فصل 07

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فصل 07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Voices in the distance

‘Tell me again where we’re going,’ I said to Oswaldo, as we drove along by the sea.

‘Angra dos Reis,’ Oswaldo replied, swerving to avoid two motorcyclists who suddenly appeared on our right. ‘Playground of the rich. Well, some of it is anyway. It’s on an inland sea. People say it’s beautiful. They have holiday homes out there.’

‘You don’t sound as if you like it very much,’ I said, trying not to watch the road in front of us. Since my companion didn’t seem particularly interested in it, I felt I shouldn’t be either.

‘Oh it’s all right, I suppose,’ he laughed. ‘But me, I prefer cities, lots of people, cars, noise, bars, all that kind of thing. I need to be surrounded by people, a lot of people, and to feel them, hear them living their noisy complicated lives all around me. That’s why I do this job, I suppose. It gives me an excuse to poke my nose into other people’s business, find out what they’re doing and why, find out who they are. God, I love the life I lead!’ He dug me in the side with his elbow and for one scary moment he only had one hand lightly on the steering wheel. For what seemed like hours he was looking at me, not the road. He rolled down the window and threw out the stub of his cigar. We travelled on in silence and I wondered what we would find at the end of our journey.


‘Were in luck,’ Oswaldo had said when I talked to him from my room after Sandra and Paul had dropped me back at the hotel. ‘I think I’ve found this Tibor guy so, if you’re right, we can probably find your wife too.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘Where is he? How did you find him?’

‘Hey, wait a minute!’ Oswaldo’s large voice bellowed down the phone line. ‘Not so fast, OK? Just calm down.’

‘OK, OK, but just explain.’

‘Sure. Well, I went off to the airport like I told you I was going to. I took those photos of your wife, the ones you gave me in my office. And I started by checking all the direct flights from London two days before you arrived. You were right, by the way.’

‘Right?’ I replied, wishing he’d get on with his story. ‘What about?’

‘She used her maiden name to travel. She didn’t buy a ticket as Malgosia Armstrong, but as Malgosia Kowalewska. She came in on a British Airways flight. And luckily, one of the airport policemen who was keeping an eye on the baggage hall is a friend of mine. We’ve done each other some favours in the past.’

‘And?’

‘Well this man, Reinaldo, he noticed your wife. The red hair, he said, was beautiful. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She reminded him of an actress he was especially keen on. When the doors opened he saw her go through to the crowd of people there. And out there - you’re not going to like this bit…’

‘Go on,’ I said through clenched teeth. ‘Go on, Oswaldo, please.’

‘All right. She went up to a man waiting there and, my friend says, she flung her arms round him. He remembered that particularly because he thought how lucky the guy was. But it didn’t surprise him because this guy was always lucky. A man with powerful friends. Someone the police knew a lot about, but someone they’d never managed to pin anything on even though he was a real bad guy.’

‘So who was he?’ I asked, knowing the answer perfectly well but hoping against hope that it wasn’t him. I could see my wife throwing herself into his arms. I wished the picture of the meeting Oswaldo had just described wasn’t so clear in my mind.

‘He was Tibor Arkadi, as you suspected. So then I think to myself - find out where this Tibor is and we’ve found Mrs Armstrong. And the best bit is, I didn’t even have to go looking for information about where he lives, because everyone in the police force knows where he is, Reinaldo told me. So now I know where we will probably find your wife.’

‘Where? Where is he?’

‘About two hours’ drive from Rio. I’m going to go out there tomorrow morning. I’ll be back in the afternoon with some definite news.’

‘I’m coming with you,’ I told him immediately, without thinking about it.

‘That’s not a good idea,’ Oswaldo said, sounding suddenly serious. ‘My friend told me about this Tibor, you see. He’s a very dangerous man, very dangerous. People who come into contact with him have died, Reinaldo says, and I believe him. Now listen, I’m used to that kind of thing. It’s my job. But you…’

‘I’m coming,’ I repeated. ‘If you ever want me to pay you, I’m coming.’ It was the only thing I could think of to persuade him.

‘You can only come,’ Oswaldo sighed down the end of the phone line, ‘if you promise to do exactly what I tell you to do.’

And now here we were, speeding along the road to find my beautiful wife in the arms of Tibor the ex-conductor who, according to the stories Reinaldo had told the Cuban detective, had added danger, smuggling and murder to the list of his charms, and I didn’t know if I was more scared of Oswaldo’s driving or of what we were going to see.


‘There!’ Oswaldo said, pointing through the trees at the house below us, ‘that’s the one. That’s Tibor’s place.’

It was a large bungalow, sticking out of the steep hillside which went down to the water, the inland sea. At the bottom of the slope I could see steps leading down to a jetty where two powerful-looking speedboats were tied up. On three sides of the house there was a large wooden terrace looking out over the sea. I could see other houses on the curving hillside to the right and the left. The inland sea stretched away into the distance between high hills. It was a scene of great beauty. It was quiet too. Occasionally a snatch of conversation from one of the houses came to us on the light wind, or the sound of a car in the distance. Otherwise it was very peaceful.

At least we thought it was, but then, behind us, we heard the sound of a plane getting nearer and nearer. I looked behind me and there it was, a small seaplane, painted dark blue with golden rays on its wings, flashing over our heads so low you could almost touch it.

‘Look!’ Oswaldo said. ‘It’s going to land.’ We watched as it came down, cutting a great white scar in the water, before turning round and heading back towards the wooden jetty below Tibor’s house. When it got near its destination the engine was switched off and the plane drifted in towards us. Two men got out, and walked towards the house.

Below us three other men walked out from the house on to the terrace and looked over the rails. Two of them wore white suits and face masks, like something from a science fiction film. They were carrying cases and a strange-looking machine. Then the third man, the one in normal clothes, turned round and I caught sight of his face - for the first time in more than ten years.

‘That’s him!’ I cried, shocked despite the fact that I was seeing what I had expected to see. ‘That’s Tibor. Even after all this time I recognise him. He looks the same, a bit fatter-‘

‘Quiet,’ Oswaldo hissed, ‘you want them to hear us, to see us?’

One of the men with Tibor looked up at that point, and for a moment I thought we had been discovered. But then he turned back to say hello to the two men who had arrived on the plane. They all started to talk urgently. Then Tibor and one of the new arrivals went back into the house while the white-suited men walked towards the plane.

Oswaldo and I crawled down the hill, keeping out of sight, until we were much nearer the house. We could hear a conversation, some shouting. And then suddenly I heard a voice I was sure I recognised, a female voice, Malgosia’s voice. That was enough for me. I got up from behind the tree we were using to hide and started running down the hill.

Before I knew what was happening I’d been hit by something like an express train from behind and I fell to the ground with a surprisingly fast Oswaldo on top of me, his big, plump hand covering my mouth to stop me from crying out.

‘You crazy Englishman!’ he hissed. ‘What the hell’s the matter with you?’ He took his hand away from my mouth.

‘I heard Malgosia’s voice,’ I managed to say, ‘I’m sure of it.’

‘Yes,’ he replied in a whisper, ‘maybe you did, but you’re not going to solve any problems by just going in there and asking to see her, are you? Oswaldo’s nose says that would land us both in a lot of trouble, a great deal of trouble. It will be much better if we just wait and watch, watch and wait. Then we can decide what to do. So you stop behaving like a lovesick frog and do what I tell you. That was the agreement, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ I gasped, wishing he’d remove his great weight from my legs, ‘yes, but…’

‘No buts,’ he hissed urgently, ‘look.’

Still lying on the ground, I looked at the terrace. Tibor had come back out of the house with another white-suited man who was carrying something heavy, something large, something with long, red hair. And then I saw Malgosia’s head fall back as they started down the steps that led to the jetty.

I am not cut out for heroism or dramatic gestures. I’m a viola player. I love music, I love compromise. I’m even a bit boring. That’s why I probably behave a bit stupidly in dramatic situations, whether at Rosemary’s front door or on a Brazilian hillside. This time there was no stopping me.

‘Malgosia!’ I cried, ‘Malgosia!’ and ran down the hillside. They’d heard me now. Tibor turned round and looked to see where the noise was coming from. The other man stopped. Two more men ran out on to the terrace and looked up. They pulled out guns.

‘Malgosia!’ I cried again, and I saw her raise her beautiful head and I thought I heard her say ‘Derek, Derek, please help me!’ But then there was a great bang and something hit me hard on the side of my head. I felt my legs go weak and the day went all dark on me. I heard running feet and more shouting, but now the noises seemed to be getting further and further away and then, suddenly, there was complete silence.


Strange noises. Voices in the distance. Footsteps going up and down somewhere near, echoing on a stone floor. There were unfamiliar smells too. I seemed to be floating in a great black sea, cut off from some other world just the other side of the ocean.

‘Derek,’ I heard a voice say, thousands of miles away, ‘Derek, can you hear me?’

‘He’s still unconscious,’ somebody else said. Hadn’t I heard that voice somewhere before? I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids were like anchors stuck in the mud of some deep river.

‘Look, I saw his eyelid move,’ a third voice said.

‘Just wishful thinking,’ said the first voice. Then the voices faded and I was back in my silent, black world.

‘Mr Armstrong, Mr Armstrong?’ This time the voice was nearer. This time I was determined to open my eyes.

I managed to raise the corner of one eyelid with what seemed like a great effort. I was blinded by bright white light and shut it again. There was someone by the side of my bed. My bed? I was in a bed? What on earth was going on? I forced my eye open again, and managed to keep it open for a second longer. I was in some kind of a room with light-green painted walls. I could see someone in a white coat standing next to me.

A white coat! Oh no! There was a picture starting up inside my head, a picture of two spacemen carrying something, carrying something like a sack of potatoes, something with beautiful red hair.

‘Malgosia!’ I managed to whisper, ‘Malgosia!’

‘What was that? What did you say?’ said the person beside me in a foreign accent. ‘What did you say?’

But I had already made too much effort. The comfortable dark was asking for me again. The light faded, the voice disappeared.


The next time I opened my eyes, Sandra was standing there. I blinked in surprise.

‘Derek?’ she said, her eyes widening in surprise. ‘Derek? You’re conscious? Derek?’

‘What are you doing here?’ I managed to say. ‘Where am I anyway?’

‘Hospital, of course, where else? Oh it’s so good to see you conscious. Wait, I’ll go and tell the others. Back in a minute! Nurse!’ I heard her call as she left the room.

I looked around me. It was a hospital all right. There was a television on one wall, a large window with a view of the hills behind Rio, and light-green walls with nothing on them at all. I looked down at the bed. There were tubes coming out of my arm. I moved my head. Ouch! It hurt. I put my hand up to the pain, but there was a large bandage around my forehead.

‘Derek!’ a friendly voice said, as Oswaldo came into the room. ‘Are you all right? Please say you are all right.’

‘I’m all right. I think. My head hurts, Oswaldo,’ I replied. It was difficult to talk.

‘You remember my name at least,’ he laughed. Sandra had come into the room with Paul and a nurse who was soon busy taking my pulse. They were all looking down at me and smiling.

‘You all right, old chap?’ Paul said.

‘Yes, yes I am,’ I replied, and I managed to sit up a bit more. ‘Can somebody please tell me what I’m doing here?’

So they did. They told me how I’d run down the hill when I’d seen Malgosia being carried to the plane. They told me how I’d shouted her name and how Tibor’s men had looked round and how one of them had shot at me.

‘You are a lucky Englishman,’ Oswaldo laughed. ‘You certainly are. I mean, the bullet hit you. Right here!’ he said pointing his finger at the side of his head. ‘And you should be dead really. But the bullet did not go in.’ He used his finger again. ‘It went across the side of your head. Made a nasty mess. You were out cold. But it never touched that little brain of yours. Too small I think,’ and he laughed.

‘How did I get here?’ I asked them, to try and give myself time to think.

‘You’ve got Oswaldo to thank for that,’ Paul said. ‘He just picked you up and ran. He got you away and brought you here. That was four days ago.’

‘Yes, and you’re too damned heavy,’ Oswaldo said, ‘so don’t ever be that crazy again, OK?’

‘OK,’ I said weakly. I was beginning to feel bad again and I wanted to go to sleep. But there was something else I had to ask.

‘What about Malgosia?’ I said, but nobody answered me. ‘Come on,’ I said. I was desperate to find out before I fell asleep again.

‘Derek, this isn’t easy,’ Sandra said. ‘I know you’ve come all this way to find your wife. You nearly got yourself killed too, but, well this is going to be difficult for you, so I don’t really know how to tell you.’

‘Tell me what?’ I said. I was beginning to feel really awful again.

‘She means that your Malgosia isn’t here anymore, that’s what,’ Oswaldo said bluntly. ‘She’s gone.’

‘Gone?’ I repeated. ‘Gone? Where?’

‘She’s very ill, I heard,’ the detective went on, ‘very ill.’

‘What do you mean she’s very ill? Will somebody explain what’s going on?’ I asked desperately, ‘please.’

‘Listen, old chap,’ Paul said. ‘Oswaldo’s been making enquiries. It seems they took your wife up to Recife three days ago. That’s in the north east of Brazil. Then they put her on a plane to Europe.’

‘Europe?’ I said, confused now and terribly worried. ‘Where in Europe?’

‘Poland,’ Sandra said, ‘Warsaw. Oswaldo thinks she’s gone to Warsaw.’

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