"They're All Just Another Business" [Mr Martínez part 34]
Soon the olive groves gave way to the squat carrascos for which Greek sailors in some Homeric galley named the Balearics "The Pine Islands". It was amazing what you could find out from the back of a street-cafe sugar sachet. Memes before the internet, Martínez doubted anyone but himself would laugh at that. The bike turned off the cracked and potholed blacktop and onto a dirt track. ‘Hold on tight,’ came through the bluetooth earpiece in Martínez’s helmet. It was a steep grade, hemmed in by the trees all the way to the clearing at the top.
Like many of the rural buildings which seemed brilliant white against the backdrop of summer-burnt or winter-greened landscapes of Spain, the house they were looking for turned out to be grey-patched and no better than off-white between the patches. Stucco needed painting every other year even if you kept on top of the cracks day-to-day. There were two buildings; one with a roof intact and the other’s sunken, concave, like an old man’s cheeks. Only an Agente Inmobilario would dare call it a finca, it was two chabolas: shacks, on the limit of being habitable.
‘Rita brought the bike to a halt, switched off the engine and kicked down the stand. Martínez was glad to get the crash hat off. The place looked deserted. No car, no sign of life at all. It was cool, this high. Not a wisp of smoke out of the chimney on the better preserved of the two buildings.
‘Guess he hasn’t sold any art installations recently.’
‘Rita shook her head. ‘Only that British guy actually sells any. The guy with the shark. The rest… well, I went out with a guy who put his up in public places, usually in small towns; Parques Jardines, plazas, playas, wherever. Then he’d phone the ayuntamiento himself and complain. When the Policia Local turned up he’d quote la constitucion or bye-laws or something entirely made up, saying it was all perfectly legal. The council usually paid him something to take them down.’
‘A good racket.’
‘Thing is, he was quite good.’
‘So why wasn’t he rich?’
‘That’s not what art’s about.’
‘Art for art’s sake?’
She laughed, but Martínez couldn’t hear any humour in it.
‘Money talks. There are no such things as "creative arts". They’re all just another business.’
The front door of the building with the swaybacked roof opened. The guy looked like his on-line photos, but not much. The bigotes were grey, not the jet black mustachios on his web-page. Scraggy tufts of beard decorated his jowls, accentuating the weight he’d put on since even the most recent photograph.
‘I’ve been expecting you,’ he said.