Caribbean Crisis

by Desmond Reid

9. man with a grudge

Blake had reached the centre of Carabanos when a backward glance through his driving mirror told him he was being followed ... by a sleek, black limousine of the Maliba State Police.

Thoughtfully. the detective drove on through the town past the Presidential Palace and Police Headquarters.

The police car made no attempt to turn off. It stayed doggedly on his tail.

The Avenida Santa Maria came up on Blake's left. He did not turn into it but drove on past, coming to a stop three blocks further on, outside the International Press Club.

He got out of the car and crossed the pavement to a tobacco kiosk. Casually, he turned back to glance at his car and from the corner of his eye saw the sleek, black car with the State Police insignia glide to a halt at the kerb.

Blake did not hurry. He bought a packet of cigarettes at the kiosk and was strolling back towards his car when a peaked-cap was poked out of the police car window and the sleepy voice of Captain Tarratona called out:

"Ah -- Seņor Blake."

"Good afternoon, Captain."

"Good afternoon -- just a word, seņor -- a friendly word of advice..." The Police Chief smiled. His voice was a soft purr in his throat: "Stop your prying -- leave Maliba as soon as possible..."

"What d'you mean?" Blake's defences were up. He was puzzled.

"I mean't no offense, seņor -- but someone high up, a very important man, has suggested that you are becoming a little to curious about -- ah -- internal affairs..."

He flashed his teeth. Saluted extravagantly and signalled his driver to leave.

The care glided away, leaving Blake standing on the pavement -- a dark, grim expression forming on his face.

*            *            *

Blake got back in the Oldsmobile and drove as far as the next intersection before turning off to double-back on his tracks.

A few moments later he was once more approaching the beginning of the Avenida Santa Maria. There was no longer any sign of the police car.

Blake turned into the avenue and began cruising along the pavement in search of number 57.

This was the select area of Carabanos where the European and American employees of the foreign-owned industries lived.

Soon the detective spotted the number he was looking for. A sign said Hotel Europa, and it was a small neat building nestling back from the road, reached by a narrow, semi-circle of pebble drive.

Blake turned in through the gates and parked his car beneath the shade of some tall palms. He got out of the Oldsmobile and walked across to the hotel entrance.

It was clean and well kept -- a reminder that Europeans in Maliba drew substantial salaries. Only Worple was no longer drawing his, Blake thought wryly as he walkedup the three steps and entered through the plate-glass doors.

He found himself in a small, cool lobby. A large fan spun mutely on the ceiling overhead.

A lean, erect, grey-haired European stood behind a small reception desk. Blake guessed that he was ex-Indian Army; he wore a lightweight white jacket and trousers and an open-necked white shirt with a regimental, silk cravat. He had a bushy, white moustache and a florid face.

"Can I help you, sir?"

Blake smiled at the barking precision of the voice.

"You have a Mr. Worple resident here?"

"That's quite right, sir..." The man's eyes quickly took in the detective's expensive tailoring.

"Perhaps you could tell him I'm here. I'd like to see him for a few minutes -- the name's Blake."

"Just a moment, Mr. Blake." He moved to the telephone switchboard, picked up a receiver and dialled a single number.

For long seconds there was no reply, but at last the buzzing stopped and a confused torrent of sound flowed over the line. It sounded like maudlin abuse. The man at the desk had to raise his voice about the incoherant noise. "Mr. Worple! Mr. Worple, sir! There's a gentleman here to see you! A Mr. Blake!"

The torrent flowed on for a few seconds, the abruptly stopped.

Blake heard a slurred voice say: "You tell him I'll be right down... right down..." The line went dead.

Worple had evidently been drinking.

Blake waited in the lobby. It was some time before the man appeared, but eventually feet stumbled on the stairway and Albert Worple loomed into sight carrying a bottle marked: Old Kentucky Bourbon. He clutched the bottle in one hand while the other gripped the banister.

"Sorry I couldn' ge' her shoo-- sooner -- Mr. Blake," he said gravely, his voice slurring. The bottle of Old Kentucky was less than a quarter full.

Blake had met some hard drinkers in his time, but he was amazed at the amount of Bourbon Worple had apparently managed to consume in the short time since leaving the refinery.

"That's all right, Mr. Worple," said Blake. "I'd like a word with you, if I may..."

Worple weaved towards the detective. "Of course, Mr. Blake. Been 'specting you! Heard the rumour at work -- come to check up on old Tucker, haven't you? Have you decided to give me my job back? That's what it is, isn't it? You heard what I said to her and you've come to give me back my job..."

Blake reached out an arm to steady him. "What did you say, Mr. Worple? I didn't hear all of it..."

"I told her -- I said: 'Tucker, you ol' hag -- you're finished with this firm. Your days are numbered! It is jealousy -- jealousy -- which causes you to give me the shack -- sack...' I said 'nothing but rotten jealousy because your job needs a man to do it -- and I'm him! We all know Sellingham only gave you the job because you were a crumby relative...' that's what I told her!"

"Let's go in here, shall we?" Blake took Worple's bottle from him and guided him towards the door marked Lounge.

It was a room furnished in a style reminiscent of boarding houses Blake had seen in Bournemouth and Cheltenham.

He helped Worple to sit down on a lumpy, overstuffed settee, then said softly:

"What do you know about young Peter Sellingham, Worple?"

The urgency of his tone had little effect on the drunkard who said with a mysterious wink "What don't I know! I saw old Tucker with young Sellingham -- mucking it in the dirtiest bar in the city. Everything's true. True... true... true..."

His voice became fainter, his eyes glassier.

"What else do you know about Sellingham?" Blake asked.

"What don't I know," repeated Worple, a foolish grin adorning his insignificant features. "I know about his friends -- I know about the rebels -- I know about the police. Oh, there isn't much I don't know..."

Blake said impatiently: "About Sellingham -- where did you last see him? Where?"

"Where?" Worple sat up and looked at his right hand in startled bewilderment.

"Yes -- where?"

"Where," said Worple with an air of resigned patience, "is my bottle of 'Old Kentucky'?"

"I don't know," Blake lied. "But I'll get you another one if you answer me truthfully."


"Where did you last see Peter Sellingham?"

That bar... the one where the rebels hang out -- where he took that old hag Tucker -- and where he used to meet his girl friend."

"His girl friend?" Blake demanded sharply.

Worple nodded owlishly. "Nice girl, too. Wasted on young Sellingham. Don't know what she saw in him..."

"Which bar, Worple? And which girl? Pull yourself together man -- tell me!"

"I'll take you there if you like," Worple said. "If we go there you can get me a new bottle of Bourbon, can't you?"

Blake sighed. "Come on, let's go."

*            *            *

Ten minutes later, as Blake drove back across the centre of Carabanos with Worple in the seat beside him, he became conscious for the second time that afternoon, of being followed.

Another police car had appeared discreetly in his driving mirror and was tailing him, though keeping well to the rear.

Blake made several turns through a network of side-streets to see just how badly the Maliba police wanted to keep him under surveillance.

At first the police car stayed doggedly on the tail of the Oldsmobile, but when it became clear that Blake was aware of being followed, the car dropped back and allowed itself to be shaken off.

Blake emerged once more into the main streets, wondering...

What were they trying to do?

Were they really anxious to keep an eye on him or were they just trying to frighten him?

Captain Tarratona's warning had been firm enough: "Stop your prying -- leave Maliba as soon as possible..."

But why had he given it? He had greeted Blake cordially enough that morning -- and only a few hours later he was telling him to leave the island. Why? What had happened in that time?

One thing was sure. Someone had alerted Tarratona. Someone had spoken to the police chief and used some kind of influence.

Someone who was tring to stop Blake's investigations!

Why? Had he stumbled onto something that imperilled someone? If so, what was it? And who wanted the detective out of the way?

The last question was the most intriguing one of all, because Blake was sure that the person who wanted him out of the way was someone he had already spoken to.

And the list of possibilities was very short. Barring the marine biologist, Professor Curtis, and the people who merely worked at hotels and reception desks, Blake had spoken to only three people:

Navarro and Kellaher of the FBI -- and Miss Amelia Tucker.

One of those three people had put the finger on him. And Blake had a shrewd idea which one it was...

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