Death on the Black Sands
Carolus saw the Pluggett family in traditional English holiday circumstances across the black sands. They had spread rugs down and shared the shade of a beach umbrella above them, while round them were arranged baskets and thermos flasks which suggested that later they would enjoy a picnic here, unperturbed by passers-by or the neighbouring groups.
Bill Pluggett wore a Panama hat, a white shirt with the collar open and the sleeves rolled up, grey flannel trousers kept up by braces, and black shoes. His wife, a sturdy woman with peeling skin, sat in a deck-chair beside him, her great swollen legs bare to the knee and the look of general disapproval on her face. Celia, their daughter, looked somewhat self-conscious and underfed in a bikini, and Raymond, the son, a length of white limbs, was reading.
Carolus realized the difficulty of approaching them—they already seemed to view the world around them with great suspicion. He decided on a direct approach which might fail, but stood the best chance.
“You’re Mr. Pluggett, aren’t you?” he said to Bill.
Instantly all their eyes were on him in hostile curiosity.
“S’right,” said Bill.
“I wanted to ask you a couple of things.”
Curiosity was stronger in in the group than anything else.
“You can ask,” said Bill. “Only what’s it all about?”
“I’m trying to find out who killed Davy Devigne.”
This produced instant reactions.
“I don’t want anything to do with that,” said Bill.
“It’s nothing to do with us,” said his wife passionately. “I don’t know why you should come to us, whoever you are.”
“I’m afraid it’s not so easy for anyone living in Devigne’s building to avoid being asked a question or two.”
“Well, it is for us,” said Mrs. Pluggett ferociously. “And what’s more it’s going to be. So it’s no good your coming round here wanting to know this or that.”
“Now, mother,” said Bill, in a conciliatory voice. “She means we don’t want anything to do with it,” he explained to Carolus.
Carolus quietly prepared his bombshell.
“Of course you don’t. No one does. Murder’s not a thing you want to disturb your holiday, but it happens, all the same.
“It can happen all it likes so far as I am concerned,” announced Mrs. Pluggett, “but it’s not going to drag us into I don’t know what. I never wanted to come here in the first place, it was my daughter wanted it because she’d heard about it from some other girls and kept on till her father gave in to her. We’d have done far better at Clacton where we went last year, and shouldn’t have had all this oily food to upset us till we daren’t hardly eat anything. There’s none of us been right since we’ve been here and anyone who tells me Spain’s cheap I’d call a liar to his face. It’s not as though you can get anything, either. I tried to buy some sausages the other morning and you should have seen what they sold me––bright red things all salt and gristle. And there’s not a decent bit of fish to be had. I don’t know anyone in this place I’d like to see my daughter going out with, and as for the beach, what colour would you call this sand? Of course it is, black. They don’t tell you that in the advertisements, do they? And what about the wind? Blow, blow, it gives you a headache all the time. This is almost the first day we’ve had without it. Then on top of it all this man gets murdered and you come along and want to mix us up in it. And all I can say is I’ve had enough.”
“My wife hasn’t taken much to Spain,” explained Bill Pluggett.
“Well, would you, if you were running to the lavatory half the day and suffering griping pains the other half? And not a decent cup of tea to be had. I tried to get some marmalade for breakfast the other morning—you’d think they’d have that, wouldn’t you, with the oranges they grow—but no. It was all runny and yellow. Then the way people look at you, as though they’d never seen anyone before. I shall be glad when we get back home. You can have Los Aburridos and Torrey and all the rest of it. As for this murder, well, we’re not mixed up in it and we’re not going to be.”
“Unfortunately,” said Carolus quietly, “you are.”
Mrs. Pluggett blinked at him.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You see, your son was the last person seen speaking with Devigne on the day of his death.”
Raymond Pluggett gazed at Carolus with a worried, hurt expression but said nothing. Bill Pluggett looked at his son. “Is that right?” he asked.
“Yes, I did have a word with him.”
Mrs. Pluggett recovered quickly and said, “So what? Can’t anyone exchange the time of day? How was he to know the man was going to have his throat cut?
Celia’s eyes opened wide.
“Did you really, Raymond? Just before he was murdered? What’s a thrill!”
“Now Ceel-yer, you keep out of this. It’s nothing to do with you. And I can’t see what it’s to do with us either, Mr. . . .”
“Mr. Deene. Just because they said good afternoon.”
“It was rather more than that,” said Carolus.
“Do the police know about this?” asked Bill Pluggett. “Have they said anything to you, Ray?”
Raymond shook his head.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” cried Celia excitedly. “What did he say to you?”
“Ceel-yer! I shan’t tell you again?”
“What did he say to you?” asked Carolus quietly of Raymond.
“It was nothing, really.”
“Had you ever spoken to him before?”
“I’d been with father when he talked to him, hadn’t I, dad? But I don’t think I ever said more than good morning.”
“Did you go up to him?” asked Carolus.
“No. He called me across.”
“That’s, enough, Ray,” said Mrs. Pluggett. “You’ll find yourself up in court next, giving evidence and I don’t know what.”
“Let him tell Mr. Deene what happened,” said Bill Pluggett. “It’ll have to come out now, whatever it is.”
“I wish it was me he’d spoken to!” said Celia. “I’d love to give evidence in court. There’d be pictures in all the papers . . .”
“Ceel-yer! Will you be quiet? I don’t know what people will think. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“Devigne called you across?” said Carolus to Raymond.
“Yes. I was just going home. There was no one else about except the manager, Pedro. I was rather surprised. But I thought I’d better see what he wanted.”
“You’re as bad as your father, always getting into something. That’s how he came to put all that money . . .” Mrs. Pluggett’s words failed.
“Now, mother, don’t let’s start on that again. I’ve told you we shall get it back.”
“And what did Devigne want to speak to you about?” Carolus asked Raymond, returning to the matter in hand.
Raymond looked sheepish.
“Nothing, really,” he said.
“Just to say good evening?”
“Well . . .”
“Or to ask a favour?”
“As a matter of fact he did ask me to do something for him.”
Raymond seemed confused.
“It was a note,” he said.
“He asked you to deliver a letter?”
“Yes. It was to Miss Losch.”
“Did he want it taken immediately?”
“No. He said he was going to drive to Gibraltar in a little while and would not be back till the next day. He didn’t want anyone to know he was leaving that night but explained that in the morning they would wonder where he was, and this would explain it. He asked me as a favour if I would take it to his flat as early as possible on the following day.”
“Did he seem quite casual about it?”
“He did and he didn’t. He said that about going to Gibraltar in quite an off-handed way, but he wanted me to promise about the note.”
“Yes, he said that was important. So I gave my word I wouldn’t forget.”
“How madly exciting!” said Celia. “Why did you never tell me, Ray? I’d have been thrilled to death. Because of course he couldn’t leave for Gibraltar because he was murdered just after he’d spoken to you. What did you do?”
“You should have told us about this, son,” said Bill Pluggett.
“You shouldn’t never have had anything to do with it!” said his wife. “You’ll have us all in prison for the rest of our lives, more than likely. Notes! And that piece of his with all that hair and clothes she wears. If you’d listened to me we’d never have come to this place. It’s the first day we haven’t been half blown away by the wind, and as for this horrible black sand blown into your hair and everywhere! If we do get out of here alive it all be a miracle.
“What did you do with the note?” Carolus persisted gently to Raymond.
“I didn’t like having it on me, as a matter of fact,” said Raymond.
“I should think not!” his mother put in. “It might have been part of a spy ring for all anyone was to know. Anything could happen with all these foreigners. I hope you tore it up, Ray?”
“No. I dropped it in at Devigne’s flat straight away. I thought that was the best thing to do. After all, I could easily have made a mistake about when it was to be delivered.”
“You mean you put it in the letter-box?”
“No. I rang the bell. The Spanish boy, Arturo, came to the door and I gave it to him. He didn’t seem very pleased.”
“That’s all you know?”
“Yes. I’ve heard no more about it since, and I haven’t asked.”
“I should hope you haven’t. The less any of us have to do with that lot the better,” said Mrs. Pluggett.
“No one has ever questioned you about it?”
“No. I didn’t think anyone knew, except Arturo.”
“It’s to be hoped the police don’t or I don’t know where we should all be. They say they think nothing of locking you away and no one any the wiser.”
“I don’t think they do, Mrs. Pluggett,” said Carolus. “They would have questioned your son by now. I am most grateful for the information, however. It won’t be through me if it causes you any embarrassment.”
“It’s nothing but embarrassment ever since we came here. My husband can’t even get a decent glass of beer, and when I wanted some corn-plaster the other morning they were laughing at me in the chemists’ shop. What it’s going to cost us all told goodness only knows.”
“Do you find it so expensive?”
“It’s wicked. Food’s double the price it is in England. But it’s not that, so much. It’s what my husband’s done.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Bill Pluggett. “That will come out all right.”
“You made an investment here, Mr. Pluggett?”
“Only a matter of a few thousand pounds.”
“It was twenty thousand, if you want to know,” said Mrs. Pluggett harshly, “and in my belief it’s gone for good.”
“Had it anything to do with Devigne?”
“Yes. It was Devigne’s own scheme. And nobody can tell me there isn’t money in it.”
“So there may be. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get any of it.”
“It was all perfectly above-board, Mr. Deene. Devigne had permission to build a Casino here. I saw the plans, all passed by the authorities. I had a lawyer to examine them, too. There’s no doubt about it. He had all the documents ready to start building any moment. He just needed a little more capital.”
“Some of which you supplied?”
“I was lucky to get in on it. Do you know what these Casinos make? I’ve seen the figures. The money will double itself in the first season.”
“If there is a first season. Who’s to know? I’ve heard of these things before. My husband knows what he’s doing at home, Mr. Deene, but then it’s his own sort. It’s different here. They say there’s more confidence tricksters here then what there are ordinary people and I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“D’you know who else may have invested in this, Mr. Pluggett?”
“There’s lots, I believe. All the staff here put their savings in. Pepe in the Esmeralda bar told me he’d a invested thousand. But the chief one was to be that Vogel who’s staying in Devigne’s flat. He meant to put up about half the money I believe.”
“Had Devigne got the site?”
“Oh, yes. All that was fixed. I saw the documents.”
“It’s about time we had something to eat,” said Mrs. Plugget. “Well, what you can get here, which isn’t much. Will you stay and have something, Mr. Deene?”
“It’s very kind of you,” said Carolus, who secretly liked Mrs. Pluggett best of the family. “But my housekeeper is expecting me to lunch and it’s her first day here.”
“Poor soul, she little knows. Wait till she’s been a month here like we have and then see.”
Carolus bade them good-bye for the moment.
“Ta-ta,” said Mrs. Pluggett. “So long as we’re not dragged into anything.”
Carolus went to the parking place of the Imperatorio but before driving his car away went up to Devigne’s flat. The door, as he hoped, was opened by Arturo.
“I want to speak to you,” said Carolus curtly in Spanish. “Come out here in the passage.”
There was some alarm in the pretty pettish face.
“On the night Mr. Devigne died a note was brought to this door and you took it in.”
“Señor . . .”
“To whom was it addressed?”
“To the Señorita Losch,” Arturo whispered.
“Did you give it to her?”
“Not . . . not in person.”
“What did you do with it?”
The sulky look returned.
“Señor, I was having my dinner when the bell rang. My dinner, you understand. I am forced to work here but I am entitled to my dinner-time.”
“So I placed the letter on the table by the front door and returned to eat. I intended to give it to the Señorita later.”
“And did you?”
“When I had finished my dinner I came to do so, but the letter had gone, so I supposed the Señorita had taken it.”
“Have you told the police this?”
“The police, Señor? We do not tell things to the police here, Señor. Unless it is to denounce, for a reward.”
“And here was no reward?”
“No, señor. And no one to denounce that I knew of.”
“No one has said anything to you about that letter since?”
“No. I have never dared ask the Señorita.”
“Then say nothing now,” said Carolus very firmly.
“As you say.”
“Be sure about this, Arturo. For your own sake. Forget that letter.”
“Very surely, Señor.”
Carolus left the Imperatorio and drove home.
He found Mrs. Stick simmering.
“It’s a wonder there’s any lunch for you at all, sir. That Carmelita, as she calls herself, would have it I went with her to the market and you’ve never seen such a carry on in your life. And the prices! She was chattering away to them and all I could make out was key lows. I don’t want key lows, I said, I want a nice piece of veal for Mr. Deene’s lunch, but could I get it? The meat’s cut up all the wrong way and they don’t seem to have heard of veal. Vo! I said vo! because I know the French even if they don’t. Then it turned out it’s called her ter-nearer. Well, I’ve done what I can, though this Carmelita was giggling half the time. I think Stick better do the shopping another day because he seems to be able to make them understand. He says it’s having been in the army, though what that’s to do with it I don’t know because he was in the desert most of the time.”
“You’re not enjoying Spain, Mrs. Stick?”
“Well, it’s nice to get a bit of sunshine, sir, and Stick seems quite at home but I must say it wouldn’t do me for very long. I don’t say this Carmelita isn’t a good willing girl, though I had to spend half the morning teaching her to get into the corners when she’s doing a room and not send all the dust flying everywhere. She keeps talking about her novio and I hope that only means the young man she’s walking out with, because we can’t have any goings-on in the house as I told her straight out. The young gentleman’s on the terrace having a glass of veeno, as he calls it. But I suppose there’s no harm in that since we are in a foreign country. Saloo! he says when he drinks it, but I told him we didn’t want any of that sort of language.”
“You must meet Mrs. Pluggett, Mrs. Stick,” said Carolus.
“And who may she be?” asked Mrs. Stick suspiciously. “Because if she’s mixed up in any murders and that I don’t want anything to do with her.”
“She’s an English lady who seems to be having some of the same difficulties as you. I think you’d get on together.”
“Well, I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to talk to someone who understood you,” conceded Mrs. Stick. “Now I’m going to serve your lunch so I hope you’ll have it while it’s nice and hot because I’ve made what they call a tor-teejer to start with.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Stick,” said Carolus mildly and went out on the terrace.