Weddings are much anticipated, joyous occasions. These nuptials were that and much more. Propelled by love and political expediency, bride and groom hoped to bring peace to a troubled region. This vignette is your invitation to a front-row view of this momentous event, which comes from Chapter 12 of Gypsy Spy, “Dead or Alive?”
The cars rode in proud procession through the streets of Bilbao. Some of its citizens lined the streets out of respect. Others hid at home out of fear. A few looked on out of curiosity. Fewer still were planted strategically in the crowd to keep the peace. Members of the Herri Batasuna, the People’s Unity Party, filled the limousines. Today would mark a glorious triumph, a master stroke of political ceremony. One of their own, a colonel in the renowned Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuma, the ETA, was marrying a Borbón. A minor Borbón, to be sure, but royalty nonetheless. It would not give them independence. It would not bring them immediate peace. But it would offer them leverage where none had existed before. Their political force would be brought out into the open, more in the public eye.
The entourage arrived at the cathedral without incident. A local police contingency that was staunchly loyal to Madrid kept a respectful, but watchful, distance. Car doors snapped open. Soldiers of the Basque liberation poured out and stood guard in front of the church. Party members followed and entered the cathedral, forming a protective phalanx for Colonel Alvarez Colón Zamora; Basque patriot, separatist, warrior, terrorist, murderer, sheep herder. Their man of the hour. He stepped out of his limousine and walked slowly into the church, thankfully accepting his destiny. He was no longer a young man. He now had a chance at not only a second family with children of his own to rear, but also an opportunity to bring lasting justice to his people.
Not long after, a smaller cavalcade made its way to the church. Upon arrival, Spanish soldiers poured out of the sedans and took up positions similar to those occupied by the Basque guards. The bride, dressed in an elaborate white wedding gown with more layers of lace than solid material, and her family stepped up to the cathedral doors. The young woman looked at the ornately carved door through her white veil and breathed deeply. Her wedding may be unorthodox, but it offered her cousin, King Juan Carlos I, a hope for a united Spain. It also gave her a chance to consummate her love for a man she knew foremost as a gentle father and simple shepherd.
Her father pulled her back away from the doors and her bridesmaids filed past. She felt, rather than heard, the pipe organ kick into action. Its deep notes rumbled in her chest and did little to settle her heart. Her father offered his left elbow and she grabbed hold with her gloved hand, clinging to it for strength. On shaky legs, the girl of eighteen and her father began their walk down the aisle. She was surprised by the number of people in the church. The closer she got to Alvarez, the faster her heart pounded. He smiled at her, dimples appearing on his leathered cheeks. His stocky frame seemed to want to burst out of his tuxedo. She could almost smell his virility. Tonight will be a memorable one, she told herself.
He answered the priest’s questions by rote, his eyes never wavering from the face of a child he had grown to love. Her father used to bring her with him when he purchased sheep from Alvarez. At that time, even though his first wife was still alive, he had felt a strong attraction to the young teenager. Maria had been more than sympathetic toward him after his wife’s death. Their love had grown. Today it would be sanctioned by God and the King. Not that Alvarez had ever let their disapproval impede his endeavors. Their candle lighting finished, their vows complete, he lifted her veil and kissed her tender young lips. Neither of them could wait to get to their honeymoon cabin in the Pyrenees.
With the approving witnesses cheering them on, they walked out of the church. The sun was unbearably bright after the dimness of the cathedral. Just when Alvarez grew accustomed to the light, the rice began to fall. He blinked against the grainy onslaught and saw a face in the crowd. He looked harder and smiled, his heart bursting with joy. Then the rice began to sting unbearably. He kept his hand before his face in an attempt to protect it while keeping an eye on the figure he had spotted. But his hand, and then his arm, did not provide adequate protection. The rice continued to fall in a stinging barrage.
Maria felt a strong pull on her arm. She tried hard to keep her balance, but lost. Bride and groom tumbled down the last half of the stairway and landed in a heap on the sidewalk in front of their waiting limousine. Soldiers of the Basque liberation rushed forward. Policemen kept the groaning crowd back. By the time Alvarezes’ guards reached them, Maria was on her knees and screaming hysterically. They soon saw why. Alvarez’s face was swollen, disfigured beyond recognition. His eyes were bulged and rolled back with only the whites showing.
Three of his trusted brothers-in-arms tried to hold him down in an attempt to control his convulsions. One had the mind to scream for a doctor, but it was no use. Alvarez spasmed once more and lay still. One of the guards took off his jacket and laid it over the groom’s face.
Maria Elena Borbón y Castillo de Colón, member of the royal family, supreme optimist for peace, lover of a shepherd, married at eighteen, was now a widow five minutes after the ceremony. In her shock, all she could think of was that she looked awful in black. “Está muerto, está muerto,” someone in the crowd nearest to the scene began to cry. The police and Spanish soldiers, despite their feelings for a “known” terrorist, contained and detained the crowd. Cause of death and possibility of foul play had to be determined. None would be allowed to leave the church steps until some questions had been answered.
But some had already left without permission, taking with them a few wallets, purses, watches, bracelets, and rings that they hadn’t brought with them.
“Would you slow down?” Diego asked. They had already traveled twelve blocks at a fast trot. Carlos showed no signs of slowing his pace. Diego felt compelled to grab hold of the other boy. If they continued running, he thought, they were sure to be stopped. Carlos spun on him, fist raised, eyes panicked wide. Diego ducked the oncoming blow and pushed them both into a wall. “Javier, it’s me. We can’t keep running,” Diego said, holding the boy to the wall, waiting to see reason return to his friend’s face.
“We need to get out of the open,” Carlos said.
“Come on, follow me,” Diego turned them off the broad avenue and into the tight streets of an ancient neighborhood. He took them straight to a lot which a year before had contained a dilapidated building. The city developers had knocked down the hazard, but had not filled in the basement storage units. The boys clambered through the debris into the ground. They sat in the darkness, the sound of their breathing filling the air about them.
“Do you have a cigarette?” Carlos asked. Diego shook one out in the direction of the voice and felt the cigarette slide out of the pack. They both lit up. In the flash of light and the glow of the cigarette, Diego could see the tear tracks on Javier’s cheeks. But his eyes now looked vacant, the irises a cold steel.
“Did the man’s death frighten you?” Diego asked. Carlos’s cigarette burned brighter as he inhaled the smoke. He wouldn’t look Diego in the face.
“No,” Carlos said rubbing his eyes. Diego leaned forward to get a better look at him.
“Did you have something to do with that man’s death?” Diego asked.
“I had everything to do with his death.” Carlos could still hear the woman’s screaming, could still see Alvarez’s stare.
“You mean . . .”
“I killed him,” Carlos said, cutting him off. He tossed his cigarette on the floor and stomped it out, becoming a shadow in the dark. Diego took a long time to comment.
“I thought I had a good reason. I’m not sure now.”
“What was your reason?”
“In the apartment in Barcelona, I found my father’s files.”
“Yes, the suitcase. I’ve been studying them for the past two weeks. Whoever killed my father took my life also. I want to find them. In order to find them, I must make them believe that my father is still alive.”
“And your father had planned on killing this man?”
“Why?” The question hung in the air. Carlos searched deep for a moral answer. The man was a terrorist, a threat to Spain. Alvarez had killed plenty himself. His time was up. Justice had to be served. But the truth forced itself past his lips.
“For money,” he said.
“And you had a problem with begging,” Diego said. Carlos saw the boy’s smile. The world is an insane place, he thought as Diego’s grin caught on to his own face. “Can we go home now? My father will have our hides.”
“We’ve only been gone two days. Besides, we told him we were going on an excursion.”
“I know. But he fully expected us to stay in the area. Alfonso will be coming tomorrow.”
“That is what your father told me two weeks ago. Tomorrow never comes.”
“It comes,” Diego said. “But Gypsies get to determine when.”