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Vol. 3, No. 4

Blood on a Spear
by Javier Marías

~

We were having supper in La Ancha, on the summer terrace, sitting opposite each other, his head and body blocking my view of the table behind, a table I had no reason to be interested in until the woman sitting in the place occupied by Ruibérriz, that is, in the seat opposite mine, bent to the side to recover her napkin, snatched up by a sudden slight breeze. She leaned to her left looking straight ahead, as we do when we pick up something that is within our reach and when we know exactly where it has fallen. Nevertheless, she tried and failed and that was why she had to feel for some seconds with her fingers, all the time looking straight at us, I mean straight at where we were, because I don't think she was actually looking at anything. It was a matter of seconds--one, two, three, and four; or five--long enough for me to see her face and her long neck tensed in that minimal effort of search and recovery--her tongue in one corner of her mouth--a very long neck, perhaps made longer by the effect of her low-cut summer dress, a small, round chin and flared nostrils, thick eyelashes and thin eyebrows as if they had been penciled in, a full mouth and high cheekbones, and dark skin, whether naturally so or from the swimming pool or the beach it was difficult to say at first glance, although my first glance at someone may sometimes be like a caress, at others more like a glancing blow. Her hair was black and coiffed and curly, I saw a necklace or a chain, I noticed the rectangular neckline, a dress with shoulder straps, white like the dress, and heard the clink of bracelets. I barely noticed her eyes, or perhaps I just ignored them because I was used to not seeing them in the photograph, in which they were screwed up, closed tight in that grimace of pain, of someone who has died from a terrible wound. She did look like the woman in the photograph, so much so that I couldn't take my eyes off her, I immediately shifted my chair to one side, to my right, and since, even like that, I could still only half see her and then only intermittently--concealed by Ruibérriz and by her companion, both of whom kept moving--I simply changed places altogether on the pretext that the breeze was bothering me, and I went to sit--having moved my dessert plate as well as spoon, fork, and glasses--to the left of my friend, in order to enjoy an unobstructed view and I then quite openly stared. Ruibérriz realized at once that something was going on, he doesn't miss much, so I said to him, knowing that he would prove understanding about such an excess of interest:
    "There's a woman over there whom I find absolutely fascinating. I know it's a lot to ask, but don't turn around until I tell you. More than that, I must warn you that if she and the man she's having supper with get up, I'm going to shoot off after them, and if not, I'll wait however long it takes for them to finish and then do the same. If you want you can come with me, otherwise, you stay and we'll settle up later."
    Ruibérriz de Torres smoothed his hair flirtatiously. He had only to discover that there was an interesting woman in the vicinity for him to start oozing virility and getting terribly full of himself. Even though she couldn't see him nor he her; all a bit animalesque really, his chest swelled beneath his polo shirt.
    "Is she that special?" he asked restlessly, dying to turn around. From then on it would be impossible to talk about anything else, and it was my fault, I couldn't take my eyes off the woman.
    "You might not think so," I said. "But I think she might be special to me, very special indeed."
    Now I could see her companion in three-quarter profile, a man of about fifty who looked rich and rather coarse, if she was a prostitute, he was obviously inexperienced and didn't know that you could get straight down to business, without the need for supper on a restaurant terrace. If she wasn't, then it was justifiable, what would be less so was that the woman had agreed to go out with such an unattractive man, although I've always found the choices women make as regards their flirtations and their love affairs a complete mystery, sometimes, by my lights, a complete aberration. One thing was certain, they weren't married or engaged or anything, I mean it was clear that they had not yet lain together, to use the old expression. The man was trying too hard to be pleasant and attentive: he was careful to keep filling her glass, he prattled on, recounting anecdotes or giving his opinions about things so as not to fall into the silence that discourages any contact, he lit cigarettes for her with a windproof lighter, like the ones you get in cars, Spanish men don't go to all that trouble unless they want something, they don't watch their manners.
    As I continued to look at her, my initial confidence began to wane, as always happens: certainty is followed by doubt and uncertainty by ratification, usually only when it's too late. I suppose that, as the minutes passed, the image of the living woman became superimposed on that of the dead woman, displacing or blurring it, thus allowing for less comparison, less similarity. She behaved like a woman of easy virtue, which didn't mean that she was, she couldn't be, since, as far as I was concerned, she still lay beneath the desolation of the lights and the television left on all day and with the semen in her mouth and the hole in her chest. I looked at her, I looked at her breasts, I looked at them out of habit and also because they were the part of the murdered woman I was most familiar with, aside from her face, I tried to get some sense of recognition, but it was impossible, they were covered by her bra and her dress, although I could glimpse her cleavage beneath her neckline which was neither sober nor exaggerated. I was suddenly gripped by the indecent thought that I had to see what those breasts were like, I was sure I would recognize them if I saw them uncovered. It would be no easy task, especially not that night, when her companion would have exactly the same intentions and would not want to surrender his place to me.
    Suddenly I smelled something, a sweet, cloying smell, an unmistakable aroma, I don't know if it was a change in the direction of the wind that wafted it to me for the first time--the wind swinging round--or if it was the first clove-scented cigarette that had been smoked at the table next to ours, a different, better-quality cigarette to be smoked with the coffee or the liqueur, like someone treating himself to a cigar. I glanced at the man's hands, I saw his right hand, it was playing with the lighter. The woman had a cigarette in her left hand, and the man then raised his left arm in order to gesture to the waiter, asking for the bill, his hand was empty, therefore, at that moment, the exotic smell was coming from her, she was smoking an Indonesian Gudang Garam that crackles as it slowly burns down, I had had a pack myself two years before, Dorta's final gift to me, and I had made it last, but not that long, a month after he'd given it to me it was finished, I smoked the last cigarette in his memory, well, each and every one of them really, I kept the empty red pack, SMOKING KILLS, that's what it says. How was it possible that she--if it was her--had made the cigarettes that my friend must also have given her that same night last so long?
    Two years, those kretek cigarettes would be dry as sawdust now, an open pack, yet they still gave off a pungent perfume.
    "Can you smell what I smell?" I asked Ruibérriz, who was beginning to get fed up.
    "Can I look at her now?" he said.
    "Can you smell it?" I insisted.
    "Yes, is someone smoking incense or something?"
    "It's cloves," I said. "Tobacco with cloves."
    The man's gesture to the waiter allowed me to make the same gesture of writing in the air to another waiter and so be ready when the couple got up. Only then did I give permission to Ruibérriz to turn around; he did so and decided to accompany me. We followed a few paces behind the couple, I saw the woman standing up for the first time--a short skirt, open-toed shoes, painted toenails--and as we took those steps, I also heard her name, the name that she had never had for me or for Gómez Alday nor perhaps for Dorta. "You're a lovely mover, Estela," said the coarse man, not so coarse that he wasn't absolutely right in his remark, which was spoken more in admiration than by way of being an amorous compliment. Ruibérriz and I separated for a moment, he went over to the car in order to pick me up as soon as they got in theirs, they weren't traveling by taxi. When they did so, I got into our car and we drove off after them, keeping a short distance behind, there wasn't much traffic, but enough for them not to notice us. It was a brief journey, they drove to an area of suburban houses, the street was called Torpedero Tucumán, a comical address to send a letter to. They parked and went into one of the houses, a three-story house, lights were lit on every story, as if there were already plenty of people there, perhaps they were going to a party, supper followed by a party, that guy was really going to a lot of trouble.
    Ruibérriz and I parked the car and stayed where we were for the moment, from there we could see the lights but nothing else, most of the blinds were pulled halfway down and there were lace curtains that didn't move in the wind, you'd have to go right up to one of the windows on the ground floor and peer through a crack, we might even end up doing that, I thought quickly. It immediately seemed to us, though, that it couldn't be a party, because there was no music drifting out through open windows, no sounds of anarchic conversations or laughter. The blinds were only up on two windows on the third floor and you couldn't see anyone in there, just a standard lamp, and walls without books or pictures.
    "What do you think?" I asked Ruibérriz.
    "I don't think they'll stay very long. There's not much fun to be had in that house, apart from the intimate kind, and those two aren't going to spend the night together, not there at least, whatever kind of place it is. Did you see who opened the door, did they have a key or did they knock?"
    "I couldn't see, but I don't think they knocked."
    "It might be his house, and if it is, then she'll be out again in a couple of hours, no longer than that. It might be her place, in which case, he'll be the one to come out, much sooner too, say about an hour. It might be a massage parlor, that's what they like to call them now, and then again he'll be the one to leave, but give him about thirty or forty-five minutes. Lastly, there might be a few select poker games going on, but I don't think so. Only then would they spend the night there, losing and recovering what they'd lost. No, I don't think it's likely to be her house. No, it can't be."
    Ruibérriz knows all the different territories in the city, he has experience and a good eye. He doesn't need to ask many questions and he can find out anything or locate anyone with a couple of phone calls and perhaps a couple more made by his contacts.
    "Why don't you find out for me whose house it is? I'll wait here, in case one or the other leaves unexpectedly. It wouldn't take you long to find out, I'm sure."
    He sat there looking at me, his tanned arms resting on the steering wheel.
    "What is it with this woman? What are you after? I didn't get a very good look at her, but I don't know that she's worth all this fuss."
    "Not for you, probably, as I said. Just let me see what happens tonight and I'll tell you the whole story another day. I just need to know where she lives, where she hangs out or where she's going to be sleeping tonight, when she does finally go to bed."
    "This isn't the first time you've asked me to wait for a story, I don't know if you realize that."
    "But it'll probably be the last," I said. If I told him straight out that I thought I might be seeing a dead woman, it was quite likely that he wouldn't help me at all, things like that make him nervous, as they do me normally, we who hardly believe in anything.

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