ITURRALDE, Joxemari:
Flies don't show up on photographs

I hit the street. The fresh breeze did me good, calming my jangled nerves. Right away I took two or three deep breaths until I felt the fresh air go right to the bottom of my lungs. I had to get a taxi as soon as possible, if I wasn't to arrive late. Soon it would be nine o'clock and by my reckoning I was running late.

I had to go on with my work. For it was time to get on with my second project —the one I'd dubbed the 'Libertines'. It was only me who called them by that name —and I knew from the start the name wasn't at all appropriate, but what the hell. It was all the same to me because no one knew about the epithet and I'd no intention of telling anyone. For the time being I had to shelve this morning's case, the affair of the teacher and his former student and also —temporarily at least— forget what had just happened in my flat. Later I would have plenty of time to think through and weigh up that subject.

I came to Gran Via. Ahead of me on the taxi stand were an elderly couple and a man with a case who looked like a commercial traveller. I lit a cigarette. This second case was nothing like the other. I had only recently started working on it but had very quickly realised that it was quite different. In the first case something which the client didn't want to happen had happened and the agency's task, was to try to prevent this situation from continuing. To stop and cut off what was already in progress. So that was why I had to speak with those involved in the affair, talk with them and convince them. That was my role in the case.

The second case, the Libertines was not at all similar. The agency's client only wanted to know what went on, and if anything happened or was happening he wanted to know with whom, when, where and how many times. These were always love affairs. Love affairs and, in most cases, frustrated love affairs. In the first case, a young girl had left home to fall into the arms of an older man — her ex-teacher. And when her father found out about her indiscretion, he decided to do something about it. In the quickest, most dignified and most discreet fashion, which was why he turned to the Morales brothers' agency and why I was now trying to end the whole affair.

I got a free taxi within twenty minutes. On my way to the old quarter I again went over my second case. It involved a group of girls. They were friends, and from what I knew, they often met up for a chat, to go out for supper and generally to have a good time. A man had gone to the agency saying that one of the girls was his girlfriend. But that because of his work they weren't often together. His work involved a lot of travelling and as he put it, it was during his long periods of absence that the agency would go to work. He didn't have much confidence in his girlfriend and wanted regular reports on her delivered to his home. Reports which would tell him what his girlfriend got up to.

Where she went during his long periods of absence, with whom and doing what, where and how, but, in particular, who she went out with. On his first visit to the agency he said he still had some confidence in his girlfriend, he didn't think she was going out with another man while he was away but that he wanted to be completely sure about this. You never knew with women. That was his theory and that was what he was spending money on, finding out whether his theory was true or not.

Which was where I came in. I had to prove a theory, nothing more —I thought to myself as the taxi took me towards the old quarter—. I have nothing to do apart from stay put and watch. Simply watch what some other people did and then report back. I had been on this job for a few weeks and, honestly, felt very much at ease with it. It wasn't hard work, just the opposite, I was very happy to do it. I wasn't too keen on the girl I was supposed to tail, she was nothing special in my opinion but there was another one. I really fancied one of the four girls in particular. More than once it had happened that after I had finished my surveillance on the four girls and it was time to head home, her face stayed imprinted on my mind like some indelible vision.

By the time I arrived the Harresi Handi (1) Chinese restaurant was quite full. I went in and seeing that a small table on the right was free, without asking the waitress, sat down at it since it seemed a good spot to view the restaurant from. So when the waitress, a pleasant lady with an enduring smile, came over to me there was no chance that I would be asked to sit somewhere else. She gave me the menu and I made my choices right away. For starters spring rolls with Chinese salad, followed by curried chicken with three delights rice. And half a bottle of red Rioja to wash it down.

While I was giving my order, the Chinese waitress chimed in thank you, thank you as I ordered each dish. And when I chose the wine she repeated the same thing, thank you, thank you. The dining room was quite large and it seemed to be circular. My first impression was that of a bullring, but on closer examination of the paintings on the walls I saw that the expansive decoration depicted the Great Wall of China. Following it right round traced the outline of the Great Wall and led on to those typically Chinese landscapes of forests, mountains and rivers with in the distance, suspended in the sky, a giant moon. So everything inside this wall was China, the dining room itself represented China, and the people dining there were either Chinese or visitors to that vast country. My table was near the wall, on the right. I had another table just in front of me, and in the centre there was a big round table, set within the six columns supporting the dining-room ceiling. The bases of the columns were regular but around the middle they started to curve like a snake or dragon up to the top where their heads seemed to hold the ceiling up. The four girls I was following were at the other side of the dining room, right in the other corner, which was why I thought my table was the best one for my purpose, for between me and them I had three tables which were taken, and if it seemed appropriate I could move myself slightly to the right so that one of the columns would cover my snooping.

The fourth girl had just arrived. So all the Libertines are gathered —I thought to myself. For better cover I opened my book of puzzles, one that I always had with me, and started leafing through it as I ate my Chinese salad. Libertines. I couldn't recall why it had occurred to use that name for the case. I did like to give all my cases a customised label only known to myself, but now I had my doubts whether the name Libertines was the right one. The epithet I had for my other work in progress seemed much more fitting — the Student in Love case. However the thing was that although it did not seem very appropriate to call it the Libertines case, nothing else occurred to me whenever I thought of the girls. Quite another matter was the fact three of the girls had started their meal without the fourth, who had arrived about the same time as myself. I realised straight off that she was quite late from the frosty reception the other girls gave her. The latecomer was the girl I preferred. By then I'd found out her name: Luzia. I thought she was gorgeous. That was my first impression of her. I'd half-fallen in love with her from the very first day. From then on everything about the girl captivated me. Even her name — Luzia. For me it was a name which had an enchanting ring about it. I also thought it was charming to turn up late to meet her friends. To arrive late in an elegant place like that had a special touch of class about it, and somehow set off the whole chic ambiance of the place.

When I saw the other girls' reception, Luzia gained another point in my charm scale. For such a beautiful girl as her was completely in her rights to take these little privileges. And I mused that a guy like me being in love with a beautiful, intriguing girl like her was an indication of my refinement and good taste. When it came to comparisons, Brezo was left far, far in her wake. She was really put in the shade when Luzia was considered.

Luzia had class, poise all of her own, and moreover was a real beauty. Brezo, on the other hand, had nothing when set against her, I thought, as I drained the last drops of wine from my glass.

The restaurant gradually filled up, until all the tables were taken. I saw right away this would make my work more difficult, and if I wanted to follow what was going on at the girls' table, I would have to move my head, and at times shift half my body to the side for a better view. I had just started on the second plate and meanwhile went on with the crossword for better cover.

By now my friends were well aware —given the numerous occasions on which I had told them about it— I considered myself a bit of a crossword expert, although I wasn't so good with puzzles. In my career I had completed hundreds of crosswords and with complete humility could claim to be quite proficient at that pastime.

However I had some weak points. Such as geography, which was my immediate problem. The clue was 'Nigeria's second city'. I couldn't answer this. I was stuck. For those African countries changed regime almost fortnightly, and when they did like to rearrange everything — type of government, official language, the name of the country and its capital. I couldn't say for sure but could have sworn that Nigeria had changed its name two or three times in the last ten to fifteen years. Which was why I was now stuck, blocked in. Nigeria, ..., Nigeria. I took another sip of red Rioja. Laos... no, Laos. Lagos... Lagos. I had an idea it was something like that, but I wasn't sure. The best way to get out of this jam would be to look at the down clue. Let's see, down clue three: the capital of the island of Guam. Dead end. I had no way out. No idea at all, end of story for that crossword.

I looked over to the four women as if in search of inspiration. The four girls were Muses and the queen of these Muses was, of course, Luzia. She would help me to find inspiration. Mechanically I glanced down at the crossword again to see if it had any effect. But I had to look up immediately. Something was happening at the girls' table. Something out of the ordinary which —absorbed in my crossword— I hadn't noticed until now. Out of the corner of my eye I had thought there was a waiter, dressed in a black uniform, with the girls' order but on second thoughts I realised the restaurant's waiting staff were all Chinese women, small, yellow-skinned, wearing red silver-patterned dresses and that the tall swarthy man in a black overcoat was a complete stranger. From where I was I couldn't see the man's face but knew he was someone who had nothing to do with the waiting staff.

I shut my crossword book. I had to follow what was going on at their table very closely. Just at that moment a wine bottle was knocked off the table together with a glass. The bottle survived but the glass shattered. There was a sudden silence throughout the dining-room as almost everyone turned to look towards the girls' table. The silence lasted for five seconds or so and then everyone went back to their conversations. Immediately a young Chinese girl appeared with a brush and pan to sweep up the broken glass. The swarthy man who paid little heed to the bottle and glass incident continued embroiled in a heated argument with one of the girls. I had the impression from the other corner of the restaurant that the man and girl who was still seated were raising their voices somewhat. But the scene didn't last long. Suddenly she seemed to lose her cool, shoved her chair back, took the coat and bag hanging from it and with perfect dignity strode straight across the restaurant and out into the street.

Straight away the swarthy man followed her example. Without a word to the other girls he went after her out into the street. Then the atmosphere in the restaurant calmed down and returned to normality. I realised people at the other tables were talking about what had just happened.

The restored peace allowed me to finish my desert calmly. It was what I always ordered in the Chinese —I couldn't resist it— walnut ice cream.

A little later while I was having coffee, I witnessed the sequel to the earlier scene. After ten to fifteen minutes the girl came back in. She sat down at the table with her friends. Everyone was waiting for the swarthy man to come bursting in again, but the minutes ticked by and nobody appeared. Afterwards nothing out-of-the-ordinary happened. People began to drift out of the restaurant — the four girls left together. I could see that the atmosphere between the four girls had cooled appreciably. They finished their desserts, but without taking any coffee or drinks, paid their bill and left. I left ten minutes after them.

(1) Great Wall

ŠIturralde, Joxemari. Euliak ez dira argazkietan azaltzen, Erein, 2000.
ŠTranslation: Brendan Morgan

Š Photo: Erein