The old Catalan town of Roses was silent. An echo of light footsteps could be heard vanishing into
the distance. As those sounds trailed away, a regular beat became louder and more purposeful. It
was the resounding steps of more than one person, marching in unison. The definition of those,
created fear in whoever heard them. They were familiar and unwanted.
Six Guardia Civil police appeared in the night-filled street. They arrived at one of the townhouses,
with its old wooden door and closed wooden shutters. It looked deserted from the outside. One of
the policemen took his gun and struck the door with a number of resounding blows. As the
aggressive knocks died away the scurry of footsteps inside could be heard, alongside low fearful
whispers. The door creaked as it slowly opened and a woman peered out into the dimly lit street.
“Felipe Ramirez,” said one of the officers. The woman, with terror in her eyes, tried to block the
door but the men pushed her to one side, unceremoniously knocking her down in the hallway as
they barged their way into the house.
When they reappeared back in the hall they were dragging a young boy and he was clearly only a
boy. Just seventeen years of age. Tears of terror were already streaming down his fresh, innocent
The mother, having struggled to her feet, started to scream in Spanish “Please don’t take my son,
he’s a good boy, he has done nothing.”
“Felipe Ramirez you are under arrest. You know why?”
“Please no!” shouted the hysterical mother.
“Get out of our way bitch,” said one of the policemen, and he slapped her viciously across her face.
She reeled again.
“Mama!” screamed the boy. But by now he was being dragged outside and half pushed and half
kicked down the street.
Shutters were opened just enough for the occupants to see what was going on, then, on realizing
what was happening, they were firmly shut again.
The woman cried out from the doorway, but the marching steps became fainter and fainter and
eventually were lost in the night……..
Two days later the mother could be seen walking up that same street, with her husband, carrying the
bloodstained body of their young son, now wrapped in a sheet. Blood oozed and dripped from every
part of his body. Felipe Ramirez was now unrecognizable, beaten to a bloody pulp. All that remained was raw fles off every centimeter of his young fragile body. Another victim amongst the many to be
found in these Catalan streets. The year was 1949.
William Hale sank into the seat of his yellow taxi cab, with a huge sigh of relief. The year was
1958, business was booming and relaxation was a luxury which he seldom enjoyed. He was on his
way to New York’s Idlewild International Airport, to catch a plane to Paris France, he was really
looking forward to seeing his sister Madeleine who lived there with her family.
At twenty-seven years of age, Will had already achieved a great deal. He couldn’t complain, life had
been good to him. He was, he knew, very talented. He’d left Northwestern University in Evanston,
Illinois, finding a job in journalism almost immediately and in no time he had made quite an
impression on his bosses. He had a resilient nature, nothing fazed him, he could always get a foot in
the door and produce articles that people wanted to read. He was a risk-taker, which generally paid
off. He now worked in San Francisco, but his head office was here in New York.
He was reasonably tall with dark wavy hair and a face that bore strong and determined features. Of
course, he was completely unaware of how attractive he was to women. Work was incredibly
important to him and most of the time he was so engrossed that he found few spare moments for
social frivolities, which he knew he needed to address if he was going to make the right life
He had recently made the momentous decision to end his two-year relationship with his
girlfriend Jenny Malone, who worked at the famous ‘Emporium’ department store in San Francisco.
She had struggled hard to get to the position of buyer, but he had realized that though he liked her a
lot, they were not looking for the same things in life. She wanted a career and he knew that with the
right girl he was ready to start a family. It would not be easy, as he was never attracted to the typical
girls who just wanted to be housewives, he needed intellect as well.
He hadn’t been surprised when Frank Dexter, his editor and boss in New York, had called him into
the office the day before his flight. He had told Frank about his trip to France to see his sister, which
was a long overdue vacation.
Frank had suggested that they meet and Will was pleased to have the chance to touch base with him
as there were always issues to discuss regarding the office in San Francisco. They were a leader of
the famous ‘penny press’, which enabled working people to read and enjoy their stories. It was this
genre that was leading Frank in the new direction he was so enthusiastic about. He believed in the
numbers game, papers priced to sell to the masses, not an elitist few.
Frank’s Secretary, Phyllis, welcomed him on his arrival, ushering him to take a seat, she called
Frank who came out smiling broadly “Will my boy come in, we need to talk.” He sounded serious,
Will was intrigued. Phyllis came back with two coffees for them and then left them to chat.
Frank leaned forward across the desk. “I have a question to ask you, but I do appreciate that this trip
to France is for a well-earned vacation and believe me I sure don't want to spoil it.” Frank stood up
and walked around closer to Will. He sat on the edge of the desk and faced Will head on. “The
owners of the paper have been approached recently by a Spanish friend of theirs, who now lives
here in New York. The man's brother recently escaped over the border to France.” Taking a deep
breath he continued. “I gather that there is some serious trouble going on in Spain, General Franco,
their leader, appears to be a devious guy. Apparently as far as visitors and tourists are concerned,
life there seems quite normal, but our contact has told our guys some pretty grotesque stories of
serious tyranny taking place right now. He has a relative there in the north of Spain who may be a
good contact.” He walked back to his chair.” You probably can see where this is going?”
Will leaned back in his chair, surprised by this information. “So you need me to go over there soon,
you think it's urgent?” Franks took on a serious look, he nodded, “Yeah, the sooner the better I
think. Would your sister be too disappointed if you headed to Spain before spending time with her?”
“Well, I can't say she won't be disappointed, but I reckon she’d understand, I’d go there first for a
few days just to touch base, then I could go on.” A feeling of excitement was already building up in
Will’s belly, he recognized that sensation, which always happened when the prospect a good story
was on the horizon. This sounded like a greater challenge than he’d had in the past. He could make
quite a name for himself with an opportunity like this.
A look of happy satisfaction crossed Frank’s face, he couldn't hide his own excitement at the
prospect of Will’s new assignment. “I knew it my boy, I didn’t think you’d want to pass this one by.
Having a journalist on the doorstep is a lucky coincidence, especially when that journalist is you.
I’ve a call booked with an old friend Garry Thorne. He is American, but is currently editor of the
Times newspaper in London. I don’t want to give him too much information but I’d like to find out
if he’s heard any rumors.” Will had considered the conversation all evening, Frank was right it was
a golden opportunity.....
The New York traffic was, as usual, a frantic and noisy affair, as vehicles fought their way through
the congestion to reach their numerous destinations. His yellow cab had an easier time than private
cars, as the driver knew the best way to avoid some of the worst areas, slipping through the mad
myriad of vehicles during one of the busiest times of the day. Will’s flight was scheduled to depart
at eleven-thirty in the morning so he’d started his day early to make sure that he’d left himself
plenty of time.
Unfortunately, his rather morose cabby left a bit to be desired, hardly acknowledging that he was
carrying a passenger at all. Will felt relieved when he finally reached the airport, then dragging his
bulky bags from the cab, he begrudgingly paid the miserable man. Seeking out a trolley, he loaded
his luggage and made his way to the check-in desk, then on to the departure gate.
His Pan Am flight to France was called, so grabbing his travel bag, he made his way towards the
aircraft. Walking across the tarmac with his fellow passengers, he climbed the steps into the plane
and smiled at the attractive air hostess who welcomed them at the door, from there he was ushered
to his seat. Stretching back he let out a gentle sigh of contentment and settled down for the long
journey to Paris.
Will settled himself down and was pleased that he’d been allocated a window seat. Even flying
from San Francisco to New York he always took pleasure in the take-off, as well as a chance to
enjoy the good views from above. This was to be his first transatlantic flight, he was looking
forward to visiting France and Spain, it was an adventure he badly needed.
He altered his watch, knowing he was going to lose six hours, then lighting up a cigarette, he
opened his book, one of the series ‘The way some people live,’ by the reputed writer John Cheever -
often regarded as the Chekhov of the suburbs. This book was currently receiving mixed reviews and
Will was interested to understand why. In general, he appreciated this author’s work, particularly
the complexity of his characters and the disparity between their attractive, outward appearances and
their often corrupt, inner qualities.
He knew he'd have to endure a short stop-off at Shannon in Ireland for refueling, but he was now
feeling far more relaxed and the comfortable spacious Pan Am seating made that easy. He was
already thoroughly enjoying the attention from the sophisticated flight attendants.
Will was quite glad that now he had time to think. The last year had been a tough one after the death
of his mother, a sudden death, when she suffered a heart attack that came as a a complete shock to
the family. He'd tried to concentrate on work but had found it hard to stay as focused as usual.
His sister Madeleine, who was five years his senior, had flown over for the funeral. Seeing her
again had made Will realize how much he was missing his older sibling. Maddy had been a ballet
dancer, she had performed with the New York City Ballet, but had always wanted to live in France.
Once there, she had joined the ‘Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon’ in the lovely French town of the same
name, and thrown herself into her dance. She met her husband Jean-Luc who was a photographer,
when he was taking pictures of her dance company in Paris, where their romance had then
blossomed. Maddy loved her career, but Jean-Luc worked his magic, they married and settled in the
country not far from Clermont Ferrand.
From time to time Jean-Luc made the odd trip to Paris on business. He had become very well
known and prestigious organizations liked to commission him, though generally, he managed to
find enough work locally to create sufficient income. He had his own studio and darkroom in a side
building that had previously been used as a stable.
Madeleine set up a small dance school in the village where she taught ballet and tap dance to local
children. The French language had come easily to her as it was used in the ballet world anyway. She
and Jean-Luc spoke French together but cleverly, she had made a point of speaking to her own
children in her native tongue and sometimes even her young students chatted with her in English.
She was now an integral part of the local community and not regarded as the strange American
she’d once been.
When she returned to the States for her mother's funeral, it was obvious that she would not be
staying for long, France was now her home. They had two gorgeous little girls, Angelique who was
six and Odette who was four. William had seen their photographs, but this was the first time he
would meet them and he was looking forward to being an uncle in the flesh.
Sitting in the seat to his right was a rather plump but cheerful lady with her gaunt, gray-faced
husband. Will noticed how different they were and wondered what had attracted them to each other
in the first place. The writer in him always asked these kinds of questions and inevitably he found
himself analyzing strangers. She smiled at him and offered him some gum for the take-off.
“It works well for take-off and landing, I find when I go up and down my ears pop,” she grinned,
“I'm told particularly when we land, I have plenty more for that purpose as well.” William smiled,
gratefully accepting. “Where are you going?” she asked.
Her husband gave her a sharp nudge. “Don't be so nosy Sadie, leave the poor man alone.”
“No problem,” smiled Will, feeling a slight loathing for her straight and, what appeared to be,
domineering husband. Thinking to himself, she probably ate more than she should as a means to
drown her sorrows.
“I'm visiting my sister in France,” he replied. He told her where he was going and she was
“We're going over to Europe for two months,” continued Sadie. “First to Paris as Cyril has a
business associate to meet there, after that we will drive through France to enjoy the countryside,
then we’re planning to travel to Spain. We would like to see as much of Europe as we can, it's a lot
of dough to spend if we don't make the most of it, so if we can see more than one country, we’ll
feel that we’re getting our money's worth.”
In due course, lunch was served, which was something of a gourmet experience. He had read that
Pan Am flights were catered for by Maxim's of Paris and he was not disappointed. The smoked
salmon starter, decorated with caviar, melted in his mouth and the charcoal-broiled steak which
followed was a feast for the taste buds. The good food proved a welcome distraction and he made
the most of it, ordering a good French wine to go with the delicious meal, now he really felt that he
was on vacation.
After lunch, Sadie nodded off to sleep. Unfortunately for Will, she leaned in his direction, with her
head partly resting on his shoulder. Cyril yanked her away, with the frown which seemed to be
permanently frozen on his miserable face......“Sorry,” he mumbled.
Will smiled, “No problem, I'm fine.” When she eventually awoke they continued to make light
conversation, Cyril looked pretty agitated at their comfortable rapport. The rest of the first half of
the flight was long and uneventful. Will read and slept intermittently but eventually, they started the
slow descent into Shannon airport. Sadie offered him another piece of gum and he had to admit, it
really did help with the pressure in his ears. They were told that their stop-over would be about 90
minutes and they were welcome to leave the aircraft for a break.
It was still night and much to Sadie's surprise, Cyril announced that he would stay and sleep. Will
and Sadie made their way along the aisle and once outside, were ushered towards a coffee shop and
restroom facilities. When Sadie came out of the restroom, Will already had his coffee and
immediately asked if she would care to join him. Sadie took a coffee, happily sitting down opposite
“Have you flown much before?” she asked.
“Not much, only within the US, between New York and California, so this is the big one. I suppose
it’s the way forward, soon everybody will be flying regularly.”
A thoughtful look came over her face, “I'd love to see more of the world but unless it's for work
Cyril thinks it's a waste of money.” Will felt such a warmth for this sweet woman.
He replied, “I suppose if money is tight, then that would make sense.”
She grinned a little cheekily. “Money isn't tight, but Cyril is!” Then she looked guilty. “Sorry, I
shouldn't have said that.” Will smiled, he looked around pretending to check that nobody could
overhear him, then replied, “Don't worry, if you don't tell him, I won't.” He continued, “Actually,
I’d never thought about this before, but talking with people when traveling is ideal. Take us for
example, we have never met before, we get on well, yet we are unlikely to ever see each other
again, so in fact, we can talk about anything and get away with it.” Sadie was grinning now, it was
clear that she never really had a chance to relax. Remembering Cyril's malicious words Will was
determined to put her at her ease once again.
“Yes you’re right, this is so nice, I don't have many friends, so I don't get to talk like this very often.
You see people don't like Cyril, well, I think it's that, though he says it's me!”
Will felt the familiar sense of loathing in the pit of his stomach, on her behalf. Her husband really
was unbelievable, trying to keep the conversation light, he replied. “Hey Sadie, don't let anyone say
you're not worth it, believe me, you're a great lady. I thought that the minute we started talking.”
She colored a little red. “Why, thank you. I think that’s the nicest thing anyone's said to me for a
very long time.”
She looked down, “Cyril and I have been together for twenty-five years but it’s been hard. Normally
I wouldn’t talk like this, especially to a complete stranger, but you make me feel so relaxed, you’re
a very kind, considerate man. I’ve been unhappy with my life for so long, but somehow breaking
away is more daunting than staying put. Talking with you makes me realize that it could be more
worthwhile, I’m not very confident, but maybe I need to look at things differently.”
He leaned forward. “Confidence grows, we all make the mistake of looking around us and thinking
others are so much more confident than we are. I was at a dinner a while back, a friend next to me
said ‘look at all of them, I wish I were that confident.’ I said the same to him, Don’t kid yourself
they all have something about themselves that they don't like.” He grinned at her, “The truth is, we
all have room for improvement. Take me, I’m good at what I do, but sometimes it takes over my life
and I need to focus on the things that matter. One day I would love a family, but there is no room for
that right now. I suppose I have to make room, that means change, If I'm honest that scares me a
little as well.”
He lightly touched her hand, “You get out and about from now on and, believe me, I won't be the
only person telling you that you’re special.” He saw slight tears in her eyes as he said this. “Thank
you, that means so much,” she replied, glancing down shyly.
Soon an announcement was made for all passengers on flight Pan Am 322 to make their way back
to the aircraft. They joined the line of passengers waiting to reembark. Once inside the cabin they
found Cyril asleep exactly where they'd left him. They then settled down for the last leg of their
journey to Paris. He dozed again, already feeling that his body was uncertain of the hour. This rather
lethargic sensation was not pleasant, he was aware that he had a long train journey ahead when he
reached Paris, which certainly didn’t fill him with excitement.
It was early morning and the flight was scheduled to land at seven o’clock. As they began the
descent into Orly Airport it was still pretty dark. Peering out of the window through the dim early
light he could just pick out the cream-colored terminal building and the bold, red writing “Paris –
Orly”. It was a small building and as they walked across the tarmac, Will assumed that it would not
take long to collect his bags.
He felt a huge relief to have arrived in France. The thought if the days ahead catching up with
Maddy and meeting her kids for the first time. A new energy seemed to surge through his body.
America already seemed a lifetime away.
Will followed the line of other passengers through customs where his passport was checked and
stamped, then arriving in the baggage hall, he collected his suitcase and made his way out to the
front of the terminal building. Immediately he noticed the Parisian ladies, so different in style and
dress to most American women. Their sheer fashion sense was clear to see.
He said goodbye to Sadie and Cyril whom he saw waiting inside the terminal and couldn't resist
giving her a hug. Cyril didn't look too impressed, but Will reckoned it was the first hug Sadie had
received for a very long time. “Thanks for the gum.” He laughed and waved as he made his way
outside to hail a taxi cab.
The difference from his New York cabby and this French one was marked.......
“Bonjour Monsieur,” said the ruddy-faced cabby. He grabbed Will’s bags and unceremoniously
threw them into the trunk of his cab. With a huge smile and a flamboyant gesture to the back seat,
he ushered Will in and closed the door. Nodding cheerfully as Will gave him the name of the train
station he needed.
In broken English, the man said, “you are English Monsieur?”
“No, American,” replied Will.
“American!” the driver exclaimed, “I am very honored, are you a movie star?” “Hell no!” Will
laughed. The driver was obviously a bit disappointed. He was probably hoping for an autograph.
The cabby was not the best driver that Will had come across. The cab veered all over the road while
its friendly owner continued to chat away enthusiastically, as he maneuvered the car through the
streets of Paris on the way to Gare de Lyon train station. Will had hoped to see a bit more of this
fabulous city but, at the same time, he knew that he needed to see his sister.
The train journey was slow but fairly uneventful, he had lunch in the dining car and dozed the rest
of the way. In some ways he wished now that he had spent some time in Paris, but seeing Madeleine
was more important, he planned to stay a few nights in the amazing capital on his return journey.
When they had arrived at Clermont Ferrand, he had been half asleep and so he made a hasty exit
from the train just as it was about to pull out of the station, steam billowing in its wake.
He made his way through the ticket barrier and out of the exit, into the sunshine and towards the
parking lot. He couldn't wait to see Maddy after all this time. Suddenly his exhaustion from the
journey vanished and he now experienced a thrilling anticipation and excitement which was
pumping through every vein in his body. He felt more alive now than he had done in months.
Glancing around the parking lot, he quickly spotted his sister standing next to Jean-Luc. Their two
little girls were in front of them, laughing and jumping up and down with excitement. Maddy’s face
lit up, she was her normal, delightful self, with her long blond hair, very little makeup, large hazel
eyes. She was fairly tall but not as tall as Jean-Luc, with his piercing dark eyes and slightly long
wavy hair he stood out like a true artist. Anyone looking in their direction would not be able to
Will smiled broadly at the happy family group and for a moment he felt a slight twinge of envy.
They looked so good together and he had no such ties, but knew that he still had time. He wasn’t
really worried if he didn’t settle down until his mid-thirties.
When she saw him, Madeleine sprung forward and threw herself into his arms to hug him. “Hi
Maddy, how are you all?” smiled Will, wrapping his arms around her waist and hugging her tightly.
“Great! And all the better for seeing you,” she replied.
He then bent down, to give both his little nieces a kiss and they smiled up at him shyly. Up to now,
they had only seen photographs of their uncle.
Jean-Luc put his arm around him, “How are you Will? You look very well.” His accent might be
French but he spoke impeccable English, albeit with a very faint American drawl. Although he
knew they spoke English to the children at home, he was amazed how the two small girls dropped
any sign of French accents when they chattered in their mother tongue - even with them the
American drawl was very distinct.
“The car is just over there,” Maddy said, “Let’s get you home, you must be exhausted.”
“Yeah I am a bit, it was a long flight and it seemed to take forever. The train journey was pretty
tedious, so I slept most of the way - these changes in time are killing me.
They all managed to squeeze into Jean-Luc’s old Citroen. The car was filled with the babble of
voices. The two girls were so excited that they didn’t stop talking, and of course Maddy and Will
had a lot of catching up to do.
It was five o’clock in the afternoon and the late afternoon sun flooded the countryside with its
beautiful golden rays, the glorious landscape was ablaze with color. The pretty French villages were
so picturesque with their red-tiled roofs and rustic stonework. It was such marked contrast to what
he’d left behind.
Eventually, the car made its way down a country lane and drew up outside a pretty, old-style
farmhouse, clad in the familiar multi-colored stone. Angelique and Odette flung open the back
doors of the car and jumped out in excitement. Will took a more leisurely pace, collecting his bags
from the trunk. It was a stunning setting, with mile upon mile of glorious open space all around.
Maddy opened the front door and ushered him in. I’ve already cooked something for dinner,” she
said. “Beef in red wine. All I have to do is heat it up. I know you had lunch so you can eat as little
or as much as you fancy. Why don’t you guys go and find something nice to drink.”
“Come, Will,” said Jean-Luc, “This is our chance to escape before she thinks of any jobs that need
They laughed as Jean-Luc gave her a playful kiss on the cheek, then they both made their way into
the large sitting room. The heavy oak beams and impressive inglenook fireplace took Will’s breath
“Hey man! This place is great!”
“Yes, we knew the minute we walked in here it was for us, plus of course there’s so much space
outside for the kids.”
Jean-Luc waved to a cabinet in the corner. It had an art-deco facade and, as he opened the heavy
door, it lit up. Bottles and glasses glowed as if to invite them both to sample its delights.
Will smiled, “What a selection, we’re spoilt for choice.”
“Let’s have an aperitif, maybe a Martini cocktail and we can have wine with dinner,” suggested his
cheerful host. “Now that sounds like a plan,” replied Will, falling back into a very comfortable
leather armchair. It was great to be here and to be able to properly relax for the first time in days.
Jean-Luc opened the French-window which led out onto the cobbled patio and allowed them to
fully enjoy the garden.
“These chairs are more comfortable than those outside, but if you prefer to get some fresh air just
say so,” he commented. “No, I’m fine here this is so comfortable and it’s good to lay back, I know
I've been sitting all day but the time difference, added to such a long journey, is taking its toll”
Maddy came in with a plate of freshly-made cheese straws, some olives and a bucket of ice. She
spotted the Martini’s that Jean-Luc had prepared.
“Oh, yes honey, now you’re talking, I’d die for one of those.”
Jean-Luc poured out a Martini cocktail for her and popped ice into all three glasses