Cumbre del Sol
Wednesday 27th April
Shouting into the wind made ex-Royal Protection Officer Guy Royce feel better.
“Go away. Vamos!”
He hung from the cliff face by a rope, searching the sky, trying not to look down. High above him a peregrine falcon the colour of gunmetal wheeled and folded its wings, tucking them into its breast; its eyes focused on the nest of chicks beside him on the ledge.
The bird fell into a stoop but Guy would not lose the orphan nestlings now. He slipped a hand into his backpack, feeling the outline of his silver hip flask. He fought an urge to sneeze with the salt in his nostrils and aligned the flask with the sun, quivering it at the diving bird of prey as it fell from the sky. He heard the bird’s war cry above the waves on the rocks, far below.
The startled falcon veered away, frustrated. Its wingtip feathers brushed his face.
Guy studied the incised inscription on the flask, murmuring to it like an old friend. He read:
‘My protector in good times and bad - HRH Diana’
“Thank you, your Royal Highness.”
He flipped the top, taking a long draught of the malt whisky. It burned into his stomach. The tiny, grey chicks drilled the back of his hand as he lifted them into his carrying box, one by one. He slipped it into his backpack, speaking to them quietly
“Come on, kids. This is no place for you now.”
The rope line stiffened.
His climbing companion at the top of the cliff tugged his belt rope.
“Señor! ¿Tiene los pajaritos? Do you have the baby birds?"
He shouted back against the gusts that tore at his canvas climbing jacket.
“Si! I’ve got them both!”
He dislodged a stone the size of his fist. It plummeted off the rock face to be lost in the foam. Now he just wanted to get off the cliff. He jerked the rope.
“Miguel, get me up! Rapido!”
His mobile rang out, scattering the nesting common gulls in a cloud of beating feathers. Guy cursed at the sky and opened his cellphone.
The wind dried the salt on his mouth. He jammed his toecaps into a crevice.
“Guy Royce? That you?”
Taking a grip on the rope, hard in his palm, he balanced himself in the granite.
“Yes, for Christ’s sake! Who are you?”
“It’s Jeremy. Jeremy Chambers in London.”
The voice froze his neck muscles. He tried to be calm and hoped it showed in his voice.
“Jerry? What do you want? I’m busy right now. Can I call you back?”
“Sorry, Guy, this is business.”
He released a deep breath, cramp making him shift his grip on the rock. His muscles were tiring. He knew he must get off the cliff.
“Jeremy, we have no business. And frankly, you could have picked a better time for this. Miguel, arriba!”
His rope tightened. He felt his weight taken as he rose up, pushing off the rock with his feet. A shingle of stones drove gulls into the air. Then a spider the size of his hand inched from a crack in the rock. The hairs on his neck bristled.
“Point is, Guy, as Commissioner, Royal Protection is my baby. Diplomatic Protection, too.”
Guy held the mobile with one hand, holding onto the rope with the other. He watched the spider.
“I’ve got other things on my mind at the moment, Commissioner. Haven’t you got a royal wedding coming up? You must have big policing to do?”
“Guy, listen to me. We’ve got a Code Three here. I can’t discuss it on a cell phone. It could be bad.”
He wanted the conversation to end, right now, before he heard another word. He felt his jaw tense. It was hard to speak.
“You’ve got plenty of smart, young officers around you, Jeremy. You don’t want me. You said so.”
“There’s an older element to this Code Three that does need you. I want you here.”
Chambers spoke with the assumed authority of rank, expecting no dissent. Guy’s body stiffened, his eyes tightened to a frown. He knew he was losing control.
“You can’t be serious. I wouldn’t come back there, Jeremy, if the bloody Queen herself was on fire!”
“Guy, you don’t understand. Let me tell you.”
“You want my help? That’s not what you said at the Tribunal. An embarrassment to the Force was what you said.”
He felt the dull ache again in his head; his mouth so dry it was hard to speak.
“Some of that was your fault, Guy. You didn’t make it easy for me to defend you.”
“I was doing my job, Commissioner.”
In a flash, he was sitting in the squad car again that pitch-black night seven years ago, staring through the rain. The Mercedes they pursued slewed across the road before him, the headlights sweeping the trees like a lighthouse on a cliff. Black torrents of water filled the windscreen and the wipers flew, slashing at it uselessly.
He heard again his driver’s last gasp. Then it was over. A searing dazzle of oncoming headlights, a shriek of brakes and a crunching scream of rending metal - then all three cars were pirouetting silently into the woods. He felt again the blood flowing from his cheek as the windscreen collapsed. Guy closed his eyes, trying to wipe the memory clean, but he still felt the pain of it. He continued quietly.
“You weren’t there, Commissioner. I was.”
“People died, Guy. You were responsible.”
“Now you don’t understand. You finished me, so leave me alone, Jerry. I don’t need it. I’ve got better things to do with my life.”
He felt the bile rising in his throat. He hurled the cell phone and watched it arc down to splash into the sea, his face muscles like the granite of the cliff. He knew he was grinding his teeth again. Guy fingered the white scar on his cheek. Even after seven years the bastards never let up. He could sleep at night now, sometimes five or six hours.
He had made a new start. He cursed them all into the wind in English and in Spanish. He reached for his hip flask.
Guy had a body built for climbing, muscled without the unnecessary weight that sapped agility. Seven years in the sun had weathered his arms and legs. The whites of his eyes were striking. Only the scars on his face and forearm remained a livid white. Ghosts forever from his past.
At the top of the cliff the Spaniard pulled the bird carrier from his back pack.
“Señor Guy. Loco Inglés, whisky and ropes do not mix. You will kill yourself.”
Guy laughed at him, taking another draught from the flask and brandishing it in his face.
“Miguel, don’t fuss. She will protect me.”
Miguel spat and crossed himself.
“The Blessed Virgin herself will not protect you, Señor Guy, if you make a mistake on the cliffs.”
He frowned, his eyes creased by the gale. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad way to go. A sheared rope then a fall out of control. That would be the end of it.