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Authors: Tom Knox

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense

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BOOK: The Marks of Cain
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‘So what do I do now?’

‘Come by the office tomorrow. Sign a few documents. The money is yours.’

‘Just like that?’

‘Just like that.’ A pause. ‘However…Mister Martinez. You should know there is one codicil, one clause to the will.’

‘And that is?’

‘It says –’ The lawyer sighed. ‘Well…it’s a little eccentric.
It says that first you have to utilize some of the cash to…do something. You have to go to the Basque Country. And find a man called José Garovillo in a town called Lesaka. I think that’s in Spain. The Basque Country, I mean.’ The lawyer hesitated. ‘So…I guess the best way to do it is this: when you reach Spain you just let me know and I’ll wire the cash into your account. After that it’s all yours.’

‘But why does he – did he – want me to find this guy?’

‘Search me. But that’s the stipulation.’

David watched the rain through the window, as it turned to drizzle.

‘OK…I’ll drive by tomorrow morning.’

‘Good. See you at nine. And once again, my sympathies on your loss.’

David dropped the phone and checked the clock: working out time differences. It was too late for him to call England and tell anyone the bizarre and amazing news; it was too late for him to ring his boss and tell him to go choke on his stupid job.

Instead he went to the little table and picked up the map. He unfolded the soft, sadly faded paper and scrutinized the tiny blue asterisks. The stars had been firmly and neatly handwritten next to placenames. Striking placenames.
Arizkun. Elizondo. Zugarramurdi
. Why were these places marked out? What did this have to do with churches? Why did his grandfather even own this map?

And how come his impoverished grandfather had
two million dollars that he never touched?

He needed to look for flights to Bilbao.

3

In the crowded Arrivals lounge of Bilbao airport he opened his laptop and emailed Frank Antonescu. Attached to the email was a jpeg of himself holding a Basque newspaper, to prove his arrival in the country: to fulfil the one stipulation of his grandfather’s will. The entire escapade was surreal, and borderline foolish, and yet this was what his grandfather wanted. So David was happy to obey.

Despite the troublesome time difference, the lawyer emailed back, at once – and with impressive efficiency: the money was being wired over.

Clicking on a website, David checked his bank account.

There. It was really
there.

Two point one million dollars.

The feeling was unsettling, as well as gratifying.

He was
rich
but in a garish and discomfiting way; he didn’t quite feel himself; he felt like someone had snuck into his house, and painted his furniture gold. Was he even allowed to sit down?

Shutting his laptop, David yawned, and yawned again, and glanced through the wide glass terminal doors. It was
raining, very hard. And he was very tired. He could do the rest of his travelling tomorrow.

Sheltering ineptly under his copy of
El Correo
David wheeled his luggage to the taxi rank; he was saved by a cheerful cab driver with a lurid Barcelona soccer shirt under a smart leather jacket, who smoked and chattered as they pulled out of the airport.

The taxi slashed along the rainy motorway. On the left was the distant greyness of the Atlantic Ocean, on the right sudden green hills reached to the clouds; in the steep dips between the hills lurked steelworks and papermills, and factories with tall redbrick chimneys churning out ribbons of smoke the colour of faded white underwear.

David buzzed down the window and let the rain spit onto his face. The cold rain was good – because it pierced the weary numbness; it roused him, and reminded him. He gazed at the Basque Country. He was
here.

He’d done some investigating during his thirty-hour flight around the world: some internet research into the Basque Country, and the Basques.

He now knew that some people thought the Basques were descended from Neanderthals. He knew that they had surprisingly long earlobes. He knew they had a unique and complex language unrelated to any other language in the world; he knew that
Arrauktaka
meant ‘to hit someone with an oar’.

He had also learned that the word ‘bizarre’ came from the Basque word for ‘bearded’; that the people were tall and burly compared to Spaniards; that the Basques were expert whalers; that they had special cherries, a passion for rugby, their own form of linen, a wavy solar symbol called a
lauburu
, and a tiny wild horse called a
pottok.

David buzzed the window shut. The research had been diverting enough, but it hadn’t been able to give him any of the information he really wanted. Who was José Garovillo?
What was this reference to churches? What about Granddad’s map?

The memory of Granddad was a discernible pain. David fought back the emotion; if he thought of his grandfather the thread of cognition could so easily lead to his parents. So he needed to
do and not think
; and he had one more severance to make, one more definite change to enact.

He picked up his mobile and pressed.

The phone rang in London.

‘Roland De Villiers.
Yes?

It was the normal snooty, self-consciously weary locution. The same voice that David had endured for half a decade.

‘Roland, it’s David. I –’

‘Oh for God’s sake. Rilly. David. Where are you
now
?’

‘Roland –’

‘You do realize your desk is piled high? I don’t care about your frankly peripheral circumstances. You are a professional, get a grip. I expect to see you behind that screen in the next hour or –’

‘I’m not coming back.’

A pause.

‘You have one hour to get back here –’

‘Give my job to that guy in accounts. The one who’s banging your wife. Bye.’

David clicked off. And then he laughed, quietly. He could picture his boss in his office, red faced with anger.

Good.

In front of him the motorway dipped and curved; they seemed to be cutting towards the middle of the city. Grey apartment blocks, stained by rain, stood to attention along the route.

The taxi driver looked up at David, mirrorwise:


Centro urbano, señor?
Hotel Donostia?
Sí?



. Er…

. Yes. Centre of the city. Hotel…Donostia.’

The driver turned off the
autopista
and headed down into the wide and principal streets of the town. Large grey offices exuded an air of damp pomposity in the gloom. Many of them seemed to be banks. Banco Vizkaya. Banco Santander. Banco de Bilbao. People were scurrying past the sombre architecture, with umbrellas aloft; it was like a photo of London in the 1950s.

The Hotel Donostia was very much as it had appeared on the website: faded but formal. The concierge looked disdainfully at David’s creased shirt. But David didn’t care – he was almost delirious with tiredness. He found his room and fought with his keycard; then he collapsed into his oversoft bed and slept for eleven straight hours, dreaming of a house with no one inside. He dreamed of his parents, alive, in a car – with small wild horses, cantering across the road.

Then a scream. Then redness. Then a small boy running across an enormous empty beach. Running towards the sea.

When he woke, he opened the curtains – and gawped. The sky was bright blue: the September sun had returned. David pulled on his clothes, filled up on coffee and pastries, then called a cab, and hired a car at the railway station. After a moment’s hesitation, he rented the vehicle for a month.

The main road out of grimy Bilbao took him east towards the French border. Again he thought of his mum and dad and Granddad; he averted himself from the thought, and concentrated on the route. Was he going the right way? He pulled over at an Agip service station; its huge plastic logo – of a black dog spitting red fire – was overly bright in the harsh sunlight. Parked up, he took out the old map and traced his finger over the cartography, examining those delicate blue stars dotting the grey foothills. They looked like distant policelights, glimpsed through mist and rain.

Then he half-folded the map, and for the first time he
noticed there was proper writing, in a different hand, scribbled on a corner of the map’s reverse. Seen in the stark sunlight the writing was very faint, and
possibly
in Basque, or Spanish. Maybe even German. The writing was so small and faded it was quite indecipherable.

It was another puzzle – and he was no nearer to solving any of it. But at least the map told him one thing: he was going the right way, into the ‘real’ Basque Country. He started the car once again.

The drive was hypnotic. Sometimes he could see the blue ocean, the Bay of Biscay, sparkling in the sun. Sometimes the road ducked instead through those dark green shady valleys, where the white-painted Basque houses looked like cuboid mushrooms, suddenly sprouted overnight.

At last the road divided, near San Sebastian; thence the smaller, prettier road headed for the interior: the Bidasoa Valley. It was as scenic as his research had promised. Tumbling mountain rivers ran down shady gorges, enormous oak and chestnut forests whispered in the delicate September air. Lesaka was close. He was in the Basque Navarre. He was nearly there.

As David slowed, he noticed.

Something was happening in Lesaka. The edge of the town was marked by big black police vans, with metal grilles over the windscreens. Surly-looking Spanish riot policemen were sitting on walls, and chatting on mobile phones; they all had very obvious guns.

One of the cops stared at David, and frowned at the car, and checked the numberplate. Then he shook his head, and pointed at a parking space. Mildly unnerved, David slotted in the car. The policeman turned away, uninterested. He just wanted David to stop and walk.

Obediently, David slung his rucksack over his shoulder and paced the rest of the way into Lesaka. He remembered
what he had read about Basque terrorism: the campaign for Basque independence by the terror group ETA. It was a nasty business: killings and bombings, intense and surreal atrocities, men in women’s wigs shooting teenagers dead. Very nasty.

Was this police activity connected with that?

It was surely possible; yet it was hard to reconcile such horrible enormities with a place like Lesaka. The quiet air was cool and sweet: mountain freshness. The sky was patched with cloud, but the sun was still shining down on ancient stone houses, and an old church on a hill, and mild stone palazzos surrounding little squares. On streetcorners there were strange pillars, carved with the curvilinear sun symbol, like an Art Nouveau swastika. The
lauburu
. David said the word to himself, as he walked through Lesaka.

Lauburu.

Not knowing quite what to do next, he sat on a bench in the central plaza, staring at a large stone house hung with the green, red and white Basque flag, the
ikkurina.
He felt a sudden foolishness: what
should
he do next? Just…ask people? Like some amateur detective?

An old woman was sitting next to him, clutching a rosary, and muttering.

David coughed, as courteously as he could, then leaned nearer and asked the woman, in his faltering Spanish:
did she know a man called…José Garovillo?

The woman glanced warily his way, like she suspected him of some imminent street crime; then she shook her head, rose to her feet, and walked off – scattering pigeons as she departed. David watched her shadow disappear around a corner.

For the rest of the afternoon he tried his best: he asked more strangers on the streets and stepped inside two
supermercados,
but he got the same blank or even hostile reactions.
No one knew José Garovillo, or no one, at least, wanted to talk about him. In frustration David retreated to his car, hauled out some clothes and a toothbrush, and booked into a little hotel at the end of the main road: the Hotel Eguzki.

The allegedly double room had a design of shepherds’ crooks on the wall, and bathtaps which coughed rusty water. David spent the evening eating supermarket chorizo, watching Spanish TV quiz shows, or gazing at the indecipherable writing on the map. He could feel the loneliness like a song in the air. A wistful old folk song.

The morning found him more determined. His first visit was to the church, a decayed and musty building with a fragrance of mildewed leather hassocks. A stricken wooden Christ gazed longingly at the vacant pews. There were two fonts. The smaller of these was carved with a strange symbol, like an arrow, incised brutally into the old grey stone.

He touched the stone, which had been polished to smoothness by the centuries, by a million peasant hands, reaching in for the magic water, daubing it on grubby foreheads.

In nomine patris, et filii, et spiritus sancti…

Enough. This was useless. David hoisted his bag and exited the church, stepping with relief into the grass-scented daylight. Where would people congregate? Where would he find life and chatter and
answers
?

A bar.

He made for the busiest street, lined with shops and cafes; then he selected the Bar Bilbo
.
There was music jangling inside, and through the thick windows he could see people drinking.

A few faces turned as he entered. The dark and dingy bar was crowded. A group of teens were chattering in a corner, talking the most guttural Spanish David had ever heard. Sitting at the opposite table was a young woman, an attractive blonde girl. She glanced his way, then turned back to
her cellphone. The rest of the bar was dominated by swarthy, black-haired men, downing glasses of cloudy cider and laughing along to the music.

It was then that David recalled – the music. It was the same kind of music that had been playing at Granddad’s funeral. Wasn’t it? A vigorous, slightly discordant guitar song. What did this mean? Was there some direct link to the Basques? Was his grandfather actually…
Basque?

David had never heard his granddad speak anything but Spanish – and English. And their family name was authentically Hispanic.
Martinez.
Yet the stocky men actually looked like Granddad. And David’s father, for that matter.

Another mystery. The mysteries were
breeding.

Leaning on the bartop, he ordered some
cerveza
in his conspicuously pathetic Spanish. Then David sat down at a nearby table and drank the beer. Again he felt paralyzed: idiotic. But he also remembered his grandfather’s words: go to Lesaka, find José Garovillo, and ask about the map. So he should do it.
Just do it.

He stood up, and tapped the shoulder of the largest guy at the bar.


¿Ola?

The man ignored him.

‘Er…
Buenos días
.’

Several other customers, with wide brooding faces, were contemplating David’s failed attempt at conversation. Faces impassive. Yet somehow surly.

He tapped the man’s burly shoulder once more.

‘¿Buenos días, señor?

Again, the man ignored him.

Two of the other drinkers were now glaring at David and asking him sharp questions in their glottal accents. He didn’t understand what they were saying. So David pointed at the map, and reverted to English.

‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt…but. Really sorry. But this map…I was just kinda given this by my grandfather…and told to come here and look…at these places – see, Ariz…kun, Elizonda? Also I need to find a guy called José Garovillo
.
Do you know where I could find him?’

Now the biggest man turned, and he said something very terse.

David was lost.

‘Er…I’m sorry…But…my Spanish is pretty poor?’

The men scowled, with real fury; David realized he must have made some major error. He’d gone too far. He had no idea why or how, but he’d done something stupid. The atmosphere had most definitely intensified. The music had been switched off.

BOOK: The Marks of Cain
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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