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Authors: Raymond Chandler

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BOOK: Playback
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I opened the door and went along to the next and pushed the little buzzer. Nothing moved inside. There was no sound of steps. Then came the click of a chain set in the groove and the door opened a couple of inches on light and emptiness. The voice said from behind the door: “Who is it?”

“Could I borrow a cup of sugar?”

“I haven’t any sugar.”

“Well how about a couple of dollars until my check comes in?”

More silence. Then the door opened to the limit of the chain and her face edged into the opening and shadowed eyes stared out at me. They were just pools in the dark. The floodlight set high in the tree glinted on them obliquely.

“Who are you?”

“I’m your next door neighbor. I was having a nap and voices woke me. The voices spoke words. I was intrigued.”

“Go somewhere else and be intrigued.”

“I could do that, Mrs. King—pardon me, Miss Mayfield—but I’m not sure you’d want me to.”

She didn’t move and her eyes didn’t waver. I shook a cigarette out of a pack and tried to push up the top of my Zippo with my thumb and rotate the wheel. You should be able to do it one-handed. You can too, but it’s an awkward process. I made it at last and got the cigarette going, yawned, and blew smoke out through my nose.

“What do you do for an encore?” she asked.

“To be strictly kosher I should call L.A. and tell the party who sent me. Maybe I could be talked out of it.”

“God,” she said fervently, “two of them in one afternoon. How lucky can a girl get?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know anything. I think I’ve been played for a sucker, but I’m not sure.”

“Wait a minute.” She shut the door in my face. She wasn’t gone long. The chain came out of the groove inside and the door came open.

I went in slowly and she stepped back and away from me. “How much did you hear? And shut the door, please.”

I shut it with my shoulder and leaned against it.

“The tag end of a rather nasty conversation. The walls here are as thin as a hoofer’s wallet.”

“You in show business?”

“Just the opposite of show business. I’m in the hide-and-seek business. My name is Philip Marlowe. You’ve seen me before.”

“Have I?” She walked away from me in little cautious steps and went over by her open suitcase. She leaned against the arm of a chair. “Where?”

“Union Station in L.A. We waited between trains, you and I. I was interested in you. I was interested in what went on between you and Mr. Mitchell—that’s his name, isn’t it? I didn’t hear anything and I didn’t see much because I was outside the coffee shop.”

“So what interested you, you great big lovable something or other?”

“I’ve just told you part of it. The other thing that interested me was how you changed after your talk with him. I watched you work at it. It was very deliberate. You made yourself over into just another flip hard-boiled modern cutie. Why?”

“What was I before?”

“A nice quiet well-bred girl.”

“That was the act,” she said. “The other was my natural personality. Which goes with something else.” She brought a small automatic up from her side.

I looked at it. “Oh guns,” I said. “Don’t scare me with guns. I’ve lived with them all my life. I teethed on an old Derringer, single-shot, the kind the riverboat gamblers used to carry. As I got older I graduated to a lightweight sporting rifle, then a .303 target rifle and so on. I once made a bull at nine hundred yards with open sights. In case you don’t know, the whole target looks the size of a postage stamp at nine hundred yards.”

“A fascinating career,” she said.

“Guns never settle anything,” I said. “They are just a fast curtain to a bad second act.”

She smiled faintly and transferred the gun to her left hand. With her right she grabbed the edge of her blouse at the collar line and with a quick decisive motion tore it to the waist.

“Next,” she said, “but there’s no hurry about it, I turn the gun in my hand like this”—she put it back in her right hand, but held it by the barrel—“I slam myself on the cheekbone with the butt. I do a beautiful bruise.”

“And after that,” I said, “you get the gun into its proper position and release the safety catch and pull the trigger, just about the time I get through the lead column in the Sports Section.”

“You wouldn’t get halfway across the room.”

I crossed my legs and leaned back and lifted the green glass ash tray from the table beside the chair and balanced it on my knee and held the cigarette I was smoking between the first and second fingers of my right hand.

“I wouldn’t get any of the way across the room. I’d be sitting here like this, quite comfortable and relaxed.”

“But slightly dead,” she said. “I’m a good shot and it isn’t nine hundred yards.”

“Then you try to sell the cops your account of how I tried to attack you and you defended yourself.”

She tossed the gun into her suitcase and laughed. It sounded like a genuine laugh with real amusement in it. “Sorry,” she said. “You sitting there with your legs crossed and a hole in your head and me trying to explain how I shot you to defend my honor—the picture makes me a little lightheaded.”

She dropped into a chair and leaned forward with her chin cupped in a hand, the elbow propped on her knee, her face taut and drained, her dark red hair framing it too luxuriantly, so that her face looked smaller than it should have.

“Just what are you doing to me, Mr. Marlowe? Or is it the other way around—what I can do for you in return for you not doing anything at all?”

“Who is Eleanor King? What was she in Washington, D.C.? Why did she change her name somewhere along the way and have the initials taken off her bag? Odds and ends like that are what you could tell me. You probably won’t.”

“Oh, I don’t know. The porter took the initials off my things. I told him I had had a very unhappy marriage and was divorced and had been given the right to resume my unmarried name. Which is Elizabeth or Betty Mayfield. That could all be true, couldn’t it?”

“Yeah. But it doesn’t explain Mitchell.”

She leaned back and relaxed. Her eyes stayed watchful. “Just an acquaintance I made along the way. He was on the train.”

I nodded. “But he came down here in his own car. He made the reservation here for you. He’s not liked by the people here, but apparently he is a friend of someone with a lot of influence.”

“An acquaintance on a train or a ship sometimes develops very quickly,” she said.

“So it seems. He even touched you for a loan. Very fast work. And I got the impression you didn’t care for him too well.”

“Well,” she said, “so what? But as a matter of fact I’m crazy about him.” She turned her hand over and looked down at it. “Who hired you, Mr. Marlowe, and for what?”

“A Los Angeles lawyer, acting on instructions from back east. I was to follow you and check you in somewhere. Which I did. But now you’re getting ready to move out. I’m going to have to start over again.”

“But with me knowing you’re there,” she said shrewdly. “So you’ll have a much harder job of it. You’re a private detective of some sort, I gather.”

I said I was. I had killed my cigarette some time back. I put the ash tray back on the table and stood up.

“Harder for me, but there are lots of others, Miss Mayfield.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are, and all such nice little men. Some of them are even fairly clean.”

“The cops are not looking for you. They’d have had you easily. It was known about your train. I even got a photo of you and a description. But Mitchell can make you do just what he wants. Money isn’t all he’ll want.”

I thought she flushed a little, but the light didn’t strike her face directly. “Perhaps so,” she said. “And perhaps I don’t mind.”

“You mind.”

She stood up suddenly and came near me. “You’re in a business that doesn’t pay fortunes, aren’t you?”

I nodded. We were very close now.

“Then what would it be worth to you to walk out of here and forget you ever saw me?”

“I’d walk out of here for free. As for the rest, I have to make a report.”

“How much?” She said it as if she meant it. “I can afford a substantial retainer. That’s what you call it, I’ve heard. A much nicer word than blackmail.”

“It doesn’t mean the same thing.”

“It could. Believe me, it can mean just that—even with some lawyers and doctors. I happen to know.”

“Tough break, huh?”

“Far from it, shamus. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. I’m alive.”

“I’m on the other side. Don’t give it away.”

“Well, what do you know,” she drawled. “A dick with scruples. Tell it to the seagulls, buster. On me it’s just confetti. Run along now, Mr. PI Marlowe, and make that little old phone call you’re so anxious about. I’m not restraining you.”

She started for the door, but I caught her by the wrist and spun her around. The torn blouse didn’t reveal any startling nakedness, merely some skin and part of a brassiere. You’d see more on the beach, far more, but you wouldn’t see it through a torn blouse.

I must have been leering a little, because she suddenly curled her fingers and tried to claw me.

“I’m no bitch in heat,” she said between tight teeth. “Take your paws off me.”

I got the other wrist and started to pull her closer. She tried to knee me in the groin, but she was already too close. Then she went limp and pulled her head back and closed her eyes. Her lips opened with a sardonic twist to them. It was a cool evening, maybe even cold down by the water. But it wasn’t cold where I was.

After a while she said with a sighing voice that she had to dress for dinner.

I said, “Uh-huh.”

After another pause she said it was a long time since a man had unhooked her brassiere. We did a slow turn in the direction of one of the twin day beds. They had pink and silver covers on them. The little odd things you notice.

Her eyes were open and quizzical. I studied them one at a time because I was too close to see them together. They seemed well matched.

“Honey,” she said softly, “you’re awful sweet, but I just don’t have the time.”

I closed her mouth for her. It seems that a key slid into the door from the outside, but I wasn’t paying too close attention. The lock clicked, the door opened, and Mr. Larry Mitchell walked in.

We broke apart. I turned and he looked at me droopy-eyed, six feet one and tough and wiry.

“I thought to check at the office,” he said, almost absently. “Twelve B was rented this afternoon, very soon after this was occupied. I got faintly curious, because there are a lot of vacancies here at the moment. So I borrowed the other key. And who is this hunk of beef, baby?”

“She told you not to call her ‘baby,’ remember?”

If that meant anything to him, he didn’t show it. He swung a knotted fist gently at his side.

The girl said: “He’s a private eye named Marlowe. Somebody hired him to follow me.”

“Did he have to follow you as close as all that? I seem to be intruding on a beautiful friendship.”

She jerked away from me and grabbed the gun out of her suitcase. “What we’ve been talking is money,” she told him.

“Always a mistake,” Mitchell said. His color was high and his eyes too bright. “Especially in that position. You won’t need the gun, honey.”

He poked at me with a straight right, very fast and well sprung. I stepped inside it, fast, cool and clever. But the right wasn’t his meal ticket. He was a lefty too. I ought to have noticed that at the Union Station in L.A. Trained observer, never miss a detail. I missed him with a right hook and he didn’t miss with his left.

It snapped my head back. I went off balance just long enough for him to lunge sideways and lift the gun out of the girl’s hand. It seemed to dance through the air and nestle in his left hand.

“Just relax,” he said. “I know it sounds corny, but I could drill you and get away with it. I really could.”

“Okay,” I said thickly. “For fifty bucks a day I don’t get shot. That costs seventy-five.”

“Please turn around. It would amuse me to look at your wallet.”

I lunged for him, gun and all. Only panic could have made him shoot and he was on his home field and nothing to panic about. But it may be that the girl wasn’t so sure. Dimly at the extreme edge of vision I saw her reach for the whiskey bottle on the table.

I caught Mitchell on the side of the neck. His mouth yapped. He hit me somewhere, but it wasn’t important. Mine was the better punch, but it didn’t win the wrist watch, because at that moment an army mule kicked me square on the back of my brain. I went zooming out over a dark sea and exploded in a sheet of flame.



The first sensation was that if anybody spoke harshly to me I should burst out crying. The second, that the room was too small for my head. The front of the head was a long way from the back, the sides were an enormous distance apart, in spite of which a dull throbbing beat from temple to temple. Distance means nothing nowadays.

The third sensation was that somewhere not far off an insistent whining noise went on. The fourth and last was that ice water was running down my back. The cover of a day bed proved that I had been lying on my face, if I still had one. I rolled over gently and sat up and a rattling noise ended in a thump. What rattled and thumped was a knotted towel full of melting ice cubes. Somebody who loved me very much had put them on the back of my head. Somebody who loved me less had bashed in the back of my skull. It could have been the same person. People have moods.

I got up on my feet and lunged for my hip. The wallet was there in the left pocket, but the flap was unbuttoned. I went through it. Nothing was gone. It had yielded its information, but that was no secret any more. My suitcase stood open on the stand at the foot of the day bed. So I was home in my own quarters.

I reached a mirror and looked at the face. It seemed familiar. I went to the door and opened it. The whining noise was louder. Right in front of me was a fattish man leaning against the railing. He was a middle-sized fat man and the fat didn’t look flabby. He wore glasses and large ears under a dull gray felt hat. The collar of his topcoat was turned up. His hands were in the pockets of his coat. The hair that showed at the sides of his head was battleship gray. He looked durable. Most fat men do. The light from the open door behind me bounced back from his glasses. He had a small pipe in his mouth, the kind they call a toy bulldog. I was still foggy but something about him bothered me.

“Nice evening,” he said.

“You want something?”

“Looking for a man. You’re not him.”

“I’m alone in here.”

“Right,” he said. “Thanks.” He turned his back on me and leaned his stomach against the railing of the porch.

I went along the porch to the whining noise. The door of 12C was wide open and the lights were on and the noise was a vacuum cleaner being operated by a woman in a green uniform.

I went in and looked the place over. The woman switched off the vacuum and stared at me. “Something you wanted?”

“Where’s Miss Mayfield?”

She shook her head.

“The lady who had this apartment,” I said.

“Oh, that one. She checked out. Half an hour ago.” She switched the vacuum on again. “Better ask at the office,” she yelled through the noise. “This apartment is on change.”

I reached back and shut the door. I followed the black snake of the vacuum cord over to the wall and yanked the plug out. The woman in the green uniform stared at me angrily. I went over and handed her a dollar bill. She looked less angry.

“Just want to phone,” I said.

“Ain’t you got a phone in your room?”

“Stop thinking,” I said. “A dollar’s worth.”

I went to the phone and lifted it. A girl’s voice said: “Office. Your order, please.”

“This is Marlowe. I’m very unhappy.”

“What?. . . Oh yes, Mr. Marlowe. What can we do for you?”

“She’s gone. I never even got to talk to her.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Marlowe,” she sounded as if she meant it. “Yes, she left. We couldn’t very well—”

“She say where to?”

“She just paid up and left, sir. Quite suddenly. No forwarding address at all.”

“With Mitchell?”

“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t see anyone with her.”

“You must have seen something. How did she leave?”

“In a taxi. I’m afraid—”

“All right. Thank you.” I went back to my apartment. The middle-sized fat man was sitting comfortably in a chair with his knees crossed.

“Nice of you to drop in,” I said. “Anything in particular I could do for you?”

“You could tell me where Larry Mitchell is.”

“Larry Mitchell?” I thought it over carefully. “Do I know him?”

He opened a wallet and extracted a card. He struggled to his feet and handed it to me. The card read: Goble and Green, Investigators, 310 Prudence Building, Kansas City, Missouri.

“Must be interesting work, Mr. Goble.”

“Don’t get funny with me, buster. I get annoyed rather easy.”

“Fine. Let’s watch you get annoyed. What do you do—bite your mustache?”

“I ain’t got no mustache, stupid.”

“You could grow one. I can wait.”

He got up on his feet much more rapidly this time. He looked down at his fist. Suddenly a gun appeared in his hand. “You ever get pistol-whipped, stupid?”

“Breeze off. You bore me. Mudheads always bore me.”

His hand shook and his face turned red. Then he put the gun back in the shoulder holster and wobbled towards the door “You ain’t through with me,” he snarled over his shoulder.

I let him have that one. It wasn’t worth topping.

BOOK: Playback
10.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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