Authors: Roderic Jeffries
The barman mistakenly thought Alvarez’s dejected expression meant that he was bored and would welcome conversation. ‘Do you enjoy the visit to our lovely land, sir?’
‘Not when I have to spend my time bashing my head against a brick wall.’
‘Something was impossible, yet it might well have happened. Now I’m faced with something equally impossible, but I’ve got to find a way of making it happen. How?’
The barman was a very serious young man who studied English during his off-duty time because he believed that anyone with ambition should be able to speak at least three different languages. ‘Sir, maybe I do not understand. Because if something is impossible it does not happen: if it does happen, it is not impossible.’
Alvarez thought about that and after a moment he said suddenly: ‘My God! Turn it upside down and it looks the right way up!’
‘Yes, sir,’ said the barman, again not understanding what was being said and gloomily coming to the conclusion that English was a more complex language than he had thought, but polite to the end. He moved away to serve two other hotel guests.
Alvarez picked up another gherkin and slowly nibbled at it. Throughout the case, he’d viewed events, as he’d naturally been taught to do, in their known and logical sequence. Clarke and Allen had died and a possible connection between the two deaths had appeared. Short died and the connection was confirmed. Marsh died and his murder identified Massier as the murderer. So when Massier died he, by elimination, must have committed suicide even though there were one or two facts which didn’t quite fit the pattern . . .
Now turn everything upside down. Start with the premise that Massier had been murdered. Then the impossibility occurred before his death. But now, by definition, it couldn’t be an impossibility . . .
Goppel’s office was smaller and much less luxuriously furnished than Bahr’s, but it possessed the same degree of clinical neatness. Not even a single sheet of paper lay out of place on the desk. Alvarez mentally compared this room with his own back on the island and he wondered if Goppel ever found life rather cold?
‘Do you wish a cigarette?’ Goppel rose from his chair and leaned across to offer a slim silver cigarette case. He grunted as the edge of the desk dug into his generous stomach.
When he was once more seated, and smoking, he began to drum on the desk with his fingers. He looked at his watch for the third time in less than a quarter of an hour. ‘The banks soon are closing for today.’
‘And we are the second day.’
So what else is glaringly obvious? wondered Alvarez. They’d spent much of the past two days in each other’s company and if this had taught them nothing else, it had taught them that they’d little in common: every conversation had become stilted as they’d both struggled to keep it going from a sense of politeness.
The telephone rang. Goppel answered it. Certain it was just one more routine call, Alvarez stared through the window at the distant view of the Schloss Vaduz, set high on its crag: a view he’d come to know all too well. Then a sudden change in Goppel’s tone of voice caught his attention.
After a moment, Goppel replaced the receiver. ‘He is arrived, Herr Alvarez.’ He stood. ‘We speak with him.’
The guardia car braked to a halt in front of the post in Llueso. ‘The fare’ll be three thousand two hundred,’ said the driver cheerfully.
Alvarez, small suitcase and parcel in one hand, briefcase in the other, climbed out on to the pavement. ‘I’ll buy you a drink.’
‘I’m still waiting for the one you promised me last time.’
‘Never lose hope.’ He crossed the pavement and entered the post, went up the stairs and into his office, to find it stuffy and swelteringly hot. He crossed to the window and opened it, but left the shutters closed. He crossed to the desk and sat. He must report to Salas, who would have to set in motion a request for extradition . . .
He put his feet on the desk and tilted the chair back. How to explain things to Salas? How to gloss over the fact that he should have divined the truth long before he had? After all, as the barman at the Hotel Rheineck had indirectly pointed out, there had been one unshakable truth throughout the case—if something happened it could not be impossible.
The murderer had had to benefit from his murders or there was no motive for them. Since Massier was the last to die, he could not be the murderer. That left Clarke, Short, Allen, or Marsh. They were all dead, so it was impossible one of them could be the murderer. But since one of them had to be, one of them was not dead. Clarke’s body had been identified by Tracey, Short’s by his fingerprints, Allen’s by his wife. Vera, Marsh’s by his boyfriend, Guichard. Tracey, Vera, or Guichard could have been lying: only the fingerprints could not lie.
Tracey had not been really distressed by Clarke’s death. Had she deliberately become friendly with the investigating inspector in order to learn whether there were any suspicions that it had not been Clarke’s body which she’d identified? And when finally satisfied, had she then left him to return to Clarke and enjoy the waiting fortune? But although she was emotionally selfish, surely she loved life far too much ever to assist in murderously taking it?
Vera Allen had been shocked by the death of her husband and totally bewildered by the awful problem of how she was going to survive financially. Surely the most consummate of actresses could not have simulated her grief and bewilderment?
Guichard and Marsh had had a row because Marsh had, correctly, believed Guichard was friendly with another man. In such circumstances, would Marsh ever have accepted Guichard as his accomplice?
If the corpse had not been that of the man reported dead, whose corpse had it been? There’d been no report from anywhere on the island of a missing man.
So none of them was the murderer. And Short couldn’t be the murderer because his body had been identified by his fingerprints and it was impossible for a fingerprint to lie . . . But if the murderer wasn’t one of the other three, then it had to be Short . . .
Charles Prade had arrived at Palma airport on a package tour. The couriers had, as usual, been standing immediately outside the luggage lounge and as the passengers came through they’d picked out all those who were booked with their respective firms—either because they were approached by the passenger or from the labels on the suitcases—and had directed them to the appropriate buses. Prade had spoken to Caroline Brown to tell her that his friend, Peter Short, had unexpectedly met him at the airport, was going to take him home for a drink, and would then drop him at the Hotel Don Emilio. The fact that when he’d spoken to Caroline he’d seen Short showed that he must have already passed her once, when he had left the luggage lounge. In other words, she did not identify him as Charles Prade until after he’d met Short . . . It had, of course, been Short who’d gone up to her and identified himself as Prade after leaving Prade in his parked car, totally unaware of the deception that was being played out. On the face of things, this might have been a dangerous moment if someone who knew him as Short had seen him. In fact, there’d been little danger. It had been Prade who’d walked through the group of waiting people and so, naturally, no one had taken the slightest notice of him. Then Short had carefully waited to identify himself as Prade to Caroline Brown until she had left and was outside—a point where most people would be hurrying somewhere and not concentrating on who was around. And unless Caroline had at some time subsequent remarked that ‘Prade’ had come up and spoken to her and the listener had also been a watcher at the airport who’d known she was really talking about Short, then the switch would never come to light. In any case. Short had dyed his hair black and had worn large dark glasses and it was surprising how much these two small things could change a man’s appearance if he were only briefly and incuriously seen.
Short had driven Prade to his home, Ca Na Rostra.
The house had previously been spring-cleaned from top to bottom by Juana Ortiz in order to erase all Short’s fingerprints—not, of course, that she’d had the slightest inkling of this—and then Prade had carefully been induced to leave his prints where they would be found by anyone later seeking to confirm ‘Short’s’ identity: on a glass, on a cupboard door, on a book jacket in the only occupied bedroom. Then Short had rendered Prade unconscious, carried him down to the port, shipped him aboard the chartered motor-cruiser, fixed a gas cylinder to leak, set a time fuse, and returned ashore.
He’d booked in at the Hotel Don Emilio in Gala Baston. Gala Baston was fifteen kilometres from Puerto Llueso and about the same distance from Llueso. Because it catered mainly for German tourists and because it was that far away, there wasn’t much chance of someone from either Puerto Llueso or Llueso seeing him and identifying him as Short. But, just in case, he’d adopted the stratagem of saying he was suffering from an upset stomach to explain why he spent so much time in his room, didn’t swim—that hair dye mustn’t get washed out!—and never left the hotel.
When he’d been questioned, he’d naturally been shocked to learn about the death of Peter Short. He’d then given all the help he could towards the formal identification of the body, to the extent of mentioning the signet ring and the gold-backed tooth: he’d even given his fingerprints, albeit after a formal objection, because they would help to confirm the identity of the dead man. Then, at the end of the week, he’d flown back to the UK, after which he’d disappeared. So Charles Prade went missing, but since any investigation would immediately show he’d landed in the UK, inquiries would not be made in Mallorca: those investigating the death of Short would never learn about Prade’s disappearance . . .
Fingerprints couldn’t lie. But the circumstances surrounding them could. Two people had had drinks at Ca Na Rostra that night: Short and Prade. Prints of the dead man matched those on one of the glasses and those to be found in the occupied bedroom. So obviously the dead man had to be Short . . .
When Alvarez entered his home, Isabel and Juan started jumping around him and demanding to know what presents he’d brought them. He gave Juan three sets of Liechtenstein stamps, Isabel a doll in regional dress, Jaime a bottle of German brandy, and Dolores a headscarf. Jaime insisted, despite Dolores’s objections, on opening the bottle to see how a German brandy compared with a Spanish one. Several comparisons later, the two men agreed that any differences were immaterial.
It was over an hour and half before Alvarez wandered into the kitchen where Dolores was slicing up an onion. She said: ‘There’s a letter for you, Enrique. By the coffee jar.’
He went over to the open shelves to the left of the cooker, and picked up the envelope. The stamp was an English one and the handwriting was spidery and slanting and the g’s, f’s, j’s, p’s, and y’s, had exaggerated loops.
‘Is it from her?’ she asked.
‘Mother of God, if only you’d never met!’
He said slowly: ‘Then a murderer would have got away with five, perhaps six, murders and a fortune belonging to the Marques de Orlocas’s daughter.’
‘And how did the Marques amass his fortune?’ she demanded violently. ‘From the bloody sweat of people like you and me. Why should his daughter get it back?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘Why should you have to suffer so much that the murderer gets caught?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know any of the answers.’ He did not open the letter but tore it up into tiny pieces.