Informe negro

Francisco Hinojosa

English translation by Tanya Huntington


  1. I exhausted the Constitution and the Civil Code. Since I couldn’t find a single law against it, I became a certified private investigator in a modest ceremony for one.
  2. I had a hundred business cards printed up with a modern logo I designed myself.
  3. My home was transformed into an authentic detective agency. I arranged my books in a glass case confiscated from the dining room set. I also dusted off an old family sofa for my future clients and positioned a small bar cart next to my desk.
  4. I took out an ad in the newspaper offering absolute efficiency and discretion in all kinds of investigations.
  5. I called my boss to resign from my job at the paperclip factory. He was sorry to hear it: “You’ve really put us in a jam, Mr. Sanabria. No one knows this company better than you. It’s a crying shame.”
  6. I donned a new necktie and blazer, crossed my legs on top of my desk, and threw myself into reading the newspaper while I awaited the call of my first client.
  7. At two twenty in the afternoon, having pored over my own ad several times and all the other sections to boot, I went out to lunch. I needed a stiff drink to lift my spirits.
  8. I entered the bar, hung my hat and trench coat on a hook, and ordered a Scotch and soda with two submarine sandwiches on the side. By my third bite, I had a pretty good idea of how to promote myself at the bar while at the same time, practicing a few techniques from my new vocation.
  9. I showed the bartender the only photograph I happened to be carrying in my wallet. A recent portrait of my mother.
  10. “No, Sir,” he said. “People like her don’t come in here very often. Are you from the feds?”
  11. “Private eye,” I answered. “It’s possible that this woman may have murdered a man. If you see her around, give me a ring.” I offered him my card.
  12. Back at the agency, I called Mumsy. My sister told me she had gone out to fill some orders for those scarves she knits and wouldn’t be home before dark.
  13. I made the necessary small talk before cutting the conversation short, so as to keep the line free.
  14. Pleased with my performance at the bar, I fell asleep hoping the bartender would pass my card along to one of his regulars. Somebody with marital difficulties, perhaps.
  15. I woke up to the sound of the telephone ringing. I answered half-asleep, but managed to sound businesslike nonetheless. It was Francisca. The daughter of Adalberto, a former colleague at the paperclip factory. “Tom, we need to talk,” she said. “It’s terribly urgent.” I gave her an appointment for the following morning.
  16. At twelve minutes to eight, having patiently contemplated the telephone in all its silence, I decided to go back to the bar. Any detective worth his salt, I thought, would not give up so easily.
  17. Feeling rather foolish, I asked the bartender: “Nothing new, friend?” “No, Sirree. Same old, same old.” And he served me a dry martini instead of the Scotch I had ordered.
  18. It tasted like perfume, but I downed it without complaint. Then I showed my mother’s picture to the guy drinking next to me at the bar.
  19. Once he realized I was a private eye, he became more interested in the photograph. But despite all his efforts to recall every face he had ever seen, he didn’t recognize Mumsy.
  20. “What did she do?” he asked me. “Homicide,” I replied. We exchanged business cards. His name was Cornelio Campos, sales representative of a pharmaceutical company.
  21. That night, I dreamed Mumsy entered the bar, pulled a machine gun out of her purse and riddled the bartender with bullets. Cornelio fought back by lobbing a bottle of whisky at her head. It crashed onto her silvery mane of hair.
  22. As I was corroborating that my ad had in fact been run in the paper again, I heard a knock at the door. It was Francisca.
  23. I hadn’t seen her in five or six years. Although Adalberto and I came to be very close friends, we lost touch after I caught him stealing nearly a million and a half paper clips to be fenced on the black market.
  24. I had to excuse myself and go into the bathroom, where I could blush without her noticing.
  25. “Tom, you can’t imagine how surprised I was to see your name in the paper.” “So, you like reading the classifieds, do you?” I inquired, aghast. “Oh, no, Tom. Let me explain…”
  26. She told me her boyfriend had passed away the week before. Officially, it was deemed a suicide, but as far as Francisca was concerned, he had met with foul play. I asked her rather skeptically what motives she had to suspect something of such a delicate nature.
  27. “In the first place, Chucho would not have committed suicide: we were going to be married in August. Plus, he had a gun, so he had no reason to kill himself with a dagger. Not to mention the fact that Chucho confided in me a few days ago that someone was threatening his life…”
  28. Her sobs moved me. A tall glass of Scotch later, she was able to calm down and provide me with some key details for the investigation. She handed me a photograph of her former fiancé, his face somewhat obscured by a saxophone, and made me a list of people he was close to.
  29. She said goodbye with a kiss that didn’t quite graze my cheek and left before we could discuss my professional fees.
  30. Since every investigation has to start somewhere, which wasn’t going to happen with no money for expenses, I found myself obliged to call Mumsy and request a short-term loan.
  31. “Of course, Son. Come on by for it whenever you get a chance.” I reprimanded myself for having sullied her image and slid her photograph under the glass on my desk.
  32. I randomly chose a name from the list Francisca had drawn up. Since the house of Mr. Ardiles, father of the deceased, was located at a considerable distance from my agency, I decided to make a pit stop at the bar to mull over the questions I’d ask him.
  33. The bartender studied Chucho’s photograph carefully. “This is the victim?” “That’s right,” I deviously replied. “No, I don’t think I’ve seen him around here. Why is it you assume every guy in town comes into this joint? You could try casing some other place for a change…” I nodded and knocked back the two glasses that remained before me: one filled with Scotch, the other with shrimp broth.
  34. It took nearly an hour for the local bus to get to Mr. Ardiles’s house. After we met, I crossed him off my list of suspects. His face could have been that of a thief, or a rapist, or a dentist, but never a filicide.
  35. “I don’t know how Francisca got such a crazy idea into her head,” he told me. “Chucho was a solitary type, nervous and prone to depression. His suicide, to be honest, didn’t come as much of a surprise to me as it did to his mother or friends.”
  36. Joaquín Junco, owner of the corner store La Zorrita: “It must have been foul play, because he wasn’t the type of guy who goes around committing suicide out of the blue. Promise me that if you catch the son of a bitch who did it, you’ll let me know, so I can beat the crap out of him.”
  37. Georgina Mondragón, Chucho’s ex-girlfriend: “Poor Chubs, he was such a good soul… I don’t believe he killed himself, or that anyone else did for that matter.”
  38. Lucho Romo, childhood friend of the deceased and drummer in his jazz ensemble: “That cat Chucho? You ask me, he stepped on the gas. Let me break it down for you, Mister Sanabria: he chose the knife because they weren’t giving him his fix, you dig?” Of course, I didn’t dig a single word. Everything he said was utter nonsense. Poor kid.
  39. It was almost midnight by the time I arrived to collect Mumsy’s loan. She wasn’t home, as usual. She had left a stack of bills with my sister. I never imagined the scarf business could be so lucrative. I decided to take just one, a five-thousand peso note.
  40. Back at the agency, I lifted both legs onto my desk and started going through my notes. I still didn’t have any solid leads. The only interview that got me thinking was that of Georgina Mondragón: perhaps she was right, and this was neither a suicide nor murder, but an accident. Why not?
  41. Suddenly, I felt myself incapable of solving the case. I had to force down what was left of my bottle of whisky in order to fall asleep.
  42. When I awoke, Francisca stood there before me with a cup of coffee in one hand and my correspondence in the other. Her getup was a clear, well-defined, triumphant provocation. “Forgive me for bursting into your home this way, Tom. The door was open…”
  43. After shaving and getting dressed, I attended to Francisca. She was seated at my desk, waiting, another cup of coffee in her hands and a cigarette in her mouth.
  44. “Yesterday evening,” she began, “I got a telegram. This is proof that I’m not crazy, and that Chucho was murdered. I’m frightened, Tom, so very frightened.”
  46. “I have no idea who this Manola could be, Tom. You’ve got to believe me. They want to kill me, too, and I don’t know why, truly…”
  47. I doused her tears with the remainder of the bottle of brandy I kept in the liquor cabinet. Then I tucked the telegram into my pocket and asked Francisca to stay put at the agency, because it might be too dangerous for her to be out on the streets alone. I offered her my library.
  48. Before my next stop at the telegraph office, I decided to swing by and visit Chucho’s mother. On my way there in the cab, I couldn’t erase Francisca’s figure from my mind.
  49. A sudden hunch led me to venture an idea: “Mrs. Pereira,” I told her, “a friend of your son’s, a guy by the name of Lucho, insinuated that your son was no longer getting fixed. Do you have any idea what he might have been referring to?”
  50. “Chucho was a good boy, Mr. Sanabria, you’ve got to believe me. I admit he did have that one tiny defect. But what was really sinking him weren’t the pills. The real problem is, he was playing middle man between his friends and the purveyors of that merchandise, if you catch my drift.”
  51. Of course I caught her drift. I’d already harbored the suspicion that there was something rotten about this case: drug addiction, drug dealing, pharmacodependence. Something in that face concealed behind the saxophone.
  52. Mrs. Pereira was unable to provide me with any more clues. As I took my leave, she seemed so overwrought that I decided to leave my card on the table in the foyer.
  53. The employee at the telegraph office laughed in my face when I said I was a private eye looking for whoever had sent the telegram. “You think I actually read the stupid shit people write? Well, that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. I just count the words and ring up the tab.”
  54. I threatened him with being an accessory to murder if he didn’t cooperate, but all I got for my troubles was kicked out of the office, in addition to some rather colorful insults to which I made no reply, out of professional ethics.
  55. I stopped at the supermarket for a bottle of whisky and two orders of pre-cooked paella.
  56. When I entered the agency, Francisca didn’t so much as bother to lower her legs from my desk. I caught her reading my correspondence.
  57. We looked each other in the eye for a long moment without saying a word. Finally, I went over to her, confiscated the letter she had opened, grabbed her purse, and emptied it out onto the desk.
  58. A lipstick, a pen, a coin purse, a hairbrush filled with blonde strands, a packet of Kleenex, a pair of nylon stockings, two limes, and a little bottle of red and yellow pills.
  59. “What I didn’t count on was you lying to me,” I groused. “Better start by telling me who Chucho was buying this crap from.”
  60. Finally, she deigned to lower her legs from my desk, then rushed to embrace me with all her might. I had a soft spot for her. My anger melted into compassion. “I’m so frightened, Tom. If they were capable of killing Chucho, they won’t stop when it comes to me. Don’t let them kill me, please, Tom, don’t let them…”
  61. After we had inaugurated the bottle of whisky, I accommodated her on the client sofa and promised no less than a dozen times that they weren’t going to kill her as long as I lived and breathed. “Don’t you worry, little lady, Tom will protect you. All you need to do is be a good girl and tell me who Chucho was getting those pills from.”
  62. “I went with him a few times. He called the guy Richard. Unless things have changed, you can find him from four to five in the afternoon at a bar called La Providencia. He’s a fat, grey-haired, wrinkled old man. He wears cowboy boots and suspenders. But he’s dangerous, Tom. Don’t let him kill you.”
  63. After I was finally able to set her at ease and leave her dozing on the client sofa, the telephone rang. It was the bartender. He said that the suspect I was trailing was in his bar at that very moment.
  64. “Mumsy, in a bar?” I asked myself.
  65. The physical resemblance was astonishing from a distance, I’ll admit, but anyone who knows my mother would never confuse her with such a vulgar sort. The bartender turned out to be a bit short-sighted when it came to the human soul.
  66. Still, I found myself obliged to play the detective in order to attract future clients. The conversation was going to be rough going, given that Cornelio and the bartender were watching me closely. As if from one moment to the next, I was going to slap a pair of cuffs on the dame and read her her rights.
  67. Maybe it was the tedium caused by the situation that led me to attempt the same maneuver I had used on my new client with such positive results.
  68. I came up from behind and with a brusque gesture, tried to empty her purse out onto the table. Her reaction was nothing like Francisca’s. The suspect smashed her revolting glass of vodka in my face before her personal effects had time to reach the tabletop. As I realized my mistake and tried to defend myself, the dame finished me off with an ashtray to the nose that clouded my vision.
  69. When I came to, Cornelio was attempting to administer a glass of beer to me. “We couldn’t stop her, Mr. Sanabria,” the bartender apologized. “She was on such a rampage, she could have taken on a whole army by herself. I believe you now. She must be some kind of dangerous killer.”
  70. “Don’t worry,” I tried to set my afflicted companions at ease. “At this very moment, the real killer is sitting in a bar called La Providencia.”
  71. Cornelio offered to accompany me. He had a ’50-something Ford that threatened to break down on every corner. On the way there, I told him what little I knew about this Richard fellow.
  72. “Fear not, my good detective,” he comforted me. “I’m packing a knife, and I know how to use it.” I was forced to lie: I assured him I was carrying a revolver in the pocket of my blazer.
  73. At four-thirty, we arrived at La Providencia. None of the individuals at the bar fit the description Francisca had given me of Richard. We ordered a couple of beers.
  74. While we were waiting for the murderer to show his face, Cornelio told me his life story. After convincing me that he was quite an expert at handling a variety of weapons, from shotguns to ropes, he confessed that he had done time for trying to choke his wife to death.
  75. He was starting to lay out the motives that led him to his frustrated attempt at spousicide when we made Richard, clad in cowboy boots and suspenders. He was drinking tequila and beer at the table next to ours.
  76. In order to prevent him from having enough time to escape or attacking us first, a brilliant plan occurred to me that I shared in secret with Cornelio.
  77. Under the pretext of feigned drunkenness, my companion and I climbed up onto the table, ostensibly to dance the cha-cha to the music that echoed in the bar. But instead of keeping time, we pounced onto our man like jungle cats.
  78. Cornelio grabbed him by the neck, and I grabbed him by the waist. Richard couldn’t so much as swallow his mouthful of tequila.
  79. “We’ve got the drop on you,” I said, seeing how he was blinded by surprise. “One false move, and we won’t hesitate to drill a hole in your belly, you pig.”
  80. In measured, grave, intelligent tones, I informed everyone present that we were police officers, and that we needed everyone except for the employees to exit the bar immediately.
  81. Then I ordered Richard to keep his hands spread on the floor while I searched him. I found a .38 special in his blazer pocket and a .45 tucked in the waistband of his pants. I passed Cornelio the lower caliber gun.
  82. “Now you’re going to be a good boy,” I badgered the suspect, “and come quietly with us. If you try to escape, you can kiss your tequilas goodbye.” On our way out, I tossed a thousand-peso bill onto the bar.
  83. The old man’s docile nature made me a little uneasy. He did everything we asked him to without a peep. We loaded him into the Ford. Before the interrogation, we took him for a ride down empty streets.
  84. “We are no friends of yours,” I threatened, “of that you can be sure. You stand accused of homicide under several aggravating circumstances, in addition to trafficking of narcotics and corruption of minors. We aren’t even going to bother reading you your rights.” “You have no evidence against me,” he defended himself. “I haven’t killed anybody, for real… it wasn’t me.”
  85. “Must have been Mr. Nobody,” Cornelio clumsily mocked him. “At this very moment, Richard, we are going to take you to a room with no windows, where all of Chucho’s friends are ready and waiting. You do remember him, right, Poopsie?” Cornelio played the bad cop rather poorly, but there was a certain subtlety to his threats that satisfied me.
  86. “I repeat, I did not kill that boy, and there is no evidence against me. Do your worst: I won’t spill the beans.” After dealing Richard a strong jab to the ribs, Cornelio fired up his nondescript Ford jalopy.
  87. After a good beating, Richard softened up and proposed we make a deal: he would take us to Manola, the real killer and boss of the drug ring, in exchange for his freedom. I answered him that the most I could do would be to release him once we had this so-called Manola in custody. After that, he would be on his own.
  88. “Excellent, my good detective, excellent,” Cornelio said admiringly, anxious to leap into action and demonstrate his knife wielding skills. It didn’t take long for me to disappoint him.
  89. “We may need some backup before we go barging into Manola’s place. We don’t know how many men might be lying in wait. But don’t worry, I can take care of that. I’ve got a friend on the force. You babysit Richard while I make a phone call.”
  90. Chief Cipriano Herrera used to work as a detective for the paperclip factory. I saved him from getting fired once for falling asleep on the job. He promised to return the favor someday. When the police force hired him, he placed himself at my service. I dialed his number.
  91. “Where can I find you, Tomás?” “I’m at the corner of La Paz and Revolución. The snitch is here with me, plus a friend who has a pistol aimed at him as we speak.” “I’ll be about fifteen minutes,” he said, “wait for me there.”
  92. I also called Francisca to ask her to join us, so she could witness the outcome of the case she had entrusted to me.
  93. Back in the Ford, Richard’s hands had been tightly bound with a necktie. Cornelio jabbed at his ribs with the knife: “He tried to make a break for it, Tomás, but I know how to tie a hog. Isn’t that right, Ri-car-do?” he contemptuously addressed the accused.
  94. Francisca got there first and planted a warm kiss on my cheek, followed soon after by Cipriano in an old unmarked Mercedes. He embraced me so hard, anyone would have thought we were two brothers, reunited after the war.
  95. He pulled Richard by the hair into the back of his Mercedes, where three other men were waiting with their respective rifles. “We’ve been trailing Manola for several years now. So actually, you are the one doing me the favor. I’ll find some way to repay you.”
  96. We headed south to the suburb of Tlalpan, the very same neighborhood where I spent much of my childhood and adolescence.
  97. Visions of the soccer games we played as kids against a team from the boulevard danced in my head. Ah, the good old days!
  98. The Mercedes pulled over. The first one out was Richard, followed by four police officers’ backs. We came next: Cornelio, belligerent and Francisca, fearfully tucked under my wing.
  99. It seemed I’d never felt my heart beat so fast. And it wasn’t because of all the excitement from successfully bringing my first case as a private eye to a close, but because of the surprise destiny had in store for me.
  100. As the door to the house fingered by Richard opened wide, the tears welled up in my eyes. Cornelio cried out joyously: “It’s her, Tomás, the woman from the photograph. We found her!”

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