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Los ‘Winston Boys’ – An Extract From M. G. Sanchez’s New Novel, MARLBORO MAN

To mark the release this week of M.G. Sanchez’s new book Marlboro Man, we’re publishing an extract from the novel:

At the height of the smuggling boom, there must have been seven or eight hundred young Gibraltarian men involved in the covert transportation of tobacco from the Rock to Spain. The Government of Gibraltar knew what they were doing, but didn’t ask too many questions – the sale of duty-paid tobacco providing the administration with an estimated £90 million a year at a time when the privatisation of the dockyard was threatening to deal a knock-out blow to the local economy. The smugglers called themselves the ‘Winston Boys’ and were, by and large, a colourful lot. Sure, one or two of them kept their heads down and avoided the limelight, but the majority of those guys couldn’t resist flaunting their new-found wealth. Everything they did – from the way they cut their hair (piled high on top, but with a mantle of curls tumbling onto their necks) to the sorts of cars they drove (Celicas, Preludes and American imports like Ford Mustangs and Pontiac Firebirds) – was designed to impress, to arouse envy, to let people know they were members of the tobacco ‘fraternity.’ Coming in most cases from deprived or working-class backgrounds, having been told at school they would never amount to much, the ‘Winston Boys’ were on a mission to show off, to let their former critics and doubters know that they were now rolling in cash. During the summer months they’d strut around with T-shirts or singlets draped over their bare pecs and shoulders, sporting Ray-Bans and chanclas moras,[1] togged up in skin-tight Levi jeans worn so low you’d often catch glimpses of fluffy pubic hair. Listening to them speak, you’d hear words like keo, papiti and floosh – a snarly, gangsterish argot that was more or less understood by everybody under thirty, but never failed to rile those in authority. Almost all the guys wore thick gold chains adorned with medallones – big, showy pieces cast in the likeness of keys, coins, pistols, daggers, treasure chests, boxing gloves, crucifixes, and, of course, the ubiquitous Virgen del Carmen and Virgen del Rocío figures – and carried inky profiles of Jesus Christ, Che Guevara or Camarón de la Isla tattooed on their backs and chests. Behaviourally, they oscillated between hippie-like lethargy and sudden spurts of hypermasculine aggression – arguing loudly with each other, getting violently drunk, beeping their car horns at the slightest hold-up, calling other drivers ‘cunts’, ‘shitheads’, ‘hijoputas’ and ‘cabrones de mierda’, wanting to get out of their cars and fight with anybody who dared remonstrate with them. A favourite macho speciality of theirs was to drive up and down the length of Eastern Beach with their windows down and flamenco blaring from their Pioneer car speakers. If they saw a pretty girl walking past, they’d slow to a crawl and, leaning out of the window, ignoring the beeping cars behind them, sliding their Ray-Bans rakishly down their noses, start taunting their ‘prey’:

‘Where are you walking so fast, shoshito mío?’

‘Me? Nowhere.’

‘Then why don’t you jump in my car and come with me for a spin?’

‘Because I don’t want to, that’s why!’

‘Come on, shoshi, don’t be like that. I know this really amazing place you’re really going to love.’

‘And how do you know I’m really going to love this really amazing place?’

‘I know because, when I take you there and do the things I’m going to do to you, te vas a quedar en la mismísima gloria, chiquilla!’[2]

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons you’d see big groups of them sitting with their pints of snakebite at el Seawave in Catalan Bay or el Dolphin up at el Quarry. Banded together in this way, they always became noisier and more animated, more likely to poke fun at waiters, waitresses, maricones, gordos, young girls, disabled people and other passing soft targets. Once, as I was walking down the ramp leading to the Dolphin’s outdoor terrace area, I saw one of them arguing with Larbi, the bar’s middle-aged Moroccan waiter. Larbi – who had a cast in his left eye and looked like a cross between Super Mario and a sumo wrestler – was complaining about having to pick out chewing gum and cigarette butts from their pint glasses; he was saying how much it all repelled him. ‘Po, safi,’ the nineteen- or twenty-year-old kid before him responded, picking up a glass full of butts and calmly letting it smash on the ground. ‘That’s the end of your problems, isn’t it, compá!’

I used to hate all this shit before joining Maikito’s lot. I hated the loudness, the bluster, the undertones of menace. However, once I was part of Michael’s gang, all these reservations evaporated and I began to act just like the other smugglers. In only a matter of weeks, I was dressing like them, talking like them, wolf-whistling at girls, frequenting el Bahía and el Seawave and el Dolphin and their other favourite haunts, using the same names they employed when referring to each other (el Kiki, el Ginger, el Fred Astaire, el Matón, el Lionheart, el Chaqueta Cuero, el Pishposh), as well as to different members of the local police force (la Bombi, el Mojón, el Mister Magoo, la Charlie, el duo Sacapuntas). Most comically of all, I even got myself a huge medallion carved in the shape of la Virgen del Rocío. I bought it in Joyería Matías, a jeweller’s in the centre of La Línea, as all the local jewellery shops had run out of Virgen del Rocío and Virgen del Carmen medallions due to the unprecedented demand for them! It was heavy and finely decorated, and when I rolled onto my front in the middle of the night (like all good ‘Winston Boys’, I didn’t even take off the damn thing to go to sleep!) the Virgin’s crown would dig into my chest, causing me to wake up in the mornings with a series of tiny, semi-circular bruises on my pecs.

MARLBORO MAN can be purchased from Amazon in ebook or print form as from 8 May on this link: https://amzn.to/3KKq4ts

[1] Chanclas moras – Moroccan babouche leather slippers.

[2] ‘You are going to be in seventh heaven, darling!’