Please enjoy this excerpt from chapter two. Should you want to read the rest of the book, it’s available here, on Amazon.
I turn, reluctantly, back up the hill, trusting Frankly to follow me, just as Stella comes trotting into view.
‘Oh there you are!’ she trills. ‘Oh my! Such a shock! The police! Aldo was murdered!’
We walk back together into the village. I am a realist and I know that no one could ever escape a woman such as Stella when she is so big with news. Just my luck to move into a village which has a murder within 48 hours. So much for peace and quiet.
Apparently, the funeral has been stopped and the coffin taken down to Motril, the nearest coastal town, for a post mortem. On the contents, I hasten to add, not the coffin itself.
‘So they don’t know that he was murdered; they just suspect it.’
‘There must be a very good reason for their suspecting it,’ says Stella grimly. ‘The doctor certified natural causes on the death certificate so someone must have reported something suspicious. Obviously Sanchia would be top of the list—it must be poisoning. But she wasn’t here; she’s been visiting her mother this week and she only got back just in time for the funeral.’
‘Surely they would have waited?’
‘Oh goodness me, no. Not in these temperatures. You can’t just leave bodies lying around in this heat! It’s just not done.’ Stella must have been a prefect at a private school. They are the only ones who learn how to talk like that.
It would be tough to hear that your husband is dead and not be able to get home in time for the funeral. Or would it? Does a funeral really help? Did Danny’s? I ponder this as I walk home, having managed to escape Stella at last.
It’s a good question and I think generally that the answer is yes. And it would be important to have the burial before you knew that your loved one’s body had deteriorated. I didn’t have that option but then I didn’t really believe that it was Danny inside that coffin. In a way he left me just as Alex has. Just went away one day with a goodbye kiss and never came back.
I never thought of it like that before.
However, this is not a line of thought that I want to follow.
Fortunately (although it does not seem so at the time) there is a distraction right ahead of me.
Just as I am cooking lunch, I find out that the police really don’t suspect Sanchia.
They suspect me.
Two short, grey, middle-aged policemen turn up at my door and Frankly roars at them like the good guard dog she is. I can do nothing but let them in politely—and the questions begin.
But of course they speak no English and I speak virtually no Spanish. For all I know, they could be asking me if I dance the can-can.
‘No hablo Espanol, Señor,’ I say, smiling apologetically and making a hopeless gesture with my hands but they don’t appear to believe me. I can catch the words ‘Ben Taylor’ and ‘casa’ and several others which sound familiar but it is a hopeless task.
Then I spot the word ‘nouget’ and my eyes stray to the pack of rat poison on top of the fridge. The great detective with the moustache follows my gaze and almost leaps to impound the clue before I can move. He is standing with the unopened packet jabbering away to his companion excitedly. Then they both start looking through the rubbish in the pedal bin.
‘Hang on a minute!’ I say angrily but I am of no account. I am told firmly to sit down and be silent (and you can understand those words in any language) while they examine the contents of my store cupboard and the rest of the kitchen.
This is surreal. Am I supposed to have poisoned a man I have never even met with an unopened pack of rat poison? Dear God, don’t let them arrest me and take me away. I suppose they would have to find me an interpreter but what would happen to Frankly in the meantime?
One of the officers turns back to me and speaks with gestures and I work out that he is going to try and find someone who speaks both Spanish and English. At least, I hope that’s what he said. Otherwise it could have been ‘I’m going to fetch the handcuffs and you’re nicked, Madam.’
The other officer and I are left, looking slightly awkward. He has a gun in a holster and he puts his hand on it warningly. Of course, I had already considered wrestling him to the ground and making my escape but I think I’ll put my faith in the power of the spoken word instead.
It is a surprise to see who the first officer brings: it is the American man I saw at the ruined cottage. He is speaking in accented but what appears to be fluent Spanish as he comes in through the door but he pauses to smile at me and nod. His face has a slightly blurred look about it—some people might have suspected him of being a drinker but I know why his eyes are not as clear as they might be.
I’m a little distracted but I still notice that it’s a good face with distinctive laughter lines around his eyes. He would once have been quite dark haired but the silver suits him well. It’s a bit long—he looks like some kind of ageing rock star but the face is masculine enough to take it.
Frankly, who has been ignoring everything pointedly and hiding under the table, immediately comes forward squeaking a welcome and the man’s face softens at once. He leans down to pet her. He is wearing cowboy boots and the jeans are definitely Armani.
‘How do you do, Ma’am,’ he says in a soft, cowboy drawl once he and Frankly are sufficiently reacquainted. ‘My name is Watlington P. Risborough. I have a house here in Los Poops and these gentlemen from La Guardia have asked me if I could translate some questions for you.’
I bow my head in assent, watching him carefully. He is a strange mixture of two men in one; an urban cowboy if you like. The eyes are set wide and are of a deep, velvet brown and the chin is small but this is not a weak man’s face. I would prefer this man to be on my side in a fight.
‘Would you and the other gentlemen like some tea or coffee?’ I ask.
‘Real coffee?’ he says hopefully.
‘Ground coffee—from Colorado,’ I say.
‘That would be great.’ It has worked; we are on the same side. He turns and asks the two policemen what they would like to drink but this is obviously not the way they want to play it and a curt ‘no’ is followed by a stream of questions or instructions.
‘May I?’ I gesture towards the kitchen. Mr. Risborough (I can’t call him Watlington P, I simply can’t! My lips twitch at the thought) asks the Guardia if I may make coffee and they assent gruffly. This is not turning out to be quite the keen interrogation they had planned.
Everyone watches me as I light the gas cooker with a match and put the kettle on. I take a small packet of Oreos out of the cupboard and put some on a plate and then turn to my questioner with a query on my face. He is looking at me keenly and one side of his mouth turns up in a smile as he takes a biscuit.
‘The police are investigating the death of a villager, Aldo Ramos,’ he says. ‘They believe that he was killed by rat poison and they have heard that you were seen buying rat poison at the shop yesterday.’
That bloody mafia of women!
‘Yes, they have already found the stuff I bought,’ I say. ‘I bought it by accident because I thought it was nougat. I gather that they think that I may have killed a man I have never met, 24 hours after arriving in a country I’d never visited before, using a pack of poison that hasn’t been opened.’
‘Ah,’ says Risborough (Watlington P.) taking another biscuit. ‘Well, they have to look into every circumstance, Ma’am.’
The kettle has boiled and I am making coffee in a cafetière. ‘Milk and sugar?’ I say.
‘Just black. Thanks.’
The two policemen break into a torrent of words but I have a feeling that Watlington P. Cowboy Boots is on my side and he calmly gestures to the table where we sit to drink our coffee. Frankly shimmies up to him and puts her paw on his lap.
‘They would like to know your name, where you have come from and why you are here in this house,’ he says, one hand going down to stroke her. ‘And come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind knowing myself.’
I look up at those disconcertingly warm eyes which I know have recently been filled with tears and wonder who he is and what he means. This is not a man who would easily cry nor flirt unnecessarily.
‘You have a real cute dog,’ he adds with a smile.
Frankly, the little trollop, is all over him, in bliss from prolonged ear scratching.
‘My name is Anna Marks,’ I say. ‘I am English but I have been living in Colorado, USA. I am here because I don’t want my dog to go into quarantine before I return to the UK so I am registering her as a European dog so that I can take her into the UK on the Pet Travel Scheme. Ben Taylor, the house’s owner, is an old friend of mine and he has lent me his house to stay in.’
‘No, that won’t do,’ says Risborough. ‘They won’t buy any of that. Except the name, of course.’
‘La Guardia need things simple. That is just way too complicated for them. Can I tell them that you are Taylor’s girlfriend come out here before him to clear the place up? They’ll understand that and it will help. Taylor’s real respected around here.’
‘But it’s not true!’
‘Ma’am, that is of no relevance whatsoever when it comes to Spanish law!’ His face is set but there is a twinkle in those brown eyes and I can’t help but twinkle back.
‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Tell them what you think will work. Just save me from the hangman.’
‘Oh it wouldn’t be as bad as that,’ he assures me. ‘Just a few years in prison with time off for good behaviour. Nobody holds much of a brief for Aldo around here.’
Then he turns to the police and speaks in swift, impressive Spanish.
The conversation goes back and forwards for a few minutes and I can see that he is winning them over. Risborough (Watlington P.) seems to have a knack of winning people over. I feel myself backing off mentally. The charm offensive is not going to work on me!
Frankly, on the other hand, is trying to climb up on his lap, boss-eyed with bliss from his talented ear-scratching.
‘No,’ he says firmly putting his hand on her head. Frankly obeys instantly and sits, leaning against his leg. I am outraged. She would never obey me like that.
After some more discussion, during which both the policemen become quite agitated and there is sufficient hand-waving for me to fear for the crockery in the wooden rack over the sink, the two men nod to me and turn to leave.
‘Is that it?’ I say. ‘Do they still suspect me? What’s going on?’
Risborough (W.P.) waits until they have left before answering. Then he leans back in his chair as if he owns the place and smiles. ‘Nope,’ he says. ‘They just hoped that they would be able to pin it on a stranger. It’s only natural.’
‘Why? Who do they suspect?’ It is a silly question—I don’t know anyone in the village so the answer won’t make sense.
‘Every single one of the women,’ he says. ‘Is there any more coffee?’
‘Coffee. Is there any more?’
Now he is teasing me and I feel irritation rise. For God’s sake, I don’t need a week like this last one has been, culminating with police coming round to arrest me and now some smart-arse American playing games.
‘Ah,’ says Watlington P. Risborough (God how those initials annoy me. Trust some stupid American to have a pretentious name like that). ‘You’re mad at me. I’m sorry. I should be more thoughtful. I don’t know who you are or why you’re here—apart from what you’ve told me—and I’m treating you like some kind of friend. I’m sorry.’
Well that one’s a facer!
Silently I pour him some more coffee and take my feelings out on Frankly by grimacing furiously at her. She totally ignores me. Watlington P. Pretentious’s right hand is caressing her head again.
‘Thanks,’ he says, drinking the coffee and taking his time. He must be a Mid-Westerner; no East- or West-Coast American would take so long about anything.
‘What seems to have happened is this. Every single Spanish-born woman in the village bought rat poison yesterday. Every single woman called in on Aldo sometime yesterday and now every single woman only has an empty packet left and a completely spurious story about what they used it for.’
‘What?’ I sit down, amazed. ‘You mean every woman is under suspicion?’
‘Yep—that is, nope. The police know perfectly well that somebody killed Aldo. He was a bad lot and his wife had trouble with him. He would beat up on other guys too. I guess he drank and they say he took cocaine too…’
Cocaine? Conspiracy? Murder? What kind of hell-hole have I come to?
‘But they’re not going to be able to prove a thing. There are just too many suspects. The women have obviously conspired together to get rid of him while his wife was out of town. Maybe she knows about it; maybe not. One thing’s for sure: nobody’s going to say a thing.
‘I think they’re going to call off the post mortem and let it stand as natural causes. Not a lot else they can do.’
‘Oh my God!’ I remember yesterday and the women in the shop. Were they planning this then? Was my joking thought about their plotting real?
‘But one of them must have done it! One of them must be a murderer.’ Or maybe all of them are! This is like Murder on the Orient Express.’
‘Yep, but there’s nothing the police can do but arrest the lot of them and that wouldn’t stand for a moment. I guess they hoped that it would turn out to be you. Why did you buy that poison again? You said you’d only been here a day.’
‘It was a mistake. I misread the label. I was going to take it back today.’
‘Well I wouldn’t do that!’
‘Er, no. Perhaps not.’
We sit together in silence for a minute. God, Alex would have found this funny. The real Alex that is, the one who … No! Stop it. He doesn’t exist any more. There, now I’m angry again. Better. Not good, but better than the grief.
I am surprised to find that the hand which had been stroking Frankly is now resting on my fingers. It is a strong, powerful hand with well-cut fingernails and dark hairs on the back of the wrist and a small gold signet ring on the fourth finger.
‘Are you okay?’
‘No, not really.’ I hang my head and pull my hand away.
‘Anything I can do?’
‘No. No, thank you.’
‘Well, if you ever need to talk something over, I’d be glad to listen.’
‘No, it’s okay, thank you.’ I am quite sharp now. I wish he would leave me alone. The whole day has been ruined and I need to have some time to myself.
‘Right.’ Watlington P. Stupid Name stands up. ‘Well … I’m, er … leaving tomorrow for a couple of weeks but I’ll be back here at the beginning of next month. Will you still be here? If so, would you have dinner with me?’
‘I don’t know. I mean, yes, I’ll probably be here but …’ I look away.
‘I’m not asking you to sleep with me Anna; just dinner.’
My jaw drops. Our eyes meet. He is still talking.
‘I’m married. I’m not trying anything on you. But I’m out here in Spain quite a lot at the moment and I just think it would be nice to have some female company sometimes. Especially somebody who knows the US, particularly Colorado. I have a place there.’
He would. Probably a whole mountain. Those boots must have cost $500. But now I feel a fool.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I guess I’m just a bit fraught. Life has been a bit challenging lately.’
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I understand. Well, I’d love to listen sometime. Really I would.
‘I’ll see you around.’
If he had a Stetson, he would be doffing it now.
‘Thanks.’ I get up but he is already half-way to the door. In the movies, the hero always looks back at the heroine at the last minute and says something incredibly cool like ‘my friends call me Sundance.’
‘Oh, by the way,’ he says, looking back. ‘My friends call me Jack.’
The heroine would just say ‘’Bye, Jack.’
I sit down, miss and fall off the chair.
Just like cowboys do, he walks back, asks if I’m okay, helps me up, ignores my giggles and smiles.
‘Why Jack?’ I say once I have recovered a modicum of equanimity.
‘Well I reckon Watlington’s a bit of a mouthful.’ He looks slightly sheepish. Interesting. Most Americans with ridiculous names are proud of them.
‘There’s the “P”.’
‘Ah. Yes. No, that won’t work either,’ he says.
‘Go on. What does the “P” stand for.’ I can’t resist this.
‘Perivale,’ he says and my face creases up involuntarily.
‘Your parents really didn’t like you did they?’ I say.
‘Well … Nope, it’s not that. It’s just the way things are done in my family.’
‘Then you must come from a very interesting family,’ I say, somewhat shakily, realising that I’ve been hideously rude.
‘Well, I guess,’ he says. ‘If anything good ever came from Nebraska.’ Then he grins because he is amused by my trying not to laugh.
‘It’s even worse than that,’ he says. ‘It’s not just Watlington Perivale Risborough, it’s Watlington Perivale Risborough III.’
We are both laughing. ‘Oh I am sorry!’ I say with my face splitting in two. ‘That really is tough.’
‘Yep,’ he says. ‘So it’s just Jack. I’ll see you.’ And he is gone.
For the Love of Dog © Maggy Whitehouse 2016. Available on Amazon.