Authors: Raymond Chandler
“Get out of sight,” I said. “I want to make sure.”
He swung back on the highway, drove fast down beyond the end of the stucco wall, then cut into a narrow winding road on the far side and stopped. A gnarled eucalyptus with a divided trunk hung over us. I got out of the cab, put dark glasses on, strolled down to the highway and leaned against a bright red jeep with the name of a service station painted on it. A cab came down the hill and turned into the Rancho Descansado. Three minutes passed. The cab came out empty and turned back up the hill. I went back to my driver.
“Cab No. 423,” I said. “That check?”
“That’s your pigeon. What now?”
“We wait. What’s the layout over there?”
“Bungalows with car ports. Some single, some double. Office in a small one down front. Rates pretty steep in season. This is slack time around here. Half price probably and plenty of room.”
“We wait five minutes. Then I check in, drop my suitcase, and look for a car to rent.”
He said that was easy. In Esmeralda there were three places that rented cars, time and mileage, any make you wanted.
We waited the five minutes. It was now just past three o’clock. I was empty enough to steal the dog’s dinner.
I paid my driver off, watched him leave, and went across the highway and into the office.
I leaned a polite elbow on the counter and looked across at the happy-faced young guy in the polka-dotted bow tie. I looked from him to the girl at the small PBX against the side wall. She was an outdoorsy type with shiny make-up and a horse tail of medium blond hair sticking out at the back of her noodle. But she had nice large soft eyes and when they looked at the clerk they glistened. I looked back at him and choked back a snarl. The girl at the PBX swung her horse tail in an arc and put the eye on me also.
“I’d be glad to show you what we have vacant, Mr. Marlowe,” the young guy said politely. “You can register later, if you decide to stay here. About how long would you be likely to want accommodations?”
“Only as long as she does,” I said. “The girl in the blue suit. She just registered. Using what name I wouldn’t know.”
He and the PBX girl stared at me. Both their faces had the same expression of distrust mixed with curiosity. There are a hundred ways of playing this scene. But this was a new one for me. In no city hotel in the world would it work. It might work here. Mostly because I didn’t give a damn.
“You don’t like that, do you?” I said.
He shook his head slightly. “At least you’re frank about it.”
“I’m tired of being cagey. I’m worn out with it. Did you notice her ring finger?”
“Why no, I didn’t.” He looked at the PBX girl. She shook her head and kept her eyes on my face.
“No wedding ring,” I said. “Not any more. All gone. All broken up. All the years—ah, the hell with it. I’ve followed her all the way from—well, never mind where. She won’t even speak to me. What am I doing here? Making a damn fool of myself.” I turned away quickly and blew my nose. I had their attention. “I’d better go somewhere else,” I said, turning back.
“You want to make it up and she won’t,” the PBX girl said quietly.
“I’m sympathetic,” the young guy said. “But you know how it is, Mr. Marlowe. A hotel has to be very careful. These situations can lead to anything—even shootings.”
“Shootings?” I looked at him with wonder. “Good God, what sort of people do that?”
He leaned both arms on the desk. “Just what would you like to do, Mr. Marlowe?”
“I’d like to be near her—in case she needs me. I wouldn’t speak to her. I wouldn’t even knock at her door. But she would know I was there and she’d know why. I’d be waiting. I’ll always be waiting.”
The girl loved it now. I was up to my neck in the soft corn. I took a deep slow breath and shot for the grand prize. “And I don’t somehow like the look of the guy who brought her here,” I said.
“Nobody brought her here—except a cabdriver,” the clerk said. But he knew what I meant all right.
The PBX girl half smiled. “He doesn’t mean that, Jack. He means the reservation.”
Jack said, “I kind of gathered as much, Lucille. I’m not so dumb.” Suddenly he brought a card out from the desk and put it down in front of me. A registration card. Across the corner diagonally was written the name Larry Mitchell. In a very different writing in the proper places: (Miss) Betty Mayfield, West Chatham, New York. Then in the top left-hand corner in the same writing as Larry Mitchell a date, a time, a price, a number.
“You’re very kind,” I said. “So she’s gone back to her maiden name. It’s legal, of course.”
“Any name is legal, if there’s no intent to defraud. You would like to be next door to her?”
I widened my eyes. Maybe they glistened a little. Nobody ever tried harder to make them glisten.
“Look,” I said, “it’s damn nice of you. But you can’t do it. I’m not going to make any trouble, but you can’t be sure. It’s your job if I pulled anything.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ve got to learn some day. You look all right to me. Just don’t tell anybody.” He took the pen from its cup and held it out. I signed my name with an address on East Sixty-first Street, New York City.
Jack looked at it. “That’s near Central Park, isn’t it?” he asked idly.
“Three blocks and a bit,” I said. “Between Lexington and Third Avenue.”
He nodded. He knew where it was. I was in. He reached for a key.
“I’d like to leave my suitcase here,” I said, “and go get something to eat and maybe rent a car, if I can. You could have it put in the room for me?”
Sure. He could do that for me easy. He took me outside and pointed up through a grove of saplings. The cottages were allover shingled, white with green roofs. They had porches with railings. He showed me mine through the trees. I thanked him. He started back in and I said, “Look, there’s one thing. She may check out when she knows.”
He smiled. “Of course. Nothing we can do about that, Mr. Marlowe. Lots of guests only stay a night or two—except in summer. We don’t expect to be filled up this time of year.”
He went on into the office cottage and I heard the girl say to him: “He’s kind of cute, Jack—but you shouldn’t have done it.”
I heard his answer too. “I hate that guy Mitchell—even if he is a pal of the owner.”
The room was bearable. It had the usual concrete couch, chairs without cushions, a small desk against the front wall, a walk-in closet with a built-in chest, a bathroom with a Hollywood bath and neon shaving lights beside the mirror over the basin, a small kitchenette with a refrigerator and a white stove, a three-burner electric. In a wall cupboard over the sink enough dishes and stuff. I got some ice cubes and made myself a drink with the bottle from my suitcase, sipped it and sat in a chair listening, leaving the windows shut and the venetian blinds dark. I heard nothing next door, then I heard the toilet flush. Subject was in residence. I finished the drink, killed a cigarette and studied the wall heater on the party wall. It consisted of two long frosted bulbs in a metal box. It didn’t look as if it would throw out much heat, but in the closet there was a plug-in fan heater with a thermostat and a three-way plug, which made it 220 volts. I slipped off the chromium grill guard of the wall heater and twisted out the frosted bulbs. I got a doctor’s stethoscope out of my suitcase and held it against the metal backing and listened. If there was another similar heater back against it in the next room, and there almost certainly would be, all I had between the two rooms was a metal panel and some insulation, probably a bare minimum of that.
I heard nothing for a few minutes, then I heard a telephone being dialed. The reception was perfect. A woman’s voice said: “Esmeralda 4-1499, please.”
It was a cool contained voice, medium pitch, very little expression in it except that it sounded tired. It was the first time I had heard her voice in all the hours I had been following her.
There was a longish pause, then she said: “Mr. Larry Mitchell, please.”
Another pause, but shorter. Then: “This is Betty Mayfield, at the Rancho Descansado.” She pronounced the “a” in Descansado wrong. Then: “Betty Mayfield, I said. Please don’t be stupid. Do you want me to spell it for you?”
The other end had things to say. She listened. After a while she said: “Apartment 12C. You ought to know. You made the reservation . . . Oh. I see . . . Well, all right. I’ll be here.”
She hung up. Silence. Complete silence. Then the voice in there said slowly and emptily: “Betty Mayfield, Betty Mayfield, Betty Mayfield. Poor Betty. You were a nice girl once—long ago.”
I was sitting on the floor on one of the striped cushions with my back to the wall. I got up carefully, laid the stethoscope down on the cushion and went to lie on the day bed. After a while he would arrive. She was in there waiting for him, because she had to. She’d had to come there for the same reason. I wanted to know what it was.
He must have been wearing crepe soles because I didn’t hear anything until the buzzer sounded next door. Also, he hadn’t driven his car up to the cottage. I got down on the floor and went to work with the stethoscope.
She opened the door, he came in and I could imagine the smile on his face as he said: “Hello, Betty. Betty Mayfield is the name, I believe. I like it.”
“It was my name originally.” She closed the door.
He chuckled. “I suppose you were wise to change it. But how about the initials on your luggage?”
I didn’t like his voice any better than his smile. It was high and cheerful, almost bubbly with sly good humor. There was not quite a sneer in it, but close enough. It made me clamp my teeth.
“I suppose,” she said dryly, “that was the first thing you noticed.”
were the first thing I noticed. The mark of a wedding ring but no wedding ring was the second. The initials were only the third.”
“Don’t call me ‘baby’, you cheap blackmailer,” she said with a sudden muted fury.
It didn’t faze him in the least. “I may be a blackmailer, honey, but”—another conceited chuckle—“I’m certainly not cheap.”
She walked, probably away from him. “Do you want a drink? I see you have a bottle with you.”
“It might make me lascivious.”
“There’s only one thing about you I’m afraid of, Mr. Mitchell,” the girl said coolly. “Your big loose mouth. You talk too much and you like yourself too well. We’d better understand each other. I like Esmeralda. I’ve been here before and I always wanted to come back. It’s nothing but sheer bad luck that you live here and that you were on the train that was taking me here. It was the worst kind of luck that you should have recognized me. But that’s all it is—bad luck.”
“Good luck for me, honey,” he drawled.
“Perhaps,” she said, “if you don’t put too much pressure on it. If you do, it’s liable to blow up in your face.”
There was a brief silence. I could see them in my imagination, staring at each other. His smile might be getting a little nervous, but not much.
“All I’ve got to do,” he said quietly, “is pick up the phone and call the San Diego papers. You want publicity? I can arrange it for you.”
“I came here to get rid of it,” she said bitterly.
He laughed. “Sure, by an old coot of a judge falling to pieces with senile decay, and in the only state in the Union—and I’ve checked on that—where it could happen after the jury said otherwise. You’ve changed your name twice. If your story got printed out here—and it’s a pretty good story, honey—I guess you’d have to change your name again—and start traveling a little more. Gets kind of tiresome, doesn’t it?”
“That’s why I’m here,” she said. “That’s why you’re here. How much do you want? I realize it will only be a down payment.”
“Have I said anything about money?”
“You will,” she said. “And keep your voice down.”
“The cottage is all yours, honey. I walked around it before I came in. Doors closed, windows shut, blinds drawn, car ports empty. I can check with the office, if you’re nervous. I’ve got friends around here—people you need to know, people who can make life pleasant for you. Socially this is a tough town to break into. And it’s a damn dull town if you’re on the outside looking in.”
get in, Mr. Mitchell?”
“My old man is a big shot in Toronto. We don’t get on and he won’t have me around home. But he’s still my old man and he’s still the real thing, even if he does pay me to stay away.”
She didn’t answer him. Her steps went away. I heard her in the kitchen making the usual sounds connected with getting ice out of a tray of cubes. The water ran, the steps came back.
“I’d like one myself,” she said. “Perhaps I’ve been rude to you. I’m tired.”
“Sure,” he said equably. “You’re tired.” A pause. “Well, here’s to when you’re not tired. Say about seven-thirty this evening at The Glass Room. I’ll pick you up. Nice place for dinner. Dancing. Quiet. Exclusive, if that means anything any more. Belongs to the Beach Club. They don’t have a table unless they know you. I’m among friends there.”
“Expensive?” she asked.
“A little. Oh yes—and that reminds me. Until my monthly check comes in, you could let me have a couple of dollars.” He laughed. “I’m surprised at myself. I did mention money after all.”
“A couple of dollars?”
“A couple of hundred would be better.”
“Sixty dollars is all I have—until I can open an account or cash some traveler’s checks.”
“You can do that at the office, baby.”
“So I can. Here’s fifty. I don’t want to spoil you, Mr. Mitchell.”
“Call me Larry. Be human.”
“Should I?” Her voice had changed. There was a hint of invitation in it. I could imagine the slow smile of pleasure on his face. Then I guess from the silence that he had grabbed her and she had let him. Finally her voice was a little muffled, saying: “That’s enough, Larry. Be nice now and run along. I’ll be ready at seven-thirty.”
“One more for the road.”
In a moment the door opened and he said something I didn’t catch. I got up and went to the window and took a careful look through the slats of the blind. A floodlight was turned on in one of the tall trees. Under it I saw him stroll off up the slope and disappear. I went back to the heater panel and for a while I heard nothing and wasn’t sure what I was listening for. But I knew soon enough.
There was quick movement back and forth, the sound of drawers being pulled open, the snap of a lock, the bump of a lifted lid against something.
She was packing up to leave.
I screwed the long frosted bulbs back into the heater and replaced the grille and put the stethoscope back in my suitcase. The evening was getting chilly. I slipped my jacket on and stood in the middle of the floor. It was getting dark and no light on. I just stood there and thought it over. I could go to the phone and make a report and by that time she could be on her way in another cab to another train or plane to another destination. She could go anywhere she liked, but there would always be a dick to meet the train if it meant enough to the big important people back in Washington. There would always be a Larry Mitchell or a reporter with a good memory. There would always be the little oddness to be noticed and there would always be somebody to notice it. You can’t run away from yourself.
I was doing a cheap sneaky job for people I didn’t like, but—that’s what you hire out for, chum. They pay the bills, you dig the dirt. Only this time I could taste it. She didn’t look like a tramp and she didn’t look like a crook. Which meant only that she could be both with more success than if she had.