Authors: Roderic Jeffries
‘It looks a very nice house.’
‘It’s too big and that’s what I told Simon when he said he was going to buy it. There’s only the two of us and we can’t sleep in more than one bedroom at a time, can we? But he always did have big ideas . . .’ She stopped and stared into space.
‘Was your house in England not so big?’
‘Number eight, Oldgate Street? You’d near fit the whole of it into this one room. But the people along the road were friendly and if I wanted a chat all I had to do was walk up and see Gwen or Madge and they’d give me a cup of tea.’
‘It must have been quite a change to come out here to live?’
‘Ain’t that what I’ve been saying?’
‘You were lucky he could give up his job and not have to worry about getting another?’
‘Lucky? With him around?’
‘I am very sorry. I meant, he must have been left a lot of money.’
‘His relatives were all like him. Earn a quid and spend two. There’s not one of ‘em left anything but debts.’
‘But it must have cost a lot to buy this house?’
‘That’s no lie.’
‘Then did he win money in England?’
‘He followed the horses, but if he backed one it either retired or came in after the beginning of the next race.’
‘Then where did all the money come from, señora?’
‘What the hell business of yours is that?’
‘I’m sorry, but this is an official investigation and I need to know.’
‘Oh, Christ!’ She stood. ‘I need a drink.’
After she’d left, he visually examined the room again. Together, the furniture and furnishings became garish because they’d been chosen with so little taste, but individually they were of good quality and must have been expensive. The three-piece suite was large and covered in a rich leather, as were the additional matching armchairs: there was an elaborately inlaid desk: the occasional tables were of olive with beautiful graining, such as one seldom saw these days: the bow-fronted display cabinet was filled with intricately carved objects in, probably, ivory: the two large oval carpets were Chinese. The large colour television and video were in a custom-built stand which also housed a large number of tapes. On the other side of the room was a music centre and although he knew little about them, this had the air of being a very good one. A brief and probably very conservative estimate suggested that to buy and furnish this house must have cost around forty million pesetas. Yet before they’d left England, Allen and his wife had lived in a small house and his job could not have been a particularly well paid one.
She returned with two glasses, and without asking him what he wanted, handed him one. She returned to her chair.
‘Señora, I regret that I must ask you some more questions.’
She drank. ‘Why?’ she demanded suddenly and stridently. ‘He’s dead, isn’t he? What’s there to question about that?’
‘Was he happy living here?’
‘He was. Didn’t matter to him that I wasn’t.’
‘Do you know why he decided to live here?’
‘Liked it so much when he came out on holiday before we were married. Said the diving was so wonderful because the water was clear. Diving! There’s more to life than bloody diving.’
‘What kind of diving?’
‘With air tanks and a mask. Couldn’t stop talking about all the fish he saw. Maybe he thought he was taking over from Jacques Cousteau.’
‘I was told he was a very strong swimmer?’
‘He had to be good at something apart from drinking, didn’t he?’
‘Had he been drinking before he went swimming on Monday morning?’
‘Give it a break. He was out of the house by half past six. He was a boozer, but he hadn’t got round yet to starting that early.’
‘And you’re quite certain he hadn’t complained of feeling ill?’
‘He was never ill. Couldn’t understand it when I felt like death warmed up.’ She finished her drink and stood. ‘Let’s have your glass for the other half.’
‘I haven’t finished, thank you.’
‘Not like him, are you? Five seconds after you gave him a glass it was empty.’
She left, walking with sufficient care to confirm that this wasn’t her first drink of the day. He stared through the nearest picture window. Sad to realize, he thought, that she had had so much and yet enjoyed so little.
‘Señora, when will you be returning to England?’
Just as soon as I’ve sold this place.’
‘Is there very much business to decide before you go?’
‘I don’t know what you’re on about?’
‘There must be a great deal to arrange with investments and that sort of thing?’
‘What investments?’ Her voice was now shrill.
‘Your husband was quite wealthy. There must be a large amount of capital . . .’
She interrupted him. ‘Then suppose you tell me where the hell it is?’
‘But there must be some records?’
‘When they came and told me he was dead . . .’ She drank so eagerly that some of the brandy slopped over her chin. She brushed it away with a finger. ‘I went through his papers to see how much money there was. And d’you know how much? By the time I’ve finished paying funeral expenses and death duties there won’t be anything but what this place fetches.’
‘Señora, that’s impossible. Did you never ask him how you could both afford to come out here and live in such luxury?’
‘I did once and he told me to mind my own business. He could get rough so I left it. Besides, it’s not a woman’s job to know about that sort of thing.’
He remembered Tracey telling him how Clarke had become angry when she’d questioned him about the past.
‘Did you ever meet Roger Clarke?’
‘Señor Roger Clarke. He lived at Bahia Mocamba.’
‘Never heard of him.’
‘The señor didn’t mention him?’
She made no answer, but finished her drink and then looked across. ‘Are you ready now for another?’
‘No, thank you, señora. I must drive back home to Llueso.’
Walking still more carefully, though with less success than before, she left the room.
He stood. She’d continue to drink until eventually she found a temporary forgetfulness. A dislikable woman, yet he felt sorry for her.
When she returned she asked him again whether he’d like another drink and on his refusing she became abusive. He interrupted her to say he was leaving and she began to complain stridently that the natives were all the same, completely unfriendly.
Out in the hall he came to a stop, turned, and said: ‘Señora, did your husband ever leave this island?’
She drank, caught her breath, coughed, drank again.
‘I couldn’t get him to go back home to see everyone. But they were our friends.’
He said quietly: ‘Thank you for your kindness.’ He hesitated, then added: ‘I know it cannot seem so now, but time will help to heal the pain.’
She stared at him. ‘Heal the pain?’ Her face crumpled and suddenly she was crying. ‘How bloody stupid can you get?’ she shouted wildly. ‘Heal the pain, knowing he’d a woman somewhere and it must be that bitch who’s got all his money?’
‘Can you give me her name?’
‘If I could, I’d have got hold of her and taught her a thing or two.’
‘Where does she live?’
‘I don’t know. When I asked him where he was going, he wouldn’t tell me. When I accused him of going to see another woman, he just laughed.’ Now, she was sobbing heavily. ‘I tell you, he laughed in my face.’
‘He saw a lot of her?’
She shook her head.
‘How often?’ he persisted, hating himself for continuing to question her at such a moment.
‘Every year we were here,’ she mumbled between sobs.
‘Are you saying he only went away once a year.’
‘Wasn’t that enough for her to get all his money?’
‘But if he really was seeing a woman, señora, wouldn’t he have visited her much more often?’
She turned and made her unsteady way back into the sitting-room.
He left the house.
Alvarez lay on his bed but for once sleep would not come. The trouble was, his mind kept going round in circles.
Were the two deaths connected or was it just a chain of circumstances which appeared to link them together? He tried to remember all the facts common to Clarke and Allen even when such facts on the face of things could hardly be of any relevancy. Both were approximately of the same age. Both had left England to come to live on the island at approximately the same time. They’d known each other, yet had never admitted to this. Both had bought expensive houses and lived at a luxurious level, although Allen had not been wealthy back in England. (It wasn’t clear what Clarke’s financial position had been.) After their deaths, there were no signs of the considerable capital that would have been needed to provide them with the income they had clearly enjoyed. Both had resented being questioned about the past. Each had made one or more trips abroad and had refused to take wife or girlfriend along . . .
Alvarez yawned as he suddenly felt sleepy. He looked at his watch. Four-thirty. Perversely, it was now nearly time to get up and return to work. Perhaps, he assured himself, the morning had been so busy and emotionally exhausting that he could allow himself just a few more moments of much needed rest . . . Soon, he was snoring.
Alvarez parked his car and crossed the pavement to enter the frozen food shop. Large freezer units were ranged against the walls and he crossed to the one which contained cuttlefish, spider crabs, crayfish, and many different grades of prawns. The store owner, a short, rotund, cheerful-looking man, came up. ‘Enrique! How’s life treating you?’
‘You’re a mournful old bastard, and no mistake.’
‘Are those prawns any good?’ Alvarez pointed at a box which contained the largest size.
‘A king’s ransom couldn’t buy better.’
‘I haven’t got a king’s ransom. How much are they?’
‘Two thousand a kilo.’
‘I’m not a foreigner. What’s their real price?’
‘That’s it. Look, I’m not responsible for the prices. It’s the government. I’m making so little profit it hurts to think about it. I have to pay eighteen hundred for them: eighteen hundred!’
‘Sure. For two kilos.’
The owner always became annoyed when he was accused of profiteering: it was honest hard work which had brought him a house, a finca, three flats let to foreigners, two cars, and a large power boat. ‘You know your trouble? You reckon everyone’s a liar.’
‘That’s because of experience.’
The owner pushed the box of very large red prawns to one side and pointed to another of much smaller, pink ones. ‘They’re only eight hundred.’
‘That’s hardly surprising . . . What are you going to charge me for half a kilo of the big ones.’
‘A thousand, of course.’
‘I thought maybe you’d knock a little off?’
The owner was about to disagree when he stopped to consider certain facts. He was in the middle of renovating and enlarging the finca and he hadn’t bothered to seek building permission from the town hall: he had, of course, made a tax return for the past year, but because his wife was becoming very extravagant he’d decided to declare only a third of his true income instead of the usual half: he hadn’t paid tax on his second car because his cousin worked at the town hall . . . He spoke with sudden bonhomie. ‘My dad knew your dad, Enrique, and they were good friends. So for old times’ sake, I’ll make it nine hundred.’
‘Nine hundred for half a kilo? If things keep on like this we’ll all have to go back to farming.’
The owner, certain the reference to the country had not been without special significance, kicked the base of the deep-freeze. ‘Eight hundred.’
‘Seven hundred and fifty.’
The owner picked up the box and carried it over to the small counter on which the scales stood. Two handfuls of prawns weighed five hundred and seventy-five grammes. He went to remove some of the prawns.
‘That’s all right,’ said Alvarez cheerfully.
He returned to the car and drove down to the front and along to Tracey’s flat. She was wearing a bikini top and jeans and had been listening to the radio. She switched this off. ‘The news is nothing but trouble and it’s put me in a down mood. What are you going to do about that?’
‘Cook the supper I promised.’ He opened the plastic bag and showed her the prawns.
‘My God! They’re almost like baby lobsters. What are you going to need for the cooking?’
‘Olive oil, parsley, garlic, and a lemon.’
‘I’ve everything but the parsley so at some stage I’ll have to slip down to Margarita’s and buy a bunch. But first, we’re going for a voyage so while I put these in the fridge, you change into a costume.’
‘You’re taking me out on a pedallo to the horizon.’
‘The horizon? You’ll be lucky if I do not collapse before we reach the end of the harbour.’
She put out her hand and rested it on his forearm, in what for him had already become a familiar gesture. ‘Stop selling yourself short,’ she said, almost angrily. ‘You’re pefectly strong enough to pedal us both to Shangri-la.’
After the meal they sat out on the patio. The gentle breeze, which had started at dusk, prevented the heat being oppressive and it was another cloudless night with the moonlight strong enough for them to be able to see each other clearly.
He sipped a brandy and listened to her talking about New Zealand and he wondered, sadly, if perhaps her criticism of the lives her parents and sister led was a defence against homesickness . . .
‘You’re not listening to a word I’m saying.’
He started. ‘I’m sorry . . .’
‘Didn’t I tell you never to say that?’
‘Yes, you did.’
‘What were you thinking about?’
‘As a matter of fact . . .’ He stopped.
‘As a matter of fact . . .’ she mimicked.
‘I was wondering about Sen or Clarke.’
‘Goddamn it, I could kick you where it really hurts! You’re sitting here, with me, looking at a romantic bay, and all you can think about is Roger.’
‘It’s my work.’
‘We’re supposed to be playing now.’
‘You must understand, Tracey. At work I keep asking myself questions and because I’m not clever, the answers refuse to come. And later the questions keep returning to mock me . . .’