Nine weeks later Martín and Vidal’s books have finally been published. Martín is of course excited to see his name on the face of a book, so he goes to the nearest bookshop. To his disappointment, the only new book he sees is Vidal’s, prominently displayed. He asks for his own book, but the bookseller says they don’t have it, as they didn’t get any books from the publisher.
Martin goes to a café and reads the reviews in the newspaper. The ones for Vidal are outright glowing.
‘The House of Ashes is a mature, rich work of great quality which takes its place among the best examples of contemporary literature.’
The reviews for his own book, on the other hand, are dismal.
‘A first novel, written in a pedestrian style, The Steps of Heaven, by the novice David Martín, shows the author’s lack of skill and talent from the very first page.’
That is quite harsh for Martín, especially since he wrote both books and one might assume that his writing style would have been the same for both books. Although the book he wrote for Vidal was an epic book and his own was a lot darker, he is still the same writer. One gets the feeling that the reviewers for Vidal’s book just wanted to suck up to him.
However, another explanation presents itself. Five bookshops Martín goes to say that they never received the book, so maybe the reviewers didn’t either. It is not unheard of for reviewers to just make up reviews without reading the book. Martín storms over to his publisher’s offices to demand that the books are sent out. Of course both men try to weasel their way out of the situation by offering endless useless excuses and Martín is – rightfully – livid. Apparently the only bookshop which has received the books is Sempere and Sons who collected the books in person.
Barrido and Escobillas, Martín’s publishers, tell him he is better off going back to writing City of the Damned again, also considering he still has a contract.
Martín just walks out with one line.
‘You can go screw yourselves.’
Martín walks past the bookshop of Sempere and is pulled inside by Sempere himself.
‘I’ve been glancing through Vidal’s book,’ he said.
‘The season’s success story,’ I pointed out.
‘Does he know you’ve written it?’
‘What does it matter?’ I said, shrugging my shoulders.
How does Sempere know that Martín has written Vidal’s book? I presume he read Martín’s book and it is possible that he picked up on the similarities in style, but he couldn’t know for sure. And Martín had not told anyone what he and Cristina had been doing. Also, why is Martín not surprised that Sempere has figured it out?
Sempere asks Martín to sign his book for him and he then places it in a special case of first editions. Martín is honoured and goes home feeling a bit better.
The next day the publishers come by with their lawyer, trying to force Martín to write more instalments of City of the Damned. They even offer – ever so generously – that Martín can buy the remaining unsold copies of The Steps of Heaven for 75 per cent of the cover price. Martín kicks them out of his house.
Before I slammed the door in their faces, Escobillos was good enough to cast me one of his evil-eyed looks.
‘We demand a reply within a week, or that will be the end of you,’ he muttered.
‘In a week you and that idiot partner of yours will be dead,’ I replied calmly, without quite knowing why I’d uttered those words.
Dun dun dun… I have a feeling that this is not going to turn out well.
Vidal also comes to pay his respects to his friend, saying how sorry he is for the bad reviews of Martín’s book. Martín tells Vidal to enjoy his own success.
‘Do you think this means anything to me? The flattery of a few poor devils? My greatest joy would have been to see you succeed.’
Right. Vidal is so disingenuous I am surprised Martín doesn’t kick him out of his life. Martín wrote the book that Vidal so desperately wanted to write, not so he could be proud of having written a book, but because he wanted to be famous. If he really didn’t care about “flattery”, then he would have cared more about his book and he would have noticed the tampering.
But Vidal is not done. He lectures Martín on not being part of the club and playing the game.
‘You lock yourself up in that great rambling house and you think you can survive without joining the church choir and putting on the uniform. Well you’re wrong, David. You’ve always been wrong.’
It would be nice if at least one character in the book could be consistent. Vidal pretends to care about Martín, but really he seems completely fed up with him. Is it because he has helped Martín so much and now he wants to see the fruits of his labour? Does he want Martín to succeed so he can boast and say it was all because Vidal took him under his wing? But why the lecture about joining the choir? When Martín asks if Vidal joined the parish (we have since moved from the choir to the parish in the conversation), Vidal replies,
‘I don’t have to, David. I feed them.’
Vidal then continues by telling Martín he has two things to tell Martín which he is not going to like. The first one concerns Martín’s father. Vidal tells Martín that his father’s death was a mistake.
‘The person they wanted to kill was me,’ said Vidal almost inaudibly. ‘An old partner of my father’s discovered that his wife and I…’
I closed my eyes and listened to a morbid laughter rising up inside me. My father had been riddled with bullets because one of the great Pedro Vidal’s bits of skirt.
Wow, that is harsh. So this is the real reason that Vidal has been looking after Martín, he felt responsible for the death of his father and therefore responsible for Martín’s well-being. Not so charitable after all, but we already knew that, didn’t we?
There is another bad thing, and it’s even worse than the first.
‘What is the second thing you were going to tell me?’
I’d never seen Vidal look so frightened. It suited him.
‘I’ve asked Cristina to marry me.’
A long silence.
‘She said yes.’
May I just point out that Vidal is almost thirty years older than Martín and Martín and Cristina are only two years apart? Meaning that Vidal is at least twenty five years older than Cristina. That is just wrong. Not that there is anything wrong with an age gap like that, but Cristina has grown up in the Vidal household, she has always been dependent on Vidal, and he waited for her father to die and took his chance. It’s not like Cristina could have refused him, as she would have been out on the streets then.
Of course Martín is cut up about it and he leaves Vidal at the restaurant. He wanders around and then ends up at the shop where his mother works. He waits until it is closing time, then asks a boy on the street to give his mother a package when she comes out. The package contains his book. Eventually his mother comes out of the shop, the boy gives her the package and leaves. Mom opens the package, examines the book, then starts walking. Martín follows her until he sees her dump his book in a trash can.
So not a good day for Martín, one would almost feel sorry for him. Just kidding, I actually do feel sorry for him. His whole world has been turned upside down with Vidal’s confessions and to top it up his mother rejected his work. She must have recognised the name and realised the book was written by her son, right? With two parents as messed up as that, it’s no surprised Martín himself is messed up.