Extract: A Body in Barcelona by Jason Webster
A Body in Barcelona is the fifth novel in Jason Webster‘s Max Cámara series.
Tensions in Spain are rising: political violence and social unrest have suddenly re-emerged. Madrid is trying to keep a tight leash on Catalonia, where the call for independence is getting louder by the day. The last time Barcelona moved to break away, in the 1930s, Spain quickly descended into civil war.
Down in Valencia, a shallow grave is found among abandoned orange groves just outside the city. Chief Inspector Max Cámara, now heading up the new Special Crime Unit, is put on the case. But this is no ordinary murder. Behind it, Max uncovers a tangled web that could awaken ghosts from the past, decimate Barcelona and destabilise the whole country
It’s all down to Max, but the stakes are higher than anything he’s ever known.
Read on for an extract from A Body in Barcelona!
A Body in Barcelona
The silver handle of Colonel José Terreros’s swordstick was a cast of the eagle of St John, formerly the symbol of Their Most Catholic Majesties King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and more recently of the dictatorship that had saved Spain from the great Marxist–Masonic conspiracy. The handle was shiny and smooth, and as he walked to work along Calle Tejero, the colonel gripped it tightly, tapping the bottom of the stick with a strict rhythm on the pavement.
It was a fine morning in Ceuta, with a mild Poniente breeze that cleaned and freshened the air. On any other day he might stop at one of the bars along the promenade and have a coffee while gazing out over the strait towards the peninsula, watching the tankers passing lazily between Mediterranean and Atlantic, or the ferries marching more briskly southwards from Algeciras, a vital link between this little Spanish corner of Africa and the Fatherland. But today he felt alive with urgency. He had to press on. There would be time for such pleasures again soon, once a better future had been secured.
His feet took him along his usual route, the Paseo de la Marina Española, first crossing Calle de la Legión and then Calle Millán Astray. He checked every day that the street signs were as they always had been, always should be. Like old friends. Unlike other parts of the country, where tradition was under daily assault, Ceuta still valued the armed forces – institutions that had made the country great. And kept it so.
Over recent years, governments in Madrid had managed to remove some of the more glorious names from Ceuta’s streets – there was no longer a sign for Calle General Franco, for example. But Millán Astray, the founder of the Legión, was still honoured. Franco’s mentor had played his part in the success of the National Uprising of 1936, but years before that, here in Ceuta, he had created the Legión – the greatest fighting force that the country had ever produced. The original idea for the elite unit might have come from elsewhere, but the French had to fill theirs with foreigners, and the tougher, more rugged Spanish legionarios made their Francophone counterparts look like pussycats.
Millán Astray had suffered the wounds of a martyr, sacrificing both an arm and an eye for the nation. A true hero. Let them come, if they dared, and try to remove his name. Let them try to scrub history clean of the great men who had saved the country from the Red scum. Let them pander to the Leftists, the separatists, the Godless and the queers. Let them come here and try to do that. And then they would find themselves learning the true meaning of tradition. And rebellion.
A light gust of wind blowing in from the strait brought the scent of ship’s diesel and salt water from the port and the grey pencil moustache above Terreros’s upper lip twitched as the embryo of a smile formed on his mouth: it was the smell of action, of decision.
His offices were near the Cathedral of Our Lady of Africa, a few paces from the main square, down a side street and up a narrow staircase on the second floor. The climb could be difficult at times, but he was still strong, despite his sixty-three years, and had learned to ignore the pain. At the top, a green door with frosted glass led to a small room with an oak desk in a corner. A computer sat on the top; in a drawer, hidden from view, was his 20cm-barrel, ivory-grip .357-calibre Magnum Colt Python, which he liked to polish before lunch every day. On the wall, next to the portrait of Franco and embossed in gold on a wooden plaque, was written the motto of the Legión: Todo por la Patria: ‘Everything for the Fatherland’.
Within moments of his arrival, there was a rap on the door and a small middle-aged man with a white apron tied around his waist came in bearing a tray.
‘Buenos días, Señor Coronel.’
‘Buenos días, Paco,’ Terreros answered stiffly.
‘You’ve heard about the latest assault on the border?’
The barman leaned across and placed Terreros’s café cortado on the edge of the desk with a slight tremble of the hand. It was only half-past eight in the morning, but Paco had been up since five, cleaning and setting up his premises for the early workers stopping off for coffee and brandy before clocking on. Then came the rounds of shops and nearby offices, each with their regular and very specific orders. The steps up to the colonel’s office were the worst, and he left it till last, when his tray was that bit less heavy. Days when the wind came from the east – the Levante – were the worst, causing his joints to ache. Today was less bad, but he could never reach the green door without panting and breaking into a sweat.
Paco’s reward, however, was to allow himself a moment’s conversation – never too long; they were both busy men – with the colonel. Terreros was not merely a retired military officer, he was ex-Legión, and no matter what was happening either in Spain or the rest of the world, he had opinions and insights that needed to be listened to. Paco liked to think that the colonel in his turn appreciated the titbits that he brought every so often – rumours, overheard conversations, mere gossip in many cases. But it gave Terreros another ear to the ground. Paco never knew exactly what the colonel did up here. The plaque at the ground-floor entrance described his office as ‘La Asociación de Ayuda para Legionarios (the Veteran Legionarios’ Welfare Association). But quite what that work entailed he could not say. And despite carrying out occasional favours for the colonel, he never asked.
Today there was something fresh to talk about. The colonel almost certainly knew about the large group – some said as many as a thousand – of sub-Saharan African men who had tried to storm the border between Morocco and Ceuta during the night. Such incidents were becoming more and more frequent, despite the use of razor wire to keep them at bay. Unlike earlier attempts, however, the previous night’s break-in had resulted in over twenty deaths: some of the Guardia Civil officers on the Spanish side had panicked and started firing rubber bullets, at which point the would-be immigrants had jumped into the sea. But instead of swimming to the First World, many had only made it to the next world instead. Patrol boats had spent the hours since dawn picking bodies out of the water.
Terreros nodded as Paco loitered for a moment in his office, his now-empty tray held at his side.
‘It was mentioned on the radio,’ Terreros said.
‘They reckon it’s only the beginning,’ said Paco. ‘Had some of the Guardia Civil men in this morning – finishing after the night shift. Told me all about it. It’s just getting worse. One day soon we’ll be burying some of our own. It’s just a matter of time.’
‘You may be right, Paco.’ Terreros took a slow sip of his coffee. The barman said nothing. It was the usual routine: the opening comment and then the pause as Paco waited for the colonel’s words of wisdom on the matter in hand. Terreros loved it – it was the only reason why he tolerated the man entering the sanctum of his office.
‘We are,’ he began, ‘on the very edge of civilisation here, as you know. The world of Christian values ends only metres away from where we now are. We live with that every day. It has been the role of Spain for centuries to act as the shield and sword of the faith. It is our destiny.’
He placed the coffee glass back on its saucer and stroked a finger and thumb over his moustache. Paco waited, silent.
‘The cowards in Madrid are blind to the gravity of the situation,’ Terreros continued. ‘It may require a sacrifice – the blood of one of our own men – before they can learn to see. God alone can say.’
‘Do you think it will come to that?’ Paco asked. The tray swung in his hand, his thick black eyebrows almost touching as he tensed his brow.
‘It is inevitable,’ Terreros said. ‘But our little drama here in Ceuta is nothing to the greater struggle that is breaking out on the peninsula, Paco.’
He raised a finger in the barman’s face, and a thrilling surge of adrenalin poured into Paco’s bloodstream.
‘The nation is in peril. You know what I am talking about. The separatists imagine that their time has come, that the sacred unity of Spain – la España eterna – can be broken.’
His voice began to rise as he spoke, his face reddening. He got up from his chair and stood close to the barman, staring him hard in the eyes.
‘They could not be more wrong. Nothing, repeat nothing, can be allowed to destroy what has been divinely ordained. Spain is, has been and always will be. There is no room for anyone who thinks otherwise. Those who stand in our way will pay the highest price. I swear by the blood of my ancestors that while there is breath in me I will not stop until the menace has been defeated!’
The colonel waved his arm for a final, dramatic flourish, before sitting down at his desk.
Paco understood and made to move: he had got what he came for.
‘How right you are, Colonel. How right you are. Now I shall leave you to your important work. Until tomorrow.’
He gave a slight bow, lifted the tray up under his arm and passed through the door, making sure to close it gently but firmly behind him. In a few moments he was downstairs and outside in the street again. The breeze cooled the back of his neck and he felt something like a spring in his step.
Yes, dangerous times were ahead. That was what the colonel had been trying to tell him. Dangerous, and exciting. And he had it on the highest authority. Oh, there would be much to talk about with the lunchtime crowd. Confidentially, of course, and he would never dream of giving away the source of his privileged information, but he would make sure all of his trusted customers were up to date before the end of the day. That was, after all, why they came to his bar in the first place.
Upstairs in his office, Terreros finished his bitter, cold coffee, swore under his breath at Paco, and switched on his computer. After typing in three encrypted passwords to get access to his desktop, he clicked on the file that had been playing on his mind since the moment he had woken up: AGENTS.
There was some cleaning up to do.