It was an 8-hour drive to Torremolinos, but I took a wrong turn and ended up in Cordoba. By the time we could see the high-rises and smog against the sea, the sun was way up and the autopista was steaming. We made it past Malaga and through the tunnel to the sudden turn-off for Torremolinos. Paddy has family down there. Lots of working-class English people do.
Torre was the place to be in the 60s and 70s, and Brigitte Bardot and Frank Sinatra shot movies there and posed with cocktails and fishermen. Spain was sunny and cheap, and some say the package holiday was invented in Torremolinos – weather-weary English and northern Europeans flooded in on charter flights, bought little studio flats in concrete towers, spent their Golden Years in little ethnic enclaves here. Many never learned a word of Spanish.
|Torremolinos in 1966|
Torremolinos was an early bloomer. The rich and glossy soon moved on to Marbella, and Torre headed downhill and down-scale. Think Daytona Beach, Atlantic City, or Margate. Still fun, but scruffy, too. Sunburned binge drinkers and the people who prey on them.
Apparently, even on a weekday, everyone in the world wanted to go to Torremolinos, too. Traffic was backed up onto the six-lane highway. We joined the start-and-stop queue, inching along to a tangle of roundabouts and underpasses. I saw people in a car ahead waving their arms and shouting, then another carload doing the same. It was hot. I switched on the air conditioning and rolled up the windows. I was just in time. A cloud of hornets descended from the shade of the underpass and flowed over our car.
I looked at Paddy. He looked at me. “Welcome to Hell,” he said.
I should not have laughed.
We had lunch with an aged relative in shocking decline. Something had to be done, and soon. The reason we went down to Torre was real estate. The ailing lady asked me to sell her apartment for her.
She sent us over to see it with her niece.
It was in Aries Block, a dark canyon of a high-rise development with a once-groovy zodiac theme. There´s a little bar outside the front door that caters to Danes. Any hour of day or night, a collection of stoned Birgits and Bendts is parked in plastic lawn chairs, watching life go by.
“It´s pretty bad,” said the niece, jangling the keys. “Squatters lived in there for a couple of years. We just now got them out. It stinks in there.”
Paddy looked at me. “What the hell,” I said. We stepped into the elevator.
We stepped out of the elevator, and up to the front door of the apartment. A man was there, shirtless, jiggling, jangling something against the door handle. He was a burglar. We asked him what he was doing. He said he was opening this door, that this place belonged to his uncle who had died, and because it was empty and his place downstairs was crowded, he was moving in. His child needed a place to live, he said. I have a child, he said. He said a whole lot of things very quickly. He was scared, angry. Probably high.
The niece speaks fluent street Spanish, and that´s a good thing. She also has a steel backbone. And steel other things, too. She told him to go back downstairs and we´d forget about this.
He told her to open the door if she had keys.
“I´m not opening anything long as you´re here,” she said. “This man is the uncle,” she said, pointing to Patrick. “He´s alive. This place belongs to him. He´s got children to think about too.” (Oh great, I thought. Give him someone to hate!)
“If you go inside that apartment, I´ll be back here with my friends,” the man said. “We´re all home downstairs. Five, six of us. And I have a machete. You go in there, and I find you there, I´ll kill you. I´ll kill all of you.”
“I am phoning the police now,” I said, pulling out my mobile. “It´s time to go home.” I dialled the emergency number, then realized I did not know the address of the building. I didn´t hit “send.” I bluffed. I turned the phone toward the man, I pretended to snap his photo. “Hola! Policia? Si. Un ladron, sin camisa, con muchas tatuajes... En el acto, rompiendo el candao…”
The man scuttled down the stairs. We turned to one another. “What are the chances?” we cried. “What´s the address of this place?” I said.
And then the man came back, swinging up the stairs two at a time, still no shirt, still wild-eyed. And now he had a machete. Forty, fifty centimeters, silver. Japanese style, with holes along one edge.
I don´t recall what the niece said next. She got right into his face, and I held up the phone and snapped away, and said, “si, si, that´s him. How soon can you get here?” Paddy shoved his way forward, in case the guy started swinging that knife… but the niece kept talking, kept the guy engaged, and he kept running his mouth, threatening, angry at the great injustices of his life. I think that´s why I never really thought the guy would use the weapon. He couldn´t shut up. And he finally went downstairs. A door slammed.
We got the hell out. Called the cops for real, and after what seemed like forever six carloads of Policia Nacional rolled up in full riot gear, Policia Nacional. They stormed into the lobby and swarmed up the stairs and bashed on the doors til they found our man. They dragged him out in cuffs, but they made us go around the corner and out of sight. They brought out knives, said “which one?” and we pointed and said “that.”
The Danes got a great show. Me and the niece got a ride in the broiling-hot back of a police cruiser down the station, and cooled our heels for another couple of hours before a nice man took our statements. We spent another five hours at the Night Court. At the end of it all, the man was sent to jail for four months.
I learned his name is Miguel. He is 23 years old, without any prior convictions. I felt bad for a few moments… he evidently loves his child, and wouldn´t see him for so long. But as time went on, and we talked it all over for a while, I realized he could´ve just walked away down that hallway when we showed up. He didn´t have to get all macho-man. He really didn´t have to come back upstairs with that corn-cutter. He had a choice.
With Machete Man safely away, we finally got inside the studio flat.
It was as nasty as we´d expected, but still desirable. A neighbour told us another family of vagrants from upstairs had been there earlier, testing the door and locks. We scrambled to get a locksmith, a new door, someone to clear out the place and paint it. Valuations. Powers of Attorney.