Death on the Black Sands, Chapter Eighteen

Death on the Black Sands

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

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 showed 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?
“Exactly.”
“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?”
“Yes.”
“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.