Death on the Black Sands
Carolus looked with distaste at the towering and variegated facade of the Imperatorio building, rising into the sky with its sunblinds and flowers, its ferro-concrete uniformity, and thought that if the middle century had produced a piece of architecture truly typical of itself, this enormous piece of playground litter might be it. Set on an unattractive stretch of coast whose popularity was in itself no more than an achievement of skilled advertising, it raised its twenty storeys between barren rocky hills and the grey silt of the sands to give each of its 380 flats a wide balcony overlooking the sea.
Somewhere on the first floor, Carolus knew, constructed from three of these flats, was that super apartment, that focus of luxury and invention which had been the home of the late Davy Devigne, but its windows, Carolus decided, were indistinguishable from the rest. He drove around to the massive entrance on the landward side of the building and parked his Bentley among the cars there under the eye of a tall, lavishly gold-braided, moustached individual who stepped forward to open the car door.
“Buenos tardes, Señor,” said this one, bowing dramatically.
“Oh. You Spanish?” asked Carolus, rather surprised.
“Not ektually, Sair,” was the reply, “though I’m known as Manolo. Ektually I come from Malvern. But here, we are in Spain.”
“Are we? Yes. I was beginning to wonder. Which was Mr. Devigne’s number?”
“Well, his number’s up, isn’t it, sir?” said Manolo from Malvern, suddenly becoming confident and jocular.
“He was your employer, I believe.”
“Only indirectly, sir. Mr. Devigne was far too high and mighty to concern himself with staff appointments. I was employed by Señor Gonsalez, the manager. Goodwin his real name is, but everything has to be Spanish round here. You were asking for Mr. Devigne’s apartment. Do you want to see someone there?”
It was time for the passing of a folded note, which brought a whispered but heartfelt “Ta very much, I mean Gracias, Señor,” from Manolo.
“Who is there?” asked Carolus.
“Mr. Killain’s still there—the other character, Jack Trotter’s been arrested. Then there’s Daphne Losch who was Mr. Devigne’s show-off of the moment.”
“You know what I mean. He liked to have someone with him who made people take notice. She certainly did. Wait till you see her.”
’Manolo’ was growing more and more confidential, not to say familiar, but Carolus made no objection to this.
“They call her a model,” he went on. “But they call them all that, don’t they?”
“Go on,” said Carolus.
“Then there’s the one they call Bindle,” said Manolo. “She’s nothing much.”
“No. I don’t know what he wanted her around for.”
“There’s a Mr. and Mrs. Fogel.”
“I only know what they called it. He had some business on with Devigne. They’ve been here about ten days. Police have taken the passports from all the lot of them now, while they’re investigating.”
“I see. What staff was there?”
“He had a French chef and his wife. Armand and Annette, if you please.”
“Yes. They came here to start a restaurant. Put their life savings in it, you might way. Really good it was, but it only ran for six weeks then folded.”
“Why was that?”
French food here? The best of everything? They ought to have opened a fish-and-chip shop like they have in Torrey, then they might have got somewhere. Devigne caught them on the rebound and got them cheap.”
“All the cleaning and that’s done by the house staff. But he had one Spanish lad, Arturo. Had the hell of a job to find one in this town. I suppose he wanted it for appearances’ sake, like me being called Manolo.”
“I see. I think I’ll go up and pay a call.”
“There’s been a lot of press.”
“I’m not from the press.”
“No, I can see that,” said Manolo, glancing at the car. “I was wondering what you were as a matter of fact.”
“Well, go on wondering, Manolo, and we’ll have another little talk some time. I might be interested in anything you happen to notice about apartment . . . what number did you say it was?”
“One, sir. Apartment One. The boy will take you up. Pacheco!”
“I suppose he’s from Brixton?” suggested Carolus.
“No, sir, only Gibralter. His father’s in the East Surreys. Take the gentleman up to Number One, Pacheco.”
“O.K,” said Pacheco and they went.
The door was opened by—presumably—the Spaniard who had taken so much finding, and Carolus asked for ‘the Señorita Losch’. He had decided to introduce himself as a friend of the late Davey Devigne (Priggley’s mother’s acquaintence was all the justification he had for that) and shew a sympathetic interest in the circumstances of his death. The youth who had opened the door shewed Carolus into a very large room overlooking the sea.
“You are Arturo, I think,” said Carolus in Spanish.
“Worked here long?”
“Too long. I have been offered a job at the Palacio Real Hotel but cannot take it.”
Arturo’s too pretty mouth shewed his resentment.
“The police, Señor. They are making their investigations here.”
He left Carolus to look about him with some alarm. The vast room was a nightmare. Chic of the most expensive kind was its keynote; the furniture such as one sees illustrated is smart French periodicals about home-making, the chairs upholstered in zebra skin and the whole a riot of black and white and a few artful colours suddenly introduced. Swedish glass, costly modern pottery, paintings by Paul Klee and Juan Gris, a vast aquarium of lurid tropical fish, everything painfully modish and blatant. There were no flowers.
There entered a dumpy woman, neat but expensively dressed. She was in her late thirties and spent time and money on a basically uninteresting face. Not, surely, the ‘show-off’, Carolus thought.
“You asked for Daphne, I believe,” she said enquiringly. “No. I’m not her. I’m just one of those women called Bindle.”
This, Carolus felt, was a form of self-introduction frequently used. He was to notice again and again in this case how people seemed to have settled for a certain outlook, personality, character, and then to stick with it.
“How do you do. I asked for Miss Losch because hers was the only name in this household I knew.”
“I see. No, you wouldn’t have known mine. I’m just here, you know. There’s usually one of my sort around.”
“You know what I mean. Just figures to make up the cast.”
There was something Carolus disliked about this elaborate modesty. It was wholly insincere, for one thing. No woman ever born had that opinion of herself.
“I knew Davy Devigne,” he said, thinking how rarely he had to tell a flat and deliberate lie.
“Oh, you knew Davey? Remarkable character, wasn’t he?”
“I was very sorry to hear of his death.”
“It was a great shock to all of us,” said Bindle without much visible feeling.
Carolus felt these meaningless exchanges might go on too long and by a sudden inspiration turned the conversation to more account.
“Perhaps I should say straight away my interest is not altogether unselfish. I have some reason to hope that I may have been remembered in his Will.”
Bindle sat up and glanced across rather keenly.
“Did Davy owe you anything?” she asked.
This was too much for Carolus. Though it might halt his tentative enquiries he could not involve himself farther.
“No. He didn’t. But I rather hoped . . .”
“You’re not the only one. There have been a number of people to whom he made promises, and there are a great many debts.”
“You know what people like Davy are. Huge credit everywhere. Some of them live on the interest, I believe.”
“He owned this building, didn’t he?”
“So we have always understood.”
Bindle seemed rather uncommunicative on this point.
“It must be a valuable property.”
“I imagine so. His executor is going into it all with the lawyers. As for Davy’s Will, I can tell you roughly the provisions of that, if they interest you Mr. . . .?”
“Deene. Yes, they do . . . I hope they do,” said Carolus smiling.
Bindle must have touched a hidden bell for Arturo entered.
“Drink?” she asked Carolus, and when he said he would like a whisky-and-soda she told Artuto she wanted hers on the rocks.
“You’re in for a disappointment, Mr. Deene. Davy’s Will is a most curious document. He made it a fortnight ago. After a party in his room.”
“He was, as you know, a man who liked to surround himself with people. All his life he seems to have done that. There were always some hangers-on but he liked to have others as well, rather casually-made acquaintances. He had no friends.”
“That’s rather a lot to say, isn’t it?”
“It’s true. Davy had not a friend in the world. But there were always plenty of people ready to hang around. He knew this quite well. I think he rather liked it. He was a lonely man, you see. Never confided much—certainly never in women. That’s how he came to make this extraordinary Will.”
“I don’t quite understand.”
“He gave a party here. Just an ordinary cocktail party such as people give all the time in this place. The guests were mostly those staying in this flat and a few others who have apartments in this building. During the party he announced that he had decided to make a Will leaving all he had to those present at the party. But he made it clear they had not been specially chosen for this. It was not a party for his legatees but a party, just one of his parties. Whoever was here would benefit if they outlived him. Anyone who was asked and was unable to come was out. It was how he wanted it. He hated ties, he said, and family obligations, and all that sort of thing. He had not wanted to make a Will at all but it had become necessary for business reasons. So it was to be the most casually arranged Will ever made.”
“That sounds like a rather showy gesture.”
“It was. All Davy’s gestures were showy. But he carried it out. He made his Will next day and it was exactly as he said. His money was to be divided between the twelve of us, in different proportions. Those nearest him, Daphne, Jack Trotter, Paddy Killain and I getting the most.”
“Extraordinary,” said Carolus. “Would you care to tell me who you were?”
“Certainly. There were those I’ve mentioned, then Mr. and Mrs. Vogel. We were all staying in the house. Then there was a woman called Lolly Mellon.”
“Miss or Mrs.?”
No one knows with that kind of woman. She’s been about for a long time, moving about between here, Majorca, Estoril, Tangier, Capri, Beirut, Taormina—you know the sort of thing. Some money, the remains of good looks, usually a bit drunk—you must have seen scores of them in bars around the Mediterranean.”
“Yes. I have. Who else?”
“Two women who live together—Georgie Day and Sweetie Duncannon. Then rather a pet called Bill Pluggett, sort of bluff beefy type from England. Made a lot of money in scrap metal, I believe.”
“Was that all?”
“I think so. No. Hilary Ling and his friend Tommy Watson went there. You’ll meet them if you’re staying here.”
“A round dozen, I make that. With your host it must have been thirteen.”
“Were we? Nobody noticed that, I think. Nobody mentioned it, anyhow. But it was not such an unlucky party for some of us, was it?”
“Hard to say, yet, don’t you think? It certainly wasn’t lucky for Davy Devigne.”
At that moment Daphne came in. Carolus thought Priggley’s a fair enough description of her. It was not only the combination of naturally fair hair with a deep sun tan, but a brilliance, almost a luminosity that hung around her. Her figure was superb though some men might have found it lavish, and her eyes had that hooded and sensual look which is considered attractive in a girl of her type. There was no sign of anything but minimal intellect but enough vitality to produce an air, at least, of intelligence.
Bindle introduced Carolus as ‘a friend of Davy’s’ and Carolus thought how easy it had been to join this dubious category.
“Daphne found poor Davy’s body,” Bindle explained.
“It was dreadful, Mr. Deene! The most awful experience of my life. I felt there was something wrong when Davy didn’t come back for dinner . . .”
“You’re not going to tell the story all over again, are you?” asked Bindle with a touch of acerbity.
“But you’ve no idea how terrifying it was. I just screamed and screamed. If Jack hadn’t come I don’t know what I should have done.”
“What I don’t quite understand,” said Carolus, “is how the body could have stayed there so long undiscovered. If it was undiscovered.”
“That part of the playa is right in front of this block of flats,” said Bindle. “Very few people go there except the tenants. We have our balneario there.”
“Really? Almost a private beach in Spain? I’ve never heard of that.”
“Perhaps you didn’t know Davy very well, then. There was nothing he couldn’t arrange. He had even got permission to build a casino here. I’ve seen all the plans, passed by the local authorities. Davy knew how to get his own way.”
“I see. So his body could lie out on the sands unnoticed, though all the rest of the playa was crowded?”
“Packed. Crawling, in the daytime, but not many people about in the evening.”
“When was he last seen alive?”
“When was it, Bindle? We’ve gone over this so often with the police but I can never get it straight.”
“We came home about five. Davy said he would stay a little longer. There was nothing unusual about that. He had a passion, which I think was quite a genuine one, for watching the sea and would sit there for hours on end.
“But when he didn’t come home for dinner that must have surprised you?”
“Not really. He was apt to slip away in his car to Gibraltar or Malaga. Anyway I left him there at about five and that was the last I saw of him,” said Bindle in a businesslike way.
“It must have been the last anyone saw of him, except . . .”
“The murderer,” said Bindle flatly.
A man came into the room whom Carolus recognised from Priggley’s description as Paddy Killain. He was not much over thirty, but had somewhat worn look which his cheerful manner and laughing eyes could not quite conceal. He said, “So was I!” when Bindle again said that Carolus was a friend of Davy’s.
He enlarged on this a little, saying that he had been staying for some time with Devigne.
“The trouble with me is, I’m a lazy devil and life here suited me down to the ground.”
Lazy, yes, thought Carolus. It was in his amiable face. A true idler.
They were all drinking now, Arturo having been in and out with his tray.
“He was a grand fellow, our Davy,” said Paddy with a touch of interrogation as he looked at Carolus.
“I did not know him very well,” Carolus said. “Was he popular in Los Aburridos?”
“He couldn’t very well be anything else, could he? He spent money like water on everyone he saw. Not only on the free-loaders and bums, but on everyone who would accept it from him.”
“Haroun-al-Raschid,” suggested Carolus.
“That’s how he wanted to appear, the old show-off!” laughed Paddy.
“He liked to be talked about?”
“He couldn’t bear it if he wasn’t. Well, he has certainly been talked about in this last week, poor chap.”
Carolus asked one of his awkward questions.
“Would you describe him as a kind man?”
There was a long pause.
“He was an extravagant man,” said Paddy.
“He spent a lot of money on people,” Bindle put in.
“He could be so generous,” said Daphne, “but in his own way.”
“I meant something else. Would he take trouble to help anyone? Not just spend money.”
“Well . . .”
“Of course he had a lot to think about.”
“I think he’d rather write a cheque than waste a lot of time, really. You know how rich people are.”
“You’ve told me just what I’ve wanted to know,” said Carolus.
“You seem very interested, Mr. Deene,” said Paddy Killain.
“I am. I’m going to find out who killed Davy Devigne.”
There was another silence.
“You don’t think it was Jack Trotter, then?” asked Killain rather sulkily.
“I don’t know. The only reason I have heard for thinking so, is that he had a razor.”
Paddy Killain suddenly looked very happy.
“It would be wonderful if you could clear Jack,” he said.
“Oh, if you could!” cried Daphne, open-eyed. “It’s such a shame he’s been arrested.”
“They have to arrest someone,” Bindle said.
“Be frank with us Mr. Deene,” said Killain. “What is your interest in this? Are you a lawyer?”
“No. I’m not. But I think I can get to the truth here if you all want me to and will help me.”
There were protestations, fervent from Killain and Daphne, downright from Bindle.
“Then I’ll go ahead,” said Carolus.
He thought as he looked around at them that he had never met three people so evidently holding to the roles they had given themselves, Killain the gay charmer, Bindle the commonplace woman, and Daphne the dumb blonde.