The stretch of broken-paved road from the highway to the curve of the hill was dancing in the noon heat and the scrub that dotted the parched land on both sides of it was flour-white with granite dust by this time. The weedy smell was almost nauseating. A thin hot acrid breeze was blowing. I had my coat off and my sleeves rolled up, but the door was too hot to rest an arm on. A tethered horse dozed wearily under a dump of live oaks. A brown Mexican sat on the ground and ate something out of a newspaper. A tumbleweed rolled lazily across the road and came to rest against a piece of granite outcrop, and a lizard that had been there an instant before disappeared without seeming to move at all.
Then I was around the hill on the blacktop and in another country. In five minutes I turned into the driveway of the Wades' house, parked and walked across the flagstones and rang the bell. Wade answered the door himself, in a brown and white checked shirt with short sleeves, pale blue denim slacks, and house slippers. He looked tanned and he looked good. There was an i~nkstain on his hand and a smear of cigarette ash on one side of his nose.
He led the way into his study and parked himself behind his desk. On it there was a thick pile of yellow typescript. I put my coat on a chair and sat on the couch.
"Thanks for coming, Marlowe. Drink?"
I got that look on my face you get when a drunk asks you to have a drink. I could feel it. He grinned.
"I'll have a coke," he said.
"You pick up fast," I said. "I don't think I want a drink right now. I'll take a coke with you."
He pressed something with his foot and after a while Candy came. He looked surly. He had a blue shirt on and an orange scarf and no white coat. Two-tone black and white shoes, elegant high-wasted gabardine pants.
Wade ordered the cokes. Candy gave me a hard stare and went away.
"Book?" I said, pointing to the stack of paper.
"I don't believe it. How far along?"
"About two thirds of the way-for what it's worth. Which is damn little. You know how a writer can tell when he's washed up?"
"Don't know anything about writers." I filled my pipe,
"When he starts reading his old stuff for inspiration. That's absolute. I've got five hundred pages of typescript here, well over a hundred thousand words. My books run long. The public likes long books. The damn fool public thinks if there's a lot of pages there must be a lot- of gold. I don't dare read it over. And I can't remember half of what's in it. I'm just plain scared to look at my own work."
"You look good yourself," I said. "From the other night I wouldn't have believed it. You've got more, guts than you think you have."
"What I need right now is more than guts. Something you don't get by wishing for it. A belief in yourself. I'm a spoiled writer who doesn't believe any more. I have a beautiful home, a beautiful wife, and a beautiful sales record. But all I really want is to get drunk and forget."
He leaned his chin in his cupped hands and stared across the desk.
"Eileen said I tried to shoot myself. Was it that bad?"
"You don't remember?"
He shook his head. "Not a damn thing except that I fell down and cut my head. And after a while I was in bed., And you were there'. Did Eileen call you?"
"Yeah. Didn't she say?"
"She hasn't been talking to me very much this last week. I guess she's had it. Up to here." He put the edge of one hand against his neck just under his chin. "That show Loring put on here didn't help any."
"Mrs. Wade said it meant nothing."
"Well, she would, wouldn't she? It happened to be the truth, but I don't suppose she believed it when she said it. The guy is just -abnormally jealous. You have a drink or two with his wife in the corner and laugh a little and kiss her goodbye and right off he assumes you are sleeping with her. One reason being that he isn't."
"What I like about Idle Valley," I said, "is that everybody is living just a comfortable normal life."
He frowned and then the door opened and Candy came in with two cokes and glasses and poured the cokes. He set one in front of me without looking at me.
"Lunch in half an hour," Wade said, "and where's the white coat?"
"This my day off," Candy said, deadpan. "I ain't the cook, boss."
"Cold cuts or sandwiches and beer will do," Wade said. "The cook's off today, Candy. I've got a friend to lunch."
"You think he is your friend?" Candy sneered. "Better ask your wife."
Wade leaned back in his chair and smiled at hint. "Watch your lip, little man. You've got it soft here. I don't often ask a favor of you, do I?"
Candy looked down at the floor. After a moment he looked up and grinned., "Okay, boss. I put the 'white coat on. I get the lunch, I guess."
He turned softly and went out. Wade watched the door dose. Then he shrugged and looked at me.
"We used to call them servants. Now we call them domestic help. I wonder how long it will be before we have to give them breakfast in bed. I'm paying the guy too much money. He's spoiled."
"Wages-or something on the side?"
"Such as what?" he asked sharply.
I got up and handed him some folded yellow sheets. "you'd better read it. Evidently you don't remember asking me to tear it up. It was in your typewriter, under the cover."
He unfolded the yellow pages and leaned back to read them. The glass of coke fizzed unnoticed on the desk in front of him. He read slowly, frowning. When he came to the end he refolded the sheets and ran a finger along the edge.
"Did Eileen see this?" he asked carefully.
"I wouldn't know. She might have."
"Pretty wild, isn't it?"
"I liked it. Especially the part about a good man dying for you."
He opened the paper again and tore it into long strips viciously and dumped the strips into his wastebasket.
"I suppose a drunk will write or say or do anything," he said slowly. "It's meaningless to me. Candy's not black mailing me. He likes me."
"Maybe you'd better get drunk again. You might remember what you meant. You might remember a lot of things. We've been through this before-that night when the gun went off. I suppose the seconal blanked you out too. You sounded sober enough. But now you pretend not to remember writing that stuff I just gave you. No wonder you can't write your book, Wade. It's a wonder you can stay alive."
He reached sideways and opened a drawer of his desk. His hand fumbled in it and came up with a three-decker check book. He opened it and reached for a pen.
"I owe you a thousand dollars," he said quietly. He wrote in the book. Then on the counterfoil. He tore the check out, came around the desk with it, and dropped it in front of me. "Is that all right?"
I leaned back and looked up at him and didn't touch the check and didn't answer him. His face was tight and drawn. His eyes were deep and empty.
"I suppose yow think I killed her and let Lennox take the rap," he said slowly. "She was a tramp all right. But you don't beat a woman's head in just because she's a tramp. Candy knows I went there sometimes. The funny part of it is I don't think he would tell. I could be wrong, but I don't think so."
"Wouldn't matter if he did," I said. "Harlan Potter's Mends wouldn't listen to him. Also, she wasn't killed with that bronze thing. She was shot through the head with her own gun."
"She maybe had a gun," he said almost dreamily. "But I didn't know she had been shot. It wasn't published."
"Didn't know or didn't remember?" I asked him. "No, it wasn't published."
"What are you trying to do to me, Marlowe?" His voice was still dreamy, almost gentle. "What do you want me to do? Tell my wife? Tell the police? What good would it do?"
"You said a good man died for you."
"All I meant was that if there had been any real investigation I might have been identified aS one-but only one-of the possible suspects. It would have finished me in several ways."
"I didn't come here to accuse you of a murder, Wade. What's eating you is that you're not sure yourself. You have a record of violence to your wife. You black out when you're drunk. It's no argument to say you don't beat a woman's head in just because she's a tramp. That is exactly what somebody did do. And the guy who got credit for the job seemed to me a lot less likely than you."
He walked to the open french windows and stood looking out at 'the shimmer of heat over the lake. He didn't answer me. He hadn't moved or spoken a couple of minutes later when there was a light knock at the door and Candy came in wheeling a tea wagon, with a crisp white cloth, silver-covered dishes, a pot of coffee, and two bottles of beer.
"Open the beer, boss?" he asked Wade's back.
"Bring me a bottle of whiskey." Wade didn't turn around.
"Sorry, boss. No whiskey."
Wade spun around and yelled at him, but Candy didn't budge. He looked down at the check lying on the cocktail table and his head twisted as he read it. Then he looked up at me and hissed something between his teeth. Then he looked at Wade.
"I go now. This my day off."
He turned and went. Wade laughed.
"So I get it myself," he said sharply, and went.
I lifted one of the covers and saw some neatly trimmed three-cornered sandwiches.' I took one and poured some beer and ate the sandwich standing up. Wade came back with a bottle and a glass. He Sat down on the couch and poured a stiff jolt and sucked it down. There was the sound of a car going away from the house, probably Candy leaving by the service driveway. I took another sandwich.
"Sit down and make yourself comfortable," Wade said. "We have all afternoon to kill." He had a glow on already. His voice was vibrant and cheerful. "You don't like me, do you, Marlowe?"
"That question has already been asked and answered."
"Know something? You're a pretty ruthless son of a bitch. You'd do anything to find what you want. You'd even make love to my wife while I was helpless drunk in the next room."
"You believe everything that knife thrower tells you?" He poured some more whiskey into his glass and held it up against the light. "Not everything, no. A pretty color whiskey is, isn't it? To drown in a golden flood-that's not so bad. 'To cease upon the midnight with no pain.' How does that go on? Oh, sorry, you wouldn't know. Too literary. You're some kind of a dick, aren't you? Mind telling me why you're here."
He drank some more whiskey and grinned at me. Then he spotted the check lying on the table. He reached for it and read it over his glass.
"Seems to be made out to somebody named Marlowe. 1 wonder why, what for. Seems I signed it. Foolish of me, I'm a gullible chap."
"Stop acting," I said roughly. "Where's your wife?"
He looked up politely, "My wife will be home in due course. No doubt by that time I shall be passed out and she can entertain you at her leisure. The house will be yours."
"Where's the gun?" I asked suddenly.
He looked blank. I told him I had put it in his desk. "Not there now, I'm sure," he said. "You may search if it pleases you. Just don't steal any rubber bands."
I went to the desk and frisked it. No gun. That was something. Probably Eileen had hidden it.
"Look, Wade, I asked you where your wife was. I think she ought to come home. Not for my benefit, friend, for yours. Somebody has to look out for you, and I'll be goddamned if it's going to be me."
He stared vaguely. He was still holding the check. He put his glass down and, tore the check across, then again and again, and let the pieces fall to the floor.
"Evidently the amount was too small," he said. "Your services come very high. Even a thousand dollars and my wife fail to satisfy you. Too bad, but I can't go any higher. Except on this." He patted the bottle.
"I'm leaving," I said.
'But why? You wanted me to remember. Well-here in the bottle is my memory. Stick around, pal. When I get lit enough I'll tell you about all the women I have murdered."
"All right, Wade. I'll stick around for a while. But not in here. If you need me, just smash a chair against the wall."
I went out and left the door open. I walked across the big living room and out to the patio and pulled one of the chaises into the shadow of the overhang and stretched out on it. Across the lake there was a blue hare against the hills. The ocean breeze had begun to filter through the low mountains to the west. It wiped the air clean and it wiped away just enough of the heat. Idle Valley was having a perfect summer. Somebody had planned it that way. Paradise Incorporated, and also Highly Restricted. Only the nicest people. Absolutely no Central Europeans. Just the cream, the top drawer crowd, the lovely, lovely people. Like the Lorings and the Wades. Pure gold.