They had done a wonderful job on him in Mexico City, but why not? Their doctors, technicians, hospitals, painters, architects are as good as ours. Sometimes a little better. A Mexican cop invented the paraffin test for powder nitrates. They couldn’t make Terry’s face perfect, but they had done plenty. They had even changed his nose, taken out some bone and made it look flatter, less Nordic. They couldn’t eliminate every trace of a scar, so they had put a couple on the other side of his face too. Knife scars are not uncommon in Latin countries.
“They even did a nerve graft up here,” he said, and touched what had been the bad side of his face.
“How close did I come?”
“Close enough. A few details wrong, but they are not important. It was a quick deal and some of it was improvised and I didn’t know myself just what was going to happen. I was told to do certain things and to leave a clear trail. Mendy didn’t like my writing to you, but I held out for that. He undersold you a little. He never noticed the bit about the mailbox.”
“You know who killed Sylvia?”
He didn’t answer me directly. “It’s pretty tough to turn a woman in for murder—even if she never meant much to you.”
“It’s a tough world. Was Harlan Potter in on all this?”
He smiled again. “Would he be likely to let anyone know that? My guess is not. My guess is he thinks I am dead. Who would tell him otherwise—unless you did?”
“What I’d tell him you could fold into a blade of grass. How’s Mendy these days—or is he?”
“He’s doing all right. In Acapulco. He slipped by because of Randy. But the boys don’t go for rough work on cops. Mendy’s not as bad as you think. He has a heart.”
“So has a snake.”
“Well, what about that gimlet?”
I got up without answering him and went to the safe. I spun the knob and got out the envelope with the portrait of Madison on it and the five C notes that smelled of coffee. I dumped the lot out on the desk and then picked up the five C notes.
“These I keep. I spent almost all of it on expenses and research. The portrait of Madison I enjoyed playing with. It’s all yours now.”
I spread it on the edge of the desk in front of him. He looked at it but didn’t touch it.
“It’s yours to keep,” he said. “I’ve got plenty. You could have let things lie.”
“I know. After she killed her husband and got away with it she might have gone on to better things. He was of no real importance, of course. Just a human being with blood and a brain and emotions. He knew what happened too and he tried pretty hard to live with it. He wrote books. You may have heard of him.”
“Look, I couldn’t very well help what I did,” he said slowly. “I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I wouldn’t have had a dog’s chance up here. A man can’t figure every angle that quick. I was scared and I ran. What should I have done?”
“I don’t know.”
“She had a mad streak. She might have killed him anyway.”
“Yeah, she might.”
“Well, thaw out a little. Let’s go have a drink somewhere where it’s cool and quiet.”
“No time right now, Señor Maioranos.”
“We were pretty good friends once,” he said unhappily.
“Were we? I forget. That was two other fellows, seems to me. You permanently in Mexico?”
“Oh yes. I’m not here legally even. I never was. I told you I was born in Salt Lake City. I was born in Montreal. I’ll be a Mexican national pretty soon now. All it takes is a good lawyer. I’ve always liked Mexico. It wouldn’t be much risk going to Victor’s for that gimlet.”
“Pick up your money, Señor Maioranos. It has too much blood on it.”
“You’re a poor man.”
“How would you know?”
He picked the bill up and stretched it between his thin fingers and slipped it casually into an inside pocket. He bit his lip with the very white teeth you can have when you have a brown skin.
“I couldn’t tell you any more than I did that morning you drove me to Tijuana. I gave you a chance to call the law and turn me in.”
“I’m not sore at you. You’re just that kind of guy. For a long time I couldn’t figure you at all. You had nice ways and nice qualities, but there was something wrong. You had standards and you lived up to them, but they were personal. They had no relation to any kind of ethics or scruples. You were a nice guy because you had a nice nature. But you were just as happy with mugs or hoodlums as with honest men. Provided the hoodlums spoke fairly good English and had fairly acceptable table manners. You’re a moral defeatist. I think maybe the war did it and again I think maybe you were born that way.”
“I don’t get it,” he said. “I really don’t. I’m trying to pay you back and you won’t let me. I couldn’t have told you any more than I did. You wouldn’t have stood for it.”
“That’s as nice a thing as was ever said to me.”
“I’m glad you like something about me. I got in a bad jam. I happened to know the sort of people who know how to deal with bad jams. They owed me for an incident that happened long ago in the war. Probably the only time in my life I ever did the right thing quick like a mouse. And when I needed them, they delivered. And for free. You’re not the only guy in the world that has no price tag, Marlowe.”
He leaned across the desk and snapped at one of my cigarettes. There was an uneven flush on his face under the deep tan. The scars showed up against it. I watched him spring a fancy gas cartridge lighter loose from a pocket and light the cigarette. I got a whiff of perfume from him.
“You bought a lot of me, Terry. For a smile and a nod and a wave of the hand and a few quiet drinks in a quiet bar here and there. It was nice while it lasted. So long, amigo. I won’t say goodbye. I said it to you when it meant something. I said it when it was sad and lonely and final. ”
“I came back too late,” he said. “These plastic jobs take time.”
“You wouldn’t have come at all if I hadn’t smoked you out.”
There was suddenly a glint of tears in his eyes. He put his dark glasses back on quickly.
“I wasn’t sure about it,” he said. “I hadn’t made up my mind. They didn’t want me to tell you anything. I just hadn’t made up my mind.”
“Don’t worry about it, Terry. There’s always somebody around to do it for you.”
“I was in the Commandos, bud. They don’t take you if you’re just a piece of fluff. I got badly hurt and it wasn’t any fun with those Nazi doctors. It did something to me.”
“I know all that, Terry. You’re a very sweet guy in a lot of ways. I’m not judging you. I never did. It’s just that you’re not here any more. You’re long gone. You’ve got nice clothes and perfume and you’re as elegant as a fifty-dollar whore.”
“That’s just an act,” he said almost desperately.
“You get a kick out of it, don’t you?”
His mouth dropped in a sour smile. He shrugged an expressive energetic Latin shrug.
“Of course. An act is all there is. There isn’t anything else. In here—” he tapped his chest with the lighter—“there isn’t anything. I’ve had it, Marlowe. I had it long ago. Well—I guess that winds things up.”
He stood up. I stood up. He put out a lean hand. I shook it.
“So long, Señor Maioranos. Nice to have known you—however briefly.”
He turned and walked across the floor and out. I watched the door close. I listened to his steps going away down the imitation marble corridor. After a while they got faint, then they got silent. I kept on listening anyway. What for? Did I want him to stop suddenly and turn and come back and talk me out of the way I felt? Well, he didn’t. That was the last I saw of him.
I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.
About the Author
RAYMOND CHANDLER was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 23, 1888, but spent most of his boyhood and youth in England, where he attended Dulwich College and later worked as a free-lance journalist for The Westminster Gazette and The Spectator. During World War I, he served in France with the First Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, transferring later to the Royal Flying Corps (R.A.F.). In 1919 he returned to the United States, settling in California, where he eventually became director of a number of independent oil companies. The Depression put an end to his business career, and in 1933, at the age of forty-five, he turned to writing, publishing his first stories in Black Mask. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. Never a prolific writer, he published only one collection of stories and seven novels in his lifetime. In the last year of his life he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. He died in La Jolla, California, on March 26, 1959.