فصل 03

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Chapter three

Al to Mildred

I had dinner at the hotel in Puma Point. When I finished, a girl came up to my table. I didn’t know her.

She smiled at me. ‘Can I sit with you for a minute, Mr Marlowe?’ she asked.

I got out my cigarettes. ‘Word gets round fast in small villages,’ I said. ‘What do you want to talk about?’

She smiled again. ‘About Bill Chess. Do you think he murdered Muriel?’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps. But I’m not interested in Bill or Muriel Chess.’

‘No?’ The girl put out her cigarette. ‘Listen to this, then. There was a Los Angeles policeman - De Soto - up here about six weeks ago. Big man with a square face. Said he wanted to find a woman with the name Mildred Haviland. He had a photograph with him. We thought the photo was Muriel Chess. OK, the hair was red-brown, but a woman can easily change the colour of her hair. Nobody here liked this De Soto, so we didn’t tell him anything. What do you think about that?’

I lit another cigarette. ‘But I don’t know a Mildred Haviland. And I never heard of Muriel Chess before today.’

‘Bill Chess isn’t a bad man,’ she said quietly. ‘We like him, and we don’t think he’s a murderer.’

When she left, I found a telephone and called Derace Kingsley. His answers to my questions didn’t help. No, he didn’t know Muriel Chess very well. Yes, his wife was friendly with Muriel. No, he didn’t know a woman called Mildred Haviland.

It was dark when I got back to Bill Chess’s house by Little Fawn Lake. I went in quietly through a back window, and looked round the house very carefully. Why was I interested in Bill Chess’s wife? I didn’t know, but she knew Mrs Kingsley, she lived in the same place, and she ‘went away’ on the same day. Perhaps that was important, and perhaps it wasn’t.

In the kitchen I looked in all the cupboards and through the tins of food. And in the tin of sugar I found a small, very pretty watch inside some paper. On the back of the watch there were some words: Al to Mildred. With all my love.

Al to Mildred. Al somebody to Mildred Haviland. Mildred Haviland was Muriel Chess. Muriel Chess was dead - two weeks after a policeman called De Soto came to Puma Point with her photograph. I stood there and thought about it. Mrs Kingsley didn’t come in to this story.

I drove back down to Puma Point and went in to Jim Patton’s office. I put the little watch on his desk.

‘I looked round Bill Chess’s house,’ I said, ‘and I found this in a tin of sugar.’

Jim Patton looked at me sadly. ‘Are you going to give me trouble, son? I looked round the house and didn’t find anything. But your eyes are younger than mine.’ He looked carefully at the little watch. ‘So what do you think about this?’ he asked me.

‘I don’t think Bill Chess murdered his wife. I don’t think he knew she had another name. But somebody from her past looked for her and found her. With a new name and a new husband. He didn’t like that, and so he murdered her.’

Jim Patton thought about it. ‘Mmm,’ he said slowly. ‘I like it. The story begins well, but how does it finish?’

‘Ask me tomorrow,’ I said.

Jim Patton laughed. ‘You city detectives are too fast for us slow mountain people. Goodnight, son.’

At about eleven that night I drove into San Bernardino and found the Prescott Hotel. The garage boy was happy to talk to me - when he had some of my dollars in his dirty hand. He looked at the photo of Crystal Kingsley and Chris Lavery.

‘Yeah, I remember the man,’ he said. ‘He came up to the woman at the hotel desk. But this photo’s not very good of the woman. A woman with the name Mrs Kingsley left her car here on the evening of June the 12th, and took a taxi to the station that night, with the man. She wore a black-and-white dress, with a black-and-white hat, and she was small and pretty with long yellow hair. Perhaps she was the woman in this photo, but I don’t know.’

I thanked him and gave him two more dollars for luck.

It was too hot in San Bernardino, so I got back in my car and drove home to Hollywood. I got in at a quarter to three in the morning. I had a bath, went to bed and slept well.

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