The Librarian of Rosario


Manuel Garcia Monteros


The old man sat in his house and reviewed his life. He was a failure. He had no family. No friends. For years he had just worked in the library. Then he had retired.

He has done nothing with his life. It has all been a complete waste of time. His life has meant nothing. History has not been affected by his living, his only contribution to the planet during the last seventy years has been of a chemical nature. He has achieved nothing but neither has he attempted to upset the balance by destroying something. He has merely made up the numbers. He has no hobbies, no talents to explore, no great interests, certainly no obsessions. He has few treasured possessions.

These he gives away to local charities. His books he burns lest he should come across them later in a second-hand shop and inadvertently read his name on the flyleaf. He sells his house. The buyer gets the best of the deal but the old man doesn't care. Over the years he has saved more than enough money to live out his days in comfort, for his needs are few and his tastes simple. He withdraws the cash from the bank and closes his account, then goes to the station and catches a train inland, to Rosario.

He arrives with a bundle of cash, the clothes on his back and his memories. He buys a new suit, a pair of shoes, a shirt, socks and underpants. He does not buy a tie. He remembers the last time he wore a tie an agent of MI6 tried to strangle him with it. He buys a small, furnished apartment near the business section of the city. He changes his clothes, wraps the old ones up and throws them in the garbage. He opens another bank account and deposits the major part of the cash. He returns home and starts to remember his childhood.

Systematically, he replaces all of his memories. The new ones are far more exciting and as he reviews them, day in, day out, he is pleased to find them much easier to remember. A few months into the project he risks a small experiment. He tries to recall a real incident from his youth. He casts his mind around the vast room of freshly-minted delights and seeks out some dark, dingy corner to hunt among the cobwebs for what remains of his true self. He tries to picture the face of the first girl he kissed. The first of the few. A hazy image forms in his mind's eye and then coalesces into a form of unbridled, savage beauty. A gypsy girl, several years older than he, wrestles him to the ground and drowns him in the fires of passion. She was the first of many.

His later career in the service of his country is the stuff of legend, and there it must remain for the nature of his work was always secret and even now, when he was officially retired, it would be too dangerous for a grateful nation to be informed of the part he played in its history. Among the enemy he was known by many names although the British had dubbed him 'El Condor'. As he got older his memory began to fail him and he was grateful that he had kept secret diaries throughout the years so that he could keep track of his many exploits.

As the years went by though, he found that annoying gaps were appearing in his recollection of events. The diaries told him what he had done and where he had done it and who he had done it to, but apart from some brief comments about the weather and the landscape, whether it be a city or countryside, he found he was losing a lot of the detail. He recalled his trip to Russia in 1962 and he remembered it was cold and everything was covered in snow, but he couldn't recall how he got from the Ukraine Hotel to GUM for his meeting with Natalya Bondarchuk. He visited the library in the centre of Rosario, intending to borrow a Russian guidebook to refresh his memory and was asking at the counter as to the whereabouts of the travel section when he was killed.

The librarian of Rosario was subsequently charged with the murder. He confessed to the crime for the library had been full of witnesses who had seen him take the penknife from his pocket, open the blade and calmly jam it into the old man's throat but in mitigation he told the following story. Years ago, in the town of Mendoza, which lies in the foothills of the Andes, there was a Chief of Police who ruled over his domain like some medieval king, meting out punishments as the whim took him, with no regard to the rule of law. He consolidated his position in the town by currying favour with the rich landowners of the area, inveigling himself into their lives by granting favours and turning a blind eye. He also used his power to indulge his own appetite for, let us say, the more unusual desires of the flesh. The librarian of Rosario was just thirteen when he fell into the hands of the Chief of Police, and after months of degradation and torture, he managed to run away from his home town and he fled to Rosario, where he built a new life for himself. But however hard he tried he could never forget the pain he had suffered and the face of his tormentor had been etched into his memory. So when the old man entered the library that day he only took a moment to shave the wrinkles from his face and let the light shine again in his eyes, and then he did what he had planned to do if he should ever meet the Chief of Police of Mendoza again.

The police found nothing in the old man's apartment to link him with Mendoza, but they took the coroner's photographs and made the trip to the mountains. There they asked questions and received answers and finally concluded that the librarian of Rosario was telling the truth. There had been a Chief of Police who had ruled the town with a rod of iron, a truly vile and despicable character. Ten years ago he had retired after one particularly disgusting scandal and he had fled the town, fearing reprisals now that he had lost his power. There was no clue as to where he had gone. How he had spent the intervening years, no one knew. Just as no one knew what had finally brought the monster to Rosario. Although one waggish detective suggested it was the train.



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