The moon’s four days off the full and there’s a square patch of moonlight on the wall and it’s looking at me like a big blind milky eye, a walleye. Joke. Goddamn silly simile. Writers. Everything has to be like something else. My head is as fluffy as whipped cream but not as sweet. More similes. I could vomit just thinking about the lousy racket. I could vomit anyway. I probably will. Don’t push me. Give me time. The worms in my solar plexus crawl and crawl and crawl. I would be better off in bed but there would be a dark animal underneath the bed and the dark animal would crawl around rustling and hump himself and bump the underside of the bed, then I would let out a yell that wouldn’t make any sound except to me. A dream yell, a yell in a nightmare. There is nothing to be afraid of and I am not afraid because there is nothing to be afraid of, but just the same I was lying like that once in bed and the dark animal was doing it to me, bumping himself against the underside of the bed, and I had an orgasm. That disgusted me more than any other of the nasty things I have done.
I’m dirty. I need a shave. My hands are shaking. I’m sweating. I smell foul to myself. The shirt under my arms is wet and on the chest and back. The sleeves are wet in the folds of the elbows. The glass on the table is empty. It would take both hands to pour the stuff now. I could get one out of the bottle maybe to brace me. The taste of the stuff is sickening. And it wouldn’t get me anywhere. In the end I won’t be able to sleep even and the whole world will moan in the horror of tortured nerves. Good stuff, huh, Wade? More.
It’s all right for the first two or three days and then it is negative. You suffer and you take a drink and for a little while it is better, but the price keeps getting higher and higher and what you get for it is less and less and then there is always the point where you get nothing but nausea. Then you call Verringer. All right, Verringer, here I come. There isn’t any Verringer any more. He’s gone to Cuba or he is dead. The queen has killed him. Poor old Verringer, what a fate, to die in bed with a queen—that kind of queen. Come on, Wade, let’s get up and go places. Places where we haven’t ever been and aren’t ever going back to when we have been. Does this sentence make sense? No. Okay, I’m not asking any money for it. A short pause here for a long commercial.
Well, I did it. I got up. What a man. I went over to the couch and here I am kneeling beside the couch with my hands down on it and my face in my hands, crying. Then I prayed and despised myself for praying. Grade Three drunk despising himself. What the hell are you praying to, you fool? If a well man prays, that’s faith. A sick man prays and he is just scared. Nuts to prayer. This is the world you made and you make it all by yourself and what little outside help you got—well you made that too. Stop praying, you jerk. Get up on your feet and take that drink. It’s too late for anything else now.
Well, I took it. Both hands. Poured it in the glass too. Hardly spilled a drop. Now if I can hold it without vomiting. Better add some water. Now lift it slow. Easy, not too much at a time. It gets warm. It gets hot. If I could stop sweating. The glass is empty. It’s down on the table again.
There’s a haze over the moonlight but I set that glass down in spite of it, carefully, carefully, like a spray of roses in a tall vase. The roses nod their heads with dew. Maybe I’m a rose. Brother, have I got dew. Now to get upstairs. Maybe a short one straight for the journey. No? Okay, whatever you say. Take it upstairs when I get there. If I get there, something to look forward to. If I make it upstairs I am entitled to compensation. A token of regard from me to me. I have such a beautiful love for myself—and the sweet part of it—no rivals.
Double space. Been up and came down. Didn’t like it upstairs. The altitude makes my heart flutter. But I keep hitting these typewriter keys. What a magician is the subconscious. If only it would work regular hours. There was moonlight upstairs too. Probably the same moon. No variety about the moon. It comes and goes like the milkman and the moon’s milk is always the same. The milk’s moon is always—hold it, chum. You’ve got your feet crossed. This is no time to get involved in the case history of the moon. You got enough case history to take care of the whole damn valley.
She was sleeping on her side without sound. Her knees drawn up. Too still I thought. You always make some sound when you sleep. Maybe not asleep, maybe just trying to sleep. If I went closer I would know. Might fall down too. One of her eyes opened—or did it? She looked at me or did she? No. Would have sat up and said, Are you sick, darling? Yes, I am sick, darling. But don’t give it a thought, darling, because this sick is my sick and not your sick, and let you sleep still and lovely and never remember and no slime from me to you and nothing come near you that is grim and gray and ugly.
You’re a louse, Wade. Three adjectives, you lousy writer. Can’t you even stream-of-consciousness you louse without getting it in three adjectives for Chris-sake? I came downstairs again holding on to the rail. My guts lurched with the steps and I held them together with a promise. I made the main floor and I made the study and I made the couch and I waited for my heart to slow down. The bottle is handy. One thing you can say about Wade’s arrangements the bottle is always handy. Nobody hides it, nobody locks it up. Nobody says, Don’t you think you’ve had enough, darling? You’ll make yourself sick, darling. Nobody says that. Just sleep on side softly like roses.
I gave Candy too much money. Mistake. Should have started him with a bag of peanuts and worked up to a banana. Then a little real change, slow and easy, always keep him eager. You give him a big slug of the stuff to begin with and pretty soon he has a stake. He can live in Mexico for a month, live high wide and nasty, on what it costs here for a day. So when he gets that stake, what does he do? Well, does a man ever have enough money, if he thinks he can get more? Maybe it’s all right. Maybe I ought to kill the shiny-eyed bastard. A good man died for me once, why, not a cockroach in a white jacket?
Forget Candy. There’s always a way to blunt a needle. The other I shall never forget. It’s carved on my liver in green fire.
Better telephone. Losing control. Feel them jumping, jumping, jumping. Better call someone quick before the pink things crawl on my face. Better call, call, call. Call Sioux City Sue. Hello, Operator, give me Long Distance. Hello, Long Distance, get me Sioux City Sue. What’s her number? No have number, just name, Operator. You’ll find her walking along Tenth Street, on the shady side, under the tall corn trees with their spreading ears. . . . All right, Operator, all right. Just cancel the whole program and let me tell you something, I mean, ask you something. Who’s going to pay for all those snazzy parties Gifford is throwing in London, if you cancel my long distance call? Yeah, you think your job is solid. You think. Here, I better talk to Gifford direct. Get him on the line. His valet just brought in his tea. If he can’t talk we’ll send over somebody that can.
Now what did I write that for? What was I trying not to think about? Telephone. Better telephone now. Getting very bad, very, very . . .
That was all. I folded the sheets up small and pushed them down into my inside breast pocket behind the note case. I went over to the french windows and opened them wide and stepped out onto the terrace. The moonlight was a little spoiled. But it was summer in Idle Valley and summer is never quite spoiled. I stood there looking at the motionless colorless lake and thought and wondered. Then I heard a shot.
On the balcony two lighted doors were open now—Eileen’s and his. Her room was empty. There was a sound of struggling from his and I came through the door in a jump to find her bending over the bed wrestling with him. The black gleam of a gun shot up into the air, two hands, a large male hand and a woman’s small hand were both holding it, neither by the butt. Roger was sitting up in bed and leaning forward pushing. She was in a pale blue housecoat, one of those quilted things, her hair was all over her face and now she had both hands on the gun and with a quick jerk she got it away from him. I was surprised that she had the strength, even dopey as he was. He fell back glaring and panting and she stepped away and bumped into me.
She stood there leaning against me, holding the gun with both hands pressed hard against her body. She was racked with panting sobs. I reached around her body and put my hand on the gun.
She spun around as if it took that to make her realize I was there. Her eyes widened and her body sagged against me. She let go of the gun. It was a heavy clumsy weapon, a Webley double-action hammerless. The barrel was warm. I held her with one arm, dropped the gun in my pocket, and looked past her head at him. Nobody said anything.
Then he opened his eyes and that weary smile played on his lips. “Nobody hurt,” he muttered. “Just a wild shot into the ceiling.”
I felt her go stiff. Then she pulled away. Her eyes were focused and clear. I let her go.
“Roger,” she said in a voice not much more than a sick whisper, “did it have to be that?”
He stared owlishly, licked his lip and said nothing. She went and leaned against the dressing table. Her hand moved mechanically and threw the hair back from her face. She shuddered once from head to foot, shaking her head from side to side. “Roger,” she whispered again. “Poor Roger. Poor miserable Roger.”
He was staring straight up at the ceiling now. “I had a nightmare,” he said slowly. “Somebody with a knife was leaning over the bed. I don’t know who. Looked a little like Candy. Couldn’t of been Candy.”
“Of course not, darling,” she said softly. She left the dressing table and sat down on the side of the bed. She put her hand out and began to stroke his forehead. “Candy has gone to bed long ago. And why would Candy have a knife?”
“He’s a Mex. They all have knives,” Roger said in the same remote impersonal voice. “They like knives. And he doesn’t like me.”
“Nobody likes you,” I said brutally.
She turned her head swiftly. “Please—please don’t talk like that. He didn’t knew. He had a dream—”
“Where was the gun?” I growled, watching her, not paying any attention to him.
“Night table. In the drawer.” He turned his head and met my stare. There hadn’t been any gun in the drawer, and he knew I knew it. The pills had been in there and some odds and ends, but no gun.
“Or under the pillow,” he added. “I’m vague about it. I shot once—” he lifted a heavy hand and pointed—”up there.”
I looked up. There seemed to be a hole in the ceiling plaster all right. I went where I could look up at it. Yes. The kind of hole a bullet might make. From that gun it would go on through, into the attic. I went back close to the bed and stood looking down at him, giving him the hard eye.
“Nuts. You meant to kill yourself. You didn’t have any nightmare. You were swimming in a sea of self-pity. You didn’t have any gun in the drawer or under your pillow either. You got up and got the gun and got back into bed and there you were all ready to wipe out the whole messy business. But I don’t think you had the nerve. You fired a shot not meant to hit anything. And your wife came running—that’s what you wanted. Just pity and sympathy, pal. Nothing else. Even the struggle was mostly fake. She couldn’t take a gun away from you if you didn’t want her to.”
“I’m sick,” he said. “But you could be right. Does it matter?”
“It matters like this. They’d put you in the psycho ward, and believe me, the people who run that place are about as sympathetic as Georgia chain-gang guards.”
Eileen stood up suddenly. “That’s enough,” she said sharply. “He is sick, and you know it.”
“He wants to be sick. I’m just reminding him of what it would cost him.”
“This is not the time to tell him.”
“Go on back to your room.”
Her blue eyes flashed. “How dare you—”
“Go on back to your room. Unless you want me to call the police. These things are supposed to be reported.”
He almost grinned. “Yeah, call the police,” he said, “like you did on Terry Lennox.”
I didn’t pay any attention to that. I was still watching her. She looked exhausted now, and frail, and very beautiful. The moment of flashing anger was gone. I put a hand out and touched her arm. “It’s all right,” I said. “He won’t do it again. Go back to bed.”
She gave him a long look and went out of the room. When the open door was empty of her I sat down on the side of the bed where she had been sitting.
“No thanks. It doesn’t matter whether I sleep. I feel a lot better.”
“Did I hit right about that shot? It was just a crazy bit of acting?”
“More or less.” He turned his head away. “I guess I was light-headed.”
“Nobody can stop you from killing yourself, if you really want to. I realize that. So do you.”
“Yes.” He was still looking away. “Did you do what I asked you—that stuff in the typewriter?”
“Uh huh. I’m surprised you remember. It’s pretty crazy writing. Funny thing, it’s clearly typed.”
“I can always do that—drunk or sober—up to a point anyway.”
“Don’t worry about Candy,” I said. “You’re wrong about his not liking you. And I was wrong to say nobody did. I was trying to jar Eileen, make her mad.”
“She pulled one faint already tonight.”
He shook his head slightly. “Eileen never faints.”
“Then it was a phony.”
He didn’t like that either.
“What did you mean—a good man died for you?” I asked.
He frowned, thinking about it. “Just rubbish. I told you I had a dream—”
“I’m talking about that gaff you typed out.”
He looked at me now, turning his head on the pillow as if it had enormous weight. “Another dream.”
“I’ll try again. What’s Candy got on you?”
“Shove it, Jack,” he said, and closed his eyes.
I got up and closed the door. “You can’t run forever, Wade. Candy could be a blackmailer, sure. Easy. He could even be nice about it—like you and lift your dough at the same time. What is it—a woman?”
“You believe that fool, Loring,” he said with his eyes closed.
“Not exactly. What about the sister—the one that’s dead?”
It was a wild pitch in a sense but it happened to split the plate. His eyes snapped wide open. A bubble of saliva showed on his lips.
“Is that—why you’re here?” he asked slowly, and in a whispering voice.
“You know better. I was invited. You invited me.”
His head rolled back and forth on the pillow. In spite of the seconal he was eaten up by his nerves. His face was covered with sweat.
“I’m not the first loving husband who has been an adulterer. Leave me alone, damn you. Leave me alone.”
I went into the bathroom and got a face towel and wiped his face off. I grinned at him sneeringly. I was the heel to end all heels. Wait until the man is down, then kick him and kick him again. He’s weak. He can’t resist or kick back.
“One of these days we’ll get together on it,” I said.
“I’m not crazy,” he said.
“You just hope you’re not crazy.”
“I’ve been living in hell. ”
“Oh sure. That’s obvious. The interesting point is why. Here—take this.” I had another seconal out of the night table and another glass of water. He got up on one elbow and grabbed for the glass and missed it by a good four inches. I put it in his hand. He managed to drink and swallow his pill. Then he lay back flat and deflated, his face drained of emotion. His nose had that pinched look. He could almost have been a dead man. He wasn’t throwing anybody down any stairs tonight. Most likely not any night.
When his eyelids got heavy I went out of the room. The weight of the Webley was against my hip, dragging at my pocket. I started back downstairs again. Eileen’s door was open. Her room was dark but there was enough light from the moon to frame her standing just inside the door. She called out something that sounded like a name, but it wasn’t mine. I stepped close to her.
“Keep your voice down,” I said. “He’s gone back to sleep.”
“I always knew you would come back,” she said softly. “Even after ten years.”
I peered at her. One of us was goofy.
“Shut the door,” she said in the same caressing voice. “All these years I have kept myself for you.”
I turned and shut the door. It seemed like a good idea at the moment. When I faced her she was already falling towards me. So I caught her. I damn well had to. She pressed herself hard against me and her hair brushed my face. Her mouth came up to be kissed. She was trembling. Her lips opened and her teeth opened and her tongue darted. Then her hands dropped and jerked at something and the robe she was wearing came open and underneath it she was as naked as September Morn but a darn sight less coy.
“Put me on the bed,” she breathed.
I did that. Putting my arms around her I touched bare skin, soft skin, soft yielding flesh. I lifted her and carried her the few steps to the bed and lowered her. She kept her arms around my neck. She was making some kind of a whistling noise in her throat. Then she thrashed about and moaned. This was murder. I was as erotic as a stallion. I was losing control. You don’t get that sort of invitation from that sort of woman very often anywhere.
Candy saved me. There was a thin squeak and I swung around to see the doorknob moving. I jerked loose and jumped for the door. I got it open and barged out through it and the Mex was tearing along the hall and down the stairs. Halfway down he stopped and turned and leered at me. Then he was gone
I went back to the door and shut it—from the outside this time. Some kind of weird noises were coming from the woman on the bed, but that’s all they were now. Weird noises. The spell was broken.
I went down the stairs fast and crossed into the study and grabbed the bottle of Scotch and tilted it; When I couldn’t swallow any more I leaned against the wall and panted and let the stuff burn in me until the fumes reached my brain.
It was a long time since dinner. It was a long time since anything that was normal. The whiskey hit me hard and fast and I kept guzzling it until the room started to get hazy and the furniture was all in the wrong places and the lamplight was like wildfire or summer lightning. Then I was flat out on the leather couch, trying to balance the bottle on my chest. It seemed to be empty. It rolled away and thumped on the floor.
That was the last incident of which I took any precise notice.
A shaft of sunlight tickled one of my ankles. I opened my eyes and saw the crown of a tree moving gently against a hazed blue sky. I rolled over and leather touched my cheek. An axe split my head. I sat up. There was a rug over me. I threw that off and got my feet on the floor. I scowled at a clock. The clock said a minute short of six-thirty.
I got up on my feet and it took character. It took will power. It took a lot out of me, and there wasn’t as much to spare as there once had been. The hard heavy years had worked me over.
I plowed across to the half bath and stripped off my tie and shirt and sloshed cold water in my face with both hands and sloshed it on my head. When I was dripping wet I toweled myself off savagely. I put my shirt and tie back on and reached for my jacket and the gun in the pocket banged against the wall. I took it out and swung the cylinder away from the frame and tipped the cartridges into my hand, five full, one just a blackened shell. Then I thought, what’s the use, there are always more of them. So I put them back where they had been before and carried the gun into the study and put it away in one of the drawers of the desk.
When I looked up Candy was standing in the doorway, spick and span in his white coat, his hair brushed back and shining black, his eyes bitter.
“You want some coffee?”
“I put the lamps out. The boss is okay. Asleep. I shut his door. Why you get drunk?”
“I had to.”
He sneered at me. “Didn’t make her, huh? Got tossed out on your can, shamus.”
“Have it your own way.”
“You ain’t tough this morning, shamus. You ain’t tough at all. ”
“Get the goddamn coffee,” I yelled at him.
“Hijo de la puta!”
In one jump I had him by the arm. He didn’t move. He just looked at me contemptuously. I laughed and let go of his arm.
“You’re right, Candy. I’m not tough at all. ”
He turned and went out. In no time at all he was back with a silver tray and a small silver pot of coffee on it and sugar and cream and a neat triangular napkin. He set it down on the cocktail table and removed the empty bottle and the rest of the drinking materials. He picked another bottle off the floor.
“Fresh. Just made,” he said, and went out.
I drank two cups black. Then I tried a cigarette. It was all right. I still belonged to the human race. Then Candy was back in the room again.
“You want breakfast?” he asked morosely.
“Okay, scram out of here. We don’t want you around.”
He lifted the lid of a box and helped himself to a cigarette. He lit it and blew smoke at me insolently.
“I take care of the boss,” he said. “You making it pay?” He frowned, then nodded. “Oh yes. Good money.”
“How much on the side—for not spilling what you know?”
He went back to Spanish. “No entendido.”
“You understand all right. How much you shake him for? I bet it’s not more than a couple of yards.”
“What’s that? Couple of yards.”
“Two hundred bucks.”
He grinned. “You give me couple of yards, shamus. So I don’t tell the boss you come out of her room last night.”
“That would buy, a whole busload of wetbacks like you.” He shrugged that off.
“The boss gets pretty rough when he blows his top. Better pay up, shamus.”
“Pachuco stuff,” I said contemptuously. “All you’re touching is the small money. Lots of men play around when they’re lit. Anyhow she knows all about it. You don’t have anything to sell. ”
There was a gleam in his eye. “Just don’t come round any more, tough boy.”
I stood up and walked around the table. He moved enough to keep facing towards me. I watched his hand but he evidently wasn’t wearing a knife this morning. When I was close enough I slapped a hand across his face.
“I don’t get called a son of a whore by the help, greaseball. I’ve got business here and I come around whenever I feel like it. Watch your lip from now on. You might get pistol-whipped. That pretty face of yours would never look the same again.”
He didn’t react at all, not even to the slap. That and being called a greaseball must have been deadly insults to him. But this time he just stood there wooden-faced, motionless. Then without a word he picked up the coffee tray and carried it out.
“Thanks for the coffee,” I said to his back.
He kept going. When he was gone I felt the bristles on my chin, shook myself, and decided to be on my way. I had had a skinful of the Wade family.
As I crossed the living room Eileen was coming down the stairs in white slacks and open-toed sandals and a pale blue shirt. She looked at me with complete surprise. “I didn’t know you were here, Mr. Marlowe,” she said, as though she hadn’t seen me for a week and at that time I had just dropped in for tea.
“I put his gun in the desk,” I said.
“Gun?” Then it seemed to dawn on her. “Oh, last night was a little hectic, wasn’t it? But I thought you had gone home.”
I walked over closer to her. She had a thin gold chain around her neck and some kind of fancy pendant in gold and blue on white enamel. The blue enameled part looked like a pair of wings, but not spread out. Against these there was a broad white enamel and gold dagger that pierced a scroll. I couldn’t read the words. It was some kind of military insigne.
“I got drunk,” I said. “Deliberately and not elegantly. I was a little lonely.”
“You didn’t have to be,” she said, and her eyes were as clear as water. There wasn’t a trace of guile in them.
“A matter of opinion,” I said. “I’m leaving now and I’m not sure I’ll be back. You heard what I said about the gun?”
“You put it in his desk. It might be a good idea to put it somewhere else. But he didn’t really mean to shoot himself, did he?”
“I can’t answer that. But next time he might.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I really don’t. You were a wonderful help last night, Mr. Marlowe. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“You made a pretty good try.”
She got pink. Then she laughed. “I had a very curious dream in the night,” she said slowly, looking off over my shoulder. “Someone I used to know was here in the house. Someone who has been dead for ten years.” Her fingers went up and touched the gold and enamel pendant. “That’s why I am wearing this today. He gave it to me.”
“I had a curious dream myself,” I said. “But I’m not telling mine. Let me know how Roger gets on and if there is anything I can do.”
She lowered her eyes and looked into mine. “You said you were not coming back.”
“I said I wasn’t sure. I may have to come back. I hope I won’t. There is something very wrong in this house. And only part of it came out of a bottle.”
She stared at me, frowning. “What does that mean?”
“I think you know what I’m talking about.”
She thought it over carefully. Her fingers were still touching the pendant gently. She let out a slow patient sigh. “There’s always another woman,” she said quietly.
“At some time or other. It’s not necessarily fatal. We’re talking at cross-purposes, aren’t we? We are not even talking about the same thing, perhaps.”
“Could be,” I said. She was still standing on the steps, the third step from the bottom. She still had her fingers on the pendant. She still looked like a golden dream. “Especially if you have in mind that the other woman is Linda Loring.”
She dropped her hand from the pendant and came down one more step of the stairs.
“Dr. Loring seems to agree with me,” she said indifferently. “He must have some source of information.”
“You said he had played that scene with half the males in the valley.”
“Did I? Well—it was the conventional sort of thing to say at the time.” She came down another step.
“I haven’t shaved,” I said.
That startled her. Then she laughed. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting you to make love to me.”
“Just what did you expect of me, Mrs. Wade—in the beginning, when you first persuaded me to go hunting? Why me—what have I got to offer?”
“You kept faith,” she said quietly. “When it couldn’t have been very easy.”
“I’m touched. But I don’t think that was the reason.”
She came down the last step and then she was looking up at me. “Then what was the reason?”
“Or if it was—it was a damn poor reason. Just about the worst reason in the world.”
She frowned a tiny frown. “Why?”
“Because what I did—this keeping faith—is something even a fool doesn’t do twice.”
“You know,” she said lightly, “this is getting to be a very enigmatic conversation.”
“You’re a very enigmatic person, Mrs. Wade. So long and good luck and if you really care anything about Roger, you’d better find him the right kind of doctor—and quick.”
She laughed again. “Oh, that was a mild attack last night. You ought to see him in a bad one. He’ll be up and working by this afternoon.”
“Like hell he will. ”
“But believe me he will. I know him so well. ”
I gave her the last shot right in the teeth and it sounded pretty nasty.
“You don’t really want to save him, do you? You just want to look as if you are trying to save him.”
“That,” she said deliberately, “was a very beastly thing to say to me.”
She stepped past me and walked through the dining room doors and then the big room was empty and I crossed to the front door and let myself out. It was a perfect summer morning in that bright secluded valley. It was too far from the city to get any smog and cut off by the low mountains from the dampness of the ocean. It was going to be hot later, but in a nice refined exclusive sort of way, nothing brutal like the heat of the desert, not sticky and rank like the heat of the city. Idle Valley was a perfect place to live. Perfect. Nice people with nice homes, nice cars, nice horses, nice dogs, possibly even nice children.
But all a man named Marlowe wanted from it was out. And fast.