Drumbeat - Erica
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.
'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.
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
T HE 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."