by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents
Chapter 8, part 4
appear in this issue.
Chapter 10: Barcelona, Spain
In a quiet back street, Carla materialised into the warm Barcelona evening, and strolled out onto the Ramblas at the south-west corner of the Plaça d’Espanya.
The Mater knew the address of Toni’s grandparents, and the fact that it was near the foot of the Tibidabo mountain: they had stored and preserved that data, and everything else that Toni’s memory held, several weeks before. But their data base did not yet extend to worldwide postal codes, and Carla could not, of course, simply lay her virtual hands on a street plan and take it from there.
Her first thought had been to do the natural thing and visit a Tourist Information Office. But that wasn’t going to work on a Saturday evening. And getting through the front door, sans Illuminator, would anyway have posed a real problem. No: tonight they would have to start from grass roots.
She soon spotted a real tourist consulting a map, and hurried up to him, intent on using English rather than exercising her limited Castilian in this stronghold of the Catalan language.
‘Excuse me, sir ... can you show me exactly where we are?’
‘Of course — look, just here, on this side of the square.’
‘Thank you! And can you see the Tibidabo on the map?’
‘Oh, I don’t know where that is. Wait a minute, I’ll try the index ... yes, it’s up there to the north, look. Bit of a walk and a climb!’
‘No problem! So I’ll need to head along this street here ...’
‘Sorry, I’m a bit short-sighted! What’s its name, please?’
‘Let’s see ... it’s the Carrer de Balmes.’
‘Ah, thank you, sir!’
Over the next fifteen minutes, three further public appeals to both tourists and local people, linked by short, unseen high-speed city transits, led her eventually to the street she sought. It turned out to be just one hundred yards from the tramline station at the foot of the city’s wide and towering hill.
Un-made once more, she located the right house and walked straight through the front door. Ignoring the elderly couple who were quietly eating their evening meal, she targeted the other rooms, and was very relieved to discover Antonio Murano in the first bedroom she tried. His half-packed suitcase was open on the floor, there were bits and pieces lying around all over the room, and he was clearly preparing to go out for the evening. All the better. No risk of disturbing his hosts. She would wait.
* * *
Just before ten o’clock, Toni wished a cheerful goodnight to his grandparents, left the house and set off for the nearby metro station.
He’d been promising himself a night on the town ever since he’d arrived, but had not got around to it until now. And this was his last chance. It was Saturday evening, he’d been told about a great music bar, and he could have a long lie-in the next day ... his flight back to Bilbao wasn’t due out till late afternoon.
Of course, it would have been really nice to have Paula along with him — but that was all in the past now. Tonight, dammit, he was going to think about himself for once!
He hadn’t mentioned his purported kidnapping to his tutors at the Conservatorio, when he’d gone back in, suitably contrite, the previous Monday morning. He’d told them instead that he’d simply felt the need to take some time out. They were not impressed. And they could see he was in no fit state to re-start his demanding studies. He had lost three weeks already, but they told him to take another seven days away, and spend them thinking carefully about what he really wanted to do next.
He’d soon realised he couldn’t face a whole week at home with his parents and their inability, despite what they’d agreed, to drop the subject of his kidnap and move on. So that evening he’d packed a proper suitcase, said a terse goodbye, and caught Tuesday’s first flight to Barcelona.
He’d given his welcoming grandparents a decent slice of his time since then, of course, but he’d passed most of the week wandering the streets of the beautiful city, revisiting many of its masterpieces of art and architecture, and studiously avoiding any proper self-analysis. And he’d even taken the train down to Sitges on the Friday, and spent the whole afternoon lazing on the sunny beach with intent to self-renew. But most of the time he’d simply dozed instead.
So he was due back at the Conservatorio on Monday armed with a credible recovery plan. But he’d made precious little progress on that front, and well he knew it ...
Toni’s tranquil, pensive path was suddenly barred by the sight and sound of a woman emerging from the front porch of a small apartment block. An unmistakable woman, squaring solidly up to him, smiling broadly, and humming Bright Lights and Promises quite divinely. That woman at the café! Lisa, of all people! He stopped dead in his tracks.
‘What the hell are you doing here? Stalking me all the way from Bilbao! And humming my favourite song! Now I know you’re insane ...’
‘Don’t you “Hola” me! And put your hands down ... hey, what is this ... karate?’
Carla took a firm virtual hold on Toni’s head, and Quo swung rapidly into action.
Easy does it, Toni. There is nothing to fear. Now, please move at once into the privacy of this lobby ... good ... now just lean gently back against the wall and pretend to be taking a little rest from a long walk ... that’s good, very good.
‘What’s going on here? Who are you? And where’s that Lisa gone now? I don’t trust her an inch!’
Toni, be calm. Unfortunately you remember nothing of your earlier happy times with the young woman you have just met again. She is not Lisa, but she certainly resembles her rather closely, as you now know only too well.
Let me briefly refresh your memory ...
‘Oh! It’s Carla! She’s Carla! And you are Quo!’
Ssshhh — not so loud, Toni! Yes, you are correct. But there is much more to tell you. Be patient now ...
Over the next five minutes, Antonio Felipe Murano was selectively re-briefed on the Mater’s grand plans and his suitability as the lovely Carla’s trusted Illuminator. But all his memories of their earlier times together in Europe, erased on his return home the previous week, would stay erased. The new “true story” given to him at that time by Quo, which presented him as the hapless victim of some undetected Italian street kidnapping, and had now been tested and fully accepted by the Spanish authorities, would remain firmly embedded in his mind as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
So, Toni, we have a little mission for you. And we are confident you will decide to accept it.
‘I’m not so sure, Quo. I feel I understand everything you have somehow just told me. And the idea of working with you and Carla is quite attractive. But last time I followed her, I got caught up in a terrible mess, and then I was kidnapped, and ...’
Toni, please try to relax. We expect no such difficulties this time. We shall look after you with even greater diligence. And the risks of any such kidnapping are, anyway, simply too small to be worth even considering. So you may lay aside all such concerns, and come away with us ...
I beg your pardon? I am afraid I have not fully re-tuned myself to your most individual style of thematic association.
‘What you just said, Quo. It sounds like the inscription over the Gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Except he tells his travellers to lay aside all hope.’
Very droll, Toni. It all comes back. But let us assume that you are indeed content to re-join us, and proceed without further delay to the substance of your initial task ...
‘I’m all ears.’
We need you to help us recover a rather delicate situation.
You have, of course, no recollection of a young Italian gentleman named Salvatore Pirone. When you and he meet up, soon, in the USA, it is possible that he will feel he recognises you. But he will quickly realise that he is confusing you with a much longer-haired student, to whom he spoke only very briefly in a jazz club in Venice, last month.
Salvatore is presently helping us in our work, Toni, in the way that you too will, in the near future. However, we have encountered certain difficulties. And although you do not appreciate why, we have immense confidence that you, in close liaison with your new friend Carla, will not only be able to help us out of those difficulties, but also greatly assist us with challenges to come.
‘And this means ...?’
And this means we should like you to cancel your plan to return home tomorrow, and follow instead some instructions which we expect you to receive, early in the morning, by phone.
‘Look, I realise I’ll definitely be coming with you, Quo. But I hope you can make me a few promises ...’
And Toni laid down his “conditions”.
He would really appreciate plenty of time for sightseeing, please (he’d never been to the States before, and he was in truth feeling very excited at the prospect). And Carla should spend as much time with him as possible. And he wanted the opportunity to enjoy all sorts of music while he was there.
And perhaps Quo could somehow help him sort things out with the Bilbao Conservatorio? Because he’d been thinking ... maybe it would be best to tell them he’d decided take the rest of the academic year off, “to regain his strength” — and that he’d like to be able to restart the full annual curriculum again in the autumn.
Quo, under far less pressure than her reinstated supporter believed she was, nonetheless agreed without argument to everything he had requested.
And now, Toni, to business.
Please take your bank and credit cards from your wallet, and hold them in front of you for Carla to read.
‘Wait a minute, Quo ... OK, here they are.’
Oh dear. I was hoping she would be able to pick up all the account details for me. But the numbers are far too hard for her to see ...
‘I agree! I can barely read them myself, they’re so worn out — and these cards are only a few months old.’
Hmm. Very well, Toni. Please just study them carefully yourself, for a few moments ... good, that will do nicely.
I shall proceed at once to ensure that there will always be adequate cash funds in your bank account, and your monthly credit card bill will always be paid promptly from the bank account, as usual.
And lastly, I shall need to know the number of your nice new mobile phone, which I see you have not yet memorised. Please check it quickly for me ... good, I have it now. As I said before, you should receive an important call early tomorrow morning. You will then follow the instructions you are given, to the absolute letter.
And I suggest you take a little time, before you leave, to say goodbye once more to your family and to anyone else you might choose.
We shall meet again soon, Toni, in your incomparable New World ...
Toni found himself quite alone in the dusty lobby. Deciding he still didn’t understand this very strange old world in which he was destined to live, he back-tracked to his grandparents’ house, interrupted their TV programme, and told them he’d changed his mind about spending the evening downtown. Instead, he was going to get an early night. He still had a lot of thinking to do ...
* * *
Circumstances and the clock were still working against them, so Quo and the Handler moved rapidly onwards. In no time at all, the radimote had crossed the Mediterranean Sea and was once again passing unheard and unseen through the front door of Giuseppe Marco Terleone’s smart apartment in the Via Veneto in Rome.
But this time the place was deserted. They had known it was only his weekday home, of course, but although it was a Saturday night, they had been hoping he might possibly be there. Never mind, thought Quo — they had struck lucky with Toni: they would just have to work a little harder to catch up with Giuseppe. They also knew perfectly well where he spent his weekends.
Carla checked the Mater’s database, and swiftly transported the radimote to the GPS co-ordinates of the small Umbrian village which was the seat of the now redoubtable Famiglia Terleone.
There would be no need to seek out a street name or a house number on this occasion. One polite enquiry, made to a village elder who was strolling home in the warm springtime twilight, was enough to direct her straight to the magnificent hillside villa.
And there she soon found Don Giuseppe, conveniently alone in his study. Good: that would save them a few precious minutes. Their ever-ready benefactor should have more than enough time to succumb once more to her charms, answer Quo’s latest call, and then make a few of his own to put a new set of wheels in motion ...
* * *
Early the following morning Toni was woken by the promised ringing of his mobile phone. The Italian voice at the other end was one he had never heard before and would never hear again.
‘Señor Murano? Buongiorno. Your great-uncle wishes you well. Do you have pen and paper?’
‘You will book on this morning’s Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, departing at 1140. You will check into a city hotel for one night. At six o’clock you will rendezvous with “Donny” at The Quay’s Bar. Wear a yellow rose. Capito?’
There was no Internet PC at his grandparents’ house. So Toni called Directory Enquiries for the number of the Barcelona airport switchboard. They put him through to the Aer Lingus sales desk, and he reserved one of the few remaining seats on Flight 563. The booking clerk was happy to transfer him over to the Iberia desk, and he announced to them that he was unwell and would have to cancel his flight home to Bilbao. Then, at his plaintive request, they gave him the number of a taxi firm. He called it and arranged a cab for the airport.
He couldn’t face talking to his parents about his new plans. Not now, at least. They would only start another fight. He sent them a brief text message instead.
He grabbed a quiet breakfast — his grandparents had not yet emerged — then packed his bags and pronounced himself ready to leave. But it was still only ten past nine. At least fifteen minutes to spare before the taxi would arrive.
He decided to ring Paula.
‘Hi, it’s Toni.’ ... ‘No, it’s a new phone.’ ... ‘No, I’m in Barcelona.’ ... ‘No, they made me take another week off.’ ... ‘No, I haven’t decided what to do yet.’ ... ‘No, I’m going to do some travelling first ...’
This wasn’t going the way he had planned.
‘Look, Paula, let me say something! I’ve been wondering if you want to give it another try. Maybe when I get back ...’
‘Toni, why can’t you understand? I’ve told you how things are. You must accept that.’
‘But I wouldn’t be in this mess if I’d been a bit more attentive to you, and you hadn’t gone and changed everything while I was away ...’
‘Oh, for God’s sake stop blaming me! And stop blaming yourself. Nobody is to blame. We’re all just people, being people. The sooner this stupid new world stops trying to blame every little thing that happens on somebody else, the better!’
‘Paula, that’s not what I meant ...’
‘Look, I’m just following my own heart. It’s the only way. Move on, Toni. Try to follow yours.’
She cut the call.
He spent the last few minutes, before the arrival of his taxi, thanking his ever-accommodating grandparents for their kindness to him throughout that week, and telling them briefly of his newly-hatched plan to see the world.
Then they watched him slide resignedly into the back seat of the waiting cab. And as they smiled and waved goodbye, they were both shaking their heads in the mild despair often felt by those who have been there, bought the oversized T-shirt, rarely worn it, and long since thrown it out.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2006 by Michael E. Lloyd