A Very Fine Solution III
I turned and looked at the woman. Pointed at the chair. She sat. She looked good, if you liked them over forty. The botox helped, especially since she hadn't overdone it.
'Drink?' I said.
'Why not?' she smirked at me.
I said 'Tom Collins' to the waiter and he left to tell the barman to look it up.
'You're “Solutions”?' the smirk was in her voice as well as on her face.
'More or less, it's Expeditious Solutions, actually.'
'That's too long for people who talk in acronyms, you should know that.'
She was right - and I did know that.
Sinatra's Bar was empty, it was 11 a.m. after all. If Frank had ever set foot inside the place, the décor hadn't changed since: low-slung over-stuffed sofas from Eisenhower days and lower, bottle-scarred tables. Outside there were wicker chairs and tables on the postage-stamp terrace. Puerto Banus regulars claimed the music was 'groovy': I doubted if anyone had ever considered Alphaville 'groovy'.
There was a good reason that the instructions had sent me here: it offered the best vantage point of Millionaire's Row on the Marina. 10 berths filled with tens of millions of euros-worth of yacht. The instructions were terse:
'Sinatra's Bar, Puerto Banus, ASAP: wait.'
Thank goodness they'd been more generous with the money.
Her drink came and she raised the glass:
'It's been a long time.'
'It has. You're not still...'
'BYA', we both laughed. Our own three letter abbreviation. It meant 'bet your ass.' For me, the game went sour when we began to play it by the Americans' rules: the proliferation of TLAs was the least of it.
'Why'd they send...'
'Me?' She took a long drink. 'I asked for this one.'
'Old times sake?' I leaned well back in the chair, took a long look at her.
She coughed, the Tom Collins could not have been too strong.
'You're a person of interest, James.'
'We all are, until we become a former person of interest.'
She nodded, 'You might reach that status very soon. It's been discussed.'
'Is that what you're here for? I don't see one of those special umbrellas.' I took a drink myself, this time.
'Don't be stupid. It's our money in your pocket, it's this or...'
I knew that, the trouble was... being more certain about what the alternative was, than 'this'.
So I asked her.
'Not yet,' she replied. 'Do you have a flat, a safe-house?'
'We don't put someone like you on the books, nowadays. Come on, James, have you or not?'
'I've got somewhere, it's third-line though. You can't see all this.' I waved airily at the white-hulled monsters a few yards away.
'Who said we needed to?'
It was a feeble effort, though: I knew they did. If the instructions had been about a simple rendezvous there would have been a time. I'd been able to keep an eye on something for a couple of days whilst
the clowns decided what to do. That writer had been right about it being a circus. There was only the Marina to look at; QED. Quite what I'd been looking out for was another matter.
'The safe house is for...' she decided on 'later'.
'This place shuts, you know.'
'We've got somewhere else.' She pointed out of the window.
'What, the restaurant?'
'Above it. It's for after nightfall only.'
I offered her a cigarette: she looked over both shoulders before shrugging and taking one.
'Where do you have one of these in Vauxhall Cross? Out by the wheely-bins?' I asked.
'No-one smokes now.' she said.
'The bean-counters probably wish we still did. The pensions cost them more than before.'
'Another good reason to have gone.' I blew smoke away to the side.
'Evidently you didn't need them.' She blew hers into my face. 'Is there...?
'Anyone? Not really, no.'
'Does she know that?' She picked a flake of tobacco from the pale lipstick.
'Did you, Eve?'
She pointed over to the marina, two down on Millionaire's Row was a behemoth of a boat, easily dwarfing the two between Sinatra's window and it. ﺒﮋﻖ – Barak – was written on the bow. The fact it was visible revealed how big the motor yacht really was.
'Stupid name - for a boat like that.' I said.
'Lightning: it won't exactly be fast, will it?'
'Maybe the owner likes America,' she laughed.
I doubted that.
She handed me a single Yale key, no fob, no ring. Although she still had mine on her finger, after all this time
'Keep an eye on the boat, make sure you get to the restaurant before it closes, the stairs are at the back of the dining room. The door's at the top. Take photos at night. The camera's set up. Don't fiddle
The cigarette stub remained lit in the ashtray, the smoke rising long after the door had swung shut behind her.
I knew the restaurant shut at about one in the morning: Sinatra's would do until then. On the flatscreen in the corner the glamorous girl reading the news introduced an item about Palestine: pictures of rubble that had been a school before rockets were launched from the playground. I ordered a beer and wished a few more of the empty hours away.
At about ten thirty I was picking up the tripod after I had knocked it over when peering through the camera viewfinder. The only light in the room was that coming in from the street-lamps outside. Perhaps I should have had one less beer. After checking that the camera was more or less pointing at Barak's gangplank, I curled up to sleep on the floor. If anything was going to happen Eve, or somebody, would have been there. Besides, I was tired.
There was a puddle of drool on the floorboard when I woke up. A long string of saliva connected it to the side of my mouth. My watch said four thirty and my head said two o'clock. Most of the bars and restaurants around the marina had spilled their effluvia onto the streets. I looked out of the window: a pool of space had opened around two men with short hair and sharp suits. The only suits on the street in fact, the revellers in their garish clothes were steering well clear of them, as if such sober-dressing might be contagious. In the neon there was a glittery look to the material of the suits, which led me to believe the two were not American. Besides the cut was a little too good. Their faces were as closed as Bluebeard's heart: faces which said they were on government business. I took a few shots with the camera; there was some sort of attachment on it. It would work in the dark, I supposed, if I hadn't damaged something knocking it over.
They walked up the gangplank and someone let them on board the rich man's toy. I sat for several hours watching, but they didn't come out.
The following morning found me looking out of the restaurant window on the ground floor. The owner was in and doing something in the kitchen. It was a Greek restaurant: no stranger than the Indian one a little further down the street. He'd raised his eyebrows when he came in and that was all, until he brought me a black coffee, when he said;
'Don' tell me nothing.' It was the last thing he said to me that day or any other.
The two suits – and they were the same, if a little more wrinkled – left at about nine. They hadn't shaved and the sunglasses were on, although the day was overcast. One guy was blond, preppy all-American beefcake; the other could have been from any country bordering the Mediterranean. They took the short cut in front of Sinatra's corner and disappeared from view.
One of my two liberated mobiles rang; the display read 'oculto' – 'hidden'. I pressed the button and waited.
'Keep an eye on the boat,' Eve said.
'Just do it.'
'Don't you want to-'
'Save it,' she said. 'Tell Cajal tomorrow - or the next day, whenever he turns up.'
She hung up, she'd done that a lot, back in the day.
Watching is boring: that's why it's normally done in pairs. It's why we all used to smoke. When the restaurant opened I crossed over to Sinatra's and drank more coffee. Nothing happened. Then nothing happened some more. I leafed through the Sur lying on the table, found the foreign news pages buried deep inside. A peace initiative was being mooted by a British ex-prime minister, he'd wangled some UN envoy post. Perhaps a ruined Iraq and yet another failed Afghan adventure weren't the legacy he'd had in mind. I tossed the paper into the chair opposite. The man had been insufferable when in power, perhaps he could safely be ignored now. Sinatra's was fairly busy for a weekday lunchtime; that was a good thing. Either I would be accepted as a new regular face in the bar or someone would clock that I was watching the boat.
It was the latter, eventually. They sent a man. Aged about 25, he had the olive good looks that could have made him Andalucian or Algerian. He dropped the newspaper on the floor and sat down.
He put his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers. The last time I'd seen someone do that was in an office at Clare. I remember being shocked that they still used tweedy old dons to recruit. He'd only mentioned the service after the long lecture about why I was being sent down. He'd given me a crumpled card and said:
“these people might have a use for someone like you, although Cambridge most definitely hasn't.'
The young man most likely had been to University: Westminster probably, and before that to a not-quite top drawer school. Even Etonians wait to be asked to sit down.
'Do for you?' I said.
'We have noticed your interest.' He un-steepled the fingers and looked at his nails.
He jerked his head at the window behind him.
'Do I look like I can afford to buy a yacht?'
He clenched a fist. Uncurled the fingers very slowly.
'Who are you?' he said it with a light tone, as if talking to someone he might consider picking-up, if he liked the answer.
His teeth flashed white in the swarthy face:
'Who are you?' I asked him.
'Your new best enemy. Tell them I've seen you.' He stood up.
'Who shall I say?'
The teeth flashed again, 'Number two son.' He left.
About four in the afternoon I walked to a shop around the corner and bought a Daily Telegraph; “printed in Spain, printed for you!” To be honest, I was bored and wanted a crossword. It wasn't the Times but you couldn't get that down here. There were plenty of red-tops. Back at Sinatra's, I'd just inked in 'hymenoptera' for two down when the other mobile rang.
It was Eve, naturally.
'Who was it?'
'Who?' I asked.
'Don't be stupid.'
'Number two son, he said.'
'Good. Keep watching.'
'What for? So you can watch me?'
'What do you think?'
I pressed the button before she did.
Someone had been over to the room above the restaurant. The camera and tripod were still pointing at the Barak. There was a camp-bed and a sleeping bag.A laptop lay on top of the bag. I sat on a packing case at the back of the room and opened the laptop.
There were no user accounts set up on it and the restaurant's wifi connection was already sorted for the encryption key. I went to my e-mail account: the one I never used. It was set up to send an 'out-of-the-office' message every week. I de-activated the message. It was a distress signal, no out of office message on a Friday. I hoped it would bring the cavalry. Whatever they had given me the laptop for could wait.