Chapter 10 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 the full story, go here.
Janice Tomlinson was gone. I had phoned my room at the hotel around one thirty. There was no answer. The clerk said that no one answering to Janice’s description had come down. Then I remembered the fire exit outside my door. My room was unlocked, but there were no signs of a struggle. Even still I was worried. Nothing was missing, except the few things she had brought with her. I had promised Janice that I would keep her safe, and while her story contradicted some of what Benny Chance had told me, her side of things didn’t sound like a song and dance number. I had a feeling it was Benny who had lied, and if he knew I was wise it wouldn’t surprise me to find that he had sent someone to Spokane to take care of business. There wasn’t anything I could do except wait. I had a sick feeling in my stomach.
At four thirty I locked my room up and went down to the hotel dining room. I sat at a table in the corner and listened to the band playing songs from the hit parade. I had roast beef with mashed potatoes and broccoli. The gimlet was excellent. After I ate I went over to the bar to wait for Phillips. I was in the lobby at five. Sitting in one of the chairs on the far end was a man of about seventy. He was roughly my height, with gray and blonde hair that was parted to the side. He had blue eyes, a sharp nose with nostrils that curled upward, and was clean-shaven. He was wearing a tuxedo, with a white shirt, black bow tie and tails. I wasn’t sure if this was the man, so I sat down across from him at the small coffee table. He looked up at me.
“Are you Mr. Marlowe?”
“You must be William T. Phillips.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Marlowe.”
Phillips smiled and we shook hands, but his eyes kept darting around the room. He started to get up.
“Are you all set to visit the site of your future millions?”
I cleared my throat before I spoke.
“I’ve got a confession Mr. Phillips, I’m feeling a little under the weather and don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the mines today. I was wondering though, if you wouldn’t mind talking here for a while?”
Phillips sat down, obviously concerned, and slightly put off. He smiled, his veneer not masking his true emotions.
“I don’t mind at all.”
A waiter walked by and I motioned for him to bring a bottle of Four Roses and two glasses over to our table. I turned back to Mr. Phillips, who was trying to appear as cordial as possible, but seemed a little uneasy. His eyes kept darting towards the desk, as if he was expecting someone to come downstairs. Whenever it seemed I began to notice this, he made it a point to look directly in my eyes.
“Mr. Phillips. I’ve recently come into some money and I’ve got no experience with mining at all. My plan was to find a mine with a rich ore, purchase it, and then pay others to work it, while having someone I can trust surveying the dig.”
This time it was Phillips who cleared his throat before he spoke.
“Well Mr. Marlowe, that’s not something that’s totally uncommon around these parts. There are those who choose to own mines and have others work the dig for them, treating the property like a stock, which in today’s world of the New Deal can still be a successful business approach even if it is taking the stance of the benevolent almighty.”
The scorn was quite audible in his tone.
“How long have you been working around gold mines?”
“I’ve been associated with the mines here in Spokane since roughly 1910.”
“And before that, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Before that I worked for the Union Pacific Railroad as a safe guard.”
“So what you’re saying Mr. Phillips, is that you’ve been associated with gold in one way or another for quite a long time?”
He smiled at my last remark. The waiter came over with the bottle of Four Roses, two glasses and a bucket of ice.
“I guess you can say that Mr. Marlowe. To level with you though, you don’t seem like the kind of person who has money or would be interested in running a mine. Judging by your dress, your mannerisms, and your taste in bourbon, I’d say that prior to coming into money, you must have had almost none at all.”
I placed two cubes in both of our drinks and poured two glasses of scotch. Sipping mine before the ice really had a chance to take effect. The ice hit my teeth with a tinkle. I paused for a second.
“Well Mr. Phillips don’t let appearances fool you. Despite your tuxedo, which I frankly don’t understand since you were planning on taking a trip out to a mine, you seem like a savvy business man who’d rather be riding a horse and shooting a gun than surveying a mine. Also, you seem uneasy being here in the hotel.”
He drank a gulp of his drink.
“I haven’t a care in the world Mr. Marlowe, I’m free as a barn swallow.”
Phillips finished his drink and stood up.
“What information would you like me to take to Mr. Campbell?”
“Tell him I’m not interested in purchasing a mine at this time, through no fault of you own. Just tell him I’ve decided to place my hand in some ventures that better suit my skills.”
He nodded, turned and walked away. I stood up and gulped my drink. The meeting had been brief. William T. Phillips hadn’t given me much information to go one, but he did seem uneasy. There was the possibility he was hiding something. He had no idea I had his manuscript and I had no idea what his true agenda was. I took the elevator back to my room. The cream tinted hallway seemed empty for dinnertime. It was possible a large amount of guests were in the dining room downstairs listening to the band and drinking their wallets away. The hall was long with high overhead lights. It was quiet. I waded through the salmon colored carpet and got to my room.
I unlocked my door and went in. The room was dark. I flipped on the light switch and found that my room had been tossed like a surprise inspection at a boot camp. All at once there was a rush to the back of my head that felt like a bomb going off next to my face. I was dizzy and my ears were ringing. I stumbled a little and looked at the bright lights that were rushing by, trying to grab for something solid, but found only numb confusion. It’s the way you must feel when you grab a feather from an angel’s wing. I dropped down on one knee and tried to get up, but I never got the chance. He must have been standing behind the door when I came in because I never saw him. I got hit again. This time someone pushed back the roof and let the stars in.
… to be continued next Monday.