Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 4

“Maybe he’s a parole breaker,” I said. “You’d get some co-operation on that. But pick him up nice or he’ll knock off a brace of prowlies for you. Then you’ll get space.”

“And I wouldn’t have the case no more neither,” Nulty sneered.

The phone rang on his desk. He listened to it and smiled sorrowfully. He hung up and scribbled on a pad and there was a faint gleam in his eyes, a light far back in a dusty corridor.

“Hell, they got him. That was Records. Got his prints, mug and everything. Jesus, that’s a little something anyway.” He read from his pad. “Jesus, this is a man. Six five and one-half, two hundred sixty-four pounds, without his necktie. Jesus, that’s a boy. Well, the hell with him. They got him on the air now. Probably at the end of the hot car list. Ain’t nothing to do but just wait.” He threw his cigar into a spittoon.

“Try looking for the girl,” I said. “Velma. Malloy will be looking for her. That’s what started it all. Try Velma.”

“You try her,” Nulty said. “I ain’t been in a joy house in twenty years.”

I stood up. “Okey,” I said, and started for the door.

“Hey, wait a minute,” Nulty said. “I was only kidding. You ain’t awful busy, are you?”

I rolled a cigarette around in my fingers and looked at him and waited by the door.

“I mean you got time to sort of take a gander around for this dame. That’s a good idea you had there. You might pick something up. You can work under glass.”

“What’s in it for me?”

He spread his yellow hands sadly. His smile was cunning as a broken mousetrap. “You been in jams with us boys before. Don’t tell me no. I heard different. Next time it ain’t doing you any harm to have a pal.”

“What good is it gomg to do me?”

“Listen,” Nulty urged. “I’m just a quiet guy. But any guy in the department can do you a lot of good.”

“Is this for love — or are you paying anything in money?”

“No money,” Nulty said, and wrinkled his sad yellow nose. “But I’m needing a little credit bad. Since the last shake-up, things is really tough. I wouldn’t forget it, pal. Not ever.”

I looked at my watch. “Okey, if I think of anything, it’s yours. And when you get the mug, I’ll identify it for you. After lunch.” We shook hands and I went down the mud-colored hall and stairway to the front of the building and my car.

It was two hours since Moose Malloy had left Florian’s with the Army Colt in his hand. I ate lunch at a drugstore, bought a pint of bourbon, and drove eastward to Central Avenue and north on Central again. The hunch I had was as vague as the heat waves that danced above the sidewalk.

Nothing made it my business except curiosity. But strictly speaking, I hadn’t had any business in a month. Even a no-charge job was a change.


Florian’s was closed up, of course. An obvious plainclothesman sat in front of it in a car, reading a paper with one eye. I didn’t know why they bothered. Nobody there knew anything about Moose Malloy. The bouncer and the barman had not been found. Nobody on the block knew anything about them, for talking purposes.

I drove past slowly and parked around the corner and sat looking at a Negro hotel which was diagonally across the block from Florian’s and beyond the nearest intersection. It was called the Hotel Sans Souci. I got out and walked back across the intersection and went into it. Two rows of hard empty chairs stared at each other across a strip of tan fiber carpet. A desk was back in the dimness and behind the desk a baldheaded man had his eyes shut and his soft brown hands clasped peacefully on the desk in front of him. He dozed, or appeared to. He wore an Ascot tie that looked as if it had been tied about the year 1880. The green stone in his stickpin was not quite as large as an apple. His large loose chin was folded down gently on the tie, and his folded hands were peaceful and clean, with manicured nails, and gray halfmoons in the purple of the nails.

A metal embossed sign at his elbow said: “This Hotel is Under the Protection of The International Consolidated Agencies, Ltd. Inc.”

When the peaceful brown man opened one eye at me thoughtfully I pointed at the sign.

“H.P.D. man checking up. Any trouble here?”

H.P.D. means Hotel Protective Department, which is the department of a large agency that looks after check bouncers and people who move out by the back stairs leaving unpaid bills and second-hand suitcases full of bricks.

“Trouble, brother,” the clerk said in a high sonorous voice, “is something we is fresh out of.” He lowered his voice four or five notches and added “What was the name again?”

“Marlowe Philip Marlowe — “

“A nice name, brother. Clean and cheerful. You’re looking right well today.” He lowered his voice again. “But you ain’t no H.P.D. man. Ain’t seen one in years.” He unrolled his hands and pointed languidly at the sign. “I acquired that second-hand, brother, just for the effect.”

“Okey,” I said. I leaned on the counter and started to spin a half dollar on the bare, scarred wood of the counter.

“Heard what happened over at Florian’s this morning?”

“Brother, I forgit.” Both his eyes were open now and he was watching the blur of light made by the spinning coin.

“The boss got bumped off,” I said. “Man named Montgomery. Somebody broke his neck.”

“May the Lawd receive his soul, brother.” Down went the voice again. “Cop?”

“Private — on a confidential lay. And I know a man who can keep things confidential when I see one.”

He studied me, then closed his eyes and thought. He reopened them cautiously and stared at the spinning coin. He couldn’t resist looking at it.

“Who done it?” he asked softly. “Who fixed Sam?”

“A tough guy out of the jailhouse got sore because it wasn’t a white joint. It used to be, it seems. Maybe you remember?”

He said nothing. The coin fell over with a light ringing whirr and lay still.

“Call your play,” I said. “I’ll read you a chapter of the Bible or buy you a drink. Say which.”

“Brother, I kind of like to read my Bible in the seclusion of my family.” His eyes were bright, toadlike, steady.

“Maybe you’ve just had lunch,” I said.

“Lunch,” he said, “is something a man of my shape and disposition aims to do without.” Down went the voice. “Come ‘round this here side of the desk.”

I went around and drew the flat pint of bonded bourbon out of my pocket and put it on the shelf. I went back to the front of the desk. He bent over and examined it. He looked satisfied.

“Brother, this don’t buy you nothing at all,” he said. “But I is pleased to take a light snifter in your company.”

He opened the bottle, put two small glasses on the desk and quietly poured each full to the brim. He lifted one, sniffed it carefully, and poured it down his throat with his little finger lifted.

He tasted it, thought about it, nodded and said: “This come out of the correct bottle, brother. In what manner can I be of service to you? There ain’t a crack in the sidewalk ‘round here I don’t know by its first name. Yessuh, this liquor has been keepin’ the right company.” He refilled his glass.

I told him what had happened at Florian’s and why. He started at me solemnly and shook his bald head.

“A nice quiet place Sam run too,” he said. “Ain’t nobody been knifed there in a month.”

“When Florian’s was a white joint some six or eight years ago or less, what was the name of it?”

“Electric signs come kind of high, brother.”

I nodded. “I thought it might have had the same name. Malloy would probably have said something if the name had been changed. But who ran it?”

“I’m a mite surprised at you, brother. The name of that pore sinner was Florian. Mike Florian — “

“And what happened to Mike Florian?”

The Negro spread his gentle brown hands. His voice was sonorous and sad. “Daid, brother. Gathered to the Lawd. Nineteen hundred and thirty-four, maybe thirty-five. I ain’t precise on that. A wasted life, brother, and a case of pickled kidneys, I heard say. The ungodly man drops like a polled steer, brother, but mercy waits for him up yonder.” His voice went down to the business level. “Damm if I know why.”

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