The Anarchist Detective (Max Cámara) (2 page)

‘You should go. Get some sleep. You’ll have been here for hours.’

‘He needs someone here, as I said. And you made it as quickly as you could.’

She made to move. They kissed on both cheeks and he stepped to one side to allow her to shuffle down the corridor.

‘I know my way out. I’ll be back in the morning.’

From behind he heard the wheels of the cleaning trolley squeaking as the orderly started heading towards the exit. The lights in the corridor dimmed as the woman passed through the swing doors and he was left on his own.

He took a step towards Hilario’s room, then checked himself. A sound of papers being shuffled had come from further up. Following his ears, he turned and walked towards the ward reception area. A nurse was sitting behind the counter, writing notes on a form.

‘Did you want something?’

Cámara leaned in over the counter.

‘I’ve just arrived from Madrid. My grandfather, Hilario Cámara—’

‘Room four.’

‘I know. I just wanted to talk to someone about him before going in to see him.’

The nurse reached over for a card from a box file at the side of the counter.

‘Brought in just after eleven this morning,’ he read off the report. ‘Mild stroke, blood clot in the left hemisphere of the brain. Partial paralysis of the right side of the body. He’s under observation.’

‘Prognosis?’ Cámara asked.

The nurse looked up.

‘I’ve seen worse cases, but someone his age?’

He glanced back down at the report.

‘Does he suffer from MS?’

Cámara shook his head.

‘No. Not that I know of. Why?’

‘Blood tests show traces of cannabinoids. Some MS sufferers take it. It’s illegal, I know, but it’s supposed to help relieve the symptoms.’

Cámara sniffed.

‘Look, is there anyone else I can talk to?’

‘The doctor will be making her round at half-past nine tomorrow morning.’

The nurse put the card back in the box and turned back to his forms.

‘You can talk to her then.’

Room four was in partial darkness: an emergency light on the wall gave a dull, yellowy glow. Cámara opened and closed the door as quietly as he could.


The voice was slurred, but loud enough to wake most of the ward.

‘Is that you? Turn the fucking lights on. Like the Dark Ages in here.’

Cámara found the switch.

‘Took your time. I’ve been in here for days.’

Cámara moved towards the bed. A drip was feeding into the back of Hilario’s hand, while an oxygen mask was hanging loosely below his chin.

‘Or at least it feels like it.’

Cámara leaned over his grandfather and put a hand on his arm. Hilario’s face had changed: tenser, paler, as though the skin had been stretched in some places yet lay hanging in folds in others.

‘You might want to keep your voice down,’ Cámara said.

El tiempo es oro y la vida un tesoro
.’ Time is gold and life is a treasure. ‘Besides, what’s the good of keeping quiet? Frightened I might wake up the neighbours? They’re all brain dead in here. A seventeen-gun salute couldn’t wake them. Have you seen them? They’re all old and decrepit. Glad they haven’t put me in with any of them.’

‘I just don’t want you to get tired, that’s all. And you’re slurring your words.’

‘Course I’m slurring my words. So would you if a blood clot the size of a tennis ball had got stuck in your brain. What am I supposed to do? Get up and dance a tango?’

‘All right. Calm down.’

‘I am calm. Just these wires and masks and things they cover you with. Makes me nervous.’

He motioned towards the side of the bed.

‘Here, have a seat. It’s good to see you. Come from Madrid?’

Cámara reached out for the plastic chair and placed it at Hilario’s side.

‘Still with Alicia? Is that going well? Give her my love.’

‘You haven’t met her yet.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Don’t be so rational. Always was your problem. I feel like I’ve met her. In fact, I reckon I know her better than you. She’s good for you, that girl. You should stick around with her.’

‘We’re doing all right.’

‘That will have to do. A good relationship, good sex, these things are important. And I’m not just talking about relieving physical urges. It’s more than that. Gives meaning to life. And that’s not easy.’

Cámara grinned. Alicia had already left for work at the newspaper by the time he got the call from Pilar, and he was just getting ready to start his shift at the bar. He rang her as soon as he got to Atocha station. He would have to wait for a couple of hours before he could get the first train down to Albacete. She said she would try to make it over before he left, and ran in just as he was making his way to the platform. Enough time to kiss him and hope Hilario would be all right.

‘She sends her love,’ Cámara said.

‘See? And she hasn’t met me, either.’

‘Perhaps. One day.’

‘Get her down here. I’m not going to be here for long.’

Cámara twitched.

‘What was that?’

‘I mean here in the hospital, idiot. I’m not planning on checking out of anywhere else in the near future.’

‘You should take it slowly. I’ll talk to the doctors in the morning, but in case you hadn’t noticed, half your body’s paralysed. You’re not going anywhere in a hurry.’

From behind the contorted mask of his face, a hard, unwavering stare settled in Hilario’s eyes.

‘I’ll go where I like, whenever I like.’

Cámara shrugged.

‘Anyone would think you’re adopted,’ Hilario said. ‘Can’t believe you’re flesh and blood sometimes. Didn’t you learn anything? It’s all that bollocks they’ve filled your head with in the police. Taking orders. Doctors are just the same. They call me a patient but I’m really an inmate in here.’

Cámara saw the bait clearly, and refused to bite. He’d been on extended sick leave from his job as a homicide detective with the
Policía Nacional
in Valencia for almost four months. He didn’t know himself if he was still really police or not, or if he’d ever go back. But the last person he was going to talk to about it was Hilario, with his strong, anti-authoritarian beliefs.

‘They’re trying to make you better.’

‘Funny way of going about it, making me lie down and shoving bits of plastic piping into me. If you make someone act dead for long enough you’ll kill them in the end. It’s sympathetic magic. They should have me up and about, making my brain work again.’

‘I don’t think there’s much to worry about there,’ Cámara mumbled.

‘What’s that?’

‘I think your brain’s fine,’ he said more loudly.

‘I’ve got to get my brain communicating with my body properly again. Build some new neurological pathways. Because at the moment there’s a bunch of grey cells up here that looks like something you might spread on your toast.’

He tried waving a hand in the direction of his head, but it failed to budge. Cámara wasn’t sure what was happening at first, until he saw the frustration in Hilario’s eyes, the veins bulging in his neck as his hand merely quivered on the bed sheet where it refused to lift up.

‘Stop, stop!’ he cried.

¡Me cago en la hostia!
’ Fucking hell!

‘Take it easy. You want to give yourself a heart attack as well?’

‘It was moving. Did you see it? It was moving. Idiots say I’m paralysed, but it was definitely moving.’

Cámara nodded, pursing his lips.

‘You’re right, it moved. A little bit. But you need to rest.’

The door opened and the nurse walked in.

‘What’s going on? He needs to sleep, you know. You can’t stay if you’re going to excite him.’

‘Who are you?’ Hilario growled.

‘There’s a chair here for you to sleep on,’ the nurse indicated to Cámara. ‘But I need you to be quiet. You’re waking up the other patients with all this noise.’

‘Piss off.’

‘Rest, Señor Cámara. The doctor will be round in the morning.’

The nurse switched off the light and closed the door behind him.

‘He’s a cheery sort.’

‘I’ll turn on the light again.’

‘Don’t bother. There’s a lamp here somewhere by the bed.’

Cámara fumbled around until he found a switch, and a pool of harsh, bluish light shone down on them.

‘It’s these low-wattage bulbs,’ Hilario said, squinting.

Cámara stood up and walked to the window. He pushed the blinds back and looked out at an occasional car streaming past, a solitary smoker outside the hospital entrance stubbing out his cigarette before heading back inside to watch over a loved one for the night. An ill wife? A child?

‘I can’t sleep,’ Hilario said. ‘Too much going on in this damaged brain of mine. Repairing itself, I shouldn’t reckon. Nothing to do with the pills they’re giving me. Just let nature take its course.’

‘Do you want anything?’ Cámara asked, turning back to the room. ‘Some water?’

‘I’m fine. You can read to me if you like. There’s a copy of today’s paper around somewhere. I saw Pilar with it earlier.’

The newspaper was resting on a ledge opposite the bed. Cámara picked it up, sat down, and started flicking through the pages.

‘A new kindergarten’s been opened on Calle Cervantes.’

‘Stop showing off. I know you hate newspapers. Doesn’t stop you going out with a journalist, though.’

‘I don’t hate the media. I just don’t like the way they manipulate people.’

‘A story about a new kindergarten is hardly major propaganda.’

‘Albacete FC lost again.’

‘That’s not news. More like the weather report.’

The pages ruffled as Cámara flicked through. He paused.

‘What’s that?’ Hilario said.

‘They’re digging up part of the cemetery.’

‘Run out of space, have they? Too many dead people round here. Some of them still walking the streets.’

Cámara continued reading.

‘Something to do with people executed under Franco, after the war. They reckon many were buried in an unmarked mass grave, right in the middle of the cemetery. It’s just a patch of wasteland now. The Town Hall’s behind it, putting up the money. Say it’s time to heal the wounds from the past.’

‘Funny way to heal wounds by opening them up again. These Socialists just want to remind everyone how nasty the right-wingers were. Forget that they were capable of killing a few people themselves in their time. It’s just vote grabbing. There’ll be elections coming up soon. Otherwise they wouldn’t bother.’

Cámara was silent.

‘Anything else?’

Cámara folded the paper and let it fall on to the floor below his chair.

‘A murder,’ he said. ‘Fifteen-year-old girl. Found her body near the tip by the industrial estate.’

He closed his eyes.

‘She’d been raped.’

Thursday 29th October

the hospital proved difficult. The morning brought a wave of visiting doctors, nurses, more doctors, and people who didn’t identify themselves, but walked in, peered and prodded at Hilario in various ways and then left, without a word. Afterwards he had to track some of these creatures down, trying to get them to say something coherent about his grandfather’s condition. After several hours’ shadowing and buttonholing, it seemed that medical opinion was that the patient was ‘stable’, ‘improving’ even, but would need ‘continued observation’. The stroke had been mild, thankfully, but he was still at risk.

Pilar turned up after lunch, in time to find a nurse showing Cámara how to put a bedpan in place.

‘He hasn’t eaten since his last bowel movement. What’s he need that for?’

‘In case of emergency,’ Cámara said. ‘During the night, when I’m here. They’re putting him on to solids later this afternoon.’

‘He’ll be constipated after all that’s happened. And the drugs they’ve filled him with won’t help. Always bung you up.’

Hilario fell in and out of sleep. Cámara had tried putting the television on during the night to help his grandfather through his insomnia, but you needed a special plastic card-key from reception, and no one could give him one till the morning shift had started. So they’d chatted, and Cámara had read articles in the sports pages building up to the weekend’s matches, until he had fallen into uncomfortable, shallow sleep on the black, sweaty chair. Both he and Hilario were woken at dawn by the first morning rounds.

‘Idiots. Leave me alone.’

Hilario had waved his hand – his right hand, the one that was supposed to be paralysed. Not very high, and it had quickly flopped back on to the bed. Was he regaining some movement there?

Cámara had managed to get some coffee from the canteen on the ground floor, and then a sandwich and a flavourless chocolate doughnut from a vending machine near the lifts, but by the afternoon he was ready to head over to the flat, have a shower and lie down for an hour or two while Pilar relieved him.

But Pilar wanted to talk; she was nervous about sitting here on her own with Hilario. Life at the flat was different – there she had things to do, and a certain power. Here in the hospital she was jumpy, anxiously looking for little tasks to perform. And in this state she talked at him, as though nailing him to the chair, ignoring Hilario. Not waiting for her to pause, Cámara got up and walked out the door. A few minutes later, with the card-key from reception in its allocated slot, the television was on and Pilar was absorbed in a Venezuelan soap opera.

‘Yes, you go. We’ll be fine.’

Hilario had fallen asleep again.

‘I’ll be back in a few hours.’

‘Don’t you worry. Take your time. There’s some meat stew in the fridge, left over from Tuesday. Should still be all right.’

It was getting dark by the time he stepped outside. The first street lamps were flickering and cars were driving with their sidelights on.

He breathed in deeply and leaned against a railing for a second, wondering to himself about suddenly being back here, in Albacete. What would happen to Hilario? He’d been livelier the night before. Today he’d barely spoken, acting out far better the role of ill old person than was expected of him. There would be time for rebuilding connections in his brain later. If he made it.

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