Carmen’s flat in Granada had been of the ‘modern’ variety, but she sold it to buy Concha’s three storey/three room house next to the shop in the village of Pórrostujar. She loved the uniqueness of the house and the way people had built shelters from, and only from, what they found around them. There were, however, inconveniences. If she tried to fix something to the wall – shelves, for example – she either needed a diamond-pointed hammer-drill to make a hole in the stone, or else the wall plug was in dried mud and the shelf soon felt the influence of gravity. Paint flaked and plaster fell off thanks to the damp, a given for houses built into hillsides, and bugs dropped out of the cane ceilings onto her precious babies. Two babies – Pimo born in November and Jorge ten and a bit months later the following September. Jesús was a frequent visitor, either to care for the building or the babies. She didn’t know what she would do without him.
The Pórrostujar residence was only for when she could get away from the Guardia Civil cuartel in Varigo where she was commanding officer, so its idiosyncrasies weren’t desperate, and they always provided challenges when life got otherwise dull. Besides, she enjoyed being in the village and was getting to know the neighbours.
As husband Gheorghe Petrescu was no longer on the scene – although she still harboured hopes he might return – the 50km journey to her flat in Granada had been too far to travel with the babies when she gave herself a day off, especially when she had to carry them and all their equipment up three flights of stairs. So the village house a few kilometres from Varigo suited her very well, challenges and all. Although there were many helping hands in the cuartel, life with two babies, adorable or not, was still hectic and often tiring. And this without much happening in Varigo, so when the tragedy hit, life became… complicated.
El Capo, head of the Guardia Civil for the province of Granada, known as el Sapo, the Toad, had discovered moneylenders. He’d heard of them, of course, but now he knew one. At first, he didn’t understand what ‘vig’ meant, but now he did. He understood only too well.
La Señora, or la Capa as she now liked to be called, was so tight with the money, insisting on ‘investing’ it, that he often found himself with very little cash in his pocket. He had a high-powered job entailing considerable responsibility, a good salary and claimed outrageous expenses, so why shouldn’t he have a little go on the tables in the casino? Or place a bet on a football match? But now he really had to come up with more than he had. Even holding back his cut of the traffic fines, he wouldn’t have nearly enough. If he admitted what he’d been up to, he was sorely afraid la Capa would do something desperate. He’d asked his secretary Clara if he could move in with her, and she laughed so hard she nearly choked. He guessed that meant no.
The threat was that they would break his knee for him. Luis, the moneylender, sent a message via Franco the enforcer, to tell him he could, as a sign of respect for his position, choose which knee they would break. He had until Wednesday to come up with 14,000 euros. And on Wednesday he would owe even more AND have a broken knee. Franco provided a photocopy which had a diagram of the knee, and he described in detail the serious and painful results of a shattered knee.
‘You going to shatter my knee or break it?’
Franco just laughed. ‘It’s a big hammer, amigo. A big one! Sometimes they have to amputate. Wednesday.’
El Capo sat at his desk Monday morning, staring down at the diagram. He’d no idea knees were so complicated. He flexed his right knee under the desk, feeling the kneecap and tendons, flexing the joint. How could they even think of physically attacking him when he was head of the Guardia Civil for the whole province of Granada? He could claim he’d been threatened and have one or two of those young tíos in green accompany him at all times, sit in his living room while he slept. He would have to make up some story to explain it all, but he was good at that. La Capa wouldn’t like it, but… la Capa would wheedle it out of him. No, those tíos were shitting him. They had no such intention. It was just a ploy to make him pay all that interest. Wasn’t usury a sin? Un momento, wasn’t moneylending actually illegal? He would have them arrested! He could give evidence against them. He only borrowed the money to get evidence for the prosecution. Of course, this was the way to go. He told Clara to get him someone at the fiscal’s office.
He told his story to the public prosecutor about how brave he’d been hunting down these moneylenders and how he could give evidence for the prosecution.
‘So, give me their names.’
‘Luis and Franco.’
‘Luis what and Franco who?’
‘Don’t have their apellidos. I can tell you where they hang out.’
‘You haven’t arrested them? You haven’t questioned them?’
‘Not yet. I’m just checking my evidence would be enough to prosecute them. No point putting the cuffs on until I know that.’
‘They’ll deny it. I think I’ve come across these tíos. One of my colleagues had a go and got burned. The judge threw it out. So, have you got film or recordings of these exchanges?’
‘No. I am el Capo of the Granada Guardia. Why would you need more than my word?’
‘Mmmm. No disrespect, but they’ll have someone swear they were somewhere else entirely. You will be criticised for not having more concrete evidence… You see the problem? If you had a video…’
El Capo was losing heart. Why hadn’t he thought of that? ‘So you won’t prosecute them if I have them arrested?’
‘Personally, no. Not without evidence. One of the young ones here might take it on for a bit of practice. But, if this is a way to get out of paying those tíos, I strongly advise you against proceeding. Strongly. Understand?’
‘What are you implying?’ El Capo was getting heated.
‘They’ll break your knee anyway. Probably both knees and maybe both elbows if you prosecute them. Good luck.’ And he hung up.
Today was Monday and the gang of four would be having a meeting – he checked his watch – in ten minutes time. There was nothing for it but to throw himself on their mercy. Without him, the gang of four didn’t exist. They would stump up, but it was his ears which would suffer instead of his knee once la Capa knew. And Clara probably wouldn’t invite him round for a while. At least he could ignore what Teniente Pepe might think of it all.
Inspector Jefe José Blanco was spooning around Isabel and reluctantly thinking about getting out of bed. They’d been cohabiting since soon after they met six months ago, José’s work with the Policía Nacional in Granada permitting. The rented flat was in Varigo, Isabel and baby Juan’s home town, as Isabel refused to live in José’s flat in Granada because it was in the city, she didn’t know anyone, and he might come home and he might not, depending on work. She did visit sometimes. José would have agreed to anything. Even circumcision, if she’d asked. He felt totally unworthy of such a beautiful, intelligent and playful woman. He was 16 years her senior, almost old enough to be her father, but she said it was of no importance. José thought the future might make the difference more telling but, at the moment, he just let the blessings rain down upon him. And a baby as well! After six months, he and little Juan were well into the bonding thing.
He agreed with Isa that Varigo was far pleasanter than Granada. Also, he could visit Carmen and her babies either in the cuartel or up the mountain in her little hideaway. She and Isa got on well, and Carmen declared herself totally delighted with José’s success in the romance department. At last, she’d said, and hugged him. José didn’t know how it was he could love both these women without blowing a psychological fuse, but he did. Gracias a Dios, Carmen had never allowed their relationship to become physical. That truly would have complicated matters. He wondered if she was still so committed to Gheorghe Petrescu, given she didn’t often mention him anymore. Even he had hoped Gheorghe might turn up for the birth of the second baby, or at least for Pimo’s first birthday in November, but no sign of him. Now Christmas had come and gone the previous Saturday and still no word. José began to be concerned he might be dead. Maybe going off with all that gold hadn’t been such a good idea after all. Isa caught him in a blue funk about it, and gave him one of her ‘Juan the Unbaptist lectures’ about guilt and the arrogance of thinking we’re responsible for other peoples’ choices.
Monday morning and José was definitely very close to throwing off the duvet and getting out of bed to go pound the mean streets of Granada, when Isa’s mobile rang. She sat up, looking alert and concerned. ‘Vale… vale… vale,’ she kept saying and disconnected. ‘A little girl of three has gone missing. The villagers are helping to look for her.’ She hopped out of bed and beat José to the bathroom. José picked up baby Juan, now also awake, and rang Carmen with his other hand to see what the Guardia Civil were doing.
When Carmen answered José’s call, she had just put down her mobile after talking to Raúl from the cuartel. The story was still confused, but it seemed a three-year-old English girl called Kitty had disappeared from the Hotel Alpujarra on the outskirts of Varigo sometime in the early hours of the morning. The Guardia had been called at 03.49 hours after the parents, the hotel staff and others searched the hotel grounds and drained the swimming pool because the mother was certain her daughter was at the bottom of the murky green water. Raúl said he woke Carlitos and Paco, and sent them down there with what working torches they could find in the storeroom. There had been cold rain in the night, and they were concerned she might be lying somewhere with hypothermia. ‘When they radioed in to say she hadn’t been found, I woke everyone to help, contacted the Protección Civil and the Policía Local. Also, it appears a call has gone out on the Varigo telegraph to the villagers to help search now it’s light. I didn’t wake you in the night because… Well, we were doing what we could and I thought she couldn’t have gone far, a little three year-old, but now it seems more urgent, so I thought you would want to come to the cuartel.’
‘Por Dios, a three year-old girl out in that freezing rain! That’s terrible! I’m feeding Jorge at the moment. As soon as he’s topped up, I’ll be on my way down. Half an hour, maybe less.’
She disconnected and rang Jesús who she knew was staying at Chelo and María’s in Pórrostujar. He had already heard about the little girl and was on his way out the door. ‘Do you want help getting the babies in the car? I can do that. I’ll be right there.’
Then José rang and she more or less cut him off, saying she knew about the girl and was hurrying to get herself together and would be in Varigo as soon as possible. ‘Will you stay to help? There are many willing searchers, but if this is serious, I may need your advice.’
‘I could do. I’ll ring Sancho. I’ll stay if I can.’
Jesús dashed up the stairs and began getting Pimo changed and dressed for outdoors. Carmen did the same for Jorge, grabbed up the clothes she’d left lying on the floor the night before and dressed herself, while Jesús carried the two babies out to the car. How she could help the girl, she didn’t know, but it seemed extremely important to be there, to ensure the search was thorough and do whatever fell to her lot.