Authors: Carlos Zanon,John Cullen
Tags: #Thrillers, #Urban Life, #Crime, #Suspense, #Fiction
He leaves Epi’s room and turns toward his. All he has to do is to cross the hall, but the bad news keeps coming. Near the door, he thinks he catches a glimpse of a long robe, disappearing as its wearer takes cover. It’s too late; he’s already seen it. He shuts his eyes, enters his bedroom, gropes unseeing for the box of pills, rips off the packaging, and takes one, swallowing it with difficulty. At his first opportunity, he’ll wash the pill all the way down with a nice glass of water. In the darkness of his own room, he can control his movements almost without opening his eyes, but the minute he steps out into the hall, he’ll wind up breaking something. So he’ll have to open them. And he must keep his panic in check. He knows that. He’ll see absurd images, the door of the bedroom stained with blood, Lazarus returned from the dead and sauntering down the hall like John Travolta. He’ll see such things and more. “It’s nothing but illusions inside my head,” he tells himself, and he remembers that he’s right, that he has to concentrate on reality, as his doctor has counseled him to do. But if he sees what he sees and hears what he hears, what more is required for something to be real? All sheer madness. His mother always called him by his little brother’s name, never by his own. And things like the
one stationed out there, wearing a robe, are nothing but the shit his mother crammed into his head. So many saints and martyrs, so much dust, so many wounds, such a desert. He can feel the pill stuck in his throat. He swallows saliva repeatedly. He could go to the bathroom or the kitchen, but he can’t move, he doesn’t dare. He ought to run. Do it quickly and trick all the shapes that’ll come out at him along the way. He runs into the kitchen and locks the door behind him. Taking a glass from the sink, he turns on the faucet. He empties the glass in one gulp. The water’s tepid. It’s disgusting. Of course—the water heater’s on. Maybe he’s the one who forgot to turn it off. Maybe it was the others. But the kitchen’s always a place of refuge. Sacred ground. The bright fluorescent lights chase away the undead. He disconnects the heater and lets the water run. A good swig of cool water will soothe him. After he drinks, he opens the kitchen door and starts running.
There’s no one who can see him, no one who can reprove him, as his mother used to do, for running in the hall with his eyes closed. At the same time, he pats his pockets to make sure he’s got his keys, his wallet, and his cell phone, and then he accelerates toward the door. He thinks there’s someone behind him, someone who wants to touch him. It’s Christ, beseeching him. Maybe He wants him to believe in Him, wants his help with the loaves or the fishes, or maybe He wants him to stop downloading music for free, because he and everyone else who does that are killing the artists. No matter. Go back to Nazareth, nutball, Alex thinks. But he’s immediately
frightened by his blasphemy. “God can read your heart,” his mother used to tell him. When he closes the door behind him and heads down the stairs, he hears the screams of the ghosts, which stay inside, growing like trees behind our backs, crossing off, one by one, the minutes left until we return and they can go back to scaring us.
EPI HALTS AT THE CURB AND LOOKS AT THE STOPLIGHT
. It’s green. He can cross, but he’s already ignored so many red signals that he’s on the point of forgetting the rules for drivers and pedestrians. For a few seconds, he hasn’t the slightest notion where he is. Inside his gym shoes, his feet are burning. He crosses over to the opposite corner, attempting to catch his breath, walking with one hand clutching his side, as he did when he was a boy and he was trying to quiet his heartbeat. Several cars pass. A bus. He walks to the next corner. Maybe he can get a better idea of where he is from there. He’s left the barrio, but he knows he has to go back. He looks at his cell phone, then turns it on. His brother’s calls appear on the screen, but the little chirp that means his battery is near death sounds almost at once, and he decides to turn the phone off. He’s sure the battery will have better occasions for chirping later that very day. When he reaches the corner, he stands still
for a good while. With his mind blank. He’s not carrying the bag with the hammer. Maybe he left it in the bar or threw it away somewhere. He doesn’t remember. It’s not that he expects to get out of the fix he’s in, but it seems he could at least not make the law’s job too easy.
He’s cold. He touches his lip, which feels strange, as if it were swelling. Then he looks at his fingertips, checking for blood from his mouth. His temples are pounding. Everything’s so confused. Even now, after he’s made his decision and acted upon it. Things are still until they start moving fast, and then they don’t know how to stop. He looks at the corners of the buildings, at the terraces and the cars, but his eyes have degenerated from so much staring at computer screens and squinting at video games. He’s so far gone that the act of shutting and opening his eyes feels to him rather like closing and restarting the same game.
Actual violence, it turns out, is not only sordid and unaesthetic, it also possesses a tremendous capacity to generate desperation. Your blows don’t land where you want them to. You’re not as strong as you think. It hurts to receive, but it also hurts to give. And the terrible thing is the certainty that it’s all or nothing. There are no second chances. You have to keep it up. There’s nothing behind you. The sad truth is that adrenaline tastes like fear.
Epi prefers not to think very much about what happened. His obsession is focused on Tiffany. His wish is to see her face, to hear himself speaking, to talk to her and realize that she’s listening attentively to what he has to tell her. The
building he’s in front of has a low windowsill he could sit on. Maybe stopping for a while would help him to think clearly and figure out what he should do next. A taxi’s about to pass him. Nobody’s going to look for you inside a taxi. Epi raises his hand, but the cab doesn’t stop. Then he notices what he looks like. His sweater is stained with blood and his face—surely—with fear. He takes off the sweater, turns it inside out, and puts it back on. Without realizing it, he’s been trembling for who knows how long. His whole body’s beginning to hurt. Especially his back. The son of a bitch got him good with that ladder. He won’t be able to move tomorrow. One of his feet is starting to bother him, too. It’s possible that he broke a toe. A few minutes pass, and then another taxi comes along, this one with its green light turned on. Epi raises his hand; the cab slows down and pulls up to the curb.
The driver’s a woman. She scrutinizes him at length in her rearview mirror. The cab’s front and back seats are separated by a security panel with a little basket for passing money back and forth. Epi has never been in jail. He imagines that the visiting area must be something like this. The lawyer committed to justice, the devastated girlfriend, her hand trying to touch his hand through the glass as she says,
I’ll wait for you, I’ll be there when you get out, but tell me, you know you can trust me, where did you hide the money?
“Where shall I take you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, if you don’t know …”
“I mean I don’t remember the address.”
“Anyway, I’m turning on the meter.”
“I’m going to my girlfriend’s. She doesn’t live far from here. I’m late. I’ll tell you where to turn as we go along.”
The taxi heads for Tiffany’s place. Epi should probably give her a call first. But it’s still very early, and Miss Tiffany Brisette has a hard time waking up. Something’s not working right, Epi thinks, when the fugitive has to wait outside the girl’s door until she’s ready to soothe his bad temper with the morning’s first cup of coffee. Such things don’t happen to superheroes. Whenever they want, they just go in through the windows. They go down stairs inside burning buildings and step out into smoking alleys. Women are always waiting for them to appear, and they, of course, are guys who make women wait.
The morning stretches and yawns, gradually waking up. Another sunny day, another good day for recovering from a cold. Indifferent to living things, the orange light is welcoming the buildings, illuminating them in such a way that they appear to Epi like new discoveries, things that weren’t there last night, and now it seems to him that the light is raising them from the ground and trying to set them on their feet. Or worse yet, that they haven’t left yet, despite all the warnings. Like dinosaur fossils, the concrete towers stay in place, and the light tries to straighten them up so they can start walking, but it isn’t possible; they remain anchored where they are, waiting for time to bury them once and for all.
“Can I make a call on your cell phone?”
“I’m sorry. It’s only for work.”
“That means it’s only for making calls to your dispatcher?”
“No. It just means it can’t be used for certain things.”
“It can’t be used by customers, for example.”
“This is an emergency.”
“What kind of emergency?”
“In bars, customers can use the restrooms.”
“What kind of emergency?”
“Never mind.” Given the driver’s attitude, Epi changes his tone and says to her, “But at least try to drive in a straight line. That is, if your husband taught you how.”
“Careful what you say. This is my car, and I decide who gets to ride in it.”
“It was only a joke.”
“Real fucking funny.”
Things like this exasperate him. He can’t comprehend them. He doesn’t understand why people choose to be jerks, just because. But at least the discussion has been useful for something. The cab driver has begun to concentrate hard on making all the lights. Now it looks as though she wants to get to their destination more than he does. They’re very close. A few more intersections. As they drive on, they pass a
squad car, going in the opposite direction with its lights flashing but no siren. Epi figures they’re going to Salva’s bar. Then it’s as if he can hear Alex scolding him, telling him that only a moron would kill Tanveer and then immediately go to see Tiffany Brisette. And he’d be right. As usual. Incredible as it seems, Epi hadn’t thought about the police. He knows he had to do what he did, and he supposes
that’s enough. He chose the way of doing it without weighing many other options. He picked up whatever lay to hand. As to afterward, what would happen afterward, he simply hadn’t thought about it, except to envision Tiffany receiving the news. He’d pictured himself in prison, but not how or where he’d be held. He’d also imagined himself on television, handcuffed, getting into a car while one of those pigs clapped a hand on his neck and thrust his head down. Why do they always do that? Because they saw it on TV one day and they’re copying it? As far as he knows, nobody likes to whack his head against the roof of a car.
Now that he’s on the point of seeing Tiffany, he realizes he ought to have prepared some sort of speech. Explanation’s not his forte, and, slow as he is, he’s never allowed to finish a thought. He needs to be given time, space, air. People—especially her—always keep interrupting him. But today’s different. What he has to say has only one voice and a few words: his. As though a flash has lit up his consciousness, he becomes aware that he needs to go somewhere else and think some more. He says, “Change of plans.”
Epi gives the driver the new address. She makes a popping sound with her lips and keeps her thoughts to herself. She puts on her turn signal and changes direction at the next intersection. Epi turns on his phone and calls Tiffany. Three rings, four, and then he ends the call. Let her wake up first. He sees the driver looking at him in the rearview mirror. He repeats the operation and hangs up again. “Fake call,” he says. “I’m making a fake call.”
Epi smiles. Teasing the taxi driver amuses him. He can picture her later, being asked in an interview whether she noticed anything strange about that particular passenger, the one who wore a sweater turned inside out and asked if he could use her cell phone. She’ll declare with pride that she stood up to him and refused to let him make a call. As he’s imagining this, Tiffany at last answers the phone.
CHARACTER IS DESTINY
. Those words are written on a metal plaque over the main entrance to the Michi Panero Secondary School. Alex takes his hand out of his jacket pocket and, without breaking stride, thrusts a finger between the bars of the wrought-iron fence. Clack, clack, clack, clack. Like when he was a boy, and a student in that very school. He doesn’t even look at the plaque, which time is steadily deteriorating. But he remembers how it gleamed when he was a schoolboy. Every morning he read that declaration. His father was a teacher at the Michi Panero School. He would always endorse the school’s motto, word for word, even though he was never willing to reveal to Alex the ultimate secret it surely contained. “You’ll understand it when you grow up,” Alex’s father would tell him. But then Alex grew up, and he still didn’t understand it.
Nor was his father about to explain it to him. It was very hard to have him for a teacher, to be in his class and watch him walk up and down the rows, the butt of the jokes and stories invented by his classmates. Alex usually turned a blind eye and a deaf
ear to those obscene, hellish spectacles, but sometimes he went so far as to join in them. His father’s appearance contributed to the general derision: eyeglasses thick as bottle bottoms, old-fashioned vests, dark jackets covered with cat hair. Professor Dalmau occasionally lost the thread of his own explanations, it was practically obligatory to copy during his exams, and anything could happen in his classrooms. Beyond all that, what Alex found most ridiculous about his father was his absurd, anachronistic passion, which he never lost. The gleam in his eyes when he spoke of wrathful Achilles, of the death of Patroclus, who learned too late that Troy was defended by mighty warriors, and that the mightiest of them all was Hector. In the end, Alex’s father turned out to be a mysterious man, too, for no one would have imagined that he could fall in love with another woman. That one fine day, he’d go out the door and never return. That all in all, he didn’t give a shit about Ithaca.