The Savages

Alberto Chimal
Translated by George Bert Henson

Sometimes, the children and grandchildren of Mexican drug barons choose occupations different from those of their elders. They opt for business administration, engineering, political science, and other respectable careers where their social status will afford them opportunities for advancement. This is sometimes a source of pride: it wasn’t, however, in the case of the youngest of the fourteen grandchildren belonging to Carlos “The Piranha” Requena, the legendary head of the Tejupilco Cartel, who chose to devote his life to literature.

His name was Juan Luis Carlosrequena Mejía (using the patriarch’s name as a surname was a recent tradition that served to underscore the family’s newly acquired pedigree), but everyone called him “Piranha II” or “P.P.” for short.

“Starting today,” he threatened the world, at a seedy cantina in the Interlomas neighborhood of Mexico City, “they’re going to call me The Savage Detective.” And his bodyguards nodded in agreement, just as they always did.

Besides, they were tired. After stealing all the enriched uranium from the National Nuclear Research Institute; after convincing the Cartel to lend them a plane to transport the uranium to a clandestine laboratory in Barbados; after paying for the synthesizing process, which was extremely expensive, not to mention condemned by the Pope, the UN, the EU, the US, the UAE, North Korea (who’d invented it), and even Kim Kardashian; after transporting the revitalizing extract to Spain via submarine, and locating the grave where they’d be able to do what had to be done, after all that, I mean, why would they care what a sniveling little squirt they had to be willing to give their life for had to say?

What’s more, the rest of the trip was even worse. With the Celebrity (that’s what they called him) now in their possession, they were chased by the Spanish police: the authorities were convinced that a group of Mexican narcos wouldn’t’ve come so far for any reason other than to sell drugs; and because they weren’t able to make their way back to the submarine, they were forced to take a detour to Madrid, where they were just able to buy the entire first-class section of a transcontinental flight back to Mexico. And, of course, once in the air, there was a massive crisis over the Atlantic: the Celebrity got out of his crate, which was stored in the cargo hold, and went on the attack; several passengers and one of the pilots died horrible deaths, the plane’s fuselage was pierced by shotgun blasts and machinegun fire … Finally, the surviving pilot managed to land the aircraft by the skin of his teeth, before eventually crashing into Terminal 1 of Benito Juárez airport, where the nose of the plane plowed into a waiting room full of people. P.P.’s bodyguards, who despite everything were protecting the Celebrity, and who all but miraculously had saved him from being killed during the previous fourteen hours, found themselves blazing a trail with gunfire and stepping on body parts in order to make it to the street, but not before the surviving passengers, hungry for revenge, had joined the assault by airport security. They’d all seen the movies, everyone knew what could happen, and everyone made a valiant effort. Everyone, however, was gunned down by P.P.’s men, who finally ushered the Celebrity into an armored Humvee and, surrounded by Humvee escorts, rushed him to Interlomas.

And now, here, in this bar—that was reminiscent of the sleaziest dives in Ciudad Juarez or Tijuana, only with a bigger budget and customers of a different social class—P.P. gave the impression of being slightly drunk.

“But the impression was false because in reality I was very drunk,” he himself would admit, years later, in an interview with the first historians charged with investigating the tragedy. “That was normal, of course. Reading Bukowski and Bolaño convinced me that in order to write, it was essential to live intensely, and since I was already living intensely, I thought it was enough to go on as I was. And so I did. In fact, the reason I ordered all that uranium and the extract and the submarine to go to Spain wasn’t for the reason I told my grandfather, who as you know was a son-of-a-bitch, not to mention the most powerful man in Mexico. I told him it was actually for my thesis, the title of which was going to be, The Secret of the Text: 2666 from the Point of View of the Author; and naturally it was going to be the mother of all theses because no one else would have the posthumous testimonies I was going to get. At the very least it would’ve earned a medal and I would’ve graduated cum laude. Then I was going to get a doctorate at some prestigious university abroad and graduate with honors with the second part of the thesis: new revelations straight from the source. I’d go on to have an important career as an academic in the United States and Europe, or I’d return to Mexico to be, at the very least, Secretary of Education. I told my grandfather all that. He didn’t really even have to use his influence. I was going to be someone even if it was at something useless—he called it “that bullshit”—that I wanted to study. Now that I think of it, it’s ironic that even though the whole country wanted to be like him and have lots of money without ever having gone to school, he wanted his grandchildren to be educated…”

“I’m sorry,” the investigators would say, “could you focus on what happened that night?”

“Of course, he didn’t like that I hadn’t picked something like business or political science so I could work in the family business, but if I gave him all that and a degree, he was fine. Since I was his last grandkid, he had all the others to work for him. I think the only thing he wouldn’t’ve been able to forgive was if I’d studied dance. Or science. He was a deeply religious man, and he always said that science and condoms were works of the devil…”

“I’m sorry, but can we get back to the question of why you did all of it?”

Then P.P., who’d be sober by now, and aware of his role in history and everything else (the piles of bodies, the cities in flames, the immeasurable suffering!), would breathe deeply. And say:

“The truth is, all I wanted was to get drunk with him. I mean, not with my grandfather. With my idol. I wanted to be his best friend. I wanted to revive his underground poetry movement in order to make poetry and piss off all the overly solemn hack poets and wreck their readings. I wanted to live life the same way he did. Not just the money, alcohol, women, and drugs, but the intensity too. Poetry. In fact, I would’ve preferred to live life more like Bukowski did (like he must have lived it), but according to the experts my grandfather sent, whom I had killed so the secret wouldn’t get out, according to what they told me, the extract wouldn’t work on a corpse as old as Bukowski’s.”

So P.P. would say much later.

Now, however, in the bar; flanked by his two main bodyguards, The Piranha’s young heir was drunk, yes, but also transformed. The Celebrity stood before him. Tied to one of those carts used by the porters at the airport, he didn’t look much different from the zombies in videogames or on TV: although the extract actually did work wonders, he was missing an eye, for example, and a quarter of his skull, and had large holes in his torso, through which you could see his heart, spleen, and pancreas, all a blackish green. The only thing he was wearing was a pair of dirty, torn corduroy trousers.

But it was him.

“It’s him. It’s him. IT’S HIM,” he said, his voice growing louder, like a twentieth-century movie villain. “Well, what are you waiting for? Untie him.”

No one obeyed at first.

“Hey, Señor Juan Luis, the flight was really fucked up,” said one bodyguard.

“Yeah, and this dude’s a real savage,” another one said.

“When I was a kid, I thought that ‘Chespirito’ was probably the nicest guy in the world, not even close,” said a third.

Then P.P. became furious.

“Chespirito’s name,” he shouted, getting up from his chair, “is Roberto Gómez Bolaños. Chespirito is a TV comedian. I’ve known him since I was three years old! And the name of the guy you have here is different. Why is it that so many ignoramuses confuse Roberto Bolaño with Gómez Bolaños?”

By then, some of the people who’d been killed by the Celebrity had risen, infected by the revitalizing extract in his saliva, and were making their way through Mexico City, the beginning of the outbreak promised by so many entertainment franchises, that in fact would be much worse (the fall of nations, humanity reduced to an animal state before its extinction, the horror!) and would never end.

“And I told them, of course he’s behaving like a savage,” P.P. would say, many years later, “because he was a writer and intellectual, not to mention a really cool fucking guy, and they were obviously to blame for his erratic behavior because they’d mistreated him! So I went and untied him myself.”

That’s what he’d say many years later.

That’s what I’d say, P.P. thought, as the zombie (who’d lunged at him as soon as he was untied) tore open his stomach with his teeth and began to rip out his intestines.

(A moment later, just before he died, and as the first hordes lay waste to the subway platforms, pulling drivers from their cars on the Calzada de Tlalpan, eating absolutely everything and everyone at the Central de Abastos market, leaving in their wake fires and devastation and mutilated bodies that soon after would rise and begin to walk, a moment later, I mean, P.P. also managed to think this: as soon as he escaped from there, he’d begin to live a better life: a literary life, yes, a life of madness and excess, but a free life: beyond the anxiety of influence.)

Alberto Chimal is one of Mexico’s most celebrated writers of speculative and fantastical fiction. The recipient of numerous literary prizes, including the prestigious Bellas Artes Narrative Prize, Chimal is the author of more than twenty books, including the novels Los esclavos and La torre y el jardín. His writing has appeared in English in World Literature Today, The Kenyon Review, Asymptote, Litro, and Flash Fiction International. Chimal lives in Mexico City with his wife and two cats and tweets at @albertochimal.

George Bert Henson is a translator of contemporary Latin American and Spanish narrative, including works by such notable writers as Sergio Pitol, Elena Poniatowska, Andrés Neuman, and Alberto Chimal. His translations have appeared variously in Words Without Borders, The Literary Review, Bomb, Asymptote, The Kenyon Review, and World Literature Today, where he is a contributing editor. George is currently a lecturer of Spanish at the University of Oklahoma. His work has appeared previously in Your Impossible Voice.