Rupert Croft-Cooke and Cookery

In addition to several appreciative books on wine—including the fortified trilogy of Sherry (London, 1955), Port (London, 1957) and Madeira (London, 1961)—Rupert Croft-Cooke wrote fondly, expertly and at times mordantly on food and cooking in various other works; he favoured simple cooking with fine (but not necessarily expensive) ingredients and opposed pretentious or unnecessarily fancy cooking with poor (but not necessarily inexpensive) materials.  He described the dismal deterioration of dining in post-war England with deserved scorn yet he also provided sound advice and useful recipes which may still be utilised and appreciated in modern times; for example, Nigella Lawson, in her How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food (London, 1999), describes Croft-Cooke’s English Cooking: A New Approach (London, 1960), as “a wonderful book” which is “charmingly authoritative”.  Not astonishingly, fine food is frequently described within Leo Bruce books, particularly the Carolus Deene books he wrote after he moved to Tangier and “learned [. . .] to cook”.*
To provide a flavour of those writings—within books on cooking and in autobiographical works—we provide some representative excerpts:
in the first, a wistfully comprehensive recollection of childhood meals from The Gardens of Camelot (London, 1958), the first volume in The Sensual World series ;
in the second, an account of his philosophy and practice—alas, this would prove to be all too short-lived!—in the kitchen from The Life for Me (London, 1953) ;
in the third, descriptions of steak-and-kidney pudding and of curry from Cooking for Pleasure (London and Glasgow, 1963) and The Life for Me;
in the fourth, his method for making omelettes from Cooking for Pleasure, with an apposite quotation from Death of Cold by Leo Bruce (London, 1956);
in the fifth, two passages on prison food from The Verdict of You All (London, 1955).
We also provide a few food-related excerpts from some Carolus Deene mysteries and, haply, shall add to these pages hereafter.  See also the six-course feast—which Lionel Townsend describes as an ‘interminable meal’ that returns to him in nightmares—provided by Merton Watlow, the profligate millionaire, in “Beef for Christmas” (1957):
There were six courses and for most dishes there was an alternative scarcely less satisfying.  We were handed cards on which the original menu was reproduced.  POTAGE, I read without apprehension at first, à la Tête de Veau Clair or à la Colbert.  Phew, I thought, and found as an ENTREE les Pain de Faisans à la Milanaise.  Then there was that course which has long vanished, the RELEVE.  It was in English, but none the less menacing for that—Roast Beef, Yorkshire Pudding.  The ROTI was Dinde à la Chipota or Chine of Pork.  ENTREMETS were four—Les Asperges à la Sauce, Mince Pies, Plum Pudding, La Gelée d’Oranges à l’Anglaise.
But Merton Watlow did not finish with his relatives there.  As though to give his gastronomic teasing of them an extra sting there was added the extraordinary heading SIDE TABLE.  Under it were offered Baron of Beef, Wild Boar’s Head, Game Pie, Brawn, Woodcock Pie and Terrine de Foie Gras.
Similarly, see this passage from the third chapter of Cooking for Pleasure:
I can read without regret those speciment menus which were given in the cookery books of half a century and more ago.  Charles Elmé Francatelli, for example, described by his editor as “an earnest and gifted worker in the cause of gastronomy,” wrote a book called The Modern Cook in which he devotes thirty-six pages to Specimen Menus of Dinners for Every Month Throughout the Year.  These, his editor says in 1911, represent a “simplification” of his original menus, which must have been something.  Here, for an Edwardian family, is his suggested bill of fare for a dinner in January.
Hors d’œuvre:  Small Foie-Gras Darioles.
Soup:  Lobster Bisque.
Fish:  Souchet of Flounders.
Entrée:  Fillets of Partridges à la Lucullus.
Remove:  Braised Ham with Spinach.
Roast:  Roast Teal.  Potato Chips and Salad.
Sweet:  Pine-Apple Soufflé.
Savoury:  Sardines à la Diable.
It is not even funny to us and I don’t think it can have been wildly funny at the time, especially for the cook or the guest who was expected to eat his way through it.  (pp. 19-20)
*  In The Long Way Home (London, 1974) Croft-Cooke writes:  “I had come to [Tangier] fresh—or not so fresh—from the loathsome events which had befallen me in 1953 and been healed and purified by the sunlight and love I had found there.  I had [. . .] learned to make a semi-tropical garden and to cook[.]” (p. 10)

UPDATE I (27 January):  Chapter Six of Die All, Die Merrily by Leo Bruce (London, 1961), which features an account of a dinner at the Escargot de Bourgogne, is provided in its entirety.

UPDATE II (28 January):  two passages on prison food were added from The Verdict of You All by Rupert Croft-Cooke, and the list of excerpts above was updated.

UPDATE III (15 February):  the Foreword and other excerpts from English Cooking: A New Approach, “On the Joint” and “On Inverted Snobbery and Fish-and-Chips”, were added.

UPDATE IV (23 February):  Chapter One, “A Backward Glance”, of English Cooking: A New Approach was added.

UPDATE V (26 February):  an excerpt (much of the first two pages) of Chapter Eighteen, “Garnishes”, of English Cooking: A New Approach, was added.

UPDATE V (11 April):  an excerpt (much of the last two pages) of Chapter Six, “Fish” (whence the short excerpt On Inverted Snobbery and Fish-and-Chips” was taken) from English Cooking: A New Approach, was added.

Death on the Black Sands, Chapter Twenty

Death on the Black Sands


“I suspected Killain from the first,” said Carolus.  A man who deliberately tries to cultivate that elusive thing charm is a false man.  Charm is something you either have or you haven’t.  If you have you can be crooked, malicious and selfish and still get away with it; but if you haven’t, if you are one of those, the most tragic and unfortunate of the human race, the being without charm, no attempt to cultivate it will be successful.
“I don’t know this man’s real name but I feel pretty sure that ‘Paddy Killain’ was assumed.  It was part of his Irish make-up, supposed to be so attractive to the English, and went with his phony brogue and the rest of it.”
“He was born in Brixton,” put in Bindle.  “The son of a local bigwig named Briggs.”
“But apart from all that I had a more serious reason for distrusting Killain.  The only sincere thing in his life was his longing for Daphne.  ‘It seemed to be on his mind,’ she told me, ‘and he couldn’t leave me alone.  I’d always be finding him waiting for me in odd places, and sometimes he’d stare at me for hours on end.’  An obsession, in other words.  Yet he was prepared to go on living on the man who was keeping her.”
“You do have a nasty way of saying things,” put in Daphne reproachfully.  “Davy wasn’t really keeping me, only I stayed with him in his flat and he bought me things when I wanted them.  I don’t call that being kept, or not more than anyone else.  Like Georgie and Sweetie for instance.”
Georgie who had been listening in silence rose to her feet.
“You want a good hiding, Daphne?” she asked.
“Ladies!  Ladies!” boomed Mr. Gorringer.  “Come now.  This will never do.  I feel sure Miss Losch meant no offence.”
“She had better be careful how she puts things then.  Go on, Deene.”
“What really drew my attention to Killain was another of those strange inconsistencies in the evidence which nearly always lead to something interesting.  The practised eye will have seen this already.  It lay in two statements:  Mrs. Bindle’s ‘Davy insisted on us all dressing every night, and not tropical stuff either’, and Daphne’s description of Killain as he appeared to her and Jack Trotter when they were coming up from the beach after finding Devigne’s corpse.  ‘He quite startled me.  He was wearing a light suit and it was like seeing a ghost on that black sand.’  Knowing that Killain was a lazy man I decided that there must be something which had caused him to make that change.  For instance, bloodstains on his dinner jacket.
“This idea was confirmed when I saw an attempt to destroy a dinner jacket by fire on the beach—a clumsy method of disposal that would never have been used by one of the professional criminals like Trotter, Martin or Roderix.  But it’s not so easy as it might seem to destroy a bloodstained suit of clothes without drawing attention to yourself.  He might have hired a boat and dropped it, weighted, overboard, but that’s just the sort of thing that would make an opportunity for a nice profitable ‘denouncement’ to the police.  At all events that was the method he chose, and he failed to immerse the cloth entirely in petrol so that I was able to pick up a fragment.  This told me what had been burnt and when I searched Killain’s room this evening I looked first to see whether his dinner jacket was missing.  It was.”
“Don’t believe it for a moment,” said Gore-Bullar.  “Only one in the whole lot with any breeding or self restraint.  I told you so, Deene, when you came to see me in Gibraltar.  Can’t deceive me, you know.  I’ve learnt something about men since I became DISM.  Killain was a clean man.”
“I must say he struck me as a very civil fellow,” said Mr. Gorringer.  “I find it hard to suspect him of murder.”
“Attempted murder, I would prefer to call it,” said Carolus.
“Oh, come now,” said Rupert Priggley.  “There was nothing ‘attempted’ about this, surely.”
“Though I would prefer that Priggley did not interpolate in a matter beyond his years, yet I cannot but admit that he has a point there.  How could Killain have attempted to murder Devigne?”
“Devigne?  Who said anything about Devigne?” asked Carolus innocently.  “It wasn’t Devigne he attempted to murder.”
“I’m afraid I am at a loss,” regretted Mr. Gorringer.  “My own obtuseness perchance.  But I will, in the vulgar modern idiom, stick my neck out.  Who, then, did Killain attempt to murder?”
“Jack Trotter, of course,” said Carolus infuriatingly.
“Really!  That ‘of course’ is too absurd,” said Priggley, peeved at being surprised with the rest.
“And what method did he attempt to use?” asked Mr. Gorringer with a lofty sarcasm.  “The razor?  Some subtle poison from the east which leaves no trace?  Or a simple pistol?”
“No.  The garrotte,” said Carolus, and held out his glass to Rupert Priggley for another whisky-and-soda.
This caused a lengthy interruption.
“Is the man insane?” Colonel Gore enquired of Mrs. Bindle.  “Or am I?” he added rhetorically.  “I thought when he came to see me he was reasonably sound.  He seemed to have a somewhat cynical and the attached attitude to the monstrosities I had found here, but not actually to be one of them.  The garrotte!  A man in the cellar.  Killain attempted murder!  Referring to the little lady with blonde hair as ‘kept’!  I feel I’ve strayed into a mad-house.”
Mr. Gorringer was baffled, too, and said so.
“This is to make confusion worse confounded,” he said to Carolus.  “I have some experience of your somewhat mischievous habit of mystification, my dear Deene, but is this not carrying them too far?  We expect a certain lucidity from you.”
“Man is a fool,” said Georgie briskly.
“I tell you what,” said Bill Pluggett to Carolus.  “I’ve had about enough of this lark.  If you know, why don’t you tell us straight out?  Who slit Devigne’s throat?”
“I’ve told you.  Killain.  As to who killed him, that’s another matter.  He was dead when Killain found him.”
“Who did kill him then?”
“He killed himself.  Surely that much is obvious.  He had been planning it for days, ever since he realized that his number was up.  He went to Tangier to get a supply of sleeping-tablets of a kind of which an overdose is fatal.  He was posturing up to the last.  He meant to sit in that deck-chair looking out to sea and peacefully pass out.  He had this thing about the sea and he thought it would be romantic and in keeping with the character in which he saw himself to die on the sands here alone.
“I thought almost immediately that he was a born suicide, the very type with all that paranoiac hankering after power.  But there was one thing that puzzled me.  No suicide note had been found and I did not believe that Davy Devigne, as I knew him from reports, would kill himself without leaving one.  When I heard from young Pluggett that Devigne had in fact left a note which was not to be delivered till next morning, the thing grew clear.  The question was—where was that note?  And who had seen it?
“It was addressed to Daphne . . .”
“I never received it!” Daphne called out excitedly.  “I never even saw it.  No one ever told me about it.”
“It was given by Raymond Pluggett to Arturo who left it on the table in the hall.  Some member of the household took it from there, opened it and read it.  Tonight I found it concealed behind a photograph in Killain’s room.  He did not actually destroy it because it could happen, if things took a certain course, that his life might depend on his being able to prove that Devigne committed suicide.  But he had concealed it as well as he could.
“What happened was that Devigne decided, probably during that morning or afternoon, that when his friends went in from the beach he would remain there, take his overdose and die.  Or he may have been still undecided when Roderix, the man he most feared, went up and spoke to him that afternoon, as he was seen to do by Hilary Ling.  I should guess that the letter was, in any case, an afterthought or he would have made more careful arrangements for its delivery next day.  As it was he had to call on whoever remained there when he had finished writing it, and this happened to be Raymond Pluggett.
“I don’t propose to read you the note but shall hand it to the Spanish authorities.  It is written in a high-falutin’ and dramatic style because Devigne was pretentious even in death.  But it also stated the exact dose he was about to swallow.
“When Killain read it his first reaction was a natural one.  Without saying anything he hurried down to the beach.  He found that at sometime before his death Devigne had rolled off his chair and was lying face downwards on the sand, quite dead.
“It was then he saw his opportunity.  This situation could enable him to get rid of not only Devigne but the other man who stood between him and Daphne—Jack Trotter.  If Devigne was found apparently murdered, his throat cut by Trotter’s razor, there could be no doubt of the sequel.  He went back to the flat, took Trotter’s razor from his room, went again across the sands to Devigne’s body and made the horrible incision which nearly severed his head.  Then, having deliberately washed the razor imperfectly, he returned it to Trotter’s room.
“He found, however, that his dinner jacket was bloodstained.  This was a setback because he wanted to be seen about that evening.  He decided that rather than remain in his room he would change his clothes and did so, being afterwards in time to meet Trotter and Daphne returning from the playa with news of Devigne’s murder.
“Killain had taken one other small precaution.  When he found Devigne’s body, the deckchair in which he had been sitting must still have been beside it.  He removed this and put it with the others on the pile.  He probably thought that since Devigne had not been killed while in it, it might suggest to someone that he had rolled off in his death agony before his throat was cut.  I agree with his reasoning there.  That cut could only have been made on a dead or heavily sleeping man.  If there were no bloodstains on the chair, I should have asked myself why Devigne had been lying on the sand when the murderer came.
“Everything seemed to go according to Killain’s plan.  The razor was found with its bloodstain, and Trotter, a known member of a razor gang who had lived by a protection racket in London, Was immediately arrested.  Killain was subtle enough not to say openly that he thought Trotter was guilty but to me he pointed out, ostensibly in praise of Totter, that Trotter ‘would not see a woman ill-treated’ when he knew that I should hear from Daphne that Devigne had bullied her.  He also said, in the same kindly manner, that Trotter was ‘impulsive’ and ‘irresponsible’.  I thought when I heard him and Mrs. Bingle and Daphne discuss Trotter that afternoon that Killain knew Trotter hadn’t killed Devigne but wanted me to think he had, that Mrs. Bindle believe he hadn’t but didn’t want me to think he had, while Daphne, who also hoped I wouldn’t think Trotter was guilty, herself believed he was.”
“Well, how was I to know?  I mean, it did look like it, Jack, with your razor and everything.  And you were cross with him on account of what he’d done to me, weren’t you?”
“But good heavens, Miss Losch,” boomed Mr. Gorringer.  “People don’t kill one another because they’re cross!”
Jack Trotter spoke between half-closed lips.
“If they’re cross enough they do,” he said.  It was his only contribution to the discussion.
“It suited Roderix that the whole thing should be disposed of as quietly and quickly as possible.  The last thing he wanted was anyone from England investigating and possibly discovering who he was and how he had got rid of his paper money, and a good deal more about him.  That was why he sent for Martin to scare me off with disastrous results for Martin.  His leg is recovering but it is doubtful whether he will ever be able to indulge in the more active pursuits of his profession, like warehouse-breaking and hold-ups.  He will doubtless be reduced to some quieter hobby like forgery or fraud.”
“The pet!” said Lolly Mellon.  “I must go and see how he is today.  Darling, I hate to interrupt you but I think I may faint if I don’t get another drink in a moment.”
Drinks were poured, even Mr. Gorringer indulging, and Mrs. Stick entered.
“You’ll excuse me, sir,” she said to Carolus.  “But whoever it is in the cellar has managed to get that off his mouth and the language coming out is not to be believed.  I won’t go near, but Stick says he’s never heard anything like it even from a sergeant-major he remembers in the army whose language was a real disgrace.  Don’t you think you ought to let whoever it is out?”
“Tell him he’s safer where he is,” said Carolus with a glance towards Jack Trotter.
The gathering had grown more relaxed.
“I think,” said Daphne to Carolus, Jack and I are going off together.  Don’t you think it’s a good idea—even if there isn’t going to be any money after all?  Jack’s so clever, he can turn his hand to anything, and I do need someone, don’t I?  I mean I can’t go on without things.  It’s not as though I want a lot really, though after this and finding Davy hadn’t any money after all, I shall know how to look after myself better.  But with Jack I feel safe, really, because if he hasn’t got anything he soon we’ll have.”
“I’m sure you thoroughly deserve one another,” said Carolus.
“Mrs. Pluggett asked something that was very much on her mind.”
“D’you think we shall be able to get away from here now that it’s all turned out to be nothing, as you might say?  Because if I have teeth have any more of this jabbering at you that you can’t understand and this wind that gives you a headache all day, and that black sand that Gets Into everything, I shall feel like going out of my mind.”
“I hope it will all be over very soon, Mrs. Pluggett.”
Georgie congratulated Carolus.
“Never liked Killain” she said.  “Nor did Sweetie.  Too soft.  But you seem to have settled his hash.  Quite interesting.  See you again.”
Hilary was less enthusiastic.
“It’s terrible, my dear,” he said.  “I don’t know what I am going to do.  I put every farthing I had into that Casino because it was going to make millions for me, my dear.  Now I am roo-ined.”
“Why not try doing a job of work?” asked Carolus.
“What’s a very dreary suggestion,” said Hilary coldly.
But Colonel Gore-Bullar was not yet satisfied.
“All very well,” he said.  “Quite convincing in parts.  But where’s your solid proof, man?  Woolly in places, those arguments.  Circumstantial.  You’d never get away with them in a Court Martial.”
Carolus was very much aware of the observer from Interpol, Mr. Borg, who was looming over them.  He had not spoken the whole evening and his lips were tight now.
“There is only one piece of proof necessary,” said Carolus to Gore-Bullar.  “And I am not in a position to examine that.  But if we could see the report of the post-mortem on Davy Devigne I think it would convince us.”
“You mean it would shew whether Devigne had swallowed enough sleeping pills to kill himself?”
“Exactly.  Also whether he was dead when his throat was cut.  For myself, I am sure that the answer in both cases is yes.  But here is someone who can tell us.  You’ve seen the post-mortem report, I suppose, Mr. Borg?”
There was no reply, only a slightly pained expression caused by such unprofessional indiscretion.
“Was I right—on both points?”
For a breathless moment it seemed that this too would remain unanswered.  Then very slowly, as though absently, yet quite unmistakably, the ‘observer from Interpol’ nodded—twice.

Death on the Black Sands, Chapter Nineteen

Death on the Black Sands


“Let me dispose first of what has come to be called the second murder,” begun Carolus.  “Because by comparison it is a straightforward affair which should be fairly obvious to anyone, and has not deceived even the Spanish police.  The motive for it really forms parts of the story of the earlier crime so for the moment I will only say it was an act of revenge.
“In understanding how it happened I had a considerable advantage.  I knew Jock Dribble.  He was a Sergeant in the Airborne Division when I was a humble lieutenant, and his reputation was that of a man of obstinacy and guts who could fight a wild bull with his fists and drink almost any of us under the table.  I needn’t give war-time reminiscences of him but I remember him as a man of outstanding character, not particularly popular but very much in the public eye.  ‘Have you heard the latest about Jock Dribble?’ sort of thing.
“After the war I lost touch with him but I did hear that he came into some money.  When I recognized him here as the local beachcomber and drunk, I wanted to know what had brought about this degeneration.  I got this first from an unlikely source.  Hilary Ling thought he was ‘rather a dangerous person’ who ‘used to own all the land where the Imperatorio building is’ and ‘always said he was done out of it’.  Then in the Esmeralda Bar on the night he attacked Bill Pluggett I heard Dribble himself ask Pepe ‘Do you know who owns the very ground you’re standing on, or would do if I hadn’t been done out of it?’
“It appears that Dribble came to this coast before it became the sort of repugnant holiday camp it is today and shewed considerable foresight in guessing the way it would develop.  He put all his inherited money into land here as an investment, but then sold out too soon when offered a small profit on what he had laid out.  He never forgave the purchaser and at first it almost seemed as though this gave him a motive for murdering Devigne.  But as things developed this theory became untenable.
“Like most people in this place he was putting on an act.  Self-pity and anger had made him an alcoholic but he frequently behaved as more drunk than he was.  He was also a mixture between a whining cadger and a vengeful bully.  He could still pull himself together to fight, as he demonstrated so unexpectedly with Bill Pluggett, but he might as easily beg from someone as hit him.  The motive behind much that he did was a longing for vengeance on those who (he had come to believe) had deprived him of his money.  But faced with someone whom he identified as the one who had exploited him he might as easily ask for money as attack him.
“In the case of the man known as Larner he did both, I should guess.  He killed Larner, but I hesitate to call it murder.  He hit him as he hit Pluggett but this time his victim was standing in front of a pile of concrete blocks and went back on these, cracking his own skull.  I doubt whether in England it would mean more than a charge of manslaughter and a sentence of perhaps three years.  Here, I don’t know what will happen to him.  He was arrested this afternoon.”
Mr. Gorringer raised his hand.
“Halt there a moment, Deene.  You convince me wholly, of course, but I think you should say how you know for certain that the man Dribble did what you describe.”
“He virtually told me so.  He was waiting outside the Esmeralda Bar at evening for Larner (as we will continue to call him for the moment) and when I left the bar Larner must have followed me.  I had given him provocation which a man of his kind cannot ignore.  So Larner followed me and Dribble followed Larner.  Perhaps at first he was merely asking for money, but if Larner brushed him off as he may have in his impatience to catch up with me, Dribble would have been exasperated into action.  The surprise of finding such strength and agility in that rack of a man baffled Larner as it had baffled Pluggett, and he went down.  Then, remembering the other murder, Dribble dragged the body onto the sands and left it there.
“I found him in the Bar del Toro an hour or so later, very drunk indeed.  His knuckles were grazed and this suggested that he had struck Larner, as he had struck Pluggett, in the mouth.  In his drunken stupor he half recognized me and tried to recall our previous acquaintance by the word ‘Airborne’.  Then, in his cloudy mind, remembering what he had done, he spoke the word ‘Concrete’.  It was not difficult to follow his meaning here and I went out to find the block sticky with Larner’s blood.  I was able to report this to the police in my own way, thus probably saving Dribble from a charge of murder.”
Carolus paused a moment then said quietly, “There was one other man who could have done that.  Bill Pluggett saw the whole thing.”
Bill Pluggett said nothing for the moment but his wife did not hesitate to speak.
“Oh, he did, did he?” she asked furiously.  “I’d like to know how you’re going to prove that when he was up in our apartment and I was there the whole time, and if you think you’re going to get us mixed up in another murder you’re mistaken else we shall never get away from this place and spend the rest of our lives having this horrible black sand blown all over us by this everlasting wind.  So now then.”
“It’s all right, Em,” said Bill.  “If it means the chap’s life depends on it I shall have to say what I saw.  You say they’ve arrested him?”
“So I understand.  This afternoon.”
“I’ll go and see them tomorrow, then.  All he did was same as he done to me, let fly at this man’s face.  The other one staggered back and you could see him crack his nut.  If it hadn’t been for the blasted wind I’d have heard it too, I daresay.”
“Manslaughter!” cried Mr. Gorringer as Archimedes must have cried ‘Eureka!’ “Manslaughter is the conclusion here.  The man’s violence will doubtless be punished by a salutary term of imprisonment but we need not fear that he will meet the reprisal demanded by society against a murderer.  So one mystery is disposed of.”
“There was really no mystery.  Even if I had not known Dribble before, or seen him battering Bill Pluggett, I should have had no doubt about the death of Larner.  And as you had seen, the incident was witnessed, something that has never happened in any case I have known.  Even Dribble’s half-intoxicated attempt to establish an alibi between the two bars he visited that night was palpable.  To speak of ‘detection’, ‘investigation’ or ‘deduction’ here would be absurd.  It was as open-and-shut as those everyday murders which get only a small paragraph in newspapers.  Mystery is a word, though, that more fairly might be applied to the death of Davy Devigne.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Gorringer with relish.
“In this the character of the man was an important factor—a circumstance which always adds to the interest of investigation for me.  It was not difficult to gather what that character had been.  Perhaps Mrs. Bindle was most explicit.  When I asked her if Davy Devigne was a kind man she said he would rather write a cheque than waste a lot of time.  I know that kind of generosity so well and despise it.  It is buying oneself a clear conscience, and remaining mean with time, energy, consideration and courtesy.
“Devigne was an exhibitionist as anyone can see from facts and stories about him.  It was his passionate desire to be thought wealthy and attractive to women, to be envied for his absurd and vulgar flat which he thought smart and extravagant, for his cars, his clothes, his girlfriends.  He likes to move about with a following, to hold court, to have a reputation as a host, and so on.  He achieved most of this through a series of embezzlements and confidence tricks which we shall come to in a moment.  But during the weeks before his death his bluff was being called and the sands, as Mr. Gorringer might say, were running out.”
“Since you do me the honour of a hypothetical quotation,” interrupted Mr. Gorringer himself, “let me suggest that you deserve a brief respite, my dear Deene.  You have, after all, succinctly disposed of one of our tragedies and should take a moment’s rest and perhaps some refreshment before elucidating further.”
“Does he always go on like this?” Bill Pluggett asked Priggley in a low voice, nodding towards Mr. Gorringer.
“It’s pathological,” Priggley explained.
Jack and Daphne were together now, and Tommy Watson sat between Hilary and Lolly Mellon.
Colonel Gore-Bullar had discovered Bindle with relief.
“S’traordinary,” he said looking round him incredulously.  He could not wait to make his report.
Carolus continued.
“The first inconsistency which struck me when I arrived was this matter of a Casino.  I was satisfied that Devigne’s plans for building one had received official sanction but I knew also that public gaming is forbidden in Spain.  It was from this that I deduced the desperate state in which Devigne found himself.  For Casinos in Spain are plentiful, but they are cafés or clubs and not gaming-houses.  Every village has its ‘casino’— a small bar like any other except that it is often collectively owned.  In larger towns the Casino is often a club where a staid game of Bridge may be played.  Devigne had actually taking advantage of this ambiguity and had induced many people to part with money, on the supposition that what he would build would be a big Casino such as one finds at Monte Carlo or Estoril.  Even a Spaniard, Pepe the barman, had fallen for this.
“But when I met Vogel I realized that this little swindle, too, was about to be exposed.  ‘I don’t gamble, I win’, he boasted to me and, member of a formidable syndicate of casino-owners, it could not be supposed that he would be long deceived by such a palpable fiddle.  If I am not mistaken he was here to recover an investment which some member of his syndicate, more rash than he, had advised.  But in order to do so he naturally did not reveal to others that Devigne was promoting a fraud.  He hoped, in fact, that enough mugs might be found to enable Devigne, under penalty of a give-away, to repay the syndicate—not a highly ethical standpoint.”
“You are insulting me!” said Vogel thickly.
“Yes, I am, aren’t I?” said Carolus.  “But in all the circumstances with moderation.  I’m happy to add that you are wasting your time.  There’s nothing in the kitty.  Devigne’s executor is present . . .”
“The estate is bankrupt to an extent well over twenty thousand pounds,” put in Gore-Bullar.  “And the amount is rising every day as further peculations come to light.”
Vogel looked at him coldly, but said nothing.
“You can’t really mean it!” cried Hilary Ling.  “What about the Will?”
“The Will was just another piece of effrontery and exhibitionism, typical of the man,” said Carolus.  “He liked to have people round him who thought they were under an obligation to him.  He knew when he gave that ridiculous party that he was bankrupt.”
“You mean to say there’ll be nothing ?” gasped Hilary.
“Less than nothing, sir.  Debts,” said Gore-Bullar.  “And there is at least the consolation of knowing that the bloodsuckers, the vampires, the parasites who surrounded him will get no benefit from their sycophancy.”
“I think you’re horrid!” said Hilary who seemed on the verge of tears.
Carolus hurried on.
“But Devigne was facing a far more serious threat than that—no mere gambling syndicate hoping to recover their miserable losses but a powerful criminal who had, so far as Devigne was concerned, power of life or death.  The man Roderix, who had a false passport in the name of Larner, had come to examine the books.
“Ten years ago with a vast sum of money, estimated to approach a quarter of a million, he had done a daring, or at least a risky thing.  Knowing that the baggage of those entering Gibraltar is not examined he had brought a large portion of the fruits of various robberies, in paper money, in a suitcase to the Rock.  From there the amount that he wanted could be smuggled into Spain or across to Tangier.  But he did not want to keep it in money.  He had formed the Edificio Imperatorio S.A. (a Spanish limited company) and built that highly profitable block of flats.
“He needed a front for this and picked on Devigne, whom he knew then as a gambler in debt and disrepute.  Devigne was to pose as the owner of the block and to do this he was encouraged to put on all the show he liked, taking a triple flat, running a showy car, surrounding himself with women and hangers-on and generally behaving like a millionaire playboy.  He was well fitted for this line and for some years kept it up with gusto.
“But he went too far.  All the details of his idiocy and deceit in handling money will doubtless be disentangled in time, but it can at least be taken that he had over-run his allowance by a good many thousands and that Roderix meant to know by how much, and why.
“Roderix never let his left hand know what is right hand was doing.  In order to intimidate Devigne he sent for Benny Martin, who was known as totally unscrupulous and, if necessary, a killer.  Telling Martin that it was Devigne who wanted some job done, he introduced the two to demonstrate Martin’s capabilities.  Martin was quite unconscious of the part was playing.
“So one way or another things were closing in on Devigne.  With Vogel threatening to expose him, and Roderix quite prepared to bump him off if necessary, with bankruptcy and the prospect of a return to his former life of shady gambling and petty con tricks overhanging him, he probably knew that the girl he was keeping was unfaithful to him.  In fact he had reached the end of his tether.  He had not inherited much of this father’s courage . . .”
“None, sir!” shouted Colonel Gore-Bullar indignantly.  “None at all.  Or any other of the qualities of my old friend.  Why, if Donkey Devigne could have seen a gathering like this as the associates of his son he would have shot himself.  I feel sure of it.  He was a clean man, sir.  Clean right through.”
“Is he advertising a soap powder?” Priggley asked Bill Pluggett.
Pluggett laughed too loudly.  “Sounds like it,” he agreed.
“When a man like Devigne, an exhibitionist by nature and practice, an empty shew-off and a fraud reaches that point of no return,” went on Carolus, “his next step is easily predictable.  He will talk of committing suicide, think of committing suicide, try to commit suicide, plan to do so or actually commit suicide.  Devigne planned to do so.”
“That’s right,” said Daphne.  “He often talked about it to me.  But you never said it was anything to do with money or gave me the least hint that he was going broke.  If I’d known that I should have known what to do.  I think it’s awful to take anyone in like that and pretend you’re rich when it’s really someone else’s money you’re spending.  I mean, how is anyone to know?”
“Now, little lady,” said Colonel Gore-Bullar affectionately, “you mustn’t talk like that—trying to make us think there is something mercenary about you when we all know there’s nothing of the sort.”
“Well, a girl has to look after herself and I don’t know how she’s going to do it if men are going to tell lies about what they have or haven’t.”
Mr. Gorringer waved aside this chit-chat.
“Are you seriously postulating, my dear Deene,” he asked, “that the man Devigne committed suicide?”
“I said he planned to commit suicide.  I didn’t say he cut his own throat.”
“That is a considerable relief to me,” said Mr. Gorringer.  “Greatly though I admire the fertility of your arguments, and easily though I fall victim to your persuasions, I should be hard put to it to believe that the gash in the throat of Devigne, running I am told from ear to ear, which I have heard described as the cause of his death, was produced by his own agency.”
He was interrupted by the sudden, the dramatic entry of Mrs. Stick.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said with a quiver in the voice.  “There’s someone in the cellar.”
“Oh, yes, Mrs. Stick.  So there is.  I was forgetting.”
“I heard a noise like a whole swarm of bees coming from there,” she went on, “so I called Stick.  It’s like someone trying to speak with something over their mouth.”
“That’s exactly what it is, Mrs. Stick.”
“It is to be hoped,” said Mrs. Stick fiercely, “that it’s nothing to do with murder.”
“Your hopes are vain, I fear.  It has everything to do with murder.  In fact . . .”
Mr. Gorringer interrupted with a mighty rumble in his throat.
“I think you would do better to proceed with your exposition, Deene,” he said.  “I am sure that by so doing you all set Mrs. Stick’s apprehensions at rest.”
“Oh, very well,” said Carolus.

Death on the Black Sands, Chapter Eighteen

Death on the Black Sands


Mr. Gorringer might have carried out his intention but for the fortunate arrival at this moment of Colonel Gore-Bullar.  Carolus made haste to introduce the two men.
“You have many acquaintances in this gathering?” asked the headmaster.
“None, sir.  Absolutely none.  And I shouldn’t care to have.”
“Ah.  A somewhat anomalous collection, it must be admitted.
“Anomalous? Vermin!  Riff-raff!  Filth!”
“You are very condemnatory,” said Mr. Gorringer with some admiration. 
“I am, sir.  I am disgusted to find myself among such people.  But I conceive it my duty to see something of the indecency and perversions practised in places on this coast in order to make my reports on them.”  He looked around him.  “I shall certainly have Los Aburridos put out of bounds to all troops on the Rock.”
“You do not include my friend Deene in your disapprobation, I trust?  He has bought these people together to further his investigations.”
“Yes.  He explained that to me on the telephone yesterday.  I have some information which may be of use to him, also.  But I had no idea it could be as bad as this.  I’ve never seen such a collection of undesirables, masqueraders and rakes.  Look at the vice and bestiality in the face of that young boy.  Depraved already, sir, a juvenile delinquent and doubtless a catamite.”
Mr. Gorringer drew himself up to his full height.
“That, sir, is one of my pupils!” he said in his most indignant and awe-inspiring tones.
Colonel Gore-Bullar gave him a long curious stare then began cautiously to move away.  For the rest of the evening he avoided Mr. Gorringer like the plague.
Carolus had guessed something of the situation and to relieve the headmaster of any embarrassment that he might feel, approached him. 
“You have not met Mr. and Mrs. Vogel,” he said, introducing them.  “They were friends of Devigne.”
“Hardly friends,” said Vogel coldly.  “I had some dealings with him in business.”
“Ah!  Business!” apostrophised Mr. Gorringer, forgetting for a moment his assumed role.  “That is a world beyond the even tenor of my way, the confines of my experience.”
He saw Vogel’s mirthless eyes fixed on him and flushed. 
“I understood you were a lawyer,” Vogel said with chilly incredulity.
“Ah, yes,” tried Mr. Gorringer gamely, “but there are lawyers and lawyers, my dear sir.  Some are concerned with criminal matters.  Some are mere conveyancers.”
“Which are you?” snapped Vogel.
“That,” said Mr. Gorringer awkwardly, “would be telling.”
He walked away and afterwards described Vogel as a somewhat sinister individual.
He had now made acquaintance with most of the guests and felt justified in taking a seat, as far as possible from Gore-Bullar, from which he could hold what he called a watching brief. 
Carolus, meanwhile, was putting his plan into execution, but it was difficult to tell from his casual and airy manner that he was at last in action.  He lounged up to Killain.
“I hear we have in common some taste and knowledge of wine,” he said, with more amiability than syntax.
“I’m the devil for it,” said Paddy.  “My grandfather in County Kilkenny was the great collector.  He had some Cockburn’s 1871 Port which was famous all over the countryside.”
“Interesting,” said Carolus.  “A previous occupant of this house was a collector, I was delighted to find, and laid down a cellar.  We are standing, my dear Killain, on a treasury.”
“Is that the truth?  It’s happy I’d be to see it some time.  It’s an inspiring site, a cellar.”
“Let’s slip away at once then,” said Carolus.  “These guzzlers of mixed drinks maybe left to their wild habits for a little while.”
He led the way towards the cellar steps.
“There should be some fine sherry,” said Paddy Killain enthusiastically.  “My grandfather loved his sherry, Mr. Deene.”
“The man who had his place laid down some Burgundy which is just right,” Carolus went on, unlocking the very solid door of the cellar.  He switched on the light, revealing a number of bins with only a dozen or two bottles among them. 
Killain had just time to shew disappointment in his face.  Then he found himself tottering back against the wall.  The lessons of unarmed combat were still in Carolus’s mind and in a very few minutes Killain, with all his spurious charm, was a roped-up package on the cellar floor. 
The spirit had gone out of him.  He did not shout or protest but stared at Carolus with terrified eyes. 
“What are you going to do?” he asked. 
“Leave you here for a time.”
“Do you think I killed Davy Devigne?” asked Killain in a hollow voice.
“No.  I don’t.  But I know you know nothing about Port.  1871 was one of Cockburn’s worst years.”
“Then what . . .”
Further chatter was stopped by a piece of sticking plaster laid firmly across Killain’s lips.  There was a desperate humming mumble then silence.  Carolus took a bunch of keys from his pocket and left him there, locking the cellar door. 
The party shewed no signs of abatement, certainly none of dispersal.  Pepe was pouring drinks as fast as he could and the din had increased.
Carolus spoke to Mr. Gorringer as a co-conspirator, a role which the headmaster assumed all too readily. 
“Will you keep this going for about half an hour?” he said.  “I’ve got something urgent to do.”
Mr. Gorringer looked about him.
“It is a strange request you make of me, Deene.  I cannot but feel that this gathering accords ill with the office I hold in England.  But I will do as you ask, so long as it is in my power.
On his way out of his car he called Priggley aside. 
“Don’t let any of them get away,” he said.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Oh, sir, you’re not making another attempt at cloak and dagger stuff, are you?  You know it doesn’t suit you.”
“Loathsome insect.  Get in there and hold that party together.”
Rupert Priggley sighed.
“There’s not the slightest chance of its breaking up unless the liquor runs out.  Meanwhile Lolly Mellon is battering on the door of the spare room.  Martin has persuaded Mrs. Stick to lock him in and remove the key.”
“Don’t let her break it down, then.”
Carolus drove swiftly to the Imperatorio building and found Manolo from Malvern on duty.
“Buenas tardes, Señor,” he said.  “What’s the flipping lark this time?”
“Is there anyone up in Devigne’s flat?”
“Only the Spanish lad, Arturo.  The rest’s gone off to a party somewhere.  The French couple skipped last night.  No wages and no prospects of any.  You going up?”
“Yes.  I shan’t be long.  I’m going to make a small search in one of the rooms.”
“Oh, and what do you expect to find?”
“It’s what I expect not to find that matters,” said Carolus, being quite needlessly enigmatic.
Manolo from Malvern grinned.
“I asked for that,” he said.  “Good hunting.”
The doorbell of Flat Number One was answered by Arturo.  Carolus walked straight past him into the flat.  The youth looked resentful and ill-at-ease.  This brusque entry hurt his amor proprio.
“Señor . . .”
“Which is Killain’s room?” asked Carolus.
“It is locked,” Arturo said.
“Never mind that.  Take me there.”
“Señor Killain said . . .”
“But Señor Killain does not know about a letter which was not reported to the police.  Or does he?”
“No, no.  No one knows about that.”
“I do,” said Carolus.  “Which is Killain’s room?”
Arturo led him down the corridor and shewed him the door.  It was locked.  Carolus produced the bunch of keys, while Arturo watched him in suspense.
“Those are Señor Killain’s keys.  Have you his permission?”
“He is not in a position to give it.  Now go away.  I shall be here a little while.”
Carolus first went to a built-in hanging cupboard and need a careful inspection of Killain’s clothes.  He then systematically went through the pockets of all of them, finding nothing that seemed interesting.  After that his search of the room really began.  Minutely, with infinite patience yet with no waste of time he examines papers and books.
“What are you looking for?” asked Arturo, who had not obeyed Carolus’s order to take himself off.
“A letter,” said Carolus tartly.
“Not the letter, Señor?
“Why should it be here?  It was addressed to the Señorita Losch.”
“Why not?”
After a quarter of an hour’s search during which all be common hiding-places had been examines in vain, Carolus decided that some ingenuity must have been used.  Putting himself in Killain’s place he took a new look at his surroundings, then crossed to the only framed picture in the room, a portrait of Daphne.  This he proceeded to dismantle.
“Are you going to take that photograph away?” asked Arturo.
Carolus did not answer.  Between the back of the photograph and the frame-maker’s backing he found a letter.  After a swift glance through this he put it in his pocket and prepared to leave. 
“May I have the picture?” asked Arturo.
“It’s not mine to give you,” Carolus told him, “but I don’t think the owner will have much more use for it.”
He gave the youth some pesetas, locked the door and in a moment was back in his car.
Then one of the recurring nightmares of many lonely motorists came to reality.  Without turning his head or moving his driving mirror he became aware that someone was crouching behind his seat. 
He kept the car in motion and said calmly, “Evening, Trotter.”
“Evening to you, Carolus.  What’s new.”
“Nothing much.  Snatch Roderix is dead.  Back of his skull cracked.”
He could sense and hear in Trotter’s voice surprise—whether genuine or not.
“Roderix . . .”
“Yes.  He called himself Larner here.”
Trotter seemed to be swallowing a lot of saliva in successive gulps.
“Have you been able to clear me yet of Devigne’s murder?”
“That has not quite ben my object,” said Carolus, bringing the car to a stop out of sight of the villa.  “But I do know the truth about Devigne’s death, yes.”
“Have you told the Law?”
“That would do no good.  The Law have to find out for themselves.  I’m going to make it easier for them tonight.  I’ve go the Interpol man up at the villa and when he hears what I have to say he will tell it—unofficially of course—to the law here, who will then, I hope, officially act on their own initiative.”
“Why tonight?”
“I’m right in the tradition of the Costa del Sol,” said Carolus.  I“I’ve thrown a party for it.  There must have been sillier excuses for giving parties on this coast.”
“Telling me.”
“So why not?  They are going to get an unusual entertainment.  They’re going to hear the truth about these two deaths.”
“The whole and nothing but?  I’m coming then.”
“The police will pick you up again.”
“I doubt it.  They’ve had their rake-off.  Anyway, I want a drink.  Is Daphne there?”
“Drive on, Carolus.  Do me a favour.”
“I don’t mind you joining in my little entertainment, if you want.  But you’ll learn something you won’t like.”
“I don’t think I shall learn much,” said Trotter.
“You will be cleared by what I’m going to say of the first murder.  What about the second?”
Trotter smiled. 
“They’ve arrested Jock Dribble for that.”
“Have they?  Then let’s get this statement made as quickly as possible.”
Carolus drove on.
The party had reached the stage of sitting out and endearments on the one hand and offensive remarks on the other.  Mr. Gorringer has found himself assailed by Georgie who accused of ogling Sweetie, and the old trouble had arisen between Lolly Mellon and Hilary Ling because Lolly, having failed to gain entry to the spare room, had sat beside or, according to Hilary, practically on top of Tommy Watson.  And unexpected amour had broken out between Pepe the barman and the professedly colourless Bindle, while Mrs. Vogel had come to life in a violent scene with Mrs. Pluggett.  Rupert Priggley and Daphne were huddled together on a chaise longue in a sheltered corner of the terrace.
Carolus was met on his entry by Mrs. Stick who was obviously struggling to maintain her composure.
“Could I have a word with you, sir?” she enquired ominously.  “I little thought when I took service with you all those years ago that it would come to this!”  Then, losing coherence but maintaining the rigidity of her attitude she continued, “I have never in the whole of my life seen anything like it—there isn’t one of them that you could properly call a lady or gentleman, and as for those Foggleses it’s a good thing Mrs. Pluggett knows how to behave herself or there’d have been murder.  Not that there hasn’t been enough of murder already and if you could see the way that young woman with blonde hair is carrying on with the young gentleman . . .  That Mrs. Mellon nearly had the door down of the spare room too I had to send Stick to tell her to stop battering it with one of the dining room chairs.  Then there’s one arrived a few minutes ago and just stands there watching them all till it gave me the shudders.”
“What is his name?”
“Borg,” he said it was, and Stick says he’s a policeman or a murderer because you can’t hardly tell which it will turn out with people of this kind.  What my sister would . . .”
“It’s all right, Mrs. Stick.  I’ll have them calmed down in a few minutes.  I’ve got news which they will all want to hear.  How’s Mr. Gorringer?”
“That’s the funny part about it . . .”
“Yes, Mrs. Stick,” Carolus had to agree. 
“Mr. Gorringer doesn’t hardly seem himself.  I’d almost have thought he was enjoying it if I didn’t know him better.  He came to me just now in quite a jolly sort of way and said ‘Stirring Times, eh, Mrs. Stick?’  What could I say when he’s always been such a correct sort of gentlemen?”
“Perhaps Spain has gone to his head is a little.”
“It’s to be hoped it’s no more than that.  I was only saying to Stick, you can’t expect people to behave here like they would at home, but when it comes to that Mrs. Foggles calling a perfect lady like Mrs. Pluggett wullger, as she called it, and that Pee-Pee taking a woman called Bindle into the dining-room on their own—well, if it wasn’t that we’re in Spain I’d have to give notice.”
“I think your troubles are over now, Mrs. Stick.  Have they had anything to eat?”
“That’s another thing.  That Carmelita said we ought to give them tappers as she called it . . .”
Tapas, Mrs. Stick.”
“That’s what I said.  When I asked her whatever she meant, as far as I could make out she was talking about Or dovers so I took a lot of trouble making enough can-a-pays and that to feed them all with, hot sausages on toothpicks and a lot of nice sandwiches.  Then when I saw the state they were in I thought it would be wicked to put good food before them and it’s all in the kitchen going to waste.”
“Serve them now, Mrs. Stick.  You’ll be surprised to see what a quietening effect your food will have on them.  Get Pepe and Carmelita to take them round.  We’ll try to shepherd them all into the salon, and I’ll promise you that what I have to tell them will keep them quiet for at least half an hour, and perhaps for someone for very much longer.”
“It’s to be hoped you’re right, sir.”
Carolus was right.  The rumour of food brought even Priggley and Daphne into the gathering and Mr. Gorringer did what he described as yeoman service in producing an air of expectation among the guests.
“I shouldn’t be surprised,” he said archly, “if we were to hear something of interest to us all.”  And, “I promise nothing, mind you, but I have known Deene dispose of all the mystery in one of his lucid expLarnertions of some dark deed which has baffled other brains.  Perhaps—who knows?—we are to hear the truth at last about these mysterious deaths.”
Groups formed themselves in the large room and Mrs. Stick’s ‘tappers’ were disposed of quickly.
Colonel Gore-Bullar drew Carolus aside.
“I promised you the names of the shareholders in the company which owns the Imperatorio building,” he said, handing Carolus a sheet of paper.  “Further investigation has only confirmed what I told you about Devigne’s finances.  There are no assets at all.”
“Thank you for your information.”
“I must say you have an appalling collection of vultures and wasters here, Deene.  Who is that depraved beast leering over there by the window?”
“That’s my headmaster,” said Carolus lightly.
“Your . . . headmaster?  Your . . . you . . . words fail me.”
“Try, et tu brute,” suggested Carolus, and prepared to state his case.