Prepared to wait for the sunset in Santa María del Mar, I had taken out the book I was reading from my backpack. It was a volume of short stories by Raymond Chandler, one of the writers at that time, and still today, to whom I was solidly devoted. Getting them from the most unimaginable places, I had managed to make an almost complete collection of Chandler’s works out of Cuban, Spanish, and Argentine editions, and besides five of his seven novels I had several short story collections, including the one I was reading that afternoon, called Killer in the Rain. It was a Bruguera edition, printed in 1975, and along with the title story it had four others, including one called “The Man Who Loved Dogs.” Two hours before, while I was making the journey by bus to the beach, I had started reading the book right at that story, attracted by such a suggestive title that directly touched on my weakness for dogs. Why, amid so many other possibilities, had I decided to take that book on that day and not a different one? (I had at my house, among the many recently obtained and waiting to be read, The Long Goodbye, which would end up being my favorite of Chandler’s novels; Rabbit, Run by Updike; and Conversation in the Cathedral by the already excommunicated Vargas Llosa, that novel that a few weeks later would make me shake with of envy.) I think I had picked Killer in the Rain completely unconscious of what it could mean and simply because it included that story that features a professional killer who feels a strange predilection for dogs. Was everything organized like a game of chess (another one) in which so many people—that individual whom I would name, precisely “the man who loved dogs” and I, among others—were pieces in a game of coincidence, of life’s whims or of the inevitable intersections of fate? Teleology, as they call it now? Don’t think I’m exaggerating, that I’m trying to make your hair stand on end, nor that I see cosmic conspiracies in each thing that has happened in my damned life; but if the cold front that had been predicted for that day had not dissolved with a fleeting rain shower, barely altering the thermometers, it’s possible that on that March afternoon in 1977 I would not have been in Santa María del Mar, reading a book that, by coincidence, contained a story called “The Man Who Loved Dogs,” and with nothing better to do but wait for the sun to set over the gulf. If just one of those circumstances had been altered, I would have probably never had the chance to notice that man who stopped a few meters away from where I was to call out to two magisterial dogs who, just at first sight, dazzled me.
“Ix! Dax!” the man yelled.
When I lifted my gaze, I saw the dogs. I closed the book without thinking about it twice in order to devote myself to contemplating those extraordinary animals, the first Russian wolfhounds, the valued borzoi, whom I was seeing outside the pages of a book or the veterinary magazine for which I worked. In the diffuse light of the spring afternoon, the wolfhounds looked perfect while they ran along the seashore, causing explosions of water with their long, heavy legs. I admired the sheen of their white hair, dotted with dark violet on their spines and their back legs, and the sharpness of their snouts, gifted with jaws—according to canine literature—capable of breaking a wolf’s femur.
About twenty meters from them was the silhouette of the man who had called to the dogs. When he began to walk toward where the animals and I were, the first thing I asked myself was who that guy could be to have two seemingly purebred Russian wolfhounds in Cuba in the 1970s. But the animals running and playing shifted my attention again, and with no other motive but curiosity I stood up and walked a few steps toward the shore to better see the borzois, now that the sun was behind me. In that position, I once again heard the man’s voice and for the first time I decided to look at him.
Excerpted from The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura, to be published in January 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Leonardo Padura. Translation Copyright © 2013 by Anna Kushner. All rights reserved.