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


IT was said that Constance Rattigan had the smallest tootsies in all Hollywood, perhaps in the whole world. She had her shoes cobbled in Rome, and airmailed to her twice a year because her old ones were melted from champagne poured by crazed suitors. Small feet, dainty toes, tiny shoes.

Her imprints left in Grauman's cement the night of August 22, 1929, proved this. Girls testing their size found their feet to be titanic and pitiful and abandoned her prints in despair.

So here I was alone on a strange night in Grauman's forecourt, the only place in dead, unburied Hollywood where shoppers brought dreams for refunds.

The crowd cleared. I saw her footprints some twenty feet away. I froze.

Because a small man in a black trench coat, a snap-brim hat yanked over his brow, had just tucked his shoes in Rat-tigan's footprints.

"Jesus God," I gasped. "They fit!"

The small man gazed at his tiny shoes. For the first time in forty years, Rattigan's tracks were occupied.

"Constance," I whispered.

The small man's shoulders shrank.

"Right behind you," I whispered.

"Are you one of them?" I heard a voice say from under the large dark hat.

"One of what?" I said.

"Are you Death chasing me?"

"Just a friend trying to keep up."

"I've been waiting for you," the voice said, not moving, the feet planted firmly in the footprints of Constance Rattigan.

"What's it mean?" I said. "Why this wild goose chase? Are you scared or playing tricks?"

"Why would you say that?" the voice said, hidden.

"Good grief," I said. "Is this all some cheap dodge? Someone said you might want to write your life and needed someone to help. If you expect that to be me, no thanks. I've got better things to do."

"What's better than me?" said the voice, growing smaller.

"No one, but is Death really after you or are you looking for a new life, God knows what kind?"

"What better than Uncle Sid's concrete mortuary? All the names with nothing beneath. Ask away."

"Are you going to turn and face me?"

"I couldn't talk then."

"Is this some way of getting me to help you uncover your past? Is the casket half-full or half-empty? Did someone else make those red marks in your Book of the Dead, or did you make them?"

"It had to be someone else. Or else why would I be so frightened? Those red ink marks? I've got to look them up, find which ones are dead already, and which are just about to die but still alive. Do you ever have the feeling everything's falling apart?"

"Not you, Constance."

"Christ, yes! Some nights I sleep Clara Bow, wake up Noah, wet with vodka. Is my face ruined?"

"A lovely ruin."

"But still-"

Rattigan stared out at Hollywood Boulevard. "Once there were real tourists. Now it's torn shirts. Everything's lost, junior. Venice pier drowned, trolley tracks sunk. Hollywood and Vine, was it ever there?"

"Once. When the Brown Derby hung their walls with cartoons of Gable and Dietrich, and the headwaiters were Russian princes. Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck drove by in their roadster. Hollywood and Vine? You planted your feet there and knew pure joy."

"You talk nice. Want to know where Mama's been?"

She moved her arm. She took some newspaper clippings from beneath her coat. I saw the names Califia and Mount Lowe.

"I was there, Constance," I said. "The old man was crushed by a collapsed haystack of news. God, it looked like he died on the San Andreas fault. Someone pushed the stacks, I think. An indecent burial. And Queen Califia? A fall downstairs. And your brother, the priest. Did you visit all three, Constance?"

"I don't have to answer."

"Let me try a different question. Do you like yourself?"


"Look. I like myself. I'm not perfect, hell no, but I never bedded anyone if I felt they were breakable. Lots of men say hit the hay, live! Not me. Even when it's offered on a plate. So with no sins, I don't often have bad dreams. Oh, sure, there was the time I ran away from my grandma when I was a kid, ran away and left her blocks behind, so she came home weeping. I still can't forgive myself. Or hitting my dog, just once, I hit him. And that still hurts, thirty years later. Not much of a list, right, to make bad dreams?"

Constance stood very still.

"God, God," she said, "how I wish I had your dreams."

"Ask and I'll give you the loan."

"You poor dumb innocent stupid kid. That's why I love you. Somewhere, at heaven's gate, can I trade in my old chimney soot nightmares for fresh clean angel wings?"

"Ask your brother."

"He threw me downstairs to hell long ago."

"You haven't answered my question. Do you like yourself?"

"What I see in the mirror, sure. It's what's inside the glass, deep under, scares me. I wake late nights with all that stuff swimming behind my face. Christ, that's sad. Can you help me?"

"How? I don't know which is which, you or your mirror. What's up front, what's beneath."

Constance shifted her feet.

"Can't you stand still?" I said. "If I say 'red light,' stop. Your feet are stuck in that cement. What then?"

I saw her shoes ache to pull free.

"People are staring at us!"

"The theater's closed. Most of the lights are out. The forecourt is empty."

"You don't understand. I've got to go. Straight on."

I looked up at the front doors of Grauman's, still open, with some workmen carrying equipment inside.

"It's the next step, but God, how do I get there?"

"Just walk."

"You don't understand. It's hopscotch. There must be other footprint paths to the door, if I can find them. Which way do I jump?"

Her head moved. The dark hat fell to the pavement. Constance's close-cropped bronze hair came into view. She still stared ahead, as if afraid to show me her face.

"If I say go, what then?" I asked.

"I'll go."

"And meet me again, where?" "God knows. Quick! Say 'go.' They're catching up." "Who?"

"All those others. They'll kill me if I don't kill first. You wouldn't want me to die right here? Well, would you?" I shook my head. "Ready, set, go?" she asked.

"Ready, set."

And she was gone.

She zigzagged across the forecourt, a dozen fast steps to the right, another dozen to the left, pause, and a final two dozen steps to a third set of prints, where she froze, as if it were a land mine.

A car horn hooted. I turned. When I glanced back, the Grauman's front door swallowed a shadow.

I counted to ten to give her a real start, then I bent down to pick up the tiny shoes she had left behind in her footprints. Then I walked over to the first set of prints where she had paused. Sally Simpson, 1926. The name was just an echo from a lost time.

I moved on to the second set of prints. Gertrude Erhard, 1924. An even fainter ghost of time. And the final footprints nearer the front door. Dolly Dawn, 1923. Peter Pan. Dolly Dawn? A fleeting mist of years touched me. I almost remembered.

"Hell," I whispered. "No way."

And got ready to let Uncle Sid's fake Chinese palace swallow me with one huge dark dragon swallow.

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