Death on the Black Sands
When they came out into the merciless wind Carolus noticed that Mr. Gorringer was not wearing his Cordobese hat, but a large creation in straw, no less exotic and somewhat Mexican in shape, which he had to hold on because of the levante.
“To tell you the truth, Deene,” he said when he saw Carolus glance at this, “I purchased another hat which I felt accorded better with the dignity of a headmaster holidaying in Spain. But my wife did not care for it. Usually, as you well know, a woman of wit, in this case I can only describe her remarks as facetious. It was cordobese in type and she chose the second and third syllables of the name for a play on words which was not, I considered, in the best of taste. I’m afraid I said so with acerbity whereupon there was some dialogue between us which I regretted. I made the second purchase as a peace-offering. I felt it was due to her.
“You will stay the night, headmaster? Mrs. Stick will be delighted to make you comfortable.
“And I, my dear Deene, shall be delighted to accept. My wife has gone to Gibraltar for a few days for what she describes rather ominously as a shopping spree and I took the opportunity of coming to see you. I little thought that I should find you in durance vile, or been moved to use my influence to have you released. We must take care that the story never reaches Newminster. The boy Priggley is here?”
“Yes. Rupert’s about somewhere. He seems to have several young women attached to him along the coast.”
“Precocious, I fear. It is doubtless his unfortunate upbringing. His mother, I venture to assume, is not here?”
“No, she’s in Beirut, I understand.”
“I do not disguise the fact that I am relieved to hear it.”
Dinner, with Rupert Priggley, was a somewhat difficult meal. When Mrs. Stick made some reference to ‘the gentlemen in the spare room’ Mr. Gorringer waited until she had left them then said to Carolus––“you have another guest, did I gather?”
“Scarcely guest. A young assassin who tried to scare me off by shooting through my window.”
Mr. Gorringer put down his knife and fork.
“You are not serious, Deene?”
“Oh, he’s quite tame now. His employer was murdered last night so he really has no further motive. Besides, he has a broken leg.
Mr. Gorringer, after a meaning glance at Priggley, said he thought the matter had better be discussed between them later.
When Mrs. Stick brought their dessert she made a disclaimer.
“I can’t answer for the sweet, sir,” she said. That Carmelita, as she calls herself, insisted on doing it. Flan, she calls it. I told her, I said, if that’s a flan then I’m a . . .”
“A flaneuse, Mrs. Stick,” said Mr. Gorringer and laughed heartily at his joke which he described later as ‘not unworthy of Mrs. Gorringer at her lightest, I fancy’.
When he was alone with Carolus on the terrace he asked earnestly for information.
“I was prepared to find that you had given yourself some light holiday task of investigation,” he admitted, “something appropriate to our surroundings in this land of manaña. But when I reach Los Aburridos to hear that you are with the police, and find you flung in a common cell from which I am constrained to rescue you, things take on a darker hue. I make a point of reading no newspaper on vacation, but rumours fly up and down this coast and at Marbella whispers come to our ears that the sands of Los Aburridos were littered with corpses.”
“The usual exaggeration, I’m afraid. But there have been a couple of noticeable deaths. Both Englishman.”
“You see? We are not so grossly misinformed. Then at dinner tonight, in front of one of the pupils for whose moral welfare we are jointly responsible, you made some ill-advised reference to a shooting affray. I feel you owe it to me as your headmaster to give some explanation of all this. In a word, Deene, what is afoot?”
Carolus patiently gave Mr. Gorringer an outline of the case as it stood on which the headmaster nodded wisely.
“It will not be the first time I have felt able to interest myself in one of your nimble investigations,” he remembered. “And here we have the advantage of being far from inquisitive eye of the British press. So you are left with a range of motley suspects?”
“You may call them that. You will not find them models of decorum or good taste. I tell you what we will do, headmaster. I shall give a party for you tomorrow and ask the whole boiling. Then you can see for yourself.”
“That is most kind and flattering of you, Deene. I fancy we should be breaking new grounds here. The headmaster of a famous English public school present at a cocktail party for the suspects in a murder case on the Costa del Sol. But I fear it would never do. The chances of subsequent revelation are too great.”
“You could remain incognito,” Carolus pointed out.
Mr. Gorringer considered this.
“It would, I suppose, be possible. Some false identity, you mean?”
“A visiting lawyer, perhaps. No need to enter into the parts too much,” said Carolus anxiously, remembering the other occasions when Mr. Gorringer has enthusiastically assumed a role.
“You tempt me, Deene, I must own. I should like to make my own observations of this miscellaneous collection of suspects, to try my own fledgling gifts. It is not impossible that I should be able to identify your murderer, is it? But I see another objection. How can you possibly arrange a gathering at such a short notice? It would surely give offence.”
“On this coast no one has ever been known to take offence from an offer of free drink. They are so accustomed to gathering to consume it that no notice is too short, no premises too small, no company too intolerable. They will all be here, I predict with confidence, and with their tongues out. I will start telephoning immediately.”
Carolus, whose object was a far more serious one than the entertainment of Mr. Gorringer, was soon busy telephoning, encountering, as he had predicted, no refusals.
The Pluggetts hesitated. “Won’t it be awkward?” asked Mrs. Pluggett, “with us being friends of Mrs. Stick?” But Carolus assured her that Mrs. Stick was accustomed to coping with situations far more complicated than that and said that he particularly hoped Bill Pluggett would be present. Mrs. Pluggett promised that he would be.
The whole household of Devigne’s flat, the Vogels, Daphne, Killain, Bindle accepted en bloc. But Lolly Mellon was slightly more problematical.
“Me, darling?” she said. “Will that heavenly young man be there? Because I’ve just met rather a pet and we were going to have a quiet evening in my flat. No, of course not. I’d adore to come. Did you say lawyer? But I adore lawyers, darling. I will, yes. Tomorrow then, sweet.”
Georgie and Sweetie accepted but Hilary at first seems doubtful.
“I suppose you’ve asked that terrifying Lolly Mellon, haven’t you, my dear? We’d like to come but she is like a tigress as soon as she sees poor Tommy. I mean, I don’t mind but it’s such a bore for him. Oh, will she? Oh, I see. Oh, very well. Oh, thank you. Yes, we’d love to. See you tomorrow.”
One call Carolus made without mentioning it to Mr. Gorringer. At the office of Hacendoso he got hold of Señor Borg and invited him rather pressingly, promising that as an ‘observer from Interpol’ his time would not be wasted. Borg agreed to come.
This left only Jock Dribble and Carolus decided to leave him till the following day when Rupert Priggley could round him up at the last moment. Carolus telephoned to the Esmeralda Bar and arranged with Pepe that he should take a night off and help with the drinks.
“Most interesting,” said Mr. Gorringer. “To hobnob with suspects. To rub shoulders, mayhap, with the murderer himself. It will be indeed a novel in a gruesome experience. After our quiet academic backwaters it’ll be a truly startling evening.”
He little knows, thought Carolus, how true this might turn out to be.
“And do you anticipate being able to make a Revelation?” queried Mr. Gorringer. “Is this gathering for the purpose, so dear to you as I know, of astounding us all with one of your lucid expositions of the facts?”
“That’s depends on the course of events tomorrow. I am still in need of some material evidence. It may be that certain people will conduct themselves in a way which could give it to me. It may be not.”
“You anticipate startling events? No violence, I hope? You are not suggesting that there might actually be danger?”
“I don’t quite know how things will go.”
“I shall look forward to the occasion with considerable curiosity. I have a feeling that it will be in my experience, unique.”
It was. The first to arrive was Lolly Mellon and she had fortified herself against any possible shortages of liquor.
“Hullo, darling,” she said kissing Carolus. “Where’s that divine young man you keep imprisoned in your spare room?” Carolus introduced Mr. Gorringer under the name he had chosen of Pargiter. He bowed punctiliously. “Hullo, darling,” said Lolly.
“My name, madam, is Pargiter, not Darling.”
“Is it, darling? Well, never mind. We can’t help our names, can we, darling? Now give mother a little drinky, there’s an angel child. Aren’t you going to have one yourself? You look as though you need one, darling.”
“I do not feel,” said Mr. Gorringer severely, “that the time for refreshments has yet arrived. I like to preserve a certain decorum in such matters.”
“Oh, darling, don’t be a bore. There really isn’t time for all that. And you haven’t given me that drinky. Yes, please, darling, two to one, brandy and soda.”
Mr. Gorringer turned for relief to Bill Pluggett, who was thoughtfully flapping his braces against his chest.
“You are holidaying in Spain, sir?” Mr. Gorringer suggested.
“You may call it a flaming holiday,” said Pluggett. “I’m flamed if I do.”
“You don’t care for this resort?”
“Care for it? I’d like to blow the whole bloody place up. And all the flaming travel agents with it. It’s Frinton for me next year and no more messing about. You can have Spain.”
“I adore Spain,” put in Hilary Ling, joining them at that moment. “So does Tommy. Don’t you Tommy?”
“It’s not bad,” admitted Tommy Watson.
“I think you have to be unimaginative not to adore it. Oh, are you a lawyer? That’s marvellous because you’ll be able to tell me all about poor Davy Devigne’s Will. Will there be lots of delicious lolly, do you think?”
“I am,” said Mr. Gorringer, “a member of the legal profession, but I did not act for the late Mr. Devigne. You should approach his lawyers.”
“I keep approaching them, my dear, but it doesn’t do the smallest good, they simply won’t tell me a thing. I’m getting desperate.”
Carolus, passing, received a muttered confidence from Mr. Gorringer.
“You warned me to expect certain eccentricities in my fellow guests,” he whispered. “But these pass all bounds of propriety. That woman called Mrs. Mellon was most indiscreet. It was a moment of great embarrassment. A Mr. Pluggett, no doubt a worthy person in his own walk of life, seemed singularly out of place here. While that fair young man has a gushing and hysterical manner of speech which is anathema to me.”
“You’ve plenty more to see,” said Carolus. “Try those two women standing together over there.”
Mr. Gorringer obediently approached Georgie and Sweetie.
“My name is Pargiter,” he said politely.
“Queer?” asked Georgie in a businesslike voice.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oh. One of those. Your have to buck up your ideas up in this town, my lad. Won’t he, Sweetie?”
“Yes,” said Sweetie in her soft voice, obligingly.
Georgie adjusted her bow-tie and flicked some cigar ash from her hacking jacket.
“Straight from England, I suppose?” she said to Mr. Gorringer.
“On the contrary, I am quite an habitué of Spain,” said Mr. Gorringer. “From Algeciras to Malaga there is scarcely a nook or cranny . . .”
“Can’t call that Spain,” said Georgie.
Mr. Gorringer grew huffy.
“I bow to your superior knowledge,” he said. “I was under the impression that I was in the country of Cervantes and Goya.”
“You can’t be more mistaken,” said Georgie. “You’re in the country of the beats and the package tourists. Have a cigar?”
Mr. Gorringer, going a little purple, said “Thank you. I rarely smoke them. Never in a mixed gathering of this sort.”
“Quite understand,” said Georgie. “Prefer a pipe myself.”
They were approached by Paddy Killain, with whom Mr. Gorringer hoped to find some relief from a situation which, he felt, was growing impossible.
“Paddy Killain,” said Georgie, by way of introduction. “Rather your tea I should think. Full of Hibernian charm and blarney.” Then to Paddy—“This character says his name is Pargiter.”
“You must excuse Georgie, sir,” said Paddy as the two woman moved away. “She exaggerates a little but she has a heart of gold.”
“She offered me a cigar!” said Mr. Gorringer disgustedly.
Paddy shewed his teeth in his famous smile.
“That’s just her way. We’re used to her here, but I expect you find her a wee bit masculine. I hope you will be tolerant with us all.”
“With you, sir, I have no need of tolerance. You, if you will allow me to say so, I’m a first person of breeding and discretion I have met this evening.”
“Well, if it isn’t charming of you to say so. Let me get you a drink. What will you be taking?”
“I thank you. I could do with something to revive me after these somewhat bizarre encounters. A little Scotch, perhaps?”
“It’s the Irish you should drink, colonel. But I’ll get you what you wish.”
Afterwards Mr. Gorringer described Paddy Killain to Carolus as ‘a very civil fellow’.
Somewhat refreshed Mr. Gorringer was able to meet Bindle without too many apprehensions. She was sensible and polite, discussed Marbella, explained that you had to know Hilary but that Mr. Gorringer need not be alarmed. Mr. Gorringer was tempted to a more confidential tone.
“I do not forget,” he said, “that we meet here in the shadow of tragedy. Two violent deaths in as many weeks are enough to give us all food for thought.”
“I don’t know anything about the second,” said Bindle in her downright way, “but Davy Devigne was no loss. I had known him for years. All show with nothing behind it. It turns out that he hadn’t a bean.”
“So I understand,” said Mr. Gorringer.
“After all that fol-de-rol of making a Will in our favour it’s a bit much, isn’t it?”
“I can understand your disappointments and that of your friends. But that the time of his death he was believed to be a rich man, I think.”
“Yes. I suppose he was.”
“That gave a motive to each of a wide circle, did it not? It will take a Carolus Deene to decide who was responsible for the fatal deed.”
“Think so? The police made an arrest immediately afterwards. Why do you suppose they are wrong?”
“I do not suppose they are wrong. I suppose nothing. It may well be they are right in which case Deene will say so.
“You have great confidence in your friend, Mr. Pargiter.”
“In many respects, yes; unbounded confidence. Also in the eventual triumph of justice. ‘Murder, though it have no tongue, We’ll speak. With most miraculous organ.’ At least to Deene. But tell me, who is the only with blonde hair and a pronounced sun tan whom I have not yet met?”
“That’s Daphne, Devigne’s girlfriend.”
“Indeed? I see she is talking to a young . . . charge of mine.”
“Rupert Priggley, yes. That’s quite an affair these last few days.”
“I hope you exaggerate. The boy should be with young people of his own age. I think I will indulge myself in joining them if you will excuse me.”
Mr. Gorringer stood looking down at Priggley in what was meant to be and awe-inspiring manner.
“Ah, Priggley,” he said.
“My mother’s lawyer, Mr. Pargiter,” said Rupert Priggley off-handedly. “This is Daphne Losch.”
“I am indeed charmed,” said Mr. Gorringer, inclining his head. “And now, Priggley, I feel you should busy yourself in assisting our host.”
“Are you really a lawyer?” asked Daphne with innocent staring eyes. “I am in terrible need of one just now. You know what it is when a girl suddenly loses the man she has been with for years and years. I mean, I’m really lost. I honestly don’t know which way to turn. I’ve no idea where Jack Trotter is since he got out of prison, and Paddy’s absolutely furious with me because of course I can’t marry him now we know there’s no money to come from Davy’s estate. I mean you can’t live on nothing, can you? So I really need someone like you to advise me. I’m sure you’re awfully reliable, I mean.”
“I hope so. We men of the wig and gown try to be that, or where should we be in our clients estimation?”
“I mean, a girl really has to have someone to count on, doesn’t she? It’s all very well have friends like Davy, but he got himself murdered, didn’t he? And it leaves me just nowhere. I’m sure if someone like you were to advise me I should feel much safer.”
“My dear young lady,” said Mr. Gorringer inevitably, “I think you somewhat misinterpret the situation. I am here for a well-earned rest from the dusty demands of my profession. I could not undertake the management of anyone’s affairs just now.”
“But just to advise me!” said Daphne plaintively. “A girl really need someone to turn to. All I’ve got from all that time with Davy Devigne is just the bits of jewellery he gave me . . .”
“Really, Miss Losch,” said Mr. Gorringer sternly. “I don’t feel you should confide in me such details.”
“Well, I have to tell someone, don’t I? Of course the diamond ring would be quite easy to sell if I absolutely had to, but it would be an awful shame because everyone says it really suits me. Jack always said he was going to give me a bigger one but now I don’t know where he is. You’d have thought he’d get in touch with me after escaping from prison, wouldn’t you?”
“I really don’t know,” said Mr. Gorringer thunderously. “Such matters are out of my sphere. Wholly out of my sphere.”
He gave a stiff bow and walked firmly away. He was looking for Carolus, intending to take his leave.