A routine assignment



            From “ Nadie vale más que otro


                                    A ROUTINE ASSIGNMENT


                                                Chapter 1


                                                PUTTING OUT FIRES


  The municipal cop raised his hand to let us through. He was a handsome lad, immaculate uniform and a sombre countenance fitting the circumstances. The patrol car next to where he was keeping watch, which had the blue lights flashing at the entrance to the sports field, was new and looked pristine. The combination of officer and vehicle gave a reassuring sensation of smartness and readiness.


  In sharp contrast were Chamorro and I in our much scored black Celica with the spoiler at the back. For a second the local must have taken us for a pair of pimps who’d hit the wrong party. He didn’t know that our pool car, providence of the government and our niggardly budget, came from the ill-gotten gains of drug traffickers and other criminals, and that we weren’t totally guilty in the choice of model and colour. We drove what conformed to the taste of our enemies, helping us pass unrecognised, but it also had numerous drawbacks. Apart from having to put up with the suffocating Madrid July heat in a black car, we couldn’t repair and touch up all the damage to the body work. The Toyota dealers, not to mention alternatives, wanted far more than our unit could afford for these jobs.


  I wasn’t going to explain all this to the local because it didn’t matter to him and besides Chamorro and I were in a hurry. So I took out the badge and shoved it under his nose.


  “Ah, ok, ok,” he said, somewhat abashed.

        I saw out of the corner of my eye that Chamorro nodded and smiled at him. Whether this was born of malicious irony or she fancied him, I didn’t intend to find out.


  I steered the Toyota to the middle of the sports field, raising a considerable dust cloud. There, more or less in line, were the ambulance, the Nissan of our people and two other cars. As far as I could see, the judge still hadn’t showed up.


  “I’m Sergeant Bevilacqua of the Central Unit,” I said to the guard on duty. He was so busy saluting me that he scarcely glanced at the identity card. Then he turned and signalled towards a group of six men: three of them in civvies crouched over a bundle, two of our people and another local cop, observing.


  The ones bending over the corpse were the forensic doctor and two criminologists from HQ. I knew one of the scientists from previous occasions.  He knew me too.


  “Shit, my sergeant, what an honour,” he said, interrupting his task . The corporal and the guard who were watching him work briefly came to attention and saluted. Not the local.

  “No joke, Ormaza,” I warned him.


  “Seriously, what’re you doing here? This is nothing, a little spiv who’s swallowed lead for not paying enough or giving short measure on the coke. Look,” he added, showing me a couple of small envelopes of the stuff. “The weakest Charlie you’re going to meet. If that’s what it is. We’ll have to see.”


  Chamorro looked for my reaction. In spite of his lack of respect and crude conjecture, Ormaza had a point. That wasn’t one for us. We were supposed to handle the difficult cases. Those which showed themselves to be thornier, or for whatever reason became a big deal. Sometimes the reason consisted simply in the fact that the newspapers were fascinated by the story. But that one was nothing out of the ordinary nor, at first sight, could we expect it to generate more than a couple of columns at the utmost.


  “We’re putting out fires”, I explained, without enthusiasm. “Seems like your people have got a big spectacle planned for today with a full cast and they’ve asked us to cover this one.”


  “Ah, of course, the Rumanian business,” recalled Ormaza. “What am I thinking of?  So are you going to be involved?”


  “In principle.”


  That was what my chief, Commander Pereira, had told me. The crimes against the person team at Command HQ in Madrid had all their agents primed for an operation against some Rumanians who’d committed murderous robberies in urbanizations of the Sierra Madrileña. They’d spent weeks putting it together and couldn’t postpone it. Among other things, their colonel had sworn before the region’s government representative- the Delegado- to hand him the parcel well wrapped and tied so that he could pass it to all the press, with the intention to calm the alarm the activity of the Rumanians had caused among the wealthy (and in one case influential ) neighbours of those urbanizations. It was just at that moment, the most inopportune time, that the corpse had materialised in the sports field of a small municipality to the south east. The colonel had caller Pereira to ask for a favour, and Pereira wasn’t in the habit of denying favours to colonels. Although we in the Central Unit weren’t short of work. So we’d tried to make the boss see it our way, with all the prudence and humility advisable, but his reply had dissuaded me from insisting: “ From what they tell me it smells like a settling of accounts. In a couple of days you’ll sort it out and then they’ll owe us one. Do it, Vila, take a pause. There’s nothing that’s really eating us.”


  That’s why Chamorro and I found ourselves there, separated by superior orders from the matters still bugging our brains and reluctantly accepting the perspective of uncovering, as rapidly as possible, why and by whom that man had been done for; little more than forty, dark hair, about one eighty.



  The corporal gave us some more details. He was Marcos Jesús Larrea Rebollo, born in 1959 in Lorca, Murcia, but operating in El Ejido, Almería. They’d checked his record and he’d been held twice for crimes against public health, legal euphemism for trafficking drugs, both awaiting trial.


  Ormaza and the forensic completed the picture while they were examining him. Death seemed to have been caused by a single bullet in the back of the neck. While waiting for its removal, they could only say it was high calibre and inevitably a mortal pill. I observed the cadaver. Whenever the occasion arises ( not always, since I’m rarely present before the removal of the bodies I deal with) I try to take my time about it. Not only for what the corpse says about how it came to be so, something which the experts like Ormaza and the forensic always tell you better, but above all for what it can tell about who the living person was.  The heavy gold chain, the silk shirt unbuttoned to half way down his chest and the trousers of Marcos Larrea, justified, to a certain extent, Ormaza’s evaluation of him. With regard to his face, 

distorted by the rictus of death, it transmitted only a mute sensation of horror.


  Among his things was a mobile. They’d found it in his jacket.. At my signal Ormaza’s associate handed it to Chamorro. My partner, after donning the gloves, made a rapid appraisal.


  “It’s a cheap mode,”she said, “of the kind the lads buy for use with a prepayment card. Damn it, hombre, what rough luck. It only shows the last number called and has no call log. I suppose it’s a bit better than nothing.”


  Chamorro noted the number and then put the mobile in a little plastic wallet.


  Half an hour later her honour showed up. She was a substitute and had never previously released a corpse but thanks to the forensic officer and Ormaza the diligence could be concluded decently. Formalities over they carried off the body and we could all get back to our business. In the village there was an understandable stir and five or six reporters were already on the scene, of those young, amateurish and ill-paid on placements in almost all the media in summer. We avoided them without much difficulty.


  The first thing we discovered on arriving at the unit was the source of the last number in Marcos Larrea’s mobile. Unexpectedly, it was the number of  the municipal police HQ of the district in which the body had shown up.


                                                Chapter 2


                                                A BRICK


  As we were able to verify, but not without the trouble of getting them to confess it, the local cop who’d arrived first at the field, alerted by the lads in the football team, could think of nothing better than to advise his colleagues using the dead man’s mobile. It was so he wouldn’t have to go back to his car and through the anxiety of the moment, he admitted. It was the smart young guard who’d let us through on our arrival. I didn’t want to make an issue of it because there was no point and because we’ve all been novices at some time and put our foot in it up to the groin.


  That’s how things were and, while waiting for feedback from the lab, we had little to go on to begin our investigation. But that didn’t mean there was no matter to probe. First we delved a little into the antecedents of Marcos Larrea. On both occasions they’d picked him up with doubtful quantities of the stuff, amounts of which it could always be claimed that they were for own consumption. We couldn’t discount that the judge might have been lenient and considered that the accused didn’t intend to deal, but only to hoard a little so that he didn’t feel the anguish of running out of fuel. For the time being Larrea had succeeded in getting them to set him free while waiting for the two cases to come up. Still I didn’t miss the fact that they’d copped him the second time with more grams than the first. I’d also noticed, in case it might come in handy, the name of the individual with whom he’d been detained the second time. It was one Raúl Castro Castro, like him a resident of El Ejido, with six previous for drug offences and three for illegal use of motor vehicles. Obviously, Marcos wasn’t keeping good company.


  Whilst I was fishing in the criminal past of the dead man (or supposedly criminal since he hadn’t yet been convicted), I gave Chamorro the more thankless task. Not only because that’s why you get the stripes but because she was better at that business. It never ceases to be excruciating for me, calling a wife on the phone to tell her that her husband has appeared belly up in a wilderness. I can’t avoid thinking that this is news which always ought to be conveyed in person, offering a shoulder to cry on for the widow, if it’s needed. But things being as they are, and when the interested person lives 600km. away, we’ve neither the time nor the money to go there, and it’s not always easy to get someone else to do it.


  After talking to the widow for some fifteen minutes, Chamorro reported to me.



  “Larrea left for Madrid the day before yesterday. According to his wife, to deal with some business matters. His job was car sales. New and second hand, imported from Germany. He came here fairly frequently, apparently.


  “How’s she taken the news?”


  Chamorro looked at me penetratingly. A reproach?  Perhaps.


  “ Ok,”she said, “I’ve had worse reactions. The first was “it can’t be true”, more or less the usual. Then a thick silence while she took it in. And the rest of the conversation in a weak voice punctuated by tears.”


  “Have you told her where he is?”


  “Yes and she’s coming straightaway. As soon as she’s made arrangements for looking after the children.”


  “ How many?”


  “ Two, nine and eleven.”


  “ Rough ages to lose your father.”


  “And what age is good for that?”


  I looked at Chamorro. I liked her when she was being caustic.


  “ None,” I admitted. “Given that it doesn’t matter, nor does it even make a difference that the guy was a son of a bitch. He’s bound to be missed.”


  For once I knew what I was talking about. Over there in my early infancy I lost sight of my father’s face and so I’ve existed ever since. Still it wasn’t the time for reminiscence. I told Chamorro what I’d discovered and, with those few snippets, I challenged her.


  “Come on, Chamorro, give me a hypothesis.”

  My assistant was used to accepting these challenges with a certain reticence. On one hand she was too cautious to jump in with her suppositions. On the other, she seemed to intuit that my stance contained too much of the playful pastime at her expense. In this I admit she wasn’t so wide of the mark, although I had another incentive; I loved how she thought it through. She displayed an analytical rigour that I’d never managed to develop.


  “Afraid I’ve nothing original to say,” she recognised. “As Ormaza said, it seems like the invariable pattern. What’s more, the business of importing cars is just impossibly true to form.”


  It’s true that high proportion of the delinquents we stumble over say that they are dedicated, or truly are,  to shady second hand car dealing.; this has been true especially since Europe lost its internal boundary checks so that they can fetch and carry unmolested, transporting everything concealed below or in the boot.


  “What about the scene of the crime?”


  “I may be mistaken, but I suspect that it’s the typical dumped corpse. Let’s just find out where they really killed him.”


  She was probably on the right track here. In Madrid, although the Guard is confined to the rural zone, a fair proportion of the deaths which concern our people either occur in the city or the keys to them are to be found there. It’s a phenomenon common to all the large urban conurbations. They spit out the corpses on the periphery. Either they prefer the countryside as a more comfortable context for their crime, or they go there for more secure disposal of the corpse and to put us off the scent a little.


  “Depends on the scenario they wanted to create,” I said.


  “Even so, it’s an odd spot,” Chamorro continued musing. “Although the field has no outer wall, and there’ll be practically nobody about at night, I can’t see why they’d come as far as they did in the car leaving their tyre marks which we can always get something from.


  “Whichever way you look at it, I don’t follow.”


  “Also they might have done it there. If anyone heard the shot, they’d think it was a firework. As for the car, we’ll find out whose it is.”


  We clarified that detail a bit later. From the width of the tyre and the make indicated by the tread, it was the factory-made type used by, among other makes, the BMW in which the victim had gone to Madrid. They’d told us that it had turned up incinerated, that same morning, in the ditch of a secondary road some ten kilometres from the town.


  ‘ Burnt out even to the chassis’ was how Bermúdez had described it. He was the corporal of the Madrid Command attached to the prosecution and anti-drugs unit who called us with the news.


  “Have they removed it yet?” I asked him.


  “Not yet.”


  “Do you mind if we take a look at it?”


  “ Course not,” rejoined Bermúdez. “Personnel have asked us to lend you a hand and that we convey their apologies to you for their absence. Fact is they’re overwhelmed, poor buggers. Right now we’re full up with villains and we’ve only got one Rumanian translator. You know what the firm’s like in these matters.”


  Didn’t I know it and I’d often suffered it.  Once I’d had to pay a barely bilingual Moldovan interpreter with some of the money I’d confiscated from his shady compatriot. It was illegal, of course, but the interrogation was pressing.


  When we reached the spot, Bermúdez  was waiting in his yellow Fiat Coupé.


  “Hi,” he said, getting out of the car. “I was taking advantage of the air con. The heat’s suffocating. “


  He wasn’t wrong. It was 4.30 in the afternoon and the air was on fire. The vision of what remained of Marcos Larrea’s BMW made the stifling heat feel even more intense and uncomfortable.


  “Have you searched it yet,” I asked?


  “Not me,” Bermudez shrugged. “The fire’s done for any trace of my concern. I leave it to you.”


  In the boot were some fragmentary traces of clothing and of a suitcase (the locks and a handle that hadn’t been totally burnt). In the remainder of the car, all that we found was a brick.


  “Shit,” cried Bermúdez, on seeing it. “Now I know what the scam was.”


                                                            Chapter 3


                                                LIKE AN INNOCENT




  “It’s a ruse that’s become pretty fashionable of late,” explained Bermúdez, whilst wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Some bright spark realised that if he took a hollow brick like that one, covered it with ordinary wrapping paper, secured it all with adhesive tape, the result would have more or less the weight and exterior consistency of a packet of drugs.”


  “And?” Chamorro asked.


  “And then it only remains to find the mug who’ll believe it.”


  “But the deception can’t last for long,” deduced my companion. “As soon as the packet’s opened the cat’s out of the bag.”


  Bermúdez smiled


  “There’s the rub. Not letting the victim open it.  Sometimes they take advantage of the rapport they’ve previously established. At others, the brick only serves to make the client show them the money. As soon as the swindler has the dough in his hands, the innocent is ripe for disposal.”


  “Do you think that’s what happened here?”  I asked.


  “It fits. Friend Larrea comes from Almería to make a purchase. He demands to see the merchandise. They bring out the wrapped brick. He trusts the providers or he doesn’t dare to open it because he’s naïve and he’s unaccustomed to this type of transaction. He takes out the money and signs his death sentence. Pum. Won’t be the first time we’ve had something like this.”


  It’s always a great help to have to hand a seasoned agent like Bermúdez. In police work, as in life, you get more benefit from what you’ve already seen than from what you’re capable of seeing. Now we had him there, I wanted to extract as much advantage from him as possible.


  “And who do you think might have done it?”


  Bermúdez scratched his stubbly cheek.


  “Violent thugs with no respect for human life,” he deduced. “You’d have to be like that to round off a scam with a bullet. They don’t deceive to avoid doing damage but to finish the job with the maximum advantage. And once done, get rid of the evidence. Most probably they come from a country where life is cheap. You know where I mean, and we’re not short of visitors these days.”


  I knew and it troubled me. It was usually better that the killer was somebody integrated into the society, whom we could reach by a number of avenues, from their electricity contract to their car’s tax disc. Having to look among undocumented immigrants is always an added difficulty, though there are ways of overcoming it.


  “Narrow the options,” I asked Bermúdez . “Which country do you think they might be from?”


  “Ok, from the M O, and thinking that we’re talking about cocaine specialists ,” reasoned Bermúdez, “most likely latinos. Colombians, Venezuelans, Bolivians. But we can’t discount their being Turks, or Bulgarians, or your guess is as good as mine.”


  “Or Spaniards,” interposed Chamorro.


  Bermúdez nodded.


  “Sure. Bastards and defectives are born everywhere. But those from around here don’t usually kill if they can avoid it. They know that we’re here and that when there’s a corpse we’re on to it. In Bogotá or Caracas they bury them and forget’m .  Supposing that the police aren’t in on it, which also happens. This isn’t what I say,” he raised his hands to excuse himself, “it’s what I’m told by the little angels who are the source of my daily bread.”


  We took possession of the brick and thanked Bermúdez. He promised to be at our disposal for all we needed and to let us know anything he came across that might assist us in our investigation.


  That afternoon we went to the forensic pathology centre. We had two reasons for this. The first, the result of the autopsy, didn’t take us much further than anticipated. Marcos Larrea had died from a bullet wound with point of entry in the region of the occipital lobe. The bullet which had remained lodged in the brain was calibre .38. They’d found cocaine traces in his blood.


  The second reason appeared at about eight o’clock. She arrived tired after a journey of six hundred kilometres, although the Audi A6 which she piloted offered a case for the reduction of driver fatigue. Marcos Larrea’s wife matched him. She was very bronzed, with tight pants and a generous display of cleavage. She must have been attractive in some uncertain period between eighteen and thirty odd . Now she seemed a little past her best.


  “Señora Ramirez?” I addressed her.


  “Yes,” she replied, disconcerted.


  “I’m Sergeant Bevilacqua of the Guardia Civil. Or Sergeant Vila, if you find that easier. I’m dealing with  the case.”


  “Ah, pleased to meet you.”


  She stretched out her hand to me. It was somewhat sweaty.


  “You’ll have to identify the body. Are you up to it?”


  “No alternative.”


  Angela Ramírez  behaved, in the identification process, as would anyone else with a normal control of their feelings. She tried hard to keep control, put her hand to her mouth when she saw the lifeless face of her husband and, after a few seconds, she broke down. Chamorro supported her and we got her out into the corridor. We let her calm down before questioning her.


  What she then told us served to extend and fill in the gaps on the account she had given to Chamorro on the phone. Her husband had been involved in the car dealing business for seven years. They had made plenty of money out of it but more recently they hadn’t been doing so well. Competition had increased and in El Ejido the locals were wealthy enough to prefer new cars which offered a smaller profit margin. The fact that she used the term “margin” suggested she was au fait with the interior detail of her husband’s business. However, she didn’t appear to be a woman of much education. I guessed she was one of those who deploy a natural savvy in money matters.


  Of course, she knew about her husband’s problems with the law. She’d had to engage the lawyer and get him out on both occasions. But Marcos wasn’t a dealer, she swore, he’d just grown accustomed to consume when they were doing really well, to de-stress, and when things became more difficult he was taking more to try to escape his troubles. We must know how that occurred.


  We did know, naturally. On this point she seemed to me too rehearsed. I tried to draw her away a little from the script.


  “And you, do you do drugs?”


  She looked at me doubtfully for a few moments.


  “Sometimes,? she stuttered, “Well, a line or two, yes, but….no, no I wasn’t hooked like him.”


  “We’ve reason to believe that your husband wasn’t just hooked,” I went on. “He was trafficking. He’d gone to Madrid to buy merchandise. Plenty of it.”


  Angela Ramirez was silent.

“I,” she continued with great difficulty, “I didn’t want to know…..things weren’t going well, we’d been swindled a couple of times, and Marcos…So finally, what do you want me to say, I couldn’t fight with him about it. Perhaps he was, for…”


  “And you don’t know from whom he was buying his stuff, regularly?” Chamorro asked. “Who was the seller this time?”


  “No, I don’t know anything about that, I swear. I didn’t want to know.”


  “And one Raúl  Castro, do you know him?”


  Angela Ramírez opened eyes like saucers. How had we gone so far so quickly? Her mind raced.


  “Yes, that Raúl, I know him,” she decided to come clean. “He’s been to our house occasionally. I was always telling Marcos to stay away from people like that. Has he got anything to do with this?”


  “Too early to say,” I said. “Do you have any idea where we can find him?”


  “Well, in El Ejido, I imagine. He’s not long out of jail.”


  It was clear enough where we were going to go next. We didn’t need to press the widow much more, for the moment. We urged her to be readily available by phone and offered her our condolences.


  Before we parted, Angela Ramírez asked us: “How did they kill him? Why?”


  We told her what was our current hypothesis, without entering into excessive detail or upsetting her more than necessary.


  “I see,”she said, shaking her head. “He always wanted to believe himself smarter than the rest. And in the end, he’s bought it like a simpleton.”


                                                Chapter 4


                                                AN ATM


  I suggested to my Commandant that we went to Almería to look for Raúl Castro and to interrogate him in person. Using the Toyota Celica, and if we could find him without too much trouble, we could manage the return trip in a day, although it would be a hard grind. There was something to be said for having a pimp’s car to drive.


  “Normally, I’d give you the nod,” responded my superior, “but with half the unit on holiday, I prefer you to sub-contract it to our people on the spot. I don’t want something unexpected cropping up here and we’ve nobody to cover it.”


  In another life, I’d like to be able to understand the bosses. One day they’re so overflowing with agents that they’ll thrust them upon you at the drop of a hat, and the next day they’ll deny them for something vital.


  I called Almería. What else for it? I spoke to Lieutenant Lopez from the Organic Unit of the Judicial Police of the Command.


  “El Ejido isn’t ours, it’s for the local cops,” he told me. “It’s been growing rapidly in recent years. Still,ok. I’ll fix it.”


  And he fixed it very well. Scarcely two hours later, he phoned me.


  “Vila, Lopez here. We’ve got the subject. He’s really shitting himself, it may be said in passing. What do you want us to make him confess? If it helps we can make him admit to any rotten corpse you’ve got there.”


  Well it wasn’t a question of that. I gave him some scenarios for the interrogation.


  An hour later, Lopez called again


  “Listen, this puppet of yours is a right nutcase,” he remarked, decisively. “And it surprises me because he’s got a CV which shows him to be a right crafty one who might have confused us more. Given that, you can guess he doesn’t really admit to anything. Still his story has a certain consistency and may interest you.”


  Raúl’s story, briefly, was as follows. He’d known Marcos Larrea for two or three years. He’d supplied him with cocaine a few times, out of friendship, naturally, and the recipient had become attached to the stuff. Then things had begun to go pear-shaped for Larrea in his car business, and so he’d gradually got increasingly involved in trafficking, to plug some holes. It was small scale at first, and later, in proportion to his growing business problems, in greater quantities. He’d made contact with Madrid people to buy more merchandise. As far as Raúl Castro knew, a couple of days ago he’d gone with some sudacas who were already hawking significant amounts. Importers, they said; very pure stuff and totally guaranteed. Marcos had offered Castro to accompany him and help him gather the merchandise, sharing the profits. But for Castro, using his own words, it scared him stiff to deal in such large amounts. Pushing a little bit here and there when he needed it, ok. However, increasing the level was also multiplying the danger. He’d come across some of those higher stakes characters in the nick and there was no way he would want to play with them. So he preferred not to go with Larrea. Even though Larrea had really pressed him and had gone so far as to give him all the details of the planned encounter. Larrea had met the sudacas in a pizzería in one of those towns which ring  Madrid.  He remembered perfectly which pizza chain it was and the name of the town. Getafe. Since the previous morning he’d had bad vibes. If everything had gone well, Larrea would have called him directly. When he’d seen the guards coming to his door, he’d feared the worst. Unlike Angela Ramírez, he wasn’t surprised that they were looking for him. He knew that it was in our files that he’d once been held together with Larrea. And he was fearful that if he didn’t sing the whole of the song he knew, he might be held accountable for the whole sorry business. So he had nothing more to add. This was all he could tell us and if anything else occurred to him that might interest us he’d call us straightaway and tell us. He couldn’t do any less.


  “And so, what do you want us to do with him?” Lopez said.


  “What do you suggest, my lieutenant?”


  “I think it’s better to let him go and give him rope, while we check out his story. If he has made it up, we’ll see by what he does.”


  “Agreed. Although it wouldn’t  be excessive to keep tabs on him.”


  “Don’t worry.”


  It was 12.30. The day was passing, and if we got a move on we could extract still more benefit from there and combine it with something to eat. As soon as I hung up I asked Chamorro:


  “Chamorro, do you fancy a pizza?”


  “Not particularly.”


  I threw her the car keys.


  “Come on, you’re driving. Let’s see how they do them in Getafe.”


  “I imagine you’ll tell me why.”


  “On the way.”


  The July traffic in Madrid is even more insufferable than at any other time of the year. Since most cars had gained the benefit of air-conditioning, or since the income of Madrileños had risen to European levels, people had become addicted to taking out the car in summer to a catastrophic degree. If we add to this the incessant municipal road works, tunnelling here and there, the plot can thicken to the stuff of nightmares.


  While we were suffering the diversion gridlock at the exit from Santa María de la Cabeza ( the street that leads to the Toledo highway and subsequently to Getafe  was closed for road works) Chamorro and I made a brief recap of what we’d learnt up to that point.


  “A pretty sad story,” she opined.


  “The ones we touch usually are, by definition,” I observed.


“Yes, but some more than others. If it’s all the way we suppose, it seems a really stupid way to die.”


  “And what’s the clever way to do it?”


  “In old age I say.”


  “Yes, bitter for all you haven’t got, sensing your daughter-in-law detests you and your son’s tired of you.”


  Chamorro wrinkled her nose.


  “Ok, some of us don’t have kids.”


  “That doesn’t improve things much. Some dream; finishing up in a residential home, playing ludo with pensioners you wouldn’t have said hello to if you’d fallen over them twenty years before.


  She laughed. There’s nothing like a young woman’s laugh when she knows.


  “I think you’ll make a happier old man than that.”


  “Huh, I don’t know whether that’s flattery or you think Alzheimer’s will reduce me to a comforting idiocy.”


  “It’s flattery. Well, more or less.”


  One of the things I’ve learned is not to seek clarification from a woman when she expresses herself obliquely. Even less if she’s the woman with whom you work every day.


  We got through the jam, travelled somewhat less than ten kilometres on the Toledo Road and arrived at Getafe. There were road works everywhere. It seemed that they were constructing a new Metro line and a new ring road: the world carried on progressing, oblivious to the death of a poor devil called Marcos Larrea, with which Chamorro and I had to grapple.


  There was only one pizzeria of that chain in Getafe. The manager was a young woman of about thirty, only about five feet from head to toe but apparently bursting with enormous energy. She ruled the team of waiters, some scarcely adolescent, with an iron hand.


  “A tall man with some South Americans.” She searched her memory. “And you say they came the night before last?”




  “How many South Americans? What were they like?”


  “We don’t know.”


  “You see, we get plenty of South Americans. There’s a sizeable immigrant population around here. Perhaps more Africans, or Poles. But there are enough South Americans for us to fail to notice them. This isn’t a restaurant. Here the customers sometimes come and go quickly. We only see the one who comes to ask for the food.


  Nor did the manager recognise Larrea’s photo. In the end, it was frustrating, but what we had to do. Since it was past our meal time, we asked for a couple of pizzas.


  While we were chewing them (and they certainly weren’t up to much) I saw that Chamorro was absorbed by something in the street.


  “What is it?” I asked her.


  “Look there.”


  I turned round . We were in luck. An ATM.


                                                            Chapter 5

                                    THE CONCERN SOUGHT BY THE DEAD



  I’ve never felt any great sympathy for financial concerns, and I have to admit that the little I do feel practically vanishes when they announce their immodest profits. But there’s something for which, grudgingly, I have to thank them: the precaution of installing CCTV cameras in many of their cashpoints. Thanks to that, we have access to a vigilance network for which we don’t have to pay ( if we had to we wouldn’t have it) and which allows us to keep under surveillance a portion of the country not to be disdained. It’s true that the banks are not very keen to share their information with the police in a variety of different cases. However, when we’re talking about a murder, they offer us reasonable facilities.


  “Of course, we’ll give you the tape immediately,” responded the security chief of the bank which owned the cash point in front of the pizzeria. “I’m happy to agree and I’ll thank you to bring me the judicial warrant as soon as you can.”


  “We’ll do that,”promised Chamorro.


  The videotape supported Raúl Castro’s story. At 21.58, exactly, Marcos Larrea had entered the pizzeria. At 22.12 he’d left, accompanied by three individuals who looked South American and had entered at 21.43. They weren’t definitely the best shots of them which might have been taken, but they gave us enough to begin to play. We called Bermúdez, immediately.


  “Buf, the fact is,”he said, after looking at the images, “I’d like to be able to tell you that I’ve got files on them, but far from it. Besides, I know the narcos, and this lot are swindlers and assassins. At the worst they haven’t touched a grain of cocaine in their damned lives.”


  “Well that makes us happy, frankly,” I said.


  “For sure I’d like to be of more help.” Bermúdez apologised. “What I can tell you, if it’s of any use, is that, at a first glance, they don’t appear to be Colombians or Bolivians.”


  “Why?” Chamorro asked.


  “The Colombians and Bolivians usually have a more or less pure Indian appearance, and they’re not very tall. Here you’ve got a couple of really tall guys. And with an admixture of black if I’m not mistaken.”


  “And what does that suggest to you?”


  “Fuck me, Vila, I’m not an ethnologist. And now there are mixtures of everything everywhere. Still I do pick up a smell.”


  “Jump into the pool, man; this is all in confidence,” said Chamorro.


  “Caribbeans,” he offered. “Venezuelans, for example. I don’t say they can’t be Colombians also, mind you”.


  “Good, that’s something at least,” I concluded.


  We left Bermúdez with scarcely concealed disappointment. Chamorro let it out aloud:


  “Ok, sergeant, now for the long road.”


  We both knew what that meant. Start to review record upon record of villains, with the ever present fear that none of those we were seeking might be in our archives. Tedious and uncertain toil; nothing could exasperate me more. Fortunately, I had Chamorro, who was patient and knew how to stay alert while doing something boring. The lack of that virtue made me deficient as a policeman. I always try to find a more amenable route.


  “Another possibility is to get the local police to tell us about suspect South Americans living in Getafe,” I thought aloud.


  “And why would they have to live here?” Chamorro queried.


  “Well, it’s a possibility isn’t it?”


  “Would you meet somebody that you’re thinking of killing in the very town you live in, if you could choose another?” Chamorro mocked me.


  “I’d never kill anybody if I could avoid it.”


  “It’s hypothetical, man.”


  “Alright.” I gave up. “Let’s get at the bloody files.”


  A good part of police work is not worth the telling. Not the hours spent in front of a screen, nor the permanent paper chase. While Chamorro looked at records of criminals, I put myself to documenting everything we’d done up to now, to incorporate it in the investigation file. It provoked an immeasurable sluggishness in me but, now that I was in a dead time, I knew that I’d be grateful, further down the track, for having cleared all this out of the way. At least, experience had taught me to synthesise an hour’s interrogation into a couple of pages. Dispensing with the padding and, at the same time, not omitting anything which might be useful to whoever had to carry forward the inquiry, if anything happened to Chamorro or me, or we became enmeshed in some other party, or we went on holiday.


  Seven o’clock passed. I’d finished my task and Chamorro was drunk with looking at countenances of malign South Americans. I came up and put my hand on her shoulder.


  “Leave it, Virginia. We’ll stay another day. It’s all we can do. And if the burden they’ve presented to us becomes too onerous, I’ll ask Pereira for permission to give it back to its legitimate owners. They’ll have finished with the Rumanians, I imagine.”


  Chamorro rubbed her eyes. I kept thinking she has a slight visual defect, perhaps a touch of astigmatism. But as much as I urged it, she refused to see the oculist. Out of vanity, I suspect. Chamorro had just turned twenty six, well of age to find a good partner.


  Not that I saw myself coming into that category. Nor would I put myself forward for it for a variety of reasons, including the better fulfilment of our duty. Nonetheless, I felt that I could invite her for a drink that evening. It had been an intense day and we needed a break. Chamorro didn’t think that it was a bad idea.


  We went to the usual place. Because it was so near to HQ it was full of cops. This was for the better, as the abundance of witnesses attested to my innocent intentions.


  “This is bogging us down,” she judged, sipping her beer, “when things seemed to be going well.”


  “Well, everything has its rough edges,” I said. “I have the feeling we’ve sinned with optimism. We thought we’d cracked it as soon as we’d captured two pieces. Besides, we’ve got our brains engaged elsewhere and want to dispose of this one as soon as possible. That’s what the commandant expects. It’s a bad technique. Every corpse needs some spoiling. Perhaps we’ll have to go to Almería, take a bit more time over it. And if not, it may be better to hand it back to them.”


  “Pereira’s not going to hand the bloody thing over in a million years. Not even if you beg him. He’ll only let it go when it’s completely wrapped up. You know that as well as I do.”


  Naturally, I did know. This was what most frustrated me. For some reason, I didn’t feel that the dead man was mine. I hadn’t become attached to him, as usually happens with me. But I couldn’t just shake it off so I had to force myself to accept him.


  “Where are you going for your holidays?” I asked Chamorro, to change the subject.


  “The usual place; San Fernando with the family.”


  “Is that a pretty spot?”


  “Oh, I don’t dislike it. There’s no shortage of beaches, right there or nearby. And you?”


  “Me what?”


  “Are you going anywhere?”


  I hadn’t thought about it. I don’t usually, till the last minute. For that reason I’m always caught unawares and have to work out some emergency plan. Each year I note that I’m getting long in the tooth to be single, especially in summer. However, the times I’ve tried to end this lonely state have ended up going belly up. The affection and attention that are sought by the dead finish up robbing the living. I’d need a change of career and at this stage of the film I can’t imagine doing anything else.


  “I don’t know,”I said. “I think I’ll go to Ibiza, blind myself with ecstasy and screw a few hooked twenty somethings.”


  “If I didn’t know what you’re really like, I’d say you were a pig.”


  “And what am I really like?”


  The ring of my mobile interrupted that interesting session of intimacies. It was Bermúdez.


  “Vila, it’s becoming fashionable to torch cars,”he announced. “We’ve just found another one, but this time on the other side, on the north west. Much less flashy, a Renault Laguna. There’s another detail, perhaps it doesn’t mean anything. Stolen yesterday in Getafe.”


                                                            Chapter 6


                                                A PERVERSE IDEA


  The incinerated Renault Laguna had turned up on a little used road, on a stretch going through a kind of hollow. We really bashed the underside of our Toyota to get there. Bermúdez had arrived before us, having meted out similar punishment to his yellow Fiat.


  “Phew, it’s the new model,” said Chamorro, while we were examining the vehicle, or more accurately, the remains of it.


  “Yes,”confirmed Bermúdez. “How do the adverts brag about it? The keyless car, foolproof against theft. Some garbage. The car that can’t be stolen by a seasoned crook doesn’t exist.”


  It’s useless to look for prints or anything that isn’t really solid and fire-resistant in a burnt out car. That’s why they burn it. In that one we found nothing more than the owner’s tools in the boot and some remains of the spare lights. But our spirits weren’t depressed by this. There was something more interesting.


  “Concentrate on the spot,” I said. “Away from the highway, discreet and sheltered, and at the same time, reasonably close to the town.”


  “What are you trying to tell us?” Bermúdez asked.


  “That whoever brought it here knows the area,” said Chamorro.


  “Precisely. It’s not the place that somebody who was passing by finds by accident. And there’s another point. If you get rid of the car you’re in, and you haven’t brought another, you’ve got to walk back.”


  “We can’t discount their having another car.”


  “Fine, it’s a possibility. We’ll explore it. If you’re going on foot, it’s a good idea to be not too far from where you’re intending to go. Which can be (why not?) where you live.”


“That’s a bit rash, isn’t it?” Chamorro was sceptical.


  “Why? They’re only burning a stolen car. The police have no reason to connect it with a cadaver appearing at the other end of the county. Nor are they going to rupture themselves over a car. They’ll call the owner and tell him “bad luck, you were picked on by some real beasts”. Nobody saw them with Larrea in Getafe, or that’s what they believe. That’s the nemesis of the criminal, believing the police won’t tie together the loose ends that are then united by the most capricious chance. Larrea was going alone, but he had spoken of Getafe and of the chain of pizzerías to his comrade, Castro. Thanks to him, we can read the script of this car stolen in Getafe as they never believed we would read it.


  “Well, it’s promising,” Bermúdez reflected.


  “It promises the jackpot, man,” I proclaimed euphorically.


  The sun was setting. It was time to end the day’s work and replenish our strength for the next.


    Sometimes, in an investigation, when you’ve ignited the crucial spark, everything starts to flow. It’s a delicate moment because you may instead get stuck. I tried not to forget it the following morning, while Chamorro and I were studying the map of the town where the Renault Laguna had shown up and putting together the basic information.  Six thousand inhabitants, a congested urban centre, seven housing estates. Terrific. After a chat with our people on the spot, we could focus the work in a flash.


  “One moment. How many schools are there?” I asked Chamorro.




  “Well that’s it. We’ll go there first. It might be the best approach.”


  “The schools?”


  “The villains we’re seeking are old enough to have kids. They feel that impulse to school their kids like anyone else. It’s something inherent in the species. And, once they’re born, what father who has feelings doesn’t arrange for his kids to receive instruction? Although they’re to be found on the wrong side of the law, that doesn’t stop them from schooling their children.”


  “It’s a perverse idea, even if it works for you.”


  “Virginia, they’re killers. We have to look for their weak flank”.


  We spent some two and a half hours visiting the two schools, convincing  the secretariat of each to let us see the list of students, and then identifying all those of South American origin. As a result we found three Venezuelans, two Colombians, a Peruvian and eleven Ecuadorians.


  “We hadn’t thought about the Ecuadorians,” said Chamorro.


  “They usually come to earn an honest living.”


  “And the others don’t? You can’t generalise like that,” objected Chamorro.


  “Fuck, Chamorro. There are eleven of ‘em. Don’t make life so difficult for yourself.


  We went to the station with the list of addresses. We showed them to the sergeant in command, one Churruca. He was of the old school, one of those who has the whole town taped. Also he seemed to me somewhat old-fashioned and the imperious way in which he treated the guards under him, and especially the girl who in a sad moment had landed at his door, confirmed it. But at the end of the day you can’t always work with people you like. We asked him to show us the way to the addresses we’d picked up and to mark our card about the families who lived in them, if they meant anything to him.


  “All the Indians are the same to me,” was his scarcely heart-warming comment.


  “Have a try if it’s not too much to ask,” I requested.


  He flashed an utterly furious look at his subordinate, who was mutely present at our conversation. I regretted having pressed him in that manner if it meant she was going to have to pay for it.


Fortunately, the gods continued to be on our side. The three Venezuelan children lived in a district away from the centre of the town. If it was where Churruca thought, and it must be, there were a couple of scrap yards there.


  “Could you let me have a couple of men? I’m not too sure what we’ll come up against.”


  “Obviously,” he said, grudgingly; and addressing the guards, he ordered-: “Cuervo, you go, with Mendoza.”


  “At your orders, sergeant,” cried Cuervo, with a click of the heels.


  When we were in the street, far from her chief, I tried to establish some rapport with her. Or at least to relax the tension.


  “Is he always like that?”


“Can I be frank, sergeant?”




  “It’s a crying shame,” she said. “This could be a great posting. Regular folk, tranquil, about their business.  Including the Indians, as he calls them. But he sees demons everywhere.”


  “I must warn you that this time it’s possible that there are some.”


  Cuervo straightened her Santa Teresa and breathed deeply.


  “Well, that’s what we’re for. Isn’t it?”


  A plucky young woman, there was no doubt. It was a luxury for that bloke to have her at his disposal. A shame that he didn’t know how to get the best out of her.


  The two houses were conjoined. They were pretty old, and around them had proliferated a litter of auxiliary huts. There were old and new cars, remains of electro-domestic machines, and on the side of one of the huts was scrawled a slogan: “we buy ron, copper, cinz”.


  We rang the bell of one of the houses. At the end of a long minute, the door opened.


  “Is your husband in?” I demanded.


  “Just a moment, please.”


  She disappeared and closed the door. Another fifteen or twenty seconds passed. The door opened again and a man appeared on the threshold. I consulted Chamorro sotto voce.


  “What do you say?”


  “Definitely, hundred per cent- she murmured, scarcely moving her lips.”


  “Cuervo, ready,” I ordered. The man came slowly towards the outer door. He was smiling.


  “What can I do for you, comrades?”


  I didn’t give him time to react. As soon as I took his hand , I clamped the wrist with the handcuffs and clipped the second bracelet on to the fence.


  “Don’t say a word,” I warned him; and he took me seriously, because that suits when you’ve four pistols pointing at you. “Are your business partners here?”


“Only one, next door,” he mumbled. He’d paled.


  In murder films they always get the killers in a shoot out, in spectacular operations. That’s not quite what happened. We nabbed the other one shitting. Literally. In the search which the judge then authorized, we found two million pesetas, two pistols but no .38. They must have disposed of it, selling it in the market for compromised weapons.


  That same night, Churruca’s people trapped the third. That’s how the ball runs when fate doesn’t dig in its nails.


                                                            Chapter 7


                                                A ROUTINE ASSIGNMENT



  Interrogations are sometimes easy and sometimes less so. Ours with the Venezuelans passed through all the modalities. At first they were obdurate, brazening it our, repeatedly claiming victimisation, which can be a useful tactic. The one who appeared the brightest complained:


  “This is an injustice. You can’t hold people for being foreign, when we are honest workers.  You Spaniards are a load of racists, although you’re always trying to give the opposite impression.”


  “Oh no, Mr Manrique,” I objected. “You’re making a mistake. My partner sponsors a Peruvian child and another from Burundi and I’m about to do the same for a Kenyan youngster. I’m even thinking of sending him postcards.”


  He was confused by this, which is what one intends, always. For that reason, after he’d repeated for the third time that he’d no bloody idea who was Marcos Larrea, I called Chamorro:

  “ Fetch the video. Quick.”


  We showed him the images. Those of his entering the Getafe pizzería with the other two. Those of Marcos Larrea entering shortly after.  Those of the four of them leaving together. He took it all in, impassive.


  “Are you and your friends used to meeting up with people you don’t know in pizzerías?”


  “Don’t you call me bent, not you nor anybody,” he snapped back.


  Well, well. He was warming up. From this point, we’d get to the light.


  “I’m not saying that you don’t like women too. One can have it both ways and be no less a man.”


  “You can do all that shit you were just talking about, fucking men’s arses. I only screw women.”


  I shook my head.


  “Please don’t speak like that. My colleague went to a convent school and she’s very sensitive. Besides, starting from now, the matter of your screwing is going to become problematic, unless you change your preferences. Once a month, if you manage to get a progressive prison and if you behave yourself. And if your wife doesn’t leave you, of course.”


  Here, Manrique opted for silence.


  “Come on, Mr Manrique,” I pressed him. “Don’t be childish.”


  “I don’t know what shit you’re talking about nor am I thinking of confessing anything. You’ve got no proof. I don’t see anyone killing anybody else in that video.”


  The same disc, more or less, was played by the other two, however much we pressed them. We got together and conferred..


  “In one of the houses we searched there was a woman, I recalled. “If I’m not mistaken, it was Manrique’s mother.”


  “So? Chamorro spoke doubtfully.


  “He’s macho. How’s he going to take it if we really hurt his pride?”


  It wasn’t difficult to arrange things so that Manrique was in the opportune spot, an hour and a half later, to see his old mother pass in handcuffs. We treated her with the utmost consideration but a handcuffed mother is ever a handcuffed mother, and on a son that image has its impact.


  “What the fuck are you doing, you sons of whores?” Manrique screamed.


 Ten minutes later we were, once again, in the interrogation room. It’s not a welcoming location. It has the filth and odour of the many evil characters who’ve been there, because we’re not able to decorate it with the frequency we’d like. Manrique, once his initial fury had subsided, seemed to have connected anew the circuits of his brain. I let Chamorro be the one to finish fetching him into the box.


  “The truth is, Mr Manrique,”she said , “I don’t see how you could tolerate the shame of seeing your poor mother here, as a result of your cockiness. It seems to me that you’re one of those who is all man for going and knocking a woman about, for example, but not for taking all the shit when you put your foot in it and they grab you. That’s being a real man, in my view. But not you, it doesn’t even matter a damn to you that your own mother has to carry the can.”


  I must say, hearing Chamorro using that language, which never turns up in her everyday conversation, made a big impression even on me.


  “What you’re doing is illegal. I’ll denounce you,” moaned the wretch.


  “Go ahead, man,” invited Chamorro. What would you have us do? We search a house, we find two firearms and none of the inhabitants has a permit. At first we think that the pistols are yours. I know that’s a prejudice but, well, we make the easy assumption. Now it turns out that you’ve never even broken a plate. So then we have to ask ourselves: listen, mustn’t the old woman be the sharpshooter? Think about it. It makes sense.


  “Ok, whore, shut up now,” he finally accepted defeat. “I give up. But I insist that you set her free, immediately.”


  “That depends on your behaviour, my dear. And, for sure, if you let me down in that respect, I promise you that Mama will stay in custody for seventy two hours and fifty nine minutes. Am I getting through to you?”


  Manrique tried to stare her out, disconcerted. From that moment I adopted the role of the good cop, which is the one I prefer. It’s not much fun sticking a finger in anybody’s eye. At least, not for me. However ugly and disagreeable the crime committed may be.


  Manrique’s statement was complete enough and he supplied us with a pile of detail which, duly checked and confirmed, would enable us to wrap him up, even if in the trial, as might be anticipated, he should retract his confession. He even told us who’d sold him the revolver, which with a bit of luck would enable us to completely clear up the whole scam more than satisfactorily. In brief, he’d met with Larrea to swindle him, for sure, and then had realised that he would have to shoot him, or that it would be the neatest way out. They had come to know him through a compatriot who was dedicated to crooked dealing and who they used to eye up gullible victims. The intermediary knew Larrea’s set up in El Ejido and confirmed that they could lift a nice packet from him. In the pizzeria, they met him and, discreetly, displayed their goods: the brick wrapped to simulate a parcel of coke. Then they accompanied Larrea to his car where he must have the money and, as soon as he opened the door, forced him in. At pistol point they obliged him to lake a ride. He and his henchman, Heredia, the shortest and most taciturn of the three, in Larrea’s car, and the third following them in the stolen Laguna. They waited until it was well into the night, quite calmly, assuring Larrea that he would come to no harm. At half past eleven they arrived at the sports field. There, hardly giving Larrea time to turn off the ignition, Heredia blasted him. They threw out his body and took the car to meet up with the third associate, who was waiting in the town square. Together they made for the gully where they burnt Larrea’s car. Then they went in the Laguna to the hollow where they burnt that one as well. A simple crime, neat, well-organized.


  “What baffles me is how you uncovered it, and so quickly.”


  “The police have all the time in the world, Manrique,” I said, “and we’re used to searching through and organising the not inconsiderable information that comes into our hands. That’s what you forget when you decide to give someone a lead supper and spend barely a few days in planning it and a few hours in completing the job. You always leave a load of loose ends.


  “I swear you wouldn’t have caught us in my country.”


  “We’re not in your country. You need to know the rules of the place where you’re playing before making a contract and dealing the cards.”


  “I was born in Petare, sergeant, one of those hills with small ranches which surround Caracas. No rules there. There you shoot and ask questions after.”


  “I regret it. If only you’d been born somewhere else,” I said.


  And I really did wish that. If only Manrique and his colleagues had first seen the light in a place where life was valued a little more highly than a bundle of pesos, and would that the unhappy Larrea hadn’t thought of the calamitous idea of associating with those people, who were going to shoot him in the head with the same facility as someone peeling a kiwi. But life, which you know can be a bitch, has these juxtapositions and, for  that reason, folk who do what I do are necessary, although it’s a labour in which even success doesn’t make you very happy.


  We called Angela Ramírez. At first she didn’t believe us.


  “What, you’ve got them?  Really?”


  We explained, as far as we could, as far as I believed it mattered. The woman, having overcome her initial astonishment, was grateful.


  “Truly, I don’t know how ….I thought this was a routine matter for you, one pusher more, dead for meddling where he shouldn’t have been. I didn’t think that you were going to make any effort to resolve it.”


  The sad part of it was that, in a good measure, she was making sense. It was a routine matter. Pereira would sell it to the colonel of the Madrid Command, and he would thank him without making much of it.


  “For us nobody matters more than anyone else, madam,” I said, however. “Nobody merits being killed without someone caring about them.”


  When I hung up I felt better. I hadn’t lied to the widow. I’d succeeded, finally, in feeling that Marcos Larrea was my dead man, and that it did matter to me to have caught those who had so cruelly disposed of him. If he was sentient in some place, I hoped that the final result comforted him. And may he rest in peace.



John Holland’s translation of Lorenzo Silva’s story. April 2009.



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Copyright, Lorenzo Silva 2000-2009