Columbus Day

By David E Balaam

Romance, Crime & mystery

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481
32 mins

 

Prologue

It was the 1st June, the previous year – a date that George would never forget. He let the phone ring for a while before deciding to answer it. He was tired – physically and mentally. Eighteen months ago he had lost his lovely wife Aimee in a hit and run, then six months later was accused of cyber theft. His whole life had been shattered. He was demoralized and confused, but above all he was angry, very angry at the hand he had been dealt. He was not a religious man, but like most of his contemporaries George believed in humanity, respect for others, love of the family, and many of the good solid virtues he had grown up with, including justice, and an eye for an eye. He had worked hard over the past ten years building up a good business, and he and Aimee had been blessed with three beautiful children - but then, all of a sudden, and without warning, it was taken away from him. His life had been turned upside down.

No wife
No job
No reputation
No reason to live

George put the whisky glass down and turned on the table lamp next to him, and picked up the phone. "Yes," he said, in a monotone voice.
"You bastard! – I know you did it and I want my money back, Morton!"
George remained calm. He knew exactly who the caller was - Oliver Barnes, the now chief executive of Barnes & Barnes International Bankers, but then, at the time of the call, he was Head of Investment. His father, Peter Barnes, was Chairman. The young pretender was working his way, albeit fast tracked, through the departments, until one day when his father, and the board, was convinced he would be a suitable successor.
George allowed himself a wry smile. "Oliver, how are you?"
"This is not a social call, Morton. The police may not be able to prove it was you but I know it was, don’t I, Morton!" Oliver spat down the phone line.
"I have just heard that the police have dropped the investigation, so I can get back to putting my life together again." George stated, with an air of satisfaction.
"They are rubbish – I have other avenues, I can, and will use, Morton. You can count on it!" Oliver continued to shout down the phone.
"I suggest you get on with your life, Oliver. Give my regards to your father." And he was prepared to hang up, when Oliver Barnes erupted again.
"Where’s my money, Morton!" He bellowed once more.
"Your money, Oliver?" George’s tone was relaxed. "I thought it was the bank’s money," and went to hang up again, but added an afterthought. "I don’t owe you a penny, Oliver."

Chapter One March - nine months later

It wasn’t completely dark, more dim than dark, and there was quietness all around. Only the sound of anticipation seemed to linger. The other faint sound was that of seagulls. The squawking was getting louder and louder – everyone knew it was nearly time – the swaying had stopped, and sound of the heavy anchor descending told them it was time. One by one they started their engines. Some revved the motor, as if on a starting block, which in a way it was. A shaft of sunlight burst through into the large iron room that was the vehicle hold in the belly of the floating car park. The giant door slowly retreated, like a drawbridge, and came to rest on the harbor floor, with a gentle thud. If there had not been a good queue control system it would have been a free for all. Young Turks revving, and then charging into the sunlight, as if into battle. And some not so young, in their Audi Titus’s or Mercedes SL300’s, keen to show they still had some spirit in them, but resisting the temptation to show-off, especially with the wife gently tapping their arm and saying, "Now dear, we are not in a race."

George, too, could almost feel the urge to press the throttle a little more than he should, but thought better of it. After all, he thought he must show some self-control with his son, Christopher, sitting next to him.
Slowly the cars started their exit into the daylight, and onwards to wherever they had planned. Over five hundred cars. Five hundred different journeys. George wondered if any of them would be as exciting or adventurous as his might be. He would never know of course, but George liked to think of people taking paths, and where they would lead. His path was to a new beginning. A new country. A new life.
Only four cars ahead and they were out into sunlight. That glorious sun which he would be seeing a lot of from now on. They cleared customs and headed out of the harbour, looking for the signs to the E-804 out of Bilbao. It had been a long twenty nine hours since they left Portsmouth, England, and George was starting to feel elated.
Of his three children, Christopher and Bonnie, the twenty six years old twins, were there to see him off, (especially Chris as he was driving down with his dad), and some close friends. They had had a meal and said their goodbyes. Bonnie tried not to show too much emotion, but could not hold out on the last hug.

"It’s not Australia, its Spain. Any of you, including your sister, can be with me in a few hours by air."
"We know, dad," Bonnie said thoughtfully, wiping away another tear. "It’s just that we, err, some of us," she said, glancing at Christopher, "thought you would never actually get this far."
"I said nothing of the sort," snapped Christopher, "it was Alex who had doubts. We just want you to be happy again, dad."
"Look after each other, and yourselves." George tried to say with some fatherly authority, which only started Bonnie being tearful again.
George also said goodbye again to his friends, Roger and Carol, and Colin and Judy, who had given them some privacy as a family, but now all waved and cheered as Roger, the court jester, reappeared from somewhere carrying a bunch of ‘Good Luck’ helium balloons, which he tied to the rear bumper of the Transit. The mood was lighter now thanks to Roger, and George appreciated this. They all had a final hug and kiss, and said au revoir, as he and Christopher got into the hired Transit van and pulled into the ferry queue.

Christopher put on his iPod headphones, and in the quiet of the van George thought of his other off-spring, Alexandra.
Alex was their first child. She and George had said their goodbyes a week earlier when he stayed with her, and his son-in-law, Tom, at their house in Cheltenham.
With Alex being the elder, George for some reason always thought of her as more sensible and level headed, which may have been unfair on his other two children, even if a little true.
They had talked for hours, just as they had done over the previous seven months when he first broke the news, but she knew that with only six days left before he sailed, she was just going over old territory – satisfying herself she had done everything plausible to dissuade him from ‘going over there’, as she put it.
It was hard saying goodbye that day, but he left with the knowledge that he is not that far-away, and with the internet they can talk every day, if they really want to. In reality, families apart do not talk to each other that often, so George was confident he would not be on Skype every day revealing what he had been up to, and asking how is the weather in England?

George had bought a good size converted farmhouse in a small town called Calabaza, situated in the north east of Spain, two hundred miles due south of Bilbao. He could have taken the Plymouth ferry to Santander and had a more straight-forward drive to Calabaza, but it would not have been fair on family and friends to expect them to go all the way down to Plymouth from London. So he did the Portsmouth – Bilbao route instead, and now they have a three hour journey ahead of them.
George had been to Calabaza twice before. The first time with Carlos, the estate agent from Aranda de Duero, the nearest large town. They had looked at five properties that day, covering over one hundred miles. Carlos was very keen to get a sale, but George was not in a hurry, and wanted to get it right. The last property, as always, was love at first sight. El Pino, as it was then, is a converted farmhouse, and had been done so with much love and care by the previous owners. It had five bedrooms, a large living room/dining room leading to a good size modern kitchen on one side, and a spacious terrace balcony overlooking the village, and it came with a mature olive grove. It was however the view from the terrace that actually clinched it for George. The view was stunning. The farmhouse was unusual in so far as it was on a high point overlooking the village on one side, with the wide snaking Rio Arandilla on the other. They had arrived at about five in the afternoon and spent a good hour looking it over. A stone stairway from the end of the hall led to the first floor with two large bedrooms, both en-suite. At the end of the corridor more stone stairs led to the top floor, and the master bedroom, en-suite again, with a wonderful walk-in shower. Next to the bedroom was a smaller spare room which some may have used as a nursery, but could make a good extra study/play/junk room. From the master bedroom, as in all the bedrooms, the view was intoxicating. All the rooms had windows facing westwards over this spectacular landscape. The one exception was the last bedroom. This was to be found in the basement. Stone stairs from the end of the entrance hall lead down to a small corridor with rooms leading off on either side. To the right was a small room ideal for storage or a wine cellar. The room to the left was a good size bedroom with a basin and wardrobe. However, there was no window or air conditioning, and George was not sure anyone would want to sleep there in the summer.
The house was decorated simply and cleanly with modern lines, but keeping much of the Spanish feel in the colours, especially terracotta, blue hues and sandstone. The outside walls were made of local stone and not cemented smooth, or painted white like the more familiar pueblos blancos of Andalusia in the south.
George stood in the large airy living room facing the balcony and considered the smaller room off to the right, which was currently the dining room. It was a good size room, and he knew it would be his study/office/chill out room. He could see it just as he wanted it to look.

George could have negotiated harder, but Carlos could see he wanted it, and like all good salesman he was protecting his commission. The price was not really an issue anyway, it was within budget, including all the work he planned to have carried out, so around six-thirty that evening he and Carlos drove into town to find a bar and seal the sale. They entered from the north of the town along narrow streets looking for signs of life. Carlos eventually asked directions and found an old quaint-looking bar called El Tango. They parked in a side street adjacent to the bar, and sat outside with a cool cerveza and discussed the house, and what George needed doing to it. With Carlos speaking good English, and George not very good Spanish, they managed to agree Carlos would oversee the alterations he wanted doing before he moved in. Looking about him, George realised he had not actually checked out the town to see if he would like it, but decisions like this, he felt, are done with a mix of gut-feeling and fate. He promised himself he would make Calabaza his home, and he would make it work. He had hardly taken notice of the attractive dark-haired waitress who served them, and why should he - he was house hunting, not wife hunting, but she noticed him, and saw the house sale papers on the table as she put down the drinks and a bowl of green olives.
By the time they returned to the farmhouse the sun was nearly setting, and the view to the west over the mountains was even more breath-taking. On that evening, on the last day of June, George knew he had started his new life, although, ironically, it would be nine months before he would be reborn.
As it turned out Carlos had been a great help and they became good friends over the following months, sometimes talking for hours by Skype video, and of course e-mailing each other. George had made one further visit in November to sign the papers and finalize the legal affairs, of which there are many when buying a property in Spain.
Now, after nine months, and a three hour drive, he had arrived at his new home. Carlos was waiting for him with his wife Alyce, to greet him, and help him unload his entire possessions from the back of a Transit van.

To some people the house may have looked much the same as when they first saw it, but there had been some significant alterations. George had agreed to buy most of the furniture from the previous owners; beds, wardrobes, lounge sofa and chairs (although not to George’s taste, but ideal for a while), and rugs and chattels, as they were described in the agreement. But the major alteration was the sealing off of what was once the dining room adjoining the lounge area. This sanctuary was now his office and music room. George had built solid louver style doors, which looked elegant when closed, but were far stronger than normal wooden doors, and had an electronic locking device and alarm fitted. The room was wired with the latest broadband connections so he could continue his highly sensitive work, and communicate with the outside World.
When his computers, music systems, monitors and other ‘important’ items, including; cooking utensils, a set of Sabatier chiefs knifes, his favourite saucepans and a set of La Creuset oven to tableware, had been unloaded, he left Chris to unpack them while Carlos showed him over the house again, pointing out all the work that had been done. As they walked through the hallway to the lower ground floor, George noticed on one of the walls a set of Toreador Picas in a cross swords display.
"Ah," said Carlos, "the previous owners left these as a gift. They are highly prized lances belonging to some famous Toreador from many years ago." He said with some pride.
"They look dangerous, but they do add a flavour of Spain to the décor." George said, as they continued their tour. Very little, in fact, had needed to be done in the rest of the house. Some painting here and there, and some window shutters repaired. On the balcony Carlos pointed out a loose section of railing that still needed to be repaired, and promised George he would send someone round soon.
Later that evening they had a wonderful meal cooked by Alyce, to welcome George to his new home.
George had managed to unpack the iPod speakers and set it up. He played Gotan Project while they ate, much to Christopher’s annoyance, but he was on his best behaviour today, so allowed his dad some indulgence.
Alyce did not speak English, but she had some French, which both George and Christopher appreciated, so they managed to have a conversation of sorts. Carlos was also translating, and seemed to enjoy it, and was very proud of what he had done for George. They drank more wine and talked about George’s new life, their lives, and everything else people do over a good meal, and several bottles of excellent Pesquera Ribera del Duero Crianza 2005, which Carlos had provided as a welcoming gift.
George slid out through the open patio doors and smelt the warm evening air tinted with scented pine from the nearby forest. The sun had set hours ago, but there was a full moon and a clear sky with many twinkling stars which lit the view he had first seen those nine months previous. If he had any doubts it was too late, but he did not have doubts about the decision to move here. Maybe about leaving his children and friends, but he had to leave England and start anew – to be reborn as he kept telling himself. Here on the 1st March his life begins again, and he raised a glass to the heavens, and whispered a toast. "To you my love – I miss you."
Christopher walked over carrying a bottle of wine. "Top you up, dad?"
George shook his head. "I think I’ve had enough for one night son."
"I thought I heard you talking to yourself just now. What were you doing - toasting the night sky?"
"Something like that." George left it at that, and Chris did not seek further explanation, mainly because he was not thinking clearly, and because it would not have occurred to him his dad still talked to his deceased mother.
In the lounge Carlos was asleep on the sofa, and Alyce was clearing the plates.
"No, no, please, por favor, Alyce. Mañana si." She smiled, and reluctantly stopped, and sat next to Carlos, who stirred. "Sleep well my love," she whispered to him in a strange mix of Spanish and French. He was not drunk – just happy and content. They carried him up to the guest room on the first floor and placed him on the bed. "Gracias George." She turned and gave George a kiss on one cheek. "Gracias, buenas noches," she said with a sweet smile.
"Thank you Alyce, thank you both, for everything." George whispered, and gently closed the door as he left the room.
Chris took himself off to the lower ground bedroom, but not before giving George a hug. He looked at him with that slightly satisfied, blurred expression you get after a few drinks. He hugged him again and staggered tentatively towards his bedroom. Nothing needs to be said on occasions like this between father and son, except, "That’s the front door son, your bedroom is downstairs to the left."
"I knew that." Chris replied, raising his left hand as if to steady himself, then turned left and disappearing downstairs.
Back in the lounge George sat alone. It was 11.45pm. He was exhausted. He had meant to call the girls but sent them a quick text instead. "We made it. Had a good journey. Will call or email tomorrow. Love dad xxx."
He started to clear away some more of the dinner plates but thought better of it. He was tired, and fatigue was overtaking rapidly. Alyce and Carlos had made up three of the beds - the guest room on the first floor for themselves, the basement for Christopher, and the master room on the second floor. It was just as well, as George had no energy to make a bed. He got into bed and lay there staring at the ceiling picturing Aimee’s face for all of sixty seconds before he fell asleep.

The next morning, George was woken with a shake of the shoulder. "Hola, George, are you sleeping all day?" Carlos was standing over him with a cup of coffee and a smile.
"What time is it?" George managed to utter.
"Late, 7.45, and we must leave for work."
George suddenly cleared his head and remembered where he was. "So sorry, Carlos. I meant to put the alarm on, but I don’t think I have unpacked it yet."
"No problem my friend. But we must go. Alyce says good-bye. I will call you later in the day to see how you are. Also, I have left a note in the kitchen about Senora Torres, the house cleaner you asked me to find. She is coming for an interview around twelve o‘clock."
"Carlos," George said, half sitting up in bed, "thank you my friend. I could not have done all this without you."
"I have enjoyed it, George, and anyway, you will soon get my bill, si," he smiled and winked, and left George to his coffee and thoughts.
George heard the car start and drive slowly down the gravel lane, fifty yards to the main road.

All was now quiet. It’s the one thing he noticed right from the start. The quietness and stillness of this place. Not just the house, but the surrounding area. Life was lived at a slower pace out here, and George was going to have to get use to it very quickly.
He stood in the bedroom, looking out of the window at that beautiful view. "I’m never going to tire of this," he promised himself. He stretched and sighed, ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life, George.’ Not very original he admitted – but at least true.
Yes, a new life. No more England, no more bad weather (hopefully), no more rush hours, no more over priced everything. He was excited at the prospect of this new life, and what adventures lay ahead.
The most important decision this morning however, was if he should shave. "What would it matter if I had a day’s growth?" But, thirty-eight years of shaving every day is hard to stop just like that. It’s like trying to stop smoking after many years, although he had gradually cut back over the last five years, to the point where he could have one every now and then and not feel guilty. "Perhaps I could shave every other day," he convinced himself. Looking at his reflection in the bathroom mirror he thought he had worn OK for his age. He still had a good crop of black hair even if it did have some slight greying on the sides, but that was distinctive – wasn't it? No need to worry just yet. His boyish pear shaped face needed some sun, but apart from that all looked good.
Then what to wear? That was easily solved. He shaved, after all, and showered, and put on khaki shorts and a white cotton kurta shirt he had bought in India. He looked once more in the mirror, looking for self approval. Aimee had been his best critic when it came to dress sense, and he missed the off-hand remarks from her about colour coordinating and shoe suitability. He smiled at the thought, and saw her nodding her approval to his chosen attire.

What next!? Time to explore and to get know his new house, finish the unpacking, and wake one lazy son.
As most of the furniture had been included with the property there was not a lot to bring over, apart from the computers, his music collection and the aforementioned prized kitchen paraphernalia. He also had the usual linen, towels, books, personal things, favourite mirror, mugs, several ‘good luck’ gifts from friends and neighbours, plus several boxes containing things he could not decide whether to leave or discard - so he had brought them with him.
Six months after Aimee died he finally started to sift through her belongings. Bonnie and Alex had come over for the weekend to help – he could not have done it alone, and besides, girls know what’s what when it comes to clothes. Aimee had been a slim size ten, so many of her clothes would fit the girls. Bonnie, as usual, was more selective than her sister, and only took two recently new tops, and a summer skirt. Alex on the other hand seemed to take almost everything. She was organised. She had boxes for what she wanted for herself, boxes for the charity shop, and boxes for the dump, although that box was harder to fill. She found it difficult to throw anything away that could have a use, if not for herself, but for someone less fortunate. Consequently the ‘dump’ box ended up being renamed ‘charity two’.
After that George found it easier to clear out odds and ends he may have otherwise kept, so by the time, nearly two years later, he came to move, much of what was left were a mix of essentials and memorabilia. A lot of the larger fixtures and fitting and furniture were sold with his house, so everything he ended up with fitted into the Transit van.
George found a pen and note pad and started to write a list. He had always been methodical. This came from his discipline working as a computer programmer. The mind has to work logically in his line of work, and this translated in to his private life – something that infuriated Aimee he remembered. He stopped writing and smiled. "Sorry love, got to get organised," he whispered.
By ten thirty he had done most of the washing up and decided it was time to wake Chris. He made a strong coffee and took it to the downstairs bedroom. He knocked and went in. Chris had found the room hot, and with no window to open had kicked off the bed sheets and was lying naked in the foetus position. He was not sucking his thumb, but George thought it an amusing story if he added the sucking of the thumb at a later stage. "Your wakeup call young man." George put the mug on the floor next to the bed and rescued the sheet, and threw it over his son. "Not a pretty sight, Christopher. Long time since I’ve seen you naked."
Christopher was suddenly awake, pulling the sheet tight around his neck. "Hi dad, sorry about that," dismissing the event as quickly as possible and changing the subject.
"What time is it?"
"Ten thirty . . . in the morning."
"Very funny – hard to tell down here in the bunker."
"Have your coffee, and a shower, and come on up for some breakfast."
George left his son with an echo of complaining mumblings and smiled to himself. He was glad Chris had come out with him, even if it was only for one day. Waking up alone in a new home, let alone a new country, was something he knew he would have to do tomorrow, but for today, a friendly face was comforting.

Christopher eventually made it to the lounge. He was wearing the same faded Jeans and T shirt he had worn for the journey down. "Didn't you bring a change of clothes?" George asked, although it was more a statement than a criticism. "I’ve just showered and everything, so I do not smell," he said, lifting his right arm and sniffing his armpit. "May have to pinch some deodorant before I leave."
"OK, but borrow some shorts. Jeans will be too hot in this weather, especially if you are working."
"Working! You said nothing about working, dad. Driving yes. Working, no!" he said defiantly, with hands on hips.
"OK, how about you help me finish unpacking the van and we may have time for a game on the Wii before you leave."
Christopher suddenly became alert. "Excellent. I’ll take you for a few rounds in the ring."
"Or maybe a gentle game of golf," George suggested.
"You wimp. Just because you have never beaten me at boxing."
George smiled. "True, but you have never beaten me at golf."
The next couple of hours were spent tidying up and unpacking most of the remaining boxes.

They were working outside in what was the old barn where the van had been parked overnight, but was now used as a general storage building. It was a good size; around one hundred feet deep by fifty feet wide, and the open beamed roof gave it some character. The previous owners had used it more recently for building materials, and for olive storage, but given time it could even be transformed into a self contained living apartment. For now, it still had the musty smell of a barn. Wafts of diesel fuel seeped from the walls, and nesting swifts had taken residence in the eaves.
George had been methodical as usual. Boxes had been marked according to their contents; ‘Kitchen’ or ‘Spare Bedroom’ or 'Garage.’
"I didn't see a garage, dad, where do you want this box?"
"For now son, that can stay here. This can serve as my garage and workshop."
Christopher then found the box marked ‘games, CD’s and leads.’ "I’ll take this one in and set up the Wii."
"OK, but how about some lunch. I think we should take a walk into town and see what we can find. I still need some provisions."
"Always time for a quick game, dad, then we can eat. Anyway I think we deserve a rest, don’t you?"
George had to agree. Work and routine were going to take on a new emphasis here. Getting use to the heat for one thing. The house was cool and had some air-conditioning in the main lounge but not in the bedrooms. Acclimatization – that was the word someone had said to him. ‘It could take a year or more – if you survive that long George.’ George had promised himself he would survive. Day two and he was still here.
By the time George got back to the lounge, Christopher had set-up the Wii console and one of the PC screens. George hadn’t bought a TV yet, but planned to put one on the wall opposite the computer room. Provisions for a wall TV had been made during the renovations, and the connector socket was the only thing visible on the white wall.
"I’ll leave the laptop to you to set-up, dad. Looks a great system. Did you get a good deal?"
"Yes it is, and yes I did as matter of fact," but not expanding on the details, or reason as to why he wanted a complete new computer system. There was, in fact, no real mystery. Technology changes rapidly these days, and for both business and pleasure George also wanted to keep up-to-date, and he did not feel like using the laptop or server the police had taken and pulled apart over the last twelve months. Anyway it had been three years since his last upgrade, so with a shopping list he visited his specialist PC supplier and ordered a complete new system, built to his own specifications.
"What’s it to be old man . . ."
George took the bait and gave his son a clenched fist tap on the shoulder.
"If that’s all you’ve got then I'm going to thrash you old man."
"Any more of the old man and you won’t be fit to drive anywhere."
Christopher loaded the game and they took hold of the plastic Wii paddles, one in each hand.
"This is going to get warm old . . ." Christopher stopped in mid sentence, "sorry, dad, so I suggest we disrobe."
"I can take the heat even if you can’t. Let’s do it." But Christopher had removed his T shirt and jeans and stood ready for action in his boxer shorts. They took position in front of the screen.
"Round 1…go!" He shouted, and the two men started to box.
The rules are much the same as in real boxing, and after three minutes the bell went.
"Nearly had you there old man."
"Don’t get cocky son, its early days. George wiped some perspiration from his brow. "Perhaps I will take off the shirt."
Christopher winced at his dad’s naked torso, but thought he looked all right for a guy of fifty five.
"OK, let’s get serious."
'Round two' came the announcement.
Another three minutes and the bell went again.
"That can’t be three minutes," Christopher complained. "I nearly had you on the ground."
"Save your energy son or I will take you in the next round." George said in all seriousness. "I know what’s missing – music."
"OK. But only if I choose." Chris insisted.
"Sorry son, house rules. My house, my music."
George darted over to the sideboard where he had left the iPod from the previous evening and turned it on. It was still plugged into the small but powerful speaker and the room was suddenly filled with music – one of his favourites, Giraffe Walk by Mr Scruff and the Quantic Soul Orchestra – great rhythm for boxing.
Back in position in front of the screen, George and Christopher started round three.
They had all the moves. Ducking a left hook, blocking a right hook, protecting the face from a barrage of blows. All carried out in good humour but with a will to win, which is inbred in all who partake of any form of games. From playground ‘conkers’ or ‘marbles,’ through to any competitive activity – the goal was to win, no matter if it was your son or your dad you were playing.

Now the music was kicking in. The rhythm of the tune made each of them more confident with every blow. Father and Son – playing together. George enjoying life, probably for the first time in over two years, without a care in the world.
To anyone watching them, to all intents and purposes, they were in fact, shadow boxing. And what made the scene even more curious, if the casual observer could not see the computer screen from a certain angle, was the sight of two half naked men punching the air and shouting unrecognizable words above loud music.
This was the scene that greeted Senora Rosa Torres. She stood dumb-stuck, jaw dropped, looking in disbelief at the scene before her. Senora Torres had made her way up the winding iron steps on the side of the house that leads to the terrace, instead of walking up the sloping driveway to the front door on the other side. She was a little out of breath as it was, having walked from the end of the lane where the bus had dropped her off, and climbing the steps to where she now was. All manner of thoughts were racing around her mind, from "What in God’s name is going on?" to "Have I come to the right house?"
She finally came out of her shocked trance and started to tap on the patio glass doors, which were locked. Tapping was not working. She clenched her fist and wrapped her knuckles on the glass even harder. "Hola, Hola," she called out, but no one could hear her. She shook her head and sighed, as people do who have given up on their quest. She picked up her shopping bag, turned, and descended the iron steps and back along the road to the bus stop, to take her back to sanity.
As round three finished George instinctively turned towards the patio doors. "Did you hear anything, Chris?"
"Only you huffing and puffing," he said with glee.
George walked over to the sliding doors and opened them, allowing the music to escape into the midday air, and into the lives of whoever was in ear shot.
"Probably nothing." George left the doors open and returned to the game.
"This has gone on too long. Want to call it a draw and go get a drink?"
"Dad, I don’t believe what I’m hearing. You are actually capitulating?" Christopher was ecstatic.
"No, not capitulating at all. I said call it a draw." George replied, trying to sound sincere.
"Whatever, old man," Chris shrugged, secretly relieved, "as long as you’re buying lunch."
George took a quick shower and changed his shirt. Christopher sprayed himself in a large quantity of his dad’s deodorant, and dressed again in his own jeans and T Shirt.
Ten minutes later they were ready to go. "Hell!" George was at the front door. "I don’t know where the house keys are."
"Hardly anything to take here." Chris said sarcastically, trying to hurry his dad along.
George looked hurt. "Apart from my cherished possessions, there’s the PC and Wii,’ he exclaimed, while looking thoughtful. ‘I’ll give Carlos a ring, he will know."
"Didn’t Carlos leave a note in the kitchen or something?" Christopher remembered.
"Of course." George headed for the kitchen.
He saw the yellow sticky note, which was partly hidden behind a jar of coffee. ‘The cleaning lady is coming at 12.00 o’clock. Her name is Senora Rosa Torres.’
"Damn." George looked at his watch. 12.45. "I wonder if she’s coming."
He opened the kitchen drawers. Various cutlery, and a bottle opener. "Handy," he thought to himself, "but not what I need right now."
"Hmm, dad, these look like door keys." Christopher was standing at the other end of the lounge jangling a bunch of keys.
"Where were they for heaven's sake?"
"On that small table in the hall, under the shrine." Christopher was pointing in the direction of the Picador lances mounted on the wall.
"Well done, son. Let’s go."

They drove out of the driveway into the narrow lane, then the fifty yards to the main road and turned left towards town. They drove in silence for while.
George realised there was a lot to do at the house. He needed to get to know it for a start. He had had one social evening on his arrival, only yesterday, and now he was playing games and going drinking with his son. Why was he not feeling guilty? George was usually a methodical man. Methodical at home and at work. Was he slipping? Had the last couple of years taken away that sense of achievement and pride? No one who knew him, or knew what he had been through, would think any the less of him if it had.

Aimee’s death.
The suspicion of a crime.
Not working for a year.

Enough to break any man. No, he was not feeling guilty. Why should he not take time out with his son? Precious few fathers do. Even less when the son is twenty-six years old.
He glanced over to Christopher.
"Dad. You OK. Why are you smiling?"
They parked the van in the town centre and stood at the edge of the square.
"OK, which way?" Christopher asked, looking up and down the street for signs of life.
"Is it always this quiet?"
"No idea son. I seem to remember some life last time I came here with Carlos. We found a Bar. On a corner. We sat outside and had a beer."
Christopher took the initiative. "Come on. Let’s take a chance and go right."
They walked down a road with a mix of typical Spanish terraced houses interspersed with a few shops. The walls of the houses were mainly white or pale cream, with dark wood or painted window ‘Louvre’ shutters. They passed a baker which was closed. Then a row of assorted shops. A ladies hairdresser. "Handy dad." Christopher offered. George smiled but did not rise to the bait.
Next to that was what looked like an ironmonger. Then more houses. The road widened slightly and they came a T Junction. Strung above them spanning the width of the street was a banner announcing a forthcoming event. "Must be life somewhere. They’re having an event of some sort. Can you read it?"
George studied the banner but the sun was directly above them and was making it hard to see, even with sunglasses on. He made out Festival of something, April 24th but not much else.
"Can't read much of that. The sun’s in my eyes."
"Lame excuse. Come on then, let’s find this bar if it exists. I’m getting thirsty."
George looked left and smiled. "I think it’s this way. I seem to remember we came along this road from that direction. "Yes, I’m pretty sure we go left."
More houses, and on the right an entrance to a play ground. It seems children all over the world play on the same apparatus. There was a slide. A round-a-bout. An up and down thing which the name had escaped George. There was a large wooden house for exploring, and of course a sand-pit. The notice on the entrance gave opening times plus what was a list of Do’s and Don’ts which George could not read, and in the bottom right corner was the EEC logo. "I guess they had funding for this." George thought to himself.
Spain had done well out of the EEC and spent most of it on roads and infrastructure. Many towns and villages had been expanded and benefited from the low cost housing projects, although George had not seen any sign of that yet in Calabaza. Now Spain had entered a recession, and unemployment was running higher than ever, and George was not sure what the long term economic situation would be for Spain, his new home.
They walked on, past more houses, and then George spotted the bar. "There, on the corner." He was pointing to a building fifty feet away to the left. "We parked down that side road. We’ve come in the other end of town that’s all."
George and Christopher stood on the opposite pavement facing El Tango. The pavements were wider on both sides of the road here, and the bar had two tables and chairs outside. There was an old awning pulled over the front window, giving much needed shade to the tables.
"Yes, we sat there and planned the purchase of the house." George looked pleased with himself.
"Excellent. Glad dementia has not set in yet. Can we go inside, out of the heat?"
Christopher crossed the road, but George stood staring at the bar. It had seen better days he thought, and needed a paint job. The once bright terracotta walls were now faded to a milky yellow. There was a red OPEN fluorescent sign in the window which George thought was out of character with this old building. The name painted across the frontage had faded, and the ‘o’ in Tango could hardly be seen. Above the bar was what looked like a two story apartment. The window on the first floor was closed and shuttered. Paint flaked off the old brown wooden louvers. The top two widows were open but had no shutters. Around the top of the building ran a bricked fascia, and George guessed there was some sort of roof terrace. A black rusty drainpipe ran the length of the front wall, completing the sad image of this old establishment.
George sighed, not really knowing why. He crossed the road and they entered El Tango.

Chris pushed open the heavy glass door and stepped inside. It was dark, and it took a few moments for their eyes to adjust to the surroundings and geography of the room. When their eyes did adjust to the dim light, they were genuinely surprised by the interior.
It was as if time had passed it by. There were several wooden tables and chairs in the centre of the room and in front of the window, where sat four elderly men drinking iced coffee and playing chess. They looked up with interest when the two strangers entered the bar, but said nothing, although nodded in reconnection.
Christopher was more forthcoming. "Buenos días gentlemen," he said, waving a hand in greeting.
The bar on the left wall stretched about thirty foot, and like any bar worth visiting, it had three shelves along the back of the bar, each around twenty foot long stacked with every conceivable spirit and liqueur you could imagine. Many, of course were Spanish or Portuguese, especially Northern favourites such as Rioja and Tempranillo, plus a mix of American, English and Scottish spirits.
But what caught George’s eye was on the far wall. It was a floor-to-ceiling painting of dancers - traditionally dressed men and women in the Tango pose, and a guitarist sitting playing, with beads of sweat trickling down his temple.
Maria walked to the end of the bar were George was standing, looking at the painted wall in admiration.
"My husband painted it." George turned around quickly, and for a second forgot he was in another country. "You speak English," he said rather tongue-tied.
"Si, yes. You are English are you not?" She answered, without expression.
"Is it that obvious?"
"Well, yes, and I heard your friend speaking it," she gestured to Christopher.
"Ah, he is not a friend, he is my son, and I can disown him any time if he misbehaves," George said, feeling a little more confident.
Christopher was now standing next to George, and extended his hand to Maria.
"Hola, buenos días Senorita. My name is Christopher."
Maria smiled, or perhaps was laughing to herself, at the poor excuse for what she heard as her own language.
"Hola, Christopher." She replied, taking his hand.
George thought he had better follow his son’s lead and extended his hand, but did not chance the mother tongue just yet.
"Hello, I am George Morton."
"Welcome to Calabaza. I am Maria and this is my bar." George was still holding her hand and was surprised by the length of her fingers. ‘Probably a pianist’, he heard his mother say somewhere in the back of his mind. She always had a saying for something attributed to other people’s looks or character. She would have liked these hands. Maria was not stunningly attractive - she was more like a mysterious dark haired gypsy. Tall, and with a good figure from what he could make out under the apron she was wearing. Her skin was tanned smooth for her age, which George was guessing was around fifty something, give or take a few years. And even in this light he could see her eyes were a beautiful clear emerald colour, and could not stop from staring into them longer than he should have.
"Senor." Maria said, withdrawing her hand and disguising a smile. "Can I get you something?"
"A bucket of cold water probably." Christopher suggested, giving his father a look of disgust.
Maria looked puzzled. "Take no notice of him. He is leaving tonight. I would like a cappuccino please Maria."
"I only have instant coffee. The machine is broken." Maria replied, looking slightly embarrassed for the excuse.
"Come on old man, it's gone mid-day. Two beers por favor Maria."
"Si." Maria opened the cool-cabinet at the end of the bar and took out two bottles of cerveza.
"Any tapas Maria, we missed breakfast this morning."
"Sorry, no. We do not get enough business to offer Tapas, but I can make you a toasted sandwich. Jambon y queso, err . . ham and cheese?"
"Sounds good to me, dad, want one?"
"No, I’m fine thanks, Chris."

George and Chris sat opposite each other at one of the tables in the middle of the room.
"What are you grinning about, Christopher? Act your age please. I am staying here after you’ve gone remember, so do not embarrass me."
"Would I?" Chris looked hurt at the thought, but smiled again. "No worries dad, your secret is safe with me."
George was taken-a-back. "What secret?"
Christopher leaned forward and whispered. "I saw the way you looked at . . . what’s her name over there," nodding in Maria's direction.
"Don’t be . . ." then realising he had raised his voice, lowered it to a whisper, "don’t be daft Christopher. I have just met her, and I have no intention of starting a relationship . . . . with anyone." He gave his son a look to establish his seriousness on the subject.
"OK, sorry. Just a joke dad. I won’t say another word." Chris said, holding his hands up in surrender, and suppressing a sheepish grin.
"Good. I hope not." George replied, in a matter-of-fact way.
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes when Christopher noticed the Jukebox.
"Excellent!" He stood up and walked over to the wall mounted music box, a few feet behind George.
"Wonder what it takes. Got any Euros, dad?"
George froze and closed his eyes. They had left in such a rush the key episode had taken his mind of other important considerations, such as money.
"It looks pretty old dad. It's still got a selection of original 45’s."
George gestured to his son and called over in a low voice. "Chris, come here. We have a problem."
Chris wasn’t sure what his dad had said, but was more interested in the Jukebox. Thinking George had a coin, he went back to the table in expectation.
"Chris," George was looking directly at his son, and again in a low voice, "son, listen to me. Have you got any money on you?"
"No, of course not. That’s why I asked . . . ," and stopped in mid-sentence. "You’ve come out without any money haven’t you?" Christopher took a sharp intake of breath. "This is going to be interesting. She’s probably got a giant of a husband out back. I feel sorry for you old man." Christopher said shaking his head.
"Oh really. I’m not the one having a sandwich, eh?" George had seen a young woman come from behind the bar, where he assumed the kitchen was, and came to their table.
"Es este bocadillo para usted?" The young waitress asked George.
"No, for my idiot son."
She looked at George, then at Christopher. Shrugged, and placed the plate in the middle of the table.
Christopher grinned. "Lucky for me she doesn’t understand English."
Talking with his mouth full, Christopher posed the question. "Do we make a run for it pass the geriatric posse over there, or volunteer to wash up. It’s only one plate after all."
"I don’t think it works like that. I‘m going to talk to Maria and explain. After all, I have to come back here," and George left his son to eat, and went back to the bar.
Although two large ceiling fans were rotating at full speed, George was till perspiring. Maybe from the heat, but certainly from the uncomfortable feeling of having to admit they had not one Euro between them.
Maria was back behind the bar talking to the waitress.
"Hola." George coughed. "Sorry, Maria can I talk."
"Si, of course. This is Angeles, but we all call her Angel, which she is some of the time." Maria introduced her to George, and Angel immediately said something to Maria, which they both found amusing.
"I must start learning more Spanish." George promised himself. He gave the two women a puzzled look, as he knew they were talking about him.
"I am sorry, we are not laughing really. It is just my son is called Jorge, and Angel said if I called out his name who would come to me."
"I see, I think…how old is your son Maria?"
"Nine years next month."
It was George’s turn to look surprised. Was she younger than she looked? Does this climate make you look older? He really did not want to get into a personal conversation now. He just wanted to get over the embarrassing problem facing him.
"Maria, this is very embarrassing for me, but it seems we have come out without any money between us. I know this is not a good first impression, but it is an honest mistake."
Maria was whispering a translated version to Angel who looked aghast, and a little amused.
Maria stared at George for what seemed like ages.
Angel was staring at Christopher, and then spoke to Maria excitedly.
George turned to see his son waving back and smiling. He gave a ‘thumbs-up’ for the sandwich.
"Angel says you leave your son as hostage while you go and get some money, and take your time."
George sighed. "As much as I would like to I don’t think he would be… erm.," he tried to find the right word . . . he pulled a face of clenched teeth . . . , "of any help to your friend. He has a partner," he said, raising his eyebrows, hoping for a sign of understanding.
Maria translated. Angel looked at her, then at George, then at Christopher who was still smiling. Angel shrugged and muttered something to Maria, and went back into the kitchen.
"Angel said to make you wash up, for a week."
"Gladly, of course. I am sorry about this. I am not leaving the country. I have just moved in to the old farmhouse El Pino. You may know it." George said hopefully.
"Si, I do," and smiled a smile that melted Georges heart. "We had heard it had been brought by a foreigner. Ana and Julio were very nice people. They have retired to Andalucía by the sea. Lots of Spanish retire to the sea." She paused, as if thinking of a solution. "Forget the payment. It is a welcome drink. As long as you come back."
George was relieved. "That is very kind of you. Please say sorry to Angel and your husband for my stupidity, and of course I will return. Gracias Maria, muchas gracias."
"I will tell Angel, but not my husband. He is now dead."
George didn’t see that coming. "I am very sorry. How long has it been?"
"Seven years ago."
George was about to say something, but hesitated.
"My son did not really know his father." Maria explained.
"I’m sorry. It must be hard for you here."
"We survive," she smiled, not elaborating any more than that.
"Of course." George was now feeling embarrassed and started to turn away when he thought of something.
"Maria, can I ask something else of you."
"Si"
"Can I put a coin in the Jukebox? My son wants to hear one of the old records."
"If it worked yes, but it has been broken for a long time. I have not taken it down. We play the CD now," and she pointed to a modern JVC midi hi-fi system behind the bar, with speakers placed at each end of the bar on the top shelf.
George was genuinely disappointed. "Do you know what is wrong with it?" He asked, never one to see something not working when it should be.
"I do not know the technical words. It just stopped one day, and a local electric man said it could not be fixed. They do not make the parts any more. It is very old," she shrugged.
"As I seem to have a lot of spare time, and I owe you a debt, would you allow me to look at it to see if it is truly not working." She said nothing, so he continued. "I have some tools I brought with me. I need to get the house straight, and finish unpacking, but I will come back later in the month if that is OK. What time do you open?"
"I am downstairs around eight, after I have taken my son to school," she said, "but you will be wasting your time."
"Then it’s a deal. I will see you again soon."
George went back to his table.
"Blimey dad, what was she talking about? I couldn’t tell if she was going to get rough with you." Christopher smirked.
"Well, she was actually very good about it. It was the other woman, Angel, by the way, who wanted to get you roughed up." He let the thought settle.
"Bloody hell – really. What did you say?"
"I was very discreet. I said you had a partner, and she understood. That’s why she left and went back outside. Seems you’ve broken another heart. Come on, let’s get back and get you on your way."
They headed for the door and George nodded to Maria who was still at the bar recalling their recent conversation, and her thoughts on this new man in town. "See you soon," he called out, and left the coolness of the café for the heat of the street.
Maria was brought out of her thoughts a few moments later by the door opening, and Senora Torres bursting into the bar.
"It’s them, it’s them!" she blurted out, pointing vigorously in the direction George and Christopher had turned. "The two dance crazy weirdoes living in the farmhouse. I went there for a job and they were dancing naked." And she proceeded to show her stunned audience, which included her husband, of how she remembered seeing the two men dance. At this everyone burst out laughing, and Senora Torres continued to dance around the bar waving her fists in the air.

"OK, you know the way back to Madrid."
"Sure, dad. Due north I believe."
"Not funny. You have plenty of time to get back and return the van and get the plane. Call me on my mobile when you are at the airport."
"Stop fussing, dad. It’s no big deal."
George was fussing. Part of him wanted Chris to stay for a while longer. He knew as soon as he left he would be alone to face his future.
"Here’s two hundred Euros for petrol, etc. Have a good meal at the airport, not that fast food stuff."
"Thanks, dad, I will."
They looked at each other for a while then hugged, and Chris kissed his dad on the cheek.
"Good luck dad. Enjoy the rest of your life." Chris said in a solemn but sincere tone. He climbed in to the van and started the engine. "By the way, don’t play hard to get with Maria," he called out, as the van slowly passed George, down the gravel drive to the main road.
George wanted to give a quick and witty reply but was lost for words. He realised then his children not only expected him to find another partner, but it was OK to do so. George smiled to himself, and walked back inside to start his new life.

He spent the next week opening boxes and putting the house in order. He wasn’t rushing – no need to. Senora Torres came back two days later, this time with her husband for protection, or moral support, but the language was a problem. George could understand pleasantries and order food and drink etc. but asking someone to come in two days a week to wash, clean and iron was beyond his vocabulary. Then he had an idea just as Senora Torres was leaving in frustration. "Un momento Senora, por favor." He went over to the laptop and opened up Word. He wrote:
"Please come two days each week. Need cleaning, washing and ironing clothes. Is that OK? Thirty Euro each week."
Then he clicked on the translator option in Word and the following appeared;
"Por favor llegado dos días cada semana. Necesidad de limpieza, lavado y planchado de prendas. Es aceptar. Euro treinta cada semana."
He gestured for Senora Torres to come over to the computer. She looked at the screen where George was pointing, somewhat proudly. "Here, can you read this?"
Senora Torres put on her glasses and leaned closer to the screen as if she was approaching a dangerous animal. She read in silence. The grammar may not have been perfect but she understood the jest of it. Especially the Euro thirty part.
"Si Senor George" she said straightening herself up and removing her glasses. "Muy bien, acepto la oferta. Vendre los martes y los viernes de las nueve hasta la una poe que tengo que preparer de comida para mi marido antes de la siesta. Esta usted de acuerdo?
George didn’t get all of that, but understood nine to one, although was not sure if she agreed on two days, and if so, which ones they were.
He eventually found out the following Tuesday morning at 9.0am. Senora Torres was knocking on the front door. George opened the door bleary eyed in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts.
Senora Torres looked him up and down and muttered something to herself which George was not able to understand, but on reflection, was obvious.
She walked past George into the kitchen. She placed her large Jute shopping bag on the counter and unpacked a wide array of cleaning materials, cloths and brushes.
George was suddenly awake. "Ahh, sorry Senora. Forgot you were coming. Perdone Si, I will get dressed."
He turned and ran upstairs and threw on shorts and a T Shirt.
Back downstairs Senora Torres was making coffee for him and placing the receipts for the items she has brought on the counter. George looked at the receipts and understood. "Of course. I will give back the Euros, Si no problem." She looked at him without smiling and gave him the coffee.
"This is very good of you but not necessary." George gave a deep sigh. "There must be a better way to communicate." Then he remembered the laptop again. He got up quickly from the kitchen stool, which gave Senora Torres a fright. She watched him go over to his office and open the louver doors by entering a pass code in the digital padlock.
He returned to the kitchen with the laptop and opened up Word. "This is how we will communicate again, and leave messages for each other, Si." He said smiling at Senora Torres who was not too sure what was going on. He typed the following and pressed ‘translate’:
"We can talk to each other by typing a message here and translate it."
"Podemos hablar entre sí escribiendo un mensaje aquí y traducirlo."
Again, not perfect grammar, but Senora Torres understood what he was on about.
"You have a go", he said pointing to the keyboard. "Si, go on. Just type."
Senora Torres typed gingerly with one finger. "Con que quiere que empiece?"
George showed her how to highlight the sentence and press translate.
"With what you want to start?" appeared in the translation box.
"Excellent – we have contact." George was about the give Senora Torres a celebratory hug but thought better of it.
They spent the next half hour agreeing on what needed to be done and showing her around the house. The only exception was she was not to go into the office. He was happy to clean there. He explained the equipment was sensitive and he would look after it. Not that she could do any real damage, but just to be safe.
Later, George learnt Senora Torres proudly announced in El Tango she was now an expert on the computer. Her husband said she should ask for more money with these extra skills.

Over the next few weeks the house took shape nicely. All precious nick-knacks had been found and unpacked. He and Aimee would collect, where possible, a flyer or program from the many shows and concerts they loved to go to, and frame them. George stared at the line of familiar artist’s faces and remembered each concert with affection. Rabih Abou-Khalil, Jan Garbarek, e,s,t, Richard Bona, Hiromi, Paolo Conte, Joe Zawinul, Trilok Gurtu, and for old time sake, Leonard Cohen from his World Concert in 2006, the last one he and Aimee went to see together. This is one thing I will resume now he promised himself – he had not been to a concert in over three years. It was time to start again.

Panic had struck George one day when he couldn’t find some favourite CD's he knew he had packed. They were in fact Aimee’s favourites as well. She particularly liked pianist Keith Jarrett, and the Irish group, The Corrs. George was normally a focused sort of guy but somehow, now, in this new environment he was distracted. New surroundings, new sounds, new colours, smells, light; everything was new to him, and he found he was enjoying the experience of going against the norm. The other problem, or advantage, of being alone to do what he wanted to do, and when he wanted to do it, with no particular agenda, was that he had time to think a lot.
He had done plenty of that during the twelve months he was under investigation, but that was a case of being more obsessed with the facts of the case, and being very angry at what had happened to him. Of course he thought of Aimee during that time, but in a different way – wishing she was there with him, giving him moral support and telling him everything would be OK in the end, as she always did. There was no one now to turn to each day to just let it all out.
Now, alone in his new house, he stopped to think of what Aimee would have made of it. Would she have agreed with the move? She loved England for all its faults but she liked to travel, and they had had many happy holidays in Spain with the children, but she was always pleased to be back home.
George was glad in a way she did not have to suffer the trauma of that long year he was under investigation. The anguish at not knowing if he was going to be prosecuted and hearing whispers behind her back about her husband ‘the thief'. And 'was she in on it' as well?
He opened the patio doors and walked out onto the cool flag stones. The sun had not come around to the patio side, but it would do in about thirty minutes, and the stone would be much warmer then, and last all day.
George smiled, and allowed himself to think Aimee was watching over him, and she was enjoying seeing him happy – alone maybe - but happier than he had been for a long time. He looked up to the clear blue sky and blew it a kiss. "You’ll be my someone to watch over me, wont you my love?"
He could hear the tune playing in his mind – her favourite version of course, by Keith Jarrett.


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