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Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 12

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It was an hour and a half later. The body had been taken away, the ground gone over, and I had told my story three or four times. We sat, four of us, in the day captain’s room at the West Los Angeles station. The building was quiet except for a drunk in a cell who kept giving the Australian bush call while he waited to go downtown for sunrise court.

A hard white light inside a glass reflector shone down on the flat topped table on which were spread the things that had come from Lindsay Marriott’s pockets, things now that seemed as dead and homeless as their owner. The man across the table from me was named Randall and he was from Central Homicide in Los Angeles. He was a thin quiet man of fifty with smooth creamy gray hair, cold eyes, a distant manner. He wore a dark red tie with black spots on it and the spots kept dancing in front of my eyes. Behind him, beyond the cone of light, two beefy men lounged like bodyguards, each of them watching one of my ears.

I fumbled a cigarette around in my fingers and lit it and didn’t like the taste of it. I sat watching it burn between my fingers. I felt about eighty years old and slipping fast.

Randall said coldly: “The oftener you tell this story the sillier it sounds. This man Marriott had been negotiating for days, no doubt, about this pay-off and then just a few hours before the final meeting he calls up a perfect stranger and hires him to go with him as a bodyguard.”

“Not exactly as a bodyguard,” I said. “I didn’t even tell him I had a gun. Just for company.”

“Where did he hear of you?”

“First he said a mutual friend. Then that he just picked my name out of the book.”

Randall poked gently among the stuff on the table and detached a white card with an air of touching something not quite clean. He pushed it along the wood.

“He had your card. Your business card.”

I glanced at the card. It had come out of his billfold, together with a number of other cards I hadn’t bothered to examine back there in the hollow of Purissima Canyon. It was one of my cards all right. It looked rather dirty at that, for a man like Marriott. There was a round smear across one corner.

“Sure,” I said. “I hand those out whenever I get a chance. Naturally.”

“Marriott let you carry the money,” Randall said. “Eight thousand dollars. He was rather a trusting soul.”

I drew on my cigarette and blew the smoke towards the ceiling. The light hurt my eyes. The back of my head ached.

“I don’t have the eight thousand dollars,” I said. “Sorry.”

“No. You wouldn’t be here, if you had the money. Or would you?” There was a cold sneer on his face now, but it looked artificial.

“I’d do a lot for eight thousand dollars,” I said. “But if I wanted to kill a man with a sap, I’d only hit him twice at the most — on the back of the head.”

He nodded slightly. One of the dicks behind him spit into the wastebasket.

“That’s one of the puzzling features. It looks like an amateur job, but of course it might be meant to look like an amateur job. The money was not Marriott’s, was it?”

“I don’t know. I got the impression not, but that was just an impression. He wouldn’t tell me who the lady in the case was.”

“We don’t know anything about Marriott — yet,” Randall said slowly. “I suppose it’s at least possible he meant to steal the eight thousand himself.”

“Huh?” I felt surprised. I probably looked surprised. Nothing changed in Randall’s smooth face.

“Did you count the money?”

“Of course not. He just gave me a package. There was money in it and it looked like a lot. He said it was eight grand. Why would he want to steal it from me when he already had it before I came on the scene?”

Randall looked at a corner of the ceiling and drew his mouth down at the corners. He shrugged.

“Go back a bit,” he said. “Somebody had stuck up Marriott and a lady and taken this jade necklace and stuff and had later offered to sell it back for what seems like a pretty small amount, in view of its supposed value. Marriott was to handle the payoff. He thought of handling it alone and we don’t know whether the other parties made a point of that or whether it was mentioned. Usually in cases like that they are rather fussy. But Marriott evidently decided it was all right to have you along. Both of you figured you were dealing with an organized gang and that they would play ball within the limits of their trade. Marriott was scared. That would be natural enough. He wanted company. You were the company. But you are a complete stranger to him, just a name on a card handed to him by some unknown party, said by him to be a mutual friend. Then at the last minute Marriott decides to have you carry the money and do the talking while he hides in the car. You say that was your idea, but he may have been hoping you would suggest it, and if you didn’t suggest it, he would have had the idea himself.”

“He didn’t like the idea at first,” I said.

Randall shrugged again. “He pretended not to like the idea — but he gave in. So finally he gets a call and off you go to the place he describes. All this is coming from Marriott. None of it is known to you independently. When you get there, there seems to be nobody about. You are supposed to drive down into that hollow, but it doesn’t look to be room enough for the big car. It wasn’t, as a matter of fact, because the car was pretty badly scratched on the left side. So you get out and walk down into the hollow, see and hear nothing, wait a few minutes, come back to the car and then somebody in the car socks you on the back of the head. Now suppose Marriott wanted that money and wanted to make you the fall guy — wouldn’t he have acted just the way he did?”

“It’s a swell theory,” I said. “Marriott socked me, took the money, then he got sorry and beat his brains out, after first burying the money under a bush.”

Randall looked at me woodenly. “He had an accomplice of course. Both of you were supposed to be knocked out, and the accomplice would beat it with the money. Only the accomplice double-crossed Marriott by killing him. He didn’t have to kill you because you didn’t know him.”

I looked at him with admiration and ground out my cigarette stub in a wooden tray that had once had a glass lining in it but hadn’t any more.

“It fits the facts — so far as we know them,” Randall said calmly. “It’s no sillier than any other theory we could think up at the moment.”

“It doesn’t fit one fact — that I was socked from the car, does it? That would make me suspect Marriott of having socked me — other things being equal. Although I didn’t suspect him after he was killed.”

“The way you were socked fits best of all,” Randall said. “You didn’t tell Marriott you had a gun, but he may have seen the bulge under your arm or at least suspected you had a gun. In that case he would want to hit you when you suspected nothing. And you wouldn’t suspect anything from the back of the car.”

“Okey,” I said. “You win. It’s a good theory, always supposing the money was not Marriott’s and that he wanted to steal it and that he had an accomplice. So his plan is that we both wake up with bumps on our heads and the money is gone and we say so sorry and I go home and forget all about it. Is that how it ends? I mean is that how he expected it to end? It had to look good to him too, didn’t it?”

Randall smiled wryly. “I don’t like it myself. I was just trying it out. It fits the facts — as far as I know them, which is not far.”

“We don’t know enough to even start theorizing,” I said. “Why not assume he was telling the truth and that he perhaps recognized one of the stick-up men?”

“You say you heard no struggle, no cry?”

“No. But he could have been grabbed quickly, by the throat. Or he could have been too scared to cry out when they jumped him. Say they were watching from the bushes and saw me go down the hill. I went some distance, you know. A good hundred feet. They go over to look into the car and see Marriott. Somebody sticks a gun in his face and makes him get out — quietly. Then he’s sapped down. But something he says, or some way he looks, makes them think he has recognized somebody.”

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