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Chapter 2 An Englishman's Drink


Three days before Christmas, I got a cheque on a Las Vegas bank for one hundred dollars. A note came with it. He thanked me, wished me a Merry Christmas, and said he hoped to see me soon. The surprise came at the end. 'Sylvia and I were married again. She says not to be angry with her for wanting to try again.' I read the rest of the story on the society page of the newspaper.

'All are happy with the news that Sylvia and Terry Lennox have remarried at Las Vegas, the darlings. Sylvia is, of course, the youngest daughter of millionaire Harlan Potter. And what does Daddy think of the marriage? One can only guess. Potter is one person who never, ever, gives interviews.'

Well, I thought, if he wants her money, let him take it. I just didn't want to see him again. But I knew I would - if only because of the suitcase.

It was five o'clock on a wet March evening when he walked into my little office. He looked changed: older, more serious, but calmer, too. Like a man who had learned a hard lesson.

'Let's go to some quiet bar,' he said, as if he had seen me ten minutes before. We didn't shake hands. We almost never did. Englishmen don't shake hands all the time like Americans do and, although he wasn't English, he had their manners.

We went to Victor's. On the way, I said something stupid about his new life and he said that if he wasn't happy, at least he was rich. And he said that he wasn't having any trouble at all handling his drinking these days.

'Perhaps you were never really drunk,' I said.

At the bar we drank gin and lime, an Englishman's drink. Lennox said they didn't know the right way to make them here. I wasn't interested in talking about drinks, so I asked him about his pal in Las Vegas. Down my street, I said, Starr was known as a tough customer.

'Randy? In Las Vegas, he's a straight businessman. You should drop in and see him next time you're there. He'll be your pal.'

'Not too likely. I don't like gangsters.'

'That's just a word, Marlowe. We have that kind of world. The wars gave it to us and we're going to keep it. Randy and I and another guy were all in a little danger once together. It's different for the three of us.'

'So why didn't you ask him for help when you needed it?'

He finished his drink and signalled for another. 'Because he couldn't refuse. I didn't want to beg from him.'

'You begged from a stranger.'

He looked me straight in the eye. 'Strangers can keep going and pretend not to hear.'

When he finished the second drink, he drove me back to the office.

From then on, it became his habit to drop in around five o'clock. We usually went to Victor's. I didn't understand why he enjoyed being with me instead of being in his big expensive house. I asked him about that once.

'Nothing for me at the house,' he said, drinking his usual gin and lime.

'Am I supposed to understand that?'

'A big film with no story, as they say in the film business. Sylvia is happy enough. But not with me. In our circle, that's not too important. You see, the rich don't really have a good time. They never want anything very much except maybe someone else's wife, and that's a pale desire compared with the way a butcher's wife wants new curtains for the living room. Mostly, I just kill time. A little tennis, a little swimming.'

I told him it didn't have to be the way it was. He said I should wonder why she wanted him, not why he wanted to be there.

'You like having servants and bells to ring,' I said.

He just smiled. 'Could be. I grew up as an orphan with no money.'

I began thinking I liked him better drunk, hungry and beaten and proud. That night, he would have told me the story of his life if I'd asked him. If I had asked, and if he had told me, it might have saved a couple of lives. It might have.

The last time we had drinks together was in May. It was earlier than usual and the bar was nearly empty.

'I like bars at this hour,' he said. 'I like to watch the man fix the first one of the evening. I like to taste it slowly. Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic.'

Then he started talking about her. 'I feel sorry for Sylvia. She's so terrible, but I think I like her. One day, she'll need someone, and no one else will be there. And I'll probably make a mess of it.'

'What's this about?' I asked.

'She's scared. I don't know of what. Maybe her father. He's a cold man. He doesn't even like her. If she annoys him too much, something might happen to her.'

'You're her husband,' I pointed out.

'Officially. Nothing more.' ' I couldn't listen to this. I stood up and dropped some money on the table. 'You talk too much, and it's always about you. See you later,' I walked out.

Ten minutes later I was sorry, but ten minutes later I was somewhere else. I didn't see him again for a month. When I did, it was early in the morning. The doorbell woke me up. He was standing there, looking like hell. And he had a gun in his hand.

The gun wasn't pointed at me; he was just holding it.

'You're driving me to Tijuana to get a plane at ten-fifteen. I have a passport but I don't have transportation. I'll pay you five hundred dollars for the ride.'

I stood in the door and didn't move to let him in. 'How about five hundred dollars plus the gun?' I asked.

He looked at it and then dropped it in his pocket.

'Come on in,' I said, and he came in and fell into a chair.

'I'm in trouble,' he said.

'It's going to be a beautiful day. Cool, too. Yeah, I guessed you were in trouble. Let's talk about it after coffee. I always need my morning coffee.'

He followed me into the kitchen. I poured him a big drink from a bottle off the shelf. He had to use two hands to get it to his mouth.

'Didn't sleep at all last night,' he said weakly.

I poured him another drink and he drank this one with one hand. When he finished it, the coffee was ready.

I sat down across from him. Without warning, his head came down on the table and he was crying. He didn't seem to notice when I took the gun from his pocket. I smelled it. It hadn't been fired.

He lifted his head and said 'I didn't shoot anybody.'

I held up my hand. 'Wait a minute. It's like this. Be very careful what you tell me if you want me to help you. I can't be told about a crime you've committed, or a crime you know has been committed. Not if you want me to drive you to Tijuana.'

He looked straight at me for the first time since he had come in. 'I said I was in trouble.'

'I heard you. I don't want to know what kind of trouble. It's a matter of law. I can't know.'

'I could make you drive me. With the gun,' he said.

I grinned and pushed the gun across the table. He didn't touch it. 'I'm a man who sometimes has business with guns. I'd look stupid trying to tell the police I was so scared I had to do what you told me to.'

'Listen,' he said, 'they won't even look in the bedroom until midday. She won't be there. The bed will be too neat, so they'll look in the guest house. Servants always know what goes on.'

'And when they see her,' I said, 'they'll think she's drunk, right? And that's the end of the story. That's all I want to hear.

You're sick of it all; you've been thinking of leaving for some time.'

'I called her father last night,' Lennox said, remembering. 'I told him I was leaving.'

'What did he say?'

'He was sorry. He wished me luck. Oh yes, he also asked me if I needed money. That's all he ever thinks about.'

'Did you ever see her with a man in the guest house?' I asked suddenly.

He looked surprised. 'I never even tried.'

'OK, so this is how it is. You came to me this morning and wanted a ride to Tijuana. You couldn't bear life with her anymore. Where you went was none of my business. We are friends and I did what you asked me.'

'How does it sound?' He looked at me hopefully.

'Depends on who's listening.'

'I'm sorry,' he said.

'Your type's always sorry, and always too late. I've still got that suitcase of yours. You need luggage. It'll look better.' I got it from where I'd kept it and put some things in it. Nothing used, nothing marked. Then I got the car out, locked up, and we left.

We didn't have much to say to each other on the way down. The border people had nothing to say to us either. When we reached the airport, the plane was there but no one was hurrying.

Terry went to get his ticket and came back. There were only a few people waiting with us.

'OK. I'm ready,' he said. 'This is where I say goodbye.'

We shook hands. He looked tired, very tired.

'I owe you,' he said, 'but you don't owe me. We had a few drinks together and I talked too much about me. I left a five-hundred-dollar bill in your coffee jar.'

'I wish you hadn't.'

'I'll never spend half of what I have.'

'Good luck, Terry. Go, get on the plane. I know you didn't kill her.'

He stared at me. He turned away, then looked back.

'I'm sorry,' he said quietly, 'you're wrong about that. I'm going to walk slowly to the plane. You have plenty of time to stop me.'

He walked. I watched him. He went through a door. He was outside now. He stopped there and looked towards me. He didn't wave. Neither did I. Then he went up the steps into the aircraft. The engines started and that big silver bird began to roll away. The dust rose in clouds behind it. I watched it lift slowly into the air and disappear into the blue sky, going south. Then I left.


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