The name opens a way through the dream with its horn, and man follows that path. A quaking path. Invariably harsh. The path that leads into or out of Hell. That’s what it all comes down to. Getting closer to Hell or farther away.
Me, for example, I’ve had people killed. I’ve given the best birthday presents. I’ve backed projects of epic proportions.
I’ve opened my eyes in the dark. Once, I opened them by slow degrees in total darkness, and all I saw or imagined was that name: Los Empalados, shining like the star of destiny.
I’ll tell you everything, naturally. My father was a renegade priest. I don’t know if he was Colombian or from some other country. But he was Latin American. He turned up one night in Medellín, stone broke, preaching sermons in bars and whorehouses.
Some thought he was working for the secret police, but my mother kept him from getting killed and took him to her penthouse in the neighborhood. They lived together for four months, I’ve been told, and then my father vanished into the Gospels.
Latin America was calling him, and he kept slipping away into the sacrificial words until he vanished, gone without a trace.
Whether he was Catholic or Protestant is something I’ll never find out now. I know that he was alone and that he moved among the masses, fevered and loveless, full of passion and empty of hope.
I was named Olegario when I was born, but people have always called me Lalo. My father was known as El Cura, the priest, and that’s what my mother wrote down under “surname” on my birth certificate. It’s my official name. Olegario Cura.
I was even baptized into the Catholic faith. She was a dreamer, my mother. Connie Sánchez was her name, and if you weren’t so young and innocent it would ring a bell.
She was one of the stars of the Olimpo Movie Production Company. The other two stars were Doris Sánchez, my mother’s younger sister, and Monica Farr, née Leticia Medina, from Valparaíso. Three good friends.
The Olimpo Movie Production Company specialized in pornography, and although the business was more or less illegal and operated in a distinctly hostile environment, it lasted until the mid-eighties.
Bittrich had a house on the outskirts of Medellín, where the neighborhood of Los Empalados borders the wasteland, El Gran Baldío. The cottage in the movies.
The house of solitude, which later became the house of crime, out there on its own, among clumps of trees and blackberry bushes. Connie used to take me.
I’d stay in the yard playing with the dogs and the geese, which the German reared there as if they were his children.
There were flowers growing wild among the weeds and the dogs’ dirt holes. In the course of a regular morning, ten or fifteen people would go into that house.
The mystery of life in Latin America. Like a little bird charmed by the gaze of a snake.
Bittrich adored sound effects like that. Thunder in the mountains, the sizzle of lightning, splintering trees, rain against windowpanes. He collected them on high-quality tapes.
He said this was to make his movies atmospheric, but in fact it was just because he liked the effects.
The full range of sounds that rain makes in a forest. The rhythmic or random sibilance of the wind and the sea. Sounds to make you feel alone, sounds to make your hair stand on end.
His great treasure was the roar of a hurricane. I heard it as a kid.
The actors were drinking coffee under a tree, and Bittrich, away from the others, looking pasty, the way he did when he’d been working too hard, was toying with an enormous German tape player.
Now you’re going to hear the hurricane from inside, he said.
At first I couldn’t hear anything. I think I was expecting a God Almighty, earsplitting racket, so I was disappointed when all I could hear was a kind of intermittent whirling. An intermittent ripping. Like a propeller made of meat.
Then I heard voices; it wasn’t the hurricane, of course, but the pilots of a plane flying in its eye.
Hard voices talking in Spanish and English. Bittrich was smiling as he listened.
Then I heard the hurricane again, and this time I really heard it. Emptiness. A vertical bridge and emptiness, emptiness, emptiness. I’ll never forget the smile on Bittrich’s face.
It was as if he were weeping. Is that all? I asked, not wanting to admit that I’d had enough. That’s all, Bittrich said, fascinated by the silently turning reels.
Then he stopped the tape player, closed it up very carefully, went inside with the others, and got back to work.