Brighton rock, p.7
Brighton Rock, p.7Graham Greene
‘What you say, Pinkie,’ Dallow said, plodding after. The rain had stopped: it was low tide and the shallow edge of the sea scraped far out at the rim of the shingle. A clock struck midnight. Dallow suddenly began to laugh.
‘What’s got you, Dallow?’
‘I was just thinking,’ Dallow said. ‘You’re a grand little geezer, Pinkie. Kite was right to take you on. You go straight for things, Pinkie.’
‘You’re all right,’ the Boy said, staring ahead, the ague wringing his face. They passed the Cosmopolitan, the lights on here and there all the way up the tall front to the turrets against the clouded moving sky. In Snow’s when they passed a single light went out. They turned up the Old Steyne. Brewer had a house near the tram lines on the Lewes road almost under the railway viaduct.
‘He’s gone to bed,’ Dallow said. Pinkie rang the bell, holding his finger on the switch. Low shuttered shops ran off on either hand, a tram went by with nobody in it, labelled ‘Depot Only’, ringing and swinging down the empty road, the conductor drowsing on a seat inside, the roof gleaming from the storm. Pinkie kept his finger on the bell.
‘What made Spicer say that—about me marrying?’ the Boy asked.
‘He just thought it’d close her clapper,’ Dallow said.
‘She’s not what keeps me awake,’ the Boy said, pressing on the bell. A light went on upstairs, a window creaked up, and a voice called, ‘Who’s that?’
‘It’s me,’ the Boy said. ‘Pinkie.’
‘What do you want? Why don’t you come around in the morning?’
‘I want to talk to you, Brewer.’
‘I’ve got nothing to talk about, Pinkie, that can’t wait.’
‘You’d better open up, Brewer. You don’t want the mob along here.’
‘The old woman’s awful sick, Pinkie. I don’t want any trouble. She’s asleep. She hasn’t slept for three nights.’
‘This’ll wake her,’ the Boy said with his finger on the bell. A slow goods train went by across the viaduct, shaking smoke down into the Lewes road.
‘Leave off, Pinkie, and I’ll open up.’
Pinkie shivered as he waited, his gloved hand deep in his damp pocket. Brewer opened the door, a stout elderly man in soiled white pyjamas. The bottom button was missing and the coat swung from the bulging belly and the deep navel. ‘Come in, Pinkie,’ he said, ‘and walk quiet. The old woman’s bad. I’ve been worrying my head off.’
‘That why you haven’t paid your subscription, Brewer?’ the Boy said. He looked with contempt down the narrow hall—the shell case converted into an umbrella-stand, the moth-eaten stag’s head bearing on one horn a bowler hat, a steel helmet used for ferns. Kite ought to have got them into better money than this. Brewer had only just graduated from the street corner, saloon-bar betting. A welsher. It was no good trying to draw more than ten per cent of his bets.
Brewer said, ‘Come in here and be snug. It’s warm in here. What a cold night.’ He had a hollow cheery manner even in pyjamas. He was like a legend on a racing card—The Old Firm. You can Trust Bill Brewer. He lit the gas-fire, turned on a stand lamp in a red silk shade with a bobble fringe. The light glowed on a silver-plated biscuit-box, a framed wedding group. ‘Have a spot of Scotch?’ Brewer invited them.
‘You know I don’t drink,’ the Boy said.
‘Ted will,’ Brewer said.
‘I don’t mind a spot,’ Dallow said. He grinned and said, ‘Here’s how.’
‘We’ve called for that subscription, Brewer,’ the Boy said.
The man in white pyjamas hissed soda into his glass. His back turned he watched Pinkie in the glass above the sideboard until he caught the other’s eye. He said, ‘I been worried, Pinkie. Ever since Kite was croaked.’
‘Well?’ the Boy said.
‘It’s like this. I said to myself if Kite’s mob can’t even protect—’ he stopped suddenly and listened. ‘Was that the old woman?’ Very faintly from the room above came the sound of coughing. Brewer said, ‘She’s woke up. I got to go and see her.’
‘You stay here,’ the Boy said, ‘and talk.’
‘She’ll want turning.’
‘When we’ve finished you can go.’
Cough, cough, cough: it was like a machine trying to start and failing. Brewer said desperately, ‘Be human. She won’t know where I’ve got to. I’ll only be a minute.’
‘You don’t need to be longer than a minute here,’ the Boy said. ‘All we want’s what’s due to us. Twenty pounds.’
‘I haven’t got it in the house. Honest I haven’t.’
‘That’s too bad for you.’ The Boy draw off his right glove.
‘It’s like this, Pinkie. I paid it all out yesterday. To Colleoni.’
‘What in Jesus’ name,’ the Boy said, ‘has Colleoni to do with it?’
Brewer went rapidly and desperately on, listening to the cough, cough, cough upstairs. ‘Be reasonable, Pinkie. I can’t pay both of you. I’d have been carved if I hadn’t paid Colleoni.’
‘Is he in Brighton?’
‘He’s stopping at the Cosmopolitan.’
‘And Tate—Tate’s paid Colleoni too?’
‘That’s right, Pinkie. He’s running the business in a big way.’ A big way—it was like an accusation, a reminder of the brass bedstead at Frank’s, the crumbs on the mattress.
‘You think I’m finished?’ the Boy said.
‘Take my advice, Pinkie, and go in with Colleoni.’
The Boy suddenly drew his hand back and slashed with his razored nail at Brewer’s cheek. He struck blood out along the cheek bone. ‘Don’t,’ Brewer said, ‘don’t,’ backing against the sideboard, upsetting the biscuit-box. He said, ‘I’ve got protection. You be careful. I’ve got protection.’
The Boy laughed. Dallow refilled his glass with Brewer’s whisky. The Boy said, ‘Look at him. He’s got protection.’ Dallow took a splash of soda.
‘You want any more?’ the Boy said. ‘That was just to show you who’s protecting you.’
‘I can’t pay you both, Pinkie. God’s sake, keep back.’
‘Twenty pounds is what we’ve come for, Brewer.’
‘Colleoni’ll have my blood, Pinkie.’
‘You needn’t worry. We’ll protect you.’
Cough, cough, cough went the woman upstairs, and then a faint cry like a sleeping child’s. ‘She’s calling me,’ Brewer said.
‘I don’t keep my money in here. Let me fetch it.’
‘You go with him, Dallow,’ the Boy said. ‘I’ll wait here,’ and he sat down on a straight carved dining-room chair and stared out—at the mean street, the dustbins along the pavement, the vast shadow of the viaduct. He sat perfectly still with his grey ancient eyes giving nothing away.
A big way—Colleoni come into it in a big way—he knew there wasn’t a soul in the mob he could trust—except perhaps Dallow. That didn’t matter. You couldn’t make mistakes when you trusted nobody. A cat coasted cautiously round a bin on the pavement, stopped suddenly, crouched back, and in the semi-dark its agate eyes stared up at the Boy. Boy and cat, they didn’t stir, watching each other, until Dallow returned.
‘I’ve got the money, Pinkie,’ Dallow said. The Boy turned his head and grinned at Dallow. Suddenly his face was convulsed: he sneezed twice, violently. Overhead the coughing died away. ‘He won’t forget this visit,’ Dallow said. He added anxiously, ‘You ought to have a spot of whisky, Pinkie. You’ve caught cold.’
‘I’m all right,’ the Boy said. He got up. ‘We won’t stop and say good-bye.’
The Boy led the way down the middle of the empty road, between the tram lines. He said suddenly, ‘Do you think I’m finished, Dallow?’
‘You?’ Dallow, said. ‘Why, you haven’t even begun.’ They walked for a while in silence, the water from the gutters dripped on the pavement. Then Dallow spoke.
‘You worrying about Colleoni?’
‘I’m not worrying.’
‘Kite thought he’d go in for the automatic machines. He learned different. Now Colleoni thinks the coast’s clear. He’s branching out.’
‘He ought to have learned from Hale.’
‘Hale died natural.’
Dallow laughed. ‘Tell that to Spicer.’ They turned the corner by the Royal Albion and the sea was with them again—the tide had turned—a movement, a splashing, a darkness. The Boy looked suddenly sideways and up at Dallow—he could trust Dallow—receiving from the ugly and broken face a sense of triumph and companionship and superiority. He felt as a physically weak but cunning schoolboy feels who has attached to himself in an indiscriminating fidelity the strongest boy in the school. ‘You mug,’ he said and pinched Dallow’s arm. It was almost like affection.
A light still burned in Frank’s, and Spicer was waiting in the hall. ‘Anything happened?’ he asked anxiously. His pale face had come out in spots round the mouth and nose.
‘What do you think?’ the Boy said, going upstairs. ‘We brought the subscription.’
Spicer followed him into his bedroom. ‘There was a call for you just after you’d gone.’
‘A girl called Rose.’
The Boy sat on the bed undoing his shoe. ‘What did she want?’ he asked.
‘She said while she was out with you, somebody had been in asking for her.’
The Boy sat still with the shoe in his hand. ‘Pinkie,’ Spicer said, ‘was it the girl? The girl from Snow’s?’
‘Of course it was.’
‘I answered the phone, Pinkie.’
‘Did she know your voice?’
‘How do I know, Pinkie?’
‘Who was asking for her?’
‘She didn’t know. She said tell you because you wanted to hear. Pinkie, suppose the bogies have got that far?’
‘The bogies aren’t as smart as that,’ Pinkie said. ‘Maybe it’s one of Colleoni’s men, poking around after their pal Fred.’ He took off his other shoe. ‘You don’t need to turn milky, Spicer.’
‘It was a woman, Pinkie.’
‘I’m not troubling. Fred died natural. That’s the verdict. You can forget it. There’s other things to think of now.’ He put his shoes side by side under the bed, took off his coat, hung it on a bed ball, took off his trousers, lay back in his pants and shirt on top of the bed. ‘I’m thinking, Spicer, you oughter take a holiday. You look all in. I wouldn’t want anyone seeing you like that.’ He closed his eyes. ‘You be off, Spicer, and take things easy.’
‘If that girl ever knew who put the card. . . ’
‘She’ll never know. Turn out the light and get.’
The light went out and the moon went on like a lamp outside, slanting across the roofs, laying the shadow of clouds across the downs, illuminating the white empty stands of the racecourse above Whitehawk Bottom like the monoliths of Stonehenge, shining across the tide which drove up from Boulogne and washed against the piles of the Palace Pier. It lit the washstand, the open door where the jerry stood, the brass balls at the bed end.
The Boy lay on the bed. A cup of coffee went cold on the washstand, and the bed was sprinkled with flakes of pastry. The Boy licked an indelible pencil, his mouth was stained purple at the corners, he wrote: ‘Refer you to my previous letter,’ and concluded it at last, ‘P. Brown, Secretary, the Bookmakers’ Protection. . . ’ The envelope addressed ‘Mr J. Tate’ lay on the washstand, the corner soiled with coffee. When he had finished writing he put his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes. He fell asleep at once: it was like the falling of a shutter, the pressure of the bulb which ends a time exposure. He had no dreams. His sleep was functional. When Dallow opened the door he woke at once. ‘Well?’ he said, lying there without moving, fully dressed among the pastry crumbs.
‘There’s a letter for you, Pinkie. Judy brought it up.’
The Boy took the letter. Dallow said, ‘It’s an elegant letter, Pinkie. Smell it.’
The Boy held the mauve envelope to his nose. It smelt like a cachou for bad breath. He said, ‘Can’t you keep off that bitch? If Frank knew. . . ’
‘Who’d be writing an elegant letter like that, Pinkie?’
‘Colleoni. He wants me to call in for a talk at the Cosmopolitan.’
‘The Cosmopolitan,’ Dallow repeated with disgust. ‘You won’t go, will you?’
‘Of course I’ll go.’
‘It’s not the sort of place where you’d feel at home.’
‘Elegant,’ the Boy said, ‘like his notepaper. Costs a lot of money. He thinks he can scare me.’
‘Perhaps we’d better lay off Tate.’
‘Take that jacket down to Frank. Tell him to sponge it quick and put an iron over it. Give these shoes a brush.’ He kicked them out from under the bed and sat up. ‘He thinks he’ll have the laugh on us.’ In the tipped mirror on the washstand he could see himself, but his eyes shifted quickly from the image of smooth, never shaven cheek, soft hair, old eyes: he wasn’t interested. He had too much pride to worry about appearances.
So that later he was quite at ease waiting in the great lounge under the domed lights for Colleoni: young men kept on arriving in huge motoring coats accompanied by small tinted creatures, who rang like expensive glass when they were touched but who conveyed an impression of being as sharp and tough as tin. They looked at nobody, sweeping through the lounge as they had swept in racing models down the Brighton Road, ending on high stools in the American Bar. A stout woman in a white fox fur came out of a lift and stared at the Boy, then she got back into the lift again and moved weightily upwards. A little bitch sniffed at him and then talked him over with another little bitch on a settee. Mr Colleoni came across an acre of deep carpet from the Louis Seize writing room, walking on tiptoe in glacé shoes.
He was small with a neat round belly; he wore a grey double-breasted waistcoat, and his eyes gleamed like raisins. His hair was thin and grey. The little bitches on the settee stopped talking as he passed and concentrated. He clinked very gently as he moved; it was the only sound.
‘You were asking for me?’ he said.
‘You asked for me,’ the Boy said. ‘I got your letter.’
‘Surely,’ Mr Colleoni said, making a little bewildered motion with his hands, ‘you are not Mr P. Brown?’ He explained, ‘I expected someone a good deal older.’
‘You asked for me,’ the Boy said.
The little raisin eyes took him in: the sponged suit and the narrow shoulders, the cheap black shoes. ‘I thought Mr Kite. . . ’
‘Kite’s dead,’ the Boy said. ‘You know that.’
‘I missed it,’ Mr Colleoni said. ‘Of course that makes a difference.’
‘You can talk to me,’ the Boy said, ‘instead of Kite.’
Mr Colleoni smiled. ‘I don’t think it’s necessary,’ he said.
‘You’d better,’ the Boy said. Little chimes of laughter came from the American Bar and the chink, chink, chink of ice. A page came out of the Louis Seize writing room, called, ‘Sir Joseph Montagu, Sir Joseph Montagu,’ and passed into the Pompadour Boudoir. The spot of damp, where Frank’s iron had failed to pass, above the Boy’s breast-pocket was slowly fading out in the hot Cosmopolitan air.
Mr Colleoni put out a hand and gave him a quick pat, pat, pat on the arm. ‘Come with me,’ he said. He led the way, walking on glacé tiptoe past the settee, where the bitches whispered, past a little table where a man was saying ‘I told him ten thousand’s my limit’ to an old man who sat with closed eyes above his chilling tea. Mr Colleoni looked over his shoulder and said gently, ‘The service here is not what it used to be.’
He looked into the Louis Seize writing room. A woman in mauve with an untimely tiara was writing a letter in a vast jumble of chinoiserie. Mr Colleoni withdrew. ‘We’ll go where we can talk in peace,’ he said and tiptoed back across the lounge. The old man had ope
‘I don’t smoke,’ the Boy said. A last squeal of gaiety came from below, from the American Bar, the last syllable of the page boy returning from the Pompadour Boudoir, ‘Gue,’ before the gates slid back and they were in the padded soundproof passage. Mr Colleoni paused and lit his cigar.
‘Let’s have a look at that lighter,’ the Boy said.
Mr Colleoni’s small shrewd eyes shone blankly under the concealed pervasive electric glow. He held it out. The Boy turned it over and looked at the hallmark. ‘Real gold,’ he said.
‘I like things good,’ Mr Colleoni said, unlocking a door. ‘Take a chair.’ The arm-chairs, stately red velvet couches stamped with crowns in gold and silver thread, faced the wide seaward windows and the wrought-iron balconies. ‘Have a drink?’
‘I don’t drink,’ the Boy said.
‘Now,’ Mr Colleoni said, ‘who sent you?’
‘No one sent me.’
‘I mean, who’s running your mob if Kite’s dead?’
‘I’m running it,’ the Boy said.
Mr Colleoni politely checked a smile, tapping his thumbnail with the gold lighter.
‘What happened to Kite?’
‘You know that story,’ the Boy said. He gazed across at the Napoleonic crowns, the silver thread. ‘You won’t want to hear the details. It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been crossed. A journalist thought he could put one over on us.’
‘What journalist’s that?’
‘You oughter read the inquests,’ the Boy said, staring out through the window at the pale arch of sky against which a few light clouds blew up.
Mr Colleoni looked at the ash on his cigar; it was half an inch long; he sat deep down in his arm-chair and crossed his little plump thighs contentedly.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes