فصل 06

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Chapter six

Room 618

Kingsley arrived five minutes later. He didn’t want to sit down and he didn’t want a drink. He pulled out a brown envelope and gave it to me.

‘Take this to Crystal,’ he said. ‘She’s waiting for you now, in the Black Cat bar down in Bay City. There’s five hundred dollars in that envelope. She’s in trouble. She knows the police are looking for her. She must get out of town tonight, but she wants money.’

I put the envelope on the table. ‘Not so fast,’ I said. ‘How does she know the police are looking for her? And did she kill Lavery? I’m not going to help a murderer.’

Kingsley’s eyes were very unhappy. ‘I know that’s difficult for you,’ he said quietly. ‘But what can I do? Perhaps she killed Lavery, perhaps she didn’t. I didn’t speak to her on the phone. The girl in my office took the call. Crystal didn’t want to talk to me, and I didn’t want to talk to her. I don’t want to see her again. But she is my wife.’

I walked across to the window and thought for a minute. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘I’m going. I want to hear her story. But I give murderers to the police, OK? Now, how is she going to know me?’

Kingsley smiled for the first time. ‘Thanks, Marlowe,’ he said. ‘Crystal says her hair’s light brown now, and short - not long and yellow. And you can wear my scarf. She knows that.’ He took it off and gave it to me. It was green and yellow and red. The colours hit me in the eye.

At one-fifteen in the morning the Black Cat bar was quiet - only five or six people were at the tables. By the door was a small woman with light-brown hair. She wore a yellow dress and a short grey coat. She saw my scarf first, and then me. We walked out into the street together and stopped by a shop window.

‘Give me the money,’ she said.

‘I want to hear your story.’

‘No.’

‘No story, no money.’

She turned her head away and said nothing for a minute. Then, ‘OK. Come to the Granada Hotel. Room 618. It’s in the next street. Come in ten minutes.’ She walked away down the street. I stood by the window and followed her with my eyes.

Room 618 was a big sitting-room. There was a half-open door at the back, perhaps to the bedroom and bathroom. I sat down and looked at Mrs Kingsley very carefully. I had one, not very good photo of her, but I had a good picture in my head. Crystal Kingsley was young and pretty and not very clever. The woman in front of me was young and pretty - and very, very clever. She gave me a quick, little-girl smile, and I watched her quiet eyes carefully.

‘Give me the money, please,’ she said.

‘The story first,’ I said. ‘You left your car in San Bernardino and you met Lavery there. You sent Kingsley a letter from El Paso. What did you do then?’

‘Why do you want to know?’

‘Do you want the money?’

She looked at me for a minute, then she told me her story. She left Lavery in El Paso, and he went home to Bay City. She didn’t want to stay with him. After that, she moved about. She stayed in hotels, here and there. She wanted to be quiet, to think, she said.

I listened. It was a good story and she told it well. Clever Mrs Kingsley.

‘Before you left Little Fawn Lake,’ I said, ‘did you have a fight with Muriel Chess? About Bill.’

‘Bill Chess? What are you talking about?’

‘Bill says you went to bed with him.’

‘Don’t be stupid! That dirty little man!’

‘Perhaps he is. The police think he’s a murderer, too. Of his wife. We found Muriel’s dead body in the lake. After a month.’

She put a finger between her teeth and watched me carefully. ‘What a sad story,’ she said slowly.

‘But Muriel Chess was Mildred Haviland. And Mildred Haviland was Dr Almore’s office nurse. And Lavery lives across the road from Dr Almore. So you understand that I wanted to talk to you.’

‘I can’t help you about Muriel.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘Oh well, here’s the money from Kingsley.’ I gave her the envelope and sat down again. I watched her eyes and said quietly, ‘That was a very pretty blue hat. Your hair was a darker brown this morning, but those nice legs are the same. I always remember a woman’s legs. I don’t think you saw me in my car outside Lavery’s house this morning.’

She went very quiet. ‘So you think I shot Chris Lavery?’ she said slowly.

‘I don’t think it. I know it.’

‘What are you going to do now?’

‘Give you to the police.’

Suddenly, there was a gun in her hand, and she laughed. Not a nice laugh.

‘Stand up,’ she said.

I stood up, and gave her a weak smile. ‘Detective meets murderer, and murderer shoots detective. Is that it?’ I asked. ‘But you’re not very good with guns. You’re standing too near me.’

She didn’t like that, and her eyes moved angrily. I hit her gun hand hard and kicked her feet at the same time. The gun hit the floor, and I caught her arms behind her back. She was strong, and fought and kicked. Suddenly I heard a new sound, but I had no time to look. I knew that there was a man behind me and that he was a big man. Then something hit me on the back of the head and everything went black.

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