Archive for March, 2009

Spain 9

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

HTML clipboardThere are two type of dog in Bulgaria.  Dead ones and ones that bark constantly.  I prefer the first type.  Thus it was that I was woken every 15 minutes from my slumbers by some canine bastard baying at sod at all.

I was not a happy chap by the time I went for breakfast.  It was good nosh and I felt better having eaten.  I decided to surprise Mr Atkins and went tout to his village unannounced.  It did not look any better in daylight.  The village square was still grim, but the building where I had seen the UK van was more lively and there were loads of kids running about in the cold foggy morning.  Must have been playtime.

I found Atkins house and it was an odd affair.  Bulgarian structure with sort of Spanish features like arch windows and wrought iron and stuff.  Sitting on the drive was a bloody great Hummer with US plates.  Discreet and practical bearing in mind the roads.  Actually don’t tell the yanks, but they aren’t very good.  Far better with a Range Rover or any Land Rover for that matter.

I opened the metal gates and went in to the garden, it could have been the garden of a new build housing estate in the UK.  I knocked on the door.  Nothing.  Knocked again and shouted “Hello” and eventually I saw the curtains upstairs twitch and woman looked out and gestured with her hand.

She was later twenties and looked as if she had had a rough night.  I apologised for waking her and we exchanged pleasantries.  To cut a along story short  Atkins was not in as he had gone back to Spain urgently and he was not going to be back until when ever.

She invited me in for a cup of tea.  The house was Ok in side but a bit cheerless.  It was am ix between English, Spanish and French and a bit \confused.  The girl was called Sandy and she was pleasant enough.  Turned out Atkins and she were sort of engaged.  Met in Spain and he had decided to leave Spain and get in to Bulgaria before the others.  Had done OK in Spain in the past but things were going down the pan.  Her dad was a builder and her parents lived over in Spain worked for Atkins in some way.

I asked about Tom and she said she knew him, in fact her dad had done some work for them.

“Small world” says me.

“No, Nigel (Atkins) had sorted out the alterations and building work for them”

“Had he?”

“Oh yes, he sold them the house”

“In Spain?”

“Yes he was the agent.”

“Are you sure”

“Of course I am sure, I used to run his office, I was his secretary and PA.”

“Oh I see Any chance you could ring him,”

“No we don’t have a telephone here and I don’t have any credit on my mobile”

“Maybe you should go and get some”

“No I cant, I will have to wait till Nigel gets back as I don’t have any fuel in my car and Nigel takes the keys for his car when he goes away”

“Right” I said hesitantly not quite getting the reason for this last bit of info

“I cant get my car out becasue the Hummer is blocking the drive, so I cant get in to town eve if I had petrol”

” In other words you are hold up in a house in the middle of nowhere with no way of communicating with the outside world and no way of getting to a doctor or contacting the emergency services in the event of somehting goung wrong?”

“Oh its not like that” she said happily

“Well what is it like then?” I asked “Because from where I am stood it all sounds very odd”

The short answer to that question was Mr Atkins had been married five times and each of his five wives had left him for one of his friends.  This time he had moved to a place where he had no friends and to make extra sure he locked his fiancé up with no phone, or fuel to get out and meet anyone.  What got me was she seemed OK with this arrangement although the more I talked to her the more spaced out she seemed.  In fact she really wasn’t the full ticket.

I made small talk and mentioned the school down the road only to be told it was an orphanage not a school.

“Its a really shame” said Sandy those kids are all on their own in the world, most are just abandoned and nbosy cares for them.  The Orphanage isn’t very nice, more like an army camp than a place for kiddies.  Nigel does lots of things for them though and gets bits brought over from Spain”

“Like what?”

She shrugged “Dunno, bits and things, but he has found jobs for some of the older kids so they get on their feet and he has even  helped younger ones get adopted”

Now then I don’t know much about the adoption process, but I couldn’t see how a five times married estate agent from Spain could be arranging adoption for abandoned Bulgarian kids nor could I understand quite why he would arrange for a young lady to occupy a hotel room where Tom was supposed to be.  The other thing is why did Mrs Willis claim not to know Atkins when she had bought the house from him  and he had organised the renovation work.  Talking of which she had said she had the house before she was with Tom, although that maybe crossed wires on the part of the captive  Sandy.

I looked at Sandy sitting there looking like death warmed up

“Sandy are you OK, are you sick”

“Me oh no, well yes a bit, I have ha d few problems, but Nigel has helped me loads”

“Thats good” I said “When you say problems what do you mean?”

“Oh its sort of my head, things get confused and I cant always think straight, but the medicines help, just I cant sleep at night and then fall aslepp during the morning”

“Is that since you have been here?”

“Oh no I used to work for Toyota in the Uk and it started then.  They were reallygood to me but I was not coping with things and they tried to help me but I was embarrassed and some people said they would get rid of me and it was so complicated.”

“So what happened?”

“I ran away to Spain.  Actually I took my car and just drove here, there.  Actually it was their car but they didn’t mind and let me keep it and didn’t tell the police but they really wanted me to see a doctor.”

“who did”

“Mr Boss Mr Yakomoto (made up name) he said that if they could help me it would be better, but i was worried even though he was really nice.  I just couldn’t think, my head was going to burst.  I knew I wanted to go to Spain but forgot why and about three months later I was in a bar and my mum and dad walked in. They thought I had been kidnapped but I hadn’t.  It was just lucky they found me.  Then I stayed in Spain near them and started working with Nigel.”

What do your mum and dad think of you being here?”

“I don’t know really I haven’t spoken to them for ages, never in when we try to ring or bad line”

“Do you ring or is it Nigel”

“Nigel does it for me because he says I am not good with numbers  and shouldn’t get upset”

“Why would you get upset?”

“Oh I do easily Nigel says I say things I don’t mean and then I forget.”

“Do you know your mum and dads number?”

“No I cant remember numbers, Nigel has it on his phone though”

“I suppose Nigel has his phone with him”

“Oh yes he needs it all the time for business so he has to have it with him”

I got her to tell me her mum and dads name and where they lived and then rang Cyclops and asked him to find their number and to see what the score was.

It took about thirty minutes of inane chatter before Cyclops got back to me.  Mum and dad had not seen her for almost 18 months.  Nigel had told them she she had done a runner and did not know where she was.  They wanted to find her but could not afford the fees of a detective agency.  They had told Cyclops they would do what ever was best for their daughter but they would really like her home.

I chatted to Sandy and then casually asked if she would like to see her mum and dad.  She didn’t say anything but drew her knees up under her chin and slowly started to rock back and forth.  Her breathing changed and slowly she started to cry.  I went over to her and put my hand on her shoulder.

“Sandy, do you want me to take you to see your mum”

through her sobs she whispered

“Yes please dad”

Old Age

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I cannot say what I have been up to or I would have to kill you!  Actually that’s bollocks, but the job is no way near over yet and the truth be known I am starting to wonder if it will ever be over.

I have been here there and everywhere and although it is interesting  it is not as exotic as it sounds.  However and it is a very big however, it does pay and in these hard times I am grateful for that and have no right to complain.

I am just knackered and have come to the conclusion that old age is not creeping up on me, but has run past me and slapped me round the head with a kipper.  My arms have become to short for me to read without glasses and I was officially told by my youngest niece that she thought I had a bit of a gut.  She broke it to me gently as children do “Uncle Norman why is your tummy getting like Homer Simpsons?”


Spain 8

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

I flew from Milan to Sofia and went to the hotel where Tom had stayed.  They checked the records and yes he had stayed there on the dates in question.

The receptionist was helpful enough, sort of, just.  Yes he had made a booking and stayed from x date to x date. I told them he had gone missing and they said he had paid his bill by cash.  They even produced a copy of the bill.  He had eaten in the restaurants and had done bought some things from the hotel shops and charged them to the room.

Then I started asking if anyone remembered him, but they couldn’t.  Mind you it is a big hotel and then they went back  to their records again and there was an bit of confusion and after much yacking in Bulgarian they left the computer and started  to checked their registration cards- still very soviet despite all the alleged changes and lo and behold there was not one in his name.  It must have been lost, however there was one in the girls name who stayed in the room on his booking.

Girl, who stayed in his room, who the hell was she?

A Bulgarian girl from the countryside.  The receptionist said this very slowly and looked at the counter all the time she said it.  I suspected I knew where she was coming from, but felt it better to make sure.  She didn’t or couldn’t say prostitute, after all this was a classy hotel and Bulgaria is in the EU now, so peasant girls turning tricks to satisfying Western European mens sexual needs is not a happy thought or the sort of image they want to perpetuate.  So there then followed a pathetic Q&A session

Where was she now? – She left

Where does she live -I dont know

Yes you do its on the card – I can’t read her peasant writing.

Look if I can you can, are you going to help me or do I get a friend of mine who is a Russian and who used to be KGB and lives in Sofia to come and help me.

Funny enough those three little letters still work a treat.  EU might fat arse.

The hotel was a good looking place with lots of amenities so I booked a room dumped my gear and then started on the job of finding the girl.  Oddly enough it was not that hard and even handier when I found out she lived not to that far away from the hotel in a depressing high rise block of flats.

It was communism housing at its worst, you have seen the sort of thing in films and it just reinforced the stereotype of what life was like for ordinary people behind the Iron Curtain. I got the feeling that it was not much better now,  mind you having said that, unlike South London, Merseyside, Manchester or Leeds nobody had thought of pissing in the lifts or shitting on the stairs and there were no syringes or signs of drugs, just poverty and an air of cold depression and hopelessness.

I found the flat.  What is it that possesses local authorities worldwide to paint the communal hallways and landing of these buildings watery pea  green and the doors a slightly different shade of piss?  I knocked on the door and heard somebody come and look through the spy hole.  The door opened and there was a pretty blonde girl of about 17 or 18 she was very slim almost skinny and was wearing a flimsy shirt through which her nipples were not only visible but poking through the material like a couple of chapel coat pegs

“Vharna” I said

Clearly my pronunciation was close enough for her to recognise her own name because she nodded smiling slightly.

“Do you speak English?”

“A little” She nodded smiling some more and smoothing her shirt down so that her pert breasts were even more visible.

I stayed focused.

“I am a friend of Tom,  you stayed with him at the hotel Sofia a few days ago.”

She looked straight at me and the smile faded a little “No I didn’t” she said nervously “I have not done anything wrong, nothing to bring shame He said nobody would know” she crossed her arms over her perky friends and stooped slightly.

“Who said that, Tom?”

She held my stare and did not falter.

“No the other man Mr Atkins, I just stayed at the hotel,  I turn up and book in and get the key and go to the room.  Mr Atkins pay me before.  He told me to have a nice time and to get things on room service do shopping get nice things and drink at the bar and charge it all to the room and he pays.”


“Because he is taking me and my little sister to Spain and he wanted to do a favour for a friend, but the friend could not come so after a few days he gives me money and I come home, honest I did not have sex are you police he says maybe the police come sometime but we would be gone, you came very quickly”

“woe woe woe slowly please.  Mr Atkins asked you to go to the hotel.”


“He paid the hotel and then paid you”

“Yes,\well no, his friend paid the hotel bill and Mr Atkins paid me.  It was a good job, better than some, no….” she suddenly caught what she had said and went bright red.

“Did you ever see Tom?”

she hesitated.

“It is not a hard question did you see Tom or didn’t you?”

She was flustered her eyes were filling up with tears and she looked about 12.  I felt like a big bully, but that has never stopped me before.  I smiled at her, which is always a risk as I can look weirder when I smile than when  don’t.  Vharna must have been OK with weird because she gave me a little smile back.

“No, but I think I was meant to say yes, but I am not good liar and forget”

“Did you ever see Tom?”

She looked me in the eyes and shook her head “No”

I took out my wallet and gave her some Bulgarian Levs and about 150 Euros.

“Do you want me?” she said

“Its very kind and you are very beautiful, but that is a present for telling the truth and to help you when you move”

She looked at the money

“I must do something for you”

“Ok get out of this while you can and look after your sister”

She nodded



I rang Cyclops and yippee the mobile worked.  I filled him in on the hotel bit and Atkins.  I could hear him tapping away at his keyboard. he told me he had found a bloke dealing in property in Spain and Bulgaria going by the name Atkins and would look into him.

Half an hour later Cyclops was back to me and said that Atkins was a based near Veliko Turnover and was indeed involved in the property market.  He had a telephone number which turned out to be a Spanish mobile number. He had rung and tried to make an appointment for me as a prospective property purchaser but had only managed to leave a message.  His emails had been replied to by an auto responder, so we were not really any further on.

I went back to my latest hotel which as I said also had extra facilities except that the best looking facilities were in the bar.  I had a good meal that night and some cracking red wine which went by the rather unfortunate name of “No mans Land”  still what’s in a name and besides there was a certain irony in the name on several levels, because after the second bottle thats where I was, No mans land.

I was a good boy and had an early night and watched saving Private Ryan in Bulgarian.  Actually it doesnt matter what language you watch it in it is still powerful.  For the record I don’t think any film comes closer to capturing a real battle scene than the beach landing scene in Private Ryan.  The noise, confusion,fear and getting the job done.  The only thing is, that to get the full impact turn the sound up as loud as it will go so your ears hurt because even then you wont be close to what its really like.

The next day I got tucked up on the phone sorting out another job and then there was a mega amount of poncing about with hire cars whenreally I should ahve been on the road d to Veliko Turnover. I was leaving it late very late and even though I had checked out of the hotel I debated aboutchecking back in again and staying extra night but in the end for some reason (probably the Yrokshireman in me) but officially  I have forgotten, I decided to head off that evening.


The maps show a motorway going from Sofia to the Black sea.  It sort of does, but gives out here and there frequently.  The problem is that there is no warning that it is going from super highway to single lane cart track with deep pot holes.  These are not ordinary pot holes, these are Bulgarian pot holes that are so deep that you would be forgiven for thinking that if you fell in one you would find the fourth dimension.  There is the added joy of Bulgarian lorry drivers who have clearly not got to grips with the concept of death and serious personal injury or the other little niceties like other road users.

In short the journey was one of the worse of my life and I can tell you I have been to some pretty remote and ropey places in my time.  Thank God I took out the extra insurance as bits of hire car flew off at regular intervals to lie at the side of the road with the multitude of dead dogs that scattered the route. Saving Private Ryan was clearly a Bulgarian Highway Code training film not entertainment.

It was made worse by thick fog and all in all it was e not a quick journey and I eventually found the village where Atkins apparently worked from  at about 3am in the Morning.  It was a as depressing a place as Vharnas tower block.

I was shagged and parked up in a wide sort of village square, except it wasn’t a village square as we would know it but more like a parade ground or prison exercise yard.  Kin grim.

I dozed for an hour or so and was woken by the sound of a vehicle.  It was a ford Transit.  Nothing too odd about that except it was a right hand drive and on UK plates.  Two bloke got out and took some smaller boxes into a very institutional building at the side of the square.  A few moments later they came out carrying a large box between them which they put carefully into the van.   In and out they went and brought out about 6 or 7 boxes all about a metre or so in length and about 50 cm wide and deep.  I thought they were sort of weapons boxes to start with an then thought they could be little coffins.  The blokes drove off as soon as they had the crates in the van and there was no sign of anyone else in the building.  The ace detective in me wrote the number plate down.

I was cold and uncomfortable but sufficiently recovered to be able to consider pressing on in the dense fog to Veliko Turnover and a hotel.

Veliko wasn’t too bad a looking place from what I could see of it in the fog.  There was a hotel sign posted and as it turned out it was the biggest Hotel in the town.  It was a soviet as they come with a Tony Soprano look a like guarding the car park.  The reception area was like a railways station and done out entirely in dark grey marble fashioned in the soviet 1950’s style.  However the receptionist was very new age and very pretty with long black hair that cascaded over the marble counter as she slept with her head on her arms.  She woke with such a start when I gently gave her arm a shake that she made me jump.

She was very apologetic and was telling me her little boy had flu and please not to tell the manger and he had been sick for three days and please don’t tell and she had been awake with him all day and if she lost her job she would be ruined and how she was worried he was Ok at home on his own.  Eventually I got her to to calm down realise it was OK to nod off and that I was not going to tell anyone if she didn’t. She looked shattered and I wanted to scoop her up and take her home to her kid so she could snuggle up with him.  I couldn’t and didn’t do that of course, but a few minutes later I found myself in a half timbered bedroom with antiquated furniture and a hyper modern bathroom.

The bed may have been antiquated but it was comfy and cosy and I can tell you I didn’t need any rocking.