CHAPTER THIRTY: CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS

Christmas? Who remembered Christmas on San Sebastian Day? As soon as the Three Kings arrived by boat on January the 5th and the streets where cleaned of sweet wrappers after the parade, the shop windows in Donosti replaced their scant Yule decorations with white and blue garlands and other white and blue paraphernalia as well as an array of old-fashioned military drums. This last element, a bit eccentric to foreigners, wasn’t a surprise to Dolores, although the year before she was away in Oxford celebrating her brother’s sixtieth birthday. It was impossible for someone who actually lived in San Sebastian to avoid the drums – the noise from the rehearsals had been pouring from every school building for weeks.

The official celebrations started at midnight in the main square of the Old Town, the same spot where the pig was exhibited a month before. Julie and Martin said it was as cool as any rock concert with the long wait, the crowd chanting, the giant inflatable balls thrown down by advertisers to be rolled around above people’s heads, but Dolores preferred working alone on her translation – the deadline was nearing and her Polish felt rusty at times.

It was past one o’clock now and time for the overdue lunch with a certain former ice climber. He had messaged her as soon as he heard the news, but being Jose Luis he wasn’t interested in sensationalism – instead, down-to-earth and cheerful as usual, he offered her a job.

“Trust me, with January off work and all this police drama going on, you need something to keep your mind off things. They pay well, too.”

The book was relatively short, but still, it was a real book – a collection of interviews with family and friends of famous Polish mountaineer. Its original translator broke his right wrist on something called Fitz Roy (Dolores suspected it wasn’t a name of a yacht), so the publisher was desperate enough to accept a novice to be able to promote the thing at the Climbing World Cup in May.

“You’ll certainly get invited,” Jose Luis kept listing advantages of accepting the offer. “It’s not every day that you can travel to Innsbruck for free. And then, at the end of the month, there is the Madrid Book fair. You are going to have a lot of fun.”

“But I can’t miss a week at the Academy just like that,” Dolores moaned on the phone. “It wouldn’t be fair on the others and it’s just before the final exams.”

“They’ve already sent you a sample. And the travelling is not obligatory. Have a go and let them know what you think. Polish to Spanish and interviews? You can do it Dolores!”

She needed a while to appreciate how kind he was: he didn’t even mention another date or his own problems with Nerea. Also, it was obvious that in case of any problems with technical terms, she could turn to him to clear her doubts. A perfect opportunity to get a foot in the door of the world of translating.

And then there was Magda.

When Eva’s arrest went public, Dolores once again found her street in Gros swarming with paparazzi, so she reluctantly moved back to the flat in Easo. Julie wasn’t there – she only came from Hossegor once a week, glowing, to pack more clothes and buy some vegan ingredients. Sarah, one of her two flatmates, had chosen to stay in the UK, but the other one, a Pole called Magda, arrived on the 6th ready to work.

Yes, although the Academy was closed for a month, the young teacher had assumed many of her students were still interested in having classes for a small charge, so she’d contacted them via Whatsapp to make arrangements. The living room in Easo had been transformed into a classroom, complete with a whiteboard and a projector. Dolores hadn’t really met Magda before and now she knew why – the girl spent almost every waking moment earning (and saving) money for her wedding.

She could also be used as a Polish-English phrase dictionary.

“So that’s what you’ve been doing for the past three weeks?” Jose Luis laughed. “Trying to follow Magda’s footsteps by working for twelve hours a day?”

They were in Bar Nido again, sipping their marianitos.

“Well, sort of,” she blushed.

She didn’t want him to know yet that she had taken up climbing after all. Julen had been kind enough to become her coach, while his friends tried to make herself feel at home at the rocodromo to show her how grateful they were for solving Ander’s case.

“How is Nerea doing?” she asked to change the subject.

“The kid is coming home, can you imagine! Actually, she wanted to arrive in time for San Sebastian Day, but all the straightforward flights were already fully booked.”

“But how?” Dolores was genuinely surprised. “What happened to her animal shelter plans?”

“Turns out adulthood is a lot of hard work, I guess. After Vegas they rented a house in southern California and suddenly someone had to cook and clean and do the shopping. Add to this the fact that she doesn’t drive – you know how car-oriented they are in the States – and all the bureaucracy they faced: the shelter, Nerea’s health insurance, her visa… To be perfectly honest, I’m a bit disappointed,” Jose Luis went on. “I thought she would last longer than, what, two weeks? But I must admit her life has been pretty sheltered so far. Her mother has a cleaner and most cooking is done by the grandma.”

“Isn’t she supposed to start university in a few months’ time?” Dolores remembered.

“Yes, of course, but here it doesn’t equal moving away from home. In her case, she doesn’t even need to take the bus to get to the campus, it’s so close.”

“That’s true. And they are not exactly rebellious here, are they? When I invigilate exams and there are two hundred teenagers in the room, there is maybe one boy with outrageous piercings and dyed hair. Or is it a matter of class?

“You analyse it,” he suggested. “You seem to enjoy these things. What about that teacher they first arrested? Is he still around?”

“Nathan? He got a job with Amnesty International and just started an orientation course in Islamabad. Good for him if he really wants to make a difference in the world, although I suspect he couldn’t stand the thought of living so close to his twin either.”

“Isn’t it strange how resentful he was towards his brother?” Jose Luis observed.

“We’ll never know what happened back at their public school. Or maybe it’s because Martin is so different, so sporty and good with the ladies? It’s like a betrayal of the bond that should be between them.”

“In other words, Nathan is the proverbial jealous younger twin? But, as I said, you analyse it. There might be a book in that.”

“A book?”

“Make up their life story, the conflict – you are doing it so well. You complained it was like a soap opera but that’s exactly what the public likes.”

Dolores didn’t share his enthusiasm.

“I don’t think it’s enough for a few hundred pages.”

“Then typical expat memoirs. Like the ones they write about France. Remember our first conversation on the phone? Just put on paper everything that has ever surprised you here.”

He waved at the barman to pay.

“Like paying at the very end?” she asked. “Gosh, I’m so bad at it! I always forget what pintxos I’ve had and when I first joined other teachers for drinks I assumed we were doing rounds and went home without paying once or twice.”

“You see. So many funny memories.”

They went out. One of the bands wandering around the town was drumming in the distance. Dolores had been thoughtful enough to let Jose Luis choose his favourite place, which turned out to be a traditional bar called Valles. The only vegan thing on the menu there were wild mushrooms, but the detective was willing to ignore her diet aspirations from time to time.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s just a few anecdotes. And I’m learning. I don’t think anything could surprise me in San Sebastian now.”

The sound of the brass band and the accompanying drums drew nearer. Dolores and Jose Luis turned the corner to have a look. There was a crowd gathering in Reyes Catolicos to see yet another performance, little kids cheering or beating their own tiny wooden instruments. And behind them, all dressed in white, with blue scarves around their necks – cooks, dozens of cooks in traditional chef’s uniforms, cooks playing the drums happily in the rain.

Dolores stopped involuntarily, stunned.

And then they both began to laugh.

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