(Translated from the Spanish by Donald A. Yates)
He disliked airline flights. And, despite the fact that he knew Los
Angeles was not just around the corner, the length of the flight was
beginning to seem excessive. He started to think about his wife and
children. It was because of them that he had accepted the proposal. Had it
not been for the benefit to his family, he would have resisted abandoning
his office and his typewriter. He recognized, however, that the production
company that he had been working for over the past few years was generous
with him. And that they appreciated his talent was evident by the
opportunity he was being offered to spend time at a Hollywood studio and
bring himself up to date on technological advances in film and television
Aside from the long intervening distance, another matter was
troubling him. It was the large amount of cash that he was carrying. One of
his company’s executives had taken the occasion of his trip to send
$75,000 to his ex-wife, who was now living in Santa Barbara. The amount
represented the final payment of the property settlement that was part of
the divorce decree. He was carrying the cash in an inner pocket of his suit
coat (which his own wife had
carefully sewn up) and he resented that the business associate had obliged
him to skirt the legal requirements for commissions, documentation and
customs declarations. He was obsessed by the idea that he was being watched
by someone who was planning to steal the money. He had also convinced
himself that all the passengers on the plane knew he was hiding it. Twice he
had turned to look back, half-convinced that he would face a would-be
The last few hours, however, he had felt calmer. From time to time he
gazed out the plane window as if he were watching a television screen. The
Cornell Woolrich suspense novel he had brought along effectively distracted
him to the point that he was surprised when the imminent arrival at Los
Angeles was announced.
He passed through customs without incident and noted that it was 1:10
AM. No one was planning to meet him, but he was to be picked up at his hotel
at 10:00 that morning. In spite of himself, he raised his hand to level of
his chest where the money was hidden.
He now had to make his way into town. The aggressive attitude of a
foreign-looking cab driver frustrated his plan to cover the distance in
taxi. The driver angrily rejected the budgeted fifteen dollars he was
offered for the trip and added that at that time of night he wouldn’t find
any other way to reach the city. A woman passing by pointed out a bus stop
to him that looked deserted. Dejectedly he sat down on the bench in the
waiting zone. Perhaps, despite his age of thirty-two, he didn’t know
himself well enough to realize that he would again be assailed by the same
doubts and fears that had concerned him for a large part of the flight.
The sensation of feeling himself completely alone in a huge unknown
city suddenly overwhelmed him. Then he reviewed the unfounded worries that
concerned him, especially those related to his family. If something happened
to him, what would she do? He now realized that he should never have
accepted the proposal. He was highly regarded in his country and enjoyed the
reputation as one of the most sought-after screenwriters. He was in firm
control of his living circumstances and his creative abilities and there was
no good reason to think that observing new technical advances would be of
any benefit to him, no matter how revolutionary they might be.
No bus arrived and he remained alone. The lonely wait as well as the
realization that he had forgotten his sedative medication were contributing
to the emergence of new apprehensions. The silence and the solitude in fact
contributed to his sense that he was vulnerable to being assaulted. The
crime rates of large cities like Los Angeles was well known to him. The
truth, however, was that he would not be surprised by anyone trying to take
the money. Perhaps owing to the novel he had been reading and influenced by
countless films, he began to imagine that, at his back, someone was
stealthily approaching to rob him. He knew that it was probably just in his
mind, but deciding not to turn around struck him as confirmation of his
doubt about his suspicions being truly detached from reality. He could no
longer resist turning around and he did so suddenly, putting his hand inside
his jacket as if reaching for a weapon. He was astonished to see that in
fact there was a young person, whose face he could not make out, dressed in
jeans and a dark-colored sweatshirt approaching him with a pistol in his
hand. He let out a deafening scream that turned the would-be attacker about
in his tracks. Not satisfied with having sent him running, he ran after the
youth in a risky move that, if they had come face-to-face, would surely have
cost him dearly.
The repulsed assailant quickly disappeared into the surrounding
darkness. The writer immediately reconsidered and saw that the best response
would be to calm down. He looked back at the bus stop where his few bags
remained. Then, in the distance, he noticed a snack bar that appeared to be
open. With his bags he approached and entered the deserted shop. He had to
wait until the employee returned from the basement, and then paid in advance
for two whiskies, which effectively quieted his nerves.
Not much later he found himself settled into a seat on the bus that
had finally arrived. In the city he found that the San Carlos Hotel, where
he had a room reserved, was conveniently located. As he was taken to his
room, he noted with pleasure the aromatic scent of wood paneling mixed with
The first thing he did was to collapse onto he bed and lie there with
his arms and legs outstretched. After a while, he turned on the night table
light and went into the bathroom. He thought that the best thing would be to
take a shower, but his exhaustion together with a sensation of dizziness
prevented him from going ahead.
He turned out the light beside his bed and lay down, idly turning on
the television. The moment that he lay back he closed his eyes. He had not
turned up the volume so only the images on the screen could disturb him, but
he remained oblivious to them.
Some twenty minutes later, he opened his eyes with the sense that he
was feeling better and turned to look at the TV. It was doubtlessly a
mystery program that was being shown. For the moment there were no persons
present in the scene, only a nighttime view of a section of a large city.
Slowly, the camera shifted its focus to center on the figure of a person
alone in the night. It was a man who sat looking expectantly down the street
before him. In the distance could be seen a number of illuminated commercial
signs. Suddenly, the camera shifted to capture the image of a young man in a
dark sweatshirt with a revolver in his hand.
Still not fully awake, when the writer saw that the person seated on
the bench was waiting for a bus and then recognized his own baggage, he
thought that what he was experiencing was a dream. He reacted by sitting up
in bed and taking his head in his hands. Then, like someone spying on a
private scene, he watched the sequence of scenes that followed. He
recognized them: the unidentified man with the bags suddenly looked around
and turned violent, as the young man in the dark sweatshirt ran off.
Overriding the silence of the television, the scriptwriter repeated aloud
what he had screamed at the armed young man.
When he turned off the TV and the room
filled with darkness, fear took hold of him. With effort he moved
into the bathroom where he turned on the light and looked at himself in the
mirror, wondering who he really was and swearing to give up drinking. He
undressed and stepped into the shower.
While he was drying himself off, he tried to remain calm, saying that
what he had seen was about someone else and that the confusion had ended.
He was just about to go back to bed when he heard a pounding at the
door. Confidently, he went to the door and opened it. The first thing he
felt was a mixture of recognition and unreality as he came face-to-face with
the young man in jeans and dark sweatshirt; and then an intense, penetrating
warmth at the moment of the first shot.