Saturday, March 30, 2013

Murder in the Central Committee by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (Melville International Crime 1981)

'Put them with today's.'

The girl did as Santos said, and Julian Mir returned to his duties as chief steward, casting eyes over the movements of his red-armbanded subordinates.

'We'll have an unpleasant surprise one of these days. I don't like this place.'

Santos met Mir's critical ill-humour with a nod that could have indicated either agreement or disapproval. He had been using the same gesture with Mir ever since the days of the Fifth Regiment. Then, Julian had never liked the evening shadows, which had seemed pregnant with Franco's soldiers, nor the morning light that opened the way to advance parties of Regulares. Later, he had not been fond of the Tarn fruit groves, which seemed to have borne the shape of German patrols ever since the Pleistocene. Later still, he had not liked his missions inside the country, although he carried them out with the haughty assurance of a Western film hero.

'Many problems?'

'Four fascists died of fear,' Mir had invariably replied on his return from a trip to Franco's Spain.

He had always been like that. Probably born that way, thought Santos, and he was suddenly surprised that Julian Mir had once been born: so long ago; too long. The time was now stored in his stiff white hair and his old athlete's musculature that made him look like a chicken spoiling for a fight.

'I don't like this place.'

'Here we go again. Where would you like to hold the central committee?' asked Santos.

'There are too many little offices dotted everywhere. That's what I am complaining about. There should be a fine central headquarters like every proper Communist Party has got. Does it seem right to you? Just yesterday, the Anabaptists from Torrejón de Ardoz held a convention here. Look at what's written on that poster.

'I'd have to put my glasses on.'

'Oh yes! You've been losing your faculties ever since you became a pen-pusher,' Mir said. 'I can read it all right: "The way of the spirit in the path of the body", by Yogi Sundra Bashuarti. That was here yesterday. I can't tell anymore whether this is a central committee meeting or a gathering of fakirs. Communists in a hotel—as if we were tourists or underwear salesmen.'

'You're in a right old mood.'

'And one day they'll sneak in a commando disguised as a tropical orchestra. Sometimes you can even hear the music from the dance-hall.'

'It's quite atmospheric.'

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