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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

The Malaspiga Exit

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The Malaspiga Exit

Evelyn Anthony

Also in Arrow by Evelyn Anthony


The Assassin

The A venue of the Dead

The Defector

The Grave of Truth

The Legend

The Occupying Power

The Poellenberg Inheritance

The Rendezvous

The Return

The Company of Saints

Voices on the Wind

No Enemy But Time

To Leonard and Sylvia with love and thanks


It had been the most beautiful spring day she could remember. April in New England was a lovely month, crisp and cloudless, but on that morning it seemed the sun was brighter, the colours of leaf and daffodil more pure. In films it always rained at funerals; the mourners shuffled to the graveside under glistening umbrellas and the rain fell like tears. Here, all that was left of Peter James Dexter was contained in a metal urn eighteen inches high and the minister had just committed it to a two-foot hole in the ground.

It reminded Katharine of a grave for a pet dog. Once, during a period of convalescence, her brother had spoken of Catholic burial with abhorrence.

She had granted his wish to be cremated. There were only two people present at the service: the family lawyer, who had gone through the formality of his will, and herself. There had been nothing to leave anyone. She heard the closing words of the service and found no comfort in them. The minister came over and shook hands, murmuring his sympathy. Katharine didn't listen but she thanked him anyway. A single wreath of spring flowers was laid by the side of the newly cut turf. Her writing was on the card.

He had gone out of the world as he had lived in it for the last seven years. Uncared for and unmourned by anyone except her. He had been twenty-seven when he died. She had a handkerchief in her hand; she had no tears left and she put it away and began to walk towards the cemetery gates.

Two men had been watching the funeral. They were waiting by the entrance and, as she came up, one of them moved away from the railing.

‘Miss Dexter?' The man took off his hat; he was going slightly bald and he had hard brown eyes. She had never seen him before and yet he was familiar.

‘Yes,' she said.

‘My name is Harper. Ben Harper. And this is Frank Carpenter. We'd like to offer you our sympathy.'

‘What do you want?' she said. They seemed to have closed in on her. The man called Harper produced an identity card, and then she understood.

‘I'm sorry,' she said. ‘I've already made a statement to the police. There's nothing more I can tell you.' He didn't stand aside. His voice was soft, gentler than she expected.

‘We'd like to talk to you,' he said. ‘We'd like to buy you a cup of coffee or a drink. Just a few minutes of your time.'

She looked at them in turn. The second man was taller, younger, but he had the same hard face and wary eyes. Men who lived in their world couldn't be expected to have pity left. Suddenly she was too tired to resist. It had all happened so often before. Questions, answers that didn't help.

‘All right,' she said. ‘There's a drive-in café down the road. I'll meet you there.' She got into her car and drove away.

They chose a table near the window. She found herself with the light on her face; theirs were in shadow. It was a pleasant little café, decorated in cedar-wood, with brass fittings and checked tablecloths. Frank Carpenter ordered coffee for them.

‘We've done a lot of checking on this case,' Ben Harper said.

‘I don't know why,' Katharine said slowly. ‘It's exactly like all the other cases. It's finished the way they all do.'

‘It has a very special feature,' Frank Carpenter said. She saw the older man put a restraining hand upon his sleeve.

‘You cared for your brother for seven years,' Harper said. ‘Not many people can take it that long. He must have meant a lot to you.'

She didn't want to look at them. To men like these, he was just another statistic. ‘I didn't believe it had to end like this,' she said. ‘I thought with someone to care about him, with medical help …'

‘You must feel pretty bitter,' Frank Carpenter said. He stirred his coffee. Ben Harper was watching her.

‘It's the sense of waste, isn't it?' he said quietly. ‘The failure. I've been with the Narcotics Bureau for twenty years. I've seen thousands of lives just thrown away.'

‘He tried,' Katharine said. ‘Believe me, he tried. But it was hopeless. Clinics, psychiatrists, everything. He hadn't a dollar or a friend in the world when he died.'

‘Except you,' Ben Harper said. ‘I saw your face when I showed my badge, Miss Dexter. Just another cop wanting to know where he got it. Well, we know, all right. We even know the pusher who supplied him. But we're not interested in him, or in the thousands of small-time operators like him. The petty crooks, the addicts, selling to keep themselves supplied—they're not what we're after.

‘We want the top men, Miss Daxter. We want the millionaires, who run yachts on getting heroin to people like your brother. It wasn't just dope that killed him; it was organized crime. The biggest money-making racket in the world. Do you know what the street price of one pound of heroin is in New York city? Half a million dollars! I want the men who put that in their pockets. That's why we've come down here to see you today. I believe you can help us get them.' And that was how it had begun.

‘How can I possibly help?' she asked.

‘You can tell us something for a start,' he said. ‘How did you come by your second name? Malaspiga.'

Katharine Malaspiga Dexter.

There was a china cabinet in her parents' drawing room. Her mother's collection of Italian ceramics was kept in it. There were Capo di Monte boxes and jars with an armorial crest on them, two miniatures in gilt frames, one set with pearls and a lock of dark hair coiled into the back, a gold locket, a coronet in diamonds on one lid. Her mother had given her a ring when she graduated. It had a lapis-lazuli stone, carved intaglio with the same coat of arms as the ceramics, and it had belonged to her grandmother. A wreath of laurel surmounted by the coronet. Coming through the centre of the wreath was an ear of corn; it ended in a sharp spike. There was something sinister in the crest, instead of romantic. She had disliked the little ring and never worn it. She remembered being irritated by her mother's reference to their noble Italian connections, the Malaspigas. Her mother was a small, energetic woman, devoted to her husband and an active member of their community. Katharine had loved her but regretted that she was such a snob. Her grandmother was a vague figure, recalled from early childhood. Dark and slight, sitting in a chair with a rug over her knees. Everybody seemed to be afraid of her. The story was that she had run away from home to marry their grandfather, who was the son of a poor tradesman. They had emigrated to the States, where he had established himself in business and ended by founding one of the biggest chain drapery stores on the West Coast. Her mother had never cared to emphasize that aspect of her family, and when she married Richard Dexter, whose father was a lawyer, she ignored it altogether. Only the mementoes of her grandmother, the reputed Italian aristocrat who had abandoned all for love, were kept on display around the house. Katharine had thought it ridiculous but harmless. She felt the same way about the name being included when they were baptized. Katharine Malaspiga Dexter.

The connection was in an Interpol report. Ben Harper told her the story. The driver of a truck which had arrived at Genoa with a shipment of antiques for New York was stopped by the Italian Customs for questioning. He was recognized by one of the officers as a known drug smuggler who had previously operated in Naples. Nothing was found in his load or on his person, and he had to be released and his shipment cleared. The goods he was carrying came from Malaspiga. The Italian narcotics authorities had carried out discreet investigations in the town of that name, and found nothing to connect it with the smuggling trade. The truck driver was unknown there; the town itself was a sleepy Tuscan community, resentful of questions from outsiders, and feudally attached to its hereditary Duke.

‘Why don't they ask the Duke?' Katharine asked, and realized at the same time how naive her question was.

‘Because he's involved,' Ben Harper said. ‘The antiques were part of a collection sent by him to this country. There was nothing illegal about it—just this coincidence of the truck driver's previous connection with narcotics in another part of Italy.'

Without some hard evidence, the Italian authorities declined to approach the Duke or make any further investigation. And there the matter rested—until the next coincidence. A narcotics operator in the Florence office of the Italian drug squad noticed a police report that the driver of the truck had been found garrotted in a derelict warehouse in Genoa within a week of his detention by the Customs.

The Italian agent was known to Harper; a man of strong convictions and fierce integrity. On a visit to the States he had stayed at Harper's house. He was known as Raphael. He hadn't been able to convince his superiors, so he telexed his finding to Harper. There was a connection between Malaspiga and the smuggling of drugs. Nothing could be proved, but in his experience the Mafia-type murder of the man who had attracted attention was evidence enough. He hoped Harper might make use of it, since the load, innocent though it turned out to be, was destined for New York. That was Harper's act of God, that clue. And he had sent in an agent named Firelli to introduce himself to the family and investigate the town. A month after his arrival, well covered as an antique dealer, he had disappeared, leaving one garbled telephone call for Raphael, made from Malaspiga Castle. Italian communications were bad, the telephone lines outside the major cities were deplorable. Little of what he was saying had got through. A word here and there.
Dangerous … I've found
. That had been repeated twice, before the line went dead.
. He had apparently checked out of his hotel in Florence, again by telephone, his luggage was collected and he was never heard from again.

So now, as Harper pointed out, there was no doubt that Malaspiga was involved. How would they ever get to the heart of the organization? The Italian authorities wouldn't move without absolute proof; Raphael assured him of that. There was a strong political bias about his attitude to titled families and official deference to them. Interpol would assist and he would act as liaison for the Italian drugs squad.

She listened with growing disbelief as Harper unfolded the story and went on to tell her exactly why he had engineered this meeting.

She packed up her flat in Greenwich Village. It was not a district she would have chosen if her circumstances had been normal. Before her brother's condition became chronic she lived on the upper floor of a brownstone house on 67th which belonged to her aunt. She had a job in a prestige publishing house, her brother had left to begin his course at the Harvard Business School and the family planned to spend the summer together on the West Coast. Life had never seemed more satisfying; she loved her job, a collegiate romance had gently blown itself out, she felt free and excited by the future. Within three months she had discovered that her brother, the person she loved best and admired most, was a heroin addict. It wasn't apparent at first. Later she learned to recognize the signs, but to begin with he seemed to be going through a phase. Finding his feet, her father called it; his son had never given any cause for worry. He was a fine athlete, an adequate scholar without any of the academic pretensions which had disturbed them about Katharine; handsome, friendly, popular with everyone. Only Katharine, who was so close to him, sensed that something fundamental had changed. He had always been responsible; his interests were active, his habits gregarious. He became slack, uncaring; he spent hours sleeping or sitting vacantly, listening to his stereo. He began to drop his friends and then he left the Business School without completing his course. The pattern of dependence and then degeneracy was developing before their eyes, but even Katharine couldn't see the cause.

And then one night he came to the house on 67th. It was two in the morning and he woke her up. He sat on her bed and told her. It began in his final year at Princeton. Somebody had some ‘horse'—at first she hadn't understood the meaning of the jargon used by addicts. Stuff. Heroin. He'd smoked pot in common with his contemporaries. There wasn't much kick to it and that night it seemed like fun to try something a little stronger. She had held him in her arms while he wept and shook and told her how he had tried to stop and couldn't. Couldn't … That was what his parents didn't understand. That one word.

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