- In: Exclusives
- Published on 29 July 2012
- By James
Chapter 4 in the continuing story of how Raymond Chandler's famous fictional LA Noir detective, Philip Marlowe, became Philip Marlowe. This story pre-dates Chandler's first novel, The Big Sleep, by three years. For chapters 1 - 3 go here.
The drive to Big Bear Lake took two hours. I had left Bernie’s at nine, and wanted to get there as late as possible and without attracting too much attention. No one followed me from what I could tell. It was easy driving as the weather was clear and it wasn’t unbearably cold. The last time I had been to Big Bear was in 1932, the year before the Pan Hot Springs Hotel was burned down. For years it had been a resting ground for movie stars and other members of the upper crust who wanted to get away from the world and enjoy the scenery and the fishing. I didn’t have time for too many leisurely activities, I was too busy counting pennies so I could drink at the Coconut Grove club. Maybe someday I’ll hit it big.
A main entrance that had a guard on duty blocked off the community. I parked my car half of a mile up the road, got out my bottle of rye, took two swigs, put the bottle back in the glove compartment, grabbed a flashlight and took out my gun, shoulder holstering it.
I got out of the car and walked slowly down the road, staying in the shadows and looking out for people. Not a soul nor car passed me the entire time. For the most part Big Bear was a summer resort, and only a certain number of cabins were even available in the winter. When I got within two-hundred feet of the main road and entrance to the lodge area, I snuck through the woods to get by the guard who was stationed in one of those little toll booths with a retractable arm attached to it to prevent cars from driving in unnoticed. The cabins were located a few hundred yards back of the entrance over a series of small hills. The hills were covered by evergreens which had been there since the time of the Serrano Indians. They were so high that I got an eerie feeling about my own mortality. It was desolate. I know now what the man on the moon must feel like at night. I found cabins one and two. The Moriarity cabin was down the road. I kept to the shadows as much as possible, which wasn’t too hard considering it was almost so dark you couldn’t see.
Passing cabin number seven I stepped on a branch that made a loud snap. I held my breath. The air in my nostrils felt as though it was below freezing. The wind slowly whistled by and the northern lights twinkled above me. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity. No animals made any sounds, No birds flew above. I felt like the last man on Earth. When I was finally satisfied that no one heard I kept on and located the Moriarity cabin. It had a large “16” on the door. It was a one-floor wooden cabin that looked sturdy enough to make Abe Lincoln proud. There were no lights on inside, or in any of the neighboring cabins. There were no voices either, but there was a car parked thirty or so feet away. It looked like an apparition in the dim moonlight, which was cut by the towering trees. It was a green 1934 Skoda 420 Convertible, with a rag top roof. I crept over to the car, which had no one inside, and found that it was unlocked. The engine was cold and hadn’t been driven in at least a day. I switched on my flash to take a look inside, and the car lit up like a gigantic June bug. There were no papers in the glove compartment, and nothing at all to identify its owner inside the car. I got out and closed the door lightly, listening for sounds. When I was sure that no one was around I crept back over to the cabin and looked in the window. I could make out a large bed in the corner that was unmade, but no one was in it. I didn’t see any movement at all, so I decided to go around and try the back door.
When I got to the door I found it ajar. I tried to open it but found that something on the other side was in the way. I got that old familiar sickness in my stomach and looked around again to make sure no one was watching. I slowly shined the light into a room, which was a kitchen, saw why I couldn’t open it, and quickly forced my way in.
She had been slumped up against the door. The site of her made me squint my eyes and bite my tongue. There were two bullet holes in her chest and another one in her neck. She had bled out all over the floor, but the blood was dry. By the expression on her face I could tell she didn’t die quickly, and her final moments must have been in agony. Then I noticed that her shoes were off and her feet were badly burned. I put my gloves on and grabbed her wrists. There were rope marks on both of them.
I made my way into the cabin with my gun drawn and my flash in my other hand. It was cold. I walked past the kitchen into the one other large room complete with the aforementioned bed, a fireplace which had long since gone out, a large floor model Westinghouse radio, a table which had enough canned goods on it to last two weeks, and three chairs. He was slumped in one of the chairs, completely nude, with his hands tied behind his back. His ankles were tied together and on his right foot three of his toes had been cut off. There were numerous stab wounds on his body by his chest, arms, and stomach. His left ear was cut off, and finally it seemed his throat had been cut. His eyes were wide open like he was choking and the man was ice cold. He couldn’t have been any deader.
The smell in the room of dried blood and decaying flesh was strong, but not as strong as it would have been had the back door not been opened slightly, which allowed the cold air to come in and keep the bodies from rotting. I shined the flash on the man’s face. He was clean-shaven and older looking, with blondish hair that had begun to gray at the temples. This was not John Moriarity. I saw a pair of trousers lying by the bed and decided he was in the middle of an act that would have caused him to be nude when he was tied up. I went through the trouser pocket and found a wallet. Inside the wallet was a driver’s license with the name Paul Robard on it. Mr. Robard, who on a whim had organized a trip to a Spokane, Washington mine which was thought to be salted. Mr. Robard, who had struck gold with John Moriarity, Benny Chance, and possibly any other number of partners. Mr. Robard, who had been tortured to the tune of three toes, a left ear, and several small stab wounds. Mr. Robard, who was dead.
This was all wrong. The ball in the back of my throat, which I like to think is my danger sensor, was going haywire. I felt like someone could jump out from any number of shadows and make tough guy Phil Marlowe number three on this hit list. I quickly decided I had seen enough and started for the door, when I noticed something on the table. A gold nugget was lying there along with a manuscript. I picked them both up and tiptoed over the very dead woman, whose face I didn’t recognize, but would never forget, and out the back door. No one watched, no one listened. I crept around to the front and back down the road.
My car was parked right where I had left it. No one was around. No cars drove by as I got in on the passenger’s side and slid over. I put the nugget and the manuscript in the glove compartment and turned my car around. I kept my lights off for a mile or so and headed back to Los Angeles.
... to be continued next Monday.