I nodded, ignoring his out-thrust hand.
“I believe we have some business, sir.” He leaned in toward me, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Concerning the late Mr. Marlowe.”
He was clearly taken aback when I showed no reaction. Still, when I turned and moved down the hall toward the kitchen, he stepped inside and followed me.
I got the bourbon from the cabinet, poured myself a stiff shot in a water tumbler and sat down at the table. I slid the bottle and another glass down the table by way of invitation for him to take the chair. After stripping off his overcoat and hat, he did just that, pouring himself a drink that dwarfed my own.
When we had both drained our glasses by half, he tried again. “I understand, sir, that you and Billy had a business arrangement, an arrangement whereby you paid him a significant sum each month?”
“Twenty-five hundred dollars,” I agreed.
“Twenty-five hundred dollars, thirty thousand dollars a year.” He seemed barely able to contain his glee.
“But now,” I pointed out, “Billy is no longer with us.”
He chuckled and reached for the bottle. “Well sir,” he said, after consuming the better part of a new drink in a single gulp, “I like to think he is still with us in spirit. In fact, you might say that I…” He paused and patted his hands against his chest, “I am the spirit of Billy Marlowe.”
“I’m afraid I’m not too much for believing in spirits,” I answered mildly, “so I’d just as soon call you by your own name, Mr…?”
“My apologies. The name is Emory, sir. Walter Emory, at your service.” I was afraid for a moment that he was going to offer his hand again, but he thought better of it. “It is in fact quite important that you do know my name, Mr. Davis, as we will be doing business together…” he paused for emphasis, “on a regular basis.”
When I did not respond, he had to say it straight out.
“Surely, sir, you must understand that henceforth I shall be the person you will pay twenty-five hundred dollars each month.”
I shrugged. “I am afraid I don’t understand at all, Mr. Emory. Why in the world would I want to that?”
“See here, Davis…” Emory screeched, half rising, then made a visible effort to bring himself under control .”As you know, after leaving my company last evening, Mr. Marlowe had an unfortunate altercation with persons unknown….” he could not suppress a smile at this transparent fabrication. “Shortly prior to that sad event, however, he turned some papers over to me.”
“Indeed. You see, I am a collector of sorts, a gatherer of information. I make quite a good living in this fashion, sometimes by revealing what I know and sometimes…” he stared hard at me, “sometimes by not revealing what I know.
“Mr. Marlowe gave me papers involving a very prominent person, an attorney, which told of certain irregularities in that man’s dealings during his youth. These indiscretions, which would have destroyed his career had they been discovered, instead helped to make him rich and powerful. Yet they would still ruin his good name if they were made public today.”