In May we are publishing Six Wounds by Morgan Cry, a high-octane crime thriller set in the sun-drenched Costa Blanca and the second novel featuring Daniella Coulstoun. To give readers a flavour of what to expect, Morgan has written a fantastic short story following another of Daniella’s exploits, The Case of the Missing Pound Note. Expect shady expats, some fruity language, and of course, a mysterious missing pound note. We will be releasing this short story in sections each week until the publication of Six Wounds so check back next Friday for the next part!
The Case of the Missing Pound Note
A Daniella Coulstoun Short Story
by Morgan Cry
I was supposed to have this Sunday off. Se Busca, the pub I run, was to be a no-go zone for me until late Monday morning, when I would open up. My apartment, a haven built in the attic space above the pub, was to be my sanctuary for the morning. Today, a day of rest, followed by a stroll and a late evening meal in the sort of restaurant that prefers high heels and a floaty summer dress to trainers, shorts and a Nirvana T-shirt. That was the plan. And, as plans go, it was a good one. Running a bar is not for the lightweights of this world. Operating a bar on the Costa Blanca, populated, in the main, by the British expatriate community, is for the masochists of this planet. And Se Busca brings me pain every day. It also delivers joy – in sporadic bursts. That there is more of the former than the latter is why I need days like today.
The bath was full to the brim, bubbles plentiful, and, given that today’s temperature was forecast to hit twenty-five degrees, I’d added a layer of indulgence by winding up the flat’s A/C to the max – making the warmth of the tub even more pleasurable to soak in. My battered CD player was perched on a shelf next to the tub, nineties grunge at the ready, and a deep-chilled bottle of Cava, a stack of aceitunas marinadas and a slab of Cadbury’s sat alongside it. My mobile was switched off and if it had been possible to disconnect the doorbell, I would’ve.
All in all, I was ready to relax like I meant it.
The knock at my front door was preceded by a ruckus in the pub below. Given the sheer quantity of sound insulation I had inserted into the floors when the flat was constructed, the fact that I heard the noise at all suggested it was more than a minor skirmish, which I can usually ignore; this one had sounded like a doozy.
I tightened my dressing gown and padded to the door. When I opened it, Clyde was standing there. Clyde is a student at the University of Valencia and our best bar person.
‘Clyde?’ I said.
‘I know it’s your day off, Daniella, but you need to come down to the pub . . .’
‘There’s been a theft.’
‘What’s been stolen?’
‘A pound note.’
I’m standing in the middle of Se Busca, a breeze-block box that sits between the port and the pueblo of the coastal town of El Descaro. A windowless building that last saw a decorator’s paint brush two decades past, it’s furnished in early junkyard style and is populated by a group that my mum christened the Ex-Patriots. George Laidlaw, a disbarred lawyer, is perched on a stool at the bar. Arthur ‘Saucy’ Heinz, an alcoholic accountant, is nursing a drink at a table beneath the dartboard. The Twins, Jordan and Sheryl Norman, once child models, are sitting near the outsized TV. Zia MacFarlane, an ex-popstar from the eighties – and my partner – is leaning on the bar top next to George. Clyde is behind the bar. And finally, there’s Peter ‘Skid’ Solo, a failed racing driver, loitering beside the cigarette machine. Skid had been on the point of leaving when I’d arrived and I’d had to push him back inside the pub. Everyone around me has a share in this place and all of them, to varying degrees, embody the word dysfunctional.
‘Where’s your brother, Zia?’ I ask.
‘He’s gone to fetch the police.’
Zia’s brother, Mark, had arrived from the UK late last night, but I’d yet to see him. The lead singer of the US poodle-rock band The Oncers, Mark’s stage name is Blizzard White. In the eighties, Zia had scored a sole UK hit, ‘Look At Me’, while his brother had racked up ten consecutive top ten singles and three platinum albums in the US. But since then everything had been downhill for him and his band. Last I heard, The Oncers were playing the nostalgia circuit and were far from the main draw.
‘Why is he going for the police, Zia?’
‘Because someone stole his pound note.’
‘Let me get this correct,’ I say. ‘Your brother is bringing the local constabulary to Se Busca because a pound note has gone walkabout. Really?’
‘It’s worth a lot of money,’ slurs Saucy. It’s not yet midday and he’s already several sheets to the wind.
‘Is it?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says George, lifting a dripping wet newspaper from the bar. ‘Do yourself a favour and read this.’
He holds out the paper. I’m expected to walk over and fetch it. George holds the world in contempt and I’m in his top ten in the world. As the ex-lover of my recently deceased mother he feels that the pub, which I inherited from Mum, should be his. So, when he can, he likes to lord it over me.
I don’t move. ‘No games, George. Just tell me what it says.’
He shrugs. ‘Zia, you tell her.’
George is such a pain.
‘Zia?’ I say.
‘Okay . . . Daniella, do you remember the pub had a pound note with white writing?’
I look up at the ceiling. There are hundreds of notes up there, from all over the world. It all started back in the seventies when visitors would pin currency from their country to the ceiling. The plaster above is all but invisible. The tradition ceased long ago, when the visitors dried up. This is a locals-only bar these days.
‘Seriously?’ I say, waving my hand at the celling.
‘Not amongst that lot,’ Zia replies. ‘It sat on its own right above the till.’
Now I think about it that does ring a small bell.
‘Well, it was put there by my brother twenty years back. I’d just arrived in El Descaro and Mark came to visit.’
‘Generous of him – a whole pound.’
‘It wasn’t any old pound. It was signed by Sticks Hotrod.’
‘The Oncers’ drummer?’ I exclaim.
‘The very man.’
‘He’s dead, right?’
‘He died not long before Mark came here the first time.’
‘Isn’t he the one who drove his car off a bridge?’
‘The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, in New York,’ says Jordan. ‘He was out of his head on coke and the story goes he rammed the barrier six times before it broke. It took two days to salvage the car and his body.’
‘And he was playing The Oncers’ biggest hit, “Killing Your Time”, on the car’s CD player when he went over,’ adds Sheryl. ‘So rock ’n’ roll.’
‘So rock ’n’ roll,’ says Jordan. The twins have a bad habit of repeating each other’s words.
‘Anyway, back in the late eighties,’ explains Zia, ‘The Oncers were flying high but couldn’t crack the UK. Mark wanted that badly, despite how well they were doing in the US. He hated that I’d had a hit in his home country and he hadn’t. So he came up with a stunt for their next single. Each band member would sign a pound note and let all four notes loose in the UK. After a few days they released a PR statement, telling the British public that if they found one of the signed notes they would win one of four limited edition seven-inch singles made out of solid gold.’
‘And the note above our till was one of those notes?’
‘The only one that was ever found,’ says Zia. ‘The others never surfaced. When the winner claimed their gold single, Mark nabbed the note. He had it with him when he came out here twenty years ago and pinned it above the till.’
‘And?’ I say.
‘A quarter-of-a-mill . . .’ says Saucy.
‘A quarter of a what?’ I say, shaking my head. A conversation with the Ex-Patriots can be as frustrating as cutting your own hair in a pitch-black coal cellar with nail scissors.