Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Содержание - CHAPTER TEN


we entered a labyrinth of newsprint. A labyrinth; hell, a catacomb with narrow passages between stacks of old newspapers-the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Seattle News, the Detroit Free Press. Five feet on the left, six on the right, and a pathway between which you might jockey through, fearful of avalanches that could crush and kill.

"Holy magoly!" I breathed.

"You can say that again," Crumley groused. "Christ, there must be ten thousand Sunday and daily papers stacked here, in layers-look, yellow down below, white on top. And not just one stack, ten dozen-my God, a hundred!"

For indeed the catacomb of newsprint hollowed back through twilight shadow to curve out of sight.

It was a moment, I later said, like Lord Carnarvon opening Tut's tomb in 1922. All those ancient headlines, those obituary piles, that led to what? More news stacks and more beyond. Crumley and I sidled through with hardly enough space for bellies or behinds.

"God," I whispered, "if ever a real earthquake hit-"

"It did!" came a voice from far down the stacked tunnel of print. A mummy cried. "Kicked the stacks! Almost pancaked me!"

"Who's there?" I called. "Where in hell are you?"

"A great maze, yeah?" The mummy's voice yelled in glee. "Built it myself! Morning extra by night final, race specials, Sunday comics, you name it! Forty years! A museum library of news, un-fit to print. Keep moving! Around the bend to your left. I'm here somewhere!"

"Move!" Crumley panted. "There's gotta be a space with fresh air!"

"That's it!" the dry voice called. "You're close. Bear left. Don't smoke! Damn place's a firetrap of headlines: 'Hitler Takes Power,' 'Mussolini Bombs Ethiopia for Kindling,' 'Roosevelt Dead,' 'Churchill Builds Iron Curtain,' swell, huh?"

We turned a final comer among tall flapjack stacks of print to find a clearing in the forest.

On the far side of the clearing was an army cot. On the cot lay what seemed a long bundle of beef jerky or a mummy rampant from the earth. There was a strong smell. Not dead, I thought, not alive.

I approached the cot slowly, with Crumley behind. I knew the odor now. Not death, but the great unwashed.

The rag bundle stirred. Some ancient blanket shreds flaked from a face like watermarks on mud shallows. A faint crack of light glinted between two withered lids.

"Pardon my not rising," the withered mouth trembled. "Chez Monsieur from Armentieres, haven't got up in forty years." It cackled a cackle that almost killed it. It began to cough.

"No, no, I'm okay," it whispered. The head fell back. "Where the hell you been?"


"I been expecting you!" said the mummy. "What year is it? 1932? 1946? 1950?"

"You're getting warmer."

"1960. Howzat?"

"Bull's— eye," said Crumley.

"I'm not all crackers." The old man's dry dust mouth quavered. "You bring my vittles?"


"No, no, couldn't be. It's a kid, totes the dog food through that Grub Street newsprint alley, can by can, or the whole damn thing falls. You're not him-or he?"

We glanced behind and shook our heads.

"How you like my penthouse? Original meaning: place where they used to pent up people so they couldn't run amok. We gave it a different meaning and raised the rent. Where was I? Oh, yeah. How you like this joint?"

"A Christian Science reading room," said Crumley.

"Darn tootin'," said Ramses II. "Started 1925. Couldn't stop. Smash and grab, not much smash, mainly grab. It all started one day when I forgot to throw out the morning papers. Next thing there was a week collected and then more Tribune/Times/Daily News trash. That there on your right is 1939. On the left: 1940. One stack back: '41. Neat!"

"What happens if you want a special date and it's four feet down?"

"I try not to figure that. Name a date."

"April ninth, 1937," leaped off my tongue.

"Why the hell that?" said Crumley.

"Don't stop the boy," came the whisper from under the dust blanket. " 'Jean Harlow, dead at twenty-six. Uremic poisoning. Services manana. Forest Lawn. Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald duet at the obsequies.' "

"My God!" I exploded.

"Pretty damn smart, huh? More!"

"May third, 1942," popped from my mouth.

" 'Carole Lombard killed. Air crash. Gable weeps.' "

Crumley turned to me. "Is that all you know? Dead film stars?"

"Don't fret the kid," said the old voice six feet under. "What you doing here?"

"We came— " said Crumley.

"It's about-" I said.

"Don't." The old man whirled a dust storm of thoughts. "You're a sequel!"


"Last time anyone climbed Mount Lowe looking to jump off, he failed, went back down, and was hit by a car that cured his living. Last time someone really came was… noon today!"


"Why not? Come find the old crock, drowned in dust, no rolls in the hay since '32. Someone did come a few hours ago, shouted down those tunnels of bad news. Recall that fairy tale porridge mill? Say 'go!' it made hot porridge. Kid got it started. Forgot the 'stop' word. Damn porridge flooded the whole town. People ate their way door-to-door. So I got newsprint, not porridge. What did I just say?"

"Someone shouted down-"

"The corridor between the London Times and Le Figaro? Yeah. Woman, braying like a mule. Yells emptied my bladder. Threatened to tiddlywink my stacks. One shove and it's dominoes, she screamed, whole damn print architecture squashes me!"

"I should think earthquakes-"

"Had 'em! Shook the hell out of 'Yang-Tse River Deluge' and 'Il Duce Conquers,' but here I am. Even the big one, in '32, didn't kick my poker stacks. Anyway, this wild woman screamed all my vices and demanded certain papers from special years. I said try first row on the left, then the right; I keep all the raw stuff high. I heard her wrestle the stacks. Her cursing could have set 'London on Fire!' She slammed the door, skedaddled, looking for a place to jump. I don't think a car got her. Know who she was? I been holding out on you. Guess?"

"I can't," I said, stunned.

"See that desk there in cat litter? Scrap the litter, lift the stuff with fancy type."

I stepped to the desk. Under a tangle of sawdust and what seemed to be bird droppings, I found two dozen identical invitations.

" 'Clarence Rattigan and-' " I paused.

"Read it!" said the old man.

" 'Constance Rattigan,' " I gasped, and went on. " 'Are pleased to announce their marriage atop Mount Lowe, June tenth, 1932, at three in the afternoon. Motor and rail escorts. Champagne following.'"

"That hit you where you live?" said Clarence Rattigan.

I glanced up.

"Clarence Rattigan and Constance Rattigan," I said. "Hold on. Shouldn't Constance's maiden name be listed?"

"Looks like incest, you mean?"

"Strange peculiar."

"You don't get it," the lips husked. "Constance made me change my name! It was Overholt. She said she was damned if she'd give up her first-class moniker for a second-rate hand-me-down, so-"

"You got baptized before the ceremony?" I guessed.

"Never was but finally did. Episcopal deacon down in Hollywood thought I was nuts. You ever try to argue with Constance?"

'I— "

"Won't take yes for an answer! 'Love Me or Leave Me,' she sang. I liked the tune. Hit me with the baptismal oil, laid on the unction. First damn fool in America to burn his birth certificate."

"I'll be damned," I said.

"No. Me. What you staring at?"


"Yeah, I know," he said. "I don't seem like much. Wasn't much then. See that bright doohickey on top o' the invites? Mount Lowe train motorman's brass handle. Rattigan liked the way I banged that brass. Me, the motorman on the Mount Lowe trolley! Jesus! Is there any beer anywhere?" he added suddenly.

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