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


I STOPPED just outside the crimson doors, for as clearly as if he were calling, I heard Father Rattigan shout, "Lamentable!"

Which made me pull out Rattigan's Book of the Dead.

I had only looked for names, now I looked for a place. There it was under the Gs: Grauman's. Followed by an address and a name: Clyde Rustler.

Rustler, I thought, my God, he retired from acting in 1920 after working with Griffith and Gish and getting involved with Dolly Dimples's bathtub death. And here was his name-alive?-on a boulevard where they buried you without warning and erased you from history the way dear Uncle Joe Stalin rubbed out his pals, with a shotgun eraser.

And, my heart thumped, there was red ink around his name and a double crucifix.

Rattigan— I looked at the dark beyond the red door-

Rattigan, yes, but Clyde Rustler, are you here, too? I reached and grasped one brass handle and a voice behind me announced bleakly: "There's nothing inside to steal!"

A gaunt homeless guy stood to my right, dressed in various shades of gray, speaking to the universe. He felt my gaze.

"Go ahead." I read his lips. "You got nothing to lose."

Plenty to win, I thought, but how do you excavate a big Chinese tomb filled with black-and-white flicker film clips, an aviary of birds shuttling the air, fireworks ricocheting a big ravenous screen, as swift as memory, as quick as remorse?

The homeless man waited for me to self-destruct with remembrance. I nodded. I smiled.

And as quickly as Rattigan, I sank into die theater's darkness.


INSIDE the lobby there was a frozen army of Chinese coolies, concubines, and emperors, dressed in ancient wax, parading nowhere.

One of the wax figurines blinked. "Yes?"

God, I thought, a crazy outside, a crazy in, and Clyde Rustler moldering toward ninety or ninety-five.

Time shifted. If I ducked back out, I would find a dozen drive-ins where teenage waitresses roller-skated hamburgers.

"Yes?" the Chinese wax mannequin said again.

I moved swiftly through the first entry door and down the aisle under the balcony, where I stared up.

It was a big dark aquarium, undersea. It was possible to imagine a thousand film ghosts, scared by gunshot whispers, soaring to flake the ceiling and vanish in the vents. Melville's whale sailed there, unseen, Old Ironsides, the Titanic. The Bounty, sailing forever, never reaching port. I focused my gaze on up through the multiple balconies toward what had once been called nigger heaven.

My God, I thought, I'm three years old.

That was the year when Chinese fairy tales haunted my bed, whispered by a favorite aunt, when I thought death was just a forever bird, a silent dog in the yard. My grandfather was yet to lie in a box at a funeral parlor, while Tut arose from his tomb. What, I asked, was Tut famous for? For being dead four thousand years. Boy, I said, how'd he do that?

And here I was in a vast tomb under the pyramid, where I had always wished to be. If you lifted the aisle carpets, you'd find the lost pharaohs buried with fresh loaves of bread and bright sprigs of onions; food for far-traveling up-river to Eternity.

They must never ruin this, I thought. I must be buried here.

"It's not Green Glade Cemetery," said the old wax Chinaman nearby, reading my mind.

I had spoken aloud.

"When was this theater built?" I murmured.

The old waxwork let loose a forty-day flood: "1921, one of the first. There was nothing here, some palm trees, farmhouses, cottages, a dirt main street, little bungalows built to lure Doug Fairbanks, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford. Radio was just a crystal matchbox with earphones. Nobody could hear the future on that. We opened big. People walked or drove from Melrose north. Saturday nights there were veritable desert caravans of movie fanatics. The graveyard hadn't yet begun at Gower and Santa Monica. It filled up with Valentino's ruptured appendix in '26. At Grauman's opening night, Louis B. Mayer arrived from the Selig Zoo in Lincoln Park. That's where MGM got their lion. Mean, but no teeth. Thirty dancing girls. Will Rogers spun rope. Trixie Friganza sang her famous 'I Don't Care' and wound up an extra in a Swanson film, 1934. Go down, stick your nose in the old basement dressing rooms, you'll find leftover underwear from those flappers who died for love of Lowell Sherman. Dapper guy with mustache, cancer got him, '34. You listening?"

"Clyde Rustler," I blurted.

"Holy Jesus! Nobody knows him! See way up, that old projection room? They buried him there alive in '29 when they built the new projection room on the second balcony."

I stared up into phantoms of mist, rain and Shangri-la snow seeking the High Lama.

My shadow friend said: "No elevator. Two hundred steps!"

A long climb, with no Sherpas, up to a middle lobby and a mezzanine and then another balcony and another after that amid three thousand seats. How do you please three thousand customers? I wondered. How? If eight-year-old boys didn't pee three times during your film, you had it made!

I climbed.

I stopped halfway to sit, panting, suddenly ancient instead of halfway new.


I REACHED the back wall of Mount Everest and tapped on the old projection-room door.

"Is that who I think it is?" a terrified voice cried.

"No," I said quietly, "just me. Back for one last matinee after forty years."

That was a stroke of genius; upchucking my past.

The terrified voice simmered down.

"What's the password?"

It came right off my tongue, a boy's voice.

"Tom Mix and his horse, Tony. Hoot Gibson. Ken May-nard. Bob Steele. Helen Twelvetrees. Vilma Banky…"

"That'll do."

It was a long while before I heard a giant spider brush the door panel. The door whined. A silver shadow leaned out, a living metaphor of the black-and-white phantoms I had seen flickering across the screen a lifetime ago.

"No one ever comes up here," said this old, old man.

"No one?"

"No one ever knocks on my door," said the man with silver hair and silver face and silver clothes, bleached out by seventy years of living under a rock in a high place and gazing down at unreality ten thousand times. "No one knows I'm here. Not even me."

"You're here. You're Clyde Rustler."

"Am I?" For a moment I thought he might body-search his suspenders and sleeve garters.

"Who are you?" He poked his face like a turtle's from its shell.

I said my name.

"Never heard of you." He glanced down at the empty screen. "You one of them?"

"The dead stars?"

"They sometimes climb up. Fairbanks came last night."

"Zorro, D'Artagnan, Robin Hood? He knocked at your door?"

"Scratched. Being dead has its problems. You coming in or out?"

I stepped in quickly before he could change his mind.

The film projectors stood facing emptiness in a room that looked like a Chung King burial chamber. It smelled of dust and sand and acrid celluloid. There was only one chair between the projectors. As he'd said, no one ever came to visit.

I stared at the crowded walls. There must've been three dozen pictures nailed there, some in cheap Woolworth frames, others in silver, still others mere scraps torn from old Silver Screen magazines, photographs of thirty women, no two alike.

The old, old man let a smile haunt his face.

"My sweetheart dears, from when I was an active volcano."

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