Watching Marilyn, p.16Jack Chapman
I'd collected Tommy from his apartment a few times since he split from Sherri but he had never invited me inside. His cheap lock took half a minute to slip. It was a single man’s room, oddly neat, a single bulb in the ceiling, thin curtains over a single window to shut out the darkening night. The bed against the wall was made up military style. One side of the room had been partitioned into a kitchen, clean but with that lingering familiarity of tv dinners. A straight line of empty bottles paraded under the sink.
There was no suitcase under the bed. The wardrobe was lacking the sort of clothes he’d wear for hunting and fishing. I had an idea he owned a backpack and if I was right it was gone as well along with his boots. If anyone wrote to him he didn’t keep the correspondence. If anything was under the floorboards he had nailed it down tight.
I pulled the door after me, hearing the click of a useless lock on a room that had nothing worth locking. I considered going back to my own apartment but it would be too much like Tommy’s. Instead I went back to the office, following the chance Tommy might have left some lead for me there.
From the sidewalk I saw the light on behind our window, a single yellow tooth in a used-up mouth. Upstairs I cautiously tried the office door, found it unlocked and kicked it open. It was Jesus Diaz, the Cuban bartender from the Calneva, sitting behind Tommy’s desk.
"You working late, Mr Watson?" Diaz asked conversationally.
Diaz was leaning back in Tommy's chair. He looked like he had been there for some time. He had re-tuned our radio to a station playing samba music, it might have been an old Desi Arnaz record. I turned it off.
I kept a pair of good-looking cut-glass tumblers on my desktop, out of the way next to the blunt pencils. Having the two of them made me feel better about drinking alone. It was drawing a line Tommy had never marked. I got the bourbon from the filing cabinet and poured.
"You looking for something, Mr Diaz?"
"We’re all looking for something."
"I don’t suppose you came across my partner Tommy Guppy in your looking?"
"He ain’t at his desk."
"How about Miss Monroe’s diary?"
"That red book?"
"That’s not here either."
"But you searched Tommy’s desk for it."
"Didn’t find it."
"Didn’t take it off me when you hit me over the head?"
"Not me. Someone hits you over the head you ought to look closer to home."
I passed him a tumbler. "Why would Tommy double cross me over the red book?"
Diaz sipped at his bourbon. "A man starts a habit it can be hard to break. Ask who wants it? The name of Jack Scalligan comes to mind. Ask who could supply for him besides yourself."
"Tommy wouldn’t cheat on me, not with Scalligan, he doesn’t trust the man."
"Okay, maybe it was Miss Monroe charmed him enough he wanted to give it right back to her."
"I’ll just assume you don’t know Tommy Guppy too well. I’ve been talking to Miss Monroe. She doesn’t have it, she’s desperate to get it back."
Diaz raised an eyebrow. "Sufficiently desperate she'll agree to do the right thing?"
"She does the right thing and she gets it back guaranteed?"
"How dumb does the CIA get, Diaz? Why would she agree to hide the dirt assuming she got it back if the reason she wants it back is to expose the dirt?"
"She got dirt of her own."
"Haven't we all."
"That's why they make carpets, sweep things under, out of sight." He looked down at the floor, "'Cept you haven't got a carpet."
I lit a cigarette and blew smoke towards him.
"Maybe one of us should be talking to Señor Guppy," Diaz suggested. "Want to tell me where he is?"
"First guess under the carpet 'cept we haven't got one."
"So, if you find him before me, for his own good, remind him certain matters are best kept out of sight. Tell him give the red book over before the consequences become serious and unavoidable. People get hurt."
"You can accuse Tommy Guppy yourself of having the book if you find him, I don't think he'll care, but veiled insinuation might be too subtle. Tough talk's worth a try, he could do with some entertainment."
"What I hear he's a good family man. That’s a sincere compliment. He might not find it so amusing to endanger his kid, maybe he's even got some feelings for that wife still."
"Sounds like you got access to a lot of good research, Diaz."
"Friends tell me things."
"Your friends advise you to make threats against my sister and nephew?"
"Hey, listen, Frank, this has gone too far to be personal. Believe me. In this league necessity outweighs any sympathetic instincts."
"No, it's personal. And you're the one I'm coming after first."
Diaz looked a little let down, "Hell, I'm not gonna threaten any your friends or family, Frank. Look to the centre, Monroe's the one in danger."
"Maybe someone should ask her to reconsider. I could try to do that but it might come better from someone she trusts."
"Who does she trust?"
"I don't think she trusts me anymore than I trust you."
Diaz shrugged. He picked up the telephone on Tommy's desk and dialled a number from memory. He waited a minute, receiver to his ear, then dropped it back on its rest. "Miss Monroe ain't answering," he said.
Jesus Diaz got up from behind Tommy's desk. He took a last survey of the room then waved a languid salute and sauntered out.
This time of night it was silent enough in the building and on the street outside I could listen to Diaz’s footsteps all the way down the stairs. After a while I picked up the phone on my desk and redialled Marilyn’s number. The engaged tone buzzed back at me. Either she hadn’t made it to Lawford’s or she was back already and at least sober enough to be calling someone.
I smoked another cigarette and tried again and the number was still engaged. I drank bourbon and redialled and the line was busy. I’d known Sherri talk that long on the phone, I wasn’t worried.
12305 Fifth Helena Drive was in darkness. Not even a dim light above the porch. I wondered if a fuse had blown or if the utility company had imposed an after-midnight power cut. The eucalyptus trees surrounding the bungalow secluded it from the lights of neighbouring properties.
I left my car in the street outside the gates. There was enough illumination from the stars to reveal her black Cadillac in the drive but the space where her housekeeper parked was vacant. The keys I'd taken earlier that day from the Cadillac's ignition still weighed in my pocket.
Up in the dark between the trees there was an abrupt chopping of a helicopter heading West, then it faded to a single navigation light stuttering through the constellations.
The doorbell rang with the hollow intrusion of an empty house. After a couple of minutes I went back to my car and retrieved the torch and a pocket toolkit I kept in the glove compartment.
The other key on her ring opened Marilyn's house door. Inside I switched on the torch and went through to the living room. There was a portable record player and a pile of LPs next to the stains from the dog in the middle of the Mexican rug. The glossy picture on the sleeve of the top LP was a smooth Frank Sinatra, jacket slung over his shoulder. I wondered where Maf was. The dog seemed to come and go. The long, black lead of the telephone snaked into the corridor and went under her bedroom door.
I tried it and the door was locked and when I knelt to look through the keyhole there was no light inside and no key on the other side of the lock. Fumbling in the dark I took a lockpick from my tools and felt for the tumblers. It an art I was unskilled in and an act I knew was urgent, forging clumsily
I had to move faster when I heard the noise of an engine coming off Fifth Helena. The lock was taking too long. I had been on the premises maybe five minutes, no more. It was a big, powerful engine but once in the gate it slowed as it came up to the house. Tumblers finally clicked. I switched off the torch that had been propped on the floor and slid into the bedroom as a better option than the corridor.
Inside the bedroom I saw nothing until the flashing lights of the emergency vehicle started to strobe through the small, uncurtained window.
Like a naked goddess crashed over in an art museum Marilyn lay face down across the bed. Her white hair and white body burned intermittently in the red light dancing from the walls and ceiling. She ignored me and she ignored the noises and the lights outside. Her arm was stretched across the bed and a hand hung limp on the telephone. She could have been drugged insensible or very drunk but when I reached out to touch her for the first time it was dead meat crawled under my fingertips.
Watching Marilyn by Jack Chapman / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes