Authors: C.S. Challinor
Tags: #fiction, #mystery, #murder, #cozy, #amateur slueth, #mystery novels, #c.s. challinor, #murder mystery, #rex graves mystery
Murder in the Raw: A Rex Graves Mystery
© 2009 by C. S. Challinor.
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Cast of Main Characters in Order of Appearance
REX GRAVES, sleuth—the Scots barrister flies to a nudist resort in the French West Indies to investigate a young celebrity’s disappearance
PASCAL, limo driver at the Plage d’Azur Resort
LT. LATOUR, police officer in charge at the local commissariat
MONSIEUR BIJOU, an influential developer with hedonistic tastes
GREG HASTINGS, manager of the Plage d’Azur Resort
HELEN D’ARCY, who takes a Caribbean cruise in a hopeful pursuit of Rex Graves
JEAN-LUC VALQUEZ, a rising star on the French stage
Guests at the Plage d’Azur Resort
SABINE DURAND, captivating French actress who disappears mysteriously
PAUL and ELIZABETH WINSLOW, new owners of the Swanmere Manor Hotel in England, who ask Rex Graves to take on the case
BROOKLYN T. CHALMERS, self-made millionaire and international playboy
VERNON POWELL, hardnosed New York entertainment lawyer married to the actress
DR. VON MUELLER, wife MARTINA, and daughter GABY from Vienna, Austria
DAVID and ANTONIA WEEKS, proprietors of the French School of Cordon Bleu in London; the exotic beauty “Toni” is no fan of Sabine
DUKE and PAM FARLEY, oily Texas tycoon and his trophy wife
DICK and PENNY IRVING, promoters of health, fitness, and naturism, from Toronto
SEAN and NORA O’SULLIVAN, founders of the Coolidge Theatre in Dublin
Testimony of David Weeks
It is unbelievable that Sabine Durand is dead. She was the essence of our group, the lingering perfume, if you will. Whenever I evoke St. Martin, it is always Sabine I conjure up in my memory.
I often saw her walking at dusk along the shore, always alone. Our beach cabana is the last of eight before the promontory of rocks begins on the eastern side. She would have had to climb those rocks to get to the strand of beach beyond, but she was agile enough, I suppose. In any case, there was no other access except by boat. People sometimes dock their catamarans on that side, but since you can sunbathe nude all along La Plage d’Azur, there really isn’t any point in going over there unless you want to “do it”
. People, after all, pay big money to be seen in the buff at La Plage.
We’ve been coming to St. Martin for ten years now. You end up synchronizing your holiday with other couples. It’s always the same crowd in July: Paul and Elizabeth Winslow, Dick and Penny Irving, the O’Sullivans, the von Muellers, the Farleys … Duke Farley has been bringing his new wife, Pam, the last couple of years, so I suppose it’s not exactly the same crowd as before. Brooklyn Chalmers brought a girlfriend two years ago, but not this time around. And, of course, Vernon and Sabine. July is by far and away the best time. August is Swingers’ Month and come September you run into hurricane season.
I don’t know whether we’ll return next year. It won’t be the same without Sabine, and I doubt Vernon will come back, poor fellow. He must feel dreadfully guilty. After all, he never accompanied his wife on her walks, though I think she preferred it that way. She was remote and mysterious. I think that was part of the allure. She drew people like moths to a candle. You wanted to protect her from singeing her wings sort of thing. Well, the others will say the same, I’m sure.
Sabine always wore the diaphanous white pareo on her walks. She would have taken it off before she went for a swim, which would explain why part of it was found by the rocks. But she wouldn’t have gone for a dip right before dinner. I don’t go for the shark theory—she would have known better than to go swimming at dusk. Then again, she never was the sort of person to do what you’d expect. More likely a stalker was involved; actresses often attract that sort.
It must have been just after six p.m. on Tuesday 10th when I saw her for the last time on her walk. We usually all meet at seven for drinks at The Cockatoo. My wife and I sometimes escorted Sabine to the restaurant on her way back, but it was Paul Winslow’s birthday, and we didn’t want to be late, so we left our cabana in good time. We never saw Sabine again.
Those are my recollections of the night in question.
Rex Graves rested the testimony on his knees, which, much to his aggravation, bumped the seat in front, even though he was in recline mode. White ridges of clouds floated outside the airplane window, while inside the first class cabin the mutedly excited voices of vacationers arose all around him. He checked his watch: another hour before they landed at Juliana Airport. He waved over the flight attendant and ordered a second Glenfiddich on the rocks before settling down to extrapolate the pertinent information from David Weeks’ flowery statement.
He wondered again about the people with whom he would be spending the next few weeks at the request of the Winslows, the new owners of the Swanmere Manor Hotel in southern England where he had solved his first case. Sabine Durand had mysteriously disappeared while they were together on their annual vacation on St. Martin, and they’d asked Rex to fly over, all expenses paid, to look into the matter.
Paul Winslow, who suspected foul play, had persuaded the local Gendarmerie to fax over the statements of all the guests present at the resort on the night Sabine went missing. The von Muellers had been at the airport meeting their daughter off an Air France flight and had not returned until late, and consequently, their statements had not been taken. The Irvings from Canada had taken a day trip to the neighboring island of St. Barts, arriving back at the resort at some time in the evening.
Winslow had explained it was only due to the intervention of a certain Monsieur Bijou, an influential developer on the island, that the gendarmes had deigned to draw up a missing person’s report at all. As it was, they had not arrived until the following morning, and the two detectives from the Police Judiciary had not taken the statements until two days later. Rex swirled the ice cubes in the bottom of his tumbler, reflecting that any evidence, including footprints, would have been badly compromised by the time the gendarmes arrived, and the guests would have had time to work on their alibis—assuming one or more among them was guilty.
According to Winslow, the gendarme report cited the recovery of a gold ankle bracelet, identified by the guests as having belonged to Sabine Durand, and a strip of bloody gauze, apparently from the white pareo referred to in Weeks’ testimony. The husband’s cell phone had been retrieved in the vicinity of the secluded beach.
Until Rex visited the spot and interviewed the guests himself, he couldn’t begin to draw any conclusions as to what might have happened to the young actress.
“We’ll be landing momentarily,” the flight attendant said, relieving him of his empty glass.
The plane executed an arc above an ocean of shimmering blues and greens. A crowd of spectators slid into view on the palm-dotted beach, faces uplifted as the 757 skimmed over them before touching down on the landing strip. When the plane taxied to a stop, Rex let out a sigh of relief. Fear of flying was second only to his fear of the water, and it had been with a tightness in his gut that he had said goodbye to his son in Miami after a brief stopover from Scotland.
Gathering his luggage, he joined the line of passengers in the aisle and inched his way to the plane exit. A breeze ruffled his short-sleeved shirt, a welcome change to the muggy heat he had left just hours before in Florida.
This’ll do me just fine
, he thought as he contemplated the buildings clustered on volcanic hills overlooking the rippling expanse of the Caribbean. He imagined a pirate sloop moored in one of the bays, a Jolly Roger billowing from the topmast.
Only when he discovered his suitcase had not followed him onto the plane did his sunny mood cloud over briefly.
The clerk at the lost baggage counter handed him a pack of emergency toiletries. “If you leave the number of your hotel, we’ll call when it arrives.”
“I’m staying at the
on the French side.”
“Oh, you won’t be needing clothes there,” the clerk assured him.
“What d’you mean?”
“It’s a naturist hotel.”
“Clothing is optional.”
Why had Paul Winslow not thought to mention that little detail? Did he think Rex’s Scottish Presbyterian sensibilities would be offended by the prospect of public nudity?
Aye, it might have influenced my decision to come
, he conceded as he made his way out of the terminal, holding on to the word “optional.”
Optional meant he had a choice.
A man in the crowd held up a sign with “REX GRAVES” in bold letters. A welcoming smile cracked his walnut-brown face. He had a youthful expression and the whitest teeth Rex had ever seen, though he might have been forty.
“I’m Pascal, da hotel driver.”
“Pleased to meet you. How far to the resort?”
“Depends on traffic. It be at the other end of da island. You got a suitcase?”
“It went AWOL. This is all I have.” Rex held up his briefcase and carry-on. “Fortunately I have a change of clothes in this bag.”
“You won’t be needing dem,” the driver said, taking the bag and leading Rex out the exit. “Ev’rybody go about buck naked at da resort.” In the parking lot, he opened the trunk of a shiny minivan and installed the sparse luggage.
“Mind if I sit up front with you?” Rex asked, never one to miss an opportunity to find out as much as he could about where he was going.
“Sure. It be just da two of us. No more guests be arriving now till August.” The driver held open the passenger door. “Which cabana you staying in?”
“Number one—with Brooklyn Chalmers.”
“Real nice American gentleman. You been to St. Martin before?” Pascal asked, hopping in beside him.
“This is my first time to the Caribbean.”
“Where your accent from?”
Pascal started the van. “Never had nobody from Scotland before. There be a couple from Ireland an’ two couples from England. Mostly we get Americans. The Irvings be from Canada. They got piercings ev’rywhere. And I mean
Rex thought about this for a moment. “Ouch,” he said.
“Da young lady dat went missing from da resort went to school in England,” Pascal continued, turning onto the main road. “But she lived in Paris. Mr. Winslow tol’ me you was investigating her disappearance. He say to take good care of you. So you need anyting, Mr. Graves, anyting at all, you jus’ holler.” He grinned broadly.
They passed a quarry and several car rental agencies.
“What can you tell me about the island?” Rex asked.
“We be going to da northeastern part. Dis here da Dutch side. Da capital be Philipsburg, named after Cap’n John Philips, a Scotsman in da Dutch Navy all da way back in the 1700s.”
“A Scotsman? Very gratifying,” Rex said with smug pride, feeling more at home now in the narrow streets of the suburb, where rickety second-story verandas jutted out from pastel-colored houses. Pretty island girls with beaded braids toted wicker baskets laden with tropical fruit on their hips. Rex craned his neck for a better view.
Native pedestrians assumed right of way over the small, dusty cars on the road. What few signs existed were bilingual, and Rex had yet to see a traffic light.
“Christopher Columbus discovered da island on da date of da Feast of St. Martin,” Pascal recited, sounding as though he had given the tour at least a dozen times before.
A border sign in French welcomed them to the northern half of the island. Pascal explained that this side was an overseas territory of France. Rex sincerely hoped he wouldn’t be called upon to use his execrable schoolboy French during his stay. The thought of having to flounder through the intricacies of Gallic grammar while standing there starkers was the stuff of nightmares.
His worst fears materialized when, half an hour later, the minivan turned into the resort
Soyez le bienvenu!
” a naked Paul Winslow greeted him from the main entrance, waving a crusty baguette in the air.