There had been no car available at the town’s only garage, but Binnie had managed to borrow an old Ford pick-up truck from them, probably by invoking the name of the Organization although I didn’t enquire too closely into that.
When that man is dead and gone
He did the driving and I sat back and smoked a cigarette and stared morosely into the driving rain. It was a pleasant enough ride. Green fields, high hedges, rolling farmland, with here and there grey stone walls that had once been the boundaries of the great estates or still were.
He had picked up an ordnance survey map of the area and I found Randall Cottage again. The track leading to it was perhaps a quarter of a mile long and the place was entirely surrounded by trees. The right kind of hidey hole for an old fox like Meyer.
I gave Binnie the sign when we were close and he started to slow. A car was parked on the grass verge at the side of the road a hundred yards from the turning, a large green Vauxhall estate with no one inside.
God knows why, that instinct again for bad news, I suppose, the product of having lived entirely the wrong sort of life, but something was wrong, I’d never been more certain of anything. I clapped a hand on Binnie’s shoulder and told him to pull up.
I got out of the car, walked back to the Vauxhall and peered inside. The doors were locked and everything seemed normal enough. Rooks called in the elm trees beyond the wall that enclosed the plantation and Randall Cottage.
I walked back to the van through the rain and Binnie got out to meet me. ‘What’s up ?’
“That car,’ I said. ‘It worries me. It could be that it’s simply broken down and the driver’s walking on to the next village for help. Pigs could also fly.’
‘On the other hand,’ he said slowly, ‘if someone wanted to walk up to the cottage quiet like…’
‘So what do we do about it ?’
I gave the matter some thought and then I toldhim.
The track to the cottage wasn’t doing the van’s springs much good and I stayed in bottom gear, sliding from one pothole to the next in the heavy rain. It was a gloomy sort of place, that wood, choked with undergrowth, pine trees un-thinned over the years cutting out all light.
The track took a sharp right turn that brought me out into a clearing suddenly and there was Randall Cottage, a colonial style wooden bungalow with a wide verandah running along the front.
It was unexpectedly large but quite dilapidated, and the paved section at the foot of the verandah steps was badly overgrown with grass and weeds of every description.
As I got out of the van, thunder rumbled overhead, a strange, menacing sound and the sky went very dark, so that standing there in the clearing amongst the trees, it seemed as if the day was drawing to a close and darkness was about to fall.
I went up the steps and knocked on the front door which stood slightly ajar. ‘Heh, Meyer, are you there ?’ I called cheerfully.
There was no reply, but when I pushed the door wide, Al Bowlly sounded faintly and rather eerily from somewhere at the rear of the house.
The song he was singing wasWhen that man is dead and gone, a number he’s reputed to have dedicated to Adolf Hitler. It was the last thing he ever recorded, because a couple of weeks later he was killed by a bomb during the London Blitz.
None of which was calculated to make me feel any
When that man is dead and gone
happier as I moved in and advanced along a dark, musty corridor, following the sound of the music.
The door at the far end stood wide and I paused on the threshold. There were french windows on the far side, curtains partially drawn so that the room was half in darkness. Meyer sat in a chair beside a table on which the cassette tape-recorder was playing.