فصل 06

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CHAPTER SIX

Empty Like a Glass

The next day was just another day at the office. A giant came in and told me someone was trying to poison his dog. He suspected the lady next door. He wasn’t happy when I told him I couldn’t help, but at least he didn’t hit me with my desk.

A woman with a face like a sad story came in because she thought the girl she lived with was robbing her. She wanted me to come over and scare the girl. She left as disappointed as the giant.

Then a man came in with the oldest story in the book; a young wife who had taken the money and run. He didn’t want the money. He wanted his wife back. I could help him, and I did. It was easy enough. I didn’t get rich on it, but why should I care? I was a man with a five-thousand-dollar piece of government paper in my pocket.

Three days later, Eileen Wade called to invite me over for drinks the next evening. Foolish curiosity made me say yes. Foolish curiosity also made me re-read Terry Lennox’s letter after I hung up. It reminded me that I hadn’t had the gin and lime at Victor’s he’d asked me to have.

The bar was almost empty when I got there. Terry would have been pleased. I was surprised to hear the woman in front of me order the same drink. She wasn’t English, either. I might have found out more about her if I hadn’t noticed I was being watched. I approached the man straight on.

‘You’re watching me. If I sit here next to you, it will make your job easier.’

‘Sure, pal, sit where you want.’

‘You’ re one of Mendy’s boys, right? A little guy with no name.’

He didn’t like the conversation. ‘I got a name. And I’m not one of the boys, I’m his number one. More than you can say, Marlowe.’

‘You’re supposed to watch me. OK, watch me leave.’

I paid for the drink and went out the door. The boy came out right behind me. There might have been trouble if this enormous man hadn’t got out of an enormous car and picked the boy up with one huge hand.

‘I keep telling you cheap gangsters. Stay away from my favourite places. You spoil my appetite.’

The giant threw my watcher against the outer wall of the bar with the one arm that had been holding him, and Mendy’s number one boy hit it hard and stayed there until the giant disappeared into Victor’s.

‘What was that?’ I asked as the boy found his feet.

‘Big Willie Magoon. A policeman. He thinks he’s tough.’

‘You mean he isn’t sure?’ I asked him politely. The boy ignored me and limped away into the Hollywood night.

When I reached the Wade house the next afternoon, the party had already begun. I parked my old car between two new expensive ones and walked in. A Mexican in a white coat opened the door for me, liked my name, and let me in.

It was the same party everybody has. People were talking too loud and not listening at all. Everyone had a glass in his hand, and the glasses were all half-empty.

Eileen Wade came up and said she was very glad I could come. Her husband wanted to see me, she added. He hadn’t joined the party because he hated parties. He was in his study, she said. The Mexican took me to see him. He also warned me that Senor Wade was very busy.

Wade was busy lying on a sofa. There was a pile of َهllow paper next to the typewriter on his desk.

The Mexican left and Wade sat up. ‘Good of you to come, Marlowe. Did you have a drink or two?’

I said no and asked him how his work was going.

‘Fine. It just comes out. That’s how it is when it’s good. If it’s hard work, it’s bad writing.’

He said this almost angrily so I was kind enough to disagree. ‘It was hard for Flaubert, and his stuff’s good.’

‘Oh, God, an intellectual detective. Well, I hate intellectuals. I’m not drinking and I hate everyone. I hate you, too.’

‘I understand,’ I said. ‘You need somebody to insult. Go ahead. When it begins to hurt, I’ll let you know.’

Wade laughed. ‘I hate myself, too. And my terrible books that sell and sell. So how can you help me?’

‘Maybe I don’t want to help,’ I said.

‘Let’s have a drink. Because I like you.’ He was laughing again.

‘Not in here, pal. Not you and me alone. I don’t want to have to watch you take the first one.’

‘You know, Marlowe, I think you could help. Why don’t you come and live here and keep me safe from harm and tell me all about Flaubert?’

I shook my head. ‘I couldn’t stop you.’

‘Try it. I could finish the miserable book. I have to finish it. If I can’t finish things I start, I might as well be dead.’

I didn’t want to listen to this kind of nonsense.

‘You did as much for Lennox,’ he said suddenly.

I walked right up to him and gave him a hard stare. ‘I got Lennox killed. That’s what I did for Terry.’

Wade said I was talking like a fool. He cursed at me but without much feeling. I couldn’t really help anyway, he said, telling me what I already knew. It was something personal, he said.

‘About your wife?’

‘I don’t think so. I think it’s about me. Forget it, though. Let’s go out and have that drink and see all those nice people who do want to watch me have that first one.’

The party was louder than before. Wade said hello here and there and then headed for the bar. As Candy, the Mexican, mixed our drinks, I saw a face I knew. It was the woman from Victor’s, the one who had ordered the gin and lime. Wade gave her a real smile.

‘Hello, Linda. This is Philip Marlowe. Marlowe, this is Linda Loring. You have something in common.’

If she recognized me from the night before, she didn’t show it. She extended her hand. ‘Hello, Mr Marlowe. What Roger won’t say is that I’m Sylvia Lennox’s sister. And I know who you are.’

Her hand was cool and she didn’t let me keep it for long. As she took it back, a thin man with a neat beard and a very white face came up to us. He ignored me and gave Wade an ugly look.

Linda Loring said ‘My husband, Mr Marlowe.’

He didn’t even look at me. He was giving all his poisonous attention to Wade. ‘I have something to say to you, Wade. Stay away from my wife.’

Wade seemed amused. ‘You’re my guest today, Dr Loring, so all I’ll say is that I think you’ve misunderstood something.’

Loring found a glove in one of his pockets and slapped Wade across the face with it. The writer didn’t move a muscle. ‘Very dramatic, Doctor. Next time, why don’t you do it when I have a chance to answer the challenge? It would be more interesting. Right now, I think you’re looking for the door. Candy will show it to you.’ Wade turned back to the bar. ‘Candy, the doctor is leaving.’

Loring grabbed for his wife’s hand, but she was too quick. ‘I’m not leaving,’ she said. ‘You are.’

Loring raised the glove again but Wade stepped between the husband and wife. ‘We don’t do that here, Doctor.’

‘Don’t we?’ Loring asked sarcastically, but he put the glove away and left. Candy shut the door behind him. I picked up my drink and looked around for Wade, but he had disappeared. No wonder he didn’t like parties. I took a walk out to the terrace and settled into a soft chair facing the lake. A minute later, Eileen Wade was sitting next to me. She wanted to know if I had accepted Roger’s offer to stay with them. I told her I hadn’t. I said that if she wanted to help her husband, she should find him a good psychiatrist.

She looked surprised. ‘A psychiatrist? Why?’

‘I’m not an expert, but I think your husband does have a secret, a secret he has buried so deep inside himself that he can’t find it. Maybe something he did when he was drunk. So he drinks to find it. Unless he just drinks because he can’t write anymore.’

She frowned. ‘It’s not that. Roger has a great amount of talent. His best book is still inside him.’

‘Then maybe it’s something between the two of you.’

She answered immediately. ‘No. I love my husband. Not the way a young girl loves, perhaps, but I do love him. A woman is only a young girl once. The man I loved then is dead. He died in the war. His initials, strangely enough, were the same as yours. They never even found his body. Sometimes I even think I see him. At a party or in a restaurant. It’s silly, I know, but we were very much in love. That crazy love that doesn’t happen twice.’

She wasn’t looking at me anymore. She was staring at the lake. I looked back at the house and Wade was there in the doorway.

I joined him. He had had more than that first drink.

‘How’s my wife, Marlowe? Did you give her another kiss?’

I said I was leaving.

‘Go ahead. But I’ll tell you what the doctor told me. Stay away from my wife, Marlowe. Because it isn’t any good. She’s not there, see? Empty, like a glass. Did she tell you about her old love? The one that died in Norway but they never found? Be careful, Marlowe. People do disappear.’

I walked away from him. As I passed the bar, Candy called to me.

‘Senor, one drink left. You want it?’

I told him to drink it but he said he was a beer man. He said that’s how the Spanish were. He said that he was very Spanish, and that he had the knife to prove it. He didn’t need me to help him take care of his boss.

‘You’re doing such a good job, Candy. Who brought him home?’

I speak enough Spanish to know what he called me. He didn’t hold the door for me when I left.

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