The Cup Bearer
Emilio couldn't remember falling asleep but when he opened his eyes he found Jimmy Monzanoz sitting at a nearby table, studying a folder of papers. Jimmy looked up and smiled. "You slept well. Feel any better?"
Emilio thought about that. He really didn't want to voice his anger that his well-ordered life had ended so violently. Once more he would have to start again, but this time without Tony to guide him. Loneliness, and a dread of what lay ahead, filled him with a need to strike out at someone, but not this young man; it wasn't his fault. Instead he just shrugged his shoulders, yawned and rubbed at his gooey eyes. "What's happening?"
Jimmy's smile widened. "You want the good news or the bad news first?"
Emilio shrugged again. "The bad news I suppose."
Jimmy rose from his chair and pulled it across the carpet to plant it by the bed with its back towards it. His expression sobered as he straddled it and down. He looked Emilio straight in the eye. "The bad news is the officers investigating Senor Grafton's murder haven't found any evidence that anyone else was at the villa at the time of the shooting. That means you're the most likely suspect and you're still under arrest. The good news is you have those two British lawyers stirring up quite a whirlwind on your behalf. As you were born here they can't represent you, you have to have a Tamarigan lawyer, but at least you won't be thrown back into jail; you have my mother and grandmother to thank for that. Believe me, she might be pint sized but no-one likes to cross the First Lady and in your case it helps when the First Lady is English and the President was raised in The States. The outcome of all this is that my father has advised that your fate be decided by a judge prior to further court proceedings. The judge will then give the Graftons legal authority to represent you, should you face a trial. It might take a few days to sort everything out and as you need a chaperone, I've been delegated to be your guard dog while I have a few days off from my studies at the University. So, apart from getting rid of that theatre gown and finding you some clothes, is there anything you would like me to do? I could show you round the palace if you like. It's a very old building with lots of nooks and crannies my brother and I used to play hide and seek in. This place you're in is just one of the many guest suites."
Emilio shook his head. There was only one thing he wanted to do. "I need to find my family. They live in the village below the villa."
"Pepe Torres can do that for you."
"No. Tony went there to try and find them but the people in the village won't talk to anyone but me. I have to go."
Jimmy frowned. "That might be difficult. The police won't like you going anywhere, and even then you would have to be escorted by a police officer and a government official. Pepe Torres would have to consent of course." He fell silent as he chewed over the problem in his mind, then he smiled and rose to his feet. "Leave it with me; I think I know how we can do this." He went back to the table and lifted the phone. "Ramon, is my father free? I need to talk to him. Have Estoban Delgado or Pepe Torres left the palace yet? Good. Find them and ask them to meet me in the President's office. Yes, it is important." Dropping the phone back on its cradle, Jimmy, waved a hand at Emilio and hurried to the door. He grinned as he opened the door. "Sometimes it helps being the favourite son."
A short while later, a servant came in carrying a neatly folded pile of clothes and some pairs of trainers, and invited Emilio to choose whatever he needed. "Senor James no longer wears these. Senora Monzanoz hopes they will fit." The man showed Emilio into an adjoining dressing room with a shower room attached. He discarded the gown and managed to clean himself up without soaking the dressings on his wrists too much. Feeling refreshed, he chose a pair of briefs, some jeans, a T-shirt, some socks, and a pair of trainers that fit, and went back into the bedroom to find Jimmy waiting for him.
Jimmy pointed to a thick set grey haired man in the uniform of a mountain ranger, standing at the table. "Meet my partner in crime, Estoban Delgado. You need a police escort and Pepe couldn't say no to Tamarigo's Chief of Mountain Rangers having the job."
Emilio and Delgado nodded to each other and the ranger tapped a sheet of paper on the table. "Let's make this little adventure legal, shall we? This is an affidavit you need to sign, agreeing to be a good boy and not run off the first chance you get. It saves my reputation as well."
Emilio bristled at the idea that he couldn't be trusted. "What if I don't sign it?"
"You don't go anywhere and I can go home to my wife."
"And who's the government official?"
Estoban pointed a finger at Jimmy. "He is, much to my regret."
Jimmy laughed. "Come on, Estoban, I haven't got you into to too many scrapes lately."
"Granted, but it's the scrapes you expect me to get you out of that I query. I just hope this isn't another one." He held out a pen to Emilio, and watched as Emilio read the document then signed it.
Curious villagers watched, as Jimmy stopped the Landrover in the centre of the sun-baked square, a mere flattened patch of earth in the middle of a huddle of cabanas and tumbledown shacks that clung to the mountainside.
George Sherbourne cast a wary eye round the place. "Are you sure to want to do this?"
Emilio shrugged his shoulders. "I have to." George stepped out of the vehicle with him, while their audience pointed to Jimmy and Estoban, excited at their village being visited by such illustrious people. They shuffled closer, smiling, all except a priest who stood on the steps of the ancient church set back off the square, and a man in a dirty white peon shirt and jeans, who stayed back. Jimmy waved to the children and they ran, laughing, up to the Landrover to talk to him and Estoban.
George followed Emilio as he pushed through the crowd and went to speak to the man. "Hello Uncle Julio. I'm your nephew, Emilio. I'd like to thank you for saving my life."
The man cast a quick look at George then looked at Emilio's bandaged wrists. He nodded and replied in hesitant English, "Please, we speak English, yes? I speak very good; your mother teach well. Your father, Guido, is my older brother. I knew you would come some time. Please to come with me?" He gestured towards a path which led from the square and down through the trees. It dropped steeply for several yards then passed round the front of a derelict wooden shed. The door was open and the man waved them inside. The smell of freshly planed wood and homemade glue filled the room and George watched Emilio sniff the aroma as if trying to remember something. Against the back wall, a simple closed boiler rested on the side of an open fire. A narrow hose fed steam into an enclosed oblong box and a crude exhaust pipe let the spent steam out through the wall. An array of carpenters tools and clamps hung from hooks on one of the other walls. Several guitars at various stages of construction also hung from hooks fixed to an overhead beam. On a bench in the centre of the dirt floor, wooden wedges and clamps held thin, steam-softened wood strips to the insides of a guitar-shaped mould.
Julio followed them inside and addressed himself to Emilio. "You arrive in village, a tiny boy. You live in this place with Guido and your mother. Is my place now. This, I do." He waved his hand at the work in progress. "And this…" he lifted a miniature guitar from a hook beside the door and handed it to Emilio, "I make for you your first guitar. You remember, yes?" Emilio plucked the strings and looked pleased that Julio had tuned it in readiness for his visit. George visualised Emilio as a young boy sitting in the sunshine trying to play his guitar while Julio taught him and realised at last where his talents had first blossomed.
Julio smiled down at his nephew. "When you little boy, I teach. Guido not like I teach but you play very good." Julio's face grew sombre. "Guido, very bad man. He drink. Beat you very much. Beat your mother, also. Make her lose bambinos. She pretty little woman but sick always. Guido, he work on big ships. Look after engines. Many weeks he stay away. Leave no money for food. His children go hungry. I tried to help but I have bambinos to feed too."
At this, Emilio looked at George. "Tony told me he gave me a job at the villa. Is this why?"
George nodded. "I guess so. He said you were a skinny, undernourished ten year old, eager to do any job to feed your family. He wanted to make sure you worked decent hours, not like some children in the area. He didn't condone unmonitored child labour but he said it was better than watching you starve." He shifted his gaze to Julio. "In my country, the youth employment laws are very strict. Tony thought if Emilio worked at the villa he could keep an eye on him, so he became his second houseboy. "
"And we lived here, in this one room?" Emilio wrinkled his nose in disgust. He dug the toe of his trainer in the dirt floor.
Julio nodded. "Two room. I take out wall, make bigger workplace."
"How many of us lived here?"
Julio counted to himself with the aid of his fingers. "Seven. Then bambino come and you run away. Seven."
Emilio frowned at him. "I ran away because of a baby?"
"No, no. Bad father. Also, villagers not like you."
Julio looked down and shifted his feet. He too had a frown on his face. "Something happen…make you…not same as other boys."
"Why? What happened?"
Julio turned away and waved his hands in the air. "No, I say too much."
Emilio went after him, determined to hear more. "All right, tell me about my mother. Where is she?"
Julio waved him away and walked into the depths of the shack and lapsed back into his own tongue. He drew the edge of his hand across his throat.
Emilio watched him stir the glue and lift the scoop to check the viscosity. The golden liquid dripped, like honey, back into the pot. Once Julio put down the scoop, Emilio grasped his arm and George waited by the workbench; his presence ignored while Emilio and his uncle swapped angry words in their native tongue. Then Emilio stared, open mouthed, at his uncle before marching towards the door. George grabbed him as he shot past, and spun him round. "Tell me what he said to you. I couldn't follow it all."
"She's gone," Emilio said, struggling to break free. "She abandoned me, and that fine saintly priest knows where she is."
"All right, we'll go and see this priest together. First I want to clarify something. It might be important." George risked letting him go and he stood in the doorway, ready to run while George gave his attention to Julio. "You said Emilio arrived here as a little boy. Are you saying he wasn't born here?"
"Not here," Julio said with a shake of his head. "Rita Gomez, she is English."
The old priest rose from his knees in front of the worn stone alter and turned to face Emilio as he and George walked between the rough-hewn benches. Another memory forced it's way to the surface and Emilio remembered life in a village without power or piped water - where homes and the church were built by hand with materials from the forest and the earth - where animals were bred for meat, milk and pelts, and chickens were reared for eggs and the cooking pot. This had been a village where people minded their own business, even to the segregation of foreigners. He remembered fights with other village children in an effort to protect his brothers and sisters, and the snubs his mother endured. Now he understood.
He noticed an improvised choir stall behind and to the left of the altar. He left George talking quietly with the priest and went to it. He sat down and stroked the seat on either side of him, the wood worn smooth by the posteriors of restless choirboys including his own. He could hear his high voice struggle to master a difficult part of a chant, and the priest gently chastising him. He looked at the rusted oil lamps suspended from the roof beams and remembered lowering them, lighting them then hauling on the ropes to raise them again. The small East window caught his attention and he noticed it needed cleaning and one of the coloured panes was missing.
"Do you still sing?" The priest's approach startled him back to the present. George sat on one of the benches and the priest stood by the choir. "You were one of my best pupils. Your clear little voice rose to the roof and beyond. I think you remember this place?"
"Yes I do, but that's not what I came for. I want to know why my mother abandoned me. You know, don't you?" He held his anger in check – thankful Tony had taught him how to control the wildcat inside him, but he could feel the snarl gather in his throat.
The priest shook his head. "Your mother did not abandon you. She thought you were dead." Emilio shot to his feet but the old man raised a warning hand and he sat down again. "A few months after you disappeared, a boy's body was found on a beach near the southern port of Dominique."
"How did you find out?"
"I go to San Margarita once a week, and I used a little of my time to look for you. A friend from Dominique told me about the body and I was permitted to see it. It had been in the water for some time, but I was sure it was you. I identified the body as yours and broke the news to your mother."
"Why didn't she identify the body herself?"
"She was very ill at the time."
"What was wrong with her?"
The priest shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not sure. She never seemed to recover from the birth of her last baby, always breathless. She could not afford a doctor. Guido did not make matters any better. I knew he was capable of brutality."
"You can say that again."
"I thought he might have been involved in your disappearance and death. I went to Pepe Torres and told him of my fears but I had no evidence to support my theories and there was little he could do. When I heard Guido was in jail, I urged your mother to take the family back to England before he was released."
"If my mother was poor, how did she pay for the journey?"
"I posted a letter for her, to someone in England. A few weeks later, a money order arrived. I cashed it for her and helped her buy tickets for passage on a ship, to a place called Liverpool."
"What about passports?"
"Senora Gomez had her own British passport. Yours and your eldest sister's names were on it. All Senora Gomez had to do was to obtain passports and visas for her younger children. She was so frightened of her husband, she was prepared to ignore her marriage vows and take her children away to safety. She made me promise never to reveal where she went. A vow of silence, which involves a whole village, is a rare thing these days. Julio Gomez initiated the vow and only he can break it, which he has now done. That is the only reason I am able to tell what I know. The vow I made was that I would remain silent till you came to ask me about your mother. You see, Emilio, I believe your mother never truly believed you were dead, but she had the other children to think of."
"Why didn't her neighbours help her?" Emilio asked.
The priest shook his head. "Your mother and you were foreigners and only tolerated because your father was born here."
The priest followed them out of the church, his lined face tight. "What will you tell him?"
Emilio exchanged glances with George before he replied. "If you're worried about possible retribution, don't be. Guido will never know what we have learned today, or from whom. He doesn't deserve to be told anything. He made it quite plain I'm not his son. That's fine by me."
They walked back to the car and found a lively game of football in progress with Jimmy and Estoban versus the children. Julio stood nearby, holding the small guitar and a larger one. He studied Emilio with a sombre expression. "You go now? I know Guido is not your papa, but I would still like to be your uncle. You see him, you spit in his face for me." He held out the small guitar. "You take your guitar, yes?" then he held out the larger one. "I give to you, this. The best I make. You play good music, yes?"
Emilio examined the beautiful instrument made out of Delbergia Negra with a neck of polished ebony. Tropical birds, made out of tiny pieces of seashell, decorated the sound hole. "This is your bread and meat. I'll pay you for it."
Julio shook his head and patted his chest. "I know in my heart you not dead, one day you come back. So I make it for you."
Emilio smiled, even though a lump in his throat threatened to choke him. "Thank you, Uncle. I'll treasure it always, and thank you once again for saving my life."
Julio nodded and waited till Emilio placed the instruments in the back of the Landrover then took his hand in a firm grip and slapped him on the back. "You come see Uncle Julio some time, maybe?"
"Sure." Emilio shook hands with him and got into the car. Jimmy and Estoban finally made it back to the car with the children hanging onto their arms and begging them to stay, and when Estoban drove the Landrover down the road, Julio stood and waved and the kids chased after them. Emilio stuck his arm out of the window and waved back till the man was out of sight and the kids halted their chase. Then he turned to George sitting beside him in the back seat. "Okay what happens now?"
"Nothing much till the Graftons see the judge tomorrow. What we can do is go up to the villa and pack your things. We have the commandant's permission, if that's okay with you Mr. Delgado."
"If the commandant has given his permission then that's what we'll do." Estoban took a left turn a few yards further on and they began climbing the steep trail towards the villa. The brilliant white villa appeared between breaks in the trees and, as Emilio gazed up at it through the open window on his left, he felt a sudden stab of fear. He just knew something was going to happen. He ducked his head, heard a rifle crack and felt a searing pain across the back of his head.
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