Brighton rock, p.10
Brighton Rock, p.10Graham Greene
‘It’s good to be back,’ Crab said, a young man in a mauve suit, with shoulders like coat-hangers and a small waist.
‘We ran you out once, Crab. I thought you’d stay out. You’ve altered.’ His hair was carroty, except at the roots, and his nose was straightened and scarred. He had been a Jew once, but a hairdresser and a surgeon had altered that. ‘Afraid we’d lamp you if you didn’t change your mug?’
‘Why, Spicey, me afraid of your lot? You’ll be saying “sir” to me one of these days. I’m Colleoni’s right-hand man.’
‘I always heard as how he was left-handed,’ Spicer said. ‘Wait till Pinkie knows you’re back.’
Crab laughed. ‘Pinkie’s at the police-station,’ he said.
The police-station: Spicer’s chin went down, he was off, his orange shoe sliding on the paving, his corn shooting. He heard Crab laugh behind him, the smell of dead fish was in his nostrils, he was a sick man. The police-station: the police-station: it was like an abscess jetting its poison through the nerves. When he got to Frank’s there was no one there. He creaked his tortured way up the stairs, past the rotten banister, to Pinkie’s room: the door stood open, vacancy stared in the swing mirror: no message, crumbs on the floor: it looked as a room would look if someone had been called suddenly away.
Spicer stood by the chest of drawers (the walnut stain splashed unevenly): no scrap of written reassurance in a drawer: no warning. He looked up and down, the corn shooting through his whole body to the brain, and suddenly there was his own face in the glass—the coarse black hair greying at the roots, the small eruptions on the face, the bloodshot eyeballs, and it occurred to him, as if he were looking at a close-up on a screen, that that was the kind of face a nark might have, a man who grassed to the bogies.
He moved away: flakes of pastry ground under his foot; he told himself he wasn’t a man to grass: Pinkie, Cubitt and Dallow, they were his pals. He wouldn’t let them down—even though it wasn’t he who’d done the killing. He’d been against it from the first: he’d only laid the cards: he only knew. He stood at the head of the stairs looking down past the shaky banister. He would rather kill himself than squeal, he told the empty landing in a whisper, but he knew really that he hadn’t got that courage. Better run for it: and he thought with nostalgia of Nottingham and a pub he knew, a pub he had once hoped to buy when he had made his pile. It was a good spot, Nottingham, the air was good, none of this salt smart on the dry mouth, and the girls were kind. If he could get away—but the others would never let him go: he knew too much about too many things. He was in the mob for life now, and he looked down the drop of the staircase to the tiny hall, the strip of linoleum, the old-fashioned telephone on a bracket by the door.
As he watched, it began to ring. He looked down at it with fear and suspicion. He couldn’t stand any more bad news. Where had everybody gone to? Had they run and left him without a warning? Even Frank wasn’t in the basement. There was a smell of scorching as if he’d left his iron burning. The bell rang on and on. Let them ring, he thought. They’ll tire of it in time: why should I do all the work of this bloody gaff? On and on and on. Whoever it was didn’t tire easily. He came to the head of the stairs and scowled down at the vulcanite spitting noise through the quiet house. ‘The trouble is,’ he said aloud, as if he were rehearsing a speech to Pinkie and the others, ‘I’m getting too old for this game. I got to retire. Look at my hair. I’m grey, ain’t I? I got to retire.’ But the only answer was the regular ring, ring, ring.
‘Why can’t someone answer the bloody blower?’ he shouted down the well of the stairs. ‘I got to do all the work, have I?’ and he saw himself dropping a ticket into the child’s bucket, slipping a ticket under an upturned boat, tickets which could have hanged him. He suddenly ran down the stairs in a kind of simulated fury and lifted the receiver. ‘Well,’ he bellowed, ‘well, who the hell’s there?’
‘Is that Frank’s?’ a voice said. He knew the voice now. It was the girl in Snow’s. He lowered the receiver in a panic and waited, and a thin doll’s voice came out at him from the orifice: ‘Please, I’ve got to speak to Pinkie.’ It was almost as if listening betrayed him. He listened again and the voice repeated with desperate anxiety, ‘Is that Frank’s?’
Keeping his mouth away from the phone, curling his tongue in an odd way, mouthing hoarsely and crookedly, Spicer in disguise replied, ‘Pinkie’s out. What do you want?’
‘I’ve got to speak to him.’
‘He’s out I tell you.’
‘Who’s that?’ the girl asked in a scared voice.
‘That’s what I want to know. Who are you?’
‘I’m a friend of Pinkie’s. I got to find him. It’s urgent.’
‘I can’t help you.’
‘Please. You’ve got to find Pinkie. He told me I was to tell him—if ever—’ The voice died away.
Spicer shouted down the phone. ‘Hullo. Where you gone? If ever what?’ There was no reply. He listened, with the receiver pressed against his ear, to silence buzzing up the wires. He began to jerk at the hook: ‘Exchange. Hullo. Hullo. Exchange,’ and then suddenly the voice came on again as if somebody had dropped a needle into place on a record. ‘Are you there? Please, are you there?’
‘Of course I’m here. What did Pinkie tell you?’
‘You got to find Pinkie. He said he wanted to know. It’s a woman. She was in here with a man.’
‘What do you mean—a woman?’
‘Asking questions,’ the voice said. Spicer put down the receiver; whatever else the girl had to say was strangled on the wire. Find Pinkie? What was the good of finding Pinkie? It was the others who had done the finding. And Cubitt and Dallow: they’d slipped away without even warning him. If he did squeal it would be only returning them their own coin. But he wasn’t going to squeal. He wasn’t a nark. They thought he was yellow. They’d think he’d squeal. He wouldn’t even get the credit. . . a little moisture of self-pity came pricking out of the dry ageing ducts.
I got to think, he repeated to himself. I got to think. He opened the street door and went out. He didn’t even wait to fetch his hat. His hair was thin on top, dry and brittle under the dandruff. He walked rapidly, going nowhere in particular, but every road in Brighton ended on the front. I’m too old for the game, I got to get out, Nottingham; he wanted to be alone, he went down the stone steps to the level of the beach; it was early closing and the small shops facing the sea under the promenade were closed. He walked on the edge of the asphalt, scuffling in the shingle. I wouldn’t grass, he remarked dumbly to the tide as it lifted and withdrew, but it wasn’t my doing, I never wanted to kill Fred. He passed into shadow under the pier, and a cheap photographer with a box camera snapped him as the shadow fell and pressed a paper into his hand. Spicer didn’t notice. The iron pillars stretched down across the wet dimmed shingle holding up above his head the motor-track, the shooting booths and peep machines, mechanical models, ‘the Robot Man will tell your fortune’. A seagull flew straight towards him between the pillars like a scared bird caught in a cathedral, then swerved out into the sunlight from the dark iron nave. I wouldn’t grass, Spicer said, unless I had to.. . . He stumbled on an old boot and put his hand on the stones to save himself: they had all the cold of the sea and had never been warmed by sun under these pillars.
He thought: that woman—how does she know anything—what’s she doing asking questions? I didn’t want to have Hale killed; it wouldn’t be fair if I took the drop with the others; I told ’em not to do it. He came out into the sunlight and climbed back on to the parade. It’ll be this way the bogies will come, he thought, if they know anything; they always reconstruct the crime. He took up his stand between the turnstile of the pier and the ladies’ lavatory. There weren’t many people about: he could spot the bogies easily enough—if they came. Over there was the Royal Albion; he could see all the way up the Grand Parade to Old Steyne; the pale green domes of the Pavilion floated above the dusty trees; he could see anyone in the hot empt
The poison twisted in the Boy’s veins. He had been insulted. He had to show someone he was—a man. He went scowling into Snow’s, young, shabby and untrustworthy, and the waitresses with one accord turned their backs. He stood there looking for a table (the place was full), and no one attended to him. It was as if they doubted whether he had the money to pay for his meal. He thought of Colleoni padding through the enormous rooms, the embroidered crowns on the chair-backs. He suddenly shouted aloud: ‘I want service,’ and the pulse beat in his cheek. All the faces round him shivered into motion, and then were still again like water. Everyone looked away. He was ignored. Suddenly a sense of weariness overtook him. He felt as if he had travelled a great many miles to be ignored like this.
A voice said, ‘There isn’t a table.’ They were still such strangers that he didn’t recognize the voice, until it added: ‘Pinkie’. He looked round and there was Rose, dressed to go out in a shabby black straw which made her face look as it would look in twenty years’ time, after the work and the child-bearing.
‘They got to serve me,’ the Boy said. ‘Who do they think they are?’
‘There isn’t a table.’
Everyone was watching them now—with disapproval.
‘Come outside, Pinkie.’
‘What are you all dressed up for?’
‘It’s my afternoon off. Come outside.’
He followed her out and suddenly taking her wrist he brought the poison on to his lips. ‘I could break your arm.’
‘What have I done, Pinkie?’
‘No table. They don’t like serving me in there, I’m no class. They’ll see—one day—’
But his mind staggered before the extent of his ambitions. He said, ‘Never mind—they’ll learn—’
‘Did you get the message, Pinkie?’
‘I phoned you at Frank’s. I told him to tell you.’
‘I don’t know.’ She added casually, ‘I think it was the man who left the ticket.’
He gripped her wrist again. He said, ‘The man who left the ticket’s dead. You read it all.’ But she showed no sign of fear this time. He’d been too friendly. She ignored his reminder.
‘Did he find you?’ she asked, and he thought to himself: she’s got to be scared again.
‘No one found me,’ he said. He pushed her roughly forward. ‘Come on. We’ll walk. I’ll take you out.’
‘I was going home.’
‘You won’t go home. You’ll come with me. I want exercise,’ he said, looking down at his pointed shoes which had never walked further than the length of the parade.
‘Where’ll we go, Pinkie?’
‘Somewhere,’ Pinkie said, ‘out in the country. That’s where you go on a day like this.’ He tried to think for a moment of where the country was: the racecourse, that was country; and then a bus came by marked Peacehaven, and he waved his hand to it. ‘There you are,’ he said, ‘that’s country. We can talk there. There’s things we got to get straight.’
‘I thought we were going to walk.’
‘This is walking,’ he said roughly, pushing her up the steps. ‘You’re green. You don’t know a thing. You don’t think people really walk. Why—it’s miles.’
‘When people say, “Come for a walk,” they mean a bus?’
‘Or a car. I’d have taken you in the car, but the mob are out in it.’
‘You got a car?’
‘I couldn’t get on without a car,’ the Boy said, as the bus climbed up behind Rottingdean: red-brick buildings behind a wall, a great stretch of parkland, one girl with a hockey-stick staring at something in the sky, with cropped expensive turf all round her. The poison drained back into its proper glands: he was admired, no one insulted him, but when he looked at the girl who admired him, the poison oozed out again. He said, ‘Take off that hat. You look awful.’ She obeyed him: her mousy hair lay flat on the small scalp: he watched her with distaste. That was what they’d joked about him marrying: that. He watched her with his soured virginity, as one might watch a draught of medicine offered that one would never, never take; one would die first—or let others die. The chalky dust blew up round the windows.
‘You told me to ring up,’ Rose said, ‘so when. . . ’
‘Not here,’ the Boy said. ‘Wait till we’re alone.’ The driver’s head rose slowly against a waste of sky: a few white feathers blown backward into the blue: they were on top of the downs and turned eastwards. The Boy sat with his pointed shoes side by side, his hands in his pockets, feeling the throb of the engine come up through the thin soles.
‘It’s lovely,’ Rose said, ‘being out here—in the country with you.’ Little tarred bungalows with tin roofs paraded backwards, gardens scratched in the chalk, dry flower-beds like Saxon emblems carved on the downs. Notices read: ‘Pull in Here’, ‘Mazawattee tea’, ‘Genuine Antiques’, and hundreds of feet below the pale green sea washed into the scarred and shabby side of England. Peacehaven itself dwindled out against the downs: half-made streets turned into grass tracks. They walked down between the bungalows to the cliff-edge. There was nobody about: one of the bungalows had broken windows, in another the blinds were down for a death. ‘It makes me giddy,’ Rose said, ‘looking down.’ It was early closing and the store was shut; closing time and no drinks obtainable at the hotel; a vista of To Let boards running back along the chalky ruts of unfinished roads. The Boy could see over her shoulder the rough drop to the shingle. ‘It makes me feel I’ll fall,’ Rose said, turning from the sea. He let her turn; no need to act prematurely; the draught might never be offered.
‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘now—who rang up who and why?’
‘I rang up you, but you weren’t in. He answered.’
‘He?’ the Boy repeated.
‘The one who left the ticket that day you came in. You remember—you were looking for something.’ He remembered all right—the hand under the cloth, the stupid innocent face he had expected would so easily forget. ‘You remember a lot,’ he said, frowning at the thought.
‘I wouldn’t forget that day,’ she said abruptly and stopped.
‘You forget a lot, too. I just told you that wasn’t the man you heard speak. That man’s dead.’
‘It doesn’t matter anyway,’ she said. ‘What matters is—someone was in asking questions.’
‘About the ticket?’
‘A woman. A big one with a laugh. You should have heard the laugh. Just as if she’d never had a care. I didn’t trust her. She wasn’t our kind.’
‘Our kind’: he frowned again towards the shallow wrinkled tide at the suggestion that they had something in common and spoke sharply. ‘What did she want?’
‘She wanted to know everything. What the man who left the card looked like.’
‘What did you tell her?’
‘I didn’t tell her a thing, Pinkie.’
The Boy dug with his pointed shoe into the thin dry turf and sent an empty corned-beef tin rattling down the ruts. ‘It’s only you I’m thinking of,’ he said. ‘It don’t matter to me. I’m not concerned. But I wouldn’t want you getting mixed up in things that might be dangerous.’ He looked quickly up at her, sideways. ‘You don’t seem scared. It’s serious what I’m telling you.’
‘I wouldn’t be scared, Pinkie—not with you about.’
He dug his nails into his hands with vexation. She remembered everything she ought to forget, and forgot all that she should remember—the vitriol bottle. He’d scared her all right then: he’d been too friendly since: she really believed that he was fond of her. Why, this, he supposed, was ‘walking out’, and he thought again of Spicer’s joke. He looked at the mousy skull
‘We’ve only just come,’ the girl said. ‘Let’s stay a bit, Pinkie. I like the country,’ she said.
‘You’ve had a look,’ he said. ‘You can’t do anything with the country. The pub’s closed.’
‘We could just sit. We’ve got to wait for the bus anyway. You’re funny. You aren’t scared of anything, are you?’
He laughed queerly, sitting awkwardly down in front of the bungalow with the shattered glass. ‘Me scared? That’s funny.’ He lay back against the bank, his waistcoat undone, his thin frayed tie bright and striped against the chalk.
‘This is better than going home,’ Rose said.
‘Nelson Place. Do you know it?’
‘Oh, I’ve passed through,’ he said airily, but he could have drawn its plan as accurately as a surveyor on the turf: the barred and battlemented Salvation Army gaff at the corner: his own home beyond in Paradise Piece: the houses which looked as if they had passed through an intensive bombardment, flapping gutters and glassless windows, an iron bedstead rusting in a front garden, the smashed and wasted ground in front where houses had been pulled down for model flats which had never gone up.
They lay on the chalk bank side by side with a common geography, and a little hate mixed with his contempt. He thought he had made his escape, and here his home was: back beside him, making claims.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes