فصل 08

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CHAPTER EIGHT

The Smell of Gunsmoke

At home, I had a long shower, shaved, changed into fresh clothes and began to feel clean again. I read a story in a magazine that was good but not great. At midday my telephone rang.

It was the Doctor’s wife. She said she had to see me. I told her I’d meet her at my office. I stopped for a sandwich on the way so she was already there when I came in. I never remember to lock up.

‘You don’t even have a secretary,’ she said.

‘No, I don’t. Why, are you looking for a job?’

‘You couldn’t pay me enough,’ she said.

‘You’re wrong. I’ve got money. I’ve got a five-thousand-dollar bill.’ I took it out of my safe and she looked at it carefully.

‘You got this from Terry Lennox. He used to carry it around. A good luck piece or something. You drove him to Tijuana. You also don’t think he killed my sister. Did he give you a list of her special friends, is that it? Is that why you’ve been at the Wade’s, holding Roger’s hand? Because you think maybe Roger killed Sylvia when he was, I don’t know, drunk and crazy?’

‘I met the Wades because a New York publisher wants a book finished, Mrs Loring. Terry gave me no list, no names. And yes, I was supposed to help Wade but I can’t.’ That was all the explanation she deserved.

But there was a question I wanted answered, too.

‘I saw you at Victor’s the other night. You were having a rather unusual drink, I noticed. Could it be that you don’t think Terry killed your sister?’

‘What I think doesn’t matter,’ she said. She meant it, too. ‘I didn’t come here to talk about Terry Lennox in any case. I came to invite you to my house.’

‘Why?’

‘Someone would like to talk with you.’

I had a strong feeling who that someone would be. ‘The old man?’

She frowned. It was a pretty frown. ‘I don’t call him that, Mr Marlowe. Will you come?’

I said yes. Even a cat can look at a king.

We went in her car. The driver was a black man in his middle fifties who even opened our doors when we stopped in front of her house, which was just about the ugliest piece of architecture I had ever seen. It looked like a sandcastle that a little boy builds when he’s mad at his parents. Mrs Loring saw my expression and smiled. ‘Horrible, isn’t it? My father gave it to me as a wedding present. My husband loves it.’

We went in. Someone opened the door for us and then vanished. From the hall we entered a room that was at least seventy feet long. At the far end, a man was sitting, waiting. He gave us both the same cold stare.

Mrs Loring made the introductions and apologized just in case we were late.

‘Tell them to bring the tea,’ he said. ‘Sit down, Mr Marlowe.’

I sat down and we looked at each other without talking at all until the tea came.

‘Two cups,’ Harlan Potter commanded as his daughter poured. ‘You can have your tea in another room, Linda.’

She smiled weakly and left. I took out a cigarette.

‘Don’t smoke, please. It bothers my health.’

I had to believe him, although he certainly didn’t look sick. He was a long way over six feet and nearly as wide as he was tall. His hair was not yet grey. His voice seemed to come from the next room. So this is what a hundred million dollars looks like, I thought.

He didn’t even touch his tea. He just talked. He said he knew who I was, what I was, and what I had done for Terry. He went on to say that my investigation was interfering in his private life. I told him I wasn’t investigating anything at the moment. He disagreed.

‘Perhaps you think Roger Wade is involved in my daughter’s death. Forget that idea. Forget you even know Roger Wade. I don’t read his books myself,’ he said, ‘but I have been told that they are quite childish. As childish as whatever strange ideas you may have.’

I explained again how I had come to meet Wade. I told him about Menendez, too, but he said the name meant nothing to him. I asked him what I could do to make him happier.

‘All I want is peace and quiet, Mr Marlowe. I pay good money for it, and I expect it. We live in a dirty world where everyone wants to hear terrible stories about the rich and the powerful. I repeat; I pay money to keep my life private. How much do you want, Marlowe?’

‘Nothing, I don’t want your money. If I get rich, I might become like you.’

He laughed. Then he stood up and I saw just how much over six feet he was. He was very big. When he shook my hand, my fingers cried.

‘Just don’t be a hero, young man. It’s not a very clever role for a clever man.’

Mrs Loring’s driver took me home but wouldn’t accept the dollar I tried to give him. So I tried to give him a book of poetry, but he said he already had that book.

Life left me alone again for another week and then I got two telephone calls in one morning, and I was back into what Harlan Potter had clearly told me to stay away from.

The first caller was Roger Wade. He wasn’t crying for help this time; he was inviting me to lunch. I accepted.

The second call was from that friend of George Peters. He was back in town. He said he didn’t know if it would help now, but he was sure he had seen Terry Lennox in New York a few years back, and that his name then had been Paul Marston. He added that Marston had been wearing a British Army badge.

With this new information I decided to talk to someone who was supposed to know what was going on. I telephoned Green at Homicide. He wasn’t pleased to hear from me.

‘War record? You don’t listen, do you, Marlowe? The investigation is over. But if you can’t sleep nights worrying about it, I’ll tell you. Lennox had no war record.’

I told him Mendy’s story.

‘Mendy is a gangster. He is also a liar. And you’re a fool to believe him.’

He didn’t give me a chance to tell him what I thought he was. He just hung up.

I drove to Wade’s house at noon. It was too hot to be a nice day. Even the wind was hot.

The house was cool, though. Wade took me into his study. A pile of papers next to the typewriter impressed me.

‘The book?’ I asked.

‘Yes, and it’s rotten. I’m not a writer anymore. I’m someone who used to write. Want a drink?’

‘A soda, please.’

‘Very clever. I think I’ll have one, too.’ He rang a bell and Candy came.

‘Two sodas, and we’ll have lunch in an hour,’ he told the Mexican.

‘It’s Thursday, boss. My day off, remember?’

‘Then just make us some sandwiches.’

‘I’m not the cook, boss.’

Wade gave him a narrow look. ‘I’m having lunch with my friend. The cook is off today.’

‘You think he’s your friend,’ Candy said, glancing at me, ‘maybe you should ask your wife.’

‘Watch your mouth, little man,’ Wade warned, suddenly angry. ‘Remember who pays you.’

Candy smiled. ‘OK, boss, I’ll get lunch.’ He left for the kitchen.

‘But what are you paying him for?’ I asked Wade.

‘You’re going to start that again?’

‘And the good man that died for you? Let me tell you. Terry Lennox. Candy knows you were seeing Sylvia, so you pay him.’

Wade asked me, ‘You think I killed her?’

‘I’m not looking for her killer. What’s driving you insane is that you don’t know. You were drunk and you don’t remember. That’s how it was.’

He was going to say something but Candy came in carrying the sandwiches and two bottles of beer. Wade looked at the beer and shook his head. ‘Get me a real drink, Candy.’

The Mexican said there was only beer and that he was leaving now; he reminded Wade again that it was his day off.

‘So go. I’ll get the stuff myself.’

They left the room together and then Wade returned a minute later with a bottle of whisky and a glass. He filled it, drank, then filled it again.

‘Where’s your wife?’ I asked him as he put the bottle and the glass down on his desk.

‘Why? Are you in love?’ The whisky was already at work.

‘I ask because I don’t want to leave you alone, now that you’re going to fall to pieces again. I wouldn’t want you to shoot the ceiling again.’

He looked at me with deep worry in his eyes. ‘I really did that, didn’t I? You know, I can’t remember.’

‘That’s your whole trouble,’ I told him. ‘Is the gun still in the desk?’ I had put it there that night. Today, I didn’t want him in the same room with it.

‘I don’t know where it is, but it’s not in the desk,’ he said. ‘Look for yourself.’

I did, and it wasn’t there. Eileen must have hidden it from him.

‘Now that you’ve had your look around,’ he said, the whisky in charge once more, ‘why don’t you leave me alone? I’m tired of your face.’

I took my sandwich to a table and some chairs outside. It was a little hotter here, but it was nicer than being with Wade. I watched a boat zip up and down the lake. The people in the boat were laughing. They were talking to each other but I couldn’t hear anything except the loud roar of the boat’s engine. After I finished my sandwich, I went back and put my head in at the door of the study.

‘Go away,’ Wade said, and shook the half-empty whisky bottle at me.

I went back outside to wait for someone to come home and keep an eye on the fool. The boat continued to roar along the shore of the lake. I walked down to get a closer look. The man behind the wheel waved at me. Maybe he didn’t know he was wrecking a nice quiet afternoon and maybe he knew and didn’t care. I walked back to the house. The boat moved down the lake and took its awful noise with it. At the top of the garden steps, I heard the doorbell ringing. I went in and opened the door for Eileen Wade.

‘Oh, Mr Marlowe. I thought it was Candy or Roger. I forgot my key.’

‘It’s Candy’s day off.’

There must have been something in my voice.

‘Is anything wrong?’ she asked.

‘Well, a little drinking is being done. He’s in his study. Probably asleep by now. And I must get going.’

‘Oh, don’t go. Stay and have some tea.’

I don’t know why I said yes. I didn’t want any tea.

She took off her jacket. ‘I’ll just look in and see if Roger is all right.’

I watched her cross to the study door and open it. She looked in for a moment and closed the door and came back.

‘Yes, he’s asleep. I have to go upstairs, but I’ll be right back down.’

She went up and I heard her door close. I went to the study. If he was sleeping, he wouldn’t need whatever was left in the bottle. I opened the door.

There was perfect silence and a strong smell of gunsmoke in the room. Before I was half-way to where he lay on the sofa, I knew he was dead.

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