فصل 10

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کتاب های فوق متوسط

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فصل 10

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Sugar Loaf Mountain

For a moment I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it. The sweat was pouring down my face, and my fingers were slipping all over the place. The others weren’t much better either. Rachel’s left hand was sliding on strings that were threatening to go out of tune because of the heat. I saw her frown as she played, fighting the heat. But then, suddenly, we were there; the fast presto at the very end of Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet, and however hot and bothered I felt I just had to keep playing to keep up with the others, faster and faster as the movement rushed towards its climax and, amazingly, we played the final chord with a burst of energy that none of us were really feeling.

In the front row of the audience I saw Paul dig Oswaldo in the side to wake him up. The Cuban detective’s head went back and his eyes opened wide with fright until, realising where he was, he started clapping along with everyone else.

‘Bravo!’ the beautiful Sandra cried, wildly enthusiastic, and her call was taken up by the rest of the Brazilian audience so that we received almost a standing ovation from the five hundred people in the hall.

‘All right, all right,’ Carl whispered across to me as we stood to take our bows, ‘I admit it. You were right.’ He was talking about the long discussions we had had, with me trying to persuade him to come to Brazil for a concert tour and him saying it wasn’t worth it, no-one would appreciate us there. But I went on. It would be a wonderful opportunity, I told him, we could really make a name for ourselves in Latin America, it would be a good way of starting again. I knew I had nearly destroyed the quartet, I told him, and this was my way of trying to make it up to all of them.

In the end I persuaded him and Matt. Even Rachel agreed, but it was more difficult for her because she knew that my motives weren’t just musical, and she knew that what I was thinking of could be very dangerous. I think we were both nervous, actually. Having just discovered each other properly for the first time, the last thing either of us needed was to lose the other. Rachel’s love was bringing me back to life. I could feel the pieces of myself putting themselves back together like a multi-dimensional puzzle, all the bits falling into place, all the failures and sadnesses falling away from me. I noticed that now when the sun shone, I heard the music of the birds and the lap of water. My past with Malgosia and the terrible thing that had happened to her was shared knowledge between us, something Rachel and I could talk about openly.

She knew that the one thing I could not yet do was lose the hatred I felt for Tibor, my rival. Of course we had both discussed the possibility that my anger was really directed at Malgosia or myself for all those years when I had tried to love someone who never felt the same about me. It is certainly true that when I looked back at my marriage I felt this cold sense of failure. But there was something else that was far stronger: a conviction that people like Tibor should not be allowed to play with other people’s lives.

When the decision to come to Brazil had been taken, our agent started working right away, contacting the Brazilian embassy, the British Council, anyone she could think of, and pretty soon we had a tour planned taking us from Recife to Porto Alegre, from Sao Paulo to Salvador. And of course, at the end of a very successful series of concerts, here we were in Rio for our last performance. Paul had helped with the organisation and tonight’s concert was the result of all his efforts.

We had a party after the show. People came up to us and congratulated us. Paul was really pleased with the result of his efforts, and Sandra, who had loved the music, was obviously fascinated by Carl. Matt seemed to be having a good time too, surrounded by a group of admiring men and women. As for me I found myself standing on my own for a moment while Rachel went to get us another drink.

‘He’s agreed,’ Oswaldo said quietly, coming up to me, pushing out clouds of smoke from his enormous cigar. ‘He’ll meet you.’

Not for the first time I suddenly felt almost uncontrollable fear. I wished I hadn’t started this. For the thousandth time I wished I had never heard of Tibor Arkadi.

‘He’ll be on Sugar Loaf Mountain tomorrow at two o’clock,’ Oswaldo went on, making sure that no-one else could hear us. ‘He’ll meet you in the restaurant. He says he won’t talk to you unless you come on your own.’

‘How do I know that he won’t have a whole army of his “friends” with him?’ I asked.

‘You don’t. But you’re the one asking for this meeting, remember, not him, so you have to do what he says.’

‘Great!’ I replied. Suddenly all my plans, everything I was going to say, sounded stupid.

Rachel returned with two glasses. She looked from Oswaldo to me and then back again.

‘Tibor’s going to meet him?’ she asked the detective. Oswaldo glanced at me and I nodded.

‘Yes,’ he told her, ‘tomorrow.’

‘Oh God,’ Rachel said, suddenly gripping my arm. ‘Please be careful. I’ve only just found you. I couldn’t bear to lose you so soon.’

When I got out of the cable car the sun hit me right between the eyes. I took my sunglasses out of my pocket and put them on. I walked towards the restaurant on legs that seemed to be moving by themselves. It was like doing a really frightening musical audition where you walk into a room and it’s all silent and three people are there waiting for you to play, ready to judge you, and you’re so scared that you seem to do everything automatically, all the time wishing you could be somewhere else, your heart beating loudly in your ears, sure that you are going to fail, but knowing that now there was no turning back. That’s how it was as I walked towards my meeting with Tibor. Except that it was worse.

I thought about Rachel back at the hotel, about Oswaldo who I knew would be coming up Sugar Loaf Mountain any minute now, even though I had told him not to. They couldn’t help me, though, either of them.

Tibor was sitting against one of the large windows in the restaurant so that his head was almost in silhouette and his face was in shadow. He was wearing dark glasses himself, and when I came up to him his expression did not change.

‘Mr Derek Armstrong,’ he said icily. ‘How nice to see you again after all these years. You still play the viola, I am told.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, furious because just when I really didn’t want it to happen, my voice was shaking, ‘but you abandoned music, I am told.’

‘Boring,’ was his reply, ‘playing the same old dead composers’ music again and again.’

‘You’d know a lot about death, I suppose,’ I told him.

‘Ah,’ Tibor said, ‘Malgosia. Yes, well you certainly don’t waste time in small talk, do you? I didn’t mean for her to die, you know. That wasn’t part of the plan.’

‘What plan?’ I asked, feeling suddenly angry. ‘What plan? Wasn’t playing with her emotions enough for you? Wasn’t causing chaos in her family enough for you? Wasn’t ruining Anja’s life amusing enough? You had to destroy Malgosia too? My God, what is it that makes you do all these things?’

‘Well, well!’ Tibor replied nastily. ‘The little viola player is making brave speeches, isn’t he? Maybe you have got a backbone after all, despite what she said.’

That hurt. That really hurt. But I had to keep calm if I wanted to learn the truth, if I wanted to survive this meeting. Otherwise I’d jump over the table and try to kill him and that would probably be the end of me.

‘Go on then,’ I said, trying to sound as normal as possible. ‘Tell me. How did Malgosia get poisoned? Why did you go back to her after all those years?’

‘And if I tell you, what then? What’s in it for me?’ said my wife’s lover, turning away from me in a calculated gesture of scorn. ‘Your messenger, that ridiculous Cuban, said you had something for me, something I would want. That’s why I agreed to meet you here.’

‘Oh, I’ve got something for you,’ I replied, taking a small packet from my pocket. ‘It’s this.’

‘Well?’ he said, puzzled now by what I was doing. ‘What is it?’

‘Just a little chemical compound,’ I replied, looking straight at him, and taking a small glass container from the packet. ‘It’s called Seratraxel, I believe. I found it in Malgosia’s jewellery box. Just before we left England. With a note telling me what it was. I think she must have put it there as a kind of insurance policy, in case you tried to mess around with her. Except that it didn’t work for her, did it, and I want to know why not.’

Tibor was staring hard at the glass container in my hand. ‘I don’t believe you. You’re bluffing,’ he said, a slight smile playing on his face. ‘She gave me all the Seratraxel she brought over here.’

‘I’m afraid you’re wrong there,’ I told him. ‘She kept some of it back.’ I could see the uncertainty, the fear on his face. ‘Now, here’s the plan,’ I went on. ‘I’m going to unscrew the stopper from this little glass tube…’ I held it up in front of him. ‘And then I’m going to give it to you. I reckon you’ll live for about five or six days after that.’

Tibor looked at me. He believed me now. He stood up. He was going to try and get past me. I saw him signal to someone behind me. But I had been ready for this. I stood up too, right in front of him and held out the glass phial, as if to drop it.

‘You wouldn’t dare!’ he whispered. His face had gone white. For the first time he looked less sure of himself. ‘It would kill you too.’

‘Well, of course it would, you fool,’ I told him. I enjoyed saying that. ‘But then I don’t have anything left to live for, do I? You took my wife away from me, so I might as well get something out of finishing my miserable life by ending yours.’

‘Wh-wh-what about the other people in the restaurant?’ he stammered, drops of sweat beginning to appear on his forehead, running down his temples.

‘Tough. Just their bad luck. Wrong place, wrong time. We’ve all got to die sometime after all. Now why don’t we sit down again and go on with our conversation?’ I had him in my power. He sat down heavily. He wiped his face with a napkin from the table in front of him.

‘What do you want?’ he said, trying to re-establish some authority.

‘The truth,’ I told him, ‘just the truth. For example, why did you do it? Why did you get in touch with Malgosia again? Why did you involve her in your horrible little crimes? Why on earth did she have to die?’

‘And if I tell you, you’ll stop messing about with that nerve gas?’

‘Oh yes. In fact you can have it. I’m sure the extra will come in useful,’ I said.

‘All right,’ he agreed, ‘all right. What do you want to know?’

‘How did my wife die?’

‘It was her decision,’ Tibor said. ‘A stupid decision. She nearly killed us all.’

‘What on earth are you talking about?’

‘Women are strange, don’t you find?’ he asked. I could see him thinking of what to say to me. I held out the glass phial again.

‘All right! All right!’ he said. ‘Look, Malgosia agreed to bring the Seratraxel over here. We put it in the three valves of a trumpet and she brought the trumpet over here. I didn’t realise that she’d kept some for herself.’ He looked over to the other side of the restaurant where two men, his bodyguards, I imagine, were watching us as we spoke. I had to go on quickly.

‘Why did she agree to help you?’ I asked him. ‘Wasn’t it dangerous?’

‘She loved me,’ he said simply.

‘What exactly were you doing, Tibor?’ I asked, amazed at his sudden self-control. ‘What were you up to? Why would you want this deadly chemical anyway?’

‘That is something you do not have to know. All I can say is that some people - you don’t need to know from where - needed the formula for this particular chemical agent and they were prepared to pay a great deal of money to get samples for them to analyse. I haven’t the slightest idea what they are going to do with it. That’s not my concern.’

‘Of course it’s your concern. You can’t just wash your hands of something like this. It’s criminal!’ My voice was getting louder. People were looking at us.

Tibor laughed. ‘Oh dear, is the little viola player worried because it’s a bit criminal? Of course it’s criminal! Everything I do is “criminal” in your terms, in your boring little life, and you know what? I like “criminal”, I like my life, I like the money, the power, the danger. These are things you will never understand.’

‘So how did she get sick?’ I asked him, ignoring his speech.

‘She opened up one of the containers. She did it on purpose. She knew what she was doing.’ He was looking uncomfortable.

‘You’re telling me that Malgosia exposed herself to this stuff on purpose? But why? What could have made her do such a thing?’

‘Look,’ Tibor said, gesturing with his arms. He was suddenly desperate. ‘Look, I liked Malgosia, all right? I’ve always liked her. I liked her sister too. It was fun to see them go crazy over me, you know. I liked that especially. And it was good to have someone like Anja waiting for me when I was over in Central Europe. It passed the time on my visits there. But I got bored with her in the end. So I got in touch with Malgosia again. For fun. Come on, don’t look at me like that. You’re a man. You know the score. We’re all the same underneath. Anyway,’ he continued quickly seeing the anger in my face, ‘Malgosia was so grateful. I couldn’t believe it. After all that time. And then I suddenly realised she could help me with my little problem of how to get the nerve gas from Scotland to Brazil. No-one would suspect a musician, after all. No-one is going to search a trumpet case. So we gave her the trumpet and I came back here. I told her to wait until I contacted her.’ He stopped. He folded his arms.

‘Tibor,’ I said to him, ‘you haven’t finished.’

‘No,’ he agreed unwillingly. ‘No. I misjudged it, you see.

‘I was negotiating with my clients, trying to get them to pay more, keeping them waiting. Only I got it wrong and they got really angry. You know - “if we don’t get the Seratraxel sample in the next few days you will be in trouble” - that kind of thing. I believed them. So I had to e-mail her and ring her. Get her to come here immediately. Good old Malgosia. She came straight away!’

‘You still haven’t finished,’ I said when his voice died away for the second time.

‘Look,’ he started again, ‘she knew what I was like. I never promised her anything. Honestly. From the very beginning, all those years ago, she knew what I was like. But she must have thought that because she’d done this thing for me, that I would be grateful or something. She asked me to marry her, you see. She’d get a divorce, she said. We could live together forever. Here in Brazil. Anywhere. She said she’d always wanted that.’

His words were coming out at great speed now, as if he wanted to get the story over with quickly, as if he was, unbelievably, ashamed of himself.

‘And I told her not to be so stupid. I told her she was living in a land of make-believe. The idea of it! Me, Tibor, settling down with one woman. I laughed at her and, well I shouldn’t have done it, I suppose, but how was I to know what she would do?’

‘What did she do?’ I yelled at him, though I knew of course.

‘She opened up one of the containers,’ he sighed, looking away from me. ‘I only just had time to run out of the room. I slammed the door. Got the people to come down from Rio with their chemical suits, all their chemical equipment. They cleaned the place up in no time. It was too late for your wife, of course. But you know that. I mean, I knew she liked me, but honestly, Derek,’ he said using my first name as if, suddenly, we were friends, ‘to kill yourself for love! That’s just ridiculous. She must have been mad or something.’

So that was it. I had my story. And suddenly the fury which I had managed to keep bottled up inside me exploded. I started to unscrew the stopper from the little glass tube.

‘What are you doing?’ Tibor cried, aghast. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’

‘If it was good enough for Malgosia, it’s good enough for you,’ I said with a forced laugh.

‘Stop it! Stop it!’ the man in front of me yelled, standing up. ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!’

‘Oh, but I do,’ I replied, ‘I know exactly what I’m doing.’ And I took off the stopper.

That’s when Tibor lost it completely. He leapt on to the table and jumped over me. He fell badly on the floor but he picked himself up and half ran out of the restaurant. I followed him, holding the glass phial out in front of me like some religious offering. I could sense his bodyguards running behind me. Tibor kept looking back at me as he tried to run faster on his injured ankle.

He climbed the steps to the cable car station. People were just getting into one of the cars for the journey back down to ground level. Tibor pushed past them, knocking one old lady to the ground.

‘Watch out!’ he cried in Portuguese. ‘He’s got poison!’ And when people didn’t move out of his way, he changed it.

‘He’s got a bomb!’ he shouted, ‘he’s got a bomb.’

People ran away then. Tibor rushed into the car and tried to close the door, pulling desperately on the control handle to start his descent. I reached the concrete platform a few seconds later. The car started its journey. I wrenched open the door and jumped in just as we moved away from the platform and the mountainside dropped vertically away from us.

‘Keep away from me!’ Tibor screamed as we gathered speed. ‘Keep away from me!’

‘Or what?’ I shouted back at him, ‘or you’ll kill me? It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?’ I moved closer towards him.

He jumped past me and ran back to the door, wrenching it open in his turn. An alarm bell started ringing. Tibor edged out of the car and started climbing its side. Now we were rocking backwards and forwards violently as we travelled downwards. I followed Malgosia’s lover out into space.

When I think of it now I go cold with fear. I cannot believe that I ended up on the roof of a cable car with nothing between me and the ground except hundreds of feet of empty space. But then I was working on auto-pilot, hardly conscious of where I was, quite able to climb up the side of the swaying cable car out there in space. I’d have climbed Mount Everest if you had asked me. And when I got onto the roof, close to the wheels as they turned over and over on the thick steel cable, I found Tibor crouching there, shivering with fear, the strong man made weak, the unfeeling lover suddenly feeling real emotion for the first time, probably, in his horrible life. He looked pathetic.

‘Here,’ I said, holding up the glass phial. ‘You can have this. It isn’t Seratraxel anyway. It’s Malgosia’s favourite perfume, that’s all. Just my little joke. To remind you of her.’ And I threw it at him.

Poor old Tibor. He obviously didn’t hear me. He didn’t understand me anyway. He jumped up in horror, lost his balance, and for a terrible moment he tried desperately to keep his footing on the edge of the car. His arms waved around in panic. Half sounds, half words came from his terrified mouth. He knew he was going to fall. And then he was gone and I was left empty-handed as the wires sang and the oiled wheels turned over and over in the warm afternoon air.

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