Authors: Roderic Jeffries
She laughed. ‘My God, you sound like someone out of a gothic mystery.’
He was sufficiently encouraged by her laughter to ask, diffidently: ‘Would you talk a little about him? Then perhaps the questions will go away.’
‘Anything for peace, I suppose. But let’s have another drink first.’
He refilled their glasses. ‘Tracey, did he ever talk about his life before he came to this island?’
‘Hardly ever. He was a secretive kind of a guy. But that didn’t worry me because I suppose in many ways I’m a secretive kind of a woman. Not that I expect you to believe that!’
‘He never mentioned what happened?’
Just very occasionally he’d let something slip. Like that he went to Oundle.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Oundle’s one of the big public schools in England.’
‘So he came from a big family?’
‘He was from an old family, if that’s what you’re getting at. You know the kind of thing the English go in for—ancestors who were too lucky to be found out and hanged, lots of land and peasants to touch their forelocks, and an overwhelming sense of their divine superiority. But from what he said another time, things had changed more than somewhat. The family had to scrape like hell to pay his school fees. And I don’t know what sort of work Roger started at, but when he got married he was obviously not much more than a glorified clerk. He said that his bitch of a wife was always going on at him because he didn’t make enough money for them to lead any kind of a social life.’
‘Then if he was not wealthy, how was he able to come here and buy a luxurious home and not have to work?’
‘He never gave even a hint?’
‘If he did, I wasn’t sufficiently interested to pick it up. Just as I’m not now. The subject’s boring me and if we don’t hurry up and talk about something else I’ll develop a nasty headache. You may think you’ve seen me in a foul temper, but you haven’t until you’ve seen me with a nasty headache.’
On Saturday morning Alvarez entered his office and looked at the telephone on his desk, then went over to the window and stared out at the street below. Forget it, he told himself. He was seeing shadows where there was none. Why be a fool and antagonize Salas by propounding a theory which was, as yet, quite incapable of verification . . . Yet only a little imagination was needed to bond together some of the proven facts . . .
He made up his mind. He would ask Salas to get in touch with England.
He sat at his desk, leaned over, and pulled open the bottom right-hand drawer to bring out the bottle of brandy and a glass. Dutch courage was preferable to no courage at all.
England telexed Palma on Monday morning and Salas immediately telephoned Alvarez. ‘The report reads: “Neither Roger Clarke nor Simon Allen has criminal record. Nothing known about either.” That is the end of the message.’
‘Oh!’ said Alvarez, deeply disappointed.
‘That is hardly the reply you led me to expect.’
‘No, I suppose it isn’t.’
‘It is extraordinary the ability you have to complicate even the most straightforward and simple events.’
‘But it did seem as if the only feasible explanation was that the two men had been involved in some form of criminal activity . . . And if they weren’t, where did all the money come from?’
‘Is it not a trifle naive to overlook the fact that no man with any sense declares all he possesses either to his wife or his tax inspector?’
‘So far as I can understand, Señor, they do things differently in England. And in any case, neither of them had the kind of job where they’d make large sums of money that needed hiding.’
‘Nevertheless, wherever the money did come from, it clearly was not from a criminal source. Therefore it does not concern us.’
‘Not directly, no. But if I’m right as to the rest of what I said . . .’
‘Frankly, that is a presumption I am not prepared to make.’
‘Señor, more than ever I have a feeling . . .’
‘I am tempted to suggest that the most helpful thing for you to do will be to take two stomach tablets,’ snapped Salas, before replacing the receiver.
Alvarez walked up the road, turned into the square, and crossed to the Club Llueso where he entered the bar. ‘A coffee cortado and a coñac.’
‘You look as if you’d forgotten to hand in the winning football pool coupon,’ said the barman.
‘No. It’s just work.’
‘It’s not like you to worry over that.’
‘I’m getting old.’
‘It happens.’ The barman moved away to the espresso machine.
Alvarez sat and stared out through the window at those people at cafe tables who were visible to him. Foreigners with too much time and money: foreigners who died and in dying made a simple inspector’s life hell.
If there were a connection between Clarke and Allen, beyond the known one that they were acquaintances, then the odds increased against their deaths being accidents. And the more one studied the facts, the more difficult it became not to believe that there had been a connection between them. How could wealth come so suddenly? There were three possibilities. Through an inheritance, winning it on some form of gambling, or through a criminal activity. Surely, if they had been left money or had won it, they would have invested at least part of it so that now there would be some record of it? That left some criminal activity which would explain why the money had had to be kept hidden—so well hidden that there was no trace of it. Yet England had negated the possibility that either of them had been engaged in a criminal activity while in the UK.
‘Here you are,’ the barman called out.
He left the table and went over to the bar.
‘A hundred pesetas.’
‘Don’t you mean ninety?’
‘Prices have just gone up on account of the new tax.’
Gloomily Alvarez returned to the table. He sipped the brandy, added sugar to the coffee and drank some of it, then poured the rest of the brandy into the cup. There had to be a connection between the two deaths. Despite Superior Chief Salas’s scorn, there were times when one had a gut feeling about a case that was taller and broader than logic and could not be denied. But unless fresh evidence came to light there now seemed little chance of ever finding out what that connection was or what part it had played in their deaths.
He shrugged his shoulders. The dead men had been foreigners. He drank the coffee and it warmed his stomach and soothed away his frustrations.
The trawler yacht was an off-shore cruiser, sufficiently seaworthy for quite heavy weather. She was 38 feet long and had, at cruising speed, a range of 1,000 miles or a maximum speed of 20 knots. She possessed a stateroom, a double berth cabin, two toilets and a shower room, a main saloon with dining area, and a deck-level galley. In daylight her lines were more purposeful than beautiful, because of her deep bulwarks and large wheelhouse. But riding to anchor in moonlight, with her lines softened and slightly blurred, she became touched by the sea’s romance.
There was virtually no tide and, in that part of the bay where she lay, very little current. She headed south-east while a schooner, moored only a couple of hundred metres away, headed south-west: with her higher superstructure, she was more influenced by the breeze. A light shone from her saloon and this, shimmering, stretched across the water almost parallel to the moonlight’s path. Beyond that, there were no signs of life aboard her.
At 2304 hours—the time was logged by the assistant harbourmaster—there was a heavy explosion and seconds later flames belched out of her shattered accommodation. The assistant harbourmaster called on the crew of a fishing-boat, about to put to sea, to help him and they sailed him over to the blazing vessel. Showing considerable courage, he tried to quell the fire with the two chemical extinguishers he’d taken with him, but it proved a hopeless task.
The boat continued to burn until sufficient of the hull had been consumed for the sea to enter. She began to settle, the flames retreated, and finally she sank. As she went down, a badly burned body floated clear of her. Overcoming the nausea which the task produced, the assistant harbourmaster lashed the body to the side of the fishing-boat and then gave orders for them to return to the harbour.
On Tuesday morning, Alvarez parked by the side of the harbourmaster s office, half way up the eastern arm of the harbour, and went inside. The harbourmaster, a grizzled man in his late fifties, shook hands. ‘Well, we’ve identified him, Enrique. We’d the name of the boat from when she arrived—
—and I’ve checked her out. She was from Palma, on charter, and the man who chartered her was called Peter Short.’
‘Was he English?’
‘Here on holiday?’
‘That’s not clear. But apparently he owns a house just outside Llueso, so he may live here. He told the charterers that a friend of his was coming over from England and he wanted to take him lo Menorca.’
‘Did they have any idea when the friend’s supposed to arrive?’
‘I didn’t bother to ask.’
‘Did the charterers give you his address?’
The harbourmaster looked down at a sheet of paper on his overcrowded desk. ‘Ca Na Rostra. They think he told them it was up the Laraix valley.’
‘Have you any idea what caused the explosion?’
‘Can’t be certain, of course, but I’ll give you ten to one it was leaking gas. All the boats these days have bottled gas for the cookers and refrigerators and the equipment isn’t always maintained as it should be—they don’t renew the tubing every third year: that sort of thing. The gas escapes and as it’s heavier than air it sinks to the deck and gradually builds up. Something causes a spark and . . .’ He clicked his thumb against his middle finger.
‘Later on, I’ll want a word with the charterers—who are they?’
‘Bonnin. They’re a big firm and their boats are usually good. So don’t expect them to admit that any of the gas lines or equipment could have been faulty.’
Laraix valley stretched from Llueso to the Sierra de Roig which were part of the chain of mountains which, running from east to west, formed the backbone of the island. At no point wider than a kilometre, with stark mountains to the west and smaller, more civilized hills to the east, the valley in summer had a rugged beauty: in winter, however, when clouds stretched from side to side to enclose it, it became a dour, unfriendly, and at times even menacing place.
Ca Na Rostra was along a dirt track which led off the single metalled road. Set in an oblong field in which grew oranges, lemons, grapefruit, walnuts, almonds, pomegranates, and figs, the stone-built, two-hundred-year-old house had been heavily and unsympathetically restored.
Originally box-shaped, arched balconies and flat-roofed extensions had turned it into a surburban folly: the folly was compounded by a kidney-shaped swimming pool with changing rooms and barbecue area in Roman style beyond.
Alvarez knocked on the front door. A wheeling raptor above the field was working a thermal while not far below it a flight of pigeons passed, unconcerned: the shrilling of cicadas was constant: in the next field, the bells around the necks of a flock of sheep maintained an unmusical, but not offensive, jangling: from a distance came the high pitched, unvarying note of an engine working a water-pump. There was no answer to his knock. He used a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face and neck, then tried the door to find it locked. He walked round the side of the house to the back door which was half wood, half glass, and tried that: it also was locked and in none of the obvious hiding places was there a key.
He returned to his car and drove up the long, loose-surfaced drive to the dirt track, turned left, and then stopped when level with a small house on the right-hand side. An elderly man was watering a flower-bed with a hose. Alvarez climbed out of the car. ‘Good morning, señor,’ he said in English, taking note of the floppy sun hat, the white shirt with slightly frayed collar, baggy shorts, socks, plimsolls, and tight moustache.
“Morning,’ replied the Englishman in clipped tones which made it clear he was not buying anything.
Alvarez introduced himself.
‘And my name’s Barker . . . You’ve come about the break-in at the Attrays’, have you? As it happened only a couple of weeks ago, I suppose you’re really on the ball!’ He gave a short, sharp bark of sound which might have been a laugh.
‘No, señor, I regret I have not come about that.’ The name of Attray seemed vaguely familiar, he thought.
Perhaps it appeared in one of the reports lying about his desk. ‘I would like to speak about señor Short, who owns the house down there.’
‘That’s more than I would.’
‘You do know him?’
‘Depends what you mean by know. I’ve met the fellow. But I’ve taken damn good care not to get to know him . . . Blast!’ He had not been concentrating on what he’d been doing and in consequence had kept the hose directed at one spot for too long with the inevitable consequence that the crumbly soil had begun to wash away. ‘Here, hold this while I go and turn off. And watch where you point it.’ He left, disappearing round the corner of the house.
Alvarez took the hose and almost immediately he saw, to his horror, a couple of Sweet William plants washed out of the ground. He hurriedly put the hose down on the lawn of gama-grass, knelt, and forced the plants back into the soil with scant regard for their root systems. His shoe hit the hosepipe and the nozzle swung round to soak his knees before the flow stopped. He had only just regained his feet when Barker returned.
‘Soaked yourself, I see. You Mallorquins don’t know the first thing about gardening. The wife went into the local gardening centre the other day and found ‘em selling nemophila as poppies. And when she pointed that out, damned if the assistant didn’t just shrug his shoulders and say they looked alike so it didn’t matter . . . Here, give me the hose before you smash that up somehow. You want a drink, I suppose?’
‘Thank you very much, señor.’ Alvarez handed over the hose.