Nothing happened for a week except that I went about my business which just then didn’t happen to be very much business. One morning George Peters of The Carne Organization called me up and told me he had happened to be down Sepulveda Canyon way and had looked in on Dr. Verringer’s place just out of curiosity. But Dr. Verringer was no longer there. Half a dozen teams of surveyors were mapping the tract for a subdivision. Those he spoke to had never even heard of Dr. Verringer.
“The poor sucker got closed out on a trust deed,” Peters said. “I checked. They gave him a grand for a quitclaim just to save time and expense, and now somebody is going to make a million bucks clear, out of cutting the place up for residential property. That’s the difference between crime and business. For business you gotta have capital. Sometimes I think it’s the only difference.”
“A properly cynical remark,” I said, “but big time crime takes capital too.”
“And where does it come from, chum? Not from guys that hold up liquor stores. So long. See you soon.”
It was ten minutes to eleven on a Thursday night when Wade called me up. His voice was thick, almost gurgling, but I recognized it somehow. And I could hear short hard rapid breathing over the telephone.
“I’m in bad shape, Marlowe. Very bad. I’m slipping my anchor. Could you make it out here in a hurry?”
“Sure—but let me talk to Mrs. Wade a minute.”
He didn’t answer. There was a crashing sound, then a dead silence, then in a short while a kind of banging around. I yelled something into the phone without getting any answer. Time passed. Finally the light click of the receiver being replaced and the buzz of an open line.
In five minutes I was on the way. I made it in slightly over half an hour and I still don’t know how. I went over the pass on wings and hit Ventura Boulevard with the light against me and made a left turn anyhow and dodged between trucks and generally made a damn fool of myself. I went through Encino at close to sixty with a spotlight on the outer edge of the parked cars so that it would freeze anyone with a notion to step out suddenly. I had the kind of luck you only get when you don’t care. No cops, no sirens, no red flashers. Just visions of what might be happening in the Wade residence and not very pleasant visions. She was alone in the house with a drunken maniac, she was lying at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken, she was behind a locked door and somebody was howling outside and trying to break it in, she was running down a moonlit road barefoot and a big buck Negro with a meat cleaver was chasing her.
It wasn’t like that at all. When I swung the Olds into their driveway lights were on all over the house and she was standing in the open doorway with a cigarette in her mouth. I got out and walked over the flagstones to her. She had slacks on and a shirt with an open collar. She looked at me calmly. If there was any excitement around there I had brought it with me.
The first thing I said was as loony as the rest of my behavior. “I thought you didn’t smoke.”
“What? No, I don’t usually.” She took the cigarette out and looked at it and dropped it and stepped on it. “Once in a long while. He called Dr. Verringer.”
It was a remote placid voice, a voice heard at night over water. Completely relaxed.
“He couldn’t,” I said. “Dr. Verringer doesn’t live there any more. He called me.”
“Oh really? I just heard him telephoning and asking someone to come in a hurry. I thought it must be Dr. Verringer.”
“Where is he now?”
“He fell down,” she said. “He must have tipped the chair too far back. He’s done it before. He cut his head on something. There’s a little blood, not much.”
“Well, that’s fine,” I said. “We wouldn’t want a whole lot of blood. Where is he now, I asked you.”
She looked at me solemnly. Then she pointed, “Out there somewhere. By the edge of the road or in the bushes along the fence.”
I leaned forward and peered at her. “Chrissake, didn’t you look?” I decided by this time that she was in shock. Then I looked back across the lawn. I didn’t see anything but there was heavy shadow near the fence.
“No, I didn’t look,” she said quite calmly. “You find him. I’ve had all of it I can take. I’ve had more than I can take. You find him.”
She turned and walked back into the house, leaving the door open. She didn’t walk very far. About a yard inside the door she just crumpled to the floor and lay there. I scooped her up and spread her out on one of the two big davenports that faced each other across a long blond cocktail table. I felt her pulse. It didn’t seem very weak or unsteady. Her eyes were closed and the lids were blue. I left her there and went back out.
He was there all right, just as she had said. He was lying on his side in the shadow of the hibiscus. He had a fast thumping pulse and his breathing was unnatural. Something on the back of his head was sticky. I spoke to him and shook him a little. I slapped his face a couple of times. He mumbled but didn’t come to. I dragged him up into a sitting position and dragged one of his arms over my shoulder and heaved him up with my back turned to him and grabbed for a leg. I lost. He was as heavy as a block of cement. We both sat down on the grass and I took a short breather and tried again. Finally I got him hoisted into a fireman’s lift position and plowed across the lawn in the direction of the open front door. It seemed about the same distance as a round trip to Siam. The two steps of the porch were ten feet high. I staggered over to the couch and went down on my knees and rolled him off. When I straightened up again my spine felt as if it had cracked in at least three places.
Eileen Wade wasn’t there any more. I had the room to myself. I was too bushed at the moment to care where anybody was. I sat down and looked at him and waited for some breath. Then I looked at his head. It was smeared with blood. His hair was sticky with it. It didn’t look very bad but you never know with a head wound.
Then Eileen Wade was standing beside me, quietly looking down at him with that same remote expression.
“I’m sorry I fainted,” she said. “I don’t know why.”
“I guess we’d better call a doctor.”
“I telephoned Dr. Loring. He is my doctor, you know. He didn’t want to come.”
“Try somebody else then.”
“Oh he’s coming,” she said. “He didn’t want to. But he’s coming as soon as he can manage.”
“This is his day off. Thursday. The cook and Candy have Thursdays off. It’s the usual thing around here. Can you get him up to bed?”
“Not without help. Better get a rug or blanket. It’s a warm night, but cases like this get pneumonia very easily.”
She said she would get a rug. I thought it was damn nice of her. But I wasn’t thinking very intelligently. I was too bushed from carrying him.
We spread a steamer rug over him and in fifteen minutes Dr. Loring came, complete with starched collar and rimless cheaters and the expression of a man who has been asked to clean up after the dog got sick.
He examined Wade’s head. “A superficial cut and bruise,” he said. “No chance of concussion. I should say his breath would indicate his condition rather obviously.”
He reached for his hat. He picked up his bag.
“Keep him warm,” he said. “You might bathe his head gently and get rid of the blood. He’ll sleep it off.”
“I can’t get him upstairs alone, Doctor,” I said.
“Then leave him where he is,” He looked at me without interest. “Goodnight, Mrs. Wade. As you know I don’t treat alcoholics. Even if I did, your husband would not be one of my patients. I’m sure you understand that.”
“Nobody’s asking you to treat him,” I said. “I’m asking for some help to get him into his bedroom so that I can undress him.”
“And just who are you?” Dr. Loring asked me freezingly. “My name’s Marlowe. I was here a week ago. Your wife introduced me.”
“Interesting,” he said. “In what connection do you know my wife?”
“What the hell does that matter? All I want is—”
“I’m not interested in what you want,” he cut in on me. He turned to Eileen, nodded briefly, and started out. I got between him and the door and put my back to it.
“Just a minute, Doc. Must be a long time since you glanced at that little piece of prose called the Hippocratic Oath. This man called me on the phone and I live some way off. He sounded bad and I broke every traffic law in the state getting over here. I found him lying on the ground and I carried him in here and believe me he isn’t any bunch of feathers. The houseboy is away and there’s nobody here to help me upstairs with Wade. How does it look to you?”
“Get out of my way,” he said between his teeth. “Or I shall call the sheriff’s substation and have them send over a deputy. As a professional man—”
“As a professional man you’re a handful of flea dirt,” I said, and moved out of his way.
He turned red—slowly but distinctly. He choked on his own bile. Then he opened the door and went out. He shut it carefully. As he pulled it shut he looked in at me. It was as nasty a look as I ever got and on as nasty a face as I ever saw.
When I turned away from the door Eileen was smiling.
“What’s funny?” I snarled.
“You. You don’t care what you say to people, do you? Don’t you know who Dr. Loring is?”
“Yeah—and I know what he is.”
She glanced at her wristwatch. “Candy ought to be home by now,” she said. “I’ll go see. He has a room behind the garage.”
She went out through an archway and I sat down and looked at Wade. The great big writer man went on snoring. His face was sweaty but I left the rug over him. In a minute or two Eileen came back and she had Candy with her.
The Mex had a black and white checked sport shirt, heavily pleated black slacks without a belt, two-tone black and white buckskin shoes, spotlessly clean. His thick black hair was brushed straight back and shining with some kind of hair oil or cream.
“Señor,” he said, and sketched a brief sarcastic bow.
“Help Mr. Marlowe carry my husband upstairs, Candy. He fell and hurt himself a little. I’m sorry to trouble you.”
“De nada, señora,” Candy said smiling.
“I think I’ll say goodnight,” she said to me. “I’m tired out. Candy will get you anything you want.”
She went slowly up the stairs. Candy and I watched her.
“Some doll,” he said confidentially. “You stay the night?”
“Es lástima. She is very lonely, that one.”
“Get that gleam out of your eyes, kid. Let’s put this to bed.”
He looked sadly at Wade snoring on the couch. “Pobrecito,” he murmured as if he meant it. “Borracho como una cuba.”
“He may be drunk as a sow but he sure ain’t little,” I said. “You take the feet.”
We carried him and even for two he was as heavy as a lead coffin. At the top of the stairs we went along an open balcony past a closed door. Candy pointed to it with his chin.
“La señora,” he whispered. “You knock very light maybe she let you in.”
I didn’t say anything because I needed him. We went on with the carcass and turned in at another door and dumped him on the bed. Then I took hold of Candy’s arm high up near the shoulder where dug-in fingers can hurt. I made mine hurt him. He winced a little and then his face set hard.
“What’s your name, cholo?”
“Take your hand off me,” he snapped. “And don’t call me a cholo. I’m no wetback. My name is Juan Garcia de Soto yo Soto-mayor. I am Chileno.”
“Okay, Don Juan. Just don’t get out of line around here. Keep your nose and mouth clean when you talk about the people you work for.”
He jerked loose and stepped back, his black eyes hot with anger. His hand slipped inside his shirt and came out with a long thin knife. He balanced it by the point on the heel of his hand, hardly even glancing at it. Then he dropped the hand and caught the handle of the knife while it hung in the air. It was done very fast and without any apparent effort. His hand went up to shoulder height, then snapped forward and the knife sailed through the air and hung quivering in the wood of the window frame.
“Cuidado, señor!” he said with a sharp sneer, “And keep your paws to yourself. Nobody fools with me.”
He walked lithely across the room and plucked the knife out of the wood, tossed it in the air, spun on his toes and caught it behind him. With a snap it disappeared under his shirt.
“Neat,” I said, “but just a little on the gaudy side.”
He strolled up to me smiling derisively.
“And it might get you a broken elbow,” I said. “Like this.”
I took hold of his right wrist, jerked him off balance, swung to one side and a little behind him, and brought my bent forearm up under the back of his elbow joint. I bore down on it, using my forearm as a fulcrum.
“One hard jerk,” I said, “and your elbow joint cracks. A crack is enough. You’d be out of commission as a knife thrower for several months. Make the jerk a little harder and you’d be through permanently. Take Mr. Wade’s shoes off.”
I let go of him and he grinned at me. “Good trick,” he said. “I will remember.”
He turned to Wade and reached for one of his shoes, then stopped. There was a smear of blood on the pillow.
“Who cut the boss?”
“Not me, chum. He fell and cut his head on something. It’s only a shallow cut. The doctor has been here.”
Candy let his breath out slowly, “You see him fall?”
“Before I got here. You like this guy, don’t you?”
He didn’t answer me. He took the shoes off. We got Wade undressed little by little and Candy dug out a pair of green and silver pajamas. We got Wade into those and got him inside the bed and well covered up. He was still sweaty and still snoring. Candy looked down at him sadly, shaking his sleek head from side to side, slowly.
“Somebody’s got to take care of him,” he said. “I go change my clothes.”
“Get some sleep. I’ll take care of him. I can call you if I need you.”
He faced me. “You better take care of him good,” he said in a quiet voice. “Very good.”
He went out of the room. I went into the bathroom and got a wet washcloth and a heavy towel. I turned Wade over a little and spread the towel on the pillow and washed the blood off his head gently so as not to start the bleeding again. Then I could see a sharp shallow cut about two inches long. It was nothing. Dr. Loring had been right that much. It wouldn’t have hurt to stitch it but it probably was not really necessary. I found a pair of scissors and cut the hair away enough so that I could put on a strip of adhesive. Then I turned him on his back and washed his face. I guess that was a mistake.
He opened his eyes. They were vague and unfocused at first, then they cleared and he saw me standing beside the bed. His hand moved and went up to his head and felt the adhesive. His lips mumbled something, then his voice cleared up also.
“Who hit me? You?” His hand felt for the adhesive.
“Nobody hit you. You took a fall. ”
“Took a fall? When? Where?”
“Wherever you telephoned from. You called me. I heard you fall. Over the wire.”
“I called you?” He grinned slowly. “Always available, aren’t you, fella? What time is it?”
“After one A.M.”
“Gone to bed. She had it rough.”
He thought that over silently. His eyes were full of pain. “Did I—” He stopped and winced.
“You didn’t touch her as far as I know. If that’s what you mean. You just wandered outdoors and passed out near the fence, Quit talking. Go to sleep.”
“Sleep,” he said quietly and slowly, like a child reciting its lesson. “What would that be?”
“Maybe a pill would help. Got any?”
“In the drawer. Night table.”
I opened it and found a plastic bottle with red capsules in it. Seconal, 1.5 grains. Prescription by Dr. Loring. That nice Dr. Loring. Mrs. Roger Wade’s prescription.
I shook two of them loose and put the bottle back and poured a glass of water from a thermos jug on the night table. He said one capsule would be enough. He took it and drank some water and lay back and stared at the ceiling again. Time passed. I sat in a chair and watched him. He didn’t seem to get sleepy, Then he said slowly:
“I remember something. Do me a favor, Marlowe. I wrote some crazy stuff I don’t want Eileen to see. It’s on top of the typewriter under the cover. Tear it up, for me,
“Sure. That all you remember?”
“Eileen is all right? Positive about that?”
“Yes. She’s just tired. Let it ride, Wade. Stop thinking. I shouldn’t have asked you.”
“Stop thinking, the man says.” His voice was a little drowsy now. He was talking as if to himself. “Stop thinking, stop dreaming, stop loving, stop hating. Goodnight, sweet prince. I’ll take that other pill. ”
I gave it to him with some more water. He lay back again, this time with his head turned so that he could see me. “Look, Marlowe, I wrote some stuff I don’t want Eileen—”
“You told me already. I’ll attend to it when you go to sleep.”
“Oh. Thanks. Nice to have you around. Very nice.”
Another longish pause. His eyelids were getting heavy.
“Ever kill a man, Marlowe?”
“Nasty feeling, isn’t it?”
“Some people like it.”
His eyes went shut all the way. Then they opened again, but they looked vague. “How could they?”
I didn’t answer. The eyelids came down again, very gradually, like a slow curtain in the theater. He began to snore. I waited a little longer. Then I dimmed the light in the room and went out.
I stopped outside Eileen’s door and listened. I didn’t hear any sound of movement inside, so I didn’t knock. If she wanted to know how he was, it was up to her. Downstairs the living room looked bright and empty. I put out some of the lights. From over near the front door I looked up at the balcony. The middle part of the living room rose to the full height of the house walls and was crossed by open beams that also supported the balcony. The balcony was wide and edged on two sides by a solid railing which looked to be about three and a half feet high. The top and the uprights were cut square to match the crossbeams. The dining room was through a square arch dosed off by double louvered doors. Above it I guessed there were servants’ quarters. This part of the second floor was walled off so there would be another stairway reaching it from the kitchen part of the house. Wade’s room was in the corner over his study. I could see the light from his open door reflected against the high ceiling and I could see the top foot of his doorway.
I cut all the lights except in one standing lamp and crossed to the study. The door was shut but two lamps were lit, a standing lamp at the end of the leather couch and a cowled desk lamp. The typewriter was on a heavy stand under this and beside it on the desk there was a disorderly mess of yellow paper. I sat in a padded chair and studied the layout. What I wanted to know was how he had cut his head. I sat in his desk chair with the phone at my left hand. The spring was set very weak. If I tilted back and went over, my head might have caught the corner of the desk. I moistened my handkerchief and rubbed the wood. No blood, nothing there. There was a lot of stuff on the desk, including a row of books between bronze elephants, and an old-fashioned square glass inkwell. I tried that without result. Not much point to it anyway, because if someone else had slugged him, the weapon didn’t have to be in the room. And there wasn’t anyone else to do it. I stood up and switched on the cornice lights. They reached into the shadowy corner and of course the answer was simple enough after all. A square metal wastebasket was lying on its side over against the wall, with paper spilled. It couldn’t have walked there, so it had been thrown or kicked. I tried its sharp corners with my moistened handkerchief. I got the red-brown smear of blood this time. No mystery at all. Wade had fallen over and struck his head on the sharp corner of the wastebasket—a glancing blow most likely—picked himself up and booted the damn thing across the room. Easy.
Then he would have another quick drink. The drinking liquor was on the cocktail table in front of the couch. An empty bottle, another three quarters full, a thermos jug of water and a silver bowl containing water which had been ice cubes. There was only one glass and it was the large economy size.
Having taken his drink he felt a little better. He noticed the phone off the hook in a bleary sort of way and very likely didn’t remember any more what he had been doing with it. So he just walked across and put it back in its cradle. The time had been just about right. There is something compulsive about a telephone. The gadget ridden man of our age loves it, loathes it, and is afraid of it. But he always treats it with respect, even when he is drunk. The telephone is a fetish.
Any normal man would have said hello into the mouthpiece before hanging up, just to be sure. But not necessarily a man who was bleary with drink and had just taken a fall. It didn’t matter anyhow. His wife might have done it, she might have heard the fall and the bang as the wastebasket bounced against the wall and come into the study. About that time the last drink would kick him in the face and he would stagger out of the house and across the front lawn and pass out where I had found him. Somebody was coming for him. By this time he didn’t know who it was. Maybe the good Dr. Verringer.
So far, so good. So what would his wife do? She couldn’t handle him or reason with him and she might well be afraid to try. So she would call somebody to come and help. The servants were out, so it would have to be by the telephone. Well, she had called somebody. She had called that nice Dr. Loring. I’d just assumed she called him after I got there. She hadn’t said so.
From here on it didn’t quite add up. You’d expect her to look for him and find him and make sure he wasn’t hurt. It wouldn’t hurt him to lie out on the ground on a warm summer night for a while. She couldn’t move him. It had taken all I had to do that. But you wouldn’t quite expect to find her standing in the open doorway smoking a cigarette, not knowing except very vaguely where he was. Or would you? I didn’t know what she had been through with him, how dangerous he was in that condition, how much afraid she might be to go near him. “I’ve had all of it I can take,” she had said to me when I arrived. “You find him.” Then she had gone inside and pulled a faint.
It still bothered me, but I had to leave it at that. I had to assume that when she had been up against the situation often enough to know there was nothing she could do about it except to let it ride, then that would be what she would do. Just that. Let it ride. Let him lie out there on the ground until somebody came around with the physical equipment to handle him.
It still bothered me. It bothered me also that she had checked out and gone into her own room while Candy and I got him upstairs to bed. She said she loved the guy. He was her husband, they had been married for five years, he was a very nice guy indeed when sober—those were her own words. Drunk, he was something else, something to stay away from because he was dangerous. All right, forget it. But somehow it still bothered me. If she was really scared, she wouldn’t have been standing there in the open door smoking a cigarette. If she was just bitter and withdrawn and disgusted, she wouldn’t have fainted.
There was something else. Another woman, perhaps. Then she had only just found out. Linda Loring? Maybe. Dr. Loring thought so and said so in a very public manner.
I stopped thinking about it and took the cover off the typewriter. The stuff was there, several loose sheets of typed yellow paper that I was supposed to destroy so Eileen wouldn’t see them. I took them over to the couch and decided I deserved a drink to go with the reading matter. There was a half bath off the study. I rinsed the tall glass out and poured a libation and sat down with it to read. And what I read was really wild. Like this: