-Pedro, Are you listening? I need you to do me a favor.
Pedro is happy to be back in Madrid. Lavapiés neighborhood is still the same place: the sun of spring illuminates the tables on the terrace of the bar and the people talk and laugh with their Madrilenian accent. He feels just at home.
-Pedro? He turns to the girl that sits on the other side of the crystal table. He smiles, takes a sip of his glass of beer and answers playfully:
-What it’s the favor you need? I hope is not money. After my little adventure in Nepal I don’t have many funds left.
- No, no. – says María, - I just need you to take this suitcase and keep it for a few months. I need to know that it is in a safe place.
– María shows him a small black suitcase with a complex closing mechanism. It is clear that there is something else than clothes inside.
-Why don’t you put it in a bank or give it to your colleages? It seems a rather… dangerous object.
- Banks have cameras and my partners in the CNI (National Intelligence Center) are under vigilance. You on the other hand are just a citizen.
– María finish her beer with a gulp, lights a cigarette and smiles, - Besides, when you give it back to me we will share the money.
There is a lot of people who are interested in buying what is inside. – Now the smile turns into seriousness, - I am talking about millions of euros.
Pedro looks at María for a moment. Her green eyes, her long golden hair… As beautiful as always. – Ok. I’ll do it.
Pedro took the subway. His room is in the outskirts of the city, where the imperial and touristic Madrid gives way to the average people, in neighborhoods such as Vallecas and Hortaleza, where the hostels are cheap and no questions are asked.
Once in his room he leaves the suitcase in the wardrobe. It makes no sense hiding it, if someone want to find it he will get it. This way I will at least avoid them destroying the room, thinks Pedro with a half-smile hanging from his tired face.
Pedro wakes up in a completely empty room. Around him there are only white walls and a big picture window overlooking a marvelous view of the Retiro park.
He observes the trees and water sight for a while until he comes back to reality.
– What am I doing here? What is this? – As he tries to move he finds out that he is tied to the chair. His wallet in front of him, his cards and money scattered on the wooden floor.
Then he hears some steps behind him and the sound of and old man’s voice.
– Elijah, are you awake? – Pedro doesn’t know how to react and decides to pretend to be asleep. – Elijah, ¡talk to me! – A violent slap throws Pedro to the floor. After a brief silence he answers:
– Who is Elijah? The old man starts laughing.
– Don’t play with me Elijah. Tell me where are the documents. I don’t have time for your games.
Pedro knows that the man is serious. He tries to remember how he has got here but only remembers going out for a walk by the Manzanares river. He decides to buy some time while he tries to remember more:
– Who are you? Where are we?
The old man sighs, takes Pedro and his chair back up and bends down in front of him. He looks at him for a long minute. – I am someone who is gonna make you regret it if you don’t answer my questions.
He comes closer and lights a cigarette, blows the smoke into Pedro’s face. – Where are the…?
Pedro hits the man with his head. The old man swears and take his hands to his bloody nose.
Pedro takes the opportunity and balances on the chair to fall down on him and take him by the neck, leaving him unconscious. ¿Now what?
Searching as he can through the man’s clothes he finds a lighter and manages to burn the ropes tying him to the chair. Once free he takes a closer look to the old man’s face.
Despite his gray hair and wrinkles, his energetic voice and imposing aspect made him consider him a fifty years old man. However he must be older than sixty.
Maybe he went too far hitting him like that. Maybe he is just nuts. However his way of talking, his tailored suit and the excellent situation of this modern and empty flat suggest otherwise.
This man is someone important… and surely doesn’t work alone.
Pedro runs through the almost empty streets of an august at six in the morning.
He tries to escape the wide and bright streets of the city center, searching the darker alleys.
Each few meters he looks back to see if someone follows him.
After running for almost an hour he finally takes refuge in a small bar where people crowd together to have churros with chocolate for breakfast.
Is the typical Madrilenian churrería, with its walls covered with black and white photos showing old clients, most of them famous.
Above the conversations and the constant sound of cups clashing with plates resounds the sound of an old small television on a corner.
Pedro asks for a coffee and two churros.
Pedro thinks with a blank stare over the floor covered with used napkins, deaf to the constant murmur. What to do now?
Finally looks up and sees a public phone in a corner of the bar.
He comes closer and, after looking aroung, sticks a coin in and dials the number he knows so well:
– María? See you at twelve o’clock in the usual place. – Then hangs the phone before receiving an answer. He knows María will come.
After paying for the coffee he is getting ready to exit when something in the television attracts his attention.
The news shows a press conference where the economy minister talks surrounded by three men in suit.
They talk satisfied about the construction of a hotel and entertaining complex in Aranjuez, to the south of Madrid.
Pedro knows one the men that accompany the minister: his kidnapper.
A while after this Pedro is sitting in a circular train.
He chooses the emptiest car and sits down on a corner with his head resting on the window and a gaze directed to the ceiling.
When someone needs to think there is nothing better than taking a train to nowhere.
The bar where he has to meet María is a small establishment with bohemian style below the Segovia bridge.
When coming near it he notice that the bar’s terrace does not show the usual activity.
The tables are full but lack the laughter, the voices and the clouds of tobacco smoke.
Pedro stops suddenly and is then when he recognizes some of the people sitting there: secret agents, partners from a long time ago. Is a trap.
However, instead of escaping, Pedro surrounds the place in search of clues.
In a parallel street finds a couple of suspicious vans and steals near them across the sidewalk.
He can hear a conversation between a small group of people.
-Are you sure that it is here where the where going to meet?
– Yes. She told us that it would happen here exactly at this time. She lied to us.
At that moment a new person appears outside Pedro’s line of sight.
He recognizes the firm and secure voice of the old man that captured him.
-She would never lie to us, the fault is yours. You shouldn’t have underestimated your prey.
–An intense silence follows those words. Pedro can almost touch the fear that the man stills his employees with.
– I cannot afford to have this suitcase roaming around and neither can I lose my time with your nonsense, someone could recognize me.
Find him at all costs and bring it to me.
The man gets into a dark car and takes off.
Luckily it is not allowed to drive fast in this area and Pedro gets to follow him for a while until he finds a post of public bikes.
Forcing his muscles and the small electric engine of the bicycle he follows the car until it stops in a house in Salamanca neighborhood, one of the most expensive in the city.
It was not easy to slip into the house.
Luckily sees that the man he is following lives alone and spends little time at home.
The moment he sees the car going out again, Pedro jumps the fence quickly and goes into the building through a half-open window.
Once inside he finds a cozy but modern house, decorated profusely but with style.
He finds a great selection of wines in the living room: from the northern white wines like Rueda o Alvariño to the Andalusian wines such as Fino and Oloroso, and also the classic wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
Pedro serves himself skillfully with a glass of cava and starts his investigation.
The shelves which cover three of the walls in the living room contain mostly old books, probably selected because of its economic worth rather than its literary content.
A second edition of Don Quixote and old tomes of baroque authors such as Quevedo, Góngora and Calderón de la Barca.
The walls on the hallways are decorated with also baroque paintings and classic sculptures on the corners.
The floors covered with Andalusian and Moroccan carpets full of color and abstract figures.
Clearly this is not and ordinary businessman’s house.
In the study there is no computer, he probably carries it with him.
However there are some folders and files with bills and receipts. Aparently he is some kind of directive in a real-state company with strong ties to the hotel business.
In the last months there are a great number of contracts and travels connected with the United States and specially the state of Nevada.
Nothing seems illegal, although Pedro’s expert instinct tells him that something is not right.
There is something missing that could explain why the owner of this house has strongly trained men under his command.
In the walls there are pictures of the old man with famous people, presidents, the king Juan Carlos. An important guy, surely.
On the desk there is only a picture. Pedro recognizes a face he knows perfectly.
It is time to open that damned suitcase.
After two hours of walking cautiously avoiding possible dangers, Pedro finally arrives to his hostel, greets the receptionist who smokes impassible on a chair by the entrance hall of the building and goes into his room.
Once by the door he finds that the door is not fully closed.
Slowly and silently Pedro takes a peek and sees a shadow moving in the room and an unmistakable smell of tobacco.
He opens the door and there she is, María, walking around the room with a blank stare and a forgotten cigarette hanging from the tips of his fingers.
– Hello thinker.
– Pedro! Where were you? – María throws the cigarette to the floor and hugs him strongly.
– When I saw that you were not there I was worried. Besides, there were very strange people there. Are you in trouble?
Pedro smiles and strokes her hair. – Don’t you worry.
I had other things to do and I couldn’t go. I should buy a mobile phone, Don’t you think?
– He looks at her with affectionate eyes while his caresses come closer to her naked neck.
–I was worried. I don’t want anything to happen to you. – María kisses his neck and caresses his arms.
– I am going to take suitcase back and leave you alone, I had no right to take you into this mess.
But before doing that… – María kisses his mouth while Pedro holds her tightly.
Later they are in bed, laying and covered with a creased and damp blanket.
Pedro has his eyes closed and María dresses up.
When she is about to leave a hand appears behind her and takes her by the arm: – Won’t you take your suitcase?
María looks at him, surprised, – No… I was just going to buy something to drink. Do you want something?
Pedro smiles, – I want you to stop lying to me.
After having your father following me across the city during this two last days I am not standing your lies.
Ssssssh, – Pedro makes her shut up putting a finger over María’s lips, - I took a stroll by his office and saw a picture of you two together.
– Pedro moves the back of his hand across María’s cheek. – You know what? You haven’t change since you were a kid.
What I cannot understand yet is why did you give me the suitcase. Did you want to incriminate me for something you did or just to hurt me?
María looks at him with an open mouth, without saying anything.
– I suppose that I will have to find it out by myself.
Pedro covers her mouth with a piece of cloth and gags her.
Despite her attempts to free herself he gets to tie her arms and legs.
He takes the suitcase and introduces María in the closet.
– Goodbye María. I am sorry it’s ended like this.
María looks at him with wide open eyes while she tries to free herself and cry for help without success.
When coming out, Pedro pays two days in advance for his room and leaves a tip of twenty euros to the receptionist. It starts to get dark.
It’s almost midnight. Pedro rings the bell of a small building surrounded by gardens.
– Javier, open up. It’s Pedro. I have something for you.
Once inside the penthouse, Javier welcomes him in a pink dotted robe and a gin-tonic in each hand.
– Little Pedro! How long has it been? Ten years? Come, come.
Pedro enters, grabs a glass and takes a sip.
– I am sorry for coming here like this but I am in a hurry. There is a piece of news that must be published. It will yield you lots of money and it could save my life.
Javier does not seem impressed. He sits in an armchair in front of a muted television in which one can see an old black and white film.
– Sit down friend, – points to a leather sofa near him. – Show me what you have in that suitcase.
Pedro sits down and opens the suitcase in the crystal table between the sofa and the armchair.
There is only a flash-drive inside.
Javier nods and brings a laptop from a nearby room.
While Pedro turns it on and loads the files Javier serves himself another gin-tonic and lights a cigarette.
– Let’s see.
The flash-drive contains two folders. One called “white” and the other “black”.
In the first one there are a number of files regarding the negotiations for the construction of the Aranjuez complex.
In the second one there are some similar documents which detail black money deals in which important Spanish politicians agree to relax gambling laws and reduce terrain costs in exchange of money and shares in different American companies.
Among the people involved there are some business people from the press circles.
– Pedro. This is incredible. Really incredible. – Javier lies back on the armchair and lights another cigarette. He seems worried.
– I know, – says Pedro anxiously, – What are we going to do? Some of this people is looking for me because of this suitcase. The only way to stop them is to make this public.
– The other looks at him without saying nothing. – Javier?
Nothing Pedro. We are not doing anything.
This information will never come to light, and the one who brings it to the papers will end death or in jail.
The best thing you can do is burn this junk, - signals the flash-drive, -and move to another country. At least for a while. I’m sorry.
The bar is full of young people eating tapas, chatting and having a good time.
Pedro sips his third mixed drink and looks around with a bored expression.
There is a sports program in the TV screen in which a group of reporters chat loudly about the latest soccer results.
Pedro sticks his hand in his pocket and plays nervously with the flash-drive.
After two whiskies he starts a conversation with a foreign brunette.
Nothing seems important here, just having fun.
People laugh, the TV host laughs and the girl (she says is from Norway) smiles at him with shiny eyes.
When the girl goes to the toilet Pedro takes the flash-drive and puts into a nearby glass of beer.
– Maybe it will be better like this. I will move to Argentina and buy a small house near the sea. Or maybe I will take a trip around Africa in a jeep.
When the girl comes out the toilet, Pedro suggests to go to a quieter place.
It is in that moment that the sports program gets interrupted and gives way to a news report.
Pedro looks sideways at it and sees a picture of María.
His father is dead, apparently in a car accident this morning and she is missing.
There are some evidences that indicate that she has fled with her father’s black money.
There are rumors that the scandal following this discoveries would make the completion of the Aranjuez complex impossible.
The rest of the people involved in the construction deny their personal involvement in the negotiations and affirm not to know the dead man that well.
This time is Pedro who starts laughing.
He takes his jacket, looks at the screen for the last time and follows his Norwegian girl out the door.
Despite being well past midnight the air in the streets is still hot and does not encourage one to go home but to walk around the lively streets and enjoy the capital city.