I headed back to the office. Information was piling up, and it was time that I started doing something with it. On the way I mulled over what I’d found out in the archive room. ‘Scofield’, whoever he might turn out to be, had been a busy boy. He’d been accessing case files for months. If it had been just one detective’s notes, then I was prepared to accept that there might be a valid explanation. But he’d been looking at all sorts of stuff. I’d cross-referenced a couple of the files with the failed raids that Russo had mentioned. They matched perfectly. I was pretty sure that the other files would relate to witnesses who changed their minds, or the cases where the defence knew just what to say.
What had got me though, was that there was no pattern to it. There didn’t seem to be a common detective, common judge or common criminal. Hell, it wasn’t even similar crimes. The guy just seemed to be accessing random files.
He’d never updated anything, just looked, and for all I knew, copied. If he’d updated the files, I suspect the alarm bells would have been ringing a long time ago, but he’d been low-key. If I hadn’t known where to go looking, chances are nobody would have been any the wiser. It certainly looked like this was Russo’s mole. Now all I needed to do was find out who he was.
Meanwhile I had more pressing problems. And as I reached the top of the stairs, she was standing outside my office door.
“Hello, Mr Able.”
“Hello, Ms Lillywhite.”
I remembered the last time I’d walked into the office.
“Can I ask you to just step away from the door for a moment, please?” I said. “Just a precaution.”
She moved to the end of the corridor. The guy I’d called this morning to fix my door had said he’d leave the new key on the lintel. I felt around until I found it, and then unlocked the door. Not wishing to worry Chastity too much, I took hold of my revolver but left it in my coat pocket. I pushed the door open with my foot. Everything seemed ok. After a quick sweep of the room, I invited Chastity in.
“Please, take a seat.” I said, hanging up my coat.
“How’s the case going?” She asked, as I sat down. “Any progress?” The look of worry was all over her face.
“Well.” I said. “Yes and no. At the moment, I’m finding more questions than answers.”
“Questions. For instance, do you know if Grace Lillywhite had any enemies?”
“Grace?” said Chastity with surprise. “What’s Grace got to do with this?” She looked at me, baffled. “She’s been dead for over five years. Her speedboat crashed... It was an accident.”
I poured us both a drink.
“I’m not so sure.” I said. “I’ve got reason to suspect that she was murdered. By a professional killer. So I’ll ask you again. Can you think of any reason why someone would want Grace Lillywhite dead?”
She drained her glass and looked me in the eye.
“Mr Able. I never met Norm’s first wife. All I know is that he loved her very much. If you’re suggesting that he could have had her killed, then...” She looked ready to burst into tears. “Norm wouldn’t hurt a fly. There’s no way he would have done something like that.”
I suspected as much. In my experience, when you decide you want to kill your spouse you tend to come to that realisation pretty early on in the marriage. When you’ve been hitched for thirty years, there’s very little they can do to annoy you that you haven’t alread seen or heard. So either Grace Lillywhite had suddenly done something so completely out of character that it had caused her husband to pay someone a considerable sum to have her rubbed out.
Or someone else had wanted her out of the way.
Murder was just like every other crime in one respect : Motive.
It was incredibly rare to find a crime committed deliberately, for no reason. When you did it usually involved what I liked to refer to as ‘nutters’. In 99.9% of cases, if somebody dies, something gets stolen, something gets destroyed... then somebody benefits.
So who would benefit from Grace Lillywhite pushing up the daises? On the face of it, not Norm Snr.
Chastity tore something out of a notebook, and the sound brought me back to the present.
“Please.” I said. “Call me Chuck.”
“Ok.” she replied. “Chuck. The family is flying out to L.A. in the morning, and we’re checking into this hotel. We’ll be staying there until after the will is read on Saturday night. You’ll be able to contact me there.” She pushed the slip of paper across the desk.
“I’ll be in touch.” I said. “Don’t worry, Ms Lillywhite. We’ve still got time - I’ll turn something up.”
“I hope so,” she said. “I really do.”
With that she turned and left. A few seconds later there was a soft ‘ping’ and I watched her on my screen as she walked down the stairs.
o o o o o
I turned things over in my mind for a while then reached for the phone. If the players in this little game were heading for L.A., then that’s where I was going. It was high time I met Lily and Jezebel.
Twenty minutes later, I had a seat on the 10.00am flight to the west coast, and I’d booked myself into the same hotel that the family were staying in. For the sake of discretion I’d booked myself in under a false name. Chuck Able would attract attention, but nobody would look twice at Philip Marlowe.
I started to feel good about this case for the first time since Chastity had arrived in my office. I seemed to have solved Russo’s problem by blind luck, whereas this hadn’t been going so well. I was pretty sure this case was about to turn the corner though. I walked over to the cabinet to break out a fresh bottle of Glenfiddich to toast my enivitable success.
It’s a shame I did. If I’d stayed at my desk, I might have heard my machine go ‘ping’...
My brand new door opened behind me, and a short, wiry guy in a sharp suit walked in brandishing 9mm of bad news! Behind him, King Kong and his twin brother squeezed through the door. My revolver was in the pocket of my coat, right next to the door, and all I had to hand was a bottle of whiskey.
What else could I do? I smiled and raised the bottle.
Do you ever get that deja vu thing? Apparently I do. Three weeks in advance!
I’d been at a party. Some friend of Nancy’s was throwing a bash, and Nance had invited me along. Dames and booze - what’s not to like? So I’d gone. I’d been working the room, being my usual charming self, when I ended up with this brunette. Nice girl. Seemed to be attracted to me, but hey! What woman ain’t? Then I made the mistake of telling her what I did.
Clearly she was some sort of fan of detective fiction. Went on about it for ten minutes without drawing breath. Under different circumstances a woman who can hold her breath that long... Hey. I’m getting off the subject. She’d read everything going. Was obsessed with Chandler. Apparently her favourite quote was : ‘When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.’
I excused myself and went to get a drink in an entirely different part of town.
Back in my office, and clearly someone ‘up there’ had been in doubt, ‘cos I was still looking at a man with a gun.
“Mr. Able. So nice to meet you.” Said the short guy, packing heat.
“You can call me Smith. Please,” he said, waggling the barrel towards my desk. “have a seat. And keep your hands where I can see them.”
I put the whisky on the desk and sat down. Right about now I was beginning to wish that I’d listened to English. A desk-mounted poison dart would have come in handy about now.
“So what can I do for you Mr Smith?” I said. “Only I’m kinda busy right now.”
“Funny you should say that,” said Smith, oozing charm. “Because we’re very concerned for your welfare.”
“We are. We,” he indicated the two walking mountains behind him. ” are all of the opinion that you’re working too hard at the moment, and that you’d benefit enormously from a break.”
“Well, I’d love to, “ I said, pointing at the whisky bottle “but I’m afraid this stuff doesn’t buy itself. So unless my ageing Grandmother dies and leaves me a fortune, I’m gonna have to keep my nose to the grindstone.”
“I’m sure one of my associates here could see that your Grandmother meets a timely demise!” said Smith brightly. “If that would help?”
“Fraid not.” I replied. “All Granny’s worldly goods amount to is about twenty five bucks and a collection of china horses. So if that’s all, the door is the wooden framed hole in the wall just behind you.”
Smith’s smile dropped a few notches.
“Mr Able. My employer is of the opinion that you are poking your nose where it is not required. You’ve already had a couple of hints to encourage you to find alternate employment, but they appear to have gone over your head. I can only conclude that you’re not very smart. So now you’re going to accompany us on a ride, whereupon you will be put up in...” he looked around. “I was going to say basic accomodation, but I suspect to you it will just be... accomodation. In a few days, you go on your way, forget we ever met, and you don’t get your nose broken...”
He leaned over the desk and peered at my face.
He waved the pistol. “Out, Mr Able.”
“Can I get my coat?” I said.
“Lloyd. Get the gentleman his coat.” said Smith.
One of the gorillas picked up my coat. My heart sank as he hefted it, fished through the pockets and pulled out my revolver.
“I don’t think you’ll be needing that.” smiled Smith, and waved me through the door.
Moments later, back in the office, my machine pinged quietly as I trooped down the stairs with a gun at my back.