Authors: Roderic Jeffries
As Inspector Alvarez sets off to help a visiting English insurance adjuster investigate the crash of a light aircraft off Mallorca, Superior Chief Salas leaves him with one last brief, but unambiguous, warning: on no account is Alvarez to do anything that might complicate a simple and straightforward case.
Alvarez likes the quiet life far too much ever deliberately to complicate anything, but the cases he investigates have a distressing tendency to become complicated by the facts. So it proves to be now.
The pilot of the aircraft, presumably killed in the crash at sea, had very recently applied to double the amount for which his life was insured; he was known to have been desperately short of money; his estranged wife had been suing him; he had had a girlfriend; it was possible he had owed money to a man who would use force to secure repayments . . . everything points to a false claim. But as Alvarez knows only too well, things do not always point in the right direction. Before long, he realizes that the case involves not merely one man’s greed but a web of mistaken identities and, ultimately, cold-blooded murder. . . .
Also by Roderic Jeffries:
Layers of Deceit
Three and One Make Five
Murder Begets Murder
First published 1989
© Roderic Jeffries 1989
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Dead clever.—(Crime Club)
ISBN 0 00 232221 8
Photoset in Linotron Baskerville by
Rowland Phototypesetting Ltd
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Printed in Great Britain by
William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, Glasgow
The sun had warmed the sand until it was briefly uncomfortable to the touch; the sea was a deep, brilliant blue and flat calm, its surface disturbed only by the swimmers and the creaming wakes of power boats trailing skiers; across the bay, a thin column of smoke rose languidly from half way up the side of a mountain to mark a small bush fire.
To their right was the ferry landing-stage, where passengers from Puerto Llueso disembarked and embarked; to their left, beyond a line of Tahitian straw shades, was the much smaller landing-stage which belonged to the Parelona Hotel and off which were anchored two yachts and three power boats, all large and luxurious.
‘Enrique, will you have some more tortilla?’ asked Dolores.
Alvarez, his mouth full, shook his head.
‘You don’t like it?’
Hastily he swallowed, then said: ‘It’s delicious, but you gave me so much . . .’
‘Nonsense! You’ll have another slice.’ She sat in the middle of the rug, in the shade of one of the pine trees which fringed the sand, and set out around her was so much food that she might have been catering for fifteen people, not five. She picked up a knife and prepared to cut the thick Spanish omelette, made with eggs, potatoes, onions, peas, and peppers.
He said: ‘That’s a little too much . . .’ He stopped because it was obvious she was ignoring him. Meekly he held out his plate for her to put the large slice on it. She was always inclined to be tetchy on a picnic and a wise man did nothing that might annoy her; in any case, it was a delicious omelette. He reached across for the bottle of wine and refilled his tumbler, then passed the bottle to Jaime. Jaime sneaked a quick glance at his wife and was delighted to note that she was not watching him; careless as to the reason for his good luck, he filled his glass to the brim.
Although she would never have admitted it, Dolores invariably felt ill at ease on the beach. The trouble was that Juan and Isabel demanded she went into the sea with them and this meant that she had to wear a bathing suit; she could never forget the teachings of her youth that it was immoral to expose a millimetre more of her body than was absolutely necessary to the gaze of any man other than her husband. Despite the fact that in her old-fashioned one-piece costume she was in comparison to most other women on the beach over-dressed, she still felt far too self-conscious to remember to check how much Jaime was drinking.
Alvarez finished eating and put the plate down on the rug. He belched quietly, drained his glass.
‘You’ll have some cake,’ she said. It was a statement, not a question.
‘I’d love some in a minute, but I’ve really eaten so much . . .’
‘I made it because it’s your favourite.’
‘Then can I have some now? There’s no one who can make a chocolate almond cake as well as you.’
She nodded because that was true. She opened a large tin and lifted out the cake which was topped with whipped cream. She cut a very large slice, put this on a plate, passed the plate to him.
He had not finished eating when Juan and Isabel left the sea and wove their way between sunbathers and up the beach to the rug. ‘I’m starving,’ Juan announced. ‘Is that chocolate almond cake that Uncle’s eating? I want some.’
Dolores spoke severely. ‘Ask politely or you’ll go on wanting.’
‘He’s rude,’ said Isabel.
‘I’m not,’ retorted Juan.
‘You told me that very rude word just now.’
‘No, I didn’t,’ he denied unconvincingly.
‘And you saw those rude people.’
‘Everyone saw them. You saw them, didn’t you?’
‘But you did first.’
‘Can’t you two ever stop bickering?’ asked Jaime. ‘What are you on about now?’
The children looked at each other, giggled.
Dolores said: ‘Why are you being so stupid?’
Isabel, between giggles, answered. ‘We saw some rude ladies. They weren’t wearing any costumes at all.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’
‘It’s true,’ said Juan. ‘We could see their—’
‘Be quiet! If there’s any more of this, as soon as we get home I’ll wash your mouths out with soap.’ She noticed that Jaime was staring along the beach in the direction from which the children had come. ‘You are staying right here.’
Jaime felt aggrieved. His intentions had not been prurient. He had not lusted after the sight of naked women, but surely someone should check whether the children were telling the truth since if they were, then it was manifestly wrong to accuse them of lying . . .
They arrived home just after five. Alvarez was hanging up the towels and costumes in the enclosed patio beyond the kitchen, so hot and airless that he was sweating heavily, when he heard the telephone ring. A moment later, Dolores shouted out that the call was for him.
When he entered the kitchen, she was unpacking one of the two chilled picnic boxes. ‘Who’s calling?’
‘Palma,’ she answered, as she carried some wrapped sliced ham over to the refrigerator.
‘But who in Palma?’
‘How should I know?’ She shut the refrigerator door and returned to the table. ‘All they said was that they wanted you. I’m not a mind-reader.’
He wondered how many times he’d asked her always to learn the name of a caller? The telephone was in the front room, furnished as a sitting-room which was used only on formal occasions. A woman who sounded as if she’d a plum in her mouth said that Superior Chief Salas wanted to speak to him. He waited, certain that he did not want to speak to his superior chief.
‘Where the devil have you been all day?’
It was so typical of a Madrileno to speak with such abrupt discourtesy. ‘How do you mean, señor?’
‘I mean I’ve been trying to get hold of you for hours, but you weren’t in your office and no one at the post had the slightest idea where you were. What’s been going on?’
Knowing that Salas was a very impatient man, and needing to divert him from any more embarrassing questions, Alvarez began a long and deliberately rambling explanation. ‘I’ve been making inquiries, following a tip-off. There’s this man who lives in the port and whose father was wounded in the war and was refused a pension because he fought for the other side and he—that is, the son—has to—’
‘Surely you’re aware that standing orders dictate that at all times the duty officer must be informed of your whereabouts?’
‘Indeed, señor, and naturally I normally make absolutely certain that he knows exactly where I am. But that just wasn’t possible in this case because I had to move so quickly. You see, the son only gave me the information rather late. It wasn’t his fault. He’s a very good informer. People think he’s a little simple and so they speak freely in front of him, but he’s not so simple that he doesn’t understand what they’re saying. As his mother said to me once, “Victoriano is a lot smarter than he looks.” Of course, that is not so very difficult—’
‘Alvarez, do you imagine I’ve nothing better to do than to listen to you waffling on and on?’
‘No, señor. I know that you are a very busy man indeed—’
‘Then listen. I’ve received a request from the British Embassy in Madrid, passed through the Ministry. They are asking us to provide assistance to an investigator who is coming from England. Since you speak English, it will have to be you. Do you understand?’
‘Not really, señor—’
‘I will explain in simpler terms. An Englishman arrives on the island tomorrow and it will be your duty to assist him in any reasonable way that you can.’
‘I presume he’s a policeman?’
‘You presume incorrectly.’
‘Then who is he?’
‘He works for an insurance company. I naturally made the point that we of the Cuerpo General de Policia should not be expected to concern ourselves with helping a foreign civilian, but my objection was overruled. Just one more consequence of the stupidity of our politicians in joining the Common Market.’
‘What is the problem?’
‘If you can’t see that to give up sovereignty is to deal a foul blow to the pride of every Spaniard—’
Alvarez risked a quick correction. ‘I really meant, señor, what is the problem which brings the Englishman to the island?’
‘All the man to whom I spoke could tell me was that the Englishman wishes to make some inquiries concerning the recent air disaster . . . Are you aware of the fact that a light aircraft took off from the old airport and crashed into the sea?’
‘Yes, señor. Why is the Englishman interested in the crashed plane?’
‘I was not informed.’
‘Then I wonder if—’
‘Perhaps for once you will eschew all surmises and wait to learn the facts before expressing an opinion?’
‘And one last thing. You will not, I repeat not, complicate what must in essence undoubtedly be a simple and straightforward matter.’
‘Señor, it has never been I who has complicated events, it has always been the facts—’ He did not have a chance to finish; the connection was cut.
He replaced the receiver. He yawned. It had been a very tiring afternoon because Isabel and Juan had badgered him into helping them build sandcastles and he’d had to forgo a siesta. He yawned again. Undoubtedly, even a brief nap would refresh him and enable him to do his work much better.
He was halfway up the stairs when it occurred to him that Salas had not told him either the name of the Englishman or the other’s time of arrival. He shrugged his shoulders. There was plenty of time in which to find out the details.
The sky was just beginning to darken in the east as Alvarez entered Terminal B at Son San Juan airport. He crossed to look at the indicator for foreign arrivals. Despite the fact that the Gatwick plane had been due to land ten minutes previously, and an earlier telephone call had determined that there were no delays, there was no green light or landing tab to say that it had arrived. He walked through the hall to the main information desk where a woman in Iberia uniform was having a long and intimate telephone conversation with a friend. Eventually, she replaced the receiver and irritatedly asked him what he wanted. After consulting the VDU, she said that the plane had landed fifteen minutes previously.