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CHAPTER THIRTY: CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS

October 23, 2019

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.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: THREE ACT TRAGEDY

October 23, 2019

“So this is what I know:

Eva came to San Sebastian when she was in her early twenties. In theory she was looking for a summer job in sunny Spain – in practice I suspect she already knew what she was really after. Why live in cold dark Sweden if you conquer any man, a rich Spanish man, too? She made sure she was given one-to-one business classes and within a couple of months convinced her wealthiest student to leave his wife and children. She didn’t mind being a trophy wife, especially as Iñaki was still relatively young and could afford to buy a summer house on the French coast despite having to pay child maintenance. They had a little boat there and a garden with full of palm trees, they also regularly went skiing in the nearby Pyrenees, where his parents had a villa. Actually, his business partners preferred Eva to his perfectionist former wife, who didn’t want their three children in the care of nannies.

For many years it was an idyll. But then three things happened which changed the dynamics of their relationship for good.

Iñaki is an architect and the economic crisis of 2007 hit very hard. To keep the company afloat he had to accept commissions from South America and the Caribbean. However, this meant being absent for weeks, which influenced their previously busy social calendar.

Then, roughly at the same time, the grandchildren appeared. When Iñaki was finally back from the Dominican Republic, he preferred spending time with them than at a cocktail party – not the best of environments for the evil stepmother. The fact that the little ones were spoken to in Basque didn’t make things easier either. Eva was not one to make an effort in such cases. She’d rather stay at home.

Did she regret not having children of her own? I don’t think so. She always got what she wanted. But there was one thing she couldn’t entirely control: her aging. She even tried plastic surgery, but at times still felt that she didn’t get as much attention as before her forty-fifth birthday.

Lonely, bored and in dire need of proving to herself she still ‘had it’, she ended up in a flat in Amara with Martin and a colleague, possibly with other clients. It was risky, but they were all adults. It went on for four years without any complications that I’m aware of. Eva was satisfied.

She met Ander by accident, I presume. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, but now I remember that back in September she mentioned trying out a new spinning class – something closer to home than her posh gym by the beach she was a member of. If you asked me, Pio Baroja sports centre with its climbing wall seems far away from Eva and Iñaki’s house, but if you look at the map or know local pedestrian shortcuts, I’m sure it’s just, what, two hundred metres away? Yes, the nearest class option was in the same building as Ander’s rocodromo.

I imagine it was a prank. I guess when you are in the boys’ changing room, you can hear whether the showers next door are on. There’s no bolt, no cabins, no curtains – you just go in and startle whoever it is you want to startle. Or record a snapchat video or something. Maybe Ander expected a girl his age, a girl he knew? But it was Eva, naked, seductive Eva. Did she ask him to join her? Was it love at first sight?

Soon they had an agreement. Ander began to disappear to study. Eva could play a teacher of a different kind. However, this was not a threesome of condescending adults. Ander was seventeen and knew well the implications, as well as the fact that Eva’s husband was rich. He just waited for the right moment. When, with Nathan’s help, he got the girl he really wanted, he ended the relationship with Eva with a bang – a bit of blackmail. His selling point? Iñaki asked for a divorce a few weeks if not months earlier than Eva admitted – he isn’t the type to do it right before Christmas. Eva confided in Ander – perhaps to inform him she was about to change her address. The boy smelled opportunity. The timing was perfect: soon Eva’s only lifeline was to be teaching. She had never had another job. If the affair with Ander had gone public, she would not only have been banned from her profession, but also would have lost many friends who, technically, could help her out.

I suspect, however, that what really made her kill him was some off-the-cuff remark: ‘You are too old for me anyway’, ‘You are so old’, ‘Gosh, Eva, did you really think it was anything else than just sex? I’ve got a girlfriend now and I don’t need you.’

From a woman satisfied with her married life to a woman satisfied with her double life to a crazed victim of her own vanity. The evening of Santo Tomás was supposed to be their last meeting – the crowds and the darkness were perfect for the money to pass hands inconspicuously.

She stuck a sperm sample from Martin in her bodice. She had no scruples there – the surfer had it coming, didn’t have any family, and was probably going to get acquitted anyway. Or maybe she knew Ander’s father from her Amara business and it was that which inspired her to commit the perfect crime?

From Amara she went straight to the Old Part. The act in itself didn’t take long: Ander was very drunk and Eva is a tall, strong, broad-shouldered woman. Who knows, maybe she did do some ice climbing back in her native country!

Why did she want to find the body? To be able to use her contacts as informers of course, making them less suspicious about her curiosity. I think she felt invincible rather than threatened. She killed him to show to herself she was still in control, rather than to save her only future source of income.

When she met me at Altxerri, she was tired, and a bit drunk, and too sure of herself. That’s why she mentioned the bodice. She underestimated me, too. Never in her wildest dreams had she suspected me of having talked to Martin, let alone about such intimate details.”

There was a silence. The inspector seemed to be waking up from a dream.

“Is that all?” he asked.

“Yes, I think so,” said Dolores quietly.

“We shall print out the transcript for you to have a look and sign it and then proceed with the interrogation, vale?”

“Of course. By the way, I couldn’t help noticing it’s someone’s birthday today and there are quite a lot of leftover snacks down the hall. I’ve been here for more than two hours now so… could I get a piece of tortilla, please?”

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: SAD EMPRESS

October 23, 2019

She did exactly what Jose Luis had said that perhaps she shouldn’t: binged on salted caramel ice cream, messaged Nathan, phoned Eva. She even got in touch with Julie, but implicitly not to inquire about the girl’s well-being – she just texted that, given that Julie’s real flatmates might be coming back by the sixth, if not to work then to enjoy their month off in a seaside resort, she was permanently moving back to Gros. If Julie needed the keys, she knew where to find her.

She got no reply. It was siesta time and everybody knew well how sexoholics spend their siestas.

She got more luck with Nathan. This time she hadn’t hidden her concern, so he called her back to say that everything was going to be alright. Actually, the fact that he had been arrested by mistake had got him thinking – he was in Spain, but what about people in less developed countries? What about innocent victims of mafias and political regimes? He had known about the existence of Amnesty International for years of course, but his new personal experience made him want to get more involved. Hence, his application to work for them full time. Anywhere, really.

Somewhere away from a certain surfer, Dolores thought.

Naturally, she felt tempted to tell him about the phone call from the policewoman, but since it required either an elaborate lie or mentioning Martin, she kept the secret to herself. He didn’t seem to be interested anyway – and no wonder. The guy was basically alone in the world and had just lost his livelihood partially thanks to his estranged evil twin.

So many taboo topics: their siblings, their feelings, their finances… Jose Luis would no doubt call it escapist and childish. Instead, they moved from Amnesty International to the latest news from Syria, back to their old selves from before the investigation.

With Eva they only arranged to meet in the evening to have a drink – it turned out the Swede was leaving for Bangkok the following day. It did occur to Dolores that the police hadn’t left the ban on them leaving the province, but with her connections Eva was sure to have had it sorted.

The Queen of San Sebastian. The Scandinavian Empress. How was she going to cope without all those influential girlfriends with tiny operated noses, tight jeans and fur waistcoats? Dolores had no idea how to network successfully. Maybe it was just a matter of weeks before Eva was crowned the Queen of Denpasar?

They met at eleven o´clock in Altxerri, a jazz bar in the Boulevard – much too late for Dolores´ liking, but as Eva´s schedule was pretty full before her impending departure, she squeezed her friend in after an early dinner with a couple from France.

“I´m so busy it´s crazy,” she confessed looking rather pleased. “I´m staying with Raquel, just across the street, to be able to supervise all the packing that´s going on.”

Dolores didn´t miss the word “supervise”. And if Raquel lived across the street from Iñaki´s flat she was sure to have amazing views over the bay from that hill that rose between Miraconcha and Pio Baroja.

“But what about you and your Christmas?” asked Eva, an inquiry which for her was a tiny bit out of character. “So, you’ve seen Nathan? You´ve always been close.”

“Yes, we’ve… ehm… had a few meals together and so on. He didn´t want to be on his own much, you know.”

“You´ve seen or heard about those announcements the police made on TV, right?” the Swede went on. “What a shock it must have been for him to discover his twin had something to do with a murder! Oh, because you don´t know the news! I keep forgetting I´m privileged to have access to such things, silly me. They´ve just arrested some Polish gangster that Ander´s father did business with.”

Dolores pretended to be speechless while she thought of something to say.

“What? How terrible! Is it what that Martin guy told the police? But he himself isn´t a criminal, is he? I hope not, for Nathan´s sake.”

“Apparently, they tracked him down because of his sperm that was placed on the boy´s body to confuse the authorities. Who would think it´s one of the dangers of using the services of prostitutes!”

“Such a young man and prostitutes?” the detective exclaimed convincingly. “What a shame! Well, it´s always a shame, isn´t it?”

“A bit of fun won´t hurt anybody, Dolores. Don´t be such a prim.”

“Don´t be such a prim” was one of Eva´s favourite phrases. She often teased her friend about her not looking actively for a real man instead of sticking to her imaginary boyfriend.

“So was it a local gangster or a French one?” Dolores asked to direct the conversation away from her sex life. “Or does he control both Gipuzkoa and Las Landas?”

“I don´t know. Why Las Landas?”

“If Nathan´s brother lives in Hossegor… I don´t think he commuted to a brothel down here. Or they didn´t choose him on purpose?”

“So he lives in Hossegor…” Eva seemed to be calculating something in her head. “That´s not far away from my house in Biscarosse.”

“But he’s not a criminal, as you say, so your neighbours there are not in danger,” Dolores pointed out.

“Well, unless old Pierre is going to say yes to some blindfolding and Tatiana hides his DNA sample in her bodice!” Eva laughed.

“Oh God, don’t even mention it,” Dolores answered, half-automatically.

She felt strange. Were these alarm bells? But why? Distracted by a sudden rush of thoughts, she excused herself with an apologetic smile and headed towards the toilets. On reaching them, she looked around her shoulder and, driven by a sudden impulse, chose the gents.

She was beginning to shake.

Did she have enough to call the police? Did everything match up?

Eva didn´t work on Mondays – she worked at the Academy part-time, as with her husband´s money she only needed the teaching job to meet new people, impress them, crack jokes, maybe give her life a certain routine.

Obviously, she spoke English very well, just like Martin´s ladyfriend from Amara did. Pale and blond, she could also be taken for a Lithuanian. The surfer said his companion was in her forties, but Eva looked really good for her age – and she knew it, too.

Right, her character. Narcissistic? She definitely liked being in the spotlight. She´s probably been adored all her life. So what happened four years earlier that made her turn to prostitution? Was it already then that the crisis in her marriage begin? But why not take a lover? Because it was too messy? In the Amara flat the rules were simple and the client so much more attractive than the seventy-year-old Iñaki. Still, Eva must have been crazy to use Martin´s sperm. He´d seen her face. He was the only link between her and Ander´s murder Dolores could think of.

And she had just told Eva where he lived.

Where he was right now with Julie.

Julie.

Even if Dolores was wrong and hallucinating, she couldn´t take any risks as far as Julie´s life was concerned. Perhaps there was only a remote chance of this sweet innocent creature being in danger, but it was motivating enough for the detective to reach for her wallet. She took out the card she had been given at the police station on Santo Tomás, then dialed the number praying for the inspector to react quickly.

How on earth was she going to put everything into one sentence?

“Dolores Gretchen Singer, isn´t it? Is anything wrong?”

“Martin told me he hadn´t told the police about the prostitute wearing a bodice and Eva, the woman who found the body with me, has just mentioned it. We are in Altxerri Bar in the Boulevard. I´m sure it was her who killed Ander.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: CARDS ON THE TABLE

October 23, 2019

“Hello?”

“Hello,” said a shy female voice in Spanish. It sounded vaguely familiar. “Am I talking to Dolores Gretchen Singer?”

“I should say now ‘who is asking’, shouldn’t I?” Dolores almost started to bite her nails. “But how am I supposed to know you are telling me the truth? Hey, wait, it’s coming… You are the fashio… the chic policewoman. The one who wears Miu Miu and drove us to Easo on Boxing Day!”

“Ehm… Yes, I guess it’s me,” the woman sighed.

“And you had just phoned Martin?” Dolores was half-shocked, half-impressed.

“I thought he ought to know first, but he said it didn’t feel right, that I might get into trouble. I think he was with a lady friend anyway,” the officer whispered. “You know, his middle-aged partner. I heard them talking on the phone at the station. They are splitting up.”

Hey, babe, I’m middle-aged, too, was Dolores’ first reaction. Suddenly, she felt defensive of the surfer’s ex. You are calling me to share classified information, she thought, but all you really care about is gossiping about how you may have won over a man.

“Oh, no, that’s his proper girlfriend,” the detective said casually. “She’s a yoga instructor. About twenty-one, twenty-two. Comes from a rich family.”

“Oh,” the policewoman went silent.

Damn it, swore Dolores. What have I done? She’s only called because she was hoping for something more with Martin and now her motivation is all gone! And I’m not supposed to even know Martin in the first place, let alone such intimate details!

“So, is it true that you are so extremely kind as to bring me the good news?” the detective asked as sweetly as she could. “It’s fantastic! I’ve been fighting insomnia for days!” She was frantically looking in her head for new ideas. “You can’t imagine how… how stressful it’s been for… for us, teachers at the Action Academy!”

“Ehm…” The fashionista was still making up her mind.

“I’ve stayed with poor Nathan ever since he got released,” Dolores continued her wild soliloquy. “His nerves are shattered. I had to act as the middleman between him and his brother yesterday. That’s how I met the girlfriend. I think she is French. What a slob of a girl! I bet she wears those yoga pants 24/7!”

It was probably that last sentence that did the trick. Funny, thought Dolores, if it was me someone would have to insult the girlfriend’s intelligence, not style.

“Well, it’s going to be plain sailing from now on, it seems,” the fashionista said in a comforting tone of voice. “The two prosti… the two informers from an Amara… from an Amara establishment have disappeared, however, we’ve managed to track down their boss, a Polish businessman. And here’s were the two lines of our investigation met. Naturally, we’d been scanning the victim’s parents’ backgrounds and, sadly, the victim’s father and the said boss are acquainted. More than that, the Pole and his associates had a reason to be… to be deeply concerned about, shall we say, the victim’s father’s state of finances. Killing a relative as the final warning is not uncommon in those circles, I’m afraid. Fingers crossed, now it’s just paperwork and filling a few gaps as far as the evidence goes.”

Somehow Dolores didn’t feel like congratulating herself on being right about the prostitutes or managing to unearth at least some of Unai Garaikoetxea’s secrets.

“Oh, ok. That was very thorough. Thank you so much… ehm…”

She wanted to mention the officer’s name, but she had never learned it.

“No problem,” the woman said nervously. “Well, that’s all from me. Bye! And tell that French yoga instructor that we can still get her for not informing us about Martin’s whereabouts!”

Dolores jerked and hung up. She didn’t like being reminded that she could be accused of exactly the same thing.

“Still feel like having that brownie?” asked Jose Luis gently.

“Oh God, yes. A double helping. Have you caught anything from the conversation?”

“Only that it seems like our sexoholic twin has conquered not only your workmate but a chic police officer and a young yoga goddess, whom, by the way, you have never mentioned. Is she so pretty you thought I might be interested in chasing her as well?”

“I’ve made this part up. Sort of. Well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’ve found the murderer and it’s quite shocking! Ander’s father had debts but not at a bank – he did business with a Polish mafioso and they stabbed Ander to get their money back!”

She looked around to make sure nobody else heard the last revelation.

The climber went pale. Dolores realised that he knew the man from secondary school.

“And to think this was exactly what he was infamous for all those years ago – coming up with crazy business schemes like copying cassettes, charming everyone around to borrow here and there, losing it all, then spending some more on girls and booze because he was feeling low… I almost want to say that that we should have done something to stop him. I wonder if someone warned his fiancé before they got married…”

“Do they ever listen?” Dolores sighed. “It’s so difficult to help someone with an addiction or a mental disorder – because it sounds like he’s bipolar, doesn’t it?”

“So…” Jose Luis didn’t want the afternoon to be ruined by the news, “if we can assume that the case is over, what’s next? Apart from having the amazing cafe bonbon.”

They were already crossing the street where the brownie place was located. It looked warm and cosy, with its little fireplace lit. However, all the tables inside where occupied apart from one bearing a note that said “booked 4pm”.

“Oh, what a pity,” Dolores said. “Where shall we go now? To La Tahona in Paseo Colón? But it’s not the same.”

“It’s our table, my dear,” Jose Luis announced smugly. “I was trying to be on the safe side. It’s very popular, it wouldn’t have hurt them if we’d cancelled.”

The detective rushed towards the seats as if there had been a queue waiting to snatch them, then grabbed the menu to start devouring it with her eyes. In theory they had decided on the brownie, but just reading about the local pancakes gave her almost as much pleasure.

Jose Luis coughed and she raised her eyes.

“Oh, sorry, I forgot to thank you. Thank you for booking the table.”

“You forgot to take off your coat, too. And to answer my question.”

“Which was…?”

There was a tiny bit of panic in her voice. She hoped it hadn’t been something like “Will you marry me.” You never knew with this guy.

“Now that the case is presumably over, what are your plans? You go back to work on the seventh?”

“No, no, the Academy is closed for the whole month, Eva told me. It’s a public relations thing I guess – they want the students to calm down before they see us again. It’s going to be weird without Nathan, though. Good they’ve given him good references. Which reminds me that I must talk to him, check what he’s being up to.”

She started looking for her phone, so he needed to react quickly to stop her.

“Who’s Eva?”

“Another workmate, one of my best friends here actually. Gosh, and another person I must phone! She’s getting divorced, poor thing. Being Eva, she’s trying to act as if she was in control and almost enjoying the process, but after thirty years together one must feel pretty miserable.”

“Don’t you think,” started Jose Luis carefully, “that you focus too much on other people? And on food? And on photographing food for other people to see?”

“It’s only natural to be anxious if your friends’ lives are about to change dramatically!”

“How long have you known them? It’s only your second school year here, as far as I remember.”

“Eva since… since December last year and Nathan since September, but what’s your point? That it’s too short for them to be important to me?”

Dolores was getting slightly irritated.

“Not too short for you as such, but perhaps too short in general.” The climber was trying to choose his wording with caution. “I mean, here you are, facing a month off work, a perfect opportunity to look for a new better job, or acquire a new skill, or just relax and have fun – but none of these things seem to have crossed your mind. I can imagine you spending this time helping Eva moving to a new place or drawing up a CV for Nathan – but not for yourself.”

Dolores paused surprised.

“A CV? But why should I need a CV?”

“You want to spend the rest of your life teaching at a language school? I know that on paper you only work part-time, because class preparation doesn’t count.”

“And what job could I get?” the detective whined. “I’m not a professional of any kind. I studied English literature of all subjects! I didn’t even manage to finish my PhD!”

“You know a lot of languages…” he suggested calmly.

“Yeah, right. Polish, which nobody needs, some patchy Spanish, no Basque, although we are in the Basque Country… I’ve been listening to ‘you know a lot of languages’ since 1986!”

She was rather angry now.

“Tell me, Dolores…” He took her hand and stroked it to show her he wasn’t her enemy. “Why do you play down your talents like this? Your experience? Is it your sister? Your parents?”

She pulled her hand away sharply. People didn’t talk to her like this – they talked about where to have dinner, what film to see, they complained about the management or the rain… When she mentioned not having any savings or not being able to eat properly, they treated it as anecdotes and never offered help.

Apart from Julie, who was teaching her to cook. But Julie was far away in Hossegor and who knew when she was coming back? Nathan was bound to leave San Sebastian, too. Even Eva was buying a plane ticket to Asia!

Suddenly, Dolores felt very lonely, very vulnerable and very full. Lifting her mood by means of brownie was sadly out of the question.

That was the final straw.

“What do you know!” she burst out, standing up. She zipped up her handbag clumsily, knocking the menu to the floor with her elbow.

“Just trying to care and to be honest,” Jose Luis said in a friendly tone. “But you know that.”

“I thought you were a translator, not a psychotherapist.”

She headed towards the exit.

“I’ll call you when you cool down!” he shouted after her. “Take care, Dolores! You are the best!”

But she was already in Calle Birmingham on her way to Pili’s flat.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: A PLATE FULL OF PINTXOS

October 23, 2019

“And that was the last I saw of her,” Dolores finished her story and at last ate the shrimp from the fork she had been gesticulating with. “Well, she did text ‘All’s well’ in the morning, but still…”

“There you go,” said Jose Luis. “What else can you do?”

“I know, I know,” she whined. “It’s just that, you see, I should have told her explicitly what being a sexoholic involves.”

“She knows his reputation, she knows he kept cheating on his ex, for God’s sake, she knows the definition of the word ‘sexoholic’ in the first place.”

“But she’s Julie. She seems so innocent. And the Amara prostitutes – she just knows my theory, but I didn’t manage to warn her that he had been seeing that duo on regular basis.”

“You might underestimate her,” he tried to comfort her. “So who did Lydia give Martin’s sperm you think?” he asked in an attempt to change the subject.

Dolores spent the previous afternoon worrying about Julie’s absence and Nathan’s future, then started to arrange another date with the climber, and in the end, instead of analysing the new data, at nine in the morning she ended up in her flat in Gros trying on her landlady’s skirts and eye shadows. Somehow, without her two Watsons, she didn’t feel like contemplating the details of handling Martin’s sperm again.

“Where were we… Ander’s father and his debts, yes. Perhaps he too was one of Lydia’s clients and learnt through her that Martin was someone one could blackmail: tell his sponsoring girlfriend about his double life or track down the parents of one of his teenage flings. Then Ander intercepts the sperm and wants to use it in a Santo Tomás prank. His father chases him, they get into a fight… Unai leaves the sperm in his son’s mouth to make the crime harder to solve.”

“Really, you would take a large knife with you to go to the city centre to get something from your son?”

“I’m just brainstorming,” Dolores moaned. “Hey, what if he did start blackmailing Martin and Martin killed Ander to shut his mouth? Planted his own sperm was a risky move, but look, it worked! Oh no!” She was almost ready to run out of the bar. “Do you think Julie is in danger?!”

Jose Luis grabbed her hand.

“It’s just another of your theories, Dolores, and a very far-fetched one at that. I’m sure if the police let Martin out they’ve got him on security cameras somewhere walking back from Amara to his van. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we? And Julie, too. She might be one of those girls who don’t mind casual sex. They need to learn from their own mistakes.”

The mention of “they” make Dolores realise that, after all, she was talking to Nerea’s father. Who knew what kind of relationship was his little girl now in?

“Jose Luis, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even ask you if you had any news!”

“It’s alright. With all those dramatic events in your life… She’s fine. They’re still in Vegas, still unmarried, just sightseeing, having fun. Not bad for a Christmas break when you are eighteen.”

“And your… her mother?”

“The psychologists have done their job or, rather, they talked to her sisters and they’ve calmed her down. To some extent, at least. She still wants to see the notary after she’s back to make sure none of her money goes to her son-in-law in the event of her death.”

“Because the son of New York millionaires is nothing but after her money?”

“Seems like I have a penchant for woman who exaggerate.” Jose Luis smiled and took the last bite of his miniature crab tart. “Ok, back to pintxos, round two. Fancy sharing una bola de Idiazabal and una bola de bosque? Or shall we go to another bar?”

“No, no.” Dolores was more than happy with her stool. The norm for the Basques was to have tapas standing outside. “’A ball of forest’? And what’s Idiazabal?”

“It’s a type of local cheese. The forest one is with wild mushrooms.”

“Perfect. The more photos for my sister, the better.”

She didn’t tell him about how they were supposed to be eaten with or prepared by her Basque boyfriend. When the time was right, she was simply going to tell Helen that now she was dating a climber instead of a chef.

While they were waiting for the bolas to get heated, Jose Luis tried keeping Dolores’ mind off crime.

“Soon is San Sebastian Day, then you must try talos. They are like pancakes with a sausage inside, but much, much better. Teenagers make them in Plaza de la Constitución to earn money for the trips at the end of the school year. Then the cider season starts. Have you been to a sidreria?”

“You mean a cold barn with no chairs and no heating where the only thing served are scrambled eggs with pieces of fish and gigantic raw steaks? The Academy took us to one of those last year. My shoes were all wet from all that cider on the floor. Do they really need to pour it straight from the barrels? It’s like trying to get your glass filled from a shower.”

“It’s part of the fun.” Jose Luis was not going to get discouraged by Dolores’ attitude. “You’ll see, we’ll go to Hernani during the carnival. Everyone’s going to be dressed up and then you walk from the sidrerias to the city centre. All the bars are full of people. There’s a lot of ambiente. Then in April there is Keler Bocata Week and Keler Pintxo Week in June. You get a little booklet with a map where all the pintxos are described, you choose where you want to go and vote for the best one. And if you live in Gros, you must have been to the famous Thursday pintxo pote.”

“What’s that?”

“You don’t know? Every Thursday in the evening you can get a starter and a drink at a set low price. It’s organised all over town on different days but the Gros one is the most famous one and for a reason.”

“Now I understand those crowds in the streets! Gosh, they even leave their wineglasses on parked cars! I thought it was because of football matches or something.”

Jose Luis’ trick was working – Dolores was beginning to relax. More, she was getting excited. This man was counting on keeping seeing her at least until June!

The taste of both bolas made her even dreamier.

“You know what I like about the bar culture here?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s so peaceful, so democratic. Streets full of happy people. You can come with your dog or with your baby in a pram. You can sit with your glass on the steps of the church next door. In the cider house we got one plate of meat for every four people, but no individual plates – you share, you spend your time with family and friends. Or your strict mealtimes and the siesta. At first I was appalled. Why can’t I have dinner if it’s six o’clock? I’m here with my money and you are a restaurant! Why are half of the shops closed just when I’m free during lunchbreak? But it’s for those people to go back home, prepare a seasonal meal eat in peace with their children…”

“You are idealizing our lifestyle, but yes, it’s definitely healthier,” Jose Luis admitted. “Unless, of course, if you preferred having a sandwich in front of your computer instead of a two-hour break after which you come back to the office to stay there till late.”

“Well, it’s definitely an invention from a time when you didn’t rush to your yoga class after work. Although what do I know?” Dolores reflected. “I’ve never worked your typical nine to five.”

“Never?”

“Never. When I…” she stopped, then decided to lie to hide her hesitation. “When I was younger I promised myself to be a free spirit.”

When I lived in Poland, she wanted to say, I was simply a housewife because I didn’t speak the language. Hunting for socialist luxuries such as oranges or cotton wool took so much time anyway. And working on the allotment. And making your own preserves for the long winter. And volunteering at the local parish. Since then I’ve always been either a student or a private teacher. Or stayed at home to look after Mum. Her and myself.

“That’s the attitude,” the ice climber praised her. “Well, I’ve had my stint as a secondary school teacher as you know. You haven’t missed anything.”

“The grass is always greener,” Dolores said a bit wistfully.

For Jose Luis it was a warning sign.

“And now we are going to a mejilloneria,” he announced energetically. “You’re going to like it – it’s so crowded and ‘democratic’, as you say, people throw the mussel shells to the floor.”

She glanced at her borrowed skirt. He read her mind.

“Just kidding,” he added promptly. “I’ve booked a table at an Italian restaurant. I thought a few pintxos might be enough for you as far as Basque cuisine is concerned.”

“Thank you. You’re so thoughtful,” she touched his arm. “I love tiramisu. Have you tried vegan tiramisu in Calle Narrika?”

In the end it was there where they went to have dessert after the lasagne, but the vegan bar was already closed for the siesta, which made them both laugh. Dolores’ favourite fair trade shop nearby was closed, too, so they ended up in a South American jewellery workshop in the same street. Was there anything better than discussing your dessert options during a successful date in a beautiful seaside town? They could go to creamy almond heaven courtesy of the panchinetas from Plaza Gipuzkoa, have chocolate-filled spring rolls in the Asian place overlooking the Kursaal, or even walk to Gros to Hogar Dulce Hogar, one of the few spots in Donosti where they served brownie.

They were crossing the bridge to do the latter when Dolores received a message from Julie’s number: “Someone’s going to call you with good news. It’s over! She said she shouldn’t be doing this, so I told her not to talk to me but to you.”

Was it Martin trying to explain that Julie had dumped him?

Another message only confused her even further: “You deserve it more xx Martin” And then: “PS. Julie sends her love.”

Dolores translated the messages to her companion.

“What is it that I deserve more? Being with Martin in Hossegor?”

The phone started ringing.

“Well, at least you know it’s good news,” Jose Luis said.

It was an unknown number. Dolores picked it up.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: THE MOVING COUPLE

October 23, 2019

If Dolores thought she was going to get an enthusiastic response, she was in for a disappointment. Nathan was sitting at Julie’s laptop with the facial expression of a child right before a tantrum, while Julie was hovering over him, torn between consoling the twin and stirring the courgettes she was preparing for lunch.

“But I don’t want to! You don’t understand!”

The consoling was clearly only making Nathan more annoyed.

“Nathan, whatever he did it was ages ago. You should at least consider forgiving him. People do stupid things when they are eighteen.”

Dolores had her own suspicions as to what it was exactly that Martin had done – her favourite theory involved Nathan’s girlfriend losing her virginity with the surfer thinking he was his brother. Firstly, it was something one couldn’t get over that easily. Secondly, bearing in mind the addiction Martin struggled with, this particular kind of “stupid thing” could well happen again.

“Anyway, what he really wants is talk to Dolores.” Nathan pushed Julie’s hand off his arm in an angry gesture. “I’m off to my place. Let me know if you need me.”

Julie looked at Dolores.

“Martin wants to drop by,” she explained.

“Before he goes to Urrugne to pack up,” Nathan added. “I guess his middle-aged girlfriend has had enough.”

“You seem to be glad he has nowhere to go.” Julie was appalled. “Is he going to sleep in his van? He can’t do that forever!”

“Don’t you worry. He should have quite a lot of savings if he hasn’t spent it all. I invested in university studies and summer schools, he preferred surfing.”

“It’s not exactly a crime…” Julie glanced involuntarily at her yoga mat.

Nathan picked up his copy of The Economist, mumbled a good-bye and left.

Ten minutes later he was back, or so was their first impression. It was as if he had entered a magic makeover machine from a science fiction comedy. He was wearing almost identical blue jeans, but two sizes smaller. An anorak in the same shade of khaki, only a posher one. His face was tanned now, his t-shirt too tight for his chest muscles, and his hair, bleached by the sun, reached his perceptibly broader shoulders.

This Nathan might not have touched The Economist for years, but if you were a woman, you certainly wanted him to touch you.

“Hi Dolores, long time no see.” He smiled. “And you must be Julie.”

Martin had lived in France for so long he went on to kiss her twice on the cheeks. Or maybe it was on purpose? Dolores was about to give it a thought, but then it was her turn to get kissed and she was too dazed herself to pay attention to Julie’s reaction.

“Oh, thank you for the lunch.” Martin nodded towards an empty plate on the kitchen table, not realising it had been laid there for his brother. “I’m so sorry, but I’m in a bit of a hurry. I’m sure it won’t be wasted, though, smells delicious.”

He sent Julie another smile. He identified her as the cook because of the apron – or maybe it was a reflex in front of a newly met girl?

“We’ve heard you have to move out…” Julie started.

“And move in.” Smile number three. “You see I’ve got an apartment in Hossegor. Normally, I rent it out to tourists, but it’s too small to be popular over Christmas – people come with their whole families. So that’s where I’m heading.”

“Hossegor?” asked Dolores.

“It’s only an hour’s drive away.”

This time the smile directed towards Julie went from friendly to mischievous. “Hey, only an hour away. What do you reckon?” it seemed to be saying.

And you would think he has just left the police station and his partner kicked him out, Dolores thought.

“So, Dolores, could we talk in private?” he turned to her. “Sorry again, private stuff,” he said to Julie grimacing as if he was about to have some intimate medical procedure.

The girl didn’t protest. Leaving the kitchen, Dolores saw her putting some leftover courgette stew into a lunchbox.

“I suppose the police are not going to send you a full report,” Martin said when the detective closed her bedroom door, “and you ought to know it’s not Nerea. You seem to be pretty good at it, so I’ll give you all the details I know. You might beat the cops.”

“They told you it’s not Nerea?”

“Actually, they weren’t that surprised when I mentioned her, so at first I thought I was right, but they already had the footage. That’s how I identified her for them.”

“What footage?”

“There are cameras in the amphitheatre between the Miramon wood and the street where the German School is. You could see Nerea crossing it running uphill. Apparently, there is also a camera in her building and she didn’t leave the house until the following morning when she went to the airport with her parents.”

“Have they contacted her parents?” asked Dolores thinking about Jose Luis.

“Don’t overestimate me as an informer,” Martin laughed, “although I must say that chic policewoman was extremely helpful.”

Dolores couldn’t help but wonder what that being “helpful” involved – was it really possible to have sex with an officer somewhere on the premises?

“It’s thanks to her that, I guess, we know now what Nerea meant mentioning something she ‘took’ from me. It was the experience. She instructed another guy what to do and got similar results.”

And how did it cross the policewoman’s mind exactly?

“You must be grateful it’s over,” Dolores commented on his high spirits. “Because the Evans twins’ case is closed, right?”

“I still need to stay within a certain radius of San Sebastian,” the surfer’s expression got more serious, “but Nathan can leave if he likes. I explained we’ve been estranged for years. I got an impression they are not going to press charges. Same applies to you, guys. Unless your phones and your computers have been bugged. The fact that they knew about Nerea – it was curious, wasn’t it.”

Dolores shivered. She really didn’t want to be interrogated again, now that she had so many things to hide. If she should hide them at all. The problem was she wasn’t sure with what she could get away and with what she couldn’t.

“So who took your… you know?” she asked trying not to sound too nosy – if it was possible not to sound nosy inquiring after someone’s sex life.

“Right, that thing…”

Martin’s good mood must have been caused by Julie because now that she was in another room and they were talking business the surfer was getting more and more morose.

“That one was really difficult to swallow,” he started, unaware of the interesting ambiguity in his choice of words. “I thought we were good friends. That we could trust each other. I saw them two, three times a week for the last four years.”

Dolores, who had expected a “her” instead of “them”, was all ears.

“Were your… friends… lady friends… professionals?” she guided him gently.

“You never know these days, do you. With Internet and easily disposable mobiles there are plenty of girls working part-time or just raising funds for a particular bag. And not only teenagers. These two were in their late forties I guess. Although I think Gabriela was this typical woman who sends money back home to some country in Latin America. As to Lydia, don’t know… Her English was really good. Judging by her looks, maybe Lithuania?”

Two prostitutes and you suspected Nerea, Dolores wanted to cry out rolling her eyes, but then she realised that to this young man brothels were his natural territory and hookers his friends. He saw them regularly and they never ran away unexpectedly spoiling the perfect moment in the woods.

She remembered something.

“You knew about this… appointment before seeing Nerea, right? It wasn’t last minute?”

“The police asked me the same thing. Yes, it was a fixed hour. Either women could have planned it in advance.”

“And did you notice anything suspicious while you three were… there? Anything unusual? Or maybe you didn’t have a routine and it was always very spontaneous?”

“Actually, we did have a routine, sort of, so as far as I can say it all went according to the old good plan. First Gabriela took her…”

“No, no, you don’t have to go into details,” Dolores stopped him.

She was easily put off by certain gadgets and techniques and didn’t want them to get in the way of her enjoying Martin’s presence. A few more minutes and this surfer demigod was going to disappear from her life forever!

“But you’ve just told me to focus on the details!” the twin protested.

“Yes,” she admitted, “but things like, I don’t know, leaving the room, hiding things in drawers… Blindfolding?”

Instead of smirking at this last suggestion, Martin rubbed his chin.

“It sounded too silly to mention it to the police… The girls always opened the door in nightgowns but apart from those were completely naked. But that last time Lydia was wearing a bodice. And you know what I thought? That someone had left her bruised and she wanted to cover the marks. So I didn’t ask her to remove it, I just ignored it.”

“How kind of you.”

“That’s it, really. That’s where the police are going to pick it up. Or you, guys.”

“Thank you so much for sharing. And I’m so sorry that your brother…”

“No worries.”

Martin was already in the hall looking at Julie and Nathan was the last thing on his mind.

“I’ve prepared this for you.” Dolores’ flatmate was holding a cloth shopping bag. “Some of our lunch, some bread, a chocolate bar…”

“Oh, you are so sweet! Dolores,” Martin remembered something and reached into his backpack. “Could you be so kind and fill this with some shower gel, please? You can’t count on French shops to be open on Saturday afternoon and I’m not sure if there is any in my apartment in Hossegor.”

He handed her a tiny plastic bottle, one of those used to carry cosmetics in hand luggage while travelling by plane. When Dolores came back, having added a bar of soap and a shampoo sample to her load, Julie was already putting on her jacket.

“I’m going to drive Martin to where his van is parked,” she explained.

“Oh, ok,” Dolores said automatically, then paused mid-sentence, then hesitated. She was not Julie’s mother and the girl was a grown-up. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” she mimicked with her brows, but Julie was either oblivious to such form of communication in general or just right now. There was nothing left for the detective but to say goodbye. However, under the circumstances, she didn’t wish Martin good luck.
Or maybe she was just being jealous?

Twenty minute later, as Dolores feared, a text arrived: “Martin knows a chef from Capbreton who is going to cook us a vegan dinner. See you later!”

She looked up Capbreton. It was a French seaside village right next to the European surfing capital of Hossegor.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: CROOKED HOUSE

October 23, 2019

“We don’t even know Ander’s father’s name,” Nathan pointed out, “and I don’t think they are going to be happy at Action Academy if they find us looking for Ander’s documents.”

“I suppose Jose Luis didn’t mention it on purpose,” Dolores sighed. “Let’s see if Julen is more cooperative.”

“Happy New Year!” she texted. “Hope you had a lot of fun last night. PS. Do you happen to know Ander’s father’s name? xx”

“Dolores, really, do you ever stop?” he replied almost immediately. “Don’t you have a hangover, jajaja? I’m at my mum’s house in France. PS. No idea. Should I ask around?”

“’Jajaja’?” Nathan raised his eyebrows.

“That’s ‘ha ha ha’ spelled in Spanish,” Dolores explained.

“How come he doesn’t know the name?” Julie asked. “Isn’t he supposed to be good friends with Ander’s elder brothers?”

“They probably only ever meet at the climbing wall and climbing expeditions. Or in bars. People here don’t usually hang out at each other’s houses. It’s like their conversations – this you have noticed, I’m sure – no interview-style questions such as ‘how old are you’ or ‘do you come here often’. Years can pass before you learn by chance what your friend’s job is – he’s part of your kindergarten quadrilla or your skiing quadrilla, so you don’t care.”

Dolores’ monologue was cut short by a beep from her mobile.

“Better idea: coffee and pintxos first and lunch if you can still stand me. Sorry, no more messages until you reply. Possibly.”

She smiled blushing, pleased.

“Jose Luis?” asked Nathan rhetorically. “Wait, why are we suddenly trying to find out something about Ander’s dad if only a moment ago we thought it well might be this ice climber or his man-crazy daughter? What he’s doing is so perfect: hitting on a vulnerable investigator, so that she thinks he’s too nice to be a killer. Inventing personal family drama to distract and, again, make Dolores almost pity him. Can we confirm that Nerea is in Las Vegas? That Ander’s father was a ‘nasty piece of work’ at school? We’ve only got this guy’s word for that.”

“And then Julen,” Julie observed. “Back on Christmas Day you still weren’t sure, Dolores, whether he’s a suspect or an informer. We bumped into him in France, you bumped into him on Wednesday…”

“If it’s him he must be over the moon you’ve found yet another scapegoat,” added Nathan. “He’s going to serve you Ander’s father on a plate any minute now.”

“Why all this ‘you’ and ‘Dolores’,” Dolores protested. “We are in this together! If you’ve got better ideas, just tell me what to do!”

This time her phone rang instead of beeping. It was Julen.

“Is it a good time? I thought so because you’ve just texted me, but…”

“Sure it is. Any news?”

“I’ve got the name. From an online obituary I’ve just googled. It’s Unai. Unai Garaikoetxea and Amaiur Ariznabarreta. I also remembered something if you’re interested. Is it Ander’s parents now?”

“We’re back to square one, so to say.”

“At the funeral I asked someone where the parents where to, you know, approach them and say something. I had thought it was going be easy – the middle-aged couple next to Ander’s brothers, right? But they were only with their mum and her side of the family. Their father stuck to his own relatives They had quarreled over something. Now the mother is in Oñati, in the grandma’s house and the poor guys are not sure where to live anymore. There are some nice places to climb near Oñati, but it’s too far away to commute every day to university and work.”

“Where is it?”

“Near Arrasate, about seventy kilometres to the south-west.”

“Thanks so much, Julen. You’re a gem, as always.”

“I should have told you earlier perhaps, but I didn’t want to gossip and it didn’t seem relevant, so…”

“No worries. You’ve done more than I imagined possible. Now I can go to Oñati tomorrow, go to a bar in the main square or better the butcher’s, and cross fingers that they’ve got less objections to a bit of gossiping than you. I’d like to know what that quarrel was about.”

“Ehm, Dolores… I don’t want to sound rude, but I’m afraid that’s not going to be that easy.”

“I need to give it a go though.”

“No, you don’t understand.” The pain of breaking bad news was palpable in Julen’s voice. “First, Oñati is not a village. It´s a town with, I don’t know, ten thousand people living there? But the most important thing is that if you ask someone your questions in Spanish and not in Basque – oh, that’s going to sound so bad. You could just as well go in with an ‘I’m a nosy stranger’ sticker on your forehead.”

“Couldn’t you go with me?” Dolores ventured.

“I would love to, but the thing is I don’t speak that particular kind of Basque. Here, every town every valley, has its own dialect. The official Basque was created only in the 1960s.”

“So my only hope is finding someone from Oñati willing to cooperate?”

“It seems so. Sorry for spoiling your plans like that.”

“No, no, no. Once again, Julen, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.”

“Good night, and good luck.”

“Oh, actually, that’s a title of a very nice film starring…”

But Julen had already hung up.

“It’s late,” said Julie. “Let’s think about all that Basque thing tomorrow.”

“I agree.” Nathan pointed towards the teenage Joseph Gordon-Levitt frozen on the TV screen. “Let’s finish that episode and call it a day.”

However, Dolores didn’t feel like watching old American sitcoms. She went to the toilet and looked up Oñati on the Internet.

The bus connections were impossible: first one had to go to a place called Arrasate, then change… Oh, there was another connection, through Mondragon. Wait, wasn’t Arrasate and Mondragon the same thing? She looked it up. Yes, Arrasate was the Basque name, Mondragon the Spanish one.

Mondragon? Wasn’t her landlady from Mondragon? A long shot, but she had nothing else.

They had spoken on Wednesday about the heater and exchanged the customary New Year’s Eve texts. Also, Pili had heard about Dolores discovering the body, although she didn’t know about the amateur investigation.

Was it good manners to call her at almost eleven o’clock? What if the timetable of Pili’s son household was already more German than Spanish?

If she’s busy or asleep, she is not going to answer, that’s all, Dolores thought.

“How good to hear you again!” Pili’s tone was surprisingly welcoming. “A little bird told me someone was walking in Reyes Catolicos today with a handsome tall man! Is it a new thing? Did you have lunch together?”

Oh, that. Yes, Pili was the perfect choice when it came to gossiping.

“Just a… the father of one of my students. My favourite student. He bumped into me as I was going home to Easo.”

“To Easo?”

“Yes, you see, this friend of mine who you very kindly agreed for me to have in Gros for a few days… Finally, we’ve decided to move to her place. Till the end of the holidays, I guess.”

“Oh, I see.”

If talking about Jose Luis Pili’s tone was teasing, now it changed to: “What a lovely juicy detail. Who would think! But I’m not going to ask you any more questions. I’m tolerant, but I know it’s still a delicate topic and a very private thing.”

“Pili…”

How do you explain you are not a lesbian when what’s really on your agenda is solving a crime? Dolores decided her sexual orientation had to wait. Plus, it was going to help her immensely to keep Jose Luis a secret, at least for a while.

“I’ve got a favour to ask…” – she started.

Fortunately, what she had in mind for Pili also included a juicy piece of gossip, although of a heavier and darker kind. Dolores briefly explained how Pili’s contacts could be used, coming up with the first silly excuse that had come to her mind.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do.” Pili was more serious now, but still curious to know the truth. “But don’t you worry about whatever you or your Academy might have or might not have done. With the victim’s parents it’s only natural to blame each other after such a tragic occurrence.”

She had promised to talk to her sister-in-law, who was from Oñati, mentioning Ander’s case as casually as possible.

Dolores was in luck. Pili’s sister-in-law only knew Ander’s mother by sight, but she happened to overhear a conversation at her hairdresser’s. The Ariznabarreta were a local clan, still on the political scene despite several scandals concerning bribery and bank accounts overseas.

“Those from Oñati who are in the know are not exactly glad Ander is dead,” Pili concluded, “but no one is going to feel sorry for the Ariznabarreta for suddenly having to cough up some extra money. And mind you, this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
It was already lunchtime the following day. After thanking her landlady profusely Dolores went straight to the kitchen to make an announcement to her flatmates:
“Turns out Ander’s father didn’t have the money to pay for the funeral. He is heavily in debt and his wife had no idea.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: ABSENT IN THE WINTER

October 23, 2019

He had been gone for almost half an hour and Dolores was already having green tea ice cream. As soon as he returned to his seat, the waitress, a plump Chinese woman in her fifties, placed a bowl of hot soup in front of him.

“On the house,” she said sweetly. “It’s going to be alright.”

“They must have overheard me talking with Josune,” Jose Luis explained to Dolores when the waitress disappeared.

“I’m so sorry I haven’t thought about choosing anything for you myself,” the detective apologised.

“I guess you are not used to being abandoned like that in the middle of a date. I’m sorry, too. What a mess!”

They spent a while in silence, as she wanted to let him eat. Then the waitress retrieved the bowl and took the order for three spring rolls.

“You must be dying to hear more details,” Jose Luis said.

“Who has she eloped with?”

“The good news is that he is rich. And young. Josune and her sisters preferred shops to museums but felt Nerea should visit a few, so they found this guide, an art history graduate. His parents are antique dealers. What Josune didn’t know though was that, on turning twenty-one, the young man has just inherited part of his grandfather’s fortune. Nerea said in her note they want to use it to set up an animal shelter in California. A little rebellion on both parts. They are getting married for her to get a visa.”

“Your ex didn’t let Nerea go out for six months only to leave her alone for hours with a young rich New Yorker?”

“She is a bit of a snob, Josune is. She registered he was brought up in Manhattan, rather than noticing he’s just as able to have sex with Nerea as her tennis couch.”

“She can’t have been pleased about Nerea doing judo instead of, say, ballet then,” Dolores observed.

“Just the opposite,” Jose Luis snorted. “Her golf partner’s husband is at the helm of the Basque Judo Association.”

“So, are you flying to the States now? What’s the plan?”

He shrugged.

“The girl is eighteen, what can I do? Well, I got to excuse myself now and send her a long email suggesting it would be a good idea to do her A-levels, though. Also, if she attends secondary school there, she can get a student’s visa, so there’s no need for the wedding, I’d like to point that out. But Josune? She’s going to track the poor kid down, hire detectives… I don’t know how to stop her. Maybe by talking to her own mother – she got married at eighteen.”

“If I can help in any way…”

“I’ll keep you posted. And you keep me posted, too. God,” he remembered their previous conversation, “I really hope the police is going to dismiss your friend’s ramblings instead of thinking Nerea is trying to escape justice.”

The spring rolls arrived.

“Could I get them as a takeaway?” Jose Luis asked. “And the bill, please. You’re fine, Dolores, right?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’ll call you. It sounds very cliché, but I will. Sorry about all that.”

He paid, grabbed his plastic bag and put his coat on.

“See you soon!” Dolores waved her hand. “Thanks for the lunch.”

It was the weirdest date she had ever been on. Not the most dramatic one, but weird. And quite enjoyable on the whole.

She decided to go to Gros, pick up some clothes, and go back to spend the night at Julie’s flat in Easo. A long walk was good for digestion, including digesting the latest news.
Wasn’t Jose Luis too lenient towards his teenage daughter? But then, as a former climber, he was used to risk, to managing his fears. If you could spend a night in a tiny tent secured with a few ropes on a rock wall above a glacier, why couldn’t you start a new life in the States, especially if your boyfriend was a millionaire?

“They want to use it to set up an animal shelter in California”, “they are getting married for her to get a visa” – it didn’t sound particularly spontaneous, though. How long have they known each other? For a week? What if Nerea wasn’t a victim but a seasoned seducer, this time with the aim of staying away from Ander’s business?

She didn’t know the girl at all. For her, she was just a name. To her father Nerea was just a teenager wanting to experiment, but maybe her experiments have led her to a dangerous world of, who knows, paid sex? Paid killers?

Then, whether it was Nerea who collected Martin’s sperm or an Amara prostitute, they were back at the very first question of the investigation – who on earth would want poor Ander dead?

Back at Easo it was all about waiting for Martin to get in touch again, although he was most probably under custody for the next forty-eight hours. Nathan didn’t leave his bedroom, saying he needed to think about his future, while Julie was giving Dolores an extended vegan cooking class not to go crazy with making up new hypotheses. They all knew, too, that at any point they could be visited by the police and learn that they were charged with obstructing the justice.

Jose Luis kept his word – early in the evening Dolores got a message saying: “Nerea answered my email. She hasn’t thought about school, but agreed that it’s a good idea. They are in Las Vegas now. Fingers crossed, she might start the last grade in September once they are settled in California. Trying hard not to research her options – my English is too poor anyway. xx”

“Is her English good enough?” Dolores replied. “I could always help you with yours. Hope Josune can leave Nerea alone for a while, but she must be in shock. Even if your adult child moves abroad, it’s always hard on the mother.”

She wanted to write “parents”, but she wasn’t sure whether Jose Luis would like it. Suddenly, she remembered she had done something very similar herself, only a few months older than Nerea. Funny she hadn’t thought about it before – it just went to say how much less dramatic it all was from the point of view of the teenager in question. And she didn’t run away, not really – she warned her parents about her plans. She knew where she was going to, at least in theory, she had been preparing for months… Still, back in 1981, without the digital forms of communication, Dublin seemed as far away from Oxford as California from Spain. Not to mention the IRA scare! When you put it like this, she seemed a heartless adolescent monster indeed!

“If it’s of any comfort” she started writing “I did almost the same thing – moved to Ireland after my A-levels to work for a Catholic charity. Then two years later I moved to communist Poland, of all places! You can tell Josune that I survived and I’m more than fine.”

But was she? She hesitated. Without a partner, a home, a mortgage, a good job… Surely, Nerea’s mother wouldn’t like to know that her daughter was to end up as a spinster living in a rented room. Worse still, Dolores had just been on a date with Jose Luis – who knew how his ex-wife would react to that!

The detective deleted what she was writing and went back to cutting up leeks which she was going to fry for at least fifteen minutes with a piece of real vanilla – according to Julie it was the secret of a perfect leek and potato soup.

“I’m proud to say Nerea inherited her talent for languages from me,” answered Jose Luis. “She speaks Spanish, Basque, English, German and French. My next step is to arrange a Skype session for Josune with a couple of psychologists specialising in teenagers. Not an easy task on New Year’s Day! Have fun, too!”

Dolores was really touched. She was practically a stranger, but it seemed like this easy-going man had known her for ages. Or maybe he was extremely sociable and texting fifteen people at the same time? It didn’t matter, did it? Let’s say she had made it into the Magic 15 Club. She described what she was cooking focusing on seizing the moment. Thanks to Julie’s positive influence, the investigation and reminiscing about how she hurt her parents thirty-five years earlier had to wait.

“All this cutting up is very relaxing. Thank you for making me so much less anxious,” she said to her flatmate.

“Oh, you’re so kind.” Julie smiled. “I owe you a lot, too. I didn’t know Polish cuisine was so interesting for vegans for example. Ha, didn’t know Polish cuisine at all! I’m looking forward to going back to the UK to find a Polish shop with celeriacs, fermented rye and, what was it, the leaves? Ah, sorrel!”

There you go, Josune, Dolores thought. Your daughter might never come back, but she might teach someone what sorrel is.

Later that day they were watching “Third Rock from the Sun” on Nathan’s request when Dolores’ mobile beeped again.

“Done, so I’ve had some time to think about Ander’s case for a change. Statistically, if a person gets murdered and it’s not a robbery, it’s either family problems or mafia connections. I went with Ander’s father to school and, boy, he was a nasty piece of work. I wouldn’t be surprised if his sons took up climbing just to get away from him for as much time as possible! All in all, if I were you, I would have a look at him. Or, to be exact, I would leave it to the police. How about another lunch to get your mind off crime?”

At first Dolores wasn’t sure whether to read the message out with Nathan present – we looked pretty relaxed watching the sitcom – but the news about Ander’s father could mean that the murder was about to be solved, which would put an end to at least some of the twins’ problems. What she kept to herself, though, was the last sentence.

“So what is he suggesting?” Nathan frowned. “That Ander was stabbed because of his father’s unfinished business with the mafia?”

“Or that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” said Dolores, “and our Ander had some unfinished business of his own.”

“Our poor Ander?!”

Julie clearly had forgotten she had never even met the boy.

Dolores and Nathan exchanged knowing looks. They both knew that the dead teenager had been paying Nathan to write his school essays and deliver test answer keys. Combined with his genes, his father’s example, the mysterious absences from the climbing trainings… The sperm left in the victim’s mouth had done its job – shifted the focus to the Evans twins and away from the victim himself – Ander Garaikoetxea.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: SPARKLING PLUM WINE

October 23, 2019

New Year’s Eve passed uneventfully, at least on the outside. Julie was busy cooking and working out not to think about her unrequited love. Dolores was busy preparing mentally for her first date in years. The investigation had been unofficially put on hold, while the detectives were waiting for the outcome of Martin sharing his revelations with the police. Only Nathan had the energy to keep analysing Nerea’s message, although of course it was impossible to say whether he was getting it right.

“’I wish I could stay here forever.’ ‘Here’ must be New York, because it’s where she is,” he reported to Dolores. “Which makes me think ‘another guy’ is also in New York, otherwise why change the topic like that?”

“You can’t expect a person who used five exclamation marks in five sentences to be very logical,” Dolores observed.

“And then, ‘a kind of revenge’. If you kill a person, it’s revenge, plain and simple.”

“Here I do agree. The girl is innocent and she’s writing about something completely different.”

“Like what?”

“Maybe confidence? Our Nerea is a little doormat, isn’t she? A brave girl, but at the same time apologising to a random guy like that? Also, remember that she is writing in English – ‘enjoy with your liberty’. God knows what syntax or spelling mistakes she made here that completely changed the meaning of her thank-you note.”

Dolores and Julie had decided, without actually saying a word, that New Year’s Eve was going to be Nathan’s day: Dolores still felt moved after his mentioning his mother, whereas Julie wanted to cherish what could well be her last days with him. She made an extra effort by cooking a separate meat dish, and initially, the three of them were planning to spend most of the day watching a series of Nathan’s choice. Unfortunately, it turned out to be Spielberg’s “Pacific”, full of violent war scenes, so after a couple of episodes the girls retired to different rooms: Julie to do yoga and Dolores to reread “Mars and Venus: Together Forever”.

Standing at Fnac’s entrance at one in the afternoon the following day, she repeated some of the advice from the book in her head, until she got distracted by the widow of the shop opposite. It was closed, but she liked the element of choosing as much as actually making a purchase.

“Did you know that Etam means ‘ah, whatever’ in Polish?” she asked Jose Luis when he approached her. She pointed towards the name of the shop. “And Osram, you know, that light bulb manufacturer? It’s ‘I’m going to poo on it’,” she explained in a theatrical whisper.

Ice climber’s eyes lit up.

“Did you know that zorro means ‘fox’ in Spanish?” he retorted immediately. “And una zorra is a female fox, but don’t call a woman that or she’ll slap you in the face. Unless she’s Basque, because in Basque zorra means ‘debt’.”

“I like you,” Dolores declared like a three-year-old girl. “One of the few things I like about my job is that I find languages so fascinating.”

“As a translator who used to be a language teacher, I can only agree,” he laughed. “But if there are few things you like about teaching, we must find you something. You only live once. My family were furious with me when I left such a secure job, but I hated it. I don’t know about England, but here most teachers are in it for the stability, the money and the long holidays. No passion whatsoever. And these people mould our children’s brains and hearts!”

“I know what you mean,” Dolores was equally disgusted, despite being a teacher herself.

“But isn’t it too boring and stressful being a translator? All those deadlines, silly texts that are not even yours, technical vocabulary you never have enough time to properly investigate…”

“I was lucky because as a climber I made a lot of connections. Now I can specialise in climbing books, guide books, climbing equipment manuals and so on.”

“Speaking of climbing gear, have you noticed if any of your ice tools missing?” Dolores asked casually.

She had decided beforehand that, date or no date, some questions still had to be asked.
Jose Luis looked at her surprised.

“Dolores, Dolores,” he tutted. “This is not how it’s done. You say: ‘Speaking of climbing gear, can you show it to me one day’, and when I do, you choose the heaviest axe, weigh it in your hands and purr: ‘You must be so strong’, while looking at me with admiration. And then you play detectives.”

“What do you mean by ‘play detectives’?” Dolores tried to pretend she was innocent.

“You track Nerea down, shocked after a friend of yours tells you how she ran away from a date with him, but then you get my address using a pair of leggings, Rafa tells me, and just in case, you arrive with Julen as your bodyguard. Is he around today? Do you think I killed Ander Garaikoetxea with an ice tool?”

“A friend of mine thinks either Nerea or someone hired by her did.”

“Well, she doesn’t own any ice tools. I waited until she was sixteen and when I finally came to terms with the fact she didn’t want to climb, I sold all my collection, harnesses included. Really, Dolores, a boy was killed and the only person you can suspect is my daughter, who has never even looked at Ander twice, because why should she be interested in a talented climber her age for a change?”

It was difficult to say whether he was more irritated by Nerea or Dolores.

“It’s a long story,” murmured the detective shyly.

“I need a drink,” Jose Luis declared. “Two marianitos?”

He pointed towards the name above the bar they were approaching. It was called Nido, “the nest”.

“So you still want to have that lunch with me?” checked Dolores.

Opening the door to let her in first, he gave her a faint smile.

“Sorry for that outburst, but connecting Nerea’s teenage experimenting with criminal activity, that’s exactly what her mother and I are arguing about. I keep telling Josune we can’t stop that. Of course we can set some healthy limits, but Nerea is still going to fight us, experiment and get hurt. That’s life and this is how you learn. But not for Josune. She didn’t even know half of what you claim the Wimbledon cleaning lady does and she kept Nerea grounded for six months nevertheless! So what did the kid do? On the first day of her freedom she arranged to have a blind date in the woods!”

“He is only twenty-six if that’s of any comfort,” said Dolores.

“You see, you too don’t understand. I don’t mind him being a grown-up. I mean, I do, but it’s Nerea that gets to do the choosing. The point is, with the leash that’s too tight, some kids just give up on life, and some, like my daughter, they just go crazy when the first occasion arises. God only knows what she’s being up to in New York!”

“You are not in touch?”

“Sure we are, but what do you expect: ‘Dad, I’ve just tried crack, it’s so cool’?”

Dolores thought about Nerea’s ecstatic thank-you note.

“Actually, I think there something you should know. This friend of mine… She’s sent him a message saying that she’s met a new guy and that she wants to stay in the States forever.”

“Could I see it?”

Dolores found it on her smartphone.

“There you go,” Jose Luis gave her back the mobile. “Now what do I do, call Josune? She’s going to ruin Nerea’s holiday.”

“There’s more… I don’t believe it and this man isn’t really a friend of mine, he’s just a brother of a workmate… Anyway, his plan is to show this note to the police today. My friend… his brother thinks that ‘what I had taken from you’ was something they found on Ander a few hours later.”

“How does he know what they found on Ander? Was it something you saw when you found the body? Wait, wasn’t the guy they arrested from your Academy? Holy smoke!” Suddenly, he remembered something. “Have you finished? We’d better continue this conversation in the street.”

At the same time that it dawned on Jose Luis who his daughter met in Miramon, Dolores realised that, wanting to be honest about Nerea’s situation with her father, she had just spilled the beans to someone who, after all, was a complete stranger. He could well go straight the police. And what if he still owned those ice tools?

“You know the twin they are talking about on TV and you haven’t reported that?” he whispered outside.

“It’s a long story.”

“Well, well done. The police are looking for a guy and you’ve already found him.”

“And right now he’s probably being interrogated in Easo,” Dolores reminded him, “so I’m not really hiding anything anymore.”

He’s opened another door in front of her. It belonged to a Chinese restaurant next door.

“Are we still having lunch?” asked Dolores.

“One needs to eat.” Jose Luis shrugged. “That’s what mountains teach you: keep calm, plan your moves, remember to feed yourself.”

“You could write a book: ‘Eat, plan, breathe’.” Dolores started feeling more relaxed again.

“So, what’s the move you are planning now?”

“What can I do? Let’s see what the police say. Nerea is eighteen. If she planted something on Ander’s body or whatever it was that she did – although I think your friend is mistaken – I’m going to be there for her, hire a good lawyer, I don’t know. But for now it’s spring rolls. And taking deep breaths.”

The topic of Nerea and Ander’s death seem to be exhausted. Jose Luis ordered sparkling plum wine and started reading the menu, whereas Dolores, who quickly opted for menu de degustacion, observed that never before had she seen a restaurant decorated with photos of raw vegetables.

What could happen next? Bumping into Martin? A police raid? But Dolores, as usual, got surprised. At a quarter past two, a quarter past eight a.m. in New York, Jose Luis got a call from a woman sobbing hysterically.

“What?! Wait, I can’t hear you very well inside.”

He rushed out forgetting to excuse himself. When he came back, his face was saying:

“Didn’t I tell you?”

“Nerea has run away. To Las Vegas. To get married.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: AN APPOINTMENT WITH SEX

October 22, 2019

“Oh my God!” Julie covered her mouth. “Of course, of course. I’ll never do it again!”

Dolores had just explained to her that, according to Eva, all her communications were being intercepted by the police. Which meant the two detectives were doing them a favour in a way, but who knew, maybe not big enough not to land them in prison.

“We need to use a code, like the one we’re using with…” Julie looked around, as if looking for a hidden microphone, “…with Harrison Ford.”

Dolores waved her hand.

“If they’ve been listening, they’ve already got enough evidence against us. Where is Nathan?”

“He’s gone to his flat wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses to pick up some stuff and go for a ride on his bike. He’s already seen the bosses, and their lawyer. They are letting him go, with good references, but still. He said he needed to clear his head and decide what to do next.”

“And then you’ll be able to make a decision, too?”

“I think I’ll just wait it out. I expected too much of him, I guess, but it’s just so overwhelming for a person what he’s going through. If he’s got feelings for me, sooner or later he’s going to let me know.”

Dolores wasn’t sure whether she could continue that topic without sounding sarcastic, so she went back to what mattered to her.

“Just get busy, it helps. Look at all those people with cancer who keep working, like Maggie Smith.”

She got a blank stare.

“You know, that Hogwart professor who says ‘Harry Potter!’ in a stern voice every ten minutes in the first films. So, back to Mar… Back to the email we must write, let’s come up with a normal version and then ‘translate’ it into this pop quiz lingo, shall we?”

“You do it and I’ll finish making the dinner,” Julie offered. “We need Nathan to access the account anyway, and when he gets back, he can tell you what he thinks about your translation.”

Soon, from behind the kitchen door, the smell of roasted beetroot wafted in, and the sheet of paper in front of Dolores was covered in scribbles:

“Hi Martin, it’s Dolores. Have you seen on TV that the police want you to tell them all you know, more or less guaranteeing that you are not going to get charged with the murder? Frankly, I think the only way out for you is to go along and admit to that ‘special appointment’ you went to after Nerea ran away. Maria Jesus doesn’t need to know, and if she does, don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find another lovely sponsor whose pocket money shall cover all your ‘special needs’. Maybe she’ll even tolerate them? Imagine, no more lies! Or maybe it’s time to fight those cravings with the help of professionals?”

The “translation” had taken much more to write and was full of crossed out sentences:
“Hi, it’s O’Riordan again. About your story you mentioned the other day, the guys from TV say they want to hear all the details and they promise your film is not going to resemble ‘Shawshank Redemption’ at all. If I were you, I would go for it. This is your opening. I know what you did after that girl ran away from you was very private, and yes, your mom might get mad, but you are old enough to get by without her pocket money. I’m sure you’ll find a new job with a hot middle-aged boss to cover all your special expenses. Or maybe it’s time to be brave and get yourself into Betty Ford’s? As for your script, I reckon the scene with that clandestine evening meeting is key. Take care.”

Nathan came back very quiet. He preferred seeing Dolores’ draft first than having Julie’s coconut milk borsht.

“We’ve watched ‘Shawshank Redemption’ at least twice together, so yes, it can stay. ‘Your mom’ – you mean his sponsor, Maria Jesus? Sounds a bit rude. But then, how can we put it another way? What else… Oh, Dolores O’Riordan. Well done, he knows was the lead singer of The Cranberries. Actually, she was our mother’s favourite vocalist. So yes, you can post it. I mean, I will.”

Instead of thanking him or feeling satisfied, Dolores couldn’t stop thinking about Nathan mentioning one of his dead parents. Was that why the twins were obsessed with the 80s and early 90s? As an unconscious tribute to their mother’s tastes? Or to recreate their early childhood?

“I should have thought about it earlier,” she said apologetically when they sat down to dinner.

“You’ve managed to recall a really tiny detail from your conversation,” Nathan tried to cheer her up.

Dolores ranted on.

“The man admits he’s a sexoholic and we believe he spent the evening of one of the biggest fiestas here in his van?! If he wasn’t on the prowl in the Old Part, it was only for fear of bumping into his sponsor and her friends!”

“Where was he then?” asked Julie.

“Visiting a prostitute in Amara. Jose Luis told me they rent flats all over the place.”

“You talked with Nerea’s father about prostitutes?” Nathan wrinkled his forehead. “Does he think she’s turning into one?”

“If you suspect it was a prostitute that collected Martin’s sperm, then I suppose we can cross out Ander’s teenage friends,” Julie said. “I can’t quite imagine a teenager paying a prostitute to get a sample that would incriminate somebody else.”

“Teenagers are well capable of doing horrible things,” Nathan pointed out. “Just look at college life in the US.”

Julie’s laptop beeped. Martin had just published a reply.

“I think I can count on the people from the ‘clandestine meeting’ not to want to do me any harm. I’ve known them for years. And that girl that ran away is simply stupid. Look what she’s just written to me. Can there be a better proof of what she was up to?! Does she really think that justice can’t reach her in New York?!”

Nerea’s message followed:

“So sorry for Santo Tomás! I thought it would be a kind of revenge and now it feels fantastic 🙂 I asked another guy to use what I had taken from you and it worked sooo well! I wish I could stay here forever! Thanks! Enjoy with your liberty!”

“So it was really Nerea who took the sperm to take revenge on Ander?” Julie was astonished.

“Enjoy with your liberty,” Nathan repeated the incorrect sentence. “She must have mistaken me for Martin and knows from the media that they have released me.”

“She uses quite a lot of exclamation marks for an eighteen-year-old,” noticed Dolores. “I’m not sure if marrying her away would solve the problem. A nunnery would be better. A perfect place for someone who gets ecstatic that easily.”

Nathan looked doubtful.

“Wouldn’t you have got ecstatic at the age of eighteen if you had successfully killed a boy you wanted dead by means of a hired hand?”

“Don’t you remember I chose Jesus? I tell you, it’s perfect. Saves you a lot of trouble with early sex life and you can always go back to your senses later on. So, should I show it to Nerea’s father on Friday? He knows I’m in touch with the person she met in Miramon, so he’s not going to ask too many questions.”

“Why Friday?” protested Julie. “When everybody wants to sleep late after the New Year’s Eve party. The sooner the better.”

Nathan smiled.

“At least we know Jose Luis and his handy ice tool weren’t involved. A very comforting thought when you go out on a first date.”

Dolores didn’t blush. On the contrary, she felt rather proud of herself.

“Dolores!” Julie exclaimed.

“It’s just a lunch. And he’s my age. And divorced. There’s nothing scandalous about it.”

“Just a daughter in prison.”

Dolores ignored Nathan’s remark.

“I still prefer the Amara hypothesis. That plot was too intricate for someone like Nerea. But if Martin believes it was her, all the better for us. And for him. Now that he’s got something tangible to show the police, it should convince him to stop hiding. He can’t live in that basement forever.”

“Let’s tell him just that,” suggested Nathan. “I’ll write to him and you, girls…” He smiled again. “You can decide what Dolores is supposed to wear. You’ve only got, what, fifty hours? Did he see you with your wig on or off?”

Dolores knew she was expected to pretend she found such comments irritating, however, it was exactly how she wished to spend the next day: relax, have a look at her wardrobe, go through Pili’s clothes just in case…

“You are right,” Nathan read aloud. “It’s a very tough decision, but it must be done. Just let me celebrate New Year’s Eve. Partying on the Titanic. Who knows where I might end up if they don’t believe me.”

“Yes!” Dolores was optimistic.

“You think he’s going be alright?” Julie sighed. “Well, there is no other way I’m afraid.”
“Just one thing,” Nathan was looking at the laptop screen. He had scrolled it up to Nerea’s message again. “If Nerea swallowed the sperm and has no clue about Ander’s death, what revenge is she talking about? What other guy? What did she take from Martin?”