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A Little Trap

I hung up and took a shower and shaved. I dressed quickly because I knew I didn’t have much time. I was tying my shoes when my time ran out.

‘Hello, Marlowe,’ Bernie Ohls said when I picked up the telephone. ‘Come down here and suffer.’

It was different this time. It was another suicide but this was the real thing. They were not happy with me but there was nothing they could threaten me with. Hernandez listened to my story and this time he didn’t make any suggestions as to what else I might want to say. There was Eileen Wade’s full confession, too, but the DA didn’t want it because he had already believed another confession to the Lennox murder. The sheriff’s office, on the other hand, liked the confession. They liked it because they didn’t like the DA. Dr Loring showed up because she had been his patient and she had killed herself with his medicine. We were not glad to see each other. After the doctor left, I was told I could go, too. Ohls took me out through another room. He pointed out a small pile of papers on a desk. ‘Copies of the confession. It would be terrible if someone took one of them. The DA doesn’t want this to become public.’

Then he went out into the hall to get some air, leaving me alone. He came back a minute later.

When we were out in the sunlight, I asked him ‘You don’t like the DA, do you, Bernie?’

Ohls smiled. ‘I like everybody. I even like you. Not everyone does, though, and in a few days fewer people will like you, I think. I hope you still carry a gun.’

‘I do,’ I said, ‘but it doesn’t always help. The newspapers said that Willie Magoon was carrying two of them the night they put him in hospital.’

‘That’s right,’ Ohls said. ‘It would be a good idea to remember that.’

When I got home, I called Morgan, the reporter who’d given me the ride home from the police station that other time. We had a long conversation. He tried to persuade me not to do it, but he couldn’t, and he was still a reporter and he wanted the story. He did warn me, though.

‘When we print this confession, you’re going to be the least popular person in town. The DA will know sooner or later where it came from. Potter will be so angry he might forget he’s a gentleman. And Mendy will be angry, too, because he told you to leave it alone, and Mendy doesn’t even pretend to be a gentleman.’

It was all true, and his advice was good advice.

‘Print it, Morgan,’ I said, and I read the whole letter to him from the copy I’d taken from the Sheriff’s office.

It came out the next day, on the front page. The DA called it lies but the newspaper sold very well.

Bernie Ohls came over and we had another bad time together. He wondered why I hadn’t called him with what I’d had against Eileen Wade. He said maybe I wanted her dead. I said I had just wanted her to take a long look at what she had done to two good men.

‘You think you’re a clever monkey, don’t you, Marlowe?’

‘What do you want me to say?’

‘Nothing. It’s too late. The hard boys will come for you. And it’s very quiet here. Dark and quiet.’

‘Why are you even here, Bernie? We were friends once but you can’t really be friends with a cop, can you? Not a tough old one like you.’

He finished his beer and left. The day ended with some good songs on the radio.

The next day the DA made a full statement attacking Morgan’s newspaper and he said a lot of pretty things about poor Mrs Wade and still the newspaper held to its position. I went to my office and did nothing special, nothing that I can remember, until the workday was over. I ate at a restaurant on the way home. I drove up Locust Avenue and it was as empty as usual. I parked and went up all my steps. I would have unlocked the door but it was already a few inches open.

‘Come on in, Cheapie,’ a familiar voice said. ‘Welcome home.’

If I had taken my gun out right then I could have shot him. But I stood still a moment too long and someone slipped out of the bushes and pushed me through my own doorway.

Mendy was wearing another expensive suit and the same nasty smile. I didn’t see him at first, though, because I was looking at the other man sitting in the corner of my living room. He had a gun lying across his knees and he was so brown from the sun that there in the half-dark I couldn’t see his face at all.

Mendy wanted my attention. The man that had pushed me reminded me of that in a soft place on my arm. The pain disappeared very quickly but with it went the muscle in my arm. I looked at him. He was a big Mexican. He was tough. There is nothing tougher than a tough Mexican, just as there is nothing gentler than a gentle Mexican, or more honest than an honest Mexican, or, above all, nothing sadder than a sad Mexican, This guy was one of the hard ones. They don’t come any harder anywhere.

Mendy stood in front of me. I was very interested in the gun in his right hand, and it looked interested in me.

‘You didn’t listen, Cheapie.’ He hit me with the gun. It hurt.

‘You shouldn’t have to do this yourself,’ I said, surprised that my mouth still worked. ‘You should have some boys do it for you. Like you did to Willie Magoon.’

He smiled again. ‘No, Magoon was business. He tried to push me. He bought that big car of his with my money and then he tried to push me. You, Marlowe, are personal. You embarrassed me professionally. I can’t let you do that.’

I shook my head. ‘There’s more to it than that. What happened? Your friend Lennox was innocent but you never moved a finger to prove it, and then I came and did the work you should have done. He saved your life and you didn’t do anything. Because you’re no friend, and you’re not big, you’re just a loud boy who can’t think of anyone but himself.’

His face froze and he lifted the gun to hit me again. I didn’t think; I didn’t have a plan. I was just tired of being hit. I kicked him full in the stomach. As he went down, I hit him again, with my knee. Then I waited to be shot, and nothing happened. I looked around. The hard one was standing by the door, watching me. He didn’t even bother to look at Mendy, who was now lying on the floor, gasping.

At last, the man in the chair moved. He stood up, put his gun away, and laughed. ‘Don’t kill him, Marlowe, we need him alive.’

That was when Bernie Ohls walked in, whistling.

‘Hello, Marlowe. You’ve cut your face.’ He gestured at Mendy, who was still on the floor. ‘Take this soft baby out of here,’ he ordered the laughing man.

‘He’s not soft,’ I said. ‘He’s hurt. Anybody can be hurt. Was Willie Magoon soft?’

‘No,’ Ohls admitted. ‘And now we’ve got the words from Mendy’s own mouth about Magoon. Because gangsters can’t touch policemen in this town. It’s against all the rules. We will remind Mendy of that. It worked well, this little trap. A few cuts on your face, but I’d say you deserved them.’

They led Mendy away and left me alone in my dark, quiet house. I thought about it for a few minutes and then I made a telephone call.

‘Marlowe? I know that name. Right, a friend of Terry’s. How can I help you?’ He had a businessman’s calm voice.

‘You can tell me about Mexico, Mr Starr. I just had a visit from Mendy and I don’t think he was mad at me for . . . something in the newspaper. It was Mexico. Something is wrong here. The confession Lennox wrote was false. How many other lies are there? He wrote me a letter which was mailed by someone. Who?’

Randy Starr said ‘I have no idea, Mr Marlowe.’

‘I think you should find out, Mr Starr. If you don’t, someone else will.’

‘You, Marlowe?’ He didn’t sound like the calm businessman now.

‘Not me. A man so big you could get hurt if he sneezed. So find out, Mr Starr.’

The next day I went to see the lawyer who had been to Mexico to watch them bury Lennox. He was surprised to see me but was not unfriendly.

‘You’re a stubborn one, aren’t you, Marlowe? Still digging?’

‘Yes, Mr Endicott, still digging. I wonder if you could give me a few minutes?’

‘Why not?’ he said.

‘Can I assume that you were representing Harlan Potter when you came to see me in jail?’

Endicott nodded.

‘I suppose Potter is very unhappy with me these days,’ I continued, but to my surprise the lawyer said he wasn’t.

‘Mr Potter blames his son-in-law, Dr Loring. He feels that if that Wade woman hadn’t been using those drugs that the doctor gave her, none of this would have happened.’

‘He’s wrong. You saw Terry’s body in Otatoclan, didn’t you?’

‘I did indeed.’

‘He didn’t look the same, did he?’

‘You mean the colour? No, he was darker, much darker. His hair was black. But the scar was still there and we took his fingerprints. There’s no question it was him.’

I asked him the next question twice before he understood it. ‘A mailbox? No, I don’t remember seeing a mailbox.’

I showed him Terry’s letter. He read it slowly.

‘I wonder why he did it,’ he said when he had finished reading.

‘Why he sent the letter?’

‘No, of course not. Why he confessed and killed himself. As for the mailbox, perhaps he saw something that looked like one. Otatoclan isn’t a modern town.’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘I looked it up. A population of one thousand, no good roads, a small local airport, one hotel. Not a place you’d find a mailbox.’

Endicott was trying to understand. ‘What do you think it would mean if there wasn’t a mailbox?’

I said I didn’t know. What I didn’t say was that I was sure I would find out one day.


The Long Goodbye

A month went by in which I learned nothing new. Then I came into the office one day and found a stranger waiting for me. A tall, well-dressed Mexican. He sat by the open window smoking a brown cigarette that smelled strong. He was wearing his black hair longer than we do north of the border. He was also wearing green sunglasses. He stood up politely.

‘Senor Marlowe?’

‘What can I do for you?’

He handed me a folded piece of paper and told me in Spanish that it was an introduction from Senor Starr of Las Vegas.

‘Let’s speak English,’ I said, ‘if you speak English.’

‘Of course I do,’ he said. He didn’t have much of an accent, but he spoke in the American Spanish way, stressing every second or third word in his sentences.

I unfolded the paper and read ‘This introduces a friend of mine, Cisco Maioranos. I think he can help you. S.’

‘Let’s go into my office, Senor Maioranos,’ I said, and held the inner door open for him. I smelled perfume as he went past me. He had a thin, neat moustache. He looked delicate and harmless. Except he probably wasn’t as delicate as he looked, because he had knife scars on both cheeks.

‘You wish to know about Senor Lennox,’ he said as he sat down. ‘I was working at the hotel in Otatoclan.’

‘You don’t look the type.’

‘Sometimes life is difficult,’ he said.

‘Who mailed the letter to me?’

‘I mailed it,’ he said. He took out a cigarette case and offered it to me as he lit another cigarette for himself.

‘I don’t like Cuban cigarettes, thank you. You mailed the letter?’

‘That’s correct. The boy was afraid to go up to the room because there was a policeman outside the door. A cop, as you say. So I went up and he gave me the letter.’

‘There was a lot of money in that letter, Senor Maioranos. You should have looked inside.’

‘The letter was not open,’ he said coldly. ‘I am an honest man.’

‘I apologize. Continue please.’

‘I went into his room with the coffee. He was holding a gun. The letter was on the table. He told me to take it and go. He gave me some money. Naturally, I gave it to the boy later.’

‘I was on my way down the stairs when I heard the shot. I hid the letter and came right back. The police were in the room. Senor Lennox was dead.’

I asked him if the hotel had been full.

He thought for a moment. He lit another Cuban cigarette.

‘No,’ he said, ‘it was not full. Perhaps six or seven guests.’

‘Americans?’ I asked.

‘Yes, two American hunters. One of them spoke border Spanish, I think.’

‘Did they go near Lennox’s room at all?’

‘Why should they?’ It wasn’t an answer but I couldn’t see his eyes because of the sunglasses, so I didn’t know why he hadn’t answered.

‘Well,’ I said, standing up, ‘it was nice of you to come here. You can thank Randy for me. And you can tell him, too, that next time he can send somebody that knows what he’s talking about.’

He stared at me hard. I looked at those knife scars again. He had not always been a polite man in a hotel. He did not like being doubted.

‘Let’s try this,’ I said. ‘The two Americans were two men named Menendez and Starr. They did go into Lennox’s room. Lennox knew they were there. He knew why. He wrote me that letter because he felt guilty. He had tricked me and a man like Lennox doesn’t like tricking his friends. By the way, did you put the letter in the mailbox?’

Maioranos frowned. ‘Mailbox? Otatoclan is not Mexico City, Senor. There is no mailbox.’

‘No, there isn’t. And there was no coffee. You did not bring Lennox anything. You did not go into his room. The Americans did. One of them took a gun and shot Lennox. He shot him very carefully, so that the bullet did not go into Lennox. It gave him a nasty wound but it did not kill him. The idea was to fool the lawyer that would come down. So when he came, Lennox was drugged and packed in ice and the lawyer saw him in a dark room. The fingerprints were real enough but Lennox wasn’t dead. The Americans paid the Mexican policeman, of course. They must have paid a few people. Isn’t all this possible?’

Maioranos seemed to be thinking it over.

‘Possible, yes. Policemen everywhere have to eat. Otatoclan is far away from the cities and no one asks too many questions there. It is all possible except for one thing, Senor.’

‘What’s that?’

‘If it is true, then I am a liar. Then I did not go in and give him his coffee and take his letter.’

‘You were already in there, pal - writing the letter.’

The tall Mexican took off his sunglasses. Nothing can change the colour of a man’s eyes.

‘I suppose it’s a bit too early for a gin and lime,’ he said.

They had done a wonderful job on him in Mexico. Why not? Their doctors, painters, architects, are as good as ours, sometimes better. They had changed his nose. They couldn’t take the scar off, so they gave him another, on the other cheek. Knife scars are not uncommon south of the border.

‘How close did I come?’ I asked.

‘Close enough. A few details wrong, but they are not important. We had to work very quickly. I was supposed to be followed to Otatoclan of course. Mendy didn’t want me to write you, but I insisted.’

‘You knew who killed Sylvia?’

He didn’t give me a straight answer. ‘It’s tough to let a woman be arrested for murder ? even if you never really loved her.’

‘It’s a tough world,’ I said. ‘Was Potter in this with you?’

He smiled. ‘I don’t think so. I’m not sure, but I think he believes I’m dead. Who would tell him otherwise ? unless you did?’

‘Don’t worry. We don’t have tea together any more. Have you heard that the police have Mendy?’

He smiled again. ‘They had him. He’s in Mexico now. He’s not as bad as you think. He has a heart.’

‘So does a snake.’

‘How about that gin and lime?’

I got up without answering him and went to my safe. I opened it and took out the five-thousand-dollar bill. I put it on the desk in front of him. ‘I enjoyed playing with it. But it’s yours now.’

He looked at it but he didn’t touch it.

‘I’ve got plenty of money,’ he said. ‘You could have left things alone.’

‘I know. After she had killed her husband she might have done more wonderful things. He was nothing special, anyway. Just a man. He knew what happened, too, and he tried hard to live with it. He wrote books. You may have heard of him.’

‘I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I was frightened and I ran. If I’d stayed, I wouldn’t have had a chance. What should I have done?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘She was crazy. She might have killed him anyway.’

I agreed that she might. He smiled, thinking that fixed things between us. ‘So let’s go have a drink. Let’s go to Victor’s.’

‘No time right now, Senor Maioranos.’

‘We were good friends once, weren’t we?’ he asked unhappily.

‘Were we? I forget. It seems to me it was two other guys who were friends,’ I said quietly. ‘Take back your money. It has too much blood on it.’

‘You need the money.’

‘How would you know?’

He picked the bill up and put it in his pocket. He bit his lower lip with the very white teeth you can have when you have brown skin.

‘You remember I gave you a chance to call the police, to have me stopped, don’t you?’ he said suddenly.

‘I’m not sore at you,’ I said. ‘You’re just that kind of guy. For a long time I tried to understand you. You had good qualities but there was something wrong. You made your own rules. You were a nice guy but that was just luck, I think. You liked your gangsters as much as you liked honest men. Maybe the war did it to you but maybe you were born that way.’

‘Don’t you understand?’ he said sadly. ‘I couldn’t have told you more than I did. You wouldn’t have stood for it.’

‘That’s as nice a thing as was ever said to me.’

‘You call them gangsters. I was in trouble, and they know about trouble. They owed me for the one right thing I did in my life. When I needed them, they were there. And for free. You’re not the only one in the world who can’t be bought, Marlowe.’

He took one of my cigarettes and had a little trouble lighting it.

‘I can be bought, Terry. You bought a lot of me. For a smile and a nod and a few drinks in quiet bars here and there. It was nice while it lasted. So long, pal. I won’t say goodbye. I said it to you when it meant something, when it was sad and lonely and final.’

‘I came back too late,’ he said. ‘The doctors took a long time on my face.’

‘You wouldn’t have come at all if I hadn’t been asking some difficult questions.’

I saw tears in his eyes. He put his green glasses back on quickly. ‘They didn’t want me to tell you anything.’

‘I’m not judging you, Terry. I never did. You’re a nice guy in many ways. It’s just that you’re not here any more. You’ve been gone for a long time. You’ve got nice clothes and you smell nice and you have a pretty litte moustache.’

‘That’s just an act,’ he said almost desperately.

‘But you like it.’

‘An act is all there is. There isn’t anything eke. I’m hollow inside. I’ve had it, Marlowe. I had it long ago. Well ? I guess that’s all we have to say.’

He put his hand out. I shook it. ‘So long, Senor Maioranos.’

He said, ‘Goodbye,’ and walked out. I watched the door close. I listened to his footsteps. Did I want him to stop, to come back, to make me change the way I felt? Well, he didn’t. That was the last time I saw him.

I never saw any of them again ? except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

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