Authors: Roderic Jeffries
‘But where did the bottle in the car come from?’
‘I presume you asked the señorita whether there was any whisky in the house?’
‘Er . . . No, Señor.’
‘Regrettable, but not surprising . . . Clearly, the bottle could have come from the house. Equally clearly, he could have stopped on his journey and bought it.’ Salas’s voice sharpened. ‘Did it by any lucky chance occur to you to find out what happens to the estate now?’
‘The señorita doesn’t know for certain, but she believes everything goes to the wife, even though she and the sen or have been living apart.’
‘Then if it proves to be true that the señorita has no financial interest in Clarke’s death, the case depends on whether or not he was drunk at the time of the crash.’
‘I . . . I suppose so.’
‘You sound uncertain. Have I proceeded too quickly for you to follow?’
‘No, señor. It’s just that . . . Well, I do wonder if everything really is quite as straightforward as it seems? I think we could be missing something important.’
‘A thought with which, no doubt, you’ve become over familiar,’ said Salas before cutting the connection.
The results of the PM reached Alvarez on a Friday. The deceased had had a blood alcohol ratio of 0.2—in other words he had, in lay terms, been in a state of marked drunkenness.
By the first of July, the day temperature had risen to the middle nineties and there had been no rain for nine weeks. Where there was irrigation the land remained green, elsewhere it had turned brown. On the beaches the holidaymakers sunbathed, frequently to excess so that they needed medical attention: doctors and chemists regarded the July sun in the light of a second patron saint. The harbour of Puerto Llueso was filled with boats, ranging from twelve-foot speedboats to seventy-foot schooners, almost all owned by foreigners whose constant topic of conversation was the subject of how hard up they were. The sea-front cafes charged twice as much as was reasonable and memento shops succeeded in selling their stocks to foreigners who had obviously left any sense of judgement or taste at home.
Alvarez awoke and stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom, patterned by the light striking up through closed shutteres, and he idly wondered if it were five o’clock yet? If so, he really ought to start thinking about getting up. The thought depressed him.
Downstairs, the telephone rang. Most calls were for him, but occasionally there was a private one so he waited for someone else to answer. The ringing continued. Dolores, he decided, was beginning to take life far too easily.
He sighed, swivelled round, stood, then reached for his trousers and put them on. From below came the sound of a door being banged and the clack of high heels on tiles and then the ringing finally stopped. He sat down once more.
‘Enrique, it’s for you.’
Wearily he stood and reached for his shirt.
‘Hurry it up.’
He left and went downstairs.
Dolores, who was standing near the phone, said: ‘If you drank less coñac after lunch, you’d be able to move a bit faster.’
Women never understood the simple fact that a man’s digestion, which was a delicate subject, was aided by a little brandy.
The caller was the duty guard at the post. ‘There’s a woman here, asking for you.’
‘Who is she?’
‘How should I know?’
‘What’s she want?’
The guard laughed salaciously.
‘She must have said something?’
‘All she’s said is she wants a word with you. God knows why!’
‘Is she young, middle-aged, old?’
‘A foreigner, far too young for an old man like you.’
Alvarez replaced the receiver.
Ts anything wrong?’ asked Dolores.
‘Just someone turned up at the station who wants to see me.’
‘Then you won’t wait for coffee?’
He yawned. ‘Its not an emergency.’
The reception area was immediately inside the main entrance of the guardia post and here a guard sat behind a desk and, when he could find no alternative, dealt with inquiries from the public.
Alvarez stepped from the sun-blasted street into the comparative gloom and initially he couldn’t see clearly.
‘Hullo, Enrique,’ said a woman.
He finally recognized her and the moment he did so he wondered how on earth he could have failed to identify her from her voice alone.
Tracey was wearing a gaily embroidered blouse, green jeans, and rope-soled sandals. The lines of sorrow and worry had gone and now she looked young, vital, and laughingly eager to live twenty-four hours a day.
She chuckled. ‘Is it such a terrible shock to find it’s me?’
‘Of course not,’ he protested, conscious that the guard at the desk, unable to understand what they were saying, was watching them with an interest which was based on a totally false and cynical assumption.
‘I couldn’t think of any way of finding you without coming here. I hope it’s all right?’
‘Of course it is . . . Would you like a coffee?’
‘I’d love one.’
‘Then let’s go to the square.’
They walked to the doorway. ‘If anyone wants you,’ said the guard in Spanish, TU tell ‘em you’re engaged.’
Alvarez, about to step outside, checked himself. ‘She’s a witness.’
‘Yeah. But a witness to what?’
Tracey was waiting in the middle of the road and the sun was raising highlights in her curly hair. ‘I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see you again, Enrique!’
‘It’s good for me, too.’
‘But why so serious about it?’ She laughed again and as they started along the road she seemed to be skipping rather than walking. ‘Did you expect to see me again?’
‘Not really. I thought you would be back on Barrats Hill.’
She shook her head and the highlights in her hair danced. ‘Not yet.’ She touched his left arm lightly and for a second. ‘Not yet.’
Had she not returned home because she wanted to see him again first: was that what she was really saying? . . . What bloody fool ideas could come to a man, he thought angrily. Yet nothing could alter the fact that she had gone to all the trouble of looking him up . . .
They reached the end of the road and entered the square, both the geographical and spiritual centre of the village. Here, on land which sloped so that part had had to be built up, was held the vegetable market on Sunday, the livestock market on Tuesday, and the fish market every day: here were held the fiesta dances: here the old men sat out and through rheumy eyes watched the world slide by: here, the foreign residents drank and exchanged malicious gossip, wounding criticism, and ridiculous rumours.
They climbed the stone steps up to the raised section, past flower-beds, and went over to a table set in the shadow of a plane tree. A waiter came across and she asked for coffee while he ordered coffee and a brandy.
As she looked around the square, with the eager interest of a tourist, he studied her and knew a sudden pain that anyone could be so young and alive. Then she turned back to look directly at him and he said hurriedly, to try and hide his thoughts: ‘How have things been?’
‘Not so bad . . . That’s a lie. They became bloody difficult.’ She opened her handbag and brought out a pack of cigarettes. ‘The problems were too much and I’ve started smoking again. Just no will-power.’ She offered the pack and he took a cigarette, then struck a match for both of them.
‘The real trouble was,’ she said, ‘Roger’s wife arrived. God knows how he ever came to marry her. Frightfully, frightfully refined in superior style—and no one beats the British at that.’
‘Did she inherit the house?’
‘She did. But apparently there’s little beyond that so she’s not rich, as she probably hoped. And being a malicious bitch, that makes me feel good . . . But enough of my miseries. What’s been happening to you?’
‘Nothing changes here.’
‘You’re lucky. I sometimes wonder who really leads the happier life, me or my sister? I think I’d go mad, stuck in the middle of thousands of sheep, yet then a wife wouldn’t come along and at a moment’s notice kick me out of the house I’ve lived in for eighteen months.’
‘That hurt, didn’t it?’ he said with deep sympathy.
‘Yes, it did, even though I knew it had to come. Maybe things had started to go sour between me and Roger, but we’d still had some wonderful times together and the house had been our home. I wish . . . When things go wrong, Enrique, I’m like a little girl and I start wishing they could all be changed and made right after all.’
‘That’s why you’ve still got Barrats Hill.’
‘It’s funny how well you understand me.’ She saw his expression and smiled. ‘And now I’ve embarrassed you, although I can’t see why!’
The waiter returned and put two cups of coffee, a jug of milk, two packets of sugar, and a glass of brandy down on the table, together with the bill. As he left, a car on the north side of the square backfired and several pigeons lifted off the high roof of the church with clapping wings.
She spoke abruptly, almost belligerently. ‘I’ve rented a flat down in the port.’ She tore off the comer of one of the sugar packets.
‘D’you mean in Puerto Llueso?’
‘Everyone said how lovely it still was and when I was kicked out of Roger’s house I drove over to see if that was true. There was a notice of a flat to let right on the front, so I took it. Maybe we can see something of each other?’ She poured the sugar into her coffee.
At eleven years of age, Juan was precocious, but perhaps no more so than the average Mallorquin boy who was spoiled from birth. He studied Alvarez. ‘Uncle, you’re not talking as much as usual. D’you think you’re dying?’ ‘That’s quite enough of that.’ said Dolores sharply.
‘Is Uncle dying?’ asked Isabel, Juan’s younger sister, with considerable interest.
Jaime chuckled as he pushed the bottle of wine across the table to Alvarez. ‘Here, finish this in one last booze before you peg out.’
‘Will you please stop this nonsense,’ snapped Dolores.
‘But Uncle’s been looking at nothing and he didn’t have a second helping of arroz brut,’ persisted Juan.
Dolores pursed her lips. It was quite true, Alvarez had not had a second helping of her delicious arroz brut. ‘Are you not feeling well, Enrique?’
‘Never felt better,’ he replied, as heartily as possible. He picked up the bottle and refilled his tumbler.
‘I bet I know the trouble,’ said Jaime suddenly. ‘It’s a woman!’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ said Dolores, her tone more questioning than admonitory.
‘I tell you, when a bloke’s off his grub he’s either dying or starving.’
‘That’s quite enough of that, in front of the children,’ she said, now angry.
Juan was puzzled. ‘If you’re starving, you must be dying.’
Jaime began to explain. ‘There’s two kinds of starving for a men and one of ‘em’s a sight more painful than the other . . .’ He stopped abruptly when he saw Dolores’s expression.
‘Are we going to get anything more to eat?’ asked Juan.
‘Eating and drinking, that’s all this family every thinks about,’ she snapped.
‘Would you rather I started thinking of something else?’ Jaime asked, winking at Alvarez as he spoke.
Alvarez lay in bed and listened to the low, bee-like hum of traffic on the main road to the port. What had she said as they’d parted? ‘You will come and see me in my little flat, won’t you? Promise?’
Of course, she was lonely: lonely and still suffering from the shock of the death of Clarke. And like any other lonely person, she was eager to make contact with someone she knew, even if he were twice her age, in the hopes that her loneliness would thereby be eased . . .
A woman as vivacious as she would very soon make friends and therefore cease to be lonely. Then, surely, she’d not want to bother with someone who was at best no more than a very casual acquaintance . . .
Why had she come to Puerto Llueso instead of returning to New Zealand? Because she’d been told the bay was so lovely? It was, but so were many bays. And if it had been natural beauty for which she’d been searching, hadn’t she called her own country the most beautiful in the world?
Alvarez parked his car by the side of a palm and climbed out. Immediately to his left the sand—all imported by lorry because the original, very much smaller beach had been shingle—ran down to the water. A large number of people were sunbathing and many of the women, including some who should have been old enough to know better, were topless. He thought of Tracey topless and he hated the imagined men who goggled at her breasts.
He stared across the road at the buildings—some old, made from stone, and no more than two storeys high, some modern, made from concrete, and up to six stories high, and identified the one in which she had her flat. Someone, and it was almost certainly she, was sitting out on the small patio. He put his hand in his trouser pocket and jiggled the coins in it. At this time of the year the port was filled with money: foreign plated Mercedes, Porsches, Jaguars, BMWs, and Range Rovers, were almost as commonplace as Spanish plated Seats: in the harbour were boats, the upkeep alone of which would come to more than his annual salary: why should Tracey really want to have anything to do with him . . . ?
He crossed the road. The old fisherman’s cottage had been divided in two and rickety wooden stairs led up. He climbed these, very conscious of the creaking of the treads which were so clearly heralding his arrival. His head rose above the level of the patio floor. Tracey sat in a canvas and wooden chair and she was wearing sunglasses which gave her face more than the usual dash of anonymity—and added a sharpness. She watched him appear, segment by segment, but said nothing until he reached the top step. ‘What a surprise.’ No one had ever sounded less surprised. ‘You’ve finally remembered where I’m living and so, having nothing better to do, you’re visiting.’
He was bewildered by her sarcastic coldness. ‘You said to come and see you here . . .’
‘There was no need to put yourself out like this.’