All right, I will be honest here. The start of Act Two is already disappointing me. I had expected Martín to do at least a little bit of contemplating or soul searching about the mysterious and miraculous events of the night before, but just as with his encounter with Chloé, he accepts what has happened to him at face value.
At the very least I would be wondering about this Corelli guy and his powers to heal. I mean, one day Martín is dying from a brain tumour, the next morning he is miraculously cured because he promised a strange man to invent a religion for him. That would make anyone pause at least a beat, going “wait a second, what just happened?” But not our friend. He just accepts it as it is.
I celebrated my return to the world of the living by paying homage to one of the most influential temples in town: the main offices of the Banco Hispano Colonial on Calle Fontanella.
He deposits the money he has received from Corelli and then goes out to buy a newspaper. He reads in the newspaper that the offices of Barrido & Escobillas has been ravaged by fire, killing Barrido and seriously injuring Escobillas. He rushes over to the offices to find the firm’s secretary, who he always nicknamed Lady Venom. She tells him that Barrido and Escobillas were staying late the previous night as they were expecting a visitor. When pressed, Lady Venom can only say that the visitor was foreign.
Let me pause here to point out the nice convenient timing of this fire. Just as Martín has agreed to write a book for Corelli – and Corelli has promised him to deal with the publishers – the office burst into flames and the two publishers are dead and hurt.
Lady Venom wasn’t born yesterday either and comments:
‘We’ve lost everything, the archives, the contracts…everything. The publishing house is finished.’
‘I’m sorry Herminia.’
A crooked, malicious smile appeared.
‘You’re sorry? Isn’t this what you wanted?’
‘How can you think that?’
She looked at me suspiciously.
‘Now you are free.’
Yes, be careful what you wish for, Martín.
Martín leaves Lady Venom in her misery and goes outside where he is immediately accosted by a police inspector and two regular police men. They take him to a café and interrogate him as to his whereabouts the night before. They are naturally suspicious and question why he was having a meeting with another publisher when he was still under contract with Barrido & Escobillas. Martín doesn’t really have much to say and when the inspector, Víctor Grandes, confronts him with what he told Barridos & Escobillas when they visited him – namely that they would be dead within the week – he merely replies he didn’t mean what he said.
Martín leaves the interview not worried too much, because he is feeling too vital and alive.
Something told me that the tragedy of the previous night, including the death of Barrido and the very likely demise of Escobillas, should have filled me with grief and anguish, but neither I nor my conscience was able to feel anything other than a pleasant indifference.
I think that saying he should feel grief and anguish is going a bit far, there was never any love lost between him and the publishers. I don’t think any reader would expect him to be plunged into despair because of what happened.
Martin then pays a visit to Sempere and his son, who barely recognise him when he comes through their door.
‘Martin? Is it really you? […] You look completely different! I was so worried. We went round to you house a few times, but you didn’t answer the door. I’ve even been to the hospitals and police stations.’
His son stared at me in disbelief from the top of the ladder. I had to remind myself that only a week before they had seen me looking like one of the inmates of the local morgue.
Martín waves their questions away, and explains he went to the doctor who gave him some tonic and now he feels so much better, thank you. Why not tell them the truth, Martín? Since you are not worried about this Corelli business, why not share it with Sempere?
They talk a bit about Barridos and Escobillas and then Sempere asks Martín if he could do him a favour. Sempere has met a young girl who aspires to be a writer and who would like to be Martín’s assistant. She is apparently a very good writer, but Martín is reluctant. Sempere presses on though, explaining that if the girl doesn’t get some help with her writing, her parents will lock her up or marry her off to someone she doesn’t like. Eventually, reluctantly, Martín gives in.
Sempere smiled triumphantly and wanted to seal the pact with an embrace, but I escaped before the old bookseller was able to complete his mission of trying to make me feel like a good Samaritan.
Yes, because heaven forbid Martín actually does something for a person who is not himself. Really, he has spent his whole life in selfishness so far, and even though Vidal helped him out of a sense of guilt, it is still thanks to the good Samaritan works of another person that Martín is where he is now. He may be bitter about life, but why is it such a task for him to help another human being?