The headquarters of the Maliba State Polica were situated, as Blake had instinctively anticipated, in the most grandiose building on the island. It stood in the capital's main plaza, directly opposite the Presidential Palace; a hugh, multi-storey building of immaculate white concrete, elaborately adorned with rococco guttering and ornate facing.
Once again, Blake found himself at a strategic key-point. The building was surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence along with sand-bag emplacements stood at intervals, bristling with machine-guns.
A Sherman tank stood at each corner and soldiers with rifles watched warily as Blake entered the narrow gate to the main steps of the bulding.
Police guards, armed with submachine-guns mounted watch inside the entrance, but the detective was allowed to approach the reception desk unhindered.
The sergeant behind the desk wore a bottle-green uniform with abundant gold braid and more medals than had ever been won on any western battlefield. He greeted Blake with a wide-mouthed smile and eyed the investigator's suit with envy.
"How can I help you, senor?"
"I wish to see the Chief of Police, "Blake said crisply. He took an envelope from his pocket and handed it to the man. It was addressed to the Chief of Police in person. The sergeant looked impressed.
"Please wait one moment." With a gesture of reassurance he disappeared down a corridor. A few moments later he returned -- smiling.
"Captain Tarratona will be very pleased to see you, senor."
Blake allowed himself to be ushered along a corridor and up a flight of stairs, where the sergeant came to a halt before a highly-polished double-door and knocked.
A languid voice called: "Enter."
Blake entered -- and the sergeant withdrew.
The room was large and high-ceilinged. In the centre was a desk which any Victorian industrialist would have been proud of, and against one wall stood a row of gleaming metal filing cabinets.
A white, gold-edged cap hung from a rack on one wall.
A big man got up from behind the desk as Blake entered. He was handsome in a dark, Latin way, but fast running to fat. He was in his forties and his thick, dark hair ended in sleek side-boards at the temples. A large moustache curled widely round his upper lip above a big-toothed smile.
His uniform was the same bottle-green as the sergeant's, but with more gold braid and even more medals.
He shook Blake's hand warmly and drew up a chair for the visitor. "I am Captain Juan Tarratona, Mr. Blake -- Welcome to Maliba!"
As Blake sat down the police chief glanced again at the letter which the sergeant had delivered.
It was one of the letters which Sir Gordon Sellingham had provided for Blake before he left London. Blake knew what was running through the police chief's mind because he knew what the letter said. It read:
Dear Captain Tarratona,
This is to introduce to you Mr. S. Blake, a personal friend of mine who is visiting Maliba on business. Anything you can do to make his stay a pleasant one I shall regard as a personal flavour.
The police chief scratched his chin thoughtfully before putting the letter aside and giving Blake another smile.
"Sir Gordon Sellingham is a great man in these parts senor. He has brought much prosperity to the island..."
And, Blake thought, to you in particular.
"...Any friend of Sir Gordon's is a friend of mine," the policeman continued, "and I shall be only too glad to do what he asks -- to give you any help you need while you are here on business. Although --" he went on with a quizzical frown. "--Sir Gordon has omitted to say what business you are in..."
It was a question.
"I'm here on behalf of a marine insurance company," Blake replied blandly. "I'm an investigator."
"Ah, so!" the captain smiled. "I thought I knew your name. How can I be of service to you?" He sat down and proffered a box of cigars.
"Just general information," Blake said easily. "Thank you." He took a cigar. "I arrived this morning, so I haven't had time to get my bearings, yet. But before I left London I heard there was some kind of political trouble here; so I thought I'd come to have a talk to you, just to be in the picture. I shouldn't want t infringe any of your emergency laws or security regulations through not being acquainted with the facts..." Blake made his voice sound anxious.
"What charming courtesy!" Tarratona smiled broadly. "And what a pity that the rest of our island's visitors so not show such thoughtful consideration..." He struck a match and leaned over to light Blake's cigar. "However, I am pleased to inform you that their is no cause for anxiety..."
"No?" Blake's eyebrows arched.
Tarratona shook his head with another easy smile. "There is no trouble in Maliba. A few hotheaded students, no more."
"I'm pleased to hear it," Blake said. "The newspapers made it sound quite alarming..."
"Newspapers are the same the world over, Mr. Blake! They always exaggerate!" He grinned.
Blake forced a smile of relief. "Well, that's very good news."
"What else can I do for you?" the police chief asked.
"I don't think anythign..." Blake began. Then: "Oh -- yes, there is one thing. Before I left London I promised Sir Gordon I would look up his son, Peter. He was supposed to be staying at the Hotel Maliba -- but when I went there just now they said he'd left three or four days ago. Have you any idea where I might find him?"
Tarratona gave a massive, Latin shrug. "He may have gone fishing, Senor Blake -- for a cruise perhaps -- he may have visited Havana, possibly. I have no idea, I assure you."
Blake nodded thoughtfully.
On the face of it if he got the impression that the Maliba police would not be likely to hinder his investigations. But in view of Tarratona's flat denial of any 'political trouble' it seemed pointless to pursue questions on which the Maliba government had already imposed censorship.
He decided to leave it at that.
"Very well, captain," Blake rose. "Thank you for seeing me and sparing your time..."
"A pleasure," the police chief rose, smiling to shake hands. "If you need anything -- any kind of help..."
I'll call you!" Blake promised.
It was only as Blake was leaving that Tarratona asked casually: "You mentioned an insurance investigation -- a marine insurance claim was it...?"
Blake hesitated as Tarratona opened the office door. On a sudden impulse he said: "I'm trying to locate a witness in an arson case. We need him for a lawsuit which is coimg up in Brazil, and we heard he was in Maliba."
"What name?" Tarratona asked interestedly.
"Harben," Blake said evenly. "Jules Harben."
"Harben?" The police chief frowned with sudden recognition.
"You know the name?" Blake's surprise was genuine.
"Jules Harben?" repeated Tarratona. "A marine engineer who sailed here from Brazil?"
Blake tried to suppress a sudden surge of excitement. "That's right," he nodded calmly. "We don't know what ship he signed on with, but we know he was trying to go north..."
"The Gorgon! Tarratona exclaimed. "The Gorgon sailed here from Brazil four weeks ago! There was a man called Jules Harben on board! But --!" He broke off.
Blake frowned. "What is it, captain? What's wrong? Do you know this man--?"
Tarratona looked shocked. He faltered: "I knew of him. Mr. Blake. He was one of the Gorgon's crew -- but --"
"Was?" Blake frowned suddenly.
"The Gorgon is a research ship. Mr. Blake -- there was an accident -- only two days ago--" He broke off looking anxious and worried.
"Mr. Blake, this is going to be bad news for you. Two days Jules Harben was killed. He went down in a bathysphere, over a thousand feet down in the sea. No-one knows yet what went wrong -- my men are still investigating; that is why I know Harben's name -- but the bathysphere failed to return. When it was located Harben's body was found inside. He had been stabbed in the back -- murdered..!"