About the Author
Roderic Jeffries was born in London in 1926 and was educated at Southampton's School of Navigation. In 1943 he went to sea with the New Zealand Shipping Company and returned to England in 1949 where he was subsequently called to the Bar. He practiced law for a brief period before starting to write full time. His books have been published in many different countries and have been adapted for film, television, and radio. He and his wife live in Mallorca, and have two children.
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Murder, Majorcan Style
By Roderic Jeffries
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2011 Roderic Jeffries
All rights reserved.
Sunshine came through the single window and illuminated the layered fog from the green Jaguar's exhaust and part of the figure of the man who had slumped forward and who sprawled across the steering wheel.
In his office, Alvarez considered what Dolores might be cooking for supper. It was a long while since they had enjoyed Fava parada, one of his many favourite meals. Once, a typical dish of peasant farmers, in her hands it would grace a five-star restaurant. He looked at his watch and was dismayed that the time was only just after five. Three hours before he would be expected to leave the office, at least an hour and a half before he did so and could reasonably explain his absence if called upon to do so.
The phone rang. He hesitated, instinctively certain this meant trouble. Since it continued, he finally lifted the receiver. 'Llueso Cuerpo ...' he began.
'Caught you just before you skulked off early?'
'The Prime Minister's third secretary wishing to congratulate you on completing twenty years' service without achieving anything.'
He recognized the voice. Tomeu, a policia in Port Llueso with whom he had often enjoyed an evening of fun. 'It is an offence to show disrespect towards a member of the Cuerpo.'
'How does one have respect for a man who switches his affections with monotonous regularity?'
'I tell her how much I earn and she does the switching.'
'But not until she starts talking about the joys of motherhood? How are Dolores and Jaime?'
When family news had been exhausted, Tomeu said: 'D'you know Ca'n Mortex on the bay road?'
'The large stone house a retired general had built years ago, which has been bought by a foreigner who's planted mature palm trees at some phenomenal cost?'
'Englishman. Like all his tribe, offer them sunshine and they lose any thoughts about the value of money.'
'What about the place?'
'This is about the owner. Señor Sterne has been found dead in his car in the garage. The engine was switched on, the tank was empty of fuel. He's slumped over the wheel and not driving anywhere any more.'
'The usual rubber hose from exhaust to the interior of the car?'
'No. It's a large car and a small garage for the size of the house. It would have filled with exhaust fumes pretty quickly. From what I remember about a case some years back, it's the carbon monoxide which does the damage and that doesn't have to be strong before it quickly makes one too drowsy and muddled to do anything.'
'Who's living in the house?'
'A brother and sister, adult children of the dead man. She's pure bitch. Then there's a couple and their daughter who do the housework.'
'What have you learned from them?'
'I've left it to you to do the questioning. That's supposed to be your job.'
'Is Doctor Antignac there yet?'
'I reckoned it best if you called him.'
'What about a photographer?'
'Every task is someone else's?'
Alvarez replaced the receiver with more force than was necessary. Gone was a quiet evening, the pleasure of a drink, or two, before a delicious meal (Fava parada?). He was faced with work, would probably return home long after the meal was served so that his portion would have to be reheated and would consist only of what the family had left. And in the immediate future, he must phone Superior Chief Salas.
He dialled Palma. When contact was made, he asked: 'Is the superior chief still in his office?'
'Naturally!' Ángela Torres, Salas' secretary, expressed her contempt for anyone who could imagine he would leave the office early.
'I need to speak to him.'
'Who is calling?'
She would know perfectly well who he was, but she needed to remind any caller that she was the virginal go-between on whose shoulders rested the efficient running of the corps. 'Inspector Alvarez, señorita.'
'It helps to know who the caller is.'
There was a pause, then Salas said, in his usual abrupt manner: 'Yes?' 'Inspector Alvarez, señor.'
'There is no need to waste time by unnecessarily identifying yourself.'
'I was just making certain you knew it was me.'
'It was I.'
There was a longer pause. Finally, Salas said: 'Like Exmorodes, you have been stricken dumb?'
'I can't quite understand what you meant when you said you were you?'
'I was trying to correct you to say, it was I.'
'But I know who I am.'
'I have no intention of trying to unravel your incomprehensible nonsense. I will ask you questions, you will answer them briefly and without any prevarication. Why are you phoning?' 'To make a report.'
'What is hindering you?'
'When you said ...?'
'An Englishman, Señor Sterne, who lived at Ca'n Mortex, in Port Llueso, has committed suicide, gassing himself in his car.'
'In the usual manner?'
'Why do you say "apparently"?'
'I haven't yet visited the property to confirm the facts.'
'You can see no reason to have done so?'
'In the circumstances, it seemed more important to inform you first.'
'The forensic doctor confirms your judgement?'
'He hasn't yet examined the dead man.'
'You have no direct confirmation the man is dead because you have not bothered to observe his body or the circumstances which surround it, yet you confidently state this is a case of suicide?'
'The petrol tank is empty and the ignition is switched on.'
'Facts you have accessed intuitively?'
'One of the policia in the port has reported them to me.'
'It is reassuring to learn there is someone who understands how a case should be conducted. Do you consider it might be an idea not to waste much more time before learning what the doctor has to say and to find out for yourself what are the facts?'
'I intend to drive down to the port the moment I finish speaking to you, señor.'
'You will not find that too precipitous an action?' Salas closed the line.
Alvarez replaced the receiver, sighed. Being a Madrileño, Salas would never appreciate that to rush was to shorten one's life.CHAPTER 2
Ca'n Mortex was large and slab-like; being rock-built, many of the windows were small; except for the roof, there were only right angles; it would have been easy to be mistaken into believing it had been intended to offer defence from sea marauders as well as being a home.
Alvarez drove past the wrought-iron gates of elaborate design, the costly replanted palm trees, the multicoloured flower beds, braked to a halt in front of the portico with elaborate columns and pediment. He stepped out of the car, paused to look back across the garden and road at the bay.
The water was poster blue, the sunshine softened the appearance of the surrounding mountains, the slight breeze only fitfully filled the sails of yachts and windsurfers.
There was a polished brass knocker on the panelled door. As he struck it, the deep, dissonant sound reminded him, for no apparent reason, of Riera's poem, 'Time past as time present', which he had had to learn word perfect at school. He had never understood it.
The door opened with a couple of creaks and a youngish man, dressed in white jacket and striped linen trousers, said, 'Yes?' in a tone of sharp disparagement.
Alvarez had forgotten to shave that morning, he might with advantage have changed his shirt, but that provided no reason to assume he was an undesirable visitor. Many Mallorquins, especially those employed by foreigners, had forgotten the old saying, gold marks the wealthy man, manners the gentleman. 'Inspector Alvarez, Cuerpo General de Policia,' he answered sharply.
The change in manner was immediate. 'I'm sorry, Inspector, unfortunately I did not recognize you.'
'Perhaps because you have never met me.' A response worthy of Salas?
'Please come in.'
Rank could be as effective as gold in marking superiority.
He entered a large, vaulted hall. A waste of space in his philistine judgement. The floor was tiled in island marble; in the centre was a richly coloured and patterned carpet; there were several doors, each made from rich wood in traditional patterns; there was a large cut-glass bowl filled with flowers, adding the lightness of colour to an otherwise bleak appearance.
'Will you come into the green sitting-room, Inspector?'
He entered. A large room, predominately coloured green, so carefully furnished with antique and quality furniture, it seemed to him to be more like an advertisement in a glossy magazine than a place to relax.
'Can I have your name?' Alvarez asked, as he stood by a luxuriously upholstered settee.
'What other staff are there?'
'My wife and my daughter work in the house, Marcial in the garden.'
'Is he full-time?'
'Necessarily so. As well as the flower beds in the front of the house, there is a large vegetable garden at the back.'
'Unusual for a foreigner to bother to grow vegetables.'
'There were lawns, but Señor Sterne wanted fresh vegetables grown from English seeds. He liked to have them as fresh as possible; said that was the only way to enjoy them as they should taste.'
'A gourmet of vegetables.'
'Of all food.'
'What relatives or friends of the dead man are staying or living here?'
'Señor Alec Sterne and Señorita Caroline Sterne, his son and daughter, have been here for some little time. There are no guests.'
'Where are they?'
'They left earlier.'
'Do you know when they intend to return?'
'I'm afraid not.'
'The señor was married?'
'His wife does not live on the island.'
'I believe so.'
'Does he have a girlfriend here?'
'Yes. Which is to say ...'
'Then say it.'
'I don't think it is my position to do so.'
'Have another think.'
'He has entertained more than one lady.'
'Who found the señor?'
'In what circumstances?'
'He'd said he'd be out for lunch and so when, soon after his son and daughter had left, there was a phone call, I answered it. A lady wanted to know where he was because he had failed to meet her.'
'Who was she?'
'She didn't give her name, but from her voice I thought she might be Cecilia.'
'I have never heard it.'
'One of his girlfriends?'
'It seemed likely.'
'Especially when they came down together to breakfast? Do you know if she's married?'
'I believe so.'
'When she said he hadn't turned up, did you wonder if something might have happened to him?'
'I just thought he had changed his mind.'
'About lunch or Cecilia?'
'It could have been either.'
'Later on, I needed a screwdriver – tools are kept in the garage. Even before I opened the interior door, I could smell exhaust fumes. When I switched on the light, I could see the señor slumped over the wheel.'
'So you did what?'
'Put a handkerchief over my nose, went down into the garage, smashed the window with an axe, opened the outside doors. I saw the señor was dead so I returned into the house and phoned the policia.'
'How did you know he was dead?'
'His face ... He'd vomited. He was so ... so lifeless.'
'You didn't open the car door and feel his pulse or heart.'
'No, because ... I was so certain.'
Alvarez could well understand the reluctance to touch the body of a man one thought was dead; he had to nerve himself to do that when it became necessary. 'I need to go into the garage.'
'Then will you follow me, Inspector.'
They went out into the hall and across to the far right-hand door.
'D'you want me to come down with you?' Roldan asked.
'Best if you stay here.'
There were five steps down to the floor of the garage which was small, considering the size of the house – when that had been built, cars had been rare on the island, two-car owners unknown.
The air, though apparently clear, still contained the smell of exhaust fumes despite the smashed window and opened garage doors. He studied the red Jaguar and, with reluctance, the body inside. Another's death was a harbinger of one's own limited lifespan. The previous night, after supper, he had suffered pain in the stomach. The consequence of an overgenerous supper, or a forewarning?
It was not surprising Roldan had accepted Sterne was dead. To look at his face, his body sprawled forward across the wheel, forehead against the windscreen, the condition of the car inside, left no doubt. He opened the front passenger door, lowered the window, releasing a brief, strong smell of exhaust fumes. He examined the dashboard. All the dials had zeroed. He used a handkerchief to check the ignition key was fully turned on.
There was no suicide note on the seats, in the glove locker or the side pockets of the doors.
Not all suicides left behind expressions of dislike of someone or something.
The photographer arrived and at Alvarez's orders, took photographs of the dead man from several angles. A minute after he had left, there was a call from outside the garage. 'Señor, Doctor Antignac has arrived.'
He walked along the side of the car to meet Antignac by the open doors. They shook hands, briefly commented on how long it had been since they last met. Unlike many doctors, Antignac was friendly and did not display a suggestion of inherent omniscience.
'What have we got?' he asked. 'My secretary said that whoever phoned, spoke very confusingly.'
'It's a suicide. Gassed himself in the car.'
'Who's the victim?'
'The owner of the property, Señor Sterne.'
'I think I met him some time back – socially, not professionally. Spoke quite reasonable Spanish for an Englishman.'
Antignac walked forward until level with the front car door, which he opened. He studied the body, examined the head, reached inside to lift the lightweight T-shirt, shifted the body to carry out a temperature investigation. He stepped back. 'He did not die from carbon monoxide poisoning.'
Alvarez spoke impulsively. 'He must have done.'
'A professional difference of opinion?' A brief smile.
'But ... There's still the stink of exhaust fumes.'
'Had he died from monoxide poisoning, his skin would be discoloured cherry red. There is no hint of this.'
'Then was it a heart attack?' He spoke hopefully. A natural death would entail far less work than would suicide.
'The post-mortem will have to decide on that. However, there is an injury to his head.'
'He may have been attacked?'
'One can never be certain from a surface examination, but I think it will be found to be relatively minor and most unlikely to have caused death, so an attack seems doubtful. The time of death, inaccurate as ever when judged by the spread of rigor and the temperature of the body, was between ten and twelve hours ago. You will have remarked the somewhat sideways manner in which he rests in the car?'
He had noticed this, but had been too preoccupied to accord it any significance.
'It is not a position in which one normally sits behind a wheel, but perhaps suggests a slump after seating. The dust and dirt on the back of his shirt and trousers may well mean he was lying on something pretty dirty before his death.'
'What do you reckon that signifies?'
'I have always found it expedient to leave a qualified person to answer the question when his skill is required.' He smiled, robbing his words of implied criticism. 'You can arrange for the body to be taken to the morgue.' He shook hands, left the garage.
With disrespectful annoyance, Alvarez stared at the body as the doctor drove away. A simple suicide had seemingly become a complicated question mark. Sterne had not died of monoxide poisoning, had an injury to his head, had been lying somewhere dirty before his death ...
He became more cheerful. A heart attack would explain everything. As Sterne entered the garage, an initial shaft of pain caused him to lurch forward and bang his head on something which projected. To overcome his confused fears, he had lain down on the garage floor. Recovering, he had climbed into the car, started the engine, realized the garage doors were still closed, reached across for the remote control to open them, suffered a second and fatal attack.
He returned to the hall, called out. Roldan hurried into view. 'Sorry, Inspector, but I was helping Marta, my wife.'
'Have you had any further word from the brother or sister to suggest when they'll be back?'
'It will be better if they don't return before the body is moved. It might well affect them very badly.'
'It will deeply upset Señor Sterne ... That is, Señor Alec.'
'Not the sister?'
'She has a stronger character. Is there anything more I can do for you?'
'Not for now, thanks.'
Alvarez was amused to note how Roldan's manner contrasted sharply with what it had been on his arrival. Show a mule who was boss and there'd be no trouble.
For once, there was parking space immediately in front of No. 16. Alvarez used his key to unlock the front door – property could no longer be left unsecured without fear of theft, due to the depredations of foreigners, illegal immigrants, and drugs.
The entrada was dust free and immaculately tidy, the furniture was newly polished, fresh flowers were on the ancient dough-mixer. A housewife's ability was judged by the condition of her entrada.
Excerpted from Murder, Majorcan Style by Roderic Jeffries. Copyright © 2011 Roderic Jeffries. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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