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Literatura en México

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Cinco Décadas de Cuento Mexicano. Antología. Perea, Pitman, Taylor, Tedeschi, Valenzuela

A Report in Noir (English version)

 

Francisco Hinojosa



1. I read the Constitution and the Civil Code from cover to cover. Not finding any law against it, I declared myself a private detective in an intimate and simple ceremony.

2. I ordered a hundred business cards to be printed with a logo which I designed myself.

3. The living room was transformed into an authentic detective’s office. I arranged my books behind the desk, in a glass cabinet which I took from the dining room, I dusted off an old family armchair for clients and I placed the drinks table next to the desk.

4. I paid for an advertisement in the newspaper in which I offered absolute effectiveness and discretion in all manner of investigations.

5. I quit my job at the clip factory over the phone. My boss was disappointed: “You are putting us in a tight spot, Mr. Sanabria. No one knows this company as well as you do. It’s a shame”.

6. I put on a new tie and a blazer. I put my feet up on the desk and set about reading the newspaper, awaiting the call from my first client.

7. At two twenty in the afternoon, after reading my advertisement several times and after devouring the rest of the newspaper, I went to eat. I needed a stiff drink to revive me.

8. When I got to the bar I hung up my hat and my raincoat on the coat stand and ordered a whiskey with water and two sandwiches. On the third bite, a good idea came to me which would help me to publicize myself.

9. I showed the barman the only photograph I carried in my wallet. A recent shot of Mom.

10. “No, sir,” he said. “Her kind don’t come here very often. Are you law enforcement?”

11. “Private detective,” I told him. “It’s likely that this woman has murdered a man. If you see her around here, don’t hesitate to let me know.” I held out my business card to him.

12. When I returned to the office, I called Mom. My sister told me that she had gone out to fill some orders of the scarves she knitted and that she would not be back until late.

13. I exchanged just the bare essentials with my sister so I could hang up and leave the phone line free.

14. Contented with my good performance in the bar, I went to sleep feeling hopeful that the barman would pass my card on to a few of his clients with marital problems.

15. I was awakened by the telephone. I answered with a rather sleepy yet attractive voice. It was Francisca, the daughter of María Elena, my ex-wife. “Tom, I need to talk to you,” she said. “It’s urgent.” I gave her an appointment for the next morning. That way I could think of a good excuse for not having sent money to María Elena.

16. At seven forty-eight, after studying the silent telephone patiently, I decided to return to the bar. A serious and analytical private detective, I thought, should not despair so quickly.

17. I felt foolish when I asked the barman, “Nothing new, my friend?” “No sir, nothing at all.” And he poured me a dry martini instead of the scotch I ordered.

18. I preferred to drink the swill and not complain. I showed the photograph of Mom to a man who was drinking next to me at the bar.

19. Once he knew I was a detective, he was more interested in the photograph. But despite his efforts to mentally recall all the faces he had ever seen in his entire life, he did not recognize Mom.

20. “What did she do?” he asked me. “Homicide,” I told him. We exchanged business cards. His name was Cornelio Campos, a pharmaceutical rep.

21. That night I dreamed that Mom entered the bar, drew a machine gun from her purse and pumped rounds into the barman. In retaliation, Cornelio hurled a bottle of whiskey which smashed over her white hair.

22. While I was checking to see if my advertisement had been printed in the paper again, the doorbell rang. It was Francisca.

23. I had planned to greet my ex-step-daughter, whom I had not seen for five years, with the greatest possible indifference. But it was impossible. She was no longer a fifteen-year-old kid. She had become an attractive and well-endowed woman.

24. I had to excuse myself to the restroom so she did not see me blush.

25. “Tom, you have no idea how surprised I was to come across your name in the newspaper.” “You like to read the classifieds?” I asked her in horror. “Oh no, Tom. Let me explain…”

26. She told me that her boyfriend died last week. The official version stated suicide, but according to her, he was murdered. I asked her skeptically about her reasons for suspecting something like that.

27. “First off, Chucho wouldn’t have committed suicide. We were going to get married in August. Second, he owned a gun. There was no reason he’d kill himself with a knife. And third, Chucho told me a couple of days before that somebody had threatened to kill him…”

28. I was touched by her sobbing. When, finally, she was able to calm herself down after a large scotch, she finished telling me some important details for the investigation. She gave me a photograph of her former boyfriend, one with his face half hidden behind a saxophone, and she made me a list of all the people with whom he had close relationships.

29. She said good-bye with a kiss which did not quite touch my cheek and she left without us discussing my professional fees.

30. One way or another, I had to begin the investigation and without money that would be impossible so I had to call Mom to ask for a short-term loan.

31. “Of course, son. Come by for it whenever you like.” I berated myself for how I had treated her picture. I put the photograph underneath the glass panel on top of my desk.

32. I chose a name at random from the list Francisca had made. Mr. Ardiles, the father of the deceased, lived a long way from my office so I decided to make a stopover in the bar to think about what I would ask him.

33. The barman looked carefully at the photograph of Chucho. “Is he the victim?” “Of course,” I shot back maliciously. “No, I don’t think I saw him here. Why do you think everybody in the city comes to this bar? You could try others…” I nodded and finished up the dregs of my scotch and my shrimp soup.

34. The bus which took me to Mr. Ardiles’ house took nearly an hour. As soon as I saw him, I eliminated him from the list of suspects because he may have looked like a thief, a rapist, or a dentist, but there was no way he killed his son. 

35. “I don’t know how Francisca got that idea in her head,” he told me. “Chucho was a lonesome, nervous kid and he had depressive tendencies. Actually, his suicide did not surprise me as much as his mother or his friends”.

36. Joaquín Junco, owner of La Zorrita convenience store: “I think he was killed, too. He isn’t one of those guys who would kill himself just like that. Promise me you’ll let me know if you catch the son-of-a-bitch who killed him so I can bust him up.”

37. Georgina Mondragón, Chucho’s ex-girlfriend: “Poor Chubby, he was so good… I can’t believe he killed himself or that he was killed”.

38. Lucho Romo, childhood friend of the deceased and jazz drummer: “Damn Chucho, I think he freaked out. I ain’t gonna tell you no lies, Señor Sanabria. He stabbed himself because they weren’t supplying him no more. Know what I’m saying?” Of course I didn’t know what he was saying. Everything he said was complete nonsense. Poor kid.

39. It was almost midnight by the time I went to pick up the money from Mom’s house. She was not at home, which was unusual for her. She had left a wad of bills with my sister. I never thought that scarves could be so lucrative. I decided to take just one five thousand peso bill.

40. I put my feet up on my desk and I started to go over my notebook. Still, I did not have one solid lead. The only comment which interested me was the one from Georgina Mondragón. Maybe this was not a suicide or a murder, after all. An accident, perhaps.

41. All of a sudden, I felt unable to solve the case. I had to force myself to drink what was left of the whisky bottle to fall asleep.

42. When I woke up, Francisca was in front of me with a coffee in one hand and my mail in the other. Her outfit was an obvious, pronounced and successful provocation. “Sorry I let myself in like this, Tom. The door was open…”

43. After shaving and getting dressed, I went to find Francisca again. She was waiting for me at my desk with another coffee in her hand and a cigarette in her mouth.

44. “Last night,” she began, “I got a telegram. It proves I’m not crazy. Chucho was murdered. I’m scared, Tom. Really scared.”

45. UNFORTUNATE SUICIDE (stop) WE DON’T WANT ANOTHER REGRETABLE DEATH (stop) MANOLA

46. “I have no idea who Manola is, Tom. You gotta believe me. They want to kill me, too, and I don’t know why, honestly…”

47. I calmed her sobs with a little brandy which was left in the decanter. I took the telegram and asked Francisca to stay at the office because it might be dangerous for her outside. I offered her my library.

48. Before going by the telegraph office, I decided to swing by Chucho’s mother’s house. On the cab ride over, I could not stop thinking about Francisca’s body. It was irresistible.

49. Suddenly, I had a hunch which made me venture to ask: “Mrs. Pereira,” I said, “a friend of your son, a kid named Lucho, suggested to me that your son was not being supplied any more. Do you have any idea what he was referring to?”

50. “Believe me, Mr. Sanabria, Chucho was a good boy. I know he wasn’t perfect. But it wasn’t the drugs that were destroying him. The real problem was that he was the middleman between his friends and the dealers, you understand?

51. Of course I understood. I had suspicions that there was something fishy about this case. Drug addiction, dealing, dependency. I knew, hidden behind the saxophone, that face was saying something.

52. Mrs. Pereira was not able to give me anything else. As I went to say good-bye, she looked so distraught that I decided instead to just leave her my card on the table by the door.

53. The clerk at the telegram office laughed at me when I told him I was a private detective and that I was looking for who had written the telegram. “You think I spend my time reading the stupid things people write? Well you’re wrong, buddy. I just pass on messages and take my cut”.

54. I threatened him with being complicit in a homicide if he did not cooperate, but all that achieved was that he dismissed me with a couple of high-flown insults to which I did not respond out of professionalism. 

55. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a bottle of whiskey and two servings of ready-made paella.

56. When I went into the office, Francisca didn’t even attempt to take her legs down from the desk. I caught her reading my mail.

57. For a long minute, we stared silently into each other’s eyes. Finally, I approached her and snatched away the letter she had opened, took hold of her bag and emptied its contents over the desk.

58. A ticket stub, a pen, a purse, a hairbrush covered in blond hair, a pack of Kleenex, a pair of nylon stockings, two lemons and a small bottle of red and yellow pills. 

59. “I never thought you’d lie to me,” I reproached her. “You’d better start telling me who Chucho bought this junk from.”

60. At last, she deigned to take her legs down from the desk and she ran over to embrace me with all her strength. My weakness as former stepfather helped the rage turn to compassion. “I’m scared, Tom. If they were able to kill Chucho, they’ll come for me, too. Don’t let them kill me, please, Tom, don’t let them…”

61. After opening the new bottle of whiskey, I laid her on the clients’ chair and promised her, no less than a dozen times, that while I was alive, they would not kill her. “Don’t worry, my darling. Tom will look after you. You just need to be a good girl and tell me who Chucho bought those pills from.”

62. “I went with him a few times to the dealer. They call him Richard and if nothing’s changed you’ll find him between four and five in the evening at a bar called La Providencia. He’s a fat man, gray hair, wrinkles. He always wears cowboy boots and suspenders. He’s dangerous, Tom. Don’t let him kill you.”

63. When at last I got her to sleep on the clients’ chair, the telephone rang. It was the barman. He said the person I was looking for was in the bar right at that time.

64. “Mom in a bar?” I asked myself.

65. The physical resemblance was surprising, I’ll admit. But anyone who knows my Mom would never confuse her with such a vulgar woman. The barman turned out to be a little nearsighted when it came to the human soul.

66. However, I felt obligated to carry on the detective game to attract future clients. The conversation with her was difficult because Cornelio and the barman were watching me carefully, as if at any moment I might slap the cuffs on the woman and read her rights to her.

67. Maybe it was out of boredom that I went for the same technique which I had used on my former stepdaughter and which had given me such good results.

68. In one swift motion, I tried to empty her purse on the table. But her reaction was the quite the opposite of Francisca. The suspect smashed her glass of vile vodka over my head before her belongings had even finished hitting the table. As soon as I realized my mistake and tried to defend myself, the woman finished me off with an ashtray to my nose which clouded my vision.

69. When I came around, Cornelio was trying to give me a beer. “We weren’t able to stop her, Mr. Sanabria,” the barman apologized. “She was so furious she could have taken on an army. I think you should treat her as a dangerous murderer.”

70. “Don’t worry,” I consoled my sorrowful partners. “The real murderer is currently in a bar called La Providencia.”

71. Cornelio offered to go with me. He had a Ford Fifty-something, which threatened to roll us at every bend. On the way, I told him the little I knew about this Richard fellow.

72. “Have no fear, Detective,” he assured me, “I’m carrying a blade and I know how to use it.” I had to lie to him. I told him I was carrying a revolver in my jacket pocket.

73. At four thirty, we arrived at La Providencia. Of the few people in the bar, not one matched Francisca’s description of Richard. We ordered two beers.

74. While we awaited the arrival of the murderer, Cornelio set about telling me his life story. After convincing me he was a total expert in handling different weapons, from shotguns to ropes, he confessed that he had spent several years in jail for attempting to strangle his wife.

75. He had just begun to reveal the reasons that led to the failed murder of his wife when we noticed Richard, with his cowboy boots and suspenders. He was drinking tequila and beer at a table next to ours.

76. To avoid giving him time to escape or a chance to attack us first, a brilliant plan came to my mind, which I then confided to Cornelio.

77. Under the pretense of inebriation, my partner and I climbed up on the table with the apparent intention of dancing to the cha-cha which resounded through the bar. But instead of dancing the steps, we leaped, cat-like, on top of our man.

78. Cornelio grabbed him around the neck and I held him by the belt. Richard didn’t even have time to swallow the gulp of tequila he had just taken.

79. “We’ve got guns on you,” I told him, seeing he was blinded by shock. “Just one false move and we won’t hesitate to pierce your guts, pig.”

80. In a serene, serious and intelligent manner, I told everyone in the bar that we were from the police and we requested that all, except the employees, leave right away.

81. I ordered Richard to keep his hands on the ground while I searched him. I found a .38 Special in his jacket pocket and a .45 tucked in the back of his pants. I passed the lower caliber gun to Cornelio.

82. “Now you’re gonna be a good boy,” I said “and you’re gonna come with us. If you try and escape, you can kiss your tequila good-bye for good.” As we left, I threw a 1000 peso bill on the bar.

83. I was slightly disconcerted by the guy’s submissiveness because everything I ordered of him, he did without objection. We got into the Ford and, before questioning him, we gave him a ride around the empty streets.

84. “We’re not buddies.” I said. “Of that you can be sure. You’re accused of murder with three aggravating circumstances, drug trafficking and child abuse. We’re not even gonna read you your rights.” “You don’t have any evidence against me,” he retorted. “I ain’t killed nobody, really…, it wasn’t me.”

85. “Let me guess. It was the bogeyman,” Cornelio mocked gracelessly. “Right now, Richard, we’re gonna take you to a little room where all Chucho’s friends are meeting. Do you remember him, sweetheart?” Cornelio snapped again with blatant rudeness, but his attack was not without a certain subtlety which left me satisfied.

86. “I’ll say again, I did not kill that guy and there’s not a shred of evidence against me. You can do whatever you want to me, I ain’t saying nothing.” After giving Richard a brutal blow to the ribs, Cornelio pulled over the beat-up and inoffensive Ford.

87. Richard went soft under the force of the blows and he proposed a deal. He would take us to Manola, the true murderer and boss of the drug trafficking ring, in exchange for his freedom. I told him the best I could offer was to cut him loose once we had Manola. After that, he would have to defend that freedom.

88. “Excellent, Detective, excellent,” Cornelio said with obvious admiration, impatient to get involved in the action and demonstrate his knife skills to me. I soon disappointed him.

89. “We may need reinforcements for Manola’s house. We don’t know how many men are there waiting for us. But don’t worry, I’ve got it covered. I’ve got a friend in the police. You take care of Richard while I make a call.”

90. Captain Cipriano Herrera was, for some time, the security guard at the clip factory. One day I saved him from being fired for sleeping on the job. Since then he promised to return the favor. When they drafted him into the Police, he called to put himself at my disposal. I dialed his number.

91. “Where can I find you, Tomás?” “I’m on the corner of La Paz and Revolución. With me are the informer and a friend who’s pointing a gun at him.” “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” he told me. “Wait for me there.”

92. I also called Francisca to ask her to meet us so she could watch the case, with which she had entrusted me, unfold.

93. In the Ford, Richard had his hands tightly bound with a necktie. Cornelio was poking his ribs with his blade. “He tried to escape, Tomás, but no pig can trick me. Isn’t that right, Ricardo?” he said disrespectfully to the accused.

94. Francisca arrived first and kissed me warmly on the cheek, and a short time afterward, Cipriano turned up in an old, unmarked Mercedes. He hugged me with such force that anyone would think we were brothers reunited after a war.

95. He dragged Richard by his hair and put him in the Mercedes where three other men were waiting for him, each with a rifle. “We’ve been searching for Manola for several years. So, really, you’re doing me another favor. I’ll find a way to repay you.”

96. We headed south, towards the town of Tlalpan, where I spent a good deal of my childhood and adolescence.

97. The pick-up games we used to play as kids against a group on the street came to my mind. Good times.

98. When the Mercedes stopped, the first to get out was Richard, followed by the four police officers. We followed behind. Cornelio, defiant, and Francisca, shaking under my arm.

99. I don’t think I ever felt my heart beat so quickly. And it wasn’t down to the excitement of successfully approaching the end of my first job as a detective, but the surprise at the fate which awaited me.

100. When we opened the door to the house Richard pointed to, my eyes filled with tears as Cornelio yelled gleefully “It’s her, Tomás. The woman from the photograph. We found her!”*

Translated by Kathryn Morgan, MA Applied Translation Studies, University of Leeds, UK

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MULTIMEDIA:

BOOKS BY FRANCISCO HINOJOSA (CNL-INBA)

INTERVIEW (YouTube)

Kids literature La peor señora del mundo (Google Books)

Kids literature Aníbal y Melquiades (Google Books)

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Fuente: * From the book Informe negro, México, FCE, 1987, Letras Mexicanas.

 

 

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