A vulture soared on a thermal and it looked like an airborne wrestler. Below it, hills lay covered in olive groves and a reservoir glinted in the distance. The coast wasn't far away, and popular holiday resorts stood by sandy beaches. The vulture glided on and noticed something far below. A young woman lay on her back, close to a roadside pine tree. Her eyes stared upwards but saw nothing. There were bruises on her neck. She had been strangled. Her body had been hidden in some bushes but then rolled down a slope and into the open. The bird circled, then a car pulled up by the corpse and its driver scarmbled out. Broad wings carried the raptor away in search of easier pickings.
In one of the coastal towns, another young woman sat in her living room. She was packing a soccer kit for she played as a hobby. A televison sat in one corner. Her mother looked up from ironing and said "Inka, mind how you go this time, Don't go fouling anyone else."
"I didn't foul anybody last week," the daughter retorted. "I've got to make physical contact sometime. All that matters is winning."
"At any cost? Do people really respect you, or are they too scared to crticise you?"
Mun shot Inka a look and the girl grew tense, knowing what was coming.
"If your Dad could see you now..."
Mum started a rebuke but something on T.V. made her stop. On the sofa, Inka shifted her position for a better look.
A newscaster announced "the body of a young woman has been found near a road in the hills. The police say that she was mudered. They are appealing for witnesses."
Inka and her mother exchanged glances. Their annoyance died away. Neither knew of any missing friends or relatives but the thought of violence close to home was still unsettling. Inka thought "if I... no, when I qualify I could be working on trials for murder. Is it exciting or harrowing? Maybe its both at different stages." She resumed her packing. Blinds on windows blocked hot Spanish sunshine.
It was established that the victim was British. Her name was Alison Hall and she was an art student who worked behind a Spanish bar during her summer holidays. Days passed and the police made little progress in hunting her killer. Overnight rain had washed the murderer's DNA away.
Soon after that, Inka attended a training session for her team. One of her teammates suffered a minor injury and, as a result, they finished later than planned. Inka saw daylight fading and grew impatient, and a little worried. Their car was undergoing minor repairs at a local garage. Inka set off for home on foot. She walked down a road so steep that steps had been made in the pavement. Dusk was falling. Shop doorways lay in darkness. Garish neon glowed in the distance. She turned off the shopping street and onto a road that seemed to be empty of pedestrians.
Inka heard footfalls behind her. She glanced back and saw a young man in shorts and a T-shirt. She looked ahead and carried on. A cat passed through a pool of streetlight and trotted over the road. Footsteps behind Inka grew louder. She felt cold persperation on her hairline and her pulse quickened.
"Don't be stupid," she told herself silently. "There must be hundreds of young men in this town and only one is a murderer."
Even so she quickened her pace, hurrying past whitewshed houses with balconies. She glanced up, hoping someone would be out on a balcony, but no one else could be seen. She looked over her shoulder. That man wasn't right behind her, but nor had he gone away.
Inka reached a crossroads. A tinkling fountain occupied a roundabout. This was decorated with an abstract sculpture, like a sketch made of steel. The young woman turned right and came to a palm tree. She hid behind its trunk and felt rough bark on her flesh. She held her breath and listened. That night was mild but fear chilled her to the bone. She held her kit bag like a child clutching a favourite toy.
A car drove past, drowning sounds of footsteps. The noise died away. Inka listened but heard nothing. Then laughter reached her ears and it was a female voice. Two other women walked round a corner, evidently drunk, one stumbling and the other giggling at her. Inka emerged from behind chocolate coloured bark. That man was nowhere in sight. Inka let out a deep breath; she felt relieved but also embarrassed. She resumed the walk home. Those other women hardly noticed her. One of them smoked a cigarette and it smelt of cannabis.
Inka arrived at the small apartment she and her mother shared. At first Inka tried to cover her emotions, but Mum saw through that and asked what was wrong. As her daughter recounted her fright, Mum's face showed concern and then sympathy. The women hugged each other by the light from a table lamp. Mum kissed her daughter on the forehead. Inka stayed seated while Mum made drinks for them.
As they lay back on their sofa Mum said "the police came on T.V. while you were out. They're going to stage a reconstruction of Alison's last known movements."
"They want to jog the witnesses' memories," Inka deduced.
"Yes, and they're appealing for someone to play Alison. There are women on the force but they're the wrong age for it so they asked members of the public to come forward."
Inka paused, flavours of coffee loitering on her tongue. Then she asked "do you think I could do it?"
"Well it wouldn't hurt to try."
The next day Inka took herself to a local police station. She put herself forward to lead their reconstruction. Next she was interviewed and asked to act out serving drinks. She had worked behind a bar the previous summer and so did well. The officers had several women to choose from, and so she had to go home and wait to hear if she had been selected. Then she recieved a phone call, from the police.
A few days later, Inka walked into a bar. It had three walls but the fourth side was open and faced onto the beach. It looked like a petrified tent. It was full of tourists, many of whom were young and British. There were also several police officers in there, and journalists from a local news service. The police reconstruction was about to begin, and Inka was to stand in for Alison Hall. Like her Inka wore the staff uniform, a black T-shirt with a white dolphin on the chest, and dark trousers. Her spine tingled and the contents of her stomach turned over with nerves. Then she calmed herself and took her place behind the counter. Her mother gave her a reassuring smile, then retreated into the background. Outside, the setting sun turned a cloud the colour of custard.
The sun went down. Inka served a group of Englishmen. Hot air vibrated with popular music. She noticed a police constable standing near the counter. He looked young, maybe her age or just a few years older. Their eyes met, then he averted his. Inka surveyed the crowd and saw an older officer glaring at that youngster. His expression said "keep your mind on the job." Inka took payment from a customer. Coloured lights whirled around the walls like demented fireflies. Abba's hit 'Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie' pounded in their ears, loud enough to make an older officer wince.
Hours later it was time for Inka to leave, as Alison had. She left the bar and walked over pink and yellow paving stones. They reminded her of Battenburg cake. The beach lay close by and was dotted with thatched huts. The young constable walked beside her while his colleagues and the reporters followed closely. Loud music had made it difficult to talk, but now that was fading. Inka turned to her escort and spoke to him.
"How is it going constable? I'm sorry we havn't been introduced."
"Zurbaran, Luisto Zurbaran. You must be Inka Romero." He smiled at her, then replied "its a bit early to say, but in my opinion you're playing the role well." He hesitated, trying to think what to say. Then he asked "how are your parents?"
"Mum's walking behind us with your inspector. Dad's no longer with us, he was killed in a hit and run." A knot formed in her stomach as she said this.
"I-I'm sorry to hear that. Did they catch the culpret?"
They stepped aside to avoid a blundering drunk. Luisto said "my mother's father died recently, of cancer. I miss him. It was he who inspired me to join the force. He was one of the best."
Inka detected a little envy in his tone. She wondered if being related to a high flyer put pressure on him to measure up.
Another drunken reveller staggered by, then collapsed on fine grained sand. Inka turned and knelt beside her, then asked "are you all right? Can I help you?" She laid a hand on the other woman's shoulder.
The inspector came up and said, gently but firmly, "one of my men can deal with her, you've got to complete the reconstruction."
"Yes of course sir," Inka replied. She resumed walking, past low walls of hotel gardens. "Why did I do that?" she asked herself silently. "Its not like me, but Dad would've done it. Is it because I was thinking of him?" The smell of salt, carried on a sea breeze, brought memories of happy times with him. They had often gone to the shore and watched migrating birds together.
A shout broke into her daydream.
"Zurbaran, come and take notes! What would your grandad say, seeing you distracted like that?"
Blushing, Luisto hurried over to a low wall. Two men sat on it, each with a can of beer. The inspector stood beside them. They explained that they had seen Alison walk by, on her final night, and that she had met a man just around a street corner, The route in question lead uphill and into the town. They gave a description and the constable took notes.
"That guy had a red motorbike," said one witness. "I wish I had one like that."
Luisto asked "can you describe it please?"
The witnesses could and they did. As Inka looked on, she was reminded of her mother's rebuke to her, "if your Dad could see you now."
In the present Mum came up and squeezed her hand, then said "it sounds hopeful doesn't it."
Inka nodded in agreement. She yearned to reassure Luisto, but now was not the time.
Soon afterwards the reconstruction came to an end. The inspector thnaked Inka, his officers and the journalists. Smart reporters interviewed him under a street lamp. Inka sighed with relief that it was over. She heard waves beating on wet sand. She looked around for Luisto but he was beside his boss, hemmed in by colleagues, and there was no chance of speaking to him.
Mum said "darling you look worn out. Its time you came home." Her daughter was indeed too tired to argue.
Two days passed by. Inka sat at home reading a book about birds. It had been her father's. She hadn't been able to look at it since his death, but now it gave her pleasure again. She recalled walks in limestone hills near their home. Here the lynx prowled fragrent pine woods, like a star on legs. Dad had shown her its scratching posts. If - no, when - the killer was caught Inka would go back there.
She heard the doorbell so went and answered it. Luisto was there, in his dress uniform, looking tense.
"Hello Inka," he said, "may I come in?"
"Yes of course," she replied, feeling taken aback. They entered the sitting room and sat down by the C.D. rack.
"We've arrested a man for the murder of Alison Hall," Luisto announced. "It was thanks to your reconstruction that we tracked him down, so I thought you should hear it from us, not from T.V. or a newspaper."
"Thank you for coming, that's a weight lifted from my mind."
"Alison Hall got involved with a drug pusher," the constable explained. "He was a British disc jockey in a nightclub. His name is Joe Barrymore. At first it was nothing major and they passed under our radar. Then Barrymore targeted younger people, local teenagers still at school. Alison started feeling guilty about this. They met up that fateful night, and she told him she wanted to stop. He would't let her so they had a violent confrontation, and it ended with his hands round her neck. He broke down and confessed to us."
Inka remembered watching Alison's parents on television. The mother had collapsed like a rag doll and father had grabbed her before she hit the floor. The man then started crying like a baby and trembled from head to foot. Inka felt sick thinking about it.
Luisto winced and laid big hands on his right shin.
Inka asked "are you all right sir?"
"Call me Luisto. I'll be fine. When we arrested Barrymore he tried to run, but I threw myself onto his back. He kicked me on the shin and tried to break free, but I held on. Then two of my colleagues piled onto him and we brought him down."
"Well done, you were all very brave."
"I was only doing my job."
They were silent for a moment. He fidgited with his tie. Sounds of a plane drifted in. The C.D. rack smelt of polish. Then Inka spoke.
"Constable, I mean Luisto, you didn't have to dress like that to tell me you've arrested your suspect. Why have you come?"
"Inka, I-I like you. Well I more than like you. I know a good restraunt, 'The Swordfish,' perhaps you've been there before. Would you like to go for a meal there with me?"
Inka thought "by the look on your face you found it easier to chase a criminal." She briefly faked indifference and his muscles went rigid. Then she smiled and said "yes, I'd like that."