Ten Green Bottles Chapter 2

Marvin was pleased to be finally in Alicante-Elche airport and away from Kev & Co. He had watched the whole family as they elbowed their way down the aisle and off the plane. All were now, thankfully, way in front of him and hurrying to meet up with Nan and Granddad Essex. They would be taking their younger kin to Benidorm – a fitting destination for such typically belligerent British tourists. As Marvin walked through the automatic doors into the arrivals hall, he sighed with relief as the screaming of the little Dagenham finally dissipated into a distant whisper. Even though he was early, he walked over to the lift, his all-time favourite Louis Vuitton travel bag firmly in his grasp. It had been a 50th birthday present from his daughter, and he never failed to take it on his travels.

Rollinson was following him, not knowing they were heading for the same destination. She eyed his bag enviously as she pulled her own small wheeled suitcase along behind her.

She was glad of the walk after sitting still for a couple of hours. By choice she was an outdoorsy person and was looking forward to walking on the beach on the island. Her writer’s mind visualised palm trees and long stretches of virgin sand; better than the bunkers on the local golf course, especially this time of year.

Dee and Barton had decided to have a coffee before taking the escalator up to the bridge would lead them to the multi-storey car park. In both their letters it stated they had to be on the 4th floor for 11.15am on the dot. The flight had arrived on time, which left them 20 minutes before the rendezvous in the car park.

“I don´t envy cabin crew, when you get those infuriating kids running up and down the aisle,” said Dee, as she absentmindedly stirred her cafe con leche.

“Me either” he responded, enjoying having Dee sitting in front of him.

A few minutes later, Barton and Dee found themselves near Marvin and Rollinson, who were standing by the allotted meeting point more or less ignoring each other.

Miguel Jayasinghe had caught a taxi from the train station in Alicante to the airport, and had been dropped just minutes before at the departure entry. Unknowingly he had crossed the bridge with Joy Lennick. Her husband Eric, had carried her bag into the terminal, but left her to get to the car park from the main building by herself. He had wanted to help her, but she had insisted she could manage on her own.

Both Jayasinghe and Lennick reached the car bays at the same time. They introduced themselves to those already waiting, but received no more than a cursory nod from the rest of the company. So, finding themselves as outcasts already, they struck up their own conversation.

“Did you have far to come?” Lennick asked.

“From Madrid, today. I was there to see inside the Museo Nacional de Prado. I never had much chance to visit museums when I was younger, and since I´ve been living here in Spain I’ve managed to address the situation somewhat. I booked the break months ago, and then I get this letter asking me to go to Tabarca today; I couldn´t resist seeing a literary agent. Poets hardly ever get invited anywhere.”

“Oh you´re a poet! How nice,” Lennick said, clearly preferring to move the conversation to her. “I’ve written my autobiography, of course,” she said, as if Jayasinghe ought to know, “and I’ve won a few short story contests. In fact, my success in this area led to me being employed as a specialist judge for several short competitions.. But it’s the autobiography that clearly impressed Irma Iller. Apparently…” she said, looking around to make sure no one was eavesdropping, “… she wants her own memoirs written. That’s why I´m here.”

“Have you always written?”

“No, good heavens, no. At least not like I do now. I was a forensic scientist years ago, but it became tiring, How about you?” she asked, through politeness rather than interest. Before Jayasinghe could answer, Janette Davies made her a high profile entrance, bringing her MG screeching to a halt in the same lane as the meeting bays. She´d stopped for petrol and the loo, and even with all the speed in getting to the airport she found herself almost late for the rendezvous.

Getting out of her car, she brought her blue and white case off the passenger seat, locked the MG, and strode purposefully towards the assembled company.

“I take it that this is the bus stop for Tabarca´s jolly boat ride?” she called out as she approached.

Janette smirked as she neared Joy.

 “Looks like it to me; although I´m not sure of the jolly part,” Lennick whispered.

Miguel nodded his head in agreement.

Joy plonked her suitcase down and leaned against one of the pillars of Bay 419. Who were these people?

Suddenly, two white saloon cars appeared and drove to where the other seven passengers were waiting. The group moved hastily out of the way as one slid into 418 and the other 419.

Gerry Wright knew he was cutting it a bit fine, but his flight had been the only one from Gatwick arriving around the stipulated time. Luckily the wind direction had been kind, and his plane had landed on time. He’d been first to disembark, and, with only hand luggage, had rushed through passport control. Out of breath, he arrived at bay 418 at the same moment the Spanish driver jumped out of the saloon.

“Hola, mi nombre es Jesús, he venido a llevarte a la embarcación que va a Tabarca. Mi amigo es Pedro,” he said, as he opened the boot.

“He says his name is Jesus, and he has come to take us to the boat going to Tabarca. His mate is Pedro,” Barton translated for the rest of the group, hoping to have impressed Dee.

“Dead on time, they must have been waiting downstairs!” Marvin said, to no one in particular.

Barton picked up Dee´s suitcase along with his own, and walked over to the car where he handed them to Jesus. Then he walked round the car, opened the rear door and ushered Nikki Dee inside.

“Thank you, kind sir,” she smiled, simultaneously faking a curtsy. He watched her legs disappear as she climbed inside, and quickly followed her as she shuffled along to settle in the middle seat.

“I´ll sit in the front,” said Marvin, passing his case to the driver, leaving Rollinson standing to one side. As no one in the other group moved, she pulled her case towards the first car. Jesus took it from her, and added it to the other three in the boot. He slammed the lid closed.

Pedro, followed the lead of his colleague, similarly packing the cases of Jayasinghe, Lennick, Davies and Wright.

With all the writers in the two cars, Pedro walked away, leaving Jesus alone. The group sat silently, wondering what was happening. A couple of minutes later, Pedro reappeared. He handed Jesus a paid parking ticket, and kept one for himself. .

“Snug in here, isn´t it?” Rollinson said, visibly relieved to be on the move again. No one answered. She turned her head, looked out the window, and watched as each floor of the multi-storey came and went with every screech of the cars tyres.

In the other car, the passengers were discussing a comment Wright had made about hearing from a fellow passenger on his plane that a storm was approaching this part of the Costa Blanca.

“Are you telling me this is going to be a choppy trip?” Davies asked. “I don´t do choppy!”

“Don´t worry, I shouldn´t think it will be here today. I expect the captain will be able to tell us more, when we get on the boat.”

“How far is this boat?” Jayasinghe asked.

“The marina is about 10 minutes away; not far.”

“Good… I don´t do being a passenger in backseat of cars, either,” Davies commented again, taking deep while staring out of the front windscreen.

Minutes later, the two cars had parked on a slip road which ran parallel to the Marina at Alicante.

The drivers quickly helped their passengers exit the cars, and unceremoniously disgorged their luggage from the boots.

Making them take their own cases, Jesus led the writers to the allotted boat. Pedro stayed with the cars.

Their transport was tied up, on the other side of the harbour café. The captain was waiting at the bottom of the gangplank.

“Hola, good morning to you, please welcome to my ship. I am the Capitan. They call me El Matador del Mar,” he said, smiling profusely.

Dee looked at Barton, and raised her eyebrows.

“The bullfighter of the sea,” he explained.

“She´s a boat. And she looks a bit worse for wear,” Wright complained. “Especially with this storm brewing.”

“Storm, what is storm?” the captain questioned.

“Una Gotta Fria,” said Barton, turning to Wright. “Not today, tomorrow per´aps. You come back when the storm is going away. My lovely ship… she likes the sun.”

“Oh great; we could be stuck on the island for a while then?” Lennick said, looking from the boat to the other passengers.

“Si, yes, come, come, we have to go now!” Scurrying up the gangplank, the captain left his passengers to make their own decision to follow.

With a shake of his shoulders Marvin was first to follow the captain. Turning back to the rest, he said, “It´s a bit of an adventure. “Anyway we are expected. I wouldn´t like to be the one to let Irma Iller down, and to be honest I´d rather be on dry land when this storm finally hits, if it does.” He looked back to the boat, and then returned his attention to his fellow passengers. I don’t think we want to be on this rust bucket in high seas.”

With that, the majority immediately followed, scuttling up the dodgy walkway behind Marvin. Ladies first, of course.

Wright was last, as he deliberated still on terra firma, whether or not to go behind them.

Jesus returned to the cars, not waiting for the Englishman´s decision to go. They had done their work for the morning. “You come, hurry,” the Captain yelled from the upper deck.

“OK, keep your hair on, I´m coming!” Wright called. He jumped onto the gangplank and strode quickly when he saw one of the crew members was already unfastening it at the top, ready to bring it on board.

“Wait a minute, I´m not there yet” Wright shouted. He barely managed to jump aboard, before the man pulled out the last pin, moved the plank to the side and closed the gate to the deck.

“I´m too bloody old for all this,” Wright muttered. He dumped his case with the rest of the luggage, and reluctantly joined the others who had congregated at the rear of the boat.

 This area was set out with cushions on wooden benches that were fixed to the floor. Plenty of room for the 8 guests, who sat and watched as Alicante began to slowly disappear behind them.

 “Ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to welcome you aboard. Your trip will not be too long as we travel down the beautiful coastline. We will bring nibbles to you in half an hour,” announced a young Spanish woman. “Please enjoy your trip and the Cava my colleague is handing round.”

Davies took a glass of the Cava that was offered, as Wright sat down next to her.

“Thanks, I need this,” she said to the girl serving, “even if it is a bit early in the day.”

“Yes, thank you,” Wright said as he took his drink. “I didn´t get much breakfast, so I hope the nibbles have some substance,” he said to anyone listening.

“I doubt it,” Jayasinghe murmured, his bow tie looking strangely out of place on the dishevelled ferry.

“Does anyone know anything about this Irma Iller?” Barton asked, approaching the group.

His question was met with shoulder shrugs and shaking heads.

 “I´ve just spoken to the captain, he got the booking through the internet,” Barton continued. Jesus told me the same thing. Don’t you think it’s a little strange?”

“Agents work in funny ways. So do publishers,” Marvin commented.

“Yes, possibly, but still….”

“Maybe we’re just going to be on that island all alone,” said Rollinson nervously.

“Apparently not,” Barton answered. “According to El Matador up there, they’ll be staff on the island looking after us. He doesn’t know who they are, but he’s been told we’ll be met when we reach the island.”

 “Then I suppose we shall just have to wait” Lennick said, helping herself to another glass of Cava. “I have to say, this is rather nice.”

The journey wasn´t as quick as they had hoped; the wind was gathering strength. Clearly a storm was approaching.

By the time they reached the shoreline of the island, they were thoroughly fed up and miserable. Disembarking the boat, they were directed along a wooden pathway to the large villa that stood alone on a windswept hill.

Reaching the entrance, the door was flung open and two women came out to greet them.

“Come in, come in,” the more rotund of the pair called to them. “My name is Ann Mancey, and this is Margaret Shea. We will be looking after you while you are here.” She spoke with a flourish, clearly excited.

“Unfortunately, our hostess Irma Iller is delayed, but we have a meal prepared for you,” Shea said as she led the way into the huge entrance hall. “Ann will give you your room keys over at the desk there.” She pointed to where her partner was now standing.

It took a little over ten minutes for the keys to be distributed. Corresponding rooms were easily found on the large map of the villa to one side of desk.

“Dinner will be provided in the dining room in one hour,” Mancey called, as the group began to leave the hall.

Marvin was the last to take his key. “Ann, do you know what this Green Bottles Agency is?”

She shrugged her shoulders “All I know is that we’ve already been paid, and been given our instructions. Never met the woman. Everything was done over the internet and by letter. She looked around her, as if checking no one was listening, and then leaned in toward Marvin. “But easy money like this,” she whispered, sneaking a look around again,”well, you can’t turn that down, can you?”

“No, of course not,” Marvin replied, winking acknowledgement.

“Oh, we also had to put a green bottle in each room,” she giggled. “Strange, but it was enjoyable making them empty first!”

Marvin nodded, smiled, and left to follow his companions. He welcomed the time to freshen up before dinner. Clearly their host, whoever she was, had some notion of decorum.

Mancey and Shea disappeared to the kitchen in order to finish preparing the early evening meal.

“They look a motley crew don´t they?” Shea said, folding napkins into swans and placing them on a tray ready to take into the dining room.

“They’re writers, what do you expect!” Mancey giggled again. “Just like us!”

Within the hour movement was heard around the villa.

Dressed to kill, Lennick made her way down to the dining room. As she reached the bottom step her heel caught on her hem. She floundered and fell into Marvin´s arms.

“Thanks,” she said, regaining her balance. “You´re welcome.”

He was as smartly dressed as she. He had shaved, and suddenly Lennick recognised him from her past, but couldn’t quite place him. The past is so long ago, she said to herself.

.The pair walked in silence to the dining room. Suddenly she remembered who he was. They had met in court, several times over the years, but on one occasion he had given evidence which led to the conviction, she believed of an innocent man. He had ridiculed her forensic evidence and, unfortunately, the jury had taken his side. But, hey it was ages ago, water under the bridge now, it wasn´t the only case she lost.

Davies was in a room on the ground floor. From the bath she was languishing in, she could see the garden. All the guests were strangers to her and each other; although Dee and Barton seemed cosy. She wondered about the pasts of all her companions.

She reached for the towel and stepped out of the bath, thinking about what her late husband would have thought of the whole thing.

Wright was in his room, knotting his tie. As he did so, he reflected on the reason for his being here. He was to watch and wait. An easy task, perhaps, but all the more reason to ensure it was professionally completed. He had to make a good impression; his writing career could be on the line.

Jayasinghe noticed for the first time the green bottle standing alone on the shelf above his bed. Is it significant? Should he be here in the first place? He was beginning to wonder if he should even stay on the island. He adjusted his new red bow tie and walked out of his room. Dinner beckoned.

Rollinson was also studying her green bottle. She had showered and dressed. She began to hum the song associated with it green bottles. She wondered how the other nine guests could be ousted as her competition. If that is, indeed, what this was. She continued humming Ten Green Bottles as she made her way to the dining room.

Barton was on his way downstairs. As he negotiated the first steps, he could see into the dining. Dee looked stunning, her head tilting to one side as Lennick talked with her. He was looking forward to making an impression on her over this weekend.

He pulled his stomach in and continued down the stairs, hoping he’d already made a good start.

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Ten Green Bottles – Chapter 1

Drummond Marvin sat in his seat on the Ryanair flight bound for Alicante, desperately trying to drown out the sound of the screaming baby behind him that was, in turn, drowning out the drone of the engine beside him. He was surprised how full this flight from London’s Stansted Airport was. Being early February, he had expected there to be plenty of spare space and a little extra legroom.

‘Sit still, Dagenham,’ screeched a voice from his rear, in an unmistakable Essex accent.

Dagenham? mused Marvin. Ah, yes, named in the same manner as a Beckham baby – after the place of conception.

Marvin looked to his left, just in time to see his neighbouring traveller stick his index finger firmly in his right nostril.

‘’Ere, Kev, can you take Daggers for a second? I gotta go to the bog,’ shrilled the voice from behind as baby Dagenham landed in Kev’s lap.

Marvin looked out of the window, wishing he had flown business class from Gatwick: Ryanair cattle class was not the style of travel an ex-Deputy Assistant Commissioner of New Scotland Yard was used to, but needs must.

Becoming increasingly squeezed between Kev and little Daggers on one side and clear blue sky on the other, Marvin once again opened the letter that had bought him to this wretched situation.

He began to read, smiling at the content, before realising Kev was doing the same. He turned to come face-to-face with the young father, the smell of stale beer and old fag ash coming strongly into focus.

Without as much as a glimmer of guilt, Kev simply said, ‘Look’s interesting mate. You some sort of an actor, then?’

Begrudgingly, Marvin replied. He could hardly do anything else, and he felt that being at least civil to this Jeremy Kyle show want-to-be might be a way to persuade him to quieten his kids: the two older boys were by this time battling each other for the next place in line for ‘the bog’.

‘Not an actor, no; I’m a writer.’

‘Really? But it says about a film deal?’ Kev said.

‘Well, yes, it does, but I write scripts. For television, mostly.’

‘Really? Anything I’ve seen?’

‘Probably not,’ said Marvin. ‘I mostly write period comedy.’

‘Oh, what, like that “Downton Abbey” rubbish?’

‘Like I said: I doubt that you would have seen any of my work,’ replied Marvin, hoping that his new best friend would decide silence was the best part of travelling.

‘Give ‘im back ‘ere, Kev.’

‘Can’t you shut him up, Shaz?’ said Kev as he handed little Dagenham back to his mother who had reappeared like a magician’s assistant.

By the time Kev had turned to resume his conversation with Marvin, the older man had already taken up a position pushed against the side of the plane, head bouncing on the inside of the window, with his eyes closed. His thoughts had turned from his scripts to his life story. He’d been working on his autobiography for many years, and was close to finishing it. But it was lacking the explosive finish he desired. He wondered if this weekend would provide that spectacular ending.

A few rows ahead of Marvin’s pretend snoring, a simply, and yet sophisticatedly, dressed woman sat reading a letter with the same letterhead as that of Marvin’s communication.

The woman belied her age by at least ten years. Her make-up, like her attire, was exquisitly applied.

Behind her smile lay a sense of regret. She had been to Alicante before, many years previously; a vacation that had been bought to an abrupt end in the most terrible of circumstances. She had entered into a torrid holiday romance with a married man. His wife had discovered the tryst, and her body had been found at the foot of the towering hotel in the early hours of a morning after the night before. Dee had not seen the only man she had ever loved since.

‘I see you’ve a letter similar to mine,’ a voice from her right interrupted her thoughts.

Across the aisle, the voice continued.

‘Michael Barton,’ he said, unfolding his letter and revealing the truth of his words.

She looked at the letter noting that it was, indeed, almost identical. Intrigued, she reciprocated the introduction.

‘Nikki Dee,’ she said. ‘author. I see you’ve been invited to discuss movie rights for your book. So you’re an author, too?’

‘Yes. This trip is to discuss my first novel, The Cardinals of Schengen. It’s a thriller, set against the backdrop of the remnants of the Nazi movement seeking to take control of Europe. The protagonist, Peter Hudson, is left chasing shadows across Paris to revenge the murder of his brother – the UK’s Foreign Secretary – and unravel a society that has been secretly controlling Europe since the Second World War.’

‘Sounds very exciting.’

‘Thanks. I think so. Clearly, someone else thinks it’s got legs, too,’ he said, holding his letter aloft. ‘However, I didn’t realise there would be more than one of us on this trip.’

‘Well, my letter says that I’m invited to a writers retreat for self-published writers of suspense. It’s all rather exciting, really, don’t you think?’

Barton looked at her long and hard. He had been watching her for a while. She raised her eyebrows, and he noticed her pupils dilate a little. Then he realised she was waiting for an answer.

‘Oh, er, sorry. Sorry for staring: it’s just I like looking at beautiful things.’

Dee blushed a little, even though she had heard similar from many men down the years, since that fateful Alicante trip.

‘Exciting,’ Barton continued.

She blushed again. She could make herself blush whenever she wanted to: a trick she had found could open many doors.

‘I mean, this trip,’ he said. ‘Yes, exciting. It seems this agent is very interested in self-published authors.’

‘Who is she, this Irma Iller?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve never heard of her. Nor this Green Bottles Agency. What is your book about?’

‘It’s about the lies and deceit surrounding the disappearance of a young girl in the 1990’s. Her name is Hope, and she reappears, battered, bruised, malnourished and pregnant in 2011. The truth behind what happened before her disappearance, and during the years she was missing, is slowly revealed in what becomes a serialisation of secrets and scandals involving a group of teenagers in the 1980’s.’

‘Wow, you got me at lies and deceit,’ Barton quipped. ‘I should buy a copy.’

‘Yes, you should,’ Dee replied, standing and stretching to the overhead baggage compartment.

Barton couldn’t help but take a long hard look at her legs.

A moment later Dee handed him a copy of her book.

Losing Hope,’ he said, reading the title out loud. ‘A great title.’

‘£7.99 on Amazon,’ she said, smiling. ‘Let’s call it €10 for cash!’

‘Mmm… attractive and opportunistic,’ Barton said, pulling out a ten euro note from his pocket. ‘I think we’ll get on well this weekend.’

By now, Kev and Shaz had completely lost regard for the other passengers on the flight. While they were busy arguing about whose turn it was to be responsible for ‘your screaming brat’ – each had seemed to relinquish any responsibility for the whole process from conception to birth and beyond – their two older boys had begun to use the aisle as their own personal race track.

It was the third time they had knocked Kathy Rollinson’s arm away from its resting place when she lost her temper. ‘Why on earth did I ever choose to write for younger people,’ she muttered under her breath. That was about as far as her anger ever took her.

‘I’m so sorry, madam,’ said the hostess standing nearby, stopping the two children from playing in the toilet for the umpteenth time.

‘Oh, I know it’s not your fault,’ Rollinson said, ‘it’s just that I don’t understand parents these days. It is simply not good enough to have such a lack of control over one’s children, and also such parenting  is doing no more than teaching a severe lack of respect for others.’

‘Are you going anywhere nice?’ the hostess asked, trying to take Rollinson’s mind off the two small Usain Bolt’s preparing for another crack at bursting past the toilet guard.

‘Oh, well, I don’t know really. I mean… I know that I’m going to Tabarca, and I understand that this is an island a few kilometres out to sea from the port of Alicante.’

‘I’ve been there; it’s very small,’ the hostess said, holding her arm across the aisle and once more thwarting the raid on what the unruly children had now begun to call ‘the monster’s fortress’.

’I’ve been invited there, by… by… a literary agent who wants to speak to me with regard to my books. My Fallyn and the Dragons trilogy may be published in a newspaper back home, a special serialisation in one of the Sunday broadsheets. I’m to discuss the possibility this weekend.’

But the hostess had stopped listening. One of her tormentors had somehow managed to slip by, during a disjointed pincer movement of which Rommel would have been proud. She was now doing her best to force open the toilet door and fight off the remaining brother, who was desperately trying to protect the occupied fortress by grabbing hold of her leg and climbing up it like some sort of stick insect.

***

The train from Madrid to Alicante offers its passengers a completely different experience to that of a rumbling Ryanair flight. It is smooth and fast, with an excellent buffet car. Migel Jayasinghe, returning to the Costa Blanca from a few days spent in Spain’s capital city was ordering himself a well-earned ‘café con leche’ and brandy.

Having negotiated the exchange in Spanish with the barista – who, it turned out, was Argentinian – he returned to his reserved seat. When there, he found someone looking at the cover of the book he had been fingering before the urge for refreshment had taken hold.

‘You can have that, if you wish,’ he said, sitting down in the seat he had vacated a few minutes previously.

‘No, no, it’s alright, I was just curious, that’s all. I’ve never heard of the poet.’

‘Never heard of him?’

‘No,’ said the trespasser.

‘Well, that’s as may be. But you have definitely met. Let me introduce you to him: I’m Migel Jayasinghe, and that little gem there, in your hand, is one of my poetry collections: Solace in Verse.’

The middle aged woman held her hand out. ‘You’re a poet? I’ve never met a proper poet before.’

‘Well, I’m not famous either,’ said Jayasinghe, playing with his bow tie.

‘Oh,’ said the woman, clearly disappointed.

‘However, I am travelling today to see a literary agent, who may change that. I gather that this agent only represents the cream of the crop.’

Her eyes lit up, her lips curled in a smile.

‘Of course, I can’t say that this will lead to fame. But being represented by an agent that wishes to talk about work for the Royal family clearly has stated intentions.’

‘The Royal fam…’ the woman started, then broke off as her hand dived into her handbag. ‘Could you please sign this for me,’ she said as she presented a pen and her diary to Jayasinghe.’

I’ll do better than that. You may have my poetry collection. I’ll sign the inside cover for you.’

As he signed, Jayasinghe flashed his white teeth. At last, he thought, after all these years: vindication for immigrating to the UK.

***

‘Are you excited?’ Eric Lennick asked his wife, Joy, as he drove steadily northbound on the N332 toward Alicante.

‘I don’t really know, Eric. I’m not sure how I feel. On the one hand this seems like a golden opportunity, yet on the other it could be one big hoax.’

‘You analyse too much, dear. You’ve never really left your work behind you.’

‘Once a forensic scientist, always a forensic scientist, Eric. Besides, it does no harm to consider all angles. Be careful of that pothole!’

Her warning was too late, the car jarring as the front wheel bounced in and out of a four inch deep hole in the road. Eric ignored the faux pas and continued his attempt at encouragement.

‘This could be your big chance, Joy. You’ve always dreamed of hitting the big time. Well, maybe that is here and now. After all the writers you’ve helped along the way, it’s about time you had your slice of luck.’

It was true, of course. Joy had helped many writers on the road to fame and fortune.

‘Judging competitions is one thing, Eric – and it’s a great thing that so many of those winners have gone on to produce bestselling work – but think about all those that didn’t win, Eric. All those writers out there that, but for a panel of judges, may have seen their own success. I feel like one of those, Eric. There, and yet not there.’

‘You’ve written biographies before. Believe in yourself.’

‘Yes, Eric, I know you’re right. But why pick me? Why would this Irma Iller – whoever she is – choose me, an unknown, to pen her memoirs?’

‘I bet she read your own autobiography, My Gentle War. That’s what it will be. And that subtitle, Diary of an Essex Girl: what a coup that was! I bet she’s after you for that kind of imagination.’

As Eric’s car bumped through another pothole, a blue and white MG sped past.

‘Someone’s in a hurry,’ Eric remarked.

For Janette Davies, this section of the N332 past Santa Pola held no horrors. It may have been the cause of many fatal accidents through the years – hence why the Spanish called it ‘Death Road’ – but she found it exhilarating. She loved life and loved living it.

She had been persuaded to self-publish her first novel, The Great Big Spanish Adventure, by the co-founder of the writing circle she attended. Ian Govan had set-up WordPlay Writers’ Forum with the sole aim of encouraging writers to write and then get them published.

‘You go for it, girl,’ he had told Janette when she had shown him the letter from Irma Iller of the Green Bottles Agency. ‘This could be your big break. Think positive!’ He had said.

Like Janette, Ian was a Birmingham City fan, and his optimism for her chances of securing the contract to write a series of comedy novellas was unbecoming of the usual ‘Blues’ mentality. Birmingham City fans are known for looking forward to the following week. Even after a big win they were usually downcast – ‘there’s always next weekend when we’re bound to use’ was their attitude.

Her Blues scarf flapped behind her as she sped past the elderly couple who seemed to be arguing. She flipped the steering wheel and pulled in ahead of the pair, seeing them disappear in her rear view mirror as she put a little more weight on the accelerator pedal.

She thought back to the moment she had opened her letter, and how she had danced around her apartment with joy as her husband had looked on dumbfounded.

‘A television series, Colin!’ she had screamed. ‘They want me to write for a television series!’

She couldn’t contain herself any longer, and picked up her mobile to call Colin. She knew she shouldn’t, but life was for risk taking. Supporting Birmingham City was her dark side, the remainder was bathed in sunshine.

‘I’m not too far away now, Colin,’ she shouted against the wind. The only downside she could see of having a soft-top MG was the way it for difficult mobile phone conversations.

‘Yes, of course I’ll phone when I get there. I’ve got to go, there’s a policeman ahead.’

She cursed as she had to end her call and slow down. She was even more disappointed when she looked in her rear view mirror and recognised the couple she had driven past a few minutes earlier.

‘Bloody police,’ she spat, turning up the volume on her ‘in-car-out-in-the-open-air’ stereo system. The words of ‘Keep Right On’, the anthem of her beloved Blues, and, coincidentally made famous by Ian Govan’s father, Alex Govan, blasted out.

‘How highly appropriate,’ she said to herself.

***

Gerry Wright sat contented on the Easyjet plane, as it began to taxi down the runway in preparation for take-off on its flight from Gatwick to Alicante. He had taken his seat early, and now was in deep conversation with the old man who had taken the neighbouring seat.

‘So, do you live in Spain?’

‘No,’ said Gerry, ‘though I do own a property in the Valencia region. But I’m not staying there this time: I’m actually going to an island called Tabarca to work.’

‘Really? What is it you do?’

‘I’m a writer. Since I retired, that is. But that’s not what I’m going for this weekend. I’ve been hired as a sort of guard. I’m not sure what you would call it.’

‘That sounds rather intriguing.’

‘Oh, it might sound so, but it really isn’t. All I have to do is watch over a few guests and make sure that no valuables go missing. I normally wouldn’t take on such a job. I don’t really need the money, even though I am being well paid.’

‘So why go then?’

‘Well, the person that hired me is a top literary agent. Apparently all the guests at the hotel over the next few days are writers. I might be able to gate crash the party, so to speak,’ he explained.

‘Ah, sell yourself and your “real” work?’

‘Perhaps. I’ll have to wait and see. But I believe everything happens for a reason. My time might have come.’

‘Well let’s hope so: I’d be thrilled to tell my grandchildren I sat next to a famous author. What is it that you write?’

‘A whole mixture of work, from westerns to crime. My latest novel is called Farrel’s Last Chance. Here,’ he said, handing a copy of his book to the old man.

Reading the back cover blurb, the old man picked out a few words.

‘Small town cop… divorced… dead body… heroin… terror syndicate..’

He raised his head and spoke directly to Wright.

‘Can I have this? I mean, I’ll be happy to pay you. And could you sign it?’

‘Of course I’ll sign it. And, of course, you won’t pay for it. I wouldn’t hear of such a thing. I’m not in need of the money. I have something of a pension from my days in education.’

‘That’s so kind of you,’ he said excitedly, handing over a pen. ‘I’ve never met anyone famous before.’

‘Well, I’m not famous yet,’ Wright confessed, ‘but watch this space.’

‘Oh, I do wish you all the luck. Who’s the agent you’ll be meeting?’

Wright raised his eyebrows and touched his forefinger to his nose. The man, clutching his signed copy of Farrel’s Last Case, nodded knowingly.

‘I understand,’ he said, winking. ‘You’re not supposed to talk about such things.’

‘Exactly,’ Wright said, though, in truth, he had no idea who the literary agent was, despite making every effort to find out.

‘I wish you all the luck, son,’ said the old man. ‘It’s a good job you’re not flying for the sunshine. I hear there’s a Gotta Fria on its way. It’s going to be one hell of a stormy weekend.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes – a weekend of storm, the likes of which Alicante hasn’t seen for a century or more. Take my word for it, young man: the day of judgement is near. Death walks through the eye of this storm. I can feel it in my bones.’

Wright relaxed in his seat as the plane left the earth below it. He watched as the green fields of England slowly faded from view, pondering why so many older people seem pulled toward religion.

Closing his eyes, Wright decided to dismiss the warning as no more than the meagre ramblings of an old man nearing the end of his life.

On this count, Wright could not have been further from the truth.