A Shilling for Candles, by Josephine Tey

Chapter 9

If there was one thing Toselli hated more than another it was the police. All his life he had been no poor hater, Toselli. As commis he had hated the maitre maitre d’hôtel, as maitre d’hôtel he had hated the management, as the management he hated many things: the chef, wet weather, his wife, the head porter’s mustache, clients who demanded to see him at breakfast time — oh, many things! But more than all he hated the police. They were bad for business and bad for the digestion. It stopped his digestive juices flowing just to see one of them walk in through the glass doors. It was bad enough to remember his annual bill for New Year “presents” to the local officers — thirty bottles of Scotch, thirty of gin, two dozen champagne, and six of liqueur brandy it had come to last year — but to suffer the invasion of officers not so far “looked after,” and therefore callous to the brittle delicacy of hotel well-being — well, it was more than Toselli’s abundant flesh and high-pressured blood could stand.

That is why he smiled so sweetly upon Grant — all his life Toselli’s smile had been stretched across his rage, like a tight-rope spanning a chasm — and gave him one of the second-best cigars. Inspector Grant wanted to interview the new waiter, did he? But certainly! This was the waiter’s hour off — between lunch and afternoon tea — but he should be sent for immediately.

“Stop!” said Grant. “You say the man is off duty? Do you know where he will be?”

“Very probably in his room. Waiters like to take the weight off their feet for a little, you understand.”

“I’d like to see him there.”

“But certainly. Tony!” Toselli called to a page passing the office door. “Take this gentleman up to the room of the new waiter.”

“Thank you,” Grant said. “You’ll be here when I come down? I should like to talk to you.”

“I shall be here.” Toselli’s tone expressed dramatic resignation. His smile deepened as he flung out his hands. “Last week it was a stabbing affair in the kitchen, this week it is — what? theft? affiliation?”

“I’ll tell you all about it presently, Mr. Toselli.”

“I shall be here.” His smile became ferocious “But not for long, no! I am going to buy one of those businesses where one puts sixpence into a slot and the meal comes out. Yes. There, but there, would be happiness.”

“Even there, there are bent coins,” Grant said as he followed Tony to the lift.

“Sanger, you come up with me,” he said as they passed through the busy hall. “You can wait for us here, Williams. We’ll bring him out this way. Much less fuss than through the servants’ side. No one will notice anything. Car waiting?”

“Yes, sir.”

Grant and Sanger went up in the lift. In those few seconds of sudden quiet and suspended action, Grant found time to wonder why he had not shown his warrant and told Toselli what he had come for. That would have been his normal course. Why was he so anxious to have the bird in his hand? Was it just the canniness of his Scots ancestry coming out, or was there a presentiment that — that what? He didn’t know. He knew only that he was here, he could not wait. Explanations could follow. He must have the man in his hands.

The soft sound of the lift in the silence was like the sound of the curtain going up.

At the very top of the colossal building which was the Westover Marine Hotel, were the quarters of those waiters who were resident: small single rooms set in a row close together under the roof. As the page put out a bony fist to knock on a door, Grant restrained him. “All right, thank you,” he said, and page and liftman disappeared into the crowded and luxurious depths, leaving the two policemen on the deserted coconut-matted landing. It was very quiet up there.

Grant knocked.

Tisdall’s indifferent voice bade him come in.

The room was so small that Grant’s involuntary thought was that the cell that waited would be no great change. A bed on one side, a window on the other, and in the far wall two cupboard doors. On the bed lay Tisdall in his shirt sleeves, his shoes on the floor. A book lay open, face down, on the coverlet.

He had expected to see a colleague. That was obvious. At the sight of Grant his eyes widened, and as they traveled to Sanger, standing behind Grant in the doorway, realization flooded them.

Before Grant could speak, he said, “You can’t mean it!”

“Yes, I’m afraid we do,” Grant said. He said his regulation piece of announcement and warning, Tisdall sitting with feet dangling on the bed’s edge, not apparently listening.

When he had finished Tisdall said slowly: “I expect this is what death is like when you meet it. Sort of wildly unfair but inevitable.”

“How were you so sure what we had come for?”

“It doesn’t need two of you to ask about my health.” His voice rose a little. “What I want to know is why you’re doing it? What have you against me? You can’t have proved that button was mine because it wasn’t. Why don’t you tell me what you have found so that I can explain away whatever it was? If you have new evidence you can surely ask me for an explanation. I have a right to know, haven’t I? Whether I can explain or not?”

“There isn’t anything you could explain away, Tisdall. You’d better get ready to come with us.”

Tisdall got to his feet, his mind still entangled in the unbelievableness of what was happening to him. “I can’t go in these things,” he said, looking down at his waiter’s dress. “Can I change?”

“Yes, you can change, and take some things with you.” Grant’s hands ran over his pockets in expert questioning, and came away empty. “But you’ll have to do it with us here. Don’t be too long about it, will you? You can wait there, Sanger,” he added, and swung the door to, leaving Sanger outside. He himself moved over to lean against the windowsill. It was a long way to the ground, and Tisdall, in Grant’s opinion, was the suicide type. Not enough guts to brazen a thing out. Not enough vanity, perhaps to like the limelight at any price. Certainly the “everyone sorry when I’m dead” type.

Grant watched him now with minute attention. To an outsider he was a casual visitor, propped casually in the window while he indulged in casual conversation. In reality he was ready for instant emergency.

But there was no excitement. Tisdall pulled his suitcase from under the bed, and began with automatic method to change into his tweed and flannels. Grant felt that if the man carried poison, it would be somewhere in his working garments, and unconsciously relaxed a little as the waiter’s dress was cast aside. There was going to be no trouble. The man was coming quietly.

“I needn’t have worried as to how I was going to live,” Tisdall was saying. “There seems to be a moral somewhere in this very immoral proceeding. What do I do about a lawyer, by the way, when I have no money and no friends?”

“One will be provided.”

“Like a table napkin. I see.”

He opened the cupboard nearest to Grant, and began to take things from their hangers and fold them into his case.

“At least you can tell me what my motive was?” he said presently, as if a new thought had struck him. “You can mistake buttons; you can even wish a button on to a coat that never had it; but you can’t pin a motive where there couldn’t be one!”

“So you had no motive?”

“Certainly not. Quite the opposite. What happened last Thursday morning was the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my life. I should have thought that was obvious even to an outsider.”

“And of course you had not the faintest idea that Miss Clay had made a codicil to her will leaving you a ranch and a large sum of money.”

Tisdall had been readjusting the folds of a garment. He stopped now, his hands still holding the cloth, but motionless, and stared at Grant.

“Chris did that!” he said. “No. No, I didn’t know. How wonderful of her!”

And for a moment doubt stirred in Grant. That had been beautifully done. Timing, expression, action. No professional actor could have done it better. But the doubt passed. He recrossed his legs, by way of shaking himself, recalled the charm and innocence of murderers he had known (Andrew Hamey, who specialized in marrying women and drowning them and who looked like a choir soloist, and others of even greater charm and iniquity) and then composed his mind to the peace of a detective who has got his man.

“So you’ve raked up the perfect motive. Poor Chris! She thought she was doing me such a good turn. Have I any defense at all, do you know?”

“That is not for me to say.”

“I have a great respect for you, Inspector Grant. I think it probable that I shall be unavailingly protesting my innocence on the scaffold.”

He pushed the nearer cupboard door to, and opened the further one. The door opened away from Grant, so that the interior of the cupboard was not visible. “But you disappoint me in one way. I thought you were a better psychologist, you know. When I was telling you the story of my life on Saturday morning, I really thought you were too good a judge to think that I could have done what you suspected me of. Now I find you’re just a routine policeman.”

Still keeping his hand on the doorknob, he bent down to the interior of the cupboard as if to take shoes from the floor of it.

There was the rasp of a key torn from its lock, the cupboard door swung shut, and even as Grant leaped the key turned on the inside.

“Tisdall!” he shouted. “Don’t be a fool! Do you hear!” His mind raced over the antidotes for the various poisons. Oh, God, what a fool he had been! “Sanger! Help me to break this open. He’s locked himself in.”

The two men flung their combined weight on the door. It resisted their best efforts.

“Listen to me, Tisdall,” Grant said between gasps, “poison is a fool’s trick. We’ll get you soon enough to give you an antidote, and all that will happen is that you’ll suffer pain for nothing. So think better of it.”

But still the door resisted them.

“Fire axe!” Grant said. “Saw it when we came up. On wall at the end of the passage. Quick!”

Sanger fled and in eight seconds was back with the axe.

As the first blow of it fell, a half-dressed and sleepy colleague of Tisdall’s appeared from next door and announced, “You mek a noise like thet you hev the cops een!”

“Hey!” he added, seeing the axe in Sanger’s grasp. “What the hell you theenk you do, eh?”

“Keep away, you fool! There’s a man in that cupboard committing suicide.”

“Suicide! Cupboard!” The waiter rubbed his black hair in perplexity, like a half-awakened child. “That is not a cupboard!”

Not a cupboard!”

“No, that is the what you call eet — leetle back stairs. For fire, you know.”

“God!” said Grant, and made for the door.

“Where does it come out — the stairway?” he called back to the waiter.

“In the passage to the front hall.”

“Eight flights,” Grant said to Sanger. “Lift’s quicker, perhaps.” He rang. “Williams will stop him if he tries to go out by the door,” he said, searching for comfort.

“Williams has never seen him, sir. At least I don’t think so.”

Grant used words he had forgotten since he stopped campaigning in France.

“Does the man on duty at the back back know him?”

“Oh, yes, sir. That’s what he’s there for, to stop him. But Sergeant Williams was just waiting for us.”

Words failed Grant altogether. The lift appeared.

Thirty seconds later they were in the hall.

The pleased expectancy on Williams’s pink face told them the worst. Williams had certainly not intercepted anyone.

People were arriving, people were departing, people were going to tea in the restaurant, people were going to eat ices in the sun lounge, to drink in the bar, to meet other people and go to tea at Lyons — the hall of the Marine was American in the catholicity of its inhabitants. To make oneself noticeable in that assembly it would be necessary to stand on one’s hands and proceed so.

Williams said that a young brown-haired man, without a hat and wearing a tweed jacket and flannels had gone out about five minutes previously. In fact, two of them had gone out.

“Two of them! You mean together!”

No, Williams meant that two separate men answering to that description had gone out in the last five minutes. If it came to that, here was another.

Yes, there was another. And watching him, Grant was filled with a despair that ran up from his feet like a wave hitting him and flooding his whole being. Yes, indeed there would be others. In Kent alone at this moment were ten thousand men whose description corresponded to Tisdall’s.

Grant pulled himself together and turned to the ungrateful task of forming a police cordon.

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