In the meantime Nicola had arrived, all tanned and trim, her hair back to its natural sheeny raven shoulder-length bob that framed her deep round hazel eyes in a kind of Bauhaus egg cup. I called it the "peering through a window" look and stood to attention the second she walked in the room. Since I arrived in Sevilla ten days prior, I had only been with one girl, and that was cut painfully short by some prick posting up flyers in the Murillo. Nicola must have smelt the pheromones on me.
“Don’t even think about it,” she said by way of greeting, pushing me away and flopping down on the enormous spongy iron poster bed. “I suppose you know why I’m here.”
“I can guess.”
“The coast is crawling with uniforms. There are roadblocks every ten miles. I took the back way through the Sierra Nevada and I still managed to run into one.”
“Did they find anything?”
“I don’t have anything, that’s my point. The bastards didn’t show. Nigel says they’re holed up on Minorca and they’re not budging. But they still want their money.”
“Some Morrocans Nigel knows, don’t ask me. The thing is Franco’s got the country under quarantine.”
“Franco and Minorca have never got on. He refuses to give them any money and they refuse to play his game. It’s been going on for thirty years.”
“So, we go to Minorca.”
“Are you nuts?”
“Not really. That’s why I came here first. I thought you might have some advice.”
“Jesus, just drop it. Too hard basket. I’ve only just got out of the clink.”
Nicola’s left eyebrow arched deliciously. I had an overwhelming need to run my hand the length of her smooth tanned calves.
“Yes, Nigel told me all about it. Are you taking anything for that bruised ego?”
I passed her a whisky from the bottle Juan Carlos had bought me and slumped into a chair.
The sound of children playing in the tiny park across the square wafted in on the musty river breeze.
“Actually, there’s another reason I came to see you.”
I took a sip of my whisky. The doorbell to civilisation, my father called it.
Nicola suddenly sprang up and sat cross-legged on the bed, sipping her whisky like a truant schoolgirl.
“That money Nigel wired you, what happened to it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I gather you didn’t need it.”
“Perfect! Where is it?”
“I assume it’s still sitting in a vault at Pons’ office. Why?”
In her excitement, Nicola had somehow managed to spill whisky down her front and she started dabbing at it with her finger. I wished she wouldn’t.
“We’ll use it to pay off the Moroccans. My idea. You see, this way there’s no paper trail.”
She studied me over the rim of her glass. I had to admit it was a brilliant idea, but what to tell Pons?
“You could tell him we’re getting married.”
“Something tells me he’ll have trouble buying that.”
Nicola pulled a face. “Oh sorry, I was forgetting your global reputation. Tell me, do all the men in this town think you’re a god the way Nigel’s friends do?”
I took her glass for a refill.
“It’ll just strike him as a bit sudden, that’s all.”
“Nigel said he’d give you a cut.”
But she knew as well as Nigel that my reluctance had nothing to do with money. There were rumours going around that the Basques were financing their campaign with drug money. The radicals of Madrid certainly had easy access to everything from dope to smack. All of which brought possession within spitting distance of espionage and treason. I informed Nicola of all this without trying to sound too edgy, too much prey to the rumours.
“I read the papers, Adrian. That’s why I need your help.”
For a long time I tried deluding myself about the type of man I was working for, but the longer I knew Nigel, witnessed his passion and dedication, and continued to be the recipient of his unflinching affection and loyalty, the less his nefarious dealings seemed to matter. Nicola knew this, we had talked about it when she was struggling with her own misgivings about her doting, slightly dotty, cousin. To refuse to help her now would be as good as going back on my word, as she well knew.
“So you’ll help me?”
She didn’t even look at me when she asked, just threw back her whisky and sprung up to help herself to another one, as though the issue was already settled.
“Well I can’t very well say no.”
I lurched over onto the now empty bed and kicked off my shoes, perched my whisky on my stomach and lay there watching it rise and fall, the ice tinkling gently against the glass. It occurred to me for the first time how much I relished that sound, like a song from my childhood.
The doorbell to civilisation.
We left Sevilla with a trunk full of money and Signor Pons’ heartfelt blessing the next afternoon. His brother was a little more reticent, but news of my engagement softened his heart a little. “Moy grandes,” he whispered into my ear after combing Nicola with his grey lecher’s eyes. “Gracioso!”
It was hard to believe I had only known him for three days. I left Sevilla as though a great chunk had been torn out of me. Who would ever have thought it?
We crossed the Guadalquivir into Triana and then east through the wasteland of new suburbs and rusting factories and a forest of high tensile cable. Where would a twentieth century dictator be, I thought, without his factories and utilities? Was it that easy to bribe people into acquiescence? Judging by recent events, perhaps not. Still, naked power was cutting an ugly swathe across old Espana, literally casting its long busy shadow over the castles, those symbols of an older, equally stringent theocracy. As we sped out into the countryside along the sleek new freeway (Spain in those days had some of the best and safest roads in the world), I wondered how many Spaniards still looked longingly at the castles.
The narrator is Adrian Strachan, a 25 year old Aussie ex-pat photo-journalist covering the troubles in Spain in 1969. Nicola is Nicola Fielding, an old girlfriend of Adrian's, and both PA and first cousin to his boss, Nigel, editor of "Garbled" magazine run on a shoe-string out of some Soho attic. Nigel funds the magazine through a series of nefarious contacts, one of which is a couple of Morrocans who ship hash into Europe for which he has a ready market in London. Adrian is not sure at first why Nicola needs him along, but during the trip she reveals that Nigel has hatched a crazy plan to do an expose on the Moroccans. Adrian is suitably unimpressed, and when the Moroccans failed to show up at the Minorcan rendevouz, he decided to leave her to it and treks across the island on his own. A few weeks later Nicola's body is found drifting on the currents off the south coast of Portugal and Adrian becomes suspect number one in the London tabloids, a tag that ironically launches him into full-blown celebrity and ultimate wealth (and dubious cred) as "The Wordman". Best to keep in mind this man is an ambulance-chaser.He has acute powers of observation but no real sense of right and wrong, or at least no real faith in tradtional morality, and a growing impatience with the grinding ideological endgame between left and right, east and west. In other words, a vanguard of the jaded hippy. For all that, Adrian was very successful at what he did, and I imagine the average Fleet Street hack in 1969 loathed him with a vengeance.It didn't help matters none that our hero was an Aussie, good with the ladies, and generally pretty pleased with himself. Some of you may recognise the prototype. Now get to it!