This Calls for a Drink
After Graff leaves, Archer marvels that Bassett stood up to the most powerful member of the club but Bassett shrugs it off, saying he wouldn’t have been that brave if he’d been sober. In fact his courage comes from deeper sources, as we will learn in a moment.
Archer and Bassett start to talk, and Archer says that he has just talked to Hester at the family mansion a few hours before. Bassett is utterly shocked and relieved to know that she is still alive. His reaction makes it clear that, contrary to his earlier story, he is very much concerned about her welfare, even if their relationship isn’t physical.
Even though the evidence is thin, Archer is starting to put it together. He asks Bassett if Hester took anything of his when she disappeared, which Bassett denies. But Archer is suspicious that Hester was trying to blackmail Simon Graff and that the theft—if there was one—had something to do with it. Since Archer has no clear information that Hester took anything, this is a shaky inference.
Archer takes it one step further—Simon Graff may not have killed Gabrielle Torrez, but Graff’s wife, Isobel, had motive in getting rid of a romantic rival. Bassett insists Isobel is deeply mentally ill but not violent, and that she spends most of her time in a private sanitarium in Santa Monica run by a psychiatrist, a Dr. Frey.
Bassett is far too drunk to be discreet and his sad story comes out:
- In his youth he was in love with Isobel but her father, Peter Helipoulos forbade the marriage and forced her to marry Simon Graff instead. (This is important to the plot but it makes absolutely no sense. Twenty years before, Bassett had money, education and social connections and wasn’t yet a drunk. Graff was a small-time gangster. Neither Bassett nor Graff were Greek so that wasn’t a factor.)
- The only explanation I can find is that Peter thought he could use his daughter as a money-making opportunity by cementing his relationship with Graff and his mob money. Most people have lawyers draw up contracts and write checks, but Macdonald likes to have a generation-old grievance to fuel his plot, so there you go.
- The marriage was miserable. It accelerated Isobel’s instability and alcoholism. Graff never bothered to hide his numerous affairs. Isobel’s father went into business with his son-in-law in Helio-Graff Studios despite Graff’s brutal treatment of his daughter.
- Isobel is mostly confined to a private mental hospital but poor Bassett continues to visit her regularly, although Graff does not.
- Bassett insists that Isobel could not have killed Gabrielle because Isobel was locked up at the time.
The Obligatory Macdonald Expiation of His White Guilt
I admire both Macdonald’s thirst for racial justice and his courage in publishing his views to readers of hard boiled crime fiction in the fifties, an audience hardly likely to be sympathetic. But this time he lays it on pretty thick and takes three chapters to do it.
After Bassett passes out, Archer encounters a black club employee, Joseph Tobias, reading a sociology text. He is attending junior college but is already using words like “endeavor” instead of “try” and likes to drop—or rather, jam—references to Irish mythology into the conversation. In his spare time he seems to be a socialist. He is probably the least convincing minor character Macdonald ever created, but the author’s heart is in the right place, God love him.
Amongst the references to philosophy, black identity and poetry, Archer gets some hard facts. It will come as no surprise to a reader of a Ross Macdonald novel to find the first physical clue on page 130.
- Tobias found one of the earrings Gabrielle was wearing the night she was murdered near the pool, next to the drain.
- Gabrielle was wearing the other one when her body was found on the beach. She was otherwise naked.
- Tobias confirms that Simon Graff was having a regular affair with Gabrielle in his cabana at the club.
- As we already know, Gabrielle was shot twice, a minor one in the leg and a second one in her heart that was fatal.
- Archer earns his pay. He deduces that since a woman would not wear one earring if she knew one was missing, Gabrielle probably lost the earring somewhere in the pool area in the initial struggle and then crawled away to the beach. She would have left a blood trail that someone would have hosed off, displacing the earring to the drain cover.
- Marfeld, who was a cop at the time, tortured Tobias to confess, based on nothing more than racial prejudice. Because Tobias didn’t trust Marfeld he never told him or anyone else about the earring till now.
- Tobias denies any personal relationship with Gabrielle—she was half-white and therefore socially superior to him, even if she was also half-Mexican.