A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 10

That was the biggest scoop of Jammy Hopkins’s life. The other papers that evening appeared on the street with horrifying photographs of the mob at Golders Green — Medusa-like heads, close-up, screaming into the camera: disheveled Furies with streaming locks and open mouths clawing each other in an abandon of hate — and thought that they were doing rather well. Nothing, surely, was as important today as the Clay funeral. And their photographers had done them proud. They could afford to be pleased.

But not for nothing had Hopkins trailed Grant from Wigmore Street to the Orient offices, and from the Orient offices to the Temple, and from the Temple to the Yard. Not for nothing had he cooled his heels round the corner while his paid henchman kept watch on the Yard and gave him the sign when Grant left. Not for nothing had he followed him all the way to Westover. “CLAY MURDERED” announced the Sentinel posters. “CLAY MURDERED: ARREST!” And the crowds milled around the excited newsboys, and in the other offices there was tearing of hair, and much talk of sacking. In vain to point out to irate editors that Scotland Yard had said that when there was publishable news they should be told. What were they paid for, the editors would like to know? Sitting on their behinds waiting to be called up, and given official scraps of information? What did they think they were? Tote officials?

But Jammy was in high favor with the powers who signed his paycheck. Jammy settled into residence at the Marine — much more palatially than Grant, who also had a bedroom there but was to spend most of his life in the immediate future at the police station — and gave thanks to the stars which had ordained so spectacular an end for Christine Clay.

As for Grant, he was — as he had known he would be-snowed under with information. By Tuesday noon Tisdall had been seen in almost every corner of England and Wales, and by teatime was beginning to be seen in Scotland. He had been observed fishing from a bridge over a Yorkshire stream and had pulled his hat suspiciously over his face when the informant had approached. He had been seen walking out of a cinema in Aberystwyth. He had rented a room in Lincoln and had left without paying. (He had quite often left without paying, Grant noticed.) He had asked to be taken on a boat at Lowestoft. (He had also asked to be taken on a boat at half a dozen other places. The number of young men who could not pay their landladies and who wanted to leave the country was distressing.) He was found dead on a moor near Penrith. (That occupied Grant the best part of the afternoon.) He was found intoxicated in a London alley. He had bought a hat in Hythe, Grantham, Lewes, Tonbridge, Dorchester, Ashford, Luton, Aylesbury, Leicester, Chatham, East Grinstead, and in four London shops. He had also bought a packet of safety pins in Swan and Edgars. He had eaten a crab sandwich at a quick lunch counter in Argyll Street, two rolls and coffee in a Hastings bun shop, and bread and cheese in a Haywards’ Heath inn. He had stolen every imaginable kind of article in every imaginable kind of place — including a decanter from a glass-and-china warehouse in Croydon. When asked what he supposed Tisdall wanted a decanter for, the informant said that it was a grand weapon.

Three telephones kept ringing like demented things, and by post, telegram, wireless, and personal appearance the information poured in. Nine-tenths of it quite useless, but all of it requiring a hearing: some of it requiring much investigation before its uselessness became apparent. Grant looked at the massed pile of reports, and his self-control deserted him for a little.

“It’s a big price to pay for a moment’s lack of wit,” he said.

“Cheer up, sir,” said Williams. “It might be worse.”

“Might be worse! Would you tell me what occurrence would, in your opinion, augment the horror of the situation?”

“Oh, well, so far no nut has come to confess to the crime, and waste our time that way.”

But the nut arrived next morning.

Grant looked up from inspecting a dew-drenched coat which had just been brought in, to see Williams closing the door mysteriously and mysteriously advancing on him.

“What is it, Williams?” he asked, his voice sharp with anticipation.

“The nut,” Williams said.

“The what?”

“The person to make a confession, sir.” Williams’s tone held a shade of guilt now, as if he felt that by mentioning the thing yesterday he had brought the evil to pass. Grant groaned.

“Not a bit the usual kind, sir. Quite interesting. Very smart.”

“Outside or inside?”

“Oh, her clothes, I meant, sir.”

“Her! Is it a woman?”

“Yes. A lady, sir.”

“Bring her in.” Rage ran over him in little prickles. How dare some sensation-mad female waste his time in order to satisfy her perverted and depraved appetite.

Williams swung the door back and ushered in a bright fashionable figure.

It was Judy Sellers.

She said nothing, but came into the room with a sulky deliberation. Even in his surprise at seeing her, Grant thought how Borstal she was in spite of her soigne exterior. That air of resentment against the world in general and her own fate in particular was very familiar to him.

He pulled out a chair in silence. Grant could be very intimidating.

“All right, Sergeant,” he said, “there won’t be any need for you to stay.” And then, to Judy as Williams went: “Don’t you think this is a little unfair, Miss Sellers?”

“Unfair?”

“I am working twenty-three hours out of the twenty-four, on dreadfully important work, and you see fit to waste my time by treating us to a bogus confession.”

“There’s nothing bogus about it.”

“It’s so bogus that I have a good mind to dismiss you now, without another word.”

She stayed his half-movement to the door. “You can’t do that. I’ll just go to another police station and confess and they’ll send me on to you. I did it, you see!”

“Oh, no, you didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“For one thing, you weren’t near the place.”

“How do you know where I was?”

“You forget that in the course of conversation on Saturday night it was apparent that on Wednesday night you were at Miss Keats’s house in Chelsea.”

“I was only there for cocktails. I left early because Lydia was going to a party up the river.”

“Even so, that makes it rather unlikely that you should be on a beach near Westover shortly after dawn next morning.”

“It wouldn’t be at all surprising if I were in the north of England next morning. I motored down if you want to know. You can inquire at my flat. The girl I live with will tell you that I didn’t come home till lunchtime on Thursday.”

“That hardly proves that your activities were murderous.”

“They were, though. I drove to the Gap, hid in the wood, and waited till she came to swim.”

“You were, of course, wearing a man’s coat?”

“Yes, though I don’t know how you knew. It was cold driving, and I wore one of my brother’s that was lying in the car.”

“Did you wear the coat to go down to the beach?”

“Yes. It was dithering cold. I don’t like bathing in the dawn.”

“You went bathing!”

“Of course I did. I couldn’t drown her from the shore, could I?”

“And you left the coat on the beach?”

“Oh, no,” she said with elaborate sarcasm. “I went swimming in it.”

And Grant breathed again. For a moment he had had a fright.

“So you changed into swimming things, walked down to the beach with your brother’s coat over you, and — then what?”

“She was a fair way out. I went in, swam up to her, and drowned her.”

“How?”

“She said, ‘Hello, Judy.’ I said, ‘Hello.’ I gave her a light tap on the chin. My brother taught me where to hit a person’s chin, so as to addle them. Then I dived under her and pulled her through the water by the heels until she was drowned.”

“Very neat,” Grant said. “You’ve thought it all out, haven’t you? Have you invented a motive for yourself, too?”

“Oh, I just didn’t like her. I hated her, if you want to know. Her success and her looks and her self-sufficiency. She got in my hair until I couldn’t bear it another day.”

“I see. And will you explain why, having achieved the practically perfect murder, you should calmly come here and put a noose around your neck?”

“Because you’ve got someone for it.”

“You mean because we’ve got Robert Tisdall. And that explains everything. And now having wasted some precious minutes of my time, you might recompense me and rehabilitate yourself at the same time, by telling me what you know of Tisdall.”

“I don’t know anything. Except that he would be the very last person in the world to commit a murder. For any reason.”

“You knew him fairly well, then?”

“No. I hardly knew him at all.”

“You weren’t — friends?”

“No, nor lovers, if that’s what you’re trying to say. Bobby Tisdall didn’t know I was alive, except to hand me a cocktail.”

Grant’s tone changed. “And yet you’d go even to this length to get him out of a jam?” he said, quite kindly.

She braced into resentment at the kindness, “If you’d committed a murder wouldn’t you confess to save an innocent person?”

“Depends on how innocent I thought the police were. You underrate us, Miss Sellers.”

“I think you’re a lot of idiots. You got a man who is innocent. You’re busy hounding him to death. And you won’t listen to a perfectly good confession when you get one.”

“Well, you see, Miss Sellers, there are always things about a case that are known only to the police and are not to be learned from newspapers. The mistake you made was to get up your story from the newspaper accounts. There was one thing you didn’t know. And one thing you forgot.”

“What did I forget?”

“That no one knew where Christine Clay was staying.”

“The murderer did.”

“Yes. That is my point. And now — I’m very busy.”

“So you don’t believe a word I say.”

“Oh, yes. Quite a lot of it. You were out all night on Wednesday, you probably went swimming, and you arrived back at lunchtime on Thursday. But none of that makes you guilty of murder.”

She got up, in her reluctant, indolent way, and produced her lipstick. “Well,” she drawled between applications, “having failed in my little bid for publicity, I suppose I must go on playing blonde nitwits for the rest of my life. It’s good I bought a day-return.”

“You don’t fool me,” Grant said, with a not too grim smile as he opened the door for her.

“All right, then, maybe you’re right about that, and blast you anyhow,” she burst out. “But you’re wrong about his doing it. So wrong that your name will stink before this case is over.”

And she brushed past an astonished Williams and two clerks, and disappeared.

“Well,” said Williams, “that’s the first. Humans are queer, aren’t they, sir? You know, if we announced the fact that the coat we want has a button missing, there’d be people who would pull the button off their coats and bring it in. Just for fun. As if things weren’t difficult enough without that. Not just the usual type, though, was she, sir?”

“No. What did you make of her, Williams?”

“Musical comedy. Looking for publicity to help her career. Hard as nails.”

“All wrong. Legitimate stage. Hates her career. Softhearted to the point of self-sacrifice.”

Williams looked a little crestfallen. “Of course, I didn’t have a chance to talk to her,” he reminded.

“No. On looks it was quite a good reading, Williams. I wish I could read this case as well.” He sat down and ran his fingers through his hair. “What would you do, Williams, once you had got clear of the Marine?”

Williams understood that he was supposed to be Tisdall.

“I’d take a fairly crowded bus somewhere. First that came to hand. Get off with a crowd of others, and walk off as if I knew where I was going. In fact, wherever I went I’d look as if I knew where I was going.”

“And then, what?”

“I’d probably have to take another bus to get out of townified parts.”

“You’d get out of built-up areas, would you?”

“Sure!” said Williams, surprised.

“A man’s much more conspicuous in open country.”

“There are woods. In fact, some of the woods in this part of the world would hide a man indefinitely. And if a man got as far west as Ashdown Forest, well, it’d take about a hundred men to comb Ashdown properly.”

Grant shook his head. “There’s food. And lodging.”

“Sleep out. It’s warm weather.”

“He’s been out two nights now. If he has taken to the country he must be looking shopworn by this time. But has he? Have you noticed that no one has reported him as buying a razor? There’s just the chance that he’s with friends. I wonder —” his eyes strayed to the chair where Judy had been sitting. “But no! She’d never risk as big a bluff as that. No need for it.”

Williams wished to himself that Grant would go to the hotel and have some sleep. He was taking far too much to heart his failure to arrest Tisdall. Mistakes happened to the best of people, and everyone knew that Grant was all right. He had the Yard solid behind him. Why need he worry himself sick over something that might have happened to anyone? There were one or two crabbers, of course — people who wanted his job — but no one paid any attention to the likes of them. Everyone knew what they were getting at. Grant was all right, and everyone knew it. It was silly of him to get so worked up over a little slip.

If a policeman’s heart can be said to ache, then Williams’s stout heart ached for his superior.

“You can get rid of this disgusting object,” Grant said, indicating the coat. “It’s twenty years old, at least, and hasn’t had a button on it for the last ten. That’s one thing that puzzles me, you know, Williams. He had it at the beach, and it was missing when he came back. He had to get rid of that coat somewhere along his route. It isn’t a very extensive route, when all is said. And there wasn’t time for him to go far off it. He’d be too anxious to get back and cover up his mistake in going away. And yet we haven’t turned the coat up. Two duck ponds, both shallow, both well dragged. Three streams that wouldn’t hide a penny and wouldn’t float a paper boat. Ditches beaten, garden walls inspected on the wrong side, two copses scoured. Nothing! What did he do with it? What would you do with it?”

“Burn it.”

“No time. It’s damp too. Soaking wet, probably.”

“Roll it small and stick it in the fork of a tree. Everyone looks on the ground for things.”

“Williams, you’re a born criminal. Tell Sanger your theory and ask him to make use of it this afternoon. I’d rather have that coat than have Tisdall. In fact, I’ve got to have that coat!”

“Talking of razors, you don’t think maybe, he took his razor with him, sir?”

“I didn’t think of it. Shouldn’t think he had the presence of mind. But then I didn’t think he’d have the nerve to bolt. I concentrated on suicide. Where are his things?”

“Sanger took them over here in the case. Everything he had.”

“Just see if his razor is there? It’s just as well to know whether he’s shaved or not.” There was no razor.

“Well!” said Grant. “Who’d have thought it! ‘You disappoint me, Inspector,’ says he, quietly pocketing the razor, and arranging his getaway with the world’s prize chump of a detective watching him. I’m all wrong about that lad, Sergeant. All wrong. I thought first, when I took him from the inquest that he was one of these hysterical, do-it-on-the-spur-of-the-moment creatures. Then, after I knew about the will, I changed my mind. Still thought him a ‘poor thing,’ though. And now I find he was planning a getaway under my very nose — and he brought it off! It isn’t Tisdall who’s a washout, it’s me!”

“Cheer up, sir. Our luck is out at the moment. But you and I between us, and no one else, so help me, are going to put that cold-blooded brute where he belongs,” Williams said fervently, not knowing that the person who was to be the means of bringing the murderer of Christine Clay to justice was a rather silly little woman in Kansas City who had never heard of any of them.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tey/josephine/shilling-for-candles/chapter10.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04