فصل 07

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فصل 07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

My first murder

I tell you, I climbed over that wall and opened that door in less time than it takes to blink, and as easily as if I’d committed burglaries each day of my life since the age of six.

Except that burglary was the very last thing on my mind at that moment.

Once inside the apartment I paused, all my senses alert, checking that I was indeed alone. It was quite dark in the room after the bright sunshine outside, dark and untidy. I could see half-hidden shapes of furniture and junk; shapes that seemed strange and frightening in the darkness. But I could also hear the faint but familiar sounds of Luis in his kitchen coming through the wall from next door: his deep singing voice and the sharp sound of a spoon making contact with the side of a saucepan. It reminded me that at any moment Luis might come out to check up on me, and that there was no time to waste.

So I crept quickly through the room and out into the hallway, turning left to where I knew the bathroom must be. Once in the bathroom with the light on, it didn’t take me long to spot Alec Cartwright’s bottle of mouthwash. There it was, standing in pride of place in the centre of the shelf above his sink.

I don’t think anyone can ever be truly aware of how they’ll behave in such circumstances. Of what they’re really capable of when they’ve been driven so very far. Quite beyond the point of compromise.

Am I trying to justify what I did next? Perhaps. I don’t know. I only know that I was on the slippery slope heading towards becoming a murderer and, for whatever reason, I just didn’t choose to stop myself from falling. It’s as simple as that.

As I reached out and took that bottle of mouthwash down from the shelf and unscrewed the top, there were tears running down my face. But I wasn’t crying because I was imagining Alec Cartwright dying a painful death in a few hours’ time. No, not at all. As I took the top off the bottle of weedkiller I’d borrowed from Luis’s garden and began to pour it into the bottle of mouthwash, I was imagining your face, not Alec Cartwright’s. I was seeing you in the garden in the dappled shade. I was hearing your voice as you spoke the words that broke my heart into little pieces: ‘I’ve met somebody else… I’ve met somebody else… ‘ As I said at the beginning, you’re the murderer, not me. Standing there at the sink in Alec Cartwright’s bathroom, I took a few deep breaths to drive away the emotion.

Emotion was a luxury I couldn’t afford at that moment; I needed my brain to be perfectly clear if I wasn’t going to give the game away or leave any evidence. So I took those deep breaths and then I carefully shook the bottle of mouthwash to mix the two liquids together. Once I’d finished, I held the bottle up to the light to check whether it looked OK. Fortunately, the weedkiller was colourless and the mouthwash was blue, so there were absolutely no signs of what I’d done. Wiping the bottle carefully with one of Alec Cartwright’s towels, I replaced it on the shelf. Then I left the bathroom and went back the way I’d come, stopping only to wipe anything I remembered touching.

My eyes were used to the darkness now, and when I was nearly at the outside door, I paused, catching sight of a letter on the coffee table. Gina’s letter. I picked it up and put it into my pocket with the weedkiller. Then I let myself out of the flat. Once outside, I climbed back over the wall and sat down in my chair in Luis’s garden. The whole trip next door had probably taken me two minutes at the very most, but I was exhausted, and I had to just sit in that chair for several minutes, breathing as deeply as I could until my heart stopped beating so quickly.

Why did I pick up the letter? I can explain it now, looking back - I didn’t want Gina to be connected to murder because I liked her. At the time I didn’t think much at all; I just acted. It was as if a different part of my mind had taken over. A cold logical part of my mind that dealt with hiding evidence and coping with murder.

‘Dinner is served, senorita,’’ Luis said brightly a few minutes later. He came out to fetch me with absolutely no idea of what I’d just done. I’m sure it was a very, very long time since Luis could accurately have been described as innocent, but he was definitely innocent at that moment, poor man. He wanted to impress me with his talents as a chef, I suppose, and that’s what he was thinking about. It didn’t occur to him to think that I’d just popped round to poison his neighbour’s mouthwash while he was preparing dinner.

I managed to do justice to his cooking somehow, though I shall never know how, because I had no appetite whatever. Pictures formed in my mind, very clear pictures of Alec Cartwright using his poisoned mouthwash. Trying to spit it out. Holding his throat and struggling to breathe. Collapsing onto the bathroom floor. Moving around on the floor like a fish taken out of the water. And finally lying there, dead, his eyes wide open and staring…

And all the time these pictures were in my mind, Luis and I ate our meal, drank wine and listened to music. We even laughed and joked, although I’ve no idea what about now. I didn’t feel as if I was inside my body at all. It was almost as if I was floating in the air somewhere above the table, looking down at me and Luis talking and laughing below. Nothing seemed real at that table. The only reality was the bottle of mouthwash on the bathroom shelf next door, waiting for Alec Cartwright and his night-time habits.

‘Do you have to work tonight?’ I asked Luis after the meal was finally over. ‘I’d love to go out dancing somewhere. Will you take me dancing, Luis? Please?’ I looked at him appealingly as I spoke, moving my chair so that I could put my arms around his neck.

‘I don’t have to work until much later,’ he said. ‘We can go dancing before that. Yes, I would like to take you dancing. I will teach you to salsa!’

Actually,’ I told him, ‘I can already salsa!’

But Luis didn’t look convinced. ‘Nobody can say they can dance the salsa until they have danced it in Cuba!’ he said. I didn’t bother to argue, partly because 1 suspected he was right, but mostly because I was anxious to go out before Alec Cartwright got back.

I really had fun with Luis that night. Yes, even though I knew that while we were dancing, Alec was probably dying on his bathroom floor. Luis was such a dynamic man, and he was also a superb dancer, expertly sweeping me along and spinning me around the dance floor. We’d stopped off at my hotel room so that I could get changed, and I’d chosen a dress with a full skirt. It flowed out around us as we danced, and I think we looked good together. We seemed to attract quite a lot of attention, anyway.

I smiled and I laughed and I pressed my face close to Luis’s face whenever I could, and I didn’t think about the bottle of weedkiller I’d placed in the hotel dustbin. Or Gina’s letter, which I had torn into tiny pieces and got rid of down the toilet in the bar downstairs.

When Luis dropped me off at my hotel before he went off to his work, it was almost one o’clock in the morning and I was pretty sure that Alec Cartwright was already dead.

‘You are sure that you do not want to wait for me at my apartment?’ Luis asked me, holding me close to him outside the hotel entrance.

I reached up to kiss him. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Come to me here. Room 217. Ask Reception to phone through to me and I’ll unlock the door for you.’

‘But you will be asleep,’ he said, concerned, and I smiled.

‘You’re worth waking up for,’ I told him, and he laughed.

‘OK, see you later,’ he said, giving me a final kiss before he left.

I watched him go, then I went into the hotel to tell the receptionist to expect him. I wanted her to be able to confirm that she’d seen him if anyone asked her about it afterwards. I didn’t want anyone to be able to accuse Luis of being in the flat next door when Alec Cartwright used his mouthwash.

What I didn’t anticipate was that Luis would hear about’ the result of my plans so quickly. That he would come so silently into my hotel room when I opened the door to him, sit on the edge of my bed and wait for me to join him.

‘Luis?’ I hadn’t put the light on when I answered the door, and I spoke his name uncertainly in the darkness.

When I heard him sigh, there didn’t seem to be much’ point asking him what was wrong. Or in trying to deny it. Are you angry with me?’ I asked him instead, my throat dry with tension.

Angry?’ he repeated slowly. ‘I am not sure about that. In a strange way I suppose I admire you, although the drama of what you have done is a little… inconvenient, shall we say? A man like Alec Cartwright is easily lost in Havana if somebody wishes it, you understand. However, I appreciate that such a death is not as satisfying as the agony of a death from poison.’

‘Have you been back to your apartment?’ I asked him urgently.

‘No,’ he said, ‘I have not. A friend came to find me. He warned me that an ambulance had taken my neighbour away to hospital, and that the police were asking questions.’

‘He isn’t dead?’ I asked, covering my mouth with my hands in horror.

‘Even the weeds do not die within minutes, querida,’ Luis said, and his voice had grown very quiet suddenly. As quiet and as soft as silk. Dangerous.

‘But…’ I licked my lips nervously. ‘He will die. Won’t he?’

Luis nodded. ‘Oh yes,’ he said, still in that dangerously quiet voice. ‘He will die. It will take several days, but yes, he will die. There is no cure for the effects of that poison.’

There was something about the sound of his voice that made me suddenly wonder whether I’d made a mistake when I’d decided to trust him. What if he blackmailed me? Or made me confess? What, after all, did I really know about him? He was involved in something illegal, I was sure of that. Unless his illegal activities were just a cover for the fact that he actually worked for the Cuban government…

My thoughts were beginning to spin out of control when Luis moved towards me on the bed.

‘Where is the bottle of weedkiller, querida?’ he asked, and suddenly I imagined myself locked away in a Cuban prison for the rest of my life. Or worse than that. Dead.

‘Oh, it’s safe,’ I said. ‘Honestly it is. That is… I mean, I got rid of it.’

Luis nodded, then reached across me to switch the bedside lamp on.

‘Why don’t you tell me all about it?’ he suggested. ‘Tell me everything.’

So I started to talk, my voice trembling, and all the time Luis stared deeply into my eyes. Sometimes he nodded, and sometimes he interrupted me to ask a question. And after I’d finished, there was silence for a moment. I honestly couldn’t predict what he was going to do next. So, I can tell you, I was very surprised indeed when what he did do was reach out and take me into his arms. And even more surprised when he kissed me… I responded to that kiss, of course, even though my mind was still going round and round like a washing machine on the spin programme. But I was still afraid.

It was a relief when Luis pulled away slightly. ‘Do not worry, my Carla,’ he said, and something in his face gave me a little bit of hope. ‘Everything will be all right. I will see to it.’

It was exactly what I wanted to hear, and, as if by magic, my fear suddenly vanished. I laughed out loud with pure relief, and Luis laughed too, his laugh sounding deep and loud and comforting in the plain hotel room.

We started to kiss again after that, and, well, we made love too, of course. And yes, it was good. Very, very good. How could it be otherwise? Luis was a sophisticated, experienced man. Besides, our hearts and our minds were connected by a shared knowledge of murder.

Remember how we always used to fall asleep in each other’s arms after we’d made love? Well, that’s exactly what Luis and I did that night, and somehow I felt safer than I’d felt for a very long time. I trusted Luis, you see. We had something in common, he and I: we’d both been forced into being bad by our circumstances. And I knew Luis would do everything in his power to protect me.

So it was very disappointing to wake up the next morning and find myself alone.

There was a note from Luis on the pillow next to me. ‘I suggest you leave Cuba as soon as possible, querida,’ he had written. ‘Change your flight and go today if you can. I will not mention you to the police, but anyway do not worry. What connection could you have to what has happened? Goodbye. I shall always remember you. Luis.’

But I couldn’t take Luis’s advice straight away because all the flights to Heathrow were booked up. It was almost three days before I managed to make my escape. I spent that time hidden in my hotel room, expecting the police to knock on my door at any moment. But nobody came; well, apart from Room Service that is, bringing food I didn’t really want to eat. Not the police, not Luis, nobody. I watched television constantly, but there was no mention of the unexplained death of a foreigner.

Then, finally, on Wednesday morning, I settled my bill and left the hotel in a taxi. I boarded a plane for London Heathrow, and my adventures in Cuba were over.

However, my adventures in Norfolk, England were just about to begin.

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