The apartment house lobby was empty this time. No gunman waiting under the potted palm to give me orders. I took the elevator up to my floor and walked along the hallway to the tune of recorded music behind a door. I needed a drink and I was in a hurry to get one. I didn't switch the light on inside the door. I made straight for the kitchenette and brought up short in one or two metres. Something was wrong. Something on the air, a scent. The shades were down at the windows and the street lighting leaking in at the sides made a dim light in the room. I stood still and listened. The scent on the air was a perfume, a heavy, cloying perfume, intermingled with the intimate smell of a woman.
There was no sound, no sound at all. Then my eyes adjusted themselves more to the darkness and I saw there something across the floor in front of me that shouldn't have been there. I backed, reached the wall switch with my thumb and flicked the light on.
The bed was down. Something in it giggled. A blonde head was pressed into my pillow. Two bare arms curved up and the hands belonging to them were clasped on top of the blonde head. Carmen Sternwood lay on her back, in my bed, giggling at me. The tawny wave of her hair was spread out on the pillow as if by a careful and artificial hand. Her slaty eyes peered at me and had the effect, as usual, of peering from behind a barrel. She smiled. Her small sharp teeth glinted.
"Cute, aren't I?" she said.
I said harshly: "Cute as a Martian rock-hound on Saturday night."
I went over to a floor lamp and pulled the switch, went back to put out the ceiling lamp, and went across the room again to the chessboard on a card table under the lamp. There was a problem laid out on the board, a six-mover. I couldn't solve it, like a lot of my problems. I reached down and moved a knight, then pulled my coat off and threw it somewhere. All this time the soft giggling went on from the bed, that sound made me think of rats behind the wainscoting in an old house.
"I bet you can't even guess how I got in."
I dug a cigarette out and looked at her with bleak eyes. "I bet I can. You came in through the keyhole, just like Peter Pan."
"Oh, a fellow I used to know around the poolroom."
She giggled. "You're cute, aren't you?" she said. She eyed me with very round and naughty eyes.
"I'm all wet," she said, after I had smoked and stared at her for a minute.
"By God," I said, "it was right at the back of my mind. I was groping for it. I almost had it, when you spoke. In another minute I'd have said ‘I bet you're all wet'."