Jean Bruce - Dead Silence
Go and show yourself!
Slowly, Hubert came back to earth. His first impression was a shooting pain which seemed to tear his body to pieces. His whole body ached as though parts of it had been cut out of it with a white-hot knife. Then he became conscious of the chilliness around him and realized that he was out in the open. His tormented brain functioned with difficulty and it took him some time to sort out the memory of the preceding events.
He wasn't dead, after all! But, since he had not been able to talk why had these scoundrels let him go? Why had they not killed him? Light began to dawn over the dark clouds enveloping his mind. There was only one explanation and if he was right, Hubert would not have to wait to have his surmise confirmed. He kept very still, lying there breathing deeply in order to recuperate. At last, he opened his burning eyes. For an instant, tears of pain obscured his vision. Then he distinguished the things around him – the sky, changing color, announcing approaching dawn; trees. He was lying by the side of a deserted road. A stiff breeze blowing towards him the heavy scent of pineapple and salt …
When he thought himself stronger, he rose to his feet. The whole world around him seemed to revolve, and he could hardly feel his feet on the ground. He tried to take a step forward. If he took it easy, he might manage to walk. He had a curious sensation as though he was treading on air. His balance was far from steady. He swayed like a drunk after of all-night session. He stood still for quite a while, gently swaying on his feet. Then he suddenly realized that he was dressed. They had dressed him again!
With a hesitant move of his hand, he felt in his pocket. Everything that had been there before, appeared to be still there, including his money in the inside pocket of his coat.
He smiled, more and more convinced that his first presumption had been a correct one. He tried to find his bearings. It was simple, all he had to do was walk along keeping the brightening horizon to the left and he would eventually reach The Tage to the south of him.
He started to walk down the road.
SHe raised his left wrist. His wristwatch was still there, too. It was a quarter past four and dawn was rapidly breaking.
Suddenly he heard a noise of an engine behind him and stopped. The car slowly approached. It was a taxi. Hubert raised his arm and the driver stopped at a level with him, touched his cap in a brief salute. Hubert got in and gave an address in the Alfama quarter near the “Santa Luzia”. The car drove off and Hubert carefully sat down on the cushions, trying for the most comfortable position.
Very soon they reached the suburbs of Lisbon and Hubert recognized the villas of High Almirante Reis. He noted this with relief and closed his eyes. He woke up when the taxi stopped after having crossed the city.
"Here you are, Senhor."
Hubert fumbled for some money in his pocket to pay his fare. The narrow street was still dark. Daylight would not penetrate for another hour, at least. He alighted with painful difficulty.
"Aren't you well, Senhor?"
He made a devil-may-care gesture and retorted in the tone of voice of one who has had too much to drink, "Go to blazes, mind your own business!"
Still swaying on his feet, he tumbled into the old, decayed building. In the hall, he stopped to listen. The car had not driven off. Smiling, he straightened himself and began to climb the stairs. He was panting as he reached the third floor and rested a while on the landing. Then he walked down the corridor and counted three dors to the left. He knocked loudly but there was no reply. Louder he knocked and a hoarse woman's voice said in Portuguese:
"What is it?"
Hubert cleared his throat and said softly:
"Filipa? Open the door, it's urgent."
There was a short silence, then the woman's voice answered:
"Just a minute!"
His eyes glued to the bottom of the door, Hubert saw a ray of light appear. Almost simultaneously he heard the springs of the bed creak and the sound of feet on the parquet floor.
Satisfied, he quickly tip-toed away from the door and ran down the stairs. On the second floor, he waited until he heard the door open. He hid away in the dark corner.
Above his head, he could hear footsteps. He guessed that the woman was leaning over the banisters, looking down. Then he heard her swear, the sound of retreating feet, quicker this time. The woman was scared. The door slammed, a key was turned in the lock.
Smiling, Hubert descended the stairs. When he reached the ground floor he heard the noise of an engine moving off, and he looked around the corner of the door. The rear-light of a taxi disappeared around the next corner.
Hubert took a step forward on to the pavement and raised his head. There was a light in the window of the third floor. Keeping close to the wall, he walked up the road.
He found another taxi near the Lisbon Cathedral and told the driver to take him to the Rossio. He settled down as comfortably as he could and closed his aching eyes once more.
The wind was stronger now and gusts of wind shook the car. It was five o'clock.
At the Rossio, Hubert alighted and paid his fare. He quietly crossed the mosaic parade and boarded yet another car at the entrance to the Rua Aurea. A few minutes later, it put him down at the Rua do Mundo in the High quarter.
He waited until the taxi had driven off before he walked over to a house of good appearance, which he entered.
He made his way to the top floor and rang the bell at a door, in a prearranged manner. At once he heard some movement inside. The sound of bolts being shot back and the door opened. Without a word, Hubert entered and closed the door after him.
The young woman stood at the right-hand side of the door, leaning against the wall. She lowered her heavy eyelids under his brazen look and muttered, trembling slightly:
"I thought you'd never come back."
Hubert features relaxed and he smiled.
The woman was tall and graceful. Her dark glossy hair was simply combed back. The long oval of her face was pleasant to look at. Her full red lips trembled.
He saw the firm breasts fall and rise and took a step forward to hold her in his arms.
"I'll tell you," he said. "Haven't you been to bed?"
She lowered her head and replied with a sigh:
"I could not go to bed. I wanted to be ready when you called."
He took her in his arms and drew her towards the bed.
The little clock on the bedside table said half-past five.
He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her. Then he told her the story of his adventures during the night. When he had finished she simply asked:
"What do you want me to do?"
"You have to find out all there is to know about the first result of police investigations into the murder of Guarassi. And the information you can get hold of will be useful. Furthermore, I'll give the number of the taxi that picked me up after I came to, in the road. I want to know the driver's name and address. That will be all for now. Try to get the information by noon today. Until then I'm going to have a good rest."
She raised herself a little and asked:
"Is there anything you want?"
Without opening his eyes he replied:
"Yes. I want you to message me and to give me a sleeping draught."
* * *
It was a quarter past twelve when Catarina Sovento returned home. She was the secretary of a high official of Security and it had been easy for her to obtain information Hubert required. The latter was still fast asleep and she silently prepared lunch before she woke him.
At last, her eyes shining bright, she set down on the side of the bed and, bending over him, softly kissed him on the closed eyes. Hubert awakened. He felt still very tired and his whole body was aching. With the woman's help, he got out of bed and went to the bathroom, where he had a shower. Feeling better now, he put on a dressing gown and both of them sat down to lunch.
"Do you want to know what I found out?"
"The body was found at eight this morning by an employee of the hotel. The police were informed at once. After the first investigation, no trace of violence was found on the body. Death was due to asphyxia following immersion. The verdict would have been suicide had it not been for the fact that all the man's papers had been stolen. He was registered at the hotel under the name of Andre Guerassi. He was in the company of a fair-haired woman who had mysteriously disappeared..."
Hubert remained impassive and Catarina continued.
"Guerassi and the woman arrived last night at the airport of Portela, from New York. According to the description given by the hotel porter, the woman was a certain Olga Seretsen."
"It has, so far, been impossible to trace in town, and the Police fear that she is the murdereres … I shall have more news tonight, no doubt. Guerassi's body has been sent to the Medico-Legal Institute for autopsy and the American Embassy has been informed."
Hubert raised his head.
"Guerassi came under the jurisdiction of the U.S.A.?"
She shook her head.
"No, immigrant, Italian, apparently. Olga Seretsen was of American nationality, though."
Hubert was satisfied and went on.
"What about the taxi driver?"
"The taxi which took you to town, if the number was correct, belongs to a man of the name Alfonso Idanha, who lives in the 'Mouraria' quarter. I'll give you his address in a minute. It is near the 'Nossa Senhora da Saude'."
* * *
Catarina had returned to her office where she had to start at two o'clock. After having had a good look at himself in the mirror to estimate the damage done to his face, Hubert dressed. It was hardly three o'clock when he found himself in the Rua do Mundo in search of a taxi.
He hailed a taxi and ordered the driver to take him to the Nossa Senhora da Saude.
Hubert alighted in front of the little chapel and continued on foot into the ancient part of the town. The street indicated by Catarina consisted of a double row of old, dilapidated houses with narrow forged iron balconies and finished up in the dead-end at the foot of a roughly hewn stone flight of steps leading to the massive Castelo de San Jorge.
Hubert sidestepped a number of dirty looking young ruffians and made and made his way to a dark archway. A greasy, fat woman asked him who he was looking for.
The woman showed surprise, her troubled eyes narrowed and slowly she replied, eyeing Hubert up and down.
"Alfonso Idanha... He isn't in, but you'll find his wife Juanita there. The second door at the bottom of the corridor on the left-hand side."
Hubert thanked her and walked towards the staircase. A strong smell of grilled sardines and rancid oil nearly choked him. Alfonso was not at home … That was strange. Surely a taxi driver would need a rest after driving all night.
He walked down the obscure corridor and had to take his torch out to guide him. He found the door and knocked. Almost at once, the door opened and facing him stood a petite young woman with a fresh complexion and round face from which two eyes gazed at him anxiously. She stepped aside to allow him to enter and asked:
"Are you the police?"
Hubert mind reacted at once. Outwardly he remained unmoved and in a quiet tone of voice he assured:
"Yes, I have come for your husband, Alfonso!"
The woman began to tremble and stammered:
"You, you've found out something?"
Pricking up his ears, Hubert took his time before he replied:
"No, I have come to obtain some information. Tell everything, please..."
She pulled a colored handkerchief from the pocket of her apron and noisily blew her nose. Her voice full of anxiety, she went on:
"Well, last night he went out, as usual, to work. You see, he does nights. He says he earns more that way … Usually, he returns about six. But this morning he didn't come and I was getting worried and so I went to see some of his mates who're also on nights. Peira who lives a few doors away saw him at the Rossio about two o'clock. They had a pint together. Then he had a customer for the High Almirante Reis, someone he appeared to know... After that nobody's seen him. At midday, he still hadn't turned up and I phoned."
Hubert realized that he would have to get out of the place at once. He nodded his head to assure her that he had understood and replied:
"I see, well I think the best idea is for me to ring up. I'll be back in five minutes..."
He left hurriedly. As he reached the top of the stairs, he heard heavy footsteps coming up. He looked over the banisters, recognized the hat of a police officer and quickly turned into the opposite passage where he hid in a dark corner. He saw the man pass along and waited utill the woman had opened the door to him. Then he emerged from his corner and quickly made his way downstairs.
The old woman was no longer there and he thanked heaven for having removed her.
Once in the road hi did not hurry.
So, Alfonso Idanha had not gone home after he had left Hubert in the early hours...
Deep in thought, Hubert disappeared in the direction of the Rossio...
A little later he boarded a yellow tram which carried him to the "Bairro Alto". Beside him, a man was reading the early evening paper. At once Hubert's glance was directed to a thick headline, announcing:
"Taxi dragged from Tage Near Terreiro de TRog Docks.
The police have identified the body of the man at the wheel: Alfonso Idanha..."