Songs of Bliss
brandy. The conversation drifts to stories of home, Tirana, Vlore, dreams of fishing boats
and fat, fecund wives. The travelling world is full of stories of home, stories of darling little
girls ripped from the bosom of beauty. Alex bids them have a good night and, spotting no
more likely targets, picks up his bag and heads for the door.
He is followed. Alex knows that he is being followed. The tail is good but not good
enough. In fact, thinks Alex, oddly not good enough, as though his shadower is trying too
hard not to be spotted. Alex has flown to Spain and he is relatively unarmed, carrying only
a knife borrowed from one of the airport canteens, which makes it a difficult but not an
impossible situation. He heads for the Factoria. There are no cars on the road, no mopeds,
nothing but the lights along the Paseo. Alex is in no mood to play games. He is tired and
frustrated. He turns to face the following footsteps. It takes Alex a second to recognise the
face of the second Russian. He was expecting one of the green-eyed boys from the table in
the far corner of the bar. The Russian sailor beckons Alex into a doorway beyond the dim
"You have more money?"
Alex nods slowly but he doesn't reach for his jacket pocket. "Depends on what
you've got to say".
The Russian considers this for a moment and then shrugs his shoulders. He
whispers in good English, "This face, I saw it. We are held up here by another ship. Kozlov
line. Some problem with engine. This face, he was on board. Paid big dollars to one of her
officers, a stupid Ukrainian boy who fancied himself and had a big mouth. The man in the
picture sailed on that boat. He left some days ago, maybe two weeks, for England."
Alex can feel his heart rate quickening. The man has yet to give him any detail that
can be corroborated, but the smell of Jasari is suddenly in the air, in his nostrils. Alex needs
facts. "Yes, that's good, but how, where did you see him, what was the ship?s name, where
was it heading?"
The Russian looks at Alex and then at his jacket pocket. "I give you information.
You want more you pay".
Cold, hard cash. It is what it all boils down to every single time. Alex feeds the man
one more bill and holds another four in his hand. "So?"
"I say, Kozlov line. Valentin. I know this man is on board. I saw him one night in
the ship?s mess. We went over to play cards, to take this Ukrainian boy?s money. Your man
was sitting quietly in a corner reading a book. I?m sure it was him. The Valentin goes to
Bideford, Devon and then on to Lovissa, Finland"
A grand. Ten big ones. The world turns on every black and white, Bogart cliché and
every one of those old, worn out phrases is worth the breathe and billfold. Alex has a
destination, somewhere to aim for, a target upon which he can train his sights. He is on his
way, walking the empty streets of Castellon de la Plana with a spring in his step. A taxi. A
train. A flight to Paris and the Eurostar. How long, he wonders, does it take to sail from
Castellon to England? He forgot to ask.
Alex makes a call on his mobile, long distance, roaming the night?s dusty airwaves