Los Cristianos is fast becoming a business and social centre; trees are being planted, a golf course is envisaged, we even have a Cultural Centre. And the Wailing Wall has been saved from collapse and the death of unwary pedestrians by providing a skirting wall. We did have a sex shop which has now moved from its first location in the old village to a new smoothly-paved shopping street on an upper floor.
"You know where it is then!"
"Only by repute, Harold."
"Well, of course!"
Even when one's sex drive was steam driven, a virtuous family man could not be seen behaving brazenly as a denizen of debased commercialism, for holy-minded village women would spy on who went in and who came out and the word would go round. But the town is expanding and newcomers will soon outstrip the whispering sybils, expanding up and away towards the autopista with decent access roads beyond what used to be the outer limits where that old white-lettered daub hugely said in English 'SPANISH GO HOME' which I liked and do rather miss. The other one, again in English, said 'VACATIONERS - YES : WORKERS - NO' but that one disappeared several months ago when a new office block went up.
Building development is quite amazing; most of us say "Well, it's European money, isn't it?" being aware that Spain hasn't got much money of its own and is still trying to shrug off the entail of civil war. At Cristimar where this observer sits in his pokey little office right on the edge of town he can see tall cranes swanning about. Worse, wagon loads of builders' sand are coming in our direction, for a complex is being built right behind Cristimar. And the ticklish recall of the old banana farmer who had a parking car for his wife and a business car for himself - and is alleged to have buried the deceased lady in a retaining wall - keeps our curiosity alive. Will the builders find her remains, we ask ourselves?
On the Avenida de Suecia are two excellent papeleria - well, book shops really, but the art stuff is great. I copped Jesse on the Avenida where there is now restricted one-way traffic. First a coffee, then I will offer to run her home. People talk better in an enclosed space or when a person is doing something for you, like cleaning your car, as I discovered whilst doing my student placement at Shawbury Approved School: something that belongs to the teaching staff forms an affective association, a tendency to react with feeling or emotion. Hard to think of a car as an emotional template. But it sure is when boys squabble over whose turn it is to clean it.
"He was alright till we got the bullet, you see, because he always assumed they didn't know where we lived. That bullet really scared him because he was worried about me left on my own if they came and killed him."
Bullets! Walther pistols; that geezer up Arona way who got nicked for doing target practice in his back garden... "What's all this?"
"He should have told you."
"Well, he didn't. First I've heard."
"What are you writing?"
"Please excuse. Helps me think."
No, I'm not mad and it's not compulsive behaviour. I don't do it all the time and I always feel a bit sneaky, like a reporter digging up a bit of dirt. Other people don't like it, I can often feel suspicion coming across in waves. So I just smile apologetically and tell them I tend to be forgetful and scribbling helps me think. Sometimes I forget to add the date which ruins the whole damn thing."
"Alan, You won't tell anyone!"
"I shall tell Lizzie."
Now she becomes very dignified. But she must take what I say as helpful, for how could I not tell Lizzie? We go back in time to the restaurant years, the famous cricket people who sat at her tables, how she tried to pull Dick up to a higher level. How he liked Rudyard Kipling - as I do on an equally low level; how in the old days the First Hussars got tanks, the Second got armoured cars - or was it the other way around? But eventually it was all tanks. Her father was infantry attached to the Sherwood Foresters because he knew the country and was at Kasserine Gap... "Please don't say anything to the police. Are your notes going in the Island Gazette?"
"No Jesse, not a word. When did he get this bullet?"
Figging spot up Escalona way, bus stops outside abandoned finca D went in to get figs saw four men get out of car, didn't take any notice but only three came back so he copped a good look and they saw him looking, one of them spoke - D just went on figging, said it was a gangland execution, like that man found dead in his car two months ago (a bit iffy that - police didn't report murder) and they're still looking for the big one, J. reckons it's been buried up San Isisdro way, they never made the road up to Granadilla, it's all dirt and illegal building, there's that bodega near the main road, all the mobs get in there - says J. D was okay until that bullet came through the post about 6 wks ago. So somebody stalked him, 'poor old lad didn't mean any harm, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Reckons he'll just disappear like Dolly disappeared' (ask Fred about Dolly) He's worried about leaving the house now!!!
Discuss Future action?
Jesse reckons about six weeks ago. Obviously it was a warning to keep his mouth shut, otherwise they would have silenced him by now. Who else knows about this? Harold. Claudia and self - must fill Lizzie in. No answer from the letter I sent to son and daughter, much watered down from the pointed comments first envisaged, but no reply as yet. Strange! She wants Ronnie to come with Linda, it's been such a long time. Just a sad shake of the head, she and Dick are old and forgotten. She looks out of the window on her side but I can see her reflection, stooped, hands clutched together. I thought there might be some comment about the dead infant, but even that sad event had been completely overtaken by a bullet through the post. At El Paso she excuses herself for not inviting me in. People around must be aware, they nod and smile, maintaining El Paso's civilised reluctance to intervene, for intervention is for nosey parkers and we all know that Dick will be quite alright if the matter is allowed to settle!
I type it out as writ and hand it to Lizzie. "What do you reckon, Mouse?"
"Gosh! We've got the gangs onto poor innocent pensioners, better talk with Harold and Claudia. We must do a Harold thing - apply cold reason, which is the mother of common sense. If we can't do positive good then we must do something which creates the least possible harm."
"Out of harm's way! Well said, my Petal. That's probably why he prefers to remain indoors. Poor old Dick needs an escape tunnel. He really is scared. Let's call a meeting."
Jesse is all for it. Dick prefers not to draw attention to his perilous situation. "They know where I live for Christ's sake!" But he agrees reluctantly to a meeting at Cristimar.
"Talking of tunnels, did you read about the French and English meeting beneath the Channel? The French had champagne, the English had mineral water."
"That should please Peter! Heard from Shirley recently?"
"Peter's sight hasn't improved. It's macular or something, but it hasn't got any worse. Tell you something my man, Claudia came up with something I hadn't thought of; it was about the Uffingtons leaving almost in secrecy. Shirley was telling her about the caste system in India, how awful it is, not so much in cities but in the country where you get children being burnt alive because the parents married into the wrong caste, men and women are killed by members of their community for marrying out of caste. And the police are not informed and wouldn't intervene anyway. In some cases parents kill their children in the name of honour. I'm only saying this because the poor kid you discovered may have been an honour killing, and there some Indian traders out here and we don't want some spy working for a caste court who'll pull Shirley, for who's to know how their tribal minds work?"
Once assembled, Chairman Harold takes a judicial position, gin and tonic by his hand.
"Can you describe those men. Can you describe the one who spoke to you?"
"The little one was a Geordie, wore an American cap with a long peak, the other one was completely bald, the really big one had a a bit of a beard."
"Long, short, what sort of beard?"
"Like very short, dark, bristly"
"Very good, Dick. Now put them of your mind. If you give a description to the police you'll be sunk."
"Do you recognize the place exactly?"
"Yeah, of course. Been figgin' there for years."
"Well you don't fig there any more, Dick. Keep well away."
"Like Dolly Trotter, she's well away."
"Well, her husband may either be discharged or on temporary license."
"He's come looking for her."
"Let's hope those three goons don't come looking for you, Dick. Tell me, what made you suspect it was an execution?"
"I heard the bang."
"Could have been a hunter."
"I was in tanks, Harold. You can't swing a fuckin' - sorry Lizzie - bloody rifle around in a tank. We were issued side arms. And I know a side arm when I hear it. I just pretended I didn't."
"You were bloody lucky, Dick. They could have banged you off dead easy."
"Well right. He was carrying a leather bag - the one who spoke."
"What sort of bag?"
"Stiff. Big enough to hold a side arm and a few rounds."
"Okay, so what did he say?"
"'Good 'ere innit.'"
"How did you know he was a Geordie?"
"My sergeant was a Geordie."
"How long between their first appearance and reappearance?"
"About half an hour - and that's all I know. Don't know how they followed me. Didn't see them."
Tapping his feet Dick is close to falling into panic. Jesse's presence saved him. "C'mon lad, they're only trying to scare you."
"What happened to Dolly Trotter?"
"Don't know, Dick. Maybe moved to a place of safety."
"Who's looking after her dogs?" enquires Jesse.
We must do something about Dolly's dogs. There's Manfred and Basy who live close by. Must confer.
We have tea, with Lizzie's Bakewell tart, then I take them home, returning swiftly for a case conference. The principal characters should be present but we felt that Dick was at the end of his bit of string and his absence might be stronger than his presence.
Harold reports a call from ex-colleagues in the Magistrates Association about updating the existing treaty for extradition with Spain which is too complex to be taken seriously by the criminal fraternity; simplifying the legal process also means that our criminals can be arrested out here, it also means that old scores will soon be settled. One of those goons who spoke to Dick as he went by said 'Good 'ere, innit!' Well, it may not be 'Good 'ere innit!' for very much longer!
"May I see your notes, Alan? The typed version, for nobody can read your bloody writing!"
I hand up my notes via the clerk of the court - Claudia - to Harold. Okay, we're playing a game here, trying to keep it light.
"Silence in court!" Harold clears his throat for a judgment, polishes off his gin and tonic. "As I see it, Dick has not escaped. He's been left as a non-threat but, in the event of revised extradition procedure, that situation may change and the mob may decide not to take the risk and get rid of him. He may disappear like Dorothy Trotter has disappeared and we should make plans for getting him and Jesse out of here. Let's have a few suggestions?"
Sharpened by a chilling recollection of The Metropolitan Police Juvenile Bureau who attended some of our case conferences on delinquent children: I remember one elderly sergeant saying, "You know, the mobs use Epping Forest for quiet burials. If we dug it up we'd find hundreds of bodies wanted for questioning." And Lori in one of his brief moments of nostalgia spoke about Josef and his father hiding up in the mountains and seeing combatants from both sides in the civil war using abandoned fincas as burial sites, and Basy saying, in Bernardo's sketchy translation, "we are surrounded by ghosts in this wicked land..." Yes, I'd forgotten that. Suggestions, right. Keep it within the group, appeal for help outside, the Lions or the British Club and we've lost it. Okay, let's think about it...
"Curious, has anybody seen Ted and Fred recently?"
"I saw them in Nuri two weeks ago. I kept out of the way."
"Claudia, what on earth are our two villains doing in a furniture shop?"
"Buying furniture, maybe!"
Silly, but it's hard to think of our two hitmen having a home life. But it couldn't have been Ted and Fred... I mean, it couldn't, could it? Their austere politeness somehow doesn't figure with the executioner role. And Fred's bright smile that occasionally cuts across his straight face has the same musical note as the smile of a saint... I mean, doesn't it?
"Why not?" suggests Claudia. "They are professional hit men. I was thinking about what Nietzsche said about a villain and a saint being two pretty similar creatures."
Thinking of the crime that lurks behind some bright new holiday properties, one might be excused for thinking that Tenerife is liberally sprinkled with hitmen. And thinking of Dolly, a gentle and kindly soul, well into middle age yet her speed and stamina on the court is little short of amazing. According to Manfred her bowls are still out. But she never leaves her bowls out. The dogs must know something is wrong.
Just sketching my impression of an abandoned finca I put two villains in, then startled to see I have made them look like Ted Bear and Fred Bear. They are looking at me with cold incalculable stares. I erase them, replacing them with two new figures. Ted was completely head shaven which fits Dick's description.
"We need to get Ronnie out here sharpish."
"There are cheap flights after Christmas. Kids back at school... Pickfords for their furniture. Anything they don't want can go to Roy's secondhand furniture store. We could phone our owners, put them in one of ours. We'll pay."
"But what if - I mean a really worst-case situation - what if Ronnie's lot are not really bothered? And what if he's out of work? Back home we've got bankruptcy, unemployment and property repossessions right left and centre, and maybe they just can't make it out here!"
"Tell you what, darling man - I'll write to Linda, tell her how much Grandma Jesse speaks about her."
"Hope you have better luck than I had."
"My Prince, the way you write would scare anybody!"