Authors: Alli Sinclair
âI do, though.'
âI'm fine. I promise.' The realness of this potentially explosive situation
hit her hard.
âI don't believe you but I know you well enough to not push for answers. I just hope you will come to me when the time is right and explain.' Squeezing her arms, he said, âYou're the little sister I never had and I am always here for you, especially if you're in trouble.'
âI'm not in trouble.'
âI'm not so sure that's true.' Kissing her on the cheek, he said, âIt is my duty, and wish, to look out for you.'
âThank you, Salvador.'
After he left, Katarina let out a long sigh. Salvador finding the letter had been a close call and now she had to be extra careful because he'd be watching her like a hawk. This, along with Federico and his recent strangeness. She didn't worry that Salvador would go to the authorities because of his views, but it was his safety, and that of his family, that caused immense worry. She just hoped he didn't start digging around and left well enough alone.
Katarina sat on the edge of the bed and placed the phone on the receiver, her heart heavy with worry. Claudia's early morning call had caught Katarina off-guard because since his son's birth, Salvador hadn't made a habit of staying out all night. Gone were his nights of drunken stupors and sleeping in bars. These days he went straight home after his performance, safe and sound to his wife and baby.
Katarina quickly donned a dress and coat. It had taken some convincing, but Claudia had promised to stay home and look after the baby while Katarina searched for her best friend. Unease swirled around her as she slipped on her low heels. The timing of Salvador's disappearing act coincided with him discovering the letter from her fictional flamenco teacher. She prayed it was just a coincidence.
âOh, Salvador, what have you done?' she muttered as she scribbled a note for Raul, who'd arrived at her place late last night after working on a couple of
at the theatre. He'd been in a mood, no doubt having got into yet another argument with Federico who was growing more cantankerous by the day. She and Raul had made love but the connection she usually felt wasn't there. He was preoccupied but denied it vehemently. Maybe it had something to do with the latest movements of the Maquis. Last she'd heard they were assembled at the French border in readiness to attack Franco's Spain, but so far nothing had transpired.
Unable to sleep, Raul had gone to the markets early to try to buy some of the limited produce before it sold out. These were the things that reminded her why she did what she did. Once the Maquis outed Franco then her countrymen would find a way to stop the suffering, the hunger,
My dearest Raul,
S is missing. Gone to find him. Will let you know if help needed.
Leaving the note on the pillow on his side of the bed, she left her apartment, which had become a second home to Raul, and dashed down the stairs and onto the deserted street. She would have preferred Raul helping, but the urgency in Claudia's voice and last night's events with the letter spurred her to start the search for him straight away.
Hurrying down Calle Consuelo, she passed the almost deserted cafÃ©s and restaurants. In the distance lay the ever-present Sierra Nevada, the snow-capped mountains that created a magical backdrop against the centuries-old Moroccan architecture, but as she travelled the streets, concern for Salvador weighing her down, the scenery lost its beauty. Reaching Salvador's favourite bar, she rested her forehead against the window, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness. There was no movement, but he could easily have passed out under a table and been left by the bar staff to recover from his stupor. It certainly wouldn't be the first time it had happened.
Knocking on the window, she scanned the bar, hoping for someone to appear from the shadows but her urgent raps went unanswered. Her next option was the theatre, figuring he may have wandered there from the bar and not had the energy to stumble uphill towards home. Pulling her collar up around her ears, Katarina marched down a few blocks, turned into the alleyway and searched in her pocket for the key to the stage door. She shoved the key in the lock, twisted the handle and let herself in. The click of her heels echoed down the dark hallway as she made her way to Salvador's shoebox-sized dressing room, and her fingers fumbled for the light switch. She eventually found it and turned on the light, expecting to see Salvador's bulky form sprawled across the furniture but when the room lit up, an empty couch lay before her.
Frowning, she scanned the room looking for signs of discarded items of clothing or any other evidence that Salvador had spent the night there, but nothing appeared out of place. Turning on her heels, she switched off the light, exited his room and went up the stairs to the stage.
âSalvador?' Her voice echoed in the vast expanse of darkness. âAre you here?' She yelled his name a few more times then jumped off the stage and ran up the aisle and into the main foyer. Daylight streamed through the windows, highlighting the pockmarked marble. With no luck there, she rushed back to the dressing rooms and into hers. Flicking on the light, she entered then reached out to grip the doorframe. Lipstick, hairbrushes and hair-ties, powder and papers, were strewn across the room as if a small hurricane had swept through. Her favourite chair was upside down and her father's painting lay on its side. Rushing over, she picked up the artwork and checked for damage. The bottom left-hand corner had a rip. Although the painting held no value other than sentimental, it had always given her good luck before every performance. But now, looking at the tear, albeit small, sadness overcame her. Perhaps she'd been foolish to leave it in her room.
Clutching the painting against her chest with one hand, Katarina used the other to pick up her belongings and pile them back on the dressing room table. Her senses heightened, she held the artwork and stuck her head out the door, checking for any signs of movement.
It didn't make sense: why had her room been ransacked while Salvador's remained untouched? Why would â¦ panic shot through her already tense muscles. Could someone suspect what she'd been up to? Perhaps this person was looking for evidence of her involvement with the Maquis. Dashing down the deserted hallway, she passed Federico's office and noticed a light under his door. What was he doing here this early? The sound of rustling paper and muttering filtered through the cracks and she knocked on the door, her breath coming out in short, sharp bursts.
Heavy footfalls announced Federico's arrival and he opened the door a fraction then slammed it shut, the lock clicking into place.
âHey!' She pounded on the door. âLet me in.'
âI'm busy,' came the muffled voice.
âFederico!' Katarina bashed the wood with her fists.
âLet me in!' she yelled, annoyed and alarmed by his strange behaviour.
More muffled sounds came from behind the door and this time she heard two voices. She eavesdropped without success. Katarina hated being ignored so she lifted her hand to hit the door again but it swung open to reveal Raul standing in front of her.
âWhat are you doing here?' she asked, startled by his unexpected appearance. âYou said you were going to the market.'
âI â¦' Raul gazed at the heavens, as if looking for inspiration.
âYou what?' she demanded. Federico's reaction at her turning up was bad enough but Raul lying? That invoked anger and hurtâemotions she did not want to experience at the hands of her lover.
âI called him in on some urgent business.' Federico looked her in the eye even though she knew he was lying through his teeth.
âHow?' she asked. âRaul was at my place last night.'
Federico's lack of reaction to her statement showed he already had knowledge about their affair.
Dear Lord, what else does he know?
âRaul is a creature of habit. What does he do every Wednesday morning at six?'
Katarina pulled her lips into a thin line.
âHe goes to the market, yes?' Federico said with a self-satisfied smile. âI needed to speak with him urgently, so I found him there. And by the way,' he leant in close, almost leering, âeveryone knows about your involvement with Raul.'
âEnough, Federico,' Raul said.
Adrenaline rushed through her veins and she glanced at her lover, who wore a deep frown. âThat's impossible. Salvador's not stupid and he didn't know about us until last night.'
âApparently he is very stupid.' Federico casually walked behind his desk and gathered the papers spread across the surface. He shoved them in a drawer, locked it and put the key in his top pocket.
âWhat's that supposed to mean?'
âFederico, don't.' Raul shook his head.
âDon't what? What do you know?' She struggled to remain calm, anger surging through her from Raul's lack of disclosure. Why had he lied to her? Her gaze travelled from one man to the other, but neither looked directly at her. âWhat?'
âI caught your friend Salvador ransacking your room late last night,' said Federico. âAnd mine.'
Katarina held her chin high, not believing a word of Federico's, although after her discussion with Salvador there was a small chance he might have gone looking for more letters from the supposed teacher in
France. But why would he bother with Federico's office?
Deliberately sounding indignant, she said, âSalvador would never go behind my back. Or yours.'
âWell, he did this time,' Federico growled. âHe's violent and cannot be trusted.'
Looking at Raul, she asked, âWhat's he talking about?'
âYou don't need to worry, Katarina. Does she, Federico?' Raul widened his eyes at Federico, trying to relay â¦ something. What were they up to? And why did her heart feel like it had just plummeted to murky depths?
âIf she insists on being nosy, then she should see this.' Federico lifted his shirt to reveal a saucer-sized bruise below his ribcage. âYour friend left a calling card. What do you think about that?'
âWhat?' She covered her hand with her mouth. âThere is no way Salvador would hurt anyone. He's not violent.'
âWhen he is sober, maybe, but when he's drunk that's a different story.' Federico pulled his shirt down and tucked it into the top of his trousers.
âIt must have been an accident. He mustn't have seen you.' Katarina shook her head and Raul placed an arm around her shoulders. She shrugged him away.
âYour friend Salvador is fired,' Federico spat out.
âBut he's â¦' She let the words fall away. A lump stuck in her throat and she swallowed hard, but it wouldn't budge. What had sent Salvador off the deep end? It couldn't have just been her letter. Or could it? Guilt swamped her.
âI think it's best we go.' Raul guided her towards the door and she went along with him, keen to get him alone to press for answers. Something was off about Federico, but she couldn't figure out what it was.
âFine. Go.' Federico waved them away and returned to tidying his desk. For a room that was supposedly ransacked it looked awfully neat.
Katarina and Raul walked in silence down the hallway and exited the theatre. They stood in the alleyway, and she leant against the wall, clutching the painting against her chest.
âWhat's going on, Raul?'
He looked up and down the alley. âLet's go for a walk.'
âPlease, Katarina. This is not the place to talk.'
âWhere is a good place, huh? No matter where we go there are ears wanting to take the smallest snippet of conversation and turn it into something bigger, something dangerous. Since Francoâ'
âStop it,' Raul said between gritted teeth as his eyes scanned the alley.
âWhy should I? No one's safe. I'm tired, Raul. Tired of working towards something I have no idea will eventuate. Even if they do succeed, what state will our country be in anyway?'
Raul stepped towards her and grabbed both her arms, his fingers digging into her skin. âYou have to stop talking.'
âWhy? It's my fault Salvador's missing andâ'
Raul leant in and whispered harshly, âYou need to come with me.'
* * *
The mid-morning sun shone above the Alhambra, which towered over Plaza Nueva, the bright blue sky creating a picture perfect backdrop. Unfortunately it was marred by Raul's hand firmly gripping Katarina's as they crossed the plaza.
âWhen will you tell me where we're going?' Katarina shook her hand free of Raul's and she halted their forward momentum.
He grabbed her hand and tugged it. âYou'll find out soon enough. Let's keep going.'
âI'm not going any further until you tell me where we're headed.'
âWe're visiting a very good friend of yours.' He emphasised the last few words and raised his eyebrows.
âWho do you think? Let's go.'
âSalâ' Her voice trailed off, not wanting to say his name out loud in case ears were listening. How did Raul know where he was?
âWe need to hurry.'
âPlease, tell me what's going on.'
Raul leant in, his warm lips against her ears. âYou have to trust me.'
She wanted to, but his weird mood sent alarm bells ringing. If Salvador were with her right now, he'd â¦ and that was the point. He wasn't and it appeared Raul could rectify this.
Giving in, she started walking again and Raul hurried her through the ancient alleyways of Sacromonte, their breath coming out in short, sharp bursts. Then Raul took a left turn that led them to a dead end where three
small doors leading to who-knows-where were the only escape route. Taking out a key, Raul unlocked the battered middle door. Katarina followed him inside, stopping just over the threshold to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness. He placed his finger over his mouth and they silently walked through a couple of empty rooms to the back of the house where he stopped in front of a closed door and rapped the distinctive four-count beat of a
. Raul waited a moment before entering and Katarina followed. When she saw a large, hulking form huddled in the corner, she rushed over and wrapped her arms around him.