.
When Patty returned and they went out to sit on the terrace, Teresa finally began to recognize her. And it was true that now she explained things more, justified them, as if unsure that Teresa would understand, or-the thought now struck Teresa-approve.
That possibility gave her something to think about. Maybe, she ventured after some reflection, the personal legends that work behind bars don't work on the outside, and once you're out you have to establish who you are all over again. Confirm it in the light of the street. Maybe Lieutenant O'Farrell is nobody here, or not what she really wants to be. And maybe, also, she's afraid that I'll realize that. My advantage is that I never knew what or who I was while I was on the inside, and so maybe that's why I'm not worried about what or who I am outside. I've got nothing to explain to anybody. Nothing to convince anybody about. Nothing to prove.
"You still haven't told me what I'm doing here," Teresa said.
Patty shrugged. The sun was lower now on the horizon, turning the air scarlet. Her short blond hair was set on fire in that light.
"I will-in due time." She half closed her eyes, looking into the distance. "For now, just enjoy this."
Maybe the change in Patty had some simple explanation, thought Teresa. A lieutenant without any troops, a retired general whose prestige goes unrecognized in the civilian world. Maybe she's invited me here because she needs me. Because I respect her and I know that period in her life, and these people don't. As far as they're concerned, she's just a society girl with a drug problem, a black sheep that these people-this family, this class-take in and tolerate because they never renounce their own in public, even if they hate them or hold them in contempt. Maybe that's why she needs company so much. She needs a witness. Somebody that knows, and that sees all this, and that can keep her mouth shut. Down deep, life is very fucking simple: You can divide people into those you're obliged to make conversation with while you have a drink, and those you can drink with for hours without saying a word, like Guero Davila did in that cantina in Culiacan. People who know, or intuit, enough for there to be no need for words, and who're behind you even if they're not totally with you. They're just there. And maybe this is that case, although I have no idea where that takes us. To what new variant on the word "solitude."
"To your health, Lieutenant."
"And to yours, Mexicana."
They clinked glasses. Teresa looked around, enjoying the fragrance of the tequila. In a group of guests near the pool she saw a tall young man-so tall he stood out from everyone around him. He was thin, with very black hair, slicked back and glistening, long and curly at the neck. He was wearing a dark suit, white shirt with no tie, shiny black shoes. The pronounced jaw and big curved nose gave him an interesting profile, like a skinny eagle. A guy with class, she thought. Like those super-Spaniard types one imagines from days gone by, aristocrats and hidalgos and all that-Malinche must have gone over to the other side for some reason-who probably never actually existed.
"Nice people here," Teresa said.
Patty turned to follow her eyes. "Oh god," she groaned. "Boring and more boring."
"They're your friends."
"I don't have any friends, my dear." Her voice had hardened a notch, more like in the old days.
"Chingale"-Teresa pulled her head back as though dodging a blow-"I thought you and I were."
Patty looked at her wordlessly and took a sip of her drink. Her eyes seemed to be laughing; there were wrinkles all around them. She finished her whisky, put the glass down on the table, and brought her cigarette to her lips without saying anything.
"Anyway," said Teresa after a moment, "the music is nice and the house is beautiful. They were worth the trip." She looked distractedly at the eagle-faced man, and once again Patty followed her gaze.
"Yeah?… Well, I hope you don't resign yourself to so little. Because this is nothing in comparison to what you could have."
Hundreds of crickets were chirping in the darkness. A lovely moon was rising, illuminating the grapevines, silvering every leaf; the walk lay white and curving before them. Behind them the lights of the enormous country house glimmered. The remains of the party had been cleared and the downstairs put in order for some time already, and now the mansion was silent. The last guests had said their good nights and Patty's sisters and brother-in-law were on their way back to Jerez after a nice heart-to-heart talk with Patty on the terrace, discussing her plans for the future, everyone uncomfortable and wanting the conversation over with. And the Lieutenant was right to the end-no one mentioned, even in passing, Patty's years in El Puerto de Santa Maria. Teresa, whom Patty had insisted stay over, wondered what in the world her former rackmate had on her mind that night.
Both of them had drunk quite a bit that evening, but not enough. So as silent servants had gone about magically eliminating all traces of the party, Patty had disappeared, then reappeared, surprise, surprise, with a gram of white powder that made their minds very clear and sharp indeed after it was razor-bladed into lines on the glass top of the table. Unbelievable stuff- stuff Teresa knew how to appreciate. Then, as clear-sighted and alert as though the day had just begun, they walked unhurriedly off toward the dark vineyards beyond the terrace. With no particular destination.
"I want you real awake for what I'm going to tell you," said Patty, recognizable again.
"I am very fucking awake," said Teresa. And she was prepared to listen. She had emptied another glass of tequila as they walked, and then had set the glass down at some point on the path. And being awake-she thought, without knowing what made her think it-was very much like being all right again. Like finding yourself unexpectedly at home in your own skin. Without thoughts, without memories. Just the immense night and the familiar voice speaking in a secretive whisper, as if someone might be crouching in the shadows, spying on them in that strange light silvering the broad vineyards. And she could also hear the chirping of the crickets, the sound of her friend's footsteps, and the swishing of her own bare feet-she had left her heels on the terrace-on the loose soil of the path. "… And that's the story," Patty concluded.
Well, I have no intention of thinking about your story now, Teresa told herself. I don't plan to consider or analyze anything tonight as long as the darkness lasts and there are stars up there, and the tequila and coke have got me feeling like this for the first time in so long. I don't know why you waited until today to tell me all this, or what you intend to do about it. I listened to that story of yours like I'd listen to a novel. And I prefer it that way, because otherwise I'd be forced to acknowledge the existence of the future. So let's agree that you told me a nice story, or rather finished telling me what you started whispering about when we were rackmates. Then I'll go back and sleep, and tomorrow, in the daylight, I'll start a new day.
And yet, Teresa admitted to herself, it was a good story. The boyfriend shot dead, the half-ton of coca that nobody ever found. Now, after the party, Teresa could picture the boyfriend, a guy like the ones she'd seen in the house, with a dark jacket and a shirt with no tie and all very elegant. Like the second or third generation of Colonia Chapultepec but better, spoiled like those society kids in Culiacan that drove to high school in their 4x4s escorted by bodyguards. A boyfriend who was lowlife and society at the same time- white powder dusting his nose a gram at a time, fucking other girls and letting her fuck other guys and other girls, too, and playing with fire until he got burned, getting mixed up in a world where fuck-ups-not to mention amateurism, with a litde bit of spoiled machismo stirred in-exacted a high price.
They killed him and two others, Patty had said, and Teresa knew better than many people what kind of fucked-up thing her friend was talking about. They killed him for lying to them and double-crossing them and not doing what he said he'd do, and it was bad luck, the worst, because the next day the Narcotics Division moved in, because the other half-ton of coca, they were following it real close, and they had bugged everything, down to the glass of water he gargled with after he brushed his teeth. The hit was done by the Russian mafia, who got kind of drastic when some bullnecked Boris wasn't happy with the boyfriend's explanations of the suspicious loss of half a shipment that had come into the port of Malaga in a single container. And those Communists recycled into gangsters tended to wipe the slate clean-after many fruitless attempts to recover the cargo, when their patience ran out, one of the boyfriend's partners had been found dead in his house in front of the TV, and the other was discovered out on the Cadiz-Seville highway. Patty's boyfriend got it as he was leaving a Chinese restaurant in Fuengirola, three in the head as he opened the car door, two by accident for her, since they thought she wasn't in the loop. But fuck being out of the loop-she was definitely in it. Because the boyfriend was one of those bigmouths that spill things before and after they come, or when they've got their nose in the powder. Which meant that at some point, in bed or after a few lines, he had told Patty that the stash of coke, the half a shipment, half a ton that everybody thought was lost and sold off on the black market, was still all packed up nice and neat and stashed in a cave on the coast near Cape Trafalgar, waiting for somebody to come and give it a lift home. And after the murder of her boyfriend and the others, the only person that knew the location was Patty. So when she got out of the hospital and the Narcotics Division guys were waiting for her in the parking lot, all that happened when they asked her about the famous half a ton was that her eyebrows went up practically to her hairline. What! I have no fucking idea what you're talking about, she said, looking them dead in the eye, one by one. And after a lot of subsequent huffing and puffing on their part, they believed her.
So what do you think, Mexicana?" "I don't think."
She had stopped, and Patty was looking at her. The light of the moon behind Patty fell on her shoulders and the crown of her head, whitening her short hair as though she'd suddenly gone gray.
"Make an effort."
"I don't want to. Not tonight."
A glow. A match and then a cigarette illuminating Lieutenant O'Farrell's chin and eyes. It's her again, thought Teresa. The old one.
"You really don't want to know why I've told you all this?" "I know why. You want to recover that stash of coke. And you want me to help you."
The ember glowed twice in silence. They began walking again. "You've done things like this," Patty insisted. "Incredible things. You know the places. You know how to get there and get back." "What about you?"
"I've got contacts. I know what to do afterward."
Teresa continued to refuse to think. It's important, she told herself. She was afraid that if she thought too much, she'd see the dark water, the lighthouse flashing in the distance again, or the black rock where Santiago was killed.
"It's dangerous to go there." Teresa surprised even herself, saying that. "Plus, if the owners find out…"
"There are no owners anymore. A lot of time has gone by. Nobody remembers."
"People remember things like that forever."
"Well, then," Patty said, and walked a few steps in silence, "we'll negotiate with whoever we need to."
Incredible things, she'd said. It was the first time Teresa had heard her say anything that sounded so much like respect. And she's not trying to do a snow job on me, Teresa told herself. She's capable of trying to manipulate me, but not this time. I know her, and I'm sure she was sincere.
"And what do I get out of it?"
"Half. Unless you prefer to go on being a waitress selling beer to tourists."
That nasty slash reawakened the heat, the T-shirt soaked with sweat, the suspicious look from Tony on the other side of the bar, her own animal exhaustion. The voices of the swimmers, the smell of bodies smeared with oils and creams. All that lay a four-hour bus ride from this stroll under the stars. A soft sound among the nearby branches interrupted her thoughts. A whir of wings, startling her.
"It's an owl," said Patty. "There are a lot of owls here. They hunt at night."
"What if the stash is not still there?" said Teresa.
And yet… she thought finally. And yet…
9- Women can, too
It had rained all morning, heavy sheets that raised foggy spatters in the surf, with gusts of wind that drove the rain and blotted out the gray silhouette of Cape Trafalgar. With the rubber dinghy and outboard motor sitting useless on the trailer, they smoked on the beach, inside the Land Rover, listening to music, watching the water run down the windshield and the hours pass on the dashboard clock. Patricia O'Farrell was in the driver's seat, Teresa in the other, with a thermos of coffee, bottles of water, packets of tobacco, thick ham and white cheese on good dense rolls with thick golden crust, notebooks with hand-drawn maps, and a nautical chart of the area, the most detailed one Teresa could find. The sky was still dingy gray-the tail end of a spring that was resisting the coming of summer- and the low clouds were scudding toward the east, but the ocean, an undulating, leaden surface, was calmer, and the only whitecaps were breakers on the rocks, farther down the coast.
"We can go now" said Teresa.
They got out of the Land Rover, stretching their stiff muscles as they walked along the wet sand, and then they opened the tailgate and took out the wetsuits. There was still a light, intermittent drizzle, and Teresa got goosebumps when she took off her clothes. It's cold as hell, she thought. She pulled the tight neoprene pants on over her bathing suit, and zipped up the vest without pulling the hood up over her hair, which was gathered into a ponytail. Two girls going scuba diving in this weather, she said to herself. Gimme a break. Although if somebody is stupid enough to be out in this weather, I guess they'll buy it.
She saw her friend nod without taking her eyes off the enormous gray expanse that undulated out there in front of them. Patty was not used to this kind of situation, but she took it all with reasonable aplomb-not too much chatter, or nerves, at least that you could see. She just looked preoccupied, although Teresa had noticed how many cigarettes she'd smoked while they were waiting, one after another. She had one in her mouth now, wet with mist, and she squinted as she pulled the wetsuit up onto her legs. And she'd had a snort just before they got out of the car, a precise ritual, a new bill rolled up, two lines on the plastic sleeve that held the automobile registration.
But Teresa wouldn't join her this time. It was another kind of alertness she needed, she thought as she finished gathering up her equipment, mentally reviewing the chart that she had studied for so long it was engraved on her memory: the line of the coast; the curve toward the south, toward Barbate; the steep, rocky cliff at the end of the clean beach. And there, not on the chart but pointed out very carefully by Patty, the two large caves and one small one hidden between them, inaccessible from land and hardly visible from the sea-the Marrajos Caves.
"Let's go," Teresa said. "We've only got four hours of daylight."
They put their backpacks-zip-lock bags, knives, lengths of nylon rope, waterproof flashlights-and their harpoons in the rubber boat, for appearance' sake, and after unbuckling the belts on the trailer, dragged the boat down to the shore. It was a nine-foot gray rubber Zodiac. The gas tank was full, and the fifteen-horsepower Mercury, checked by Teresa the previous day, like back in the old days, was ready. They fitted it onto the motor brackets and tightened the wing nuts. Everything in order, the motor horizontal and the propeller up. Then, one on each side, pulling on the safety lines, they dragged it into the water.
In cold water up to her waist, pushing the inflatable raft outside the breakers, Teresa made an effort not to think about the past. She wanted her memories to bring her nothing but useful experience, essential technical knowledge, not to burden her with dead weight.
Patty helped her climb aboard as she scaled the slippery rubber. The sea was pushing them toward the beach. Teresa started the engine on the first try, a quick, sharp tug on the rope. The noise cheered her heart. Here we are again, she thought. For good or ill. She told Patty to go forward to balance the weight, and she herself settled down beside the motor, steering the boat away from shore and then toward the black rock down at the end of the sandy beach, which shone silvery-white in the gray light. The Zodiac handled well. Teresa steered it the way Santiago had taught her, dodging the crests, bow into the sea and then sliding down the other face of the waves. Enjoying it. Chale, even like this, nasty, choppy, gray, the ocean was beautiful. With delight she inhaled the wet air that brought memories of salt spray, scarlet sunsets, stars, night hunts, lights on the horizon, Santiago's impassive profile silhouetted in the helicopter's spotlight, the HJ's flashing blue eye, the bounces on the black water jolting her kidneys. How sad everything was, yet how beautiful. Now there was still a fine misty drizzle, and gusts of salt spray pelted her face. She looked at Patty, dressed in the blue neoprene that clung to her figure: she was gazing out at the water and the black rocks without entirely concealing her apprehension. If you only knew, carnalita, thought Teresa. If only you'd seen the things I've seen on these seas.
But Patty was a trouper. They'd talked a hundred times about the consequences if things went south, including the possibility that the half-ton of coke wasn't there at all. Lieutenant O'Farrell had her obsession, and she had balls. Maybe that was the least reassuring thing about her-too much balls and too big an obsession. That, Teresa thought, didn't always go hand in hand with the cool head this kind of business called for. On the beach, while they were waiting in the Land Rover, Teresa had realized something: Patty was a companion, even a partner, but not a solution. However this ended, there was a long stretch that Teresa would have to travel by herself; nobody was going to make the trip any easier.
Although she could never quite pin down how it happened, the dependency that Teresa had felt up to now, on everything and everybody-or rather, her stubborn belief in that dependency-began to change into a certainty that she really was an orphan in the world. The conviction had begun to form in prison, in those last months, and maybe the books she'd read had had something to do with it, the hours spent lying awake, waiting for the sun to come up, the reflections that the peace of that time brought to her head. Then she'd gotten out, and was once again alive and in the world. And the time that had passed working at the beach kiosk, in what turned out to be just another wait, only confirmed the truth.
But she'd been aware of none of this until the night of the party at the estate in Jerez. As they were walking through the dark vineyards and she heard Patty speak the word "future," Teresa saw in a kind of flash that Patty was perhaps not the stronger of the two. Just as hundreds of years earlier, in another life, Guero Davila and Santiago Fisterra had not been, either. It might be that ambition, plans, dreams, even bravery, or faith-even faith in God, she decided, shivering-didn't give you strength, but took it away. Because hope, even the mere desire to survive, made a person vulnerable, bound to possible pain and defeat. Maybe that was the basic difference between some human beings and others, and that was the case with her. Maybe Edmond Dantes was wrong, and the only solution was not to trust, and not to hope.
The cave was hidden behind huge boulders that had fallen off the cliff face. Teresa and Patty had done reconnaissance four days earlier: from thirty feet up, standing on the cliff's edge, Teresa had studied and made a note of every rock, taking advantage of the clear day, the clean, calm water, to consider the bottom, its irregularities, and the way to approach the cave by sea without having a sharp edge underwater puncture the Zodiac.
And now they were there, swaying in the water while Teresa, with light touches on the gas and zigzagging adjustments of the tiller, tried to stay clear of the rocks and find a safer way in. Finally she realized that the Zodiac could make it into the cave only in calm water, so she steered toward the larger opening to the left. And there, beneath the overhang of the cave entrance, in a place where the ebb and flow wouldn't push them against the cliff face, she told Patty to drop the folding grapnel, which was tied to the end of a thirty-foot line. Then they both slid down the sides of the boat into the water and swam with another line to the rocks, which the swell covered and uncovered with each movement. They floated easily, thanks to their wetsuits.
When they reached the rocks, Teresa tied the line to one, warning Patty to be careful of the sea-urchin spines, and then they made their way slowly along the rocky coast, from the big cave to the smaller one, wading in water that rose and fell from their waists to their chests. Sometimes a breaking wave forced them to hold on to something so as not to lose their footing, and then their hands were cut and scratched by the sharp rocks, or they could feel the tugging at the neoprene around their elbows and knees. It was Teresa who, after looking down from the top, had insisted on the suits. "They'll keep us warmer," she said, "and without them we'll get cut to ribbons."
"Here it is." Patty pointed. "Just the way Jimmy described it… The arch up above, the three big rocks, and that little one. See?… We've got to swim in to where it gets shallow, and then we can stand."
Her voice echoed in the large opening. There was a strong smell of rotting seaweed, the mossy rocks that the swells constantly covered and uncovered. The two turned away from the light and pushed forward into the semidarkness. Inside, the water was calmer; they could still see the bottom clearly when it fell away and they had to swim a few yards. Almost at the end of the cave they found some sand, scattered pebbles, and shreds of dead seaweed. That far in, it was dark.
"I need a goddamn cigarette," Patty muttered.
They waded out of the water and fished cigarettes out of the waterproof pockets of their packs. They smoked for a while, looking at one another. The arc of light at the entrance was reflected in the water until about halfway in, and it cast a grayish light over them. Wet, their hair stringy, fatigue on their faces. Now what? they seemed to ask each other silently.
"I hope it's still there," Patty whispered.
They stayed where they were long enough to finish their cigarettes. If a half-ton of cocaine was really just steps away, nothing in their lives would ever be the same once they'd covered that distance. And both of them knew it.
"Orale, there's still time, carnalita."
"Time for what?"
Teresa smiled, turning her thought into a joke. "Well, I'm not sure. Maybe to not find out."
Patty smiled, too, distantly. Her mind was already a few steps farther ahead. "Don't be stupid," she said.
Teresa squatted down to look for something in the backpack at her feet. She had loosened her hair, and the ends were dripping water inside the pack. She took out her flashlight.
"You know something?" she said, testing it.
"No. But you'll tell me."
"I think there are dreams that can kill you." The walls, now lighted by the flashlight, were of black rock, and stalactites could be seen hanging from the ceiling. "More than people, or disease, or time."
"So nothing. Just occurred to me, that's all. A minute ago."
Patty didn't look at her; she was hardly paying attention. She had picked up her own flashlight, and had turned toward the rocks at the rear of the cave, lost in thought.
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
A distracted question, not interested in a reply. Teresa didn't answer. She looked at her friend attentively, because her voice, even if you took into account the effect of the echo inside the cave, sounded strange. I hope she hasn't decided to shoot me in the back, in this treasure cave, like pirates in some book, Teresa said to herself, only half amused. Despite the absurdity of the idea, she caught herself looking down at the reassuring handle of the diving knife sticking up out of her open pack. Jesus, no need to creep yourself out. And she kept telling herself that as they collected their equipment, slung their packs over their backs, and walked carefully farther in, their flashlights illuminating the rocks and seaweed. The floor rose gently toward the rear.
Two shafts of light revealed a dogleg to the left. Down it were more pebbles and rocks and dead seaweed-thick carpets of it washed up against a hole in the cave wall.
"It would have to be in there," said Patty.
Hijole, Teresa suddenly realized: Lieutenant O'Farrell's voice is quivering.
'I gotta admit," said Nino Juarez, "that it was a very ballsy thing to do." There was nothing about the former head of the DOCS-the organized-crime unit for the Costa del Sol-that would have led one to take him for a cop. Or even an ex-cop. He was a small, thin man, almost fragile. He had a sparse blond beard and wore a gray suit, no doubt very expensive, with a silk tie-and-handkerchief combination, and a Patek Philippe on his left wrist, under the French cuff of his pink-and-white-striped shirt with its designer cuff link. He looked like he'd just stepped out of the pages of a men's fashion magazine, although he'd actually come straight from his office on Madrid's Gran Via. "Saturnino G. Juarez," read the business card I'd put in my wallet. "Director of Internal Security." And in one corner was the logo of a chain of department stores with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales.
Life's little ironies, I thought. After the scandal a few years earlier that cost Juarez-then known simply as Nino Juarez, or Chief Juarez-his career, here he was again: impeccable, triumphant, with that interpolated G. that gave his name a new respectability and this new look of a man with money coming out his ears, not to mention new power, new influence, new influential friends, and more men and materiel under his command than ever before. You never ran into men like him in the unemployment lines; they knew too much about people, sometimes more than people knew about themselves. The articles in the press, the file at Internal Affairs, the decision from National Police Headquarters relieving him of service, the five months in jail in Alcala-Meco-that was all old news. How lucky to have friends. Old comrades-in-arms who return favors, and who have money or good contacts for securing them. There's no better unemployment insurance than a list of the skeletons in people's closets. Especially if you'd helped people hide them there.
"Where should we begin?" he asked, trying his appetizer.
"At the beginning."
"Then it's going to be a long lunch."
We were in Casa Lucio, in the Cava Baja. Not only was I paying for his lunch-huevos con patatas, tenderloin of beef, a Vina Pedrosa '96-I had also, in a sense, bought his presence there. I did it my own way, using some of my old tactics. After his second refusal to talk about Teresa Mendoza, but before he'd had the chance to tell his secretary not to put through any more of my calls, I put it to him straight out. "With you or without you," I said, "the story is going to get told. So you can choose between being in the story-your role described in explicit detail, down to a photograph of your first communion-or staying out of it and wiping the sweat off your forehead with a great deal of relief."
"And what else?" he asked.
"Not a cent," I replied. "But I'd be delighted to buy you dinner-and dessert. You gain a friend, or almost a friend, and I owe you one. You never know… So what do you think?" He was smart enough to think just what I thought, so we agreed on the terms: nothing compromising attributed to him, few dates or details that could be traced back to him.
And there we were. It's always easy to come to an agreement with a son of a bitch. What's hard is the other ones-but there aren't many of those.
"The half-ton part is true," Juarez confirmed. "High-quality stuff, hardly cut at all. Brought in by the Russian mafia, who at the time were beginning to get a foothold on the Costa del Sol and open up their first contacts with the South American narcos. That load had been the first big operation, and when it failed, it put a damper on the Colombian connection for a long time… Everybody figured the half-ton was lost, and the guys from South America were laughing at the Russkis for whacking O'Farrell's boyfriend and his two partners without making them talk first… 'I ain't doin' any more business with amateurs,' Pablo Escobar was reputed to have said when he heard what happened. And now all of a sudden the Mexicana and the O'Farrell chick show up with five hundred keys out of thin air."
"How did they get their hands on the cocaine?"
"That I don't know. Nobody found out, as far as I know. But whatever- it showed up on the Russian market, or rather started showing up. And it was Oleg Yasikov that brought it there."
I had that name in my notes: Oleg Yasikov, born in Solntsevo, a mafioso neighborhood in Moscow. Military service with what was still the Soviet army in Afghanistan. Owner of discotheques, hotels, and restaurants on the Costa del Sol. And Nino Juarez filled in the rest of the picture for me. Yasikov had washed up on the Malaga coast in the late eighties-thirty-something, polyglot, quick-witted, just stepped off an Aeroflot flight with S35 million to spend. He started by buying a disco in Marbella that he named Jadranka, which took off right away, and within a couple of years he was the boss of a solid money-laundering infrastructure based on hotels and real estate, apartments and big pieces of land near the coast. A second line of businesses, created around the disco, consisted of heavy investments in Marbella nightlife, with bars, restaurants, and luxury whorehouses staffed by Slavic women brought in directly from Eastern Europe. All very clean, or almost clean: low-profile money-laundering only. But the DOCS had confirmed his ties to the Babushka, a powerful Solntsevo organization made up of ex-cops and Afghanistan veterans who specialized in extortion, stolen cars, smuggling, and white slavery and who were very interested in branching out into the drug trade. The group already had one hook-up in northern Europe: a sea route that linked Buenaventura, in Colombia, with Saint Petersburg via Goteborg, in Sweden, and Kotka, in Finland. And Yasikov was given the assignment of, among other things, exploring an alternative route through the eastern Mediterranean, a hook-up that would be independent of the French and Italian mafias that the Russians had used up till then as intermediaries. That was the context.
The first contacts with the Colombian narcos-the Medellin cartel, specifically-consisted of simple trades of arms for cocaine, with very little money changing hands: shipments of Kalashnikovs and RPGs from Russian arms depots. But things never quite jelled. The lost drugs were just one of several fuck-ups that had made Yasikov and his Moscow associates… uncomfortable, shall we say. And all of a sudden, when Yasikov and his friends had almost forgotten about them, those five hundred keys fell out of the sky on them.
"I've been told that the Mexicana and the other girl went directly to Yasikov, to negotiate," Juarez explained. "In person, with a sample, a package still in the original wrapper… Apparently, the Russian took it hard at first and then really badly. But the O'Farrell chick stood up to him-she told him she'd paid her debt already, that the bullets that hit her when her boyfriend got whacked had reset the counter to zero. That they'd played the game straight, and now they wanted their reward."
"Why didn't O'Farrell and Teresa just distribute the drugs wholesale themselves?"
"There was too much of it for beginners to handle. And Yasikov would not have liked it."
"Was it that easy to tell where it came from?"
"Sure." With expert motions of his knife and fork, the ex-cop cut himself a bite of the tenderloin served on a pottery plate. "Everybody knew whose girlfriend O'Farrell had been."
"Tell me about the boyfriend."
"The boyfriend's name"-Juarez grinned contemptuously as he cut again-"was Jaime Arenas, Jimmy, to his friends. From a good family in Seville. Pansy-ass, if you'll pardon the French. High-dollar interests in Mar-bella and family business dealings in South America. He was ambitious and he thought very highly of himself-thought he was smarter than those stupid drug lords, you know. So when he got his hands on that cocaine, he decided to play a little game with the tovarich fellow. Hadn't dared try anything like that with Pablo Escobar, but the Russians didn't have the reputation back then that they have now. Thick-necked apes, I imagine he figured them for. So he put the snow in hiding while he negotiated an increase in his commission, despite the fact that Yasikov had already paid cash money to the Colombians for their part-this time there'd been more cash than weapons. Jimmy started making excuses, beating around the bush, not taking phone calls, until the Russian finally lost his patience. Lost it so bad that he whacked Jimmy and his two partners, all at the same time.
"The Russians were never very subtle." Juarez clucked his tongue critically. "And they're probably less so now."
"How did Yasikov and Jimmy Arenas ever get hooked up in the first place?"
Juarez pointed his fork at me, as though congratulating me on the question. Back then, he explained, the Russian gangsters had one major problem. Like now, but more so. Which is that they stuck out like sore thumbs. You could see them a mile away: big, gruff, blond, with those ham hands and those cars and those showy whores always on their arms. Not to mention how truly pitiful they were at languages. The minute they set foot in Miami or any other American airport, the DEA and the state and local police were on their ass like the spandex on those whores. So they needed intermediaries, fronts, that kind of thing.
Jimmy Arenas played the part pretty well at the beginning; he started out by getting them liquor from Jerez to smuggle into northern Europe. He also had good contacts in Latin America, and he muled for the hot discos in Marbella, Fuengirola, and Torremolinos. But the Russkis wanted their own networks: import-export. The Babushka, Yasikov's friends in Moscow, could already get blow wholesale by using Aeroflot flights from Montevideo, Lima, and Bahia, which weren't under the same kind of surveillance as the ones from Rio or Havana. So half-kilo shipments could be smuggled in via the airport at Cheremetievo on an individual basis, but the pipeline was too narrow. The Berlin Wall had just come down, the Soviet Union was crumbling, and coke was the hot thing in the new Russia of fast and easy money.
"And we now know that the Russians had not underestimated the market," Juarez went on. "Just to give you an idea of the demand, a gram sold today in a disco in Saint Petersburg or Moscow is worth thirty or forty percent more than in the U.S."
The ex-cop chewed his last mouthful of meat, then helped it down with a long sip of wine.
"Imagine," he went on, "Comrade Yasikov scratching his head trying to figure out a way to thread the needle big-time again. And all of a sudden a half-ton of coke appears that doesn't require setting up a whole operation from Colombia-it's right there, no risks, all pure profit, practically speaking.
"And as for the Mexicana and the O'Farrell girl, like I said, there was no way for them to do it on their own… They didn't have the money or the connections or the infrastructure to put five hundred kilos on the street, and the first gram that showed up on a corner somewhere, the whole fucking sky would have fallen on them: the Russkis, the Guardia Civil, my people… They were smart enough to see that. Only an idiot would have started by dealing a little here, a little there, and before the Guardia or my guys were able to cuff 'em, they'd have been stuffed in the trunk of a car, probably in several well-carved pieces. R.I.P."
"But how could they know they wouldn't wind up like that anyway?… That the Russians would keep their part of the deal?"
"They couldn't," Juarez said. "They just decided to risk it. And Yasikov must've taken a shine to them. Especially to Teresa Mendoza, who even proposed a couple of variants on the deal."
Did I know about that Gallego that had been her boyfriend? Yeah? Well, that was where her experience in all this came from. The Mexicana had a past. And she had something else it took-she had a tremendous pair of balls. Juarez' outstretched fingers made a circle the size of a dinner plate.
"And another thing. You know how some girls have this calculator between their legs, clickety-click, and ka-ching, the bill comes out? Well, the Mexicana had a calculator here"-he tapped his temple-"in her head. There's one eternal truth about women-sometimes you hear the song of a siren, and what you end up with is a sea wolf."
Saturnino G. Juarez had to know that better than most. I silently remembered the size of his bank account in Gibraltar, which had been aired in the press during his trial. Back then, Juarez had a little more hair and wore just a moustache; that was his look in my favorite photograph, in which he posed between two uniformed colleagues at the door of a court in Madrid. And look at him now, after paying the modest price of five months in prison and expulsion from the National Police Corps-calling the waiter over to order a cognac and a Havana cigar, to aid digestion. Not a lot of evidence, bad jury instructions from the judge, very able lawyers. I wondered how many people owed him favors, including Teresa Mendoza.
"So, bottom line," Juarez concluded, "Yasikov made the deal. Besides, he was on the Costa del Sol to invest, and the Mexicana looked like an interesting investment. So he kept his word like a gentleman… And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Oleg Yasikov looked at the package on the table: white powder in a double layer of plastic shrink-wrap sealed with wide, thick tape, still obviously intact. A thousand grams, vacuum-packed, just the way it was packaged in the underground laboratories in Yari, in the Amazon jungle. "I admit," he said, "that you two are playing it pretty cool. Yes." He spoke Spanish well, Teresa thought. Slowly, with many pauses, as though carefully setting one word after another. His accent was very soft, and in no way did he resemble the evil, terrorist, drug-smuggling Russians in movies, the kind who keel Amehricahn enehmy. Nor did he look like a mafioso or a gangster. His skin was light, his eyes big, bright, and childlike, with a curious mixture of blue and yellow in the iris, and his straw-colored hair was short, like a soldier's. He was wearing khaki pants and a navy-blue shirt, the cuffs turned up to reveal a diver's Rolex on the left wrist, powerful forearms with a dusting of blond hair. The hands resting at each side of the package, not touching it, were big, like the rest of his body, and on one finger was a heavy gold wedding ring. He looked healthy, strong, and clean. Patty O'Farrell had said that he was also-and especially-dangerous.
"Let me see if I understand. You-you two girls-offer to return a shipment of goods that belongs to me, but only if I pay for it again. How do you call that?…" He reflected a moment, almost amused, seeking the word. "Extortion?"
"That," said Patty, "is taking things way too far."
She and Teresa had discussed this for hours, backward and forward, front and back, since the trip to the Marrajos Caves and until just an hour before coming to this meeting. All the pros and cons, over and over. Teresa wasn't convinced that their arguments would be quite as effective as Patty thought they would, but it was too late now to turn back. Patty-tasteful makeup for the occasion, expensive dress, self-assurance in keeping with her role as a high-powered female executive-started to explain again, although it was clear that Yasikov got it the first time, the minute they put the brick on the table. This, of course, came after the Russian-with an apology that sounded at best neutral-had ordered two bodyguards to pat them down for hidden microphones. "Technology," he said, shrugging.
After the gorillas closed the door, he'd offered them a drink; they both declined, although Teresa's mouth was dry. Then he sat down behind the table, ready to listen. Everything was neat and tidy-not a piece of paper in sight, not a file folder. Walls the same cream color as the wall-to-wall carpet, paintings that looked expensive, a large Russian icon inlaid with a great deal of hammered silver, a fax in one corner, a multiline telephone and a cell phone on the table. An ashtray. An enormous gold Dupont lighter. Chairs of white leather. Through the large windows in the office-the top floor of a luxury apartment house in Santa Margarita-you could see the curve of the coast and the line of surf on the beach all the way down to the breakwaters, and the masts of moored yachts, and the white houses of Puerto Bamis.
"Tell me one thing," Yasikov suddenly interrupted Patty's clumsy explanation. "How did you do it?… Go to the place where it was hidden. Bring it here without calling attention to yourselves. Yes. You have taken risks. I think. You are still taking them."
"That doesn't matter," Patty told him.
The gangster smiled. Come on, that smile said, tell the truth. It'll be all right. His was a smile that made you want to trust him, Teresa thought as she watched him. Or distrust so many other things that you wind up trusting him.
"Of course it matters," Yasikov replied. "I looked for this merchandise. Yes. I didn't find it. I made an error. About Jimmy, I mean. I didn't know that you knew… Things would be different, no? How time flies. I hope you've recovered. After the incident."
"Perfectly recovered, thank you."
"I should thank you for one thing. Yes. My lawyers said that you never mentioned my name in the investigations and interrogations. No."
Patty frowned sarcastically. In the tanned triangle of her cleavage one could see the scar from the exit wound.
"I was in the hospital," she said. "With holes in me."
"I mean later." The Russian's eyes were almost innocent. "The interrogations and the trial. That part."
"You see now that I had my reasons." Yasikov reflected on her reasons.
"Yes. I see. But still, your silence saved me some trouble. The police thought you knew nothing. I thought you knew nothing. You have been patient. Yes. All these years… There had to be some motivation, yes?" He tapped his chest. "Inside."
Patty took out another cigarette, which the Russian, despite having the enormous Dupont on the table, made no move to light for her, even when it took several seconds for her to find her own lighter in her purse. Stop shaking, Teresa thought, looking at Patty's hands. Control that twitching in your fingers before the son of a bitch notices and this tough-girl facade starts cracking and this whole thing goes to la chingada.
"The packages are still hidden where they were. We only brought one."
The discussion in the cave, Teresa remembered. The two of them inside, counting packages in the beam from the flashlights, half euphoric and half scared shitless. One for now, while we think-and leave the rest, Teresa had insisted. Taking it all with us now is suicide, so let's not be stupid. I know they shot you and all, but I didn't come to your lovely country as a tourist, either, you blond bitch. Don't make me tell you the whole story, which I've never told you so far. A story that has no resemblance to yours-since you managed to get shot wearing Carolina Herrera. Don't fuck with me. In this kind of deal, when you're in a hurry, the best thing you can do is go slow.
"Has it occurred to you that I can have you followed?" said Yasikov.
Patty rested the hand holding the cigarette in her lap. "Of course that's occurred to us." She inhaled and returned the hand to her lap. "But you can't follow us to where it's hidden. Not there."
"Oh, I see. Mysterious. You are mysterious ladies."
"We'd realize we were being followed and disappear. And find another buyer. Five hundred kilos is a lot."
Yasikov said nothing to that, although his silence indicated that five hundred kilos was, in fact, too much in every way. He kept looking at Patty, and once in a while he gave a brief glance in the direction of Teresa, not talking, not smoking, not moving; just watching and listening, almost holding her breath, her hands on the legs of her jeans to absorb the sweat. A light blue polo shirt, tennis shoes in case she had to make a quick getaway and slither between somebody's legs, her only jewelry the semanario of Mexican silver on her right wrist-in sharp contrast to Patty's elegant clothes and heels. They were there because Teresa had insisted on this solution. At first Patty had wanted to sell the drugs in small amounts, but Teresa had managed to convince her that sooner or later the real owners would figure it all out. It's better if we work straight, she counseled. A sure thing, even if we lose a little. All right, Patty had finally agreed. But I talk, because I know how that fucking Bolshevik's mind works. And there they were, while Teresa became more and more certain that they'd made a mistake.
She'd been around people like this since she was a girl. They might speak a different language, look different, wear different clothes, make different gestures, but underneath they were all the same. This was going nowhere, or rather somewhere they didn't want to go. When all was said and done- Teresa was realizing this too late-Patty was just a spoiled society chick, the girlfriend of a wet-behind-the-ears asshole who had been in the business not out of necessity, but because he was stupid. A guy who thought he was cool-like so many others. As for Patty, she had lived a life of appearances that had nothing to do with the real thing, and the time she'd spent in prison had done nothing but blind her even more. Here in this office she wasn't Lieutenant O'Farrell-she wasn't anybody. The blue eyes with flashes of yellow that were looking at them-that was where the power was here. And Patty was making an even bigger mistake than coming here in the first place. It was a mistake to put it to him this way. To refresh Oleg Yasikov's memory, after so much time had passed.
"That's just the problem," Patty was saying. "Five hundred kilos is too much. That's why we've come to you first."
"Whose idea was it?" Yasikov didn't seem flattered. "Me the first option? Yes."
Patty looked at Teresa.
"Hers. She's the deep thinker." She gave a quick, nervous smile between puffs on her cigarette. "She's better than I am at calculating the risks and probabilities."
Teresa felt the Russian's eyes studying her; he looked at her for a long time. He's wondering what it is that joins us, she decided. Prison, friendship, business. Whether men are my thing or we're a couple.
"I still don't know what," said Yasikov, asking Patty without taking his eyes off Teresa. "She's doing in this. Your friend."
"She's my partner."
"Ah. It's good to have partners." Yasikov turned his attention back to Patty. "It would also be good to talk. Yes. Risks and probabilities. You might not have time to disappear to find another buyer." He paused deliberately. "Time to disappear voluntarily. I think."
Teresa saw that Patty's hands were trembling again. And how I wish, she thought, I could get up right now and say, Quihubo, don Oleg, see ya around. Didn't even see that third strike coming. You keep that shipment, right, and forget this chingada.
"Maybe we should…" Teresa began.
Yasikov looked at her, almost surprised. But Patty was already at it again: You wouldn't gain anything by that. Not a thing, except the lives of two women. And you'd lose a lot. And the fact was, Teresa decided, that apart from the trembling hands that transmitted their shaking to the spirals of cigarette smoke, the Lieutenant was handling this very well. And she didn't give up easily. But both of them were dead women. She was about to say that aloud. We're dead, Lieutenant. Let's pack up and get out of here.
"It takes time to lose a life," the Russian was philosophizing, although as he continued, Teresa realized that there was nothing philosophical about it. "I think that during the process one winds up telling things… I do not like to pay twice. No. I can get it back. And without paying."
He looked at the brick of cocaine sitting on the table, between his two hamlike, immobile hands. Patty clumsily stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray just inches away from those hands. And this is it, Teresa thought in desolation. She could smell the other woman's panic. Then, without thinking, she heard her own voice again:
"You might be able to get it back without paying," she said. "But you never know. It's a risk, a hassle… You'd be depriving yourself of a sure profit."
The yellow-ringed irises fixed on her, interested.
She was about to add Culiacan, Sinaloa-which in this business was blowing your own horn-but she didn't. Fish get caught because they open their mouth one time too many. Yasikov had still not taken his eyes off her.
"Deprive myself. You say. Convince me of that."
Convince me of the utility of keeping you alive, read the subtitle. Patty had leaned back in her chair, like an exhausted fighting cock taking a breather against the pit wall. You're right, Mexicana. My breast is wounded and bleeding, and it's your turn now. Get us out of this. Teresa's tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. A glass of water-she'd give anything to have asked for a glass of water.
"With a kilo going for twelve thousand dollars," she said, "the half-ton probably cost you, at point of origin, about six million… Right?"
"Right." Yasikov was looking at her inexpressively. Cautiously. "I don't know how much the intermediaries got, but in the U.S. a kilo would sell for twenty thousand."
"Thirty thousand for us. This year. Here." Yasikov had still not moved a muscle, especially a muscle of his face. "More than for your neighbors. Yes. The Yankees."
Teresa did a quick calculation. She was chewing that nopal. Her hands- to her surprise-were not trembling. Not just then.
"In that case," she said, "and at current prices, a half-ton on the street in Europe would go for fifteen million dollars. And that, according to my partner, was much more than you and your associates paid four years ago for the original shipment. Which was, and you can correct me if I'm mistaken here, five million in cash and one million in… what would you call it?"
"Technology," Yasikov replied, amused. "Secondhand."
"Six million in all," nodded Teresa, "with one thing and another. Technology included. But what matters is that half a ton now, the half-ton we're offering, is only going to cost you another six. One payment of three million on delivery of the first third, another three as payment for the second third, and the rest of the goods once the second payment is confirmed. We're selling it at cost."
She saw that the Russian was considering this. Shit, she thought, you're slow, cabron. You still don't see the profit, and as far as you're concerned we're still just two little dead girls.
"You want"-Yasikov was shaking his head slowly-"to make us pay twice. Yes. For that half-ton. Six and six."
Teresa leaned forward, placing her fingers on the edge of the table. So why aren't my hands trembling, she wondered. Why aren't these seven bangles tinkling like a silver rattlesnake, when I'm about to stand up and take off running.
"In spite of that"-she was also surprised at how calm her voice sounded-"you will still be realizing a profit of three million dollars on a shipment that you thought was lost, and that I'll lay odds you've already worked into your overhead charges in one way or another… But in addition, if we do the math, those five hundred kilos are worth sixty-five million dollars once it's cut and ready to distribute on the wholesale market in your country, or wherever you want… Deducting the old and new expenses, your people would still see fifty-three million dollars in profits. Fifty, if you deduct the three for transportation, delays, and other minor inconveniences. And your market would be supplied for a long time to come."
She stopped talking, but remained fixed on Yasikov's eyes. The muscles in her back were tense and her stomach was in a knot that actually hurt, from the fear. But she had been able to put it to him in the driest, most straightforward way, as if instead of laying her and Patty's lives on the table she were proposing a routine commercial operation with no consequences to anybody. The gangster was studying Teresa, who could also feel Patty's eyes on her, but there was no way in the world she was going to return that second gaze. Don't look at me, she was mentally begging her friend. Don't even blink, camalita, or we're done for.
"I am afraid…"Yasikov began.
This is it, Teresa told herself. All you had to do was look at the Russian's face to see that there was no way he was buying this deal. And that hit Teresa like a lightning bolt. We've been innocent schoolgirls, she thought. The fear wound itself about her intestines, strangling them. This looks like the fucking end of everything.
"There's something else," she improvised. "Hash."
"What about it?"
"I know that business. And I know you people don't have hash."
Yasikov looked a little disconcerted. "Of course we do."
Teresa shook her head confidently. Don't let Patty open her mouth and blow us away, she begged. Inside her, the road laid itself out with uncanny clarity. A door opened, and that silent woman, the one who sometimes resembled her, was watching her from the threshold.
"A year and a half ago," Teresa said, "you were dabbling in it here and there, and I doubt things are any different today. I'm sure you're still in the hands of Moroccan suppliers, Gibraltar transporters, and Spanish intermediaries… Like everybody else."
The gangster raised his left hand, with the wedding ring, to touch his face. I've got thirty seconds to convince him, thought Teresa, before we have to stand up, walk out of here, and take off running-before they catch us again in a day or two. Fuck that. It'd be a real bitch to get the Sinaloa gang off your back and come all this way, just to get whacked by a fucking Russian.
"We want to propose something to you," she said. "A business deal. Of those six million dollars split up into two payments, the second would be retained by you as our associate, in exchange for something you need very much."
A long silence. The Russian did not take his eyes off her. And I'm a mask, she thought. I'm an expressionless mask, playing poker like Raul Estrada Contreras, professional card player, respected by people because he played an honest game, or at least that's what the corrido says, and this motherfucker is not going to make me blink, because my life's on the fucking line here. So look me in the eye, asshole. Like you'd look at my tits.
"What is that? That we need very much?"
Gotcha, thought Teresa. Hook, line, and sinker.
"Well, I don't know right now. I mean I do, but not all the details. Let's say boats, for starters. Outboard motors. Pick-up points. Payment for the first contacts and intermediaries."
Yasikov was still touching his face. "You have experience with these things?"
"Jesus fucking Christ. I'm putting my life on the line here, and my friend's, too… You think I came here to sing rancheras?"
And that, Saturnino G. Juarez confirmed, was how Teresa Mendoza and Patricia O'Farrell became associates of the Russian mafia on the Costa del Sol. The proposal that the Mexicana made Yasikov at that first meeting tipped the scales. And it was all true: Besides that half-ton of cocaine, the Solntsevo Babushka needed Moroccan hashish so they wouldn't have to depend exclusively on Turkish and Lebanese suppliers. Until Teresa came along they'd been forced to go to the traditional mafias along the Strait, which were badly organized, expensive, and unreliable. And the idea of a direct connection was seductive.
The half-ton changed hands in return for $3 million deposited in a bank in Gibraltar and another $3 million used to finance an infrastructure whose legal front was named Transer Naga, S.L., with corporate headquarters on the Rock and a quiet cover operation in Marbella. For that, Yasikov and his people obtained, according to the agreement he reached with the two women, fifty percent of the profits the first year and twenty-five percent the second. The third year, the debt would be considered amortized.
As for Transer Naga, it was nothing more than a service enterprise: clandestine transportation of other people's drugs. The company's responsibility began when the drug was loaded on the Moroccan coast, and ended when somebody took charge of it on a Spanish beach or loaded it onto a boat on the high seas.
In time, through phone taps and other intercepted information, it was learned that the rule of never taking any share of ownership of the drugs had been imposed by Teresa Mendoza. Previous experience told her, she said, that everything was cleaner if the transport agency didn't get involved; that guaranteed discretion, and also the absence of names and evidence that could interconnect producers, exporters, intermediaries, receivers, and owners. The method was simple: A customer made his needs known, and Transer Naga counseled him on the most efficient means of transport. Then it provided the means. From point A to point C, and we contribute B.
In time, Saturnino Juarez said as I paid the check, the only thing missing was an ad in the yellow pages. And that was the strategy Teresa Mendoza followed from then on, never falling into the temptation to take part of her payment in drugs, the way other transporters did. Not even when Transer Naga turned the Strait of Gibraltar into the largest cocaine entry point in southern Europe, and Colombian blow started pouring in by the ton.
10- I'm in the corner of a cantina
They'd been going through the racks for almost an hour. It was the fifth store they'd been in that morning. Outside, on Calle Larios, the sun shone brightly-sidewalk cafes, cars, pedestrians in light clothes. Malaga in winter. And today, Patty was carrying out Operation Clotheshorse.
"I'm sick of loaning you things to wear, or seeing you dressed like a secretary. So clean under those fingernails and fix yourself up, 'cause we're going out. On a hunt. To polish your image a little bit. You ready or not?"
So there they were. They had had an early breakfast before they left Mar-bella, and then another on the terrace of the Cafe Central, watching people pass by. Now they were dedicating themselves to spending money. Too much, in Teresa's opinion. The prices were outrageous.
"So?" was Patty's response. "You've got money, I've got money, and besides, it's an investment. Sure profits guaranteed, just the way you like it.
You'll be filling that purse tomorrow all over again, with your boats and your logistics and that whole water park you've put together, Mexicana. Not everything in the world is outboard motors and counterclockwise-rotating propellers or whatever you call them. It's time you looked like the girl leading the life you're leading. Or are about to be leading."
Patty was moving self-assuredly around the shop, taking clothes off the racks and tossing them to a saleswoman who was following her solicitously. "What do you think about this one?" She held an outfit, still on the hanger, against Teresa, to see the effect. "A jacket and pants is never last year, my dear. And the guys like it, especially in your, in my, in our world… Jeans are all very well-you don't have to stop wearing them-but combine them with dark jackets. Navy blue is perfect."
Teresa had other things on her mind, things more complex than what color jacket to wear with jeans. Too many people and too many interests. Hours sitting over a notebook filled with numbers, names, places, trying to put all the pieces together. Long conversations with strangers to whom she listened attentively, cautiously, trying to learn everything from everybody. A lot depended on her now, and she asked herself whether she was really ready to assume responsibilities that had never crossed her mind before. Patty knew all this, but she didn't care, or didn't seem to. "All things in due time," she had said. "Today, clothes. Today, a little vacation. Today, shopping. Besides, the business is your thing-you run the show, and I watch."
In the shop, they moved to accessories. "See?… With jeans, what goes best is a low heel, like a moccasin, and those purses-Ubrique, Valverde del Camino. Those leather ones from Andalucia are great for you. For everyday."
There were now three of those particular purses in shopping bags stowed in the trunk of the car parked in the underground lot at the Plaza de la Marina.
"Not another day will go by," Patty had insisted, "without you filling up your closet with everything you need. And you're going to take my advice. I give the orders and you follow them, all right?… Besides, dressing is less a question of fashion than of common sense. The idea is this: a few pieces, but good ones, is better than a lot of cheap shit. The trick is putting together a basic wardrobe. Then, building on that, you can go in lots of different directions. Got it?"
She was almost never this talkative, Lieutenant O'Farrell. Teresa did in fact get it, though, because she found herself intrigued by this new way of looking at clothes, and at herself. Until then, she had dressed one way or another in response to two clear objectives: pleasing men-her men-or being comfortable. Viewing clothes as a tool one needed in order to do one's work better, as Patty had put it with a laugh-that was a new one. Getting dressed not just for comfort or seduction-or even elegance, or status. No, it was more subtle than that… Clothes could express a mood, an attitude, a person's power. A woman could dress like what she was or what she wanted to be, and that could make all the difference. There were other things you could learn, of course-manners, how to carry on a conversation, how to eat-provided you kept your eyes open.
"And there's nobody, Mexicana," Patty had said, "whose eyes are more open than yours are. Fucking Indian bitch. You read people like a book."
… "And then, when you want to wear something dressier…" They were coming out of the dressing room, where Teresa had stood before the mirror in a cashmere turtleneck. "… nobody says you have to dress boring. The trick is that in order to wear certain things you have to know how to move. And stand. And be. Not everybody can wear everything. This, for example: Don't even think about Versace. You'd look like a whore in Versace."
"Which is no doubt why you wear it sometimes."
Patty laughed. She was holding a Marlboro despite the "No Smoking" sign and several censorious looks from the saleswoman. One hand in the pocket of her knit jacket, which she wore over a dark gray skirt. The cigarette in the other. I'll put it out right away, my dear, she'd said when she lit the first one. This was the third.
"I've had training, Mexicana. I know when to look like a whore and when not to. But you… Remember that the people we deal with are impressed by classy types. Ladies."
"Please. I'm no lady."
"What do you know? Being one, looking like one, and becoming one-or never being anything-there's a very fine line between all those things… You'll want to wear Yves Saint Laurent, things from Chanel and Armani for the more serious occasions. Crazy stuff like Galliano, you can leave for somebody else."
Teresa looked around. "Putting things together is hard." She didn't mind showing her ignorance to the saleswoman. It was Patty who spoke in a near-whisper.
"Well, there's one rule that never fails: Half and half. If you're sexy from the waist down, from the waist up you've gotta be demure. And vice versa."
They left the shop with their bags and walked up Calle Larios. Patty made Teresa stop before every store window.
"For everyday," she went on, "the ideal thing is these transitional pieces. And if you stay with one label, make sure it has a little of everything." She pointed out a suit dress, with a light black jacket with a round collar that Teresa thought was very chic. "Like Calvin Klein, for example. See? He's got everything from sweaters to leather jackets to evening dresses."
They entered the store. It was elegant, and the sales staff wore uniforms- short navy-blue skirts and dark stockings. To Teresa they looked like executives in some gringo movie. All tall and svelte, with exquisite makeup-like models, or stewardesses. And very, very accommodating. I'd never be able to get a job here, she thought. Chale, what fucking money will do.
"The ideal thing," said Patty, "is to come to stores like this one, that have good clothes from several labels. Keep coming back, get some confidence. A relationship with a salesgirl is important-they know you, know your likes and dislikes, what looks good on you. They call you, tell you such-and-such just came in. They take care of you, my love-they spoil you."
Accessories were upstairs: Italian and Spanish leather, belts, bags, glorious shoes by famous designers. This place, thought Teresa, is better than Sercha's in Culiacan, where the narcos' wives and girlfriends went twice a year, at the end of each harvest up in the sierra-chattering like parrots, with their jewelry, their dyed hair, and their wads of U.S. dollars. She'd shopped there herself, back when she was with Guero Davila. But the things she was buying now made her feel insecure. Maybe because she wasn't sure they were really her: she'd traveled a long way, a really long way, and it was another woman who now looked out at her from the mirrors in these expensive shops.
"And shoes are absolutely fundamental," Patty was saying. "More than purses. Remember that no matter how well dressed you are, bad shoes make you look like a bag lady. Men can get away with bad shoes-like those hideous loafers with no socks that everybody started copying from fucking Julio Iglesias. But for us girls, it's, like, shocking. Unpardonable."
They wandered through displays of perfumes and makeup, sniffing and trying everything on Teresa's skin before they went off for prawns and mussels at El Tintero, on the beach at El Palo.
"You Latin American girls," Patty said, "love strong perfumes. Try to tone it down, eh? Makeup, too. When you're young, makeup makes you look older. And when you're old, it makes you look like an undertaker's model…" They both laughed uproariously at that. "You've got big, dark eyes, beautiful eyes, and when you wear your hair with that part down the middle and all pulled back tight, very picturesque, like a real Mexican peasant, you look dynamite."
She said this as she gazed deep into Teresa's eyes, while the waiters moved back and forth through the tables set out in the sun with plates of fried eggs, sardines, potatoes alioli, calamari fritti. There was nothing superior or patronizing in her tone, just as when Teresa had arrived at El Puerto de Santa Maria and Patty had guided her through prison customs. Do this, don't do that. But now Teresa sensed something different: an ironic twist to Patty's mouth, in the wrinkles around her eyes when she smiled. You know what I'm wondering, thought Teresa-you can almost hear my thoughts. Why me, when I don't give you what you'd really like to have? My position is simple: I allowed myself to be lured in by the money, and I'm loyal because I owe you a lot. But that wasn't what you were looking for. So the question is, Why don't you lie to me and betray me and forget me? Or why not yet?
"Clothes," Patty was going on, her expression unchanged, "have to fit the occasion. It's always unsettling when you're having lunch and a woman comes in with a shawl, or you're having dinner and she comes in wearing a miniskirt. That shows lack of judgment, or upbringing. She doesn't know what's right, what the rules are, so she wears what looks to her like the most elegant thing she has, or the most expensive. That's what tells you she's nouveau."
Patty's smart, Teresa told herself. Much smarter than I am, and she's had everything. She even had a dream; when she was behind bars, it kept her alive. But it'd be nice to know what keeps her alive now. Apart from drinking like she drinks, and those girlfriends of hers from time to time, and snorting like there's no tomorrow, and telling me all the things we're going to do when we're multimillionaires. I wonder. But I probably ought to stop wondering so much.
"I'm nouveau," Teresa said.
It sounded almost like a question. She'd never used that word, or heard it, or read it in books, but she intuited what it meant. Patty laughed out loud.
"Ha! Of course you are. In a way, sure. But you don't have to advertise it. Soon you won't be, don't worry."
There was something dark in Patty's gestures, Teresa decided. Something that seemed to pain her and amuse her at the same time. Maybe, Teresa suddenly thought, it's just life.
"Anyway," Patty added, "if you make a mistake, the last rule is to pull it off with as much dignity as you can. After all, everyone makes mistakes once in a while." She was still staring at Teresa. "With clothes, I mean."
More Teresas kept popping up during this time-strangers, unfamiliar women who had always been there, though she hadn't known it. And some new ones appeared in the gray dawns and silences. She discovered them with curiosity-sometimes, with surprise.
That Gibraltar attorney, Eddie Alvarez, the one who'd been managing Santiago Fisterra's money and then hardly showed up to defend Teresa, he'd met one of those women.
Eddie was not a brave man. His dealings with the rough part of the business were what one would call peripheral-he preferred not to see or know about certain things. Ignorance, he'd said during our conversation at the Rock Hotel, is the mother of great wisdom and no little health. Which is why when he came home and turned on the stairway light and found Teresa Mendoza sitting on the stairs he jumped so hard that he dropped all the papers he was carrying.
"Jesus fucking Christ," he said.
Then he stood there speechless, leaning against the wall with the papers all over the floor-no intention of picking them up, no intention of doing anything except letting his heart stop thumping like a jackhammer in his chest. Meanwhile, Teresa, still sitting on the stairs, informed him slowly and in detail of the reason for her visit. She did it in her soft Mexican accent and with that air of a shy girl who seemed to have stumbled into all this by accident. No reproaches, no questions about the investments in paintings or the vanished money. Not a word about the year and a half in prison, or how the lawyer had washed his hands of her defense.
"At night, things always seem more serious," was all she said at first. "Things leave an impression, I suppose. Which is why I'm here, Eddie. To leave an impression on you."
The light on the stairway was on a timer; every ninety seconds or so it turned off. Teresa, from her seat on the stairs, would reach up and turn it on again, and the lawyer's face would look yellow, his eyes behind his glasses would have a frightened intensity, and the glasses themselves would be sliding down his greasy, sweaty nose.
"I want to leave an impression on you," she repeated, sure that the lawyer had been pretty impressed for a week now, ever since the newspapers had published a story on the murder of Sergeant Ivan Velasco, who had been stabbed six times in the parking lot of a disco as he headed, at four in the morning, drunk of course, for his brand-new Mercedes. By a drug addict, or a mugger prowling the parking lot. A robbery, that was all-watch, wallet, etc. But what made an impression on Eddie Alvarez was that the death of Sergeant Velasco had occurred exactly six days after another close acquaintance of his, Antonio Martinez Romero, alias Antonio Canabota, had been found strangled in a pension in Torremolinos, facedown and naked except for his socks, hands tied behind his back, apparently by a gay hustler who had approached Canabota in the street about an hour before his demise. And putting two and two together would, in this case, be enough to leave an impression on anyone, assuming that "anyone" had enough memory- which Eddie Alvarez certainly did-to recall the role those two individuals had played in the Punta Castor affair.
"I swear, Teresa, I had nothing to do with it."
"You know. With anything."
Teresa bowed her head-she was still sitting on the stairs-considering the matter. The fact was, she knew that very well. Which was why she was there, instead of getting a friend of a friend to send a friend, as she'd done in the cases of Sergeant Velasco of the Guardia Civil and the hombre de confianza. For some time now, she and Oleg Yasikov had been doing each other little favors-you scratch my back, I scratch yours-and the Russian had people, drug addicts and muggers included, with picturesque abilities.
Then, evidently having thought it over, Teresa lifted her head. "I need your services, Eddie."
The glasses slid down his nose again.
"Papers, banks, corporations. That sort of thing."
Then Teresa laid it out for him. And when she did-easiest thing in the world, Eddie, just a few corporations and bank accounts, and you as the front man-she thought how ironic it was, how Santiago would have laughed at all this. She also thought about herself as she talked, as though she were able to split into two separate women: one practical, telling Eddie Alvarez the reason for her visit-and also the reason he was still alive-and the other one weighing everything with a remarkable absence of passion, from outside or from a distance, through the strange gaze that she was casting on herself, feeling neither anger nor desire for revenge. The same woman who'd put out a contract on Velasco and Canabota, not to settle scores, but rather-as Eddie Alvarez would have put it, and in fact later did-out of a sense of symmetry.
Things should be what they were-accounts balanced and closets in order. And Patty was mistaken. It was not always the Yves Saint Laurent dresses that left the biggest impression on men.
You'll have to kill," Oleg Yasikov had said. "Sooner or later." He had said this to her one day when they were walking along the beach in Marbella, below the waterfront promenade, in front of one of Oleg's restaurants,
the Tsarevich-deep down, Yasikov was a sentimental guy-near the kiosk where Teresa had worked when she got out of prison.
"Not at first, of course," the Russian said. "Or with your own hands. Nyet. Unless you're very passionate or very stupid. Not if you stay outside, just looking in. But you will have to do it if you go to the essence of things. If you are consistent and are lucky, and you last. Decisions. Little by little. You will be going into unknown territory, an obscure place. Yes." Yasikov said all this with his head down and his hands in his pockets, looking at the sand before his expensive shoes-Patty would have approved, Teresa imagined. Alongside his six feet, three inches and his broad shoulders in a silk shirt a bit less sober than his shoes, Teresa looked smaller and frailer than she was. She wore a short skirt over her dark legs and bare feet, and the wind blew her hair into her face as she listened attentively.
"Making your decisions," Yasikov was saying, pausing, placing his words carefully one after another. "Right ones. Wrong ones. Sooner or later the job will include taking a life. If you're smart, having someone else take it. In this business, Tesa"-he always called her that, as he seemed unable to pronounce her whole name-"you can't get along with everybody. Or make everybody happy. No. Friends are friends until they aren't anymore. And then you have to act quickly. But there is a problem. Discovering the right moment. Exactly when they stop being friends.
"There is one necessary skill. Yes. In this business." Yasikov pointed two fingers at his eyes. "Looking at a man and instantly knowing two things. First, how much he's going to sell himself for. And second, when you're going to have to kill him."
Early that year they outgrew Eddie Alvarez. Transer Naga and its front corporations-headquartered in the lawyer's office on Line Wall Road-were doing all too well, and the enterprise needed a larger, more complex infrastructure than the one created by Eddie. Four Phantoms based at Sheppard's marina and two under the cover of a sportfishing operation in Estepona, maintenance, payments to pilots and "collaborators"- including half a dozen police officers and Civil Guardsmen-were not terribly complicated, but the clientele was expanding, the money was flowing in, and there were frequent international payments, so Teresa realized that more complex investment and money-laundering techniques had to be used. They needed a specialist who knew how to navigate the legal loopholes with maximum profit and minimum risk. And I've got the man, said Patty. You know him.
She knew him by sight. The first formal meeting took place in an apartment in Sotogrande. Teresa, Patty, and Eddie went, and there they met with Teo Aljarafe-Spanish, thirty-five years old, an expert in tax law and financial planning. Teresa remembered him immediately when Patty introduced them in the bar at the Hotel Coral Beach. She'd noticed him at the party at the O'Farrell estate in Jerez: tall, dark, thin, handsome. The thick black hair combed back, a little long at the neck, framing a bony face with that large aquiline nose she had remarked on. A very classic look, Teresa decided. The way you always imagined Spaniards to be, before you met them-thin and elegant, with that air of nobility that they almost never actually had.
Now the four of them were sitting around a sequoia table with an antique coffee service, a trolley of liquor and glasses under the window that opened onto the terrace, offering a panoramic view of the harbor with its yachts and sailboats, the sea, and a long stretch of the coast, all the way down to the distant beaches of La Linea and the gray mass of Gibraltar. It was a small apartment with no telephone, no neighbors on either side, and one reached it directly from the garage by private elevator; Patty had bought it-from her own family-in the name of Transer Naga and furnished it as a place to hold meetings: good lighting, an expensive modern painting on one wall, a white plastic board with red, black, and blue erasable markers. Twice a week, and always immediately before any meeting held there, an electronic-security specialist recommended by Oleg Yasikov swept the room for bugs.
"The practical part is nothing," Teo was saying. "Justifying income and lifestyle: bars, discos, restaurants, laundries. What Yasikov does, what lots of people do, and what we'll be doing. Nobody keeps track of the number of drinks or paellas you serve. So it's time to open a serious line that goes in that direction. Interconnected or independent investments and corporations that justify every gallon of gas in your car. Lots of invoices, lots of paper. Treasury won't hassle us if we pay enough taxes and everything's straight on Spanish soil, unless there are judicial actions already under way."
"The old principle," said Patty. "Don't shit where you live."
Elegant, distracted, her blond hair cut almost to the scalp, she was smoking cigarette after cigarette; she would nod, look around as though she were no more than a visitor. She was acting as if this was just some entertaining adventure. Another in a series.
"Exactly." Teo nodded. "And if I have carte blanche, I'll design the structure and present it to you all laid out, and I'll fit in what you already have set up. Between Malaga and Gibraltar, there are plenty of places and opportunities. And the rest is easy: once the train is loaded with all the various corporations' assets, we'll create another holding company to pay out dividends and you two will remain insolvent. Easy."
He had hung his jacket over the back of his chair and unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled them up over his forearms, although the knot in his tie was still impeccably tight. He spoke slowly, clearly, with a sober voice that Teresa found soothing. Competent and smart, Patty had once summarized him: from a good Jerez family, married to a girl with money, two young daughters. "He travels a lot to London and New York and Panama and places like that. Financial consultant to very high-level firms. My dearly departed idiot ex had some sort of business with him, but Teo was always much the more intelligent of the two. He gives his advice, collects his fee, and stands back, far in the background. A top-drawer mercenary, if you know what I mean. And he never gets involved in the dirty work, as far as I can tell. I've known him since I was a girl. He fucked me once, too, when we were younger. No big deal in bed. Quick. Self-centered. But back then I was no big deal, either."
"As for the serious matters, things get a bit more complex," Teo continued. "I'm talking about real money, the kind that never passes through Spanish soil. And I'd suggest forgetting about Gibraltar. It's a water hole in the jungle. Everybody has an account there."
"But it works," said Eddie Alvarez.
He seemed uncomfortable. Jealousy, maybe, thought Teresa, who was observing the two men closely. Eddie had done good work for Transer Naga, but his skills were limited. Everyone knew that. The Gibraltar attorney considered the Jerez financial advisor a dangerous competitor. And he was right.
"It works now." Teo gave Eddie the kind of sympathetic look you'd give a handicapped person whose wheelchair you're about to push down the stairs. "I'm not talking about what's been done thus far. But Gibraltar's full of amateurs gossiping in the corner bar, and a secret stays secret for about twenty-four hours… Plus, for every three good citizens, one is bribable. And that goes in both directions: we can bribe them, but so can the police… It's okay if you're fooling around with a few kilos, or tobacco, but we're talking about large quantities of important material. So Gibraltar's not the place."
Eddie pushed up his glasses. "I don't agree," he protested.
"I don't care." Teo's voice turned harder. "I'm not here to discuss smuggling cigarettes."
"I'm-" Eddie began. He placed his hands on the table, turning first to Teresa and then to Patty, seeking their support.
"A small-time shyster," Teo interrupted, finishing his sentence for him. He spoke the words softly, his face expressionless. Dispassionate. A doctor telling a patient there's a shadow on his X ray.
"I won't allow you-"
"Shut up, Eddie," said Teresa.
Eddie Alvarez' mouth froze. A kicked dog looking around disconcertedly. The loose tie and wrinkled jacket accentuated his slovenliness. I've got to watch that flank, Teresa told herself, glancing at him again while she heard Patty laugh. A kicked dog can be dangerous. She made a note in the little book she carried in her head. Eddie Alvarez: Consider situation later. There were ways to ensure loyalty despite a grudge. There was always a way to win a person over.
"Go on, Teo."
And Teo went on.
"The best thing is to set up corporations and do your financial business with foreign banks that are outside the oversight and control of the European Union: the Channel Islands, Asia, the Caribbean. The problem is that a lot of money comes from suspicious or criminal activities, and you have to allay official suspicion through a series of legal covers that no one will ask questions about.
"Otherwise the procedure is simple: delivery of merchandise is timed to coincide exactly with the transfer of the fee, by what's called a SWIFT transfer, an irrevocable bank order issued by the sending bank."
Eddie Alvarez, still chewing his own bone, returned to the conversation: "I did what was asked of me."
"Of course, Eddie," said Teo. She liked that smile of his, Teresa discovered. A balanced, practical smile: When the opposition is down, you don't kick him. "Nobody is saying you didn't do your job well. But it's time for you to relax, take some time off. Without neglecting your commitments, of course."
He was looking at Eddie, not at Teresa or Patty, who was still more or less on the fringes, with an expression that said she was enjoying this show immensely. "Your commitments, Eddie." That was the second lesson. A warning. And that guy knows his stuff, thought Teresa. He knows about kicked dogs, because he's no doubt kicked his share of them. All with soft words, every hair in place. The attorney seemed to get the message, because he collapsed almost physically. Out of the corner of her eye, Teresa sensed the uneasy look he gave her. Scared shitless. Just like at the door of his apartment house, with the papers all over the floor.
"What do you recommend?" Teresa asked Teo.
He made a gesture that took in the entire table, as though it were all there, in plain sight, among the coffee cups or in the black leather portfolio he had open in front of him, its pages blank, a gold fountain pen on top. His hands were dark, well cared for, manicured, with black hairs peeking out from under the rolled-up cuffs. Teresa wondered how old he'd been when he and Patty slept together. Eighteen, twenty. Two daughters, her friend had said. A wife with money, and two daughters. No question he was still sleeping with other women, too.
"Switzerland is too serious," Teo said. "It requires too many bonds and guarantees and confirmations. The Channel Islands are all right, and there are subsidiaries of Spanish banks that are based in London rather than Madrid, and that therefore demand financial opacity. But they're too close, too obvious, and if the European Union decides to pressure them someday, and England decides to tighten the screws, Gibraltar and the Channels will be vulnerable."
Despite everything, Eddie had not given up. Maybe it was patriotism. "That's what you say," he put in, and then muttered something unintelligible.
This time Teresa didn't say anything. She just kept looking at Teo, waiting for his reaction. He touched his chin, pensive. He sat like that for a second, his eyes down, and then looked up, straight at Eddie.
"Don't fuck with me, Eddie. Okay?" He had picked up the fountain pen, and after taking off the cap he drew a line of blue ink across the white page of his notebook, a line so perfectly straight and horizontal that he might have been using a ruler. "This is serious business, not running Winstons across the line." He looked at Patty and then at Teresa, the pen suspended over the paper, and at the end of the line he drew an arrow pointing to Eddie's heart. "Does he really have to be here for this conversation?"
Patty looked at Teresa, her eyebrows arched exaggeratedly. Teresa was looking at Teo. No one was looking at Eddie.
"No," Teresa said. "He doesn't."
"Ah. Good. Because we need to discuss some technical details."
Teresa turned to Eddie. He was taking off his glasses to wipe the nosepieces with a Kleenex, as though in the last few minutes they had been slipping more often than usual. He also wiped the bridge of his nose. His nearsightedness accentuated the bewilderment and fear in his eyes. He looked as pathetic and helpless as a duck soaked in crude oil on the ocean shore.
"Go downstairs and have a beer, Eddie. We'll see you later," said Teresa.
He hesitated, then put on his glasses as he clumsily got up. The sad imitation of a humiliated man. It was obvious that he was trying to think of something to say before he left, and that nothing occurred to him. He opened his mouth, closed it. Finally he left, in silence: a duck leaving black footprints, chuff chuff chuff with a face that looked like he was going to throw up before he made it outside.
Teo drew a second blue line in his notebook, under the first, and just as straight.
"I would go to Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, the Caribbean, or Panama," he said. "Several of my representatives operate with Grand Cayman, and they're very satisfied: six hundred and eighty banks on a tiny island two hours by plane from Miami. No tellers, virtual money, no taxes, confidentiality a sacred trust. They're only obliged to report transactions when there's proof of direct links to known criminal activity… But since they have no legal requirements for a customer's identification, establishing those links is not possible."
Now he was looking at the two women, and three out of four times it was at Teresa. I wonder, she thought, what the Lieutenant's told him about me. Where everybody stands. She also wondered whether she was dressed appropriately: a loose ribbed sweater, jeans, sandals. For a moment she envied the mauve and gray Valentino outfit that Patty was wearing as naturally as a second skin. Elegant bitch.
Teo went on explaining his plan: A couple of non-resident corporations located abroad, covered by law firms with adequate bank accounts, to start with. And so as not to put all their eggs in one basket, transfer select amounts of money, laundered through a series of secure circuits, to fiduciary deposits and serious bank accounts in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Dormant accounts, he insisted, that were not to be touched, as insurance for the long term. They could also invest their money in corporations that dealt in trusts, real estate, tides, things like that. Clean money-spotless, in fact- in case someday the Caribbean infrastructure had to be dynamited or everything else had to be blown to bits.
"Do you agree with all this?"
"It sounds like the right thing," Teresa replied.
"It is. The advantage is that now there's a lot of movement between Spanish banks and the Caymans, and we can get lost in all the wire traffic for the first deposits. I have a good contact in George Town: Mansue Johnson and Sons. Banking consultants, financial advisors, and attorneys. They do complete tailor-made packages."
"Isn't that going a little far, making everything way too complicated?" asked Patty. She had been smoking one cigarette after another, the butts accumulating in the saucer of her coffee cup.
Teo put the pen down on the notebook page. He shrugged. "That depends on your plans for the future. What Eddie did for you works for the current state of your business: it's that simple. But if things start picking up, you really need to prepare a structure that can handle any expansion, without rushing it and without improvisation."
"How long would it take you to have everything ready to go?" Teresa asked.
Teo smiled the same smile as before: restrained, a bit vague, very different from the smiles of other men she remembered. And she still liked it, or maybe it was that now she liked that kind of smile because it didn't mean anything. Simple, clean, automatic. More a polite gesture than anything else, like the gleam on a polished table or the shine on a new car. There was nothing compromising behind it: not sympathy, or dreams, or weakness, or obsessions. There was no intention to deceive, no attempt to convince or seduce; it was there only because it was linked to the character, inculcated in him through upbringing, the way his manners and the well-tied knot in his tie had been. He smiled the way he drew those ruler-straight lines on the blank pages of his notebook, and that was reassuring to Teresa. By this time she had read, and remembered, and she could look at a person and see many things. This man's smile was one of those that put everything in its proper place. I don't know whether it'll happen with him, she told herself-I really don't know if I'll ever screw another man. But if I do, it'll be a man who smiles like that.
"How soon can you give me the money to start? After that, a month, maximum, and the papers will be ready for you to sign. We can have the right people come here, or we can all go to a neutral site. An hour of signatures and paperwork, and it'll be done… I also have to know who's in charge of everything."
He waited for a reply. He had said this in a light, offhanded way. A detail of no great importance. But he was still waiting, and he was looking at each of them in turn.
"Both of us," said Teresa. "We're in this together."
Teo took a second or two to answer. "I understand. But we need a single signature. The one who'll be sending the faxes or making the telephone calls. There are things that I can do, of course. That I'll have to do, if you give me a limited power of attorney. But one of you has to make the fast decisions."
Lieutenant O'Farrell's cynical laughter broke the silence. The fucking laugh of an ex-combatant who wipes her ass with the flag.
"That's her." She pointed at Teresa with her cigarette. "Somebody'll have to get up early every morning, and I don't get up till noon."
Miss American Express. Teresa asked herself why Patty decided to play it this way, and since when. Where she was pushing her, and why. Teo sat back in his chair. Now his eyes moved back and forth between the two women.
"It is my responsibility to tell you that you'll be leaving everything in her hands," he finally said to Patty.
"All right." Teo studied Teresa. "That's it, then."
He was no longer smiling, and his expression seemed to indicate he was appraising the situation. He's asking himself the same questions about Patty, Teresa told herself. About our relationship. Calculating the pros and cons. To what degree I represent profits. Or problems. To what degree she does.
At that, she began to sense many of the things that were going to happen.
Patty gave them a good, long look when they left the meeting, and the look continued as the three of them went downstairs in the elevator and then strolled along the docks of the harbor, tidying up the last details. They picked Eddie Alvarez up at the door of the Ke bar, where he resembled someone who'd just been the victim of a mugging and was expecting another, the ghost of Punta Castor and perhaps the memory of Sergeant Velasco and Canabota making his throat tight. Patty seemed pensive, her eyes squinting, marked with wrinkles, with a touch of interest or amusement, or both- amused interest, interested amusement-bubbling inside her, somewhere in that strange head. It was as though she were smiling without smiling, mocking Teresa, and perhaps herself, a little, laughing at everything and everybody. She had been watching them with that strange expression when they left the apartment in Sotogrande, as if she had just planted pot up in the sierra and were waiting for the perfect moment to harvest it-and she continued watching them during the conversation with Teo along the docks, and then for weeks and months afterward, when Teresa and Teo Aljarafe began to grow close. And once in a while Teresa got a whiff of that and was about to confront Patty, say, Quihubo aqui, camalita, what's up, cabrona, spit it out.
But then Patty would smile in a different way, more open, like, Wlw, me? and light a cigarette, sip at her drink, pick at her food, do a line of coke. Or she'd start talking about something with that frivolousness she wielded so perfectly-frivolousness that Teresa had figured out wasn't frivolousness at all-or anything like sincerity, either. Or Patty might go back, for a time, to being what she'd been in the beginning: the distinguished, cruel, cutting, quick Lieutenant O'Farrell, the comrade from back when, whose dark side you might occasionally glimpse.
Afterward, Teresa even came to wonder to what extent Patty had sacrificed herself to fate, like a woman accepting the tarot cards that she herself turns up. To what degree had Patty foreseen, or even fostered, many of the things that eventually occurred between the two of them, Teresa and Teo Aljarafe? And thus, in a way, among the three of them.
Teresa often saw Oleg Yasikov. There was good chemistry between her and the big, quiet Russian, who looked at work, money, life, and death with a dispassionate Slavic fatality that reminded her of certain men from northern Mexico. The two of them would sit drinking coffee or take a walk after a work-related meeting, or go out to dinner at Casa Santiago, on the sea walk in Marbella-Yasikov liked crayfish in white wine sauce-with the bodyguards strolling along the sidewalk across the street, along the beachfront. He was not a man of many words, but when they were alone, talking, Teresa heard him say things, almost offhandedly, that later she would spend hours turning over in her head. He never tried to convince anyone of anything, or counter one argument with another. I tend not to argue, he had once remarked. They tell me it'll be less and I say, Ah, well, maybe it will be. Then I do what I think is right. This guy, Teresa soon realized, had a point of view, a very clear way of looking at the world and the beings who inhabited it: he didn't kid himself that it was reasonable, or fair, or nice. Just useful. His behavior, his objective cruelty, suited her somehow.
"There are animals," he said, "that live on the bottom of the ocean in a shell. Others go out and expose their bare skin-they risk it. Some reach the shore. They stand up. They walk. The question is, How far do they get before their time is up? Yes. How long do you last and what do you achieve while you last? Which is why everything that helps you survive is essential. The rest is superfluous. Disposable, Tesa. In my work, as in yours, you have to move within the simple margins of those two words. Essential. Superfluous. Understand?… And the second of those words includes the lives of other people. Or sometimes excludes them."
So Yasikov wasn't so hermetic after all. No man was. Teresa had learned that it was silences, skillfully administered, that made other people talk. And it was in that way, little by little, that she approached the Russian gangster. One of Yasikov's grandfathers had been a czarist cadet in the days of the Bolshevik Revolution, and during the hard years that followed, the family preserved the memory of that young officer. Like many men of his class, Oleg Yasikov admired bravery-that, he would eventually confess, was what had made him admire Teresa. It was during a night of vodka and conversation on the terrace of the Salduba bar in Puerto Baniis; she caught a sentimental, almost nostalgic, vibration in his voice when in a very few words he told the story of the cadet and later lieutenant in the Nikolaiev Cavalry Regiment, who had time to father a son before being shot by a firing squad, alongside Baron von Ungern Sternberg, in Mongolia, or Siberia, in 1922.
"Today is the birthday of Czar Nicholas," Yasikov said abruptly, the bottle of Smirnoff two-thirds empty, turning his head as though the specter of the young White Army officer were about to appear down at the end of the sea walk, among the Rolls-Royces and Jaguars and enormous yachts. Then he pensively raised his glass of vodka, holding it up to the light, and he held it aloft until Teresa clinked her glass against it, and then they both drank, looking into each other's eyes. And although Yasikov smiled self-mockingly,
Teresa, who knew almost nothing about the czar, much less about the officer grandfather shot by a firing squad in Manchuria, realized that despite the Russian's grimace, he had just performed a serious and deeply felt ritual that she had been privileged to witness, and that her instinct to clink her glass against his had been right, because it brought her closer to the heart of a dangerous and necessary man.
Yasikov filled the glasses again. "The czar's birthday," he repeated. "Yes. And for almost a hundred years, even when that date was forgotten and that word was forbidden in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the paradise of the proletariat, my grandmother and my parents and later I myself would drink a toast to him at home. Yes. To his memory and the memory of Lieutenant Yasikov of the Nikolaiev Cavalry Regiment. I still do. Yes. As you see. Wherever I am. Without opening my mouth. Even once during the eleven months that I spent rotting as a soldier. In Afghanistan." Then he poured more vodka, until the bottle was empty, and it occurred to Teresa that every human being has a hidden story, and that if you were quiet enough and patient enough you could finally hear it. And that that was good, a lesson that was important to learn. A lesson that was useful, above all.
The Italians, Yasikov had said. Teresa discussed it the following day with Patty. "He says the Italians want a meeting. They need reliable transportation for their coke, and he thinks our infrastructure can help them. They're happy with the hashish shipments and want to raise the stakes. It's too far a reach for the old Gallego amos do fume. They've got other connections, plus they're under surveillance by the police. So they've sounded out Oleg to see if we're willing to take it on. To open a big route for them through the south, that'll cover the Mediterranean." "So what's the problem?"
"There'll be no turning back. If we take on this job, we're committed, we have to stay with it. And that means more investment. It makes things more complicated. And more risky."
They were in Jerez, having tapas-shrimp and tortilla espahola-and drinking Tio Pepe at the Carmela bar, at a table under the old arch. It was a
Saturday morning, and the glaring sun illuminated the people strolling through the Plaza del Arenal-older couples dressed for the aperitivo hour, younger couples with children, groups around the doors of taverns or sitting around wine barrels set out in the plaza as tables. The two women had come to visit a winery that was up for sale by the Fernandez de Sotos-a large building with walls painted red ocher and white, spacious patios surrounded by arches and grilled windows, and vast cool wine cellars full of oak barrels with their contents identified in chalk. The winery was in bankruptcy; it belonged to a family Patty had known all her life, ruined like others of Patty's class by expensive tastes, purebred horses, and a generation absolutely allergic to business: two sons who were playboys and partiers and who appeared from time to time in the police blotter of the newspapers, for corruption of minors.
The investment was recommended by Teo Aljarafe: "We'll keep the land with the limestone soil over by Sanlucar and the old building in Jerez, and on the lot in the city we'll build apartments. The more respectable businesses we have, the better, and a bodega with a name and pedigree has real cachet." Patty had laughed about that "cachet" they were buying. "My family's name and pedigree never made me the slightest bit respectable," she said. But she did think the purchase was a good idea.
So the two of them went to Jerez, Teresa dressed elegantly for the occasion, jacket and gray skirt with black heels, her hair parted down the middle and pulled back in a chignon, two silver hoops at her ears. She should always wear as little jewelry as possible, Patty had suggested, and no costume jewelry, only the real thing. A simple bracelet once in a while, or that semanario of hers. A good chain around her neck-a chain was better than a necklace, but if she had to wear a necklace it should be good: coral, amber, pearls… It's like art on your walls; better to have a good lithograph or antique print than a bad oil.
Patty and Teresa were accompanied by an obsequious administrator decked out at eleven in the morning as though he'd just come from high mass during Holy Week in Seville. They visited the bodega, noted the high ceilings, stylized columns, shadowy interiors; the silence reminded Teresa of Mexican churches built by the conquistadors. It was strange, she thought, how some old places in Spain gave her the sense that she was coming face to face with something already familiar to her. As though the architecture, the customs, the feeling of place were the echoes of things she thought belonged only to her own land. I've been here before, she would think as she turned a corner, or walked down a street, or stood before the portico of a mansion or a church. Hijole. Something in me has been this way before, and it explains part of what I am.
"If we just do transportation for the Italians, nothing will change," Patty said. "The guy that gets caught does the time. And that guy doesn't know anything. The chain stops there-no owners, no names. I don't see the risk."
She was finishing the last bites of tortilla, sitting silhouetted against the illuminated end of the arch; the light gilded her hair, and she had lowered her voice as she spoke.
Teresa lit a Bisonte. "I'm not talking about that kind of risk," she replied.
Yasikov had been very clear: "I don't want to deceive you, Tesa," he had said in Puerto Banus."The Camorra, the Mafia, and the 'Ndrangheta can be bad people. There's a lot to win with them. If everything goes well. But if something goes wrong, there's a lot to lose. And on the other side, you've got the Colombians. Yes. Who are no nuns, either. The positive part is that the Italians work with the boys from Cali, who are not as violent as those lunatics in Medellin, Pablo Escobar and that gang of psychopaths of his. But if you go into this, it'll be forever. You cannot get off a moving train. No. Trains are good if there are customers in them. Bad if there are enemies. Have you ever seen From Russia with Love7… The bad guy that confronted James Bond on the train was Russian. And that is not a warning. No. Just advice. Yes. Friends are friends until…" He was about to finish the sentence, when Teresa finished it for him. "Until they aren't anymore," she said. And smiled. Yasikov looked at her, suddenly serious.
"You are a very clever woman, Tesa," he then said, after not speaking for several seconds. "You learn quickly, about everything and everybody. You will survive."
"What about Yasikov?" Patty asked now. "He's not in?" "He's smart, and prudent." Teresa was watching people pass in front of the archway. "As we say in Sinaloa, he's got a plan, but he needs to fill that straight flush. He wants in, but he doesn't want to be the first one in. If we're in, he'll hitch a ride. With us taking care of the transportation, he can guarantee himself a reliable supply for his people, and one that's super-controlled. But first he wants to check out the system. The Italians give him the chance to test the waters with minimum risk. If everything works out, he'll come in. And if not, he'll just go on with what he's got now. He doesn't want to compromise his position here." "Is it worth it?"
"Depends. If we do it right, it's a shitload of money."
Patty's legs were crossed: Chanel skirt, beige heels. She was swinging one foot as though following the rhythm of a song, one Teresa couldn't hear.
"All right, then. You're the business brains." Patty tilted her head to one side-all those wrinkles around her eyes. "Which is why it's so comfortable to work with you."
"I told you there are risks. We can lose everything-including our lives. Both of us."
Patty's laughter made the waitress turn to look at them.
"I've lost everything before. So you decide. You're my girl."
She was still looking at her in that way. Teresa said nothing. She picked up her glass of sherry and brought it to her lips. With the taste of the tobacco in her mouth, the wine was bitter.
"Have you told Teo?" Patty asked.
"Not yet. But he's coming to Jerez this afternoon. He'll have to be told, of course."
Patty opened her purse to pay the check. She pulled out a thick wad of bills-very indiscreetly-and some fell to the ground. She leaned over to pick them up.
"Of course," she said.
There was something in what she and Yasikov had talked about in Puerto Bamis that Teresa didn't tell Patty. Something that forced her to look around with concealed suspiciousness. That kept her lucid and alert, that complicated her thoughts on those gray dawns that still found her lying wide awake. "There are rumors," the Russian had said. "Yes. Things. Someone told me that there is interest in you in Mexico. For some reason"-he studied her as he said this-"you have aroused the attention of your countrymen. Or their memory. They ask whether you are the same Teresa Mendoza that left Culiacan four or five years ago… Are you?" "Keep talking," Teresa said.
Yasikov shrugged. "I know very little more. Just that they're asking questions about you. A friend of a friend. Yes. They sent someone to find out what you're up to these days, and whether it's true that you're moving up in the business. That in addition to hashish you may be involved in cocaine. Apparently in your country there are people who are worried that the Colombians, since your countrymen have closed the door to the United States to them, may turn up here. Yes. And they cannot like the fact that a Mexican girl, which is also quite a coincidence, may be in the middle. No. Especially if they know this girl. From before. So be careful, Tesa. In this business, having a past is neither good nor bad, so long as you don't attract attention. And things are going too well for you for you not to attract attention. Your past, that past you never talk to me about, is none of my affair. Nyet. But if you left unpaid bills, there's always the possibility that somebody may want to collect."
Long before, in Sinaloa, Guero Davila had taken her flying. It was the first time for her. Guero parked the Bronco so that its headlights lit the yellow-roofed airport building, and after greeting the soldiers standing guard along the runway covered with small planes, they took off just at dawn, to see the sun come up over the mountains. Teresa remembered Guero beside her in the cabin of the Cessna, the sunlight reflecting off the green lenses of his Ray-Bans, his hands on the controls, the purring of the engine, the image of St. Malverde hanging from the dashboard-God bless my journey and allow my return-and the Sierra Madre shimmering like mother-of-pearl, with golden glints off the water in the rivers and lakes, the fields with their green smears of marijuana, the fertile plains, and off in the distance, the ocean. That early morning, seen from up in the sky, her eyes wide open in surprise, the world seemed clean and beautiful to Teresa.
She thought about that now, in a room in the Hotel Jerez, in the dark, with only the glow from the gardens and the pool backlighting the curtains at the window. Teo Aljarafe had gone, and the voice of Jose Alfredo was emerging from the stereo perched next to the television set and VCR. I'm in the corner of a cantina, he was singing. Listening to a song that I requested. Guero had told her that Jose Alfredo Jimenez had died drunk, composing his last songs in cantinas, the lyrics written down by friends because Jose Alfredo couldn't even hold a pencil anymore. "Your Memory and I," this one was called. And it certainly sounded like it was one of the last.
What had been bound to happen happened. Teo arrived at mid-afternoon for the closing on the Fernandez de Soto bodega. Then they had a drink to celebrate. One, and then several. Then the three of them, Teresa, Patty, and Teo, walked through the old part of Jerez with its ancient palaces and churches, its streets filled with tascas and bars. And as they sat at a bar, when Teo leaned over to light the cigarette she had just put to her lips, Teresa felt his eyes on her. How long has it been, she asked herself. How long since… She liked his Spanish aquiline profile, the dark, secure hands, that smile stripped of all meaning and commitment. Patty smiled, too, but differently, as though from a distance. Resigned. Fatalistic. And just as Teresa was bringing her face down to the man's hands, which were cradling the flame in the hollow of his palm, she heard Patty say: I've gotta go, oh gosh, I just remembered something. See you guys later.
Teresa had turned to say, No, wait, I'm going with you, don't leave me here, but Patty was already gone, without looking back, her purse slung over her shoulder. So Teresa sat there watching her go while she felt Teo's eyes on her again. And at that, she wondered whether Patty and he had talked this over. What might they have said? What would they say afterward? But no- the thought stung like a whip. No way-no mixing business with pleasure. I can't afford that kind of luxury. I'm leaving, too. Yet something in the middle of her body, in her womb, forced her to stay: a strong, dense impulse composed of weariness, loneliness, expectation, lack of will. She wanted to rest. Feel a man's skin, his fingers on her body, his mouth against her own. Put aside all this initiative for a while and entrust herself to someone who would act for her. Think for her. Then she recalled the torn photograph she always carried in her wallet, in her purse. The wet-behind-the-ears girl with the big eyes, with a male arm over her shoulders-ignorant of almost everything, looking out at a world that resembled the one she'd seen from the cabin of a Cessna on a pearl-colored morning. She turned, finally, slowly, deliberately. And as she did so, she thought, Pinches hombres cabrones, always so fucking smart, but they almost never think. She was absolutely certain that sooner or later, one of them, or both, would pay for what was about to happen.
There she was now, alone. Listening to Jose" Alfredo. It had all happened very predictably and quietly, without too many words or unnecessary gestures. As antiseptic as the smile on the face of this experienced, skilled, and attentive Teo. Satisfactory in many ways. And suddenly, almost at the end of the several endings that he brought her to, Teresa's calm mind found itself once again looking at itself-looking at her-like so many other times before: naked, sated at last, her tousled hair in her face, serene after the excitement, desire, and pleasure, knowing that being possessed by others, or abandoning herself to them, had all ended at the Leon Rock. And she saw herself thinking about Patty, the way she'd shivered when Teresa kissed her on the mouth in their cell in prison, the way she'd watched Teresa while Teo lit her cigarette in the bar. And she told herself that maybe what Patty wanted was precisely that: to push her toward herself. Toward that image in the mirrors with its lucid gaze-the image that never allowed itself to be deceived.
After Teo left, she'd gone into the shower, the water very, very hot, the steam fogging up the mirror, and she'd scrubbed her skin with soap- slowly, carefully-before dressing and going out for a walk, alone. She wandered through the city until in a narrow street with grilled windows she heard, in surprise and wonder, a song from Mexico. I want my life to end as I sit over a glass of wine. That's impossible, she said to herself. That can't be happening here, now. So she raised her eyes and saw the sign above the door: "El Mariachi-Cantina Mexicana." And at that she laughed almost out loud, because she realized that life and fate play subtle games that sometimes turn out to be obvious. Chale. She pushed the swinging door open and entered an authentic cantina-bottles of tequila behind the bar, a pudgy young waiter serving Corona and Pacifico beers to the people at the tables, and a CD by Jose Alfredo on the stereo. She ordered a Pacifico just so she could touch its yellow label, and she raised the bottle to her lips, sipped just enough to savor the taste that brought back so many memories, and then ordered a Herradura Reposado, which was served to her in the authentic caballito.
Now Jose Alfredo was saying, Why did you come to me seeking compassion, when you know that I'm writing my last song. Teresa felt an intense wave of happiness wash over her, a feeling so fierce that she thought she might almost faint. And she ordered another tequila, and then another-the waiter had recognized her accent and smiled pleasantly. When he was in cantinas, another song began, he felt no pain or grief. She pulled a wad of bills out of her purse and told the waiter to bring her an unopened bottle of tequila, and that she'd also buy that CD that was playing. "I can't sell it," the young man said, surprised. So she pulled out more money, and then more, covering the bar as the astonished waiter looked on. Finally he brought her the bottle and the two double CDs by Jose Alfredo, four CDs with a hundred songs. I can buy anything, she thought absurdly-or not so absurdly, after all-when she left the cantina with her treasures, not caring that people might see her carrying the bottle. She walked to the taxi stand-she could feel the street moving strangely under her feet-and returned to her hotel.
And there she still was, with the bottle almost half empty, accompanying the recorded lyrics with words of her own. Listening to a song that I requested. They're serving me my tequila now. And my thoughts journey to you. The room was in dusky light from the lamps in the garden and around the pool: rumpled sheets; Teresa's hands as she smoked basucos, picked up the glass and the bottle on the night table. Who hasn't known the betrayal of a love affair gone wrong? Who hasn't gone into a cantina for a tequila and a song? And I wonder just who I am now, Jose Alfredo was singing, as Teresa silently moved her lips.
Quihubo, carnala. I ask myself how other people see me, and I hope they see me from way far away.
What was that? The need for a man? Orale. Falling in love. No, gracias, not anymore.
"Free" was perhaps the word, despite its grandiloquence, its poetry. She didn't even go to mass anymore. She looked up, at the dark ceiling, and saw nothing. They're pouring me one for the road, Jose Alfredo was singing just then, and she sang along. No, I won't be going just yet-right now all I want is to hear "The Woman Who Left" one more time.
She shivered. On the sheet, beside her, was the torn photograph. Being free made you very cold.
11- I don't know how to kill, but I'm going to learn
The installations of the Guardia Civil in Galapagar are on the outskirts of the village, which is near El Escorial: smaller houses for the guardsmen's families and a larger building for the headquarters offices, with the snowy gray landscape of the mountains in the background. Directly behind-one of life's little paradoxes-some nice-looking prefabs where a community of Gypsies live. The two populations inhabit the place in a live-and-let-live proximity that gives the lie to so many of Garcia Lorca's cliches about the Heredias, Camborios, and tricorne-wearing soldiers.
After identifying myself at the gate, I left my car in the parking lot, under the eye of the soldier at the entrance. A tall, blond guard-in his uniform he was green down to the ribbon tying the ponytail that emerged from under his beret-led me to Captain Victor Castro's office: a small room with a computer on the desk and a Spanish flag on the wall, next to which were
hanging, whether as decoration or trophies I never learned, a Mauser Corufia from 1945 and a Kalashnikov AKM assault rifle.
"All I can offer you is a cup of really terrible coffee," he said.
I accepted his offer, and he himself brought me a cup from the machine in the hallway, stirring the tarry black liquid with a plastic spoon. It was, indeed, unspeakably bad. As for Captain Castro, he was one of those men one likes at first sight: serious, with efficient manners, impeccably turned out in his olive-green fatigues and buzz-cut gray hair, a moustache that was turning gray, and a gaze as direct and open as the handshake he'd given me when we met. He had the face of an honest man, and it may have been that, among other things, that had led his superiors, some time back, to put him in charge of the Delta Four group, on the Costa del Sol, for five years. But according to my sources, Captain Castro's honesty proved to be something of an inconvenience even to his superiors. That, perhaps, explained why I was visiting him in an out-of-the-way village up in the Sierra de Madrid, in a command post with thirty guardsmen the rank of whose commanding officer should not have been as high as that of Captain Castro, and why it had taken me a good bit of work-calling in favors, twisting a few arms- to persuade Guardia Civil national headquarters to authorize this interview. As Captain Castro himself noted that afternoon, philosophically, when he politely accompanied me to my car, Boy Scouts never have much of a career in this line of work.
Now we were talking about specifically his career. He was sitting at the desk in his little office, with his eight multicolored ribbons sewn on the left side of his jacket, across from me with my coffee. Or to be more precise, we were talking about the day Teresa Mendoza first came to his attention, back when he was investigating the murder of a Civil Guardsman in the Manilva detachment, one Sergeant Ivan Velasco, whom Castro described-he was very careful in his choice of words-as an agent of questionable honesty. Others whom I'd consulted about this individual-among them the ex-cop Nino Juarez-had not been quite so circumspect, defining him instead as a thoroughgoing asshole son of a bitch.
"Velasco was murdered in a very suspicious way," Castro explained. "So we worked on that for a while. Certain overlaps with episodes of smuggling,
among them the matter of Punta Castor and the death of Santiago Fisterra,
led us to link Velasco's murder to Teresa Mendoza's release from prison. Al-
though nothing could ever be proved, that was what led me to her, and in
time I became a specialist in the Mexicana: surveillance, videotapes, telephone taps-with a court order, of course You know the drill." He looked
at me, taking for granted that I did in fact know the drill. "It wasn't my job to pursue drug trafficking, just investigate that world. The people the Mexicana bought and corrupted, including bankers, judges, and politicians. And people in my line of work, too: Customs officers, Civil Guardsmen, cops."
The word "cops" made me nod, interested. Surveillance on the guys doing surveillance. Enforcement on the enforcers.
"What was Teresa Mendoza's relationship to Commissioner Nino Juarez?"
He hesitated, and he seemed to be calculating the worth, or currency, of each detail he was going to give. Then he made an ambiguous gesture.
"There isn't a lot I can tell you that the newspapers didn't publish at the time… The Mexicana managed to infiltrate even the DOCS. Juarez, like so many others, wound up working for her."
I set my styrofoam cup on the desk and leaned forward.
"She never tried to buy you off?"
Captain Castro's silence became uncomfortable. He looked at the cup inexpressively. For a moment I feared the interview was over. It's been a pleasure, sir. Adios and hasta la vista.
"I understand many things, right?" he said at last. "… I understand, although I can't condone, the fact that somebody earning a very low salary might see the opportunity if someone says to him, Listen, tomorrow when you're at such and such a place, instead of looking this way look that way. And in exchange, that person sticks out his hand and gets a wad of bills. That's only human. Everybody has his own way of looking at things. And we all want to live better than we live now… The thing is, some people have limits and others don't."
He fell silent again and raised his eyes. I tend to doubt people's innocence, but that look I didn't doubt. Although one never knew… Anyway, people had talked to me about Captain Victor Castro, number three in his class, seven years in Intxaurrondo, one as a volunteer in Bosnia, distinguished service medal with red ribbon.
"Of course they tried to buy me," he said. "It wasn't the first time, or the last." Now he allowed himself a gentle, almost tolerant smile. "Even here in this village people try from time to time, on a different scale. A ham at Christmas from a builder, an invitation to dinner from a city councilman… I'm convinced that every man and every woman has a price. Maybe mine was too high. I don't know. But whatever the case, me they didn't buy."
"Which is why you're here?"
"This is a good posting," he said as he looked at me impassively. "Quiet. I've got no complaints."
"Is it true, as people say, that Teresa Mendoza at one point had contacts in the Guardia Civil high command?"
"You should ask the high command about that."
"And that you worked with Judge Martinez Pardo in an investigation that was halted by the minister of justice?"
"I'll tell you the same as before: Ask the Ministry of Justice."
I nodded, accepting his rules. For some reason, that terrible coffee in a styrofoam cup increased my liking for him. I remembered former Commissioner Nino Juarez at the table in Casa Lucio, savoring his Vina Pedrosa '96. How had my interlocutor put it a minute ago? Ah, yes. Everybody has his own way of looking at things.
"Talk to me about the Mexicana," I said.
At the same time I took a copy of the photograph shot from the Customs helicopter out of my pocket, and I laid it on the table: Teresa Mendoza spotlighted in the middle of the night with a cloud of spray sparkling around her, her face and hair wet, her hands on the shoulders of the man piloting the speedboat. Rushing at fifty knots toward the Leon Rock and his destiny. "I know that photo," said Captain Castro. But he sat there looking at it pensively for a long time before pushing it back toward me.
"She was very smart and very fast," he added a moment later. "Her rise in that very dangerous world was a surprise to everyone. She took big risks and was lucky… From the woman riding with her boyfriend in that speedboat to the woman I knew, it's a big jump, I'll tell you. You've seen the press reports, I presume. The photos in Hola! and all that. She got refinement, manners, a bit of culture. And she became powerful. A legend, they say. The Queen of the South. The reporters called her that To us, she was always just La Mexicana."
"Did she kill people?"
"Of course she killed people. Or had people killed. In that business, killing is part of a day's work. But she was clever. No one could ever prove anything. Not a killing, not a shipment of drugs, nada, zip, nothing. Even the tax guys in Treasury were after her, to see if they couldn't get at her that way, for tax evasion or some other offense. Nothing… I suspect she bought off the agents that were investigating her."
I thought I detected a hint of bitterness in his words. I gave him a querying look, but he leaned back in his chair-Let's not take that road, he seemed to be saying. It's a little off the subject, and not my area of expertise.
"How did she go so far so fast?"
"I told you-she was very intelligent. And lucky, of course. She came on the scene just when the Colombian cartels were looking for alternative routes in Europe. But besides that, she was an innovator… If the Moroccans now have a monopoly on all the traffic on both sides of the Strait, it's thanks to her. She started depending more on those people than on the drug smugglers from Gibraltar or Spain, and she turned a disorganized, almost homegrown organization into an efficient business operation. She even changed the look of her employees. She made them dress right, none of those heavy gold chains and tacky silk shirts-simple suits, cars that didn't call attention to themselves, apartments instead of big houses, taxis to go to appointments… And so, Moroccan hashish aside, she was the one who set up the cocaine networks that served the eastern Mediterranean, and she managed to elbow out the other mafias and Gallegos that wanted to work it. Nothing she moved was her own, as far as we could learn. But almost everybody depended on her."
The key, Captain Castro went on to tell me, was that the Mexicana used her technical experience with speedboats for large-scale operations. The traditional boats had been Phantoms with those stiff hulls that made them prone to break up on the open sea, and Teresa was the first to realize that a semi-rigid boat could tolerate bad weather and bad seas better because it got banged up less. So she put together a flotilla of Zodiacs, or "rubbers," as they were known in the Strait: inflatable boats that in the last few years had become available in lengths up to fifty feet, sometimes with three motors- the third not for extra speed, since the boat's limit was around fifty knots, but rather to maintain power. The larger size also allowed the boat to carry reserves of fuel. Greater range, more cargo aboard-it was the perfect solution. That way she could work in good or bad seas in places quite a distance from the Strait, such as the mouth of the Guadalquivir, Huelva, and the desert coastlines of Almeria. Sometimes she would go as far as Murcia and Alicante, using fishing boats or private yachts, which could lay far offshore, on the high seas, as relay boats. She carried out operations with ships that came directly from South America, and she used the Moroccan connection, the entrance of cocaine through Agadir and Casablanca, to organize air transports from runways hidden in the mountains of the Rif to small Spanish landing sites that weren't even on the maps. What they called "bombings" were also in fashion: twenty-five-kilo packages of hashish or coke wrapped in fiberglass and strapped with flotation devices that they'd throw into the ocean to be recovered by fishing boats or speedboats. Nothing like that, Captain Castro said, had ever been done in Spain before.
Teresa Mendoza's pilots, recruited from among the daredevils that flew crop-spraying planes, could take off and land on dirt highways and two-hundred-yard runways. Using the moon, they would fly low between mountains or just skim the surface of the ocean, taking advantage of the fact that Moroccan radar was almost nonexistent and that the Spanish air-detection system had, or has-the captain made a huge circle with his hands-holes this big in it. Not to mention that there was always somebody who, palm duly greased, would close his eyes when a suspicious blip appeared on the screen.
"We confirmed all this later," Castro said, "when a Cessna Skymaster crashed near Tabernas, in Almeria, loaded with two hundred kilos of cocaine. The pilot, a Polish guy, was killed. We knew it was one of the Mexi-cana's operations, but nobody could ever prove the connection. For that operation or any other."
She stopped in front of the window of the Alameda Bookstore. Recently she'd been buying a lot of books. There were more and more of them in her house, lined up neatly on shelves or laid randomly on the furniture. She would read until late at night, or sit during the day on the terrace facing the ocean. Some were about Mexico. In this Malaga bookstore she'd found several authors from her homeland: detective novels by Ricardo Garibay, a True History of the Conquest of New Spain by one Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who had been with Cortes and Malinche, and a three-volume collection of essays by Octavio Paz-she'd never heard of this Paz before, but he seemed to be a very important writer in Mexico. This volume was titled El Peregrino en Su Patria-The Pilgrim in His Homeland. She read the entire thing-slowly, with difficulty, sometimes skipping the many pages she couldn't understand. But some of it stuck: a trace of something new that made her think about the country she had been born in-that proud, violent land, so good and so miserable at the same time, always so far from God and so close to the fucking gringos-and about herself. They were books that made her think about things she had never thought about before.
She also read the newspapers and tried to watch the news on TV. That and the telenovelas, the soaps that ran in the evening, although now she spent more time reading than anything else. The advantage of books, as she discovered when she was in El Puerto de Santa Maria, was that you could appropriate the lives, stories, and thoughts they contained, and you were never the same person when you closed them as when you had opened them for the first time. Very intelligent people had written some of those pages, and if you were able to read with humility, patience, and the desire to learn, they never disappointed you. Even the things you didn't understand stuck here, in a corner of your head, ready for the future to give them meaning, to turn them into beautiful or useful lessons. Thus The Count of Monte Cristo and Pedro Paramo, which for very different reasons remained her favorites-she had read them so many times she'd lost count-were now familiar journeys, which she had managed to almost completely master. Juan Rulfo's book was a challenge from the beginning, and now it gave her a sense of satisfaction to turn its pages and understand: I wanted to go back, because I thought I might find the heat I'd just left, but I could tell the cold was coming from inside me, from my own blood. Fascinated, shivering with pleasure and fear, she had discovered that all the books in the world were somehow about her.
And now she was studying the display in the store window, seeing whether there might be some title or cover that attracted her. With unknown books, she tended to let herself be guided by the covers and the titles. There was one by a woman named Nina Berberova that she'd read because of the portrait of a young woman playing the piano on the cover, and she had liked the story so much that she had sought out other titles by the same author. Since Berberova was Russian, Teresa gave the book-The Accompanist, it was called-to Oleg Yasikov, who read nothing but the sports page or things related to the times of the czar. Loony, that pianist, the gangster had said a few days later. Which showed that he had at least opened the book.
The morning was a sad one, a bit cool for Malaga. It had rained, and a misty haze hung over the city and port, turning the trees on the Alameda gray. Teresa had spotted a novel in the window called The Master and Margarita. The cover was not particularly attractive, but the author's name looked Russian, and Teresa smiled at the idea of Yasikov and the face he'd make when she gave him the book. She was about to go in and buy it when she saw her reflection in a mirror in the corner of the window: hair pulled back and falling over her shoulders, silver earrings, no makeup, an elegant three-quarter-length leather coat over blue jeans and brown leather boots. Behind her, the light traffic toward the Tetuan bridge, and only a few people out on the sidewalk. All at once everything inside her froze, as though her blood and heart and thoughts had turned to ice, or stone. She felt it before she could think about it. Even before she knew how to interpret it. But it was unmistakable, familiar, and menacing: The Situation.
She'd seen something, she thought in a rush, not turning around, standing motionless before the mirror that allowed her to look behind her, over her shoulder. Frightened. Something that didn't go with the scene but that she couldn't identify. One day-she remembered Guero Davila's words- someone will come up to you. Someone you may know. She carefully scanned the visual field the mirror gave her, and she became aware of the presence of two men crossing the street from the median strip of the Alameda, walking unhurriedly, dodging cars. There was something familiar about both of them, but she didn't realize that until a few seconds later. First, a detail caught her eye: despite the cold, both men were carrying their jackets folded over their right forearms. Then she felt the blind, irrational, ancient fear she'd thought she would never feel again. And only when she had hurried into the bookstore and was about to ask the clerk if there was a back way out, did she realize that she had recognized Gato Fierros and Potemkin Galvez.
She ran again. Actually, she hadn't stopped running since the telephone rang in Culiacan. A flight with no direction, no destination, that had carried her to unforeseen people and places. Hardly had she hurried out the back door of the bookstore, her tense muscles awaiting a bullet, when she began to run down Calle Panaderos, not caring whether she attracted attention. She ran past the market-once more the memory of that first flight- and kept on straight until she reached Calle Nueva. Her heart was beating at sixty-eight hundred rpms, as though a souped-up V-8 were inside her chest. Vroom, vroom. She turned to look back from time to time, hoping against hope that the hit men were still waiting for her to come out of the bookstore. She slowed down when she almost slipped on the wet sidewalk. Calmer now, more rational. You're going to crack your skull, she told herself. So take it easy. Don't be stupid-think. Not about what those two assholes back there are doing, but about how to get rid of them. How to save yourself. You'll have time to think about the why of all this later, if you're still alive.
Impossible to go to the police, or back to the Cherokee with its leather seats-that ancestral Sinaloa taste for the all-terrain SUV-that was parked in the underground lot at the Plaza de la Marina. Think, she told herself again. Think, or you could die before the day's out. She looked around, confused and feeling helpless. She was in the Plaza de la Constitution, a few steps from the Hotel Larios. Sometimes she and Patty, when they were out shopping, would have a drink in the bar on the second floor, a pleasant place from which they could look out over-keep under surveillance, in this case-a good bit of the street. The hotel, of course. Ovale. She took her cell phone out of her purse as she entered the hotel. Beep, beep, beep. This was a problem that only Oleg Yasikov could solve.
It was hard for her to get to sleep that night. She would jump awake, startled, and more than once she heard a voice moaning in the darkness, discovering when she came awake that it was her own. Images of the past and present mingled in her head: Gato Fierros' smile, the burning sensation between her thighs, the blasts of a Colt Double Eagle, the half-naked flight through the shrubbery that scratched her legs. Like yesterday, like right now, it seemed. At least three times she heard one of Yasikov's bodyguards knocking on her bedroom door. Tell me you're all right, senora. Do you need anything?
Before sunrise she got up and dressed and went out into the living room. One of the men was nodding on the couch and the other one raised his eyes from a magazine before rising to his feet, slowly. A cup of coffee, senora7. A drink? Teresa shook her head and went to sit beside the window that overlooked the port of Estepona. Yasikov had put the apartment at her disposal. Stay as long as you want, he said. And avoid going home until everything blows over. The two bodyguards were middle-aged, heavyset, and quiet. One with a Russian accent and the other without any sort of accent at all, because he never opened his mouth. Both without identity. Telki, Yasikov called them. Soldiers. Taciturn men who moved slowly and whose professional eyes seemed to take in everything at once. They had not left her side since they walked into the hotel bar without attracting attention, one with a gym bag over his shoulder, and accompanied her-the one who talked asked her first, softly and politely, to describe the pistoleros-to a Mercedes with blacked-out windows that was waiting outside. Now the gym bag was open on the table, and inside it gleamed the bluing of a Skorpion machine pistol.
She saw Yasikov the next morning. "We're going to try to solve this problem," he told her. "Meanwhile, try not to show yourself in public. And now it would be useful if you would explain just exactly what's going on. Yes.
What account these men are here to collect. I want to help you, but I can't make enemies for no reason, or interfere in the affairs of people I might be doing other business with. Nyet. If this is just Mexicans, I don't care, because I can't lose anything there. No. But if it's Colombians I need to stay on good terms. Yes."
"They're Mexicans," said Teresa. "From Culiacan, Sinaloa. My pinche hometown."
"Then I don't care," Yasikov replied. "I can help you."
So Teresa lit a cigarette, and then another and another, and for almost an hour told her interlocutor everything about the period of her life that for a while she had thought was over forever: Batman Guemes, don Epifanio Vargas, Guero Davila's off-the-books shipments, his death, her flight from Culiacan, Melilla, Algeciras.
"That fits the rumors I'd heard," Oleg said when she had finished. "Except for you, we never see Mexicans here. No. Your success in business must have refreshed their memory."
They decided that Teresa would go on living a normal life-I can't be locked up, she had said; I spent enough time in a cell in El Puerto-but taking precautions, and with Yasikov's two telki beside her night and day. "You should also carry," the Russian suggested. But she refused: "No way. I'm clean and I want to stay clean. Illegal possession is all those assholes need to throw me in prison again." After thinking about it, Yasikov agreed. "Be careful, then," he said. "And I'll take care of the rest."
Teresa was careful. During the next week she lived with the bodyguards as virtually a second skin, avoided being seen in public too much, and stayed away from her home-a luxury apartment in Puerto Banus, which around this time she was considering replacing with a house on the seashore, in Guadalmina Baja-and it was Patty who went back and forth with clothes, books, and other necessities.
"Bodyguards, just like in the movies," Patty would say.
She spent a great deal of time with Teresa, talking or watching TV, the coffee table dusted with white powder, before the inexpressive eyes of Yasikov's two men. After a week, Patty turned to them and said, "Merry Christmas"-it was the middle of March-and put two thick wads of bills on the table, next to the bag with the Skorpion in it. "A little present. For you. To thank you for how well you're taking care of my friend."
"We're paid," said the one who spoke, after looking at the money and then at his comrade. And it occurred to Teresa that either Yasikov paid his people very well or they had a lot of respect for him. Maybe both. She never learned what their names were. Patty always called them Pixie and Dixie.
The two packages have been located," Yasikov reported. "A colleague who owes me some favors just called. I'll let you know what happens." He spoke to Teresa by phone the day before the meeting with the Italians, giving the news no apparent importance, in the course of a conversation about other matters.
Teresa was with her people, planning the purchase of eight thirty-foot rubbers that would be stored in a large warehouse in an industrial park in Estepona until they were to be launched. When she got off the phone she lit a cigarette to give herself some time, wondering how her friend the Russian was going to solve this problem. Patty looked at her. Sometimes, Teresa decided irritatedly, it's like she can read my fucking mind.
Teo was in the Caribbean, and Eddie, relegated to an administrative role, was overseeing the bank paperwork in Gibraltar. So besides Patty, two new board members for Transer Naga were present: Farid Lataquia and Dr. Ramos. Lataquia was a Lebanese Maronite who owned an import firm, the front for his real activities, which amounted to getting his hands on things that people needed. Small, charming, nervous, his hair thinning at the crown of his head but compensated for by a bushy moustache, he had made some money in arms trafficking during the Lebanese war-he was married to a Gemayel daughter-and he now lived in Marbella. Given enough money, personnel, and equipment, he could find anything. Thanks to him, Transer Naga had reliable transport for cocaine: old fishing boats from Huelva, private yachts or over-the-hill low-tonnage merchant vessels that before loading salt in Torrevieja would pause on the high seas to take on drugs that had entered Morocco via the Atlantic, and in certain cases act as feeder ships to speedboats operating off the eastern coast of Andalucia.
As for Dr. Ramos, he had been a physician in the merchant marine, and he was Transer Naga's tactical officer: he planned operations, specified loading and drop-off points, designed diversionary tactics, camouflage. In his fifties, with gray hair, tall and very thin, careless in his dress and, apparently, his personal hygiene, he always wore old knit cardigans, flannel shirts, and wrinkled pants. He smoked old pipes with burned-out bowls, filling them slowly and deliberately-he was the calmest man in the world-with an English tobacco he carried in its original tin, which, with the keys, coins, lighters, tamps, and other unpredictable objects he always had about him, made his pockets lumpy and deformed. Once, when he pulled out a handkerchief-embroidered with his initials, as in the old days-Teresa saw a miniature flashlight on a Danone yogurt promotional keychain fall out. He sounded like a metal-recycling truck when he walked.
"A single ID," the doctor was saying. "All the Zodiacs with the same registration and name. Identical, for all practical purposes. And since we'll put them in the water one by one, there's not the slightest problem. On each trip, once they're loaded, you take the ID tag off and they're anonymous. To be even safer, we can abandon them afterward, or have somebody pick them up. Pay us for them, of course. So we can make back part of our investment."
"Isn't it risky, all with the same registration?"
"Like I say, they'll go in the water one by one. When A is on an operation, we'll put the number on B. That way, since they're all alike, we'll always have one tied up at the pier, clean. Officially, it won't ever have moved from there."
"What about port security?"
Dr. Ramos' face betrayed only the slightest smile, of sincere modesty. That was also his specialty: harbor police, mechanics, sailors. He haunted the docks, parking his old Citroen Deux Chevaux anywhere, chatting with anyone he ran into, his pipe between his teeth and that absentminded, respectable, avuncular appearance of his. He had a little motorboat in Cabo-pino that he went fishing in. He knew every spot along the coast and every soul between Malaga and the mouth of the Guadalquivir.
"That's under control. No one will give us any trouble. Of course, they might come in from outside to investigate, but I can't cover that flank. Outside security is not within my purview."
Teresa took care of that aspect herself, through Teo and some of Patty's contacts. One-third of Transer Naga's income went to "public relations" on both sides of the Strait; politicians, government personnel, state security agents. The key was in negotiating-depending on the situation-with either information or money. Teresa never forgot the lesson of Punta Castor, and she had let some sizable shipments be intercepted-overhead, she called it-in order to throw good publicity in the way of the director of the Costa del Sol organized-crime section, Commissioner Nino Juarez, an old friend of Teo Aljarafe's. The various regions of the Guardia Civil also benefited from privileged information and lowered operational security to make interceptions and boost their statistics. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours-and suddenly, you owe me one. Or several.
There were a few lower-ranking officials, police officers, and Civil Guardsmen on whom this sort of delicacy was wasted; with them, a trusted contact would simply lay a sheaf of banknotes on the table, and that was that. Not everyone let themselves be bought, but even then, unit solidarity tended to kick in. It was rare for an officer to rat out a colleague, except in the most egregious cases. Besides, the line between drug running and fighting crime was sometimes not all that clear; many people worked both sides at once- paying informers with drugs, for instance-and money was the only rule that was never broken.
With regard to certain local politicians, not much tact was needed there, either. Teresa, Patty, and Teo had dinner several times with Tomas Pestana, the mayor of Marbella, to talk about the rezoning of several pieces of land they were interested in building on. Teresa had quickly learned that the more profits you brought to those you deal with, the more support they gave you. In the end, it was in the interest of even the guy in the corner store that you run drugs. And on the Costa del Sol, like everywhere else, introducing yourself as a person with a large amount of money to invest opened many doors. After that, it was all a question of ability and patience. A question of compromising people step by step, without scaring them off, until finally their well-being depended on you. Letting it happen easy. Vaseline. Like with the courts: You started off with flowers and candy for the secretaries and you wound up taking the judge to bed. Or several judges. Teresa had managed to put three on the payroll so far, including the presiding judge of a regional court, for whom Teo Aljarafe had just purchased an apartment in Miami.
She now turned to Lataquia. "What about the motors?"
The Lebanese man made an ancient Mediterranean gesture, the fingers of one hand together, then turning and swiping upward.
"It hasn't been easy," he said. "We still lack six units. I'm making inquiries."
"And the accessories?"
"The Wiseco pistons came in three days ago, no problem. The ball bearings for the connecting rods, too… As for the motors, I can complete the order with different makes."
"I specified," Teresa said slowly, emphasizing every word, "two-hundred-twenty-five-horsepower pinche Yamahas… That's what I specified."
Lataquia looked to Dr. Ramos for support, but the doctor's face remained inscrutable. He sucked at his pipe, lost in a cloud of smoke. Teresa smiled inside. They were all on their own in this game.
"I know," Lataquia said, still looking at the doctor, his tone somewhat resentful, "but finding sixteen motors all at once is not easy. Not even an official distributor can guarantee that many on such short notice."
"All the motors have to be identical," Dr. Ramos reminded him. "Or else adios, cover."
On top of it, he's a collaborator, Lataquia's eyes said. Ibn charmuta. You people must think we Phoenicians can do miracles. "What a pity," he finally said. "All that expense for one trip."
"Look who's crying over the expenses," Patty chimed in, lighting a cigarette. "Mister Ten Percent." She expelled the smoke hard, pursing her lips. "The bottomless pit."
She laughed softly, out on the margin of the conversation as usual. Enjoying it.
Lataquia assumed his expression of a man misunderstood. "I'll do what I can."
"I'm sure you will." Teresa smiled.
Never show doubt in public, Yasikov had said. Surround yourself with advisors, listen carefully, take your time giving orders if necessary, but afterward, never hesitate in front of the people working for you, never let them debate your decisions once they're made. In theory, a boss is never wrong. Oh, no. Everything you say has been carefully considered beforehand. The most important thing is respect. "If you can, make them love you. Of course. That ensures loyalty, too. Yes. But if you have to choose, it's better to be respected than loved."
"I'm sure," she repeated.
Although even better than being respected is being feared, she thought. But fear can't be imposed all of a sudden; it has to come gradually. Any psychopath can scare people. What's hard is making people fear you little by little.
Lataquia was thinking, pulling at his moustache.
"If you authorize it," he said, "I can make inquiries elsewhere. I know people in Marseilles and Genoa… It will take a bit longer. And there's the question of import permits and so on."
"Just do it. I want those motors." She paused, looking down at the table. "One more thing. We have to start thinking about a big boat." She raised her eyes. "Not too big. With all the legal cover in place."
"How much do you want to spend?"
"Seven hundred thousand. Seven-fifty, tops."
Patty wasn't following the conversation. She was just watching Teresa from a distance, smoking, saying nothing. Teresa avoided looking at her. Bottom line, she thought, you always say that I'm the one that runs the business. That you like it like that.
"For an Atlantic crossing?" Lataquia, who had caught the connotation of the extra fifty thousand, wanted to know.
"No. Just to be able to be more mobile, out there."
Dr. Ramos allowed himself a frown of censure. Too many questions, said his phlegmatic silence. Look at me. Or at Senorita O'Farrell sitting over there, quiet as a mouse.
"Could be," Teresa replied. "How long do you need?"
She knew how long she had. And it was not much time. The Colombians were on the verge of a quantum leap. A single shipment, everything at once, that would supply both the Italians and the Russians for months. Yasikov had approached her about the possibility, and Teresa had promised to think about it.
Lataquia pulled at his moustache again. "I don't know," he said. "A trip to look around, the formalities, and the payment. Three weeks, minimum." "Less."
"Two weeks." "One."
"I can try," Lataquia sighed. "But it'll cost more."
Teresa laughed out loud. She loved this cabrons act. One out of every three words was money with him.
"No me chingues, Lataquia. Not a dollar more. And get a move on, your beans are burning."
The meeting with the Italians was held the next afternoon, in the apartment in Sotogrande. Maximum security. Besides the Italians-two men from the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta who'd arrived that morning at the Malaga airport-only Teresa and Yasikov attended. Italy had become the main European consumer of cocaine, and the idea was to ensure a minimum of four shipments of seven hundred kilos a year.
One of the Italians, a mature man with gray sideburns and an impeccably tailored jacket that gave him the air of a sporty, fashionable, prosperous businessman, spoke for the pair; the other man was silent the entire time, except for when he leaned over once in a while to whisper a few words in his colleague's ear. The spokesman explained the plan in detail, in acceptable Spanish. The time was ripe for establishing this connection: Pablo Escobar was being hunted down in Medellin, the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers had suffered reverses that severely limited their ability to operate directly in the United States, and the other Colombian clans needed to make up in Europe for the losses they had suffered from being elbowed out of the U.S. by the Mexican mafias. They, the 'Ndrangheta, but also the Sicilian Mafia and Neopolitan Camorra-all on good terms, and all men of honor, he added very seriously, after his companion whispered to him-needed to guarantee themselves a constant supply of cocaine hydrochloride with a purity of ninety to ninety-five percent. They'd be able to sell it for S60.000 a kilo, three times as much as in Miami or San Francisco. They also needed coca paste to be sent to local underground refineries. At this point, the other man-thin, with a close-cropped beard, dark suit, and an old-fashioned look about him-whispered something else in his colleague's ear.
The first man raised an admonitory finger, furrowing his forehead the way Robert De Niro might in a gangster movie. "We keep our word to those who keep their words," he intoned.
It struck Teresa that in a world where gangsters went to the movies and watched television like everybody else, reality often imitated fiction.
"A broad-based, stable business," the man was now saying, "with a good outlook for the future, as long, of course, as the first operations meet everyone's expectations." Then he told Teresa something she'd come to the meeting knowing, thanks to Yasikov: The Colombians already had the first shipment prepared: a container ship, the Derly, was even now at the dock in La Guaira, Venezuela, ready to take aboard a roll-on, roll-off truck containing seven hundred five-gallon drums of automobile grease, each of which held a large package of coke. The rest of the operation was nonexistent, he said, shrugging and looking at Teresa and Yasikov as though it were all their fault.
To the surprise of the Italians and Yasikov himself, Teresa had come with a concrete proposal worked out almost to the last detail. She had spent all the previous night and this morning in a marathon strategy session with her people so she could lay out a plan to begin in La Guaira and end in the harbor of Gioia Tauro, in Calabria. She laid it out: dates, payments, guarantees, compensations in case of loss of the first shipment. She may have revealed more than necessary for the security of the operation, but in this phase, she knew that everything depended on impressing the customer. The support of Yasikov and the Babushka covered her only to a point.
So she filled in the gaps as the Italians asked questions, putting forward a perfectly calculated plan, no loose ends. She explained that she, or rather a small Moroccan corporation, Ouxda Imexport-a sister front company of Transer Naga's registered in Nador-would take charge of the merchandise in Casablanca. There it would be transferred to an old British minesweeper, the Howard Morhaim, sailing under the flag of Malta. Farid Lataquia had moved fast, reporting that very morning that the minesweeper was available.
The Howard Morhaim would then go on to Constanza, in Romania, where another shipment that was waiting in storage in Morocco would be delivered to Yasikov's people. The coordination of the two deliveries would make the transportation less expensive and also strengthen the security. Fewer trips, fewer risks. Russians and Italians sharing the expenses. A perfect example of international cooperation. Et cetera. The only condition was that Teresa would accept no payment in merchandise. All she did was furnish the transportation, and all she accepted in payment was dollars.
The Italians loved Teresa, and loved the deal. They had come just to feel out the possibilities, and they found an operation ready to go. When it came time to discuss the financial aspects-costs and percentages-the man in the elegant jacket took out his cell phone, excused himself, and spent twenty minutes in the other room talking. Teresa, Yasikov, and the bearded Italian waited around the table, which was covered with the papers on which Teresa had been jotting numbers, diagrams, and dates. They sat there in silence, looking at one another.
Finally the other Italian appeared in the doorway, smiling, and asked his colleague to join him for a moment. Yasikov lit a cigarette.
"They're yours," he said. "Yes."
Teresa collected the papers without a word. From time to time she looked over at Yasikov; the Russian was smiling encouragingly, but she was still serious. It ain't over, she thought, till it's over. When the Italians returned, the man in the elegant jacket did so cheerily, and his companion seemed more relaxed, less solemn. "Cazzo," said the sunny-faced one, almost surprised. "We've never dealt with a woman." But he added that his superiors had given the green light. Transer Naga had just acquired the exclusive rights to the overseas transportation of cocaine into the eastern Mediterranean.
The Italians, Yasikov, and Teresa celebrated that night, first with dinner at Casa Santiago and then at Jadranka, where Patty joined them. Teresa learned later that cops from the organized-crime unit, under Nino Juarez,
were photographing them from a Mercury parked across the street, in the course of a routine surveillance stakeout, but the photos had no consequences: the men from the 'Ndrangheta were never identified. Besides, when Nino Juarez was added to Teresa's payroll a few months later, that file, among many others, was misplaced forever.
At Jadranka, Patty was charming to the Italians. She spoke their language and was able to tell off-color jokes with an accent that the other two, amazed, identified as Tuscan. She asked no questions, nor did anyone allude to anything they had talked about in the meeting. Patty knew why these two were there, of course, but she played dumb. There'd be time later to find out the details. There was a great deal of laughter and drinking, which contributed to the general business climate. And naturally the evening included two tall, blond, beautiful Ukrainian girls, just arrived from Moscow, where they had made porno films and posed for magazines before joining the high-end prostitution ring controlled by Yasikov's organization. Nor did the evening lack several lines of cocaine, which the Italians, who turned out to be more extroverted than they had seemed at first, finished off in the Russian's office, from a silver salver. Patty joined right in. "Some noses on these guys," she remarked, rubbing her own powder-dusted nostrils. "These Mafia guys can snort from a yard away." She had drunk too much, but her intelligent eyes, fixed on Teresa, reassured her. Easy, Mexicana, I'll take care of these guys until the two Bolshevik whores can move in and relieve them of some fluid. You can tell me all about it tomorrow.
Once the party was rolling, Teresa began making motions to say good night. It had been a hard day; she was no night owl, and her Russian bodyguards were waiting for her, one down at the far end of the bar, the other in the parking lot. The music was thumping, and the revolving light on the dance floor illuminated her in flashes as she shook the hands of the men from the 'Ndrangheta. A pleasure, she said. It's been a pleasure. Ci vediamo, the men said, each with an arm around his blond. Teresa was buttoning her black leather Valentino jacket, about to leave, when she noticed a movement behind the bodyguard at the bar. She looked around for Yasikov, and she saw him coming toward her through the crowd. He had excused himself five minutes earlier, saying he had a phone call to make.
"Something wrong?" she asked when she saw his face.
"Nyet," he said. "Everything fine. I just thought that before you went home you might come with me a moment. A little ride," he added. "Not far." He was unusually serious, and Teresa's alarms went off.
"What's happening, Oleg?"
"It's a surprise."
Patty, sitting in conversation with the Italians and the two Ukrainian girls, was looking at Teresa inquisitively and was about to stand up, but Yasikov raised an eyebrow and Teresa shook her head. Then they left the bar, followed by the bodyguard. At the door the cars were waiting, Teresa's second bodyguard at the wheel of hers and Yasikov's armored Mercedes with his driver and a bodyguard in the front seats. A third car was waiting not far away, with two other men inside: the Russian's permanent escort, solid beef from Solntsevo, Dobermans as square as refrigerators. All the cars' engines were running.
"Let's go in mine," Yasikov said, ignoring Teresa's silent question.
What's he up to? she thought. This cagey pinche Russki cabron. They drove in circles, in convoy, for some fifteen minutes, until they were certain they weren't being followed. Then they took the freeway to a housing development in Nueva Andalucia. The Mercedes drove up to a house with a small yard and high walls, still under construction. Yasikov, his expression unreadable, held the car door open for Teresa. She followed him up the front steps into an empty entry with bricks piled against a wall, where a muscular man in a polo shirt was sitting on the floor, leafing through a magazine in the light of a butane lamp. He got up when he saw them come in. Yasikov spoke a few words to him in Russian, and the other man nodded several times. They all went down into the basement, which was crisscrossed with beams and bare ceiling boards. It smelled of fresh concrete and humidity. In the half-darkness one could make out bricklayer's tools, buckets of dirty water, sacks of cement. The man in the polo shirt turned up the flame on a lamp hanging from a beam. And then Teresa saw Gato Fierros and Potemkin Galvez. They were naked, their wrists and ankles tied with wire to white beach chairs. And they looked like they'd seen better nights.
That's all I know, I swear," Gato Fierros moaned. The Russians hadn't messed with them too much, Teresa saw, just enough to soften them up a little, almost informally, tenderize them while the muscle awaited more precise instructions. Then the Mexicans had been allowed to rest a couple of hours, to let their imaginations work-worrying less about what they'd been through than about what was to come. The razor cuts on their chests and arms were superficial, and they were barely bleeding now. Gato had a dry crust in his nostrils; his upper lip, split and swollen, reddened the saliva dribbling out of the corners of his mouth. The Russians had been a bit rougher when they used a piece of rebar on his belly and thighs: his scrotum was inflamed, and there were recent bruises on his swollen skin. He stank of urine and sweat and the kind of fear that loosens your bowels.
While the man in the polo shirt asked question after question in a clumsy, heavily accented Spanish, punctuated with solid thwacks that buffeted the Mexican's face from one side to the other, Teresa's eyes, fascinated, were on the huge horizontal scar that deformed his right cheek: the mark of the.45-caliber bullet that she'd fired point-blank into his face in Culiacan, the day Gato Fierros decided it was a shame to kill her without enjoying her a little first-She's going to die anyway, and it'd he a waste, he had said. And then the sound of Potemkin Galvez' impotent, furious fist through the closet door-Guero was one of us, man, remember, and this was his woman; we can kill her, man, but with a little respect. The black barrel of the Python approaching her head, almost mercifully-Stand back so you don't get spattered, carnal, and let's get out of here.
Chale. The memory came in waves, increasingly intense, at last becoming physical, and Teresa felt the same burning in her womb as in her memory- pain and disgust, Gato Fierros' breathing in her face, the hit man's urgency within her, her resignation at the inevitable, the cold of the pistol in her bag on the floor, the blast. The blasts. The leap through the window, with the branches scraping her naked skin. The flight. Now she felt no hatred, she discovered. Just an intense cold satisfaction. A sensation of icy power, very calm and quiet.
"I swear that's all I know." The Russian's fists against the man's face echoed in the empty basement. "I swear on my mother…"
The hijo de la chingada had a mother. Gato Fierros had a pinche mother like everybody else, over there in Culiacan, and every time he got paid for a hit or a rape or a beating he no doubt sent her money to make her old age a little easier. He knew more, of course. Although they'd just beaten him to guacamole, he knew more about a lot of things, but Teresa was sure that he'd told them everything about his trip to Spain and his intentions: The name of the Mexicana, the woman who had moved into the world of narcotics on the Andalucian coast, had reached all the way to Culiacan. So go take her out. Old scores to settle, uneasiness about the future, the competition, or who knew what. A desire to tie up loose ends. Batman Giiemes was at the center of the spiderweb, naturally. These were his shooters, and they'd left the job half done. Now Gato Fierros, a lot less brave when he was tied up with wire to that stupid beach chair than he was back in that apartment in Culiacan, was singing to save himself some pain. That fucking butcher, such a macho pig with his pistol strapped to his belt back there in Sinaloa, fucking somebody's girl before he blew her away. It was all so neat and logical, and it gave Teresa a thrill.
"I tell you, I don't know anything," Gato was still moaning.
Potemkin Galvez had more integrity. He squeezed his lips tight, stubbornly, so nothing could get out. And that was that. While Gato seemed to have taken singing lessons, this one shook his head at every question, although his body was as battered as his buddy's, with new bruises over the old ones that already covered his skin, cuts on his chest and thighs, which were unprecedentedly vulnerable, his fat, hairy nakedness spilling out over the chair, the wire that cut into his skin turning his swollen hands and feet a nasty purplish color. He was bleeding from penis, mouth, and nose, and drops of thick red blood dripped from his thick black moustache, to run in thin streams down his chest and belly. No way-it was clear that he wasn't the type to tell tales out of school, and even when the game was up, Teresa thought, there were classes, and types, and individuals who behaved one way or another. And although when the time came you might argue that it all amounted to the same thing, it actually didn't. Maybe he wasn't as imaginative as Gato, she reflected as she watched him-men with little imagination could more easily clam up, block out their minds under torture. The others, the ones that thought, gave it up quicker. They did half the job on themselves, thinking, anticipating, and by the time it was time to cook the meat, it was already tenderized. Fear is always more intense when you're capable of imagining what awaits you.
Yasikov looked on from a short distance away, his back against the wall, without uttering a word. It's your business, his silence seemed to say. Your decision. He was also no doubt wondering how it was possible for Teresa to take all this without the slightest tremor in the hand that held the cigarettes she was smoking, one after another-without blinking, without a single grimace of horror. Studying the tortured hit men with a dry, attentive curiosity that appeared to come not from her but rather from the other woman who was stalking around, looking at her the way Yasikov was, from the shadows of the basement. There were interesting mysteries here, she decided. Lessons about men and women. About life and pain and fate and death. And, like the books she read, all those lessons were about her, too.
The muscle in the polo shirt dried his bloody hands on his pants and, disciplined, turned to Teresa questioningly. His razor blade was on the floor, at Gato Fierros' feet. What's the point of more? she concluded. What's clear is super clear, and the rest I know firsthand. She looked over at Yasikov, who almost imperceptibly shrugged while casting his eyes meaningfully toward the sacks of cement piled in the corner. The fact that they were in the basement of this house under construction was no accident. It was all part of the plan.
I'll do it, she suddenly decided. She felt a strange desire to laugh. At herself. To laugh perversely. Bitterly. The truth, at least with regard to Gato Fierros, was that it was just a way to finish what she had started when she pulled the trigger of the Double Eagle so long before. La vida te da sorpresas, the song said-Life is full of surprises. Sorpresas te da la vida… jHijole! Sometimes it's full of surprises about yourself. Things that are there but that you didn't know were there. From the shadowy corners of the basement, the other Teresa Mendoza was still watching her intently. Maybe, Teresa reflected, she's the one who wants to laugh inside. "I'll do it," she heard herself repeat, now aloud.
It was her responsibility. Her score to settle, her life. She couldn't let anybody else take that responsibility. The man in the polo shirt was looking at her curiously, as though his Spanish weren't good enough to understand what she'd just said; he turned to his boss and then looked at her again.
"No," Yasikov said softly.
He'd spoken and had moved at last. His back came up off the wall and he approached her. He was looking not at her but at the two Mexican hit men. Gato Fierros' head was bowed over his chest; Potemkin Galvez was looking toward them as though they were invisible, his eyes fixed on the wall behind them. On nothing.
"This is my war," said Teresa.
"No," Yasikov repeated. He gently took her by the arm, as though inviting her to step outside with him. Now they stood face to face, studying each other.
"I don't give a fuck who does it," Potemkin Galvez said abruptly. "Just stop fucking around and get it over with."
Teresa faced the pistolero. It was the first time she'd heard him open his mouth. His voice sounded hoarse, harsh, muffled. He was still looking right through Teresa, as though she were invisible. His naked corpulence, immobilized in the chair, gleamed with sweat and blood. Teresa walked over slowly until she stood very close, beside him. He smelled rank, of dirty flesh, battered and tortured.
"Orale, Pinto"she said to him."What's the hurry?… You're gonna die in a minute, man."
He nodded slightly, his eyes still on that place where she had been standing before. And Teresa once more heard the sound of the splintering closet door in Culiacan and saw the barrel of the Python approaching her head; she once more heard the voice saying, Guero was one of us, man, Gato, remember, and this was his woman, man. Get back so you don't get it all over you. And maybe, she thought, she owed that same twisted consideration to him. Finish it quick, the way he'd wanted to with her. Chale. Those were the rules. She made a gesture toward Gato Fierros.
"You played it straight, Pinto. Not like this asshole."
It was not a statement directed at Pote Galvez, exactly, or even a fully formed thought. It was just a fact that had entered her head at that moment. The hit man remained impassive, as though he hadn't heard. A new thread of blood fell from his nose, then hung in the dirty hairs of his moustache. She studied him a few seconds more, then stepped toward the door, pensively. Yasikov was waiting for her.
"Let Pinto go," she said.
It's not always right to wipe the whole slate clean, she thought. Because there are debts that must be paid. And strange moral codes that each person must understand in her own way. Things only she can decide on.