Authors: Roderic Jeffries
‘Stop saying you’re sorry. And, goddamn it, I’ve been even busier, trying to keep my temper.’
‘Unfortunately, without success.’
She stared at him, then suddenly laughed. ‘Tell me something interesting. Why is it I can never get really angry with you?’
‘That’s not correct. The other day . . .’
‘I said, really angry. The other day I was just beginning to become annoyed.’ She tucked her arm round his and started across the patio towards the front door of her flat. ‘Never mind, all that really matters is that you’ve finally made it. The brandy bottle’s ready, the ice bucket is full, your costume’s hanging in the bathroom, and there’s a special surprise for supper.’
Welcome home, he thought.
On Wednesday morning Alvarez arrived at the guardia post at eight thirty-three.
‘Good grief!’ exclaimed the duty guard, ‘it’s only just daybreak. Has the revolution broken out?’
Alvarez went up to his room and settled behind the desk. He brought out a telephone directory from one of the drawers, checked the number of Palma airport, and dialled it. Unusually, the call was answered after no more than a dozen rings.
‘I want to talk to someone about incoming flights last Monday evening,’ he said.
‘There’s no one here,’ replied the woman at the other end, faithfully observing the first principle of airport authorities that the general public should be denied all possible information.
‘Cuerpo general de Policia.’
‘Oh!’ she said angrily. ‘Then I suppose you’ll have to have a word with Traffic. Hang on.’
The line clicked and buzzed, there was a transitory and tantalizing snatch of conversation between two ladies, and then a man said: ‘Yes?’
He explained what he wanted.
The man spoke wearily. ‘I suppose you realize that at this time of the year aircraft are arriving every few minutes?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘So therefore it could take one hell of a long time to work out what you want to know.’
‘That’s all right. I’m not particularly rushed.’
‘I wasn’t thinking of you . . . All right, give me your number and we’ll get on to you when we know something.’
Despite the man’s pessimism, he rang back three-quarters of an hour later. ‘Within those times you gave me, planes came in from Edinburgh, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Stockholm, Zurich, Frankfurt, Marseilles, Lyons, Madrid and Barcelona.’
‘Can you give me the airlines of the planes from the UK?’
‘Hang on a sec’
‘Heathrow was Iberia, Edinburgh was British Caledonian, and Gatwick was UK Tours.’
‘You wouldn’t also know which travel firms were working those flights?’
‘I would not.’
After ringing off, Alvarez picked up a pencil from his paper-strewn desk and fiddled with it, but try as he might he could think of no short cut for what had to be done next. Sighing, he telephoned each of the three airline companies in turn and asked for a list of the travel firms who had been working those flights. His request was met with annoyance which shaded into anger, but by a judicious mixture of flattery and authority he finally persuaded each of the companies to check their records for him.
He telephoned the four solicitors who practised in Llueso and the fourth one said that he had handled the legal work connected with the purchase of Ca Na Rostra.
‘Do you know if señor Short made a will?’
T advised him it was necessary because of the danger of dying intestate, but he said he’d get around to it later. I couldn’t do more.’
‘So as far as you know, he’s died intestate?’
‘Unless, of course, he made a will through someone else.’
‘I’ll have to get on to Madrid to check. Tell me, when you were handling the matter, did you ever learn anything about him? Whether he was married, where he’d lived in Britain, and where he was living in Europe?’
‘I don’t think so, although it’s all some time ago now. As I remember him, he was one of those men who never says any more than’s absolutely necessary.’
‘How did he pay for the house?’
‘I’d have to look in my records to answer that.’
‘Will you do it?’
‘It could take a bit of time so I’d better ring you back.’
Alvarez replaced the receiver. Now, he was going to have to telephone each of the different banks to see if Short had an account at any of them and it sometimes seemed as if there were more banks on the island than bureaucratic offices . . . Nevertheless, he could confirm some time later that not one of the banks on the island held, or had ever held, an account in the name of Peter Short.
The solicitor rang back. ‘I managed to find out what you wanted to know, although it’s taken all this time. Shall I send the bill in to you?’
‘Just add something extra to your clients’ accounts.’
He chuckled. ‘D’you think I’ve left enough room for that? . . . señor Short bought Ca Na Rostra for eight million and he paid in cash.’
Alvarez whistled. ‘Did that strike you as odd?’
‘It’s not the first time. When there were currency restrictions in Britain, buyers often paid in cash they’d smuggled out. Nowadays, it’s the French. Tomorrow, like as not, it’ll be people taking their money back out of Spain.’
Alvarez thanked him and rang off. Immediately, the telephone rang. He stared at the receiver with bitter dislike before lifting it. Iberia gave him a list of four holiday firms. He wrote the names down and began to search through the telephone directory for the numbers of the firms, but British Caledonian interrupted him. They gave him five names. He was sadly contemplating the list and mentally estimating the effort that was going to be involved in contacting each of the nine firms when UK Tours added seven more names. Sixteen calls to make: sixteen people to whom he had to explain what he wanted and then persuade or browbeat into doing it for him . . .
He leaned over and opened the bottom right-hand drawer of the desk and brought out the glass and bottle of brandy.
He did not return to Calle Juan Rives until two-fifteen in the afternoon. The family had just finished their meal.
‘You’ll have eaten, of course,’ said Dolores, very offhandedly.
‘I’m blowed if I have. I’m starving,’ he replied as he reached across the table for the bottle of red wine.
‘I thought you must have done and just couldn’t be bothered to let me know.’
‘I like that! I’ve been working flat out until I left the office and came straight back here.’
Jaime sniggered, making it clear that he didn’t believe so unlikely a story.
Alvarez did not finish telephoning until twenty past seven in the evening. Exhausted, he stared down at his notes. As was only to be expected, the many tour operators had taken the tourists from the three UK flights to hotels in virtually every part of the island. But, and it did seem as if luck were partially with him since it was reasonable to suppose that Short’s friend would be staying in a hotel not too far from Short’s house, only one operator had brought tourists to the north-east end of the island. Their courier lived in Playa Nueva and she visited each hotel each day and no doubt would be able to help him. Her name was señorita Brown.
Caroline Brown was plump and cheerful and, necessary in her job, seldom upset by anything other people said or did. She spoke Spanish fluently, even to the extent of using her hands eloquently.
She and Alvarez sat outside the ugly ten-storey hotel, by the side of a pool in which a number of people were swimming despite the lateness of the hour. From inside the hotel came the beat of disco music and frequently the shouts of guests who had underestimated the potency of the wine.
‘Yes, I can tell you who it was,’ she said. ‘His name’s Charles Prade and he’s been unlucky and suffered from Franco’s fury . . . Oh my God! My mother always told me my tongue was five seconds faster than my brain.’
‘Señorita, I can’t understand what you’re telling me.’
‘Well, I . . . I’m sorry. But in the old days, when a client got a case of the trots the courier always used to call it Franco’s fury. Rather like Montezuma’s revenge. But of course it’s not polite and . . . and maybe you . . .’ She became silent.
‘The trots are what?’
‘An upset tummy. People come out and get one and they say it’s the water or the oily food, but nine times out of ten it’s because they’ve been drinking too much cheap red wine.’
‘How can you be certain it is señor Prade I wish to speak to?’
She spoke quickly, eager to have her recent faux pas forgotten. ‘There’s nothing clever about it! I was at the airport, as always, to meet the customers. You know what I have to do? The passengers travelling with our firm identify me by my uniform and badge and they come up after passing through Customs and I tell ‘em which bus to go to. Sounds easy, but mind you it can be a job and a half because there’s always some goon who never reads what to do on arrival and then wanders around like a lost sheep and I go barmy because the numbers aren’t right and the bus drivers say they’re leaving . . . Anyway, I was doing this and had finished and was going out to the buses when a man came up to me and said he wouldn’t be going on a bus after all because his friend had unexpectedly met him and he was returning with the friend and he’d be along to the hotel later in the evening and would that be all right? I told him, now I know what’s happening you can take off to where you like.’
‘Which hotel’s he staying at?’
‘The Don Emilio in Gala Baston. That’s on the sea front, at the far end of town. A bit nicer than most of the others and the food’s good. I always eat there when I can.’
‘When I was a boy,’ he said sadly, ‘Gala Baston was just a beach.’
‘Then it’s changed!’ There was no regret in her voice for peace and solitude lost. If the island had not been a Mecca for tourists, she’d be living in Birmingham.
By the time he drove into Puerto Llueso, the front cafes and restaurants were still busy but elsewhere the port had quietened and there was little traffic passing Tracey’s flat. He climbed the rickety wooden stairs and reached the outside patio to see that the window shutters were closed and the curtain had been drawn across inside the door. He checked the time: a quarter past eleven. He’d warned her that because of his work he couldn’t guarantee when he’d be along and she’d said it didn’t matter, he was to come, yet if she were already asleep she’d have every right to be annoyed. On the other hand, she might still be awake, reading, waiting for word from him . . . He decided to compromise and tapped lightly on the door so that if she were asleep he wouldn’t wake her. After a moment, the curtain was drawn aside. Tracey unlocked the door. She was wearing a short embroidered nightdress of some filmy material and in the soft light, a mixture of moonlight and diffused street lighting, it had suggestions of transparency.
‘I’m very sorry to be so late,’ he said formally, trying to keep his gaze on a level with her head, ‘but I’ve only just finished work. I hoped you wouldn’t actually have gone to bed.’
‘I wasn’t asleep because I knew you’d be along when you could . . . Don’t keep standing there like a lost soul, come on in.’
‘Perhaps . . . perhaps it would be better if I left?’
‘When you haven’t really arrived? What’s the matter? Don’t you want to come in?’
He swallowed heavily.
‘Enrique,’ she murmured, ‘you’re one goddamn fool. Do I have to put the invitation in writing?’
He stepped inside and she shut the door, locked it, and pulled the curtain across.
Alvarez stood at the kitchen table and dunked the last piece of featherlight ensaimada into the bowl of hot cocoa. Dolores saw him smile and she opened her mouth to speak and then, most uncharacteristically, said nothing. She went over to the cooker, picked up a saucepan, and put this down on the marble working surface with unnecessary force.
As he chewed, he stared out through the open window at the small courtyard and the tangerine tree which was half in sunshine. ‘Looks like it’s going to be a nice day,’ he said enthusiastically.
‘What d’you expect at this time of the year?’
He chuckled. ‘You sound as if you got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning.’
‘And you sound . . .’ She stopped.
‘How do I sound?’
The word ridiculous tickled her tongue, but she managed to contain it. She picked up the saucepan and returned it to the cooker, banging it down with even more force than before. ‘I saw Victoria yesterday.’
‘So now I understand why you’re fed up with life,’ he said gaily, careless of the fact that the two women were from time to time quite friendly.
Her lips tightened, but before she would say anything more Juan came into the kitchen. She ordered him out in so sharp a voice that he almost ran, his expression both worried and hurt.
Alvarez finally realized that the storm signals were flying. ‘I’d better get moving—got a lot to do.’ He picked up the bowl and drained the cocoa.
‘Victoria told me she saw you the day before yesterday.’
‘Yes? Well, I must be off . . .’
‘She says you were with a foreign woman. Is it because of this woman that you’re always late home?’
‘I’ve told you, I’m having to work myself silly and . . .’
‘You were working until five this morning?’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘I heard you creep in.’
‘Well, I . . . I had to go to a hotel over in Ca’n Nestat and I had a drink or two and . . .’
‘Enrique, listen to me.’ Her tone had changed and now was no longer sharp but pleading. ‘For someone like you there can be nothing but sorrow from going out with a foreign woman. You’re too . . . too emotional and you don’t understand what they have become. For you, love is something sacred: for them, it is something they throw away as easily as a cigarette stub.’
‘You don’t know her so you’re talking nonsense.’
‘Is it true that she’s much younger than you?’
‘What if she is?’ he demanded roughly. ‘Can’t you understand that sometimes age doesn’t mean a thing? It’s how people feel that matters, not how old they are. Why shouldn’t I go out with a foreigner? D’you think we’re still living in the times when people crossed themselves if they saw one because they were scared it was the devil in disguise?’