Two detectives, brothers Borja and Eduard, are contracted by best-selling author Teresa Solana to research the world of so-called alternative therapies. They enroll for a course at Zen Moments, an exclusive meditation center in the ritziest part of Barcelona, only to discover the director murdered, whacked in the head with a statuette of the Buddha. The violent death of a neighborwho happens to be a CIA agentsimultaneously drags them into an international conspiracy complicated by Borja's attempt to smuggle a priceless Assyrian figurine, the Lioness of Baghdad.
In this, the third in her satirical series, Catalan "noir" novelist Teresa Solana mercilessly punctures the pretensions of New Age quacks who promote pseudo-science and pseudo-spirituality. At the same time, Solana draws compassionate portraits of characters trying to live "ordinary" lives in circumstances that have ceased to be normal, yet still cope with such everyday issues as adultery, menopause, and simply surviving to the end of the month.
Born in 1962, Teresa Solana lives in Barcelona, Spain. She has written several novels, some kept quietly in her drawer, others highly acclaimed. A Not So Perfect Crime, the first in this series, won the 2007 Brigada 21 Prize for the best Catalan mystery novel.
Peter Bush is the well known translator of Leonardo Padura and Juan Goytisolo.
About the Author
Translator: Peter Bush is a prize-winning translator from the Spanish and Catalan known for his translations of novels of such authors as Juan Goytisolo, Leonardo Padura and Daniel Chavarria.
Read an Excerpt
THE SOUND OF ONE HAND KILLING
By Teresa Solana, Peter Bush
BITTER LEMON PRESSCopyright © 2011 Teresa Solana
All rights reserved.
"Hey, you still in bed?" I yelled at Borja when he finally picked up the phone, sure he'd say that he was.
"Mmm ..." came his sleepy reply.
"Get a move on or we'll be late. Remember we said twelve."
"Can't you go by yourself?" he growled. "I feel dead ..."
"Jump to it," I insisted, trying to sound authoritarian. "I'll come to collect you in an hour's time, so get up and under that shower right away."
I imagined him struggling with his silk sheets and groping his way to the bathroom, like he did when he was a kid, and could only smile. It's Monday, and on Mondays, when there is no urgent business, Borja and I never go to the office. As far as we are concerned (or rather, as far as Borja is concerned), the week begins on Tuesday, at worst Monday night, if something pressing requires our immediate attention. My brother reckons that Mondays are good for nothing, except rest, which is why he spends Mondays loafing around, while I give a helping hand at home and do a shop.
However, we'd agreed to meet a client in the office at twelve, and that meant Borja had to forgo his Monday day of rest. He might like to grumble, but, as things stood, in the midst of an economic crisis that, in my case, was expressed in distressingly red digits at the bank and threatening calls from the late-payment department, we couldn't risk my brother's hedonistic habits losing us a customer.
I'd been up since a quarter to eight and hadn't stopped in all that time. Luckily, that week I was responsible for preparing the mid-morning snack and taking Arnau to school (I hate it when it's my turn to wake up the twins, make sure they don't spend three hours in the bathroom prettifying themselves or watch they don't hit the street dolled up in some fancy outfit or other), and, on my way back, I had to pop into the supermarket and stock up on packs of water and milk. Right then, I was doing the washing-up in the kitchen while Montse was in and out of the bedrooms, making beds and gathering up the dirty clothes before shooting off to work. Her Alternative Centre for Holistic Well-being was also suffering from the crisis, and that morning she and her partners had a meeting with their bank manager to try to negotiate a loan to avoid the closure of their source of livelihood.
"Don't raise your hopes. The banks haven't turned on the tap yet," I warned her.
"You and Borja better get some work, right?" she retaliated. And while she grabbed her bag and painted her lips red in front of the hallway mirror, she added with a deep sigh, "But this time, make sure you don't get yourselves into deep water!"
"Of course we won't!" I retorted in an offended tone. "I give you my word."
I kissed her on the cheek so as not to smudge her lipstick and wished her the best of luck, though I was sure the guys at the bank would act ruthlessly and refuse any help that wasn't accompanied by a lengthy list of draconian conditions in the purest Merchant of Venice fashion. While I was thinking about what we'd do to survive the crisis started by those very same institutions that were now sinking us, and deriving sad consolation from the fact that many were worse off than ourselves, I warmed up my second cup of coffee in the microwave and idled in front of the TV until it was time to go and meet my fraternal business partner.
In recent months I'd become hooked on the political debates on a channel called Inter-Economy that I watched now and then as if it were a weird kind of comedy show. The opinions and comments of the participants – representatives of an antediluvian Spain I'd thought extinct before I latched onto that channel – never ceased to shock me and bring tears of laughter to my eyes. They were like characters out of an Almodóvar film, though no caricature could ever emulate their chauvinist, homophobic attitudes, their xenophobia masquerading as paternalism, their grandiloquent language with fascist overtones, all orchestrated to express the nostalgia they felt for a Spain of surplices and death sentences, the good old days of Generalísimo Franco. Right then, they were dissecting a murderer with a taste for necrophilia (a wretched guy who didn't look totally with it) and establishing parallels with Judge Garzón, who they were also dubbing a necrophile because he'd given permission for mass graves of Republicans murdered during the civil war to be opened. The participants thought the analogy so witty they were splitting their sides. Text messages sent by viewers were no less bizarre. After a while, when I realized the pearls of wisdom dropping from the lips of that array of troglodytes in suits and ties no longer seemed funny and were putting me in a bad mood, I switched off the TV and got up from the sofa. As it was still early, I thought it would be sensible to go for a stroll before catching the bus and meeting my brother. The doctor had recommended that I should stretch my legs, and before lethargy won out I said goodbye to Joana (that is, my mother-in-law) and headed downstairs.
The moment I stepped out onto the pavement, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sky had turned a sunny, postcard blue and that there was a warm breeze. The day that was cold and cloudy when I woke up had become one of those gloriously sunny mornings in Barcelona at the beginning of April, when at last you feel that spring is here not because some calendar has been saying so for a couple of weeks, but because the sun feels hot for the first time in months. Winter had been especially cold, and the prospect of switching off the central heating and giving the rickety state of our savings some respite helped restore my good spirits.
In fact, my good mood was also down to the great weekend we'd spent at home, which had been unusually quiet. The twins had disappeared to Begur, to a chalet belonging to a girlfriend's parents. My mother-in-law, who's been staying with us for months, ever since she gave in to the company that owned the flat where she lived on an ancient peppercorn rent and that had been trying to evict her, had gone on a pensioners' outing to Andorra and hadn't come back until Sunday night. Borja, for his part, had taken Lola off for a weekend in Cadaqués (I don't know whether she was paying), and that spared us my sister-in-law's moans about my brother's comings and goings. Lola was smitten and Borja gave her a nibble, or rather, led her a "now I love you, now I don't" dance that meant Lola, a woman prone to violent ups and downs who loved making a drama out of everything, lived on a rollercoaster of emotions we were all forced to ride. The problem was straightforward enough: my brother continued to be the official lover of Merche, a rich, married lady of leisure, who played a central role in Borja's finances and, on the rebound, in ours.
When I reached Borja's flat, just before eleven, my brother was already showered, shaved and dressed. He welcomed me with a broad grin that underlined the fact that, although I'd dragged him out of bed on a sacrosanct Monday morning, he too was in an excellent frame of mind: no doubt the weekend with Lola had paid dividends. Nonetheless, he screwed up his nose when he saw I'd decided to dispense with the Armani tie and suit he'd forced me to buy for work purposes (he footed the bill).
"Hey, you ought to have smartened yourself up a bit!" he growled, suggesting he didn't think the new jeans, leather blouson and short-sleeved cotton shirt I'd selected were ideal apparel for welcoming a client. On the other hand, he was sporting one of his elegant spring jackets and a brand-new lilac tie.
"It's so hot, and the Armani suit makes me sweat," I countered. "Besides, writers aren't so fussy about these things," I added, making a reference to the profession of our latest customer.
"But we are, and don't you ever forget that. That's exactly the impression we want to give our customers, whatever their line of business: they should think they are dealing with serious, respectable professionals." And while he looked me up and down yet again, raising his left eyebrow in a sign of disapproval, he added, "Luckily they're designer jeans, and your blouson is almost new! ..."
"Bah! I reckon you are the only one who notices these things."
Borja rolled his eyes and sighed loudly.
"Kid brother, will you never learn?"
As he'd been away the whole weekend, we'd not had an opportunity to discuss the peculiar call he'd received on Friday afternoon before leaving for Cadaqués. Borja had been at pains to say it was from a novelist by the name of Teresa Solana, without going into details, although after our unpleasant experience in that Hotel Ritz case I wasn't at all sure I was in favour of more dealings with the city's pen-pushers.
"God knows what she can want!" I snarled.
"Bah! I expect she will ask us to keep an eye on her husband in case he's having a bit on the side. That's what women are always worrying about. You just see, it will be a doddle," Borja said, seemingly quite sure of that. "A few hours spent trailing a guy, and money in the bank."
"It would be a good idea to come out of the meeting with a cheque," I had to admit. "I'm cleaned out."
"Well, in terms of money, I've got involved in an activity that will sort our problems for a good while. I'd not said anything because I wanted to give you a surprise."
"I hope it's nothing illegal."
"Of course not!" After musing for a few moments, he added, "Well, that is, not entirely, from what I've seen so far. But, anyway, I'm a mere go-between."
"So, I should start to get worried ..."
"In no way." Borja put his jacket on, looked in the mirror and ran his hand through his hair. "Let's get going. I've not had any breakfast yet."
As it had been weeks since we'd had any clients and we'd hardly been to the office, we'd thought it would be a good idea to arrive well in advance, ventilate the space and spray some of our non-existent secretary's perfume around, as we always do before meeting someone. Our office, which is on Muntaner, near plaça Bonanova, is very close to Merche's flat on Balmes that has become Borja's pad, so we walked it. En route we stopped in a café and Borja stuffed his stomach while I had a quick coffee with a spot of milk.
"She must be a strange lady," I said, thinking aloud, referring to her profession. "Devoting her days to writing about murder ..."
As I'd discovered from a Google search, Teresa Solana wrote noir novels, but neither Borja nor myself had read any. Mariona Castany, who acted as Borja's guardian angel in Barcelona high society, didn't know who she was either, so that meant she was neither rich nor a member of the most select circles in the city. Nevertheless, as business was bad and we were in no position to be snooty, we'd decided to give her a go and see if we couldn't lean on her for an advance. We expected that any assignment commissioned by Teresa Solana would be routine and wouldn't involve deaths or murders.
Borja paid and we lit our respective cigarettes as we walked to the office. Before we got there, we threw our fag ends into a gutter so as not to dirty the part of the pavement Paquita, our concierge, had to sweep and thus avoid hassle from her. As we went in through the lobby, Paquita simply looked at us disapprovingly as we wished her good day and walked to the old wooden lift that was very beautiful and entirely impractical because its motor broke down every other day. Fortunately – because our office is on the third floor, and, with the mezzanine and lobby floor, is actually on the fifth – it was working that morning.
"What the hell?" exclaimed Borja, coming out of the lift onto the landing and seeing our office door unlocked and ajar.
We immediately identified the problem: someone had forced the iffy lock we'd never got round to changing because we kept nothing of value in our office. The burglar, or burglars, had merely levered it open with an iron bar, probably over the weekend, when Paquita isn't around and the building is almost empty. Borja switched on the light in the tiny lobby and we went into the main room where all our suspicions were confirmed: they had broken in and burgled us, and it was obvious that the thief or thieves who had done the job were no disciples of Arsène Lupin, but had done it more in Terminator or Rambo style.
"Shit! ..." growled Borja, clicking his tongue. "Why did they have to do it today! ..."
The intruders hadn't simply rifled through the drawers of the desk belonging to our non-existent secretary and thrown around the empty files that littered the shelves, they'd also gutted the sofa and armchairs and wrenched the mahogany doors of our fake respective offices off the wall.
"I suppose they must have lost it completely when they saw we had nothing of value ..." I said with a sigh, realizing we couldn't ring the mossos and initiate an investigation.
Borja surveyed the scene and shook his head.
"What a disaster! It will cost us a fortune to put this lot right!"
"And in the meantime, Mrs Solana will be here any minute," I said, looking at my watch.
"We have to think of something."
"We can't see her here. An office that is supposed to pride itself on confidentiality, but that thieves can break into so easily, is hardly good publicity in our line of business," I argued.
"Quite right. Besides, she'd see the doors are fake and that there's only wall behind them." He shook his head again. "Pity about the doors. They cost a fortune."
"But you never paid for them!" I protested. I knew the carpenter was still waiting to be paid for the two mahogany doors that simulated two luxury offices, the one belonging to the company's chief exec – that is, Borja – and his deputy – namely, yours truly.
"That's neither here nor there!" yelped Borja. "In any case, we'll have to find a different carpenter to make replacements."
"We should call Mrs Solana immediately and cancel our meeting on some pretext or other," I said, making a move as if to take my mobile from my pocket.
Borja gently took my arm and stopped me.
"We need this assignment," he retorted. "It'll be some time before I'm paid for that other business I mentioned. And, in the meantime, we need a cash injection. I'm as broke as you are."
"We can call her and arrange to meet somewhere else," I suggested. "We can say our office has been flooded."
"There's a slight problem. I left my mobile at home and don't have her number," he replied.
"We could go downstairs and wait for her in the street ..."
"And then what? Take her to a bar and ask her to recount her life story surrounded by total strangers?"
"Well, you tell me ..." I said, glancing around our office. "There's nothing doing here."
"Don't you worry," Borja replied, grinning at me like a Cheshire cat. "I've just had a brilliant idea."
I fear my brother's bright ideas more than the plague, because they have a mysterious tendency to introduce chaos into our lives. I was about to tell him to forget it, which would have been the most sensible move in view of what happened later, but, instead of that, I simply listened to what he suggested.
"Our upstairs neighbour is away and I've got the keys to his flat," said Borja. "We can tell Mrs Solana we've had a burst pipe and that a friend let us have his flat for the meeting."
"You've got the keys to a neighbour's flat?" I asked, trying to hide my amazement.
"Yes, that's right, the American who lives in the flat upstairs ..." responded Borja in his most matter-of-fact tone.
"You have the keys to the American's place?" I repeated, even more perplexed. "What was his name? Something Morgan, right?"
"Brian. Brian Morgan." And he added, as if the information was vital, "He's from Philadelphia."
I had no idea my brother was on good terms with any neighbour on our staircase, let alone that he was so close he had the keys to his flat. All I knew about the said Brian was that he spent very little time in his flat; according to Paquita, who likes a good gossip, he was always off and about with his suitcases. He was younger than us, though I'd say he was nearer forty than thirty-five, spoke Spanish with a strong American accent and was as tall as Paul. That was all I remembered, because we had passed each other on the stairs a couple of times at most.
"So, I take it you're the best of friends," I said to prod him.
"No, not at all," responded Borja. "It was just that one day when you weren't around, he came down to the office and asked if I wouldn't mind keeping a duplicate of his keys in case there was an emergency."
"Well, as he is always on his travels and spends very little time in Barcelona ..."
"And why did he ask you? I don't get it. It would have made more sense to give the keys to the concierge, wouldn't it?"
"I've no idea. The fact is I do have the keys to his flat and he's not around ..." grunted my brother, looking at his watch impatiently and trying to change the subject.
Excerpted from THE SOUND OF ONE HAND KILLING by Teresa Solana. Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Solana. Excerpted by permission of BITTER LEMON PRESS.
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