Mario Vega is seven years old and his life is about to change forever. Across the street in an exclusive suburb of Seville his father lies dead on the kitchen floor and his mother has been suffocated under her own pillow. It appears to be a suicide pact, but Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón has his doubts when he finds an enigmatic note crushed in the dead man's hand.
In the brutal summer heat Falcón starts to dismantle the obscure life of Rafael Vega only to receive threats from the Russian mafia who have begun operating in the city. His investigation into Vega's neighbours uncovers a creative American couple with a destructive past and the misery of a famous actor whose only son is in prison for an appalling crime.
Within days two further suicides follow – one of them a senior policeman – and a forest fire rages through the hills above Seville obliterating all in its path. Falcón must now sweat out the truth, which will reveal that everything is connected and there is one more secret in the black heart of Vega's life.
The Silent and the Damned aka The Vanished Hands
Javier Falcon 02, 2004
José and Mick
Ha, ha! what a fool Honesty is! and Trust his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman!
Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale
Fear is the foundation of most governments.
John Adams, second President of the United States
[blinking in the dark]
I am frightened? I have no physical reason for fear lying here in bed, next to Lucia, with my little Mario yipping in his sleep next door. But I am scared. My dreams have scared me, except they are not dreams any more. They are more alive than that. The dreams are of faces, just faces. I don't think I know them and yet I have strange moments when I'm on the brink of recognizing them but it's as if they don't want that right now. That's when I wake up because… I am not being accurate again. They are not exactly faces. They are not flesh. They are more ghostly than real but they do have features. They have colour, but it is not solid. They just miss being human. That's it. They just miss being human. Is that a clue?
If I am frightened by these faces I should be reluctant to go to bed, but sometimes I look forward to sleep and I realize it's because I want to know the answer. There's a key somewhere in my mind, which will unlock the door and tell me: why
faces? Why not any others? What is it about them that my mind has marked out? I have begun to see them quite clearly now, during the day, when my conscious mind is adrift in some way. My subconscious moulds these faces on to living people, so I see the phantom faces animated for a moment, until the real people reassert themselves. They leave me feeling foolish and shaken, like an old man with names on the tip of my tongue but unable to articulate.
I am shivering. That's what my mind can do to me. I'm cracking up. I've been sleepwalking. Lucia told me when I was in the shower. She said I went down to my study at three in the morning. Later that day I found a blank pad on the desk. I saw the indent of some handwriting. I couldn't find the original. I took it to the window and saw that it was something I had written: 'the thin air…'?Chapter 1
Wednesday, 24th July 2002
'I want my mummy. I want my mummy.'
Consuelo Jiménez opened her eyes to a child's face only centimetres from her own, which lay half buried in the pillow. Her eyelashes scratched the cotton slip. The child's fingers grabbed at the flesh of her upper arm.
'I want my mummy.'
'All right, Mario. Let's go and find Mummy,' she said, thinking this is too early for anybody. 'You know she's only just across the street, don't you? You can stay here with Matías, have some breakfast, play a little…'
'I want my mummy.'
The child's fingers dug into her arm with some urgency and she stroked his hair and kissed him on the forehead.
She didn't want to cross the street in her night- clothes, like some working-class woman needing something from the shops, but the child was tugging at her, wheedling. She slipped on a white silk dressing gown over her cotton pyjamas and fitted her feet into some gold sandals. She ran her hands through her hair while
Mario sheafed her dressing gown and started hauling her away like some stevedore down at the docks.
Taking his hand she led him down the stairs one at a time. They left the chill of the air-conditioned house and the heat, even this early in the morning, was solid and unwavering with not even a lick of freshness from the dawn after another oppressive night. She crossed the empty street. Palm trees hung limp and frazzled as if sleep had not come easily to this neighbourhood. The only sound out on the tarmac came from the air conditioner's fans blowing more hot, unwanted air into the suffocating atmosphere of the exclusive neighbourhood of Santa Clara on the outskirts of Seville.
Water dripped from a split unit on a high balcony of the Vegas' house as she half dragged Mario, who'd become suddenly cumbersome and difficult as if he'd changed his mind about his mummy. The drips clattered on the leaves of the abundant vegetation, the sound thick as blood in the hideous heat. Sweat beaded on Consuelo's forehead. She felt nauseous at the thought of the rest of the day, the heat building on weeks of torrid weather. She keyed in the code number on the pad by the outer gate and stepped into the driveway. Mario ran to the house and pushed against the front door bumping his head against the woodwork. She rang the doorbell, whose electronic chime sounded like a distant cathedral bell in the silent, double-glazed house. No answer. A trickle of sweat found its way between her breasts. Mario pounded the door with his small fist, which made the sound of a dull ache, persistent as chronic grief.
It was just after eight in the morning. She licked at the sweat forming on her top lip.
The maid arrived at the gate. She had no keys. Sra Vega was normally awake early she said. They heard the gardener, an Ukrainian called Sergei, digging at the side of the house. They startled him and he gripped his mattock like a weapon until he saw the two women. Sweat careened down his pectorals and the ridges of muscle on his naked torso to his shorts. He had been working since 6 a.m. and had heard nothing. As far as he knew the car was still in the garage.
Consuelo left Mario with the maid and took Sergei to the back of the house. He climbed up on to the verandah outside the sitting room and peered through the sliding doors and blinds. The doors were locked. He climbed over the railing of the verandah and leaned across to look in the kitchen window, which was raised above the garden. His head started back with shock.
'What is it?' asked Consuelo.
'I don't know,' he said. 'Sr Vega lying on the floor. He not moving.'
Consuelo took the maid and Mario back across the street to her house. The child knew that things were not right and started to cry. The maid could not console him and he fought his way out of her arms. Consuelo made the call. Zero-Nine-One. She lit a cigarette and tried to concentrate while she looked at the helpless maid hovering over the child, who'd thrown a tantrum and was now a writhing, thrashing animal on the floor, howling himself to silence. Consuelo reported the incident to the telephone centre at the Jefatura, gave her name, address and contact number. She slammed the phone down and went to the child, took his kicks and thumps and pulled him to her, held him against her and whispered his name over and over in his ear until he went limp.
She put him in her bed upstairs, got dressed and called the maid to come and keep an eye on him. Mario slept. Consuelo looked at him intently as she brushed her hair. The maid sat on the corner of the bed, unhappy at being caught up in somebody else's tragedy, knowing that it would infect her own life.
A patrol car pulled up in the street outside the Vegas' house. Consuelo went out to meet the policeman and took him to the back of the house where he climbed up on to the verandah. He asked her where the gardener had gone. She walked down the lawn to a small building at the bottom where Sergei had his quarters. He wasn't there. She went back to the house. The policeman hammered on the kitchen window and then radioed information back to the Jefatura. He climbed down from the verandah.
'Do you know where Sra Vega is?' he asked.
'She should be in there. That's where she was last night when I called her to tell her that her son would stay the night with my boys,' said Consuelo. 'Why were you knocking on the window?'
'No sense in smashing the door down if he's just drunk and fallen asleep on the floor.'
There's a bottle on the floor next to his body.'
'I've known him for years and I've never seen him incapable… never.'
'Maybe he's different when he's on his own.'
'So what have you done about it?' said Consuelo, the testy Madrilena trying to keep her shrillness down in front of the more relaxed style of the local policeman.
'An ambulance was dispatched as soon as you made your call and now the Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios has been notified.'
'One moment he's drunk and the next he's been murdered.'
'There's a body lying on the floor,' said the patrolman, annoyed with her now. 'He's not moving and he's not responding to noise. I have -'
'Don't you think you should try and get in there and see if he's still alive? He's not moving or responding but he might still be breathing.'
Indecision flitted across the patrolman's face. He was saved by the arrival of the ambulance. Between them the paramedics and the patrolman found that the house was completely sealed back and front. More cars arrived outside the front of the house.
Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón had finished his breakfast and was sitting in his study in the centre of his enormous, inherited eighteenth-century house in Seville's old city. He was finishing his coffee and looking at the manual to a digital camera he'd bought a week ago. The glass door of the study opened on to the patio. The thick walls and traditional design of the house meant that air conditioning was rarely needed. Water trickled in the marble fountain without distracting him. His powers of concentration had come back to him after a turbulent year in his personal life. His mobile vibrated on the desk. He sighed as he answered it. This was the time for dead bodies to be discovered. He walked out into the cloister around the patio and leant against one the pillars supporting the gallery above. He listened to the blunt facts stripped of any tragedy and went back into his study. He wrote down an address – Santa Clara – it didn't sound like a place where anything bad could happen.
He put the mobile in the pocket of his chinos, picked up his car keys and went to open up the colossal wooden doors to his house. He drove his Seat out between the orange trees flanking the entrance and went back to close the doors.