Authors: Juan Gomez-jurado
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Juan Gómez-Jurado
English language translation copyright © 2010 by Lago Espejo, S.L.
Originally published in Spain in 2008 by Random House Mondadori, S.A.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Atria Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First Atria Books hardcover edition July 2011
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
[Emblema del traidor. English]
The traitor’s emblem / Juan Gómez-Jurado ; translated by Daniel Hahn.—1st Atria books hardcover ed.
I. Hahn, Daniel. II. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4391-9880-3 (ebook)
Treason and murder ever kept together,
As two yoke-devils sworn to either’s purpose,
Working so grossly in a natural cause,
That admiration did not whoop at them:
But thou, ’gainst all proportion, didst bring in
Wonder to wait on treason and on murder:
And whatsoever cunning fiend it was
That wrought upon thee so preposterously
Hath got the voice in hell for excellence . . .
—William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act II, Scene II
March 12, 1940
When the wave threw him against the gunwale, it was pure instinct that made Captain González grab at the wood, scraping the skin all the way down his hand. Decades later—by which time he’d become the most distinguished bookseller in Vigo—he would shudder as he remembered that night, the most terrifying and extraordinary of his life. While he sat in his armchair as an old, gray-haired man, his mouth would recall the taste of blood, saltpeter, and fear. His ears would remember the thundering of what they called the “toppler of fools,” the treacherous swell that takes less than twenty minutes to rise and that seamen on the Straits—and their widows—had learned to fear; and his astonished eyes would glimpse again something that, quite simply, could not have been there.
When he saw it, Captain González quite forgot that the engine was already struggling, that his crew was no more than seven men when there should have been at least eleven, that among them he was the only one who, just six months earlier, hadn’t been seasick in the shower. He quite forgot that he had contemplated pinning them to the deck for not having awoken him when all the pitching and rolling began.
He held fast to a porthole in order to turn his body around and haul himself onto the bridge, bursting onto it with a blast of rain and wind that drenched the navigator.
“Get away from my wheel, Roca!” he shouted, giving the navigator a hard push. “You’re no earthly use to anyone.”
“Captain, I . . . You said we weren’t to disturb you unless we were about to go down, sir.” His voice trembled.
Which is precisely what’s about to happen, thought the captain, shaking his head. Most of his crew was made up of the tottering leftovers of a war that had devastated the country. He couldn’t blame them for not having sensed the arrival of the great swell, just as nobody could blame him now for concentrating his attention on turning the boat around and bringing it to safety. The most sensible thing would have been to pay no attention to what he’d just seen, because the alternative was suicide. Something only a fool would attempt.
And I am that fool, thought González.
The navigator watched him, mouth wide open, as he steered, holding the boat firm and cutting in toward the waves. The gunboat Esperanza had been built at the end of the previous century, and the wood and steel of its hull creaked savagely.
“Captain!” yelled the navigator. “What the hell are you doing? We’ll capsize!”
“Eyes to port, Roca,” the captain replied. He was afraid, too, though he couldn’t allow the slightest trace of that fear to show.
The navigator obeyed, thinking the captain had gone completely mad.
A few seconds later, the captain had begun to doubt his own judgment.
No more than thirty swimming strokes away, a little raft was rolling between two crests, its keel at a precarious angle. It seemed to be on the brink of capsizing; in fact, it was a miracle it hadn’t gone over already. There was a flash of lightning, and suddenly the navigator understood why the captain was gambling eight lives on such a poor hand.
“Sir, there are people over there!”
“I know, Roca. Tell Castillo and Pascual. They should leave the pumps, come on deck with two ropes, and hang on to those gunwales like a whore hangs on to her money.”