Excerpt from Darkness in Vélez-Málaga

Chapter 1

The allure of enthralling entertainment at Málaga’s prestigious temple to the arts was proving irresistible. The bustling tapas bars surrounding Plaza de La Merced were beginning to empty as the migration toward the grand Cervantes Theater gained momentum. Spain’s premier Flamenco dancer, Salome Mendosa, was due on stage for her third of four weekday performances in the provincial capital.

From all over the province, dedicated fans were flocking to the richly decorated eclectic styled theater, inaugurated in 1870. The light was fading fast on a balmy December evening. A half-moon was peeking over the rooftop antennas.

An elegantly dressed, tall athletic man in his early forties with shaggy blond hair and steel-blue eyes was seated on a terrace table at Restaurant Cortijo de Pepe overlooking the tree lined plaza. He raised his eyes at the attractive, younger woman opposite. She nodded.

He gestured the waiter to bring the bill, stood, extracted his wallet from his blue serge blazer pocket, counted out two ten euro notes and placed them under the serviette holder. She tightened her wrap around bare shoulders then flicked her long raven hair, so it hung free outside of the pink material. He pulled out her chair, helped her to her feet and they joined the throng of theater goers.

“Where do we pick up our tickets?” said Phillip Armitage as they walked along with the good-natured crowd.

“We have to knock on the stage door,” said Amanda Salisbury.

There was a flurry of activity at the stage door. It was constantly open as an endless stream of messengers dropped off floral tributes. A uniformed doorman checked each arrival for security risks, then passed it inside to a harassed apprentice for distribution to the tetchy performers as they went through their warmup rituals.

“Tickets for Salisbury?” said Amanda.

The doorman dug deep into his multi-tasking capabilities, scratched his ear, and reached for a bunch of envelopes on a shelf inside the door. He checked them through, stopped at the last but one, and handed it over as another bouquet was thrust into his other hand by a breathless, lycra clad cyclist carrying a large square box strapped to his back.

They joined the queue at the front door. When their tickets had been scanned, a young, uniformed girl stepped forward, smiled and said, “Follow me, please.” She led them up a busy staircase to the first floor and into a long curving corridor. At the far end, she opened the last door and waved them into a luxurious private box. “Enjoy the show,” she said and left them to it.

“Wow,” said Phillip as they entered the enclosed space and saw the stage almost within touching distance. “I didn’t expect this.”

“Me neither,” said Amanda slipping off her wrap and hanging it over the back of a plush blue chair.

“When was the last time you saw Salome dance?” said Phillip leaning on the balcony to survey the noisy crowd jostling for their seats in the auditorium below.

“Not live since we were in the same year together at university in Madrid,” said Amanda settling into her seat. “Then only at the occasional juerga.”

“Juerga?” said Phillip taking off his jacket. It hung on it the back of his chair and sat down next to her. “Not heard that word before.”

“It means an impromptu gathering of Flamenco artists, usually gypsy dancers, singers, and musicians. They just turn up at their regular bar and do their thing. No rehearsal, no program, just spontaneous heartfelt performances fueled by copious draughts of their favorite beverage. Then they split the pot at the end of the evening. Many have lived off that for decades.”

“Not many places like that anymore,” said Phillip.

“One of the downsides of gentrification,” said Amanda tossing her glossy hair. “It might scrub up a neighborhood, but it has forced the less well-off gypsies too far from the town center. Which is a shame because I prefer their pure, raw Flamenco. It makes my hair stand on end. Somehow, when it’s choreographed, it loses something.”

“Did Salome study Flamenco at Uni?”

“No. She wanted something to fall back on if she couldn’t make it dancing, so took a master’s degree in Business Administration and Management. She’s actually her own manager.”

“We should write a Flamenco article for our Spanish guide my love and explain its nuances to our subscribers.”

“Good idea,” said Amanda smiling as she glanced down at her engagement ring; an oval sapphire surrounded by a modest nest of diamonds which sparkled in the box lighting. She reached out, grasped his hand, and gazed lovingly into his eyes. “Perhaps Salome could help us?”

“That would be fantastic, but would she?” he said admiring her elfin looks and sexy curves barely covered in a low cut sleeveless black dress. “After all she’s a megastar nowadays.” He reached out and stroked her cheek, then looked toward the stage as the announcer pleaded for mobile phones to be turned off.

Amanda squeezed his hand. “Let’s ask her at the restaurant later.”

As the lights began to dim, the magnificent Bernardo Ferrandiz ceiling painting gradually faded into the gloom until darkness prevailed and the audience chatter abated; interspersed by an occasional cough. For a moment, total silence engulfed the theater.

A single guitar chord shattered the stillness. A spotlight faded up to reveal a statuesque woman in her mid-thirties poised stock still in center stage. She wore a vivid blood-red, figure-hugging Flamenco dress with a long-ruffled train and matching dancing shoes.

Salome Mendosa leaned forward slightly from the waist, weight favoring her left leg, arms raised above her head forming a heart shape as the still unseen guitarist continued strumming the introduction. Her long, black, glossy hair was gathered into a ponytail and a red rose pinned behind her left ear. She glanced at the audience through dark brown eyes set in a striking face with well-defined cheekbones. She smiled before setting her jaw in a serious mask of concentration.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” resumed the announcer. “The Cervantes Theater presents the Salome Mendosa Flamenco Spectacular.”

The guitarist upped his tempo and volume. The fluid rhythm of the traditional Spanish instrument echoed around the theater as dexterous fingers with long fingernails reinforced with super glue; flew over the frets and strings.

The guitarist paused. Salome breathed in deeply, her pert breasts rising under her sleeveless gown. She raised a thigh, stamped her heels three times, bent one knee, pointed her foot at the floor and tapped it once with her toe. The raised wooden floor built on top of the theater stage amplified the raucous sound, highlighting the difference between the robust stomp of a heel and the more delicate tap of the toe. The music restarted.

The rear of the stage gradually brightened to reveal a kitchen table surrounded by four high back wooden chairs. Standing behind the seating were three women, all with roses behind their right ear, hands ready to clap. These were the performers of Jaleojaleadores. Jaleo means racket or noise, but in this application describes the loud clapping that forms a key element of discerning Flamenco. One will clap the beat, another the offbeat, the third will weave in and around the others.

Seated at two of the chairs were the talented but overweight male guitarist and a well-rounded, middle-aged, mousy haired female singer. Next to the end chair was a percussionist; a somewhat grand description for a slender young man sitting on top of a wooden box tapping its front. He provided the base tone and rhythm. The men were dressed in black pants and frilly white shirts, the ladies in full length sky-blue Spanish dresses.

Amanda glanced at the program which described the first item of the ninety-minute show as a soleá; a highly expressive individual dance.

The singer, whose rasping but powerful voice reminded Phillip of the late Joe Cocker, began to wail her way through a sad poem of unrequited love. The jaleadores took turns to call out; olé or así se canta, that’s the way to sing, or así se baila, that’s the way to dance. Salome began to twirl, moving her arms, wrists, and hands then stamping in beautifully coordinated elegant movements. The harmonious combination of guitar, clapping, foot-stamping and box tapping generated a thunderous noise that bounced around the far corners of the theater and reached out to the inner musicians of the audience as they tapped feet or fingers more or less in time.

While the music created the ambiance, it was Salome that captured everyone’s hearts. Her accentuated hip and body movement drew the eye to her curvaceous femininity. Her waving hands and arms emphasized her hips, waist, breasts, and swan-like neck while her sparkling eyes engaged the spectators with smoldering, intense glances.

Phillip was mesmerized by the speed of Salome’s foot stamping. Her heels and toes thundered against the floorboards which at times created a sound that reminded him of the drum rolls on parade during his military days. Then she spun out of the stamping into a series of elegant pirouettes where she lifted her skirt, exposing bare athletic legs. She swept the ruffled train of her dress up in the air with one leg, while spinning around on the other. Amanda wished that she could move so gracefully.

This was Flamenco surpassing its finest, blood stirring, erotic and captivating.

After Salome finished the soleá to tumultuous applause, she performed a mixed bag of traditional dances including a buleria; a fast-moving dance that originated in Jerez de la Frontera considered the home of Flamenco. The music is octosyllabic with the three, sometimes four verses varying in mood from deep pain and sadness to abject joy and pleasure. The jaleadores expressed each emotion with their body language, facial expressions, and cries of agony or delight.

Then followed a selection of modern Flamenco that fused elements from other dance forms such as ballet and tap. The audience gasped as in a complete break from convention, the musicians and jaleadores stood and walked forward to surround Salome under the same spotlight as she danced. The percussionist left his ungainly box behind and joined in the Jaleo. Normally, musicians remained at the back leaving the dancers to take center stage.

After the number finished to a deafening roar of ‘ole’ from the audience, the musicians returned to their seats at the table where they were joined by another singer and guitarist.

Salome stood center stage with arms by her sides, head bowed, waiting, and breathing hard.

A spotlight focused on the curtain at the left side of the stage where a tall, handsome man with long dark hair and a superb physique was waiting in the wings. He was dressed in tight black pants, a frilly white shirt and carried two pairs of castañuelas or palillos also known as castanets or clackers. The musicians began their introduction, the man skipped over to join Salome and handed her one set of the traditional percussion instrument.

They faced the audience, bowed, turned toward each other, raised their arms, and clicked their castanets simultaneously. Then the pair weaved around each other turning, arms undulating, foot-stamping and castanets clacking in a fast-moving fandango. But this display was far more than just a dance. Their hip movements and admiring glances toward each other as they moved around the stage were subtle, but no one could miss the raw sexual chemistry that exuded between them even though they never actually touched.

The evening’s entertainment progressed to its climax with another final spine-tingling fandango. The performers joined hands, came to the front of the stage, and bowed to a well-deserved standing ovation. An encore was inevitable.

At last, it was over. As the performers moved once more to the front of the stage for a final bow, Salome looked up at Amanda who smiled, expecting something similar in return from her closest friend, but all she could see was a fleeting look of abject despair.

Chapter 2

“Why do you think Salome looked so worried?” said Amanda tightening her pink wrap around her shoulders as they jostled out of the main entrance to the theater and headed left toward the restaurant in Plaza de La Merced.

“At the end you mean?” said Phillip.

“Yes. When she saw me, she switched momentarily from a happy dancer to a miserable person in a blink of an eye.”

“Did she say why she wanted to see you?”

“She wanted to meet you and talk about her role at our wedding in Gibraltar next spring.”

“It was generous of her to send the complimentary tickets. That box must have cost a fortune.”

“She can afford it, but she was given them for free for her family to use.”

“Then why give them to us?”

“She doesn’t have any.”

“Unusual for a Spanish lass. There are normally hundreds of them.”

“She was adopted as a baby by an elderly couple. They died when we were at uni. I went to both funerals.”

“How sad,” said Phillip as they walked along at a snail’s pace hemmed in by the dispersing theater crowd onto Calle Ramos Martin. Phillip nodded at the now-familiar Comisaría, the Police Station where they both occasionally worked as translators for Detective Inspector Leon Prado. “Perhaps seeing you reminded her of their deaths.”

“Unlikely, it was a long time ago. It must be something else,” said Amanda following the line of his gesture. “It’s been ages since we’ve seen Leon.”

“Not since the Ronda case,” said Phillip as they turned onto the cobblestones of Calle Gomez Pallete, passing a gastro market on one side of the street and apartment blocks on the other. “Perhaps, we foreigners are behaving ourselves for a change but I’m sure he’ll call when he wants something. Does Salome know anything of her natural family? Surely those dancing talents must have come from somewhere?”

“All her adoptive mother told her was that when the time was right, she would find out and she shouldn’t worry about it.”

“That must have been difficult to deal with?”

“She was in therapy for a while and seems to have come to terms with it.”

“Is she having a relationship with the male dancer? They looked extremely comfortable and familiar with each other.”

“Unlikely, he’s gay.”

“What about a boyfriend?”

“She prefers men but never settled in one place long enough to have anything more than brief affairs.”

“Like you were then?”

“Until you came along. You don’t have a secret brother somewhere for her, do you?”

“Ha, no, there’s just me and my sister Glenda. We could share though, except.”

“Greedy bastard,” said Amanda punching his arm lightly and grinning. “Except what?”

“She’s not my type. Too leggy and muscular, face too boney. You know I prefer my lady’s petite, elfin and soft, just like you.”


“You’d prefer no compliments?”

“I’m not used to it, that’s all.”

“Should I stop?”

“Don’t you dare.”

She squeezed his arm as they passed Pablo Picasso’s birthplace and arrived at Restaurant La Plaza; a high-class establishment with a renowned British Chef and accustomed to catering to celebrities, especially during the annual Málaga Film Festival. 

The terrace was packed. A waiter opened the high wooden door and they went inside.

“Have you a reservation, Sir,” said the distinguished Maître D, a tall man in his early fifties with silver hair.

“For three in the name of Mendosa,” said Phillip.

“This way, please.”

They followed the man over the terracotta tiled floor through the busy restaurant to one remaining isolated table at the rear where they could talk without being overheard.

“May I offer you a drink while you wait for the Señora?” said the Maître D.

“Cava, for me please,” said Amanda

“Oloroso for me and agua sin gas,” said Phillip.

The Maître D helped Amanda with her chair, and they sat down facing each other.

“How long will she be?” said Phillip.

“About ten minutes,” said Amanda. “She hired a local car with a driver, who will drop her off.”

Another waiter served their drinks and handed them a menu each to study while they waited.

Phillip was pondering over the braised ox cheek or the Moroccan lamb when the Maître D led Salome over to the table. Salome had changed into tight black pants and a red silk blouse. She slipped out of her black leather bolero style jacket, handed it to the Maître D, placed her bag by the chair on the floor and turned to face Amanda. They both stood to greet Salome. Phillip watched as the two old friends hugged and exchanged cheek kisses. Salome’s mood had changed since the final bow at the theater, now her expression was pure joy at seeing Amanda again. Salome turned to Phillip who held out his hand politely. Salome ignored it and hugged him. He hugged her back.

“You are a lucky man,” said Salome in perfect English with a slight American drawl. “This gorgeous girl has broken many a heart, but I can see that you are just right for her.”

“I have to agree,” said Phillip, “But how did you identify that in such a short time.”

“Ha,” said Salome. “What are you, five years older?”

“Eight,” said Phillip.

“Really. You don’t look it,” said Salome.

“Perhaps I’ve chosen the wrong girl?” said Phillip.

“Nope, you’ve made the perfect selection,” said Salome. “She’s always preferred her men more seasoned, but you have that rare combination that includes all her other preferred qualities.”

“What has she been telling you?” said Phillip mocking concern.

“I could say, tall, athletic, blond shaggy hair, blue eyes, and chiseled looks,” said Salome. “But what Amanda could never resist is a calm, kindly demeanor and you’re comfortable with smart beautiful women. Most of her exes couldn’t hack that she was more successful.”

Salome turned to Amanda and grasped her hand. “You better look after him or I might just take him for myself.”

“Ha,” said Amanda. “Actually, Phillip did offer to share.”

“Now that is food for thought,” said Salome grinning while pulling out her chair. “Shall we sit and talk about it?”

Phillip stepped forward and helped push her towards the table.

“And such a gentleman, thank you, Phillip,” said Salome smiling at him. “Have you guys ordered already?”

“No,” said Amanda as she and Phillip sat down. “We waited for you.”

“Then let’s order Cava and drink a toast to your forthcoming nuptials,” said Salome turning to attract the waiter. “Then you can tell me what it is that you want me to do at the ceremony and after that,” she paused, and her expression changed to one of despair. “I will tell you my news.”

The waiter served the Cava.

They raised their glasses.

“To the happiness of my dearest friend and her husband to be,” said Salome as they chinked glasses. “May you have lots of sex and babies.” Amanda blushed as they sipped their Cava. “Seriously though,” said Salome replacing her glass on the table and picking up a menu. “Do you intend to have children?”

“We do,” said Amanda. “And, if it’s a girl, we’ll call her Salome.”

“How does Phillip feel about that, having met me?”

“Phillip feels just fine,” he said smiling at Amanda. “And the sooner the better before my little swimmers need artificial respiration.”

“Then may I suggest the oysters,” said Salome grinning. She paused, the sadness returning to her eyes. “They say more mature fathers make better parents. I don’t know if Amanda told you Phillip, but I was adopted as a baby by an elderly couple. They were already in their fifties and were wonderful. I miss them terribly.”

Salome covered her eyes with her hands and breathed deeply while she collected herself. “Sorry to sour your happy moment with my pathetic emotions,” she said looking up. “But would you mind if I tell you my news right now. It’s just that I’ve been bottling it up for a while and once I’ve dumped it on you, will feel better equipped to talk about the wedding.”

The waiter chose that moment to take their orders.

They opted for mains and desserts. Phillip went for the lamb; the ladies chose the sea bream.

“I’ve received a disturbing letter,” said Salome as the waiter tapped their order into his machine and headed to the next table. “From an Abogado, lawyer in Vélez-Málaga.”

“Is someone suing you?” said Phillip.

“On the contrary. They’ve invited me to collect my inheritance from my birth family.”

“Wow,” said Amanda. “Didn’t your mum say that something like this might happen and that you shouldn’t worry about it?”

“I knew you would remember,” said Salome with tears in her eyes. She reached for her bag under the table and burrowed for a while before extracting a packet of tissues.

“Is that why you looked so sad on stage?” said Amanda.

“You saw that. Shit, I thought I’d hidden it better.”

“It was extremely brief, I doubt anybody else noticed,” said Amanda.

“That’s a relief. Truth is, I’ve been a bit weepy since the letter arrived. It’s forced me to reappraise what I’m doing.”

“You have a wonderful life,” said Amanda.

“On a career front, yes, but emotionally I’m a complete mess. Now my natural family is also deceased, it means I’m completely alone in this world. Other than you guys, and a couple of other dear friends, I have no one to love or to love me, and that scares me.”

Salome reached out and gripped a hand from each and squeezed hard. “Listen, I’m just not up to lawyers on my own tomorrow. Are you free to come with me?”

“When?” said Phillip.

“In the morning at eleven,” said Salome. “I could pick you up around nine-thirty.”

“I’m so sorry but I’m committed,” said Phillip.

“Don’t worry my dear friend, I will come,” said Amanda.

“Thanks,” said Salome, eyes watering again but looking relieved as the waiter served the food. “Now what do you want me to do at your wedding and why Gibraltar?”

“We don’t need you to do anything,” said Amanda trying a forkful of the fish and nodding her approval. “Just be there and witness the event. It’s a simple civil ceremony in the old Gibraltar library and the paperwork there is so much easier for us foreigners than marrying in Spain. Especially as I’m American and he’s British. It’s why John Lennon and Yoko Ono married there.”

“Posh frocks or jeans?”

“Nothing over the top,” said Amanda. “But what about your schedule? Surely you won’t have time to help me choose my dress?”

Salome looked down, gathered her thoughts, and said. “Actually, that’s my next bit of news. I have one more show here in Málaga, then I’m off for a week. Hopefully, that will be enough time to sort out this inheritance thing before I’m due in Barcelona. After that, I’m done until Antonio Banderas opens his new Soho Theater here in Málaga next December where I’m making a special appearance in his Chorus Line production. What that means is, I’ll have plenty of time to assist in your dress selection.”

“Fantastic,” said Amanda looking concerned. “But what are you going to do with yourself?”

Salome wrung her hands and looked at her old friend. “I don’t know. What I am sure of, is that I’ve had enough of trailing around living out of a suitcase. I want to settle in one place. Teach maybe. Frankly, while I’m so busy, I really can’t think too clearly about the future, only what’s happening tomorrow.”

“Perhaps,” said Phillip relishing his lamb. “This birth family thing might open some doors, or give you some ideas?”

“Let’s hope so,” said Salome. “Because the uncertainty is depressing me.”

“Then perhaps wedding dress shopping is just the therapy you need,” said Amanda.

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” said Salome brightening. “Sorry. I’m being selfish. Enough of my problems. Tell me, what kind of look are you thinking of?”

As the girls lost themselves in the technicalities of clothes and accessories, Phillip watched them both eating and talking avidly. What have I done to deserve this? He wondered. My beautiful fiancée and her gorgeous friend. It would be devastating to lose either of them.

“Are we boring you, darling?” said Amanda looking concerned about him as the waiter cleared the plates.

“Not at all,” said Phillip. “Whatever you guys decide to wear, you’ll both look stunning. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to control myself on the day.”

“You don’t need to on my account,” said Salome smiling and licking her lips as the waiter returned with the desserts. They had all chosen the Crème Brule with Amaretto accompanied by warmed summer fruits.

Silence prevailed between them as they savored the delicious flavors.

“Did you agree on a dress?” said Phillip after finishing his last mouthful and wiping his lips with a serviette.

“Good Lord, no,” said Amanda.

“Lot’s more debate to go,” said Salome.

“Well you know what I have in my wardrobe,” said Phillip. “Just tell me what you want me to wear. The pink floral suit or the bright orange blazer.”

Salome’s expression was epic.

“He’s joking,” said Amanda.

“Whew,” said Salome.

“Darling, you wear whatever you want,” said Amanda placing her well licked spoon on the empty plate. “Just be there.”

“Now you’re joking,” said Phillip reaching for his wallet. “Where else would I be? I’ll get this.”

“It’s my treat,” said Salome signaling for the check. “Consider it a thank you for sharing your precious day plans with me.”

Salome paid with her card. Phillip helped her on with her jacket then Amanda her wrap and they left.

Outside, they exchanged cheek kisses and farewells.

Amanda and Phillip stood, arms around each other and watched Salome speaking into her phone as she strode to the corner of Plaza de la Merced to meet her driver. Two minutes later, she climbed into the back of the hire car and drove off. When she disappeared, Amanda turned to Phillip. “Are you OK my love, only you looked a little preoccupied back there. Not scaring you off, am I?”

Phillip picked her up and swung her around nearly bumping into an elderly couple. They apologized profusely but the couple laughed with them enjoying their playfulness.

“I used to be able to do that,” said the old man.

“You used to be able to a lot of things,” said the old lady cackling.

“Only good for changing light bulbs and putting out the trash nowadays.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the old lady. “You can still light my candle.”

“Not as often as I’d like.”

“Don’t want you having a heart attack.”

They all laughed and parted company.

“Ain’t love grand?” said Phillip. “We’ll be just like that in our dotage.”

“Weren’t they lovely, but I’ll be wanting to play with your wick zillions more than her.”

“I’ll do my very best.”

“Promise that you’ll tell me if you’re not happy with anything.”

“Yes, dear.”

“Never say those two words to me ever again.”


“No…not ever,” Amanda said punching him hard on the upper arm. “We’re an equal partnership and I never want my man to think of me as ‘the missus’ or ‘her indoors’ as we grow older. Otherwise, before you know it, you’ll be in the potting shed looking at porn, which would be devastating when you can have the real thing whenever you want.”

“We don’t have a potting shed.”

“You know what I mean. I don’t want us to fade away into being just friends that tolerate sharing decades together but each doing their own thing. I’m blessed to have you as part of my life. For the first time, I feel like a complete woman and I want to stay like that. Thank you, darling.”

Phillip stooped to kiss her on the lips. “That’s one of the many things I love about you, Amanda. You tell it straight and I know exactly where I stand.”

“Then we’re in accord, which is a relief because I have something else to tell you that could change your mind.”

Phillip stopped in the middle of the street put his arms around her shoulders and gazed directly into her eye’s eyebrows raised, desperately concerned about what she was going to say.

“Well, er… you know we agreed that,” she said. “That we would wait until after the wedding before we began our earnest quest to have children?

“Uh-huh,” he said.

“What you implied in the restaurant about your little swimmers made me think?”

“Er… Uh-huh.”

“Darling, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to waste any more of our lives waiting. I want you to make me pregnant right now.”

“The policeman over there might have something to say about that.”

“Not here silly. Let’s dash home as fast as we can.”

Chapter 3

Detective Inspector Leon Prado, leaned back in his tilting chair, plonked his shiny black leather shoes on his spacious desk and gazed out of the Málaga Central Comisaría window where gray clouds dulled the ubiquitous Andalusian azure. He appeared to be deep in thought but was distracted by the black lacy underwear, and an assortment of skimpy feminine laundry drying on the rear balcony on the top floor of the apartment block opposite. He wondered if his recent reconciliation with his wife Inma might benefit from such frivolity.

“Forget about it, Prado,” he said to himself. “The excitement would kill you.”

Prado was a well-built, mid-height man in his early fifties with thick silver hair and a round friendly face, dressed smartly in a grey suit, white shirt, and pink tie. His trademark Panama hat perched on the edge of his desk; jacket draped over the back of the chair.

As the most senior Detective in the Cuerpo de Policia Nacional, he was responsible for the rapidly growing number of crimes involving foreigners throughout Andalucía. While he mostly teleworked from his car or home in Ronda, today he had to attend his office in Comisaría Central, Málaga. The boss had summoned him for a workload review.

He turned to face the desk and regarded the two thick files that had been troubling him. Darkness in Málaga was printed on the front cover of the top file. He picked it up and flicked through, mulling over the details. He repeated the process with the other file titled, ‘Darkness in Ronda’. He rubbed his left earlobe, and with a pensive expression sorted his disparate thoughts into some sort of order.

The door burst open.

“Ah, Leon,” said Jefe Superior, Provincia de Málaga: Francisco González Ruiz closing the door behind him. “Working hard as usual?”

“My first boss,” said Prado staying exactly as he was. “Taught me that detective work is ninety-nine percent perspiration and the remainder pure inspiration. This is my inspiration seeking mode.”

“Nice that you have time for such luxuries,” said el jefe.

González was a short, slight man, in his early forties, with thin black hair swept straight back from his forehead. Chiseled features, a Roman nose, and cold obsidian eyes lent him a hard, imposing disposition. He wore his full, dark blue uniform, a colorful array of medal ribbons sewn onto his left breast.

He nodded at the files in Prado’s hands. “I’ve read your reports on those two cases. As far as I’m concerned, we have both perpetrators locked up in Alhaurin Prison awaiting a trial date, with no chance of bail, and have more than enough evidence for lengthy convictions for both.”

“I agree, sir.”

“Then why are you wasting police time seeking inspiration? We have a number of other incidents that need your urgent attention.”

“Because there’s a major outstanding issue that needs resolving, before moving on.”

“And that is?”

“One of the things I’ve observed doing this job is that foreigners have a different mindset from us Spanish. No better or worse, simply different. It means we need to appraise and evaluate their cases wearing their hats, not ours which is where Phillip and Amanda are so useful to me.

“I’ll remind you that these two darkness files involve two bi-lingual foreigners. Malcolm Crown, a recently released pedophile from the UK, came to Spain to set up a sexual slavery and people trafficking ring. Patrick O’Reilly, of dual Irish/Spanish citizenship, operated an illegal gambling website specializing in bullfighting. If these were two unconnected individuals, I’d be happy to let justice take its course. But I’m positive that they are not. There are too many coincidences. Both forty-seven and attended the same school, at the same time. They shared a dark web hosting company, plus lawyers and banks in Spain and Gibraltar. They both operated completely off the grid, and had no assets in their names, or anywhere else that we can establish. Yet, both businesses must have needed thousands of euros for set up costs. Where did they obtain this money from?”

“So, you’re looking for what connects them and who their investors might be?”

“Correct. It could be a single mastermind or a group of wealthy individuals. If any Spaniards are involved, we need to find and stop them.”

El jefe stared hard at Prado, who didn’t flinch.

“Have Crown and O’Reilly added to their statements?”

“No, sir.”

“Has the monitoring of conversations in their cell yielded anything fruitful?”

“No, they continue to pretend not to know each other, yet should Crown be threatened by other prisoners, O’Reilly defends him brutally.”

“Do you think Crown and O’Reilly’s silence is an act of loyalty to this alleged mastermind, or is fear holding them back?”

“Could be either.”

“Have you made any progress in tracing this mastermind?”

“No, sir, but we do have a roll of old film we found hidden in the garage roof of Crown’s late parent’s Cortijo. I’m still waiting on the prints being developed.”

“Where is the film now?”

“It was stuck together. I sent it to a specialist laboratory in the United States. The prints are due back imminently.”

“And you’re hoping they may lead you somewhere.”

“Unless the banks in Gibraltar suddenly become our best friends and send us account records, yes.”“Unlikely,” said el jefe scratching his chin. He glared briefly at Prado, stood, and headed for the door, paused, turned back to Prado, and added. “Good work Leon, carry on.”

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