Authors: Alex Connor
‘You might, but not with the police,’ Ben admitted, hurrying on. ‘I didn’t want to come to you, but I had no choice. I think your son’s at the heart of all this—’
‘How could he be?’
‘Because Diego found the skull.’
Nodding, Carlos glanced around the dismal room. Old-fashioned wallpaper, a 1970s gas fire and a mock leather sofa all pointed to poverty. To making do. The man in the wedding photograph had been handsome, almost cocky, but now Carlos Martinez was smoking too much and talking as though he couldn’t stop.
‘That skull … it started it all, didn’t it? I told Diego when he found it to leave it alone. In Spain we think such things are dangerous. And Goya – well he was a madman at the end, wasn’t he?’
‘Where did Diego find the skull?’
‘Under a concrete basement in an old house, in the centre of Madrid. He was called in to do some work, and had to get the floor up. It hadn’t been touched for years. About eighty-odd years ago someone had poured concrete over it to make it level. Diego said it took nearly a week to break the floor up and get to the tiles underneath.’ Carlos took a drag of his cigarette. The first two fingers
of his right hand were yellow, nicotine-stained. ‘A few of the tiles got broken, and that was when he found the skull … Jesus! I wish he’d never touched it.’
‘Why did he think it was Goya’s skull?’
Carlos glanced away, remembering. ‘The painter had stayed in the house—’
‘But he didn’t die there?’
‘No, he died a long time afterwards, in France.’
‘So why would the skull have come back to Spain?’
‘Who knows? The owner of the house might have been responsible for the skull being stolen. They might have felt guilty and buried what they’d done, thinking it would never be found. How do I know?’ Carlos replied shortly. ‘I only know this much because I admired your mother and she used to tell me about her work and about Goya.’ He smiled to himself. ‘I was a builder, just a builder, but I liked her stories. And then later she used to talk to Diego and he used to come over when I was working at your house and play with Leon. And you … You don’t remember him?’
‘I remember him very well,’ Ben replied. ‘He used to get sunburned.’
‘Yes, yes, he did.’ Carlos frowned. ‘The day Diego found the skull, he rang and told me about it—’
‘Did he tell anyone else?’
‘I don’t know. I doubt it. He wasn’t the type to go around bragging …’ Carlos trailed off.
‘What is it?’
‘He couldn’t hold his drink. Two beers and he’d talk.
He could have told the barmaid at the pub when he came to London. Boasting a bit, trying to impress her.’
‘So anyone could have overheard?’
‘And passed on the information to Dwappa?’
Distressed, Carlos shook his head. ‘I told him to get rid of the skull! Give it to a priest and have it buried. It’s bad luck to handle the dead. It was bad luck for my son. Bad luck for your brother. Bad luck for you.’ He stared at Ben. ‘Is your friend in danger?’
‘Yes, she’s in real trouble and I have to find her. Like I said, the man responsible for the deaths of Diego and Leon now has Abigail.’
‘He was after the skull?’
‘And he got it.’
Deliberately lying, Ben tried to protect Carlos Martinez from the whole truth, but the Spaniard was no fool.
‘But if he has the skull, why is he still after you?’
Ben let the question pass.
‘And why would he take your friend?’ Carlos sat upright, his back pressed against the chair as though he was bracing himself. ‘
Have you got the skull?
‘Oh, God Almighty—’
‘Just help me,’ Ben pleaded. ‘Tell me what I need to know to find Abigail. I have to know who this man is. So far he’s had the upper hand. He watches me, follows me, threatens me – but I can’t see who I’m up against. And I
have to, or he’ll win. D’you understand?
I’m going to lose her.
’ He was almost pleading. ‘I’m fighting a phantom, Mr Martinez, and I need your help.’
‘I don’t know what I can tell you.’
‘You said your son was being watched?’
‘He thought he was being followed in Madrid. And he
he was being watched in London.’
‘Did he see who was watching him?’
‘He said it was a white man …’ Carlos concentrated. ‘Very fat.’
Tensing, Ben remembered what Leon had told him about being approached outside the Prado. By a sick, obese man. ‘Did he have a name for him?’
‘What about the two men you mentioned before? Larry Morgan and …’
‘What can you tell me about them?’
‘Morgan went to jail last month—’
‘What about Dwappa?’
‘That bastard’s always around. Got his fingers in everything. Comes from a Nigerian family. There are dozens of them, all over the place. Some in the USA, some in Europe, a few in London. He’s always got people working for him – you can never get to him direct. Cruel bastard, they say.’ He hesitated, spooked. ‘I don’t want to get on the wrong side of him, Mr Golding. I want to help you, but—’
‘Don’t you want to know who killed your son?’
‘He’s dead. Knowing who killed him won’t bring him
back,’ Carlos replied. ‘Knowing who murdered your brother won’t bring Leon back either—’
‘It might save the woman I love,’ Ben replied, knowing how much he was asking but unable to hold back. ‘If you want me to go, tell me now. I’ll go, I’ll understand. Just tell me to go and I will.’
Outside, a car horn sounded in the street, followed by the faint jingle of a mobile. Lighting up another smoke, Carlos stared blankly at the fireplace, trying to decide what to do. He was wondering how much he wanted to live, having lost his wife and son. Wondering how much he wanted a life away from the terrace he knew, transported into a high-rise ghetto. He was wondering what his wife would say – and then, finally, he leaned forward in his seat.
‘Dwappa’s into gambling and trafficking—’
‘Rumours, yes. They say he traffics kids for adoption by rich white people.’ Carlos could see he had said something important and hurried on. ‘They said he can get anything for a price. He’s very clever, never been jailed, never been charged with anything. Probably because everyone’s so scared of him.’
‘And he’s scared of nothing?’
‘His mother,’ Carlos replied, glancing around as though he expected her to be in the room, listening. ‘If Emile Dwappa’s dangerous, his mother is ten times more so. If I remember rightly, I think she’s got a shop—’
‘I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. Because if I do, I might recognise it. I might have bought something in it. Might have given money to the mother of man who killed my son.’ He bit down on his lip to calm himself. ‘She deals in animals …’
Ben thought of the pig’s head which had been stuffed into the hotel lavatory.
‘Imports them from all over. Monkeys, reptiles, rare animals. And she deals in black magic, they say. Maybe that’s what some of the animals are for. Voodoo.’ He smiled hopelessly. ‘I’ve never seen her, but people talk about her like you’d talk about the Devil. I’ve never known anyone inspire such fear. Someone said she’s responsible for eleven deaths over the last twenty years.’
‘And you believed them?’
He shrugged. ‘I don’t know. But it’s a reputation which would put the fear of God into anyone, isn’t it?’
Of everything he had heard, it had been the trafficking which had caught Ben’s attention most. It couldn’t be a coincidence that Bobbie Feldenchrist had just got a child from the same man who had sold her the skull. It
to be Dwappa … Slowly he ran the name over in his mind, learning to hate it. Emile Dwappa. Emile. Dwappa.
‘Are you going to try and find him?’ Carlos asked quietly.
‘Don’t mess with people like him. Look what happened to your brother, to my son—’
‘How can I
mess with him?’ Ben countered. ‘I have to get Abigail back—’
‘And the skull?’
‘What about it?’
‘I’m guessing he wants the skull in return for her.’ When Ben didn’t answer, Carlos continued. ‘So give it to him, Mr Golding!’ He paused, seeing the empty look on Ben’s face, a shudder going through him. ‘Oh, Christ, you haven’t got it, have you?’
Without answering, Ben rose to his feet and walked out.
As he walked back along the street, Ben could sense that he was being watched and felt in his pocket for the Stanley knife he had bought. If anyone attacked him again, he would have something to fight with. He could at least leave a mark on his assailant. Hurriedly, he crossed at the lights, making for his car and getting into the front seat. Locking the doors, he thought over what Carlos Martinez had told him.
Now he had a name: Emile Dwappa. Finally he knew his adversary, knew the man who had abducted Abigail. The man who would ask for the skull in return for her safety.
The skull he didn’t have
, Ben thought hopelessly. If Francis had lived only moments longer he would know where it was, but Francis had died with the secret. And now he had nothing to bargain with. Empty-handed, impotent … Ben thought of the contact he had found on Francis’s computer, the email [email protected] – the same contact that had been in touch with Leon. The address that must belong to Emile Dwappa.
And yet Francis had never mentioned receiving that
email. Had he hidden the fact deliberately? Was he – God forbid –
with Dwappa in some way? Ben wanted to reject the idea, but forced himself to consider it. Had Francis Asturias betrayed him and tried to do business with Dwappa directly? Or had he overplayed his hand and swapped the skulls, believing that he could sell the original without anyone knowing? Was his supposed confusion during their last telephone conversation a double bluff? A way of pretending that he had been helping Ben, while instead he had secreted the skull away for his own later advantage?
Certainly Francis Asturias was clever enough to pull off a deception, but
he? Had boredom made him reckless? Or greedy? Turning on the engine, Ben suddenly noticed a piece of paper stuck under his windscreen wiper. Getting out of the car, he looked round the deserted street, then read the words.
He scanned the street again, but saw no one. Parked cars, a pub at the end of the road, but no people. No one suspicious. No one passing. No one watching. But he knew that in one of the houses, behind a door or at a boarded-up window, he was being scrutinised. Tense, he got back into the car and drove off, checking his rear-view mirror every few seconds on the uneventful ride home.
When he got back to his house Ben hurried in, locking the door behind him. Drawing the curtains and flicking on a lamp, he then glanced at his answering machine, but there were no messages. Surprised, he flipped on the computer. Among several emails – one from the principal of the hospital asking why he had temporarily passed over his patients to Megan Griffiths – there was an address Ben recognised: [email protected]
Taking in a slow breath, Ben opened the message.
Come to Lincoln’s Inn. Wait outside the Hunterian Museum at l0 p.m
Bring the skull
Sitting down, Ben typed a reply.
How will I know you?
He waited several minutes for an answer. It was short and clear.
I know you, that’s enough
He could feel his heartbeat increase and glanced at the clock – four ten p.m. He had just under six hours to find Emile Dwappa.
Carlos’s words came back to him –
Dwappa’s mother had a shop … She dealt in animals … voodoo
… Animals. Ben paused, reaching for the phone book and looking under
the heading Pet Stores. He knew that it had to be either in, or close by, Brixton, but other than that he had nothing to go on. Running down the list, he stopped as he saw Mama Gala’s Supplies. Something about the African name in among all the Indian and English names jumped out at him.
Reaching for the phone, he punched out a number. The handset picked up on the third ring.
‘I’m sorry to trouble you again. I just have to ask you one more thing,’ Ben said hurriedly. ‘Does the name Mama Gala’s mean anything?’
There was a tense silence.
Whoever was on the other end of the line said nothing, just replaced the receiver with a resounding click.
Unnerved, Ben stared at the phone. Had Carlos cut him off? Or was there a more sinister explanation? Ben knew he was being watched. Had someone followed him to Carlos Martinez’s house? Was someone there now, threatening the old man?
As if in answer the phone rang out beside him and Ben snatching it up.
‘No, it’s Mark Steinman,’ the principal of the Whitechapel Hospital replied shortly. ‘What the hell are you playing at?’ he snapped. ‘You’ve left your patients—’
‘In the care of my registrar.’
‘You think she’s capable?’ Steinman retorted.
‘It’s only temporary.’
‘I don’t care. You don’t just go off like that without getting authorisation.’
‘I had good bloody reason. Abigail Harrop was abducted from your hospital. Francis Asturias was murdered there. You think I’m upset? You’re fucking right I am!’
There was a pause before Steinman spoke again.
‘Face it, Ben, you’ve not been yourself since your brother died. I understand, but it was hardly a shock to anyone, was it? Your brother had always been unstable – his suicide was only a matter of time.’ His tone was midway between irritation and commiseration. ‘You have to see it from my point of view—’
Your point of view?
‘As you’ve just pointed out, Francis Asturias was murdered here and your partner was abducted from one of our side wards. We’ve had the police around asking questions. It’s causing all kinds of disturbance, and frankly, your behaviour hasn’t helped matters.’ He paused, forming the next insult. ‘I thought you were a steady pair of hands, but I was mistaken. Megan Griffiths told me that you’d been preoccupied, jumpy, and that you’d been taking a lot of time off, getting her to fill in for you.’