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Follow comments Enter your email to follow new comments on this article. Thanks for subscribing! Vote Are you sure you want to submit this vote? Submit vote Cancel. You must be logged in to vote. He suddenly felt lost in the tragic final lines of a bolero: lines written to shatter expectations raised by a sultry love song. These ancient, increasingly obsolete Chinese businesses had postponed their inevitable and natural demises, by changing into restaurants — their greasy offerings got pricier by the day — and had brought life and atmosphere to the area.

But the district was still gripped by its rapid, apparently unstoppable, degeneration. It emerged from potholes in the streets brimming with stinking water, climbed over metal bins packed with detritus and scaled walls gnawing at them, and occasionally causing them to collapse. Those old buildings from the beginning of the twentieth century, many now turned into tenements where several families crammed in, had long ago shed any charm they might have once had, and unremitting decline now offered up vistas of horrific poverty.

The knocks echoed around the house as if summoning him back from the past. The relief brought by the knowledge his friend was still of this world immediately gave way to indignation. The Count went into the bathroom, urinated the usual fetid, early morning quantities, washed out his mouth and wet his face. He dragged his feet into the kitchen and put the coffee on, an unlit cigarette between his lips. With or without a hangover, dawn was the worst moment of his day, and being forced to talk was the most excruciating of tortures.

Havana Fever

Conde opened the door to his terrace and saw Rubbish curled up on his mat. His belly moved slowly in and out: he was breathing. He coughed and spat in the direction of his sink.

He handed Manolo a coffee and sat down with his big cup sipping on a liquid able to power the re-establishing of contact with himself after waking. He lit his cigarette and peered into the vaguely squinting eyes of the uniformed captain of the detective squad.

She thought it was her brother and went to see if he was OK. She found him in the library, bleeding from the neck. He was already dead. His sister needed an injection and is quite groggy. He padded back to the living room, where Manolo was smoking, deep in thought. The detective stared at his former colleague his eyes more free-floating than ever. The first spurts of blood, pumped by his heart, had hit the bottom right corner of the mirrored door, and the stains ran into those created by leaking mercury, trailing down and drawing elusive abstract art shapes, that joined and extended the pool still being fed by the last secretions from the body that had fallen to the ground.

A blackish puddle had coagulated, forming a narrow-mouthed bay on the chessboard tiles, its shores opening out to the interior of the library. Or had someone prised something out of them? Apparently, Dionisio had been stabbed from behind by someone still in the library. He clearly knew his aggressor, a right-handed one at that, judging by the slash on that side of his neck. If it had been a fight that had got out of hand, he might have stabbed him in the back first, but the killer had gone straight for his neck arteries, trying to murder him at a stroke and simultaneously choke and silence him with the flow of blood.

The idea that the murderer was someone familiar to Dionisio was supported by the fact that no door into the house had been forced, which meant, the ex-policeman presumed, that the man had opened the door to his own executioner. The probable absence of particular books might clarify the motivation for the crime, although that spelt danger for the murderer: the missing items would be clues that could be easily tracked down.

Manolo came over and the Count looked him in the eye. Conde put the squeeze on his brain and recalled that the mysterious buyer described by Dionisio was a tall black man. Dionisio was in the military, part of the clandestine struggle against Batista and his friends are going to create a fuss any minute now. That was at the worst bloody moment of the Crisis… And nobody expressed any interest in him after that. Manolo gave Conde a pair of nylon gloves and they went into the library, taking care not to step on the dried blood or the silhouette that had been marked out.

He went back to the centre of the room, closed his eyes, and tried to chase any preconceived notions from his mind. What the hell was it? Using the torch Manolo had given him he could see changes in dust levels indicating that six books had recently been removed and he noted that the remaining volumes concentrated in that section were old tomes to do with legislation, customs tariffs, trade regulations in the colonial era, and a long row of magazines specializing in business topics, all published between the thirties and fifties.

Perhaps Dionisio… They might be somewhere else in the library or perhaps were stolen. Then when I started looking at the books, I thought it might just be that some were priceless items. They can probably say if they went before or after you were working here. Manolo stretched his hand out and took the gloves the Count had just slipped off. The men looked each other in the eye until Manolo averted his gaze.

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But no such assurance came to his rescue, and he was left to sink in the mire of evidence that he had been a policeman after all — perhaps a too cerebral, if not bland example of the species — and had formed part of that uncompromising fraternity now stripped naked before him and exposing its distinctive features. A boss suspended for perpetuity in an underhand manner by the Internal Investigations Committee, and who went by the still unutterable name of Antonio Rangel.

Had he really always been even-handed? He tried to persuade himself he had, to salvage some of his devastated self-esteem, because the Count knew they were heading to one of the rooms used for interrogations and that he was going to need massive amounts of that in there. Conde looked at his place, opposite where he sat when he was the interrogator, and at the mirror across the room.

He imagined Manolo must have put off his conversation with Yoyi in order to sit, perhaps next to a big boss, behind that glass panel that separated the interrogation room from the room for officers and witnesses, drawing an iron line between the powerful and those stripped of all power. Did anyone see you or ring you? At that last word the sergeant was shocked to see Conde stand up, as if jet-propelled, knock his chair over, and walk towards the mirror, which he banged twice with the palm of his hand. Conde returned to his place but, before he got there, the door opened and his former colleague came in.

Does it have to be in this interrogation room, like some fucking murderer? Manolo waited a few seconds and rested one buttock on the edge of the table, as he used to in the old days. We have to find things out… Do you think I ever thought you? Is that what you want? Conde lit a cigarette and looked at Manolo. He had a sudden thought: that they might work together again, but he gave the idea short shrift.

The midday sun seemed about to melt the pavement when Yoyi Pigeon came out of Headquarters. I thought they were going to keep me inside I swear. Amalia and the man who paid them a visit are the others… But it might have been someone else… In any case it was someone Dionisio knew. Yoyi ordered two coffees and stared at the Count, feverishly stroking the bony protuberance on his chest. What else can I wish you, on such a day as this, than for you to be as happy as can be, and to enjoy being with your children, wherever you now live.

What else could I desire it is what I long for most than for you to share that happiness with me, with all your children, unburdened by secrets that now weigh far too heavily, and with eyes on the future, that no longer stare into the past. I think all this began to stir after the visit from that persistent policeman, just over a week ago, do you remember? After saying that, he explained that in fact he had come to tell me the case was going to be closed on orders from his superiors, or, in other words, the investigation will not continue, in spite of his doubts.

Although there is something I am totally clear about my innocence and, I hardly need to say this, yours as well , I have begun to think about what happened over that period of days, looking for a black spot, a detail that does not fit the usual patterns, to try to find, if one existed, an indication that her death might have been provoked by an individual who desired it. I have thought, naturally, that someone like her, in spite of the unhappy past as an orphan girl she told you about, as a decent girl desperate to sing and be successful, must have left behind her enemies and hatred. So, the change you brought into her life might have sparked resentment in somebody determined to make her pay for a happiness she thought was undeserved.

What is terrible, given everything you and I know, is how the portrait of this individual keeps evoking my own face. The knowledge I am innocent allows me dismiss that false image, but does not help me find another, if one exists. Could one of her girlfriends have been the guilty one?

Perhaps that good-for-nothing who used to visit her and even accompany her on her trips to spoil herself with your money, who even dared to pass herself off as a respectable lady when everyone knew what she did in life… But why should she want to? Was she really her friend?

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The voices pursue me, obsessed as I am by finding out. I put this letter to one side a few days ago because a frightful headache prevented me from writing. What was it referring to? Although it may be the most terrible of truths. I hope you enjoy a lovely end to the year. I hope these festivities and holy celebrations bring a little peace to your soul and that you have a happy respite. In my solitude, I console myself as ever with the idea that we will soon be into another year, and that it will be a year to favour us all.

One of the blessings Mario Conde never ceased to be thankful for was the fact he had three or four good friends. The almost fifty years spent in this world had taught him, sometimes perversely, that few states are as fragile as the state of friendship, and hence he fiercely protected his many layered camaraderie with Skinny Carlos, Candito and Rabbit, because he considered it to be one of his most precious gifts from life. But he opted to keep that under wraps.

Nobody sings like that nowadays, do they? Why do so many just want to leave the island? After being so exceptional, so historical and so transcendent, people get tired and want a bit of normality. This is a country pre-destined to exaggeration. Christopher Columbus started the rot, when he said that this was the most beautiful land ever seen by man and all that jazz. Then we had the geographical, historical misfortune, to be where we were when we were, and the bliss or bad luck to be like we are. And you see, there was even a time when we produced more wealth than this island needed and we thought we were wealthy.

Aside from that considerable misconception, we have produced more geniuses per inhabitant and square yard than we had a right to and long thought we were better, more intelligent, stronger… This exaggeration is also our greatest burden: it threw us into the midst of history.

And you can see the consequences… A decent sense of history and shocking memory, lethargy and predestination, grandeur and frivolity, idealism and pragmatism, as if balancing out virtues and defects, right? But exhaustion follows all that. Exhaustion at being so historic and so predestined. Or even see another baseball game in the Havana stadium? Like mules. Our only problem was that the future was very far off and the path went uphill and was full of sacrifices, prohibitions, denials and privations. The more we advanced, the steeper the slope and more distant the shining future, which was fading quickly anyway.

The bastard had run out of petrol. Listening to Rabbit, the Count felt the bittersweet taste of immeasurable sadness congeal in his mouth. But I do trust in my hunches.

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Not worried why he was doing so — and not really interested in finding out — perhaps driven by a mixture of alcohol and the persistent allure of certain phantoms and fascinations, Conde hailed a taxi going in the opposite direction to his house and asked the driver to take him to the corner of Twenty-Third and L, or any other street corner that might encompass the same evocative ciphers. He was pleased to see that even at that late, late hour of the night, the fast-beating heart of the city was still packed with spaced-out youths and adults trawling for illicit offerings.

In the doorway and vicinity of the cinema, and on the other side of the street, next to the iron rails protecting the ice creamery, an insomniac crowd slipped past under the sleepy gaze of various pairs of policemen. Gays of every tendency and category, rockers with no stage or music, savage hunters and huntresses of foreigners and dollars, bored birds of the night with one, two and even three hidden agendas seemed anchored to that spot, not fearing the imminent dawn, as if hoping something out of the blue might drag them down the street, perhaps out to sea, or maybe up into the sky.

With sadness spreading through his soul, the Count returned to the street and contemplated the vista of buildings that were once pretentiously modern and were now bent double by premature senility. He listened to the din created by young lads coming up O Street as they let out cries of potentially drug-inspired glee and kicked at sacks of rubbish they encountered en route. He was alarmed by a gleaming Lada that sped past, its sound system blasting out at top volume, keen to show off its ostentatious, prefabricated happiness.

He went down towards Twenty-Third and watched two well-equipped policemen walk by, as jumpy as their gigantic Alsatians. The Calzada de Monte and the only in name hopeful calle Esperanza form an inverted wedge, ready to gouge the most flaccid urban flesh, opening up the entrails of what was once the old walled town of Havana. The Calzada and calle Esperanza almost create a vortex in the barrio of the Single Market neighbourhood, until they peter out on the bustling calle del Egido, a perpetually run-down triangle that still throbs on the city map.

Over the centuries its guts have accumulated the human, architectural and historic debris generated by a bullying capital always marching westwards, and moving away from that bastion of poorly paid proletarians, lumpens of every stripe, whores, drug traffickers and emigrants from other regions of the island and the world, all eager for a slice of the action that will almost always elude them.

History seemed to have passed down its winding streets and never stopped, while generation after generation hoarded pain, oblivion, rage and a spirit of resistance that expressed itself in illicit, sinful, violent acts, ruthlessly seeking to survive, at any cost and by any means. In his years in the force, Mario Conde suffered immensely when an investigation led him to that Havana backwater where nobody had ever known, seen or heard anything, where people poured their hatred into scornful looks they directed at the representatives of a distant establishment that always repressed them.

Violence, the means to vent chronic frustration, was the everyday currency used to repay debts or insults and lawlessness had long ruled that ravaged territory, where to be frail was the worst illness imaginable. Conde abandoned his taxi at the miserable, downtrodden crossroads of Cuatro Caminos — that once mythical location, where a restaurant stood on each corner, competing in quality and prices with its equidistant colleagues — and walked down a couple of alleyways in search of calle Esperanza.

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Breathing that atmosphere of hidden danger, he progressed through a labyrinth of impassable streets, like a city ravaged by war, strewn with potholes and debris, tottering buildings, cracked beyond repair, propped up by wooden supports rotted by sun and rain, containers overflowing with putrefying mountains of rubbish, where two men, still in their youth, sniffed after any recyclable bounty. Packs of mangy dogs wandered about, with nothing in their stomachs to shit on the street, alongside raucous sellers of avocados, brooms, clothes pegs, piles of torches, second-hand lavatories and wood for cooking; next to hard-faced women, sharp as knives, all geared up in lycra Bermudas that got tighter and tighter, ideal garments for emphasizing the quality of the nipples and sex on proud display.

The feeling that he was crossing the borders a land of chaos warned him he was witnessing a world on the brink of an Apocalypse that it would be difficult to escape. So, his only chance of finding the faint trail of Elsa Contreras, Lotus Flower the dancer, resident in the area as Silvano Quintero had recalled — was the hope that his old informant Juan Serrano Ballester, alias Juan the African, was around in the barrio and not in prison — his normal location.

Steam from pig shit and urine rose from the floor, while equally fetid water dripped down the stairs, no doubt leaking from dilapidated sewage pipes. As the room was at the back of the building, you had to negotiate a narrow door-lined passage, one part of which had collapsed in some remote prehistoric era and been replaced by two planks that gave access to the back rooms. The Count filled his lungs to avoid taking a breath on his journey across the planks, arms spread like an intrepid tightrope walker.

When Juan recognized him he almost fainted. He was only two months out from his last stay behind bars, after a three-year sentence for repeated fraud. Seeing that policeman from a dark corner of his past in his house could only signal impending disaster. What prison do I say you were in if nobody saw you, whichever one you were in?

What do you reckon? He knows about everything that moves around here. I did a bit of business, it went bad and I owe them. When they went out into the street, the raging midday sun had dispersed the crowds. Music now filled the spot once occupied by people, flooding the space, melodies criss-crossing, competing in volume to blast the minds of anyone who risked entering that atmosphere steeped in sones, boleros, meringues, ballads, mambos, guarachas, hard and soft rock, danzones, bachatas and rumbas.

The houses with entrances onto the street, open windows and doors, tried to take in a little of the warm air, while men and women of all ages rocked on their chairs, enjoying the artificial breeze from fans and the deafening music, while, resigned to their lot, they watched dead midday hours pass by. They walked into a tenement and in the inside yard several men were drinking beer, equally gripped by the music. A mulatta in her forties, with coloured beaded plaits and sheathed in lycra pants straining to contain the excessive poundage of her buttocks, seemed to own the establishment and she stared straight at the African when she saw him come in with a stranger.

Michael Jordan was now standing next to the African, or at least his double was: a huge, brawny black guy, with a shaved head, wearing the uniform of the Chicago Bulls. Three beers on, Mario Conde had explained how rustling and slaughtering cattle worked in the increasingly scalped plains of Matanzas and was himself informed about the spots in the barrio where they sold basketball kit, baseball and football shirts, powdered milk, cooking oil and the site of the best supplied stock of electrical goods in the city, all sourced directly from nearby warehouses in the port. By his fifth he had a pretty accurate idea where and when in the barrio you could get marijuana or pills to pop, and discovered it was possible to buy crack and coke, and what the going rates were for: head-downers specializing in fellatio, slags, who came the cheapest but highly unrecommended, the Juanitas-of-all-trades, ready for anything and down-on-their-luck whores, easy goers who could be hunted down, in the late early hours, sometimes at very reasonable price though always in dollars , if they were desperate after a night of wasted incursions into city hotels and tourist spots… They lived a life that was at once frantic and slow, with time to drift along and time to struggle by, in that ghetto, the streets of which were periodically visited by a couple of police on the beat or a patrol car, as a reminder that the cage doors were always open.

They crossed filthy streets, each as filthy as the next, until they clambered through a hole in a ramshackle wood and zinc wall that barely hid the ruins of a three-storey building. It now had neither roof nor mezzanine, only a skeletal frame, where small zinc and canvas panels hung, held in place by wire and wooden props, attempting to shelter a few shapeless objects and some huge cardboard boxes.

Most have just arrived from Oriente. They nearly all drive taxi-bikes. They walked through the ruins and the African pushed a wooden door and poked his head inside. A few minutes later a mulatto swathed in gold chains appeared astride the doorstep. Sitting in that clandestine open-air eatery ruled over by Veneno, bent on extracting from the Count every last cent he could, the African ordered the most expensive dishes on offer: lobster enchilado and steak in bread crumbs.

Veneno was a light-skinned, almost white mulatto, keen to show off his prosperity by displaying numerous teeth crowned in eighteen carat metal, three chains with medallions living in harmony with a couple of coloured bead necklaces , bejewelled rings, two bracelets and a Rolex of similar golden purity that all told must have weighed in at a good four pounds. Trapped in a net of his own making, the Count separated out a couple of twenty notes and handed his material and spiritual guide the three hundred pesos he had left.

I can still fry you alive, right? He emerged five minutes later, smiling cheerfully, and suggested the Count accompany him to the roof terrace, so he could show him a panoramic view of the barrio. Between two uncovered water tanks and sad clotheslines full of patched up clothes, Conde peered out over the eaves to get a prime view of the twilight hustle and bustle in the barrio. He calculated the sea was in front, behind various dark concrete blocks, past the blackened towers of the power station, so near, yet so alien to that place.

Lost in geographical and philosophical musings, he snapped back to reality summoned by the sweetish smell of burning grass, and turned round to find Juan the African, leaning back on one of the tanks inhaling from a spindly joint. And whenever I can I smoke here, by myself, so I really enjoy my drag… Look, this is my little hidey hole. I always get bad luck. The business was with other guys.

Not from the barrio. They handle quantities of loot that would make you shit your pants. End of interrogation… Now let me enjoy the moment, man. Conde got up and looked for the best angle from which to survey calle Esperanza. On a neighbouring terrace he spotted a hut probably built for pigeon-rearing, behind which some fifteen-year olds were noisily taking turns with binoculars, masturbating all the time, watching a scene the Count also wanted an eyeful of.

When night started to fall, the African, now very high and uninhibited, suggested going for a walk, to see what was on, and the Count, not imagining what he was letting himself in for, accepted his invitation. They went up Esperanza, towards the edge of the barrio, and along one of the alleys that cut across, its name hidden under tons of historic grime, where his companion suggested they wait a minute, ostensibly, to test the temperature.

Just after eight, the African bought a pack of cigarettes from a street-seller and offered the Count one. Taken aback, Conde was at a loss for what to reply. The knocking-shop, as his ex-confidant described it, was half way along the block. An old married couple, owners of a threebedroom house, rented them out by the hour to couples with nowhere to make love and to local whores and their customers. The best strategy to get a lay, according to the African, was to linger in the vicinity of the knocking shop and wait to be picked up by an available woman on the job.

Suffering an attack of butterflies, the Count leaned expectantly on the wall, a virgin in terms of such experience. He lit a cigarette on his previous butt and looked at both sides of the street, where several people were wandering. Two women appeared ten minutes later. One was a mulatta, dyed blonde, and the other white, very thin, with bright red hair; the Count reckoned, with some difficulty, that they must be in their twenties, although they shifted from seeming older to being almost adolescent.

The African immediately chose the white woman, and, with a yellow smile, casually asked how much she charged for the works. He then understood that all his moral openness was just a childish game in that insane world where sex acquired other values and uses, and became a source of sustenance, a way to put the miseries and tensions of life out of mind. Conde felt the situation, so everyday for the African and the girls, was forcing him into his most stressful decisions ever: either he ran for it, found his way out of the barrio and salvation for his battered ethics, or followed the impulses of his morbid curiosity and participated in a purely commercial act, to the extent his stomach would allow.

Refusing to think further, almost about to hurl himself into the pit of degradation, he got as far as the living room, where Juan was already caressing the small, firm buttocks of the white girl, agreeing terms with a respectable looking old man and paying the agreed amount, though hardly haggling over the hire terms: no drugs, no beating up, no shouting; only beer and rum sold by the establishment; paid for in advance; at an hourly rate….

Without looking at the house-owners — their eyes now glued back on the television, as if their lives depended on the news reports — the Count, in a kind of hypnotic trance, crossed the passage and followed the mulatta into the first bedroom, only to be rescued by an attack of nerves when he saw the African and his girl follow him in. For the rest of his life, however much he tried, Mario Conde could never remember what the room was like or what was in it, apart from a bed and the washbasin attached to the wall.

He grasped the only dignified exit on offer. He felt an emptiness between his own legs and concluded that his decision had been made. The Count left his bathroom, wrapping a towel round his body, shaken by an awareness that he was upset by his own nakedness. Not sure why, he looked for his record player in a corner of the room. He carefully dropped the needle into the first groove and sat on the distant sofa, as if he required that space in between.

He soon felt the melody change his skin, his hair and his nails, and realized he was recovering his sense of urgency to find out the real fate of that woman whose ghost had apparently returned to end an artificial silence, who had spent too long in a precarious vacuum. In the process he lost his towel and, stark naked, flung its doors wide open.

The original sleeve seemed washed out by damp and old age, but it was unmistakable: he took out the small record, lit up by a yellow circle, the shiny gem of the recording company. Conde stroked the vinyl and saw it was warped and unusable. He finally remembered his father, sitting in the living room in that same house, wrapped in a gloom that seemed mysterious to his childish gaze, listening, enthralled, to that record, perhaps experiencing sensations similar to those that were now disturbing his son, forty years on.

How much had his father really loved that woman he listened to in darkness? What had he said to his son on that night which had disappeared in a succession of yesterdays? Why had he, the man who remembered, forgotten that strange episode which should have floated quickly to the surface of his memories? Or were his memory and hitherto untarnished image of his own father playing yet more tricks on him, concealing truths that might be truly horrific? I had decided to wait several days before writing to you again, to allow the spirit of Christmas that passed by without giving me a glance to vanish, but the events of the last few days changed my mind, because they have snatched away my few remaining hopes.

What will become of our lives now? Will you ever come back? What will happen here? Although I have tried to shut my ears to the noise in the street, the decision to break off relations just announced by the United States fills me with new fears, because the doors to possible homecomings have now shut, and yours, the one you so longed for, now becomes practically impossible. Hence, more than ever, these letters are my only consolation, and my greatest reward would be to receive a reply.

You cannot imagine what I would give to know if you thought of me if only for a second at Christmas or New Year. I would give my life to know whether you remembered the years of love and prosperity we shared together although they sometimes seem so distant as the chimes of the clock reached the final second of the old year and we swallowed our grapes, in time-honoured tradition. How can I tell if this end to a year of separations and resentments was better than those when we shared an expectation of happiness, in necessary silence? Is my punishment to be eternal?

I suppose it is, since I must sadly assume that your resentment is more than a passing irritation, a suspicion that may fade when other ideas and soothing thoughts… Your resentment is like a life-sentence, and my only salvation is to be able to persuade you of my innocence, with irrefutable proof. I will overcome the echoes from voices that pursue me in the night destroying the peace of solitude, and will reach out to the greater good of your forgiveness.

Today, when I decided to write to you and begin my search, I felt that I regained a different attitude of mind, an energy I thought lost, and I devoted almost all day to cleaning your library. It is the first time in months that I have returned to this sacred place in the family memory, because it is too painful, it recalls the happy times in our lives and the lives of the whole family. I have looked again at the books your grandfather bought in his youth, with that passion that made him never hesitate for a second when it was a choice between a book or a pair of shoes; those gathered by your father on the days he worked at the office, in the university, in the period he had political commitments; and above all those that you, driven by the family fervour, bought in every corner of the city and hoarded like treasure, books that aroused so much envy in those privileged to see them.

Consequently, when I finished cleaning I reminded your daughter that whatever happens, whoever dies, everything in this sanctuary is absolutely and eternally sacred: not a page may leave, not a single volume put in a different place, so that the day you return — because against all the odds I know it will come — you will be able to walk with your eyes shut to the bookcase of your choice and take out, as was your habit, the book you want.

I have arranged for the bookcase doors to be opened once a month, for a few hours and always on a hot day, when no rain threatens, to allow the books to breath and gather strength, as you would say. Once every six months, a cloth and feather duster will pass along the spines and tops of the books, which will never be moved, to avoid the slightest disorder entering your personal order.

Dear love: I will say farewell for a time. And no matter if that truth, as the voices persecuting me say, is my worst punishment. Because I cannot stand you despising me and blaming me for a crime I have not committed. But rest assured that I will go on loving you as now, even more deeply, ever more longing for you to return…. A few days ago I swore not to write again, at least not until I had news from you, or could tell you what we are desperate to know. I was so disappointed by your silence and blinded by my own situation and the accursed voices speaking to me in the night, intent on driving me crazy, that I forgot the importance of this date: happy birthday, my love!

Havana Fever - Leonardo Padura

As soon as I remembered your birthday I decided I should celebrate it, even without you. Sadly, because it will be like a party without a host, where I will be privileged to be the main guest, the only one in fact, because your children are ever busier and more remote, swept up in the whirlwind of changes being brought in from day to day.

Then I made a mistake, another mistake. Exhilarated by feelings of joy, I went to the library and looked for that cookbook you were so fond of, do you remember? Can you imagine what I felt? No, you cannot. Can you imagine how much I hated her, how pleased I was by her death? Yes, I am sure you can, because your silence tells me daily, ever more insistently, you think I provoked her death, though you know I would be unable to contemplate any such thing.

That was when my party ended. My solitary celebrations fell flat and I was strengthened in my conviction that my life will only regain meaning if I succeed in discovering the truth you demand to exonerate me from those unfounded accusations. And I will find a way to that truth, because I love you always,. What if one had to pass through this world without the chance to enjoy those simple miracles? And does the mockingbird really trill alike for everyone, the same melody and harmonies?

Mario Conde looked at his apparently clean hands, and then back up at the yard, certain that, despite the shortages and frustrations over the years, he could still think himself a fortunate human being, because neither he nor his nearest and dearest had ever been forced to cross the final frontiers of debasement in the struggle to survive. The aroma of coffee hit home and, anticipating its delicious taste, he lifted a cigarette to his lips, preparing to perform the fusion of those two wonderful sensations so lambasted by medical hype.

But the grief and doubt clawing at his brain almost stifled his smile when Pigeon, tray in hand, offered him a china cup threaded with gold. While I was at it, I sold him fifteen books, at a much better price than we were expecting. But lameness can be faked and so can a particular way of speaking.

I swear. They get paid to do that and I fight for my bread on the street. Her police file, recovered by the new authorities created in , had recorded its first entry in , when she was put on file for practising prostitution in areas not authorized for such activities. However, from the woman apparently opted for an honest life, since no fresh criminal acts appeared on her police record. As a result, Elsa was confined to a reeducation centre for eight months, at the end of which she began a new life as a seamstress in a workshop, where a year later she was given the position of head of shift.

The information he then found confirmed the police silence initiated in , indicating that Lotus Flower must have made a qualitative leap around the time enabling her to immunize herself against — at least visible — harassment, that was the fate of defenceless street walkers who were always at the mercy of pimps and police alike. And that kind of trade, in the Cuba of the time, usually had one visible face, the famous Madame known as Marina, who lorded it over twenty whorehouses, and an owner concealed in the shadows of his new respectability: the Jewish Meyer Lansky. They gave her permanent address as being Apodaca, , flat 6, according to data obtained in For the Count this gave the mystery a more disturbing dimension: why had she done it?

There are no other signs of violence, nothing on his nails, so he was caught by surprise and killed by a single blow. He thinks it was all set up by someone who knows only too well how to make life difficult for detectives. And also tell him from me not to be such an asshole. Post a Comment. Mario Conde has long left the police force to make a living trading in antique books, but his detective instincts remain keen. In a decaying mansion occupied by a starving brother, sister and their elderly mother he discovers a magnificent library full of rare and valuable books.

His intuition tells him that something is not quite right — why has the collection remained intact for so long when the family have no obvious means of support — but his own perilous financial position compels him to trade with them. Hidden between the pages of one book he finds a news cutting about Violeta del Rio, a sultry bolero singer of the s with a voice and body that men instantly fell in love with, but who mysteriously disappeared just as she started to become famous.