فصل 02

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Chapter two

The Lady in the Lake

I drove through the hot afternoon to San Bernardino, then up into the mountains. Past the village of Puma Point I took the road up to Little Fawn Lake. The road was slow and difficult through the mountains, and soon there were no more houses or people.

When I got to the lake, I stopped at the nearest house and got out. A man came out and walked across to me. He was a heavy man, not very tall, and he had a hard, city face.

‘Bill Chess?’ I asked.

‘That’s me.’

‘I want to look at Mr Kingsley’s house,’ I said. ‘I have a letter for you from him.’

He read the letter carefully, and then I asked him some questions about the house. He was happy to talk to me.

‘I don’t see many people up here,’ he said. He looked at the blue sky and the mountains, and his eyes were sad. ‘No friends. No wife. Nothing.’

I got a bottle of whisky from my car, and we sat together in the evening sun and drank. I’m a good listener.

‘No wife,’ Bill Chess said again. He looked into his glass of whisky. ‘She left me. She left me a month ago. The 12th of June.’

I gave him some more whisky and sat quietly. June 12th - the day when Mrs Kingsley didn’t go back to Los Angeles for the dinner.

‘Tell me about it,’ I said quietly.

He drank his whisky quickly. It was not his first drink that day. ‘I met Muriel a year and three months ago,’ he said slowly. ‘We married three weeks later. I loved her a lot, but… well, I was stupid. Here I am - I’ve got a good job, a pretty little wife, so what do I do?’ He looked across the lake at the Kingsleys’ house. ‘I get into bed with that Kingsley cat over there. OK, she’s as pretty as Muriel - the same long yellow hair, same eyes, same nice little body - but she’s nothing to me. But Muriel knows all about it. So we had a fight, and that night she left me. I went out, and when I got home, there was a letter on the table. “Goodbye, Bill,” she says, “I don’t want to live with you after this.”’

He finished his whisky. ‘I didn’t see the Kingsley woman again. She went down the mountain that same night. And not a word from Muriel now for a month.’ He turned and looked at me. ‘It’s an old story,’ he said, ‘but thanks for listening.’

I put the whisky bottle back in the car, and together we walked round the lake to the Kingsleys’ house. I looked round the house, but there was nothing interesting for me there.

‘Perhaps Mrs Kingsley went away with your wife,’ I said to Bill Chess.

He thought about it for a minute. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Muriel never liked that Kingsley cat.’

We walked on round the lake. There were only two other houses and there was nobody in them. It was quiet and clean and beautiful by that lake, away from the hot, dirty city. We stopped by an old boat and looked down into the water at the fish.

Suddenly Bill Chess caught my arm. ‘Look!’ he said. ‘Look down there!’ His hand was heavy on my arm, and his face was white.

I looked, and about ten feet below the water I saw something yellow. Something long and yellow. It moved slowly through the water. A woman’s hair.

I started to say something, but Bill Chess jumped into the lake and swam down under the water. He pulled and pushed, and quickly came up again through the water. The body followed him slowly. A body in red trousers and a black jacket. A body with a grey-white face, without eyes, without mouth, just long yellow hair. It was not a pretty thing - after a month in the water.

‘Muriel!’ said Bill Chess. Suddenly he was an old, old man. He sat there by the lake with his head in his hands. ‘It’s Muriel!’ he said, again and again.

Down in Puma Point village, the police station was just a one-room little house. The name on the door said, ‘JIM PATTON - POLICE.’ I went in.

Jim Patton was a big slow man, with a big round face and a big slow smile. He spoke slowly and he thought slowly, but his eyes weren’t stupid. I liked everything about him.

I lit a cigarette and told him about the dead woman in Little Fawn Lake.

‘Bill Chess’s wife - Muriel,’ I said. ‘She and Bill had a fight a month ago, then she left him. She wrote him a letter - a goodbye letter, or a suicide letter. I don’t know.’

Jim Patton looked at me. ‘OK,’ he said slowly. ‘Let’s go and talk to Bill. And who are you, son?’

‘Marlowe. I’m a private detective from LA. I’m working for Mr Kingsley. He wants me to find his wife.’

We drove up to the lake with the doctor and the police boys in the back of the car.

Bill Chess was a very unhappy man. ‘You think that I murdered Muriel?’ he said angrily to Patton.

‘Perhaps you did, and perhaps you didn’t,’ said Patton sadly. ‘But I must take you down to the police station, Bill. There’s going to be a lot of questions.’

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