Fly Fodder

          Lupe Latasa looked like a woman who might be Musca aurea the first time he saw her in Urrutikoetxea's office. Nothing less in any case. Between Musca argentea and Musca albina. Dressed more elegantly, she might even have deserved a higher ranking, but work clothes usually take the shine off a woman. As was the case with Lupe Latasa. The clothes she wears are too neutral. To cover her up, rather than show her off. Nevertheless, at first glance, Damian doesn't easily give such a high grade. That's quite something. Such a high grade, at first glance.

          Is it reasonable to go around assigning all the women I see to one of the seven types of fly? This endless need to classify, he thinks. Maybe.

          The loveliest of all, the woman so rare she almost doesn't exist, is Musca albina. All the rest fall below her: Musca aurea, Musca argentea, Musca domestica, Musca erratica and Musca alighieri. Is it reasonable to go around like this classifying them all? At first glance? Before they even open their mouths? I don't know. But that's the way it is. I've always done it. Automatically. All women always fall somewhere among the seven flies.

          Jaione was Musca aurea at first. Then she dropped to Musca argentea and finally to Musca domestica. There are some women who at first glance seem to belong to one group of fly but later, once you get to know them, fall to a lower group. Jaione was one of those.

          When changes like that happen, man comes face to face with the mouth of hell. Because there's a line from heaven to hell from Musca erratica down. And then it's hopeless. A man can stay for a long time in a place with no heaven, here or there, perhaps thinking that another heaven will appear to him.

          Not in hell, however. Once the line to hell has been crossed, no man can hold on to what he had before. He won't be able to hold on. It's useless. It's always like that. As it was when his isolated vagabond lifestyle was too much for Jaione and her level slipped. His house, rather than Happiness, should have borne the Mark of Hell, thought Damian Arruti. The Mark of Hell, like that, with capital letters. Shit. The Mark of Hell. Shit, Happiness.

          I can't do this any more, he says at last. You drive, he says to Lupe Latasa. What's the matter? Nothing. I didn't sleep well. And he pulls over into a bus stop. The second police car is behind them.

          I get sick just thinking I have to go down into that pit, says Damian, opening the window for a breath of air. It'll be easy, don't worry. I'll go with you myself. Where's the turn signal? asks Lupe Latasa, not expecting an answer. Don't worry, it won't be dangerous when you have to go into the cave.

          Damian had shown her the first crack. He should have kept it hidden. He had let the woman see his weakness. Before he's caught her, he has started to give her opportunities to flee the hunt. But does he truly wish to chase Lupe Latasa? Or is it just an endless habit? Could it be the innate nature of man? Like with monkeys?

          Why must a man always have the same purpose? The need to chase a woman. The need to behave as if he could capture a beautiful woman. If he exists. If he is a man.

          What ranking does he have in Lupe Latasa's eyes? The classification he deserves must be different now than before he showed the first crack so obviously. Or maybe women don't work the same way as men. He hasn't figured out yet how they work. It was easier before, he thinks. It was enough in his parents' time if a man was good and a hard worker. His mother had told him his father was a good and honest man. He was a good man. That's why she married him. She had never told him his father was a handsome man. A handsome man; she never said that about his father.

          But things have changed. How on earth do they choose a man? What matters to modern women? Eyes? Chest? Ass? Mouth? Can a man ever learn it, even if he lives to be a hundred? Do men ever know how women see them?

          Damian attributes it to the mix of coffee and dexadrine, finally, this turmoil of so many troubled thoughts.

          It's cold in the morgue at Polloe Cemetery. It has to be cold in a place where they keep bodies almost frozen. By the time Damian, Lupe and the police who came along behind them arrive, Lieutenant Urrutikoetxea and the forensic scientist Larraņaga are already there. Damian breathes in a little air on the way from the car to the door of the morgue. But then he chokes again when they start down the corridor. He takes out his handkerchief to wipe the cold sweat from his forehead and then blows his nose. Uselessly. It's not snot. Something else is choking him and has taken up residence in the space between his gut and his lungs. In a space which should by nature be completely empty. So, is the bad blood that flows through my whole body and saps my strength just a figment of my imagination? he asks himself.

          Larraņaga brings over one of the big units of the cooler. It's like a table with wheels. There are body parts, but not enough to form a whole woman's body, like a puzzle of flesh that's missing some pieces. Or is it meat if it's the flesh of the dead? If so, we'd have to say it's a meat puzzle, decides Damian. No hands and no head. The rest of the pieces jumbled together impossibly. Damian has never seen anything that so denies unity and wholeness.

          The policemen Mangas and Leniz keep their glance well away now that they've seen the body. They must not have seen this sight before. They have their eyes fixed on the big posters on the wall. And on the little windows that are up too high. They prefer not to look at what's before them. That much is clear. Urrutikoetxea has also looked away after saying that's all we found in the cave at Izarraitz. What do you think?

          Unlike the others, Lupe Latasa, Larraņaga and Damian Arruti have gone over to the pieces. Larraņaga holds out latex gloves to the others. We didn't find anything unusual, apart from what I already told you at the police station.

          Damian Arruti looks to see where the traces of semen from the three men are, but doesn't see anything. Where's your microscope? I need samples from each piece, he says.

          Leniz and Mangas ask, whispering in Urrutikoetxea's ear, if they can wait outside and head for the door, pale, as soon as their boss nods.

          Damian says it's a shame. They should have called him before the body pieces chilled in the cooler and before the insects were lost forever. Before interrupting the natural decomposition of the body. Now the work he must do will be harder. He will have to examine the remains more slowly. He will need time to determine the date of death. Or at least to decide if all the body parts were disposed of on the same day or not. The first thing he has to do is analyze the conditions in the cave, and then return to the microscope.

          Larraņaga has started putting the puzzle together another way on the table. Now he tries to put all the pieces the other way up, so they can also see the back of the woman's body. While before they saw the woman's breasts and belly, now they see her rear and back. The backs of her thighs and legs.

          Then Damian Arruti notices a mark on the skin of an arm. On the back side of the left arm, closer to the elbow than to the armpit. He brings the magnifying glass closer and says but how can this be. It's not possible. It can't be, again and again. Disturbed. He takes a quick turn around the table on which the body pieces are gathered. Again he looks at the skin of the left arm. It can't be, he says for the hundredth time. It can't be. This can't be true, he shouts. And curses. Shit, he says aloud. Yes. Shit. Exactly. Shit.

          What's going on? asks Urrutikoetxea, and what's your problem? ask the other two. What's going on? What do you see?

          Look at this, answers Arruti. Look carefully. And they all look through the magnifying glass.

          We don't see anything. There's nothing obvious there.

          Look closely, orders Arruti, look closely.

          But it's no use. Nobody sees anything.

          That mark there is very strange, says Damian Arruti finally. Amazing. Examine it carefully. It's made by a tiny mosquito called Phophyla bahii. The scar always takes the same form, like a clove for cooking. The size of a match head. It never disappears. Never. Without surgery, it can never be removed from the skin. Once the mosquito has bitten, the wound becomes infected. It festers. And that's how the insect leaves this mark. Forever.

          I don't see anything, says Urrutikoetxea.

          Yes, I see it, say Lupe Latasa and Larraņaga. It's tiny. It looks like a flower or a miniature rose.

          No, it doesn't look like a rose. It looks like a clove, like the spice. It's well known in entomology.

          So what? asks Urrutikoetxea.

          So what? So what do you think? says Damian Arruti. It's surprising to find a mark like this here. The insect lives only on Itaparica Island, in Brazil, near Salvador de Bahia. The Phophyla bahii mosquito lives only as a parasite of a small toadstool that grows only there. Nothing like it has ever been found anywhere else.

          So what? Urrutikoetxea asks again.

          Damian Arruti doesn't answer, cursing and sputtering.

          What's wrong with you, man, why are you acting like that? Lupe Latasa says to him.

          What's wrong with me? Shit, shit. That's what I say: shit. The head and hands must be found as soon as possible. Let's go to the cave.

          But what's bothering you so much? insists Latasa. We can't go to the cave for another two or three days. We have to get our gear together before we can go.

          What's so special about this? Urrutikoetxea asks then, not understanding Arruti's agitation.

          Do you know any women with a scar like this? asks Damian. Have you ever seen a woman, ever, with a mark like this? And they all say no. They've never even heard of any insect that leaves a scar like that.

          Well, I do. I do know a woman who has a strange scar just like that in just that place. Or had, however you say it. I know the woman on this table. Shit.

          And taking off his gloves, Damian Arruti heads for the door ahead of the other three. Seeking a breath of air.

Š Etxeberria, Hasier. Fly Fodder (Eulien bazka), Susa, 2003.

Š Translation: Kristin Addis.