A week went by and I heard nothing from the Wades. The weather was hot and sticky and the acid sting of the smog had crept as far west as Beverly Hills. From the top of Mulholland Drive you could see it leveled out all over the city like a ground mist. When you were in it you could taste it and smell it and it made your eyes smart. Everybody was griping about it. In Pasadena, where the stuffy millionaires holed up after Beverly Hills was spoiled for them by the movie crowd, the city fathers screamed with rage. Everything was the fault of the smog. If the canary wouldn’t sing, if the milkman was late, if the Pekinese had fleas, if an old coot in a starched collar had a heart attack on the way to church, that was the smog. Where I lived it was usually clear in the early morning and nearly always at night. Once in a while a whole day would be clear, nobody quite knew why.
It was on a day like that—it happened to be a Thursday—that Roger Wade called me up. “How are you? This is Wade.” He sounded fine.
“Fine, and you?”
“Sober, I’m afraid. Scratching a hard buck. We ought to have a talk. And I think I owe you some dough.”
“Well, how about lunch today? Could you make it here somewhere around one?”
“I guess so. How’s Candy?”
“Candy?” He sounded puzzled. He must have blacked out plenty that night. “Oh, he helped you put me to bed that night.”
“Yeah. He’s a helpful little guy—in spots. And Mrs. Wade?”
“She’s fine too. She’s in town shopping today.”
We hung up and I sat and rocked in my swivel chair. I ought to have asked him how the book was going. Maybe you always ought to ask a writer how the book is going. And then again maybe he gets damned tired of that question.
I had another call in a little while, a strange voice.
“This is Roy Ashterfelt. George Peters told me to call you up, Marlowe.”
“Oh yes, thanks. You’re the fellow that knew Terry Lennox in New York. Called himself Marston then.”
“That’s right. He was sure on the sauce. But it’s the same guy all right. You couldn’t very well mistake him. Out here I saw him in Chasen’s one night with his wife. I was with a client. The client knew them. Can’t tell you the client’s name, I’m afraid.”
“I understand. It’s not very important now, I guess. What was his first name?”
“Wait a minute while I bite my thumb. Oh yeah, Paul. Paul Marston. And there was one thing more, if it interests you. He was wearing a British Army service badge. Their version of the ruptured duck.”
“I see. What happened to him?”
“I don’t know. I came west. Next time I saw him he was here too—married to Harlan Potter’s somewhat wild daughter. But you know all that.”
“They’re both dead now. But thanks for telling me.”
“Not at all. Glad to help. Does it mean anything to you?”
“Not a thing,” I said, and I was a liar. “I never asked him about himself. He told me once he had been brought up in an orphanage. Isn’t it just possible you made a mistake?”
“With that white hair and that scarred face, brother? Not a chance. I won’t say I never forget a face, but not that one.”
“Did he see you?”
“If he did, he didn’t let on. Hardly expect him to in the circumstances. Anyhow he might not have remembered me. Like I said, he was always pretty well lit back in New York.”
I thanked him some more and he said it was a pleasure and we hung up.
I thought about it for a while. The noise of the traffic outside the building on the boulevard made an unmusical obbligato to my thinking. It was too loud. In summer in hot weather everything is too loud. I got up and shut the lower part of the window and called Detective-Sergeant Green at Homicide. He was obliging enough to be in.
“Look,” I said, after the preliminaries, “I heard something about Terry Lennox that puzzles me. A fellow I know used to know him in New York under another name. You check his war record?”
“You guys never learn,” Green said harshly. “You just never learn to stay on your own side of the street. That matter is closed, locked up, weighted with lead and dropped in the ocean. Get it?”
“I spent part of an afternoon with Harlan Potter last week at his daughter’s house in Idle Valley. Want to check?”
“Doing what?” he asked sourly. “Supposing I believe you.”
“Talking things over. I was invited. He likes me. Incidentally; he told me the girl was shot with a Mauser P.P.K. 7.65 mm. That news to you?”
“Her own gun, chum. Makes a little difference, maybe. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking into any dark corners. This is a personal matter. Where did he get that wound?”
Green was silent. I heard a door close in the background. Then he said quietly, “Probably in a knife fight south of the border.”
“Aw hell, Green, you had his prints. You sent them to Washington like always. You got a report back—like always. All I asked was something about his service record.”
“Who said he had one,”
“Well, Mendy Menendez for one. Seems Lennox saved his life one time and that’s how he got the wound. He was captured by the Germans and they gave him the face he had.”
“Menendez, huh? You believe that son of a bitch? You got a hole in your own head. Lennox didn’t have any war record. Didn’t have any record of any kind under any name. You satisfied?”
“If you say so,” I said. “But I don’t see why Menendez would bother to come up here and tell me a yarn and warn me to keep my nose clean on account of Lennox was a pal of him and Randy Starr in Vegas and they didn’t want anybody fooling around. After all Lennox was already dead.”
“Who knows what a hoodlum figures?” Green asked bitterly. “Or why? Maybe Lennox was in a racket with them before he married all that money, and got respectable. He was a floor manager at Starr’s place in Vegas for a while. That’s where he met the girl. A smile and a bow and a dinner jacket Keep the customers happy and keep an eye on the house players. I guess he had class for the job.”
“He had charm,” I said. “They don’t use it in police business. Much obliged, Sergeant. How is Captain Gregorius these days?”
“Retirement leave. Don’t you read the papers?”
“Not the crime news, Sergeant. Too sordid.”
I started to say goodbye but he chopped me off. “What did Mr. Money want with you?”
“We just had a cup of tea together. A social call. He said he might put some business my way. He also hinted—just hinted, not in so many words—that any cop that looked cross-eyed at me would be facing a grimy future.”
“He don’t run the police department,” Green said.
“He admits it. Doesn’t even buy commissioners or D.A.’s, he said. They just kind of curl up in his lap when he’s having a doze.”
“Go to hell,” Green said, and hung up in my ear.
A difficult thing, being a cop. You never know whose stomach it’s safe to jump up and down on.
The stretch of broken-paved road from the highway to the curve of the hill was dancing in the noon heat and the scrub that dotted the parched land on both sides of it was flour-white with granite dust by this time. The weedy smell was almost nauseating. A thin hot acrid breeze was blowing. I had my coat off and my sleeves rolled up, but the door was too hot to rest an arm on. A tethered horse dozed wearily under a dump of live oaks. A brown Mexican sat on the ground and ate something out of a newspaper. A tumbleweed rolled lazily across the road and came to rest against a piece of granite outcrop, and a lizard that had been there an instant before disappeared without seeming to move at all.
Then I was around the hill on the blacktop and in another country. In five minutes I turned into the driveway of the Wades’ house, parked and walked across the flagstones and rang the bell. Wade answered the door himself, in a brown and white checked shirt with short sleeves, pale blue denim slacks, and house slippers. He looked tanned and he looked good. There was an ink stain on his hand and a smear of cigarette ash on one side of his nose.
He led the way into his study and parked himself behind his desk. On it there was a thick pile of yellow typescript. I put my coat on a chair and sat on the couch.
“Thanks for coming, Marlowe. Drink?”
I got that look on my face you get when a drunk asks you to have a drink. I could feel it. He grinned.
“I’ll have a coke,” he said.
“You pick up fast,” I said. “I don’t think I want a drink right now. I’ll take a coke with you.”
He pressed something with his foot and after a while Candy came. He looked surly. He had a blue shirt on and an orange scarf and no white coat. Two-tone black and white shoes, elegant high-wasted gabardine pants.
Wade ordered the cokes. Candy gave me a hard stare and went away.
“Book?” I said, pointing to the stack of paper.
“I don’t believe it. How far along?”
“About two thirds of the way—for what it’s worth. Which is damn little. You know how a writer can tell when he’s washed up?”
“Don’t know anything about writers.” I filled my pipe,
“When he starts reading his old stuff for inspiration. That’s absolute. I’ve got five hundred pages of typescript here, well over a hundred thousand words. My books run long. The public likes long books. The damn fool public thinks if there’s a lot of pages there must be a lot of gold. I don’t dare read it over. And I can’t remember half of what’s in it. I’m just plain scared to look at my own work.”
“You look good yourself,” I said. “From the other night I wouldn’t have believed it. You’ve got more guts than you think you have.”
“What I need right now is more than guts. Something you don’t get by wishing for it. A belief in yourself. I’m a spoiled writer who doesn’t believe any more. I have a beautiful home, a beautiful wife, and a beautiful sales record. But all I really want is to get drunk and forget.”
He leaned his chin in his cupped hands and stared across the desk.
“Eileen said I tried to shoot myself. Was it that bad?”
“You don’t remember?”
He shook his head. “Not a damn thing except that I fell down and cut my head. And after a while I was in bed. And you were there. Did Eileen call you?”
“Yeah. Didn’t she say?”
“She hasn’t been talking to me very much this last week. I guess she’s had it. Up to here.” He put the edge of one hand against his neck just under his chin. “That show Loring put on here didn’t help any.”
“Mrs. Wade said it meant nothing.”
“Well, she would, wouldn’t she? It happened to be the truth, but I don’t suppose she believed it when she said it. The guy is just abnormally jealous. You have a drink or two with his wife in the corner and laugh a little and kiss her goodbye and right off he assumes you are sleeping with her. One reason being that he isn’t.”
“What I like about Idle Valley,” I said, “is that everybody is living just a comfortable normal life.”
He frowned and then the door opened and Candy came in with two cokes and glasses and poured the cokes. He set one in front of me without looking at me.
“Lunch in half an hour,” Wade said, “and where’s the white coat?”
“This my day off,” Candy said, deadpan. “I ain’t the cook, boss.”
“Cold cuts or sandwiches and beer will do,” Wade said. “The cook’s off today, Candy. I’ve got a friend to lunch.”
“You think he is your friend?” Candy sneered. “Better ask your wife.”
Wade leaned back in his chair and smiled at hint. “Watch your lip, little man. You’ve got it soft here. I don’t often ask a favor of you, do I?”
Candy looked down at the floor. After a moment he looked up and grinned., “Okay, boss. I put the white coat on. I get the lunch, I guess.”
He turned softly and went out. Wade watched the door close. Then he shrugged and looked at me.
“We used to call them servants. Now we call them domestic help. I wonder how long it will be before we have to give them breakfast in bed. I’m paying the guy too much money. He’s spoiled.”
“Wages—or something on the side?”
“Such as what?” he asked sharply.
I got up and handed him some folded yellow sheets. “you’d better read it. Evidently you don’t remember asking me to tear it up. It was in your typewriter, under the cover.”
He unfolded the yellow pages and leaned back to read them. The glass of coke fizzed unnoticed on the desk in front of him. He read slowly, frowning. When he came to the end he refolded the sheets and ran a finger along the edge.
“Did Eileen see this?” he asked carefully.
“I wouldn’t know. She might have.”
“Pretty wild, isn’t it?”
“I liked it. Especially the part about a good man dying for you.”
He opened the paper again and tore it into long strips viciously and dumped the strips into his wastebasket.
“I suppose a drunk will write or say or do anything,” he said slowly. “It’s meaningless to me. Candy’s not black mailing me. He likes me.”
“Maybe you’d better get drunk again. You might remember what you meant. You might remember a lot of things. We’ve been through this before—that night when the gun went off. I suppose the seconal blanked you out too. You sounded sober enough. But now you pretend not to remember writing that stuff I just gave you. No wonder you can’t write your book, Wade. It’s a wonder you can stay alive.”
He reached sideways and opened a drawer of his desk. His hand fumbled in it and came up with a three-decker checkbook. He opened it and reached for a pen.
“I owe you a thousand dollars,” he said quietly. He wrote in the book. Then on the counterfoil. He tore the check out, came around the desk with it, and dropped it in front of me. “Is that all right?”
I leaned back and looked up at him and didn’t touch the check and didn’t answer him. His face was tight and drawn. His eyes were deep and empty.
“I suppose you think I killed her and let Lennox take the rap,” he said slowly. “She was a tramp all right. But you don’t beat a woman’s head in just because she’s a tramp. Candy knows I went there sometimes. The funny part of it is I don’t think he would tell. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.”
“Wouldn’t matter if he did,” I said. “Harlan Potter’s friends wouldn’t listen to him. Also, she wasn’t killed with that bronze thing. She was shot through the head with her own gun.”
“She maybe had a gun,” he said almost dreamily. “But I didn’t know she had been shot. It wasn’t published.”
“Didn’t know or didn’t remember?” I asked him. “No, it wasn’t published.”
“What are you trying to do to me, Marlowe?” His voice was still dreamy, almost gentle. “What do you want me to do? Tell my wife? Tell the police? What good would it do?”
“You said a good man died for you.”
“All I meant was that if there had been any real investigation I might have been identified as one—but only one—of the possible suspects. It would have finished me in several ways.”
“I didn’t come here to accuse you of a murder, Wade. What’s eating you is that you’re not sure yourself. You have a record of violence to your wife. You black out when you’re drunk. It’s no argument to say you don’t beat a woman’s head in just because she’s a tramp. That is exactly what somebody did do. And the guy who got credit for the job seemed to me a lot less likely than you.”
He walked to the open french windows and stood looking out at the shimmer of heat over the lake. He didn’t answer me. He hadn’t moved or spoken a couple of minutes later when there was a light knock at the door and Candy came in wheeling a tea wagon, with a crisp white cloth, silver-covered dishes, a pot of coffee, and two bottles of beer.
“Open the beer, boss?” he asked Wade’s back.
“Bring me a bottle of whiskey.” Wade didn’t turn around.
“Sorry, boss. No whiskey.”
Wade spun around and yelled at him, but Candy didn’t budge. He looked down at the check lying on the cocktail table and his head twisted as he read it. Then he looked up at me and hissed something between his teeth. Then he looked at Wade.
“I go now. This my day off.”
He turned and went. Wade laughed.
“So I get it myself,” he said sharply, and went.
I lifted one of the covers and saw some neatly trimmed three-cornered sandwiches. I took one and poured some beer and ate the sandwich standing up. Wade came back with a bottle and a glass. He sat down on the couch and poured a stiff jolt and sucked it down. There was the sound of a car going away from the house, probably Candy leaving by the service driveway. I took another sandwich.
“Sit down and make yourself comfortable,” Wade said. “We have all afternoon to kill. ” He had a glow on already. His voice was vibrant and cheerful. “You don’t like me, do you, Marlowe?”
“That question has already been asked and answered.”
“Know something? You’re a pretty ruthless son of a bitch. You’d do anything to find what you want. You’d even make love to my wife while I was helpless drunk in the next room.”
“You believe everything that knife thrower tells you?” He poured some more whiskey into his glass and held it up against the light. “Not everything, no. A pretty color whiskey is, isn’t it? To drown in a golden flood—that’s not so bad. ‘To cease upon the midnight with no pain.’ How does that go on? Oh, sorry, you wouldn’t know. Too literary. You’re some kind of a dick, aren’t you? Mind telling me why you’re here.”
He drank some more whiskey and grinned at me. Then he spotted the check lying on the table. He reached for it and read it over his glass.
“Seems to be made out to somebody named Marlowe. I wonder why, what for. Seems I signed it. Foolish of me, I’m a gullible chap.”
“Stop acting,” I said roughly. “Where’s your wife?”
He looked up politely, “My wife will be home in due course. No doubt by that time I shall be passed out and she can entertain you at her leisure. The house will be yours.”
“Where’s the gun?” I asked suddenly.
He looked blank. I told him I had put it in his desk. “Not there now, I’m sure,” he said. “You may search if it pleases you. Just don’t steal any rubber bands.”
I went to the desk and frisked it. No gun. That was something. Probably Eileen had hidden it.
“Look, Wade, I asked you where your wife was. I think she ought to come home. Not for my benefit, friend, for yours. Somebody has to look out for you, and I’ll be goddamned if it’s going to be me.”
He stared vaguely. He was still holding the check. He put his glass down and, tore the check across, then again and again, and let the pieces fall to the floor.
“Evidently the amount was too small,” he said. “Your services come very high. Even a thousand dollars and my wife fail to satisfy you. Too bad, but I can’t go any higher. Except on this.” He patted the bottle.
“I’m leaving,” I said.
“But why? You wanted me to remember. Well—here in the bottle is my memory. Stick around, pal. When I get lit enough I’ll tell you about all the women I have murdered.”
“All right, Wade. I’ll stick around for a while. But not in here. If you need me, just smash a chair against the wall. ”
I went out and left the door open. I walked across the big living room and out to the patio and pulled one of the chaises into the shadow of the overhang and stretched out on it. Across the lake there was a blue haze against the hills. The ocean breeze had begun to filter through the low mountains to the west. It wiped the air clean and it wiped away just enough of the heat. Idle Valley was having a perfect summer. Somebody had planned it that way. Paradise Incorporated, and also Highly Restricted. Only the nicest people. Absolutely no Central Europeans. Just the cream, the top drawer crowd, the lovely, lovely people. Like the Lorings and the Wades. Pure gold.
I lay there for half hour trying to make up my mind what to do. Part of me wanted to let him get good and drunk and see if anything came out. I didn’t think anything much would happen to him in his own study in his own house. He might fall down again but it would be a long time. The guy had capacity. And somehow a drunk never hurts himself very badly. He might get back his mood of guilt. More likely, this time he would just go to sleep.
The other part of me wanted to get out and stay out, but this was the part I never listened to. Because if I ever had I would have stayed in the town where I was born and worked in the hardware store and married the boss’s daughter and had five kids and read them the funny paper on Sunday morning and smacked their heads when they got out of line and squabbled with the wife about how much spending money they were to get and what programs they could have on the radio or TV set. I might even have got rich—small-town rich, an eight-room house, two cars in the garage, chicken every Sunday and the Reader’s Digest on the living room table, the wife with a cast iron permanent and me with a brain like a sack of Portland cement. You take it, friend. I’ll take the big sordid dirty crooked city.
I got up and went back to the study. He was just sitting there staring at nothing, the Scotch bottle more than half empty, a loose frown on his face and a dull glitter in his eyes. He looked at me like a horse looking over a fence.
“What d’you want?”
“Nothing. You all right?”
“Don’t bother me. I have a little man on my shoulder telling me stories.”
I got another sandwich off the tea wagon and another glass of beer. I munched the sandwich and drank the beer, leaning against his desk.
“Know something?” he asked suddenly, and his voice suddenly seemed much more clear. “I had a male secretary once. Used to dictate to him. Let him go. He bothered me sitting there waiting for me to create. Mistake. Ought to have kept him. Word would have got around I was a homo. The clever boys that write book reviews because they can’t write anything else would have caught on and started giving me the buildup. Have to take care of their own, you know. They’re all queen, every damn one of them. The queer is the artistic arbiter of our age, chum. The pervert is the top guy now.”
“That so? Always been around, hasn’t he?”
He wasn’t looking at me. He was just talking. But he heard what I said.
“Sure, thousands of years. And especially in all the great ages of art. Athens, Rome, the Renaissance, the Elizabethan Age, the Romantic Movement in France—loaded with them. Queen all over the place. Ever read The Golden Bough? No, too long for you. Shorter version though. Ought to read it. Proves our sexual habits are pure conventions like—wearing a black tie with a dinner jacket. Me, I’m a sex writer, but with frills and straight.”
He looked up at me and sneered. “You know something? I’m a liar. My heroes are eight feet tall and my heroines have callouses on their bottoms from lying in bed with their knees up. Lace and ruffles, swords and coaches, elegance and leisure, duels and gallant death. All lies. They used perfume instead of soap, their teeth rotted because they never cleaned them, their fingernails smelled of stale gravy. The nobility of France urinated against the walls in the marble corridors of Versailles, and when you finally got several sets of underclothes off the lovely marquise the first thing you noticed was that she needed a bath. I ought to write it that way.”
“Why don’t you?”
He chuckled. “Sure, and live in a five-room house in Compton—if I was that lucky.” He reached down and patted the whiskey bottle. “You’re lonely, pal. You need company.”
He got up and walked fairly steadily out of the room. I waited, thinking about nothing. A speedboat came racketing down the lake. When it came in sight I could see that it was high out of the water on its step and towing a surfboard with a husky sunburned lad on it. I went over to the french windows and watched it make a sweeping turn. Too fast, the speedboat almost turned over. The surfboard rider danced on one foot trying to hold, his balance, then went shooting off into the water. The speedboat drifted to a stop and the man in the water came up to it in a lazy crawl, then went back along the towrope and rolled himself on to the surfboard.
Wade came back with another bottle of whiskey. The speedboat picked up and went off into the distance. Wade put his fresh bottle down beside the other. He sat down and brooded.
“Christ, you’re not going to drink all that, are you?”
He squinted his eyes at me. “Take off, buster. Go on home and mop the kitchen floor or something. You’re in my light.” His voice was thick again. He had taken a couple in the kitchen, as usual.
“If you want me, holler.”
“I couldn’t get low enough to want you.”
“Yeah, thanks. I’ll be around until Mrs. Wade comes home. Ever hear of anybody named Paul Marston?”
His head came up slowly. His eyes focused, but with effort. I could see him fighting for control. He won the fight for the moment. His face became expressionless.
“Never did,” he said carefully, speaking very slowly, “Who’s he?”
The next time I looked in on him he was asleep, with his mouth open, his hair damp with sweat, and reeking of Scotch. His lips were pulled back from his teeth in a loose grimace and the furred surface of his tongue looked dry.
One of the whiskey bottles was empty. A glass on the table had about two inches in it and the other bottle was about three quarters full. I put the empty on the tea wagon and rolled it out of the room, then went back to close the french windows and turn the slats of the blinds. The speedboat might come back and wake him. I shut the study door.
I wheeled the tea wagon out to the kitchen, which was blue and white and large and airy and empty. I was still hungry. I ate another sandwich and drank what was left of the beer, then poured a cup of coffee and drank that. The beer was flat but the coffee was still hot. Then I went back to the patio. It was quite a long time before the speedboat came tearing down the lake again. It was almost four o’clock when I heard its distant roar swell into an ear-splitting howl of noise. There ought to be a law. Probably was and the guy in the speedboat didn’t give a damn. He enjoyed making a nuisance of himself, like other people I was meeting. I walked down to the edge of the lake.
He made it this time. The driver slowed just enough on the turn and the brown lad on the surfboard leaned far out against the centrifugal pull. The surfboard was almost out of the water, but one edge stayed in and then the speedboat straightened out and the surfboard still had a rider and they went back the way they had come and that was that. The waves stirred up by the boat came charging in towards the shore of the lake at my feet. They slapped hard against the piles of the short landing and jumped the tied boat up and down. They were still slapping it around when I turned back to the house.
As I reached the patio I heard a bell chiming from the direction of the kitchen. When it sounded again I decided that only the front door would have chimes. I crossed to it and opened it.
Eileen Wade was standing there looking away from the house. As she turned she said: “I’m sorry, I forgot my key.” Then she saw me. “Oh—I thought it was Roger or Candy.”
“Candy isn’t here. It’s Thursday.”
She came in and I shut the door. She put a bag down on the table between the two davenports. She looked cool and also distant. She pulled off a pair of white pigskin gloves.
“Is anything wrong?”
“Well, there’s a little drinking being done. Not bad. He’s asleep on the couch in his study.”
“He called you?”
“Yes, but not for that. He asked me to lunch. I’m afraid he didn’t have any himself.”
“Oh.” She sat down slowly on a davenport. “You know, I completely forgot it was Thursday. The cook’s away too. How stupid.”
“Candy got the lunch before he left. I guess I’ll blow now. I hope my car wasn’t in your way.”
She smiled. “No. There was plenty of room. Won’t you have some tea? I’m going to have some,”
“All right.” I didn’t know why I said that. I didn’t want any tea. I just said it.
She slipped off a linen jacket. She hadn’t worn a hat. “I’ll just look in and see if Roger is all right.”
I watched her cross to the study door and open it. She stood there a moment and closed the door and came back.
“He’s still asleep. Very soundly. I have to go upstairs for a moment. I’ll be right down.”
I watched her pick up her jacket and gloves and bag and go up the stairs and into her room. The door closed. I crossed to the study with the idea of removing the bottle of hooch. If he was still asleep, he wouldn’t need it.