“I’m Miss Vermilyea, Mr. Umney’s secretary,” she said in a rather chintzy voice.
“Please come in.”
She was quite a doll. She wore a white belted raincoat, no hat, a well-cherished head of platinum hair, booties to match the raincoat, a folding plastic umbrella, a pair of blue-gray eyes that looked at me as if I had said a dirty word. I helped her off with her raincoat. She smelled very nice. She had a pair of legs—so far as I could determine—that were not painful to look at. She wore night sheer stockings. I stared at them rather intently, especially when she crossed her legs and held out a cigarette to be lighted.
“Christian Dior,” she said, reading my rather open mind. “I never wear anything else. A light, please.”
“You’re wearing a lot more today,” I said, snapping a lighter for her.
“I don’t greatly care for passes this early in the morning.”
“What time would suit you, Miss Vermilyea?”
She smiled rather acidly, inventoried her handbag and tossed me a manila envelope. “I think you’ll find everything you need in this.”
“Well—not quite everything.”
“Get on with it, you goof. I’ve heard all about you. Why do you think Mr. Umney chose you? He didn’t. I did. And stop looking at my legs.”
I opened the envelope. It contained another sealed envelope and two checks made out to me. One, for $250, was marked “Retainer, as an advance against fees for professional services.” The other was for $200 and was marked “Advance to Philip Marlowe for necessary expenses.”
“You will account for the expenses to me, in exact detail,” Miss Vermilyea said. “And buy your own drinks.”
The other envelope I didn’t open—not yet. “What makes Umney think I’ll take a case I know nothing about?”
“You’ll take it. You’re not asked to do anything wrong. You have my word for that.”
“What else do I have?”
“Oh, we might discuss that over a drink some rainy evening, when I’m not too busy.”
“You’ve sold me.”
From Raymond Chandler’s last competed novel Playback (1958)