فصل 06

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فصل 06

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CHAPTER SIX

Delivery girl

I could tell it was a shock for Gina to discover that Alec was still married. And maybe it was cruel of me, but I’m afraid I didn’t give her the chance to recover before I continued.

‘Alec is married to a woman who really loves him,’ I told her. ‘They have three children - three daughters - and Alec’s very close to them. Very close. He would never do anything to hurt them. He loves his wife too, I know he does. He isn’t going to leave her.’

Gina wasn’t looking at me. She was pulling at the material of her uniform with the fingers of one hand, her beautiful face looking miserable.

I sighed. ‘Look, I know Alec’s probably made you lots of promises, Gina,’ I went on, ‘but, according to Diane, you’re not the first girl he’s lied to like this. He does it all the time. I think he just loves the excitement of being with someone new. Especially someone young and pretty like you. But it never lasts. He always ends up going back to Diane, because deep down, he really loves and needs her.’

‘In any case,’ I told her, ‘even if you do eventually manage to marry Alec, he’ll soon get tired of you. That’s what Englishmen are like. They only stay with a woman for a few years, and then they look for somebody else. And when that happens, you’ll be trapped on your own in a cold wet country with no friends or family and no money to come back home to Cuba. You’ll die a lonely old lad dreaming about Carlos as you shiver by the fire.’

There were tears in Gina’s eyes, but I couldn’t really feel guilty because there was more than an element of truth in what I had told her. Besides, I did my best to make it up to her. As she sat there weeping at the very unattractive prospect I’d described, I reached into my pocket for the money I’d withdrawn from the bank earlier that day. Five hundred dollars. A lot of money for a girl like Gina. ‘Here, I said, holding it out to her. ‘Take this; it’s for you and Carlos. I know my friend would want you to have it. Forget all about Alec Cartwright and marry Carlos. You deserve a better life than the life Alec’s offering you, Gina. You deserve to be happy.’ I meant it; she did deserve to be happy.

Slowly she nodded and wiped her face with the back of her hands. Then she reached out and took the money putting it away carefully in the front pocket of her dress ‘OK,’ she promised at last, ‘I will never see Alec again. It is finished.’

I tell you, I could hardly believe how easy it had been to convince her. I was relieved though, and very, very pleased. And when Luis stepped forward to suggest that Gina write a quick note to Alec telling him it was over, I agreed enthusiastically, imagining how fantastic it would feel to give the letter to him. When I watched Alec reading Gina’s words and saw the heartbreak in his face, I would have done my duty towards Diane. My revenge, as far as Alec Cartwright was concerned, would be complete.

Or at least that’s what I thought then.

We drove Gina to the hospital, and as I watched her going in through the main entrance, I wondered -just for a moment- what she was thinking and feeling, now she knew she was likely to stay in Cuba for the rest of her life. I was only human after all, and I did have some sympathy for her situation.

‘You have done her a favour, querida,’ Luis assured me, turning the Cadillac around and setting off in the direction of his apartment. ‘And now, you must do me a favour too.’

I looked at him quickly, and something in my expression made him laugh. ‘Do not worry, querida,’ he said. ‘I only ask that you present the letter to Alec Cartwright as soon as possible so that he hurries back to England with his mouthwash at the earliest opportunity!’

I expect the relief showed in my face, because Luis laughed again. ‘Did you think I was going to ask you to murder someone for me, my Carla?’ he joked, his eyes sparkling, and when I laughed too, the rest of the tension between us disappeared.

‘I think you’re a man who’s full of surprises,’ I told him, and this belief proved true almost as soon as we got back to the apartment, when Luis took me to see his garden at the back of the apartment building.

‘Luis, it’s beautiful!’ I said, admiring the flower borders and the pots. The garden was small but very attractive, with an area for tools and garden equipment and two comfortable garden seats as well as all the flowers. ‘Did you do it all yourself?’

‘But of course,’ Luis said. ‘Gardening is very relaxing for me. Yes, out here I have only the weeds to fight. And I have a good friend to help me to do that.’ He smiled, pointing in the direction of a small, innocent-looking bottle standing among the gardening equipment. ‘My weedkiller. It is very strong. Those weeds, they have not got a chance.’

I bent to smell some particularly beautiful red flowers ‘But,’ I said, ‘apart from battles with the weeds, it’s peaceful out here.’

‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘mostly. Unless a certain person chooses to use his bathroom while I am tending my flowers.’ He nodded in the direction of the low wall that separated his garden from its neighbour, then looked at me and smiled. ‘However, let us not think of such unpleasant subjects. Please, sit in my garden and enjoy the flowers while I cook some dinner for us.’

I thanked him, taking him up on his invitation, and it wasn’t long before the smell of cooking, combined with the scents and bright colours of his flowers, infected my senses until I felt almost drunk on it all. Cuba, I decided happily; was a very surprising, rich and exciting mixture. As unique, and precious as a rare perfume.

All around me, in other gardens and on balconies families were catching up on the events of their day, and I listened to their musical Spanish voices, closing my eyes to drink in every last drop of atmosphere.

Until suddenly, completely without warning, that atmosphere was brutally destroyed. Somebody, somebody very close by indeed, began to cough in a particularly unpleasant way; a really heavy, thick cough. The cough of a smoker who thinks himself alone.

I knew the cough belonged to Alec Cartwright. It had to. Apart from the fact that it was very close by, it was the kind of unselfconscious cough a loud mouthwash user would possess. My body instantly grew stiff with tension, and I was no longer aware of the family conversations, around me or Luis’s singing. I was suddenly too hot, my clothes wet through with sweat, and I think I knew vaguely that I was afraid, very afraid, though I didn’t analyse why at the time. Looking back now, I suppose it was because I was about to meet the man I’d been thinking about ever since I’d arrived in Cuba. My first target for revenge.

Suddenly the cough stopped, and I held my breath, listening. I wasn’t sure whether Alec Cartwright was still in his bathroom or not. But then I was presented with clear evidence that he was. First, I heard the sound of a toilet and then, a second or so afterwards, a window opened. And finally that awful coughing started up again, even louder now with the window open, combining with my nervous stomach to make me feel sick.

I tell you, I hardly dared to breathe, sitting there in Luis’s garden, knowing that the man I’d travelled thousands of miles to find was actually standing in his bathroom, only a few metres away from me. And the strangest thing of all was that he didn’t even know I was there. Not only that, but he was totally unaware of my existence. And the role I was about to play in his life.

I felt powerful actually, I think, even though my legs were trembling. Alec Cartwright’s fate was in my hands, and I took Gina’s letter from my handbag and looked at it, imagining the effect it was going to have on him. Already in my mind, I could hear the sound of that cough being replaced by the sound of Alec Cartwright’s grief.

‘Carla? What is it, querida? What is wrong? You are so very pale.’

Luis had come outside without me noticing, and I saw vaguely that he was holding two glasses of rum. I walked shakily over to him so that I could whisper into his ear. ‘Your neighbour’s returned,’ I said against his skin. ‘I’m going to pay him a visit.’

Luis’s eyes burned down into mine. ‘Be patient, querida, he urged me. ‘very soon he will come out into his garden and then we can both witness his reaction.’

I hesitated for just a second before nodding my agreement to this plan. There was a selfish part of me that wanted to keep the destruction of Alec Cartwright’s happiness to myself, but Luis had helped me to get this far, so I wasn’t in a position to refuse him this request.

So I waited, and just as Luis had predicted, a few minutes later my patience was rewarded by the sound of a door opening, and footsteps bringing that cough outside. And then, finally, I got my first close-up view of Alec Cartwright. Mr Mouthwash.

He looked smaller somehow, on his own, without the beautiful Gina in his arms and the important medical building behind him. He just seemed like an ordinary overweight, middle-aged man with an unattractive beard and a cough. Harmless really, and for a second or two I think I hesitated, perhaps doubting whether I should give him Gina’s letter at all. But fortunately, Luis touched me with his elbow, bringing me back to my senses.

‘Excuse me,’ I said nervously over the wall, moving towards him, and Alec Cartwright immediately looked round, surprised to hear an English voice.

‘Yes?’ he said, and something about his voice removed those last stupid doubts from my mind. ‘Yes’ is a very small word, it’s true, but even so, Alec Cartwright managed to say it in a way which reminded me that he was an unpleasant man. A very unpleasant man. A man who had treated my good friend Diane like dirt.

‘I have something for you,’ I said, handing the letter to him over the wall.

He took it without a word, certainly without thanking me, his face remaining expressionless as he tore the envelope open. And that’s exactly the way his face remained as he read the letter. Expressionless. It also describes the sound of his voice when he spoke to Luis after he’d finished the letter. Expressionless.

‘Women!’ he said calmly, in a man-to-man kind of voice. ‘They always make the mistake of thinking they can’t be replaced when, in actual fact, the very reverse is the case.’ He looked down at the letter again, speaking to it as if it were Gina. ‘My dear,’ he said, ‘your departure is an inconvenience, I assure you, and not the tragedy you so fondly seem to imagine it is.’ And then he laughed. And if I hadn’t hated him before, believe me, I hated him at that moment, with the darkest, blackest hatred it is possible to feel.

‘Yes,’ he said, smiling at Luis over the wall, ‘women, eh?’ And then he folded the letter up, put it into his top pocket, and disappeared back inside.

‘I think you should sit down, Carla.’ It was only when Luis spoke to me, that I realised I was feeling dizzy. That I was shaking from head to foot with a combination of anger, hatred and disappointment. In fact, my feelings were so extreme, I was in severe danger of fainting. It was the blanket in the dappled shade all over again, you see. It was almost as if you were looking at me and saying those words again: ‘I’m sorry, Carla. I’m so sorry. There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just come right out and say it. I… I’ve met somebody else.’ My failure to make Alec Cartwright suffer was like being rejected all over again.

I felt a glass being pressed against my lips, and when I opened my mouth obediently, the strong taste of rum filled my mouth. I swallowed automatically, and the strong liquid travelled down my throat and into my stomach, returning a little colour to my face.

Luis’s arms were around me and his kindness made me want to cry, but I refused to give in to tears. I wanted to hold on to my anger instead; perhaps somewhere deep inside, I knew I would need it to give me strength for what I had to do next.

Luis and I talked for a while; or rather Luis talked to me, I’ve no idea what about. I expect he tried to tell me that we’d be able to find another way to deal with Alec, I don’t know. Anyway, I eventually managed to convince him I’d be OK on my own, so he went back indoors to finish ‘ cooking our meal, only coming out again briefly to let me know that he’d seen Alec go out.

‘He was wearing a suit,’ he told me. ‘So perhaps he has gone to find himself a new girlfriend.’

I nodded, but actually I wasn’t interested in why Alec had gone out; I was only interested in the fact that he had. And that this meant that his apartment was now empty.

And I hadn’t heard him lock his back door.

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