Phillip Marlowe is minding his own beeswax, having a beer in a bar conveniently located within staggering distance of his apartment. Business is as lite as the beer if lite beer had been invented, with only one other customer in the bar. The drunken man has a pile of dimes in front of him and is pounding back shots of rye like there is no tomorrow, which there technically never is.
Another man walks into a bar. He asks the bartender, “Seen a lady in here, buddy? Tall, pretty, brown hair, in a print bolero jacket over a blue silk crepe dress, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a velvet band?” The drunk whips out a .22, shoots the man twice, and says “So long, Waldo” before the man has a chance to further detail the woman’s make-up, kicks, and knack for accessorizing. He turns the gun on Marlowe and the bartender, moves toward the door, plays Where’s Waldo’s Car and drives off in it.
Marlowe goes back to his apartment. When the elevator doors open on the 4th floor, he sees a girl dressed just as Waldo had described. He suggests she slip out of that hat and jacket and into his apartment to avoid the cops. While he is mixing some drinks, she pulls out a gun. Turns out Waldo
is was a man named Joseph Coates who also lives lived in Marlowe’s building. While they are talking, Marlowe is able to hear the elevator and then footsteps in the hall which makes me wonder why this building is so popular.
The man who killed Waldo / Coates points the same .22 in Marlowe’s face. The dame comes up behind him and pokes a gun in his ribs. Marlowe gives him a knee in the cajones. She leaves and Marlowe calls the cops. He talks Detective Copernik into taking credit for taking the man down.
The dame reconnects with Marlowe and spills names like a third hot toddy. She is Lola, the wife of Frank Barsaly. She helpfully gives Marlowe her address and does that weird old timey thing where she gives the last 5 digits of her phone number. Frank was out of town a lot so she started keeping time with Stan Phillips. For polishing his fob, he gave her a pearl necklace worth $15,000, although it felt like a million to him. After Stan died in a plane crash, she hooked up with their chauffeur Waldo. When Frank returned, he booted Waldo out, but Waldo stole the necklace and held it hostage for the low, low price of $5,000.
Lola asks Marlowe to search Waldo’s apartment, where she had been heading the night they met. He doesn’t find the necklace, but does find a choker — a dead man hanged in the apartment. He doesn’t mention this to Lola; he just sends her off. He also doesn’t mention the keys he found in the corpse’s pocket which fit a Packard downstairs.
The keys have the name and address of a Eugenie Kolchenko on the case, so Marlowe drives the car to that address. The Russki offers a ten-spot for his valet service before a man joins them in the living room. He had hired the dead man to retrieve a briefcase Waldo had stolen. That man is dun-dun-dun Frank Barsaly. Marlowe will keep his part secret for a cool $500.
When Marlowe arrives back home, Detectives Copernik and Ybarra are waiting for him inside. Since this was written before the Bill of Rights, the detectives searched his place and found the bolero jacket and hat. Since it was written after Prohibition, they also helped themselves to Marlowe’s hooch. Marlowe knows he’s busted for not telling the cops about the girl. He spills his guts figuratively, but Copernik wants to spill them literally. Ybarra turns out to be an honest or, at least, reasonable cop. They agree not to haul Marlowe in if they get credit for cracking the case. Ybarra even lets him keep the pearls they recovered from Waldo’s car — they were $100 fakes anyway.
Marlowe meets Lola. Sadly, she and Frank are separating. If these two crazy kids who are accepting $100k gifts from other men, banging the chauffeur, sending a hit-man to make collections, and shacking up with a Commie can’t make it work what chance do any of us have?
There is a bit with a second string of pearls and a package that I guess I will never understand. I suppose her jacket and hat are in the box, but why the drama? He gives her a super-cheap knock-off of her pearls and chucks the original into the sea, pearl by pearl.
Despite being baffled by the ending, a great story. There is no reason for my mediocre writing to attempt to describe Chandler’s excellent writing. The prose is warm and thick, the characterizations are life-like, and the hats, my God, the hats!
-  That’s still $1,700 in today’s dollars.
- First Published in Dime Detective in January 1938.
- Also that month: Birth of The X-Files’ Cigarette Smoking Man.
- Used as the basis for two TV episodes starring Powers Booth and Danny Glover as Marlowe. Both actors were attempting to fill one shoe each of Humphrey Bogart, and I suspect they both failed.
- After skimming both episodes on YouTube, they both seem like pretty dreary affairs with many changes in just the bits I saw. The Glover version seemed better and had at least 2 bonuses: 1) Copernik was played by world’s greatest actor Dan Hedaya, 2) there was an interesting theory about that 2nd set of pearls. It didn’t fit with the short story, but maybe made sense for the episode.