Spain, July 1970
She had caught the young woman’s eye the day
before. By the swimming pool. The
little boy was in a foul mood, still unsteady on
his feet and determined to defy his mother.
But it didn’t matter. She had already
decided. He was the one.
His mother’s smile was strained. ‘He’s
hungry. He’s always bad tempered when he’s
hungry. His brother’s just the same.’
‘We can all be a bit grumpy when we need to
eat.’ It was almost a defence, as if she was
empathising with him already. His mother
would remember the conversation for the rest of
her life. And always wonder.
It was midday then, and across a sun-burnished bay
the jumble of white, red-roofed buildings that
clustered around the church was reflected in
Now, just two hours after sunset, it was moonlight
that spilled across its mirrored surface, seen in
a backward glance from where the dark hills folded
one upon the other, before the Mediterranean
disappeared from view. Yesterday’s calm
anticipation had been replaced by fear verging on
panic. The blood, sticky and dark, was
everywhere. On her hands, on the steering
wheel. A careless moment, the razor- sharp
edge of a freshly cut fingernail. A sleepy
hand that grazed her cheek as it reached out to
grasp her neck.
From the darkened terrace she had seen his parents
in the light of the restaurant on the far side of
the pool. Wine and laughter. Her
whispered words of reassurance to the boy were
superfluous. He was asleep already, his
bloody panda left lying on the bedroom floor where
The road wound down in hairpin turns into the dark
of the pine forest, gnarled roots searching among
the stones of ancient terraces for a hold on the
world, their parasol canopies like clouds shading
them from a startling moon.
With the lights of Llança receding in her rearview
mirror, the route north made its tortuous way
around successive headlands, affording only
occasional glimpses of the sea. Then, below,
the floodlit railway junction at Portbou, massive
lifting gear straddling a confluence of
tracks. A change of gauge before crossing an
invisible line beyond which everything would
change. Language, culture. The
future. The past.
The French frontier stood at the end of a long
climb out of the town. It was the moment she
had feared most. There was no one on the
Spanish side. A light burned in the
customs post, but there was no sign of life.
The barrier was down at the French douane. A
sleepy immigration officer looked up from his desk
behind sliding glass as she drew to a halt.
She fumbled for her passport with bloody
fingers. What would she tell him? If
she showed him her card then he would remember her
for sure when the alarm was raised. But he
didn’t even look. He lifted the barrier and
waved her through. He would never see the
blood or her card, or register her face, or see
the baby boy asleep in a cot on the back seat.
She was through. It was done. Only the
future lay ahead.
Ninety minutes later she drove past the entrance
to the commando training fort on the hill, a
narrow road beneath twisting vines in brilliant
flower, mired still in the shadow of night, and
parked her car next to the little stone cottage
that sat on the edge of the cliffs. She was
home. And with child. And would spend
the next sixteen years raising a killer.