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A Charitable Case

As I left the house that morning I felt the day stretch out before me: breakfast consisting of a croissant and coffee, followed by a slow and steady perusal of the extortionately priced English daily newspapers, followed by a stroll down by the harbour, coming to rest on my usual bench by the sea.

Retirement was suiting me just fine and I considered it well deserved after forty five years of loyal service and an unblemished record. Not many could boast of that – especially in my neck of the woods, those foolish sods always got caught out in the end and then they’d be working some god awful security job for twenty odd years. Nope, definitely not for me. I should probably mention at this point that my neck of the woods was the Metropolitan Police Department and in particular the South West quarter of the city. At some point in my career I had worked it all from Richmond to Brixton and all points in-between.

Now I’d ended up here – another dirty, bustling city with all the qualities of London and none of the drawbacks. I loved the heat in the summer when the place was heaving, sweating and alive with tourists, pick pockets and street performers. I loved it in the winter when the medieval streets were dark and lit only by the occasional street lamp with their dull orange glow.

I’ve been here two years now and in that time I have taken on a couple of private cases – favours to friends of friends that sort of thing. One of them, a man named Bernat, who was a fierce and bad-tempered local man wanted me to find out who had robbed his butcher shop and deliver them to him. Of course I told him that I would certainly be able to find the person for a nominal fee but explained that when I did I’d deliver them straight to the local Police. Needless to say, justice was served.

The second case was a tad more complex and involved a local prostitute named Carmella. She came to me because a client of hers had become obsessed with her. He visited her on the street where she worked up to five times a day bringing her gifts and pleading with her to leave with him. This was causing problems with her pimp who saw this as a distraction from her job and started to beat her. She wanted me to speak to her client and explain how the situation was adversely affecting her and ask him to stop his visits. So, the next day that’s exactly what I did. Heading down the dingy piss-smelling lane in which he lived, I thought about what I should say to him to convince him that the girls welfare and indeed, life could well be put at risk by his attempted courtship.
My head was down and I believe I was most likely muttering to myself when I collided with a man walking in the opposite direction. Shocked & believing the man to be a possible pick-pocket I grabbed his lapels quickly to look him in the face. It was a shady alley even at noon and as it was now nearing dusk it took me a few moments to recognize the face of the man I was on my way to visit.

I immediately stood him back down and apologized profusely in my somewhat stunted Castilian. He was more than gracious and quickly started on his way back down the street towards the bustling Rambla. Wanting to talk somewhere private and quiet I reached out and grabbed his upper arm before he could get too far. He turned around somewhat shocked before I explained that we had a mutual acquaintance with Carmella. As you can imagine, at first he assumed I was another client like himself but I quickly soothed his worries by explaining that I was concerned only about her welfare & safety.
Although the street was deserted it was also typical of streets in this barrio – being extremely narrow with only a scarce few feet between the jutting iron balconies on either side. Any noise or voices echoed up through windows and into listening ears.
Whispering that the matter required discretion I indicated a small alcove/doorway just off to one side into which we should move.
Here I explained in greater detail the danger into which the man was putting Carmella in his relentless pursuit. I lied and explained that his visits were causing her great physical but also emotional pain because she couldn’t be with him. I implored him that the only right thing to do was to leave her be – merely for a short time.
Realising that I meant for him to cease seeing her he became extremely animated and began telling me I was foolish if I thought he would ever give up on her and that he was planning to murder the pimp and leave with Carmella for Andalucia that very day.
Now this put me in a difficult position as, although I abhor pimps like Miguel I also knew that Carmella had no intention of leaving with this man and that if the man killed Miguel Carmella would be left to fend for herself.
I told the man that this simply wasn’t possible and that if he killed Miguel he would be doing Carmella no good and I would be forced to hand him to the police.
At this point everything happened extremely fast. I saw the man reaching into his jacket for what I could only imagine was a weapon. I reached out with a speed which obviously surprised him and with one hand grabbed his arm and with the other smacked him square across the nose. He went down quickly and whist he was on the floor I explained to him exactly what was going to happen and that, in the end it would all be best for Carmella. When I was finished I grabbed his lifeless body by the ankles and dragged it down the side alley of a nearby tenement where I stuffed him doubled over behind the bins. I regretted having to resort to crude physical violence and felt somewhat sorry for the poor fellow who had simply fallen in love with the wrong woman in the wrong place.
Walking back to my apartment that night I thought of all the blood that had been spilled in these small cobbled medieval streets from great plague through to the civil war.
I passed by a new development that had stood empty for near on five years and for which they had knocked down three of the barrios most run down streets. Looking at it I wondered if they bulldozed the whole area would something not remain of all that had happened there? Or was the history in the walls, steeped into the cobbles and fed by the shadows that the narrow alleys and high tenements provided? That night I fell into a deep but troubled sleep twice waking up convinced that the deepest shadows in the room were reaching out to me.

That was six months ago and about 20 degrees colder – now I was sitting on my bench looking out to sea watching the container ships queuing along the horizon. Large waves were hitting the break water leaving the azul sea close to shore calm for the mornings committed swimmers.
Since learning of how I helped out Carmella, Miguel now lets me see her totally free of charge and as often as I want. Although she seems a tad more melancholy nowadays, she is still as beautiful as ever – those large, sad eyes, full lips and short tight curly hair give her the look of a young woman who has lived a lot.
Lately, lying in bed with Carmella late at night I’ve found myself thinking about the past and some of the things I’ve done – things which have sometimes been against the rules, against the law even. All were done for the best of course – following the rules and seeing that justice is done are sometimes two separate things.
I think back now to Raheem the young boy that I delivered to Bernat, probably no older than fourteen years. Last night in my dream I heard his screams again and watched as Bernat, sweating and screaming , hacks off fours of his fingers with a butchers cleaver. Then with a shrug Bernat tells the boy he’s only doing what they would do in his own country if he was caught stealing.
There have been a lot of Raheem’s in my past and for that matter, a lot of Bernat’s, a lot of people to whom I’ve seen some unpleasant things done in the name of justice. A justice that has also rewarded me well with many perks and a bit extra for a comfortable retirement.
I’ve never really been one for regrets and looking into the past but at night when I can’t control my dreams images of the past come flooding in unwanted. Now there are also the shadows. The shadows of the city that continue to reach out to me in the night, whispering about blood and death and justice. Every night they are getting closer and their whispers are getting louder and I am becoming more afraid.
So now there I am: sitting on my bench looking out to sea, wondering if I just keep on walking out there – out into that azul sea – will the shadows still be able to catch me?

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