Death on the Black Sands
“I suspected Killain from the first,” said Carolus. A man who deliberately tries to cultivate that elusive thing charm is a false man. Charm is something you either have or you haven’t. If you have you can be crooked, malicious and selfish and still get away with it; but if you haven’t, if you are one of those, the most tragic and unfortunate of the human race, the being without charm, no attempt to cultivate it will be successful.
“I don’t know this man’s real name but I feel pretty sure that ‘Paddy Killain’ was assumed. It was part of his Irish make-up, supposed to be so attractive to the English, and went with his phony brogue and the rest of it.”
“He was born in Brixton,” put in Bindle. “The son of a local bigwig named Briggs.”
“But apart from all that I had a more serious reason for distrusting Killain. The only sincere thing in his life was his longing for Daphne. ‘It seemed to be on his mind,’ she told me, ‘and he couldn’t leave me alone. I’d always be finding him waiting for me in odd places, and sometimes he’d stare at me for hours on end.’ An obsession, in other words. Yet he was prepared to go on living on the man who was keeping her.”
“You do have a nasty way of saying things,” put in Daphne reproachfully. “Davy wasn’t really keeping me, only I stayed with him in his flat and he bought me things when I wanted them. I don’t call that being kept, or not more than anyone else. Like Georgie and Sweetie for instance.”
Georgie who had been listening in silence rose to her feet.
“You want a good hiding, Daphne?” she asked.
“Ladies! Ladies!” boomed Mr. Gorringer. “Come now. This will never do. I feel sure Miss Losch meant no offence.”
“She had better be careful how she puts things then. Go on, Deene.”
“What really drew my attention to Killain was another of those strange inconsistencies in the evidence which nearly always lead to something interesting. The practised eye will have seen this already. It lay in two statements: Mrs. Bindle’s ‘Davy insisted on us all dressing every night, and not tropical stuff either’, and Daphne’s description of Killain as he appeared to her and Jack Trotter when they were coming up from the beach after finding Devigne’s corpse. ‘He quite startled me. He was wearing a light suit and it was like seeing a ghost on that black sand.’ Knowing that Killain was a lazy man I decided that there must be something which had caused him to make that change. For instance, bloodstains on his dinner jacket.
“This idea was confirmed when I saw an attempt to destroy a dinner jacket by fire on the beach—a clumsy method of disposal that would never have been used by one of the professional criminals like Trotter, Martin or Roderix. But it’s not so easy as it might seem to destroy a bloodstained suit of clothes without drawing attention to yourself. He might have hired a boat and dropped it, weighted, overboard, but that’s just the sort of thing that would make an opportunity for a nice profitable ‘denouncement’ to the police. At all events that was the method he chose, and he failed to immerse the cloth entirely in petrol so that I was able to pick up a fragment. This told me what had been burnt and when I searched Killain’s room this evening I looked first to see whether his dinner jacket was missing. It was.”
“Don’t believe it for a moment,” said Gore-Bullar. “Only one in the whole lot with any breeding or self restraint. I told you so, Deene, when you came to see me in Gibraltar. Can’t deceive me, you know. I’ve learnt something about men since I became DISM. Killain was a clean man.”
“I must say he struck me as a very civil fellow,” said Mr. Gorringer. “I find it hard to suspect him of murder.”
“Attempted murder, I would prefer to call it,” said Carolus.
“Oh, come now,” said Rupert Priggley. “There was nothing ‘attempted’ about this, surely.”
“Though I would prefer that Priggley did not interpolate in a matter beyond his years, yet I cannot but admit that he has a point there. How could Killain have attempted to murder Devigne?”
“Devigne? Who said anything about Devigne?” asked Carolus innocently. “It wasn’t Devigne he attempted to murder.”
“I’m afraid I am at a loss,” regretted Mr. Gorringer. “My own obtuseness perchance. But I will, in the vulgar modern idiom, stick my neck out. Who, then, did Killain attempt to murder?”
“Jack Trotter, of course,” said Carolus infuriatingly.
“Really! That ‘of course’ is too absurd,” said Priggley, peeved at being surprised with the rest.
“And what method did he attempt to use?” asked Mr. Gorringer with a lofty sarcasm. “The razor? Some subtle poison from the east which leaves no trace? Or a simple pistol?”
“No. The garrotte,” said Carolus, and held out his glass to Rupert Priggley for another whisky-and-soda.
This caused a lengthy interruption.
“Is the man insane?” Colonel Gore enquired of Mrs. Bindle. “Or am I?” he added rhetorically. “I thought when he came to see me he was reasonably sound. He seemed to have a somewhat cynical and the attached attitude to the monstrosities I had found here, but not actually to be one of them. The garrotte! A man in the cellar. Killain attempted murder! Referring to the little lady with blonde hair as ‘kept’! I feel I’ve strayed into a mad-house.”
Mr. Gorringer was baffled, too, and said so.
“This is to make confusion worse confounded,” he said to Carolus. “I have some experience of your somewhat mischievous habit of mystification, my dear Deene, but is this not carrying them too far? We expect a certain lucidity from you.”
“Man is a fool,” said Georgie briskly.
“I tell you what,” said Bill Pluggett to Carolus. “I’ve had about enough of this lark. If you know, why don’t you tell us straight out? Who slit Devigne’s throat?”
“I’ve told you. Killain. As to who killed him, that’s another matter. He was dead when Killain found him.”
“Who did kill him then?”
“He killed himself. Surely that much is obvious. He had been planning it for days, ever since he realised that his number was up. He went to Tangier to get a supply of sleeping-tablets of a kind of which an overdose is fatal. He was posturing up to the last. He meant to sit in that deck-chair looking out to sea and peacefully pass out. He had this thing about the sea and he thought it would be romantic and in keeping with the character in which he saw himself to die on the sands here alone.
“I thought almost immediately that he was a born suicide, the very type with all that paranoiac hankering after power. But there was one thing that puzzled me. No suicide note had been found and I did not believe that Davy Devigne, as I knew him from reports, would kill himself without leaving one. When I heard from young Pluggett that Devigne had in fact left a note which was not to be delivered till next morning, the thing grew clear. The question was—where was that note? And who had seen it?
“It was addressed to Daphne . . .”
“I never received it!” Daphne called out excitedly. “I never even saw it. No one ever told me about it.”
“It was given by Raymond Pluggett to Arturo who left it on the table in the hall. Some member of the household took it from there, opened it and read it. Tonight I found it concealed behind a photograph in Killain’s room. He did not actually destroy it because it could happen, if things took a certain course, that his life might depend on his being able to prove that Devigne committed suicide. But he had concealed it as well as he could.
“What happened was that Devigne decided, probably during that morning or afternoon, that when his friends went in from the beach he would remain there, take his overdose and die. Or he may have been still undecided when Roderix, the man he most feared, went up and spoke to him that afternoon, as he was seen to do by Hilary Ling. I should guess that the letter was, in any case, an afterthought or he would have made more careful arrangements for its delivery next day. As it was he had to call on whoever remained there when he had finished writing it, and this happened to be Raymond Pluggett.
“I don’t propose to read you the note but shall hand it to the Spanish authorities. It is written in a high-falutin’ and dramatic style because Devigne was pretentious even in death. But it also stated the exact dose he was about to swallow.
“When Killain read it his first reaction was a natural one. Without saying anything he hurried down to the beach. He found that at sometime before his death Devigne had rolled off his chair and was lying face downwards on the sand, quite dead.
“It was then he saw his opportunity. This situation could enable him to get rid of not only Devigne but the other man who stood between him and Daphne—Jack Trotter. If Devigne was found apparently murdered, his throat cut by Trotter’s razor, there could be no doubt of the sequel. He went back to the flat, took Trotter’s razor from his room, went again across the sands to Devigne’s body and made the horrible incision which nearly severed his head. Then, having deliberately washed the razor imperfectly, he returned it to Trotter’s room.
“He found, however, that his dinner jacket was bloodstained. This was a setback because he wanted to be seen about that evening. He decided that rather than remain in his room he would change his clothes and did so, being afterwards in time to meet Trotter and Daphne returning from the playa with news of Devigne’s murder.
“Killain had taken one other small precaution. When he found Devigne’s body, the deckchair in which he had been sitting must still have been beside it. He removed this and put it with the others on the pile. He probably thought that since Devigne had not been killed while in it, it might suggest to someone that he had rolled off in his death agony before his throat was cut. I agree with his reasoning there. That cut could only have been made on a dead or heavily sleeping man. If there were no bloodstains on the chair, I should have asked myself why Devigne had been lying on the sand when the murderer came.
“Everything seemed to go according to Killain’s plan. The razor was found with its bloodstain, and Trotter, a known member of a razor gang who had lived by a protection racket in London, Was immediately arrested. Killain was subtle enough not to say openly that he thought Trotter was guilty but to me he pointed out, ostensibly in praise of Totter, that Trotter ‘would not see a woman ill-treated’ when he knew that I should hear from Daphne that Devigne had bullied her. He also said, in the same kindly manner, that Trotter was ‘impulsive’ and ‘irresponsible’. I thought when I heard him and Mrs. Bingle and Daphne discuss Trotter that afternoon that Killain knew Trotter hadn’t killed Devigne but wanted me to think he had, that Mrs. Bindle believe he hadn’t but didn’t want me to think he had, while Daphne, who also hoped I wouldn’t think Trotter was guilty, herself believed he was.”
“Well, how was I to know? I mean, it did look like it, Jack, with your razor and everything. And you were cross with him on account of what he’d done to me, weren’t you?”
“But good heavens, Miss Losch,” boomed Mr. Gorringer. “People don’t kill one another because they’re cross!”
Jack Trotter spoke between half-closed lips.
“If they’re cross enough they do,” he said. It was his only contribution to the discussion.
“It suited Roderix that the whole thing should be disposed of as quietly and quickly as possible. The last thing he wanted was anyone from England investigating and possibly discovering who he was and how he had got rid of his paper money, and a good deal more about him. That was why he sent for Martin to scare me off with disastrous results for Martin. His leg is recovering but it is doubtful whether he will ever be able to indulge in the more active pursuits of his profession, like warehouse-breaking and hold-ups. He will doubtless be reduced to some quieter hobby like forgery or fraud.”
“The pet!” said Lolly Mellon. “I must go and see how he is today. Darling, I hate to interrupt you but I think I may faint if I don’t get another drink in a moment.”
Drinks were poured, even Mr. Gorringer indulging, and Mrs. Stick entered.
“You’ll excuse me, sir,” she said to Carolus. “But whoever it is in the cellar has managed to get that off his mouth and the language coming out is not to be believed. I won’t go near, but Stick says he’s never heard anything like it even from a sergeant-major he remembers in the army whose language was a real disgrace. Don’t you think you ought to let whoever it is out?”
“Tell him he’s safer where he is,” said Carolus with a glance towards Jack Trotter.
The gathering had grown more relaxed.
“I think,” said Daphne to Carolus, Jack and I are going off together. Don’t you think it’s a good idea—even if there isn’t going to be any money after all? Jack’s so clever, he can turn his hand to anything, and I do need someone, don’t I? I mean I can’t go on without things. It’s not as though I want a lot really, though after this and finding Davy hadn’t any money after all, I shall know how to look after myself better. But with Jack I feel safe, really, because if he hasn’t got anything he soon we’ll have.”
“I’m sure you thoroughly deserve one another,” said Carolus.
“Mrs. Pluggett asked something that was very much on her mind.”
“D’you think we shall be able to get away from here now that it’s all turned out to be nothing, as you might say? Because if I have teeth have any more of this jabbering at you that you can’t understand and this wind that gives you a headache all day, and that black sand that Gets Into everything, I shall feel like going out of my mind.”
“I hope it will all be over very soon, Mrs. Pluggett.”
Georgie congratulated Carolus.
“Never liked Killain” she said. “Nor did Sweetie. Too soft. But you seem to have settled his hash. Quite interesting. See you again.”
Hilary was less enthusiastic.
“It’s terrible, my dear,” he said. “I don’t know what I am going to do. I put every farthing I had into that Casino because it was going to make millions for me, my dear. Now I am roo-ined.”
“Why not try doing a job of work?” asked Carolus.
“What’s a very dreary suggestion,” said Hilary coldly.
But Colonel Gore-Bullar was not yet satisfied.
“All very well,” he said. “Quite convincing in parts. But where’s your solid proof, man? Woolly in places, those arguments. Circumstantial. You’d never get away with them in a Court Martial.”
Carolus was very much aware of the observer from Interpol, Mr. Borg, who was looming over them. He had not spoken the whole evening and his lips were tight now.
“There is only one piece of proof necessary,” said Carolus to Gore-Bullar. “And I am not in a position to examine that. But if we could see the report of the post-mortem on Davy Devigne I think it would convince us.”
“You mean it would shew whether Devigne had swallowed enough sleeping pills to kill himself?”
“Exactly. Also whether he was dead when his throat was cut. For myself, I am sure that the answer in both cases is yes. But here is someone who can tell us. You’ve seen the post-mortem report, I suppose, Mr. Borg?”
There was no reply, only a slightly pained expression caused by such unprofessional indiscretion.
“Was I right—on both points?”
For a breathless moment it seemed that this too would remain unanswered. Then very slowly, as though absently, yet quite unmistakably, the ‘observer from Interpol’ nodded—twice.
— THE END —