I drove out to Victor’s with the idea of drinking a gimlet and sitting around until the evening edition of the morning papers was on the street. But the bar was crowded and it wasn’t any fun. When the barkeep I knew got around to me he called me by name.
“You like a dash of bitters in it, don’t you?”
“Not usually. Just for tonight two dashes of bitters.”
“I haven’t seen your friend lately. The one with the green ice.”
“Neither have I.”
He went away and came back with the drink. I pecked at it to make it last, because I didn’t feel like getting a glow on. Either I would get really stiff or stay sober. After a while I had another of the same. It was just past six when the kid with the papers came into the bar. One of the barkeeps yelled at him to beat it, but he managed one quick round of the customers before a waiter got hold of him and threw him out. I was one of the customers. I opened up the Journal and glanced at page lA. They bad made it. It was all there. They had reversed the photostat by making it black on white and by reducing it in size they had fitted it into the top half of the page. There was a short brusque editorial on another page. There was a half column by Lonnie Morgan with a by-line, on still another page.
I finished my drink and left and went to another place to eat dinner and then drove home.
Lonnie Morgan’s piece was a straightforward factual recapitulation of the facts and happenings involved in the Lennox case and the “suicide” of Roger Wade—the facts as they had been published. It added nothing, deduced nothing, imputed nothing. It was clear concise businesslike reporting. The editorial was something else. It asked questions—the kind a newspaper asks of public officials when they are caught with jam on their faces.
About nine-thirty the telephone rang and Bernie Ohls said he would drop by on his way home.
“Seen the Journal?” be asked coyly, and hung up without waiting for an answer.
When he got there he grunted about the steps and said he would drink a cup of coffee if I had one. I said I would make some. While I made It he wandered around the house and made himself very much at home.
“You live pretty lonely for a guy that could get himself disliked,” he said. “What’s over the hill in back?”
“Another street. Why?”
“Just asking. Your shrubbery needs pruning.”
I carried some coffee into the living room and he parked himself and sipped it. He lit one of my cigarettes and puffed at it for, a minute or two, then put it out. “Getting so I don’t care for the stuff,” he said. “Maybe it’s the TV commercials. They make you hate everything they try to sell. God, they must think the public is a halfwit. Every time some jerk in a white coat with a stethoscope hanging around his neck holds up some toothpaste or a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of beer or a mouthwash or a jar of shampoo or a little box of something that makes a fat wrestler smell like mountain lilac I always make a note never to buy any. Hell, I wouldn’t buy the product even if I liked it. You read the Journal, huh?”
“A friend of mine tipped me off. A reporter.”
“You got friends?” he asked wonderingly. “Didn’t tell you how they got hold of the material, did he?”
“No. And in this state he doesn’t have to tell you.”
“Springer is hopping mad. Lawford, the deputy D.A. that got the letter this morning, claims he took it straight to his boss, but it makes a guy wonder. What the Journal printed looks like a straight reproduction from the original. ”
I sipped coffee and said nothing.
“Serves him right,” Ohls went on. “Springer ought to have handled it himself. Personally I don’t figure it was Lawford that leaked. He’s a politician too.” He stared at me woodenly.
“What are you here for Bernie? You don’t like me. We used to be friends—as much as anybody can be friends with a tough cop. But it soured a little.”
He leaned forward and smiled—a little wolfishly. “No cop likes it when a private citizen does police work behind his back. If you had connected up Wade and the Lennox trail for me the time Wade got dead I’d have made out. If you had connected up Mrs. Wade and this Terry Lennox I’d have had her in the palm of my hand—alive. If you had come clean from the start Wade might be still alive. Not to mention Lennox. You figure you’re a pretty smart monkey, don’t you?”
“What would you like me to say?”
“Nothing. It’s too late. I told you a wise guy never fools anybody but himself. I told you straight and clear. So it didn’t take. Right now it might be smart for you to leave town. Nobody likes you and a couple of guys that don’t like people do something about it. I had the word from a stoolie.”
“I’m not that important. Bernie. Let’s stop snarling at each other. Until Wade was dead you didn’t even enter the case. After that it didn’t seem to, matter to you and to the coroner or to the D.A. or to anybody. Maybe I did some things wrong. But the truth came out. You could have had her yesterday afternoon—with what?”
“With what you had to tell us about her.”
“Me? With the police work I did behind your back?”
He stood up abruptly. His face was red. “Okay, wise guy. She’d have been alive. We could have booked her on suspicion. You wanted her dead; you punk, and you know it.”
“I wanted her to take a good long quiet look at herself. What she did about it was her business. I wanted to clear an innocent man. I didn’t give a good goddamn how I did it and I don’t now. I’ll be around when you feel like doing something about me.”
“The hard boys will take care of you, buster. I won’t have to bother. You think you’re not important enough to bother them. As a P.I. named Marlowe, check. You’re not. As a guy who was told where to get off and blew a raspberry in their faces publicly in a newspaper, that’s different. That hurts their pride.”
“That’s pitiful,” I said, “Just thinking about it makes me bleed internally, to use your own expression.”
He went across to the door and opened it. He stood looking down the redwood steps and at the trees on the hill across the way and up the slope at the end of the street.
“Nice and quiet here,” he said. “Just quiet enough.”
He went on down the steps and got into his car and left, Cops never say goodbye. They’re always hoping to see you again in the line-up.
For a short time the next day things looked like getting lively. District Attorney Springer called an early press conference and delivered a statement. He was the big florid black-browed prematurely gray-haired type that always does so well in politics.
“I have read the document which purports to be a confession by the unfortunate and unhappy woman who recently took her life, a document which may or may not be genuine, but which, if genuine, is obviously the product of a disordered mind. I am willing to assume that the journal published this document in good faith, in spite of its many absurdities and inconsistencies, and these I shall not bore you with enumerating. If Eileen Wade wrote these words, and my office in conjunction with the staff of my respected coadjutor, Sheriff Petersen, will soon determine whether or no she did, then I say to you that she did not write them with a clear head, nor with a steady hand. It is only a matter of weeks since the unfortunate lady found her husband wallowing in his own blood, spilled by his own hand. Imagine the shock, the despair, the utter loneliness which must have followed so sharp a disaster! And now she has joined him in the bitterness of death. Is anything to be gained by disturbing the ashes of the dead? Anything, my friends, beyond the sale of a few copies of a newspaper which is badly in need of circulation? Nothing, my friends, nothing. Let us leave it at that. Like Ophelia in that great dramatic masterpiece called Hamlet, by the immortal William Shakespeare, Eileen Wade wore her rue with a difference. My political enemies would like to make much of that difference, but my friends and fellow voters will not be deceived. They know that this office has long stood for wise and mature law enforcement, for justice tempered with mercy, for solid, stable, and conservative government. The Journal stands for I know not what, and for what it stands I do not much or greatly care. Let the enlightened public judge for itself.”
The Journal printed this guff in its early edition (it was a round-the-clock newspaper) and Henry Sherman, the Managing Editor, came right back at Springer with a signed comment.
Mr. District-Attorney Springer was in good form this morning. He is a fine figure of a man and he speaks with a rich baritone voice that is a pleasure to listen to. He did not bore us with any facts. Any time Mr. Springer cares to have the authenticity of the document in question proved to him, the Journal will be most happy to oblige. We do not expect Mr. Springer to take any action to reopen cases which had been officially closed with his sanction or under his direction, just as we do not expect Mr. Springer to stand on his head on the tower of the City Hall. As Mr. Springer so aptly phrases it, is anything to be gained by disturbing the ashes of the dead? Or, as the Journal would prefer to phrase it less elegantly, is anything to be gained by finding out who committed a murder when the murderee is already dead? Nothing, of course, but justice and truth.
On behalf of the late William Shakespeare, the Journal wishes to thank Mr. Springer for his favorable mention of Hamlet, and for his substantially, although not exactly, correct allusion to Ophelia. ‘You must wear your rue with a difference’ was not said of Ophelia but by her, and just what she meant has never been very clear to our less erudite minds. But let that pass. It sounds well and helps to confuse the issue. Perhaps we may be permitted to quote, also from that officially approved dramatic production known as Hamlet, a good thing that happened to be said by a bad man: “And where the offence is let the great axe fall. ”
Lonnie Morgan called me up about noon and asked me how I liked it. I told him I didn’t think it would do Springer any harm.
“Only with the eggheads,” Lonnie Morgan said, “and they already had his number. I meant what about you?”
“Nothing about me. I’m just sitting here waiting for a soft buck to rub itself against my cheek.”
“That wasn’t exactly what I meant.”
“I’m still healthy. Quit trying to scare me. I got what I wanted. If Lennox was still alive he could walk right up to Springer and spit in his eye.”
“You did it for him. And by this time Springer knows that. They got a hundred ways to frame a guy they don’t like. I don’t figure what made it worth your time. Lennox wasn’t that much man.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
He was silent for a moment. Then he said: “Sorry, Marlowe. Shut my big mouth. Good luck.”
We hung up after the usual goodbyes.
About two in the afternoon Linda Loring called me. “No names, please,” she said. “I’ve just flown in from that big lake up north. Somebody up there is boiling over something that was in the Journal last night. My almost ex-husband got it right between the eyes. The poor man was weeping when I left. He flew up to report.”
“What do you mean, almost ex-husband?”
“Don’t be stupid. For once Father approves. Paris is an excellent place to get a quiet divorce. So I shall soon be leaving to go there. And if you have any sense left you could do worse than spend a little of that fancy engraving you showed me going a long way off yourself.”
“What’s it got to do with me?”
“That’s the second stupid question you’ve asked. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself, Marlowe. Do you know how they shoot tigers?”
“How would I?”
“They tie a goat to a stake and then hide out in a blind. It’s apt to be rough on the goat. I like you. I’m sure I don’t know why, but I do. I hate the idea of your being the goat. You tried so hard to do the right thing—as you saw it.”
“Nice of you,” I said. “If I stick my neck out and it gets chopped, it’s still my neck.”
“Don’t be a hero, you fool,” she said sharply. “Just because someone we knew chose to be a fall guy, you don’t have to imitate him.”
“I’ll buy you a drink if you’re going to be around long enough.”
“Buy me one in Paris. Paris is lovely in the fall. ”
“I’d like to do that too. I hear it was even better in the spring. Never having been there I wouldn’t know.”
“The way you’re going you never will. ”
“Goodbye, Linda. I hope you find what you want.”
“Goodbye,” she said coldly. “I always find what I want. But when I find it, I don’t want it any more.”
She hung up. The rest of the day was a blank. I ate dinner and left the Olds at an all night garage to have the brake linings checked. I took a cab home. The street was as empty as usual. In the wooden mailbox was a free soap coupon. I went up the steps slowly. It was a soft night with a little haze in the air. The trees on the hill hardly moved. No breeze. I unlocked the door and pushed it part way open and then stopped. The door was about ten inches open from the frame. It was dark inside, there was no sound. But I had the feeling that the room beyond was not empty. Perhaps a spring squeaked faintly or I caught the gleam of a white jacket across the room. Perhaps on a warm still night like this one the room beyond the door was not warm enough, not still enough. Perhaps there was a drifting smell of man on the air. And perhaps I was just on edge.
I stepped sideways off the porch on to the ground and leaned down against the shrubbery. Nothing happened. No light went on inside, there was no movement anywhere that I heard, I had a gun in a belt holster on the left side, butt forward, a short-barreled Police 38. I jerked it out and it got me nowhere. The silence continued. I decided I was a damn fool. I straightened up and lifted a foot to go back to the front door, and then a car turned the corner and came fast up the hill and stopped almost without sound at the foot of my steps. It was a big-black sedan with the lines of a Cadillac. It could have been Linda Loring’s car, except for two things. Nobody opened a door and the windows on my side were all shut tight. I waited and listened, crouched against the bush, and there was nothing to listen to and nothing to wait for. Just a dark car motionless at the foot of my redwood steps, with the windows closed. If its motor was still running I couldn’t hear it. Then a big red spotlight clicked on and the beam struck twenty feet beyond the corner of the house. And then very slowly the big car backed until the spotlight could swing across the front of the house, across the hood and up.
Policemen don’t drive Cadillacs. Cadillacs with red spotlights belong to the big boys, mayors and police commissioners, perhaps District Attorneys. Perhaps hoodlums. The spotlight traversed. I went down flat, but it found me just the same. It held on me. Nothing else. Still the car door didn’t open, still the house was silent and without light.
Then a siren growled in low pitch just for a second or two and stopped. And then at last the house was full of lights and a man in a white dinner jacket came out to the head of the steps and looked sideways along the wall and the shrubbery.
“Come on in, cheapie,” Menendez said with a chuckle, “You’ve got company.”
I could have shot him with no trouble at all. Then he stepped back and it was too late—even if I could have done it. Then a window went down at the back of the car and I could hear the thud as it opened. Then a machine pistol went off and fired a short burst into the slope of the bank thirty feet away from me. “Come on in, cheapie,” Menendez said again from the doorway. “There just ain’t anywhere else to go.”
So I straightened up and went and the spotlight followed me accurately. I put the gun back in the holster on my belt. I stepped up onto the small redwood landing and went in through the door and stopped just inside. A man was sitting across the room with his legs crossed and a gun resting sideways on his thigh. He looked rangy and tough and his skin had that dried-out look of people who live in sun-bleached climates. He was wearing a dark brown gabardine-type windbreaker and the zipper was open almost to his waist. He was looking at me and neither his eyes nor the gun moved. He was as calm as an adobe wall in the moonlight.
I looked at him too long. There was a brief half-seen move at my side and a numbing pain in the point of my shoulder. My whole arm went dead to the fingertips. I turned and looked at a big mean-looking Mexican. He wasn’t grinning, he was just watching me. The .45 in his brown hand dropped to his side. He had a mustache and his head bulged with oily black hair brushed up and back and over and down. There was a dirty sombrero on the back of his head and the leather chin strap hung loose in two strands down the front of a stitched shirt that smelled of sweat. There is nothing tougher than a tough Mexican, just as there is nothing gentler than a gentle Mexican, nothing more honest than an honest Mexican, and above all nothing sadder than a sad Mexican. This guy was one of the hard boys. They don’t come any harder anywhere.
I rubbed my arm. It tingled a little but the ache was still there and the numbness. If I had tried to pull a gun I should probably have dropped it.
Menendez held his hand out towards the slugger. Without seeming to look he tossed the gun and Menendez caught it. He stood in front of me now and his face glistened. “Where would you like it, cheapie?” His black eyes danced.
I just looked at him. There is no answer to a question like that.
“I asked you a question, cheapie.”
I wet my lips and asked one back. “What happened to Agostino? I thought he was your gun handler.”
“Chick went soft,” he said gently.
“He was always soft—like his boss.”
The man in the chair flicked his eyes. He almost but not quite smiled. The tough boy who had paralyzed my arm neither moved nor spoke. I knew he was breathing. I could smell that.
“Somebody bump into your arm, cheapie?”
“I tripped over an enchilada.”
Negligently, not quite looking at me even, he slashed me across the face with the gun barrel.
“Don’t get gay with me, cheapie. You’re out of time for all that. You got told and you got told nice. When I take the trouble to call around personally and tell a character to lay off—he lays off, Or else he lays down and don’t get up.”
I could feel a trickle of blood down my cheek. I could feel the full numbing ache of the blow in my cheekbone. It spread until my whole head ached. It hadn’t been a hard blow, but the thing he used was hard. I could still talk, and nobody tried to stop me.
“How come you do your own slugging, Mendy? I thought that was coolie labor for the sort of boys that beat up Big Willie Magoon.”
“It’s the personal touch,” he said softly, “on account of I had personal reasons for telling you. The Magoon job was strictly business. He got to thinking he could push me around—me that bought his clothes and his cars and stocked his safe deposit box and paid off the trust deed on his house. These vice squad babies are all the same. I even paid school bills for his kid. You’d think the bastard would have some gratitude. So what does he do? He walks into my private office and slaps me around in front of the help.”
“On account of why?” I asked him, in the vague hope of getting him mad at somebody else.
“On account of some lacquered chippie said we used loaded dice. Seems like the bim was one of his sleepy-time gals. I had her put out of the club—with every dime she brought in with her.”
“Seems understandable,” I said. “Magoon ought to know no professional gambler plays crooked games. He doesn’t have to. But what have I done to you?”
He hit me again, thoughtfully. “You made me look bad. In my racket you don’t tell a guy twice. Not even a hard number. He goes out and does it, or you ain’t got control. You ain’t got control, you ain’t in business.”
“I’ve got a hunch that there’s a little more to it than that,” I said. “Excuse me if I reach for a handkerchief.”
The gun watched me while I got one out and touched the blood on my face.
“A two-bit peeper,” Menendez said slowly, “figures he can make a monkey out of Mendy Menendez. He can get me laughed at. He can get me the big razzoo—me, Menendez. I ought to use a knife on you, cheapie. I ought to cut you into slices of raw meat.”
“Lennox was your pal,” I said, and watched his eyes, “He got dead. He got buried like a dog without even a name over the dirt where they put his body. And I had a little something to do with proving him innocent. So that makes you look bad, huh? He saved your life and he lost his, and that didn’t mean a thing to you. All that means anything to you is playing the big shot. You didn’t give a hoot in hell for anybody but yourself. You’re not big, you’re just loud.”
His face froze and he swung his arm back to slug me a third time and this time with the power behind it. His arm was still going back when I took a half step forward and kicked him in the pit of the stomach.
I didn’t think, I didn’t plan, I didn’t figure my chances or whether I had any. I just got enough of his yap and I ached and bled and maybe I was just a little punch drunk by this time.
He jackknifed, gasping, and the gun fell out of his hand. He groped for it wildly making strained sounds deep in his throat. I put a knee into his face. He screeched.
The man in the chair laughed. That staggered me. Then he stood up and the gun in his hand came up with him.
“Don’t kill him,” he said mildly. “We want to use him for live bait.”
Then there was movement in the shadows of the hall and Ohls came through the door, blank-eyed, expressionless and utterly calm. He looked down at Menendez. Menendez was kneeling with his head on the floor.
“Soft,” Ohls said. “Soft as mush.”
“He’s not soft,” I said. “He’s hurt. Any man can be hurt. Was Big Willie Magoon soft?”
Ohls looked at me. The other man looked at me. The tough Mex at the door hadn’t made a sound.
“Take that goddamn cigarette out of your face,” I snarled at Ohls. “Either smoke it or leave it alone. I’m sick of watching you. I’m sick of you, period. I’m sick of cops.”
He looked surprised. Then he grinned.
“That was a plant, kiddo,” he said cheerfully. “You hurt bad? Did the nasty mans hit your facey-wacey? Well for my money you had it coming and it was damn useful that you had.” He looked down at Mendy. Mendy had his knees under him. He was climbing out of a well, a few inches at a time. He breathed gaspingly.
“What a talkative lad he is,” Ohls said, “when he doesn’t have three shysters with him to button his lip.”
He jerked Menendez to his feet. Mendy’s nose was bleeding. He fumbled the handkerchief out of his white dinner jacket and held it to his nose. He said no word.
“You got crossed up, sweetheart,” Ohls told him carefully. “I ain’t grieving a whole lot over Magoon. He had it coming. But he was a cop and punks like you lay off cops—always and forever.”
Menendez lowered the handkerchief and looked at Ohls. He looked at me. He looked at the man who had been sitting in the chair. He turned slowly and looked at the tough Mex by the door. They all looked at him. There was nothing in their faces. Then a knife shot into view from nowhere and Mendy lunged for Ohls. Ohls side-stepped and took him by the throat with one hand and chopped the knife out of his hand with ease, almost indifferently. Ohls spread his feet and straightened his back and bent his legs slightly and lifted Menendez clear off the floor with one hand holding his neck. He walked him across the floor and pinned him against the wall. He let him down, but didn’t let go of his throat.
“Touch me with one finger and I’ll kill you,” Ohls said. “One finger.” Then he dropped his hands.
Mendy smiled at him scornfully, looked at his handkerchief, and refolded it to hide the blood. He held it to his nose again. He looked down at the gun he had used to hit me. The man from the chair said loosely: “Not loaded, even if you could grab it.”
“A cross,” Mendy said to Ohls. “I heard you the first time.”
“You ordered three muscles,” Ohls said. “What you got was three deputies from Nevada. Somebody in Vegas don’t like the way you forget to clear with them. The somebody wants to talk to you. You can go along with the deputies or you can go downtown with me and get hung on the back of the door by a pair of handcuffs. There’s a couple of boys down there would like to see you close up.”
“God help Nevada,” Mendy said quietly, looking around again at the tough Mex by the door. Then he crossed himself quickly and walked out of the front door. The tough Mex followed him. Then the other one, the dried out desert type, picked up the gun and the knife and went out too. He shut the door. Ohls waited motionless. There was a sound of doors banging shut, then a car went off into the night.
“You sure those mugs were deputies?” I asked Ohls.
He turned as if surprised to see me there. “They had stars,” he said shortly.
“Nice work. Bernie. Very nice. Think he’ll get to Vegas alive, you coldhearted son of a bitch?”
I went to the bathroom and ran cold water and held a soaked towel against my throbbing cheek. I looked at myself in the glass. The cheek was puffed out of shape and bluish and there were jagged wounds on it from the force of the gun barrel hitting against the cheekbone. There was a discoloration under my left eye too. I wasn’t going to be beautiful for a few days.
Then Ohls’ reflection showed behind me in the mirror. He was rolling his damn unlighted cigarette along his lips, like a cat teasing a half-dead mouse, trying to get it to run away just once more.
“Next time don’t try to outguess the cops,” he said gruffly. “You think we let you steal that photostat just for laughs? We had a hunch Mendy would come gunning for you. We put it up to Starr cold. We told him we couldn’t stop gambling in the county, but we could make it tough enough to cut way into the take. No mobster beats up a cop, not even a bad cop, and gets away with it in our territory. Starr convinced us he had nothing to do with it, that the outfit was sore about it and Menendez was going to get told. So when Mendy called for a squad of out of town hard boys to come and give you the treatment, Starr sent him three guys he knew, in one of his own cars, at his own expense. Starr is a police commissioner in Vegas.”
I turned around and looked at Ohls. “The coyotes out in the desert will get fed tonight. Congratulations. Cop business is wonderful uplifting idealistic work. Bernie. The only thing wrong with cop business is the cops that are in it.”
“Too bad for you, hero,” he said with a sudden cold savagery. “I could hardly help laughing when you walked into your own parlor to take your beating. I got a rise out of that, kiddo. It was a dirty job and it had to be done dirty. To make these characters talk you got to give them a sense of power. You ain’t hurt bad, but we had to let them hurt you some.”
“So sorry,” I said. “So very sorry you had to suffer like that.”
He shoved his taut face at me. “I hate gamblers,” he said in a rough voice. “I hate them the way I hate dope pushers. They pander to a disease that is every bit as corrupting as dope. You think those palaces in Reno and Vegas are just for harmless fun? Nuts, they’re there for the little guy, the something-for-nothing sucker, the lad that stops off with his pay envelope in his pocket and loses the week-end grocery money. The rich gambler loses forty grand and laughs it off and comes back for more. But the rich gambler don’t make the big racket, pal. The big steal is in dimes and quarters and half dollars and once in a while a buck or even a five-spot. The big racket money comes in like water from the pipe in your bathroom, a steady stream that never stops flowing. Any time anybody wants to knock off a professional gambler, that’s for me. I like it. And any time a state government takes money from gambling and calls it taxes, that government is helping to keep the mobs in business. The barber or the beauty parlor girl puts two bucks on the nose. That’s for the Syndicate, that’s what really makes the profits. The people want an honest police force, do they? What for? To protect the guys with courtesy cards? We got legal horse tracks in this state, we got them all year round. They operate honest and the state gets its cut, and for every dollar laid at the track there’s fifty laid with the bookies. There’s eight or nine races on a card and in half of them, the little ones nobody notices, the fix can be in any time somebody says so. There’s only one way a jock can win a race, but there’s twenty ways he can lose one, with a steward at every eighth pole watching, and not able to do a damn thing about it if the jock knows his stuff. That’s legal gambling, pal, clean honest business, state approved. So it’s right, is it? Not by my book, it ain’t. Because it’s gambling and it breeds gamblers and when you add it up there’s one kind of gambling—the wrong kind.”
“Feel better?” I asked him, putting some white iodine on my wounds.
“I’m an old tired beat-up cop. All I feel is sore.”
I turned around and stared at him. “You’re a damp good cop. Bernie, but just the same you’re all wet. In one way cops are all the same. They all blame the wrong things. If a guy loses his pay check at a crap table, stop gambling. If he gets drunk, stop liquor. If he kills somebody in a car crash, stop making automobiles. If he gets pinched with a girl in a hotel room, stop sexual intercourse. If he falls downstairs, stop building houses.”
“Aw shut up!”
“Sure, shut me up. I’m just a private citizen. Get off it. Bernie. We don’t have mobs and crime syndicates and goon squads because we have crooked politicians and their stooges in the City Hall and the legislatures. Crime isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom. Cops are like a doctor that gives you aspirin for a brain tumor, except that the cop would rather cure it with a blackjack. We’re a big rough rich wild people and crime is the price we pay for it, and organized crime is the price we pay for organization. We’ll have it with us a long time. Organized crime is just the dirty side of the sharp dollar.”
“What’s the clean side?”
“I never saw it. Maybe Harlan Potter could tell you. Let’s have a drink.”
“You looked pretty good walking in that door,” Ohls said.
“You looked better when Mendy pulled the knife on you.”
“Shake,” he said, and put his hand out.
We had the drink and he left by the back door, which he had jimmied to get in, having dropped by the night before for scouting purposes. Back doors are a soft touch if they open out and are old enough for the wood to have dried and shrunk. You knock the pins out of the hinges and the rest is easy. Ohls showed me a dent in the frame when he left to go back over the hill to where he had left his car on the next street. He could have opened the front door almost as easily but that would have broken the lock. It would have showed up too much.
I watched him climb through the trees with the beam of a torch in front of him and disappear over the rise. I locked the door and mixed another mild drink and went back to the living room and sat down. I looked at my watch. It was still early. It only seemed a long time since I had come home.
I went to the phone and dialed the operator and gave her the Lorings’ phone number. The butler asked who was calling, then went to see if Mrs. Loring was in. She was.
“I was the goat all right,” I said, “but they caught the tiger alive. I’m bruised up a little.”
“You must tell me about it sometime.” She sounded about as far away as if she had got to Paris already.
“I could tell you over a drink—if you had time.”
“Tonight? Oh, I’m packing my things to move out. I’m afraid that would be impossible.”
“Yes, I can see that. Well, I just thought you might like to know. It was kind of you to warn me. It had nothing at all to do with your old man.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh. Just a minute.” She was gone for a time, then she came back and sounded warmer. “Perhaps I could fit a drink in. Where?”
“Anywhere you say. I haven’t a car tonight, but I can get a cab.”
“Nonsense, I’ll pick you up, but it will be an hour or longer. What is the address there?”
I told her and she hung up and I put the porch light on and then stood in the open door inhaling the night. It had got much cooler.
I went back in and tried to phone Lonnie Morgan but couldn’t reach him. Then just for the hell of it I put a call in to the Terrapin Club at Las Vegas, Mr. Randy Starr. He probably wouldn’t take it. But he did. He had a quiet, competent, man-of-affairs voice.
“Nice to hear from you, Marlowe. Any friend of Terry’s is a friend of mine. What can I do for you?”
“Mendy is on his way.”
“On his way where?”
“To Vegas, with the three goons you sent after him in a big black Caddy with a red spotlight and siren. Yours, I presume?”
He laughed. “In Vegas, as some newspaper guy said, we use Cadillacs for trailers. What’s this all about?”
“Mendy staked out here in my house with a couple of hard boys. His idea was to beat me up—putting it low—for a piece in the paper he seemed to think was my fault.”
“Was it your fault?”
“I don’t own any newspapers, Mr. Starr.”
“I don’t own any hard boys in Cadillacs, Mr. Marlowe.”
“They were deputies maybe.”
“I couldn’t say. Anything else?”
“He pistol-whipped me. I kicked him in the stomach and used my knee on his nose. He seemed dissatisfied. All the same I hope he gets to Vegas alive.”
“I’m sure he will, if he started this way. I’m afraid I’ll have to cut this conversation short now.”
“Just a second, Starr. Were you in on that caper at Otatoclán—or did Mendy work it alone?”
“Don’t kid, Starr. Mendy wasn’t sore at me for why he said—not to the point of staking out in my house and giving me the treatment he gave Big Willie Magoon. Not enough motive. He warned me to keep my nose clean and not to dig into the Lennox case. But I did, because it just happened to work out that way. So he did what I’ve just told you. So there was a better reason.”
“I see,” he said slowly and still mildly and quietly. “You think there was something not quite kosher about how Terry got dead? That he didn’t shoot himself, for instance, but someone else did?”
“I think the details would help. He wrote a confession which was false. He wrote a letter to me which got mailed. A waiter or hop in the hotel was going to sneak it out and mail it for him. He was holed up in the hotel and couldn’t get out. There was a big bill in the letter and the letter was finished just as a knock came at his door. I’d like to know who came into the room.”
“If it had been a bellhop or a waiter, Terry would have added a line to the letter and said so. If it was a cop, the letter wouldn’t have been mailed. So who was it—and why did Terry write that confession?”
“No idea, Marlowe. No idea at all. ”
“Sorry I bothered you, Mr. Starr.”
“No bother, glad to hear from you. I’ll ask Mendy if he has any ideas.”
“Yeah—if you ever see him again—alive. If you don’t—find out anyway. Or somebody else will. ”
“You?” His voice hardened now, but it was still quiet.
“No, Mr. Starr. Not me. Somebody that could blow you out of Vegas without taking a long breath. Believe me, Mr. Starr. Just believe me. This is strictly on the level. ”
“I’ll see Mendy alive. Don’t worry about that, Marlowe.”
“I figured you knew all about that. Goodnight, Mr. Starr.”