فصل 09

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The Montecito

The old woman in the house next door was still watching everything that moved in the street and her eyes were just as sharp as ever. She didn’t have anything new to tell us so we walked across to the next house. The same washing was still hanging stiffly on the washing line at the side of the house. There was no answer when we rang the bell and none when we knocked at the door. The door was locked this time. We went round to the back door. That was locked too but Randall kicked it open and we walked past a row of empty whisky bottles in the kitchen, into the living-room. The place smelled horrible. The radio was off.

‘Nice radio,’ said Randall.

Mrs Florian was in the bedroom. She hadn’t been dead for very long. Long enough to be completely dead, though. Randall looked at her.

‘This was done the quiet way,’ he said. ‘Just one large pair of hands round her neck. Enormous hands. Look at the marks on her neck.’

‘You look at them,’ I said and turned away, feeling ill again.

We went back to Randall’s office at the police station, and Randall made me make a full report on the story I had told him in the car and on the murder we had found at West 54th Place. I signed four copies.

‘Now let me tell you something, Marlowe,’ he said, sitting back in his chair. ‘Her neck was broken first and then the murderer started to hit her. Why did he hit her when she was already dead? Answer: he was angry with her. A thousand dollars was paid to the person who gave Malloy’s name to the police after the Great Bend bank job eight years ago, and I think the Florians got some of that money. Malloy may have thought the same thing. Maybe he was just trying to make her tell him who gave the police his name. It was Malloy who killed her all right, even if it was a mistake. Perhaps he’s just too strong.’

‘Perhaps,’ I answered.

‘Now here’s some advice for you, Marlowe, from a friend.’ He used another one of his four smiles for the day on me. ‘Go home and forget this whole investigation completely. Leave it alone. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself deep in trouble you won’t be able to climb out of. Understand?’

I said I understood. He looked at me for ten seconds, then he smiled again. He was doing a lot of smiling that day. Enough for a whole week.

I stood up and said goodbye, went home to get my car and ate some lunch in Hollywood before I drove over to Bay City. It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny but cool.

I went to see the Chief of Police, a fat man named John Wax, who sat doing nothing in a big office marked ‘Private’. I told him I was working for Mrs Grayle and that I was trying to find out more about Jules Amthor, the psychiatrist, and about the odd hospital for drink and drugs problems right there under his nose in Bay City. Could he help? It was the name Grayle which made him sit up straight in his chair. He asked me to go and lock the door, pulled out a bottle from somewhere in his desk and poured two drinks. He looked hurt as he drank his drink but in the end he agreed to help me in any way he could.

He sent a man down with me to look at the hospital on Descanso Street. It was a pleasant place by daylight, with a garden full of flowers of all sorts. It was quiet and still in the early afternoon sun. Outside, two men were studying at tall tree, as if they were wondering how to move it, and another was sitting in a car down the street reading a newspaper. My friendly Bay City policeman just drove straight past the house. He wasn’t smiling.

‘Los Angeles police. What the hell are they doing down here? This is our part of town, our side of the line. The Chief won’t be pleased.’

He drove round the next corner and stopped.

‘Who are the big guys in crime down here in Bay City?’ I asked him. ‘What kind of problems do you face down here?’

He didn’t answer straight away. Then he said very quietly, so that I could only just hear: ‘Man named Laird Brunette runs this town. Runs all the crime in Bay City. Owns those two gambling ships out in the ocean there, too, just beyond where we can reach them. We can’t touch his gambling business or any other business out there . . .’ He stopped. He’d said enough. His eyes started to worry that he’d said too much.

‘Thanks,’ I said and gave him my hand. He had given me my next idea.

I found a hotel room down by the waterfront in Bay City and waited until it was dark. I could hear people talking together and cars passing along the street outside. I thought about the whole story of Malloy and Velma, Marriott and the beautiful Mrs Grayle, the attractive Miss Anne Riordan, the slow and stupid Nulty, the fat and lazy John Wax and the clever and deadly Detective Randall. I thought of psychiatrists and jewel gangs and hard men who took me by the throat and tried to stop me breathing. I thought about a lot of things. It got darker. I needed a drink, I needed a holiday in the sun, I needed a home in the country and I needed a friend, but all I had was a coat and a hat and a gun. I got up, washed my face and got ready for the night’s work in front of me.

Outside, I walked slowly along the seafront and back again, watching the faces in the crowd and the lights of the two gambling ships out there on the dark ocean. A hamburger seller was shouting ‘Get hungry, friends, get hungry! Nice fat hamburgers here. Get hungry!’ I stopped and asked him the names of the two ships.

‘Montecito and Royal Crown,’ he said, looking at me with careful eyes. ‘Why are you interested?’

I laughed and waited while he served a young couple with hamburgers. Then he came close and said quietly: ‘You want to hide out there? It’d cost you a lot, friend. Not less than fifty to take you out there. The Montecito is the one you’d want.’

I left him wondering why I had asked him at all and walked further along the seafront, found a place to have dinner and sat down with a drink. The dinner tasted like a postman’s sack and the waiter looked as if he’d cut my throat for a dollar. But the drink was good.

I took a water-taxi out to the Montecito for a quarter of a dollar. It was a long way out over the dark sea. I stared at the orange lights of Bay City getting further and further away, disappearing now and then as the boat rode down between two waves. When we arrived, a dark-eyed young man in a blue jacket stepped in front of me as I went up the steps.

‘Sorry, mister. No guns on the boat.’

‘It’s part of my clothes,’ I told him. ‘I’m here to see Mr Brunette on business.’

‘Never heard of him,’ he said, with a face like stone. ‘Get back in the taxi and get on your way - fast. We’re not in Bay City now. We’re not even in California, so move.’

I got back in the boat. Blue Jacket watched me with a silent smile. The taximan didn’t say a word the whole way back. As I got off at the waterfront, he handed me a quarter- dollar. ‘Some other night, maybe,’ he said in a tired voice.

There was a very big guy with red hair, dirty shoes and torn sailor’s trousers in the crowd waiting for the next taxi. He didn’t fit in at all. As I went past him, he took my elbow. I stopped.

‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked. I wasn’t feeling polite, even though he was three inches taller than me and heavier too.

‘Couldn’t get onto the ship?’ he asked between his teeth. ‘Trouble getting on with that gun under your coat, huh?’ He looked up and down the waterfront. ‘I can help, maybe. Can be done, you know. Fifty dollars.’ I started to walk away but he kept hold of my elbow.

‘OK. Twenty-five, for a friend.’

‘I don’t have any friends,’ I said, and walked away. He didn’t try to stop me. He followed me slowly along the waterfront, through the crowds. I stopped to watch some people playing bingo and he came up next to me - a handsome guy with blue eyes, as big as Moose Malloy but he looked younger and faster on his feet.

He said into my ear: ‘What’s your business? Private investigation? I was on the police here once. I can recognize guys like you.’ He smiled.

‘Know a man named Brunette, then?’ I asked. The smile stayed on his face.

‘I can borrow a very quiet boat, friend, and there’s a place along there, with no lights, where we can leave and come in again without anyone seeing us.’ He pointed along the water-front with his chin. ‘I know where there’s a delivery door on the Montecito which you can open and get in, too.’

I got my wallet out and gave him twenty-five in new notes. He disappeared quietly among the crowd, with a smile. ‘Give me ten minutes. My name’s Red,’ was all he said.

The noise of the bars and crowds died away behind me, and I found the nice dark place along the waterfront ten minutes later with no trouble. There were some steps down to the sea. I went down them as carefully as a cat and a big black shape suddenly appeared out of the darkness next to me. He pointed down to a boat riding on the sea with its engine going almost noiselessly and said: ‘OK. Get in.’

We moved out into the blackness of the sea and the wave again. It was not the happiest moment of my life. As we went out across the dark water, I told this big friendly giant why I was there, that I wanted to talk to a man called Laird Brunette, that I wanted to find an ex-prisoner and murderer called Moose Malloy who might be hiding out on the Montecito. I told him more than I meant to, but he listened and thought a bit and then said: ‘Yeah. Brunette runs all the gambling, the drugs and the women in this town. Maybe he runs that hospital they put you in, too. But I just don’t think Brunette would be behind that jewel robbery you were talking about. He’s big time, and that’s too small. I don’t think he had anything to do with that. And I don’t think Brunette would hide a man like Malloy,’ he said, ‘unless there’s something other than money behind it which is worrying him.’ He moved his hands on the wheel of the boat and said: ‘I don’t like these guys at all. I really hate them, in fact.’ So I had a friend. We moved quietly in towards the enormous black side of the Montecito. There were two big iron doors in the side of the ship, just higher than our little boat. We stopped near them and rode up and down on the waves, listening. Everything was quiet except the sound of water and the music up above us.

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