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

I gathered my spit. "You claim you were Rattigan's first husband and then ask for beer?"

"I didn't say I was her first husband, just one of some. Where's that beer?" The old man gummed his lips.

Crumley sighed and pulled some stuff from his pockets. "Here's beer and Mallomars."

"Mallomars!" The old man stuck out his tongue and I placed one on it. He let it melt on his tongue like a Jesus wafer. "Mallomars! Women! Can't live without 'em!"

He half sat up for beer.

"Rattigan," I urged.

"Oh, yeah. Marriage. She rode up on the trolley and went wild with the weather, thought it was my creation, proposed, and after our honeymoon, one night, found out I had nothing to do with the climate, grew icicles, and vamoosed. My body will never be the same." The old man shivered.

"Is that all?"

"What d'ya mean, all?! You ever throw her two falls out of three?"

"Almost," I whispered.

I pulled out Rattigan's phone book. "This clued us onto you.”

The old man peered at his name circled in red ink. "Why would someone send you here?" He mused over another swallow. "Wait! You some sort of writer?"

"Some sort."

"Well hell, that's it! Haw long you known her?"

"A few years."

"A year with Rattigan's a thousand and one nights. Lost in the Fun House. Hell, son. I bet she red-circled my name because she wants you to write her autobiography. Starting with me, Old Faithful."

"No," I said.

"She ask you to take notes?"


"Damn, wouldn't that be great? Anyone ever written a book wilder than Constance, more wrathful than Rattigan? A bestseller! Lie down with Rattigan, get up with sequined fleas. Run down the hill, sign a publisher! I get royalties for revelations! Okay?"


"Now gimme another Mallomar, more beer. You still need more guff?"

I nodded.

"That other table…" An orange crate. "A list of wedding guests."

I went to the orange crate and riffled through some bills until I found one piece of quality paper and peered at it as he said, "You ever wonder where the name California came from?"

"What's that-"

"Pipe down. The Hispanics, when they marched north from Mexico in 1509, carried books. One published in Spain had an Amazon queen ruling in a land of milk and honey. Queen Califia. The country she ruled was named California. The Spaniards took one look down this here valley, saw the milk, ate the honey, and named it all-"


"So, check that guest list."

I looked and read: "Califia! My God! We tried to call her today! Where is she now?"

"That's what the Rattigan wanted to know. It was Califia predicted our predestined marriage, but not our downfall. So Rattigan trapped me with a hammerlock and mobbed this place with bums and bad champagne, all because of Califia. 'Where the hell is she?' she shouted today, down the tunnel of newsprint. 'You would know!' she yelled. 'Not guilty!' I yelled back up the tunnel. 'Go, Constance! Califia ruined us both. Go kill her, then kill her again. Califia!'"

The mummy fell back, exhausted.

"You said all that," I asked. "At noon today?"

"Some such," sighed the old man. "I sent Rattigan off for blood. I hope she finds that damned half-ass-trologer and…" His voice wandered. "More Mallomars?"

I laid the cookie on his tongue. It melted. He talked fast.

"You wouldn't think it to see this boneless wonder, but I got half a mil in the bank. Go see. I mouth-to-mouth-breathed Wall Street stocks not dead, just asleep. From 1941 through Hiroshima, Enewetak, and Nixon. I said buy IBM, buy Bell. Now I got this great spread with a view overlooking L.A., a one-holer Andy Gump behind, and the Glendale Market, well tipped, sends up a kid with Spam, canned chili, and bottled water! The life of Riley! You guys done shadowboxing my past?"


"Rattigan, Rattigan," the old man went on. "Good for a few hoots and raucous applause. She was written up in those papers from time to time. Grab one paper off the top of each stack, four on the right, six on the left, all different. She left snail-track spoors on the path to Marrakech. Today she came back to clean her catbox."

"Did you actually see her?"

"Didn't need to. That yell would split Rumpelstiltskin and sew him back up."

"Is that all she wanted, Califia's address?"

"And the papers! Take 'em and go to hell. It's been a long divorce with no surcease."

"Can I have this?" I lifted an invitation.

"Take a dozen! Only ones showed up were Rattigan's Kleenex guys. She used to wad and throw 'em over her shoulder. 'You can always order more,' she said. Grab the invites. Steal the newsprint. What did you say your name was?"

"I didn't."

"Thank God! Out!" said Clarence Rattigan.

Crumley and I threaded our way, gingerly, through the labyrinthine towers, borrowed copies of eight different newspapers from eight different stacks, and were about to head out the front door when a kid with a loaded box barred our way.

"What you got there?" I said.


"Mostly booze?"

"Groceries," the kid said. "He still in there?"

"Don't come back!" King Tuts voice cried from deep down far away in the newsprint catacomb. "I won't be here!"

"He's there, all right," said the kid, two shades paler.

"Three fires and an earthquake! One more ahead! I feel it coming!" The mummy's voice faded.

The kid looked at us.

"It's all yours." I stepped back.

"Don't move, don't breathe." The kid put one foot inside the door.

Crumley and I didn't move, didn't breathe.

And he was gone.


CRUMLEY managed to swerve his wreck around and head us back downhill without falling off the edge. On the way, my eyes brimmed.

"Don't say it." Crumley avoided my face. "I don't want to hear."

I swallowed hard. "Three fires and an earthquake. And more coming!"

"That did it!" Crumley hit the brakes. "Don't say what you think, dammit. Sure, another quake's coming: Rattigan! She'll rip us all! Out, out, and walk!"

"I'm afraid of heights."

"Okay! Zip your lip!"

We drove down beneath twenty thousand leagues of silence. Out on the street, in traffic, I scanned the newspapers, one by one.

"Hell," I said, "I wonder why he let us have these?"

"Whatta you see?"

"Nothing. Zero. Zilch."

"Gimme." Crumley grabbed and used one eye on the news, one on the road. It was starting to rain.

" 'Emily Starr, dead at twenty-five,' " he read.

"Watch it!" I cried as the car drifted.

He scanned another paper. " 'Corinne Kelly divorces Von Sternberg.' "

He hurled the paper over his shoulder.

" 'Rebecca Standish in hospital. Fading fast.' "

Another toss, another paper. " 'Genevieve Carlos marries Goldwyn's son.' So?"

I handed him three more between flashes of rain. They all went into the backseat.

"He said he wasn't crackers. Well?"

I shuffled the news. "We're missing something. He wouldn't keep these for the hell of it."

"No? Nuts collect peaches, plums collect nuts. Fruit salad."

"Why would Constance-" I stopped. "Hold on."

"I'm holding." Crumley clenched the wheel.

"Inside, society page. Big picture. Constance, good Lord, twenty years younger, and the mummy, that guy up there, younger, with more flesh, not bad looking, their wedding, and on one side Louis B. Mayer's assistant, Marty Krebs, and on the other, Carlotta Q. Califia, noted astrologer!"

"Who told Constance to marry up on Mount Lowe. Astrologer forecasts, Constance takes the dive. Find the obituary page."

"Obit— ?"

"Find it! Whatta you see?"

"Holy cow! The daily horoscope and the name-Queen Califia!"

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