It was the week after Thanksgiving when I saw him again. The stores along Hollywood Boulevard were already beginning to fill up with overpriced Christmas junk, and the daily papers were beginning to scream about how terrible- it would be if you didn't get your Christmas shopping done early. It would be terrible anyway; it always is.
It was about three blocks from my office building that I saw a cop car double-parked and the two buttons in it staring at something over by a shop window on the sidewalk. The something was Terry Lennox-or what was left of him-and that little was not too attractive.
He was leaning against a store front. He had to lean against something. His shirt was dirty and open at the neck and partly outside his jacket and partly not. He hadn't shaved for four or five days. His nose was pinched. His skin was so pale that the long thin scars hardly showed. And his eyes were like holes poked in a snowbank. It was pretty obvious that the buttons in the prowl car were about ready to drop the hook on him, so I went over there fast and took hold of his arm.
"Straighten up and walk," I said, putting on the tough. I winked at him from the side. "Can you make it? Are you stinko?"
He looked me over vaguely and then smiled his little one-sided smile. "I have been," he breathed. "Right now I guess I'm just a little-empty."
"Okay, but make with the feet. You're halfway into the drunk tank already."
He made the effort and let me walk him through the sidewalk loafers to the edge of the curb. There was a taxi stand there and I yanked open the door.
"He goes first," the hackie said, jerking a thumb at the cab ahead. He swung his head around and saw Terry. "If at all," he added.
"This is an emergency. My friend is sick."
"Yeah," the hackle said. "He could get sick somewheres else."
"Five bucks," I said, "and let's see that beautiful smile."
"Oh well," he said, and stuck a magazine with a Martian on the cover behind his mirror. I reached in and got the door open. I got Terry Lennox in and the shadow of the prowl car blocked the far window. A gray-haired cop got out and came over. I went around the taxi and met him.
"Just a minute, Mac. What have we got here? Is the gentleman in the soiled laundry a real dose friend of yours?"
"Close enough for me to know he needs a friend, He's not drunk."
"For financial reasons, no doubt," the cop said. He, put his hand out and I put my license in it. He looked at it and handed it back. "Oh-oh," he said. "A P.I. picking up a client." His voice changed and got tough. "That tells a little something about you, Mr. Marlowe, What about him?"
"His name's Terry Lennox. He works in pictures."
"That's nice." He leaned into the, taxi and stared at Terry back in the corner. "I'd say he didn't work too lately. I'd say he didn't sleep indoors too lately. I'd even say he was a vag and so maybe we ought to take him in."
"Your arrest record can't be that low," I said. "Not in Hollywood."
He was still looking in at Terry. "What's your friend's name, buddy?"
"Philip Marlowe," Terry said slowly. "He lives on Yucca Avenue, Laurel Canyon."
The cop pulled his head out of the window space. He turned, and made a gesture with his hand. "You could of just told him."
"I could have, but I didn't."
He stared at me for a second or two. "I'll buy it this time," he said. "But get him off the street." He got into the police car and the police car went away.
I got into the taxi and we went the three-odd blocks to my parking lot and shifted Tto my car. I held out the five-spot to the hackie. He gave me a stiff look and shook his head.
"Just what's on. the meter, Jack, or an even buck if you feel like it. I been down and out myself. In Frisco. Nobody picked me up in no taxi- either. There's one stony-hearted town."
" San Francisco," I said mechanically.
"I call it Frisco," he said. "The hell with them minority groups. Thanks." He took the dollar and went away.
We went to a drive-in where they made hamburgers that didn't taste like something the dog wouldn't eat. I fed Terry Lennox a couple and a bottle of beer and drove him home. The steps were still tough on him but he grinned and panted and made the dimb. An hour later he was shaved and bathed and he looked human again. We sat down over a couple of very mild drinks.
"Lucky you remembered my name," I said.
"I made a point of it," he said. "I looked you up too. Could I do less?"
"So why not give me a ring? I live here all the time. I have an office as well."
"Why should I bother you?"
"Looks like you had to bother somebody. Looks like you don't have many friends."
"Oh I have friends," he said, "of a sort." He turned his glass on the table top. "Asking for help doesn't come easy-especially when it's all your own fault." He looked up with a tired smile. "Maybe I can quit drinking one of these days. They all say that, don't they?"
"It takes about three years."
"Three years?" He looked shocked.
"Usually it does. It's a different world. You have to get used to a paler set of colors, a quieter lot of sounds. You have to allow for relapses. All the people you used to know well will get to be just a little strange. You won't even like most of them, and they won't like you too well."
"That wouldn't be much of a change," he said. He turned and looked at the dock. "I have a two-hundreddollar suitcase checked at the Hollywood bus station. If I could bail it out I could buy a cheap one and pawn the one that's checked for enough to get to Vegas on the bus. I can get a job there."
I didn't say anything. I just nodded and sat there nursing my drink.
"You're thinking that idea might have come to me a little sooner," he said quietly.
"I'm thihking there's something behind all this that's none of my business. Is the job for sure or just a hope?"
"It's for sure. Fellow I knew very well in the army runs a big dub there, the Terrapin Club. He's part racketeer, of course, they all are-but the other part is a nice guy."
"I can manage the bus fare and something over. But I'd just as soon it bought something that would stay bought for a while. Better talk to him on the phone."
"Thank you, but it's not necessary. Randy Starr won't let me down, He never has. And the suitcase will pawn for fifty dollars. I know from experience."
"Look," I said, "I'd put up what you need. I'm no big soft-hearted slob. So you take what's offered and be good. I want you out of my hair because I've got a feeling about you."
"Really?" He looked down into his glass. He was only sipping the stuff. "We've only met twice and you've been more than white to me both times. What sort of feeling?"
"A feeling that next lime I'll find you in worse trouble than I can get you out of. I don't know just why I have the feeling, but I have it."
He touched the right side of his face gently with two fingertips. "Maybe it's this. It does make me look a little sinister, I suppose. But it's an honorable wound-or anyhow the result of one."
"It's not that. That doesn't bother me at all. I'm a private dick. You're a problem that I don't have to solve. But the problem is there. Call it a hunch. If you want to be extra polite, call it a sense of character. Maybe that girl didn't walk out on you at The Dancers just because you were drunk. Maybe she had a feeling too."
He smiled faintly. "I was married to her once. Her name is Sylvia Lennox. I married her for her money."
I stood up scowling at him. "I'll fix you some scrambled eggs. You need food."
"Wait a minute, Marlowe. You're wondering why if I was down and out and Sylvia had plenty I couldn't ask her for a few bucks. Did you ever hear of pride?"
"You're killing me, Lennox."
"Am I? My kind of pride is different. It's the pride of a man who has nothing else. I'm sorry if I annoy you."
I went out to my kitchen and cooked up some Canadian bacon and scrambled eggs and coffee and toast. We ate in the breakfast nook. The house belonged to the period that always had one.
I said I had to go to the office and would pick up his suitcase on the way back. He gave me the check ticket. His face now had a little color and the eyes were not so far back in his head that you had to grope for them.
Before I went out I put the whiskey bottle on the table in front of the couch. "Use your pride on that," I said. "And call Vegas, if only as a favor to me."
He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. I was still sore going down the steps. I didn't know why, any more than I knew why a man would starve and walk the streets rather than pawn his wardrobe. Whatever his rules were he played by them.
The suitcase was the damndest thing you ever saw. It was bleached pigskin and when new had been a pale cream color. The fittings were gold. It was English made and if you could buy it here at all, it would cost more like eight hundred than two. I planked it down in front of him. I looked at the bottle on the cocktail table. He hadn't touched it. He was as sober as I was. He was smoking, but not liking that very well.
"I called Randy," he said. "He was sore because I hadn't called him before."
"It takes a stranger to help you," I said. "A present from Sylvia?" I pointed at the suitcase.
He looked out of the window. "No. That was given- to me in England, long before I met her. Very long ago indeed. I'd like to leave it with you, if you could lend me an old one."
I got five double sawbucks out of my wallet and dropped them in front of him. "I don't need security."
"That wasn't the idea at all. You're no pawnbroker. I just don't want it with me in Vegas. And I don't need this much money."
"Okay. You keep the money and I'll keep the suitcase. But this house is easy to burgle."
"It wouldn't matter," he said indifferently. "It wouldn't matter at all."
He changed his clothes and we ate dinner at Musso's about five-thirty. No drinks. He caught the bus on Cahuenga and I drove home thinking about this and that. His empty suitcase was on my bed where he had unpacked it and put his stuff in a lightweight job of mine. His had a gold key which was in one of the locks. I locked the suitcase up empty and tied the key to the handle and put it on the high shelf on my dothes doset. It didn't feel quite empty, but what was in it was no business of mine.
It was a quiet night and the house seemed emptier than usual. I set out the chessmen and played a French defense against Steinitz. He beat me in forty-four moves, but I had him sweating a couple of times.
The phone rang at nine-thirty and the voice that spoke was one I had heard before.
"Is this Mr. Philip Marlowe?"
"Yeah. I'm Marlowe."
"This is Sylvia Lennox, Mr. Marlowe. We met very briefly in front of The Dancers one night last month. I heard afterwards that you had been kind enough to see that Terry got home."
"I did that."
"I suppose you know that we are not married any more, but I've been a little worried about him. He gave up the apartment he had in Westwood and nobody seems to know where he is."
"I noticed how worried you were the night we met."
"Look, Mr. Marlowe, I've been married to the man. I'm not very sympathetic to drunks. Perhaps I was a little unfeeling and perhaps I had something rather important to do. You're a private detective and this can be put on a professional basis, if you prefer it."
"It doesn't have to be put on any basis at all, Mrs. Lennox. He's on a bus going to Las Vegas. He has a friend there who will give him a job."
She brightened up very suddenly. "Oh-to Las Vegas? How sentimental of him. That's where we were married."
"I guess he forgot," I said, "or he would have gone somewhere else."
Instead of hanging up on me she laughed. It was a cute little laugh. "Axe you always as rude as this to your dients?"
"You're not a client, Mrs. Lennox."
"I might be someday. Who knows? Let's say to your lady friends, then."
"Same answer. The guy was down and out, starving, dirty, without a bean. You could have found him if it had been worth your time. He didn't want anything from you then and he probably doesn't want anything from you now."
"That," she said coolly, "is something you couldn't possibly know anything about. Good night." And she hung up.
She was dead right, of course, and I was dead wrong. But I didn't feel wrong. I just felt sore. If she had called up half an hour earlier I might have been sore enough to beat the hell out of Steinitz-except that he had been dead for fifty years and the chess game was out of a book.