Authors: Roderic Jeffries
‘I came because I wanted to see you.’
‘So much that it’s taken you four days to get here?’
‘Well, I . . .’
‘I’m sure you’ve been very busy. So don’t think that just for my sake you ought to stay around for a bit.’
‘Tracey, I . . .’ He gesticulated with his hands.
‘Yes?’ she said, with the sweet reasonableness of someone who was about to deliver the coup de grace.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘English can be a difficult language, can’t it?’
‘But didn’t you want me to come and see you?’
‘Only if you wanted to come. And you can hardly claim that when it’s taken you four days to arrive.’
‘But I was nervous about coming.’
‘I didn’t know if you really wanted to see me again.’
‘You can’t be that thick.’
‘It’s the truth.’
‘Why the hell d’you think I called at the guardia post?’
‘I was hoping it meant . . . But then I remembered how old I am . . .’
‘Christ, you’re not Methuselah . . . Are you telling the truth? That you honest to God didn’t know whether I really wanted to see you again just because you’re a bit older than me?’
‘Many years,’ he murmured sadly.
‘Enrique,’ she said, and her voice had suddenly softened, ‘you’re one goddamn fool! D’you think I care how old you are? When I learned Roger was dead I started feeling I was to blame. Then the policeman asked me questions and it was all part of the day’s work for him; he wasn’t rude, or anything like that, but he didn’t know how to be sympathetic. And as soon as he learned I wasn’t Mrs Roger Clarke, he was wondering if I’d like a fresh bedmate. You were so different. You didn’t give a damn who I was and you were so sympathetic it was like finding an old friend. And when I asked you to take me to Puig Craix you understood immediately and took me, never mind what else you had to do . . . Then, when the bitch of Roger’s wife kicked me out of the house I felt all cold and lonely again and part of me was desperate for help. I could have flown back to NZ, but the family wasn’t what I needed. I needed you. So I came here. I found this flat and afterwards drove up to the village to tell you about it so you could come here and make me feel warm and wanted again. I waited and waited, but you didn’t come and the cold and the loneliness got worse and worse until I hated you because it seemed that all your help and sympathy hadn’t really meant much after all . . . And now you tell me that the only reason you weren’t down here immediately is because you thought I’d be worried because you’re a bit older than me! . . . You need . . . I’m damned if I know what you need!’
‘I am certainly one goddamn fool.’
‘You can say that again, in letters five feet high. And I’m one goddamn bitch and you can say that again, in letters ten feet high . . . Why didn’t you belt me hard a moment ago when I was being so bitchy?’ She paused, then said: ‘Even the suggestion upsets you, doesn’t it?’
He nodded. ‘I don’t like even joking about hitting a woman.’
‘Of course you don’t. Tell me, does one have to suffer a lot before one can be so emotionally kind and generous as you?’
He didn’t try to answer.
‘Come and sit down and stop looking as if you might decide to leave after all.’ She pointed to a second patio chair. ‘You’ll have to learn to blame my red hair.’
Tor what?’ he asked as he sat.
Tor my being such a bad-tempered bitch at times. Dad always said I came to the boil quicker’n anyone else he knows: although Mum told him he’d only got to look in a mirror to see someone as quick.’ She spoke thoughtfully. ‘Mum also said something else I often think about. Sharp people lead sharp lives. I’ve never decided whether she thinks that’s a good thing, or not . . . Pour out some drinks. We’re going to celebrate.’
It was dark. Before them stretched the bay, ringed by mountains which, traced out by moonlight, became possessed of a distant, insubstantial quality: on the water, the moonlight was a splintered shaft of gold. To their right, a woman with a small but true voice was singing softly to the accompaniment of a guitar. Some traffic passed along the road in front of them, but the noise failed to disturb the image of peace.
‘Sometimes, like now,’ she said, ‘I feel it’s time to die.’
‘What?’ he said, startled.
‘Can anywhere, any time, be more wonderful than here, now? Tm floating in happiness . . . How could I be luckier than to die now, when everything’s just perfect?’
He remembered Juana-Maria. Everything had been just perfect for her until the split second before her death, when the car had crashed into her and flung her against the wall. Yet whatever her death had been for her, for him it had been a tragedy that was dimmed by time, but never wholly expunged.
‘What are you thinking, Enrique?’
‘That things are never perfect for everyone. If you died right now, would your family consider your death was right?’
‘I’m not worrying about them. Haven’t you understood something about me yet? I’m a very selfish person.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
‘It’s true . . . But just for once, I will consider someone else. You can die with me.’
‘You are very generous.’
‘Tracey, I think I really ought to leave and return home.’
‘You can’t break up everything so early: stay in wonderland.’
‘It isn’t early and I have to work tomorrow.’
‘How boring can life get? . . . Well, you’re not going until you’ve promised me something. All right?’
‘Before you’ve heard what it is you’ve got to promise? You could get yourself into terrible trouble like that . . . You’re to promise you’ll come and see me tomorrow.’
‘You didn’t have to make me promise to do that.’
‘How do I know you won’t start getting stupid thoughts again?’
‘I probably shall.’ He did not explain that his stupidity would be taking a different form.
‘Bring a costume so we can go swimming.’
Tm not a good swimmer.’
‘Well, I am. So you’d better prepare yourself to be ducked. I’ve decided something very important. You’re too serious and you’ve got to learn to relax and stop worrying.’
‘But if you start ducking me, surely I will worry even more?’
‘Not the way I go about it.’
‘I’m glad I finally plucked up the courage to come here, Tracey.’
‘The man says he needed courage!’
‘It is true: I did.’
‘And I’m glad too, Enrique: very glad,’ she said, with sudden seriousness. ‘Every moment Fm with you, Roger moves further away.’
He stood. ‘I will come as soon as I can tomorrow.’
‘And I promise not to be bitchy again: at least, not nearly as bitchy as I’ve been this evening. Let’s blame Roger’s wife for that—so bloody puritanically superior . . . I wonder if Simon Allen’s wife was like her and that’s why Roger never saw them?’
‘Simon was a friend of Roger’s. The poor devil drowned off Piaya Turra last night. I saw the news in the local rag this morning and recognized him by the photo . . . And now I’ve done the unforgivable and introduced the outside world which is so cruel and harsh. I’m a born escapist, Enrique. I want life to be all sun and no rain. So tomorrow we forget the outside world and live in our own inner one where everyone’s always happy. Right?’
Alvarez stepped out of his house into the harsh sunshine and crossed the pavement to his car. He unlocked the driving door and sat, but did not immediately start the engine. Last night, Tracey had said something to him to which, at the time, he had given no further thought: but this morning he’d woken up and remembered and begun to wonder. A man called Allen had drowned on Monday. On the face of things, nothing extraordinary in that. Tragically, holidaymakers swam when they were drunk or there was a wind and the red flags were flying to show there were dangerous undertows, or they dived into the shallow ends of pools and broke their necks, and they drowned. But Allen had been a friend of Clarke and Clarke had died in a car crash which had officially been listed as accidental, yet which nevertheless had left behind questions which had never been answered . . .
He turned the key and eventually the engine started. He drove through the narrow streets to the square where he was lucky enough to find a parking space near the steps. He walked to the post.
Once seated in his room, he stared at the telephone, his fingers drumming on the desk. Then he made up his mind. He searched through the drawers until he found the handbook of the island’s police forces, dialled the telephone number given in this for the guardia post in Repajo—in whose department Playa Turra lay—and asked to speak to someone who could give him details concerning the death of Allen.
A man who spoke with the heavy accent of Galicia said: ‘What d’you want to know?’
‘ Inspector Alvarez, from Llueso . . . Can you give me the details of the drowning of an Englishman, Simon Allen, off Playa Turra on Monday?’
‘There’s not much to give, Inspector. He used to go swimming every morning, early. On Monday, he didn’t return. His wife got worried and a boat from the harbourmaster’s office went out to search.’
‘Was it an accidental drowning?’
‘There’s nothing to say otherwise.’
‘Was his body far from shore when it was found?’
‘Quite a way. The estimate is half a kilometre.’
‘Then there could have been a current which swept him out so far he hadn’t the strength to return?’
‘At this time of the year with no wind there aren’t any currents.’
‘Then maybe he hadn’t realized how far out he’d gone?’
‘His wife says he was a very strong swimmer. He used to go that far out, or farther, every day of the week.’
‘Were there any signs of injury?’
‘None that I’ve heard of.’
‘Then why’d he drown?’
‘Your guess is as good as mine.’
‘Is there going to be a PM?’
‘I wouldn’t think so, unless fresh evidence comes along. Are you saying it might?’
‘I just don’t know at the moment.’
‘So what do I say to the captain?’
‘That I’ll get in touch if it becomes necessary.’
Alvarez thanked the man, said goodbye, rang off. He leaned back in his chair. A heart attack? (But wouldn’t the doctor have been able to judge that that was what killed him—or would it need a PM to determine the question?) Or had he been suddenly stricken by cramp when too far out from the shore to be able to save himself?
It was nearly noon when Alvarez parked his car almost immediately opposite Tracey’s flat. By now the heat was oppressive and it needed considerable will-power to make even the slightest physical effort. Hundreds of people were sunbathing or swimming, more than a dozen yachts were trying to catch the fitful breeze, and two power boats, towing water-skiers, were leaving behind them great white gashes which gradually merged into the travel-poster blue sea.
She was waiting for him on the patio. She was dressed in a bikini which consisted of two scraps of material. ‘Hurry up and change.’
‘There’s something I’ve got to ask you first . . .’
‘You’re not asking me anything until we’ve been swimming. And stop looking at me like that—I’m perfectly decent.’
‘So why are you complaining? Because it’s still just?’
‘Of course not. You can’t think . . .’
It was a long time since he had so enjoyed himself. They swam and they ducked each other and each time his hands touched her body he knew a tingling excitement.
It was nearly two o’clock when they finally returned to her flat.
‘Sit down and I’ll bring out some drinks,’ she said. ‘What would you like?’
‘A coñac, if you have it.’
‘With soda and ice?’
‘Just ice, thanks.’
As she went indoors, he closed his eyes and remembered what she’d said the night before. ‘How could I be luckier than to die now, when everything’s just perfect?’ If he died now, everything would be perfect for him . . .
She returned and handed him a glass, then sat. ‘Here’s to a lot more swims together. Just the one swim has made you shed years.’
‘But not enough of them,’ he said with sudden sadness.
‘Careful, or I’ll be reduced to changing your nappies.’
He laughed, to hide his slight sense of shock that she should say such a thing.
She spoke dreamily. ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could return to childhood—the nice bits, that is? When it was always sunny and exciting and there was no responsibility except to wash one’s face and hands before a meal. I used to hate washing. I think I really wanted to be a boy. Dad wanted a son, of course, to take on the farm.’
‘ Is it a big farm?’
‘They’re very much bigger at home than out here.’
‘But is it big in New Zealand?’
‘Up to a point,’ she answered, with some reluctance.
‘Then your parents are rich?’
‘Have you ever met a farmer who’ll admit to being anything but poverty-stricken?’
‘Perhaps you have a big house?’
‘I’ve seen much bigger and more luxurious ones here. You’ve got to remember, Enrique, that we’ve pioneer Scottish blood in us. We feel uncomfortable if we’re making too much of a show.’
Nevertheless, he imagined a large mansion with richly fertile land stretching all around for as far as the eye could see. He sighed. If he lived away from the tourist areas, having cashed every peseta of his savings, he might, with the help of a generous mortgage from the bank, just be able to afford a small finca with half a dozen hectares of rocky soil, the house of which would be in need of a complete restoration if it were to be lived in by someone who was used to all modern amenities . . .
‘Why suddenly so gloomy?’
He lied. ‘I was remembering my work and the questions I must ask you.’
‘Why the hell have that kind of a memory?’
‘Don’t say that. Don’t ever be sorry for anything.’
Surprised by her tone, he looked directly at her, but she had turned her face until he could no longer see her expression.
‘Well,’ she said sharply. ‘What questions are so bloody important?’