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Derace Kingsley’s wife ran away to Mexico to get a quickie divorce and marry a Casanova-wannabe named Chris Lavery. Or so the note she left her husband insisted. Trouble is, when Philip Marlowe asks Lavery about it he denies everything and sends the private investigator packing with a flea lodged firmly in his ear. But when Marlowe next encounters Lavery, he’s denying nothing on account of the two bullet holes in his heart. Now Marlowe’s on the trail of a killer, who leads him out of smoggy LA all the way to a murky mountain lake.
296 pages, with a reading time of ~4.5 hours (74,036 words), and first published in 1943. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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The Treloar Building was, and is, on Olive Street, near Sixth, on the west side. The sidewalk in front of it had been built of black and white rubber blocks. They were taking them up now to give to the government, and a hatless pale man with a face like a building superintendent was watching the work and looking as if it was breaking his heart.
I went past him through an arcade of specialty shops into a vast black and gold lobby. The Gillerlain Company was on the seventh floor, in front, behind swinging double plate glass doors bound in platinum. Their reception room had Chinese rugs, dull silver walls, angular but elaborate furniture, sharp shiny bits of abstract sculpture on pedestals and a tall display in a triangular showcase in the corner. On tiers and steps and islands and promontories of shining mirror-glass it seemed to contain every fancy bottle and box that had ever been designed. There were creams and powders and soaps and toilet waters for every season and every occasion. There were perfumes in tall thin bottles that looked as if a breath would blow them over and perfumes in little pastel phials tied with ducky satin bows, like the little girls at a dancing class. The cream of the crop seemed to be something very small and simple in a squat amber bottle. It was in the middle at eye height, had a lot of space to itself, and was labelled Gillerlain Regal, The Champagne of Perfumes. It was definitely the stuff to get. One drop of that in the hollow of your throat and the matched pink pearls started falling on you like summer rain.
A neat little blonde sat off in a far corner at a small PBX, behind a railing and well out of harm’s way. At a flat desk in line with the doors was a tall, lean, dark-haired lovely whose name, according to the tilted embossed plaque on her desk, was Miss Adrienne Fromsett.
She wore a steel gray business suit and under the jacket a dark blue shirt and a man’s tie of lighter shade. The edges of the folded handkerchief in the breast pocket looked sharp enough to slice bread. She wore a linked bracelet and no other jewelry. Her dark hair was parted and fell in loose but not unstudied waves. She had a smooth ivory skin and rather severe eyebrows and large dark eyes that looked as if they might warm up at the right time and in the right place.
I put my plain card, the one without the tommy gun in the corner, on her desk and asked to see Mr. Derace Kingsley. She looked at the card and said: “Have you an appointment?”
“It is very difficult to see Mr. Kingsley without an appointment.”
That wasn’t anything I could argue about.
“What is the nature of your business, Mr. Marlowe?”
“I see. Does Mr. Kingsley know you, Mr. Marlowe?”
“I don’t think so. He may have heard my name. You might say I’m from Lieutenant M’Gee.”
“And does Mr. Kingsley know Lieutenant M’Gee?”
She put my card beside a pile of freshly typed letterheads. She leaned back and put one arm on the desk and tapped lightly with a small gold pencil.
I grinned at her. The little blonde at the PBX cocked a shell-like ear and smiled a small fluffy smile. She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don’t care much about kittens.
“I’m hoping he does,” I said. “But maybe the best way to find out is to ask him.”
She initialed three letters rapidly, to keep from throwing her pen set at me. She spoke again without looking up.
“Mr. Kingsley is in conference. I’ll send your card in when I have an opportunity.”
I thanked her and went and sat in a chromium and leather chair that was a lot more comfortable than it looked. Time passed and silence descended on the scene. Nobody came in or went out. Miss Fromsett’s elegant hand moved over her papers and the muted peep of the kitten at the PBX was audible at moments, and the little click of the plugs going in and out.
I lit a cigarette and dragged a smoking stand beside the chair. The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips. I looked the place over. You can’t tell anything about an outfit like that. They might be making millions, and they might have the sheriff in the back room, with his chair tilted against the safe.
Half an hour and three or four cigarettes later a door opened behind Miss Fromsett’s desk and two men came out backwards laughing. A third man held the door for them and helped them laugh. They all shook hands heartily and the two men went across the office and out. The third man dropped the grin off his face and looked as if he had never grinned in his life. He was a tall bird in a gray suit and he didn’t want any nonsense.
“Any calls?” he asked in a sharp bossy voice.
Miss Fromsett said softly: “A Mr. Marlowe to see you. From Lieutenant M’Gee. His business is personal.”