PRIVATE COLLECTION

Translated by Achy Obejas

Vallejo

The set of jungle music Lizzy programmed on her iPod to wake her up went off at 7 in the morning. She stretched, untangling herself from the black silk sheets on the king-sized futon.
Just like every morning, the first thing she looked at when she opened her eyes was a painting by Julio Galán on the wall directly in front of the bed in her Polanco apartment.

Fifteen minutes later, her personal trainer was waiting for her in the adjoining gym with an energy drink in her hand. Helga was an ex–Olympic finalist from Germany who accompanied her everywhere.

Photo of Mexico City, courtesy of El Ranchero, flickr.com

Guten Tag,” said the blonde. Lizzy replied with a grunt.

Lizzy did forty minutes of aerobic exercise and an hour of weights.

At 9, after a cold shower, Lizzy ate a bowl of cereal with nonfat yogurt and drank green tea while checking her e-mail on her iPhone. Alone in the immense dining room, she peered out her large windows overlooking Chapultepec Castle. Pancho brought her breakfast from the kitchen, where he had prepared it himself.

At 10, in her office parking lot in Santa Fe, Lizzy stepped out of her car, a black 1970 Impala with flames painted on the sides.

On her orders, the car had been salvaged from a shop in Perros Muertos, Coahuila, and sent to Los Angeles for restoration.

She busied herself during the morning hours with financial matters. Tired of the fiscal chaos left by her late father, she had sought advice from an investment counselor who suggested she diversify her portfolio.

She loved verifying her account dividends and was fascinated to see how she was getting richer every day.

At noon, she had a cold beverage, fresh fruit, a high-fiber muffin, and tea. Before lunch, at 2 in the afternoon, she took a call from a gallery in Europe. Although she’d studied at the Toronto School of Art in Canada, she’d abandoned her creative career to concentrate on building a contemporary art collection.

“Lizzy, darling, I have something that’s going to blow your mind,” said Thierry in his thick French accent. “I’m not sure, Tierritas. Last time you came up with pure garbage.”

“You are going to die, mon amour. I have seven pieces by David Nebrada.”

After a tense silence, Lizzy asked: “How much?”

Money was never a problem.

At 2:30, she entered the VIP room at Blanc des Blancs, on Reforma, where she greeted Renato, an old industrialist friend of her father’s, who was dining with the minister of labor.

The two old men invited Lizzy to join them, a proposal she gently declined before moving along to her favorite table in the back of the restaurant.

On the way, she ran into Marianito Mazo, the son of a telenovela producer, who was sitting with a couple of pop singers enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame. Marianito greeted her with a kiss, introduced the two girls, and invited her to a cocktail party he was having at his parents’ house in the Pedregal the following Saturday.

“I think I’m going to be away then,” said Lizzy, smiling. “Let me check and I’ll have my secretary confirm it with your people.”

After another warm farewell, Lizzy finally sat down. She ordered an arugula salad, salmon carpaccio, and white wine. She ate in silence while checking her e-mail on her cell. After the meal, she called her cousin Omar, who worked as a deejay at an Ibiza nightclub.

“Mademoiselle?” the waiter interrupted. “This cocktail is from the gentleman at that table.”

She looked where he was pointing.

The general solicitor of the republic’s private secretary winked at her from across the room.

That evening, she asked Bonnie, her secretary, to cancel all her appointments so she could get a mud-therapy treatment at a spa in Santa Fe, just a few blocks from her office.

“Don’t forget that you have to go to the warehouse,” noted the gringa with her clipped Texas accent.

“I won’t forget, I’ll go later tonight,” Lizzy responded.

She decided to walk to the spa, much to Pancho’s consternation; he didn’t like her wandering around unprotected. But she always managed to do as she pleased.

The French girl who applied the mud for the massage, a recent arrival from Lyon, couldn’t help herself and said, “You have a beautiful derriere. As firm and smooth as a peach.”

“Thanks,” said Lizzy.

At 8, they arrived at Tamayo Museum in her father’s old armored BMW, Pancho driving. Two light Windstar trucks packed with bodyguards followed them.

She was dressed completely in black leather, her hair pulled back in a bun speared with little chopsticks. She looked almost beautiful.

“Wait for me outside. I don’t want to attract attention,” she said from the door of the museum.

“Miss . . .” protested the bodyguard with the cavernous voice.

“Do as I say.”

Pancho ordered the team of eight Israeli-trained escorts—two of them women—to be placed strategically in key positions around the museum. The old bodyguard monitored their movements by walkie-talkie.

The girl’s whims made him nervous, but he had sworn to the Señor, her father, that he’d take care of her.

Inside, unconcerned with her bodyguards, Lizzy distributed kisses to gallery owners, art collectors, curators, critics, and artists. She was an art world celebrity. Everyone knew about her collection and her peculiar tastes. She’d surprised more than a few with her resources. No one asked where her funds came from.

The opening was for a retrospective by an Armenian-American painter named Rabo Karabekian. Eight of the pieces belonged to Lizzy’s collection. As usual, she had asked that they be credited to an unnamed private collection. She didn’t want any publicity.

She had to cross a human gauntlet to greet the artist, who managed to spot her even at a distance.

“Lizzy, baby!” The old artist’s face lit up when he saw his favorite collector.

“How you doing, Rab?”

They chatted animatedly for half an hour. When the press wanted to take photos, Lizzy demurred.

The painter told her that there would be an after-party at the curator’s apartment in Condesa, that he would love it if she came by. She apologized.

“Got some business to take care of, sorry,” and she said goodbye to everyone.

On the way to the car, her cell rang.

“Got ’em,” growled a voice on the other end of the line.

Seconds of silence.

“You have them with you?”

“Correct.”

“I’m going to give you a kiss on the nose, like Scooby-Doo,” Lizzy said before hanging up.

She got in the BMW and asked to be taken to the warehouse.

Pancho silently directed the car toward the warehouse that MDA, their ghost company, had leased in an industrial park in Vallejo. They did not exchange a word during the trip.

The security team at the warehouse waved them in, surprised by the late hour of the visit. A heavy steel door slid open to let the BMW and the Windstars pass.

Bwana, Lizzy’s lieutenant on the north side of the city, received them. He was a cholo, an ex–juvenile delinquent who had learned something about chemistry during his years as a science student. A violent type, he had been raised on the streets of East L.A.

Secretly, Lizzy found him attractive and was fascinated by the wild beauty of his indigenous features; his athletic body, always clothed in baggy jeans, was like a basketball player’s; his naked torso was covered with tattoos of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Santa Muerte; his nipples sported rings.

Sometimes, in her deepest dreams, Lizzy allowed herself fantasies about the muscle-bound cholo. Fantasies that vanished as soon as she woke up.

“What’s up, boss?” said Bwana in greeting just outside the warehouse. He had a .38 sticking out of his pants and a green bandanna covering his shaved head.

“I want this over with. Where they are?”

“This way,” he said as he entered the warehouse. Lizzy followed, leaving behind her escorts and the warehouse security guards.

Bwana guided her through narrow corridors of boxes labeled with Korean characters. Pancho walked behind them, a few meters back, with a canvas backpack on his shoulder that caught Bwana’s attention.

Lizzy had specified that the walkways be designed like a labyrinth. Only a few people knew the way to the center. The architect, a gay old maid who used to walk his dogs on Amsterdam Avenue, had been found dead on the freeway to Toluca after he’d finished the job.

The cholo was saying something to his boss but she found it impossible to understand because of the rapid mix of Spanglish and border slang. Every time they reached a door, Bwana keyed an access code into the electronic lock that protected the crossing.

When they arrived at the center of the warehouse, Bwana entered another code. This time, a trapdoor opened, revealing stairs that led to an underground chamber; these were covered by a layer of high-density foam rubber, just like a recording studio.

Moans could be heard coming from below. Barely audible, more like murmurs. 

“Welcome to special affairs, boss,” said Bwana.

Lizzy descended the steps. The basement was dark. A switch was touched and a light went on, revealing where the sounds were coming from.

A man and a woman were tied with barbed wire to vinyl chairs and gagged with cinnamon-colored gaffer tape. The woman had a ruptured eye. They were covered with dry blood, a pool of excrement gathered at their feet.

“They stink,” mumbled Lizzy.

Pancho obediently sprayed both bodies with the Lysol he carried in the canvas backpack. The man and woman twisted from the sting of the aerosol.

Lizzy approached the woman and looked with curiosity at her ruined eye.

“You said she was with him when they got him?”

“Correct. She’s his bitch. Bad luck.”

The Constanza cartel boss turned toward the bound man.

It was Wilmer, assistant to Iménez, the Colombian capo with whom Lizzy had been negotiating just weeks before. Bwana’s people had discovered they were bringing Brazilian amphetamines on their own into the country.

Bad idea.

Wilmer had been the person in charge of the operation. Then, he was a real mean motherfucker. Now, what was left of him whimpered like a kicked puppy.

Lizzy noticed a tear sliding down his filthy cheek.

“Deep in shit, everybody’s the same.”

Then she kicked the man’s jaw aikido-style. She felt the bone crack under her foot. The blow knocked him to the ground. His scream would have echoed in the chamber had it not been soundproofed.

The woman began to struggle, trying to shout from under the tape sealing her cracked lips.

Lizzy tore the tape off in one quick move. In the process, she also tore off a good bit of skin.

“What did you say?”

“Please . . . pu . . . pu-leeze . . . you . . . I have . . . a daughter . . .”

On the ground, the man sobbed. Lizzy flipped him over with the tip of her boot. “Cry like a woman for what you couldn’t defend as man,” she said, then reached her hand out to Pancho.

The bodyguard removed a wooden bat with a Mazatlán Deers logo from the canvas backpack; it had a dozen four-inch steel nails sticking out of it. Lizzy had inherited it from her father.

We deal with amphetamines here,” she said to the man on the ground, “and I don’t like sudacas who get in the way. This is what happens to anybody who tries to horn in on my market. Consider this a declaration of war.”

She advanced toward the man with the bat in her hand. Pancho was silently thankful to have only one eye and to have the scene play out on his blind side. Discreetly, Bwana turned his gaze to the door.

When the woman in the chair saw what was about to happen, she began to scream uncontrollably.

This story is from Mexico City Noir, edited by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, new from Akashic Books in February 2010.

Contributor

Bernardo Fernández

Bernardo Fernandez is a writer and political cartoonist based in Mexico City.

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