Wednesday, 25 June 2008
‘Are you sure that Fliss doesn’t mind me staying’
‘Frank will you stop worrying. I’ve told you a hundred times, Mum is only happy when she has a house full of people to fuss over.’
‘Well it’s very kind of her, especially with your sister and the children here as well.’
Ella smiled, it was lovely to see Frank so relaxed and happy. She was thrilled when Fliss had suggested that Frank might like to come back to villa with them after the conference had finished. This was just what he needed she thought, a couple of days walking in the sunshine, eating Mum’s home cooking and being surrounded by her lovely family.
‘What are you smiling at?’ Asked Frank
‘Nothing’ she laughed, ‘I’m just happy. Mum and I had a great holiday and I really enjoyed meeting up with you in Madrid for the conference and this is the icing on the cake, a weekend of being spoilt.’
‘I can understand now why you love coming over here so often. Your parents have a wonderful home and this scenery is gorgeous.’
‘Just wait ‘till we get down to the village you’ll love it. I don’t think it’s changed much in the past hundred years. The buildings are made from a beautiful red stone that seems to glow at sunset and I love all the fabulous smells you get walking around, fresh bread from the bakery, the herbs on the market stalls and of course the fabulous aroma of baked lamb from Maria’s, believe me Frank, Maria husband’s cooking is to die for.’
‘Aren’t you tempted to up sticks and live out here like Sophie has done?’
‘On days like this when the most taxing thing I have to do is stroll down to the market and buy the salad for dinner tonight, yes I’m tempted. But then when I’m back in my flat and getting my bag ready for work the next day I wonder how I could ever think of leaving my job. Does that make sense?’ Asked Ella
‘’Yes it makes perfect sense. You are a dedicated professional woman doing a job that is vital and if I may say, doing it really well. You are very highly thought of you know. Not only with the people you help but I’ve heard nothing but praise for you from your colleagues’
‘Oh stop it Frank, you’ll have me blushing. I’m just part of a small team with too much work and not enough resources but we try our best.’
Frank stopped walking and turned to hold Ella’s hand. ‘You do more than that Ella, you give the people you help hope and not many people can do that. Some of these men haven’t spoken to someone who cares like you do for years and in some cases never at all. Don’t underestimate the effect you have on some of these people.’
Ella looked down at her hands nestling in Frank’s. His long thin fingers were curled around hers, holding her with a tenderness that she hadn’t felt from a man in a very long time. She slowly curled her fingers to return Frank’s grasp and sighed deeply ‘I love my job Frank, you know that but there should be more for me than just work. It’s different for you, you have your faith and your parish duties but when I close the door when I get home of a night there’s only me, and I get lonely sometimes.’
Dropping Ella’s hands Frank reached across and ran a finger across Ella’s blushing cheek ‘I hadn’t realised Ella, you always seem so happy and in control.’
Ella laughed, ‘I’m sorry Frank, I am happy, most of the time, I don’t know what came over me I don’t usually get so maudlin.’
‘Don’t be silly, you’re not being maudlin, you’re just being honest. Does Fliss realise how you feel?’
‘Good heavens no, and you mustn’t tell her, she has enough problems of her without me adding to them. Come on Frank the day is too nice to spoil with all this nonsense, let’s get the shopping done and treat ourselves to lunch at Maria’s. I want you to sample some of Carlo’s cooking. You look like you need fattening up.’ And with a playful shove on the young priest’s back Ella ran off down the hill.
Ella was still giggling as she ran around the corner and nearly bumped into Paolo who was loading his tools into the back of his pick-up truck.
‘Ella, what a lovely surprise, I didn’t know that you were back. Did you have a good journey with Fliss?’
‘Oh Paolo it was fabulous, we had a wonderful time and as you can see I was very careful and didn’t get burnt.’
As Fr Frank came jogging around the corner then stopped suddenly when he saw the tall handsome stranger with his hand on Ella’s sun tanned arm.
‘Ola padre’ said Paolo hurriedly putting his hands in his pockets.
‘Paolo this is a friend of mine, Father Frank this is Paolo he has the farm next to the villa.
‘Ola Paolo, you are very lucky to live in such a beautiful place.’
‘Thank you Father, it’s hard work of course but I am very lucky to have such beautiful neighbours. Are you showing the Father our beautiful countryside?’ He said smiling at Ella’s blushes.
‘We’re off to the market then I promised the Father that I would take him to Maria’s for lunch.’
‘You will have a lovely meal Father. Maria has the finest restaurant in the village.’
‘Thank you yes Ella has been telling me how special the food is.’ Frank stammered.
As they walked off down the hill Ella’s mind was whirling. How could this be happening, one minute she was standing holding Frank’s hand, feeling her body tingle as his fingers softly gripped hers and when those gentle fingers touched her hot cheek she had to stop herself from kissing his sweet moist lips. This man is a priest, her head was shouting, he’s just being kind and sweet the way he is with everyone. But her heart, dear god her aching heart was longing to feel his lips on hers. Life would be so much easier if she could feel this way about Paolo. There would be no heartbreak she thought, only a passion that was an unspoken promise in his deep dark eyes.
Frank was silent as he walked next to Ella, his mind too was whirling with an emotion that he thought he would never have to confront. He prayed silently to God to help him resist what his heart was longing for. To hold this beautiful, perfect creature in his arms and breathing in the heady aroma of her warm sun kissed skin whisper to her how much he wanted her.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
This has been a fabulous trip, I just love this country. It’s such a shame that the majority of foreign tourists only go to the costas because there is so much more to Spain than just the beautiful beaches.
I absolutely loved the drive through the mountains. The scenery was breathtaking and then finding places like the wonderful castle at Almansa was so special. Every day there were new sights to see. Like wandering through the steep narrow streets in Alcala del Jucar and spotting the spectacular views of the steep gorge far below the city. One of my favourite towns was Belmont, which has a special quiet beauty on the famous Don Quijote trail. But if I really had to choose the most interesting place we’ve been to so far, it would have to be Toledo. It is absolutely magical.
When we were in Toledo I started chatting to a young Dutch couple who are trying to visit as many cities that have been awarded Capital of Culture as they can. They were so cute, they are travelling around in a battered VW camper van and look like they could do with a good meal but that hasn’t stopped them getting about. They started their journey earlier this year in Liverpool so they could enjoy the start of the 08 celebrations before heading north up to Glasgow. Then it was back across the channel and down France to Lille, then across to Porto. And now they are in Spain and have been to Salamanca.
I would love to see Salamanca even if it does sound like a character from a James Bond movie. Apparently has been designated a world heritage site and has the oldest University in Europe. I must admit I hadn’t realised that Spain has the second most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world, but I think that I’ll have to leave visiting them for another trip, we’ve here in Madrid for another two days and then we’ll have to start making our way home. Martin is due home next weekend and Ella will have to get back to London for work next week but if I’m honest I would love to find myself a battered old campervan and take to the road.
Ella laughs at my daydreams of spending the summer driving around from one site to another without a care in world. She keeps asking if I’m having a mid-life crisis, cheeky bugger, I just long for the freedom to go where I want when I want without having to worry about anyone or anything. I’m probably turning into an old hippy, well a girl can dream can’t she?
I don’t know, maybe I’m getting a bit old for roughing it on campsites. Ella has really done a marvellous job of organising this holiday and I’ve been spoilt staying in some lovely hotels. Bless her, she even managed to book us into a parador, I have always wanted to stay in one and this was just wonderful.
It was a castle the Virrey de Toledo. I felt like a princess but even the little country pensions we stopped over in were lovely. The swankiest place we have stayed in so far has to be this hotel in Madrid. It’s right in the middle of the city and has a garden terrace and joy of joys, a pool. Can you believe it, an hotel with a pool right in the heart of the city. I had a long cooling dip in it after lunch today, absolute bliss.
Ella and Fr Frank have gone to another lecture this afternoon. I had enough this morning. Don’t get me wrong it was very interesting but a lot of it went right over my head. It isn’t as if I don’t have sympathy for the homeless and I have so much admiration for the work that Ella and Fr Frank do in London but I couldn’t take another three hours of sitting in a dark lecture without dropping off. Does that make me a bad person? Probably but what the hell, the sun’s shining, the shops are open and I’ve got a credit card burning a hole in my purse so I’m off to make a dent in the overdraft and look for a nice picture for the villa as a souvenir of the holiday.
I’m not sure what time Ella is due back but I’ve arranged to meet them both in the hotel restaurant at nine o’clock. Ella was right by the way, Fr Frank is a lovely chap but what she didn’t tell me was how young he is. There was I expecting a middle aged priest in a flowing black gown and in walked a handsome young chap in a black suite. If it hadn’t have been for the dog collar I would have thought he was a young City banker. I do wish she’d warned me, I must have looked a right fool standing there with my mouth open!
I wish I knew what I should call him, Ella just calls him Frank but I don’t want him to think that I’m being disrespectful. It does seem mad though, calling someone young enough to be my son, Father. Not that I’ve seen much of them. They have been spending a lot of time at the conference centre, that’s why I suggested that we could all meet for supper this evening. He has arranged a full day of site seeing around Madrid for us tomorrow and I didn’t fancy spending so much time with someone I barely knew. So this evening will be a good opportunity for me to get to know him a bit better.
It’s funny when you see him Ella together. They get on like an old married couple. They have so much in common, their jobs at the homeless hostel, their love of travelling and even their taste in music. It’s strange to think that they can never be a proper couple and I must admit I’ve wondered if the circumstances were different if they would be together. Oh well I suppose we’ll never know, he’s a priest and that’s that. At least they seem to have a wonderful friendship and that’s more than some people get in a lifetime together.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
Frankie reached across to the empty passenger seat and picked a new CD from the bag, that’s more like it, he thought, a good blast of Rod Stewart to help the journey go quicker. To the sounds of Maggie May blaring from the speakers Frankie wound down the window of his van and lit a cigarette.
For Frankie life didn’t get any better than this, in this monthly trip he was making more money than he had for years. It wasn’t only what his sister Lizzie was paying him to bring her stock down from London, though he had to admit that she was probably paying him over the odds for the trip, no it was the nice little sideline he had going for the return trip. It hadn’t taken Frankie long to realise that driving back to the UK with an empty van didn’t make sense. Not when he could load the van with cheap Spanish booze and cigarettes to sell at a handsome profit back in Essex.
This sideline in contraband had started innocently enough with a few cases of beer for a mate’s party but had soon escalated to the point now where he was supplying a number of clubs around his home town with wine and spirits at far less than they could buy legitimately. And even the smoking ban hadn’t dented his trade in smuggled cigarettes around the local car boot sales. No, Frankie was a happy man, he had money in his pocket and as long as Lizzie wasn’t serious about getting Ken to find a new supplier he was content to carry on doing the run for as long as he could.
He was getting more careful with his route now though. No sense in getting Customs suspicious, his paperwork was all in order for the outward journey but he had seen too many vans being stopped on the homeward ferries to get complacent. So now he was varying his route across the channel and there were enough ports in France to ensure that he wasn’t spotted as a regular traveller by some over enthusiastic Customs Officer. Tapping his hands on the steering wheel to the strains of Maggie May Frankie smiled to himself, it wasn’t for nothing that his mates had started calling him Frankie the Fox, it took cunning to outwit the authorities and with his luck Frankie was confident that with only another couple of trips he would be able afford that nice little motor he had his eye on. Foxy by name he thought, Foxy by nature.
As he approached the village Frankie used his mobile to phone Ken, ‘Kenny on my way in, do you want this stuff at the shop or in the garage?’
‘Bring round to the villa, Lizzie wants it loading in the garage so that she can get it unpacked before we take down to the shop.’
‘OK mate, no problem I should be with you in about 10 minutes. Get the beer out the fridge I’m on my way.’
Ken was unlocking the garage as Frankie pulled up in his white van and handing him the cold bottle of beer Ken started the laborious business of unloading the new stock from the back of the van.
‘I’ll bet you’ll be glad to see the back of this lot’ said Ken as he stacked the last box in the garage.
‘Nah’ said Frankie settling himself on a sun lounger ‘now I’ve got a proper lock on the van doors I’m not worried. Bit hairy for the first few runs though. Never really felt safe having a kip in the service areas on the motorways knowing that any bastard might come along and rob me blind while I slept. But it would take more than a set of bolt cutters to get this lock of now.’ He laughed.
‘Well you won’t have to worry about that for much longer. Lizzie thinks that she has found a new supplier for her stuff. Apparently the Chinese firm she has been getting her stuff from use an importer in Gibraltar so she has got me looking for a local delivery firm to bring the stuff up from there.’
Frankie knocked over the sun lounger as he stood up quickly ‘What are you talking about new supplier; I thought I told you that I would carry on bringing the stuff over.’
‘Calm down mate’ said Ken backing away
‘Never mind calm down’ roared Frankie ‘I told Lizzie last time that I need this job to get my stuff back to the UK’
‘I’m sorry mate but we’re not running this business just so you can play at being a smuggler.’
‘You stupid old man, this isn’t a game. I’m supplying some very hard men back home and they aren’t going to take kindly to finding out that their supply of cheap booze is going to dry up.’
‘I’m sorry Frankie but that isn’t our problem. Don’t you realise that you have been pushing your luck carrying so much stuff back. It’s only a matter of time before Customs find out what you’re up to.’
Frankie lurched forward and grabbed ken around the neck ‘Is that a threat old man?’
Using all his strength Ken pulled Frankie’s hands away ‘No you mad bastard, it’s a warning. You’ve been luck so far but it can’t last for ever. You’re defrauding the tax man and they aren’t stupid. It won’t be long before they’ll get on to you. Too many people know what you’re up to and all you have to do is upset one of them and they’ll shop you.’
‘Don’t you worry about me. I know what I’m doing.’
‘That’s the problem Frankie, you don’t. Don’t you realise that if you are caught it’s not only you that’ll be going down for this? If Customs find you with the stuff they are going to ask themselves why you’re making all these trips and it won’t take them long to put two and two together and make five. Then they’ll start looking at me and Lizzie and think that we are part of this racket. It’s not just you that could be looking at a stretch for this. No Frankie, this is it, it’s over. And you’ll just have to get over it.’
‘We’ll see about that old man. Don’t think that this is the end of it.’ Said Frankie
Ken was shaking as he watched his brother-in-law climb into the van and slam it into gear before screeching off through the gates of Los Vista trailing a cloud of dust behind him.
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
‘Good morning darling. Do you want some juice?’ Asked Malcolm, as he finished laying out the table for breakfast.
‘Not this morning, I think I’ll just have coffee. I had a terrible night, weird dreams, must have been all that cheese we had after dinner.’
‘Didn’t get to me. I slept like a baby.’ Said Malcolm as he helped himself to a large bowl of muesli ‘Do you want me to make you a fresh pot?’
‘No you start, I’ll make the coffee. Aren’t you going to the club this morning?’
‘Yes, I’ve arranged to meet Ken at the first tee at eight o’clock. What have you got on today?’
‘I promised Sally at the donkey sanctuary that I would go through the books for her. They have to get this year’s figures to the accountants by the end of the month and nobody has had the time to go through them yet.’
‘Well that should keep you busy for a few hours. Would you like to come up to the club house for a spot of lunch later? It might make a nice break from all that book keeping.’
‘I don’t know if I’ll have time. Let me se how I get on with the accounts. What time do you think you’ll back at the club house?’
‘Not sure, probably about one o’clock.’
‘Well if I’m finished I’ll meet you there otherwise I’ll see you back here this afternoon.’
‘Don’t work too hard’ called Malcolm as he picked up his golf bag and turned the key to open up the patio doors. ‘That’s funny they were already open, have you been out this morning?’
‘No darling I haven’t been awake long, we must have forgotten to lock the doors last night.’
‘Strange, it’s usually the last thing I do before I go up to bed. Oh well lucky we have the all night security patrols, back home we would have been robbed in our beds. Even so we’d better be more careful in future; you never know who’s watching you these days.’
‘Yes dear, you’re right, after all look what happened to poor Sonny’
‘Exactly. Well I’ll have to shoot off now or I’ll be late for Ken. Bye Darling see you later’
‘Bye, have a good game.’
Gloria yawned and rubbed her eyes as she put down her pen. Walking into the kitchen she realised with a start that she had worked through lunch and it was now three o’clock. Well, she thought, with the size of her waistline, missing lunch for one day wouldn’t hurt but right now what she really needed was a strong cup of coffee. Carrying her cup out onto the patio Gloria moved her sun lounger into the shade.
‘What’s that?’ she said as the wheels of the lounger skidded to a halt. Bending down she noticed a small rectangle of clear plastic caught under the front wheel. ‘It must have fallen out of Malcolm’s wallet.’ She said to herself, putting the plastic in her pocket. Lifting the hot coffee to her lips Gloria looked across the gardens towards the communal pool. It wouldn’t be long now before the pool was filled with families making the most of the long school holidays. Gloria looked forward to seeing Los Vista busy with children running about having fun. A lot of the full time residents resented the yearly invasion but Gloria loved to see the families returning year after year and seeing how the children had grown.
When they were first married Malcolm, fresh out of teacher training college, had longed for a family. Over the years he resigned himself that it wasn’t meant to be and poured all his energy into his job. In those days, Gloria thought, being childless was just one of those things you had to get on with. But it didn’t stop hurting, no matter how old you were.
The ringing of the telephone snapped Gloria out of her day dreaming and hurrying indoors she picked up the receiver
Gloria waited for the caller to speak, ‘Olla, is anyone there?’
Straining Gloria could faintly hear someone breathing ‘Hello, who is?’
Feeling more and more anxious Gloria shouted down the phone ‘who is this, what do you want?’ Suddenly the line went dead and Gloria looked down at her trembling hands.
At the public call box in the village Ollie put down the receiver and cursed himself. Why couldn’t he speak, why couldn’t he tell her that he knew her secret, what was he frightened of. After all these years of searching he had finally found her and now when he had the chance to talk to her why was he standing here crying like a baby?
‘Cassy do you know where Ollie is, I wanted to ask him to shift some stuff down to the house’
‘He said he had to go down to the village.’
‘What’s he gone there for?’ Asked Liam. ‘There’s nothing open at this time of day. Everything is closed till four o’clock.’
‘I don’t know, I didn’t ask but he did say that he’ll be back before the workmen finish their siesta.’
‘Do you think he’s got a girlfriend down there?’
‘Liam, how should I know, I’m not his keeper.’
‘No my little sweetie but you are just about the nosiest person in the world and nothing usually gets past you.’ Laughed Liam
‘That’s not fair. I am not nosy.’ Said Cassy indignantly ‘I just take an interest in what’s going on around me.’
‘Take an interest’ laughed Liam ‘your interrogation techniques are legendary. Do you know your Mum told me once that if she ever wanted to know what your Dad had been up to all she had to do what set you on him? The poor man never stood a chance of keeping a secret from you.’
‘Can I help it if people trust me?’ Said Cassy
‘So what have you found out about Ollie, does he have a pretty little girl crying herself to sleep over him?’
‘I don’t know what he get’s up to. It’s not as if he’s rude or standoffish, quite the opposite he’s a lovely boy, but it’s strange, anytime I’ve ever asked him anything I come away feeling that I know less than I did before I asked.’
‘I know just what you mean, I asked him the other day about his degree but by the time we’d finished talking I realised that I had told him all about my time at Uni and still hadn’t found out even which one he had gone to.’
‘Do you think he is doing it deliberately?’
‘The more I think about our young friend the more I think that he is hiding something. ‘said Liam ‘and it’s beginning to worry me.
Thursday, 12 June 2008
Ollie toweled himself dry and hurriedly put on his last clean t-shirt and shorts before leaving the nearly finished holiday apartment. The past few weeks living in his camper van at Liam and Cassy’s farm had been an unexpected bonus for him. Access to a hot shower and Cassy’s cooking had restored the energy he had lost on his long drive south.
Travelling down from Kent in his battered camper van had seemed a romantic way to get down to southern Spain as cheaply as possible. He knew from friends that he would be able to supplement his rather meager funds by finding work on farms and vineyards along the way. But what nobody had warned him was quite how lonely you can get when all you have to look forward to at the end of the day was a few hours sleep snatched at the edge of the road with only a pan of boiled rice for supper. But three weeks of labouring and three square meals a day meant that Ollie was probably fitter now than had ever been.
After nearly six months since leaving home he knew that the end of his personal journey was in sight and that all the hardships would be worth it if he didn’t fail at this last hurdle. It wouldn’t be long now before he would be able to do what he had come all this way for. His friends thought that he had been mad to spend so much of his spare time at University gathering the information he need for this to work. The hardest past was keeping it all from his parents but he knew that if his Dad even had an inkling of what he was planning it could have caused a terrible rift between them. But Ollie knew that what ever his Dad might say what he was doing was the right thing. Not just for him but for all of them. All he had to do now was keep his nerve and hope that he could rely on Liam and Cassy’s hospitality for just a few more weeks. He needed to be close to the Los Vista for a little while longer.
‘You’re looking very smart, off out this evening?’ asked Liam as he handed Ollie his wages in crisp new euros.
‘Just going into the village for a couple of beers’ answered Ollie running his fingers through his wet hair. ‘I said I would meet a few of the boys after supper.’
‘Well don’t spend all your wages on drink’ laughed Liam.
‘No chance of that I’m saving as much as I can to fund the rest of my travelling.’
‘’You’re not planning on leaving us just yet are you. There’s still a good couple of months work here if you want it.’
‘That’d be great’ said Ollie ‘I’m in no hurry, as long as I’m not getting in your way.’
‘I don’t know what we’d have done without you these past few weeks. Cassy was only telling Sophie the other day that she is already thinking of as one of the family.’
‘You’ve both been very kind and I really appreciate you letting me stay here.’
‘As long as it’s not too quiet for you here, not exactly the costas is it.’
‘No’ laughed Ollie ‘but it’s exactly where I want to be right now.’
Liam watched as Ollie strode off down the hill to the village. What a strange thing to say, he thought and wondered to himself what Ollie was really doing here and was there more to their new friend than met the eye?
It was nearly midnight before Ollie left his friends in the bar. All evening he had been looking at his watch waiting for it to get dark so that he could make his excuses and leave. He had to work with these guys all day and didn’t want them to think that he was being rude by leaving too early. The trouble was that in Spain a lot of young men wouldn’t dream of going out until they had finished supper with their family and that could be any time after ten or even eleven o’clock at night. Ollie’s body clock after three years at University was used to late nights, but hard physical work rather than sitting in a lecture hall all day meant that by midnight he was usually ready for his bed. Tonight though, he needed to be alert. If what he had learnt in the village this week was correct then his quest was nearly complete but he needed to be absolutely sure before he could carry on. Tonight he had to make sure he was right.
Keeping to the edge of the road out of site from any cars that might pass, Ollie made his way up the hill out of the village. In the distance he could see the lights of Los Vista glowing in the darkness. If he was careful, he knew that he could climb over the wall of the golf club without being spotted. For the past three nights Ollie had been watching the security men arriving at the complex. He knew that that they locked the main gates at midnight and only the residents' swipe cards could open them until the morning. Checking the time again Ollie knew that he had about 30 minutes until the next security patrol was due, so he had to be quick.
Running between the villas, Ollie made his way carefully to the Westbury’s. Just as he thought, all the lights were off and everything was quiet. Using a thin piece of plastic to force the lock, Ollie quickly opened up the large patio doors. Switching on his low voltage torch he slipped into the villa. There must be something here, he thought, rummaging through the papers in the hall bureau, finding nothing he turned and spotted Gloria’s large handbag on the floor next to her arm chair.
Nervously he searched through the coins and tissues until right at the bottom of the bag buried deep in the lining Ollie felt a metal chain. Carefully he made a small slit in the seam of the thin silk lining and found a silver locket. Holding his breath he carefully opened the stiff catch to reveal a tiny picture of a new borne baby. Through the tears welling in his eyes he quickly put the locket in his pocket and returned the bag back to its place beside the chair. Closing the patio doors quietly behind him Ollie ran back to the wall as quickly as he could.
Safely back n the campervan Ollie suddenly felt dizzy and realised that he was still holding his breath.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
While Clara finished laying the table Michael opened the bottle of wine that had been cooling in the fridge. Going to Michael’s house for lunch had become a regular weekly event for Clara since Sonny’s death. She knew that she was taking a chance that Michael might recognise her after all these years but she was still convinced that Michael wasn’t telling the police the whole truth about Sonny’s murder.
It wasn’t as if there was anything specifically that she could base the suspicions on, merely a feeling that all was not quite as it seemed. Why for instance was Michael acting as if Sonny hadn’t been such a big part of his life? There were no pictures of him around the house and Michael never brought him up in the conversation. She knew that everybody reacted to grief differently but even so Michael’s reaction was unusual to say the least. Surely after so many years together Michael would want to talk about his lover if only to remember the good times that they shared together. No, something wasn’t right here and Clara was determined to get to the bottom of it.
She had to admit though that he was a very good cook and an excellent host. Every week, without fail, he would meet up with her to go shopping in the market and then after helping her carry her groceries home he would drive her over to his house for lunch. Most times he would offer to drive her home again after they had eaten but Clara enjoyed the walk back across the valley to the village and all the regular excise was keeping her fit.
If only she could reassure herself that Michael really didn’t have anything to hide she knew that she would be quite happy to carry on with this rather unexpected friendship.
‘Tuck in Clara before it get’s cold’ said Michael putting the food on the table ‘I remembered you saying how much you liked white asparagus and I managed to get some this morning specially.’
‘It looks absolutely delicious but you shouldn’t go to all this trouble for me.’ Said Clara, helping herself from the steaming dishes of perfectly cooked vegetables.
‘It’s no trouble I enjoy cooking.’
‘And I enjoy eating, so we complement each other perfectly’ laughed Clara ‘Did Sonny have a good appetite? I suppose in his profession he had to watch his weight’
‘Oh Sonny loved to eat and he was one of those lucky people who could eat anything any never put on an ounce.’ Michael said wistfully.
Clara looked at Michael sitting with his head bowed and immediately felt guilty for prying ‘I’m sorry Michael I didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘No it’s me who should be sorry but I still can’t talk about Sonny. Does that sound heartless? I don’t mean it to; it’s just that it’s all too painful still. It hurts too much to remember.’ He added enigmatically.
Changing the subject quickly to avoid any further awkwardness she asked Michael if he was still thinking about joining the golf club. He had mentioned that he was considering it, much to Clara’s amusement.
‘I’m still not sure’ said Michael who looked relieved that the conversation had moved on ‘I quite fancy the exercise but I’m not sure if I would fit in with the crowd down there.’
‘I think as long as you don’t get involved with Ken Jessel’s set you should be OK. From what I hear they spend far too much time in the bar and not enough on the course.’ Said Clara primly
‘Do you play?’ asked Michael
‘Good heavens, no dear. Not my kind of thing at all. If I want to go for a walk I don’t have to hit a ball around to do it.’
‘Clara, you are priceless’ laughed Michael, and they were both still laughing when the door bell rang. ‘Who can that be’ wondered Michael as he got up from the table ‘I’m not expecting anybody.’
Putting down her knife and fork Clara slipped away from the table and moved quietly over to the dining room door. In the hall way stood the police chief she has seen questioning people in the village after Sonny’s murder. Not wanting to be caught eaves dropping Clara stood back so that she could overhear without being spotted.
‘I’m sorry to disturb your lunch senor but I would like you to come down to headquarters with me. We have arrested a man that we believe was involved with the murder of your friend and we want to see if you recognise him in, how you say – a line-up?’
From her hiding place Clara could see Michael turn pale and she thought for a moment that he might faint.
‘I am sorry to distress you senor, would you like to ask somebody to accompany you?’
‘No’ said Michael hurriedly ‘but can I just tell my lunch guest where I’m going please?’
‘Of course Sr Angers. I will wait outside in my car for you.’
Clara quickly moved back to the table as Michael came into the room. ‘Is everything alright dear? You look quite shaken.’
‘It’s the police. They think that they might have found Sonny’s killer and they want me to go and try and identify him.’
‘Oh Michael you must be so relieved. Don’t worry about a thing here. I’ll clear up before I go. Unless you want me to wait here for you until you get back.’ She added
‘No don’t worry, you just get off home.’
‘Will you phone me dear?’ She asked ‘just so I know that you’re OK’
‘Yes of course, I’ll phone you tomorrow.’
Watching as Michael climbed into the back seat of the waiting police car, Clara closed the front door and made her way back to the dining room. What a shame they hadn’t managed to finish the delicious lunch, she thought. Clearing away the plates into the kitchen Clara dropped a fork and bending down to pick it up noticed a leather wallet under the coat stand in the hall. Thinking that Michael had dropped it in his haste, she opened it up only to realise that it wasn’t Michael’s at all. In her hands she was holding Sonny’s wallet. The same blood soaked wallet that Michael had told the police that the thief had snatched from Sonny’s dead body.
Putting the wallet back where she had found it Clara swiftly gathered up her belongings and left the house slamming the front door closed behind her.
Thursday, 5 June 2008
Sophie laughed as she watched the hunched figure of her sister struggling through the Arrivals Hall carrying a huge rucksack on her back.
‘What’s so funny? Ella grumbled, as she bent carefully to kiss her sister, without toppling over under the weight of her luggage.
‘You’ laughed Sophie ‘I’ve just spent the afternoon telling Mum that she won’t need to pack much for your holiday and look at you, you can barely walk under the weight of your bag. You must half of your wardrobe strapped to your back.’
‘Well it bloody feels like it.’ Moaned Ella ’I had a right panic trying to pack for this trip. I wasn’t sure if Mum would expect us to dress up of an evening or if she was planning on going to swanky restaurants while we are in Madrid. So in the end I just crammed in every dress I own.’
‘So I can see. Come on let’s get that rucksack loaded in the car and get you to the villa.’
‘Do you know what I’m really looking forward to? A long relaxing swim, then a large glass of something cold and alcoholic before sitting down to one of Mum’s famous family meals.’
‘I’m sure that can be arranged madam.’ laughed Sophie as she watched Ella struggling to lift her bag into the back of the estate car.
‘Excuse me senorita, can I help you?’
Ella turned and was surprised to see Paolo standing behind her.
‘Hi Paolo, that would be really kind, thank you, as long as I’m not stopping you catching your flight.’
‘No. I’m here to collect my Aunt, she’s been on holiday.’
‘Well luck for us she has’ said Sophie ‘or we’d never have lifted that bag into the car. I think my sister must be planning to take Mum away for two months rather than two weeks.’
‘You are going on holiday with Fliss?’ asked Paolo
‘Yes we are planning to drive up through the mountains and then head north to Madrid.’
‘But you do realise it will be very hot in Madrid at this time of year?’ warned Paolo ‘Madrid is much better to visit in October or November, when it is nearly winter and a lot cooler.’
‘’Oh we won’t have much time for site seeing on this trip. We are going there for a conference and hopefully that will be in a beautiful cool air conditioned hall.’ Ella laughed.
Paolo frowned as he looked Ella’s pale arms ‘Even so you must be very careful on your holiday. Fliss is used to our strong Spanish sun I think, but you are only used to English summers. The air in the mountains is very clean and it would be very easy for you to burn that beautiful English skin.’
Ella blushed as Paolo ran his finger across her pale arm. Glancing at his watch Paolo hurriedly said ‘I’m sorry but I must go. My Aunt’s plane is due to land very soon and I would not like to keep her waiting. It has been very nice to see you both again.’
Sophie stood biting her lip to stop herself from laughing as her sister blushed an even deeper shade of red and flustered as she said ‘Yes, it’s been lovely to see you too and thank you again for your help with my huge rucksack.’
‘You are most welcome’ smiled Paolo ‘ and I hope that we can meet again before you have to go back to England.’
‘I hope so too’ stuttered Ella as she watched him walk across the car park.
‘Ella!’ exploded Sophie in laughter ‘You are such a flirt’
‘Nonsense, I was just being friendly.’
‘Any friendlier and you would have had his trousers off.’
‘Sophie what a terrible thing to say, I’m shocked, I didn’t know you had such a dirty mind.’ Said Ella, as she burst into laughter.
‘Come on let’s get you to the villa before you get the chance to pick up any more strange men.’
‘You have to admit Sophie, Paolo is rather dishy.’
‘I can’t say I’ve ever noticed.’
‘Don’t lie. I’ve seen you looking at him when you think nobody is watching you.’
‘Well maybe just a quick glance when he’s working away on that farm of his.’
‘There’ laughed Ella ‘I knew it and you a happily married woman.’
‘Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean that you can’t look in the cake shop window.’
‘Oh Sophie, you are priceless, where do you get these sayings from?’
‘Mum probably. You’ll have to be careful or you’ll come back off your holiday sounding like her as well. Talking of Mum we’d better get a move on or she’ll be thinking that you’ve missed your plane.’
‘How is Mum?’ asked Ella as they were driving out from the city. ‘I mean is she really doing as well as she says to me or is she just trying to put a brave face on things to stop me worrying about her?’
‘It’s strange really. I’ve always thought that Mum was so dependent on Dad for everything. I suppose because she gave up her job to move out here and I wasn’t really sure what she did with herself all day. I thought that she was living her life in Dad’s shadow.’
‘And isn’t she?’ asked Ella
‘No she isn’t. I suppose I saw the real Mum after Dad had his heart attack. She was so organised and in control. She surprised me.’
‘I was only thinking the same thing the other day.’ agreed Ella, ‘I’ve always thought of Dad as the stronger of the two. He was so confident and successful and Mum seemed to be in his shadow somehow.’
‘Well not any more. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still the same Mum, loves cooking and playing with the girls but now she seems, I don’t know how to describe it, somehow more self assured. It’s as if she’s just realised that she’s still a beautiful woman with a lot of living ahead of her.’
‘Maybe it was the shock of dad’s illness.’ Speculated Ella
‘Or maybe’ said Sophie ‘it was the shock of realising that Dad had been planning to leave her. I don’t know Ella, but she acts now as if nothing would faze her and if you could hear the way that she talks to Dad sometimes, it is so funny, she says exactly what’s on her mind and bugger the consequences. It’s as if she’s saying to him, this is me and I’m not changing for anybody.’
‘Well good for her. It looks like this holiday has come just at the right time for her.’
‘You are going to have a fabulous time sis, just as long as you can find some good looking Spanish men to lug your rucksack around for you.’
With the sun roof open to catch the warm breeze Ella and Sophie giggled as they headed up to the villa and their waiting Mum.
Tuesday, 3 June 2008
I can’t believe I’m standing here in my bedroom looking at a pile of dresses strewn across the bed trying to decide what to pack for my holidays. It’s like being a teenager all over again. If I’m not careful I will pack so much stuff that I won’t be able to close my case.
I wonder what Ella is taking, probably just a small holdall if I know her. She’ll think I’m mad to even be worrying about what to take but I don’t want to embarrass her by looking too mumsy.
I’m really looking forward to this holiday with her. It will be lovely to get away from the villa for a couple of weeks. I don’t seem to have had anytime to myself for the past few months what with Martin’s illness and now Sophie and the girls moving in until their house is finished. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining but it will be nice to be away from everything for a while.
Martin is back working in London during the week now and only home for the weekends but he is being a lot more sensible about the traveling. He is only away for three nights a week rather than four and isn’t dashing off for the plane at some unearthly hour on a Monday morning anymore. I’m not sure how long all this will last before he starts slipping back into his old ways, or is that me just being mean?
‘Mum, what are you doing? You’ve got enough clothes out for two months never mind two weeks. I’m sure Ella won’t be worried about what you’re wearing.’ Says Sophie walking into my bedroom carrying a cup of coffee ‘here, I thought that you might need a caffeine hit.’
Thank you darling, I’m getting myself into such a muddle. Do you think that we’ll need to dress for dinner of an evening?’
Sophie stands by the bed laughing at my confusion ‘Do you really think that Ella will have booked hotels that have a dress code. Knowing her you’re more likely to have rooms in B&Bs and little road side inns. You’re probably best to pack lots of cool things for the traveling and a couple of pretty dresses just in case.’
‘You’re right, I’m just being silly, but this is exciting. It’s been ages since I’ve been on holiday. Dad isn’t that keen on going away anymore. He says that he has everything here with the sunshine and the golf and the beaches and I suppose he’s right in a way. After all they were the kind of holidays that we used to take after you girls had left home, golfing trips to the med, a nice hotel for me and a selection of good courses for him. The trouble is I think that I want a bit more than that now. I fancy traveling and site seeing again. Do you remember some of the trips we took when you and Ella were teenagers? Going to see the pyramids in Egypt, that wonderful Caribbean cruise and driving around Italy. We had some wonderful times together.’ I sigh wistfully
‘I remember being stuck in the back of the car with Ella having to listen to Enid Blyton tapes for hours on end while you and Dad argued about how to get out of Florence before the rush hour started.’ Laughed Sophie
‘Oh you rotten thing’ I laugh throwing a cushion at her ‘we had some really lovely holidays. I remember you falling I love with that young waiter in our hotel in Rome. You used to spend hours choosing what to eat so that you could stare at him over the menu. What was his name?’
‘Luigi, Isn’t it funny I’d forgotten all about him. Oh my, he was so handsome and I had such a crush on him.’
‘And didn’t he know it. He used to flirt outrageously with you. I thought that Dad was going to blow his top when he asked if he could take you dancing.’
‘And I was mortified when Dad came over all masterful and said in his most pompous voice ‘do you realise my daughter’s only thirteen’ I’ve never seen a boy move so fast.’ Laughed Sophie, the tears running down her face.
Standing here looking at Sophie I can’t believe the difference in her since she and Alistair decided to move out here to Spain. It’s like having my old daughter back again. She is so happy and relaxed, not at all like the stressed over-worked monster that was out here for her Dad’s birthday. She looks so pretty in her shorts and t-shirt, so carefree and young again. Is it just me or does every woman in a business suit age 10 years?
‘What are you day dreaming about now Mum?’
‘You, my love. You look so happy, I’m so glad you’re here’
‘I’m glad too Mum, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I know that I still don’t get to see Alistair as much as I’d like to but hopefully when he transfers to Madrid we’ll at least get to see him every weekend.’
‘And talking of Madrid I’d better get this packing finished before your sister arrives. Are you still OK to collect her from the airport?’
‘Yes it’s all arranged. I’m collecting the girls from school first then driving straight out to the airport. They are so excited about seeing their favourite Auntie again even if is only for one night.’
‘They’ll have plenty of time with her when we get back from our travels, she isn’t due back at work until the end of the month.’
‘I envy you Mum exploring the mountain villages and trips to Toledo and Madrid. You’re going to have such a good time even if you do have to go to that boring conference.’ Said Sophie
‘I think it sounds very interesting’ I say defensively ‘and I’m looking forward to meeting Ella’s friend.’
‘Father Frank? Do you know anything about him?’
‘Only that he’s young, in his first parish and is very committed to his parishioners’.’
Sounds a barrel of laughs’
‘Ella says that he’s really sweet and he’s looking forward to showing us around Madrid after the conference. I’m sure that we’ll have a lovely time I just don’t know what I should call him. I haven’t met that many priest before. Will I have to call him Father?’
Sophie looks at me and laughs ‘I think that you should stop worrying to learn to chill.’
She’s right of course, no more worrying, we’re all going to have a lovely time and I’m going to learn to chill.