Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 21
I unfolded the piece of tissue paper and found a card inside. The card was no news to me. There had been three exactly like it in the mouth-pieces of three Russian-appearing cigarettes.
I played with my pipe, stared at the Indian and tried to ride him with my stare. He looked as nervous as a brick wall.
“Okey, what does he want?”
“He want you come quick. Come now. Come in fiery — “
“Nuts,” I said.
The Indian liked that. He closed his mouth slowly and winked an eye solemnly and then almost grinned.
“Also it will cost him a hundred bucks as a retainer,” I added, trying to look as if that was a nickel.
“Huh?” Suspicious again. Stick to basic English.
“Hundred dollars,” I said. “Iron men. Fish. Bucks to the number of one hundred. Me no money, me no come. Savvy?” I began to count a hundred with both hands.
“Huh. Big shot,” the Indian sneered.
He worked under his greasy hatband and threw another fold of tissue paper on the desk. I took it and unwound it. It contained a brand new hundred dollar bill.
The Indian put his hat back on his head without bothering to tuck the hatband back in place. It looked only slightly more comic that way. I sat staring at the hundred dollar bill, with my mouth open.
“Psychic is right,” I said at last. “A guy that smart I’m afraid of.”
“Not got all day,” the Indian remarked, conversationally. I opened my desk and took out a Colt .38 automatic of the type known as Super Match. I hadn’t worn it to visit Mrs. Lewin Lockridge Grayle. I stripped my coat off and strapped the leather harness on and tucked the automatic down inside it and strapped the lower strap and put my coat back on again.
This meant as much to the Indian as if I had scratched my neck.
“Gottum car,” he said. “Big car.”
“I don’t like big cars any more,” I said. “I gottum own car.”
“You come my car,” the Indian said threateningly.
“I come your car,” I said.
I locked the desk and office up, switched the buzzer off and went out, leaving the reception room door unlocked as usual.
We went along the hall and down in the elevator. The Indian smelled. Even the elevator operator noticed it.
The car was a dark blue seven-passenger sedan, a Packard of the latest model, custom-built. It was the kind of car you wear your rope pearls in. It was parked by a firehydrant and a dark foreign-looking chauffeur with a face of carved wood was behind the wheel. The interior was upholstered in quilted gray chenille. The Indian put me in the back. Sitting there alone I felt like a high-class corpse, laid out by an undertaker with a lot of good taste.
The Indian got in beside the chauffeur and the car turned in the middle of the block and a cop across the street said: “Hey,” weakly, as if he didn’t mean it, and then bent down quickly to tie his shoe.
We went west, dropped over to Sunset and slid fast and noiselessly along that. The Indian sat motionless beside the chauffeur. An occasional whiff of his personality drifted back to me. The driver looked as if he was half asleep but he passed the fast boys in the convertible sedans as though they were being towed. They turned on all the green lights for him. Some drivers are like that. He never missed one.
We curved through the bright mile or two of the Strip, past the antique shops with famous screen names on them, past the windows full of point lace and ancient pewter, past the gleaming new nightclubs with famous chefs and equally famous gambling rooms, run by polished graduates of the Purple Gang, past the Georgian-Colonial vogue, now old hat, past the handsome modernistic buildings in which the Hollywood flesh-peddlers never stop talking money, past a drive-in lunch which somehow didn’t belong, even though the girls wore white silk blouses and drum majorettes’ shakos and nothing below the hips but glazed kid Hessian boots. Past all this and down a wide smooth curve to the bridle path of Beverly Hills and lights to the south, all colors of the spectrum and crystal clear in an evening without fog, past the shadowed mansions up on the hills to the north, past Beverly Hills altogether and up into the twisting foothill boulevard and the sudden cool dusk and the drift of wind from the sea.
It had been a warm afternoon, but the heat was gone. We whipped past a distant cluster of lighted buildings and an endless series of lighted mansions, not too close to the road. We dipped down to skirt a huge green polo field with another equally huge practice field beside it, soared again to the top of a hill and swung mountainward up a steep hillroad of clean concrete that passed orange groves, some rich man’s pet because this is not orange country, and then little by little the lighted windows of the millionaires’ homes were gone and the road narrowed and this was Stillwood Heights.
The smell of sage drifted up from a canyon and made me think of a dead man and a moonless sky. Straggly stucco houses were molded flat to the side of the hill, like bas-reliefs. Then there were no more houses, just the still dark foothills with an early star or two above them, and the concrete ribbon of road and a sheer drop on one side into a tangle of scrub oak and manzanita where sometimes you can hear the call of the quails if you stop and keep still and wait. On the other side of the road was a raw clay bank at the edge of which a few unbeatable wild flowers hung on like naughty children that won’t go to bed.
Then the road twisted into a hairpin and the big tires scratched over loose stones, and the car tore less soundlessly up a long driveway lined with the wild geraniums. At the top of this, faintly lighted, lonely as a lighthouse, stood an eyrie, an eagle’s nest, an angular building of stucco and glass brick, raw and modernistic and yet not ugly and altogether a swell place for a psychic consultant to hang out his shingle. Nobody would be able to hear any screams.
The car turned beside the house and a light flicked on over a black door set into the heavy wall. The Indian climbed out grunting and opened the rear door of the car. The chauffeur lit a cigarette with an electric lighter and a harsh smell of tobacco came back to me softly in the evening. I got out.
We went over to the black door. It opened of itself slowly, almost with menace. Beyond it a narrow hallway probed back into the house. Light glowed from the glass brick walls.
The Indian growled. “Huh. You go in, big shot.”
“After you, Mr. Planting.”
He scowled and went in and the door closed after us as silently and mysteriously as it had opened. At the end of the narrow hallway we squeezed into a little elevator and the Indian closed the door and pressed a button. We rose softly, without sound. Such smelling as the Indian had done before was a mooncast shadow to what he was doing now.
The elevator stopped, the door opened. There was light and I stepped out into a turret room where the day was still trying to be remembered. There were windows all around it. Far off the sea flickered. Darkness prowled slowly on the hills. There were paneled walls where there were no windows, and rugs on the floor with the soft colors of old Persians, and there was a reception desk that looked as if it had been made of carvings stolen from an ancient church. And behind the desk a woman sat and smiled at me, a dry tight withered smile that would turn to powder if you touched it.
She had sleek coiled hair and a dark, thin, wasted Asiatic face. There were heavy colored stones in her ears and heavy rings on her fingers, including a moonstone and an emerald in a silver setting that may have been a real emerald but somehow managed to look as phony as a dime store slave bracelet. And her hands were dry and dark and not young and not fit for rings.
She spoke. The voice was familiar. “Ah, Meester Marlowe, so ver-ry good of you to come. Amthor he weel be so ver-ry pleased.”