You know those gaunt figures who appear in pairs on lonely Spanish roads, scaring the wits out of everybody with their black tricorn hats, great green cloaks and rifles? Well, one of them was my friend Paco. The other--the one with five days' black stubble on his chin and a patch of dirty sticking-plaster on his left ear--was me.
Also my feet hurt. We'd had nearly a week of what they call servicio de campo, which means pushing around the countryside listening to complaints about the neighbours' goats, keeping the gypsies on the move and sleeping in our cloaks.
When we left Madrigal del Mar five days ago there were the usual rumours that the hinterland was crawling with suspicious characters. Paco, who reads El Coyote and the comics, had great hopes about Red spies, or at least white slavers; but we hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary except old Don Fernando, who is well known to be crazy.
He was pottering about with a spade on the ancestral estate near Torre Negra. The property consists of a twenty-mile stretch of barren hills with nice views over Madrigal and the coast a few miles away, and not much else. The hills don't grow anything except an occasional carob tree, and when it rains, which it doesn't often do, a few thousand pesetas' worth of esparto grass.
There is an abandoned quarry overgrown with cactus which Don Fernando tells foreign visitors is of Roman--or it may be Carthaginian--origin.
Around the house there's half an acre of irrigated land with a palm or two, a few lemon trees which need pruning, and enough alfalfa to feed his horse, which is called Rosinante for the benefit of cultured tourists who have heard of Don Quixote.
The house itself looks like an ancient brick barn fortified with turrets and a square tower. The great front door is flanked by big columns twisted like corkscrews.
Between them half a dozen chickens without any neck feathers were scratching pessimistically. Above, the ducal coat-of-arms was kept in place by a bit of rusty barbed wire. Don Fernando's line is art rather than house repairs. There isn't any sanitation; his sister, Doña Carmen, doesn't believe in that sort of thing.
They keep a maid called Maria, who is a friend of Paco's. Paco has a wide acquaintance among the prettier chicas of the district. Maria tells him the house is practically empty, the contents having gradually disappeared to stock the antique shop Don Fernando started a couple of years ago in Madrigal.
Paco was leaning over the wall trying to attract Maria's attention when Doña Carmen spotted us. Doña C. doesn't like Civil Guards, and when I gave her a diplomatic "buenos dias" she picked up a gun and threatened to take a pot shot at us.
She would have too. Doña C. has no respect for law and order. She doesn't acknowledge the legal authority of any government since the time when the Moors were expelled from these parts in the thirteenth century.
Paco wanted to argue, but, personally liking the old bag, I calmed him down. Paco has only been in the Guardia Civil for a year and he lacks suavity. I'm a Cabo--something like a corporal--and have nearly five years' experience. I'm Paco's superior and I told him to shove off. As a matter of fact I'm in charge of the Civil Guard post at Madrigal and have six Guardias under me.
I saluted Doña Carmen politely and said I was at her service. She pretended to recognise me.
"Juanito!" she said, dimpling and showing the two or three dark ivory tusks which are all she has. "Come in, pequenito, and divert me."
I explained rather stiffly that I was on duty. My name is Juan Llorca, and being a bit over six feet tall I don't care to be called 'little one'. Besides, the way she winked one watery eye made me feel conspicuous. Doña C. is maybe eighty and weighs about a hundred kilos. Also she smells of garlic, and when she leers at you sentimentally the hairs on her upper lip twitch.
I indicated her brother, who was furtively shovelling rubble into a hole he had dug over by the quarry, and, making conversation, asked,
"How are the Duke's excavations going? Any more interesting finds?"
There had been a Greek vase which caused quite a sensation in Madrigal last winter when it turned up in the antique shop. Then a couple of months ago a statuette of Venus or somebody had been dug up in the quarry. I saw it myself in the shop window and privately thought it pretty disgusting. It was about the same shape as Doña C, only the head and arms were missing. Like her, it could have done with a good scrub, and you could see where Don Fernando had glued on the legs. It certainly looked antique if that's the kind of thing you like. They said some Swedish millionaire paid God knows how many thousands for it.
She ignored my enquiry and, nudging me, said in a raucous whisper, "Get rid of your eunuch friend and come back."
I rejoined Paco. He was sulking about the eunuch crack, which was admittedly unfair.
"I could cause trouble for those two," he said.
"Not as much trouble as they could cause you."
"That junk he sells! You know what Maria says...
"Then you'd better tell her to stop saying it."
"It's just that I don't like people being made mugs of."
"If buying it makes them happy ... Anyway they're only foreigners."
"There is that," Paco said, appreciating the point.
"Besides, if Don Fernando's antiques were all that antique they wouldn't be allowed out of the country and our export trade would suffer in consequence," I said. "Julia..."
Paco pricked up his ears. "Julia?" he said as though the name was new to him.
"You interrupt too much. As I was saying, Miss Fairfax says Don Fernando is a first-class artist in his own right and that..."
"Oh, her..." Paco mused. "Nice legs though."
"...and that the Romanesque altar-piece by unknown artist is in its own way a genuine work of art."
"There's a devil with a forked tail and feet like a goat and..."
"I mean about Julia Fairfax."
I moved over to my side of the road. We're supposed to walk on opposite sides of the road, and after five days of Paco's company I was grateful for the distance which the regulations imposed. Paco grinned and stopped to roll a cigarette.
"Señorita Fairfax is an artist," I told him.
"I know, I copied it all down from her passport last winter when she arrived," he said. "Profession, artist. Born, Plymouth, England, 1935. Height, five feet six inches. Hair, chestnut. Eyes, grey-green. It's not Señorita though. She's Mrs. Fairfax."
"Is she?" I said.
We trudged along in silence for a while. I made an effort to interest him in Nature, pointing out some scruffy-looking weeds which somebody--all right, it was Julia--once told me were asphodels. I suddenly wondered if staying away for five days wasn't overdoing it.
"What's the hurry?" Paco called. "I'm hungry."
"You can eat in the Cuartel." The Cuartel is where we live, our barracks. Except for the Hotel Miramar, the Cuartel of the Guardia Civil is the most impressive building in Madrigal--from the outside. "In nearly a week," I said, "a lot of things demanding my attention could have cropped up. All right, if you can't wait, let's eat."
He began to unstow a couple of bright-red knobbly sausages and the leather bottle of black wine some chica up beyond Torre Negra had given him that morning. It tasted like tar, but it was served at room temperature, that is, just off the boil. With the chorizo and a kilo of bread it tasted all right.
We were just lying back with our tricorns tilted over our eyes for an hour's well-deserved sleep when a car came belting up from the direction of Madrigal. We scrambled to our feet and appeared in our traditional attitude, looming up in a sinister way, one on each side of the road.
It was an open car, all chromium and pretty pastel shades.
"Caddy Convertible," Paco said knowledgeably. "Texas licence."
I was about to abandon dignity and jump for it when the driver saw us and slammed on his brakes. He was a big fellow in dark glasses, ash-blond and very smooth-shaven. He looked as though he was used to at least three baths a day and about five steaks. He had a pale suntan, very white teeth and well-kept fingernails.
"Hey, you!" he said. "Are we right for Torre Negra?"
I didn't catch it at first, because I was looking at the girl in the front seat beside him, which took up all my time. She was about eighteen, with red hair all over the place and one of those mouths that makes your own mouth begin to water in sympathy. She had a small nose with a few freckles on it which she wrinkled as she stared at you. Her big golden eyes were inquisitive rather than impertinent, puzzled, as though you were a new specimen she wasn't familiar with. Her body looked tough, but pleasantly rounded. She was wearing a thing called a playsuit which showed brown knees and long pumice-stoned legs.
"Maybe he doesn't speak English, Uncle Gary," she said in a kindly voice such as you use when referring to the feeble-minded.
Uncle Gary tried again, articulating more clearly. "Speakie Engleesch? Tory Negro? Savvy?"
"Torre Negra," I said, "is about five kilometers up the valley."
Then a kid crawled out of the upholstery in the back seat. He had been hiding, apparently, and was wearing a bandanna tied around the lower half of his face. He wore a cowboy hat and was armed with two six-shooters.
"Shall I let him have it, Mary Lou?" he asked the girl.
And he let me have it--both pistols full in the face. They were water pistols filled with wine, good wine too--Rioja, probably Marques de Riscal, though I didn't appreciate this detail until a bit later when I calmed down. The stuff blinded me for a moment. I could just see Mary Lou squirming on the front seat, nearly laughing her playsuit off.
I wanted to tell all three of them to take a long running jump at themselves, but my English wasn't so good at that time. Besides, I'm a member of an ancient and honourable corps. So I just said, "Maricón!" and left them to work it out for themselves.
I heard Mary Lou's happy ripples of mirth as the car swept off. I mopped my face and looked at Paco to see whether he was grinning. Though he has a keen sense of humour he hadn't yet seen the joke. He was gazing in a dreamy way after the departing Cadillac.
"Ay-eee," he sighed. "Do you know what I could do with that little red-head?"
Knowing the way his mind works I didn't ask. To be perfectly honest my own mind was working along similar lines.
It took me half an hour to cool off. It wasn't until we reached the edge of the village that I realised something which caused me considerable satisfaction.
For the last half hour I hadn't once thought about Julia Fairfax.