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Chapter 10 A Big Noise About Small Things
The drive to Idle Valley was long and hot, as always. I expected the heat but Spencer was shocked.
'This heat, this dust. I thought California was supposed to have beautiful weather.'
I told him it would be cooler by the lake.
'It was a mistake for Roger to move here, you know. Wrong environment entirely. Too many parties, this awful heat, no wonder he didn't feel like writing. A writer needs things to think about; and not just what he's going to wear to the next good time.'
I didn't have a chance to disagree with him because we had reached the house. Spencer was out of the car as soon as I had parked, and he rang the bell as soon as he got to the door. Candy, wearing his white jacket and his usual frown, let the publisher in and then closed the door as I approached. I rang and he put his head out.
'Get lost. Or do you want trouble?'
I pushed right past him. He reached for me but Eileen Wade was standing there and he stopped.
'Hello, Howard,' she said warmly to Spencer. 'I'm so sorry you missed lunch. And I didn't know you were bringing Mr Marlowe.'
Spencer said simply 'He wants to talk to you.'
She was surprised. 'Does he? I can't imagine why but do come in and sit down.'
Spencer went at once to the study for the pages Wade had written. I sat in an uncomfortable silence with Eileen Wade until I noticed that she was wearing that badge again. She had just handed it to me when Spencer returned with his pile of papers.
'It's the badge of an English Army group, the Artists' Rifles they were called. The man who gave it to me was lost right afterwards, in Andalsnes in Norway, in 1940.'
'And you were in love with him,' I said.
She admitted it proudly.
'And he had my initials.'
'His name was quite different,' she said coldly, 'and he is dead. Dead.'
I handed the badge to Spencer. He took it without showing interest. 'I've seen it before,' he said.
'Just help me. The picture on it is a long knife that points down and there's a pair of wings, too. The writing on it says "Who dares wins".'
Spencer was unimpressed. 'I fail to see what you are trying to say.'
'This badge she says she was given in London in 1940 didn't exist then. It was created years later. And the Artists' Rifles never fought in Andalsnes.'
Spencer put the badge down gently on the table and pushed it towards Eileen. He said nothing.
'I know that,' Eileen said.
'There must be some mistake,' Spencer offered.
I gave him a hard stare. 'That's one way of putting it,' I said.
'Another way is to say I'm a liar,' Eileen said angrily. 'That I never met a man named Paul Marston, that he never existed, that I bought this badge in a shop somewhere. Would that explanation satisfy you, Mr Marlowe?'
I said the shop would, but not the first part. There had been a Paul Marston once. She had certainly met him. In fact, she had done more than that. I took a folded paper from my pocket.
'She's forgotten a few dates, years, that's all,' Spencer said. 'I don't see why you're being so tough with her.'
I smiled, but not from joy. 'She's forgotten a lot more than that.' I waved the paper from my pocket. 'In August 1942, Eileen Victoria Sampsell and Paul Edward Marston were married. In a sense Mrs Wade is right. Marston never existed because that was just a name he used. In the army you have to have permission to get married. In the army, Marston had another name.'
Spencer was very quiet now. He stared, but not at both of us. He stared at her. She had to say something. 'Howard, he's dead, it doesn't matter. And Roger knew. And he didn't care.'
Spencer did the right thing as he saw it. He believed her. 'Let's forget it. Marlowe made a big show out of a badge and the marriage. That's all.'
She had him on her side now. She said 'Mr Marlowe makes a big noise about small things, but when it comes to saving a man's life
'And you never saw Paul Marston again,' I said.
'How could I when he was dead?'
'He was not reported dead. He might have been taken prisoner.'
'There was an order not to take prisoners,' she said in a cold, sad voice.
'That's enough, Marlowe,' Spencer interrupted. 'I think it's time we left.' He began packing up the papers into his leather case.
'If that's what you want, Mr Spencer. But do you think I came here to tell Mrs Wade she was wearing the wrong badge? I began with Marston long before I met Mrs Wade. When I started, my Paul Marston was still alive.'
'Marston is not such an unusual name,' Spencer said. 'There must be many Paul Marstons.'
'Maybe. But how many Paul Marstons would you say had big scars on their faces and snow-white hair? How many that saved the lives of two gangsters? Marston wasn't just Marston, Spencer. He was also Terry Lennox.'
I didn't expect anyone to jump up and scream and nobody did. There is, however, a kind of silence that is almost as loud as a shout and I had it all around me now. I sat in it for a full minute and then I turned to Eileen.
She sat leaning forward. Her face was pale. When she spoke, her voice was as empty as the voice on the telephone that tells you the time, minute after minute without changing.
'I saw him once, Howard. We didn't speak. He was terribly changed. When I saw him he was with that awful woman. And I was married to Roger. We were lost to each other. Even if I hadn't been married, I couldn't have forgiven him for marrying her. That horrible woman. I didn't care that Roger went around with her; he was just my husband. Paul was much more than that to me or he was nothing. In the end he was nothing.'
She wasn't talking to me but I said, 'I wouldn't say he was nothing.'
'Less than nothing. He knew what kind of woman she was and still he married her. Then he couldn't stand it and he killed her and ran away and killed himself. Nothing.'
'He didn't kill her,' I said, 'and you know it.'
She looked at me in surprise. Spencer made a funny sound in his throat.
'Roger killed her,' I continued, 'and you also know that.'
'Did he tell you?' she asked quietly.
'He didn't have to. He would have told me sooner or later.It was driving him crazy.'
She shook her head. 'No, Mr Marlowe, what was driving him crazy was that he didn't know. He was so drunk when he did it that he couldn't remember afterwards. He tried to remember because he knew something was wrong. Perhaps that memory came back to him at the very end.'
Spencer couldn't believe a man could kill and forget it. Eileen smiled a very sad smile.
'I was there, Howard. I saw him do it.'
She's going to tell us, I thought. She can't stop herself now. And she talked, and we listened. She had followed Roger to Sylvia's guest house. An argument started between Roger and Sylvia. Eileen watched from the shadows. Roger came outside, Sylvia ran after him. She tried to hit him with a small stone vase she was holding. He took it from her and he hit her. Then he hit her again, and she fell down and he kept hitting her. Before Еilееn ran, she saw him pick Sylvia's body up and carry it back inside.
'When Roger came home that night I was terrified. He was covered in blood and still blind drunk. I took his clothes off him as if he were a child, and put them in an old suitcase. He went right to sleep and I drove to Chatsworth Beach on the other side of the lake and threw the suitcase in. When Roger woke up, he remembered nothing. He never said a word about the clothes. I guess he never even noticed they were missing.'
Spencer was working on something while he listened and now he had it ready. 'Wait a minute. You knew Roger had killed Sylvia and yet you had me hire Marlowe, or try to hire him, to find out the terrible secret that was bothering your husband. That doesn't make sense. Unless. . .' He gave her a strange look, as if seeing her for the first time, 'Unless the idea was that Marlowe would find the truth and maybe tell Wade that the whole world would have to know. So Roger would take that gun and do just what he did anyway.'
She looked at Spencer with tears in her eyes. 'That's horrible, Howard. You know I could never
'I don't know,' Spencer said coolly. 'But you know. Did you?'
'Did I what?' she asked.
'Shoot Roger,' he said calmly.
'You're horrible. He was my husband. I forgot my key, I came in, he was already dead.'
Spencer shook his head. 'I've stayed here a dozen times, Eileen, and I've never known the front door to be locked.'
She stood up. 'Howard, take the book and go. Call the police if you think I killed Roger. But don't ever come back here.'
I wanted one last answer.
'Wait a minute, Mrs Wade. Let's finish the job. We're all trying to do the right thing. That old suitcase you threw in the lake at Chatsworth Beach — was it heavy?'
'Yes, it was.'
'So how did you get it over that high fence? They close the gate there after dark.'
She thought about it. 'The fence. I had a hard time with the fence but I got it over.'
'There isn't any fence,' I said.
'Isn't any fence?' she repeated.
'And Sylvia Lennox was killed inside the guest house, on the bed. And there are other details you missed.'
She said nothing, she just walked away. We watched her go up the stairs. We heard her bedroom door close.
'What was that about the fence?' Spencer asked. He looked like a man who'd just fought a battle. He was tired in that way.
'A bad joke. I've never been near Chatsworth Beach. It might have a fence and it might not.'
'I see,' he said unhappily. 'But she didn't know, either.'
'Of course not. Which means she killed them both.'
Then something moved behind me and Candy was standing there. He was playing with his knife again but this time he wasn't thinking about giving me the blade.
'I'm sorry, Senor,' he said to me. 'I was wrong about you. She killed the boss.' He looked at his knife again.
'No,' I said. I stood up and held out my hand. 'Give me the knife, Candy. To the cops you're just a Mexican servant. They'd arrest you for it and love it. They've made a mess of this from start to finish, and they'd use you to make people forget that. You'd spend the rest of your life in jail.'
He put the knife in my hand. 'Only for you I do this.'
I put the knife in my pocket. Candy asked what would happen now. I said we'd do nothing, but Spencer insisted we had to do something. He mentioned calling the police.
'Tomorrow. Or let them catch her themselves. We don't have enough proof. The truth is not legal proof. If it was, we wouldn't have lawyers.'
In the end Spencer said he'd do whatever I thought was best. He was OK, he was doing fine, but this wasn't something he knew about. It wasn't books.
We left. As I walked out, I handed Candy back his knife. 'Don't do a thing. Nobody trusts me but I trust you, Candy.'
'Thank you, Senor. I trust you, too.'
I returned Spencer to his hotel and went home. I watched the clock and the hours went slowly. I fell asleep very late and the telephone rang in the middle of my first dream.
'This is Candy, Senor. The lady is dead.' It's a hard word, dead, and when he said it he made it sound like stone. 'She took some pills, I think.'
'Have you called the police?'
'Not yet,' he said.
'Call them. Was there a note?' 'Yes, a letter.'
'Give it to them when they come. And tell them everything and this time only the truth, right?' 'Yes, Senor. I'll call them right now.'