A Very Fine Solution II
I did drive back inland in the end. It's easy to boost a car on the coast. Tourists are careless with the rental company's property. Time was every rental plate was on a Seat; nowadays you can pick-up anything from an Audi to a Nissan. I chose a Wrangler Jeep and abandoned it in the wholesale market car-park on the Cartama road. It would be found eventually, and I didn't need it any longer.
For the next few days I took in the Pueblo rhythm. Strict 4/4 time: breakfasts one and two, lunch and dinner the beats in the bars. Alhaurin is blessed with plenty of places to idle away the hours. I'm not Craig in Alhaurin. It's a second name location for me: Wright is what I answer to – I'm saving the joke for when someone catches me out using another name. There were a couple of calls asking for “solutions”: the usual gruff-voiced Mancunians and Irish. I put them off: there was plenty of cash in the floor-safe in my flat above the Ice-cream parlour.
But I couldn't settle: the policeman's approach for Expeditious Solutions' services worried me more than I cared to admit.
Tuesday at 10-ish. Bankers, Post-Office clerks, lawyers and those peculiarly Spanish entrepreneurs, Gestors, had swarmed into Bar Rosa for breakfast #2. Txema, Jose Maria that is, came over to my table. Txema's suit is too sharp for a small-town banker's and too cheap for a lawyer's. Txema's Gestoria is above Manzanares' Lawyers Office: the hyena to the lawyer's lion, Txema does things, fixes. A gestor sorts out the bureaucracy that the Spanish themselves don't understand. His favourite customers are English though:
'Buenos dias, Wright!'
'How goes it?'
'It goes.' I flapped a hand at the empty seat opposite. He sat.
'Busy?' he asked.
I shrugged, expecting a little more of the translation work he passed my way. It involved translating his lies into palatable English for gullible clients.
He dropped a post-it on the table, scrawled Spanish in a skipping biro – and left, urgent business needing him to be anywhere but near me. There were two words on the yellow paper:
I felt sick.
It took twenty minutes to pack a grip. MariaJose looked at me cow-eyed: I gave her a wave and she gave me the finger: Chocolate ice-cream this time. I needed a phone, and tossed the current mobile into the gutter at the bus stop on Brennan. Doubtless a Rumanian would pick it up.
I got off the bus at The University. It was busy: the flower of Andalucian youth was coming in and out of the new campus depending on the vagaries of their timetable. I crossed the road and held out a thumb. It was a long wait. Smartly dressed people don't hitch-hike, as a rule, not if they're over forty. Eventually a silver C3 pulled up. They looked about 21, and they were sisters they said.
'Donde vas?' the driver asked.
'Guadalhorce Industrial Estate,' I said.
The darker of the two stifled a laugh.
'Business?' It was the driver, one corner of her mouth turned up.
'Ingles?' her sister wanted to know.
They both laughed.
They dropped me at the turn off. Didn't want to drive in. I couldn't blame them.
'What are you studying?' I asked, through the passenger window.
'Anthropology,' they chorused.
It was about six in the evening: November, it would be dusk in an hour. There was a bit of business to transact, and then I'd look for a lorry driver's rig. Something canvas-backed, somewhere to sleep until the morning. The Guadalhorce is huge: as the light fades so do the girls looks – or perhaps the personnel changes. Older professionals who need the help of dusk to keep them busy. I took up post between a wholesale furniture outlet and a lock-up. A couple of working-girls approached, but they saw the grip and left well alone. There were no tools in it, but they weren't to know that.
A couple of hours passed. No way as boring as surveillance at Checkpoint Alpha. Some of the outfits were imaginative and the number of Slavic faces was significantly lower. There were a few of course – but they weren't customers. More like businessmen checking on their assets. Finally, there was a prospect. Two young men, about 25. Drunk, although it was only 8-ish. Probably the bravest of a despidido de soltero party: neither would have been the stag, or even the best man. Two guys over-excited by the strip club, after something a little more... tactile. They cornered a woman of about 30, she looked tired, although I guessed she still had until midnight on the job. I'd taken shelter in the doorway of the furniture outlet, it offered good sight-lines and I wouldn't be seen unless someone were looking for me.
The negotiations started as the always do; lots of laughing from the male side of the transaction, reasonable listing of prices from the distaff. I waited until the drunker of the two grabbed her arm.
They were easy. I blind-sided both of them. They could sleep it off there on the metalled road service,for now.
'Solo el dinero, Guapa.' I said.
She shook the notes out of their wallets. 1200 out of one, a measly hundred from the other. They disappeared somewhere, I couldn't quite figure out where.
'Go home. I'll take care of it.' She ran off without a word.
Having stuffed their wallets in their mouths, I dragged them to the doorway I'd been using. I wondered how they'd get home, since I had their mobile phones.
It took half an hour to find a suitable Tautliner. Using the grip for a pillow, I slept the sleep of the wicked: deep and dreamless.
I left the wagon about 7, before the driver woke up. He couldn't have been in a rush, the wagon was full of TV's that weren't flat-screen and certainly wouldn't show HD movies. I headed for the quietest place I knew on the industrial estate.
'Please...' she said.
Her face had melted: probably from alcohol or a crying jag – or both. She might have looked 30 before the make-up had disintegrated. Now she looked a ruin. I looked around, wondering why she'd picked me. The bar was almost empty: happy hour too far off to be looked forward to. The ambient light might have been cosily dark in the evening; at eight in the morning, it was gloomy. I watched her struggle to get up on the bar stool, the nylons laddered and the skirt too tight.
'Drink?' I blew smoke across the bar. Smoke signals for the barman.
'Cranberry juice,' she gave a half-smile and squirmed on the stool. It looked uncomfortable.
'You'll be lucky,' I said. Besides, I'd no idea what it was in Spanish.
That I could do, so I did.
The glasses crashed onto the wooden bar, my gin stayed in the glass, but the tonic didn't. The woman's orange juice survived intact.
'Gracias!' I said to the barman's back.
'Rough was it?' It looked it.
'Just one of them,' she looked down at a scrape on her knuckles.
'It only takes one.'
The bar was no more than a shed. On the edge of the Guadalhorce industrial estate, far enough out of the way to discourage all but the most determined lorry driver. Later in the day workers from the units might come in for tapas and a beer, no wonder the guy behind the bar was miserable.
'I didn't know - ' I began, but she cut me off.
She was pushing it with 'girls' but I knew what she meant.
'Is it worth...'
Her laugh interrupted me this time, 'I can make 3 mil a week.'
She hadn't just stepped off the Liverpool Easy Jet flight.
'Three thousand euros?' I whistled. 'You earned it tonight though, eh?'
She brushed at the blouse, as if the blood would wipe off.
'You look overdressed, if you don't mind me saying.'
'At least there's some doubt in the Guardia's mind if you're not dressed in a bikini and high-heels.'
She motioned lighting a cigarette. I gave her a Ducados and lit it for her. She smoked it like a fifties deb, filter grasped between middle and ring finger. Her nails were all broken. She blew out 'thanks' with the smoke, looked over her shoulder at the door.
'Coming for you, are they?' I asked.
'Oh yes,' her eyes shone too brightly, ' yes, they are.'
'A knife was it?'
'Got to look after yourself, haven't you?'
She flicked a hand toward my glass. I gave her the gin, waving for another two. The barman sighed, but placed both gently on the bar, this time.
'You don't look stupid,' but she gave half a smile and I thought that at the start of her shift people would have been tempted.
'But how do you know they're coming? The Guardia Civil, I mean?'
'They're bound to come. For one of their own.'
She started to walk out when we heard the sirens. Turning at the door, she said:
'I saw what you did... last night.'
I shrugged. 'What's your name,' I asked.
'Gwen', then she pushed through swing door.
I stayed in my seat, until curiosity got the better of me. It was hard to see through the filthy safety-glass window in the door. She hadn't been cuffed, but it didn't look good, one of the uniforms was finding it difficult to control himself. The back of a very smart suit stood between me and him. The suit was helping with the self-control. I pushed the door and stepped out into the situation. The suit turned and beamed a huge smile.
'Good day! You are an interesting fellow,' he said.
But not as interesting as Cajal himself, Guardia Civil Jefe, who was, Guardia Civil victim or no, far too high-powered to be interviewing a prostitute in the Guadalhorce.
The exchange between Cajal and the uniforms was too fast for me to follow. The woman and the uniforms left in the 4x4. Cajal pointed toward the bar,
'Come on, let's raise a glass to the departed.'
The barman bought coffee and a brandy bottle without being asked. The coffee was in glasses, sitting on cracked, mismatched saucers.
'What'll happen?' I offered him a cigarette, he shook his head took out his cigarette case.
'We'll take care of her.'
'Some victim.' I said.
He laughed, 'Always a few rotten apples, hey? We'll think of something - for the family.'
He blew smoke in my face; ' How about this?' He composed his face into that faux solemnity that TV preachers in the States do so well:
'Guardia Civil Primera Escobar died from wounds after intervening in a violent dispute between a sex-worker and two drunken clients.'
'Who'd believe that?'
'I would,' he replied.
He finished his coffee and brandy. An envelope landed on the bar with a dull thud. The suit didn't appear to have had a pocket large enough to accommodate it.
'Expenses.' he said, standing up.
'You need to be in Puerto Banus, tomorrow.'
'Your conversation is boring, did you know?'
He fingered his tie, red and orange striped. He nodded at the buff packet.
'There are instructions in the envelope – not now!'
I took my hand away from the flap, and he was already gone, the bar's door still swinging.