Up until now, the most important nightmare I've had in my life I had when I was traveling by bus on a highway lined by pines. I haven't been able to decipher its meaning, at least, not entirely.

It was nighttime, but I couldn't sleep. Every time I started to nod off, the headlights of cars coming from the opposite direction or the jolting of the bus jarred me awake. I knew I was finally asleep when I no longer heard the engine's drone and the oncoming headlights turned soft and blue and stopped being a nuisance.

I was having an agreeable dream, one that was even, up to a certain point, musical, when I sensed that a sarcastic person, someone who knew me well enough, had sat down in the seat behind me. The visitor waited until I'd grown accustomed to his presence; then he sat up, leaned forward and said, breathing down my neck:

"Isn't it true that in the life of every man there are five black minutes?"

The idea frightened me so much that I woke up, and since there was no one in any of the seats around me, I spent the rest of the night drinking water, watching the moon and trying to calculate if I'd already complied with my quota of black minutes.

That's how I arrived in Paracuán.

1.

There are two kinds of police in the world: those who like to work and those who don't. I liked my job, agent Chávez liked his job, and of course Chief García liked to investigate and solve a problem, but his best detective did not--and he was the one who received the crime report first. He tried getting rid of it like a hot potato, but there are leads that seem to inflame your skin and don't leave you in peace until you investigate them. They say that a kind of obsession takes us over, like that of a dog dreaming about the scent of his prey, even when they tell him the hunt is over.

Well, I have to start somewhere. On the March 17, 1977, Vicente Rangel González, nearly thirty, a native of the port, who lived in a house by the river, a musician turned detective, was the one to whom it fell to look into the crime. Rangel had spent six years on the force and the last four resigning. He was always saying he was going to resign, but every time he was on the verge of doing so he got involved in some difficult case and ended up putting off his exit again.

The day it all began el Chicote--the receptionist, watchman, car-washer and errand-boy for the entire department--passed him the call:

"It's for you."

"My uncle?"

"No, you wish. Someone reporting a crime."

That bit about the uncle was something of a joke between them, if you could say that Vicente Rangel liked jokes . . . . In truth, he didn't.

He picked up the heavy black telephone in the middle of the office. On the other end of the line someone was desperately shouting:

"Hello? Hello? Hello?"

"Headquarters . . ."

"All right, finally. This is licenciado Rivas calling from the Bar León. We found another girl, like the one in El Palmar."

"One moment," he said, and he covered the mouthpiece with his hand:

"Where's el Travolta?" he asked el Chicote.

"He hasn't come in."

"And why'd you pass this call to me?"

"Lolita told me to."

Two desks away, Lolita was chewing her nails. She was the chief's secretary.

"Hey Lolita. What's going on? This case belongs to el Travolta."

"But he's not here, you know he's always late. Why don't you go?"

"Is it an order?"

"Well . . . yes. No? Which would you prefer?"

Rangel exhaled deeply, and then filled his lungs with the hot, heavy, un- breathable air; then he uncovered the mouthpiece and said with as much authority as possible:

"Are you the manager?"

"Yes."

"Don't touch anything and don't let anybody leave. They'll be right over..."

"Do you know where we are?"

"Sure, man, they're on their way."

Everyone knew where the Bar Leon was: in front of the central plaza. It was one of the oldest bars in the port, as old as the second founding of the city, at the end of the nineteenth century. Although its golden age was past - sometime in the thirties, just before the second World War - its air of a grand bar fallen on hard times still attracted tourists and, above all, a sparse but loyal clientele of neighbors and government office employees who worked nearby.

Rangel noted the time. It's a quarter past two, and good, he told himself, let it be on the record that I didn't want to go. As he hung up the phone, Rangel had to admit that felt nervous. Could it be the same guy? he wondered. He felt as if the palms of his hands were on fire again and he told himself: Motherfucker, I bet it is. He thought of applying the medicinal ointment prescribed by Dr. Rodríguez, but he wasn't sure. He didn't want anyone to see him using it, to him ointments and make-up seemed like fag stuff, nothing to do with a tough cop, about to turn thirty, but it was true that Dr. Rodríguez Caballero was the best specialist in the state. Okay, he told himself, what harm is there in using just a little bit? He was opening the box, he'd already pulled out the ointment, was about to rub some onto his left hand, when he realized that he was being watched, by a guy in a checked-shirt, wearing thick coke-bottle glasses; a lowly type but very clean, who was waiting in a chair by the entrance to the corridor, maybe just another aspiring Gofer, like so many others who turned up there. Annoyed, the detective put the ointment away in his pocket.

Vicente Rangel González pulled out the twenty-two-caliber pistol he'd paid for in ten installments, undid his belt and put on the holster. He preferred the twenty-two to the heavy regulation forty-five that the department offered. As it was a small city, there weren't enough firearms for everybody, and the few they had were kept in Chief Garcia's office, under double lock in a case, but the Chief wasn't there and he had the key. Rangel didn't like to carry a weapon and was sure he wouldn't need it, but he brought it anyway: Don't want that guy to find me first. When he'd closed the holster he conveniently and discretely scratched himself, and when the itch had diminished he turned to el Chicote and ordered:

"Tell the specialists, and send me Cruz Treviño, or Crazyshot or the Fat Wolf. Tell them do a complete search of the plaza and the docks."

"What? Can you say that again?"

Rangel would have liked to give an explanation, but he couldn't discard the possibility that the man in the checked-shirt was a newspaper spy, and so he made a gesture that said, "Don't ask," and went out of the room.

El Chicote silently obeyed. Experience had taught him not to argue with nervous policemen, and so he picked up the yellow pages, looked up the Loncheria Las Lupitas and set to work trying to track down Crazyshot.

Rangel crossed the gravel parking lot, trailing a dusty wake that accompanied him to the car. As he'd feared, the metal was broiling: waves of heat rose from the hood. Fuck, he said, if only he had air-conditioning. He stuck the key into the red-hot lock, rolled the window down, turned the driver's seat cushion around, and got in. Before he could reach across to lower the right-side window, he was already sweating, rivers flowing down his face. I surrender, he thought. Turning on the car he burned his fingers again, so he pulled out a handkerchief and a red bandanna from the glove compartment, draped one over the steering wheel, with the other covered the stick shift, and drove in the direction of the bar. Back then the department only had three vehicles: la Julia - a covered pick-up, adapted for transporting "suspects" - and two patrol cars painted in the official colors; one was used by Chief Garcia, and other was driven by el Travolta. All the other agents had to use their own cars - if they had them, as was the case with Vicente Rangel.

He looked at the thermometer. One hundred and three degrees, and it wasn't going to get cooler. Since buying the Chevy Nova he'd tried to avoid driving at the hottest hours, during the port's interminable midday, when the buildings seemed to be boiling and hazy mirages rose from the pavement. He had the impression that he was entering another reality, the epicenter of fear. To distract himself from such macabre thoughts, he turned on the radio, where the announcer was suggesting that it was the Martians who were overheating the earth: "First they're going to finish off the ozone layer, and then deforest the planet, and then they're going to melt the north pole icecaps and flood the cities. Amidst cruel sufferings, they plan to extinguish the human race." Fucking Martians, he thought, they must be putos.

As he passed Tiberius' Bar he slowed down to see if Travolta was there, but no luck. Fucking fatso, he thought, and on top of everything else, he's going be angry.

He took the Port Boulevard to Palmar Avenue and covered the route in ten minutes. He only had to stop for the light at the Texas Curve, and as there was trailer truck in front and he had no siren, he had no way of making himself heard. Okay, he told himself, I can wait a moment. In truth he didn't want this job and he still held out the hope that el Chicote would find el Travolta, and he'd be relieved of the investigation. Thirty seconds later he felt sure that it wouldn't be that way, at least not right away, and that there was no way out of these circumstances: Who cares, he thought, let the fatso be mad, so what. One more stripe on the tiger.

He looked at the enormous billboard for Refrescos de Cola, where a woman lifted a glass of petroleum colored liquid, overflowing with ice. While he waited for the light to change, like the good anti-imperialist he was, he dedicated evil thoughts to the company and even to the model in the ad, Fucking asshole gringos, and Fucking bitch in hot pants, she must be a big whore. Every time he saw a cola drink he associated it with the war in Vietnam, the tension in the Middle East, the Cold War, the fall of Salvador Allende in Chile. Since he'd joined the police force, these explosions of overt rancor had become less frequent, but they persisted. His internationalist conscience wouldn't die. But there had to be some explanation for that stuff about the girl .

He reached the Bar León in six minutes--back then, you could traverse the whole city in half an hour--and as he approached, he recognized Dr. Riadura's car, which meant that Rivera would be there too. In the mornings they gave classes in chemistry and biology at the Jesuits' school; in the afternoons, or in case of an emergency, they were the only forensics specialists in the city.

Strangely. Ramirez was waiting for him in the street. He looked seasick, his eyes were red, and Rangel thought, this guy can't take anything, looks like whatever he saw made an impression on him:

"Finished?"

"Getting some air."

"Hurry up, because the ambulance is coming," and as a large group of curious onlookers was forming, he ordered, "Open a space in front of the door, don't let anyone in or out."

Before he could take another step the photographer confessed.

"Señor Rangel . . . "

"Yes?"

"The manager let one individual leave."

Rangel nodded. "An individual? The manager? I'm going to see that asshole right now, fuck him for obstruction of justice." He was about to resume walking but the voice of intuition halted him. He knew Ramirez well enough to notice that he was hiding something.

"Do you who he is?"

Rangel guessed that he did, judging by the specialist's hesitation.

"It was Jack Williams . . . He came with his secretary and four gringos."

Son of a whore! An influential person. He didn't like dealing with influential people, and the person who had left without waiting for them was the son of the richest man in the port: the legendary Jack Williams, owners of the local Refrescos de Cola bottling plant. Ramirez was sweating, and it wasn't on account of the 103 degree in-the-shade heat.

"Where's the body?"

"At the back, in the bathroom. The doctor is there."

He was about to go into the bar but the photographer gestured for his attention.

"Hey."

"Yes?"

"I finished the roll."

The agent pulled a bill from his wallet.

"Bring me a receipt, cabron. And hurry it up."

When he stepped through the doorway he had to wait a moment to get used to the dark. Three dark bulks approached him, growing less diffuse . . . the manager must be the one with the biggest belly. No need to pull out his badge - there never was - and much less now: nobody wanted to be in that place.

The manager's name was Lucilo Rivas. Rangel recognized him immediately, he'd seen him many times at a distance, whenever he went to the bar as customer. He always wore tight-fitting, light-colored suits, at least one size too small. Seeing him, the manager gave signs of recognizing a regular customer. It was as if he was saying: Well, damn, I didn't know he was a detective. They called him "The Chatterbox," but now he was silent. Well, fuck it, Rangel said to himself, this asshole is going to give us a hard time.

"Is everyone here?"

"If they'd left without paying, I would have noticed."

"That's what we're going to find out. Do you have all the day's receipts?"

The manager's expression changed. There you go, thought Rangel, he didn't like that one bit.

"We just started."

"Don't dick me around, no way they took their checks with them. You must have some record."

More taciturn than ever, the manager pulled opened a drawer and turned over the receipts. Rangel took the one on top and found what he was looking for. Junior had paid with a credit card:

Grupo Refrescos de Cola de Paracuán John Williams, Jr Subdirector general

Rangel didn't own a credit card. How was he going to have one, if he could never get to the end of the month with money in his pocket? For him the cards were like titles of nobility, glimmers of an impossible country, a dream as remote as a Ford in your Future.

"What?" the voice of the manager had broken his concentration.

"I said I let him go because he was in such a hurry. He was with some gringo investors and had to show them around the city."

Rangel shook his head:

"You and I are going to continue this conversation. What you did is enough for me to haul you in . . . I'll take this," he took the receipts. "Who found her?"

The bartender gestured towards a young man who looked liked a bureaucrat, seated at the bar, pale as a ghost. "Oh man," said Rangel, "he's going to faint."

As per usual, Raúl Silva Santacruz had gone to have lunch at the Bar León at two on the dot. Every third day he came with two colleagues during the hour when they gave away free snacks, he'd order one or two beers and in exchange they'd serve him a broth of dried shrimps, or crab or pork tacos, or a rice stew. The 17th of March, 1977, he finished his two beers, shared one last dumb joke with his friends, and went to urinate. It was two-forty. Although the bar had urinals in back, usually flooded miasmas, Silva Santacruz preferred to go through the door behind the bar and use the other, better ventilated bathroom. It was a room with white tiled walls about four meters high, a rectangular communal urinal, and two stalls, each with a toilet, illuminated by a large window. That day, as he stepped towards the urinal, Raúl Silva Santacruz noticed an object on the floor in front of one of the stalls. He thought of the vagrants who hung around the plaza and thought, Asshole bums, they just come in here to make a mess. It was common for the vagrants to come into the bar to use the bathrooms and then they left behind their soda bottles, french-fry cartons, the needles they used to shoot up, bread bags. He was about to lower his zipper when he noticed that the discarded object was a diminutive shoe. He lifted his gaze a few inches and discovered, just inside the door to the toilet, a tiny little foot.

The discovery provoked a crisis. Although the bartender served him a shot of liquor in a tequila glass, his movements remained slow and swaying, as if he were following the rhythms of a waltz. Rangel would have preferred it if the witness wasn't drinking, but he couldn't reprimand him: if he weren't on duty he would also have a shot of rum. He didn't like the job that lay ahead of him one bit, but there was no avoiding it.

A lightning-flash illuminated the inside of the restaurant and the agent knew that the journalists had arrived: in this case the Albino, always the first on the scene. For some time until the present date, Rangel always felt uncomfortable whenever he came upon the Albino, and every time he went to investigate a homicide, he knew he was going to find him. Asshole carrion bird, who knows who tips him off, he thought, he must have an informer in the department, otherwise there's no explanation for how he's always the first one there. It wasn't that the Albino was a bad person, but it still perturbed Rangel to watch him at work: he was the silent type, with white hair and white eyebrows, always dressed all in white amidst the seas of blood. If at least he made some effort to be amiable, he thought, but he only stirs things up . . . . After him it wasn't long before la Chilanga turned up, a graduate of the Carlos Septién García School of Journalism, expelled from the Ibero for her leftist ideas. Whenever she was denied access to a crime scene, la Chilanga usually launched into long and painful harangues, full of Marxist vocabulary that Rangel didn't always understand: Fourth class Materialists, shitty dogs, you're the armed branch of the bourgeois government. Rangel didn't know how to treat her: She takes advantage of being a woman, beautiful, feminist, educated, and she's taken my measure, fucking bitch, she should stay in her house. To Rangel it was obvious that reporters were an impediment to police work. If it were up to him he'd forbid them from getting mixed up in investigations, but not everybody thought the same. The Chief liked to show-off, and Crazyshot liked to show off, and el Travolta, don't even talk about it, he was practically a vedette, a showgirl. And then the Albino tried to cross the security perimeter - in reality, just a pair of chairs in the entranceway to the bar, put there by Ramirez - Listen cabron! Rangel shouted at him, "Get out of here! " But the Albino stayed quiet, as if he were dead, or as if he were an animal who couldn't understand human language, and Rangel gave the order to lower the shutters. A minute later the waiters had shut out the light from the street and the detectives were immersed in darkness, in the most literal manner.

by

Martín Solares


Hasta ahora, la pesadilla más importante de mi vida la tuve cuando viajaba por una carretera llena de pinos, en un camión de pasajeros. No he podido averiguar qué significa, o por lo menos, no por completo.

Era de noche y no lograba dormir. Cada vez que empezaba a cabecear, las luces de los autos que venían en sentido contrario o los movimientos del camión me despertaban de inmediato. Supe que por fin estaba dormido cuando dejé de escuchar el ronroneo del motor y las luces del camino se volvieron suaves y azules y dejaron de ser una molestia.

Tenía un sueño agradable y hasta cierto punto musical cuando sentí que una persona sarcástica, que me conocía lo suficiente, se había sentado en el asiento trasero. El visitante esperó a que me acostumbrara a su presencia; entonces descruzó las piernas, se estiró hacia delante y dijo, en dirección a mi nuca:

“¿Verdad que en la vida de todo hombre hay cinco minutos negros?”


La idea me asustó tanto que desperté, y como no había nadie en los asientos contiguos pasé el resto de la noche dedicado a beber agua, a mirar la luna y a revisar si ya había cumplido con mi quinta cuota de minutos negros.

Así llegué a Paracuán.



1

Hay dos tipos de policías en todo el mundo: a los que les gusta su trabajo y a los que no. A mí me gustaba mi empleo, al agente Chávez le gustaba su empleo, al Comandante García claro que le gustaba investigar y resolver un problema, pero a su mejor detective no -y fue él quien recibió la denuncia. Intentó deshacerse de ella como de una papa caliente, pero hay pistas que se te prenden a la piel y no te dejan en paz hasta que las investigas. Dicen que entre ellas y nosotros se establece una especie de obsesión, como de perro que sueña con la presa que olfateó, aunque le digan que la caza ha terminado.
Bueno, hay que empezar por alguna parte. El diecisiete de marzo de mil novecientos setenta y siete Vicente Rangel González, casi treinta años, natural del puerto, domiciliado en una casa junto al río, un músico metido a detective fue el encargado de levantar la denuncia. Rangel tenía seis años en el cuerpo y llevaba cuatro renunciando. Siempre decía que iba a renunciar, pero cada vez que estaba a punto de hacerlo se involucraba en un caso difícil y volvía a postergar su salida. El día que empezó todo fue el Chicote -ese recepcionista, velador, lavacoches y mensajero de todo el departamento- quien le pasó la llamada:


-Ahí le hablan.

-¿Mi tío?

-No, cómo cree. Es una denuncia.

Eso del tío era una broma entre ellos, si pudiera decirse que a Vicente Rangel le gustaban las bromas.... La verdad es que no.

Tomó el aparato negro y pesado que estaba en el centro del salón. Un tipo desesperado gritaba en el otro extremo del alambre:

-¿Bueno? ¿Bueno? ¡Bueno!

-Jefatura...

-¡Oiga, por fin! Le llama el licenciado Rivas, del Bar León. Encontramos otra niña, como la de El Palmar.

-Un momento -dijo, y cubrió la bocina con la palma de la mano:

-¿Dónde está el Travolta? –le preguntó al Chicote.

-No ha llegado.

-¿Y porqué me la pasas a mí?

-Me dijo Lolita.

Lolita se estaba mordiendo las uñas a dos escritorios de distancia. Era la secretaria del jefe.

-A ver Lolita, ¿qué pues? El caso le toca al Travolta.

-Pero no va a volver, ya ve que siempre se tarda, ¿por qué no va usted?

-¿Es una orden?

-Pues... sí, ¿no? ¿O qué será bueno?

Rangel suspiró a fondo y llenó sus pulmones con el aire denso, caliente, que no se podía respirar; luego descubrió la bocina y dijo con la mayor autoridad posible:

-¿Es usted el gerente?

-Sí.

-No toque nada ni deje salir a nadie. Ya van para allá.

-¿Sabe dónde estamos?

-Sí, hombre, ya van en camino.

Cualquiera sabía dónde estaba el Bar León: quedaba frente a la plaza de armas. Era uno de los bares más antiguos del puerto, tan antiguo como la refundación de la ciudad, a finales del siglo diecinueve. Aunque ya había pasado su época de oro –que fue en algún momento de los treinta, antes de la segunda guerra mundial- su aire de gran bar venido a menos aún atraía a los turistas y, sobre todo, a una escasa pero fiel clientela compuesta por vecinos y empleados de oficinas públicas, que trabajaban por ahí.

Rangel tomó la hora: Son las dos cincuenta, y bueno, se dijo, que conste en el acta que yo no quería ir. Mientras colgaba el aparato, Rangel debió admitir que estaba nervioso. ¿Será el mismo tipo?, pensó. Sintió que le volvían a hervir las palmas de las manos y se dijo: Chíngue su madre, me late que sí. Pensó en untarse la crema medicinal que le había recetado el doctor Rodríguez, pero no estaba seguro. No quería que nadie lo viera poniéndose el remedio, a él las cremas y los maquillajes le parecían cosa de maricones, no de policías bragados, a punto de cumplir los treinta años, pero era cierto que el doctor Rodríguez Caballero era el mejor especialista del estado. Bueno, se dijo, ¿qué tanto es tantito? Estaba abriendo el cajón, ya había sacado el remedio, se lo iba a aplicar en la mano izquierda, cuando reparó en que lo observaba un tipo de camisa a cuadros y anteojos gruesos, como de fondo de botella; un tipo humilde pero muy limpio, que esperaba sentado al comienzo del pasillo, acaso un aspirante a Madrina, de los que aparecían tantos por allí. El detective se sintió molesto y se guardó la crema en el pantalón.

Vicente Rangel González sacó la calibre veintidós que había comprado en diez pagos, se desabrochó el cinturón y se acomodó la funda. Prefería su veintidós a la pesada calibre cuarenta y cinco reglamentaria que le ofrecía el departamento. Por tratarse de una ciudad pequeña, no había armas para todos, y las pocas que había se guardaban en el despacho del Comandante García, en una vitrina bajo doble llave, pero el Comandante no estaba y la llave la tenía él. A Rangel no le gustaba usar armas, estaba seguro de que no iba a tener necesidad de utilizarla, pero la llevó de todas maneras: No vaya a ser que me encuentre a ese tipo. Luego de cerrar la funda de manera conveniente se rascó con disimulo, y cuando consiguió que la comezón se atenuara le ordenó al Chicote:

-Avisa a los peritos y mándame a Cruz Treviño, o a Tiroloco y al Gordolobo. Que hagan limpieza en la plaza de armas y en los muelles.

-¿Otra vez, oiga?

Rangel hubiera querido explicar la situación en detalle, pero no podía descartar que el hombre de la camisa a cuadros fuera un espía de los periódicos, así que hizo un gesto que significaba “No me preguntes” y salió de la habitación.

El Chicote obedeció en silencio. Su experiencia le había enseñado a no discutir con policías nerviosos, así que tomó la sección amarilla, buscó la Lonchería Las Lupitas y se concentró en encontrar al Tiroloco.


Rangel atravesó el estacionamiento de grava, seguido por una estela de polvo que lo acompañó hasta su auto. Como lo temía, el metal estaba hirviendo: olas de humo se desprendían del capó. Chingado, se dijo, quién tuviera aire acondicionado. Metió la llave en la chapa al rojo vivo, giró la manija para bajar el cristal izquierdo, le dio vuelta al cojín del piloto y se metió de una vez. Antes de que pudiera bajar la ventanilla derecha ya estaba sudando, ríos de agua le escurrían por la frente, Me lleva, pensó. Al encender la marcha volvió a quemarse los dedos, de manera que sacó un pañuelo y un paliacate rojo de la guantera, con uno cubrió el volante, con el segundo se cubrió la diestra y condujo en dirección del bar. Por entonces el ayuntamiento sólo tenía tres vehículos: la Julia –una camioneta cubierta, adaptada para “levantar” sospechosos- y dos patrullas pintadas con colores oficiales; una la usaba el Comandante García, otra la conducía el Travolta. El resto de los agentes tenía que usar sus vehículos particulares –si los tenían, como era el caso de Vicente Rangel.


Miró el termómetro: Cuarenta grados, dijo, y esto no va a refrescar. Desde que se compró el Chevy Nova trataba de no manejar durante las horas de mayor calor, en el mediodía interminable del puerto, cuando los edificios parecen hervir y los espejismos se alzan del pavimento. Tenía la impresión de estar entrando a otra realidad, al epicentro del miedo. Para distraerse de pensamientos tan macabros encendió la radio, donde un locutor sugería que los marcianos estaban calentando la tierra: “Primero van a acabar con la capa de ozono, después van a deforestar el planeta, luego fundirán las capas de hielo del polo norte e inundarán las ciudades. Piensan extinguir a la raza humana entre crueles sufrimientos”. Pinches marcianos, se dijo, han de ser putos.

Al pasar frente al Tiberius’ Bar disminuyó la velocidad para ver si encontraba al Travolta, pero no tuvo suerte. Pinche gordo, se dijo, y encima se va a encabronar.

Tomó el Boulevard del Puerto hasta la avenida del Palmar y recorrió el itinerario en diez minutos. Sólo tuvo que detenerse en el semáforo de la Curva a Texas, pues había un trailer delante, y por no llevar sirena, no tenía modo de hacerse oír. Bueno, se dijo, puedo esperar un momento. La verdad es que no quería hacer el trabajo y aún conservaba la esperanza de que el Chicote localizara al Travolta, y lo relevaran de la investigación. Treinta segundos después tuvo la certeza de que no sería así, por lo menos no de inmediato, y que no había forma de eludir las circunstancias: Ni modo, se dijo, que se empute el gordo, ¿pus qué? Otra raya más al tigre.

Miró el anuncio monumental de Refrescos de Cola, donde una mujer levantaba un vaso de líquido color petróleo, rebosante de hielos. Mientras esperaba el siga, como buen antiimperialista que era, le dedicó malos pensamientos a la compañía e incluso a la modelo del anuncio, Pinches gringos cabrones, y Pinche vieja en hot pants, ha de ser bastante puta. Cada vez que veía un refresco de cola lo relacionaba con la guerra de Vietnam, la tensión en Medio Oriente, la guerra fría, la caída de Salvador Allende en Chile. Desde que entró al cuerpo de policía estas explosiones de rencor externo se habían vuelto menos frecuentes, pero seguían persistiendo. Era su conciencia internacional, que se resistía a morir. Lo de la chava es más complicado y se va a explicar a su tiempo.

Llegó al Bar León en otros seis minutos –entonces toda la ciudad podía recorrerse en media hora- y al acercarse a la entrada divisó el coche de la doctora Ridaura, lo cual significaba que Ramírez también debía estar ahí. Por la mañana daban clases de química y biología en el colegio de los jesuitas; por la tarde, o en caso de una emergencia eran los peritos de la ciudad.

Cosa inusual, Ramírez lo estaba esperando en la calle. Parece mareado y trae los ojos rojos, pensó, no aguanta nada este hombre, a lo mejor le impresionó lo que vio:

-¿Ya terminaste?

-Estoy tomando aire.

-Apúrale, porque ya va a llegar la ambulancia -y en vista de que comenzaba a formarse una multitud de curiosos, le ordenó:- Hazme una valla en la puerta, no dejes entrar ni salir.

Antes de que diera otro paso el fotógrafo confesó:

-Señor Rangel...

-¿Sí?

-El gerente dejó salir a un individuo.

Rangel asintió, ¿Un individuo?, ¿el gerente? Ahorita va a ver ese pendejo, me lo voy a chingar por obstrucción de la ley. Ya iba a seguir caminando, pero la voz de la intuición lo obligó a detenerse. Conocía lo suficiente a Ramírez para advertir que le ocultaba algo:

-¿Tú lo conoces?

Rangel adivino que sí, a juzgar por las vacilaciones del perito:

-Era Jack Williams... Venía con su secretario y cuatro gringas.

¡Puta madre! Un influyente. No le gustaba tratar con influyentes, y el joven que se fue sin esperarlos era el hijo del hombre más rico del puerto: el legendario Bill Williams, dueño de la embotelladora local de Refrescos de Cola. Ramírez estaba sudando, y no era por los treinta y siete grados a la sombra.

-¿Dónde está el cuerpo?

-Al fondo, en el baño. Allí está la doctora.

Iba a entrar a la sala pero el fotógrafo solicitó su atención:

-¿Oiga?

-¿Sí?

-Se me acabó el rollo.

El agente sacó un billete de su cartera:

-Me traes nota, cabrón. Y no tardes.

Al traspasar el dintel tuvo que esperar un segundo para acostumbrarse a la oscuridad. Se le acercaron tres bultos oscuros, cada vez menos difusos... el gerente debía ser el más barrigón. No hubo necesidad de sacar la placa -nunca la había-, y mucho menos ahora: nadie querría estar en su lugar.

El gerente se llamaba Lucilo Rivas. Rangel lo reconoció de inmediato, lo había visto muchas veces de lejos, cuando iba al bar en calidad de cliente. Siempre usaba trajes color claro una talla menos de lo recomendable, que le quedaban muy apretados. Al verlo, el gerente dio señas de reconocer a un cliente habitual. Fue como si se dijera: Ah caray, no sabía que era detective. Le decían “La cotorra”, pero ese día estaba muy callado. Oh qué la chingada, se dijo Rangel, este cabrón se va a poner difícil.

-¿Están todos?

-Si se hubieran ido sin pagar me habría fijado.

-Eso lo vamos a ver. ¿Tiene las notas del día?

El gerente se demudó. Tenga, dijo Rangel, esto no le gustó ni tantito.

-Acabábamos de empezar.

-No mame, ni modo que no llevaran la cuenta de las bebidas. Algún registro ha de tener.

Más taciturno que nunca, el gerente abrió un cajón y le entregó las notas. Rangel tomó la que estaba más arriba y encontró lo que buscaba. El Junior había pagado con tarjeta de crédito:

Grupo Refrescos de Cola de Paracuán
John Williams, Jr
Subdirector general


Rangel no tenía tarjeta de crédito. ¿Cómo iba a tener, si ni siquiera podía llegar a fin de mes con dinero en el bolsillo? Para él las tarjetas de crédito eran títulos nobiliarios, vislumbres de un país imposible, un sueño tan remoto como un Ford en su futuro.

-¿Cómo? –la voz del gerente rompió su concentración.

-Le digo que lo dejé ir porque tenía mucha prisa. Venía con inversionistas gringos y les tenía que mostrar la ciudad.

Rangel meneó la cabeza:

-Usted y yo vamos a seguir platicando. Lo que hizo es suficiente para que me lo lleve consignado... Me llevo esto -dijo al tomar las facturas-. ¿Quién la encontró?

El barman le señaló a un muchacho con aspecto de burócrata, que estaba sentado en la barra, pálido como fantasma. Ay buey, dijo Rangel, este se va a desmayar.

Como acostumbraba desde hacía un año, el oficinista Raúl Silva Santacruz fue a comer al Bar León a las dos en punto. Cada tercer día llegaba con sus colegas a la hora de la botana, ordenaba una o dos cervezas y a cambio le servían un caldo de camarones secos, tacos de jaiba o carnitas y un arroz con guisado. El 17 de marzo de 1977 terminó sus dos cervezas, festejó la última broma torpe de sus compañeros y salió a orinar. Eran las dos cuarenta. Aunque el bar tenía mingitorios al fondo, por lo general inundados de miasmas, Silva Santacruz prefería abrir la puerta contigua a la barra y utilizar los otros baños, que estaban mejor ventilados. Se trataba de una habitación de cuatro metros de alto, paredes de azulejo blanco, urinario colectivo en forma de rectángulo y dos cubículos con sendas tazas, iluminados por un amplio ventanal. Ese día, cuando iba de camino al meadero, Raúl Silva Santacruz reparó en un objeto tirado frente a la puerta de uno de los excusados. Pensó en los malvivientes que rondaban la plaza de armas y se dijo: Pinches vagos, nomás vienen a ensuciar. Era común que los vagabundos entraran al bar para pasar al baño y una vez allí abandonaran botellas de refrescos de cola, envolturas de papas fritas, jeringas usadas para drogarse o bolsas de pan. Ya se iba a abrir el cierre cuando notó que el objeto tirado era un minúsculo zapato. Levantó la vista unos centímetros y descubrió que por abajo de la puerta del privado sobresalía un piececito infantil.

El descubrimiento le provocó una crisis nerviosa. Aunque el barman le servía dosis de alcohol turbio en un vaso tequilero sus movimientos aún eran lentos y en vaivenes, como si llevara el ritmo de un vals. Rangel hubiera preferido que el testigo no tomara pero no podía reclamarle: si no estuviera de servicio él mismo se bebería un trago de ron. La tarea que tenía pendiente no le gustaba nada, pero no la podía eludir.

Un relámpago iluminó el interior del restaurante y el agente supo que ya estaban llegando los fotógrafos: en este caso era el Albino, siempre el primero en llegar. De un tiempo a la fecha, a Rangel le incomodaba encontrar al Albino, y cada vez que salía a investigar un homicidio era probable volverlo a encontrar. Pinche ave carroñera, quién sabe quién le avisa, pensó, debe tener una oreja en el departamento, de lo contrario no me explico que siempre sea el primero en aparecer. No es que el Albino fuera mala persona, pero es que a Rangel lo inquietaba verlo trabajando: era un tipo silencioso, de cabello blanco y cejas blancas, siempre vestido de blanco entre los mares de sangre. Si al menos hiciera el esfuerzo de parecer amable, se dijo, pero sólo llega y estorba... Detrás de él no tardaría en llegar la Chilanga, una egresada de la Escuela de Periodismo Carlos Septién García, expulsada de la Ibero por sus ideas de izquierda. Cuando le impedían el acceso a los escenarios del crimen, la Chilanga acostumbraba soltar rollos largos e injuriosos, en un vocabulario marxista que Rangel a veces no lograba entender: Materialistas de cuarta, perros de mierda, son el brazo armado del gobierno burgués. Rangel no sabía cómo tratarla: Se aprovecha de que es mujer, guapa, feminista, ilustrada, y ya me tomó la medida, pinche vieja, debería estar en su casa. A Rangel le quedaba muy claro que los periodistas estorbaban el trabajo de la policía. Si de él dependiera les impediría mezclarse en las investigaciones, pero no todos pensaban igual. Al Comandante le gustaba lucirse, al Tiroloco le gustaba lucirse y al Travolta ni se diga: era toda una vedette. En cuanto el Albino intentó cruzar la valla de seguridad -en realidad un par de sillas, dispuestas por Ramírez en la entrada del bar-, ¡Ora cabrón!, Rangel le gritó: Que te largues, pero el Albino permaneció quieto, como si estuviera muerto, o como si fuera un animal que no comprendiera el lenguaje humano, y Rangel ordenó que bajaran las rejas. Un minuto después los meseros bloquearon la luz de la calle y los detectives quedaron a oscuras, de manera literal.

 



Martín SolaresMartín Solares

Martín Solares was born in the port of Tampico, Mexico, in 1970, and is now based in Paris, where he is currently completing his doctorate at the Sorbonne. The recipient of the 1998 Premio Nacional de Cuento Efrain Huerta (the Efrain Huerta National Prize for Short Stories), Solares has published his stories in Dia de muertos (Spain, 2001), Nuevas lineas de investigacion (Mexico, 2003) and La littérature mexicaine des treinte dernières années (France, 2004). Grove/Atlantic is going to publish his novel The Black Minutes.

Translated from SpanishSpanish by Francisco GoldmanFrancisco Goldman and by Aura EstradaAura Estrada

Francisco Goldman has published three novels, most recently The Divine Husband. Next fall, he will publish his non-fiction book on the Bishop Juan Gerardi murder case in Guatemala, The Art of Political Murder: Who didn't kill the Bishop. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. His novels have been translated into nine languages. He teaches one semester a year at Trinity College in Hartford, and lives some of the time in Mexico City with his wife, Aura. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellowship at the New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers, and in the fall of 2005 was a Harman Fellow at Baruch College.

Aura Estrada is a Ph.D. student at Columbia University. She has published reviews and crónicas in Bookforum and the Mexican magazine DF, and fiction in www.letralia.com. She rides the F train every day from Carroll Gardens to the Upper West Side.

 

IN MEMORIAM (1977-2007):

Aura Estrada, a very talented young writer whose radiant intelligence, gleeful wit, and beautiful smile will never be forgotten by all of us who had the joy of knowing her, lost her life in a swimming accident last week. (7/31/07)

 

A Remembrance by Juan Carlos

Memorial Pages at Hunter College (Tributes may be posted here).

Mi Aura by Francisco Goldman