Death of Cold
Carolus had been looking forward to ‘Glad’. He remembered her as he had met her first with Jack Fyrth and Wirral, a rather voluptuous yet eminently sensible young woman, in appearance, at least, a credit to her splendid call. Carolus liked nearly all barmaids: the quick-calculating ones who handled their tools with graceful adroitness; the elderly, grumbling ones in black lace who would speak to only a few favoured customers; the dressy, self-conscious ones who peered between the bottles at the mirror behind them; the pert and talkative ones who had a quick and cheeky answer to everyone; the large and lazy ones who sighed when they had to serve a drink, and the soft, confidential ones who leaned across the bar and whispered long stories about the iniquities of the landlord’s wife. ‘Glad’ belonged to none of these wholly, but, with a little of each, she succeeded in being herself, a barmaid of character and attractive appearance.
Carolus ordered a Scotch and waited to see whether she would remember his previous visit.
“You came in with Mr. Wirral on his last day, didn’t you?” she said quietly.
“Yes. In the morning.”
“I remember,” said Glad. “Isn’t it awful about him?”
Carolus was surprised to see tears in her eyes.
“It is. Especially since we don’t know how it happened. I am trying to discover that.”
“Are you? Well, I hope you succeed, that’s all. I have been terribly upset. I was ever so fond of him, you know.”
“Ever so fond. He was a perfect gentleman, Mr. Wirral. He’d never done a mean thing in his life. I hope I never hear anyone say anything any different,” she added warningly.
“Had you known him long?”
“Only the two years since I came to work here. He loved his old fishing, you know. Down here almost every day. Then he’d pop in and have a little chat. You get to know anyone like that, don’t you? Never a wrong word, mind you. He always respected anyone. Not that he didn’t have a joke with me. He was a great one for a joke. But he never Took Advantage.”
“I miss him. Specially about this time, when he always came in for his usual. I can’t seem to believe I shan’t see him again. Then what did he want to go and leave me that money for? I don’t want it, I am sure. I never thought of anything like that all the time I knew him. He did say something about it once, but I thought he was joking. Never mind, he said, there’ll be a little something for you one of these days. I didn’t take much notice at the time, but when I heard about what he’d left me, you could have knocked me down.”
“I’m sure he was very kind.”
“Oh yes, he was. Do anything for anybody. There were those who didn’t like him, mind. He was too straight for some of them. He wouldn’t put up with anything that wasn’t just what it should have been. Most people thought the world of him, though.”
“Who would you say were his enemies?”
“Not enemies exactly. Jealous or afraid of him, more likely. That old Grool, who’d always won all the prizes fishing. He never liked Mr. Wirral. And of course Mr. Slicker, but he’d turn against anyone.”
“I gather your father didn’t approve of Mr. Wirral.”
“Dad’s funny,” admitted Glad. “He could never get it out of his head that Mr. Wirral liked his chat with me in the mornings. I told him a hundred times that there was nothing in it, but he wouldn’t have it. Dad’s always been the same—funny ideas about things. He’s never liked me and Mum going to church. Dead set against Church-people, he is. Says it’s all a lot of hypocrisy. I daresay some of it is, but I like a nice sing on a Sunday morning. I don’t see Dad’s got any right to try and stop me and Mum, and I’ve told him so. But you can’t talk to him. He was against Mr. Wirral because he used to go to St. Winifred’s. Well, I expect you’ve heard the way he carries on about that.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Dad’s all right. He’s just got these ideas. He turned against Mr. Wirral as soon as ever he heard he’d read the lessons. Silly, isn’t it? Though I don’t think he meant any harm. It was me got the worst of it. I had a terrible scene with him when he heard about the money. Wouldn’t have it there was nothing between Mr. Wirral and me. I said he ought to be ashamed of himself for thinking such things. So he ought. Mr. Wirral was a perfect gentleman.”
“You remember that last day?” said Carolus, feeling that it was time to lead Glad gently to more relevant matters.
“I should think I do. I’ve thought of it often enough. He came in with you in the morning, then I didn’t see him again till the evening.”
Carolus concealed his rising interest.
“Oh, he came in that evening? What time would that have been?”
“Well, as soon as I opened up, Mr. Slicker was in. He’d had too much mid-day, and wanted a couple to pull him together. He was gone before Mr. Wirral came, so it must have been getting on for half-past six.”
“At last,” thought Carolus, his information was going forward from the ‘shortly before six’ of Grool.
“Did he stay long?”
“Scarcely a minute. He said he’d just come in to tell me the news. He was a grandfather, he said.”
Glad began to polish a glass with concentrated energy. There were tears in her eyes again, Carolus noticed.
“So he knew!” he could not help exclaiming. “We’ve all wondered about that. We did not know if he ever heard the news.”
“He knew all right. So excited he was. ‘We’ll have a drink on this presently,’ he said. ‘I must just go and find out how they both are.’ Then he went out in a rush. But he never came back. I never saw him again.”
Carolus did not break the silence for a moment. Then he said, “How do you suppose he knew?”
“I can’t say, I’m sure. Someone must have told him, I suppose.”
“I can’t think who that can have been. Dr. Fyrth left a message for him with Old Hammond at the turnstile, but he never received that.”
“I seem to remember,” said Glad thoughtfully, “that he had a newspaper in his hand.”
“Of course!” cried Carolus. “Why haven’t I thought of that before? His own paper. It would certainly have given the news. Is it sold on the pier?”
“Yes. A boy brings it on every evening soon after six. He’d just have seen it when he came in here.”
“Does the same boy still come?”
“Yes. Clocker they call him. I don’t know why. His name’s Starkie. He works for Mr. Judd, the newsagent, just opposite the pier. You could ask him.”
“I will. Did Mr. Wirral say anything else?”
“When he told me we would have a drink on it later—well, I hardly like to say it, but he gave me a kiss. Of course there was no one else in the bar at the time, and he was ever so thrilled with what he’d heard. ‘Have you got a bottle of champagne, my dear?’ he said. ‘Put it on the ice, there’s a good girl. I’m just going to find out about it, and I’ll be back. We’ll just have time for a drink then—I’ve got to go to the Queen’s for dinner. But we can’t let this pass.’ Of course I haven’t got any ice, but I have got a few bottles of champagne, and I got one ready. But, as I say, he never came back.”
“He never gave you any idea of how he was going to find out about the mother and baby?”
“He didn’t say anything, but I suppose he was going to telephone.”
“Where would he have gone for that?”
“There were only two places he could have gone unless he went off the pier: the box-office of the theatre or Mr. Slicker’s office. They’re the only two. You can easily find out.”
Carolus thought that he was beginning to know this pier too well. However, he made a mental note of the two possibilities.
“And if you were to go now,” said Glad, “you might just catch young Clocker. Not that I want to get rid of you, only he’ll just about be finishing now. He takes a paper to Mr. Slicker and some of them in the theatre, then goes off. You can’t miss him; he’s thin as a rake and ever so cheeky. I won’t have him in here; I’ve told him that. But he comes past here on his way out. You could see him from the doorway, come to that.”
Glad had the difficulty, common to her kind, of stopping herself once she had started to give instructions. Carolus could remember being followed down the road with shrieks of “Down as far as Chequers then turn right. You can’t miss it,” details which he had assimilated during the protracted interview just finished. Now Glad, eager no doubt to see him successful in his researches, followed him towards the door with genteel repetitions.
“You ask about that telephone call,” she said; “they’ll tell you at the box office. You’ll catch young Clocker any minute now, if he hasn’t gone already.”
“Thank you,” said Carolus.
“It must have been a paper he’d read it in. They wouldn’t have sent a telegram, surely. Unless anyone telephoned and they brought in the message. Anyhow, young Clocker will know. He always sold him his paper in the evening.”
“Thank you; thank you,” said Carolus, but his gratitude only provoked Glad to further efforts.
“I’m nearly sure he was going to ’phone,” she said. “Well, what else could it have been? I don’t suppose he’d have gone to Mr. Slicker’s either. You try at the Box Office.”
“I think this is the boy coming now.”
“Where?” asked Glad, joining him just outside the door. “Yes, that’s him. You see what he says. He’s sure to remember.”
Clocker Starkie was, as Glad had said, thin and cheeky, a peaky-faced youth of fifteen. Carolus called him to the rail of the pier.
“Do you remember selling a newspaper to Mr. Wirral on the last night he was here?” he asked at once.
Clocker examined him coldly.
“Are you a copper?” he asked.
“I’m trying to find out what happened to Mr. Wirral that day.”
“Did she tell you I sold him his paper?” he asked, nodding towards Glad’s bar.
“I will do her,” said Clocker. “Why can’t she mind her own business?”
“Did you sell Mr. Wirral his paper?”
“Course I did. What about it?”
“On his last day here?”
“I might be able to remember about that if I was to try,” said Clocker.
Carolus gave him half a crown.
“Worth a dollar,” said Clocker.
He got a dollar.
“Yes,” he said. “I did. I’ve been waiting to be asked about this. As far as I can see, I was the last to see the poor old geezer.”
“You are one of several people with that idea.”
“Well, I must be. Old Grool had gone. Rowlands was snooping round Slicker’s office. Slicker was tight. There was no one else about. According to the paper, he was never seen again.”
“You mustn’t believe all you read in the papers,” said Carolus.
“Well, that’s what it said, anyway.”
“Did Mr. Wirral say anything when he bought his paper?”
“No. Give me a tanner and grabbed it, then started looking through it as though he was in a hurry to find something. I was getting his change ready when he says ‘Ah!’ and makes a dive for the bar.”
“You didn’t see him again? On your way back from the manager’s office, for instance?”
“How could I have done? He was dead, wasn’t he?”
“I shouldn’t think so. What makes you say that?”
“That’s what it said. Did someone bump him off?”
“I don’t know.”
“Shouldn’t be surprised,” reflected Clocker. “Well, ta-ta, tosh. I’ve got to get back to the shop.”
Carolus, accustomed to the rising generation, felt no surprise. But he sympathized with Glad in her refusal to allow Clocker in the bar.