THE WYCHERLY WOMAN Part Fourteen
The Answers Begin in Palo Alto, Just Not Right Away
Archer learns that the call to Bobby from Palo Alto came from that staple of Golden Age detective fiction, a public phone booth. But for once, Archer’s hard work is on the way to paying off. The operative term is, “on the way.” The phone booth is next to a gas station, and Archer not only gets his tank filled and his oil checked, he learns a good deal. So much that he is more confused than ever.
- A woman answering the description of Catherine Wycherly made a long-distance call at the time Bobby received a call, about six the previous evening. The woman was footsore from walking in high heels and was well-dressed.
- In the middle of the call, she asked him for the nearest motel. The attendant said that the closest one was the Sierra Motel but warned her about staying there. She ignored his advice and walked off in that direction when she was done with the call.
- It gets better. The attendant tells Archer that he is the second person that morning to ask about the woman. The first wasn’t Bobby Doncaster—it was an older man with glasses and a mustache. The attendant got the impression that the man was a doctor and there was some kind of medical emblem on his car.
- Neither the car nor the description of the man match anything Archer has encountered so far.
- The doctor, if that’s what he was, drove off in the direction of the Sierra Motel.
The Sierra Motel, Where One-Star Yelp Reviews Began
The exterior of the motel fully justifies the attendant’s warning, but parked in front of the rear cabin is Bobby’s car. Archer pounds on the door. The only response is from the female manager, who displays a gun. Archer intimidates her with an old special deputy badge he obtained years ago from the LA County Sheriff under dubious circumstances. She agrees to open the unit for him. Archer draws his gun and enters.
Inside is an unmade double bed where two people had slept, and probably done much more. A small overnight bag holds some of Bobby’s clothes.
Macdonald is not above a little humor:
I glanced into the kitchenette. On the sinkboard a half-eaten hamburger with pink insides reposed on a paper plate. The dusty bland eyes of a cockroach regarded me from behind the remains of the hamburger. He was almost big enough to have eaten the other half. I didn’t shoot him.
The story he gets from the manager partly confirms Archer’s predictions but creates additional confusion.
- Catherine Wycherly, registering as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” checked in about six and said her husband would be along later. Bobby arrived about eleven. So far, so good.
- This morning the older man with the mustache showed up, looking for the woman.
- Bobby and Catherine let him into the room and they talked for about twenty minutes. Then the woman left with the older man, reluctantly.
Since Archer has no idea who this new person is, or where he would have taken her, Bobby is his only lead. He settles down in the room with the cockroaches to wait.
Bobby comes in, expecting to be alone, and Archer takes advantage of his surprise. Archer blocks Bobby’s attempts to resist or escape and throws him down on the bed.
It’s time for Bobby to spill the beans.