THE MOVING TARGET
TIME FOR SOME FLOUNDERING
The pace slows considerably in the next five chapters.
(Some information omitted or re-arranged slightly in terms of presentation)
The only thing known about Sampson’s disappearance is that he didn’t show up at his bungalow at the Valerio hotel. Archer learns one important fact. Sampson called the hotel from the airport for a limousine and then almost immediately called back to cancel it.
Archer searches the bungalow and finds a photograph of a fading actress, Fay Estabrook. After some scenes which, as Peter Wolfe pointed out, add nothing to the book, Archer takes her out on the town and exploits her weakness for alcohol to the point where she is nearly unconscious. He takes her home and searches the place.
- He finds $8,000 to $10,000 in small, crumpled bills in envelopes in a dresser drawer plus some rough notations about amounts of money coming in and how the money is divided.
- As he is leaving he is confronted by a gunman named Dwight Troy who claims to be her husband. Archer beats a hasty retreat.
- Shortly after, Archer will learn that Troy and Estabrook are both involved in organized crime and that Troy is a dangerous criminal who has masterminded a number of shady deals. He is also suspected of killing several men.
Archer follows a lead to a jazz singer, Betty Fraley, at her venue, a down at the heels bar called the Wild Piano. Although a gifted singer, she is clearly under the influence of a cocaine addiction. She discovers Archer is a private investigator and calls the club bouncer, a powerful thug named Puddler, to take him into the alley and beat him up. Puddler’s work is interrupted by Taggert, who said he had come to the Wild Piano himself in hopes of getting a lead on Sampson.
Things are heating up. A letter has been received from Sampson, claiming he needs $100,000 in small bills for a business venture. Although Elaine Sampson recognizes his signature, no one believes that this is anything other than a ransom demand.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .
Events and clues pile up.
- Miranda Sampson has proven to be impetuous and emotional. She has a bitter argument with her stepmother in front of Archer.
- Archer looks away from the argument and happens to see a series of small black discs come from the direction of the lower level of the house and go into the sea. He does not have time to investigate this at the moment.
- Miranda attempts to make Taggert jealous by flirting with Archer. She only succeeds in irritating Archer and in arousing the real jealousy of Graves, who has come by to assist in the delivery of the ransom.
- Archer begins to suspect, if it is a kidnapping, that the kidnappers have inside information.
- Graves tells him that Sampson knows Dwight Troy and that the two of them spent time together in Las Vegas.
- Archer also learns that Sampson has substantial investments in local agricultural properties where the Mexican field workers are striking. Sampson has been bringing in Mexican workers as strike breakers.
The Temple in the Clouds and other fictions
Archer and Miranda visit the hunting lodge on the side of the mountain that Sampson gave to Claude, the “holy man” a few months ago. It is now being used as a “temple” for Claude and his followers.
- The place is vacant at the moment except for Claude and a female companion.
- Although no one else is around, the place has evidence of being occupied by others at times, and a large truck apparently made a delivery recently.
- Miranda backtracks on Elaine’s understanding that Sampson gave the mountain to Claude and says that Claude simply has permission to use it.
- On the way back from the Temple in the Clouds, Archer and Miranda are nearly run off the road by a dark limousine driven by a thin-faced man wearing a peaked cap, coming from the direction of the Sampson residence. Because there are no coincidences in a Ross Macdonald novel, it soon becomes clear that the driver was leaving the area after dropping off a ransom note demanding the payment of the $100,000. The pretense that this was a business deal is over.
- Archer calls the police and they discuss, among other things, the possibility that the same limousine may have been rented and used in the abduction of Sampson. As Archer hangs up he realizes someone in the house has been listening on an extension.
- The ransom money is dropped off and Archer waits down the road, hoping to trail whoever picks it up. The dark limousine flashes by. As Archer drives slowly along with his lights out, he hears a gunshot and then a cream-colored convertible driven by a woman goes by at a high rate of speed. Archer then comes upon the limousine. The thin-faced man is dead and the money is gone.
- Archer searches the body and finds the classic forties clue—a matchbook from a bar called The Corner, which happens to be a few miles down the road.