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Authors: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Tags: #Fiction, #Political, #Hard-Boiled, #Mystery & Detective

Off Side

BOOK: Off Side
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PRAISE FOR
MANUEL VÁZQUEZ MONTALBÁN’S PEPE CARVALHO SERIES

“Montalbán does for Barcelona what Chandler did for Los Angeles—he exposes the criminal power relationships beneath the façade of democracy.”

—THE GUARDIAN

“Montalbán writes with authority and compassion—a le Carré-like sorrow.”

—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“A writer who is caustic about the powerful and tender towards the oppressed.”

—TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

“Carvalho travels down the mean calles with humor, perception, and compassion.”

—THE TIMES
(LONDON)

“Does for modern Barcelona what Dickens did for 19
th
century London.”

—TOTAL

“Carvalho is funny … scathingly witty about the powerful. He is an original eccentric, burning books and cooking all night. Like Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, he is a man of honor walking the mean streets of a sick society.”

—THE INDEPENDENT
(LONDON)

“A sharp wit and a knowing eye.”

—SUNDAY TIMES
(LONDON)

Born in Barcelona in 1939,
MANUEL VÁZQUEZ MONTALBÁN
(1939–2003) was a member of
Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya
(PSUC), and was jailed by the Franco government for four years for supporting a miners’ strike. A columnist for Madrid’s
El País
, as well as a prolific poet, playwright, and essayist, Vázquez Montalbán was also a well-known gourmand who wrote often about food. The nineteen novels in his Pepe Carvalho series have won international acclaim, including the Planeta prize (1979) and the International Grand Prix de Littérature Policière (1981), both for
Southern Seas
. He died in 2003 in Hong Kong, on his way home to Barcelona.

In addition to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán,
ED EMERY
has translated Mohamed Choukri, Antonio Negri, and Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo.

OFF SIDE

First published in 1988 as
El delantero centro fue asesinado al atardecer
by Editorial Planeta, S.A., Barcelona

Copyright © 1988 Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Translation © 1996 Ed Emery

This edition published by arrangement with Serpent’s Tail

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

www.mhpbooks.com

eISBN: 978-1-61219-116-4

    Library of Congress Control Number: 2012938283

v3.1

The universal hero myth, for example, always refers to a powerful man or God-man who vanquishes evil in the form of dragons, serpents, demons and so on, and who liberates his people from destruction and death. The narration or ritual repetition of sacred texts and ceremonies, and the worship of such a figure with dances, music, hymns, prayers and sacrifices, grip the audience with numinous emotions (as with magic spells) and exalt the individual to an identification with the hero.

C. G. Jung
Man and His Symbols

Contents
 

The room still smelt of medicine, or whatever it was, she thought irritatedly, and her nose became a kind of mobile proboscis as she tried to identify the source of the offending aroma. I don’t like my house smelling like that. A decent house doesn’t smell like that. She made the bed and flicked through the sports magazines that were lying round the room. The pockets of her lodger’s suits offered no enlightenment. Nor did his underwear, where it lay tidily arranged in the chest of drawers. The flashing of the neon sign of her boarding house threw into chiaroscuro the torment which was evident on Doña Concha’s face. The light found her irritated and perplexed, while the dark sank her into deep suspicion. He’s probably on drugs. That’s all we need. There’s enough shit in this barrio already. But he hadn’t looked the drugs type. In fact she’d taken him for a clean-living sort of person, because he seemed to have his feet on the ground, always kept himself clean and tidy, and was always polite to her. From the room next door she had listened, worriedly, to the sound of the water drumming against his body as he took repeated showers, day after day. She thought this rather inconsiderate of him. If all her lodgers insisted on being that clean, she might as well shut up shop, for the cost of the water bills alone. She went out onto the balcony to strip the dead leaves off her geraniums, to caress her favourite ivy in its pot, and to contemplate the flashing sign which she had bought three months previously, and which confirmed her as the owner of this small business for which she had struggled a whole lifetime. ‘Set me up with a boarding house, Pablito. Set me up with a boarding house, because you won’t always find my breasts so attractive, and when you don’t I’ll need something to provide for me in my old age.’ This idea of planning for her old age had made Pablito laugh, but he turned it over in his mind, until the day when the asthma got the better of him and he left her the money just as he was
more or less at death’s door. She crossed herself and murmured a bit of the Lord’s Prayer in homage to the most considerate lover she had ever had. ‘I miss you, Pablito! I miss you!’ But she didn’t really miss Pablito. Not if she was honest with herself. She didn’t miss him at all, and it was quite enough to have had to put up with his elephantine weight for the best part of twenty years, although at the same time the thought of him being dead and all on his own in his coffin, was capable of invoking in her a wave of pity and a flood of tears. From the balcony she contemplated her surroundings, darkened by the oncoming dusk, and the irreversible shadows of the area’s decrepit buildings. Three bars, complete with prostitutes, an ancient dairy, two boarding houses, half a dozen staircases peopled with the old, and Arabs and Senegalese Africans and all sorts. Houses which had been defeated by old age and then abandoned and forgotten. She would have preferred to set up her boarding house in Ensanche, but Pablito also had to provide for his family, and felt he’d done quite enough in leaving her the money to set herself up with these two floors on calle de San Rafael. The lawyer who had dealt with the will was a randy old goat. He stared cheerfully down her cleavage as he opined that she should be grateful to señor Pau Safon and that he’d been a gent of the old school.

‘I’ve not heard of anyone leaving their lover this kind of money since before the Eucharistic Congress.’

Groups of men up from the country and Barcelona men in their fifties emerged from the shades of dusk and took substantive form as they dawdled undecidedly in front of the prostitute bars. The men. You take them by their cocks, and you can do what you like with them. But these days there’s no control on anything. You get these dirty little junkies out on the street, and they end up giving you some lethal disease. Like that dirty little slut who spends her time up and down calle de San Rafael, offering the men a ‘literary screw’.

‘What do you say to them, child?’

‘What’s it to you?’

‘I was just wondering.’

‘I ask them if they want a literary screw.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Something out of the ordinary. I know what it means.’

‘But how are they supposed to know, child. They’re all up from the country, or off building sites. From Matadepera, or Santa Coloma. The way you say it makes it sound as if you learnt your trade in a library.’

There she was, again. Marta, her name. She had tried tidying up her unwashed hair and putting lipstick on her lips and eye-shadow around a pair of eyes that suddenly turned black and ferocious. Doña Concha felt sorry for her, partly because she had the drug habit to deal with, and partly because she always had that slimy little shit of a pimp watching her from round some corner. Every now and then the girl would raise her head in the direction of the balcony of the Pensión Conchi, pretending to be irritated by the flashing of the neon sign, but actually in order to catch Doña Concha’s eye as she leaned over the veranda. Then she would come up for the sardine or mortadella sandwich and the coffee which Doña Concha was happy to supply any time she asked.

‘Come up for a coffee and a bite to eat, any time you want. In my house there’s always a coffee and a bite to eat for decent people …’

It hurt her to see this girl having to sell her wares in faulty English to wandering sailors. One time she had been badly beaten by a drunkard, because he’d thought she’d been making fun of him when she asked: ‘Excuse me, sir, could I interest you in the prospect of fondling a pair of small breasts with two big nipples like teenage heroines used to have in novels of the 1950s?’

And the man had hit her. Twice, and then twice again, and then again. And her pimp came running out of a doorway, screaming hysterically, with a penknife in one hand, the sort that
people used to use for sharpening pencils. Doña Concha came down into the street, and cursed the drunkard to kingdom come. She called him everything that a woman can call a drunk to bring him to heel: bastard, filthy sod, son of a bitch, and fascist. It was the ‘fascist’ which had most disconcerted and intimidated him. Like a defeated army he promptly retreated. Even though he was drunk, he hadn’t lost his sense of the times he lived in, and these were democratic times. That was the night that had seen the start of the sardine sandwiches and the milky coffees.

‘If you don’t eat something, you won’t even have the strength to take your drugs.’

This was a convincing argument. As the girl downed her coffee, Doña Concha summoned up the confidence to ask: ‘Tell me something. Do you feel anything when a man’s on top of you?’

‘It depends how stoned I am. If I’m stoned, it’s all the same to me. And if I’m not, it’s like having an enema.’

‘What do you know about enemas, child? In my day they used to give you an enema, and how, if you weren’t careful.’

‘They gave me one when I was on a drug-rehab course, because I got constipated.’

‘What a way to earn a living …! I started out on the streets, until I got to know Pablito — and a couple of others too, because Pablito on his own wouldn’t have given me enough to live on. And then, well, you open your legs and let them get on with it, but you have to show a bit of interest, because when a man senses that a woman’s bored he stops feeling like a man, and bang goes your customer. I bet you’ve never had the same man come back to you twice.’

‘I don’t remember, and I don’t really care.’

So there she was, poor cow, forever waiting. Worried about Marçal, the scrawny pimp whose weight she carried like an exercise in penance, half asleep in some doorway, still high on his last dose. One day they would find him dead in a toilet somewhere, with a syringe hanging out of his arm. Doña Concha crossed
herself, and just as she kissed her two crossed fingers she saw her lodger appear down the street. He was a good-looking sort, that he was. A bit bow-legged, and a tendency to lean forward, as if he was trying to sniff something, or see better, or simply as his way of warning that he was about to arrive. But there was no menace in his strong body. Rather, a sense of self-restraint, of an ability to keep his capacity for movement under control, to know his own weight and volume, like a man who knows his own character and destiny. He walked past the girl in the street, and smiled when she threw her proposition in front of him like somebody throwing a bucket of water at the feet of a passerby. Doña Concha backed off, stroked her ivy, locked the veranda door, made sure she hadn’t left his room untidy, and emerged into the corridor to sit in her rocking chair in front of the colour TV. Professor Perich appeared on the screen just at the moment that her lodger appeared in the doorway. The man greeted her with a slight bow of his head and a smile, which she returned with a generous welcoming gesture. He retired to his room, and she went back to her day’s principal pleasure, the homespun philosophy of Professor Perich.

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