There’s a neon sign above the Pharmacy across the street. It’s flashing the number thirty- two. That’s the temperature. Even though I’m sitting in the shade with an ice cold beer in my hand I can feel the sweat running down my cheek.
What am I doing here? In a small town in Southern Spain? All alone and 1500 miles from home?
Two words. Terry Palmer.
Let me tell you about Terry. We were mates. No, that’s not even close. We were BEST mates. Terry was like a brother to me.
We met thirty- five years ago at the age of eleven. First day of senior school and everyone was nervous. Some older boys started picking on Terry. I was always a big lad for my age and stepped in to help. I pushed one of the boys hard and he fell to the ground, I stood over him with my foot on his chest. The other kid ran off. No one picked on Terry from that day onwards.
For some strange reason we just clicked, even though we were so different. Terry was a bright kid, always top of the class. Me? I was into Sport. Didn’t matter what it was, I wanted to be the best at it. I played Rugby, Football and Cricket. I had trials for most London football clubs but never quite made the grade. At sixteen I left school and went to work for my Uncle’s demolition company. Terry stayed on to get his “A” Levels.
At nineteen I was earning good money and renting my own flat. My money was spent on beer and birds. Terry went to Bristol University to study something called Quantum Physics.
Although we were miles apart we still kept in touch. I would spend a week or two at his campus sleeping on the floor of his tiny room. When he had term breaks he would come and stay with me. I was earning and he wasn’t so I paid for everything. We even went to Benidorm for two weeks, but to be honest I can’t remember much about it. I think we might have been a bit drunk while we were there.
At twenty- two Terry got his degree and went to work for a company called QMC. They were big in Hi-Tec security equipment. I was still with the demolition company but was now running my own small crew.
Over the next few years me and Terry would meet twice a week after work for a beer or three. As much as I loved him there were two things about him that drove me mad. He always wore the same bloody aftershave. Fahrenheit! It had a strong distinct smell that I just found overpowering. He also did something bizarre with a crisp packet. He would order the beers and two bags of crisps. When he’d finished his bag he would very slowly and precisely fold it up and tie it into a knot. He would wait for me to finish mine and then do the same. For some reason it drove me nuts!
I met Caroline in 1995, when I was twenty- six. We were married two years later. Terry of course was my best man. He met Sandra in 1998 and married her within six months. And yes, of course, I was his best man. Carol and Sandra became good friends and that made it easy for me and Terry to spend time together. We had season tickets for our beloved West Ham United and went to every game, home and away.
Caroline and I never had kids. We tried for a while but nothing seemed to happen and we just sort of accepted it. Terry and Sandra had two in the space of four years. Boy and a girl. Great kids. Me and Caroline were god parents to both.
Terry died six years ago in 2009. He was forty years old.
No one was really sure what happened. His car went out of control on the way to work. It hit a tree and burst into flames. He could only be identified by his personal belonging. His watch, wedding ring and a St Christopher that he always wore around his neck.
An inquest decided that he must have had a heart attack whilst driving. We all prayed that he died before the car caught fire.
Things haven’t been the same since Terry passed. Caroline says that I’ve become distant. To be honest I miss him so much that sometimes I find it difficult to talk. This can go on for days.
Anyway, that gives you some idea of how close me and Terry were. But it still doesn’t explain why I’m here in Coin just a few miles away from Mijas in Southern Spain.
Caroline thought we needed a break so she booked us a two- week holiday on the Costa Del Sol. Luxury 5 Star Hotel to cater for our every need. “Quality Time” she called it.
Well, after four days of “Quality Time”, just laying by the pool and drinking countless gin and tonics. I was bored. So this morning I decided to hire a car and explore some of the local towns. Caroline didn’t want to come but said it would be good for me to have a day on my own.
I drove through Mijas and up into the hills. I saw a sign for Coin and decided that as my stomach had started to think my throat had been cut, it might be wise to get a bit of lunch and a cold beer.
The town was quiet. No surprise really. It was Siesta time. People were either at home having lunch or an afternoon nap.
I parked the car outside the Pharmacy. Opposite was a small traditional looking Spanish bar. There was a man outside sitting at one of the tables. He was wearing a panama hat, head down and reading a newspaper. As I looked over he raised his head to take a swig of his bottled beer. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It couldn’t be him. It just couldn’t.
He saw me. Quickly put down his beer and went inside.
I got out of the car, ran across the road and into the bar. Apart from a dark haired man behind the counter. It was empty. I shouted at him.
“The man. The man. Where is he?”
He pointed to a door at the other end of the bar. It was partly open and light was flooding in from the street. I ran to the door and into the blazing heat. The street was empty.
I shouted again.
There was no answer. The only sound was a dog barking from a local balcony. I wandered up and down the street for at least twenty minutes before I finally gave up and re-entered the bar. I ordered a beer. This time I spoke slowly and quietly to the barman.
“The man who was just here. Do you know him. Know where he lives?”
His English wasn’t great. He shook his head.
“No sir. Stranger. Stranger.”
I nodded, went back out and sat at the same table as the man I thought was my dead friend. And that’s when I saw it. Just there on the marble table.
A crisp packet tied carefully into a knot.
So now you know why I’m here. Sitting in a small Spanish town 1500 miles from home, holding a tied up crisp packet and the faint smell of Fahrenheit disturbing my nostrils.
And now I can’t go home. Not until I find out what the fuck is going on…