Saturday, 21 March 2009

The body on the beach

Nobody in the hotel liked Spiros. He was the manager, but he was very unfriendly.

‘I don’t know why mum and dad wanted to come here,’ thought Alex. ‘They don’t like holidays by the sea, they don’t like this hotel, and they don’t like Spiros. It’s very strange.’
The hotel was on a small island in Greece. There were only a few other guests. There was an Italian, Vincenzo, who nobody saw much. He had a boat and he went sailing most of the time.
There were two Spanish girls, Luisa and Trini. Then there was Jean, a Frenchman, who spent all the time taking photos of his wife, Véronique.
‘How stupid!’ thought Alex. ‘They must be just married.’

Alex was American, but his parents, Panos and Eleni, were Greek. When Alex was very young, they moved from Greece to New York and opened an art gallery. Usually they stayed in big, expensive hotels in places like Rome or Paris. ‘So why are we staying on this little island,’ thought Alex, ‘with an unfriendly man like Spiros?’
One morning Alex woke up early. All the other guests were asleep and the hotel was silent.
‘I’ll go for a walk along the beach,’ he thought. ‘Perhaps I’ll see some new birds at this time of the morning.’ Alex was very interested in birds, so he took his binoculars and started to walk along the beach.
It wasn’t too hot at that time of the morning, and the sun was shining softly. Alex started watching the birds with his binoculars. Suddenly he saw a big group of birds together, close to the sea. There was something lying near the water. It looked like …

‘A body!’ said Alex out loud. He suddenly felt cold and lonely in the sunshine. ‘I must go and look,’ he thought.
When he was close to the body, Alex stopped. He was afraid to look at the man. There was some blood on the sand.
‘He met someone here,’ thought Alex. ‘Someone who came by boat.’

‘The person came by boat because the footprints in the sand come from the sea,’ thought Alex.
At last he looked at the man’s face. It was white, and his eyes were open, but empty. Alex knew who the dead man was.

The police didn’t need to look at the body for long.
‘It was murder,’ said the police chief. ‘He was shot.’
When they came back to the hotel, the guests were all in the dining room. They knew that something was wrong.
‘Spiros Andropoulos is dead. He was murdered,’ said the police chief. ‘Nobody can leave the island until we find the killer.’
There was silence. The policemen left.
As soon as the door closed behind the last policeman, everyone started shouting at once. It was hard to hear what anyone said.
‘Stop shouting everyone!’ said Alex. ‘We must help the police to find the killer!’
The room was silent.
‘The police are only doing their job. Of course they don’t think that one of us killed Spiros. We were all here last night. And nobody liked Spiros, did they?
No one said a word.
‘But somebody killed him. We must try to find that person, to show the police that we have done nothing wrong. Do you agree?’
‘Alex is right,’ said Vincenzo. ‘If we don’t find the real killer, we can’t leave Greece.’
The others all agreed. They knew that they had to work together.

‘What shall we do first, Alex?’ asked Luisa.
‘We must try to answer the four big questions in any murder: When? How? Who? and Where? First, when was Spiros killed? Can anyone help?’
They all thought hard. Suddenly Luisa stood up. She was very excited.
‘Trini,’ she said, ‘don’t you remember the noise we heard last night? When we were on the balcony?’
‘Yes, of course,’ said Trini. ‘How terrible! I never thought …’
‘What?’ asked Véronique. ‘Tell us quickly. What did you hear?’
‘We heard a bang. We thought it was the noise of a motorbike.’
‘What time did you hear that?’ asked Alex.
‘Well,’ answered Trini, ‘we left the disco when it closed … about one o’clock. We walked slowly back to the hotel with two Greek friends. The Luisa and I sat and talked on the balcony for some time before we heard the noise. So I think it was about two o’clock.’

‘So Spiros was shot around two in the morning,’ said Alex.
‘But who shot him?’ asked Véronique. ‘It was dark, so the killer was close to Spiros.’
‘The killer came from a boat. I saw his footprints in the sand. We must find that boat.’
‘I think I can help,’ said Vincenzo, ‘There was a new yacht here last night. But this morning it was gone. I know all about boats, so I think I can remember what it was like.’

Vincenzo thought hard. ‘It was … a red yacht with a blue and white flag. Yes, I’m sure! And there was a man on the yacht. He had long red hair. I know most of the people who sail round here, but he was a stranger.’
Alex was very excited. ‘So we are looking for a man with long red hair, who has a red yacht with a blue and white flag. We are doing very well!’
‘Are we?’ said Jean. ‘Who was the man on the boat and why did he want to kill Spiros?’
Nobody spoke. There was no answer to Jean’s question.
Then Panos, Alex’s father, looked at his wife.
‘We must tell them, Eleni,’ he said.
‘You’re right.’
‘You see, we didn’t come here for a holiday. We came to see Spiros.’
‘I knew it!’ said Alex. ‘Is it because of the art gallery?’
‘Yes,’ answered his father. ‘A few months ago we bought a painting. We thought it was an unknown painting by Picasso, found in Greece. It was Spiros who brought the painting to our gallery.’

‘We have always wanted a Picasso,’ said Eleni. ‘So we paid a lot of money for it.’
‘But a few weeks later we went to a gallery in Paris where there were lots of Picassos. Then he knew that our painting wasn’t a real Picasso. It was just a good copy.’
‘We knew that Spiros had a flat in Athens,’ explained Eleni, ‘because his address was on his suitcase when he came to the art gallery. We wrote to him, but he never answered. So we decided to go there.’
‘No one in Athens knew where he was. We spoke to a woman who lived in the same building.’

‘This was very useful,’ explained Panos. ‘We looked at the flight schedule to find the times of planes to the islands. That was how we knew which island Spiros’s hotel was on.’

‘Once he arrived in Mithica it was easy to find Spiros, because this is the only hotel on the island.’
‘What did he say when you told him that the painting was a copy?’ asked Jean.

‘He got angry. He said that it was a Picasso. But we knew this wasn’t true. You can see that this hotel is full of copies of famous paintings.’
‘Did Spiros paint them?’
‘No,’ said Panos, ‘I think that he just sold them for somebody. If we can find the painter, I think we will understand why Spiros was murdered.’
‘Everyone must think hard,’ said Alex. ‘Has anyone seen a man painting near here?’
‘Yes!’ said Véronique. ‘Don’t you remember, Jean, when we went on that boat trip? We saw a painter on one of the islands.’
‘When was this?’ asked Vincenzo.
‘Last week,’ Jean answered. ‘The trip goes to all the islands near here. There was a man painting on the third island.’
‘Not the third,’ said Véronique, ‘the fourth.’
‘Which islands did you visit?’ asked Alex. Do you know their names?’
‘No,’ answered Jean.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Vincenzo. ‘I have a very good map of all the islands. I use it all the time. Just tell me something about te island.’

‘It was a rocky island,’ said Jean, ‘and there was a beach. There were four or five houses and some fruit trees.’
‘Orange trees, I think,’ said Véronique. ‘I didn’t see any restaurants. Did you?’
‘No. I think there was a very small church, but I’m not sure.’
‘That’s the island: Remnos!’ said Vincenzo. ‘Let’s go there now. I’ve got a small boat. We’ll take that.’
Alex turned to Trini and Luisa. ‘Will you come with us? I’ve got a plan, but I’ll need your help.’

Soon they were near Remnos.
‘There are only a few houses on the island,’ said Vincenzo. ‘It will be easy to find the painter’s house.’
‘So what’s your plan, Alex?’ asked Luisa. ‘When we find the painter, will you ask him if he knows Spiros?’
‘No,’ said Alex. ‘That’s too dangerous. Here’s my plan: when we find his house, I want you to knock at the door and talk to him. Stay with him and make him talk for as long as possible.’
‘I’ll ask him about his work. I’ll say that we saw him painting last week.’
‘Very good!’ said Alex. ‘At the same time, I will go to the back of his house and get in somehow. I’ll look for something which shows us that he knows Spiros – a letter or a note – something we can give the police to make them believe us. I’ll probably need about ten minutes. Is that all right?’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Luisa. ‘Trini is very good at talking! The only problem will e to stop her after ten minutes. You will have lots of time to look around.’
‘OK, everybody,’ said Vincenzo. ‘But first we must find the house.’
They sailed past the island very slowly. Alex looked at the houses through his binoculars.

‘There! Said Alex suddenly, pointing at one of the houses. ‘That is the painter’s house.’
‘Which one?’ asked Trini.
‘How do you know?’ asked Vincenzo.
‘Don’t you remember the painting in the hotel? It shows a garden with a little church, just like that one. The artist was sitting outside his house when he painted it.’
Vincenzo found a beach, not far from the painter’s house.
‘I’ll wait for you all here,’ he said. ‘I’ll be ready to leave as soon as you come back.’
The others got out of the boat and climbed the hill. They soon arrived at the road to the artist’s house. Trini and Luisa went to the house, while Alex hid in some trees and watched. Trini knocked at the door and the painter came out – a man with long red hair!

Alex walked quietly round to the back of the house. The door was open.
‘I’ll try upstairs first,’ he thought.
He went into the first room on the left. It was the painter’s bedroom. There was nothing interesting there. Next to that there was another door. It was a bedroom too, but there was a second door inside the room.
Alex tried the door. It was closed. Where was the key?

Alex found the key under the clock. The door to the second room opened quickly and easily.
‘This door is often used,’ thought Alex.
A strong smell of paint came from inside the room. It was a large bright room with big windows. There were lots of paintings, lying against the walls. In the middle of the room was a painting that Alex knew. It was only half finished, but it looked like a Picasso. ‘The police will want to see that,’ he thought. ‘I’ll take it.’

He ran downstairs to look for other things to show the police. On a desk in the corner he found an old letter.

‘Now I understand,’ thought Alex. ‘The painter’s name is Nick. Spiros wanted money from him.’
At that moment he heard voices from outside the house.
‘You girls must come in and have a drink with me,’ said a man’s voice – Nick!
‘That’s very kind of you,’ said Luisa, ‘but we have got to go now. Our friend is waiting for us in his boat.’
‘I’m sure that your friend can wait a few minutes,’ said the man. ‘Please come in.’
Alex saw the front door begin to open. He ran to the back door. There was a big dog standing there. It barked angrily. He couldn’t leave.

‘Oh no! How am I going to get out?’
He ran upstairs, through the bedroom and out of the window to the balcony. He jumped into the tree, then down onto the road behind the house.
‘I must hurry,’ he thought. ‘When Nick goes back upstairs, he will see that his painting has gone. Then he will try to find me.’
At the same time, Luisa and Trini said goodbye to Nick.
‘We must go now. Our friend is waiting. But thank you for talking to us.’
They began walking down the road to the beach.
‘Do you think that Alex has already left?’ asked Luisa.
‘You heard the dog, didn’t you? I’m sure that he left by the back garden.’
They were almost at the boat when they heard a shout behind them. It was Nick.
‘He’s coming after us, Trini, Quick!’

They ran to the boat. Alex was already there. Vincenzo started the engine and the boat sailed out to sea.
Nick was now on the beach.
‘He’s got a gun!’ said Alex. ‘Everyone down!’
A shot hit the back of the boat. But they went on out to sea, as fast as possible. They heard another shot.
‘We are lucky,’ said Vincenzo. ‘That was very close.’
But a few minutes later the engine stopped.

‘He hit the petrol tank!’ said Vincenzo. ‘And now it’s empty. I haven’t got any more petrol in the boat.’
‘Oh no!’ said Luisa. ‘How will we get back?’
‘I have some oars,’ said Vincenzo. ‘We will have to row the boat. Come on!’
Back at the hotel, the police chief was very angry.
‘I told you all to stay on the island. I don’t believe your story about a painter with red hair. If the others don’t come back soon, you will be very sorry.’
Suddenly Eleni pointed out to sea.

‘Look! There’s a boat. It’s moving very slowly, but it looks like Vincenzo’s boat.’
‘Send out the police boat,’ said the police chief. ‘Go and see who it is.’
Ten minutes later Alex and the others were back in the hotel. Alex showed the police chief the half-finished painting, and the letter from Spiros.
‘I believe you now,’ said the police chief. ‘Spiros wanted to tell your parents about the paintings, so Nick killed him.’
He told two of his men to go to the island and find Nick. ‘Thank you, everybody. You can go now.’
They all smiled.
‘Let’s spend our last night in Greece in the restaurant,’ said Eleni. ‘We’d like to buy you all a meal, to thank you for your help. Then we’ll go back to New York – to our gallery of real paintings.’


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