فصل 07

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The House on the Hill

The man smelled. I could smell him from the other side of my office when he came in. Mr Jules Amthor’s driver. He gave me one of Mr Amthor’s cards, but I had seen one before - in a more interesting place. He also gave me a hundred dollars, from Mr Amthor. That was interesting.

I locked the office and the man drove me over to Stillwood Heights, getting green lights all the way. Some guys are lucky like that.

We drove up a long driveway with bright red flowers down the sides and stopped in front of a large lonely house right on top of the hill. The man opened the door for me and I got out. He led me into the house, into a lift where his smell was even worse than before, and up. There was a desk with a woman behind it when we stopped and the doors opened. She was the owner of the voice on the telephone. I gave her the hundred dollars.

‘Sorry, it was a nice thought but I can’t take this. I have to know what the job is before I take any money for it.’

She nodded, stood up and pressed a button on the wall. A hidden door opened noiselessly and closed again after I had gone through it without her. There was nobody in the dark room I was now in. I stood for thirty seconds wondering if someone was watching me.

Then another door opened quietly on the other side of the room, and a tall, thin, straight man in a black suit walked in quickly and sat down on a chair by a table in the middle of the room.

‘How can I help you?’ he asked. His eyes, deep and very black, seemed to look at me without seeing me, without feeling anything.

‘You seem to forget why I came,’ I said. ‘By the way, I gave that hundred dollars back to your secretary. I wanted to know why your card was found in the pocket of a dead man last night.’

His face didn’t change. ‘There are things I do not know,’ he said after a second or two, ‘and this is one of them. Anybody can take one of my cards.’

I almost believed him. Almost, but not quite. ‘Then why did you send me a hundred dollars?’ I asked.

‘My dear Mr Marlowe,’ he said coldly, ‘I am not a fool. I am in a difficult business, always in danger from doctors who do not believe in my work as a psychiatrist. I like to know why people are asking questions about me.’

So I told him the whole story of my meeting with Marriott and about Marriott’s murder. Nothing changed in his face.

Then I had another idea. I asked: ‘Do you know a Mrs Grayle too, by any chance?’

He did. She had seen him about some problem once. That’s what I liked about this job - everyone knew everyone. Marriott, Grayle and now Amthor. I was sitting there feeling pleased with myself when suddenly all the lights went out. The room was as dark as death.

I kicked my chair back and stood up, but it was no good. I was too slow. I smelled the man behind me just before he took me by the throat and lifted me into the air. I stopped breathing. The only good thing about that was that I couldn’t smell him anymore.

A voice said softly: ‘Let him breathe - a little.’

The fingers round my throat loosened and I fought my way free from them just in time for something hard to hit me on the mouth. I tasted blood. The voice said: ‘Get him on his feet. Stupid man. I think he can stand on his own now.’

The lights went on again and the arms dropped away. I stood, shaking my head, trying to think straight. Then I went for the smile on Amthor’s face with everything I had in my right arm. It wasn’t too bad. I hit the smile straight in the middle. Amthor looked surprised, very angry, and hurt. Suddenly there was a gun in his hand.

‘Sit down, fool,’ he said, pointing it at me. Blood was coming out of his nose. I sat down near the table.

Suddenly, everything in my head went black. Maybe I went to sleep just like that, with the nasty thin man in the black suit pointing his gun at me. I wasn’t too sure when I thought about it later.


When I woke up, I was in a small room with white walls and no window. My throat felt as if someone had jumped on it and I couldn’t see clearly. It was as if there was smoke in front of my eyes, filling the room. I was in a bed. I began to remember things: Amthor and the man who smelled, breaking Amthor’s nose. That made me feel better. But then they must have given me some sort of drug to knock me out, or to make me talk, and now I was having a hard time coming out of it.

I sat up on the bed and put my feet on the floor. I started to walk across the little room. It wasn’t easy. It was as if I had drunk too much. But slowly the smoke started to clear from in front of my eyes. I walked and walked and walked round the room, with my knees shaking but my head getting clearer all the time.

There was a bottle of whisky on a small table in one corner but it smelled funny, more drugs in it maybe, so I didn’t take a drink. But I could use it another way. I picked it up, went over to the door and shouted ‘Fire! Fire!’ Steps came running, a key was pushed into the lock and the door jumped open. I was flat against the wall to one side and I hit him with the bottle as he came in - a small, square, strong man in a white coat. Another friendly psychiatrist, maybe. He was out cold on the floor, with funny-smelling whisky and pieces of broken bottle all over him. I went through his pockets and took his keys, then I tied him to the bed with his white coat. One of his keys opened the cupboard in the corner of the room and all my clothes were in there. So was my gun, but someone had kindly taken all the bullets out of it.

I locked the man in the room and went quietly across the carpet, listening to the silence of the house and holding the empty gun in front of me. There was an open door, with a light on in the room, just in front of me. I heard a man cough. Very carefully I looked into the room. He was reading a newspaper. I could only see the side of his face - he needed a shave. But Mr Moose Malloy was having a nice comfortable time hiding in this place, wherever it was. It was time for me to get out, though, to go far away, fast, so I left him there and moved quietly on.


I walked on quietly through the empty house, past rooms with white walls and medicine bottles and metal tables with instruments on them. I saw a clock which told me it was almost midnight but I didn’t meet any of the lovely people who worked in the place. At last, I came to the front door. It wasn’t locked. I walked out into the night.

It was a cool night, no moon. The house was on the corner of a street. The sign said Descanso Street. I started to walk as fast as I could, listening for the scream of police cars coming to take me back there, but nothing happened.

I knew I was somewhere near the address Anne Riordan had told me for her apartment, at 819 25th Street. I worked my way across the streets towards it, and then realized I was still holding my gun in my hand. I put it away fast and kept on walking. The fresh air helped; I started to feel a bit better.

The light was still on at number 819, so I rang the bell. A voice from behind the door said: ‘Who is it?’

‘Marlowe.’

The door opened and Anne Riordan stood there looking at me. Her eyes went wide and frightened.

‘My God!’ she cried. ‘You look like a ghost.’

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