Evidently, there’s more to Gibraltar than a sovereignty debate as here in the Arb we are privileged to preview the first two chapters of the new Spike Sanguinetti novel from author Thomas Mogford. It’s a baking day on the rock, and Spike’s latest adventure opens with a sweltering climb to Windmill Prison for an interview with a mysterious old man on a harassment charge…
Spike Sanguinetti walked alone up Engineer Road, scuffed leather briefcase swinging from his hand. His destination – Her Majesty’s Prison, Windmill Hill – had replaced the old gaol at the Moorish Castle, a medieval fortress whose crumbling walls had proven a little too porous to criminals intent on escape. Though it was under a mile from Spike’s office, most of the journey was uphill, and the levanter breeze, laden with moisture from its passage up the Mediterranean, brought the usual film of sweat to his high tanned brow.
The new facility was housed in an abandoned barracks at the southern tip of the Rock. As Spike reached the old army parade ground, now serving as prison car-park, he paused to catch his breath. The Windmill Hill plateau spread all around him, a curious microclimate of loose scree and thorn bushes – so similar, people said, to the mountains of Afghanistan that visiting troops still used it for training exercises. No sign of any squaddies today, Spike noted as he loosened his tie, just the metal-barred mouths of the Second World War defence tunnels, many of which now housed the banks of computer servers owned by the online gaming companies that were the latest colonisers of the Rock.
A slight man waited by the gate, one hand shielding his eyes from the August glare. Spike recognised Danny Garcia at once by his dun-coloured suit and the oppressed slope of his shoulders. Garcia squinted in Spike’s direction, then gave a wave of greeting and hurried over. ‘Mr Sanguinetti,’ he panted, clasping Spike’s hand in both of his with a smile of relief. ‘So good of you to come.’ His small dark eyes widened. ‘I thought perhaps you’d changed your mind.’ Spike retrieved his fingers from Garcia’s damp grasp.
‘Sorry I’m late, Danny.’
‘No matter, no matter.’ Garcia combed back the remains of his brown hair, then pressed the buzzer. ‘You received the file, I hope?’
The gate swung open to reveal a large, sleepy-eyed prison warder. Garcia lowered his voice: ‘I know you didn’t have much time to prepare, but as I was saying to Laura only this morning . . .’ He darted Spike an embarrassed glance, cheeks aflame with uxorious pride. ‘My wife, Laura . . .’
Spike suppressed a smile. Good for you, Danny, he thought.
‘If there’s one lawyer on the Rock who can handle a tricky client, it’s Spike Sanguinetti. Champion of the Underdog, that’s what I told her.’
Spike winced a little: it was not a reputation to be cultivated.
‘How bad is it?’
Garcia pressed his lips together. ‘The prosecution case is strong. Mr Massetti is not what you might call a sympathetic defendant.’
The two lawyers walked down the breeze-block corridor, newly painted in an especially depressing shade of institutional mint. Most of the cells were empty, and through the open doors, Spike glimpsed padded bunk-beds and curved aluminium sinks. Not too bad, he concluded – better designed than most of the new-build flats his estate agent had taken him to view lately. ‘And Massetti still hasn’t said anything?’
‘Other than to intimate that my services were no longer required, no.’ Garcia held open his arms in defeat, looking for a moment like a conscientious social worker who knew that he’d failed his client. Then he forced himself to rally and passed Spike a slim folder. ‘My notes. They’re a bit rough, but . . .’
The warder had stopped outside the interview room and was pulling out his keys.
‘The trial’s scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow,’ Garcia said.
‘In the Mags?’
Garcia nodded. ‘The Attorney General’s seeking prosecution under Section 94.’
‘With Cassar on the bench?’
‘Afraid so. You can reach me on my mobile . . .’ Garcia trailed off, wringing his small hands.
‘I’ll be out of town.’ Garcia’s blush deepened. ‘Laura’s persuaded me to take a surfing course. In Tarifa.’
Spike scratched one ear. If these days even Danny Garcia was getting fit, it might be time to reconsider hitting the gym. He held out a hand. ‘You’ll be doing three-sixties in no time, Danny.’
He watched Garcia scurry away, then turned to the warder. ‘I’d like to be left alone with Mr Massetti.’
The warder let out a knowing chuckle. When he spoke, it was in yanito, the Gibraltarian patois of Italian, Hebrew, English and Spanish. ‘Ese tio es waka.’
Spike smiled. ‘My clients usually are.’ ‘Waka’ was a swear word derived from the English. The ‘N’ preceding the ‘K’ had been lost over time, but the man’s hand gesture had made the meaning clear enough.
The warder shrugged. ‘You’re the boss, Mr Sanguinetti.’
Then he pulled open the door.
Christopher Massetti sat slumped in his plastic chair, heavy head lowered. He didn’t flinch as the door clanged shut, so Spike just opened his briefcase in silence, taking an occasional glance at his prospective client as he laid out his notebook and prehistoric Dictaphone on the table. Massetti’s physique was imposing for a man in his early seventies, he supposed, though his face was what Spike’s father might have described as ‘lived-in’: broken nose striated with spider veins, bags like dried apricots beneath the eyes. His shoulder-length hair was squirrel-grey – silver, perhaps, when clean – and his mauve jumpsuit looked like it would need a high-temperature wash after a day spent pressed against his broad chest.
Spike placed the document file on the chair and his hands in his pockets. ‘Mr Massetti?’ Just as Garcia had warned him, the old man didn’t react, so Spike raised his voice. ‘My name is Spike Sanguinetti. Do you understand the charges being brought against you, Mr Massetti?’
A few seconds ticked past; Spike could hear Massetti’s breathing, thick and hoarse. He rubbed his temple with a thumb and tried again. ‘You’ve been charged with harassment under the Crimes Act 2011. If found guilty, you run the risk of a custodial sentence. At the very least, you’ll be subject to a restraining order preventing you from making any further contact with Eloise Capurro.’
At the sound of his alleged victim’s name, Massetti opened his eyes but didn’t lift them, just focused on a spot on the floor somewhere near Spike’s feet. At least he’s not asleep, Spike reasoned, then looked down again at Danny Garcia’s notes. ‘You’ve been refused bail due to concerns that you might interfere with prosecution witnesses. The maximum sentence that the court can confer is twelve months, and under these circumstances, I must advise you that’s the probable outcome.’
Massetti shifted slightly in his chair, but then he just closed his eyes again. Fighting a surge of frustration, Spike glanced up at the clock. He was going to be late for dinner.
He placed both hands on the table and willed the man to look at him. ‘We’re due in court tomorrow morning, Mr Massetti. At least tell me how you intend to plead.’
But the old man kept his counsel, and Spike silently conceded defeat. He started to gather his things together, then caught sight of Massetti’s hands. The wrinkled skin was mottled with old scars and fresh scabs, but it was the fingers that disturbed Spike, working in and out of each other, like muscular worms seeking purchase in stony ground. Massetti must have sensed his gaze as he interlaced them, trying to control the tremors. Withdrawal symptoms: Spike had seen them before. He reached out a hand.
‘You know you have a right to see a doctor, Mr Massetti.’ But as soon as Spike touched Massetti’s shoulder, the old man raised an arm and smacked the back of his hand across Spike’s face.
Spike stumbled backwards, astonished at the man’s strength. His chair overturned, scattering Garcia’s carefully drafted notes across the floor. Hearing footsteps outside, Spike pulled his hand away from his eye and was strangely shocked to see a smear of red on his fingertips.
The door flew open, and the warder’s face hardened as he sized up the situation. He took out his radio with a wearied shake of the head.
But Spike was already on his feet. He caught the warder’s cuff. ‘It’s fine,’ he said, gesturing at the documents on the ground. ‘I just tripped.’ At the edge of his vision, Spike saw Massetti raise his head in surprise. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow,’ he added, as he wiped the blood out of his eye with one thumb. ‘We’ll talk more then.’