«Chapter 1 October 1931 Barcelona The second hand crawled around Señora Ferrer’s art deco clock with excruciating slowness. Blue, brown, and orange ...»
In Midnight’s Silence
Los Nefilim, Part 1
The second hand crawled around Señora Ferrer’s art deco clock with excruciating
slowness. Blue, brown, and orange geometric shapes decorated the base and did little to help
Diago’s headache. From where he stood beside the grand piano, he counted the seconds as they
ticked across the clock’s face: fifteen, fourteen, thirteen …
All the while, Enrique Ferrer—a vindictive boy who hated his stepmother and piano lessons—executed a murderous attack on the sonata Diago had assigned. The child didn’t play the piano; he tried to kill it.
Enrique looked up at Diago and deliberately missed the next chord.
Diago, lost within the seconds of the ticking clock, said nothing.
Enrique stopped playing. “I don’t think that was correct, Maestro Alvarez.” … seven, six, five … Enrique made room on the bench for Diago. “Could you show me again?” He smiled, but the child was too immature to camouflage the spite in his eyes. He’d already tried to slam the fallboard on Diago’s fingers at the start of their session. This was almost certainly another ill- disguised attempt at a maiming.
Not that Diago hadn’t experienced his share of hostilities through the centuries. He had survived Torquemada, an encounter with a Borgia, and numerous altercations against both daimons and angels. At least I had a fighting chance against them. He considered Enrique’s wicked grin, and decided he would gladly revisit them all to avoid sitting beside this child again.
Unfortunately, he had little choice. The bourgeoisie had tightened their purse strings of late. Jobs of any kind were hard to find, harder to hold, and he needed the work. Miquel already bore the brunt of their expenses as Diago tried to establish himself in Barcelona, and while Miquel never begrudged Diago a peseta, Diago was determined to generate his own income. His pride demanded it. The Ferrer family was his key into the Casa Milà’s residents and their deep pockets. And so, ironically, he swallowed his pride and found himself Enrique’s teacher for the next six weeks.
Diago took a deep breath and steeled himself to sit beside the boy. He glanced at the clock just as the second hand swept over the number twelve. “Six o’clock, Enrique. We are done for today.” He wasted no time in rescuing his sheet music from the stand.
“But I’m not finished.” The boy’s cheeks turned blotchy with rage.
Diago foresaw a hellish tantrum rising. He hoped to make it out of the apartment before the squall arrived.
“Enrique!” Señora Ferrer stood between the living room and the foyer with a glass of sherry in her hand. A beautiful woman with dark eyes and high cheekbones, she was given to dressing with all the flair of the Casa Milà’s nouveau riche. Today’s ensemble included a narrow skirt and silk blouse, both of which were just tight enough to leave nothing to a man’s imagination. “We are paying Maestro Alvarez for his time. Your lesson is over for today. Go with Elena.” Enrique slammed the fallboard hard enough to vibrate the piano’s strings before he stomped out of the room. Another premonition told Diago the instrument would have to be tuned if the child continued to abuse it; although he had to admit, having Enrique vent his rage on the piano was preferable to another of the boy’s vicious kicks. Diago exhaled slowly as Enrique’s malice followed him out of the room like a dark cloud.
Episodes like this always made him grateful he was childless. Neither he, nor Miquel, had the necessary patience to deal with ill-tempered children. Whenever it came to a battle of wills with a youngster, Diago resorted to negotiations and Miquel bribed them with sweets or toys. Miquel had observed on more than one occasion that while they made wonderful uncles, they would be terrible parents. Diago had to agree.
Señora Ferrer turned and spoke to her maid. “See to Enrique, Elena. I will escort Maestro Alvarez out.” Oh, God, no, not again. Diago’s heart pounded harder as he picked up his metronome and stored it in this briefcase. The last thing he needed was a moment alone with Señora Ferrer.
In the few seconds it took him to arrange the sheet music beside the metronome and latch his briefcase, he felt as if she’d stripped him naked with her eyes. As he walked toward her, his face warmed with blush.
She mistook his embarrassment for pleasure and smiled. For such a petite woman, she possessed a remarkable ability to block a doorway with her presence. “Has anyone ever told you what beautiful eyes you have, Señor Alvarez? They are a most lovely shade of green and seem to change color depending on the light. I think it is because your lashes are so black.” Odd that she spoke of his eyes when her gaze remained fixated on his crotch. Diago moved his briefcase in front of his hips like a shield as he halted in front of her. “So I have been told, Señora.” She raised her glass. “Do you have time for a glass of sherry?” Navigating a daimon’s lair was less treacherous than this apartment. Diago knew that Enrique’s violent temper had descended directly from his father. He could just imagine Ferrer’s displeasure should he return home to find his young wife entertaining his son’s music teacher over sherry. Christ. Was the woman trying to get him killed?
“I’m afraid not, Señora.” Diago moved to step around her, and she slithered to block his path again.
“I’ve been trying to convince my husband to trim his beard as neatly as yours, but he insists on keeping those outdated muttonchops. Of course, his hair isn’t fine and black like yours.” She lifted the glass to her mouth and tongued a drop of sherry from the lip. “He’s more wooly. Like a sheep.” “Perhaps if you spoke to his barber.” He took a step closer and when she didn’t move, he said, “I hope you will forgive me, Señora, but I would like to catch my roommate before he leaves for the evening.” Señora Ferrer pursed her lips, disappointed that he wasn’t rising to her seductions. “I see.” She turned sideways but made sure to press her breasts against his arm as he passed. “This roommate of yours must be someone very special, since you’re always hurrying off to catch him.” More than you know. Diago grabbed his coat and hat. He offered her a genuine smile at the thought of spending some time with Miquel. “Good evening, Señora.” Without waiting for her reply, he slipped out the door and closed it behind him with a relieved sigh.
No sooner had the latch clicked into place than Diago fled down the stairs. He didn’t slow his pace until he reached the lobby, and paused there only long enough to put on his hat and coat.
Outside, an October fog, heavy with the smell of the sea, inched through the streets.
Diago turned up his collar against the northern chill. He missed Sevilla’s warmth more with every passing day, but Miquel had needed to come to Barcelona—Guillermo had ordered it.
As a member of Los Nefilim, the group that monitored daimonic activity for the angels, Miquel was bound by his oath to go wherever he was assigned. So when Guillermo had called him north in August, Miquel insisted that Diago come, too. Alone, Miquel noted, he was easy prey for either angel or daimon, both groups that were seeking to press Diago into their service.
And it was that point, which Miquel had hammered into Diago over and over, that had led him to endure the three most miserable weeks of his life. Unlike Miquel, Diago had made no oath to either side and could live wherever he chose.
Unless your lover is an officer of Los Nefilim, Diago mused as he maneuvered through the crowd of pedestrians. In that case, his choices narrowed to following Miquel, or living alone.
Although he had initially resisted the move, in the end he knew he’d made the right choice.
Being without Miquel was akin to living without love, and that was an existence he never wanted to endure again.
Picking up his pace, he left the main avenue and took a shortcut. He crossed a narrow street, barely avoiding a truck carrying several men and women in the bed. As they passed, he paused to watch them. They shouted slogans and waved signs advocating membership in CNT, the workers’ union responsible for violent strikes throughout Spain. Cans of petrol rocked heavily between the legs of the riders.
With vivid clarity, Diago recalled the smell of churches burning in the south. The summer had been a vicious one for Spain. Now it appeared the flames would reach Barcelona once more. Like the angels and the daimons, the mortals never seemed to tire of war.
Well, I’m tired, he thought as the truck and its dangerous cargo disappeared around the next corner.
“Anarchists.” A man halted beside Diago and spat in the gutter. “They should be shot.” Then, without further ado, he launched into a fierce tirade about the Bolsheviks, Masons, and Jews being the architects of Spain’s ruin.
As the man’s words washed over Diago, the weight of the centuries bowed his shoulders.
Exhausted by mortals and their perpetual hatred for one another, he turned his back on the man and resumed his journey. More than ever, he needed some time with Miquel. Just a word or a touch from his lover always lifted Diago from these black moods.
The afternoon’s tension rode the cords in his neck all the way to the Carrer de Montsio in the Gothic Quarter. There, he and Miquel rented a room from Doña Rosa Iniguez in her once grand home. The noblewoman had fallen on hard times—primarily due to her son’s gambling— so she rented rooms in order to make ends meet. Diago and Miquel had been fortunate enough to secure the attic’s loft.
Diago glanced upward out of habit. The loft’s window was dark. Had he missed Miquel?
Disappointment slowed his steps.
He debated dropping off his briefcase and going downtown to the Villa Rosa where Miquel played guitar, but after today he wasn’t sure if he was up to fighting his way through the noise and press of mortal bodies on the Paralelo. No. If Miquel had already left, Diago would simply wait up for him. Right now, he wanted nothing more than silence and a glass of wine.
He let himself inside the house and closed the door as quietly as possible … but any hopes he’d entertained of simply heading straight to the loft were immediately thwarted by his landlady. No matter how he tried, Diago found he could never avoid her, and there were times Miquel joked that she had a bit of daimon blood in her. But Diago knew better. She was just a lonely nosy woman. And tonight was no exception. He stepped through the door to be immediately accosted by the scent of Doña Rosa’s talcum, which she used to cover the odor of urine that followed her like a stray dog. Dressed from head to foot in black, her pale doughy face floated out of the hall’s dimness like a benevolent ghost.
She stood in her doorway and offered him a coquettish smile. “Good evening, Señor Alvarez.” Diago tried not to flinch. He dreaded these têtê-à-têtes almost as much as Enrique’s playing. However, Miquel emphasized it was best to remain in the doña’s good graces. The rent was relatively cheap, and the room relatively spacious. Perhaps more important, her home had one of the few telephones on the street, and the doña was generous enough to place it in the hall so that her tenants could make use of it as well. Diago couldn’t help but agree that they would be hard put finding another house with so gracious a proprietor.
Besides, the words cost him nothing. A few minutes of his time in the morning and evening were a small price to pay to maintain the peace with Miquel. Still, he hoped to keep tonight’s chitchat to a minimum. He removed his fedora. “Good evening, Doña Rosa.”
Caught him, indeed. She had been lying in wait with her ear pressed to the door. He forced a smile and feigned what he hoped was a look of polite inquiry. “Oh?” “You had visitors today. They left something for you.” She turned to the occasional table by her door, where she retrieved a small rectangular package wrapped in plain brown paper. She presented it to him as if it was a personal gift.
Diago took the box, surprised by its weight. No address or name. “Are you sure it’s for me? I am expecting nothing.” “The gentleman who left it said that it was a belated birthday gift.” She brightened. “I didn’t know you had a birthday recently.” Neither did Diago. He’d never considered birthdays until Guillermo had insisted they all acquire passports. When pressed for a date, Diago had chosen April eighth, simply because it happened to be the first date he noticed on the calendar in Guillermo’s kitchen.
Doña Rosa leaned forward expectedly.
“I, um, haven’t,” Diago said. He cleared his throat. “My birthday is in the spring. That is what makes this so odd.” He seized the excuse. “And disconcerting. Did the gentleman say who was?”
Diago’s fingers tightened around the box. As far as he was concerned, his father was a nonentity, a figure as ephemeral as God, and with a presence just as opaque.
A thin line of anger wormed its way beneath his uneasiness. If this was a joke, he wasn’t amused. Someone played a very dangerous game tonight. “My father?” “Yes. Your father.” Doña Rosa tilted her head and scrutinized Diago’s features. “You look very much like him.” Diago felt his cheeks warm beneath her gaze.
“I see,” Diago said, not that he did.
A shadow moved behind Doña Rosa, and Diago made out the hulking shape of her twenty-eight-year-old son, José. He and Diago had developed a visceral dislike of one another within minutes of being introduced. Even Miquel had not managed to warm José with his charm.
Now José paused and narrowed his eyes at Diago. He rubbed the knuckles over the large signet ring he wore on his right hand and regarded Diago warily.