The bandit finds shelter in the walls.
What is it with bandit stories that we love so much? In the 80s Juan José Moreno Cuenca, better known as El Vaquilla, was driving the National Police crazy. In those days, a 9-year-old boy was the greatest car thief in the Besòs area. He became famous for his spectacular escapes, sitting on cushions using foot stilts to reach the pedals. Thanks to his skill at the wheel, he managed to escape arrests by outracing the police in high-speed chases.
In one of his criminal exploits, after robbing a bank in the centre of Barcelona, he zig-zagged through the streets of the Gothic Quarter, at that time a rather run-down district. The National Police was at his heels. He ran down the hill we know today as Baixada de Viladecols, leaving Barcelona’s historic walls on his left. When he reached the Correu Vell street, he veered right and found the front door of an old building open. Nervous and scared, he clambered up the stairs to the top floor of the building and sat on the landing, hear pounding and sweating profusely. “That’s when I opened the door” said Manolo.
Manolo is an endearing man who lived for more than 40 years in the loft of this building, and one afternoon we spent together he told me this story. “I opened the door to find a gypsy boy—no more than 14 or 15 years old—sitting on the landing. He looked scared.” If you knew Manolo, you could be sure that he would do nothing to turn him in. “The cops are after me” the boy told him. Manolo invited him into his home and made him promise that once things calmed down he would leave.
“And swear by the Virgin you’ll never steal again”, he said. Manolo was as good and religious person. The police entered the building and kind-hearted Manolo kept his promise: “Nothing here, agent, all quiet around here”.
El Vaquilla would live another day. He thanked Manolo for his generosity and left. But it did not take him long to steal again, and he ended up in jail, where he died young from drug-related diseases. Manolo still grows serious when he talks about it. “Maybe I should have turned him in. He was just a child, but a lesson in time perhaps would have saved him from what came later”. Today that loft is still there, and its refurbished walls still keep Manolo’s noble secret.