Howard Spencer called me on the following Friday morning. He was at the Ritz-Beverly and suggested I drop over for a drink in the bar.
“Better make it in your room,” I said.
“Very well, if you prefer it. Room 828. I’ve just talked to Eileen Wade. She seems quite resigned. She has read the script Roger left and says she thinks it can be finished off very easily. It will be a good deal shorter than his other books, but that is balanced by the publicity value. I guess you think we publishers are a pretty callous bunch. Eileen will be home all afternoon. Naturally she wants to see me and I want to see her.”
“I’ll be over in half an hour, Mr. Spencer.”
He had a nice roomy suite on the west side of the hotel. The living room had tall windows opening on a narrow iron-railed balcony. The furniture was upholstered in some candy-striped material and that with the heavily flowered design of the carpet gave it an old-fashioned air, except that everything you could put a drink down on had a plate glass top and there were nineteen ashtrays spotted around. A hotel room is a pretty sharp indication of the manners of the guests. The Ritz-Beverly wasn’t expecting them to have any.
Spencer shook hands. “Sit down,” he said. “What will you drink?”
“Anything or nothing. I don’t have to have a drink.”
“I fancy a glass of Amontillado. California is poor drinking country in the summer. In New York you can handle four times as much for one half the hangover.”
“I’ll take a rye whiskey sour.”
He went to the phone and ordered. Then he sat down on one of the candy-striped chairs and took off his rimless glasses to polish them on a handkerchief. He put them back on, adjusted them carefully, and looked at me.
“I take it you have something on your mind. That’s why you wanted to see me up here rather than in the bar.”
“I’ll drive you out to Idle Valley. I’d like to see Mrs. Wade too.”
He looked a little uncomfortable. “I’m not sure that she wants to see you,” he said.
“I know she doesn’t. I can get in on your ticket.”
“That would not be very diplomatic of me, would it?”
“She tell you she didn’t want to see me?”
“Not exactly, not in so many words.” He cleared his throat. “I get the impression that she blames you for Roger’s death.”
“Yeah. She said that right out—to the deputy who came the afternoon he died. She probably said it to the Sheriff’s homicide lieutenant that investigated the death. She didn’t say it to the Coroner, however.”
He leaned back and scratched the inside of his hand with a finger, slowly. It was just a sort of doodling gesture.
“What good would it do for you to see her, Marlowe? It was a pretty dreadful experience for her. I imagine her whole life had been pretty dreadful for some time. Why make her live it over? Do you expect to convince her that you didn’t miss out a little?”
“She told the deputy I killed him.”
“She couldn’t have meant that literally. Otherwise—”
The door buzzer rang. He got up to go to the door and open it. The room service waiter came in with the drinks and put them down with as much flourish as if he was serving a seven course dinner. Spencer signed the check and gave him four bits. The guy went away. Spencer picked up his glass of sherry and walked away as if he didn’t want to hand me my drink. I let it stay where it was.
“Otherwise what?” I asked him.
“Otherwise she would have said something to the Coroner, wouldn’t she?” He frowned at me. “I think we are talking nonsense. Just what did you want to see me about?”
“You wanted to see me.”
“Only,” he said coldy, “because when I talked to you from New York you said I was jumping to conclusions. That implied to me that you had something to explain. Well, what is it?”
“I’d like to explain it in front of Mrs. Wade.”
“I don’t care for the idea. I think you had better make your own arrangements. I have a great regard for Eileen Wade. As a businessman I’d like to salvage Roger’s work if it can be done. If Eileen feels about you as you suggest, I can’t be the means of getting you into her house. Be reasonable.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “Forget it. I can get to see her without any trouble. I just thought I’d like to have somebody along with me as a witness.”
“Witness to what?” he almost snapped at me.
“You’ll hear it in front of her or you won’t hear it at all. ”
“Then I won’t hear it at all. ”
I stood up. “You’re probably doing the right thing, Spencer. You want that book of Wade’s—if it can be used. And you want to be a nice guy. Both laudable ambitions. I don’t shame either of them. The best of luck to you and goodbye.”
He stood up suddenly and started towards me. “Now just a minute, Marlowe. I don’t know what’s on your mind but you seem to take it hard. Is there some mystery about Roger Wade’s death?”
“No mystery at all. He was shot through the head with a Webley Hammerless revolver. Didn’t you see a report of the inquest?”
“Certainly.” He was standing close to me now and he looked bothered. “That was in the eastern papers and a couple of days later a much fuller account in the Los Angeles papers. He was alone in the house, although you were not far away. The servants were away, Candy and the cook, and Eileen had been uptown shopping and arrived home just after it happened. At the moment it happened a very noisy motorboat on the lake drowned the sound of the shot, so that even you didn’t hear it.”
“That’s correct,” I said. “Then the motorboat went away, and I walked back from the lake edge and into the house, heard the doorbell ringing, and opened it to find Eileen Wade had forgotten her keys. Roger was already dead. She looked into the study from the doorway, thought he was asleep on the couch, went up to her room, then out to the kitchen to make some tea. A little later than she did I also looked into the study, noticed there was no sound of breathing, and found out why. In due course I called the law.”
“I see no mystery,” Spencer said quietly, all the sharpness gone from his voice. “It was Roger’s own gun, and only the week before he had shot it off in his own room. You found Eileen struggling to get it away from him. His state of mind, his behavior, his depressions over his work—all that was brought out.”
“She told you the stuff is good. Why should he be depressed over it?”
“That’s just her opinion, you know. It may be very bad. Or he may have thought it worse than it was. Go on. I’m not a fool. I can see there is more.”
“The homicide dick who investigated the case is an old friend of mine. He’s a bulldog and a bloodhound and an old wise cop. He doesn’t like a few things. Why did Roger leave no note—when he was a writing fool? Why did he shoot himself in such a way as to leave the shock of discovery to his wife? Why did he bother to pick the moment when I couldn’t hear the gun go off? Why did she forget her house keys so that she had to be let in to the house? Why did she leave him alone on the day the help got off? Remember, she said she didn’t know I would be there. If she did, those two cancel out.”
“My God,” Spencer bleated, “are you telling me the damn fool cop suspects Eileen?”
“He would if he could think of a motive.”
“That’s ridiculous. Why not suspect you? You had all afternoon. There could have been only a few minutes when she could have done it—and she had forgotten her house keys.”
“What motive could I have?”
He reached back and grabbed my whiskey sour and swallowed it whole. He put the glass down carefully and got a handkerchief out and wiped his lips and his fingers where the chilled glass had moistened them. He put the handkerchief away. He stared at me.
“Is the investigation still going on?”
“Couldn’t say. One thing is sure. They know by now whether he had drunk enough hooch to pass him out. If he had, there may still be trouble.”
“And you want to talk to her,” he said slowly, “in the presence of a witness.”
“That means only one of two things to me, Marlowe. Either you are badly scared or you think she ought to be.”
“Which one?” he asked grimly.
“I’m not scared.”
He looked at his watch. “I hope to God you’re crazy.”
We looked at each other in silence.
North through Coldwater Canyon it began to get hot. When we topped the rise and started to wind down towards the San Fernando Valley it was breathless and blazing. I looked sideways at Spencer. He had a vest on, but the heat didn’t seem to bother him. He had something else to bother him a lot more. He looked straight ahead through the windshield and said nothing. The valley had a thick layer of smog nuzzling down on it. From above it looked like a ground mist and then we were in it and it jerked Spencer out of his silence.
“My God, I thought Southern California had a climate,” he said. “What are they doing—burning old truck tires?”
“It’ll be all right in Idle Valley,” I told him soothingly. “They get an ocean breeze in there.”
“I’m glad they get something besides drunk,” he said. “From what I’ve seen of the local crowd in the rich suburbs I think Roger made a tragic mistake in coming out here to live. A writer needs stimulation—and not the kind they bottle. There’s nothing around here but one great big suntanned hangover. I’m referring to the upper crust people of course.”
I turned off and slowed down for the dusty stretch to the entrance of Idle Valley, then hit the paving again and in a little while the ocean breeze made itself felt, drifting down through the gap in the hills at the far end of the lake. High sprinklers revolved over the big smooth lawns and the water made a swishing sound as it licked at the grass. By this time most of the well-heeled people were away somewhere else. You could tell by the shuttered look of the houses and the way the gardener’s truck was parked smack in the middle of the driveway. Then we reached the Wades’ place and I swung through the gateposts and stopped behind Eileen’s Jaguar. Spencer got out and marched stolidly across the flagstones to the portico of the house. He rang the bell and the door opened almost at once. Candy was there in the white jacket and the dark good-looking face and the sharp black eyes. Everything was in order.
Spencer went in. Candy gave me a brief look and nearly shut the door in my face. I waited and nothing happened. I leaned on the bell and heard the chimes. The door swung wide and Candy came out snarling.
“Beat it! Turn blue. You want a knife in the belly?”
“I came to see Mrs. Wade.”
“She don’t want any part of you.”
“Out of my way, peasant. I got business here.”
“Candy!” It was her voice, and it was sharp. He gave me a final scowl and backed into the house. I went in and shut the door. She was standing at the end of one of the facing davenports, and Spencer was standing beside her. She looked like a million. She had white slacks on, very high-waisted, and a white sport shirt with half sleeves, and a lilac-colored handkerchief budding from the pocket over her left breast.
“Candy is getting rather dictatorial lately,” she said to Spencer. “It’s so good to see you, Howard. And so nice of you to come all this way. I didn’t realize you were bringing someone with you.”
“Marlowe drove me out,” Spencer said. “Also he wanted to see you.”
“I can’t imagine why,” she said coolly. Finally she looked at me, but not as if not seeing me for a week had left an emptiness in her life. “Well?”
“It’s going to take a little time,” I said.
She sat down slowly. I sat down on the other davenport. Spencer was frowning. He took his glasses off and polished them. That gave him a chance to frown more naturally, Then he sat on the other end of the davenport from me.
“I was sure you would come in time for lunch,” she told him, smiling.
“Not today, thanks.”
“No? Well, of course if you are too busy. Then you just want to see that script.”
“If I may.”
“Of course. Candy! Oh, he’s gone. It’s on the desk in Roger’s study. I’ll get it.”
Spencer stood up. “May I get it?”
Without waiting for an answer he started across the room. Ten feet behind her he stopped and gave me a strained look. Then he went on. I just sat there and waited until her head came around and her eyes gave me a cool impersonal stare.
“What was it you wanted to see me about?” she asked curtly.
“This and that. I see you are wearing that pendant again.
“I often wear it. It was given to me by a very dear friend a long time ago.”
“Yeah. You told me. It’s a British military badge of some sort, isn’t it?”
She held it out at the end of the thin chain. “It’s a jeweler’s reproduction of one. Smaller than the original and in gold and enamel”
Spencer came back across the room and sat down again and put a thick pile of yellow paper on the corner of the cocktail table in front of him. He glanced at it idly, then his eyes were watching Eileen.
“Could I look at it a little closer?” I asked her.
She pulled the chain around until she could unfasten the clasp. She handed the pendant to me, or rather she dropped it in my hand. Then she folded her hands in her lap and just looked curious. “Why are you so interested? It’s the badge of a regiment called the Artists Rifles, a Territorial regiment. The man who gave it to me was lost soon afterwards. At Andalsnes in Norway, in the spring of that terrible year—1940.” She smiled and made a brief gesture with one hand. “He was in love with me.”
“Eileen was in London all through the Blitz,” Spencer said in an empty voice. “She couldn’t get away.”
We both ignored Spencer. “And you were in love with him,” I said.
She looked down and then raised her head and our glances locked. “It was a long time ago,” she said. “And there was a war. Strange things happen.”
“There was a little more to it than that, Mrs. Wade. I guess you forget how much you opened up about him. ‘The wild mysterious improbable kind of love that never comes but once.’ I’m quoting you. In a way you’re still in love with him. It’s darn nice of me to have the same initials. I suppose that had something to do with your picking me out.”
“His name was nothing like yours,” she said coldly. “And he is dead, dead, dead.”
I held the gold and enamel pendant out to Spencer. He took it reluctantly. “I’ve seen it before,” he muttered.
“Check me on the design,” I said. “It consists of a broad dagger in white enamel with a gold edge. The dagger points downwards and the flat of the blade crosses in front of a pair of upward-curling pale blue enamel wings. Then it crosses in back of a scroll. On the scroll are the words: WHO DARES WINS.”
“That seems to be correct,” he said. “What makes it important?”
“She says it’s a badge of the Artists Rifles, a Territorial outfit. She says it was given to her by a man who was in that outfit and was lost in the Norwegian campaign with the British Army in the spring of 1940 at Andalsnes.”
I had their attention. Spencer watched me steadily. I wasn’t talking to the birds and he knew it. Eileen knew it too. Her tawny eyebrows were crimped in a puzzled frown which could have been genuine. It was also unfriendly.
“This is a sleeve badge,” I said. “It came into existence because the Artists Rifles were made over or attached or seconded or whatever the correct term is into a Special Air Service Outfit. They had originally been a Territorial Regiment of infantry. This badge didn’t even exist until 1947. Therefore nobody gave it to Mrs. Wade in 1940. Also, no Artists Rifles were landed at Andalsnes in Norway in 1940. Sherwood Foresters and Leicestershires, yes. Both Territorial. Artists Rifles, no. Am I being nasty?”
Spencer put the pendant down on the coffee table and pushed it slowly across until it was in front of Eileen. He said nothing.
“Do you think I wouldn’t know?” Eileen asked me contemptuously.
“Do you think the British War Office wouldn’t know?” I asked her right back.
“Obviously there must be some mistake,” Spencer said mildly.
I swung around and gave him a hard stare. “That’s one way of putting it.”
“Another way of putting it is that I am a liar,” Eileen said icily. “I never knew anyone named Paul Marston, never loved him or he me. He never gave me a reproduction of his regimental badge, he was never missing in action, he never existed. I bought this badge myself in a shop in New York where they specialize in imported British luxuries, things like leather goods, hand-made brogues, regimental and school ties and cricket blazers, knickknacks with coats of arms on them and so on. Would an explanation like that satisfy you, Mr. Marlowe?”
“The last part would. Not the first. No doubt somebody told you it was an Artists Rifles badge and forgot to mention what kind, or didn’t know. But you did know Paul Marston and he did serve in that outfit, and he was missing in action in Norway. But it didn’t happen in 1940, Mrs. Wade. It happened in 1942 and he was in the Commandos then, and it wasn’t at Andalsnes, but on a little island off the coast where the Commando boys pulled a fast raid.”
“I see no need to be so hostile about it,” Spencer said in an executive sort of voice. He was fooling with the yellow sheets in front of him now. I didn’t know whether he was trying to stooge for me or was just sore. He picked up a slab of yellow script and weighed it on his hand.
“You going to buy that stuff by the pound?” I asked him.
He looked startled, then he smiled a small difficult smile.
“Eileen had a pretty rough time in London,” he said. “Things get confused in one’s memory.”
I took a folded paper out of my pocket. “Sure,” I said. “Like who you got married to. This is a certified copy of a marriage certificate. The original came from Caxton Hall Registry Office. The date of the marriage is August 1942. The parties named are Paul Edward Marston and Eileen Victoria Sampsell. In a sense Mrs. Wade is right. There was no such person as Paul Edward Marston. It was a fake name because in the army you have to get permission to get married. The man faked an identity. In the army he had another name. I have his whole army history. It’s a wonder to me that people never seem to realize that all you have to do is ask.”
Spencer was very quiet now. He leaned back and stared. But not at me. He stared at Eileen. She looked back at him with one of those faint half deprecatory, half seductive smiles women are so good at.
“But he was dead, Howard. Long before I met Roger. What could it possibly matter? Roger knew all about it. I never stopped using my unmarried name. In the circumstances I had to. It was on my passport. Then after he was killed in action—” She stopped and drew a slow breath and let her hand fall slowly and softly to her knee. “All finished, all done for, all lost.”
“You’re sure Roger knew?” he asked her slowly.
“He knew something,” I said. “The name Paul Marston had a meaning for him. I asked him once and he got a funny look in his eyes. But he didn’t tell me why.”
She ignored that and spoke to Spencer.
“Why, of course Roger knew all about it.” Now she was smiling at Spencer patiently as if he was being a little slow on the take. The tricks they have.
“Then why lie about the dates?” Spencer asked dryly. “Why say the man was lost in 1940 when he was lost in 1942? Why wear a badge that he couldn’t have given you and make a point of saying that he did give it to you?”
“Perhaps I was lost in a dream,” she said softly. “Or a nightmare, more accurately. A lot of my friends were killed in the bombing. When you said goodnight in those days you tried not to make it sound like goodbye. But that’s what it often was. And when you said goodbye to a soldier—it was worse. It’s always the kind and gentle ones that get killed.”
He didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything. She looked down at the pendant lying on the table in front of her. She picked it up and fitted it to the chain around her neck again and leaned back composedly.
“I know I haven’t any right to cross-examine you, Eileen,” Spencer said slowly. “Let’s forget it. Marlowe made a big thing out of the badge and the marriage certificate and so on. Just for a moment I guess he had me wondering.”
“Mr. Marlowe,” she told him quietly, “makes a big thing out of trifles. But when it comes to a really big thing—like saving a man’s life—he is out by the lake watching a silly speedboat.”
“And you never saw Paul Marston again,” I said.
“How could I when he was dead?”
“You didn’t know he was dead. There was no report of his death from the Red Cross. He might have been taken prisoner.”
She shuddered suddenly. “In October 1942,” she said slowly, “Hitler issued an order that all Commando prisoners were to be turned over to the Gestapo. I think we all—know what that meant. Torture and a nameless death in some Gestapo dungeon.” She shuddered again. Then she blazed at me: “You’re a horrible man. You want me to live that over again, to punish me for a trivial lie. Suppose someone you loved had been caught by those people and you knew what had happened, what must have happened to him or her? Is it so strange that I tried to build another kind of memory—even a false one?”
“I need a drink,” Spencer said. “I need a drink badly. May I have one?”
She clapped her hands and Candy drifted up from nowhere as he always did. He bowed to Spencer.
“What you like to drink, Senior Spencer?”
“Straight Scotch, and plenty of it,” Spencer said.
Candy went over in the corner and pulled the bar out from the wall. He got a bottle up on it and poured a stiff jolt into a glass. He came back and set it down in front of Spencer. He started to leave again.
“Perhaps, Candy,” Eileen said., quietly, “Mr. Marlowe would like a drink too.”
He stopped and looked at her, his face dark and stubborn.
“No, thanks,” I said. “No drink for me.”
Candy made a snorting sound and walked off. There was another silence. Spencer put down half of his drink. He lit a cigarette. He spoke to me without looking at me.
“I’m sure Mrs. Wade or Candy could drive me back to Beverly Hills. Or I can get a cab. I take it you’ve said your piece.
I refolded the certified copy of the marriage license. I put it back in my pocket.
“Sure that’s the way you want it?” I asked him.
“That’s the way everybody wants it.”
“Good.” I stood up,, “I guess I was a fool to try to play it this way. Being a big time publisher and having the brains to go with it—if it takes any—you might have assumed I didn’t come out here just to play the heavy. I didn’t revive ancient history or spend my own money to get the facts just to twist them around somebody’s neck. I didn’t investigate Paul Marston because the Gestapo murdered him, because Mrs. Wade was wearing the wrong badge, because she got mixed up on her dates, because she married him in one of those quickie wartime marriages. When I started investigating him I didn’t know any of those things. All I knew was his name. Now how do you suppose I knew that?”
“No doubt somebody told you;” Spencer said curtly.
“Correct, Mr. Spencer. Somebody who knew him in New York after the war and later on saw him out here in Chasen’s with his wife.”
“Marston is a pretty common name,” Spencer said, and sipped his whiskey. He turned his head sideways and his right eyelid drooped a fraction of an inch. So I sat down again. “Even Paul Marstons could hardly be unique. There are nineteen Howard Spencers in the Greater New York area telephone directories, for instance. And four of them are just plain Howard Spencer with no middle initial. ”
“Yeah. How many Paul Marstons would you say had had one side of their faces smashed by a delayed-action mortar shell and showed the scars and marks of the plastic surgery that repaired the damage?”
Spencer’s mouth fell open. He made some kind of heavy breathing sound. He got out a handkerchief and tapped his temples with it.
“How many Paul Marstons would you say had saved the lives of a couple of tough gamblers named Mendy Menendez and Randy Starr on that same occasion? They’re still around, they’ve got good memories. They can talk when it suits them. Why ham it up any more, Spencer? Paul Marston and Terry Lennox were the same man. It can be proved beyond any shadow of a doubt.”
I didn’t expect anyone to jump six feet into the air and scream and nobody did. But there is a kind of silence that is almost as loud as a shout. I had it. I had it all around me, thick and hard. In the kitchen I could hear water run. Outside on the road I could hear the dull thump of a folded newspaper hit the driveway, then the light inaccurate whistling of a boy wheeling away on his bicycle.
I felt a tiny sting on the back of my neck. I jerked away from it and swung around. Candy was standing there with his knife in his hand. His dark face was wooden but there was something in his eyes I hadn’t seen before.
“You are tired, amigo,” he said softly. “I fix you a drink, no?”
“Bourbon on the rocks, thanks,” I said.
“De pronto, señor.”
He snapped the knife shut, dropped it into the side pocket of his white jacket and went softly away.
Then at last I looked at Eileen. She sat leaning forward, her hands clasped tightly. The downward tilt of her face hid her expression if she had any. And when she spoke her voice had the lucid emptiness of that mechanical voice on the telephone that tells you the time and if you keep on listening, which people don’t because they have no reason to, it will keep on telling you the passing seconds forever, without the slightest change of inflection.
“I saw him once, Howard. Just once. I didn’t speak to him at all. Nor he to me. He was terribly changed. His hair was white and his face—it wasn’t quite the same face. But of course I knew him, and of course he knew me; We looked at each other. That was all. Then he was gone out of the room and the next day he was gone from her house. It was at the Lorings’ I saw him—and her. One afternoon late. You were there, Howard. And Roger was there. I suppose you saw him too.”
“We were introduced,” Spencer said. “I knew who he was married to.”
“Linda Loring told me he just disappeared. He gave no reason. There was no quarrel. Then after a while that woman divorced him. And still later I heard she found him again. He was down and out. And they were married again. Heaven knows why. I suppose he had no money and it didn’t matter to him any more. He knew that I was married to Roger. We were lost to each other.”
“Why?” Spencer asked.
Candy put my drink in front of me without a word. He looked at Spencer and Spencer shook his head. Candy drifted away. Nobody paid any attention to him. He was like the prop man in a Chinese play, the fellow that moves things around on the stage and the actors and audience alike behave as if he wasn’t there.
“Why?” she repeated. “Oh, you wouldn’t understand. What we had was lost. It could never be recovered. The Gestapo didn’t get him after all. There must have been some decent Nazis who didn’t obey Hitler’s order about the Commandos. So he survived, he came back. I used to pretend to myself that I would find him again, but as he had been, eager and young and unspoiled. But to find him married to that redheaded whore—that was disgusting. I already knew about her and Roger. I have no doubt Paul did too. So did Linda Loring, who is a bit of a tramp herself, but not completely so. They all are in that set. You ask me why I didn’t leave Roger and go back to Paul. After he had been in her arms and Roger had been in those same willing arms? No thank you. I need a little more inspiration than that. Roger I could forgive. He drank, he didn’t know what he was doing. He worried about his work and he hated himself because he was just a mercenary hack. He was a weak man, unreconciled, frustrated, but understandable. He was just a husband. Paul was either much more or he was nothing. In the end he was nothing.”
I took a swig of my drink. Spencer had finished his. He was scratching at the material of the davenport. He had forgotten the pile of paper in front of him, the unfinished novel of the very much finished popular author.
“I wouldn’t say he was nothing,” I said.
She lifted her eyes and looked at me vaguely and dropped them again.
“Less than nothing,” she said, with a new note of sarcasm in her voice. “He knew what she was, he married her. Then because she was what he knew she was, he killed her. And then ran away and killed himself.”
“He didn’t kill her,” I said, “and you know it.”
She came upright with a smooth motion and stared at me blankly. Spencer let out a noise of some kind.
“Roger killed her,” I said, “and you also know that.”
“Did he tell you?” she asked quietly.
“He didn’t have to. He did give me a couple of hints. He would have told me or someone in time. It was tearing him to pieces not to.”
She shook her head slightly. “No, Mr. Marlowe. That was not why he was tearing himself to pieces. Roger didn’t know he had killed her. He had blacked out completely. He knew something was wrong and he tried to bring it to the surface, but he couldn’t. The shock had destroyed his memory of it. Perhaps it would have come back and perhaps in the last moments of his life it did come back. But not until then. Not until then.”
Spencer said in a sort of growl: “That sort of thing just doesn’t happen, Eileen.”
“Oh yes, it does,” I said. “I know of two well established instances. One was a blackout drunk who killed a woman he picked up in a bar. He strangled her with a scarf she was wearing fastened with a fancy clasp. She went home with him and what went on then is not known except that she got dead and when the law caught up with him he was wearing the fancy clasp on his own tie and he didn’t have the faintest idea where he got it.”
“Never?” Spencer asked. “Or just at the time?”
“He never admitted it. And he’s not around any more to be asked. They gassed him. The other case was a head wound. He was living with a rich pervert, the kind that collects first editions and does fancy cooking and has a very expensive secret library behind a panel in the wall. The two of them had a fight. They fought all over the house, from room to room, the place was a shambles and the rich guy eventually got the low score. The killer, when they caught him, had dozens of bruises on him and a broken finger. All he knew for sure was that he had a headache and he couldn’t find his way back to Pasadena. He kept circling around and stopping to ask directions at the same service Station. The guy at the service station decided he was nuts and called the cops. Next time around they were waiting for him.”
“I don’t believe that about Roger,” Spencer said. “He was no more psycho than I am.”
“He blacked out when he was drunk,” I said.
“I was there. I saw him do it,” Eileen said calmly.
I grinned at Spencer. It was some kind of grin, not the cheery kind probably, but I could feel my face doing its best.
“She’s going to tell us about it,” I told him. “Just listen. She’s going to tell us. She can’t help herself now.”
“Yes, that is true,” she said gravely. “There are things no one likes to tell about an enemy, much less about one’s own husband. And if I have to tell them publicly on a witness stand, you are not going to enjoy it, Howard. Your fine, talented, ever so popular and lucrative author is going to look pretty cheap. Sexy as all get out, wasn’t he? On paper, that is. And how the poor fool tried to live up to it! All that woman was to him was a trophy. I spied on them. I should be ashamed of that. One has to say these things. I am ashamed of nothing. I saw the whole nasty scene. The guesthouse she used for her amours happens to be a nice secluded affair with its own garage and entrance on a side street, a dead end, shaded by big trees. The time came, as it must to people like Roger, when he was no longer a satisfactory lover. Just a little too drunk. He tried to leave but she came out after him screaming and stark naked, waving some kind of small statuette. She used language of a depth of filth and depravity I couldn’t attempt to describe. Then she tried to hit him with the statuette. You are both men and you must know that nothing shocks a man quite so much as to hear a supposedly refined woman use the language of the gutter and the public urinal. He was drunk, he had had sudden spells of violence, and he had one then. He tore the statuette out of her hand. You can guess the rest.”
“There must have been a lot of blood,” I said.
“Blood?” She laughed bitterly. “You should have seen him when he got home. When I ran for my car to get away he was just standing there looking down at her. Then he bent and picked her up in his arms and carried her into the guesthouse. I knew then that the shock had partially sobered him. He got home in about an hour. He was very quiet. It shook him when he saw me waiting. But he wasn’t drunk then. He was dazed. There was blood on his face, on his hair, all over the front of his coat. I got him into the lavatory off the study and got him stripped and cleaned off enough to get him upstairs into the shower. I put him to bed. I got an old suitcase and went downstairs and gathered up the bloody clothes and put them in the suitcase. I cleaned the basin and the floor and then I took a wet towel out and made sure his car was clean. I put it away and got mine out. I drove to the Chatsworth Reservoir and you can guess what I did with the suitcase full of bloody clothes and towels.”
She stopped. Spencer was scratching at the palm of his left hand. She gave him a quick glance and went on.
“While I was away he got up and drank a lot of whiskey. And the next morning he didn’t remember a single thing. That is, he didn’t say a word about it or behave as if he had anything on his mind but a hangover. And I said nothing.”
“He must have missed the clothes,” I said.
She nodded. “I think he did eventually—but he didn’t say so. Everything seemed to happen at once about that time. The papers were full of it, then Paul was missing, and then he was dead in Mexico. How was I to know that would happen? Roger was my husband. He had done an awful thing, but she was an awful woman. And he hadn’t known what he was doing. Then almost as suddenly as it began the papers dropped it. Linda’s father must have had something to do with that. Roger read the papers, of course, and he made just the sort of comments one would expect from an innocent bystander who had just happened to know the people involved.”
“Weren’t you afraid?” Spencer asked her quietly.
“I was sick with fear, Howard. If he remembered, he would probably kill me. He was a good actor—most writers are—and perhaps he already knew and was just waiting for a chance. But I couldn’t be sure. He might—just might—have forgotten the whole thing permanently. And Paul was dead.”
“If he never mentioned the clothes that you had dumped in the reservoir, that proved he suspected something,” I said. “And remember, in that stuff he left in the typewriter the other time—the time he shot the gun off upstairs and I found you trying to get it away from him—he said a good man had died for him.”
“He said that?” Her eyes widened just the right amount.
“He wrote it—on the typewriter. I destroyed it, he asked me to. I supposed you had already seen it.”
“I never read anything he wrote in his study.”
“You read the note he left the time Verringer took him away. You even dug something out of the wastebasket.”
“That was different,” she said coolly. “I was looking for a clue to where he might have gone.”
“Okay,” I said, and leaned back. “Is there any more?”
She shook her head slowly, with a deep sadness. “I suppose not. At the very last, the afternoon he killed himself, he may have remembered. We’ll never know. Do we want to know?”
Spencer cleared his throat. “What was Marlowe supposed to do in all this? It was your idea to get him here. You talked me into that, you know.”
“I was terribly afraid. I was afraid of Roger and I was afraid for him. Mr. Marlowe was Paul’s friend, almost the last person to see him who knew him. Paul might have told him something. I had to be sure. If he was dangerous, I wanted him on my side. If he found out the truth, there might still be some way to save Roger.”
Suddenly and for no reason that I could see, Spencer got tough. He leaned forward and pushed his jaw out.
“Let me get this straight, Eileen. Here was a private detective who was already in bad with the police. They’d had him in jail. He was supposed to have helped Paul—I call him that because you do—jump the country to Mexico. That’s a felony, if Paul was a murderer. So if he found out the truth and could clear himself, he would just sit on his hands and do nothing. Was that your idea?”
“I was afraid, Howard. Can’t you understand that? I was living in the house with a murderer who might be a maniac. I was alone with him a large part of the time.”
“I understand that,” Spencer said, still tough. “But Marlowe didn’t take it on, and you were still alone. Then Roger fired the gun off and for a week after that you were alone. Then Roger killed himself and very conveniently it was Marlowe who was alone that time.”
“That is true,” she said. “What of it? Could I help it?”
“All right,” Spencer said. “Is it just possible you thought Marlowe might find the truth and with the background of the gun going off once already, just kind of hand it to Roger and say something like, Look, old man, you’re a murderer and I know it and your wife knows it. She’s a fine woman. She has suffered enough. Not to mention Sylvia Lennox’s husband. Why not do the decent thing and pull the trigger and everybody will assume it was just a case of too much wild drinking? So I’ll stroll down by the lake and smoke a cigarette, old man. Good luck and goodbye. Oh, here’s the gun. It’s loaded and it’s all yours.”
“You’re getting horrible, Howard. I didn’t think anything of the sort.”
“You told the deputy Marlowe had killed Roger. What was that supposed to mean?”
She looked at me briefly, almost shyly. “I was very wrong to say that. I didn’t know what I was saying.”
“Maybe you thought Marlowe had shot him,” Spencer suggested calmly.
Her eyes narrowed. “Oh no, Howard. Why? Why would he do that? That’s an abominable suggestion.”
“Why?” Spencer wanted to know. “What’s abominable about it? The police had the same idea. And Candy gave them a motive. He said Marlowe was in your room for two hours the night Roger shot a hole in his ceiling—after Roger had been put to sleep with pills.”
She flushed to the roots of her hair. She stared at him dumbly.
“And you didn’t have any clothes on,” Spencer said brutally. “That’s what Candy told them.”
“But at the inquest—” she began to say in a shattered kind of voice. Spencer cut her off.
“The police didn’t believe Candy. So he didn’t tell it at the inquest.”
“Oh.” It was a sigh of relief.
“Also,” Spencer went on coldly, “the police suspected you. They still do. All they need is a motive. Looks to me like they might be able to put one together now.”
She was on her feet. “I think you had both better leave my house,” she said angrily. “The sooner the better.”
“Well, did you or didn’t you?” Spencer asked calmly, not moving except to reach for his glass and find it empty.
“Did I or didn’t I what?”
She was standing there staring at him. The flush had gone. Her face was white and tight and angry.
“I’m just giving you the sort of thing you’d get in court.”
“I was out. I had forgotten my keys. I had to ring to get into the house. He was dead when I got home. All that is known. What has got into you, for God’s sake?”
He took a handkerchief out and wiped his lips. “Eileen, I’ve stayed in this house twenty times. I’ve never known that front door to be locked during the daytime. I don’t say you shot him. I just asked you. And don’t tell me it was impossible. The way things worked out it was easy.”
“I shot my own husband?” she asked slowly and wonderingly.
“Assuming,” Spencer said in the same indifferent voice, “that he was your husband. You had another when you married him.”
“Thank you, Howard. Thank you very much. Roger’s last book, his swan song, is there in front of you. Take it and go. And I think you had better call the police and tell them what you think. It will be a charming ending to our friendship. Most charming. Goodbye, Howard. I am very tired and I have a headache. I’m going to my room and lie down. As for Mr. Marlowe—and I suppose he put you up to all this—I can only say to him that if he didn’t kill Roger in a literal sense, he certainly drove him to his death.”
She turned to walk away. I said sharply: “Mrs. Wade, just a moment. Let’s finish the job. No sense in being bitter. We are all trying to do the right thing. That suitcase you threw into the Chatsworth Reservoir—was it heavy?”
She turned and stared at me. “It was an old one, I said. Yes, it was very heavy.”
“How did you get it over the high wire fence around the reservoir?”
“What? The fence?” She made a helpless gesture. “I suppose in emergencies one has an abnormal strength to do what has to be done. Somehow or other I did it. That’s all. ”
“There isn’t any fence,” I said.
“Isn’t any fence?” She repeated it dully, as if it didn’t mean anything.”
“And there was no blood on Roger’s clothes. And Sylvia Lennox wasn’t killed outside the guesthouse, but inside it on the bed. And there was practically no blood, because she was already dead—shot dead with a gun—and when the statuette was used to beat her face to a pulp, it was beating a dead woman, And the dead, Mrs. Wade, bleed very little.”
She curled her lip at me contemptuously. “I suppose you were there,” she said scornfully.
Then she went away from us.
We watched her go. She went up the stairs slowly, moving with calm elegance. She disappeared into her room and the door closed softly but firmly behind her. Silence.
“What was that about the wire fence?” Spencer asked me vaguely. He was moving, his head back and forth. He was flushed and sweating. He was taking it gamely but it wasn’t easy, for him to take.
“Just a gag,” I said. “I’ve never been close enough to the Chatsworth Reservoir to know what it looks like. Maybe it has a fence around it, maybe not.”
“I see,” he said unhappily. “But the point is she didn’t know either.”
“Of course not. She killed both of them.”