It’s a long drag back from Tijuana and one of the dullest drives in the state. Tijuana is nothing; all they want there is the buck. The kid who sidles over to your car and looks at you with big wistful eyes and says, “One dime, please, mister,” will try to sell you his sister in the next sentence. Tijuana is not Mexico. No border town is anything but a border town, just as no waterfront is anything but a waterfront. San Diego? One of the most beautiful harbors in the world and nothing in it but navy and a few fishing boats. At night it is fairyland. The swell is as gentle as an old lady singing hymns. But Marlowe has to get home and count the spoons.
The road north is as monotonous as a sailor’s chantey. You go through a town, down a hill, along a stretch of beach, through a town, down a hill, along a stretch of beach.
It was two o’clock when I got back and they were waiting for me in a dark sedan with no police tags, no red light, only the double antenna, and not only police cars have those. I was halfway up the steps before they came out of it and yelled at me, the usual couple in the usual suits, with the usual stony leisure of movement, as if the world was waiting hushed and silent for them to tell it what to do.
“Your name Marlowe? We want to talk to you.”
He let me see the glint of a badge. For all I caught of it he might have been Pest Control. He was gray blond and looked sticky. His partner was tall, good-looking, neat, and had a precise nastiness about him, a goon with an education. They had watching and waiting eyes, patient and careful eyes, cool disdainful eyes, cops’ eyes. They get them at the passing-out parade at the police school.
“Sergeant Green, Central Homicide. This is Detective Dayton.”
I went on up and unlocked the door. You don’t shake hands with big city cops. That close is too close.
They sat in the living room. I opened the windows and the breeze whispered. Green did the talking.
“Man named Terry Lennox. Know him, huh?”
“We have a drink together once in a while. He lives in Encino, married money. I’ve never been where he lives.”
“Once in a while,” Green said. “How often would that be?”
“It’s a vague expression. I meant it that way. It could be once a week or once in two months.”
“Met his wife?”
“Once, very briefly, before they were married.”
“You saw him last when and where?”
I took a pipe off the end table and filled it. Green leaned forward close to me. The tall lad sat farther back holding a ballpoint poised over a red-edged pad.
“This is where I say, ‘What’s this all about?’ and you say, ‘We ask the questions.’”
“So you just answer them, huh?”
I lit the pipe. The tobacco was a little too moist. It took me some time to light it properly and three matches.
“I got three,” Green said, “but I already used up a lot of it waiting around. So snap it up, mister. We know who you are. And you know we ain’t here to work up an appetite.”
“I was just thinking,” I said. “We used to go to Victor’s fairly often, and not so often to The Green Lantern and The Bull and Bear—that’s the place down at the end of the Strip that tries to look like an English inn—”
“Who’s dead?” I asked.
Detective Dayton spoke up. He had a hard, mature, don’t-try-to-fool-with-me voice. “Just answer the questions, Marlowe. We are conducting a routine investigation. That’s all you need to know.”
Maybe I was tired and irritable. Maybe I felt a little guilty. I could learn to hate this guy without even knowing him. I could just look at him across the width of a cafeteria and want to kick his teeth in.
“Shove it, Jack,” I said. “Keep that guff for the juvenile bureau. It’s a horse laugh even to them.”
Green chuckled. Nothing changed in Dayton’s face that you could put a finger on but he suddenly looked ten years older and twenty years nastier. The breath going through his nose whistled faintly.
“He passed the bar examination,” Green said. “You can’t fool around with Dayton.”
I got up slowly and went over to the bookshelves. I took down the bound copy of the California Penal Code. I held it out to Dayton.
“Would you kindly find me the section that says I have to answer the questions?”
He was holding himself very still. He was going to slug me and we both knew it. But he was going to wait for the break. Which meant that he didn’t trust Green to back him up if he got out of line.
He said: “Every citizen has to co-operate with the police. In all ways, even by physical action, and especially by answering any questions of a non-incriminating nature the police think it necessary to ask.” His voice saying this was hard and bright and smooth.
“It works out that way,” I said. “Mostly by a process of direct or indirect intimidation. In law no such obligation exists. Nobody has to tell the police anything, any time, anywhere.”
“Aw shut up,” Green said impatiently. “You’re crawfishing and you know it. Sit down. Lennox’s wife has been murdered. In a guesthouse at their place in Encino. Lennox has skipped out. Anyway he can’t be found. So we’re looking for a suspect in a murder case. That satisfy you?”
I threw the book in a chair and went back to the couch across the table from Green. “So why come to me?” I asked. “I’ve never been near the house. I told you that.”
Green patted his thighs, up and down, up and down. He grinned at me quietly. Dayton was motionless in the chair. His eyes ate me.
“On account of your phone number was written on a pad in his room during the past twenty-four hours,” Green said. “It’s a date pad and yesterday was torn off but you could see the impression on today’s page. We don’t know when he called you up. We don’t know where he went or why or when. But we got to ask, natch.”
“Why in the guesthouse?” I asked, not expecting him to answer, but he did.
He blushed a little. “Seems she went there pretty often. At night. Had visitors. The help can see down through the trees where the lights show. Cars come and go, sometimes late, sometimes very late. Too much is enough, huh? Don’t kid yourself. Lennox is our boy. He went down that way about one in the A.M. The butler happened to see. He come back alone, maybe twenty minutes later. After that nothing. The lights stayed on. This morning no Lennox. The butler goes down by the guesthouse. The dame is as naked as a mermaid on the bed and let me tell you he don’t recognize her by her face. She practically ain’t got one. Beat to pieces with a bronze statuette of a monkey.”
“Terry Lennox wouldn’t do anything like that,” I said. “Sure she cheated on him. Old stuff. She always had. They’d been divorced and remarried. I don’t suppose it made him happy but why should he go crazy over it now?”
“Nobody knows that answer,” Green said patiently. “It happens all the time. Men and women both. A guy takes it and takes it and takes it. Then he don’t. He probably don’t know why himself, why at that particular instant he goes berserk. Only he does, and somebody’s dead. So we got business to do. So we ask you one simple question. So quit horsing around or we take you in.”
“He’s not going to tell you, Sergeant,” Dayton said acidly. “He read that law book. Like a lot of people that read a law book he thinks the law is in it.”
“You make the notes,” Green said, “and leave your brains alone. If you’re real good we’ll let you sing ‘Mother Machree’ at the police smoker.”
“The hell with you, Sarge, if I may say so with proper respect for your rank.”
“Let’s you and him fight,” I said to Green. “I’ll catch him when he drops.”
Dayton laid his note pad and ballpoint aside very carefully. He stood up with a bright gleam in his eyes. He walked over and stood in front of me.
“On your feet, bright boy. Just because I went to college don’t make me take any guff from a nit like you.”
I started to get up. I was still off balance when he hit me. He hooked me with a neat left and crossed it. Bells rang, but not for dinner. I sat down hard and shook my head. Dayton was still there. He was smiling now.
“Let’s try again,” he said. “You weren’t set that time. It wasn’t really kosher.”
I looked at Green. He was looking at his thumb as if studying a hangnail. I didn’t move or speak, waiting for him to look up. If I stood up again, Dayton would slug me again. He might slug me again anyhow. But if I stood up and he slugged me, I would take him to pieces, because the blows proved he was strictly a boxer. He put them in the right place but it would take a lot of them to wear me down.
Green said almost absently: “Smart work. Billy boy. You gave the man exactly what he wanted. Clam juice.”
Then he looked up and said mildly: “Once more, for the record, Marlowe. Last time you saw Terry Lennox, where and how and what was talked about, and where did you come from just now. Yes—or no?”
Dayton was standing loosely, nicely balanced. There was a soft sweet sheen in his eyes.
“How about the other guy?” I asked, ignoring him.
“What other guy was that?”
“In the hay, in the guesthouse. No clothes on. You’re not saying she had to go down there to play solitaire,”
“That comes later—when we get the husband.”
“Fine. If it’s not too much trouble when you already have a patsy.”
“You don’t talk, we take you in, Marlowe.”
“As a material witness?”
“As a material my foot. As a suspect. Suspicion of accessory after the fact of murder. Helping a suspect escape. My guess is you took the guy somewhere. And right now a guess is all I need. The skipper is tough these days. He knows the rulebook but he gets absent-minded. This could be a misery for you. One way or another we get a statement from you. The harder it is to get, the surer we are we need it.”
“That’s a lot of crap to him,” Dayton said. “He knows the book.”
“It’s a lot of crap to everybody,” Green said calmly. “But it still works. Come on, Marlowe. I’m blowing the whistle on you.”
“Okay,” I said. “Blow it. Terry Lennox was my friend. I’ve got a reasonable amount of sentiment invested in him. Enough not to spoil it just because a cop says come through, You’ve got a case against him, maybe far more than I hear from you. Motive, opportunity, and the fact that he skipped out. The motive is old stuff, long neutralized, almost part of the deal. I don’t admire that kind of deal, but that’s the kind of guy he is—a little weak and very gentle. The rest of it means nothing except that if he knew she was dead he knew he was a sitting duck for you. At the inquest if they have one and if they call me, I’ll have to answer questions. I don’t have to answer yours. I can see you’re a nice guy, Green. Just as I can see your partner is just another goddamn badge flasher with a power complex. If you want to get me in a real jam, let him hit me again. I’ll break his goddamn pencil for him.”
Green stood up and looked at me sadly. Dayton hadn’t moved. He was a one-shot tough guy. He had to have time out to pat his back.
“I’ll use the phone,” Green said. “But I know what answer I’ll get. You’re a sick chicken, Marlowe. A very sick chicken. Get the hell outa my way.” This last to Dayton. Dayton turned and went back and picked up his pad.
Green crossed to the phone and lifted it slowly, his plain face creased with the long slow thankless grind. That’s the trouble with cops. You’re all set to hate their guts and then you meet one that goes human on you.
The Captain said to bring me in, and rough.
They put handcuffs on me. They didn’t search the house, which seemed careless of them. Possibly they figured I would be too experienced to have anything there that could be dangerous to me. In which they were wrong. Because if they had made any kind of job of it they would have found Terry Lennox’s car keys. And when the car was found, as it would be sooner or later, they would fit the keys to it and know he had been in my company.
Actually, as it turned out, that meant nothing. The car was never found by any police. It was stolen sometime in the night, driven most probably to El Paso, fitted with new keys and forged papers, and put on the market eventually in Mexico City. The procedure is routine. Mostly the money comes back in the form of heroin. Part of the good-neighbor policy, as the hoodlums see it.
The homicide skipper that year was a Captain Gregorius, a type of copper that is getting rarer but by no means extinct, the kind that solves crimes with the bright light, the soft sap, the kick to the kidneys, the knee to the groin, the fist to the solar plexus, the night stick to the base of the spine. Six months later he was indicted for perjury before a grand jury, booted without trial, and later stamped to death by a big stallion on his ranch in Wyoming.
Right now I was his raw meat. He sat behind his desk with his coat off and his sleeves rolled almost to his shoulders. He was as bald as a brick and getting heavy around the waist like all hard-muscled men in middle age. His eyes were fish gray. His big nose was a network of burst capillaries. He was drinking coffee and not quietly. His blunt strong hands had hairs thick on their backs. Grizzled tufts stuck out of his ears. He pawed something on his desk and looked at Green.
Green said: “All we got on him is he won’t tell us nothing, skipper. The phone number makes us look him up. He’s out riding and don’t say where. He knows Lennox pretty well and don’t say when he saw him last.”
“Thinks he’s tough,” Gregorius said indifferently. “We could change that.” He said it as if he didn’t care one way or another. He probably didn’t. Nobody was tough to him. “Point is the D.A. smells a lot of headlines on this one. Can’t blame him, seeing who the girl’s old man is. I guess we better pick this fellow’s nose for him.”
He looked at me as if I was a cigarette stub, or an empty chair. Just something in his line of vision, without interest for him.
Dayton said respectfully: “It’s pretty obvious that his whole attitude was designed to create a situation where he could refuse to talk. He quoted law at us and needles me into socking him. I was out of line there, Captain.”
Gregorius eyed him bleakly. “You must needle easy if this punk can do it. Who took the cuffs off?”
Green said he did. “Put them back on,” Gregorius said. “Tight. Give him something to brace him up.”
Green put the cuffs back on or started to. “Behind the back,” Gregorius barked. Green cuffed my hands behind my back. I was sitting in a hard chair.
“Tighter,” Gregorius said. “Make them bite.”
Green made them tighter. My hands started to feel numb.
Gregorius looked at me finally. “You can talk now. Make it snappy.”
I didn’t answer him. He leaned back and grinned. His hand went out slowly for his coffee cup and went around it. He leaned forward a little. The cup jerked but I beat it by going sideways out of the chair. I landed hard on my shoulder, rolled over and got up slowly. My hands were quite numb now. They didn’t feel anything. The arms above the cuffs were beginning to ache.
Green helped me back into the chair. The wet smear of the coffee was over the back and some of the seat, but most of it was on the floor.
“He don’t like coffee,” Gregorius said. “He’s a swifty. He moves fast. Good reflexes.”
Nobody said anything. Gregorius looked me over with fish eyes.
“In here, mister, a dick license don’t mean any more than calling card. Now let’s have your statement, verbal at first. We’ll take it down later. Make it complete. Let’s have, say, a full account of your movements since ten P.M. last night. I mean full. This office is investigating a murder and the prime suspect is missing. You connect with him. Guy catches his wife cheating and beats her head to raw flesh and bone and blood-soaked hair. Our old friend the bronze statuette. Not original but it works. You think any goddamn private eye is going to quote law at me over this, mister, you got a hell of a tough time coming your way. There ain’t a police force in the country could do its job with a law book. You got information and I want it. You could of said no and I could of not believed you. But you didn’t even say no. You’re not dummying up on me, my friend. Not six cents worth. Let’s go.”
“Would you take the cuffs off, Captain?” I asked. “I mean if I made a statement?”
“I might. Make it short.”
“If I told you I hadn’t seen Lennox within the last twenty-four hours, hadn’t talked to him and had no idea where he might be—would that satisfy you, Captain?”
“It might—if I believed it.”
“If I told you I had seen him and where and when, but had no idea he had murdered anyone or that any crime had been committed, and further had no idea where he might be at this moment, that wouldn’t satisfy you at all, would it?”
“With more detail I might listen. Things like where, when, what he looked like, what was talked about, where he was headed. It might grow into something.”
“With your treatment,” I said. “it would probably grow into making me an accessory.”
His jaw muscles bulged. His eyes were dirty ice. “So?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I need legal advice. I’d like to co-operate. How would it be if we had somebody from the D.A.’s office here?”
He let out a short raucous laugh. It was over very soon. He got up slowly and walked around the desk. He leaned down close to me, one big hand on the wood, and smiled. Then without change of expression he hit me on the side of the neck with a fist like a piece of iron
The blow traveled eight or ten inches, no more. It nearly took my head off. Bile seeped into my mouth. I tasted blood mixed with it I heard nothing but a roaring in my head. He leaned over me still smiling, his left hand still on the desk. His voice seemed to come from a long way off.
“I used to be tough but I’m getting old. You take a good punch, mister, and that’s all you get from me. We got boys at the City Jail that ought to be working in the Dockyards. Maybe we hadn’t ought to have them because they ain’t nice clean powder-puff punchers like Dayton here. They don’t have four kids and a rose garden like Green. They live for different amusements. It takes all kinds and labor’s scarce. You got any more funny little ideas about what you might say, if you bothered to say it?”
“Not with the cuffs on, Captain.” It hurt even to say that much.
He leaned farther towards me and I smelled his sweat and the gas of corruption. Then he straightened and went back around the desk and planted his solid buttocks in his chair. He picked up a three-cornered ruler and ran his thumb along one edge as if it was a knife. He looked at Green.
“What are you waiting for, Sergeant?”
“Orders.” Green ground out the word as if he hated the sound of his own voice.
“You got to be told? You’re an experienced man, it says in the records. I want a detailed statement of this man’s movements for the past twenty-four hours. Maybe longer, but that much at first. I want to know what he did every minute of the time. I want it signed and witnessed and checked. I want it in two hours. Then I want him back here dean, tidy, and unmarked. And one thing more, Sergeant.”
He paused and gave Green a stare that would have frozen a fresh-baked potato.
“—next time I ask a suspect a few civil questions I don’t want you standing there looking as if I had torn his ear off.”
“Yes, sir.” Green turned to me. “Let’s go,” he said gruffly.
Gregorius bared his teeth at me. They needed cleaning—badly. “Let’s have the exit line, chum.”
“Yes, sir,” I said politely. “You probably didn’t intend it, but you’ve done me a favor. With an assist from Detective Dayton. You’ve solved a problem for me. No man likes to betray a friend but I wouldn’t betray an enemy into your hands. You’re not only a gorilla, you’re an incompetent. You don’t know how to operate a simple investigation. I was balanced on a knife-edge and you could have swung me either way. But you had to abuse me, throw coffee in my face, and use your fists on me when I was in a spot where all I could do was take it. From now on I wouldn’t tell you the time by the clock on your own wall. ”
For some strange reason he sat there perfectly still and let me say it. Then he grinned. “You’re just a little old cop-hater, friend. That’s all you are, shamus, just a little old cop-hater.”
“There are places where cops are not hated, Captain. But in those places you wouldn’t be a cop.”
He took that too. I guess he could afford it. He’d probably taken worse many times. Then the phone rang on his desk. He looked at it and gestured. Dayton stepped smartly around the desk and lifted the receiver.
“Captain Gregorius’ office. Detective Dayton speaking.”
He listened. A tiny frown drew his handsome eyebrows together. He said softly: “One moment, please, sir.”
He held the phone out to Gregorius. “Commissioner Allbright, sir.”
Gregorius scowled. “Yeah? What’s that snotty bastard want?” He took the phone, held it a moment and smoothed his face out. “Gregorius, Commissioner.”
He listened. “Yeah, he’s here in my office, Commissioner. I been asking him a few questions. Not co-operative. Not co-operative at all… How’s that again?” A sudden ferocious scowl twisted his face into dark knots. The blood darkened his forehead. But his voice didn’t change in tone by a fraction. “If that’s a direct order, it ought to come through the Chief of Detectives, Commissioner… Sure, I’ll act on it until it’s confirmed. Sure ... Hell, no. Nobody laid a glove on him… Yes, sir. Right away.”
He put the phone back in its cradle. I thought his hand shook a little. His eyes moved up and across my face and then to Green. “Take the cuffs off,” he said tonelessly.
Green unlocked the cuffs. I rubbed my hands together, waiting for the pins and needles of circulation.
“Book him in the county jail,” Gregorius said slowly, “Suspicion of murder. The D.A. has glommed the case right out of our hands. Lovely system we got around here.”
Nobody moved. Green was close to me, breathing hard. Gregorius looked up at Dayton.”
“Whatcha waiting for, cream puff? An ice-cream cone maybe?”
Dayton almost choked. “You didn’t give me any orders, skipper.”
“Say sir to me, damn you! I’m skipper to sergeants and better. Not to you, kiddo. Not to you. Out.”
“Yes, sir.” Dayton walked quickly to the door and went but Gregorius heaved himself to his feet and moved to the window and stood with his back to the room.
“Come on, let’s drift,” Green muttered in my ear.
“Get him out of here before I kick his face in,” Gregorius said to the window.
Green went to the door and opened it. I started through. Gregorius barked suddenly: “Hold it! Shut that door!”
Green shut it and leaned his back to it.
“Come here, you!” Gregorius barked at me.
I didn’t move. I stood and looked at him. Green didn’t move either. There was a grim pause. Then very slowly Gregorius walked across the room and stood facing me toe to toe. He put his big hard hands in his pockets. He rocked on his heels.
“Never laid a glove on him,” he said under his breath, as if talking to himself. His eyes were remote and expressionless. His mouth worked convulsively.
Then he spat in my face.
He stepped back. “That will be all, thank you.”
He turned and went back to the window. Green opened the door again.
I went through it reaching for my handkerchief.
Cell No. 5 in the felony tank has two bunks, Pullman style, but the tank was not very full and I had the cell to myself. In the felony tank they treat you pretty well. You get two blankets, neither dirty nor clean, and a lumpy mattress two inches thick which goes over crisscrossed metal slats. There is a flush toilet, a washbasin, paper towels and gritty gray soap. The cellblock is clean and doesn’t smell of disinfectant. The trusties do the work. The supply of trusties is always ample.
The jail deputies look you over and they have wise eyes. Unless you are a drunk or a psycho or act like one you get to keep your matches and cigarettes. Until preliminary you wear your own clothes. After that you wear the jail denim, no tie, no belt, no shoelaces. You sit on the bunk and wait. There is nothing else to do.
In the drunk tank it is not so good. No bunk, no chair, no blankets, no nothing. You lie on the concrete floor. You sit on the toilet and vomit in your own lap. That is the depth of misery. I’ve seen it.
Although it was still daylight the lights were on in the ceiling. Inside the steel door of the cellblock was a basket of steel bars around the Judas window. The lights were controlled from outside the steel door. They went out at nine P.M. Nobody came through the door or said anything. You might be in the middle of a sentence in a newspaper or magazine. Without any sound of a click or any warning—darkness. And there you were until the summer dawn with nothing to do but sleep if you could, smoke if you had anything to smoke, and think if you had anything to think about that didn’t make you feel worse than not thinking at all.
In jail a man has no personality. He is a minor disposal problem and a few entries on reports. Nobody cares who loves or hates him, what he looks like, what he did with his life. Nobody reacts to him unless he gives trouble. Nobody abuses him. All that is asked of him is that he go quietly to right cell and remain quiet when he gets there. There nothing to fight against, nothing to be mad at. There are quiet men without animosity or sadism. All this stuff you read about men yelling and screaming, beating against the bars, running spoons along them, guards rushing in with clubs—all that is for the big house. A good jail is one of the quietest places in the world. You could walk through the average cellblock at night and look in through the bars and see a huddle of brown blanket, or a head of hair, or a pair of eyes looking at nothing. You might hear a snore. Once in a long while you might hear a nightmare. The life in a jail is in suspension, without purpose or meaning. In another cell you might see a man who cannot sleep or even try to sleep. He is sitting on the edge of his bunk doing nothing. He looks at you or you look at him. He says nothing and you say nothing. There is nothing to communicate.
In the corner of the cellblock there may be a second steel door that leads to the show-up box. One of its walls is wire mesh painted black. On the back wall are ruled lines for height. Overhead are floodlights. You go in there in the morning as a rule, just before the night captain goes off duty. You stand against the measuring lines and the lights glare at you and there is no light behind the wire mesh. But plenty of people are out there: cops, detectives, citizens who have been robbed or assaulted or swindled or kicked out of their cars at gun point or conned out of their life savings. You don’t see or hear them. You hear the voice of the night captain. You receive him loud and clear. He puts you through your paces as if you were a performing dog. He is tired and cynical and competent. He is the stage manager of a play that has had the longest run in history, but it no longer interests him.
“All right you. Stand straight. Pull your belly in. Pull your chin in. Keep your shoulders back. Hold your head level. Look straight front. Turn left. Turn right. Face front again and hold your hands out. Palms up. Palms down. Pull your sleeves back. No visible scars. Hair dark brown, some gray. Eyes brown. Height six feet, one half inch. Weight about one ninety. Name, Philip Marlowe. Occupation private detective. Well, well, nice to see you, Marlowe. That’s all. Next man.”
Much obliged, Captain. Thanks for the time. You forgot to have me open my mouth. I have some nice inlays and one very high-class porcelain jacket crown. Eighty-seven dollars worth of porcelain jacket crown. You forgot to look inside my nose too, Captain. A lot of scar tissue in there for you. Septum operation and was that guy a butcher! Two hours of it in those days. I hear they do it in twenty minutes now. I got it playing football, Captain, a slight miscalculation in an attempt to block a punt. I blocked the guy’s foot instead—after he kicked the ball. Fifteen yards penalty, and that’s about how much stiff bloody tape they pulled out of my nose an inch at a time the day after the operation. I’m not bragging, Captain. I’m just telling you. It’s the little things that count.
On the third day a deputy unlocked my cell in the middle of the morning.
“Your lawyer’s here. Kill the butt—and not on the floor.” I flushed it down the toilet. He took me to the conference room. A tall pale dark-haired man was standing there looking out of the window. There was a fat brown briefcase on the table. He turned. He waited for the door to close. Then he sat down near his briefcase on the far side of a scarred oak table that came out of the Ark. Noah bought it secondhand. The lawyer opened a hammered silver cigarette case and put it in front of him and looked me over.
“Sit down, Marlowe. Care for a cigarette? My name is Endicott. Sewell Endicott. I’ve been instructed to represent you without cost or expense to you. I guess you’d like to get out of here, wouldn’t you?”
I sat down and took one of the cigarettes. He held a lighter for me.
“Nice to see you again, Mr. Endicott. We’ve met before—while you were D.A.”
He nodded, “I don’t remember, but it’s quite possible.” He smiled faintly. “That position was not quite in my line. I guess I don’t have enough tiger in me.”
“Who sent you?”
“I’m not at liberty to say. If you accept me as your attorney, the fee will be taken care of.”
“I guess that means they’ve got him.”
He just stared at me. I puffed at the cigarette. It was one of those things with filters in them. It tasted like a high fog strained through cotton wool.
“If you mean Lennox,” he said, “and of course you do, no—they haven’t got him.”
“Why the mystery, Mr. Endicott? About who sent you.”
“My principal wishes to remain anonymous. That is the privilege of my principal. Do you accept me?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “If they haven’t got Terry, why are they holding me? Nobody has asked me anything, nobody has been near me.”
He frowned and looked down at his long white delicate fingers.. “District Attorney Springer has taken personal charge of this matter. He may have been too busy to question you yet. But you are entitled to arraignment and a preliminary hearing. I can get you out on bail on a habeas corpus proceeding. You probably know what the law is.”
“I’m booked on suspicion of murder.”
He shrugged impatiently. “That’s just a catch-all. You could have been booked in transit to Pittsburgh, or any one of a dozen charges. What they probably mean is accessory after the fact. You took Lennox somewhere, didn’t you?”
I didn’t answer. I dropped the tasteless cigarette on the floor and stepped on it. Endicott shrugged again and frowned.
“Assume you did then, just for the sake of argument. To make you an accessory they have to prove intent. In this case that would mean knowledge that a crime had been committed and that Lennox was a fugitive. It’s bailable in any case. Of course what you really are is a material witness. But a man can’t be held in prison as a material witness in this state except by court order. He’s not a material witness unless a judge so declares. But the law enforcement people can always find a way to do what they want to do.”
“Yeah,” I said. “A detective named Dayton slugged me. A homicide captain named Gregorius threw a cup of coffee at me, hit me in the neck hard enough to bust an artery—you can see it’s still swollen, and when a call from Police Commissioner Allbright kept him from turning me over to the wrecking crew, he spat in my face. You’re quite right, Mr. Endicott. The law boys can always do what they want to do.”
He looked at his wristwatch rather pointedly. “You want out on bail or don’t you?”
“Thanks. I don’t think I do. A guy out on bail is already half guilty in the public mind. If he gets off later on, he had a smart lawyer.”
“That’s silly,” he said impatiently.
“Okay, it’s silly. I’m silly. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. If you’re in touch with Lennox, tell him to quit bothering about me. I’m not in here for him. I’m in here for me. No complaints. It’s part of the deal. I’m in a business where people come to me with troubles. Big troubles, little troubles, but always troubles they don’t want to take to the cops. How long would they come if any bruiser with a police shield could hold me upside down and drain my guts?”
“I see your point,” he said slowly. “But let me correct you on one thing. I am not in touch with Lennox. I scarcely know him. I’m an officer of the court, as all lawyers are. If I knew where Lennox was, I couldn’t conceal the information from the District Attorney. The most I could do would be to agree to surrender him at a specified time and place after I had had an interview with him.”
“Nobody else would bother to send you here to help me.”
“Are you calling me a liar?” He reached down to rub out his cigarette stub on the underside of the table.
“I seem to remember that you’re a Virginian, Mr. Endicott. In this country we have a sort of historical fixation about Virginians. We think of them as the flower of southern chivalry and honor.”
He smiled. “That was nicely said. I only wish it was true. But we’re wasting time. If you had had a grain of sense you’d have told the police you hadn’t seen Lennox for a week. It didn’t have to be true. Under oath you could always have told the real story. There’s no law against lying to the cops. They expect it. They feel much happier when you lie to them than when you refuse to talk to them. That’s a direct challenge to their authority. What do you expect to gain by it?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t really have an answer. He stood up and reached for his hat and snapped his cigarette case shut and put it in his pocket.
“You had to play the big scene,” he said coldly. “Stand on your rights, talk about the law. How ingenuous can a man get, Marlowe? A man like you who is supposed to know his way around. The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be. I guess you’re not in any mood to be helped. So I’ll take myself off. You can reach me if you change your mind.”
“I’ll stick it out for a day or two longer. If they catch Terry they won’t care how he got away. All they’ll care about is the circus they can make of the trial. The murder of Mr. Harlan Potter’s daughter is headline material all over the country. A crowd-pleaser like Springer could ride himself right into Attorney General on that show, and from there into the governor’s chair and from there—”I stopped talking and let the rest of it float in the air.
Endicott smiled a slow derisive smile. “I don’t think you know very much about Mr. Harlan Potter,” he said.
“And if they don’t get Lennox, they won’t want to know how he got away, Mr. Endicott. They’ll just want to forget the whole thing fast.”
“Got it all figured out, haven’t you, Marlowe?”
“I’ve had the time. All I know about Mr. Harlan Potter is that he is supposed to be worth a hundred million bucks, and that he owns nine or ten newspapers. How’s the publicity going?”
“The publicity?” His voice was ice cold saying it.
“Yeah. Nobody’s interviewed me from the press. I expected to make a big noise in the papers out of this. Get lots of business. Private eye goes to jail rather than split on a pal. ”
He walked to the door and turned with his hand on the knob. “You amuse me, Marlowe. You’re childish in some ways, True, a hundred million dollars can buy a great deal of publicity. It can also, my friend, if shrewdly employed, buy a great deal of silence.”
He opened the door and went out. Then a deputy came in and took me back to Cell No. 3 in the felony block.
“Guess you won’t be with us long, if you’ve got Endicott,” he said pleasantly as he locked me in. I said I hoped he was right.