Read The Rodriguez Affair (1970) Online

Authors: James Pattinson

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The Rodriguez Affair (1970) (9 page)

BOOK: The Rodriguez Affair (1970)
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“You know half of them belong to me,” she said, and there was a purring, seductive quality in her voice.

“Do I know that?”

“Of course, Robert.” She put her hands on his arms and slid them up until they met behind his neck. “Of course.”

Cade stood perfectly still. He felt her body moulding itself against his own and he felt the pressure of her hands pulling his head down towards her parted lips.

“We could make a team, Robert, you and me. A real good team.”

Cade said nothing. He was reflecting that it had not taken Della long to transfer her favours, but he was not fool enough to believe there was anything personal in it: it was not his manly attraction she had fallen for but the pull of one hundred and forty thousand pounds’
worth of sweet and lovely diamonds. There was a lot of sex-appeal in that amount of precious stone.

“Robert, darling.”

Her mouth was very close. Cade put his arms round her and pulled it closer.

At that moment he heard a sound behind him. He released the girl and turned. Carlos Gomara was sitting in his wheelchair in the open doorway. He was smiling faintly, but it was not a pleasant smile.

“Ah, Señor Cade,” he said in his whispering voice. “Forgive me for intruding. I was under the impression that you had gone.”

“I am just leaving,” Cade said. He walked to the table and picked up his jacket

Gomara made a fluttering gesture with his hand. “No hurry. I can quite understand that you must have a great deal to say to Señorita Lindsay. Consider yourself free to come whenever you feel inclined to continue the—ah —conversation. Please look upon my house as your own.”

There was an undertone of venom in the words, although Gomara continued to smile. If one of the snakes in the pit had spoken Cade felt that it might have used just such a voice. He wondered how long Gomara had been in the doorway and how much he had heard.

Della said, as though she felt compelled to offer some explanation : “Robert is an old friend.”

Gomara looked at her and there was no longer a smile on his face. “An old friend. Is that so? How strange that you did not tell me so before. But no doubt you forgot. It is so easy to forget who one’s friends are.”

The girl stared at him for a moment, then shivered as though a chill had passed through her and turned away. She moved to a window and stood looking out, her back to the room.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Señor Gomara,” Cade said. He walked past the wheelchair and into the hall. He opened the front door and let himself out of the house.

 

José was waiting at the gate. He unlocked it and swung it open. Cade drove slowly through.

“Please wait for a moment, señor,” José said.

Cade stopped the Citroen just clear of the gateway. José closed the gate and walked to the car. Without a word he opened the nearside door and got in.

“What are you doing?” Cade demanded.

“You are going to San Borja, señor?”

“Yes.”

“Then you will not refuse to take a passenger, eh?”

It seemed a strange way to ask for a lift into town, and José was certainly not the passenger that Cade would have chosen to accompany him, but there seemed no good reason for refusing so small a favour.

“You will have to make your own way back.”

“I can do that.”

“All right then,” Cade said, and let in the clutch.

No other word was spoken until they were approaching the road junction. José sat upright on the seat, staring ahead, expressionless, his thin lips pressed together in a hard, straight line. He had a curved beak of a nose and prominent cheekbones. There was probably Indian blood in his veins.

They were about fifty yards from the junction when he spoke again. He said: “You will turn right at the other road.”

“It is left to San Borja.”

“Nevertheless, señor, you will turn right”

“That will take us to the mountains.”

“Yes.”

Cade looked at José and saw that there was a thin-bladed knife in his left hand. The point of the knife was some two inches from Cade’s lowest rib.

“What is the game?” Cade asked.

“No game, señor. You will turn right”

“Suppose I refuse?”

“Then it will be the worse for you.” As if to emphasise his argument he moved the knife a little way and Cade felt the sharp pricking of the steel through his shirt. “You understand?”

Cade understood. He understood only too well. It was obvious that while he had been having his talk with Della Lindsay Gomara had had a little talk with José. Gomara must have recognised him after all, or perhaps he was just playing safe.

There was one other possibility : Torres might have carried out his threat of warning Gomara. That might have been why Gomara had let him in, letting him walk into the trap. But Torres would have had to move very swiftly in getting the message through, so perhaps he was innocent in that respect. Either way, the result was the same.

At the junction he thought of turning left and to hell with it. The pressure of José’s knife dissuaded him. He turned right.

I
T WAS
the way Earl Johnson and Juanita Suarez had gone the previous day, the way to the mountains; a rough, stony road that became rougher and stonier the farther they went.

It was also a deserted road.

“Where are we going?” Cade asked.

“To the mountains, señor.”

“For what purpose?”

“You will see.”

Cade could make a pretty shrewd guess. What better situation as the setting for a neat piece of liquidation? There were many ways in which a man might lose his life up there in the hills and a lot of them could look like plain accident. He began to wish now that he had brought the revolver after all; a hell of a lot of good it was doing back at the Phoenix in his holdall.

He wondered whether it might be possible to bribe José, but a glance at the stern, sun-tanned face of the man beside him convinced him that he would be wasting his time to try anything in that line. He could not offer
enough to tempt José from carrying out his master’s orders.

So was there a possibility of overpowering him? A sudden twist of the wheel throwing him off balance, a swift blow to the head. He rejected that idea also. The knife was in José’s hand; he had only to give one thrust and it would plunge to the hilt into Cade’s side. José had nothing to lose; he could change places with the dead body and drive on.

“You have orders to kill me, perhaps?”

“My orders are no concern of yours,” José said.

Cade could almost have laughed; the statement was so absurdly false. “On the contrary, they are very much my concern—in the circumstances.”

José said : “You should not have come here, Señor Cade. Nobody asked you to come. Anything that happens to you, you will have brought on your own head.”

“That will be a great consolation,” Cade said.

The road began to wind. It snaked upward between tall outcrops of rock, stunted trees, scrub, boulders. They had come to the foothills and in front of them the mountains rose like an immense barrier, denying the right of anyone to pass.

They came on the jeep suddenly round a sharp bend. The jeep was standing back from the road in a space between two boulders and there was no one in it. Cade put his foot on the brake, but José immediately pressed the knife into his side.

“Drive on.”

Cade drove on. As he passed the jeep he sounded the horn, but again José pressed the knife in under his ribs.

“Stop that.”

Cade stopped it. There was no sign of Johnson. No sign of anyone. No help at all for a man driving to his own execution.

José seemed to relax a little. At least he stopped pressing the knife into Cade’s flesh. Cade was glad of that; he was uncertain whether the dampness in that part of his shirt was being caused by sweat or by blood. Maybe a little of both.

“The jeep belongs to a friend of yours perhaps?” José said.

“Not friendly enough to be in it.”

José laughed. It was the first time Cade had heard him laugh, and the sound was quite startling; it was like a dog yelping, strangely high-pitched. He stopped as suddenly as he had started and Cade hoped he would not do it again; it was bad for the nerves—other people’s nerves.

About a mile farther on they came to some derelict mine workings.

“Turn left here and go slowly,” José said.

The warning to go slowly was hardly necessary; no one but a maniac would have tried to drive fast on that kind of track. It led in between high walls of rock, sloping upward at first, then gently downward. As it went down it widened and Cade could see some old rusting railway lines and a few mine wagons, some tipped over on their sides, the wheels motionless, as they had been for years. There was some primitive machinery too, all dead and rusty and silent, just as it had been abandoned when the mine had become no longer profitable enough to be worked. There was something eerie about the place;
it was like coming on a skeleton, a grim reminder of the transience of all human activity.

“Stop here,” José said, “Switch off the engine.”

Cade obeyed. The knife was again touching his flesh.

“A pleasant view, señor,” José remarked.

There was nothing very pleasant about it to Cade’s way of thinking. The car was halted on a gentle downward incline, and about thirty yards farther on the ground fell away in a sheer drop where the rock appeared to have been quarried. From the car it was impossible to tell how deep the quarry was, but it was probably deep enough. A car falling over the edge was not likely to be of much more use. Nor a man in the car.

It was quite clear to Cade what José’s intentions were: he meant to send the car with Cade in it crashing into the quarry. It would get rid of Cade once and for all and it would look like an accident From José’s point of view —and Gomara’s also—what could be better? To Cade it looked less attractive; indeed, it looked so unattractive that he decided at once that if the car should go over the precipice he for one would not go with it.

The knife was still pressing into his side, but it was quite obvious that José could not remain there unless he was prepared to sacrifice his own life too; and that was really not on the cards; there must be limits to his devotion to his employer’s interests. The conclusion was, therefore, that he intended getting out of the car before it took its final plunge; and when José got out what was to prevent Cade getting out too?

Cade sat and waited for José to make the next move. José seemed to be in no hurry to make it; perhaps he
too had seen the problem, a problem that he had possibly overlooked until this moment José was not, Cade judged, a very clever man, and it was apparent that he had not thought out his plan with sufficient attention to detail. He wished the tragedy to look like an accident; therefore he could not kill Cade with the knife because the body might be examined and the wound might be found. So what was he to do? It looked remarkably like stalemate.

“It is, as you remarked, a pleasant view,” Cade said at last, “but it becomes a little monotonous after a time.”

“You are tired of it already, señor?”

“I have to admit that I am.”

“Then we will move,” José said. And as he spoke he lifted the knife and struck Cade on the side of the head with the heavy bone handle.

Cade fell over to his left against the door. He was dazed but not completely unconscious. It was as though something had exploded inside his head like a small mine. He had difficulty in focusing his vision, even more difficulty in moving; the blow seemed to have paralysed him. His brain was working sluggishly; everything seemed veiled in a kind of mist; but through the mist he was dimly aware that José was releasing the handbrake and then that José was getting out of the car. The door slammed.

At first the car remained stationary; the slope was not steep enough to overcome the inertia of the vehicle. But after a moment or two it began to move, and in a detached kind of way Cade realised that José must be pushing it. He even wondered whether José would have to push it all the way to the precipice or whether, once
started, it would roll forward under its own momentum.

And then it occurred to him that he ought to be doing something himself. Like pulling on the hand-brake or pressing down the pedal of the foot-brake. His sluggish brain worried at this choice of action for a while without coming to any decision. He could see through the windscreen, and he noticed that the edge of the quarry was coming slowly towards him. This strange phenomenon of a moving quarry puzzled him for a moment, until with a prodigious effort of reasoning he got the answer: it was not the quarry that was coming towards him but he that was approaching the quarry.

Again he thought of the brake, and he began feeling around with his right foot until it came on a pedal. He pressed the pedal, but it made no difference; the car still moved forward. It took him a few more precious moments to realise that he must have pressed the wrong pedal, and by that time the edge of the quarry was scarcely ten yards away and the car was gaining speed.

The immediacy of the danger served to clear the mists from his brain. He reached out and got his fingers on the hand-brake lever. He pulled it. The car’s speed slackened but it did not come to a complete halt; it was still inching forward and it was now within a yard or two of the precipice. Cade searched again with his foot, and this time he found the right pedal. He stood on it and the car halted.

He felt sick and his head was buzzing like a swarm of bees. He looked out over the quarry and that did his sickness no good at all. He sat there and waited for José to come and finish the job with his knife.

He was still waiting when he heard a sharp, cracking sound-It was like a pistol-shot, but who would be firing a pistol up there in the mountains? Maybe his sense of hearing was playing tricks, and there was so much singing and buzzing going on inside his head that it would not have been at all unlikely.

Nevertheless, he turned his head to make sure. He turned it slowly in order not to upset the sensitive mechanism any more than it had already been upset, and then he saw that there really was a man with a pistol in his hand, and the man was Earl Johnson. A short distance farther back up the slope the jeep was standing.

José was about five paces from the back of the car. He had turned and was facing Johnson, the knife gripped in his right hand. There might have been twenty yards separating the two men, no more.

Johnson shouted something. It sounded like “Drop the knife.” But José did not drop the knife. With a movement so swift the eye could scarcely follow it he lifted his hand and threw the knife at Johnson.

The knife-blade flashed in the sunlight as it sang through the air. Johnson swayed to one side like a bullfighter avoiding the horns and the knife went past within an inch of his right shoulder. Then the sharp, cracking sound came again and a spurt of dust was kicked up at José’s feet.

He began to run. He ran away from the quarry in the direction of the railway lines. Johnson yelled at him to stop but he paid no attention. Johnson fired again, again kicking up the dust near José’s feet, but the only effect was to make him put on a little extra speed. A few
seconds later he had disappeared into the opening of a tunnel that probably led to some of the abandoned mine workings.

Johnson put the gun away in his pocket and walked to the car. He peered in at Cade.

“You admiring the scenery, Rob?”

“José recommended it,” Cade said.

“I wouldn’t take his recommendation on a solid gold ring. Why don’t you get out?”

Cade shook his head and regretted it. The brain cells seemed to swill round inside. “Not a chance. If I take my foot off the brake I’m afraid she’ll move forward. There’s a nasty drop just ahead—or hadn’t you noticed?”

“No more than a hundred feet, I guess.”

“Mr. Duero wouldn’t like me to drop his car in there. He puts a high value on it.”

“You aim to sit there for the rest of your life?”

“If I let the brake go there might not be much of my life left.”

“I’ll put rocks under the back wheels,” Johnson said. Cade thanked him.

Johnson came round to the front again. “Okay; she’s anchored now if you want to get out.”

Cade took his foot off the brake very carefully. The Citroen did not move. He opened the door gently and stepped out He walked away from the precipice and his legs felt like a couple of lengths of boiled spaghetti. He got as far as the jeep and leaned on it

“You like to tell me what that guy has against you?” Johnson said.

Cade put two fingers to his head where José had hit him with the knife-handle. There was a swelling and a
little blood, but it could have been worse.

“It’s nothing personal. He was doing it for a friend.”

“Would the friend’s name be Carlos Gomara?”

“That’s what he calls himself.”

“You did him an injury?”

“Worse than that. I recognised him.”

Johnson tapped his jaw. “As Carlos Rodriguez maybe?”

Cade looked at Johnson in surprise. “You knew?”

“Not for certain. I suspected it. I’ve been trying to get corroboration; that’s why I wanted to see him, but I was headed off by the watchdog. You’re dead sure Gomara is Rodriguez?”

“I’m sure,” Cade said. “He’s aged a lot, but I saw enough of him in Buenos Aires to know. Besides, Della Lindsay admitted it. And why should he want me pushed over a precipice if it were not true?”

“I guess you’re right. It’s not the sort of thing you do to every guest.”

“Anyway, what’s it to you? You’re an oil man.”

Johnson grinned. “I think it’s about time you and me came clean, Rob. We seem to be overlapping. Suppose you tell me what your interest in Rodriguez is and then I’ll tell you what mine is. Right?”

Cade thought this suggestion over for a while, then he said: “All right. I’m here because a friend of mine named Harry Banner was killed in a cheap hotel in London. He’d just come back from Venezuela. He told me he’d worked for a man named Gomara who had a place ten miles out of San Borja. I wanted to find out why he was killed and by whom. So I came and did a bit of nosing around.”

“And have you found any light?”

“A little. Just a little.”

He did not mention the diamonds. He saw no reason for telling Johnson all the details.

“Did Banner know Rodriguez too?” Johnson asked.

“Yes.”

“Maybe he was trying to shake him down for a nice fat pay-off as the price of his silence and Rodriguez had him liquidated like he just tried to liquidate you.”

“Maybe so,” Cade said. “Now what’s your interest in him?”

“I’m a private investigator. Portland Inquiry Agency, Philadelphia.”

It explained the gun. It did not explain his interest in Gomara, but his next words did.

“I’m working for a syndicate in Argentina. I’m hired to find out where Rodriguez is holed up. I’ve been working on this case for six months. Elusive sort of guy, Mr. Rodriguez.”

Elusive or not, other people who were not even private eyes had found him. But Cade did not tell Johnson this; it might have injured his self-esteem. Always supposing private eyes had any.

BOOK: The Rodriguez Affair (1970)
7.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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