218 pearls around the neck
Have a seat. This is not a luxury cell but there is enough room for two. On the berth over here or on the
chair. You won’t be afraid of me, will you Peña? I’m still El Curro, your childhood friend. If you want,
I can show you my birthmark in the shape of a peanut that used to make you laugh so much. I know, I
know, it won’t be necessary. Come over here, then. On your own accord or because I insist. But if you
don’t want to, we can speak like this, standing up, as though we were having a drink together at the
counter of the local tavern.
Come here! It’s much better like this. And now that you’ve sat down, I would like to thank you for
coming, I want you to know; because it wasn’t easy for me to write to you after all this time, and in
such circumstances. And it mustn’t have been easy for you either, I suppose, after so many years of my
not answering your letters, to agree to such a request. Yet, you are here, my dear Peña, wasting your
Saturday morning in El Curro’s stinking cell, and that’s all that matters.
Let’s see, let’s see the things you have in your briefcase: a pencil, a mechanical pencil with a gold cap, a
tape recorder and even a computer, and a modern one at that. Wow, man! Life has truly smiled upon
you over there in the big city! All this is great, yes, really great. It makes me confident for our business.
Yes, right now, I promise, but before, let me look at you, old man, because with the hair cream, the
dark suit and the cufflinks, I’m wondering whether you truly are Juan Manuel Peña. Ah yes, of course,
you will have your doubts and I’ll have mine. Tell me, then, before I begin telling you my story, that
you are Peñita, the scrawny kid who used to cry when he lost a game of marbles at recess? The one
who pressed his lips together and closed his eyes tight when diving with El Currito into the pond to
catch frogs? Is that you? Then I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the hiding Old Casilda –with the mole
shaped like a tick– gave us when she caught us with our pockets full of figs and chicks. You remember
her, of course you remember her! Then let the smile that is already springing in your eyes come to your
face. Don’t worry and don’t fool yourself, Peña, because I’m not fooling myself. We’re not those kids
anymore, I know, neither are we the young guns who went around having a wild time. The years have
passed, obviously: now people call you “counselor” and I am still El Curro, El Curro, nothing more.
The same one who, aside from catching frogs and pinching trifles, was always ready to stick his neck out
for a worthy cause, yes, and if it was worth it. Was it worth it, my friend? This will be for you to tell me,
Counselor Peña.
I should start with the letter? Very well, let’s start with the letter. As I explained in the letter, I became
the main suspect in the murder of Joaquín Gómez de la Serna, husband to Magdalena Iturrazpe.
Husband, yes, but who became so forcibly. And, although I won’t deny that I would have derived
pleasure from tearing him to shreds, the events actually took such a turn that I could only accuse fate,
which does in general have a way of charging everyone with what they deserve. Forgive me; it’s not that
I mean to put on airs. I know that you are the lawyer and that you will tell me, once I have told you my
story as it happened. These are all my notebooks, where I wrote everything down. I will read some parts
to you. I will summarize some, I will tell you others, and you will comment.
Three years after you left the village to go study, on the evening of the Country Club ball, Joaquín
Gómez de la Serna raped Magdalena Iturrazpe and, just like that, made her pregnant. For Magdalena’s
parents, the scandal weighed more than their daughter’s pleas. What’s more, since he was the only
heir to the Gómez de la Serna’s fortune, Joaquín was not a bad match and my darling was not to be
disregarded, since she was the village’s prettiest girl. I am sure you thought so too, admit it, Peña.
You don’t remember her? Yet, the last time we went out together, you had been the first to notice
her: “Look at this beauty,” you’d said, “who?” I’d asked and you’d answered: “The dark head with
the curves of a guitar.” And you even danced with her once. After that it was my turn and I ended
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