THE MOVES OF MURDER- The Player in the Shadows

From the Casebook of Chief Inspector Rojas

THE MOVES OF MURDER is the third mystery novel set in Spain featuring Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas. The cover now shows what the strange detective looks like. He is quiet and courteous, even scholarly and yet he has the capacity to disturb even the most hardened criminal. Something in his patient manner and cool gaze is profoundly unnerving. His knowledge of human nature borders on the telepathic. The strangest aspect is that he appears to understand passions which he does not share. He understands how the passion of love or sexual lust can lead to murder and yet he has never been in love. He understands profound disillusionment and yet what illusions did he ever have? Does he lead another life somewhere, a life that seems more human?



An attractive journalist is found dead in a flat in Málaga. A powerful French politician is arrested in London for attempted sexual assault. A brilliant Ukrainian chess master inexplicably loses an important match in the sunshine of Portugal. A respected Spanish priest falls from grace and hints at murder. What dark forces of modern European politics lie behind these apparently unconnected events?

The legendary Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas of the Spanish National Guard begins to see strange, unexpected connections. The powerful French politician is dangerous. The journalist in Málaga attracted interesting men but some were more dangerous than she knew. Her friend, the Ukrainian journalist, Kristina Rigachev is, Rojas realises, connected with all of these events. As a result she too may be in the greatest danger. So too is Rojas` old friend, the priest of a revered church in Toledo. Most puzzling, however, is the legendary detective`s realisation that a figure is moving in the shadows of this case. The figure is skilled and resourceful. But is this a figure to be welcomed or to fear.

As before, Rojas, uses his strange insight and his network of contacts, some more savoury than others, as he sees once more that politics and ruthless crime are all too close in modern Europe.

OPENING OF THE MOVES OF MURDER- The Player in the Shadows.























Copywright Robert Noble Graham   2013



With artwork by Louise Macdonald.







Chapter One


            Timal fidgeted. Victory was in sight and it would be a very satisfying one. He had the measure of this young Ukrainian, he felt. Ukraine had strong players and young Rigachev was one of them, but Timal looked with satisfaction at his white pieces and the time ticking past on the pale young man`s clock. Still he fidgeted. His oldest enemy was threatening, the one that had cast a long shadow over his life. He looked out of the window.  The enemy was out there, menacing, lurking seductively, destructively. He blamed the idiot who had moved the venue to the Hotel Palaciό in Estoril, Portugal. The hotel was magnificent and of course it had history.  Famously, it had been the rendez-vous of choice for spies and agents in the Second World War, but it had fame more relevant to the world of Timal and his opponent. It had been the favourite accommodation of the great Alexander Alёkhine, world chess champion until his strange death in Estoril at the age of 53. Had that been suicide, murder perhaps or just a rather absurd accident?  No one knew.

From the window, Timal could see the blue Atlantic and the wide beach where he had once walked as a young man with the love of his life. There he saw young romantics just as he had once been, and he saw the tables and parasols of the open air restaurants and cafés where he had often enjoyed a cognac and cigar in the warm sun. That was the enemy. What did it matter if he lost to this earnest, eager Ukrainian with the gaunt unhealthy features and concentrated gaze of a man who had never idled in a café under the Portuguese sun? Had he ever been mesmerised by the honey- coloured skin of young lovelies skipping over the sand ? Probably not. If married at all it would be to a pencil -thin systems analyst with hair cut like a schoolboy, probably teetotal and vegetarian.

Timal could not entirely decide whether he liked the young man or pitied him or perhaps disliked him intensely. He was amused rather than offended by Rigachev`s choice of the French defence, particularly so since he had allowed the game to move into the Guimard variation which makes black`s task very difficult. Suicidal. Rigachev was playing black. Nonetheless, Timal had lost before from winnable positions. Especially he had lost when he could look out at blue sea, a sun-kissed beach and a café where he would happily be sitting dreaming of what might have been.

A curious thought struck the French master as he sat in his dapper blue suit, tailored for him by Cifonelli in Rue Marbeuf, Paris. He looked at the pale Ukrainian face with the strangely unfocussed eyes and felt that this could be the face of a murderer. He was disturbed by his own thought. Where could such a fancy have come from? Yet, as he looked again he could only agree with that thought. It was as foolish, he knew, as to say he had the face of a chess grandmaster which he undoubtedly was, since his face differed greatly from that of the range of grandmasters now sitting in the room. Chess masters come in all shapes and so, no doubt, do assassins.

            His curious thoughts were interrupted by the strange flick of the head his opponent gave when about to move. Then it was followed by the knight attack Timal had examined twenty minutes before. How curious. Timal felt sure the move achieved nothing for the young man. It was almost an acknowledgement of defeat unless there was some deep ploy Timal had not noticed. He had been caught like this before, and this young man had built his reputation by the kind of wizardry it would now take to achieve victory. Was there a deadly trap in store? The veteran French master forced himself to pause. The impulse to release his full attack was almost irresistible, but he had to be sure, as sure as he could be. He looked again at the young man. The body language gave no hint of triumph or excitement. It was almost as if the boy was conceding. Then he wondered if the expression on his pale face was not murderous but suicidal. One of Timal`s besetting difficulties was that he had always found human nature more interesting than chess, but his gift of a natural aptitude for the game had enabled him to have a career as the most successful French exponent of it since the great Philidor in the 18th century. There had been few major French players down the years, but he had brought a certain amount of honour and distinction to his country amid the waves of Russian masters and the occasional western prodigy like the mighty Fischer or the extraordinary young Magnus Carlsen of Norway.

            Timal denied himself the idle pleasure of gazing further over the hedonistic scene of sand and embracing youth. He examined the board. He looked again at young Rigachev. He was sure there was no trap. There was simply mystery as to why this very gifted young player had competed so feebly. He was one of the frightening dynamos of Ukrainian chess. He had much of the talent Timal himself had had as a young man with a far greater appetite for study and far more support from his national federation. Timal considered his own gift had shown a particular Gallic flair which he thought absent from these east Europeans, but not everyone shared that view.

            The French master tried to control the expression on his still handsome face with the neat moustache. There was such dread in these final moves when you declared your attack. He ran a thoughtful hand over his iron grey hair and finally moved his white square bishop to the rook`s file. The Ukrainian could not now avoid a catastrophic loss of material. He knew it. He barely considered it. He stood up, still looking abstracted, shook hands, signed his scorecard and left. Heads lifted from the other tables. It was not difficult to conclude that the aging Frenchman had scored a surprising victory. It was evidently a matter of some interest to them to know how he had done it. The same question was puzzling Timal.

            He lingered for some moments at the board, still disturbed by the ease of his triumph and the curious body language of his opponent. Still, the scene outside was irresistible. The sun shone, The sea was intensely blue. Young men rubbed oil lovingly and caressingly onto the slender backs of women. Older men trudged ridiculously with ponderous gut to sunbeds or deckchairs. Were they conscious of being ridiculous or did they simply accept that absurdity was their inevitable gift from the time lords, one to be displayed with humour and acceptance?

            He rose and left, graciously accepting congratulations from onlookers. He caught the world-weary eye of Amos Krafft, South African journalist and lover of the game.

            `So instead of the French Defence should we now be preparing for the Ukrainian Surrender?` he asked. Timal, slightly taller and certainly more lithe than the lubricious Krafft, smiled indulgently.

            `You clearly missed the subtlety of my strategy, Amos, but then it was South Africans who taught us how to be boorish was it not?`

            Krafft smiled, no less sure that something odd had taken place. Timal continued down the stairs and out to the warm sunshine. It was only noon so there was certainly time for an aperitif before the beautiful young lady joined him for lunch. He made his way onto the terrace and chose a seat in partial shade.  A couple of women in early fifties stopped talking as he passed. He was aware of still having a certain worldly elegance which attracted looks. That may have been enhanced by an unexpected air of triumph. He was vain, but who is not?

            He sat and took out a cheroot which he simply held in his hand as his eyes swept over the pagan scene of sunshine, the sea, youthful bodies and ease. He looked up when a smiling young man arrived at his table in the white shirt, bow tie and black trousers of a waiter. He had tumbling black curls and the smooth skin of a twenty year old.

            “Sir, what can I get you?”

            Timal glanced at the wine list in front of him.

            “Do you really have Condrieu here?”

            “Yes, sir, we do. Our sommelier used to work in the Rhone valley and he has some good connections.”

            “I don`t expect you would do it by the glass. It`s a little early for more.”

            The young man flashed a winning smile.

            “I think in honour of monsieur`s great victory today we might make an exception.”

            Timal smiled. He was flattered that even the serving staff were aware of his achievement. He reflected on the not inconsiderable appearance money he was to receive. The event was generously sponsored by Oleg Dzershinsky, a Russian billionaire who now lived in Cannes. He could afford an indulgence.

            “No need. My daughter will join me shortly. Bring me a glass. Keep the bottle cool and I`m sure she`ll help me through it.”

            “With great pleasure, sir.”

            Timal considered lighting the cheroot for a few sinful puffs before his daughter arrived with her views on healthy living. Marie Paul was even unhappy about his accepting prize money from a man whose ownership of aluminium and oil holdings in Siberia had been acquired by methods not taught in the Harvard Business School. It had hardly been an issue before since it was unlikely he would receive more than a modest appearance fee, but today`s victory had assured him of something much more significant. Timal had long since accepted the view of the incomparable Balzac that behind every great fortune there was a great crime. He felt it unlikely that any self-sacrifice on the part of a veteran French chess master would radically improve business practice in the Russian tundra. It would simply mean the aforementioned  French master would not allow himself the bottle of Condrieu which he would enjoy, which would help to keep the young waiter in a job and which would provide, in however minor a way, some support for an excellent French estate.

   However, before coming to any decision on his sinful cheroot, he was surprised to be joined by someone quite different from his elegant, slender daughter. Into the seat across the small table lumbered the portly, crumpled, if expensively crumpled, frame of a man perhaps in his early sixties. He had receding grey hair over a heavy, if lively, face. He had the colour of a man who was not averse to lounging by pools to discuss intricate matters of state. Timal regarded him with a look not of either pleasure or the opposite but rather a cautious suspicion.

“Rapasse,” he said quietly.

“Good day, Grandmaster Timal. Congratulations on a fine victory.”

“Perhaps finer than I thought if former ministers of finance jet down from Paris to congratulate me.”

The newcomer laughed.

“What are you drinking?”

With a faint sigh Timal summoned the young waiter and ordered another Condrieu.

“Well, you always had taste in all things, Timal. Rather a tasty young waiter too.”

“I thought your indiscretions in that department might have cured you of such notions.”

“Such `notions` don`t get cured. I have learned to be more careful although it hardly matters now that I`m no longer in the inner circles.”

“I thought that was exactly where you were. Behind the scenes, in the engine room of French political machinations.  In any event, why are we talking? I don`t necessarily dislike your company Lucien, even if there is no subject on which we actually agree other than perhaps Condrieu, but I expect to be joined shortly by my daughter to whom I shall give undivided attention.”

“Mmm, sadly I expect the young waiter might also. All right, no time for preambles. Let me present a scenario, or perhaps a dilemma, or perhaps an opportunity.”

“I`m already worried.”

“Perhaps you shouldn`t be. I take it you`ve heard about Montariol.”

            “What, Gaspard Montariol?”

            “Ah, so you haven`t heard.”

            “Lucien, I have been wearily wading through tedious chess openings which no longer interest me for three weeks or more. I am aware the European currency lurches from one farcical disaster to another but little else. Certainly the vice president of the major French bank has not entered my thoughts. Last time I heard he was being courted for the Presidency of the Republique.”

            “Well he is now under arrest in London for the attempted rape of a Ukrainian journalist.”

            Timal smiled very faintly.

            “Why am I not surprised? You say Ukrainian?”

            “Yes, apparently a young woman of considerable talent. Very beautiful also,

 so perhaps a higher grade of victim than some of the cleaning ladies and waitresses he has targeted and silenced before. Evidently her talents also extend to martial arts. Gaspard now has a severely wrenched shoulder.”

            Timal laughed.

            “So even his luck runs out eventually.”

            “He`s claiming entrapment. Some powerful figures not a million miles from the Elysée Palace might be thought to be enjoying this news.”

            Timal looked more thoughtful.

            “I have heard that Montariol is not a man to be crossed.”

            Rapasse`s fleshy countenance took on a more sombre look.

            “No indeed. Gaspard appears to have a darker side. I`ve never known specifics, but one hears things.”

            “Well, as you know, I`m always partial to a little Schadenfreude, Lucien, especially at the expense of the mighty, but where is this getting us?  I reckon you have ten minutes.”          

            Rapasse shifted his chubby frame on the seat and rubbed his hands earnestly together as if weighty matters were to be delivered.

            “Well, we don`t have time for more preamble. I was coming with this message anyway, Roger, but your victory today makes it all the more appropriate.”

            “What, Légion d`Honneur at last?”

            “Oh in time, I`m sure, Roger, especially if you are seen to have served your country.”

            “Served my country! I did my national service as you well know. We polished our boots in the mud of Côte d`Ivoire. That`s where we met. We didn`t shoot anyone but we enjoyed the local girls, at least you did until you realised your tastes were elsewhere. I`m a little old now to crawl through the undergrowth.”

            “Yes, golden days, Roger, or probably muddy ones as you recall. No, the issue arises from this Montariol business. As you know, he was being groomed to run for the Presidency. There was already the fear that the electorate would find out what a rat he really is, but he has that same loveable rogue type of image that Chirac had. In addition, he is in fact a fine economist. But there were questions even then. Now he`s a political leper. The French electorate are tired of discovering their leaders are shabby. They hunger for one they can admire.”

            “What about Kouchner? Founder of Médecin sans Frontières?  Personal friend of Mandela. Who better?”

 “Yes, Kouchner is  one of the best, but he is perhaps a little old now. Perhaps tainted by switching parties. He is also quite unpredictable. We need a man who seems above politics, but a man who embodies what the country most admires: wit, intelligence, elegance, charm. You have had enough political involvement not to seem like a novice. You could run and you could win.”

            Timal gave his old friend an incredulous look.

            “Run and win! Win what? What are you saying?”

            Rapasse sighed a little.

            “Roger, I am talking about running for the Presidency of the Republic.”

            Timal studied his old friend`s face for a moment.

            “Good God, you`re serious.”

            “Entirely. The hunger is real, Roger. That`s why the shadier side of Montariol was being downplayed. Personally I have always thought him dangerous and vengeful. In some ways, this `indiscretion` is a godsend.” 

            “That I can agree with. Power has not brought out the best in him so far. The ultimate prize is unlikely to improve that situation. But why me? How long a list have you gone through before my name came up?”

            “Not long at all. I was on my way down here when I heard the news about Montariol. I was anticipating a tough battle and some unsavoury tactics, but suddenly the field is clear and your victory today makes you all the more compelling. A true French hero.”

            Timal shook his head for a moment in bewilderment and glanced again at Rapasse as if to check once more that he was serious before he spoke.

            “Lucien, perhaps you need a long rest in the Provence sunshine. Buy a case of Condrieu and read your beloved Victor Hugo.”

            Rapasse allowed an indulgent smile.

            “Yes, very appealing, but first there is work to be done. Ok the idea is unfamiliar but consider this. Have you heard any name mentioned in the race that appeals to you? You have the experienced but frightening operators like Montariol and you have the absurd fashion journalists or pop stars. Give me one name that has stirred your imagination.”

            Timal raised his eyebrows in a gesture of despair and nodded agreement.

 “But even if I were to consider it for one moment, my views are all against the public taste. I despise the tawdriness of our politics. I`m totally against all the Anti-Americanism and anti Anglo Saxonism. I`m a free marketer. I love France for its beauty, its creativity, some of the greatest political theorists in history, its taste in all sorts of things. I hate its cynicism which it mistakes for facing reality.”

“Well, who`s the great hero then? ` interrupted a young female voice. There stood a young lady of perhaps five feet four, shoulder length blonde hair, black trousers showing good legs and a silky red top.  She had the oval face of her father with the same playful blue eyes. Her make-up had skilfully disguised some annoying blemishes. Timal bounced to his feet with a smile and gave her a warm hug.

“Ah my darling, I have a treat for you. But first of all, do you remember Lucien?”

She smiled.

“Ah, M. Rapasse I think.”

“I`m flattered. Well you have turned out a beauty.”

Timal summoned the waiter and the chilled bottle was brought.

“So tell me again,” began Marie-Paul,” what is the name of this chap you beat today? ”

“Gladly. Note it so you can boast about me. He`s one of the Ukrainians, Rigachev. Evgeny Rigachev. Ranked in the world top ten. Why?  Are you going to impress all your friends? ”

“Well, that of course. I don`t suppose you`ve heard much news today.”

“Only the salacious gossip which Lucien has brought. Is there something we should know?”

“Well, it`s just odd. I didn`t hear all of the broadcast because I was just coming out of the shower but apparently a body has been found in Málaga in a flat owned by a Ukrainian journalist called Kristina Rigachev. I was just struck by the name. Maybe it`s common in the Ukraine.”

“Ah mon Dieu,” gasped Rapasse. Timal`s face darkened. He leaned forward.

“Did they identify the body?”

“I don`t know. I didn`t hear it all. Why, is there a connection? ”

Timal sat back and looked at Rapasse.

“Well, Lucien, is there?”

“Sounds all too likely,” replied the other as he took out his mobile. “Give me a moment.” He stood up and shambled heavily towards the beach.

“Well, I feel like a ghost at the feast. Did I dampen the celebration, papa? ”


“You may just have explained to me why I was able to crush a top twenty player. I did feel that on my day if I kept my head I might be able to stretch him, but the victory was barely credible. ”



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