Authors: Raymond Chandler
“Sneak out,” I said. “I’ll pick you up on the highway just above where the fence ends.”
She faced me and leaned a little towards me. “Can I trust you?” she asked softly.
“Up to a point.”
“You’re honest at least. What happens if we don’t get away with it? If somebody reported a shot, if he has been found, if we walk in on that and the place is full of policemen?”
I just stood there with my eyes on her face and didn’t answer her.
“Just let me guess,” she said very softly and slowly. “You’ll sell me out fast. And you won’t have any five thousand dollars. Those checks will be old newspaper. You won’t dare cash a single one of them.”
I still didn’t say anything.
“You son of a bitch.” She didn’t raise her voice even a semitone. “Why did I ever come to you?”
I took her face between my hands and kissed her on the lips. She pulled away.
“Not for that,” she said. “Certainly not for that. And one more small point. It’s terribly small and unimportant, I know. I’ve had to learn that. From expert teachers. Long hard painful lessons and a lot of them. It just happens that I really didn’t kill him.”
“Maybe I believe you.”
“Don’t bother to try,” she said. “Nobody else will.”
She turned and slid along the porch and down the steps. She flitted off through the trees. In thirty feet the fog hid her.
I locked up and got into the rent car and drove it down the silent driveway past the closed office with the light over the night bell. The whole place was hard asleep, but trucks were rumbling up through the canyon with building materials and oil and the big closed up jobs with and without trailers, full of anything and everything that a town needs to live on. The fog lights were on and the trucks were slow and heavy up the hill.
Fifty yards beyond the gate she stepped out of the shadows at the end of the fence and climbed in. I switched on my headlights. Somewhere out on the water a foghorn was moaning. Upstairs in the clear reaches of the sky a formation of jets from North Island went over with a whine and a whoosh and a bang of the shock wave and were gone in less time than it took me to pull the lighter out of the dash and light a cigarette.
The girl sat motionless beside me, looking straight ahead and not speaking. She wasn’t seeing the fog or the back of a truck we were coming up behind. She wasn’t seeing anything. She was just sitting there frozen in one position, stony with despair, like somebody on the way to be hanged.
Either that or she was the best little scene stealer I had come across in a long long time.
The Casa del Poniente was set on the edge of the cliffs in about seven acres of lawn and flower beds, with a central patio on the sheltered side, tables set out behind a glass screen, and a trellised walk leading through the middle of it to an entrance. There was a bar on one side, a coffee shop on the other, and at each end of the building blacktop parking lots partly hidden behind six-foot hedges of flowering shrubs. The parking lots had cars in them. Not everyone bothered to use the basement garage, although the damp salt air down there is hard on chromium.
I parked in a slot near the garage ramp and the sound of the ocean was very close and you could feel the drifting spray and smell it and taste it. We got out and moved over to the garage entrance. A narrow raised walk edged the ramp. A sign hung midway of the entrance said: Descend in Low Gear. Sound Horn. The girl grabbed me by the arm and stopped me.
“I’m going in by the lobby. I’m too tired to climb the stairs.”
“Okay. No law against it. What’s the room number?”
“Twelve twenty-four. What do we get if we’re caught?”
“Caught doing what?”
“You know what. Putting—putting it over the balcony wall. Or somewhere.”
“I’d get staked out on an anthill. I don’t know about you. Depends what else they have on you.”
“How can you talk like that before breakfast?”
She turned and walked away quickly. I started down the ramp. It curved as they all do and then I could see a glassed-in cubbyhole of an office with a hanging light in it. A little farther down and I could see that it was empty. I listened for sounds of somebody doing a little work on a car, water in a washrack, steps, whistling, any little noise to indicate where the night man was and what he was doing. In a basement garage you can hear a very small noise indeed. I heard nothing.
I went on down and was almost level with the upper end of the office. Now by stooping I could see the shallow steps up into the basement elevator lobby. There was a door marked: To Elevator. It had glass panels and I could see light beyond it, but little else.
I took three more steps and froze. The night man was looking right at me. He was in a big Packard sedan in the back seat. The light shone on his face and he wore glasses and the light shone hard on the glasses. He was leaning back comfortably in the corner of the car. I stood there and waited for him to move. He didn’t move. His head was against the car cushions. His mouth was open. I had to know why he didn’t move. He might be just pretending to be asleep until I got out of sight. When that happened he would beat it across to the phone and call the office.
Then I thought that was silly. He wouldn’t have come on the job until evening and he couldn’t know all the guests by sight. The sidewalk that bordered the ramp was there to walk on. It was almost 4
In an hour or so it would begin to get light. No hotel prowler would come around that late.
I walked straight over to the Packard and looked in on him. The car was shut up tight, all windows. The man didn’t move. I reached for the door handle and tried to open the door without noise. He still didn’t move. He looked like a very light colored man. He also looked asleep and I could hear him snoring even before I got the door open. Then I got it full in the face—the honeyed reek of well-cured marijuana. The guy was out of circulation, he was in the valley of peace, where time is slowed to a standstill, where the world is all colors and music. And in a couple of hours from now he wouldn’t have a job, even if the cops didn’t grab him and toss him into the deep freeze.
I shut the car door again and crossed to the glass-paneled door. I went through into a small bare elevator lobby with a concrete floor and two blank elevator doors and beside them, opening on a heavy door closer, the fire stairs. I pulled that open and started up. I went slowly. Twelve stories and a basement take a lot of stairs. I counted the fire doors as I passed them because they were not numbered. They were heavy and solid and gray like the concrete of the steps. I was sweating and out of breath when I pulled open the door to the twelfth-floor corridor. I prowled along to Room 1224 and tried the knob. It was locked, but almost at once the door was opened, as if she had been waiting just behind it. I went in past her and flopped into a chair and waited to get some breath back. It was a big airy room with french windows opening on a balcony. The double bed had been slept in or arranged to look that way. Odds and ends of clothing on chairs, toilet articles on the dresser, luggage. It looked about twenty bucks a day, single.
She turned the night latch in the door. “Have any trouble?”
“The night man was junked to the eyes. Harmless as a kitten.” I heaved myself out of the chair and started across to the french doors.
“Wait!” she said sharply. I looked back at her. “It’s no use,” she said. “Nobody could do a thing like that.”
I stood there and waited.
“I’d rather call the police,” she said. “Whatever it means for me.”
“That’s a bright idea,” I said. “Why ever didn’t we think of it before?”
“You’d better leave,” she said. “There’s no need for you to be mixed up in it.”
I didn’t say anything. I watched her eyes. She could hardly keep them open. It was either delayed shock or some kind of dope. I didn’t know which.
“I swallowed two sleeping pills,” she said, reading my mind. “I just can’t take any more trouble tonight. Go away from here. Please. When I wake I’ll call room service. When the waiter comes I’ll get him out on the balcony somehow and he’ll find—whatever he’ll find. And I won’t know a damn thing about it.” Her tongue was getting thick. She shook herself and rubbed hard against her temples. “I’m sorry about the money. You’ll have to give it back to me, won’t you?”
I went over close to her. “Because if I don’t you’ll tell them the whole story?”
“I’ll have to,” she said drowsily. “How can I help it? They’ll get it out of me. I’m—I’m too tired to fight any more.”
I took hold of her arm and shook her. Her head wobbled. “Quite sure you only took two capsules?”
She blinked her eyes open. “Yes. I never take more than two.”
“Then listen. I’m going out there and have a look at him. Then I’m going back to the Rancho. I’m going to keep your money. Also I have your gun. Maybe it can’t be traced to me but—Wake up! Listen to me!” Her head was rolling sideways again. She jerked straight and her eyes widened, but they looked dull and withdrawn. “Listen. If it can’t be traced to you, it certainly can’t be traced to me. I’m working for a lawyer and my assignment is you. The traveler’s checks and the gun will go right where they belong. And your story to the cops won’t be worth a wooden nickel. All it will do is help to hang you. Understand that?”
“Ye-es,” she said. “And I don’t g-give a damn.”
“That’s not you talking. It’s the sleeping medicine.”
She sagged forward and I caught her and steered her over to the bed. She flopped on it any old way. I pulled her shoes off and spread a blanket over her and tucked her in. She was asleep at once. She began to snore. I went into the bathroom and groped around and found a bottle of Nembutal on the shelf. It was almost full. It had a prescription number and a date on it. The date was a month old, the drugstore was in Baltimore. I dumped the yellow capsules out into my palm and counted them. There were forty-seven and they almost filled the bottle. When they take them to kill themselves, they take them all—except what they spill, and they nearly always spill some. I put the pills back in the bottle and put the bottle in my pocket.
I went back and looked at her again. The room was cold. I turned the radiator on, not too much. And finally at long last I opened the french doors and went out on the balcony. It was as cold as hell out there. The balcony was about twelve by fourteen feet, with a thirty-inch wall across the front and a low iron railing sprouting out of that. You could jump off easy enough, but you couldn’t possibly fall off accidentally. There were two aluminum patio chaises wilh padded cushions, two armchairs of the same type. The dividing wall to the left stuck out the way she had told me. I didn’t think even a steeplejack could get around the projection without climbing tackle. The wall at the other end rose sheer to the edge of what must be one of the penthouse terraces.
Nobody was dead on either of the chaises, nor on the floor of the balcony, nor anywhere at all. I examined them for traces of blood. No blood. No blood on the balcony. I went along the safety wall. No blood. No signs of anything having been heaved over. I stood against the wall and held on to the metal railing and leaned out as far as I could lean. I looked straight down the face of the wall to the ground. Shrubs grew close to it, then a narrow strip of lawn, then a flagstone footpath, then another strip of lawn and then a heavy fence with more shrubs growing against that. I estimated the distance. At that height it wasn’t easy, but it must have been at least thirty-five feet. Beyond the fence the sea creamed on some half-submerged rocks.
Larry Mitchell was about half an inch taller than I was but weighed about fifteen pounds less, at a rough guess. The man wasn’t born who could heave a hundred and seventy-five pound body over that railing and far enough out to fall into the ocean. It was barely possible that a girl wouldn’t realize that, just barely possible, about one tenth of one per cent possible.
I opened the french door and went through and shut it and crossed to stand beside the bed. She was still sound asleep. She was still snoring. I touched her cheek with the back of my hand. It was moist. She moved a little and mumbled. Then she sighed and settled her head into the pillow. No stertorous breathing, no deep stupor, no coma, and therefore no overdose.
She had told me the truth about one thing, and about damned little else.
I found her bag in the top drawer of the dresser. It had a zipper pocket at the back. I put her folder of traveler’s checks in it and looked through it for information. There was some crisp folding money in the zipper pocket, a Santa Fe timetable, the folder her ticket had been in and the stub of the railroad ticket and the Pullman reservation. She had had Bedroom E on Car 19, Washington, D.C., to San Diego, California. No letters, nothing to identify her. That would be locked up in the luggage. In the main part of the bag was what a woman carries, a lipstick, a compact, a change purse, some silver, and a few keys on a ring with a tiny bronze tiger hanging from it. A pack of cigarettes that seemed just about full but had been opened. A matchbook with one match used. Three handkerchiefs with no initials, a packet of emery boards, a cuticle knife, and some kind of eyebrow stuff, a comb in a leather case, a little round jar of nail polish, a tiny address book. I pounced on that. Blank, not used at all. Also in the bag were a pair of sun glasses with spangled rims in a case, no name on the case; a fountain pen, a small gold pencil, and that was all. I put the bag back where I had found it. I went over to the desk for a piece of hotel stationery and an envelope.
I used the hotel pen to write: “Dear Betty: So sorry I couldn’t stay dead. Will explain tomorrow. Larry.”
I sealed the note in the envelope, wrote
Miss Betty Mayfield
on it, and dropped it where it might be if it had been pushed under the door.
I opened the door, went out, shut the door, and went back to the fire stairs, then said out loud: “The hell with it,” and rang for the elevator. It didn’t come. I rang again and kept on ringing. Finally it came up and a sleepy-eyed young Mexican opened the doors and yawned at me, then grinned apologetically. I grinned back and said nothing.
There was nobody at the desk, which faced the elevators. The Mexican parked himself in a chair and went back to sleep before I had taken six steps. Everybody was sleepy but Marlowe. He works around the clock, and doesn’t even collect.
I drove back to the Rancho Descansado, saw nobody awake there, looked longingly at the bed, but packed my suitcase—with Betty’s gun in the bottom of it—put twelve bucks in an envelope and on the way out put that through the slot in the office door, with my room key.
I drove to San Diego, turned the rent car in, and ate breakfast at a joint across from the station. At seven-fifteen I caught the two-car diesel job that makes the run to L.A. nonstop and pulls in at exactly 10
I rode home in a taxi and shaved and showered and ate a second breakfast and glanced through the morning paper. It was near on eleven o’clock when I called the office of Mr. Clyde Umney, the lawyer.
He answered himself. Maybe Miss Vermilyea hadn’t got up yet.
“This is Marlowe. I’m home. Can I drop around?”
“Did you find her?”
“Yeah. Did you call Washington?”
“Where is she?”
“I’d like to tell you in person. Did you call Washington?”
“I’d like your information first. I have a very busy day ahead.” His voice was brittle and lacked charm.
“I’ll be there in half an hour.” I hung up fast and called the place where my Olds was.