Hugh sips beer and nibbles an olive. They know him here, a bar he uses at least once a week, just south of Sol. It is almost ten, and the Madrileños are starting to make their way to restaurants, but he knows nowhere will get busy before eleven. He has been here for almost an hour and is no longer surprised that he has nursed a glass of San Miguel, where once he would have downed three or four. Besides, the Spanish way of life is not conducive to the suicidal drinking that had been so much part of his earlier life. Not that he misses it and he hates the after-effects of a hangover. Good job, I did kick the bloody booze, he thinks. The way I was going was just a long swallow to an early grave. He knows that part of the reason was the oblivion he sought, the hope that he could banish for even a short time the nightmares, the eternal fear he lived with when he was on the island. For a moment, he remembers Godfrey, God as he always called him. Dead too, gone, blown up trying to save his life. His mood changes again, darkens when he remembers that little fuckpig Flaherty and how he was the one who killed God. Just as well, he knows, because if he hadn't blown himself up as well, Hugh would have hunted him down.
He pushes it down, and hopes that tonight is not going to be one of his bad nights, when he wakes in the early hours in terror, and is unable to get back to sleep. Come on, he tells himself, count the good things. Hugh at forty-nine is bald, inclined to put on weight. With his tanned features and his reasonable Spanish, he passes easily for a well-to-do middle-class Spaniard. Although he looks his age with his lived-in features, Hugh is still fit and tough, able to fend for himself in a fight, and is available as back-up muscle if required by his mentor and employer, Michael Donnellan. He likes the edge he gets working for Michael Donnellan, the need to keep alert all the time, these have given him a purpose where once he thought himself as, if not dead, just afloat on a stream of alcohol.
These weekly meetings with Michael are something he enjoys and looks forward to. They always eat in the same restaurant; Hugh relishes the fabada madrileña. Take away the chorizo, he thinks, and he could be eating one of his mother's dishes; a meal he also got a taste for when he stayed with his grandparents on their farm. All dead now, and for a moment he thinks of them with fondness, that familiar regret for all that he did not ask them, for their sheer absence.
He wonders what Michael wants to talk about tonight. Usually he gives him a list of jobs to be done the following week, trips to other Spanish cities, checking and meeting people, always as Donnellan's right-hand man, el irlandés. Hugh does not tell them otherwise, that although his parents were Irish, he was born and brought up in London, albeit within a close-knit Irish community, that he is an anglosajón. It was a schizophrenic life. At home, they might never have left Ireland, with the accents, newspapers, the church and the Irish priests. However, at school, away from his family, he was just another London boy. No wonder, he thinks, he took so easily to the secret life.
Hugh sees Donnellan approaching. He is still the same dapper man he was when he first met him all those years ago back in London. Michael Donnellan is one of those people who does not appear to age. He still has all his dark brown hair; has neither gained weight nor become lined and wrinkled. At seventy-two, he passes easily for a youthful fifty-year-old.