Книга The Adventures Of Sam Spade. Содержание - The assistant murderer


GOLD ON THE DOOR, edged with black, said ALEXANDER RUSH, PRIVATE DETECTIVE. Inside, an ugly man sat tilted back in a chair, his feet on a yellow desk.

The office was in no way lovely. Its furnishings were few and old with the shabby age of second-handom. A shredding square of dun carpet covered the floor. On one buff wall hung a framed certificate that licensed Alexander Rush to pursue the calling of private detective in the city of Baltimore in accordance with certain red-numbered regulations. A map of the city hung on another wall. Beneath the map a frail bookcase, small as it was, gaped emptily around its contents: a yellowish railway guide, a smaller hotel directory, and street and telephone directories for Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. An insecure oaken clothes-tree held up a black derby and a black overcoat beside a white sink in one corner. The four chairs in the room were unrelated to one another in everything except age. The desk's scarred top held, in addition to the proprietor's feet, a telephone, a black-clotted inkwell, a disarray of papers having generally to do with criminals who had escaped from one prison or another, and a grayed ashtray that held as much ash and as many black cigar stumps as a tray of its size could expect to hold. An ugly office—the proprietor was uglier. His head was squatly pear-shaped. Excessively heavy, wide, blunt at the jaw, it narrowed as it rose to the close-cropped, erect grizzled hair that sprouted above a low, slanting forehead. His complexion was of a rich darkish red, his skin tough in texture and rounded over thick cushions of fat. These fundamental inelegancies were by no means all his ugliness. Things had been done to his features. One way you looked at his nose, you said it was crooked. Another way, you said it could not be crooked; it had no shape at all. Whatever your opinion of its form, you could not deny its color. Veins had been broken to pencil its already florid surface with brilliant red stars and curls and puzzling scrawls that looked as if they must have some secret meanings. His lips were thick, tough-skinned. Between them showed the brassy glint of two solid rows of gold teeth, the lower row lapping the upper, so undershot was the bulging jaw. His eyes —small, deep-set and pale blue of iris—were bloodshot to a degree that made you think he had a heavy cold. His ears accounted for some of his earlier years: they were the thickened, twisted cauliflower ears of the pugilist.

A man of forty-something, ugly, sitting tilted back in his chair, feet on desk.

The gilt-labeled door opened and another man came into the office. Perhaps ten years younger than the man at the desk, he was, roughly speaking, everything that one was not. Fairly tall, slender, fair-skinned, brown-eyed, he would have been as little likely to catch your eye in a gambling house as in an art gallery. His clothes—suit and hat were gray—were fresh and properly pressed, and even fashionable in that inconspicuous manner which is one sort of taste. His face was likewise unobtrusive, which was surprising when you considered how narrowly it missed handsomeness through the least meagerness of mouth—a mark of the too cautious man.

Two steps into the office he hesitated, brown eyes glancing from shabby furnishings to ill-visaged proprietor. So much ugliness seemed to disconcert the man in gray. An apologetic smile began on his lips, as if he were about to murmur, “I beg your pardon, I'm in the wrong office.”

But when he finally spoke it was otherwise. He took another step forward, asking uncertainly:

“You are Mr. Rush?”

“Yeah.” The detective's voice was hoarse with a choking harshness that seemed to corroborate the heavy-cold testimony of his eyes. He put his feet down on the floor and jerked a fat, red hand at a chair. “Sit down, sir.”

The man in gray sat down, tentatively upright on the chair's front edge.

“Now what can I do for you?” Alec Rush croaked amiably.

“I want —I wish —I would like—” and further than that the man in gray said nothing. —

“Maybe you'd better just tell me what's wrong,” the detective suggested. “Then I'll know what you want of me,” and he smiled.

There was kindliness in Alec Rush's smile, and it was not easily resisted. True, his smile was a horrible grimace out of a nightmare, but that was its charm. When your gentle-countenanced man smiles there is small gain: his smile expresses little more than his reposed face. But when Alec Rush distorted his ogre's mask so that jovial friendliness peeped incongruously from his savage red eyes, from his brutal metal-studded mouth—then that was a heartening, a winning thing.

“Yes, I daresay that would be better.” The man in gray sat back in his chair, more comfortably, less transiently. “Yesterday on Fayette Street, I met a—a young woman I know. I hadn't—we hadn't met for several months. That isn't really pertinent, however. But after we separated—we had talked for a few minutes—I saw a man. That is, he came out of a doorway and went down the street in the same direction she had taken, and I got the idea he was following her. She turned into Liberty Street and he did likewise. Countless people walk along that same route, and the idea that he was following her seemed fantastic, so much so that I dismissed it and went on about my business.

“But I couldn't get the notion out of my head. It seemed to me there had been something peculiarly intent in his carriage, and no matter how much I told myself the notion was absurd, it persisted in worrying me. So last night, having nothing especial to do, I drove out to the neighborhood of—of the young woman's house. And I saw the same man again. He was standing on a corner two blocks from her house. It was the same man—I'm certain of it. I tried to watch him, but while I was finding a place for my car he disappeared and I did not see him again. Those are the circumstances. Now will you look into it, learn if he is actually following her, and why?”

“Sure,” the detective agreed hoarsely, “but didn't you say anything to the lady or to any of her family?”

The man in gray fidgeted in his chair and looked at the stringy dun carpet.

“No, I didn't. I didn't want to disturb her, frighten her, and still don't. After all, it may be no more than a meaningless coincidence, and—and—well—I don't —That's impossible! What I had in mind was for you to find out what is wrong, if anything, and remedy it without my appearing in the matter at all.”

“Maybe, but, mind you, I'm not saying I will. I'd want to know more first.”

“More? You mean more —”

“More about you and her.”

“But there is nothing about us!” the man in gray protested. “It is exactly as I have told you. I might add that the young woman is—is married, and that until yesterday I had not seen her since her marriage.”

“Then your interest in her is—?” The detective let the husky interrogation hang incompleted in the air.

“Of friendship—past friendship.”

“Yeah. Now who is this young woman?”

The man in gray fidgeted again.

“See here, Rush,” he said, coloring, “I'm perfectly willing to tell you, and shall, of course, but I don't want to tell you unless you are going to handle this thing for me. I mean I don't want to be bringing her name into it if—if you aren't. Will you?”

Alec Rush scratched his grizzled head with a stubby forefinger.

“I don't know,” he growled. “That's what I'm trying to find out. I can't take a hold of a job that might be anything. I've got to know that you're on the up-and-up.”

Puzzlement disturbed the clarity of the younger man's brown eyes.

“But I didn't think you'd be —” He broke off and looked away from the ugly man.

“Of course you didn't.” A chuckle rasped in the detective's burly throat, the chuckle of a man touched in a once sore spot that is no longer tender. He raised a big hand to arrest his prospective client in the act of rising from his chair. “What you did, on a guess, was to go to one of the big agencies and tell 'em your story. They wouldn't touch it unless you cleared up the fishy points. Then you ran across my name, remembered I was chucked out of the department a couple of years ago. 'There's my man,' you said to yourself, 'a baby who won't be so choicy!'”

The man in gray protested with head and gesture and voice that this was not so. But his eyes were sheepish.

Alec Rush laughed harshly again and said, “No matter. I ain't sensitive about it. I can talk about politics, and being made the goat, and all that, but the records show the Board of Police Commissioners gave me the air for a list of crimes that would stretch from here to Canton Hollow. All right, sir! I'll take your job. It sounds phony, but maybe it ain't. It'll cost you fifteen a day and expenses.”

“I can see that it sounds peculiar,” the younger man assured the detective, “but you'll find that it's quite all right. You'll want a retainer, of course.”

“Yes, say fifty.”

The man in gray took five new ten-dollar bills from a pigskin billfold and put them on the desk. With a thick pen Alec Rush began to make muddy ink-marks on a receipt blank.

“Your name?” he asked.

“I would rather not. I'm not to appear in it, you know. My name would not be of importance, would it?”

Alec Rush put down his pen and frowned at his client.

“Now! Now!” he grumbled good-naturedly. “How am I going to do business with a man like you?”

The man in gray was sorry, even apologetic, but he was stubborn in his reticence. He would not give his name. Alec Rush growled and complained, but pocketed the five ten-dollar bills.

“It's in your favor, maybe,” the detective admitted as he surrendered, “though it ain't to your credit. But if you were off-color I guess you'd have sense enough to fake a name. Now this young woman —who is she?”

“Mrs. Hubert Landow.”

"Well, well, we've got a name at last! And where does Mrs. Landow live?”

“On Charles-Street Avenue,” the man in gray said, and gave a number.

“Her description?”

“She is twenty-two or —three years old, rather tall, slender in an athletic way, with auburn hair, blue eyes and very white skin.”

“And her husband? You know him?”

“I have seen him. He is about my age—thirty—but larger than I, a tall, broad-shouldered man of the clean-cut blond type.”

“And your mystery man? What does he look like?”

“He's quite young, not more than twenty-two at the most, and not very large—medium size, perhaps, or a little under. He's very dark, with high cheekbones and a large nose. High, straight shoulders, too, but not broad. He walks with small, almost mincing, steps.”

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