The Hidden Assassins


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6

Seville—Tuesday, 6th June 2006, 08.25 hrs

Desperation had brought Consuelo to Calle Vidrio early. The children were being taken to school by her neighbour. Now she was sitting in her car outside Alicia Aguado’s consulting room, getting cold feet about the emergency appointment she’d arranged only twenty-five minutes earlier. She walked the street to calm her nerves. She was not someone who had things wrong with her.

At precisely 8.30 a.m., having stared at the second hand of her watch, chipping away at the seconds—which showed her how obsessive she was becoming—she rang the doorbell. Dr Aguado was waiting for her, as she had been for many months. She was excited at the prospect of this new patient. Consuelo walked up the narrow stairs to the consulting room, which had been painted a pale blue and was kept at a constant temperature of 22°C.

Although Consuelo knew everything about Alicia Aguado, she let the clinical psychologist explain that she was now blind due to a degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa and that as a result of this disability she had developed a unique technique of reading a patient’s pulse.

‘Why do you need to do that?’ asked Consuelo, knowing the answer, but wanting to put off the moment when they got down to work.

‘Because I’m blind I miss out on the most important indicators of the human body, which is physiognomy. We speak more to each other with our features and bodies than we do with our mouths. Think how little you would glean from a conversation just by hearing words. Only if someone was in an extreme state, such as fear or anxiety, would you understand what they were feeling, whereas if you have a face and body you pick up on a whole range of subtleties. You can tell the difference between someone who is lying, or exaggerating, someone who’s bored, and someone who wants to go to bed with you. Reading the pulse, which I learnt from a Chinese doctor and have adapted to my needs, enables me to pick up on nuance.’

‘That sounds like an intelligent way of saying that you’re a human polygraph.’

‘I don’t just detect lies,’ said Aguado. ‘It’s more to do with undercurrents. Translating feeling into language can defeat even the greatest of writers, so why should it be any easier for an ordinary person to tell me about their emotions, especially if they’re in a confused state?’

‘This is a beautiful room,’ said Consuelo, already shying away from some of the words she’d heard in Aguado’s explanation. Undercurrents reminded her of her fears, of being dragged out into the ocean to die of exhaustion alone in a vast heaving expanse.

‘There was too much noise,’ said Aguado. ‘You know how it is in Seville. Noise was becoming so much of a distraction for me, in my state, that I had the room double-glazed and soundproofed. It used to be white, but I think my patients found white as intimidating as black. So I opted for tranquil blue. Let’s sit down, shall we?’

They sat in the S-shaped lovers’ seat, facing each other. She showed Consuelo the tape recorder in the armrest, explaining that it was the only way for her to review her consultations. Aguado asked her to introduce herself, give her age and any medication she was on so that she could check it was recording properly.

‘Can you give me a brief medical history?’

‘Since when?’

‘Anything significant since you were born—operations, serious illnesses, children…that sort of thing.’

Consuelo tried to drink the tranquillity of the pale blue walls into her mind. She had been hoping for some miraculous surgical strike on her mental disturbances, a fabulous technique to yank open the tangled mess and smooth it out into comprehensible strands. In her turmoil it hadn’t occurred to her that this was going to be a process, an intrusive process.

‘You seem to be struggling with this question,’ said Aguado.

‘I’m just coming to terms with the fact that you’re going to turn me inside out.’

‘Nothing leaves this room,’ said Aguado. ‘We can’t even be heard. The tapes are locked up in a safe in my office.’

‘It’s not that,’ said Consuelo. ‘I hate to vomit. I would rather sweat out my nausea than vomit up the problem. This is going to be mental vomiting.’

‘Most people who arrive at my side are here because of something intensely private, so private that it might even be a secret from themselves,’ said Aguado. ‘Mental health and physical health are not dissimilar. Untreated wounds fester and infect the whole body. Untreated lesions of the mind are no different. The only difficulty is that you can’t just show me the infected cut. You might not know what, or where, it is. The only way for us to find out is by bringing things from the subconscious to the surface of the conscious mind. It’s not vomiting. It’s not expelling poison. You bring perhaps painful things to the surface, so that we can examine them, but they remain yours. If anything, it’s more like sweating out your nausea than vomiting.’

‘I’ve had two abortions,’ said Consuelo, decisively. ‘The first in 1980, the second in 1984. Both were performed in a London clinic. I have had three children. Ricardo in 1992, Matías in 1994 and Darío in 1998. Those are the only five occasions I have been in hospital.’

‘Are you married?’

‘Not any more. My husband died,’ said Consuelo, stumbling over this first obstacle, used to obfuscation of the fact, rather than natural openness. ‘He was murdered in 2001.’

‘Was that a happy marriage?’

‘He was thirty-four years older than me. I didn’t know this at the time, but he married me because I reminded him physically of his first wife, who had committed suicide. I didn’t want to marry him, but he was insistent. I only agreed when he said that he would give me children. Quite soon after the marriage he found out, or allowed himself to realize, that my likeness to his wife stopped at the physical. We still stayed together. We respected each other, especially in business. He was a diligent father. But as for loving me, making me happy…no.’

‘Did you hear that?’ asked Aguado. ‘Something outside. A big noise, like an explosion.’

‘I didn’t hear anything.’

‘I know about your husband’s case, of course,’ said Aguado. ‘It was truly terrible. That must have been very traumatic for you and the children.’

‘It was. But it’s not directly linked to why I’m sitting here,’ said Consuelo. ‘That investigation was necessarily intrusive. I was a prime suspect. He was a wealthy, influential man. I had a lover. The police believed I had a motive. My life was turned inside out by the investigation. Nasty details of my past were revealed.’

‘Such as?’

‘I had appeared in a pornographic movie when I was seventeen to raise money to pay for my first abortion.’

Aguado forced Consuelo to relive that ugly slice of her life in great detail and didn’t let her stop until she’d explained the circumstances of the next pregnancy, with a duke’s son, which had led to the second abortion.

‘What do you think of pornography?’ asked Alicia.

‘I abhor it,’ said Consuelo. ‘I especially abhorred my need to be involved in it, in order to find the money to terminate a pregnancy.’

‘What do you think pornography is?’

‘The filming of the biological act of sex.’

‘Is that all?’

‘It is sex without emotion.’

‘You described quite strong emotions when you were telling me—’

‘Of disgust and revulsion, yes.’

‘For your partners in the movie?’

‘No, no, not at all,’ said Consuelo. ‘We were all in the same boat, us girls. And the men needed us to perform. It’s not a highly sexually charged atmosphere on a porn set. We were all high on dope, to help us get over what we were doing.’

Consuelo’s enthusiasm for her account waned. She wasn’t getting to the point.

‘So who were these strong feelings of anger aimed at?’ asked Aguado.

‘Myself,’ said Consuelo, hoping that this partial truth might be enough.

‘When I asked you what pornography was, I don’t believe you were telling me what you actually thought,’ said Aguado. ‘You were giving me a socially acceptable version. Try answering that question again.’

‘It’s sex without love,’ said Consuelo, hammering the chair. ‘It’s the antithesis of love.’

‘The antithesis of love is hate.’

‘It’s self-hate.’

‘What else?’

‘It’s the desecration of sex.’

‘What do you think of men and women being filmed having sex with multiple partners?’ asked Aguado.

‘It’s perverted.’

‘What else?’

‘What do you mean, “what else”? I don’t know what else you want.’

‘How often have you thought about the movie since it came to light in your husband’s murder investigation?’

‘I forgot about it.’

‘Until today?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘This isn’t a social situation, Sra Jiménez.’

‘I realize that.’

‘You mustn’t be concerned with what I think of you in that respect,’ said Aguado.

‘But I don’t know what you’re trying to get me to admit.’

‘Why are we talking about pornography?’

‘It was something that came to light in my husband’s murder investigation.’

‘I asked you whether your husband’s murder had been traumatic,’ said Aguado.

‘I see.’

‘What do you see?’

‘That the movie coming to light was more traumatic for me than my husband’s death.’

‘Not necessarily. It was bound up in a traumatic event, and in that highly emotionally charged period it made its mark on you.’

Consuelo struggled in silence. The tangled mess was not unravelling but becoming even more confused.

‘You’ve made appointments with me several times recently and you’ve never appeared for them,’ said Aguado. ‘Why did you come this morning?’

‘I love my children,’ said Consuelo. ‘I love my children so much it hurts.’

‘Where does it hurt?’ asked Aguado, leaping on to this new revelation.

‘You’ve never had children?’

Alicia Aguado shrugged.

‘It hurts me in the top of my stomach, around my diaphragm.’

‘Why does it hurt?’

‘Can’t you ever just accept something?’ said Consuelo. ‘I love them. It hurts.’

‘We’re here to examine your inner life. I can’t feel it or see it. All I have to go on is how you express yourself.’

‘And the pulse thing?’
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br /> ‘That’s what raises the questions,’ said Aguado. ‘What you say and what I feel in your blood don’t always match up.’

‘Are you telling me I don’t love my children?’

‘No, I’m asking you why you say it hurts. What is causing you the pain?’

‘Joder! It’s the fucking love that hurts, you stupid bitch,’ said Consuelo, tearing her wrist away, ripping her blabbing pulse out from under those questioning fingertips. ‘I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. That was unforgivable.’

‘Don’t be sorry,’ said Aguado. ‘This is no cocktail party.’

‘You’re telling me,’ said Consuelo. ‘Look, I’ve always been very firm about telling the truth. My children will confirm that.’

‘This is a different type of truth.’

‘There is only one truth,’ said Consuelo, with missionary zeal.

‘There’s the real truth, and the presentable truth,’ said Aguado. ‘They’re often quite close together, but for a few emotional details.’

‘You’ve got me wrong there, Doctor. I’m not like that. I’ve seen things, I’ve done things and I’ve faced up to them all.’

‘That is why you’re here.’

‘You’re calling me a liar and a coward. You’re telling me I don’t know who I am.’

‘I’m asking questions, and you’re doing your best to answer them.’

‘But you’ve just told me that what I’m saying and what you’re feeling in my pulse don’t match. Therefore, you are calling me a liar.’

‘I think we’ve had enough for today,’ said Aguado. ‘That’s a lot of ground to have covered in the first session. I’d like to see you again very soon. Is this a good time of day for you? The morning or late afternoon is probably the best time in the restaurant business.’

‘You think I’m coming back for any more of this shit?’ said Consuelo, heading for the door, swinging her bag over her shoulder. ‘Think again…blind bitch!’

She slammed the door on the way out and nearly went over on her heel in the cobbled street. She got into her car, jammed the keys into the ignition, but didn’t start the engine. She hung on to the steering wheel, as if it was the only thing that would stop her falling off the edge of her sanity. She cried. She cried until it hurt in exactly the same place as it did when she was watching her children sleeping.

Angel and Manuela were sitting out on the roof terrace in the early-morning sunshine, having breakfast. Manuela sat in a white towelling robe examining her toes. Angel blinked with irritation as he read one of his articles in the ABC.

‘They’ve cut a whole paragraph,’ said Angel. ‘Some stupid sub-editor is making my journalism look like the work of a fool.’

‘I can hear myself getting fat,’ said Manuela, barely thinking, her whole being consumed by the business that was to take place later that morning. ‘I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life in a tracksuit.’

‘I’m wasting my time,’ said Angel. ‘I’m just messing about, writing drivel for idiots. No wonder they cut it.’

‘I’m going to paint my nails,’ said Manuela. ‘What do you think? Pink or red? Or something wild to distract people from my bottom?’

‘That’s it,’ said Angel, tossing the newspaper across the terrace. ‘I’m finished with this shit.’

And that was when they heard it: a distant, but significant, boom. They looked at each other, all immediate concerns gone from their minds. Manuela couldn’t stop herself from saying the obvious.

‘What the hell was that?’

‘That,’ said Angel, getting to his feet so suddenly that the chair collapsed beneath him, ‘was a large explosion.’

‘But where?’

‘The sound came from the north.’

‘Oh shit, Angel! Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!’

‘What?’ said Angel, expecting to see her with red nail polish all over her foot.

‘It can’t possibly have slipped your mind already,’ said Manuela. ‘We’ve been up half the night talking about it. The two properties in the Plaza Moravia—which is north of where we’re standing now.’

‘It wasn’t that close,’ said Angel. ‘That was outside the city walls.’

‘That’s the thing about journalists,’ said Manuela, ‘they’re so used to having their fingers on the pulse that they think they know everything, even how far away an explosion is.’

‘I’d have said…Oh my God. Do you think that was in the Estación de Santa Justa?’

‘That’s east,’ she said, pointing vaguely over the rooftops.

‘North is the Parliament building,’ he said, looking at his watch. ‘There won’t be anybody there at this time.’

‘Apart from a few expendable cleaners,’ said Manuela.

Angel stood in front of the TV, flicking from channel to channel, until he found Canal Sur.

‘We have some breaking news of a large explosion to the north of Seville…somewhere in the area of El Cerezo. Eyewitnesses say that an apartment block has been completely destroyed and a nearby pre-school has been badly damaged. We have no reports of the cause of the explosion or the number of casualties.’

‘El Cerezo?’ said Angel. ‘What’s in El Cerezo?’

‘Nothing,’ said Manuela. ‘Cheap apartment blocks. It’s probably a gas explosion.’

‘You’re right. It’s a residential area.’

‘Not every loud noise you hear has to be a bomb.’

‘After March 11th and the London bombings, our minds move in natural directions,’ said Angel, opening up a street map of Seville.

‘Well, you’re always wanting something to happen and now it has. You’d better find out if it was gas or terrorism. But, whatever you do, Angel, don’t give—’

‘El Cerezo is two kilometres from here,’ he said, cutting through her rising hysteria. ‘You said it yourself, it’s a cheap residential area. It’s got nothing to do with what you’re trying to sell in the Plaza Moravia.’

‘If that was a terrorist bomb, it doesn’t matter where it went off…the whole city will be nervous. One of my buyers is a foreigner making an investment. Investors react to this kind of thing. Ask me, if you like—I am one.’

‘Did the Madrid property market crash after March 11th?’ asked Angel. ‘Keep calm, Manuela. It was probably gas.’

‘The bomb could have detonated accidentally while they were preparing it,’ she said. ‘They might have blown themselves up because they realized that they were about to be raided by the police.’

‘Call Javier,’ said Angel, stroking the back of her neck. ‘He’ll know something.’

Falcón called his immediate boss, the Jefe de Brigada de Policía Judicial, Comisario Pedro Elvira, to give his initial report that the Fire Chief was almost certain this level of destruction was caused by a significant bomb, and gave the number of casualties so far.

Elvira had just come out of a meeting with his boss, Seville’s most senior policeman, the Jefe Superior de la Policía de Sevilla, Comisario Andrés Lobo, who had appointed him to lead the entire investigative operation. He also confirmed that the Magistrado Juez Decano de Sevilla had just appointed Esteban Calderón as the Juez de Instrucción in charge of directing the investigation. Three companies had been contacted to supply demolition crews to start removing the rubble and to work with rescue teams, who were already on their way, to try to find any survivors as quickly as possible.

Falcón made a number of requests: aerial photography, before the huge crime scene became too contaminated by the rescue and demolition operation. He also asked for a large police presence to cordon off nearly a square kilometre around the building, so that they could investigate every vehicle in the vicinity. If it was a bomb, it had to have been transported and the vehicle could still be there. When they started searching suspect vehicles they would also need a team of forensics and a unit from the bomb squad. Elvira confirmed everything back to him and hung up.


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