Translated by Elena Fresco, Blanca Hueso, Esther Matthews, Jon Miles and Anne McLean in collaboration with the author. Juan Gabriel Vàsquez' novel The Informers is published by Bloomsbury.

Pájaro Solano: recovery diver

As the morning went on we began to notice that there were already quite a few of us, but no one could be sure of who had arrived first and who later, since no one could determine such banal matters of precedence. It's always the same at the scene of a tragedy: a crowd begins to gather without pattern or plan, like water forming a puddle, and suddenly there's a multitude where before there was only an aimless vagrant. And that's just what happened to us by the River Medellín. We might think the first people who arrived on the bank stopped in the long grass not really knowing where they stood – feeling the muddy and uneven ground beneath the soles of their shoes – and keeping well back from the line of firemen so as not to hinder them. The next to arrive looked for space under the bridge, on the concrete base around the pillars, because from there they'd have a better view of the operation. And at some point someone thought all this was of more than passing interest and settled up above, on the bridge, leg bent and elbows resting on the yellow rail. Very soon this bridge with its cartoonish name (Horacio Toro it was called and still is) began to fill with noise, the rustle of clothing and murmurs of anticipation; an inappropriate remark was passed and word went round to be careful, watch what you say, because among us was the husband of the missing woman.

We found out he had an Italian surname, Ciardelli, and was a sports journalist for one of the two Medellín newspapers. The previous Wednesday his wife had asked him to take her to the match and afterwards, at around eleven pm, they had hardly left the Atanasio Girardot car park when a taxi blocked their way and they ended up going round every single cashpoint in the city and withdrawing all the money from their accounts for their impromptu kidnappers. Once the cards didn't work anymore, they stole Ciardelli's clothes and shoes, shoved him out of the car and left him in a field by the River Cauca. Then they drove off with his wife, and it took the poor fellow more than two hours, naked and on foot, to find a pay phone that worked. He called for help and must have believed, deep down, that when he returned home he would find his wife sitting in the living room with all the lights on, waiting for him, scared to death and maybe raped but ready to put up with the trauma of police procedures and ready to gradually forget the whole thing. This was not the case, of course. From five o'clock onwards Ciardelli spent his time checking first the hospitals and then the morgues, refusing to believe that his wife was dead – as the body was nowhere to be found – but somehow aware that he was not going to see her again, and already devastated by the idea that all he had left was the river. It must have seemed incredible that his wife might end up like so many of this city's dead, thrown over the rail of the Horacio Toro bridge, engulfed by the foul current, caught among the weeds of the filthy riverbed where the sewage drained out. We don't know how he finally gave in to the obvious, but Ciardelli lost no time (at first we admired that courage, that diligence in the face of death) and before the day was out the firemen had passed the case on to Pájaro Solano, professional diving instructor and one of the city's best recovery divers, the only one prepared to submerge himself in the Medellín to search for a missing body and give the family the luxury of a burial.

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