Caribbean Crisis

by Desmond Reid

11. "the charge is murder!"

Francesca regarded him steadily for fully ten seconds before saying quietly: "I thought you said you were a private detective, señor?"

"I am. But I happen to have some political information which your movement needs and hasn't got. Unless I can talk to Juan Callas his revolution is going to hand Maliba to the Russians. There is a Soviet espionage network operating here which is just waiting for your Juan to do all the hard work -- all the fighting -- then step in and take over control of the new government."

The girl said thoughtfully : "How do you know all this, señor?"

"It doesn't matter how I know it," Blake said grimly. "What matters is that it's the truth!"

There was a brief pause before Francesca looked at Blake again and gently shook her head. "It was the truth, señor. But it is true no longer. All the communists were dealt with -- forty-eight hours ago. Thanks to your Mr. Sellingham and his friend."

"Friend?" Blake frowned. "What friend? And what do you mean, dealt with?"

"I will explain," said Francesca. "When I first met your young Englishman at the Ostra, we had already recruited enough men for Juan's army. What we needed was guns -- but we had no money to buy them and no means of shipping them into the country. The young Englishman was a gift from heaven -- he not only had the money, he actually wanted to give it to us! He wanted to buy arms for the Liberation."

"That sounds like him," Blake nodded.

"Only the shipping problem remained, and fortunately he had another English friend who was very experienced in such matters. Within two weeks we had all the weapons we needed..."

"Who's this friend?" Blake demanded. "This other man -- what's his name?"

"He is not a man, señor," Francesca smiled. "It is a woman. A woman called Miss Amelia Tucker."

*            *            *

"Tucker?" Blake exclaimed in alarm. "Good grief! Surely she's the last person you should have trusted?"

The detective was now almost convinced that the only person who could have denounced him to the police was Sellingham's waspish, female relative, Amelia Tucker.

Again Francesca shook her head with a sad smile.

"Señor -- it was Miss Tucker herself who warned us about the communists, so that we could take action in time."

"How?" Blake demanded, frowning.

"When the first shipment of arms arrived we found that they were communist weapons -- Czech rifles and Polish mortars. We weren't worried where they came from, but Miss Tucker decided to investigate on her own."

The girl paused: "Three days ago she told us that the ranks of our Liberation Army had been infiltrated with communist agents. At first we didn't believe her, but then she told me where we could get a list of their names."

Blake's frown darkened. "Where?"

"A list had been made by the Maliba secret police -- the Gestapo of Doctor Nonales."

The girl looked at him. "You remember the rebel raid on the Carabanos Army garrison two days ago? That was when we got the list -- we raided the garrison to get it. And as soon as we got it Juan placed all the communist infiltrators under arrest. The communists were very clever," she added bitterly. "Some of them had become Juan's most trusted lieutenants. We were lucky to find out in time. If it hadn't been for Miss Tucker and the youn Englishman we would have never known. The communists would have taken over and Maliba would have become a Russian satellite like Cuba!"

"Did Sellingham take part in the raid on the garrison?" Blake demanded.

"No. He had a very special job to do. He and Miss Tucker had discovered the name of the communist ringleader -- a Soviet agent who was not in the hills with the others, but here is Carabanos. He had to be dealt with before we raided the Army garrison and so..."

"So Sellingham dealt with him? Killed him?"


Suddenly Blake was beginning to see daylight. "Listen," he said grimly, "when I first spoke to you you didn't recognise young Sellingham's name. You didn't recognise him till I showed you his picture. What name's he been using?"

"We always call him Jimmy," said Francesca. "Jimmy Linwood."

So that was it! Blake sank back in the car seat. It was true after all!

"The man he killed -- what was his name?"

"Harben," said the girl. "It was Jules Harben."

Blake whistled softly. It seemed there couldn't be any doubt.

Jules Harben, alias Jakob Kraski -- Soviet Master Spy -- had been liquidated -- by an amateur!

The man who had stabbed him to death in the bathysphere and then miraculously escaped -- the man called Linwood -- was none other than Peter Sellingham!

"Where is he now? Sellingham, I mean?" Blake demanded.

Francesca shrugged. "I have already told you, señor -- I do not know. As soon as his job was done he had to get out of sight. He may have left the country; gone to another island. But Miss Tucker says he is all right. If you wish, I will find out from her where he is -- I shall be seeing her tonight."

"Do that!" Blake said firmly. "You can phone me at the Hotel Palma as soon as you have some news!"

Blake now had yet another reason for wanting to find Sellingham. It was a matter of major importance to every Western Intelligence and Security agency, that Harben's death should be authenticated.

Blake had to have the final confirmation from the man who had killed him.

After that the detective had only one more task. He broached it now:


"Call me Francesca -- Francesca Cardenez." She smiled.

"Francesca," Blake smiled in return, "that list of agents. It is no longer any use to you if all the agents have been arrested. But I know people to whom it would be invaluable, even now. Do you have a copy?"

The girl hesitated for barely a fraction of a second before nodding. "We have no need to keep it secret. I will give you my copy." She picked up a small white handbag from the glove compartment and took from it a folded sheaf of papers.

Blake opened the document and ran his eyes briefly down the list. There was more than a hundred names in all, each followed by short descriptive notes written in the traditional style of police dossiers.

It looked like a valuable document. Miss Amelia Tucker had done a good day's work in ear-marking it for the rebels. Blake wondered where she had got her information.

He said: "I must make a telephone call. Is there a booth near here?"

"I wil drive you to one," said the girl. "I am going across town and can drop you in the centre if you wish."

Blake nodded. He thought that Worple could have come to no harm waiting in the Oldsmobile. The Old Kentucky would keep him happy for at least another half hour.

Francesca gunned the engine to life and swung the white convertable towards the brightening neon lights of the city centre.

*            *            *

Within ten minutes Blake was in a telephone kiosk speaking to the man he had met that afternoon at the British Consulate -- Henderson, the Vice-Consul.

"I want to see you -- personally," Blake said simply.

"Urgent?" Henderson asked.

"Very. I need the earliest possible rendezvous."

There was a pause before Henderson replied : "Meet me in the cocktail bar of the Astoria Hotel. It's on the Avenue San Cristobal, about a minute's walk from where you are. I'll be there in a quarter of an hour."

Blake hung up and pushed his was out of the booth. He began to walk along the neon-lit street towards the Astoria Hotel.

He had a lot to think about after what the girl Francesca had told him. It seemed that the revolution was due to take place any day -- if not any hour... He hadn't been a moment too soon in getting the list of communist agents for Craille -- even if the communist elements had been purged from the revolutionary forces, as the girl claimed.

A lot of the puzzling details of this assignment were now becoming clearer in the detective's mind, but several loose ends still remained to be tied up.

He now understood why Miss Amelia Tucker had been evasive about the whereabouts of Peter Sellingham; why she had lied about not having seen him. But this fact itself gave a rise to yet another baffling problem:

If Amelia Tucker was secretly working for the rebel movement, it could not have been she who denounced him to the police chief, Captain Tarratona.

Therefore it had to be someone else who was trying to sabotage Blake's investigation. And the question was, who?

*            *            *

The Astoria Hotel was a cosmopolitan place; a luxury hotel owned by an American company and built primarily for American customers. But amongst the tourists in the cocktail bar, Blake noticed a liberal sprinkling of Europeans, and observed that many of them looked like press correspondants.

Blake reflected that one of the surest signs of a revolution brewing was the sudden swelling of foreign press-corps. Another was the disappearance of bar girls and hostesses. When prostitutes started to leave and journalists to arrive, it was time to quit the country. He'd seen the signs before and he could see them now.

It was an ominous reminder that time was running out.

The days of the Nonales government were numbered.

Blake chose a corner table. Over a brandy he drafted a concise Intelligence appraisal of the island's political situation on a page of his notebook, and by the time Henderson arrived he was ready to make his business brief.

"I want you to pass three items to London for me," he told the Vice-Consul quietly. "Highest priority for the personal attention of the Director of SINSEC."

Henderson nodded.

"The first two may be teleprinted exactly as they stand, and need no reply--" Blake gave him the list of communist agents and his own Intelligence report "--the third is a request for authentication on the identity of two men claiming to be agents of the FBI. Lieutenant Navarro and Lieutenant Kellaher -- both currently operating in Maliba."

"Got it," Henderson nodded as he slipped the papers into his pocket. "How soon do you want the reply? Before morning?"

Blake calculated rapidly. "You'll be through before midnight... London will be able to answer my query sometime during the night... You'd better arrange to contact them again before breakfast tomorrow. I'll get in touch with you any time after that."

"Right." Henderson rose to his feet was a swift but casual glance round the room. No one had paid any attention to the two men.

Henderson gave Blake a cursory nod and left for the Hotel entrance.

Blake allowed four minutes to pass before draining his brandy glass and making for the same exit.

*            *            *

Once in the street, the detective set off at a brisk pace to walk back to the spot where he had left the Oldsmobile with its drunken occupant, Worple.

On the whole, Blake considered he had done a good day's work. But he still wasn't satisfied that he knew the whole story.

Frowning thoughtfully as he strode along the pavements crowded with late-night sightseers, he wondered again about the beautiful partisan girl, Francesca.

She was an unlikely kind of recruiting agent, even for an army of the sort raised by Juan Callas. Blake guessed that Callas's army relied more on enthusiasm than military training.

It was strange that such amateurs should have bested the powers of Communism. Indeed, all the evidence showed that they would not have done so except for the aid of Miss Amelia Tucker.

Blake found himself wondering more and more about the odd, masculine Englishwoman, as he strode towards the poorer quarter of the town.

His instincts told him that the communist infiltrators had been subdued all too easily.

Was Miss Tucker, like Peter Sellingham, merely an enthusiastic amateur -- or was she something more...?

Was she a professional? If so, who was she working for?

Beneath these questions lay an uneasy feeling which had dogged Blake ever since his teleprinter conversation with Craille, that afternoon.

There was one small detail of this case which didn't ring true.

Jakob Kraski, the Soviet Master Spy, had been aware -- according to Craille -- that his identity was compromised.

His cover-name, Jules Harben, was known. Therefore by all the laws of espionage he should have changed it.

But he hadn't?

Why not?

Again, Blake came to the question of Captain Tarratona -- the sudden interference and hostility which the police chief had shown.

Who or what had made Tarratona suddenly adopt that attitude?

It was a timely question.

For that moment, above the sound of the traffic, Blake heard the growling wail of an approaching siren.

Barely a moment later, garish headlights lit up the narrow street behind him and the siren died to a stop as a long, sleek limousine of the Maliba police glided to a stop at the kerb beside him.

Car doors opened and uniformed men were suddenly swarming out onto the pavement to surround Blake.

"Come with us!"

Blake was seized and manhandled into the car.

"Good evening, Señor Blake..." Tarratona's lazy drawl greeted him on the back seat.

Blake's jaw hardened and his blue-grey eyes glittered dangerously as he looked at the police chief's mocking smile.

"What is this for?" he demanded.

"This, señor... is an arrest." Tarratona nodded to the driver: "Despátchense!"

The car lurched away from the kerb. It did a sharp turn in the centre of the road and drove off, sirens wailing again as it returned in the direction of Police Headquarters.

"I hope you know what you are doing, Captain." Blake's voice was quiet, threatening.

"But certainly," said Tarratona. "I am arresting you. That is to say... you are under arrest. Is good English, no?"

"On what charge?" Blake was bleak.

"The charge, señor?" Tarratona said lazily: "The charge is... murder!"

*            *            *

Blake was silent for fully half a minute before demanding grimly: "Who am I supposed to have murdered? The President?"

Tarratona chuckled. "Your English sense of humour does you credit, señor Blake! If I were in your shoes I would not be making jokes. I would be making my prayers!" He chuckled again before adding absently: "No, señor -- not the President."

"Then who?" Blake snapped harshly.

The police chief smiled. "If you persist in this farcial pretense of not knowing your victim, then we must show you--"

The car turned in through the main entrance of the Maliba State Police Headquarters. Tarratona leaned forward and gestured to the driver to pull up beside a car which was drawn up under a glare of temporary floodlights.

Uniformed detectives were swarming around the car taking photographs and making measurements.

As the police car drew beside it, Tarratona jumped out and held open the door for Blake. "This way, señor."

Only as Blake stepped out onto the concrete yard did he recognise the vehicle which was the centre of all the fuss.

It was his own, hired Oldsmobile, brought here from the street outside the Ostra.

Tarratona strode across to it and with a dramatic gesture towards the back seat announced: "You are under arrest, Señor Blake, for the murder of this man!"

It was Worple.

He lay face upwards on the back seat, a fatuous grin on his insensible features, and a large, red stain covering the front of his shirt -- where a black-handled stiletto was buried up to the hilt in his heart.

Across his chest, his two hands still clutched tenaciously on to the neck of a bottle.

An empty bottle.

A bottle with a label that said: OLD KENTUCKY -- PUTS LIFE INTO THE PARTY.

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