A Very Fine Solution
More like train spotters.
I couldn't sit on Calle Brenan any more, without the nudging and finger-pointing driving me nuts. What did these people do all day? No visible means of income. It made me laugh; 90% of Costa Brits would fit that description. No-one pointed at me: I had no tattoos, my head was not shaved. At least one table outside K-2, Café Polar, Pick-Nicks or the Taberna del Camino had, as usual, a full complement of such people.
Meanwhile, bored, disaffected expatriate-pensioners were nudging each other and pointing at these builders, window cleaners and car mechanics as they innocently filled their empty working days with another coffee or beer. Grim-faced photographs of Britain's most wanted appeared monthly in the local English free-sheets - with the blessing of UK police forces and their Spanish counterparts. It was true, some of these pictures did look like the guys in the pavement cafés. But they were pretending the next job would be a big contract on a coastal development - not a drugs deal. Maybe, if things had gone differently in Essex or Manchester, these bored Brits could have taken refuge in Alhaurin, after a pub shooting or a bungled post-office blag. But it wasn't so.
The Guardia Civil called this ongoing campaign Operation Captura. My picture had never appeared in Sur In English, the Olive Press or the Costa del Sol News. It was doubtful my name had ever crossed a desk in the Malaga building that houses the Guardia Civil. Even though I shot someone only a couple of weeks ago, in Estepona. Perhaps he'd deserved it, perhaps he hadn't. I'd deserved my money, whatever. The case won't be closed, that's for sure.
That's what people pay for.
Anyway, about a month ago, outside one of those cafés, I got a call on my throwaway. You can still use a pay-as-you-go safely. Provided it's been stolen from someone else. People only give their details on registration. So a trace on the phone just gives other people's personal information. Do your top-ups in cash over the counters of mini-markets and estancos - chuck it at the end of the month - and its just as safe as before the legislation came in.
It was best not to give away too much, it might be someone calling the phone's owner. I left all the info in memory, but you never knew. It might be an old girlfriend, or something.
'Expeditious Solutions?' No stumble on the name.
'Yeah.' I usually continued the call if they could say the name of the 'company.'
'How expeditious are they?'
He was comfortable with the word and his accent said why. Perhaps I'd been to school with him, or his brother.
'I don't have a complaints department.'
He laughed. He sounded pleased with himself. 'No, I suppose not. Should we meet?'
'I don't know whether we should, but we will. In two hours.' I named an Irish Pub near Las Rampas in Fuengirola and thumbed the red button. Walking across the road to my flat above the ice-cream parlour for a shower and a shave, I noted the passing senior-citizens continued to point at the under-employed on the café terraces. It was November, ice cream sales were not impressive, I nodded at MariaJose. She looked up guiltily, a Neapolitan-flavoured finger-end half-way to her mouth.
'Cuidate, Guapa, a los chicos no les gustan las gordas.'
She raised the finger to me instead, since I had said boys don't like fat girls, even though we both knew they did.
Molly Malone's squats ugly and noisy on Las Rampas, between some chrome and plastic cafés, tat shops and the odd half-decent restaurant. Typically, it has no Irish staff and – certainly during daylight hours – a mostly absentee landlord. Even in November it gets busy and that Tuesday was no exception. The closer you get to the beach, the more Anglicized everything becomes, until you reach the Paseo Maritimo and realize someone has transplanted Skegness to the South of Spain. So, some of Molly's staff are actually Spanish, but not Andalucians. Maribel came over to my table:
'Craig, Como esta?'
I was glad she'd used a name. Since I had no idea what my name was in Molly's. Every alias consisted of just one name, first or second – just one. It was best to keep things simple, even when they got complicated: I had remembered I spoke good Spanish there, at least.
'Si.' I watched her too-short skirt swing above the caramel skin as she left to get my beer.
I was on the terrace, as the stretch of pavement outside Molly's is optimistically called.
There were five tables, each with four chairs huddled round them: one table had encroached in front of a shop which failed ever to sell anything from sun-loungers to the Sun newspaper, as far as I knew. Meribel delivered the beer, hesitated a moment and flounced off. So what? I was working, too. There was someone at every table. A stringy blonde - in sunglasses on a cloudy day - sat nearest the door. She was smoking as if she meant it, and the hollowed cheeks didn't flatter her. Two fat ladies sat bickering over a chipped teapot and greasy plates. Two teenage girls from Doncaster, muffin-tops exposed to the cool coastal air, were comparing something - hands as wide as their eyes - before bursting into harsh laughter. At the other table was a guy dressed in a very good suit. A Spanish guy. He looked like a lawyer, or the manager of a flagship branch of a bank. He caught my eye, stood up and approached, hand extended:
'Cajal. Old chap, Ramon Cajal Fernandez de la Vega.'
The accent was so reminiscent of my school days, I abandoned any idea of trying mockney on him.
'Craig. You can call me, Craig.'
He flicked a hand at Meribel and she moved quickly, but the skirt didn't swing quite so much as before. Cajal sat down.
'So, Craig. A solution. An expeditious one. To any problem.'
He was smiling, but the eyes weren't playing.
I shrugged: 'Depends.'
Meribel brought two black coffees, they barely reached half-way up the cups. Which is why she left the bottle of Soverano Brandy on the table. Cajal picked up the bottle, pulled out the stopper and threw it on the table. He tilted the bottle over my cup and raised his eyebrows.
'Are we drinking or doing business?' I asked.
'Isn't it obvious?'
He filled both cups. He drank. I stirred sugar into mine. Then I drank. Next I waited, and waited. Cajal smiled from time to time and eventually motioned to Meribel for more coffee, but he didn't say anything. I cracked first, I'm ashamed to say.
'Where did you get my number?' I asked.
He laughed, 'I can read English too.'
I had box advertisements in all the free-sheet newspapers, in the crap magazines that every English business gave away in the hope that someone would buy something when they picked up these glossy wastes of time. The ads read 'ES' and the phone number, which I changed every month. It took all day to drive round the back-street offices paying cash for the advertising space. I don't doubt the money went straight under mattresses or into back pockets. But that was only part of it. My first adverts had appeared in Cольце, in Russian. I had written them myself: they had the words for Expeditious Solutions, and promised erasure of problems.
A friend had told me what to write and where to place the advertisement. He died. Left Banus on someone's motor yacht one day and never came back. He'd been Soviet Border Guards in Berlin. Nachalnik – Chief – at Checkpoint Bravo. Or maybe he hadn't. My uniform had certainly been a disguise, back then. We'd both washed up on the Costa over ten years ago and, one early morning, after too many vodkas, he'd said I should just use my government-bestowed skills in the private sector. So I did. Sergei's enterprise had proved all too private for a colleague, in the end. In any event, Expeditious Solutions had gained a reputation amongst the Russians, and then spread where it needed to. I had never had a Spanish client.
'You can do something for... us.'
'Your unlikely employers.'
He stoppered the brandy: 'We can tell you that later. Will you do it?'
'I need to know for...' I shrugged again.
'We'll pay what you ask.'
'You don't know what I'll ask.'
He took out a cigarette case. I hadn't seen one of those in years. He took out one for himself, offered me the case. I shook my head. He lit up using something gold and expensive. He took a deep draw and let the smoke out of his nostrils.
'We don't care.'
That might well have been the time to stiff him with the bill and jettison the latest mobile.
'So, what can you tell me?'
He kept smoking, looking at me, unblinking. This time I was determined. I waited him out.
Eventually, he gave a laugh:
'Very good, Craig. It will be in Puerto Banus. It has to look a certain way. We will supply the means. That will disguise the motive. You will have to find an opportunity.'
'We'll be in touch. Don't worry.'
He stubbed the cigarette out on the metal of the table top. The cigarette was filter-tipped. I had never seen anyone smoke every last shred of tobacco in a cigarette before.
The brandy seemed inviting: he saw my look.
'I wouldn't drink any more of that, if I were you. Maybe you should wait to drive back. To Alhaurin.'
He gave a satisfied smirk as he saw me start.
'Take some sea air, before you go back.'
Meribel looked at him and he put his finger across his throat, stood and left without another word. For want of anything better to do, I ordered another coffee, Meribel took the brandy away. I put a hand on her arm. She shrugged it off.
'How much?' I asked
'It's paid for.' She turned to go, I lifted a hand to stop her, then drew it away, but she looked back.
'Who was that?' I asked.
'Don't you know?' she laughed. 'You English prick. Speak a few words of Spanish and you think you know everything.'
She scuttled into the bar, no invitation in the skirt or the caramel legs.
Cajal was right. I couldn't drive just then. I walked down Las Rampas and headed for the Paseo Maritimo. It was cloudy. About 16 degrees. Such Britons as had braved the Euro-rate were goose-bumped in shorts and shorter skirts, Union Jacks and the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew on superfluous display. Outside a fast-food joint, on the inland side, a fight broke out. Punches were missed on both sides. Within five minutes the siren was audible. A Guardia Civil 4x4 arrived, not the Policia Local. They drove straight past the non-event of the afternoon; on towards the Deutsche Bank. A familiar figure stepped out of the bank entrance. Cajal. He was talking to a Slavic looking guy in an old suit that had never been as good as his own. I was directly opposite him, on the pavement on the beach-front side. The conversation became animated. The Russian looked disappointed. They shook hands. There was that Russian bear hug thing where you try to squeeze harder than your acquaintance. It looked like the Russian surrendered first. Cajal's suit was unwrinkled. He stepped towards the Guardia Civil vehicle. The Guardia from the passenger side jumped out and opened the rear door for Cajal. He gave the smooth Spaniard the smartest salute I had seen since Berlin. The salute was ignored: Cajal looked at me over the roof of the Marbella Tractor -and waved.
Costa del Sol, present day. A smooth-looking Spaniard engages a hit-man; 'Craig', to provide an “expeditious solution” to a problem. The Spanish man is cagey about the target. Over drinks the hit-man agrees in principle to the job, which will take place in the up-market resort of Puerto Banus. The hit man is a former British government employee of an unspecified kind. Shortly afterward, he sees the Guardia Civil pick the client up and he is revealed to be a policeman.
Despite 'Craig''s efforts, the client remains in close contact with him, warning him off other clients. 'Craig' remains unaware of the target's identity. He is instructed to meet a contact in the Puerto Banus Marina. It is a former colleague in the unspecified British service. Ellen is as surprised to see 'Craig' as he is to see her, since they have been divorced for over five years.
Ellen tells 'Craig' that they need to stake-out a Motor Yachts in the Marina, the Scheherezade: rumour states that this belongs to a close friend of the House of Saud.
Later, men in suits board the Motor Boat: they are not Spanish but nor are they quite American. Ellen tells 'Craig' they are Israelis.
Peter Mandelbrot, British Government Guru, arrives a day later. He is not the target either.
Sky News has a leak of a new Middle East Peace initiative. Tony Blain, special envoy,
has imminent plans.
'Craig' asks Ellen about the Spanish policeman's involvement. She answers cryptically, 'old school tie.'
The means are delivered: it's a suicide belt.
Ellen says 'Craig' won't be wearing it. She hands him a photo of a 28-year-old Moroccan with tenuous connections to Al Qaida. 'You're solving that problem', she tells him. 'Corpse and belt need to be on the boat very quickly.'
On being asked if it's a 'show'. Ellen tells 'Craig' of course it is.
Delivering the 'package', 'Craig' finds Blain and the Saudi already on the boat. In the stateroom. Blain draws a gun, tells 'Craig' he'll have to shoot him, explaining it's not a show: peace in the Middle East will need a martyr-messiah and he intends to be it. The Saudi is shocked and grabs for the gun. Blain shoots him. He forces Craig to arm the suicide belt and they position the Arab's body over the Moroccan. 'Craig' asks how he got co-operation in this, he holds up his tie and says Fettes. Craig yanks his tie and knocks him out, before taking his chances in the Med.