Chapter 12 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.
I awoke tied to a chair. My hands were behind my back and my feet were bound together. I was alone and had no idea where I was. The room seemed to be in some sort of Cabin. I could here voices outside, but couldn’t make out whom they were. My head felt like someone used it for a fifty-yard punt. I was nauseous and my gun had been lifted. My hat was on the floor across the room and my shoes were off. That gave me a very uneasy feeling.
I tried to get my bearings. The room was completely empty, and seemed to have been empty for quite sometime. There was a fireplace on one end that hadn’t been used in years. Cobwebs hung from everywhere as if they were party streamers welcoming my arrival. I felt like grinding my teeth, stomping on the floor and whistling, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good.
When I leaned back in the chair, I felt something sharp push against my back. Part of the metal chair was broken, and there was a piece of sharp metal, which stuck into me slightly when I tried to sit back. If I could pick my hands up far enough I might be able to loosen or even cut the ropes that were tying me together, on the piece of broken metal. It was my only shot so I attempted it.
I had no idea how much time I had so I worked furiously. There were no windows in the room, so the only way someone could see me is if they came through the main door, which was in the next room and I was facing it. After a few minutes I managed to loosen the ropes enough to slip my hands through. I got my hands out and loosened the ropes around my feet. I had no gun, so there weren’t too many plays I could make. I located my shoes on the other end of the room, behind me, and was about to get up. Then I heard voices coming in, so I slipped my hands behind my back, and back into the ropes and slumped my head like I was still knocked out. Two men entered and I immediately recognized their voices as Benny Chance, and his rug-headed bodyguard Gus.
“John says we gotta get rid of him Gus, but, first we need to figure out how much her knows.”
Unfortunately for both of them, and for me, I still had almost no idea what was going on. Bernie Ohls wasn’t kidding when he said that I liked to lean in with my chin. I’d had no idea what this was all about from the very beginning. I wished I hadn’t stopped into Lou Parker’s automat to pick up a sandwich last week. I should have taken my last eight bucks and headed for the coast, living off the land. Maybe, I could have met some native girl in some undiscovered California countryside and fallen madly in love. We could have roasted pigs for dinner every night and she could sing me songs that she learned from her mother. We’d make love around the flying owls that would woo us to sleep. Instead, I put my feet up on my desk for a nap and got myself in a position that few would envy.
“Wake him up Gus.”
Gus walked over to me where I was feigning sleep, getting close enough for me to smell his bad breath. I wanted to bite his face as hard as I could. He placed something under my nose that made my nostrils burn and I opened my eyes with a flinch and gagged.
“Smelling salts always do the trick boss.”
“Wake up Marlowe, you’ve reached your final hour.”
I looked up at Benny Chance. Both he and Gus we wearing garbage bags, which covered most of their bodies. On their hands, they were wearing leather gloves. Gus had a saw in one hand and an ice pick in the other. I got that “one minute until midnight” feeling and wanted to vomit all over the floor.
“Marlowe, you should have taken the five grand and walked.”
“Benny Chance. If there’s a racket that involves blood and extortion, you can count on Benny Chance to be in on it. I’m surprised you showed up in person.”
“Don’t flatter yourself Marlowe, you’re small potatoes. I’m doing all this as a favor to a friend.”
“I’m assuming that friend would be John Moriarity.”
“None of your assumptions matter now. What does matter is the answers you give me to the questions I ask you. If I don’t like them, Gus here is going to cut off a toe for every answer I think is wrong. Got it?”
“Why Benny Chance, I was wondering when your true personality was going to come out. I bet any girl in town would love to take you home to mother.”
Benny Chance hit me with a straight right that almost knocked me unconscious again. I tried to shake it off, but before I could he hit me again. The second one made me feel like my was jaw spinning. I wondered if they were going to drop a marble in my mouth and bet on black.
“I’m not kidding around here Marlowe. I want some answers.”
I spit out a mouthful of blood and tried to keep my eyes open. The way my face was feeling, they probably could have sold it for sixty cents a pound at a butcher shop.
“Where is Janice Tomlinson?”
I looked up at Benny and then at Gus, who was across the room. Gus looked like he was dying to get some use out of his hacksaw and ice pick.
“Marlowe… Where is Janice Tomlinson?”
Benny stared at me, waiting for my reply. I sighed, knowing there was no way around it, and finally spoke.
“Janice was gone when I came back to my hotel room this afternoon. I have no idea where she went. My room was unlocked and the few things she had with her were gone also.”
Benny looked at me, then at Gus and finally shook his head.
“When did she come to see you at your hotel room?”
“This morning around four. I was sleeping and she knocked on my door and woke me up. She was scared. She said that you and Moriarity put her up to coming to my office, except that she messed the lines up while she was there, giving me a description of John Moriarity instead of the one of Paul Robard that she was supposed to.”
Again Benny looked at Gus and shook his head no.
“What did Phillips tell you Moriarity was trying to do to him?”
I looked at Benny. This one had me stumped.
“Phillips didn’t mention Moriarity. Our conversation had to do with me purchasing a mine up here. I was trying to get some information out of him, but he didn’t budge.”
Chance waited a second and then stood up.
“Your lying to me chum. Phillips told you exactly what was going on and he probably asked you to help him. Your covering for him, or for someone, and it’s gonna cost you a whole lot.”
My jaw ached, and so did the back of my head. That was about to be the least of my problems though. I was running out of time. How could I know what answer would stave off getting my toes cut for five more minutes when I didn’t even know what they were talking about? There was no point in trying to be a tough boy, but if I was going to lose my toes I was going to go down with some action. I slowly began to slide my hands out of the rope that had them tied behind my back.
“Benny I really have no idea what you are talking about. It’s like I said, Phillips and I only spoke of the mine that Amasa Campbell was willing to sell me. He never mentioned you or anyone else that I know you’re associated with. I was pretending to have interest in the mine in order to get information out of Phillips, but the old man wouldn’t budge.”
Benny stood up and spit right in my face. He laughed aloud and turned to Gus.
“Okay Gus, go to work. Let’s see what the peeper knows.”
“Sure thing boss.”
Benny turned back to me and Gus came forward. As he did he dropped his ice pick, and from behind his back pulled out a .38, which looked to be my gun. Before I could realize what was happening, he turned the gun towards Benny. There were a couple of hard snaps and the slugs hit Benny in the back of the head. Benny was still grinning at his spit dripping down my face as he fell into me, blood pouring out of the massive wound that the slugs had made. He slid off and hit the floor face up. The ground was quickly being covered with blood. Benny was dead. I wondered if he even knew what hit him.
Gus turned back to me.
“This is gonna be the prettiest case of murder, suicide ever shamus.”
I was still in shock from what just happened, but Benny falling into me allowed me the time I needed to completely remove my hands from the ropes.
“Benny was always giving the orders. With him out of the way, I can get in on a piece of the action.”
At that moment there was a knock on the cabin door. It was the miracle I had been hoping for. The gunshots could have attracted some attention, though I didn’t know for sure because I had no idea where we were. Gus grumbled and turned away from me.
“Don’t go no where.”
He laughed as he walked to the door. Gus was a comedian. He should have been hosting the Chase and Sanborn Hour. Eddie Cantor was no match for this master. I quickly slid off the rope around my feet and forced myself to stand and run over to the wall. I picked up the ice pick that Gus had left on the floor and pressed myself against the wall as hard as I could. If I hadn’t I probably would have fallen over. I heard him talking with someone, who didn’t sound familiar. The other man was yelling at him, and I could hear Gus trying to explain himself. Finally they seemed to come to an understanding and Gus closed the door. I heard him tripping towards the room and I held my breath and gripped the ice pick in my right hand as I pressed myself against the wall, which meant I was on Gus’ right side as he came into the room.
“Hey shamus, come take your medicine.”
Gus got to the doorway of the room, and realized that I was no longer in my chair. Before he could find out where I was I whirled around the corner and buried the ice pick into his right shoulder. Gus screamed and fell down to one knee, dropping my gun. I hit him an uppercut that had everything I could muster on it. The force of my swing knocked me over, and knocked him into the doorway, where he banged his head on the corner. His oriental carpet went flying off his head and he crumpled up in the corner like an accordion. Gus was out for a ten count.
I picked up my gun and found my shoes in the corner. I put them on and went into the next room. It was a two-room cabin that had been deserted for some time. The door was rusty, and the adjacent room had nothing in it at all, but it at least had a window. I went back to Gus, who was lying lifelessly against the doorway not far from Benny Chances corpse. I dragged his slumbering body over to the chair I had previously occupied, tied him up, and left the ice pick in his shoulder as a reminder of who I was. I went to Benny and carefully took off his shoes and socks. I then rolled his socks up and stuck them in Gus’ mouth, tying my tie around him to make sure the gag stayed. Next, I tiptoed back to the door.
The only light in the cabin was an overhead one that was just outside the doorway to the room where I had been tied up. Someone had been talking to Gus only a few minutes before that, and it stood to reason that that person could still be around. I was more confused than a third grader trying to understand geometric theorems and if I didn’t start figuring some things out quickly there was a good chance my next night’s sleep might be at the morgue. Benny had asked me about what I knew of William T. Phillips. I could infer from Benny’s last words that Benny Chance and John Moriarity had something on Phillips. That would account for his uneasiness when we spoke.
I couldn’t learn anything standing in the cabin waiting for Gus to come around. Rather than walk right out the front door into any number of bad scenarios, I decided to climb out the window that was perpendicular to the door in the front room. I climbed out as slowly as I could, hitting the ground, which was softer and wetter than a Louisiana bayou. I’ve heard it rains a lot in Washington, but that was ridiculous.
I tried my best to tiptoe around the side of the house, but had to lift my legs so high that I felt like Bronko Nagurski doing run pattern drills. There was a car parked outside the cabin. It was a green 1934 Skoda Convertible. I did a double take and looked at the cabin. It wasn’t the same cabin from Big Bear Lake and I was still in the state of Washington. I crept over to the car, which had its engine running silently. As I got to the car I heard a voice behind me.
“That’s far enough Marlowe.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. Someone came closer and encircled me, so I could see his face. He was tall and young, with an athletic build, dark hair, green eyes, and a dark mustache. I had been carrying around a picture of him in my wallet for almost a week. It was John Moriarity.
“Well Marlowe, we finally meet.”
Moriarity was wearing a white shirt and dark pants, with no tie. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbow and his left hand was bleeding slightly.
“What happened to your hand?”
He grunted and looked down at it.
“Janice Tomlinson bit me. She’s tied up in the neighboring cabin. You shouldn’t telegraph your moves so much Marlowe. I had you all figured out the moment you left your office for Big Bear. I shouldn’t have accidentally left the gold nugget and manuscript in the cabin. By taking it, I knew you had been there. Janice played her part and so did you, but the two of you won’t be around too see the prestige.”
He chuckled and leaned on the hood of his car. I just stood there like a fool. I thought about drooling to give the full effect of my uselessness. The gun in my pocket meant nothing. Any sudden movement and I would have been hit with three or four shots. Moriarity was carrying a .45 and .45 barks loud.
“What was it all about Moriarity, why the run-around?”
“A consolidation of power Marlowe. With Chance and Robard out of the way I could take over Benny’s gambling ring and have full control over the operation here in Spokane. Janice was supposed to give you a description of Paul Robard, substituting my name for his. This way when you discovered his body you’d tell the police that I was dead, which would only work for a time, but it would give me a long enough window to establish a working alibi. Unfortunately Janice couldn’t even do that right, but it’s just a snag in the plan. I’ll be able to work it all out. Gus will cover for me and so will the law out here, which is pretty easily bought. Gus killed Lou and the elevator boy. It will come out that Paul and my wife were having an affair, but that will be okay because it will also come out that I was in love with someone else, and I’ve never been the jealous type. Those two unfortunate fools were tortured and killed for gold. There’s a gold nugget of my wife’s, which you possess. Your body will be found here in Spokane. You realized that you killed the wrong man, and came here to get the rest of the gold from me. You accidentally shot Benny, thinking it was me, and I came into my cabin shortly after and shot you.”
“It sounds like you have the whole plan sewn up nice and tight, but that’s an awful lot of bodies to try to get rid of Moriarity. Counting the four dead in the state of Los Angeles, plus the pending deaths of me and Janice, that makes seven if you include Benny Chance.”
“Well Marlowe, let me worry about that.”
Moriarity held the gun up towards my face. He was no more than five feet from me, too close to miss, but too far for me to do anything about it. Both of us could be seen clearly in the moonlight. Moriarity was grinning. He cocked back the hammer.
“Sorry Marlowe, you should have taken the five grand and never looked back.”
I closed my eyes and a pistol shot rang out. There was a scream. It took me a second to realize that it wasn’t me. I felt my body for holes, and there were none. I looked down at the ground and John Moriarity was on his knees, holding his right hand, which had 3 fingers shot off. The gun was on the ground next to one of his fingers and I walked over and picked it up, putting it in my pocket. From out of the shadows came two men. I recognized them both as Henry Long and William T. Phillips. I turned to them and watched as they came towards me like ghosts in the night. John Moriarity was cursing and crying and staring at his right hand, which I now realized, was missing parts of all the fingers besides the thumb. The two men approached and Long nodded to me.
Phillips looked down at Moriarity and smiled.
“Some shooting Sundance. You still got it you know that. You really still got it.”
“I always shot better when I moved Butch, you know that.”
Phillips turned to me then.
“How’d you fare kid?”
“Not as bad as I could of. Benny Chance is in that cabin dead by my gun, but not by my hand. His thug Gus is tied up with Benny’s socks in his mouth and an ice pick in his shoulder. That was my doing.”
Phillips looked down at Moriarity, who seemed to be going into shock from his wound, mumbling about his fingers.
“I think we need some law in here. I know ‘em all pretty well. There are still some people this joker can’t buy.”
“What was it all about?”
Long turned to me.
“Let’s get the girl, and then we’ll talk about it.”
Henry Long tied up John Moriarity, who uttered a few four letter words at us before Long gave him a good look at his ten inch gun barrel with a pistol whip to the side of the head. Moriarity whimpered and Long wrapped a tunic around his hand to stop the bleeding. Next we dragged him into the cabin, where we found a very awake Gus who was still bald, and still bleeding from the shoulder and the back of the head. Phillips looked at him laughed, and tied Moriarity to another chair. While this was happening Long called the sheriff’s office from a phone outside by a tree and told him where he could find Chance’s body and the two wounded men, hanging up only after telling the deputy that “William T. Phillips asked him to make the phone call.” Before the law got there we went next door where we found Janice Tomlinson bound and gagged, but in good condition considering what could have been her fate. I untied her, for which, she thanked me with a long kiss.
… to be continued with the FINAL CHAPTER next Monday.