Authors: Roderic Jeffries
‘Do you remember telling me last night about Simon Allen, who’d drowned? Did you ever meet him?’
‘Then you knew about him because señor Clarke had spoken of him?’
‘No. And for God’s sake, why bring up all this now?’
‘I’m . . .’
‘You were going to say you were sorry, weren’t you?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘If you had . . .’ Her tone changed and became lighter. I’d have thrown something at you.’
‘Then I’m very glad I managed to stop myself.’
She yawned. ‘Isn’t it funny how tired one gets doing nothing? . . . Drink up and we’ll have another before we eat.’
‘I wasn’t expecting lunch . . .’
‘Then aren’t you lucky?’ She stood. ‘Give me your glass.’
He handed it to her and as he did so some trick of sunlight on her flowered bikini momentarily made it seem as if she were wearing nothing.
She left and went inside. Her expression as she’d turned away, he thought, had been quizzical. Had she guessed at the direction in which his imagination had moved? Did a man never learn to control his thoughts until the lid of the coffin was screwed down?
She returned, handed him his glass, sat. ‘Why d’you want to know about Simon Allen?’
‘His wife says he was a strong swimmer and there were no obvious injuries on his body. So now there’s the question of why he drowned?’
‘Strong swimmers can drown almost as easily as weak ones because they take much greater risks.’
‘That is true. But Sen or Clarke died recently in a car crash and it seems strange that two friends should both die in accidents which leave questions.’
‘You still think Roger might have been . . . murdered?’
‘I just do not know. That is why I ask questions.’
‘But why ask them now, when everything was being such fun?’
‘I should have waited,’ he said contritely.
‘Why didn’t you?’
He would have done had he not been determined to hide from her the fact that he’d been gloomily imagining the house he might just be able to buy and had been comparing it with the mansion in which she’d lived . . .
‘There’s something about you which frightens me a little,’ she said slowly. ‘I’m sure that if you want something you’ll go on and on to get it and not stop to count the cost . . . Have you finished asking your beastly questions? Because if you have, I’ll get lunch.’
‘There’s just one more thing. If you never met señor Allen and señor Clarke never spoke about him, how did you know they were friends?’
‘Because they’re together in the photo.’
‘What photograph is that?’
She hesitated, then said: ‘I’ve never been someone who tries to keep memories alive: like an aunt of mine who had boxes and boxes full of letters, theatre programmes, scrapbooks, and photographs, and used to look at them by the hour. But after Roger had died and that bitch of his gave me twenty-four hours to clear out of the house, I suddenly felt I needed something to remind me of Roger when we were happy together, right at the beginning and before anything had started to go sour. So I searched for a photo of him. I don’t know why, but he’s always hated being photographed and I’ve never owned a camera because I always press the wrong knob, so all I could find was an old photo of him with two other men in it.’
‘And one was señor Allen?’
‘May I see it?’
She went inside, to return almost immediately with a coloured print which she handed to him. Three men, two appreciably younger than the third, stood in a loose group on a beach. In front of one of them was a piece of equipment which, on detailed inspection, he made out to be two scuba tanks in tandem. ‘Which one is señor Clarke?’
She leaned against him, making him very aware of her body, and used her forefinger to indicate the younger man on the right.
‘And señor Allen?’
‘He’s on the left.’
‘Who’s that in the centre?’
‘I haven’t the faintest.’
‘Do you know where this was taken?’
‘No, I don’t, but from the look of things it could easily be somewhere on this island. And I do know that Roger had come out on holidays before he decided to live here.’
He examined the background. There were several tall buildings—tourist-concrete-jungle in style—and behind them mountains, outlined by a deep blue sky. The stark crests of the two tallest mountains, which were next to each other, were bare of pine trees or any visible vegetation and they curved towards each other.
She moved away from him and he was both sorry and relieved that she did so. ‘May I borrow this and have a copy made?’ he asked.
‘Keep it,’ she replied.
‘But you said you had wanted a memento . . .’
‘And now I don’t.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Damn it, I wouldn’t say so if I weren’t . . .’ Her tone softened. ‘Don’t look so hurt. You’ve got to remember it’s a woman’s privilege to be completely irrational. Come into the kitchen and talk while I get the meal ready. Make me laugh.’
Dolores put her hands on her hips and studied Alvarez with regal displeasure. ‘I cooked a special lunch for you.’
‘I’m very sorry,’ he said humbly. He remembered how Tracey had told him never to apologize. She had not met Dolores.
‘I spent all morning in the kitchen.’
Jaime winked at him.
‘So what happens?’ she demanded rhetorically. ‘We wait and wait and in the end the meal is ruined.’
‘I got hung up at work.’
‘And you could not get word to me, so we could eat before everything was completely ruined?’
‘It was rather difficult . . .’
‘And in any case, of course, your work was so much more important than any special meal I’d prepared!’
He knew there was only one way in which to try to divert her anger. ‘What did you cook?’
‘Kidneys in sherry.’
‘I’ll bet they were really delicious?’
‘They were,’ she said, disdaining any false modesty and grandly ignoring the fact that only a moment before the meal had been a ruined one.
‘I’d have given anything to be able to get back in time. There’s no one can do kidneys in sherry like you.’
Jaime picked up a bottle of Soberano. ‘Have a coñac?’
Alvarez picked up a tumbler from the table and held it out.
‘I know one thing for certain—you 11 never be late for a drink,’ she said, but her tone was not as sharp as it had been. She left and went through to the kitchen. Jaime half filled the tumbler. ‘So where were you really?’ ‘Working.’ ‘But at what?’ Jaime winked again.
Inspector Leyva was a sharply built man with the look of a yappy fox-terrier. He sported a small, tightly clipped moustache and constantly groomed it with the tips of his fingers. He wore unusually formal clothes even in the height of the summer and his manners—when he was dealing with someone his equal or superior—were inclined to be unctuous rather than very polite.
‘I don’t understand why you’re here,’ he said petulantly. Alvarez, he thought, looked as if he’d borrowed someone else’s old clothes: his hair had probably not been brushed in days: he had shaved, but badly and there was a thin line of stubble on his left cheek: he had the slack look of a man who drank. When someone like this was a member of the Cuerpo General de Policia, it reflected badly on the whole corps.
Alvarez scratched the back of his neck. ‘I’m not certain I know either. The thing is, I’ve been wondering whether there’s any connection between the deaths of Clarke and Allen. Apart from anything else, they knew each other.’
‘And that is significant?’
‘Well, not on its own, I suppose. But add in the fact that in each case there are unanswered questions . . .’
‘Precisely what questions remain unanswered in connection with the death of Señor Allen?’
‘As I understand it, he was a strong swimmer and on Monday the sea was calm and there was no wind and virtually no current?’
‘Then what circumstances caused him to drown? Or to put it in another way, is it quite certain he did die from accidental drowning?’
‘The doctor who examined the body, and I quote from memory, reported the classical signs of death by drowning: in particular, a fine froth of inhaled water mixed with mucous was apparent in the mouth. This is entirely symptomatic of the deflation of lungs ballooned by drowning.’
‘But was it accidental?’
‘He had swum out a long way: perhaps more than half a kilometre.’
‘But he was a strong swimmer.’
‘However strong, he may have been seized by cramp.’
‘What I’m getting at . . .’
‘Señor Alvarez, let me interrupt you to say quite categorically that it is my invariable custom to investigate every incident, however minor or straightforward, with the utmost care and attention. I have, therefore, already asked myself whether there were any suspicious circumstances attending his death. And the answer I received was, there are none.’
‘Are you asking for a PM?’
‘The doctor signed the death certificate immediately after seeing the body and since there was no reason to suspect that death was anything but accidental, the body was released for burial after the obligatory period of waiting. The burial took place last night.’
‘I suppose there could be an exhumation.’
‘On what grounds?’
‘I don’t know precisely.’
‘This really is going too far! You come here and accuse me of negligence in my work, yet admit you have no facts to support your accusations!’
‘Sweet Mary! I’m not accusing you of anything. All I’m trying to say is that since there was no reason at the time to suspect the death was not accidental, the investigation obviously wouldn’t have been quite as thorough as it would have been if you had suspected murder.’
Inspector Leyva spoke coldly. ‘Let me say again, I conduct every investigation with the same complete and exhaustive thoroughness, irrespective of the surrounding circumstances.’
‘Had there been the slightest reason for doubt, this death would not have been classified as accidental.’
‘I see.’ Alvarez paused, then said hesitantly: ‘And there were no bruises at all on his body?’
Leyva looked even more annoyed. ‘As a matter of fact, the doctor did report very minor bruising on the right ankle.’
‘What caused that?’
‘It’s quite impossible to say. No doubt he banged it on one of the submerged rocks that are close to the shore in the bay.’
‘The bruise was caused before death?’
‘According to the doctor, yes.’
‘You don’t think it could be significant?’
‘I do not. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am a very busy man.’
‘Just one more thing. Would you have any objection to my having a word with the widow?’
Leyva stared at Alvarez and just for a moment it looked as if he were going to smile. ‘No objection whatsoever, Inspector. Let me give you the address.’
Vera Allen sat in one of the very luxurious, ugly armchairs in the over-furnished, tastelessly decorated sitting-room. She wore black, but she looked angry and bitter, not desolate—a woman who had been deserted. ‘I said at the very beginning I didn’t want to come and live here. Not with everything so dirty. In some of the shops, stuff like flour is in an open sack: what about the mice? And everyone paws the vegetables before they buy what they want. What happens if someone’s got something nasty like . . . Well, you know what I mean?
‘Maybe it doesn’t matter for the likes of you. You live here and are used to things, but in England our food’s wrapped up, like it should be. And what happens when you eat in a restaurant? No tablecloths and the food’s covered with garlic so it smells worse’n a Frenchman.’
‘Garlic is very good for the health . . .’ he began.
‘My mother never had any in her house, not in all her seventy-three years. If she could smell what they dish up here and have the nerve to charge for, she’d turn in her grave. And when you’re ill, what happens? The doctors can’t even speak simple English.’
‘Señora, this is Spain . . .’
‘I know that all right, don’t make any mistake on that score. And I also know what happens when you’re ill. I had a pain in the chest and it got so bad I just had to see a doctor. D’you think I could get him to understand what was wrong? Back home even the wog doctors are brighter than him. I could have died for all he understood or cared.’
Alvarez tried to move the conversation along. T suppose Sen or Allen liked living here?’
‘It’s different for a man. He can go out on a boat, play golf, or go boozing. What can a woman do?’
‘Are there no other English ladies to meet?’
‘Them! . . . D’you think they’d ever try to be friendly? Just because I don’t sound like the BBC and used to watch Coronation Street . . . I wish we’d never left home and come out here to live. Then he’d still be alive.’ For a moment, her expression became one of misery, then it changed back to bewildered resentment. ‘But he wouldn’t take any notice of what I said. Insisted on chucking up his job and coming out here to live and if I didn’t like it I could stay at home. Did he think I was going to leave him on his own so he could have fun with every young bitch on the beach?’
‘What kind of a job did he have, señora?’
‘Worked in the local railway offices. That is, when the lazy sods weren’t on strike. I told him, if I went on strike as often as he did, he’d go hungry.’
‘Did he have a job here, on the island?’
‘You’ve got to be joking! He told me before we came out that he wasn’t going to do another stroke of work for the rest of his life. It’s the only time since we got married that he’s kept to his word. I’m not lying, if I asked him to pass the paper, he’d tell me to ring for the maid to come and do it.’
‘You have a maid?’
‘Five days a week and if I worked as little as she does, I’d be ashamed to take the money. Tell her to clean a room and what’s she do? Uses a duster to flick the dust from one place to another. She won’t use a Hoover. I’m telling you, she just won’t use one. Says they’re unhygenic: leastways, I think that’s what she says. I only took her on because she was supposed to speak English, but if what she speaks is English then I’m a Hottentot. I’d get rid of her only I can’t look after a place this size on my own.’