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I'd like to invite you to read my serialised novel. I shall be pasting an episode onto my website every Wednesday. I hope you will enjoy reading it.
TWO SIDES OF A COIN
(formerly The Spanish Twin)
A young woman searches for her brother in the chaos of the Spanish Civil War.
A novel serialised weekly in thirteen parts.
CATCH-UP FROM EPISODE FOUR
As she trudged the half mile home from Atocha Station, her mood lifted: soon she would see Donato and Rosario again, and who knows, she thought, what tomorrow will turn up. She was still determined about one thing: she and Robert would spend their twenty-fifth birthday together.
Maggie arrived home to a warm welcome. Rosario was relieved to see her and Donato gurgled happily when she took him in her arms.
'We've been worried about you, Maggie,' said Rosario.
'Yes, Tomás is back. He's staying in the schoolroom; I hope you don't mind.'
'Of course I don't. Did he say where he'd been?'
Rosario shook her head. Handing Donato back to Rosario Maggie ran upstairs and knocked on the door of the upstairs room. She heard a shuffling before the door was opened by only a chink. Tomás' bearded face appeared. When he saw her, he opened the door fully, and she saw that he wore only a grubby vest and thick cord trousers held up by a piece of string. He looked like a tramp and was clearly the worse for wear. With a lopsided grin, he waved her inside.
'The wanderer returns,' he chuckled.
'Me or you?'
'Both. How did your trip go? Did you learn anything?'
'Only that my brother left the Gonzales' weeks ago and they have no idea where he is now.'
'So he joined one of the International Brigades?'
Maggie shook her head. 'He enlisted with a different organisation. It's called POUM.'
Tomás' face clouded. 'Are you sure?'
'Do you know that POUM is a left-wing party outlawed by all the other organisations?'
'What does that matter? They're all fighting for the same cause.'
Tomás' heavy brows drew together. She couldn't understand why he was angry and, in a bid to gain time to think, she allowed her gaze to travel around the room until it fastened on the chair in the corner. There was a red kerchief hanging over the back of it. Paco had told her that POUM had no official uniform, their badge of membership was the red kerchief. Why hadn't she guessed? Of course, Tomás had been wearing a red kerchief when she'd first bumped into him on the train journey. He too must be a member of POUM.
She was about to challenge him, when he said, 'POUM's disorganised, the men receive no formal training, their equipment is out of date...'
'What are you trying to tell me?' she demanded.
Tomás took hold of her arm. 'I might be able to find your brother but, if I do, you must persuade him to leave Spain with you.'
'Hmm, fat chance! Robert won't do what I tell him.'
Tomás looked puzzled. 'In that case, why are you so keen to find him?'
'I've got news for him, family news. Our mother died and I need to tell him about the reading of her will.'
His grip tightened on her arm. 'Promise me, you'll leave Spain once I've contacted your brother.' The urgency in his voice alarmed her.
Standing her ground, she demanded, 'Who are you to tell me what to do?'
Tomás twisted her around to face him. 'Mujer, you know nothing. You haven't seen the atrocities being carried out in the name of freedom.'
'What about the bombing in Bilbao?'
'Huh, that? You haven't seen what happens on the battlefields.'
Maggie felt a shiver of dread run through her. Suppose Robert was injured or dead! 'That gives me even more reason to stay on,' she protested.
Tomás must have sensed her qualms because he let go of her arm, saying, 'What are we arguing about? Let's decide what to do once I've found your brother.'
'Now you're talking sense,' retorted Maggie.
His frown returned. 'You must leave whether your brother goes with you or not. It would be easier for you to slip out of the country on your own.'
'I can't go without Donato.'
'Rosario will take care of him.'
'No!' Maggie shook her head vehemently. 'She's waiting for a call from Luis. He will want her to go and join him in Barcelona.'
'That won't happen. Barcelona's in chaos.'
The thought of leaving Donato behind filled Maggie with panic. She tried to conjure up valid reasons for not leaving Spain. 'Rosario's too young to take charge of a baby.'
Tomás' mouth curled into a sneer. 'You left him in her care while you went off for two days,' he retorted.
'That was only temporary.' She crossed the room and snatched up the red kerchief, dangling it in front of him. 'You're a member of POUM too.'
He flinched surprised that she understood the significance of the kerchief. Speaking more quietly, he said, 'Sit down and listen to me.'
His calmer tone persuaded Maggie to do as he asked. She perched stiffly on the edge of a chair and waited for him to explain.
'POUM is in the throes of being disbanded. Our leader, Andrés Nin, was executed in July. Since then, there's been no order or discipline; numbers are shrinking, and as I said, our equipment is obsolete, make-do weaponry and so forth. We're not only fighting fascism but we're up against the Republican Army as well. POUM members are being rounded up and imprisoned. Do you want that for your brother?'
Maggie stared up at Tomás wide-eyed. 'Of course I don't, but how can I get him to leave when I don't know where he is?'
'I'll try to find him and bring him here.'
'You mean, you really do know where he might be?'
'I've got a pretty shrewd idea, but I'm not making any promises.' He crouched down on his haunches in front of her. 'Let's say three weeks. If I haven't found him in three weeks time, promise me you'll leave without him.'
'Not without Donato,' she snapped.
'We'll see about that. Would you agree if I found the child a good home?'
Maggie lowered her head into her hands. She needed to think. What Tomás said made sense. With luck he might track Robert down, but she wasn't so sure about giving up Donato. How could she part from the baby she'd grown to love? On the other hand, maybe his home was here in Spain with people of his own kind. Giving a hard swallow, she raised her head to look directly into the big man's eyes and nodded in agreement.
Rosario looked up in alarm when she saw how upset Maggie was.
'What happened for goodness sake?'
Between sobs, Maggie relayed the gist of her conversation with Tomás, finishing with, 'I don't think I can leave without Donato. I'm too attached to him.'
'Maybe Tomás will be able to find a good home for him. He's got lots of contacts.'
'Locate Robert, bring him back here and find a home for Donato. In three weeks! It's impossible.'
'I can look after Donato until Tomás finds a suitable family to take care of him.'
'But Rosario, Luis could send for you at any time'
The girl shook her head. 'I don't think he'll send for me yet. Things are bad in Barcelona.' Maggie was surprised. She hadn't realised the teenager was aware of the Catalan situation. She was even more surprised when Rosario went on, 'Besides, I'd like to be here for Palmiro when he comes back on leave. Trust Tomás, he knows best.'
Maggie smiled and kissed the teenager lightly on the cheek. 'Thank you, Rosario, thank you for making me see sense.'
But she hadn't seen sense. The more she thought about Tomás' dismissal of her, the more determined she was to stay. She would use the big man to find her brother but she knew that she could never persuade Robert to leave the country. Why, he'd even chosen to call himself Esteban! Meeting the Gonzales couple, spending time with Rosario, encountering the young Italian deserter who was risking all for a cause he believed in had fired her own ideals. She was beginning to understand why her brother had come to Spain.
Tomás joined them for supper that evening. Taking advantage of his affable mood, Maggie fired questions at him, never suggesting that she disagreed with his actions.
'When are you leaving?'
'You're not travelling on that bike, I hope?'
He laughed at her joke and said, 'I've got a lorry parked out at the back.'
So he had transport. 'Are you going alone?'
Tomás raised his eyebrows. 'Why all the questions?'
'I'm interested, that's all. Besides, I want to know how you intend to bring my brother back to Madrid.'
Tomás gave a huge guffaw. 'I see, so your brother's a lily-livered Englishman! Can't make it without suitable transport.'
Biting back a sharp riposte, Maggie responded with a smile, 'That's unfair.'
'Huh. So I mustn't do an Englishman an injustice.' Tomás seemed intent on rubbing her up the wrong way.
'You forget he's half Spanish.'
Maggie dug a hand into her pocket and handed Tomás a photograph of Robert. 'Here, take this.'
Tomás looked at it and raised his gaze to study her. 'I'd know him anywhere. The likeness is remarkable.'
'We're twins and...' She gave a shy smile. '...we planned to spend our twenty-fifth birthday together.'
'Our birthday's in a few days time.'
Tomás heavy brows drew together. 'Is it that important to you?'
'Of course it is,' butted in Rosario, 'twins have a special bond and they like to celebrate the occasion together.'
To break the tension, Maggie asked, 'How long do you think you'll be away?'
'For as long as it takes.'
Smothering her disappointment regarding the likelihood of sharing her birthday celebrations with Robert, she said, 'Thank you for doing this for me, Tomás.'
After he had left the room, Rosario could no longer restrain her excitement. 'Isn't he wonderful? You were so lucky to meet Tomás on the train.'
'Yes I was.'
The girl sighed. 'I wish Luis would come back to Madrid.'
'Have you got a photograph of him?'
'Yes of course.' Rosario reached for her bag, took out a snapshot and handed it to Maggie.
'He looks about the same size as Robert. Have you got any of his clothes here?'
Rosario looked startled. 'Yes, but why? Oh I see, you want to give Tomás some spare clothes in case your brother needs them.' She smiled. 'I'm sure I can find some. Come and have a look.'
Maggie followed Rosario into the bedroom and waited while she pulled a battered suitcase down from the top of the wardrobe. The girl spread the clothes out on the bed so that Maggie could pick some out. She chose carefully, settling for a faded shirt, a dark grey sweater and a pair of worn looking trousers.
'Can I have these?' she asked.
'Of course,' replied Rosario, 'but those trousers and shirt are shabby, why not take these for your brother? She held up a pair of cord trousers with braces attached.
'No, these will do, but perhaps I could have the braces.' she pointed. 'That cap too?'
'Take them,' said Rosario, smiling when Maggie rammed the cap on her head.
'How do I look?'
'You look good but will the cap be big enough for your brother?'
'Oh yes, 'I'm sure it will be just fine.'
Maggie glanced at herself in the mirror, grinning with satisfaction at the image grinning back at her. Her plan was taking shape. Luis' old trousers might be a bit long but the braces would help and she could roll up the bottoms. The cap was perfect for hiding her hair. Next, on the pretext of going out for some fresh air, she sneaked around to the back of the building and found Tomás' lorry parked behind a shed out of sight of the road. In order to smuggle out the borrowed clothes, she had stuffed them into the canvas bag she had got from the market a couple of days earlier.
Panic kept her awake for most of the night. She got up while it was still dark and crept out of the house, leaving some money and a note for Rosario, explaining her departure. She hoped the girl would not be too upset that she had not confided in her.
The first rays of dawn had appeared by the time she reached the road. To her relief the lorry was still there. It was a tarpaulin-covered vehicle, easy to hide in. She clambered aboard and quickly changed into Luis' clothes, stuffing her own into the bag along with a flask of water and a packet of dry biscuits, which she had taken from the kitchen cupboard. Hopefully, these would keep her going until they reached their destination.
Using the bag as a pillow, she curled up on the floor of the lorry and waited for Tomás to arrive. Nervous exhaustion made her nod off and she woke up with a start when the engine grunted into life. They were off! For a dreadful moment, she wondered whether she had picked the right vehicle. Suppose this belonged to someone else and she was being driven to god knows where! She was tempted to draw back the curtain separating the driver's cabin from the back of the lorry to check, but thought better of it. It wouldn't do for Tomás to discover her and turf her out onto the street. After several bumpy miles when they had left the city far behind, she heard Tomás' gravel-like voice break into song and sighed with relief as she snuggled down on a pile of rags, her head cushioned on the canvas bag.
Maggie woke up with a start, momentarily forgetting where she was. The lorry was at a standstill. She held her breath, expecting Tomás to draw back the tarpaulin curtain and find her. Then she realised that instead of daylight, the lorry was parked in semi darkness. Muttered voices reached her. Someone was giving orders. She drew back into the void as the tarpaulin was pulled aside. Curling herself into a ball, she folded her arms over her head to hide her face. No one noticed her. Peeping out through her fingers she saw that the lorry was parked in a warehouse. Several men were lifting heavy boxes into the vehicle, pushing them back as far as they would go. She wanted to scream out to stop them, but knew she couldn't.
There was a length of wood along the side of the lorry and when the men went away for more boxes, she pulled it clear and rammed it across the width of the vehicle. With her bag jammed in beside it, the plank formed a wedge, giving her sufficient room to stay squeezed up behind the driver's seat. She hoped they didn't pile in too many boxes. It was a vain hope. The boxes kept coming. She cowered in the corner of the lorry, too terrified to reveal herself.
'That's enough,' someone shouted.
Surely now they would find her! The tarpaulin on the opposite side of the lorry was hitched back and one of the men began roping the boxes together. 'There's room for two more here,' he called out.
Maggie drew her knees up to her chest as two more boxes were shunted into the lorry next to her. Holding her breath she sat with her arms wrapped around her knees waiting to be discovered. Then she heard Tomás grunt a few words before climbing into the driver's seat. He started the engine and reversed the lorry.
The wheels jolted over rocky ground. Maggie's heart pounded. Clearly they were well into the countryside. Soon, she would find Robert. But it wasn't long before she realised that she had to stretch her legs. She looked up at the boxes piled above her and almost wept in despair. Suppose one of them toppled on top of her. She could only guess at their contents: guns and ammunition! There was only one thing she could do.
Reaching up, she pulled at the tarpaulin curtain and called out Tomás' name, but due to the noise of the engine and his own bellowing chant, he didn't hear her. In desperation, she rammed her flask into the small of his back. This had the desired effect. With a screech of brakes, the lorry stopped, dislodging some of the boxes. Luckily, the rope held them in place.
Tomás swivelled around to face her. 'What the hell!' Reaching out, he grabbed her by the arm and hauled her through the curtain into the driver's cabin.
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' she stuttered, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Bringing up his large, calloused hand, he slapped her across the face, making her teeth rattle as she fell back against the seat.
'Idiota!' he shouted. 'What the devil did you think you were doing?'
'I … I wanted to help you find Robert.'
'The front line's no place for a woman like you … an Englishwoman! Have you any idea of what you'll find when you get there? Besides, your pathetic English brother is probably dead.'
'Don't say that,' shrieked Maggie.
'If he's alive and as brave as you think he is, he won't thank you for making this journey. You have no idea, mujer. You were shocked in Bilbao but just wait until you see how POUM members live. Your brother and his companions are living in dug-outs like animals, they drink river water, they eat whatever they can scratch together from the land around them. All that, besides fighting an unseen enemy: hunted down by the Nationalists, hounded by the International Brigades.'
She cowered away as his tirade went on and on. All at once, he stopped ranting and jumped down from the lorry. Striding around to her side, he opened the passenger door and pulled her out. She fell heavily to the ground, looking up at him, too terrified to move. Yanking her to her feet, he pushed her onto a boulder by the side of the road and, producing a flask from his pocket he uncorked it and handed it to her.
Maggie put the flask to her lips and took a sip, recognising cognac. She recalled giggling when Palmiro had taken his first taste of cognac, choking and spluttering afterwards.
'Don't play the little lady with me. Drink some more!'
Again she put the flask to her lips and this time took a large swallow. It took her breath away but she felt better. Tomás snatched the flask and took a swig himself as he paced up and down, mumbling curses under his breath.
Having come to a decision, he stopped pacing and glowered down at her. 'You'll have to come with me. Get in. I'll drop you off near Tres Lomas.'
As she clambered in, she could hear him rearranging the boxes in the back, still muttering to himself. Joining her in the front cabin, he grumbled, 'We could have got two more in.'
As they drove along, Maggie found her confidence returning. 'What's in those boxes?' she asked.
'Never you mind.'
'I want to know.'
'They're full of ammunition, aren't they?'
'What d'you think?' He frowned as he manoeuvred the vehicle around a large pot-hole, then added, 'You could have got us killed. If any of those boxes had become dislodged, we would have been blown up.'
'I'm so sorry,' she whispered.
Tomás drove on. Maggie hardly dared to look at him. To stop her legs from trembling, she sat with her hands firmly clasped in her lap, pressing on her knees until they hurt.
'Where did you get those clothes?' asked Tomás after a long silence.
'From Rosario, they belong to her brother.'
'Is she in on this conspiracy?'
'No!' retorted Maggie. 'She had no idea I was going to do this. I left her a note. She thinks I was going to give you the clothes for Robert.'
Tomás cast her an even angrier glance. 'So you think she's too young to look after the kid when you leave Spain but it's all right to keep dumping him on her when the mood takes you.'
Maggie resented his accusation. 'That's not fair!' she protested.
He drove on in silence, a silence that Maggie was too scared to break. As it began to grow dark, he veered off the road onto a narrow track, pulling to a halt in a dip in the hillside. Jumping down from the lorry, he trudged up to a cave about one hundred metres further on. It was well hidden by trees. Maggie scrambled out of the lorry and followed him. She found him bending over some packages in the entrance to the cave and as she approached, he looked up and pointed inside.
'There's your lodgings for the night, mujer, make the most of it, you might not have such luxury tomorrow night.'
Maggie was exhausted, but she was also hungry and when Tomás lit a fire and produced some chorizo she knew she wouldn't be able to sleep until she had satisfied her hunger. He handed her a plate of beans and a beaker of rough red wine. She scoffed down both in record time. After that, she slept soundly, waking to the sound of the lorry's engine. Panic-stricken, she leapt to her feet and rushed to the entrance of the cave, afraid that Tomás was leaving without her. Her fears were unfounded. He was standing in front of the vehicle with his head under the bonnet.
Maggie heaved a sigh of relief, realising how much she had come to rely on this remarkable man with his coarse manners. He must have sensed her presence because he looked up and gave her a wave, calling out, 'Breakfast soon.'
She took the opportunity to complete her ablutions in private, thankful that he was busy with the vehicle. By the time she had finished, he was on his way up the hill to the cave.
It didn't take him long to get a fire going. She drank the strong, sugarless coffee he had prepared, chomping hungrily into the crusty roll which went with it.
After they had finished eating, Tomás killed the fire and packed up their things, and they were soon on their way. It wasn't long before he was airing his lungs again, and to Maggie's surprise, she found his voice quite pleasant. There were questions she wanted to ask him, but instead she spent her time gazing out of the window at the deserted landscape. Three hours later, he brought the lorry to a stop at a cross-road.
'This is where we part company,' he told her.
'What do you mean?' cried Maggie in panic. 'You can't leave me here. I thought you were taking me to Tres Lomas.'
He pointed at the track ahead. 'Follow that road and you'll eventually get there. Go to the hospital and ask for Raul. He'll look after you.'
'What about finding Robert?'
'I've got a delivery to make, but Raul may know where to look.'
'Will he take me there?'
'He's mad if he does.'
Maggie felt excitement rise. 'Thank you Tomás. I'll pay Raul, I'll do anything.' Reaching up, she planted a kiss on the big man's bearded cheek.
'You've got a long walk ahead of you, nena, you'd better get going,' he said gruffly.
Maggie smiled to herself. She could tell he'd been touched by her show of affection. 'How far is it?' she asked.
'About eight kilometres.' He glanced down at her feet. 'I hope those boots are sturdy. The terrain's quite rough.'
'I'll be all right,' she replied with more conviction than she felt.
She scrambled out of the vehicle and started to walk away but Tomás called out to her. 'Listen, mujer, I'll try and arrange to pick you up in a couple of days time. Meanwhile, take these!'
Maggie retraced her steps, wondering what he intended to give her. He climbed down from the lorry and thrust a flask and a couple of rolls into her hand. 'Be warned, if you see anybody on the road, hide in the shrubbery.' Clamping his large calloused hand on her shoulder, he gave her a gentle shake. 'D'you hear me? Run and hide but if necessary, use this.'
Maggie flinched as he held out a small leather holster. 'I can't take that,' she protested. 'Why, I've never handled a gun in my life.'
'Take it! It could save your life.'
She shook her head. 'I don't want it.'
'So you'd rather be picked up, raped or shot…'
'That wouldn't happen, I'm a foreigner.'
'Do you really think those Nationalist pigs will stop and ask to see your passport? Take it, mujer', sneered Tomás.
Maggie could see there was no point in protesting. Cautiously, she took the revolver, holding it at arms-length. 'I don't know how to use it.'
'Tomás gave a raucous laugh. 'It's not dangerous while you've got the safety catch on.' He took it back from her. 'Here, look!'
After taking a glance around to make certain there was no one within earshot, he released the safety catch and took aim at a tree. The bark around it shattered.
Startled by the loud report, Maggie blinked and shrank away. 'I don't want it.'
Pulling her by the wrist, Tomás insisted on giving her a crash course on its use. Releasing the safety catch, he forced her to have a go, and after several attempts, she found that it was not as difficult as she had thought. She didn't want to take the gun but the look on Tomás' face warned her not to argue.
'You might thank me for it one day,' growled Tomás as he climbed back into the lorry. 'Now get going if you want to get there before dark.'
Maggie stood transfixed as she watched him drive away. The revolver felt hot in her hand. Until recently, the only time she had seen a gun was on a cinema screen. Since arriving in Spain, she had seen many but they had been in the hands of soldiers, not civilians like her. With a shudder, she shoved it back into its holster and put it into her canvas bag.
Feeling terribly alone, she swivelled around and stared at the deserted landscape. The distant mountains seemed like an insurmountable wall, the road ahead stretched endlessly to the horizon. Her heart thumped and her mouth felt dry. She began to panic. What if she got lost? What if, as Tomás had suggested, she were to be attacked? Surely he would not have left her to fend for herself if there was real danger lurking in the undergrowth!
He had said Tres Lomas was eight kilometres away. She had to believe him. The scrub-land on either side of the road was scorched and yellow after the August heat, and although with the approach of autumn, the temperature was lower, it was still exhausting having to trudge along under the mid-day sun on a road strewn with potholes. She toed a stone, sending a shower of dust up into the air and startling a rabbit out of its hiding place.
To keep her mind occupied, she made plans for the joint birthday celebrations. Hopefully, Robert would be able to get away from the front line to spend that special day with her. Suddenly, the clatter of hooves jolted her back to reality. Remembering Tomás warning, she threw herself into a dried-up ditch by the roadside. Peeping up from her hiding place, she was relieved to see that the clattering she had heard was being made by a donkey and its master who were coming over the brow of the hill. She clambered out of the ditch and continued along the road, nodding a greeting to the wrinkle-faced peasant as he passed her. This encounter served to make her quicken her pace. It wouldn't do to dawdle. The sooner she got to Tres Lomas the better.
Dusk was falling by the time Maggie reached the town. She felt exhausted after the bumpy ride in Tomás' lorry and the long walk along the uneven road. Much to her relief she met no one else en route and now that she had reached the town, Tomás' precautions seemed alarmist.
She made for the hospital, which turned out to be a one storey, whitewashed building, badly in need of renovation. She went inside but found the reception area deserted. A buzzer with a notice inviting visitors to ring for attention was sited in the middle of the counter. She pressed it. Nothing happened. After ten minutes, she decided to go in search of life.
A pair of swing doors led through to a corridor. Paint was peeling off its walls, mould had gathered around cornices and the floor was stained with … blood? Maggie gave an involuntary shudder and continued on her way. The doors to the wards were closed but a small window at the top of each one gave on to the interior.
Maggie stopped and peered through one of the doors. What she saw shocked her. Narrow beds placed side by side barely left room for a nurse or doctor to attend to patients. She pushed open the door and went in. The smell of antiseptic and human detritus was overpowering. A low rumble made her turn her head. In the nearest bed a heavily bandaged man reached out a hand, moaning as he did so.
Maggie spun round and fled, colliding at the door with a young man.
'What are you doing here?' he demanded. 'The wards are out of bounds to visitors.'
'Just…just looking for somebody.'
'You should go to Reception.'
'I did, but there's no one there.'
'You should have waited.'
'I did wait,' protested Maggie. 'But when no one came, I decided to look for someone to help me.'
'Who are you looking for?'
The young man frowned. 'Who are you?'
For a moment, Maggie felt unnerved. The man seemed defensive and she could not imagine why. All she'd done was wander into the corridor leading to the wards. In an English hospital she would not have met with such hostility.
She drew in her breath and said, 'My name's Maggie Morán and I've come here to look for my brother. I was told to ask for Raul.'
Covering her surprise, Maggie said with a smile. 'Then, perhaps you can help me.'
The man's frown deepened. Reaching out, he whipped the cap from her head so that her hair fell to her shoulders. 'That's better, now I can see you're a woman. What's your brother's name?'
'Robert? That's an English name…Morán? Let me see, there's Esteban … '
'Yes, that's him,' cried Maggie, fairly hopping up and down with excitement. 'He likes to be called Esteban. Do you know him?'
'Our paths may have crossed once or twice, although I'm not sure I can be of much help. He could be anywhere. Those renegade fighters are dug in all over the region. They're difficult to pin down.' Maggie couldn't hide her dismay. Taking pity on her, he smiled and said, 'Look, I'll be finished in half a hour. Meet me in the bar down the road. You can't miss it. Tell the bartender you're a friend of mine. I'll join you there as soon as I can.'
Maggie waited for over an hour. It was beginning to get dark and she wondered whether Raul had changed his mind and decided that reuniting her with Robert was none of his business. She whiled away the time by studying the pictures on the walls. There were photographs of bull fights, matadors in their suits of lights, as well as flamenco dancers clashing their castanets. She began to fret about finding accommodation for the night and was just about to ask the barman whether he knew of a cheap hotel when Raul walked into the bar.
He gave her a wave and went to the bar to order before joining her at the table. The barman came over with a tray on which there were two short drinks and two coffees.
'I hope you like Queimada,' said Raul.
'I've never tried it,' she said, warming to her companion, who during their time apart, seemed to have softened his attitude towards her.
He smiled. 'It's from my part of the country.'
'Galicia, it's in the north.'
'Why did you leave Galicia?'
'I had to when Franco moved in.' Nodding at the drink, he touched her hand which was resting on the table. 'Go on, try it.'
Too late Maggie remembered that, apart from the rolls Tomás had given her, she hadn't eaten for hours. The strong liquid went straight to her head and made her choke. Through the tears it brought to her eyes, she saw that Raul was grinning in amusement. 'Agua!' he called to the bartender, who rushed over, looking equally entertained.
'You should have warned me,' protested Maggie after she had partially recovered.
'Would you like another one?'
At first she thought Raul was serious, then realised he was teasing her.
'No, coffee will do.'
'Have you eaten?'
'Neither have I. Will you trust me to order something for you?'
'I'm not sure,' she replied, matching his mood of levity.
'Alfonso!' he called. 'Bring us a tortilla and salad and some nice crusty bread.'
Maggie was relieved. Clearly, Raul had a quirky sense of humour. She noticed there were bloodstains on his shirt front and wondered whether he had been in the operating theatre. Judging by what she had seen in the ward, she could imagine the dreadful operations he might have witnessed.
'Are you a doctor?'
'Not yet. I was half way through my studies when the war broke out. I hope to resume them once it's all over. Tell me, have you recently come over from England?'
Without going into detail, she explained how her brother had left for Spain a year earlier and how, after the death of their mother, she had decided to come and look for him, adding that she wanted them to spend their twenty-fifth birthday together.
'That's some adventure,' said Raul when she had finished.
Their omelette arrived and they both attacked it ferociously. Half way through, he asked, 'How did you get to Tres Lomas?'
'Tomás Montalvo brought me.'
Raul raised a surprised eyebrow. 'That old scoundrel, I'm astounded he agreed to that.'
Maggie gave a self-conscious laugh. 'He didn't. I stowed away in his lorry. He was furious when he found me.'
Raul let out a hearty chuckle, causing several drinkers to turn and stare at them. 'Well, I must say,' he said. 'For a gentle señorita inglesa you've got guts. Where are you going to stay tonight?'
Maggie blushed. 'I don't know.'
'It's a bit late to find anywhere, but I can offer you a broom cupboard if you're not too fussy about size.'
'A broom cupboard?'
'Yes, it's the hospital linen store. There's a camp bed in there. You're welcome to sleep there tonight.'
'Suppose someone finds me!' gasped Maggie.
He shook his head. 'They won't. And tomorrow I'll fix you up with a room somewhere in town.' He got to his feet and held out his hand. 'Come on, let's go.'
'But I haven't paid,' she protested.
'Don't worry, I've put it on the tab.'
They left the bar and walked back to the hospital where Raul led her along the corridor to a small windowless room. It was, as he had described, the size of a broom cupboard but there were some shelves along one wall piled high with bed linen. Raul pulled a folded canvas bed out from a corner of the room and put it up for her before handing her a sheet, a pillow and a hospital issue blanket.
'I think that will do you for tonight, Señorita Morán.'
'What a strange name.'
'It's short for Margaret.'
'I would never have guessed.'
'My second name is Estela after my grandmother.'
'Your brother prefers his Spanish name, what about you?'
'I'll stick to Maggie.'
'Goodnight Maggie, I'll come back for you in the morning. … Oh, and by the way, the lavatory is down the hall. Try not to let anybody spot you sneaking along there.'
Next morning, Maggie woke up feeling refreshed. After having spent the previous night sleeping in a cave on the hard ground, the camp bed had seemed like luxury. She was ready and waiting by the time Raul arrived.
'Well,' he said. 'You look better this morning. Did you sleep well?'
'Yes, very well.'
'Were you disturbed?'
She smiled. 'No one came in here.'
'I have to check in for work in an hour's time but you'll be pleased to know that I've found you some accommodation.'
'That was quick.'
'I don't waste time,' he grinned. 'Gather your things together and I'll take you there.'
The accommodation proved to be in a backstreet hotel not far from the hospital. It was rather shabby but clean.
'When can you take me to my brother?' asked Maggie.
Raul looked taken aback. 'I didn't promise anything.'
'But I thought…'
He grinned at her. 'Look, Maggie, my shift starts in five minutes. We'll talk about it later.'
'What am I going to do with myself all day?' muttered Maggie, almost to herself.
'Take a look around town, not that there's much to see. Tres Lomas is little more than a village.'
He left then, leaving her to ponder on what she was doing in a town she didn't want to be in. All at once, she felt angry. On the road with Tomás there had been hope, the encounter with Raul had produced more hope, now it seemed she would have to bide her time. Her grandparents had always called her a patient little thing in contrast to her impetuous brother. She now realised that her own spontaneity had been suppressed by Robert's more extrovert personality. But things had changed, she had changed. She had reached the point where she couldn't bear having to wait. She resolved to call in at the hospital later in the day and try to persuade Raul to take her to see Robert. At home in England, she would have been shocked by such audacity but here, in Spain, it seemed that rules were meant to be broken.
At two o'clock she made her way to the hospital and found Raul outside, smoking. He looked pleased to see her.
'Have you explored the town, Maggie?'
'There wasn't much to explore.'
He stubbed out his cigarette. 'I have to get back. I only popped out for a cigarette. As usual, we're short-staffed.'
'When do you get off?' she asked.
'Who knows, I might have to stay on for another shift.'
'You work too hard,' she said.
'We all do.'
'Do you think you'll be called out today?'
'You can never tell.'
She stepped closer to him. 'If you do, can I come out with you?'
He frowned. 'I don't know about that. We see some terrible sights. How would you cope?'
'I'll be all right,' she rushed to assure him. 'I once took a First Aid Course.'
He threw back his head and laughed. 'And that qualifies you to come with me to the front line, does it?'
Maggie stiffened, and he noticed.
'I'm sorry, Maggie. Look, I have to get back now. I'll be in touch later.'
Maggie watched him lope away, noticing how tall he was, how broad his shoulders were. Even though she felt disappointed at his rather offhand attitude, she couldn't help admitting to herself that she liked the way his brows drew together in a straight line when he puzzled over something and the way he touched her hand in a bid to lend reassurance.
With a sigh she turned to go back into town, but hesitated and went instead to sit under the large pine tree in front of the hospital. She was impatient to see her brother for two reasons: apart from making certain that he was all right, she had begun to fret about leaving Donato with Rosario. She felt guilty for having rushed off without saying goodbye. Suppose the girl got fed up with baby-minding and decided to hand Donato over to the authorities!
A shout startled her. Raul came running across the grass waving his arms. He stopped in front of her and said, 'Come on, now's your chance. We've been called out and I think the emergency is close to where your brother is camped. I hope you're not squeamish.'
Taking her hand, he dragged her across the grass to where a nurse was already climbing into an ambulance.
'What made you change your mind?' she gasped.
'We need all the help we can get. Like I said, we're short-staffed.'
She found herself squashed in the front seat between Raul and the nurse, who gave her a nod of greeting as the vehicle jerked into life. They came upon the camp suddenly. There were people milling about in what seemed to Maggie to be total confusion. She looked for her brother but couldn't see him. Suppose he was one of the injured! Her heart beat fiercely as she jumped down from the ambulance and followed Raul and the nurse into the midst of the mayhem.
'How many?' asked Raul.
'One dead, two wounded.'
Before Maggie could ask who had died, the leader said, 'That poor French sod bought it, died instantly.'
'Let's see to the other two,' said Raul, while the nurse opened up her First Aid kit and started giving morphine to one of the injured.
Maggie shrank back as she saw the horrific wound the young man had suffered. He moaned as Raul applied pressure to his leg to stop the bleeding. She turned away, sickened by what she saw, and at the same time, ashamed by her reaction and by the relief she felt that Robert wasn't one of the wounded men. Under normal circumstances she would have questioned those around her, asked them whether they knew her brother but the appalling sight she was witnessing made her curb her tongue.
It was Raul who supplied the information. 'No one knows where your brother is, Maggie, but he's well-known to them and they think he's somewhere in this area.
'Will you drive me out here again?'
'We'll have to see.'
'Thanks, Raul,' she muttered as they climbed back into the ambulance with the nurse remaining in the rear with the wounded men.
It was while they were driving along an open stretch of road that the attack came. There was a loud explosion. Both Maggie and Raul ducked their heads with Raul instinctively slamming his foot down on the brake pedal.
'Are you all right?' he asked, pulling himself up to look through the shattered windscreen.
'I think so,' she said, brushing slivers of glass off her clothing. 'Oh! You're injured.'
Blood was gushing from a wound in Raul's right arm.
Maggie gave a gasp, her eyes widening in alarm as the image of her mother's limp body sprang to mind. Once again, she could see the pink-stained bath, the wet floor, the blood seeping from Katherine's slashed wrists. Whatever happened, she mustn't lose her nerve. Pulling aside the dividing curtain, she called out, 'Raul's been injured.'
'How bad?' asked the nurse.
'He's taken a bullet to his upper arm.'
Raul gave a moan and muttered, 'I'm all right.'
'I can't leave these men,' said the nurse, addressing Maggie. 'You'll have to do something.'
'Tell...tell me what to do,' stammered Maggie.
'Tourniquet it; you'll find another First Aid Kit under the front seat. There's a strap in there, use it.' She disappeared behind the curtain and Maggie could hear her attending to one of the injured men.
She was close to panic but when Raul's eyes started to glaze over, she dived down into the foot-well to retrieve the box. Wrapping a piece of bandage around the wound, she pulled the tourniquet strap as tight as she could. Raul's face was devoid of colour but the seat and the steering wheel were covered with blood. His eyes flickered open. 'Change places with me and drive.' She could hardly make out his words.
There was no time to think because more bullets ricocheted along the side of the vehicle. Maggie jumped down from the passenger side and hurried round to yank open the driver's door, ducking her head as she ran. By the time she had climbed in, Raul had somehow managed to move over to the passenger seat and was leaning his head on the headrest.
'Drive!' he ordered her.
Shifting the ambulance into gear, Maggie jolted the vehicle forwards, narrowly missing a pothole. More shots careened along the road, persuading her that it would be better for them to take their chances on the road than be a sitting target for a sniper's bullet. Ramming her foot down on the accelerator, she drove on while the wind whistled through the shattered windscreen, bringing tears to her eyes. But it wasn't long before they had out-distanced their attackers and she was able to slow down.
Raul opened his eyes. 'Well done!' he mumbled and promptly passed out.
It was getting dark by the time Maggie drove the ambulance into the hospital yard. During the rest of the journey Raul had slipped in and out of consciousness. Several orderlies rushed out with stretchers for the wounded men and, at the mention of Raul's name, another two came out to help him.
'Is he going to be all right?' she asked.
One of the men turned and gave her a smile. 'He should be, thanks to whoever applied the tourniquet; without it he would have bled to death.' Maggie heaved a sigh of relief but she didn't mention that she had been the one to apply the tourniquet. 'Go home and get some rest, señorita, you look tired.'
'Thank you, I will,' she replied.
Back at the hotel, she kicked off her shoes and threw herself onto the bed, fully clothed. It was completely dark by the time she woke up. The events of the day seemed like a bad dream, but as soon as she realised that the bad dream had in fact been real, she leapt off the bed and ran into the bathroom to wash her face. She glanced at her watch and saw that it was nearly ten o'clock. How could she have slept for so long? She had to go and check on Raul. He would think her uncaring if she didn't pay him a visit, she told herself, deliberately casting aside her own desire to see him again.
She combed her hair and changed into the skirt and blouse she had stuffed into the canvas bag. Back at the hospital, she found Raul sitting in a chair with his arm in a sling. He looked much better than when she had last seen him.
'Holá Maggie!' he said. 'Are you rested?'
'I'm fine, how are you?'
'Much better, thanks to you. If you hadn't driven us back I would have been a gonner.'
She grinned. 'Me too, I suspect.'
It was his turn to grin. 'You're probably right.'
When she started to leave, Raul surprised her. 'If we don't find your brother in time for your birthday, we'll still celebrate it, Maggie.'
Maggie's brows shot up. 'It's not that important,' she mumbled. 'After all, twenty-five is not a special birthday, not like twenty-one.'
'How did you and your brother celebrate your twenty-first birthday?'
'We didn't. Our family wasn't the party-going kind. Robert…' She unconsciously reverted to her brother's old name. '…and I went to the pictures and his current girlfriend came along too.' She gave a snort. 'He's never without a girl hanging on his arm.'
'What about you, any boyfriends?'
Maggie laughed self-consciously. 'Fat chance with mother around.'
'Bad as that huh?'
Covered with embarrassment, Maggie stuttered, 'Oh no, I didn't mean…I was only too willing to look after her.'
'Time you got back into bed, my friend.' One of Raul's nursing companions appeared in the doorway.
'I'll say good-bye then,' said Maggie, getting up and edging towards the door.
'Don’t I get a good-bye kiss?'
Maggie blushed. 'Of course,' she said and went back to give Raul a peck on each cheek, Spanish fashion.
'You smell nice,' he said.
'Lavender soap,' she replied, feeling surprised.
He laughed. 'We only get carbolic in here.'
'Rubbish!' laughed a young nurse, who had joined them. 'He's only kidding.'
'I'll stop by and see you tomorrow,' said Maggie.
'Hasta mañana,' replied Raul.
'Hasta luego,' she smiled back.
Look out for Episode Six next Wednesday.
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