Snow White looks eighteen going on fifteen, with
her short skirt and plaits, breasts like apples and
110 pounds of a mixture of innocence and sensuality
all wrapped in tissue paper. There are only
four, not seven dwarfs, and they are not real
dwarfs, just very short men. Half-hidden behind
false white beards, their faces are vicious and disturbing.
The opening scene shows them having a
meal in a clearing in a wood. One of the dwarfs is
serving wine. He offers it to Snow White but
switches the bottle without her realizing it. The
four freaks wink and make obscene gestures to
one other. They watch lasciviously as the womanchild
sips from her glass. As she finishes her drink,
Snow White falls into what appears to be a catatonic
trance. The dwarfs pull a mattress out from
under the table. They lay Snow White down on it
and start undressing her.
Lourdes woke me at eight with a beer and a
sour look that I had no intention of responding
to. I twisted and turned in the bed until I was
more or less upright and could take the first
“I went to bed at four,” I told her. “This beer is
warm. I don’t want it frozen, but it should be cold.
I’ve told you a thousand times.”
Lourdes is the only person in the world who can
launch into four different topics at once:
“You told me you were leaving at eight; we
haven’t paid the kids’ school fees; there’s nothing
to eat; why do you have a family if you can’t be
bothered to look after them?”
Lourdes is thin, the nervous type, her beauty
ruined by her irritation. I contemplated a reply,
but it sank without trace in my desire to go on
“Put the beer in the freezer and call me again in
Lourdes walked off complaining, but I wasn’t
even listening any more. Cops like me can sleep
standing up, when we’re on duty, covering some
guy whose footsteps are bound to wake us up.
An hour later I was out of the house. The sun
hurt my eyes, and the fumes from Avenida
Revolucion clawed at my nose and throat.
I stopped off at a taco bar and had a quick
breakfast. A soup with bread and lots of chilli in it
– the perfect indigenous remedy to improve the
way a hung-over guy sees the world, the human
condition, and Mondays, to help persuade him he
has to go to the office – then chopped steak and
several coffees. The bar owner, Luis, wanted to
know the price on .38 revolvers and 9mm pistols.
“I’ve got someone interested in buying,” he said
with a wink. “I could order five or six, if there’s
something in it for me.”
“I’ll look into it,” I told him. “I’ll tell you
I was thinking of talking to Amaya, who can get
rods cheap. If each of us made a hundred thousand
on each gun, that would mean half a million
for us and we could still sell them at a reasonable
price. Not business for its own sake, but to fight
the debts that insisted on piling up at the end of
Red was not at the money exchange: he had a
business breakfast. And the envelope for my boss
wasn’t there either. That scumbag Red: the Commander
wasn’t going to be pleased at having to
wait. I’d left Red thirty thousand dollars on his
behalf, first-class Colombian stuff that even the
White House would accept. And he was supposed
to pay up today. He knew that, but here he was,
playing games with cops . . . as if we couldn’t screw
his business completely if we felt like it.
“What time is he coming?” I asked.
“He won’t be long,” his secretary said.
A nymphette, a looker. Hot stuff, but not as hot
as she thought she was.
Her office was all glass, wall-to-wall carpet,
paintings and diplomas. I undid my jacket. I was
sitting so that little miss pretty couldn’t see the
grease stain on my trousers. I used to be able to sit
with my jacket buttoned, but these days my stomach
seems determined to put on a display of forty
years of tacos and beer.
“Has he been in touch?” I said, putting on my
stern policeman look. I know these dames. If you
so much as let on you’ve noticed their attractions,
there’s no end to their little games of seduction.
Not because a tart like her gives a damn about
someone like me, but simply because it’s their way
of showing their power. The only power they’ve
got: flesh and their shiny veneer.
“No,” with a flutter of rings and bangles. “But
he usually comes in about now.”
“I need to talk to him urgently,” I said, handing
her my card. “Please tell him to call me as soon as
he gets here.”
“Yes, Mr Hernandez,” she said, looking at the
I buttoned my jacket and stood up. I leaned
over to shake hands, and found myself staring
down a plunging neckline. She saw my look and
When I got to the office they were serving coffee.
The Commander was having breakfast in the
Sheraton with a judge and a member of Congress.
Convinced that public relations are all about having
a full stomach and a full diary, the boss
doesn’t stint on breakfast. He devotes his mornings
to other people’s careers and tries to choose
the right people.
Maribel brought me coffee. She stroked my
hand and asked for my office contribution: fifty
“You owe the last two payments,” she said, her
voice as sweet and fake as her expression.
Maribel is as hot as her native Veracruz, and is
battling against time. Her hair is dyed and teased
at the salon. She has good legs, adolescent children
she prefers to keep hidden, a baker husband,
and the soul of a whore. Just because she’s
the boss’s secretary she thinks she can intimidate
and lay – or at least try to lay – all the males in the
office. I think of her every time I hear a feminist
banging on about the sexual harassment of
women in the workplace.
Maribel put on her best tropical smile and slid
out the tip of her tongue: a promise of fellatio that
set my stomach tingling.
All I had in my pockets was a fifty-peso bill. All I
had to face a long day, feed myself, and find
another ten of the same to calm Lourdes’s nerves.
Not to mention Gloria: I haven’t been to her place
in four days, and although she’s patient enough
and understands how difficult things can be, she’s
got kids and all the rest to take care of just like in
any family. If I hadn’t forbidden it, she’d be on
the phone to me right now.
Maribel’s knees closed in on mine. Laura and
the cleaning woman exchanged knowing smiles. I
“Wait till tomorrow, I’ll pay you then,” I said.
“Poor you! You’ve got so many problems.”
When they come over all tender, tarantulas must
look exactly as she did at that moment. “How
about going out for a drink, then you can tell me
all about it?”
“The boss might arrive,” I said half-heartedly.
“We’ve got an hour,” whispered Maribel, with all
the naturalness of someone who behaves in a
Mexican police office as if she were Marlene Dietrich
in a Cairo cabaret. She accompanied her
words with increased pressure of her knees
against my left leg, which I had to push against the
floor to steady myself.
Seeing that the whole office was having fun at
my expense, and considering a gentleman should
never disappoint a lady, especially if he doesn’t
want to be thought of as a queer, I decided it
would be less costly to have an early-morning fuck
in a hotel at her expense than have to give her all I
had left to pay my contribution.
In the elevator Maribel gave me a playful
lipsticky bite that I returned as best I could.
“Beast!” she groaned with satisfaction.
“Don’t leave any marks!” I told her, imagining
Lourdes’s face twisted with jealousy, and her
mania for examining my neck and back for signs
of someone else’s nails and teeth. Lourdes is a
self-taught forensic expert, and I’m always the
man in the dock. We’ve had real arguments over
it, and it’s incredible how she spots these things!
On the way to the hotel in my hostess’s Caribe, I
was suddenly worried my trouser tool might not
be up to it, or might be up to it then duck out halfway
through the performance, or I might come
too soon, as occasionally happens, especially when
I have to examine a new body that’s poring over
mine. And even though Maribel was no stranger, I
was worried about my size. I’m forty years old and
see myself in the shower every day. Yet I’m still not
sure whether I’m hung like a horse and make
every woman swoon, as I sometimes think, or if
what I’ve got is nothing more than the tiniest
shrivelled up little bean in the world, not big
enough to satisfy a cat on a diet.
At the hotel I ordered a rum and mineral water
for my nerves and my thirst, both of which are par
for the course in rooms like this. Exciting sounds
were coming from the room next door, as if an
Aztec virgin were being sacrificed on an altar.
Interestingly, our bed was against the same wall:
either a hippie or a communist idea that struck
me as very clever. I soon changed my mind when it
was obvious Maribel’s interest in my charms
was transferred to the wall. She stuck to it like a
limpet. Naked and as wrinkled as an accordion, I
lit a cigarette. Groans and sighs accompanied me
all the way to the bathroom, where I pissed with
difficulty and found a glass. My professional
training led me to take it back into the bedroom,
place the top against the noisiest part of the wall
and gesture for Maribel to come over and press
her ear to it. Judging by the growing signs of
ecstasy on her face, this had the desired effect.
After I’d finished my cigarette, and given that a
naked man can’t stand around with his hands in
his pockets, I started to undress her. Far from the
pressures of offices and marriages, she let me get
on with it. I undid her blouse and her bra, nibbling
at her neck as I did so. I was still holding
the glass in one hand while with the other I
stroked her underarms, aroused her nipples with
my fingers, bit her shoulder blades, licked her
spinal column and at the same time encouraged
her clothes on their slow journey to the floor. I
lifted her skirt over her head. I took my time at
her waist, filled both hands with her buttocks
then started to take down her undies. Maribel was
groaning, purring, her ear still pressed to the
glass. I slid her pants down the narrow part of her
legs. Maribel lifted one red shoe and freed herself.
That was the moment I realized the gods
were rewarding me for being such an excellent
cop: I was going to make love to a woman whose
head was buried in her skirt; I was going to fornicate
with a woman who was listening to another
couple fornicating; I was about to fuck a woman
who still had her stockings and high-heeled shoes
on. Three sexual fantasies in a single fuck! My
prick flew up like an acrobat. I couldn’t remem-
ber ever having seen it so big and strong. I
pushed it between her buttocks and set about taking
her from behind. Maribel turned towards me,
smiled rapturously and whispered:
“My back’s incredibly itchy. You couldn’t
scratch it for me, could you, love?”
For the next seven minutes I scratched her
back, convinced no power on earth could ever
make me erect again.
Afterwards, when we got round to sighing and
then to silence after the sighs, she wanted the
whole works. Disaster. I only just managed to get
her to pay for the hotel and drinks. I’d been thinking
of touching her for a loan, but it hardly
seemed the right moment.
Back at the office, the boss had one of his “we’re
going to get a few things straight” faces on. To rub
it in, as usual, he kept on about what time it was
and how I had gone off with his secretary. He
wasn’t that bothered – in fact he was probably
grateful, because if someone else didn’t do it, he
would have to – but he was the boss, and had to
show who was in charge. Then he quickly turned
to what really interested him. No news from Red.
Purple veins stood out in the bags round his eyes
as he stared at me in a way I was well accustomed
to: I was to blame for everything. And even though
my role was simply as a go-between who had to
appear and collect the money from someone
who wasn’t there, we were talking about thirty
thousand dollars, so there was no way the
Commander was going to be reasonable about it.
“I’ll call him right now,” I said, playing the part
of Officer Hernandez to perfection. “And he’d
better have the money in his hand, or else!”
The boss’s wrinkles lost some of their creases.
He began to lecture me on the need to take strict
measures against traffickers whose only thought
was to get all the dollars they could out of the
country, who thought nothing of Mexico because
money was the only homeland they believed in.
He went on to describe Red himself, who, to judge
by the thoughts he expressed, was so unworthy
and unreliable he could not understand why he
had ever entrusted any dollars to him.
With his exhortation to behave with all the
firmness characteristic of the DO still ringing in
my ears, I left the boss’s office. “Get a move on
with that, because a gringo’s been killed in a row
between queers, and I want you to be in charge of
the case” were the last words I heard.
It was usually a case with a gringo or involving
people who could not be tainted with even the
slightest whiff of suspicion, the kind of thing that
could not be left to illiterate uniformed cops.
That’s what we in the DO are here for, to operate
with our sharp surgeon’s knife on the gangrenous
social body, to give precision treatment
to events which, left to inexpert hands, might
produce negative, even uncontrollable results.
And even though our critics – there are always
critics, because there’s more envy in this country
than there are husbands whose wives have been
fucking around – say our aims were drawn up by
the comic Cantinflas, we know what we’re worth.
When the Directorate of Operations was set up,
the old guard was up in arms. “All operations are
secret. Only senators and undersecretaries could
think of associating them with publicity.”
In private they said much harsher things.
Eighteen years on, they still think we’re a bunch
of pseudo-intellectual politicos on the make, and
even though we have a smaller budget than any
other department, none of the cops can forgive us
for being able to write our own names.
As I left the office, Maribel did not even deign
to look at me.
I called Lourdes from a payphone, and I have to
say that she had only herself to blame for her foul
mood. To calm her down, I told her I had the
money in my pocket, and a desk groaning under
piles of work; I suggested she get some things on
credit from the store and promised I’d settle
everything that evening. She asked me no less
than three times if I really had the money, if I
wasn’t just trying to pull the wool over her eyes,
and if this wasn’t simply another of my stories.
That woman’s ability to doubt everything defies
belief. I reassured her as best I could, then I got
angry and hung up.
I wanted to hear more pleasant sounds, so I
rang Gloria. No sooner did she hear my voice than
the tears started. She accused me of being cruel,
of abandoning her, of starving her children to
death. Although I know she can be a bit over the
top, I was annoyed that she seemed to be blaming
me for everything too. I can remember a time
when she made do with nothing, always had a
smile for me and was a quiet oasis where I could
rest whenever my wife was displaying her talents as
a harpy. Though they had never met, in five years
Gloria had become so similar to Lourdes they
were like sisters. I swore I’d call in at her apartment
that evening and promised to take money
and presents for the kids.
Red was still not in his office. The nymphette
told me in a singsong voice: “Doctor Rosenthal
has flown to Guanajuato, but he left a message for
you: he’s very sorry and asks you to forgive the
delay. He’s got your money, and he’ll settle everything
first thing tomorrow.”
Up in the sky above me I can see clouds and crows
sailing past. Bound hand and foot to a sacrificial
altar on the platform of a low pyramid, I watch as a
priest offers me extreme unction in a language I
do not understand. The priest is wearing a dagger
at his waist; a frothing green mist rises from the
goblet in his hands. It must be an acid or poison
that will dissolve my flesh like wax.
“This is the punishment for disbelievers,” the
priest tells me. “This is what you get for voting for
He tips the goblet. As the liquid falls onto my
face, its icy needles empty out my eyes then fill the
sockets, and the frozen fire slowly penetrates my
The urge to stay alive forced me upright in bed,
screaming and waving my arms in the air. I saw
Lourdes’s mocking, angry face and sat motionless
while she finished pouring the contents of the
beer bottle over my head.
Then Lourdes spoke, and her words made no
more sense than the priest’s litany.
“I’m tired of being your mother, Carlos!” she
said. “I’m tired of your betraying me with every
woman you meet! I’ve had it up to here and
beyond with all your lies! I’m sick and tired of how
useless you are, how you can’t even support your
own family! I’m leaving you right now. As soon as I
can, I’ll take the children. And do me a favour –
don’t say a word. Don’t even think of trying to
“Hang on a minute!” Soaked and annoyed,
uncertain whether to slap her or try to talk, I
jumped out of bed.
Lourdes raised the bottle over her head.
“Come any closer and I’ll crush your balls!” she
I collapsed onto a chair. I let my wife walk out
on me without lifting a finger. I understood that
her irrationality and egotism had leaped over all
the barriers of self-censorship and shame and
taken over every aspect of her character.
I went to the bookshelves – fifteen hundred
works, some of them classics inherited from my
father, others erotic novels or thrillers, or textbooks
from my school days, penal codes and other
legal volumes – took down Philosophy in the Boudoir
by the Marquis de Sade. I pretended to be enjoying
reading it until Lourdes slammed the door
I lit a cigarette and got another beer from the
fridge. I walked round the flat drinking and smoking.
Lourdes had not even bothered to make the
kids’ beds while they were at school. On the
dining-room table I found a sealed envelope for
the children, marked “For Carlos and Araceli”.
God knows what she could have to say as she
abandoned them. I considered steaming the letter
open but in the end couldn’t be bothered. I had a
shower, then discovered that the bath towel was
missing. I was indignant that she could have been
so selfish as to take it. I was forced to wipe myself
dry using dirty clothes from the basket. I had a
shave and put on my brown suit, the only one of
my three outfits still relatively decent. Only the
previous day I had been thinking of getting
Lourdes to take my grey one to the dry-cleaner’s.
In my stomach, a third-world protest demonstration
was starting up to demand something more
substantial than tar and barley juice. A thorough
investigation of fridge and larder produced only
disheartening results. In my house everything,
absolutely everything, gets eaten, in unbelievable
amounts. They say that rats are the living beings
capable of eating the widest variety of substances.
I reckon an objective comparison between rats
and my family could lead to a change of opinion. I
found two half-rotten bananas, a bit of cheese so
old it was fit only for worms and cockroaches, a
carton of milk I decided to keep for my children
(they’re growing so they need it more than me,
besides which I hate the stuff), a few dried-out
frozen tortillas and a bottle of chipotle chilli sauce.
Fortunately, there were some beers. I always keep
one or two handy, so that I can have some cold
whenever I feel like it. I have to take care of this
myself, seeing how little I can count on Lourdes
for anything that might concern me.
I decided to eat some tacos near the office.
Before leaving the flat I called the money
exchange, where a male voice told me Doctor
Rosenthal was away on a trip and they had no idea
when he would be back. I put on my tough voice:
“This is Officer Carlos Hernandez, and I need to
speak to Rosenthal urgently, so please give me his
address and personal telephone number.” The
person at the other end was obviously worried and
answered: “One moment please”, then left me
hanging on for ten minutes. Eventually another
man came on the line, introducing himself as
Perez Blanco, the firm’s accountant. I pictured
him as someone who wore a well-pressed grey
suit, had thinning, neatly brushed hair, and used
tortoiseshell glasses. A dumb-looking asshole, one
of those unbearable pedants who think they have
the right to say and do whatever they like provided
they are unctuous and polite with it. He began by
saying he was at my service for anything concerning
the business. I pressed him for Red’s address
and phone number. As calm as could be, Perez
Blanco said he was very sorry but he did not have
Doctor Rosenthal’s address, as he had recently
moved, to San Angel, he believed. He added that
he would be delighted to give me the phone
number, but that unfortunately he did not have
it to hand. Besides which, he understood that
Doctor Rosenthal’s telephone was out of order
and had not yet been repaired.
“This is the police,” I explained. “I’ll give you
one minute to get the number and give it to me.”
“Yes. One moment.”
I could hear the accountant Perez Blanco
breathing heavily. Twenty seconds later, I was dialling
Red’s number. A velvety voice came on the
line to tell me: “The number you have dialled is
out of service; we regret any inconvenience this
may cause you.” I suggested something the velvety
lips could do for me that would be sure to end all
my inconveniences, then hung up.
I called the money exchange once more. I said
who I was and asked to speak to Rosenthal’s secretary.
The same male voice from my previous call
informed me that as of the day before Miss
Esparza no longer worked for them. I asked to
speak to Perez Blanco again and was told: “He’s
just gone out.” I didn’t have to pretend to be
angry when I asked whether Rosenthal himself
still worked for them, and the voice at the other
end – a spineless, pathetic sort, I surmised – was
not pretending either when he expressed concern
that no, Doctor Rosenthal was no longer with
them, although there were still some loose ends
for him to tie up. In fact, they were expecting him
to arrive, or at least to hear from him, during the
course of the day. I asked for his name – “Teodor-
GomezAtYourService” – so I barked “Tell him to
phone me today without fail.”
En route to the office I was furious. I was counting
on that money for Gloria’s expenses. I was a
bit behind in looking after her, and although
she never goes short Gloria likes to moan over
nothing. From her voice on the phone and some
of the things she had said to me, I could tell she
was on the verge of an attack of nerves.
It was twenty-five past ten, and I had an
appointment with the gringo’s wife at half past.
Just time to call in on Luis and sort out the sale of
For half a mile I was stuck behind a stupid old
bat who shouldn’t even have been in charge of a
supermarket trolley. I had to switch my siren on
and run into her bumpers a couple of times for
her to get out of the way. As I sped past she looked
over at me in terror. I gave her the middle finger
in a classic suggestion she should go fuck her
“The deal’s done, Luis,” I told him when I
finally got to the bar. “The parabellums are eight
hundred dollars. I’ll let you have them for seven
hundred, so you’ll make a hundred on each. I’ll
bring them tomorrow. But I need a bit of an
advance to buy them.”
Luis looked at me suspiciously.
“That’s way over, Carlos,” he said. “I’ve been
offered some long-barrelled .38s for four hundred.
You’ll have to drop the price.”
I struggled with the sausage and potatoes lying
listlessly on my plate, took a good swig of coffee
and then started slowly in on my chocolate flan.
“Six bullets, short range, no precision: that’s a
revolver for you. Plus you’ve no idea where they’ve
come from. And God forbid, but if anyone is
caught some day with one of them in his hand,
you can bet your boots even the most stupid cop
will discover it was the very one used in the latest
unsolved murder. I’m offering you clean weapons,
with twelve bullets in the magazine as well as the
one in the chamber, with a decent range and top
accuracy. There’s no comparison.”
“I know. It’s the price that’s the problem. Can’t
you go any lower?”
“How much are you willing to pay?”
“No more than six hundred.”
I did a quick mental calculation. Perhaps I
could get Amaya down to five hundred then sell
them to Luis at six-fifty.
“Let me see,” I said. “It won’t be easy. I’ll need
“No way, Carlos, and for the same reason
there’s no contract. You bring the rods, and I’ll
pay in full. But get a move on. If I’m buying from
you, it has to be tomorrow.”
“I’ll get them to you today.”
If you feel humiliated and find you want to get
heavy with a friend, the best thing to do is to make
yourself scarce. Not to mention the fact that the
remains of my breakfast were staring up at me
from the plate.