Brighton rock, p.3
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       Brighton Rock, p.3

           Graham Greene
 

  ‘Of course I will,’ Ida said, hiccuping gently as she stepped out. ‘I like you, Fred. I liked you the moment I saw you. You’re a good sport, Fred. What’s that crowd, there?’ she asked with joyful curiosity, pointing to the gathering of neat and natty trousers, of bright blouses and bare arms and bleached and perfumed hair.

  ‘With every watch I sell,’ a man was shouting in the middle of it all, ‘I give a free gift worth twenty times the value of the watch. Only a shilling, ladies and gents, only a shilling. With every watch I sell. . . ’

  ‘Get me a watch, Fred,’ Ida said, pushing him gently, ‘and give me threepence before you go. I want to get a wash.’ They stood on the pavement at the entrance to the Palace Pier; the crowd was thick around them, passing in and out of the turnstiles, watching the pedlar: there was no sign anywhere of the Morris car.

  ‘You don’t want a wash, Ida,’ Hale implored her. ‘You’re fine.’

  ‘I’ve got to get a wash,’ she said, ‘I’m sweating all over. You just wait here. I’ll only be two minutes.’

  ‘You won’t get a good wash here,’ Hale said. ‘Come to a hotel and have a drink—’

  ‘I can’t wait, Fred. Really I can’t. Be a sport.’

  Hale said, ‘That ten shillings. You’d better have that too while I remember it.’

  ‘It’s real good of you, Fred. Can you spare it?’

  ‘Be quick, Ida,’ Hale said. ‘I’ll be here. Just here. By this turnstile. You won’t be long, will you? I’ll be here,’ he repeated, putting his hand on a rail of the turnstile.

  ‘Why,’ Ida said, ‘anyone’d think you were in love,’ and she carried the image of him quite tenderly in her mind down the steps of the ladies’ lavatory: the small rather battered man with the nails bitten close (she missed nothing) and the inkstains and the hand clutching the rail. He’s a good geezer, she said to herself, I liked the way he looked even in that bar if I did laugh at him, and she began to sing again, softly this time, in her warm winey voice, ‘One night—in an alley—Lord Rothschild said to me. . . ’ It was a long time since she’d hurried herself so for a man, and it wasn’t more than four minutes before, cool and powdered and serene, she mounted into the bright Whitsun afternoon to find him gone. He wasn’t by the turnstile, he wasn’t in the crowd by the pedlar; she forced herself into that to make sure and found herself facing the flushed, permanently irritated salesman. ‘What? Not give a shilling for a watch, and a free gift worth exactly twenty times the watch. I’m not saying the watch is worth much more than a shilling, though it’s worth that for the looks alone, but with it a free gift twenty times—’ She held out the ten-shilling note and got her small package and the change, thinking: he’s probably gone to the gents, he’ll be back; and taking up her place by the turnstile, she opened the little envelope which wrapped the watch round. ‘Black Boy,’ she read, ‘in the four o’clock at Brighton,’ and thought tenderly and proudly, ‘That was his tip. He’s a fellow who knows things,’ and prepared patiently and happily to wait for him to return. She was a sticker. A clock away in the town struck half-past one.

  2

  The Boy paid his threepence and went through the turnstile. He moved rigidly past the rows of deck-chairs four deep where people were waiting for the orchestra to play. From behind he looked younger than he was in his dark thin ready-made suit a little too big for him at the hips, but when you met him face to face he looked older, the slatey eyes were touched with the annihilating eternity from which he had come and to which he went. The orchestra began to play: he felt the music as a movement in his belly: the violins wailed in his guts. He looked neither right nor left but went on.

  In the Palace of Pleasure he made his way past the peepshows, the slot-machines and the quoits to a shooting-booth. The shelves of dolls stared down with glassy innocence, like Virgins in a church repository. The Boy looked up: chestnut ringlets, blue orbs and painted cheeks: he thought—Hail Mary. . . in the hour of our death. ‘I’ll have six shots,’ he said.

  ‘Oh, it’s you, is it?’ the stall-holder said, eyeing him with uneasy distaste.

  ‘Yes, it’s me,’ the Boy said. ‘Have you got the time on you, Bill?’

  ‘What do you mean—the time? There’s a clock up there in the hall, isn’t there?’

  ‘It says nearly a quarter-to-two. I didn’t think it was that late.’

  ‘That clock’s always right,’ the man said. He came down to the end of the booth pistol in hand. ‘It’s always right, see,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t stand for any phoney alibis. A quarter-to-two, that’s the time.’

  ‘That’s all right, Bill,’ the Boy said. ‘A quarter-to-two. I just wanted to know. Give me that pistol.’ He raised it: the young bony hand was steady as a rock: he put six shots inside the bull. ‘That’s worth a prize,’ he said.

  ‘You can take your bloody prize,’ Bill said, ‘and hop it. What do you want? Chocolates?’

  ‘I don’t eat chocolates,’ the Boy said.

  ‘Packet of Players?’

  ‘I don’t smoke.’

  ‘You’ll have to have a doll then or a glass vase.’

  ‘The doll’ll do,’ the Boy said. ‘I’ll have that one—the one up there with the brown hair.’

  ‘You getting a family?’ the man said, but the Boy didn’t answer, walking rigidly away past the other booths, with the smell of gunpowder on his fingers, holding the Mother of God by the hair. The water washed round the piles at the end of the pier, dark poison-bottle green, mottled with seaweed, and the salt wind smarted on his lips. He climbed the ladder on to the tea-terrace and looked around; nearly every table was full. He went inside the glass shelter and round into the long narrow tea-room which faced west, perched fifty feet above the slow withdrawing tide. A table was free and he sat down where he could see all the room and across the water to the pale parade.

  ‘I’ll wait,’ he said to the girl who came for his order. ‘I’ve got friends coming.’ The window was open and he could hear the low waves beating at the pier and the music of the orchestra—faint and sad, borne away on the wind towards the shore. He said, ‘They are late. What time is it?’ His fingers pulled absent-mindedly at the doll’s hair, detaching the brown wool.

  ‘It’s nearly ten-to-two,’ the girl said.

  ‘All the clocks on this pier are fast,’ he said.

  ‘Oh, no,’ the girl said. ‘It’s real London time.’

  ‘Take the doll,’ the Boy said. ‘It’s no good to me. I just won it in one of those shooting booths. It’s no good to me.’

  ‘Can I really?’ the girl said.

  ‘Go on. Take it. Stick it up in your room and pray.’ He tossed it at her, watching the door impatiently. His body was stiffly controlled. The only sign of nervousness he showed was a slight tick in his cheek through the soft chicken down, where you might have expected a dimple. It beat more impatiently when Cubitt appeared, and with him Dallow, a stout muscular man with a broken nose and an expression of brutal simplicity.

  ‘Well?’ the Boy said.

  ‘It’s all right,’ Cubitt said.

  ‘Where’s Spicer?’

  ‘He’s coming,’ Dallow said. ‘He’s just gone into the gents to have a wash.’

  ‘He ought to have come straight,’ the Boy said. ‘You’re late. I said a quarter-to-two sharp.’

  ‘Don’t take on so,’ Cubitt said. ‘All you’d got to do was to come straight across.’

  ‘I had to tidy up,’ the Boy said. He beckoned to the waitress. ‘Four fish and chips and a pot of tea. There’s another coming.’

  ‘Spicer won’t want fish and chips,’ Dallow said. ‘He’s got no appetite.’

  ‘He’d better have an appetite,’ the Boy said, and leaning his face on his hands, he watched Spicer’s pale-faced progress up the tea-room and felt anger grinding at his guts like the tide at the piles below. ‘It’s five-to-two,’ he said. ‘That’s right, isn’t it? It’s five-to-two?’ he called to the waitress.

  ‘It took longer than
we thought,’ Spicer said, dropping into the chair, dark and pallid and spotty. He looked with nausea at the brown crackling slab of fish the girl set before him. ‘I’m not hungry,’ he said. ‘I can’t eat this. What do you think I am?’ and they all three left their fish untasted as they stared at the Boy—like children before his ageless eyes.

  The Boy poured anchovy sauce out over his chips. ‘Eat,’ he said. ‘Go on. Eat.’ Dallow suddenly grinned. ‘He’s got no appetite,’ he said and stuffed his mouth with fish. They all talked low, their words lost to those around in the hubbub of plates and voices and the steady surge of the sea. Cubitt followed suit, picking at his fish: only Spicer wouldn’t eat. He sat stubbornly there, grey-haired and sea-sick.

  ‘Give me a drink, Pinkie,’ he said. ‘I can’t swallow this stuff.’

  ‘You aren’t going to have a drink, not today,’ the Boy said. ‘Go on. Eat.’

  Spicer put some fish to his mouth. ‘I’ll be sick,’ he said, ‘if I eat.’

  ‘Spew then,’ the Boy said. ‘Spew if you like. You haven’t any guts to spew.’ He said to Dallow, ‘Did it go all right?’

  ‘It was beautiful,’ Dallow said. ‘Me and Cubitt planted him. We gave the cards to Spicer.’

  ‘You put ’em out all right?’ the Boy said.

  ‘Of course I put ’em out,’ Spicer said.

  ‘All along the parade?’

  ‘Of course I put ’em out. I don’t see why you get so fussed about the cards.’

  ‘You don’t see much,’ the Boy said. ‘They’re an alibi, aren’t they?’ He dropped his voice and whispered it over the fish. ‘They prove he kept to programme. They show he died after two.’ He raised his voice again. ‘Listen. Do you hear that?’

  Very faintly in the town a clock chimed and struck twice.

  ‘Suppose they found him already?’ Spicer said.

  ‘Then that’s just too bad for us,’ the Boy said.

  ‘What about that polony he was with?’

  ‘She doesn’t matter,’ the Boy said. ‘She’s just a buer—he gave her a half. I saw him hand it out.’

  ‘You take account of most things,’ Dallow said with admiration. He poured himself a cup of black tea and helped himself to five lumps of sugar.

  ‘I take account of what I do myself,’ the Boy said. ‘Where did you put the cards?’ he said to Spicer.

  ‘I put one of ’em in Snow’s,’ Spicer said.

  ‘What do you mean? Snow’s?’

  ‘He had to eat, hadn’t he?’ Spicer said. ‘The paper said so. You said I was to follow the paper. It’d look odd, wouldn’t it, if he didn’t eat, and he always put one where he eats.’

  ‘It’d look odder,’ the Boy said, ‘if the waitress spotted your face wasn’t right and she found it soon as you left. Where did you put it in Snow’s?’

  ‘Under the table-cloth,’ Spicer said. ‘That’s what he always does. There’ll have been plenty at that table since me. She won’t know it wasn’t him. I don’t suppose she’ll find it before night, when she takes off the cloth. Maybe it’ll even be another girl.’

  ‘You go back,’ the Boy said, ‘and bring that card here. I’m not taking chances.’

  ‘I’ll not go back.’ Spicer’s voice rose above a whisper, and once again they all three stared at the Boy in silence.

  ‘You go, Cubitt,’ the Boy said. ‘Maybe it had better not be him again.’

  ‘Not me,’ Cubitt said. ‘Suppose they’d found the card and saw me looking. Better take a chance and leave it alone,’ he urged in a whisper.

  ‘Talk natural,’ the Boy said, ‘talk natural,’ as the waitress came back to the table.

  ‘Do you boys want any more?’ she asked.

  ‘Yes,’ the Boy said, ‘we’ll have ice-cream.’

  ‘Stow it, Pinkie,’ Dallow protested when the girl had left them, ‘we don’t want ice-cream. We ain’t a lot of tarts, Pinkie.’

  ‘If you don’t want ice-cream, Dallow,’ the Boy said, ‘you go to Snow’s and get that card. You’ve got guts, haven’t you?’

  ‘I thought we was done with it all,’ Dallow said. ‘I’ve done enough. I’ve got guts, you know that, but I was scared stiff. . . Why, if they’ve found him before time, it’d be crazy to go into Snow’s.’

  ‘Don’t talk so loud,’ the Boy said. ‘If nobody else’ll go,’ he said, ‘I’ll go. I’m not scared. Only I get tired sometimes of working with a mob like you. Sometimes I think I’d be better alone.’ Afternoon moved across the water. He said, ‘Kite was all right, but Kite’s dead. Which was your table?’ he asked Spicer.

  ‘Just inside. On the right of the door. A table for one. It’s got flowers on it.’

  ‘What flowers?’

  ‘I don’t know what flowers,’ Spicer said. ‘Yellow flowers.’

  ‘Don’t go, Pinkie,’ Dallow said, ‘better leave it alone. You can’t tell what’ll happen,’ but the Boy was already on his feet, moving stiffly down the long narrow room above the sea. You couldn’t tell if he was scared; his young ancient poker-face told nothing.

  In Snow’s the rush was over and the table free. The wireless droned a programme of weary music, broadcast by a cinema organist—a great vox humana trembled across the crumby stained desert of used cloths: the world’s wet mouth lamenting over life. The waitress whipped the cloths off as soon as the tables were free and laid tea things. Nobody paid any attention to the Boy; they turned their back when he looked at them. He slipped his hand under the cloth and found nothing there. Suddenly the little spurt of vicious anger rose again in the Boy’s brain and he smashed a salt sprinkler down on the table so hard that the base cracked. A waitress detached herself from the gossiping group and came towards him, cold-eyed, acquisitive, ash-blonde. ‘Well?’ she said, taking in the shabby suit, the too young face.

  ‘I want service,’ the Boy said.

  ‘You’re late for the Lunch.’

  ‘I don’t want lunch,’ the Boy said. ‘I want a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits.’

  ‘Will you go to one of the tables laid for tea, please?’

  ‘No,’ the Boy said. ‘This table suits me.’

  She sailed away again, superior and disapproving, and he called after her, ‘Will you take that order?’

  ‘The waitress serving your table will be here in a minute,’ she said and moved away to the gossips by the service door. The Boy shifted his chair, the nerve in his cheek twitched, again he put his hand under the cloth: it was a tiny action, but it might hang him if he was observed. But he could feel nothing, and he thought with fury of Spicer: he’ll muddle once too often, we’d be better without him.

  ‘Was it tea you wanted, sir?’ He looked sharply up with his hand under the cloth: one of those girls who creep about, he thought, as if they were afraid of their own footsteps: a pale thin girl younger than himself.

  He said, ‘I gave the order once.’

  She apologized abjectly. ‘There’s been such a rush. And it’s my first day. This was the only breathing spell. Have you lost something?’

  He withdrew his hand, watching her with dangerous and unfeeling eyes. His cheek twitched again; it was the little things which tripped you up, he could think of no reason at all for having his hand under the table. She went on helpfully, ‘I’ll have to change the cloth again for tea, so if you’ve lost—’ In no time she had cleared the table of pepper and salt and mustard, the cutlery and the O.K. sauce, the yellow flowers, had nipped together the corners of the cloth and lifted it in one movement from the table, crumbs and all.

  ‘There’s nothing there, sir,’ she said. He looked at the bare table-top and said, ‘I hadn’t lost anything.’ She began to lay a fresh cloth for tea. She seemed to find something agreeable about him which made her talk, something in common perhaps—youth and shabbiness and a kind of ignorance in the dapper café. Already she had apparently forgotten his exploring hand. But would she remember, he wondered, if later people asked her questions? He despised her quiet, her pallor, her desire to p
lease: did she also observe, remember. . . ? ‘You wouldn’t guess,’ she said, ‘what I found here only ten minutes ago. When I changed the cloth.’

  ‘Do you always change the cloth?’ the Boy asked.

  ‘Oh, no,’ she said, putting out the tea things, ‘but a customer upset his drink and when I changed it, there was one of Kolley Kibber’s cards, worth ten shillings. It was quite a shock,’ she said, lingering gratefully with the tray, ‘and the others don’t like it. You see it’s only my second day here. They say I was a fool not to challenge him and get the prize.’

  ‘Why didn’t you challenge him?’

  ‘Because I never thought. He wasn’t a bit like the photograph.’

  ‘Maybe the card had been there all the morning.’

  ‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘it couldn’t have been. He was the first man at this table.’

  ‘Well,’ the Boy said, ‘it don’t make any odds. You’ve got the card.’

  ‘Oh yes, I’ve got it. Only it don’t seem quite fair—you see what I mean—him being so different. I might have got the prize. I can tell you I ran to the door when I saw the card: I didn’t wait.’

  ‘And did you see him?’

  She shook her head.

  ‘I suppose,’ the Boy said, ‘you hadn’t looked at him close. Else you’d have known.’

  ‘I always look at you close,’ the girl said, ‘the customer, I mean. You see, I’m new. I get a bit scared. I don’t want to do anything to offend. Oh,’ she said aghast, ‘like standing here talking when you want a cup of tea.’

  ‘That’s all right,’ the Boy said. He smiled at her stiffly; he couldn’t use those muscles with any naturalness. ‘You’re the kind of girl I like—’ The words were the wrong ones; he saw it at once and altered them. ‘I mean,’ he said, ‘I like a girl who’s friendly. Some of these here—they freeze you.’

 

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