Brighton rock, p.27
Brighton Rock, p.27Graham Greene
‘They’ve been gone a long while,’ Dallow said. ‘What are they up to?’
‘Who cares?’ Judy said. ‘They want to be’—she pressed her plump lips against Dallow’s cheek—‘alone’—her red hair caught in his mouth—a sour taste. ‘You know what love is,’ she said.
‘He doesn’t.’ He was uneasy—conversations came back to him. He said, ‘He hates her guts.’ He put his arm half-heartedly round Judy—it was no good spoiling a party, but he wished he knew what Pinkie had in mind. He took a long drink out of Judy’s glass, and somewhere Worthing way a siren wailed. Through the window he could see a couple mooning at the pier end, and an old man got his fortune card from the witch behind glass.
‘Why don’t he get clear of her then?’ Judy asked. Her mouth looked for his mouth down the line of his jaw. She drew herself indignantly up and said, ‘Who’s that polony over there? What does she want lamping us all the time? This is a free country.’
Dallow turned and looked. His brain worked very slowly, first the statement—‘I never seen her,’ and then the memory. ‘Why,’ he said, ‘it’s that damned buer who’s been getting Pinkie rattled.’ He got cumbrously to his feet and stumbled a little between the tables. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘Who are you?’
‘Ida Arnold,’ she said, ‘for what it’s worth. My friends call me Ida.’
‘I’m not your friend.’
‘You better be,’ she said gently. ‘Have a drink. Where’s Pinkie gone—and Rose? You ought to ’ave brought them along. This is Phil. Introduce the lady friend.’ She ran softly on, ‘It’s time we all got together. What’s your name?’
‘Don’t you know what people get who poke their noses. . . ’
‘Oh, I know,’ she said. ‘I know all right. I was with Fred the day you finished him.’
‘Talk sense,’ Dallow said. ‘Who the hell are you?’
‘You ought to know. You followed us all the way up the front in that old Morris of yours.’ She smiled quite amiably at him. He wasn’t her game. ‘It seems an age ago now, doesn’t it?’
It was true all right—it seemed an age.
‘Have a drink,’ Ida said, ‘you may as well. An’ where’s Pinkie? He didn’t seem to like the look of me tonight. What were you celebrating? Not what’s happened to Mr Prewitt? You won’t have heard that.’
‘What do you mean?’ Dallow said. The wind got up against the glass and the waitresses yawned.
‘You’ll see it in the morning papers. I don’t want to spoil your fun. And of course you’ll know it sooner than that if he talks.’
‘He’s gone abroad.’
‘He’s at the police-station now,’ she said with complete confidence. ‘They brought him right back,’ she went elaborately on. ‘You ought to choose your solicitors better, men who can afford to take a holiday. They’ve got him for swindling. Arrested on the quay.’
He watched her uneasily. He didn’t believe her—but all the same. . . ‘You know an awful lot,’ he said. ‘Do you sleep at nights?’
The big broken face had a kind of innocence about it. ‘Me?’ he said. ‘I don’t know a thing.’
‘It was a waste giving him all that money. He’d have run anyway—and it didn’t look good. When I got hold of Johnnie at the pier—’
He stared at her with hopeless amazement. ‘You got hold of Johnnie? How the hell. . . ?’
She said simply, ‘People like me.’ She took a drink and said, ‘His mother treated him shameful when he was a kid.’
Dallow was impatient, puzzled, scared. ‘What the hell,’ he said, ‘do you know about Johnnie’s mother?’
‘What he told me,’ she said. She sat there completely at her ease, her big breasts ready for any secrets. She carried her air of compassion and comprehension about her like a rank cheap perfume. She said gently, ‘I got nothing against you. I like to be friendly. Bring over your lady friend.’
He glanced quickly over his shoulder and back again. ‘I better not,’ he said. His voice fell. He too began automatically to confide. ‘Truth is, she’s a jealous bitch.’
‘You don’t say. And her old man. . . ’
‘Oh, her old man,’ he said, ‘he’s all right. What Frank doesn’t see, he doesn’t mind.’ He dropped his voice still lower. ‘And he can’t see much—he’s blind.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ she said.
‘You wouldn’t,’ he said. ‘Not from his pressing and ironing. He’s got a wonderful hand with an iron.’ He broke suddenly off. ‘What the hell,’ he said, ‘did you mean—you didn’t know that? What did you know?’
‘There isn’t much,’ she said, ‘I’ve not picked up—here and there. The neighbours always talk.’ She was barnacled with pieces of popular wisdom.
‘Who’s talking?’ It was Judy now. She’d come across to them. ‘An’ what ’ave they got to talk about? Why, if I chose to put my tongue round some of their doings. But I wouldn’t like to,’ Judy said. ‘I wouldn’t like to.’ She looked vaguely round. ‘What has happened to those two?’
‘Perhaps I scared them,’ Ida Arnold said.
‘You scared them?’ Dallow said. ‘That’s rich. Pinkie’s not scared that easy.’
‘What I want to know is,’ Judy said, ‘what neighbour’s said what?’
Somebody was shooting at the range: when the door opened and a couple came in they could hear the shots—one, two, three. ‘That’ll be Pinkie,’ Dallow said. ‘He was always good with a gun.’
‘You better go an’ see,’ Ida gently remarked, ‘that he doesn’t do something desperate—with his gun—when he gets to know.’
Dallow said, ‘You jump to things. We got no cause to be afraid of Mr Prewitt.’
‘You gave him money, I suppose, for something.’
‘Aw,’ he said, ‘Johnnie’s been joking.’
‘Your friend Cubitt seemed to think. . . ’
‘Cubitt doesn’t know a thing.’
‘Of course,’ she admitted, ‘he wasn’t there, was he? That time, I mean. But you. . . ’ she said. ‘Wouldn’t twenty pounds be of use to you? After all you don’t want to get into trouble.. . . Let Pinkie carry his own crimes.’
‘You make me sick,’ he said. ‘You think you know a lot and you don’t know a thing.’ He said to Judy, ‘I’m goin’ to have a drain. You want to keep your mouth shut or this polony. . . ’ He stretched a gesture, hopelessly—he couldn’t express what she mightn’t put over on you. He went uneasily out, and the wind caught him, so that he had to grab at his old greasy hat and hold it on. Going down the step to the gents was like going down into a ship’s engine-room in a storm. The whole place shook a little under his feet as the swell came up against the piles and drove on to break against the beach. He thought: I oughter warn Pinkie about Prewitt if it’s true.. . . He had things on his mind, other things besides old Spicer. He came up the ladder and looked down the dock—Pinkie wasn’t to be seen. He went on past the peep machines—not in sight. It was someone else shooting at the booth.
He asked the man, ‘Seen Pinkie?’
‘What’s the game?’ the man said. ‘You know I seen him. An’ he’s gone for a ride in the country—with his girl—for a freshener—Hastings way. An’ I suppose you want to know the time too. Well,’ the man said, ‘I’m swearing nothing. You can pitch on someone else for your phoney alibis.’
‘You’re crackers,’ Dallow said. He moved away. Across the noisy sea the hour began to strike in Brighton churches: he counted one, two, three, four, and stopped. He was scared—suppose it was true, suppose Pinkie knew, and it was that mad scheme. . . Why the hell was he taking anyone for a ride in the country at this hour, except to a roadhouse, and Pinkie didn’t go to roadhouses? He said softly, ‘I won’t stand for it,’ aloud. He was confused, he wished he hadn’t drunk all that beer. She was a good kid. He remembered her in the kitchen, going to light the stove. A
He knew the Morris wouldn’t be on the rank, but all the same he had to go and see for himself. Its absence was like a voice speaking quite plainly in his ear. ‘Suppose she kills herself. . . a pact may be murder, but they don’t hang you for it.’ He stood there hopelessly, not knowing what to do. Beer clouded his brain: he passed a harassed hand across his face. He said to the attendant, ‘You see that Morris go out?’
‘Your friend and his girl took it,’ the man said, hobbling between a Talbot and an Austin. One leg was gammy, he moved it with a mechanism worked from his pocket, lurching with an air of enormous strain to pocket sixpence, to say ‘It’s a fine night’; he looked worn with the awful labour of the trivial act. He said, ‘They’re goin’ up to Peacehaven for a drink. Don’t ask me why.’ Hand in pocket he pulled the hidden wire and made his unsteady and diagonal way towards a Ford. ‘The rain won’t hold off long,’ his voice came back, and ‘Thank you, sir,’ and then again the labour of movement as a Morris Oxford backed in, the pulling at the wire.
Dallow stood there hopelessly at a loss. There were buses. . . but everything would be over long before a bus got in. Better to wash his hands of the whole thing. . . after all he didn’t know; in half an hour he might see the old car coming back past the Aquarium, Pinkie driving and the girl beside him, but he knew very well in his heart that it would never come, not with both of them, that way. The Boy had left too many signs behind him—the message at the shooting-range, at the car-park: he wanted to be followed in good time, in his own time, to fit in with his story. The man came lurching back. He said, ‘I thought your friend seemed queer tonight. Sort of lit up.’ It was as if he were talking in the witness box, giving the evidence he was meant to give.
Dallow turned hopelessly away. . . fetch Judy, go home, wait. . . and there was the woman standing a few feet away. She’d followed him and listened. He said, ‘God’s sakes, this is your doing. You made him marry her, you made him. . . ’
‘Get a car,’ she said, ‘quick.’
‘I’ve not got the money for a car.’
‘I have. You better hurry.’
‘There’s no cause to hurry,’ he said weakly. ‘They’ve just gone for a drink.’
‘You know what they’ve gone for,’ she said. ‘I don’t. But if you want to keep out of this, you’d better get that car.’
The first rain began to blow up the parade as he weakly argued. ‘I don’t know a thing.’
‘That’s right,’ she said. ‘You’re just taking me for a drive, that’s all.’ She burst suddenly out at him: ‘Don’t be a fool. You better have me for a friend. . . ’ She said, ‘You see what’s come to Pinkie.’
All the same he didn’t hurry. What was the good? Pinkie had laid this trail. Pinkie thought of everything, they were meant to follow in due course, and find. . . He hadn’t got the imagination to see what they’d find.
The Boy stopped at the head of the stairs and looked down. Two men had come into the lounge: hearty and damp in camel-hair coats they shook out their moisture like dogs and were noisy over their drinks. ‘Two pints,’ they ordered ‘in tankards,’ and fell suddenly silent scenting a girl in the lounge. They were upper-class, they’d learned that tankard trick in class hotels: he watched their gambits with hatred from the stairs. Anything female was better than nothing, even Rose; but he could sense their half-heartedness. She wasn’t worth more than a little sidelong swagger. ‘I think we touched eighty.’
‘I made it eighty-two.’
‘She’s a good bus.’
‘How much did they sting you?’
‘A couple of hundred. She’s cheap at the price.’
Then they both stopped and took an arrogant look at the girl by the statuette. She wasn’t worth bothering about, but if she absolutely fell, without trouble. . . One of them said something in a low voice and the other laughed. They took long swills of bitter from the tankards.
Tenderness came up to the very window and looked in. What the hell right had they got to swagger and laugh. . . if she was good enough for him. He came down the stairs into the hall; they looked up and moued to each other, as much as to say—‘Oh well, she wasn’t really worth the trouble.’
One of them said, ‘Drink up. We better get on with the good work. You don’t think Zoe’ll be out?’
‘Oh no. I said I might drop in.’
‘Her friend all right?’
‘Let’s get on then.’
They drained their beer and moved arrogantly to the door, taking a passing look at Rose as they went. He could hear them laugh outside the door. They were laughing at him. He came a few steps into the lounge: again they were bound in an icy constraint. He had a sudden inclination to throw up the whole thing, to get into the car and drive home, and let her live. It was less a motion of pity than of weariness—there was such a hell of a lot to do and think of, there were going to be so many questions to be answered. He could hardly believe in the freedom at the end of it, and even that freedom was to be in a strange place. He said, ‘The rain’s worse.’ She stood there waiting; she couldn’t answer: she was breathing hard as if she’d run a long way—and she looked old. She was sixteen, but this was how she might have looked after years of marriage, of the childbirth and the daily quarrel: they had reached death and it affected them like age.
She said, ‘I wrote what you wanted.’ She waited for him to take the scrap of paper and write his own message to the coroner, to Daily Express readers, to what one called the world. The other boy came cautiously into the lounge and said, ‘You haven’t paid.’ While Pinkie found the money, she was visited by an almost overwhelming rebellion—she had only to go out, leave him, refuse to play. He couldn’t make her kill herself: life wasn’t as bad as that. It came like a revelation, as if someone had whispered to her that she was someone, a separate creature—not just one flesh with him. She could always escape—if he didn’t change his mind. Nothing was decided. They could go in the car wherever he wanted them to go; she could take the gun from his hand, and even then—at the last moment of all—she needn’t shoot. Nothing was decided—there was always hope.
‘That’s your tip,’ the Boy said. ‘I always tip a waiter.’ Hate came back. He said, ‘You a good Roman, Piker? Do you go to Mass on Sundays like they tell you?’
Piker said with weak defiance, ‘Why not, Pinkie?’
‘You’re afraid,’ the Boy said. ‘You’re afraid of burning.’
‘Who wouldn’t be?’
‘I’m not.’ He looked with loathing into the past—a cracked bell ringing, a child weeping under the cane—and repeated, ‘I’m not afraid.’ He said to Rose, ‘We’ll be going.’ He came tentatively across and put a nail against her cheek—half caress, half threat—and said, ‘You’d love me always, wouldn’t you?’
He gave her one more chance: ‘You’d always have stuck to me,’ and when she nodded her agreement, he began wearily the long course of action which one day would let him be free again.
Outside in the rain the self-starter wouldn’t work again: he stood with his coat-collar turned up and pulled the handle. She wanted to tell him he mustn’t stand there, getting wet, because she’d changed her mind: they were going to live—by hook or by crook, but she didn’t dare. She pushed hope back—to the last possible moment. When they drove off she said, ‘Last night. . . the night before. . . you didn’t hate me, did you, for what we did?’
He said, ‘No, I didn’t hate you.’
‘Even though it was a mortal sin.’
It was quite true—he hadn’t hated her; he hadn’t even hated the act. There had been a kind of pleasure, a kind of pride, a kind of—something else. The car lurche
An ill-made street petered out towards the cliff—bungalows of every shape and kind, a vacant plot full of salt grass and wet thorn bushes like bedraggled fowls, no lights except in three windows. A radio played, and in a garage a man was doing something to his motor-bike which roared and spluttered in the darkness. He drove a few yards in, turned out his headlights, switched off his engine. The rain came noisily in through the rent in the hood and they could hear the sea battering the cliff. He said, ‘Well, take a look. It’s the world.’ Another light went on behind a stained-glass door (the laughing Cavalier between Tudor roses) and looking out as if it was he who’d got to take some sort of farewell of the bike and the bungalows and the rainy street, he thought of the words in the Mass—‘He was in the world and the world was made by Him and the world knew Him not.’
It was about as far as hope could be stretched; she had to say now or never—‘I won’t do it. I never meant to do it.’ It was like some romantic adventure—you plan to fight in Spain, and then before you know the tickets are taken for you, the introductions are pressed into your hand, somebody has come to see you off, everything is real. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the gun. He said, ‘I got it out of Dallow’s room.’ She wanted to say she didn’t know how to use it to make any excuse, but he seemed to have thought of everything. He explained, ‘I’ve put up the safety-catch. All you need do is pull on this. It isn’t hard. Put it in your ear—that’ll hold it steady.’ His youth came out in the crudity of his instruction: he was like a boy playing on an ash-heap. ‘Go on,’ he said, ‘take it.’
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes