I called SEWELL ENmcorr's office. Somebody said he was in court and would not be available until late in the afternoon. Would I care to leave my name? No.
I dialed the number of Mendy Menendez's joint on the Strip. It was called El Tapado this year, not a bad name either. In American Spanish that means buried treasure among other things. It had been called other names in the past, quite a few other names. One year it was just a blue neon number on a blank high wall facing south on the Strip, with its back against the hill and a driveway curving around one side Out of sight of the street. Very exclusive. Nobody knew much about it except vice cops and mobstem and people who could afford thirty bucks for a good dinner and any amount up to fifty grand in the big quiet room upstairs. I got a woman who didn't know from nothing. Then I got a captain with a Mex accent.
"You wish to speak with Mr. Menendez? Who is calling?"
"No names, amigo. Private matter."
"Un momCnto, por favor."
There was a longish wait. I got a hard boy this time. He sounded as if he was talking through the slit in an armored car. It was probably just the slit in his face.
"Talk it up. Who wants him?"
"The name's Marlowe."
"This Chick Agostino?"
"No, this ain't Chick. Come on, let's have the password."
"Go fry your face."
There was a chuckle. "Hold the line."
Finally another voice said: "Hello, cheapie. What's the time by you?"
"You can talk, cheapie. I been looking over some acts for the floor show."
"You could cut your throat for one."
"What would I do for an encore?"
I laughed. He laughed. "Been keeping your nose dean?" he asked.
"Haven't you heard? I got to be friends with another guy who suidded. They're going to call me the 'Kiss-of-Death Kid' from now on."
"That's funny, huh?"
"No, it isn't funny. Also the other afternoon I had tea with Harlan Potter."
"Nice going. I never drink the stuff myself."
"He said for you to be nice to me."
"I never met the guy and I don't figure to."
"He casts a long shadow. All I want is a little information, Mendy. Like about Paul Marston."
"Never heard of him."
"You said that too quick. Paul Marston was the name Terry Lennox used one time in New York before he came west."
"His prints were checked through the F.B.I. files. No r &ord. That means he never served in the Armed Forces."
"Do I have to draw you a picture? Either that foxhole yarn of yours was all spaghetti or it happened somewhere else."
"I didn't say where it happened, cheapie. Take a kind word and forget the whole thing. You got told, you better stay told."
"Oh sure. I do something you don't like and I'm swimming to Catalina with a streetcar on my back. Don't try to scare me, Mendy. I've been up against the pros. You ever been in England?"
"Be smart, cheapie. Things can happen to a guy in this town. Things can happen to big strong boys like Big Willie Magoon. Take a look at the evening paper."
"I'll get one if you say so. It might even have my picture in it. What about Magoon?"
"Like I said-things can happen. I wouldn't know how except what I read. Seems Magoon tried to shake down four boys in a car with Nevada plates. Was parked right by his house. Nevada plates with big numbers like they don't have. Must have been some kind of a rib. Only Magoon ain't feeling funny, what with both arms in casts, and his jaw wired in three places, and one]eg in high traction. Magoon ain't tough any more. It could happen to you,"
"He bothered you, huh? I saw him bounce your boy Chick off the wall in front of Victor's. Should I ring up a friend in the Sheriff's office and tell him?"
"You do that, cheapie," he said very slowly. "You do that."
"And I'll mention that at the time I was just through having a drink with Harlan Potter's daughter. Corroborative evidence, in a sense, don't you think? You figure to smash her up too?"
"Listen to me careful, cheapie-"
"Were you ever in England, Mendy? You and Randy Starr and Paul Mars-ton or Terry Lennox or whatever his name was? In the British Army perhaps? Had a little racket in Soho and got hot and figured the Army was a cooling-off spot?"
"Hold the line."
I held it. Nothing happened except that I waited and my arm got tired. I switched the receiver to the other side. Finally he came back.
"Now listen careful, Marlowe. You stir up that Lennox case and you're dead. Terry was a pal and I g9t feelings too. So you got feelings. I'll go along with you just this far. It was a Commando outfit. It was British. It happened in Norway, one of those islands off the coast. They got a million of them. November 1942. Now will you lie down and rest that tired brain of yours?"
Thank you, Mendy. I will do that. Your secret is safe with me. I'm not telling it to anybody but the people I know."
"Buy yourself a paper, cheapie. Read and remember. Big tough Willie Magoon. Beat up in front of his own house. Boy, was he surprised when he come out of the ether!"
He hung up. I went downstairs and bought a paper and it was just as Menendez had said. There was a picture of Big Willie Magoon in his hospital bed. You could see half his face and one eye. The rest of him was bandages. Seriously but not critically injured. The boys had been very careful about that. They wanted him to live. After all he was a cop. In our town the mobs don't kill a cop. They leave that to the juveniles. And a live cop who has been put through the meat grinder is a much better advertisement. He gets well eventually and goes back to work. But frthn that time on something is missing-the last inch of steel that makes all the difference. He's a walking lesson that it is a mistake to push the racket boys too hard- espedally if you are on the vice squad and eating at the best places and driving a Cadillac.
I sat there and brooded about it for a while and then I dialed the number of The Carne Organization and asked for George Peters. He was out. I left my name and said it was urgent. Hewas expected in about five-thirty.
I went over to the Hollywood Public Library and asked questions in the reference room, but couldn't find what I wanted. So I had to go back for my Olds and drive downtown to the Main Library. I found it there, in a smallish red-bound book published in England. I copied what I wanted from it and drove home. I called The Came Organization again. Peters was still out, so I asked the girl to reroute the call to me at home.
I put the chessboard on the coffee table and set out a problem called The Sphynx. It is printed on the end papers of a book on chess by Blackburn, the English chess wizard, probably the most dynamic chess player who ever lived, although he wouldn't get to first base in the cold war type of -chess they play nowadays. The Sphynx is an eleven-mover and it justifies its name. Chess problems seldom run to more than four or five moves. Beyond that the difficulty of solving them rises in almost geometrical progression. An eleven-mover is sheer unadulterated tottore.
Once in a long while when I feel mean enough I set It out and look for a new way to solve it. It's a nice quiet wayS to go crazy. You don't even scream, but you come awfully close.
George Peters called me at five-forty. We exchanged pleasantries and condolences.
"You've got yourself in another jam, I see," he said cheerfully. "Why don't you try some quiet business like embalming?"
"Takes too long to learn. Listen, I want to become a client of your agency, if it doesn't cost too much."
"Depends what you want done, old boy. And you'd have to talk to Carne."
"Well, tell me."
"London is full of guys like me, but I wouldn't know one from the other. They call them private enquiry agents. Your outfit would have connections. I'd just have to- pick a name at random and probably get hornswoggled. I want some information that should be easy enough to get, and I want it quick. Must have it before the end of next week."
"I want to know something about the war service of Terry Lennox or Paul Marston, whatever name he used. He was in the Commandos over there. He was captured wounded in November 1942 in a raid on some Norwegian island. I want to know what outfit he was posted from and what happened to him. The War Office will have all that. It's not secret information, or I wouldn't think so. Let's say a question of inheritance is involved."
"You don't need a P.I. for that. You could get it direct. Write them a letter."
"Shove it, George. I might get an answer in three months. I want one in five days."
"You have a thought there, pal. Anything else?"
"One thing more. They keep all their vital records over there in a place they call Somerset House. I want to know if he figures there in any connection-birth, marriage, naturalization, anything at all."
"What do you mean, why? Who's paying the bill?"
"Suppose the names don't show?"
"Then I'm stuck. If they do, I want certified copies of anything your man turns up. How much you soaking me?"
"I'll have to ask Came. He may thumb it out altogether, We don't want the kind of publicity you get. If he lets me handle it, and you agree not to mention the connection, I'd say three hundred bucks. Those guys over there don't get much by dollar standards. He might hit us for ten guineas, less than thirty bucks. On top of that any expenses he might have. Say fifty bucks altogether and Came wouldn't open a file for less than two-fifty."
"Ha, ha. He never heard of them."
"Call me, George. Want to eat dinner?"
"All right," I growled, "if they'll give me a reservation.- which I doubt."
"We can have Came's table. I happen to know he's dining privately. He's a regular at Romanoff's. It pays off in the upper brackets of the business. Came is a pretty big boy in this town."
"Yeah, sure. I know somebody-and know him personally-who could lose Carne under his little fingernail."
"Good work, kid. I always knew you would come through in the dutch. See you about seven o'dock in the bar at Romanoff's. Tell the head thief you're waiting for Colonel Came. He'll clear a space around you so you don't get elbowed by any riffraff like screenwriters or television actors."
"See you at seven," I said.
We hung up and I went back to the chess board. But The Sphynx didn't seem to interest me any more. In a little while Peters called me back and said it was all right with Came provided the name of their agency was not connected with my problems. Peters said he would get a night letter off to London at once.