An Easy Thing: A Héctor Belascoarán Shayne Detective Novel #1

An Easy Thing: A Héctor Belascoarán Shayne Detective Novel #1

Set amidst the political turbulence and social unrest of contemporary Mexico City, An Easy Thing introduces English-speaking readers to Taibo’s human and world-weary protagonist, independent detective Héctor Belascoarán Shayne. In ...

About The Author

Paco Ignacio Taibo II

Paco Ignacio Taibo II is a historian and writer. The winner of seven international fiction prizes, including the coveted Moritz-Planeta ...

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Chapter  1

There is only hope in action.

—J. P. Sartre

 

“One more, boss,” said Hector Belascoarán Shayne.

For half an hour, he’d stood with his elbows anchored to the bar, letting the time slip by, his eyes wandering nowhere in particular, interrupting the bustle of his thoughts every now and then to order another drink. The cantina was called The Lighthouse at the End of the World. It was a high-class dive located inside the old feudal city of Azcapotzalco, in what had once been the outskirts of Mexico City, but was now just another link in an endless chain of industrial zones, where the picturesque remains of haciendas, graveyards, and village churches stood in the shadow of a monstrous oil refinery, the pride of fifties technology.

He drained the last drop from his glass and accepted a fresh one from the bartender. From the beginning, he’d been emptying the rum on the sawdust-covered floor and pouring Coke into the glass, spiking it with a twist of lime. These virgin cuba libres saved him the embarrassment of not drinking liquor in a cantina. Besides which, the little game amused him.

All around him, a group of village musicians were getting mercilessly wasted on mezcal and tequila. They’d come to town looking for work, but didn’t find any, and were celebrating their bad luck. Between rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds, they played old songs spiced up with a few asthmatic trombones and cheap, tinny-sounding trumpets.

The din grew louder.

He asked for another cuba libre and poured the rum on the floor. “This makes seven,” he told himself, not knowing for certain whether he was really thirsty or whether he simply just wanted to keep the binging musicians company. The only problem was, in that environment, even his fictitious drinks were starting to have a psychological  effect.

Don Belascoarán?” inquired a hoarse voice in the midst of the tumult.

Hector emptied his glass and left the bar, following the man with the hoarse voice. They wound their way through the crowd of drunk musicians, prostitutes, and refinery workers gearing up for the weekend—toward that same lonely table that stands in the back of every Mexican cantina, as if it’s waiting for the great Pedro Infante, strumming his guitar and dressed like a Mexican charro, to walk in and claim it as his own. The stranger dropped into one of the chairs, waiting for Hector to do the same before removing his cowboy hat and depositing it on another chair  nearby.

“I got a little job for you.” The man was about fifty years old. He had dreamy gray eyes set in a face of proud, noble features. A two-inch scar ran across his sunbaked forehead.

Hector nodded.

“But first…first I have to tell you a story. It’s an old story and it starts where the history books end…in 1919 on a hacienda in Chinameca, with the murdered body of Emiliano Zapata laid out on the ground and the flies eating at his eyes…or at least the body of the guy who they thought was Emiliano.”

The old man paused to drain his glass of tequila. “Because, you see, Emiliano never went to the hacienda.

He knew what his enemies were like, and he knew how far he could trust them. He ended up sending this buddy of his who wanted to go in his place. The guy kept insisting, and so Emiliano sent him just to keep him off his back. He’s the guy that got shot out there at the ranch. Emiliano went into hiding and watched the Revolution die…It wasn’t like him to do that, but, you see, he’d lost his self-confidence, he’d lost faith…he didn’t want to go on anymore. So, like I said, he went underground. Then in 1926 he met this Nicaraguan guy working for the Huasteca Petroleum Company in Tampico. Emiliano was a quiet guy. You couldn’t get him to say a word. What had happened to the revolution, well, you know, it had taken something out of him. He was forty-seven years old at the time, and the Nica was only twenty-eight. The guy’s name was Sandino. They went together to Nicaragua to fight against the gringos. And they fought ’em good, too. If you look carefully you can see him in some of those old pictures, kind of off to the side in one of the corners, like he doesn’t want to be seen, almost like he isn’t even there… But when it came down to giving the gringos a little bit of hell, you can bet he was in there with the best of ’em. Yessir. He’d learned a lot in the revolution, and he put it to good use. But the deal came down in Nicaragua, too, and Sandino got killed. Now the pictures are the only proof that Emiliano was there…After Nicaragua he came home  to Mexico, holed up in a cave, and wouldn’t eat. He was ready to die there, alone.

“But the people found him and they wouldn’t let him starve. They brought him food and took care of him. The years slipped by. Then Rubén Jaramillo started organizing again, and don Emiliano gave him advice. They would spend hours in the cave together, talking…And then the bastards killed Jaramillo. Don Emiliano came out to visit his friend’s grave and then went back to his cave for good.

“And that’s where he is today…He’s still there, he’s still there.” The surrounding hubbub finally broke the bubble of silence that enclosed Belascoarán and the man with the scar. With three of their members sleeping it off under a table, the rest of the orchestra let loose with a tearful bolero dominated by the wind instruments’ sorrowful wail. A couple of dozen regulars filled the bar, at that hour mostly workers from a small foundry on the corner, and as the band played on, a hush fell over the crowd and the men’s faces grew serious. Even the domino players stopped rattling the bones, and slid the pieces silently across the marble  tabletops.

“What’s it got to do with me?” asked the detective. He had lived his whole life in a city where the legend of Zapata had never managed to break free from the hollowness of the towering monuments or the frozen metal of the statues. The warm sun that shone in the state of Morelos, Zapata’s old stomping grounds, had never broken through the gray horizon of Mexico City’s rain-streaked Septembers. But all the same, Hector wanted to believe. He longed to see the heroic Zapata, now ninety-seven years old, charging up the avenues of the city on his white horse, filling the wind with his  bullets.

“What’s it got to do with me?” he asked  again.

“I want you to find him,” rasped Scar-face, producing a leather bag which he set gently onto the  table.

Hector guessed at its contents: gold coins, doubloons, silver from the Spanish Empire. But he didn’t touch the bag, and he was careful to keep his eyes off it. Intrigued as he was by the old man’s story, he still tried to think of it as just another hallucination. Just another one of his many, so typically Mexican hallucinations.

“What if it’s all a lie?”

“Then prove it to me. I want proof,” answered Scar-face, getting up from the table. He downed another shot of tequila and walked away.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Hector called in the direction of the swinging doors as the orchestra ended the bolero and broke for the bar.

Hector picked up the bag and stowed it safely in the inner pocket of his gabardine coat. Outside, the rain came down in sheets, slapped at his face, and soaked his hair. He couldn’t see for more than fifteen feet.

Puta madre,” he swore under his breath, “the guy wants me to find Emiliano Zapata.”

The noise of the rain drowned out the noise from The Lighthouse at the End of the World. Hector stepped farther out into the storm, picking his way between the puddles, trying to avoid the streams of water that cascaded from drainpipes over the street.

His thoughts were full of the sun shining over the state of Morelos, the sun that had once shone on the face of Emiliano Zapata.

# # #

The taxi dropped him in front of the Herrera Funeral Home. Yellowish lights lit the street and cast a luminous glow around the place. The storm had dissipated, but puddles still dotted the street, brimming with reflections. A pair of old men shuffled past Hector as he went inside, and he strained to catch a few words in the whispered conversation that trailed off behind them like a tail. Two hearses stood in the courtyard, along with a florist’s pickup unloading funeral wreaths.

“Room number three?” he asked the receptionist.

He followed a pair of arrows set on posts, into a large salon filled with a yellowish light, where a steel-gray coffin rested on a marble tabletop. Its silent presence dominated the room. Hector looked around. His aunts, dressed in black, sat in the corner opposite the door, whispering among themselves. His sister, Elisa, stood alone, with her back to the coffin, staring out a darkened window at the last scattered drops of rain. His brother, Carlos, sat near the door, with his head between his hands, while the maid and the gardener from the house in Coyoacán sat two chairs farther on, dressed rigorously in black. The family lawyer stood in front of the coffin, conversing in hushed tones with a representative of the funeral home.

Hector approached the coffin and lifted the lid. There was a serenity to the face that he hadn’t seen for many years.

The long gray hair fell around her neck, and a Spanish mantilla covered her head. A gift from his father, it served as a reminder of those terrible  years.

“Good-bye, Mama,” he whispered.

And now what? What do you do now? Do you cry because your mother’s dead? Do you try to bring back the memories of closeness and love? Try somehow to search your unconscious for that spinal recollection of earliest childhood? Do you play the games again? Do you ignore the bad times, the fights, the scoldings, the unbridgeable distance of recent years? Do you cry? Is it best to cry, even just a little bit, shaking the dust from forgotten feelings until the tears come? Or is it better to say So long, and walk away? Hector closed the lid and went out.

Outside again, in the patio, he stopped to watch the workers unloading flowers from the pickup truck, and lit a cigarette. A pair of tears stained his  cheeks.

Elisa came up beside him, sliding her hand around his upper arm. For a long time they stood together in silence, not looking at each other, starting straight ahead. Later on they sat down on a set of steps leading onto the central courtyard. It had stopped raining.

“The damn lawyer wants the three of us to meet him in his office tomorrow at six P.M.,” announced Carlos, lighting a cigarette as he joined them. “Was it the same when Papa died?” he asked after a brief silence.

“You don’t remember?” “How old was I? Six?”

“Yeah, I guess so…It was worse then, a lot worse. Papa was a lot closer to us, and we were younger then, too. It was different,” Hector explained.

“Death is different now,” said Elisa, and Hector felt her hand tighten around his arm.

So long, Mama, he thought. It’s all over now. You don’t have to worry any more about the time passing by, no more lonely nights in your man’s big empty house, no more pictures to look at from when you sang for the internationalists in Spain, or when you performed your Irish folk songs in New York City, no more nostalgia, no more worrying over your beautiful, bright red hair gone gray. No more wayward children you can’t understand. That’s it, the show’s over, you did it all. It was worth it.

Was it worth it? he wondered.

“Fucking death. Fuck everybody who has to die this way,” he said.

# # #

He dropped down onto the unmade bed. Unmade since yesterday and the day before, unmade until tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, until his disgust finally compelled him to make it again, to smooth sheet against sheet, to fight back against the invincible wrinkles, to beat the lumps out of the pillow (deposited there by who knows what mysterious process), and to shake the ancient dust from the beautiful Oaxacan blanket which was the only luxury he allowed himself, the only aesthetic concession he was willing to make in that tiny room with bare walls and bald furniture. He rubbed his fingertips against his aching temples. After hesitating for a moment, he got up from the bed and walked wearily, like a man with a pair of incompatible ideas crowd- ing the space inside his head, to the corner of the room where he’d dropped his gabardine trench coat. No matter what I do to it, it always ends up looking like a rag, he thought fondly. From one of its inner pockets, he pulled the wrinkled envelope he’d been carrying around all day. He studied it carefully. His office address was written in a steady, round hand, beneath a set of Italian stamps displaying a sepia-tinted image of the Coliseum. A larger, modish-looking special-delivery stamp added a sense of  urgency.

Hector weighed the envelope in his hand, opened it slowly, and dropped back onto the bed.

I started out hoping that I’d be able to tell you what I’m doing here, and before I’d even written the first line I knew that I’d never never never never never never be able to explain any of it. As if there was anything to explain! Now I know there’s no such thing as escape, and that a journey has no end at all, but only a beginning. What are you running from? What am I running from? When you’re running away from yourself, then there’s nowhere to go, no place is safe, there’s nowhere to hide. You look in the mirror and see the person you’re running away from right there in front of you every day.

What do I do? you ask, How do I spend my time?  I couldn’t even tell you. Sometimes something touches me, breaks through, leaves a mark: a certain person, a glass of chianti, a plate of veal with red peppers, a glimpse of the sea…But mostly the hours fly by, all so much alike, all so different, all so damn meaningless. Now you see them, now you don’t. I’ll bet the enemy knows what to do with them.

I sleep a lot.

I sleep alone.

Mostly.

Shit, I wasn’t going to say  anything.

I walk all the time. Like a madwoman. Who knows, maybe I am.

I love you. IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou Still chasing after stranglers?

Send me a map of Mexico City, and mark all the streets where we used to walk, and the parks, and the bus routes. Mail me a Metro ticket, and a picture of my race car. Send me a picture of you on San Juan de Letrán, walking along at exactly five o’clock in the afternoon, like on that day.

Pretty soon I’ll get bored with running away from myself and then we can see each other  again.

Will you wait for me?

—ME

He read it again, from beginning to end, line by line. Then he took a look at the photograph, the Italian bus token, the map of Venice, the newspaper clipping, the napkin with the lipstick kiss.

He went back to the photo: a lonely woman in a lonely street. A fruit seller in the distance gave it a more human perspective. She wore a long black dress with a high collar and wide, flowing skirt, black boots with inlaid bits of color. In one hand she held a folded newspaper, a long-stemmed carnation in the other. Her brightly smiling face, in three- quarter profile, her hair gathered into the familiar ponytail at the back of her head.

He hesitated and then stuck the photograph on the windowsill, wedging a corner into a small crack between the sill and the pane of glass.

The face in the picture smiled sweetly at him, and finally, Hector Belascoarán Shayne, detective by trade, replaced the furrowed brow and poker face he’d worn all day long with a weak smile.

Life goes on.

Walking into the kitchen, he turned on the radio, heated some oil in a pan, and started to chop up tomatoes and onions for a steak à la mexicana. He found some chiles in the refrigerator, and as he salted and peppered the steak, he thought about his life.

It was a joke. Just one hell of a big joke. Thinking that he could be a detective in Mexico. It was crazy. There was nothing else like it, nothing to compare it to. But when, in the course of six short months, there had been six different attempts on his life (with a scar to show for every one of them), when he had won 64,000 pesos on a television quiz show, when there were days when a small line of potential clients formed in his office (well, okay, so two people make a line); and better yet, when he had managed to solve (drum- roll, please) the famous case of construction fraud at the Basilica, as well as the mysterious death of the goalie from the Jalisco soccer team; and more than that, having managed just to survive all those months and still take it all so seriously, and to take it lightly, too, but seriously above  all—then, and only then, did the joke cease to be a joke on him alone, and it became part and parcel of the city itself, of the whole damn country even.

If there’s one thing this country won’t forgive you for, it’s that you take your life too seriously, that you can’t see the joke.

Damn loneliness.

Damn loneliness, he thought, turning off the stove.

And during the same six months, in Veracruz, the army had run a group of starving squatters off a fruit plantation belonging to an ex-president of the  republic.

Mama shouldn’t have gone and died.

I shouldn’t still be playing at cowboys and  Indians.

And yet, what else was there to do? What better way to live this crazy life than to jump right into the frying pan, just like that juicy steak à la mexicana.

Is Zapata still alive?

The radio caught his attention for a moment:

Nosotros,

Que desde que nos vimos amándonos estamos…

Nosotros que del amor hicimos un sol maravilloso romances

You and I,

From the very first time we met, we knew it had to be love…

You and I, we took our love and made from it a brilliant shining sun…

 

It was far better, after all, than to be forever chasing the dollar, a new car, the needle-dick life, middle-class security, tickets to the symphony, neckties, cardboard relationships, cardboard sex in a cardboard bed, the wife, the kids, upward mobility, a salary, a career; the rat race he had fled from suddenly one day six months ago to go hunt down a strangler. A killer who in the end he found mirrored inside  himself.

Is Emiliano Zapata still alive?

He burned his hand taking the frying pan off the stove. Mama, why’d you have to go and die?

The woman with the ponytail smiled at him from the windowsill.

Shit, is this what they call taking stock of your life?

Nosotros, debemos separarnos no me preguntes maaás.

No es falta de cariño… You and I,

It’s time for us to part, don’t ask me questions any more.

It’s not for lack of affection… sang the radio.

Hector Belascoarán Shayne made a face and stuck out his tongue, as he set a sizzling steak à la mexicana on the kitchen table.

# # #

Stuttering badly, the elevator carried Hector up from the dazzling sunshine of the street to the bluish half-light of the third-floor landing. He walked over to his office door, and paused in front of the metal shingle that  read:

HECTOR BELASCORÁN SHAYNE: DETECTIVE GILBERTO GÓMEZ LETRAS: PLUMBER

“GALLO” VILLAREAL: SEWER AND DRAINAGE SPECIALIST CARLOS VARGAS: UPHOLSTERER

The sign greeted him every morning, a constant reminder not to take things too seriously. After all, what self-respecting film noir detective would share an office with a sewer expert, an upholsterer, and a plumber?

“Looks like a fucking tenement house,” he thought.

Smiling weakly, he opened the squeaky door and stepped inside. He hung his leather jacket with the copper buttons on the coatrack, and thought again about his decision not to dress in black. The smile disappeared from his face.

Things had changed drastically since his last visit. A stack of skeletal, partially upholstered furniture was piled up in one corner, blocking the window, and two new desks had appeared, filling the empty space and completely rearranging the geometry of the room. Yet, in spite of the overall changes, his own things had been left undisturbed: a secondhand desk; two old chairs bought on the cheap from a movie lot, looking exactly as if they belonged in a detective’s office; a dilapidated file cabinet, its varnish peeling; the tear-off calendar, showing the date from a week ago; the coatrack; the ancient black telephone.

He dropped into his chair, and pulled the cord on the venetian blind. It fell noisily into place, breaking the morning into hard strips of light.

A note waited for him on his  desk:

PLEASE CONSIDER POSSIBLE ADDITION OF PINUP OF MECHE CARREÑO IN MONOKINI. APPROVED BY ACCLAMATION IN  VOTE  BY OFFICE  MATES.

PS: SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR  MOTHER.

PPS: YOU IDIOT! IF YOU’RE GOING TO LEAVE YOUR DAMN GUN AROUND THE OFFICE, REMEMBER TO PUT THE  SAFETY ON!

—GILBERTO, GALLO, CARLOS

He smiled wistfully, letting his eyes drift around the room until he spotted the bullet hole made by his .38 in the ceiling. The rays of light passing through the venetian blind gave the office an almost hallucinatory feeling. Picking up his mail, he sorted through it: bills from the Chinese restaurant across the street, a request for an interview from a men’s magazine, ads for ladies’ underwear, and a reminder to renew his newspaper subscription to Excelsior.

He wadded it all into a big ball. He wasn’t interested in being interviewed. And Excelsior could go screw itself; just look at the cheap rag it had become.

Using the ball of paper, he dusted off his desk. Not a bad start to the day. Easygoing, peaceful, quiet. If only it would stay that way.

From his pocket, he took a photograph of Emiliano Zapata that he had cut out of an illustrated history of the Mexican Revolution, and placed it in front of him on the desk. He sat in silence, contemplating the picture.

An hour later, he turned and, using some tacks stolen from the upholsterer’s toolbox, pinned the picture beside the window frame. The sad stare of don Emiliano followed him as he paced the room.

The sad stare of Zapata betrayed.

Then he pulled the bag of coins from his jacket pocket, spilling them out onto the desktop, where they jingled and danced, reflecting bright bits of light as they rolled  about.

“May I?”

A woman hesitated in the half-open doorway, looking like someone out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

“Come on in.”

She was about thirty-five years old, and dressed for a different party. Her tight-fitting black pants were tucked into her boot tops, and her see-through black silk blouse sparkled like so many fishing lures. Her long hair was gathered up inside a fine black net. She seemed irrevocably out of place in the squalid office, with its stacks of broken-down furniture and monkey wrenches lying around on the desktops.

“I want to hire you to do a job for me,” she  said.

Hector motioned her to take a seat, and stood staring at the strong set of her jaw, the deep glimmer in her  eyes.

Taken as a whole, her face seemed better suited to a soft-porn perfume ad than to a friendly  conversation.

“Do you recognize me?” she asked, crossing her legs and glancing around the office. She set a black handbag on Hector’s desk.

“I don’t watch the soaps,” answered Hector, who was having a hard time taking his eyes off the pair of nipples staring at him through his visitor’s blouse.

“My name is Marisa Ferrer…And I want you to keep my daughter from committing suicide…Are you going to just stand there gawking or have you seen enough now?”

“Dressing like that, you must get used to it.”

She smiled while Hector toyed with the coins spread out over the desk.

“I had no idea detectives could be  so…”

“Yeah, well, me neither…What’s the girl’s name?” “Elena. But don’t let yourself be fooled, she’s not a child.” “How old is she?”

“Seventeen.”

She slid a photograph across the desk. “What about her father?”

“He owns a hotel chain in Guadalajara. The Príncipe chain. They haven’t seen each other in seven years, not since we were divorced.”

“Does she live with you?”

“Sometimes…Sometimes she lives with her grandmother.”

“So what’s the story?”

“About two weeks ago she fell from the balcony of her room into the garden. She broke her arm and cut herself on the face. I thought it was an accident. She’s very reckless… But then I found this…”

She pulled a stack of photocopies from her handbag and gave them to Hector. But before he could look them over, she took out another batch of papers. “Then came the second accident,” she said, holding out a bundle of newspaper clippings held together with a rubber band. Hector got the feeling she needed her whole life to be documented in print, corroborated by photographs. Was it just her movie star’s obsession, he wondered, a habit garnered somewhere on the long and bitter road to the top?

She produced another photograph, a studio close-up this time, of the girl’s face, and then a snapshot, showing her with a big grin and her arm in a  cast.

“I don’t want her to die,” she  said.

“Neither do I,” answered Hector, studying the photo- graph of the smiling girl.

“Will you have dinner with us in my house tomorrow, Señor Belascoarán? That way you can get to know Elena.” She took an American cigarette from her purse, placed it between her lips, and waited for a chivalrous hand to appear from somewhere and offer her a light.

A ray of bright sunshine slanted across her black blouse. “Will you take the job, Señor Belascoarán?”

The detective found a book of matches and pushed it gently toward her across the desktop, as if it were a toy train maneuvering its way around the coins scattered in its path.

What made her think she could trust him? He wasn’t a priest or a psychologist; there wasn’t anything fatherly about him. If he understood suicide, it was more through affinity than any objective understanding. He made up his mind, and posted the picture of the smiling girl beside the penetrating eyes of don Emiliano.

“In all your things there did you happen to bring your own scrapbook, anything like that?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

She pulled a bulging, leather-bound album from her fathomless handbag.

“Do you think it might help?”

“I couldn’t say. But if you’re going to give me a bunch of papers to look at, I’d rather have it be a lot than a little. Just personal preference, that’s all.…What’s for dinner?”

The woman smiled. She got up and turned to leave. “It’s a surprise,” she said.

As she opened the door, the bluish light from the hallway filtered into the room and she paused, as if captured in a freeze-frame photo.

“About the money…”

Hector waved his hand as if to say, don’t worry about it, and when the door had closed behind her he turned to face the mountain of papers she’d left for him on his desk. Papers are so much easier to deal with than people, he  thought.

Crossing to the wall, he opened up the secret compartment where they kept their valuables: Gilberto’s billing receipts, Carlos’s hammer, their communal stash of soda pop. He took out a Pepsi-Cola and opened it with his Swiss Army knife.

As he swigged the syrupy liquid, he thought about inflation and what had happened to the price of soda pop. Son of a bitch, he thought. It wasn’t so long ago that a Pepsi only cost forty-five cents.

It was part of what it meant to him to be Mexican, sharing in the general bitching over the rise in prices, the cost of tortillas, increases in bus fares, pulling his hair out over the TV news, cursing the police and government corruption. Cursing the whole sad state of affairs, the great national garbage dump that Mexico had become. For Hector it was a matter of solidarity, of brotherhood, the shared complaints, the shared disgust, the shared pride. Earning the right to call himself un mexicano, guarding himself against the curse of starlets like Marisa Ferrer. It kept him in touch with his people.

He paused to give the finger to whoever was responsible for the rising price of soda pop, and returned to his desk with its piles of coins and papers.

The smiling teenager and don Emiliano watched him from their respective photographs. In solidarity with Hector over the price of soft drinks and his giving the finger to the government? Or simply as witnesses to the complicated mess he was stepping into?

Just then the telephone rang. “Belascoarán Shayne speaking.”

“Please wait while I connect you with Señor Duelas.” After a brief silence another voice came on the line. “Hello. Señor Shayne?”

“Belascoarán Shayne,” Hector corrected.

“Pardon me, Señor Belascoarán Shayne,” said the voice, “but one quite naturally tries to avoid your unpronounceable Basque surname.”

A vile, honeyed, presumptuous voice.

“If you think that’s tough, you should try Belaustiguigoitia, Aurrecoechea, or even Errandoneogoicoechea.” Those were the best pseudo-Basque names that came instantly to Hector’s mind.

“Hee hee hee,” giggled the voice. “So what can I do for you?”

“Yes…I’m calling on behalf of the Santa Clara Industrial Council, here in Mexico State. In my capacity as attorney I represent the council in legal matters. We would like to contract your services. Are you available?”

“That all depends, Señor Dueñas.” “Duelas.”

“Oh, excuse me. Duelas.”

“What are your conditions, Señor Belascoarán?”

“Like I say, it all depends on what you want me to do.” “On behalf of the council I can send you a report detailing the matter at hand and what we would expect from you. I can arrange to have it to you by early afternoon. As far as money is concerned, we’re prepared to offer you a fifteen-day advance, at a rate of one thousand pesos per day. And we’re willing to pay you quite generously should you be able to arrange a satisfactory end to our little problem. What do you say, Señor Belascoarán?”

Hector considered the offer for a few seconds. At that point he was interested just to find out what the whole thing was about.

“I’ll tell you what, first send me your report, then give me a call at this time tomorrow, and I’ll let you know what  I think. Okay?”

“Agreed. It’s been a pleasure talking with  you…”

“Just a second…” he said, turning to glance for permission at the photographs on the wall behind him. “Does this report have any pictures in it?”

“You mean pictures of the body?” Ah! So there was a body!

“I’d like to have some kind of graphics included in the information you send me.”

“Certainly, Señor Belascoarán.”

“All right, then,” said Hector, and he hung up the phone. What was he getting himself into? What did he think he was doing taking on three jobs at once? The sweet flame of a temporary insanity tickled his brain, and he smiled, thinking of the old maxim of his pirate father: “The more complicated the better; the more impossible, the more  beautiful.”

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