Authors: Roderic Jeffries
‘It is a village nine kilometres inland from Nice,’ she said, in a tone of voice which suggested that every educated person knew exactly where Pelonette was.
‘Then we must ask the French police to . . .’
‘It will be necessary for señor Marsh to be questioned.’
‘Yes, of course. So if we . . .’
‘You are to fly to Nice.’
‘The flight has been booked.’
‘It’s . . . it’s impossible.’
‘Are you ill?’
Perhaps, he thought, he was ill. What else could explain why his mind should suddenly fill with the blurred picture of a man, much younger than he, returning with Tracey to her flat and this time not being refused . . .
‘Señorita, I am far too busy to be able to leave here.
Surely we can ask the French police to carry out the preliminary interrogation . . .’
‘If you wish to query the order,’ she said with schoolmistress primness, ‘you must do so with Superior Chief Salas, not with me.’
Salas’s voice was loud and clear. ‘Absolute nonsense.’
‘Señor,’ protested Alvarez, ‘I really am overwhelmed with work. I’ve countless serious crimes under investigation.’
‘Really? I don’t remember receiving your preliminary reports?’
‘I’ve been too busy to make them,’ Alvarez said weakly. ‘Señor, if I go to France and am not here to continue with all these investigations, what will happen?’
‘They might stand a chance of being solved . . . You are booked on a plane tomorrow morning. Is that quite clear?’
As they came in to land, Alvarez closed his eyes. There was a thump from underneath him as some large and vital piece of the plane fell off; the engines’ notes changed as they prepared to flame out; as he braced himself for the crash he cursed the woman next to him who was so fat that it would be difficult to clamber over her in his desperate rush to the emergency exit . . . They landed and the engines went into reverse thrust and they slowed. He opened his eyes and gazed with astonishment at the world.
The Customs and immigration checks were perfunctory and within twenty minutes of landing he walked out of the baggage area.
He turned. ‘That’s me,’ he said in French.
‘Wonderful—you speak French! My Spanish is like my German—I don’t have any. Welcome to France. Now let me introduce myself. Officier Pierre Danois, of the regional Police Judiciare, Surete Nationale. In other words, a dogsbody.’ He was in his mid-twenties, well built but not tall, with a long face whose expression was normally one of light-hearted and irreverent amusement. ‘Here, let me have your case.’
‘Don’t bother, thanks. It’s only an overnight bag with some washing tackle in case I can’t return today.’
‘Then let’s get moving. I’ve a car outside and we can drive straight out to Pelonette.’
They walked across to the nearest glass swing doors, passing a franchised counter which sold perfumes and specialized toilet articles, and out to the pavement. A green Renault 14 was parked immediately by a No Parking sign. Once they were seated in this, Danois produced a pack of cigarettes. ‘Do you use these. Monsieur Alvarez?’
‘I do, thanks. And please, the name is Enrique.’
Danois helped himself to a cigarette and used the car lighter to give them both a light. He pulled open the ashtray but then, instead of driving off, settled back in the seat. ‘Something’s happened which I’m afraid is going to complicate matters for you. Marsh died last night.’
‘Sweet Mary!’ Alvarez exclaimed in Spanish.
‘It looks like an accident.’
‘But it wasn’t.’
‘You seem very sure?’
‘I am.’ So now there was only the Frenchman, Raymond Massier, left and by being the sole survivor he had identified himself as the murderer. And Alvarez suddenly remembered the one-franc coin found in Clarke’s car and the empty bottle of French cognac at the point on the cliffs from which Llobera had fallen and he knew with a sense of shame that he ought to have named the murderer before now . . . A murderer who would not yet know that the murders had been identified as such.
but would believe they’d all been accepted as accidents, so that he would be off his guard . . .
‘He fell out of an upstairs window and landed on his head on a flagstone. His ex-boyfriend’ Danois’s tone became contemptuous ‘found him this morning at around nine o’clock and by then he’d been dead for some hours. Before his death he’d obviously been drinking. The preliminary investigation was completed just before I came here to fetch you and I think it’s safe to say that but for you his death would have been put down as an accident. But you say it definitely wasn’t?’
‘I can tell you one more thing that’s certain. Before he died, he had a visitor, a Frenchman by the name of Raymond Massier. Massier deliberately got him drunk and then pushed him out of the upstairs window.’
Danois started the engine and pulled away from the kerb. ‘Can you fill in a bit of the background for me?’
Alvarez gave him a brief resume of all that had happened as they drove away from the airport and headed inland.
Danois stubbed out his cigarette. ‘Then as I see things, we’ve two facts to establish. First, that the dead man is the same James Marsh who was in the holiday group that went diving in Mallorca and found the treasure. Second, that his death wasn’t an accident.’
‘He was murdered. Each death has been made to look like an accident, but it has been murder.’
‘I’m not arguing, but have you been able to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that any of the three deaths—or four, if you count the poor devil who was shot up in the war and fell over the cliff—was murder?’
Alvarez hesitated, then spoke reluctantly. ‘Not if one takes each death separately. But look at them all together . . .’
‘We French can be very provincial, Enrique. We’ve only this one death on French soil. We’ll consider your cases in relation to this one, of course, but . . . Well, obviously one of the things that’ll help will be the proof that this death is directly connected with the others. D’you have a photograph of Marsh together with any of the other men who’ve died?’
‘Is there anyone who can swear he knew any of them?’
‘After three years . . .’ Alvarez shrugged his shoulders.
‘Oh well! Perhaps we’ll turn up something that’ll help. So far, the house hasn’t been thoroughly searched so we’ll take care of that.’
‘Has the body been removed?’
‘It has, but naturally only after photographs had been taken and the police doctor had examined it.’
‘Did he have anything to say?’
‘Only that the injuries were fully consistent with having fallen from the upstairs room.’
They came up behind a heavy-load lorry and with Gallic exuberance Danois pulled out on a near-blind bend. Alvarez, who as a driver would take the most appalling risks, closed his eyes and prayed with brief intensity. Nothing was coming in the opposite direction and they safely passed and continued at speed along the undulating road that bordered fields in which grew vines, citrus and apricot trees.
‘You say you were certain—I mean, you would have been certain, but for me—that this was an accident. Did you not consider suicide?’
‘There was no suicide note and no history of suicide threats. Admittedly there were emotional problems, but we reckoned these could have caused him to get tight and, when tight, not knowing what he was doing, he fell.’
‘What kind of emotional problems?’
‘I told you his boyfriend found him.’ Danois’s voice again became scornful. ‘They’d been together for some time, but a few days ago they had a row and Guichard left;
‘Have you questioned Guichard?’
‘Only in connection with the finding of the body. Although we did learn a bit about what went on beforehand. Guichard became friendly with another man and Marsh got to hear about it and started throwing jealous tantrums . . . If you think our lives can be complicated, you want to tune into theirs!’
‘Was Guichard shocked by the death?’
‘He certainly seemed to be.’
They passed through the village of Pelonette. A couple of dozen houses lined the road on either side and because the few windows facing the road were, without exception, shuttered, they gave the village an air of desolation. Beyond the village they passed a large vineyard, breasted a hill, continued halfway down on the other side and then turned into a narrow lane.
The house stood a hundred metres back from the lane. The roof tiles were the same ‘Roman’ tiles, it was stone built, and there were even limestone blocks capping the windows, yet it could never have been mistaken for a Mallorquin house. It was largely a question of proportions. On the island, the only guiding principles to any old building had been utility: here, where life had been kinder, there had been time to consider proportion and beauty.
They parked in front of the garage, a new, wooden building fifty metres from the side of the house, over which grew a luxuriant bignonia. A flagstone path led past flowerbeds to the front door.
‘There’s a well at the back and so there’s plenty of water,’ said Danois, as he looked briefly at the lawn. ‘The gardener’s been coming three times a week and, according to Guichard, Marsh spent most of his spare time working out here.’
It was an attractive garden. The undulations of the land had been used to great effect and there was the orderliness of formality, yet also the delight of the unexpected.
They went round the house, to a flagstone patio in one corner of which was a barbecue pit. ‘That’s where he fell from,’ said Danois.
Alvarez looked up. The wooden-framed window was open, with the shutters clipped back. From it, there was a drop of just over four metres. Two of the flagstones underneath it were stained.
‘We’ll go upstairs in a minute and you’ll see that the sill is only knee-high. If one’s three parts tight and near the window, it wouldn’t take much to fall out.’
‘Or to be pushed out?’
‘Was there any suggestion of the body having been moved at all?’
‘What was Marsh wearing?’
‘T-shirt, cotton trousers, pants, and sandals.’
‘Were there any bruises on his body, as opposed to the injuries to his head?’
‘The police doctor didn’t make a detailed examination, of course, but he didn’t note any . . . There’ll be a PM now. The pathologist is a difficult old sod, but I’ll ask him to keep in mind bruises from being pushed over the sill . . . Shall we go in now?’ Danois brought a key from his pocket. ‘This is for the front door so we’ll have to go back round.’
They entered a large room that was neither exclusively hall nor sitting-room, but whose character partook of both. Alvarez looked round at the small framed paintings, the delicately shaped, satin-covered chairs, the Dresden figures, the fussily elaborate tables, the pink curtains, and the pink and green carpet.
‘Very elegant,’ said Danois, making it clear what he thought of such elegance.
They went upstairs to the largest of the three bedrooms.
Here colours had been used in a manner that initially startled, then provoked either contempt or surprised admiration. The hangings of the tester were pink, yet the bedcover was a strong mauve: the bedcover had been turned down to reveal brick red sheets and puce pyjamas: there were two carpets, one lime green, the other a bright ochre: the wallpaper was red on two walls and blue on the others. There were four framed photographs, taken from different angles, of Michelangelo’s David.
‘No need to ask whether he was left or right-handed!’ said Danois.
Alvarez went over to the single window, which opened inwards. It was easy to imagine a man, drunk, going to the window to try to clear his rocking head, leaning forward or swaying and losing his balance, and pitching over the low sill before he could gather his wits sufficiently to try and catch hold of something to save himself. By the same token, it was easy to visualize a second person coming up from behind and pushing . . .
‘The only papers are down in the study,’ said Danois. ‘I expect you’d like to go through them?’
‘Yes, I would. Not that I think you could have overlooked anything . . .’
‘We could have overlooked everything since, as I said, we haven’t yet looked very hard,’ said Danois cheerfully.
The study was more simply, and for Alvarez much more pleasantly, furnished. Two walls were lined with shelves and these were filled with books, both hardback and paperback, there was a large desk, a couple of attractive rush-bottomed chairs, a bracket clock, a small piecrust table, with a beautiful patina, and two paintings in watercolours of local scenes.
I’ve checked for a wall safe,’ said Danois, ‘but there isn’t one.’
Alvarez went over to the desk and pulled open the drawers. Out of the eight, five were filled with files, cash books, and notebooks. ‘There’s a job here!’
Danois looked at his watch. ‘It’s coming up to aperitif time and in the next village there’s a restaurant which ought to have three stars in Michelin but, thank God, hasn’t so one can still afford to eat there. How about a meal and leaving all this until afterwards?’
It was not a question which needed to be asked twice.
It was just after six o’clock that evening when Alvarez opened a small notebook which, from the mass of brief, scrawled entries, the sets of figures written at all angles, and the fact it had been in the top left-hand drawer of the desk and the telephone was on the left-hand side of the desk, appeared to have been used as an aide-memoire for the telephone. He slowly leafed through the pages, often having difficulty in deciphering the thin, scrawly writing. On one of the middle pages there was an entry, ringed with a thick pencil line, which read RM 0782. He said: ‘I think I’ve found something.’
Danois, who’d been reading one of the few French paperbacks on the shelves, stood and crossed to the desk. He stared at the entry, picked out by Alvarez’s stubby forefinger.
‘RM is Raymond Massier,’ said Alvarez.
‘And the figures?’
‘A telephone number which with any luck will lead us straight to Massier.’