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A Thoroughly Nice Man
by Harry Downey


A man I know has just been arrested out here in Spain and they’re taking him back to the UK. I say ‘a man I know’, but to be more honest he was barely an acquaintance as I met him just twice, and very briefly at that. Mr. Slater his name was - but that’s not the name the police used when they detained him.

I must say I’m very surprised and tend to think the police have got it wrong and they’ve arrested the wrong man or something. To me he seemed a decent enough chap, and I was glad I could do him a good turn before this all happened. I do hope it soon gets sorted.

I’d been back in Spain a week after my short trip to England when we first started hearing rumours. Then it appeared in the English language papers, and the Costa Blanca News had the story on the front page, so it was official. Certainly the man in the photograph was our Mr. Slater - though they called him Joseph Reynolds. Perhaps I’d better tell you what I know and then you can see why I think as I do about it all.

Muriel and I have our own special watering hole down on the seafront at La Corumba, the town where we spend the winter months every year. It’s La Piña - Spanish run, French owned place - very friendly and very cosmopolitan, so while we’re chatting away in English there could be Spanish, German, Dutch, French all around us.

I had to go back home for a flying visit to keep an important appointment with the eye specialist. This would mean three days away from Mu, and we were talking about this and my flight when this chap from the next table spoke to us.

He apologised for butting in, introduced himself as Mr. Slater, and said he couldn’t help overhearing, and was there any chance at all that we could do him a special favour? I listened to him, sized him up and liked what I saw. A younger version of me really. A man in his fifties, quietly-spoken, presentable and very respectable - something he confirmed when he told us what he wanted. He came over to us as a little bit old-fashioned with his general politeness and slightly formal way. Among all the shorts and tee shirts and things there, Mr. Slater looked out of place. He was dressed in a dark suit and was wearing a black tie, so when he said he’d just come from a cremation in Alicante we weren’t too surprised. He asked where we lived in England and when we told him, what we said seemed to make him keener than ever for our help. I pride myself on being a good judge of character - after all, I was an accountant for many years. In accountancy, where other people’s money is involved, you can’t be too careful. With Mr. Slater being so obviously such a nice man, we offered to help if we could.

It turned out that the funeral he’d been to that morning was of a dear friend who had died over here on holiday. They were both Lay Preachers from neighbouring churches in Sidmouth across in Devon, and it’s only about an hour’s drive from where we live. Mr. Slater wasn’t going back to the UK immediately, but he’d undertaken to take his friend’s ashes to the Church where they were going to be kept. He asked if there was there any chance that I might take the urn with me and he would arrange to have it collected from our cottage back home. End of story. That was it. So with a quick glance at Muriel for confirmation, I agreed to help. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? He wanted to pay me something for my trouble but, of course, I said no. The outcome was that we arranged to meet the next day, at La Piña, when he would let me have a box that held the urn.

Mr. Slater turned up the following day and left this package with me. He had to dash off quickly to keep an appointment, so after confirming he had our address right and the collection details were understood, he thanked us again and left. A charming man we both agreed. He had wanted to have it called for on the evening I got back, but when I explained I would be out then, we changed it to the following afternoon when I could be sure of being back from the hospital. The rest was down to me. All very clear and straightforward.

When we got back to our apartment, we opened the box and looked at the contents. It was a metal urn, possibly bronze but I wasn’t sure, about eight inches high and four inches across, with a screw lid that had a clip device on it to keep the lid from accidentally opening. There was a thin metal label saying simply ‘Iestyn Malachi Evans. 1955-2011.’

Neither of us liked seeing it and thinking about what was in it, and Mu clearly felt that the sooner it had gone the better. It was a bit spooky, no doubt about it. I wrapped it in a towel and put it into the single travel bag I was taking with me. For a short trip I was travelling light, with just that one bag.

I had no problems on the flight, or at either Alicante Airport or Exeter. The X-ray machines must have seen it but no questions were asked, and with so little luggage I was the first out of the airport and in my son’s car and home in excellent time.

That first evening back I took David out for a meal to thank him for his help. By this time the urn was on the kitchen table and with it were two ten pound notes. David always refuses to take anything from me, but we have an established ritual. I put some money on the table after his refusal, and he takes it quietly and discreetly so it doesn’t look as if he has. It’s just our little game.

When we got back from the restaurant the money wasn’t on the table. I assumed David had it, and then I noticed that the urn wasn’t there either. We both looked for it; David confirmed he hadn’t taken the money, so we’d presumably been burgled between eight and eleven while we were out. By this time we’d found the broken pane in the back door glazing - so there we had it. Some local yob had broken in, seen the money, thought it was his birthday, snatched the urn that was next to the banknotes and went. We didn’t bother reporting it to the police - it didn’t seem worth it.

The chap I was expecting to call next day and take the urn to Sidmouth didn’t turn up. I’ve no idea what happened to him, but it’s just as well he didn’t come anyway. I didn’t have his phone number, nor one from Mr. Slater, so all I can really do is hang on till someone contacts me. There’s nothing else I can do.


a line, (a blue one)


I had quite a tale to tell Mu when I got back. Imagine being picked on to be burgled like that. From what I could find out no-one else nearby was robbed at the same time, so someone was either very lucky to find an empty house or they had been ‘casing the joint.’ That’s the term they use, isn’t it?

My little bit of excitement was soon overshadowed when the news came of this police arrest. It was being talked about all over the place ? nothing much happens in our corner of the Costa Blanca. It turned out that the police involved with Mr. Slater’s arrest were from London, with the Spanish people doing the actual arresting side of it - to keep the legalities right I suppose. We soon heard that the charges against Mr. Slater were very serious. There were hints of him being very big in the drug business apparently.

Let’s be clear. We - that is Muriel and I - both think the boys in blue have got it wrong. I’m a strong supporter of the police but they’re human and no-one is infallible. No way can we see a decent man and a Lay Preacher like he is being involved in anything criminal. When it’s all been sorted out and they find out who he really is and tracked down the real Joseph Reynolds they’re looking for, then I expect Mr. Slater will get in touch. I’m not looking forward to that at all. He asked us for our help with something personal and precious to him. So how do I break it to a thoroughly nice man like that that I’ve let him down?



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