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The Bad Samaritan
A Brock Callahan Mystery
By William Campbell Gault
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1980 William Campbell Gault
All rights reserved.
Looking back on it now, if Homer hadn't died I wouldn't have been able to move up here to San Valdesto and live a life of boring ease. Then again, if Homer hadn't died I never would have met Maude Marner, an old biddy who could qualify as my favorite person in snug little, smug little San Valdesto.
Homer was my richest uncle. He had become my uncle by marrying my richest aunt. Homer had earned his money; my Aunt Sheila had accumulated her fortune by never marrying a poor husband. Homer was her fourth. He had brought Aunt Sheila to an economic level where she could afford to stop thinking about money.
So she divorced old Texas-bred Homer and married a younger man who could introduce her to the arts and the finer things of life—which included her money.
Homer sat around in that dank castle she had made him buy in Beverly Hills, sulking and drinking. Homer could always handle booze; it must have been the sulking that flipped him.
I had my last look at Homer and my first look at his new Ferrari on a drizzly afternoon in March. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the Ferrari that was going to permit me to move to San Valdesto and become bored.
I was staring moodily out the window of my little pine-paneled office in Beverly Hills on a drizzly afternoon in March, under the letters that read: Brock Callahan—Discreet Investigation at Moderate Rates. My rates were still moderate, but my investigations covered some areas now to which the words "discreet investigation" might not apply. Substitute "muscle."
Looking down at the street below, I saw this smooth machine pull into the parking space below the window. I hoped that some sleek young thing would now step out of it and head directly for my office. I love to fantasize about the upper classes, especially if they're young and feminine.
But Homer stepped out of it, two hundred and forty pounds of Texas flab. He saw me watching him and signaled for me to come down to the street, which I did.
"How do you like it?" he asked me.
"It's beautiful. When did you get it?"
"Ordered it last week, got it this morning. Almost four and a half liters under that hood. Big engine, huh?"
"Four and a half liters," I said, "reads out to roughly two hundred and seventy-five cubic inches. My Mustang has two hundred and eighty-nine."
"Mustang?" He stared at me. "You must be crazy! I could buy half a dozen Mustangs for what that beauty cost me. That is a twelve-cylinder car, Brock."
"And worth every dime they stuck you for it. Homer, I'm happy to see you have rejoined the living."
"I'm going to try," he said. "God damn that Sheila!"
I said nothing.
His face softened. "I'm sorry. I apologize. I keep forgetting that you're her nephew."
"She is what she is," I said, "as we all are, male and female. But I always thought you were too much man to be ruined by a hundred-and-twenty-two-pound woman."
"I love her, Brock. God damn her! I loved her and I still love her and she ran off with that young puke. I ain't got too many years left, man!"
"You're sixty. I'll tell you the deal I'm willing to make you. I'll trade you my age for your money."
"No, you wouldn't. You don't know what I've gone through. It has been one stinking year!"
All over the world, I thought, even among the poor. "Maybe," I said, "you should take a trip back to Texas and show your old neighbors this new Ferrari. A dose of nostalgia might bring you back to normal."
He shook his head. "There's nothing there for me. Of course, I've got only you and Jan here. Those friends of Sheila's dropped me the day she left me."
"No loss, from what I've seen of them."
"You are so right! But this is a big town. There must be some live wires I can mix with. I mean, with a heap like this, a young chick might overlook a few wrinkles."
"Don't do it," I advised him. "Find some firm-bodied woman around forty-seven who can appreciate money and a virile husband. In the long run she'll make you a lot happier."
"I had one of those," he said.
Sheila, he meant. She was fifty-one, a month from being fifty-two, but only Aunt Sheila and I knew that.
He sighed and shook his head. "We must both be nuts, standing here in the rain and talking about girls. I'll see you later, Brock. When it clears up we'll play some golf, right?"
"Right," I said.
"I've got to get over to Poole's and buy me a beret," he explained. "I'll phone you."
Homer Gallup in a Ferrari, talking liters and wearing a beret. He was a long way from Texas and Texas thinking.
My dearly beloved, my Jan, was out of town, redoing Glenys Christopher's house in Montevista, San Valdesto's swankiest suburb. This was the third time Glenys had redone her Montevista home. Evidently there were no interior decorators up there she trusted like my Jan. I had met Jan at Glenys's house too many years ago. Glenys had lived in Beverly Hills then, in a house the Christophers had occupied for almost a hundred years.
I was lonely, but I didn't want any ready young thing, nor even a Ferrari—at the moment. What I wanted was a tall glass of Einlicher. Only Heinie had it, within walking distance. I alerted my answering service and walked over to Heinie's.
The Rams' season was over, the Dodgers' season hadn't started. All Heinie wanted to talk about was the Lakers, and I am not a basketball fan. So I sat on a bar stool and drank my beer and listened to all the things Heinie could tell me about the Lakers that I didn't want to know. While I listened, the drizzle turned into rain, and the rain turned into a downpour.
Around six o'clock, I asked. "Do you have anybody in the kitchen who can fry a steak? I'm hungry."
"Of course I got somebody in the kitchen! I got dinner trade. What do you think this is, a dump?"
"A joint," I corrected him. "I've had a greasy pan-fried steak here for lunch, but I didn't know big-city dinner eaters liked that kind of food."
"You're not the only gourmet in town. What kind of steak were you considering?"
"Anything that didn't come off a horse. Whatever your best is, I'll have that."
So I had a juicy, greasy filet while his dinner crowd poured in, four men and two women. When the Laker pregame show came on from Seattle, Heinie had no talk for me; his eyes were glued to the tube.
I went home to my little Westwood pad through the slashing rain, through the glaring headlights of Wilshire Boulevard. The unmarried newlyweds in the next apartment were discussing her parents tonight. Their arguments were always louder and longer when her parents were under the adolescent microscope. Some loud and unidentifiable wailing was blasting from the expensive hi-fi of the U.C.L.A. students on the other side of me. The noise died after a while and the angry words from the other side reverted to giggles. Peace and quiet descended on the smoggy village of Westwood.
I slept. I dreamed. In Green Bay, the snow came down and Vilas ran straight at Horse Malone, my flanking partner on defense. You can run around Horse with a minimum of effort and speed. There is no way you can run over him.
But Vilas had never been short on ego. Horse hit him above the hips, and put the top of his helmet into Vilas's chin. The ball dropped to the frozen ground, and bounced high.
It bounced right up into my waiting hands and away I went, my only moment of glory in all those years with the Rams, my only touchdown.
The dream was interrupted this time. I was two yards short of the goal line when the referee's whistle blew—and blew and blew....
It wasn't a whistle, it was my phone ringing. I was back in my lumpy bed. It was three o'clock in the morning, and my phone was ringing.
The voice on the other end was soft and unctuous. "Mr. Callahan? Mr. Brock Callahan?"
"Sorry to disturb you at this hour, sir, but the police have insisted on identification and—"
"Who is this," I interrupted, "and who's dead?"
"I'm calling for the Westwood Village Mortuary," he said. "There was an accident out near Malibu earlier tonight and a man tentatively identified as Homer Gallup—"
" I'll be right over," I said.
It was only two blocks from my apartment and the rain had stopped. I walked over. The big double front door of the place was locked; there was a small nightlight over the side entrance to the parking lot.
The door opened as I approached it. A tall, thin man in mortuary black was silhouetted against the dim light from the hall behind him. "Mr. Callahan?" he asked.
"I'm George Ulver. This way, please."
He led me down the dim hallway to a door, and paused. "He, uh, went through the windshield. I hope—"
"I'm sure I've seen worse," I said.
The room was cold. The body was on what looked like an operating table. There had been some rearrangement of the facial features, but I nodded. "It's Homer Gallup," I said.
"Would you come to my office, please?" he asked. "There are a few papers—"
I should have been sad. I should have been sick, after looking at that disfigured face. But my dominant thought was—that damned fool!
In the narrow office, I asked, "Why here? Why isn't he at the morgue?"
"The police phoned his home," Ulver explained, "but evidently he lived alone, without servants. Mr. Gallup belonged to the Los Angeles Funeral Society and his membership card was in his wallet. We handle the funeral arrangements for the society's members."
"It's all arranged, then?"
He nodded. "Mr. Gallup filled out his instruction forms six months ago and we have a copy. He wished to be cremated and his ashes sent to a mortuary in Texas. I'm sure they have his instructions there, but we'll check it, of course. Now, about relatives ...?"
"The only one he ever mentioned to me was a cousin in Houston. I can't think of his name right now, but I'm sure I can get it for you."
Ulver checked through the papers on his desk. "Abner Shaw?"
"That's the man." I took a deep breath. "Was anybody else involved in the accident?"
He shook his head. "He was alone. He hit a bridge abutment at what the police called an extremely excessive rate of speed. The alcoholic reading in his blood was—"
"High," I finished for him. "It has been, ever since I've known him. Where are those papers I have to sign?"
When I went out again, the drizzle had resumed. There would be no funeral, not even a memorial service, so there was no point in phoning Jan now. He had spelled it all out on his instruction sheet. Though he had lived high, he would be cremated for less than two hundred dollars. Why not? Homer didn't like to pay for parties he didn't enjoy.
As for my Aunt Sheila, she was honeymooning with her new conquest somewhere in the Virgin Islands, a strange place to take her. If Jan wanted to notify her, she could. My affection for Aunt Sheila was at its all-time low this damp morning in Westwood.
When I phoned Jan, later that morning, Glenys answered the phone. "Brock? Are you coming up for the weekend?"
"I hadn't planned to. Could I speak with Jan? I have bad news."
Jan's reaction was the same as mine. "That damned fool!" she said.
"I suppose there's no point in trying to get in touch with Aunt Sheila. She wouldn't be interested. When are you coming home?"
"As soon as that furniture gets up here from Beverly Hills. When is the funeral?"
"There won't be any. His ashes are probably on the way to Texas by now."
"Why don't you come here? You could play golf with Skip Lund."
"Not on those crummy public courses he plays. Sandpiper is the only one worth playing, and it's jammed on weekends."
"For your information, snob, Skip no longer plays on the public courses. He is a member of Pine Valley Country Club."
"Skip? When did he get that kind of money?"
"I suppose he got it the day he married June Christopher. You remember June, don't you—June Christopher, Glenys's sister?"
"Vaguely. Okay, I have a credit check to take care of tomorrow, but maybe Saturday. I'll phone you."
Skip Lund had married money. At Stanford, Skip and I had played in two Rose Bowl games, I as a humble lineman, he as one in an impressive succession of Stanford quarterbacks. Our graduating class had voted him the only one most likely to succeed.
He hadn't succeeded in the pros, and had gone up to San Valdesto after two bad years in the pay-for-play leagues. There, he bought a small filling station in the Mexican district and earned just about enough for beans and franks.
Three years ago he had become involved in trouble with the law, and loyal Brock Callahan had gone up there (at no charge) to clear him—and make myself no longer welcome, at least to the police, in that perpetual vacationland ninety miles from here.
Now he had fulfilled his classmates' prophecy; he had succeeded the easy way. Now, maybe, I would get partial payment for a full week of investigative work I had squandered on him. Pine Valley Country Club in Montevista was one sweet golf course.
I could use some clean air and a weekend among the idle rich. Jan is a decorator and all her clients are rich. That is probably the main reason we had never got married.
So, on Saturday I packed my swimming trunks and my golf clubs in the old Ford and drove up to San Valdesto, a town with a minimum of smog and a maximum of rich people, a retreat from reality.
The opponents Skip lined up for two days of best-ball competition were rich enough to make their bets scary to me, but not to them. Or, I suppose, to Skip now.
I've forgotten the name of one of them; he was a friend of June Christopher's, a visitor from Carmel who had sharpened his skills at Pebble Beach.
The other player wasn't easy to forget; he was a real tiger, who carried his partner on both days. His name was Silas Marner. He had explained to me on the first tee on the first day that he had been named after his mother's favorite story.
I think that was the last word he said to me until we were drinking in the clubhouse later. Between the first tee and the eighteenth green, Silas Marner insulated himself from all the amenities and concentrated on winning.
After the showers and over the booze, he became a human being again. After the second drink, he invited us all over for dinner the next night.CHAPTER 2
The Marner home was probably expensive, designed by a famous Swedish architect, a strangely angled tall and wide structure, featuring California redwood inside and out. It was in Slope Ranch, a suburb on the other end of town from Montevista.
To my middle-class, pedestrian taste, it looked a little outré. But the food was great, the company genial, the liquor free. The man, I decided, who threw those kinds of parties could be forgiven both for this house and for his "winning is everything" conduct on the links.
It was a buffet dinner, and we weren't the only guests; there must have been at least twenty. The dialogue decibels rose as the alcohol went down.
I was seeking a quiet corner when Si's mother beckoned to me from the doorway to the den. When I went over, she said, "It's quieter in here, and I'd like to talk with you."
Either Silas Marner was a great reader or a compulsive book buyer; three of the four walls in the room were lined with books.
Mrs. Marner was a woman of about sixty-five, thin and short. Her gray hair was pulled straight back, her simple yellow linen dress could have been expensive, but I didn't think so. Her bright blue eyes in that thin, tanned face seemed to sparkle in the room's dim light.
"Si told me you're a private investigator," she said.
"Have you done any missing persons work down there in Los Angeles?"
"Some," I said. "Let's sit down. That noise was getting to me out there."
"And me," she said. "Yakety-yakety-yak. And nobody says anything. I can't understand how Si can stand it. He's not nearly as dumb as he looks." We sat together on a leather couch.
"Judging by his library," I said, "he can't be very dumb."
"Oh, not that way. But when he isn't playing golf or reading, he's throwing parties. Is that a constructive life?"
"I guess not, ma'am."
"Don't call me ma'am. I'm not that old. My name is Maude."
"Okay, Maude. Who is this missing person, a lover?"
"Watch your tongue, Callahan. It's a girl. I'm not sure she's down in Los Angeles, but that's the last place her friends up here know about. She stopped writing to them some time ago."
"Do her parents live up here?"
"Yes. Her mother is a waitress and her father is a slob. It's the mother I worry about. She's a good friend of mine."
"Has she made any effort to find her daughter?"
"Never mind the why. I want to find her. You could send the information to me and the bill to Si. I don't live with him here. I live down where the people live."
"I knew we were soul mates," I said. "There won't be any bill. You give me your address and her name and I'll prowl around when I'm not working on a case. Okay?"
Excerpted from The Bad Samaritan by William Campbell Gault. Copyright © 1980 William Campbell Gault. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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