THE WYCHERLY WOMAN Part Ten
The Place Where Something Important Happened, Maybe
Archer drives his car and follows the cabbie to The Conquistador, the apartment building where the cabbie left Phoebe. He talks his way past the landlady into Catherine Wycherly’s apartment, posing as a prospective tenant. But the more he looks, he has more questions than answers.
- The apartment was rented for a year by Catherine Wycherly, Phoebe’s mother. When Archer shows the landlady a photo of Phoebe, she identifies her as Catherine’s daughter, who used the apartment for a week in early November.
- The landlady says that Phoebe seemed depressed but that she didn’t know her well—Phoebe moved out after a week and left no forwarding address.
- The apartment has been vacant since Phoebe left and still contains all of Catherine’s furniture.
- The apartment contains a painting in the abstract style like the one Mrs. Wycherly painted for the marital home. When Archer takes it down to confirm that she painted it, he sees a hole in the wall behind where the painting hung.
- Wanting to confirm if the hole was made by a bullet, Archer knocks on the door of the adjoining apartment. The door is answered by one of Macdonald’s most charming minor characters, a beatnik named Jessie. She is living with the tenant, a man named Stanley, while she attempts to compose her life story, which consists of random sexual and drug encounters, often in combination.
- Archer confirms there is no hole in the wall at the level of the hole in the Wycherly apartment but finds a hole at the baseboard which has been crudely patched. Archer concludes that someone in Stanley’s apartment ran a wire through the wall to bug the Wycherly apartment.
- Archer notices that Stanley’s apartment is filled with electronic gear. Jessie confirms that he used to work as a disk jockey before being fired. Now he has a record shop at a shopping center.
- Jessie has only been staying here since the first of the year. She doesn’t recognize Phoebe’s photograph and never met Mrs. Wycherly. This is consistent with the timeline provided by the landlady.
- On a hunch, Archer asks Jessie if Stanley is a heavy-set boy with blond hair, and she confirms that it’s him.
- On the way out, Archer sees the landlady, who tells him that when Mrs. Wycherly first rented the apartment, she brought in brand-new, expensive furniture but was hardly ever there. She spent most of her time at a studio somewhere else, painting. Archer says that he will be back later.
When Archer Finally Gets a Lead He Doesn’t Let Go
Archer follows the taxi driver in his own car to Stanley’s record store and has the cabbie go in, posing as a customer, to see if he can identify Stanley as the man who barged in when he brought Phoebe to the apartment. Although the cabbie takes the precaution of removing his cap and jacket, Stanley recognizes him anyway.
Archer pays the cab driver for his time, waits a while, and then tries his own luck in the record store. Stanley had only seen Archer briefly, at Merriman’s real estate office, and doesn’t recognize him.
Stanley is a nasty piece of work and Archer enjoys making him sweat. Stanley is vague about recognizing Phoebe’s photograph. When Archer has him thoroughly cornered Stanley ends the conversation by pulling a gun. Archer doesn’t think he will shoot, but he has a better idea. He figures that Stanley is nervous enough to flee the store. Archer finds a convenient place to park where he can watch the parking lot.
Stanley storms out a few minutes later, inconspicuous in a red beret, and gets into a matching red Alfa Romero. Archer is up to the challenge of tailing him. His destination is Merriman’s house.
It’s time for one of Archer’s eavesdrops, this one between Stanley and the grieving widow Sally Merriman. Instead of lurking by a convenient open window, Archer employs some technology—a microphone that he places against the sliding glass door.
- Stanley begs Sally repeatedly and urgently for money and she insists she has none. Midway through the conversation it is revealed that he is her younger brother.
- She tells him that the original $25,000 from swindling Mandeville is gone.
- Stanley insists that when Merriman came back from Sacramento he had $50,000 in cash—nearly all of the proceeds of the sale of Mrs. Wycherly’s house. Sally denies having it and suggest the money doesn’t exist. Stanley tells her that Merriman showed the money to his girlfriend Jessie as part of an attempt to seduce her. Jessie’s standards are not high, but the seduction failed because Jessie thought the money was counterfeit.
- Sally can’t understand why Mrs. Wycherly would have given Merriman the sales proceeds. Stanley knows but refuses to explain.
- Convinced that his sister really doesn’t have the money, Stanley changes the subject; he asks her for a tape in Merriman’s safe so Stanley can use it for blackmail. He offers to split the money with her. Archer learns no details of who would be blackmailed because Sally refuses to become involved in the scheme.
- Stanley storms out so quickly Archer is unable to follow, and he doesn’t return to the record store or go to Merriman’s office. Archer is stuck, but only for the moment.