I was about to leave the room when Don Basilio got up, walked round his desk, and rested a hand, heavy and large as an anvil, on my shoulder. Only then, when I saw him close up, did I notice a twinkle in his eyes.
"If the story is decent Ill pay you ten pesetas. And if its better than decent and our readers like it, Ill publish more."
"Any specific instructions, Don Basilio?"I asked.
"Yes. Dont let me down."
. . .
I spent the next six hours in a trance. I installed myself at a table that stood in the middle of the editorial room and was reserved for Vidal, on the days when he felt like dropping by. The room was deserted, submerged in a gloom thick with the smoke of a thousand cigarettes. Closing my eyes for a moment, I conjured up an image, a cloak of dark clouds spilling down over the city in the rain, a man walking under cover of shadows with blood on his hands and a secret in his eyes. I didnt know who he was or what he was fleeing from, but during the next six hours he was going to become my best friend. I slid a page into the typewriter and without pausing, I proceeded to squeeze out everything I had inside me. I quarreled with every word, every phrase and expression, every image and letter as if they were the last I was ever going to write. I wrote and rewrote every line as if my life depended on it, and then rewrote it again. My only company was the incessant clacking of the typewriter echoing in the darkened hall and the large clock on the wall exhausting the minutes left until dawn.
. . .
Shortly before six oclock in the morning I pulled the last sheet out of the typewriter and sighed, utterly drained. My brain felt like a wasps nest. I heard the heavy footsteps of Don Basilio, who had emerged from one of his brief naps and was approaching unhurriedly. I gathered up the pages and handed them to him, not daring to meet his gaze. Don Basilio sat down at the next table and turned on the lamp. His eyes skimmed the text, betraying no emotion. Then he rested his cigar on the end of the table for a moment, glared at me, and read out the first line:
Night falls on the city and the streets carry the scent of gunpowder like the breath of a curse.
Don Basilio looked at me out of the corner of his eye and I hid behind a smile that didnt leave a single tooth uncovered. Without saying another word, he got up and left with my story in his hands. I saw him walking toward his office and closing the door behind him. I stood there, petrified, not knowing whether to run away or await the death sentence. Ten minutes later - it felt more like ten years to me - the door of the deputy editors office opened and the voice of Don Basilio thundered right across the department.
"Martin. In here. Now."
I dragged myself along as slowly as I could, shrinking a centimeter or two with every step, until I had no alternative but to show my face and look up. Don Basilio, the fearful red pencil in hand, was staring at me icily. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry. He picked up the pages and gave them back to me. I took them and turned to go as quickly as I could, telling myself that there would always be room for another shoeshine boy in the lobby of Hotel Coln.
"Take this down to the composing room and have them set it,"said the voice behind me.
I turned round, thinking I was the object of some cruel joke. Don Basilio pulled open the drawer of his desk, counted out ten pesetas, and put them on the table.
"This belongs to you. I suggest you buy yourself a better suit with it - Ive seen you wearing the same one for four years and its still about six sizes too big. Why dont you pay a visit to Senor Pantaleoni at his shop in Calle Escudellers? Tell him I sent you. Hell look after you."
"Thank you so much, Don Basilio. Thats what Ill do."
Excerpted from The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon Copyright © 2009 by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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