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Authors: Raymond Chandler

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BOOK: Playback
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The ramp down to the garage looked just the same as it had looked at four o’clock in the morning, but there was a swishing of water audible as I rounded the curve. The glassed-in cubicle office was empty. Somewhere somebody was washing a car, but it wouldn’t be the attendant. I crossed to the door leading into the elevator lobby and held it open. The buzzer sounded behind me in the office. I let the door close and stood outside it waiting and a lean man in a long white coat came around the corner. He wore glasses, had a skin the color of cold oatmeal and hollow tired eyes. There was something Mongolian about his face, something south-of-the-border, something Indian, and something darker than that. His black hair was flat on a narrow skull.

“Your car, sir? What name, please?”

“Mr. Mitchell’s car in? The two-tone Buick hardtop?”

He didn’t answer right away. His eyes went to sleep. He had been asked that question before.

“Mr. Mitchell took his car out early this morning.”

“How early?”

He reached for a pencil that was clipped to his pocket over the stitched-on scarlet script with the hotel name. He took the pencil out and looked at it.

“Just before seven o’clock. I went off at seven.”

“You work a twelve-hour shift? It’s only a little past seven now.”

He put the pencil back in his pocket. “I work an eight-hour shift but we rotate.”

“Oh. Last night you worked eleven to seven.”

“That’s right.” He was looking past my shoulder at something far away. “I’m due off now.”

I got out a pack of cigarettes and offered him one.

He shook his head.

“I’m only allowed to smoke in the office.”

“Or in the back of a Packard sedan.”

His right hand curled, as if around the haft of a knife.

“How’s your supply? Needing anything?”

He stared.

“You should have said ‘Supply of what?’ ” I told him.

He didn’t answer.

“And I would have said I wasn’t talking about tobacco,” I went on cheerfully. “About something cured with honey.”

Our eyes met and locked. Finally he said softly: “You a pusher?”

“You snapped out of it real nice, if you were in business at seven
this morning. Looked to me as if you would be out of circulation for hours. You must have a clock in your head—like Eddie Arcaro.”

“Eddie Arcaro,” he repeated. “Oh yes, the jockey. Has a clock in his head, has he?”

“So they say.”

“We might do business,” he said remotely. “What’s your price?”

The buzzer sounded in the office. I had heard the elevator in the shaft subconsciously. The door opened and the couple I had seen holding hands in the lobby came through. The girl had on an evening dress and the boy wore a tux. They stood side by side, looking like two kids who had been caught kissing. The attendant glanced at them and went off and a car started and came back. A nice new Chrysler convertible. The guy handed the girl in carefully, as if she was already pregnant. The attendant stood holding the door. The guy came around the car and thanked him and got in.

“Is it very far to The Glass Room?” he asked diffidently.

“No, sir.” The attendant told them how to get there.

The guy smiled and thanked him and reached in his pocket and gave the attendant a dollar bill.

“You could have your car brought around to the entrance, Mr. Preston. All you have to do is call down.”

“Oh thanks, but this is fine,” the guy said hurriedly. He started carefully up the ramp. The Chrysler purred out of sight and was gone.

“Honeymooners,” I said. “They’re sweet. They just don’t want to be stared at.”

The attendant was standing in front of me again with the same flat look in his eyes.

“But there’s nothing sweet about us,” I added.

“If you’re a cop, let’s see the buzzer.”

“You think I’m a cop?”

“You’re some kind of nosy bastard.” Nothing he said changed the tone of his voice at all. It was frozen in B Flat. Johnny One-Note.

“I’m all of that,” I agreed. “I’m a private star. I followed somebody down here last night. You were in a Packard right over there”—I pointed—“and I went over and opened the door and sniffed the weed. I could have driven four Cadillacs out of here and you wouldn’t have turned over in bed. But that’s your business.”

“The price today,” he said. “I’m not arguing about last night.”

“Mitchell left by himself?”

He nodded.

“No baggage?”

“Nine pieces. I helped him load it. He checked out. Satisfied?”

“You checked with the office?”

“He had his bill. All paid up and receipted.”

“Sure. And with that amount of baggage a hop came with him naturally.”

“The elevator kid. No hops on until seven-thirty. This was about one

“Which elevator kid?”

“A Mex kid we call Chico.”

“You’re not Mex?”

“I’m part Chinese, part Hawaiian, part Filipino, and part nigger. You’d hate to be me.”

“Just one more question. How in hell do you get away with it? The muggles, I mean.”

He looked around. “I only smoke when I feel extra special low. What the hell’s it to you? What the hell’s it to anybody? Maybe I get caught and lose a crummy job. Maybe I get tossed in a cell. Maybe I’ve been in one all my life, carry it round with me. Satisfied?” He was talking too much. People with unstable nerves are like that. One moment monosyllables, next moment a flood. The low tired monotone of his voice went on.

“I’m not sore at anybody. I live. I eat. Sometimes I sleep. Come around and see me some time. I live in a flea bag in an old frame cottage on Polton’s Lane, which is really an alley. I live right behind the Esmeralda Hardware Company. The toilet’s in a shed. I wash in the kitchen, at a tin sink. I sleep on a couch with broken springs. Everything there is twenty years old. This is a rich man’s town. Come and see me. I live on a rich man’s property.”

“There’s a piece missing from your story about Mitchell,” I said.

“Which one?”

“The truth.”

“I’ll look under the couch for it. It might be a little dusty.”

There was the rough noise of a car entering the ramp from above. He turned away and I went through the door and rang for the elevator. He was a queer duck, the attendant, very queer. Kind of interesting, though. And kind of sad, too. One of the sad, one of the lost.

The elevator was a long time coming and before it came I had company waiting for it. Six feet three inches of handsome, healthy male named Clark Brandon. He was wearing a leather windbreaker and a heavy roll-collar blue sweater under it, a pair of beat-up Bedford cord breeches, and the kind of high laced boots that field engineers and surveyors wear in rough country. He looked like the boss of a drilling crew. In an hour from now, I had no doubt he would be at The Glass Room in a dinner suit and he would look like the boss of that too, and perhaps he was. Plenty of money, plenty of health and plenty of time to get the best out of both, and wherever he went he would be the owner.

He glanced at me and waited for me to get into the elevator when it came. The elevator kid saluted him respectfully. He nodded. We both got off at the lobby. Brandon crossed to the desk and got a big smile from the clerk—a new one I hadn’t seen before—and the clerk handed him a fistful of letters. Brandon leaned against the end of the counter and tore the envelopes open one by one and dropped them into a wastebasket beside where he was standing. Most of the letters went the same way. There was a rack of travel folders there. I picked one off and lit a cigarette and studied the folder.

Brandon had one letter that interested him. He read it several times. I could see that it was short and handwritten on the hotel stationery, but without looking over his shoulder that was all I could see. He stood holding the letter. Then he reached down into the basket and came up with the envelope. He studied that. He put the letter in his pocket and moved along the desk. He handed the clerk the envelope.

“This was handed in. Did you happen to see who left it? I don’t seem to know the party.”

The clerk looked at the envelope and nodded. “Yes, Mr. Brandon, a man left it just after I came on. He was a middleaged fat man with glasses. Gray suit and topcoat and gray felt hat. Not a local type. A little shabby. A nobody.”

“Did he ask for me?”

“No, sir. Just asked me to put the note in your box. Anything wrong, Mr. Brandon?”

“Look like a goof?”

The clerk shook his head. “He just looked what I said. Like a nobody.”

Brandon chuckled. “He wants to make me a Mormon bishop for fifty dollars. Some kind of nut, obviously.” He picked the envelope up off the counter and put it in his pocket. He started to turn away, then said: “Seen Larry Mitchell around?”

“Not since I’ve been on, Mr. Brandon. But that’s only a couple of hours.”


Brandon walked across to the elevator and got in. It was a different elevator. The operator grinned all over his face and said something to Brandon. Brandon didn’t answer him or look at him. The kid looked hurt as he whooshed the doors shut. Brandon was scowling. He was less handsome when he scowled.

I put the travel folder back in the rack and moved over to the desk. The clerk looked at me without interest. His glance said I was not registered there. “Yes, sir?”

He was a gray-haired man who carried himself well.

“I was just going to ask for Mr. Mitchell, but I heard what you said.”

“The house phones are over there.” He pointed with his chin. “The operator will connect you.”

“I doubt it.”

“Meaning what?”

I pulled my jacket open to get at my letter case. I could see the clerk’s eyes freeze on the rounded butt of the gun under my arm. I got the letter case out and pulled a card.

“Would it be convenient for me to see your house man? If you have one.”

He took the card and read it. He looked up. “Have a seat in the main lobby, Mr. Marlowe.”

“Thank you.”

He was on the phone before I had done a complete turn away from the desk. I went through the arch and sat against the wall where I could see the desk. I didn’t have very long to wait.

The man had a hard straight back and a hard straight face, with the kind of skin that never tans but only reddens and pales out again. His hair was almost a pompadour and mostly reddish blond. He stood in the archway and let his eyes take in the lobby slowly. He didn’t look at me any longer than at anybody else. Then he came over and sat down in the next chair to me. He wore a brown suit and a brown and yellow bow tie. His clothes fitted him nicely. There were fine blond hairs on his cheeks high up. There was a grace note of gray in his hair.

“My name’s Javonen,” he said without looking at me. “I know yours. Got your card in my pocket. What’s your trouble?”

“Man named Mitchell. I’m looking for him. Larry Mitchell.”

“You’re looking for him why?”

“Business. Any reason why I shouldn’t look for him?”

“No reason at all. He’s out of town. Left early this morning.”

“So I heard. It puzzled me some. He only got home yesterday. On the Super Chief. In L.A. he picked up his car and drove down. Also, he was broke. Had to make a touch for dinner money. He ate dinner at The Glass Room with a girl. He was pretty drunk—or pretended to be. It got him out of paying the check.”

“He can sign his checks here,” Javonen said indifferently. His eyes kept flicking around the lobby as if he expected to see one of the canasta players yank a gun and shoot his partner or one of the old ladies at the big jigsaw puzzle start pulling hair. He had two expressions—hard and harder. “Mr. Mitchell is well known in Esmeralda.”

“Well, but not favorably,” I said.

He turned his head and gave me a bleak stare. “I’m an assistant manager here, Mr. Marlowe. I double as security officer. I can’t discuss the reputation of a guest of the hotel with you.”

“You don’t have to. I know it. From various sources. I’ve observed him in action. Last night he put the bite on somebody and got enough to blow town. Taking his baggage with him, is my information.”

“Who gave this information to you?” He looked tough asking that.

I tried to look tough not answering it. “On top of that I’ll give you three guesses,” I said. “One, his bed wasn’t slept in last night. Two, it was reported to the office sometime today that his room had been cleaned out. Three, somebody on your night staff won’t show for work tonight. Mitchell couldn’t get all his stuff out without help.”

Javonen looked at me, then prowled the lobby again with his eyes. “Got something that proves you are what the card reads? Anyone can have a card printed.”

I got my wallet out and slipped a small photostat of my license from it and passed it over. He glanced at it and handed it back. I put it away.

“We have our own organization to take care of skipouts,” he said. “They happen—in any hotel. We don’t need your help. And we don’t like guns in the lobby. The clerk saw yours. Somebody else could see it. We had a stickup attempted here nine months ago. One of the heist guys got dead. I shot him.”

“I read about it in the paper,” I said. “It scared me for days and days.”

“You read some of it. We lost four or five thousand dollars worth of business the week following. People checked out by the dozen. You get my point?”

“I let the clerk see my gunbutt on purpose. I’ve been asking for Mitchell all day and all I got was the runaround. If the man checked out, why not say so? Nobody had to tell me he had jumped his bill.”

“Nobody said he jumped his bill. His bill, Mr. Marlowe, was paid in full. So where does that leave you?”

“Wondering why it was a secret he had checked out.”

He looked contemptuous. “Nobody said that either. You don’t listen good. I said he was out of town on a trip. I said his bill was paid in full. I didn’t say how much baggage he took. I didn’t say he had given up his room. I didn’t say that what he took was all he had . . . Just what are you trying to make out of all this?”

“Who paid his bill?”

His face got a little red. “Look, buster, I told you
paid it. In person, last night, in full and a week in advance as well. I’ve been pretty patient with you. Now you tell me something. What’s your angle?”

BOOK: Playback
12.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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