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Chapter 9 The Kiss of Death
Beside him on the sofa was the gun. It was bloodstained. The side of his head was more than bloodstained.
I touched his wrist. It was warm but he was quite dead. I looked around for a note but there wasn't one. They don't always leave notes. I wondered why I hadn't heard the shot and then I remembered the boat. He must have waited until the boat was passing, and then fired the bullet. Why would he wait for the boat? I didn't like that but nobody cared what I liked.
I went out and closed the door. She was in the kitchen making our tea. I didn't say anything except that I didn't take sugar or milk. She said she'd learned to drink tea in London, during the war. When she met that man - but she stopped the story there and changed the subject.
She started talking about her husband - something would have to be done to help him. I said it was too late. She didn't understand that remark at first, then she glanced towards the study.
'Is. . . is there something wrong in there?'
I nodded. She ran out of the kitchen and by the time I reached her she was kneeling by the sofa.
I left her there with him and called the police. A cop was at the house within five minutes. When I took him to the study, she was still kneeling by the body.
'I'm sorry,' he said, 'but you really shouldn't touch anything.'
'It's my husband,' she said angrily. 'He's been shot.' She looked right at me. 'I think he did it,' she said, pointing.
It wasn't a nice thing to say, but I got lucky. The police detective who showed up ten minutes later was my friend Bernie Ohls. He was my friend but that didn't mean he didn't have to think about it first.
'You were here with him alone, right? She says you knew where the gun was. Although it looks more like suicide right now. And you're maybe too clever to be the only person around when you kill someone. Maybe, but I think you would have done it differently.'
'Thanks, Bernie. You're right, though; I would have.'
'So it looks good for suicide. Except that Wade was rich, his beautiful wife is upstairs crying for him, and I can't see why he'd want to kill himself. If you know ... if you know anything, you'd better be ready to talk. I'll see you later. Maybe sooner.'
As it turned out, I had time to go home, change, have a nice dinner out and come home again before Ohls called. The message was simple: come to the sheriff's* office and don't bother stopping to buy flowers.
The Wade house was in Idle Valley, outside the city border. Idle Valley had its own sheriff, and he was investigating Wade's death. In theory, the sheriff ran his own office, but the sheriff was as stupid as he was honest, and he was very honest. He looked great in photographs and he was almost as big as the horse he rode in the annual Idle Valley Festival, but the horse was cleverer. The sheriff knew it and he let his captain, a man named Hernandez, do the real police work. It was Hernandez and Ohls who threw the questions at me. How did I first meet Wade? When? What work did I do for him? I told them the truth, but I didn't tell everything. Then we reached the part that most interested Hernandez.
'The night that Wade fired a gun in his bedroom you went into Eileen Wade's room and you were in there together for some time with the door shut. How long would you say you spent in there?'
'About three minutes.'
Hernandez shook his head. 'I suggest you were in there for a few hours,' he said coldly.
I looked at Ohls but Bernie wouldn't look at me.
'Three minutes,' I repeated.
'Get that servant in here,' Hernandez said.
Ohls went out and came back with Candy.
I knew what was coming. Candy told his story in a low nasty voice. He said he'd seen me go into the bedroom and that he had come up the stairs and listened at the door and heard whispers. He said I didn't come out for a long time.
When he had finished, he gave me a hard look and I could see hate in his eyes.
The captain said 'Take him out.'
'Just a minute,' I said. 'I'd like to ask him a question.'
Hernandez didn't like that but he let me.
'Where were you when you saw me go into her bedroom?'
'I was cleaning up the glasses at the bar.'
*A law officer responsible for a rural area.
'And you saw me go into her bedroom and close the door?'
Candy said yes.
'You're lying. You can't see that door from the bar. I'm four inches taller than you and when I stood at the bar at the party, I couldn't see more than the top edge of that door.'
Candy did not deny this. He said nothing at all. Hernandez asked 'What about how long you were in the room?'
I said that was my word against Candy's, and I reminded them that Candy had just lied. He could believe either of us, I told him. Hernandez sent Candy out. Then he told me I could go home but that I'd have to come back the next day to sign the statement I'd made. He even shook my hand when I left. I guessed that meant he believed me.
A few days later, they closed that investigation, too. It was suicide, they said.
Ohls came over that afternoon. It was over but that didn't mean he had to like the answer.
'Wade was a writer, Marlowe. That's what bothers me. He wrote books, he wrote notes to himself, he wrote all the time. And then he kills himself and he doesn't even write a goodbye. It seems wrong.'
I pointed out that Wade had been drunk. That didn't satisfy Bernie.
'There's the boat, too. Why would you care if anyone heard the last shot you'd ever fire? Or the wife who forgets her keys and has to ring the bell to get in when she could have walked around to the back of the house and come in from the garden? I've been a policeman too long and it just doesn't smell right. I would swear she did it except there's no motive. She could have divorced him and still made a fortune.'
He talked for an hour about the Wades, and for an hour I talked about them, too, but all my talk couldn't cover up the fact that I wasn't telling him everything. He left angry; angry at everybody, including me.
I talked to someone else the next day who wasn't any happier about Wade's death than Bernie was, but for different reasons. Howard Spencer called from New York to say he'd been informed of the suicide, and that he'd heard I was somehow involved. I found myself explaining everything again. I was getting tired of apologizing for what Wade had chosen to do. In fact, the more I thought about him, the less I liked this dead man. Spencer said he was going to fly in one day soon; we said we'd talk then, although I had nothing more to say.
Roger Wade was dead and so was Terry Lennox, but there was a difference; I still cared about Terry. I called Mendy to get some facts straight.
'Mendy, this is Marlowe.'
'Hello, Cheapie, how are you.'
'Haven't you heard? Another friend of mine killed himself. They're going to call me the Kiss of Death from now on. I also have a question. About Paul Marston.'
'Never heard of him,' Mendy said immediately.
'No games, Mendy. That was the name Lennox used in New York and probably before there.'
'There are no army records under either name. That story of yours was all a song.'
Mendy didn't like being called a liar. 'I never said where it happened. Take my advice and forget the whole thing. You were told. Now stay told.'
'Some types scare me, Mendy, but you're not one of them. Ever been to England?'
He ignored my question. Instead he said 'Big Willie Magoon wasn't scared, either. Seen the newspapers? Maybe he's still not scared but I doubt it. He's in the hospital and he's going to be there a long time.'
'I don't want to talk about Magoon. I want to talk about England and you and Randy Starr and Paul Marston.'
There was a short silence on his end of the line. Then he made up his mind. 'OK, Cheapie. I tell you the whole story and then your curiosity dies, right? Otherwise you do. We were with the British. It happened in Norway, in November 1942. Now you know it all. Now you can rest your tired brain.'
He hung up. I went out and bought a newspaper and read about poor Magoon. Of course, Mendy had promised me worse, because Magoon was a policeman, a dirty cop but still one of the boys, and gangsters don't like to kill policemen. They don't care about private detectives, though. Some days it seems no one does.
Except perhaps another private detective. I called George Peters and asked him to help. He said he would. 'I know a few good people in England. You'll get what you want.'
He didn't disappoint me. When Howard Spencer called the next Friday, I had it all.
He was staying at the Ritz-Beverly Hotel, and he suggested we meet in the bar. But I wanted to talk in private, so I went to his room instead.
He had it nice. The room was big, and the view was good. He ordered our drinks over the telephone.
'Now, Mr Marlowe, what can you tell me before I see Mrs Wade?'
He looked at me with surprise. 'I mean concerning Roger Wade's death. I understand you were there.'
I nodded. 'I'd like to come with you to see Mrs Wade,' I said.
Spencer shook his head. 'I don't think she wishes to see you. She blames you, in part, for what happened, I think.'
'She told the police I killed him. I know she doesn't want to see me. That's why I want to go with you. I want a witness to what I have to say to her, too.'
'What are you going to say?'
'You hear it in front of her or not at all,' I said.
'Then not at all. Eileen has suffered enough. I won't take you there to bother her more.'
That made sense. He wanted the book that Wade had been working on. He wanted to save Eileen Wade from more pain. I said that these were fine aims but I didn't share them. All I wanted was a clearer picture. I told him the details that had bothered Ohls.
'My God,' he said, 'the police don't think Eileen did it, do they?'
I didn't tell him the investigation was closed. I just gave him a tired smile and let him do his own thinking.
'You want to talk to her, and you want a witness. I hope to God you're crazy, but I'll do it,' he said finally.