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THE MARTONZA CASE CHAPTER 5


The following day in Rubacava was very similar to the previous one. One of the poets in Blue Casket had once said that the town never changed but lived forever in its own secret dimension.

No one remembered that poet's name anymore. He had left town after a relatively short amount of time when his career hadn’t caught wind under its wings.

Chowchilla Charlie stubbed out the first cigarette of the day and eyed the street. No one and nothing was in sight. That particular part of the town was always quiet, even at night. That was one of the reasons why he had chosen to live there for years already.

His room was in the second floor, right at the end of the corridor. It was small, dirty and dark, but it didn't really bother him. He only slept there. There were no windows at all and the room smelled heavily of cigarettes.

It was an early morning. Charlie usually woke up together with the sun -- despite that he always stayed up late. Sleeping just wasn't for him; he wanted to take full advantage of every moment and get a little more for himself.

I don't need Nick in this, he thought and lifted himself off a chair whose original colour was a mystery to everyone. I can have a word with Santino without him.

He knew Nick Virago and was aware of that the lawyer was not a morning person. The man was terribly attached to luxury and slow even then when he had decided to do something. Charlie knew that if he waited for Nick nothing would happen before afternoon.

After making sure he had a full package of cigarettes in his pocket he walked out of his room, locking the door. As he started for downstairs he noticed that the door to the next room was slightly open.

The room to his right belonged to Angel, a female beatnik with whom he exchanged a word every now and then. They weren't friends and shared a mutual feeling of suspicion for each other, but it was always worth it to have a word with her if she got up early enough.

The door had probably been left open by one of Angel's nightly visitors or she had just been too tired to close it when returning home. Charlie didn't really care but continued on his way.

He didn't know what kind of man Santino was. Angel had mentioned him a couple of times, but that was it. Despite this Charlie believed he would be able to put his words right; there were very few people he didn't get along with. Not everyone liked him, but that didn't stop them from living in the same place.

There was still fog on the streets as he headed for the upper town. Charlie's thoughts were on the case that he had become involved with.

Who had murdered Margarita and stolen the Martonza papers? Somehow he didn't think Himmel had done it. It felt like the truth wasn't as simple as Nick thought.

Charlie didn't dwell on memories as he went up to the cafe that had once belonged to Manuel Calavera. He had spent a short while in the man's place and though it hadn't been as glamorous as Cat Track, he had enjoyed himself -- on some level at least.

After Manny's departure the place had been on sale and a rich newcomer had bought it. He had changed everything and almost literally thrown the roulette tables off the balcony. The face of the place had got a make over and it had become a club for the rich.

The Velvet Cigarette -- as the place was called now -- wasn't open early in the morning. Charlie didn't let it stop him but walked right in -- the door was at least open.

A young woman who was sweeping the floor in the lobby raised her gaze. "We're not open yet," she said and then froze as she realised who had just entered.

"I know. I came to talk with Santino," Charlie said to her. He knew her by name and had met her many times before. She was Lupe, Manny's coat girl who had been able to keep her job even after the owner changed.

"What do you want of him?" Lupe asked in curiosity. She started cleaning again, but looked like she didn't feel like concentrating on her work anymore.

"Nothing special. I just need to talk with him about something. You know me," Charlie purred. Lupe paid no attention to that and it didn't really surprise the con artist. Lupe was one of those women who got along with everyone and he had always liked playing with her. He could remember the way Manny had glared at him every time he had told Lupe something dirty.

"I do," Lupe stated and took a step towards the stairs. "Santino! Someone is asking for you!"

Almost immediately a tall, thick man with wide shoulders appeared. He and Charlie were like night and day.

"What?" Santino asked turning to Charlie. He was dressed in black trousers and a white shirt that wasn't buttoned well and looked like a black jacket should have gone along with it.

"I want to have a word with you," Charlie said. He felt ridiculous, almost breaking his neck as he tried to see Santino's face.

"I have no time. We have work to do before we can open," Santino said and Lupe, who had completely stopped the sweeping, hurried back to work looking almost guilty. She still kept a curious eye socket on them, though.

"Pity. I would have thought that you'd be interested in talking about your fiancée," Charlie said shrugging and lowering his gaze.

"What do you know about Margarita?" Santino asked at once, raising his voice. Charlie didn't look him in the eye sockets again.

"This and that. I would like to talk to you alone," he said. Santino didn't think twice but returned downstairs and gestured Charlie to follow. The con artist did it and took a notice of how much the place really had changed.

Manny's demon friend's piano was still there, but the rest of the room was different. The small tables and chairs were gone and had been replaced by sofas and arm chars that looked like they wanted to swallow everyone who sat on them. The floor was covered by a dark carpet and several tasteless paintings decorated the walls. Charlie didn't even want to know what had happened to the casino.

"Well, what do you know? Tell me everything! Who murdered her?" Santino asked once they were down. Charlie sat on one of the sofas and lit a cigarette. The piece of furniture felt nice, he had to admit that.

"I don't know who to blame," he said as he put the used match in the ash tray on a nearby table. "But I am more than interested in finding out."

"Why? What did she mean to you?" Santino's voice was far from friendly now and Charlie was starting to understand what kind of man he was dealing with.

"Nothing, but a friend of mine is interested," he said.

"And what does he have to do with it? Who is he?"

"Calm down. We are on the same side." Charlie took a relaxed position and blew out a cloud of smoke. Now that he thought about it he realised that the sofa wasn't quite as comfortable as it had first seemed.

Santino drew a deep breath and shook his head a bit, looking like he had trouble controlling himself. "Fine, what do you want to know?" he asked.

"Did Margarita do anything unusual on the dreadful day?" Charlie asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Was she nervous or angry? Did she do anything strange? Perhaps she talked about someone?"

"Who could she have talked about?" Santino asked. He clenched his fists but quickly hid them behind his back.

What a simple fool, Charlie thought to himself. "Well, anyone. Did he ever mention Bogan?"

"Who?"

"I take that as no. How about -- " the con artist started, but Santino wasn't quite finished with the subject yet.

"Why should Margarita have mentioned some Bogan?" he asked.

"I merely asked, it doesn't mean anything," Charlie stated. He liked Santino less and less with every second. He seemed to be exactly the kind of man who had neither the skill nor the desire to become anything.

"I am not stupid! Who is this Bogan?" Santino was suddenly much closer than Charlie would have preferred, but the con artist didn't show it.

"Calm down now, there is no need to get mad," he said. "Bogan is the police commissioner in Rubacava and I thought that perhaps Margarita had had something to do with him -- only officially, of course." He imagined how Santino would react if he ever heard of Bogan and Margarita's true relationship. If the man became that mad when someone only mentioned her in the same sentence with another man...

"Yes, of course... I am sorry." Saying the words aloud was difficult to Santino and he sounded like he was fighting with himself. His shoulders were stiff and he took a step back. "I am just so confused and haven't yet realised that Margarita is gone."

"Oh, I understand," Charlie muttered and moved left when Santino suddenly collapsed to sit next to him.

But his new spot wasn't soft at all and the con artist jumped on his feet. Santino didn't even have time to ask about it before the shorter man had thrown one of the pillows away.

Charlie drew in a breath of smoke and eyed what he had found. "Not the cleverest place to hide a gun, is it?" he asked and Santino could only stare at the sproutella gun that had been hidden under the pillows.

---


Nick placed the last file case on the shelf. He had spent the entire morning cleaning his office and had finally managed to organize all the papers he had thrown all over. A nasty job, but one he had had to do.

He glared at the spot where the Martonza papers should have been and turned his back on the shelf. He would have to think about it and have a word with Margarita's boyfriend -- both of them, preferably -- but not at the moment. First he would have to get some of his real work done.

His intention was to go and lock the door so that no one would bother him, but he didn't get that far. Nick froze and stared at the lock the key in his hand.

How could he have been so stupid?

The lawyer hurried to open the door and peered on the other side. There wasn't a single sign on the lock, not even a scratch.

So my thief had a key, he thought. Now that he thought about it he realised that it wasn't surprising, really. Margarita must have had one in her bag and the murderer could have taken it.

The sound of nearing steps made him lift his gaze. Alberto glanced at him before opening the door to his office and stepping in.

But it didn't have to be Margarita's key.

Nick felt like a whole new set of ideas had appeared in his head at once.

Perhaps he had been looking at the mess from the wrong angle? Perhaps no one was trying to hurt Maximino, but it was an attempt at the man's best lawyer? It made sense as Nick was the one who would lose his head if the papers weren't found.

Nick could come up with a great number of souls who would be happy to see him in trouble. Alberto was the first and soon Nick had a whole list of colleagues, competitors, men who he had deceived or betrayed and women who he had left.

Any of them could be the murderer.

To be continued...



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