Cámara had pulled out his handkerchief twice for him the first time - meaning two trophy ears - then again with his second bull, the fifth of the six that made up the afternoon. His advisors had twitched at that point: perhaps he'd overdone it, but looking at the jubilant spectators - almost 13,000 people; the place was full to capacity - he'd decided to err on the side of generosity, the policeman in him considering the crowd-control options should any reluctance to award severed ears on his part lead to a riot.
At the end of the afternoon, Blanco was festooned as admirers threw flowers and cuddly toys to him. A live hen caught Cámara's eye as it was hurled down into the ring, Blanco's assistants handing it to the matador to lay his hands on before they threw it back to the crowd and, hopefully, to reunion with its owner. That night, he imagined, someone in Valencia was about to feast on chicken that had been blessed by the great man himself before having its throat slit.
Cámara remembered Blanco's keen steady eye, his slightly upturned nose, heavy eyebrows and pained, almost tortured air. There was no standing on ceremony about him, no dedicating the fight to one of the bullfighting grandees down in Sombra - the expensive seats. Each fight had gone to the crowd itself, and they loved him even more for it.
Cámara glanced down at the last photo on the flyer. It was the young Antonio de Mora's first proper bullfight, they'd said. At some stage before his first bull there had been a mini-ceremony of sorts down in the ring where Cano had acted as his godfather - a rite of passage from novillero, or apprentice, into fully fledged bull killer. The crowd was generous, applauding after each despatched animal, but there were no ears today for de Mora. Blanco was the man, and once the whole thing had finished some of the crowd rushed into the ring and carried him off on their shoulders through the main door - la Puerta Grande - and out into the street. That was the greatest honour for a bullfighter, his companions had told him before taking their leave, a last impassive handshake before joining their aficionado friends.
Cámara stood on his own for a moment in the presidential box, wondering how quickly he could get out of there before anyone noticed him, when the owner of the Bar Los Toros introduced himself and asked him to join them. He was president of a peña taurina - a bullfighting appreciation society - he said, and they were giving Blanco an award for the previous year's performance, as doubtless they would be doing next year for what had just taken place that afternoon. It would be an honour for them if today's president himself could be present. Cámara had been on the point of turning him down; he'd already made other arrangements.
'I'd be delighted.'
The words had come out with curious ease.
Now, as he sat in the grubby surroundings of the Bar Los Toros down a street at the back of the bullring, with a quickly vanishing glass of Mahou lager in his hand, he began to wonder. The owner was talking to the barman, leaning in to make himself heard above the noise of the TV set bolted high in a corner and a dozen conversations bouncing off the red-painted greasy walls. Blanco still hadn't shown up, while conversation with the two dozen other people there was proving difficult: something about the chief inspector, perhaps his clothes, just the way he was, told them he wasn't an aficionado, not one of them.
If any of them had focused on him at all, they would probably have described Cámara as an unassuming man, with short, dark, slightly ruffled hair crowning a high forehead, a larger than average chin, dark brown eyes and a crooked, fleshy nose - the kind of person who no doubt could look after himself, and had possibly had to do so on more than one occasion. More perceptive observers of the forty-two year-old might notice other details: strong yet thoughtful hands devoid of any rings, bracelets or watch; an observant expression in his lively brown eyes; and a vulnerability only partially masked by his broad shoulders and powerful physical presence. He was a man you would pass without a second glance down a street in broad daylight, but who might cause you some unease were the same situation repeated at night.
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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