Axel Spade would not have liked the way he died. An international fugitive, Spade would have preferred being gored by a bull or gunned down by Interpol to dying quietly in his bed. But a weak heart claimed him in his sleep, and so Chester Drum, Washington PI and the closest thing Spade had to a friend, scatters his ashes in the Atlantic. Drum’s old flame, Marianne Baker, is by his side, but she leaves before grief has a chance to reignite their faded passion. That night, Drum is awoken by a KGB operative who has kidnapped Marianne. Axel Spade is alive, the agent insists, and he wants Drum to find him. To save Marianne, Drum will do the impossible, and bring Axel Spade back from the dead.
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?" Marianne
A Chester Drum Mystery
By Stephen Marlowe
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1968 Fawcett Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
From half a dozen miles offshore you could see the mustard-yellow smog squatting over Long Island like the fallout from an undeclared war that was slowly but inevitably poisoning mankind.
Or maybe it was the mood I was in. All during the funeral I had felt restless and edgy, wishing I was at Axel Spade's favorite sidewalk café in Paris, maybe, having an apéritif, watching the pretty Parisiennes pass in their miniskirts and listening while Spade told one of those improbable stories, all having to do with high finance and low skulduggery, that make a hundred-buck-a-day private eye drool at the mouth. Instead and incredibly, Spade was dead, his ashes had just been scattered on the Atlantic Ocean, out of sight of land as he had always wished, and a boatload of his admirers was returning to Freeport on the South Shore in Spade's yacht.
It was a hot, windless Friday afternoon in August, with the barometer as low as my spirits. Party boats were following the channel markers back into Freeport, the weekend fishermen on deck watching us glide by. It wasn't every day they saw a fifty-eight-foot Chesapeake Bay bugeye ketch that had been refitted with teakwood decks and expensive hardware in Rotterdam. The ketch was called Ace of Spades III. The ace of spades had always been Axel Spade's hallmark.
The ketch's twin diesels powered us through the canal and past the incongruous rows of development houses to Freeport harbor. The sails remained furled on the great teakwood masts. That would have bothered Spade, who had loved sailing and hated the diesels. Stinkpots, he always called them. But the weatherman had come through with no wind for Axel Spade's final journey.
"Boy, are you gloomy," Marianne Baker said. "I hadn't realized you were such good friends."
Marianne is a small and delightful blonde pushing thirty not strenuously enough to show it. She was the only member of the working press aboard for Axel Spade's funeral, and somehow it was fitting. Spade, married five times to five international beauties, had had, aside from the series of yachts that bore the Ace of Spades hallmark, only one hobby. That hobby was beautiful women. He collected them the way a really passionate philatelist collects rare postage stamps, and with the same dedication. He would have appreciated Marianne. She was not the sort of stunner who stops the flow of conversation dead on entering a crowded room. All she was, in a subdued and understated way, was beautiful. The more you looked at her, the more beautiful she got.
She was also a salaried feature writer for View magazine, which was why I had invited her aboard the Ace of Spades III for Axel Spade's funeral.
"Friends?" I said. "I don't know if Axel Spade had any friends. He was too busy outwitting the law in twenty countries, or too busy standing the financial world on its ear every chance he got. But I guess I knew him as well as anybody did. What a lousy way to die."
"In bed in his sleep?" Marianne said. "Apparently in perfect health the day before, and then a heart attack? I don't understand you. It sounds like a pretty good way to die to me, if any way of dying can be good."
"Not to Axel Spade. He was a guy who romanticized even death. He wanted to go knowing what it was all about, and facing it, and fighting it. I agree with him."
Marianne smiled a small, subdued smile. "Hard-headed Chester Drum," she said with mock disparagement. "You're the only man I know who can get sentimental over the idea of death."
"Counting Spade," I said, "that made two of us."
On the dock in Freeport, I said goodbye to a bunch of wheels who had figured in Spade's life. They hadn't quite come from the four corners of the earth because Spade had died too unexpectedly, but they still would have gone a fair way toward filling a Who's Who. I had flown up from Washington on the same jet with the Secretary of the Treasury. There were also a couple of senators, the ambassadors of three European countries, the biggest gnome of Zurich who ran a banking empire that made First National City look like the change booth at a provincial railroad station, two of Spade's former wives, both charter jet-setters and one now married to the Greek shipping magnate who had grown tired of his aging opera singer, a closed-mouthed Italian so-called industrialist who may or may not have been the big Capo Mafioso himself, and Spade's New York lawyer, who had once been dubbed by Marianne in a View profile as Clarence Darrow in a Brooks Brothers suit.
Clarence Darrow in a Brooks Brothers suit, real name Scribner Kellogg, joined us in the parking lot just as I was opening the door of Marianne's vintage MG for her.
"Mr. Drum?" he said. "I was meaning to have a word with you aboard the ketch but never had the chance. If you have a moment?"
"Shoot," I said.
Under the white mane of hair the expressive blue eyes looked pained. Scribner Kellogg cleared his throat expressively. He was a guy who could convey more meaning by cocking a white eyebrow than most of his colleagues could by reciting a prepared speech that ran half an hour. The throat-clearing signified, plainer than any words, that he wanted to see me alone.
"Be right back," I told Marianne, and walked a little way off with Kellogg between the rows of parked cars. We lit cigarettes. It was very hot. I looked past the parked cars at the tops of the Ace of Spades' masts bobbing against the brassy sky.
"What's on your mind?" I said.
"There's something Mr. Spade wanted you to have."
That surprised me. "I figured he'd had the kind of will it would take five years to probate."
"The will," Scribner Kellogg said, "won't be handled through my New York office. The will will be read, and the property distributed, by my colleagues in Switzerland. This has nothing to do with Mr. Spade's will."
"A letter. It is in my office safe. Will Monday morning be satisfactory?"
"Okay," I said, deciding on the spur of the moment to spend the weekend in New York and see a lot of Marianne in the process. I split my time between Washington and the Continent, and since Marianne had been transferred to View's New York headquarters we hadn't seen enough of each other. Scribner Kellogg had given me the excuse I needed. I began to perk up when I returned to the MG, slipped behind the wheel, smiled at Marianne and started driving.
Spade's letter was something of a mystery, but it could keep. I had the whole weekend with Marianne ahead of me. That's what I thought.CHAPTER 2
After dinner at the Caravelle, to prove I was still solvent I took Marianne to the St. Regis Roof. It is the only place in New York where you can dance to the good, subdued rhythms of a Meyer Davis orchestra. It is where the longtime rich New Yorkers go of a summer night when they are determined to eschew the strange tribal rites of loud guitar and echo chamber yé-yé music, and the deadpan, no-contact, exhibitionist dancing that goes with it.
I ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon, but at the beginning it mostly remained in the silver chiller alongside our table. We did a lot of dancing. It was good to have Marianne in my arms again, even if merely vertical on the dance floor. The top of her pretty blonde head just reached my chin. I was very conscious of the softly solid femaleness of her, after a while too conscious of it. We went outside through french doors and stood on one of the little balconies to look across the dark rectangle of Central Park and the lights of the city ringing it.
"God, it's beautiful," Marianne said. "I never get tired of it."
"So are you," I said.
She looked up at me. She must have seen what was in my eyes. "That's all over and done with," she said softly.
"Right you are," I said, not meaning it.
Marianne Baker was the widow of that Wally Baker who had won a couple of Pulitzer prizes for his photographic essays back in the late fifties. Wally had been my best friend. We had all lived in Washington then. The young marrieds worked for View's capital staff, and I hung my hat and shoulder rig in an office on F Street. One night Wally borrowed my car. I was on a tough case, where some of the principals wanted me very dead. A bomb had been wired to the car's starter, and, along with a couple of tons of automobile, Wally was blown all over a quiet neighborhood in Georgetown.
Marianne was pregnant. She went into mourning and had her children, twin boys, one named Wally and one Chet. I was their godfather. A couple of years passed, and slowly, without either one of us quite realizing it, the sympathy I'd felt for Marianne turned into something else. We drifted into an affair that lasted a season or two, and if I was anybody but the sort of continent-hopping private eye who lives violently on borrowed time, it might have ended in marriage. I went away. I arranged my schedule so I'd be working out of my Geneva office most of the time, but Marianne was still very much the career gal. She had a housekeeper named Mrs. Gower who could take care of the twins when she was on assignment for View. We met again in Berlin in the early sixties, when she almost married a wrong guy named Quentin Hammond. You probably read what happened to Hammond. It made all the papers, and Marianne remained the widow Baker, the still-nubile and lovely widow Baker. I earned my keep and went on having a series of affairs, one picking up where the previous one ended and sometimes overlapping, but deep in the back of my mind there lurked the idea of Marianne and the possibility of going off into the sunset with her. I think I was always in love with her or ready to fall back in love with her, even if we didn't see each other for as much as a year at a time.
Now, on the little balcony outside the St. Regis Roof, it all came hurtling back. Marianne was always very good at sensing my moods. "We could talk about Axel Spade," she suggested.
"Okay," I said.
"After all, that's why I'm here. Besides, it seems a little—unfeeling, coming straight from the funeral to a night on the town." She looked at me somewhat defiantly. "There, I said it. It has been bothering me, Chet."
"Because you didn't know Spade. He was Mittel Europa by birth, but he had a lot of Irish in him. He'd have wanted a big, bacchanalian wake if he could have arranged it. He wouldn't have minded what we're doing at all. He would have approved."
So we went back inside and drank some champagne and talked about Axel Spade for a while. I thought Marianne would get some pretty good copy, exclusive stuff that only I knew, from our talk, and maybe her heart was in it, but mine wasn't. I kept looking at those big gray eyes of hers and the way her lips quirked up in a single dimple when she smiled. I kept remembering.
"Here we go again," Marianne said suddenly. The dimple was showing.
"What's the matter?"
"You must be about a million miles away. That's the third time you started telling me about Spade's shenanigans with that particular numbered account in Switzerland. I have it memorized."
"Must be the champagne," I said. We were working on our second bottle.
"Oh, come on. You have six hollow legs, and you know it."
"Well, anyway I'm not a million miles away. Look at me."
She looked at me. The smile went away. "No, you're right here. That's the trouble."
I put out an option. "I have the whole weekend free. Between cases."
"The whole, interminable weekend," she said, only a little bitterly. "And then what? You'd be off to Copenhagen or Katmandu, Valencia or Vladivostok, and where would that leave me? You already said—a hundred times—you're not the marrying kind."
"I was married once," I said.
"Sure, and it burned you. You got left a professional bachelor."
"It's not that," I said. "It's my line of work. You need a pipe and slippers guy. Which, to understate it, I'm not. But I still have a couple of days in New York."
She got a cigarette out of her purse and stuck it between her lips. When I leaned over to light it, she turned away and used a book of St. Regis matches herself. "Thanks," she said, not looking at me. "You made this easier to say. I don't think I'm in love with you now, or if I am it's only a little and I can keep it under control. But I could fall in love with you again, at the drop of a hat, all the way, and I don't want to. I guess I'm pretty good—wife material, because the idea of a home and a husband appeals to me, and—"
"The best kind of wife material," I said.
"Be quiet, Chester Drum, and let me finish. You're about the most attractive man I've ever met, and yes, damn it, that includes Wally and it includes Quentin K. Hammond, but the last thing I want is another affair with you. The twins are getting older. They're almost eight. The one thing I want is a father for them. A guy with a sensible job even if it means he has to punch a time clock, and I don't care if he hasn't been in ten different countries in the past ten months, shooting it out with ten different nogoodniks. I want a stay-at-home guy, if I can find him, and he doesn't have to be the big love of my life, the way you have been and could be, but just gentle and kind and good to be with. I don't know if I'll ever find him, but I want to, and waltzing around with you again isn't calculated to make that happen. No. Definitely no. I don't want to spend the weekend with you, not this weekend or any weekend."
She turned back to me. There were tears on her cheeks. "Now dance with me once more, maybe a paso doble if they can play it, and then I want you to take me home."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, subdued. "One paso doble coming up."
I went across the floor and spoke to the leader of the Meyer Davis ensemble. Could they play a paso doble? He could play "Cielo Andaluz," he said, and I said "Cielo Andaluz" would suit me fine.
Marianne and I dance well together, especially the subtly simple rhythm of the paso doble. Not a hell of a lot of people can do it, and "Cielo Andaluz" cleared the floor for us. We did it ballroom style, gliding across the floor and then spinning and then gliding again, showing off a little. When we finished there was even a smattering of applause, rare in a posh joint like the St. Regis Roof, and the band played an encore for us.
Then I took Marianne home to her apartment on Riverside Drive. I didn't go inside with her. We kissed goodnight outside the door, and Marianne clung to me for a moment.
"I guess you know it's goodbye, Chet."
"I guess I know."
"It has to be this way."
She opened the door and slipped inside quickly without looking back. It was a little after one o'clock Saturday morning. I rode the elevator down and found a cruising cab that took me back to my midtown hotel.
There was an unopened bottle of Jack Daniel's in my B-4 bag. I broke the seal with my thumbnail, got a glass from the bathroom and went to work on it.
Sometimes you're so goddamn right that you wind up being wrong.CHAPTER 3
I was wrestling with the bedsheet and dreaming that the hum of the air conditioner was a plane taking me to Copenhagen or Katmandu, Valencia or Vladivostok, when the phone rang. Groping for it, I almost spilled the bottle of Jack Daniel's. The level of the sour mash had dropped below the bottom of the label, which was too much solitary drinking in the wee hours of the morning. "They'll put your liver on display in the Smithsonian if you don't cut it out," I said out loud. I was slightly drunk and feeling more than slightly sorry for myself. I picked up the phone on the fourth or fifth ring and said hello in the general direction of the mouthpiece.
"Mr. Chester Drum?"
"Yeah, more or less." I looked at my watch. It was a quarter after three.
"Are you Chester Drum or aren't you?"
"Speaking," I said, coming wide awake suddenly. It occurred to me that the only one who knew where I was staying was Marianne.
"Can you be ready in twenty minutes?" It was a man's voice, the English so devoid of accent that I got the idea it had been learned from language records.
"Ready for what?"
"A black car. Chevrolet." He pronounced the final syllable the way it was spelled—l-e-t. "We'll come for you in twenty minutes."
"What for?" I said.
"You'll be there," he said.
"What's this all about?"
"You'll be there, if you want to see Marianne Baker alive," he said. There was a decisive little click, and I was holding a dead phone in my hand.
Excerpted from Drumbeat â?" Marianne by Stephen Marlowe. Copyright © 1968 Fawcett Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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