Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Содержание - CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX


I TAXIED out to the sea, back to my little place. I needed to think.

And then: there was a blow against my oceanfront door like a sledgehammer. Wham!

I jumped to get it before it fell in.

A flash of light blinded me from a single bright round crystal tucked in a mean eye.

"Hello, Edgar Wallace, you stupid goddamn son of a bitch, you!" a voice cried.

I fell back, aghast that he would call me Edgar Wallace, that dime-a-dance el cheapo hack!

"Hello, Fritz," I yelled, "you stupid goddamn son of a bitch, you! Come in!"

"I am!"

As if wearing heavy military boots, Fritz Wong clubbed the carpet. His heels cracked as he seized his monocle to hold it in the air and focus on me. "You're getting old!" he cried with relish.

"You already are!" I cried.


"You get what you give!"

"Voice down, please."

"You first!" I yelled. "You hear what you called me?"

"Is Mickey Spillane better?"


"John Steinbeck?"

"Okay! Lower your voice."

"Is this okay?" he whispered.

"I can still hear you."

Fritz Wong barked a great laugh.

"That's my good bastard son."

"That's my two-timing illegitimate pa!"

We embraced with arms of steel in paroxysms of laughter.

Fritz Wong wiped his eyes. "Now that we've done the formalities," he rumbled. "How are you.?"

"Alive. You?"

"Barely. Why the delay in delivering provender?"

I brought out Crumley's beer.

"Pig swill," said Fritz. "No wine? But…" He drank deep and grimaced. "Now." He sat down heavily in my only chair. "How can I help?"

"What makes you think I need help?"

"You always will! Wait! I can't stand this." He stomped out into the rain and lunged back with a bottle of Le Gorton, which, silently, he opened with a fancy bright silver corkscrew that he pulled from his pocket.

I brought out two old but clean jelly jars. Fritz eyed them with scorn as he poured.

"1949!" he said. "A great year. I expect loud exclamations!"

I drank.

"Don't chugalug!" Fritz shouted. "For Christ's sake, inhale! Breathe!"

I inhaled. I swirled the wine. "Pretty good."

"Jesus Christ! Good?"

"Let me think."

"Goddammit. Don't think! Drink with your nose! Exhale through your ears!"

He showed me how, eyes shut.

I did the same. "Excellent."

"Now sit down and shut up."

"This is my place, Fritz."

"Not now it isn't."

I sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, and he stood over me like Caesar astride an ant farm.

"Now," he said, "spill the beans."

I lined them up and spilled them.

When I finished, Fritz refilled my jelly glass reluctantly.

"You don't deserve this," he muttered, "but yours was a fair performance drinking the vintage. Shut up. Sip."

"If anyone can solve Rattigan," he said, sipping, "it's me. Or should I say, I? Quiet."

He opened the front door on the lovely endless rain. "You like this?"

"Love it."

"Sap!" Fritz screwed his monocle in for a long glance up-shore.

"Rattigan's place up there, eh? Not home for seven days? Maybe dead? Empress of the killing ground, yes, but she will never be caught dead. One day she will simply disappear and no one will know what happened. Now, shall I spill my beans?"

He poured the last of the Le Gorton, hating the jelly glass, loving the wine.

He was at liberty, he said, unemployed. No films for two years. Too old, they said.

"I'm the youngest acrobat in any bed on three continents!" he protested. "Now I have got my hands on Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan. But how do you cast that incredible play? So, meanwhile I have a Jules Verne novel in the public domain, free and clear, with a dumb-cluck fly-by-night producer who says nothing and steals much, so I need a second-rate science-fiction writer-you-to work for scale on this half-ass masterwork. Say yes."

Before I could speak…

There was a huge deluge of rain and a crack of fire and thunder, during which Fritz barked: "You're hired! Now. Do you have more to show and tell?"

I showed and told.

The photos clipped from the ancient newspapers and Scotch-taped on the wall over my bed. Fritz had to half lie down, cursing, to look at the damned things.

"With one eye, the other destroyed in a duel-"

"A duel?" I exclaimed. "You never said-"

"Shut up and read the names under the pictures to the Cyclops German director."

I read the names.

Fritz repeated them.

"Yes, I remember her." He reached to touch. "And that one. And, yes, this one. My God, what a rogues' gallery."

"Did you work with all or some?"

"Some I did two falls out of three in a Santa Barbara motel. I do not brag. A thing is either true or not."

"You've never lied to me, Fritz."

"I have, but you were too stupid to see. Polly. Molly. Dolly. Sounds like a cheap Swiss bell ringers' act. Hold on. Can't be. Maybe. Yes!"

He was leaning up, adjusting his monocle, squinting hard. "Why didn't I see? Dummkopf. But there was time between. Years. That one and that one, and that. Good God!"

"What, Fritz?"

"They're all the same actress, the same woman. Different hair, different hairdo, different color, different makeup. Thick eyebrows, thin eyebrows, no eyebrows. Small lips, large lips. Eyelashes, no eyelashes. Women's tricks. Woman came up to me last week on Hollywood Boulevard and said, 'Do you know me?' 'No,' I said. 'I'm so-and-so,' she said. I studied her nose. Nose job. Looked at her mouth. Mouth job. Eyebrows? New eyebrows. Plus, she had lost thirty pounds and turned blond. How in hell was I supposed to know who she was?

"These pictures, where did you get them?"

"Up on Mount Lowe-"

"That dumb newspaper librarian. I went up there once to do research. Quit. Couldn't breathe in all those goddamn news stacks. Call me, I yelled, when you have a clearance! Constance's dimwit first husband, married when she rebounded off a manslaughter bomb scare. How I managed to direct her in at least three films and never guessed at her changes! Christ! An imp inside a devil inside Lucifer's flesh-eating wife."

"Maybe because," I said, "you were courting Marlene Dietrich one of those years?"

"Courting? Is that what they call it?" Fritz barked a laugh and rocked off the edge of the bed. "Take those damn things down. If I can help, I'll need the junk."

"There's more like this," I said. "Grauman's Chinese, the old projection booth, the old-"

"That crummy lunatic?"

"I wouldn't say that."

"Why not! He had a missing reel of my UFA film Atlantica. I went to see. He tried to tie me to a chair and force-feed me old Rin Tin Tin serials. I threatened to jump off the balcony, so he let me go with Atlantica. So."

He spread the pictures out on the bed and gave them the fiery stare of his monocle.

"You say there are more pictures like these upstairs at Grauman's?"

"Yes," I said.

"Would you mind traveling ninety-five miles an hour in an Alfa-Romeo to get to Grauman's Chinese in less than five minutes?"

The blood drained from my face.

"You would not mind," said Fritz.

He blundered swiftly out into the rain. His Alfa-Romeo was in full space-rocket throttle when I fell in.

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