San Miguel, preferably draught
Alan’s hair was still as it had been when he was thirteen years old, unruly and poorly cut. His bristle moustache, toothbrush-like, had been the height of fashion thirty years previously. His head, with its round face and rosy cheeks, sat upon an oval body which drew attention to itself by his waddling gait; the result of an accident on his fiftieth birthday, when he fell from a ladder.
His redeeming features were his smile and his personality. Had the Queen entered his presence, his greeting would have been the same as with anyone else.
‘How er yer doin?’
Unless you were extremely rude or had no English, you could not ignore him. His infectious laugh and immediate welcome and friendliness enveloped you, and forced you to stay, just as if he had wrapped his strong arms around your torso.
Initially, people underestimated Alan, but it did not take long for newcomers to appreciate that beneath the bonhomie and all-encompassing attitude, there was an alert and highly intelligent mind. Although he rarely mentioned it, Alan Pelling had been an employee of the British Government. The principal reason he remained silent was that much of what he might have been expected to discuss, was still covered by the Official Secrets Act, for AP had been a spy, code name Adonis. His moniker was the result of his immediate boss, a Cambridge Don, being a Greek scholar with a unique sense of humour.
I got to know something of his history by accident. My wife and I had met him and his partner Avril, whilst on a SAGA holiday in Menorca. We found ourselves at the same table one evening after dinner, and as you do, over coffee and brandy, we engaged in conversation. The following day we sat in adjacent seats on the coach to Ciudedela, and after that we palled up. Jill got on well with Avril and I enjoyed AP’s company. Our humour had emanated from adjoining Christmas Crackers. At the end of the holiday, they asked us to stay in touch, and we did. Hence the following year we went on holiday to Mallorca together.
We had flown from different airports, but met up within three hours at the Hotel Marina in Puerto de Soller, in the north west of the Island. It was the following morning when the girls had caught an early tram, so that they could assail the shoe shops in Soller town, that Alan and I strolled down to the marina to reintroduce ourselves to San Miguel.
Still licking the froth from our upper lips, we heard a shout. Alan ignored it, but I looked around. I did not however recognize the portly, bald headed man in old fashioned khaki shorts who was making a beeline for us.
He halted alongside our table and stared first at me, then at my companion.
‘Well I’ll be damned, if it isn’t Andy Preston. How are you, you old sod?’
Alan glanced briefly at our visitor and said quietly, I’m afraid you’re mistaken old chap, my name’s not … what did you say, Preston?’
‘Come on you old bastard, I’d know you anywhere, recognize you no matter how many years had passed … Joe, Joe Mortimer, you must remember me, we got through some fire water together back in, where was it … Poland, that’s it, Bialystok, near the border. We got those three lads out from ….Baranavichy in Russia; well I don’t know what country it’s in now.’
He stared at Alan, imploring him to confirm his statement, but Alan just shook his head.
‘Christ man, we spent three days together, crawling through the woods at night, holed up like hibernating badgers during daylight.’ Anger and impatience were beginning to creep into his speech.
‘Badgers do not hibernate,’ Alan said, softly.
The stranger’s exclamation drew the attention of both waiters and patrons at adjacent tables, so I stood up. I smiled.
‘It seems like you have made a mistake, my friend, so why don’t you continue your journey to wherever it is that you are going.’
As I slowly stressed each word, I increased my grip on his elbow and when my sentence concluded, I could see the signs of pain in his eyes.
‘But I …’ he was more subdued.
‘Have a nice day,’ I concluded, pushing him forward.
Shaking his head, he walked away, pausing after about ten metres to turn and study AP for a final time.
After I had resumed my seat Alan said a quiet thank you.
‘Ready for another?’ I responded, picking up my glass and draining the contents.
Neither of us mentioned the episode, although I did describe it to Jill as we were changing for dinner. She frowned.
‘It’s easy to make a mistake, particularly after many years, we never remember people as they actually were.’
‘Mmm, but I don’t think the chap had made a mistake.’
It was two days later, that Alan brought up the incident. We were sitting outside at Can Prunera, the Museum of Modern Art, waiting for the girls, who were poring over a display of early twentieth century handbags.
‘That chap, the other day …’
‘What he said was all true.’
‘OK, thank you for telling me.’
‘You don’t want to know more?’
‘It’s none of my business.’
He shook his head.
‘You really are an amazing person, anyone else I have ever met would be clamouring for me to tell them my life story.’
He obviously chose to ignore me.
‘I worked for the British Government; a Department that was not in the telephone book. We …’
I raised my hand.
He paused, frowned.
‘Please do not say any more.’
‘Alan, I know, you were an Agent … so was I. What more is there to say?’
‘Well you could tell me who you worked for,’ he challenged, as he gripped my wrist.'
Having spent the best part of thirty five years writing reports on such subjects as ‘Provision of Caravan Sites for Travellers’ and ’Aspects of Pest Control in the Urban Environment’, Roger Noons began even more creative writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts and having become addicted, began to pen short stories and poems. He occasionally produces memoirs and other non-fiction. He has begun to perform his poems, and has just published ’An A to Z by RLN’, an anthology of 26 short stories. He intends by the end of the year to have followed that up with a novella.
He is a member of two Writers Groups and tries his hardest to write something every day. As well as CafeLit, he has had credits in West Midlands newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, Paragraph Planet, Raw Edge and a number of Anthologies.
Roger is a regular contributor to the CafeLit site and a couple of his stories have been selected for the Best of CafeLit 2012.