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Revolutionary Tax

by Neal 

Posted: 17 September 2003
Word Count: 6757
Summary: Revolutionary Tax is a gripping international thriller. ETA, the Basque terrorist organisation, is having trouble collecting its ‘revolutionary tax’ from the business community. Ander, ETA’s new chief executive, decides to make his mark by calling in bad debts. John Wilson is attending an international food and drink exhibition in Madrid when he meets Elena. Little does he know it but his meeting with Elena will drag him into a world of murder, extortion and betrayal.

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Revolutionary Tax
a thriller by Neal Sillars


This was Ander’s first meeting as head of ETA’s Executive Council. He had been propelled into the position as a result of recent events. Arrests on both the Spanish and French side of the Pyrenees, the natural border between the two countries, had forced a major shake-up of the terrorist organisation’s high command.
Only two members of the original Executive Council had eluded the Spanish and French anti-terrorist police, who seemed to be co-operating now more than ever. Ander had avoided arrest by a quirk of fate: he was visiting his daughter in Majorca when the French police swooped on his apartment in Lyon. When the arrests were reported on the Spanish news, he knew not to return.
Mina, the only woman on the Council, was still unknown to the authorities. The Head of Public Relations for ETA had a policy of never making her whereabouts known to anyone on the Executive Council. She could only be contacted by e-mail, which she accessed at a variety of locations throughout northern Spain. Her policy of absolute caution had served her well. She knew that even the most committed terrorists gave up information when arrested.
The eighteenth century apartment was located in the Rue Saint Jacques in the Latin Quarter of Paris, close to the Pantheon where Victor Hugo and Voltaire are buried. It was an excellent location for the meeting with Ander at the helm for the first time. The splendid dining room would function as the boardroom for the group of six. The four new members, Gorka, Jon, Josepe and Kusko had already arrived early. They were enjoying a Bordeaux wine and getting to know each other better as they waited anxiously for Mina’s arrival. Ander was becoming nervous at Mina’s tardiness. It wasn’t like her. Perhaps she was upset at being overlooked for promotion. She did, after all, have more experience than he did. She may not accept his command.
He was visibly relieved when he heard the loud knock at the tall wooden door. He checked through the peephole to ensure that it was Mina and not the police before letting her in.
“Mina, It’s great to see you!” he said as he kissed her on both cheeks, “Did you find the place OK?”
“No problem. I hope nobody else does,” she answered dryly.
“I know. Don’t worry: this place is clean,” assured Ander, “It’s never been used before.”
Mina raised her eyebrows but after a quick look around she seemed satisfied.
“Congratulations Ander,” she whispered as he led her through to the dining room to do the introductions.
“Listen, I know it must be difficult…” he sympathised.
“Forget it! I don’t want the job. Honestly! I’m not that ambitious,” Mina said, trying to hide the fact that her words were rehearsed.
Ander smiled and put his arm around her shoulder as they entered the dining room.
“Well here she is guys, the best PR woman we’ve ever had!”
“The only PR woman we’ve ever had you mean,” said Mina as she exchanged kisses on both cheeks with the newly promoted Executive Council members.
“Some wine?” offered Gorka, extending an already full glass of Bordeaux.
“Thanks!” said Mina taking her seat at the end of the rectangular table opposite Ander.
“Let’s get down to business,” he said, picking up his papers and knocking them on the highly polished mahogany dining table, “Firstly I would like to welcome our new members,” he said, nodding at the four men sitting to his left and right.
“No offence, but it’s unfortunate you have to be here at all,” added Mina.
The new members nodded in agreement, the gravity of the situation apparent on each stern face.
“Security is high on the agenda today,” said Ander, “We’ve got a leak somewhere which needs to be plugged.”
Mina and the others agreed, cursing the unknown traitor.
“But first we’ve got to look at finance,” said Ander, “We’ve got a growing problem of tax defaulters,” he added in a serious tone, “It’s a problem and we’ve got to nip it in the bud now.”
“Who isn’t paying now?” asked Josepe, speaking for the first time.
“Oh, there are a few at the moment who are behind on payments,” explained Ander to the newcomer “but it’s the habitual offenders who refuse point blank to pay that we really need to sort out.”
“Let me gues: Brummer and Sánchez?” enquired Mina.
“You’ve got it!” replied Ander, smiling across the table to the PR boss, “But it’s that bastard Sánchez who really bothers me. We can’t let him away with it!” he hissed while stamping his clenched fist on the table.
Mina observed how Ander’s mood had changed. He spat emphatically through clenched teeth when he pronounced Sánchez’s name.
“If you let one off, they’ll all stop paying! I’d do the same. Wouldn’t you?” Ander directed the question at the five other members of the Council sitting around the table.
The others nodded their agreement with the exception of Mina who was waiting to hear Ander’s proposal for resolving the problem.
“We’ve got deal with it!”
“I know what you’re thinking Ander but you know my position on this kidnapping business,” said Mina, scouring the table for signs of support, which weren’t forthcoming.
“We’ve no option, Mina. I’m sorry. I know it makes your job more difficult but there’s nothing else we can do,” Ander’s tone was authoritative but Mina wasn’t happy.
“We can’t do it!” said Mina in a determined voice.
The new members of the group were beginning to shuffle uncomfortably in their chairs, their discomfort becoming apparent.
“What’s the problem this time Mina?” asked Ander sarcastically, “Don’t you have the balls for this?”
A snigger ran around the table, lightening the atmosphere somewhat but Mina didn’t appreciate the joke.
“It’s not my lack of balls I’m worried about. I’ve got more cojones than the lot of you put together!” she exclaimed.
The laughing abruptly stopped as she stared down the newcomers around the table, one by one, daring them to enter the argument. Nobody did.
“You know my position on kidnapping. I think it’s bad publicity, pure and simple,” she continued, already knowing that Ander wouldn’t agree.
“It’s what funds us, that’s what it is Mina,” replied Ander with a softer tone, trying to placate the headstrong young woman.
Mina looked him straight in the eye, defiantly. After a tense moment she took a deep breath and spoke.
“Sánchez is a stubborn old bastard, Ander and he won’t pay even if we do kidnap him. He’ll be a hero! We’ll make him a hero!”
“You’re right, Mina. I agree,” said Ander, nodding his head thoughtfully.
The four silent men at the table began to look at each other, raising their eyebrows.
“That’s why we’re going to take his daughter!” added Ander, his timing perfect.
The other men nodded in agreement. Mina buried her face in her hands and sighed loudly.
“The press will fucking crucify us! It could finish us off!”
“They’ll never find out Mina. Don’t worry so much!”
“You don’t know Sánchez, Ander. He’ll seek the publicity!”
“Then he’ll get his daughter back in instalments!” interjected Gorka coldly.
“You guys don’t make my job easy you know!” exclaimed Mina, a smile opening on her young face, “I should have known PR wasn’t going to be easy for a terrorist organisation. God, the things I do for the Basque Country!”
Ander got up and walked to where Mina was sitting. He put his hand on her shoulder. He was keen to have good relations with Mina. He even felt physically attracted to her and she knew it.
“It’ll work out, Mina. The press won’t get a hold of this. I guarantee it.”
“OK, go ahead, but if the press do find out, remember I’m going to be seriously pissed off with you, Ander!” she said smiling, a hint of warning in her voice, “It’s your responsibility.”
The atmosphere relaxed as she leaned back in her chair and accepted defeat.
“No problem,” said Ander quickly, “I’ll accept full responsibility.”
“Right, that’s settled!” he continued, once more taking his seat, “Now moving on, we’ve clearly got a major security problem…”

The sleepy village of Zugarramurdi, situated in the Pyrenees, has barely changed since the long arm of the Spanish Inquisition unsettled it early in the seventeenth century. At that time, forty frightened citizens were accused of participating in acts of witchcraft in local cave networks, twelve of whom were subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death by burning for practising their black art. Nowadays, the caves, along with the ninth century monastery of San Salvador nearby, provide a tourist attraction for those passing through the Basque-speaking region of Navarra.
Carmen Eibar lived in a small farmhouse with a red-tiled roof, situated just outside Zugarramurdi at the base of the mountains. It was midday and she sat in the sun on the whitewashed external staircase, which led from her kitchen to the dusty yard below. The living quarters were all situated on the first floor whilst the ground floor, which in Carmen’s younger days had been used to keep the animals, was used only for storage. Her enormous golden sheepdog lay lazily in the shade below her. Beyond the yard, a minor road ran downhill and later opened into the main body of the historic village. Heading up the hill, the narrow road soon petered out into a track suitable only for horses and walkers. A few traditional Basque-style farmhouses were situated at irregular intervals along the side of the road. Most of Carmen’s neighbours, like Inaki who lived almost opposite her, still made a living from the rich, luscious, green farmland. Over the years, others had moved into the city of Pamplona, famous for its bull runs, and had turned their ancestral homes over to the lucrative rural tourism industry.
Carmen enjoyed sitting outside her house either on the steps to enjoy the sun or outside the yard on an oak bench her late husband had built. She enjoyed whiling away her days observing the slow pace of life and chatting to her neighbours, catching up with the local gossip. Idle conversation with her neighbours was the only way she knew of ridding herself of the terrible loneliness she had felt since her grandson had been taken away. Her only other living relative was a sister in England who she hadn’t seen since childhood.
Carmen waved at Inaki, who was feeding his pigs in the pen at the opposite side of the road.
“Beautiful day!” he shouted across at the old woman.
“A bit too hot for your pigs, no?”
“They should have greater things to worry about, Carmen. We’re going to slaughter two on Saturday and I haven’t decided which ones yet!”
“Kill the one who keeps getting out! She’s nothing but trouble.”
“No, I think I’m going to use her for breeding. Listen, why don’t you come on Saturday? It’ll be a great party.”
“OK, I’ll pop across.”
Inaki entered the pen, struggling to close the gate behind him and pushing the nuisance sow back with his thigh.
Carmen noticed a stranger walking up the road from the village. The man was short and stocky with a full mop of unkempt black hair. He didn’t look like a tourist. She wondered who he could be. His clothes were more like those of a farm labourer or shepherd. The man shouted up to Carmen before he reached the steel gate to her yard.
“Are you Carmen Eibar?” he enquired.
She immediately became uncomfortable, unsure of the man. Her dog sprang into life when it heard the man’s voice and began barking loudly behind the gate.
“What do you want?”
“I need to speak to you.”
Inaki watched the man from the gate of the pigpen. The stranger noticed him and stared coldly, his piercing blue eyes warning him to mind his own business.
“What do you want to speak to me about?” asked Carmen, still surprised that the man should know her name.”
“It’s about Santi. I really need to talk to you.”
Carmen cautiously got to her feet at the sound of her grandson’s name. What trouble could he be in now? Surely he couldn’t have done anything stupid in prison? Inaki had also heard the name.
“Everything OK?” he asked Carmen.
“Yes, don’t worry Inaki. It’s OK,” she replied as she chained the dog to a hook on the wall and opened the gate.
“What’s happened? What’s wrong with Santi?” she asked, the urgency in her voice apparent.
“Oh, he’s fine. Don’t worry, Señora. I haven’t come with bad news.”
“Are you a friend of his?”
“Yes, my name’s Mikel. Maybe we could go inside to talk,” he said tilting his head towards Inaki, “It’d be more private.”
“OK,” replied Carmen cautiously, pushing the gate further back and allowing the man access.
She led the man up the staircase and into the spacious but basic kitchen.
“Sit down,” she said to the stranger and he took a seat at the rustic wooden table, “Would you like wine?”
Mikel nodded and Carmen produced a red earthenware jug from the refrigerator. She placed the jug and a glass beside the man.
“So how is Santi? Is something wrong?”
“No, not at all,” said the man coolly, brushing a hand through his hair and pouring himself an enormous glass of red wine with the other, “Thirsty work walking up here at this time of day!” he said.
He took a long drink of the cool wine and replaced the glass on the table.
“No, Santi’s fine. He asked me to come to speak to you to do us a favour. That’s all.”
“What kind of favour? I’m not goint to get involved in anything illegal!”
“No, no, it’s nothing illegal. It’s just that I’m going to bring some friends up to the mountains and we would like to stop here for a few hours. That’s all,” he reassured the old woman.
“Why do you want to come here?”
“Just until we wait for other friends to arrive. We don’t want to be seen hanging about all day. You understand?”
“I understand that you’re up to no good. That’s what I understand!” snapped Carmen, her blood beginning to boil, “And I don’t believe Santi would try to involve me in any funny business. He’s maybe been foolish in the past but he’s never involved his grandmother before...”
“Really Señora, you’re over reacting,” said the man, trying to calm the old lady down.
“And he told me he had given up on ETA! That he was going to go back to a simple life when he gets out. He’s going back to his painting.”
“If he gets out, Señora,” the man said coldly, before drinking from his glass.
“What do you mean?”
“Just that Señora: if!”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Take it any way you like, Señora. Listen, it doesn’t need to be like this. We won’t be here for long anyway. A day at the most.”
Carmen sat down at the opposite side of the table.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked in disbelief, “Are you threatening the people you call your own now?”
“If you just cooperate, there’s nothing to worry about. If you don’t, then Santi is on your conscience. That’s all I’m going to say.”
What little colour remained in Carmen’s wrinkled cheeks drained as she realised the gravity of the situation. She had never assisted ETA.
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s best you don’t know. That way you really haven’t been involved.”
Carmen buried her grey head in her strong hands.
“I’m too old for this,” she moaned, “Why can’t you just leave me alone, let me get on with my life?”
Mikel slugged what was left of his second glass of wine and put the glass firmly on the table.
“Right, Señora, there’s nothing to worry about. You’ll see me in a week or two. You don’t have to do anything. Just let us in and maybe give us something to eat. Don’t worry, we’ll probably just be using your house for a few hours.”
Carmen remained silent. Her head bowed, she stared at the rough dark contours of the surface of the table.
“And don’t worry about Santi. He’ll be out soon to be with you, Señora.”
Mikel got up and let himself out. The dog growled as he passed it at the bottom of the staircase. Carmen wept.

John Wilson couldn’t recall ever having felt so bad as he watched the early morning traffic deepen along Madrid’s Gran Vía. He thanked God for the hotel air conditioning. Although the constant rumble was annoying, the heat outside was unbearable twenty-four hours a day here in August. He watched the beggars, cripples and drug addicts adopting their spots for the day’s business and felt a general malaise overcome him.
The combination of the previous night’s whisky and his present guilt conspired to move his bowels and he left the hotel window for the marble-floored bathroom.
“Jesus!” he mumbled to himself, as he flushed the spotless white toilet. His temples throbbed as he washed his face and head in cold water in the sink, took two paracetamol capsules and dried his cropped, light-brown hair on a fresh, white towel carrying the hotel logo. He lifted a complimentary toothbrush also carrying the logo and, as he brushed his teeth lightly, trying to hold back the urge to vomit, he cursed himself in the mirror. He brushed his tongue, attempting to remove the creamy fur which infested it and almost wrenched. Peering at himself in the smoked glass, he lamented the grey bags under his eyes. They had grown since last he looked: had crept down his face. They seemed to be becoming a permanent feature on his otherwise youthful, healthy face. The pale green of his eyes was besieged by pink bloodshot. Sleep would restore the whites of his eyes, he thought.
Creeping back into bed, he hoped to get another hour’s sleep before having to get up for a business breakfast. He wished the girl had left during the night. Perhaps if he slept a little longer she would be gone when he awoke. That way, he could put it all down to a bad dream. He now didn’t want anything to do with the girl he had so insistently invited to the hotel for a ‘night-cap’ the previous night. The repugnant taste of stale whisky and red wine was returning to his mouth and Wilson took a mental note to deal with that when he got up: any food he could keep down and some strong throat sweets or mints normally did the trick.
“Why did I have to go the whole way?” he chastised himself.
He regretted not having just left after a couple of drinks and tapas with the girl he had met in Las Cuevas the previous evening.
“No, I’ve always got to have my cake and eat it,’ he continued the self-flagellation.
He realised that the bars he had gone to were typical tourist places and that real Madrileños didn’t normally frequent that street of bar-restaurants close to the Plaza Mayor in the historic centre of the city. The combination of ‘typical Spanish’ music and inflated prices normally kept them away. This girl had probably hoped to meet someone for the night with no ties as he had, although he hadn’t realised it at the time.
He slipped back under the white, cotton duvet deciding to feign sleep. Within minutes he couldn’t resist the temptation of the beautiful naked body beside him. He began to caress the girl’s short, intensely black hair behind her ear. He then began to feel her soft neck and touched her back, working his way south. The girl pushed herself back against him, arching her back and groaning.
“Buenos días,” she purred and Wilson knew that he was going to repeat the previous night’s indiscretion.
Sexual desire quickly overcame the guilt and disgust Wilson had been feeling only seconds previously.
“Buenos días,” he replied as she turned her head towards him and their mouths met. She was, after all, a very attractive girl. And if nobody found out, which they wouldn’t, no extra harm would be done, he reasoned.
When reception phoned with an early morning call, Wilson woke with a start. He had fallen back into a doze after having sex with the girl.
“I’ve got to jump into the shower and make a move,” he explained to the girl in fluent Spanish.
She replied with a sleepy groan, pulling the duvet over her right shoulder as she turned and buried her head in the long, white, single pillow.
The powerful stream of hot water on Wilson’s head and body forced him back into the conscious world. Now he began to become anxious about the day ahead of him, the hangover he was nursing and the guilt. He didn’t complain when, after a few minutes, the slim, tanned girl climbed into the shower beside him. She was stunning. Her muscles were toned: clearly the result of working out. She smiled at him with perfect white teeth and her dark eyes glistened through the shower of water, which was flattening her strong, short, dark hair. Although he certainly wasn’t in the mood or in any physical condition for more sex, he did enjoy the company of the girl beside him. He reflected that, deep down, what he had done was perhaps motivated more by a feeling of loneliness rather than a desire to be unfaithful to his partner. This thought comforted him so he stored it in his mind to combat the guilt.
“Five more minutes, get dressed, say the goodbyes and good lucks and on with the rest of my real life,” he thought to himself as he climbed out of the shower and reached for the large white bath towel.
He couldn’t even remember her name: Ana or Elena or something like that. Wilson plugged his electric razor into the side of the mirror and shaved as the girl continued to shower. He wiped the mirror with his towel to clear the condensation and strained to see himself properly as the steam quickly began to work on the mirror again.
He was dressed before he heard the water stop in the shower and saw the girl emerge from the bathroom, wrapped in a bath towel and drying her hair with a hand towel as she came.
“Very nice,” she teased, “You look very professional, John!” she added in mock surprise.
“Thanks,” he replied.
The girl had an advantage over him: she knew his name. He stood impatiently at the window, wearing a grey, three-button suit, white shirt and colourful tie. She was right: he did look professional. He carried the executive look well. The pile of the woollen suit was too heavy for Madrid however, and better suited to the Scottish climate. He was going to have a long, unpleasant day.
Wilson turned to the window and although he was facing the street, he wasn’t really looking any longer. The empathy he had felt for the beggars earlier had already evaporated. He waited anxiously for the girl to get dressed and to leave the room. He had to get downstairs quickly as he was expecting a major potential customer for breakfast. His boss was also going to be there. In fact, he would almost certainly already be there. His mind was distracted for a moment, as he turned round to watch the girl slowly dress. He watched intently as she unfurled stockings over her long, dark legs.
“Was she wearing those last night?” he asked himself, angry that he could not recall.
It was unlike him to miss a detail like that. The girl adopted a Spanish approach to haste and Wilson’s anxiety grew.
“Listen, I’m going to have to go,” he said apologetically.
“No problem, John. I know you’ve got your meeting. I’ll let myself out,” replied the girl casually.
“Will you be going back to Las Cuevas tonight?” Wilson asked, more out of a feeling of obligation rather than desire.
He would have felt awkward leaving the girl without at least going through the motions of arranging a future date.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” she replied, and got on with the task of getting dressed.
“OK, make sure you close the door behind you. It locks itself,” said Wilson making for the door.
He was annoyed. She was playing hard to get and he had only asked out of politeness anyway. He certainly wouldn’t be going back to the bar in which they had met. Maybe she was just playing the game too: going through the motions.
He rushed to the lift, jumped in and informed the attendant that he was headed for the ground floor.

From: juancarlos3461@latinmail.com

To: victor3895@latinmail.com

CC: marta3681@latinmail.com

Re: Recent events


Sorry to hear about the team at head office!

Should we be rethinking our location?

Have replacements been made?

Our new team has now settled down and the new players are desperate for new challenges.

Take care,

Iker and Susana.

Señor Álvarez was a late middle-aged man and what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in presence. His expression made it clear to Wilson that he did not share his countrymen’s passion for arriving late. Wilson noted the slightly cold reception when he sat down with a bowl of muesli, some freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. His boss cast him a disparaging glance.
“I see you enjoy the Spanish night life, Mr Wilson,” Álvarez’s intonation left it unclear as to whether this was an observation or a question, “It has the reputation of being the best in Europe, perhaps the world,” he added.
“Actually, I haven’t had a chance to sample the delights of Madrid as yet,” lied Wilson, “I’m afraid I didn’t sleep well last night. The air conditioning’s a little noisy.”
Wilson hadn’t even convinced himself but he hoped that Señor Álvarez and Rob MacLeod, his boss, would believe his excuse. He hadn’t been able to buy any throat sweets or mints and hoped desperately that his breath wouldn’t betray his true reason for arriving late.
Señor Álvarez got straight down to business and quickly outlined or rather demanded what he wanted from Young & Sons, distillers of fine blended and malt whiskies. Although MacLeod was taken aback by how direct Álvarez was, Wilson knew that being equally direct was what Álvarez expected.
“Venga, Señor Álvarez, usted no puede estar hablando en serio!” exclaimed Wilson and his boss seemed suitably impressed with Wilson’s Spanish, whilst completely unaware of what he was saying.
Wilson had been given the opportunity to go to Madrid due to the fact that he spoke the native tongue and had, equally importantly, an excellent knowledge of the culture.
“We already have an agent in Lisbon, and he wouldn’t take kindly to you knocking on his customers’ doors,” asserted Wilson, “and besides, we won’t give you the whole of Spain until you can prove you have the capability to handle it. You know it’s a very regional market,” he added.
Álvarez warmed to Wilson, enjoying the challenge of haggling over details and scoring or losing points over the slightest insignificant detail. Perhaps the joy of the haggle was a hangover from the days of the Arab occupation.
“We have sales people in every region of Spain, Mr Wilson. I thought you would know that from our meeting in Glasgow,” Álvarez interjected, knowing that Wilson hadn’t been invited to that meeting, as he was not a sales executive.
It had grated Wilson at the time and grated him now. He cast a glance at MacLeod who just shrugged. Wilson should have been properly briefed on this potential agent.
“Why don’t we give you Madrid and the Balearics for the time being?” suggested MacLeod, “If you can prove to us you can shift enough whisky, we’ll take a look at other regions.”
Álvarez didn’t seem happy with this arrangement but Wilson cajoled him into acceptance, “Remember the Balearics are a very lucrative market, Señor Álvarez, with the all-year-round tourist market. And geographically, Madrid is small but it has a very large population. It’s an ideal location to launch Young’s whisky!”
“I know the Spanish market thank you, Mr Wilson,” chastened Álvarez but he knew the young Scotsman was right.
Outwardly he maintained an expression of discontent but he was actually delighted with the offer. It was more than he had expected. Realistically he didn’t have enough people to cover the whole of Spain and would soon tie up Barcelona if he could generate enough orders. He caught the attention of a young hotel employee and ordered more coffee. He didn’t believe in this self-service nonsense. It was just another example of Europe adopting every crazy American fad possible.
MacLeod excused himself to go to the gents and, as he was returning, he passed Álvarez in the centre of the large, bright dining room. He too was responding to a call of nature
“Where the hell were you last night Wilson?” demanded MacLeod as he sat down, “You’re in a real state!”
Wilson would have used the word ‘fuck’ rather than ‘hell’ but these old-school-tie whisky merchants were all very conservative and there was a generation gap. He despised everything people like MacLeod stood for but he did need this opportunity and the money that would accompany it.
“I’m sorry, Mr MacLeod. Really, I am! I had dreadful problems getting to sleep last night. I think it was the strange bed you know. I had a couple of drams to help me get the old head down but it didn’t seem to work,” he pleaded, hoping MacLeod would let it go.
“Thus the reek of whisky, Wilson! There’s a time and a place to drink the product son!” reproached MacLeod quietly through clenched teeth, “God knows we all like a dram and should be seen to drink it but not alone in the hotel room!”
Wilson nodded his agreement. He knew he had MacLeod wrapped around his little finger: he had called him ‘son’. It was merely a case of putting up with the fatherly talking to and back to business.
“A lot of guys on the road fall by the wayside in this industry you know. If you’re going to look after the Iberian Peninsula, you’re going to spend a lot of time in hotel rooms. You’d better get used to strange beds or you’ll never cut it in sales. Believe me, I was twenty years on the road. It isn’t easy!”
“I know Mr MacLeod. I assure you it won’t happen again,” replied Wilson realising that he had clinched the job.
It was in the bag. He decided it wasn’t a good time to discuss salary. That could keep for later. Wilson had been desperate for this opportunity to get out of the sales office in Glasgow and badly needed the salary increase which would accompany the new job to help pay his share of the apartment he and his partner had recently bought on the trendy Byres road in Glasgow's West End.
“What time should we leave for the trade fair?” enquired Wilson, “I want to be there in plenty time to set up the stand,” he added, keen to show his enthusiasm.
Álvarez returned to the table and MacLeod offered him a Spanish copy of Young’s standard, two-year, agents’ contract. He accepted it grudgingly, still feigning discontent with the areas he had been given.
“I’ll pass it to my lawyers for their approval,” he informed MacLeod, “They will take care of any necessary modifications.”
Wilson privately hoped no modifications would be necessary as any changes could affect his future commission on sales. MacLeod and Álvarez agreed that they should all have lunch together in one of the local restaurants close to Barajas, the airport area where the exhibition centre was located. Wilson felt he should have been involved in such arrangements. After all, he was going to be the representative for the Iberian Peninsula. He took a mental note to start asserting himself more.
When he popped up to grab his briefcase, the girl had already gone.
“Thank God!” he mumbled to himself, quickly brushing his teeth again.
He then smeared more toothpaste along the inside of his gum to keep him going until he bought some sweets and went down to meet MacLeod in the foyer.

María Elena Sánchez Argüelles lay back on the unmade hotel bed, unsure as to what to do with her day. Her latest in a substantial line of one-night stands had abandoned her in his hotel room muttering something about an important meeting. Strangely, she was enjoying the feeling of abandonment. She reflected that this conquest might just be worth keeping a hold of. All her recent ‘amigos’, as she liked to refer to them, had been overbearing and she had quickly become bored with them. They caused her a sense of claustrophobia and tried to own her. She didn't like that. This guy seemed less oppressive however. She was sure that he had noticed her putting on her black stockings even though he had tried not to make it obvious. That trick never failed and she always kept a pair discreetly hidden in her black leather Prada bag when she went out. Girls who carried condoms rarely got follow-up dates. She never failed to get results with a pair of quality silk stockings. Perhaps she would meet John tonight. Perhaps not.
“He’s bound to be there,” she thought to herself, a sly grin appearing on her face.
In the meantime, Madrid’s ample array of designer outlets would keep her occupied. María, or Elena as she preferred to be known given the enormous amount of Marías in Spain, was bored with life in the capital. She had been quickly packed off three weeks earlier and resented having to stay there. What she wanted most was to go home to her affluent suburb of Bilbao in northern Spain. Her friends, family and life were all there and it made no sense to be stuck in Madrid. She had asked her mother if she could return home but her father, a stubborn businessman, had insisted that she remain a while longer.
Since arriving in Madrid, she had met many people but still didn’t really know anybody. She wouldn’t admit it to herself but she was lonely. Although she was widely travelled, she had never been away from home herself and wasn’t enjoying the freedom, even though she had unrestricted use of the Amex Gold Card her father had arranged for her.
Elena picked up a new black dress and some patent leather sandals in a designer boutique on Almirante Street and later had lunch alone. The expensive restaurant was situated close to the Prado Museum and Art Gallery. She loved the Prado, which was a beautiful neo-classical building and had become Spain's major museum of art in 1819. After opening, it quickly gained world importance and still held one of the most impressive collections in Europe. Elena liked to wander the corridors of the art gallery, soaking up the atmosphere but didn’t have a genuine appreciation of fine art. She just liked to spend time in the building because it attracted a very cosmopolitan and international crowd.
The seafood soup she chose was excellent but Elena wasn’t in a state of mind to accept that it was as good quality as the Bilbao version. She left half of her main course of roast kid but enjoyed the half-bottle of vintage Rioja wine. Afterwards, she went for a stroll in Madrid’s Retiro Park to find a place to have coffee. As a matter of principal, Elena never took coffee in the same place she had dined. Her father had taught her that. She found a corner table in the semi-shade cast by a cherry tree and ordered espresso and a small cognac. She removed a copy of ‘The Alchemist’ from her bag and began to read. She quickly gave up, unable to concentrate. The text was either directed at children or was too philosophical for her. She wasn’t sure which. She sighed and stuffed the paperback into her bag.
The coffee was brought in a plain white ceramic cup and saucer on a silver-plated tray by a small, fat waiter who was balding. He had a friendly disposition however, and his immaculate white jacket and black trousers made up for his physical defects. The waiter also carried a large, bulbous cognac glass and a bottle of Carlos I. He held the bottle high over the glass as he poured and then left Elena alone once more.
Elena watched the Madrileños pass by the café, taking their afternoon stroll as she drank her coffee and cognac. The large glass emptied quickly as she didn’t have the company necessary to make it last longer. The rotund waiter appeared immediately and asked Elena, merely by raising his eyebrows questioningly and bowing, if she would like another. She ordered, also silently, by means of a single, slow, purposeful nod. She thanked the waiter when he had poured another generous measure.
Smoking the last cigarette from her packet of Winston, she read the warning on the packet and decided that some day she would give up. But not today. She considered visiting the Prado museum but after deciding that today wasn’t an ideal day to view art, she picked up the bill from the plain, white saucer in front of her. She then removed some money from her purse and left it on the table, including a generous tip for the waiter. She didn’t always tip Madrileño waiters as often she found them too overpowering – a common problem in capital cities.
Elena continued her stroll in the park until she found a bench that provided her with a good view of life going by. She asked a passer-by for a cigarette, lit it and returned to people watching. The smoke was disappointing: dark Spanish tobacco from the Canaries was rough, cheap and, in her opinion, uncultured. After an hour or so, she walked slowly to the Retiro metro station and took the red line to Sol.
Sol was one of the busiest metro stations in Madrid and Elena disliked the hustle and bustle, the beggars and, above all, the numerous groups of Peruvians playing haunting Andean music on panpipes. They just didn’t seem to fit into the Madrid scene and these ‘Sudacas’, as they were unaffectionately known, did not receive a great welcome in the historic centre of the Old Spanish Empire. Elena stopped at a kiosk in the station, bought two packets of Marlboro, as they had run out of Winston, and headed down the stairs to catch a train on the blue line. She felt as if she was being watched in the metro station but this was not unusual in Madrid as all the Madrileños had a nasty habit of staring.
The sun shone brightly in Elena’s eyes through the leafy plane trees as she emerged from Velázquez metro station. She instinctively lowered her sunglasses from her head where the stairs spilled out onto the street. As it was mid-afternoon, she found herself walking along an almost deserted Serrano Street to her family’s Madrid apartment about a block from the station. She couldn’t help an uncomfortable feeling that she was still being watched and decided she would have to take less alcohol and more sleep as the resultant hangovers were making her anxious and paranoid.
On arriving at the apartment, Elena showered and removed her contraceptive cap. She put on a light dressing gown over her naked body and, after closing her persiana blinds, she lay down on her unmade double bed for a much-needed siesta.

From: victor3895@latinmail.com

To: juancarlos3461@latinmail.com

CC: marta3681@latinmail.com

Re: Recent events

Everything OK. No need to relocate. New team in place - I've been appointed new chief exec.

I may have a job for you. Elena Sánchez (I think you've met her father) is needing a holiday - not permanent.

Get in touch with your cousin Arantxa to make the necessary arrangements for Monday 11th August.

Let me know when all is arranged and I'll give you further instructions.


PS: Mina insists on absolute discretion.

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Comments by other Members

old friend at 22:54 on 24 September 2003  Report this post
Hello Neal,

It surprises me that I am the first to comment for you have a good story and you write well.

I would suggest that you have another look at the way you start. I am sure you could improve the impact quality, even re-write this with the objective of more swiftly capturing your reader.

As I read your story I had the feeling that there was something that was holding me back, getting in the way of what should be a racy, exciting tale. There is a lot of narrative explanation with minmum action particularly in the first part of your story, but that was not the main reason why it was stop/start for me. The reason was... you write too much.

This is purely a personal opinion but let me suggest that you prune and edit very critically. Examples..?

OK from the top:-'the natural border between the two Countries' (delete)
'organisation's' (delete)
'seemed to be' (change to 'were')
'and not the police before letting her in' (delete)
'their discomfort becoming apparent' (delete)

Look carefully for words and phrases that add nothing to the story.

Try to avoid having to indicate who said what in your conversational sections and when you read further on you'll find that you use a lot of 'she' did this and 'she' did that.

Only an opinion... you make the decisions.

old friend, Len

Neal at 16:32 on 01 October 2003  Report this post
Thanks very much for your comments, old friend (or Len).

I really appreciate the feedback and will take your points into consideration.

As I'm sure you'll know, it's often only when we get another perspective on our work, that we can see how it can be improved.



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