"Me," said Ulises Lima.

As Quim explained some of the finer points of the car to Ulises, Jorgito said that we should hurry up because Lupe's pimp had just come back. For a few seconds everyone started talking in normal voices and Mrs. Font said: the shame of it all, to be reduced to this. Then I hurried off to the Fonts' little house, got my books, and came back. The car's engine was already running and everyone looked frozen in place.

I saw Arturo and Ulises in the front seats and Lupe in back.

"Someone will have to go open the gate," said Quim.

I offered to do it.

I was on the sidewalk when I saw the lights of the Camaro and the lights of the Impala go on. It looked like a science fiction movie. As one car left the house, the other approached, as if the two were magnetically attracted to each other, or drawn together by fate, which the Greeks would say is the same thing.

I heard voices. People were calling my name. Quim's car passed me. I saw the shape of Alberto getting out of the Camaro and the next moment he was alongside the car my friends were in. His friends, still sitting in the Camaro, yelled at him to break one of the Impala's windows. Why doesn't Ulises hit the gas? I thought. Lupe's pimp started to kick the doors. I saw María coming through the garden toward me. I saw the faces of the thugs inside the Camaro. One of them was smoking a cigar. I saw Ulises's face and his hands, which were moving on the dashboard of Quim's car. I saw Belano's face looking impassively at the pimp, as if none of this had anything to do with him. I saw Lupe, who was covering her face in the backseat. I thought that the window glass couldn't withstand another kick and the next moment I was up next to Alberto. Then I saw that Alberto was swaying. He smelled of alcohol. They'd been celebrating the new year too, of course. I saw my right fist (the only one I had free since my books were in my other hand) hurtling into the pimp's body and this time I saw him fall. I heard my name being called from the house and I didn't turn around. I kicked the body at my feet and I saw the Impala, which was moving at last. I saw the two thugs get out of the Camaro and I saw them coming toward me. I saw that Lupe was looking at me from inside the car and that she was opening the door. I realized that I'd always wanted to leave. I got in and before I could close the door Ulises stepped on the gas. I heard a shot or something that sounded like a shot. They're shooting at us, the bastards, said Lupe. I turned around and through the back window I saw a shadow in the middle of the street. All the sadness of the world was concentrated in that shadow, framed by the strict rectangle of the Impala's window. It's firecrackers, I heard Belano say as our car leaped forward and left behind the Fonts' house, the thugs' Camaro, Calle Colima, and in less than two seconds we were on Avenida Oaxaca, heading north out of the city.

II

THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES

(1976-1996)

1

Amadeo Salvatierra, Calle República de Venezuela, near the Palacio de la Inquisición, Mexico City DF, January 1976. My dear boys, I said to them, I'm so glad to see you, come right in, make yourselves at home, and as they filed down the hall, or rather felt their way, because the hall is dark and the bulb had burned out and I hadn't changed it (I haven't changed it yet), I skipped joyfully ahead into the kitchen, where I got out a bottle of Los Suicidas mezcal, a mezcal only made in Chihuahua, limited run, of course, of which I used to receive two bottles each year by parcel post, until 1967. When I returned the boys were in the front room looking at my paintings and examining some books and I couldn't help telling them again how happy their visit made me. Who gave you my address, boys? Germán, Manuel, Arqueles? At which they looked at me as if they hadn't understood and then one of them said List Arzubide. But sit down, I said, have a seat, ah, my good friend Germán List Arzubide, he's not one to forget me, is he still the same big old wonderful man? And the boys shrugged their shoulders and said yes-well of course he'd hardly have shrunk, would he? but all they said was yes-and then I said let's try this mezcalito and I handed them two glasses and they sat there looking at the bottle as if they were afraid a dragon might come shooting out of it, and I laughed, but I wasn't laughing at them, I was laughing for sheer glee, it made me so happy just to be there with them, and then one of them asked if they'd heard right, if that was really what the mezcal was called, and I passed them the bottle, still laughing, I knew the name would impress them, and I stepped back a little to get a better look at them, God bless them, they were so young, with their hair down to their shoulders and carrying all those books-the memories they brought back!-and then one of them said are you sure this won't kill us, Señor Salvatierra? and I said what do you mean kill you, this is the essence of health, the water of life, drink it without fear, and to set an example I filled my glass and downed half of it and then I served them, and at first the rascals just wetted their lips, but little by little it grew on them, and they started to drink like men. Well, boys, how is it? I said, and one of them, the Chilean, said that he'd never heard of a mezcal called Los Suicidas, which struck me as a little presumptuous, there must be two hundred brands of mezcal in Mexico at the very least, so it would be hard to know them all, especially if you weren't from here, but of course the boy didn't realize that, and the other one said it's good, and then he said I've never heard of it before either, and I had to tell them that as far as I knew no one made it anymore, the factory went out of business, or burned down, or was sold and turned into a bottling plant for Refrescos Pascual, or the new owners didn't think the name was good for sales. And for a while we were quiet, the two of them standing and me sitting, drinking and savoring each drop of Los Suicidas and thinking who knows what. And then one of them said Señor Salvatierra, we want to talk to you about Cesárea Tinajero. And the other one said: and about the magazine Caborca

. Those boys. Their brains and their tongues were interconnected. One of them could start to talk, then stop in the middle of what he was saying, and the other one would pick up the sentence or the idea as if he'd begun it himself. And when they spoke Cesárea's name I raised my eyes and looked at them as if I were seeing them through a curtain of gauze, surgical gauze, to be precise, and I said don't call me Señor, boys, call me Amadeo, which is what my friends call me. And they said all right, Amadeo. And they spoke the name Cesárea Tinajero again.

Perla Avilés, Calle Leonardo da Vinci, Colonia Mixcoac, Mexico City DF, January 1976. I'm going to talk about 1970. I met him in 1970, at Porvenir, a high school in Talismán. The two of us were students there for a while. He started in 1968, which was when he came to Mexico, and I started in '69, although we didn't meet until 1970. For reasons that are beside the point we both quit school for a while. Financial reasons in his case, I think, and inner turmoil in mine. But then I went back and he did too, or his parents made him go back, and then we met. This was 1970 and by then I was older than anyone in my class, I was eighteen, and I should have been in college, not high school, but there I was at Porvenir, and one morning, after the school year had already begun, he showed up, I noticed him right away, he wasn't a new student, he had friends, and he was a year younger than me, although he'd repeated a grade. At the time, he lived in Colonia Lindavista, but after a few months he and his parents moved to Colonia Nápoles. I became his friend. In the beginning, as I was getting up the courage to talk to him, I watched him play soccer in the yard. He loved to play. I watched him from the stairs and I thought he was the most beautiful boy I'd ever seen. Long hair was forbidden in high school, but he had long hair and when he played soccer he took off his shirt and played bare-chested. I thought he looked just like a Greek god from those magazines with tales of the Greek myths and at other times (in class, when he seemed to be asleep), a Catholic saint. I watched him and that was enough for me. He didn't have many friends. He knew lots of people, sure, he kidded around with everybody (he was always laughing), making jokes, but he had very few friends, maybe none at all. He didn't do well at school. In chemistry and physics he was lost. That surprised me because neither one was really hard. All you had to do to pass was pay the tiniest bit of attention, study a little, but obviously he hardly ever studied, or maybe never studied at all, and in class his mind was elsewhere. One day he came up to me, I was on the stairs reading Lautréamont, and asked me whether I knew who owned Porvenir. I was so startled that I didn't know what to say, I think I opened my mouth but nothing came out, my face crumpled, and I might even have started to shake. He was shirtless, carrying his shirt in one hand and a backpack, a dusty backpack full of notebooks, in the other, and he looked at me with a smile on his lips and I looked at the sweat on his chest that was drying fast in the wind or the late afternoon air (which aren't the same thing), and most classes were over, I don't know what I was doing at school, maybe waiting for someone, some friend, though that's unlikely since I didn't have many friends either, maybe I'd just stayed to watch him play soccer. I remember that the sky was a bright, damp gray and that it was cold or that I felt cold at the time. I also remember that the only sounds were of distant footsteps, muted laughter, the empty school. He probably thought I hadn't heard him the first time and he repeated the question. I don't know who it belongs to, I said, I don't know whether it has an owner. Of course it has an owner, he said, it's owned by Opus Dei. He must have thought I was a complete idiot, because I told him that I didn't know what Opus Dei was. A Catholic sect in league with the devil, he said, laughing. Then I understood and I told him that I didn't care much about religion and that I already knew that Porvenir was owned by the church. No, he said, what's important is which part of the church it's owned by: Opus Dei. And what kind of people belong to Opus Dei? I asked. Then he sat down beside me on the stairs and we talked for a long time and it bothered me that he wasn't putting his shirt on and it kept getting colder and colder. I remember what he said in that first conversation about his parents: he said they were naïve and that he was naïve too and he probably said they were stupid (he and his parents) and gullible for not having realized until now that the school belonged to Opus Dei. Do your parents know who's in charge here? he asked me. My mother is dead, I said, and my father doesn't know or care. I don't care either, I added, all I want is to finish high school and go to college. What will you study there? he said. Literature, I said. That's when he told me he was a writer too. What a coincidence, I said, I'm a writer. Or something like that. Not making a big deal out of it. I thought he was kidding, of course. That's how we became friends. I was eighteen and he had just turned seventeen. He'd been living in Mexico since he was fifteen. Once I invited him to go riding with me. My father had some land in Tlaxcala and had bought a horse. He said he was a good rider and I said this Sunday I'm going to Tlaxcala with my father, you can come with us if you want. What bleak country that was. My father had built a thatched adobe hut and that was all there was, the rest was scrub and dirt. When we got there he looked around with a smile, as if to say, I knew this wasn't going to be a fancy ranch or a big spread, but this is too much. Even I was a little bit ashamed of my father's land. Among other things, there was no saddle, and some neighbors kept the horse for us. For a while, as my father was off getting the horse, we wandered the flats. I tried to talk about books I'd read that I knew he hadn't read, but he hardly listened to me. He walked and smoked, walked and smoked, and the scenery was always the same. Until we heard the horn of my father's car and then the man who kept the horse came, not riding the horse but leading it by the bridle. By the time we got back to the hut my father and the man had gone off in the car to settle some business and the horse was tied up waiting for us. You go first, I said. No, he said (it was clear his mind was on other things), you go. Not wanting to argue, I mounted the horse and broke straight into a gallop. When I got back he was sitting on the ground, against the wall of the hut, smoking. You ride well, he said. Then he got up and went over to the horse, saying that he wasn't used to riding bareback, but he vaulted up anyway, and I showed him which way to go, telling him that over in that direction there was a river or actually a riverbed that was dry now but that filled up when it rained and was pretty, then he galloped off. He rode well. I'm a good horsewoman, but he was as good as I was or maybe better, I don't know. At the time I thought he was better. Galloping without stirrups is hard and he galloped clinging to the horse's back until he was out of sight. As I waited I counted the cigarette butts that he had stubbed out beside the hut and they made me want to learn to smoke. Hours later, as we were on our way back in my father's car, him in front and me in back, he said that there was probably some pyramid lying buried under our land. I remember that my father turned his eyes from the road to look at him. Pyramids? Yes, he said, deep underground there must be lots of pyramids. My father didn't say anything. From the darkness of the backseat, I asked him why he thought that. He didn't answer. Then we started to talk about other things but I kept wondering why he'd said that about the pyramids. I kept thinking about pyramids. I kept thinking about my father's stony plot of land and much later, when I'd lost touch with him, each time I went back to that barren place I thought about the buried pyramids, about the one time I'd seen him riding over the tops of the pyramids, and I imagined him in the hut, when he was left alone and sat there smoking.