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Chapter 4 Letter from a Dead Man
The next morning, I was back at the office, business as usual. When I thought about Terry, I tried not to let it hurt, but I still felt I owned a little piece of him, so it did.
The bell and the telephone rang at the same time. I answered the telephone first.
'Mr Marlowe? This is Sewell Endicott.'
'Good morning, Mr Endicott.'
'Glad to hear you're free. I guess it's over, but if they bother you again about this, call me.'
'The man's dead,' I said. 'They won't bother me again. They have their confession.'
'Yes, I know,' he said. 'I'm flying to Mexico today to look at the body for them. But let me give you some advice before I go. Don't be too certain they won't make trouble for you. Private detectives aren't their favourite people. And stubborn private detectives, well. . .' He hung up without finishing the sentence.
I opened my office door. The man had let himself into the waiting room. He was sitting by the window, reading a magazine. He looked quite comfortable. He had thick, dark hair and was very brown from the sun. His clothes probably cost more than I earned in a couple of months.
He threw the magazine onto the low table. 'The stuff they write these days.'
'What can I do for you?'
He looked at me for a moment and then laughed. 'A hero on a bicycle.'
'You, Marlowe. A hero on a bicycle. Did they hurt you much?'
'Why do you care?'
He didn't answer. Instead he stood up and walked into my office. I followed him.
'You're a little man. Look at this place. You don't make much money, do you? A cheap little man.'
I let him talk and sat down behind my desk.
'That's it. You're a cheap guy. Cheap feelings. Have a few drinks with somebody and suddenly you're his pal. You have nothing. A hero on a bicycle.'
He leaned over the desk and slapped me. It didn't hurt, and I didn't move.
'You know who I am, Cheapie?'
'Your name is Menendez. They call you Mendy.'
'Yeah, that's right.' He took a gold cigarette case out of his pocket and lit a brown cigarette with a gold lighter.
'I'm a big bad man, Marlowe. I make a lot of money. I have to
make a lot of money, so I can pay the men I have to pay so I can make a lot of money. I have a house in Bel Air that cost ninety thousand and that was before I fixed it up. I've got a beautiful wife and my children go to private schools. My wife likes diamonds. I've got six servants. Five cars. What do you have, Marlowe?'
'Why don't you tell me what you want?'
He put out his cigarette and lit another.
'Let me tell you a story. In the war, there were three guys in a hole. It was cold, very cold. It was snowing. Randy Starr, Terry Lennox and me. Something lands right in the hole but it doesn't explode. The Germans had a lot of tricks. Sometimes you think it won't explode and then three seconds later you're wrong. Anyway, Terry grabbed this one and jumped out of the hole. He was quick. Very quick. He threw it and it exploded in the air. A piece got him on the side of the face. Right then, the Germans attacked and we had to run. We left him; we thought he was dead. The Germans found him and had him for a year and a half. They did a good job on his face but they hurt him too much. That's why his hair was white.
'Randy and I spent money to find him. He'd saved our lives. All he got from his share was half of a new face. And then, when he's really in trouble, he doesn't come to us. He comes to you, Cheapie. That makes us mad, see? I could've helped him. Instead he's dead, and you think you're a hero.'
I shook my head. 'No, I don't.'
'Of course you do. The story is over, Marlowe. Even if He stopped in the middle of the sentence.
'Even if Terry didn't kill her,' I said.
'If that's the way Terry wanted it, then that's how it stays. See you around, Cheapie.'
I felt old and tired. I got up slowly and picked up his cigarette case from my desk. 'You forgot this,' I said, going towards him.
'So what? I've got a dozen,' he said. He didn't even reach for it.
'How about a dozen of these?' I asked, moving in fast and close, and hitting him as hard as I could in the stomach.
He fell back against the wall making the sounds a cat makes when it's sick. Then, very slowly, he straightened up. I patted his cheek gently. He didn't push my hand away.
'I didn't think you had the courage,' he said weakly.
'Next time bring a gun.'
'I got a guy to carry the gun,' he said. 'Maybe you'll meet him one of these days.' He walked out slowly.
After that, nothing happened for three days. Sylvia Lennox was buried. The press was not invited to the funeral, and her father, as usual, gave no public statement.
In the afternoon of the third day, the telephone rang and I found myself talking to a man named Howard Spencer, a New York publisher who said he had a California problem. We agreed to meet in the bar of his hotel the next morning. I needed the job because I needed the money — or thought I did, until I got home and found a letter.
The envelope was covered with Mexican stamps. I recognized the handwriting in the address. I was holding a letter from a dead man. I opened it and read.
It didn't start with my name; it just started.
I'm sitting in a hotel room in a town called Otatoclan. There's a mailbox just below the window and when the boy comes with the coffee I ordered, he is going to mail this letter for me. I'm going to watch him put it in the box, and then I'll pay him.
I can't mail it myself because I can't leave my room. They're outside, waiting for me. I want you to have this money because I don't need it and the police would steal it if I kept it.
Maybe you think I didn't kill her. It doesn't matter, though. Her father and her sister were always good to me. A trial would hurt them. I don't want that. I don't care what happens to me. I'm disgusted with
I've written a confession. You read about this in books, but you don't read the truth. The truth is, I feel sick and very scared. But I'm going to do it anyway. So forget it and me. But first drink a gin and lime for me at Victor's. After that, forget the whole thing. Goodbye.
That was all. That and a five-thousand-dollar bill. I looked at it carefully. I had never seen one before. Lots of people who work in banks haven't, either. Menendez probably had a dozen.
I met Mr Howard Spencer at eleven the next morning. I was early and he was late. While I was waiting, I looked at the people who come to a hotel bar at eleven in the morning. There were two young men with a telephone at their table. They took turns making calls and shouting at each other and at the people they called. There was a man sitting at the bar who was telling the story of his life to no one in particular, a long, sad story.
I had almost become tired of waiting when a dream in a white skirt walked in. There are blondes, and blondes. Different kinds. I know; I've studied the subject. There are blondes who read big, long books and write poetry. There are blondes who like parties and laugh loudly at all the jokes, even the old ones. There are blondes, too, who marry millionaires and live on the south coast of France and kiss their husbands good-night downstairs.
But this one was not any of these kinds. She was unique. She was quite tall, and had eyes like a summer sky. She smiled gently at the old waiter who pulled out a chair for her. I just held my breath and watched. I was still watching when a man's voice said, close to my shoulder, 'I must apologize for being so late, Mr Marlowe. I'm Howard Spencer.'
I had trouble tearing my eyes away from the dream to look at him.
He was about forty-five years old, wearing a suit that was fine for Boston but all wrong for California. He was carrying an old leather case.
'Two new books in here,' he said, patting the leather. 'I'm sure they are awful. But I don't suppose you care about publishers' problems.'
'I could,' I said, 'if it has anything to do with the job.' I admired the way Spencer was looking right at me, not giving any attention to the blonde.
He ordered drinks and explained the job. One of his authors lived out here, a man named Roger Wade. I knew the name but hadn't read the books. Apparently everyone else did, though, because Wade was one of Spencer's biggest writers. Except that Wade had been having a bad period lately. He drank too much, Spencer said, and went a little crazy sometimes. He had hurt his wife. More important to Spencer, however, he had also stopped writing. All that Spencer wanted was for me to save the wife from the writer, the writer from himself, and a half-finished book from the bottle in Wade's desk. That's all.
It was interesting. It was also impossible. I told him that what he needed was a male nurse, not a detective. I couldn't stop a man from drinking, and if the wife was living with him, I couldn't protect her, either. Not day and night.
'Your answer is no, then?'
'I'm sorry, Mr Spencer. I don't think I'd be arty help.'
Suddenly, a voice that was not Spencer's said, 'You're wrong, Mr Marlowe. I'm sure you could help.' It was a voice like honey.
I looked up into a pair of violet eyes.
'He doesn't want to help, Eileen,' Spencer said.
She smiled. 'I disagree.'
I stopped staring long enough to answer. 'I didn't say I wasn't interested, Mrs Wade. I just don't think it would work. I'm
I thought she would argue but she didn't. She gave me her card in case I changed my mind, thanked me, and left. Just like that. I sat down, grabbed my whisky, and watched her walk out of the hotel. What a walk!
When she had gone, Spencer turned to me, something new in his eyes.
'Nice,' I said, 'but you should've looked at her once or twice while we talked. She's much too pretty to ignore.'
Spencer went red in the face. 'She's married, Mr Marlowe.'
I smiled. 'That doesn't make her ugly, Mr Spencer.'
We did not shake hands when he left.
That night I received a telephone call from Green.
'Thought you might want to know. They buried Lennox down in Mexico today. Some lawyer took care of it.'
Endicott, I thought. 'Thanks for telling me, Sergeant. Anything else?'
'Just this. Lennox is buried and so is the rest of it. Leave it alone.'
Sweet dreams to you, too, I thought.