Jairo looked at his miserable bowl of cereals and pondered how disappointing breakfast had become in recent times. They weren’t even the chocolate ones with the nice creamy filling inside that he would sometimes treat himself to when HE did the shopping. He looked over to his three-year old daughter who played with and ate hers with the sort of joy only that age of infancy and innocence can bring. Jairo became angry with himself for such frivolous thoughts when he had seen things in the world that made him value every moment like this more than ever, and yet, once again, and despite saying that he would never again fall into that materialistic trap of bemoaning the mundane nature of life when he returned from his last mission. He switched on the news, keen to intake a few moments’ viewing of 3D talking humans before cartoon pigs dominated the screen once more.
Even the muesli appeared to be against him. Since when did it require so much chewing? There were days when he was last at sea, wondering whether he would even have another breakfast, let alone complain about it, when he promised himself he would enjoy every morsel, but when you have lived your life so close to the edge, fearing every minute may be your last, the return to the humdrum adventures of an everyday life, even for a firefighter in a city in southern Spain, who had more excitement per pound in his day-to-day endeavours than someone who worked for the water board. He was bored of chewing by the time the news came on.
Tragic stories are commonplace on the news, but the item that flashed up before Jairo’s eyes made him almost reach for the remote control to turn it over. This was not something that he wanted his young daughter to see, and yet, it was something she had to see, now, or soon, or later. Once again, a boat carrying migrants had run aground on the Greek coast and bodies were strewn on the beaches. Lying in the water was the bloated corpse of an infant who could not have been any older than his daughter. Despite the early hour, despite the graphic content, the images unashamedly panned in on the lifeless child, life’s lottery showing clearly that she did not even get around to buying a ticket.
A tear formed in his eye as he watched his daughter finish her breakfast. “Can I watch Peppa?” She asked, taking another look at her father who she was not used to seeing in an altered state. Jairo took a moment to compose himself and changed the channel for her, leaning over to give her a kiss in the same action.
When he returned from his last humanitarian mission, he promised to his wife it would be the last. The conditions of the coast of Sicily were fearsome, along with the shambolic Italian efforts at organisation. Twice he came close to enduring the same watery departure from this Earth as so many of those he had arrived to save finally faced, his head filled with the thoughts of the daughter he would never see and imagining his pregnant wife receiving the news at home.
That was three years ago now. He had managed to busy himself with fatherhood and a promotion at the fire-station, but it always ate away at him. He felt an innate calling to help, to save. The images of the child washed up on the beach pushed him over the edge, he had to return. Yet first of all, he had to embark upon the most dangerous part of the voyage, informing his wife.
He could hear her in the shower as he prepared his speech. He knew she would be against it, but also knew what he would be like if she tried to put her foot down. Any addict who says one last time really means only until the next last time. He found some YouTube footage of the incident, so he could bargain when the inevitable no was dragged out. She knew deep down that he would go, maybe not straight away but it would just be easier to let him go, as if he stayed, there would be no point in being with him.
Arguments were put forward on both sides, threats were made, threats were withdrawn but she married a man who would do this and the fact that he did this was one of the reasons she married him. He promised her this time it would be less dangerous, he wouldn’t take as many risks, but she knew if he was going, then he was going to save lives, and that was risky. She knew when he began to make calls to Federico and Sandro that schedules would have to be worked out with her parents and the in-laws to keep the household running smoothly. She was angry with him, yet at the same time immensely proud of what he was about to do selflessly. It was just that it was far too early for her to let him know that.
His nightmares had stopped. When he returned from Sicily, he found achieving sleep difficult, and found maintaining it almost impossible. What he had seen there could be blanked from his mind during the day, but when night fell, the mind allowed itself to wander and the faces of the souls he could not save danced around his brain. If it was not the faces of the dead that entered his dreams, it was the reliving of being trapped inside a vessel, water flowing in through a breach in the stern and hauntingly teasing him during what he thought would be his final moments before the side of the ship gave way and he managed to escape through the hole. In his haste to exit, a French colleague was left behind, by the time Jairo got to the surface and realised he was alone, there was nothing that could be done. In his dreams François would ask “Porquoi tu m’as laissé lá-bas?” He would wake up screaming for pardon in French before spending the rest of the night consumed with fear that he dare not close his eyes again.
He phoned his other two colleagues, Sandro and Federico and had a brief conversation about the things they didn’t want to talk about. The question was dropped in at the end and both agreed that their calling was calling. They contacted the agency and the paperwork was set in motion. You’d be surprised how many people volunteer, always with the best of intentions, but having people there who will be more of a hindrance are more likely to add to the death toll than save lives. Despite their renown, they were obliged to pass the mandatory examination on their physical and mental health, the latter beyond doubt, but the former always a worry.
They hadn’t seen each other in the three years since they had been back. It was that kind of relationship, three Spanish men for whom being in Spain together meant nothing. When they were in their jobs, doing school runs or trying to find the aubergines in the supermarket, they were so removed from that world that there was no role cast for the others. They had no place in each other’s real lives and this acceptance was clearly approved by the rescuers’ wives and families who applauded the distance between them, and the corresponding attempts to lead a normal, less dangerous life.
Even when they were forced together in public events in their homeland (they received a medal of honour upon their last return), their ability to interact on a social level was cumbersome to the extent of being painful. How were they supposed to sit at a table and sip wine whilst pleasantries were exchanged with dignitaries who had no idea what they were celebrating. How could they? Why should they? Politics did not interest the three, politicians less so.
They all lived close to each other in Seville and its environs but never saw each other. They all even supported the same team, Sandro sitting in the same stand in the stadium as Jairo, but aside from courteous nods, nobody would ever even suggest there was any back story between them. Indeed, you may be forgiven for thinking one had stolen the other’s wife rather than owing each other their lives.
And yet there were moments when bread was broken, on a remote Italian beach, covered in uncategorised dirt and slurry, a discarded bottle of Chianti, strewn amongst the debris of human suffering, that they huddled like brothers, each one shielding the others somehow from the reality of their situation. Jairo tried to explain this situation to his wife, but she quickly turned the conversation in another direction. It was as if the other two were a curse for their families.
Jairo planned his last night with his wife and daughter. He hated the expression ‘last night’, of course he would be back, they all would. They were close to forty now and would not take the same risks. In the back of his mind was the idea that this could be the last time he ever dined with them, that this would be the last night he would spend in her arms, that he would never again feel himself sneeze as her hair tickled his nostril, he would never again be angered by any of her foibles, nor her his, he would never again laugh at the million things he could never explain why they tickled him, he would never again become enraged at her, forgive her and fall into her arms as reconciliation took on the form of passionate love, he would never again collect his daughter from nursery, he would never bathe her. He stopped there, the list could go on forever. He removed these thoughts from his mind as the three shared the hideous blue coloured ice-cream his daughter had chosen. After all, there was a guy in his street who got run over by a bus and that was the end of him.
He was worried that there was a routine-like nature to the lovemaking. He wanted it to be a magical night for her, just in case, he wanted to leave her with that memory, without realising that she already had THAT MEMORY. She drifted off to sleep and he lay awake, counting the items that he may never see again, wondering what some of them actually did, aware of the fact that in less than twenty-four hours, he would be on a Greek island devoid of any home comforts. As fear gripped him, he drifted into an unsatisfying and dream-laden slumber.
MUSHUMBI GREEK OFFICE, Athens.
Conference Call with HO in Chicago.
“We need a scapegoat. Sorry, I’ll specify, we need three, I don’t care how you find them or how you frame them. Just get three bodies in a courtroom to take the pressure of us and get the authorities of our backs. I knew you weren’t to be trusted in this matter. Prove to me that you are up to the job.”
The CEO’s message ended. The Board of Directors at the Athens office sat in silence for a while before the IT team came in with a presentation. Five envelopes were laid on the table that contained the files on fifteen potential victims. Fifteen people who could be framed to take the rap for organising the biggest human trafficking racket on the planet. The plan was outlined, and one executive was told to pick a number from one to five. He chose four, the envelope was opened, and Jairo, Sandro and Federico’s factsheets spilled onto the table.
“It’ll never work.” One said.
“Why ever not?” Remarked another.
“Because, it’s completely see-through and unbelievable.” He repeated.
“That’s why it will work. You underestimate the rest of the world’s capacity for stupidity.” He smiled, and laughter erupted.
Their plane arrived in Athens on time though the three barely exchanged a word during the flight. Unbeknown to them, the elderly gentleman sat behind them was actually a 31-year-old Mushumbi agent. It was not enormously worthwhile compiling any sort of dossier on them as their crimes would never be committed. The company simply thought it was more sporting to follow them to a certain extent.
They were met at arrivals by the Spanish delegate from the Red Cross. He took them in a minibus to a central hotel and briefed them on their departure details for the island of Lesbos. Jairo remembered laughing at the name at school when he heard about the place for the first time, now, about to visit the place, it no longer seemed so funny. They remained almost in silence through dinner, treated themselves to a whisky and made their excuses.
The next day, a minibus took them and their scant possessions to the Port of Piraeus where they had a two-hour wait before boarding the ferry to Lesbos. It was a choppy crossing and all of them fell seasick with the waves crashing against the vessel. This causes a mixture of hilarity and despondency when they compared this luxurious form of transport with some of the embarkations they would shortly encounter. Summer would soon be upon them and the seas would be full of the desperate, crossing the waters armed only with a backpack full of lies, having sold all their worldly possessions for a space on the coveted boat.
Their arrival on the island gave them no time to enjoy any welcoming committee or even any time to settle in. The three of them had not spoken English since their last mission and were still rusty, but as they collected their bags off the boat, they were told that a vessel had been spotted off the coast. “Ready to begin?” They were asked.
“Ready.” Came the response in unison.
Their training meant they could board any hitherto unknown helicopter and be safely strapped in in seconds, as if they took the thing every day to work. Scant introductions were brandished about at Jairo strapped on a harness and was lowered towards the unwelcoming sea. They had not even had time to phone home and tell them that they were safe before immediately jeopardising the same. It was only when he felt the splash of the unfriendly waters of the Aegean Sea did any sort of calmness come over him. Immediately, he saw the vessel for what it was, a type of reconnaissance mission, the first crossing before the busy summer period. Ten occupants who would have thought they had won the lottery as they boarded boats that would take on average ten times that amount, people the mafias deemed expendable who could not rustle together the lofty fees charged for a crossing in more clement times.
Jairo radioed that most of them were in a good condition. The sea can be immensely cruel but, on this occasion, it seemed to have the best interests of the ‘passengers’ at heart. The extra space meant that they could find some form of escape from the ravages of the waters. The lifeboat could make a relatively simple approach and take them to land. They thought that meant freedom, but there was no way that Jairo could tell them that it only didn’t mean death, at least not yet. As eight of them made the short leap onto the lifeboat, two of the younger members of the vessel were struck down with fear and unable to move. At that moment something struck the boat and water began to enter. Jairo shouted “Jump”, alternating the languages in the hope that they would understand and take heed. They remained motionless as more and more water entered. Jairo knew he would have to get them out, he was not prepared to lose two on the first day and in front of new team members. “Get me closer.” He commanded and was now inside the actual boat. One of them managed to scramble to him and cling on so that he could be attached and hoisted up. The other one seemed to be more scared of Jairo than has impending watery grave. As the firefighter launched himself towards him, he somehow wriggled to the other side of the boat, causing it to capsize further. There was little time to think, so Jairo didn’t, he removed his shackle and dived onto the boy, holding him afloat in the water as someone from the lifeboat managed to get a rope to them. In seconds a second harness was lowered down, and Jairo, acting on auto-pilot, attached them both and in a moment were both inside the helicopter. The boy looked at Jairo and said “J’ai toujours voulu voler a bord d’un hélicoptère” and laughed for a brief moment before passing out.
Minutes later they were all on the base having to deal with the never-ending form filling that at times seemed even more treacherous than the lifesaving deeds. The doctor wanted to see Jairo, but he just wanted a hot shower and something to eat. He had been on Lesbos for three and a half hours before he got around to phoning home. His daughter was already in bed, she had tried to wait up for the call but lost the battle against sleep. He did not feel like telling her that he had risked his life before even checking-in, so simply told her that the ferry had had trouble docking and they had been held up. When she said “Te quiero.” it hurt part of him, those words were not devised to extract that sort of reaction, but knowing she was so far away whilst being somehow in his ear meant they were harder to absorb. They made plans to Skype the next day.
Jairo never suffered from nightmares away from home. It was as if sleep knew his requirements and made a deal to keep him rested. The weather worsened over the next few days which meant time for bonding and training. It was important to know your colleagues inside out as they could be your only chance of survival, they were told as Jairo remembered François whom he knew better than has wife yet could still not save him. Anyway, the exercises were useful as the summer season proved to be busy. And busy it was, more boats arriving than ever, some losses, some victories, more of the latter than the former but with enough wherewithal to know that you could not allow yourself to become overly affected by those who never made it.
Sometimes some of the hardest moments were when they saw those who had been rescued, dazed and bombarded, wondering where they were and whether the journey had really been worth it. As they looked out the window and saw ships taking corpses back to Africa for repatriation they had to accept that their lot could have been worse, but that it was still a long way from what they were promised.
Summer became autumn and the trio were preparing for a week’s leave, replacements were coming in from Bilbao and all three were looking forward to seeing their families for the first time in what seemed to have been an eternity. As a special treat, they were to be spared the ferry to Athens and would be taken on a specially chartered aircraft from Mytilene via Frankfurt. After the intense bonding of their time together, the initial cracks that represented Seville and their families began to reappear, with none of them suggesting they travel to the airport together.
They did check in together, well they did try to check in. That was as far as they got before feeling a cold set of hands on their shoulders.
“Greek Customs.” One of the plain-clothed officers said. “Can you come with us, please?”.
Aghast, they followed the officers and wondered why their attendance was being requested. In a small interrogation room, the three were asked and duly confirmed their names. There was a pause.
“You are arrested on suspicion of running a human trafficking ring out of Lesbos in tandem with corrupt officials in the Greek government and the European authorities.” The other officer said.
“You may have us confused with someone else.” Federico said after a pause. “We are with the Spanish Fire Service. We have been taking part in the humanitarian mission.” He added with a confused look.
“Indeed, your cover story. Quite convincing for a while. However, your illicit partners in the offices of government have decided to blow the whistle on you. We already have a number of them in custody and the rest will just be a matter of time. Your full confessions have been prepared for you to sign.” The man brandished some papers before them in Greek and all three looked at each other, bewildered.
“There has to be some sort of mistake.” Jairo insisted, assuming that they would soon be ignoring each other on the plane about this incident (instead of laughing together about it). “We are part of the rescue mission. We honestly have no idea what you are talking about.” He added.
“So, you deny that these are your voices?” The officer said. He then played them a tape of a group of people, probably of Spanish descent, speaking rather theatrical yet poor Greek. The gist of the conversation was the three framing themselves as using the Red Cross as a disguise to hand pick the immigrants who will survive and place them in Greek society.
“I don’t speak any Greek.” Sandro said. “And the others know only a handful of expressions. There is no way we could have had these conversations. And if we were going to run a human trafficking ring, we would probably do it in Spanish, or at least English, don’t you think?” Sandro seemed pleased that this explanation would get the off with an apology and an embarrassed look.
One of the officers then said something in Greek (which for the good fortune of the readers turned out to be ‘if you act like you can’t understand this then it means you speak Greek’. That piece of hard evidence was then lodged against them as the Spanish consul entered.
“Pero, ¿qué coño estabais pensando? He began. He was told, no Spanish, English or Greek. “What the fuck were you thinking?” He repeated his anger for the benefit of all present. “I’ve warned you about this business, but you had to go and upgrade the operation. You’re going to make us all look like right fools, the Minister will get wind of this and everyone will be under scrutiny. Brilliant, just brilliant. Well, don’t expect any assistance from our side, you have got into this on your own and will have to get out of it on your own. ¡Adiós! And with that he dramatically left the room.
“OK, you have had your joke, but that’s enough. What’s going on really here? You know this has nothing to do with us.” Jairo demanded. This, the Greek officers took as an invitation to rearrange their faces.
They came to some time later with their hands bound behind somewhat uncomfortable chairs. Videos were shown on a screen that had them exchanging documents with shady-looking characters, obviously superimposed and clearly unbelievable. After this came a series of forged documents in Greek and English further incriminating them for a lengthy list of misdemeanours. Their possessions were taken from them and they were given prisoners’ uniforms. The services of law and order were taking this matter very seriously. It was a joke, the charges and evidence were trumped up, but that was of minor significance as the Public Prosecutor proudly claimed his scalp on national TV.
The three were placed in solitary confinement and did not even see a lawyer for the first two days. Bemused and dishevelled like the wrecks they collected from the sea, when they were next brought before an official their senses were somewhat reduced, and they presented themselves as easy targets. After seven hours constant questioning and dousing with ice-cold water, Sandro was asked to sign what he thought was a release form for information about his activities, just wanting the thing to stop, he signed what was a confession in Greek that further incriminated the other two. With this, the Spanish government was convinced that its Greek counterparts had acted within the confines of international law and joined in the voices condemning the three firefighters from Andalusia.
A wave of backlash came swiftly as suddenly all charitable organisations and aid agencies were put under the spotlight. The families of the three were hounded, the more ridiculous the evidence put forward by the Greek government, the more people lapped it up. Figures were doctored to make it look like since their detainment, the number of crossings had dropped. Everyone was convinced that they had done it. Well, almost everyone. Sandro and Federico’s wives were loath to accept the situation but questioned what they could do about it. Jairo’s, Marta, was not prepared to sit around and watch her husband be crucified for something he had no part in, and, despite Interpol surveillance, took a flight to Dubrovnik and hired a car.
Marta’s plan was to arrive in Athens and find the lying consul staff member, make him confess and return with her husband and the other two in time for supper. She was not short on commitment though may have been hindered by an unrealistic appraisal of the situation. She had long wanted to visit Dubrovnik, but as a woman with a mission, promised she would enjoy it with Jairo on the return leg. She had not taken this decision rashly, she believed her husband was innocent, but had to know it. This meant digging, it hurt her that she had to do it but there was always the chance it could be true. Only if she knew that he was genuinely innocent, could she go and save him. It was a fit up, that should could prove from her end, but that could mean nothing if the Greek authorities were not willing to listen to her. She needed confessions.
In the face of adversity, Marta’s dislike of driving soon became a thing of the past as she harried drivers off the road. She travelled through all of Montenegro without setting foot in the place, determined to make it into Greece the same day but accepting defeat upon arrival outside Tirana. The map informed her that the motorway only went as far as the Albanian capital, and that she would have to take B roads as far as the Greek border near Korçe or accept defeat and detour through Macedonia down to Thessaloniki. Either way, she was 800 kms by motorway from Athens or 550 along dirt tracks. She got to a scruffy motel on the outskirts of the city and took a room for a pittance that was worth less. She had hoped for a good night’s sleep, but the place turned out to be a far from glorified knocking-shop. As she lay on the bed and tried to block out the noises, she was amused by the fact that Tirana was an anagram of the Seville district of Triana where she was born. With that, sleep overpowered here.
She managed to get a good seven hours and hit the road again. She went five-hundred meters and checked the rental documentation. She should not be in Albania in this car, she should not even have left Croatia. “Time to put my foot down.” She said to herself.
She made haste and was in Macedonia for breakfast. It looked nice, she thought to herself, feeling guilty for enjoying the scenery. Then, she reasoned to herself that after Albania anything else would appear a bonus. She avoided Skopje and headed south towards Greece, arriving in Thessaloniki at lunchtime. Pleased with her progress, she sat down at a decent looking but well priced restaurant and ate the first decent morsel of her trip. Feeling guilty with every bit and wishing Jairo was there to enjoy it with her. Taking advantage of the fact there was decent Wi-Fi, something she did not find in Albania, she checked her route and was, it is fair to say, somewhat angered by the fact that the dodgy connection had failed to show that should could have continued south along a motorway as far as Ioannina and then take the E92 to pick up the A1 towards Athens, thus saving herself around five hours driving.
Five hours were exactly what separated her from Athens. That meant she would arrive early evening. No time to go harassing civil servants. She needed to get a message to Jairo to tell him she was on her way to Athens to save him and that he should not worry. Of course, as she pondered this, she realised she was a long way from the city still and had no plan or even an address to look up when she got there, but she was still determined to save him.
She sat in a café and mulled over how little she felt like she was in a spy novel. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and wondered whether this was really a young woman’s game. This was not exciting. Then she became concerned about how she would react if it actually did become exciting. She stirred her coffee aimlessly and looked out over the town, she would have loved it, if she could have loved it, but alone it seemed so sad and desperate. She did not even notice that she had been joined at the table.
“You’re gonna need help if you’re gonna crack this one, dear.” A lady of around fifty smiled at her. “Act natural. I’m sure we’re not being watched but you never know. Clever trick heading through Skopje, they expected you in Northern Greece but on the other side. We’ve bought some time.” She continued.
“Who, who are you?” Marta queried.
“I am a cleverly constructed literary device to help the story along as it seemed to be going nowhere and needed a push. No, that’s just a joke. I have been recently removed from the Athens company that forged the documents that have incarcerated your husband and his friends. My name is Emily, I am a British civil servant, well I was, now I am a fugitive without a sizeable pension and keen on revenge.” She smiled again and ordered a coffee in Greek.
“You know your husband is innocent. They are part of a pilot scheme to try and remove the heat off the companies really involved in the trafficking process so that the bosses can all escape before charges are brought. The argument is that if someone has been charged for the crime, they can’t be subsequently, loophole in Greek Law. I must say it is tremendous good fortune the writer making you an English teacher so that we do not have to overcome linguistic hindrances. Although, I am not shirker when it comes to the old español myself you know, I once had a very enjoyable dalliance with a bullfighter in Madrid, I learnt a lot from old ‘Cuernos’.” Both of them laughed at this.
“I assume you have been crowbarred into this story with a fool proof plan, as well?” Marta asked anxiously.
“Would that it were, dear Marta. But we will find one. Two heads and all that. The first thing is for you to ditch that vehicle. It is only a matter of time before they find it as it is tagged. Have you ever stolen a car before? It’s quite simple if you have a master key. I have one for Audis and Mercs. Any preference?” Emily asked.
“Merc?” Marta replied, finishing her coffee and requesting the bill.
Emily may have dressed like Miss Marple’s lovechild but drove with a touch of Silverstone. The GPS suggested it would take five hours to get to Athens, but she was there in four, parking outside the city residence of Malcolm Thistle, Head of the International Division at Mushumbi Inc.
“What are we doing here?” Marta asked.
“This is the man who ordered the operation. We cannot really get to him, but it would not hurt for him to think someone knows something about him that they shouldn’t. So, we will just leave this anonymous photo with a USB in his mailbox and wait for his paranoia to lead him to make a mistake. This will scare him as the photograph is genuine, it’s him with the Head of Transport at Mushumbi, technically it means nothing, wholly inadmissible in court, but why would someone send him this particular picture? Seeds of doubt, a tinge of evil and we will be able to get our hands on what we need. With this nasty business out of the way, it’s time to get you a new identity and find ourselves somewhere comfortable for the evening. I was thinking here.” Emily showed her the Trip Advisor page of the hotel Somewhere Vouliagmeni.
“It’s the most expensive one I could find. Shall I book? Money is no object, will explain later.” Emily finished.
“Err, great.” Marta replied. She had no idea what she was doing with the Emily but felt she should trust her as she would have less of an idea on her own.
They checked into a suite that afforded, in Marta’s case this was a misnomer, two bedrooms and a spacious living area. Emily ordered from the menu to have room service bring up some goodies. Marta felt guilty as she drank the wine with her husband in jail. “Don’t feel bad.” Emily said, guessing her new friend’s discomfort. “You’re here to save him and I’m here to bring down the evil empire. You need all your powers, Marta.”
Marta was no longer Marta for the purposes of identification in Greece. She was Susana Lopez, not the name she would have chosen but inconspicuous and quickly forgettable. “So, what do we do tomorrow?” Marta asked.
“First, we are going to get a message from you to Jairo, that’ll keep his spirits up. Then we will use our cunning and guile to cause the collapse of a major international crime organisation. Fancy that?” Emily grinned.
“You haven’t thought out how, yet, have you?” Marta responded.
“Let me have another glass and I am sure I will come up with something.” Emily winked.
She had another glass, then another, but came up with nothing. There was the inkling of a hair-brained plan as Marta began to wane, but the latter was merely entertaining the former by pretending to listen. Marta also started to wonder as to the true nature of her saviour’s talents.
The next day, Marta was in the shower when she heard someone at the door. As she exited the bathroom in her sumptuous robe, she glanced at a particularly happy Emily holding a brown envelope and overlooking her hangover.
“Best five grand I have ever spent. I hope.” She told Marta.
“You can get a decent USB on Amazon for a lot less.” Marta responded.
“Touché, querida! It is not the device, but the content that demands the price. Ooh, that was rather poetic.” Emily said as she connected the device to her laptop.
The USB contained just one file. A series of emails containing Excel sheets between Thistle and other important members of Mushumbi detailing payments and transportation plans. There were payments from major hotel and industrial chains for fast-track residency permits to allow immigrants to work at slave rates in Europe. Those who accepted, were transported on the ‘safer’ boats, those who didn’t, took their chances on the older crafts. It also proved that Jairo and the others had no involvement in the racket.
“This is quite conclusive.” Marta gleamed as Emily sent the document to a variety of sources.
“Yes, but it is not enough. It is only conclusive when coupled with a confession, and at the moment no-one is likely to be that stupid. We’re going in the right direction. Let’s tail Thistle, but first you get to make a video. I have someone on the inside who will make sure it gets to your husband. Keep it clean, though.” Emily said.
Marta felt stupid making the video. Everything she wanted to say came out cheesy and the minute she hit send she realised she could have said it all a bit better, a lot better. Emily told her that it would almost certainly be seen by the authorities, so some red herrings would not go amiss. The idea was to make it clear that she had come to save him and had enough information on a certain Francis and would soon be able to bring about her husband’s release. This mendacity seemed somewhat see-through on first glance, but Emily knew it would appeal to Thistle’s ego and he would thus assure himself that he was one step above the rest and nobody could ever outfox him. That was the plan, anyway.
With Thistle believing he was leading the newcomers a merry dance, Emily set about making him fall into her trap, once she had one.
Kontoglou Detention Centre, Lesbos, Greece.
Jairo had the luxury of a Spanish newspaper but soon wished he had never seen the rag. As the weeks went by, his inability to have his voice heard and the failings of the Spanish embassy to move to quash the claims of its Greek counterparts had allowed him to see how public opinion was shifting back home, away from the horror and disgust of the initial announcement of their arrest to the indifference that would soon replace the nagging feeling that there had to be something in all of this. Falsified documents and images had made their way from the Greek dailies across the Mediterranean, proving that people could be swayed by whatever they saw. Many voices still called for the defence of the trio, but their noise was slowly being drowned out by those claiming the contrary.
He crumpled up the paper and threw it against the cell wall. As he did, a small and rather old mobile telephone fell to the floor and its screen cracked. Jairo rushed over to collect the damage and investigate its contents. In a short period of time, he had learned to be overly vigilant while performing the simplest acts, yet a clandestine telephone in his hands caused him to overlook his usual caution. There was a notification telling him he had received a video message. He played it and cried. Marta, there before him, with a crack running down her face where he had broken the glass but there she was, telling him a series of lies she had to make him, and whoever was listening, believe she was close to cracking the case. “Te sacaré de aquí” she promised, and the screen went blank. He watched it again and then followed the instructions to leave the device inside the paper as it had been left.
He had had very little contact with Marta since the arrest. Only two telephone calls, the first before the story had broken in which incredulity played a more pivotal role than comprehension. A second call came a week later with Jairo trying to reassure her that he was being looked after, while bleeding from the nose and feeling the missing tooth. He was sure that she could sense his voice was different, so made sure the call was as brief as possible.
He had been in prison for 23 days now. The press and public found out about what he had been accused of ten days before he did. No announcement was made in the first week as the Spanish embassy was more concerned about keeping a lid on the political scandal that was brewing than serving any justice. The case was immediately passed from the lower to very upper echelons of the embassy. There the matter would fall into the hands of Carlos Fernandez, deputy-attaché and originally unwitting business partner of Malcolm Thistle. Now, Fernandez had been entrusted with the role of making the Spanish press believe that these saint-like men were not on the island to save lives, moreover, their intention was to line to the pockets of the human traffickers and affiliated corporations.
Fernandez did not attend the prison visits himself, but sent Lopez, his trusty sidekick. The battle between his talents for ineptness and malleability was an ongoing one and ensured that Lopez would never do anything worthwhile for the firefighters. Whatever Lopez amassed would be lost or destroyed, meaning that they would keep going around in circles until the trial came to court.
Jairo’s cell door opened, and the guard appeared. That meant he had a visit. That meant Lopez. No-one else came to see him. He had not seen the other two since the detention. Despite the overwhelming sense of disappointment of the impending meeting with Lopez, Jairo had a spring in his step as he almost sauntered down to the interview room. The guard opened the door to show the smiling buffoon already seated.
“Any developments?” Jairo asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. Though not the type that you may have been hoping for. Further evidence has surfaced of the three of you on a yacht with two Danish businessmen. One of the latter has confessed and named you. I really can’t help you if you do not furnish me with the fullest of information.” Lopez sneered.
“Help me? I was not aware that you had started. We don’t any Danish businessmen, for the love of God, I’m from Seville and am not sure I know many Spanish ones. I work for the fire service, I do not run an international human trafficking organisation.” Jairo sighed as he knew he was wasting his time.
“Well, I would say that if I was in your position.” Lopez added.
“Answer me this question then: If I am supposedly in charge of this multi-million-euro operation, why do I live in a flat with a two-hundred grand mortgage and drive a five-year-old Ford. We still owe eighty-percent of the mortgage.” Jairo asked.
“Classic low profile, I’d say.” Was Lopez’s response.
“Do you actually want to help us? Do you believe we are innocent?” Jairo asked again.
“I only believe the evidence I have been presented with and in your case, it seems somewhat conclusive from where I am sitting.” Lopez responded.
“Please refrain from visiting me again if you have no intention of assisting me.” Jairo said.
“If you waive embassy assistance than the Spanish government will no longer concern itself with your case.” Lopez threatened.
“I’m better off in here than with you lot. Leave.” Jairo ordered. And with that, Lopez collected his things and left the interview room. The guard unshackled Jairo from the chair and led him back to his cell. As he unlocked the door he whispered into his ear “No te fies de la embajada, no te fíes de nadie.” Then he placed a finger over his lips to suggest continued silence on the matter.
Jairo preferred the time in the cell alone to when he was forced to mingle with the other prisoners. It was a sorry time that he was happier alone with his thoughts than in the company of others. Most of the other inmates were bog-standard criminals, all of a sudden, rapists were getting on their high-horses about Jairo’s supposed activity. Marta’s message comforted him, but he confessed to not having an overwhelming amount faith in her to bring down the organisation. That was no slur on her. Would he know what to do if the situation was reversed? What hurt was the inability to do anything, the fact that nobody would listen. They could get twenty years for something they had never been involved in, and all he could do was sit in a cell and wait for the Judge’s hammer to fall.
For the first time in his adult life, Jairo felt like he had no control over the situation he was in and which was eating away at his scant freedom. Even when he had been left against the elements and at the mercy of the sea, he always felt that he had the wherewithal to get to the other side, to make it back to the boat or to the shore. Even in the darkest moments, even when François slipped away from him, he always felt that HE would be safe. Now the impotence of being unable to do anything for his cause evoked almost as much distress as the rage inside him at having his entire life ripped away from him while he sat idly in a cell.
But what was he supposed to do? He had been convicted before the case had even come to trial. Someone wanted him and the other two to go down for this. Someone high up. Why would they go to so much trouble to create this media circus? What was Marta getting herself into? Where the fuck was their daughter? He cursed Lopez once more and went to sleep.
He was awoken at five in the morning by the guards coming to do a surprise search. They found the mobile that had the message from Marta, but that was no more, just a couple of Danish contact names. Jairo wondered what was the worst book he had ever read, as this plot was clearly capable of taking it to the cleaners. He was moved to solitary for the next five days as the press revealed communications that never took place.
Marta sat on the terrace and read the lead story in El País newspaper, they ran with the mobile, they lavishly brandished screenshots and she wondered how his grammar had improved, and his spelling.
“Jairo has a form of dyslexia. There is no way he could have typed this. It’s more proof.” She told Emily.
“Hold your horses, they could say it was voice to text, or that the phone itself corrected the messages.” Emily responded.
“Here are the data specs for that Nokia model. It’s old, only uses the mobile network. No effective predictive text. Either way, the English is too perfect. He can’t speak that well, he can hardly write, he’s no fucking poet in Spanish, but in English?” Marta pleaded.
“You’re beginning to think like a spy. I like that.” Emily laughed. “Perhaps this is the work of the USB. This is a definite slip-up, we’re starting to get stuff on them. They need to turn up the heat on Jairo and his mates to speed up the trial process. Fuck!” Emily said.
“What’s the matter?” Marta asked.
“I wanted to say expedite instead of speed up. I love that word.” Emily said.
“I’ll use expedite in my memoirs.” Marta promised.
“Good, good. They obviously feel that what they have is not enough. They may control the Spanish and Greek embassy’s, but there has to be a public jury, justice has to be seen to be done, even if only externally. The defence must be made to look ridiculous. We have to get proof that Thistle, Fernandez and that transport guy all know each other. The more nervous they are, the more likely they will be to chance a meeting. There is a guy at the embassy, Lopez, he is little more than a dogsbody for Fernandez, a comedy character in a show with no laughs, but if we can get him to think we have something, he might be clumsy enough to drop Fernandez in it. Really, all we have to do is wait, but the problem is that we don’t have time. We need to force them into being careless.” Emily added.
“They know you are on the loose. Aren’t they concerned about you? You could make a deal with the authorities.” Marta sought out hope wherever it may lay.
“Unfortunately, the authorities are not for deals. I don’t know who is genuinely worthy of our time. All the heads have been turned. There is a lot of cash at stake. They value that more than the lives of your husbands. That plural sounded odd, but you know what I mean.”
Emily received a phone call that interrupted their conversation. She spoke in Greek for a while and looked forlorn. “Thistle knows we are in Athens. A colleague has checked you in to a different hotel with your real ID, but it won’t take long. They have the means. Let’s get Lopez.” Emily said while packing.
Within ten minutes they were out and in a hire car. Emily donning a wig and Marta making do with some garish sunglasses. They stopped at a supermarket briefly to pick up some hair dye and, showing rather too much cleavage, asked directions to the Port, the opposite direction in which they were going, that guy would remember them, though.
Emily’s contacts at the company were still capable of getting hold of Lopez’s Athens residence, she told Marta to act tough, this was the guy who was the link to the people who were framing her husband. They made their way inside after the concierge was easily convinced that they were Lopez’s relatives. Waiting in the hallway for him to appear, they killed time.
“Why are you doing this, Emily? You could get killed.” Marta asked.
“If that is my fate, then so be it, I have wronged many people, people I will never know from places I will never visit. My freedom means nothing. My last action on this Earth has to be to bring them to justice. Melodrama aside.” Emily responded. “The USB has made them think I have more on them than I do. I don’t. Well, nothing physical or at least usable. I have the upper hand because they think that if anything happens to me, this information will be leaked. They can’t be sure, but they can’t take that risk. They were very clear from the outset about who they let into their circles, once in, there was no way out. Their rules. That’s why it’s so lucrative. I could not live with myself if I did not try, I know perhaps I won’t succeed, but I will, if I have to, die trying. But hey, let’s not bring the mood down. Tell me how you met Jairo.” Emily smiled.
“We went to the same school, yeah I know, slushy childhood sweethearts you probably think, but I hated him until eight years ago. I thought he was a, how do you say that ‘¿Chulito?’ Marta began.
“Like a smart-arse? By the way, just how do you pronounce those upside-down question marks? Never mind, the trip down memory lane will have to wait. We got business.” Emily said and gestured to the lift’s doors that were opening as Lopez exited.
Emily took a stance behind him and Marta moved out of the way. With a sturdy blow of an iron bar, Emily struck Lopez and the back of the neck and screamed “hijo de puta’ for good measure.
Marta was visibly surprised by this change in tack and failed to spring into action. “Help me move him!” Emily ordered as Marta clumsily flapped at the lump’s feet. “He’s the man who framed your husband. Act, for fuck’s sake!” Emily barked. This time, Marta moved.
They got him inside the flat and tied him to a chair. Emily gestured that Marta do the honours and threw a bucket of iced water over him to bring him round. Emily took up her position before him with a large butcher’s knife aimed at his crotch.
“Who are you?” Lopez asked with one eye still bloody. “Oh, it’s you. Well, I can’t say I am surprised. The security services could be here in ten minutes, I suggest you leave.” Lopez said.
Emily smiled and pushed the knife through the fabric of the trousers that formed the expensive suit. Feeling the contact against his skin, Lopez winced.
“I suggest you speak. Fernandez will have told you about the photo on the USB. That’s why you set up the mobile to be found in Jairo’s cell. Worried that public opinion might shift before the trial. I can prove that Jairo never wrote those messages.” Emily began.
“Like that matters. Why do you still believe the truth is of any importance. You were hounded out of the company for this misguided ethos.” Lopez tried to look unphased, but this time Emily drew blood.
“Lopez, your testicles are in the hands of a lunatic who has no reason to live. Are you a fan of Greek literature? The eunuchs? Give me one reason not to castrate you here and now.” Emily smiled.
For a brief moment, Lopez considered the response, ‘you wouldn’t dare’, but he knew she would. “I can’t help you. I’m nobody. I don’t have access to any information. Even if I wanted to help you, which I don’t.” Lopez responded.
“You are not a very good liar, Lopez. You have the accounts that you are beginning to digitise so that they can be altered and leave you all free from blame. Except that when you hand them over to Fernandez, he will have them doctored and make it look like you were controlling Jairo and the others, that is why you were sent to visit him so often.” Emily said.
“Does that sound plausible?” Lopez foolishly responded. Emily gave no response but took the knife to his left ear and severed it. “Turn up the music and bring me a towel, will you?” She gestured to Marta. Then, turning to Lopez again, she barked: “Where are the files?” She moved the knife to his other ear.
“You’re fucking mad!” He screamed. Emily began to tease the knife slowly from his neck down to his crotch. Its sharpness doing away with buttons with ease. “Por favor, no!” He begged of her as she made a hole in his gusset with the knife.
“I will take your fucking balls if you do not give me the files.” She repeated. Lopez looked at the portrait of his mother and began to weep. Marta clocked him.
“Behind the painting.” She said.
Indeed, there was a safe which Lopez had not even bothered to lock that contained the company’s accounts. She opened them on a random page and took a photo of herself with Lopez. “Let’s go!” She said to Marta.
“What about the accounts?” Marta asked.
“We don’t need them now I have sent this photo to Thistle and Fernandez. They will make their next mistake soon. Let’s get cleaned up and have a drink.” Emily said.
Inés watched as her grandad parked the car and got out to unbuckle her. Another successful day at school. That was a week now. Neither her mother or father had seen her in her new school uniform in the flesh, and due to the uproar caused by her father’s case, she had to be ushered in through the back door lest the angry parents share their twitter-fed discontent in the form of wrath against a three-year-old.
Since her mother was the next to leave her, Inés had stayed with her maternal grandparents. From what she could gather at her tender age, her mother had gone to save her father who was in prison. Interesting information, she thought, what’s a prison? she thought. Her grandparents agreed that a routine would help Inés at this time. The last time they spoke to Marta she assured them that it was a set-up and that she could prove it. That, then, was enough for her parents. Now they only had to worry about her not getting killed in the process.
Inés’ bedroom at her grandparents was a funny place, she pondered. Well she would have if she learned the word to ponder yet. She looked around puzzled. It had been hastily thrown together, it was Marta’s (Mamá to her) bedroom but had also been used as an office and other things in the interim period. There was a poster of ‘Hello Kitty’ as grandma got it wrong that her favourite was Peppa and put it up anyway. Some fluffy toys from when Marta was a girl in the early eighties. A couple of Barbies with eyes missing, one that had a disappointing allocation of lower limbs and a teddy that seemed to have a touch of mange about it. There was also a photo of the three of them in a hotel in Malaga when daddy got back for his last job, what did he call them? Mission, that was it.
She felt like everything was in the wrong place at grandma’s. She knew where to open to find her toys, she knew where her books were and everything else at home, but here everything was lopsided. She wanted to go home. She was only three but knew that this was not about her. She listened to her grandparents arguing and switching off the telly. She heard the words she knew people couldn’t say but wondered why they said them so much. She took the Barbies and the teddy and arranged them on the bed. Finding an old and battered toy tea-service. If she couldn’t cry, she would at least host a lovely tea party.
Solitary Wing, Kontoglou Detention Centre, Lesbos, Greece.
On the third day into his stint Jairo stopped looking at the wall and closed his eyes. The demons left. He was in his kitchen with Marta and Inés. He was going to cook. He smiled at the look of trepidation on their faces as they expected the worst.
“Don’t you guys know that my omelette is famous in this city?” He asked.
“Famous for being urrrrrrgghh!” Marta responded, and Inés joined her in making the horrid noise before laughter overcame both of them.
“You’ll see.” Jairo said. “I just need to wash the frying pan.” He handled the tap with slightly more force than may be required and the thing came off in his hand. A jet of water spouted out through the base of the tap and quickly flooded the kitchen floor. The girls’ laughter soon turned to screams as the kitchen began to fill with water.
“Turn the stopcock.” Marta ordered.
“The what?” Jairo responded.
“The valve below the sink that cuts off the water.” Marta replied.
“Is that what it is called? I never knew that.” Jairo said.
“Shut up and turn it!” Marta barked.
In just two minutes, more than two inches of water covered the floor. Marta ran towards Jairo and slipped cursing as her hip hit the floor, Jairo tried to steady her but just managed to fall on top of her. This caused Inés great hilarity who wasted no time in joining them. For one brief moment not worrying about the cost of the repairs or whether their shoddy home insurance would even look at lending a hand. There the three laid soaked yet cheerful, helping each other up slowly before falling again and becoming once again consumed by laughter.
They eventually managed to haul themselves up and Marta took Inés into the shower while Jairo made the necessary phone call. “Don’t try and fix it.” She said. “You could drown!” That was hilarious, a man who risked his life on Europe’s seas taken from this life by a leaking tap.
Once they were all dry Jairo took Inés to buy a roast chicken and let her play in the park in front of the store while he waited. He watched her and wondered where the three years had gone, then he wondered why we couldn’t remember anything of his life before she thrust herself into it, then he remembered he would not have it any other way.
They ate the chicken and watched cartoons as the lazy Sunday ambled along without the need to cause the slightest sweat. The kitchen would be sorted tomorrow, everything would be sorted tomorrow. He repeated that phrase as a loud bell was heard and his evening meal was brought in.
The guard teased him with “Solitary getting to you yet?”
And Jairo replied, “Only when I open my eyes.” With that he accepted the meal and closed them again to finish his chicken with Marta. Then they went upstairs, and that is good a place as any for a line break.
Emily got a response from Fernandez before Thistle. The latter was closer to Lopez so had more reason to worry. “How did you know about the files in Lopez’s computer?” Marta asked her.
“I didn’t. My IT guy said it would be worth a try. Either way, Lopez is not really James Bond material. The vanity of people who think they are above the law often causes them to recruit stooges of little value who will eventually be their downfall. Identify the stooge, and they will lead you to villain.” Emily responded.
“You’re enjoying this!” Marta smiled.
“I’m fucking loving it!” Came the response. “Now, Fernandez wants to meet to discuss a handover and an agreement. He has promised me immunity. That means he is scared. Ideally, he would kill me, and probably you too, but that is not a solution. At the moment, the police see you as an aggrieved wife, perhaps slightly off her trolley, doing whatever she can to save her lying husband. That helps our case. If they know you know, there is a chance someone we don’t want knowing that might find out. No offence, but we need to keep you pathetic.” Emily said.
“None taken.” Marta replied.
“I have told Fernandez that the only way I will meet with him is if Thistle is there too. Before any conversation is initiated, I want a new passport and identity, five million euros in an account in the Cayman Islands and the aforementioned immunity agreement. He says it will be hard to get Thistle in, but he will try. I have told him that for every hour he fails to arrange the meeting, a document will be sent to the influential news outlet ‘To Bhma’. Innocent stuff in the first batch, photographs, questionable news articles from less friendly sources, slightly compromising stuff, titbits. The longer he takes the meatier the mails will become.” Emily continued.
“Nice Oxford comma.” Marta smiled, raising her glass.
“I’m glad you noticed. You will need to learn how to operate a streaming service via YouTube, it’s pretty simple but you have to have software running from this computer for me to be able to broadcast from within the meeting room. I will be frisked for mics and the like, but the camera is actually embedded into the left eye of the portrait of Fernandez that hangs in his office, again vanity assisting us.” Emily added.
“You may be overlooking one thing. If you get them to confess on camera in that manner, it could be thrown out of court as entrapment.” Marta said.
“I’ve got that covered. It’s now Friday, I expect Jairo to be released on Monday, get ready to go to Lesbos. He’ll need time. He’s not going to be able to return to normal life, whatever that is, at the flick of a switch. You’ve needed to be strong to get through this, and we are nowhere near the successful outcome we hope to achieve, and yet what lays ahead may be even worse.” Emily said.
“Comforting. Is there any more of this wine?” Marta responded as she looked over the city of Athens afforded from the balcony of the luxury property Emily had just happened to come across. This was the first time she considered the fact that Emily might actually be double crossing her. What if it was just a scam to get what she was asking for? With a new identity she would be free. If Marta was wholly discredited, the case against Jairo would be even stronger. What scared her most was, though, if it were true, then she truly had nothing.
The more Emily told Marta of her plans, the more Marta was convinced she was being used. This meant she drank more, this meant she spent a restless night battling indigestion and nausea. Whenever she did manage to enter a sleeping state, her dreams conspired to prevent any rest from being achieved. When she finally gave up hope at around six, she felt more tired than when she had been helped into the bed by Emily. She cleaned her teeth and looked in the mirror. She had to trust Emily. The she wondered why the Greeks made toothpaste that tasted the same as day-old white wine.
She showered and made coffee. Waiting for Emily at the table, she fell asleep again and was awoken by a radiant looking Emily just before ten.
“You look like shit.” Emily said.
“You don’t. And that is what matters. I have the stream ready to go. I just don’t know how you are going to get them to confess. Why would they? It makes no sense for them to do it. They have come this far without needing to incriminate themselves, I can’t see them having an attack of conscience now.” Marta said everything apart from ‘this is where you sell me out, right?’
“Have faith. My taxi is here. When I send you the message, you start the stream. Drink the rest of the coffee, I don’t want you falling asleep again.” Emily said as she left.
It took around eighty minutes for Emily to leave and send the message, but for Marta it was like an eternity, and a long one at that. Every set of footsteps she heard certainly belonging to trained assassins coming to end her life. She even convinced herself that she saw a red beam of light on the wall as the sniper took aim. No-one came. Only the message. She opened the streaming software and went live.
Conference Suite, MUSHUMBI GREEK OFFICE, Athens.
On the screen we see three people, seated around a conference table. Emily, painstakingly avoiding direct gaze into the camera, Fernandez, the Spanish ambassador in Greece and Thistle, the head of Mushumbi’s Greek operations.
Fernandez pours himself a glass of water and addresses Emily.
“What exactly do you want from us, Emily?”
“Immunity. The terms were quite explicit in my mail. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life looking round my shoulder. I am too old for this and want to live in the luxury I deserve.”
“We are all too old for this type of games. You know the room is clean because your IT guys have been through it. Let me turn off my phone and we talk terms. I suggest you do the same.”
As she went to switch off her phone, she saw the twitter notification from the Spanish Fire Service which had simply tweeted ‘We’re eating Battenberg’. That meant the stream was running. Emily knew she had to get the confession out of them as quickly as possible.
“Because we are all as guilty as each other. I have come to terms with it. I don’t really care about you giving me immunity. I think we should all pay for what we have done.”
“And what is it we have done? You may have a mass of evidence, but nothing has been proven. It’s just as easy for us to stitch you up as anyone else.”
“Shut up! Fernandez. I have no idea what you are talking about. If this is your new tactic then it will fail. Emily it’s been a pleasure.”
Thistle gets up to leave.
“Yes, I knew you would never confess. I also knew that you would never give me immunity. That is why I reached a crossroads. I have enough on me to send myself and you two (along with many others) down for many, many years, but there is one last chance. Let’s pin it on the wife. Everybody knows it’s odd how easy it has been for her just to appear in Greece looking mournful and seeking justice. It’s only a case of changing a few names. Everyone has believed the rubbish you have pinned on the firefighters and the Danes. Why would they stop believing now if it only reinforced your version?”
SCENE CHANGES TO THE ROOM WHERE MARTA IS LISTENING
“You fucking bitch. I knew it.”
SCENE CHANGES TO THE OFFICES OF THE GREEK NATIONAL TELEVISION BROADCASTER.
The control room is packed with people all open-mouthed, unable to explain what they are viewing.
SCENE CHANGES BACK TO THE CONFERENCE ROOM
“It might work. I want this to end as soon as possible.”
“Can you please control that tongue of yours? Why not take out an ad in the paper. However, this Marta woman is certainly an option. If we do this, we can never see each other again and this ends now. What we have, we take, along with the chances involved in surviving afterwards. Emily, how are you going to pull this off?”
“It’s simple. I have my own IT team, you know. Every incriminating document that features our names will be changed to state they were the work of just Marta and Jairo. That will be enough. All I have to do is press this button and it will all go away.”
She shows them a series of documents with a dialogue box asking her to confirm changes and send to the police.
“Just do one more thing for me. I have admitted my part in this. I have come to terms with my guilt and feel better. I urge you to do the same. Simply repeat the words ‘I have been involved in this farce since the start but now I repent’ and it will all be over.”
“I’ll do it. I just want it to be over Thistle. Too many people are involved, too many people have died. It’s not right. There is blood on our hands but we can still get out. Say it, Thistle.”
“You are weak, Fernandez. But God, this is tiresome and pointless. Whatever I say will never go beyond these walls anyway. The room has been checked and checked again. It is a public holiday and I made sure there is nobody within a kilometre of this place, but hey, go on. Have your moment. Yes, Emily, the whole racket was devised by me, with the assistance of Fernandez here and other elements of the Greek diplomacy corps. You, as you have already admitted, were just as involved. Oh my word, how much better I feel! Now can we frame this Spanish bitch and move to the Caribbean?”
“You might want to switch your phone back on.”
Thistle smiled and did so. Hundreds of messages and missed calls. Sirens could be heard very nearby. Thistle realised what had happened and extracted a revolver from his jacket pocket.
“No, don’t do it!”
Fernandez launched himself towards Thistle to wrestle the gun out of his hand. A struggle ensued, and a shot was fired. From inside the room, the occupants could hear that the police were close. Fernandez looked up to see where the bullet had gone and saw Emily slumped back in the chair with the cap in her abdomen. She winced in pain as blood trickled from her wound.
“Fight it, Emily. Help will be here soon.”
With that he launched another attack on Thistle as the police burst through the door, followed by medical staff who attended to Emily. The pair continued to struggle until a second bullet was fired and Fernandez’s lifeless body rolled from on top of Thistle. One of the cops trained his rifle on Thistle but Emily, summoning the last of her strength screamed:
“NO, HE LIVES. HE LIVES SO THAT HE CAN WISH HE WAS DEAD.”
With that Emily lost consciousness and was taken on a stretcher to the ambulance.
Marta shut down the streaming equipment and waited. The police now knew where she was, so this was just a matter of time. She pottered about and made a sandwich. She felt terrible at doubting Emily who was now fighting for her life. She wanted to visit Emily before even seeing Jairo.
There was a knock at the door and Marta collected her belongings and took her place in the police car. She was on auto-pilot now and went along with whatever was happening around her. She was seated next to a Greek female officer in the vehicle who smiled at her and told her Emily was alive and being operated on. ‘70/30’ in her favour, were the odds quoted. Emily would trounce that, Marta thought.
Once they arrived at the police station she was ushered into another room where there was a single telephone. It rang.
“Marta? It’s me, Jairo, wait for me in Athens!”
She had waited for this moment for what seemed like was forever and now she did not know what to say in response. She just said ‘Vale’ and dropped the receiver.
When she came to, there was a television in the room and she was being shown footage of the three Sevillian firefighters leaving their place of incarceration enthusiastically brandishing fists in the air. The police got the satellite television to work and tuned into TVE Internacional so that Marta could understand it. The banner below simply read
“SEVILLIAN FIREFIGHTERS FREED AFTER COVER-UP COMES TO LIGHT”
As they were interviewed on the steps of the detention centre, the reporter showed an image of Thistle, handcuffed and about to name everyone involved to go down with him. There was another small piece about the disgraced former ambassador who lost his life in the unravelling, but the suggestion was made that he was a bad egg from the start and that the clean elements of the Spanish embassy in Athens were appalled and operating effectively.
Marta was told there was a lot to think about, compensation, witness appearances and the like, but for the time being that could wait. Jairo and the other two would soon be on a plane to Athens and their wives and families were already on their way on a specially chartered jet from Seville, Inés included. The police officer from the car handed her a tablet to show a Skype call underway. From Seville Airport, Inés and the four grandparents were getting ready to board the plane.
“Mi niña!!!” Marta said before bawling.
Inés, underwhelmed by the experience, gave monosyllabic responses to her mother’s almost inaudible utterances.
“We’re coming to bring you all home!” Marta’s father enthused. With that, their flight was announced, and the call ended.
The police explained that they had enough information from Emily to wholly exonerate her and Jairo, and indeed the rest, from any link to the racket but she would still need to make an official statement which would be as painless as possible. Marta thanked them whilst making sure they knew, that despite the severity of the situation, this was no time for split infinitives.
Once all that was done, she was taken to the airport in anticipation of Jairo’s arrival. God, she was nervous. She felt like all of her insides were bring wrought out of her body from within. What scared her was normality, what scared her was that he would once again get itchy feet and take to the seas. As she waited on the tarmac consumed with doubts, the small propeller plane landed and hove into view, taxying to the gate for what seemed like forever. Finally, the door opened to eject the stairs, Jairo was first out and looked around for Marta who broke through the cordon and ran towards the plane. At first, the police thought about stopping her, but the officer from the car told them to leave her. She ran up the stairs, tripped, grabbed hold of him and pulled her down with her. He fell on top her and sprained his ankle, she felt a stabbing pain in the ribs and knew at least one had gone. “Me alegro de verte.” She said, and the pair laughed despite their injuries.
Federico and Sandro disembarked afterwards but their families were still in transit. Unceremoniously, they just walked towards the terminal building to the waiting red faces of the embassy staff sent to greet them.
They laughed as they watched the Spanish press fall over themselves suggesting that they never doubted the innocence of the trio. Millions were aghast as big name after big name fell as Thistle left his diary open on the Greek police’s table. The aftermath was no prettier than the original event as everyone tried to save themselves.
Marta and Jairo had the best part of an afternoon together before Inés and their parents’ flight arrived and they were taken back to the airport. The young girl wasted no time in telling her parents about all the free goodies she had been given on the flight, only stopping with a cursory “Hola, papá!” which got a laugh from everyone.
The next day, the three of them made an unscheduled visit to a hospital where a lady was recovering under an armed guard that she had no intention of trying to overcome, regardless of the fact that she was recovery from surgery after a gunshot wound. Emily’s face changed as she saw Marta.
“I had to make them think I was going to sell you out.” Emily said.
“I never doubted you for a minute.” Marta smiled.
“You’re still a dreadful liar!” Emily said.
Marta gave her a hug from a distance of about sixty centimetres.
“Come here! If it hurts, I’ll order another bottle of morphine!” The pair embraced like old friends.
“I’d like you to meet someone.” Marta said, ushering in Jairo who fell to his knees repeating ‘Gracias’ while bawling his eyes out.
“¡Levántate, tontito!  Emily said.
“And this is Inés.” Marta continued. “Inés, this lady is very special, we can never thank her enough. She gave up everything so that we could be free.”
“I got a colouring book on the plane!” Inés said.
Time passed as they returned to Seville. It was hard at times, but it had been hard before then and would be hard in the future. Life as a firefighter no longer appealed, and Marta was too famous, or infamous or both, to return to teaching. Fortunately, their fate was provided for when a letter arrived from Emily with an account number and access codes. The letter ended:
“Don’t worry. This money corresponds to the fortune Thistle inherited from his parents, the only legally earned wealth he ever accrued. This money is clean, I give it to you so that you can do something with it. Start a foundation, make a difference, create futures. Make the world a place worth living in. Yours with love, Emily.”
And they did that. The Foundation Sonrisas Lejanas was also known as the Emily Braithwaite Foundation. Its aim was to raise awareness on the plight of those crossing the seas and perform insertion endeavours geared towards helping those who arrived with linguistic and professional training.
Before things could get fully up and running, they were forced to make one more journey to Greece to testify in the trial and receive their compensation payment from the Greek government. Nothing was said but the trio took little time in donating the entire amount to the Red Cross and Médicins Sans Frontières. Nor did Marta and Jairo need much convincing to return to Seville with more baggage than they left with, eight-month Somalian twins left to their fate at a refugee centre when the sea took their parents.
Their work was often derided, their views decried as naïve and unrealistic, but the trio worked together from the safety of Seville. At times they did not achieve their goals, but they always tried, and that was enough. This work gave them time for a genuine friendship to flourish that would create a bond that never existed in the face of death.
Every year, Marta and her family visited Emily in prison on her birthday. The latter refusing to appeal for parole, determined that her life sentence would be just that.
“I lived like a queen for twenty-years so can live like a slave for twenty. That sort of works out as a princess, right, I mean prorata?” She laughed as Marta helped her walked in the gardens.
“This place is not that bad. It’s better than the watery grave I sent so many people to when I was with the corporation. I am lucky. I am alive. I have more than I deserve, then I have your visits. We fucking did it, Marta!” Emily said.
“My word, we did. Thank you, Emily.” Marta said with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you for making me realise what it all means.” Emily replied.
 Why did you leave me there?
 I’ve always wanted to fly in a helicopter
 Horns, the Spanish express to do the horns to someone (literal) means to be unfaithful. One assumes it is a playful name she gave to her errant lover whilst being a play on words on the bull’s horns.
 I’ll get you out of here
 Don’t trust the embassy, don’t trust anybody.
 Son of a whore.
 I’m pleased to see you.
 Get up, you daft lad.
 Distant Smiles