Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Содержание - CHAPTER SIXTEEN
"Good!" He caught himself. "Sit. You have five minutes. The cardinal is waiting."
"You had better go."
"Five minutes," said Constance from inside the mask of this genetic twin. "Well?"
"I've just visited-"
"Califia." Father Rattigan exhaled with controlled despair. "The Queen. Sends people she can't help. She has her church, not mine."
"Constance has disappeared again, Father."
"That's what the Queen, ah, Califia said."
I held out the Book of the Dead. Father Rattigan turned its pages.
"Where'd you get this?"
"Constance. She said someone sent it to her. To scare her, maybe, or hurt her, or God knows what. I mean, only she knows if it's a real threat."
"You think she might just be hiding to spoil things for everyone?" He deliberated. "I myself am of two minds. But then there were those who burned Savonarola then and elevate him now. A most peculiar sinner-cum-saint."
"Aren't there similarities, Father?" I dared to say. "Lots of sinners became saints, yes?"
"What do you know about Florence in 1492 when Savonarola made Botticelli burn his paintings?"
"It's the only age I know, sir, Father. Then Savonarola, now Constance…"
"If Savonarola knew her, he'd kill himself. No, no, let me think. I've starved since dawn. Here's bread and wine. Let's have some before I fall."
The good father pulled a loaf and a jug out of the vestry closet, and we sat. Father Rattigan broke the bread, then poured a small wine for himself, and a large for me, which I took gladly.
"Baptist?" he said.
"How did you guess?"
"I'd rather not say."
I tipped back my glass. "Can you help me with Constance, Father?"
"No. Oh, Lord, Lord, maybe."
He refilled my glass.
"Last night. Can it be? I stayed in the confessional late. I felt… as if I were waiting for someone. Finally, near midnight, a woman entered the confessional and for a long while was silent. Finally, like Jesus calling Lazarus, I insisted, and she wept. It all came out. Sins by the pound and the truckload, sins from last year, ten years, thirty years past, she couldn't stop, on and on, night on dreadful night, on and on, and finally she was still and I was about to instruct her with Hail Marys when I heard her running. I checked the other side of the confessional but only smelled perfume. Oh Lord, Lord."
"Your sister's scent?"
"Constance?" Father Rattigan sank back. "Hell burned twice, that perfume."
Last night, I thought. So close. If Crumley and I had only come then.
"You'd better go, Father," I said.
"The cardinal will wait."
"Well," I said, "if she returns, would you call me?"
"No," said the priest. "The confessional's as private as a lawyer's office. Are you that upset?"
"Yes." I twisted the wedding ring on my finger, absently.
Father Rattigan noticed.
"Does your wife know all this?"
"That sounds like delicatessen morality."
"My wife trusts me."
"Wives do that, God bless them. Does my sister seem worth saving?"
"Doesn't she to you?"
"Dear God, I gave up when she claimed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was a Kama Sutra pose."
"Constance! Still, Father, if she shows up again, could you call my number and hang up? I'd know you were signaling her arrival."
"You do know how to split hairs. Give me your number. I see in you not so much a Baptist but a fair Christian."
I gave him my number as well as Crumley's.
"Just one ring, Father."
The priest studied the numbers. "We all live on the slope. But some, by a miracle, grow roots. Don't wait. Your phone may never ring. But I'll give your number to my assistant, Betty Kelly, too, just in case. Why are you doing this?"
"She was heading fast off a cliff."
"Watch out she doesn't take you with. I'm ashamed I said that. But as a child she skated out and stopped in mid-traffic to laugh."
He fixed me with a bright needle eye. "But why do I tell you this?"
"It's my face."
"My face. I look in mirrors but never catch myself. The expression always changes before I can trap it. It's got to be a blend of the Boy Jesus and Genghis Khan. It drives my friends crazy."
This relaxed some of the priest's bones. "Does idiot savant sound right?"
"Almost. The school bullies took one look and beat the hell out of me. You were saying?"
"Was I? Yes, well, if that screaming woman was Constance, and her voice seemed different, she gave me orders. Imagine, orders to a priest! Gave me a deadline. Said she'd be back in twenty-four hours. I must give complete forgiveness for all her sins, twenty thousand strong. As if I could assign such mass-market absolution. I told her she must forgive herself, and ask others for forgiveness. God loves you. 'But He doesn't,' she said. And then she was gone."
" Will she come back?"
"With doves on her shoulders or lightning bolts."
Father Rattigan walked me to the front of the cathedral. "And how does she look? Like a siren singing to lure damned sailors to drown. Are you a poor damn sailor?"
"No, just someone who writes people on Mars, Father."
"I hope they are happier than we are. Wait! Good Lord, there was a thing she said. That she was joining a new church. And might not come back to douse my ears."
"What church, Father?"
"Chinese. Chinese and Grauman's. Some church!"
"To many it is. You've been there?"
"To see King of Kings, I found the forecourt superior to the film. You look as if you're about to break and run."
"To the new church, Father. Chinese. Grauman's."
"Stay off the quicksand footprints. Many sinners have sunk there. What film's playing?"
"Abbott and Costello in Jack and the Beanstalk?
"Lamentable." I ran.
"Mind the quicksand!" Father Rattigan called after me as I raced out the doors.
on the way across town I was a hot-air balloon full of Great Expectations. Crumley kept hitting my elbow to make me calm down, calm down. But we had to get to that other church.
"Church!" Crumley muttered. "Since when do double features sideline the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?"
"King Kong! That's when! 1932! Fay Wray kissed my cheek."
"Holy mackerel." Crumley switched on the car radio.
"— afternoon-" a voice said. "Mount Lowe-"
"Listen!" I said, my stomach a chunk of ice.
The voice said, "Death… police… Clarence Rattigan… victim…" A flare of static. "Freak accident… victim smothered, smothered… old newspapers. Recall brothers in Bronx? Saved stacks of old papers that fell and killed the brothers? Newspapers…"
"Turn it off."
Crumley turned it off.
"That poor lost soul," I said.
"Was he really that lost?"
"Lost as you can get without giving it the old heave-ho."
"You want to drive by?"
"Drive by," I said at last, making noises.
"You didn't know him," said Crumley. "Why those noises?"
The last police car was leaving. The morgue van had long since left. A lone policeman on his motorcycle stood at the bottom of Mount Lowe. Crumley leaned out his window.
"Anything to keep us from driving up?"
"Just me," said the officer. "But I'm leaving."
"Were there any reporters?"
"No, it wasn't worth it."
"Yeah," I said, and made more noises.
"Okay, okay," Crumley groused, "wait till I get this damn car aimed before you upchuck your hairball."
I waited and fell apart, silently.
The motorcycle policeman left, and it was a long late afternoon journey up to the ruined temple of Karnak, the destroyed Valley of the Kings, and lost Cairo, or so I said along the way.