Authors: Edmund Crispin
âEr never,' Gobbo now repeated.
Padmore, who had opened his mouth to reply to the Major, slowly shut it again. He and the Major swivelled to face Gobbo, like gun-turrets on a man-of-war in a
Look at Life
at the pictures. Fen meditatively spooned a selected piece of Bengal Club out of the jar and ate it in his fingers on its own.
The Major said, âWho never what, Gobbo?'
âEr never killed en.'
âHagberd never killed Routh? But, my dear fellow, that's nonsense. We know he did.'
âGiddout,' said Gobbo.
This, if inexplicit, nevertheless had a punctuating effect, so that the Major felt obliged to pause for a moment or two before pursuing the argument. Then he said, âBut why, Gobbo? The police were satisfied, more or less. What makes you think they were wrong?'
Gobbo moved his jaws silently. He was considering. Presently, âI'll tell 'ee fer why,' he said.
Gilded and warmed by the steady October sunlight, they waited as patiently as possible for Gobbo to go on. Isobel Jones had disappeared into a back room, from which clinkings and bumpings indicated that she was shifting crates of bottles about. The whippet Fred, tiring of the companionship of Fen's sack, had rejoined the humans and was nudging, with his nose, the rubber tip of the propped-up walking-stick which the Major carried for his arthritis. Like most dogs, Fred detested pubs, and knocking the Major's stick over was one of his regular methods of giving notice that in his opinion the time had come for departure.
The silence extended itself.
Fen wiped his fingers on his handkerchief and lit a cigarette.
At last, abruptly, Gobbo spoke.
âI'll tell 'ee fer why,' he said.
The Major's stick fell with a clatter to the floor. âYes, well, my dear fellow, get on and tell us, then,' said the Major, retrieving the stick with the dexterity of long practice.
Again Gobbo's jaws moved, this time with a stridulating noise. He was summoning up saliva, presumably with a view to further speech. Again they waited. But when after a suspenseful interval no further speech had in fact occurred, it suddenly became evident to them all that Gobbo's mind had unhitched itself from the topic, and was drifting rapidly out to sea. âQuick! Catch him!' said Padmore agitatedly, and, âGobbo!' the Major rapped out in an army voice. âAnswer the question, please!'
Luckily Gobbo had never been in the forces, so this worked. âUr,' he said. The current had reversed course, and he was coming back inshore again. âUr. Ur, ur.' All at once a spasm of energy seized him. âEr never,' he began recapitulating,
doppio movimento, accelerando. â
Er never killed en. And I'll tell 'ee fer
why. Cuz,' he coda-ed triumphantly,
âI wer' talkin' to en.'
Padmore stared at him. âTalking to Hagberd?'
âConcentrate, Gobbo,' said the Major severely. âYou were talking to Hagberd
You're trying to tell us that you were talking to Hagberd at the time when he was supposed to be killing Routh?'
âAnd you're quite sure you know when that was? I mean, the date, and time of day?'
âMazed as a brish, er wer'.'
âYes, yes, my dear chap, we know all that. What I'm asking is, when was it?'
Gobbo once more fell silent; but this time, perceptibly, it was because he was giving the matter in hand his full attention. âTwenty-second,' he presently announced, with decision.
âAugust the twenty-second â¦ well, that's right enough,' said the Major, whose voice was by now back in mufti. âThat's right enough!
âMonday,' Gobbo elaborated, flushed with his success.
âYes, that's right too. It was a Monday. And the time?'
âAr pars seven, when I leaves.'
âYou're not saying you were talking to Hagberd at half past seven
âBut my dear fellow, you can't have been. People would have seen you both.'
âUs wer' out under tree.'
âOh â¦ They shove him out of here at half past seven every evening,' the Major muttered explanatorily to Padmore, whose eyes were already glazed with the effort to understand, âbecause otherwise the woman who gets him his supper won't wait. But there's a seat round the trunk of the old elm outside, and he sits down and has a rest there on the way home,.. So you talked to Hagberd that evening under the tree?'
âDo try and be a bit more garrulous, my dear fellow, can't you?' said the Major plaintively. âAt this rate we shall be here till next week. You talked to Hagberd that evening - right. Now, what did you talk about?'
â“Yes” isn't a proper answer, Gobbo.'
âNo, it's not. I'll put the question another way. What did
Gobbo, clearly on the point of reiterating his monosyllable, at the last moment thought better of it and substituted something else instead. He said, âSaid er wer' crook wi' a sheila.'
This unlikely-sounding string of vocables had a temporarily stunning effect, not because of its content, but because to listen to, it seemed at first to make no sense at all. After a few moments, however, Fen nodded in sudden comprehension. âHagberd was an Australian, wasn't he?' he said. âSo he was annoyed with a girl, or upset about one.'
âWhat girl, Gobbo?' said the Major.
âEr didn'arf create.'
âThe girl did?' said Padmore, baffled.
â“Er” means “he”, my dear chap,' the Major told him. âIn this context, anyway.'
context,' said Padmore heavily. âYes. I see. But anyway, what girl? This is the first I've heard of there being a woman in the case - I mean, apart from Mrs Leeper-Foxe and the Bust child.'
âI don't think Hagberd would have referred to Mrs Leeper-Foxe as a sheila,' said the Major. âSheila's a more or less complimentary word, isn't it?' He returned to the attack. âNow listen, Gobbo. You say Hagberd was going on about a sheila. What sheila?'
âDoan know no Sheilas,' Gobbo retorted firmly, as if he were being accused of something. âFurrin sort of a name,' he offered, supplementing entertainment with instruction.
âLet's try another tack, then,' said the Major, âGobbo, you know
Routh was murdered, do you?'
âAnd how far away from here is that?'
Gobbo ruminated. âBetter nor tew mile,' he eventually said. A joke occurred to him. âSo be they abbn' move' en,' he added, cawing with laughter.
âYes, well, my dear fellow, don't you see, if Hagberd was two miles away from here murdering Routh, you couldn't have been talking to him under the tree, could you?'
âNo, you couldn't, Gobbo.'
âSo be,' said Gobbo happily, âthey abbn' move' en - abbn' move' en, see? Abbn',' he croaked on a note of deep self-satisfaction, âmove' en.'
âThat's right,' said Fen.
have been talking to him,' said Padmore irritably. âHe's thinking of the wrong day.' He addressed himself to Gobbo direct. âYou
have been talking to Hagberd that evening. Or anyway, not at the time you say you were.'
Gobbo gave a dignified sniff. âTes trew, after that,' he said. âSo be 'ee doan believe ut, ask en up over,' he went on, jerking his head in the direction of the ceiling. âEr sees all, knows all.'
These indications, which seemed to Padmore to add up to God, were more mundanely interpreted by the Major. âJack Jones?' he said. He meant The Stanbury Arms's landlord, a pronounced ergophobe of thirty-eight who spent almost all of his time upstairs in bed. âBut if he'd seen you, he'd have been bound to mention it, I'd have thought.'
âBut it's all nonsense,' said Padmore. âIt
be all nonsense.'
âStill, think what a scoop you'll have, my dear chap, if it turns out that Hagberd didn't murder Routh after all.'
a scoop. I just want not to have to write seventy-five thousand words all over again.'
âSomeone ought to have a word with Jack Jones about it, though,' said Fen.
âBut it's all nonsense.'
âOh, come now, my dear fellow,' said the Major, âwe can't just drop the matter at this stage, can we?'
âBut if there was anything in it, this Jack Jones or whoever
you're talking about would have said. You said so yourself.'
âYes, but he may know something he doesn't know he knows. Fen, my dear fellow, don't you think it possible that Jack Jones knows something he doesn't know he knows?'
âQuite possible, I'd say.'
âWell then, so we must dig it out,' said the Major, as though Jack Jones were a challenging deposit of mineral-bearing clay. âLet's ask Isobel if we can go and see Jack now, shall we?'
âNow?' said Padmore.
âYes, why not?'
And Padmore sighed. âOh, all right,' he said resignedly. âIt's a wild-goose chase, obviously - or at least, I hope it is. But all right.'
So they got to their feet - the Major effortfully, because of his arthritic hip - and went across to the bar-counter. Fred, who had sprung up with a yelp of gladness on seeing them begin to move, subsided again despairingly as soon as their direction became apparent. With the suddenness characteristic of old age, Gobbo had fallen fast asleep; his mouth hung open, displaying ochrous leathery gums and a pink tongue. Isobel Jones, summoned from the room at the back, said Yes, of course, her husband would be delighted to see them.
âJust a mo' and I'll let him know you're coming,' she said, âso he can straighten himself up. Not that he isn't very clean and neat always, but he likes to make a special effort when people visit him.' Picking up a broomstick, she thumped lightly with its handle on the ceiling; and after a short interval an answering thump came from above.
âThere you are, then,' said Isobel, nodding brightly at them.
âAway do go,' said Fen.
Jack Jones's avocation - doing absolutely nothing, cleanly, healthily and inexpensively â had defied rational expectation by making him happy â though there had been, of course, difficulties, such as any true pioneering scheme must encounter as a matter of course, at least in its earlier stages. In Jack Jones's case, the chief of these had been a woman doctor in Glazebridge, who three years previously had taken it into her
head to try and get his licence for The Stanbury Arms withdrawn, on the grounds that the landlord's systematic physical inanimation must mirror a deepâseated psychic disturbance, liable to result in neglect of the lavatories, watering of the whisky, a colour bar and many other similar antiâsocial catastrophes; and although the Glazebridge magistrates, who disliked the woman doctor, had collaborated with the Glazebridge police in blocking this pragmatical nonsense, the woman doctor was still about, and Jack Jones consequently went (or to be more accurate, lay) in constant fear of the assault's being renewed. As a result, once yearly he would constrain himself to a fever of activity, getting up, dressing and having himself driven into Glazebridge, all in order to attend Brewster Sessions personally and make sure that his livelihood was not again meddlesomely being put at risk. As he himself was the first to admit, these expeditions were purely superstitious, since licensees are always notified well in advance if any objection to them is going to be made; but he would have been incapable of neglecting them, in spite of the dreadful exertions they dictated, however hard he tried.
In all other respects, however, his existence was a sunny one. At nights he slept with Isobel in the bedroom at the back. In the mornings, after exercising on a rowingâmachine and taking a bath, he moved into another bed in the livingâroom at the front, so placed that he could look out of the window over the carpark, and watch people's comings and goings during opening hours. As to Isobel, far from resenting this regimen, she enjoyed running the pub singleâhanded, and was delighted that her husband had had the chance to settle down to a way of life which suited him so definitely. What a piece of luck it had been (she often said), that Pools win which had made it possible for them to buy the Arms! But for that, poor Jack would probably have been forced to stay on in Dagenham for years and years and years more, going out to that nasty motor factory five days a week or more.
A thin, spruce man with hornârimmed glasses which looked too large for him, Jack Jones greeted the committee from the bar with his usual sociable warmth. âHow do you do?' said Padmore, on being introduced. âYou're on the mend, I hope.'
So then Fen and the Major had to explain that their host was not an invalid, but merely had a settled disrelish for being up and about.
âIt's backâtoâtheâwomb, so they tell me,' said Jack Jones, giving the tidily tucked placental sheets an approving pat. âI'm emotionally immature â can't bear the thought of having to face up to life's problems. Well, it
nice to see you all,' he said with evident sincerity. âI
They said that they were pleased, too, and the Major explained why they had come.
âWell, I don't know,' said Jack Jones, frowning slightly. âIt's a bit difficult. I do remember that evening, of course, because the police questioned everyone in the neighbourhood about it âeven,' he said in gentle wonderment, âme. So of course, that way it got fixed in my mind. And I can tell you one thing â Gobbo certainly did leave here that evening bang on time. I know because I looked at my watch because the afternoon seemed to have gone by in a flash, and I could hardly believe it was so late. And he did have his sitâdown as usual under the old elm. But as to whether he talked to anyone, I can't be sure. Because, look.'