I FOUND myself rushing out of the office as Jon flew down the stairs. He had his phone out and was demanding to know Marcus’s number.
We got to the street outside and he leaned against his car as he called our editor.
“I don’t care how sick you are, mate, you’ll get over it. What you’ll never get over is missing a story like this.
“How soon can you be down here? What – three hours? That’s not good enough. Twenty minutes and we’re leaving without you. Alright, half an hour. This is an exclusive, mate!
“What do you mean you can’t drive? You’re joking, right? I’ve never heard of a journalist who couldn’t drive. Look, if you don’t come down now I’m going to come up the mountain and drag you out of bed.”
Jon then called Jake, our distributor, to ask him some questions about his fall-out with Margaret Moran and by the time he had finished talking, Molly had turned up and dropped Marcus off.
He looked more peeved than sick, and was wearing a large woolly scarf wrapped around his throat. “About time,” said Jon, stepping into his car. “Get in, the pair of you.”
“No, wait,” I said “the tracks are too rough for this up there. We’ll need to go in mine.”
And so the three of us climbed into my car and set off for the valley running to the east of Cerro Negro where, if Jake was to be believed, a British politician was in some kind of Mexican standoff with several locals.
The road, although potholed in places, was fine until we reached the hamlet of Tíjola, a strung-out collection of whitewashed houses almost at river level, where it narrowed considerably.
After another mile the road turned into a rough track as it veered off uphill to the left and passed by some abandoned ruins.
Jon was taking charge of the situation, fiddling with his camera and issuing orders.
“Jason, you’re the photographer and the driver. I want you to take pictures of the house from every angle and keep the car outside with the engine running while we go inside.
“If you see any of the locals getting beaten up you need to get pictures, understand?” I nodded.
Marcus gave a squeak of protest from the back. “I don’t feel well, can’t I stay in the car too?”
“No,” said Jon sternly. “You are the editor of the newspaper; she needs to know we mean business.”
“But,” Jon added; “don’t open your mouth unless she asks you a question. Keep quiet and let me do the talking. Make sure you record everything – you do have a recorder don’t you?”
All this sounded fine but we had very little idea where her house was located. After a few forays down blind tracks, I began to worry about the failing light. Already the sun was beginning to sink and much of the valley was entering into deep shade. Also, where was the gang of goons we had been warned about?
“I thought you said you knew where it was,” said Jon.
Presently, and not a moment too soon given the fading light, we saw a small group of men loitering by the side of the track.
“Hombres,” called out Jon, “we must speak to the English señora as a matter of urgency.” His Spanish was pretty good compared to ours, to be fair.
With a shrug, one of the men pointed to a flat-roofed cortijo a bit further down the valley. “Casa de la inglesa,” he said simply, stepping aside. So these were the ‘thugs’.
When I pulled up outside the house my mouth was dry.
“Remember,” said Jon, “keep the engine running and turn the car around so we can get out of here in a hurry – we don’t know what kind of protection she’s got.”
Marcus and Jon got out of the car and I watched them walk to the front door and knock.
The door opened, spilling out warm light, and a short exchange took place between Jon and the short woman who stood there. A moment later they all stepped inside and the door closed. I turned the car around and sat there with my hands on the steering wheel with the engine running.
I tried to imagine what was going on inside. Perhaps there would be arguing, with accusations and rebuttals flying around as Moran’s protectors stood on a hair trigger, ready to eject the unwelcome guests.
Did Tony Blair’s ministers have MI5 protection? I had no idea.
Time passed. An hour went by and darkness fell. Hunger was beginning to bite and I entertained the idea that maybe I should go and tell them to hurry up. I turned off the engine. Vaguely, I wondered if they had been tied up back-to-back or something.
Almost two hours had passed when the door of the farmhouse opened again and Jon and Marcus stepped out into the night. I started the car engine, but they were not running away from the house, they were walking slowly.
“What the hell happened?” I said, half-annoyed but also eager to hear what had gone down.
“Sorry about that,” said Jon “we got invited in for a cup of tea. And she had something medicinal for Marcus’s flu. Turned out she had some really great wines in her cellar.”
“She rustled up a decent bit of tapas too,” croaked Marcus.
“We totally forgot about you out here,” said Jon. “You should have just come in.”
“Now you tell me,” I said.
“Nice woman,” said Jon, and Marcus nodded in agreement. “She explained the whole conflict thing with Jack, or whatever his name is. To be honest, it’s her I feel sorry for, I mean it’s private property, so why shouldn’t they be able to cut off the track if she’s being bullied by them? Your man, she said, is a bit of an anarchist.
“It’s like the Wild West round here, she says. People just don’t respect the rule of law.”
We drove on in silence for a while. So, it was nothing more than a storm in a teacup.
Suddenly Jon startled me, shouting, “Stop!”
“What is it?” I said, stepping on the brake. I thought an animal had run out in front of the car.
“Don’t you see what she’s done?” he said. “What did I say Marcus? I said don’t look into her eyes. She’s gone and charmed us. Taken us in, told us her sob story. You did record everything, didn’t you?”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Stepping out he leaned against a tree and connected with a newspaper in London.
“Yeah, give me the news desk,” he said. “I‘ve got a story for you. Are you ready for this? You’ll love it.”
Afterwards I drove back to Orgiva and parked outside the office. Marcus made his apologies, starting to walk off in the direction of the bus stop. “Where do you think you’re going?” Jon called out. “We’ve got a very busy evening ahead of us.”
Marcus turned back and gave him a withering look. “Too ill,” he groaned.
“Nonsense,” replied Jon, “You do have a coffee machine, don’t you?”