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THE SINGING ROOM
REVEL CELEBRATES AN OCCASION
AT the entrance to the Esmeralda detective
office, Detective-Sergeant Stanton made the mistake of letting go momentarily
his hold on the gentleman he was escorting to these awesome precincts.
“Get on!” he growled in the tones that one
uses to a refractory horse.
Michael Revel wrapped his arms about a stone
pillar in the doorway, and imitated a limpet.
“Ho!” he exclaimed with extreme indignation.
“And who do you think you’re pushing about, I should like to know?”
“You, you beer-sodden imitation soldier!”
panted Stanton, struggling to prise free the limpet without using actual
“Ho!” said Michael again. “Don’t let the
battledress fool you. Allow me to inform you, my good man, that you are no
longer dealing with a common soldier. Four-three-seven-owe-seven-owe Temporary
Warrant Officer (First Class) Revel, M., is no more. Michael Revel, Esquire, a
free citizen of this island, has come into his own. You betcha!” he added,
wagging his head solemnly. “As from 0800 hours this morning!”
“Will you get inside?” snarled Stanton.
“No,” said Michael uncompromisingly, shaking
his head so vigorously that his beret fell off.
“Oh, Lord!” The detective gave it up. He took
off his hat and dabbed at his forehead. “If it wasn’t you, Revel—if you weren’t
a pet of the establishment—I’d use ordinary methods, and you’d be inside before
you could say Jack Robinson.”
“Jack Robinson,” repeated Stanton
“Who’s he? What’s he done?” asked Michael
“But I don’t wanna go inside. I wanna go back
to my ol’ pal Spike—it’s his turn to pay for the drinks—”
“What’s going on here?” demanded a large man,
suddenly appearing in the doorway.
Michael greeted the newcomer with a howl of
delight. “Hail! smiling morn, smiling morn . . . Walshie—my ol’ comrade in
Detective-Inspector John Walsh, as patient and
tolerant a police officer as ever drew breath, looked inquiringly at his
sergeant. “What’s it all about, Stanton? . . . Great Scott—he’s tight!”
“Tight? He’s as pickled as a bumblebee full of
The simile may have been somewhat unusual but
the diagnosis, I regret to have to state, was perfectly correct. Michael Revel
had indubitably consumed more alcoholic refreshment than is deemed wise or even
usual at two o’clock in the afternoon.
To err is human, to forgive divine. And I
think Michael is to be forgiven this lapse from grace, for only once in a
lifetime, as a rule, is a man discharged from service in the Armed Forces; and
when that happens it is most definitely an occasion. Not that they do actually
discharge more or less fit personnel from the Eulalie Island Armed Forces—the
Temporary Staff and Home Defence Units, that is. They march you out through
Routine Orders to an area pool on I.L.W.O.P.; these mystic letters standing for
Indefinite Leave Without Pay. The idea being, I suppose, to keep you on a string
so that if another war sneaks up on them unexpectedly, the Powers That Be can
yank the string and pull you back to servitude with the minimum of warning and
at an instant’s notice. But outright discharge, or indefinite leave without pay,
the circumstance is an occasion to be celebrated in time-honoured fashion; and
it is only fair to add that in celebrating his own release, and that of some
half-dozen mess mates, Michael had been more sinned against than sinning.
To begin with, he and the other half-dozen had
been given a rousing send-off by Whipple Camp Headquarters Sergeants’ Mess,
where the bar had been opened for that special purpose at an unlawful hour
according to Camp Standing Orders, King’s Regulations, Army Instruction No. 374,
Section 5, Subsection 3, Paragraph 7, and probably a few other minor military
statutes. Then, on their arrival at Esmeralda, the party had visited various
hostelries, where they had had one all round for auld lang syne, one for luck in
civvy street, and one for the road—it was during this period that Michael had
become detached from the main body, had drifted into the wrong bar and been
subsequently salvaged by Detective-Sergeant Stanton.
But in addition to this, and before the party
had left Whipple, the president of the mess, who was the Camp Sergeant-Major and
who should have known better, had mixed and insisted on their drinking some
secret hell-brew of his own that he called a Whipple Wopkakker. I don’t think it
was altogether the post-war plonk that was Michael’s downfall; I think it was
the Wopkakker, the devastating qualities of which I would place next to hashish.
The fact that Michael was still on his feet at two o’clock in the afternoon is
pretty fair tribute to his staying powers. . . .
He now unhooked one arm, settled his
horn-rimmed glasses more firmly on his undistinguished nose, resumed his
death-defying grip of the pillar, and burst unmusically into song.
“Walshing Matilda, Walshing Matilda, you’ll
“Shut up, you noisy little devil!” hissed
Mr. Revel took this as a compliment. He nodded
his head in high approval. “Noisy little devil—that’s me. Revel, the devil. The
oracle. The shaker-up of stagnant detectives. Mustard Mike—”
“For heaven’s sake, come inside! You’ll give
the place a bad name.”
“It’s already got a bad name. And I don’t
wanna go inside. I wanna stay outside. Why, forsooth,” demanded the inebriate
with considerable hauteur, “should I enter this dismal den, this murky bourne
from which no man returneth? No, siree. I wanna go back to my pal Spike—”
Walsh and Stanton exchanged meaning glances,
and the inspector’s lips pursed in a soundless whistle. “Oh! I see. . . .”
“Yes,” said Stanton. “Once again he’s found a
body for us, a live one this time for a change. Only it got away from him when I
appeared on the scene. And now that I’ve succeeded in dragging him round here,
he won’t go in. Sheer cussedness, that’s what it is. When he’s sober you can’t
keep him out of the place, when he’s tight he won’t go in.”
Michael shook his head again, vigorously and
at length. “No, siree! Gimme the great outdoors. Hey, for the open road!”
“Hey, for a thick ear!” growled Walsh, bending
down and picking up Michael’s beret. “Bring him in, Stanton.”
“But he won’t go in. Short of donging him
Stanton glanced up at his superior officer.
“Is that an order, Inspector?”
Walsh smiled faintly and shook his head. “Not
that way, not for the office mascot. Here, take his cap—I’ll fix this. . . .
Revel! Revel, you fathead!”
“Peep-bo!” said Michael, hiding his head coyly
behind the pillar.
The burly inspector wasted no more time in
mere words. He raised his hands and poked Michael under the armpits with two
searching forefingers. The ticklish Mr. Revel yelped like a startled puppy and
incontinently released his hold on the pillar; whereupon both detectives swooped
on him, hustled him inside, down the passage and into Walsh’s office, and dumped
him on a chair. Then they both heaved a sigh of relief, and the inspector sat
down in his own chair behind the desk and regarded his young friend gravely.
“What have you been up to, Revel? You can’t go
home to Fleur like this.”
Since he had let go of the pillar, Michael had
been troubled by the disconcerting way the floor was heaving beneath him. He
took off his glasses, but that didn’t seem to help much, so he put them on
again. He raised his head and stared owlishly at the big man behind the desk as
if he were seeing him for the first time.
“Ah! Detective-Inspector Walsh, I believe. How
do you do, Inspector?”
“You’ll get no sense out of him in this
state,” muttered Stanton. “Better sober him up first.”
“Inspector Walsh,” repeated Michael solemnly,
nodding his head like a mandarin. “The Great Detective—the Chief of the
Gestapo—the terror of the underworld—”
“Hold his perishin’ head still,” begged the
terror of the underworld. “He’s making me giddy. That’s better. . . . You might
be right, Stanton. I should say some coffee, hot, black and fairly strong, would
help him along a bit.”
“Yeah. I’ll get some from the kitchen.
Probably a bit of food wouldn’t do him any harm either—I’ll bet he’s had nothing
since breakfast. Nothing solid, that is. I’ll get some sandwiches as well.”
“Walsh,” said Michael, and a plaintive note
was creeping into his voice; “Walsh, I wish you’d keep still.”
“I am still,” protested Walsh mildly. “It’s
you—you’re wobbling about like a jelly in an earthquake. . . . Hold on,
Stanton!” to the retreating sergeant. “I think he’s going to sober up quicker
than we expected—dammit, look at his face! He’s going green. . . .”
“He’s going to be sick,” said Stanton with the
dispassionate composure of a scientist.
“Not in my office, he isn’t!” Michael’s eyes
had dropped to the floor again—it seemed to be tugging at him, and he swayed
alarmingly on the hard, uncomfortable little chair. “Hey! Oi!” cried Walsh.
“Grab him, Stanton—quick. . . .”
But Stanton was too late. And it is due to the
fact that he was too late to prevent Michael plunging to the floor that both men
are alive today. For at that moment there was a crack! from the street the other
side of the iron railings just outside the window, a shattering of glass, and a
bullet buried itself in the opposite wall, having first passed through the space
that would have been occupied by Mr. Revel had he been still sitting on the
chair, and having missed Detective-Sergeant Stanton by inches as he was rushing
back from the door of the office.