Chapter Twenty Five
She touched down at El Prat airport, Barcelona, and thought of her husband. While in flight, she had closed her eyes and spoken to Vicki. ‘I love you with all my heart, my darling,’ she’d said, with her mind’s voice. ‘You know that I will never ever forget you. You gave me the happiest years of my life and I can never tell you how sorry I am that I let you down. They will pay Vicki, the lot of them. If it’s the last thing that I do, I am going to make them pay in your name, my love. If I squeeze my eyes shut really tight, I can feel your little hand in mine now. In know you’re here with me, chattering in my ear, but my darling, this is where you have to be a big brave girl. It’s time for Mummy to move on, you see. I will always love you, but I’m not going to be able to have these chats with you anymore. It’s time for you to go forward too, my love. I love you Vicki,’ and then she whispered aloud, ‘I love you,’ causing the fat man sitting next to her to choke on his gin and tonic. Julie glared at him.
The wall of heat hit her in the face like a sheer, solid thing of substance as she stepped out of the airport. She had left England at the drab beginning of another unpleasant winter. Her senses were alive with the assaults upon them. Along a wall to the left furious pink bougainvillea grew from the floor to the roof and a little green house lizard winked at her from the stem without taking fright or preparing itself to run. The scent of mimosa from the flowering baskets tantalised her nostrils and she felt a wonderful, rolling, butterflying surge of adrenaline-filled excitement at the beginning of this new life.
She had allowed herself three glorious days to reacquaint herself with her favourite city in the world, before she got down to the serious business of building a life. She’d booked into a cheap hotel away from the tourist quarter, right in the heart of the real Barcelona. Later that week she had an appointment to meet with a rental agent who was going to show her around some flats, and even one modest villa, within her budget. Then she had three interviews already lined up and later, a meeting with an employment agency, in case none of the interviews held the job for her.
She would miss her family, but she thought of herself as a tree standing alone now. She didn’t have a friend in the world, or a soul to talk to. Nobody knew where she was and she expected not to be found. They wouldn’t expect her to have the confidence to leave the country on her own. They wouldn’t even consider looking for her at Airports, and even if they did, they would automatically search the flight details from Manchester. It was the only Airport that they had ever used. For that reason, she had taken the train to London where hopefully, any trail they were following would fizzle to nothing. She flew from Luton. If by some miracle she was ever found, it was no big deal really, but she would prefer not to be. She wanted a complete sanitary cleansing from her old life. The date was the eleventh of November 2002 and she felt as though she had been reborn.
On the day of her job interviews, she went into a newsagents to buy Fama and 20 minutos, the same newspapers that she had been reading everyday at home. As she was leaving the shop she noticed the rack of scratch cards. She had never bought one in her life, neither had she ever done the lottery, though Phil had bought tickets a few times at the beginning of their marriage, before the novelty had worn off. On impulse she bought one and handed over a euro. ‘Buena Suerta, Senora,’ said the lady behind the counter, wishing her good luck with a wide smile.
‘Gracias,’ replied Julie, before telling the woman that she had come to live in their beautiful country. She loved any opportunity to try out her new language. They chatted for a few minutes in Spanish and Julie felt as though she belonged. She couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else but here.
Outside the shop she took a coin from her change and scratched off the panels on the card. She checked the three matching symbols, and then she checked them again. She turned the card over and read the instructions, in Spanish, on the reverse. And then, she looked at the front again, to see if, during the last minute, the three matching symbols had changed. She got a cab to the hotel in a daze. She had to ring a number to verify the win. She relayed the reference number on the scratch card, waiting for the call centre employee to tell her in a dispassionate voice, that she had made a mistake. When he did reply, surely something was lost in translation. She spoke Spanish slowly, but fluently. However, having a college professor enunciating every syllable with exaggeration was far different from hearing rapidly volleyed words, spoken in a regional dialect. She couldn’t possibly have just won five hundred, thousand euro. That was half a million. It was the top prize possible on the scratch card. It couldn’t be. Julie only believed it when the half a million cleared her new bank account and she drew out her first twenty euro to buy lunch, in a pavement café in the heart of the tourist quarter.
Over the next six months Julie got a divorce. The first thing she did after, toasting herself with champagne, which she found that she really didn’t like, was to change her name by deed poll. On the Sixth of May 2003 Julie Woods signed her new name on a legal document proclaiming her to be Senora Consuela Vengarse. Vengarse translated into English as ‘to be avenged,’ the name pleased her.
She was not rich beyond measure, but she was more than comfortable. She bought herself a very modest villa. Nothing at all ostentatious, but she loved it with all of her heart. Returning home of an evening was a joy that filled her completely. She was never lonely, not even in the early months before she had made friends. The villa was typically Mediterranean, open plan, with tile floors throughout to cool the air. She had decking outside the colonial doors on the ground floor, and a balcony along the first floor, front of the building. Her garden was large, with established fruit and olive trees, and ample beds ready for planting, and she had a pool. She owned every square inch of it, without the worry of a mortgage around her neck. She furnished it with beautiful things, and although it was a very different home to that which she’d shared with Philip, it was every bit as splendid. In retrospect Julie wondered how she had loved such a stuffy, enclosed space so much, when the villa was so open, cool and spacious. Her life was coming together in ways that she never could have expected, and God loved her.
She rented shop premises on the outskirts of town. Her love of baking had flourished and she opened her own shop. The desserts in Barcelona were very different from a traditional English bakery. Consuela didn’t consciously try to introduce English baking to Barcelona, she simply pulled on what she knew. She made Victoria sponge and in the early days, before she became too busy to think, as she beat the ingredients of each one, she thought about her daughter and, though her life was perfect, she remembered her hatred for the family who murdered her. She made trifles and cheese scones. Once she was established she had five things flown in daily from England, English sausage, bacon, bread, coffee and double cream. She produced full English breakfasts in her small café. She made traditional meat and potato pies, Cornish pasties and sausage rolls. The Spaniard’s couldn’t get enough of Victoria’s Kitchen. She had never been afraid of hard work. She rose every morning at four and didn’t get home until seven, the weight fell from her obese frame, and she coloured deep brown in the sun. In six months she moved to bigger premises with a larger bakery out back. Her life, she noticed was moving in six month increments, each one heralding a new change in direction and circumstance. She hired twenty staff and soon the kitchens were operating twelve hour shifts, seven days a week. Soon she had to hire more staff and was wholesaling her products to other businesses. She bought a factory with offices above, and seven more Victoria Kitchen bakeries. Victoria’s Kitchen became a brand, and Consuela Vengarse became rich far in excess of her half million starter stake. All of this made her very happy, but it was only ever the means to an end.
Consuela made friends. She occasionally went out for drinks in the evening and discovered a taste for Martini. She had dinner parties, and while she grieved her distinctive Tunisian tableware for a moment, she soon had slightly less flamboyant, but none the less exquisite crockery from the kilns of Barcelona. She had wines from the Montserrat vineyards less than twenty miles away, and she cooked splendid meals for a growing mismatch of new friends.
While browsing an art gallery one Sunday, she met Jorges Vasquez. He took her to dinner and although he spoke openly about his wife at home, she thought, over her first Martini, about taking him to bed. She imagined his mouth roaming her body, over her second drink, and after her third, fantasy became reality when Jorges Vasquez took Consuela Vengarse as his mistress. She called herself Whore-Hay’s Whore, which amused him immensely.
It was only later, when invited to his private yacht, one of his hotels and his Jamaican island, that Consuela realised how rich her lover was. He peppered her with gifts that came in twenty-four carat. He never hid the fact that she was his mistress, and his wife was happy to share, as long as she was kept in luxury. The wife stayed in whichever residence that they didn’t, and Consuela always gave her first choice over which functions she chose to attend with her husband.
Consuela was good at sex. She knew that. But she had never truly loved it before. Philip had always been an unsatisfactory lover. For the first time, she bathed in her sexuality, danced in it, and covered it in diamonds and gold. She could have let the past go. She could have just blanked it from her memory and lived out her days in blessed wealth and luxury. She had good friends, a good life, she was happy, successful beyond her dreams, but she had taken that surname for a reason and Vengeance had to be hers.
The Day she opened the telephone directory on the pages for plastic surgeons, her life changed again.