Chapter 7 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 drove quickly to the automat run by my supposed friend Lou. When I arrived there were cops outside, and the entire building was taped off. Bernie Ohls was there, along with a crew of detectives. I went over to Bernie.
“Lou Parker is dead Marlowe.”
“I figured on as much Bernie. How did it go down?”
“Happened about ten a.m.: Tommy guns. He was hit with over thirty bullets. He probably was dead before he hit the floor.”
“I always thought Lou was a good boy.”
“Well he might have been Phil, except for the fact that he was an ex-dope fiend, who did three different stretches at San Quentin for armed robbery. Boys like that always die in the worst way.”
Bernie Ohls was right. I nodded to him and drove around the corner to gas my car. The real Ruth Moriarity was dead along with Paul Robard. That actually made my client John Moriarity, or at least the woman who paid me on behalf of John, who actually wanted to keep me away from the action. Benny Chance seemed to know as much about the present events as Santa Claus, though he did give me some good information to go on about the mine and people in Spokane. The body count was mounting though, with Lou, Ruth Moriarity, and Paul Robard all dead. I stopped by my office before leaving for Spokane. There was a blue sedan parked outside. It was the same blue sedan that had tailed me the day before. I walked into the lobby, which was empty, and rang for the elevator. The door opened and Joe Briggs was inside. Joe didn’t look as happy as he did yesterday. In fact, Joe wasn’t smiling at all. It’s hard to smile with a bullet wound over your heart. Just yesterday Joe had been a happy kid, happy for the quarter tip I had given him. Now the smile had been permanently wiped off his face and the color over his heart matched his blazer. Joe had been dead for quite some time. I took the stairs.
By the time I got to the sixth floor I had my gun drawn. I opened the stairway door slowly and shut it very lightly behind me. I was breathing as silently as possible, and listening as hard as I could for any sounds. The corridor was empty and I crept slowly towards my office door, which was wide open. There was a man sitting cross-legged in one of my chairs looking at me. I’d say by the age lines in his face that he was roughly sixty-five, but looked no older than fifty, with a dark mustache, and hair that was still dark as well. He was wearing a brown suit, turn of the century style, with a brown vest, white shirt, and brown tie. His derby was off and was on the table with a six-gun that had a barrel longer than a baseball bat placed next to it. He sat cross-legged, looking at me.
“Is your name Philip Marlowe?”
I nodded in approval as I stood there.
“Mr. Marlowe, do you think that I’d be able to grab my gun off that coffee table and shoot you before you could even clear your holster?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know your shooting, and to be honest I don’t know my own drawing abilities. I’ve always thought quick draw shootouts went out of style around the same time as that suit you’re wearing.”
I smiled through my teeth and motioned for him to enter my office, turned my back on him completely, and unlocked my inner door. If he was going to shoot me in the back then let him do it. At this point I was tired of being played for a fool. It smelled musty in my office, so I threw opened the window and grabbed two glasses and the bottle of rye out of my filing cabinet. The man entered and grabbed a seat in front of my desk. I poured two shots, handed him one, we cheersed each other, and put the shots down.
“Did you plug the kid in the elevator?” I finally opened my mouth and spoke.
“What about the blue sedan outside, is that yours?”
“I’ve only recently learned to drive. I road horses my whole life, and I’ve taken trains everywhere. Had we been on horseback yesterday you’d never have shaken me.”
He looked me right in the eyes when he spoke, and somehow, I believed him.
“Mr. Marlowe, my name is Henry Long. I come from Ferment, Utah. I’ve been a lot of things in my life, most of them relatively honest.”
I studied this man’s face. It looked vaguely familiar to me. I couldn’t place it though,
“Frehmont is a long way from Los Angeles, why at your age would you decide now to take the trip here, to see me?”
“I know you are looking for John Moriarity. My nephew Lou was a friend of yours. Parker of course wasn’t his real last name, but the characteristics you saw in him that made him a friend were all real, I’m sure. Lou had no choice but to lie to you the other day. He thought it would save his life, but he didn’t know that he was a dead man no matter what.”
I listened to the man speak, but I studied his expression and body language a lot more. He seemed to be out of a story; A story about a time where the American frontier was free and law and order was officially made with a gun, not under the guise of crooked cops like today.
“You say Lou’s last name wasn’t Parker. Did he get the idea to call himself Parker from anyone or was that just something he made up?”
“Mr. Marlowe, to cut you off, I didn’t come here to talk about my nephew’s fake last name. I came to tell you to be careful of John Moriarity, and to stay out of Spokane, not because I’m warning you to, but because it will be for your own good.”
“Mr. Long, everyone seems to want to keep me out of Washington. In the last two days, the body count has reached four. Even though I’m not really on a case anymore I’m still going to Spokane. Your nephew, and my friend Lou, was killed, as was a con artist by the name of Paul Robard, Ruth Moriarity, and the new elevator kid Joe. I’m not that tough, but I want some answers for my own peace of mind and I plan on getting them.”
I looked him in the eye and poured two more shots.
“I’ve got a hunch that you’re about as good with a gun as anyone I’ve ever met. Your gun was probably for hire at one time. Gunmen on the side of the badge don’t ask people to guess as to how fast they are. There aren’t too many gunfighters still alive, and the ones who are as fast as I think you are are all legendary and can be listed on two hands.”
He smiled a little and his mustache curled upward.
“I wish we would have met thirty years ago Marlowe. I think you would have made a very formidable gunfighter, maybe even better than a man I knew named Harvey Logan.”
The name Harvey Logan meant something to me. Logan was an outlaw at the turn of the century that was killed by a posse outside of Parachute, Colorado. It had long been speculated that Logan survived. My grandfather’s brother was a member of that posse. I always heard that he claimed to have seen Logan die. Suddenly Long’s face didn’t seem so foreign at all. I had seen it before in a very famous picture. My jaw practically dropped. I was staring at a ghost.
“You once posed in a group portrait with Logan didn’t you?”
My question wiped the smile off of Long’s face. He stood up and grabbed his hat.
“You know, you still wear your hair the same way as in the famous picture the Pinkertons have. What’s in Spokane that you don’t want me to see Mr. Long? You can’t run from you demons forever.”
“I can try,” He sounded as if he was talking to himself more than to me.
“You can, but chances are you’ll die bloody like most people thought you did in the first place. My grandfather’s brother saw Harvey Logan die in Colorado. He’s been dead since 1904.”
“I know Harvey’s dead. He was always too headstrong. He thought he could take on all the guns in the world and win. He never understood that you can only take on six men at one time with one gun.”
“I hear you took on well more than that, and they still say you lost, but history has a way of being incorrect.”
He smiled again and put on his hat. I held out my hand and he shook it.
“Be careful in Spokane. You seem honorable, but there are those who aren’t.”
With that he turned and walked out the door. I told him to take the stairs for obvious reasons, to which he obliged. I was speaking to a history page. Not many men can fake their own death, and have people actually believe it. Fewer still are famous outlaws who go on to live normal lives in rural Utah. I should have known who he was by his gun alone. There was only one man who carried a mother-of-pearl gun with a ten-inch barrel. I wasn’t wrong when I guessed as to how fast he was. He might have been the fastest gunman ever.
… to be continued next Monday.