The Anarchist Detective (Max Cámara) (9 page)

Smoke poured down his nostrils as he let it out of his lungs, enjoying the cool rush beginning to work its way into the blood of his brain.

Four months. There had been times when he’d wondered if he’d ever smoke again. Madrid felt different, his life there was different. He could even perceive a different way ahead.

And now he was here, where he had begun, smoking more of his grandfather’s home-grown dope.

It felt good. It felt very, very good.

Sunday 1st November

most of the morning. At midday, with Pilar’s insistent voice ringing in his ears, Cámara called the local doctor’s surgery.

After a couple of hours’ wait, an ill-tempered middle-aged man rang the doorbell.

Without a word, the doctor sat down on the bed to measure the unconscious Hilario’s blood pressure and pulse, checked the pills scattered over the bedside cabinet, then stood up and scowled.

‘This man should be in hospital.’

They were wasting his time.

Cámara explained that Hilario had already been in hospital and had discharged himself, but the doctor wasn’t listening.

‘He should be in hospital. There’s nothing to be done here. He needs constant medical attention. Otherwise he could die at any moment.’

He clicked his fingers as though conjuring the spectre of an instant demise.

It was pointless saying any more. Besides, he gave the impression that he was in a great hurry to get somewhere else.

‘The pills?’ Cámara said as he showed him to the door.

‘He must keep taking them. They’re very important.’

He stepped out and wheezed down the stairs.

‘But he needs a hospital!’

Pilar worked silently in the kitchen. She didn’t need to speak. Cámara knew what she was thinking: the doctor was right – they should call an ambulance and get Hilario transferred back to the hospital immediately. It might mean more vigils for her, more sitting by the bedside, but it was what was expected, what any ordinary person would do.

Cámara resisted the unspoken pressure. If Hilario woke up to find himself back in the hospital he would never forgive him. And besides, he wasn’t convinced it was the best place for him.
Mala hierba nunca muere
, he thought. The bad grass – the weeds – never die. There was still too much fiery spark in the old man to think that he was truly close to dying.

So he left Hilario where he was, ignoring Pilar, and sat at the computer to do some research on the Internet. He wished his old police colleague in Valencia, Inspector Torres, was around – he was always better with these things.

Still, if he was going to start playing at freelance detective he would have to start doing this for himself.

The wasteland where Mirella Faro’s body had been found was a short detour on his walk to the station to pick up Alicia. The whole empty block now had police tape around it, tied to street lamps and cordoning off an area of about fifty square metres. A bit excessive, he thought. Would never happen in Valencia.

A solitary man was walking a little dog further along, using the creature’s frequent stops to piss along the way as an excuse to peer out at the murder scene, an unsmiling exhilaration in his eyes as he came as close as the law allowed him to this place of violent, sexual death.

Cámara paced slowly, waiting for the man to move on. There were no policemen around now, but a patrol car would probably be swinging around at irregular intervals, and he wanted to be alone here for just a moment, to see it in daylight.

The man with the dog turned and caught sight of Cámara watching him. He twitched on the lead, and pulled the dog along. He’d been seen: a secret guilt urged him to put on an air of respectful disdain.

A low stretch of crumbling breeze-block wall ran along one side of the wasteland. Standing on it Cámara would be pressing against the police tape, but not actually crossing it: a detail that a passing policeman might not care about, but he didn’t want a repeat of the other night. Besides, he was working on this crime himself – albeit in an unofficial capacity – and he needed to keep himself removed from the actual police investigation.

Standing a foot or so above the ground he was able to gaze over the whole area – if not quite a bird’s-eye perspective, then one as good as he could get for the time being. Any plant life there had turned yellow and brown months before in the summer heat. The rest of it was a scattered mess of household rubbish, rock and scorched patches where people had lit fires – kids playing with matches, mostly, he thought. A centre of attraction while they drank cheap supermarket booze.

The site where Mirella’s body had been found lay ten metres away to his right. The rubbish container itself had been taken away now – for forensic examination, he assumed, although he was surprised it had taken them so long. In its place the police tape had been doubled since his last visit, creating a separate cordon inside the larger cordon of the crime scene. There was no point trying to get in there again. Besides, he had come here to see other things.

The wasteland had streets on all four sides – an empty gap in a grid network of city expansion. Behind him and to the left stood the warehouses of the industrial quarter. In front, on the other side of the empty waste area, stood an orange-brick apartment block from the
s, six storeys high. The rubbish container might be used by some of the inhabitants, he thought, although he noticed another group of containers closer to the building which was almost certainly their usual place for dumping. No, this rubbish bin, Mirella’s, had stood on its own, with no obvious users apart from people driving by: an attempt by the town authorities to prevent the entire area from becoming a tip.

It hadn’t worked.

He wondered if Inspector Jiménez had interviewed people in the apartment block. It was the obvious thing to do, but already he could sense an investigation going astray. A murder like this wasn’t common in Albacete; he’d have thought more would have been done to prioritise resources to it. Yago could sort that out. But if he was caught in a political struggle inside the Jefatura he’d have his work cut out for him. Nothing could look worse than a cocked-up high-profile murder case. Cámara had been there himself in the past: the panting sound of colleagues and enemies within the force scrabbling for position and power as they pulled down on any advance in the investigation.

Yago might have landed himself a senior job in his home town, yet the bullshit was the same as anywhere. Better, Cámara thought, to be a policeman in a bigger city, a bigger mess – it gave you more gaps, more holes, to slip through. If you played it right.

He shook himself. It was as if the decision had already been taken. But no, he wasn’t back in. Not yet. This was a sideline, helping out an old friend. Nothing more. At least not for now.

So was Mirella killed here? He’d have to see the forensic report, or get to hear about it. But his instinct said not. It was too open, too visible, to assault and strangle her, then strip her and dump her. The murder had happened elsewhere, he felt certain. The killer could easily have brought her body here in a car. A strong man wouldn’t have much difficulty lifting a slim fifteen-year-old girl up and throwing her in without attracting too much attention. At night, perhaps. Mid-week, when no one was around.

He wasn’t one to pay much attention to police psychologist theories, but it didn’t require a great deal of thought to see why she had been brought here: naked and tossed away like that, she had become just another piece of rubbish, more debris, more unwanted waste, like the broken chairs, bottles and grubby milk cartons that lay at his feet. She was nothing, as though the murderer had fed on her in some way, taken all that she was – her life, her spirit, her content – and then cast the container away. He had consumed her, like fast food, and then disposed of the wrapping.

Why here, though?

He stepped down off the wall. Somewhere nearby? Had the actual murder taken place near here? Whether she’d been carried or driven in a car, it made sense. Why cross town with a dead body on you? If the idea was to leave her in a rubbish container, finding one close at hand was the most obvious thing to do.

Unless there was something significant about here, about this container . . .

He turned and crossed the road behind him, stepping over a traffic island covered in gravel and dying weeds, and walked into the streets of the industrial area.

It was deserted on this Sunday lunchtime. Grey, dirt-coloured warehouses lined wide avenues designed for lorries to heave in and out with goods. A plumbing supplier had decorated its building facade with replicas of its wares, so that a vertical bathroom complete with washbasin and bidet defied gravity above the main doorway. Elsewhere, pieces of scrap metal and blown tyres lay scattered over the ground, clogging forecourts where businesses had proved to be less recession proof and the doors had closed for good.

Cámara walked slowly through the silent, oppressive shadows, glancing here and there: a padlock over a gateway; broken windows, too high to climb in or out of, with no sign of a ladder or way up; heavy steel shutters barring the entry into almost all the warehouses; a bar – closed now – offering cheap working-men’s lunches to the haulage drivers, packers and managers who peopled the place during the week.

Reaching a crossroads he looked both ways and saw more of the same: row after row of warehouses, some in use, the rest abandoned. But in all cases securely locked up. He peered more closely at the sides of the buildings: some, although not all, of these places had closed-circuit TV cameras installed.

The way to his right led back towards the city. Ahead, the avenue continued for a hundred metres before reaching a cul-de-sac. To the left the industrial area carried on for two more blocks before the road swept past what looked like a former petrol station and out into more dusty wastelands beyond the city limits.

I’m a killer, he thought. And I’m looking for a place to kill. Danger to the right – too many people. Danger ahead – only one way out. To the left it has to be.

A flash of red paint at head height on a brick wall some fifty metres away seemed to confirm his decision. It was the first graffiti he’d seen here – even the abandoned warehouses were paint free. But not down here, not on this final stretch.

Only one of the buildings appeared to be still in use – a chemical distributor, by the looks of the name. The rest had been locked up and abandoned. Cámara consciously opened up his senses as he paced along the street, keeping off the pavement and staying close to the middle of the empty road as his eyes moved from side to side and up and down. Anything, any incongruity, might tell him something.

The graffiti was illegible and lazy, but the smell of piss alerted him to a change in his surroundings as he reached the final warehouse. The gate had rusted so much it had been forced open with little effort. Here the graffiti stopped – or perhaps had started.

Turning side on to squeeze through the gap in the gateway, Cámara crossed into the forecourt. A couple of wine bottles stood to one side, half full. Bending down he discovered the source of the smell – someone had used them to relieve themselves. It seemed odd – why not piss against the wall like everyone else?

The metal door into the warehouse was closed, but when he pushed at it with his elbow it opened without resistance. Inside it was dark, with only a small amount of light pouring in from windows high up to alleviate the gloom. He waited for his eyes to adjust, closing them as he allowed his ears, his nose, his skin, his other senses a chance to take the place in before the dominance of sight could overrule them.

It felt cool, and dry. No smell of piss in here. But there was something else – a human presence, the smell of bodies, of sweat. Sex? Perhaps. A place people came to fuck.

And get stoned. A sharp, drowsy smell hung in the air, although it wasn’t recent – he knew from the silence that he was alone. A crack den?

He took a step and felt something underfoot. Only then did he open his eyes. It was a used syringe, grubby and cracked from being trodden on before.

He could see more clearly now: the warehouse was virtually empty except for a foam mattress that had been pushed against one corner. There was a loneliness about this place. It wasn’t somewhere to score, or to come to find other takers. It was rarely used – it would have been dirtier, more filled with debris had it been a regular drug haunt.

No. This was somewhere you came to be alone. Perhaps with a friend, nothing more. To hang out, get fucked, and move on. A place where you were fairly certain that you wouldn’t be disturbed.

Cámara scratched his feet along the cement floor, breathing the place in. Some instinct in him already knew.

He moved along one side wall, eyes cast down towards his feet. Then he reached the end and turned ninety degrees to follow the back wall. Four or five more needles; an empty cigarette packet; wrappings for sweets; a light blue sock; a crushed beer can; torn sheets from a gossip magazine; a black bra; half a loaf of hard, stale bread; a pair of stone-washed jeans with a broken zip; a denim jacket; a pink-and-yellow stripy T-shirt; a crushed cigarette lighter; a knife; a pair of white knickers, crumpled and dirty.

Cámara knelt down and, taking out a pen from his jacket pocket, fished the knickers up to see more clearly. It had darkened now, but the slight bloodstain around the groin area was still visible.

Back outside he texted Yago. A message that he’d found a possible scene for Mirella’s murder, and its location, would be enough. Let the official police investigation take its course. No one needed to know where the information had originated.

Besides, he had somewhere to go.

He walked back the way he’d come, heading out of the industrial area towards the wasteland again. The phone buzzed. It was Yago: message received. Was he all right?

He slid the phone shut and put it back into his pocket.

Coming out on to the wasteland, he paused before taking the street heading back towards the city centre. Five metres away, to his right, lay the patch of ground where he’d found Concha over thirty years before.

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