It is eleven o’clock in the morning and Ida is on her way to Henekey’s, her local pub. She’s not the first customer. A somber man dressed all in black, Clarence, was there before her. He’s in mourning. His wife died recently. Ida is surprised. She didn’t know he had a wife. The man suggests the two of them go out again soon, but Ida refuses, saying she’d rather start fresh with someone new than try again with an old flame. Admiring her reflection in the mirror, she begins to talk about horse racing, thinking of how Hale told her to put her money on Black Boy, and then Clarence asks her if she’s heard what happened to the Kolley Kibber man, how he was found dead recently.
Greene’s pointing out the time in this scene is significant only in that it suggests that Ida is not one to shy away from drinking early in the day. She is also someone who keeps casual company with a number of men, including Clarence, and is enamored of her own looks. Clarence’s mourning attire and his sad news are both obvious reminders of death’s constant presence; Ida, however, is stubbornly alive.
Ida asks if the man committed suicide, and Clarence says no, that an inquest found that he died from the heat, that his heart gave out. The Messenger paid the man who found the body the grand Kolley Kibber prize of 10 guineas. Ida grabs the paper and sees a picture of Hale, thinking at first that Hale was the one who found the man. When it dawns on her that he’s dead, the realization is like a blow. She thinks initially that maybe he was indeed sick, but the more she reads, the more suspicious she becomes. Something about the story in the paper is fishy. She’s struck by Molly and Delia’s testimony in particular.
What Ida had thought was a harmless flirtation with Hale now grows deadly serious. It’s worth noting that she knows so little about Hale that she at first confuses him for someone else. Still, she is struck and saddened by the news of his death, and her suspicions, while inchoate, suggest keen powers of intuition, observation, and discernment.
The girls told the authorities that Hale introduced himself as Fred and that a young man came along, claiming to know him, and that Hale fled then, saying he wasn’t the right Fred after all. Ida is confused. Hale told her his name was Fred, too. Clarence says Hale’s real name was Charles. It’s right there in the story, but Ida grows more and more convinced that the news report is wrong. She’s also struck by the fact that Hale’s only living relative is a second cousin in Middlesborough. It makes her melancholy, thinking of how alone Hale must have been, and angry, too, because it seems to her that no one bothered to ask the right questions about what lead to his death in the first place.
Ida believes in herself and her own abilities to understand a situation more than she trusts the authorities and, indeed, the media, to get to the bottom of Hale’s death. Her discernment is matched, then, by her confidence and self-assuredness. Hale’s desire for a mother figure is perhaps more understandable now, given how alone he was in the world.
Ida tells Clarence and another bar fly, Harry, that if she had been there—if she had found Hale—she would have asked the right questions. She’s sad that the Messenger only gave Hale’s death a few column inches and that they’ve already appointed a new Kolley Kibber man. She is struck by the sensation that Hale is somehow trying to reach out to her from the dead. Ida is a firm believer in ghosts. She wonders why Hale left her to go traipsing around the pier in the hot sun instead of waiting for her. Clarence says he supposes Hale lost interest, but Ida doesn’t buy it.
Ida is no one’s mother. She is, instead, an inquisitive, independent woman whose very inquisitiveness often leads her to place her faith in the occult. Hale’s ghost appearing to her in Henekey’s bar is not, in Ida’s estimation, metaphorical. It is very real to her. She feels strongly, even on the basis of one afternoon’s casual encounter, that Hale is turning to her from beyond the grave, seeking answers and justice.
Ida thinks about a story she heard about a woman seeing her dead husband hovering by the radio and fiddling with the nob. She supposes that if Hale were a ghost, he’d be as likely to appear to her as his second cousin in Middlesborough. She puts the paper down and tells Clarence she is going to Hale’s funeral. Someone ought to be there, she says, and she likes funerals.
Ida thinks herself as important to Charles Hale as his own family. To her, it is immaterial that they shared only a kiss in a cab. What matters is Hale’s ghost appealing to her for help and her own desire to become involved in the case. In this way, she is shown to have a strong sense of compassion.
The funeral is taking place in a bare, nondescript place. There are no candles or flowers and Ida, who is late, walks in in the middle of a clergyman’s generic sermon about Hale being “one with the One.” The crowd is sparse. There is a woman who looks like a landlady, another who looks like a servant, and two men whispering impatiently. The clergyman finishes up his talk by saying that Hale has been reabsorbed into the universal spirit. Then he presses a button and Hale’s coffin is swept into the fires of the crematorium.
As a Catholic himself, Greene seems, in this scene, to be casting aspersions on secular funeral services. “One with the One” is so vague it verges on meaninglessness, as does the idea of a universal spirit. Greene might be suggesting that a religious service is more intimate and comforting to the bereft, but, as Ida already knew, Hale has left very few to mourn him.
Ida is horrified by the flippant nature of the funeral. Death is serious business, in her opinion. She is not religious, but she does believe in ghosts and Ouija boards and tables that rap on their own during séances and voices from the great beyond speaking of flowers. Still, Ida thinks, flowers aren’t life. Life is relishing a Guinness now and then and kissing strange men in cabs. She is more determined than ever to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Hale’s death. The narrator points out that Ida is the kind of woman who would happily cause someone pain if it meant defending something she believed in. Her optimism is boundless and dangerous.
Ida is a woman of many contradictions. On one hand, she considers death a serious business. On the other, she is not averse to indulging in things like seances and Ouija board sessions, activities that look to death and the afterlife for entertainment. Ida also inhabits a black and white world in which it is very easy to discern right from wrong and she is confident that she is a very good judge of the two. Such confidence, Greene argues, can lead to trouble.
Outside the crematorium, ash drifts from a smokestack. Ida weeps, thinking that Hale is now ash, wafting down into the nice, suburban neighborhood, coating the trees and flowers. She gets on a tram, headed for London, and, as billboards flash by, the narrator notes that Ida’s inner life is as complex as a toothpaste advertisement. She wants to make whomever hurt Hale pay. Her reward would be vengeance, an eye for an eye.
The neighborhood’s trees and flowers represent life, while Hale’s ashes signify death. Death trumps life, here. Ida’s sense of justice, while firm and unshakable, is also somewhat naïve. Her understanding of the world is black and white. This will allow her to stick to Hale’s case when others have given up.
Ida disembarks at Charing Cross station and heads to the offices of Messrs Carter and Galloway, where, according to the Messenger report, a certain Molly Pink works. Ida walks along the Strand and past the fountains of Trafalgar Square, which remind her of bright blooms of water, falling on the dusty bins below. The walk to Molly’s building is long. So is the walk up the stairs to the office. She has to stop to rub her feet, and when she does so, she runs into a man who introduces himself as Charlie Moyne. Charlie is sure he has seen Ida before, maybe at Epsom horse park. Ida says it’s possible. Charlie, whose eyes are bloodshot, asks if he might borrow a few quid to put on a horse. She gives him one and tells him to go away.
Ida is seeing flowers everywhere. First, she notices the absence of flowers at Hale’s funeral. Then, she sees Hale’s ashes coating the petals of the pretty suburban neighborhood where he was cremated. Now, the fountains of Trafalgar Square seem to be in bloom. The flowers represent Ida’s own vitality and vigor, which are the source of her drive to solve the mystery of Hale’s murder.
When she finally reaches the offices of Messrs Carter and Galloway, Ida finds Molly alone in a room jammed with files and books. Molly is making tea and eating a toffee. She is surprised when Ida says she isn’t there to see the partners. She’s there to see her. Ida starts asking her questions about the day she met Hale, and Molly tells her that what she mostly remembered from that day was that Hale seemed anxious and that the young man who approached him was barely more than a kid. Molly asks Ida if she’s a female detective, and Ida says no, she’s just a friend of Hale’s.
In this scene, the two women that Hale had hoped would save him from Pinkie and his gang meet. Molly and Ida are foils for each other here. Unlike Ida, Molly is not bothered by Hale’s death. She seems confused that Ida would show any interest in someone as obviously unimportant as Charles Hale.
Ida leaves and, on her walk home to her apartment, mulls over what Molly told her. She thinks to herself that Hale was a true gentleman. Her memory of him, though, is staring to fade, and, in her mind, his face begins to meld with that of Charlie Moyne, to take on the old drunkard’s features.
Having reached her apartment building, Ida finds a postcard from Phil Corkery on the hall table. He sent her postcards annually from modest vacation spots, hoping she might join him, but she never answers. She considers him too quiet, not masculine enough for her. She calls down the basement stairs to Old Crowe, telling him that she’s going to take a turn at the Board. She goes up to her room and looks for a moment at a glass cabinet that contains her most cherished possessions. Inside is a Ouija board. She pulls it out and sits down at a small table. Old Crowe joins her. They talk about their days. They both went to funerals. Old Crowe says there are no good funerals anymore. Ida inserts a pencil into the little wheeled board and places a piece of paper underneath it. She and Old Crowe touch their fingertips to the board and Ida asks Fred if he’s there.
One of Ida’s most cherished possessions is her Ouija board, which she very much believes allows her to get in touch with the realm beyond the grave. She and Crowe both enjoy a “good” funeral, perhaps because death results in more ghosts and more ghosts means a greater likelihood of contacting someone of importance in the land of shadows. Hale’s name is Charles, not Fred, so Ida’s attempts to contact him at this moment are humorous, verging on the ridiculous.
The board jerks some. Ida thinks it looks like it might have drawn a “Y.” Old Crowe sees an “N.” They try again. The board moves across the paper with more purpose. It seems to spell “Sukill.” Then, later, “Fresuicilleye.” It’s gibberish to Crowe but clear as day to Ida, who says the board was obviously trying to spell “Fred,” “suicide,” and her life philosophy, “an eye for an eye.” They try one more time, and the word “Phil” appears. Ida says she is going to make whomever killed Hale sorry they were ever born. She believes in right and wrong and she will make whomever wronged her friend pay. Then she smiles. She tells Old Crowe that the search will be fun and “a bit of life.”
The Ouija board is spelling out what Ida wants to see. The words are just garbled enough for her to claim she wasn’t steering the board while at the same time evocative of Fred, death, and Ida’s own haphazard approach to justice. The readings of the board might be nonsensical, but to the ghost-chasing Ida, they are simply more proof that she is doing the right thing by investigating Hale’s death. Her motivations aren’t pure, however, in that sense that she’s not only after justice; she wouldn’t mind a little excitement while she’s at it.