The Hidden Assassins


Page 43 of 53



Cristina Ferrera had taken a cab back to her apartment. She was so exhausted she forgot to ask the driver for a receipt. She got her keys out and headed for the entrance to her block. A man sitting on the steps up to the door made her wary. He held up his hands to show her he meant no harm.

‘It’s me, Fernando,’ he said. ‘I lost your number, but remembered the address. I came to take you up on your offer of a bed for the night. My daughter, Lourdes, came out of intensive care this evening. She’s in a room now with my parents-in-law looking after her. I needed to get out.’

‘Have you been waiting long?’

‘Since the bomb I don’t look at the time,’ he said. ‘So I don’t know.’

They went up to her apartment on the fourth floor.

‘You’re tired,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come, but I’ve got nowhere else to go. I mean, nowhere that I’d feel comfortable.’

‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘It’s just another long day in a series of long days. I’m used to it.’

‘Have you caught them yet?’

‘We’re close,’ she said.

She put her bag on the table in the living room, took off her jacket and hung it on the back of the chair. She had a holster with a gun clipped to a belt around her waist.

‘Are your kids asleep?’ he asked, in a whisper.

‘They sleep with my neighbour when I have to work late,’ she said.

‘I just wanted to see them sleeping, you know…’ he said, and fluttered his hand, as if that explained his need for normality.

‘They’re not quite old enough to be left on their own all night,’ she said, and went into the bedroom, unhooked the holster from her belt and put it in the top drawer of the chest. She pulled her blouse out of her waistband.

‘Have you eaten?’ she asked.

‘Don’t worry about me.’

‘I’m putting a pizza in the microwave.’

Cristina opened some beers and laid the table. She remade the bed with clean sheets in one of the kids’ rooms.

‘Do your neighbours gossip?’

‘Well, you’re famous now, so they’re bound to talk about you,’ said Ferrera. ‘They know I used to be a nun so they’re not too concerned about my virtue.’

‘You used to be a nun?’

‘I told you,’ she said. ‘So what’s it like?’

‘What?’

‘To be famous.’

‘I don’t understand it,’ said Fernando. ‘One moment I’m a labourer on a building site and the next I’m the voice of the people and it’s nothing to do with me, but because Lourdes survived. Does that make any sense to you?’

‘You’ve become a focus for what happened,’ she said, taking the pizza out of the microwave. ‘People don’t want to listen to politicians, they want to listen to someone who’s suffered. Tragedy gives you credibility.’

‘There’s no logic to it,’ he said. ‘I say the same things that I’ve always said in the bar where I go for coffee in the morning, and nobody listened to me then. Now I’ve got the whole of Spain hanging on my every word.’

‘Well, that might change tomorrow,’ said Ferrera.

‘What might change?’

‘Sorry, it’s nothing. I can’t talk about it. I shouldn’t have said anything. Forget I even mentioned it. I’m too tired for this.’

Fernando’s eyes narrowed over the slice of pizza halfway to his mouth.

‘You’re close,’ said Fernando. ‘That’s what you said. Does that mean you know who they are, or you’ve actually caught them?’

‘It means we’re close,’ she said, shrugging. ‘I shouldn’t have said it. It’s police business. It slipped out because I was tired. I wasn’t thinking properly.’

‘Just tell me the name of the group,’ said Fernando. ‘They all have these crazy initials like MIEDO—Mártires Islámicos Enfrentados a la Dominación del Occidente.’

Islamic Martyrs facing up to Western Domination.

‘You didn’t listen.’

He frowned and replayed the dialogue.

‘You mean they weren’t terrorists?’

‘They were terrorists, but not Islamic ones.’

Fernando shook his head in disbelief.

‘I don’t know how you can say that.’

Ferrera shrugged.

‘I’ve read all the reports,’ said Fernando. ‘You found explosives in the back of their van, with the Koran and the Islamic sash and the black hood. They took the explosive into the mosque. The mosque exploded and…’

‘That’s all true.’

‘Then I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘That’s why you’ve got to forget about it until it comes out in the news tomorrow.’

‘Then why can’t you tell me now?’ he said. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’

‘Because suspects still have to be interrogated.’

‘What suspects?’

‘The people who are suspected of planning the bombing of the mosque.’

‘You’re just trying to confuse me now.’

‘I’ll tell you this if you promise me that that will be the end of it,’ said Ferrera. ‘I know it’s important to you, but this is a police investigation and it’s totally confidential information.’

‘Tell me.’

‘Promise me first.’

‘I promise,’ he said, waving it away with his hand.

‘That sounds like a politician’s promise.’

‘That’s what happens when you spend time with them. You learn too much, too quickly,’ said Fernando.

‘I promise you, Cristina.’

‘There was another bomb that was planted in the mosque which, when it exploded, set off the very large quantity of hexogen which the Islamic terrorists were storing there. That’s what destroyed your apartment building.’

‘And you know who planted the bomb?’

‘You promised me that that would be the end of it.’

‘I know, but I just need to…I have to know.’

‘That’s what we’re working on tonight.’

‘You have to tell me who they are.’

‘I can’t. There’s no discussion. It’s not possible. If it came out, I’d lose my job.’

‘They killed my wife and son.’

‘And if they are responsible, they will face trial.’

Fernando opened up a pack of cigarettes.

‘You’ll have to go out on the balcony if you want to smoke.’

‘Come and sit with me?’

‘No more questions?’

‘I promise. You’re right. I can’t do this to you.’

Falcón and Ramírez were ringing the bell as Zarrías’s taxi turned out of Calle Castelar. Eduardo Rivero opened the door, expecting it to be Angel coming back for the notebook he’d forgotten. He was surprised to find two stone-faced policemen in the frame, presenting their ID cards. His face momentarily lost all definition, as if the muscles had been deprived of their neural drive. Geniality revived them.

‘What can I do for you, gentlemen?’ he asked, his white moustache doubling the size and warmth of his smile.

‘We’d like to talk to you,’ said Falcón.

‘It’s very late,’ said Rivero, looking at his watch.

‘It can’t wait,’ said Ramírez.

Rivero looked away from him with faint disgust.

‘Have we met?’ he asked Falcón. ‘You seem familiar.’

‘I came to a party here once, some years ago,’ said Falcón. ‘My sister is Angel Zarrías’s partner.’

‘Ah, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…Javier Falcón. Of course,’ said Rivero. ‘Can I ask what you’d like to talk to me about at this time of the morning?’

‘We’re homicide detectives,’ said Ramírez. ‘We only ever talk to people at this hour of the morning about murder.’

‘And you are?’ said Rivero, his distaste even more undisguised.

‘Inspector Ramírez,’ he said. ‘We’ve never met before, Sr Rivero. You’d have remembered it.’

‘I can’t think how I can help you.’

‘We just want to ask some questions,’ said Falcón.

‘It shouldn’t take too long.’ That eased the tension in the doorway. Rivero could see himself in bed within the hour. He let the door fall back and the two policemen stepped in.

‘We’ll go up to my office,’ said Rivero, trying to reel in Ramírez, who’d gone straight through the arch to the internal courtyard and was brushing his large intrusive fingers over the rough head of the low hedge.

‘What’s this called?’ he asked.

‘Box hedge,’ said Rivero. ‘From the family Buxaceae. They use it in England to make mazes. Shall we go upstairs?’

‘It looks as if it’s just been clipped,’ said Ramírez. ‘When did that happen?’

‘Probably last weekend, Inspector Ramírez,’ said Rivero, holding out his arm to herd him back into the fold. ‘Let’s go upstairs now, shall we?’

Ramírez snapped off a twig and twiddled it between thumb and forefinger. They went up to Rivero’s office where he showed them chairs, before sinking into his own on the far side of the desk. He was irritated to find Ramírez examining the photographs on the wall: shots of Rivero, in politics and at play with the hierarchy of the Partido Popular, various members of the aristocracy, some bull breeders and a few local toreros.

‘Are you looking for something, Inspector?’ asked Rivero.

‘You used to be the leader of Fuerza Andalucía until a few days ago,’ said Ramírez. ‘In fact, didn’t you hand over the leadership on the morning of the explosion?’

‘Well, it wasn’t a sudden decision. It was something I’d been thinking about for a long time, but when something like that happens it opens up a new chapter in Seville politics, and it seemed to me that a new chapter needed new strength. Jesús Alarcón is the man to take the party forward. I think my decision has proved to be a very good one. We’re polling more now than in the party’s history.’

‘I understood that you were very attached to the leadership,’ said Ramírez, ‘and that moves had been made before now to persuade you to hand over, but you’d refused. So what happened to make you think again?’

‘I thought I’d just explained that.’

‘Two senior members of your party left at the beginning of this year.’

‘They had their reasons.’

‘The newspapers reported that it was because they were fed up with your leadership.’

Silence. It always amazed Falcón how much Ramírez enjoyed making himself unpopular with ‘important’ people.

‘I seem t
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o remember that one of them even said that it would take a bomb to get you to give up the leadership and, I quote: “That would have the satisfying side effect of removing Don Eduardo from politics as well.” That doesn’t sound as if you were actively thinking about giving up your position, Sr Rivero.’

‘The person who said that was expecting the leadership to be conferred on him. I didn’t think he was a suitable candidate as he was only seven years younger than me. It was unfortunate that we fell out over the matter.’

‘That’s not what was written in the newspapers,’ said Ramírez. ‘They were reporting that these two senior members of your party were not pushing themselves forward but were, in fact, pushing for Jesús Alarcón to take over. What I was wondering was, what happened between then and now to bring about this sudden change of heart?’

‘I’m quite flattered to find you so knowledgeable about my party,’ said Rivero, who regained some strength by reminding himself that these men were homicide detectives and not from the sex crimes squad. ‘But didn’t you tell me you were here to talk about something else? It’s late; perhaps we should press on.’

‘Yes, of course,’ said Ramírez. ‘It was probably just malicious rumour anyway.’

Ramírez sat down, very pleased with himself. Rivero looked at him steadily over the rims of the gold specs he’d just put on. It was difficult to know what was burning inside him. Did he want to know what this rumour was, or would he prefer Ramírez just to shut the fuck up?

‘We’re looking for a missing person, Don Eduardo,’ said Falcón.

Rivero’s head whipped away from Ramírez to focus on Falcón.

‘A missing person?’ he said, and some relief crept into the corner of his face. ‘I can’t think of anybody I know who’s gone missing, Inspector Jefe.’

‘We’re here because this man was last seen in your household by one of your maids,’ said Falcón, who had spoken each word clearly and slowly so that he could watch the accumulation ease into Eduardo Rivero with the intrusiveness of a medical probe.

Rivero was a practised politician, but even he could not relax and animate himself through the progression of this sentence. Perhaps because it was a line that he’d dreaded hearing and had forced to the bleakest region of his mind.

‘I’m not sure who you could be talking about,’ said Rivero, clutching at the rope of hope, only to find frayed cotton threads.

‘His name is Tateb Hassani, although in America he was known as Jack Hansen. He was a professor of Arabic Studies at Columbia University in New York,’ said Falcón, who removed a photograph from his inside pocket and snapped it down in front of Rivero. ‘I’m sure you’d recognize one of your own house guests, Don Eduardo.’

Rivero leaned forward and planted his elbows on the desk. He glanced down, stroked his chin and massaged his jowls with his thumb, over and over, whilst ransacking the furniture of his brain for the inspiration that would take him to the next moment.

‘You’re right,’ said Rivero. ‘Tateb Hassani was a guest in this house until last Saturday, when he left, and I haven’t seen or heard of him since.’

‘What time did he leave here on Saturday and how did he depart from these premises?’ asked Falcón.

‘I’m not sure when he left…’

‘Was it daylight?’

‘I wasn’t here when he left,’ said Rivero.

‘When was the last time you saw him?’

‘It was after lunch, probably four thirty. I said I was going to take a siesta. He said he would be leaving.’

‘When did you wake from your siesta?’

‘About six thirty.’

‘And Tateb Hassani had already gone?’

‘That is correct.’

‘I’m sure your staff will be able to confirm that.’ Silence.

‘When did you last see the cosmetic surgeon, Agustín Cárdenas?’

‘He was here this evening…for dinner.’

‘And before that?’

Silence, while monstrous abstractions boiled up, loomed, subsided and loomed again in Rivero’s nauseated mind.

‘He was here on Saturday evening, again for dinner.’

‘How did he arrive for dinner?’

‘In his car.’

‘Can you describe that car?’

‘It’s a black Mercedes Estate E500. He’d just bought it last year.’

‘Where did he park his car?’

‘Inside the front doors, below the arch.’

‘Did Agustín Cárdenas stay the night here?’

‘Yes.’

‘What time did he leave on Sunday?’

‘At about eleven in the morning.’

‘Were you aware of that car leaving your house at any time between Agustín Cárdenas’s arrival and his departure on Sunday morning?’

‘No,’ said Rivero, the sweat careening down his spine.

‘Who else was present at that dinner on Saturday night?’

Rivero cleared his throat. The water was getting deeper, winking at his chin.

‘I’m not sure what this could possibly have to do with the disappearance of Tateb Hassani.’

‘Because that was the night that Tateb Hassani was poisoned with cyanide, had his hands surgically removed, his face burnt off with acid and his scalp cut away from his skull,’ said Falcón.

Rivero had to clench his buttocks against the sudden looseness of his bowels.

‘But I’ve already told you that Tateb Hassani left here before dinner,’ said Rivero. ‘Maybe four hours before dinner.’

‘And I’m sure that can be corroborated by the domestic servants on duty here at the time,’ said Falcón.

‘We’re not accusing you of lying, Don Eduardo,’ said Ramírez. ‘But we must have a clear idea of what happened here, in this house, in the hope that it will explain what happened later.’

‘What happened later?’

‘Let’s take it step by step,’ said Falcón. ‘Who attended the dinner, apart from yourself and Agustín Cárdenas?’

‘That will shed no light on the disappearance of Tateb Hassani, because HE HAD ALREADY LEFT THIS HOUSE!’ roared Rivero, hammering out the last six words with his fist on the desk.

‘There’s no need to upset yourself, Don Eduardo,’ said Ramírez, leaning forward, full of false concern. ‘Surely you can understand, given that a man was murdered and brutally dealt with, that the Inspector Jefe has to ask questions that may appear mystifying but which, we can assure you, will have a bearing on the case.’

‘Let’s go back a step,’ said Falcón, to make it sound less unrelenting. ‘Tell me who prepared Saturday’s dinner and who served it.’

‘It was prepared by the cook and it wasn’t served. It was brought up to the room next door and laid out as a buffet.’

‘Can we have those employees’ names please?’ said Falcón.

‘They left straight afterwards and went home.’

‘We’d still like their names and phone numbers,’ said Falcón, and Ramírez handed over his notebook, which Rivero refused to accept.

‘This is an infringement…’

‘Tell us what happened after the dinner,’ said Falcón. ‘What time did it finish, who left and who stayed, and what did those who stayed do for the remainder of the night?’

‘No, this is too much. I’ve told you everything that’s relevant to the disappearance of Tateb Hassani. I’ve cooperated fully. All these other questions I consider to be outrageous intrusions into my private life and I see no reason why I should answer them.’

‘Why was Tateb Hassani a house guest of yours for five days?’

‘I told you, I’m not answering any more questions.’


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