Death on the Black Sands
Next morning the scheme which Carolus had put in motion immediately on his arrival came to fruition, and Carolus was told that at twelve o’clock that morning he might visit the prison where Jack Trotter was held. Elaborate requests involving a consulate, a civil governor, a police chief, the prison authorities and several lawyers had yielded this and even now Carolus did not know how long his interview would last, or whether he would be allowed to see Trotter alone.
He found him a pleasant-mannered young man who accepted his surroundings philosophically. After the brutal coarseness of Benny Martin this other Londoner seemed almost refined, though there was nothing soft about him. Taut, he seemed, in mind and body, but perfectly able to relax. Although he had never seen Carolus before he had been told of his coming and greeted him as an old friend.
“Hullo, Carolus. Glad you stopped by. Haven’t seen anyone for days.”
Carolus asked politely about conditions.
“It’s a lot better than an English nick, I can tell you that. You get all the cigarettes and vino you want here and food sent in if you can pay for it. But I’m getting rather bored. Everything seems to take a long time to get moving.”
“That’s the trouble. It’ll be months before you’re brought to trial. I’d like to ask you a few questions, Trotter.”
“Go ahead. If you can hang this thing on someone else I get out, and I’m beginning to doubt if I ever shall otherwise.”
“Had you any reason to kill Davy Devigne?”
“About as much as most people. He was an incredibly nasty piece of work.”
“In what way?”
“His treatment of women, for one thing.”
“Well, Daphne, if you like.”
“He lived in a world of his own. All fantasy stuff. Saw himself as a big shot moving about with a following. It was all based on nothing at all.”
“But he had money?”
“He had access to money, Carolus. It’s not quite the same thing. I haven’t been fooled by his set up for a long time. I don’t believe when all the facts are known, and the papers sorted, there’ll be much to boast about.”
“He is supposed to have owned the Imperatorio building. And a lot of other property here.”
“Well, he may have. I think he was a front. I know that kind. Show, show, show. Showy cars, showy clothes, showy jewellery on his showy women, and behind it some horrible little sadist psycho—or else sexually impotent. Look at that lark with his Will. Typical of him. Leading all those mugs on. But I don’t believe Davy was a rich man or anything like it.”
“In other words you hadn’t that motive for killing him––to get your share of the loot.
“Do me a favour, will you? What loot”
“It’s fairly certain the others believed him rich.”
“Did you tell anyone you had your doubts about that?”
“No. I don’t go in for a lot of chatter.”
“Did you know about the Casino project?”
“Put any money in it?”
“What about Vogel?”
“I didn’t like him. Quite a smooth operator, I should think.”
“How did you get on with the others in that household? Killain, for example?”
“I wasn’t fooled by all that When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, but he’s all right, I suppose.”
“I believe she was a girlfriend of Davy’s from way back. He kept her around because she was dependent on him.”
“Did you know that the girl known as Sweetie also used to live with Davy?”
“Yes. He’d have had her back if it hadn’t been for the other dyke. I think he was scared of her.”
“How did you come into all this, Trotter?”
“Easy, isn’t it? I’ve got a record. I’m not on the run or anything but it wasn’t comfy for me in England. Not at all comfy. So I landed up here. Davy liked one of two men around. He liked to make them jealous of him when he had a girl like Daphne with him. So I’ve been saying there for a month now.”
“What was your line?”
“I was in on a protection racket. Big stuff. I’ve cleared a packet.”
“You’re very frank.”
“What else do you want me to be? You’ve got to know the facts if you’re going to get anywhere.”
“Do you know a man who calls himself Larner?”
“I know who you mean. I’ve seen him. But I know nothing about them.”
“Or someone called Benny Martin?”
“Yes, I know Benny. Not a bad kid, but clumsy. Very clumsy.”
Carolus told him about the previous night and Trotter enjoyed every detail of the story.
“Broke his leg, did he? That’s Benny.”
“I think he was employed by this man Larner. Does that give you any idea who Larner may be?”
“ ’Fraid not. Benny would take on any job like that where there are are a few pennies to be got. Just like him to fall for that ladder gag. Remember me to him, will you?” Trotter laughed heartily. “Of course he dropped the gun. Had to, didn’t he. What will they get up to next?” He grew a little more serious. “But you don’t want to take anything for granted with Benny. He’s right villain, I’m telling you, broken leg or no.”
“He’s all right for some days, anyway,” said Carolus. “Now tell me, do you know what case the Spanish police have against you?”
“Yes. It all turns on my razor.”
“You had a razor here? a cut-throat?”
“Never travel without. Not since I was a kid.”
“Where did you keep it?”
“On me, usually. But not when I went down to the beach. I left it in my room then—with my shaving tackle.”
“You don’t shave with it?”
“No. I use an electric. But it looked more natural with the shaving things.”
“What about on the day of Devigne’s death?”
“Same as usual. I left it when I went down to the playa.”
“Then missed it?”
“No. Not all. When I’d come back to the flat with Daphne after we’d reported to the Law what she’d seen, I thought I’d take a look at it. After all Davy had been sliced––presumably with a razor. I wondered if anyone had nicked mine to do it with. But there it was, just where I’d left it. I put it in my pocket and thought no more about it.”
“Until they came and picked me up. Then they found it on me. It appears there were traces of blood on its of Davey’s group.”
“You think someone borrowed it for the job then?”
“That’s what it looks like. But whether the Spanish Law will ever see it that way I don’t know. They’ve got an easy suspect and they don’t want a lot of trouble. I give myself about twenty years in this place unless you can do anything.”
I certainly want to get at the truth—whatever it is. There are a few more questions I’d like to ask you. When did you see Devigne alive for the last time?”
“I left the playa early that day. I had arranged to play poker with three Americans saying at the Hotel Regalia. It’s no use you taking a note of their names—they left next day for the States.”
“But there must be witnesses at the Regalia who knew that you were there?”
We had a private room—but yes, there were waiters in and out. I might not be able to prove that I never left there all evening, but I could shew I had been out most of the time.”
“Did you, in fact, leave the hotel after you once started playing—even for a short time?”
Trotter shook his head.
“We played from a little before five till ten o’clock without a break. I won seventy-five pounds.”
“You had no intention of going back to the flats to dinner?”
“No. I often miss that. Davy insisted on everyone in the flat dressing for dinner and that bored me. There was that side to Davy, you know. He was the son of an army man—Brigadier, I believe—and whatever his life was like in other respects he kept to a few routines.”
“So you went on playing poker till what time?”
“A little past ten. I don’t know exactly. I’d stopped for a drink on my way back to the flat from the Regalia when I heard Daphne screaming.”
“You didn’t know who it was, of course?”
“No. I went to see and found Daphne pretty hysterical. I took her to the police and we both made statements about finding the body.”
“She says that on your way up from the beach you met this man Larner.”
“You did not recognise him as someone you’d known?”
“I had a vague idea I’d seen him somewhere before but just then I had other things to think about.”
“Quite. Were you on fairly friendly terms with Devigne? At least outwardly?”
“I suppose so. I was staying with him, wasn’t I? Whether or not he suspected anything between Daphne and me I don’t know. He never said anything to her or to me.”
“Who did know about that?”
“I suppose the servants. They don’t miss much. They’re paid to denounce their employers if they get the chance.”
“Killain. He saw me coming out of her room early one morning. But he never discussed it with me.”
“So you and Devigne kept up a front of friendliness?”
“You can call it that. It wore a little thin in the last weeks. Davy was behaving a bit oddly, anyway.”
“Normally he was always so pleased with himself, smiling round everyone like a little sultan. Lately I thought there was some sort of anxiety about that. Then, a few days before he died, he flew across to Tangier and back in the same day.”
“I don’t know. But what would anyone go to Tangier for? For an hour I mean?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“Well, either to meet someone or to buy something.”
Carolus was silent for a moment.
“You hated Devigne, didn’t you?”
“Yes. If you want to know. I hated his guts.”
Carolus rose to go. His manner to Trotter had changed somewhat and he did not offer to shake hands.
Once out of prison he made for the nearest telephone and got through to the Maryland Hotel. Mr. Larner, it appeared, had gone to Gibraltar last evening and was not expected back till late today.
Although it was past one o’clock now, Carolus drove to the Maryland. With some knowledge of the international tribe of hall-porters and concierges everywhere, he picked out the senior, Mariano, and drawing him aside, passed him, without explanation, a roll of two thousand pesetas. (About £12.) Mariano took the money, smiled, bowed and waited to hear what was expected of him.
“I have come from England,” said Carolus truthfully, “to make some inquiries about the murder of Devigne.”
“Yes, sir,” said Mario politely but without excitement.
“You have a Mr. Larner staying here.”
“Mr. Larner. Yes. We have.”
“I want to have a look at his passport.”
Mariano put his head on one side as though giving sympathetic but careful consideration to the matter.
“He is, you understand, a client of the hotel.”
“Do you think you can arrange it?”
“It would be a breach of confidence to our clients,” said Mariano.
“Yes. It would,” Carolus replied at once.
“There would be a certain risk.”
“You’d be entirely responsible?”
Carolus, understanding the ulterior significance of these questions, said, “Naturally.”
“It happens that the gentleman went yesterday to Gibraltar,” said Mariano. “When he returns I could explain that we must make a new entry and need his passport to copy in the details. But he might not leave it at the desk for more than a short time.”
“You could ’phone me when he comes?”
“Yes. I could do that. Then you could sit in my office for a moment and make your examination.”
“Good. Here’s my telephone number. I’ll expect you to hear from you this evening.”
Carolus hurried home to lunch, but found Mrs. Stick quite reconciled to Spanish hours.
“If that’s the time they want their meals in this country they must have them,” she conceded. “I shouldn’t like lunch hanging about till four o’clock in the afternoon and dinner when anyone respectable’s in bed at night, but there you are. That Carmelita, as she calls herself, keeps saying she has to see Esther this afternoon but when I asked her who Esther was she began to giggle.”
Mrs. Stick brought the first course of lunch.
“I thought you’d like to try some of these Caller Mary’s, sir,” she said. Carmelita kept on about them till I let her buy them in the Murk Ado this Morning. She says they’re ever so nice but they look like nothing better than octopus to me.”
“Calamares,” said Carolus.
“Oh, the doctor’s been to the gentlemen in the spare room and brought another one with him. They’ve been giving him a nasty time with his leg, but I must say he’s very quiet and brave about it. You can see he’s a gentleman.”
“Can you, Mrs. Stick?” said Carolus absently. “I’m glad of that.”
When she had left them Carolus turned to Priggley.
“Are there any beach photographs here?” he asked.
“Are there? About three for every head of the population, I should think. Why?”
“I want one.”
“Portrait of ‘self on the stands at Los Aburridos’ postcard size to send to the stay-at-homes?”
“Half-wit,” said Carolus. “Could you lure one here this afternoon with the promise of riches?”
“Only one? I could produce a dozen if you want.”
“One will do if he’s reasonably alive.”
“All right. He shall be here at five.”
Priggley kept his word. A lanky individual in a disintegrating cotton suit made his appearance and listened mournfully to his instructions.
Carolus came straight to the point.
“I want two good photographs of a gentleman staying at the Maryland Hotel whose name is Larner.”
“Larner,” repeated the photographer.
“You may have some difficulty. The gentleman will not wish to have his photograph taken.”
“Nobody does,” said the photographer gloomily.
“But this gentleman has a particular reason for not wishing it. You must catch him at an unexpected moment then make your escape.”
“I can run,” said the photographer.
“You will need to. Especially after getting the second photograph. Head and shoulders if possible. Perhaps at a café table when he has removed his hat.”
“Oh. He wears a hat,” said the photographer as though that reduced his chances to nil.
“He may. I don’t know,” said Carolus, but when he told the photographer the price he would pay for the two photographs something like a smile appeared on his melancholy face.
“How do I know that when you’ve got the two pictures you won’t try to get the gentleman to outbid me for them?”
“Señor!” said the photographer, with a sad show of indignation.
“I see that was exactly what you intended to do. Therefore you will bring me two copies first, and collect your money, then go to the gentleman and sell him the rest and the negatives for what you like. Thus you will have it both ways.”
“Agreed,” said the photographer and disappeared.
At eight o’clock that evening Carolus sat out of sight of passers-by in the hall of the Maryland Hotel with Larner’s passport in his hands. He had long made himself an expert on passports and knew all the points to examine. This was one of the Amsterdam forgeries, he decided, a group which owed their existence to a clever counterfeiter now doing a long sentence in a Dutch prison. They were by far the best forgeries yet achieved and could be relied on to deceive frontier officials.
He left the hotel casually and as far as he knew unobserved.