A Very Fine Solution VI
The sky was the colour of the Captain's million-mile eyes. I wished for something to slam in the USB of the car's radio. KISS FM was revisiting the 80's with Hall and Oates. Quite what interest either might have had in a Man-eater, I wasn't sure. Penny and I were in a hire car, a Japanese saloon with the paperwork in Penny's Nom de Travaille. I'd asked her if she had a licence, she'd showed me the pink plastic with her picture in the corner and said,
'Looks like it.'
She didn't say much on the road down to the coast. I had the briefcase open, the typed sheet and the photograph Cajal had given me in hand.
'Read this, have you?' I waved the printed sheet at her.
'Nope, not going to.' And she didn't, she was driving though.
It was terse:
“The man in the photograph must be on the Barak on December 7th.”
That was it, apart from two letters underneath: GG.
Perhaps Gormless George had changed since I'd left the department.
On the back of the picture was a name, and an address. If you could call the name of an area an address, that is. The name was 'Mohamed Lakhdar Chouikh': it meant absolutely nothing to me. The name of the area did, however. Someone, probably Cajal, had scrawled La Nogalera, Torremolinos. I looked over at Penny's Spanish lawyer's rig and down at my crumpled casual-but-in-no-way-smart look and said,
'Let's stop at La Cañada, we're going to need some clothes.'
I looked at the credit card I'd been provided with: somehow I didn't fancy using it. Penny looked over and nodded at the glove compartment. There were two weighty bricks of spanking new banknotes.
'Great, 200 euro notes. We'll never get shot of these.'
'They're not fakes, they're laundered. That's why they're so clean.' I liked the sound of her laugh.
'Very funny. Whose are they?'
'Cajal put them in the car, so I guess they're ours.'
I came out of the fitting rooms in Zara. Penny shook her head.
'You're too old for the plain-white T and jeans. That won't do at all. Go for off-duty lawyer.'
'That'll hardly fit in.' I protested.
'Have you ever been to La Nogalera?'
She wore what I supposed she'd rather have died than called a cocktail dress. She caught me looking, lifted an eyebrow.
'I have been. This'll be alright.'
When I came back, the chinos and pullover over the shoulders met with her approval, so we left.
It was dark when we arrived in Torremolinos, we parked underground. Penny kept a look out while I stuffed the majority of our cash down the back of the rear passenger seats. I took our old clothes out of the boot and piled them on top of the back seat. Above ground we found ourselves in Pueblo Blanco. I could smell the sea and the wind came cold off it and there were goose-bumps on Penny's legs. We walked about three hundred yards, before Penny jerked her head at a large terrace.
There was a large and lurid neon-sign above the terrace. “El Gato” it read. The cat. Most tables were occupied although it was only 8 o'clock. It was mostly male, the clientele. There were one or two Jack and Jill couples, so I didn't think we looked too out of place. We sat down in the rearmost corner of the terrace: it wasn't too bad an observation post, although when the restaurant got really crowded, it would be less than ideal. The waiter arrived and handed us each a cocktail list. He raised an eyebrow at me,
'Si, pero puedo...'
'That won't be necessary. Happy hour until 9. Half-price on all cocktails, or would Sir prefer a ...beer?'
I wondered when he'd left Wolverhampton: his facial tan was as smooth as the chest skin under his open-necked shirt. He left after I ordered a Sol and Penny a Mai Tai.
My bottle arrived with a slice of lemon in it. The waiter tossed the menus on the table in front of us.
'Was it something I said?' I asked.
'He has us down as tourists.' Penny sighed.
'In these clothes?'
'Not that kind of tourist.'
The food was good, if a little overdressed for Torremolinos.
'What shall I call you?' She had lit up a cigarette. El Gato would be non-smoking inside, I was certain.
'I think it's time I was James again, for a while.'
She sniffed, it was unattractive.
'What about the fish? What will you tell him?'
I gestured at my clothes: 'Ralph, Ralph Lauren.'
'He'll know that's a lie,' she gave a softer laugh this time.
'I'll pronounce it “Rafe”, he'll never twig.'
She took a drink. 'How did you end up doing this?'
'Isn't that my line?'
'You know what I mean.' She picked a shred of tobacco from between her teeth.
'Oh, you know, some people I used to work for...'
'I got the impression you were retired,' she cocked her head slightly.
'You never retire, really.'
She changed the subject. I didn't mind.
'This Mohamed, what's it about? What do they want him for?'
'Maybe he's a spy.' This time I laughed.
'When I was... recruited. A long time ago. One of the old guys. Another George, actually. He told me the Service really regretted the Act, in '67. You know why?'
She shook her head.
'He said that homosexuals had made the best spies.'
'Don't be ridiculous! Why?' She seemed quite indignant.
'He said that they were used to leading secret lives.'