Drumbeat - Erica - Stephen Marlowe - ebook

Drumbeat - Erica ebook

Stephen Marlowe

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Protecting an actor takes Drum into the seedy underworld of psychedelia: Terminal illness and regret go hand-in-hand. Two months ago, Amos Littlejohn was in the prime of life, and had plenty of energy to be enraged when his pregnant daughter was abandoned by her husband, matinee idol Ahmed Shiraz. Now stricken with leukemia, Littlejohn is near death, and beginning to regret taking out a contract on the actor's life. He hires international private eye Chester Drum to call off the hit and protect Shiraz until his life is safe. On his first night on the job, Drum's partner takes a shotgun blast meant for the actor. Wanting nothing more than to wring Shiraz's neck, Drum follows him to Europe, where he must contend with assassins, beatniks, and the powerful effects of an experimental drug called LSD. Review quote: "Very few writers of the tough private-eye story can tell it more accurately than Mr. Marlowe, or with such taut understatement of violence and sex." - The New York Times Book Review. "A cult author for lovers of noir fiction." - Mónica Calvo-Pascual, author of Chaos and Madness. "A great pulpster ... always one of my favorites." - Ed Gorman, author of The Poker Club. "Langton's sparkling prose and inimitable wit offer a delectable feast for the discriminating reader." - Publishers Weekly. "Like Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, Langton is blessed with the comic spirit - a rare gift of genius to be cherished." - St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Biographical note: 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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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

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5

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8

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19

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About the Book

Protecting an actor takes Drum into the seedy underworld of psychedelia:

Terminal illness and regret go hand-in-hand. Two months ago, Amos Littlejohn was in the prime of life, and had plenty of energy to be enraged when his pregnant daughter was abandoned by her husband, matinee idol Ahmed Shiraz. Now stricken with leukemia, Littlejohn is near death, and beginning to regret taking out a contract on the actor’s life.

He hires international private eye Chester Drum to call off the hit and protect Shiraz until his life is safe. On his first night on the job, Drum’s partner takes a shotgun blast meant for the actor. Wanting nothing more than to wring Shiraz’s neck, Drum follows him to Europe, where he must contend with assassins, beatniks, and the powerful effects of an experimental drug called LSD.

Review quote:

“Very few writers of the tough private-eye story can tell it more accurately than Mr. Marlowe, or with such taut understatement of violence and sex.” - The New York Times Book Review.

“A cult author for lovers of noir fiction.” - Mónica Calvo-Pascual, author of Chaos and Madness.

“A great pulpster ... always one of my favorites.” - Ed Gorman, author of The Poker Club.

“Langton’s sparkling prose and inimitable wit offer a delectable feast for the discriminating reader.” - Publishers Weekly.

“Like Jane Austen and Barbara Pym, Langton is blessed with the comic spirit - a rare gift of genius to be cherished.” - St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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.

Drumbeat – Erica

A Chester Drum Mystery

Stephen Marlowe

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Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2014 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2012 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1967 by Fawcett Publications, Inc.

 

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All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

For

DEIRDRE AND ROBIN—

Welcome Home

1

THE SUBJECT began running out of steam at a bar on West Houston Street called the Emu. It was after two in the morning, and he was pretty drunk. The piece of beatnik fluff that had been attached to his arm all night seemed even drunker. Maybe supporting her weight as they drifted from joint to joint on MacDougal and Bleecker Streets had finally got him down.

I followed them into the Emu. It was a narrow, cheerless room with sawdust on the floor, wood plank tables on one side, a long bar on the other, and autographed pictures of not-quite-celebrities festooning the walls with all the attention to artistic display that mug-shots get in the post office. But the stale air was warm, and that must have meant a lot to the drifters still leaning on the Emu bar and sitting at the plank tables. It was cold outside and getting colder. I thought it might snow before morning.

The subject, whose name was Ahmed Shiraz, arranged himself and the girl on a pair of stools at the bar. I peeled off my trenchcoat and draped it, and me, on a couple of chairs at a table behind them. I wished Shiraz would bed the girl down somewhere so I could call it a night.

“It’s going round and round,” the girl said.

“What is?” Shiraz asked her without much interest.

She giggled. “Everything, man.”

Shiraz said a four-letter word distinctly.

The girl giggled again. “Are you trying to be philosophical or something?” She had a little trouble with the word philosophical.

Shiraz yawned at his reflection in the back-bar mirror. The yawn went away and his reflection smiled back at him. He was a guy who liked his face. After all it had earned him a few million bucks.

I wondered if anyone would try to beat it to a pulp before the night was over.

The barman minced over to them. He was a skinny flit with big soft watery eyes and a duty white jacket. “Why, you’re Ahmed Shiraz,” he said. “I see all your pictures. I think you’re a marvelous actor.”

“Actually I stink,” Shiraz said. “It’s just I got sex appeal.”

“Well, I can certainly see that,” the barman said.

The girl said, “Hey, you really are an actor. I kind of thought you were putting me on.”

The watery-eyed barman glared at her.

“It’s just I don’t go to the movies much if at all,” she said. “I don’t believe in them.”

“You don’t have to believe or disbelieve,” Shiraz said. “They’re not a religion.”

The girl laughed. It was no giggle this time. She pulled Shiraz’s arm against her breast and snuggled up to him. She was wearing a green loden coat, the kind with toggles instead of buttons. All the toggles were undone. Under the coat she wore a black turtleneck sweater and tight black stretch pants. Her tennis sneakers were worn and dirty, showing grubby ankles. She wasn’t wearing any socks despite the February cold. Her long black hair hung in a ponytail. She had high cheekbones and was wearing dark glasses. Despite the beatnik getup, she was a good-looking dame.

Shiraz ordered two gimlets. They had been drinking them all over the Village.

A waiter came to my table listlessly, his space-shoes shuffling on the sawdust. I asked for a beer. He went away and brought it and went away again.

A few people wandered out of the Emu and a few, more or less just like them, wandered in.

I left my beer and my coat and went down the length of the bar to the phone booth. A dime and four rings got me Harry Kretschmer, who worked for a small New York agency and was doing some work on the side for me. I could see Shiraz and the girl from inside the phone booth, not that they looked like they’d be going anywhere for a while. Shiraz had ordered another round of gimlets.

Harry Kretschmer made a middle-of-the-night noise.

“This is Drum,” I said. “If you snap into it you can take over. A bar on West Houston called the Emu.”

“Christ,” Harry said. Moonlighting had seemed a good idea to him because he had a wife and three kids. He needed the dough.

“If they take off before you get here, wait for my call.”

“Emu bar, West Houston, right,” Harry said.

“How long will it take you?”

“Twenty minutes from the time I get up.” Harry lived in Peter Cooper Village.

I laughed. “You mean you’re not up yet?”

“Search me. Maybe I ought to wake the wife and ask her. Two-twenty ayem—Christ, Chet, why the hell don’t you go back to Washington or Europe or wherever the hell you hang your hat? This moonlighting ain’t such a hot idea.”

“Shiraz sails tomorrow,” I reminded him. “So do I.”

He thanked the deity and hung up.

I went back to my table, sat down, clamped the beer glass to my face and drank. A big guy in a pea jacket had eased his rear end onto the stool next to Shiraz’s girl. He asked the flit for a double bourbon, water on the side. When it came, he took a short swig of water and a long one of bourbon, rotated his stool to the left a little and said: “Hiya, Linda. Long time no see.”

“I’m busy, Sailor,” the girl with Shiraz said out of the side of her mouth, but loud enough for Shiraz to hear.

“You know this guy?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I knew him about a million years ago. In another incarnation.”

An ugly frown rumpled Sailor’s face in the back-bar mirror. “Real funny,” he said. “You ain’t changed a bit. You and them college words.”

“Maybe I should have said another incarceration,” Linda said. Shiraz laughed. Sailor’s eyes narrowed as they met Shiraz’s eyes in the mirror. Then he shrugged, nudged his lips with the glass, polished off the bourbon and asked for another.

I began to relax. The Emu bar on West Houston was in a no-man’s-land between three neighborhoods, and if a week went by without a brawl it was one quiet week. North of West Houston was Greenwich Village, which explained how the flit got his job behind the bar. South of the street was what they called Little Italy. Further west, where the street ended on the river, was the waterfront. Beats and hot-blooded Italians and seamen on shore leave, it was like putting three starving and frustrated tomcats together in a small sack.

The big guy in the pea jacket didn’t let me relax for long. He chewed on half of his second drink, leaned past Linda, leered at Shiraz and said, “I bet she picked you up in a joint on MacDougal, pal.”

Shiraz’s face got stony. He said nothing.

“A joint called the Bait Pail? That’s where she hooked onto you, huh?”

Shiraz studied his own face in the back-bar mirror. It registered a look of studied contempt. Shiraz was very good at it.

“What ship you off of, pal?” Sailor persisted. Shiraz was wearing jeans, a bulky sweater and an unzipped windbreaker. He looked as much like a seaman on leave as the big guy did.

“I asked what ship you off of?”

“Kind of pull your face back three feet, friend,” Shiraz said softly. “Your breath stinks.”

Linda giggled nervously.

Sailor’s lips went white. “Maybe you better say that again,” he suggested.

Shiraz asked Linda in a conversational tone, “Did you ever see me in South of Singapore?”

“I said I don’t go to the movies.” She was looking anxiously at the man called Sailor. She made a slow pass at his face with her hand and seemed surprised that he didn’t disappear. I began to get the notion she was on something more interesting than alcohol.

“There’s this scene in a bar,” Shiraz said. “I’m playing a pretty patient type who killed a fellow once with his fists and is scared of getting into a fight because he might do it again. A specimen of a lummox in a bar keeps on baiting me, but I don’t bite for a while. Only the lummox won’t take no for an answer. Finally what I do is this.”

Smiling, Shiraz tossed what was left of his second gimlet in Sailor’s face. Sailor got off his bar stool with a roar, but Shiraz, quicker, was already waiting on his feet. He threw a pretty good left hook that caught the seaman on the side of the jaw. Sailor’s knee buckled. He held on to the bar with both hands. Shiraz didn’t hit him again.

There was one of those brawl-awaiting silences. A couple of beat types at the end of the bar were watching Shiraz and the seaman eagerly. A middle-aged couple at the table next to mine got up to leave.

“They cut and printed it on the first take,” Shiraz told Linda conversationally. “I’m pretty good at barroom brawls. Shall we go?”

The flit behind the bar had produced a policeman’s billy. The hand that held it was shaking. “Drinks are on the house. For all three of you. If you get out now,” he said.

“Sorry about the commotion,” Shiraz said, and left a ten-dollar bill on the bar to prove it.

Sailor looked at him. “Outside, pally?”

Shiraz grinned at his own face in the back-bar mirror. I had seen that same grin in two or three of his movies. “I don’t mind,” he said.

Sailor left first, swaggering. Shiraz zipped his windbreaker. The two beats at the end of the bar paid and headed for the street. They wanted to watch the action.

“Stay here or come on out and see the fun?” Shiraz asked Linda. “It won’t take long.”

Linda licked her lips. “I’m coming.”

I dropped a dollar bill on the table and slipped into my trenchcoat. This could have been the beginning of what I had been paid to prevent, or it could have been what it looked like—the not-unexpected consequence of a pickup and a long night of drinking in a tough neighborhood.

I went outside not liking the situation. If it was only a barroom brawl and Shiraz got the worst of it I’d have to jump in, and if I did that he might get the idea I’d been paid to protect him. That would lead to questions, and they were questions I couldn’t answer.

2

FAT SNOWFLAKES were drifting down past the lighted lampposts on West Houston Street. A thin film of snow already covered the roofs and hoods of parked cars. The pavement glistened wetly.

Shiraz and Sailor had squared off, right in front of the three steps leading down to the Emu. Linda stood on the top step, her hands thrust into the pockets of the loden coat. The two beatnik types stood on the curb. Sailor, a little shorter than Shiraz but heavier and massive through the chest and shoulders, threw a high hard right that Shiraz ducked under. Shiraz caught him with a left to the gut that you could hear thud home. Sailor grunted, backed up two steps and sat down on the sidewalk. He scrambled to his feet in a hurry and Shiraz, smiling now, put him down again with a short, jolting right to the mouth. Sailor spat a couple of teeth and got up more slowly. He had a bewildered look on his face. He hadn’t touched Shiraz yet. He missed with a left and a right, Shiraz hardly seeming to move as he evaded the blows, and left himself wide open for a haymaker Shiraz didn’t throw. Instead the actor hooked his belly three times with his left and stepped back, grinning at Linda. Sailor stood there, arms dangling, bleeding mouth agape. He was all through, but Shiraz wanted to punish him. Four or five left jabs, Shiraz’s arm moving like a piston, split Sailor’s face open at the cheekbone. Sailor backed against a lamppost and held on. I found myself rooting for the wrong guy, which is never good in my line of work but sometimes unavoidable.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!