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46

I drove out to Victor's with the idea of drinking a gimlet and sitting around until the evening edition of the morning papers was on the street. But the bar was crowded and it wasn't any,fun. When the barkeep I knew got around to me he called me by name.

"You like a dash of bitters in it, don't you?"

"Not usually. Just for tonight two dashes of bitters."

"I haven't seen your friend lately. The one with the green ice."

"Neither have I."

He went away and came back with the drink. I pecked at it to make it last, because I didn't feel like getting a glow on. Either I would get really stiff or stay sober. After a while I had another of the same. It was just past six when the kid with the papers came into the bar. One of the barkeeps yelled at him to beat it, but he managed one quick round of the customers before a waiter got hold of him and threw him out. I was one of the customers. I opened up the Journal and glanced at page lA. They bad made it. It was all there. They had reversed the photostat by making it black on white and by reducing it in size they had fitted it into the top half of the page. There was a short brusque editorial on another page. There was a half column by Lonnie Morgan with a by-line, on still another page.

I finished my drink and left and went to another place to eat dinner and then drove home.

Lonnie Morgan's piece was a straightforward factual recapitulation of the facts and happenings involved in the Lennox case and the "suicide" of Roger Wade-the facts as they had been published. It added nothing, deduced nothing, imputed nothing. It was dear concise businesslike reporting. The editorial was something else. It asked questions-the kind a newspaper asks of public officials when they are caught with jam on their faces.

About nine-thirty the telephone rang and Bernie Ohls said he would drop by on his way home.

"Seen the Journal?" be asked coyly, and hung up without waiting for an answer.

When he got there he grunted about the steps and said he would drink a cup of coffee if I had one. I said I would make some. While I made It he wandered around the house and made himself very much at home.

"You live pretty lonely for a guy that could get himself disliked," he said. "What's over the hill in back?"

"Another street. Why?"

"Just asking. Your shrubbery needs pruning."

I carried some coffee into the living room and he parked himself and sipped it. He lit one of my cigarettes and puffed at it for, a minute or two, then put it out. "Getting so I don't care for the stuff," he said. "Maybe it's the TV commercials. They make you hate everything they try to sell. God, they must think the public is a halfwit. Every time some jerk in a white coat with a stethoscope hanging around his neck holds up some toothpaste or a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of beer or a mouthwash or a jar of shampoo or a little box of something that -makes a fat wrestler smell like mountain lilac I always make a note never to buy any. Hell, I wouldn't buy the product even if I liked it. You read the Journal, huh?"

"A friend of mine tipped me off. A reporter."

"You got friends?" he asked wonderingly. "Didn't tell you how they got hold of the material, did he?"

"No. And in this state he doesn't have to tell you."

"Springer is hopping mad. Lawford, the deputy D.A. that got the letter this morning, claims he took it straight to his boss, but it makes a guy wonder. What the Journal printed looks like a straight reproduction from the original."

I sipped coffee and said nothing.

"Serves him right," Ohls went on. "Springer ought to have handled it himself. Personally I don't figure it was Lawford that leaked. He's a politician too." He stared at me woodenly.

"What are you here for, Bernie? You don't like me. We used to be friends-as much as anybody can be friends with a tough cop. But it soured a little."

He leaned forward and smiled-a little wolfishly. "No cop likes it when a private citizen does -police work behind his back. If -you had connected up Wade and the Lennox frail for me the time Wade got dead I'd have made out. If you had connected up Mrs. Wade and this Terry Lennox I'd have had her in the palm of my hand-alive. If you had come dean from the start Wade might be still alive. Not to mention Lennox. You figure you're a pretty smart monkey, don't you?"

"What would you like me to say?"

"Nothing. It's too late. I told you a wise guy never fools anybody but himself. I told you straight and clear. So it didn't take. Right now it might be smart for you to leave town. Nobody likes you and a couple of guys that don't like people do something about it. I had the word from a stoolie."

"I'm not that important, Bernie. Let's stop snarling at each other. Until Wade was dead you didn't even enter the case. After that it didn't seem to, matter to you and to the coroner or to the D.A. or to anybody. Maybe I did some things wrong. But the truth came out. You could have had her yesterday afternoon-with what?"

"With what you had to tell us about her."

"Me? With the police work I did behind your back?"

He stood up abruptly. His face was red. "Okay, wise guy. She'd have been alive. We could have booked her on suspicion. You wanted her dead; you punk, and you know it."

"I wanted her to take a good long quiet look at herself. What she did about it was her business. I wanted to dear an innocent man. I didn't give a good goddam how I did it and I don't now. I'll be around when you feel like doing something about me."

"The hard boys will take care of you, buster. I won't have to bother. You think you're not important enough to bother them. As a P.I. named Marlowe, check. You're not. As a guy who was told where to get off and blew a raspberry in their faces publicly in a newspaper, that's different. That hurts their pride."

"That's pitiful," I said, "Just thinking about it makes me bleed internally, to use your own expression."

He went across to the door and opened it. He stood looking down the redwood steps and at the trees on the hill across the way and up the slope at the end of the street.

"Nice and quiet here," he said. "Just quiet enough."

He went on down the steps and got into his car and left, Cops never say goodbye. They're always hoping to see you again in the line-up.


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