Back at La Alberca we had watched several of our colleagues perform a very funny - but cautionary - enactment of a sketch showing the legendarily skilful pickpockets of Madrid at work. As we walked arm-in-arm late at night through Chueca, however, the atmosphere seemed gay, in both senses of the word, and we were part of the scene – carefree and schedule-free. “I don’t feel threatened at all”, said Candy Lee “Where shall we go now?” “Let’s walk down to Puerta del Sol”, said Rod, drawing on his previous experience of the City and trumping my very limited ambit. Our walk took us past the sex workers who mingled, seemingly at ease, with the throngs in the streets as they do in parts of Berlin but not, as I noted, in London. We took to wondering how much they charged for their services but none of us dared approach them to ask.
Despite the magnificence of the architecture and the grandeur of the urban space, Puerta del Sol failed to excite us that night so we meandered into the side streets in search of the more intimate, charged atmosphere that we had enjoyed until then. We found ourselves in quiet places, however, where any life was hidden behind closed doors so we decided to return to the buzz of Chueca to continue our search for a desirable watering hole. It proved to be a good decision as the one we found had an air of authenticity and antiquity about it – dark brown wooden floors, furniture and panelled walls - and the wines were advertised in big, white letters on black boards. Like all the best bars it offered a welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff, good food and drink and the all-important ingredient – happy, noisy customers. We had simple tapas and more excellent red wine while we talked on and on about the week at La Alberca and the characters we had met there. Events began to blur and a fourth bottle was sensibly ruled out in favour of an ‘early’ night on account of the 09.00 rendezvous with Katie at Estacion de Atocha. “I need to get some cash” said Candy. “I can see an ATM just outside the window” I said. When she came back, we drained our glasses and left.
It was while we were walking the few metres to Candy’s hostal that she noticed her phone was missing. We went through the usual rigmarole of questioning her: When did she last use it? Did she leave it on the table in the last bar? Did she have it before we set off for Sol? Did it fall out of her pocket as she put her coat on? These are not easy questions to answer at the best of times but after a bar-crawl they become impossible. We went back to the last two bars, empty now, except for the staff enjoying a nightcap with their colleagues. No, they had not seen her phone – sorry. So, having retraced some of our steps physically, we now tried to visualise the rest. Nobody really wanted to believe it could be so but had the legendary pick-pockets got the better of us after all? Had there been any close physical encounters with strangers during our perambulations? We drew a blank; maybe – maybe not.
Still, in the end, a lost phone is a lost phone and Candy’s stoical response was “Don’t worry. I’ll sort it out in the morning”. She was still smiling as we saw her through her street door and bade goodnight. Rod promised to collect her at 08.30 – just a few hours away – for their busy day to come: an early rendezvous, a trip to Toledo and a phone crisis to resolve. “Best get some sleep, eh, Rod?” I suggested.