Death on the Black Sands, Chapter Fourteen

Death on the Black Sands


Carolus had to cross an area of sand before reaching the road.  This was feebly lit by the streetlamps thirty yards away as being above the high water mark was rough and over-trodden.  As he began to cross it he saw something darker than its surface, something that might be the figure of a man lying there asleep.  He hurried forward.
Whatever it was, it certainly have not been there when he first came.  Perhaps Jock Dribble were sleeping it off?
He reached the place and stooped down.  Lying on his back, his eyes upturned in hideous supplication, was the man who had called himself Larner but whose name, Carolus knew, was Roderix.  He was dead.
The cause of death was not immediately obvious.  But from where he lay to the road ran a flat track which shewed that his body had been dragged here.  Then Carolus noticed a small patch of darkness round the head and lifting this understood instantly what had killed him.  The back of the skull had been cracked.
There was not much light and what there was must illuminate Carolus as well as the corpse, he realized, so that he could be seen from the road, though probably not recognized.  He quickly searched the pockets, finding nothing.  Then he walked away, keeping along the sands for some distance before turning up towards road.  Then, very casually, he started strolling back towards the Esmeralda Bar.
But before he entered this he went, always moving without taste, towards the beach.  There was no one in sight.  Since Roderix had been killed within the last three-quarters of an hour somewhere within a few yards of where he lay, probably, the peace of the night seemed surprising to Carolus.  Had no one seen or heard anything?  Here right under the windows of the Imperatorio building a man had presumably been battered to death, a large man of some considerable strength, one would have thought, and the man accustomed to violence.  Yet it had apparently attracted to no attention at all.  Either a very discreet and efficient piece of assassination or a mere chance.
Carolus looked up at the facade of the Imperatorio.  At first it seemed that no one was on any of the balconies or at the windows.  But becoming accustomed to the half-blind light he perceived after a moment one man, perfectly motionless, leaning over a balcony.  He could not recognize him but from the situation of the flat he knew it was Bill Pluggett.
But on the street, or on the edge of the sand, or anywhere visible, he saw no one at all.  The population of Los Aburridos or that part of it usually seen at this end of the town, had vanished entirely.
Carolus went into the Esmeralda Bar and found Lolly Mellon still on a stool with Pepe leaning across talking to her.
“Hullo, darling,” she said in a very cold voice to Carolus.  “You’re back, are you?”
She had now reached a state of intoxication at which, though she could still sit quite steadily upright, her eyes looked vague and glassy.
Carolus greeted her and turned to Pepe.
“That gentleman who was here when I came in an hour ago?”
“He left soon after you did, Mr. Deene.  He said nothing to me except to ask how much he owed.  He did not even say good night to the Señora or me.”
“Bloody rude, if you ask me, darling,” said Lolly Mellon.
“Did you follow him to the door?” Carolus asked Pepe.
The barman looked mildly surprised.
“No, Mr. Deene.  I have not left the bar since you went out.”
“Of course he hasn’t, poor sweet.  He’s been talking to me.  Haven’t you, darling?  I’ve only just realized what a pet he is.  Don’t you think?  Or don’t you?”
Ignoring this Carolus asked last question of Pepe.  He knew the danger of interrogating him in a way which would reveal afterwards that he knew of Larner’s death at this time.”
“You didn’t hear any disturbance after he had gone out?”
“Not immediately.  Some time later Mr. Dribble came and made the disturbance here.”
“Yes.  In this bar, Mr. Deene.  I have orders not to serve him.”
“He’s a nancololic, darling,” said Lolly Mellon sickly.  “I can’t understand people drinking like that.  Can you, darling?”
“Mr. Dribble was already drunk.  He had just come from the Bar del Toro.”
“How do you know that?”
“He told me so.”
“Did he stay long here?”
“Not very long.  He said he would return to the Bar del Toro.  They not only serve him there but give him credit.”
“You did not see him again?”
“No, Mr. Deene.”
“He didn’t see anyone again, did you, darling?  Except me that is.  I do think he’s a pet.”
At that moment the door of the bar was flung open and there appeared against the night outside the pale and haggard face of Hilary Ling.  His eyes were staring in an odd unconcentrated way and he seemed on the verge of hysterics.
“There is a dead man on the beach!” he said in a shrill voice.
“Give me a coñac quick,” said Carolus to the gaping Pepe.  Automatically he did so and Carolus took it to Hilary Ling.  He pushed him into a chair and deliberately poured it down his throat.  Hilary spluttered but said, “Thank you, my dear.  Oh, God, it was horrible.”
“Who is it?” asked Lolly.
“I’d never seen him before!” cried Hilary, his voice rising again.  He spoke as though the fact that the man was a stranger added to the horror of his discovery.  “His eyes looked like fishes’ eyes.  On a slab.”
“How did you come to find him?” Carolus asked.
“It was Tommy’s fault, really . . .” begun Hilary, but Lolly broke in.
“Where is that divine Tommy, darling?” she asked.  “I haven’t seen him for ages!”
“You saw him this morning, darling,” Hilary had time to snap before continuing.  “Tommy wanted to bathe by moonlight.  He said everyone says the wind’s starting again tomorrow so we might not have another chance.  Well, I must say I did think it would be rather heaven for once, because you know how marvellous Tommy looks in his bathing slip and with the moonlight and everything, so I agreed.  It was absolutely mad of me, I see that now, but there you are.  I couldn’t help thinking it would be marvellous, could I?”
Hilary, somewhat recovered, was getting into his own tempo and making the most of his story.
“Well, we started walking across when I saw someone lying there.  I said to Tommy, oh, whatever’s that? and didn’t want to go any nearer.  It’s only some drunk, he said, and you must admit that the number of people here who do get drunk is simply frightful.  Let’s go round the side, I said to Tommy, but you know how brave he is.  He went right up to it and it was this frightful man lying on his back with his eyes turned up.  Exactly like fishes’ eyes.  On a slab.”
“You said that before, darling,” Lolly pointed out.  “Do go on and tell us where Tommy is now.”
“I think I better have another teeny brandy,” said Hilary, and after sipping it continued.  “Tommy knelt straight down and touched him.  I couldn’t have done it whatever anyone had given me.  He’s dead, he said.  Then I’m afraid I gave a little screen.  It was so awful out there on the sands with a dead man.  If it hadn’t been for Tommy I’d have fainted, I know I would.  But Tommy was marvellous.  Come on, he said, we must report this to the police.  So that’s where he’s gone now.  He was going to ’phone but he thought it would be quicker to go round and tell them.”
“I hope they don’t arrest him,” said Lolly tactlessly.  “That’s what they did last time anyone reported a murder.”
“Oh, you don’t think they’ll do that, do you?” asked Hilary plaintively of Carolus.
There was a sound of a siren and two police cars swept past.
“I told Tommy to come here as soon as he’d told them.  I hope nothing awful’s happens.  They can’t suspect Tommy, can they?  He’s been with me all the evening.  We had dinner at the Fregata.”
“Did you, darling?” said Lolly who found it hard to concentrate her attention.  “It’s hell, isn’t it?  All those fishing nets and things.  It makes me feel like a mermaid.  Poor Tommy!  I’m sure he hated it, the poor sweet.”
“He enjoyed it very much, thank you, darling.  He’s got great taste.”
Tommy Watson walked in.
“Oh, Tommy!” cried Hilary jumping up.  “Is it all right?  Did you tell them?  I suppose they’re down there now.  Did you have to go down with them and shew them?”
“S’oright,” said Tommy.  “Nothing to get excited about.  Just another stiff on the sands, that’s all.  Give us a beer, Peep, will you?”
“I don’t know how you can talk like that, Tommy,” said Hilary reproachfully.  “I think it’s dreadful.”
“Come and tell me all about it, Tommy, darling,” invited Lolly.
“Tommy’s tired,” said Hilary.  “As soon as we’ve finished these drinks we’re going up.  Aren’t we, Tommy?”
“No hurry,” said Tommy.  “It wasn’t half a shock to that old Comisario when I told him.  I thought he’d blow his top.  He was screaming blue murder about the ingleses.”
“Was he really, darling?” asked Lolly.
“Are you ready, Tommy?” asked Hilary.
“In a minute.  I couldn’t make out all he said but it seems he’s had enough of the ingleses.”
“I wish you’d come and sit here,” said Lolly.  “I’m longing to hear all the details.”
“I think I’ll go to bed,” said Hilary, trying to convey the seriousness of this intention.
“Hang on a minute,” said Tommy.  “I thought he was going to put me in the calabooz the way he went on.  But he finally wanted me to shew him where it was.  So I drove down with him.”
“How madly exciting, darling,” said Lolly.  “I wish I’d been with you!”
“Have you finished your beer?” asked Hilary.
This, thought Carolus, was where he came in.
He had, however, two calls to make before he went back to the villa.  He went around to the main entrance of the Imperatorio and found Manolo from Malvern sitting at ease in his office.
“Which number is Mr. Pluggett’s flat?” he asked.
“Number 28.  But they’ll all be in bed and asleep by now.  I shouldn’t disturb them if I were you.”
Carolus went up to the second floor and rang the bell of number 28.  After considerable delay it was opened by Mrs. Pluggett in a flowered dressing-gown.
“Mrs. Pluggett, I most awfully sorry to disturb you.  I hope you’ll forgive me.  I want to see your husband, and it’s rather urgent.”
“He’s in bed,” said Mrs. Pluggett.  “And has been for the last two hours.  There’s nothing to stay up for in this place.  It isn’t as though you could get a nice glass of beer in the evening.  Come in, though.  I’ll see if I can wake him up.”
As a glance up at the balcony on his way from the Esmeralda had shewn Carolus that Bill Pluggett was still there, he had his own opinion of these tactics.  But the repeated his apologies for disturbing them.”
“He wants to get home,” said Mrs. Pluggett chattily.  “He’s got his business to worry about.  I’m not quite such a hurry now as I was because I have got someone to talk to now we’ve run into Mist’r’an Mrs. stick.  She and I think the same about things.  I’ll go and see if Bill’s awake.”
Again there was a long pause before Bill Pluggett came in, also in a dressing-gown.  Carolus repeated his apologies.
“That’s all right,” said Bill.  “What can I do for you?”
“While you were on your balcony this evening, Mr. Pluggett, a man was killed within a hundred yards of the building.”
Pluggett looked solid.
“Was there?” he said.  “I didn’t notice.”
Carolus had anticipated this.
“It must have been visible from where you stood.”
“I never saw anything.”
“There may not have been much noise, but there was certainly some.”
“Funny.  Heard nothing at all.”
“You were not on your balcony?”
“May have been for a few minutes.  Nothing happened while I was there.”
“Mr. Pluggett, I’m not the police.  I don’t want to take statements from you, or make you a witness or anything of the sort.  But I do want to know who killed Snatch Roderix.”
This shook Pluggett’s defence.
“Who did you say?”
“Snatch Roderix.  Larner, he called himself here.  He was killed tonight.”
The stolidity return to Pluggett’s manner.
“Don’t know anything about it, I’m afraid.  Wasn’t out on my balcony for more than a few minutes.  Never noticed anything out of the way.”
“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, evidently.”
“Yes, but I’m not a flicking monkey,” said Bill and rose to shew Carolus out.
His other call was at the Bar del Toro.  He found this a little Spanish bar filled with the smell of stale tapas, and usually, he guessed, made intolerable by the stridet din of a radio set at full blast.  Indeed the proprietor, a lanky individual with a feeble moustache, explained the absence of this as he gave Carolus his drink.
“I’m afraid we’re rather quiet this evening,” he said apologetically.  “The radio is out of order.”
Looking round casually Carolus saw that Jock Dribble was still here, slumped over a table in the corner.  He went across and sat beside him.
“Have a drink?” he said.
As though a gun had been fired near his ear, Jock Dribble sat up.
“Fundador,” he said, naming a popular Spanish brandy.
“Large one?”
“Why not?  S’all in a lifetime.”
The bar-owner brought it.
“Cheerily-ho!” said Jock Dribble.
“I saw you earlier outside the Esmeralda,” Carolus remarked.
“Must have been passing.  Been here all the evening.  You have one with me.”
From the corner of his eye Carolus saw the bar-owner signalling a negative to Dribble.  He ordered another whisky for himself and a large Fundador for Dribble.  Whatever he may have been earlier this evening, or on any other night, Dribble was genuinely drunk now.  But still blearily alert, Carolus felt.
“Did you see a man come out of that bar while you were there?”
“Wasn’t there.  Cheerily-ho.”
“You were there when I came out,” said Carolus.
“You calling me a liar?”
“Yes,” said Carolus coolly, prepared for an exhibition such as that against Pluggett.
“I ought to strike you,” said Jock Dribble.  “Can’t strike a man when I’m drinking his liquor.”
“The man’s name was Roderix.  He’s known here as Larner,” Carolus went on, watching closely.
But Dribble did not, as they say, bat an eyelid.
“What man?” he asked.
“The man who was in the Esmeralda while you were outside.”
“Making a mistake,” said Dribble.  “Never go to the Esmeralda.  Don’t like it.”
“That man’s dead,” went on Carolus relentlessly.
“Good gracious me,” said Jock Dribble.  “D’you mean to say—dead?”
“As mutton,” said Carolus.  “Back of his head battered in.”
“That’s bad.  Can’t have people with their beds hattered in.  Have a drink with me?”
“No, thanks,” said Carolus.  “So you’ve been here all this evening?”
“More or less.  Off and on.  In and out.  Haven’t I, Paco?”
“Yes, Mr. Dribble.  And you owe sixty-eight pesetas,” said the bar owner sharply.
“Didn’t ask what I owed.  Totally irreverent.  I’ve been here all the evening, haven’t I?”
“You went out once.”
“That’s nothing.  Can’t stay in one place all night.  Get drunk if you do.  I’ve noticed that.  How much do you say I owe you?”
“Sixty-eight pesetas.”
“Give me another Fundador then,” said Jock Dribble.  “That’ll make it seventy-four.  Round number.”
Dribble’s handkerchief was tied around the knuckles of his left hand and there were signs of blood on it.
“Hurt your hand?” asked Carolus quietly.
“Nothing.  Grazed,” said Dribble.
“It’s rather a coincidence that you were out on that piece of beach the night Devigne’s body was found,” Carolus continued.
“Don’t remember.  Often take a walk on the playa.”
“Did you see Devigne that night?”
“Devigne?  Devigne was only a front, anyway.  I had nothing against Devigne.”
Watching the half-closed eyes very closely Carolus made the remark—“But you had against Roderix, I think.”
Dribble was now hopelessly drunk but this remark seemed to focus his hazy thoughts.  He gave Carolus a haunted stare.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“You’ll remember tomorrow.”
“I’ve seen you before somewhere.  Along time ago.”
“Yes.  You have.”
He spoke two more words before his head dropped into his arms in complete unconsciousness.  The first came as he tried to focus his attention on Carolus’s face.  “Airborne,” he said.  The second was only just audible.  It was “Concrete.”
Carolus left him there and returned to the place in which he had seen Dribble by the entrance to the Esmeralda Bar.  From there he started walking towards the beach.  Near the beginning of the black sands he found what he expected to find, a pile of concrete blocks, lying ready to be used in some new building project.  There was enough light here for him to examine these.
Across on the Sands where Roderix lay was movement and a show of lights.  Doubtless the police had finished their examination and were preparing to move the corpse.  Quickly he stooped and touched the concrete then examined his hands.  Even in that light he could recognize blood.