The euphoric idealism of grassroots reform and the tragic reality of revolutionary failure are at the center of this speculative novel that opens with a real historical event. On October 2, 1968, 10 days before the Summer Olympics in Mexico, the Mexican government responds to a student demonstration in Tlatelolcothe by firing into the crowd, killing more than 200 students and civilians and wounding hundreds more. The massacre does not receive much international attention and though many students are detained, no officials are held accountable. The story then skips ahead two years to a hospital in Mexico City and introduces Nestor, a fictional journalist who witnessed the shootings at Tlatelolcothe. He has been admitted to the hospital for a knife wound, and as he lies in bed, his fevered imagination goes back to the day of the riot. In his delirious state, he becomes so desperate he calls on the heroes of his youth—Sherlock Holmes, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and D'Artagnan among them—to join him in launching a new movement of reform.
About the Author
Paco Ignacio Taibo II is the author of 68; Guevara, Also Known as Che; and The Shadow of the Shadow. His biographies of Guevara and Pancho Villa have sold more than one million copies worldwide, and he is the founder and organizer of the annual crime fiction film festival, Semana Negra, held each summer in Spain. He has won numerous international literary awards, including three Hammett Awards and the National History Award from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History. He lives in Mexico City, Mexico.
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Calling all Heroes
A Manual for Taking Power
By Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Gregory Nipper
PM PressCopyright © 1982 Paco Ignacio Taibo II
All rights reserved.
If You Weren't Here, Where Would You Be?
For example, on Insurgentes Bridge, on the side where that insipid mercury light doesn't disturb the night; over Avenida División del Norte, where the darkness is broken by the constant line of automobile headlights (and there, ten meters below, is the viaduct), like an urban river with all its roar. You toss the butt and watch it fall, secretly hoping it will bounce off the roof of a car (you miss). In a way, with the butt went the seven minutes it took to smoke the cigarette, and now you feel like climbing up on the guard wall and pissing on the automobiles. Below, a moving van raises curtains of water as it bursts through the puddles. It's raining again ...
For example, in the doorway of the Teatro Roble at the end of the last show. They were featuring The Battle of Algiers, of course, and the crowd came down the stairs as if anxious not to return to itself, not to leave in stunned silence but to erupt in the Apache war cries of the Algerians overflowing the Casbah.
For example, in the faculty mimeograph room, surrounded by the two machines that Eligio Calderón (nicknamed "The Tricolor") and Adriana had fine-tuned like Swiss watches to produce an average of two thousand leaflets an hour. In the midst of that fascinating noise, celebrating each new spot of ink on your hands, forehead, nose ...
For example, in San Juan de Letrán at six in the evening, when the light in the city changes, contemplating a long row of lead soldiers in a shop window and fondling the two hundred pesos you had in your pocket to buy books in the old Zaplana Bookstore: Howard Fast in Ediciones Siglo XX paperbacks for seventeen and a half pesos, and Dos Passos novels, and Fucík's Notes From the Gallows, on sale for seven pesos, and you go in to buy it all, to see it all, to ...
But you are on a gurney that runs along the corridors, as the skillful hand of an audacious driver of gurneys guides you along the racetrack of the white hallways. The guy ought to notice how a spot of blood is spreading on the sheet that covers you. According to the rhetoric of hospital scenes, it is obligatory to find a beautiful woman at the door to the operating room, hiding her tears (but not so well that they can't be seen); but there is no door to the operating room, only the spreading spot of blood and the hand that slips from the gurney and falls to the floor, the knuckles bouncing and dragging across the green tiles. The orderly wonders whether to stop and/or to push the gurney forcefully, his eyes fixed, captivated by the red spot that spreads on the white sheet.
You think, "There are spiders, huge spiders climbing over my hands, a shitload of them." And you feel like if you don't moisten your arms with ice water, they'll rot, they'll fall off. "Could they be termites instead, or piranhas?"
"They're piranhas, the kind that when you stick in your arm you pull out bloody bones ... But it is a game, a gaming board with the feet acting as markers, moving around the colored squares.
"And the loneliness, all of it. All the damned spiders and all the assholes in the world. I am tired. I am not going to be able to read anything this way because I'm too dizzy. The trapeze is moving."
A nurse says something while she tears your blue, bloodstained shirt from your body.
"Long live Mexico, children of La Chingada," you whisper when they move you from the gurney to the operating table, to the bewilderment of a young doctor.
A flash of consciousness hits you. You open your eyes and say,
"They bare their teeth at me ..."
THE OTHERS' VERSION
A as in Accident
Mexico City, December 1970
My dear Néstor:
You asked me to tell in three pages the story of your run-in with the whorekiller last year. As I am accustomed to your wild ideas, here goes:
The version that I have is very exact (gathered from various sources), but it doesn't go further than the most superficial details. Exact, but irritating.
It seems you left the newspaper office at 5:30.
"To drink a cup of coffee," the editor-in-chief said.
"I've got it," you said after hanging up the phone, according to the sports writers.
"He ran out. But that doesn't mean anything; he's always running out," the office boy said.
You had a tape recorder slung over one shoulder. "From the right shoulder, and it was swinging so much I thought he'd bust it," said Serafín Nava of the entertainment section, who passed you in the swinging door of the editorial office.
"From the left shoulder. And now who's going to give me back the tape recorder? Not that it's so important, you see, but it was an Uher and belongs to the newspaper, and everything here is inventoried, and so on," the administrative clerk said.
"'Do you have a tape, dummy?' I said to him, because sometimes a person forgets; and he replied, 'I've got a pair,' but I didn't understand him," Serafín Nava said.
It seems you left on foot. There's no proof one way or another.
Here a question arises: Who called you?
I had been following your articles. I was buying El Universal to see what the fuck you were trying to do in a world as alien to your own as the scandal sheet. And there you went, quick and speedy, driven by the same intense passion as always, hot on the trail of the whorekiller. He hadn't killed many, only three, but you had linked the murders together (all of them in fleabag hotels, all of them with a switchblade, all of them in the afternoon), and you had given him the name of "the prostitute murderer" in public and "whorekiller," one word, when talking about him with friends.
Your motives interested me more than what you uncovered, but you ended up shifting the balance and getting a story that had two characters, you and the whorekiller. Both with the same backdrop: the city that the '68 Movement had allowed us to discover.
It seems that you did go on foot. Direct, without hesitating (hesitating at each corner?) to the seedy hotel on Artículo 123.
It was 5:50.
"At ten of six, chief, he went inside, because I saw him go in, right? I was at the juice stand and turned around and saw him go in, and I said, 'Look, there goes some dumb-ass with a tape recorder worth three thousand pesos.' And later when they brought him out on the stretcher I said, 'Where's that tape recorder?' And quick I run up, but it was to return it, to see if they'd give me a little work there at the newspaper. I sure as shit didn't want to rip it off."
"The law, yes, the cops wanted to get their fingers on it," said Bernabé Quintanar, the juice vendor, who they found making off with the recorder.
"Don't even ask me. They already asked me the same thing a hell of a lot of times," said the hotel manager, who smoked those foul-smelling Veracruz cigars.
You went directly to the second floor, using the stairs, and without knocking pushed open the door of Room 203.
"Did you really kill them?" says your voice, distorted but easily identifiable on the recorder.
"Keep that shit away from me ... Are you the one who writes?" says the voice that later would be identified as that of the whorekiller.
"Why, why did you kill them?" your voice says.
"Get that fucking thing out of my face. Sit there on the bed; don't come near me with that shit," says the whorekiller's voice.
"It's only a microphone. There's no reason to be afraid of it. You're the one with the knife."
"Yes, but I'm not sticking it in your face."
"Why did you kill them?"
There is a long silence in the recording. A trained ear might be able to pick up the rumbling of traffic in the background. Then, once again, the whorekiller's voice.
"You wrote all that stuff in the newspaper? About me?"
"Why did you kill them?"
"Don't come near me! Get that damned microphone out of here!"
Then noises are heard, as if the microphone were hanging from the recorder and swinging around the room, striking things. A moan and labored breathing that comes and goes.
"Only I would think of shoving a microphone under the nose of some asshole with a switchblade," you whispered, according to the stretcher-bearer, Horacio G. Velasco of the Red Cross.
The testimonies of the hotel manager and a cleaning lady confirm that the whorekiller went down the stairs with the switchblade in his hand (the knife was bloody), holding his head with the other hand. He was staggering, and it looked like he had a wound on his forehead.
"Over his eyebrow, about six centimeters, an arc, produced with a blunt instrument ... A tape recorder microphone? Sure, why not? A tape recorder microphone, for example," said Dr. Ruiz, who attended the whorekiller at the Sixth Precinct.
"He fell. He was coming down, he looked up, and just like that he fell, bouncing on the stairs really bad. It hurt to watch because he was getting knocked in the face and head; but when they told me who he was, the one who killed the women, I rather liked it. He should have gotten hit harder. Because they may be whores, but there's no reason to kill them," said Severina Balbuena, the maid.
"We called the Red Cross," the manager said. "I've already told everyone, so quit bugging me."
What happened to you during the half hour that it took them to find you?
"That, that big puddle the young man left, the reporter," Severina said; but the tape recorder picked up no sounds until ...
"That fool, he's had it." That voice would be identified as belonging to Ledezma, the other stretcher-bearer from the Red Cross.
"No, he hasn't had it," said Horacio G. Velasco, the first stretcher-bearer.
Now I'm only left with questions: Who placed the call? Why did you insist on sticking the microphone into the whorekiller's face?
And that was everything that happened.
Warmly, Paco Ignacio
P.S. For the purposes of this story, what happened to the whorekiller, whose name is Andrés B. Domínguez, is not of great significance; but I will state, so as to leave no more loose ends than necessary, that he is locked up in the Castañeda Asylum for the Insane. When you return, you can go visit him.
P.P.S. The sun ... tell me, how is the sun in Casablanca?CHAPTER 2
General Without an Army
In the city the tanks had been replaced by solitude, with similar effects. The wounds would seem not to have closed. We would belong to a generation of idiot princes, hemophiliacs, whose skin the blood flowed down at the slightest cut.
Was it you or the whole country that had been split down the middle? Drying in the sun.
In the hospital the sun entered timidly through the window. You open your eyes and look around: the room, your bed — this Houdini's coffin in which you are confined, which seems more like some apparatus from a children's park than from a sanatorium (it can be raised on one side or the other, moved around, it has wheels, strange mechanisms to elevate the feet, a call bell with a microphone behind it, bottles of serum attached to the bed, and a vein of yours that carelessly let itself be incorporated into the device) — the night stand with apple juice, the few books (they insist you not read too much), the empty white walls.
You think, "I am the shadow, the great vampire, the phony who glides over Mexico City. Above and below the clouds, dozing between spin and flight ... Someday the fever will break. A music box playing a polonaise used to keep me company as a child whenever I had a fever. My great aunt put it beside my bed, and Chopin's music lulled me and took away my fear, and one day when I wasn't paying attention they took out my tonsils."
THE OTHERS' VERSION
B as in Biography
Mexico City, January 6, 1970
Although I still don't understand a thing, I'm taking advantage of a moment free from work (damn, they don't even give us Three Kings Day off) to send you the biography you asked me for. It would have been easier to send you your medical record, which I keep somewhere around here; you already know that writing is not my forte. I suppose you can make whatever corrections you want, as you see fit. But if you wanted something better, you should have written it since you're the one who knows it best. As you want me to write it, well, let's see how it goes.
Biography of my son (as far as I know):
I can vouch that he was born in Morelia, Michoacán, because his parents were taking a literature course (one of your mother's ideas) and because he was two months early; he surprised us while we were out of the capital.
Besides being a seven-months baby and giving us a hell of a scare — well, he was our first and had an intense stare (imagine scaring fellow human beings before you could even see) — everything was normal. It was in November of 1943 and World War II was in progress.
A normal childhood, maybe a little lonely. There were no brothers or sisters. Not overprotected, although too many grandparents to suit me.
Surprising reactions between the ages of five and six. At times a tendency toward introversion that upset me. No childish fears, no night terrors. He stopped wetting the bed very early, much to my pride and comfort (you may remember that according to the deal the nighttime hours were mine). At about two and a half, he was no longer wearing diapers at night.
Favorite games: "Ayints," as he called it (consisted of going out to the patio — we were living in Narvarte, remember? — and collecting ants, giving them advice, and letting them go); handball (sometimes bouncing the ball against the wall by yourself for hours on end until I went out and joined you, more from desperation than for therapy); the bicycle (at six you knew the neighborhood better than the mailman and the milkman put together, who by the way were great friends of yours); and "school" with two younger neighbor girls.
Primary studies in the private Melchor Ocampo school, which my friend Simón Betanzos ran. Above-average grades. His mother very proud, I a bit awestruck. First dance at age eleven. (You showed up with such a bored face!)
Antisocial adolescence. Many family conflicts, thoroughly irrational on both sides. Paternal victory in bringing science fiction novels into his room for reading in his spare time, which moved from my bookshelf to his little by little.
I suspect that at age fifteen he was mixed up in the prep-school demonstration in support of the Vallejista railway workers (you had just entered Preparatory School No. 1, located in the city center), and I believe he spent many hours walking around there. More than once I came across him walking around the city. In those days it was still possible to meet people in the city without meaning to.
Steady girlfriend at age seventeen (1960) when he enrolled in medical school. A girl from the north (named Cristina?) who used to arrive at the house with his white coat and his books (things happened backwards with you; did you ever carry this Cristina's books?). We discussed medical ethics, we discussed family honor, truth, the meaning of life.
In 1964 he spent his vacation building a room in the patio, into which he moved. With wages from his first job he bought a rug and a phonograph for the room (you were working selling subscriptions to Reader's Digest), but I got the impression he spent more time roaming the city than cooped up in the room.
Unsuspected taste for classical music. Accompanying his mother, he didn't miss a single one of the Bellas Artes Symphony concerts during the '64 season.
Mamá's death. I don't know how it affected him. I was too desperate to take time to find out. I was a shadow of the shadow that I used to be.
He dropped medicine and enrolled in Spanish literature.
I regret not being able to say what happened between 1965 and 1968. They were very uncertain years for me. I know that we ate together, that we shared the solitude of the big house in the San Rafael neighborhood. Sometimes we saw each other at dinnertime and spoke of politics.
I got the impression that he joined the Communist Party in 1966, but I have nothing to prove it.
I got the impression he fell violently in love, seriously for the first time, in 1967. Again, I can't prove it.
Excerpted from Calling all Heroes by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Gregory Nipper. Copyright © 1982 Paco Ignacio Taibo II. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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