When Chester Drum knew him, Jack Morley was a Washington player, just a few promotions away from becoming Secretary of State. A bad divorce and a nervous breakdown later, Morley has hit rock bottom, and works in Paris for the Army ghoul squad, confirming the deaths of World War II soldiers long ago reported missing in action. Morley is content to spend the rest of his life wallowing in the bottom of a Pernod bottle, until word gets out that he is blackmailing a US senator—an accusation that could cost him his life. Though disgusted by his old friend’s drunkenness, Drum agrees to make Morley’s case to the senator. Blackmailer or no, Morley has stumbled onto a conspiracy that dates back to the end of the war. If Drum can’t get to the bottom of it, Morley won’t be the only one to die.
About the Author
Stephen Marlowe (1928–2008) was the author of more than fifty novels, including nearly two dozen featuring globe-trotting private eye Chester Drum. Born Milton Lesser, Marlowe was raised in Brooklyn and attended the College of William and Mary. After several years writing science fiction under his given name, he legally adopted his pen name, and began focusing on Chester Drum, the Washington-based detective who first appeared in The Second Longest Night (1955). Although a private detective akin to Raymond Chandler’s characters, Drum was distinguished by his jet-setting lifestyle, which carried him to various exotic locales from Mecca to South America. These espionage-tinged stories won Marlowe acclaim, and he produced more than one a year before ending the series in 1968. After spending the 1970s writing suspense novels like The Summit (1970) and The Cawthorn Journals (1975), Marlowe turned to scholarly historical fiction. He lived much of his life abroad, in Switzerland, Spain, and France, and died in Virginia in 2008.
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Drumbeat â?" Dominique
A Chester Drum Mystery
By Stephen Marlowe
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1965 Fawcett Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
For a guy who once held down the number two spot in the protocol section of the State Department, Jack Morley had come a long way—all of it in the wrong direction.
I walked right past his table on the terrace of the Café Rotonde a couple of times without recognizing him. What I saw was a shabby drunk who needed a shave, a haircut and, chances were, a bath. He was wearing what looked like somebody's cast-off safari jacket. It was a couple of sizes too big for Jack and made his neck look like a rooster's. You couldn't blame me for not recognizing him. The last time I'd laid eyes on Jack Morley had been a couple of years ago in Washington. Handshaking a pair of Middle Eastern diplomats into Blair House, he'd been turned out in his usual go-to-meeting outfit—camel's hair topcoat, white silk scarf, dark worsted suit and Homburg. He resembled then everybody's idea of what the boy voted most-likely-to-succeed at Harvard turned into ten years later.
Any resemblance between that Jack Morley and the drunk trying his best not to knock over the table while he got a glass of pernod to his mouth outside the Café Rotonde on Boulevard Montpamasse in Paris was purely coincidental.
I got a table near the lottery booth, ordered a drink and looked across Boulevard Raspail to the traffic island, where Rodin's statue of Balzac, considered obscene even by the French until they gave the bronze old man a bronze cloak, was now half-hidden by the branches of a chestnut tree. I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to eight of a warm evening, and Jack Morley already was fifteen minutes late. I decided to give him until I finished my whiskey-and-water, and then go up to the Raspail Vert for some bouillabaisse.
If it had worked out that way, none of this would have happened the way it did. But as I asked the waiter for my check a big and not quite frowzy-looking blonde drifted over to my table, jerked a thumb in the direction of the shabby drunk and asked in an accent that was British but not BBC: "He wants to know are you Mr. Drum."
I looked where she was pointing and still failed to recognize Jack. I glanced back at the blonde. She was big without being fat, with a Devon milkmaid's overabundant figure, rosy cheeks and china-blue eyes. Her streaky blonde hair was long and combed in no particular fashion or maybe not combed at all. Her mouth was a sullen red pout.
"I'm Drum," I admitted. "Who's your friend?" She had been sitting with the shabby drunk.
"He's your old friend Jack Morley," she said, somewhat indignantly. "Who else might he be?"
I went over to Jack's table. The waiter brought a third chair.
"Chet, you old son of a gun," Jack Morley said. His eyes were bloodshot and seemed oddly vulnerable without the dark, shell-rimmed glasses. But his grin, finally, was the same. He stuck out a moist hand. I could feel a tremor in the fingers when I shook it and his head was shaking too, slightly, on the scrawny neck.
Only a banality could have covered my shock over how much Jack Morley had changed. "Long time no see," I said.
"God, it's good to see you. Have a drink?" The waiter took our orders. "I wrote you as soon as I read in the Paris Trib you were opening an office in Geneva. Going international, huh?" he said, a shade enviously. "Trying to put the Pinkertons out of business?"
"More and more of my cases take me to Europe. I decided I might as well have a place to hang my hat."
"One man office?"
"I got a guy who holds the fort for me in Washington while I'm here, and vice versa." I said that uneasily. I had the notion that Jack was going to ask me for a job, and while I would have snapped up the old Jack Morley as a partner, the Jack Morley sitting on the café terrace with me was another matter.
He must have sensed my uneasiness, because he, said: "I'm still with the government, you know."
"I didn't know. I heard you left State."
"It got kind of tough around Washington after Betty and I broke up. I guess you heard about that."
"It surprised the hell out of me," I said. "You and Betty were my candidates for the golden people."
"With feet of clay," Jack Morley said, and took a big bite out of his new pernod. The blonde patted his hand. She managed to look sulky and bored at the same time.
"This is Jill," Jack said. "Jill Williams. She's a dancer."
"Used to be, ducks," said Jill Williams.
Then Jack and I spent a few minutes talking about old times. We'd gone through the FBI Academy together, then each served out a two-year hitch with the Bureau before I decided to hang out my private detective shingle and Jack took the State Department exam. It seemed like a long time ago.
"The reason I wrote you in Geneva," Jack said, and got a box of Gitanes out of his pocket and lit one tremblingly. He looked nervous and unsure of himself, and ducked behind the protective façade of the past again. I waited through a stream of remember-whens and I-wonder-what-happened-tos, and all the while Jack was chain-smoking and gulping pernod.
"I told you he was a great guy, my old buddy Chester, Drum," he told Jill finally, and it embarrassed me. To Jack I was something of a hero.
"Let's wait and see, ducks, if he'll do it for you," Jill said dryly.
Jack said the same line again, and then dropped his option on it again. "The reason I wrote you in Geneva." He cleared his throat, grinned, allowed his hand to be patted by Jill once more and said: "Jack and Jill, kind of comical, isn't it? The Left Bank Mother Goose bit?"
Jill gave me a pleading look, and I liked her for her frankness. She wanted Jack to get on with it. Hoping to help him do that, I took a stab: "What kind of work you doing for Uncle Sam these days?"
Jack laughed self-deprecatingly. "I'm a ghoul," he said.
"Oh now, Jackie, you have a perfectly respectable job," Jill said.
"Yeah, but I'm still a ghoul." He shrugged. "Hell, a job's a job. I work for the Army. Adjutant General's office, Graves Registration branch. I go around looking for dead men. Told you I was a ghoul."
"Stop that, ducks, you stop it now," Jill said.
"Time was," Jack explained, "when Graves Registration had a whole mess of field investigators. They worked out of an office here in Paris, on Rue Marbeuf. They followed every lead they could get their hands on, and some of them were pretty hairy, all over Europe and North Africa. You see, the Army never shut its books on men missing in action during World War Two, even though it's been almost twenty years since old Adolf blew his brains out. Well, most of the MIA's have been accounted for to the satisfaction of the Department of the Army and the next-of-kins, and the whole mess of field investigators has been reduced to a team of three custodial ghouls who poke around Europe tracking down dead men and, as I said, I'm one of the ghouls. That's what I do for the government these days." He laughed. Jill didn't laugh. "I guess I'll never make Secretary of State," he said.
Jill took up the refrain this time and completed it. "The reason Jack wrote you in Geneva, Mr. Drum, is he needs your help."
"On a little matter," Jack said.
"I don't think it's so little," Jill said.
"I can't pay you," Jack said uncomfortably. "I don't have a hell of a lot of dough these days. I mean, I'll pay your expenses, of course, but I couldn't touch those carriage-trade rates of yours."
"It's very expensive living in Paris," Jill said.
Jack laughed again. "She means I blow my salary on pernod."
"What kind of help do you need?" I asked Jack.
He looked at Jill. She nodded encouragement.
"Well, I'm supposed to be a blackmailer," Jack said.
"A blackmailer. I'm supposed to be one."
I said: "Are you?" and the way I said it made Jill smile gratefully.
"Not that I know of," Jack said.
"Who are you supposed to be blackmailing?"
Jack finished his latest pernod, ran a hand over the beard-stubble on his jaw, took a deep breath and said: "A United States Senator."
I said nothing. Jack elaborated: "Senator Clay Bundy."
"Well," I said, "you sure think big in this new line of work of yours. How'd it come about that you're supposed to be blackmailing him?"
"Bundy's convinced I am. Only I'm not."
"So I gathered. But what are you supposed to be blackmailing him about? Is the Senator ripe for that kind of plucking?"
"You bet he is," Jack said promptly.
"What's he done?"
Jack looked at his big blonde. "I can't tell you. I haven't even told her. I just can't, that's all. Take my word for it, he's ripe. He's in Paris these days, you know. Some kind of Armed Services junket, ties in with his committee. Maybe it'll come out when you see him—I mean, if you do. But I can't tell you. I've got my conscience to live with."
I let that ride for the moment. "What do you want me to do?"
"Look at me," Jack said bitterly. He tapped his right cheekbone with a fingertip, drawing attention to his bloodshot eye. Then he extended his hand to show me the tremor in the fingers. "I'm halfway to being a goddam rummy. When I get excited I get the shakes all over. I can't go and see him. Not like this."
"Stop your drinking," I suggested.
"I will, I will," Jack said quickly and almost devoutly. "I've got to. I realize that." He took a long sip of pernod. "One of these days I will. I swear I will." He shuddered slightly. "One of these days."
"And right now you want me to convince Senator Bundy you're not blackmailing him? How the hell can I unless you give me the dope on it?"
"I never met Bundy. The Senator never met me."
I stared past Jack's shoulder and watched a pretty girl wheeling her motorbike down the steps to the Vavin Metro station near the corner. It was almost dark by then.
"What I want," Jack said, "is for you to impersonate me and convince the Senator I'm innocent. You come on all full of confidence and—well, honesty. And I don't. You could convince him if anyone could."
"Not me. I couldn't play Jack Morley. I've bent elbows at a few cocktail parties in Washington with Senator Bundy. He knows me."
Jack's beard-stubbled face turned pale and little beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. "Oh Jesus," he said, "I was counting on you."
Back in our FBI days, Jack had been one of my closest friends. Now, looking at him, looking at what had happened to him, it was as though the old, urbane, devil-may-care Jack Morley had died.
"No," I said, "hold it. I'll see Bundy for you, but I'll see him as myself."
"Well, if you're a friend of his, that could work out great."
I didn't bother to say it was a long way from having had a few drinks with a high-pressure politician like Bundy to being his friend. I said: "It could work out great if I knew more about it."
Jack shook his head.
"Listen," I said, "there aren't a whole hell of a lot of ways you can get yourself mixed up in a phony blackmail rap. Either somebody's out to get you and they're pushing Bundy into a corner until he does the job for them—"
"Nobody's out to get me."
"Except the Senator, ducks," Jill said.
"—or else somebody really is blackmailing Bundy and using your name as a cover. But that wouldn't work on a smart old bird like the Senator unless he could be shown that Jack Morley had access to whatever info was being held over his head."
"Access to it?" Jack blurted. "I found it"
"I can't tell you," Jack said. "Believe me, it's not that I don't trust you. It's me I don't trust. letting go with a secret the first time is the hardest. After that it gets easier all the time—for a lush. I just better keep my fat mouth shut, that's all."
Again I let that ride. After all Jack knew himself better than I knew him. And whatever it was he'd learned about Senator Bundy obviously was eating at not only the Senator but Jack too.
"Okay," I said. "You stumbled onto something that's got Bundy all hot and bothered. Along comes somebody else who knows what you found and maybe how and where you found it. He figures it can make him rich, courtesy of Senator Bundy, but he also figures it can make him dead, again courtesy of Senator Bundy, so he decides to use your name when he hits the Senator with it. Would you say that's about the situation?"
"Yeah, that's about it."
"Who's the guy?" I asked. "Can you at least tell me that?"
Jack said he could not tell me that.
I blew up. "For crying out loud, do you want to get off the hook or don't you? What kind of a miracle worker do you think I am?"
"Several people I know of could be pulling this," Jack said with enough pernod in him by this time to have calmed down. "But if I told you who, that would be the same as telling you what they've got on the Senator. That's not your concern. Your concern is convincing the Senator I'm not the guy blackmailing him."
"Thanks for letting me know what my concern is." I got up angrily and took two steps away from the table. Then I turned around and Came back. "If a client held out on me like that, I'd kick him out of my office."
"Okay, okay," Jack said wearily. "I get the message. I'll pay your round-trip fare to Geneva. Sorry to have bothered you."
"You're no client," I said.
It took a few seconds for Jack to get that. "You mean you'll do it?"
I nodded. "I'll give it a try."
"Thank God," Jill Williams said. "You see, Mr. Drum, Jack never did get around to telling you the most urgent fact of all."
She glanced at Jack, who shrugged. "Jack's received a phone call. The caller said that unless he stopped extorting money from Senator Bundy he would be killed."
I looked at Jack too. Maybe that would have been the most urgent fact of all to my old friend Jack Morley, Assistant Chief of Protocol, Department of State. But it probably didn't amount to a hill of beans to the unkempt and pernod-soaked Jack Morley sitting on the terrace of the Café Rotonde.
At noon the next day I parked my rented Volkswagen on Avenue Georges Cinq a couple of blocks in from Fouquet's red awning. Traffic was streaming past heading for the Champs Elysées, like an army of mechanized lemmings hell-bent on drowning itself in the ocean of pleasure between the Rond Pont and the Arc de Triomphe. I had read in the Paris Trib that Senator Bundy was holding forth at a press conference in his suite at the Hotel Georges Cinq before driving out to NATO and explaining to the generals there how the cold war ought to be fought.
He had a sixth floor corner suite, which I reached just as the press conference was breaking up. The double doors burst open and Senator Bundy hurtled through as if he'd been shot from a gun. Clay Bundy was in his sixties, but gave the impression of a man half his age. He always moved like that, in sudden, dynamic spurts. He still had his hair and it was still black. His face was almost unlined. Only the bloodhound dewlaps on either side of his pugnacious jaw betrayed his age. In fact, in Washington he was often referred to as Bloodhound Bundy—but not to his face. By reputation he was an arrogant snob with a terrible temper.
Half a dozen reporters clustered around him coming along the hall, like a school of pilot fish with a shark that could have swallowed them all without showing a tooth. He was fielding their questions, in French and English, with an almost disdainful expertise. Force de frappe, he said, and Polaris submarine and Port Area Command and airlift a whole goddam division inside of three days and le grand Charles and that's really it, boys, I've got a busy schedule, terminé, terminé.
By then he was close to me and I said quickly and close to his ear: "Senator, what about the Morley situation?"
He didn't even break stride. We all reached the elevator and stopped. When it arrived, the half-dozen reporters waited for Bundy to plunge inside. He didn't. He said: "Go ahead, boys. That really is it." The reporters filed into the elevator obediently. Senator Clay Bundy latched onto my elbow. "Not you, fellow. You stick around."
The elevator went down. "Say it again," the Senator told me.
I said it again: "Senator, what about the Morley situation?"
"What are you doing here? You're no reporter. Your name is Drummond or something like that. You're a private cop back in Washington."
"Drum," I said.
"That's right, Drum." The way it came out, he was congratulating me for knowing my own name. But he said: "There is no Morley situation."
"I heard different. Jack Morley?"
"I never heard of any Jack Morley."
"You think he's blackmailing you. You're wrong."
Excerpted from Drumbeat â?" Dominique by Stephen Marlowe. Copyright © 1965 Fawcett Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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