Neither of them knew what “carte blanche” meant, but if, during the Spanish Civil War, someone had bothered to explain it to them, they would both have replied in unison: “That’s us! That’s what we’ve been given!” And they wouldn’t have been far wrong. These two friends—famous for their robberies and for the raids they used to make on village fiestas, picking up villagers in a truck and carrying them off to the city’s brothels—were capable of killing a person purely on the say-so of some Don or Doñas. In fact, they killed as many people as they could because they were murderers and because there was always someone to give them a good reason for murdering.

Pirpo had the slender build of a dancer. Chanberlán looked more like a lion-tamer. Whenever they chanced upon some hapless clown, the three of them formed a charming circus act, whose motto was: “One performance only. See it and never live to tell the tale.” It was said that amongst those who had attended such a performance were Portaburu, a farm-worker from Obaba kidnapped in San Sebastián, and Goena Senior and Junior, killed in Obaba itself, near the house where they lived. It was also said that when Chanberlán shot them in the head, Pirpo had been only a few feet away practising the steps of a waltz.

However, after 1940, it suited the Dons and the DoЦas to act with more discretion. By then, Pirpo and Chanberlán’s circus had become old hat; they had put on one performance too many, and, besides, their act, it seemed, did not go down very well in other countries. “We’ve had enough of dances and tricks with lions,” said the Dons and the DoЦas. “Now it’s the turn of the courts; mind you, they put on a pretty good show as well.” From then onwards, Pirpo and Chanberlán’s situation changed considerably, and they began to feel rather worried, as if they had lost something.

“We’ve lost our carte blanche,” Pirpo tried to say to Chanberlán one day, but, since he did not know the expression, he had to keep quiet, and the worm—that sense of unease—remained inside him. For a while, he even lost the desire to dance.

Pirpo loved champagne and dining on lobster and crayfish and on seafood in general at tables adorned with linen cloths; Chanberlán, on the other hand, spent most of his money in dimly-lit clubs and brothels. Unlike Pirpo, women did not succumb to him because of his pretty face. Because there was nothing pretty about it.

In this new situation, a shortage of funds soon became a serious problem. They had no talent for business, whether underhand or aboveboard; they had no training or experience, and so could not take up respectable posts in government enterprises; they found it hard to imagine themselves working in a tobacconist’s or driving a taxi and unhesitatingly rejected the offer of such employment from one of their former sponsors.