Death of Cold
In some things Carolus Deene was a methodical man. Next morning, for instance, he referred to a list he had made before deciding on his day’s programme. He saw that Tiplock was the next name on it.
He remembered Mr. Grool’s perhaps embittered account of Tiplock’s visit to the pier. “A most improper and vulgar scene”, he had said. But from the nature of offence for which Mr. Tiplock had been sent to prison, he was an improper and vulgar man. Possibly, though, thought Carolus hopefully, an entertaining one.
He had no difficulty in finding the shop—L. Tiplock, Newsagent, Stationer. Its windows presented some curious contrasts. Rousseau’s Confessions and Boccaccio’s Decamerone in badly printed paper editions lay among an assortment of children’s wooden spades and small, pictorially painted buckets. Postcards in violent colours with suggestive wording hung in lines, but religious newspapers—The Church Times, The Catholic Herald, The Methodist Recorder—were not far away from them. It was a busy little shop, and Carolus judged from its exterior that Mr. Tiplock would be a busy man.
He was. Bald, brazen-voiced, restless, he dodged up and down his counter serving his many customers with brisk familiarity.
“Yes?” he said to Carolus when it came to his turn.
“I wanted a few words with you, if it’s possible.”
“Traveller?” asked Mr. Tiplock.
“No. The fact is . . .”
“No, no. I just . . .”
“Is it books you want or pictures?”
“Neither. I . . .”
“I’ve got nothing just now,” said Mr. Tiplock. “Nothing at all.”
“I don’t want . . .”
“Is it something you want to sell? Got a funeral nice postcards perhaps?” suggested Mr. Tiplock, leaning closer.
“I wanted to talk . . .”
“Half a mo, then. I’ll get my wife to mind the shop.” He opened a door behind him. “Frede!” he called.
While they waited he sold a copy of St Winifred’s Parish Magazine and a postcard depicting an enormously stout lady in a red bathing-costume, the wording on which Carolus could not see. His wife appeared, thin, bespectacled and chary of smiling.
“Will you just hang on for a minute, ducks?” asked Mr. Tiplock. “I’m going to the kafe at the corner with this gentleman.”
“What for?” asked Mrs. Tiplock suspiciously.
“Only a little business. He’s got something to sell me.”
“We don’t want any more trouble,” warned Mrs. Tiplock.
“No, dear, no. Shan’t be many minutes.”
“You be careful. You know what it will be if anything is found.”
“Back in a jiff, dear.”
“I won’t have anything to do with it, mind.”
“No, no. We’re just going to have a cup of coffee.”
“You remember what happened last time.”
“Don’t keep on, ducks. I’ve told you it’s nothing.”
“I have to keep on. It’s not worth it, you know that. They’re only waiting for you.”
“Will you mind the shop?” asked Mr. Tiplock, growing exasperated.
“I’ll mind the shop. And you mind your p’s and q’s. Whatever it is, I won’t have any more of those books. You hear?”
“Yes, dear, yes.”
“Or the photographs. You heard what the Magistrate said.”
“Come along,” said Mr. Tiplock to Carolus. As they walked down the street he grew confidential. “The wife’s a bit edgy about things. You can’t really wonder, can you? A woman feels it more—the disgrace and that. She had to carry on here on her own, and of course there was plenty to point the finger of scorn. Six months, I got, for some little bits of stuff from Holland that weren’t worth sneezing at. Milk-and-water, most of them. Schoolboy stuff. Of course the beak carried on. Imagine this falling into the hands of a young girl! he says. Most young girls I know would have written it better than that fellow had. And from experience.”
“Quite,” said Carolus.
“Six months for little bits you can read anywhere if it’s in de luxe editions at a guinea or two. It’s the working man that suffers again. If you’ve got the money you can have your vellum-bound numbered copies. But the poor ruddy wage-earner who wants a bit of a tickler for a few bob isn’t allowed to have it. Oh no. Sent to prison for that, you are. Not right, is it?”
“It certainly doesn’t seem like it.”
“It isn’t as though they found anything when they came and searched,” went on Mr. Tiplock. “Only these books from Holland and a few photographs you could have hung up in your drawing room. Anything worth having I never kept at the shop at all. I have got things, mind you. The real stuff. Mustard. Raise the hair on your head. You’d be surprised at some of it. Well, I learnt things, and that’s saying something. But they never got any of that. They got me on nothing at all, you might say. Filth, the magistrate called it. Talked about corrupting the young. And gave me six months, mind you, which I did at Brixton. The nastiest little nick in the country. It wasn’t fair.”
They were sitting over two cups of coffee essence and hot water with a dash of milk in it and a spoonful of sugar.
“Now what have you got for me?” asked Mr. Tiplock. “So long as it’s not in French. I can’t use anything in foreign languages. Haven’t got the customers for anything like that.”
“I haven’t got anything to sell you,” Carolus managed to say at last. “As I’ve been telling you, I want to ask you a few questions. About the late Mayor.”
Mr. Tiplock gaped.
“You told me you wasn’t a copper,” he said.
“I’m not. I am a schoolmaster.”
“Then what in the world have you come to me for? I don’t sell Latin grammars.”
“No. I’m trying to find out the truth about Wirral’s death.”
“I wish you luck. I must get back to the shop.”
“I’ve come to you because I know you went to see him that last afternoon.”
Mr. Tiplock sat down again.
“You had a furious quarrel with him,” Carolus pointed out.
“May have had a few words,” said Mr. Tiplock.
“You threatened to throw him into the sea.”
“I don’t remember saying that. But if I had it was no more than what he deserved, the old hypocrite. Do you know he was one of my best customers? Nothing ordinary, mind you. Nothing Sunday School for him. Only the really fruity stuff. Then it was him put the police on me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Course it was. Wasn’t he as thick as thieves with the Chief Constable?”
“I don’t know. Was he?”
“Certainly he was. Mayor and that. Besides, one of the detectives told me there’d been a complaint. Cotter, it was. ‘We’ve had a complaint from a prominent citizen,’ he said. It’s plain as a pikestaff. I’d made up my mind while I was still inside I’d tell him. You’ve got time to think about things there. I decided I’d have it out with him, and I did. First early closing date. I told him straight. You dirty old hypocrite, I said. So he was. Mayor! You should have seen the books he had from me! ”
“And when you had told him, as you put it, you left the pier?”
“No. As a matter of fact I didn’t. I stayed on to see The Comusicals.”
“The evening show?”
“Yes. Seven-thirty. I went over to the bar of the Grand for a drink, otherwise I was on the pier most of the time.”
“And left it?”
“When I came out of the show. Why? What’s all this in aid of? Do you think I did for him or something?”
“I’ve got no opinion at all. I don’t even know how he died. It’s that I’m trying to find out. Did you see him again? After your quarrel with him, I mean.”
“Only from a distance. Soon after I’d spoken to him. I’d said my say, and didn’t want any more of it.”
“Did you see anyone else you knew?”
“Old Grool, who was fishing beside him. Customer of mine. Takes Rod and Line and the Daily Express.”
“No one else?”
Tiplock looked rather furtive.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Couldn’t say for certain.”
“But you think . . .”
“I did think I may have seen that son of his. Wirral’s, I mean. Tall, useless gawk. If it was him, he was on the other side of the pier from what the Mayor was, looking down into the sea as though he was going to jump in any minute.”
“Do you mean looking out to sea?”
“No. This fellow I saw was leaning right over looking down into the water underneath him. Seemed to be watching something. Never moved all the time I was playing on a pin-table.”
“Thank you, Mr. Tiplock. You’ve been most helpful.”
“Mind you”—it seemed that Mr. Tiplock wanted to disclaim any credit for this—“mind you, if anyone did do him in, you can’t hardly wonder. I for one shouldn’t be surprised, the lousy old hypocrite.”
Carolus made no reply. When they reached the shop, Mr. Tiplock said, “Just come in while I tell the wife, will you? Otherwise she’ll be on at me all day. Here we are, ducks,” he called cheerfully to Mrs. Tiplock.
“I thought you was only going for a minute.”
“Been busy, have you?”
“Of course I have. On the go the whole time.” She looked at Mr. Tiplock as though she expected to see him carrying the purchases he had made. “I’m not having it in the shop, mind.”
“What?” asked Mr. Tiplock, winking to Carolus.
“You know very well what. We’ve had enough of that. I’ve told you before I won’t have it here.”
“No. All right.”
“Especially those books. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, and you, too,” she added to Carolus. “I don’t wonder the police took them away. That one about the convent was a disgrace. You haven’t been buying any more, have you.”
“No, dear, no. This gentleman isn’t in that line at all.”
“Or those pictures, either. If you bring any more of those pictures home I’ll burn them.”
“He doesn’t sell pictures. He’s . . .”
“Well, so long as he doesn’t. Only I’m not having the police round here again. Turning out all my drawers. You never told me you put those postcards under my nighties. What do you think I looked like when Mr. Cotter pulled them out? You didn’t think of that, did you?”
Gathering that no pause was in prospect, Carolus silently took his leave.
Not altogether a wasted visit, he thought, as he made his way towards the pier. As far as Mr. Tiplock himself was concerned, it was possible to consider him quite seriously as I suspect. For it was true—on the assumption that Wirral had been murdered that evening—that Tiplock had had the opportunity, though Carolus had to admit that several other people—the whole audience of The Comusicals—had had the same. It was also true that Tiplock had a motive. He sincerely believed that Wirral had been responsible for his prosecution, and that was not so negligible a motive for revenge at might at first appear. Carolus had made some study of prisons and prisoners in England, and knew how a sense of injustice could fester and grow in a man till he became murderous. For four months Tiplock had been locked nightly in a cell, and had had a great deal of time in which to brood on the wrong he believed he had suffered. If that brooding, that angry sense of the outrageousness of his fate, had been concentrated on Wirral, it was perfectly possible that he had come out of prison determined to get his own back.
But motive and opportunity were not enough to make Tiplock more than a suspect on paper. Unless there were facts about Tiplock of which Carolus was unaware, the bookseller did not make a really likely potential murderer. A smutty little man, a crafty, dirty-minded little man; but not, Carolus felt, a murderous one. This was a dangerous line of argument, he knew, but he had before now trusted his instincts, and they had not betrayed him.
Tiplock must stay on his list of suspects, but he was not among the first or even the probables. Some fact about him, some new revelation of his character or some details of his behaviour on Wirral’s last day, could change all that. In the meanwhile he had revealed one interesting possibility—that Paul was on the pier that evening.