Read THE ENGLISH WITNESS Online

Authors: John C. Bailey

THE ENGLISH WITNESS

BOOK: THE ENGLISH WITNESS
11.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ENGLISH WITNESS

by

 

 

 
John C. Bailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text copyright
©
1995-2016 John C. Bailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedicated to my wonderful wife Kate, our children
and our grandchildren.

 

 

 

 

About the Author

John Bailey has survived careers as a
linguist, international banking analyst and philosophy teacher. Now a Licensed
Lay Minister, he devotes his time to family and church activities, music,
cycling and travel. He and his family are based in Sussex.

Author’s Note

These narratives
straddle a time of massive political and cultural change in Spain as a whole.
The country’s rapid and peaceful progress from military dictatorship under
Franco to modern parliamentary democracy has been one of the great political
success stories of modern times.

 

The new freedom of
the Spanish regions to express their quite distinct cultural identities has led
to massive change, socially and linguistically, and nowhere has this been more
apparent than in the Basque Country where much of the action takes place.

 

Euskara –
the
ancient, beautiful and utterly unique Basque language – is once again at the
centre of life in the region, and its distinctive place names and spellings
have replaced those formerly imposed from Madrid. The Basque cultural capital
of San Sebastián now appears on many maps as Donosti; the tragic city of
Guérnica, immortalised in Picasso’s famous painting, is now Gernika. Where such
names occur in the text, I have used the version most appropriate to the
speaker or the context.

 

What follows is
entirely fictional, but anyone who recognises a little of themselves in any of
the characters or events will hopefully takes it as the token of enduring
affection and respect that was intended. And while the action takes place in an
authentic geographical and political landscape, I have taken minor liberties
with some names and features—occasionally just for dramatic effect, but in most
cases out of respect for the living.

PROLOGUE

The first sensation to worm its way into Father Goyo’s awareness – the
first landmark on his fitful journey back to consciousness – was the burning
cramp in his shoulders and neck. The second landmark was a dull ache that
throbbed just behind his eyes. He noticed the chill in the air last of all, but
as time went on the cold seemed to work its way right into his bones until it
came to eclipse all the other discomforts. He tried to move, but something
seemed to be holding him by the wrists and ankles. He was in total blackness, and
the only sounds perceptible were his own heartbeat and the rush of blood in his
ears.

Accepting at last that he was held
prisoner, and now in a growing panic, the young priest tried to shout for help.
Only then did he notice that his mouth was fastened shut. And a moment later, ignoring
the sickening pain in a desperate bid to attract attention, he began thumping
his head rhythmically against the thinly padded metal surface beneath him.

The silent figure in black tee-shirt and
jeans who stood nearby, patiently observing as the prisoner’s strength and
courage ebbed, did not look or sound like a man of violence. His scars both
physical and emotional were well hidden. The soft, cultured voice tended to put
people at their ease, initially at least. And in the absence of any distinctive
marks or features, the face was not an easy one to remember or to describe.
Only the name he insisted on using gave any clue as to his character.

Adolfo continued to watch impassively
until pain and exhaustion put an end to his prisoner’s struggles. Stripped
naked, and stretched out on a wheeled hospital gurney to which he was
handcuffed by his wrists and ankles, the young priest had bid farewell to any
semblance of dignity or holiness. In fact, in a position of such extreme
vulnerability, he looked younger than ever—little more than a boy. This was
work, the man in black had to remind himself, but to him it was the sweet spot
where duty, pleasure and dark obsession converged.

Stepping forward noiselessly, he bent down
and brought his mouth close to the young man’s ear. “
Kaixo
, my little
friend Goyo,” he said softly. He saw the body tense as if in anticipation of
what was coming, then go limp in despair. Gently, so gently, he eased off the
black hood and gazed down into the victim’s frightened brown eyes. He knew that
casual violence at this stage would be counter-productive, preparing the victim
psychologically for the sustained torment that was to come. “I need your help,
Father,” he crooned. “If you tell me what I need to know without delay, it will
save us both so much unpleasantness.”

Dazzled as he was by the harsh down-lighters
that studded the ceiling, Father Goyo could make out almost nothing of his
captor’s features, but he was reassured by the soft, kindly voice. And when the
adhesive tape was ripped from the lower part of his face, he did not cry out in
pain or distress. He did not plead for mercy. He simply gazed upwards into
infinity, silently asking the Blessed Virgin to intercede for him as he waited
to see what would be demanded of him. He was not in any frame of mind to put up
a fight.

He winced at first as he felt
himself being caressed gently, intimately, inquisitively rather than lustfully.
But gradually, for all the feelings of spiritual and moral outrage that such an
assault provoked, he began to relax and respond. Then, without warning,
excruciating pain shot through his lower body as an iron hand tightened its
grip. His eyes opened wide in agony and astonishment, only to see a surgical
scalpel glinting in front of his eyes. A face drew down close to his own, a
face that seemed vaguely familiar. “Spare yourself,” whispered the kindly
voice. “Tell me about your meeting earlier with those two nice young men. And
more importantly still, tell me all you know about Gato.”

The conversation carried on deep into the night. The young priest had
already poured out all he knew, spurred on by timeless moments of exquisite
pain, before realising the horrific truth: no amount of information or indeed
prayer was going to purchase a quick end to his final ordeal.

CHAPTER 1

 

It was dark again in the farmhouse kitchen, and the sounds
from around him had stilled some time ago. The boy was too young to put into
words what had happened, but he knew a bottomless sense of hurt and loss.

He had been
brutally awoken as a stranger dragged him out of bed in a dancing beam of
torchlight. He had sat in the kitchen, tied to a chair and gagged, screaming
inwardly as the men did something he only dimly understood, first to his
mother, then to his father. When one of the men had come towards him with a
knife he had thought he was going to suffer the same, but in a sense it was
worse.

His parents had
continued to struggle and cry out for some time after the men had gone. At
first the boy had hung on to the hope that they would break free and come to
his rescue, but he knew now that they were dead—along with a part of himself.
The men who had sentenced them to die had sentenced him to live.

There was light
coming in at the window now. The start of a new day. The start of a new life.
He flinched as he heard somebody knocking at the back door of the house. After
two knocks they pushed open the door and walked in. There was a sharp intake of
breath, followed by the sound of someone gagging, then rapidly receding
footsteps.

By the time help arrived, the bright light of mid-morning
was revealing in detail the horror of what had come to pass in the night. But
the pain that exceeded anything he had ever been able to imagine was still with
him, eclipsing the scene of horror before his eyes.

 

JACK

(Spring,
2013)

Jack Burlton stood on a windswept, almost deserted
embankment overlooking the choppy waters of the Urumea. A few metres behind him
stood San Sebastián’s main railway station, from which he had emerged just five
minutes earlier. A short distance to his left stood the ornate bulk of the
María Cristina bridge, carrying a steady flow of mid-morning traffic to and
from the city centre that lay just across the river. The road past the station was
completely clear of vehicles, however, and when he finally turned his back on
the river he saw that even the normally busy forecourt was now all but deserted.

Apart from the station entrance and the
blocky skyline across the water, the bridge was the only point of familiarity
in a landscape that Jack had expected to greet him like a long-lost friend.
Forty years earlier, as a language student on an extended study placement, he
had come to know the nooks and corners of the city as thoroughly as if he had
been born there. Now, reality seemed to mock his faltering memory.

He walked back across the road to the
empty taxi rank, casting his mind back to another April morning four decades
earlier: emerging from the same station onto the same forecourt under a very
different sky. Not knowing then what the future had in store, his mood of eager
anticipation had been heightened by a blue sky, warm sunshine and tired but
high-spirited travelling companions. That vividly remembered scene was in sharp
contrast to the cold, blustery weather and the sense of anti-climax that
greeted him now.

He was startled out of his weary reverie and
experienced a moment of panic as a black Mercedes saloon jerked to a halt in
front of him. Quickly regaining control, and assuming it to be a taxi, he had grabbed
the handle of his suitcase and begun to shuffle forward before he realised that
something unexpected was unfolding. Both doors on the passenger side of the plain
black saloon swung open towards him and two men stepped out, one of them in
police uniform. The driver, not in uniform but dressed as if for a funeral, remained
in his seat gazing straight ahead. Meanwhile the man in uniform stood beside
the car with his hand resting on the butt of a holstered handgun.

The car’s other passenger, a paunchy but powerfully
built man in his early forties with thinning black hair and a plain, dark-grey
suit, placed a heavy hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Will you get into the car,
please, Señor Burlton,” he said in heavily accented English.

Jack froze with shock for a moment as a soft
but menacing voice from the past echoed in his mind. He took an involuntary
step backwards, and would have retreated further if the speaker had not kept a
firm grip on his shoulder. “Why? Who are you? And what do you want?” he
stammered, glancing round in vain for sympathetic witnesses. To his concern,
the few people still in the area were studiously averting their eyes as they
hurried past.

The detective noticed Jack’s anxious
glance. “They prefer not to see,” he commented in a condescending tone of
voice. “They have seen too much already. But there is no need to be alarmed. We
just need you to answer some questions—hopefully in Spanish as we understand
you speak our language better than we speak yours.” Without waiting for a response
he continued in his native language, “This is a police operation, and I realise
this may cause you concern in the light of past events. But you’ll be quite
safe with us, and afterwards we’ll take you wherever you…”

“Look,” interrupted the Englishman, “I
don’t know who the hell you are, but…”

“My name is Miguel García Ruiz. I am
roughly what you would call a detective inspector, but please just address me
as Miguel.”

“Look,
Miguel
, whoever you are, you’ve
no right to force me into a car. I don’t know how you know my name or knew I’d
be here, but this is…”

“I’m not forcing you to do anything,” interrupted
the detective. “And we’ll explain everything in due course. But if you’re wise
you’ll come with us. In fact your own safety depends on it.”

Jack felt a growing sense of dread as
disturbing images flickered to life in his mind’s eye. History seemed to be
repeating itself, the past sucking him back in. The detective flinched as the Englishman
reached into an inside pocket, and the man in uniform had his pistol out and
levelled before it became clear that the newcomer was bringing out nothing more
dangerous than a mobile phone.

Jack looked into the dark eye of the gun
barrel. For a moment his mind froze as he was transported to another place on a
night that seemed to have no end. Then, not without difficulty, he was able to
tear his gaze away and make eye contact with the detective.
“I just need
to ring my friend Antonio,” he explained, his face pale with shock. “We’re
going travelling together. Revisiting some old haunts.”

“Señor Burlton, please get into the car. I
didn’t want break the news to you so quickly, but I’m sorry to tell you that
your friend Antonio is dead. He survived his injuries just long enough to tell
us you were coming. The problem is, he’s also told others—not willingly, I must
stress. Do you understand what I’m saying? I dare say you know the sort of people
I’m talking about.”

Jack turned his head swiftly from left to
right to left, scanning the forecourt once again for witnesses, but the area
was now deserted. A light dawned in his eyes. “We’re alone. You must have…”

“We’ve kept people away—largely for your
protection, may I add. You must come now.” He turned to his uniformed
colleague. “Alonso, please put Señor Burlton’s luggage in the boot.”

Warily, still in shock from looking down the
barrel of a gun once again, and numbed at the grim revelation about his old
friend, Jack slid into the back of the car. Miguel walked round the rear of the
vehicle to climb in behind the driver. The man in uniform waited until both
rear doors were closed before depositing Jack’s suitcase in the boot and
reclaiming the front passenger seat.

The makeshift roadblocks around the
station were already being removed, and the traffic built up quickly as Julio
steered the car over the river and into the city centre. Alonso spent the first
few minutes of the journey twisted round in his seat and eyeing the Englishman
suspiciously, his right hand never straying far from the still unclipped
holster. He saw a man approaching retirement age, of medium height and stocky build
with thick, silver-grey hair. The object of his rather hostile scrutiny was
wearing a shapeless blue fleece over a pale green chequered shirt with slightly
over-long sleeves. A cheap Swiss watch contrasted strangely with expensive rimless
varifocals. The visitor looked and smelled clammy, and he was in need of a shave.

Not an overtly threatening presence to be
sure, and Alonso regretted having been so quick on the draw back at the taxi
rank; it had risked making him look weak and nervous in his colleagues’ eyes.
But there was something about this Englishman, to all appearances no more than
a common tourist, that made him feel uneasy. Miguel had evidently felt it too,
and was letting the visitor retain too much control—as if the stranger were
doing them, the police, a favour by getting into the car.

Alonso was about to make a throwaway
comment at the Englishman’s expense when the driver muttered tersely, “We’ve
got a problem, Chief. Coming up fast behind.”

“Get us out of here, Julio,” snapped
Miguel. A moment later, Jack was jerked back against the seat cushions as the car
received a sharp jolt from behind before surging forward under its own power. They
accelerated briskly for a few seconds along a broad, tree-lined boulevard. Then
the driver wrenched on the wheel and tugged at the handbrake, causing the rear
end of the vehicle to swing out to the right. As he released the brake and the
shaken passengers rebounded in their seats, the wheels regained traction and
the car shot across a short gap in the stream of oncoming traffic. There was a
chorus of horns and squealing brakes, but a moment later the car disappeared
unscathed into a narrow lane leading towards the
Parte Vieja,
the city’s
old quarter. As Jack looked back, his view of the hostile vehicle was obscured
by a mass of gridlocked traffic.

“Still want headquarters, Chief?” asked
the driver drily.

“Not a good idea,” answered
Miguel. “They’ll assume that’s where we’re going and head us off. And they’ll
have more than just the one unit deployed. We need somewhere to hole up for an
hour or two while we organise a safe passage.”

It took nearly three quarters of an hour to get to the southern edge of
the city in the heavy traffic, with all four of the car’s occupants on the
lookout for further trouble. They left the vehicle in a diagonal kerbside
parking bay in the prosperous Anoeta district, close to the line of hills that marks
the southern edge of the city proper. Then they jogged as quickly as the
detective’s bulk would allow past a row of small shops and bars to a medium-rise
apartment block, and took the lift up to a spacious and well-furnished penthouse
unit. Julio the driver – a tall, wiry and energetic man whom Jack estimated to
be in his mid-thirties – explained that he had grown up in the apartment. It
belonged to his widowed mother, but he still had a key and she was staying with
her daughter and son-in-law in one of the outlying villages.

Jack was only semi-coherent at first, distracted
as he was with shock and grief, but Miguel was impressed by the speed with
which he pulled himself together. Then again, he was not unduly surprised at
this show of resilience given what he knew or suspected about events in the Englishman’s
past. Julio raided the cupboards for coffee, also bringing out a half-full
bottle of the sickly ‘43’ banana liqueur, while Miguel used the telephone to
report in. Then three of them began to talk in earnest while Alonso sat with a
bored looked on his face.

“Were they after
me
?” asked Jack,
his voice still shaky and his gaze fixed on a framed art reproduction that hung
from a hook on the wall facing him. He recognised it as Picasso’s “Guérnica”: a
wide canvas executed entirely in shades of black, white and grey, depicting a
stylised tableau of extreme violence.

Miguel watched him closely, and waited
patiently for the Englishman to make eye-contact before answering. “Without
wanting to alarm you, I think we have to assume that,” he admitted. “On the
positive side, it wasn’t a specially well executed manoeuvre. But it was
certainly designed to frighten, and it was carried out without the slightest
regard for your safety, or ours, or that of the general public. And if you fail
to get the message, I’m in no doubt that things will escalate.”

“But why? What have I done? What interest
could they possibly have in me?”

“Señor Burlton, you do have a… shall we
call it a history? One that involved your deceased friend. We don’t know the
details, but we have to infer a connection between your visit to San Sebastián
and his abduction.”

There was a long silence, during which
Jack stared fixedly at the nightmarish art reproduction on the wall. He did not
look away from it even as he began to speak. And when he finally began to talk
about the past, the last vestiges of his coherence and composure had vanished. “OK,”
he admitted. “Things happened. But they happened decades ago. My memory of them
is more than a little confused. I was…unwell. For months afterwards. Years, if
I’m honest.” More silence. “I still get flashbacks—sudden images and sounds in
my head that bring me to a standstill. You saw me down at the station, when the
gun came out—that was a mild one. And dreams...”

Jack shuddered visibly before drawing a
deep breath and carrying on, a little more sure of himself now. “I have a jumbled,
impressionistic idea of what I lived through. But when it comes to the precise
sequence of events, it’s hard to put things in order. And it’s harder still to
distinguish what actually happened from forty years’ worth of bad dreams and
what-ifs. And anyway, to be blunt, I don’t see how something that happened in
the early seventies – something that seemed all played out at the time – could
reach down and do harm four decades later. There can’t be a connection. It has
to be a coincidence.”

BOOK: THE ENGLISH WITNESS
11.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Mind Readers by Lori Brighton
Weave of Absence by Carol Ann Martin
Getting him Back by Anna Pescardot
Wake Up by Jack Kerouac
Love Me to Death by Sharlay
The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell
Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones