THE IVORY GRIN
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE MOUNTVIEW MOTEL AND TRAILER COURT
Archer checks into the room adjoining Lucy’s and makes a call to Una at the Mission Hotel in downtown Bella City. A few minutes later she appears at Lucy’s door and pushes her way inside. Archer presses his ear to the thin wall.
It’s Time for Another Eavesdropping
Not all of what Archer hears makes sense at the time but all of it is important:
- When Lucy says that she is going to look for a job, Una warns her not to go to Detroit; if she does Una will have a reception committee waiting for her.
- Although Lucy promises not to tell anyone, Una says that she is certain sooner or later Lucy is going to blab and throws in a racist insult about how all you people blab.
- Una talks about her own duty to her brother, who so far has not been mentioned.
- Una offers Lucy a thousand dollars for information on “where she is” but Lucy says she does not know where “she” is.
- Una asks if “he” was badly hurt and whether “he” is still alive. When Lucy refuses to answer, Una hits her.
- Una raises her offer to five thousand dollars and throws in another racist insult as an additional inducement. When Lucy doesn’t respond, Una storms out.
The Investigation Continues, with some Memorable Language
Lucy leaves her motel room a few minutes later, looking shaken. Archer follows her on foot.
At one point he is close enough that he turns away to let her walk past. “Bent over a bin of oranges with my back to the street, I heard her heels on the pavement and felt her shadow brush past me, like a cold feather.”
Archer follows her to a dilapidated house being used as the medical office of Samuel Benning. Lucy is not in the waiting room, but a dark-haired woman appears:
“She wore the gray striped uniform of a nurse’s aide, and she was handsome in a plump and violent way. Her black eyes looked at me as if they knew it.”
The woman is Dr. Bennett’s wife and she will be a person of consequence in the story.
Archer can hear Lucy’s voice in an adjoining room but can’t catch any words. Then Dr. Benning, a pale, wrinkled balding man, comes into the reception area and tells his wife that he needs help from her.
Archer leaves the medical office and waits outside. He follows Lucy back to the train station and watches as she buys a ticket.
Meet Maxfield Heiss, Like it or Not
At the station, Archer is accosted by a disgraced former private detective who has been following Lucy. Macdonald holds back nothing in painting a portrait of a detestable PI, including his obnoxious affectation of inserting bad French into his dialogue. It’s an unnecessary effort because the contrast with Archer’s integrity is so clear.
For all his many faults, Heiss serves as a mainspring to move the story along at several points.
- Heiss was hired by Una with a promise of five thousand dollars for locating Lucy. Not that it matters, but Una gave Heiss an even more implausible story of why she was looking for her.
- Heiss had spent a week locating Lucy but when he called Una with the information, she fired him. (And apparently hired Archer, using Heiss’ findings, figuring that she had no reason to pay Heiss five thousand when she could have Archer do it for a hundred.)
- Spoiler alert—Heiss does not tell the truth unless it’s absolutely necessary and very little of what he tells Archer is true beyond the fact that he was been working the case for a week already.
As they are talking, Archer sees Lucy leave the station and get into a car with Alex Norris, the son of her landlady, at the wheel. Archer shakes off Heiss and attempts to follow, but he loses them. He stops to eat and then walks back to the motel.
Lucy Champion’s Murder
Archer sees that Lucy’s room key is in the door. When she doesn’t answer he slips inside and finds her body, her throat cut. In her hand is a bloody knife of a bolo design that belongs to Alex Norris.
In the world of Ross Macdonald, suitcases are seldom used for their intended purpose. Mostly they exist to provide clues. Lucy’s are no exception:
- The minor clue is a letter from Lucy’s mother, confirming to Archer that Lucy is from Detroit and that Lucy had lost her job recently.
- The bigger clue is a newspaper clipping that a socialite, Mrs. Charles Singleton, was offering a reward of five thousand dollars for information regarding the whereabout of her son Charles Singleton, Jr, who had disappeared a week before. The missing man had left the wealthy community of Arroyo Beach and had not been seen since. The sheriff did not believe this was a kidnapping because no ransom demand had been made and there was nothing to suggest foul play.