Authors: Ross Macdonald
Ross Macdonald’s real name was Kenneth Millar. Born near San Francisco in 1915 and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Millar returned to the U.S. as a young man and published his first novel in 1944. He served as the president of the Mystery Writers of America and was awarded their Grand Master Award, as well as the Mystery Writers of Great Britain’s Silver Dagger Award. He died in 1983.
The Dark Tunnel
Trouble Follows Me
The Three Roads
The Moving Target
The Drowning Pool
The Way Some People Die
The Ivory Grin
Meet Me at the Morgue
Find a Victim
The Name Is Archer
The Barbarous Coast
The Galton Case
The Ferguson Affair
The Wycherly Woman
The Zebra-Striped Hearse
The Far Side of the Dollar
The Instant Enemy
The Goodbye Look
The Underground Man
The Blue Hammer
FIRST VINTAGE CRIME/BLACK LIZARD EDITION,
Copyright © 1962 by Ross Macdonald
Copyright renewed 1990 by The Margaret Millar Survivor’s Trust
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1961.
A condensed version of this novel was first published in
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Macdonald, Ross, 1915–
The zebra-striped hearse/Ross Macdonald.
Random House Web address:
To Harris W. Seed
The people in this novel are fortunately all imaginary, and were invented without reference to any actual people living or dead
HE WAS WAITING
at the office door when I got back from my morning coffee break. The women I usually ran into in the rather dingy upstairs corridor were the aspiring hopeless girls who depended on the modeling agency next door. This one was different.
She had the kind of style that didn’t go on with her make-up, and she was about my age. As a man gets older, if he knows what is good for him, the women he likes are getting older, too. The trouble is that most of them are married.
“I’m Mrs. Blackwell,” she said. “You must be Mr. Archer.”
I acknowledged that I was.
“My husband has an appointment with you in half an hour or so.” She consulted a wrist watch on which diamonds sparkled. “Thirty-five minutes, to be precise. I’ve been waiting for some time.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t anticipate the pleasure. Colonel Blackwell is the only appointment I have scheduled this morning.”
“Good. Then we can talk.”
She wasn’t using her charm on me, exactly. The charm was merely there. I unlocked the outer door and led her across the waiting room, through the door marked Private, into my inner office, where I placed a chair for her.
She sat upright with her black leather bag under her elbow, touching as little of the chair as possible. Her gaze went to the mug shots on the wall, the faces you see in bad dreams and too often on waking. They seemed to trouble her. Perhaps they brought home to her where she was and who I was and what I did for a living.
I was thinking I liked her face. Her dark eyes were intelligent, and capable of warmth. There was a touch of sadness on her mouth. It was a face that had known suffering, and seemed to be renewing the acquaintance.
I said in an exploratory way: “ ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’ ”
She colored slightly. “You’re quick at catching moods. Or is that a stock line?”
“I’ve used it before.”
“So has Dante.” She paused, and her voice changed in tone and rhythm: “I suppose I’ve placed myself in a rather anomalous position, coming here. You mustn’t imagine my husband and I are at odds. We’re not, basically. But it’s such a destructive thing he proposes to do.”
“He wasn’t very specific on the telephone. Is it divorce he has on his mind?”
“Heavens, no. There’s no trouble of that sort in our marriage.” Perhaps she was protesting a little too vehemently. “It’s my husband’s daughter I’m concerned—that we’re both concerned about.”
“Yes, though I dislike that word. I have tried to be something better than the proverbial stepmother. But I got to Harriet very late in the day. She was deprived of her own mother when she was only a child.”
“Her mother died?”
“Pauline is still very much alive. But she divorced Mark years ago, when Harriet was eleven or twelve. Divorce can be terribly hard on a little girl, especially when she’s approaching puberty. There hasn’t been much I could do to make Harriet feel easier in the world. She’s a grown woman, after all, and she’s naturally suspicious of me.”
“It’s in the nature of things, when a man marries for the
second time. Harriet and her father have always been close. I used to be able to communicate with her better before I married him.” She stirred uneasily, and shifted her attention from herself to me. “Do you have any children, Mr. Archer?”
“Have you ever been married?”
“I have, but I don’t quite see the relevance. You didn’t come here to discuss my private life. You haven’t made it clear why you did come, and your husband will be turning up shortly.”
She looked at her watch and rose, I think without intending to. The tension in her simply levitated her out of the chair.
I offered her a cigarette, which she refused, and lit one for myself. “Am I wrong in thinking you’re a little afraid of him?”
“You’re completely wrong,” she said in a definite voice, but she seemed to have some difficulty in continuing. “The thing I’m afraid of is letting him down. Mark needs to be able to trust me. I don’t want to do anything behind his back.”
“But here you are.”
“Here I am.” She relapsed into the chair.
“Which brings us back to the question of why.”
“I’ll be frank with you, Mr. Archer. I don’t like Mark’s battle plan”—she made the phrase sound ironic—“and I’ve told him so. I’ve done some social work, and I have some conception of what it means to be a young woman in the contemporary world. I believe it’s best to let nature take its course. Let Harriet marry the man, if her heart is set on him. But Mark can’t see it my way at all. He’s fiercely opposed to the marriage, and determined to do something drastic.”
“And I’m the something drastic.”
“You’re one version of it. Guns and horsewhips have also been mentioned. Not,” she added quickly, “that I take everything he says seriously.”
“I always take gun talk seriously. What do you want me to do?”
Her gaze had returned to the pin-ups on the wall. Killers, embezzlers, bigamists, and con men looked at her with unabashed eyes. She shifted her bag to her lap.
“Well, I can hardly ask you to turn him down. It would do no good, anyway. He’d simply find another detective and set him loose on Harriet and—her friend. All I really hoped to do was prepare you for the situation. You’ll get a very one-sided view of it from Mark.”
“I’ve gotten a very vague one from you, so far.”
“I’ll try to do better,” she said with a small tight smile. “About five weeks ago Harriet went to Mexico. Her announced intentions were to visit her mother—Pauline lives on Lake Chapala—and to do some painting. But the fact is that she’s not on very good terms with her mother, and her talent as a painter will never set the world on fire. I think she went to Lake Chapala deliberately to find a man.
“Any man. If that sounds cynical, let me add that I might have done the same thing myself, under the circumstances.”
“I mean her father’s second marriage, to me. It’s been quite apparent that Harriet hasn’t been happy living with us. Fortunately for her, for all of us, her little Mexican expedition was successful. She found a friend, and brought him back alive.”
“Does this live one have a name?”
“His name is Burke Damis. He’s a young painter. While he’s no great social prize—my husband tends to overrate the social—he is quite personable. He has no money, which is another of Mark’s objections to him, but he does have artistic talent—a great deal more talent than Harriet possesses, as she knows. And, after all, she’ll have money enough for both of them. With his talent and—virility, and her money and devotion, I’d say they had the makings of a marriage.”
“She’ll have money?”
“Quite a lot of money, and quite soon. One of her aunts left
her a substantial trust fund. Harriet comes into it when she’s twenty-five.”
“How old is she now?”
“Twenty-four. Old enough to know her own mind and live her own life and get out from under Mark’s domination—” She paused, as if the strength of her feeling had carried her too far.
I prompted her: “Domination is a strong word.”
“It slipped out. I don’t mean to malign my husband behind his back. He’s a good man, according to his lights, but like other men he’s capable of emotional foolishness. This isn’t the first affair of Harriet’s he’s tried to break up. He’s always succeeded before. If he succeeds this time, we could end up with a very sad girl on our hands.” Her face was alive with passionate identification.
“You really care about Harriet, Mrs. Blackwell.”
“I care about all three of us. It isn’t good for her to live in her father’s shadow. It isn’t good for me to sit and watch it—I’m not the sitting and watching type—and it will become less good if it goes on. Harriet is so vulnerable, really, and Mark is such a powerful personality.”
As if to illustrate this remark, a large masculine voice was raised in the outer room. I recognized it from Blackwell’s telephone call. He said through the translucent glass door: “Isobel, are you in there?”
She jumped as if lightning had struck her, not for the first time. Then she tried to make herself small.
“Is there a back way out?” she whispered.