Brighton rock, p.9
Brighton Rock, p.9Graham Greene
‘It looks lovely.’
‘Nice and brown on top?’
‘It’s a picture.’
‘What’s your name, dear?’
‘Why, I do believe,’ Ida said, ‘you were the lucky one who found a card?’
‘Did they tell you that?’ Rose said. ‘They haven’t forgiven me. They think I didn’t ought to be lucky like that my first day.’
‘Your first day? That was a bit of luck. You won’t forget that day in a hurry.’
‘No,’ Rose said, ‘I’ll remember that always.’
‘I mustn’t keep you here talking.’
‘If you only would. If you’d sort of look as if you was ordering things. There’s no one else wants to be attended to and I’m ready to drop with these trays.’
‘You don’t like the job?’
‘Oh,’ Rose said quickly, ‘I didn’t say that. It’s a good job. I wouldn’t have anything different for the world. I wouldn’t be in a hotel, or in Chessman’s, not if they paid me twice as much. It’s elegant here,’ Rose said, gazing over the waste of green-painted tables, the daffodils, the paper napkins, the sauce bottles.
‘Are you a local?’
‘I’ve always lived here—all my life,’ Rose said, ‘in Nelson Place. This is a fine situation for me because they have us sleep in. There’s only three of us in my room, and we have two looking-glasses.’
‘How old are you?’
Rose leant gratefully across the table. ‘Sixteen,’ she said. ‘I don’t tell them that. I say seventeen. They’d say I wasn’t old enough if they knew. They’d send me—’ she hesitated a long while at the grim word, ‘home’.
‘You must have been glad,’ Ida said, ‘when you found that card.’
‘Oh, I was.’
‘Do you think I could have a glass of stout, dear?’
‘We have to send out,’ Rose said. ‘If you give me the money—’
Ida opened her purse. ‘I don’t suppose you’ll ever forget the little fellow.’
‘Oh, he wasn’t so. . . ’ Rose began and suddenly stopped, staring out through Snow’s window across the parade to the pier.
‘He wasn’t what?’ Ida said. ‘What was it you were going to say?’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘I just asked if you’d ever forget the little fellow.’
‘It’s gone out of my head,’ Rose said. ‘I’ll get your drink. Does it cost all that—a glass of stout?’ she asked, picking up the two shilling pieces.
‘One of them’s for you, dear,’ Ida said. ‘I’m inquisitive. I can’t help it. I’m made that way. Tell me how he looked?’
‘I don’t know. I can’t remember. I haven’t got any memory for faces.’
‘You can’t have, can you, dear, or you’d have challenged him. You must have seen his picture in the papers.’
‘I know. I’m silly that way.’ She stood there, pale and determined and out of breath and guilty.
‘And then it would have been ten pounds not ten shillings.’
‘I’ll get your drink.’
‘Perhaps I’ll wait after all. The gentleman who’s giving me lunch, he can pay.’ Ida picked up the shillings again, and Rose’s eyes followed her hand back to her bag. ‘Waste not, want not,’ Ida said gently, taking in the details of the bony face, the large mouth, the eyes too far apart, the pallor, the immature body, and then suddenly she was loud and cheerful again, calling out, ‘Phil Corkery, Phil Corkery,’ waving her hand.
Mr Corkery wore a blazer with a badge and a stiff collar underneath. He looked as if he needed feeding up, as if he was wasted with passions he had never had the courage to express.
‘Cheer up, Phil. What are you having?’
‘Steak and kidney,’ Mr Corkery said gloomily. ‘Waitress, we want a drink.’
‘We have to send out.’
‘Well, in that case, make it two large bottles of Guinness,’ Mr Corkery said.
When Rose came back Ida introduced her to Mr Corkery. ‘This is the lucky girl who found a card.’
Rose backed away, but Ida detained her, grasping firmly her black cotton sleeve. ‘Did he eat much?’ she asked.
‘I don’t remember a thing,’ Rose said, ‘really I don’t.’ Their faces, flushed a little with the warm summer sun, were like posters announcing danger.
‘Did he look,’ Ida said, ‘as if he was going to die?’
‘How can I tell?’
‘I suppose you talked to him?’
‘I didn’t talk to him. I was rushed. I just fetched him a Bass and a sausage roll, and I never saw him again.’ She snatched her sleeve from Ida’s hand and was gone.
‘You can’t get much from her,’ Mr Corkery said.
‘Oh yes I can,’ Ida said, ‘more than I bargained for.’
‘Why, whatever’s wrong?’
‘It’s what that girl said.’
‘She didn’t say much.’
‘She said enough. I always had a feeling it was fishy. You see he told me in the taxi he was dying and I believed him for a moment: it gave me quite a turn till he told me he was just spinning a tale.’
‘Well, he was dying.’
‘He didn’t mean it that way. I have my instincts.’
‘Anyway,’ Mr Corkery said, ‘there’s the evidence, he died natural. I don’t see as there’s anything to worry about. It’s a fine day, Ida. Let’s go on the Brighton Belle and talk it over there. No closing hours at sea. After all, if he did kill himself, it’s his business.’
‘If he killed himself,’ Ida said, ‘he was driven to it. I heard what the girl said, and I know this—it wasn’t him that left the ticket here.’
‘Good God,’ Mr Corkery said. ‘What do you mean? You oughtn’t to talk like that. It’s dangerous.’ He swallowed nervously and the Adam’s apple bobbed up and down under the skin of his scrawny neck.
‘It’s dangerous all right,’ Ida said, watching the thin sixteen-year-old body shrink by in its black cotton dress, hearing the clink, clink, clink of a glass on a tray carried by an unsteady hand, ‘but who to’s another matter.’
‘Let’s go out in the sun,’ Mr Corkery said. ‘It’s not so warm here.’ He hadn’t got a vest on, or a tie; he shivered a little in his cricket shirt and blazer.
‘I’ve got to think,’ Ida repeated.
‘I shouldn’t get mixed up in anything, Ida. He wasn’t anything to you.’
‘He wasn’t anything to anyone, that’s the trouble,’ Ida said. She dug down into her deepest mind, the plane of memories, instincts, hopes, and brought up from them the only philosophy she lived by. ‘I like fair play,’ she said. She felt better when she’d said that and added with terrible lightheartedness, ‘An eye for an eye, Phil. Will you stick by me?’
The Adam’s apple bobbed. A draught from which all the sun had been sifted swung through the revolving door and Mr Corkery felt it on his bony breast. He said, ‘I don’t know what’s given you the idea, Ida, but I’m for law and order. I’ll stick by you.’ His daring went to his head. He put a hand on her knee. ‘I’d do anything for you, Ida.’
‘There’s only one thing to do after what she told me,’ Ida said.
Ida blew into the police-station with a laugh to this man and a wave of the hand to that. She didn’t know them from Adam. She was cheerful and determined, and she carried Phil along in her wake.
‘I want to see the inspector,’ she told the sergeant at the desk. ‘He’s busy, ma’am. What was it you wanted to see him about?’
‘I can wait,’ Ida said, sitting down between the police capes. ‘Sit down, Phil.’ She grinned at them all with brassy assurance. ‘Pubs don’t open till six,’ she said. ‘Phil and I haven’t anything to do till then.’
‘What was it you wanted to see him about, ma’am?’
‘Suicide,’ Ida said, ‘right under your noses and you call it natural death.’
‘You aren’t pulling my leg, are you?’ the sergeant said.
‘Not this time, sarge.’
He passed through a door and shut it behind him, and Ida settled herself more firmly on the bench, made herself at home. ‘Bit stuffy in here, boys,’ she said. ‘What about opening another window?’ and obediently they opened one.
The sergeant called to her from the door. ‘You can go in,’ he said.
‘Come on, Phil,’ Ida said and bore him with her into the tiny cramped official room which smelt of French polish and fish glue.
‘And so,’ the inspector said, ‘you wanted to tell me about a suicide, Mrs—?’ He looked tired and old and shy. He had tried to hide a tin of fruit drops behind a telephone and a manuscript book.
‘Arnold, Ida Arnold. I thought it might be your line, inspector,’ she said with heavy sarcasm.
‘This your husband?’
‘Oh no, a friend. I wanted a witness, that’s all.’
‘And who is it you’re concerned about, Mrs Arnold?’
‘Hale’s the name, Fred Hale. I beg your pardon. Charles Hale.’
‘We know all about Hale, Mrs Arnold. He died quite naturally.’
‘Oh no,’ Ida said, ‘you don’t know all. You don’t know he was with me, two hours before he was found.’
‘You weren’t at the inquest?’
‘I didn’t know it was him till I saw his picture.’
‘And why do you think there’s anything wrong?’
‘Listen,’ Ida said. ‘He was with me and he was scared about something. We were at the Palace Pier. I had to have a wash and brush up, but he didn’t want me to leave him. I was only away five minutes and he’d gone. Where’d he gone to? You say he went and had lunch at Snow’s and then went on down the pier to the shelter in Hove. You think he just gave me the slip, but it wasn’t Fred—I mean Hale—who had lunch at Snow’s and left that card. I’ve just seen the waitress. Hale didn’t like Bass—he wouldn’t drink Bass—but the man at Snow’s sent out for a bottle.’
‘That’s nothing,’ the inspector said. ‘It was a hot day. He was feeling bad, too. He got tired of doing all the things he’d got to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if he cheated and got someone else to go into Snow’s.’
‘The girl won’t say a thing about him. She knows but she won’t say.’
‘I can think of an explanation easily enough, Mrs Arnold. The man may have left a card on condition she didn’t say anything.’
‘It’s not that. She’s scared. Someone’s scared her. Maybe the same person who drove Fred. . . And there are other things.’
‘I’m sorry, Mrs Arnold. It’s just a waste of time getting fussed like this. You see there was a post-mortem. The medical evidence shows without any doubt that he died naturally. He had a bad heart. The medical name for it is coronary thrombosis. I’d call it just heat and crowds and exertion—and a weak heart.’
‘Could I see the report?’
‘It wouldn’t be usual.’
‘I was a friend of his, you see,’ Ida said softly. ‘I’d like to be satisfied.’
‘Well, to put your mind at rest, I’ll stretch a point. It’s here now on my desk.’
Ida read it carefully. ‘This doctor,’ she said, ‘he knows his stuff?’
‘He’s a first-class doctor.’
‘It seems clear, doesn’t it?’ Ida said. She began to read it all over again. ‘They do go into details, don’t they. Why, I wouldn’t know more about him if I’d married him. Appendix scar, supernumerary nipples, whatever they are, suffered from wind—I do that myself on a Bank Holiday. It’s almost disrespectful, isn’t it? He wouldn’t have liked this,’ she brooded over the report with easy kindliness. ‘Varicose veins. Poor old Fred. What’s this mean about the liver?’
‘Drank too much, that’s all.’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised. Poor Fred. So he had ingrowing toe-nails. It doesn’t seem right to know that.’
‘You were a great friend of his?’
‘Well, we only knew each other that day. But I liked him. He was a real gentleman. If I hadn’t been a bit lit this wouldn’t have happened.’ She blew out her bust. ‘He wouldn’t have come to any harm with me.’
‘Have you quite finished with the report, Mrs Arnold?’
‘He does mention everything, this doctor of yours, doesn’t he? Bruises, superficial whatever that means, on the arms. What do you think of that, inspector?’
‘Nothing at all. Bank Holiday crowds, that’s all. Pushed here and there.’
‘Oh, come off it,’ Ida said, ‘come off it.’ Her tongue flared up. ‘Be human. Were you out on Bank Holiday? Where do you find a crowd like that? Brighton’s big enough, isn’t it? It’s not a tube lift. I was here. I know.’
The inspector said stubbornly, ‘You’ve got fancies, Mrs Arnold.’
‘So the police won’t do a thing? You won’t question that girl in Snow’s?’
‘The case is closed, Mrs Arnold. And even if it had been suicide, why open old wounds?’
‘Someone drove him. . . perhaps it wasn’t suicide at all. . . perhaps. . . ’
‘I’ve told you, Mrs Arnold, the case is closed.’
‘That’s what you think,’ Ida said. She rose to her feet; she summoned Phil with a jerk of the chin. ‘Not half it isn’t,’ she said. ‘I’ll be seeing you.’ She looked back from the door at the elderly man behind the desk and threatened him with her ruthless vitality. ‘Or perhaps not,’ she said. ‘I can manage this my own way. I don’t need your police’ (the constables in the outer room stirred uneasily; somebody laughed; somebody dropped a tin of boot polish). ‘I’ve got my friends.’
Her friends—they were everywhere under the bright glittering Brighton air. They followed their wives obediently into fishmongers, they carried the children’s buckets to the beach, they lingered round the bars waiting for opening time, they took a penny peep on the pier at ‘A Night of Love’. She had only to appeal to any of them, for Ida Arnold was on the right side. She was cheery, she was healthy, she could get a bit lit with the best of them. She liked a good time, her big breasts bore their carnality frankly down the Old Steyne, but you had only to look at her to know that you could rely on her. She wouldn’t tell tales to your wife, she wouldn’t remind you next morning of what you wanted to forget, she was honest, she was kindly, she belonged to the great middle law-abiding class, her amusements were their amusements, her superstitions their superstitions (the planchette scratching the French polish on the occasional table, and the salt over the shoulder), she had no more love for anyone than they had.
‘Expenses mounting up,’ Ida said. ‘Never mind. Everything will be all right after the races.’
‘You got a tip?’ Mr Corkery asked.
‘Straight from the horse’s mouth. I shouldn’t say that. Poor Fred.’
‘Tell a pal,’ Mr Corkery implored.
‘All in good time,’ Ida said. ‘Be a good boy and you don’t know what mayn’t happen.’
‘You don’t still think, do you?’ Mr Corkery sounded her. ‘Not after what the doctor wrote?’
‘I’ve never paid any attention to doctors.’
‘We’ve got to find out.’
‘Give me time. I haven’t started yet.’
The sea stretched like a piece of gay common washing in a tenement square across the end of the street. ‘The colour of your eyes,’ Mr Corkery interjected thoughtfully and with a touch of nostalgia. He said, ‘Couldn’t we now
‘Yes,’ Ida said. ‘The pier. We’ll go to the Palace Pier, Phil,’ but when they got there she wouldn’t go through the turnstile, but took up her stand like a huckster facing the Aquarium, the ladies’ lavatory. ‘This is where I start from,’ she said. ‘He waited for me here, Phil,’ and she stared out over the red and green lights, the heavy traffic of her battlefield, laying her plans, marshalling her cannon fodder, while five yards away Spicer stood too waiting for an enemy to appear. Only a slight doubt troubled her optimism. ‘That horse has got to win, Phil,’ she said. ‘I can’t hold out else.’
Spicer was restless these days. There was nothing for him to do. When the races began again he wouldn’t feel so bad, he wouldn’t think so much about Hale. It was the medical evidence which upset him: ‘death from natural causes’, when with his own eyes he’d seen the Boy. . . It was fishy, it wasn’t straight. He told himself that he could face a police inquiry, but he couldn’t stand this not knowing, the false security of the verdict. There was a catch in it somewhere, and all through the long summer sunlight Spicer wandered uneasily, watching out for trouble: the police-station, the Place where It had been done, even Snow’s came into his promenade. He wanted to be satisfied that the cops were doing nothing (he knew every plain-clothes man in the Brighton force), that no one was asking questions or loitering where they had no reason to loiter. He knew it was just nerves. ‘I’ll be all right when the races start,’ he told himself, like a man with a poisoned body who believes that all will be well when a single tooth is drawn.
He came up the parade cautiously, from the Hove end, from the glass shelter where Hale’s body had been set, pale with bloodshot eyes and nicotined finger-ends. He had a corn on his left foot and limped a little, dragging after him a bright orange-brown shoe. He had come out in spots, too, round his mouth, and that also was caused by Hale’s death. Fear upset his bowels, and the spots came: it was always the way.
He limped cautiously across the road when he was close to Snow’s: that was another vulnerable place. The sun caught the great panes of plate-glass and flashed back at him like headlamps. He sweated a little passing by. A voice said, ‘Well, if it isn’t Spicey?’ He had had his eyes on Snow’s across the road, he hadn’t noticed who was beside him on the parade, leaning on the green railing above the shingle. He turned his damp face sharply. ‘What are you doing here, Crab?’
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes