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Chapter 11: The Widow’s Web

And there it was, the bold outline of an arachnid daubed on the interior wall, eight legs splayed invitingly. It was impossible to tell in the half-light how old it was, but at a glance it looked old enough.

"Well I'm glad it turned out to be just a symbol after all."
"What I'm trying to say is it's not like we were ever going to run into real spiders up here. Tarantulas aren't indigenous to Southern Spain anyhow! There's nothing dangerous up here... 'cept maybe a few stressed out Catholics..."

I fell silent, which was a good thing because we all heard the sound of movement on the path at once and froze. Cowering back against the rock wall we watched in trippy disbelief as two panting attack dogs hurried by, paws crunching lightly over the gravel, working as a tightly co-ordinated team, their sleek silhouettes moving almost in unison.

"Nothin' dangerous, huh?"
"I mean it could be worse. At least we're downwind..."

We waited until we hoped the dogs were out of earshot before starting the other way down the trail. There were more lights coming on below us now and a moment later we heard the big wheel in the upper station lurch into motion. Ducking for cover behind the statue of Saint Dominic we watched the cablecar glide slowly towards us, the hiss of radios and the faint babble of Spanish rising out of the dark.

"Oh man, we're f****d ! We are so f*****g f*****d !"
"It's okay ! Just be cool. I mean what can they do?"

The car was close enough now to make out it's occupants, two uniformed figures in flat military caps carrying what looked like flashlights or nightsticks or probably both.

"That depends, amigo, on who 'they' are..."

I’d been in tighter scrapes.  We technically outnumbered them but there was no way of telling in the half-light if the newcomers were packing or not. We didn't even know if we were breaking the law to begin with.  We were probably trespassing but there were no signs to say we were on private property so in the end we did the only thing that made sense. We gave ourselves up and pretended to be three stupid know-nothing gringos who had gotten lost in the dark, which we were, so our performance carried a certain conviction.

There was the usual unpleasantness at first, but once the goons with the flashlights realized we weren't just idiots but celebrity idiots, 'they' lightened up. Up close it became evident the newcomers weren't cops or run of the mill security guards. Their uniforms were too formal for that and bore odd flashes and badges - two silver keys crossed like bones with a crown set above them in place of a skull, a motif that I was to see again a few years later under somewhat different circumstances. As we waited for our captors to escort us to the lower station we gladhanded out the Marlboro reds, mustering with the aid of our local companion enough Spanish to break the ice. I never did find out what happened in the library but we did learn one thing.

The mountain was private property after all but it wasn't owned by any corporate entity, or even the Spanish state. In fact we weren't even under Spanish jurisdiction... The older of the two kept bitching about how they weren't paid nearly enough for their long hours and loyal service. His brother apparently worked for the civilian fuzz down the pike in Manresa and was not only better off but because he was paid by the local council his cheques arrived on time whereas our man here had to wait for weeks on end for the Vatican's legal affairs people to clear the necessary cashflow.

I commiserated, nodding silently as I tried to work out what the hell the Pope had to do with this and why the Holy See felt it necessary to patrol the privately administered enclave with attack dogs and two-way radios in the first place? I was starting to pull the pieces together in my head but I knew the real answers lay in Rome and on the strength of tonight's performance the prospect of having to break into the Vatican didn't appeal. Instead I decided to box smart and bide my time. I had friends in Rome but I was going to make sure I did my homework first and shore up my paranoid hypothesis with a few hard facts before putting it to 'il maestro'.