THE ZEBRA-STRIPED HEARSE              Part Three



                                     Things Fall Apart


                           I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (or That I Wouldn’t Bring a Shotgun)


The situation could not be more dire. Not only does Blackwell have the shotgun leveled at Damis’ chest, but Damis is taunting him, stepping closer and forcing Blackwell to step back to maintain some distance. Archer distracts Blackwell long enough to grab hold and wrest it away or this would be a very short book. Both barrels are loaded.

Blackwell explains he is so angry because Isobel has just announced that they are getting married.  Neither Blackwell’s bluster nor Harriet Blackwell’s attempts to calm Isobel down have any effect; Damis and Isobel drive away and Blackwell storms into the house.

Archer and Harriet talk at length. She tells him that Blackwell has been unhappy since he was involuntarily retired from the army and that Blackwell and his first wife, Pauline, divorced not long after his retirement. Pauline remarried and moved to Mexico. Harriet and Blackwell have only been married for a year. Her late husband, Ronald Jaimet, and Blackwell were best friends for many years so she and Blackwell knew each other well.

You will not believe this, but that’s a clue.  Just wait two hundred pages.

It’s not crucial to the plot, but for the second time, Archer catches himself admiring Harriet as a woman.  Of course it can’t go anywhere—this is a Ross Macdonald novel, after all, but there is a little something in the air when the two are together.


                                          Back to the Beach House


             Archer tries his luck at the beach house. The young couple have taken their belongings, but Archer finds a ticket envelope from Mexicana Airlines indicating that a Mr. Q.R. Simpson was flying from Mexico City to Los Angeles on same the date that Damis (and Isobel) flew to LA.

As he is leaving, Archer meets one of the surfer girls who is shivering from the cold; she pulls out a man’s brown tweed jacket from the hearse to keep herself warm. Arches notices that it’s missing the top button.

`One guess whether this is a clue.

Archer goes to see the police detective that referred Blackwell to Archer.  His information reinforces Archer’s suspicion that Damis is an alias–there is no criminal record on Damis, but Q.R. Simpson lives in San Mateo County and according to his wife, has been missing for two months.


                                            The First of Many Flights


Archer flies to San Francisco and goes to the home of Quincy Ralph and Vicky Simpson. She is deeply suspicious of Archer.  When he describes Damis, she tells him she doesn’t know anyone who looks like that, but he’s sure she’s lying. She also says there are no pictures of her husband anywhere in the house. She denies he ever went to Mexico but she acknowledges that when he left, he took his birth certificate with him.

Exactly where her husband was going or what he was going to do is nothing his wife is going to tell Archer, even if she knew. She says he had dreams of being a private investigator and thinks he may have been working on a case, but that’s as much as she’ll say.

The story is prevented from stalling by a providential phone call from the Citrus City police; they have an unidentified body that could be Q.R. Simpson


                                        Citrus City, Here We Come


             The body was discovered by a bulldozer while demolishing an old house.  The cause of death was a small wound, apparently made by an ice pick, and the body was buried in a shallow grave. Vicky Simpson identified the body as her husband. The way Macdonald presents the identification scene, it seems like Vicky might be identifying someone else as her husband. But trust me that it’s really him—the story will get baffling enough without manufacturing unnecessary complications.









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