Either you kill the bull, or the bull kills you
Saturday 11th March
Chief Inspector Max Cámara of the Valencia Cuerpo Nacional de Policía cast a dark eye over the other guests at the Bar Los Toros, and sniffed.
Stopping by the Jefatura after lunch had been a mistake.
'Cámara, there's no one else around. You'll have to stand in for me.'
The idea had been to run in quickly to see if he was owed any leave. Fallas was coming, Valencia's pyromaniac spring fiesta, and he was hoping to get out of the city until it was over. But he could still hear Pardo's voice as the commissioner raced through the door, his wife waiting for him outside in a taxi with their three-year-old. There had been no time to remind Pardo he knew nothing about bullfighting, or that he hated it: a daughter with suspected meningitis took precedence over everything. Still, someone else could have stepped in. Maldonado, perhaps. He would have revelled in the pomp and glory.
As it was, though, he had ended up standing in as president of that afternoon's corrida, wondering to himself if there was anyone in the country less suited to the job. Pardo loved it - one of the perks of being a top policeman in a big city. Cámara had sometimes imagined him sitting up there in the balcony, the grave, unsmiling face, all the responsibility of the spectacle on his shoulders as representative of the Ministry of the Interior - the branch of government that oversaw bullfighting. He was convinced Pardo enjoyed it even more than the few times he managed to appear on TV at the successful conclusion to a case. Anyone foolish enough to go near him the day after a fight would be regaled with unnecessary detail on whether one or two ears - if any - he had ordered be cut off each dead animal and given to the matadors in recognition of their performances. Sometimes they even cut off the tail as well and presented it to the torero as a trophy, but Pardo didn't go in for that: it was rare. And a bit showy.
It could have been a disaster, but two others had sat with him in the presidential box - one an expert on bullfighting, the other, Cámara discovered to his surprise, a vet - to guide the president in his decisions. Cámara allowed himself to be steered by these stern-looking men. They made it clear they were unhappy that Pardo hadn't made it himself, sending a subordinate with no knowledge - or even apparent interest - in los toros.
'When did you say Pardo found out about his daughter?' one of them - the vet - had asked. His heavy, inanimate face stared out at the crowd, as if Cámara were to blame for the little girl's illness. And the two of them sucked on their cigars, veiled behind clouds of blue smoke: still, lifeless shadows on the outer reaches of his line of vision. Thank God they hadn't been invited to the Bar Los Toros.
Actually, Cámara wasn't quite sure why he had been invited himself to this award ceremony for Jorge Blanco, the star of the afternoon. All three matadors had come close to blending into one for him - each one finishing by slaughtering the bull. Only the reaction of the crowd had alerted him to possible differences. The first had been given a mixed welcome. What was his name? Cámara dug his hands into his pockets looking for the glossy programme that had been thrust at him when he arrived at the bullring. He stared into the face of a man in his mid-thirties, dark sideburns stretching down his cheeks: Alejandro Cano. The crowd had whistled at him at the end of his first fight, while his second had gone better: applause, and perhaps a trophy ear; he wasn't sure now.
The second matador had been cheered almost from the start. That one he did remember more clearly: the one they were waiting for now in the Bar Los Toros. Jorge Blanco, the man who had singlehandedly saved Spain's national fiesta from oblivion. Or at least there had been comments to that effect. His face had even appeared recently on the front page of El País; he was becoming a hard man to avoid. The crowd loved him, applauding every move with the cape, every triumphal swipe with his sword. He had rescued the old values of bullfighting, they said. Valour, strength, and a true life-and-death struggle with the animal. Down there, on the sand, Blanco put his balls on the line like no other bullfighter.
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