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


DOWNSTAIRS, I edged to the front of the theater and stared down. Then I stepped into the orchestra pit, and edged to the back wall and peered though a door into a long hall that diminished into complete night and a night inside that night, where all the old abandoned dressing rooms were.

I was tempted to call a name.

But what if she answered?

Far off down that black corridor, I thought I heard the sound of a hidden sea, or a river flowing somewhere in the dark.

I put one foot forward and pulled back.

I heard that dark ocean heave on an endless shore again.

Then I turned, and went away up through the great darkness, out of the pit into the aisles with everyone gone, rushing toward the doors leading out to an evening sky most dearly welcome.

I carried Rattigan's incredibly small shoes over to her footprints and placed them neatly down to fit.

At which instant I felt my guardian angel touching my shoulder.

"You're back from the dead," said Crumley.

"You can say that again," I said, staring at the wide red doorway of Grauman's Chinese with all those film creatures swimming in the dark.

"She's in there," I murmured. "I wish I knew a way to get her out."

"Dynamite tied to a bundle of cash might do it."


"Sorry, I forgot we were talking about Florence Nightingale."

I stepped back. Crumley regarded Rattigan's tiny shoes lodged in prints put down a long, long time ago. "Not exactly ruby slippers," he said.


we rode across town in a warm silence. I tried to describe the great black sea of Grauman's.

"There's this big dressing-room cellar, maybe full of stuff from 1925, 1930. I have a feeling she might be there."

"Save your breath," said Crumley.

"Someone's got to go down there to see."

"You afraid to go there alone?"

"Not exactly."

"That means damn right! Shut up and ride shotgun."

We were soon at Crumley's. He put a cold beer against my brow.

"Hold it there until you feel it cure your thinking."

I held it there. Crumley switched on the TV and began switching through the channels.

"I don't know which is worse," he said, "your gab or the local TV news."

"Father Seamus Rattigan," the TV said.

"Hold it!" I cried.

Crumley switched back.

"… Vibiana's Cathedral."

And a blizzard of static and snow.

Crumley hit the damned TV with his fist.

"… Natural causes. Rumored to be future cardinal…"

Another snowstorm. And the TV went dead.

"I been meaning to have it fixed," said Crumley.

We both stared at his telephone, telling it to ring.

We both jumped.

Because it did!


IT was a woman, Father Rattigan's assistant, Betty Kelly, inarticulate, going down for the third time, begging for mercy.

I offered what small mercy I had, to come visit.

"Don't wait, or I'm dead myself," she wailed.

Betty Kelly was out in front of St. Vibiana's when Crumley and I arrived. We stood for a long moment before she saw us, gave a quick, half-realized wave, and dropped her gaze. We came to stand by her. I introduced Crumley.

"I'm sorry," I said. She raised her head.

"Then you are the one was talking to Father!" she said. "Oh, Lord, let's get inside."

The big doors were locked for the night. We went in through a door at the side. Inside she swayed and almost fell. I caught and led her to one of the pews, where she sat breathless.

"We came as quick as we could," I said.

"You knew him?" She gasped. "It's so confusing. You knew someone in common, an acquaintance, a friend?"

"A relative," said Crumley. "The same name."

"Rattigan! She killed him. Wait!" She grabbed my sleeve.

For I was on my feet.

"Sit," she gasped. "I don't mean murder. But she killed him."

I sat back down, gone cold. Crumley backed off. She clutched my elbow and lowered her voice.

"She was here, sometimes three times a day, in confession, whispering, then raving. Poor Father looked like he'd been shot when she left, but she hardly left, just stayed until he fell out starving, couldn't eat, and the liquor cabinet low. He let her rave. Later I'd check the confessional: empty. But the air smelled like it had been hit by lightning. She kept shouting the same thing."


'"I'm killing them, killing them!' she yelled. And I'll keep on killing them until I've killed them all. Help me to kill them, bless their souls! Then I'll kill the rest. Kill them all! Get them off my back, out of my life! Then, Father,' she cried, Til be free, clean! But help me bury them so they won't come back! Help me!'

'"Off! Away!' Father yelled. 'My God, what are you asking me to do?'

'"Help me put them away, pray over them so they won't come back, stay dead! Say yes!'

"'Get out!' Father cried, and then she said worse."


"She said, 'Then damn you, damn, damn, damn you to hell!' Her voice was so loud, people left. I could hear her weeping. The Father must have been in a state of shock. Then I heard footsteps running in the dark. I waited for Father Rattigan to speak, say anything. Then I dared open the door. He was there. And silent because… he was dead."

And here the secretary let the tears shed themselves down her cheeks.

"Poor man," she said. "Those dreadful words stopped his heart, as they almost stopped mine. We must find that awful woman. Make her take back the words so he can live again. God, what am I saying? Him slumped there as if she had drained his blood. You know her? Tell her she's done her worst. There, I've said it. Now I've thrown up, and where do you go to be clean? It's yours, and sorry I did it to you."

I looked down at my suit as if expecting to find her vile upchuck.

Crumley walked over to the confessional and opened both doors and stared in at the darkness. I came to stand next to him and take a deep breath.

"Smell it?" said Betty Kelly. "It's there and ruined. I've told the cardinal to tear it down and burn it."

I took a final breath. A touch of charcoal and St. Elmo's fires.

Crumley closed the doors.

"It won't help," Betty Kelly said. "She's still there. So is he, poor soul, dead tired and dead. Two coffins, side by side. God help us. I've used you all up. You have the same look the poor father had."

"Don't tell me that," I said weakly.

"I won't," she said.

And led by Crumley, I beggared my way to the door.

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