Then something moved softly and Candy was standing at the end of the couch looking at me. He had his switch knife in his hand. He pressed the button and the blade shot out. He pressed the button and the blade went back into the handle. There was a sleek glitter in his eye.
“Million de pardones, señor,” he said. “I was wrong about you. She killed the boss. I think I—” He stopped and the blade shot out again.
“No.” I stood up and held my hand out. “Give me the knife, Candy. You’re just a nice Mexican houseboy. They’d hang it onto you and love it. Just the kind of smoke screen that would make them grin with delight. You don’t know what I’m talking about. But I do. They fouled it up so bad that they couldn’t straighten it out now if they wanted to. And they don’t want to. They’d blast a confession out of you so quickly you wouldn’t even have time to tell them your full name. And you’d be sitting on your fanny up in San Quentin with a life sentence three weeks from Tuesday.”
“I tell you before I am not a Mexican. I am Chileno from Viña del Mar near Valparaiso.”
“The knife, Candy. I know all that. You’re free. You’ve got money saved. You’ve probably got eight brothers and sisters back home. Be smart and go back where you came from. This job here is dead.”
“Lots of jobs,” he said quietly. Then he reached out and dropped the knife into my hand. “For you I do this.”
I dropped the knife into my pocket. He glanced up towards the balcony. “La señora—what do we do now?”
“Nothing. We do nothing at all. The señora is very tired. She has been living under a great strain. She doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
“We’ve got to call the police,” Spencer said grittily.
“Oh my God, Marlowe—we have to.”
“Tomorrow. Pick up your pile of unfinished novel and let’s go.”
“We’ve got to call the police. There is such a thing as law.”
“We don’t have to do anything of the sort. We haven’t enough evidence to swat a fly with. Let the law enforcement people do their own dirty work. Let the lawyers work it out. They write the laws for other lawyers to dissect in front of other lawyers called judges so that other judges can say the first judges were wrong and the Supreme Court can say the second lot were wrong. Sure there’s such a thing as law. We’re up to our necks in it. About all it does is make business for lawyers. How long do you think the big-shot mobsters would last if the lawyers didn’t show them how to operate?”
Spencer said angrily: “That has nothing to do with it. A man was killed in this house. He happened to be an author and a very successful and important one, but that has nothing to do with it either. He was a man and you and I know who killed him. There’s such a thing as justice.”
“You’re just as bad as she is if you let her get away with it. I’m beginning to wonder about you a little, Marlowe. You could have saved his life if you had been on your toes. In a sense you let her get away with it. And for all I know this whole performance this afternoon has been just that—a performance.”
“That’s right. A disguised love scene. You could see Eileen is crazy about me. When things quiet down we may get married. She ought to be pretty well fixed. I haven’t made a buck out of the Wade family yet. I’m getting impatient.”
He took his glasses off and polished them. He wiped perspiration from the hollows under his eyes, replaced the glasses and looked at the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve taken a pretty stiff punch this afternoon. It was bad enough to know Roger had killed himself. But this other version makes me feel degraded—just knowing about it.” He looked up at me. “Can I trust you?”
“To do what?”
“The right thing—whatever it is.” He reached down and picked up the pile of yellow script and tucked it under his arm. “No, forget it. I guess you know what you are doing, I’m a pretty good publisher but this is out of my line. I guess what I really am is just a goddamn stuffed shirt.”
He walked past me and Candy stepped out of his way, then went quickly to the front door and held it open. Spencer went out past him with a brief nod. I followed. I stopped beside Candy and looked into his dark shining eyes.
“No tricks, amigo,” I said.
“The señora is very tired,” he said quietly. “She has gone to her room. She will not be disturbed. I know nothing, señor. No me acuerdo de nada . . . A sus órdenes, señor.”
I took the knife out of my pocket and held it out to him. He smiled.
“Nobody trusts me, but I trust you, Candy.”
“Lo mismo, señor. Muchas gracias.”
Spencer was already in the car. I got in and started it and backed down the driveway and drove him back to Beverly Hills. I let him out at the side entrance of the hotel.
“I’ve been thinking all the way back,” he said as he got out. “She must be a little insane. I guess they’d never convict her.”
“They won’t even try,” I said. “But she doesn’t know that.”
He struggled with the batch of yellow paper under his arm, got it straightened out, and nodded to me. I watched him heave open the door and go on in. I eased up on the brake and the Olds slid out from the white curb, and that was the last I saw of Howard Spencer.
I got home late and tired and depressed. It was one of those nights when the air is heavy and the night noises seem muffled and far away. There was a high misty indifferent moon. I walked the floor, played a few records, and hardly heard them. I seemed to hear a steady ticking somewhere, but there wasn’t anything in the house to tick. The ticking was in my head. I was a one-man death watch.
I thought of the first time I had seen Eileen Wade and the second and the third and the fourth. But after that something in her got out of drawing. She no longer seemed quite real. A murderer is always unreal once you know he is a murderer. There are people who kill out of hate or fear or greed. There are the cunning killers who plan and expect to get away with it. There are the angry killers who do not think at all. And there are the killers who are in love with death, to whom murder is a remote kind of suicide. In a sense they are all insane, but not in the way Spencer meant it.
It was almost daylight when I finally went to bed.
The jangle of the telephone dragged me up out of a black well of sleep. I rolled over on the bed, fumbled for slippers, and realized that I hadn’t been asleep for more than a couple of hours. I felt like a half-digested meal eaten in a greasy-spoon joint. My eyes were stuck together and my mouth was full of sand. I heaved up on the feet and lumbered into the living room and pulled the phone off the cradle and said into it: “Hold the line.”
I put the phone down and went into the bathroom and hit myself in the face with some cold water. Outside the window something went snip, snip, snip. I looked out vaguely and saw a brown expressionless face. It was the once-a-week Jap gardener I called Hardhearted Harry. He was trimming the tecoma—the way a Japanese gardener trims your tecoma. You ask him four times and he says, “next week,” and then he comes by at six o’clock in the morning and trims it outside your bedroom window.
I rubbed my face dry and went back to the telephone.
“This is Candy, señor.”
“Good morning, Candy.”
“La señora es muerta.”
Dead. What a cold black noiseless word it is in any language. The lady is dead.
“Nothing you did, I hope.”
“I think the medicine. It is called demerol. I think forty, fifty in the bottle. Empty now. No dinner last night. This morning I climb up on the ladder and look in the window. Dressed just like yesterday afternoon. I break the screen open. La señora es muerta. Frio como agua de nieve.”
Cold as ice water. “You call anybody?”
“Si. El Doctor Loring. He call the cops. Not here yet.”
“Dr. Loring, huh? Just the man to come too late.”
“I don’t show him the letter,” Candy said.
“Letter to who?”
“Give it to the police, Candy. Don’t let Dr. Loring have it. Just the police. And one more thing, Candy. Don’t hide anything, don’t tell them any lies. We were there. Tell the truth. This time the truth and all the truth.”
There was a little pause. Then he said: “Si. I catch. Hasta la vista, amigo.” He hung up.
I dialed the Ritz-Beverly and asked for Howard Spencer.
“One moment, please. I’ll give you the desk.”
A man’s voice said: “Desk speaking. May I help you?”
“I asked for Howard Spencer. I know it’s early, but it’s urgent.”
“Mr. Spencer checked out last evening. He took the eight o’clock plane to New York.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know.”
I went out to the kitchen to make coffee—yards of coffee. Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved. The lifeblood of tired men.
It was a couple of hours later that Bernie Ohls called me.
“Okay, wise guy,” he said. “Get down here and suffer.”
It was like the other time except that it was day and we were in Captain Hernandez’s office and the Sheriff was up in Santa Barbara opening Fiesta Week. Captain Hernandez was there and Bernie Ohls and a man from the coroner’s office and Dr. Loring, who looked as if he had been caught performing an abortion, and a man named Lawford, a deputy from the D.A.’s office, a tall gaunt expressionless man whose brother was vaguely rumored to be a boss of the numbers racket in the Central Avenue district.
Hernandez had some handwritten sheets of notepaper in front of him, flesh-pink paper, deckle-edged, and written on with green ink.
“This is informal,” Hernandez said, when everybody was as comfortable as you can get in hard chairs. “No stenotype or recording equipment. Say what you like. Dr. Weiss represents the coroner who will decide whether an inquest is necessary. Dr. Weiss?”
He was fat, cheerful, and looked competent. “I think no inquest,” he said. “There is every surface indication of narcotic poisoning. When the ambulance arrived the woman was still breathing very faintly and she was in a deep coma and all the reflexes were negative. At that stage you don’t save one in a hundred. Her skin was cold and respiration would not be noticed without close examination, The houseboy thought she was dead. She died approximately an hour after that. I understand the lady was subject to occasional violent attacks of bronchial asthma. The demerol was prescribed by Dr. Loring as an emergency measure.”
“Any information or deduction about the amount of demerol taken, Dr. Weiss?”
“A fatal dose,” he said, smiling faintly. “There is no quick way of determining that without knowing the medical history, the acquired or natural tolerance. According to her confession she took twenty-three hundred milligrams, four or five times the minimal lethal dose for a non-addict.” He looked questioningly at Dr. Loring.
“Mrs. Wade was not an addict,” Dr. Loring said coldly. “The prescribed dose would be one or two fifty-milligram tablets. Three or four during a twenty-four-hour period would be the most I’d permit.”
“But you gave her fifty at a whack,” Captain Hernandez said. “A pretty dangerous drug to have around in that quantity, don’t you think? How bad was this bronchial asthma, Doctor?”
Dr. Loring smiled contemptuously. “It was intermittent, like all asthma. It never amounted to what we term status asthmaticus, an attack so severe that the patient seems in danger of suffocating.”
“Any comment, Dr. Weiss?”
“Well,” Dr. Weiss said slowly, “assuming the note didn’t exist and assuming we had no other evidence of how much of the stuff she took, it could be an accidental overdose. The safety margin isn’t very wide. We’ll know for sure tomorrow. You don’t want to suppress the note, Hernandez, for Pete’s sake?”
Hernandez scowled down at his desk. “I was just wondering. I didn’t know narcotics were standard treatment for asthma. Guy learns something every day.”
Loring flushed. “An emergency measure, I said, Captain. A doctor can’t be everywhere at once. The onset of an asthmatic flare-up can be very sudden.”
Hernandez gave him a brief glance and turned to Lawford. “What happens to your office, if I give this letter to the press?”
The D.A.’s deputy glanced at me emptily. “What’s this guy doing here, Hernandez?”
“I invited him.”
“How do I know he won’t repeat everything said in here to some reporter?”
“Yeah, he’s a great talker. You found that out. The time you had him pinched.”
Lawford grinned, then cleared his throat. “I’ve read that purported confession,” he said carefully. “And I don’t believe a word of it. You’ve got a background of emotional exhaustion, bereavement, some use of drugs, the strain of wartime life in England under bombing, this clandestine marriage, the man coming back here, and so on. Undoubtedly she developed a feeling of guilt and tried to purge herself of it by a sort of transference.”
He stopped and looked around, but all he saw was faces with no expression. “I can’t speak for the D.A. but my own feeling is that your confession would be no grounds to seek an indictment even if the woman had lived.”
“And having already believed one confession you wouldn’t care to believe another that contradicted the first one,” Hernandez said caustically.
“Take it easy, Hernandez. Any law enforcement agency has to consider public relations. If the papers printed that confession we’d be in trouble. That’s for sure. We’ve got enough eager beaver reformer groups around just waiting for that kind of chance to stick a knife into us. We’ve got a grand jury that’s already jittery about the working-over your vice squad lieutenant got last week—it’s about ten days.”
Hernandez said: “Okay, it’s your baby. Sign the receipt for me.”
He shuffled the pink deckle-edged pages together and Lawford leaned down to sign a form. He picked up the pink pages, folded them, put them in his breast pocket and walked out.
Dr. Weiss stood up. He was tough, good-natured, unimpressed. “We had the last inquest on the Wade family too quick,” he said. “I guess we won’t bother to have this one at all. ”
He nodded to Ohls and Hernandez, shook hands formally with Loring, and went out. Loring stood up to go, then hesitated.
“I take it that I may inform a certain interested party that there will be no further investigation of this matter?” he said stiffly.
“Sorry to have kept you away from your patients so long, Doctor.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” Loring said sharply. “I’d better warn you—”
“Get lost, Jack,” Hernandez said.
Dr. Loring almost staggered with shock. Then he turned and fumbled his way rapidly out of the room. The door closed and it was a half minute before anybody said anything. Hernandez shook himself and lit a cigarette. Then he looked at me.
“Well?” he said.
“What are you waiting for?”
“This is the end, then? Finished? Kaput.”
“Tell him. Bernie.”
“Yeah, sure it’s the end,” Ohls said. “I was all set to pull her in for questioning. Wade didn’t shoot himself. Too much alcohol in his brain. But like I told you, where was the, motive? Her confession could be wrong in details, but it proves she spied on him. She knew the layout of the guesthouse in Encino. The Lennox frail had taken both her men from her. What happened in the guesthouse is just what you want to imagine. One question you forgot to ask Spencer. Did Wade own a Mauser P.P.K.? Yeah, he owned a small Mauser automatic. We talked to Spencer already today on the phone. Wade was a blackout drunk. The poor unfortunate bastard either thought he had killed Sylvia Lennox or he actually had killed her or else he bad some reason to know his wife had. Either way he was going to lay it on the line eventually. Sure, he’d been hitting the hooch long before, but he was a guy married to a beautiful nothing. The Mex knows all about it. The little bastard knows damn near everything. That was a dream girl. Some of her was here and now, but a lot of her was there and then. If she ever got hot pants, it wasn’t for her husband. Get what I’m talking about?”
I didn’t answer him.
“Damn near made her yourself, didn’t you?”
I gave him the same no answer.
Ohls and Hernandez both grinned sourly. “Us guys aren’t exactly brainless,” Ohls said, “We knew there was something in that story about her taking her clothes off. You outtalked him and he let you. He was hurt and confused and he liked Wade and he wanted to be sure. When he got sure he’d have used his knife. This was a personal matter with him. He never snitched on Wade. Wade’s wife did, and she deliberately fouled up the issue just to confuse Wade. It all adds. In the end I guess she was scared of him. And Wade never threw her down any stairs. That was an accident. She tripped and the guy tried to catch her. Candy saw that too.”
“None of it explains why she wanted me around.”
“I could think of reasons. One of them is old stuff. Every cop has run into it a hundred times. You were the loose end, the guy that helped Lennox escape, his friend, and probably to some extent his confidant. What did he know and what did he tell you? He took the gun that had killed her and he knew it had been fired. She could have thought he did it for her. That made her think he knew she had used it. When he killed himself she was sure. But what about you? You were still the loose end. She wanted to milk you, and she had the charm to use, and a situation ready-made for an excuse to get next to you. And if she needed a fall guy, you were it. You might say she was collecting fall guys.”
“You’re imputing too much knowledge to her,” I said.
Ohls broke a cigarette in half and started chewing on one half. The other half he stuck behind his ear.
“Another reason is she wanted a man, a big, strong guy that could crush her in his arms and make her dream again.
“She hated me,” I said. “I don’t buy that one.”
“Of course,” Hernandez put in dryly. “You turned her down. But she would have got over that. And then you blew the whole thing up in her face with Spencer listening in.”
“You two characters been seeing any psychiatrists lately?”
“Jesus,” Ohls said, “hadn’t you heard? We got them in our hair all the time these days. We’ve got two of them on the staff. This ain’t police business any more. It’s getting to be a branch of the medical racket. They’re in and out of jail, the courts, the interrogation rooms. They write reports fifteen pages long on why some punk of a juvenile held up a liquor store or raped a schoolgirl or peddled her to the senior class. Ten years from now guys like Hernandez and me will be doing Rorschach tests and word associations instead of chin-ups and target practice. When we go out on a case we’ll carry little black bags with portable lie detectors and bottles of truth serum. Too bad we didn’t grab the four hard monkeys that poured it on Big Willie Magoon. We might have been able to unmaladjust them and make them love their mothers.”
“Okay for me to blow?”
“What are you not convinced about?” Hernandez asked, snapping a rubber band.
“I’m convinced. The case is dead. She’s dead, they’re all dead. A nice smooth routine all around. Nothing to do but go home and forget it ever happened. So I’ll do that.”
Ohls reached the half cigarette from behind his ear, looked at it as if wondering, how it got there, and tossed it over his shoulder.
“What are you crying about?” Hernandez said. “If she hadn’t been fresh out of guns she might have made it a perfect score.”
“Also,” Ohls said grimly, “the telephone was working yesterday.”
“Oh sure,” I said. “You’d have come running and what you would have found would have been a mixed up story that admitted nothing but a few silly lies. This morning you have what I suppose is a full confession. You haven’t let me read it, but you wouldn’t have called in the D.A. if it was just a love note. If any real solid work had been done on the Lennox case at the time, somebody would have dug up his war record and where he got wounded and all the rest of it. Somewhere along the line a connection with the Wades would have turned up. Roger Wade knew who Paul Marston was. So did another P.I. I happened to get in touch with.”
“It’s possible,” Hernandez admitted, “but, that isn’t how police investigations work. You don’t fool around with an open-shut case, even if there’s no heat on to get it finalized and forgotten. I’ve investigated hundreds of homicides. Some are all of a piece, neat, tidy, and according to the book. Most of them make sense here, don’t make sense there. But when you get motive, means, opportunity, flight, a written confession, and a suicide immediately afterwards, you leave it lay. No police department in the world has the men or the time to question the obvious. The only thing against Lennox being a killer was that somebody thought he was a nice guy who wouldn’t have done it and that there were others who could equally well have done it. But the others didn’t take it on the lam, didn’t confess, didn’t blow their brains out. He did. And as for being a nice guy I figure sixty to seventy percent of all the killers that end up in the gas chamber or the hot seat or on the end of a rope are people the neighbors thought were just as harmless as a Fuller Brush salesman. Just as harmless and quiet and well bred as Mrs. Roger Wade. You want to read what she wrote in that letter? Okay, read it. I’ve got to go down the hall. ”
He stood up and pulled a drawer open and put a folder on the top of the desk. “There are five photostats in here, Marlowe. Don’t let me catch you looking at them.”
He started for the door and then turned his head and said to Ohls: “You want to talk to Peshorek with me?”
Ohls nodded and followed him out. When I was alone in the office I lifted the cover of the file folder and looked at the white-on-black photostats. Then touching only the edges I counted them. There were six, each of several pages clipped together. I took one and rolled it up and slipped it into my pocket. Then I read over the next one in the pile. When I had finished I sat down and waited. In about ten minutes Hernandez came back alone. He sat down behind his desk again, tallied the photostats in the file folder, and put the file back in his desk.
He raised his eyes and looked at me without any expression. “Satisfied?”
“Lawford know you have those?”
“Not from me. Not from Bernie. Bernie made them himself. Why?”
“What would happen if one got loose?”
He smiled unpleasantly. “It won’t. But if it did, it wouldn’t be anybody in the Sheriff’s office. The D.A. has photostat equipment too.”
“You don’t like District Attorney Springer too well, do you, Captain?”
He looked surprised. “Me? I like everybody, even you. Get the hell out of here. I’ve got work to do.”
I stood up to go. He said suddenly: “You carry a gun these days?”
“Part of the time.”
“Big Willie Magoon carried two. I wonder why he didn’t use them.”
“I guess he figured he had everybody scared.”
“That could be it,” Hernandez said casually. He picked up a rubber band and stretched it between his thumbs. He stretched it farther and farther. Finally with a snap it broke. He rubbed his thumb where the loose end had snapped back against it. “Anybody can be stretched too far,” he said. “No matter how tough he looks. See you around.”
I went out of the door and got out of the building fast.
Once a patsy, always a patsy.
Back in my own house on the sixth floor of the Cahuenga Building I went through my regular double play with the morning mail. Mail slot to desk to wastebasket, Tinker to Evers to Chance. I blew a clear space on the top of the desk and unrolled the photostat on it. I had rolled it so as not to make creases.
I read it over again. It was detailed enough and reasonable enough to satisfy any open mind. Eileen Wade had killed Terry’s wife in a fit of jealous fury and later when the opportunity was set up she had killed Roger because she was sure he knew. The gun fired into the ceiling of his room that night had been part of the setup. The unanswered and forever unanswerable question was why Roger Wade had stood still and let her put it over. He must have known how it would end. So he had written himself off and didn’t care. Words were his business, he had words for almost everything, but none for this.
“I have forty-six demerol tablets left from my last prescription,” she wrote. “I now intend to take them all and lie down on the bed. The door is locked. In a very short time I shall be beyond saving. This, Howard, is to be understood. What I write is in the presence of death. Every word is true. I have no regrets—except possibly that I could not have found them together and killed them together. I have no regrets for Paul whom you have heard called Terry Lennox. He was the empty shell of the man I loved and married. He meant nothing to me. When I saw him that afternoon for the only time after he came back from the war—at first I didn’t know him. Then I did and he knew me at once. He should have died young in the snow of Norway, my lover that I gave to death. He came back a friend of gamblers, the husband of a rich whore, a spoiled and ruined man, and probably some kind of crook in his past life. Time makes everything mean and shabby and wrinkled. The tragedy of life, Howard, is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean. It will not happen to me. Goodbye, Howard.”
I put the photostat in the desk and locked it up. It was time for lunch but I wasn’t in the mood. I got the office bottle out of the deep drawer and poured a slug and then got the phone book off the hook at the desk and looked up the number of the Journal. I dialed it and asked the girl for Lonnie Morgan.
“Mr. Morgan doesn’t come in until around four o’clock. You might try the press room at the City Hall. ”
I called that. And I got him. He remembered me well enough. “You’ve been a pretty busy guy, I heard.”
“I’ve got something for you, if you want it. I don’t think you want it.”
“Yeah? Such as?”
“A photostat of a confession to two murders.”
“Where are you?”
I told him. He wanted more information. I wouldn’t give him any over the phone. He said he wasn’t on a crime beat. I said he was still a newspaperman and on the only independent paper in the city. He still wanted to argue.
“Where did you get this whatever it is? How do I know it’s worth my time?”
“The D.A.’s office has the original. They won’t release it. It breaks open a couple of things they hid behind the icebox.”
“I’ll call you. I have to check with the brass.”
We hung up. I went to the drugstore and ate a chicken salad sandwich and drank some coffee. The coffee was overstrained and the sandwich was as full of rich flavor as a piece torn off an old shirt. Americans will eat anything if it is toasted and held together with a couple of toothpicks and has lettuce sticking out of the sides, preferably a little wilted.
At three-thirty or so Lonnie Morgan came in to see me. He was the same long thin wiry piece of tired and expressionless humanity as he had been the night he drove me home from the jailhouse. He shook hands listlessly and rooted in a crumpled pack of cigarettes.
“Mr. Sherman—that’s the M.E.—said I could look you up and see what you have.”
“It’s off the record unless you agree to my terms.” I unlocked the desk and handed him the photostat. He read the four pages rapidly and then again more slowly. He looked very excited—about as excited as a mortician at a cheap funeral.
“Gimme the phone.”
I pushed it across the desk. He dialed, waited, and said:
“This is Morgan. Let me talk to Mr. Sherman.” He waited and got some other female and then got his party and asked him to ring back on another line. He hung up and sat holding the telephone in his lap with the forefinger pressing the button down. It rang again and he lifted the receiver to his ear.
“Here it is, Mr. Sherman.”
He read slowly and distinctly. At the end there was a pause. Then, “One moment, sir.” He lowered the phone and glanced across the desk. “He wants to know how you got hold of this.”
I reached across the desk and took the photostat away from him. “Tell him it’s none of his goddamn business how I got hold of it. Where is something else. The stamp on the back of the pages show that.”
“Mr. Sherman, it’s apparently an official document of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s office. I guess we could check its authenticity easy enough. Also there’s a price.”
He listened some more and then said, “Yes, sir. Right here.” He pushed the phone across the desk. “Wants to talk to you.”
It was a brusque authoritative voice., “Mr. Marlowe, what are your terms? And remember the Journal is the only paper in Los Angeles which would even consider touching this matter.”
“You didn’t do much on the Lennox case, Mr. Sherman.”
“I realize that. But at that time it was purely a question of scandal for scandal’s sake. There was no question of who was guilty. What we have now, if your document is genuine, is something quite different. What are your terms?”
“You print the confession in full in the form of a photographic reproduction. Or you don’t print it at all. ”
“It will be verified. You understand that?”
“I don’t see how, Mr. Sherman. If you ask the D.A. he will either deny it or give it to every paper in town. He’d have to. if you ask the Sheriff’s office they will put it up to the D.A.”
“Don’t worry about that, Mr. Marlowe. We have ways. How about your terms?”
“I just told you.”
“Oh. You don’t expect to be paid?”
“Not with money.”
“Well, you know your own business, I suppose. May I have Morgan again?”
I gave the phone back to Lonnie Morgan.
He spoke briefly and hung up. “He agrees,” he said. “I take that photostat and he checks it. He’ll do what you say. Reduced to half size it will take about half of page lA.”
I gave him back the photostat. He held it and pulled at the tip of his long nose. “Mind my saying I think you’re a damn fool?”
“I agree with you.”
“You can still change your mind.”
“Nope. Remember that night you drove me home from the City Bastille? You said I had a friend to say goodbye to. I’ve never really said goodbye to him. If you publish this photostat, that will be it. It’s been a long time—a long, long time.”
“Okay, chum.” He grinned crookedly. “But I still think you’re a damn fool. Do I have to tell you why?”
“Tell me anyway.”
“I know more about you than you think. That’s the frustrating part of newspaper work. You always know so many things you can’t use. You get cynical. If this confession is printed in the Journal, a lot of people will be sore. The D.A., the coroner, the Sheriff’s crowd, an influential and powerful private citizen named Potter, and a couple of toughies called Menendez and Starr. You’ll probably end up in the hospital Or in jail again,”
“I don’t think so.”
“Think what you like, pal. I’m telling you what I think. The D.A. will be sore because he dropped a blanket on the Lennox case. Even if the suicide and confession of Lennox made him look justified, a lot of people will want to know how Lennox, an innocent man, came to make a confession, how he got dead, did he really commit suicide or was he helped, why was there no investigation into the circumstances, and how come the whole thing died so fast. Also, if he has the original of this photostat he will think he has been double-crossed by the Sheriff’s people.”
“You don’t have to print the identifying stamp on the back.”
“We won’t. We’re pals with the Sheriff. We think he’s a straight guy. We don’t blame him because he can’t stop guys like Menendez. Nobody can stop gambling as long as it’s legal in all forms in some places and legal in some forms in all places. You stole this from the Sheriff’s office. I don’t know how you got away with it. Want to tell me?”
“Okay. The coroner will be sore because he buggered up the Wade suicide. The D.A. helped him with that too. Harlan Potter will be sore because something is reopened that he used a lot of power to close up. Menendez and Starr will be sore for reasons I’m not sure of, but I know you got warned off. And when those boys get sore at somebody he gets hurt. You’re apt to get the treatment Big Willie Magoon got.”
“Magoon was probably getting too heavy for his job.”
“Why?” Morgan drawled. “Because those boys have to make it stick. If they take the trouble to tell you to lay off, you lay off. I you don’t and they let you get away with it they look weak. The hard boys that run the business, the big wheels, the board of directors, don’t have any use for weak people. They’re dangerous. And then there’s Chris Mady.”
“He just about runs Nevada, I heard.”
“You heard right, chum. Mady is a nice guy but he knows what’s right for Nevada. The rich hoodlums that operate in Reno and Vegas are very careful not to annoy Mr. Mady. If they did, their taxes would go up fast and their police co-operation would go down the same way. Then the top guys back East would decide some changes were necessary. An operator who can’t get along with Chris Mady ain’t operating correctly. Get him the hell out of there and put somebody else in. Getting him out of there means only one thing to them. Out in a wooden box.”
“They never heard of me,” I said.
Morgan frowned and whipped an arm up and down in a meaningless gesture, “They don’t have to. Mady’s estate on the Nevada side of Tahoe is right next to Harlan Potter’s estate. Could be they say hello once in a while. Could be some character that is on Mady’s payroll hears from another guy on Potter’s payroll that a punk named Marlowe is buzzing too loud about things that are not any of his business. Could be that this passing remark gets passed on down to where the phone rings in some apartment in L. A. and a guy with large muscles gets a hint to go out and exercise himself and two or three of his friends. If somebody wants you knocked off or smashed, the muscle men don’t have to have it explained why. It’s mere routine to them. No hard feelings at all. Just sit still while we break your arm. You want this back?”
He held out the photostat.
“You know what I want,” I said.
Morgan stood up slowly and put the photostat in his inside pocket. “I could be wrong,” he said. “You may know more about it than I do. I wouldn’t know how a man like Harlan Potter looks at things.”
“With a scowl,” I said. “I’ve met him. But he wouldn’t operate with a goon squad. He couldn’t reconcile it with his opinion of how he wants to live.”
“For my money,” Morgan said sharply, “stopping a murder investigation with a phone call and stopping it by knocking off the witnesses is just a question of method. See you around—I hope.”
He drifted out of the office like something blown by the wind.