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52

He sat down in the customer's chair and crossed his knees. "You wish certain information about Se~nor Lennox, I am told."

"The last scene only."

"I was there at the time, se~nor. I had a position in the hotel." He shrugged. "Unimportant and of course ternporary. I was the day derk." He spoke perfect English but with a Spanish rhythm. Spanish-American Spanish that is-has a definite rise and fall which to an American ear seems to have nothing to do with the meaning. It's like the swell of the ocean.

"You don't look the type," I said.

"One has difficulties."

"Who mailed the letter to me?"

He held out a box of cigarettes. "Try one of these." I shook my head. "Too strong for me. Colombian cigarettes I like. Cuban cigarettes are murder."

He smiled faintly, lit another pill himself, and blew smoke. The guy was so goddam elegant he was beginning to annoy me.

"I know about the letter, se~nor. The mozo was afraid to go up to the room of this Se~nor Lennox after the guarda was posted. The cop or dick, as you say. So I myself took the letter to the correo. After the shooting, you understand."

"You ought to have looked inside. It had -a large piece of money in it."

"The letter was sealed," he said coldly. "El honor no se mueve de lado como los congrejos. That is, honor does not move sidewise like a crab, se~nor."

"My apologies. Please continue."

"Se~nor Lennox had a hundred-peso note in his left hand when I went into the room and shut the door in the face of the guarda. In his right hand was a pistol. On the table before him was the letter. Also another paper which I did not read. I refused the note."

"Too much money," I said, but he didn't react to the sarcasm.

"He insisted. So I took the note finally and gave it to the mozo later. I took the letter out under the napkin on the tray from the previous service of coffee. The dick looked hard at me. But he said nothing. I was halfway down the stairs when I heard the shot. Very quickly I hid the letter and ran back upstairs. The dick was trying to kick the door open. I used my key. Se~nor Lennox was dead."

He moved his fingertips gently along the edge of the desk and sighed. "The rest no doubt you know."

"Was the hotel full?"

"Not full, no. There were half a dozen guests."

"Americans?"

"Two Americanos del Norte. Hunters."

"Real Gringos or just transplanted Mexicans?"

He drew a fingertip slowly along the fawn-colored cloth above his knee. "I think one of them could well have been of Spanish origin. He spoke border Spanish. Very inelegant."

"They go near Lennox's room at all?"

He lifted his head sharply but the green cheaters didn't do a thing for me. "Why should they, sefior?"

I nodded. "Well, it was damn nice of you to come in here and tell me about it, Se~nor Maioranos. Tell Randy I'm ever so grateful, will you?"

"No hay de que, se~nor. It is nothing."

"And later on, if he has time, he could send me somebody who knows what he is talking about."

"Se~nor?" His voice was soft, but icy. "You doubt my word?"

"You guys are always talking about honor. Honor is the cloak of thieves-sometimes. Don't get mad. Sit quiet and let me tell it another way."

He leaned back superciliously.

"I'm only guessing, mind. I could be wrong. But I could be right too. These two Americanos were there for a purpose. They came in on a plane. They pretended to be hunters. One of them was named Menendez, a gambler. He registered under some other name or not. I wouldn't know. Lennox knew they were there. He knew why. He wrote me that letter because he had a guilty conscience. He had played me for a sucker and he was too nice a guy for that to rest easy on him. He put the bill-five thousand dollars it was-in the letter because he had a lot of money and he knew I hadn't. He also put in a little off-beat hint which might or might not register. He was the kind of guy who always wants to do the right thing but somehow winds up doing something else. You say you took the letter to the correo. Why didn't you mail it in the box in front of the hotel?"

"The box, se~nor?"

"The mailbox. The cajdn cartero, you call it, I think."

He smiled. "Otatocl'an is not Mexico City, se~nor. It is a very primitive place. A street mailbox in Otatod'an? No one there would understand what it was for. No one would collect letters from it."

I said: "Oh. Well, skip it. You did not take any coffee on any tray up to Se~nor Lennox's room, Se~nor Maioranos. You did not go into the room past the dick. But the two Americanos did go in. The dick was fixed, of course. So were several other people. One of the Americanos slugged Lennox from behind. Then he took the Mauser pistol and opened up one of the cartridges and took out the bullet and put the cartridge back in the breech. Then he put this gun -to Lennox's temple and pulled the trigger. It made a nasty-looking wound, but it did not kilt him. Then he was carried out on a stretcher covered up and well hidden. Then when the American lawyer arrived, Lennox was doped and packed in ice and kept in a dark corner of the carpinterla where the man was making a coffin. The American lawyer saw Lennox there, he was ice-cold, in a deep stupor, and there was a bloody blackened wound in his temple. He looked plenty dead. The next day the coffin was buried with stones in it. The American lawyer went home with the fingerprints and some kind of document which was a piece of cheese. How do you like that, Se~nor Maioranos?"

He shrugged. "It would be possible, se~nor. It would require money and influence. It would be possible, perhaps, if this Se~nor Menendez was dosely related to important people in Otatocl'an, the alcalde, the hotel proprietor and so on."

"Well, that's possible to. It's a good idea. It would explain why they picked a remote little place like Otatodan."

He smiled quickly. "Then Se~nor Lennox may still be alive, no?"

"Sure. The suicide had to be some kind of fake to back up the confession. It had to be good enough to fool a lawyer who had been a district attorney, but it would make a very sick monkey out of the current D.A. if it backfired. This Menendez is not as tough as he thinks he is, but he was tough enough to pistol-whip me for not keeping my nose clean. So he had to have reasons. If the fake got exposed, Menendez would be right in the middle of an international stink. The Mexicans don't like crooked police work any more than we do."

"All that is possible, se~nor, as I very well know. But you accused me of lying. You said I did not go into the room where Se~nor Lennox was and get his letter."

"You were already in there, chum-writing the letter."

He reached up and took the dark glasses off. Nobody can change the color of a man's eyes.

"I suppose it's a bit too early for a gimlet," he said.


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