Raymond Chandler
Mandarin's Jade
(1937)


© R.Chandler, Mandarin's Jade, 1937

Source: R.Chandler. Trouble Is My Business (collection)

E-Text: Greylib .


Contents

1. 300 CARATS OF FEI TSUI

2. I LOSE MY CLIENT

3. LOU LID

4. SECOND HARVEST

5. SOUKESIAN THE PSYCHIC

6. LADY IN LIQUOR

7. I CROSS THE BAR

8. POISON BLONDE


 

ONE

300 CARATS OF FEI TSUI

I was smoking my pipe and making faces at the back of my name on the glass part of the office door when Violets M'Gee called me up. There hadn't been any business in a week.

"How's the sleuth racket, huh?" Violets asked. He's a homicide dick in the sheriffs office, "Take a little flutter down at the beach? Body guarding or something, it is.',

"Anything that goes with a dollar," I said. "Except murder. I get three-fifty for that."

"I bet you do nice neat work too. Here's the lay, John."

He gave me the name, address and telephone number of a man named Lindley Paul who lived at Castellamare, was a socialite and went everywhere except to work, lived alone with a Jap servant, and drove a very large car. The sheriffs office had nothing against him except that he had too much fun.

Castellamare was in the city limits, but didn't look it, being a couple of dozen houses of various sizes hanging by their eyebrows to the side of a mountain, and looking as if a good sneeze would drop them down among the box lunches on the beach. There was a sidewalk café up on the highway, and beside that a cement arch which was really a pedestrian bridge. From the inner end of this a flight of white concrete steps went straight as a ruler up the side of the mountain.

Quinonal Avenue, Mr. Lindley Paul had told me over the phone, was the third street up, if I cared to walk. It was, he said, the easiest way to find his place the first time, the streets being designed in a pattern of interesting but rather intricate curves. People had been known to wander about in them for several hours without making any more yardage than an angleworm in a bait can.

So I parked my old blue Chrysler down below and walked up. It was a fine evening and there was still some sparkle on the water when I started. It had all gone when I reached the top. I sat down on the top step and rubbed my leg muscles and waited for my pulse to come down into the low hundreds. After that I shook my shirt loose from my back and went along to the house, which was the only one in the foreground.

It was a nice enough house, but it didn't look like really important money. There was a salt-tarnished iron staircase going up to the front door and the garage was underneath the house. A long black battleship of a car was backed into it, an immense streamlined boat with enough hood for three cars and a coyote tail tied to the radiator cap. It looked as if it had cost more than the house.

The man who opened the door at the top of the iron stairs wore a white flannel suit with a violet satin scarf arranged loosely inside the collar. He had a soft brown neck, like the neck of a very strong woman. He had pale blue-green eyes, about the color of an aquamarine, features on the heavy side but very handsome, three precise ledges of thick blond hair rising from a smooth brown forehead, an inch more of height than I had-which made him six feet one-and the general look of a guy who would wear a white flannel suit with a violet satin scarf inside the collar.

He cleared his throat, looked over my left shoulder, and said: "Yes?"

"I'm the man you sent for. The one Violets M'Gee recommended."

"Violets? Gracious, what a peculiar nickname. Let me see, your name is-"

He hesitated and I let him work at it until he cleared his throat again and moved his blue-green eyes to a spot several miles beyond my other shoulder.

"Dalmas," I said. "The same as it was this afternoon."

"Oh, come in, Mr. Dalmas. You'll excuse me, I'm sure. My houseboy is away this evening. So I-" He smiled deprecatingly at the closing door, as though opening and closing it himself sort of dirtied him.

The door put us on a balcony that ran around three sides of a big living room, only three steps above it in level. We went down the steps and Lindley Paul pointed with his eyebrows at a pink chair, and I sat down on it and hoped I wouldn't leave a mark.

It was the kind of room where people sit on floor cushions with their feet in their laps and sip absinthe through lumps of sugar and talk from the backs of their throats, and some of them just squeak. There were bookshelves all around the balcony and bits of angular sculpture in glazed clay on pedestals. There were cozy little divans and bits of embroidered silk tossed here and there against the bases of lamps and so on. There was a big rosewood grand piano and on it a very tall vase with just one yellow rose in it, and under its leg there was a peachcolored Chinese rug a gopher could have spent a week in without showing his nose above the nap.

Lindley Paul leaned in the curve of the piano and lit a cigarette without offering me one. He put his head back to blow smoke at the tall ceiling and that made his throat look more than ever like the throat of a woman.

"It's a very slight matter," he said negligently. "Really hardly worth bothering you about. But I thought I might as well have an escort. You must promise not to flash any guns or anything like that. I suppose you do carry a gun."

"Oh, yes," I said. "Yes." I looked at the dimple in his chin. You could have lost a marble in it.

"Well, I won't want you to use it, you know, or anything like that. I'm just meeting a couple of men and buying something from them. I shall be carrying a little money in cash."

"How much money and what for?" I asked, putting one of my own matches to one of my own cigarettes.

"Well, really-" It was a nice smile, but I could have put the heel of my hand in it without feeling bad. I just didn't like the man.

"It's rather a confidential mission I'm undertaking for a friend. I'd hardly care to go into the details," he said.

"You just want me to go along to hold your hat,"I suggested.

His hand jerked and some ash fell on his white suit cuff. That annoyed him. He frowned down at it, then he said softly, in the manner of a sultan suggesting a silk noose for a harem lady whose tricks have gone stale: "You are not being impertinent, I hope."

"Hope is what keeps us alive," I said.

He stared at me for a while. "I've a damned good mind to give you a sock on the nose," he said.

"That's more like it," I said. "You couldn't do it without hardening up a bit, but I like the spirit. Now let's talk business."

He was still a bit sore. "I ordered a bodyguard," he said coldly. "If I employed a private secretary I shouldn't tell him all my personal business."

"He'd know it if he worked for you steady. He'd know it upside down and backwards. But I'm just day labor. You've got to tell me. What is it-blackmail?"

After a long time he said: "No. It's a necklace of Fei Tsui jade worth at least seventy-five thousand dollars. Did you ever hear of Fei Tsui jade?"

"No."

"We'll have a little brandy and I'll tell you about it. Yes, we'll have a little brandy."

He leaned away from the piano and went off like a dancer, without moving his body above the waist. I put my cigarette out and sniffed at the air and thought I smelled sandalwood, and then Lindley Paul came back with a nice-looking bottle and a couple of sniffing glasses. He poured a tablespoonful in each and handed me a glass.

I put mine down in one piece and waited for him to get through rolling his spoonful under his nose and talk. He got around to it after a while.

He said in a pleasant enough tone: "Fei Tsui jade is the only really valuable kind. The others are valuable for the workmanship put on them, chiefly. Fei Tsui is valuable in itself. There are no known unworked deposits, very little of it in existence, all the known deposits having been exhausted hundreds of years ago. A friend of mine had a necklace of this jade. Fiftyone carved mandarin beads, perfectly matched, about six carats each. It was taken in a holdup some time ago. It was the only thing taken, and we were warned-I happened to be with this lady, which is one reason why I'm taking the risk of making the pay-off-not to tell the police or any insurance company, but wait for a phone call. The call came in a couple of days, the price was set at ten thousand dollars, and the time is tonight at eleven. I haven't heard the place yet. But it's to be somewhere fairly near here, somewhere along the Palisades."

I looked into my empty sniffing glass and shook it. He put a little more brandy in it for me. I sent that after the first dose and lit another cigarette, one of his this time, a nice Virginia Straight Cut with his monogram on the paper.

"Jewel ransom racket," I said. "Well organized, or they wouldn't know where and when to pull the job. People don't wear valuable jewels out very much, and half of the time, when they do, they're phonies. Is jade hard to imitate?"

"As to material, no," Lindley Paul said. "As to workmanship-that would take a lifetime."

"So the stuff can't be cut," I said. "Which means it can't be fenced except for a small fraction of the value. So the ransom money is the gang's only pay-off. I'd say they'll play ball, You left your bodyguard problem pretty late, Mr. Paul. How do you know they'll stand for a bodyguard?"

"I don't," he said rather wearily. "But I'm no hero. I like company in the dark. If the thing misses-it misses. I thought of going it alone and then I thought, why not have a man hidden in the back of my car, just in case?"

"In case they take your money and give you a dummy package? How could I prevent that? If I start shooting and come out on top and it is a dummy package, you'll never see your jade again. The contact men won't know who's behind the gang. And if I don't open up, they'll be gone before you can see what they've left you. They may not even give you anything. They may tell you your stuff will come to you through the mail after the money has been checked for markings. Is it marked?"

"My God, no!"

"It ought to be," I growled. "It can be marked these days so that only a microscope and black light could show the markings up. But that takes equipment, which means cops. Okay. I'll take a flutter at it. My part will cost you fifty bucks. Better give it to me now, in case we don't come back. I like to feel money."

His broad, handsome face seemed to turn a little white and glistening. He said swiftly: "Let's have some more brandy."

He poured a real drink this time.

We sat around and waited for the phone to ring. I got my fifty bucks to play with.

The phone rang four times and it sounded from his voice as if women were talking to him. The call we wanted didn't come through until ten-forty.

 

TWO

I LOSE MY CLIENT

I drove. Or rather I held the wheel of the big black car and let it drive itself. I was wearing a sporty light-colored overcoat and hat belonging to Lindley Paul. I had ten grand in hundreddollar bills in one of the pockets. Paul was in the back seat. He had a silver-mounted Luger that was a pip to look at, and I hoped he knew how to use it. There wasn't anything about the job I liked.

The meeting place was a hollow at the head of Purissima Canyon, about fifteen minutes from the house. Paul said he knew the spot fairly well and wouldn't have any trouble directing me.

We switchbacked and figure-eighted around on the side of the mountain until I got dizzy and then all of a sudden we were out on the state highway, and the lights of the streaming cars were a solid white beam as far as you could see in either direction. The long-haul trucks were on their way.

We turned inland past a service station at Sunset Boulevard. There was loneliness then, and for a while the smell of kelp, not very strong, and the smell of wild sage dripping down the dark slopes much stronger. A dim, distant yellow window would peek down at us from the crest of some realtor's dream. A car would growl by and its white glare would hide the hills for a moment. There was a half-moon and wisps of cold fog chasing it down the sky.

"Off here is the Bel-Air Beach Club," Paul said. "The next canyon is Las Pulgas and the next after that is Purissima. We turn off at the top of the next rise." His voice was hushed, taut. It didn't have any of the Park Avenue brass of our'earlier acquaintance.

"Keep your head down," I growled back at him. "We may be watched all the way. This car sticks out like spats at an Iowa picnic."

The car purred on in front of me until, "Turn right here," he whispered sharply at the top of the next hill.

I swung the black car into a wide, weed-grown boulevard that had never jelled into a traffic artery. The black stumps of unfinished electroliers jutted up from the crusted sidewalk. Brush leaned over the concrete from the waste land behind. I could hear crickets chirp and tree frogs drone behind them. The car was that silent.

There was a house to a block now, all dark. The folks out there went to bed with the chickens it seemed. At the end of this road the concrete stopped abruptly and we slid down a dirt slope to a dirt terrace, then down another slope, and a barricade of what looked like four-by-fours painted white loomed across the dirt road.

I heard a rustling behind me and Paul leaned over the seat, with a sigh in his whispered voice. "This is the spot. You've got to get out and move that barricade and drive on down into the hollow. That's probably so that we can't make a quick exit, as we'd have to back out with this car. They want their time to get away."

"Shut up and keep down unless you hear me yell," I said.

I cut the almost noiseless motor and sat there listening. The crickets and tree frogs got a little louder. I heard nothing else. Nobody was moving nearby, or the crickets would have been still. I touched the cold butt of the gun under my arm, opened the car door and slid out on to the hard clay, stood there. There was brush all around. I could smell the sage. There was enough of it to hide an army. I went towards the barricade.

Perhaps this was just a tryout, to see if Paul did what he was told to do.

I put my hands out-it took both of them-and started to lift a section of the white barrier to one side. It wasn't a tryout. The largest flashlight in the world hit me square in the face from a bush not fifteen feet away.

A thin, high, niggerish voice piped out of the darkness behind the flash: "Two of us with shotguns. Put them mitts up high an' empty. We ain't takin' no chances."

I didn't say anything. For a moment I just stood holding the barricade inches off the ground. Nothing from Paul or the car. Then the weight of the four-by-fours pulled my muscles and my brain said let go and I put the section down again. I put my hands slowly into the air. The flash pinned me like a fly squashed on the wall, I had no particular thought except a vague wonder if there hadn't been a better way for us to work it.

"Tha's fine," the thin, high, whining voice said. "Jes' hold like that until I git aroun' to you."

The voice awakened vague echoes in my brain. It didn't mean anything though. My memory had too many such echoes. I wondered what Paul was doing. A thin, sharp figure detached itself from the fan of light, immediately ceased to be sharp or of any shape at all, and became a vague rustling off to the side. Then the rustling was behind me. I kept my hands in the air and blinked at the glare of the flash.

A light finger touched my back, then the hard end of a gun. The half-remembered voice said: "This may hurt jes' a little."

A giggle and a swishing sound. A white, hot glare jumped through the top of my head. I piled down on.the barricade and clawed at it and yelled. My right hand tried to jerk down under my left arm.

I didn't hear the swishing sound the second time. I only saw the white glare get larger and larger, until there was nothing else anywhere but hard, aching white light. Then there was darkness in which something red wriggled like a germ under the microscope. Then there was nothing red and nothing wriggling, just darkness and emptiness, and a falling sensation.

I woke up looking fuzzily at a star and listening to two goblins talking in a black hat.

"Lou Lid."

"What's that?"

"Lou Lid."

"Who's Lou Lid?"

"A tough dinge gunman you saw third-degreed once down at the Hall."

"Oh... LouLid."

I rolled over and clawed at the ground and crawled up on one knee. I groaned. There wasn't anybody there. I was talking to myself, coming out of it. I balanced myself, holding my hands flat on the ground, listening, not hearing anything. When I moved my hands, dried burrs stuck to the skin and the sticky ooze from the purple sage from which wild bees get most of their honey.

Honey was sweet. Much, much too sweet, and too hard on the stomach. I leaned down and vomited.

Time passed and I gathered my insides together again. I still didn't hear anything but the buzzing in my own ears. I got up very cautiously, like an old man getting out of a tub bath. My feet didn't have much feeling in them and my legs were rubbery. I wobbled and wiped the cold sweat of nausea off my forehead and felt the back of my head. It was soft and pulpy, like a bruised peach. When I touched it I could feel the pain clear down to my ankles. I could feel every pain I ever felt since the first time I got kicked in the rear in grade school.

Then my eyes cleared enough for me to see the outlines of the shallow bowl of wild land, with brush growing on the banks all around like a low wall, and a dirt road, indistinct under the sinking moon, crawling up one side. Then I saw the car.

It was quite close to me, not more than twenty feet away. I just hadn't looked in that direction. It was Lindley Paul's car, lightless. I stumbled over to it and instinctively grabbed under my arm for a gun. Of course there wasn't any gun there now. The whiny guy whose voice reminded me of someone would have seen to that. But I still had a fountainpen flash. I unshipped it, opened the rear door of the car and poked the light in.

It didn't show anything-no blood, no torn upholstery, no starred or splintered glass, no bodies. The car didn't seem to have been the scene of a battle. It was just empty. The keys hung on the ornate panel. It had been driven down there and left. I pointed my little flash at the ground and began to prowl, looking for him. He'd be around there all right, if the car was.

Then in the cold silence a motor throbbed above the rim of the bowl. The light in my hand went out. Other lights- headlights-tilted up over the frayed bushes. I dropped and crawled swiftly behind the hood of Lindley Paul's car.

The lights tilted down, got brighter. They were coming down the slope of the dirt road into the bowl. I could hear the dull, idling sound of a small motor now.

Halfway down the car stopped. A spotlight at the side of the windshield clicked on and swung to one side. It lowered, held steady on some point I couldn't see. The spot clicked off again and the car came slowly on down the slope.

At the bottom it turned a little so that its headlights raked the black sedan. I took my upper lip between my teeth and didn't feel myself biting it until I tasted the blood.

The car swung a little more. Its lights went out abruptly. Its motor died and once more the night became large and empty and black and silent. Nothing-no movement, except the crickets and tree frogs far off that had been droning all the time, only I hadn't been hearing them. Then a door latch snapped and there was a light, quick step on the ground and a beam of light cut across the top of my head like a sword.

Then a laugh. A girl's laugh-strained, taut as a mandolin wire. And the white beam jumped under the big black car and hit my feet.

The girl's voice said sharply: "All right, you. Come out of there with your hands up-and very damned empty! I've got you covered!"

I didn't move.

The voice stabbed at me again. "Listen, I've got three slugs for your feet, mister, and seven more for your tummy, and spare clips, and I change them plenty fast. Coming?"

"Put that toy up!" I snarled. "Or I'll blow it out of your hand." My voice sounded like somebody else's voice. It was hoarse and thick.

"Oh, a hard-boiled gentleman." There was a little quaver in the voice now. Then it hardened again, "Coming? I'll count three. Look at all the odds I'm giving you-twelve big fat cylinders to hide behind-or is it sixteen? Your feet will hurt you though. And anklebones take years to get well when they've been hurt, and sometimes-"

I straightened up and looked into her flashlight. "I talk too much when I'm scared, too," I said.

"Don't-don't move another inch! Who are you?"

"A bum private dick-detective to you. Who cares?"

I started around the car towards her. She didn't shoot. When I was six feet from her I stopped.

"You stay right there!" she snapped angrily-after I had stopped.

"Sure. What were you looking at back there, with your windshield spotlight?"

"A man."

"Hurt bad?"

"I'm afraid he's dead," she said simply. "And you look half dead yourself."

"I've been sapped," I said. "It always makes me dark under the eyes."

"A nice sense of humor," she said. "Like a morgue attendant."

"Let's look him over," I said gruffly. "You can stay behind me with your popgun, if it makes you feel any safer."

"I never felt safer in my life," she said angrily, and backed away from me.

I circled the little car she had come in, An ordinary little car, nice and clean and shiny under what was left of the moon. I heard her steps hehind me but I didn't pay any attention to her. About halfway up the slope a few feet off to the side I saw his foot.

I put my own little flash on him and then the girl added hers. I saw him all. He was smeared to the ground, on his back, at the base of a bush. He was in that bag-of-clothes position that always means the same thing.

The girl didn't speak. She kept away from me and breathed hard and held her light as steadily as any tough old homicide veteran.

One of his hands was flung out in a frozen gesture. The fingers were curled. The other hand was under him and his overcoat was twisted as though he had been thrown out and rolled. His thick blond hair was matted with blood, black as shoe polish under the moon, and there was more of it on his face and there was a gray ooze mixed in with the blood. I didn't see his hat.

Then was when I ought to have got shot, Up to that instant I hadn't even thought of the packet of money in my pocket. The thought came to me so quickly now, jarred me so hard, that I jammed a hand down into my pocket. It must have looked exactly like a hand going for a gun.

The pocket was quite empty. I took the hand out and looked back at her.

"Mister," she half sighed, if I hadn't made my mind up about your face-"

"I had ten grand," I said. "It was his money. I was carrying it for him. It was a pay-off. I just remembered the money. And you've got the sweetest set of nerves I ever met on a woman. I didn't kill him."

"I didn't think you killed him," she said. "Somebody hated him to smash his head open like that."

"I hadn't known him long enough to hate him," I said. "Hold the flash down again."

I knelt and went through his pockets, trying not to move him much. He had loose silver and bills, keys in a tooled leather case, the usual billfold with the usual window for a driver's licence and the usual insurance cards behind the licence. No money in the folder. I wondered why they had missed his trouser pockets. Panicked by the light, perhaps. Otherwise they'd have stripped him down to his coat lining. I held more stuff up in her light: two fine handkerchiefs as white and crisp as dry snow; half a dozen paper match folders from swank night traps; a silver cigarette case as heavy as a buggy weight and full of his imported straightcuts; another cigarette case, with a tortoise-shell frame and embroidered silk sides, each side a writhing dragon. I tickled the catch open and there were three long cigarettes under the elastic, Russians, with hollow mouthpieces. I pinched one. It felt old, dry.

"Maybe for ladies," I said. "He smoked others."

"Or maybe jujus," the girl said behind me, breathing on my neck. "I knew a lad who smoked them once. Could I look?"

I passed the case up to her and she poked her flash into it until I growled at her to put it on the ground again. There wasn't anything else to examine. She snapped the case shut and handed it back and I put it in his breast pocket.

"That's all. Whoever tapped him down was afraid to wait and clean up. Thanks."

I stood up casually and turned and speared the little gun out of her hand.

"Darn it, you didn't have to get rough!" she snapped. "Give," I said. "Who are you, and how come you ride around this place at midnight?"

She pretended I had hurt her hand, put the flash on it and looked at it carefully.

"I've been nice to you, haven't I?" she complained. "I'm burning up with curiosity and scared and I haven't asked you a single question, have I?"

"You've been swell," I said. "But I'm in a spot where I can't fool around. Who are you? And douse the flash now. We don't need light any more."

She put it out and the darkness lightened for us gradually until we could see the outlines of the bushes and the dead man's sprawled body and the glare in the southeastern sky that would be Santa Monica.

"My name is Carol Pride," she said. "I live in Santa Monica. I try to do feature stories for a newspaper syndicate. Sometimes I can't get sleepy at night and I go out riding-just anywhere. I know all this country like a book. I saw your little light flickering around down in the hollow and it seemed to me it was pretty cold for young love-if they use lights."

"I wouldn't know," I said. "I never did. So you have spare clips for this gun. Would you have a permit for it?"

I hefted the little weapon. It felt like a Colt .25 in the dark. It had a nice balance for a small gun. Plenty of good men have been put to sleep with .25's.

"Certainly I have a permit. That was just bluff about the spare clips though."

"Not afraid of things are you, Miss Pride? Or would it be Mrs.?"

"No, it wouldn'tThis neighborhood isn't dangerous. People don't even lock their doors around here. I guess some bad men just happened to get wise how lonely it is."

I turned the little gun around and held it out. "Here. It's not my night to be clever. Now if you'll be good enough to ride me down to Castellamare, I'll take my car there and go find some law."

"Shouldn't somebody stay with him?"

I looked at the radiolite dial of my wrist watch. "It's a quarter to one," I said. "We'll leave him with the crickets and the stars. Let's go."

She tucked the gun in her bag and we went back down the slope and got into her car. She jockeyed it around without lights and drove it back up the slope. The big black car looked like a monument standing there behind us.

At the top of the rise I got out and dragged the section of white barricade back into position across the road. He was safe for the night now, and likely enough for many nights.

The girl didn't speak until we had come near the first house. Then she put the lights on and said quietly: "There's blood on your face, Mr. Whatever-Your-Name-Is, and I never saw a man who needed a drink worse. Why not go back to my house and phone West Los Angeles from there? There's nothing but a fire station in this neighborhood."

"John Dalmas is the name," I said. "I like the blood on my face. You wouldn't want to be mixed up in a mess like this. I won't even mention you."

She said: "I'm an orphan and live all alone. It wouldn't matter in the slightest."

"Just keep going down to the beach," I said. "I'll play it solo after that."

But we had to stop once before we got to Castellamare, The movement of the car made me go off into the weeds and be sick again.

When we came to the place where my car was parked and the steps started up the hill I said good night to her and sat in the Chrysler until I couldn't see her taillights any more.

The sidewalk café was still open. I could have gone in there and had a drink and phoned. But it seemed smarter to do what I did half an hour later-walk into the West Los Angeles Police Station cold sober and green, with the blood still on my face.

Cops are just people. And their whisky is just as good as what they push across bars at you.

 

THREE

LOU LID

I didn't tell it well. It tasted worse all the time. Reavis, the man who came out from the downtown homicide bureau, listened to me with his eyes on the floor, and two plainclothes men lounged behind him like a bodyguard. A prowl-car unit had gone out long before to guard the body.

Reavis was a thin, narrow-faced, quiet man about fifty, with smooth gray skin and immaculate clothes. His trousers had a knife-edge crease and he pulled them up carefully after he sat down. His shirt and tie looked as if he had put them on new ten minutes ago and his hat looked as if he had bought it on the way over.

We were in the day captain's room at the West Los Angeles Police Station, just off Santa Monica Boulevard, near Sawtelle. There were just the four of us in it. Some drunk in a cell, waiting to go down to the city drunk tank for sunrise court, kept giving the Australian bush call all the time we were talking.

"So I was his bodyguard for the evening," I said at the end. "And a sweet job I made of it."

"I wouldn't give any thought to that," Reavis said carelessly. "It could happen to anybody. Seems to me they took you for this Lindley Paul, slugged you to save argument and to get plenty of time, perhaps didn't have the stuff with them at all and didn't mean to give it up so cheap. When they found you were not Paul they got sore and took it out on him."

"He had a gun," I said. "A swell Luger, but two shotguns staring at you don't make you warlike."

"About this darktown brother," Reavis said. He reached for a phone on the desk.

"Just a voice in the dark. I couldn't be sure."

"Yeah, but we'll find what he was doing about that time. Lou Lid. A name that would linger."

He lifted the phone off its cradle and told the PBX man: "Desk at headquarters, Joe . . . This is Reavis out in West L.A. on that stick-up murder. I want a Negro or half-Negro gunman name of Lou Lid. About twenty-two to twenty-four, a lightish brown, neat-appearing, small, say one hundred thirty, cast in one eye, I forget which. There's something on him, but not much, and he's been in and out plenty times. The boys at Seventy-seventh will know him. I want to check his movements for this evening. Give the colored squad an hour, then put him on the air."

He cradled the phone and winked at me. "We got the best shine dicks west of Chicago. If he's in town, they'll pick him off without even looking. Will we move out there now?"

We went downstairs and got into a squad car and went back through Santa Monica to the Palisades.

Hours later, in the cold gray dawn, I got home. I was guzzling aspirin and whisky and bathing the back of my head with very hot water when my phone jangled. It was Reavis.

"Well, we got Lou Lid," he said. "Pasadena got him and a Mex named Fuente. Picked them up on Arroyo Seco Boulevard-not exactly with shovels, but kind of careful."

"Go on," I said, holding the phone tight enough to crack it, "give me the punch line."

"You guessed it already. They found them under the Colorado Street Bridge. Gagged, trussed fore and aft with old wire. And smashed like ripe oranges. Like it?"

I breathed hard. "It's just what I needed to make me sleep like a baby," I said.

The hard concrete pavement of Arroyo Seco Boulevard is some seventy-five feet directly below Colorado Street Bridge- sometimes also known as Suicide Bridge.

"Well," Reavis said after a pause, "it looks like you bit into something rotten. What do you say now?"

"Just for a quick guess I'd say an attempted hijack of the pay-off money by a couple of smart-alecks that got a lead to it somehow, picked their own spot and got smeared with the cash."

"That would riced inside help," Reavis said. "You mean guys that knew the beads were taken, but didn't have them. I like better that they tried to leave town with the whole take instead of passing it to the boss. Or even that the boss thought he had too many mouths to feed."

He said good night and wished me pleasant dreams. I drank enough whisky to kill the pain in my head, Which was more than was good for me.

I got down to the office late enough to be elegant, but not feeling that way. Two stitches in the back of my scalp had begun to draw and the tape over the shaved place felt as hot as a bartender's bunion.

My office was two rooms hard by the coffee-shop smell of the Mansion House Hotel. The little one was a reception room I always left unlocked for a client to go in and wait, in case I had a client and he wanted to wait.

Carol Pride was in there, sniffing at the faded red davenport, the two odd chairs, the small square of carpet and the boy'ssize library table with the pre-Repeal magazines on it.

She wore brownish speckled tweeds with wide lapels and a mannish shirt and tie, nice shoes, a black hat that might have cost twenty dollars for all I knew, and looked as if you could have made it with one hand out of an old desk blotter.

"Well, you do get up," she said. "That's nice to know. I was beginning to think perhaps you did all your work in bed."

"Tut, tut," I said. "Come into my boudoir."

I unlocked the communicating door, which looked better than just kicking the lock lightly-which had the same effect-and we went into the rest of the suite, which was a rust-red carpet with plenty of ink on it, five green filing cases, three of them full of California climate, an advertising calendar showing the Dionne quintuplets rolling around on a sky-blue floor, a few near walnut chairs, and the usual desk with the usual heel marks on it and the usual squeaky swivel chair behind it. I sat down in that and put my hat on the telephone.

I hadn't really seen her before, even by the lights down at Castellamare. She looked about twenty-six and as if she hadn't slept very well. She had a tired, pretty little face under fluffedout brown hair, a rather narrow forehead with more height than is considered elegant, a small inquisitive nose, an upper lip a shade too long and a mouth more than a shade too wide. Her eyes could be very blue if they tried. She looked quiet, but not mousy-quiet. She looked smart, but not Hollywood-smart.

"I read it in the evening paper that comes out in the morning," she said. "What there was of it."

"And that means the law won't break it as a big story. They'd have held it for the morning sheets."

"Well, anyhow, I've been doing a little work on it for you," she said.

I stared hard at her, poked a flat box of cigarettes across the desk, and filled my pipe. "You're making a mistake," I said. "I'm not on this case. I ate my dirt last night and banged myself to sleep with a bottle. This is a police job."

"I don't think it is," she said. "Not all of it. And anyway you have to earn your fee. Or didn't you get a fee?"

"Fifty bucks," I said. "I'll return it when I know who to return it to. Even my mother wouldn't think I earned it."

"I like you," she said. "You look like a guy who was almost a heel and then something stopped him-just at the last minute. Do you know who that jade necklace belonged to?"

I sat up with ajerk that hurt. "What jade necklace?" I almost yelled. I hadn't told her anything about a jade necklace. There hadn't been anything in the paper about a jade necklace.

"You don't have to be clever. I've been talking to the man on the case-Lieutenant Reavis. I told him about last night. I get along with policemen. He thought I knew more than I did. So he told me things."

"Well-who does it belong to?" I asked, after a heavy silence.

"A Mrs. Philip Courtney Prendergast, a lady who lives in Beverly Hills-part of the year at least. Her husband has a million or so and a bad liver. Mrs. Prendergast is a black-eyed blonde who goes places while Mr. Prendergast stays home and takes calomel."

"Blondes don't like blonds," I said. "Lindley Paul was as blond as a Swiss yodeler."

"Don't be silly. That comes of reading movie magazines. This blonde liked that blond. I know. The society editor of the Chronicle told me. He weighs two hundred pounds and has a mustache and they call him Giddy Gertie."

"He tell you about the necklace?"

"No. The manager of Blocks Jewelry Company told me about that. I told him I was doing an article on rare jade-for the Police Gazette. Now you've got me doing the wisecracks."

I lit my pipe for the third time and squeaked my chair back and nearly fell over backwards.

"Reavis knows all this?" I asked, trying to stare at her without seeming to.

"He didn't tell me he did. He can find out easily enough. I've no doubt he will. He's nobody's fool."

"Except yours," I said. "Did he tell you about Lou Lid and Fuente the Mex?"

"No. Who are they?"

I told her about them. "Why, that's terrible," she said, and smiled.

"Your old man wasn't a cop by any chance, was he?" I asked suspiciously.

"Police Chief of Pomona for almost fifteen years."

I didn't say anything. I remembered that Police Chief John Pride of Pomona had been shot dead by two kid bandits about four years before.

After a while I said: "I should have thought of that. All right, what next?"

"I'll lay you five to one Mrs. Prendergast didn't get her necklace back and that her bilious husband has enough drag to keep that part of the story and their name out of the papers, and that she needs a nice detective to help her get straightened out-without any scandal."

"What scandal?"

"Oh, I don't know. She's the type that would have a basket of it in her dressing room."

"I suppose you had breakfast with her," I said. "What time did you get up?"

"No, I can't see her till two o'clock. I got up at six."

"My God," I said, and got a bottle out of the deep drawer of my desk. "My head hurts me something terrible."

"Just one," Carol Pride said sharply. "And only because you were beaten up. But I daresay that happens quite often."

I put the drink inside me, corked the bottle but not too tightly, and drew a deep breath.

The girl groped in her brown bag and said: "There's something else. But maybe you ought to handle this part of it yourself."

"It's nice to know I'm still working here," I said.

She rolled three long Russian cigarettes across the desk. She didn't smile.

"Look inside the mouthpieces," she said, "and draw your own conclusions. I swiped them out of that Chinese case last night. They all have that something to make you wonder."

"And you a cop's daughter," I said.

She stood up, wiped a little pipe ash off the edge of my desk with her bag and went towards the door.

"I'm a woman to. Now I've got to go see another society editor and find out more about Mrs. Philip Courtney Prendergast and her love life. Fun, isn't it?"

The office door and my mouth shut at about the same moment.

I picked up one of the Russian cigarettes. I pinched it between my fingers and peeped into the hollow mouthpiece. There seemed to be something rolled up in there, like a piece of paper or card, something that wouldn't have improved the drawing of the cigarette. I finally managed to dig it out with the nailfile blade of my pocketknife.

It was a card all right, a thin ivory calling card, man's size. Three words were engraved on it, nothing else.

 

SOUKESIAN THE PSYCHIC

 

I looked into the other mouthpieces, found identical cards in each of them. It didn't mean a thing to me. I had never heard of Soukesian the Psychic. After a while I looked him up in the phone book. There was a man named Soukesian on West Seventh. It sounded Armenian so I looked him up again under Oriental Rugs in the classified section. He was there all right, but that didn't prove anything. You don't have to be a psychic to sell oriental rugs. You only have to be a psychic to buy them. And something told me this Soukesian on the card didn't have anything to do with oriental rugs.

I had a rough idea what his racket would be and what kind of people would be his customers. And the bigger he was the less he would advertise. If you gave him enough time and paid him enough, he would cure anything from a tired husband to a grasshopper plague. He would be an expert in frustrated women, in tricky, tangled, love affairs, in wandering boys who hadn't written home, in whether to sell the property now or hold it another year, in whether this part will hurt my type with my public or improve it. Even men would go to him- guys who bellowed like bulls around their own offices and were all cold mush inside just the same. But most of all, women- women with money, women with jewels, women who could be twisted like silk thread around a lean Asiatic finger.

I refilled my pipe and shook my thoughts around without moving my head too much, and fished for a reason why a man would carry a spare cigarette case, with three cigarettes in it not meant for smoking, and in each of those three cigarettes the name of another man concealed. Who would find that name?

I pushed the bottle to one side and grinned. Anyone would find those cards who went through Lindley Paul's pockets with a fine-tooth comb-carefully and taking time. Who would do that? A cop. And when? If Mr. Lindley Paul died or was badly hurt in mysterious circumstances.

I took my hat off the telephone and called a man named Willy Peters who was in the insurance business, so he said, and did a sideline selling unlisted telephone numbers bribed from maids and chauffeurs. His fee was five bucks. I figured Lindley Paul could afford it out of his fifty.

Willy Peters had what I wanted. It was a Brentwood Heights number.

I called Reavis down at headquarters. He said everything was fine except his sleeping time and for me just to keep my mouth shut and not worry, but I ought really to have told him about the girl. I said that was right but maybe he had a daughter himself and wouldn't be so keen to have a lot of camera hounds jumping out at her. He said he had and the case didn't make me look very good but it could happen to anyone and so long.

I called Violets M'Gee to ask him to lunch some day when he had just had his teeth cleaned and his mouth was sore. But he was up in Ventura returning a prisoner. Then I called the Brentwood Heights number of Soukesian the Psychic.

After a while a slightly foreign woman's voice said: " 'Allo."

"May I speak to Mr. Soukesian?"

"I am ver-ry sor-ry. Soukesian he weel never speak upon the telephone. I am bees secretar-ry. Weel I take the message?"

"Yeah. Got a pencil?"

"But of course I 'ave the pencil. The message, eef you please?" I gave her my name and address and occupation and telephone number first. I made sure she had them spelled right.

Then I said: "It's about the murder of a man named Lindley Paul. It happened last night down on the Palisades near Santa Monica. I'd like to consult Mr. Soukesian."

"He weel be ver-ry pleased." Her voice was as calm as an oyster. "But of course I cannot give you the appointment today. Soukesian he ees always ver-ry busy. Per'aps tomorrow-"

"Next week will be fine," I said heartily.' "There's never any hurry about a murder investigation. Just tell him I'll give him two hours before I go to the police with what I know."

There was a silence. Maybe a breath caught sharply and maybe it was just wire noise. Then the slow foreign voice said: "I weel tell him. I do not understand-"

"Give it the rush, angel. I'll be waiting in my office."

I hung up, fingered the back of my head, put the three cards away in my wallet and felt as if I could eat some hot food. I went out to get it.

 

FOUR

SECOND HARVEST

The Indian smelled. He smelled clear across my little reception room when I heard the outer door open and got up to see who it was. He stood just inside the door looking as if he had been cast in bronze. He was a big man from the waist up and had a big chest.

Apart from that he looked like a bum. He wore a brown suit, too small for him. His hat was at least two sizes too small, and had been perspired in freely by someone it fitted better than it fitted him. He wore it about where a house wears a weathercock. His collar had the snug fit of a horse collar and was about the same shade of dirty brown. A tie dangled from it, outside his buttoned coat, and had apparently been tied with a pair of pliers in a knot the size of a pea. Around his bare throat above the collar he wore what looked like a piece of black ribbon.

He had a big, flat face, a big, high-bridged, fleshy nose that looked as hard as the prow of a cruiser, He had lidless eyes, drooping jowls, the shoulders of a blacksmith. If he had been cleaned up a little and dressed in a white nightgown, he would have looked like a very wicked Roman senator.

His smell was the earthy smell of the primitive man; dirty, but not the dirt of cities. "Huh," he said. "Come quick. Come now."

I jerked my thumb at the inner office and went back into it. He followed me ponderously and made as much noise walking as a fly makes. I sat down behind my desk, pointed at the chair opposite, but he didn't sit down. His small black eyes were hostile.

"Come where?" I wanted to know.

"Huh. Me Second Harvest. Me Hollywood Indian."

"Take a chair, Mr. Harvest."

He snorted and his nostrils got very wide. They had been wide enough for mouseholes in the first place.

"Name Second Harvest, No Mr. Harvest. Nuts."

"What do you want?"

"He say come quick. Big white father say come now. He say-"

"Don't give me any more of that pig Latin," I said. "I'm no schoolmarm at the snake dances."

"Nuts," he said.

He removed his hat with slow disgust and turned it upside down. He rolled a finger around under the sweatband. That turned the sweatband up into view. He removed a paper clip from the edge of the leather and moved near enough to throw a dirty fold of tissue paper on the desk. He pointed at it angrily. His lank, greasy black hair had a shelf all around it, high up, from the too-tight hat.

I unfolded the bit of tissue paper and found a card which read: Soukesian the Psychic. It was in thin script, nicely engraved. I had three just like it in my wallet.

I played with my empty pipe, stared at the Indian, tried to ride him with my stare. "Okay. What does he want?"

"He want you come now. Quick."

"Nuts," I said. The Indian liked that. That was the fraternity grip. He almost grinned. "It will cost him a hundred bucks as a retainer," I added.

"Huh?"

"Hundred dollars. Iron men. Bucks to the number one hundred. Me no money, me no come. Savvy?" I began to count by opening and closing both fists.

The Indian tossed another fold of tissue paper on the desk. I unfolded it. It contained a brand-new hundred-dollar bill.

"Psychic is right," I said. "A guy that smart I'm scared of, but I'll go nevertheless."

The Indian put his hat back on his head without bothering to fold the sweatband under. It looked only very slightly more comical that way.

I took a gun from under my arm, not the one I had had the night before unfortunately-I hate to lose a gun-dropped the magazine into the heel of my hand, rammed it home again, fiddled with the safety and put the gun back in its holster.

This meant no more to the Indian than if I had scratched my neck.

"I gottum car," he said. "Big car. Nuts."

"Too bad," I said. "I don't like big cars any more. However, let's go."

I locked up and we went out. In the elevator the Indian smelled very strong indeed. Even the elevator operator noticed it.

 

The car was a tan Lincoln touring, not new but in good shape, with glass gypsy curtains in the back. It dipped down past a shining green polo field, zoomed up the far side, and the dark, foreign-looking driver swung it into a narrow paved ribbon of white concrete that climbed almost as steeply as Lindley Paul's steps, but not as straight. This was well out of town, beyond Westwood, in Brentwood Heights.

We climbed past two orange groves, rich man's pets, as that is not orange country, past houses molded flat to the side of the foothills, like bas-reliefs.

Then there were no more houses, just the burnt foothills and the cement ribbon and a sheer drop on the left into the coolness of a nameless canyon, and on the right heat bouncing off the seared clay bank at whose edge a few unbeatable wild flowers clawed and hung on like naughty children who won't go to bed.

And in front of me two backs, a slim, whipcord back with a brown neck, black hair, a vizored cap on the black hair, and a wide, untidy back in an old brown suit with the Indian's thick neck and heavy head above that, and on his head the ancient greasy hat with the sweatband still showing.

Then the ribbon of road twisted into a hairpin, the big tires skidded on loose stones, and the tan Lincoln tore through an open gate and up a steep drive lined with pink geraniums growing wild. At the top of the drive there was an eyrie, an eagle's nest, a hilltop house of white plaster and glass and chromium, as modernistic as a fluoroscope and as remote as a lighthouse.

The car reached the top of the driveway, turned, stopped before a blank white wall in which there was a black door. The Indian got out, glared at me. I got out, nudging the gun against my side with the inside of my left arm.

The black door in the white wall opened slowly, untouched from outside, and showed a narrow passage ending far back. A bulb glowed in the ceiling.

The Indian said: "Huh. Go in, big shot."

"After you, Mr. Harvest."

He went in scowling and I followed him and the black door closed noiselessly of itself behind us. A bit of mumbo-jumbo for the customers, At the end of the narrow passage there was an elevator, I had to get into it with the Indian. We went up slowly, with a gentle purring sound, the faint hum of a small motor. The elevator stopped, its door opened without a whisper and there was daylight.

I got out of the elevator. It dropped down again behind me with the Indian still in it. I was in a turret room that was almost all windows, some of them close-draped against the afternoon glare. The rugs on the floor had the soft colors of old Persians, and there was a desk made of carved panels that probably came out of a church. And behind the desk there was a woman smiling at me, a dry, tight, withered smile that would turn to powder if you touched it.

She had sleek, black, coiled hair, a dark Asiatic face. There were pearls in her ears and rings on her fingers, large, rather cheap rings, including a moonstone and a square-cut emerald that looked as phony as a ten-cent-store slave bracelet. Her hands were little and dark and not young and not fit for rings.

"Ah, Meester Dalmas, so ver-ry good of you to come. Soukesian he weel be so pleased."

"Thanks," I said. I took the new hundred-dollar bill out of my wallet and laid it on her desk, in front of her dark, glittering hands. She didn't touch it or look at it. "My party," I said. "But thanks for the thought."

She got up slowly, without moving the smile, swished around the desk in a tight dress that fitted her like a mermaid's skin, and showed that she had a good figure, if you liked them four sizes bigger below the waist than above it.

"I weel conduct you," she said.

She moved before me to a narrow panelled wall, all there was of the room besides the windows and the tiny elevator shaft. She opened a narrow door beyond which there was a silky glow that didn't seem to be daylight. Her smile was older than Egypt now. I nudged my gun holster again and went in.

The door shut silently behind me. The room was octagonal, draped in black velvet, windowless, with a remote black ceiling. In the middle of the black rug there stood a white octagonal table, and on either side of that a stool that was a smaller edition of the table. Over against the black drapes there was one more such stool. There was a large milky ball on a black stand on the white table. The light came from this. There was nothing else in the room.

I stood there for perhaps fifteen seconds, with that obscure feeling of being watched. Then the velvet drapes parted and a man came into the room and walked straight over to the other side of the table and sat down. Only then did he look at me.

He said: "Be seated opposite me, please. Do not smoke and do not move around or fidget, if you can avoid it. How may I serve you?"

 

FIVE

SOUKESIAN THE PSYCHIC

He was a tall man, straight as steel, with the blackest eyes I had ever seen and the palest and finest blond hair I had ever seen. He might have been thirty or sixty. He didn't look any more like an Armenian than I did. His hair was brushed straight back from as good a profile as John Barrymore had at twentyeight. A matinee idol, and I expected something furtive and dark and greasy that rubbed its hands.

He wore a black double-breasted business suit cut like nobody's business, a white shirt, a black tie. He was as neat as a gift book.

I gulped and said: "I don't want a reading. I know all about this stuff."

"Yes?" he said delicately. "And what do you know about it?"

"Let it pass," I said. "I can figure the secretary because she's a sweet buildup for the shock people get when they see you. The Indian stumps me a bit, but it's none of my business anyhow. I'm not a bunko squad cop. What I came about is a murder."

"The Indian happens to be a natural medium," Soukesian said mildly. "They are much rarer than diamonds and, like diamonds, they are sometimes found in dirty places. That might not interest you either. As to the murder you may inform me. I never read the papers."

"Come, come," I said. "Not even to see who's pulling the big checks at the front office? Oke, here it is."

And I laid it in front of him, the whole damn story, and about his cards and where they had been found.

He didn't move a muscle. I don't mean that he didn't scream or wave his arms or stamp on the floor or bite his nails. I mean he simply didn't move at all, not even an eyelid, not even an eye. He just sat there and looked at me, like a stone lion outside the Public Library.

When I was all done he put his finger right down on the spot. "You kept those cards from the police? Why?"

"You tell me. I just did."

"Obviously the hundred dollars I sent you was not nearly enough."

"That's an idea too," I said. "But I hadn't really got around to playing with it."

He moved enough to fold his arms. His black eyes were as shallow as a cafeteria tray or as deep as a hole to China- whichever you like. They didn't say anything, either way.

He said: "You wouldn't believe me if I said I only knew this man in the most casual manner-professionally?"

"I'd take it under advisement," I said.

"I take it you haven't much faith in me. Perhaps Mr. Paul had. Was anything on those cards besides my name?"

"Yeah," I said. "And you wouldn't like it." This was kindergarten stuff, the kind the cops pull on radio crime dramatizations. He let it go without even looking at it.

"I'm in a sensitive profession," he said. "Even in this paradise of fakers. Let me see one of those cards."

"I was kidding you," I said. "There's nothing on them but your name." I got my wallet out and withdrew one card and laid it in front of him. I put the wallet away. He turned the card over with a fingernail.

"You know what I figure?" I said heartily. "I figure Lindley Paul thought you would be able to find out who did him in, even if the police couldn't. Which means he was afraid of somebody."

Soukesian unfolded his arms and folded them the other way. With him that was probably equivalent to climbing up the light fixture and biting off a bulb.

"You don't think anything of the sort," he said. "How much-quickly-for the three cards and a signed statement that you searched the body before you notified the police?"

"Not bad," I said, "for a guy whose brother is a rug peddler."

He smiled, very gently. There was something almost nice about his smile. "There are honest rug dealers," he said. "But Arizmian Soukesian is not my brother. Ours is a common name in Armenia."

I nodded.

"You think I'm just another faker, of course," he added.

"Go ahead and prove you're not."

"Perhaps it is not money you want after all," he said carefully.

"Perhaps it isn't."

I didn't see him move his foot, but he must have touched a floor button. The black velvet drapes parted .and the Indian came into the room. He didn't look dirty or funny any more.

He was dressed in loose white trousers and a white tunic embroidered in black. There was a black sash around his waist and a black fillet around his forehead. His black eyes were sleepy. He shuffled over to the stool beside the drapes and sat down and folded his arms and leaned his head on his chest. He looked bulkier than ever, as if these clothes were over his other clothes.

Soukesian held his hands above the milky globe that was between us on the white table. The light on the remote black ceiling was broken and began to weave into odd shapes and patterns, very faint because the ceiling was black. The Indian kept his head low and his chin on his chest but his eyes turned up slowly and stared at the weaving hands.

The hands moved in a swift, graceful, intricate pattern that meant anything or nothing, that was like Junior Leaguers doing Greek dances, or coils of Christmas ribbon tossed on the floor-whatever you liked.

The Indian's solid jaw rested on his solid chest and slowly, like a toad's eyes, his eyes shut.

"I could have hypnotized him without all that," Soukesian said softly. "It's merely part of the show."

"Yeah." I watched his lean, firm throat.

"Now, something Lindley Paul touched," he said. "This card will do."

He stood up noiselessly and went across to the Indian and pushed the card inside the fillet against the Indian's forehead, left it there. He sat down again.

He began to mutter softly in a guttural language I didn't know. I watched his throat.

The Indian began to speak. He spoke very slowly and heavily, between motionless lips, as though the words were heavy stones he had to drag up hill in a blazing hot sun.

"Lindley Paul bad man. Make love to squaw of chief. Chief very angry. Chief have necklace stolen, Lindley Paul have to get urn back. Bad man kill. GmT."

The Indian's head jerked as Soukesian clapped his hands. The little lidless black eyes snapped open again. Soukesian looked at me with no expression at all on his handsome face.

"Neat," I said. "And not a darn bit gaudy." I jerked a thumb at the Indian. "He's a bit heavy to sit on your knee, isn't he? I haven't seen a good ventriloquist act since the chorus girls quit wearing tights."

Soukesian smiled very faintly.

"I watched your throat muscles," I said. "No matter. I guess I get the idea. Paul had been cutting corners with somebody's wife. The somebody was jealous enough to have him put away. It has points, as a theory. Because this jade necklace she was wearing wouldn't be worn often and somebody had to know she was wearing it that particular night when the stick-up was pulled off. A husband would know that."

"It is quite possible," Soukesian said. "And since you were not killed perhaps it was not the intent to kill Lindley Paul. Merely to beat him up."

"Yeah," I said. "And here's another idea. I ought to have had it before. If Lindley Paul really did fear somebody and wanted to leave a message, then there might still be something written on those cards-in invisible ink."

That got to him. His smile hung on but it had a little more wrinkle at the corners than at first. The time was short for me to judge that.

The light inside the milky globe suddenly went out. Instantly the room was pitch dark. You couldn't see your own hand. I kicked my stool back and jerked my gun free and started to back away.

A rush of air brought a strong earthy smell with it. It was uncanny. Without the slightest error of timing or space, even in that complete blackness, the Indian hit me from behind and pinned my arms. He started to lift me. I could have jerked a hand up and fanned the room in front of me with blind shots. I didn't try. There wasn't any point in it.

The Indian lifted me with his two hands holding my arms against my sides as though a steam crane was lifting me. He set me down again, hard, and he had my wrists. He had them behind me, twisting them. A knee like the corner of a foundation stone went into my back. I tried to yell. Breath panted in my throat and couldn't get out.

The Indian threw me sideways, wrapped my legs with his legs as we fell, and had me in a barrel. I hit the floor hard, with part of his weight on me.

I still had the gun. The Indian didn't know I had it. At least he didn't act as if he knew. It was jammed down between us. I started to turn it.

The light flicked on again.

Soukesian was standing beyond the white table, leaning on it. He looked older. There was something on his face I didn't like. He looked like a man who had something to do he didn't relish, but was going to do it all the same.

"So," he said softly. "Invisible writing."

Then the curtains swished apart and the thin dark woman rushed into the room with a reeking white cloth in her hands and slapped it around my face, leaning down to glare at me with hot black eyes.

The Indian grunted a little behind me, straining at my arms.

I had to breathe the chloroform. There was too much weight dragging my throat tight. The thick, sweetish reek of it ate into me.

I went away from there.

Just before I went somebody fired a gun twice. The sound didn't seem to have anything to do with me.

I was lying out in the open again, just like the night before. This time it was daylight and the sun was burning a hole in my right leg. I could see the hot blue sky, the lines of a ridge, scrub oak, yuccas in bloom spouting from the side of a hill, more hot blue sky.

I sat up. Then my left leg began to tingle with tiny needle points. I rubbed it. I rubbed the pit of my stomach. The chloroform stank in my nose. I was as hollow and rank as an old oil drum.

I got up on my feet, but didn't stay there. The vomiting was worse than last night. More shakes to it, more chills, and my stomach hurt worse. I got back up on my feet.

The breeze off the ocean lifted up the slope and put a little frail life into me. I staggered around dopily and looked at some tire marks on red clay, then at a big galvanized-iron cross, once white but with the paint flaked off badly. It was studded with empty sockets for light bulbs, and its base was of cracked concrete with an open door, inside which a verdigris-coated copper switch showed.

Beyond this concrete base I saw the feet.

They stuck out casually from under a bush. They were in hard-toed shoes, the kind college boys used to wear about the year before the war. I hadn't seen shoes like that for years, except once.

I went over there and parted the bushes and looked down at the Indian.

His broad, blunt hands lay at his sides, large and empty and limp. There were bits of clay and dead leaf and wild oysterplant seeds in his greasy black hair. A tracery of sunlight skimmed along his brown cheek. On his stomach the flies had found a sodden patch of blood. His eyes were like other eyes I had seen-too many of them-half open, clear, but the play behind them was over.

He had his comic street clothes on again and his greasy hat lay near him, with the sweatband still wrong side out. He wasn't funny any more, or tough, or nasty. He was just a poor simple dead guy who had never known what it was all about.

I had killed him, of course. Those were my shots I had heard, from my gun.

I didn't find the gun. I went through my clothes. The other two Soukesian cards were missing. Nothing else. I followed the tire tracks to a deeply rutted road and followed that down the hill. Cars glittered by far below as the sunlight caught their windshields or the curve of a headlight. There was a service station and a few houses down there too. Farther off still the blue of water, piers, the long curve of the shore line towards Point Firmin. It was a little hazy. I couldn't see Catalina Island.

The people I was dealing with seemed to like operating in that part of the country.

It took me half an hour to reach the service station. I phoned for a taxi and it had to come from Santa Monica. I drove all the way home to my place in the Berglund, three blocks above the office, changed clothes, put my last gun in the holster and sat down to the phone.

Soukesian wasn't home. Nobody answered that number. Carol Pride didn't answer her number. I didn't expect her to. She was probably having tea with Mrs. Philip Courtney Prendergast. But police headquarters answered their number, and Reavis was still on the job. He didn't sound pleased to hear from me.

"Anything new on the Lindley Paul killing?" I asked him.

"I thought I told you to forget it. I meant to." His voice was nasty.

"You told me all right, but it keeps worrying at me. I like a clean job. I think her husband had it done."

He was silent for a moment. Then, "Whose husband, smart boy?"

"The husband of the frail that lost the jade beads, naturally."

"And of course you've had to poke your face into who she is.

"It sort of drifted to me," I said. "I just had to reach out." He was silent again. This time so long that I could hear the loudspeaker on his wall put out a police bulletin on a stolen car.

Then he said very smoothly and distinctly: "I'd like to sell you an idea, shamus. Maybe I can. There's a lot of peace of mind in it. The Police Board gave you a licence once and the sheriff gave you a special badge. Any acting captain with a peeve can get both of them taken away from you overnight. Maybe even just a lieuteuant-like me. Now what did you have when you got that licence and that badge? Don't answer, I'm telling you. You had the social standing of a cockroach. You were a snooper for hire. All in the world you had to do then was to spend your last hundred bucks on a down payment on some rent and office furniture and sit on your tail until somebody brought a lion in-so you could put your head in the lion's mouth to see if he would bite. If he bit your ear off, you got sued for mayhem. Are you beginning to get it?"

"It's a good line," I said,. "I used it years ago. So you don't want to break the case?"

"If I could trust you, I'd tell you we want to break up a very smart jewel gang. But I can't trust you. Where are you-in a poolroom?"

"I'm in bed," I said. "I've got a telephone jag."

"Well, you just fill yourself a nice hot-water bottle and put it on your face and go to sleep like a good little boy, will you please?"

"Naw. I'd rather go out and shoot an Indian, just for practice."

"Well, just one Indian, Junior."

"Don't forget that bite," I yelled, and hung the phone in his face.

 

SIX

LADY IN LIQUOR

I had a drink on the way down to the boulevard, black coffee laced with brandy, in a place where they knew me, It made my stomach feel like new, but I still had the same shopworn head. And I could still smell chloroform in my whiskers.

I went up to the office and into the little reception room. There were two of them this time, Carol Pride and a blonde. A blonde with black eyes. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.

Carol Pride stood up and scowled at me and said: "This is Mrs. Philip Courtney Prendergast. She has been waiting quite some time. And she's not used to being kept waiting. She wants to employ you."

The blonde smiled at me and put a gloved hand out, I touched the hand. She was perhaps thirty-five and she had that wideeyed, dreamy expression, as far as black eyes can have it. Whatever you need, whatever you are-she had it. I didn't pay much attention to her clothes. They were black and white. They were what the guy had put on her and he would know or she wouldn't have gone to him.

I unlocked the door of my private thinking-parlor and ushered them in.

There was a half-empty quart of hooch standing on the corner of my desk.

"Excuse me for keeping you waiting, Mrs. Prendergast," I said. "I had to go out on a little business."

"I don't see why you had to go out," Carol Pride said icily. "There seems to be all you can use right in front of you."

I placed chairs for them and sat down and reached for the bottle and the phone rang at my left elbow.

A strange voice took its time saying: "Dalmas? Okay. We have the gat. I guess you'll want it back, won't you?"

"Both of them. I'm a poor man."

"We only got one," the voice said smoothly. "The one the johns would like to have. I'll be calling you later. Think things over."

"Thanks." I hung up and put the bottle down on the floor and smiled at Mrs. Prendergast.

"I'll do the talking," Carol Pride said. "Mrs. Prendergast has a slight cold. She has to save her voice."

She gave the blonde one of those sidelong looks that women think men don't understand, the kind that feel like a dentist's drill.

"Well-" Mrs. Prendergast said, and moved a little so that she could see along the end of the desk, where I had put the whisky bottle down on the carpet.

"Mrs. Prendergast has taken me into her confidence," Carol Pride said. "I don't know why, unless it is that I have shown her where a lot of unpleasant notoriety can be avoided."

I frowned at her. "There isn't going to be any of that. I talked to Reavis a while ago. He has a hush on it that would make a dynamite explosion sound like a pawnbroker looking at a dollar watch."

"Very funny," Carol Pride said, "for people who dabble in that sort of wit. But it just happens Mrs. Prendergast would like to get her jade necklace back-without Mr. Prendergast knowing it was stolen. It seems he doesn't know yet."

"That's different," I said. (The hell he didn't know!)

Mrs. Prendergast gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket. "I just love straight rye," she cooed. "Could we-just a little one?"

I got out a couple of pony glasses and put the bottle up on the desk again. Carol Pride leaned back and lit a cigarette contemptuously and looked at the ceiling. She wasn't so hard to look at herself. You could look at her longer without getting dizzy. But Mrs. Prendergast had it all over her for a quick smash.

I poured a couple of drinks for the ladies. Carol Pride didn't touch hers at all.

"In case you don't know," she said distantly, "Beverly Hills, where Mrs. Prendergast lives, is peculiar in some ways. They have two-way radio cars and only a small territory to cover and they cover it like a blanket, because there's plenty of money for police protection in Beverly Hills. In the better homes they even have direct communication with headquarters, over wires that can't be cut."

Mrs. Prendergast put her drink to sleep with one punch and looked at the bottle. I milked it again.

"That's nothing," she glowed. "We even have photo-cell connections on our safes and fur closets. We can fix the house so that even the servants can't go near certain places without police knocking at the door in about thirty seconds. Marvelous, isn't it?"

"Yes, marvelous," Carol Pride said. "But that's only in Beverly Hills. Once outside-and you can't spend your entire life in Beverly Hills-that is, unless you're an ant-your jewels are not so safe. So Mrs. Prendergast had a duplicate of her jade necklace-in soapstone."

I sat up straighter. Lindley Paul had let something drop about it taking a lifetime to duplicate the workmanship on Fei Tsui beads-even if material were available.

Mrs. Prendergast fiddled with her second drink, but not for long. Her smile got warmer and warmer.

"So when she went to a party outside Beverly Hills, Mrs. Prendergast was supposed to wear the imitation. That is, when she wanted to wear jade at all. Mr. Prendergast was very particular about that."

"And he has a lousy temper," Mrs. Prendergast said.

I put some more rye under her hand. Carol Pride watched me do it and almost snarled at me: "But on the night of the holdup she made a mistake and was wearing the real one."

I leered at her.

"I know what you're thinking," she snapped. "Who knew she had made that mistake? It happened that Mr. Paul knew it, soon after they left the house. He was her escort."

"He-er-touched the necklace a little," Mrs. Prendergast sighed. "He could tell real jade by the feel of it. I've heard some people can. He knew a lot about jewels."

I leaned back again in my squeaky chair, "Hell," I said disgustedly, "I ought to have suspected that guy long ago. The gang had to have a society finger. How else could they tell when the good things were out of the icebox? He must have pulled a cross on them and they used this chance to put him away."

"Rather wasteful of such a talent, don't you think?" Carol Pride said sweetly. She pushed her little glass along the desk top with one finger. "I don't really care for this, Mrs. Prendergast-if you'd like another-"

"Moths in your ermine," Mrs. Prendergast said, and threw it down the hatch.

"Where and how was the stick-up?" I rapped.

"Well, that seems a little funny too," Carol Pride said, beating Mrs. Prendergast by half a word. "After the party, which was in Brentwood Heights, Mr. Paul wanted to drop in at the Trocadero. They were in his car. At that time they were widening Sunset Boulevard all through the County Strip, if you remember. After they had killed a little time at the Troc-"

"And a few snifters," Mrs. Prendergast giggled, reaching for the bottle. She refilled one of her glasses. That is, some of the whisky went into the glass.

"-Mr. Paul drove her home by way of Santa Monica Boulevard."

"That was the natural way to go," I said. "Almost the only way to go unless you wanted a lot of dust."

"Yes, but it also took them past a certain down-at-the-heels hotel called the Tremaine and a beer parlor across the street from it. Mrs. Prendergast noticed a car pull away from in front of the beer parlor and follow them. She's pretty sure it was that same car that crowded them to the curb a little later- and the holdup men knew just what they wanted. Mrs. Prendergast remembers all this very well."

"Well, naturally," Mrs. Prendergast said. "You don't mean I was drunk, I hope. This baby carries her hooch. You don't lose a string of beads like that every night."

She put her fifth drink down her throat.

"I wouldn't know a darn thing about wha-what those men looked like," she told me a little thickly. "Lin-tha's Mr. Paul-I called him Lin, y'know, felt kinda bad about it. That's why he stuck his neck out."

"It was your money-the ten thousand for the pay-off?" I asked her.

"It wasn't the butler's, honey. And I want those beads back before Court gets wise. How about lookin' over that beer parlor?"

She grabbled around in her black and white bag and pushed some bills across the desk in a lump. I straightened them out and counted them. They added to four hundred and sixty-seven dollars. Nice money. I let them lie.

"Mr. Prendergast," Carol Pride ploughed on sweetly, "whom Mrs. Prendergast calls 'Court,' thinks the imitation necklace was taken. He can't tell one from the other, it seems. He doesn't know anything about last night except that Lindley Paul was killed by some bandits."

"The hell he doesn't." I said it out loud this time, and sourly. I pushed the money back across the desk. "I believe you think you're being blackmailed, Mrs. Prendergast. You're wrong. I think the reason this story hasn't broken in the press the way it happened is because pressure has been brought on the police. They'd be willing anyhow, because what they want is the jewel gang. The punks that killed Paul are dead already."

Mrs. Prendergast stared at me with a hard, bright, alcoholic stare. "I hadn't the slightest idea of bein' blackmailed," she said. She was having trouble with her s's now. "I want my beads and I want them quick. It's not a question of money. Not 'tall. Gimme a drink."

"It's in front of you," I said. She could drink herself under the desk for all I cared.

Carol Pride said: "Don't you think you ought to go out to that beer parlor and see what you can pick up?"

"A piece of chewed pretzel," I said. "Nuts to that idea."

The blonde was waving the bottle over her two glasses. She got herself a drink poured finally, drank it, and pushed the handful of currency around on the desk with a free and easy gesture, like a kid playing with sand.

I took it away from her, put it together again and went around the desk to put it back into her bag.

"If I do anything, I'll let you know," I told her. "I don't need a retainer from you, Mrs. Prendergast."

She liked that. She almost took another drink, thought better of it with what she still had to think with, got to her feet and started for the door.

I got to her in time to keep her from opening it with her nose. I held her arm and opened the door for her and there was a uniformed chauffeur leaning against the wall outside.

"Oke," he said listlessly, snapped a cigarette into the distance and took hold of her. "Let's go, baby. I ought to paddle your behind. Damned if I oughtn't."

She giggled and held on to him and they went down the corridor and turned a corner out of sight. I went back into the office and sat down behind my desk and looked at Carol Pride. She was mopping the desk with a dustcloth she had found somewhere.

"You and your office bottle," she said bitterly. Her eyes hated me.

"To hell with her," I said angrily. "I wouldn't trust her with my old socks. I hope she gets raped on the way home. To hell with her beer-parlor angle too."

"Her morals are neither here nor there, Mr. John Dalmas. She has pots of money and she's not tight with it. I've seen her husband and he's nothing but a beanstalk with a checkbook that never runs dry. If any fixing has been done, she has done it herself. She told me she's suspected for some time that Paul was a Raffles. She didn't care as long as he let her alone."

"This Prendergast is a prune, huh? He would be, of course."

"Tall, thin, yellow. Looks as if his first drink of milk soured on his stomach and he could still taste it."

"Paul didn't steal her necklace."

"No?"

"No. And she didn't have any duplicate of it."

Her eyes got narrower and darker. "I suppose Soukesian the Psychic told you all this."

"Who's he?"

She leaned forward a moment and then leaned back and pulled her bag tight against her side.

"I see," she said slowly. "You don't like my work. Excuse me for butting in. I thought I was helping you a little."

"I told you it was none of my business. Go on home and write yourself a feature article. I don't need any help."

"I thought we were friends," she said. "I thought you liked me." She stared at me for a minute with bleak, tired eyes.

"I've got a living to make. I don't make it bucking the police department."

She stood up and looked at me a moment longer without speaking. Then she went to the door and went out. I heard her steps die along the mosaic floor of the corridor.

I sat there for ten or fifteen minutes almost without moving. I tried to guess why Soukesian hadn't killed me. None of it made any sense. I went down to the parking lot and got into my car.

 

SEVEN

I CROSS THE BAR

The Hotel Tremaine was far out of Santa Monica, near the junk yards. An interurban right-of-way split the street in half, and just as I got to the block that would have the number I had looked up, a two-car train came racketing by at forty-five miles an hour, making almost as much noise as a transport plane taking off. I speeded up beside it and passed the block, pulled into the cement space in front of a market that had gone out of business. I got out and looked back from the corner of the wall.

I could see the Hotel Tremaine's sign over a narrow door between two store fronts, both empty-an old two-story walkup. Its woodwork would smell of kerosene, its shades would be cracked, its curtains would be a sleazy cotton lace and its bedsprings would stick into your back. I knew all about places like the Hotel Tremaine, I had slept in them, staked out in them, fought with bitter, scrawny landladies in them, got shot at in them, and might yet get carried out of one of them to the morgue wagon. They are flops where you find the cheap ones, the sniffers and pin-jabbers, the gowed-up runts who shoot you before you can say hello.

The beer parlor was on my side of the street. I went back to the Chrysler and got inside it while I moved my gun to my waistband, then I went along the sidewalk.

There was a red neon sign-BEER-over it. A wide pulleddown shade masked the front window, contrary to the law. The place was just a made-over store, half-frontage. I openedthe door and went in.

The barman was playing the pin game on the house's money and a man sat on a stool with a brown hat on the back of his head reading a letter. Prices were scrawled in white on the mirror back of the bar.

The bar was just a plain, heavy wooden counter, and at each end of it hung an old frontier .44 in a flimsy cheap holster no gunfighter would ever have worn. There were printed cards on the walls, about not asking for credit and what to take for a hangover and a liquor breath, and there were some nice legs in photographs.

The place didn't look as if it even paid expenses.

The barkeep left the pin game and went behind the bar. He was fiftyish, sour. The bottoms of his trousers were frayed and he moved as if he had corns. The man on the stool kept right on chuckling over his letter, which was written in green ink on pink paper.

The barkeep put both his blotched hands on the bar and looked at me with the expression of a dead-pan comedian, and I said: "Beer."

He drew it slowly, raking the glass with an old dinner knife.

I sipped my beer and held my glass with my left hand. After a while I said: "Seen Lou Lid lately?" This seemed to be in order. There had been nothing in any paper I had seen about Lou Lid and Fuente the Mex.

The barkeep looked at me blankly. The skin over his eyes was grained like lizard skin. Finally he spoke in a husky whisper. "Don't know him."

There was a thick white scar on his throat. A knife had gone in there once which accounted for the husky whisper.

The man who was reading the letter guffawed suddenly and slapped his thigh. "I gotta tell this to Moose," he roared. "This is right from the bottom of the bucket."

He got down off his stool and ambled over to a door in the rear wall and went through it. He was a husky dark man who looked like anybody. The door shut behind him.

The barkeep said in his husky whisper: "Lou Lid, huh? Funny moniker. Lots a guys come in here. I dunno their names. Copper?"

"Private," I said. "Don't let it bother you. I'm just drinking beer. This Lou Lid was a shine. Light brown. Young."

"Well, maybe I seen him sometime. I don't recall."

"Who's Moose?"

"Him? That's the boss. Moose Magoon."

He dipped a thick towel down in a bucket and folded it and wrung it out and pushed it along the bar holding it by the ends. That made a club about two inches thick and eighteen inches long. You can knock a man into the next county with a club like that if you know how.

The man with the pink letter came back through the rear door, still chuckling, shoved the letter into his side pocket and strolled to the pin game. That put him behind me. I began to get a little worried.

I finished my beer quickly and stood down off the stool. The barkeep hadn't rung up my dime yet. He held his twisted towel and moved it back and forth slowly.

"Nice beer," I said. "Thanks all the same."

"Come again," he whispered, and knocked my glass over.

That took my eyes for a second. When I looked up again the door at the back was open and a big man stood in it with a big gun in his hand.

He didn't say anything. He just stood there. The gun looked at me. It looked like a tunnel. The man was very broad, very swarthy. He had a build like a wrestler. He looked plenty tough. He didn't look as if his real name was Magoon.

Nobody said anything. The barkeep and the man with the big gun just stared at me fixedly. Then I heard a train coming on the interurban tracks. Coming fast and coming noisy. That would be the time. The shade was down all across the front window and nobody could see into the place. The train would make a lot of noise as it went by. A couple of shots would be lost in it.

The noise of the approaching train got louder. I had to move before it got quite loud enough.

I went head first over the bar in a rolling dive.

Something banged faintly against the roar of the train and something rattled overhead, seemingly on the wall. I never knew what it was. The train went on by in a booming crescendo.

I hit the barkeep's legs and the dirty floor about the same moment. He sat down on my neck.

That put my nose in a puddle of stale beer and one of my ears into some very hard concrete floor. My head began to howl with pain. I was low down along a sort of duckboard behind the bar and half turned on my left side. I jerked the gun loose from my waistband. For a wonder it hadn't slipped and jammed itself down my trouser leg.

The barkeep made a kind of annoyed sound and something hot stung me and I didn't hear any more shots just at the moment. I didn't shoot the barkeep. I rammed the gun muzzle into a part of him where some people are sensitive. He was one of them.

He went up off me like a foul fly. If he didn't yell it was not for want of trying. I rolled a little more and put the gun in the seat of his pants. "Hold it!" I snarled at him. "I don't want to get vulgar with you."

Two more shots roared. The train was off in the distance, but somebody didn't care. These cut through wood. The bar was old and solid but not solid enough to stop .45 slugs. The barkeep sighed above me. Something hot and wet fell on my face. "You've shot me, boys," he whispered, and started to fall down on top of me.

I wriggled away just in time, got to the end of the bar nearest the front of the beer parlor and looked around it. A face with a brown hat over it was about nine inches from my own face, on the same level.

We looked at each other for a fraction of a second that seemed long enough for a tree to grow to maturity in, but was actually so short a time that the barkeep was still foundering in the air behind me.

This was my last gun. Nobody was going to get it. I got it up before the man I was facing had even reacted to the situation. He didn't do anything. He just slid off to one side and as he slid a thick gulp of red came out of his mouth.

I heard this shot. It was so loud it was like the end of the world, so loud that I almost didn't hear the door slam towards the back. I crawled farther around the end of the bar, knocked somebody's gun along the floor peevishly, stuck my hat around the corner of the wood. Nobody shot at it. I stuck one eye and part of my face out.

The door at the back was shut and the space in front of it was empty. I got up on my knees and listened. Another door slammed, and a car motor roared.

I went crazy. I tore across the room, threw the door open and plunged through it. It was a phony. They had slammed the door and started the car just for a come-on, I saw that the flailing arm held a bottle.

For the third time in twenty-four hours I took the count.

I came out of this one yelling, with the harsh bite of ammonia in my nose. I swung at a face. But I didn't have anything to swing with. My arms were a couple of four-ton anchors. I threshed around and groaned.

The face in front of me materialized into the bored yet attentive pan of a man with a white coat, a fast-wagon medico.

"Like it?" he grinned. "Some people used to drink it-with a wine-tonic chaser."

He pulled at me and something nipped at my shoulder and a needle stung me. -

"Light shot," he said. "That head of yours is pretty bad. You won't go out."

His face went away. I prowled my eyes. Beyond there was a vagueness. Then I saw a girl's face, hushed, sharp, attentive. Carol Pride.

"Yeah," I said. "You followed me. You would."

She smiled and moved. Then her fingers were stroking my cheek and I couldn't see her.

"The prowl-car boys just made it," she said. "The crooks had you all wrapped up in a carpet-for shipment in a truck out back."

I couldn't see very well. A big red-faced man in blue slid in front of me. He had a gun in his hand with the gate open. Somebody groaned somewhere in the background.

She said: "They had two others wrapped up. But they were dead. Ugh!"

"Go on home," I grumbled woozily. "Go write yourself a feature story."

"You used that one before, sap." She went on stroking my cheek. "I thought you made them up as you went along. Drowsy?"

"That's all taken care of," a voice said sharply. "Get this shot guy down to where you can work on him. I want him to live."

Reavis came towards me as out of a mist. His face formed itself slowly, gray, attentive, rather stern. It lowered, as if he sat down in front of me, close to me.

"So you had to play it smart," he said in a sharp, edgy voice. "All right, talk. The hell with how your head feels. You asked for it and you got it."

"Gimme a drink."

Vague motion, a flicker of bright light, the lip of a flask touched my mouth. Hot strength ran down my throat. Some of it ran cold on my chin and I moved my head away from the flask.

"Thanks. Get Magoon-the biggest one?"

"He's full of lead, but still turning over. On his way down town now."

"Get the Indian?"

"Huh?" he gulped.

"In some bushes under Peace Cross down on the Palisades. I shot him. I didn't mean to."

"Holy-"

Reavis went away again and the fingers moved slowly and rhythmically on my cheek.

Reavis came back and sat down again. "Who's the Indian?" he snapped.

"Soukesian's strong-arm man. Soukesian the Psychic. He-"

"We know about him," Reavis interrupted bitterly. "You've been out a whole hour, shamus. The lady told us about those cards. She says it's her fault but I don't believe it. Screwy anyhow. But a couple of the boys have gone out there."

"I was there," I said. "At his house. He knows something. I don't know what. He was afraid of me-yet he didn't knock me off. Funny."

"Amateur," Reavis said dryly. "He left that for Moose Magoon. Moose Magoon was tough-up till lately. A record from here to Pittsburgh. . . . Here. But take it easy. This is ante mortem confession liquor. Too damn good for you."

The flask touched my lips again.

"Listen," I said thickly. "This was the stick-up squad. Soukesian was the brains. Lindley Paul was the finger. He must have crossed them on something-"

Reavis said, "Nuts," and just then a phone rang distantly and a voice said: "You, Lieutenant."

Reavis went away. When he came back again he didn't sit down.

"Maybe you're right," he said softly. "Maybe you are, at that. In a house on top of a hill in Brentwood Heights there's a golden-haired guy dead in a chair with a woman crying over him. Dutch act. There's a jade necklace on a table beside him."

"Too much death," I said, and fainted.

I woke up in an ambulance. At first I thought I was alone in it. Then I felt her hand and knew I wasn't. I was stone blind now. I couldn't even see light. It was just bandages.

"The doctor's up front with the driver," she said. "You can hold my hand. Would you like me to kiss you?"

"If it doesn't obligate me to anything."

She laughed softly. "I guess you'll live," she said. She kissed me. "Your hair smells of Scotch. Do you take baths in it? The doctor said you weren't to talk."

"They beaned me with a full bottle. Did I tell Reavis about the Indian?"

"Yes."

"Did I tell him Mrs. Prendergast thought Paul was mixed up-"

"You didn't even mention Mrs. Prendergast," she said quickly.

I didn't say anything to that. After a while she said: "This Soukesian, did he look like a lady's man?"

"The doctor said I wasn't to talk," I said.

 

EIGHT

POISON BLONDE

It was a couple of weeks later that I drove down to Santa Monica. Ten days of the time I had spent in the hospital, at my own expense, getting over a bad concussion. Moose Magoon was in the prison ward at the County Hospital about the same time, while they picked seven or eight police slugs out of him. At the end of that time they buried him.

The case was pretty well buried by this time, too. The papers had had their play with it and other things had come along and after all it was just a jewel racket that went sour from too much double-crossing. So the police said, and they ought to know. They didn't find any more jewels, but they didn't expect to. They figured the gang pulled just one job at a time, with coolie labor mostly, and sent them on their way with their cut. That way only three people really knew what it was all about: Moose Magoon, who turned out to be an Armenian; Soukesian, who used his connections to find out who had the right kind of jewels; and Lindley Paul, who fingered the jobs and tipped the gang off when to strike. Or so the police said, and they ought to know.

It was a nice warm afternoon. Carol Pride lived on Twentyfifth Street, in a neat little red brick house trimmed with white with a hedge in front of it.

Her living room had a tan figured rug, white-and-rose chairs, a black marble fireplace with tall brass andirons, very high bookcases built back into the walls, rough cream-colored drapes against shades of the same color.

There was nothing womanish in it except a full-length mirror with a clear sweep of floor in front.

I sat down in a nice soft chair and rested what was left of my head and sipped Scotch and soda while I looked at her fluffed-out brown hair above a high-collar dress that made her face look small, almost childish.

"I bet you didn't get all this writing," I said.

"And my dad didn't get it grafting on the cops either," she snapped. "We had a few lots at Playa Del Rey, if you have to know."

"A little oil," I said. "Nice. I didn't have to know. Don't start snapping at me."

"Have you still got your licence?"

"Oh, yes," I said. "Well, this is nice Scotch. You wouldn't like to go riding in an old car, would you?"

"Who am Ito sneer at an old car?" she asked. "The laundry must have put too much starch in your neck."

I grinned at the thin line between her eyebrows.

"I kissed you in that ambulance," she said. "If you remember, don't take it too big. I was just sorry for the way you got your head bashed in."

"I'm a career man," I said. "I wouldn't build on anything like that. Let's go riding. I have to see a blonde in Beverly Hills. I owe her a report."

She stood up and glared at me. "Oh, the Prendergast woman," she said nastily. "The one with the hollow wooden legs."

"They may be hollow," I said.

She flushed and tore out of the room and came back in what seemed about three seconds with a funny little octagonal hat that had a red button on it, and a plaid overcoat with a suede collar and cuffs. "Let's go," she said breathlessly.

The Philip Courtney Prendergasts lived on one of those wide, curving streets where the houses seem to be too close together for their size and the amount of money they represent. A Jap gardener was manicuring a few acres of soft green lawn with the usual contemptuous expression Jap gardeners have. The house had an English slate roof and a porte-cochere, some nice imported trees, a trellis with bougainvillaea. It was a nice place and not loud. But Beverly Hills is Beverly Hills, so the butler had a wing collar and an accent like Alan Mowbray.

He ushered us through zones of silence into a room that was empty at the moment. It had large chesterfields and lounging chairs done in pale yellow leather and arranged around a fireplace, in front of which, on the glossy but not slippery floor, lay a rug as thin as silk and as old as Aesop's aunt. A jet of flowers in the corner, another jet on a low table, walls of dully painted parchment, silence, comfort, space, coziness, a dash of the very modern and a dash of the very old. A very swell room.

Carol Pride sniffed at it.

The butler swung half of a leather-covered door and Mrs. Prendergast came in. Pale blue, with a hat and bag to match, all ready to go out. Pale blue gloves slapping lightly at a pale blue thigh. A smile, hints of depths in the black eyes, a high color, and even before she spoke a nice edge.

She flung both her hands out at us. Carol Pride managed to miss her share. I squeezed mine.

"Gorgeous of you to come," she cried. "How nice to see you both again. I can still taste that whisky you had in your office. Terrible, wasn't it?"

We all sat down.

I said: "I didn't really need to take up your time by coming in person, Mrs. Prendergast. Everything turned out all right and you got your beads back."

"Yes. That strange man. How curious of him to be what he was. I knew him too. Did you know that?"

"Soukesian? I thought perhaps you knew him," I said.

"Oh, yes. Quite well. I must owe you a lot of money. And your poor head. How is it?"

Carol Pride was sitting close to me.

She said tinnily, between her teeth, almost to herself, but not quite: "Sawdust and creosote. Even at that the termites are getting her."

I smiled at Mrs. Prendergast and she returned my smile with an angel on its back.

"You don't owe me a nickel," I said. "There was just one thing-"

"Impossible. I must. But let's have a little Scotch, shall we?" She held her bag on her knees, pressed something under the chair, said: "A little Scotch and soda, Vernon." She beamed. "Cute, eh? You can't even see the mike. This house is just full of little things like that. Mr. Prendergast loves them. This one talks in the butler's pantry."

Carol Pride said: "I bet the one that talks by the chauffeur's bed is cute too."

Mrs. Prendergast didn't hear her. The butler came in with a tray and mixed drinks, handed them around and went out.

Over the rim of her glass Mrs. Prendergast said: "You were nice not to tell the police I suspected Lin Paul of being-well, you know. Or that I had anything to do with your going to that awful beer parlor. By the way, how did you explain that?"

"Easy. I told them Paul told me himself. He was with you, remember?"

"But he didn't, of course?" I thought her eyes were a little sly now.

"He told me practically nothing. That was the whole truth. And of course he didn't tell me he'd been blackmailing you."

I seemed to be aware that Carol Pride had stopped breathing. Mrs. Prendergast went on looking at me over the rim of her glass. Her face had, for a brief moment, a sort of half-silly, nymph-surprised-while-bathing expression. Then she put her glass down slowly and opened her bag in her lap and got a handkerchief out and bit it. There was silence.

"That," she said in a low voice, "is rather fantastic, isn't it?"

I grinned at her coldly. "The police are a lot like the newspapers, Mrs. Prendergast. For one reason and another they can't use everything they get. But that doesn't make them dumb. Reavis isn't dumb. He doesn't really think, any more than I do, that this Soukesian person was really running a tough jewel-heist gang. He couldn't have handled people like Moose Magoon for five minutes. They'd have walked all over his face just for exercise. Yet Soukesian did have the necklace. That needs explaining. I think he bought it-from Moose Magoon. For the ten-grand pay-off supplied by you-and for some other little consideration likely paid in advance to get Moose to pull the job."

Mrs. Prendergast lowered her lids until her eyes were almost shut, then she lifted them again and smiled. It was a rather ghastly smile. Carol Pride didn't move beside me.

"Somebody wanted Lindley Paul killed," I said. 'That's obvious. You might kill a man accidentally with a blackjack, by not knowing how hard to hit with it. But you won't put his brains all over his face. And if you beat him up just to teach him to be good, you wouldn't beat him about the head at all. Because that way he wouldn't know how badly you were hurting him. And you'd want him to know that-if you were just teaching him a lesson."

"Wha-what," the blonde woman asked huskily, "has all this to do with me?"

Her face was a mask. Her eyes held a warm bitterness like poisoned honey. One of her hands was roving around inside her bag. It became quiet, inside the bag.

"Moose Magoon would pull a job like that," I bored on, "if he was paid for it. He'd pull any kind of a job. And Moose was an Armenian, so Soukesian might have known how to reach him. And Soukesian was just the type to go skirt-simple over a roto queen and be willing to do anything she wanted him to do, even have a man killed, especially if that man was a rival, especially if he was the kind of man who rolled around on floor cushions and maybe even took candid camera photos of his lady friends when they got a little too close to the Garden of Eden. That wouldn't be too hard to understand, would it, Mrs. Prendergast?"

"Take a drink," Carol Pride said icily. "You're drooling. You don't have to tell this baby she's a tramp. She knows it. But how the hell could anybody blackmail her? You've got to have a reputation to be blackmailed."

"Shut up!" I snapped. "The less you've got the more you'll pay to keep it." I watched the blond woman's hand move suddenly inside her bag. "Don't bother to pull the gun," I told her. "I know they won't hang you. I just wanted you to know you're not kidding anybody and that that trap in the beer parlor was rigged to finish me off when Soukesian lost his nerve and that you were the one that sent me in there to get what they had for me. The rest of it's dead wood now."

But she pulled the gun out just the same and held it on her pale blue knee and smiled at me.

Carol Pride threw a glass at her. She dodged and the gun went off. A slug went softly and politely into the parchmentcovered wall, high up, making no more sound than a finger going into a glove.

The door opened and an enormously tall, thin man strolled into the room.

"Shoot me," he said. "I'm only your husband."

The blonde looked at him. For just a short moment I thought she might be going to take him up on it.

Then she just smiled a little more and put the gun back into her bag and reached for her glass. "Listening in again?" she said dully. "Someday you'll hear something you won't like."

The tall, thin man took a leather checkbook out of his pocket and cocked an eyebrow at me and said: "How much will keep you quiet-permanently?"

I gawked at him. "You heard what I said in here?"

"I think so. The pickup's pretty good this weather. I believe you were accusing my wife of having something to do with somebody's death, was it not?"

I kept on gawking at him.

"Well-how much do you want?" he snapped. "I won't argue with you. I'm used to blackmailers."

"Make it a million," I said. "And she just took a shot at us. That will be four bits extra."

The blonde laughed crazily and the laugh turned into a screech and then into a yell. The next thing she was rolling on the floor screaming and kicking her legs around.

The tall man went over to her quickly and bent down and hit her in the face with his open hand. You could have heard that smack a mile. When he straightened up again his face was a dusky red and the blonde was lying there sobbing.

"I'll show you to the door," he said. "You can call at my office tomorrow."

"What for?" I asked, and took my hat. "You'll still be a sap, even at your office."

I took Carol Pride's arm and steered her out of the room. We left the house silently. The Jap gardener had just pulled a bit of weed root out of the lawn and was holding it up and sneering at it.

We drove away from there, towards the foothills. A red spotlight near the old Beverly Hills Hotel stopped me after a while. I just sat there holding the wheel. The girl beside me didn't move either. She didn't say anything. She just looked straight ahead.

"I didn't get the big warm feeling," I said. "I didn't get to smack anybody down. I didn't make it stick."

"She probably didn't plan it in cold blood," she whispered. "She just got mad and resentful and somebody sold her an idea. A woman like that takes men and gets tired of them and throws them away and they go crazy trying to get her back. It might have been just between the two lovers-Paul and Soukesian. But Mr. Magoon played rough."

"She sent me to that beer parlor," I said. "That's enough for me. And Paul had ideas about Soukesian. I knew she'd miss. With the gun, I mean."

I grabbed her. She was shivering.

A car came up behind us and the driver stood on his horn. I listened to it for a little while, then I let go of Carol Pride and got out of the roadster and walked back. He was a big man, behind the wheel of a sedan.

"That's a boulevard stop," he said sharply. "Lover's Lane is farther up in the hills. Get out of there before I push you out."

"Blow your horn just once more," I begged him. "Just once. Then tell me which side you want the shiner on."

He took a police captain's badge out of his vest pocket. Then he grinned. Then we both grinned. It wasn't my day.

I got back into the roadster and turned it around and started back towards Santa Monica. "Let's go home and drink some more Scotch," I said. "Your Scotch."

 


© Aerius, 2004