“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 retali-ated. 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 condi-tions 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 – representa-tives 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 charac-ters out of an Almodóvar film, though no caricature could ever emulate their chauvinist, homophobic attitudes, their xenophobia masquerading as paternalism, their grandilo-quent 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 pepper-corn 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…”