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Chapter 5 Dr Verringer's Farm


Next morning, the bell rang just as I finished shaving. I opened the door and looked into a pair of violet eyes again. She was wearing a brown suit this time.

'Come in, Mrs Wade. Like a cup of coffee?'

She came into the living room and sat down. 'Thank you. Black coffee, please.'

I brought the coffee in my good cups. They were the only two in the kitchen that matched.

'The last time I had coffee with someone was just before I went to jail,' I said. 'I guess you knew I'd been to jail, Mrs Wade.'

She nodded. 'They thought you helped him escape, didn't they? He must have been insane.'

I filled a pipe and lit it. 'Yes, he must have been. He was badly hurt in the war. But I don't think you came here to talk about that.'

It took a little more conversation and another cup of coffee to find out what the problem was. Roger Wade was missing. Spencer hadn't told me because Spencer didn't know. This was Mrs Wade's little secret. Apparently, Wade did this often. But this time his wife was worried. Something was wrong, she said.

'Mr Spencer said the same thing, Mrs Wade. He thought it might be some hidden guilt that makes your husband drink so much. What do you think?'

She said she didn't know. She added that if Wade had a secret, even a bad secret, something criminal, for instance, she wouldn't care. She just wanted him back.

'Let's say I say yes this time,' I asked her, 'where would I start? Do you have any idea where he is?'

'Yes and no,' she replied after thinking. 'He's at some doctor's place, I'm sure. He goes to them when he's been drinking heavily, and they help him stop. For a few days, at least. But I don't know these doctors.'

She did, however, have a note she found in her husband's desk. He had written 'I do not like you, Doctor V, but right now you're the man for me.'

We had finished all the coffee. 'Please,' she begged, 'find Roger and bring him home.'

How could I refuse a lady like that twice? I couldn't. I said I would try and she thanked me and left.

No matter how clever you think you are, you have to have a place to start from; a name, an address, something. All I had was the letter V. So I did what I do when I need help; I called a friend and asked.

George Peters worked for a big detective agency but he hadn't forgotten the old hard times. Sure, he said, he could give me ten minutes if I came to his office.

He hadn't changed much with the years. He was still thin, he was still all smiles, and he was still a busy man.

'What can I do for you?' he asked from behind a desk like a football field.

'I'd like to see your file on the doctors in the hotel business. You know, the ones where you go when no one knows where you are. I've got a missing man who's probably trying to stop drinking. He's rich and his wife is worried.'

Peters found the file and we looked at it together. There were three names and addresses under the letter V. I copied them down.

'Thanks, pal. I'll do the same for you one day.'

'Forget it,' Peters said. 'By the way, I heard something about your friend Lennox that might interest you. One of our men knew a guy in New York five or six years ago. He's certain it was Lennox, except his name wasn't Lennox then. It was Marston. Of course, he could be wrong.'

I said I doubted it was the same man.

'Our man thinks it was. He's in Seattle now, but I can have him call you when he returns, if you want.'

'Sure. Why not?' And I left to check on the doctors.

If you are an honest doctor in California, you might get rich or you might get poor; if you are a dishonest doctor, you are going to make money. I had three names: Varley, a bone doctor; Vukanich, ear, nose and throat; and Verringer, who called himself Doctor but didn't say of what.

I started with Vukanich, an unpleasant character who pretended not to understand that I wanted more than an examination. He did not seem to be my man anyway. He had nothing more than a small office. Not fancy enough.

Varley was in another class. He ran a private hospital and was very friendly. He smiled when he said he couldn't help me, and he smiled as he asked me why I was looking for Wade here. I explained that the hospital was on a list of places where certain things had happened in the past, things involving the police. Dr Varley became suddenly less friendly. We ended our conver­sation there, but I had already seen enough of Varley's hospital. He took care of the old and the weak. He wasn't tough enough to handle real trouble. I crossed him off, too, and went to find Dr Verringer.

His place was out in the hills. I liked that, and not just because the air was cleaner there. I liked a place where people wouldn't bother to look for a man. I got there just as it was getting dark.

Verringer had a farm, with a circle of small buildings surround­ing the main house. This time I decided not to be polite. I drove past the front gate, parked off the road and came back on foot.

I climbed the fence behind the farm and went slowly towards the lights of the buildings. It was dark and I had a pocket torch but I didn't want to use it. I was carrying a gun, too, and I didn't want to have to use that either.

I stopped at the edge of an empty swimming-pool. I heard a door open so I hid.

A light went on outside the main house, a single bright light that made a circle in the dirt between the buildings. Into this circle stepped a cowboy, dressed like a movie cowboy, with an enormous hat, a pair of silver guns at his side, and a rope that he swung over his head. He played with the rope for a few minutes and then practised taking his guns out of his gunbelt as quickly as he could. He was fast. He was also obviously a little crazy. When he'd finished his game, whatever it was, he went back into the house. The light went out as he went in.

There was another, smaller light on in one of the buildings far from the big house. I walked over, moving as quietly as possible. I didn't want to be in the cowboy's movie tonight, because his guns just might have been loaded.

I reached a window of the hut. It was now dark enough to look in without being seen. There was one man on a bed and another on a chair. They were talking. The man on the bed was angry but he was so weak that his shout was no louder than a whisper. The other man was speaking calmly and patiently.

The man on the bed said, 'I already paid you and I paid you well. You got six hundred dollars. And that was too much.'

The man in the chair didn't disagree. He only said, 'You called me, remember? I came to you in your hour of need. I told you it would be expensive. You insisted. I want another five thousand dollars, Wade.'

'I was drunk,' Wade said. 'I would've promised you anything.'

You'll write me a cheque, my friend. Now, at once. Then you'll get dressed and Earl will take you home.'

Wade laughed. 'A cheque? Sure, I'll give you a cheque.'

The doctor smiled. 'You think you can call the bank later and tell them not to accept it. But you won't. Earl will drive you home.'

'No, thanks. That boy's insane. Crazier every time I see him.'

Verringer shook his head. 'Earl isn't normal, I know, but I have ways of handling him.'

'That's what you think,' a new voice said, and Earl came through the door in his pretty cowboy suit.

'Keep that monkey away from me,' Wade shouted, and this time it was not a whisper.

Earl didn't like the description. He started for Wade. Verringer jumped between them and was pushed roughly aside by the cowboy. I ran for the door and came into the room with my gun out. Earl spun around, forgetting Wade. The doctor was picking himself up off the floor.

The cowboy came right at me. He didn't touch his guns and he didn't seem to see mine. I fired through the open window over the bed. Earl stopped, looked at the hole in the window screen, and looked back at me, smiling. 'That's a real gun, isn't it? Oh, boy.'

'Take the gunbelt off. Slowly.'

Earl kept his smile. 'OK. Only these aren't real guns, you know.' He took the belt off and put it down. Wade grabbed a gun.

'He's right. They're toys.'

Earl gave Wade a dirty look but then he noticed the doctor, who was leaning against the wall, rubbing his head.

'Sorry,' Earl said in a small voice.

The doctor patted Earl gently on the shoulder and smiled. I pulled Wade out of there while I had the chance. Verringer watched us leave and said nothing until we were almost too far to hear him, and then he called out.

'You promised me, Wade. Five thousand.'

I put Wade in my car and we started for home. His home first.

He wanted to talk. I couldn't stop him.

'You were great back there. Who are you?'

I told him. I explained that his wife had hired me.

'Whatever she's paying you, it isn't enough.'

'She isn't paying me, Mr Wade,' I told him, 'you are. I'd like the money from you. Seems better that way.'

Wade agreed. Then his thoughts turned to the doctor. 'You think I should pay him the five thousand? He took good care of me. He's not a bad guy. Tries to keep Earl from killing himself, from killing everybody else. Don't know why he bothers. He let his business go to hell because of that crazy boy. I don't under­stand that. And I'm the big writer, supposed to understand people. Should I give him the money?'

I told him I didn't have an opinion either way.

'You don't like me, do you, Marlowe? Wait a minute. Marlowe. I know you. You were mixed up with Lennox, weren't you?'

I said I had been. Wade nodded. He knew them, he said, Terry and Sylvia. He knew her better than he knew him, he said. He asked me questions I didn't want to answer. He was just a job and that's what I told him. When we reached his house, he went straight in. I was going to drive off but she came out. To thank me.

'You found him. I knew you would. Come in and have a drink,' she offered.

'Some other time.' I lit a cigarette and she smoked a little of it.

'You knew Sylvia Lennox,' I said. 'Why didn't you tell me?'

She looked surprised. 'The woman that was murdered? I didn't know her personally. I knew the name, that's all. I should go in, Mr Marlowe, and see if my husband needs anything.'

'I need something, too,' I said, and I pulled her to me and kissed her. She didn't help me and she didn't fight me. She just let me do the whole job myself.

'You shouldn't have,' she said when I released her. 'But still, thanks for the other work you've done.' And she walked away and went into her nice house without stopping at the door to wave. I waved, though. I waved at the closed door and then I went home, too.

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