Home From Home is an exclusive Costa del Sol story.
The Costa del Sol is a country within a country. Like London or New York it exists alone, a law unto itself. It has its own rules and rhythm and its own way of doing things.
Gayle Beresford arrived, like most people, via Malaga airport. The heat hit Gayle like a hot flush; it left her soaked like a wave had rolled over her.
Gayle was seventy and widowed and the smell of the hall, of Spain, brought back vivid memories of Stan. Five years it had been but it felt like five minutes. Her Stan would have held her hand and guided her out through the crowds but now she felt feint and confused.
Skinny red-faced men raced for the exits and a fag. Suave Spaniards, laminated passes dangling, weaved by. A round-faced woman with a Yorkshire accent and a blue neck-tie asked, “Are you all right, love? You look a bit lost.”
“I shouldn´t,” Gayle replied, laughing. “I live here.”
“Oh, then you won´t be wanting one of these free holidays we´re offering.” The woman looked down at her clipboard.
“Free holidays? How does that work then, love?”
Standing nearby among the chauffeurs and touts, tall enough to pop his head out of the cloud of sun-cream, booze and perfume, Costa del Sol, half-English, half-Spanish, master of disguise and slave to no-one, watched Gayle toddle out towards the bright sunlight with the wobbling rep beside her.
“You only have to have a quick look around,” the cheerful Yorkshire woman was saying.
“Saved me the cost of a taxi.” Gayle´s glasses were steaming up in the heat.
Costa glanced at the azure mass of ocean on the horizon.
“Gotcha,” he said, whipping out his keys.
Costa del Sol was sitting on the front trying to finish off a Double Full Monty. It was his second breakfast of the day but necessary, he thought, wiping the egg off his thick moustache. All part of the job.
He spotted Gayle Beresford, dragging her suitcase, being led out through the front gate of some apartments, eyes up against the bright, hot sun. She was with the woman from the airport and a young Spanish man and Costa waved the waiter for the bill.
Gayle was thinking – oh, where are you Stan, when I need you?
Two hours they´d been in there. She knew it was some type of scam but before she´d known what was going on she´d accepted an orange juice and a croissant. In the end, she´d only got out by saying she´d let them come and have a look at her little apartment in Torrox.
“It´s not half as grand as this one,” she´d said.
“Alvaro will take you down to your house,” the Yorkshire woman told Gayle.
“What? All the way to Torrox?”
The three of them had gasped as a gardener wielding a mobile cutter sprayed the road and their ankles with mown grass. Gayle got into the car as the young man swore. The Yorkshire woman tapped on the roof and they set off along the coast.
Up on the main coast road Costa´s phone buzzed. “Hola.”
“It´s a brown Mercedes,” a gruff voice answered. “Sprayed the whole left side and back with grass.”
“Gotcha,” answered Costa as the grass-strewn car turned out in front of him.
Gayle was so glad to be alone that she stood with her back against the door and made the sign of the cross.
The flat smelled of Stan and the sea.
In the living room she hoiked up the shutters and rediscovered that view they´d both fallen in love with: the whole blue bay glittering with diamonds. She might have stood there for a moment or an hour but at some point the motorbikes came back and see saw a plane soaring above the busy beach trailing an advert.
Are you here, Stan? Gayle whispered. Are you glad we came back?
Gayle had decided not long after the funeral that Stan would always be with her. Dead people don´t die, not while the living go on. You carry on having a relationship with them. You can hear them still, if you listen. Stan was always the same, always making light of things. She missed that.
Gayle set up the house. The water and gas were on, as she´d asked Pepe, the doorman, to sort out. She got some lunch on the way, made the beds and set out the new photos of the grandchildren.
Out on the terrace she had lunch in the sun.
Stan had died in Nerja. They´d gone there for a cup of coffee and a walk. She´d turned around one minute, in a quiet street near the Balcón de Europa, and he was just lying there, like he was taking the mickey, right in the middle of the street in a huddle.
The local people, English and Spanish had been very nice.
The doorbell brought Gayle back to reality. She looked through the fishbowl peephole expecting to see Pepe but instead she saw two blue-coveralled Spanish workmen.
What could she do but open the door?
Sue Crawley looked up from the computer screen. “Oh, the old girl´s bloody minted,” she declared, sitting back and twirling her blue necktie around in celebration. “Look at this.”
Frank Farley closed one eye and ran down the numbers. “Oh, that’s lovely, that is. What´s all that about.”
“Widow´s pension. Company pension.” Sue shook her head. “This must be her house when she sold up. My guess is her hubby paid the flat in Torrox and basically set her up.”
Sue´s boss stood up and rubbed his fingers under his nose. “We´ll sort this out, Sue. You and me.”
“I can handle it, Frank. Really. She likes me.”
“Ha ha, very good.” Frank picked up his phone and scrolled through the messages. Through the glass window was Maria, their Spanish secretary, and beyond that the gorgeous Med. “How come no-one else has got hold of her yet?”
Maria knocked and opened the door. She was pretty but fierce looking. “The husband die in Nerja,” she told them. “Last year. Funeral here then the wife go home. She only come back to Torrox now.”
“Which answers your question, Susan, my love,” said Frank. He winked. “We just hooked ourselves a whopper.”
Sue excused herself to go to the loo before they set off. Whereas ten years previously, when she´d come to Benidorm with dreams of being a DJ, she would never have dreamed of ripping off a little old woman, now real life had got in the way.
Now she was thinking of getting a little place in the hills. Growing her own food. Own pool. Putting Harry through university. Enjoying the good life.
Sue looked at herself in the mirror and twirled her blue necktie again, whistling Easy Street as she walked back into the office.
Spanish National Police Officer Dan Sanchéz was walking through Malaga town centre when he got the call from an unknown number. Right on the point of discarding it, he lifted a hand to his partner and grinned. The incoming number was his birthdate. “Costa?”
“Good morning Danny Boy,” Costa del Sol replied, an echo on his voice.
“Well, well, well. How long´s it been? Six months? A year?”
The cobbles under Sanchéz´s feet were wet. An old lady in the doorway of the apartment building nearby was mopping the steps and street, scowling at Dan´s partner who´d lit up a cigarette. Shutters clattered up on the shops and the bells of the cathedral tolled ten.
“I´ve got your man,” Costa told his old friend.
“Who´s that then?” Like Costa, Dan Sanchéz was half-English and half-Spanish. They went back a long time.
“What?” Sanchéz took off his dark shades. “You´re joking?”
“Where are you?”
“Where is he?”
Costa gave Sanchéz the address. Sanchéz passed it to his colleague and shook his head. “You don´t phone me for a year and now you ring me with this?”
“I´ve been working. The Guardia Civil haven´t been able to get Farley in ten years, the Met in twenty – I think I´ve done all right.”
Sanchéz muffled the phone as his colleague told him something. “The address you´ve given me is a poky little apartment in Torrox, Costa. Registered to an old English couple. Think you´ve made a mistake mate.”
“Get someone there in the next half-hour or you´ll regret it.”
“Where are you, anyway? In a church? The echo is nuts.”
“In the loo, mate. Going now.”
Sanchéz shook his head and put on his glasses.
“So?” asked his partner.
“From lost to the river,” muttered Sanchéz. “Phone the Jefe Superior.”
Alvaro dropped Frank Farley and Sue on the corner of the one-way street where Gayle Beresford lived. Frank was in a suit, white stains the shape of Australia under his arms. Sue was still in the white shirt, blue dress and neck-scarf combo she wore when fishing for addresses at the airport.
“Easy does it,” Frank said, drawing Sue back by the crook of her elbow. “I swear to God in all my time here it´s never been this easy. Don´t smell right.”
Sue was about to remonstrate when she noticed two men in white shirts approaching them. Both had orange ties and before she or Frank could dodge them they were on them, asking in Spanish where Gayle Beresford lived. They didn´t mention her by name but they wanted the same apartment block number and that was enough for both Frank and Sue to play dumb.
When they got to the next corner Frank stopped and looked back at the reflection in a car windscreen. Sand had been blown up under the wipers. It was three o´clock and the sun was high. “They´ve not been let in, look.”
Sue glanced back. “You´re right. They´re gone and they´re not happy.”
“Come on then.”
Frank led them back quickly to Beresford´s doorway but as they tried to step inside the open door, an aggressive, short man barked at them in Spanish. In amongst the swearwords Sue got the general meaning: too many people had been coming here this morning, too many workmen talking about leaks. If you two – Sue and Frank – wanted to come in, too, they´d have to show some identification.
“Leaks?” echoed Sue, pulling a worried face. She looked at Frank. “What about mum?”
In a moment Frank too was close to tears. “Our mum!” he shouted, in Bow Bell English.
Pepe shook his head, warned them to be quick, and waved them through.
Frank Farley phoned Maria, his secretary, on the way up to the third floor. “Check if there´s been a gas leak here, would you?”
He got his answer as they reached the door: “No.”
“Just as I thought,” Farley said under his breath. “Mrs Beresford?” Knocking. “Mrs Beresford?”
“Who is it?”
“Frank and Susan from Omega. We´ve got a wonderful offer for you, my love.”
“Open up, Gayle,” Susan echoed. “It´s only us.”
Gayle opened the door and managed a smile. “It´s been like Victoria Station here this morning.”
Frank squeezed in. He´d begun to smell. “Thank you, my love.”
“You´ll have to excuse the mess,” Mrs Beresford said. “There are some chaps here working on the pipes. Big gas leak this morning, apparently.”
“First I´ve heard of it,” Frank replied. He looked in through the door he was passing at the narrow kitchen. Two blue-overalled workers, sunburnt, fat and Spanish, were working on the boiler hanging over the sink. One was smoking. Typical, thought Frank.
“We´ve got a proposition for you, Gayle,” Susan was saying, leading the old lady towards the dining room table.
As the three sat down a great careening, squealing wail of sirens rose up from the road running parallel to the beach. Farley, fat face dropping, leaned out over the terrace. Like a nightmare all the flashing lights whirred up onto the pavement right below him. “Sod this,” he shouted at Susan. “Let´s get out of here.”
“What´s going on?” asked Gayle.
Farley ran as fast as he could towards the door but as he did so one of the blue overalled workmen with a pudgy face and a thick moustache stepped across his path. “All right, Frankie,” he said.
“Who are you?”
The police arrived a minute later to find Farley stretched out on the floor, breathing but out cold, and Sue trembling in the corner. “He ran at the door,” one of the workmen explained, shaking his head. As the police swarmed into the flat, the same workman bent down over Farley and waited for him to look up.
“You´re nicked, amigo mio,” Costa del Sol said. And then he went off to get paid.