THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE
So How Do You Like Oasis So Far?
When Archer and Dalling arrive at the house, Dalling drives past and parks up the road. When Archer says that he thought they were going in together, Dalling begs off, pleading that since Tarantine knows him, Tarantine would be suspicious to see him because Tarantine had insisted on complete seclusion.
The idea that a mobster in hiding would be more at ease when a total stranger arrives at his door in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night certainly occurs to Archer. However, he decides to go in alone, on the suspicion that Dalling would be worse than useless if things with Tarantine turn violent.
Archer approaches the house on foot, circling it once and noting Tarantine’s bronze Packard in the driveway.
He goes to the door and knocks. Galley Lawrence answers, a gun in her hand, and tells him to go away. When Archer announces who he is and his errand, she initially disbelieves him, but is eventually convinced. He tries to persuade her to leave but she refuses, citing her fear of her husband who she says is sleeping in the next room. She urges him to leave. As Archer turns to open the screen door, she warns. “Look out!” Archer is hit on the head and falls unconscious.
Say Hello to Marjorie Fellows
When Archer comes to, he is outside the house and his gun is missing. He is being tended to by a big, well-dressed middle-aged Midwestern woman who says she was driving by and saw him lying in the front yard. Her car is not in sight. She is something of a ditz and Archer does not need her distractions. But he needs to search the house and she isn’t leaving, so he goes in through the back and searches the house while she waits outside. Galley and Tarantine are gone. Archer finds little of interest, although he notes a large deep-freezer in a corner of the garage. This will be important later. When Marjorie asks him his business there, he says he is renting the house; since he is able to identify Keith Dalling as the landlord, she accepts his explanation.
Since Dalling’s car is gone, as well as Tarantine’s, Archer is stranded till he can get his car in Palm Springs. Marjorie offers to drive him to her hotel, the Oasis Inn, where he can call a cab. On the way we learn a bit of her story:
- She is on her honeymoon with her new husband, Colonel Henry Fellows, whom she just married in Reno after her divorce came through.
- She describes her husband as a large man in his forties, tall and very attractive. She has only known him a short time.
- She married him on the rebound after divorcing her husband and confesses that she does not know him well. Fellows has been disappearing for “work” during their honeymoon and making mysterious phone calls. She wonders what he is doing.
- She asks Archer if it could have been her husband who hit him.
- Archer is suspicious of her story of how her car happened to be some distance from the Dalling house. When he asks her whether she had parked and walked back to see if her husband was there, she does not answer.
The chapter ends with Archer briefly meeting Colonel Fellows when Marjorie drops him off at the hotel. Fellows is a powerfully-built, domineering man and Archer dislikes him immediately. Fortunately Fellows accepts Archer’s story that Archer’s car had broken down in the desert and Marjorie had simply been out for a drive.
We will be meeting Colonel and Marjorie Fellows again before the book is done.
Let’s Get Back to LA Where Things Are Simpler
Archer is missing his gun and was left high and dry by Dalling, so his next move, a visit to Dalling’s apartment to ask him what happened, seems like a good idea.
Not so much.
Archer arrives at Dalling’s apartment at the same time as the milkman and they exchange pleasantries. When Archer tries the door, it’s open. (One would think that Archer would be wary of entering unlocked apartments in this building, considering what happened to him when he entered Tarantine’s across the hall, but Archer presses on.)
Archer’s search reveals:
- The apartment is filthy and filled with empty liquor bottles.
- The only object of value is a hand-tooled leather book of love poetry inscribed to him by “Jane.”
- Dalling is dead in his bed, shot in the back of the neck.
- Papers in the pocket of the corpse show that he is deeply in debt, which is consistent with what he’d told Archer about his career troubles at the Lariat the night before.
- Archer’s gun is nowhere to be found.
- Archer finds a personal letter, on studio letterhead, to Dalling, indicating that “Jane” is Jane Hammond, a studio executive. The two of them had an affair which is now over.
- Dalling’s address book contains the address and telephone number of Mrs. Samuel Lawrence, Galley’s mother.
Who’s on First?
At this moment, the close of Chapter Eleven, Macdonald has achieved a sweet spot in mystery writing. Archer knows enough to know that at least some of the characters are hiding something, but he’s not sure what—or which ones.
At this point, the only person who could tell Archer what was going on is dead.
- Tarantine looks like a good candidate for the murder.
- Dowser would be a good second choice, if only Dowser had known where to find him. As Tarantine’s landlord, Dalling could have led Dowser to Tarantine. Was Archer followed? Dowser has no reason to trust Archer, so it’s a real possibility.
- And then we have Colonel Fellows, who has picked an odd place for a honeymoon and an ever odder way of passing the time.
- Was Galley trying to warn him about the man sneaking up behind Archer, or not?