Manuel Exposito had risen from extremely humble origins to become one of the preeminent sculptors in the cultural flowering of 1920s and early 1930s Spain, a movement that was inextricable from the turmoil of Alfonso XIII’s late reign and the Second Republic. While he had trained under Gonzalez and inherited the latter’s love of traditionally unorthodox materials and designs, Exposito also worked extensively with stone and was willing to partake in traditional sculpted forms that many of his Cubist and avant-garde contemporaries shunned. Hence he worked without irony on the Our Lady of the Ebro marble statue at the same time as the wrought iron and quartz Howl of the Liberation. His pieces tended to include bits of classical sculpture emerging from cubist or art deco conglomorations of lines, shapes, and figures.

When the Civil War broke out, Exposito offered his services to the Republic. Wary of sending a sculptor of some international renown to the front lines, Exposito was instead commissioned to make a morale-boosting sculpture in Madrid from non-strategic materials. With the city flooded by left-leaning talent from all over the world, Exposito was able to gather his materials of choice, quartz and glass, and employ several models and fellow sculptors to speed the process. The overall design was of three crystalline female figures emerging from a jumbled chaos of lines and angles representing the war, to be cast in quartz with glass as a structural support.

In the process of completing the sculpture, Exposito apparently fell in love with one of the models: Karin Sandström, a Swedish anarchist who had come to Madrid with her father and brother (the famous Karl and Erik Sandström) to support the Republic. To this day the exact details of the relationship are unclear, but two love letters from Exposito to Sandström survive, the “crystalline muse” letters, so named after their dedication. Small Expositio studies and figures also turned up in the effects of Karl and Erik when they were shipped back to Sweden after their deaths in the Battle of the Ebro.

Karin Sandström died of disease during the death agony of the Republic in early 1939 (sources differ on whether it was dysentery or typhus), while the completed portions of Exposito’s sculpture were destroyed during Casado’s coup and the resulting street fighting between communists and socialists. Devastated, Exposito had to be bodily carried from the city by his assistants to evacuation in Cartagena, and thence to exile in Mexico.

The artist never completed another sculpture; instead, he immersed himself in amateur geology. In particular, he became a noted authority on quartz crystals and would pay handsomely for specimens sent to him by admirers and correspondents. To anyone who suggested he begin sculpting again, Exposito would only laugh. He declined rehabilitation at the hands of the Francoists, declined to return to Spain after Franco’s death in 1975, and would offer only boilerplate prepared remarks when asked to speak or be interviewed. He also adamantly refused to allow anyone into his studio, insisting that it was only being used for storage.

Upon Manuel Exposito’s death in 1996, at age 98, authorities in Veracruz opened the studio, intending to auction the contents to pay years of rock-hunting debts run up by the sculptor. Inside, they found a massive final sculpture made out of highly polished quartz crystals.

It was a portrait of Karin Sandström, and each crystal was a brushstroke capturing her as she had been in those far-off and dangerous days in Madrid.

Inspired by this image.

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Everything would have been fine if the Spanish tourists had arrived on time.

Kay and Alice had met them at the bus stop, clearly bamboozled and lost (as the island’s easygoing bus schedule was wont to do for foreign tourists). As it so happened, no one at the bus stop spoke any more than pidgin Spanish…that is, except the two young American education students fresh out of Advanced Spanish 499.

There were still problems, largely because the tourists were Galician and spoke Castilian Spanish with a heady cocktail of Galician loanwords and a strong accent. Kay and Alice, who had studied Latin American Spanish–specifically the Mexican variety–were able to communicate only with considerable difficulty. Still, they had been able to describe the bus schedule, tell the Spaniards when the next bus was probably due, give them directions to their hotel, and even attempted to impart a few useful English phrases.

That would have been that, deeds done by good Samaritans, if the Spanish tourists had arrived on time.

Only they hadn’t.

The two Spaniards, Isabella Sanchez and Inez De Rojo, never arrived at their hotel, and never left on any of the ferries. There were no bodies, and no leads–except for Kay and Alice, who were the last ones to have any contact with the missing and who had spent the following week at a rustic and secluded beach on the leeward side.

It wasn’t until they tried to take the ferry home that Kay and Alice realized they were the only suspects in a missing persons case.

Toms had been a trade-union organizer in Luton when the war broke out, and he chartered the first ship to Spain he could find once news reached him: a tramp steamer from Southampton to Bilbao. On arrival, he found that the advancing Nationalists had cut Bilbao and the Basque Country off from the rest of the Spanish Republic. Denied the ability to join up with the International Brigades, Toms fought and organized as best he could.

As a trained surveyor and architect, Toms was given a position building the Iron Ring–fortifications intended to protect Bilbao from Nationalist assault until Republican troops could break through and link up with the isolated Basque Country. He did this with gusto, developing the laborers under his leadership into an effective and politically active unit known as “los topos de Tomás”–Toms’ Moles.

The local Republican commanders eventually became unsure of Iron Ring architect Alejandro Goicoechea’s loyalty. They therefore contacted Toms and had his men construct a bunker separate from the rest of the fortifications, into which the precious metal holdings of the local Bank of Spain and other valuables were placed to protect them from bombardment.

When, as feared, Goicoechea defected to the Nationalists with the complete blueprints of the fortifications, Toms and his men sealed their vault with explosives. None of them survived the retreat from Bilbao or disastrous Battle of Santander.

The bunker? It remains sealed until today, its exact location a mystery taken to Toms’ grave.

Or is it?