Death on the Black Sands
“Did you discover where Martin was staying when he broke his leg?” Carolus asked Priggley at breakfast next morning.
Yes. At a little hotel called Flor del Mediterraneo. Why?”
“You might go down down this morning, pay his bill and bring his clothes up. Don’t tell him what you’re doing till you have them here. I want to see his passport.”
“All right,” said Priggley, “but I can only hope he doesn’t recover the use of his leg before we’re out of here. I think you under-rate him as a villain.”
“I don’t at all,” said Carolus seriously. “I don’t under-rate the villainy of anyone in this case, believe me. I think the circumstances are as dangerous as any I’ve known. I’m seriously thinking of sending you and the Sticks back to England.”
“There’s no need to be facetious,” said Priggley. “I haven’t the slightest intention of leaving this ghastly town until you’ve tidied up the case, and I don’t think you’d find it very easy to get rid of the Sticks. They’ve begun to enjoy themselves.”
Coming out to collect the breakfast things at that moment Mrs. Stick seemed to confirm this.
I must say,” she said, “it’s nice to get a bit of sunshine and this place has turned out not to be half so foreign as you might think. I was only saying to Stick, it’s not much difference to Clacton after all, Is it? He’s really enjoying himself, sir. All but the wind and the colour of the sand—he doesn’t like that. It’s not like England, he says, and I don’t know what they’d say at Margate if they woke up one morning and found the sand had turned black in the night and is there was a gale blowing day and night through the summer. But there you are. You can’t have everything.”
Very true, Mrs. Stick.
“As for that Carmelita as she calls herself, you can’t help laughing. She’s all of a giggle half the time. Of course you can’t understand what she’s trying to say but she’s so cheerful with it. She brought her young man up to see us yesterday and I must say he seemed a nice quiet young fellow till he started giving me a rose he’d cut in the garden on the way in. Can you believe it? I pretty soon gave him the right about. I’d like to know what my sister at Battersea would say if she knew I had had young men giving me roses.”
“I expect she’d be rather envious, Mrs. Stick.”
“Well, she’s older than what I am,” said Mrs. Stick, as though that settled everything. “Now about your lunch today, sir. I thought I’d give you something they all seem to take to out here though it sounds a bit of a mix-up to me. It’s not the same as that Rose a la Valency Anna we had though it’s made with rice too. They call it a Pie Eller. When I told Stick about it he said, if you’ll pardon the expression, that it sounded like the hell of a pie to him, but he’s that giddy with all this sunlight that I don’t know what he’ll come out with next.”
“A paella would be very nice, Mrs. Stick.”
“I asked the gentleman in the spare room whether it would be all right for him, and he said certainly. I must say it’s nice to have a real gentleman in the house instead of some of the people mixed up with murder and I-don’t-know-what, like we have had in the past. Now I must go and get on with your Pie Eller.”
When Rupert Priggley arrived with Benny Martin’s possessions he brought the passport he had found among them to Carolus. After close examination of the frontier stamps with their dates, Carolus went down to see Martin.
“How’s the leg?” he asked amicably.
Martin said, in language which might have surprised Mrs. Stick, that it was still very painful.
“It looks as though you’ll be here some time,” said Carolus. “So I sent round for your things this morning. I thought you’d like to have them with you.”
Martin said, in no less forcible terms, that he couldn’t care less about his things. What he wanted was to get on his feet.
“I’ve just been having a look at your passport,” said Carolus. “I was glad to see it is not a forged one, like your friends Larner’s.”
Martin stared at him fixedly.
“I’m warning you once again, Deene, that you don’t know what you’re playing with.”
“On the contrary,” said Carolus, “I think I do. I was saying your password is not forged. But I see from the date stamps that you came across here from Ceuta on the day before Devigne was killed, and remained two days.
“So I did it, I suppose.”
“You could have. You had the opportunity and the motive.”
“You make me tired, Deene. If you’re too bone stupid to realise what you’re up against there’s no more to be said.”
“I’m going to London tomorrow,” said Carolus casually. “To do a little research.”
Martin was apparently considering his answer to that when Rupert Priggley came in to say that Lolly Mellon was on the terrace, demanding to see Benny Martin alone.
“Don’t let her in!” begged Martin from the bed. Don’t let that cow in here! Have a heart, Deene. I can’t take that.”
“She says she only wants to see how you are,” grinned Priggley.”
“It’s not —— fair,” said Martin. “I can’t protect myself. You don’t know what you’re letting loose on me. She’s a terror.”
There was a light tap on the door and almost in the same moment it opened to admit Lolly Mellon.
“Darling!” she called and crossed to the bedside. “My poor darling, what have you done to yourself? I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I only heard this morning from Manolo the hall-porter at the Imperatorio where you were. He knows everything, darling.”
Priggley had glided from the room and Carolus turned to go.
“Stay here!” shouted Martin desperately. “Don’t go for a minute.”
“Darling, I’ll stay with you,” said Lolly. “That’s what I’ve come for, darling, and to see if there’s anything you want. Now just settle back on the pillows and I’ll sit here. That’s it.”
Carolus was on his way out when Lolly Mellon called him.
“You haven’t offered us a drink, darling,” she said. “This poor boy’s gasping for one. You’d like a drinky, wouldn’t you, darling? Yes, of course he would and so would I. Brandy, darling, please, with lots of lovely ice and just a touch of soda. It’s a good thing I came to look after you, darling. You don’t seem to have the most elementary necessities here. What about cigarettes? Oh, you have. Just brandy and soda then, please, darling, and don’t forget the ice. Then we’d like to be on our own for a little while, wouldn’t we, darling? We’ve got so much to talk about. I want to know all about the poor leg.”
Carolus at last escaped.
But half an hour later Carolus was moved to pity of the victim, and called Mrs. Stick.
“The gentleman in the spare room has a visitor and I don’t think she’s very welcome to him,” he said.
Mrs. Stick had on her sternest expression. She might have been back in Newminster.
“I should think not, from what I saw when I happened to open the door just now,” she said severely.
“Perhaps you could say that you have to take in his lunch now. Rather as though you were the nurse. I’m sure you can manage it, Mrs. Stick? ”
“I’m sure I can,” said the little woman grimly.
Carolus was not surprised, a few moments later, to hear Lolly Mellon taking a leave of Martin from the door of his room. “Goodbye for now, darling,” she was saying. “I’ll come back and see you this afternoon. I hate leaving you even for a moment, darling.”
Carolus watched her as she went down the drive.
“Do you think she’s really the half-witted nympho she appears?” asked Rupert Priggley.
Carolus shook his head.
“No, I don’t,” he said.
Lunch was a success. Mrs. Stick produced her paella with a touch of pride.
“It’s not what I should call Hot Q-Sign,” she said. “More like good Borge Wars. But I hope you like it, sir, because it’ll be something out of the ordinary to have back in England.”
In the afternoon Carolus decided to go down to the playa which had provided Priggley with so much entertainment and information on the previous day. He swam for a time then lay in the sun, waiting to see whether anyone would join him.
Whether it were the depressing colour of the sand, or the sultry afternoon or the dun-coloured sea, or whether the warnings and threats he had received disturbed him, Carolus did not know, but he felt desolate and anxious as he sat down. He was within a few yards of the spot where Devigne’s body, so hideously gashed, had been found by Daphne.
Then he felt a sudden, almost occult presentiment that the death of Devigne would be followed by another, that it was only one incident in a chain and that anyone, perhaps Carrollton himself, might be the next victim. This was not logical. Nothing he had discovered so far, and nothing in the theory he was beginning to form tended to suggest that there would be a second murder. It was as if lying in the sunlight with the din of holiday-makers about him, he smelt death.
The people who had surrounded Devigne became shadowed in his mind by a cloud of suspicion. Any of them, he considered sourly, was perfectly capable of murder. A woman’s hand would have the strength as much as a man’s, and there was not one of them of whom he could say that it was inconceivable that he or she should have done it. Not even Mrs. Pluggett could be wholly exempt from suspicion, though (he had learned from Priggley who arranged it) Mrs. Stick had now met and approved of her. Certainly not Daphne, or Killain or Bindle or any of those more closely associated with the dead man. It was depressing to think that in this group of people, more or less (though not entirely) haphazardly collected, there should not be a single one of whom Carolus could say that he never would believe it.
They were all hiding more than they revealed and there were certain things connected with the Vogels and perhaps with the man who called himself Larner which remained utterly mysterious to Carolus. That someone was prepared to go to great, perhaps murderous lengths to cover up something or someone, he could not doubt. When he thought of Larner waiting for him that first night, and of the young assassin he had employeed, the thing seemed tortuous and threatening.
“May I join you?”
It was Daphne.
“Please do,” said Carolus, concealing his despondency.
Was she an attractive girl, he wondered, looking at the beautiful tanned skin and the sleepy-cat expression in the hooded eyes, or was she no more than a prototype, ‘desirable young woman 1966 model’? That could be. She was so right for the purpose to which she has been put, show-off and victim of Devigne.
“You don’t mind my coming and talking to you? I told you the other day I feel I can trust you.”
“And I warned you not to––that is if you’ve got any thing to hide.”
“Oh, is not that. It’s not about Davy’s murder. It about myself. You see Paddy Killain wants me to marry him, now, at once. But neither of us know how much money we’re going to have from Davy’s Will. It seems Mr. Vogel doesn’t think there is any money but I can’t see how he can be right because everyone knows Davy owned the Imperatorio.”
“You wouldn’t want to marry Killain if he had no money from the Will?”
“I couldn’t, could I? You see a girl gets used to having money to spend and I don’t think I could go on without it. I don’t think men realise the things there are to spend money on. Think if I couldn’t buy myself something I wanted! I mean, I can possibly live like that.
“I see. It is rather problem, isn’t it?”
“If I was going to marry someone without a lot of money I’d sooner it were Jack Trotter than Paddy Killain because Jack’s the kind who’d soon get some money from somewhere and I don’t see how Paddy Killain ever could. Jack always had masses of money in his pockets, you know––big fat rolls of notes, and Paddy used to let me pay the drinks sometimes. But then I don’t know whether the Spanish police are ever going to let Jack out of prison, so comes back to the same. I don’t know where I am.”
“Isn’t there someone else?”
“Someone else altogether, you mean?” said Daphne, brightening up. “I thought of that. Only there doesn’t seem to be anyone else in Los Aburridos. You see, I’m rather particular. I mean, I don’t just want anyone. It has to be someone who’s got something. I mean, I don’t mind what he’s like, so much—after Davy I’m used to pretty well anything. But it’s no good my going off with someone then finding it’s all a bluff and I’m worse off than I was before. I mean, is it?”
“I suppose not,” said Carolus.
“Of course if it was someone like you I wouldn’t mind so much, because quite honestly I get rather a thrill from being with you and I could imagine myself being with you even if you weren’t madly rich, or anything. But it wouldn’t be the same with anyone else. You’re the sort of man that makes me feel I have to do whatever I’m told and that’s what I like, if you see what I mean.”
“Yes,” said Carolus rather sadly. “I see what you mean.”
“Only of course you don’t feel like that, which I can quite understand. I didn’t worry about things when Davy was alive. I mean, you never really knew with him but he always seemed to have plenty of money and he liked giving me things so that I could shew them to people and say he’d bought them for me. You know that kind of man?”
“Were you fond of Devigne?”
She gave him a quick, almost suspicious glance.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Of course I was. I wouldn’t have lived with him otherwise, would I?”
Carolus spoke very quietly.
“You hated him, didn’t you?”
“Whatever makes you say that?”
“You almost told me so.”
“I suppose I did. Now you’ll think I had something to do with his death. It was really that I didn’t trust him, if you want to know. He had an affair with Sweetie Duncannon before he met me, you know. I don’t think he ever forgot her. He hated Georgie for taking her away. And Georgie hated him. It was all a mix-up. I never knew what he was planning. He went to Tangier a few days before he was killed and I wanted him to take me with him, but he wouldn’t.”
“What do you think he went there for?”
“I don’t know, but it may have been to get some of his medicines. You know Davy took a lot of trouble with his health. He started life as a medical student, he told me once, and knew a lot about all the newest drugs. He was always on some diet or other. He couldn’t always get the medicines he wanted here without a doctor’s prescription and sometimes went to Tangier for them.”
“You don’t know that was his reason for going?”
“Not absolutely. But it has been other times, because I’ve been with him. I always seem to end up by telling you everything and you telling me nothing. You haven’t given given me your advice.”
“I can’t do that. But I can tell you that I have a feeling Jack Trotter may be out of prison very soon.”
Carolus saw that she was staring at him aghast.
“You mean, free? They don’t think he did it?”
“I think they will release him.”
“And arrest someone else?”
She was still looking rather wide-eyed and baffled when Carolus left her.
He had seen across the sand a group which drew his attention as if magnetically. Three of the Pluggetts were sitting together, mother and son and daughter. Bill was not with them. But who could that be in a high-necked dress of chintzy pattern with a floppy straw hat on her head and—yes positively—a parasol? Who was that beside her with trousers rolled to the knee and an expression of inane contentment? The Sticks had joined the Pluggetts on the black sands.
Carolus resisted the temptation to go across and joined Bill Pluggett at the bar. But he found a man of very different temper from the seemingly easy-going type he had met before. Bill, whose face shewed plainly the marks of combat, was sour and hostile when Carolus approached him.
“Perhaps you know,” he said. “Have they got the right to hold my passport like that? I want to get out of this place, and quick.”
“Officially I imagine not. I don’t think anyone has the right to hold your passport. I’m not a lot but that’s what I’ve always understood. On the other hand I doubt it would be wise to insist on its return. You can be held on suspicion, you know.”
“Suspicion of what?” he asked.
“Suspicion of murder,” said Carolus succinctly.
“They can’t suspect me. It’s too bloody silly. What would I want to murder Devigne for?”
“I was only saying what the Spanish police could do if they were put to it. I don’t see you can do much but stay here until they’ve cleared this thing up. That might be sooner than you think.”
Bill looked at him sharply.
“Why? What’s happened?”
“Nothing, that I know of. But I rather think things are going to. I don’t think you should try to leave, Mr. Pluggett.”
“I’ve got my business to think of.”
“But you intended to stay out here for the summer?”
“I wasn’t to know, was I? Wife’s on at me all the time about getting out of here. She can’t stand the heat and the sand. She calls it is the Black Hole of Calcutta. Then my boy getting himself mixed up in this murder lark. Do you wonder we want to get out?”