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Chapter 1 Bus to Las Vegas


The first time I saw Terry Lennox he was sitting in a Rolls-Royce in front of a fancy restaurant, and he was very drunk. He had a young man's face but his hair was white as snow. You could see he was drunk by looking at his eyes; otherwise he looked like any young man who had been spending too much money in a place that was there to take your money.

There was a woman beside him. Her hair was a pretty dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips.

'I have a wonderful idea, darling,' the woman said, trying to be nice. 'Why don't we take a taxi to your place and get your little car out? It's a wonderful night for a ride up the coast.'

The man said 'Awfully sorry, but I don't have it any more. Had to sell it. 'He spoke clearly.

'Sold it, darling? What do you mean?' She slid away from him, but her voice slid even further.

'I had to. Had to eat.'

'Oh, I see.' A piece of ice wouldn't have melted on her now.

Right then, the car door seemed to open itself and the young man fell off the seat and landed, sitting, on the ground. So I went over and stuck my nose in their business, although it's always a mistake to interfere with people who are drunk. I picked him up and put him on his feet.

'Thank you so much,' he said politely. I thought I heard an accent.

'He is so English when he's drunk,' she said in a hard voice. 'Thanks for catching him.'

'I'll get him in the back of the car,' I said.

'Sorry, mister, but I'm late for an appointment.' She started to drive off. 'He's just a lost dog,' she added. 'Perhaps you can find a good home for him.' And then she was gone. And the guy was asleep in my arms.

I carried him to my car. He was heavy. As I put him in the front seat, he woke up and thanked me again, and went back to sleep. He was the politest drunk I'd ever met. While I drove, I looked at him once in a while. The right side of his face was one big scar that the doctors had worked on. They hadn't failed but they hadn't succeeded either.

I was living that year in a house on Yucca Avenue in the Laurel Canyon area. The rent was low, partly because the owner didn't want a written agreement, and partly because of the steps. She was getting old and they were too steep for her.

I got him up them somehow. Inside, I put him on the sofa and let him go back to sleep. He slept for an hour. When he woke up, he looked around and at me, and wanted to know where he was. I told him. He said his name was Terry Lennox and that he lived in Westwood, alone. His voice was steady. He said he could handle a cup of coffee.

When I brought it, he asked me why he was here. I told him he had passed out outside a restaurant and his girl had driven off and left him. He said he couldn't blame her.

'You English?' I asked.

'I lived there once. I wasn't born there.'

He finished the coffee and I drove him home. He didn't say much on the way, except that he was sorry. He had probably said it so often that it was automatic.

His apartment was small and empty. There was a little furniture but no personal items at all. It didn't look like a place where anybody lived. He offered me a drink. I said no. When I left, he thanked me again, but not as if I had climbed a mountain for him and not as if it was nothing at all. He was shy but very polite. Whatever he didn't have, he had manners.

Driving home, I thought about him. I'm supposed to be tough but this one bothered me. I didn't know why, unless it was the white hair and the scar and the clear voice. There was no reason I should see him again, though. He was just a lost dog, like the woman said.

It was a month later when I did see him again, about three blocks from my office. There was a police car stopped in the middle of the street, and the men inside were staring at some­thing on the kerb. That something was Terry Lennox - or what was left of him. His shirt was dirty and open at the neck. He hadn't shaved for four or five days. His skin was so pale that the scar hardly showed. It was obvious why the policemen were looking at him, so I went over there fast and took hold of his arm.

'Stand up and walk,' I said. 'Can you do it?'

He looked at me and nodded slowly. I wasn't even sure he recognized me. 'I'm just a little empty,' he said.

He made the effort and let me walk him to the street. There was a taxi there. I opened the back door and got him inside. The police car pulled up. A cop with grey hair asked me, 'What have we got here?'

'He's not drunk,' I said. 'He's a friend.'

'That's nice,' the cop said sarcastically. He was still looking at Terry. 'What's your friend's name, pal?'

'Philip Marlowe,' Terry said slowly. 'He lives on Yucca Avenue in Laurel Canyon.'

The cop stared at us both. He was making a decision. It took him a little while. 'OK. Get him off the street at least.' The police car drove away.

We went to a place where you could get hamburgers that you could actually eat. I fed Lennox a couple and a bottle of beer and took him to my place. An hour later, he was shaved and clean, and he looked human again. I made two very mild drinks and we talked as we drank.

'Lucky you remembered my name,' I said.

'Not only that,' he said. 'I looked up your phone number, too.'

'So why didn't you call? I live here all the time.'

'Why should I bother you?'

'Looks like you ought to have bothered someone.'

'Asking for help isn't easy,' he said. 'Especially when it's all your own fault.' He looked up with a tired smile. 'Maybe I can stop drinking one of these days. They all say that, don't they?'

'It takes about three years.'

'Three years?' He looked shocked.

He turned and looked at the clock and changed the subject. 'I have a suitcase worth two hundred dollars down at the Hollywood bus station. I could get money for it. Maybe not two hundred dollars, but enough for a bus ticket to Las Vegas, and I could get a job there.'

I didn't say anything.

'A man I knew well in the army runs a big club there. His name's Randy Starr.'

Something must have shown on my face. 'Yes,' he continued, 'he's part gangster but they all are, and the other part of him isn't bad.'

'I can give you the bus fare and some extra,' I said.

He shook his head.

'I want you out of my hair,' I explained. 'I've got a feeling about you.'

'You have?' He looked down into his glass. 'We've only met twice. What sort of feeling?'

'A feeling that next time we meet, I'll find you in worse trouble than I can get you out of. I don't know why I have this feeling, but I do.'

He touched his scar gently. 'Maybe it's this. Makes me look like trouble, I suppose. But I got it honestly.'

'It's not that,' I said. 'It's this. I'm a private detective and you're a problem that I don't have to solve. But the problem's there. Maybe that girl didn't drive away that time just because you were drunk. Maybe she had a feeling, too.'

He smiled faintly. 'I was married to her once. Her name is still Lennox. I married her for her money.' When he saw my face, his smile disappeared. 'You're wondering why I didn't ask her for help. Did you ever hear of pride?'

'You're killing me, Lennox.'

'My pride is different. It's the pride of a man who has nothing else. Sorry if it bothers you.'

It bothered me and he bothered me, too, although I couldn't understand exactly why. Any more than I knew why a man would starve and walk the streets before he'd sell a suitcase. Whatever his rules were, though, he played by them.

I went down to the bus station and got his suitcase for him. When I came back, he said he had called his pal in Las Vegas. 'He was sore at me because I hadn't called him before.'

'It takes a stranger to help you,' I said, and put a hundred dollars in front of him. 'And take the suitcase with you. You might need to sell it later.'

'I don't want it,' he said. 'If you like, you can keep it for me.'

He changed his clothes and we went out for dinner. No drinks. Afterwards, he caught the bus and I drove home thinking about this and that.

At nine-thirty, the telephone rang and the voice that spoke was one I had heard once before.

'Is this Mr Philip Marlowe?'

'It is.'

'This is Sylvia Lennox, Mr Marlowe. We met for a moment one night last month. I heard afterwards that you had been kind enough to take Terry home.'

'I did that.'

'I've been a little worried about him. Nobody seems to know where he is.'

'I noticed how worried you were the other night,' I said. 'He's on a bus to Las Vegas.'

'Las Vegas?' This news seemed to cheer her up. 'How sweet of him. That's where we were married.'

'I guess he forgot that,' I said, 'or he would have gone somewhere else.'

Instead of hanging up, she laughed. It was a pretty laugh. 'Are you always as rude as this to ladies?'

'I don't know that you are a lady. The man was living in the streets. He had no money, none at all. You could have found him if you'd really wanted to. He didn't want anything from you then and he probably doesn't want anything from you now.'

'That,' she said coolly, 'is something you know nothing about, Mr Marlowe. Good-night.'

She was completely right, of course, and I was all wrong. But I didn't feel wrong then. I just felt angry.


Date: 2015-01-11; view: 1290

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