A bit of fun from my writing course – an exercise that was never presented to the class, since the video conference link went down. The brief was to imagine ‘what if’ the Spanish Armada had succeeded. What would Britain be like? Fast forward to the beginning of the twentieth century…
A Study in Rojo Brillante
The sturdy figure making its way through the darkened streets turned its collar against the damp cold seeping up from the river. As he turned into Calle Panadero he heard a faint thread of music, perhaps from one of the basement clubs, and smelled the fresh scent of coffee from the tapas bar across the road. The bartender stood outside the club, smoking a foul smelling cheroot whose smoke mingled with the river fog and the spicy aroma of the tapas bar to produce a fug of smog and smell that was the very essence of London.
“Buenas noches, Doctor Juan,” the bartender said, wafting a cloud of smoke across the street. The man crossed the road and peered into the bar. The evening was young, and as yet there were no patrons.
“Buenas noches, Manuel. How’s business?”
The bartender’s lugubrious face fell further. “Terrible,” he said. “Just terrible. This weather is so bad – if it isn’t raining then it’s smoggy, and no-one wants to sit at my nice kerbside tables and eat tapas in the fog.”
A further strain of sound swam into the street, and the man raised his eyes to the upper flat opposite. “And our friend?” he asked. “How has he been?”
“Terrible, also,” Manuel replied morosely. “He has been playing the flamenco again.”
The sound emanating from the house opposite definitely bore some resemblance to flamenco, with its driving rhythm and throbbing strings, but it would have proved difficult to dance to, as its melody swooped and faltered by turns, occasionally dying off altogether when an infelicitous conjunction of chords occurred. The two men standing in the street could clearly hear the wickedest of swear words interspersed with these flurries of sound. The man raised an eyebrow. “I see what you mean,” he said.
The bartender stepped into the bar and returned a moment later with two mugs of thick, black coffee, liberally sweetened in the case of the doctor, and presented them with a slight bow. With the coffees came a bag of fardelejos, small pastries redolent of almonds and lemon oil, still warm from the oven.
“Gracias. He needs all the sweetening he can get.”
“How is the case? Is it not going well?”
“The trouble is that there is no case. If I don’t find him a good mystery soon, I can’t be held responsible for the consequences. All I can say is that they will be much worse than a bad attempt at flamenco. Remember the incident of the matador?”
The bartender winced. He patted the doctor’s arm. “He is lucky to have such a good friend,” he said. “You will find him what he needs.”
“I sincerely hope so.” The doctor crossed the street, pausing halfway as a small two-wheeled carriage rushed past, drawn by a shaggy pony whose mane was the same colour as its driver’s evil looking moustache. The driver leered at the doctor and spat impressively, but missed as his vehicle thundered past. The doctor gained the safety of the opposite pavement and paused to readjust the coffee cups before pressing the latch and entering his house. The door clicked closed behind him, and as the bartender ducked back into his establishment the streetlights came on, illuminating the number plate beside the door latch, which read, in large brass letters, 221B.