Ext., late morning. Delaney is stepping out of his car, a Packard convertible. The sun is angled high in the sky.
I knew the streets well, but I knew the time of day better. Its angle bled the awning’s red and yellow light onto the pavement as it met a sun creeping closer to midday. With just two steps I was surrounded by a halo of advertising. I imagined how foolish I must look to the aimless tourists who looked my way, overdressed and bathed in an odd red and yellow aura.
I knew the streets well from years of walking them alone. The Packard sat in its usual parking spot as I walked quickly—but not as quickly as usual—alongside the cars squealing and puffing in the afternoon’s youth. Though I could not keep up with them, I did not want to. My thoughts kept pace with my feet, racing sometimes and slowing at others as I drew back into the real world to watch for changing traffic lights and tenacious police officers chasing unknowns down the alleys, tiny spokes in the city’s wheel.
I thought of Candy and Don, and I thought of Sadie. I thought of Angeline too, though she was just a ghost of electricity, fewer than a handful of flickering neurons. Candy and Julian Hartnett seemed unhappy, a marriage of convenience and of wealth, or perhaps what the pulps used to call a whirlwind romance. Empty, in other words. Sadie Jenkins seemed bitter about being implicated in this whole ordeal, but her pouting was just cover for an incessant loneliness.
I thought of the prurient tourists watching me. Walking the length of the unusually empty street, the centre of my own world and yet a mere bit player to so many others—all-important and yet nothing in the grand scheme of things. I thought of a tiger in an enclosure. Safe in a cage, free from worries and yet aware that the cage is finite, its potential limited.
Int. It is early afternoon but to the few people in the Idlewild lounge and bar there would be no indication to that effect. There is no natural light, just a soft red glow of lamps. Delaney is seen only by a bartender as he enters. He opens his jacket.
I dug into my inside pocket and produced the note that had been pinned to the front of my apartment door some time during the night. It read: Meet at the Idlewild, 12.30 tomorrow. It was cryptic enough to be interesting and yet dull enough to be irritating. My watch read 12.42 p.m. I walked the bar’s length and back again. “Can I get you something?” the bartender said, cautiously.
“You can get me a gin and tonic,” I replied. There were ten or so people in the lounge, and one of them was my date. Glancing around, there weren’t many who would make it to a second date.
A hand brushed my shoulder and drew up to the bar alongside me. I said, “I thought I was supposed to be watching you.”
“Well I thought I would give you a head start.” Sadie pouted, unpouted. “And offer to buy you a drink…” I took up the gin and tonic set on the bar and let her pay. Her voice was as smoky as the room.
“How exactly did you get up to my apartment in the middle of the night?” I mused, swirling the ice cubes in the glass, just for something to do. “And why are you playing nice all of a sudden?”
“It wasn’t me, Ray,” she said sternly. “I know that Hartnett’s wife told you I took the Sprite papers, but it’s not true. He’s using her to deflect suspicion—from himself.” She was beginning to sound flustered, almost genuine. “When they arrived, Hartnett took them from the courier himself. He didn’t even let me even see them. The next day he called me into his office and told me I was fired…that he’d caught me stealing from the company. The bastard.”
“So you think he took them,” I summarised. I had finished the gin and tonic and pushed the glass towards the bartender, who had been studiously ignoring our conversation. “Thanks for the drink,” I said, and pretended to head for the door. Sadie grabbed my arm, her brown leather glove squeaking against my jacket.
“It wasn’t me…”
Ext., afternoon. Delaney reaches his Packard and climbs into the driver’s seat. The sun is growing redder in the sky.
I dropped my jacket onto the passenger seat and twisted the rear view mirror until it no longer reflected the diner window across the street. A Buick pulled out from behind me as if the streets were reading my thoughts. I couldn’t quite believe that Sadie could have made it past Mr Butler and up to my apartment door last night. Or at least, not unless they were working together. Was the Hartnett story an elaborate cover, and was Sadie involved with Butler and the ‘Sprite papers’—whatever they were? Or had the ex-Mrs Tannhauser been made an offer for them which she couldn’t refuse? Whichever way, I didn’t look forward to broaching the topic with Don.
I knew these streets well, but I didn’t know the people at all. The tourists were still ambling, lost in their cages. Sadie was sitting in the Idlewild with the other first-date rejects. And Candy was alone in her hotel room, I imagined, waiting for her exit scene.
Shut up, Delaney, I told myself. The Dictaphone I called my brain was running out of magnetic tape and I was running out of patience. I had to stay careful and stay in control. Dot the wrong I and cross the wrong T and bang, you’re IT, in the DA’s office faster than a short story on speed. I turned the key in the ignition.