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Vol. 3, No. 4

Blood on a Spear
by Javier Marías

~

Inspector Gómez Alday duly questioned the unscrupulous publisher with whom Dorta had had a drink in Chicote, he had turned up there with his wife, the three of them left at about two in the morning and went their separate ways. The waiters, who knew Dorta by sight and by name, confirmed the time. They bumped into another friend of mine, though only an aquaintance of Dorta's, who goes by the name of Ruibérriz de Torres, but he had only stopped to talk with them for five minutes at most, until the two women he was waiting for arrived. He saw them leave at about two o'clock as well, by the revolving doors, he waved to them, he said the publisher was a dimwit but that the wife was very nice, Dorta had hardly said a word, which was odd. The couple caught a taxi in Gran Vía and went back to their hotel, they admitted feeling alarmed when Dorta said that he would walk, he told them he was going on to somewhere else nearby, and they watched as he headed off up the street toward the Telefónica or Callao, along streets rife with a fauna that terrified them, being from Barcelona, they wouldn't have walked half a block. There wasn't a breath of wind.
    At the hotel, just a routine inquiry, they confirmed the arrival time of the publisher and his wife, around a quarter past two: a bit ridiculous really, the publisher may have been unscrupulous, but he would never have gone that far. Dorta was killed between five and six, as was his last, unlikely pickup. Independently, I asked the few friends of Dorta whom I knew slightly, friends he went partying with and friends from gay bars, none of them had met up with him that night in any of his usual hangouts, "le tour en rose" as he used to call it. They in turn asked waiters who worked in the various bars, no one had seen him, and it did seem odd that he hadn't been to any of those places that night. Perhaps it had been a special night in all respects. Perhaps he had unexpectedly got entangled with some different people who hung out in different places. Perhaps they had kidnapped him and forced him to go with his kidnappers to his apartment. But they hadn't taken anything, although someone had made off with the woman's clothes, and she perhaps was one of the gang. The spear-thrower. I didn't know what to think and so I thought absurd things. Perhaps Gómez Alday was right, perhaps he had decided to pick up an inexperienced, desperate whore, an immigrant in need of money, with a husband who wouldn't approve and would be suspicious. A question of bad luck, very bad luck.
    The inspector showed me the photos, which I merely glanced at. Apart from those showing the whole scene, there were a couple of close-ups of each corpse, what in the cinema is known as a close-medium shot. The woman's breasts were definitively soft, shapely and provocative, but nonetheless saggy, sight and touch become fused in the end, we men sometimes look at something as if we were touching it, and this can sometimes cause offense. Despite the screwed-up eyes and the look of pain you could see that she was pretty, although you can never be sure with a naked woman, you have to see her dressed as well, beaches are of little use in that respect. Her nostrils were flared, she had a small, round chin and a long neck. I glanced only quickly at the six or seven photos, but I nevertheless asked Gómez Alday if I could have a copy of the close-up of the woman; he gave me a surprised, distrustful look, as if he had uncovered some abnormality in me.
    "Why do you want it?"
    "I don't know," I said, lost. And I really didn't, it wasn't that I wanted to study it any further just then, a bloodstained body, a wound, the thick eyelashes, the pained expression, the sagging, dead breasts, it was hardly a pleasant sight. But I thought I would like to have it perhaps in order to look at it later, in a few years' time, after all, apart from the murderer, she was the last person to have seen Dorta alive. And she had seen him at very close quarters. "It interests me." It was a feeble, not to say grotesque, argument.
    Gómez Alday gave me one of his scorching looks, it didn't last long, his eyes immediately resumed their usual sleepy appearance. I thought he must be thinking that I was a man with macabre tastes, sick in the head, but perhaps he understood both my request and the desire, we did, after all, share the same kind of pride. He got up and said:
    "This is confidential material, it would be completely against the rules for me to let you have a copy." And as he was saying this, he placed the photo in the photocopier in his office. "But you might well have made a photocopy here in my absence, without my knowing, when I left the room for a moment." And he held out the sheet of paper with the blurred, imperfect reproduction, but a reproduction nonetheless. It would only last a few years, photocopies always fade, you forget how pale they become.
    Now two of those years have passed, and only in the months immediately after Dorta's death did I continue thinking about that night, my sense of horror lasted rather longer than the delight and malice of the impatient press and forgetful television, there's not much you can do when there's no help, no new leads, and the media don't even serve as a reminder. It wasn't that I needed it personally, very few things fade in me: there isn't a day when I don't remember my childhood friend, there isn't a day when, at some moment, for some reason, I don't stop to think about him, you don't cease depending on people for the accidental fact that you can't see them anymore. I went over and over the conversation at our last supper together, and after a period spent endowing everything with significance, the razor edge of repetition made me see that nothing was significant. Dorta liked pretending to be an eccentric, but he did not believe in magic of any kind or in any beyond-the-grave experiences, not even in chance, no more than I do, and I hardly believe in anything. I soon concluded, if indeed I had ever doubted it, that the story of the auction in London was purely anecdotal, the sort of thing that he liked to invent or do simply in order to tell people about it afterward, me or others, the ignorant young men he idolized or his society ladies, knowing that they would be amused. The fact that he had bid for a magic ring belonging to that crazy demonologist Crowley proved it: it was so much more colorful to recount his struggle for that particular object than for an autographed letter belonging to Wilde or Dickens or Conan Doyle. A zebra. And yet he didn't succeed in buying it, it would have been even more absurd if the joke had cost him an unexpectedly large sum of money. Perhaps the Germanic gentleman in the cowboy boots never even existed, pure imagination.
    A couple of months later--by then, the press were no longer interested and it was doubtful that the police would do anything more--a possibility occurred to me that was so obvious I couldn't understand why I hadn't thought of it before. I phoned Gómez Alday and told him I wanted to see him. He sounded bored and tried to get me to tell him about my discovery over the phone, he was very pushed for time. I insisted and he arranged to see me in his office the following morning, ten minutes, he warned me, that was all the time he could spare for some hypothesis that would only further complicate his life. He also warned me that, whatever it was, he would treat it with skepticism, it all seemed perfectly clear to him, it simply wasn't that easy to find the spear-thrower: there were a lot of fingerprints on the spear, doubtless mine as well, almost everyone who visited Dorta's house had touched it or picked it up or brandished it for a moment when they saw it protruding from the umbrella stand in the hall. The inspector was sporting a healthy tan and more hair, I wasn't sure whether he had taken advantage of the August break to have an implant or if it was just a more bouffant, artistic arrangement of his normal Roman coiffure. While I talked to him, his eyes remained opaque, like a sleeping animal whose pupils can be seen through its eyelids.
    "Look, I don't know much about what my friend got up to, he told me things sometimes, but never went into detail. But I can't discount the possibility that he might have paid some of these boys he went with. Apparently some of them often pretended to be heterosexual, they would accept his offer just this once, or so they said, they took pains to make it absolutely clear that normally they only went with women. That night my friend might have taken a fancy to someone like that, and the guy might have said to him that either he got him a woman as well or there was nothing doing. I can just imagine my friend shoving the boy into a taxi and patiently trawling the Castellana. I think it might even have amused him, asking the boy what he thought of that one or this one, giving his own views as if they were two bosom buddies out on the town, a couple of cock-hounds on a Saturday night. Finally, they pick up the Cuban woman and the three of them go back to his place. The boy insists that Dorta screws her so that he can watch, or something like that. My friend's appetites are not unlimited, given his inclinations, but he lies back and lets the woman get on with it, just to please the boy and to get what he wants later on. The bloke gets hysterical when it's his turn to perform, he gets violent, he grabs the spear, which had taken his fancy when he first came into the apartment, or perhaps they'd already brought it into the bedroom, at Dorta's own suggestion, so that the boy could pose with it like a statue, Dorta liked playing games like that. And then the boy kills both of them, because he's feeling trapped, even though he'd agreed to the whole thing. It must happen all the time, mustn't it, people suddenly getting cold feet? They lose their nerve when they see that there's no turning back. You must know of such cases. I've given it a lot of thought and it seems perfectly possible to me, it would explain a lot of things which otherwise just don't fit."
    Gómez Alday's eyes remained misty and lazy, but he spoke in a tone of irritation and scorn:
    "A fine friend you are. What have you got against him, all you seem to do is to shovel more and more shit onto his corpse, honestly, the stories you dream up, you're sick in the head you are," he said. It wasn't that I knew a lot about these matters, but the inspector had never heard of these perfectly run-of-the-mill nocturnal deals and practices. The demands that were made. His masculine pride must be of a purer sort than mine, I thought. "But it isn't even any use to me as elaborate shit, you lack a certain piece of information that came to light a few days ago. Your friend did not, in fact, arrive home alone in a taxi, he was with the whore, and the two of them were already making a spectacle of themselves, according to the taxi driver, the woman had her tits out and your friend was egging her on. He came and told us this when he read about the murder and saw Dorta's photo in the newspaper. So the spear-thrower must have arrived later on: the pimp in pursuit of the whore or the wife, unless they were both, husband and pimp, wife and whore. Like I said before."
    "He might have been in the apartment already," I said, stung by the unfairness of the reprimand. "When they failed to get it on, the guy probably forced my friend to go out hunting alone and bring him back a woman."
    "Oh yes, and I suppose your friend would have gone out to trawl the streets, leaving the guy alone in the apartment?"
    I thought about that. Dorta was fearful and cautious. He might go a bit crazy one night, but not to the point of allowing some hustler to rip him off while he went in search of a woman.
    "I suppose not," I replied, exasperated. "I don't know, perhaps he phoned the hustler and had him come over later, the classified section in the newspapers is full of all kinds of different services at any time of day or night."
    Gómez Alday gave me another of his fulminating looks, but this time it was more out of impatience than anything else.
    "So what was the woman there for, tell me that? Why would he have taken her home with him, eh? Why do you insist on trying to put all the blame on a queer? What have you got against them?"
    "I've never had anything against them. My best friend was what you've just said, I mean he often got called that. If you don't believe me, ask someone else, ask other writers, they'll tell you, they love a good gossip. Ask in the gay dives, to use your term. I spent my whole life defending him."
    "I find it hard to believe that you were his friend at all. Besides, I've already told you that I'm only interested in his last night, not in any other night. That's the only thing that concerns me. Now, come on, get out of here."
    I went over to the door. I already had my hand on the door handle when I turned around and said:
    "Who found the bodies? They found them at night, didn't they, the following night? Who went up to the apartment? Why did anyone go up?"
    "We did," said Gómez Alday. "A man phoned, he said we'd find them there rotting like two dead animals, that's what he said, two animals. Probably the husband got in a state thinking about his whore lying there with a great gaping wound in her and with no one knowing anything about it. He probably got all sentimental again. He hung up immediately after giving us the address, he wasn't much use." The inspector spun his chair around and turned his back to me as if, with that response, he was bringing any dealings with me to a close. I saw the broad nape of his neck as he said again: "Get out."
    I stopped thinking about it, I assumed that the police would never clear the matter up. I stopped thinking about it for two years, until now, until one night when I'd arranged to have supper with another friend, Ruibérriz de Torres, not such an old friend as Dorta and very different, he always goes with women and they treat him well and he's not in the least bit timid, still less resigned. He's a complete scoundrel and I get on very well with him, although I know that one day he will make me the object of the same disloyalty with which he treats everyone, and that will be an end of our comradeship. He knows everything that's happening in Madrid, he goes everywhere, he knows or can arrange to get to know anyone you care to mention, he's a man of great resourcefulness, his only problem is that his criminal tendencies and his fraudulent desires are written all over his face.

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