The Hidden Assassins

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‘And that’s why you married Inés.’

‘Maddy was dead. I was very badly shaken. Inés represented stability.’

‘Did you tell her you’d fallen in love with this woman?’

‘We never talked about it.’

‘And what now…four years later?’

‘I feel nothing for Inés,’ said Calderón, which was not quite the whole truth. He did feel something for her. He hated her. He could hardly bear to share her bed, had to steel himself to her touch, and he couldn’t understand why. He had no idea where it came from. She hadn’t changed. She had been both good to him and for him after the Maddy incident. This feeling of dying he had when he was with her in bed was a symptom. Of what, he could not say.

‘Well, Esteban, you’re a member of a very large club.’

‘Have you ever been married?’

‘You are joking,’ said Marisa. ‘I watched the soap opera of my parents’ marriage for fifteen years. That was enough to warn me off that particular bourgeois institution.’

‘And what are you doing with me?’ asked Calderón, fishing for something, but not sure what. ‘It doesn’t get more bourgeois than having an affair with a state judge.’

‘Being bourgeois is a state of mind,’ she said. ‘What you do means nothing to me. It has no bearing on us. We’re having an affair and it will carry on until it burns out. But I’m not going to get married and you already are.’

‘You said I was the last person in the world who should be married,’ said Calderón.

‘People get married if they want to have kids and fit into society, or, if they’re suckers, they marry their dream.’

‘I didn’t marry my dream,’ said Calderón. ‘I married everybody else’s dream. I was the brilliant young judge, Inés was the brilliant and beautiful young prosecutor. We were the “golden couple”, as seen on TV.’

‘You don’t have any children,’ said Marisa. ‘Get divorced.’

‘It’s not so easy.’

‘Why not? It’s taken you four years to find out that you’re incompatible,’ said Marisa. ‘Get out now while you’re still young.’

‘You’ve had a lot of lovers.’

‘I might have been to bed with a lot of men but I’ve only had four lovers.’

‘And how do you define a lover?’ asked Calderón, still fishing.

‘Someone I love and who loves me.’

‘Sounds simple.’

‘It can be…as long as you don’t let life fuck it up.’

The question burned inside Calderón. Did she love him? But almost as soon as it came into his mind he had to ask himself whether he loved her. They cancelled each other out. He’d been fucking her for nine months. That wasn’t quite fair, or was it? Marisa could hear his brain working. She recognized the sound. Men always assumed their brains were silent rather than grinding away like sabotaged machinery.

‘So now you’re going to tell me,’ said Marisa, ‘that you can’t get a divorce for all those bourgeois reasons—career, status, social acceptance, property and money.’

That was it, thought Calderón, his face going slack in the dark. That was precisely why he couldn’t get a divorce. He would lose everything. He had only just scraped his career back together again after the Maddy debacle. Being related to the Magistrado Juez Decano de Sevilla had helped, but so had his marriage to Inés. If he divorced her now his career might easily drift, his friends would slip away, he would lose his apartment and he would be poorer. Inés would make sure of all that.

‘There is, of course, a bourgeois solution to that,’ said Marisa.

‘What?’ said Calderón, turning to look at her between her upturned nipples, suddenly hopeful.

‘You could murder her,’ she said, throwing open her hands, easy peasy.

Calderón smiled at first, not quite registering what she had said. His smile turned into a grin and then he laughed. As he laughed his head bounced on Marisa’s taut stomach and it bounced higher and higher as her muscles tightened with laughter. He sat up spluttering at the brilliant absurdity of her idea.

‘Me, the leading Juez de Instrucción in Seville, killing his wife?’

‘Ask her ex-husband for some advice,’ said Marisa, her stomach still contracting with laughter. ‘He should know how to commit the perfect murder.’


Seville—Tuesday, 6th June 2006, 05.30 hrs

Manuela Falcón was in bed, but not sleeping. It was 5.30 in the morning. She had the bedside light on, knees up, flicking through Vogue but not reading, not even looking at the pictures. She had too much on her mind: her property portfolio, the money she owed to the banks, the mortgage repayments, the lack of rental income, the lawyer’s fees, the two deeds due to be signed this morning, which would release her capital into beautifully fluid funds of cash.

‘For God’s sake, relax,’ said Angel, waking up in bed next to her, still groggy with sleep and nursing a small cognac-induced hangover. ‘What are you so anxious about?’

‘I can’t believe you’ve asked that question,’ said Manuela. ‘The deeds, this morning?’

Angel Zarrías blinked into his pillow. He’d forgotten.

‘Look, my darling,’ he said, rolling over, ‘you know that nothing happens, even if you think about it all the time. It only happens…’

‘Yes, I know, Angel, it only happens when it happens. But even you can understand that there’s uncertainty before it happens.’

‘But if you don’t sleep and you churn it over in your head in an endless washing cycle it has no effect on the outcome, so you might as well forget about it. Handle the horror if it happens, but don’t torture yourself with the theory of it.’

Manuela flicked through the pages of Vogue even more viciously, but she felt better. Angel could do that to her. He was older. He had authority. He had experience.

‘It’s all right for you,’ she said, gently, ‘you don’t owe six hundred thousand euros to the bank.’

‘But I also don’t own nearly two million euros’ worth of property.’

‘I own one million eight hundred thousand euros’ worth of property. I owe six hundred thousand to the bank. The lawyer’s fees are…Forget it. Let’s not talk about numbers. They make me sick. Nothing has any value until it’s sold.’

‘Which is what you’re about to do,’ said Angel, in his most solid, reinforced concrete voice.

‘Anything can happen,’ she said, turning a page so viciously she tore it.

‘But it tends not to.’

‘The market’s nervous.’

‘Which is why you’re selling. Nobody’s going to withdraw in the next eight hours,’ he said, struggling to sit up in bed. ‘Most people would kill to be in your position.’

‘With two empty properties, no rent and four thousand a month going out?’

‘Well, clearly I’m looking at it from a more advantageous perspective.’

Manuela liked this. However hard she tried, she couldn’t get Angel to participate in her catalogue of imagined horrors. His objective authority made her feel quite girlish. She hadn’t yet got to the point of recognizing what their relationship had become, how it fitted with her powerful needs. All she knew was that Angel was a colossal comfort to her.

‘Relax,’ said Angel, pulling her to him, kissing the top of her head.

‘Wouldn’t it be great to be able to compress time and just be in tomorrow evening now,’ she said, snuggling up to him, ‘with money in the bank and the summer free?’

‘Let’s have a celebratory dinner at Salvador Rojo tonight.’

‘I was thinking that myself,’ she said, ‘but I was too superstitious to book it. We could ask Javier. He could bring Laura so you can have someone to flirt with.’

‘How very considerate of you,’ he said, kissing her head again.

When Angel and Manuela had met it seemed that the only thing holding her life together was her legal battle over Javier’s right to have inherited the house in which he was living. They’d met in her lawyer’s office, where Angel was sorting out his late wife’s estate. As soon as they’d shaken hands she’d felt something cave in high up around her stomach and no man had ever done that to her before. They left the lawyer’s office and went for a drink and, having never looked at older men, having always gone for ‘boys’, she immediately saw the point. Older men looked after you. You didn’t have to look after them.

The more she found out about Angel the more she fell for him. He was a phenomenally charming man, a committed politician (sometimes a little too committed), right wing, conservative, a Catholic, a lover of the bulls, and from an established family. In politics he’d been able to broker agreements between fanatically opposed factions just because neither party wanted to be disliked by him. He’d been ‘someone’ in the Partido Popular in Andalucía but had quit in a fury over the impossibility of getting anything to change. Recently he’d joined forces, in a public relations capacity, with a smaller right-wing party called Fuerza Andalucía, which was run by his old friend, Eduardo Rivero. He contributed a political column for the ABC newspaper and was also their highly respected bullfight commentator. With all these talents at his disposal it hadn’t taken him long to bring Javier and Manuela back together again.

‘All energy expended on court cases like yours is negative energy,’ Angel had told her. ‘That negative energy dominates your life, so that the rest of it has to go on hold. The only way to restart your life is to bring positive energy back into it.’

‘And how do I do that?’ she’d asked, looking at this huge source of positive energy in front of her with her big brown eyes.

‘Court cases use up resources, not just financial ones, but physical and emotional ones, too. So you have to be productive,’ he said. ‘What do you want from your life at the moment?’

‘That house!’ she’d said, despite being pretty keen on Angel right then, too.

‘It’s yours, Javier has offered it to you.’

‘There’s the small matter of one million euros…’

‘But he hasn’t said you can’t have it,’ said Angel. ‘And it’s much more productive to make money in order to buy something you really want, than to throw it away on useless lawyers.’

‘He’s not useless,’ she said, and ran out of steam.

There were a few thousand other reasons she had stacked up against Angel’s stunningly simple logic, but the source of most of them was her miserable emotional state, which was not something she wanted to peel back for him to see. So, she agreed with him, sold her veterinary practice at the beginning of 2003, borrowed money against the property she had inherited in El Puerto
de Santa Maria and invested it in Seville’s booming property market. After three years of buying, renovating and selling she had forgotten about Javier’s house, the court case and that hollow feeling at the top of her stomach. She now lived with Angel in a penthouse apartment overlooking the majestic, treelined Plaza Cristo de Burgos in the middle of the old city and her life was full and about to be even sweeter.

‘How did it go last night?’ asked Manuela. ‘I can tell you wound up on the brandy.’

‘Gah!’ said Angel, wincing at some gripe in his intestines.

‘No smoking for you until after coffee this morning.’

‘Maybe my breath could become a cheap form of renewable energy,’ said Angel, fingering some sleep out of his eye. ‘In fact everyone’s breath could, because all we do is spout hot, alcoholic air.’

‘Is the master of positive energy getting a little bit bored with his cronies?’

‘Not bored. They’re my friends,’ said Angel, shrugging. ‘It’s one of the advantages of age that we can tell each other the same stories over and over and still laugh.’

‘Age is a state of mind, and you’re still young,’ said Manuela. ‘Maybe you should go back to the commercial side of your public relations business. Forget politics and all those self-important fools.’

‘And finally she reveals what she thinks of my closest friends.’

‘I like your friends, it’s just…the politics,’ said Manuela. ‘Endless talk but nothing ever happens.’

‘Maybe you’re right,’ said Angel, nodding. ‘The last time there was an event in this country was the horror of 11th March 2004, and look what happened: the whole country pulled together and by due process of democracy kicked out a perfectly good government. Then we bowed down to the terrorists and pulled out of Iraq. And after that? We sank back into the comfort of our lives.’

‘And drank too much brandy.’

‘Exactly,’ said Angel, looking at her with his hair exploded in all directions. ‘You know what someone was saying last night?’

‘Was this the interesting bit?’ she said, teasing him on.

‘We need a return to benevolent dictatorship,’ said Angel, throwing up his hands in mock exasperation.

‘You might find yourselves out on a limb there,’ said Manuela. ‘People don’t like turmoil with troops and tanks on the streets. They want a cold beer, a tapa and something stupid to watch on TV.’

‘My point entirely,’ said Angel, slapping his stomach. ‘Nobody listened. We’ve got a population dying of decadence, so morally moribund that they no longer know what they want, apart from knee-jerk consumption, and my “cronies” think that they’ll be loved if they do these people the favour of mounting a coup.’

‘I don’t want to see you on television, standing on a desk in Parliament with a gun in your hand.’

‘I’ll have to lose some weight first,’ said Angel.

Calderón came to with a jolt and a sense of real panic left over from a dream he could not recollect. He was surprised to see Marisa’s long brown back in the bed beside him, instead of Inés’s white nightdress. He’d overslept. It was now 6 a.m. and he would have to go back to his apartment and deal with some very awkward questions from Inés.

His frantic leap from the bed woke Marisa. He dressed, shaking his head at the slug trails of dried semen on his thigh.

‘Take a shower,’ said Marisa.

‘No time.’

‘Anyway, she’s not an idiot—so you tell me.’

‘No, she’s not,’ said Calderón, looking for his other shoe, ‘but as long as certain rules are obeyed then the whole thing can be glossed over.’

‘This must be the bourgeois protocol for affairs outside marriage.’

‘That’s right,’ said Calderón, irritated by her. ‘You can’t stay out all night because that is making a complete joke out of the institution.’

‘What’s the cut-off point between a “serious” marriage and a “joke” one?’ asked Marisa. ‘Three o’clock…three thirty? No. That’s OK. I think by four o’clock it’s ridiculous. By four thirty it is a complete joke. By six, six thirty…it’s a farce.’

‘By six it’s a tragedy,’ said Calderón, searching the floor madly. ‘Where is my fucking shoe?’

‘Under the chair,’ said Marisa. ‘And don’t forget your camera on the coffee table. I’ve left a present or two on it for you.’

He threw on his jacket, pocketed the camera, dug his foot into his shoe.

‘How did you find my camera?’ he asked, kneeling down by the bed.

‘I went through your jacket while you were asleep,’ she said. ‘I come from a bourgeois family; I kick against it, but I know all the tricks. Don’t worry, I didn’t erase all those stupid shots of your lawyers’ dinner to prove to your very intelligent wife that you weren’t out all night fucking your girlfriend.’

‘Well, thanks very much for that.’

‘And I haven’t been naughty.’


‘I told you I left some presents on the camera for you. Just don’t let her see.’

He nodded, suddenly in a hurry again. They kissed. Going down in the lift he tidied himself up, got everything tucked away and rubbed his face into life to prepare for the lie which he practised. Even he saw the two micro movements of his eyebrows, which Javier Falcón had told him was the first and surest sign of a liar. If he knew that, then Inés would know it, too.

No taxis out at this early hour of the morning. He should have called for one. He set off at a fast walk. Memories ricocheted around his mind, which seemed to dip in and out of his consciousness. The lie. The truth. The reality. The dream. And it came back to him with the same sense of panic he’d had on waking in Marisa’s apartment: his hands closing around Inés’s slim throat. He was throttling her, but she wasn’t turning puce or purple and her tongue wasn’t thickening with blood and protruding. She was looking up at him with her eyes full of love. And, yes, she was stroking his forearms, encouraging him to do it. The bourgeois solution to awkward divorces—murder. Absurd. He knew from his work with the homicide squad that the first person to be grilled in a murder case was the spouse.

The streets were still wet from last night’s rain, the cobbles greasy. He was sweating and the smell of Marisa came up off his shirt. It occurred to him that he’d never felt guilty. He didn’t know what it was other than a legal state. Since he’d been married to Inés he’d had affairs with four women of whom Marisa had lasted the longest. He’d also had one-night stands or afternoons with two other women. And there was the prostitute in Barcelona, but he didn’t like to think of that. He’d even had sex with one of these women whilst having an affair with another as a married man, which must make him a serial philanderer. Except it didn’t feel like philandering. There was supposed to be something enjoyable about philandering. It was romantic, wasn’t it…in the eighteenth-century sense of the word? But what he’d been doing was not enjoyable. He was trying to fill a hole, which, with every affair, grew bigger. So what was this expanding void? Now that would be a thing to answer, if he could ever find the time to think about it.

He slipped on a cobble, half fell, scuffed his hand on the pavement. It pulled him out of his head and on to more practical business. He’d have to have a shower as soon as he got in. Marisa was in his sinuses. Maybe he should have had a shower before he left, but then there would have been the smell of Marisa’s soap. Then another revelation. What did he care? Why the grand pretence? Inés knew. They’d had fights—never about his affairs, but about ridiculous stuff, which was a cover for the unmentionable. She could have got out. She could have left him years ago, but she’d stayed. That was significant.