Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 11

I went over to the barricade and shone the little light on the brush. Fresh-broken twigs. I went through the gap, on down the curving road. The ground was still softer here. More marks of the heavy tires. I went on down, rounded the curve and was at the edge of the hollow closed in by brush.

It was there all right, the chromium and glossy paint shining a little even in the dark, and the red reflector glass of the tail-lights shining back at the pencil flash. It was there, silent, lightless, all the doors shut. I went towards it slowly, gritting my teeth at every step. I opened one of the rear doors and put the beam of the flash inside. Empty. The front was empty too. The ignition was off. The key hung in the lock on a thin chain. No torn upholstery, no scarred glass, no blood, no bodies. Everything neat and orderly. I shut the doors and circled the car slowly, looking for a sign and not finding any.

A sound froze me.

A motor throbbed above the rim of the brush. I didn’t jump more than a foot. The flash in my hand went out. A gun slid into my hand all by itself. Then headlight beams tilted up towards the sky, then tilted down again. The motor sounded like a small car. It had that contented sound that comes with moisture in the air.

The lights tilted down still more and got brighter. A car was coming down the curve of the dirt road. It came two-thirds of the way and then stopped. A spotlight clicked on and swung out to the side, held there for a long moment, went out again. The car came on down the hill. I slipped the gun out of my pocket and crouched behind the motor of Marriott’s car.

A small coupe of no particular shape or color slid into the hollow and turned so that its headlights raked the sedan from one end to the other. I got my head down in a hurry. The lights swept above me like a sword. The coupe stopped. The motor died. The headlights died. Silence. Then a door opened and a light foot touched the ground. More silence. Even the crickets were silent. Then a beam of light cut the darkness low down, parallel to the ground and only a few inches above it. The beam swept, and there was no way I could get my ankles out of it quickly enough. The beam stopped on my feet. Silence. The beam came up and raked the top of the hood again.

Then a laugh. It was a girl’s laugh. Strained, taut as a mandolin wire. A strange sound in that place. The white beam shot under the car again and settled on my feet.

The voice said, not quite shrilly: “All right, you. Come out of there with your hands up and very damned empty. You’re covered.”

I didn’t move.

The light wavered a little, as though the hand that held it wavered. It swept slowly along the hood once more. The voice stabbed at me again.

“Listen, stranger. I’m holding a ten shot automatic. I can shoot straight. Both your feet are vulnerable. What do you bid?”

“Put it up — or I’ll blow it out of your hand!” I snarled. My voice sounded like somebody tearing slats off a chicken coop.

“Oh — a hardboiled gentleman.” There was a quaver in the voice, a nice little quaver. Then it hardened again. “Coming out? I’ll count three. Look at the odds I’m giving you — twelve fat cylinders, maybe sixteen. But your feet will hurt. And ankle bones take years and years to get well and sometimes they never do really — “

I straightened up slowly and looked into the beam of the flashlight.

“I talk too much when I’m scared too,” I said.

“Don’t — don’t move another inch! Who are you?”

I moved around the front of the car towards her. When I was six feet from the slim dark figure behind the flash I stopped. The flash glared at me steadily.

“You stay right there,” the girl snapped angrily, after I had stopped. “Who are you?”

“Let’s see your gun.”

She held it forward into the light. It was pointed at my stomach. It was a little gun, it looked like a small Colt vest pocket automatic.

“Oh, that,” I said. “That toy. It doesn’t either hold ten shots. It holds six. It’s just a little gun, a butterfly gun. They shoot butterflies with them. Shame on you for telling a deliberate lie like that.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Me? I’ve been sapped by a holdup man. I might be a little goofy.”

“Is that — is that your car?”

“Who are you?”

“What were you looking at back there with your spotlight?”

“I get it. You ask the answers. He-man stuff. I was looking at a man.”

“Does he have blond hair in waves?”

“Not now,” she said quietly. “He might have had — once.”

That jarred me. Somehow I hadn’t expected it. “I didn’t see him,” I said lamely. “I was following the tire marks with a flashlight down the hill. Is he badly hurt?” I went another step towards her. The little gun jumped at me and the flash held steady.

“Take it easy,” she said quietly. “Very easy. Your friend is dead.”

I didn’t say anything for a moment. Then I said: “All right, let’s go look at him.”

“Let’s stand right here and not move and you tell me who you are and what happened.” The voice was crisp. It was not afraid. It meant what it said.

“Marlowe. Philip Marlowe. An investigator. Private.”

“That’s who you are — if it’s true. Prove it.”

“I’m going to take my wallet out.”

“I don’t think so. Just leave your hands where they happen to be. We’ll skip the proof for the time being. What’s your story?”

“This man may not be dead.”

“He’s dead all right. With his brains on his face. The story, mister. Make it fast.”

“As I said — he may not be dead. We’ll go look at him.” I moved one foot forward.

“Move and I’ll drill you!” she snapped.

I moved the other foot forward. The flash jumped about a little. I think she took a step back.

“You take some awful chances, mister,” she said quietly. “All right, go on ahead and I’ll follow. You look like a sick man. If it hadn’t been for that — “

“You’d have shot me. I’ve been sapped. It always makes me a little dark under the eyes.”

“A nice sense of humor — like a morgue attendant,” she almost wailed.

I turned away from the light and immediately it shone on the ground in front of me. I walked past the little coup, an ordinary little car, clean and shiny under the misty starlight. I went on, up the dirt road, around the curve. The steps were close behind me and the flashlight guided me. There was no sound anywhere now except our steps and the girl’s breathing. I didn’t hear mine.


Halfway up the slope I looked off to the right and saw his foot. She swung the light. Then I saw all of him. I ought to have seen him as I came down, but I had been bent over, peering at the ground with the fountain pen flash, trying to read tire marks by a light the size of a quarter.

“Give me the flash,” I said and reached back.

She put it into my hand, without a word. I went down on a knee. The ground felt cold and damp through the cloth.

He lay smeared to the ground, on his back, at the base of a bush, in that bag-of-clothes position that always means the same thing. His face was a face I had never seen before. His hair was dark with blood, the beautiful blond ledges were tangled-with blood and some thick grayish ooze, like primeval slime.

The girl behind me breathed hard, but she didn’t speak. I held the light on his face. He had been beaten to a pulp. One of his hands was flung out in a frozen gesture, the fingers curled. His overcoat was half twisted under him, as though he had rolled as he fell. His legs were crossed. There was a trickle as black as dirty oil at the corner of his mouth.

“Hold the flash on him,” I said, passing it back to her. “If it doesn’t make you sick.”

She took it and held it without a word, as steady as an old homicide veteran. I got my fountain pen flash out again and started to go through his pockets, trying not to move him.

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