Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Содержание - CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE
"FLASHLIGHT, matches, pad and pencil should we need to leave a note." I checked my pockets.
"Wine," Fritz added, "in case the damn dogs up there on the cliff don't carry brandy."
We passed a bottle of wine between us as we scanned the avalanche of dark stairs leading to the old projection booth.
Fritz smiled. "Me first. If you fall I don't want to catch."
Fritz plowed the dark. I plowed after, swiveling the flashlight beam.
"Why are you helping me?" I gasped.
"I called Crumley. He said he's hiding all day in bed. Me, being around half-ass dimwits like you clears my blood and restarts my heart. Watch that flashlight, I might fall."
"Don't tempt me." I bobbed the light.
"I hate to say," Fritz said, "but you give as good as you get. You're my tenth bastard, out of Marie Dressier!"
We were higher now, in nosebleed territory.
We reached the top of the second balcony, Fritz raging at the altitude but happy to hear himself rage.
"Explain again," Fritz said as we continued climbing. "Up here. Then what?"
"Then we go as far down as we've come up. Basement mirror names. A glass catacomb."
"Knock," said Fritz, at last.
I knocked and the projection room door swung inward on dim lights from two projectors, one lit and working.
I swung my flash beam along the wall and sucked air.
"What?" said Fritz.
"They're gone!" I said. "The pictures. The walls have been stripped."
I played my flashlight beam along the empty spaces in dismay. All the dark-room "ghosts" had indeed vanished.
"Goddamn! Jesus! Christ!" I stopped and swore. "My God, I sound like you!"
"My son, my son," Fritz said, pleased. "Move the light!"
"Quiet." I inched forward, holding the beam unsteadily on what sat between the projectors.
It was Constance's father, of course, erect and cold, one hand touching a machine switch.
One projector was running full spin with a reel that looped through the projector lens and down, around, a spiral that repeated images again and again every ten seconds. The small door that could open to let the images shoot down to fill the theater screen was shut, so the images were trapped on the inside of the door, small, but if you bent close and squinted, you could see-
Sally, Dolly, Molly, Holly, Gaily, Nellie, Roby, Sally, Dolly, Molly-around about, on and on.
I studied old man Rattigan, frozen in place, and whether his grimace showed triumph or need, I could not say.
I glanced beyond to those walls now empty of Sally, Dolly, Molly, but whoever had seized them hadn't figured that the old man, seeing his "family" snatched, had switched on this loop to save the past. Or-
My mind sank.
I heard Betty Kelly's voice shrieking what Constance had shrieked, Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. And Quickly recalling, How do I get it back, back, back? Get what back? Her other self?
Did someone do this to you? I thought, standing over the old dead man. Or did you do it to yourself?
The dead man's white marble eyes were still.
I cut the projector.
All the faces still flowed on my retina, the dancing daughter, the butterfly, the Chinese vamp, the tomboy clown.
"Poor lost soul," I whispered.
"You know him?" said Fritz.
"Then he's no poor lost soul." "Fritz! Did you ever have a heart?" "Simple bypass. I had it removed." "How do you live without it?"
"Because…" Fritz handed me his monocle. I fit the cold glass to my eye and stared.
"Because," he said, "I'm a-"
"Stupid goddamn son of a bitch?"
"Bull's— eye!" Fritz said.
"Let's go," he added. "This place is a morgue."
"Always was," I said.
I called Henry, and told him to take a taxi to Grauman's. Pronto.
BLIND Henry was waiting for us in an aisle leading down to the orchestra pit and from there to the hidden basement dressing rooms.
"Don't tell," Henry said.
"About what, Henry?"
"The pictures up in that projection booth. Kaput? That's Fritz Wong's lingo."
"The same to you," said Fritz.
"Henry, how'd you guess?"
"I knew." Henry fixed his sightless eyes down at the pit. "I just visited the mirrors. I don't need a cane, and sure as heck no flashlight. Just reached when I was there and touched the glass. That's how I knew the pictures upstairs had to be gone. Felt all along forty feet of glass. Clean. All scraped away. So…" He stared again at the sightless uphill seats. "Upstairs. All gone. Right?"
"Right." I exhaled, somewhat stunned.
"Let me show you." Henry turned to the pit.
"Wait, I've got my flash."
"When you going to learn?" Henry mocked, and stepped down into the pit in one silent motion.
I followed. Fritz glared at our parade.
"Well," I said, "what are you waiting for?"
"THERE." Henry pointed his nose at the long line of mirrors. "What did I say?"
I moved along the aisle of glass, touching with my flash and then my fingers.
"So?" Fritz growled.
"There were names and now no names, just like there were pictures and now no pictures."
"Told you," said Henry.
"How come the sightless are never the wordless?" said Fritz.
"Got to do something to fill the time. Shall I recite the names?"
I said the names from memory.
"You left out Carmen Carlotta," said Henry.
"Oh, yeah. Carlotta."
Fritz glanced up.
"And whoever swiped the pictures upstairs?"
"Cleaned and scraped the mirrors."
"So all those ladies are like they never was," said Henry.
He leaned in along the line of mirrors and gave a last brush with his blind fingertips to the glass here, there, and farther on down. "Yeah. Empty. Damn. Those names were caked on. Took lots to scrub it off. Who?"
"Henrietta, Mabel, Gloria, Lydia, Alice…"
"They all came down to clean up?"
"They did and they didn't. We've already said it, Henry, that all of those women came and went, were born and died, and wrote their names, like grave markers."
"And those names were not written all at once. So starting back in the twenties, those women, ladies, whatever, came down here for their obsequies, a funeral of one. When they looked in their first mirror, they saw one face, and when they moved to the next, the face was changed."
"Now you're cooking."
"So, Henry, what's here is a grand parade of funerals, births, and burials, all done with the same two hands and one spade."
"But the scribbles"-Henry reached out to emptiness— "were different."
"People change. She couldn't make up her mind to one life or how to live it. So she stood in front of the mirror and wiped off her lipstick and painted another mouth, and washed off her eyebrows and painted better ones, or widened her eyes and raised her hairline and tilted her hat like a lampshade or took it off and threw it, or took off her dress and stood here starkers."
"Starkers." Henry smiled. "Now you got it."
"Hush," I said.
"That's work," Henry continued. "Scribbling those mirrors, looking to see how she changed."
"Didn't happen overnight. Once a year, maybe two years, and she'd show up with a smaller mouth or a thinner shape and liked what she saw and went away to become that person for half a year or just one summer. How's that, Henry?"
Henry moved his lips, whispering, "Constance.
"Sure," he murmured, "she never smelled the same way twice." Henry shuffled, touching the mirrors until he reached the open manhole. "I'm near, right?"