Death on the Black Sands, Chapter Eight

Death on the Black Sands


He saw as he left the flat that Benny Martin was making his way across the room.  This meant, Carolus decided, that he would be followed, a prospect that interested him.  He could probably elude Martin now, as he left the building, but was not anxious to do so.  He wanted to rid himself of this nuisance once and for all.
Martin was wearing very tight jeans and a close-fitting sweater.  It could be seen that he was not carrying a firearm and it was doubtful if he could have even a razor without its outline being visible.  On the other hand he was a heavyweight in excellent condition and could do a lot of damage.  Somehow Carolus did not think this was the young man’s intention.  Martin was shrewd enough to realize that it would need more than a beating-up to get Carolus out of the way and this seemed to be someone’s very urgent objective.
If, however, to beat-up Carolus were Martin’s intention, he would not, Carolus knew, have it all his own way.  A combination of judo and unarmed combat had served him well on other occasions and could be effective now.  It would, he thought, be interesting to see whether he were in as good condition as he thought.
Carolus meant to keep Martin under observation without appearing to know that he was being followed.  This involved him in what people call having eyes in the back of one’s head, which in reality means taking effective side glances with the head only slightly turned.  To look up at a house to right or left, to examine something in the road and so on, and in doing so watch—another cliché—from the corner of one’s eye, is not difficult to one practised in these curious activities, and Carolus had no difficulty in knowing that Martin left the building behind him and followed him into the road.
Carolus decided to walk, and did so in a leisurely way in the direction of Villa Las Palomas.  As time began to pass and Martin made no attempt to gain on him, Carolus decided that Martin’s object, on this occasion at any rate, was observation.  He wanted to know where Carolus lived.  He might be expected there soon after. 
This disturbed Carolus because of the Sticks and Priggley for whom he was responsible.  He must, he realized, bring things to a head and if he could not rid himself of Martin, and whoever employed Martin, he would have to send the Sticks back England and get Priggley out of town for a time.
All the way back to the house Martin remained at his fixed distance in the rear and made no attempt to decrease it.  But when Carolus approached the villa he stopped and took cover.  That was rather surprising, but when Carolus had actually entered the front door and Martin still did not go away Carolus was for a moment baffled.  He knew now where Carolus lived—what more could he want?
Then Carolus guessed and went upstairs.  Fortunately his was the only room which looked out over the drive-in instead of facing seawards.  Carolus switched on the light there, crossed the room in a way which would make him seen from outside, took off his jacket, then, this time invisible from Martin’s hiding place, he went into the dressing-room next door without switching on its light and had the satisfaction of seeing Martin turn and disappear down the road. 
So that was it.  Martin wanted to know not only where he lived but in which room.  This would need careful handling.  Carolus addressed himself to the problem as he took a shower and before going down to dinner believed he had found a possible solution.  It was not without danger but if it came off it would give him what he wanted—the end of interference.
He found Mrs. Stick positively garrulous. 
“That Carmelita as she calls herself wanted to do the dinner tonight and I’ve let her do one thing, sir, which I must say doesn’t look bad, though I’ve got a nice piece of fillet steak handy in case you don’t care for it.  A rose a la Valency Anna she calls it.  I don’t see much rose about it but she took a lot of trouble.
Arroz a la Valenciana,” interpreted Carolus.
“Stick seems to be able to make out what she says, which is more than I can.  But I must say she’s a cheerful girl.  She’s had us all in fits of laughter in the kitchen.”
“In what, Mrs. Stick?” asked Carolus, unable to believe his ears.
“Well, I couldn’t help smiling,” modified Mrs. Stick.
“Will you ask Stick if there’s such thing as a ladder around the place?” Carolus asked. 
“A ladder, sir?”
“Yes.  I must train that wistaria tomorrow.  I should like him to get hold of it this evening if he can.”
“I don’t know I’m sure,” said Mrs. Stick, less exuberantly.
A few minutes later she returned.
Escalera is what that Carmelita calls it,” she said.  “There isn’t one here, but it seems her uncle who works at a villa down the road has one and she and Stick have gone to get it now.  Unless they come back with something quite different because you never know where you are in this country.”
This apprehension, at least, was not warranted for presently Stick and Carmelita between them carried a good-sized ladder into the garden and Carolus instructed that it should be left lying on the pavement at a spot where it would be seen by someone entering by the main gate. 
At half-past ten Priggley returned and saying that he was very tired took himself off to bed.  The Sticks had already retired and Carmelita had gone home, so Carolus had most of the house to himself. 
He first went to his room and without switching on the light moved the bed so that it was against the wall opposite the window.  There was moonlight and it fell across the floor sufficiently to enable Carolus to work.  He now proceeded to make a schoolboy dummy for his bed, taking particular trouble you see that it was of his own length.  He stood by the window and examined this from there, satisfying himself that from that distance and in that light it would deceive anyone.
Then he went silently downstairs to the kitchen and looked for a bottle of cooking oil.  When he had found this he soaked his handkerchief with it and returning to his room proceeded to oil the bars of the heavy wrought-iron grille in the window.  Fingerprints left on that surface would last for days.
Now he had nothing to do but wait.  He found a position where he was shielded by a thick night-flowering shrub called Dama de Noche, but from which he could see the entrance and the ladder.  It was now about eleven o’clock and he recognized that he might have to wait one, two or even four hours and that all his waiting might easily be for nothing.  But it was worth a trial.  The most exasperating thing was that he dared not smoke.  In this breathless night the smoke would hang on the air for several minutes and for the hunter human scent had become the smell of tobacco.  His presence, somewhere about, would at once be guessed by anyone entering the garden.
The night, at least, was Spanish.  The raffish foreigners of Los Aburridos might fill their villas with an atmosphere of Anglo-American alcoholism and chatter, the hordes of tourists might demand and obtain a fish-and-chips counter in the central square, but the town and benign moonlight and scented garden were Spanish still, thought Carolus.  From here he could not see the lights of the town or the great blocks, like the Imperatorio, rising against the stars.  He could almost feel that he was in Spain.
Midnight passed and there was no sign of a intruder, but nearly an hour later Carolus heard a step in the road outside.  It was a light step, hesitant and cautious.  He could see nothing for a time then perceived between the branches beyond the gate a white oval, motionless and incongruous, the face of a man watching cautiously from cover before venturing further.  It was Billy Martin.
Carolus did not move.  He was satisfied that he was invisible but the smallest movement might give him away.  He did not under-rate the intelligence or experience of the man he saw.
Presently Martin entered, his footsteps noiseless now, and almost immediately saw the ladder.  It stopped him for a moment.  He considered it.  Then swiftly, as though a decision had been made, he stooped and picked it up and without footling or hesitation leant it against the wall under Carolus’s window, the top of the ladder reaching to within a foot of the iron grill.
Martin scarcely paused there, but began to climb without hurry and noise.  Reaching the top he peered into the room and, apparently satisfied, held the grille with his left hand while with his right he drew out a revolver.
This was the exact moment for Carolus.  With very quick but silent movements he took the few steps from his hiding place and reached the foot of the ladder just as Martin was aiming his pistol into the room.  With a quick jerk Carolus tugged the foot of the ladder, lowering its head by about a foot.
The result was foreseeable, indeed inevitable, and to Carolus highly satisfactory.  Martin, feeling his foothold go, grabbed the ironwork with both hands, letting his revolver fall to the ground.  This was entirely instinctive but no amount of careful thinking could have given him, or anyone else in the circumstances, any other reaction.
Carolus quickly picked up the revolver and pocketed it.  He now took hold of the ladder and jerked it right away from the wall, leaving Martin hanging on the grille, almost twenty feet up.
Martin did not waste breath in much abuse.  “Bastard!” he said, and concentrated on levering himself upward to the grille.
Free to light a cigarette at last, Carolus did so and entered the house.  He went up to his room, switched on the light, drew up a comfortable chair, and studied the oddly monkey-like figure hanging on to the grille.
“I expect you’d like a cigarette,” he said, and lighting one for Martin put it between his lips.
“Put that ladder back,” said Martin.  He spoke quietly and intensely as though he really thought Carolus would obey him.  There was no panic in this manner.
“You’re asking too much.  It would mean an end of our conversation and I shouldn’t like that.”
“All right—laugh.  But there’ll be another time, you ——.”
“Will there?  You know I don’t think there will.  In fact, I’m sure of it.  I really can’t have my household disturbed by all this melodrama.
Carolus took out and examined the revolver.
“That’s it, shoot me, you ——,” said Martin sulkily.  “They’ll get you for it if you do.”
“Think so?  I don’t feel very worried about that in the circumstances of your visit.”
“I wasn’t going to kill you,” said Martin.
“Of course you weren’t,” Carolus agreed.  “I give you credit for more intelligence than that.  You are not such a moron as to kill a man from his own window and sign the whole thing in your handwriting.  No, what you intended to do makes you far more of a nuisance.  It was intimidation.  A shot fired in the night which just misses me.  Near enough to look as though it was meant to go through my head, far enough away to do no damage.  Then the noise, and smell.  I don’t know what my English housekeeper would have thought.  No, there has to be a stop to this nonsense.  I know for whom you’re working, but it really won’t do, Martin.  I’m not going to have my quiet life disrupted by your gymnastics.”
“Put that ladder back!” said Martin much less calmly than before.
“You shouldn’t have used it in the first place.  You must have brought some means of climbing.  A bamboo pole I daresay to put a hook on the grille.  Laziness was your undoing.  The ladder lay there, so convenient and handy, and you just couldn’t resist it.”
Suddenly Martin spoke venomously.
“You think you’re —— smart, don’t you?  So okay, you’ve pulled one on me this time but you don’t know me.  I may or may not have been working for someone up to this, but from now on I’m on my own and you’re for it.  I can make this drop easy—I’ve done bigger than that.  And I tell you, Mr. —— Deene, you’re as good as a dead man.  I mean that.  No more playing about.”
“Make sure you land on the ball of the foot,” said Carolus.  “You’re less likely to break a leg that way.  Good night.”
Whether Martin had intended to jump or not he could now do nothing else.  He dropped to the full length of his arms then seemed to jerk himself into space away from the wall.  But he landed in a groaning heap on the paving-stones below.
Carolus went down and found him in tears of frustration.
“I’ve broken my —— leg,” he said.  “It’s your fault, you bastard.  I’ll get you.”
“Broken, do you think, or just sprained?  In any case you’d better come inside.
“I can’t move, I tell you.”
“But you’ll be able to move less in half an hour.  Come along.  Ups-a-daisy.”
It took Carolus more than ten minutes to get the man, with his large frame and powerless agonising leg into the house and on to the bed of a spare room on the ground floor.  He then began ’phoning doctors till he found one willing to come out. 
Meanwhile Mrs. Stick appeared in a heavy plum-coloured dressing-gown.
“Whatever’s going on?” she asked severely but without excitement.  She could be admirably calm in a crisis.
“A friend of mine has had an accident, Mrs. Stick.  I think he has broken his leg.  I’ve called a doctor.”
“He looks as though he needs something, sir.  I’ll pop and get the brandy.”
Martin’s pallor was even more noticeable.  There was sweat on his dead white forehead.  When Carolus gave him a stiff tot he swallowed it.
“Thanks,” he managed to say.
It was two o’clock in the morning before the doctor, an efficient Spaniard who had driven out from Malaga, left the house having told Carolus that there could be no question of Martin’s being able to move ‘perhaps for several weeks’.  In his opinion complete recovery of the use of his leg was by no means certain.  He could be taken by stretcher to hospital perhaps . . . but Carolus thought not if he could be treated here.  The doctor seemed relieved and arranged to come later on in the morning.
Carolus saw Martin again before he slept.
“We’ll have to send you into hospital in Gibraltar,” he said.
For the first time there was something like panic on the pale face.
“Not Gib!” Martin said.
“Not?  I thought you were on the run.  Pick you up at once there, I suppose.”
“Can’t I stay here?” asked Martin.
“Till you’re well enough to ‘get’ me, as you put it? ”
“Ah, forget that.  This alters things.  Am I going to be a —— cripple for life?”
“Not necessarily, I gather.  All right, you can stay here for a bit and tell me the story of your sordid little life.  My housekeeper will look after you.”
“Thanks,” said Martin again, this time a little less unwillingly.
“To Mrs. Stick, you understand, and to anyone else you meet here, you’re just an acquaintance of mine who has had an accident.  Nothing more—by word or implication.”
“I’ll let your friend Mr. Larner know what’s happened, then he won’t be anxious.”
This seemed to trouble Martin.
“Oh, hell,” he said.  “Let me get some sleep if I can.  I feel as though a train was running over my leg.”
Carolus left him and went at last towards his room.  He found Priggley at the top of the stairs.
“Fun and games?” asked the odious boy.
“An accident,” said Carolus firmly.
“That what you call it, sir?  Well, well.  I told you this case would be a change from your magnifying glass detection.”
“Go back to bed, animal.”
“I go I go; see how I go!”
On reaching his room Carolus took the precaution of pushing his bed back to its original place out of the line of fire and in a few minutes was asleep.