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

"Lord Carnarvon dug up a king, we bury one. I wouldn't mind a grave like this."

"Bull Montana," said Crumley. "He was a wrestling cowboy. Bull."

At the top of the hill there were no ruins, just a vast pyramid of newspapers being rummaged by a bulldozer driven by an illiterate. The guy bucking the wheeled machine had no idea he was reaping Hearst's outcries, '29, or McCormick's eruptions in the Chicago Tribune, '32. Roosevelt, Hitler, Baby Rose Marie, Marie Dressier, Aimee Semple McPher-son, one, twice buried, forever shy. I cursed.

Crumley had to restrain me from leaping out to seize VICTORY IN EUROPE or HITLER DEAD IN BUNKER or AIMEE WALKS FROM SEA.

"Easy!" Crumley muttered.

"But look what he's doing to all that priceless stuff! Let go, dammit!"

I leaped forward to grab two or three front pages.

Roosevelt was elected on one, dead on another, reelected on the third, and then there was Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima at dawn.

"Jesus," I whispered, pressing the damned lovely things to my ribs.

Crumley picked up "l WILL RETURN," SAYS MACARTHUR. "I get your point," he admitted. "He was a bastard, but the best emperor Japan ever had."

The guy minding the grim reaping machine had stopped and was eyeing us like more trash.

Crumley and I jumped back. He plowed through toward a truck already heaped with MUSSOLINI BOMBS ETHIOPIA, JEANETTE MACDONALD MARRIES, AL JOLSON DEAD.

"Fire hazard!" he yelled.

I watched a half-hundred years of time pour into the Dumpster.

"Dry grass and newsprint, firetraps," I mused. "My God, my God, what if-"

"What if what?"

"In some future date people use newspapers, or books, to start fires?"

"They already do," said Crumley. "Winter mornings, my dad shoved newspaper under the coal in our stove and struck a match."

"Okay, but what about books?"

"No damn fool would use a book to start a fire. Wait. You got that look says you're about to write a ten-ton encyclopedia."

"No," I said. "Maybe a story with a hero who smells of kerosene."

"Some hero."

We walked over a killing field of littered days, nights, years, half a century. The papers crunched like cereal underfoot.

"Jericho," I said.

"Someone bring a trumpet here, and blow a blast?"

"A trumpet blast or a yell. There's been a lot of yelling lately. At Queen Califia's, or here, for King Tut."

"And then there's the priest. Rattigan," Crumley said. "Didn't Constance try to blow his church down? But hell, look, we're standing on Omaha Beach, Normandy, over Churchill's war rooms, holding Chamberlain's damned umbrella. You soaking it up?"

"Wading three feet deep. I wonder how it felt, that last second when old Rattigan drowned in this flood. Franco's Falangists, Hitler's youth, Stalin's Reds, Detroit's riots, Mayor La Guardia reading the Sunday funnies, what a death!"

"To hell with it. Look."

The remnant of Clarence Rattigan's burial cot was sticking up out of a cat litter of STOCK MARKET CRASHES and BANKS CLOSE. I picked up a final discard. Nijinsky danced on the theater page.

"A couple of nuts," said Crumley. "Nijinsky, and old Rattigan, who saved this review!"

"Touch your eyelids."

Crumley did so. His fingers came away wet.

"Damn," he said. "This is a graveyard. Move!"


And then headed for the sea.

Crumley drove me to my old beach apartment, but it was raining again, and I looked at the ocean threatening to drown us all with a storm that could knock at midnight and bring Constance, dead, and the other Rattigan, also dead, and crush my bed with rain and seaweed. Hell! I yanked Clarence Rattigan's newspapers off the wall.

Crumley drove me back to my small empty tract house, with no storm on the shore, and stashed vodka by my bed, Crumley's Elixir, and left the lights on and said he would call later that night to see if my soul was decent, and drove away.

I heard hail on the roof. Someone thumping a coffin lid. I called Maggie across a continent of rain. "Do I hear someone crying?" she said.


the sun was long gone when my phone rang.

"You know what time it is?" said Crumley.

"Ohmigod, it's night!"

"People dying takes a lot out of you. You done blubbering? I can't stand hysterical sob sisters, or bastard sons who carry Kleenex."

"Am I your bastard son?"

"Hit the shower, brush your teeth, and get the Daily News off your porch. I rang your bell, but you were lost. Did Queen Califia tell your fortune? She should have told her own."

"Is she— ?"

"I'm heading back to Bunker Hill at seven-thirty. Be out front with a clean shirt and an umbrella!"

I was out front with a clean shirt and an umbrella at seven twenty-nine. When I got in, Crumley grabbed my chin and scanned my face.

"Hey, no stormy weather!"

And we roared to Bunker Hill.

Passing Callahan and Ortega seemed different suddenly.

There were no police cars or morgue wagons.

"You know a scotch ale called Old Peculiar?" said Crumley as we pulled up to the curb. "Look at the nonevent outside Queen Califia's."

I also looked at the newspaper in my lap. Califia wasn't a headliner. She was buried near the obits.

" 'Renowned psychic, famed in silent films, dies in fall. Alma Crown, a.k.a. Queen Califia, was found on the steps of her Bunker Hill residence. Neighbors reported hearing her peacock cry. Searching, Califia fell. Her book The Chemistry of Palmistry was a 1939 bestseller. Her ashes are to be strewn in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings, where, some said, she was born.' "

"Garbage," said Crumley.

We saw someone on the front porch of the Queen's house and walked up. It was a young woman in her twenties, with long dark hair and Gypsy coloring, wringing her hands, moaning, and letting tears fall, pointing her face toward the front door.

"Awful," she mourned. "Oh, awful, awful."

I opened the front door and stared in.

"No, my God, no."

Crumley came to look in at the desolation.

For the house was completely empty. All the pictures, crystal balls, tarot cards, lamps, books, records, furniture had vanished. Some mysterious van and transfer company had lugged it all away.

I walked into the small kitchen, pulled open drawers. Empty, vacuumed clean. Pantry: no spices, canned fruit. The cupboard was bare, so her poor dog had none.

In her bedroom the closet was crammed with hangers but no tent-size dressing gowns, stockings, shoes.

Crumley and I went out to stare at the young Gypsy woman's face. "I saw it all!" she cried, pointing in all directions. "They stole everything! They're all poor. Excuses! Poor! Across the street, when the police left, they knocked me down, old women, men, kids, yelling, laughing, ran in and out, carrying chairs, drapes, pictures, books. Grab this, grab that! A fiesta! One hour and it was empty. They went to that house over there! My God, the laughs. Look, my hands, the blood! You want Califia's junk? Go knock on doors! You gonna go?"

Crumley and I sat down on either side of her. Crumley took her left hand. I took her right.

"Sonsabitches," she gasped. "Sonsabitches."

"That's about it," said Crumley. "You can go home. There's nothing to guard. Nothing inside."

"She is inside. They took her body, but she's still there. I'll wait until she says go."

We both looked over her shoulder at the screen door and some unseen massive ghost.

"How will you know when she says go?"

The Gypsy wiped her eyes. "I'll know."

"Where are you going?" said Crumley.

Because I was on the walk heading across the street. At the opposite house I knocked.

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