The shutting of the french windows had made the room stuffy and the turning of the Venetian blinds had made it dim. There was an acrid smell on the air and there was too heavy a silence. It was not more than sixteen feet from the door to the couch and I didn’t need more than half of that to know a dead man lay on that couch.
He was on his side with his face to the back of the couch, one arm crooked under him and the forearm of the other lying almost across his eyes. Between his chest and the back of the couch there was a pool of blood and in that pool lay the Webley Hammerless. The side of his face was a smeared mask.
I bent over him, peering at the edge of the wide open eye, the bare and gaudy arm, at the inner curve of which I could see the puffed and blackened hole in his head from which the blood oozed still.
I left him like that. His wrist was warm but there was no doubt he was quite dead. I looked around for some kind of note or scribble. There was nothing but the pile of script on the desk. They don’t always leave notes. The typewriter was uncovered on its stand. There was nothing in that. Otherwise everything looked natural enough. Suicides prepare themselves in all sorts of ways, some with liquor, some with elaborate champagne dinners. Some in evening clothes, some in no clothes. People have killed themselves on the tops of walls, in ditches, in bathrooms, in the water, over the water, on the water. They have hanged themselves in bars and gassed themselves in garages. This one looked simple. I hadn’t heard the shot but it must have gone off when I was down by the lake watching the surfboard rider make his turn. There was plenty of noise. Why that should have mattered to Roger Wade I didn’t know. Perhaps it hadn’t. The final impulse had coincided with the run of the speedboat. I didn’t like it, but nobody cared what I liked.
The torn pieces of the check were still on the floor but I left them. The torn strips of that stuff he had written that other night were in the wastebasket. These I did not leave. I picked them out and made sure I had them all and stuffed them into my pocket. The basket was almost empty, which made it easy. No use wondering where the gun had been. There were too many places to hide it in. It could have been in a chair or in the couch, under one of the cushions. It could have been on the floor, behind the books, anywhere.
I went out and shut the door. I listened. From the kitchen, sounds. I went out there. Eileen had a blue apron on and the kettle was just beginning to whistle. She turned the flame down and gave me a brief impersonal glance.
“How do you like your tea, Mr. Marlowe?”
“Just out of the pot as it comes.”
I leaned against the wall and got a cigarette out just to have something to do with my fingers. I pinched and squeezed it and broke it in half and threw one half on the floor. Her eyes followed it down. I bent and picked it up. I squeezed the two halves together into a little ball.
She made the tea. “I always take cream and sugar,” she said over her shoulder. “Strange, when I drink my coffee black. I learned tea drinking in England. They were using saccharin instead of sugar. When the war came they had no cream, of course.”
“You lived in England?”
“I worked there. I stayed all through the Blitz. I met a man—but I told you about that.”
“Where did you meet Roger?”
“In New York.”
She swung around, frowning. “No, we were not married in New York. Why?”
“Just talking while the tea draws.”
She looked out of the window over the sink. She could see down to the lake from there. She leaned against the edge of the drain board and her fingers fiddled with a folded tea towel.
“It has to be stopped,” she said, “and I don’t know how. Perhaps he’ll have to be committed to an institution. Somehow I can’t quite see myself doing that. I’d have to sign something, wouldn’t I?”
She turned around when she asked that.
“He could do it himself,” I said. “That is, he could have up to now.”
The tea timer rang its bell. She turned back to the sink and poured the tea from one pot into another. Then she put the fresh pot on the tray she had already fixed up with cups. I went over and got the tray and carried it to the table between the two davenports in the living room. She sat down opposite me and poured two cups. I reached for mine and set it down in front of me for it to cool. I watched her fit hers with two lumps of sugar and the cream. She tasted it.
“What did you mean by that last remark?” she asked suddenly. “That he could have up to now—committed himself to some institution, you meant, didn’t you?”
“I guess it was a wild pitch. Did, you hide the gun I told you about? You know, the morning after he made that play upstairs.”
“Hide it?” she repeated frowning. “No. I never do anything like that. I don’t believe in it. Why are you asking?”
“And you forgot your house keys today?”
“I told you I did.”
“But not the garage key. Usually in this kind of house the outside keys are mastered.”
“I don’t need a key for the garage,” she said sharply. “It opens by a switch. There’s a relay switch inside the front door you push up as you go out. Then another switch beside the garage operates that door. Often we leave the garage open. Or Candy goes out and closes it.”
“You are making some rather strange remarks,” she said with acid in her voice. “You did the other morning.”
“I’ve had some rather strange experiences in this house. Guns going off in the night, drunks lying out on the front lawn and doctors coming that won’t do anything. Lovely women wrapping their arms around me and talking as if they thought I was someone else, Mexican houseboys throwing knives. It’s a pity about that gun. But you don’t really love your husband, do you? I guess I said that before too.”
She stood up slowly. She was as calm as a custard, but her violet eyes didn’t seem quite the same color, nor of quite the same softness. Then her mouth began to tremble.
“Is—is something wrong in there?” she asked very slowly, and looked towards the study.
I barely had time to nod before she was running. She was at the door in a flash. She threw it open and darted in. If I expected a wild scream I was fooled. I didn’t hear anything. I felt lousy. I ought to have kept her out and eased into that corny routine about bad news, prepare yourself, won’t you sit down, I’m afraid something rather serious has happened. Blah, blah, blah. And when you have worked your way through it you haven’t saved anybody a thing. Often enough you have made it worse.
I got up and followed her into the study. She was kneeling beside the couch with his head pulled against her breast, smearing herself with his blood. She wasn’t making a sound of any kind. Her eyes were shut. She was rocking back and forth on her knees as far as she could, holding him tight.
I went back out and found a telephone and a book. I called the sheriff’s substation that seemed to be nearest. Didn’t matter, they’d relay it by radio in any case. Then I went out to the kitchen and turned the water on and fed the strips of yellow paper from my pocket down the electric garbage grinder. I dumped the tea leaves from the other pot after it. In a matter of seconds the stuff was gone. I shut off the water and switched off the motor. I went back to the living room and opened the front door and stepped outside.
There must have been a deputy cruising close by because he was there in about six minutes. When I took him into the study she was still kneeling by the couch. He went over to her at once.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I understand how you must feel, but you shouldn’t be touching anything.”
She turned her head, then scrambled to her feet. “It’s my husband. He’s been shot.”
He took his cap off and put it on the desk. He reached for the telephone.
“His name is Roger Wade,” she said in a high brittle voice. “He’s the famous novelist.”
“I know who he is, ma’am,” the deputy said, and dialed. She looked down at the front of her blouse. “May I go upstairs and change this?”
“Sure.” He nodded to her and spoke into the phone, then hung up and turned. “You say he’s been shot. That mean somebody else shot him?”
“I think this man murdered him,” she said without looking at me, and went quickly out of the room.
The deputy looked at me. He got a notebook out. He wrote something in it. “I better have your name,” he said casually, “and address. You the one called in?”
“Yes.” I told him my name and address.
“Just take it easy until Lieutenant Ohls gets here.”
“Yeah. You know him?”
“Sure. I’ve known him a long time. He used to work out of the D.A.’s office.”
“Not lately,” the deputy said. “He’s Assistant Chief of Homicide, working out of the L. A. Sheriff’s office. You a friend of the family, Mr. Marlowe?”
“Mrs. Wade didn’t make it sound that way.”
He shrugged and half smiled. “Just take it easy, Mr. Marlowe. Not carrying a gun, are you?”
“I better make sure.” He did. He looked towards the couch then. “In spots like this you can’t expect the wife to make much sense. We better wait outside.”
Ohls was a medium-sized thick man with short-cropped faded blond hair and faded blue eyes. He had stiff white eyebrows and in the days before he stopped wearing a hat you were always a little surprised when he took it off—there was so much more head than you expected. He was a hard tough cop with a grim outlook on life but a very decent guy underneath. He ought to have made captain years ago. He had passed the examination among the top three half a dozen times. But the Sheriff didn’t like him and he didn’t like the Sheriff.
He came down the stairs rubbing the side of his jaw. Flashlights had been going off in the study for a long time. Men had gone in and out. I had just sat in the living room with a plain-clothes dick and waited.
Ohls sat down on the edge of a chair and dangled his hands. He was chewing on an unlit cigarette. He looked at me broodingly.
“Remember the old days when they had a gatehouse and a private police force in Idle Valley?”
I nodded. “And gambling also.”
“Sure. You can’t stop it. This whole valley is still private property. Like Arrowhead used to be, and Emerald Bay. Long time since I was on a case with no reporters jumping around. Somebody must have whispered in Sheriff Petersen’s ear. They kept it off the teletype.”
“Real considerate of them,” I said. “How is Mrs. Wade?”
“Too relaxed. She must of grabbed some pills. There’s a dozen kinds up there—even demerol. That’s bad stuff. Your friends don’t have a lot of luck lately, do they? They get dead.”
I didn’t have anything to say to that.
“Gunshot suicides always interest me,” Ohls said loosely. “So easy to fake. The wife says you killed him. Why would she say that?”
“She doesn’t mean it literally.”
“Nobody else was here. She says you knew where the gun was, knew he was getting drunk, knew he had fired off the gun the other night when she had to fight with him to get the gun away from him. You were there that night too. Don’t seem to help much, do you?”
“I searched his desk this afternoon. No gun. I’d told her where it was and to put it away. She says now she didn’t believe in that sort of thing.”
“Just when would ‘now’ be?” Ohls asked gruffly.
“After she came home and before I phoned the substation.”
“You searched the desk. Why?” Ohls lifted his hands and put them on his knees. He was looking at me indifferently, as if he didn’t care what I said.
“He was getting drunk. I thought it just as well to have the gun somewhere else. But he didn’t try to kill himself the other night. It was just show-off.”
Ohls nodded. He took the chewed cigarette out of his mouth, dropped it into a tray, and put a fresh one in place of it.
“I quit smoking,” he said. “Got me coughing too much. But the goddamn things still ride me. Can’t feel right without one in my mouth. You supposed to watch the guy when he’s alone?”
“Certainly not. He asked me to come out and have lunch. We talked and he was kind of depressed about his writing not going well. He decided to hit the bottle. Think I should have taken it away from him?”
“I’m not thinking yet. I’m just trying to get a picture. How much drinking did you do?”
“It’s your tough luck you were here, Marlowe. What was the check for? The one he wrote and signed and tore up?”
“They all wanted me to come and live here and keep him in line. All means himself, his wife, and his publisher, a man named Howard Spencer. He’s in New York, I guess. You can check with him. I turned it down. Afterwards she came to me and said her husband was off on a toot and she was worried and would I find him and bring him home. I did that. Next thing I knew I was carrying him in off his front lawn and putting him to bed. I didn’t want any part of it. Bernie. It just kind of grew up around me.”
“Nothing to do with the Lennox case, huh?”
“Aw, for Pete’s sake. There isn’t any Lennox case.”
“How true,” Ohls said dryly. He squeezed his kneecaps. A man came in at the front door and spoke to the other dick. Then came across to Ohls.
“There’s a Dr. Loring outside, Lieutenant. Says he was called. He’s the lady’s doctor.”
“Let him in.”
The dick went back and Dr. Loring came in with his neat black bag. He was cool and elegant in a tropical worsted suit. He went past me without looking at me.
“Upstairs?” he asked Ohls.
“Yeah—in her room.” Ohls stood up. “What you give her that demerol for, Doc?”
Dr. Loring frowned at him. “I prescribe for my patient as I think proper,” he said coldly. “I am not required to explain why. Who says I gave Mrs. Wade demerol?”
“I do. The bottle’s up there with your name on it. She’s got a regular drugstore in her bathroom. Maybe you don’t know it, Doc, but we have a pretty complete exhibit of the little pills downtown. Bluejays, redbirds, yellow jackets, goofballs, and all the rest of the list. Demerol’s about the worst of the lot. That’s the stuff Goering lived on, I heard somewhere. Took eighteen a day when they caught him. Took the army doctors three months to cut him down.”
“I don’t know what those words mean,” Dr. Loring said frigidly.
“You don’t? Pity. Bluejays are sodium amytal. Redbirds are seconal. Yellow jackets are nembutal. Goofballs are one of the barbiturates laced with benzedrine. Demerol is a synthetic narcotic that is very habit forming. You just hand ‘em out, huh? Is the lady suffering from something serious?”
“A drunken husband can be a very serious complaint indeed for a sensitive woman,” Dr. Losing said.
“You didn’t get around to him, huh? Pity. Mrs. Wade’s upstairs, Doc. Thanks for the time.”
“You are impertinent, sir. I shall report you.”
“Yeah, do that,” Ohls said. “But before you report me, do something else. Keep the lady clear in her head. I’ve got questions to ask.”
“I shall do exactly what I think best for her condition. Do you know who I am, by any chance? And just to make matters clear, Mr. Wade was not my patient. I don’t treat alcoholics.”
“Just their wives, huh?” Ohls snarled at him. “Yeah, I know who you are, Doc. I’m bleeding internally. My name is Ohls. Lieutenant Ohls.”
Dr. Loring went on up the stairs. Ohls sat down again and grinned at me.
“You got to be diplomatic with this kind of people,” he said.
A man came out of the study and came up to Ohls. A thin serious-looking man with glasses and a brainy forehead.
“The wound is contact, typically, suicidal, with a good deal of distention from gas pressure. The eyes are exophthalmic from the same cause. I don’t think there will be any prints on the outside of the gun. It’s been bled on too freely.”
“Could it be homicide if the guy was asleep or passed out drunk?” Ohls asked him.
“Of course, but there’s no indication of it. The gun’s a Webley Hammerless. Typically, this gun takes a very stiff pull to cock it, but a very light pull to discharge it. The recoil explains the position of the gun. I see nothing against suicide so far. I expect a high figure on alcoholic concentration. If it’s high enough—” the man stopped and shrugged meaningly—“I might be inclined to doubt suicide.”
“Thanks. Somebody call the coroner?”
The man nodded and went away, Ohls yawned and looked at his watch. Then he looked at me.
“You want to blow?”
“Sure, if you’ll let me. I thought I was a suspect.”
“We might oblige you later on. Stick around where you can be found, that’s all. You were a dick once, you know how they go. Some you got to work fast before the evidence gets away from you. This one is just the opposite. If it was a homicide, who wanted him dead? His wife? She wasn’t here. You? Fine, you had the house to yourself and knew where the gun was. A perfect setup. Everything but a motive, and we might perhaps give some weight to your experience. I figure if you wanted to kill a guy, you could maybe do it a little less obviously.”
“Thanks. Bernie. I could at that.”
“The help wasn’t here. They’re out. So it must have been somebody that just happened to drop by. That somebody had to know where Wade’s gun was, had to find him drunk enough to be asleep or passed out, and had to pull the trigger when that speedboat was making enough noise to drown the shot, and had to get away before you came back into the house. That I don’t buy on any knowledge I have now. The only person who had the means and opportunity was the one guy who wouldn’t have used them—for the simple reason he was the one guy who had them.”
I stood up to go. “Okay. Bernie. I’ll be home all evening.”
“There’s just one thing,” Ohls said musingly. “This man Wade was a big time writer. Lots of dough, lots of reputation. I don’t go for his sort of crap myself. You might find nicer people than his characters in a whorehouse. That’s a matter of taste and none of my business as a cop. With all this money he had a beautiful home in one of the best places to live in in the county. He had a beautiful wife, lots of friends, and no troubles at all. What I want to know is what made all that so tough that he had to pull a trigger? Sure as hell something did. If you know, you better get ready to lay it on the line. See you.”
I went to the door. The man on the door looked back at Ohls, got the sign, and let me out. I got into my car and had to edge over on the lawn to get around the various official cars that jammed the driveway. At the gate another deputy looked me over but didn’t say anything. I slipped my dark glasses on and drove back towards the main highway. The road was empty and peaceful. The afternoon sun beat down on the manicured lawns and the large roomy expensive houses behind them.
A man not unknown to the world had died in a pool of blood in a house in Idle Valley, but the lazy quiet had not been disturbed. So far as the newspapers were concerned it might have happened in Tibet. At a turn of the road the walls of two estates came down to the shoulder and a dark green sheriff’s car was parked there. A deputy got out and held up his hand. I stopped. He came to the window.
“May I see your driver’s license, please?”
I took out my wallet and handed it to him open.
“Just the license, please, I’m not allowed to touch your wallet.”
I took it out and gave it to him. “What’s the trouble?”
He glanced into my car and handed me back my license.
“No trouble,” he said. “Just a routine check. Sorry to have troubled you.”
He waved me on and went back to the parked car. Just like a cop. They never tell you why they are doing anything. That way you don’t find out they don’t know themselves.
I drove home, bought myself a couple of cold drinks, went out to dinner, came back, opened the windows and my shirt and waited for something to happen. I waited a long time. It was nine o’clock when Bernie Ohls called up and told me to come in and not stop on the way to pick any flowers.
They put Candy in a chair against the wall of the Sheriff’s anteroom. He hated me with his eyes as I went by him into the big square room where Sheriff Petersen held court in the middle of a collection of testimonials from a grateful public to his twenty years of faithful public service. The walls were loaded with photographs of horses and Sheriff Petersen made a personal appearance in every photograph. The corners of his carved desk were horses heads. His inkwell was a mounted polished horse’s hoof and his pens were planted in the mate to it filled with white sand. A gold plate on each of these said something or other about a date. In the middle of a spotless desk blotter lay a bag of Bull Durham and a pack of brown cigarette papers. Petersen rolled his own. He could roll one with one hand on horseback and often did, especially when leading a parade on a big white horse with a Mexican saddle loaded with beautiful Mexican silverwork. On horseback he wore a flat-crowned Mexican sombrero. He rode beautifully and his horse always knew exactly when to be quiet, when to act up so that the Sheriff with his calm inscrutable smile could bring the horse back under control with one hand. The Sheriff had a good act. He had a handsome hawk-like profile, getting a little saggy under the chin by now, but he knew how to hold his head so it wouldn’t show too much. He put a lot of hard work into having his picture taken. He was in his middle fifties and his father, a Dane, had left him a lot of money. The Sheriff didn’t look like a Dane, because his hair was dark and his skin was brown and he had the impassive poise of a cigar store Indian and about the same kind of brains. But nobody had ever called him a crook. There had been crooks in his department and they had fooled him as well as they had fooled the public, but none of the crookedness rubbed off on Sheriff Petersen. He just went right on getting elected without even trying, riding white horses at the head of parades, and questioning suspects in front of cameras. That’s what the captions said. As a matter of fact he never questioned anybody. He wouldn’t have known how. He just sat at his desk looking sternly at the suspect, showing his profile to the camera. The flash bulbs would go off, the camera men would thank the Sheriff deferentially, and the suspect would be removed not having opened his mouth, and the Sheriff would go home to his ranch in the San Fernando Valley. There he could always be reached. If you couldn’t reach him in person, you could talk to one of his horses.
Once in a while, come election time, some misguided politician would try to get Sheriff Petersen’s job, and would be apt to call him things like The Guy With The Built-In Profile or The Ham That Smokes Itself, but it didn’t get him anywhere. Sheriff Petersen just went right on getting re-elected, a living testimonial to the fact that you can hold an important public office forever in our country with no qualifications for it but a clean nose, a photogenic face, and a close mouth. If on top of that you look good on a horse, you are unbeatable.
As Ohls and I went in, Sheriff Petersen was standing behind his desk and the camera boys were filing out by another door. The Sheriff had his white Stetson hat. He was rolling a cigarette. He was all set to go home. He looked at me sternly.
“Who’s this?” he asked in a rich baritone voice.
“Name’s Philip Marlowe, Chief,” Ohls said. “Only person in the house when Wade shot himself. You want a picture?”
The Sheriff studied me. “I don’t think so,” he said, and turned to a big tired-looking man with iron-gray hair. “If you need me, I’ll be at the ranch, Captain Hernandez.”
Petersen lit his cigarette with a kitchen match. He lit it on his thumbnail. No lighters for Sheriff Petersen. He was strictly a roll-your-own-and-light-‘em-with-one-hand type.
He said goodnight and went out. A deadpan character with hard black eyes went with him, his personal bodyguard. The door closed. When he was gone Captain Hernandez moved to the desk and sat in the Sheriff’s enormous chair and a stenotype operator in the corner moved his stand out from the wall to get elbow room. Ohls sat at the end of the desk and looked amused.
“All right, Marlowe,” Hernandez said briskly. “Let’s have it.”
“How come I don’t get my photo taken?”
“You heard what the Sheriff said.”
“Yeah, but why?” I whined.
Ohls laughed. “You know damn well why.”
“You mean on account of I’m tall, dark, and handsome and somebody might look at me?”
“Cut it,” Hernandez said coldly. “Let’s get on with your statement. Start from the beginning.”
I gave it to them from the beginning: my interview with Howard Spencer, my meeting with Eileen Wade, her asking me to find Roger, my finding him, her asking me to the house, what Wade asked me to do and how I found him passed out near the hibiscus bushes and the rest of it. The stenotype operator took it down. Nobody interrupted me. All of it was true. The truth and nothing but the truth. But not quite all the truth. What I left out was my business.
“Nice,” Hernandez said at the end. “But not quite complete.” This was a cool competent dangerous guy, this Hernandez. Somebody in the Sheriff’s office had to be. “The night Wade shot off the gun in his bedroom you went into Mrs. Wade’s room and were in there for some time with the door shut. What were you doing in there?”
“She called me in and asked me how he was.”
“Why shut the door?”
“Wade was half asleep and I didn’t want to make any noise. Also the houseboy was hanging around with his ear out. Also she asked me to shut the door. I didn’t realize it was going to be important.”
“How long were you in there?”
“I don’t know. Three minutes maybe.”
“I suggest you were in there a couple of hours,” Hernandez said coldly. “Do I make myself clear?”
I looked at Ohls. Ohls didn’t look at anything. He was chewing on an unlighted cigarette as usual.
“You are misinformed, Captain.”
“We’ll see. After you left the room you went downstairs to the study and spent the night on the couch. Perhaps I should say the rest of the night.”
“It was ten minutes to eleven when he called me at home. It was long past two o’clock when I went into the study for the last time that night. Call it the rest of the night if you like.”
“Get the houseboy in here,” Hernandez said.
Ohls went out and came back with Candy. They put Candy in a chair. Hernandez asked him a few questions to establish who he was and so on. Then he said: “All right, Candy—we’ll call you that for convenience—after you helped Marlowe put Roger Wade to bed, what happened?”
I knew what was coming more or less. Candy told his story in a quiet savage voice with very little accent. It seemed as if he could turn that on and off at will. His story was that he had hung around downstairs in case he was wanted again, part of the time in the kitchen where he got himself some food, part of the time in the living room. While in the living room sitting in a chair near the front door he had seen Eileen Wade standing in the door of her room and he had seen her take her clothes off. He had seen her put a robe on with nothing under it and he had seen me go into her room and I shut the door and stayed in there a long time, a couple of hours he thought. He had gone up the stairs and listened. He had heard the bedsprings making sounds. He had heard whispering. He made his meaning very obvious. When he had finished he gave me a corrosive look and his mouth was twisted tight with hatred.
“Take him out,” Hernandez said.
“Just a minute,” I said. “I want to question him.”
“I ask the questions here,” Hernandez said sharply.
“You don’t know how, Captain. You weren’t there. He’s lying and he knows it and I know it.”
Hernandez leaned back and picked up one of the Sheriff’s pens. He bent the handle of the pen. It was long and pointed and made of stiffened horsehair. When he let go of the point it sprang back.
“Shoot,” he said at last.
I faced Candy. “Where were you when you saw Mrs. Wade take her clothes off?”
“I was sitting down in a chair near the front door,” he said in a surly tone.
“Between the front door and the two facing davenports?”
“What I said.”
“Where was Mrs. Wade?”
“Just inside the door of her room. The door was open.”
“What light was there in the living room?”
“One lamp. Tall lamp what they call a bridge lamp.”
“What light was on the balcony?”
“No light. Light in her bedroom.”
“What kind of light in her bedroom?”
“Not much light. Night table lamp, maybe.”
“Not a ceiling light?”
“After she took her clothes off—standing just inside the door of her room, you said—she put on a robe. What kind of robe?”
“Blue robe. Long thing like a housecoat. She tie it with a sash.”
“So if you hadn’t actually seen her take her clothes off you wouldn’t know what she had on under the robe?”
He shrugged. He looked vaguely worried. “Si. That’s right. But I see her take her clothes off.”
“You’re a liar. There isn’t any place in the living room from which you could see her take her clothes off right bang in her doorway, much less inside her room. She would have to come out to the edge of the balcony. If she had done that she would have seen you.”
He just glared at me. I turned to Ohls. “You’ve seen the house. Captain Hernandez hasn’t—or has he?”
Ohls shook his head slightly. Hernandez frowned and said nothing.
“There is no spot in that living room, Captain Hernandez, from which he could see even the top of Mrs. Wade’s head—even if he was standing up—and he says he was sitting down—provided the was as far back as her own doorway or inside it. I’m four inches taller than he is and I could only see the top foot of an open door when I was standing just inside the front door of the house. She would have to come out to the edge of the balcony for him to see what he says he saw. Why would she do that? Why would she undress in her doorway even? There’s no sense to it.”
Hernandez just looked at me. Then he looked at Candy. “How about the time element?” he asked softly, speaking to me.
“That’s his word against mine. I’m talking about what can be proved.”
Hernandez spit Spanish at Candy too fast for me to understand. Candy just stared at him sulkily.
“Take him out,” Hernandez said.
Ohls jerked a thumb and opened the door. Candy went out. Hernandez brought out a box of cigarettes, stuck one on his lip, and lit it with a gold lighter,
Ohls came back into the room. Hernandez said calmly: “I just told him that if there was an inquest and he told that story on the stand, he’d find himself doing a one-to-three up in Q for perjury. Didn’t seem to impress him much. It’s obvious what’s eating him. An old-fashioned case of hot pants, if he’d been around and we had any reason to suspect murder, he’d make a pretty good pigeon—except that he would have used a knife. I got the impression earlier that he felt pretty bad about Wade’s death. Any questions you want to ask, Ohls?”
Ohls shook his head. Hernandez looked at me and said: “Come back in the morning and sign your statement. We’ll have it typed out by then. We ought to have a P.M. report by ten o’clock, preliminary anyway. Anything you don’t like about this setup, Marlowe?”
“Would you mind rephrasing the question? The way you put it suggests there might be something I do like about it.”
“Okay,” he said wearily. “Take off. I’m going home.”
I stood up.
“Of course I never did believe that stuff Candy pulled on us,” he said. “Just used it for a corkscrew. No hard feelings, I hope.”
“No feelings at all, Captain. No feelings at all. ”
They watched me go out and didn’t say goodnight. I walked down the long corridor to the Hill Street entrance and got into my car and drove home.
No feelings at all was exactly right. I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars. When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of the traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.
It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn’t have one. I didn’t care. I finished the drink and went to bed.