Brian’s flight to Madrid from Los Angeles was running thirty minutes late which annoyed him. He only had an hour to change planes there for his Malaga flight which he didn’t think would be enough. He mentioned it to the stewardess who assured him he would be fast-tracked through Madrid airport and as the pilot was confident of making up lost time, he shouldn’t have a problem.
He sat back in his premium economy seat and ordered another red wine before his dinner was served, feeling a bit better. He flicked through the in-flight magazine and searched the entertainment guide to see if there were any films worth watching. It was a ten hour flight to Madrid followed by a two hour hop to Malaga where his son would be waiting.
Bradley was right to ask him how he felt about his ex-wife being there with her new boyfriend. He knew it would be hypocritical of him if he had been difficult about it, but it would be strange to see her in the arms of another. He was over her, but not by much. Still, he would have to put on a brave face and assure them that it wasn’t a problem. Carlos sounded like a decent bloke anyway. Good luck to him.
He settled down with another red wine and watched a film he hadn’t seen for years, before falling asleep. By the time he woke up they were coming in to land at Madrid and the pilot had kept his word. Not only had he made up the lost thirty minutes, but he had also shaved another thirty minutes off due to the Gulf Stream being particularly kind.
He gathered his bits together and prepared for landing. He liked Madrid having spent a lot of time there on business. It was a pity he didn’t have time to re-visit his old haunts this time.
On arrival at Barajas airport Madrid, an airport he knew well, he hurried through Immigration and transferred terminals for his Malaga flight which was also running late by an hour. He grabbed a large coffee to wake him up and some churros for breakfast while waiting at the gate. He texted Bradley and told him he had arrived in Madrid and his flight was delayed, which Bradley already knew as he had been keeping an eye on it.
When he finally made it to Malaga, Bradley was waiting for him. They were delighted to see each other; it had been a long time. Bradley noticed that his dad seemed much healthier than previously which pleased him. He had worried about the hedonistic lifestyle he was living when he worked in London and was glad the Californian way of life was being good to him.
They talked endlessly on the drive back to Mijas without mentioning Carlos and Martine. It was best that the subject didn’t get discussed as it would be the ‘elephant in the room’ without making it worse. So, the talk was mainly about football and Bradley’s exploits at Barcelona which Brian admitted he couldn’t keep up with as they didn’t show many La Liga games in the US. He had seen the Champions League games though and told Bradley how impressed he was with the way he had come on since joining them.
Brian asked Bradley if he fancied holidaying in Los Angeles next summer as there were no tournaments going on. He said he would ask Jessie if she would like to go as she’d never been to the US before. They were thinking of revisiting Disney World in Florida just like old times, but they could do a two centre holiday, no problem.
As they pulled into Bradley’s drive, Brian whistled at his son’s holiday retreat.
‘Wow! This is nice. What a great place, must have cost a fortune. Go on, tell me how much.’ Brian laughed.
‘€2.2 million, dad. Money well spent as well. We love it here. It’s a nice little town, not full of tourists and we’ve got views to die for out by the pool. You’ll love it!’ Bradley exclaimed.
Jessie was waiting at the door for them. This was the first time she had met Bradley’s dad and she was extremely nervous.
‘So, this is my future daughter-in-law.’ Brian said as he spotted her. ‘Hello Jessie, lovely to meet you at last. I’ve heard so much about you.’
‘Hello Mr Gardner, lovely to meet you too.’ Jessie replied.
‘Call me Brian. Or dad, if you like. No formalities here.’ He smiled.
Bradley ushered them into the villa to meet the rest of the family. After introducing him to Archie, Barry and Sharon and he had greeted his other son and his fiancée, he came to Martine and Carlos.
He politely kissed Martine on the cheek then turned to Carlos and smiled.
‘You must be Carlos. Nice to meet you.’ He said formally, like he was meeting a client.
Carlos smiled back and shook hands with Brian firmly.
‘Well, that’s everyone introduced, let’s get some drinks going and I’ll show you the terrace, dad.’ Said Bradley. ‘I’ll show you that view I was telling you about.’
Bradley, Jessie and his dad walked out to the terrace where Brian gasped once he saw the view over the mountains one side and the beach in the distance from the other side.
‘This is amazing! You’ve got a fantastic place here, son. I’m proud of you.’ Brian exclaimed.
‘Yeah, we love it here. Just wish we could spend more time here other than Christmas and the summer break.’
The three of them sat by the pool as Carlos brewed the coffee with Martine helping him, somewhat embarrassed at seeing her ex-husband for the first time in years. She also thought he looked much better than the last time she had seen him. He had lost weight and gained a nice suntan as well as some grey hairs which suited him. She felt no stirrings for him and she cuddled Carlos to reassure him as she knew what he was thinking.
‘Don’t worry, Carlos. I don’t feel anything for Brian any more. I’m definitely over him. You’re the love of my life now.’ She told him with a kiss.
Out on the terrace, Bradley had the same question for his dad. Brian wasn’t at all attracted to Martine nowadays, even though she too looked better than the last time they had seen each other. Maybe being apart was the best thing they could have done.
As everyone moved out on to the terrace to enjoy the coffee and snacks that Carlos had put together, the mood became more relaxed. In fact, Carlos and Brian actually hit it off once they started talking about football, Mijas and work.
This made everyone feel happier and they raised a glass in toast to Christmas at Bradley’s. It was going to be the best Christmas, ever.
By the time Boxing Day came around, everybody was getting on splendidly, especially Carlos and Brian. Even Martine and Brian had spent time talking about their boys and how proud they were of them. There was also talk of impending weddings, although neither Sam nor Bradley had even thought of tying the knot any time soon.
Christmas Day had been fantastic, as usual. Carlos had pulled out all the stops and created yet another spectacular dinner of roast lamb and pork with all the trimmings. The wine flowed and the conversation flowed with it. The TV was left switched off for the whole duration.
Brian asked if anyone minded if he took a taxi into Fuengirola on the day after Boxing Day as he vaguely knew someone he had worked with who bought a bar there and he was going to surprise him.
Nobody minded, in fact Archie fancied going with him but didn’t want to impose. Bradley ordered a taxi for him and gave him the number so he could get another taxi back when he was ready.
Brian had never been to Fuengirola before but had the address of Bar Asturias which he showed to the driver, who knew exactly where it was. Ten minutes later, he was pulling up outside the bar which was close to the beach. Bradley had covered the fare so he bade farewell to the driver and asked him to come back in three hours, so he wouldn’t be late for the dinner that Carlos was preparing.
He entered the bar and looked around. It was fairly quiet, this being a quiet time of the year for the bars in the area. He didn’t recognise any of the staff so he asked the barman if his friend was in.
‘No senor. I know the person you mean but he sold up six months ago. I think he bought another bar further up the coast. Can I get you a drink, senor?’ The barman asked.
Brian was feeling a bit deflated. He had three hours to kill in a bar where he thought he knew someone, but didn’t know him as well as he thought. Oh well, he thought. Might as well have a beer while he was there, so he ordered a pint of local cerveza and scanned the bar to see if there were any customers who he could strike up a conversation with.
There were an elderly couple sitting in one corner working their way through a bottle of wine and holding hands whilst looking at the action, or lack of it, on the adjoining beach. Other than them, there was a fella in his mid-thirties sitting at the bar dressed in shorts and a badly ironed shirt which was opened at the neck.
He looked British, Brian thought. Vaguely familiar as well. McNair glanced over at the newbie who had entered the bar looking lonely and thought about talking to him as he took a draft of his beer.
‘Nice weather here. Makes a change from suffering Christmas in the rain back home.’ Brian started the conversation.
McNair just looked at him and nodded before concentrating on his beer once more.
‘You from round here, or on holiday?’ Brian continued.
McNair didn’t have much choice now, but to reply to the stranger and get in a conversation with another bloody tourist.
‘I live here.’ McNair replied. ‘Moved here recently to make a new start. Suppose you’re on holiday here.’
‘I’m staying at my son’s. He’s got a nice place in Mijas. Bit of a family get together, to be honest. Including my ex-wife and her new boyfriend.’ Brian told him.
There’s that name again. Mijas. McNair couldn’t remember why that name meant something.
‘Sounds nice. Bit complicated though.’ McNair replied.
‘I recognise your face from somewhere. Are you from Edinburgh? I lived in Dunfermline for years before moving to Los Angeles and I used to work in Edinburgh.’
‘Aye, I’m from Edinburgh. I used to play for Hearts until I retired from playing a few years ago.’
‘I knew it! That’s where I know you from. My son used to play for Hearts and I was always at his games. You’re Kevin McNair, aren’t you?’
McNair was taken aback at Brian’s reaction. He never thought he would be recognised here. What were the chances?
‘I am.’ McNair replied. ‘You said your son played for Hearts. What’s his name?’
‘Bradley Gardner. You must know him.’
The name hit McNair like a slap in the face. That’s where he had heard the name Mijas before. He remembered finding out that Mijas was where Bradley had bought a place a couple of years ago when he was trying to contact him. He decided to play it cool.
‘Bradley Gardner? Who doesn’t know him? Best player on the planet. You must be well proud of his success. Aye, I know him well. We were on the same team for a season before I retired. He took over from me. So, he lives in Mijas now, does he? How’s he doing?’ McNair suddenly got interested.
‘He’s doing great at Barcelona. Got engaged to a lovely girl from Essex, which is where we were all from originally. All the parents, his brother and his fiancée and his agent are all up at the villa right now for Christmas.’
‘Archie Burns? That old chancer. I’ve known Archie for years. It would be great to see him and Bradley again. What’s his address? I might pop up to see him tomorrow.’ McNair saw an opportunity developing.
Brian didn’t see any harm in giving McNair Bradley’s address so he wrote it down on a napkin and gave it to him.
‘He’ll be surprised to see you, I’ll bet.’ Said Brian.
‘Oh yes. He will be surprised.’ Replied McNair.
They carried on in deep conversation about football and before they knew it, Brian’s taxi had arrived to take him back to the villa.
‘Well, been good talking with you. Can’t wait to tell Bradley who I’ve just been drinking with.’
‘Actually, don’t tell him, I want to surprise him.’ Said McNair.
‘Fair enough. See you tomorrow, maybe.’
‘Aye. You might well do.’
Brian got into the taxi and put his seat belt on. Well, he thought, that was a chance encounter. He wasn’t good at keeping secrets but this time would be an exception.
He hadn’t realised it, but there were two other people who entered the bar after he got talking to McNair. They were plain clothes police officers from Fuengirola who had been asked by their colleagues in Edinburgh to keep an eye on McNair and see who he met. They would report back that they had witnessed McNair talking to another Brit for hours and had tailed the taxi back to Bradley’s place. Edinburgh Fraud Squad were very interested in finding this out. It could mean that Bradley Gardner, the best player on the planet, could be involved in match-fixing.