The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey


Danny Again

Running out of Marylebone into the sunlight of the morning, Grant looked out of his carriage window and felt more optimistic than he had since he had first interviewed the officials at Gow Street Police Station. The murderer had ceased to be a mythical being. They had a full description of him now, and it could only be a matter of time before they ran him down. And perhaps by tonight he would have settled the identity of the murdered man. He stretched his legs in the empty compartment and let the sun slide slowly back and fore over them as the train wheeled in its progress. A pleasant country, England, at ten of a bright morning. Even the awful little suburban villas had lost that air of aggressiveness born of their inferiority complex, and were shining self-forgetful and demure in the clear light. Their narrow, inhospitable doors were no longer ugly in the atrociousness of cheap paint and appliqué mouldings; they were entrances of jade and carnelian and lapis lazuli and onyx into particular separate heavens. Their gardens, with their pert, ill-dressed rows of tulips and meagre seed-sown grass, were lovely as ever the hanging gardens of Babylon had been. Here and there a line of gay, motley child’s clothes danced and ballooned with the breeze in a necklace of coloured laughter. And farther on, when the last vestiges of the town fell away, the wide acres of the grass country smiled broadly in the sunlight like an old hunting print. All England was lovely this morning, and Grant knew it. Even Nottingham canals had a Venetian touch of blue today, and their grimy, imprisoning walls were rosy as Petra.

Grant came out of the station into the drone and clamour of trams. If he had been asked what represented the Midlands in his mind, he would unhesitatingly have said trams. Trams in London always seemed to him alien incongruities, poor provincials who had been inveigled to the Metropolis, and drudged out a misanthropic and despised existence, because they had never made enough money to get out of it. Grant never heard the far-away peculiar sing of an approaching tramcar without finding himself back in the dead, airless atmosphere of the Midland town where he had been born. The Midlanders did not hide away their trams in back streets; they trailed them proudly through their chiefest thoroughfares, partly from braggadocio, partly from a misplaced idea of utility. A long yellow string of them stood in Nottingham marketplace, blocking the view of the wide, almost continental square, and making the passage from the pavement on one side to the stalls of the market on the other a most exhilarating game of hide-and-seek. But the natives, with that adaptability to circumstances which is nature’s greatest marvel, seemed to enjoy the hop-skip-and-jump business, and to find it not too dangerous to be indulged in. No one was killed during the time that Grant walked down the street at any rate.

At Faith Brothers’ he produced the tie which had belonged to the dead man, and explained that he wanted to know whether any one remembered selling it. The man at the counter had no recollection of the transaction, but summoned a colleague, who was flipping a white and too flexible forefinger up and down the wall of cardboard boxes in an endeavor to find an article that would meet with his customer’s approval. Something told Grant that in matters sartorial this youth would have the memory of an oldest inhabitant, and he was right. After one glance at the tie, he said that he had taken it out of the window — or one exactly like it — for a gentleman about a month ago. The gentleman had seen it in the window and, because it matched the suit he was wearing, had come in and bought it. No, he did not think that he was a Nottingham man. Why? Well, he didn’t talk Nottingham for one thing, and he didn’t dress Nottingham for another.

Could he describe the man?

He could, and did, with minuteness and accuracy. “I can tell you the date, if you like,” said this surprising youth. “I remember because”— he hesitated, and finished with a refreshing lapse from his worldly-wise air to a pink naïveté—“because of something that happened that day. It was the 2nd of February.”

Grant noted the date and asked what his impression of the stranger had been. Was he a commercial traveller?

The youth thought not. He didn’t talk business and he didn’t seem interested in the growth of Nottingham or anything.

Grant asked if there was anything on in the town on that date that would bring a stranger to Nottingham, and the youth said yes, most emphatically. There had been a huge musical festival a festival for all the Midlands; and there had been a good few people from London too. He knew, because he himself had taken part in it. He sang in a church choir and knew all about festivals. The stranger had looked much more like some one interested in the festival than like a commercial traveller. He had thought at the time that that was probably what the man was in Nottingham for.

Grant thought it was quite likely. He remembered the man’s sensitive hands. And he had been an habitué of the Woffington — which, if not highbrow, is at least invariably musical. It didn’t march with the gang theory, but he could not afford to ignore it because of that. The gang theory had no support in fact. It was a theory and nothing else — pure speculation. He thanked the youth and asked for the name of some one in Nottingham who would know all about the festival and the people who came to it. The youth said that he had better go and see Yeudall, the solicitor. Yeudall wasn’t the secretary; but he was a sort of chairman, and it was his hobby. He sat there from morning to night, all the three days of the festival, and he would be certain to know any one who was interested enough to come from London for it.

Grant wrote down Yeudall’s address, conscious that the youth’s inquisitive mind was docketing him as it had docketed the dead man, and that years hence, if some one asked him to describe the man who took Yeudall’s address, he would do it faithfully. He was wasted in a hatter’s-and-hosier’s.

“Are you looking for the man who bought the tie?” the youth asked. He said “looking” in inverted commas, giving it its police sense.

“Not exactly,” said Grant, “but I want to trace him if I can.” And he departed to interview Mr. Yeudall.

In a little side street, near the castle — the kind of street that has never seen a tramcar and where one’s footsteps echo until one involuntarily looks behind — were situated the small and gloomy offices of Yeudall, Lister & Yeudall. Three hundred years old they were, and the waiting-room was panelled in oak that extinguished the last valiant ray of light as it fought its way past the old greenish glass of the window-pane. The light died on the window-sill as the last survivor of a charge dies on the enemy parapet, murdered but glorious. But Mr. Yeudall, of Yeudall, Lister & Yeudall, would have considered it heresy if it had been suggested that things might be otherwise. Otherwise! That meant a building like a meat-safe, fretted with windows until the walls were practically non-existent. A collection of plate-glass bound together by pilasters of an incredible ignobility! That was modern architecture! But, as if to make up for the dim dustiness of his surroundings, Mr. Yeudall himself beamed and shone and welcomed all humanity with that sublime lack of suspicion which makes friends, and “confidence” men, but never lawyers. Being the only Yeudall of the third generation, he had been given in his youth a cupboard-like corner in the warren of small rooms that were the Yeudall offices, and, since he loved oak panelling and beams and greenish glass second only to symphonies and sonatas, he had stayed there. And now he was Yeudall, Lister & Yeudall — though a competent clerk kept anything too awful from happening.

To say that Mr. Yeudall welcomed the inspector is an inadequate statement. Grant felt that he must have met the man before and have forgotten it. He betrayed none of the curiosity that was usually rampant on a man’s face when the inspector followed his card into a room. Grant was to him merely another charming fellow-being, and almost before he had made his business clear Grant Found himself being led away to lunch. It was so much nicer to talk over a meal, and it was long after one o’clock and if the inspector hadn’t eaten since breakfast, he must be famishing. Grant followed his unexpected host meekly enough; he had not yet got his information, and this seemed to be the only way of getting it. Moreover, a detective officer never throws away the chance of making an acquaintance. If Scotland Yard has a motto it is You Never Know.

Over lunch he learned that Mr. Yeudall had never to his knowledge seen the man he was looking for. He knew by sight or personally all the performers at the festival as well as a great number of those merely interested in it. But none tallied exactly with the description Grant furnished.

“If you think he was musical, try Lyons’ orchestra or the picture-houses. Their orchestra performers are mostly Londoners.”

Grant did not bother to explain that the supposition that the man was musical had arisen through his supposed connexion with the festival. It was easier and pleasanter to let Mr. Yeudall talk. In the afternoon, however, after he had taken farewell of his cheerful host, he did sift the various orchestras in the town, with the lack of success that he had foreseen. He then telephoned to the Yard to find out how Williams had fared in his hunt after the history of the bank-notes, and spoke to Williams himself, who had just come back after a long morning’s work. The notes were with the bank just now. Nothing had transpired so far, but they were on a scent, and the bank were working it.

Well, thought Grant, as he hung up the receiver, one end of the tangle seemed to be working out slowly but surely. Nothing left so clear and incontrovertible a history behind it as a Bank of England note. And if he had failed at Nottingham to trace the dead man himself, their discovery of the friend’s identity would inevitably lead them to the knowledge of who the dead man was. And from the dead man to the Levantine would be only a step. Still, he was slightly depressed. He had had such a hunch this morning that before night an unexpected piece of information would have set him on the right track that he surveyed his wasted day with something like disgust, and not even the after-effects of the good lunch Mr. Yeudall had given him, nor the rosy afterglow of that gentleman’s good will to men, was sufficient to comfort him. At the station he found that he had half an hour to wait for his train, and he betook himself to the lounge of the nearest hotel in the vague hope of picking up unconsidered trifles of information in that most gossipy of all public places. He surveyed the two waiters with a jaundiced eye. One was supercilious and like an overfed pug, and the other was absent-minded and like a dachshund. Grant felt instinctively that help was not in them. But the person who brought him his coffee was a charming middle-aged waitress. Grant’s weary soul brightened at the sight of her. In a few minutes he was indulging in a friendly, if disjointed, exchange of generalities, and when she went away temporarily to attend to the wants of some one else she always came back and hovered within speaking distance until the conversation was resumed. Realizing that a verbal description of a man who was not a hunchback or blind or otherwise abnormal would convey nothing to this woman, who saw in one day at least half a dozen men who might have fitted a description of the dead man, Grant contented himself with giving leads which might provoke useful information of a relative sort.

“You’re quiet here just now,” he said.

Yes, she admitted; this was their quiet time. They had slack times and busy ones. It just happened like that.

Did it depend on the number of people staying in the hotel?

No, not always. But usually it did. The hotel was the same: they had slack times and busy ones.

Was the hotel ever full up?

Yes; it had been full to bursting when the Cooperative came. The whole two hundred rooms. It was the only time she remembered such a crowd in Nottingham.

“When was that?” asked Grant.

“At the beginning of February,” she said. “They come twice a year, though.”

At the beginning of February!

Where did the Cooperative people come from?

From all over the Midlands.

Not from London?

No, she thought not; but some of them might have.

Grant went to catch his train, revolving the new possibility and not finding it acceptable, though he was not quite sure why. The dead man had not looked that type. If he had been a shop assistant, it had been in a business requiring considerable chic on the part of its employees.

The journey back to town was not a slow and pleasant revolving of sunlit thoughts. The sun had gone, and a grey mist blotted out the lines of the country. It looked flat, dreary, and unwholesome in the wan evening. Here and there a sheet of water gleamed balefully from among the poplars with the flat, unreflecting surface of pewter. Grant devoted himself to the papers and, when he had exhausted them, watched the grey, formless evening flying past, and let his mind play with the problem of the dead man’s occupation. There were three other men in the compartment, and their voluble and occasionally vociferous pronouncements on the subject of casings, whatever they might be, distracted and annoyed him unreasonably. A tangle of signal lights, hung isolated and unrelated in their ruby and emerald across the fading daylight, restored his good humour a little. They were a wonder and a revelation, these lights. It was incredible that anything so faery had its invisible support in stout standards and cross bars, and its being in a dynamo. But he was glad when the long roar and rattle over the points proclaimed the end of the journey, and the more robust lights of London hung above him.

As he turned into the Yard he had a queer feeling that the thing he had set out to find was waiting for him here. His hunch had not played him false. That scrap of information that would be the key to the whole of the dead man’s story was about to be put into his hand. His steps quickened unconsciously. He could hardly wait. Never had lifts seemed so slow or passages so long.

And after all there was nothing — nothing but the written report which Williams, who had gone to tea, had left for him when he should come in — a more detailed recapitulation of what he had already heard over the telephone.

But at the exact moment that Inspector Grant had turned into the Yard a queer thing had happened to Danny Miller. He had been seated sideways in an easy-chair in an upper room of the house in Pimlico, his neat feet in their exquisite shoes dangling idly from the upholstered arm, and a cigarette in a six-inch holder projecting at an aggressive angle from his thin mouth. Standing in the middle of the floor was his “jape.” She was engaged in trying on a series of evening frocks, which she wrested from their cardboard shells as one thumbs peas from a pod. Slowly she turned her beautiful body so that the light caught the beaded surface of the fragile stuff and accentuated the long lines of her figure.

“That’s a nice one, isn’t it?” she said, her eyes seeking Danny’s in the mirror. But even as she looked she saw the eyes, focused on the middle of her back, widen to a wild stare. She swung round. “What’s the matter?” she asked. But Danny apparently did not hear her; the focus of his eyes did not alter. Suddenly he snatched the cigarette-holder from his mouth, pitched the cigarette into the fireplace, and sprang to his feet with wild gropings about him.

“My hat!” he said. “Where’s my hat? Where the hell’s my hat!”

“It’s on the chair behind you,” she said, amazed. “What’s biting you?”

Danny snatched the hat and fled out of the room as if all the fiends in the lower regions were on his heels. She heard him pitch himself down the stairs, and then the front door closed with a bang. She was still standing with startled eyes on the door when she heard him coming back. Up the stairs he came, three at a time, as lightly as a cat, and burst into her presence.

“Gimme tuppence,” he said. “I haven’t got tuppence.”

Mechanically she reached out for the very expensive and rather beautiful handbag that had been one of his presents to her, and produced two pennies. “I didn’t know you were that broke,” she said in an effort to goad him into explanation. “What do you want them for?”

“You go to blazes!” he snapped, and disappeared again.

He arrived at the nearest call-box slightly breathless but exceedingly pleased with himself, and without condescending to anything so mundane as a consultation with the telephone directory, demanded to be connected with Scotland Yard. During the subsequent delay he executed a neat shuffle on the floor of the call-box as a means of expressing at once his impatience and his triumph. At last — there was Grant’s voice at the end of the wire.

“I say, Inspector, this is Miller speaking. I’ve just remembered where I saw that guy you were talking about. ‘Member? . . . Well, I travelled in a race train to Leicester with him, end of January, I think it was . . . Sure? I remember as if it was yesterday. We talked racing, and he seemed to know quite a lot about it. But I never saw him before or since . . . Eh? . . . No, I didn’t see any bookmaking things . . . Don’t mention it. I’m pleased to be able to help. I told you my brain didn’t go back on me for long!”

Danny quitted the box and set out, a little more soberly this time, to smooth down an outraged and abandoned female in a beaded evening frock, and Grant hung up his receiver and expelled a long breath. A race train! The thing had all the fittingness of truth. What a fool he had been! What a double-dyed infernal fool! Not to have thought of that. Not to have remembered that though Nottingham to two-thirds of Britain may mean lace, to the other third it means racing. And of course racing explained the man — his clothes, his visit to Nottingham, his predilection for musical comedy, even — perhaps — the gang.

He sent out for a Racing Up-to-Date. Yes, there had been a jumping meeting at Colwick Park on the second of February. And one in Leicester at the end of January. That checked Danny’s statement. Danny had provided the key.

Information like that, Grant thought bitterly, would come on a Saturday evening when bookmakers were as if they had not been, as far as their offices were concerned. And as for tomorrow — no bookmaker was at home on a Sunday. The very thought of a whole day without travelling scattered them over the length and breadth of England in their cars as quicksilver scatters when spilt. Both bank and bookmaking investigations would be hindered by the intervention of the week-end.

Grant left word of his whereabouts and repaired to Laurent’s. On Monday there would be more hack work — a round of the offices with the tie and revolver — the revolver that no one so far had claimed to have seen. But perhaps before then the banknotes would have provided a clue that would speed things up and obviate the laborious method of elimination. Meantime he would have an early dinner and think things over.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01