The question uppermost in Blake's mind was one that had to be answered without delay. And it was to answer it that Blake made steps, as soon as he was ashore, towards the Consulate of Her Britannic Majesty's Government.
It was very rarely, on Blake's missions for Craille, that the detective could allow himself the luxury of indulging in "feedback" -- of communicating directly with his superior and passing his problem back to London.
But in certain circumstances, when the situation warranted it, an emergency means of communication did exist.
And it was to use this emergency system that Blake arrived in the early afternoon at the large white villa which stood in a well-kept garden on the western sea-cliffs above the city.
A small Union Jack flew from a discreet white flagpole above an immaculate lawn, and a gleaming Rolls-Royce stood in a wide, adjacent garage.
Blake entered an air-conditioned reception and was greeted by an English girl in her twenties who looked up from her desk with a pleasant smile. "Yes?"
Blake showed her a business card. "Have you a full time security officer?"
The girl's eyebrows arched imperceptibly. "Just one moment sir, ..." She rose and crossed the marble hallway, disappearing into a nearby office.
A moment later she was back. "Will you come this way, please?"
Blake followed her into the office. A lean, middle-aged man with a pipe rose from a paper-strewn desk. "All right, Judy." He dismissed the girl with a nod.
He shook hands with Blake. "We've no permanent security man. I'm Henderson, the Vice-Consul..." His eyes were thoughtful. "What's the problem?"
"Sexton Blake," replied the detective. "Special Service Operative, PANSAC. I want to send a message to London."
"Hmm..." Henderson frowned. He took a bunch of keys from his pocket and crossed to the safe behind his desk. "Is it urgent?"
Henderson opened the safe and pulled out a thick file.
He skimmed through it and found a page. "What's your service number?"
Blake told him.
Henderson nodded and closed the book. "All right, Mr. Blake. Come through into the communications room." He closed the safe, locking it. Then with another key from the bunch he opened to door of a small adjoining office and lead Blake inside.
Two teleprinters stood side by side beneath a shelf of radio equipment.
"We only work to London once a day," said Henderson. "I'll set it up for you..." He began switching on power circuits and adjusting dials. "... You want to use the keyboard yourself?"
"All right. Just a moment..." He leaned over one of the keyboards and tapped out half a dozen code words. "Who's your addressee?"
"DISCO/SINSEC," Blake told him.
Henderson tapped it out. A moment later the red light went on. "Okay, you're through."
Blake took the seat behind the keyboard as the printer began to chatter:
SINSEC SINSEC GO AHEAD MALIBA
EMERGENCY FOR CRAILLE PERSONAL
There was a brief pause before the keys chattered back:
Then Blake waited, knowing that the girl at the other end had gone to fetch Craille. He wondered grimly what the old man would be thinking. He certainly wouldn't be pleased.
Blake was right. A moment later Craille was on the other end tapping out tersely:
Blake sent his message:
PLEASE ADVISE URGENTLY ON SECURITY REPEAT SECURITY OF SOURCE INFORMING YOU OF HARBEN'S TRUE INDENTITY
There was another brief pause before Craille came back:
SOURCE WAS AGENT OF FRIENDLY BUT BACKWARD SOUTH AMERICAN REPUBLIC OKAY?
Blake pursed his lips. What did Craille think he was, a mind-reader? He tapped out:
NO. PLEASE ELUCIDATE: A--RELIABILITY B--SECURITY
Craille replied tersely:
A--AS IN ALLIED COUNTRY
B--AS IN BANANA STATE
WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
Obviously Craille was exasperated. But just as Blake was about to reply, the old man added kindly:
INFORMATION IS RELIABLE BUT NOT SECURE STOP YOU MUST ASSUME HARBEN KNOWS HE IS COMPROMISED STOP DOES THAT ANSWER YOUR QUESTION?
Blake grinned. It told him what he wanted to know. He replied:
GOT IT THANKS GOODBYE
Craille signed off:
GOOD LUCK GOOD HUNTING
The red light went off and Blake rose from the chair.
"All right?" Henderson asked.
Blake nodded. "Yes, thank you. I'll try not to bother you again."
Henderson only nodded. "Were you seen coming here?"
"No." Blake was definate.
"Okay," said Henderson. "I'll show you out the back way."
* * *
Now, more than ever, Blake had to find Peter Sellingham! He had to make contact with the rebel forces of Juan Callas -- and young Sellingham was his only link.
Blake didn't like what he had learned from Craille.
There was an old axiom of British Intelligence which had sprung to mind at Police Headquarters and had kept running through his head ever since:
"Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see!"
Blake thought it was time to obey that axiom.
After leaving the British Consulate he returned to the centre of town where siesta was at last drawing to a close and the city was beginning to come to life again.
Blake located a car-hire firm and succeeded in hiring an Oldsmobile covertible for a not-too-exhorbitant fee.
Once behind the wheel, he took the main road out of town towards the airport and Sir Gordon Sellingham's main sugar refinery which was situated three miles inland.
There was a refreshing breeze in the open car, and the afternoon was pleasant. But the drive was short-lived.
Six minuted after leaving the city centre he was driving through the gates of the large sugar plant, and a moment later he brought the convertible to a halt outside the main building.
It was a tall, modern, steel and concete structure of the functional American pattern, and it was signposted:
Inside, a pretty American girl in a blue, halter-style dress, smiled up at him warmly. She had wispy auburn hair which haloed a pleasant, oval face, large blue eyes and a big smile.
"Can I help you sir?" p>Blake produced the second of his letters from Sir Gordon Sellingham. "Where can I find--" he glanced at the envelope "--Miss Amelia Tucker, the manageress?"
The girl pointed to a grey-carpeted stairway: "First floor, sir -- you can't miss it -- her name's on the door."
Blake saw the doubtful look on the girl's face and explained: "My name's Blake -- I believe Miss Tucker is expecting me..."
"Oh -- yes sir. Go right on up." The girl smiled again.
News of his coming had gone ahead of him, then...
Blake took the stairs two at a time and found himself on the landing of the first floor. A door directly in front of him bore the words: A. R. TUCKER -- MANAGERESS.
Blake recalled that Miss Tucker was a distant cousin of Sir Gordon Sellingham's late wife. He crossed to the door and was about to knock when a violent sound reached him from beyond the door.
A man was yelling angrily. He was furious about something and was making no bones about it:
"You lousy, rotten slave-driver! I'm glad I'm getting out!"
"You have no choice, Worple!" Their was a fruity, female voice which rose stridently above the torrent of already stridant sound: "You have no choice at all! Collect your money downstairs and then leave! There is nothing more to be said!"
"Oh, isn't there, you old hag?" The man's voice was that of someone who had been goaded into a fit of bitter fury. "Nobody calls me a liar and gets away with it like that! I've got plenty to say -- and I'm going to say it, Miss blasted Tucker!"
"The company has heard quite enough of you, Worple! You've been given notice for spreading disgusting scandal! When you begin making up lies about the son of our managing director it was clear you were no longer to be trusted--"
"It was true!" shouted the man called Worple. "All true!"
Blake had been about to step away from the door and wait on another part of the landing until it was all over. But suddenly his attention was captured.
"It was a pack of lies!" came the voice of Miss Tucker. "We've no room for gossips in this company!"
"You're lying!" snarled Worple. "And well you might! I saw you with young Sellingham that night! And you're not the only woman I've seen with him. Every tart on the island knows Lover-boy-Sellingham! He hangs out in all the filthiest parts of the city -- and you were with him!"
The appeared to be Worple's parting shot. The door was flung open from inside. A small man with a face redder than a pillar-box regarded Blake's chest without comprehension. His expression was one of righteous indignation as he blindly circum-navigated the detective and marched off down the corridor.
Miss Amelia Tucker saw Blake standing there. She said coldly: "Can I help you?" She looked worried, almost scared.
She was a large, angular woman with grey hair. Their was a masculine quality about her lumpy, prissy features and her wide shoulders. She wore a dress which reached well below knee-length and her flat-heeled brown shoes were of the kind generally described as "sensible".
"My name's Blake." The detective stepped inside. "I'm here on behalf of Sir Gordon Sellingham."
"Oh, yes, Mr. Blake." Her tone altered. She tried to smile. She walked fussily over to her desk and lowered herself carefully into her chair.
"I am Miss Tucker."
Blake gave her the letter from Sir Gordon Sellingham which she read carefully before looking up. This time she managed a smile which creased the skin of her face until it seemed it would crack. "And how can I help you Mr. Blake?"
"I want you to tell me what you know of young Peter's movements."
Miss Tucker sighed. "Precious little, I'm afraid. I knew he was on the island, of course. Sir Gordon asked us to keep an eye on him and see that he didn't get into trouble. But--" She shrugged, "--you know what young men are these days, Mr. Blake. Peter goes running about all over the world and it's really quite impossible to keep up with him..."
"What was he doing here, do you know?" Blake asked.
She shrugged. "Seeing the island, meeting the local inhabitants... He mixes with rather -- er -- unsavoury company, at times... The last news I had of him was when his bank manager in Carabanos phoned me to say he hadn't been in for a while and did I know where he was..."
"Did you?" Blake demanded.
"No," Miss Tucker said firmly. "I've seen him only once. He called here on the day he arrived in Maliba. But I haven't seen him since."
"I see," Blake murmured. "Are you sure there is nothing you can tell me?"
"Nothing that will help you, Mr. Blake." She met his gaze calmly.
"I see," said Blake again. "Then I won't waste any more of your time. Good day, Miss Tucker." He made for the door.
"Good day, Mr. Blake."
The woman watched him leave. Then with a dark frown on her face she turned to one of the two telephones beside her and picked up the receiver. She dialled a number and waited.
One hand clasped the edge of her desk with a grip that made her knuckles turn white, as she waited for the call to go through. Then someone answered and she began to speak in an urgent, low voice:
"It's me -- Amelia! I've just seen him and he's asking questions! It looks as though the trouble's started..."
* * *
At the foot of the grey-carpeted stairs Blake paused in front of the company notice-board in the lobby.
Amelia Tucker had been covering something up. Blake had no doubt about that -- and he wanted to know what it was.
A moment later he saw what he was looking for -- a list of the home addresses and telephone numbers of the company's executive staff.
Halfway down the list was the name: Worple, A., Hotel Europa, 57 Avendia Santa Maria, Carabanos.
With a grim smile of satisfaction, Blake turned and left the building. He got into the Oldsmobile, reversed and drove out on to the main road -- back towards Carabanos... and the Avenida Santa Maria...
Would the man called Worple be able to tell him what he wanted to know?