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33

A week went by and I heard nothing from the Wades. The weather was hot and sticky and the acid sting of the smog had crept as far west as Beverly Hills. From the top of Mulholland Drive you could see it leveled out all over the city like a ground mist. When you were in it you could taste it and smell it and it made your eyes smart. Everybody was griping about it. In Pasadena, where the stuffy millionaires holed up after Beverly Hills was spoiled for them by the movie crowd, the city fathers screamed with rage. Everything was the fault of the smog. If the canary wouldn't sing, if the milkman was late, if the Pekinese had fleas, if an old coot in a starched collar had a heart' attack on the way to church, that was the smog. Where I lived it was usually clear in the early morning and nearly always at night. Once in a while a whole day would be dear, nobody quite knew why.

It was on a day like that-it happened to be a Thursday- that Roger Wade called me up. "How are you? This is Wade." He sounded fine.

"Fine, and you?"

"Sober, I'm afraid. Scratching a hard buck. We ought to have a talk. And I think I owe you some dough."

"Nope."

"Well, how about lunch today? Could you make it here somewhere around one?"

"I guess so. How's Candy?"

"Candy?" He sounded puzzled. He must have blacked out plenty that night. "Oh, he helped you put me to bed that night."

"Yeah. He's a helpful little guy-in spots. And Mrs. Wade?"

"She's fine too. She's in town shopping today."

We hung up and I sat and rocked in my swivel chair. I ought to have asked him how the book was going. Maybe you always ought to ask a writer how the book is going. And then again maybe he gets damned tired of that question.

I had another call in a little while, a strange voice.

"This is Roy Ashterfelt. George Peters told me to call you up, Marlowe."

"Oh yes, thanks. You're the fellow that knew Terry Lennox in New York. Called himself- Marston then."

"That's right. He was sure on the sauce. But it's the same guy all right. You couldn't very well mistake him. Out here I saw him in Chasen's one night with his wife. I was with a client. The client knew them. Can't tell you the client's name, I'm afraid."

"I understand. It's not very important now, I guess. What was his first name?"

"Wait a minute while I bite my thumb. Oh yeah, Paul. Paul Marston. And there was one thing more, if it interests you. 'He was wearing a British Army service badge. Their version of the ruptured duck."

"I see. What happened to him?"

"I don't know. I came west. Next time I saw him he was here too-married to Harlan Potter's somewhat wild daughter. But you know all that."

"They're both dead now. But thanks for telling me."

"Not at all. Glad to help. Does it mean anything to you?"

"Not a thing," I said, and I was a liar. "I never asked him about himself. He told me once he -had been brought up in an orphanage. Isn't it just possible you made a mistake?"

"With that white hair and that scarred face, brother? Not a chance. I won't say I never forget a face, but not that one."

"Did he see you?"

"If he did, he didn't let on. Hardly expect him to in the circumstances. Anyhow he might not have remembered me. Like I said, he was always pretty well lit back in New York."

I thanked him some more and he said it was a pleasure and we hung up.

I thought about it for a while. The noise of the traffic outside the building on the boulevard made an unmusical obbligato to my thinking. It was too loud. In summer in hot weather everything is too loud. I got up and shut the lower part of the window and called Detective-Sergeant Green at Homicide. He was obliging enough to be in.

"Look," I said, after the preliminaries, "I heard something about Terry Lennox that puzzles me. A fellow I know used to know him in New York under another name. You check his war record?"

"You guys never learn," Green said harshly. "You just never learn to stay on ybur own side -of the street. That matter is closed, locked up, weighted with lead and dropped in the ocean. Get it?"

"I spent part of an afternoon with Harlan Potter last week at his daughter's house in Idle Valley. Want to check?"

"Doing what?" he asked sourly. "Supposing I believe you."

"Talking things over. I was invited. He likes me. Incidentally; he told me the girl was shot with a Mauser P.P.K. 7.65 mm. That news to you?"

"Go on."

"Her own gun, chum. Makes a little difference, maybe. But don't get me wrong. I'm not looking into any dark corners. This is a personal matter. Where did he get that wound?"

Green was silent. I heard a door close ia the background. Then he said quietly, "Probably in a knife fight south of the border."

"Aw hell, Green, you had his prints. You sent them to Washington like always. You got a report back-like always. All I asked was something about his service record."

"Who said he had one,"

"Well, Mendy Menendez for one. Seems Lennox saved his life one time and that's how he got the wound. He was captured by the Germans and they gave him the face he had."

"Menendez, huh? You believe that son of a bitch? You got a hole in your own head. Lennox didn't have any war record. Didn't have any record of any kind under any name. You satisfied?"

"If you say so," I said. "But I don't see why Menendez would bother to come up here and tell me a yarn and warn me to keep my nose dean on account of Lenndx was a pal of him and Randy Starr in Vegas and they didn't want anybody fooling around. After all Lennox was already dead."

"Who knows what a hoodlum figures?" Green asked bitterly. "Or why? Maybe Lennox was in a racket with them before he married all that money, and got respectable. He was a floor manager at Starr's place in Vegas for a while. That's where he met the girL A' smile and a bow and a dinner jacket Xeep the customers happy and keep an eye on the house players. I guess he had class for the job."

"He had charm," I said. "They don't use it in police business. Much obliged, Sergeant. How is Captain Gregorius these days?"

"Retirement leave. Don't you read the papers?"

"Not the crime news, Sergeant. Too sordid."

I started to say goodbye but he chopped me off. "What did Mr. Money want with you?"

"We just had a cup of tea together. A social call. He said he might put some business my way. He also hinted-just hinted, not in so many words-that any cop that looked cross-eyed at me would be facing a grimy future."

"He don't run the police department," Green said.

"He admits it. Doesn't even buy commissioners or D.A.'s, he said. They just kind of curl up in his lap when he's having a doze."

"Go to hell," Green said, and hung up in my ear.

A difficult thing, being a cop. You never know whose stomach it's safe to jump up and down on.


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