The lady in the lake
Raymond Chandler. The Lady In The Lake
The Treloar Building was, and is, on Olive Street, near Sixth, on the west side. The sidewalk in front of it had been built of black and white rubber blocks. They were taking them up now to give to the government, and a hatless pale man with a face like a building superintendent was watching the work and looking as if it was breaking his heart.
I went past him through an arcade of specialty shops into a vast black and gold lobby. The Gillerlain Company was on the seventh floor, in front, behind swinging double plate glass doors bound in platinum. Their reception room had Chinese rugs, dull silver walls, angular but elaborate furniture, sharp shiny bits of abstract sculpture on pedestals and a tall display in a triangular showcase in the corner. On tiers and steps and islands and promontories of shining mirror-glass it seemed to contain every fancy bottle and box that had ever been designed. There were creams and powders and soaps and toilet waters for every season and every occasion. There were perfumes in tall thin bottles that looked as if a breath would blow them over and perfumes in little pastel phials tied with ducky satin bows, like the little girls at a dancing class. The cream of the crop seemed to be something very small and simple in a squat amber bottle. It was in the middle at eye height, had a lot of space to itself, and was labelled _Gillerlain Regal, The Champagne of Perfumes_. It was definitely the stuff to get. One drop of that in the hollow of your throat and the matched pink pearls started falling on you like summer rain.
A neat little blonde sat off in a far corner at a small PBX, behind a railing and well out of harm's way. At a flat desk in line with the doors was a tall, lean, darkhaired lovely whose name, according to the tilted embossed plaque on her desk, was Miss Adrienne Fromsett.
She wore a steel gray business suit and under the jacket a dark blue shirt and a man's tie of lighter shade. The edges of the folded handkerchief in the breast pocket looked sharp enough to slice bread. She wore a linked bracelet and no other jewelry. Her dark hair was parted and fell in loose but not unstudied waves. She had a smooth ivory skin and rather severe eyebrows and large dark eyes that looked as if they might warm up at the right time and in the right place.
I put my plain card, the one without the tommy gun in the corner, on her desk and asked to see Mr. Derace Kingsley. She looked at the card and said: "Have you an appointment?"
"It is very difficult to see Mr. Kingsley without an appointment." That wasn't anything I could argue about.
"What is the nature of your business, Mr. Marlowe?"
"I see. Does Mr. Kingsley know you, Mr. Marlowe?"
"I don't think so. He may have heard my name. You might say I'm from Lieutenant M'Gee."
"And does Mr. Kingsley know Lieutenant M'Gee?" She put my card beside a pile of freshly typed letterheads. She leaned back and put one arm on the desk and tapped lightly with a small gold pencil.
I grinned at her. The little blonde at the PBX cocked a shell-like ear and smiled a small fluffy smile. She looked playful and eager, but not quite sure of herself, like a new kitten in a house where they don't care much about kittens.
"I'm hoping he does," I said. "But maybe the best way to find out is to ask him."
She initialed three letters rapidly, to keep from throwing her pen set at me. She spoke again without looking up.
"Mr. Kingsley is in conference. I'll send your card in when I have an opportunity.