This one speaks for itself…needless to say, we avoided further visits to this couple.
I PRESENT HERE THE SECOND IN SERIES OF SIX EXCERPTS FROM MY NEW NOVEL (Paperback available from Amazon and on Kindle and to order online from selected bookstores)
Tragedy, Travesty, Tapas and the Ark of God
Miguel and Loli Garcia had a traditional Castilian style villa in the comfortable middle class Aravaca suburb on the western side of Madrid.
Driving into Aravaca filled Alex with bitter-sweet nostalgia. It was where he had spent the first eighteen years of his life.
An only child, Alex was a rare species in post-war Spanish suburbia. This combined with a mostly absent and philandering father and a mother who suffered from what would eventually be diagnosed as clinical depression resulted in him developing a high degree of self-resourcefulness from a young age.
His favourite strategy for coping with the dullness and melancholy of his home life was through his innate interest in history.
As his interest developed into a passion, his bedroom transformed over the years into a library of history books, each one a portal through which he could escape Aravaca into exotic past worlds filled with colour and adventure.
In common with most Spanish kids, history began for Alex with the legendary hero El Cid, but unlike his peers, Alex was far more interested in discovering the actual history behind the legend than in the legend itself. The Cid was merely a stepping stone for him into the world of medieval Europe. And after devouring medieval Europe he travelled further back and further east to the stories of Rome, then Greece and ultimately, via Persia, Babylon and Egypt, the origins of civilization itself upon the marshlands of ancient Sumer and the central Asian Steppe.
By the time Alex was fourteen, driven on by an ambition to read the Cambridge Ancient History, he already had a prodigious grasp of English. And by the time he was half way through the tenth volume he had decided that he would get his master’s degree and his PhD in the same town where the book was published. So determined was he in this aspiration that he spurned earlier offers from both Princeton and then Oxford on the off chance that a place would materialise at Cambridge.
When it finally did, six agonising weeks after he had turned down Oxford he was so overjoyed he even managed to cheer up his mother sufficiently to convince her to go out with him for a celebratory supper in town.
His time at Cambridge followed by spells in Seville and London merely confirmed how suffocating and dreary growing up in Aravaca had been and accentuated what he termed the “cosy certainty” of it all.
Yet, Alex understood that it was this same “cosy certainty” which explained why so many of his colleagues either moved or returned to the suburbs to raise families, ‘like herds of animals migrating to their breeding grounds’.
He supposed now, as he parked his Alpha Spider in front of their house that this was why the Garcia’s had moved here. He knew they had two grown up children and that Miguel considered central Madrid to be ‘unsuitable for bringing up a healthy family’ being so ‘polluted and stiflingly hot in summer’.
Alex and Elena being childless however, lacked the “migratory instinct” that seemed to accompany the condition. Often Elena would suggest, only half in jest that they ‘must be perverse in some way—deficient in these normal human instincts.’ Alex would then point out that they had ‘plenty of other human instincts and much more time to indulge them!’
‘In other words’ Elena would then challenge, ‘you’re saying we’re selfish.’
To which Alex would respond; ‘That’s a pious attitude—the concept that not having kids is in some way selfish and sinful and that we have a duty to procreate. If you ask me, it’s the instinct to have children which is selfish. The belief that by spreading one’s seed one is doing society a service.’
‘Yes, but it’s also locked into our DNA—to continue the species. Which brings me back to my first point—that you and I, selfish or not, are maybe lacking something…’
‘Or, are just more highly evolved?’ he would quip. ‘Like oppositional thumbs and cognitive thought? Maybe this lack of a need to procreate is the next level—the next rung on the evolutionary ladder?’
‘If so, it will be the final rung on that ladder—an evolutionary dead-end. Not so much an evolvement as a culmination. I wonder what Darwin would have thought about the concept of evolution leading to culmination?’
‘Whatever he’d have thought I don’t think we need worry yet—not if all the priests and mullahs in the world have anything to do with it. There’ll be no baby shortage in our lifetime…’
Alex smiled wryly to himself at the recollection of this perennial conversation as he opened the black wrought iron gate to the Garcia’s front garden.
The straight pathway from the road to the front door was lined with alternate boxed oleanders and laurel glistening under the heavy autumnal dew. The terracotta tiled path bisected an immaculately maintained formal Spanish Mudéjar style garden of topiary, cypresses and citrus. Standard rose grew from circles of soil edged in Roman brick, set within a sandy gravel surface. It was a modest homage to the grand gardens of the Alcázar in Seville and the Generalife in Granada and betrayed the Andalucian taste of its owners.
Alex found the garden seductive and he stopped so that he might fully appreciate it. Even allowing for the overcast September light this was never intended to be a riot of colour. The garden was primarily tonal in concept; all subtle shades of greens and blues with the roses; only pink or white, providing dynamic points of contrast. It was immaculate, reflective in mood, almost melancholic and it reminded Alex of Loli Garcia.
Then, right on cue he heard someone say, ‘So you like my garden Alex.’ She must have seen him drive up from inside the house.
He turned towards her and there, standing at the front door was Loli looking even smaller, paler and thinner than he remembered her.
‘I love it Loli. My compliments to the gardener.’
‘Gratefully received’ and she made a little bow. ‘The back is even nicer. There are fountains and pools and shady places to sit. It’s my sanctum.’
He was alarmed at her decline since they had met at the hospital eight days before. Miguel was fifty-eight when he died and he guessed that Loli was around the same age but as he approached her he noticed that her naturally white skin had become transparent and dry. It had a parchment-like quality of someone twenty or thirty years her senior and her eyes had the same moist filminess as Miguel’s on his death bed. All this and her painfully thin limbs and tied back hair gave the impression of someone shrinking into themselves.
Given her physical deterioration Loli’s outward calm was disconcerting to Alex. He almost needed her to demonstrate her grief overtly, just to break the spell. There was something unnatural about Loli and he was frightened for her.
As they kissed on each cheek and entered the house he thought she smelt odd; a vaguely sweet smell that reminded him of something from his past, like the odour of vellum in old books or ancient parchments. It was the peculiar odour of someone who was malnourished; someone living on a diet of caffeine.
The interior of the house was typical, simple Castellano but of the finest materials with perfectly plastered white walls, dark oak doors, heavy brown wooden furniture and a floor of handmade terracotta tiles.
Loli led Alex into the main living room and invited him sit down on an austere high backed couch. She remained standing.
‘Can I offer you a coffee Alex?’ she asked.
‘Yes please Loli, I’d love one—black, no sugar.’
While she went and made the coffee Alex stood up again and explored the room. The walls were festooned with large dark clumsily painted oils, mostly copies of equally clumsily painted seventeenth and eighteenth century original Spanish minor “masters”, all contained within broad gilded frames with velvet slips.
The subject matter of the images comprised all the usual suspects for this type of Spanish art: A kitsch representation of an enraptured red-headed Madonna holding a smug looking naked child suffering from what appeared to be a severe case of hydrocephalus; several turgid attempts at Arcadian landscapes, with all the depth and life of a series of worn and dirty billiard cloths; a pair of grotesque portraits, apparently painted by someone influenced by Goya while high on an eighteenth century version of speed and finally; above the hearth, an overly large and unintentionally fauvist still life dominated by a gargantuan lobster painted in lurid ultramarine seemingly locked in mortal combat with a floating string of indigo coloured onions. ‘Gosh!’ Alex thought to himself. ‘If Kenneth Clark could see these he’d say—here you are! You see what I mean! Hopeless! Bloody Hopeless!’ Yet, in a strange way they perfectly suited this particular environment and the overall effect was somehow pleasing and satisfying.
He strolled over to a full sized grand piano in the far corner of the room sitting under a tall window with a full view of the street. Although Alex could not play an instrument he was passionately interested in all things musical. He noted that the piano was a Bluthner; the same make as his late mother’s old baby grand. On the lid of the piano there stood dozens of framed photographs. Among all the usual pictures of weddings and communions were many with images of men who looked similar to Miguel; probably his father and brothers and others of Carlos from when he was younger. In the photos they all shared that same Picasso like face and head and it occurred to Alex that like Picasso, the Garcia clan came from Malaga. ‘Must be a Malagueño gene’ he thought.
He was impressed to see the music for Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy”, a piece well beyond his mother’s ability open above the keyboard. He supposed Loli had been sat here playing the Wanderer as he drove up.
He was about to press down on the piano keys when Loli returned with the coffee.
‘It’s no Steinway I’m afraid’ she said placing a tray onto a low glass table with ornate wrought iron legs, ‘but it has a pleasant tone—perfectly adequate for me and this room.’
‘You play Schubert Loli?’ Alex said sitting down again on the couch.
‘I play just about everything Alex. In a former life I had ambitions of being a concert pianist but that was a long time ago. Miguel never stood in my way, you understand. In fact, he was a highly progressive man for these parts. It wasn’t his fault. It was just that we had children and that put an end to my professional aspirations. But I’ve never stopped playing and I taught both our boys to play too. Jorge, our eldest, is really quite good. He performs contemporary jazz with his band at college.’
‘But why the Wanderer Loli?’ Alex asked a little too obviously more interested in her than in her offspring. ‘I love it, but I always find it a touch bleak—dark even.’
‘Well, at least it’s not Death and the Maiden’ she said smiling slightly giving him another fleeting impression of her past beauty. ‘At this moment’ she went on, ‘The Wanderer, to quote a phrase I think I once read in some American novel, touches my condition. I find it more helpful than I would say… a jolly piece of Mozart. Sometimes it’s best to confront one’s sorrow head on—to grab it by the horns, so to speak.’
They sat in silence for a few seconds. Alex felt useless in these situations and he had no idea what to say to Loli about Miguel that would not sound like a platitude. In the end, he just admitted honestly, ‘I’m at a complete loss at what to say to you Loli—about Miguel I mean.’
‘I don’t want or expect you to say anything Alex. I’ve had a house full of relatives and friends saying things to me about Miguel all week. I’ve been saturated in sympathy to the point where I can’t take another drop.’
‘You know Loli, Miguel and I had a good and amicable working relationship but we weren’t friends as such?’
‘Of course I know that. So what?’
‘It’s just that all this… me sitting here now with you…and before at the hospital. It all seems a bit odd. What I mean is… I feel false.’
‘Well, I can’t do much about that I’m afraid, but really all that matters now is that you need an important piece of information. Miguel had that piece of information. Miguel wanted you to have that piece of information. And now you’re sitting here patiently and politely waiting for me to carry out Miguel’s wish… his dying wish, no less…which was that I give you that piece of information.’
‘It’s no hardship sitting here with you Loli’ Alex said a little defensively but sincerely. The more he got to know this small, intense, fading woman, the more he enjoyed her company.
‘That’s not what I meant. I wasn’t being facetious. I was simply defining the situation as it is. Our sensibilities and social etiquette are of no consequence compared to the bigger picture.’
She picked up her coffee and sat down on a high carver chair opposite him. ‘Look Alex, you’re worried about what I think of you feigning concern for Miguel. Well, never mind you—if you’ll pardon me—what about my Miguel?’ She took a long sip of the thick tarry coffee.
‘What do you mean Loli? What did Miguel do?’ Alex asked.
‘What did Miguel do?’ she repeated rhetorically. ‘I’ll tell you what Miguel did—or what he did not do to be more precise. He did not pass from this world thinking of me or thinking of us and our nearly forty years of life together. No. My Miguel, as ever solely concerned with the bigger picture died thinking about the same thing that brought you to his bedside that morning. You could even say that you were the only person Miguel actually required at his deathbed. Me and the entire family might as well not have been there so far as Miguel was concerned.’
‘I think you’re exaggerating Loli’ Alex said, genuinely dubious and amazed by her frankness.
Loli stood up and went over to large mahogany sideboard with a blue and white tiled top, opened a draw and pulled out a large thick white envelope. She then returned to her chair and placed the envelope down by the coffee pot. ‘In other words Alex’ she continued, ignoring him, ‘your motivation and your sincerity or lack thereof is of no consequence. In the event you did the right thing by default. All that really mattered to Miguel as he took his final breath was that you should receive this.’
She then leant forward and pushed the envelope across the table towards Alex.
‘Knowing that you would read this meant Miguel could die with a modicum of peace’ she added.
‘Why didn’t he just give it me? Before his heart attack I mean?’
‘At first he was simply scared. He only summoned up the courage to actually write this stuff for you about the Transito excavation when Franco relapsed in July. He then intended to give it to you after Franco was dead but when the old bastard recovered and took over again from the young prince it had a terrible effect on him. Miguel was already a shadow of his former self well before Franco’s recovery but once our blessed Caudillo did his Lazarus act it pushed Miguel over the edge. Then last week, the night before his collapse, he nearly phoned you at least half a dozen times. He got himself into a terrible state and eventually decided against it because he didn’t trust the phone. Since all that business with you last April his boss, the chief secretary, made him the scapegoat for the whole mess to protect himself from the wrath of Franco. He was convinced that his mail was being intercepted and that all his phone conversations were being listened to. He thought that they were desperate to get something on him. Miguel said he was at least fortunate that it wasn’t the early days of the regime. They weren’t inconvenienced by things like impropriety back in the ’40s and ’50s. They could have just made him disappear—no questions asked. Nevertheless, the constant worry and the coldness of most of his senior colleagues at the department had a devastating effect on him. You were familiar enough with Miguel to know what a fun loving man he was and so easy going. He just wasn’t cut out for dealing with the hostility and suspicion from people he’d only ever regarded as friends and colleagues. And in the end they destroyed him, just as surely as if they’d stood him up against a wall and shot him. Fortunately though, they failed to destroy what he knew because he wrote it all down, for you Alex.’
‘But what on earth has this business got to do with Franco?’ asked Alex. ‘And since when did Franco take such a keen interest in medieval Judaica? I always thought the guy despised everything to do with the Jews…’
‘He does despise the Jews—albeit more discretely these days since his drive towards modernisation. And you’re correct, that he has absolutely no interest at all in things medieval Jewish. But as you will learn when you read Miguel’s letter, what they discovered in 1964 at the Transito was far from medieval. It was much older and something moreover in which Franco took a most keen interest indeed.’
‘I see’ said Alex.
‘Anyway’ she continued, ‘our beloved leader’s recovery presented Miguel with a big problem. It wasn’t so much fear for himself anymore. He’d got beyond that. It was more a fear for me and Carlos with our knowledge of the Transito discovery and Franco’s little secret. He always felt that when Franco dies things will relax here. He had great faith in the young prince and thought it would be safe, at least after a while to let you in on the secret…safe for you that is Alex. But lying on that hospital bed dying, he changed his mind. He couldn’t face death knowing that he had deceived you and not put things right. So here we are and that’s why your motives are immaterial.’
‘Gracious!’ Alex exclaimed quietly, feeling a little overwhelmed. ‘You know Loli, since that phone call back in April with Miguel I’ve felt almost as I’ve entered a kind of dream state from which I can’t wake up.’
‘Miguel’s letter will wake you up I promise.’
Alex started to open the envelope.
‘No Alex!’ Loli said firmly. ‘Not here, not now. Take it home. It’s yours to keep. I want no more part of it.’
‘Of course, I understand’ he said placing the package on his lap.
‘I hope you never have to understand Alex. My Miguel is dead because of this business. My sweet gentle man has been taken from me and I can’t bear it. I actually, emotionally and physically can’t bear it.’ This was her first verbal expression of her grief.
They sat in silence while she dabbed her eyes with the woollen sleeve concealing her bony forearm. Then she leant forward and looked intently at Alex.
‘Listen to me carefully Alex. What you are about to read will thrill you as an archaeologist and as a scholar and it will appal you as a Spaniard and a human being. Because of that your natural instinct will be to enquire and to seek and to act. But trust Miguel. Trust me. And wait. Whatever you do wait until the wicked old bastard is dead. Then wait some more. Wait until you are as certain as you can be that you have nothing to fear from people in high places. Wait however long it takes. Wait.’
‘But what if the prince turns out to be another tyrant or a puppet of the generals?’
‘The prince is a good man—pragmatic for sure—but fundamentally decent. He will bring us freedom, I know it. It might take him some time but he will succeed. And in any case Alex you have no choice. When you read Miguel’s letter you’ll see that even if you wanted to there’s nothing to be done until Franco is dead and buried.’
Loli took a deep sigh and stood up to signal that she wished Alex’s visit come to an end.
As they reached the front door she turned to him and gently held his arm. ‘After you’ve read Miguel’s letter go and see his brother Carlos tonight.’
‘He spoke to me at the hospital. He wanted to tell me about the Sons of Kahoth, or something?’
‘Ko-hath, not Ka-hoth. But don’t worry, he’ll tell you all about it. Meet him tonight if you can, after you’ve read the stuff in there’ she said tapping the envelope with her finger. ‘He’s expecting you at La Gamba at nine. He’ll have a quiet table at the back.’
Loli opened the door and as Alex passed her he stopped on the step and looked at her.
‘Can I ask you one more thing Loli?’
‘Of course Alex.’
‘Why didn’t you just tell me what Miguel’s has written here?’
‘I told you, I’m sick of the whole subject.’
‘But all the same…you’ve told me so much about the background to it. I’d have thought it would have been liberating for you in a way just to get it all out.’
She smiled and again he could perceive the attractive woman she must have once been. ‘Perhaps you’re right but I wanted Miguel to tell you himself in his own words. After everything that’s happened to him he deserves that, even in death…no…especially in death.’
Alex got back into his car and opened the window. The sun had emerged during his time with Loli and it was roasting inside the small cabin of the Spider.
As he was about to turn the key in the ignition he caught a familiar sound on the gentle September breeze coming from the Garcia’s house. It was the sublimely mournful opening bars of the Wanderer adagio.
Alex suddenly felt overwhelmed with melancholy and sadness. ‘She plays like an angel’ he thought to himself as he headed back to the city, ‘like an angel’.
I PRESENT HERE THE FIRST IN SERIES OF TEN EXCERPTS FROM MY NEW NOVEL (Paperback available from Amazon and on Kindle and to order online from selected bookstores)
Tragedy, Travesty, Tapas and the Ark of God
“ … Creator of all things above and below … Thou art the One, Creator of all that is, the One; the only One …”
Egyptian hymn to Amun-Re
“…Blessed be He, who extends the heavens and establishes the earth…He is our God; There is no other.”
‘Alenu’, ancient Hebrew prayer
‘Coño! This had better be good José―damn good!’
‘Don’t worry Alex! This is beyond good.’
‘Beyond my powers of description at any rate―but what the hell took you so long getting here?’
‘All flights out of Almeria were cancelled because of the storms―I had to get the bus up here―that’s what the hell took me so long! Anyway, I’m here now, so why don’t you just show me what all this fuss is about and then I’ll let you know if it was worth my while spending the last twelve hours aggravating my haemorrhoids on a wooden seat on a clapped out coach with no suspension on the worst damn roads in Europe!’
‘Just wait till you see it. You won’t believe your eyes.’
The tall, youthful, blond haired José Sanchez grabbed the slightly older, shorter, dark haired Alex Martinez by the arm and guided him energetically down an alley way into a small stone courtyard.
‘Here it is Alex’ José said pointing eagerly towards a large rectangular hole next to which was a neat mound of rubble and dirt. ‘Look at that and then tell me I was wrong to call you. The moment we uncovered it I knew this was work for you…’ José stopped talking for a moment when he saw Alex’s face, then said ‘I told you didn’t I?’
At first Alex could not speak. His mouth fixed open in amazement, his hands on his hips, his head shaking in sheer disbelief at what he was looking at. Then, after a minute or so he took off his spectacles and cleaned them with his shirt. Still shaking his head, squinting into the pit he said, almost lost for words, ‘Oh coño! A wonderful thing…a simply wonderful thing…’
It was late April 1974 when José had been commissioned by the department of antiquities to do the exploratory dig along the outside of the eastern wall of the 14th century Transito Synagogue in Toledo.
His original task had been to check the state of the foundations of the building but soon after his men began digging, the walls of what appeared to be a subterranean chamber were uncovered. By the following evening they had exposed the entire chamber.
It was in the form of a skewed rectangle, about eighteen feet long by twelve feet wide and ran lengthways roughly parallel with the rear of the synagogue. It was just over seven feet deep with a floor of exquisitely hand painted glazed turquoise-green tiles.
However, it was not the chamber itself that prompted José to approach The National Heritage Institute in Madrid and demand they summon Spain’s leading medievalist and archaeologist, Professor Alex Martinez as a matter of urgency. It was the additional discovery of a small structure standing within the sunken chamber.
It measured just over eight feet square at its base and stood a little more than five feet in height. It was in the form of a steep sided trapezoid; a flat roofed pyramid and constructed of large sand coloured limestone blocks.
With no floor of its own the structure sat on the tiles of the host chamber as a solid canopy. The narrow seam between the base of the structure and the tiled floor was sealed with mortar.
Now, as Alex Martinez peered into the chamber for the first time, and as José had correctly predicted, he found it hard to believe what was before him.
It was not merely the beauty of the structure sitting on the sumptuous tiled floor; it was the fact it existed at all, there, in that place, from that time.
To his certain knowledge, outside of cemeteries trapezoid constructions were unheard of anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula after the end of the Roman era. To discover one like this in near perfect condition, apparently dating to the Middle Ages was, in both archaeological and historical terms, a revelation. But in addition to its uniqueness, there were several intriguing features of the structure itself.
It had no doorway or normal access point of any kind.
Yet, at some time since its completion in the thirteen hundreds someone had gained access to its interior by removing the roof.
The now exposed interior space was just over five foot square at floor level. The surface of its inner walls was elaborately panelled in hardwood overlaid in an opulently thick layer of pure gold leaf.
The wall blocks were eighteen inch thick ashlar, apparently cut with stone flints rather than iron or steel chisels.
And most intriguing of all was a faint blue inscription on the right-hand cornerstone on the east facing outside wall.
Although Alex could not decipher it he remembered enough from his time as a student volunteer on digs in Israel to recognise the language of the writing. It was with a fair degree of astonishment he observed that the words were written in a script dating back to many centuries before Christ. The inscription on the cornerstone was in early Hebrew.
The instant he saw the inscription Alex knew that he required additional specialist expertise both to determine its date and meaning and also to help him unravel the other mysteries of the canopy’s construction.
To that end, the next day after he had first assembled his own team of archaeology students from the local university to begin the task of further investigating the site, he sent a photograph of the inscription together with samples of the stone and the timber and gold panelling up to the Department of Antiquities in Madrid for analysis.
However, there were two more aspects related to the state of the site itself and the condition of the canopy which were not merely intriguing to Alex but which he also found vaguely troubling.
Alex was familiar with the reports of all the restorations and excavations done at the synagogue since the time it had been used by Napoleon’s troops as a barracks during the Peninsula War and none of them mentioned the sunken chamber or the canopy. Yet, from the loose condition of the dirt fill and the fact it consisted mostly of aggregate typically used in modern road making Alex determined that the site had been covered over during the 1964 works, just ten years earlier.
As he observed and supervised the students going about their various tasks in and around the canopy he pondered why such a remarkable discovery was never publicised and why had it then been covered over again? ‘Could it be’ he wondered, ‘something to do with the other element of the puzzle? The fact that the removal of the roof also dated to the 1964 works…’
‘I didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work that out’ Alex told a colleague over tapas later that evening in Madrid bar.
‘How can you be so sure?’ queried the colleague.
‘Because of this non-medieval artefact I found on the floor inside.’ From his briefcase Alex produced a twelve inch flat headed drill bit with a broken tip. ‘Whoever removed the roof used this’ he stated placing the bit on the bar. ‘So far as I know they didn’t have pneumatic drills in the fourteenth century.’
His colleague looked suitably intrigued.
‘And that’s not all’ added Alex. ‘We also found ropes and a crowbar.’
‘Quite a tool kit!’
‘All the tools required in fact for lifting off the loosened roof and preventing it from crashing down onto whatever was inside the canopy. Most of the roof is still intact on the floor of the host chamber.’
‘But wouldn’t it have been simpler to cut through the side walls?’
‘No. Whoever did this tested the thickness of the stones first. There are probe holes drilled into both the walls and the roof and the roof stones are only a quarter of the thickness of the wall blocks. It made perfect sense to go through the roof—far less work and much less risk to whatever was inside.’
‘Have you told the people at the department about this?’
‘I haven’t had time yet. I’ll do it first thing tomorrow.’
But the next morning something happened that caused Alex to reconsider this line of action.
When he arrived in his office at the institute, there on his desk barely a day after he had submitted the samples for examination was a thin dog-eared envelope with the words “analysis results” scrawled across the front in biro.
The slim envelope instantly set alarm bells off in Alex’s head. He knew that meaningful reports took weeks and more often months to complete and would be presented in the form of a weighty file. But when he then read the note contained within the envelope his alarm turned to dismay:
Dear Professor Martinez,
Following careful examination we find nothing remarkable to report with regard to the nature of the stone, the timber or the graffito at the Transito site.
In the light of these unexceptional findings it has been decided to resume the engineering works to the synagogue’s eastern wall in the interests of securing the building with immediate effect.
The Department thanks you and your team for all your efforts in this matter.
Diego Ruiz – Chief Secretary, Department of Antiquities
Alex immediately telephoned his main contact at the department, the medieval projects manager Miguel Garcia.
Garcia claimed tersely that he knew nothing about it and refused to put him through to Ruiz saying that the director was busy. He then offered Alex a piece of ‘friendly advice’ to ‘drop the whole thing.’
Alex reminded Garcia that he had ‘uncovered a site of potentially great importance to the cultural heritage of Spain and that ‘both as an archaeologist and a patriot he was bound to publish a full site report.’
‘Nevertheless’ Garcia told him, ‘do not under any circumstances publish a report.’
To which Alex replied; ‘You mean like the people who discovered the structure in 1964?’
For several seconds there was silence at the other end of the phone. Then Garcia asked; ‘How the hell do you know that it was discovered in 1964? How can you know that?’
‘I’m trained to know these things Miguel’ he replied surprised at the effectiveness of his gambit. ‘It’s what the government pays me for. Now would you be so kind as to tell me what this all about? What’s with all the fucking secrecy?’
Alex’s swearing had an incendiary effect on Garcia. ‘There’s no fucking secrecy!’ he yelled. ‘No fucking anything! Just a fucking boring, fucking meaningless little fucking structure…’
‘Meaningless!’ Alex cried back. ‘A structure unique in Iberian medieval architecture decorated with enough solid gold to shame the tomb of the average Pharaoh! A structure moreover in perfect condition—except for the fact ten years ago someone removed its roof and then covered it over again as if nothing had happened? If that’s meaningless then I’m a Dutchman!’
‘Alex, I’m telling you again as a friend’ Miguel said quietly, almost pleading, ‘just forget all about this. It’s all a mistake, a bloody great cock-up!’
‘A mistake? What do you mean a mistake?’
‘The excavation Alex—the excavation was a mistake. It should never have been sanctioned. Whoever ticked off on the excavation didn’t know. He didn’t know about the original works in 64. But now they’ve found the old records and it should never have been sanctioned. The Caudillo himself is raising hell here Alex. Please, please just let it go.’
Both the desperation in Garcia’s voice and the mention of Franco were disturbing. Alex had always enjoyed a cordial and constructive working relationship with Miguel Garcia. He’d found him to be an affable chap always willing to go that extra mile for a colleague. This exchange was totally out of character.
‘Listen Miguel, I don’t want to make problems for you. I just want…I just need to know one thing and then I’ll leave you alone. I promise.’
‘What is it?’
‘Whoever took the roof off the canopy found something inside it and whatever it was they removed it in a big hurry…’
‘How do you know all this?’
‘Why else would they have deserted nearly half a ton of gold panelling? They must have found something so…so hot…’
‘I don’t know Miguel! Hot, incredible, astonishing―something so precious in some way that they ignored the gold and covered up their tracks in a rush.’
Garcia did not respond. Alex could hear him breathing heavily down the phone.
‘I won’t write anything Miguel. No report. But please just tell me what was inside the structure?’
After another few seconds Garcia eventually said in a low weary voice; ‘Nothing Alex…they found absolutely nothing.’
‘You swear to me that’s the truth Miguel? You’re telling me that the Caudillo is getting all worked up over nothing because you’re acting like they found the fucking Holy Grail or something?’ Again silence at the other end of the phone.
Calmly now, he repeated the question; ‘Miguel. Do you swear to me that what you just told me is the truth?’
Garcia hung up without answering.
A collection of digital “gouaches” showing the way the Axarquian landscape changes with the seasons – Yes we do have seasons – even snow from time to time. These images cover a period of twenty years…
“I loved it! This is a great story with a wonderful concept and excellent background.” Readers’ Favorite
As they continued slowly down the centre of the aisle Omri resumed his photography taking pictures of each of the six apses, of the ceiling, of the floor and the seating and then the stairs leading up to the transept and the choir. They passed behind the raised altar and stared up at the cupola before arriving at the two marble slabs denoting the tombs of Franco and de Rivera, about ten yards apart. ‘So where exactly is our object?’ asked Omri in a lowered voice. ‘You’re standing on it now’ Alex said looking at the slab beneath Omri’s feet. ‘You’re right on top of it.’