The Cup Bearer
Sunday 8th September 1995
When Sandy arrived at the Gomez house just after tea, Manuel greeted him at the front door with a happy smile. "Welcome home, Sandy. Peeling well, I see? Did you enjoy your two weeks in Spain?"
"It was lovely; thanks to the info you gave us." Sandy was aware of the din coming from upstairs. "We visited most of the places you told us about, and Mam wants to go back next year to see the rest of them. So where is our buddin' star then?"
Manuel pointed up the stairs. "Just follow the noise but be wary of frontal attacks."
Trotting up the stairs, Sandy made his way to Jose and Ramon's attic bedroom where shrieks of laughter and baby squeals warned of childish pandemonium. He knocked on the closed door and the laughter died. He put his ear to the door and heard the sounds of frantic scrambling then silence. Being used to Jose's tricks by now, Sandy knocked again and heard Lucia shout. "Come in come in, whoever you are."
Cautiously, Sandy opened the door and walked into a salvo of all sorts of missiles in the form of broken toys, including Grey Rabbit and thrown without apparent aim, from attackers hiding behind Ramon's bed. Most of them found their mark and Sandy suspected this salvo had been practised to catch anyone coming into the room. He managed to ward off most of them and when the assault was over he crept over to the bed and looked round the end of it. First he saw Gypsy's jeans clad backside as he crouched behind it with Jose, Ramon and Lucia. All four were sandwiched between the bed and the wall, trying not to make a sound but finding it increasingly impossible as Lucia began to giggle.
"Oh yes? This is the way you treat your friends, is it?"
Gypsy jerked up, grinning as the other three children scrambled to their feet. "Sorry, we thought you were my dad. When did you get back?"
"About an 'our ago." Sandy managed to say before the two younger boys charged him, sending him flying. He made a show of collapsing on the floor and the boys landed on top of him. He let them have the upper hand for a minute before throwing them off, and found Lucia ready to pounce. While he permitted the tot to bounce all over him he noticed a difference in his friend. There was a new sparkle in his eyes and his grin was wide, making his scars stand out, but it seemed as if he didn't care about them anymore.
Lucia caught his attention with a sharp dig to the ribs. "Will you play my new game with me Sandy?"
"Will it 'urt?" Sandy knew that Lucia's new games always contained some sort of pain.
"No." Climbing off him, Lucia retrieved Grey Rabbit and putting his snout to her ear she shouted, "Grey Rabbit says - dog!" Immediately her three brothers went on all fours and bounded around the room barking and yapping. Gypsy grabbed hold of Grey Rabbit with his teeth and shook it vigorously and growled at it till Lucia snatched it off him. Then Lucia yelled, "Grey Rabbit says, ummm, cats!" The dogs changed into cats and Ramon even purred as he rubbed himself against Sandy.
Several animals later Gypsy told Sandy off for not joining in and whispered, "We're teaching Luce the names of animals, and it gives us a bit of fun in the process. Watch out for Lucia's forfeits if you get it wrong, she's lethal."
"If I get what wrong?" Sandy saw his point when Gypsy winked and deliberately mimicked a sheep when Lucia had said 'monkey'. Lucia was on his back in a second, with a stick in her hand, which she used to good effect on his rear end. Gypsy crawled around the room on elbows and knees. "Faster, horsy, you're going too slow." It was only when Perquita came in to say it was Lucia's bedtime that the games came to an end, and Gypsy and Sandy escaped to the ground floor bedroom. Once there, Gypsy wilted like a deflated balloon and Sandy wondered if the upstairs antics were just a charade to keep the family from knowing how his really felt. He waited till Sandy was sitting in the only easy chair in the room, and then sat cross-legged on his bed.
"How did your holiday go?"
"Great, man! All that sun an' sand, you would 'ave loved it."
"I guess I would. Do you know, you've seen the land of my ancestors before I have? I can see you've had too much sun, your face looks like a patchwork quilt."
"Yeah, I know. I didn't use the right strength of sun block, but never mind. I'll survive. 'Ow are you doin' in school?"
"I only went on Monday, and it was pretty awful; I haven't been back since. I've been…umm…I've been ill. Hell, you might as well know; Don's not here anymore."
So that was it! "Where's 'e gone then?"
"Back to The States, I think. Dad's looking for a new minder for us."
"Well I 'ope that won't stop you comin' with Trish and me next Saturday?"
"It depends where you're going."
"Blackpool to see the lights. A gang of us from school go every year; we spend the afternoon at the Pleasure Beach then go to one of the shows before the bus takes us along the prom to see the lights."
"'Aven't you ever 'eard of the Blackpool Illuminations then? They're world famous, man. I wasn't goin' to go this year but Trish persuaded me at the last minute and we managed to get the last three tickets."
"That was a bit premature wasn't it?"
"You're comin' with us and that's it, man"
"Am I, now?"
"Come on, it'll cheer you up."
"Can I think about it?"
"No you can't, you're comin' and that's that. Just think of it, a coach-load of females just waitin' to get Gypsy Diaz on the back seat. No kids on this one I'm afraid or you could have brought your family."
"You did say Blackpool, didn't you?"
"That's right, why? Oh, of course! Shana's from there isn't she?"
"Don't get any ideas about match making, big boy. I don't even know where she lives."
"Never mind, you'll 'ave too much company on the couch to worry about Shana."
"I'd swap Shana for a full coach full of giggling girls any day."
Mr. Diaz, is it?" The man who stood on the doorstep had the same accent as Sandy. Oh no, not another one! Manuel chuckled as he accepted the business card the man held out. "Somethin' wrong is there?" The man's round face filled with apprehension.
"No, certainly not." Manuel stood back to let him into the hall. "Please excuse my rudeness, Mr. Davies. It's just that we already have someone in our extended family who comes from South Wales; I recognised the accent. Thanks for coming so soon."
"The name's Barry, sir. I don't smoke, I drink very little, and I'm single; widowed actually." The newcomer scanned the hall with alert eyes. "Sorry I'm so late. I missed the connection from Crew. Due to unforeseen circumstance, British Rail calls it." Manuel gave him a quick scrutiny. He was much shorter than Don but had the same solid muscle. Dressed in casual trousers and lightweight jacket, he carried a parka over one arm. He was thick necked and if he was a little overweight he certainly didn't carry it round his middle. He moved easily and didn't have to work at keeping his stomach in, but it wasn't his physique that made Manuel decide Edward had found the right man to take Don's place. It was his open, friendly face and twinkling eyes. Manuel had already received his resume from Edward and had been impressed with it. The thirty-year old ex-policeman worked as a private detective for a law firm in Swansea that was due to close next week. Rudkin knew him from when the Swansea police had requested assistance from the Cheshire Police Force, and the DI immediately contacted Edward who had run a check on him and given him ten out of ten.
"Has Mr. Grafton informed you of the circumstances regarding your employment here?"
"Yes, sir, he has. A bad do all round."
"Please, call me Manuel. I hope you like children."
"I 'ave two of my own. Stevie's three years old and Rhiann's eight. My wife died a year ago and they're livin' with my parents at the moment."
"Well, there are six to cope with here, seven if you include Gypsy's Cardiff friend. He's here as much as he is at home. Then there is the band."
"So I 'eard; quite a household, eh! I used to 'elp run a youth club for young offenders in Swansea, so I think I can cope. Now, when can I meet this son of yours?"
"Now, if you like." Manuel knocked on Gypsy's door and popped his head in the room. "Gypsy, there is someone I'd like you to meet, can you spare a minute? You too, Sandy."
Manuel stood back and let the boys come out into the hall. A look of suspicion filled his son's face, he still didn't like meeting strangers, but Manuel had the feeling he was going to like this man, and he went through the introductions. As soon as Sandy was introduced, Barry started speaking Welsh to him. Sandy's mouth dropped open and as they pumped hands vigorously. A short conversation ensued and Sandy turned to Manuel and Gypsy. "Sorry for the bad manners, speakin' in Welsh like. Barry played Rugby with my cousins when 'e was younger, and 'e thinks 'e boxed with my uncle Ieuan. 'Ow's that for a coincidence?"
Manuel nodded to Barry. "It looks like you'll be quite at home here, Barry. Do you have anywhere to live yet?" Manuel asked.
"Not yet, I've booked into a B and B for tonight and I've got a list of addresses to look at. I'll do that tomorrow."
"There's no need," Gypsy said quietly. "There's a room at the top of the house you can use till I sort the sleeping arrangements out, that's if you'll take the job." To Manuel, that signified Gypsy's acceptance of his new minder. The young man was clean-shaven and smelled faintly of Cologne, a far cry from the supposed minder who took Don's place earlier on. Gypsy didn't let just anyone move into eight Visick Street.
Barry smiled. "Yes, I'd like that, thank you."
"I take it you have no car of your own?" Manuel commented. "I'll take you to your room to collect you gear. You'll be driving Gypsy's Volvo so you won't be without wheels."
Barry's smile widened. "This job's gettin' better by the minute. Thanks."
"Don't speak too soon, you haven't met the rest of the family yet," Gypsy said. "You might change your mind." He shouted up the stairs. "Kid's, come down here and meet our new minder."
The response was the sound of pounding feet from the top landing where Manuel guessed the two boys had been spying on the new arrival. Already in their pyjamas, they flew down the stairs with grins on their faces. Barry grinned back at them and was soon chatting to them about their interests. Then the ladies of the house came downstairs more sedately than the boys. Perquita introduced herself, then Maria who smiled shyly. Then the boss of the house made her entrance and Barry's face lit up as she came down the stairs dressed in her bunny suit and dragging Grey Rabbit with her.
"You little madam!" Perquita chastised her. "You're supposed to be in bed."
Lucia stopped halfway down the stairs and stuck out her bottom lip. Barry saved the day by trotting up the stairs and addressing Lucia in a very formal manner. "Good evenin', Miss Gomez, my name is Barry and I'm goin' to be lookin' after your big brother. I'll look after you too if you want me to." He sat down beside her and stroked Grey Rabbit's ears. "'Ello? Who's this, then?" Lucia thrust the toy at him and told him all about him talking to her. Barry made a pretence of listening to the rabbit and let his eyes grow wide. "Wow! I can 'ear him too! You know what 'e's sayin'? 'E says I ought to 'elp your sister to carry you up to bed; would you like that? Grey Rabbit says 'e doesn't mind if you don't."
A very prudent man, Manuel thought, as he watched Lucia hold up her arms to Barry. Perquita followed them up the stairs while Manuel turned to Gypsy and found him frowning at the little scene. Manuel said, "Miss Bossy Boots is a canny little lady. If she trusts him, we should. I think he'll fit in here well enough."
Gypsy nodded but his brow was still puckered. He turned to Sandy. "What do you know about him?"
Sandy shrugged his shoulders. "Only what my cousins 'ave told me; 'e's well known in rugby circles. Policeman and all that, you know?"
Turning back to his father Gypsy asked, "What does Edward think?"
"He's satisfied the man is clean."
"He said that about the last one."
Manuel tried to smooth ruffled feathers. "Let's give him a month's trial."
"A week," Gypsy replied shortly, and Manuel had to agree, although Lucia would soon sound the warning bell if Barry was anything but safe to be with.
They waited for Perquita and Barry to come downstairs and when they did, Perquita was very quiet and looked rather hot and bothered. Barry had a quiet smile on his face. "That young lady is goin' have a personal slave if I'm not careful."
"Hey! That's my job," Sandy said with mock severity, "but you can 'ave it if you want it."
"Not according to Lucia," Barry joked, "she's claimed us both."
Gypsy wasn't listening; he was watching Perquita as she preceded them into the kitchen, her eyes flicking to Barry again and again. Manuel glanced towards Maria as they all sat round the table. She rolled her eyes in mock despair, and he had to turn away so that Perquita didn't see a laugh begin to pull at his mouth. Gypsy was not smiling. To be fair, his son had a long way to go before accepting anyone so quickly.
"It looks like someone's havin' an 'ard time decoratin' your 'all." Barry remarked as he sniffed the coffee pot appreciatively.
"It's a joint Gomez -Diaz effort." Jose said defensively.
"Well," Barry gazed up at Perquita, "'ow about makin' it a joint Gomez-Diaz-Davies effort instead? I'm a bit of a dab 'and at the old DIY." He looked directly at Gypsy and added prudently, "that's if you don't mind."
Gypsy returned his gaze for a moment then shrugged his shoulders. "Fine by me; are you any good at mechanics?"
"Well, far be it for us Welshmen to boast about our talents," this brought a guffaw of amusement from Sandy, "but I did 'elp rebuild a Chrysler Avenger '79, a few years ago." He winked at Sandy.
"So it was you!" Sandy chuckled, "I thought it might be. That car was my granddad's old banger."
"Really?" Barry smiled. "Pity I didn't 'ave time to fix the 'eater. 'Ow is your Granddad?"
"Doin' all right for a ninety year old. Still goes to Cardiff Arms Park and shouts 'imself 'oarse on Saturdays."
Manuel gazed at Perquita as she poured the coffee and handed the first cup to Barry with a smile that said a lot. Manuel began to wonder. From the look Gypsy gave him, he realised his son was finally thinking the same thing.
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