Cowland (England). Saturday, April 2nd, 1707.
“Hurry up before I cool down!” she urged him with her voice tinged with desire.
“Madam Countess, I’ve never taken off a piece like this…” the young man confessed, full of shame, as he contemplated the complex lacings of the corset on her back.
The countess turned to him, with confusion swimming in her eyes. Then, she opened them wide with realization.
“”I’ll ask one of the maids how they do to hold their breasts and figures without these devices… “Leave that, young man, and come here!” she demanded, heading to the conjugal bed and lifting her skirt.
The young man went cross-eyed with the invitation and the vision of the white legs of the countess. He could not believe his good fortune. He, a simple gardener, in the chamber of the most beautiful, wealth and desired woman on the whole county. All the hairs on his body stood on end after imagining the touch and taste of her skin, anticipating how it would be to lay with the most beautiful and inaccessible creature around. He swallowed a mixture of saliva and badly hidden nervousness, and walked up to her amidst shy trembling.
The countess coiled her longing legs around his hips with a naughty smile.
“You’re so beautiful…!” he exclaimed, all desire and fascination.
“The underwear, hurry!” she rushed him as her hands explored his young pectorals.
The scream surprised them in that moment when they had not done anything but intended everything.
“Devilish woman! You’re no woman, but unfaithful bitch!” the count bellowed from the threshold of the matrimonial chambers.
She turned her head to the place where her husband stood, rifle in hand, and her eyes filled with fear as she guessed the plans of the recently arrived. The young gardener, who struggled to get his underwear back up, barely had time to stand straight. Or she to protect him. The count shoot at the right leg of the boy, who bent down immediately, kissing the floor among groans of pain and waves of blood.
William, nicknames “the Blood Count”, smiled with satisfaction after seeing the shattered leg of the little worm who had dared touch his wife. The pain he felt in that instant, with his femoral broken through, would be nothing in comparison to the lewd plans he imagined for him.
“Don’t you move, you stupid animal!” he threatened him, pointing at his head after the desperate attempt of the young man to crawl away.
“For the love of God, do as he says! Don’t move!” she begged with a thread of voice. “And you, William…”
“You dare address me, you lousy wench, unfaithful whore?” he roared, sinking his nails in his own hands with fury until he gave himself bleeding wounds.
The countess lowered her eyes, desperately looking for something that could save their lives, both hers as well as that of the young man who was bleeding out slowly at his feet. Then, realizing that nothing she said could do it, she recovered aplomb and bravado. She raised her eyes at him, defiant.
“Unfaithful whore, you call me? No, I am not. And can you it is so, indeed?” she spat at him.
The count was slightly surprised by the answer of his wife but, as the expert hunter he was, he knew full well the behavior of vermin when they knew they were in their final hour. They died attacking. Always.
“You’re right, Elisabeth…” he replied, lowering his gun. “Technically, you didn’t get to be it, so I cannot impose on you the corresponding punishment when there hasn’t been such affront, don’t you think? What would you do in my place? Should I leave you with this rabble a half hour so it gives you enough time to finish the act and so I can sport my brand new horns? Hmm, but I don’t think he’ll last, my lady Countess. Look at him: he’s livid and doesn’t have a very good aspect…”
The sadistic count walked a couple steps towards the bed, stopping halfway so he could contemplate the image at his leisure. The pool of blood was spreading freely across the floor.
“Since you’re asking me, my lord,” Elisabeth spoke, raising her voice as she fixed her grey and spiteful eyes on him. “I must give you the right of everything. I wish you’d come in a half hour later, but you couldn’t even give me that. Then you could have accused me of infidelity and, at least, I would have gone knowing what carnal pleasure is, dear William… Because the whole county knows our bedroom secrets. The prostitutes you lay with talk, my lord. And we all know what they do after their encounters with you: they cry. Some of them, out of disgust; others, out of pain because of the savagery you do to them; and, the most fortunate, out of laughter…”
“Stop!” the count yelled, red with rage. “You’re my wife and I surprised you trying to copulate with this servant! I wouldn’t need any more to apply to you the punishment for infidelity! Nevertheless, I’m feeling magnanimous today and, for this time, you’ll receive a punishment in proportion to your actions.”
William took a few steps back, without turning, until he stood beside a chest over which he rested the rifle. Then, he looked at his wife with a dirty and cruel smile which scratched at her skin. She waited.
“What will you do to me?” she babbled, exchanging looks between the beast she had for a husband and the young man bleeding out at her beside.
“Ohh, my dear… Always so impatient. For the moment you’ll be staying here, in your chambers, thinking about it until I get back…”
Again that horrible smile on his face, which caused intense nausea in the young countess. William caressed the resting rifle with veneration and sensuality, and turned towards the young man, who shivered as the life escaped him by the liter.
“Get up, you twat. You’re staining the chambers of the Count!” he exclaimed with a pretend fury which could barely hide his malicious smile.
The young man kept trembling, oblivious to his blood and the words from the count. William gave him a moderate kick in the back, which provoked the return of the gardener to the world of the living. He raised his glassy eyes towards his executor and, unable to utter a word, brought his begging hands to his face. The eyes of the count glowed with satisfaction, who knelt besides the dying man.
“You know what we’ll do, little gardener?” the Blood Count asked with an unusually sweet voice, which terrified his wife more than any other thing he had done.
William took a cotton kerchief from his jacket pocket and surrounded the injured leg with it. The boy allowed it, with his eyes filled with absurd gratefulness.
“What will you do to him?” Elisabet inquired, prey to the panic at the sudden change in the count’s attitude.
“I’m making a tourniquet to stop the blood loss and so he can stand,” he explained. “Hold on…”
He got up from the pool of blood, with his legs dripping and stained in red, and headed for the shelf on the front wall. He grabbed the ewer and the gilded silver basin, smiling as he caressed the family shield engraved in the set, and went to the boy with them.
“Drink. You’ve lost a lot of blood and the water will make you feel better.”
“WHAT WILL YOU DO TO HIM?” Elisabeth repeated, hysterical, from the bed.
She had not seen her husband so tender and willing since the day of their wedding, the moment he abandoned his representation of gallant and loving man.
“Me, dear? He answered, batting his eyelashes with pretend innocence. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I swear to you I won’t touch a hair from his head. Unlike you…”
The room appeared suddenly cold, gelid. The voice of the count competed in cruelty with his predator stare. Both heralded intense suffering for her.
Elisabeth squirmed on the bed shyly, afraid that Death might grip her before time.
“What will you do to him?” she asked for one last time, in a whisper, as the tears fled in terror on her face.
The count lowered his eyes towards the gardener, ignoring the stupid woman who cried in silence. He had drunk all the water.
“Come now! Stand, gardener, we’re getting out of here…” William encouraged him, grabbing him by the armpits and carrying him until he brought him to stand completely.
The young man let out a groan of pain, but managed to stand and walk to the exit, leaning on his killer for it.
“I won’t be long, dear. Wait for me…” the count told his wife, turning towards her for one las time before leaving the room. “And you, boy,” he addressed him, “have you ever seen my four precious dogs? They’re some truly magnificent specimens! Excellent hunters!”
“Not the doooogs!” Elisabeth claimed, tearful, as the door of her makeshift prison closed behind them and he head the double turn of the key.
Elisabeth slumped on the bed, praying for a quick death for the poor boy.
«Henry, his name was Henry…», she thought senselessly, repeating the name over and over, as if she could save him from that horrible death in doing so.
She bried her head in the sheets and sobbed until she felt dry and empty inside.
Naples. Monday, July 11th, 2005. 8:30 a.m.
The jar of marmalade danced between his hands once more. The bastard was resisting him and he was clearly losing the battle. He looked at the grilled croissant the room service had just brought him. It was starting to grow cold, mocking him. He got back into the fray and grabbed it again with a «Now you’ll get it », but it slipped from his hands and fell to the floor, exploding in a rain of marmalade and crystal.
Marmalade 5 - Man 0.
He let out a curse, ignoring that was not, by far, the worst thing that would happen to him that day.
But let us go back to the “terrible” moment.
The white shirt, perfectly ironed, sported folkloric dots of strawberry marmalade, and the floor was a mess. Our tough man ran to the bathroom to apply one of the remedies of a typical forty something bachelor: hiding the filth. The strategy was clear. He would throw a towel over the big, crystal-ridden, pink stain and leave the maid of the hotel to fend for herself. And he was deep in hat when a shrill yell pierced brick and wall, reaching the farthest corners of the hotel.
It was a horrifying scream, chilling, which hurt his eardrums and those of all the tourists housed there. For a few eternal seconds, the yell resounded in his ears, stabbing them. Then it died down until it became a mute death throe, barely audible.
The guests, moved in equal parts by curiosity and fright, began coming out of their rooms and peeking into the hallway, most of them half naked. They gave excited comments among them, more out of morbidity and gossip than real concern.
The yell came back, full of an anguishing panic and fury. Only a few seconds long this time and at a much lower volume.
The marmalade man turned his head and touched the wall which separated his room from that terrible scream. He got out of there, resolute and rushing, charging against the door of the adjoining room. Just his shoulder and brute force. The lock popped and the door opened, inviting him in, as he tried to ignore the dull pain coming out of his shoulder and spreading along is whole right arm.
He walked into the room, eager to aid the owner of such screaming, to defend her from a possible aggressor, but his body stopped short before the shocking spectacle.
On the bed, squirming desperately, lay a woman who flailed and bent in impossible ways, as if she was suffering from a grave epileptic crisis or a demonic possession. To that vision joined some grunting coming out of her throat, more fitting to an animal than a human being. Suddenly, all her body suffered a terrible convulsion and, after a couple more spasms, lay completely still.
The man imitated her, horrified in the center of the room, not knowing ow to act. He had just seen that woman die and his brain refused to process what he had just witnessed.
«I’m getting the hell out of here », he thought, drowning in cowardice.
He backed away a few steps, without taking his eyes off the corpse or turning his back to it (just in case), and he closed the unhinged door behind him, in a desperate attempt to hide the filth, as he had done moments before in the battle with the marmalade.
«Let the police handle it…»
Naples. Same day. 17:10 p.m.
“Let’s see… So, you declare that the victim was still alive when you brought down the door to her room. Correct?” asked Segreto, the police inspector, as he scribbled on his worn notepad.
“That’s right,” the man confirmed, looking at the stains of marmalade on his shirt. “When I went in, she was emitting inhuman sounds and twisted in a horrible way. It looked like…, like…”
“Like, what, Mr. Rodriguez?” Segreto asked, arching one eyebrow in curiosity.
Our Marmalade Man, also known as Fernando Rodriguez, swallowed with effort, holding his breath. As if the words he was about to utter were tearing at his throat.
“Well… I’d say like…, like she was being strangled. But that’s impossible, I’m afraid. There was no one else in that room. Only that woman and myself.”
“Do you understand how strange that sounds?” Segreto interrogated him pointing at him with his pen. “We’ll come back to that point later… Now, tell me, why is your shirt full of what seem to be blood stains? Mrs. Olivares doesn’t present any bleeding orifice…”
“By God! It can be clearly seen this isn’t blood! Smell it!” the interrogated squirmed, angry and fearful. “I had a mishap with a jar of marmalade this morning. Then, I heard the scream and… you know. I haven’t had time to change,” he added in shame, avoiding the sardonic stare of the policeman.
The thorax of the inspector agitated visibly. He loved his job.
“Are you laughing at me?” the Spaniard asked in astonishment.
“The maid informed us thoroughly, don’t worry,” the other one answered, holding back a cackle. “I wanted to hear your version… And, tell me, what are you doing in Naples? Business? Pleasure?”
“Am I a suspect in something?” Rodriguez said, giving a new start on the uncomfortable plastic chair.
“No. Relax, Mr. Rodriguez. It’s just data for the report… Bureaucracy. And in case we need to contact you again.”
“I’m a representative of a design company in Barcelona and I’m here in business, to close a deal with some new clients,” the Spaniard explained himself, without relaxing one bit, as he cleaned the oceans of sweat off his face.
“Would you like a glass of water? Our AC broke down this morning and we have to deal with this suffocating heat. You know, technicians…” he apologized, playing the “good cop” now. “No? Alright. Let’s go back to that room…” he added, looking for the eyes of his interrogated as soon as he wrote down his information. “Did you know that the deceased is, coincidentally, from your country?”
“I don’t understand what you’re trying to get at…” Rodriguez answered in a desperate whisper.
“Nothing, nothing… But it’s still curious, is it not? A Spanish lady, so famous and wealthy in your country, dying in the room next door, with you as the only witness…” Sergio added with a voice of pretend suspicion. He wanted to see how far he could get.
“I didn’t know that woman at all!” the man cried. “I mean, we all know Mrs. Olivares from the media as he is part of the Spanish aristocracy, but I didn’t know she was staying there nor that that woman was even her. I… didn’t recognize her. I could only see the… the…” a nervous trembling shook his organism.
“What did you see, Mr. Rodriguez?”
“The hand, the hand that seemed to form around that woman’s neck,” he recognized, at last, terrified, facing the watery eyes of the policeman.
“A hand?” the other one repeated, with his voice tinged with incredulity and something else Rodriguez was unable to discern. “But you just affirmed a moment ago there was no one else in that room…”
“That’s right,” the other one recognized, abashed.
“Is there no possibility at all that there was someone hiding in the bathroom?”
The man shrugged his shoulders.
“I just walked in a couple steps from the door,” he answered. “I told you all I saw, inspector…”
“Bahhh!” the inspector exclaimed, more to himself than to his talker. “Could it be possible that someone had strangled her before and that you just arrived in time to see the convulsions of her final agony? Because Mrs. Olivares was strangled, Mr. Rodriguez. We have not the slightest doubt about that. Did you bump into someone in the hallway? Something or someone strange?”
“Look, inspector, the only thing I intended to do was help a person in danger. OR, at least by her screams, she seemed to be. I didn’t even stop to think about it. I just ran, opened the door as I could and got in. There was no one in Mrs. Olivares’ room. At least, no one in sight. That’s all I can tell you. But, if you want my opinion…” The witness leaned towards the space the inspector occupied, looking the necessary closeness for confidentiality.
“I’ll be grateful for that,” the policeman smiled. “The opinions from witnesses are as valuable as their statements regarding the facts.”
“Well then, inspector… This is my observation, my doubt… If, when I saw that woman, there was no one in her room and she was still alive, flailing, how is it that she died afterwards? Because I imagine that, when one has his neck pressed with hands and then that pressure is released, one can continue living. Yo recover… Is that not so?”
Segreto remained silent and made an ambiguous gesture with his hand.
“It’s what happens usually,” he spoke at last. “Unless the pressure of the hands had already caused irreparable internal injuries: trachea rupture, internal hemorrhaging… those kinds of things. But, in a certain way, that isn’t the case with Mrs. Olivares.”
“Didn’t she die of strangling?”
“Yes, yes. The coroner’s report is convincing in that matter: strangling and posterior cardiac failure,” the inspector declared.
Rodriguez remembered the horrible kicking of the victim with disgust, and how they had stopped in such an abrupt manner.
“Yes. You could be right and she died of a heart attack,” he agreed.
“But, the most curious and intriguing of it all,” Segreto proceeded, “is that we haven’t found traces of anyone else in her room, besides you. The maid assures she was there the night before. From then on, neither her nor anyone else from the room service went into her room for anything. Not even to serve her something to eat or drink. And there’s more…”
Segreto let the last syllable drag on theatrically by the silence of the interrogation room. Rodriguez was holding his breath, not daring to swallow or blink.
“Mrs. Olivares died strangled by one only hand.”
The witness smiled sadly, provoking confusion in the other one.
“How?! You’re not amazed because Mrs. Olivares died strangled by a person who only used one hand?”
“No, I’m not amazed, inspector,” the Spaniard answered. “I’ve already told you I thought I saw one hand.”
“Did you really see that hand? Was it a woman’s?” the Italian asked.
Rodriguez was visibly startled by the words of the inspector, and looked all around the room in fright, as if he was afraid of something. Segreto was analyzing every gesture and word pronounced with the precision of an expert surgeon, while writing on his old ring notepad.
“You’ll think I’m crazy…” Rodriguez murmured, shrinking on the hard chair.
“Let it out, come on…” the inspector encouraged him, ever more intrigued.
“The hand I saw on Mrs. Olivares’ neck was a woman’s, like you just mentioned, inspector. But it was just that: one hand,” the witness spoke, holding the astonished stare of the inspector.
Their eyes analyzed each other for a few seconds, searching for truth and compromise in the other. Segreto nodded and, for the first time since that prostitute he had assisted in the case of the “suburb psychopath”, he grabbed a chair and sat before him, allowing some proximity with his witness. He needed to prove that both of them were, indeed, alone. He let out a sigh of defeat and said:
“I’m not crazy, inspector, but I swear to you that hand didn’t have an arm or a body to go with it. It held on to the woman’s throat with extraordinary strength. It strangled her mercilessly.”
“That… hand… did you see it the whole time? Could it have been a hallucination?” Segreto asked, leaving his inseparable notepad aside as his forehead became pearled with sweat.
“Maybe. Yes. No. I don’t think so…” the man confessed, lowering his voice more and more and forcing the policeman to come ever closer, so they heads grazed. “I can’t get it our of my head. When I walked into that room, Mrs. Olivares was fighting to get rid of something pressing on her neck. At first I thought she was strangling herself. Only when she stopped struggling and her arms fell to the sides, I saw it… It was an amputated hand, with blood on the opening.”
“That’s impossible, for God’s sake!” Segreto exclaimed, struggling within himself to reject that unlikely story but that, inexplicably, fit perfectly with the preliminary report from the coroner.
“I know! You’ll take me as crazy or guilty, aren’t you? But I saw it! I saw it as I am seeing you right now!” he cried as a little boy.
“I don’t know what to tell you. The fingerprints of the hand who strangled the victim correspond, according to the coroner, to a woman or a young boy, by their size. But strangling a person with only one hand required a lot of strength!” Segreto exclaimed, getting up from his seat in exasperation. His hound smell screamed at him that the only suspect they had was innocent. “No, it wasn’t you… But, tell me one more thing, how do you know it was a woman’s hand?”
“Do you really want to know, inspector?”
Segreto made a gesture with his hand which intended to mean a «go ahead». Fernando straightened in his chair and the inspector took his again. Their heads bumped again, creating a fleeting intimacy, increased by the whispers and restless heartbeats of both, which stressed the silence.
“As it was saying, until Mrs. Olivares didn’t open her arms, I didn’t notice that horrible mutilated hand. It was a think and delicate hand, with very white skin, so the dried blood on it stood out. A hand with an enormous ring on her ring finger. The ring was crowned with an ruby which was impossible to ignore, not only because of its size, but because it seemed to be made of blood. It glowed with a life of its own, as if it absorbed the light and energy of everything around it. Then…” the voice of the Spaniard cracked and his eyes filled with tears.
Segreto looked away, uncomfortable, until he stopped at the forgotten notepad on the table. He was used to seeing anyone crying when they walked into that room and suffered the attack of his interrogations. It was his house specialty. But the tears of this man provoked in him a strange mixture of outwardly shame and anguish. He gave a bit of time for the man to regain his composure and hawked his throat.
“What happened then?” Segreto asked in a whisper.
“The hand stopped for an instant, as if it knew it had been caught.”
“Yes. For a moment, it stopped strangling Mrs. Olivares and pointed at me with a finger. I’m sure of that. Then, it vanished.”
“What do you mean vanished?” the inspector repeated, unable to do other thing than becoming the echo of the most farfetched story he had ever heard.
“Yes. It didn’t take off running or anything like that. It just pointed at me and vanished. Poof! Invisible! A few seconds later, Mrs. Olivares was dead.”
“Shit on a whore! My team mates are going to have a good laugh if I write down all that shitty story in the report!” the policeman reacted at last, getting up again and kicking furiously at the air.
The marmalade man went silent and allowed the tears to bathe his face shamelessly. Then, he said something unintelligible.
“What? What did you say, Rodriguez?”
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” he spoke louder, looking for the truth in the eyes of the policeman. “I can feel it in my bones. It feels like Death is haunting me. That hand… has seen me and will come for me.”
“By the nails of Christ! A killer hand!” Segreto bellowed, leaving his witness with his words in his mouth and drowning in desperate crying.
Segreto looked at the crumbling man before him and knew their fates had been linked in some twisted way.
«Why the heck do I want to help this man and throw my career to the gutter?», he wondered, cursing at himself.
Cowland (England). Saturday, April 2nd, 1707.
“Run, for the love of God!” the cook hissed, with her hands rolled up to fists over the breasts that had fed him.
Henry, who had fallen down again, dragged along the path of earth and grass, leaving a mess of blood behind. Samantha observed the macabre spectacle through the big windows of the kitchen, with her heart shattering into more and more pieces.
“Samantha! Be quiet or the Blood Count will hear us…” Judith, her young assistant, begged her as she tried to pull her away from the windows and that unnecessary suffering.
“But he’s my son!” she screamed, torn and annihilated inside. "He’s my son!” she repeated among inconsolable whimpers on her companion’s shoulder.
“Don’t look, please. Don’t look,” Judith begged after seeing how the distance between Henry and the starving hounds of the count grow shorter in gigantic strides.
Henry had managed to stand and ran in mortal limping, holding desperately onto whatever he found in his path and could use as support. A few more steps and he would manage to reach that black poplar. With a bit of fortune, he would gather the few remaining strength he had remaining to climb it and protect himself from the attack of the dogs.
«I’m going to make it!», he thought with a triumphant smile which, suddenly, feels the rebirth of hope after thinking everything had been lost. «I’m going to maaaaaAAAAAAAAAA…!»
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” the young gardener screamed after feeling the first bite on the injured leg.
The blood flowed in warm springs. Henry turned towards the origin of the pain. A Breton hound, famished and coughing, tore and opened his wound in impossible gaps, looking for the life in them as death reached him. In a last effort, the boy tried to perch upon the tree with the dog hanging from his leg.
“Don’t look!” Judith told Samantha again, but she had freed herself from the arms that tried to hold her and was back by the window from which she would see, for the last time, her son.
“Noooooooooooooo! My God!” she yelled with all her body torn, as her son’s would be left.
Three more dogs gathered besides their canine partner. Two of them immobilized his legs as they gave him furious and hungry bites which tore at his skin, flesh, muscle and tendons. The third one, a Pointer he had fed in hiding when he was a child, stayed behind, dubious.
The dogs pulled at him from several directions and Henry, finally, slumped to the ground. The Pointer stood over him, sniffed at his face, presented him with a shy lick on his face and, then, satiated her hunger ripping his throat.
“My little oneeeee!” the cook whispered with her voice dry by the fright and the pain, and her face against the crystal, which had become a makeshift wake of her only male son.
Samantha dropped to the floor, tearing out reddish strands of hair, as she cried and screamed without a voice. Because she felt it had just been taken away from her. She would never pronounce another word. Not even when Death came for her at her bed, since she just smiled, thankful for such a short wait.
The dogs continued their frantic attack. Henry tried to say his last word in this world, to express his pain and awe, but from his mouth only came out bubbling blood among which that final lament agonized. The four hounds fed on him until they were sated and looked at the corpse of the young man, who had died with his mouth as open as his eyes, as if he still had a lot to say. As if there was still a world he had to see.
“Betsy, Linda, Theo and Flash! Here!” the count’s voice yelled from a distance.
The dogs sniffed at the air, looked at the bleeding remains once more, and trotted merrily to their master. They had eaten well.
«I swear you’ll die in pain as well, just like my little one», Samantha promised within herself, sinking her nails in the cold floor.
Naples. Wednesday, July 13th, 2005. 16:35 p.m.
“Are you sure you want to go back to Spain, Mr. Rodriguez? I won’t be able to do anything for you over there,” Segreto affirmed, turning his eyes towards the airport strip.
“Yes, inspector. I must go back home and to my workplace. As you’ve told me, I’m free of all suspicion and there’s nothing left for me to do here,” the Spaniard answered, offering his hand as a farewell.
“I understand… But, after you told me about that room, we both know work is the least of your concerns right now,” the policeman pressed. “Come now, be honest. Why are you leaving so soon? Just yesterday you were worried about your physical integrity and you were asking me for protection. Talk to me, man.”
The marmalade man took a quick glance at the Iberia plane, looked at the Italian cop, checked the time on his watch and went back to the sharp green eyes of te policeman, which contemplated him with genuine interest. He checked the hour again on his watch, more to gain time as he made a choice, and answered:
“Alright, inspector. I still have a half hour before boarding. Come closer…” he whispered in his ear as he grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away from the crowd of people nearby. “I must… I need to leave here or I’ll die.”
Segreto held a sigh of displease. He hated not having control of the situation and, for the first time in his life, he felt confused and lost in a case.
“Why don’t you stay a couple more days? Maybe we’ll discover something to deny all this madness: what you saw, what the coroner’s reports affirm… You’d go back more at ease, don’t you think?” he said at last, not very convinced. “I promised you my protection and I’m a man of my word. If you leave, I won’t be able to deliver.”
“What you cannot do is protect me, because there’s no defense for what cannot be killed of harmed. That hand…” his voice broke in the air.
The stench of fear hurt the nostrils of Segreto, confirming to him that everything that man said in that instant would be true. Or, at least, he believed it true.
“Tell me, what happened yesterday to make you change your mind and leave today, so suddenly?”
“I…” the other one hesitated.
“Fernando… I can call you by name, can’t I?”
The Spaniard swallowed some thick saliva which tasted like razorblades to him. He held his trembling hands, trying to hide his shaking and nodded.
“I like my job, you know? It lets me be as much of an asshole I want to with the bad guys (and play with the not so bad ones, true), but I’m legal and I’ve always known which one’s my side and who I must defend. That’s why I’m so fucking good at this. That and because of my great intuition,” Segreto explained, tapping at his temple with his index finger. “You and I, Fernando, are on the same side. I knew it from the moment I saw you with that shirt full of strawberry marmalade, trembling like a lost girl in the night.
“So then, all of that…” the Spaniard blinked, perplexed.
“I’ve already told you: I like to play to a bit and let the asshole in me out for a while. —play with the mice for a bit, you know…, to make the interrogations funnier and more interesting, and extract information that I could not get any other way.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because I want you to know I believe you, dammit. Because my nose tells me that all of this that’s happening is as real as surreal. Because I’ve also seen something…” the policeman recognized with discomfort.