"The Only Honest Answer" Mr Martínez Nine
The Renault van ran out of fuel on the outskirts of Ecija. The warning lights had been on for the last twenty of the 100 kilómetros he’d covered since Carratraca. Martínez abandoned the furgoneta on a side-road to nowhere at all, shouldered his rucksack and walked along the side of the A351 as far as yet another poligono industrial. Among the ramshackle units – naves - were a gas station and a café. The carpinterias, ebanisterias and herrerias around them would be doing almost enough business to convince the owners that MDF and plastics were just a passing fad when it came to furniture or staircases. It was perfect. There would be a trucker in the filling station or café some time soon. Nothing too big, just someone en-route to Córdoba, maybe someone delivering shoes made across the linéa provincial, in Sevilla, on the flat burned land of the province, named – with very little imagination – after its capital.
It was already lunch-time: after two, which most would stretch until five although the crazy summer heat was, in theory, past. The café might still be the better bet for hitching a ride, but for sure there would be an ancient, boxy TV high in one corner, tuned to the local news-station. Someone in the long room would be looking at it. And it would be a long room. The cafe was just another nave. Martínez’s face wouldn’t be staring down at them. There wasn’t much CC-TV in the white pueblos, not yet. But there might be an e-fit. If Rueda was still alive. He decided to risk it. Besides, he was hungry.
The tables and chairs were tubular steel mounted and bore the trademark of three different cervezas including the Malaga-brewed Victoria, which most likely hadn’t been sold so far from the coast in a half-a-century. There was someone at every table. Mostly in twos or threes. All men. No women. Except for the waitress and the cook visible through the hatch at the end of the room. It was one of those days in September that thought it was still August. Martínez was sweating on the outside and as dry as the dust on his boots inside. He stood at the bar. Behind it was a man of around his own age, in the uniform of a cafe owner; off-white shirt and apron with black pants, shiny from being ironed too hot, but not too often. He ordered a beer.
‘Se vende botellas, no hay de barril.’
The owner dropped a grubby cloth over the tap, which sometimes dispensed Cruzcampo, but not today. Martínez stared him out until he placed a bottle in front of him on the bar. He kept waiting until the bar-owner capped the bottle with an opener that dangled from a chain attatched to the money pouch he wore under the apron.
‘Dos, por favor.’ A second bottle was placed next to the first.
‘Yo bebo de cristal, normalmente.’
The owner wiped a glass with his apron and placed it on the bar. Martínez poured both bottles into the glass and kept looking at the man behind the bar. He turned his back, muttered ‘hijo de puta’ and went off to the kitchen. He came back with two anchovies in vinegar-ed oil and a very small piece of bread. Martínez nodded his thanks and took a sip of the beer.
‘No eres de aqui,’ the man behind the bar said. People usually said that to Martínez, sooner or later. He couldn’t blame them. Even if people did ask him where he was from, the only honest answer was ‘not here’, but no-one was ever satisfied by that. He drained the glass. Held it in two fingers and shook it at the guy. The beers came quicker this time. Martínez dipped the bread in the oil and vinegar. The bar owner held out a hand, calloused palm upwards.
‘4 euros.’ It was the bar-owner’s turn to stare.
‘I won’t be staying long, Tio, if I can get a ride.’
The barman pointed at someone dressed in blue overalls, still wearing a blue denim flat-cap, though he was on the dessert leg of his Menú del Día.
‘Paco never sits long. Just eats and goes. Tell him I said to take you.’
‘You don’t know where I’m going.’ Martínez said.
‘Oh yes I do.’ the man said.
‘Where’s that, Tio?