Dalziel And Pascoe: A Clubbable Woman Part 18

Pascoe digested this in silence for a while.

'I see,' he said finally. 'What does all that signify?' 'It signifies,' said Dalziel, 'that men do b.l.o.o.d.y stupid things when they're worried about their wives. I spoke to him. He listened to me. He listened to the advice of experience.'

'His wife still left him.'

'He's still in the Club.' 'I suppose that's some compensation,' said Pascoe doubtfully. 'Better than her being in it, eh, sir?'

They laughed raucously.

'Was she a b.i.t.c.h? She left him. Connon's wife seemed a bigger b.i.t.c.h, but she didn't leave him. Are those the bigger b.i.t.c.hes, do you think? Isn't it better to get a letter?' 'My wife,' said Dalziel slowly, 'my wife sent me a telegram.' Pascoe shifted uneasily, suddenly rather more sober. He wasn't at all sure he wanted to be cast in the role of Dalziel's confidant. Christmas comes but once a year, the jingle tripped incessantly through his mind.

He tried to divert the conversation on to fresh tracks.

'There's a silly game called "Telegram",' he said brightly. (Christ! my brightness is more hammy than even his performances!) But neither his brightness nor his attempts at diversion seemed to be noticed. They would be registered, however; that he was certain of. Dalziel's mind might get as soggy as a damp brantub, but sometime, somehow, he would grope around in the clart and come up with these moments clear and sharp as a policeman's whistle. 'Words too harsh to be spoken,' said Dalziel. 'Words too b.l.o.o.d.y violent to be heard. Things she couldn't say to me, face to face. Me. Her husband. She wrote them down. On a bit of paper. Gave them to a counter-clerk to count.' (Which of course is what a counter-clerk ought to be doing, thought Pascoe. Or he might have said it. He couldn't tell which one second later.) 'A stranger read them. They were copied. Printed out. Despatched. All those people knowing what I didn't know.' Please G.o.d, prayed Pascoe, let him stop. I'm an ambitious man. I don't want to hear him. Besides I'm sure Noolan's wife fancies me. Not so old either. But if I don't move soon I'll have to join a queue. Somewhere in the house a clock chimed midnight. For a moment everyone was still. Most of the Rugby Club lot, the elders at least, were there. He saw them all it seemed as he glanced round the room. He felt almost fond of them. He fumbled in his pocket and produced a small cylinder of gay Christmas paper. He hadn't known till now whether he would dare give it.

'Merry Christmas, sir.'

'What the h.e.l.l's this? Apple for teacher?'

That was better.

'Just a little gift. Christmas. And end of case.' Dalziel carefully unwrapped the large expensive cigar and sniffed it appraisingly. 'It's not ended yet,' he said. 'We've still got to find Felstead.'

'What'll happen?'

'G.o.d knows. Manslaughter? At least, I should think. But let's catch him first.' 'Tomorrow, Boxing Day. He's an amateur. And he's got Gwen Evans to attract attention. Five bob they have him in forty-eight hours.'

Dalziel shook his head gloomily.

'I won't take your money, lad. Thanks for this, though.'

He put the cigar in his mouth and lit it.

'Not a bad party,' he said. 'Hey, Willie. Where've you been hiding? Take me to Jacko's brandy bottle.' Kids, thought Pascoe. Big kids. Like Jenny Connon, and Antony, and Stanley, and Sheila. Little kids. He started to cut an efficient path through the crowd towards the ample, mature charms of Mrs Willie Noolan.

Envoi It was a cold, hard January day, the last Sat.u.r.day in the month. The weather delighted the hearts of thousands who by car, foot, and train were making their way towards Twickenham. Connon let himself be swept out of the station by the steady onward flow of the crowd. A loudspeaker warned him that the official programme was on sale only in the ground. As usual, the police seemed to have invented a new system of pedestrian diversion since his last visit and the route they followed afforded him several tantalizing glimpses of the stands before the final approach. Even so, there was still half an hour to go before kickoff when he reached the ground. He joined a small queue for an official programme, another for an official cushion. Then he joined a larger queue winding its way into the urinal, and smiled to hear someone say, 'Someone's p.i.s.sing in my pocket.' He always smiled at that. Outside again he paused, buffeted by the purposeful swirl of people all around him. On an impulse he did not head round to the West Bar where he usually met up with old friends, but made his way directly to his seat. It was high in the East Stand. Round and round he climbed, finally emerging into the bright sunlight and almost frightening s.p.a.ciousness of the stand itself. A man in a sheepskin jacket and Robin Hood hat looked at his ticket and directed him to his row. He found he was sitting next but one to the aisle. Far below, an unreal distance it seemed, lay the ground. From up here there was nothing to mar the perfection of the white-edged rectangles of bright green. A military band stood in the middle playing fitfully into the gusty wind. Cl.u.s.ters of notes rose up to the top of the stand and he pieced together a melody from Oklahoma. Two boys suddenly ran in from the ringside seats. They carried between them a banner which had painted on it in large red letters 'WALES'. Boos and cheers rose in almost solid blocks from different parts of the ground. Another group of boys climbed over the fence as the banner was brought beneath the West Stand. The Welsh boys recognized the enemy and ran, but found themselves cut off. There was a brief skirmish and the banner was torn. Around the ground the boos and cheers changed places. 'There's a lot more of this nowadays,' said a greyhaired man in front of Connon.

Too b.l.o.o.d.y much if you ask me,' said his neighbour.

The ground was very full now. Connon looked along his row. Every seat was taken except the one next to the aisle. Down below the band was on the move. It left the playing area and came to a halt on the touch-line. There was a momentary hush from the crowd. Connon leaned forward expectantly. Then out of the tunnel beneath the West Stand came trotting the red-shirted Welshmen. A great scream of welcome went up from the crowd. The red-rosetted man next to Connon waved his arms so violently that Connon felt in some danger. The noise still had not died down when it was overtaken and swallowed by the great trumpeting cry which announced the appearance of the English. Clapping enthusiastically, Connon thought, the Celts make more noise, perhaps, but there's a touch of hysteria about it. It's partly a threat. We roar for love. They also sing better, he had to acknowledge a few moments later. But then so do canaries. England kicked off. The wind caught the ball, held it in the air, then dropped it just short of the ten-yard line. The Welsh took the scrum and won the ball. But the English back row were round like lightning and the ball was despatched to touch. It didn't bounce.

Someone took the seat next to Connon.

'h.e.l.lo Marcus,' he said. The English fly-half had the ball. He sent the defence moving the wrong way with a dummy scissors, but not enough. Kick through! urged Connon mentally. He didn't and was dragged down by a Welsh centre.

'Well Connie,' said Marcus. 'What are our chances?'

'Fair, if we use the wind properly. That full-back of theirs has got a big b.u.m. He's slow on the turn. How are you?'

'Very well,' said Marcus.

The Welsh had the ball from the ruck and were developing an attack down the middle. But the cover was good and too quick to allow a break. Play finally came to a halt ten yards behind the English twenty-five.

'They'll be watching for you, Marcus,' said Connon.

'They've found me already,' said Marcus with a laugh. Now Connon looked round. Standing at the entrance to the stairs about ten feet back were Dalziel and Pascoe. 'I think they were disappointed that I came, in a way. They hoped to see more of the match.'

'Why did you come, Marcus?'

The English full-back took the ball almost on his own line and found touch near half way. 'I couldn't hide forever, could I? I just wanted a few weeks with Gwen. That's all. In case it goes badly. You never know, do you?'

'You kept well out of the way.'

'A cottage in the Lakes. We've been snowed up most of the time. The local bobby actually ploughed his way through to check if we needed help.'

'Did you?'

'It's been the happiest month of my life,' replied Marcus quietly. The Welsh had the ball again. This time their fly-half had room to move and side-stepped the over-impetuous approach of the wing-forward with ease. This took him back towards the packs but he went on happily with an arrogant certainty that his pack would retrieve the ball from any ruck which made Connon's heart sink. They did, but only with a helping hand from the floor. The English full-back indicated he was going to have a kick at goal. 'You've changed, Connie. I don't know how, but somehow,' said Marcus as preparations for the kick were undertaken. 'You don't believe that I ... that what happened to Mary wasn't an accident now, do you?' 'No,' said Connon. 'But what I did, or what I didn't do, when I found out what happened, later I knew I couldn't have acted like that if somewhere deep I hadn't been glad Mary was dead. I was glad then, Marcus, glad in some dead, secret way. That stopped it from being a real accident. Volition and result, they don't make an accident.'

Marcus was aghast.

'Listen, Connie,' he urged, 'it was nothing to do with you that it happened. You can't blame yourself . . .' 'Oh, I don't,' said Connon. 'Not now. Because I found I quickly stopped being glad in any way. Mary wasn't a good woman, I know, and often not a very pleasant person. I'd often wished I could escape her. Get far far away from her, from everyone.'

He laughed at himself.

'I got away. To my desert. I got to my desert, and it was just what you'd expect a desert to be. Hot, dusty, empty, killing.'

The full-back stabbed at the ball and sliced it badly.

An ironic cheer went up. A Welshman gathered it on his own line and shaped to kick for touch. 'I'm sorry, Connie,' said Marcus quietly. 'I suppose because I knew, about you and Mary I mean, I suppose I thought it didn't matter as much somehow.' 'It always matters. To all of us it matters. It matters to me, it matters to Arthur Evans. I suppose it even mattered to him.' He jerked his head back to where Dalziel was still standing pointing out some feature of the game to Pascoe. 'Now I can mourn properly. Goodbye Marcus. I shan see you again. I'm in a little bit of trouble myself, you know.'

'I'm sorry,' said Marcus again, standing up. 'Goodbye.'

He went back up the steps to the policemen. 'Well, I got some use out of my ticket,' he said. 'Thanks. Why don't you stay, Bruiser, and see the rest of the game? The sergeant here's more than capable of dealing with me, I'm sure.' Dalziel looked tempted for a moment, but shook his head. 'Can't be done,' he said. 'Would look bad on my report. Anyway we've got a great deal to ask you, Mr Felstead.' 'So formal,' murmured Marcus. He moved forward, but Dalziel restrained him.

'Wait a mo',' he said.

The Welsh kick had found touch. Now the ball had come back badly on the English side, but the scrum-half got to it. He was pounced on before he could move and the best he could do was to throw out a slow lobbing pa.s.s to his fly-half, who had to take it standing still. But miraculously with a simple twist of his hips, he opened a gap between the two Welsh forwards bearing furiously down on him, stepped through it and suddenly accelerated straight ahead.

'Run! Run!' screamed Dalziel.

'Go now!' yelled Pascoe, not quite sure why he felt so excited by this alien game.

'Nothing can stop him,' said Marcus with certainty.

He was right. The cover was far too slow in coming across. Head high, ball held lightly before him, beautifully balanced, he rounded the full-back as though he were rooted and touched down gently, undramatically, between the posts.

'Oh, you beauty!' breathed Dalziel. 'You beauty!'

He sighed and shook his head as though coming back to reality.

'Right,' he said. 'Let's go.'

'The kick?' suggested Marcus. To h.e.l.l with the kick. He might miss it. Let's go now,' said Dalziel. Marcus took a last glance back at Connon before going through the exit, but he wasn't looking. He was slowly sitting down again after the leap of jubilation which had taken him and thousands of others to their feet.

There were tears in his eyes. He rubbed one away.

The Welshman next to him nudged his neighbour and surrept.i.tiously pointed to Connon.

The b.u.g.g.e.rs have got feelings after all, boy,' he said.

end.

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