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Authors: James Pattinson

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The Rodriguez Affair (1970)

BOOK: The Rodriguez Affair (1970)
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The Rodriguez Affair (1970)
Pattinson, James
(1970)
Tags:
Thriller
Thrillerttt

Harry Banner turned up in London one November evening. He had just got back from Venezuela and he wanted to see Robert Cade. He'd known Cade six years earlier in Buenos Aires and now Banner wanted a small favour, just to keep a parcel until he called back for it. The trouble was that Banner never did call back, because the next morning he was found dead in his hotel room with a stab wound to the chest. Other people came looking for the parcel at his flat, but by that time Cade had decided a trip to Venezuela might throw some light on the reasons for Harry's murder. However, in San Borja, the climate could be very unhealthy for someone who went round asking too many questions.

 

THE RODRIGUEZ AFFAIR

 

Harry Banner turned up in London one evening in November. He had just got back from Venezuela and he wanted to see Cade. Robert Cade had known Banner six years earlier in Buenos Aires. Now Banner wanted Cade to do something for him. It was only a small favour: just to keep a parcel until he called back for it. The trouble was that Banner never did call back, because next morning he was found in his hotel room with a stab wound in his chest, dead as could be.

Some other people came for the parcel while Cade was away from his flat, but by that time he had decided also that a trip to Venezuela might throw some light on the reasons for Harry Banner’s death. But in San Borja the climate could be very unhealthy for someone who went round asking too many questions.

THE RODRIGUEZ AFFAIR

James Pattinson

T
HE
TELEPHONE
began to ring immediately Cade opened the door of his flat; it was as though the turning of the key in the lock had been a trigger setting it off. Cade switched on the light, crossed to the table where the
instrument
stood and picked up the receiver.

“Robert Cade speaking.”

“So you got in at last. This is the third time I’ve called you.” The tone was faintly aggrieved but there was a trace of relief in it too. It was a man’s voice and it touched a chord in Cade’s memory, though for the moment he failed to place it. “You know who this is, don’t you, Bob?”

He got it then; he ought to have known at once, but the telephone distorted sounds. “Harry! Where are you? Where’ve you sprung from?”

“I’m in a call-box. The other answer can wait Is it okay if I come round?”

“Of course it’s okay. How long will it take you to get here?”

“Half an hour maybe.”

“I’ll be waiting for you. It must be five years.”

“Six.”

“Too long,”

“Well, I’ll be seeing you.”

Cade heard the click as Harry rang off. He put his own telephone back on the cradle and stood for a moment or two with his fingers resting lightly on it. Of all the people he might have expected to call him that evening Harry Banner had certainly not been one. In fact he had given Banner scarcely more than a passing thought for years; he had had other things to think about.

And yet there had been a time when they had seen plenty of one another, had been pretty close friends in fact That had been when they had both been working in Buenos Aires. He had been a bit younger in those days, still in his twenties. Now he was thirty-two and Harry would be pressing forty. It hardly seemed possible, but that was the way the years slipped past.

He took off his coat and hung it in the recess by the door. Outside it was a cheerless early November evening, but the flat was comfortably warm. He went through the sitting-room into the small kitchen, foraged in a
cupboard
and came up with a bottle of whisky and two glasses. He carried the bottle and the glasses back into the sitting-room and put them on a side-table.

Harry Banner! It would be good to see him again. What had he been doing with himself since those days in B.A.? Well, he would soon have the answer to that question; there would be plenty of time for talking and plenty to talk about.

Cade sat down in an armchair, picked up an evening paper, started to read. But only part of his attention was
on the print; he kept remembering that hint of relief in Banner’s voice, slight but unmistakable, as if making contact with Cade had more to it than the mere reunion with an old friend. So was he in trouble? Was he coming for help, for a hand-out maybe? Well, if so, that was all right; Banner was welcome to all the help that Cade could give him. Cade had not forgotten that but for Banner he might not have been alive; that kind of thing you did not easily forget.

 

Banner had been right in his calculation: he arrived just within the half-hour. Cade went to the door scarcely knowing what to expect; he would not have been
surprised
to see a down-at-heel character in a threadbare suit and frayed shirt. And he did not want it to be like that; he did not want to see Harry Banner down on his luck and forced to come begging for help. But he need not have worried on that score; the man who had rung the bell was wearing an overcoat that looked almost new, and what was visible of the suit beneath it looked good too. His shoes must have cost all of seven guineas.

“Bob Cade,” Banner said. “By God it’s good to see you.”

“And you, Harry. And you. Come in.”

He closed the door and took Banner’s coat and hung it with his own; and as he did so he was thinking how much Banner had aged, much more than the five or six years that had passed. His hair was receding and there were flecks of grey in the black. He was thinner too; in the old days he had turned the scales at around fourteen stone; now Cade would have been surprised if he could have made more than thirteen, and he stooped a little too.
But it was in the face that marked changes had taken place; the skin was a maze of tiny wrinkles, an old man’s skin.

Banner seemed to guess what was passing in Cade’s mind. “You needn’t tell me. I’m not as young as I was.”

“We’re none of us as young as we were, Harry.”

“But you don’t look much older, and I mean that.” He stood back and sized Cade up with his eyes. The eyes had a tired look about them, a kind of world-weariness that they had not had before. “You’ve kept yourself trim. What do you weigh? Twelve stone?”

“About that,” Cade admitted. The weight never varied much; he was pretty solidly built for his height, big-boned, plenty of muscle.

“And you always were a handsome boy,” Banner said. He gave a quirky grin. “What’s known as the clean-cut type. You should have been in films, making the women go weak at the knees and raking in the dough.”

“Let’s cut out the compliments, shall we?”

“If it embarrasses you.” Banner glanced round the room; it had a wholly male look about it. “Not married?”

“Not any more.”

“You were, huh?”

“Three years. It fell apart”

“Any scars?”

“No scars,” Cade said.

“What are you doing these days?”

“Freelancing. Working on a novel. This and that.”

“Making money?”

“Not enough.”

“Who is, boy, who is?”

Cade picked up the bottle. “Sit down. You still take this stuff?”

Banner sat down. “When it’s offered.”

Cade poured two glasses. “Water? I’m out of soda, I’m afraid.”

“Don’t contaminate it.”

Cade handed him one of the glasses, took the other for himself and sat down facing Banner.

“Tell me all about it.”

“All about six years? We haven’t got the time.”

“What’s the hurry?”

“No hurry,” Banner said. He spoke lightly but Cade had the impression that he was not altogether at ease, not relaxed. He wondered why.

“I had no idea you were in London, Harry.”

“Arrived today.”

“Where from?”

“Venezuela.”

“You’ve been getting around.”

Banner took a drink of whisky. “You know me. One of the restless type.”

Sure he knew Harry Banner. That time in Buenos Aires had probably been his longest stay in one place. He had been working for a man named Oviedo, a rich man with a big estancia out on the pampas and
thousands
of head of cattle. Banner had been a favourite of Oviedo’s and had introduced Cade to him. Oviedo, a big, open-handed, hospitable man, had invited them to the estancia and they had gone out there pretty often. They had ridden with the gauchos, learning the gauehos’ skills, sleeping beside camp-fires under the stars. Great times.

Cade had never been able to discover precisely what kind of work Banner had been doing for Oviedo in Buenos Aires, and anyway it had ended abruptly with Banner pulling up stakes and moving on to some other part of the world. Cade had never known whether Oviedo had given Banner the push or whether Banner had simply decided that he had had enough of Argentina and this was the time to be moving on. Either way, the result was the same.

A few months later Cade had also left Buenos Aires. He had been working on an English language
newspaper
, but the paper had folded and the staff had become redundant. Cade had decided to try his luck back in England.

“How did you find where I was living, Harry?”

“I guessed it would be London and I looked in the book. There you were.”

“I might still have been in B.A.”

“Could have been. But I knew that paper hit the gravel. I reckoned you’d pull out Anyway, if you hadn’t been here, that would just have been that.”

Banner drained his glass. Cade refilled it.

“What were you doing in Venezuela?”

“Ever heard of a town called San Borja?”

Cade shook his head.

“Not many people have. Why should they? It’s one hell of a dump way back in the interior.”

“And that’s where you’ve been?”

“Some of the time.”

“Doing what?”

“Working.”

“Who for?”

Banner grinned, “For a writer that’s pretty lousy grammar. But I’ll let it pass. I was working for a
character
named Gomara.”

“Doing what?”

“He’s got an estate of sorts some ten miles out of San Borja. I was a kind of major-domo, man about the the place.”

Cade knew that Banner had not told everything. There had to be some very good reason why he would go into the heart of Venezuela to work for this man Gomara.

“What took you there?”

Banner drank some more whisky. “It’s a long story. Maybe I’ll tell you some day.”

“But not now?”

“Not now.”

Banner switched to the old days in Buenos Aires. “We had some good times, Bob.”

“The best.”

“Always the best times when you’re young.”

Neither of them spoke of that incident on the pampas, the day when Banner had saved Cade’s life; but it was in Cade’s mind and possibly in Banner’s too. They had been rounding up a herd of cattle with Oviedo’s gauchos and a thunderstorm had blown up. The herd had
stampeded
and Cade had been thrown from his horse. If Banner had not ridden in and taken him up on his own horse it would have been curtains for Robert Cade, no doubt about it Banner had always played the rescue down, making light of it, but it was one reason why he had only to ask for Cade’s help, anytime, anywhere, and he would get it without question. They both knew that.

Not that Cade would not have helped Banner anyway; their friendship had been enough to ensure that; but the incident on the pampas had set the seal on the contract as it were.

At this moment, however, Banner did not appear to be in need of any help, at least not of the financial kind; he looked prosperous enough. Nevertheless, there had been that hint of relief in his voice when Cade answered the phone, and it had seemed to indicate rather more than natural satisfaction at having succeeded in making contact with an old friend. There was too that suggestion of uneasiness, as though something were troubling him; sometimes his attention would wander and he would break off in mid-sentence, his mind obviously on other matters.

Finally Cade said: “What’s bothering you, Harry?”

Banner looked startled. “Bothering me?”

“You’ve got something on your mind. Like to tell me?”

Banner shook his head. “Nothing to tell. You’re imagining things.” He gave his quirky grin again, but his eyes were worried. “You know me, boy; never any problems.”

“All right,” Cade said, “if you don’t want to tell me. Maybe it’s part of that long story.” He noticed that Banner’s glass was empty again. “Have another drink.”

 

Banner left soon after ten. Cade offered to ring up for a taxi to take him back to his hotel, but he refused.

“Don’t bother. I can manage.”

“It wouldn’t be any bother. Better still, why not move in here while you’re in London? There’s a spare room.”

Banner would not hear of it “I’m not parking myself on you. I’ll be all right where I am.”

“Where are you staying?”

“Not the Savoy, but it’s good enough for me. I never was a luxury hound.” He was side-stepping the question, avoiding a direct answer. Cade did not press him; if he wanted to keep his quarters a secret he was entitled to do so.

“Not too rough, I hope.”

Banner just grinned. He was almost at the door when he turned and pulled a small flat parcel from his jacket pocket It was wrapped in brown paper and sealed with adhesive tape; it measured about nine inches by five.

“Oh,” he said, “I nearly forgot I wonder if you’d mind hanging on to this for me for a day or two.”

It seemed like something that had just come into his mind, something of no great importance; but Cade was certain that that was not so. He had a shrewd suspicion that Banner had been thinking about the parcel for most of the evening.

He took the parcel. “What is it?”

Banner looked a shade embarrassed. “Do you mind if I don’t tell you that?”

“It’s up to you.”

“I’ll tell you some other time.”

“Something else for that long story?”

“Maybe.”

“If it’s valuable don’t you think it would be better in a bank? I haven’t got a safe.”

Banner gave him a quick glance. “Who said it was valuable?”

“Isn’t it?”

Banner hesitated for a moment; then he said : “Let’s just say it has considerable sentimental value. Okay?”

“Okay. Do you want a receipt?”

“When did I ever want a receipt from you, boy?”

He moved again towards the door, then stopped again. “I may be out of town for a few days. I’ll get in touch as soon as I get back. If anything happens to me—”

“You’re expecting something to happen?”

“Not expecting,” Banner said. “No, not expecting anything. But there’s always the possibility of an
accident
. People get killed on the roads every day.”

“But that wasn’t really what you meant, was it?”

“No,” Banner admitted. “It wasn’t.”

“Look,” Cade said, “why don’t you tell me what this is all about? Maybe I could help.”

Banner gave a laugh and slapped him on the shoulder. “It’s not about anything, Bob. Forget it.”

“And the parcel—if you should have an accident?”

“Forget that too. There’ll be no accident.”

Cade went down with him to the street It was a wretched night, raw and cold, with a thin drizzle falling. Banner turned up the collar of his coat.

“Still the same old filthy English weather.”

“You didn’t have to come back to it”

“Maybe I did,” Banner said. “Maybe I did at that.”

Cade watched him walking away in the yellow glow of the sodium lamps. There were a lot of cars slipping past, each one a possible lethal weapon. It was true, what Banner had said: there was always the possibility of an accident But nobody worried his head about accidents that might happen; it was the carefully planned
incident that one needed to be wary of. The question was, did Banner suspect that someone was planning just such an accident for him? And the answer to that was probably that he did, and that probably it was in some way connected with the parcel that he had left in Cade’s hands. Which meant that Cade had become
involved
. It meant that he had become involved in some affair which he knew nothing about.

BOOK: The Rodriguez Affair (1970)
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