Paco, Our Beloved Gangster Chapter 18

          Our expatriate crowd had a local godfather, a non-violent one named Paco. He was Mr. “Sportin’ Life” and a lot of fun. He had more money than the rest of the locals because of scams he controlled and he cultivated the expat crowd because one of the scams involved us. You would see Paco from far away making his way through the narrow streets hunkered down behind the wheel of his nineteen thirties vintage Packard convertible with fenders that stretched out a mile in front. It seemed impossible that car could maneuver through those streets. His waxed moustache stabbed the air; his smiling teeth clamped down on his cigarette holder. A Panama hat completed the look of total gangster chic. Paco had seen all the American movies and saw himself as a mini Al Capone without the violence. I can’t imagine him hurting anyone. He seemed to be having so much fun.

          It didn’t take Paco long to figure that Sebastiano was the leader of the pack and that’s how I got to know him and his friends. The expat group was always hard up for money. We sold blood, taught English, and did whatever we could to maintain our beatnik expat life. In Franco’s Spain there was a shortage of cars because their production wasn’t good at the time. The wealthier people in Spain could afford a good car but they were on a long waiting list. However, a foreigner could buy a car without waiting. Paco would recruit the foreigners to go to the central office and buy a Spanish car called a Seat, which was then turned over to the Spanish customer. Paco had a “soldier” who processed the transactions in the central office, so the whole thing was a walk in the park. We got to know Paco’s friends who were just slightly older than I, all very good-natured guys to be with.

          In addition to the assorted dancers, poets, writers, people studying flamenco and the occasional tourists passing through our scene at the Plaza de Santa Ana, there was a little Englishman named Harold Smith who seemed very proper and very British. He and Ruth afforded a bit of élan to our unwashed group. Harold was another one whose purpose was not clear. He was studying Spanish but was not good at it and I remember something about “difficulties” he had had in England. We never knew the details but suspected he was laying low for a while. In our group nobody pressed for the details.

          Harold was always in a tweed suit even when the streets were sizzling like a frying pan. Madrid is a big dry plateau, a high desert, and from May through September the heat is brutal during the day. But the English are English and never more English than when they are out of their country. In India they built fireplaces in their houses and carried umbrellas to shade them from the sun if not the rain.

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