Death on the Black Sands
When Mrs. Stick brought his breakfast in the morning Carolus saw that her holiday mood had vanished and her lips were tight in a thin red line of suspicion and disapproval. He did not suppose this was caused only by the howling wind which had got up during the night.
“It’s no good,” she said. ‘I shall have to speak.”
“What’s the matter, Mrs. Stick?”
“I think you know as well as what I do, sir. It’s what I hear from Carmelita.”
“She says there was another murder in the town last night. I only wish I could believe it was just talk. Only I know only too well. I was only saying to Stick, wherever we go there seem to be murders breaking out.”
“I don’t know whether it was murder,” said Carolus feebly.
“I don’t know what else you’d call it, then,” said Mrs. Stick. “A gentleman from the Maryland Hotel with all the back of his head smashed to smithereens. And just when we were beginning to enjoy here. I don’t like to face Mrs. Pluggett after this, upon my word I don’t. She won’t believe it when I tell her.”
“She’ll believe it, Mrs. Stick. Her husband saw it happen.”
“Saw the murder you mean, sir?”
“Yes. At least, I’m almost sure he did.”
“Then they’re mixed up in another case? That’ll upset them when all they want is to go back to England.”
“Pluggett won’t admit he saw anything.”
“I should think not, sir! Get himself questioned by policeman and have his passport taken away? You can’t blame him. If he did see anything, that is. I hope you’re not having anything to do with it, sir? I couldn’t help noticing it was getting on for three o’clock when you came in last night.”
Carolus drank his coffee, and Mrs. Stick, after a searching stare, dropped the point.
“I think the gentlemen in the spare room would like to see you, sir,” she said. “To say good-bye, I think it is. He says his friend’s coming for him today with an ambulance.”
“I’ll look in after breakfast then, Mrs. Stick.”
Carolus found Benny Martin sitting up and looking cheerful, having adapted himself, as sufferers do, to the circumstances.
“You wanted to see me?” asked Carolus.
“Yes. To say au revoir, Deene. I am being fetched today in an ambulance.”
“I shouldn’t count on that, if you’re depending on Snatch Roderix, that is.”
He watched the effect of his use of Larner’s real name and saw that Martin’s reaction was instant. He was angry.
“Very clever, Deene. You know a great deal, don’t you? If I knew as much as you I couldn’t sleep at night for remembering that story The Man Who Knew Too Much. What you didn’t know is that the man himself, whatever you like to call thim, is coming here this morning to take me away and God help you if you try to stop him.”
“No. I didn’t know that. And as I say, I shouldn’t count on it if I were you.”
“Why? What’s the matter with him?”
“What do you mean?”
“I should have thought that was fairly explicit. Dead. Found on the sands with the back of his skull cracked.”
Martin’s face took on an ugly yellow pallor. He looked desperate.
“You’re not lying?”
“No. I can lie when I want to, Martin. But not over life and death. Roderix is dead.”
“God, then what will happen . . .”
“To you? You’re not surely so dependent on Roderix?”
“You don’t understand. I suppose you’ve got the Law’s view of Snatch. Just a big villain they couldn’t ever hang anything on. But he was much more than that.” Recognizing a touch of hysteria in the voice, knowing that he would probably never hear Martin or anyone like him talk in this way again, Carolus listened. “Snatch was the biggest man in the business. There was scarcely a successful tickle in the last few years he didn’t set up. You could trust Snatch, every way. Trust him to work it out so that you got away with it, trust him to give you your corner with no strings attached. Trust him when you were in trouble, too. There was no one else like him and there won’t be.”
“Who do you think killed him, Martin?”
“No one would have, if I’d been there,” said Martin grimly but evasively.
“He had enemies?”
“Yes. But not to do that. I don’t know. He didn’t tell everyone everything.”
“You knew what he was doing here?”
“No. He had some interests here I think. He had them everywhere—Switzerland, Beirut, all over the place. They say he was worth a million and I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“You worked for him?”
“Now and again.”
“He called you in to get me out of the way?”
Martin looked contemptuous.
“You? You were nothing to Snatch. Just a bloody little nuisance being too nosy. He told me to get rid of you—out of the town, he meant. But he wasn’t much bothered. If he had have been you wouldn’t be alive now. That’s for sure.”
“Still I want to know who killed him.”
“You’re not the only one.”
“The back of his skull was cracked. That could happen in several ways.”
“I see what you mean.”
“I don’t see why you shouldn’t give me what’s information we have about this, Martin. I’m not the Law. I’m not interested in anything you may have done or not done. Except murder. I came here to get at the truth about Devigne and I mean to satisfy myself on the whole case. Frankly, I don’t see why you shouldn’t tell me everything you know.”
“Don’t talk about Devigne,” said Martin, once more avoiding giving a direct and stuff. “Devigne was nothing. I know all about him and you’re welcome to that. He was a cheap little gambler who couldn’t go back to any chemmy table in London. He’d gambled away what money he had from his old man. His life was one big con trick. He liked to go round with a string of showy broads, and get a reputation as a big spender. The Law never had him because he’d never done anything big enough.”
“Did Snatch Roderix know that?”
“Know it? He’d used Devigne for years as a front of one sort or another. It suited Snatch. He didn’t mind Devigne making a show with his money—but he kept his accounts. Snatch knew everything. I don’t know any details, mind you. But that was the general set-up.”
“Do you know how long Roderix had been in the town when Devigne died?”
“About a week. He sent for me here. I was in Ceuta. I can tell you this—he was vurry vurry worried about something. But if you think he killed Devigne you’re crazy. Snatch would never do that. He might have told me to do it if he wanted it done, but he’d never have done it himself.”
“And did he tell you to do it?”
“You make me laugh, Deene,” said Martin, not laughing at all. “Do you think if I’d cut up Davy Devigne I’d tell you so?”
“I’m always interested in your answers,” said Carolus simply. “Villainy is a new field for me.”
“I can’t make you out,” he said. “You could make a lot of money if you wanted. I shouldn’t mind working for anyone like you. You’ve got the In. But you go on being a flicking schoolmaster. It beats me.”
Martin shook his head sadly as though pained at such a waste of talent.
“Then this detection lark of yours. You don’t even know who killed Devigne, do you?”
“I think so,” said Carolus steadily.
“Oh, you do? Who was it then? Snatch?”
“No. Not directly.”
Martin look at them with some hostility.
“That’s a funny sort of answer to give. Perhaps you know you killed Snatch, too?”
“Perhaps I do,” said Carolus. “Though I wouldn’t be too sure about that one.”
“You give me the gripes, Deene.”
“Yes? Your friend Mrs. Mellon will be along to see you presently.”
“If you let her in I’ll kill you.”
“That sounds like a serious threat.”
“I mean it. You keep that crazy broad out of here.”
“We shall have to see. I have another question to ask you, Martin.”
“Blackmail, eh? What is it?”
“What do you know of the Vogels?”
“Nothing!” cried Martin, instantly and plaintively. “Absolutely nothing. I’ve never spoken to them or heard anything about them. I can’t tell you what I don’t know, can I? Now don’t let that Lolly Mellon in here, will you?”
“Did Roderix know Jack Trotter?” asked Carolus as though he had not heard the appeal.
“No. Yes. Must have done. I don’t know. Only keep that . . .”
Mrs. Stick tapped and entered.
“There’s a young man on the terrace asking for you,” she said to Carolus. “Well, not all that young.”
“Did he tell you his name?”
“Yes, sir. Ling, he said it was. Only now you’re mixed up in one of these murders again, you never know, do you?”
“Does he looks murderous, Mrs. Stick?”
“It’s not for me to say, sir. But he seemed to be crying.”
Carolus left the spare room, conscious that Mrs. Stick wanted to discuss his lunch with the ‘perfect gentleman’ on the bed.
He found Hilary Ling on the terrace, trying to shelter from the winds. He was in a state of great distress bordering on hysteria. Carolus led him indoors.
“I thought you might be able to help me!” he said in a tragic voice to Carolus. “They’ve got Tommy down at the police station. He has been there the whole morning. What will they do to him?”
“Ask him a few questions I expect. Sit down.”
“I can’t sit down. I’m in such a state. Do you think they’ll torture him?”
“I think you’ve been reading a lot of nonsense.”
“You hear such awful things. Tommy’s so sensitive. He feels things more than most people. It was bad enough last time. What on earth can they want with him this time?”
“Probably they want details of his finding the body.”
“But if it was just that why don’t they asked me as well? We were together when we found it.”
“I daresay they’ll ask you a few questions later.”
“Whatever shall I tell them?”
“Oh, yes, about that. We just came on the awful thing, lying there.”
Carolus, watching narrowly, decided to take advantage of this.
“Of course it may not be about last night they are questioning your friend.”
Hilary’s eyes opened very wide.
“What do you mean?” he asked shrilly.
“They are investigating two deaths, after all. Perhaps they have a few more questions about the other.”
“Why? Why should they ask Tommy questions about the other? We told them all we knew at the time. About hearing those screams and everything.”
“Did you, Ling? All you knew?”
“Of course we did!”
“Then you won’t mind them going over it again.”
“I think you’re being rather beastly. I came to you because I thought you might help.”
“It is very difficult to help anyone who doesn’t speak the truth.”
“How can you talk to me like that? I always speak the truth.”
“You’re a very remarkable man, then. Unique, I’d say. Why did you say last night that you had never seen the dead man before?”
“Now, Ling . . .”
“Well, only once.”
“You recognized him?”
“Not at first. Then I did. I said to Tommy, it’s the man we saw that afternoon.”
“You may as well know, I suppose. It was the day Davy Devigne was killed. Only I didn’t want anyone to know.”
“In case they thought I was jealous of Lolly Mellon. As if I could be jealous of a wicked designing bitch like that.”
“What had she to do with it?”
“Well, if you must know I came up from the beach when the others did. I thought Tommy had already come home, but when I got up to the flat he wasn’t there. So I waited a bit, then decided to go back to the BEI. I guessed what was happening.”
“That awful evil-minded immoral creature Lolly Mellon had got poor Tommy in a changing cabin. I soon found that out. Then I went and knocked on the door. My dear, you’d never believe it. There was silence! I knew they were both inside. So I shouted ‘Tommy! Come out of there at once.’ After a minute he tried to bluff it out. ‘Just ready!’ he said, ‘you go and wait in the bar.’ So I pretended to go, and they came creeping out, the pair of them. She looked like Dracula, my dear. Or like something in Charles Addams. Poor Tommy was guilty as could be. I went over to them and said to that Lolly––‘You disgusting old woman!’ I said. ‘How dare you take Tommy into a changing cabin? Haven’t you any shame at all?’ Tommy tried to interfere but I soon put him in his place. ‘As for you,’ I said, ‘you’ve got a weak character. That’s what you’ve got. Fancy you looking at an old person like this.’ Then Lolly called me something I shall never forgive her for. Something absolutely wicked that no real lady would have said.”
“What was that?” asked Carolus curiously.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly tell you. Something only a fiend like Lolly would have said. Something really dreadful. I felt like going for her. She deserved it for saying a thing like that. But just then we all happened to notice Davy Devigne sitting out on the stands in a deck-chair. He looked terribly sort of lonely, I thought.”
Hilary paused, remembering.
“Please go on,” said Carolus.
“Then we saw this man.”
“The one you found last night?”
“Yes. He seemed to come from nowhere. One moment you could not see him and next he was there, talking to Davy Devigne. I thought there was something horrible about him.”
“Was he long with Devigne?”
“I don’t know. We went into the Bar. Lolly tried to make it up with me, but I wouldn’t, not after what she had called me.”
“So the last you saw off Devigne was sitting in a deck-chair talking to this man?”
“Yes. I don’t think he was talking much. The man seemed to do that.”
“What time was this?”
“Oh, I’m hopeless at times. I should guess it was around six. Of course we didn’t know then that Davy was going to be murdered or I might have noticed. Do you really think they’re asking Tommy about that?”
“Will they keep him long?”
Carolus did not need to answer this question for that moment there was an “Oo-oo!” from the drive and Lolly Mellon and Tommy Watson appeared together.
Hilary flew to Tommy.
“Oh, Tommy! Oh, thank God they’ve let you out! They didn’t start torturing you, did they? What did they ask you about? Are you all right? Oh, thank God!”
“Hilary, darling!” said Lolly Mellon.
“Lolly, darling!” returned Hilary ecstatically.
“Old Lol brought me up in a taxi,” said Tommy, by way of adding something to these congratulations.
“Did you, darling?” asked Hilary. “That was sweet of you.”
Mrs. Stick appeared with a tray of drinks.
“Oh, marvellous!” said Lolly Mellon. “Lovely drinkies!”
“You’re wonderful, Lolly!” said Hilary.
Mrs. Sticks lips were tightly closed, Carolus noticed. If there were one thing she disapproved of more strongly than murder it was gush.
Lolly turned to her.
“How’s that divine man in the spare room?” she asked.
“He’s asleep,” returned Mrs. Stick.
“I must go and wake him up!” cried Lolly. “Poor sweetheart, he’s always being left on his own.”
“The gentleman in the spare room,” said Mrs. Stick to Carolus, “asked particularly not to be disturbed.”
“He’ll be thrilled at seeing me,” said Lolly.
“Of course he will, Lolly, darling,” said Hilary.
But it was Mrs. Stick who had her way.
“I’m sorry,” she said to Lolly, with flat and definite finality. “But the gentleman is not to be disturbed this morning.”
Lolly gave up.