IT STARTS TO COME TOGETHER
A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine . . .
Archer traces Florie, Benning’s receptionist, to a sleazy hotel where she had spent the night with Max Heiss and a half-gallon of muscatel. She says that Heiss drove off last night and did not return.
Even though Florie is one of the least insightful characters in the book, she has a couple of nuggets.
- Benning had only come back to be with her husband two weeks ago. Dr. Benning’s explanation was that she has been in a sanitarium.
- Benning paid her three hundred dollars the evening she had seen Heiss talking to her at the restaurant, with the understanding that she would leave town.
- The Monday two weeks ago when she came in to clean, she found blood on the exam room floor. Benning claimed a tourist had cut his finger.
- She saw Heiss driving Singleton’s car the previous evening.
The Goddess of Coincidence Does More Than Just Smile on Archer
After Florie identifies the burned body in the morgue as Heiss from his teeth, Archer reads a telegram meant for Heiss and conveniently misdelivered to him.
- It tells him that Una Dorano has a brother, deeply involved in the Detroit mob, who was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor ten years ago. Recently he was arrested for a violent assault but was placed in a mental hospital instead.
- Dorano is drawing two to three thousand dollars a week from his various rackets but has not been seen in Detroit in months. Neither has his sister Una.
- His affairs in Detroit are being handled by a mob associate named Garbold (the man Una was telephoning when Lucy was killed.)
Archer tells the police what he has learned, including his speculation that after Heiss located Singleton’s car, Heiss’ plan was after more than simply the five-thousand-dollar reward. He wanted to blackmail Una and her brother. By now it seems clear that Singleton has been dead for the last two weeks and that whatever their level of responsibility is, Una and her brother want to keep it quiet. Archer can’t be sure of this, of course, but it would provide a motive for Heiss’ death.
The police are interested but unconvinced. The following quote is from chapter Nineteen but it fits just as well here:
“The frayed ends of several lives, Singleton’s and his blonde’s, Lucy’s, and Una’s, were braided into the same case. The pattern I was picking out strand by strand was too complicated to be explained in the language of physical evidence.”
The police are willing to accompany Archer to Dr. Benning’s to see Mrs. Benning, but when they arrive the following transpires:
- Benning tells them she has gone to San Francisco for a few days.
- He claims not to know exactly where she is or when she will be back.
- The police search the house; not only is she not there, but none of her clothes are, either. Benning shrugs this off, saying she doesn’t have many clothes.
- When Archer needles him about whether he is even married Benning produces an Indiana marriage license from 1943 identifying the bride as Elizabeth Wionoski—a name mentioned in the telegram.
The Days of the Smart Aleck are Behind Us
Conflict between the police and the private detective is such a familiar trope in hardboiled fiction that it is almost expected. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe verbally sparred with the police as a matter of routine. The tradition exists for some good narrative reasons.
- It allows the detective to demonstrate his independence and defiance of authority.
- It can be used as a plot device to increase tension, either by placing restrictions on what the detective can do, or by imposing time limits on the action.
- Whenever the individual is in competition with a government agency to solve the same crime, our sympathies will tend to be drawn to the underdog.
It is also a very easy thing to overdo, and Macdonald was guilty of that in many of his early books. Now he demonstrates more control. Archer initially comes across as dismissive of the police and they are not slow in returning the favor. But over the course of the novel the relationship changes to one of mutual, if grudging, respect.
This is seen clearly in Chapter Twenty-Six, when the police lieutenant tells Archer that although the lieutenant does not have enough to proceed officially, he won’t mind if Archer can bring in more evidence. Archer notes, at the end of the chapter,
“I dropped him at the rear of City Hall. He didn’t ask me what I intended to do next.”