Of the fact that Enrique Fernandez, missing for six weeks now, was dead, there was little doubt. The police were also reasonably comfortable with the assumption that he had been the victim of violent crime, since suicides and accident victims tended not to distribute their assorted body parts across sundry locations in the city. Bits of Enrique Fernandez had been turning up all over, since shortly after the first severed limbs were discovered at a city refuse dump and quickly identified as those previously attaching to the missing property magnate; but they still hadn’t recovered enough of Enrique to fill even a small sized coffin.
Jose knew that this was just the sort of case that would normally fascinate his boss, but at the moment Oscar was off work with a head cold; and all of his attention was directed on it. The pair of them had been trapped out in the rain on one of those meaningless surveillance operations that was one of the worst parts of the job: and they always seemed to come up at this time of year, as the last of the hot weather finally ended and the weather turned suddenly. It didn’t really matter though, if Oscar hadn’t been soaked through that day he would still have caught a head cold in the autumn: it happened every year.
For Jose, it was a sorrowful thing to see a full-grown intelligent man brought down to such abject self-pity by something so trivial. Oscar always took to his bed for a fortnight at the first sign of a temperature and a runny nose, or ‘flu, as he insisted on calling it in spite of the medical diagnosis. In his current state even a problem like the Fernandez case aroused only mild interest.
– It’s now officially a homicide investigation, Jose told him. Are you going to try those grapes I brought, or not?
– Help yourself. I’ve no sense of taste just now anyway. What does Gomez say about it?
– He thinks it’s clear that either the widow is responsible or else Fernandez was involved with shady people we don’t know about yet. Either way it was a contract killing and now someone is making a point. The inspector says I shouldn’t make a move until you are up and about again.
– That’s harsh.
– He thinks of me more as your bodyguard than a proper detective.
It was true that Jose was so enormous that it was easy to imagine that his function in life should be to move things or crack heads. In fact, like others of his size, he’d never felt the need or inclination to develop an aggressive streak. The occasional small man in a bar might insist on taking a swing at him now and then, but the results were more comical than threatening. Violent behaviour was always a puzzle to Jose, even now that he was a professional student of it, so to speak.
But it was frustrating when his superiors assumed that because he was big, he didn’t have a brain, even though it was true that Oscar did need looking after from time to time.
– Gomez may be right just now, even if it’s for the wrong reasons, Oscar told him. Maybe it’s the time to wait rather than act. But keep your eye on the case: something about it is not typical.
Jose wanted to tell his boss that it did no good to wrap himself in so many blankets, but it was useless trying to tell Oscar anything about his health when he was like this.
The surveillance job was going on, regardless of the heavy rain that never seemed to stop just now. It was a full time job and without his partner it was even more boring than normal for Jose. They were supposed to stake out a restaurant. The tax inspectors had already worked out that the owners served about three times the number of diners that their IVA return declared; and it was certain they had the evidence they needed, but the official view was that further police surveillance was needed because there was a suspicion that the cheats might be involved in other forms of crime.
Jose hadn’t seen any indications of that: he was more than sure that the suspicions were nothing more than an excuse for using police officers to help the tax collectors with their snooping. So far as Jose was concerned, he’d signed up to catch criminals, not to be a stooge for the tax authorities. In fact the cost of food in restaurants was high enough without the government taking more and what choice did single men like him have? If some of the customers wanted to pay cash and maybe get a discount, and some invoices didn’t get submitted, it was difficult for him to believe that there was anything so wrong about this. The boys who supplied Jose with cheap cigarettes and DVDs were doing a public service as far as he could see. The robbers were the companies who set the official price.
But what could he do? Only what he was told, as usual.
On Tuesday another hand and part of a ribcage turned up, wrapped in newspaper and deposited in a waste bin in a quiet part of the Retiro. They were discovered by an excited Labrador, out for a walk, who must have felt cheated of her snack afterwards. Forensics confirmed that this was another instalment of Snr. Fernandez, but the newspaper told them nothing and the distribution of body parts was not making any sense.
By Tuesday evening, Jose was completely fed up of the stakeout and the rain. He switched on the siren and the blue light and headed for the lawyer’s office. Oscar would have been appalled as he weaved through the traffic at speed in response to an imaginary emergency; but Oscar didn’t understand that sometimes you just needed to enjoy life in the moment.
Jose had been thinking about talking to the Fernandez lawyer for a while. There was nothing he could do about the physical evidence. Every uniformed officer was on the lookout for new finds and making sense of them was a job for the lab. Jose had considered what Oscar would do and decided that the answer was to investigate motivations: find out who had something to gain.
The lawyer was a dried up old stick who seemed like he was going to cause problems at first, but when Jose explained the reasons for his interest in a more direct way, the old boy was more than willing to help.
– I suppose, regrettably, the will is likely to come into effect shortly. My client provided that his widow should receive the full interest in his estate for her lifetime. On her death it should pass to the only child, Ernesto. Quite simple really; there are no other close relatives.
– So the widow gets everything?
– For the duration of her lifetime. My client was not a young man remember. I understand that Dona Ana has more than eighty years.
– But Fernandez wasn’t so old that he didn’t have enemies? Jose asked.
– So it seems; but about that I know nothing.
– Who knew about the will?
– I’m certain that Ana knew. They were never what you would call close; but both of them are rather formal people and Don Enrique would have considered it proper to inform her.
– And the son?
The lawyer coughed; too polite and professional for it to be spontaneous, rather than a signal that he was about to share something of a confidential nature.
– I shouldn’t say really, but I’m sure that Ernesto knows as well. Don Enrique’s actual words to me were, if I remember correctly, “I’ve told my pig of a son that it all comes to him when the woman is dead, if only he can remember to wipe his backside until then and not disgrace the family name. I wish there was another who could take the estate, but he is all the flesh I have”.
– He didn’t get on with his son?
– He felt that Ernesto wanted only to enjoy the fine things in life without working for them first. I can see where your mind is going, but I can tell you, because we are an old-fashioned firm, we know our clients. I first met Ernesto when he was a boy who came to the office with his father. His character is weak but not vicious. Anyway, if he was impatient for his inheritance what good would it do to kill the father? The widow is still alive and everyone knows the women last longer than men.
Jose felt like he’d done something at least, even if he wasn’t sure what to make of the information he had. He told Oscar about it when he went to visit the convalescent. Oscar wanted to know if he’d reported the conversation to Gomez and what the inspector had said about it.
– He told me I should back off, Jose admitted. Even though I’m supposed to be the officer heading the investigation in your absence. He said the wife or the son were clearly guilty, or maybe both of them together, but whoever it was would slip up, because they were making too many clues, with these body parts left all over Madrid. Forensics would be able to put all the pieces together eventually.
– How gruesome.
– I don’t think he meant it literally. He warned me not to try to solve the case using reasoning and intuition. He said that was your department. Never try to outshine the master: he said I should always remember that.
– I remember him telling me that when I got my start as a detective. I was assigned as his partner.
– Maybe you’re getting better if you are remembering old stories like that, Jose told him. Anyway, your nose wouldn’t run so much if you didn’t wrap yourself in quite so many blankets.
On Thursday, the tax officers finally moved in on the restaurant: no more mind-numbing observation detail. Now Jose was sure that Oscar would be completely recovered in a matter of a few days. But before that, Friday brought a new development in the Fernandez case: Senora Fernandez went missing. The family was rich and lived in a good neighbourhood, so this was a serious matter. It seemed unlikely she was trying to flee the country, given her age, but there was a chance she’d become confused and wandered out into the city. She might turn up anywhere.
Since the Senora’s habits were so fixed, it was easy to establish her movements. She hated to spend money and her principal occupation seemed to be travelling on her free bus pass accompanied by her wheeled shopping bag. She’d visit the markets and supermarkets where food could be got cheaply, always the same places each weekday; week in week out: but nobody could say if anything unusual had happened at any of her regular stops.
Then they found the fingers in a neatly sealed envelope that was left on a bench by one of the bus stops in Cibelles. They weren’t from a man’s hand and after that there could be little doubt. Jose waited until the lab confirmed that the fingers had belonged on the left hand of Ana Fernandez (the wedding band that remained on the ring finger was a good clue) before he arrested Ernesto on suspicion of murder.
With the case apparently cracked and nothing else of interest to detain him, Oscar had decided to clear some of his mountain of accrued leave by visiting his sister in the south, where the weather would still be warm. Jose gave him a lift to Atocha. He was always slightly envious of anyone who was about to use the AVE train.
– Don’t close the book on Fernandez yet, Oscar told him as they parted. There’s more to come out.
– What makes you say that?
– Just a feeling.
The son didn’t confess to anything. He was one of those stuck-up rich kids who never grow up and feel entitled to everything. It turned out he had bank accounts all over town and all of them were drawn to the limit. Jose did not like the man at all, but it was surprising that someone like that even had enough about him to arrange for his parents to be disposed of.
Late Monday morning, Jose was at his desk when they directed a call through to him from someone he’d never heard of; a Senor Munoz, who would say only that he knew something about the case and wanted to meet Jose that afternoon in the Parque Juan Carlos by a certain fountain. He gave a description of himself that sounded like it could be anybody, but said that he’d be wearing a red ski jacket.
The park was quite new and Jose had never been there before. He was shocked at what a lot of space it took up and how ugly it was; like something an idiot child would make with a toy construction set in the land of the giants. At least there were plenty of car parking spaces.
– Well, the rain has stopped finally, Jose commented to the man in the red jacket. Mind if I smoke?
The stranger shook his head. Jose parked his frame on the creaking bench, not too close; and started to roll a cigarette.
– Helps me smoke less and it’s cheaper, he explained.
He introduced himself. The stranger nodded. He didn’t seem to know how to begin.
– I’m Juan Munoz, he said finally. I’m the other son of Ana Fernandez.
Jose was good at listening patiently and Munoz was in the mood for talking. His story began right back in the thirties, when Ana had been a young girl in love with Hector Munoz, who was unacceptable to her parents as a known atheist and suspected republican. Ana’s official suitor at that time was an upstanding youth named Enrique, who didn’t have any fortune of his own, but knew enough about making his way in the world to join the Falangists just before the outbreak of hostilities.
After Hector disappeared, Ana was broken-hearted and finally unable to resist the pressure on her to accept Enrique’s longstanding offer. She bore him one son and she never suspected over the years that it was Enrique who had denounced Hector to the authorities, until he boasted of it at the climax of one of their increasingly frequent arguments. She in turn never confessed that the reason that her parents were so insistent that she accept the attentions of an unprepossessing boy like Enrique was the fear that the truth about the long summer spent away from home not long after Hector disappeared, and the baby given up for adoption, might become known.
– That’s a sad story, but it’s old news finally, Jose said. I still don’t understand what you are trying to tell me.
Juan had to explain it all his way: he went on.
The day that Ana found out the truth about Hector was the day she became an old woman. She planned her revenge carefully. Ana took no enjoyment from the wealth of the family; that should all have been hers, because Enrique had only married into wealth. There were no family heirs apart from the legitimate son who she hated because every day he reminded her more of Enrique. She knew that she would outlive her husband. She was determined that after her death, the estate would pass to Hector’s son, who she finally managed to trace after years of secret searching.
– Then she found out about the provisions of Enrique’s will, and a few weeks later she went to his room one morning and found him dead as a stone. They never slept together. It enraged her beyond measure to think that he should pass away so quietly with a look on his face that suggested he was completely at peace, knowing that everything would pass to his useless son.
– I could see that she might be upset, but how did she think that cutting Enrique into pieces would help?
– At first she only wanted to hide the body to buy time. Then she realized that if he was missing instead of dead, then under Spanish law it should take at least three years for his death to become official. She knew the financial situation that Ernesto is in and she didn’t believe he could wait three years. Apparently there’s an extra provision in the will that if Ernesto is made bankrupt before he inherits, then he gets nothing. The father knew what the son was like and he didn’t want the estate to pass to his creditors.
– So then everything goes back to the old lady?
– She knew that Ernesto had people after him for money from every part of Madrid. If Enrique wasn’t pronounced legally dead for three years, he’d have been made bankrupt long before and then the gift to him would fail.
– It’s true. Ernesto hasn’t a bean.
Juan explained that somehow, Ana had managed to hack up the body enough to fit it into her freezer, apart from some bits that she’d got rid of at the local dump, thinking they’d not be noticed, let alone identified. When she heard about the discovery, she panicked.
– And that’s when she came to see me, Juan concluded.
– You helped her remove all traces of the body from the house before the police arrived.
– You know that was a serious crime?
– She’s my mother, who I never even met before all this started. She’s told me so much that I never knew about her, about my father, about my life.
– Did you dispose of the other body parts?
Juan nodded again.
– Ana, I mean my mother, couldn’t do it. She’s too frail. I thought if I spread them around it would throw you off the scent. The first site was too near to her home.
– Too complicated, Jose told him. Always keep things as simple as possible.
– But mother was spending more time in my house, telling me about the past and reliving it herself. I wanted to know, but it made her more distressed the more she talked about it. And the idea that now it was known that her husband was dead, Ernesto would inherit, made her crazier than anything.
– We found two of your mother’s fingers in an envelope with her wedding ring still attached.
Juan put his head in his hands.
– I didn’t have anything to do with that. She asked me to help and I told her she was mad. No-one can understand how implacable that old woman can be.
Jose rested a big hand on his shoulder, gently.
– I remember my grandmother, he said. Go on.
Juan described his mother coming to the house looking very pale and saying that now she had disappeared like her husband. She wouldn’t be leaving his house again and no-one would look for her there. She’d bandaged the hand as best she could, but she’d still lost quite a lot of blood. She depended on him now, she said. The police would think that Ernesto had killed both parents because he needed the money. He would be tried for murder and never inherit. The property would pass under the terms of her own will, which she’d made a year ago with her own lawyer, leaving everything to Juan.
– Please understand, Juan told Jose. None of this part has anything to do with me. I have my own business and I’m doing fine. I don’t need or want anyone else’s money.
– What did you think you would do?
– Well I couldn’t turn in my own mother. But then you did arrest Ernesto; and I couldn’t see an innocent man convicted.
– Where is Ana now?
– She’s resting at my house. It’s one of the new ones, not far from the big gate. I’m not sure she knows where she is. The wound seems clean, but everything has been too much for her. When she talks, she’s in the past as much as the present. I can’t leave her alone for too long.
– You did the right thing, Jose told him
– You mean, calling you?
– I don’t know what I mean. Don’t ask.
Ernesto Fernandez was released without charge that evening, when Jose explained that there was no real evidence against him. Inspector Gomez shouted at him for a while about the department’s reputation being in tatters and the risk of a claim against them for wrongful arrest, but Jose let it wash over him. The inspector took him for an idiot anyway and that probably wouldn’t change even if he had known that Jose had solved the case.
It was more difficult to explain how he’d come across the old lady alone and wandering round the Parque Juan Carlos, although everyone could understand how being in that place might have a disorienting effect on the dear old thing. Poor Ana Fernandez was too confused now to help anyone with questions of that sort, so the explanation of coincidence had to stand.
As for Juan Munoz, Jose didn’t say anything about him to anyone, not even Oscar. In Jose’s view, there was no way that Juan could have acted any differently, but he knew that his partner would tell him that was for a court to decide, not a policeman. Everything had to be done in the right way with Oscar. He’d insist they make an arrest, even while he was hoping that the court would throw the case out. It was best to say nothing at all. Of course, Oscar read the case reports and wrinkled his nose and knew that something was wrong, but what did he actually think of it? You never knew quite where you were with Oscar; he even claimed to like the new park.