The inquest was a flop. The coroner sailed into it before the medical evidence was complete, for fear the publicity would die on him. He needn’t have worried. The death of a writer—even a loud writer—is not news for long, and that summer there was too much to compete. A king abdicated and another was assassinated. In one week three large passenger planes crashed. The head man of a big wire service was shot to pieces in Chicago in his own automobile. Twenty-four convicts were burned to death in a prison fire. The Coroner of Los Angeles County was out of luck. He was missing the good things in life.
As I left the stand I saw Candy. He had a bright malicious grin on his face—I had no idea why—and as usual he was dressed just a little too well, in a cocoa brown gabardine suit with a white nylon shirt and midnight blue bow tie. On the witness stand he was quiet and made a good impression. Yes, the boss had been pretty drunk lately a lot of times. Yes, he had helped put him to bed the night the gun went off upstairs. Yes, the boss had demanded whiskey before he, Candy, left on the last day, but he had refused to get it. No, he didn’t know anything about Mr. Wade’s literary work, but he knew the boss had been discouraged. He kept throwing it away and then getting it out of the wastebasket again. No, he had never heard Mr. Wade quarreling with anyone. And so on. The coroner milked him but it was thin stuff. Somebody had done a good coaching job on Candy.
Eileen Wade wore black and white. She was pale and spoke in a low clear voice which even the amplifier could not spoil. The coroner handled her with two pairs of velvet gloves. He talked to her as if he had trouble keeping the sobs out of his voice. When she left the stand he stood up and bowed and she gave him a faint fugitive smile that nearly made him choke on his salvia.
She almost passed me without a glance on the way out, then at the last moment turned her head a couple of inches and nodded very slightly, as if I was somebody she must have met somewhere a long time ago, but couldn’t quite place in her memory.
Outside on the steps when it was all over I ran into Ohls. He was watching the traffic down below, or pretending to.
“Nice job,” he said without turning his head. “Congratulations.”
“You did all right on Candy.”
“Not me, kid. The D.A. decided the sexy stuff was irrelevant”
“What sexy stuff was that?”
He looked at me then. “Ha, ha, ha,” he said. “And I don’t mean you.” Then his expression got remote. “I been looking at them for too many years. It wearies a man. This one came out of the special bottle. Old private stock. Strictly for the carriage trade. So long, sucker. Call me when you start wearing twenty-dollar shirts. I’ll drop around and hold your coat for you.”
People eddied around us going up and down the steps. We just stood there. Ohls took a cigarette out of his pocket and looked at it and dropped it on the concrete and ground it to nothing with his heel.
“Wasteful,” I said.
“Only a cigarette, pal. It’s not a life. After a while maybe you marry the girl, huh?”
He laughed sourly. “I been talking to the right people about the wrong things,” he said acidly. “Any objection?”
“No objection, Lieutenant,” I said, and went on down the steps. He said something behind me but I kept going.
I went over to a corn-beef joint on Flower. It suited my mood. A rude sign over the entrance said: “Men Only. Dogs and Women Not Admitted.” The service inside was equally polished. The waiter who tossed your food at you needed a shave and deducted his tip without being invited. The food was simple but very good and they had a brown Swedish beer which could hit as hard as a martini.
When I got back to the office the phone was ringing. Ohls said: “I’m coming by your place. I’ve got things to say.”
He must have been at or near the Hollywood substation because he was in the office inside twenty minutes. He planted himself in the customer’s chair and crossed his legs and growled: “I was out of line. Sorry. Forget it.”
“Why forget it? Let’s open up the wound.”
“Suits me. Under the hat, though. To some people you’re a wrong gee. I never knew you to do anything too crooked.”
“What was the crack about twenty-dollar shirts?”
“Aw hell, I was just sore,” Ohls said. “I was thinking of old man Potter. Like he told a secretary to tell a lawyer to tell District Attorney Springer to tell Captain Hernandez you were a personal friend of his.”
“He wouldn’t take the trouble.”
“You met him. He gave you time.”
“I met him, period. I didn’t like him, but perhaps it was only envy. He sent for me to give me some advice. He’s big and he’s tough and I don’t know what else. I don’t figure he’s a crook.”
“There ain’t no clean way to make a hundred million bucks,” Ohls said. “Maybe the head man thinks his hands are clean but somewhere along the line guys got pushed to the wall, nice little businesses got the ground cut from under them and had to sell out for nickels, decent people lost their jobs, stocks got rigged on the market, proxies got bought up like a pennyweight of old gold, and the five per centers and the big law firms got paid hundred-grand fees for beating some law the people wanted but the rich guys didn’t, on account of it cut into their profits. Big money is big power and big power gets used wrong. It’s the system. Maybe it’s the best we can get, but it still ain’t any Ivory Soap deal. ”
“You sound like a Red,” I said, just to needle him.
“I wouldn’t know,” he said contemptuously. “I ain’t been investigated yet. You liked the suicide verdict, didn’t you?”
“What else could it be?”
“Nothing else, I guess.” He put his hard blunt hands on the desk and looked at the big brown freckles on the backs of them. “I’m getting old. Keratosis, they call those brown spots. You don’t get them until you’re past fifty. I’m an old cop and an old cop is an old bastard. I don’t like a few things about this Wade death.”
“Such as?” I leaned back and watched the tight sun wrinkles around his eyes.
“You get so you can smell a wrong setup, even when you know you can’t do a damn thing about it. Then you just sit and talk like now. I don’t like that he left no note.”
“He was drunk. Probably just a sudden crazy impulse.”
Ohls lifted his pale eyes and dropped his hands off the desk. “I went through his desk. He wrote letters to himself. He wrote and wrote and wrote. Drunk or sober he hit that typewriter. Some of it is wild, some of it kind of funny, and some of it is sad. The guy had something on his mind.
He wrote all around it but he never quite touched it. That guy would have left a two-page letter if he knocked himself off.”
“He was drunk,” I said again.
“With him that didn’t matter,” Ohls said wearily. “The next thing I don’t like is he did it there in that room and left his wife to find him. Okay, he was drunk. I still don’t like it. The next thing I don’t like Is he pulled the trigger just when the noise of that speedboat could drown out the shot. What difference would it make to him? More coincidence, huh? More coincidence still that the wife forgot her door keys on the help’s day off and had to ring the bell to get into the house.”
“She could have walked around to the back,” I said.
“Yeah, I know. What I’m talking about is a situation. Nobody to answer the door but you, and she said on the stand she didn’t know you were there. Wade wouldn’t have heard the bell if he bad been alive and working in his study. His door is soundproofed. The help was away. That was Thursday. That they forgot. Like she forgot her keys.”
“You’re forgetting something yourself. Bernie. My car was in the driveway. So she knew I was there—or that somebody was there—before the rang the bell. ”
He grinned. “I forgot that, didn’t I? All right, here’s the picture. You were down at the lake, the speedboat was making all that racket—incidentally it was a couple of guys from Lake Arrowhead just visiting, had their boat on a trailer—Wade was asleep In his study or passed out, somebody took the gun out of his desk already, and she knew you had put it there because you told her that other time. Now suppose she didn’t forget her keys, that she goes into the house, looks across and sees you down at the water, looks into the study and sees Wade asleep, knows where the gun is, gets it, waits for the right moment, plugs him, drops the gun where it was found, goes back outside the house, waits a little while for the speedboat to go away, and then rings the doorbell and waits for you to open it. Any objections?”
“With what motive?”
“Yeah,” he said sourly. “That knocks it. If she wanted to slough the guy, it was easy. She had him over a barrel, habitual drunk, record of violence to her. Plenty alimony, nice fat property settlement. No motive at all. Anyhow the timing was too neat. Five minutes earlier and she couldn’t have done it unless you were in on it.”
I started to say something but he put his hand up. “Take it easy. I’m not accusing anybody, just speculating. Five minutes later and you get the same answer. She had ten minutes to pull it off.”
“Ten minutes,” I said irritably, “that couldn’t possibly have been foreseen, much less planned.”
He leaned back in the chair and sighed. “I know. You’ve got all the answers, I’ve got all the answers. And I still don’t like it. What the hell were you doing with these people anyway? The guy writes you a check for a grand, then tears it up. Got mad at you, you say. You didn’t want it anyway, wouldn’t have taken it, you say. Maybe. Did he think you were sleeping with his wife?”
“Lay off. Bernie.”
“I didn’t ask were you, I asked did he think you were.”
“Okay, try this. What did the Mex have on him?”
“Nothing that I know of.”
“The Mex has too much money. Over fifteen hundred in the bank, all kinds of clothes, a brand new Chevy.”
“Maybe he peddles dope,” I said.
Ohls pushed himself up out of the chair and scowled down at me.
“You’re an awful lucky boy, Marlowe. Twice you’ve slid out from under a heavy one. You could get overconfident. You were pretty helpful to those people and you didn’t make a dime. You were pretty helpful to a guy named Lennox too, the way I hear it. And you didn’t make a dime out of that one either. What do you do for eating money, pal? You gut a lot saved so you don’t have to work anymore?”
I stood up and walked around the desk and faced him a romantic. Bernie, I hear voices crying in the night and I go see what’s the matter. You don’t make a dime that way. You got sense, you shut your windows and turn up more sound on the TV set. Or you shove down on the gas and get far away from there. Stay out of other people’s troubles. All it can get you is the smear. The last time I saw Terry Lennox we had a cup of coffee together that I made myself in my house, and we smoked a cigarette. So when I heard be was dead I went out to the kitchen and made some coffee and poured a cup for him and lit a cigarette for him and when the coffee was cold and the cigarette was burned down I said goodnight to him. You don’t make a dime that way. You wouldn’t do it. That’s why you’re a good cop and I’m private eye. Eileen Wade is worried about her husband, so I go out and find him and bring him home. Another time he’s in trouble and calls me up and I go out and carry him in off the lawn and put him to bed and I don’t make a dime out of it. No percentage at all. No nothing, except sometimes I get my face pushed in or get tossed in the can or get threatened by some fast money boy like Mendy Menendez. But no money, not a dime. I’ve got a five-thousand-dollar bill in my safe but I’ll never spend a nickel of it. Because there was something wrong with the way I got it. I played with it a little at first and I still get it out once in a while and look at it. But that’s all—not a dime of spending money.”
“Must be a phony,” Ohls said dryly, “except they don’t make them that big. So what’s your point with all this yap?”
“No point. I told you I was a romantic.”
“I heard you. And you don’t make a dime at it. I heard that too.”
“But I can always tell a cop to go to hell. Go to hell. Bernie.”
“You wouldn’t tell me to go to hell if I had you in the back room under the light, chum.”
“Maybe we’ll find out about that some day.”
He walked to the door and yanked it open. “You know something, kid? You think you’re cute but you’re just stupid. You’re a shadow on the wall. I’ve got twenty years on the cops without a mark against me. I know when I’m being kidded and I know when a guy is holding out on me. The wise guy never fools anybody but himself. Take it from me, chum. I know.”
He pulled his head back out of the doorway and let the door close. His heels hammered down the corridor. I could still hear them when the phone on my desk started to sound. The voice said in that clear professional tone: “New York is calling Mr. Philip Marlowe.”
“I’m Philip Marlowe.”
“Thank you. One moment, please, Mr. Marlowe. Here is your party.”
The next voice I knew. “Howard Spencer, Mr. Marlowe. We’ve heard about Roger Wade. It was a pretty hard blow. We haven’t the full details, but your name seems to be involved.”
“I was there when it happened. He just got drunk and shot himself. Mrs. Wade came home a little later. The servants were away—Thursday’s the day off.”
“You were alone with him?”
“I wasn’t with him. I was outside the house, just hanging around waiting for his wife to come home.”
“I see. Well, I suppose there will be an inquest.”
“It’s all over, Mr. Spencer. Suicide. And remarkably little publicity.”
“Really? That’s curious.” He didn’t exactly sound disappointed—more like puzzled and surprised. “He was so well known. I should have thought—well, never mind what I thought. I guess I’d better fly out there, but I can’t make it before the end of next week. I’ll send a wire to Mrs. Wade. There may be something I could do for her—and also about the book. I mean there may be enough of it so that we could get someone to finish it. I assume you did take the job after all. ”
“No. Although he asked me to himself. I told him right out I couldn’t stop him from drinking.”
“Apparently you didn’t even try.”
“Look, Mr. Spencer, you don’t know the first damn thing about this situation. Why not wait until you do before jumping to conclusions? Not that I don’t blame myself a little. I guess that’s inevitable when something like this happens, and you’re the guy on the spot.”
“Of course,” he said. “I’m sorry I made that remark. Most uncalled for. Will Eileen Wade be at her home now—or wouldn’t you know?”
“I wouldn’t know, Mr. Spencer. Why don’t you just call her up?”
“I hardly think she would want to speak to anyone yet,” he said slowly.
“Why not? She talked to the Coroner and never batted an eye.”
He cleared his throat. “You don’t sound exactly sympathetic.”
“Roger Wade is dead, Spencer. He was a bit of a bastard and maybe a bit of a genius too. That’s over my head. He was an egotistical drunk and he hated his own guts. He made me a lot of trouble and in the end a lot of grief. Why the hell should I be sympathetic?”
“I was talking about Mrs. Wade,” he said shortly.
“So was I.”
“I’ll call you when I get in,” he said abruptly. “Goodbye.”
He hung up. I hung up. I stared at the telephone for a couple-of minutes without moving. Then I got the phone book up on the desk and looked for a number.
I called Sewell Endicott’s office. Somebody said he was in court and would not be available until late in the afternoon. Would I care to leave my name? No.
I dialed the number of Mendy Menendez’s joint on the Strip. It was called El Tapado this year, not a bad name either. In American Spanish that means buried treasure among other things. It had been called other names in the past, quite a few other names. One year it was just a blue neon number on a blank high wall facing south on the Strip, with its back against the hill and a driveway curving around one side out of sight of the street. Very exclusive. Nobody knew much about it except vice cops and mobsters and people who could afford thirty bucks for a good dinner and any amount up to fifty grand in the big quiet room upstairs. I got a woman who didn’t know from nothing. Then I got a captain with a Mex accent.
“You wish to speak with Mr. Menendez? Who is calling?”
“No names, amigo. Private matter.”
“Un momento, por favor.”
There was a longish wait. I got a hard boy this time. He sounded as if he was talking through the slit in an armored car. It was probably just the slit in his face.
“Talk it up. Who wants him?”
“The name’s Marlowe.”
“This Chick Agostino?”
“No, this ain’t Chick. Come on, let’s have the password.”
“Go fry your face.”
There was a chuckle. “Hold the line.”
Finally another voice said: “Hello, cheapie. What’s the time by you?”
“You can talk, cheapie. I been looking over some acts for the floor show.”
“You could cut your throat for one.”
“What would I do for an encore?”
I laughed. He laughed. “Been keeping your nose clean?” he asked.
“Haven’t you heard? I got to be friends with another guy who suicided. They’re going to call me the ‘Kiss-of-Death Kid’ from now on.”
“That’s funny, huh?”
“No, it isn’t funny. Also the other afternoon I had tea with Harlan Potter.”
“Nice going. I never drink the stuff myself.”
“He said for you to be nice to me.”
“I never met the guy and I don’t figure to.”
“He casts a long shadow. All I want is a little information, Mendy. Like about Paul Marston.”
“Never heard of him.”
“You said that too quick. Paul Marston was the name Terry Lennox used one time in New York before he came west.”
“His prints were checked through the F.B.I. files. No record. That means he never served in the Armed Forces.”
“Do I have to draw you a picture? Either that foxhole yarn of yours was all spaghetti or it happened somewhere else.”
“I didn’t say where it happened, cheapie. Take a kind word and forget the whole thing. You got told, you better stay told.”
“Oh sure. I do something you don’t like and I’m swimming to Catalina with a streetcar on my back. Don’t try to scare me, Mendy. I’ve been up against the pros. You ever been in England?”
“Be smart, cheapie. Things can happen to a guy in this town. Things can happen to big strong boys like Big Willie Magoon. Take a look at the evening paper.”
“I’ll get one if you say so. It might even have my picture in it. What about Magoon?”
“Like I said—things can happen. I wouldn’t know how except what I read. Seems Magoon tried to shake down four boys in a car with Nevada plates. Was parked right by his house. Nevada plates with big numbers like they don’t have. Must have been some kind of a rib. Only Magoon ain’t feeling funny, what with both arms in casts, and his jaw wired in three places, and one leg in high traction. Magoon ain’t tough any more. It could happen to you,”
“He bothered you, huh? I saw him bounce your boy Chick off the wall in front of Victor’s. Should I ring up a friend in the Sheriff’s office and tell him?”
“You do that, cheapie,” he said very slowly. “You do that.”
“And I’ll mention that at the time I was just through having a drink with Harlan Potter’s daughter. Corroborative evidence, in a sense, don’t you think? You figure to smash her up too?”
“Listen to me careful, cheapie—”
“Were you ever in England, Mendy? You and Randy Starr and Paul Marston or Terry Lennox or whatever his name was? In the British Army perhaps? Had a little racket in Soho and got hot and figured the Army was a cooling-off spot?”
“Hold the line.”
I held it. Nothing happened except that I waited and my arm got tired. I switched the receiver to the other side. Finally he came back.
“Now listen careful, Marlowe. You stir up that Lennox case and you’re dead. Terry was a pal and I got feelings too. So you got feelings. I’ll go along with you just this far. It was a Commando outfit. It was British. It happened in Norway, one of those islands off the coast. They got a million of them. November 1942. Now will you lie down and rest that tired brain of yours?”
Thank you, Mendy. I will do that. Your secret is safe with me. I’m not telling it to anybody but the people I know.”
“Buy yourself a paper, cheapie. Read and remember. Big tough Willie Magoon. Beat up in front of his own house. Boy, was he surprised when he come out of the ether!”
He hung up. I went downstairs and bought a paper and it was just as Menendez had said. There was a picture of Big Willie Magoon in his hospital bed. You could see half his face and one eye. The rest of him was bandages. Seriously but not critically injured. The boys had been very careful about that. They wanted him to live. After all he was a cop. In our town the mobs don’t kill a cop. They leave that to the juveniles. And a live cop who has been put through the meat grinder is a much better advertisement. He gets well eventually and goes back to work. But from that time on something is missing—the last inch of steel that makes all the difference. He’s a walking lesson that it is a mistake to push the racket boys too hard—especially if you are on the vice squad and eating at the best places and driving a Cadillac.
I sat there and brooded about it for a while and then I dialed the number of The Carne Organization and asked for George Peters. He was out. I left my name and said it was urgent. He was expected in about five-thirty.
I went over to the Hollywood Public Library and asked questions in the reference room, but couldn’t find what I wanted. So I had to go back for my Olds and drive downtown to the Main Library. I found it there, in a smallish red-bound book published in England. I copied what I wanted from it and drove home. I called The Carne Organization again. Peters was still out, so I asked the girl to reroute the call to me at home.
I put the chessboard on the coffee table and set out a problem called The Sphynx. It is printed on the end papers of a book on chess by Blackburn, the English chess wizard, probably the most dynamic chess player who ever lived, although he wouldn’t get to first base in the cold war type of chess they play nowadays. The Sphynx is an eleven-mover and it justifies its name. Chess problems seldom run to more than four or five moves. Beyond that the difficulty of solving them rises in almost geometrical progression. An eleven-mover is sheer unadulterated torture.
Once in a long while when I feel mean enough I set it out and look for a new way to solve it. It’s a nice quiet way to go crazy. You don’t even scream, but you come awfully close.
George Peters called me at five-forty. We exchanged pleasantries and condolences.
“You’ve got yourself in another jam, I see,” he said cheerfully. “Why don’t you try some quiet business like embalming?”
“Takes too long to learn. Listen, I want to become a client of your agency, if it doesn’t cost too much.”
“Depends what you want done, old boy. And you’d have to talk to Carne.”
“Well, tell me.”
“London is full of guys like me, but I wouldn’t know one from the other. They call them private enquiry agents. Your outfit would have connections. I’d just have to pick a name at random and probably get hornswoggled. I want some information that should be easy enough to get, and I want it quick. Must have it before the end of next week.”
“I want to know something about the war service of Terry Lennox or Paul Marston, whatever name he used. He was in the Commandos over there. He was captured wounded in November 1942 in a raid on some Norwegian island. I want to know what outfit he was posted from and what happened to him. The War Office will have all that. It’s not secret information, or I wouldn’t think so. Let’s say a question of inheritance is involved.”
“You don’t need a P.I. for that. You could get it direct. Write them a letter.”
“Shove it, George. I might get an answer in three months. I want one in five days.”
“You have a thought there, pal. Anything else?”
“One thing more. They keep all their vital records over there in a place they call Somerset House. I want to know if he figures there in any connection—birth, marriage, naturalization, anything at all. ”
“What do you mean, why? Who’s paying the bill?”
“Suppose the names don’t show?”
“Then I’m stuck. If they do, I want certified copies of anything your man turns up. How much you soaking me?”
“I’ll have to ask Carne. He may thumb it out altogether. We don’t want the kind of publicity you get. If he lets me handle it, and you agree not to mention the connection, I’d say three hundred bucks. Those guys over there don’t get much by dollar standards. He might hit us for ten guineas, less than thirty bucks. On top of that any expenses he might have. Say fifty bucks altogether and Carne wouldn’t open a file for less than two-fifty.”
“Ha, ha. He never heard of them.”
“Call me, George. Want to eat dinner?”
“All right,” I growled, “if they’ll give me a reservation.—which I doubt.”
“We can have Carne’s table. I happen to know he’s dining privately. He’s a regular at Romanoff’s. It pays off in the upper brackets of the business. Carne is a pretty big boy in this town.”
“Yeah, sure. I know somebody—and know him personally—who could lose Carne under his little fingernail. ”
“Good work, kid. I always knew you would come through in the clutch. See you about seven o’clock in the bar at Romanoff’s. Tell the head thief you’re waiting for Colonel Carne. He’ll clear a space around you so you don’t get elbowed by any riffraff like screenwriters or television actors.”
“See you at seven,” I said.
We hung up and I went back to the chess board. But The Sphynx didn’t seem to interest me any more. In a little while Peters called me back and said it was all right with Carne provided the name of their agency was not connected with my problems. Peters said he would get a night letter off to London at once.