As he sat at the bar at the edge of the group, wondering whether to make a last attempt to talk to some of the other guests, a proverb - one of the dozens his grandfather used to repeat - floated through his mind: Más vale estar solo que mal acompañado - Better to be alone than in bad company. He shouldn't have come.
The last mouthful of beer disappeared from his glass and he looked around the room. The other guests looked to be pijos to a man - rich, well-dressed conservatives: people he might have to mix with at work on occasion, but rarely chose to spend his free time with. The other side of Spain, the other tribe. He leaned back in his chair. Five more minutes and then he'd go.
To kill time, he decided to play a game to see if he could work out who some of them were.
An elderly man sat at a table dressed in heavy tweeds, his hair slicked back and with a well-heeled country air about him. Cámara felt certain he was a bull breeder. He checked his flyer again. The bulls for the fight had come from the Ramírez farm, their symbol a large capital letter 'R' with a cross running through the lower right tail. Cámara had noticed it burnt onto the haunches of some of the bulls earlier on. Was this the man who had bred them? For a moment Cámara observed his thin, downturned mouth, large hooked nose, small untrusting eyes. His hair was almost white, and gave him a distinguished air, albeit in a slightly studied way.
Cámara moved on, scanning the room.
One face seemed familiar now - a woman standing at the centre wearing a red low-cut dress and exceptionally high, strapped silver heels. Cámara was sure he had seen her on TV, with her bee-stung lips and tightly stretched bronzed complexion. She looked like the kind of person who appeared on the gossip programmes, screaming out the intimate details of their love lives in a constant search for higher and higher doses of media attention. Carmen Luna? Wasn't that her name? If Almudena had been there with him she would have told him her life story by now. Cámara searched his memory for some reference to her. If she was here she must have something to do with Blanco. Weren't they engaged? Rumoured to be getting married soon? Blanco couldn't be more than thirty-five years old. There was no way Carmen was less than fifty. On a good day.
He watched for a moment as her eyes darted about the room clocking all the men who were looking at her.
Another woman - the only other one there - was standing on the far side of the bar. She was slightly stockier than Carmen Luna, and wore a pair of tightly fitting jeans. Her hair was cropped short and highlighted, while a pair of large brown sunglasses perched on top of her head like an Alice band. She smiled broadly as she talked to a couple of men leaning in towards her, both captured by her energy, an attractive force more powerful than mere good looks. In fact, she wasn't pretty in any conventional sense, or at least not in Cámara's mind. Her nose was a little too long and sharp, her figure a little plump, while the slight gap between her two front teeth meant she was never going to star in any toothpaste commercials. And yet it was clear from her poise that she was used to being in the company of men, and enjoyed it.
Cámara watched her for a while trying to work out who she was, but nothing, no clue, came to mind. Yet something about her was familiar. For a moment she noticed him looking her way and smiled, before turning back to her companions. Cámara stood up and headed to the bar to get himself a last quick drink. Time was beginning to drag. And still no sign of Blanco.
The door opened and all heads turned expectantly. A tall man in a dark suit appeared, and Cámara was immediately struck by his resemblance to the elderly bull breeder he'd identified earlier. A few voices called out in greeting - 'Hola Paco!' - but he could sense the collective groan around the bar: it wasn't Blanco. After shaking a few outstretched hands, the newcomer went and sat beside the bull breeder, where the physical similarity between them was even clearer: the same hooked noses, the same small eyes. Even his hair was slicked back in the same style. This was almost certainly the old man's son. Paco Ramírez? The two of them quickly locked in conversation, the younger talking in a low voice into the other's ear.
From Or the Bull Kills You by Jason Webster. Copyright ©2011 by the author and reprinted by permission of Minotaur Books.
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