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Authors: Roderic Jeffries

Relatively Dangerous

BOOK: Relatively Dangerous
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Easygoing, brandy-nipping Inspector Alvarez is roused once again from his quietly enjoyable life. A tourist car crashes in the mountains of the Spanish island of Mallorca, and Superior Chief Salas puts Alvarez in charge of the inquiries into the identity of the accident victims—hardly, it seems, a challenging case.

With much prodding, the unwilling Alvarez gets his investigation underway. His quick discovery of the dead man’s identity pleases Chief Salas and the case is considered closed—that is, to everyone but Alvarez, who continues to make inquiries of his own. On questioning the locals, Alvarez discovers that although many of them knew the accident victim, very few seem saddened by his death.

Alvarez’s rambling work methods and his reluctance to believe that poor driving caused the accident frustrate his superiors. But Alvarez is persistent, and the awkward questions he raises go to the heart of life on the seemingly idyllic island.

Publishers Weekly
proclaimed of Roderic Jeffries that “excepting the late Agatha Christie, few authors have concealed a denouement so perfectly,” and
Relatively Dangerous
brilliantly upholds his reputation as a master of the genre.

 

 

 

Relatively Dangerous

 

 

Also by Roderic Jeffries:

Almost Murder

Layers of Deceit

Three and One Make Five

Deadly Petard

Unseemly End

Just Deserts

Murder Begets Murder

Troubled Deaths

 

 

 

RELATIVELY
DANGEROUS
. Copyright © 1987 by Roderic Jeffries.

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any

manner whatsoever without written permission except in the

case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue,

New York, N.Y. 10010.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jeffries, Roderic, 1926–

Relatively dangerous.

I. Title.

PR6060.E43R4 1987 823’.914 87-7236

ISBN 0-312-01080-X

First published in Great Britain by William Collins Sons &

Co., Ltd.

First U.S. Edition

10
987654321

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relatively Dangerous

 

 

CHAPTER I

The lower slopes on either side of the deep, twisting valley were covered with pines; there was also the occasional evergreen oak standing proudly tall. The upper slopes were bare and on them grew only the occasional clump of weed grass, wild thyme, rock cistus, or thistle; in parts, their nearly sheer faces had been striated by the weather so that it looked as if in some past age they had been worked by man. Along the bed of the valley there ran a torrente, normally dry, but very occasionally carrying roaring flood water.

A road ran along the west side of the valley for a couple of kilometres; then, in a succession of sharp-angled bends, wound down to the bridge which spanned the torrente. This road was unfenced throughout its length, even though at a couple of points the drop beyond was as much as thirty metres. Nervous drivers stuck nervously to the middle of the road, preferring the risk of meeting an oncoming vehicle head-on rather than approaching too close to the dangerous edge. For some years there had been a plan to erect Armco barriers at the most dangerous spots, but this had low priority since few of the millions of tourists ventured so far away from the sand and the sea.

The Ford Fiesta rounded one very sharp bend with scrabbling tyres and raced down towards the next one; its speed in such circumstances was so dangerous that it suggested either mechanical trouble or an incapacitated driver. Near the second bend, violent braking made the tyres squeal and the car entered into an incipient skid and the back wheels slid within a metre of the edge of the road, just past the apex. A driver with even a vestigial sense of self-protection would have backed right off as he sent a brief prayer of thanks to the overworked St Christopher, but the driver of the Fiesta continued at the same ridiculous speed.

The side of the mountain came out in an uneven wedge shape and the left-hander started easily, but then tightened up to become fiercer than any of the previous bends. Because of this, there was a sign denoting a dangerous corner which, since few of the others had been so marked and none of them had been less than dangerous, should have been a double warning, but it went unheeded and the Fiesta entered the bend far too fast. Only as the bend tightened right up did the driver realize the extra danger and even then his reaction was incompetent; he braked harshly. There had been a light shower a couple of hours previously and where trees overhung the road this had still not quite dried; in addition, the surface was—near the occasional oak—littered with leaves which had been blown off in the brief, but fierce, wind which had come funnelling down the valley without warning. The car skidded and this time the driver’s luck did not hold. The back of the Fiesta whipped round with neck-jarring speed and slid towards and then over the edge of the road; momentum carried the car forward past the point of balance and it fell.

The rock face was almost sheer for several metres, then there was a narrow ledge on which grew a few pine trees and grass; beyond the ledge was another and much longer drop, though not quite so sheer. The car landed on the ledge, rear-end first. The force sent the front end slamming down, crunching wheels and suspension. The doors flew open and the passenger was hurled out; he tumbled into a bush, arms and legs flailing. Momentum again took the car forward. It hesitated for a second on the edge of the ledge, then went over. This time the drop was over a dozen metres, a second one even more; a final fall brought it sideways on to a huge boulder. The car was crushed into a shapeless mass of twisted metal.

The violent, screeching noise had silenced both the cicadas and the birds, most notably a couple of crossbills, but after a while the cicadas resumed their shrilling and the birds their calling. Hot sunshine reached down to the wreck.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

Alvarez reached over to his trousers, on the chair, and extracted from the pocket a handkerchief; he wiped the sweat from his face and neck. Considering it was still only the middle of May, the heat was unusual. Or perhaps the humidity was very high. In either case, the wise man did not overwork himself.

There was a call from downstairs. ‘Enrique, are you awake?’

He stared up. The sunlight was being reflected up through the louvres of the closed shutters to form a pattern on the ceiling that took his mind back to his childhood, although he couldn’t pin down the exact context of the memory . . .

‘Enrique. Enrique.’

‘All right,’ he shouted back. Dolores was an admirable woman, a fine homemaker, and a wonderful cook, but she did fuss far too much. Fussing promoted ulcers.

After a while, he sat upright and swivelled his feet round until he could put them on the floor. He yawned and looked at his watch and was surprised to discover that the time was after five. Still, there wasn’t much work in hand or, at least, work which need concern him too greatly. Times might have changed and parts of Palma have become centres of mugging, but Llueso remained reasonably calm and peaceful and only the occasional tourist suffered crime; since they were seldom on the island for more than a fortnight, their cases could soon be forgotten.

He stood, pulled on his trousers and shirt; his chin tickled and he scratched it to discover that he’d forgotten to shave that morning. He left the bedroom and went downstairs to the kitchen. ‘Where’s the coffee?’ he asked, as he looked around.

Dolores said sharply: ‘What’s that?’

He belatedly realized that she was in one of her moods. Admirable woman that she was, she did have them. Jaime ought to have stopped this long ago, but he’d always been inclined to settle for an easy life rather than an authoritative one.

‘Has the cat taken your tongue?’

‘I just thought . . .’

‘I know exactly what you thought. That I was here to slave for you. Coffee is to be ready exactly when you want it and never mind how busy I am. It is enough that you want your coffee now!’ Her oval face, framed by jet black hair, was filled with haughty anger.

‘There’s no need to bother if you’re too busy.’

She rested her hands on her hips. ‘So now you wish to insult me by suggesting I’d let you leave the house without a mug of coffee and a slice of coca to last you until supper?’

‘But you’ve just said . . .’

‘Sit.’

He sat at the kitchen table. Perhaps Jaime wasn’t really so much to blame. After all, how could any husband deal with a wife who was so illogical? He wondered if he should have asserted himself and left? But her coca was always as light as a fairy’s footprint . . .

He arrived at the guardia building at a quarter to six and the cabo on duty looked up from a girlie magazine and said that Palma had repeatedly been trying to contact him by telephone. He climbed the stairs slowly. When he reached his office, he slumped down in the chair behind the desk and briefly looked at the morning’s mail which was as yet unopened. He transferred his gaze to the window and the sun-splashed wall of the house on the other side of the street. He heard a girl singing and knew a sudden happiness that now girls could spend their youth singing instead of working all day in the fields so that in later life they were crippled from arthritis and rheumatism.

The telephone rang. Superior Chief Salas’s secretary, a woman who spoke as if her mouth were full of overripe plums, informed him that the superior chief wished to speak to him.

Salas, typically, offered no friendly greeting, but immediately demanded to know where in the devil he’d been all afternoon and then, with Madrileno vulgarity, made it clear he was unconvinced by the answer. ‘Then perhaps now you could manage to find the time to concentrate on your work? . . . Early yesterday afternoon there was a fatal accident on the Estemos road; a car went off at one of the corners. One man was thrown clear and he’s now in the Clinica Bahia, the other died instantly. Neither man carried any means of identification. Find out who they are.’

‘But, señor, surely the survivor in the clinic can say that?’

‘Doubtless he could, if only he were not suffering from amnesia.’

‘Oh! . . . And he had no papers on him?’

‘The fact that you need to make inquiries surely tells you that he had none?’

‘What about the car?’

‘It was hired and the man who handled the hiring has returned to his home in Madrid because of illness in the family and the other staff can’t find any record. Typical incompetence.’

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