Brighton rock, p.23
Brighton Rock, p.23Graham Greene
‘I don’t want any help,’ Rose said.
‘You ought to go home.’
Rose clenched her hands in defence of the brass bed, the ewer of dusty water: ‘This is home.’
‘It’s no good your getting angry, dear,’ the woman continued. ‘I’m not going to lose my temper with you again. It’s not your fault. You don’t understand how things are. Why, you poor little thing, I pity you,’ and she advanced across the linoleum as if she intended to take Rose in her arms.
Rose backed against the bed, ‘You keep your distance.’
‘Now don’t get agitated, dear. It won’t help. You see—I’m determined.’
‘I don’t know what you mean. Why can’t you talk straight?’
‘There’s things I’ve got to break—gently.’
‘Keep away from me. Or I’ll scream.’
The woman stopped. ‘Now let’s talk sensible, dear. I’m here for your own good. You got to be saved. Why—’ she seemed for a moment at a loss for words. She said in a hushed voice, ‘Your life’s in danger.’
‘You go away if that’s all—’
‘All,’ the woman was shocked. ‘What do you mean, all?’ Then she laughed resolutely. ‘Why, dear, for a moment you had me rattled. All, indeed. It’s enough, isn’t it? I’m not joking now. If you don’t know it, you got to know it. There’s nothing he wouldn’t stop at.’
‘Well?’ Rose said, giving nothing away.
The woman whispered softly across the few feet between them, ‘He’s a murderer.’
‘Do you think I don’t know that?’ Rose said.
‘God’s sake,’ the woman said, ‘do you mean—’
‘There’s nothing you can tell me.’
‘You crazy little fool—to marry him knowing that. I got a good mind to let you be.’
‘I won’t complain,’ Rose said.
The woman hooked on another smile, as you hook on a wreath. ‘I’m not going to lose my temper, dear. Why if I let you be, I wouldn’t sleep at nights. It wouldn’t be Right. Listen to me; maybe you don’t know what happened. I got it all figured out. They took Fred down under the parade, into one of those little shops and strangled him—least they would have strangled him, but his heart gave out first.’ She said in an awestruck voice, ‘They strangled a dead man,’ then added sharply, ‘you aren’t listening.’
‘I know it all,’ Rose lied. She was thinking hard—she was remembering Pinkie’s warning—‘Don’t get mixed up.’ She thought wildly and vaguely: he did his best for me; I got to help him now. She watched the woman closely; she would never forget that plump, good-natured, ageing face: it stared out at her like an idiot’s from the ruins of a bombed home. She said, ‘Well, if you think that’s how it was, why don’t you go to the police?’
‘Now you’re talking sense,’ the woman said. ‘I only want to make things clear. This is the way it is, dear. There’s a certain person I’ve paid money to who’s told me things. And there’s things I’ve figured out for myself. But that person—he won’t give evidence. For reasons. And you need a lot of evidence—seeing how the doctors made it natural death. Now if you—’
‘Why don’t you give it up?’ Rose said. ‘It’s over and done, isn’t it? Why not let us all be?’
‘It wouldn’t be right. Besides—he’s dangerous. Look what happened here the other day. You don’t tell me that was an accident.’
‘You haven’t thought, have you,’ Rose said, ‘why he did it? You don’t kill a man for no reason.’
‘Well, why did he?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I don’t need to know.’
‘You think he’s in love with you,’ the woman said, ‘he’s not.’
‘He married me.’
‘And why? because they can’t make a wife give evidence. You’re just a witness like that other man was. My dear,’ she again tried to close the gap between them, ‘I only want to save you. He’d kill you as soon as look at you if he thought he wasn’t safe.’
With her back to the bed Rose watched her approach. She let her put her large cool pastry-making hands upon her shoulders. ‘People change,’ she said.
‘Oh, no they don’t. Look at me. I’ve never changed. It’s like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you’ll still read Brighton. That’s human nature.’ She breathed mournfully over Rose’s face—a sweet and winey breath.
‘Confession. . . repentance,’ Rose whispered.
‘That’s just religion,’ the woman said. ‘Believe me, it’s the world we got to deal with.’ She went pat pat on Rose’s shoulder, her breath whistling in her throat. ‘You pack a bag and come away with me. I’ll look after you. You won’t have any cause to fear.’
‘Pinkie. . . ’
‘I’ll look after Pinkie.’
Rose said, ‘I’ll do anything—anything you want. . . ’
‘That’s the way to talk, dear.’
‘If you’ll let us alone.’
The woman backed away. A momentary look of fury was hung up among the wreaths discordantly. ‘Obstinate,’ she said. ‘If I was your mother. . . a good hiding.’ The bony and determined face stared back at her: all the fight there was in the world lay there—warships cleared for action and bombing fleets took flight between the set eyes and the stubborn mouth. It was like the map of a campaign marked with flags.
‘Another thing,’ the woman bluffed. ‘They can send you to gaol. Because you know. You told me so. An accomplice, that’s what you are. After the fact.’
‘If they took Pinkie, do you think,’ she asked with astonishment, ‘I’d mind?’
‘Gracious,’ the woman said, ‘I only came here for your sake. I wouldn’t have troubled to see you first, only I don’t want to let the Innocent suffer’—the aphorism came clicking out like a ticket from a slot machine. ‘Why, won’t you lift a finger to stop him killing you?’
‘He wouldn’t do me any harm.’
‘You’re young. You don’t know things like I do.’
‘There’s things you don’t know.’ She brooded darkly by the bed, while the woman argued on: a God wept in a garden and cried out upon a cross; Molly Carthew went to everlasting fire.
‘I know one thing you don’t. I know the difference between Right and Wrong. They didn’t teach you that at school.’
Rose didn’t answer; the woman was quite right: the two words meant nothing to her. Their taste was extinguished by stronger foods—Good and Evil. The woman could tell her nothing she didn’t know about these—she knew by tests as clear as mathematics that Pinkie was evil—what did it matter in that case whether he was right or wrong?
‘You’re crazy,’ the woman said. ‘I don’t believe you’d lift a finger if he was killing you.’
Rose came slowly back to the outer world. She said, ‘Maybe I wouldn’t.’
‘If I wasn’t a kind woman I’d give you up. But I’ve got a sense of responsibility.’ Her smiles hung very insecurely when she paused at the door. ‘You can warn that young husband of yours,’ she said, ‘I’m getting warm to him. I got my plans.’ She went out and closed the door, then flung it open again for a last attack. ‘You be careful, dear,’ she said. ‘You don’t want a murderer’s baby,’ and grinned mercilessly across the bare bedroom floor. ‘You better take precautions.’
Precautions. . . Rose stood at the bed-end and pressed a hand against her body, as if under that pressure she could discover. . . That had never entered her mind; and the thought of what she might have let herself in for came like a sense of glory. A child. . . and that child would have a child. . . it was like raising an army of friends for Pinkie. If They damned him and her, They’d have to deal with them, too. There was no end to what the two of them had done last night upon the bed: it was an eternal act.
The Boy stood back in the doorway of the newspaper shop and saw Ida Arnold come out. She looked a little flushed, a little haughty sailing down the street; she paused an
The Boy gave a sudden laugh, rusty and half-hearted. He thought: she’s drunk. . . Dallow said, ‘That was a narrow squeak.’
‘Her. . . how did you know?’
‘She asked for Rose.’
The Boy put down the News of the World upon the counter—a headline stood up—‘Assault on Schoolgirl in Epping Forest’. He walked across to Frank’s thinking hard, and up the stairs. Half-way he stopped: she’d dropped an artificial violet from a spray. He picked it off the stair: it smelt of Californian Poppy. Then he went in, holding the flower concealed in his palm, and Rose came across to him, welcoming. He avoided her mouth. ‘Well,’ he said and tried to express in his face a kind of rough and friendly jocularity, ‘I hear your Mum’s been visiting you,’ and waited anxiously for her reply.
‘Oh, yes,’ Rose said doubtfully, ‘she did look in.’
‘Not one of her moody days?’
He kneaded the violet furiously in his palm. ‘Well, did she think it suited you—being married?’
‘Oh, yes, I think she did. . . She didn’t say much.’
The Boy went across to the bed and slipped on his coat. He said, ‘You been out too I hear?’
‘I thought I’d go and see friends.’
‘You call them friends?’ he asked with contempt. ‘Well, did you see them?’
‘Not really. Only one—Maisie. For a minute.’
‘And then you got back here in time to catch your Mum. Don’t you want to know what I’ve been up to?’
She stared stupidly at him: his manner scared her. ‘If you like.’
‘What do you mean, if I like? You aren’t as dumb as that.’ The wire anatomy of the flower pricked his palm. He said, ‘I got to have a word with Dallow. Wait here,’ and left her.
He called to Dallow, across the street, and when Dallow joined them, he said, ‘Where’s Judy?’
‘Come down to the kitchen then.’ He led the way down the stairs; in the basement dusk his feet crunched on dead coke. He sat down on the edge of the kitchen table and said, ‘Have a drink.’
‘Too early,’ Dallow said.
‘Listen,’ the Boy said. An expression of pain crossed his face as if he were about to wring out an appalling confession. ‘I trust you,’ he said.
‘Well,’ Dallow, said, ‘what’s getting you?’
‘Things aren’t too good,’ the Boy said. ‘People are getting wise to a lot of things. Christ,’ he said, ‘I killed Spicer and I married the girl. Have I got to have that massacre?’
‘Was Cubitt here last night?’
‘He was and I sent him away. He begged—he wanted a fiver.’
‘Did you give it him?’
‘Of course I didn’t. D’you think I’d let myself be blackmailed by a thing like him?’
‘You oughter have given him something.’
‘It’s not him I’m worried about.’
‘You ought to be.’
‘Be quiet, can’t you,’ the Boy suddenly and shrilly squealed at him. He jerked his thumb towards the ceiling. ‘It’s her I’m worried about.’ He opened his hand and said, ‘God damn it I dropped that flower.’
‘Flower. . . ?’
‘Be quiet, can’t you, and listen,’ he said low and furiously. ‘That wasn’t her Mum.’
‘Who was it?’ Dallow asked.
‘The buer who’s been asking questions. . . the one who was with Fred in the taxi the day. . . ’ He put his head for a moment between his hands in an attitude of grief or desperation—but it wasn’t either: it was the rush of memories. He said, ‘I got a headache. I got to think clear. Rose told me it was her Mum. What’s she after?’
‘You don’t think,’ Dallow said, ‘she’s talked?’
‘I got to find out,’ the Boy said.
‘I’d have trusted her,’ Dallow said, ‘all the way.’
‘I wouldn’t trust anyone that far. Not you, Dallow.’
‘But if she’s talking, why does she talk to her—why not to the police?’
‘Why don’t any of them talk to the police?’ He stared with troubled eyes at the cold stove. He was haunted by his ignorance. ‘I don’t know what they’re getting at.’ Other people’s feelings bored at his brain: he had never before felt this desire to understand. He said passionately, ‘I’d like to carve the whole bloody boiling.’
‘After all,’ Dallow said, ‘she don’t know much. She only knows it wasn’t Fred left the card. If you ask me she’s a dumb little piece. Affectionate, I daresay, but dumb.’
‘You’re the dumb one, Dallow. She knows a lot. She knows I killed Fred.’
‘She told me so.’
‘An’ she married you?’ Dallow said. ‘I’m damned if I understand what they want.’
‘If we don’t do something quick it looks to me as if all Brighton’ll know we killed Fred. All England. The whole Goddamned world.’
‘What can we do?’
The Boy went over to the basement window crunching on the coke: a tiny asphalt yard with an old dustbin which hadn’t been used for weeks: a blocked grating, and a sour smell. He said, ‘It’s no good stopping now. We got to go on.’ People passed overhead, invisible from the waist upwards: a shabby shoe scuffled the pavement wearing out the toecap; a bearded face stooped suddenly into sight looking for a cigarette-end. He said slowly, ‘It ought to be easy to quiet her. We quieted Fred an’ Spicer, an’ she’s only a kid. . . ’
‘Don’t be crazy,’ Dallow said. ‘You can’t go on like that.’
‘Maybe I got to. No choice. Maybe it’s always that way—you start and then you go on going on.’
‘We’re making a mistake,’ Dallow said. ‘I’d stake you a fiver she’s straight. Why—you told me yourself—she’s stuck on you.’
‘Why did she say it was her Mum then?’ He watched a woman go by: young as far as the thighs: you couldn’t see further up than that. A spasm of disgust shook him. He’d given way: he had even been proud of that—what he could have done with Spicer’s girl, Sylvie, in a Lancia. Oh, it was all right, he supposed, to take every drink once—if you could stop at that, say ‘never again’, not go on—going on.
‘I can tell it myself,’ Dallow said. ‘Clear as clear. She’s stuck on you all right.’
Stuck: high heels trodden over, bare legs moving out of sight. ‘If she’s stuck,’ he said, ‘it makes it easier—she’ll do what I say.’ A piece of newspaper blew along the street: the wind was from the sea.
Dallow said. ‘Pinkie, I won’t stand for any more killing.’
The Boy turned his back to the window and his mouth made a bad replica of mirth. He said, ‘But suppose she killed herself?’ An insane pride bobbed in his breast; he felt inspired: it was like a love of life returning to the blank heart: the empty tenement and then the seven devils worse than the first. . .
Dallow said, ‘For Christ’s sake, Pinkie. You’re imagining things.’
‘We’ll soon see,’ the Boy said.
He came up the stairs from the basement, looking this way and that for the scented flower of cloth and wire. He could see it nowhere. Rose’s voice said, ‘Pinkie,’ over the new banister: she was waiting there for him anxiously on the landing. She said, ‘Pinkie, I got to tell you. I wanted to keep you from worrying—but there’s got to be someone I don’t have to lie to. That wasn’t Mum, Pinkie.’
He came slowly up, watching her closely, judging. ‘Who was it?’
‘It was that woman. The one who used to come to Snow’s asking questions.’
‘What did she want?’
‘She wanted me to go away from here.’
‘Pinkie, she knows.’
‘Why did you say it was your Mum?’
‘I told you—I didn’t want you to worry.’
He was beside her, watching her. She faced him back with a worried candour, and he found that he believed her as much as he believed anyone: his restless cocky pride subsided: he felt an odd sense of peace, as if—for a while—he hadn’t got to plan.
‘But then,’ Rose went anxiously on, ‘I thought—perhaps you ought to worry.’
‘That’s all right,’ he said and put his hand on her shoulder in an awkward embrace.
‘She said something about paying money to someone. She said she was getting warm to you.’
‘I don’t worry,’ he said and pressed her back. Then he stopped, looking over her shoulder. In the doorway of the room the flower lay. He had dropped it when he closed the door—and then—he began at once to calculate—she followed me, of course she saw the flower, she knew I knew. That explains everything, the confession. . . All the while he was down there below with Dallow she had been wondering what she had to do to cover her mistake. A clean breast—the phrase made him laugh—a clean tart’s breast, the kind of breast Sylvie sported—cleaned up for use. He laughed again: the horror of the world lay like infection in his throat.
‘What is it, Pinkie?’
‘That flower,’ he said.
‘The one she brought.’
‘What. . . where. . . ?’
Perhaps she hadn’t seen it then. . . maybe she was straight after all. . . who knows? Who, he thought, will ever know? And with a kind of sad excitement—what did it matter anyway? He had been a fool to think it made any difference; he couldn’t afford to take risks. If she were straight and loved him it would be just so much easier, that was all. He repeated, ‘I don’t worry. I don’t need to worry. I know what to do. Even if she got to know everything I know what to do.’ He watched her shrewdly. He brought his hand round and pressed her breast. ‘It won’t hurt,’ he said.
‘What won’t hurt, Pinkie?’
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes