Andy told me this story over a couple of bottles of San Miguel in a side-street bar. It had two tables outside on the pavement and an ancient coffee machine that the owner was hitting with a hammer. Andy wore a suit and a tie. I didn’t. I hadn’t worn either since leaving the bank in 2008. National Bank of Scotland. Rebranded as NBS since it closed its Gibraltar branch and set me free from Hugo Boss and neck-wear. Andy had been their last employee on the island, he’d locked the doors. I’d retired. At 43, thank you very much. Andy was a half-a-dozen years younger, maybe 35. He used to hang around the old building, walked down Main Street every day and drank a coffee in a bar much like the one we were in that day. I may have misled you there: he bought a coffee, but he didn’t drink it. Andy missed Starbuck’s. And Costa – and all that sugar-drenched, cream-puff, take-the-taste-of-coffee-away-please manufactured shit that he used to drink when he was the youngest guy in his office at NBS HQ on Glasgow Street in Edinburgh.
In the way that whizz-kids are , Andy had been promoted into the latest, flashiest, most risky venture. National Bank of Scotland(Gibraltar). Andy knew me from a conference in Tenerife around 1996. I was giving a talk actually. About Euribor and mortgages for second homes in the EU. I was still wiping my nose when I left the lavatory in those days. Perhaps I was over-enthusiastic, but I told everyone there’d be money in it and very soon. Anyway, Andy remembered me when he was looking for a "Director of New Business, National Bank of Scotland (Gibraltar)". So I upped sticks and followed Andy to Gib, leaving a wife and two children behind in the five-bedroomed terrace on Morningside Drive. I’ve never been back. Not since 2001.
The coffee machine made a noise like a dentist’s drill. The owner brought over the customary glass and saucer. Andy looked at his café manchado and stirred it with a spoon that didn’t match the one on my saucer. Since I knew he wouldn’t drink it, I ordered us both a beer. He started his story that Monday morning as if he’d been intending to tell me it for some time. I used that bar most days and he must have known that I suppose. Andy steepled his hands and I thought “wanker”…
“You’re probably wondering why I’m still here. Still dressed for work after all this time. Dress for success, don’t they say? I’m not like you. Without these clothes I’m not me. Not Andy Cussiter. I’ll be straight with you, Ted. There’s a deal in the wind. A big chance. What? No, no, I’m not offering you a piece of it. I’m just, you know. I’ve got no-one else to tell.
“I’ve seen you around, you’ve probably seen me. You didn’t want to hook up, I get that. No, seriously. I do understand. Anyway. Six months ago, I was, you know, dropping off CVs here on the Rock. Using the wifi in Elliot’s lobby to do the same. Got to keep busy. You know how it is.’
I didn’t - but I could see how it was for him. From his frayed collar to the scuffed shoes he was every inch the failure that he assumed I was. My jeans and defunct rock-band t-shirt ensemble was clean, cleaner than his socks I imagined. There was a different band name on the shirt every day, usually from a band that last played when I was 7. Most of all, though, it was the rounding of his shoulders, and the master-of-the-universe strut that had vanished after his first few years as a casualty of finance, that showed exactly how it was.
'So I met this guy out at the Marina. Big yacht. Been at Fettes with me. He must have recognised the tie.'
Andy finally took a drink of his beer and then another.
‘It’s property,’ Andy went on. I didn’t mind. It was a sunny day, rare enough in that wet January. ‘I know, it’s always property. You taught me that. So… it’s the vote. Or what happens next. Here, specifically. We’re counting on panic. The gambling companies will have to go, certainly. There’ll be a scramble by all their employees to get out too. Then the general expats will go. We’ll buy. We’ll buy very,very cheap.’
He looked at me like a dog, who’d brought along a buried bone to lay at my feet.
‘So what?’ I said.
‘So it’s a matter of nerve. Once the Costa’s glut of Brit-owned properties has gone and Spain assumes control of the Rock...’
‘What makes you think they will?’
He laid a finger along the side of his nose and I laughed. ‘Come on, you know you want to tell me.’
Andy puffed out his cheeks, ‘I shouldn’t say. Let’s just hypothesize.’
I’d hated that about Andy when I’d worked for him. Let’s just say I finally gave up the powder when I caught myself saying words like ‘hypothesize’ too.
‘Do let’s,’ I took a drink of my own, now warm beer.
‘Imagine I know someone who knows someone who knows what the deal is, the deal as it will be. His brother works in the right place in the City and my someone knows him too.’
Andy leaned forward, across the table, like he was closing his own deal already.
‘It’s the biggest deal ever really, isn’t it? You remember what the vote was all about, don’t you? “Control over our own borders”, all that crap. We knew and they knew they meant “stop immigration”.’
He took out a packet of Ducados, as cheap a cigarette as you could buy in a tax-free location like Gib. I had never seen him smoke in all the time I’d known him. The plastic lighter’s flame flickered as his hand shook. He took a deep draw and let two jets of smoke out of his nostrils like someone who’d been smoking since his first visit to the bike sheds at school.
‘It’s not going to be such a tough deal, you know. It’s going to be complicated… but only like those BASIC programming commands… IF … THEN… A OR B: IF A and all that.’
I must have rolled my eyes.
‘I forgot, you’re a bit older than me. Well then, hypothesizing as we are. UK will stop free-movement of labour, Spain will get this place, IF they don’t rock the boat and demand to leave.’
‘What about the other 26 countries that need to agree?’
‘That’s it! Bor-’ His face flushed as red as that famous bus. ‘I mean my contact’s friend’s friend says everyone is shit-scared of Populism and the collapse of the Union. I mean, they’re actually going to pull up the drawbridge. Every country is going to get something they want and they agree to the Deal or they leave too, but with no sweethearts in their deal.’
I shook my head, ‘That’ll never work.’ I signalled for another round.
‘But it will, Bo- I mean the source says that there are plans for camps, work camps. They’ll be around the edges of the Union… wherever those borders finally settle. Apparently, if we make it unattractive enough they won’t come.’
He didn’t notice my fist clenching round my bottle.
‘What do you mean, wherever those borders finally settle?’ The words fought their way from behind my teeth.
‘People think there’s only one deal and maybe there is, but it isn’t the deal that they think it is. The map is going to look very different. You remember the 80’s, don’t you? Well, so do the Russians. So maybe it won’t be necessary to get 27 countries to agree, you see?’
I did see. I saw a smaller, meaner Europe. I saw old mistakes being made again.
Andy finished his second beer.
‘Anyway, when the Spanish get the Rock prices will go through the roof. I’ll make a killing. Andy Cussiter will BE BACK!”
He left, just like that. I ordered another beer, what could I do about it, after all?