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39

The inquest was a flop. The coroner sailed into It before the medical evidence was complete, for fear the publicity would die on him. He needn't have worried. The death of a writer-even a loud writer-is not news for long, and that summer there was too much to compete. A king abdicated and another was assassinated. In one week three large passenger planes crashed. The head man of a big wire service was shot to pieces in Chicago -in his own automobile. Twenty-four convicts were burned to death in a prison fire. The Coroner of Los Angeles County was out of luck.' He was missing the good things in life.

As I left the stand I saw Candy. He had a bright malicious grin on his face-I had no idea why-and as usual he was dressed just a little too well, in a cocoa brown gabardine suit with a white nylon shirt and midnight blue bow tie. On the witness stand he was quiet and made a good impression. Yes, the boss had been pretty drunk lately a lot of times. Yes, he had helped put him to bed the night the gun went off upstairs. Yes, the boss had demanded whiskey before he, Candy, left on the last day, but he had refused to get it. No, he didn't know anything about Mr. Wade's literary work, but he knew the boss had been discouraged. He kept throwing it away and then getting it out of the wastebasket again. No, he had never heard Mr. Wade quarreling with anyone. And so on. The coroner milked him but it was thin stuff. Somebody had done a good coaching job on Candy.

Eileen Wade wore black and white. She was pale and spoke in a low dear voice which even the amplifer could not spoil. The coroner handled her with two pairs of velvet gloves. He talked to her as if he had trouble keeping the sobs out of his voice. When she left the stand he stood up and bowed and she gave him a faint fugitive smile that nearly made him choke on his salvia.

She almost passed me without a glance on the way out, then at the last moment turned her head a couple of inches and nodded very slightly, as if I was somebody she must have met somewhere a long time ago, but couldn't quite place in her memory.

Qutside on the steps when it was all over I ran into Ohls. He was watching the traffic down below, or pretending to.

"Nice job," he said without turning his head. "Congratulations."

"You did all right on Candy."

"Not me, kid. The D.A. decided the sexy stuff was irrelevant"

"What sexy stuff was that?"

He looked at me then. "Ha, ha, ha," he said. "And I don't mean you." Then his expression got remote. "I been looking at them for too many- years. It wearies a man. This one came out of the special bottle. Old private stock. Strictly for the carriage trade. So long, sucker. Call me when you start wearing twenty-dollar shirts. I'll drop around and hold your coat for you."

People eddied around us going up and down the steps. We just stood there. Ohls took a cigarette out of his pocket and looked at it and dropped it on the concrete and ground it to nothing with his heel.

"Wasteful," I said.

"Only a cigarette, pal. It's not a life. After a while maybe you marry the girl, huh?"

"Shove it."

He laughed sourly. "I been talking to the right people about the wrong things," he said acidly. "Any objection?"

"No objection, Lieutenant," I said, and went on down the steps. He said something behind me but I kept going.

I went over to a corn-beef joint on Flower. It suited my mood. A rude sign over the entrance said: "Men Only. Dogs and Women Not Admitted." The service inside was equally polished. The waiter who tossed your food at you needed a shave and deducted his tip without being invited. The food was simple but very good and they had a brown Swedish beer which could hit as hard as a martini.

When I got back to the office the phone was ringing. Ohls said: "I'm coming by your place. I've got things to say."

He must have been at or near the Hollywood substation because he was in the office inside twenty minutes. He planted himself in the customer's chair and crossed his legs and growled:

"I was out of line. Sorry. Forget it."

"Why forget it? Let's open up the wound."

"Suits me. Under the hat, though. To some people you're a wrong gee. I never knew you to do anything too crooked."

"What was the crack about twenty-dollar shirts?"

"Aw hell, I was just sore," Ohls said. "I was thinking of old man Potter. Like he told a secretary to tell a lawyer to tell District Attorney Springer to tell Captain Hernandez you were a personal friend of his."

"He wouldn't take the trouble."

"You met him. He gave you time."

"I met him, period. I didn't like him, but perhaps it was only envy. He sent for me to give me some advice. He's big and he's tough and I don't know what else. I don't figure he's a crook."

"There ain't no dean way to make a hundred million bucks," Ohls said. "Maybe the head man thinks his hands are clean but somewhere along the line guys got pushed to the wall, nice little businesses got the ground cut from under them and had to sell out for nickels, decent people lost their jobs, stocks got rigged on the market, proxies got bought up like a pennyweight of old gold, and the five per centers and the big law firms got paid hundred-grand fees for beating some law the people wanted but the rich guys didn't, on account of it cut into their profits. -Big money is big power and big power gets used wrong. It's the system. Maybe it's the best we can get, but it still ain't any Ivory Soap deal."

"You sound like a Red," I said, just to needle him. "I wouldn't know," he said contemptuously. "I ain't been investigated yet You liked the suicide verdict, didn't you?"

"What else could it be?"

"Nothing else, I guess." He put his hard blunt hands on the desk and looked at the big brown freckles on the backs of them. "I'm getting old. Keratosis, they call those brown spots. You don't get them until you're past fifty. I'm an old cop and an old cop is an old bastard. I don't like a few things about this Wade death."

"Such as?" I leaned back and watched the tight sun wrinkles around his eyes.

"You get so you can smell a wrong setup, even when you know you can't do a damn thing about it. Then you jttst sit and talk like now. I don't like that he left no note."

"He was drunk. Probably just a sudden crazy impulse."

Ohls lifted his pale eyes and dropped his hands off the desk. "I went through his desk. He wrote letters to himself. He wrote and wrote and wrote. Drunk or sober he hit that typewriter. Some of it is wild, some of it kind of funny, and some of it is sad. The guy had something on his mind.

He wrote all around it but he never quite touched it. That guy would have left a two-page letter if he knocked himself off."

"He was drunk," I said again.

"With him that didn't matter," Ohls said wearily. "The next thing I don't like is he did it there in that room and left his wife to find him. Okay, he was drunk. I still don't like it. The next thing I don't like Is he pulled the trigger just when the noise of that speedboat could drown out the shot What difference would it make to him? More coinddence, huh? More coinddence still that the wife forgot her door keys on the help's day off and had to ring the bell to get into the house."

"She could have walked around to the back," I said.

"Yeah, I know. What I'm talking about is a situation. Nobody to answer the door but you, and she said on the stand she didn't know you were there. Wade wouldn't have heard the bell if he bad been alive and working in his study. His door is soundproofed. The help was away, That was Thursday. That the forgot. Like she forgot her keys."

"You're forgetting something yourself, Bernie. My car was in the driveway. So she knew I was there-or that somebody was there-before the rang the bell."

He grinned. "I forgot that, didn't I? All right, here's the picture. You were down at the lake, the speedboat was making all that racket-incidentally it was a couple of guys from Lake Arrowhead just visiting, had their boat on a trailer-Wade was asleep In his study or passed out, somebody took the gun out of his desk already, and she knew you had put it there because you told her that other time. Now suppose she didn't forget her keys, that she goes into the house, looks across and sees you down at the water, looks into the study and sees Wade asleep, knows where the gun is, gets it, waits for the right moment, plugs him, drops the gun where it was found, goes back outside the house, waits a little while -for the speedboat to go away, and then rings the doorbell and waits for you to open it. Any objections?"

"With what motive?"

"Yeah," he said sourly. "That knocks it. If she wanted to slough the guy, it was easy. She had him over a barrel, habitual drunk, record of violence to her. Plenty alimony, nice fat property settlement, No motive at all. Anyhow the timing was too neat. Five minutes earlier and she couldn't have done it unless you were in on it."

I started to say something but he put his-hand up. "Take it easy. I'm not accusing anybody, just speculating. Five minutes later and you get the same answer. She had ten minutes to pull it off."

"Ten minutes," I said irritably, "that couldn't possibly have been foreseen, much less planned."

He leaned back in the chair and sighed. "I know. You've got all the answers, I've got all the answers. And I still don't like it. What the hell were you doing with these people anyway? The guy writes you a check for a grand, then tears it up. Got mad at you, you say. You didn't want it anyway, wouldn't have taken it, you say. Maybe. Did be think you were sleeping with his wife?"

"Lay off, Bernie."

"I didn't ask were you, I asked did he think you were."

"Same answer."

"Okay, try this. What did the Mex have on him?"

"Nothing that I know of."

"The Mex has too much money. Over fifteen hundred in the bank, all kinds of dothes, a brand new Chevvy."

"Maybe he peddles dope," I said.

Ohls pushed himself up out of the chair and scowled down at me.

"You're an awful lucky boy, Marlowe. Twice you've slid out from under a heavy one. You could get overconfident. You were pretty helpful to those people and you didn't make a dime. You were pretty helpful to a guy named Lennox too, the way I hear it. And you didn't make a dime out of that one either. What do you do for eating money, pal? You gut a lot saved so you don't have to work anymore?"

I stood up and walked around the desk and faced him. a romantic, Bernie. I hear voices crying in the night and I go see what's the matter. You don't make a dime that way. You got sense, you shut your windows and turn up more sound on the TV set. Or you shove down on the gas and get far away from there. Stay out of other people's troubles. All it can get you is the smear. The last time I saw Terry Lennox we had a cup of coffee together that I made myself in my house, and we smoked a cigarette. So when I heard be was dead I went out to the kitchen and made some coffee and poured a cup for him and lit a cigarette for him and when the coffee was cold and the cigarette was burned down I said goodnight to him. You don't make a dime that way. You wouldn't do it. That's why you're a good cop and I'm private eye. Eileen Wade is worried about her husband, so I go out and find him and bring him home. Another time he's in trouble and calls me up and I go out and carry him in off the lawn and put him to bed and I don't make a dime out of it. No percentage at all. No nothing, except sometimes I get my face pushed in or get tossed in the can or get threa-tened by some fast money boy like Mendy Menendez. But no money, not a dime. I've got a five-thousand-dollar bill in my safe but I'll never spend a nickel of it. Because there was something wrong with the way I got it. I played with it a little at first and I still get it out once in a while and look at it. But that's all-not a dime of spending money."

"Must be a phony," Ohls said dryly, "except they don't make them that big. So what's your point with all this yap?"

"No point. I told you I was a romantic."

"I heard you. And you don't make a dime at it. I heard that too."

"But I can always tell a cop to go to hell. Go to hell, Bernie."

"You wouldn't tell me to go to hell if I had you in the back room under the light, chum."

"Maybe we'll find out about that some day."

He walked to the door and yanked it open. "You know something, kid? You think you're cute but you're just stupid. You're a shadow on the wall. I've got twenty years on the cops without a mark against me. I know when I'm being kidded and I know when a guy is holding out on me. The wise guy never fools anybody but himself. Take it from me, chum. I know."

He pulled his head back out of the doorway and let the door close. His heels hammered down the corridor. I could still hear them when the phone on my desk started to sound. The voice said in that dear professional tone:

"New York is calling Mr. Philip Marlowe."

"I'm Philip Marlowe."

"Thank you. One moment, please, Mr. Marlowe. Here is your party."

The next voice I knew. "Howard Spencer, Mr. Marlowe. We've heard about Roger Wade. It was a pretty hard blow. We haven't the full details, but your name seems to be involved."

"I was there when it happened. He just got drunk and shot himself. Mrs. Wade came home a little later. The servants were away-Thursday's the day off."

"You were alone with him?"

"I wasn't with him. I was outside the house, just hanging around waiting for his wife to come home."

"I see. Well, I suppose there will be an inquest."

"It's all over, Mr. Spencer. Suicide. And remarkably little publicity."

"Really? That's curious." He didn't exactly sound disappointed-more like puzzled and surprised. "He was so well known. I should have thought-well, never mind what I thought. I guess I'd better fly out there, but I can't make it before the end of next week. I'll send a wire to Mrs. Wade. There may be something I could do for her-and also about the book. I mean there may be enough of it so that we could get someone to finish it. I assume you did take the job after all."

"No. Although he asked me to himself. I told him right out I- couldn't stop him from drinking."

"Apparently you didn't even try."

"Look, Mr. Spencer, you don't know the first damn thing about this situation. Why not wait until you do before jumping to conclusions? Not that I don't blame myself a little. I guess that's inevitable when something like this happens, and you're the guy on the spot."

"Of course," he said. "I'm sorry I made that remark. Most uncalled for. Will Eileen Wade be at her home now-or wouldn't you know?"

"I wouldn't know, Mr. Spencer. Why don't you just call her up?"

"I hardly think she would want to speak to anyone yet," he said slowly.

"Why not? She talked to the Coroner and never batted an eye."

He deared his throat. "You don't sound exactly sympathetic."

"Roger Wade is dead, Spencer. He was a bit of a bastard and maybe a bit of a genius too. That's over my head. He was an egotistical drunk and he hated his own guts. He made me a lot of trouble and in the end a lot of grief. Why the- hell should I be sympathetic?"

"I was talking about Mrs. Wade," he said shortly.

"So was I."

"I'll call you when I get in," he said abruptly. "Goodbye."

He hung up. I hung up. I stared at the telephone for a couple-of minutes without moving. Then I got the phone book up on the desk and looked for a number.


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