Authors: Roderic Jeffries
‘As if you were somehow to blame?’
‘Perhaps he didn’t have any doubts and wasn’t fed up with me, but knew I was feeling like I was and that upset him so much that he did go and drink too much. And because he’d drunk so much, he crashed . . . . So if I hadn’t almost decided to leave him, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.’
‘After any tragedy it’s always possible to look back and say perhaps this and perhaps that and to work out how the tragedy could have been avoided. But if at the time you were doing what you thought was right and weren’t trying to hurt someone, then in truth it couldn’t have been avoided.’
‘I didn’t want to hurt him: I was trying all I could not to. I thought maybe leaving him would make it easier for both of us . . .’
‘Then you’re not in any way to blame for his death, Tracey.’
She shifted her head on to her left arm, stretched out with her right and briefly touched his forearm in a gesture of gratitude.
Alvarez reached his office at five past nine and the telephone rang before he had had time to sit and recover his breath from the walk up the stairs.
‘Alvarez,’ said Superior Chief Salas, in his typically abrupt manner, ‘I have been waiting for your report.’
‘Which report, señor?’
‘Good God, man, are you still asleep? On the car crash near the monastery of San Miguel, of course.’
‘Well, as a matter of fact . . . I haven’t yet been able to investigate the matter.’
‘What the devil do you mean?’
‘When I saw señorita Newcombe I decided she was much too distressed to be questioned.’
‘And since when have you been qualified, or required, to determine a witness’s state of mind?’
‘It was just that knowing there was no very great urgency in the matter . . .’
‘No very great urgency? Will you never learn that there’s a very great urgency in every case until it’s solved?’
‘What I was trying to say . . .’
‘But not succeeding. You’re to return and question the woman this morning and kindly remember you are not being called upon to pass any judgement whatsoever on her mental state. Is that quite clear?’
‘Quite clear, sen or. As a matter of fact, I did tell her . . .’
Salas cut the connection.
Alvarez sighed as he replaced the receiver. People from Madrid seemed always to believe that each minute of every day had to be turned inside out instead of being left to mature with dignity.
He looked at his watch. He’d arranged to meet Tracey again this morning—as he would have told Salas had he been allowed to—but there was no point in leaving for another three-quarters of an hour. And three-quarters of an hour was too short a time to start any other work. He relaxed. He closed his eyes the better to do so.
The front door of Ca’n Renaldo was opened by Tracey. ‘Come on in, Enrique,’ she said, as she held the door fully open. ‘Let’s have some coffee—come on into the kitchen and talk while I fix up the machine. Matilde doesn’t come in on a Wednesday, so I’m on my own.’
He followed her into the tiled, elaborately equipped kitchen. She crossed to the gas stove and picked up a saucepan which she half filled at the sink. ‘The water’s supposed to be perfectly drinkable, but Dad always told us that if you boil all water and milk and throw away all liquor, you’ll live to be a hundred. I don’t want to be a hundred, so I just boil water.’
‘Didn’t you say your father is a farmer?’
‘Sheep. Thousands of the stupid animals. Dad’s a first-class sheepman,’ she said proudly. ‘Gets top prices for his fleeces and lambs.’ She put the saucepan on the stove and lit the gas. ‘But if only just once he’d become curious about the world beyond the farm . . . Am I sounding like a prize bitch?’
He was startled and showed this.
‘Well, he’s the most wonderful father yet all I seem to be able to do is criticize him. He didn’t like me leaving home, but when Mum said it would do me good to get rid of the flicks in my feet, he stopped arguing and gave me the money to travel. I suppose my real trouble now is, he’s been so kind he makes me feel a bit ashamed of myself . . . Tell me something. Why the hell is it that normally I keep my problems to myself, yet ever since I met you yesterday I’ve been going on and on as if you were an agony aunt?’
‘An agony aunt?’
‘One of those women in a magazine one writes to with all the questions one’s too ashamed to ask one’s parents . . . And before you came here this morning I was full of good resolutions about not bothering you any more and thanking you for everything you did for me yesterday.’
‘You helped me every bit as much as I helped you.’
‘The perfect mutual aid society! . . . I’ll confess something. Until now, I’ve always thought the people on this island hated us foreigners.’
‘You needed help.’
‘Are you saying that if I hadn’t, then you would have disliked me as a matter of principle?’
‘You have to understand, Tracey. We’re a very small island and always used to lead our own lives, poor as we were. Then the foreigners came, first in their hundreds, then their thousands, then their hundreds of thousands. Everything became changed. And because we suddenly were better off and had more, we learned to want still more: the young grew up to despise their parents for being illiterate, to drive cars instead of riding bicycles, to walk in the streets with their arms about their girls when in the past not even married couples would have behaved so badly.’
The coffee was made and she filled two cups. As she put these on a tray and then picked out of a cupboard a silver sugar bowl, she said: ‘Earlier on, I suddenly realized the strange fact that I won’t be living here much longer. That got me to wondering who’ll be using the kitchen? I hope she’s happier than I’ve ended up being.’
‘You don’t imagine señor Clarke will have left the house to you?’
‘Not a chance and if there were I’d refuse it. No, he’ll probably have left it to his wife.’
‘His wife lives back in England . . . You look shocked? I suppose this is the kind of change you so hate. And they’re even bringing in divorce in Spain, aren’t they? But Roger and Helen never could get on, so wasn’t it better for them to part than live together and fight all the time?’
‘I only know that when people can’t get divorced, they usually learn to accept each other.’
‘And be miserable.’
‘Do we have a right to expect life to be happy? . . . Did you know he was married?’
‘When I first met him, no. But when it became a question of moving in here with him, he told me. He was very straight like that. A lot of men would have kept their mouths tight shut.’ She picked up the tray. ‘Last night, I dreamt Roger and I were out in his boat and he told me we mustn’t ever fight again. When I woke up I reached across the bed to touch him and promise I’d try not to be bitchy again and . . . and only when my hand met nothing did I remember.’ She shivered. ‘Am I going to dream like that a lot?’
‘I expect so.’
‘Did your dreams frighten you?’
‘They made me very sad.’ After Juana-Maria had died, he had often had dreams from which he had awoken with tears. He hoped her dreams were not so cruel.
She led the way through to the sitting-room. ‘Shall we go out on to the patio?’ She noticed his hesitation. ‘Don’t you like it in the sun?’
‘It’s not that,’ he confessed. ‘I’m one of those idiots who’s scared of heights and out there I feel as if I’m on the edge of a precipice.’
‘Then we stay in here.’ She put the tray down on an occasional table. ‘I’d never have suggested going to Puig Craix yesterday if you’d told me that . . . But it didn’t seem to upset you?’
‘The climb left me so exhausted I didn’t have enough energy to be frightened.’
She smiled at him.
Ten minutes later, he said: ‘I am sorry, Tracey, but I must ask you some questions.’
‘Yes, I know.’ Her expression tightened. ‘All right, let’s get it over and done with.’
‘Do you know where the Señor was driving to the day before yesterday? The road he was on when he crashed doesn’t lead anywhere but the north coast and it would have taken him another three-quarters of an hour to get over the mountains and just as long to get back, yet he had a dentist’s appointment in the afternoon.’
‘I’ve no idea what he was doing there.’
‘Does he have friends in Sa Calobra, or perhaps round the coast to the west?’
‘He’s never talked of anyone and certainly we’ve never gone anywhere in that direction. As a matter of fact, Roger didn’t have many friends. He was a bit of a loner, really.’
‘So you can’t suggest why he was on that road?’
‘Not unless the reason had something to do with the phone call.’
‘What call was that?’
‘I can’t tell you except the phone rang and he answered it and when the call was over and I asked him who it had been, he shouted at me to mind my own business and stop prying into his life . . .’ Her expression became strained. ‘I’ve got quite a temper and that made me see red and . . . Well, we had a right old row.’
‘Didn’t he give any sort of a hint as to who the caller had been?’
‘None at all.’
‘What kind of a mood was he in before the call?’
‘Very pleasant. We both were because, I suppose, we’d reached the point where we were consciously doing all we could to avoid any more trouble.’
‘Then it was the telephone call which upset him?’
‘It must have been.’
‘Might it have upset him so much that he started drinking, without you realizing it?’
‘I . . .1 suppose that’s possible. I mean, after the row we kept at arm’s length until he left. But the drink’s either in the cocktail cabinet, over there, or down in the cellar and I don’t think he went near either. And after he’d gone, there wasn’t a dirty glass anywhere around.’
‘What exactly happened when he left?’
‘By then I’d calmed down a bit and was telling myself I’d been a right royal bitch and was I deliberately twisting everything he said or did in order to find the justification for leaving him . . . I started feeling guilty, so when he went out of the house I followed. He backed the car out of the garage and I made him stop. I told him I was sorry, but he started shouting at me again, telling me I was always prying into his life . . . That made me forget all my good resolutions and I started shouting back . . . It’s all so bloody sordid. Can’t we forget it?’
‘There’s only a very little more I have to know. You told the police there wasn’t a bottle of whisky in the car—how certain are you? Couldn’t there have been a bottle in the boot or under one of the front seats?’
‘I suppose there could have been—but why would anyone keep a bottle in the boot? What I meant was, when he drove away there wasn’t a bottle on any of the seats. But don’t you understand, he never drank whisky so he couldn’t have drunk from the bottle the police said was found in the car.’
‘Are you sure he didn’t like it?’
‘Of course I am. Damnit, I lived with him long enough to know what he did and didn’t drink. He told me once, he used to drink it some years ago, but then he really caned himself on it once and after that he went right off it . . .’ She stopped, gazed through one of the windows.
Alvarez rubbed his thickset chin. ‘As far as you know, was there anyone who disliked him very much? Or was there anyone of whom he was afraid?’
‘Why should he have been scared of anyone?’
‘Don’t you understand that if the crash wasn’t an accident, which is what your evidence is really saying, then someone must have killed him deliberately.’
‘My God! . . . I just never thought of it like that . . .’
He had obviously questioned her long enough and to continue might be to upset her too much. He stood. ‘You have been very patient in answering all my questions which must have hurt so much. Thank you very much.’
‘You’re not going?’ She began to fidget with the beading of the armchair. ‘I . . . I was hoping you’d stay for lunch. I went out earlier to the butcher and bought two steaks which he promised would be really nice. I love steak. I was in Australia for several months and the steaks there . . . Oh hell, what’s it matter what the steaks in Australia were like? Enrique, please stay. I thought last night would never end and until you came this morning it was like living a nightmare. Don’t leave me yet.’ He sat down.
Alvarez rang Palma in the morning and he listened with a sinking feeling to the plum-voiced secretary as she told him that Superior Chief Salas was in his office and would speak to him.
‘What the devil’s been happening? I expected to hear from you by lunch-time yesterday at the very latest.’
‘Señor, Señorita Newcombe was still in a very distressed state and it was some considerable time before I was able to question her.’
‘Although he’d once liked it, Señor Clarke had not drunk whisky for several years. When he drove away from his house on the morning he died, there was no bottle of whisky visible in the car. The señorita had no idea where he was driving to or who he was going to see. I specifically asked her about friends in Sa Calobra, since the road past the monastery leads there . . .’
‘I am fully aware of where the road goes.’
‘On that morning, he’d been in a good humour until there was a phone call but after this, when she asked him who it had been from, he became very angry. There doesn’t seem any doubt but that the phone call was responsible for his journey.
‘I asked her if she knew of anyone who might have had a motive for murdering him. She said there was no one.’
‘She must have an idea who the call was from?’
‘Are you saying, then, that it was a highly significant call but we’re unlikely ever to learn what that particular significance was?’
There was a short silence. ‘If it upset him so much, when he drove away from the house he was still in a mentally disturbed state. Remembering that he then probably drank heavily, it’s not difficult to understand how the crash occurred.’
‘Señor, he hadn’t touched whisky for several years . . .’
‘The point I’m trying to make—in the face of difficulties—is that when a man is mentally disturbed he often behaves in an irrational manner. Clarke had once drunk whisky, so in his disturbed state he suddenly decided to drink it again.’