The day was packing heat and cracking wise as the scorching sun torched the hot dry Santa Anas like fry on rice, crispy with a snap, crackle and pop, and poured into the surreal bowl of the Los Angeles Basin. The red winds were fanning out and fraying every nerve and rattling every dwelling from Bay City bungalow to Bel Air chateau like a china shop in a bullring. The whole stinking, teeming tinderbox was as combustible as a drill sergeant at clown college, as unsettling as corn on the cob rationing at an Iowa Society picnic.
At times like these, every sentence ends in a strained simile. Pallid little poets feel the dulled edge of their wits and burn the midnight oil at both ends studying mixed metaphors for sense. Anything can happen. If you’re a private dick putting on the tough for yet another case that gets you nothing but yet another kick in the kidneys and yet another homicide or two, you can even get out of bed in the morning wishing all yets were off.
I hauled my carcass to my office in the Cahuenga Building. Someone was cooling their heels in the outer office. Twenty-five bucks a day plus expenses came calling, but I didn’t feel up to socking the clock. Another day, another dolorous sinking feeling. I saw the would-be client was a blonde, the requisite blond du jour of the day. Another dame, another doll face.
“Mr. Marlowe? Philip Marlowe?” It was more a plea than an inquiry, an all-too-familiar appeal the familiarity of which was breeding an all-too-familiar contempt. “I need your services,” she continued. “I’m Miranda… Miranda Wright.”
She was arresting, with hair the color of amber waves of grain and big blue eyes like spacious skies. Nothing about her was plain, fruited or otherwise, and God shed his grace further by throwing her more curves than the Grapevine to Gorman. From the arc of her appraising brow to the arch supporting a shapely ankle, she had enough curves to make a cubist put a boot through a Braque. Hairpin curves, bell curves, parabolic curves, logarithmic curves, curves such that the sums of the distances from each point in their periphery from two fixed points are equal. Every square inch of Miranda was curves.
There had to be an angle.
“Let me guess,” I sighed. “You’re the small-town starstuck crazy kid with a crazy tinsel town dream mixed up with small-time hoods and murder. Or you’re the boozehound floozy mixed up with a pin-jabbing gambler who’s mixed up with racketeers, a gangster’s moll, and murder. Maybe you’re the snob-column society swell descended from the first lungfish that crawled ashore Plymouth Rock, mixed up with a mixed-up black sheep heir who’s mixed up in blackmail and murder.”
“That’s a lot of murders and mix-ups.”
“Did I miss much? If it’s not a match, it’s a mishmash, or a mix and match of a mess, Miss. But I won’t fix your mix-ups–much missed, matched, mishmashed, or mix-matched.”
“Why won’t you?” she demanded.
“It doesn’t add up,” I figured, nonplussed. “Whatever the case, in case I take your case, I’ll be out in no time flat and up to my neck in head saps and stiffs breathing down my neck.” I gave her the once-over twice. “And just maybe you’ll double-cross me.”
She looked doubly cross. “But you have to help me!”
“Maybe because trouble is your business, and I’m trouble, if that’s any of your business. Maybe because down these mean streets a man must go who is himself not mean, if you know what I mean.” Miranda eyed me, giving my tired, poor, huddled flesh a gander. “Maybe because you need the exercise.”
“I get all the exercise I need just pushing my luck. And push just came to shove,” I declared, finally resigned to resigning. “I’m shoving off, Duchess, saying so long, ta-ta and toodle-oo. I’m going to do what I should’ve done long ago–become a famous novelist and hightail it to a pretty little coastal town, La Jolla, where writing about trouble will be my only business, where there are no mean streets and they stop the Santa Anas at city limits, where the only exercise I’ll need is to live my big dream until I sleep the big sleep.”
“Well, that was certainly a long goodbye,” replied Miranda, longingly, lingeringly beseechingly, come-hitheringly. It was an entreaty that seemed more femme than fatale, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
“Farewell, my lovely,” I said hardboilededly, but feeling not quite so hard, a shade less boiled, and much less deadly.