THE TERROR OF BARCELONA: PART III|
Slider went briefly up to his room to shower, shave, and change into a freshly starched shirt but was back down in the bar and on his third glass of wine by the time Magic Hour emerged from the elevator in a purple un-tucked button down and brown corduroys. He was also freshly showered, but his face still had a couple days growth that was quickly becoming a beard. Every operative has their own style, Slider thought to himself.
Magic Hour casually poured himself into the chair across from Slider and waved the bartender over to him. "How do you ask if they speak English," he asked his fellow agent.
"'Habla Ingles,'" Slider informed him.
"Habla Ingles," Magic Hour asked the bartender.
In a thick accent she replied, "Yes."
"I'll have a Johnny Walker on the rocks and another for my friend here," he said, lighting a cigarette. Slider swished his wine around in the nearly full glass and lit one for himself.
"Did you have a good rest, sir," Slider asked.
"I can feel the jetlag melting away," Magic Hour smirked. "What's the news?"
A fax had come back to Slider after he sent off all the forms Magic Hour had signed, detailing the mission specifics with a small stack of biographies for some of the players involved. He wasn't always convinced that the people he helped take down were all that bad and, in this case, he was down right skeptical. But an advisory quickly followed that warned of two German agents in country to work against the project. When up in his room showering, he also took the precaution of burning the operational parameters and advisory documents in the bathtub so they couldn't fall into the wrong hands.
"As you may know," Slider began, clearing his throat nervously. Magic Hour hated it when they began like this and grunted in return. "The region of Catalunya is the primary wine making region of Spain. It seems that there's a radical Catalunyan separatist that wants to split from the central government and align themselves with the French and Germans to honor the embargo of wines against the United States."
"I forget," Magic Hour said, looking around for the bartender and presumably, his drink. "Why have they embargoed us?"
"It would seem that they didn't agree with the reasons for our recent invasion of French Polynesia and certainly weren't happy that we did it."
"The terrorism excuse didn't work this time, huh?"
"It would seem that our government's building of beach front retirement homes made them," Slider coughed again. "Suspicious. The general world opinion hasn't been in our favor since we took over Morocco to build a new casino resort."
"Economic investment in the effected countries has been a time honored tradition after our country has engaged in war," Magic Hour said with a smile while repeating the oft-used excuse.
"Of course," the resident agent acknowledged. "But the work visa's issued for Mexican laborers to build it kind of off set any benefit to the Moroccan people. Hence our current situation."
The bartender returned from the backroom carrying both men's drinks. "Tres Euros, por favor." Magic Hour looked to Slider, who dug out a couple of two Euro coins then dropped them into the dish that held their receipt.
"Gracias," she said and disappeared again.
The two men clinked their glasses and each took a sip.
"So what's our job here then, son," Magic Hour asked.
"It would seem that you're to make contact with the separatists and convince them to stop their shenanigans. Sounds like a job for real subtlety. I guess that's why they brought you in, eh," Slider smiled. Magic Hour glared at him and the smile faded. "Anyway..."
"What time is our dinner?"
"I told Standby ten o'clock. It's actually time sensitive since he has to know when to get in line. We have twenty minutes, but should probably head out shortly."
They finished their drinks in silence then exited the hotel and walked towards the Ramblas. The Ramblas was actually several different streets that were joined together to form a more or less straight line down to the harbor. Had it been entirely open to cars, it would have been a four lane road, but instead the middle two lanes had been turned into a giant sidewalk and was dotted with flower sellers, news stands, and more than a few street performers. At almost all times of the day, the pedestrian areas were crowded with people, some walking, some preventing the rest from doing so by standing around a human statue or, as proof that America really had taken over the world, a man in a giant Bart Simpson outfit. On either side of the street were hotels and cafés that had set up outdoor seating on the center island.
Magic Hour had crossed the street earlier that day during Slider's tour, but was impressed with the sheer volume of people even at such an hour. There were fat tourists with fat children, lean Australians with giant backpacks, American frat boys with their associated sorority girls, and many handsome Spanish men parading their beautiful girlfriends to some club that only the locals knew about off of one of the many side streets.
The two agents strolled down the middle of the Ramblas then, to Magic Hour, took a sudden left and into an Italian styled palazzo he swore wasn't there. The scene was much the same in the square except that there was a fountain in the center that people sat around the edges of waiting for someone else, drinking beer, or just chatting with others. There were various benches and planted cannonballs on which drunks sat getting more so. Every so often, a pair of Guàrdia Urbana would wander up and speak to the drunkards, point at various things with their sticks, have a laugh, then walk away again to where ever it was the came.
"This is the Plaça Reial," Slider explained as Magic Hour lit a smoke and took it all in. "It's pretty much the meeting point for most people before they go elsewhere. Other than that, it's mostly tourists, though on Saturdays they actually have a very interesting stamp and coin market."
Magic Hour exhaled. "Interesting how?"
Magic Hour watched Slider light his own cigarette then continued to look around. With a slight, hunger induced, wave of his finger signaling he was ready, Magic Hour indicated for Slider to continue on to the restaurant. They walked down one of the alleyways that fed into the square and into a long line of people that they passed to find Standby waiting at the front of. Standby motioned to the Maitre De and the Maitre De motioned for them to follow. Standby then disappeared back into the crowd.
Slider discovered La Fonda during one of his first exploratory walks around Barcelona upon arriving at his new assignment. The weather was still cool but he saw the signature line formed out front and had to ask what it was for. He took Standby with him to try it out since he hated dining alone. La Fonda looked like it could have been a fancy and expensive restaurant if in New York except that the average age of the diners looked no older than thirty and most as though they were on summer vacation from a university. But it was known for some of the best dining in Barcelona at government expense report prices with the trade off being the line outside since no reservations could be made. As far as the agents were concerned, it was win-win since they had Standby.
The two men were led upstairs to the second level where they could overlook the rest of the restaurant and out the arched windows onto the tiny alley that was Carrer Escudellers while they ate. Unlike most operatives, Magic Hour didn't mind sitting without his back to a wall. Perhaps he had fewer enemies, Slider thought. Perhaps he was just brave.
"Any recommendations," Magic Hour asked.
"The Catalunyan style calamari is amazing," Slider said.
"Everything else is good too." Upon his first dining he found himself quite impressed with the menu.
"What's special about it?"
"Just order it," Slider said. "You won't be disappointed."
As it turned out, the calamari was a whole fresh squid, cut into segments, and deep-fried in an excellent spiced batter. It was a welcome change of pace for Magic Hour who was used to the usual rubbery bar food version. He started to think that Slider might actually be a good person to work with if the rest of his tastes ran along similar lines. There was just one thing that bothered him.
"Son, what's with the wine," he asked as he took a swig beer.
"The wine. You're always drinking white wine. Not a very manly drink now, is it?"
Slider set his glass down and puffed on his cigarette. "The wine here is good and if we fail, it's going to be a long time until we can get it in stateside again."
Magic Hour turned his beer around in little circles on the white tablecloth while his eyes told Slider he wasn't buying it. Slider tried to stare back but eventually relented.
"The wine in Europe is half the cost of beer. So I can drink twice as much as you can and submit the same expense report," Slider said finally, finishing his drink and waving at a passing waiter that he'd like another.
"Now that's a language I can speak." Magic Hour ate a few more bites of calamari and then took a deep breath as though he were about to dive under water. "Alright," he said. "Tell me who the targets are."
Out of the back of his pants, Slider produced several standard government issue manila folders and set them on the table between the plates and breadbasket. He opened the first one to reveal an eight by ten black and white photo of an attractive Latin woman in her early thirties buying flowers at a stand on the Ramblas. Magic Hour traced her straight black hair with his finger and glanced at the agent across from him for more detail. She was exactly his type, obviously athletic with a slim figure and dark - dark hair, dark skin, with a dark smile that hid a thoughtful mind behind it all.
"Her name is Anglesa de Maragall. She's Catalunyan but, interestingly enough, a flamenco dancer with a local company here in town."
"Well, flamenco is more associated with the southern part of Spain like Anda..."
Magic Hour stared blankly at him.
"Anyway, she's also the leader of a group of separatists funded through various channels by the French and Germans. The good news is, she lives over in Barceloneta and doesn't know about who's paying her bills. The bad news is, she doesn't take in visitors she doesn't know."
He closed the first folder and opened the one under it. It contained a photo of an equally attractive man with remarkably similar features. The photo was taken while the subject was on a bicycle riding along the Mediterranean coast.
"This is Ramon de Maragall, Anglesa's younger brother. He's our most likely way to her. He went to school in California and speaks English fluently. He's currently a guide for a bike tour here in town. He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer and he lives with his sister and their mother."
"Thus our in," Magic Hour said conspiratorially. "Is he involved with the separatists at all?"
"No. The best I can figure from my surveillance is that he doesn't even know what his sister is up to. He thinks her comrades are all part of the dance troupe."
Magic Hour sat back in his chair and held an unlit cigarette to his lips as he thought.
"You did the intel on this yourself," he asked, borrowing Slider's Zippo and lighting his smoke.
"Standby tailed Ramon to his home, but I took the photos and did the research with some biographical background information from the Agency, so yeah." Slider nervously played with the napkin in his lap with one hand and tapped the wineglass with a finger of his other. "Why? Does something look wrong?"
"No," Magic Hour said, re-opening Anglesa's folder, taking out her photo and the dossier stapled to the back. "I just want to make sure it's good. Don't be so nervous, son. How far is this Barceloneta from here?"
"About a ten minute walk," Slider said collecting himself.
"I think we ought to take a look."
MAIL this to a friend. They'll thank you for it later.