The Singing Sands, by Josephine Tey

13

TAD arrived, very washed and shining, before Grant had finished breakfast. His soul was troubled, however, and he had to be coaxed out of a contrite mood (‘Can’t help feeling that I walked out on you, Mr Grant’) before he was any good to anyone. He cheered up at last when he found that there were definite plans for the day.

‘You mean you were serious about window cleaning? I thought it was only a — a sort of figure of speech, maybe. You know: like “I’ll be selling matches for a living if this goes on.” Why am I going to clean Lloyd’s windows?’

‘Because it is the only honest way of getting a foot inside the house. My colleagues can prove that you have no right to read a gas-meter, or test the electricity, or the telephone. But they cannot deny that you are a window-cleaner and are legally and professionally getting on with your job. Richards — your boss for today — says that Lloyd goes out nearly every day about eleven, and he is going to take you there when Lloyd has gone. He’ll stay with you and work with you, of course, so that he can introduce you as his assistant who is learning the trade. That way you will be accepted without suspicion and left alone.’

‘So I’m left alone.’

‘On the desk in the big room that occupies most of the first floor there is an engagement book. A large, very expensive, red-leather affair. The desk is a table one — I mean that it doesn’t shut — and it stands just inside the middle window.’

‘So?’

‘I want to know Lloyd’s engagements for the 3rd and 4th of March.’

‘You think maybe he travelled on that train, ‘m?’

‘I should like to be sure that he didn’t, anyhow. If I know what his engagements were I can find out quite easily whether he kept them or not.’

‘Okay. That’s quite easy. I’m looking forward to that window cleaning. I’ve always wondered what I could do when I get too old for flying. I might as well look into the window trade. To say nothing of looking into a few windows.’

He went away, blithe and apparently forgetful that half an hour ago he was ‘lower than a worm’s belly’, and Grant looked round in his mind for any acquaintances that he and Heron Lloyd might have in common. He remembered that he had not yet rung up Marta Hallard to announce his return to town. It might be a little early in the day to break in on Marta’s slumbers, but he would risk it.

‘Oh, no,’ Marta said, ‘you didn’t wake me. I’m half-way through my breakfast and having my daily dose of news. Every day I swear that never again will I read a daily paper, and every morning there is the blasted thing lying waiting for me to open it and every morning I open it. It upsets my digestive juices, and hardens my arteries, and my face falls with a thud and undoes five guineas’ worth of Ayesha’s ministrations in five minutes, but I have to have my daily dose of poison. How are you, my dear? Are you better?’

She listened to his answer without interrupting. One of Marta’s more charming characteristics was her capacity for listening. With most of his other women friends silence meant that they were preparing their next speech and were merely waiting for the next appropriate moment to give utterance to it.

‘Have supper with me tonight. I’ll be alone,’ she said when she had heard about Clune and his recovered health.

‘Make it early next week, can you? How is the play going?’

‘Well, darling, it would be going a lot better if Ronnie would come up-stage now and then and talk to me instead of to the audience. He says it emphasises the detachment of the character to practically stamp on the floats and let the front stalls count his eyelashes, but I think myself it’s just a hangover from his music-hall days.’

They discussed both Ronnie and the play for a little, and then Grant said: ‘Do you know Heron Lloyd, by the way?’

‘The Arabia man? Not to say know; no. But I understand he’s almost as much of a hogger as Ronnie.’

‘How?’

‘Rory — my brother’s boy — was mad to go exploring in Arabia — though why anyone should want to go exploring in Arabia I can’t imagine — all dust and dates — anyway, Rory wanted to go with Heron Lloyd, but it seems that Lloyd travels only with Arabs. Rory, who is a nice child, says that that is because Lloyd is so Arabian that he is plus royaliste que le roi, but I think myself — being a low-minded creature and a rogue and vagabond — that he is just suffering from Ronnie’s trouble and wants the whole stage.’

‘What is Rory doing now?’ Grant asked, skating away from Heron Lloyd.

‘Oh, he’s in Arabia. The other man took him. Kinsey–Hewitt. Oh, yes, Rory wouldn’t be put off by a little thing like a snub. Can you make it Tuesday: the supper?’

Yes, he would make it Tuesday. Before Tuesday he would be back at work, and the matter of Bill Kenrick, who had come to England full of excitement about Arabia and had died as Charles Martin in a train going to the Highlands, would have to be put behind him. He had only a day or two more.

He went out to have a hair-cut, and to think in that relaxed hypnotic atmosphere of anything that they had left undone. Tad Cullen was lunching with his boss. ‘Richards won’t accept anything for this,’ he had said to Tad, ‘so take him out to lunch and give him a thundering good one and I’ll pay for it.’

‘I’ll take him out all right and be glad to,’ Tad said, ‘but I’m damned if I’ll let you pay for it. Bill Kenrick was my buddy, not yours.’

So he sat in the warm, aromatic air of the barber’s shop, half dive half clinic, and tried to think of something that they could still do to find Bill Kenrick’s suitcases. But it was the returning Tad who provided the suggestion.

Why, said Tad, not Agony-advertise for this girl.

‘What girl?’

‘The girl who has his luggage. She has no reason to be shy — unless she’s been helping herself to the contents, which wouldn’t be unknown. But Bill is a — was a better picker than that. Why don’t we say in capital letters: “BILL KENRICK”— to catch the eye, get it? — and then just: “Any friend get in touch with Number what’s-it.” Is there anything against that?’

No, Grant could think of nothing against that, but his eye was on the piece of paper that Tad was fishing from his pocket.

‘Did you find the book?’

‘Oh, yes. I had only to lean in and pick it up. That guy doesn’t do any homework, it seems. It’s the dullest list of engagements outside a prison. Not a gardenia from start to finish. And no good to us anyway.’

‘No good?’

‘He was busy, it seems. Will I write out that advertisement for the papers?’

‘Yes, do. There’s paper in my desk.’

‘Which papers shall we send it to?’

‘Write six, and we can address them later.’

He looked down at Tad’s child-like copy of the entries in Lloyd’s engagement book. The entries for the 3rd and 4th of March. And as he read them the full absurdity of his suspicions came home to him. What was he thinking of? Was his mind still the too-impressionable mind of a sick man? How could he ever have dreamed that Heron Lloyd could possibly have been moved to murder? Because that was what he had been thinking, wasn’t it? That somehow, in some way that they could not guess, Lloyd had been responsible for Bill Kenrick’s death.

He looked at the crucial entries, and thought that even if it were proved that Lloyd had not kept these particular engagements it would be fantastic to read into that absence any more than the normal explanation: that Lloyd had been indisposed or had changed his mind. On the night of the 3rd he had apparently attended a dinner. ‘Pioneer Society, Normandie, 7.15’ the entry read. At 9.30 the following morning a Pathé Magazine film unit were due to arrive at 5 Britt Lane and make him into number something-or-other of their Celebrities At Home series. It would seem that Heron Lloyd had more important things to think of than an unknown flyer who claimed to have seen ruins in the sands of Arabia.

‘But he said: “On what?”’ said that voice in him.

‘All right, he said: “On what?”! A fine world it would be if one was going to be suspected, if one was going to be judged, by every unconsidered remark.’

The Commissioner had once said to him: ‘You have the most priceless of all attributes for your job, and that is flair. But don’t let it ride you, Grant. Don’t let your imagination take hold. Keep it your servant.’

He had been in danger of letting his flair bolt with him. He must take a pull on himself.

He would go back to where he was before he saw Lloyd. Back to the company of Bill Kenrick. Back from wild imaginings to fact. Hard, bare, uncompromising fact.

He looked across at Tad, nose to paper and pursuing his pen across the page with it as a terrier noses a spider across a floor.

‘How was your milk-bar lady?’

‘Oh, fine, fine,’ said Tad, absent-minded and not lifting his glance from his handiwork.

‘Taking her out again?’

‘Uh-huh. Meeting her tonight.’

‘Think she will do as a steady?’

‘She might,’ Tad said, and then as he became aware of this unusual interest he looked up and said: ‘What’s this in aid of?’

‘I’m thinking of deserting you for a day or two, and I’d like to know that you won’t be bored if left to your own devices.’

‘Oh. Oh, no; I’ll be all right. It’s time you took some time off to attend to your own affairs, I guess. After all, this is no trouble of yours. You’ve done far too much as it is.’

‘I’m not taking time off. I’m planning to fly over and see Charles Martin’s people.’

‘People?’

‘His family. They live just outside Marseilles.’

Tad’s face, which had looked for a moment like a lost child’s, grew animated again.

‘What do you reckon to get from them?’

‘I’m not doing any reckoning. I’m just beginning from the other end. We’ve come to a blank wall where Bill Kenrick is concerned — unless his hypothetical girl-friend answers that advertisement and that won’t be for two days at the very least — so we’ll try the Charles Martin end and where we get from there.’

‘Fine. What about me coming with you?’

‘I think not, Tad. I think you had better stay here and be O.C. the Press. See that all these are inserted and pick up any answers.’

‘You’re the boss,’ Tad said in a resigned way. ‘But I sure would like to see Marseilles.’

‘It’s not a bit the way you picture it,’ Grant said, amused.

‘How do you know how I picture it?’

‘I can imagine.’

‘Oh, well, I suppose I can sit on a stool and look at Daphne. What funny names girls have in this neck of the woods. It’s a bit draughty, but I can count up the number of times people say thank-you for doing other people service.’

‘If it’s iniquity you’re looking for you’ll find as much on a Leicester Square pavement as you will on the Cannebière.’

‘Maybe, but I like my iniquity with some ooh-la-la in it.’

‘Hasn’t Daphne got any ooh-la-la?’

‘No. Daphne’s very la-di-da. I have an awful suspicion that she wears woollen underwear.’

‘She would need it in a milk-bar in Leicester Square in April. She sounds a nice girl.’

‘Oh, she’s fine, fine. But don’t you stay too long away, or the wolf in me will prove too strong and I’ll take the first plane out to Marseilles to join you. When do you plan to go?’

‘Tomorrow morning, if I can get a seat. Move over and let me reach the telephone. If I get an early-morning service I can, with a piece of luck, get back the following day. If not, then Friday at the latest. How did you get on with Richards?’

‘Oh, we’re great buddies. But I’m a bit disillusioned.’

‘About what?’

‘About the possibilities of the trade.’

‘Doesn’t it pay?’

‘I expect it pays off in coin but not any other way, take it from me. All you can see from outside a window, believe it or not, is your own reflection in the glass. What are the names of those papers you want me to address these things to?’

Grant gave him the names of the six newspapers with the largest circulations, and sent him away with his blessing to employ his time as he saw fit until they met again.

‘I certainly wish I was going with you,’ Tad said once more as he was leaving, and Grant wondered if seeing the South of France as one big honky-tonk was any more absurd than seeing it as mimosa. Which was what it was to him.

‘France!’ said Mrs Tinker. ‘When you’ve only just come back from foreign parts!’

‘The Highlands may be foreign parts, but the South of France is merely an extension of England.’

‘It’s a very expensive extension, I’ve ‘eard. Roonous. When was you expectin’ to be back? I got a loverly chicken from Carr’s for you.’

‘The day after tomorrow, I hope. Friday at the latest.’

‘Oh, then it’ll keep. Was you wantin’ to be called earlier tomorrow mornin’, then?’

‘I’ll be away before you come in, I think. So you can have a late morning tomorrow.’

‘A late mornin’ wouldn’t suit Tinker, it wouldn’t. But I’ll get me shoppin’ done before I come in. Now you see and take care of yerself. No burning the candle at both ends and comin’ back lookin’ no better than when you went away to Scotland in the beginnin’. I ‘ope it keeps fine for you!’

Fine indeed, Grant thought, looking down at the map of France next morning. From that height on this crystal morning it was not a thing of earth and water and crops. It was a small jewelled pattern set in a lapis-lazuli sea; a Fabergé creation. Not much wonder that flyers as a species had a detached attitude to the world. What had the world — its literature, its music, its philosophies, or its history — to do with a man who saw it habitually for the thing it was: a bit of Fabergé nonsense?

Marseilles, at close quarters, was no jeweller’s creation. It was the usual noisy crowded place filled with impatient taxi-horns and the smell of stale coffee; that very French smell that haunts its houses with the ghosts of ten million coffee-brewings. But the sun shone, and the striped awnings flapped a little in the breeze from the Mediterranean, and the mimosa displayed its pale expensive yellow in prodigal masses. As a companion picture to the grey and scarlet of London it was, he thought, perfect. If he ever was rich he would commission one of the best artists in the world to put the two pictures on canvas for him; the chiaroscuro of London and bright positive blaze of Marseilles. Or perhaps two different artists. It was unlikely that the man who could convey the London of a grey day in April would also be able to paint the essence of Marseilles on a spring noon.

He stopped thinking about artists and ceased to find Marseilles either bright or positive when he found that the Martin family had left their suburb only the week before for parts unknown. Unknown, that was, to the neighbours. By the time that he had with the help of the local authorities discovered that ‘part unknown’ merely meant Toulon, a great deal of precious time had been wasted, and still more was wasted in journeying to Toulon and finding the Martins among its teeming inhabitants.

But in the end he found them and listened to the little they had to tell. Charles was a ‘bad boy’, they said, with all the antagonism of the French for someone who has apostatised from that supreme god of the French idolatry, the Family. He had always been a wilful, headstrong creature and (crime of crimes in the French calendar) lazy. Bone lazy. He had gone away five years ago after a small trouble over a girl — no, no, he had merely stabbed her — and had not bothered to write to them. They had had no news of him in all those years except that a friend had run into him in Port Said about three years ago. He was doing pavement deals in second-hand cars, the friend said. Buying up crocks and selling them after he had tinkered with them a little. He was a very good mechanic; he could have been a very successful man, with a garage of his own and people working for him, if he had not been so lazy. Bone lazy. A laziness that was formidable. A laziness that was a disease. They had heard nothing more of him until they had been asked to identify his body.

Grant asked if they had a photograph of Charles.

Yes, they had several, but of course they were of Charles when he was much younger.

They showed him the photographs, and Grant saw why Bill Kenrick, dead, looked not too unlike the Charles Martin that his family had remembered. One thin dark man with marked eyebrows, hollowed cheeks, and straight dark hair looked very like any other similar young man when the individuality of life was quenched. They did not even have to have the same colour of eyes. A parent receives a message saying: Your son is dead as the result of a regrettable accident; would you please identify him as your son and arrange for the burial. The bereaved parent is presented with his dead son’s papers and belongings and is asked to identify the owner as his son. There is no question in his conditioned mind; he accepts what he sees, and what he sees is what he expected to see. It would not occur to him to say: Are this man’s eyes blue or brown?

In the end, of course, it was Grant who submitted to questioning. Why was he interested in Charles? Had Charles after all left some money? Was it that Grant was looking for the legal heirs, perhaps?

No, Grant had promised to look Charles up on behalf of a friend who had known him on the Persian Gulf coast. No, he did not know what the friend wanted of him. He understood that there was some suggestion of a future partnership.

In the expressed opinion of the Martin family the friend was lucky.

They gave him Armagnac and coffee and little biscuits with Bath-bun sugar on them, and asked him to come again if he was ever in Toulon.

On the doorstep he asked if they had possession of their son’s papers. Only his personal ones, they said: his letters. The official ones they had not bothered with or thought about. They were no doubt still with the Marseilles police, who had first made contact with them when the accident happened.

So a little more time was wasted in making friends with the Marseilles officials; but this time Grant spent no energy on conscientiously-unofficial methods. He produced his credentials and asked for a loan of the papers. He drank a sirop, and signed a receipt. And he caught the afternoon plane to London on Friday afternoon.

He had two more days. Or one day and a Sunday, to be accurate.

France was still a jewelled pattern as he flew back over it, but Britain seemed to have disappeared altogether. Beyond the familiar outline of the western European coast there was nothing but an ocean of haze. Very odd and incomplete the map looked without the familiar shape of that very individual island. Supposing there never had been that island: how different would the history of the world have been? It was a fascinating speculation. An all-Spanish America, one supposed. A French India; an India without a colour-bar and so racially intermarried that it had lost its identity. A Dutch South Africa ruled by a fanatic Church. Australia? Who would have discovered and colonised Australia? The Dutch from South Africa, or the Spaniards from America? It was immaterial, he supposed, since either race would in a generation have become tall, lean, tough, nasal, drawling, sceptical and indestructible. Just as all Americans eventually began to look like Red Indians even if they entered the country as broad large-boned Saxons.

They dropped into the ocean of cloud and found Britain again. A very mundane, muddy, and workaday place to have changed the history of a world. A steady drizzle soaked the land and the lieges. London was a water-colour of grey reflections with spots of vermilion oil paint where the buses plunged dripping through the haze.

All the lights were on in the finger-print department although it was still daylight; and Cartwright was sitting just as he had last seen him — as he had always seen him — with a half-drunk cup of cold tea at his elbow, the saucer filled with cigarette butts.

‘Something I can do for you this beautiful spring afternoon?’ Cartwright said.

‘Yes. There is one thing I want very much to know. Have you ever drunk the second half of a cup of tea?’

Cartwright considered this. ‘Come to think of it, I don’t know that I ever have. Beryl usually takes my cup away and fills it up with fresh stuff. Something else off the cuff? Or is this just a social call?’

‘Yes, something else. But you’ll be working for me on Monday, so don’t let your sense of benevolence get out of hand.’ He put Charles Martin’s papers on the table. ‘When can you do these for me?’

‘What is this? French identity papers. What are you getting into — or do you want to keep it to yourself?’

‘I’m just having one last bet on a horse called Flair. If it comes off I’ll tell you about it. I’ll pick up the prints tomorrow morning.’

He looked at the clock and reckoned that if Tad Cullen was ‘dating’ Daphne, or any other female creature, tonight, he would at this moment be dolling himself up in his hotel room. He left Cartwright and went to a telephone where he could talk unheard.

We-e-ll!’ said Tad joyously, when he heard Grant’s voice. ‘Where are you talking from? Are you back?’

‘Yes, I’m back. I’m in London. Look, Tad, you say you’ve never known anyone called Charles Martin. But is it possible that you knew him under another name? Did you ever know a very good mechanic, very good with cars, who was French and looked a little like Bill?’

Tad thought this over.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever known any mechanic who was French. I’ve known a Swedish mechanic and a Greek mechanic, but neither of them was in the least like Bill. Why?’

‘Because Martin worked in the Middle East. And it is just possible that Bill got those papers from him before he ever came to Britain at all. Martin may have sold them to him. He was — is: he may be living — a lazy creature and probably very hard-up at intervals. Out there, where no one bothers very much about credentials, he might have tried to cash them.’

‘Yes; he might. Someone else’s papers are usually more valuable than your own out there. To have around, I mean. But why would Bill buy them? Bill never did anything on the side.’

‘Perhaps because he looked a little like Martin. I don’t know. Anyhow, you yourself have never run into anyone like Martin in the Middle East?’

‘Not anywhere, that I can think of. What did you get? Out of the Martins. Anything worth while?’

‘I’m afraid not. They showed me photographs; which made it clear how much he would look like Bill if he was not alive. Something that we knew already. And of course the fact that he had gone East to work. Any answers to the advertisement?’

‘Five.’

Five?

‘All from fellows called Bill Kenrick.’

‘Oh. Asking what was in it for them?’

‘You’ve got it.’

‘Not a word from anyone who knew him?’

‘Not a peep. And nothing at the Charles Martin end either, it seems. We’re sunk, aren’t we?’

‘Well — waterlogged, shall we say. We have one remaining asset.’

‘We have? What is that?’

‘Time. We have forty-eight more hours.’

‘Mr Grant, you’re an optimist.’

‘You have to be in my business,’ Grant said, but he did not feel very optimistic. He felt flat and tired. He was within an ace of wishing that he had never heard of Bill Kenrick. Wishing that he had come down that corridor at Scoone just ten seconds later. In ten more seconds Yughourt would have realised that the man was dead and would have shut the door and gone for help; and he, Grant, would have walked down that empty corridor and stepped down on to the platform unaware that there had ever existed a young man called Bill Kenrick. He would never have known that anyone had died on the train. He would have driven away with Tommy to the hills, and no words about singing sands would have disturbed his holiday. He would have fished in peace, and finished his holiday in peace.

In too much peace — perhaps? With too much time to think about himself and his bondage to unreason. Too much time to take his own mental and spiritual pulse.

No, of course he was not sorry that he had heard of Bill Kenrick. He was Bill Kenrick’s debtor as long as he lived, and if it took him till the end of his days he would find out what had changed Bill Kenrick into Charles Martin. But if only he could clear up this thing before he was swamped by that demanding life that was waiting for him on Monday.

He asked how Daphne was, and Tad said that as a female companion she had one enormous advantage over everyone he had ever known: she was pleased with very little. If you gave her a bunch of violets she was as pleased as most girls are with orchids. It was Tad’s considered opinion that she had never heard of orchids, and he, personally, had no intention of bringing them to her notice.

‘She sounds the domestic type. You take care, Tad, or she’ll be going back to the Middle East with you.’

‘Not while I’m conscious,’ Tad said. ‘No female is going back East with me. I’m not having any little-woman-round-the-house cluttering up our bungalow. I mean, my bun ——. I mean ——’ His voice died away.

The conversation became suddenly broken-backed, and Grant rang off after promising to call him as soon as he had anything to report or an idea to share.

He went out into the wet haze, bought himself an evening paper, and found a taxi to take him home. The paper was a Signal, and the sight of the familiar heading took him back to that breakfast at Scoone four weeks ago. He thought again how constant in kind the headlines were. The Cabinet row, the dead body of the blonde in Maida Vale, the Customs prosecution, the hold-up, the arrival of an American actor, the street accident. Even ‘PLANE CRASH IN ALPS’ was common enough to rank as a constant.

‘Yesterday evening the dwellers in the high valleys of Chamonix saw a rose of flame break out on the icy summit of Mont Blanc ——’

The Signal’s style was constant too.

The only thing waiting for him at 19 Tenby Court was a letter from Pat, which said:

Dear Alan, they say you must have marjuns but I think marjuns is havers. waste not want not. this is a fly I made for you. it was not done in time before you went. it may not be any good for those english rivers but you better have it anyway your affectionate cousin Patrick.

This production cheered Grant considerably, and while he ate his dinner he considered alternately the economy, in capitals as well as in margins, and the enclosed lure. The fly exceeded in originality even that remarkable affair which he had been lent at Clune. He decided to use it on the Severn on a day when they would ‘take’ a piece of red rubber hot-water-bottle, so that he could write honestly to Pat and report that the Rankin fly had landed a big one.

The typical Scots insularity in ‘those English rivers’ made him hope that Laura would not wait too long before sending Pat away to his English school. The quality of Scotchness was a highly concentrated essence, and should always be diluted. As an ingredient it was admirable; neat, it was as abominable as ammonia.

He stuck the fly above the calendar on his desk, so that he might go on being amused by its catholicity and warmed by his young cousin’s devotion, and got thankfully into pyjamas and a dressing-gown. There was at least one consolation for being in town when he might still be in the country: he could get into a dressing-gown and put his feet on the mantelpiece in the sure and certain knowledge that no telephone call from Whitehall 1212 would intrude on his leisure.

But he had not had his feet up for twenty minutes when Whitehall 1212 was on the telephone.

It was Cartwright.

‘Did I understand you to say that you had had a bet on Flair?’ said Cartwright’s voice.

‘Yes. Why?’

‘I don’t know anything about it but I have an idea that your horse has won,’ said Cartwright. He added, very silky and sweet like a Broadcasting Aunt: ‘Good night, sir,’ and hung up.

‘Hey!’ said Grant, and jiggled the telephone key. ‘Hey!

But Cartwright had gone. And it would be no use trying to bring him to the telephone any more tonight. This amiable piece of teasing was Cartwright’s come-back; his charge for doing a couple of buckshee jobs.

Grant went back to his Runyon, but he could no longer keep his attention on that strictly legit character, Judge Henry G. Blake. Blast Cartwright and his little jokes. Now he would have to go to the Yard first thing in the morning.

But in the morning he forgot all about Cartwright.

By eight o’clock in the morning Cartwright had sunk back into the great ocean of incidentals that bear us on from one day to the next, unremarkable in their plankton swarming.

The morning began as it always did, with the rattle of china and the voice of Mrs Tinker as she set down his early-morning tea. This was the preliminary to four glorious minutes during which he lay still more asleep than awake and let his tea cool, so Mrs Tinker’s voice came to him down a long tunnel that led to life and the daylight but need not yet be traversed.

‘Just listen to it,’ Mrs Tinker’s voice said, referring apparently to the steady beat of the rain. ‘Stair rods, cats and dogs, reservoyers. Niagara also ran. Seems they’ve bin and found Shangri-la. I could do with a spot of Shangri-la myself this morning.’

The word turned over in his sleepy mind like a weed in calm water. Shangri-la. Very soporific. Very soporific. Shangri-la. Some place in a film. In a novel. Some unspoiled Eden. Shut away from the world.

‘According to this mornin’s papers they never ‘ave no rain at all there.’

‘Where?’ he said, to show that he was awake.

‘Arabia, so it seems.’

He heard the door close and dropped a little further under the surface of things for the enjoyment of those four minutes. Arabia. Arabia. Another soporific. They had found Shangri-la in Arabia. They ——

Arabia!

In one great whirl of blankets he came to the surface and reached for the papers. There were two, but it was the Clarion that came to his hand first because it was the Clarion whose headlines constituted Mrs Tinker’s daily dose of reading.

He did not have to search for it. It was there on the front page. It was the best front-page stuff that any newspaper had had since Crippen.

SHANGRI-LA REALLY EXISTS. SENSATIONAL DISCOVERY. HISTORIC FIND IN ARABIA.

He glanced over the hysterically excited paragraphs and discarded the paper impatiently for the more trustworthy Morning News. But the Morning News was almost as excited as the Clarion. KINSEY-HEWITT’S GREAT FIND, said the Morning News. ASTOUNDING NEWS FROM ARABIA.

‘We print, with great pride, Paul Kinsey–Hewitt’s own despatch,’ said the Morning News. ‘As our readers will see his discovery had been vouched for by three R.A.F. planes sent to locate the place after Mr Kinsey–Hewitt’s arrival at Makallah.’ The Morning News had had a contract with Kinsey–Hewitt for a series of articles on his present journey, when that journey should be completed, and was now delirious with pleasure at its unexpected luck.

He skipped the Morning News on its own triumph and went on to the far soberer prose of the triumphant explorer himself.

‘We were in the Empty Quarter on scientific errands . . . no thought in our minds of human history either factual or legendary . . . a well-explored country . . . bare mountains that no one had ever considered climbing . . . a waste of time between one well and the next . . . in a land where water is life no one turns aside to climb precipitous heights . . . attention caught by a plane that came twice in five days and spent some time circling low above the mountains . . . occurred to us that some plane had crashed . . . possible rescue . . . conference . . . Rory Hallard and I to search while Daoud went on to the well at Zaruba and brought a load of water back to meet us . . . no entrance apparent . . . walls like the Garbh Coire on Braeriach . . . giving up . . . Rory . . . a track that even a goat would baulk at . . . two hours to the ridge . . . a valley of astounding beauty . . . green almost shocking . . . kind of tamarisk . . . architecture reminiscent of Greece rather than Arabia . . . colonnades . . . light-skinned Persian type with fine eyes . . . the grace and small bones of an inbred race . . . very friendly . . . greatly excited by the appearance of the plane which they seemed to have taken to be some kind of bird . . . paved squares and streets . . . oddly metropolitan . . . isolation due not to the difficulties of the mountain track but to lack of animal transport to carry water . . . desert impassable without that . . . in the position of a small island in an ocean of desert . . . as unaware what lay beyond that desert or how far it might extend as the Ancients were of what lay beyond the Atlantic . . . tradition of disaster, but owing to language difficulties this is surmise, being a translation of sign-talk rather than . . . strip cultivation . . . monkey god in stone . . . Wabar . . . volcanic convulsion . . . Wabar . . . Wabar. . . . ’

The Morning News had inset a neat outline map of Arabia with crosses in the appropriate place.

Grant lay and stared at it.

So that was what Bill Kenrick had seen.

He had come out of the shouting heart of the storm, out of the whirling sand and the darkness, and looked down at that green civilised valley lying among the rocks. Not much wonder that he had come back looking ‘concussed’, looking as if his mind were ‘still back there’. He had not quite believed it himself. He had gone back to search; to look for, and eventually look at, this place that appeared on no map. This —this— was his Paradise.

This was what he had been writing about on the blank space of an evening paper.

This was what he had come to England to ——

To Heron Lloyd to ——

To Heron Lloyd——!

He flung the News away and leaped out of bed.

‘Tink!’ he called as he turned on the bath-water. ‘Tink, never mind breakfast. Get me some coffee.’

‘But you can’t go out on a morning like this with just a cup of ——’

Don’t argue! Get me some coffee!’

The water roared into the bath. The liar. The god-damned smooth heartless lime-hogging liar. The vain vicious murdering liar. How had he done it?

By God, he would see that he hanged for this.

‘On what evidence?’ said his inner voice, nasty-polite.

‘You shut up! I’ll get the evidence if I have to discover a whole new continent to find it! “Poor boy! Poor boy!” said he, shaking his head over so sad a fate. Sweet Christ, I’ll hang for him myself if I can’t kill him any other way!’

‘Calm down, calm down. That’s no mood to interview a suspect in.’

‘I’m not interviewing a suspect, blast your police mind. I’m going to tell Heron Lloyd what I think of him. I’m not a police-officer until after I’ve dealt personally with Lloyd.’

‘You can’t hit a man of sixty.’

‘I’m not going to hit him. I’m going to half-murder him. The ethics of hitting or not hitting don’t enter into the matter at all.’

‘He may be worth hanging for but not worth being requested to resign for.’

‘“I found him delightful,” said he, kind and patronising. The bastard. The smooth vain murdering bastard. The ——’

From the wells of his experience he dredged up words to serve his need. But his anger went on consuming him like a furnace.

He flung out of the house after two mouthfuls of toast and three gulps of coffee, and went round to the garage at the double. It was too early to hope for a taxi; the quickest way was to use his car.

Would Lloyd have read the papers yet?

If he did not normally leave the house before eleven o’clock, then surely breakfast could not be until nine. He would like very much to be at 5 Britt Lane before Lloyd opened his morning paper. It would be sweet, consoling sweet, satisfying sweet, to watch Lloyd take the news. He had murdered to keep that secret his own, to ensure that the glory should be his, and now the secret was front-page news and the glory belonged to his rival. Oh, Sweet Jesus, let him not have read about it yet.

He rang twice at 5 Britt Lane before his summons was answered, and then it was answered not by the amiable Mahmoud but by a large woman in felt slippers.

‘Mr Lloyd?’ he asked.

‘Oh, Mr Lloyd’s up in Cumberland for a day or two.’

‘Cumberland! When did he go to Cumberland?’

‘Thursday afternoon.’

‘When do you expect him back?’

‘Oh, they’ve just gone for a day or two.’

‘They? Mahmoud too.’

‘Of course Mahmoud too. Mr Lloyd he doesn’t go anywhere without Mahmoud goes with him.’

‘I see. Can you give me his address?’

‘I’d give it you if I had it. But they don’t bother with readdressing when they go for only a day or two. Will you leave a message? Or will you call back, perhaps? They’ll like as not arrive back this afternoon.’

No, he would not leave a message. He would come back. His name did not matter.

He felt like someone who has braked too suddenly and been hit in the wind. As he went out to his car he remembered that Tad Cullen would read that story in a few minutes’ time; if he had not read it already. He went back to the flat and was met in the lobby by a relieved Mrs Tinker.

‘Thank heaven you’re back. That American boy’s been on the phone and goin’ on somethink awful. I can’t make ‘ead or tail of what ‘e thinks he’s talkin’ about. Ravin’ mad, ‘e is. I says: Mr Grant’ll ring you, I says, the minute ‘e come in, but ‘e can’t leave the phone alone. Just puts it down an’ picks it up again. I bin running backwards and forwards between the sink and the phone like a ——’ The telephone rang. ‘There you are! There ‘e is again!’

Grant picked up the receiver. It was indeed Tad, and he was all that Mrs Tinker had said. He was incoherent with rage.

‘But he lied!’ he kept saying. ‘That guy lied. Of course Bill told him all that!’

‘Yes, of course he did. Listen Tad . . . Listen . . . No, you can’t go and beat him to a jelly . . . Yes, of course you can find his house for yourself; I don’t doubt it, but . . . Listen, Tad! . . . I’ve been to his house . . . Oh, yes, even at this hour of the morning. I read my papers earlier than you do . . . No, I didn’t beat him up. I couldn’t . . . No, not because I’m windy but because he’s in Cumberland . . . Yes. Since Thursday . . . I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. Give me until lunch-time. Do you trust my judgement on things in general? . . . Well, you’ll have to trust it in this. I must have time to think . . . To think up some evidence, of course . . . It’s customary . . . I’ll tell my story to the Yard, of course, and of course they will believe me. I mean, my story of Bill’s visit to Lloyd, and Lloyd’s lies to me. But proving that Charles Martin was Bill Kenrick is quite a different matter. Until lunch-time I shall be writing out a statement for the Yard. Come about one o’clock and we can have lunch together. In the afternoon I must turn the whole thing over to the authorities.’

He hated the thought. This was his own private fight. It had been his own private fight from the very beginning. From that moment when he had looked down through the open compartment door on to the dead face of an unknown boy. It was a thousand times more his private fight since his meeting with Lloyd.

He had begun to write, when he remembered that he had not yet picked up the papers he had left with Cartwright. He lifted the receiver, dialled the number, and asked for Cartwright’s extension. Could Cartwright possibly find a messenger to send round with those papers? He, Grant, was frantically busy. It was Saturday, and he was clearing up before going back to work on Monday. He would be very grateful.

He went back to his writing, and became so absorbed that he was conscious only in a dim way that Mrs Tinker had brought in the second post: the noon one. It was when he raised his glance from the paper to search his mind for a word, that his eye fell on the envelope she had laid beside him on the desk. It was a foolscap envelope, rather stiff and expensive, well-filled, and addressed in a thin, angular cramped hand that managed to be at once finicking and flamboyant.

Grant had never seen Heron Lloyd’s handwriting. He recognised it instantly.

He put down his pen; cautiously, as if the strange letter was a bomb and any undue vibration might send it off.

He wiped his palms down the thighs of his trousers in a gesture he had not used since he was a child, the gesture of a small boy facing the incalculable, and put out his hand for the envelope.

It had been posted in London.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tey/josephine/singing-sands/chapter13.html

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