The Angel's Game
Author:CARLOS RUIZ ZAFON

7

That was how, only a few months after my twentieth birthday, I received and accepted an offer to write penny dreadfuls under the name of Ignatius B. Samson. My contract committed me to hand in two hundred pages of typed manuscript a month packed with intrigues, high-society murders, countless underworld horrors, illicit love affairs featuring cruel lantern-jawed landowners and damsels with unmentionable desires, and all sorts of twisted family sagas with backgrounds as thick and murky as the water in the port. The series, which I decided to call City of the Damned, was to appear in monthly hardback instalments with full-colour illustrated covers. In exchange I would be paid more money than I had ever imagined could be made doing something that I cared about, and the only censorship imposed on me would be dictated by the loyalty of my readers. The terms of the offer obliged me to write anonymously under an extravagant pseudonym, but it seemed a small price to pay for being able to make a living from the profession I had always dreamed of practising. I would put aside any vanity about seeing my name printed on my work, whilst remaining true to myself, to what I was.

My publishers were a pair of colourful characters called Barrido and Escobillas. Barrido, who was small, squat, and always affected an oily, sibylline smile, was the brains of the operation. He sprang from the sausage industry and although he hadn’t read more than three books in his life - and this included the catechism and the telephone directory - he was possessed of a proverbial audacity for cooking the books, which he falsified for his investors, displaying a talent for fiction that any of his authors might have envied. These, as Vidal had predicted, the firm swindled, exploited and, in the end, kicked into the gutter when the winds were unfavourable - something that always happened sooner or later.

Escobillas played a complementary role. Tall, gaunt, with a vaguely threatening appearance, he had gained his experience in the undertaker business and beneath the pungent eau de cologne with which he bathed his private parts there always seemed to be a vague whiff of formaldehyde that made one’s hair stand on end. His role was essentially that of the sinister foreman, whip in hand, always ready to do the dirty work, to which Barrido, with his more cheerful nature and less athletic disposition, wasn’t naturally inclined. The ménage à trois was completed by their secretary, Herminia, who followed them like a loyal dog wherever they went, and whom we all nicknamed Lady Venom because, although she looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, she was as trustworthy as a rattlesnake on heat.

Social niceties aside, I tried to see them as little as possible. Ours was a strictly commercial relationship and none of the parties felt any great desire to alter the established protocol. I had resolved to make the most of the opportunity and work hard: I wanted to prove to Vidal, and to myself, that I was worthy of his help and his trust. With fresh money in my hands, I decided to abandon Do?a Carmen’s pensión in search of more comfortable quarters. For some time now I’d had my eye on a huge pile of a house at number 30, Calle Flassaders, a stone’s throw from Paseo del Borne, which for years I had passed as I went between the newspaper and the pensión. Topped by a tower that rose from a facade carved with reliefs and gargoyles, the building had been closed for years, its front door sealed with chains and rusty padlocks. Despite its gloomy and somewhat melodramatic appearance, or perhaps for that very reason, the idea of inhabiting it awoke in me that desire that only comes with ill-advised ideas. In other circumstances I would have accepted that such a place was far beyond my meagre budget, but the long years of abandonment and oblivion to which the dwelling seemed condemned made me hope that, if nobody else wanted it, perhaps its owners might accept my offer.

Asking around in the area, I discovered that the house had been empty for years and was handled by a property manager called Vicen? Clavé who had an office in Calle Comercio, opposite the market. Clavé was a gentleman of the old school who liked to dress in a similar fashion to the statues of mayors or national heroes that greeted you at the various entrances of Ciudadela Park; and if you weren’t careful, he would take off on rhetorical flights that encompassed every subject under the sun.

‘So you’re a writer. Well, I could tell you stories that would make good books.’

‘I don’t doubt it. Why don’t you begin by telling me the story of the house in Flassaders, number 30?’

Clavé adopted the look of a Greek mask.

‘The tower house?’

‘That’s the one.’

‘Believe me, young man, you don’t want to live there.’

‘Why not?’

Clavé lowered his voice. Whispering as if he feared the walls might hear us, he delivered his verdict in a funereal tone.

‘That house is jinxed. I visited the place when I went along with the notary to seal it up and I can assure you that the oldest part of Montju?c Cemetery is more cheerful. It’s been empty since then. That place has bad memories. Nobody wants it.’

‘Its memories can’t be any worse than mine. Anyhow, I’m sure they’ll help bring down the asking price.’

‘Some prices cannot be paid with money.’

‘Can I see it?’

 

My first visit to the tower house was one morning in March, in the company of the property manager, his secretary and an auditor from the bank who held the title deeds. Apparently, the building had been trapped for years in a labyrinth of legal disputes until it finally reverted to the lending institution that had guaranteed its last owner. If Clavé was telling the truth, nobody had set foot in that house for at least twenty years.

 

 

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