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The name us Marlow — no eIt was Thursday with a distinct acrid stench of Monday about it. I knew that something was going to begin and I knew that I wasn't going to like it so when I got a call from the boys downtown I found out that it had indeed begun in a way that said I wasn't going to like it: Mrs. Bugsy Marden was now the Widow Marden because someone had circulated fresh air through Mr. Bugsy Marden in the wee hours of the morning while he was walking his pet Chihuahua with a shotgun -- splitting him in half as one would an infinitive. I knew it wasn't a professional hit because the Chihuahua was left as a witness. Plus, I found out later, there was a note next to the body reading, "This isn't a professional hit. It's entirely personal." The Lieutenant wanted to see me.I got to the Station House at 10:00 a.m., still Thursday. Desk Sgt. Walker looked at me and said, "What the hell are you doing here, Marlow? You were chucked off the force two years ago for shooting up a busload of nuns, then dynamiting a seminary and looting the food bank.""I was framed," I said.The Lieutenant looked out of his office and said, "Its okay, Walker, let him in. Marlow, I have some questions for you so get in here." So I got.The Lieutenant's office was a typical precinct lieutenant's office: old scarred desk, rotary phone, files piled on top of each other, an old scratched typewriter, and a historical marker plaque on the wall saying it was a heritage place and that's why the lieutenant had to go next door to use a new aluminum-frame desk, a network phone and a computer. But the place had ambiance. Every two weeks when the ambiance got too much it was sprayed by the exterminators. One thing always bothered me about exterminators: how come they say that they spray 'for' bugs? Surely, if they sprayed 'for' bugs there would be more bugs after they left than before. An entomological inexactitude? Or an etymological inaccuracy? I would have to find out later since the lieutenant's dictionary was circa 1925."Marlow," said the lieutenant, "you knew Bugsy Marden. Don't deny it. You think he was the one who framed you for the nun shooting and the seminary explosion.""And the food bank heist," I said."No," said the lieutenant, "that one you did, you cheap bastard. So, where were you at 4:30 this morning?""I was at home test firing my 12-gauge — that's why there's nitrate stains on my hands — also I was testing my new night-vision glasses because I am going hunting in the woods where I want a really early start before it's light and I was doing a load of washing to get rust stains off some clothes."You expect me to buy that?" said the lieutenant."It's the truth," I said. "And here's the receipt for the night glasses to prove it." "Get out of here, Marlow," said the lieutenant. "Your alibi is stupid enough to be true. But we'll check on it. Just don't leave town for a while."I walked to the door and paused. I waited. Then I said, "Isn't there something that you want to add? I mean, every time either you or I walk to a door, one of us will pause and give a parting line beginning with, 'Oh, yes, there's something I want to add,' then you — or I — say something of note concerning the case. So, what have you to say as I'm leaving?""Nothing. Goodbye, Marlow," said the lieutenant.Back at the office sitting in my client's chair — it would be clients' chair but I had few clients this year — was the Widow Marden dressed in a raven black mourning dress. When I knew her she was a leggy blonde with a figure to die for, sparkling blue eyes, a cute upturned nose, a wiggle that should have been patented, and the aforementioned figure to die for. Now she was listless as a broody hen, her slight overbite gave her the appearance of a beaver, her mousy colored hair was in rat's tails, and she had heavy raccoon-like bags under her faded robin's egg blue eyes. She was a anthropomorphic mess. Two weeks with Bugsy could do that to a woman."I want you to find the killer of my husband," she said."What for?" I said. "So you can reward him with half the insurance money? Lady, that killer did you a favor by rubbing out Bugsy. He did the borough a favor, the city a favor, the state a favor and the country a favor. And I'll do the same by not looking for him.""I'll give you half the insurance money."So I began. It was now noon Thursday. It still had an air of Monday about it yet the flavor was moving toward Tuesday -- but the feeling that something bad was going to happen had been replaced by the feeling that something bad had happened but since that something bad that had happened had happened to Bugsy it wasn't really that bad a feeling, nonetheless, it was bad enough. So I poured two shots of bad whisky for the Widow Marden and myself Since the whisky wasn't as bad as the feeling, we both cheered up.The Widow Marden held the glass in her shaking hands and said, "Bugsy wasn't really that bad a man. So he rubbed out the Eastside Gang, the Westside Gang, the Northeastern by Northeastern Gang and the South by Southwest by Southwest Gang. That was business. Personally, he was a sincere, charming, affectionate, simpatico man who loved Chihuahuas with a deep abiding passion that manifested itself in frequent donations to the 'Feed the Chihuahuas Fund'." She dabbed at her eyes with her hanky. "I never realized that he was interested in politics."The Widow Marden looked around my office and gave the usual appraisal: "This is a dump. How come the name on the door says 'Marlowe' while the name plaque on your desk says 'Marlow'?""The office once belonged to a guy called 'Marlowe' and he rented it from a guy called 'Raymond', a ships' chandler I believe. Marlowe left for someplace and Raymond hasn't been around for a while so I keep the place up and pay the bills. But enough about real estate: who do you think killed Bugsy?"The Widow Marden thought for a while, started to speak, then thought some more, then started to speak, then thought some more. "Coulda been all the relatives of those gang members he rubbed out but they all understand it's business when this happens. Coulda been one of his four ex-wives but with Bugsy gone so goes the alimony. Coulda been that new gang, the East by Noreast by Noreast Gang, but something tells me it's not this gang.""Why not?" I said. "Because the gang has only one member and his parents say he has to be in at nine to finish up his homework."I sighed. What was the youth of this world coming to? My belief is that it's about time some of them came to. Nasty rotten little hubcap thieves.The phone rang. I picked it up, estimating its weight at about three pounds, then lifted the receiver. It was the Lieutenant. "Got several things for you, Marlow. First, your alibi checks out. Second, your neighbors have charged our department to enforce a complaint about the shotgun blasts early this morning and you're up on a charge of discharging a firearm within the chargeable city limits. Third, your landlord is serving you an eviction notice because he had complaints about you peeking in windows with those night glasses. Marlow, you're a foul-up."He hung up and I put the phone down. It rang again. A small child's piping voice said, "Mister Marwow? Wanna buys some hubcappywappies?" Damn, I thought, they've been stolen again. That's the third time this month. I had a sign on the car door that said `no radio'. They stole the sign."I gotta go," said the Widow Marden. "Been in mourning all day and I want to get out of this black stuff and go out somewhere to cheer myself up in this period of lamentation. Maybe Planet Hollywood or The Hard Rock Cafe would make me feel better. You know, a two-inch thick steak smothered in mushrooms, a few glasses of a good rich cabernet, sounds good. You want to come, Marlow? Later we could go to my place and see what happens."Since I knew that you couldn't get a good rich cabernet at either of those establishments, I turned down the offer. I went to my place, packed, and had a burger and coke at Joe's Good Eats before hitting the sack at 11:00.Friday, with a reek of denouement about it. I knew who had killed Bugsy and all I had to do now was to get all those involved together at one place and spring my surprise on the killer. I knew that exposing the killer would place me in danger so I checked my gat. It was a 1918 British Officers' Model Webley six-shot revolver that hadn't been fired since 1920 but it was the biggest hand gun ever made. All I had to do was wave it and people ducked. I can't tell you how much I have saved in bullets since I got the Webley.Early in the afternoon I had them all assembled in my office. The Widow Marden, the Lieutenant, desk Sgt. Walker, the Chihuahua, Colonel Mustard, and myself."Colonel Mustard," I said, "you're excused. You were in the library with the chandelier but that was 20 years ago. There is a statute of limitations, you know."I looked around the room using my hard-boiled private eye look that I had spent months studying. "Okay," I said. "Now the rubber hits the road."Sgt. Walker said, "Don't you mean 'This is where the prophylactic meets the pavement’? After all, if you're the master of the turned phrase, surely it should be more than the prosaic 'now the rubber hits the road'?"The Lieutenant said, "How about 'Now the condom meets the thoroughfare'?" The Widow Marden said, "How about 'The particular prophylactic pounds the pedestrian pathway?' That's my alliterative choice." "Hold it," I said. "I'm here to disclose the killer not get into a grammatical Jeopardy. Who do you think I am? Alex Trebek? I know who killed Bugsy Marden and I have the scenario. Here's how it happened:"Bugsy was walking his Chihuahua as he always did and someone came up to him with a shotgun and gave him, without so much as your leave, both barrels. So who was it? Not the first Mrs. Marden. She was in Florida having an affair with an 95-year old trying to get him to simultaneously have multiple orgasms, write a will naming her beneficiary and have a heart attack; it wasn't the second Mrs. Marden: she was in New York driving Leona Hemsley to tears; it wasn't the third Mrs. Marden: she was in Montreal constitutionally dividing her French-Canadian husband into two distinct pieces with an ax; it wasn't the fourth Mrs. Marden: she was in Atlanta lobbying to have hooking as an Olympic sport; it wasn't Sgt. Walker: he was playing footsie with the Lieutenant's wife; it wasn't the Lieutenant: he was in bed with Sgt. Walker's wife at the time. The way I figure it is that the present Mrs. Marden took a shotgun from Bugsy's gun rack and blasted him for the insurance money.""Or," said Sgt. Walker, "the killer stole a gun from Bugsy's gun rack, gunned him down then made it appear as if the Widow Marden committed the crime by planting the gun in her room where we found it.""Or," said the Widow Marden, "A spaceship came clown and the aliens used a superior blaster device that gave all indications of it being a shotgun blast and blasted Bugsy because with Bugsy alive the world would be saved from an alien invasion that would make 5350 million at the box-office." We all looked at her and wondered where the yellow went."Or," said the Lieutenant, "Someone had an iron-clad alibi involving exactly the same circumstances as the killing yet timing showed that the alibi holder could have not done the crime: he had a shotgun and fired it, he had night-vision glasses, and — more importantly — had a motive to kill Bugsy because Bugsy had framed him for a shooting of a busload of nuns and a seminary bombing. However, the alibi covered the identical actions yet at a different time.""Or," I said, "the Chihuahua knows more than he's saying."At that moment the door slammed open and a figure appeared. I knew him: Spenser Hawk, a private-eye who shared my building. He interfered with everyone — he was the building's nosy Parker. He looked irritated."Once again I have to do this. Jeez! Marlow, you foul-up, you don't know diddlysquat."Bugsy hated that Chihuahua and had taken the shotgun with him to beat the little putz to death with the stock while no one was around."Bugsy was holding the gun by the barrels and, when he hit the pooch, both barrels discharged and Bugsy fell down dead."Mrs. Marden went looking for him because he was late and she found the body. It was her who took the gun back to her room."It was also she who wrote the note."It wasn't a professional hit and, yes, it was personal because Bugsy did it to himself."You'll find that the insurance money isn't payable if there's even a thought of possible suicide and that's why she's kept her mouth shut about this. "And another thing, Marlow."The toilet in the hall is clogged up again."Fix it."Spenser left. The Widow Marden said, "Looks like Spenser knows everything. It's true what he said. I found Bugsy shot and got scared so I took the gun and went home. And it's true that Spencer solved the case and you, Marlow, didn't. So no half of the insurance money for you, buster."They all left. I sat in my chair and wondered about all this. Night fell and, from somewhere in the building, I heard laughter. I walked down the hall and peeked around Spenser's door. He and the Widow Marden were drinking champagne and chatting. As I moved to leave I heard her say, "Thanks again, Spenser. Impeccable timing. It went just as you said it would from the shooting to the alibi. You're just going to have to tell me again how you got Bugsy to hold on to both barrels. Well, here's cheers to your new office uptown away from that patsy down the hall."I crept away. For that the toilet would remain plugged until he moved. Tomorrow was Saturday. It would have a whiff of commode about it.MichaelR
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