There’s a murder scheduled in one hour. Mexico City. 1960.
Most people would pick another time and place. John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Even in Mexico there are more famous sights. The massacre of hundreds of students in the Plaza of the Three Cultures is only eight years away; tanks bulldozing through the streets and the soldiers pouring bullets into the crowds. Forty-seven years in the other direction the streets of Mexico City smell of charred human meat and the screams of the wounded.
Those are large conflicts. Pools of blood spill through the City of Palaces. But the ones I look for are the little deaths. A true collector does not go for the easy, gaudy spectacles printed in bold letters in the history books.
A gourmet of death sniffs for the delicious, the delicate, the more refined crimes rather than clumsy trails of corpses.
No. Mexico City. 1960. Ramon Gay is about to die.
Ramon Gay. He’s the true image of a movie star in striking black and white. Mexico’s Golden Age of Cinema is grinding to a halt, but there are still actors like Ramon with his sculpted face that cries perfection and his smile that turns women into Jell-O.
Debonair, he struts into the frame with a sense of place, a dignified style. His image burns into the film like a scar upon time. They don’t make faces like Ramon’s anymore. They don’t make murders like his either.
My first vacation I went with a buddy to photograph a victim of El Chalequero. A bloodied mannequin staining the pavement. It was so ugly. It was so fake. It was expected: a prostitute in Porfirian Mexico. How passé. Might as well stay home, stare out the window and watch the narcos drill bullet holes into a car.
There are ten journalists killed every month — you can watch it online, like a litany.
50,000 federal agents can’t stem the deaths in the narco-north.
Corpses pile at the curb in Ciudad-Estado Juarez and San Simon sits in a corner, a sharp pin in his mouth. There is no elegance in those deaths. They are the deaths of formless, nameless masses. Ugly, stunted citizens of nowhere dying deaths without passion or meaning. Factories of destruction systematically manufacturing bleeding bodies, while the maquilas churn out their cheap clothing.
It’s 1960 in Chilangolandia and in half an hour Ramon Gay is going to park his Dodge at Rio Rhin number 60.
Ramon, who was in La Bruja and Muñecos Infernales, piercing eyes elevating a B-movie horror romp into a form of art. Sublime smile in Eugenia Grandet. The great laugh. The everything.
No wonder Arturo de Córdova — another leading man, a leading man among leading men — saw that handsome face and fell hard and fast and inexorably.
There’s two bombings in the subway the week before I leave. I’m not sure if it’s narcos or cops or someone else on a lark.
Senseless decapitations in Morelos. Heads roll all through the country.
Nothing to admire here. Butcher’s work. One hundred years from now no one will remember them; no one will care. They’ll be eroded from history while the divine ones, the movie stars, maintain their pace with modernity.
Fifteen minutes. Evangelina Elizondo and Ramon are coming back from dinner at El Hotel del Paseo. She’s an actress and they’re both in a play. Her angry ex-husband has been drinking all night, pounding whiskeys at the Terraza Casino.
I can hardly contain myself. I wait around the corner and flip through a newspaper, trying to keep my cool. In the entertainment section there’s an ad for an Arturo de Córdova movie playing that day: El esqueleto de la señora Morales. It’s just premiered. It’ll be considered a classic in a few years.
It’s the story of a murder.
The day before my trip a grenade blew up two cops around the corner from my apartment. They cordoned off the block and I worried I wouldn’t be able to go on vacation.
My one vacation of the year. All the money stashed away and then some idiot decides to turn a couple of policemen into mush. Everyone in my building had to be questioned.
I was lucky. Someone ratted out the guy on the fourth floor with all the cats. He probably wasn’t involved, but he looked like he’d have something to hide. The cops took him away and opened the building again.
I was able to make my departure without further contretemps, thank God.
The fight begins. The ex-husband finds them sitting in the car, chatting. He is furious. He tries to drag his ex-wife out of the car. Fist crushes bone. Ramon intervenes.
Five .38-calibre shots in the night.
Later I will walk up to Arturo de Córdova as he sits at the table of a popular nightclub. I will tell him Ramon has died.
I return with a fresh copy of a newspaper rolled under my arm. The headline reads: “No clue of the killer’s whereabouts.” It will make a lovely addition to my collection.
Passing the fourth floor on the way up the stairs to my apartment, I see that the neighbour’s door is open and they’re dragging out his furniture. The super doesn’t think he’ll be back. She confiscates his TV.
It’s a city of vultures in an age of carrion. I turn my head and pretend not to see.
Instead I steal a peek at the screen of my camera. The face of Arturo de Córdova stares back at me, caught in the moment I delivered the news. Grief in amber. Precious.
Next year I’ll collect another luminary. Another May death. Agustín de Anda. He looked amazing in Las manzanas de Dorotea.
I hear cats meowing but I’m far away, lost in halftone smiles of long-dead stars.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia was born and raised in Mexico and now lives in British Columbia. Her work has been published in Fantasy Magazine, Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction, Futurismic and Tesseracts Thirteen.